It would be ill judged to glean any positives from the Premier League season being suspended as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, but some players injured before the break stand to have a greater impact following its delay.
England internationals Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford are two such stars much more prepared to contribute towards the run-in after recovering from serious injuries during the three-month lay-off.
They aren’t the only key men set to be welcomed back with bigger prospects after the campaign resumes, however, as numerous clubs are glad to be boosted by newly fit figures.
Only players who were injured or had not played for a period leading up to the season being postponed have been taken into account.
David Brooks, Bournemouth
Bournemouth resume the season occupying a space in the relegation zone, but their chances are significantly improved having David Brooks back for the first time in more than a year.
Eddie Howe’s attack has suffered this season and is averaging a goal per game in the Premier League compared to a rate of around 1.5 goals per outing last term (56 goals in 38 matches).
Brooks’ absence has been telling after he contributed seven finishes and five assists in 30 appearances during his maiden top-flight campaign. His first—a sensational opener against Crystal Palace in October 2018—showed precisely the kind of glitz he adds, via Goal:
The Wales international brings a touch of class that’s otherwise been missing off Bournemouth’s right flank this term. His supply to strikers Joshua King and Callum Wilson could be transformative, while taking pressure off the likes of Ryan Fraser and Harry Wilson.
Heung-min Son, Tottenham Hotspur
For all the talk of Kane’s influence at Tottenham Hotspur and the impact of his injury woes, the north Londoners lose nearly as much in attack without Heung-min Son in the lineup.
An arm fracture suffered in February saw the South Korean miss Spurs’ last three league games prior to lockdown, but manager Jose Mourinho confirmed in May his star was back fully fit, via Football Daily:
Son has 16 goals and nine assists in 32 appearances across all competitions this season—six direct goal involvements more than Kane (19)—and will be essential in Tottenham’s pursuit of European qualification.
John McGinn, Aston Villa
An unforeseen bolter who made his way into many a fantasy lineup early in the season, many feared Aston Villa’s John McGinn might struggle to reacclimatise after six months out with a fractured ankle.
His performance against Sheffield United in the Premier League's first match back did plenty to allay those fears, with the midfielder putting in a steady shift in the back four, while also providing one of Villa's best chances of the match.
Dean Smith recently shared those fears as his versatile player looks to help engineer a relegation escape, with the Villans 19th and three points from safety (with a game in hand), via injury analyst Ben Dinnery:
Jack Grealish has shouldered a big responsibility as Villa’s saviour for large portions of this season, but Glaswegian McGinn has shown he too has match-winning ability in his locker.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Chelsea
There’s a belief among sections of the Chelsea support that Ruben Loftus-Cheek still has the potential to go down as a club legend. A long-standing back injury has held the academy product back in those efforts, while a ruptured Achilles means “RLC” hasn’t played a first-team game since May 2019.
The midfielder was on the verge of a return to full fitness in March—chronicled in a club diary title “The Pride”—before the novel COVID-19 pandemic put paid to those plans for the time being.
Loftus-Cheek, 24, bagged a brace on Sunday when Chelsea beat Queens Park Rangers 7-1 in a friendly on Sunday, and the extra preparation could benefit him greatly as he seeks a priority place in Frank Lampard’s plans:
N’Golo Kante, Chelsea
On the topic of Chelsea’s midfield, N’Golo Kante is also fit and back where Lampard needs him following a period of uncertainty over whether he’d be ready for the restart due to coronavirus fears.
The Blues now look blessed for midfield options with Billy Gilmour and Mateo Kovacic showing bright form before the break, but there’s little doubt Kante remains their most vital chess piece when at his best.
Chelsea sit fourth for the time being but are by no means guaranteed to hold on with Manchester United and others breathing down their necks, with Kante’s contributions bound to be essential to their run-in.
Leroy Sane, Manchester City
In spite of rumours linking him with a summer move to Bayern Munich, Leroy Sane will be at Manchester City in June and July to help them seal the best possible finish to their Premier League campaign.
Yet to appear for Pep Guardiola’s side since rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament in the Community Shield win over Liverpool last August–but on the bench against their re-opener vs Arsenal–there’s a lot the Germany winger can offer in what may be the final phases of his time at the Etihad Stadium:
Raheem Sterling’s fallen form since the start of 2020 left City in need of Sane’s contributions back in March, but he can still ease the attacking burden on the rest of their front line when play resumes:
Marcus Rashford, Manchester United
‘Commendable’ doesn’t scratch the surface when it comes to describing Marcus Rashford’s herculean effort to raise awareness and funds for children living in poverty during this lockdown period:
The Manchester United attacker has diverted energy towards those who need it more at a time when it would be easy to concentrate on his own adversity, having not appeared since January when he suffered a double-stress back fracture.
United’s top scorer this season with 19 goals in all competitions (14 in the league), Rashford went from three finishes in his first eight league games this season to scoring 11 in his last 14 leading up to the postponement.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Red Devils know fifth would be good enough for a UEFA Champions League place provided City's European ban stands up following an appeal. The competition is thick, however, with only five points separating them from Arsenal—who have a game in hand—in ninth.
Jack Wilshere, West Ham
Jack Wilshere has already been the subject of every injury-related joke out there given his reputation as such a fragile talent. The West Ham United midfielder is again “looking to prove his worth” following a hernia and groin issue that have kept him out since October:
David Moyes is yet to have the former Gunner available since returning for his second stint as Hammers boss, but Wilshere remains highly regarded when fit and could be very effective in the race to avoid relegation.
Winger Andriy Yarmolenko is another asset West Ham will be pleased to have back in contention after he’s been out of action since December.
Harry Kane, Tottenham Hotspur
“The Special One” will have few excuses available if things don’t go as hoped for Tottenham during the run-in, with Kane spearheading a group of Spurs stars ready to return at full pelt:
A torn hamstring meant Mourinho’s only senior out-and-out striker—given he doesn’t seem to regard Troy Parrott as an option—may have only come back for the last few games of the season, though Spurs initially coped well in his absence.
Results ran off a cliff, however, as Tottenham suffered knockouts in the FA Cup and Champions League with Kane watching from the sidelines, and the north Londoners failed to win their last three league games.
Tottenham averaged 1.38 goals per Premier League game after Kane’s injury compared to 1.7 per game prior to his absence, with no alternative in the squad bringing the same presence up top.
The two-time Golden Boot winner has had a couple of months at full fitness to get ready and could mean the difference between Mourinho’s first Spurs season being remembered fondly—or as a flop.