Which English Premier League Clubs Will Suffer Most From A World Cup Hangover?
We’re in a short period of soccer limbo at the moment. Because of the World Cup this summer, we lost the usual summer break from the beautiful game, save the month-long breaks in the buildup and wake of the Cup. And even those gaps are filled with international and club friendlies, respectively.
All this soccer is brilliant from a fans’ perspective, but it can take a toll on the players who gave up their summer breaks to compete in the World Cup as well as the clubs they play for.
With less than two weeks until the beginning of the English Premier League season, many World Cup stars are still recuperating and vacationing while their clubs are in the thick of preseason training. Giving these stars time to rest is necessary for their long-term health, but it could be detrimental to their teams in the short-term as many, if not most, won’t be fit for the start of the season in early August.
The Premier League season is long, and come April and May when we’re focused on the title and top-four races, we’ll have long forgotten about these August matches. But in the grand scheme, a point dropped in August counts every bit as much as a point dropped in May. That’s a problem for the clubs that sent the most players to Russia — not coincidentally, the best clubs in England — which are at risk of sluggish starts thanks to the absence of their top stars. Here are four that could get off to a sluggish start thanks to this World Cup hangover, and two more who emerged from the summer fit as a fiddle.
No club in the world sent more players to Russia than Premier League champions Manchester City (16). That, of course, speaks to the undeniable quality on hand at the club, but it also means the majority of their first-team players will come into this season with tired legs. And the Sky Blues will be up against it from the first matchday of the year when they travel to Arsenal, a club that suffered from almost no hangover to speak of, as we’ll see in a moment.
Tottenham sent 12 players to Russia — tied for fourth-most from a club — nine of whom played a full slate of seven World Cup matches. Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Kieran Trippier, Eric Dier, Jan Vertonghen and Hugo Lloris are all crucial players for Tottenham who were on the pitch for nearly every minute of the World Cup. There’s a chance Spurs fall victim to their own success early in the season without some of these guys available.
Times are not good for Jose Mourinho and Manchester United at the moment. United sent 11 players to the World Cup, but the club is without a whopping 17 players on its preseason tour thanks to injuries and vacations. On top of that, United has been uncharacteristically restrained in the transfer market even though the deadline will coincide with the beginning of the seasons instead of the end of August for the first time. If a few World Cup stars don’t return to the team fitter than expected, United are an injury or two away from early-season disaster.
Chelsea, which sent 12 players to compete in Russia, has one distinct disadvantage that these other three clubs don’t: The Blues are breaking in a new manager. Former Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri replaced Antonio Conte earlier this month, which already put the team on an abbreviated schedule to learn his system before the new season begins. Without a full preseason to work out the kinks, Chelsea’s stars will be learning on the fly in meaningful matches, an unenviable position for a club trying to claw it’s way back into title contention after missing the top four last season.
The big winner of the World Cup Hangover Sweepstakes is Liverpool. Fresh off a Champions League final, the Reds only sent seven players to the World Cup and only four of those sent to the semifinals or further — Dejan Lovren, Jordan Henderson, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Simon Mingolet. Their two best players in the field, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, were eliminated in the group stage. On top of that, they’ve signed two World Cup players who were out after the quarterfinals — Alisson and Xherdan Shaqiri — and are rumored to be after American sensation Christian Pulisic who didn’t even go to Russia. Jurgen Klopp’s men have looked outstanding this preseason, and they have a fantastic chance to carry that form over into the season and mount a strong title challenge.
It’s been a quiet summer for Arsenal, which is exactly what the club needed. Only six Gunner competed in Russia, which gave the majority of the players an entire summer to train and get used to life without Arsene Wenger. Only a handful of truly integral players — Granit Xhaka and new signing Lucas Torreira chief among them — are without the club on the preseason tour of Singapore, allowing new manager Unai Emery to teach his pressing style to essentially the whole squad. Arsenal’s players are as fit as they’ve been in quite some time and they’ll be raring to prove they’re more than the little they achieved in the finals years under Wenger. These Gunners could surprise folks early this season, starting with Manchester City on Matchday 1.