When football returns, it will look very different. The most obvious difference is likely to be the thousands of empty seats, if games are played behind closed doors. But when it resumes, some of the faces and shirt numbers will be different. Time, and the changing circumstances, have the potential to reshape the run-in.
Rewind to January and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was offering no guarantee Marcus Rashford would play again this season. Now Manchester United’s top scorer is set to resume training. “I feel much better compared to two or three weeks ago,” the forward told Sky Sports.
He suffered a double stress fracture of his back and will have another scan this week but is confident of making a comeback. “I feel 10 times better now,” he added. “For me, now it's just about getting ready to build up back up to training and then playing games for the team.”
With Paul Pogba already in light training again and Bruno Fernandes the Premier League’s reigning player of the month, Solskjaer could have a formidable attacking armoury at this disposal for United’s remaining games.
His predecessor had already written this season off. Jose Mourinho had reacted to the loss of Tottenham’s sidelined forwards by stating last month he would “love it” to be July 1.
But even before football shut down, Harry Kane, who suffered a serious hamstring injury on New Year’s Day, had resumed light training. Heung-Min Son, whose campaign appeared curtailed by a broken elbow, should also be available again in due course, along with winger Steven Bergwijn, midfielder Moussa Sissoko and defender Ben Davies. Given a fully-fit squad, Spurs’ chances of a top-four finish would be revived.
When football was halted, Mourinho’s old employers had the longest injury list, to the extent that Frank Lampard gave two teenagers debuts in Chelsea's 4-0 win over Everton.
But he could have everyone at his disposal for Chelsea’s next game. Their absentees – N’Golo Kante, Mateo Kovacic, Tammy Abraham, Christian Pulisic, Callum Hudson-Odoi – were never expected to be out for the long-term and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who was building up to a belated first appearance of the season, will have time, if not match sharpness.
A point to prove
Manchester City’s Leroy Sane was in a similar situation, while his team-mate Aymeric Laporte, who was set to miss the second leg of their Champions League tie with Real Madrid with a thigh problem, ought now to be in contention for whenever the game takes place.
City’s former assistant manager, Mikel Arteta, was set to be without midfielder Lucas Torreira for the rest of the season. With the Uruguayan tipped to be fit again in May, that is no longer the case just as, with Sead Kolasinac and Kieran Tierney likely to be available sooner, Arsenal will now be able to call upon a specialist left-back again.
The relegation battle could take on a different complexion, too. Bournemouth were luckless in the size of their injury list but Josh King, David Brooks and Steve Cook should spearhead a list of returning players.
West Ham have been fielding the rookie Jeremy Ngakia at right-back in Ryan Fredericks’ absence, but the first choice was always due to be back at some point in April.
Depending on how long the season lasts, it could permit some unlikely comebacks. Aston Villa duo Tom Heaton and Wesley are both out until August; perhaps, they might now feature in the 2019-20 campaign again.
So, too, Watford winger Gerard Deulofeu, who is not expected to play before September. At the bottom of the league, as near the top, players whose returns are being facilitated by the delay to the game might have the potential to prove decisive.