Tales from the Top Flight by Chris Darwen – And we are back, baby.

Actual Premier League football returned after 100 days last Wednesday. Actual Premier League football. Sure, without fans but most of the old narratives reappeared right on cue with a few little extras thrown in for good measure.

If you are a fan of a social distancing gag or seven, strap yourselves in as you are in for a proper treat.

The aforementioned actual Premier League football kicked off at Villa Park where Aston Villa welcomed Sheffield United to play one of the games postponed from pre-lockdown times.

The only problem was, Hawk Eye are clearly still on furlough – or, worse, someone forgot to turn it on when the match kicked off.

There was proper social distancing going on which was great to see – it was between the ball and the goal line though, and that cost the Blades three points that would have been very welcome (considering what came to pass at St James’ Park on Sunday).

Whilst the goal being given would have seen Sheffield United continue their push for 5th place, the point claimed by the Villa gave their relegation battle restart the nudge it needed – much to the dismay of the likes of Bournemouth who were probably hoping Villa might remain worse than they meaning they only have to find one club to be less rubbish than this season.

Up at the Etihad, Man City restarted with the faint hope that lockdown might have led to Liverpool completely forgetting how to play football – and if that was to be the case then they were going to be ready to capitalise.

Arsenal arrived in the middle of their longest unbeaten run in ages – they had not lost in 2020 and that wasn’t completely down to the fact they’d not played for three months.

A bit of rustiness was expected, but David Luiz was so ‘rusty’ Mikel Arteta is probably considering selling him for scrap at the earliest opportunity.

Luiz came off the bench after about 20 minutes and by the time he was sent off in the 49th he’d managed to gift City their opener, give away the penalty that led to their second and pick up the straight red – in fairness, Luiz should be applauded as that is more than most players manage to achieve in a season.

The Brazilian, apparently, gives away a penalty every 6.5 games for Arsenal which takes a fair amount of effort. I mean, you really have to be trying to achieve those levels – they don’t just happen by luck.

Apparently, the club immediately appealed the ban, to get it extended until the end of the season.

Over at Goodison, the Champions elect had a makeshift changing room and the referee had a makeshift beard.

Maybe Mike Dean was trying to go incognito, but it felt like the whole match was doing its best not to be noticed. Unexpectedly, Everton went closest to beating their big rivals – hitting the post with ten minutes to go. If Liverpool were able to blame other factors for the delaying of their crowning, their flat performance in this derby will delay it a little further.

Still, it was reassuring to see Richarlison spending as much time on the deck as he did on his feet. Boy, I’ve missed that.

Football might have changed a bit in the last few months but seeing Roy Keane lay into David de Gea at half-time in the Spurs vs United clash and seeing how Jose had set his team up gave me a warm fuzzy feeling that you get when you’ve been lost for a while and then see a familiar landmark.

To be fair, Keano did have a point. Luke Shaw’s headless chicken routine after the poor header, Harry Maguire respecting the full two-metres as he allowed Steven Bergwin to gallop past him and De Gea’s hilarious attempt to stop a moving ball all needed comment – and Roy did not go into the challenge half-heartedly.

As for Jose, he clearly spent the time off working out what his new blueprint for football is – what’s that Jose? Sit deep, break the game up and then hope you nick something on the break? Genius – I cannot believe you failed to try that earlier in your career.

Mourinho was keen to see United’s Bruno Fernandes ‘exposed’ after the game – maybe he didn’t get his invite into the showers post-match. More importantly, Jose surpassed even my predictions that he might wait until next week before moaning about the lack of quality available to him by suggesting there wasn’t enough on the Spurs bench. Nine subs are clearly not enough in this day and age.

Did you know Brighton have only won three out of their last 20 Premier League outings? And, guess what? Two of those have been against Arsenal.

Having been utterly out-classed in Manchester, Arteta headed South in the hope of seeing some kind of reaction from his squad. In fairness, they picked up one fewer injury than at the Etihad as Bernd Leno was carried off following being tickled under the chin by Neal Maupay and the goalkeeping graveyard end that also did for Hugo Lloris earlier in the season.

Arsenal did lead, but that was never going to be enough. They ended up ‘getting what they deserved’ which was an embarrassing 2-1 defeat.

It was a new experience for all the West Ham fans on Saturday – actually feeling close to the action for once as they all watched it on TV. Never forget, what the Hammers were getting when they recalled David Moyes was a manager who knows how to ‘win’ – maybe that should be changed to ‘knew how to win’ after yet another defeat.

Aaron Cresswell, who had put a decent shift in, must have been delighted to see a fresh Adama Traore coming on for the last little bit at the Athletics Stadium – it was Traore who then did the damage to give Wolves another three points and drag the Hammers nearer the trap door.

Luckily for them, Bournemouth don’t seem too fussed on finding a way out. In theory, Crystal Palace at home was not the worst match to restart with when you are hoping to find some form. It was the first Premier League match on the BBC since forever but it won’t exactly live long in the memory.

The Cherries started brightly, David Brooks back from injury looking like he might be the spark required.

That was until Palace scored, however – and then scored again. That’s four wins and four clean sheets in a row for Uncle Roy and the E word was been mentioned.

Lockdown gave Norwich City a chance to go away, think about how recklessly open they’ve been at times and come back with a new focus to stave off the likely drop.

You know what? I don’t think they bothered.

Danny Ings managed to keep his goalscoring momentum in full flow as the Saints celebrated Ralphy boy getting a new deal by making the Canaries yodel their tune.

Watford are also fighting for their lives and did actually show some fight – Craig Dawson equalising late, late late against Leicester who had led through Ben Chilwell adding an extra £10m to the quote they are giving Chelsea.

Speaking of Chelsea, all these new signings they are making and it’s still down to stalwarts Cesar Azpilicueta and Olivier Giroud to bail them out.

Frank Lampard’s men were 1-0 down at Villa following yet another example of chocolate wrists from Kepa but once Dave floated one up to the back stick for Pulisic the tide was turned. 90 seconds later, the big French beardyman spun and saw the winner deflect home meaning Chelsea, right now, must be favourites for 4th place.

Can someone please take a few moments to explain Newcastle United to me? I am still very confused. They are for sale and have been for ages. Their pending takeover seems to have kept some media companies in content over the last few months – yet nothing actually seems to be happening and, at some point, someone is going to realise that it’s not really happening – a standard Mike Ashley ruse.

And then the team itself – every single predicted this and predicted that statistic I see sees Steve Bruce’s team rock bottom of the league and yet here they are, spanking Sheffield United 3-0 and sitting pretty in 12th – a whole 17 points higher than where their performances suggest they should be.

I think we can all agree John Egan’s sending off was the turning point given that it was 0-0 at the time, Joelinton clearly wasn’t going to score if he stayed out there all day and the Blades were in control.

Funny how things change – Dean Henderson might be dreaming of replicating De Gea at Old Trafford but he might be copying the wrong habits given how he ushered home Matt Ritchie’s strike – social distancing between him and his near post (I think that’s at least four now, is anyone counting). And yes, even big Joe got on the scoresheet.

Sack Steve Bruce? Don’t be daft.