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John Aldridge: Mo Salah and Erling Haaland set to re-emerge from the shadows of World Cup stars

Mohamed Salah of Liverpool getting ready for the Premier League restart. Photo: Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images© Liverpool FC via Getty Images

Erling Haaland warms up prior to the friendly match between Manchester City and Girona last week. Photo: Jan Kruger/Getty Images© Getty Images

Diogo Jota is battling back to full fitness. Photo: Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images© Liverpool FC via Getty Images

John AldridgeSunday World

They have been forced to sit back and watch Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe take all the headlines for the last month – now Mohamed Salah and Erling Haaland will want to bite back.

With Egypt and Norway failing to qualify for the World Cup in Qatar, the main men at Liverpool and Manchester City will have had an uncomfortable few weeks.

These two giants of the game want to be recognised among the greats, so they will have been frustrated to have been out of the World Cup story.

What they can do now is remind everyone in football what they are all about.

Salah and Haaland flexed their muscles as Liverpool and City went head-to-head in theCarabao Cup fourth-round clash at the Etihad last night.

Now they will want to make sure they end 2022 with a bang as the Premier League returns.

I used to love playing on St Stephen’s Day, as there was always a great atmosphere inside stadiums and fans could let their hair down a little.

When you have spent the previous 24 hours with relatives you could do without seeing, it’s nice to get out!

Erling Haaland warms up prior to the friendly match between Manchester City and Girona last week. Photo: Jan Kruger/Getty Images© Getty Images

And I’m sure that scenario will be played out on Monday as England’s top flight kicks back into action.

Liverpool face a challenging trip to an Aston Villa side that started to find some form after Steven Gerrard was sacked and replaced by Unai Emery.

It’s not an easy first game back for Jurgen Klopp and his players, who have been preparing for the restart with a warm-weather training camp in Dubai.

Yet there can be no slips-ups for Liverpool from this point forward, as they are in a real dogfight to claim a top-four finish in the Premier League. So, they need to hit the ground running from match one.

With Luis Diaz still out with an injury and Diogo Jota on his way back from the treatment room, Liverpool need to find a balance up front and Salah is key to that.

It has been a difficult 2022 for a player who was clearly unsettled by his contract situation for long periods and then struggled to find consistency at the start of this most unusual of seasons.

Diogo Jota is battling back to full fitness. Photo: Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images© Liverpool FC via Getty Images

He still showed flashes of brilliance that reminded us all of his quality, but Klopp will want to see that more consistently over this Christmas period and into the new year.

Pressure is a commodity Man City are also dealing with as they prepare for their first Premier League game since a shock defeat against Brentford in mid-November.

A tricky away game at Leeds is on their agenda on Wednesday and if Arsenal beat West Ham on Monday night, Pep Guardiola’s side will be eight points behind them in the title race.

I expect Arsenal to trip up sooner rather than later, as they have not convinced me they are ready to last the pace and win the title – although Leicester proved a few years back that upsets are possible, and if the Gunners could stretch their lead into double figures, they might start to believe they can get over the line.

The more likely scenario is City cranking through the gears, churning out win after win and getting back on top.

What we don’t know is how this strange break for the World Cup in the middle of the season will affect players and teams.

Arsenal were flying prior to the halt in the season, so can they click back into that groove now?

Teams will also have different injury scenarios now than they had a few weeks back, and that will play a part.

Players who had draining World Cups might struggle to get back up to speed for their club sides and, as is the case in the modern game, science will play a part in what happens next.

Every club has invested heavily in data that tells them where their players are physically and how close they might be to an injury. That data will play a part in deciding who plays over the hectic Christmas period, where I expect we will see plenty of surprise results.

The first day of the season often throws up a few shockers and this restart feels very much like a new beginning.

That will be good news for some teams and a problem for others.

Klopp and Liverpool will be hoping their woes from the first 14 games of this season are replaced by something more consistent from this point forward.

While I would still back Liverpool to secure a top-four finish once again this season, they need to find a balance in their forward line as the competition for those places has never been hotter.

The World Cup break will have a big impact on this Premier League season, and we will be given a glimpse of how it will play out over the course of these Christmas matches.


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