After a month of relentless drama, upsets and unrivalled entertainment, the 2018 World Cup reached its dramatic finale, leaving football fans all over the country with a gaping hole in their lives. But the focus has now firmly shifted back towards the Premier League, with fellow England fans becoming club rivals once more. Premier League players dominated the last 4 of the World Cup, particularly as England reached their first semi-final since 1990. While Russia was approaching its finale, pre-season training for Premier League clubs was been well underway since July 1st, yet with 40 Premier League semi-finalists earning themselves a well earned 3 week minimum rest, the top 6 clubs might find themselves with a somewhat depleted squad for at least their opening set of fixtures.
New Arsenal manager Unai Emery has a real chance to hit the ground running for the start of the 2018/19 campaign. With Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Aaron Ramsey and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s respective countries failing to qualify, Alexandre Lacazette missing out on a France call up and Mesut Özil’s early elimination with Germany, Arsenal will find themselves with arguably the freshest squad for the beginning of the season. In previous years, Arsene Wenger opted to ease his World Cup stars back into the foray, and often paid the price with a slow start to the season. With Arsenal facing Manchester City and Chelsea in their first two matches, it is essential the Gunners have all their firepower raring to go in August, and this is precisely the case.
Danny Welbeck was the only Arsenal player to feature in the World Cup semi-finals, yet he barely played all tournament. In fact, Arsenal’s contingent played for just 1,820 minutes for this year’s World cup, which is 50 hours fewer than arch-rivals Tottenham Hotspur. In fact, the England international has been subject to a Summer transfer switch to Everton and could find himself playing football away from the Emirates in the upcoming campaign.
Although question marks loom over Eden Hazard’s future at the club, he is one of 7 Chelsea players who reached the semi-finals of the World Cup. He was joined in the last 4 by N’Golo Kante, Olivier Giroud, Michy Batshuayi and Thibaut Courtois, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Gary Cahill. These 7 players are expected to join the rest of the Chelsea squad for training on the weekend of the 5th/6thAugust, the same weekend they are expected to face Manchester City for the community shield. Indeed, the opening game of the season against Huddersfield will come too soon for these World Cup semi-finalists.
But with Chelsea’s transfer activity beginning to hot up, the extent to which their squad will be depleted for the start of the season may well be lessened.
The reds should have a relatively fresh squad as they embark on the new Premier League season. Only Arsenal’s players racked up less minutes played and less distance covered out of the top 6 teams. Klopp will also be relieved that his deadly trio of Mohammed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane exited the World Cup before the semi-final stage, meaning they should all be available for their opening fixture against West Ham.
Liverpool will, however, be without their captain Jordan Henderson, Dejan Lovren, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Simon Mignolet for their opening game of the season after Klopp confirmed they would not return to training until 5thAugust. Yet, as Liverpool continue to add impressively to their squad depth during this transfer window, the reds should be able to face West Ham with a strong and fresh squad.
The Citizens had several players into the latter stages of the World Cup, meaning they could be without up to 7 players for their first match of the season. John Stones, Kyle Walker, Raheem Sterling, Fabian Delph, Kevin De Bruyne, Vincent Kompany and Benjamin Mendy are said to be returning to training in the second week in August. These players would therefore be a doubt for City’s community shield match against Chelsea and also their first Premier League match vs Arsenal. This could be a decisive factor as they face a new Arsenal team with a fresh and energised squad. Manchester City’s players covered the 2nd most distance out of the Premier League teams at the World Cup with a staggering 511.3km. Whilst City’s players also featured for 4,583 minutes in the World Cup, again, the 2nd highest amount out of the top 6 Premier League teams.
Few teams can match Manchester City’s squad depth, but with many key players potentially missing for the beginning of the season, it will certainly be interesting to see how the Champions fare.
It seems as if Manchester United are facing the same headache as their Mancunian counterparts, with Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku, Phil Jones, Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford, Ashley Young and Marouane Fellaini all set to miss their opening fixture against Leicester City on 10thAugust. United’s players racked up 3,956 minutes worth of playing time, which was significantly more than rivals Liverpool and Arsenal.
Mourinho himself has acknowledged the importance of resting his World Cup stars to avoid suffering from any fatigue before the season has barely started. The United manager will also be hoping that Paul Pogba can continue his World Cup heroics at club level once the player returns from holiday and gets back to full fitness, although there were voices questioning the reason for his improved performance under a different manager. This will be an interesting development to follow.
Spurs impressively had 9 players featuring in the semi-finals of the World Cup, the most out of the top 6 Premier League clubs. England’s Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Kieran Trippier, Eric Dier and Danny Rose, alongside Belguim’s Mousa Dembele, Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderwiereld and World Cup Winner Hugo Lloris will all require the minimum 3 weeks off after their World Cup exploits. As a result, they will miss Tottenham’s pre-season tour of the USA and most likely the opening game of the season against Newcastle, unless, of course, they are rushed back before then – most would argue too soon. It is worth mentioning that South Koreans Heung-Min Son will be absent from 14th August, just four days after the Premier League kicks-off, as he will be representing his nation at the Asian games.
This will be a challenging test for Mauricio Pochettino, who will attempt to combat fatigue in his squad whilst balancing a stadium move and 4 matches in 3 weeks before the first international break.
It will certainly be interesting to see which of the top six will cope best with the challenges of fatigue after such a unrelenting World Cup campaign. We will learn their fate very soon with the opening Premier League fixture under three weeks away.