assesses whether each of the Premier League's 20 clubs are better or worse off now after the three-month hiatus.
Better. Goalkeeper Alisson has recovered from the hip injury which forced him out of Liverpool’s 3-2 Champions League home defeat to Atletico Madrid in March, and that's a relief considering jittery Adrian is his deputy. Xherdan Shaqiri, Naby Keita and Nathaniel Clyne are also back from injury, leaving Liverpool at full strength.
What reason is there not to be cheerful when the plan is to win two games and parade the trophy around the country for the remaining seven matches of the season? Few people expect Liverpool to be any less imperious or any less determined when they return, and their 25-point lead is almost unassailable.
When you’ve gone 30 years without a title and watched Stevie Gerrard slip over, it is natural for fans to suffer an underbelly of nerves. Will playing at Anfield – where Liverpool haven’t lost in the league since 2017 – have the same advantage with no fans in the Kop? Has their momentum been halted?
2nd: Manchester City
: Maybe better. A long rest and time to reflect has been beneficial for a team that is pushed to its limits by Pep Guardiola. Aymeric Laporte and Leroy Sane, who missed most of the season with knee injuries, are back in contention and player of the season Kevin de Bruyne is also fit.
There’s little pressure on City given Liverpool’s lead is so large, the squad will be energised by the break and any underlying frustration dissipated since March. They have one of the strongest squads in the league, so five subs could be a bonus - plus a game in hand.
With a European ban hanging over the club ahead of an imminent appeal, poor results could further darken the clouds above the Etihad. Where will the motivation in the final few games if players already know that a top-four finish will not earn them Champions League football?
3rd: Leicester City
: Better. A run of only one win in five games before the lockdown was a concern for Leicester, so a re-charge of the batteries was needed for a team that likes to press and work hard. They may be without Ayoze Perez because of injury but there’s enough in the squad to cope.
Whenever Brendan Rodgers has time with his players he seems to improve them, so perhaps the break will work in Leicester’s favour. Having Jamie Vardy fit and firing is always the key for the Foxes and the 33-year-old will now enter the run-in far fresher than he expected.
Leicester’s tough run-in includes Tottenham, Arsenal and Man United (plus Chelsea in the FA Cup), and for a team that relies on home form to challenge the big boys it’s a worry that home advantage could be lost by playing behind closed doors. Will their star players be distracted by transfer talk?
: Better. Tammy Abraham, Christian Pulisic, N’Golo Kante, Mateo Kovacic and Ruben Loftus-Cheek were all injured when the lockdown began, so, Chelsea’s current clean bill of health is a major improvement for a club with a relatively small squad.
There are signs of renewed ambition at Stamford Bridge with reports of an agreement to sign Timo Werner, rumours that Kai Havertz, Ben Chilwell and Said Benrahma could follow – plus a new contract for Olivier Giroud. That should spur on the younger players who have had a much-needed rest.
Frank Lampard now has some tough selection problems ahead if he wants to keep players happy, he still hasn’t entirely solved his striking situation and his young team remains inconsistent. Will the big names still come if Chelsea don’t make the top four?
5th: Manchester United
: Better. In fact, United are one of the big winners when it comes to an enforced break, with seven players now fit again who were missing in March. They include, crucially, Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba – as well as Anthony Martial and Aaron Wan Bissaka.
Having Pogba and Rashsford back is a major boost for a team that had already been galvanised by the form of new signing Bruno Fernandes, winning five out of six before the lockdown. The run-in looks good – at least, once an early trip to Spurs has been negotiated.
The pre-lockdown momentum may have been slowed and the return of Pogba brings as many negatives as positives – especially as he’s still being linked with a move this summer. Defeat at Spurs in the first game back could leave United wobbling.
: No change. The break has given winger Adama Traore the opportunity to fully recover from a persistent shoulder injury. Wolves were largely in good health before lockdown but their run in the Europa League may have led to fatigue for some.
They have one of the best managers in the league in Nuno Espirito Santo, a well-practised way of playing and strikers who score goals. Starting the season finale against Aston Villa, Bournemouth and West Ham looks positive.
Wolves’ style of play requires a high level of fitness, so they could find the re-start problematic if players are not at their top level. But there are few real reasons to be concerned – the team looks destined for the top eight and anything else is a bonus.
7th: Sheffield United
: Perhaps worse. Not because the team is in bad shape or suffering from injuries, but because lockdown got in the way of an excellent run of 10 points from four matches at a time when the Blades seemed to be building momentum.
