All 20 top-flight clubs analysed ahead of June 17 restart; Sky Sports to show 64 live Premier League games when season resumes - 25 free to air
Wednesday 17 June 2020 08:21, UK
The Premier League is back - but how is each club shaping up for the big restart?
After a 100-day shutdown, the top flight returns on Wednesday with a double-header live on Sky Sports as Aston Villa host Sheffield United, before Manchester City take on Arsenal.
From the players fit after injury to manager verdicts, our reporters' verdicts and more, we run the rule over every side ahead of the big kick-off - just click or tap on your team to get the lowdown in full.
Sky Sports will show 64 live Premier League games when the season resumes. In addition to the 39 matches already scheduled to be broadcast exclusively live on Sky Sports before the coronavirus interruption, 25 more matches will be available on both Sky Sports Premier League and Sky's free-to-air Pick channel, allowing the whole nation to be part of the return of live sport.
Free-to-watch highlights of every remaining Premier League game this season will be available from shortly after the full-time whistle on the Sky Sports website, Sky Sports App and Sky Sports Football YouTube channel.
When Mikel Arteta walked through the doors of the Emirates Stadium back in December to replace Unai Emery, there was plenty of work to be done.
"We all know there is a lot of work to be done to achieve that [competing for trophies], but I am confident we'll do it," the Spaniard said following his arrival from Manchester City. "I'm realistic enough to know it won't happen overnight, but the current squad has plenty of talent and there is a great pipeline of young players coming through from the academy."
The Gunners had endured a torrid time in the Premier League under Emery. They sat 10th in the table when Arteta took over and while their current position of ninth may not point to the sort of revival many Arsenal fans may have hoped for, there's plenty of optimism at the Emirates Stadium.
Arsenal have made improvements under Arteta, losing just one of his 10 Premier League games in charge. It's a run that has seen them move to within eight points of fourth-placed Chelsea, with a game in hand, and reach the quarter-finals of the FA Cup.
They were starting to build up some real momentum with three straight league wins before the suspension to the season because of the coronavirus pandemic, and while the break may not have come at the best of times for the Gunners, it has given Arteta more time to get his methods across to the players as he looks to lead a late charge towards the Champions League places.
There's no doubt about it, Villa needed to press the reset button. They were in freefall with five defeats from five, and the postponement of the season means key midfielder John McGinn is now fit to aid a push for survival.
Manager Dean Smith says this period has given him the opportunity to watch every game back, and discuss some subtle tactical changes with his side. That may include a more defensive approach, with Villa conceding the most shots (507) and errors leading to shots (24) in the Premier League. Villa have rightly been accused of being too open and too expansive against any type of opposition this term, and they sit 19th because of it.
Six of their remaining 10 games are at home, but will Villa miss the advantage of the crowd? Villa Park, although full for most of this season, can be a nervy place at times, so it will be fascinating to see whether the pressure is eased off some shoulders.
But all eyes will once again be on Jack Grealish, and he's absolutely fine with that intense strain: "I don't want to say this in an arrogant way, but I embrace [the pressure]," he told The Football Show recently. "I love the fact it's like that, if I'm honest. Being the local lad and captain of the club, I absolutely love it and try to take it in my stride."
His task? Keep Villa up. After spending a fortune last summer, they simply need to.
The Bournemouth treatment room is finally emptying out and that's a huge boost for Eddie Howe as he tries to lead his side away from the relegation zone when the Premier League returns. David Brooks is in line to return, Lloyd Kelly is set for his first taste of Premier League football and Howe has defensive reinforcements to call upon.
"Fingers crossed we will have a stronger squad than when we stopped playing," Howe told The Sun. "Yes, it will be a huge lift and boost for us when we get Brooks back - we've definitely missed him this season. He's a very, very good player and did so well for us last season, building up such good relationships with all the others around him. So far he is looking good and I'm really happy with his progress, fingers crossed he will be OK for the first game.
"But it's not just him. There are other players that could come back into contention. Arnaut Danjuma, Chris Mepham, Lloyd Kelly and Steve Cook are all back in training and they were not available when we stopped. I would like to think by the time we get back to playing, we will be stronger in defence and other areas as well."
Howe will certainly need that stronger squad with Bournemouth, who have had an inconsistent season up until now, set for tricky trips to Wolves, Manchester City and Manchester United in the coming weeks as they look to protect their Premier League status.
Purely on a results basis, the suspension of football came at a very good time for Brighton, who seemingly couldn't buy a win in 2020.
It was nine games without a victory in the Premier League for Graham Potter's side, their last win coming on December 28 against Bournemouth.
This season has seen huge progress on the pitch for Brighton in terms of playing style, and some notable wins against Tottenham and Arsenal, but they have slipped towards a relegation battle again and their run-in could hardly be more difficult.
