One hundred days since the Premier League was last seen in action and now it’s back, but not without talking points from the first two matches. The ‘new normal’ as it’s now called was in evidence for the first time at Villa Park and despite this being lauded as Project Restart, VAR took centre stage once again.
As seen across Europe with leagues getting underway the first few matches are tinged with rustiness and in some cases a small amount of apprehension about this current way of life. It doesn’t stop however the robust challenges and commitment from two players going in for a tackle.
Aston Villa and Sheffield United certainly provided no lack of effort in this opener but as per games before this season the technology was the talking point. Video replays clearly showed Oliver Norwood’s free kick carried over the line by Villa keeper Orjan Nyland, but no signal made by referee Michael Oliver to consult VAR, a faulty watch blamed for not alerting the referee.
Why neither the assistant on that side of the pitch nor the fourth official made no movement towards Oliver to request a pitchside check is a mystery, and this has been a constant gripe against VAR that refereeing major decisions are no longer being made by the man in the middle. In Europe referees embrace the side-line camera as a great tool, here in England its there to be used too but isn’t.
Once the season comes to an end in a few weeks’ time there has to be a reflection on how effective the use of VAR has been, and the system tweaked. It is much needed within the game, but it has to be used more effectively with less controversy, one game into the re-start and already it’s the topic on people’s lips.
Whilst both sides in that encounter aside from the VAR error were probably happy with a point, the second match of the day provided what we already knew., Manchester City and Arsenal played out in a deluge of rain in the North West but didn’t dampen the home side’s performance.
As expected, there were the signs of a lack of match fitness and touch and a few misplaced passes from both sides, the tempo from City was higher than seen in the earlier kick off. The benefit of fully fit squads for nearly all the Premier League sides as they begin this end to the 2019/20 campaign should give more impetus to a packed few weeks. Assured at the back and blazing forward at every opportunity Pep Guardiola’s side showed signs that if they had been able to keep pace with Liverpool for the title the next few weeks could have been an exciting period.
For Arsenal and Mikel Arteta in particular it was an unhappy return to Manchester and once again highlighted what was already known before the season was suspended, there is a huge job to be done at the Emirates to turn things around. Three efforts on goal and not a single shot on target for the Gunners tells its own story, goals win you games of course but not being able to test the opposition keeper piles on the pressure at the other end.
Bernd Leno produced some fantastic saves to keep City at bay and indeed to keep the score down, but performances like that of David Luiz are the sort to see a game plan torn up in a matter of minutes. A night to forget for the Brazilian who has struggled to win over the Arsenal fans with a series of poor performances littered with mistakes, Wednesday night being no exception a ball bouncing up off his thigh allowing Raheem Sterling to net the opener and then clumsily fouling Riyad Mahrez to give away a penalty and receive a red card in the process, reminding everyone how big a task Arteta has to rebuild the North London club.
Now every club is level on 29 games, it’s the nine-game run-in beginning on Friday evening, a race to the finish. It might not be pretty for a few more days until the players get back in tune with the game, but it’s football and it’s back.
Follow Trevor on Twitter @trevk37