Watching England on the box is not so much a chore these days – even taking into account that laborious performance against Denmark – but many fans will breathe a sigh of relief to know that the international break is now over and the Premier League is on its way back.
We are only a few games deep into the season but already it has thrown up plenty of drama, and against the backdrop of these strange and uncertain times it has proved to be a welcome distraction.
With a number of mouth-watering clashes between some of the big-hitters, all eyes will be glued to the Premier League action once again this weekend. Here, Sportsmail picks out 10 reasons to be excited for its return…
The Premier League will be back in full swing this weekend after the international break, and the last time we saw action Tottenham embarrassed Manchester United with a 6-1 win
The return of Bale
Tottenham fans will be drooling at the prospect of getting a glimpse at their prodigal son this Sunday.
After seven years away from the Premier League, Gareth Bale is in contention to make his long-awaited return against West Ham.
His second Spurs debut has been delayed due to a knee injury and while he is not yet back up to full fitness, Jose Mourinho will no doubt be itching to utilise him.
Bale has looked sharp in training all week too and would have done his chances of featuring no harm.
At his peak, Bale was an irrepressible force and after a few years of warming the bench in Madrid and persistent niggles, it will be interesting to see if he is still the same player which Spurs had such fond memories of.
Gareth Bale might grace the Premier League again for the first time in seven years this week
The Student takes on The Master
Pep Guardiola showed Mikel Arteta the ropes when he was his understudy at City and this weekend the two tacticians will pit their wits against each other.
It is not the first time these two have gone head to head, but this burgeoning new rivalry has so much intrigue.
Guardiola has got the stronger squad and is far more experienced but it is Arteta who will feel he has the edge having led Arsenal to a 2-0 victory over City last time they faced off.
Mikel Arteta will take on the man who helped develop him as a coach, Pep Guardiola
Ziyech can be Chelsea’s kick-starter
With all of Chelsea’s summer business, it’s easy to forget about how fine a signing Hakim Ziyech could turn out to be.
Ziyech was one of the early arrivals, for £38million from Ajax, and his name was soon drowned out by Timo Werner and Kai Havertz, who both joined for larger fees.
But after a stuttering start to the season in his absence, Frank Lampard will be glad to be able to call on someone of Ziyech’s ilk to shake things up a bit.
The midfielder has so far missed all of Chelsea’s games due to an injury he picked up in pre-season, but is likely to feature against Southampton.
Ziyech can play in a number of different positions across the midfield and has bags of talent and creativity. At Ajax, he was a regular game changer. At Chelsea, Lampard will be hoping he can be their kick-starter.
Hakim Ziyech is set for his debut this weekend and could be an influential player for Chelsea
Watch out for the debutants
There could be plenty of new faces making their introduction to the Premier League this weekend.
Arsenal’s £45million deadline-day signing Thomas Partey is one who could be handed his debut.
Ben Godfrey is also in line to make his first appearance for Everton after joining in a £30m deal from Norwich.
Elsewhere, Manchester United are weighing up whether or not to chuck Alex Telles straight into the action at Newcastle while Theo Walcott is likely to be in the squad ahead of potentially making his second debut for Southampton after rejoining from Everton.
Thomas Partey is one of several Premier League newbies in line for their first games
Three tasty derbies
Tackles flying in, players wearing their hearts on their sleeves: who doesn’t love a good derby?
Well this weekend we are spoiled for choice because there’s three to get your teeth stuck into.
First up, there’s the Merseyside derby between Everton and Liverpool in the lunchtime kick-off on Saturday – but more on that later.
And on Sunday, Spurs welcome West Ham to White Hart Lane while Crystal Palace host fierce rivals Brighton in the M23 derby.
You can always count on high-stake games like these when the bragging rights are up for grabs to deliver an enthralling 90 minutes of football. It’s just a shame there won’t be any fans to add to the atmosphere.
The M23 derby between Crystal Palace and Brighton is one of three derbies on this weekend
Expect goals galore at Molineux
Wolves vs Leeds may slip under the radar this weekend but this has all the makings of a thriller.
For the neutrals, this could well be the pick of the weekend.
