How the four teams in action look as the Premier League kicks off

Relegation battlers against Champions League chasers with Aston Villa v Sheffield United before Manchester City take on a flailing Arsenal – how the four teams in action are looking as the Premier League finally kicks off again tonight

  • Aston Villa host Sheffield United in the first Premier League game since March
  • The later kick-off sees Manchester City host Arsenal in a hotly anticipated game
  • It pits Pep Guardiola against Mikel Arteta, who started the season as City’s No 2
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

The Premier League is finally back, making a much anticipated return after a three-month absence due to the outbreak of coronavirus.

The first match sees Aston Villa host Sheffield United before Manchester City lock horns with Arsenal.

If you need a reminder on how each side is faring ahead of Wednesday’s action, then Sportsmail has you covered.

Finally, after a three-month absence, Premier League football returns on Wednesday night

STATE OF PLAY 

The task over the next few weeks could not be more simple for Dean Smith’s side: They have 10 games to climb out of the bottom three and avoid what chief executive Christian Purslow has branded the £200million catastrophe of relegation.

Heading into the clash with Sheffield United, Villa sit second from bottom, two points from safety. They do, though, have a game in hand and Smith’s side know victory would see them leapfrog three teams. So fine are the margins separating the bottom six.

WHAT ARE THEY PLAYING FOR?

Survival. It’s as simple and as stark as that. Villa have spent around £140m on new transfers since winning promotion. Like Fulham before them, it could prove an expensive but failed gamble if results don’t go their way over the coming weeks.

One crumb of comfort is that relegation remains in their own hands, for now. Anything but victory at Villa Park on Wednesday, though, and they will be hostage to results elsewhere.

Jack Grealish will inevitable have a key role to play in Aston Villa’s battle against the drop

Villa played in the last Premier League match in March and were beaten 4-0 by Leicester

HOW WERE THEY GETTING ON BEFORE THE SHUTDOWN?

Terribly. It remains to be seen whether form can survive a three-month hiatus. Memories certainly will. Villa featured in the most recent Premier League clash, too – a 4-0 drubbing at Leicester and a fifth straight defeat.

Smith’s side can only hope this resumption represents a new start as their slide down the table saw pressure mount on the manager. Performances had been dreadful and supporters were beginning to turn.

WHO WILL BE THEIR KEY PLAYERS?

Much will depend on Villa’s core of Jack Grealish, Tyrone Mings and midfielder John McGinn. The latter is fit again, having not played since damaging ankle ligaments against Southampton on December 21.

His return should help ignite Villa’s creative spark but they could do with plugging the leak at the other end, too. Mings and Co have conceded 56 goals already this season – more than any other side in the division.

John McGinn’s return to fitness in the enforced break could prove to be imperative for Villa

WHO HAVE THEY STILL GOT TO PLAY?

Following Wednesday’s visit of Sheffield United, Villa face a punishing run. Four of their next five matches are against sides in the top six (Wolves, Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea). 

Upcoming trips to Newcastle and West Ham will also be critical in the fight to avoid the drop.

SHEFFIELD UNITED

STATE OF PLAY

Victory at Villa Park would take Chris Wilder’s side above Manchester United and Wolves into fifth. 

With Manchester City’s European ban still to be decided, that could be good enough for Sheffield United to qualify for next season’s Champions League. It would be nothing less than they deserve for innovative, fearless football over the past nine months .

Dean Henderson and Sheffield United are resuming their chase for Europe at Villa Park

WHAT ARE THEY PLAYING FOR?

Europe. Wilder’s side, shorn of big names or much investment, were expected by many to head straight back to the Championship. Instead, their overlapping full-backs and waves of attack have taken the league by storm. 

It’s a remarkable achievement that they are competing with – even outstripping – sides like Chelsea, United, Spurs and Arsenal.

They are still in the FA Cup, too. Sheffield United face Arsenal in the last eight and silverware would be a fitting end to this exceptional campaign.

HOW WERE THEY GETTING ON BEFORE THE SHUTDOWN? 

As they have throughout the season, United were going toe-to-toe with all comers. Only Liverpool and Manchester City had beaten them in 2020.

Wilder’s thin squad have not faded as many predicted. They have not been found out, either. They continue to grind out results: Since November 3, Wilder’s side have won only one Premier League match by more than a single goal. They all count.

Chris Wilder has overseen a phenomenal season upon United’s return to the Premier League

Lys Mousset could prove key for Wilder – he has five goals to his name so far this season

WHO WILL BE THEIR KEY PLAYERS?

It’s tough to single out individuals from this Band of Brothers. Their strength has been drawn from the power of the collective. Lys Mousset, a record signing from Bournemouth, is their joint-top scorer. He has five league goals.

