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Premier League back on track with fake crowd noise, fan interaction and extra interviews set to be part of Project Restart

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Liverpool and Mohamed Salah - pictured here scoring against Manchester United last January - are two wins away from the Premier League title (Martin Rickett/PA)

Liverpool and Mohamed Salah - pictured here scoring against Manchester United last January - are two wins away from the Premier League title (Martin Rickett/PA)

PA Wire/PA Images

Liverpool and Mohamed Salah - pictured here scoring against Manchester United last January - are two wins away from the Premier League title (Martin Rickett/PA)

It has been roller-coaster story littered with false starts, yet the Premier League train that threatened to fall off the rails on more than one occasion in the last two months has finally been given a definitive destination.

With June 17 confirmed for the resumption of England's top flight, football fans can dare to hope the sport-free nightmare we have endured over the last two months is coming to an end, as we look forward to some form of a new normal being injected into our lives.

The postponement of Manchester City's home game against Arsenal on March 11 was the beginning of the end for a Premier League season that ground to a complete halt a few days later when Gunners boss Mikel Arteta tested positive for Covid-19 at the start of what has been a horrific story of unending tragedy in England.

Now, despite a shocking coronavirus death toll of 37,837 in the UK, that same fixture between City and Arsenal will mark the restart of football after the UK government got behind a plan to reboot a Premier League brand that has long-since been a huge part of the nation's economy.

With some schools reopening in England next Monday and high street shops set to open their doors again on June 15, Premier League football fits into a narrative being crafted that the UK is open for business again.

The product we see when matches resume will be a little different to what we are used to, but plans are afoot to ensure the Premier League lives up to its billing as the most entertaining competition in world football, as these talking points can be put on the table at last.

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Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp is hoisted by his squad after Liverpool's Champions League triumph last May (Peter Byrne/PA)

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp is hoisted by his squad after Liverpool's Champions League triumph last May (Peter Byrne/PA)

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp is hoisted by his squad after Liverpool's Champions League triumph last May (Peter Byrne/PA)

THE LIVERPOOL QUESTION

Liverpool's coronation as Premier League champions has never been in doubt since football shut-down in mid-March.

With Jurgen Klopp's side 25-points clear at the top of the table and needing just two wins to clinch the club's first title in 30 years, UEFA's instruction to award the title on 'sporting merit' ensured Liverpool would have been named as champions even if no more games were played this season.

Now their next two games against Everton and Crystal Palace give Liverpool their chance to clinch the title on the field, even if the atmosphere inside the stadium will not befit their moment of triumph.

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Could Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta, left, outwit his old boss Pep Guardiola of Manchester City on Wednesday and pave the way for a Premier League coronation of Liverpool on Sunday? (Martin Rickett/PA)

Could Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta, left, outwit his old boss Pep Guardiola of Manchester City on Wednesday and pave the way for a Premier League coronation of Liverpool on Sunday? (Martin Rickett/PA)

Could Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta, left, outwit his old boss Pep Guardiola of Manchester City on Wednesday and pave the way for a Premier League coronation of Liverpool on Sunday? (Martin Rickett/PA)

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE RACE

The more pressing issues that remain unresolved are in the race to secure a top-four finish, with UEFA's decision to suspend Manchester City from the next two years of the Champions League opening up the prospect of a fifth-place finish securing qualification to next season's competition.

Manchester United currently sit in that fifth place and are just two points ahead of Wolves and Sheffield United, with Tottenham a further two points behind.

City are currently appealing against their UEFA punishment for breaking Financial Fair Play rules, but there is an expectation that the Manchester club will get at least a one-year ban that will rule them out of the 2020/21 Champions League season.

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Declan Rice, right, and his West Ham team-mates are in a relegation battle (John Walton/PA)

Declan Rice, right, and his West Ham team-mates are in a relegation battle (John Walton/PA)

PA

Declan Rice, right, and his West Ham team-mates are in a relegation battle (John Walton/PA)

BATTLE AT THE BOTTOM

It's no coincidence that the clubs expressing reservations about the restart all sit in the bottom six positions of the stalled Premier League table, with Brighton, West Ham and Watford among those most vocal in their reluctance to resume.

News that the father of Aston Villa manager Dean Smith died this week after complications related to Covid-19 offered a sombre reminder of the menace that remains around every corner, but it appears the clubs facing a relegation fight have lost their battle to curtail the season.

Their objections to plans to play matches at neutral venues appear to have been addressed and even though a final decision on that issue has yet to be announced, police chiefs and the UK government now appear to be open to the prospect of playing matches at their original venues despite concerns about fans gathering outside.

Intriguingly, there have only been five home wins in 27 Bundesliga games since top-flight football re-started in Germany earlier this month, which suggests home advantage is neutralised when fans are not present at the stadium.

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Gary Neville, left, and fellow Sky Sports football pundit Jamie Carragher (Peter Byrne/PA)

Gary Neville, left, and fellow Sky Sports football pundit Jamie Carragher (Peter Byrne/PA)

Gary Neville, left, and fellow Sky Sports football pundit Jamie Carragher (Peter Byrne/PA)

THE TV TALKS

Premier League chiefs have been in detailed discussions with broadcast partners Sky and BT Sport as they consider ways to ensure the glitz and glamour of the Premier League in matches that will be played at deserted stadiums.

The prospect of crowd noise being played is being considered, with plans to turn up the volume at appropriate moments when goals are scored or shots are saved all being discussed.

There have also been plans discussed to involve fans watching at home, with the idea of showing the reaction of fans watching their teams under a red button option discussed.

It has now been revealed that Sky Sports will screen 64 of the remaining 92 games in the Premier League season and 25 of those games will also be made available on free-to-air TV in the UK, with the BBC also being allowed to screen four live matches. This will be the first time Premier League football has been screened live on the state broadcaster.

Kick-off times have been confirmed as follows:

Friday at 8pm

Saturday at 12.30pm, 3pm, 5.30pm and 8pm

Sunday at 12 noon, 2pm, 4.30pm and 7pm

Monday at 8pm

Midweek matches on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 6pm and 8pm.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

Managers suggested they needed four weeks of full-contact training to be ready to resume that would mean matches resuming on June 26, while Premier League chiefs were keen to start on June 12.

So a compromise has been reached, with the 30th round of matches for this season starting on June 19 and matches likely to be played in midweek slots as the race to get through the final nine batches of games begin.

Clubs are keen to stage practice matches at their home stadiums to allow players to get used to playing inside empty arenas, with fans likely to be given clear instructions not to travel to stadiums where matches are being played.

This message has been successfully delivered in Germany during the first rounds of the restarted Bundesliga season, with fines likely to be threatened for fans who show up outside venues in large numbers.

What seems clear is this juggernaut is about to crank into gear once again, as the countdown is on for the return of Premier League football.

Online Editors