Each week we preview the Premier League action and discuss some of the division’s major talking points.
Football mourns the death of an icon
Pele might never have played his club football on European shores, but the passing of the Brazilian great will reverberate around the Premier League and the rest of the football world.
The sad news of Pele’s death was announced on Thursday, with supporters mourning the loss of a player whose legacy is immortal. Brazil’s joint all-time record scorer is the only man to have won the World Cup three times as a player, during an international career that saw him score 77 goals in 92 appearances.
Brazil legend Pelé has died at the age of 82.
The original GOAT. A trailblazer. One of the finest players to ever lace up.
He will be missed by millions. pic.twitter.com/sZiiLLmCYF
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) December 29, 2022
The first of those world triumphs saw Pele star as a 17-year-old in Sweden, scoring five goals – including two in the final – as Brazil announced their arrival as a footballing force. It was Pele’s contribution that truly placed the South Americans on the sporting map, with the forward epitomising the free-spirited and fun-loving football that has since embodied his nation.
Greats of the game have since come and gone since Pele’s peak, but for a time there was no debate over who was the greatest of all time. For some, he still is.
Rest in peace, King.
Early business hints at active January transfer window
The January transfer window is often viewed as a time for panic purchases, as clubs look to right their wrongs at the mid-point of the campaign.
This time around the presence of a winter World Cup has provided the window with a different dynamic. Last summer, several stars were reluctant to make moves ahead of Qatar. Jurrien Timber – linked with Manchester United – remained at Ajax to best prepare for the tournament, while compatriot Cody Gakpo was advised to remain at PSV Eindhoven until after the World Cup.
Gakpo has since become one of January’s first major movers after agreeing a £37m switch to Liverpool and it is unlikely that the 23-year-old – his reputation safely enhanced in Qatar – will be the last to make a high-profile switch.
👋 G A K P O 🔴 pic.twitter.com/SMLVYKdjJg
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) December 28, 2022
Chelsea have already been active in chasing deals for David Datro Fofana, Benoit Badiashile and Enzo Fernandez, while Arsenal have seen an opening offer for Mykhaylo Mudryk turned down.
With new owners in at Bournemouth and several managers approaching their first transfer windows in charge of Premier League clubs, it could prove one of the most exciting January windows of recent times.
Ten Hag needs consistency from wide-men
Manchester United‘s first half-season under Erik ten Hag has shown positive signs, with the Dutchman having recovered from a disastrous start to place the Red Devils in the hunt for the top four.
United returned to league action with a 3-0 win over Nottingham Forest on Tuesday, a fixture which saw Marcus Rashford continue his impressive form this season and Casemiro again underline just why he’s one of the best in the business.
The latter has been an exceptional signing, demonstrating the defensive discipline and class in possession that led to five Champions League wins at Real Madrid. A long-term problem eradicated in midfield, Ten Hag’s focus will now be on finding consistency from those further forward with United the lowest scorers, by some distance, in the top six.
Rashford’s form has been welcomed, while Anthony Martial’s return also offers hope across the remainder of the campaign. He does, however, require more from the club’s big-money buys.
United have sought external advice to help Jadon Sancho’s confidence crisis, while Antony has continued to fluctuate between the sublime and ridiculous this season. Against Forest he was unpredictable and frustrating, repeatedly squandering possession and missing a clear chance to score.
While dips are expected for a 22-year-old adjusting to the demands of a new division, Ten Hag will demand more from a player already well-versed in his methods and who cost the club £86m last summer.
West Ham require a response
West Ham are hovering nervously above the Premier League’s relegation places, a scenario few envisaged given the club’s progress in recent campaigns and summer investment.
It’s been a difficult season so far for the Hammers, who returned to Premier League action with defeat at Arsenal on Boxing Day – their fourth straight league loss on either side of the break. David Moyes’ side are just a point above the drop zone, and with just three points separating the bottom six must begin to put results together.
🗣️ “Your sources are not correct” ❌
David Moyes responds after reports of him being under pressure from West Ham owners ⚒️ pic.twitter.com/0PRsPbZ6zA
— Sky Sports News (@SkySportsNews) December 29, 2022
The Hammers take on Brentford on Friday evening and the London Stadium will offer some comfort, with 10 of the club’s 14 points this season having been won on home soil. Brentford, however, have taken four points from clashes with Manchester City and Spurs in their last two and beat the Hammers home and away in their debut Premier League season last time around.