If United beat Aston Villa in their match in hand next Wednesday, they will move up to fifth and within touching distance of the top four – almost unimaginable heights when they were promoted last season.
There’s a nagging feeling that a three-month break will have given Sheffield United’s opponents plenty of time to work out how to beat their innovative system of play, which has taken the Premier League by surprise - especially those overlapping centre-backs.
: Much better. The return of Harry Kane to fitness makes the three-month hiatus seem like a present from above. It came at a time when Spurs hadn’t won in six matches and looked to be imploding again. Heung-min Son is also back – and has even done his military service with South Korea in the meantime.
The re-start gives Tottenham an opportunity to step back, shake off their demons and go again. Beaten 3-0 at Leipzig in their last match, they haven’t won since beating Villa in February – so the break came at a good time. Could beating Man United, Mourinho’s former club, in the opener be written in the stars?
Players have returned to fitness at Tottenham but has anything changed behind the scenes? Everything looked to be falling apart three months ago, and defeat against United first time up could leave Spurs and their controversial manager right back in the same dark place.
: A little worse. Not because of injury setbacks, but because constant transfer gossip about the future of star players, including strikers Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette, has blotted the sense of progress being made in north London. The lay-off will have been good for Hector Bellerin and Rob Holding, however.
With a game in hand on their rivals if Arsenal can pull off a shock victory at Man City next Wednesday, they will leap above rivals Tottenham. Five wins in their last six games before the lockdown showed Arsenal were making progress, and Mikel Arteta is the kind of manager who needs time with his players to make improvements.
Opening with a trip to Man City, Arteta’s old haunt, is as tough as it gets - and doubts over the club’s long-term ambitions still hang in the air. If you include an FA Cup tie at Sheffield United, Arsenal begin the re-start with four away games in a row.
: Worse. Burnley look weak up front for the run-in with Ashley Barnes still untested following a hernia operation and Chris Wood struggling with an Achilles injury. They also have one of the league’s smallest squad – a disadvantage now that five substitutions are allowed.
Burnley sit comfortably in 10th place in the Premier League, 12 points clear of the relegation zone, so their toughest work has already been done.
Burnley’s first game back is against Man City, a real baptism of fire. Tenth sounds like a comfortable position but just a couple of defeats can take European dreams off the table and leave fans with little else to look forward to.
11th: Crystal Palace
: Worse: Palace had just won three Premier League games on the bounce before lockdown, all of them 1-0. Now they need to rebuild momentum without the help of their notoriously loud home fans.
The turn of Mamadou Sakho is a positive. Palace are on a roll and will relish their game at Anfield on June 24 when everyone expects Liverpool to clinch the title. Not only are they the last team to win at Anfield in the league (in April 2017) but they also came from 3-0 down to draw 3-3 and end Liverpool’s last championship tilt in 2014.
Liverpool, Leicester, Man United, Chelsea and Tottenham all feature in Palace’s final nine games, and that’ a tall order even for Roy Hodgson. Defeat in those five matches could bring relegation back into the equation despite their excellent progress.
: Same. Further injuries to Yerry Mina and Jean-Philippe Gbamin, plus Morgan Schneiderlin still out, leave Everton no better off ahead of the Merseyside derby, although at least Leighton Baines has a new contract since lockdown.
It couldn’t be set up more perfectly for Everton than a home Merseyside derby against Liverpool as the Premier League returns – with their rivals needing six points to win the title. A perfect opportunity to make the league leaders nervous and to give their own stuttering season a boost.
If things go wrong against Jurgen Klopp’s men you wonder where Everton’s season is heading. They took just one point from three games before lockdown, and European hopes already look a long shot. Ambition could quickly disappear. Again.
13th: Newcastle United
: Better. If only because hopes have been raised at St James’ Park that owner Mike Ashley may finally be on the way out after agreeing terms with a Saudi Arabian consortium – leading to all kinds of big-money transfer rumours, including a bid for Philippe Coutinho.
The Saudi takeover may be controversial, and by no means sealed, but at least news that Ashley is ready to sell has the Toon Army singing. Their team were on the up before the lockdown, too, with manager Steve Bruce starting to make his mark and winger Allan Saint-Maximin entertaining the Gallowgate End.
The constant off-field noise about the club’s controversial takeover, with critics urging the Premier League to block it, is only going to get louder. And poor Steve Bruce, who is doing a decent job, will probably find his time is up. It could still go very wrong.
