The Premier League made its return after a 100-day absence as Aston Villa and Sheffield United played out a boring goalless draw in a match memorable for powerful solidarity statements before kick-off, and a major goal line technology controversy.
As the action resumed behind closed doors at a largely deserted Villa Park, the players of both sides and officials took a knee for 10 seconds immediately before kick-off in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
This was preceded by a minute’s silence in memory of those who have died as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
This was a strong sign of solidarity from the players and staff, showing support and respect for what has happened to mankind over the last few months.
When the game got under way in this new environment, Sheffield United were the victims of a serious first-half injustice when Villa keeper Orjan Nyland fell behind his goalline clutching Oliver Norwood’s free-kick in the 41st minute, only for referee Michael Oliver’s watch fail to signal a goal… This was probably the only excitement in the whole game and was the pivotal moment of an affair high on endeavour but low on quality that at least represented the success of ‘Project Restart’ after the season was halted because of the global coronavirus crisis, bringing a result that was arguably more satisfactory for the visitors.
There was, at least, a sense of relief that domestic football was finally up and running once more.
This was not a pleasant return for Mikel Arteta, to the club he served under Guardiola for three years. He looked like a man who has lost the dressing room, as Arsenal were demolished by an impressive City performance.
Arsenal’s David Luiz was sent off in a performance riddled with mistakes as Manchester City secured a comfortable victory behind closed doors on the first night of the Premier League’s return.
Luiz, who came on as a first-half substitute, failed to clear the ball just before half-time and Raheem Sterling fired in City’s opener.
The defender was then sent off after pulling back Riyad Mahrez in the second half to give away a penalty, which Kevin de Bruyne coolly slotted in for City’s second.
Substitute Phil Foden netted a third for the defending champions, capitalising on a rebound from Sergio Aguero’s strike.
Three second-half goals from Southampton condemned Norwich to their fourth defeat in five games, denting their hopes of Premier League survival.
Saints top scorer Danny Ings curled in the opener shortly after half-time, before Stuart Armstrong doubled their lead five minutes later.
Norwich looked lacklustre at an eerily empty Carrow Road, and Nathan Redmond confirmed a win for Southampton against his old club when he slotted into the bottom right corner late on.
The Canaries remain bottom of the table.
SPURS 1 V 1 MANCHESTER UNITED
This was the first Spurs game at home that I have missed for many a year. Only key workers are allowed at stadiums to get the game played and so I had to sit at home and watch the game.
Paul Pogba returned to action for first time since 26 December to win the late penalty that earned Manchester United a crucial point at Tottenham Hotspur.
Pogba, who had not played for almost six months because of an ankle injury that needed surgery, emerged as a second-half substitute and demonstrated he has the creativity to make a difference as United battle for a place in the top four.
United keeper David de Gea was badly at fault when he failed to stop Steven Bergwijn’s powerful 27th-minute drive, so there was relief all-round for the visitors when Pogba surged into the area before he was hauled down clumsily by Eric Dier.
Fernandes equalised with an emphatic penalty.
Spurs survived a last-minute scare as referee Jon Moss pointed to the spot again when Dier collided with Fernandes but the video assistant referee correctly reversed a poor decision.
De Gea made a measure of amends with a superb save from Son Heung-min shortly after his error, while Hugo Lloris made a magnificent flying save from Anthony Martial as United chased an equaliser.
It finally arrived via that Fernandes spot-kick nine minutes from time to leave United in fifth place, four points ahead of Spurs.
BOURNEMOUTH 0 V 2 CRYSTAL PALACE
My friend Roy Hodgson’s side moved into the top 10 and left the woeful Bournemouth side in the relegation zone.
Palace are now just four points adrift of fifth-placed Manchester United, who currently occupy a Europa League spot for next season.
Palace took the lead when Milivojevic curled in a 12th-minute free-kick before Jordan Ayew swept home a second after 23 minutes.
Palace saw out the victory in comfort as Bournemouth failed to mount any sort of serious pressure, to leave manager Eddie Howe and his side in serious trouble at the foot of the Premier League.
WEST HAM UNITED 0 V 2 WOLVES
Raul Jimenez set the record for the most goals by a Wolves player in a Premier League season after netting against West Ham to help strengthen his side’s hopes of qualifying for the Champions League.
The Mexico forward planted a header beyond Lukasz Fabianski after a superb cross by substitute Adama Traore for his 14th league goal of 2019-20.
