Saturday, March 6, 2021

Premier League knee down for return

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After 100 days of forced rest, the English football championship resumed its rights Wednesday paying tribute to the movement "Black Lives Matter" and healthcare workers who fought against Covid-19, in the country most affected by the pandemic in Europe. In sporting terms, Manchester City delayed the probable coronation of Liverpool, awaited for 30 years, by winning in the evening against Arsenal (3-0) in one of the two late matches of the 28e day scheduled for this Wednesday.

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First on the bridge, the players from Aston Villa and Sheffield United, but also the teams on the bench and the referees, put a knee on the ground for a few seconds, a gesture symbol of the movement to combat racism and police violence. All players wore the slogan "Black Lives Matter" on the back of their jerseys, in place of their name, as will be the case for all matches of the 30e day this weekend. A very strong gesture of the most watched championship in the world and whose return was awaited by millions of supporters around the globe.

Logos on the jerseys

For the 80 other matches remaining this season, a logo "Black Lives Matter" will be affixed to the jerseys, as well as another one thanking British Health Services (NHS), said the Premier League. Just before that, the players observed a minute of silence in tribute to the British health services which fought against the pandemic. A very emotional moment for Aston Villa coach Dean Smith, whose father died of the disease recently. Ron Smith has long worked as a steward at Villa Park and a fluorescent orange jacket with the number 79, as his age at the time of his death, had been posed in his tribute in the stands.

After recoveries from the Bundesliga, La Liga and the Italian Cup, English football fans had a first glimpse of the post-coronavirus Premier League with this match between the relegated Villa and the surprising European contender Sheffield.

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The Villa Park, usually very noisy, sounded hollow and the banners of supporters spread all over the stands were nothing more than a cover-up. No more spectacle on the lawn. The match ended in a sad 0-0 draw, but was accompanied by a first controversy. The referee did not award a valid goal to Sheffield United due to a faulty goal line technology. "I don't know whether to laugh or cry about it" Sheffield coach Chris Wilder reacted, while the tech company Hawk-Eye apologized.

Sterling, symbol goalscorer

It was not until the evening and the second match, between Manchester City (2e) and Arsenal (9e), to see the first goal of this recovery. As a symbol, it was inscribed by City striker Raheem Sterling, very committed to the fight against racism. Kevin De Bruyne from the penalty spot, then Phil Foden completed the success of Pep Guardiola's players (3-0).

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For the Spanish coach, the minute of silence before the match had a particular resonance since he lost his mother at the height of the epidemic, while Mikel Arteta, the coach of the Gunners, was the first personality of the English football tested positive, March 12.

Beyond the very strict protocol during and around the match – disinfection of the locker rooms, balls, substitutes' bench, corner posts, ban on spitting and physical contact to celebrate a goal – the players must above all digest the intense rhythm 92 matches broken in about six weeks to finish the season at the end of July.

"The problem will not be to play one game, but to play another, then another, with insufficient physical preparation", had emphasized Guardiola before this resumption. "They had 6 weeks (to train) in Germany, double us, and 5 weeks in Spain", again noted the Catalan.

The World with AFP

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