By Sports Reporter
ALL eyes will be on Zimbabwe international midfielder Marvelous Nakamba and his Aston Villa teammates when they face off against Sheffield United in the first match of the English Premier League restart at Villa Park on Wednesday.
The English Premier League resumes finally – three months after the season was suspended – and for Zimbabwe football enthusiasts, the attention will be on Nakamba who will be trying to save his side from relegation.
Nakamba has generally fared well for the Birmingham-based side, where he has been playing regularly, having made 21 appearances and the Villa matches are some of the most watched by the local fans.
The Zimbabwe midfield enforcer, however, faces a defining few weeks starting on Wednesday, as the Premier League enters into a crash programme to complete the remaining matches.
Nakamba’s Aston Villa sit 19th on the 20 team table, two spots below safety although they have played a game less than most of their relegation haunted rivals.
The Warriors midfielder is staring at the grim prospect of dropping out of the lucrative league after just one season after joining from Belgian topflight side Club Brugge at the beginning of the current season.
Before the season was suspended, Villa were 19th on the table and played in the last top-flight match on March 9 when they were thrashed 4-0 at Leicester City, leaving them two points adrift of safety.
Their poor run of form saw them sink closer to the basement side Norwich, who are four points adrift of Villa.
Villa, who however have a game in hand also play six of their remaining 10 games at home and will be fancying their chances of surviving relegation with Nakamba expected to play a prominent role in their survival bid.
Before the suspension of the league, Villa were on a free-fall, having lost their last four matches and managing just one win in five matches and they are now deep into the relegation waters.
Villa manager Dean Smith said on Monday that his charges were relishing the limelight which will come from featuring in the first match of the Premier League’s return.
“The eyes of the world will be on us. We’re looking forward to it,” he told reporters in a virtual news conference.
“We’ve worked very hard. The players during the lockdown were very compliant with all the work we sent them. Since the lockdown, non-contact training, contact training… The players are itching to get back.”
Aston Villa’s match against Sheffield United will also be the first Premier League game to be played without spectators.
“That adrenaline rush that you get with them being a part of the game will be disappointing to not have,” Smith said. “The players have to come up with their own motivating tools now.”
The Premier League is the last of the major European leagues to restart its season, with the Bundesliga having resumed last month while La Liga got back underway last week. Italy has also restarted its cup competition while Serie A resumes on Saturday.
Smith said the announcement of the fixtures for the season’s restart was a welcome relief as it finally allowed coaching staff to plan ahead. His side are second-bottom of the table and two points off the safety zone, albeit with a game in hand.
“It was great to be able to fit it on my fixtures board and get an itinerary planned. We are people who want to plan ahead and it’s difficult to do that with no timeline.”