Their first three games back come against Arsenal, Leicester and Man Utd, while Liverpool and Man City are also opponents still to come. Potter's side will need some big results if they are to avoid slipping closer to the trapdoor and back to the Championship for the first time since 2017.
In their five previous seasons in the Premier League, Burnley have finished in the top half of the table on just one occasion, when they secured a seventh-place finish in 2017/18.
This time around they've got the opportunity to do so again but it has, by no means, been an easy ride.
The period between late October and mid-January proved to be particularly sticky, but a 3-0 defeat away to Chelsea 11 days into 2020 - which left them four points above the relegation zone - was a turning point.
In the seven games between that and the division's suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic, they won four games and drew three, with their steely defence shipping just three goals, which lifted them to 10th in the table.
With no cup competitions to distract them, an impressive unbeaten run under their belts and the average position of their remaining opponents at 10.6, the Clarets look an interesting prospect to finish in the top half - and they could perhaps even better their historic 17/18 finish.
Frank Lampard's methodology, coaching acumen and relationship with the Chelsea fans has obviously provided the hierarchy enough evidence to make him the man for the long-term at the club.
With transfer riches available and new stars set to join late summer, these last nine games will be a good test of his management mettle at the top level as he looks to steer the Chelsea ship into the Champions League places. It would be a feat that deserves credit considering he's had to put faith in some inexperienced members of his squad to play leading roles at various points of the campaign.
But understandably much of the focus at Stamford Bridge will be surrounding plans for Chelsea to spend big in order to break the Liverpool and Manchester City dominance. Lampard might just be the right man, at the right place, at the right time as Chelsea look to storm the top table.
It hasn't always been the easiest of seasons for Crystal Palace. At times, they have been severely depleted due to injuries - particularly in defence - which was compounded by only one win in 11 Premier League games between December and February.
However, things began to look up before the football suspension, winning their last three league matches 1-0. At the time, it pulled them away from a potential relegation scrap and with two home wins against Newcastle and Watford, plus an away victory at bitter rivals Brighton, the all-important momentum was with them.
Now, they face one of the toughest run-ins of any Premier League side. Seven of their nine opponents are currently above them in the table - including games against Liverpool, Leicester, Chelsea and Manchester United - and there is always the danger of slipping back into an unwanted relegation battle.
But Crystal Palace are always the team looking to interrupt the status quo. They have beaten Manchester United and taken a point against Manchester City already this season, and how can you forget the history of their 3-3 draw against Liverpool during their 2013/14 Premier League title push?
Roy Hodgson has steered them to relatively comfortable mid-table finishes in his last two seasons and it's hard to envisage anything other than the same again, hopefully with a few exciting moments along the way.
By the time Everton take to the field in their eagerly-anticipated Merseyside derby with Liverpool, it will have been 103 days since their last competitive fixture. Competitive in the sense that there were Premier League points at stake, if not as a contest. The size of the task facing Carlo Ancelotti was laid bare against his former club Chelsea as his side were thrashed 4-0 in early spring.
So much time has passed for the scars to heal from that one-sided affair, but Everton head into the restart with injury concerns. A fresh lay-off awaits Jean-Philippe Gbamin, while Theo Walcott, Andre Gomes and Fabian Delph have all been sidelined since the group returned to Finch Farm, leaving Tom Davies as the one senior fit central midfielder beyond Morgan Schneiderlin, who has been linked with a move back to France.
For a snapshot of Everton's season, it would be hard to overlook Djibril Sidibe forgetting a sock as he prepared to come on as a substitute against Crystal Palace in February - and the Frenchman's future itself remains up in the air, with his loan spell currently set to expire at the end of the month.
It is just one example of the uncertainty and complexity of Everton's own state of limbo. Ancelotti welcomed talk of European football after taking 17 points from his opening eight games but after defeats to Arsenal and Chelsea derailed that ambition, you could be forgiven for thinking the Italian should use the remaining games with one eye on the future.
Back in the winter, the bitterly disappointing nature of successive defeats to Norwich, Leicester and Liverpool ultimately brought an end to Marco Silva's reign, and Everton will hope the progress made under his decorated successor will garner a greater return in the three reverse fixtures before June is out.
Currently 12th, early momentum is needed within a squad already depleted if that familiar sense of a season fizzling out is to be avoided. Ending a 10-year wait for victory in the derby would mark the campaign, and could well define the next.
Brendan Rodgers has shaken off a bout of coronavirus and is raring to go ahead of Leicester's remaining 10 games, with the prospect of guiding the Foxes into the Champions League for only the second time in their 136-year history a distinct possibility. City recovered from their wobble after a shock Carabao Cup semi-final exit at the hands of lowly Aston Villa with a 4-0 romp of Dean Smith's side in the final game before the suspension of the Premier League and still have three of the bottom six left to play.
