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Premier League season could be decided by World Cup shut-down

Extended winter break could have an impact on domestic seasons.
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JULY 27: Manchester City's Erling Haaland in action during training at Manchester City Academy Stadium on July 27, 2022 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Matt McNulty - Manchester City/Manchester City FC via Getty Images)

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JULY 27: Manchester City's Erling Haaland in action during training at Manchester City Academy Stadium on July 27, 2022 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Matt McNulty - Manchester City/Manchester City FC via Getty Images)© Manchester City FC via Getty Ima

Paul McGrathSunday World

It’ll be the same - only very different. By which I mean Manchester City and Liverpool will fight out the Premier League title, but only after the strangest English season we’ve ever known.

That is because the action stops on the weekend of November 5/6 and starts again on St. Stephen’s Day to facilitate the first-ever winter World Cup in the northern hemisphere.

Who is going to react better during and after that stoppage?

Will clubs who have players from Italy, Sweden and Norway, who won’t be going to Qatar, do better than those from countries who might get to the semi-final or Final, the latter to be played on Sunday, December 18th.

Imagine if England got to that match. Whether they won it or lost it, would their players be in any frame of mind to play a Premier League match eight days later.

But if Spurs are leading the Premier League on its resumption, dare they give Harry Kane another week off?

It’s the question every top-flight manager may have to face up to - if he has English, French, German, Brazilian or Argentinian players in his squad.

And Spurs could be leading that PL table then. They are the one club I really give a big shout out to in terms of breaking up the Pep Guardiola/Jurgen Klopp pursuit of trophies.

Antonio Conte has been given the budget to buy big and there has been no summer-long drama this time about Kane staying or going.

He has bought £60m man Richarlison from Everton to strengthen what was already a potent forward line.

By contrast with that outlay, canny Croatian midfielder Ivan Perisic could be the free transfer of the season!

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - JULY 23: Tottenham Hotspur manager Antonio Conte and Richarlison greet each other after the Pre-Season Friendly between Rangers and Tottenham Hotspur at Ibrox Stadium on July 23, 2022 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Visionhaus/Getty Images)

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - JULY 23: Tottenham Hotspur manager Antonio Conte and Richarlison greet each other after the Pre-Season Friendly between Rangers and Tottenham Hotspur at Ibrox Stadium on July 23, 2022 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Visionhaus/Getty Images)© Visionhaus/Getty Images

I expect Erik ten Hag to wring improvement out of Manchester United, but nowhere near enough improvement in one summer to make the Red Devils contenders.

Similarly the arrivals of Kalidou Koulibaly and Raheem Sterling ensure that Chelsea are a stronger side than last year.

Coach Thomas Tuchel no longer has to worry about indulging Romelu Lukaku.

But without the big Belgian, his roster doesn’t contain a 25-goal per season striker.

German Timo Werner could be that man, if Chelsea play the right ball to him.

But with so much attacking talent at Stamford Bridge, all looking for a piece of the action, that’s a big ‘if’ around which to base your planning for a season.

No, for me, it comes back to Manchester City and Liverpool, even though neither club will have anything like the same group of players as the last few seasons.

City had a real-run in with UEFA’s ‘Fair-Play’ rules a few years ago, and then seem determined that it will never happen again.

As I write these words, City are in a net profit for this summer’s transfer dealings even though they have bagged the player every big club in Europe coveted in Erling Haaland.

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And they also grabbed England midfield star Kalvin Phillips from Leeds.

Yet, sales of players like Sterling, Gabriel Jesus, Alexander Zinchenko, and our own Gavin Bazunu, mean City are an incredible £60million ahead on their in-and-outs this summer.

Haaland is the big issue for City. Yes, he’ll score goals, he has done it for every club he has played for.

But will the Norwegian get the goals to win the Champions League? That is why ‘City have bought him, I’ve no doubt about that.

And Lukaku at Chelsea is the classic example of a top player just not fitting into the system the buying club wants to play.

Guardiola has never had a big, bustling, powerful, centre-forward in all his time in management.

Do you ever remember Xavi, Iniesta or Messi giving a ball up to a big striker stationed five yards from the opposition goal-line?

It’s just not the Guardiola way, but now he has a lead striker who can score goals in any way.

Through being five yards out, or through running at defenders with the ball, or through running onto quality passes.

What City what is for Haaland to be there to finish off the two chances that Jack Grealish didn’t in the closing stages of the Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid last season.

For the Scousers, it is about adjusting to life without the brilliant Sadio Mane, who was so much a part of their successes in recent years.

SALZBURG, AUSTRIA - JULY 27: ( THE SUN OUT,THE SUN ON SUNDAY OUT) Darwin Nunez of Liverpool  during the pre-season friendly match between FC Red Bull Salzburg and FC Liverpool at Red Bull Arena on July 27, 2022 in Salzburg, Austria. (Photo by John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

SALZBURG, AUSTRIA - JULY 27: ( THE SUN OUT,THE SUN ON SUNDAY OUT) Darwin Nunez of Liverpool during the pre-season friendly match between FC Red Bull Salzburg and FC Liverpool at Red Bull Arena on July 27, 2022 in Salzburg, Austria. (Photo by John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)© Liverpool FC via Getty Images

They started down that path when buying Luis Diaz last January and then got Darwin Nunez from Benfica during the summer.

And then Liverpool tied down Mo Salah for three years.

It could be a frightingly good strike force, especially since, of the trio, only Nunez will be going to the World Cup.

Who am I to question Jurgen Klopp, but I’d like to have seen him hunt down a good attacking midfielder this summer.

If there’s been one criticism of Liverpool in Klopp’s time it is that none of the middle men chip in with ten goals a season, in the way Graeme Souness and Ronnie Whelan used to back up Ian Rush and John Aldridge in the good old days.

As for relegation, oh dear, you always start with the three clubs that came up,

To me, Nottingham Forest could be the surprise survivors, for I fear for both Bournemouth and Fulham.

Leeds surely cannot be as unlucky with injuries again and the likes of Southampton and Brighton would want to be wary of bad starts.

Any club that is in trouble when that six-week stoppage starts, well there will be mumbling and grumbling in the background, and remember there will be no transfer window then to appease the nervous.

As I wrote, this will be a season like no other.


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