Pep Guardiola notably accepted the defeat of Manchester City against Brentford in their last match before the World Cup. “My team and I will have time to reflect on what we did well and what we need to do better,” he shrugged. Guardiola and his team may also have to watch the events in Qatar in their hands, tightening as heavy tackles come and muscle injuries pile up given City – with 16 players – are the Premier League club that sends the most players to the final.
Although Erling Haaland will spend much of the next six weeks on the Etihad campus, key players such as Kevin De Bruyne, Phil Foden and Rodri will return bearing the physical and mental scars of the tournament. And individual success in Qatar is not necessarily good news for a player’s club. To take England’s Euro 2020 finalists as an example, a number of Gareth Southgate players made indifferent debuts in their 2021-22 club campaigns.
These are the imponderables for the clubs of this World Cup. Jürgen Klopp is a vocal critic of the tournament being held in Qatar, particularly mid-season, but he will only see seven players fly off to training camps ahead of the tournament. Like Guardiola, Klopp has a star striker taking some needed rest, in Mohamed Salah, but it is Uruguay rather than Liverpool who will be the immediate beneficiaries of Darwin Núñez’s recent blossoming.
Overall, the Premier League provides more World Cup players than any other division, with 134 players at the tournament – 16% – plying their trade in England’s top flight. League leaders Arsenal have 10 players in the World Cup squads, but their three-man England contingent includes two players, Aaron Ramsdale and Ben White, who are expected to be reserves in Southgate’s squad. The same goes for Gabriel Jesus and Gabriel Martinelli in a Brazilian team with stiff competition for attacking spots. Mikel Arteta seems to be getting off rather lightly, although how to motivate disappointed players at being underutilized is yet another consideration to add to the pile.
Player response to disappointing tournaments is also important. How, for example, could Antonio Conte make the most of Harry Kane at Tottenham if the England captain flopped in Qatar? Or, to name another player among Spurs’ 11 call-ups, someone who carries an even heavier burden for his national team, Son Heung-min? Will his disappointing season so far – and the facial injury he is nursing – cloud his World Cup and therefore his return to Tottenham? Each player is on a sliding scale. How might they react to playing in a mid-season tournament in which their country’s expectations are sky-high while playing under a different coach using probably very different tactics?
For managers such as Graham Potter and Erik ten Hag, relatively newcomers to their clubs and trying to install a new playing doctrine, losing players mid-season does not help. Manchester United, sending 14, have made significant progress under Ten Hag, and while Cristiano Ronaldo may be dropped from the list of players whose fitness he will care about, Casemiro, Christian Eriksen and Lisandro Martínez have all been crucial for the rebirth of United. Each plays for a nation that should go far in the tournament.
Potter’s Chelsea has been at a standstill lately. His players seemed insensitive to his tactics. Chelsea will have 12 players in Qatar, but a planned mid-season training camp in Abu Dhabi also gives Potter a decent core to work with. Reece James, Wesley Fofana, Kepa Arrizabalaga, Marc Cucurella, Trevoh Chalobah, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Jorginho and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang are among the players who do not travel.
Manchester United and Chelsea will return to action at Christmas watching Newcastle in third place, and while Eddie Howe won’t relish a loss of momentum, only five players are lost from his World Cup squad, two of them – Callum Wilson and Nick Pope – likely to be on the bench for England. And while Bruno Guimarães is a player Newcastle cannot afford to lose, other top players this season in Sven Botman, not chosen for Louis van Gaal’s Dutch side, and Miguel Almíron, whose Paraguay did not qualify, will return to Tyneside after taking short rests. .
Further down the table, the World Cup break offers an opportunity for Nathan Jones, fresh from Southampton, who is only sending two players. If Bournemouth appoint a new manager – or if Gary O’Neil stays – only the Welsh pair of Kieffer Moore and Chris Mepham won’t be there.
Three managers completed the first leg of the season under pressure. At West Ham, David Moyes will have mixed feelings if England progress deep in the tournament, with Declan Rice a key midfielder. Lucas Paquetá, the big signing of the summer, has yet to shine in east London but is favored by Brazilian coach, Tite. Perhaps a good performance in Qatar can boost Paquetá’s club season. Jesse Marsch will roar in the USA squad, although Brenden Aaronson and Tyler Adams fear fatigue in two players who have become important for Leeds.
Which leaves Frank Lampard with Everton losing four players in the tournament. Until his mistakes at Bournemouth last weekend, Jordan Pickford had been exemplary in goal. An injury or the loss of form that may ensue for players scapegoated by English failure could fatally injure Everton. These are the myriad equations the World Cup must return to in the minds of Premier League managers.
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