Rodgers may have suffered his first defeat in cup competitions in 31 games, but with the Foxes also in the quarter-final of the FA Cup and with another assault on Europe's elite in their own hands, there's no better time for them to seize their moment. How sweet it would be for Leicester to guarantee a Champions League spot at the expense of Harry Maguire's Manchester United at the King Power Stadium on the final day, even if it is behind closed doors.
Leicester stunned the football world four years ago when they defied odds of 5,000-1 to win the Premier League and few would bet against them from disrupting the big six again this year. The Foxes have proved they have staying power before and under Rodgers, at least, it seems they will go the distance.
When the season was suddenly halted back in March, Liverpool were within touching distance of finally ending their long wait for a top-flight title - a feat the club's fans were starting to think may never happen after a series of recent near misses.
Yes, the Reds had suffered a shock 3-0 loss at struggling Watford in their last away clash, but that was their first league defeat of the entire campaign. And having dropped only five points to that point, Klopp's team are on course to smash Man City's record-breaking 100-point haul from 2017-18 in their last nine fixtures.
And while it would take a monumental collapse for Liverpool not to get the two wins they need to be ensured of the title, Klopp has urged his players to win all of their remaining games.
"The problem at the moment is that we still have to become one (champions)," he told Sky in Germany. "I am not sitting here and want to doubt that, but I also know that we want to win football matches and not only two, but if possible nine.
"This can become historic, I have to say so clearly. And not only club historical, but historical in general. We have the chance to get an unbelievable number of points and so we prepare ourselves and then we will see what comes out of it."
It has been a deeply disappointing Premier League campaign for the reigning champions. Manchester City are 11 points worse off than at the same stage of the 2018/19 campaign and, more significantly, they are 25 points behind runaway leaders Liverpool.
Their hopes of defending the title were effectively over long before the lockdown came into force and they now have the threat of a European ban looming over them too. These are testing times for the Etihad Stadium outfit, but there is still plenty for Guardiola's men to play for.
If they can find form when the season resumes, they could yet finish the campaign with a Champions League trophy and an FA Cup to add to the Carabao Cup they won in March. They will be desperate to end an often difficult season on a high. The opportunity is there to do it.
With the exception of title-chasing Liverpool, few would have bemoaned the suspension of the season more than Manchester United.
After a start to the campaign beset by inconsistency, there were signs that Solskjaer had finally started to make things click at Old Trafford, only for the momentum of an 11-game unbeaten run to be halted by the coronavirus pandemic.
United's pre-lockdown upturn was made all the more impressive by the fact that it was done without key personnel, so the sight of Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba returning to fitness in time for the restart will only add the sense of optimism at the club.
Second chances are hard to come by in football but, with a fully fit squad at his disposal, Solskjaer has the chance to salvage a league campaign that has threatened to peter out on a number of occasions.
A top-four finish in the Premier League has to be the target for United, failing that, the Europa League and FA Cup may provide a silver-lined ending to a season which looks to have steered the club in the right direction.
'We are the Geordies,' they sing, 'the loyalest football supporters the world has ever had,' but devotion is being to stretched to the limit on Tyneside right now.
Football is coming back to the cathedral on the hill - where Steve Bruce's side have business to take care of still - but it is the takeover that continues to hang heavy over supporters caught in the middle of the protracted and politically-charged process.
It was back in April that Mike Ashley agreed a £300m deal with a Saudi-backed consortium, the prospect of regime change finally tangible, but the wait goes on and the desire for clarity is all-pervading. That fans are yet to receive details of ticket refunds for games they will not be able to attend for the foreseeable future has only further darkened the mood.
On the pitch, a side dogged by inconsistency this term will want to strike early to plumpen their cushion above the drop zone, with games looming against Tottenham, Man City and Liverpool. Joelinton has found the back of the net in warm-up games; belatedly discovering his Premier League aim would be welcome, though Bruce has a hunch fit-again Andy Carroll could play a key role.
Football is coming back but Newcastle remain in exasperating limbo.
Daniel Farke says Norwich deserve a chance to work on their "little miracle" and it would be perhaps the greatest of great escapes if they could pull it off, given their precarious position in the table and season-long budget constraints.
The Canaries' saving grace has been their home form up to this point and they showed signs of life with a win over Leicester the last time they appeared at Carrow Road in February.
One thing is for sure, Norwich will need to be far more ruthless in front of goal. They have left themselves little room for error and a sluggish restart could see any faint hopes of survival quickly dashed.
Yet, in this, the strangest of seasons, there might just be time for one last twist.
Chris Wilder has said his Sheffield United players are in "brilliant condition" as they bid to play their way yet further beyond prediction and who could be surprised? The Blades boss has been relentless in his pursuit of more ever since he took the helm and lockdown training has been intense - "even tougher than normal," according to wing-back George Baldock.
