Chelsea v Man City, finally a decent tie after restart: Neil Humphreys
Chelsea, Man City only sides to show real EPL intensity
Chelsea and Manchester City are the only teams that didn't get the memo, the one about football not being the same.
Everyone else has pretty much adopted the Project Restart mantra.
The atmosphere is subdued. Players are not fit and the fear of someone "doing a Novak Djokovic" and testing positive for Covid-19 after a spectacularly ill-conceived incident hangs over all professional sport.
Consequently, English Premier League matches are not supposed to be the same.
But Chelsea and City are rejecting conventional wisdom by insisting on playing in a higher gear.
They haven't reached top gear. Let's not get carried away. But at times, there are distinct echoes of that characteristic EPL intensity, as if the football almost matters.
Ironically, Project Restart does matter for Chelsea, but not so much for City, which makes their meeting tomorrow so intriguing.
The prospect of a memorable game, one that does the resurrected competition justice, could materialise at Stamford Bridge, for very different reasons.
Chelsea cannot lose this battle. But City have already lost the war, which potentially makes them a more enticing proposition.
No other footballer epitomises City's unique and perhaps enviable position quite like Phil Foden. He's a kid with nothing to lose who is playing for next season. Pep Guardiola probably feels the same way.
In a matter of days, the champions are going to be deposed. Their two-season reign is coming to a premature end. In a silverware sense, the most expensive squad in English football history no longer counts.
Project Restart is all about Liverpool. Guardiola's men are making up the numbers, but their numbers are so extravagant, talented and liberated that they are playing with a newfound freedom.
Having nothing to lose has enabled a subtle rise of the carefree swashbucklers who accumulated 198 points over the previous two seasons.
Eight goals and two clean sheets in comfortable wins over Arsenal and Burnley felt like a greatest hits package, allowing us to recall the frenetic soundtrack of the EPL before lockdown.
City's football wasn't particularly furious - they could've doubled their tally against the hapless Gunners - but at least it was fast.
Their fearlessness, combined with the unique features of Project Restart, has enabled City to resemble the side that they were supposed to be this season.
The five-substitute rule allows Guardiola to flex his tactical muscles and show off the bounteous gifts at his disposal. The Spaniard made eight changes after the Arsenal game and City still scored five against Burnley.
But the resurgence is down to more than just a strong bench. The red ball and chain are gone. Liverpool have already disappeared into the distance. The endless comparisons between Guardiola and Juergen Klopp and the constant interrogations about 20-point gaps and changing dynasties are old news.
Guardiola's players are free to be. The team that lost seven EPL games before lockdown has faded away. Those kings are dead. Long live the artists.
They are vibrant and engaging again. In central midfield, local boy Foden has scored three times in two games and staked a strong claim to be David Silva's successor.
But the departing Spaniard has been no less entertaining, joining Kevin de Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez in an energised midfield. If these guys had another 15 games and full stadiums, who knows how this season might have played out?
Instead they'll head to Stamford Bridge to face the only side that has so far come close to matching City's intensity.
Chelsea's motivations are more straightforward and less psychological than their opponents. They are playing for the top three.
Against Aston Villa, the Blues surged forward at every opportunity. Only a relative paucity of striking options denied them a bigger goal tally.
Winger Hakim Ziyech and striker Timo Werner were signed to fix that gaping hole in attack, but Willian and Olivier Giroud seem determined to restate their relevance.
Both delivered at Villa Park, but Willian was the dominant, twisting, wriggling presence. The Brazilian should lead the Chelsea charge against City.
To be honest, the EPL could use a compelling contest, one that at least underlines the value of Project Restart beyond TV contracts.
A week into the weird return, too many games have undoubtedly had a perfunctory feel as players and managers completed their duties. Fixtures were mostly functional. Flair was hardly a priority and understandably so.
But Chelsea and City were the exceptions. They stood out in crowd-less arenas and should repeat the trick at the Bridge.
They have their reasons to deliver. The rest of us welcome a reason to stay awake.