Never before has there been such a protracted mid-season break and observers are curious how players, teams and managers will respond to the uncustomary pause in play.
Players returning from World Cup duty will have little time to reflect as they are thrown back into the blood and thunder pressure cooker of English football’s top flight, with the likes Tottenham’s Hugo Lloris and Manchester United’s Raphael Varane, both beaten finalists with France, eager to move on from their disappointment.
Conversely, three teams welcome back World Cup winners after Tottenham’s Cristian Romero, Aston Villa’s Emiliano Martinez and Brighton’s Alexis Mac Allister were all instrumental in Argentina’s campaign, culminating in triumph last Sunday (Dec 18).
For those not involved with their countries, the break has served as a sort of unconventional pre-season and many will be champing at the bit for the resumption of play. Chief among this group will be Manchester City’s superstar striker Erling Haaland who demonstrated in just 14 league games exactly what a talent he is. No doubt opposition teams will be wary of what is to come from the Norwegian after a period of rest and integrated training.
Haaland and his teammates will be looking to claw back the five-point deficit on leaders Arsenal as they chase a third successive championship. The Gunners performed remarkably well up until the break, losing only once and demonstrating that they have the capabilities to deliver a first title since 2003-04. However, the World Cup robbed them of a key component as their striker Gabriel Jesus sustained an injury with Brazil and is expected to be absent for another two months – don’t be surprised if the Gunners enter the transfer market for a replacement once the window opens on Jan 1.
Manchester United will resume their campaign without the services of Cristiano Ronaldo after his outspoken comments lambasting the hierarchy and management saw his contract terminated on the eve of the World Cup. Currently in fifth place, Erik Ten Haag’s team will be looking to put aside all distractions as they chase a top-four finish.
Likewise Liverpool, a place behind their northwest rivals, and with a fully rested and focused Mohamed Salah looking to help drive his team forward.
It is tight at the bottom with the likes of Wolves, Nottingham Forest, Southampton and Everton all eager to restart on the right note to help pull away from the relegation trap door.
The Premier League season resumes at 7:30pm Phuket time tomorrow as Brentford host Tottenham.