The Premier League returns in just a few weeks and with that, football discourse is beginning to shift back towards tactics, line-ups and the usual pre and post-match debate.
Recently the topics of conversation have been restricted to Bayern Munich running away with another Bundesliga title and N’Golo Kante donning a full head of hair, but soon we’ll be returning to English top flight discussions centering on who makes up Frank Lampard’s best midfield combination? And whether Nicolas Pepe was actually worth £72m?
Indeed, the enforced break away from the game has not only given Ross Barkley the chance to grow a beard, or allowed Erik Lamela to bleach his hair blonde, but it has also given some sidelined players an opportunity to return to full fitness and recover from injury.
Some big names were occupying the treatment tables before the season was put on hold, and a number have since returned to full fitness, meaning there’s an extra layer of excitement for the football extravaganza that is lying in wait for us.
Here we look at some of the returning stars and explore the possible on-pitch combinations that will have some fans purring at their team’s possibilities.
OFFICIAL: The Premier League have confirmed they will resume the season on June 17th with two games in hand being played first:
Aston Villa vs. Sheffield United
Manchester City vs. Arsenal
20 days remaining. pic.twitter.com/pBLb15yqG0
— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) May 28, 2020
Manchester United: Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford
Just before the Premier League announced an indefinite hiatus in March, Man Utd were building some steady momentum. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had overseen a five-match unbeaten run, including masterminding a 2-0 win over Man City, and coaxed some pretty consistent performances out of a number of inconsistent players.
That purple patch resulted in the club flying up the table and into fifth, with just three points separating them from fourth-placed Chelsea. The only real downside to Man Utd‘s forecast a few months back was the long-term injury sustained by Marcus Rashford and a growing uncertainty over Paul Pogba‘s future.
The former had not taken part in a Man Utd match since January, where he suffered a double stress fracture in an FA Cup win over Wolves. The initial prognosis was that the England international faced the possibility of missing the remainder of the campaign and, at the time, his Euro 2020 inclusion was in jeopardy.
However, the suspension has given Rashford a prolonged period to recover and he returned to Carrington last week for the first time to partake in a training session, as did French World Cup winner Paul Pogba, who has only featured eight times this season and last appeared on Boxing Day.
— Marcus Rashford (@MarcusRashford) May 28, 2020
The much-maligned superstar has endured a sporadic existence this term due to a string of injuries, but he now offers Solskjaer a promising option for the run-in, beginning with a proverbial six-pointer against fellow top-four aspirants Tottenham.
The duo’s return to training also offers the tantalising possibility of an XI containing Pogba, Rashford and Bruno Fernandes. The Portuguese ace came to Old Trafford with a frightening playmaker record in January, and questions over whether he could translate that form in England have been quickly answered.
Fernandes’ marriage of creativity and footballing intelligence could be the exact tonic needed for Pogba to thrive on a consistent basis in midfield. The combination of dynamism and the passing excellence of Pogba, mixed with the elusive playmaker exploits of Fernandes is certainly a mouthwatering prospect for those of a Red Devil persuasion.
Tottenham: Harry Kane, Steven Bergwijn, Son Heung-min and Moussa Sissoko
Tottenham’s aspirations of a top-four finish took a major dent on New Year’s Day after Harry Kane sustained a serious hamstring injury. The setback initially threatened to see the England star miss the majority of the campaign, but he has now returned to full group training alongside his teammates this week.
The prolific marksman has already talked up the prospect of playing alongside January recruits Gedson Fernandes and Steven Bergwijn, with the latter also overcoming an ankle issue which initially threatened to curtail his season at the start of March.
"From an injury point of view, I’m back to normal, fully fit. Obviously it will take a while to get back into the team training because I haven’t done that for six months or so, but I’m feeling good, I feel sharp."
— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) June 1, 2020
“I got injured on January 1 so I haven’t seen too much of Gedson or Stevie, playing with or getting that connection,” Kane told the club’s website.
“I have been watching them play, it has been long enough without a game, especially when you have got top players who are new to the club and you want to be on the pitch with them. I am looking forward to it, I am looking forward to it, the squad is looking good, everyone is fully fit and ready to go.”
