Hungry Haaland, post-Ronaldo Man Utd & the reasons why we're buzzing for the Premier League's return
- Premier League
- Manchester City
- Manchester United
- E. Haaland
- Cristiano Ronaldo
- Tottenham Hotspur
- Newcastle United
- Wolverhampton Wanderers
- AFC Bournemouth
- Leeds United
- Brighton & Hove Albion
- Aston Villa
- Nottingham Forest
- Crystal Palace
- Leicester City
- West Ham United
And there we have it. The 2022 World Cup is over after 64 games across four weeks that will live long in the memory of supporters across the globe.
Lionel Messi and Argentina emerged with the trophy after an all-time classic final as France were left heartbroken, while Morocco made history for African football and Croatia claimed third place. Elsewhere, England came up short again, Brazil and Portugal failed to live up to expectations, and Belgium and Germany suffered humiliating early exits.
Qatar put on one hell of a show, and many of the players that made stellar contributions are now facing the unenviable task of making sure that the 2022-23 Premier League season replaces that spectacle heading into the new year.
Arsenal fans will be looking forward to the return of club football more than most, but can they stay out in front in the title race? Defending champions Manchester City will be determined to stop the Gunners, while the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool will all be gunning for the Champions League spots.
GOAL runs down the biggest reasons to get excited about the Premier League's imminent resumption below...
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- Getty Images
Haaland back in action
Erling Haaland's hunger to return to Premier League action was aptly summed up in Sky Sports' advert for the return of the competition.
In the hilarious clip, the City frontman revealed how he spent his time while the World Cup was on, having missed the tournament due to Norway's failure to qualify. He used a free-kick dummy as a stand-in for Kevin De Bruyne, saw calls to Jack Grealish declined and got on board a ride-along lawnmower as he tried his hand at groundskeeping.
Of course, the advert was an over-exaggeration and a comedic ploy to drum up anticipation. But there will have definitely been some truth in the boredom Haaland has faced, and his eagerness to get back on the pitch.
Anyone else waiting for the Premier League to return? We know one player who’s counting down the days… ⏳@erlingHaaland 👀 @premierleague pic.twitter.com/OMBq83BNm2— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) December 17, 2022
The 22-year-old lives to score goals, as evidenced by his haul of 23 efforts in his first 18 appearances for City. An injury stalled his momentum slightly before the World Cup break, but he's had a month off to get back in top condition, which is a frightening prospect for defenders across the English top flight.
Leeds are the unlucky side first up to face Haaland again on December 28, and it will take a monumental effort to keep him at bay, especially as he returns to the city of his birth for the first time.
After all, if he continues his pre-Qatar scoring rate, the striker is on course to smash Mohamed Salah's record for the most goals scored in a single Premier League season.
Life after Ronaldo for Man Utd
Haaland arguably replaced Cristiano Ronaldo as the Premier League's poster boy in the first half of the season, and the Portuguese won't be around to try and reclaim that standing when the action gets back underway.
The 37-year-old launched an extraordinary tirade against Manchester United before heading to Qatar with his country, taking aim at head coach Erik ten Hag after being dropped and accusing the club's board of betraying him.
United were left with little choice but to terminate Ronaldo's contract, and Ten Hag has been quick to try and move on from the ugly saga. Pressed on whether he wants to replace him in the January transfer window, the Dutchman has said: "Yes but only when we find the right player. We do everything in our power."
Ronaldo was certainly more of a hindrance than a help in the early part of the season, and United looked like a far more fluid, well-rounded outfit when he was left among the substitutes.
Still, a lack of goals has been United's main issue, and if Ten Hag is unable to add a new striker to his ranks, it will be interesting to see if he can come up with a solution.
Academy prospect Alejandro Garnacho looks set for a more prominent role after a breakout display against Fulham, and much-maligned forward Anthony Martial is fit and available again, while Marcus Rashford could get another chance at making the No.9 role his own.
The Red Devils' new era is about to get into full swing, and if Ten Hag can find the right balance in attack, a top-four finish will surely be in the bag come May.
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Arsenal's bid to prove they're real contenders
The Premier League hiatus could scarcely have come at a worse time for Arsenal, who have enjoyed their best-ever start to a top-flight season with 12 wins from their first 14 games.
The Gunners signed off with a 2-0 victory away at Wolves to capitalise on City's surprise home defeat to Brentford and move five points clear at the summit. They are guaranteed to be top at Christmas for the first time in 15 years, but that might not be the best omen.