Better. Southampton had won only once in seven games before the Premier League shut down but since then manager Ralph Hasenhuttl has signed a new four-year contract and there’s a greater sense of security and positivity at the club.
Hasenhuttl isn’t the only one to sign a new deal at St Mary’s, Republic striker Shane Long has followed suit and there’s a real sense of a project being built at the south coast club. After a terrible start, the Saints are now seven points clear of relegation and looking up not down.
Even though the manager has turned things around, Southampton’s home form remains a big concern. Remember the 9-0 thrashing by Leicester in October. Arsenal and Man City are next up at St Mary’s so there’s opportunity for the Saints to slip again.
15th: Brighton & Hove Albion
Worse. With five out of nine games at home in the run-in, Brighton needed their crowd more than ever to stay clear of the bottom three. But without the fans there it’s going to be a battle and they’ll need Neal Maupay and Glenn Murray to score goals.
Albion won plaudits for the way they communicated during the lockdown and did so much to help the local community, meaning Brighton is a very united club both on and off the field. The style of play under progressive manager Graham Potter is attractive and he’ll have the team well prepared.
It’s ironic that Brighton fought hard to block neutral venues because they haven’t won at their own Amex stadium in the whole of 2020. The run-in includes games against Arsenal, Leicester, Man United, Liverpool and Man City.
16th: West Ham
Better: Jack Wilshere – who still hasn’t been used under manager David Moyes – is finally fit and no doubt wanting to prove a point. The Hammers also have Andriy Yarmolenko, who hasn’t played since December, back from injury just when they need him most.
West Ham are intent on building a new young and exciting squad for next season, having already started by buying striker Jarrod Bowen, so the big aim is to stave off relegation this year and kick on later. With five of their remaining games are at home it looks do-able.
Only one win in 10 games going into the lockdown means West Ham are one of the Premier League’s poorest teams on current form – and with Wolves, Spurs and Chelsea first up they could be in real trouble by the start of July. The final game of the campaign, home to Villa, could be crucial.
Better. Watford’s season has been affected badly by injuries, so the break in many ways has done them good. Gerard Deulofeu, Isaac Success, Jose Holebas and Daryl Janmaat are all on the way back – and they’ll be needed.
With Troy Deeney back and firing after an injury earlier in the season, there’s always hope for Watford. His character is vital to the squad, which is talented enough to be far higher up the table.
Deeney is not yet match fit after returning to training later than other players because of fears over coronavirus. The fixture list looks tough, too, with Leicester, Chelsea, Man City and Arsenal all on the horizon. A relegation battle looms, too.
Better. The return of Welsh winger David Brooks, after two rounds of ankle surgery, could be crucial for Bournemouth as they attempt to attack the final games with more vigour. With Lloyd Kelly also fit, Eddie Howe says he now has his strongest ever squad.
The green shoots of recovery were starting to peep through for Bournemouth in March, when they drew with Chelsea and then lost narrowly 2-1 at Anfield - when James Milner’s goal line clearance denied them a point.
When you go into the last nine games sitting third from bottom it’s time to fret. A strange season for the Cherries, with manager Eddie Howe trying to instil more defensive discipline but finding it hard to do without affecting his side’s goalscoring potential.
19th: Aston Villa
No real change. Striker Wesley and goalkeeper Tom Heaton are both still out with knee injuries suffered in December. But influential John McGinn is close to a return from a long-term ankle injury, which will raise Villa hopes.
With manager Dean Smith and key man Jack Grealish both boyhood Villa fans there is an internal passion and willingness to fight that could keep Villa up. Their game in hand is crucial, too. Win against Sheffield United next week and they will be out of the bottom three.
Five defeats in a row in all competitions before the shutdown proved Villa have an awful lot of work to do if they want to beat the drop, especially when it comes to finding a reliable goalscorer to support Grealish. Their run-in includes Chelsea, Liverpool, Man United and Arsenal.
20th: Norwich City
No change. Norwich’s only positive from the lockdown is that full-back Sam Byram, initially ruled out for the season, could play a part in the run-in. But he won’t be fit to face Southampton in a crucial first game back.
The Canaries, who always said they are happy to be in the Premier League and won’t break the bank to stay there, haven’t given up hope of survival despite being six points adrift of safety. Young midfielder Todd Cantwell has been a revelation.
Have won only twice in the Premier League since the end of November, have the worst away record in the league and second-worst home record. They have also conceded 52 goals. So, expecting them to escape now is asking for miracles.