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Saturday, January 28, 2023

Premier League returns: How ready is your team after World Cup?

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After a six-week break for the World Cup in Qatar, the Premier League resumes on Boxing Day as all eyes once again return to the club game.

A season that is like no other due to the first ever winter World Cup and mid-season break gets back underway with a packed fixture schedule over the festive period.

The action returns with Arsenal holding a surprise five-point lead over Manchester City at the top of the table, with Newcastle and Tottenham completing an unlikely top four.

Liverpool and Chelsea struggled at times during the opening weeks, while at the bottom Nottingham Forest, Southampton and Wolves make up the relegation places.

Several teams have already changed managers and there’s a lot to catch up on following the World Cup. Here’s a team-by-team look at the Premier League state of play as the action gets set to resume.

Arsenal

Where they left off

Top of the Premier League and five points clear of Manchester City – Gunners fans could not possibly have asked for more than that before the season started. Mikel Arteta’s team have dropped points just twice this season in the Premier League and reeled off three straight victories, including a 1-0 win at Chelsea, before the break to guarantee top spot at Christmas. They are title contenders.

World Cup impact

Gabiel Jesus barely featured for Brazil at the World Cup but still suffered a right knee injury that required surgery and is expected to keep him out for up to three months. The forward has had a transformative effect on Arsenal since joining from Manchester City – starting all of their 14 Premier League matches so far – and his injury is a huge blow. William Saliba will be the last player to return but his playing time for France was limited.

What have they been up to

Arsenal had wins over Lyon and AC Milan in Dubai, which saw defender Ben White return to the pitch after he had left England’s World Cup camp during the group stages. Arteta’s side then returned to the Emirates for a 2-0 defeat to Juventus, which saw Aaron Ramsdale, Granit Xhaka and Thomas Partey feature after their World Cup involvement.

Christmas schedule

After they were knocked out of the Carabao Cup by Brighton, Arsenal’s first game back will be against West Ham on Boxing Day. Arsenal will then look to get revenge against Brighton when they travel to the Amex on Christmas Eve, before hosting Newcastle on January 3.

(Getty Images)

Where they left off

One of six Premier League clubs to change managers mid-season, Aston Villa turned to one of the best around in Villarreal manager Unai Emery following their dismal run of form under Steven Gerrard. Emery had just two Premier League matches in charge before the World Cup, they won both: beating Manchester United at home and Brighton away. Villa will now hope to climb the table.

World Cup impact

Emiliano Martinez added to his legend with Argentina as his antics proved key in the World Cup final penalty shoot-out against France. Martinez became the first Aston Villa player to play in a World Cup final and they now have a World Cup winner, even though the goalkeeper’s behaviour was not always to everyone’s taste. Elsewhere, Matty Cash lived his best life in Qatar. He comes home with the shirts of Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe after playing for Poland.

What have they been up to

Emery has essentially had a pre-season with his new team, with only four members of the squad away in Qatar. Villa flew off to the Middle East where they drew 2-2 with Brighton in Dubai before beating Chelsea 1-0 in Abu Dhabi. Emery then faced his former team Villarreal in a friendly at Villa Park – they lost 1-0.

Christmas schedule

They host Liverpool on Boxing Day before travelling to Spurs on New Year’s Day in two tough tests. A local derby against Wolves follows on January 4.

Where they left off

With the result of the season so far. Brentford’s stunning win at Manchester City on the final weekend before the World Cup was as unexpected as it was needed. Brentford had one win in eight before shocking the Premier League champions. The three points lifted them to 10th, as Thomas Frank’s side continued to punch above their weight.

World Cup impact

Bryan Mbeumo started for Cameroon but Brentford’s Danish contingent of Mikkel Damsgaard, Mathias Jensen, Christian Norgaard saw less game time. After missing out on England’s World Cup squad, Ivan Toney was charged by the Football Association over 232 alleged breaches of betting rules over a four-year period.

What have they been up to

Brentford flew to Spain for a training camp, where they faced Girona and Bordeaux in friendlies. Mbeumo, Norgaard and Damsgaard all returned for the 2-2 draw against Wolfsburg at the Brentford Community Stadium.

Christmas schedule

They will welcome Harry Kane and Tottenham to West London on Boxing Day, as the England captain makes his first appearance since the quarter-final defeat to France. The Bees will also host Liverpool on January 2 and travel to West Ham in between.