The Bees will represent a tricky test, but West Ham are in desperate need of a result and response. The pressure will increase on Moyes’ position if one does not arrive.
Rodgers ready for January sales
Brendan Rodgers was critical of Leicester’s performance after his side were outclassed against Newcastle on Boxing Day, a setback for the Foxes who failed to continue the momentum of their pre-World Cup form. Before the break, Leicester had won four of their previous five Premier League games, while it was eight clean sheets in 10 fixtures across all competitions.
The loss to Newcastle closely resembled their early season form, when Rodgers side languished at the bottom of the Premier League table after failing to win in their opening seven.
Brendan Rodgers also confirmed he will have money to spend in the January transfer window. 💰
"There’s been a lot of work going on behind the scenes. We’ll look at the left-back position as one to improve on, and we’ll also look for a right sided winger as well." pic.twitter.com/uejCGcoVEr
— BBC Sport Leicester (@BBCRLSport) December 23, 2022
Leicester’s side has stagnated from the one which twice challenged for Champions League football in recent seasons and the Foxes are in desperate need of a refresh. With finances stabilised following the sale of Wesley Fofana and the subsequent taking of a bank loan against the fee Chelsea owe for the defender, there is room to manoeuvre as January approaches.
A central defender, left-back and winger are all on the agenda for Rodgers, who has previous with successful January windows. Rodgers memorably signed Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho in the winter window while at Liverpool, with that duo proving crucial in the evolution of his team. He returns to face his former side on Merseyside on Friday evening.
How high can Haaland go?
Another round of Premier League action, another Erling Haaland record.
The Manchester City forward scored twice as Manchester City returned with a win at Leeds, taking his total to 20 league goals for the campaign. No player has ever reached the 20-goal mark in the Premier League faster than Haaland, who has taken just 14 games to reach that figure.
After the break in the season for the World Cup, the Norwegian has returned hungrier than ever and appears hell-bent on claiming every goalscoring milestone in sight.
Haaland is 4 goals away from beating last season’s Premier League golden boot winning total.
There are 23 games left 😳 pic.twitter.com/pDTyvztqm2
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) December 29, 2022
“I kind of recharged my batteries and to watch other people score and win games in the World Cup kind of triggers me and motivates me and also irritates me,” Haaland told Amazon after the win at Leeds. “I’m more hungry and more ready than ever.”
Haaland is not just breaking records, he is obliterating them. His 20 goals are more than nine teams have scored in the Premier League this season – including Chelsea – and he took seven games less than the previous record holder, Kevin Phillips, to reach 20 goals in England’s top division.
He’s just 13 from breaking the single season record for a 38-game season and on current form will pass that in a matter of weeks. At this trajectory, the numbers he could end up on are difficult to comprehend.
Newcastle are going nowhere
When Newcastle’s Saudi-backed takeover was announced a little over a year ago, those on Tyneside began to dream of their club, for so long treading water in the Premier League, challenging England’s elite. Even given the club’s finances, few envisaged their challenge for Champions League football to come quite so soon.
Newcastle are third in the table as we approach the half-way point, with an impressive 3-0 win at Leicester making it six straight victories for Eddie Howe’s side.
No side has lost fewer Premier League matches than Newcastle this season 🔥 pic.twitter.com/Djiap4xhOj
— ESPN UK (@ESPNUK) December 26, 2022
Boasting the division’s best defensive record and an increasing confidence underlined by the stunning purple patch of Miguel Almiron around goal, Newcastle are showing no signs of slowing down in their pursuit of a Champions League return for the first time since 2002/03.
As top-four rivals ease star names back in after World Cup excursions, Newcastle also have the luxury of a refreshed squad. Just two teams – Crystal Palace and Southampton – had players play less minutes than the Magpies in Qatar, while the top seven in the Premier League for World Cup minutes are the seven teams who currently join Newcastle in the Premier League’s top eight.
That situation could prove a major boost in a season of unprecedented congestion, as Newcastle look to maintain their charge for the top four. With the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United in transition and Liverpool below expectations so far this season, this season could prove a chance for Newcastle to accelerate their development with Champions League qualification.