State of Play As English Top Flight Returns After World Cup

Arsenal are top of the Premier League, winning their last game before the World Cup break, 2-0 at Wolves

The last we saw of the Premier League was on Sunday, 13 November, with Manchester United snatching an injury-time winner at Fulham.

Six weeks have passed, during which we have been glued to events in Qatar, where Wales fell at the group stage and England suffered penalty woe again, before Argentina lifted the 2022 World Cup.

On 26 December the English top flight returns, and just in case you had forgotten how we left it, BBC Sport will bring you up to speed.

The view from the top

Arsenal are out in front after a superb first 14 games of the campaign.

They have amassed 37 points, dropping them in just two fixtures so far – their only defeat coming at Manchester United in early September.

After their best Premier League start, this is the first time they will be top at Christmas since the 2007-08 season.

All seven teams to win 12 of their first 14 games have won the Premier League title.

Another good omen for the Gunners is the team that topped the table on Christmas Day have been champions in 10 of the past 13 seasons.

In their first game back they face West Ham at Emirates Stadium.

With second-placed Manchester City not playing until 28 December – at Leeds – victory would take the Gunners eight points clear of the champions.

Newcastle – the surprise challengers at the top end of the table – are at Leicester on 26 December and will want to pick up where they left off. A sixth consecutive win would move them above Manchester City and into second.

There are a few teams in the top half who will probably have appreciated the chance to take stock during the World Cup before going again.

Tottenham beat Leeds before the break, but had lost three of the previous four. They get us under way on Monday with an away game at Brentford (12:30 GMT).

Graham Potter’s Chelsea have not won in five Premier League games and spent the World Cup break in eighth.

Down at the bottom

Premier League's bottom 10

On the evidence of the first 14 or so games, this season’s relegation battle could be wide open.

Just nine points separate the bottom 12 sides in the division, with Wolves propping everybody up.

Only six teams have ever been bottom at Christmas and stayed up – with half of those in the first three Premier League campaigns – but Wanderers will be looking to buck that trend with a new man at the helm.

Julen Lopetegui took charge on 14 November and is already targeting big improvements, including in his squad, with the Spaniard wanting six new signings when the transfer window opens on 1 January.

Southampton also made a managerial switch shortly before the break, with Nathan Jones arriving from Luton to replace the sacked Ralph Hasenhuttl at St Mary’s. The Saints have lost their past three games and are 19th, two points from safety.

It is perhaps surprising to see no more clubs opt to make a change, with the World Cup effectively providing a mid-campaign mini pre-season.

Everton have stuck by manager Frank Lampard despite sitting 17th off the back of two consecutive defeats, and David Moyes remains West Ham boss even though they have lost three on the trot and sit just a point above the bottom three.

The impact of the World Cup

Gabriel Jesus playing for Brazil
Jesus had an operation on his knee in early December

An intense, mid-season World Cup always carried the risk of fatigue and injuries to players.

Leaders Arsenal could well be the worst impacted as a result of a serious knee injury picked up by Brazil striker Gabriel Jesus.

It could well be late February before we see him in action again after what had been an impressive start to his time with the Gunners, albeit one that had seen him fail to score in six league games before the break.

In contrast, despite having the most players of any club at the World Cup with 16, Manchester City currently have no injuries to report.

The majority of their representatives in Qatar were out of the tournament by the semi-finals, with only Argentina’s Julian Alvarez making it beyond the last eight.

In addition, the Premier League’s top scorer Erling Haaland has been able to rest for five weeks, ready to return and try to add to his remarkable tally of 18 goals in 13 games. The Norway striker played his first match for City since November’s defeat by Brentford in a 2-0 friendly win against Girona on 17 December, and scored, as did Belgium’s Kevin de Bruyne.

Keen interest will be paid towards which players who were injured before the World Cup will be ready for action again.

The likes of Reece James and Wesley Fofana at Chelsea, Newcastle striker Alexander Isak and Everton’s Dominic Calvert-Lewin could all return, although Liverpool striker Luis Diaz has had knee surgery and faces a further three months out.

Fixtures come thick and fast

In order to incorporate the World Cup into the domestic season, matches will now be played regularly so all fixtures can be fulfilled in a timely fashion.

Between now and the end of January there are five rounds of English top-flight fixtures. These all come after some clubs have featured in the Carabao Cup fourth round, with those games having taken place on 20-22 December.

In addition, the FA Cup third round will be played 6-9 January, before some teams return to European action in mid-February.




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