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Four things to look for as European football picks up speed this week

The European club football trophies should already be stowed in the cabinets, instead most of the top leagues are only just resuming after the coronavirus interruption.

While the Germans returned on May 16, the top two Spanish divisions have only just resumed, and the English Premier League and Serie A reappear this week.

AFP Sport picks out key issues as elite European club football gets back into its stride.

It’s all kicking off

The Premier League returns on Wednesday and Serie A on Saturday, joining the Bundesliga and La Liga in rebooting their seasons.

Aston Villa, who lost to Leicester on Match 9 in the last match before the lockdown, will kick off against Champions League chasing Sheffield United. 

The potentially pivotal game on re-opening day pits Manchester City, clinging to their hopes of retaining their title, against visiting Arsenal. 

Serie A makes a stuttering comeback with four fixtures called off when Italian sport was suspended on March 9 midway through the 26th round of matches.

Torino kick off at home to Parma in a mid-table battle on Saturday. On Sunday third-place Inter Milan and fourth-place Atalanta both have home games.

We are almost the champions

Two of the leagues could be settled by the end of the week.

Bayern Munich have been in rude health since the restart, winning all six matches, five in the league and one in the cup, including a pivotal victory at challengers Borussia Dortmund. 

They can clinch an eighth straight title with victory at struggling Werder Bremen on Tuesday. But Bremen showed signs of life on Saturday with a 5-1 victory in Paderborn.

It could be one and done for Liverpool. If Manchester City fail to beat Arsenal, Liverpool can clinch their first title since 1990 away to neighbours Everton on Sunday.

The prospect of Liverpool winning the title in their own city led police to briefly suggest the match be moved to avoid fans ignoring social distancing rules and gathering to celebrate. 

On a knife edge

While Bayern and Liverpool await their coronations, there is plenty at stake elsewhere.

Juventus have usually burned off their pursuers in the final straight on their way to eight straight Serie A titles, but Lazio have been proving dogged, and the long break may change the equation.

In Spain, Barcelona, whose form had been erratic before the enforced break returned with a bang on Saturday, winning 4-0 at Mallorca to ensure they stayed ahead of Real Madrid. 

The pace will be frantic. Barcelona return with three matches in six days. 

The battle for precious Champions League berths is tight everywhere. In England it is complicated by the possibility that Manchester City will be banned from next season’s competition.

While Paderborn in Germany, Norwich in England, and SPAL and Brescia in Serie A need near miracles to escape relegation, every one of the four big leagues has at least half a dozen clubs embroiled in the survival battle.

Yet Espanyol, who returned in La Liga on Saturday by ending a run of six matches, and more than four months, without a win suggested the break may help some strugglers. 

Made for TV 

Having been starved of live games, fans still cannot go to matches but can suddenly choose from a crowded menu – if they have the right subscriptions. 

When he gave the green light for Italian football to return, Sports Minister Vincent Spadafora said the sport was part of the country’s “return to normal life again”.

The first match suggested the appetite was there as a goalless cup semi-final between Juventus and Inter Milan on Friday drew the biggest football audience for more than a year. But it was shown free-to-air on national broadcaster RAI. When Serie A returns so will the pay wall, with most matches on Sky Italia.

In Germany, the local Sky arm owns the rights and broadcast live action free for the first two rounds.

In England, where the Premier League has become a political football for battered politicians, the schedule has been arranged so all the 92 games can be screened live.

Of those 33, 25 on Sky and four each on the BBC and Amazon, will be available free, including the Merseyside derby.

In Spain, the format is unchanged with one game a week available free, but Movistar, which owns the rights to the other nine matches, has reduced its price for the remaining games.

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