Steven Gerrard’s sensational dugout debut, a new era REALLY gets going at Newcastle… and 100 games in 44 days! 10 reasons to get excited as the Premier League returns – with no breaks until March
- The Premier League returns following the final international break of 2021
- Games come thick and fast from now until after the chaotic festive period
- And this Christmas fans will be present too after relaxing of Covid restrictions
- Steven Gerrard, Eddie Howe and Dean Smith all make fresh managerial bows
- Liverpool host Arsenal and Leicester face Chelsea in two big games from the off
- Antonio Conte will be hoping to revitalise Harry Kane’s form for Tottenham
Fear not everyone. After the Albania and San Marino walkovers amid another international break, the Premier League is back this weekend with a storming round of matches.
Leicester host European champions Chelsea in the Saturday lunchtime kick-off before three managers make their club debuts in the 3pm games.
Liverpool then face Arsenal at Anfield before Man City and Everton clash on Sunday, followed by Spurs hosting Leeds – and that’s just the first weekend back!
With club football now uninterrupted for the next few months, Sportsmail takes a look at 10 reasons to get excited for the Premier League’s return.
The last round of games threw up some massive results – so what will happen this time round?
Chelsea travel to Leicester in the first game back on an exciting Premier League weekend
1) NO INTERNATIONALS UNTIL MARCH!*
Take a sigh of relief. This international break is the last one of 2021 – and there isn’t another one scheduled until late March.
What does this mean? As opposed to the stop-start calendar we’ve had so far – we’ve squeezed in three international windows in 10 weeks – clubs can now plan on their own terms, unaffected by outside influences.
Furthermore, as opposed to most leagues across Europe, the festive period is not the time for a winter break. On the contrary, the games come thick and fast – where seasons really get on track or become derailed.
*South America has bizarrely organised some World Cup qualifiers in a small window at the end of January. Let’s cross that bridge when we get to it…
2) STEVEN GERRARD IS BACK IN THE PREMIER LEAGUE!
Despite some mouthwatering fixtures, Aston Villa vs Brighton at 3pm on Saturday is the story of the weekend.
Who saw this coming two weeks ago? Dean Smith sacked, and his replacement being none other than Steven Gerrard, who couldn’t resist the Premier League challenge after a successful three-year stint in Scotland with Rangers.
Steven Gerrard was named as Aston Villa’s new manager after they sacked Dean Smith
Gerrard has been getting to grips with the Villa squad ahead of his first match on Saturday
Gerrard’s first task is to stop the rot – Villa have lost their last five in the league. It’s sure to be a mammoth occasion at Villa Park as the home crowd welcome their new manager – and one of English football’s most legendary figures of the modern era – to the top-flight hotseat.
3) ENJOY YOUR TIME OFF, DEAN?!
A week after losing his job at Villa, it didn’t take long for Dean Smith to get back on the horse.
Norwich City, rooted to the bottom of the table, came calling. A tough task no doubt, but Smith does have time on his hands to turn things around.
And in a strange twist of fate, his first match in charge will be against the side who consigned him to the sack two weeks ago: Southampton.
Smith – after being sacked by Villa – didn’t take long to find a new job with Norwich City
4) CRUNCH TIME FOR OLE
It’s been a tricky start to the season for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, to say the least.
Seemingly always a game or two away from losing his job, the Manchester United boss needs results, following humiliating home defeats against Liverpool and Man City in the last few rounds of games, as well as losses to Leicester and Aston Villa before that.
It’s Watford away on Saturday, a must-win. Then comes Villarreal, Chelsea and Arsenal. A couple of weeks which could make, or break, the Norwegian in the Old Trafford hotseat.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has endured a difficult start to the season and needs to pick up results
5) CAN ARSENAL FINALLY WIN AT ANFIELD?
Arsenal’s record at Anfield is shocking. They have not won since September 2012, a total of eight league games, and have lost on their last five league visits.
