At long last, the boys are back. Manchester City plays host to Arsenal today, and Sheffield United heads to Birmingham and Aston Villa as the English Premier League plays its first games since shutting down for the coronavirus pandemic.
Both of today's games will be available on NBCSN in the United States. Aston Villa and Sheffield kick off at 1 p.m. Eastern time. Man City and Arsenal get going at 3:15 p.m.
The return of football doesn't mean a return to pre-COVID-19 play, however. Games will be played "behind closed doors," meaning that the stands won't be filled with spectators. (Though crowd noise will be piped in.) And there will be a number of noticeable changes before during and after the game, too. Here are just a few thing to look out for:
- If the stadium has just a single tunnel, the visiting team will enter the field first.
- Instead of a straight line during the Premier League anthem, players will be staggered.
- There won't be any handshakes before the match or during the coin toss.
- Benches will be expanded to enable more social distancing.
- There won't be any assistants to shag balls that go out of play. Instead, there will be spare balls around the edge of the pitch for players to use.
- Trainers who enter the field of play to treat a player will wear personal protective equipment.
- The biggest change: Five substitutions, up from three.
- Social distancing is expected to be employed during celebrations.
- No spitting or nose-clearing.
- No sharing of water bottles.
- "Avoid mass confrontations with opponents or match officials."
Beyond that, though, it's still football, and there's still a season to finish. Liverpool has all but accepted the league championship trophy, of course, going into this final stretch with a 25-point lead. Man City is in second place with 57 points, and Leicester City is third just four points back. Sheffield United is seventh with 43 points, Arsenal is squarely in ninth with 40 points. The team with perhaps the most to lose is Aston Villa, which at just 25 points is very much facing relegation this season. A win today will help in that battle.
How to watch Sheffield United vs. Aston Villa
- When: 1 p.m. Eastern
- Where: Birmingham, England
- Where to watch: The game is available on NBCSN, which is available on all major streaming services. It's also on the NBC Sports app if you have a subscription.
How to watch Manchester City vs. Arsenal
- When: 3 p.m. Eastern
- Where: Manchester, England
- Where to watch: This game is available on NBCSN — again, which is available on all major streaming services. It's also available on Universo in the United States.
Premier League play continues on Friday when Southampton travels to Norwich, and Manchester United visits the Spurs.
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