United’s rearguard has sustained this unlikely push for Europe. Only Liverpool have conceded fewer than their 25 goals – with back three Chris Basham, John Egan and Jack O’Connell their beating heart.

WHO HAVE THEY STILL GOT TO PLAY?

One three-week period could determine whether this season ends with a whimper, or whether United can really join Europe’s elite. Between June 24 and July 15, United face rivals Manchester United, Arsenal (FA Cup), Tottenham, Wolves, Chelsea and Leicester.

MANCHESTER CITY

STATE OF PLAY

With the title all-but gone – and the gap to the rest wide enough for even a few slip-ups – Manchester City eyes will no doubt drift towards the continent. To Lausanne, where they will soon find out the fate of their appeal against a European ban. And to the Champions League, the one gaping hole left in their trophy cabinet.

WHAT ARE THEY PLAYING FOR?

At home, there is the FA Cup. City face Newcastle in the last eight, having already picked up the Carabao Cup before shutdown. The domestic double would hardly make up for surrendering their Premier League title so limply but winning the Champions League would.

For both club and coach, this is the main prize on offer. City have one foot in the quarter finals after a brilliant first-leg win at Real Madrid. With the prospect of a two-year ban hanging overhead, this could be Guardiola’s final chance to win the big one at City.

Kevin De Bruyne has reached new heights for Manchester City in midfield this season

HOW WERE THEY GETTING ON BEFORE THE SHUTDOWN? 

As they have throughout the season, City struggled with inconsistency. There was victory in the Bernabeu followed by victory at Wembley in the Carabao Cup final. 

Either side of those glorious wins, however, there was a derby defeat by Manchester United and a loss at Spurs at the beginning of February. Their issues have been accentuated by Liverpool’s merciless march towards the title.

WHO WILL BE THEIR KEY PLAYERS?

Kevin De Bruyne has been the standout performer this season, setting new standards of creative genius from midfield. 

Players of Sergio Aguero’s calibre mean City are never going to be short of goals in the team

The form of Sergio Aguero, Raheem Sterling and Co has meant they were never short of goals. 

At the other end, meanwhile, Aymeric Laporte’s injury problems have severely hampered City’s foundations. He is at least fit for the run-in.

WHO HAVE THEY STILL GOT TO PLAY?

City’s fixture list looks fairly straightforward, bar the prospect of giving champions-elect Liverpool a guard of honour next month. 

The focus will instead be on the cups, with the FA Cup and Champions League now Guardiola’s best hope of ending this mixed season with something more than a whimper.

ARSENAL

STATE OF PLAY

It is possible no manager will have benefitted from this enforced lockdown as much as Mikel Arteta. The Spaniard, who is trying to right the wrongs of Unai Emery’s reign and re-instil some tactical nous into Arsenal’s play, has now had three more months to get his message across.

Mikel Arteta had overseen a steady resurgence at Arsenal before the enforced break

It is also possible that Arteta’s positive test came at the worst time for his side. They are unbeaten in the league in 2020, having shown renewed life and fighting spirit in his short reign. 

But any momentum they picked up has gone and Arteta now faces issues over the future of players such as David Luiz and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

WHAT ARE THEY PLAYING FOR?

Despite the crushing Europa League defeat by Olympicaos, Arsenal are still fighting on two fronts. They are in the last eight of the FA Cup and remain in the hunt for a top-four (or five) place which will secure a much-needed return to the Champions League. Win their game in hand and they could be as high as sixth.

HOW WERE THEY GETTING ON BEFORE THE SHUTDOWN?

 There had been bumps in the road – notably the defeat by Olympiacos – as well as lingering frailties. But also cause for optimism in Arteta’s early months. They beat Manchester United, fought back to draw with Chelsea and the development of players such as Bukayo Saka bred more hope for the future.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is Arsenal’s star man but is he eyeing a move away from the club?

Arsenal’s first game back sees Arteta take on City and Guardiola – where he was assistant boss

WHO WILL BE THEIR KEY PLAYERS?

Aubameyang will remain Arsenal’s fulcrum for as long as he is interested, or at the club. While his fellow forwards Alexandre Lacazette and Nicolas Pepe have been plagued by injury and inconsistency, respectively, Aubameyang’s goals have been their one constant.

WHO HAVE THEY STILL GOT TO PLAY?

Wednesday’s clash with Manchester City will not only pit Arteta against former boss Guardiola, but it will also be a baptism of fire in this rapid end to the campaign, which also features clashes with Sheffield United, Wolves, Leicester, Liverpool and Tottenham. 

If Arsenal can ride those waves and finish in the top five – or win a trophy – there will be optimism moving forward.




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