Traore was also involved in the second goal, substitute Pedro Neto volleying home Matt Doherty’s cross as Wolves, who started the day in seventh, moved above Sheffield United and level on points with fifth-placed Manchester United.
West Ham remain in trouble near the bottom after an unacceptable performance.
BRIGHTON 2 V 1 ARSENAL
This was an enjoyable game to watch, for the first time I watched the game with the canned noise and it was okay.
Nicolas Pepe had fired the Gunners into a deserved lead with a superb curling shot with just over 20 minutes to go, but Lewis Dunk scrambled an equaliser over the line from close range to set up a barnstorming finish as Neal Maupay scored the winner five minutes into added time as relegation-threatened Brighton clinched a huge win over Arsenal.
Maupay showed coolness and class to slot in his ninth and most important goal of the season to give Albion their first league win of 2020 and to cap a remarkable comeback.
Maupay’s winner was a sucker punch for the Gunners, who have now lost back-to-back games since the Premier League returned, results that surely make a late run to Champions league qualification very unlikely.
Brighton are now five points above the bottom three.
WATFORD 1 V 1 LEICESTER
This was an important point for Watford, as it is going to be their impressive home form that will rescue them. Leicester’s Ben Chilwell and Watford’s Craig Dawson traded excellent stoppagetime goals, to finish with a point apiece.
But Watford remain deep in relegation trouble.
EVERTON 0 V 0 LIVERPOOL
Liverpool now need five points to be sure of the Premier League title and can still clinch their first top-flight trophy in 30 years against Crystal Palace at Anfield on Wednesday, if Manchester City fail to beat Burnley at Etihad Stadium on Monday.
Liverpool were fortunate that Alisson was in top form, saving well from Dominic Calvert-Lewin, whose close-range flick was kept out by the Brazilian before Tom Davies’ shot from the loose ball struck the post.
Everton keeper Jordan Pickford also saved well from Fabinho’s free-kick in the closing moments but it was a game that highlighted two understandably below par sides. The Liverpool fans may have to wait a little longer but the crown is theirs.
ASTON VILLA 1 V 2 CHELSEA
Aston Villa took the lead against the run of play when Kepa failed to hold Anwar El Ghazi’s shot and Kortney Hause was on hand to bundle in.
Despite dominating all areas of the pitch, Chelsea only got back on equal terms when Lampard sent Pulisic on in the 55th minute and five minutes later the United States international equalised when he lashed Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross into the roof of the net.
Olivier Giroud then sealed victory two minutes later when he drove in from 15 yards with the help of a slight deflection.
The win means fourth-placed Chelsea restored their five-point advantage over Manchester United and Wolves, who are fifth and sixth respectively.
Aston Villa, meanwhile, remain in the relegation zone, one point from safety after taking one point from their first two games back following the resumption of the Premier League.
NEWCASTLE 3 V 0 SHEFFIELD UNITED
This was a fantastic result for the Newcastle faithful, with Premier League safety guaranteed if they beat struggling Aston Villa on Wednesday. following a Joel began red card, Allan Saint-Maximin sent Newcastle on their way when he fired home at the far post after Enda stevens inexplicably allowed Matt Ritchie’s low ball to go between his legs. Ritchie then added a second with a thunderous strike from the edge of the area.
Then came Joelinton’s strike from close range after Miguel Almiron delivered a pinpoint low ball to his feet. A great win for Newcastle against the unrecognisable Sheffield United side, who looked more like a team fighting for their survival as opposed to one going for a Champions League place.
Well, there we go, the Premier League is back, not as we know it, but it is back and lifting the spirits of football fans worldwide.
I also need to say that I have been so proud that our game is showing the world compassion, goodwill and solidarity, with every team, players and staff, acknowledging the tragedy of the people lost to COVID-19, thanking the NHS and key workers for their amazing work fighting this invisible opponent and taking the knee before each game in their global support for Black Lives Matter.
Please see following my predictions for week 31 :-
Leicester City 2 v 1 Brighton & Hove Albion
Tottenham Hotspur 3 v 1 West Ham United
Manchester United2 v 1 Sheffield United
Newcastle United 2 V 1 Aston Villa
Norwich City 1 v 2 Everton
Wolverhampton Wanderers 3 v 1 AFC Bournemouth
Liverpool 2 v 1 Crystal Palace
Burnley 2 v 1 Watford
Southampton 2 v 1 Arsenal
Chelsea 1 v 2 Manchester City
Click here to see what I have been doing during the lockdown.