As the Premier League prepares to go on break for the World Cup, there are some potential storylines for the second half of the season.
Arsenal lead by five points and are undoubtedly Manchester City’s biggest challengers for the title.
Newcastle are looking increasingly like a team with enough quality to reach the Champions League.
Graham Potter and Frank Lampard, meanwhile, may end the season in their respective jobs at Chelsea and Everton.
The final round of fixtures before the six-week break saw Arsenal respond to City’s shock 2-1 home win over Wolverhampton Wanderers to Brentford to open up their biggest ever lead in the league.
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Martin Odegaard’s goals in the 55th and 75th minutes gave Arsenal their 12th win in 14 games. The only points that Mikel Arteta’s side will have dropped before Christmas were a loss at Manchester United and a draw at Southampton, a run of results that few could have foreseen.
While Arsenal’s players kept their intensity at Molineux, City’s stars – including the aforementioned Erling Haaland – were uncharacteristically flat at the Etihad Stadium as Ivan Toney was 16 by England for the World Cup. He reacted by scoring the opener and hitting the winner in the eighth over. Stoppage-time Phil Foden equalized for City, who are two points clear of third-placed Newcastle after a 1-0 win over crisis-hit Chelsea.
The Chelsea crisis
Newcastle have now won five straight games to boost their unlikely – at least this season – bid to qualify for the Champions League in their first full season under Saudi ownership.
Seven points separate Newcastle and fifth-placed Manchester United, who visit Fulham in one of two games on Sunday.
Joe Wolak’s curling shot from outside the area condemned Chelsea to a third successive defeat. Their only win in their last eight games came in the Champions League, with defeat to Manchester City also knocking Chelsea out of the League Cup in midweek.
“We’re in a bad moment,” said Potter, who replaced Thomas Tuchel in September and regularly tinkers with his lineup in search of the right formula. “We take a break to recharge and then we go.”
The long break will test the faith Chelsea’s American owners, Todd Bohly and Clearlake Capital, have in the man they have chosen to lead the London club’s rebuild.
Late comebacks are becoming a Tottenham trademark.
The latest rally came in a wild 4-3 win at home to Leeds, which saw Spurs fall behind three times before two goals from Rodrigo Bentencourt – in the 81st and 83rd minutes – sealed victory.
Tottenham’s last three wins have come from losing positions – 2-0 down at Bournemouth, Bentincourt hit a stoppage-time winner; And 2-1 at Marseille to seal Champions League progress.
Harry Kane scored Tottenham’s first goal for his 13th season, while American midfielder Taylor Adams was sent off for two yellow cards for Leeds in 87.
Darwin Nunes will go to the World Cup having finally made his breakthrough in his first season at Liverpool.
The Uruguayan striker scored twice in Liverpool’s 3-1 win over Southampton, which was managed by Nathan Jones for the first time since he came on at the Ralph Hessen Hotel this week.
Nunez, who joined from Benfica for $75 million, has been consistently starting to score for Jurgen Klopp’s side. That’s seven goals in his last 10 games and he now looks settled into his role on the left side of the front three.
Liverpool climbed to sixth place, seven points off the Champions League places.
Fear of the World Cup
Two days after England’s surprise bid for the World Cup, James Maddison suffered an injury that put his chances of going to Qatar in jeopardy.
Maddison, however, suffered a right hamstring problem that forced him off the field early after opening the scoring for Leicester in a 2-0 win at West Ham.
“It should be good,” said Madison, 25. “Yes, I think so.”
Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers, who saw Harvey Barnes score the second goal, said Maddison had come on as a precaution.
In another injury concern, Swiss midfielder Granit Xhaka limped off in the 16th minute of Arsenal’s win over Wolves with an undisclosed issue. He kept the problem early and played in short order.
Everton players and manager Frank Lampard walked towards the traveling support after the final whistle of the team’s 3-0 defeat at Bournemouth and were met with jeers and whistles.
England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, especially with Everton supporters like captain Seamus Coleman and Lampard, seem to be trying to defuse the situation.
Pickford had little to do with Bournemouth’s opener, scored by Marcus Tavernier, before further goals from Kiefer Moore and Jadon Anthony, as Everton sank within a point and a place of the relegation zone.
Lampard felt his team’s display warranted a reaction from the fans, four days after Everton lost 4-1 at the same ground in the League Cup.
“The fans have every right to be disappointed, because they’ve come here twice this week and seen poor performances and before that we’ve been going well,” Lampard said.
Nottingham Forest are just behind Everton after losing 1-0 to Crystal Palace to drop to the bottom of the standings. Wilfried Zaha misses the penalty.