sport news Soccer Saturday stumbled into the new season with pundits on trial who lacked ...

'The Premier League is back, the Football League is back, Soccer Saturday is back, I'm back, Merse is back, but not everyone is back,' announced Jeff Stelling ominously.

There followed a brief pause. Was it for dramatic effect or a moment's silence for absent friends?

'The crowds are not back,' added Stelling, finishing his sentence.

Jeff Stelling made a light-hearted joke about absentees in the first Soccer Saturday this season

Jeff Stelling made a light-hearted joke about absentees in the first Soccer Saturday this season

Anchor man Stelling and the other survivor, Paul Merson, in the studio with Tim Sherwood

Anchor man Stelling and the other survivor, Paul Merson, in the studio with Tim Sherwood

See what he did there? It was a nice, if contrived, nod to the controversy surrounding Sky Sports' long-running Saturday afternoon football show and the sacking of Stelling's old mates Matt Le Tissier, Phil Thompson and Charlie Nicholas from the panel.

The old gang has been broken up, changes have been made and tears have been shed.

Instead, Sky went into the new season with a 3-3-1 formation. Anchor man Stelling and the other survivor, Paul Merson, in the studio with Tim Sherwood on this occasion.

Elsewhere in 'The Circle', whatever that means, Tony Pulis lined up alongside Glen Johnson and Clinton Morrison. Sue Smith appeared from Cheshire.

It was a more diverse, politically correct, team for sure. But a familiar format and Stelling's patter meant it only felt so fresh.

BT Sport have been woke for a while now. Over on their rival show on Saturday, they managed to get six in a studio with Chris Sutton, Jermaine Jenas, Rachel Brown-Finnis and Robbie Savage socially distanced from Darrell Currie and Jules Breach.

Sky, on the other hand, seem to have committed to change without being sure of exactly what they want.

Tony Pulis joined by Glen Johnson and Clinton Morrison. Sue Smith appeared from Cheshire

Tony Pulis joined by Glen Johnson and Clinton Morrison. Sue

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