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6 key things to look out for on the Premier League’s return

The key story lines from the first half of the season


Just eight days on from the World Cup final, the Premier League is set to begin again as Brentford take on Tottenham at Boxing Day lunchtime to begin a full round of festive fixtures.

It marks the beginning of the latter two-thirds of the season, one which has already thrown up plenty of drama and intrigue. Arsenal currently sit atop the Premier League, five points clear of Manchester City, who suffered a shock 2-1 defeat to Brentford in the final game before the World Cup break.

Further down the table, Fulham are flying high in ninth, just one place below a struggling Chelsea, while Newcastle United are the season’s surprise package with Eddie Howe’s currently in a Champions League spot.

But, there is still plenty of the season left to play. With that in mind, we’ve taken a look at six of the big questions left to answer this campaign.

1. How hungry is Erling Haaland?

Norway and Manchester City striker Erling Haaland has made a mockery of the Premier League since he arrived over the summer, with the young star netting 18 times in 13 games, including three hat-tricks, in his opening season.

Perhaps even more worryingly for opponents, he didn’t head to the World Cup, instead getting a month-long rest at the Etihad.

Back in action against his birth town Leeds United on December 27th, he will be one of few Manchester City players to have had time off over the international break. If he remains in his lethal pre-tournament form, he could break plenty of records this campaign.

2. Will the real Liverpool please stand up?

After being two games away from completing an unprecedented quadruple last season, Liverpool have been a shadow of themselves this campaign.

Currently sitting in 6th, Jurgen Klopp’s side are a massive 15 points behind Premier League leaders Arsenal, and seven points behind fourth-placed Tottenham.

Though they have suffered, and continue to suffer with injury, the World Cup came at a good time for the Reds, with key players like Mohamed Salah, Andy Robertson and Roberto Firmino all getting a much needed break while their rivals jetted off to Qatar.

Of the sides above them, only players from Newcastle United and Arsenal saw fewer minutes of action at the 2022 tournament, meaning that they should be fresher than most. Can they rediscover their undeniable quality and push back into the top 4 in the second part of the season?

3. Can Arsenal push on without Jesus?

Arsenal currently sit five points clear at the top of the Premier League, and are defying plenty of pre-season predictions to do so.

A large part of their early success has been the addition of Gabriel Jesus, with the former Manchester City forward contributing both in build-up and in front of goal to help give Arsenal their best ever start to a Premier League campaign.

But, he became a World Cup casualty and is set for a long spell on the sidelines, with surgery on his knee leaving him out for between two and three months.

In his stead, Mikel Arteta will be relying on Eddie Nketiah and Gabriel Martinelli to fill in, while the return of Emile Smith Rowe will also be welcomed.

But, will they have enough firepower in this youthful trio to continue their title charge, or will Manchester City begin to run away with it as the Gunners get sucked back into the pack?

4. How punishing was the World Cup?

The first couple of rounds of Premier League fixtures will likely demonstrate just how punishing, or rewarding, going to the World Cup really has been for players.

In an unprecedented first, a midseason World Cup has thrown up plenty of issues to navigate, not least player fitness and sharpness, something that will likely be evident immediately.

Tottenham, whose 11 players sent to the World Cup clocked up 3600 minutes, take on Brentford, who accounted for just 464 minutes at the tournament, in the first game back.

Then the following day, Chelsea (3296 minutes) take on Bournemouth (405) and Manchester United (3343) play Nottingham Forest (735).

With players galore returning to action at different times after very different experiences over the last month, expect shocks in the early fixtures.

5. Can David Moyes turn West Ham’s season around?

After a record spend in the summer that saw them bring in Gianluca Scamacca, Lucas Paqueta, Maxwel Cornet and Nayef Aguerd, expectations were high for the Hammers, who reached the semi-final of the Europa League last time out.

However, they’ve been massively disappointing, currently sat in 16th place and just one point clear of the relegation zone. Four losses in five games have put David Moyes’ job under increased scrutiny, and though he is still firm in his belief that results will pick up, they will need to do so soon to have any chance of a top 8 finish this season.

Can Moyes get the best out of his big-money signings, or will his head be on the chopping block before too long?

6. Will Newcastle have the legs to sustain a top four push?

From drastic underachievement to massive overachievement, Miguel Almiron-inspired Newcastle United have shocked everybody as they have shot to third place in the table under Eddie Howe, losing just once in the opening part of the season.

The Magpies are certainly playing as a collective greater than the sum of its parts, and their key players Bruno Guimaraes and Kieran Trippier both returned from international duty with minimal action and injury free.

A year ago, they were rock bottom. Could they be serious Champions League contenders heading into the final stretch of the season, or will they drop off back towards midtable by May?

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Ben Browning

Ben Browning

Football writer and analyst. Long-time writer of all things Arsenal and avid watcher of European football. Happy to discuss all things football over on Twitter.



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