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Dean Smith: Aston Villa kicking off Premier League restart 'an honour'

Watch Aston Villa vs Sheffield United live on Sky Sports Premier League from 4.30pm on Wednesday; kick-off is at 6pm

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Dean Smith says his players are 'itching' to get going on Wednesday when they face Sheffield United for the first Premier League game in three months

Dean Smith cannot wait for the world to watch his Aston Villa side take on Sheffield United as the Premier League season gets back under way on Wednesday, live on Sky Sports.

Villa find themselves firmly in a relegation scrap while the seventh-placed Blades, also promoted from the Sky Bet Championship last season, look set to battle it out for a European spot.

Smith expressed his delight with being one of the first teams back but also voiced his concerns over the Premier League's rule change - which allows the use of five substitutions in a match rather than three - with clubs also now able to name nine players on their bench, up from seven previously.

"It is an honour, the eyes of the world will be on us," Smith said. "We're looking forward to it and we have worked very hard. The players have been itching to get back."

On the substitution rule change, he added: "I wasn't for it. I just believe we started the season with certain rules and now we have changed it. I suppose it helps the clubs with the bigger squads.

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Charlie Nicholas believes Aston Villa could be relegated from the Premier League if Jack Grealish struggles once the season resumes

"There was talk to change it because there is more risk of injury but having more subs doesn't help that. I just wanted it to stay as it was. I think Sheffield United were the same.

"Having five subs gives us the chance to rotate the squad during the game. It is like being away in a World Cup camp and playing a mini-tournament."

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Grealish says he is relishing the remaining 10 games of the Premier League

Smith confirmed that star midfielder John McGinn is available for the clash on Wednesday, having been out since December with a fractured ankle.

Striker Wesley and goalkeeper Tom Heaton will not be available for the final nine games as they continue to recover from long-term knee injuries but Jed Steer is fit after an Achilles injury.

What shape are Villa in for restart?

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - MARCH 23: Aston Villa club crest featuring the The Rampant Lion of Scotland hallmark on the side of the Trinity Road Stand at Villa Park, home of Aston Villa FC on March 23, 2020 in Birmingham, United Kingdom. (Photo by VISIONHAUS)
Image: Aston Villa vs Sheffield United is live on Sky Sports on Wednesday June 17

Aston Villa have one game in hand over their rivals, the upcoming match against Sheffield United.

Villa have the third-toughest run-in before the season ends, playing sides with an average placing of 8.4, behind only Bournemouth and Crystal Palace (8.2).

Villa face Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal at home, as well as having to travel to Liverpool and Everton. Throw in a Midlands derby against Wolves and a trip to fellow strugglers West Ham, and it won't be easy for Dean Smith's men.

Was the virtual news conference a success?

Sky Sports News reporter Rob Dorsett was logged into Dean Smith's conference. Here are his thoughts on the day:

"Having not seen Dean Smith for three months, it was strange to see him for the first time in this environment - especially with the virtual Aston Villa background that the club tried to use, to keep their sponsors happy and give it a more 'normal' press conference feel.

"After some discussion about the strobing and parts of Smith's head disappearing into the virtual ether, the decision was taken to go with the actual background in Smith's office, with an elaborate club-coloured stained-glass window in the background.

Dean Smith
Image: After some initial technical difficulties Dean Smith's press conference was "smooth sailing".

"Smith's Director of Communications, Tommy Jordan, joined the Zoom call from a service station near Dumfries, as he lives in Scotland, but was on his way to Newcastle to undergo his second Coronavirus test, in preparation for Wednesday's game.

"And so, after a quick change of outfit for Smith into club-sponsored attire, we were ready to go. From here on in, it was quite smooth sailing - Jordan had arranged for each broadcaster to ask questions in turn, and mute their microphones when not speaking, so there was no talking over each other.

"I went first, as is traditional for Sky Sports News, followed by PLP, the BBC and ITV. Smith, always affable and forthcoming - spoke openly and engagingly about Wednesday's game against Sheffield United, the different nature of Villa's preparations for it, and the unusual emotions for him and the players surrounding such a crucial match, in such unusual circumstances."

Watch the Premier League live on Sky Sports

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Chartered psychologist Steven Sylvester says Premier League teams are likely to be affected by the lack of fans at games
  • 64 live games on Sky Sports from provisional restart date of June 17
  • 25 games to be made freely available
  • New Sky Sports digital innovations also planned to enhance fan experience

The Premier League 2019/20 season will provisionally restart on Wednesday June 17 and Sky, the UK's leading football broadcaster, will make 25 games available 'free to air' - including Everton vs Liverpool on the first full weekend back - for everyone in the UK to enjoy.

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.

To celebrate the return of the Premier League, Sky Sports will also launch a host of innovative new features and updates to give fans an even more immersive experience and share the moments live with family and friends on virtual platforms.

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