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The Premier League stress test - how your team is set ahead of league return

Gabriel Jesus helped fire Arsenal to the top of the table but now faces three months out after returning from the World Cup with a knee injury. Photo: Getty© Arsenal FC via Getty Images

Jamie BraidwoodUK Independent

After a six-week break for the World Cup in Qatar, the Premier League resumes on St Stephen’s Day as all eyes once again return to the club game.

A season that is like no other due to the first ever winter World Cup and mid-season break gets back underway with a packed fixture schedule over the festive period. The action returns with Arsenal holding a surprise five-point lead over Manchester City at the top of the table, with Newcastle and Tottenham completing an unlikely top four.

Liverpool and Chelsea struggled at times during the opening weeks, while at the bottom Nottingham Forest, Southampton and Wolves make up the relegation places.

Several teams have already changed managers and there’s a lot to catch up on following the World Cup. Here’s a team-by-team look at the Premier League state of play as the action gets set to resume.

Arsenal

Where they left off

Top of the Premier League and five points clear of Manchester City.

World Cup impact

Gabiel Jesus barely featured for Brazil at the World Cup but still suffered a knee injury that required surgery and is expected to keep him out for up to three months. The forward has started all of their 14 league matches so far – and his injury is a huge blow. William Saliba will be the last player to return but his playing time for France was limited.

What they have been up to

Arsenal had wins over Lyon and AC Milan in Dubai, which saw defender Ben White return to the pitch after he had left England’s World Cup camp during the group stages. Arteta’s side had a 2-0 friendly defeat to Juventus, which saw Aaron Ramsdale, Granit Xhaka and Thomas Partey feature after their World Cup involvement.

Christmas schedule

Arsenal’s first game back will be against West Ham on St Stephen’s Day. Arsenal travel to Brighton on New Year’s Eve, before hosting Newcastle on January 3.

Aston Villa

Where they left off

Twelfth in the table and have replaced Steven Gerrard with Unai Emery as manager.

World Cup impact

Emiliano Martinez added to his legend with Argentina as his antics proved key in the World Cup final penalty shoot-out against France. Martinez became the first Aston Villa player to play in a World Cup final. Matty Cash lived his best life in Qatar. He comes home with the shirts of Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe after playing for Poland.

What they have been up to

Emery has essentially had a pre-season with his new team, with only four members of the squad in Qatar. Villa drew 2-2 with Brighton in Dubai before beating Chelsea 1-0 in Abu Dhabi. Emery then faced his former team Villarreal at Villa Park – they lost 1-0.

Christmas schedule

They host Liverpool on St Stephen’s Day before travelling to Spurs on New Year’s Day. A local derby against Wolves follows on January 4.

Brentford

Where they left off

With the result of the season so far. Brentford’s stunning win at Manchester City on the final weekend before the World Cup was as unexpected as it was needed. They sit 10th in the table.

World Cup impact

Bryan Mbeumo started for Cameroon but Brentford’s Danish contingent of Mikkel Damsgaard, Mathias Jensen, Christian Norgaard saw less game time. ​

What they have been up to

Brentford flew to Spain for a training camp, where they faced Girona and Bordeaux in friendlies. Mbeumo, Norgaard and Damsgaard all returned for the 2-2 draw against Wolfsburg.

Christmas schedule

They welcome Tottenham on St Stephen’s Day. The Bees will also host Liverpool on January 2 and travel to West Ham in between.

Brighton

Where they left off

Brighton’s thumping 4-1 win over Chelsea was their first under Roberto De Zerbi. They sit seventh in the table.

World Cup impact

Alexis Mac Allister played a starring role in Argentina’s World Cup win. He became the first Brighton player to feature in a World Cup final. Pervis Estupinan impressed for Ecuador and Kaoru Mitoma’s exciting rise continued with Japan. ​

What they have been up to

Brighton headed to Dubai for a training camp where they drew with Aston Villa. They return to action in the Carabao Cup against Charlton tonight.

Christmas schedule

Brighton return to Premier League action against Southampton on St Stephen’s Day, they host Arsenal and then travel to Everton

Bournemouth

Were they left off

A 3-0 win over Everton ended a run of four defeats in a row and lifted the Cherries away from the relegation places Interim boss Gary O’Neil has steadied the ship after the sacking of Scott Parker.

World Cup impact

Wales duo Kieffer Moore and Chris Mepham were Bournemouth’s only representatives at the World Cup.

What they have been up to

Bournemouth have a new manager and owner. O’Neil has been appointed on a permanent basis while, off the pitch, they are under new ownership after they confirmed American businessman Bill Foley had bought the club.

Christmas schedule

Faced Newcastle in the Carabao Cup last night before trips to Chelsea and Manchester United. They host Crystal Palace on New Year’s Eve.

