Football in the time of coronaThere is no certainty how this season will pan out.
These, to use a cliché, are surreal times. A month or so after the end of the last season the new Premier League season is just two weeks away. In between there have been the final stages of the Champions and Europa leagues. Other European leagues like the Scottish League and French Ligue 1 are already underway. The Community Shield, the traditional curtain raiser in the English game, has been brought forward by a week, to make way for international matches taking place next week, and is being played this weekend.
There is no certainty how this season will pan out. Even before the new season begins there have been reports five Chelsea players have tested positive as has Paul Pogba of Manchester United. Despite some opposition from a section of the players, the league was completed last season mainly because of contractual obligations to television companies. Premier League teams are yet to decide on their options if there are disruptions this season. One scenario being considered is accepting the standings as final if 50 percent of the league is completed. One can only hope it does not come to that but instead there will be some fans on the stands before long. Brighton is already planning that.
Despite the abnormality of the whole situation, the season break has had a ring of normality. Transfer business has been going and will continue, unusually, till early October. Chelsea have been the prime movers in the market so far, as if to make up for the ban last season. Noises continue to come out from other teams chasing their targets. Players have been on truncated summer holidays to the beaches of the Caribbean, Greece and Dubai. And they have been up to their usual antics – Harry Maguire got into an illegal scuffle and Raheem Sterling was partying as if social distancing did not apply to him.
As for the actual game on the pitch, all bets would be on Liverpool or Manchester City to lift the trophy. Manchester United and Chelsea fans would want to believe their teams too have a chance. To be fair, this is football and no one has a crystal ball. Liverpool could be hit with complacency as losing to Arsenal and drawing against Burnley towards the end of last season showed. Manchester City’s defence is still suspect, rumours of the great Lionel Messi teaming up with Pep Guardiola notwithstanding. Manchester United were a team transformed after the arrival of Portuguese Bruno Fernandes during the January transfer window and Pogba, on his day, can be up there with the best in world. But their coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer still has his doubters and questions over their defence persist. Frank Lampard did not seem to know his best team till the end of last season and with significant new arrivals he has little time to lose before he knows his best eleven this season.
Then there are the contenders for the top four places. Leicester City surprised everyone until the coronavirus break last season when they were sitting pretty at third place. Maybe because their coach Brendon Rodgers caught the coronavirus or because they had been punching above their weight they could not keep the momentum going after the enforced break and ended up fifth. With Ben Chilwell off to Chelsea, fourth place is unlikely. Wolves have defied expectations for the last two seasons since their promotion from the Championship in 2018. But fourth place may be a bridge too far. That leaves Tottenham and Arsenal as realistic contenders for the top four.
Jose Mourhino will not have a lot to spend on transfers at Tottenham but he will have a point to prove that he can perform without expensive signings. Arsenal were surprise winners of the FA Cup last season and their performance against Liverpool in the Community Shield will be an early marker for their season.
With its heart in its mouth, the new Premier League season is almost here.