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Premier League return: the issues to resolve

Premier League football returns on Wednesday after a three-month coronavirus-enforced absence.

Nothing realistically will stop Liverpool from being crowned English champions for the first time in 30 years.

But there are a whole host of other issues to sort out, including relegation and next year’s European places, with the drama set to take place in empty, echoing stadiums.

AFP Sport takes a look at what still needs to be resolved.

When will Liverpool be champions?

Liverpool were 25 points clear of Manchester City and within touching distance of becoming English champions for the first time since 1990 when the league was suspended in March.

But while COVID-19 may have delayed their title party, nobody seriously believes it is not going to happen. 

Two more wins would make it mathematically impossible for City to catch Liverpool, but the Reds could triumph by winning their first game, at Merseyside neighbours Everton on Sunday, if City lose at home to Arsenal on Wednesday.

Jurgen Klopp’s men can also break two of City’s most cherished records—they need 19 points from the remaining 27 to beat the Manchester club’s total of 100 points from the 2017/18 season and they could also better City’s record title-winning margin of 19 points from the same campaign.

Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson lifted the Champions League trophy in a packed stadium in Madrid last June but is preparing for a different experience with the Premier League silverware being presented behind closed doors this year.

“Of course it would feel different because if you win any trophy and receive it without any fans there, it would be pretty strange,” he told the BBC.

Champions League battle

Intriguingly, the battle for top-four spots could be extended to include fifth place.

Liverpool are assured of their place in the Champions League and the other qualifying berths are currently occupied by Manchester City, Leicester and Chelsea.

But as things stand, City cannot compete in Europe’s top club competition for the next two seasons after being banned for financial fair play breaches.

Pep Guardiola’s side have appealed, however, and could still hold onto their Champions League place next season if the suspension is overturned.

If it is upheld, whoever finishes fifth will take their place in next season’s Champions League. 

Manchester United currently occupy that position, but Wolves and Sheffield United are both just two points behind Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team.

Eighth-placed Tottenham and Arsenal, one spot lower, will also fancy their chances of finishing fifth with a late charge.

Battle to avoid the drop

Norwich, Aston Villa and Bournemouth occupy the bottom three places in the Premier League but all will harbour hopes they can escape the drop.

Norwich are rock-bottom and six points from safety but a win at home to Leicester in late February gave them hope.

Villa had lost four straight games before the shutdown so the break could end up helping Dean Smith’s team, who have a game in hand over their rivals, while Eddie Howe will be desperate for Bournemouth to find some form after a run of seven defeats in 10 games.

Above the current bottom three, Watford are still in trouble despite their impressive initial revival under Nigel Pearson, while West Ham and Brighton are far from safe.

Fit to play

A clutch of top players will be raring to go after lengthy spells on the sidelines.

England striker Harry Kane is hungry for a return and Spurs team-mate Son Heung-min will also be able to feature after recovering from a broken arm.

Manchester United pair Paul Pogba, with just eight appearances this season, and Marcus Rashford, out of action since January with a back injury, should also feature.

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