Chelsea

Where they left off

Defeats to Brighton, Arsenal, Manchester City and Newcastle before the World Cup break left Chelsea eighth and out of the Carabao Cup.

World Cup impact

If Graham Potter wanted time on the training ground with his Chelsea squad, the World Cup took away 13 senior players. Hakim Ziyech and Mateo Kovacic were their standout performers in Qatar

What they have been up to

Striker Armando Broja has been ruled out for the season after rupturing his ACL in the friendly defeat against Aston Villa in Abu Dhabi. Reece James is back in training after injury.

Christmas Schedule

Host Bournemouth on Tuesday and Man City on January 5 with a trip to Nottingham Forest on New Year’s Day.

Crystal Palace

Where they left off

Patrick Vieira’s side sit 11th in the table after some inconsistent form.

World Cup impact

The Eagles only had two players in Qatar in Joachim Andersen and Jordan Ayew. Andersen had a poor campaign with a Denmark while Ayew crashed out with Ghana, although he did have a good performance in the win against South Korea.

What they have been up to

Palace flew off to Turkey and have been among the busier Premier League clubs with four friendlies overall – including a defeat to Napoli.

Christmas schedule

Palace face Fulham on St Stephen’s Day. A trip to Bournemouth follows on New Year’s Eve before they host Tottenham on 4 January

Everton

Where they left off

A dismal defeat at Bournemouth left Everton teetering on the brink of the relegation zone

World Cup impact

Jordan Pickford had another good tournament for England while Amadou Onana and Idrissa Gueye played prominent roles in midfield for Belgium and Senegal respectively.

What they have been up to

So you missed Everton’s victory in the Sydney Super Cup? The Toffees drew 0-0 with Celtic, winning on penalties, before thrashing Western Sydney Wanderers 5-1. Salomon Rondon has left the club after his contract was terminated by mutual consent.

Christmas schedule

Everton’s home match against Wolves on St Stephen’s Day is a must-win. They then face Manchester City on New Year’s Eve and Brighton on January 3.

Fulham

Where they left off

They sit ninth with Aleksandr Mitrovic scoring nine times already this season.

World Cup impact

England faced the Wales pair Dan James and Harry Wilson as well as Antonee Robinson and Tim Ream of the United States in Qatar. Joao Palinha barely featured for Portugal. Mitrovic scored twice for Serbia but was unable to prevent a group-stage exit.

What they have been up to

Fulham jetted off to the Algarve before returning to Craven Cottage for a 1-1 draw against West Ham. Mitrovic has yet to return to Fulham.

Christmas schedule

They face Crystal Palace, Southampton and Leicester over the festive period.

Leicester

Where they left off

Turned their season around to climb off the bottom and up to 13th.

World Cup impact

Youri Tielemens and Timothy Castagne were part of Belgium’s poor campaign, as was Wout Faes, who didn’t play despite his excellent form. James Maddison travelled to Qatar but didn’t play.

What they have been up to

Leicester would have been among the teams wishing for the World Cup break to not arrive but took in a training camp in Abu Dhabi.

Christmas schedule

Host Newcastle on Monday, face Liverpool away on Friday before the visit of Fulham on January 3.

Leeds United

Where they left off

The mood around Elland Road is fragile as Leeds sit just two points above the bottom three.

World Cup impact

Tyler Adams was outstanding as the captain of the USA. Brenden Aaronson, who did not start for the US, and Rasmus Kristensen were their other representatives in Qatar.


What they have been up to

Travelled to Spain for a training camp before friendlies against Real Sociedad and Monaco, both at Elland Road.

Christmas schedule

They don’t return until December 28, against Manchester City. They travel to Newcastle on New Year’s Eve, and then host West Ham on January 4.

Liverpool

Where they left off

Jurgen Klopp’s team have fallen below their standards this season and are now clinging on to hopes of a top-four finish. Currently sixth.

World Cup impact

The Reds had just seven players in Qatar, with Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino, Thiago, Andy Robertson, Joel Matip among those who were left at home.

What they have been up to

A trip to Abu Dhabi was soured by the news that Luis Diaz had suffered a new injury and is out until March. Liverpool were beaten by Lyon but thrashed AC Milan 4-1, with Darwin Nunez scoring twice after his World Cup ended early.

Christmas schedule

Face Manchester City tomorrow in the Carabao Cup and then will take on Aston Villa, Leicester and Brentford.

Manchester City

Where they left off

A shock home defeat to Brentford left the Premier League champions five points adrift of leaders Arsenal.

World Cup impact

City had 16 players absent, more than any other team in the Premier League. Erling Haaland has been resting while his understudy, Julian Alvarez, was brilliant for Argentina and scored four goals in Qatar alongside Lionel Messi.

What they have been up to

City have tied Pep Guardiola down for two more years, with the manager signing a contract extension to 2025.

