IT’S just a fortnight to the eagerly awaited return of the Premier League following a three-month lay-off due to the pandemic.
There are two games planned for Wednesday, June 17, Manchester City hosting Chelsea at the Etihad and Aston Villa meeting Sheffield United at Villa Park.
The exact schedule is expected to be finalised at a meeting of club owners and Premier League executive later today, but the expectation is that City-Chelsea will kick-off at 6pm followed by Villa-Sheffield a couple of hours later.
As with the remaining 92 games, they will be live on tv and played behind closed doors as has been the case with the return of the Bundesliga in Germany.
The Premier League cranked up a couple of gears in teams’ preparations for the resumption earlier in the week after entering another phase along the pathway. That involved relaxing restrictions on what’s called ‘unnecessary close contact’ such as set-piece drills, which involve body-to-body work.
That’s an interesting aspect because one of the many thousands of statistics emanating from Germany shows an increase in the number of goals from set-pieces.
Some have likened it to what happens at summer tournaments like the finals of the European Championships and the World Cup itself.
That’s linked to the limited time coaches have with players in practicing how to defend corners and free kicks especially, because the onus until now has been on physical preparation.
In many ways, it’s like starting the season all over again with an estimated six-week window of hard running and developing muscle mass considered the minimum period to gear players up to cope with the demands of elite football.
Coaching nerds have also detected a drop in the intensity levels in the opening three rounds of Bundesliga games and this is put down to a number of factors.
One is the players’ conditioning as they build-up to what should be peak fitness and the others involve the lack of atmosphere at venues as well as the weather. The absence of fans at games has also produced another stat and that is the number of away wins has increased significantly thereby cementing the argument that huge crowds certainly influence games.
So, how is that likely to impact on the English league?
It won’t affect the outcome because Liverpool are champions in waiting, requiring just two more wins to end their 30-year wait for the title, but it could play a prominent role in determining other factors like qualifying for the Champions’ League and staving off relegation.
The weather is sure to be a factor, too. Could you imagine what it would have been like had there been games last weekend, when temperatures rose to 80 degrees fahrenheit?
This is one of the reasons why games in the Spanish La Liga, which returns a week tonight, will kick off late at night, some as late as midnight and others an hour earlier.
The number of away wins will also cause some concern for supporters of Man United and Spurs, two clubs who generally tend to collect most of their points at home and it’s the same for Villa and Norwich City at the bottom of the table.
All these influences combined will take a toll on club’s squads and their strength-in-depth or lack of it in some quarters.
Today’s meeting will also involve a discussion on raising the number of permitted substitutions to five per team as is the case in Germany.
Chelsea, for their part, are suggesting having nine instead of seven players on the bench because of the demands of nine matches in six weeks.
The talking is nearly over…off the pitch that is!