The Blades are in the thick of an unlikely tussle for European qualification; win their game in hand at Aston Villa in front of the Sky cameras on Wednesday and they will climb fifth - a position that could yet yield Champions League football, depending on the result of Manchester City's appeal.
They have games to relish against lofty rivals - perhaps crucially, they have not lost against those immediately around them - and a clean bill of health, with on-loan Dean Henderson set for the green light to bolster a side whose defensive record is only bettered by Liverpool's. There has been timely contract news to boost absent supporters, too: Oliver Norwood, in the form of his career, and Billy Sharp, Bramall Lane's own captain, leader, legend, tied to new deals.
This is an opportunity that may not arise again. Wilder is determined to grasp it.
Ralph Hasenhuttl embarks on the next leg of his Southampton rebuild, with renewed backing from the club in the shape of a new contract.
These nine games will be about ensuring enough points to survive yes, but also assessing the players that he has and whether they can cut it in the Hasenhuttl mould and improve the team next season.
A number of players will be playing for their futures at St Mary's, while others like Kyle Walker-Peters and Kevin Danso will be playing for permanent contract offers.
Others may be playing in their last run of games for the Saints, with interest from other clubs in the likes of Danny Ings, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Jannick Vestergaard.
It will be a time of significant assessment for the Austrian head coach.
It's make or break for Jose Mourinho's Tottenham as a tumultuous season for the club reaches the final stretch.
Rally behind Mourinho and show how good they can be - as they have in certain games since he replaced Mauricio Pochettino - and they can qualify for next season's Champions League, and kick on with the rebuild from there.
Fail to do so, however, and even finish in the bottom half, and they could face an even more difficult summer transfer window than expected, as Mourinho tries to build a team capable of taking Spurs to the next level.
With a fully fit squad, there are no excuses to turn to either: will this squad play for their new head coach? And will the system he wants to play get the best from them? An interesting and crucial nine games lay ahead for Spurs.
That Watford assistant head coach Craig Shakespeare's response to next weekend's Premier League return fixture with Leicester was "bring it on" says a lot about how things have changed at Watford under the current regime, even if their position is still precarious.
When Nigel Pearson took over in December, he inherited a side that looked near-dead and buried and, in a break from owner Gino Pozzo's usually considered touch, looking in a real mess with just nine points from 16 games.
After a remarkable turnaround, goal difference currently separates the Hornets from the bottom three but they will be far more confident of extending that gap with the return of Troy Deeney to the fold, and the club talisman is fully expected to be fit for next week's opener despite health concerns delaying his own comeback to training.
There were worries that the new manager bounce under Pearson was over shortly before the restart following some poor results in the new year, but the return of the hugely influential Ismaila Sarr shortly before stunning Liverpool 3-0 on February 29 has given the club plenty more ammo in the battle to stay up.
Sarr was back in the goals in Watford's 2-0 win over Brentford on Saturday, but it remains to be seen whether the Hornets can wrestle back the momentum which gave them a fighting chance of survival through a six-game unbeaten run over Christmas.
The evidence of Pearson's short spell so far suggests that whether they can or not, they'll certainly be up for the fight.
West Ham finished the 2017/18 season with a flourish to secure their Premier League survival - and David Moyes will now need to pull off a similar run of results to what he did then if he is to realise his ambitions of building longer-term success in east London.
There were three wins, three draws and three defeats in the final nine games of that season and a similar return this time around could well be enough. But that's easier said than done, given this West Ham team have just one win to their name in their previous nine Premier League games.
In fairness, that latest streak has included some brutal fixtures, with Liverpool twice, Manchester City, Leicester and Arsenal all featuring. And West Ham's schedule doesn't get any easier after the restart, with Wolves, Tottenham and Chelsea next up.
But then come opportunities against sides closer to them in the table - and that's when West Ham's key men must deliver. When he took the job, Moyes spoke about how he would prove his credentials as a manager remain by ushering in an era of success at West Ham - but the short-term is all that matters right now. And with only goal difference keeping West Ham out of the bottom three, the stakes are high.
With nine games remaining, Wolves are in sixth position which would be an improvement on last season's placing of seventh and enough to secure another season of European football at Molineux.
The five teams below Wolves are within four points and two of them have a game in hand so the grip on a top-six finish is not firm. But supporters will be more inclined to view this nine-game mini-season as an opportunity. For Wolves, the rewards on offer in the coming weeks far outweigh the risks.
Form was good before the enforced break and with no FA Cup commitments, there might never be a better chance to qualify for the Champions League. They are two points off fifth and that could be enough given Manchester City's possible suspension.
Wolves have a small squad but having had few injury problems under Nuno and playing a controlled brand of football that appears more conducive to the demands of an intense schedule, they have every right to be optimistic about their prospects. The opportunity is there but will they seize it?