Arsenal have failed to win the title in the previous five campaigns they've sat in first on December 25, most recently in 2007-08, and plenty of critics are still sceptical over their chances of staying the course.
Mikel Arteta has worked wonders since the summer, with the likes of Gabriel Martinelli, Martin Odegaard and Bukayo Saka finally coming of age and new faces Gabriel Jesus and William Saliba adding extra steel to the Gunners' starting XI.
They have been breathtaking to watch in full flow, with Arteta making the fewest changes to his line up of any manager in the league (11) so far, but it has been suggested that a lack of squad depth will ultimately derail their title ambitions.
Jesus went into the World Cup with Brazil injured, and had to undergo surgery after exacerbating the issue, which will likely mean he sits out the next few weeks. Takehiro Tomiyasu and Oleksandr Zinchenko have also been nursing respective knocks, and it remains to be seen if Arsenal can cope should their absentee list continue to grow.
Confidence within Arteta's ranks is at an all-time high, though, and it will be fascinating to see if this swashbuckling Arsenal side can remain in pole position for English football's top prize.
Newcastle's Champions League train
As thrilling and consistent as Arsenal have been, it could be argued that Eddie Howe's Newcastle have narrowly stolen their thunder after their incredible rise to third in the table.
A revolution was sparked on the back of the Saudi-backed takeover at St James Park in October last year, with former Bournemouth boss Howe trusted to oversee an ambitious project, and he has delivered immediate results.
Newcastle have used their new riches wisely in the transfer market, bringing in exciting talents such as Bruno Guimaraes and Sven Botman, while also signing experienced Premier League performers Kieran Trippier, Nick Pope and Dan Burn.
Howe has also managed to bring the best out of players that had previously struggled to make an impact on Tyneside, with Joelinton, Miguel Almiron and Sean Longstaff among those to have taken their games to new heights.
The Magpies have claimed the scalps of Tottenham and Chelsea already while earning credible draws against both Manchester clubs, with Champions League qualification now a realistic goal for a team that boasts the joint-best defensive record in the division.
St James' Park is finally home to one of the country's best teams again, and we can't wait to see how far Newcastle can go in the new year.
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Liverpool primed to bounce back?
In stark contrast to Arsenal and Newcastle, 2019-20 champions Liverpool have been the biggest flops of the current season to date, winning just six of their opening 14 league matches.
The Reds came to within a whisker of an unprecedented quadruple last season, and that superhuman effort appears to have taken its toll, with injuries plaguing Jurgen Klopp's squad after a summer that saw talismanic forward Sadio Mane leave for Bayern Munich.
The jury is still out on his replacement, Darwin Nunez, who has proven to be something of an enigmatic figure so far despite his contribution of nine goals in 18 appearances across all competitions, and Liverpool's main man Salah has yet to gel with his new attacking partner.
Meanwhile, Fabinho has endured a drastic decline in form that has forced Klopp to change his winning formula from years gone by, and the likes of Virgil van Dijk, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Jordan Henderson have also struggled for consistency.
Still, on their day Liverpool remain one of the best teams in England, as their performance to end City's unbeaten start to the season on October 16 showed, and they appeared to be building some rhythm back up just before the international break.
The Reds are only seven points behind fourth-placed Spurs with a game in hand, and a festive run of form could certainly see them re-emerge as Champions League candidates.
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Most open relegation battle in years
There were six managerial sackings in the Premier League between August and November - a sequence that began when Scott Parker was relieved of his duties by Bournemouth on the back of a crushing 9-0 defeat to Liverpool.
Gary O'Neil took the reins on a temporary basis before being handed a permanent contract last month, but the Cherries are still sitting perilously close to the relegation zone heading into 2023.
They are six points clear of bottom club Wolves, though, with the Wanderers now facing the very real prospect of a return to the Championship after four years in the top flight.
Bruno Lage paid for their poor results with his job, and former Real Madrid boss Julen Lopetegui has been drafted in from Sevilla to perform the great escape. Getting a manager of Lopetegui's stature was a feat in itself, and it will be a surprise if Wolves do not enjoy an immediate upturn in fortunes under the Spaniard.
Southampton, meanwhile, are just two points above them in 19th, and former Luton Town boss Nathan Jones has been tasked with halting their descent after Ralph Hasenhuttl's exit on November 9.
Nottingham Forest complete the relegations places, but Everton, West Ham, Leeds and Leicester are also in real danger with just four points separating 13th and 18th in the table.
The battle to avoid the drop promises to be the most dramatic in recent memory, and the stakes will be sky-high for all the teams involved as soon as the season recommences.