back in action | 

Paul McGrath: Mind games never more important as Premier League restarts

Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp best place to conjure up a bit of psychological wizardry

Raphael Varane (left) and Lisandro Martinez could have a bit of banter when they could face to face in the Man United dressing room. Photo: Ash Donelon/Manchester United via Getty Images© Manchester United via Getty Imag

Harry Maguire (right), pictured with Victor Lindelof, had some decent form at the World Cup with England. Photo: Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images© Manchester United via Getty Imag

Man United's Marcus Rashford (right) celebrates his goal in the Carabao Cup victory over Burnley. Photo: PA© PA

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 13: Marcus Rashford of Manchester United reacts during the Premier League match between Fulham FC and Manchester United at Craven Cottage on November 13, 2022 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Craig Mercer/MB Media/Getty Images)© Getty Images

Paul McGrathSunday World

So, the Premier League resumes on Monday, sending players, managers and back-room staff to a place they’ve never been before.

I note that Manchester United have employed specialists in health, nutrition and performance psychologists to try and get their returning World Cup players up to scratch as the season recommences.

There are probably Red Devils’ supporters who say a magician would be more in their line of need after the poor start to the season.

Mind you, I’d say every big club has done something similar to United.

Because there is too much at stake to just hope for the best and assume that players will be able to pick up the thread of a domestic season.

Imagine the relationship between Lisandro Martinez (Argentina) and Raphael Varane (France) on the first morning the pair meet back at Carrington, probably early next week.

What do they say to each other? What do the England players at Manchester United – Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw and Marcus Rashford – say to them?

Harry Maguire (right), pictured with Victor Lindelof, had some decent form at the World Cup with England. Photo: Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images© Manchester United via Getty Imag

If the England lads start slagging Varane about losing the final, he’ll quickly remind them about the result of the quarter-final between France and England.

There will be a fair bit of back and forth in the dressing room – and in every other club dressing room that had players at the World Cup.

It’s called banter – and that’s just the way of football teams.

Eventually, the manager will call a halt and tell the players that they are back at the source of their fabulous salaries and that it is time to concentrate on winning matches with their club.

That the World Cup is over and that there will be no break for them now until the middle of June.

That’s when this strange season finally ends for those players involved in international football.

I’m not sure all these difficulties will make too much of a difference to the morale of a professional dressing room.

It’s been a long time since I sat in one, but I’d wager that they haven’t changed much over the years.

It’s us against the world – players, squad, coaches, manager – and we don’t need anyone interfering.

Man United's Marcus Rashford (right) celebrates his goal in the Carabao Cup victory over Burnley. Photo: PA© PA

Then again, from the manager’s perspective, no professional footballers have had to face this before.

Normally, a World Cup or a Euros is followed by the beach, not another 40 games in the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League.

Looking at it like that, I suppose anything is worth taking a gamble on; you’ve got nothing to lose as a manager.

In the end, I think much of getting it right will come down to the Pep Guardiolas and Jurgen Klopps of this world working their mental magic.

Get the lads straight in the head and get them back out on the pitch and winning matches – then everything will be fine.

Usually in the games around what the British call Boxing Day, there are local derbies or matches between close neighbours in the Premier League.

For obvious reasons – for players and fans alike – you want to do as little travelling as possible.

So, this round of matches has Brighton v Southampton, Crystal Palace v Fulham and Brentford v Spurs.

Premier League leaders Arsenal have a match against West Ham and Liverpool have a bit of a trek to Aston Villa, while Manchester United will be very happy to start off at home to struggling Nottingham Forest on Tuesday night.

The champions, Manchester City, have another full day to assemble their forces, as they don’t travel to Elland Road to play Leeds until Wednesday evening.

When the 2022/23 season halted in early November, we were all waiting for the Gunners to be reeled back in.

They haven’t yet, but surely manager Mikel Arteta will have to move into the transfer market in January for a striker with Gabriel Jesus out because of an injury suffered with Brazil at the World Cup in Qatar.

Until then, he will hope to get the job done as best he can – and hope that Emile Smith Rowe, his England star, will be fit to fill in soon as possible.

But the really worrying things for many clubs is that Erling Haaland (Norway), Mo Salah (Egypt) and Luis Diaz (Colombia) all missed the World Cup and are now ready to rumble.


Today's Headlines

More Soccer

Download the Sunday World app

Now download the free app for all the latest Sunday World News, Crime, Irish Showbiz and Sport. Available on Apple and Android devices

WatchMore Videos