IT IS strange that we face into the Boxing Day Premier League fixtures unsure of the form of the sides participating.
More than a month has passed since some of these players have trained together, much less played with each other. So let us take a mid-term look at the sides who have the pleasure of returning to icy pitches on St Stephen’s Day after month of sunshine on and off the field.
Incoming manager Julen Lopetegui can be under no delusions as to the task ahead. The midlands club have only scored eight goal for two wins in their 15 league matches so far.
The south coast outfit are the unlikely occupiers of second to last position. New manager Nathan Jones immediately cancelled a squad camp in the US, arranged by his predecessor Ralph Hasenhuttl, so that he could work on his message with the squad. It will be interesting to see its impact.
In contrast to Southampton, Forest made the most of a team-bonding trip to Greece, which may be a good idea since the club signed 22 new players in the summer, and communications does seem like an issue.
Under pressure boss Frank Lampard probably welcomed the timing of the World Cup to lift some of the attention. We will see how good the break stands to them in a relegation six-pointer with Wolves.
Probably the unlikeliest side to be in the bottom half of the table in comparison to last season’s form. Boss, David Moyes will hope for a greater return than the 12-goals they scored in the first half of the season.
Fans of the Yorkshire side will hope for a more consistent return than the Jekyll and Hyde performances from the first half of the season that saw them beat Chelsea and Liverpool but lose to Fulham and Brentford.
Gary O’Neil was appointed permanent manager during the World Cup after a successful spell as interim boss. Can he maintain the momentum in the new year?
The club had a horrible start to the season but won five of their last six games ahead of the World Cup. Brendan Rogers probably didn’t welcome the momentum-breaking hiatus of the Qatar tournament.
Villa face a home test against Liverpool. New boss Unai Emery will be wondering will he have his keeper Emiliano Martinez back from celebrating Argentina’s World Cup triumph.
Palace have won more points from losing positions, 12, which only Spurs on 13 can beat. But boss Patrick Viera would probably wish for a more conventional lead from the front course to claim points this term.
The Bees face a challenging return, with Spurs and Liverpool among their first three opponents. Yet the club’s most difficult task may be keeping their popular Danish boss Thomas Frank at the club.
Marco Silva has done wonders keeping relegation favourites out of the drop zone. More of the same west Londoners will hope.
Graham Potter will be hoping for a better return than prior to the World Cup, which saw them lose their last three games.
The Seagulls have the unexpected privilege of having a World Cup hero return in the shape of Alexis MacAllister. The ‘Irishman’ has enhanced his reputation no end of good at the world championship.
Jurgen Kloop had the benefit of having the likes of Mo Salah and Bobby Firminho not travelling to Qatar. But all eyes will be on the transfer talk for Liverpool target and England World Cup hero Jude Bellingham from Borussia Dortmund.
Ronaldo’s departure means that there will be no more distractions for Erik ten Hag and no more excuses either.
Antonio Conte will, more than most managers, have concerns about the return of players from the World Cup. Will there be final hangovers for Cristian Romero and Hugo Loris for different reasons. Richarlson ham-string injury is a concern and how has ‘THAT’ penalty miss affected Harry Kane?
The Toon certainly would not have welcomed the break to their successful 11-game unbeaten run momentum. Champions League qualification will remain Eddie Howe’s minimum return in the new term.
That Erling Haaland did not travel to Qatar will have pleased Pep Guardiola, but he might be concerned at the poor performance of Kevin de Bruyne with Belgium as City face Chelsea (twice) Man United, and Spurs in coming games.
Gabriel Jesus has been an unqualified success since his move from Man City and his injury while playing for Brazil will be a major concern for Mikel Arteta. This may cost the Gunners their hold of top spot in the league.