Jose Mourinho will also be buoyed by the return of Son Heung-min, who has fully recovered from a fractured arm and has also completed his military service in South Korea. The possibility of a frontline consisting of Son, Bergwijn, Kane and Lucas Moura will have Spurs fans champing at the bit.
Moussa Sissoko has also recovered from a knee issue so the north London club are replete with a squad of exceptional talent. The energetic and versatile midfielder could bring the requisite tenacity to get the best out of Fernandes in central midfield, with the Benfica loanee yet to really find a stable home in Mourinho‘s XI.
Manchester City: Leroy Sane and Aymeric Laporte
The Leroy Sane-Bayern Munich transfer saga has stretched across the 2019/20 season despite the German winger so far missing the entire campaign. With just over a year left on his contract and no discernible signs of a renewal, those rumours are only likely to intensify in the coming months.
— Leroy Sané (@LeroySane19) May 23, 2020
But, away from the usual off-field conjecture, City fans will be excited to see the 24-year-old back in training after fully recovering from a serious knee ligament injury picked up last August. And he will be raring to go when the curtains unfurl later this month.
The Essen-born trickster is a world class outlet on his day, so Pep Guardiola will certainly welcome his return despite having plenty of options in the wide area. The Catalonian will be equally elated with the return to full fitness of Aymeric Laporte, who sustained a hamstring injury against Real Madrid.
Guardiola has had numerous issues with defensive injuries during his City tenure, but – barring any issues between now and mid June – he will be heading into the league’s resumption with a fully-fit squad.
Aston Villa: John McGinn
Jack Grealish may be the creative talisman and club captain, but John McGinn is arguably as important – or even more so – to Villa’s hopes of retaining their Premier League status.
Good to be back 💜 pic.twitter.com/9Fm7SKsahf
— John McGinn (@jmcginn7) May 26, 2020
The Glaswegian workhorse was inspirational as Villa returned to the top-flight last campaign and took to Premier League football like a duck to water this season, with his tenacious exploits and explosive runs proving invaluable to Dean Smith’s style of play.
When he fractured his ankle in late December the immediate fear was that Villa had just lost a game-changer for the majority of the season. Aspirations of survival took a significant blow.
However, with Villa languishing precariously inside the bottom three, Smith will more than encouraged to know his prized asset has returned to full training and if he can get up to speed quickly, the West Midlands club surely stand a solid chance of avoiding relegation.
Bournemouth: David Brooks, Chris Mepham, Steve Cook and Arnaut Danjuma
The Cherries have endured an injury-hit season but welcome back a number of crocked stars when the Premier League resumes, but there is only one man on the lips of every Bournemouth fan: David Brooks.
The incisive Welsh winger has not kicked a ball this season after picking up an ankle injury during pre-season last summer, but having gone under the knife and had time to recover, he is now in contention to play a significant part in the forthcoming relegation scrap.
First full week back on the grass ✅ pic.twitter.com/1FAd8INZVo
— AFC Bournemouth (@afcbournemouth) May 30, 2020
The 22-year-old burst onto the scene last campaign in his maiden Premier League season and will offer a key creative outlet for Eddie Howe, alongside Ryan Fraser and Arnaut Danjuma, on the flanks. With defensive duo Steve Cook and Chris Mepham also returning, Howe has a very strong squad to tinker around with for these defining months.
Former Bournemouth player and manager Harry Redknapp believes Brooks could be the key to safety. He told Sky Sports: “The one I am sure Bournemouth fans and Eddie Howe will be delighted to have back is David Brooks.
“He is, I think alongside Jack Grealish, the best attacking player in the bottom six. He can make a difference to that team.”
Arsenal: Cedric Soares, Kieran Tierney and Lucas Torreira
Cedric Soares is yet to make his Arsenal debut having signed on-loan from Southampton in January, and while he may not pose the sort of marquee acquisition to get match-going Gooners off their seats, he certainly offers a useful outlet for Mikel Arteta, particularly with the injury problems Hector Bellerin has suffered with over the years.
✌️ Luc who it is! 😉
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) May 30, 2020
Elsewhere, Lucas Torreira has returned to full training after it looked as though the diminutive Uruguayan would miss the remainder of the season after he was stretchered off during Arsenal’s FA Cup win at Portsmouth in March.
His Boca Juniors love-in aside, Arsenal fans were certainly in awe of this recent snap of their bulldog midfielder… and not just because of his apparent Breaking Bad allegiance.
