For the first time in over three months, the Premier League is back. The first game of the Premier League’s return to action will take place at Villa Park, with Sheffield United the visiting team.
Manchester City Host Arsenal as Premier League Returns
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been a number of changes to the game. The biggest one is obviously the new substitution rule. Teams are now allowed to make five substitutions per game, but at only three moments in the match.
So let’s use Sunday’s Real Madrid match as an example. They made one sub at halftime, three subs at the 61st minute, and one sub in the 84th. The rule allows each team to get creative with when they use their subs, while not allowing them to split them up as a time-wasting endeavour.
Between the lay-off and the packed fixture list ahead, the rule change is a rare moment of productive planing by football’s governing bodies. It will also allow more creative managers an opportunity to get the most out of their squad depth; managers like Pep Guardiola will be able to make full strategic use of these changes.
The Premier League Lay-off
After what is easily the longest break most of these players have ever had, there is going to be some rust. Most summer breaks for top footballers last four to six weeks. But when Manchester City and Arsenal returned to training a month ago it had been roughly eight weeks since their last day at the facility.
Obviously, it will be hard to predict what that layoff will mean for these Premier League pros. But it should give Manchester City an advantage over Arsenal. Mostly because it means players like Leroy Sane and Aymeric Laporte are fully fit and ready to go.
The pair have missed almost all of the season with serious knee injuries. They’ve played a combined nine games all season, eight of which by Laporte alone. But both were training regularly when the break began and should be ready to go without any restrictions now. So it would be pretty surprising not to see both of them featured in some shape or form on Wednesday.
The Manchester City Team
The next question becomes who else should feature for Manchester City’s game against Arsenal. The obvious ones will be Ederson, Raheem Sterling, Rodrigo, and Kevin De Bruyne. With Ilkay Gundogan and Bernardo Silva these are the six most-used players in Manchester City’s team by a mile.
Some of the other positions may be harder to predict, but the options are all pretty good. Expect to see a back four of Kyle Walker, Fernandinho, Laporte, and Benjamin Mendy. There is a possibility that Oleksandr Zinchenko gets a spot in the back four, but Mendy has been Pep’s first choice since the start of the new year.
Five out of the front six seem to be locked down so that would leave the position of centre-forward left to decide. It would be easy for Pep to start Sergio Aguero in the first game back. But, it might be a better idea to give Gabriel Jesus the first start.
Jesus is a confidence player, so why not give him a big boost in the restart. And if he isn’t able to score Pep can bring Aguero on for him whenever he pleases, and still have four subs left for the rest of the team.
As easy as the Manchester City team is to predict, the Arsenal team is just as hard. Mikel Arteta and Unai Emry have spent the season balancing the team between a decent stable of veterans and young players. But one of Arsenal’s features since Arteta took over has been the presence of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in a left-wing role.
The other two guarantees under Arteta have been Mesut Ozil and David Luiz. Ozil’s return to the number 10 position hasn’t had guaranteed success. But, it seems Arteta believes in giving him the freedom that made him so good in the past. In addition, David Luiz is easily their best passing centre-back so his inclusion seems obvious.
The rest of the team could be really up in the air, but the roles should be easier to predict. Arteta will have a back four, with two sitting midfielder’s behind a roaming Ozil. Two wingers, usually inverted and one striker will make up the rest of the group that travels to the Etihad on Wednesday.
This will be Arteta’s biggest showcase to see what he has as a manager. With these three months off, he’s got the preseason he was unable to have taking over midseason. So for his and Arsenal’s sake, he better have made the most of it.