29 May 2020 – Premier League football is on its way back.
No ball has been kicked in the top flight since mid-March after the season was suspended indefinitely because of coronavirus but players are back in training and it emerged on Thursday that the season is set to resume on 17 June.
With social distancing rules in place, no fans in the stadiums and the possibility of being able to make five substitutions, it will be a very different football to the one we enjoyed before the suspension, but it will at least allow the 2019-20 campaign to be completed.
Liverpool are, of course, on the verge of winning a first top-flight title in 30 years, but how quickly could they achieve that and what else is there to look out for? BBC Sport takes a look at some of the issues still to be resolved.
What still needs sorting out at the top?
The title was tantalisingly within reach for Liverpool before the coronavirus pandemic brought a halt to the domestic football programme.
The good news for the Reds, however, is they probably will not need to wait long to finally get over the line once football returns.
Just two more wins will do the job for Liverpool, although they could seal the title in their first game back if Manchester City lose at home to Arsenal on 17 June.
Once the title is wrapped up, next to sort out is Champions League qualification.
As things stand, Manchester City cannot compete in Europe’s premier club competition for the next two seasons after being banned for breaking Financial Fair Play rules. Pep Guardiola’s side have appealed, however, and could still compete if the ban is overturned.
If the ban is upheld, whoever finishes fifth will take their place in next season’s Champions League. Manchester United currently occupy that position (on 45 points), but Wolves and Sheffield United are both just two points behind and will undoubtedly have their eye on securing an unlikely place alongside Europe’s elite.
Tottenham, in eighth and four points off fifth, and Arsenal, five points off with a game in hand, will also fancy their chances of pinching the position.
The battle at the bottom
One side-effect of the enforced lack of matches over the past two months is that teams in poor form have a chance to reset.
Aston Villa, in particular, were on a desperately poor run, with four successive defeats seeing them drop to second from bottom and two points from safety – although they have a game in hand over their rivals.
Villa are one of six sides realistically fighting against the drop, with anyone from 15th down looking over their shoulder.
Norwich are bottom and six points from safety but were the only side in the bottom three to have won any of their four previous games before football’s suspension.
A run of seven defeats in 10 games had seen Bournemouth drop into the bottom three but they had been struggling with injuries to several first-team players. A number of those will now be fit again, meaning the Cherries will probably have a strong squad to choose from for the run-in.
Watford had looked doomed in December but the arrival of Nigel Pearson sparked a revival with four wins from five games giving them a fighting chance. They recorded a hugely impressive 3-0 win against champions-elect Liverpool just before the Premier League was halted, so how such a long break in action will affect their momentum remains to be seen.
Look who’s back
The resumption of the Premier League will also be good news for those players who thought injury had put paid to their season.
Spurs boss Jose Mourinho will be one of the bigger beneficiaries of that, with England striker Harry Kane likely to be back to full fitness.
Kane had surgery on a hamstring injury in January that, under normal circumstances, would have ended his involvement in 2019-20, while his Spurs team-mate Son Heung-min, recently back from South Korea after completing national service, will also be able to feature after recovering from a broken arm.
Meanwhile, an ankle injury and related issues had restricted Paul Pogba to just eight appearances this season for Manchester United, with his last back on Boxing Day, but he is expected to be fit for football’s return. Reds striker Marcus Rashford, out of action since January with a back injury, is also nearing full fitness.
As mentioned, Bournemouth will be particularly boosted by the break in play as they should be able to call upon a number of first-team players who had otherwise looked out of the picture.
The Cherries said last month they were “cautiously optimistic” that winger David Brooks would play again this season after an ankle injury last July robbed him of any game time so far in 2019-20.
Summer signing Lloyd Kelly has also overcome the injuries that have disrupted his time at the club.
What else is up for grabs?
As well as winning a first league title in 30 years, there are a number of records Liverpool will be looking to break when the season resumes.
The Reds needs 19 points from the remaining 27 to beat Manchester City’s total of 100 points from 2017-18, while they could also better City’s record title-winning margin of 19 points from the same campaign.
Then there is, of course, the Premier League’s top scorer.
Leicester striker Jamie Vardy leads the way with 19 goals but Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (17), Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah (16), Sergio Aguero of Manchester City (16) and Southampton’s Danny Ings (15) are in contention.
Could there even be enough time for Kane (11) to mount an unlikely challenge?