Where they left off

Brighton’s thumping 4-1 win over Chelsea was their first under Roberto De Zerbi and was made all the sweeter as it came against former boss Graham Potter.  De Zerbi has largely continued where Potter left off, with Brighton playing attacking football, and the victory over Chelsea was followed by wins over Wolves and Arsenal in the Carabao Cup. They sit 7th in the table, above Chelsea.

World Cup impact

Alexis Mac Allister played a starring role in Argentina’s World Cup win, setting up the second goal in the final against France and enjoying a superb tournament overall alongside Messi. He became the first Brighton player to feature in a World Cup final but was not the only one to have a strong tournament. Pervis Estupinan impressed for Ecuador and  Kaoru Mitoma’s exciting rise continued with Japan. The value of the Brighton squad has certainly increased during the World Cup.

Alexis Mac Allister returns to Brighton a World Cup winner

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Alexis Mac Allister returns to Brighton a World Cup winner

(Getty Images)

What have they been up to

Brighton headed to Dubai for a training camp where they drew with Aston Villa. They return to action in the Carabao Cup against Charlton, where they have a good opportunity to go far.

Christmas schedule

Brighton return to Premier League action against Southampton on Boxing Day, they host Arsenal and then travel to Everton

Were they left off

A 3-0 win over Everton ended a run of four defeats in a row and lifted the Cherries away from the relegation places, where many had expected them to be following the 9-0 defeat to Liverpool and sacking of Scott Parker back in August. Interim boss Gary O’Neill has steadied the ship and the win against Everton came after they blew leads against Leeds and Tottenham.

World Cup impact

Kieffer Moore and Chris Mepham were Bournemouth’s only representatives at the World Cup. Moore was a disruptive force as Wales earned a draw with the USA in their first World Cup match in 58 years but their return lasted only three games following the 3-0 defeat to England.

What have they been up to

Bournemouth have a new manager and owner. O’Neil has been appointed on a permanent basis, with Bournemouth offering a one-and-a-half year contract following his initial three months in charge. Off the pitch, Bournemouth are under new ownership after they confirmed American businessman Bill Foley had bought the club.

Christmas schedule

O’Neill’s reign as permanent boss began midweek in a Carabao Cup defeat Newcastle – before the Cherries face trips to Chelsea and Manchester United. They host Crystal Palace on New Year’s Eve.

Where they left off

Not far away from a crisis, to be honest. Defeats to Brighton, Arsenal, Manchester City and Newcastle before the World Cup break left Chelsea 8th and out of the Carabao Cup. Chelsea also went three games in a row without scoring as the pressure grew on Graham Potter, who replaced Thomas Tuchel earlier this season.

(Getty Images)

World Cup impact

If Potter wanted time on the training ground with his Chelsea squad, the World Cup took away 13 senior players. Hakim Ziyech and Mateo Kovacic were their standout performers in Qatar, but Chelsea fans may be confused as to where this version of the Morocco forward had been during their run to the semi-finals. Raheem Sterling had a difficult World Cup after flying back to the UK during the tournament following a report of a break-in at his home.

What they have been up to

Striker Armando Broja has been ruled out for the season after rupturing his ACL in the friendly defeat against Aston Villa in Abu Dhabi. Reece James is back in training after he missed the World Cup due to injury.

Crystal Palace

Where they left off

Their stuttering form was rather summed up after back-to-back wins over West Ham and Wolves were followed by a defeat to Nottingham Forest. Patrick Vieira’s side are defined by their inconsistency and sit 11th in the table.

World Cup impact

The Eagles only had two players in Qatar in Joachim Andersen and Jordan Ayew. Andersen had a poor campaign with a Denmark side who disappointed while Ayew crashed out with Ghana, although he did have a good performance in the win against South Korea.

What they have been up to

Palace flew off to Turkey and have been among the busier Premier League clubs with four friendlies overall – including a defeat to Napoli.

Christmas schedule

Palace return with a London derby against Fulham on Boxing Day. A trip to Bournemouth follows on New Year’s Eve before they host Tottenham on 4 January

Everton

Where they left off

A dismal defeat at Bournemouth left Everton teetering on the brink of the relegation zone and very much facing another relegation battle. Frank Lampard’s side have won just once since the start of October.

