London (AFP) – All 20 Premier League sides have now had at least one experience of their ‘new normal’, adapting to empty stands and strict hygiene protocols to try and complete the season despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
There are also changes to how the game operates on the field with more substitutions, water breaks and a packed schedule of games altering managers’ plans.
Yet, for all the disruption, much remained the same as Manchester City kept Liverpool waiting to seal the title and those at the other end of the table struggled to pull themselves clear of the relegation zone.
AFP Sports looks at five things we learned.
– Slow starts –
Of the 28 goals scored in the first 12 games, a mere eight have come in the first half as teams slowly get used to their new surroundings.
Everton striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin reflected the feeling of many when he said playing a Merseyside derby against Liverpool with no atmosphere was “a little bit bizarre”.
Players and managers are also wary of spending their energies too early after a three-month layoff and very little time training together to get up to speed.
– Five substitutions –
Another reason for a glut of late goals could be the impact made off the bench with coaches enjoying more choice than ever before.
Each team can make five substitutions with nine reserves on the bench to call on.
Tottenham manager Jose Mourinho bemoaned the temporary change will only serve to help “the powerful clubs” and broaden the gap between rich and poor.
Mourinho made just two changes as Spurs wilted in the final stages against Manchester United, who netted a late equaliser in a 1-1 draw on Friday.
United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer acknowledged he had “quality players to come on and make a difference” after Paul Pogba’s introduction made a big impact, winning the penalty from which Bruno Fernandes levelled.
Frank Lampard’s substitutions also proved pivotal as Chelsea came from behind to beat Aston Villa 2-1, with Christian Pulisic coming off the bench to equalise.
– Unnecessary water breaks –
Despite having an extra two substitutions, each side can still only stop the game three times to make changes.
That tinkering of the laws is designed to protect player welfare without continuously halting the flow of the game, but another new feature is doing just that.
A water break at the halfway point of each half has been implemented, no matter what temperature the game takes place in.
In practice, this has allowed managers an extra time out to get instructions across and often switch the momentum of the game.
– More of the same –
Silky football from City, a Merseyside derby stalemate, an Arsenal collapse and defensive calamities for Norwich, Bournemouth and Villa: the more things change, the more they stay the same.
City’s title challenge to Liverpool was partly derailed by key injuries to Leroy Sane and Aymeric Laporte early in the campaign.
With a full compliment to now choose from, Pep Guardiola is spoiled for choice as he showed in making eight changes for Monday’s 5-0 thrashing of Burnley.
Liverpool have still not lost a derby in 10 years, but a goalless draw at Goodison was also not so out of the ordinary. The last three Premier League meetings between the sides at Everton’s home have now failed to produce a goal.
Aston Villa’s 0-0 draw against Sheffield United is the only point any of the bottom four have picked up since the restart as all four fell to damaging home defeats this weekend.
– Take a knee takes hold –
After a 100-day wait for the Premier League to restart, it did so on one knee as all players, staff and referees took a knee before kick-off between Villa and Sheffield United.
Every game so far has followed in the same fashion as the Premier League has sent a strong message around the world in support of the Black Lives Matter campaign, although the start ot City’s win over Burnley was marred by an aircraft circling the Etihad Stadium with a banner reading ‘White lives matter Burnley’.
“It’s powerful, it’s given the movement global momentum to keep the conversation going,” former Arsenal striker Ian Wright said of the Black Live Matters campaign.
However, pressure is now on the league to take action rather than make gestures.
The Premier League has so far resisted calls to introduce a NFL style “Rooney rule” that requires teams to interview ethnic minority candidates for senior coaching roles.