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Empty stadiums, synchronized protests, five substitutes apiece, fake crowd noises and plenty of drama.
The Premier League is finally back.
Arsenal endured a torrid week, Liverpool dropped points, Manchester City roared back to life and Sheffield United’s European hopes suffered a major blow.
Here are the main talking points from the league’s resumption.
The Premier League certainly has not shied away from the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
Clubs have been active on social media since the shooting of George Floyd in Minnesota and the subsequent protests and discussions surrounding racial discrimination and inequality.
Players from all 20 teams have taken a knee at the beginning of each match since the resumption of the league, while the names on the back of all jerseys have also been replaced with the ‘BlackLivesMatter’ slogan.
With Marcus Rashford also making headlines for all the right reasons after his campaigning ensured over one million children will not go hungry through the summer months, it is refreshing to see Premier League players using their stage to draw attention to important issues.
It was particularly disappointing, then, to see the “White Lives Matter Burnley” message flown over the Etihad Stadium on Monday.
Thankfully, Burnley have been quick to condemn the incident as a club, with Clarets defender Ben Mee saying he feels embarrassed and ashamed by the incident.
Honours even on Merseyside
Runaway league leaders Liverpool made the short journey across Stanley Park to Goodison in the knowledge that a win over local rivals Everton would leave the Reds within one win of that ever-elusive maiden Premier League title.
However, Jurgen Klopp’s visitors were far from their best in the scrappy scoreless draw, with Everton carving out the best opportunities of the game.
Liverpool were without Mohamed Salah, despite the Egyptian being named on the bench, and struggled to create many notable chances against Carlo Ancelotti’s well-drilled Toffees.
Sadio Mane threatened and Naby Keita impressed, but few other Liverpool players appeared able to shake off their rustiness in their first game back, with January signing Takumi Minamino lasting just 45 minutes.
Seamus Coleman, meanwhile, produced a man-of-the-match performance at right back for Everton.
Tom Davies almost snatched all three points for the hosts late on after Alisson parried an inventive flick from Dominic Calvert-Lewin, but the midfielder’s effort came back off the post.
Next up for Liverpool is a clash with Crystal Palace at Anfield, with the Reds needing just five points from their remaining eight games to seal the title.
Everton’s next match sees the Toffees take on Norwich at Carrow Road.
Misery for gloomy Gunners
It’s been a week to forget for Arsenal and their supporters.
The Gunners were beaten 3-0 by Manchester City at the Etihad in their first game of the week, before suffering a 2-1 defeat to Brighton at the Amex Stadium.
Arsenal looked compact and solid in the early exchanges against City in Manchester, until David Luiz replaced the injured Pablo Mari.
Luiz somehow deigned to misjudge the path of a routine bouncing ball, allowing Raheem Sterling through one-on-one with Bernd Leno.
Sterling finished calmly to give the hosts the lead in first-half stoppage time.
Four minutes into the second half, Luiz conceded a penalty and was sent off for tugging Riyad Mahrez’ jersey inside the area.
The Brazilian received his marching orders, and Kevin De Bruyne doubled City’s lead from the resulting penalty.
Pep Guardiola’s men added the icing on the cake when midfielder Phil Foden found the net in the 92nd minute to secure a comfortable victory.
Foden has since added two more goals in a superb man-of-the-match performance in City’s 5-0 drubbing of Burnley at the Etihad on Monday night, with Mahrez (two) and David Silva also chipping in with goals.
For Arsenal, however, things have gone from bad to worse.
Mikel Arteta’s side seemed to be getting back on track when Nicolas Pepe curled in a beautiful left-footed curling strike in the 68th minute of the Gunners’ match against Brighton.
However, the Seagulls drew level just seven minutes later when Lewis Dunk forced a scrappy equalizer over the line from point-blank range following a well-worked corner.
Neil Maupay then popped up with an injury-time winner after a clever flick from Aaron Connolly, keeping his nerve to lift the ball over Leno from an acute angle.
Arsenal are now languishing in 10th place in the table, six points off Manchester United in fifth and 11 behind fourth-placed Chelsea.
The Gunners will need to improve dramatically in the coming weeks if they are to qualify for European football next season.
Stuttering Sheffield suffer consecutive defeats
Chris Wilder’s Sheffield United have been one of the stories of the season.
The Blades have defied expectations to push for European qualification following their promotion from the Championship, and a win in their first game back could have lifted them into fifth place in the table.
Instead, Sheffield played out a controversial 0-0 draw with Aston Villa at Barmall Lane, with Wilder’s men denied a perfectly good goal due to a rare glitch in the goal-line technology.
A surprise 3-0 defeat to Newcastle a few days later has further dented the Blades’ hopes of qualifying for Europe, with Republic of Ireland centre back John Egan being sent off five minutes into the second half.
The Magpies capitalized on their numerical advantage, with Allan Saint-Maximin, Matt Ritchie and Joelinton (his first league goal in 10 months) plundering goals for Steve Bruce’s men at St. James’ Park.
Sheffield are now seventh in the table, two points behind Wolves and United, and two ahead of Spurs.
Mixed fortunes for United
Man United fans have been itching to see Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes in tandem, and they finally got their wish against Spurs.
Pogba was introduced in the second half of the Red Devils’ 1-1 draw with Spurs in North London, with the visitors trailing 1-0 and in need of inspiration.
The Frenchman linked up with Fernandes immediately and showed excellent footwork to win a penalty after bamboozling Eric Dier near the touchline.
Fernandes dispatched the penalty in the bottom corner to give United a deserved equalizer.
Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s men had fallen behind in the first half after a comedy of defensive errors.
Luke Shaw’s weak clearing header was knocked forward by Serge Aurier, finding Steven Bergwijn midway inside the United half.
The Spurs winger raced towards goal, with Harry Maguire’s legs appearing to be stuck in treacle as the United defender tried to turn to keep pace with the Dutchman.
Bergwijn drove into the box before firing a powerful shot straight at David De Gea, who could only parry the ball into his own net when he really should have done better.
Roy Keane blasted both Maguire and De Gea at half time in an astonishing rant on Sky Sports describing the latter as “the most overrated goalkeeper I’ve seen in a long, long time”.
From a Spurs perspective, Jose Mourinho will be delighted to see Harry Kne complete 90 minutes on his return from injury.
Spurs are eighth in the table ahead of their meeting with West Ham, three places and four points behind the Red Devils after 31 matches.
Best of the rest
Chelsea came from behind to win 2-1 in Frank Lampard’s 100th game as a manager.
Kourtney Hause gave Dean Smith’s relegation-threatened hosts the lead, before Christian Pulisic and Olivier Giroud scored two goals in three minutes to complete an impressive turnaround for Chelsea.
Luka Milivojevic and Jordan Ayew scored the goals as Crystal Palace produced a 2-0 win at Bournemouth. Roy Hogdson’s high-flying Eagles are now ninth, behind Spurs on goal difference and ahead of Arsenal.
Wolves turned on the style in the second half to claim a 2-0 away win at West Ham.
Super-sub Adama Traore injected some much-needed pace into the game, crossing for Wolves striker Raul Jimenez to open the scoring with a header.
Pedro Neto added a second with a wonderful thumping volley from another right-wing cross, this one provided by Ireland international Matt Doherty.
Danny Ings continued his fine scoring form for Southampton, opening the scoring for the Saints in fine fashion in their 3-0 win over Norwich at Carrow Road.
Stuart Armstrong and Nathan Redmond completed the scoring for the visitors.