Premier League Betting: Five players to watch as the season is reshaped
Alex Keble picks out a quintet of Premier League players who could play important roles across the final nine rounds of matches...
The Premier League gets back under way this week following a three-month suspension, and although the table has been frozen it would be wrong to assume the final nine rounds of the season will continue the trajectory set by the first 29.
Empty stadiums in Germany and Spain have seemingly eradicated home advantage, while the extended break has provided struggling clubs with a chance to reset and injury-hit sides with the opportunity to recover.
What's more, new managers have had extra time to get their ideas across as the Premier League prepares for the technical and tactical shift of football played in training ground conditions.
Here's a look at five players who, as a result of the changing dynamics of the 2019/20 season, are worth keeping an eye on in the weeks ahead.
Young players generally lack consistency because they are more vulnerable to the psychological aspects of football, which explains why Frank Lampard's Chelsea won 23 points from their first 11 games of the season and 25 from the next 18. His team will have particularly benefited from an extended break and the opportunity to start afresh, and as such are worth a bet on finishing in the top four for games between June 17 and the end of the season, at 15/8.
Chelsea's youthful naivety - hard running and blind optimism - carried their players through the opening third of the season, and none more so than Tammy Abraham, who scored seven goals in his first five Premier League games of the season but just two in his most recent 11.
With Timo Werner set to join this summer, and perhaps Kai Havertz too, Abraham is playing for his future. The cold, emotionless venues for the next nine rounds offer the 22-year-old the chance to refocus and rediscover his verve.
The relegation battle looks likely to go down to the wire, especially if empty stadiums and the increased risk of injury sees mid-table clubs - struggling for motivation - get sucked into the fight. Not unlike Chelsea, Aston Villa can be the beneficiaries of the opportunity to reboot and recapture the performances that characterised their first 13 games of the campaign.
Villa played assertive attacking football in those early days, frequently falling just short of toppling the big clubs thanks to the brilliant displays of Jack Grealish and John McGinn. It is no coincidence the Scotland international's injury in mid-December coincided with the club's collapse.
As results worsened and Villa lost their confidence, Smith's progressive formation looked far too expansive; they badly missed McGinn's incredible tenacity, drive, and technical ability. He is the beating heart of the Villa team and, now back from injury, can be the catalyst for change. Back Villa to stay up at 15/8.
Seemingly the only person who can't see the damage being done by rushing Harry Kane back from injury is Harry Kane. This time, he has been forced into a slower rehabilitation period, which could mean a return of the sharpness that has been missing from his game recently. It is perfect timing, too, for Kane to become the driving force behind Jose Mourinho's second chance at a first impression.
Tottenham were in free-fall when the league was suspended in March, losing five of the previous six games in all competitions. But there is a good reason why Mourinho hasn't taken a job mid-season since Porto in 2002: he makes use of pre-season like few other coaches in world football. The three-month hiatus has given Mourinho a chance to impart some wisdom, form cliques, and settle on a first 11.
Kane has all the attributes of a classic Mourinho centre-forward. If the Portuguese can finally get rid of the lingering Mauricio Pochettino muscle memory, installing compression between the lines and fluid counter-attacks, then Kane can make headlines this summer and lift Spurs into the top five, priced at 5/1.
Mikel Arteta's highly structured tactics are slowly revolutionising Arsenal. Like Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, Arteta is coaching positional play in microscopic detail in order to spread the team evenly across the pitch to create neat triangles for attacks.
Arsenal's main problem is that they remain emotionally volatile, and so empty stadiums should favour Arteta's methodical approach. Pretty much every Arsenal player stands to benefit, but none more so than Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who is finding more space in the penalty box by arriving later in the move from the left wing.
He has seven goals in nine games starting from the left, and 11 in his last 17 in all competitions. With yet more time dedicated to Arteta's tactical training, the Gabonese striker, on 17 for the season, should be able to overtake Jamie Vardy and claim the Golden Boot, at 7/2.
Manchester United are an unknown entity, and as such the most intriguing Premier League team ahead of the return. No Old Trafford crowd could mean Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can afford to sit back and counter-attack more often, as he would like, or it could mean the fear factor has gone and - playing the team rather than the badge - opponents expose his side's tactical flaws.
The conundrum, and the crossroads, facing United is symbolised in what happens with Paul Pogba over the coming weeks. He is set to warm the bench for their opener against Tottenham, according to the Athletic, but long-term is expected to form a midfield partnership with Bruno Fernandes.
Can United remain competitive in midfield with two creatives here? Will Pogba step on Fernandes's toes? Does the Frenchman's style fit Solskjaer's preference for speed and energy across the pitch? And can he afford to sideline the club's star attraction? These are all existential questions that get to the heart of what Man Utd means as a club and where they are heading.
Solskjaer has been able to avoid these tough calls while Pogba was injured. Now, he has to make decisions that will define his tenure. If they start badly, then it might be worth betting on United to finish outside the top six at 7/2.