The Premier League returns on Today… but not exactly as we know it.
After a 100-day absence because of the coronavirus pandemic, Aston Villa v Sheffield United will kick off the English top-flight’s resumption.
It is the first of 92 league games that will be packed into a frantic 40 days before the season concludes on 26 July.
Fixtures will be played behind closed doors as one of a host of measures to prevent any further cases of the virus.
A minute’s silence to remember those who have died with coronavirus will be held before the first matches, while heart-shaped badges in tribute to frontline NHS staff will also be worn on kits.
For the first 12 matches of the restarted campaign, all player names on the back of shirts will be replaced by “Black Lives Matter”.
This follows the death of George Floyd in the United States, which has sparked protests worldwide.
Over eight rounds of twice-weekly coronavirus screenings of Premier League players and staff, there have been 16 positive results from 8,687 tests.
All remaining 92 games will be broadcast live, with four matches to be shown on the BBC – the first to be made free-to-air on terrestrial television since the Premier League’s inception in 1992.
Liverpool sit 25 points clear at the top of the table while Bournemouth, Aston Villa and Norwich City are in the relegation places.
The Reds, chasing a first league title in 30 years, could clinch it with victory in their first game back should second-placed Manchester City lose to Arsenal on Wednesday.
Why is the Premier League returning now?
With the number of new infections falling and lockdown restrictions in England being gradually eased, the Premier League agreed it was safe to resume with the correct safety measures in place.
This was followed by the UK government giving the go-ahead for elite competitive sport to resume behind closed doors from 1 June.
Clubs unanimously voted to resume contact training in the final week of May, having started non-contact training the previous week as part of Project Restart.
Premier League players and staff will continue to be tested twice a week, with any players or staff who test positive self-isolating for a period of seven days.
The delaying of Euro 2020 by a year provided the Premier League with greater flexibility in which to fit in fixtures.
But there remains a time pressure imposed by issues with players’ contracts, many of which run out on 30 June, and the scheduled start of the 2020-21 season in August.
There is also a financial incentive to resume playing, with the threat of an increased or restructured rebate to TV companies if fixtures are not completed.
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