Shutdown has come at opportune time for players like Marcus Rashford and Harry Kane recovering from injury

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - 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

Eden Hazard – The Belgian was signed amid much fanfare but has been dogged by injuries since his initial €100 million (Dh406m) move to the Bernabeu last summer. Zinedine Zidane’s side have coped admirably without the fleet-footed forward to sit two points behind leaders Barcelona in La Liga. On his day Hazard is one of the top-five players in the world, but Madrid will want a better return than his solitary strike in 15 appearances when football returns to Spain. AFP

Paul Pogba – The Frenchman was Manchester United’s top scorer in 2018/19, but another that has seen his current campaign curtailed first by injury and now the coronavirus pandemic. Few players are as polarising as Pogba, whose skill, athleticism and control provide him with all the tools to be the most dominant midfielder on the planet but who too often fails to deliver. Reuters

Luka Jovic – The Serb faces prosecution for breaking his country’s strict quarantine laws on self-isolation from Covid-19, the latest setback on what has proved a disappointing nine months since his big-money move to Real Madrid. Jovic was one of the hottest properties on the market last summer, with his 27 goals in 2018/19 prompting Madrid to pay Germany’s Eintracht Frankfurt €60 million (Dh250m) for his signature. Zinedine Zidane views Karim Benzema as his first-choice No 9, and Jovic faces a real fight to dislodge the veteran Frenchman. Reuters

Nicolas Pepe – Arsenal broke their transfer record to lure the Ivorian forward from Lille but have seen only fleeting flashes of his undoubted talent so far. Four goals in 23 Premier League experiences does not accurately reflect Pepe’s growing influence on the Gunners, particularly under the guidance of Mikel Arteta, but the 24-year-old needs to be a leading figure alongside Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang if the North London club are to establish themselves back among the English elite. Reuters

Moise Kean – Everton had pulled off something of a coup in signing the young Italian in the summer of 2019 for €27.5 million. But Kean, 20, has found the going tough at Goodison in his debut season. The striker is already on his third manager on Merseyside, with Marco Silva sacked and caretaker Duncan Ferguson humiliating the former Juventus player by substituting him shortly after having come on as a substitute against Manchester United in December. The hope is that compatriot Carlo Ancelotti can coax the best out of a player good enough to keep company with Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala during his time in Turin. Reuters

Alexis Sanchez – After a disappointing 19 months at Old Trafford, the Chilean moved to Inter Milan last August on loan. Italy is a league Sanchez knows well, having first made his name in Europe with Udinese, but the Serie A sojourn has so far proved a damp squib. Fifteen appearances for the Nerazzurri has yielded a solitary goal, and Sanchez was sent off in the match too, a 3-1 win against Sampdoria. With Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez firmly established as Antonio Conte’s preferred pair, Sanchez will need to convince the notoriously hard-to-please Italian he is worth a permanent move. Reuters

Javier Pastore – It feels like the world has been waiting for Pastore to really arrive for well over a decade now. A player who struggled to keep his head above the parapet alongside Paris Saint-Germain’s galaxy of stars, the Argentine midfielder moved to Roma in 2018 and has failed to justify his reported fee of €24.7m. A combination of injuries and loss of form has left many wondering whether Pastore, 30, will ever live up to the hype. AFP

Danny Rose – A World Cup semi-final with England in 2018 was followed by a Champions League final appearance with Tottenham a year later for Rose who had established himself as England’s best left-back among a generation of strong contenders. Rose’s relations with the club hierarchy and a successive managers in Mauricio Pochettino and Jose Mourinho saw him loaned to Newcastle United in January. Rose, now 29, has a contract at Spurs that runs until the summer of 2021, but the nagging sense is that a parting of the ways suits both parties. He will hope to use performances at Newcastle – when (or if) the Premier League does resume – to showcase his talent to suitors with Champions League aspirations. Reuters

Hakan Calhanoglu – The Turkey international, 26, has been likened to Mesut Ozil but has thus far failed to offer much evidence he will go on to have a similar career to the German World Cup winner. Perceived as too weak and slow to operate as a No 10, AC Milan have been operating Calhanoglu from a deeper play-making role that suits his vision and passing range. Reuters

Joelinton – Zero goals in over 2,000 minutes is a great stat for a goalkeeper or a defender, not so much for a striker. Newcastle’s record signing scored the winner against Tottenham in August and that has so far proved the highlight of the Brazilian’s time in the North-East. Newcastle’s long-suffering fans are used to under investment in the squad but they at least expect players to put in a shift if the goals are proving hard to come by, something Joelinton has failed to do on too many occasions. The former Hoffenheim striker would do well to watch videos of his predecessor at the club, Solomon Rondon, to get an idea of what’s expected in a struggling team. Reuters


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.

Updated: March 28, 2020 05:14 PM

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