Sport

Picking up the remains of English season

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Aston Villa will host Sheffield United in the EPL at Villa Park on Wednesday. (AFP)
Aston Villa will host Sheffield United in the EPL at Villa Park on Wednesday. (AFP)

It’s been a long, frustrating wait but next week we will be able to see on television our first Premier League games since everything ground to a halt in March.

Of course it will not be the same watching the teams playing in empty stadiums, but these are extraordinary times and at present this is the only feasible way to play matches.

It is particularly unfortunate for Liverpool who, after a 30-year title drought, should clinch their first-ever Premier League trophy in the coming weeks, alas in an empty stadium.

It is not the ideal way to celebrate, but the club and fans won’t worry too much.

No one would begrudge Liverpool finally getting their hands on that elusive title.

Under the guidance of Juergen Klopp, they have been outstanding this season as witnessed by their current 25-point lead.

The Bundesliga has been paving the way admirably and one of the more interesting features has been the introduction of piped-in crowd noises to give the games some much-needed atmosphere.

Surprisingly, this “virtual crowd” appears to have worked quite well.

Fans watching on TV were initially very sceptical of fake crowd noise, but seem to have accepted it as preferable to the alternative.

Without the virtual crowd, it is a very sterile atmosphere and all you can hear is the shouting from the benches echoing around the empty stadium.

It feels very much like watching a training session rather than a real match.

Of course the piped-in crowd noise needs to be used sensibly and this appears to be the case in Bundesliga matches with the virtual crowd roaring when there are chances of goal and howling at disputed decisions.

In the game between Dortmund and Hertha Berlin, there was an entertaining moment when there was a possible hand ball in the penalty area by a Hertha defender.

The referee waved play on and there were howls of protest from the piped-in crowd including demands for a VAR check.

To make things sound as authentic as possible the audio in the Bundesliga is allowed to be weighted in favour of the home crowd.

It will be interesting to see how the crowd noises are handled in the Premier League.

British TV viewers are being offered a choice of piped-in noise or no noise.

We could be in for some entertaining debates if the crowd roars at the wrong time.

The venue which has the doubtful honour of kicking off the “Empty Stadium Era” is Villa Park where Aston Villa host Sheffield United on Wednesday at the unusual kick-off time of 6pm (midnight Thai time).

This will be followed by Arsenal taking on Manchester City at the Etihad, while a full programme is scheduled for the weekend.

There is a good chance of surprise results with some teams adapting better than others to the unusual playing circumstances.

Without packed stadiums the home advantage has virtually disappeared.

In the first few weeks of the Bundesliga restarting, 40 percent of matches were away wins, some of them quite unexpected.

The Championship will also be restarting next weekend with Leeds and West Brom firm favourites for automatic promotion with only Fulham, six points behind the Baggies and seven behind Leeds, having a realistic chance of threatening the top two.

In recent seasons, Leeds have fallen away towards the end of the season, but it will be a surprise if that happens this time around.

One complication in the Championship is that Stoke manager Michael O’Neill has tested positive for coronavirus.

Whether this will affect their opening game against Reading next Saturday remains to be seen.

Clubs in League One and Two this week voted to formally end the season, but with promotion, relegation and play-offs going ahead as in a normal season.

This means that, by using a “points-per-game” system for the matches that cannot be played, League One champions Coventry and Rotherham are promoted to the Championship, while Wycombe, Oxford, Portsmouth and Fleetwood will battle it out in the play-offs.

It also means heavyweights Sunderland will have to remain in the third tier for the third successive season.

Teams relegated from League One are Tranmere, Southend and Bolton who were all pretty dire before the coronavirus arrived.

In League Two, Swindon are the champions with Crewe and Plymouth also winning automatic promotion. The play-offs will feature Cheltenham, Exeter, Colchester and Northampton.

At the time of writing the League Two relegation issue has not been settled.

As it stands, cellar dwellers Stevenage will be relegated, but Macclesfield are facing a points deduction which could put them in bottom place.

The team promoted from the National League should be Barrow, although there are certain issues to be resolved by that league.

So let’s welcome back the remains of the season even if it is only two divisions in full action.

The coming weeks might even turn out to be more entertaining than we expect.



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