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Oh, Premier League. Please never go away like this again.
The English top division is back, back, back baby, and it starts on Wednesday night, when the big game is Manchester City vs Arsenal.
After months of speculating when things will come back, it feels wonderful to turn our attention to actual football, and one of the big questions that came up on this week’s Totally Football Show was how Manchester City will approach the rest of the season.
“It’s an interesting period for City in that it’s unusual for them to go into the last part of the season with their games not mattering,” said Daniel Storey. “They won’t win the league and they almost certainly won’t finish outside the top four, and even if they do it might not matter anyway.
“By the sounds of things there’s going to be a mini Champions League tournament at the end of this season, so it will be interesting to see if Guardiola considers these Premier League games as mini pre-season friendlies, concentrates on getting his players up to speed, not taking risks with key players. We know, for example, that Sergio Aguero’s hamstrings are tricky.
“So he might rest a few, then builds them up to speed in order start a mini season that ends with the biggest moment, the Champions League. There’s an argument for City taking it easy in those first few games.”
Of course this might be the last time they get to play in the Champions League for a while, because as things stand they are banned for the next two seasons by UEFA, over “serious breaches” of FFP regulations.
They have taken their case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, with a verdict expected in the first or second week in July, and City seem pretty confident they will get UEFA’s verdict overturned.
But why are they so confident? The Athletic’s Manchester City correspondent Sam Lee joined the show to enlighten us.
“They say they’ve got irrefutable evidence, and who am I to doubt them? That’s the thing I’m looking forward to the most in all this, seeing this evidence and how they present it.
“They haven’t said a lot all the way through this: they have claimed the emails that were the basis of all the stories in Der Spiegel were taken out of context, and then when things started to get more serious, the CEO gave an interview where he reassured fans they didn’t have anything to worry about. Although they haven’t shed any light on why that is yet.
“We’re expecting an announcement in the first half of July, but I think the full document with all the written reasons for the decision will be published many months later.
“Some of the other things they’ll pick at are loads of UEFA-specific regulations: it says in their own statutes that UEFA can’t go back and investigate anything from more than five years ago, they can’t investigate any previous settlements – this related to a previous settlement, that was in 2014. There will be loads of little things like that: they may even go down the route of claiming FFP is anti-competitive.
“If I had to put my money on something it would probably be the ban sticking, but being reduced to one year.”
What of their opponents on Wednesday? Arsenal are of course managed by City’s former assistant manager Mikel Arteta, who takes his team to the Etihad having made a pretty decent impact since arriving in December.
“Arsenal are the only unbeaten Premier League team in 2020,” pointed out Duncan Alexander, “and only Liverpool have taken more points than them this year. It is a work in progress, but they could hit the ground running.”
Michael Cox picked up the baton:
“When Mikel Arteta first went to Manchester City, Pep Guardiola had so much faith in him that he put him in charge of City for a game against Arsenal at the Emirates, because he knew Arsenal so well. He was in charge of the scouting, the line-up and the tactical changes. Having effectively coached City against Arsenal, he’s now going to coach Arsenal against City.
“Arteta should benefit quite well from this break. He took over at Arsenal and really had to do a rebuilding job in terms of the structure of the side, and the way they were playing: they were a shambles at the end under Emery. He took over just before Christmas when they had four games in nine days, so three weeks on the training ground will probably be quite useful to Arteta and I’ll be interested in how they play.
“Arsenal had been very reactive and counter-attacking, changing system from game-to-game. Then when Arteta took over they had a very obvious system and shape. It was quite unusual but I think it got the best out of some players – I like the job he’s done with Bukayo Saka in particular.
“Extra time on the training ground to work on combination play, maybe better counter-pressing when they lose the ball is something City do well under Guardiola and Arteta will want to incorporate it there.”
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