The Premier League is all set to resume action on June 17th after more than two months of suspension due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With games set to run at a very fast pace throughout the summer, it’s worth considering a number of questions about the restart.
Yesterday we took a look at some of the sides who might’ve benefited from the COVID-19 suspension. But could the opposite also ring true? Indeed, there are definitely some teams who will have suffered from the two-month break.
Here are 5 Premier League clubs for whom the two-month break will have been a major detriment.
For Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal side, the COVID-19 suspension came at completely the wrong time. It’s been a rollercoaster season for the Gunners. As the final stretch of the 2019-20 Premier League campaign was beginning, though, it looked like they were definitely on the upswing.
After taking over from his fellow Spaniard Unai Emery in December, it certainly took Arteta time to settle into his new role. But after beginning his reign with no wins in his first three matches, his side had suddenly found their groove.
The Gunners were beaten by Chelsea on December 29th but beat Manchester United three days later in the Premier League. And following that, they’ve gone on an unbeaten run of eight games and were on a three-match winning streak prior to the Premier League’s suspension.
More notably, Arteta has brought a harmony to Arsenal’s squad not seen since the days of Arsene Wenger. The side’s veterans like Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Mesut Ozil have begun to improve their form, but that’s not all.
Arsenal’s youngsters – names such as Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli and Eddie Nketiah – have really stepped up under Arteta. The Gunners have long had some of the Premier League’s most exciting youngsters. But the Spaniard is finally beginning to use them to their full potential.
The Gunners may well pick up where they left off once the action restarts. But for now, there’s no denying that the two-month break definitely stopped them in the midst of their best run of 2019-20.
Like Arsenal, their biggest rivals from the 1990s and 2000s, the COVID-19 suspension stopped Manchester United in the middle of a strong run. Despite Ole Gunnar Solskjaer coming under fire on numerous occasions, when the action stopped, the Red Devils were just three points off a top-four spot in the Premier League.
United’s form had been patchy in the first part of the season. But from the start of February, Solskjaer’s side had put together a five-match unbeaten streak. And that sequence of games included massive wins over Chelsea and reigning champions Manchester City.
Solskjaer’s big signings had also begun to really find their groove. Harry Maguire was looking settled in the centre of defence and had grown into the leader United fans had hoped he would be. Aaron Wan-Bissaka was beginning to show the imperious form he’d displayed at Crystal Palace. And Bruno Fernandes – signed in January – had seemingly solved the side’s creative problems.
If United had beaten Tottenham Hotspur on March 14th in the Premier League, they’d have climbed into the top four. And judging on their form, it may have been difficult for their rivals to dislodge them.
However, the COVID-19 suspension may have stopped their momentum at the worst possible time. Sure, midfielder Paul Pogba will be back once the action restarts – but whether that’s to United’s advantage or detriment is a major question mark.
The Red Devils can still make the top four, but they certainly will not have welcomed the two-month break.
One of the biggest success stories of 2018-19 Premier League campaign, Wolves surprised everyone with their performances as a newly promoted club. Buoyed by big signings like Joao Moutinho and Rui Patricio, Nuno Espirito Santo’s men were able to finish in seventh place.
The current campaign has seen Wolves fly under the radar somewhat. But it’d be hard to claim that it hasn’t been another strong one from the Midlands side. Despite the distractions of the Europa League, by the time the competition was suspended, Wolves sat in sixth place in the Premier League.
There are a couple of reasons why Nuno Espirito Santo’s side will not have welcomed the two-month COVID-19 suspension. Firstly, Wolves were on a tremendous run of form before the action was suspended in March.
The Midlanders hadn’t lost since January, and were unbeaten in five games. And that run also featured an impressive come-from-behind 3-2 win over Tottenham, another side hunting for a Champions League spot.
And secondly, Wolves’ next three fixtures looked favourable for them. They were set to face West Ham United, Bournemouth and Aston Villa, three of the Premier League’s strugglers. Had they picked up maximum points, they could well have climbed into the top four.
Now though, they’ll face those three sides after they’ve had two months to recharge their batteries. The Midlands derby against Villa in particular now seems trickier. Dean Smith’s side will be able to call upon numerous players who would’ve been injured prior to the break.
Nuno’s team may well slip back into their groove and continue to climb the Premier League table. But there’s every chance that the sudden break has ruined all of their momentum, too.
Widely tipped for relegation before the season started, Sheffield United have instead stunned the entire Premier League. Chris Wilder’s side have lost just seven games all season – as many as second-placed Manchester City – and currently sit in seventh place.
The Blades’ success has been built on their remarkably solid defence. Despite a lack of big-name stars, Wilder’s team have conceded just 25 goals during the Premier League campaign. That’s only four more than runaway Premier League leaders, Liverpool.
When the season was suspended in March, the Blades were on an excellent run. They’d lost just twice in 2020 – to Liverpool and Manchester City – and had won three of their last four matches. Somehow, they were actually just five points off a top-four spot in the Premier League, with a game in hand too.
But the fact that the Premier League’s suspension cut off such a strong run has to be seen as a bad thing for Wilder’s men. Football is a game of momentum, and there’s no disputing that the Blades had plenty of it in 2020. But will that momentum be able to continue two months down the line?
The truth is that it’s hard to say. More to the point, Wilder’s tactics – which took more vaunted managers by surprise in the early days of the Premier League campaign – are now well-known. Does that mean that his fellow bosses will have used the two-month break to work on ways to counter them?
It’s definitely possible. And given that the Blades rely more on their game-planning than on the individual brilliance of their players, that idea could be worrying for Wilder. Sheffield United will definitely remain in the Premier League for another season. But a sudden drop down the table wouldn’t be a surprise following the two-month break.
It’d be fair to say that Burnley have never looked like threatening the Premier League’s elite this season. But it’s also true that for the most part, the Clarets have been highly consistent in their results throughout the campaign.
Sean Dyche’s side have been a team of “runs” during the 2019-20 Premier League. A glance at their results shows that they’ve either lost multiple games in a row or been able to put together solid unbeaten stretches. Those stretches have helped them into a comfortable 10th place in the table.
Unfortunately for Dyche and his squad, the COVID-19 suspension stopped them in the midst of one of those strong runs. The Clarets had not lost a game since January 11th, going seven matches unbeaten. Four of those games had been wins, including unlikely defeats of Leicester City and Manchester United.
The big problem for Burnley is that their next fixture in the Premier League sees them head to the Etihad Stadium to face Manchester City. Obviously, the match would always have been one of the toughest of the season. But coming in the midst of such a strong run, Dyche may have been confident of stealing a point.
After the two-month break though, it’s likely that all of the momentum the Clarets built has faded away. Can they really expect to take anything from that City game now? The truth is that it’s unlikely.
And judging by their form all season, if they’re beaten heavily at the Etihad, it’ll likely mean bad things. On the last three occasions that an unbeaten run was ended, Burnley then went onto register multiple defeats.
If that’s the case this time, then Dyche’s side could face a freefall down the Premier League table. Not only would that ruin their Premier League campaign, but it’d also cast doubt over their 2020-21 Premier League hopes, too.