The return of the Premier League on Monday has a lot to live up to after a dramatic and fantastic finish to the World Cup in Qatar. Congratulations to Lionel Messi who led Argentina to their third success and their first since 1986 when Diego Maradona was the catalyst for that World Cup triumph. Holders France, who were the pre-tournament favorites with many of the leading soccer betting sites, had to make do with being runners-up.
Messi missed out on the Golden Boot award, which went to Kylian Mbappe who took his tally to eight in the tournament thanks to the second hat-trick ever scored in a World Cup final. Messi follows in the footsteps of Pele in 1970 and Maradona in 1986 to win the World Cup with 10 goals/assists. He also became the first player ever to score in each round of a World Cup.
As we wave goodbye to Qatar we now look forward to the resumption of the Premier League on Boxing Day with seven fixtures scheduled to be played, weather permitting. No league provided more players in the World Cup final's starting line-ups than the Premier League. Four lined up for the newly crowned champions and two were named in the French starting XI.
It's not a surprise that England's top flight was heavily represented in the decider given the fact 133 Premier League players arrived at the tournament. Manchester City led the way with 16 of their players being called away on international duty, while their neighbors Manchester United sent 13 players to Qatar. It would have been 14, but the Old Trafford club and Cristiano Ronaldo parted company just two days into the tournament before Portugal played their opening game.
At the opposite end of the scale, Bournemouth, Crystal Palace and Southampton each sent just two players to the competition. Of the 133 players on duty, 120 managed to get some game time, some more than others. Every Premier League club had at least two players involved in the group stage, as nations battled it out to secure qualification to the knockout stage.
However, Bournemouth, Brentford, Crystal Palace and Southampton had no players through to the Round of 16 or beyond. In the quarter-finals, 11 clubs still had players involved, but that number dropped to seven for the semi-finals. On the final weekend, 10 players from seven clubs were involved as Croatia beat Morocco to claim third spot 24 hours before Argentina won their third title. We've crunched the numbers from the tournament to see which teams might be affected most by the first World Cup to be held at the end of the year.
Arsenal went into the break for the World Cup top of the Premier League five points clear of defending champions Manchester City after 14 games played by both sides. Mikel Arteta's team have been the surprise package of the domestic league season so far with just five points dropped from a possible 42.
And the good news is that of the 10 players that went to Qatar, none were involved in the tournament after the quarter-finals. Bukayo Saka was the Gunners' last representative, but his tournament ended when England were beaten 2-1 by France. Two Arsenal players went to Qatar, but never played a second. Goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale and defender Ben White were not called upon by England manager Gareth Southgate. White actually left the tournament in the group stage for personal reasons.
The remaining eight players who did play in Qatar, should be refreshed enough to return to club duties on Monday when they host West Ham. Hammers goalkeeper Alphonse Areola had one of the best seats in the house on Sunday as he watched from the bench as the World Cup final unfolded. Arsenal's stats for the season show that with just two league appearances, it's unlikely Areola would have started at the Emirates on Boxing Day anyway.
While it's potentially good news for Arsenal on their return to league action, it's a different story with their north London neighbors Tottenham. Antonio Conte was without 11 players when the World Cup started on Sunday, November 20. All 11 players saw action in Qatar and five went involved in the quarter-finals.
Three were still involved on the last weekend of the 22nd chapter of the World Cup. Hugo Lloris' hopes of lifting the trophy for the second successive tournament were dashed when he failed to save any of Argentina's spot-kicks in the dramatic penalty shootout after a thrilling 3-3 draw.
He had to watch his club colleague Cristian Romero celebrate with his Argentine team-mates, but at least Romero didn't score one of the penalties in the shootout. In the third/fourth place playoff, Ivan Perisic helped Croatia claim the bronze medal. The news gets worse for Conte. Had Spurs been given the Wednesday night game, all three might have had enough of a break to return to action.
