The Premier League is back and we’re all trying to remember what happened before we were all distracted by the problematic shiny thing. Arsenal are on top! Madness.
Game to watch – Arsenal v West Ham
The World Cup break has come at the right time for some clubs. Arsenal probably could have done without it.
They had won seven and drawn the other of their last eight Premier League games, including victories over Tottenham, Liverpool and Chelsea, to open an unlikely but intriguing five-point lead over a stuttering Manchester City at the top of the Premier League. They may not end up winning the title, but their dominance of the first part of the season has put them in real contention, which in itself is a change of pace.
Can Arsenal get straight back into this unstoppable form? Will City be so careless after the break? Questions that will define the rest of the season at the top.
In the end, West Ham might have been a bit more grateful for the break. Their Europa Conference exploits had given them the most brutal pre-World Cup schedule of all, and what had looked like a vaguely encouraging recovery in October – three wins from five games that month – had melted into four losses in five to leave the Hammers in vexation. near the trapdoor when the curtain fell on the first act.
While the first two defeats of this series – the narrow defeats to Liverpool and Manchester United – could be considered minimally damaging, the subsequent home defeats to Palace and Leicester could not.
While Arsenal have a tired and exhausted squad from the World Cup, West Ham can look for a fresh start in this tasty London Derby that wraps up Boxing Day action.
Victory for Arsenal would take them eight (8) points (pts) clear for a few days, while for West Ham it represents a celebratory free-kick ahead of a run of games in January that will have a lot more say in the game. how the rest of their season ends. Before the end of January, the Hammers will face Brentford, Leeds, Wolves and Everton; then we will know if relegation is a real threat for a team that went from sixth and seventh to six and seven (sorry).
Team to watch – Tottenham
Manchester City may have been hit harder on the raw number of players and minutes but it is surely Spurs who will feel the deepest impact of the World Cup.
Spurs had 11 non-loan players at the tournament (as an aside, as long as you can live with Heung-min Son at right-back, those 11 players could also form a passable 3-5-2 with loanee Joe Rodon on the bench: Lloris; Romero, Dier, Davies; Son, Hojbjerg, Sarr, Bentancur, Perisic; Kane, Richarlison) and more than any other Premier League club on the business side. Spurs have a World Cup winner, a runner-up and a bronze medalist who are currently returning to Hotspur Way – the physical and mental preparation of any of these three players for an instant return to Premier League football needs serious consideration doubted.
And then there are quarter-finalists Kane and Richarlison. The Brazilian we know has been out for some time after playing around 80 minutes of Brazil’s loss to Croatia with a hamstring injury, while with Kane the issue is rather more nuanced. Where exactly is his head? How long will it take to find his game? How much harder will it be for him given that his club captain is the goalkeeper on whose crossbar he scored that penalty so well?
Answers to some of the questions currently swirling around the Spurs squad may have to wait beyond Boxing Day – at the very least, it seems unlikely that any of the three involved last weekend of the World Cup will be fielded in what will be the first Premier League game for six weeks when Brentford host Spurs in the Boxing Day kick-off – but they will be a fascinating team to watch over the next few weeks. next weeks.
They were already confusing a team whose results have far exceeded performance this seasonand if there had only been a week between that game and their last, it would still have been worth watching, given the chaotic nature of Spurs’ win over Leeds and the not-so-smashing smash or eye-catching Brentford. and catch Manchester City last time.
Player to Watch – Mo Salah
Such attention will inevitably be on those who have spent much of the past month at Qatar’s soccer theme park, but in truth the most important players over the next few weeks may be the handful of extremely good players who were not involved.
While World Cup players have been asked to take on the workload of a season like no other, those who missed out will be rested, recovered, relaxed and ready to go.
There are some very good ones. Erling Haaland, who has even more free time with City, is not back in action until the 28th, being a big highlight while Riyad Mahrez is another key player at the Etihad. Dejan Kulusevski at Spurs is another likely to find himself with a lot of slack to pick up there with your Yves Bissoumas and maybe even the Davinson Sanchez of this world. Arsenal have a few good ones – Zinchenko, Odegaard, Tierney – but the big beneficiaries could really be Liverpool.
A bunch of their key players managed to play for teams that didn’t qualify for Qatar, which was tricky of them, right? Naby Keita, Luis Diaz and Andy Robertson have all failed to qualify while Joel Matip remains firmly on Cameroon’s ugly stage seven years after a high-profile falling out.
But at the top of the list is last season’s Golden Boot winner Mo Salah, who finished the first half of the season with a very decent nickname after a slow start.
Essentially what we’ve discovered while writing this is that there are two types of players we’re really excited to watch over the next month: those who have been completely knocked out or emotionally crushed by the World Cup , and those who had a nice long break because of it. The latter group could prove crucial for the season and Liverpool’s harvest is particularly strong.
Coaches to watch – Julen Lopetegui and Nathan Jones
We still won’t fully believe these two are the managers of Wolves and *checks notes* Southampton until we see them staring thoughtfully from the touchline watching their teams. And in real games too, not Carabao tish and fipsy. It doesn’t prove anything.
Both men have some serious work ahead, if they really are who they say they are and are now in charge of these Premier League clubs. As they say, we’ll believe it when we see it.
Wolves are at rock bottom after being absolutely awful this season, on the heels of being awful in the shit of last season and are in dire need of finding goals somewhere else what has been a five year stay largely comfortable in the Premier League is coming to an abrupt end.
Southampton are just one place and two points clear despite being one of only two teams to take something from Arsenal this season. That and a win over Chelsea point to a long-standing Southampton problem – namely the vast gap between their best and their horrible 9-0 worst – and addressing that dichotomy will be Nathan Jones’ main, if probably difficult, objective.
Football game to watch – Bristol City v West Brom
It really is a festive celebration of TV football on Boxing Day. While Amazon Prime broadcasts all the Premier League action of the day live, Sky is taking advantage of its non-Premier League schedule to showcase the Championship. Seven games are available through the various football channels or behind the red button, from Watford v Millwall at 12 noon to Luton v Norwich at 7.45am, which is at least a slightly less obnoxious journey than that faced by fans of QPR in Cardiff for the 5.30am Game.
If you’d rather be dozing on the couch with a Boxing Dayer-style turkey sandwich, then that’s glorious and it’ll all be worth a watch.
We have chosen Bristol City over West Brom for no more significant reason than West Brom’s current encapsulation of the singular appeal of Championship football due to their entry into Boxing Day within five points of the play-offs and the last three. . The textbook championship, it really is.
European game to watch – Glentoran v Linfield
None of the other major European leagues are as dumb as the Premier League so no rush just yet. But we will not be discouraged.
Not when there’s fifth versus third in the Northern Irish Premiership on BBC Two NI and iPlayer.