The return of football from pandemic lockdown puts all teams on a level-playing field fitness-wise due to a very long period of inactivity at the start of the business end of the season. Many teams have little to play for this season – whilst some leagues have already been canceled – but for the teams with a shot at some form of achievement this season are returning players who might completely alter the course of the campaign given the circumstances.
Football Castle brings you a list of players who might have an ace up their sleeves, provided them by the lockdown, to affect the course of their team’s fortunes following the resumption of football.
|Manchester United fans are itching to have Marcus Rashford back. (Getty Images)|
The England striker was having the most prolific season of his senior career (19 goals in 31 appearances) before sustaining a lower back stress fracture against Wolves, ruling him out for several months. Manchester United will be undoubtedly boosted by their star forward who now gets to play with a much-improved team with Bruno Fernandes in it.
Can the fifth-placed Mancunians nick a Champions League ticket? Particularly with City’s European ban? Only one way to find out.
|Harry Kane would be raring to go for the season’s restart. (Getty Images)|
The Tottenham striker underwent surgery on a ruptured hamstring he sustained at Southampton on New Year’s day and was a huge doubt to be fully fit for Euro 2020. The pandemic, however, has provided the Spurs marksman ample recovery time to return to add firepower to an ailing frontline. The England captain will be fired-up to boost Spurs’ push for a top-four league finish, despite crashing out of the Champions League at the hands of Leipzig in one of the last matches before the lockdown.
Needless to say, having missed all of football in 2020, he would also have an eye on increasing his standing on the goalscorers’ list!
Que lindo volver! ⚽️💪🔴🔵
Good to be back! ⚽️💪🔴🔵 pic.twitter.com/8e8ucMeBoY
— Luis Suarez (@LuisSuarez9) May 8, 2020
After early concerns about his weight and decline, the Uruguayan had hit a brilliant run of form (six goals and 10 assists in 10 games) before getting injured as he underwent knee surgery in January. On return to socially-distanced training with Barcelona, Suárez has looked leaner and meaner, perhaps motivated throughout the lockdown to return to his best shape and prove his doubters wrong.
Watch out for the ageing lethal finisher when football returns.
|Eden Hazard hasn’t been the superstar Madrid craved due to his injury issues.|
The brilliant Belgian has struggled with fitness issues since his big-money move to Real Madrid in the summer, scoring once in 15 appearances. A broken ankle in February threatened to end his season but Hazard has returned to training with Los Blancos at Valdebebas following the lockdown. Although some way short of full fitness, Hazard could well be making an impressive return in what’s left of the season.
Write Eden Hazard off at your peril, that’s for sure.
The Korean was a huge loss for José Mourinho’s Tottenham shortly after Harry Kane having fractured his arm at Aston Villa in early february. His season was expected to be over and he duly signed up for mandatory military service in South Korea during the lockdown.
A return to football provides a boost for the 27-year-old to add some memorable moments to a season that had already seen him accidentally involved in André Gomes’ horrific ankle break, a red card against Chelsea that led to alleged racial abuse on Antonio Rüdiger, as well as breaking his own arm.
|LIKE A NEW SIGNING: Ruben Loftus-Cheek can be Chelsea’s wildcard this season. (Chelsea FC via Getty Images)|
The England international hasn’t kicked a ball in anger for Chelsea this season having been out for nine months after rupturing his Achilles tendon at the back-end of last season. Chelsea have famously lacked a clinical edge this season and Loftus-cheek offers a unique blend of strength, skill, speed and an eye for goal from midfield; scoring 10 times and creating five more last season.
The 24-year-old was set to feature just before the outbreak and would have surely lost whatever match fitness he had developed prior. On the flip side, he would have healed completely and the strong midfielder now has a mini pre-season to develop his fitness alongside his teammates before the season restarts. Watch this space, Frank Lampard might have a wildcard this season in RLC.
|Paul Pogba would be looking forward to a linkup with Bruno Fernandes. (Getty Images)|
The World Cup winner was having a turbulent season with widespread reports of wanting out of Manchester United and struggling for fitness. A fine opening-day performance against Chelsea where he delivered two assists was his only highlight of the season before a foot injury kept him out for three months and then a decision to have surgery.
Having made a paltry eight appearances this season, there is no doubt that the charismatic midfielder misses getting on the pitch to display his talent. With a return to training alongside the rest of United’s squad post-lockdown, Pogba would have a thing or two to dazzle his fans and critics before the season ends.
|John McGinn can provide the inspiration Aston Villa need to get out of the relegation waters. (Reuters)|
The story of Aston Villa’s relegation dogfight this season has been a group of decent players underachieving and making costly errors. Earlier in the season, the Villans depended on the quality of Jack Grealish and John McGinn to provide inspiration from midfield. The Scotland International, however, would suffer a fractured ankle in December from which he was nearing a return before the lockdown.
McGinn’s energy, work rate, assured left foot and eye for goal would offer Dean Smith’s men a huge boost ahead of the final 10 games of the season. Having scored the winner in the Championship promotion play-off final against Derby last season, McGinn can well save the West Midlanders once more.
|Lewandowski marked a return to the Bundesliga with a penalty against Union Berlin last week. (AFP)|
The Pole was set to miss a considerable part of the season’s run-in with a knee injury. Meanwhile, the Bayern Munich striker returned like he never left as German football resumed last weekend, to score from the penalty spot at Union Berlin for his 40th goal of the season.
Approaching a key point in the Bundesliga and the Champions League campaigns, the Bavarians would be eternally glad to have their marksman back as many hopes rest firmly on Lewandowski’s able shoulders.
A vicious cycle of injuries has engulfed the Bournemouth squad this season which contributed to the Cherries languishing in the relegation zone, David Brooks in particular has been rocked with an ankle issue since pre-season that required two surgeries. The Wales international is back in training amongst several long-term injury absentees and will be looking to improve the team’s fortunes, having had a brilliant first season on the South Coast scoring seven goals and five assists in 30 league appearances.
The 22-year-old will inject quality into Bournemouth’s ranks as Eddie Howe would have been happy with the break to allow his stars to recover and refocus for the season’s climax.