Arsenal, Liverpool big beneficiaries going into new season

Four of the top six — Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur — start the new season on a disadvantage.

Arsenal pre-season

Arsenal had nearly its full complement of the squad available for the entirety of its pre-season schedule.   -  AFP

Bournemouth was the only exception for an English Premier League club which had no representatives in Russia 2018, where the supremacy of the English top-flight (over its foreign counterparts) was once again evident. One hundred and eight players from 19 clubs which competed in the 2017-18 season made their national squads, with Manchester City (16) sending the most players from a club in the history of World Cups. LaLiga had the second-best representation for a league with 78.

The consequences of being the most well-represented club are two-fold for Manchester City: it received £3.9m from FIFA, but, on the downside, its players clocked over a combined 5600 minutes of football (also the most) in Russia, which may prove hazardous ahead of the 2018-19 season.

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For Chelsea, City, Manchester United, and Tottenham, this past World Cup has been disruptive, in that most of their key players have reported to training just a week before the season gets underway (on August 10). And in the cases of Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante, Kevin de Bruyne, Eden Hazard, Dejan Lovren, and Harry Kane, to name a few, they will not have played any of their club’s pre-season fixtures before the season proper.

Jose Mourinho has, typically, shown his frustration at not having more of his first-team players to work with during pre-season. After the friendly against Liverpool last weekend, the United boss said, “We are just trying to play these matches the best we can, and I think the boys did very well until the gasoline went. When it went, it was goodbye. Liverpool had the majority of their players and they rotated their players. (Mohamed) Salah played 45, then 45. We can’t do it. (Ander) Herrera 90 minutes, (Andreas) Pereira 90 minutes. So, what did this game give me? Nothing at all.”

Lukaku and de Bruyne

Lukaku (R) and de Bruyne will head into the new season with no pre-season under their belt for Manchester United and Manchester City, respectively   -  AFP

Mourinho also revealed that Nemanja Matic will miss the start of the season having reported to training with an injury he picked up at the World Cup with Serbia. In its new signing Fred, though, United has a player to fill the Matic void when it kicks off its season next Friday against Leicester City.

Of the Premier League Big Six, Liverpool appears the least affected, with its attacking trident — Sadio Mane (270 minutes), Mohamed Salah (180 minutes) and Roberto Firmino (82 minutes) — playing considerably fewer World Cup minutes than most of their counterparts at City, Tottenham, United, and Chelsea. Also, two of its new signings (Fabinho and Naby Keita) have been involved throughout the pre-season, adapting to Liverpool’s style and being fresh for the new season.

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In comparison to the last two World-Cup years, the Premier League begins days earlier than in 2014 and 2010. In 2010 and 2014, Premier League kicked off on August 14 and 16 respectively, and the clubs had a little more than a month after the quadrennial event to prepare for the new season. This time, however, the top-flight season begins less than four weeks from the conclusion of the World Cup. As a result, the players who reached the semifinals and final with their national teams have had a shorter off-season and, obviously, the managers and the clubs have had lesser time to prepare for the new season.

Also, the likes of City, Tottenham and Manchester United, whose key players were involved with their national teams until the last or penultimate day of the World Cup, will begin the season playing with most of the fringe players. Though the league allows teams to catch up even if they make a slow start, City and Chelsea play Arsenal on the first and second matchweek respectively and the North London club has had the entire first team squad involved in the pre-season routine.

Tottenham, too, with its English core (Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Eric Dier, Danny Rose and Kieran Trippier) and Belgium and French players getting back to training less than a week before the season, will have to manage with a depleted squad. 

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As a result, Arsenal and Liverpool hold the advantage at the start of the season, of being able to play with their first-choice teams while the other four of the Big Six ease their stars back for club duty.  

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