However, Mikel Arteta’s side come into this one off the back of 10 games unbeaten stretching back to August, while Jurgen Klopp’s Reds picked up just one point from their last two games against Brighton and West Ham.
All of which makes the tea-time encounter this Saturday all the more intriguing. Opportunity beckons for the Gunners – they’ll leapfrog Liverpool with a rare win on Merseyside.
Arsenal travel to Liverpool with confidence high as they look to arrest a wretched Anfield run
6) EDDIE’S NEW ERA
Nope, this isn’t England rugby coach Eddie Jones picking Marcus Smith. Rather, Eddie Howe takes his first match in charge of Newcastle United, at home to newly-promoted Brentford.
After all the furore surrounding Steve Bruce, and their stumbling hunt for a replacement, this is the true beginning of the Saudi-led consortium’s ownership of the Magpies. Newcastle are joint-bottom currently, already five points from safety.
Ex-Bournemouth boss Howe has to hit the ground running and rejuvenate a squad still winless and short on confidence. That’s until January at least, when by all accounts he should have the finances to improve the team as he pleases. How this one turns out will be fascinating viewing.
Eddie Howe will be in the Newcastle dugout – the third manager making his managerial bow this weekend (pic; director Amanda Staveley, right, and husband Mehrdad Ghodoussi, left)
7) CONTE’S KANE CONUNDRUM
If new Tottenham boss Antonio Conte had one request over the international break, it would probably have been for Harry Kane to have found some form – and his goalscoring touch.
Well, he’s got that. England captain Kane scored seven goals in two games against Albania and San Marino. Despite the overwhelmingly inferior opposition, could it represent a turning point in Kane’s season?
Spurs’ main man has scored just one Premier League goal in 10 appearances this season, but he now has no excuses with a proven world-class coach at the helm. First up post-international goalscoring spree: Leeds at home on Sunday.
Antonio Conte will be looking to spark Harry Kane back into life after a poor start to the season
THIS WEEKEND’S PL FIXTURES
12.30pm – Leicester v Chelsea
3pm – Aston Villa v Brighton, Burnley v Crystal Palace, Newcastle v Brentford, Norwich v Southampton, Watford v Man Utd, Wolves v West Ham
5.30pm – Liverpool v Arsenal
2pm – Man City v Everton
4.30pm – Spurs v Leeds
8) 100 GAMES IN 44 DAYS!
With December approaching comes the annual influx of games – goodbye spare midweek evenings.
As well as the final two rounds of group-stage European football, there are 10 rounds of Premier League fixtures from now until the FA Cup third round in the second weekend of January.
That includes two midweek rounds, and three over the festive period. Strap yourselves in.
9) FESTIVE MAYHEM… WITH FANS!
As opposed to last season, when every club bar 2,000 at Liverpool had no spectators present for the traditional Boxing Day matches, this season will see a return of full capacity stadiums basking in the Christmas spirit.
We missed it last year. The quick turnaround in games too means every club will host at least one game in and around Christmas time.
It’s often a period where squad depth and resilience is tested to the maximum. Last season, it was when Manchester City sparked their winning run which led them to the title – who will take advantage this time round?
Fans will be back packing the stands after last season’s behind closed doors festive period
Supporters can indulge in the mammoth amount of matches taking place over Christmas
10) AN OPEN TITLE RACE…
After 11 games, just six points splits the top five clubs, with Chelsea holding a three-point lead at the top from Manchester City.
Those two are the favourites, with Liverpool a clear third. Third-placed West Ham and Arsenal are also galloping up the league table and some Hammers fans are understandably getting rather excited.
Some seasons a clear favourite has emerged by December. Thankfully, that won’t be the case this time round – and we should have a captivating race on our hands as we head into the New Year.
Pep Guardiola’s Man City and Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea are the frontrunners for the league title
Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool are still contenders too and will look to bounce back against Arsenal
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