Thousands and thousands of hours of football, each more climactic than the last! Constant, dizzying, 24 hour, yearlong, endless, football! Every kick of it, massively mattering to someone, presumably! Watch it all, all here, all the time, forever! It will never stop, for football is officially going on forever! It will never be finally decided who was won the football! There is still everything to play for, and FOREVER to play it in! So that’s the football, coming up, watch it, watch the football, watch it, watch it, it’s gonna MOOOVEE! Watch it, watch the football, it’s FOOTBALLLLLL!!!!!!!!” – That Mitchell and Webb Look sketch, Watch the Football, available to watch here
So there we have it. Football is back. The opening weekend bonanza has been and gone with players fresh from their 3 month layoff, play high intensity, slick, entertaining football while the nation laps up the matches in their garden in gorgeous June weather, giving it a feel of a World Cup summer all over again.
Not quite- football isn’t really back until the people that define it are allowed back through the turnstiles, the weather, albeit soaring in the past week, was miserable during the first few games, the majority of English footballing faithful are still depressed that were not currently seeing Danny Ings win the Golden Boot on way to Euro 2020 glory on home soil, but crucially, the rust among Premier League sides was evident over the weekend.
After consuming all of the weekend’s fixtures bar Brighton vs Arsenal at 3pm on Saturday, where I opted for the magic of Soccer Saturday instead covering the real best league in the world (the Championship), suffice to say that all sides in the Premier League will need a few more competitive fixtures to dust off the cobwebs. Not only this, but numerous sides have been bludgeoned by injuries- Arsenal racking up just the 4 medium to long term injuries in just over 100 minutes of football, and Liverpool suffering injuries to Joël Matip and James Milner vs Everton to name but a few.
The biggest hurdle of the restart was, fairly comfortably, overcome. The relentless coronavirus testing for plyers and staff, disinfecting pitches, disinfecting the subs bench, and limiting close contact, despite being confusing safety measures (no hand to hand contact yet everyone gets into a headlock while attacking and defending set pieces, really?), have worked- one person out of a total of 1,541 players and staff has tested positive.
The primary ‘purpose’ however of the restart however, to entertain, which has been the drum that so many politicians and fans alike have beaten when supporting the restart- may take time to enthuse the public again. Even though one can opt out of it, the artificial crowd noise which acts as a laughing track over the games is scarily accurate- adding to the sense, at least in my view, of this all being very dystopian. On the pitch, teams struggled to play with the same attacking verve that had defined so many of them before the restart. Wolves were largely impotent before the introduction of Adama Traoré against West Ham, Liverpool ‘s midfield intensity was less regular than usual, Manchester United’s speedy forward three of Rashford, Martial and Dan James didn’t have anywhere near the same explosive energy they showed in their final game before the lockdown against Manchester City, and Sheffield United failed to create the overloads in wide areas which have perplexed so many Premier League sides this season. Of course, this may merely be rustiness, but equally one may think it may be reluctance to play the game at their full pelt due to concern over injury, which, if true, would have major ramifications on the Premier League product over the next few weeks who pride, or at least market themselves on being the most bonkers and entertaining league of all.
It emerged that the Merseyside derby (can it be called a derby it there are no fans to revel in it?) on Sunday night was the most watched Premier League fixture in history, surpassing some 5 million viewers. The game was a continually dreary affair, suggesting that the only reason for this was due to the sheer novelty of having football back on live television – a novelty which will dwindle in the coming matchdays. If the Premier League is to maintain its viewership over the coming weeks, sides are going to have to get into the groove of things again, and fast. Even if this were to happen, will viewers continue to watch live games without the electrification provided by fans? This writer likely won’t, much as I love actively watching the tactical ide of the game, a facet largely unaffected by the absence of a crowd.
The restart overcame the massive hurdle few expected it to overcome this early, yet it disregarded a bundle of minor one along the way.