Christmas schedule

Starts with Liverpool tonight and ends with hosting Chelsea on 5 January. In between, they travel to Leeds on 28 December before taking on Everton two days later on New Year’s Eve.

Manchester United

Where they left off

Finished with a 2-1 victory at Fulham, scored in the final seconds by Alejandro Garnacho, as Cristiano Ronaldo was torching his relationship with the club in an interview with Piers Morgan.

World Cup impact

Of the 13 players in Qatar, Marcus Rashford probably had the best tournament Lisandro Martinez returns as a World Cup winner, with Raphael Varane defeated in the final.

What they have been up to

Erik ten Hag was the big winner of Ronaldo’s interview with Morgan and the Dutchman can now manage United without the distraction the 37-year-old brings. United went to Spain for a training camp but Jadon Sancho did not travel as he works on his own fitness.

Christmas schedule

United face Burnley tonight in the League Cup then Nottingham Forest and Wolves. Host Bournemouth on January 3.

Newcastle

Where they left off

As the form team in the Premier League, Newcastle and Eddie Howe did not want the World Cup break to arrive. A 1-0 win over Chelsea was their fifth straight win and moved them third.

World Cup impact

Newcastle only had five players at the World Cup. Bruno Guimaraes hardly featured for Brazil​

What they have been up to

Shockingly, Newcastle went to Saudi Arabia for a training camp. Alexander Isak remains out, so Chris Wood may have to lead the line for now.

Christmas schedule

Newcastle faced Bournemouth last night in the Carabao Cup. Travel to Leicester on St Stephen’s Day, before hosting Leeds and travelling to Arsenal.

Nottingham Forest

Where they left off

In the relegation zone, but with eight points from their last five matches to spark hope that they may not be a lost cause after all.

World Cup impact

Forest had a World Cup goalscorer in Switzerland’s Remo Freuler, but Cheikhou Kouyate has been ruled out for two months after tearing his hamstring playing for Senegal.

What they have been up to

The break has given Steve Cooper time to work with his squad. The team that featured in the 2-1 win over Valencia on Friday will not look too dissimilar to the first choice. Have also signed Brazilian attacking midfielder Gustavo Scarpa.

Christmas schedule

Face Man United on Tuesday, followed by Chelsea and Southampton

Tottenham

Where they left off

Antonio Conte dragged his inconsistent side up to fourth.

World Cup impact

Spurs had 11 players at the World Cup and out of every team in the Premier League they look to be the most at risk of an emotional hangover. Harry Kane must pick himself up after his penalty miss against France, while Richarlison, Son Heung-min, Rodrigo Bentancur and Pierre-Emile Hojbreg all suffered disappointing exits. Hugo Lloris lost the World Cup final while Cristian Romeo and Ivan Perisic ensured Tottenham came home with a gold, silver and bronze medal.

What they have been up to

With so many players away, Spurs didn’t travel abroad and instead faced Motherwell in a behind-closed-doors friendly. Conte’s side also host Nice tonight.

Christmas schedule

Kick off the Premier League’s return when they face Brentford at 12:30 on St Stephen’s Day. It’s followed by tests against Aston Villa and Crystal Palace.

Southampton

Where they left off

Southampton sacked Ralph Hasenhuttl in November and turned to Luton boss Nathan Jones. At 19th in the table, they are very much in a relegation battle.

World Cup impact

Southampton only had two players at the World Cup, defenders Armel Bella-Ketchup, who didn’t play for Germany and Mohammed Salisu, who featured in Ghana’a group stage exit.

What they have been up to

Jones took his new squad to Spain for a training camp. The work done there will be crucial as Southampton look to hit the ground running at the restart.

Christmas schedule

Fixtures against Brighton, Fulham and Nottingham Forest gives Jones the chance to make a good start in charge.

West Ham

Where they left off

Back-to-back defeats to Crystal Palace and Leicester left West Ham one point above the relegation zone.

World Cup impact

Declan Rice started all five of England’s matches and proved his class. Nayef Aguerd impressed for Morocco, which will have come as a surprise to West Ham fans after he played only once in the Premier League before the break. He returns from Qatar injured.

What they have been up to

West Ham had friendly wins over Cambridge United and Udinese and a draw against Fulham.

Christmas schedule

They travel to Arsenal on St Stephen’s Day. The home match against Brentford looks must-win for David Moyes.

Wolves

Where they left off

Wolves entered the World Cup at the bottom of the table but have confirmed the appointment of former Real Madrid and Sevilla manager Julen Lopetegui.

World Cup impact

Raul Jimenez did not feature for Mexico after not playing for Wolves this season. The Portugal contingent of Ruben Neves, Matheus Nunes and Jose Sa were the last back from Qatar.

What they have been up to

Lopetegui took Wolves to Spain for a training camp.

Christmas schedule

His first league game is at Everton on St Stephen’s Day, before facing Man United and Aston Villa.


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