It’s back. Less than five weeks after the end of Euro 2020, competitive football is back on our screens as the Premier League returns this weekend.
And what a season it could prove to be, with stadiums up and down the country reborn with full terraces for the first time in 18 months.
That’s not all there is to look forward to either. As the 2021-22 campaign gets underway on Friday night, Sportsmail looks at 10 reasons to get excited about the return of the greatest league in the world.
1) FANS BACK IN THEIR NUMBERS
Let’s start with the supporters then.
Though the final few weeks of last season saw a small section of fans return to stadiums, the Euros showed the very genuine effect fans can have on their teams.
With no restrictions in place, stadiums will be packed to the rafters again, starting on Friday at the Brentford Community Stadium when the Bees make their Premier League debut at home to Arsenal.
Would that occasion be the same without spectators? Of course not. The last full ground in the top-flight was Leicester’s game against Aston Villa on March 9, 2020.
It’s been too long.
2) BRENTFORD MAKE THEIR TOP-FLIGHT DEBUT – AND COULD THEY CAUSE A SHOCK?
Brentford are ready for this moment.
A club with an unusually prudent and statistical approach to their dealings on and off the pitch, the Bees have come close to promotion for years now.
Yet last season Thomas Frank’s side finally reached the promised land, courtesy in the end of a 2-0 play-off final victory against Swansea.
They haven’t gone mad in the transfer market either, with Kristoffer Ajer from Celtic their only major signing, as they look to Ivan Toney and Bryan Mbeumo to score the goals necessary to keep them in the division.
First up they host Arsenal, who seem under pressure before a ball has even been kicked given a poor campaign last time out – could we have a shock straight off the bat?
3) ENGLAND STARS SANCHO AND GREALISH JOIN MANCHESTER BIG BOYS
The two standout Premier League transfers so far this summer involve the Manchester clubs and two rising English stars.
For Jadon Sancho and Manchester United, it was a case of if at first you don’t succeed, try and try and try again. After being pushed back last summer by Borussia Dortmund, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer finally got his man for £73m a matter of days after Euro 2020 concluded.
Jack Grealish’s £100m English-record move to champions City took a little longer. But after a summer where he was put on a pedestal as the nation’s great hope, the ex-Aston Villa captain now has a chance to prove his worth at the top level of European football.
Both are exciting, livewire talents who make things happen from out wide. It’ll be fascinating to see how both adapt to their new teams – and which one hits the ground running quickest, starting this weekend.
4) WILL KANE PLAY AGAINST HIS FUTURE EMPLOYERS?
Harry Kane’s future has been one of the dramas of this summer, with the Euros only delaying a problem which is still unresolved.
The Tottenham captain skipped training last week, though he denies otherwise, and could well feature in Spurs’ season-opener this Sunday.
And who couldthat be against? Only Manchester City, the team heavily linked with a £150m-plus move for the England captain.
Will he feature against his suitors? For now, it is unclear. If he provides a negative PCR test on Thursday he would be eligible to train on Friday.
It could well be fireworks if he does play though.
5) RAFA AT EVERTON – HOW WILL THIS ONE PLAY OUT?
After Carlo Ancelotti’s somewhat abrupt departure to Real Madrid, Everton’s search for a manager looked to be somewhat futile.
Enter Rafa Benitez.
The Spaniard, famous for his six-year stint at Liverpool which included that memorable 2005 Champions League triumph, stunned just about everyone on Merseyside by taking the top job with the Toffees.
And by the look of things, he’ll have to work hard to convince the Goodison faithful he’s the right man for the job. A win at home to Southampton on Saturday would be a good start.
6) SEASON NO 3 FOR ARTETA AT ARSENAL – AND THE CAMERAS ARE ROLLING…
The pressure is on Mikel Arteta from the get-go this season.
While an FA Cup triumph in a Covid-affected 2019-20 cut him some slack for a poor league finish, there was not much excuse in the last campaign – and no successful cup run to hide behind.
What’s more, this season Arsenal have agreed to be recorded behind the scenes in the Amazon ‘All or Nothing’ series, which chronicled Jose Mourinho’s first season at rivals Tottenham.
If that series is anything to go by, this one could be even more dramatic at the Emirates.
Arteta has a tough start too, with Chelsea, Man City and Spurs in his first six games. It could go some way to setting the tone for the rest of the campaign.
7) NINE SUBS ON THE BENCH – TAKE YOUR PICK GAFFER!
The Premier League announced this week that they would increase the amount of substitutes available to a manager on a matchday from seven to nine, increasing matchday squads from 18 to 20.
But, unlike European competition where bosses can make five subs, it’ll still only be three in the Premier League, plus two concussion substitutes if needed.
Yet the choice available can only be a good thing as managers look for more ways to change a game.
It’ll likely favour the top teams with bigger squads – but should also present more opportunities to young players on the fringes throughout the league.
8) VIEIRA TO PROVE THE DOUBTERS WRONG AT CRYSTAL PALACE?
There’s always a sense of genuine intrigue when former world class players are handed a crack of the whip in the Premier League – and this season is no different.
Patrick Vieira’s appointment as Crystal Palace manager took many by surprise – and not in a good way. The ex-Arsenal captain’s record in previous jobs at New York City FC and Nice is underwhelming.
Yet he has spent big, signing centre backs Marc Guehi and Joachim Andersen for a combined outlay of £36.75m, while impressive Chelsea midfielder Conor Gallagher has joined on loan.
Who knows, Vieira might just shock a few onlookers.
9) CAN THE KINGS OF EUROPE THREATEN CITY… EVEN WITH LUKAKU?
Chelsea are flying high at the moment. A stunning end to last season secured them a famous Champions League triumph, while they added another trophy to the cabinet with the UEFA Super Cup on Wednesday night.
Oh, and Romelu Lukaku is set to return for £98.5m. So, can they challenge and maybe even dethrone Manchester City after their sumptuous title triumph last season?
In head-to-head, Chelsea have the edge. But whether they can get maximum points week-in week-out is another attribute altogether.
Thomas Tuchel has assembled a terrific squad – now it’s time for them to make history on the domestic front.
10) THE 3PM BLACKOUT RETURNS – GET SOCCER SATURDAY BACK ON!
OK, so some people will see the removal of every Premier League game from their television screens as a negative.
But, in reality, does every single match need air-time?
The 3pm UK TV blackout returns this season, bringing back to prominence Jeff Stelling and his team on Soccer Saturday after something of a redundant role last campaign, with usually just one or two top-flight games at 3pm on a Saturday.
It should give more weight to Match of the Day on a Saturday night too. More than anything, it will feel like a return to normality – something we’ve all been crying out for since the start of this pandemic.