Exactly 100 days since a ball was last kicked in the English Premier League, action returns on Wednesday evening as Aston Villa welcome Sheffield United to Villa Park.
Every match between now and the end of the 2019-20 season will take place behind closed doors, as the country still wrestles with the coronavirus pandemic which brought about the 3-month suspension of the game.
Villa and the Blades will contest their respective game-in-hand in a 6pm kick off, acting as the curtain raiser for the Premier League’s ‘Project Restart’.
The remaining ten matches of the top flight season are of significant importance for both sides – two clubs who were promoted from the Championship just over a year ago – albeit at different ends of the table in the Premier League.
Hosts Aston Villa reside in the division’s bottom three upon the season’s resumption, at least 2 points from safety, but with a 4-point cushion over basement boys Norwich City.
Dean Smith’s side realistically will need to take full advantage of this game in hand over their relegation rivals, with encounters against Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal all to come.
Sheffield United will be in no mood to impair their impressive season, though, in what has been their first campaign back in the top tier for 12 years.
Chris Wilder has found a formula which has seen his Blades team concede the fewest goals this season aside from runaway leaders Liverpool, with results to boot.
The Yorkshire club sit in 7th place, 2 points off 5th spot – a berth which could potentially herald Champions League football next season depending on the outcome of Manchester City’s court case with UEFA at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
You can throw the form book out of the window with these upcoming fixtures, such has been the length of the break that any gathered momentum fizzled out long ago.
However, it may be worth pointing out that Aston Villa were hammered 4-0 by Leicester City on March 9, the last Premier League game before the coronavirus-enforced suspension.
That defeat condemned Villa to their fifth consecutive loss in all competitions – contrastingly, Sheffield United were six unbeaten before lockdown was imposed.
In terms of team news, Dean Smith will still be without goalkeeper Tom Heaton and striker Wesley, with neither player expected to be fit between now and the end of the season.
John McGinn is in contention though, having recovered from a fractured ankle – though the Villa boss is cautious over rushing him back too soon.
For Sheffield United it’s a clean bill of health, with Chris Wilder having a fully fit squad to choose from.
The Blades will surely be buoyed by the news that Manchester United have allowed on-loan goalkeeper Dean Henderson to stay at Bramall Lane for the remainder of the extended season.
Aston Villa v Sheffield United kicks off at Villa Park at 6pm on Wednesday 17th June.