Friday, December 23, 2022

Premier League Returns

The Premier League returns on Boxing Day after its World Cup hiatus. One hundred and thirty-three Premier League players represented their countries in Qatar. Those progressing to the later rounds are questionable or already ruled out for this week’s games. Premier League managers have made the best of it during the break to work with makeshift squads of their available players. Many have taken advantage of warm weather locales for their practice work. Several clubs have engaged in friendlies. English Football League Carabao Cup matches took place just days after the World Cup final. Monday’s Boxing Day matches, and others scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, will tell which clubs are most successful at quickly reorienting their focus and shaking off the rust with the resumption of league play.

The break period has delivered news for several clubs which may bear on the balance of the restarted Premier League season. Cristiano Ronaldo has moved on from Manchester United. The unhappy striker was released from his contract with the Red Devils and is evaluating his future options. Arsenal also lost a striker over the break as Gabriel Jesus suffered a knee injury for Brazil and will be out for months.

Chelsea’s Armando Broja, not competing in Qatar, was injured in a friendly match for Chelsea and will miss the rest of the season. Liverpool forward Luis Diaz reinjured his knee while training with the club and will be out for months. Manchester United forward Jaden Sancho, who was left off the England squad, has been oddly training on his own apart from his Manchester United teammates. Manager Eric ten Hag has been oddly noncommittal on when Sancho may rejoin the club. Wolverhampton now has a new manager, Julen Lopetegui, and the former Spain and Real Madrid manager is reportedly targeting the January transfer window for a much need talent injection for the struggling club which is last in the Premier League.

Some young Premier League players may build off their World Cup success to play larger roles with their clubs. Manchester City’s Julian Alvarez and Brighton’s Alexis Mac Allister, who played unexpectedly large roles for World Cup winning Argentina, would be two such players. Mac Allister’s performance in Qatar has increased interest in the young midfielder by some of the league’s bigger clubs.

His absence from Brighton’ lineup earlier this week certainly didn’t help as the Seagulls were shot down by League One Charlton in the Carabao Cup. The Seagulls will try to pick themselves back up when they face Southampton Monday.

League leading Arsenal will get the first indication of whether they can weather Gabriel Jesus’ absence when the Gunners host West Ham in a London derby. Eddie Nketiah will need to step in at striker for the missing Jesus. Arsenal’s Martin Odegaard should be well rested as Norway, despite having Erling Haaland and Odegaard, missed the World Cup. West Ham, meanwhile, has lost every one of its league matches at the Emirates since 2015.

Tottenham Hotspur’s lineup has question marks and known absences for Spurs’ match at Brentford Monday. Goalkeeper Hugo Lloris won’t be available after standing between the sticks in France’s World Cup final loss to Argentina. Argentinian center back Cristian Romero will also miss the match versus Brentford. Ivan Perisic could be held out after playing for Croatia in the third-place game last weekend. England’s Harry Kane and Brazil’s Richarlison are also questionable to face the Bees. Brentford has none of those availability worries and Ivan Toney, scorer of ten goals in the league this season, should be well rested after missing out on the England squad. The future could be a bit more clouded for Mr. Toney, however, amid gambling allegations which have arisen against the striker.

Liverpool will have Mohamed Salah, a World Cup non-participant, ready to go when it visits Aston Villa Monday. The Reds will hope for better things ahead after a disappointing start to their season which has left them sixth in the table and seven points away from qualification for next season Champions League. The Reds travel to Aston Villa Monday. World Cup hero Emiliano Martinez will be unavailable for the Villans as the goalkeeper remains celebrating in Argentina with the permission of manager Unai Emery. Martinez has gotten a bit carried away with antics, which began with the taunting of opponents during the World Cup final penalty kicks. After Argentina’s win, he then controversially made obscene gestures with his Golden Glove award and later mocked France’s Kylian Mbappe by flaunting a baby doll with Mbappe’s face attached to it. The Villans had won three of four matches heading into the World Cup break after sacking Steven Gerrard and should provide a test for Gerrard’s former team on Monday.

Newcastle has shaken the top clubs by rising to third in the league. The Magpies look to continue the type of performance which resulted in five consecutive wins before the break and has seen the Magpies lose but once all season, when Eddie Howe’s side visits Leicester on Boxing Day. Leicester’s James Maddison, whose World Cup for England was derailed by a knee injury, is a question mark to start for Manager Brendan Rogers against Newcastle.

Fulham and Crystal Palace are level on points in the middle of the Premier League table as the two clubs approach their Monday London derby. Fulham has the far superior firepower led by striker Aleksandar Mitrovic who appears healed from an ankle injury. Crystal Palace, however, will be looking for a fourth consecutive Premier League win at Selhurst Park for the first time in its history.

A key matchup at the bottom of the table will transpire at Goodison Park where Everton will try to stay out of the relegation zone when it faces bottom of the table Wolverhampton. Everton is just a point above the drop zone as its fans prepare for another likely nail-biting fight for survival for a second straight season under Manager Frank Lampard. Julen Lopetegui makes his Premier League debut in charge of struggling Wolverhampton. The match on Monday promises to be low scoring. Everton failed to score in their last three matches heading into the break while Wolves are incredibly still in single digits for goals on the season.

Tuesday matches feature Bournemouth at Chelsea and Nottingham Forest at Old Trafford to face Manchester United. Chelsea was a mess before the World Cup break, losing their last three matches and failing to win any of their last five matches. Bournemouth ended a four-match losing run by defeating Everton in their last match before the league’s hibernation. Manchester United could have problems defending against Nottingham Forest in Tuesday’s match. Center backs Lisandro Martinez (Argentina)  and Rafael Varane (France) won’t be expected to play, and Harry Maguire was suffering an illness which caused him to miss United’s Carabao Cup win this week. Nottingham Forest goalkeeper Dean Henderson, on loan from the Red Devils, is prohibited form playing against his parent club.

Manchester City, whose players logged the most aggregate minutes at the World Cup, returns to action on Wednesday. Erling Haaland, however, will be well rested when the Citizens visit Leeds and US World Cup players Brenden Aaronson and Tyler Adams. Haaland had a goal earlier this week when the Citizens returned to the pitch in their Carabao Cup win over Liverpool. Leeds, meanwhile, enters the next phase of the Premier League season scrambling to avoid the relegation battle. Jesse Marsch’s side are currently two points removed from the drop zone. 

Carabao Cup

Manchester City defeated Liverpool 3-2 on Thursday to complete play in the Carabao Cup Round of 16. Erling Haaland unsurprisingly opened the scoring after only 10 minutes were played. Surprisingly, it was defender Nathan Ake, fresh from his World Cup adventures with the Netherlands, who scored the winner. Mohamed Salah had a goal in the losing Liverpool effort as he and Haaland both should be well rested for the Premier League restart on Boxing Day, neither star having participated in the World Cup. The Carabao Cup quarterfinalists are all Premier League clubs but for League One Charlton which eliminated Brighton on penalties after neither team could score from open play. Charlton is the tournament’s Cinderella dark horse as they currently face a relegation battle to maintain their place in the third division of English football. Charlton will face Manchester United in its January quarterfinal match. Manchester City, second in the Premier League table, will feel confident in the quarterfinals against currently relegation bound Southampton. The two other current Premier League relegation zone occupants face each other when Nottingham Forest and Wolverhampton meet. The remining quarterfinal match will see Newcastle and Leicester in a rematch of their coming Boxing Day contest. 

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