Instead, they are highly unlikely to start at Brentford in Monday's lunchtime game to get the Premier League back up and running. Despite the possible absentees, Spurs still start as favorites on many of the leading soccer betting apps. If Lloris misses the game, Spurs will probably call on back-up Fraser Forster who, as Tottenham's stats for the season show, has yet to start a league game for Conte since joining from Southampton in the summer. Spurs had three players listed in the top seven of minutes played by Premier League players, including Lloris who played 570 minutes.
Manchester United sent 14 players to the World Cup, but they ended their relationship with Cristiano Ronaldo two days into the competition. United boss Erik ten Hag will look to replace the Portuguese when the transfer window opens on January 1. Cody Gakpo of the Netherlands has been linked with a move to United while ten Hag will keep a close eye on developments with England youngster Jude Bellingham.
United also had multiple players involved in Sunday's final. At the heart of French defense was Rafael Varane, who played 113 minutes before being replaced by Liverpool Ibrahima Konate. Konate was the only one of the seven players Liverpool sent to Qatar to make it to the final weekend, so the Reds should be fresh for their trip to Villa Park on Monday.
On the bench for Argentina during the final, was Varane's Old Trafford team-mate Lisandro Martinez. While he didn't get on the pitch, Martinez will have joined in his nation's celebrations having played a key role in all six of the games to get his country to the final.
A look at Manchester United's statistics this season, Martinez has featured in every league game for United this season, and if he is unavailable for their home game with Nottingham Forest on Tuesday, it will leave a big hole to fill. If Varane is also missing, it could see a return to United's starting lineup for Harry Maguire who was one of England's better players in their run to the quarter-finals.
Julian Alvarez was one of the biggest successes in Qatar. His four goals helped Argentina recover from their shock loss to Saudi Arabia in their opening game to not only reach the final, but win it. Alvarez scored four goals in his 467 minutes of action which is a goal every 116.7 minutes. Alvarez's minutes helped City amass the most minutes of any Premier League side with 4,628 minutes. In contrast, Southampton totaled just 270 minutes.
The Manchester City forward's performances for his country will have delighted City manager Pep Guardiola who knows his player can play a big part in the club's quest to win multiple trophies including the Champions League. City don't restart their domestic programme until Wednesday which might be enough time for Alvarez to recover from his World Cup exploits.
If Alvarez is to miss their trip to Leeds, so what? Manchester City's stats show that the Argentine has only started three league games for City this season as Erling Haaland has been City's star striker. Haaland watched the World Cup from home as his nation Norway failed to qualify for Qatar. He'll be fresher than anyone when the Premier League returns and he'll be hungry to add to the 18 league goals he has already scored.
Chelsea were another club to have multiple players still at the World Cup right up to the final weekend. Blues manager Graham Potter will hope to have Mateo Kovacic and Hakim Ziyech available as soon as possible. Both lined up against each other in Saturday's 'game that nobody wanted to play'.
Both players played 90 minutes to take their minutes total to 638 as Kovacic got the better of his Stamford Bridge colleague. Looking at Chelsea's data this season, Ziyech played more games at the World Cup than he has in the league for the Blues this season. In fact, the Moroccan has only played 148 minutes in the Premier League, 490 minutes fewer than he managed in Qatar as he played a starring role in his country's historic run to the semi-finals.
Kovacic is another player whose role differs from club to country. For Croatia, he is one of the first names on the team sheet and he is why they have reached the World Cup final four years ago, and the semi-final this year. Kovacic has only started five league games for Chelsea this season, one of those was under Thomas Tuchel and the last four have been under Potter.
Potter has a strong enough squad to cope with their absence, if they are given a short break following their World Cup exploits. That is not necessarily the case for Aston Villa or Brighton. Villa may have to call on back-up keeper Robin Olsen. who conceded four goals when replacing Emiliano Martinez after 35 minutes when Villa went to Newcastle in the league at the end of October.
Alexis Mac Allister was establishing himself as a solid component of Brighton's midfield before the World Cup. Brighton's stats show the midfielder has scored five times in 14 games, and his performances in Qatar will have alerted a number of clubs as to his availability to move from the Seagulls.