Their only two meetings in the Premier League have finished 4-1 to Leeds and then 3-1 Wolves.
Looking at how Marcelo Bielsa and Nuno Santo’s men play now, those scores are entirely plausible for this weekend.
Both Leeds and Wolves play fast, expansive football which is nice on the eye and have goals in their teams. You won’t want to miss this one.
Wolves against Leeds looks like a game that has plenty of goals written all over it
Everton can end their decade of hurt
It has been 10 long years for Everton fans since they last saw their team defeat their nearest and fiercest rivals.
That could very well change come Saturday afternoon.
It seems strange to suggest that this is Everton’s best chance to break the curse and get one over on Liverpool when Jurgen Klopp’s side have been so breathtakingly brilliant for such a long time, but that’s exactly what this game is for them.
It’s the perfect time to play Liverpool: it’s early in the season when teams are still finding their bearings; Liverpool, by their standards, have not made the best of starts and won’t have long as a squad to prepare for the match. A derby game is hardly what they could have wished for immediately after their dressing down at Aston Villa either, and on Everton’s patch to boot.
Everton, by contrast, are flying high with four wins from four, and have the players and the ambition to genuinely compete with Liverpool. Regardless of the emotions involved, anything less than three points this weekend, and Carlo Ancelotti will be disappointed and understandably so. You don’t spend all the money they have and expect the same outcome as what’s been happening for the past decade.
Everton have the stars to trouble Liverpool – including the brilliant James Rodriguez (left) and top scorer Dominic Calvert-Lewin (top) – and can end their 10 years of pain against rivals
Blades and Cottagers approaching unwanted record
No Premier League team have ever started the season with six straight defeats.
Sunderland have the record for the worst start to a top-flight season ever after five games, when they failed to claim a single point from their opening five fixtures back in 2005-06.
Sheffield United and Fulham are in dangerous territory after losing their first four matches.
The Blades seem to be suffering with second-season syndrome while Fulham’s main problem is the fact they can’t keep the ball out of their net.
This weekend they have an opportunity to avoid sharing that unwanted record with Sunderland when they go up against each other.
Fulham and Sheffield United would equal worst start to a Premier League season if they lose
Manchester United could sink to a new low (if that’s possible)
It’s no secret that Old Trafford is a pretty miserable place right now, and if results go a certain way over the weekend this club that once dominated the football landscape in England could find themselves in a very embarrassing position.
If either Fulham or Sheffield United and Burnley or West Brom win their matches against each other and United lose at Newcastle, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men will drop into the relegation zone.
That would no doubt bring some amusement to those who detest United but it would be anything but a laughing matter for Solskjaer, whose job is far from safe after their awful start.
Whisper it, but if results fall a certain way this weekend, United could be in the bottom three
Villains have the chance to take another scalp
Leicester will be a good acid test for Aston Villa, who will be feeling rather smug about themselves in this moment in time.
The Villains have made a brilliant start to the new campaign and sit in second place after a perfect run of three victories – most notably humiliating Liverpool 7-2 last time out.
There weren’t many who had pegged Villa for dark horses this season, or at least, if there were they had kept quiet until now.
Win this weekend though and prove that thrashing Liverpool was no fluke and I’m sure they’ll be a few more hop on the bandwagon.
It would be another statement win and if they could pull it off, it would prove their credentials as a dangerous team for anyone in this league.
Aston Villa have chance to claim another scalp and prove 7-2 Liverpool thrashing was no fluke
ALL THE PREMIER LEAGUE FIXTURES THIS WEEKEND
Saturday October 17
12.30pm Everton vs Liverpool
3pm Chelsea vs Southampton
5.30pm Manchester City vs Arsenal
8pm Newcastle United vs Manchester United
Sunday October 18
12pm Sheffield United vs Fulham
2pm Crystal Palace vs Brighton
4.30pm Tottenham vs West Ham
7.15pm Leicester vs Aston Villa
Monday October 19
5.30pm West Brom vs Burnley
8pm Leeds vs Wolves
Thiago Alcantara and Jurgen Klopp are set to return to the limelight on Saturday