Project Restart has come full circle and we have the delights of Premier League football back on our screen. For the first time ever, all the fixtures will be televised with 33 games being free to air and some of those will be broadcast on the BBC. That will be something.
It feels weird writing these up while we are still in lockdown and I am slightly surprised it is going ahead given how the UK ranks in handling the pandemic and after two positive tests came in on Friday. In my view, it is clear this is about money and I was on Troy Deeney’s side when he did not want to return to training. Some of the comments about him were unfair, we don’t know the full circumstances they’re in and if they live with someone who are vulnerable. The return of sport in general, not just football, is money motivated but at the same time, it does give us something to look forward to.
It feels a long time since we last saw football being played. Liverpool took a 25 point advantage in the race for their first league title in 30 years with a win over Bournemouth while Manchester City lost the Manchester derby [featured in the image above from The Guardian]. The one reason I am glad the league resumed and was not suspended was for Liverpool. They’d been so good it would have been harsh to deny them it.
For the remainder of the season, I will be trying to make predictions for each of the remaining 92 games as I had been doing before the lockdown; comparing them with predictions made by BBC Sport’s Mark Lawrenson and Sky Sports Charlie Nicholas. Oh, and the BT Script comes into play too and the scoring system used is the same as used by Sky for their Super 6 games; five points for the correct score and two for the correct result. As the rest of the season is played out, it will be harder for me to keep on top of these posts so I will aim to update my latest predictions on the blogs Twitter feed.
It starts though with the two games that needed rearranging as a consequence of the Carabao Cup final. So, Manchester City who won that cup entertain Arsenal at the Etihad (rearranged for the second time) but runners up Aston Villa host Sheffield United in the first game back…
Aston Villa vs Sheffield United
The first game back will be tense I think. None of the payers will be used to the situation of having no fans around, the new protocols and they’re first up but both sets of players will be up for it. It has been 100 days since Aston Villa last played; a 4-0 defeat to Leicester City. Their problems are both upfront and at the back; even bringing in the experienced head of goalkeeper Pepe Reina has not helped at times. It is a reset though for Dean Smith’s side and the return of John McGinn could help the pressure on Jack Grealish for goals in the absence of Wesley. Lockdown came at perhaps the wrong moment for McGinn who will be raring to go after returning from injury and he will be a threat for Villa. Sheffield United won the return fixture 2-0 in December and could secure a league double over Villa for the first time since 1965/66. Chris Wilder’s side have been fantastic this season and have their sights on battling for a European place. A win would take them above Man United but could the pressure get to them? Perhaps and the break was perhaps at the wrong time for them but they do not have the home crowd to contend with now. In the Championship last season, this fixture finished in a 3-3 draw, I can’t see it having that many goals but it will be a tight game with maybe only one goal in it. I’m going to back the Blades.
Predictions: Lawro 1-1, Nicholas 2-1, BT Script 1-3, Michael 1-2
Manchester City vs Arsenal
This will be an interesting game with its master vs the apprentice narrative it is sure to have. How will Mikel Arteta fare when he comes up against his coaching mentor Pep Guardiola? Of course, it was Arteta’s coronavirus test that saw football suspended and this game postponed fro it’s rearranged date of March 11th. Arsenal were starting to find some form before lockdown and it may have disrupted their rhythm. The warm-up friendly defeat to Championship side Brentford might be a cause for concern before travelling to play Man City. Will they be able to cope with the various attacking options Guardiola has at his disposal? I don’t think so. Sergio Aguero has 10 goals in his last 12 appearances es against Arsenal and Man City have won 6 consecutive meetings with Arsenal. Man City were not at it at all when they last played and Guardiola has spoken about fitness concerns within his squad but the depth and quality they have should see them over the line against Arsenal.
Predictions: Lawro 2-0, Nicholas 3-1, BT Script 3-0, Michael 3-0
Before project restart, how did the prediction scoreboard look when football was suspended?
- In the last full weekend of games, Lawro regained 1st place after an impressive round of 18 points (two correct scores and four results) and closed on 356points.
- That is four more than me in 2nd place after I got 8 points for four correct results, no scores. I have 352 points.
- Charlie Nicholas also scored 8 points for four correct results but no scores and has 344 points.
- The BT Script remains last after scoring only 6 points for three correct results and has 307 points.
How will it look as we go into the first full round of games as part of project restart?