World Cup impact

Jordan Pickford had another good tournament for England while Amadou Onana and Idrissa Gueye played prominent roles in midfield for Belgium and Senegal respectively.

What have they been up to ?

So you missed Everton’s victory in the Sydney Super Cup? The Toffees drew 0-0 with Celtic, winning on penalties, before thrashing Western Sydney Wanderers 5-1. In news that may have slipped under the radar, Salomon Rondon has left the club after his contract was terminated by mutual consent.

Christmas schedule

Everton’s home match against Wolves on Boxing Day is a must-win for Lampard. They then face Manchester City on New Year’s Eve and Brighton on 3 January.

(Getty Images)

Fulham

Where they left off

Despite conceding a last minute winner at home to Manchester United, Fulham could not have expected their return to the Premier League to go much better so far. They sit 9th with Aleksandr Mitrovic scoring nine times already this season.

World Cup impact

England faced the Wales pair Dan James and Harry Wilson as well as Antonee Robinson and Tim Ream of the United States in Qatar. Joao Palinha has been excellent for Fulham but barely featured for Portugal. Mitrovic played despite injury concerns before the tournament. He scored twice for Serbia but was unable to prevent a group-stage exit.

What have they been up to ?

Fulham jetted off to a warm-weather training camp in the Algarve before returning to Craven Cottage for a 1-1 draw against West Ham. Mitrovic got a hero’s welcome after making an appearance in Belgare following Serbia’s World Cup exit, but he is yet to return to Fulham.

Christmas schedule

Crystal Palace, Southampton and Leicester is a fair run of fixtures over the festive period and Fulham will look to continue their record of beating the teams who are below them in the table.

Where they left off

On the back of a remarkable turnaround of form. From being the Premier League’s leakiest defence, the only goal Leicester conceded in the past seven games was Kevin De Bruyne’s free-kick in the 1-0 defeat to Manchester City. Only Arsenal and Newcastle picked up more points over the past six games.

World Cup impact

Youri Tielemens and Timothy Castagne were part of Belgium’s disastrous campaign, as was Wout Faes, who didn’t play despite his excellent form. James Maddison travelled to Qatar amid much clamour for his inclusion but didn’t play amid injury niggles, and is now a doubt for their trip to Newcastle on Boxing Day.

What have they been up to?

Leicester would have been among the teams wishing for the World Cup break to not arrive but Brendan Rodgers said they have benefitted from their training camp in Abu Dhabi, it certainly looked like it as they cruised to victory against MK Dons in the Carabao Cup.

Where they left off

Rather chaotically. Jesse Marsch was fighting for his job when Leeds went to Anfield and won 2-1. Since then, they beat Bournemouth 4-3 and then lost to Spurs 4-3. Crysensio Summerville was a revelation and the mood around Elland Road is fragile as Leeds sit just two points above the bottom three.

World Cup impact

Tyler Adams was outstanding as the captain of the United States and returns to the Premier League with his reputation enhanced. Brenden Aaronson, who controversially did not start for the US, and Rasmus Kristensen were their other representatives in Qatar.

What have they been up to?

Leeds travelled to Spain for a winter training camp and have packed in friendlies against Real Sociedad and Monaco, both at Elland Road.

Christmas schedule

Leeds have a couple extra days of preparation and don’t return until 28 December, although they do have to face Manchester City. They have a very short turnaround before travelling to Newcastle on New Year’s Eve, and then host West Ham on 4 January.

Where they left off

A season that was on the brink of collapse after back-to-back defeats to Nottingham Forest and Leeds was revived slightly by victories over Tottenham and Southampton. Liverpool had hoped for a title challenge but Jurgen Klopp’s team have fallen below their standards this season and are now clinging on to hopes of a top-four finish.

World Cup impact

The Reds had just seven players in Qatar, fewer than their rivals, with Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino, Thiago, Andy Robertson, Joel Matip among those who were left at home.

What have they been up to

A trip to Abu Dhabi was soured by the news that forward Luis Diaz had suffered a new injury and is out until March. Liverpool were beaten by Lyon but then thrashed AC Milan 4-1, with Darwin Nunez scoring twice following his return from the World Cup. In other news, it was announced Julian Ward will quit as Liverpool’s sporting director in the summer after a solitary year in the job.