So we know which players were involved in the final moments of a memorable World Cup. But which team's representatives averaged the most minutes? Tottenham led the league with their 11 players racking up 3,692 minutes thanks to Hugo Lloris, Cristian Romero and Ivan Perisic making it to the final weekend. That equates to an average of 335.6 minutes per player which is no real surprise as four Spurs players managed 400 minutes or more during their time in Qatar.
It might surprise many to discover that Aston Villa are second on the list. The Villans sent four players to Qatar and all four saw some action. No Premier League player played more minutes than Villa keeper Emiliano Martinez. Martinez, who has started every league game according to Aston Villa's stats this season, was between the posts for every second of Argentina's run to glory. Martinez, who finished with 690 minutes at the tournament, won the Golden Glove for providing a number of crucial saves throughout the World Cup.
None more so came in the closing stage of extra-time in the final when with seconds remaining and the score tied at 3-3, he pulled off a stunning save to deny French sub Randal Kolo Muani. And his save from Kingsley Coman gave Argentina the advantage in the shootout. And let's not forget his two saves in Argentina's shootout success over the Dutch in the quarter-finals. Thanks to Martinez's exploits, Villa's four players played a total of 1,216 minutes for an average of 304.0 minutes.
Only one other team averaged 300 minutes or more for their players in Qatar and that was Manchester United with 300.5 minutes per players. Of the 13 United players sent to the tournament, all but one, Dutch defender Tyrell Malacia was the only one to miss out on game time. His team-mates combined for a total of 3,606 minutes for an average of 300.5 minutes. Ten of those players saw some action in the quarter-finals, the most of any Premier League club.
Chelsea are fourth on the list with their 11 players from nine different countries registering a total of 3,275 minutes. England midfielder Conor Gallagher was the only Blues player on duty at the tournament, not to play a single second. Six players from Stamford Bridge racked up 315 minutes or more.
Perhaps surprisingly, Liverpool only sent seven players to Qatar, but only six featured for their countries. Trent Alexander-Arnold missed out for England. The other six combined for 1,766 minutes which equates to an average of 294.3 minutes per player. Defender Virgil van Dijk led the way for the Reds with 480 minutes. Van Dijk is important to his club especially in terms of keeping possession. Liverpool's stats show they average 62.8% possession this season.
Defending champions Manchester City ranked seventh on the list, after West Ham. All 16 of City's players lined up for their countries and every one of them got some game time. Julian Alvarez's 467 minutes was the most of any City player as their players averaged 285.5 minutes. According to Manchester City's stats, Alvarez scored more goals at the World Cup than he has for his club this season.
Current Premier League leaders Arsenal rank 15th with an average of 208.6 minutes for the eight players. They will hope this will help them pick up where they left off before the break, when they took 22 points from a possible 24. The Gunners host West Ham in the late game on Boxing Day and the Emirates side are favorites with many of the leading soccer betting sites to win that game.
Newcastle have started the season brilliantly. Eddie Howe's side went into the break third in the standings, two points behind defending champions Manchester City and seven behind leaders Arsenal. The Magpies won their last five matches and perhaps the break came at a bad time for them. However, four of the five players they sent to Qatar played a total of just 453 minutes. Goalkeeper Nick Pope was not called upon by England in their run to the quarter-finals. Fabian Schar was the only Newcastle player to feature in the knockout stage, but that was just 45 minutes for Switzerland in their 6-1 loss to Portugal. That freshness should serve Howe's side well when they travel to Leicester on Monday.
Brentford were the only team whose players averaged less than 100 minutes. The Bees sent six players to the World Cup and five of them got action. Goalkeeper David Raya missed out as Athletic Bilbao's Unai Simon was first choice for manager Luis Enrique, who was sacked shortly after his side's early departure on penalties to Morocco in the Round of 16. The other five Brentford players mustered just 496 minutes for an average of 99.2 minutes. This might make Thomas Frank's side's favorites when they face Tottenham, whose players averaged 335.6 minutes. Brentford, along with Bournemouth, Crystal Palace and Southampton, failed to provide a player in the knockout stage.