— Lucas Torreira #LT11 (@LTorreira34) May 23, 2020
In other positive news, Kieran Tierney, who has seen his nascent Arsenal career hampered by injury problems, is set to return to action later this month after stepping up his rehabilitation following a freak shoulder break in the win over West Ham in December.
West Ham: Andriy Yarmolenko, Ryan Fredericks and Jack Wilshere
West Ham fans have had little to cheer about this season, but the return of Andriy Yarmolenko will certainly put a smile on their faces. On his day the Ukrainian is a powerful yet elegant winger, who has a propensity to chip in with the odd goal here and there. His return will be most welcomed in east London.
"It feels strange [to be back in training], as obviously it’s not normal circumstances… but it’s good to be back on a decent surface and have the ball at my feet again!"
— West Ham United (@🏠) (@WestHam) May 30, 2020
Elsewhere, Jack Wilshere has overcome a groin complication and looks set to play a part for David Moyes later this month. Whether the 34-capped England international can rediscover his former spark and finally put his injury nightmares to one side is very much anyone’s guess.
Finally, the big news for Moyes is that Ryan Fredericks is now fit and ready to go when it looked as though his season was over. The ageing legs of Pablo Zabaleta and inexperience of Jeremy Ngakia meant West Ham had a serious vulnerability at right-back, so Fredericks’ return is good news for the Hammers.
Temporary rule changes
Meanwhile, although a selection of players are gearing up for a return from injury, the hectic schedule that all clubs are facing during the 2019/20 season run-in may well see plenty more facing time on the treatment table in the near future.
Given the quick turnaround between games and complicated travel logistics that will have to be navigated, the Premier League has announced a temporary increase in the number of substitutions and size of matchday squads.
An official Premier League statement read: “For the remainder of the 2019/20 season, the number of substitutes that can be used during a match will increase from three to five players.
“Shareholders also approved for Clubs to increase the maximum number of substitute players on the bench from seven to nine for the rest of the 2019/20 season.”
Expanded matchday squads will now consist of 20 players, with a total of five substitutions per team allowed in each game.
Premier League 2019/20 fixtures
The first three game-weeks (and kick-off times) have now been confirmed by the Premier League.
Wednesday, June 17
Aston Villa vs Sheffield United 6pm – Sky
Manchester City vs Arsenal 8pm – Sky
Friday, June 19
Norwich vs Southampton 6pm – Sky
Tottenham vs Manchester United 8pm – Sky
Saturday, June 20
Watford vs Leicester 12.30pm – BT Sport
Brighton vs Arsenal 3pm – BT Sport
West Ham vs Wolves 5.30pm – Sky
Bournemouth vs Crystal Palace 7.45pm – BBC
Sunday, June 21
Newcastle vs Sheffield United 2pm – Sky
Aston Villa vs Chelsea 4.30pm – Sky
Everton vs Liverpool 7pm – Sky
Monday, June 22
Manchester City vs Burnley 8pm – Sky
Tuesday, June 23
Southampton vs Arsenal 6pm – Sky
Tottenham vs West Ham 8.15pm – Sky
Wednesday, June 24
Manchester United vs Sheffield United 6pm – Sky
Newcastle vs Aston Villa 6pm – Sky
Norwich vs Everton 6pm – BBC
Liverpool vs Crystal Palace 8.15pm – Sky
Thursday, June 25
Burnley vs Watford 6pm – Sky
Leicester vs Brighton 6pm – Sky
Chelsea vs Manchester City 8.15pm – BT Sport
Wolves vs Bournemouth 8.15pm – BT Sport
Sunday, June 28
Aston Villa vs Wolves 12pm – BT Sport
Watford vs Southampton 4.30pm – Sky
Monday June, 29
Crystal Palace vs Burnley 8pm – Amazon
Tuesday June, 30
Brighton vs Manchester United 6pm – Sky
Sheffield United vs Tottenham 8.15pm – Sky
Wednesday, July 1
Bournemouth vs Newcastle 6pm – Sky
Everton vs Leicester 6pm – Sky
West Ham vs Chelsea 8.15pm – Sky
Thursday, July 2
Arsenal vs Norwich 6pm – BT
Manchester City vs Liverpool 8.15pm – Sky