Christmas schedule

Liverpool face Manchester City on Thursday in the Carabao Cup and then will take on Aston Villa, Leicester and Brentford over the festive period, all teams who showed good form before the World Cup break.

(Getty Images)

Manchester City

Where they left off

A shock home defeat to Brentford left the Premier League champions five points adrift of leaders Arsenal. Erling Haaland is on track to break every Premier League scoring record – he has 18 goals from 13 appearances so far. City have had an air of invincibility at times since adding Haaland, but they have the same points through 14 games as they did last season.

World Cup impact

City had 16 players at the World Cup, more than any other team in the Premier League. Kevin De Bruyne’s prediction that Belgium were too old to win the World Cup came true. Haaland has been resting while his understudy, Julian Alvarez, was brilliant for Argentina and scored four goals in Qatar alongside Lionel Messi. Could he play a more prominent role after the restart?

What have they been up to?

City have tied Pep Guardiola down for two more years, with the manager signing a contract extension to 2025. It’s the most important news of City’s World Cup break and securing Guardiola’s future was a priority during their trip to Abu Dhabi.

Christmas schedule

City’s festive schedule stretches from facing Liverpool on Thursday to hosting Chelsea on 5 January. In between, they travel to Leeds on 28 December before taking on Everton two days later on New Year’s Eve.

Manchester United

Where they left off

A 2-1 victory at Fulham, scored in the final seconds by Alejandro Garnacho, as Cristiano Ronaldo was torching his relationship with the club in an interview with Piers Morgan. The fallout was extraordinary. Days later, Manchester United announced Ronaldo had left with immediate effect and with that, his second spell at the club was over.

World Cup impact

Of the 13 players in Qatar, Marcus Rashford probably had the best tournament individually and has rediscovered his confidence, which should help him hit the ground running when the Premier League resumes. Lisandro Martinez returns as a World Cup winner, with Raphael Varane defeated in the final. It could allow Harry Maguire a chance after he had a decent World Cup with England.

(Getty Images)

What have they been up to?

Erik ten Hag was the big winner of Ronaldo’s interview with Morgan and the Dutchman can now manage United without the distraction the 37-year-old brings. United went to Spain for a training camp but Jadon Sancho did not travel as he works on his own fitness programme in the Netherlands and remains absent from the first-team squad.

Christmas schedule

United face two of the Premier League’s bottom three over the festive period as they take on Nottingham Forest and Wolves in between Christmas and New Year. They then host Bournemouth on 3 January and Ten Hag will hope United have made ground on the top four by then.

Where they left off

As the form team in the Premier League, Newcastle and Eddie Howe did not want the World Cup break to arrive. A 1-0 win over Chelsea was their fifth straight win and moved them third, an extraordinary turnaround from last year, where they were bottom of the table at this stage. Howe’s astute management has been as influential as the takeover from Saudi Arabia’s Sports Investment Fund. Miguel Almiron has been one of the players of the season.

World Cup impact

Newcastle only had five players at the World Cup and, after Kieran Trippier dropped out of the England team for Kyle Walker, no starters. Callum Wilson had some injury despite only coming off the bench for England. Bruno Guimaraes hardly featured for Brazil, which did not go down well on the Toon.

What have they been up to

Shockingly, Newcastle went to Saudi Arabia for a training camp, where Howe admitted the World Cup break did not serve them well. Alexander Isak remains out, but Wilson and the rest of their World Cup stars were in action as Newcastle faced Bournemouth on Tuesday.

Christmas schedule

Newcastle returned with a victory against Bournemouth the Carabao Cup, their seventh straight win in all competitions. A trip to Leicester on Boxing Day sees a meeting of two in-form teams, while a visit to leaders Arsenal on 3 January is a big test.

Nottingham Forest

Where they left off

In the relegation zone, but with eight points from their last five matches to spark hope that they may not be a lost cause after all. Forest signed 22 players in a record summer transfer window and understandably struggled to gel under Steve Cooper, who looked under pressure at one stage only to then extend his contract at the City Ground. It’s been that kind of season so far.

World Cup impact

Forest had a World Cup goalscorer in Switzerland’s Remo Freuler, but Cheikhou Kouyate has been ruled out for two months after tearing his hamstring playing for Senegal.

What have they been up to?

