After months of uncertainty, calls to void the season, debates about the merits of points-per-game and entertaining ourselves with a mixture of weekly quizzes and bizarre dancing routine videos sent from random middle-aged relatives, the Premier League is finally back.
It may be different but the imaginatively named Project Restart has delivered and got some much needed football back into our lives. With the resumption of the relegation scrap and the race for the top six, there was an awful lot at stake during the first weekend of action in three months.
Here’s a look at five things we learned…
Arsenal do an Arsenal at the Amex
Having been comfortably beaten at Manchester City in mid-week, Arsenal travelled to the south coast to take on relegation threatened Brighton. With David Luiz’s calamitous defending still fresh in the mind from Wednesday night, a convincing performance was sorely needed to restore some respectability.
However, Arsenal once again found themselves without leadership or organisation at the back, despite playing against a Brighton side that had failed to score in almost five hours of Premier League action.
The Gunners held their lead for only seven minutes as Lewis Dunk poked home a scruffy equaliser, the 13th goal Arsenal have conceded from set pieces this term.
Neal Maupay’s stoppage time winner then saw them drop points from a winning position for a whopping seventh time so far this campaign. The size of the rebuild facing Mikel Arteta this summer is an immense and daunting one for a rookie coach.
Paul Pogba reminds United that he still has a part to play
After a flat opening hour in north London on Friday night, Manchester United were a goal down and in need of some inspiration. Having been out of action since Boxing Day with a nasty ankle injury, Paul Pogba was thrown into the fray to try and salvage something for his teammates.
The Frenchman was excellent and heavily involved from the moment he was introduced. His drop of the shoulder and clever run left Eric Dier chasing shadows as he resorted to a clumsy challenge to stop the 27-year-old who was in behind and bearing down on Hugo Lloris.
The resulting penalty was coolly dispatched by Bruno Fernandes and a precious point rescued for the Red Devils. Pogba may have been a contentious figure in recent years, but on the evidence of Friday’s cameo, he still has something of value to offer United this season.
This Paul Pogba pass was a bona fide work of art 🎨pic.twitter.com/Pqbg5Wo6mc
— Goal (@goal) June 21, 2020
Adama Traore steals the show to keep Wolves’ top-four hopes very much alive
Wolves travelled to the London Stadium on Saturday unbeaten in their last nine trips to the capital. Nuno Espirito Santo’s men knew a win would take them level on points with Manchester United and just two behind Chelsea. After a drab 70-odd minutes in which West Ham, very much mired in a relation scrap, failed to show any impetus; Wolves burst into life and had Adama Traore to thank for their lively awakening.
The heavy set winger was a menace after he was thrown into the action from the bench. Showing the kind of pace, aggression and wonderful distribution that have been the hallmarks of his season. Traore first teed up Raul Jimenez with an inch-perfect cross, before winning the ball in the final third and slipping in Matt Doherty who duly found Pedro Neto for a thumping second goal to kill the game.
Wolves are now perfectly poised to round off two excellent seasons back in the top-flight with yet another lofty finish in the league and more European football as their deserved reward.
⭐️ Man of the Match, @Wolves’ Adama Traore
64th min sub on
4 successful dribbles – 148 in PL this season, 12 more than any player
8th PL assist this season, behind only De Bruyne (16) & Alexander-Arnold (12) pic.twitter.com/oIPMsZFJA9
— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) June 20, 2020
Danny Ings inspires Southampton to an impressive victory
The halt to the Premier League campaign must have been particularly frustrating for Southampton’s Danny Ings. The England international was in the form of his life, with his goals dragging the Saints away from the drop zone and into the comforts of mid-table.
The former Liverpool striker showed no signs of rustiness as be burst back into life to help Southampton overpower a sorry Norwich City. The 27-year-old opened the scoring with a superb curling effort from the edge of the box after some suspect defending from the hosts.
The forward was then involved again, providing a composed assist for Stewart Armstrong just a few minutes later. Ings then sprang a clinical counter attack which resulted in the third goal of the game and pretty much condemned Norwich to an immediate return to the Championship.
He is now just three goals shy in the race for the Golden Boot and enjoying the most prolific season by any Southampton forward since 2002/03.
Liverpool fall flat without the influence of their full-backs
Liverpool probably would have picked almost any other game to resume on other than a Merseyside derby at Goodison Park. Despite revelling in an unbeaten run against their city rivals which stretches back to October 2010, the Reds have not always enjoyed their trips across Stanley Park.
A dour stalemate on Sunday night was the seventh from the last eight Merseyside derbies at Goodison Park to finish in a draw and this was certainly the most laboured Liverpool have been in any of those previous encounters.
The Reds started without Andy Robertson on the left flank, leaving only Trent Alexander-Arnold to attempt any overlapping mischief against Everton on the right hand side.
— Anfield Watch (@AnfieldWatch) June 21, 2020
Unsurprisingly for a player who hasn’t featured in just over 100 days, the 21-year-old lacked his usual zip and was ineffective in helping his team find any penetration at all.
Without the menace, width and distribution from the influential pairing, the league leaders were flat and dull, lacking in any coherent attacking outlet to break through their opponent’s well drilled defensive lines. On this evidence, Jurgen Klopp will need them both back and fully firing if they want to wrap up the league title sooner rather than later.