The World Cup break has given Cooper time to work with his squad after such a hectic overhaul of personnel in the summer. The team that featured in the 2-1 win over Valencia on Friday will not look too dissimilar to Cooper’s first choice. Forest also found time to sign a player, obviously, after announcing the transfer of Brazilian attacking midfielder Gustavo Scarpa.

Where they left off

It wasn’t always pretty, but Antonio Conte managed to drag his Spurs side through a hectic schedule of fixtures to reach the World Cup break in the top four, while also qualifying for the knockout stages of the Champions League. Tottenham conceded the opening goal in eight games in a row before the break, but they managed comebacks against Bournemouth, Marseille and Leeds.

(Getty Images)

World Cup impact

Spurs had 11 players at the World Cup and out of every team in the Premier League they look to be the most at risk of an emotional hangover. Harry Kane must pick himself up after his penalty miss against France, while Richarlison, Son Heung-min, Rodrigo Bentancur and Pierre-Emile Hojbreg all suffered disappointing exits. Hugo Lloris lost the World Cup final with France while Cristian Romeo and Ivan Perisic ensured Tottenham came home with a gold, silver and bronze medal from Qatar. Richarlison is also set for a hamstring scan after returning from the World Cup injured.

What have they been up to

With so many players away, Tottenham did not travel abroad and instead faced Motherwell in a behind-closed-doors friendly. Conte’s side will also take on Nice at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Wednesday.

Christmas schedule

Tottenham will help kick off the Premier League’s return when they face Brentford at 12:30pm on Boxing Day. It’s followed by tests against Aston Villa and Crystal Palace.

Where they left off

Southampton sacked Ralph Hasenhuttl in early November as they dropped into the Premier League’s bottom three amid a dismal run of form. They quickly turned to Luton boss Nathan Jones, who took charge of the 3-1 defeat at Liverpool before the World Cup. At 19th in the table, they are very much in a relegation battle.

World Cup impact

Southampton only had two players at the World Cup, defenders Armel Bella-Ketchup, who didn’t play for Germany and Mohammed Salisu, who featured in Ghana’a group stage exit.. Jones has therefore had time to work with his squad, in what has essentially been a pre-season.

What have they been up to?

Jones took his new squad to Spain for a training camp. The work done there will be crucial as Southampton look to hit the ground running at the restart.

Christmas schedule

Fixtures against Brighton, Fulham and Nottingham Forest gives Jones the chance to make a good start in charge, after they came from a goal down to squeeze past Lincoln in the Carabao Cup.

Where they left off

In disharmony. Back-to-back defeats to Crystal Palace and Leicester at the London Stadium left West Ham one point above the relegation zone and led to boos from home supporters. West Ham were fourth after 14 games last season but this campaign has been a struggle so far.

World Cup impact

Declan Rice started all five of England’s matches and proved his class in the quarter-final against France despite ending up on the losing side. Nayef Aguerd impressed for Morocco, which will have come as a surprise to West Ham fans after he played only once in the Premier League before the break. He returns from Qatar injured.

What have they been up to

West Ham took part in three friendlies over the break, with wins over Cambridge United and Udinese being followed by a draw against Fulham.

Christmas schedule

They travel to Arsenal on Boxing Day and could find themselves in the bottom three if results elsewhere go against them. The home match against Brentford looks must-win for David Moyes.

Where they left off

Wolves entered the World Cup at the bottom of the table but after confirming the appointment of former Real Madrid and Sevilla manager Julen Lopetegui. Bruno Lage was sacked in early October as Wolves slipped into the relegation zone and they finally got Lopetegui after weeks of talks. They have the look of a club in crisis.

World Cup impact

Raul Jimenez did not feature for Mexico after also not playing for Wolves this season. The Portugal contingent of Ruben Neves, Matheus Nunes and Jose Sa were the last back but Lopetegui has had the majority of his first-team squad to work with

What have they been up to

Lopetegui took Wolves to Spain for a training camp and the new manager is reportedly targeting up to six January signings once the window opens. Matheus Cunha, the Brazil forward, is set to be the first new addition from Atletico Madrid.

Christmas schedule

Wolves needed late goals to beat struggling Gillingham in Lopetegui’s first game in charge. His first Premier League fixture is against Everton at Goodison Park on Boxing Day, with Wolves then facing Manchester United and Aston Villa.

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