Premier League storylines to watch out for in second half of 2022/23 season
By Sean Walsh
Has everyone got over their post-World Cup hangover yet? No? Better hurry up, there's a fresh Christmas one with your name on it coming over the horizon.
The Premier League season reconvenes on Monday after what feels like an eternity since it paused, so it's fair to need a bit of a refresher on the current outlook and state of play.
Here are 10 storylines to keep your eye out for ahead of the season restarting.
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1. Arsenal's title credentials
The only place to start is at the top of the table, which is exactly where you will find Mikel Arteta's Arsenal residing this Christmas.
The Gunners are deservedly Premier League leaders at this stage, but with Gabriel Jesus set to miss the next few months through injury, we're about to see whether the likes of Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli can make the step up from 'Arsenal stars' to 'Arsenal superstars'. To outpace a relentless Manchester City machine from here on in would be one hell of an achievement.
2. Erling Haaland's record chase
Speaking of Manchester City machines, Erling Haaland is about to enter our lives again after a month off. He's already scored 23 goals this season, 18 of which have come in the Premier League.
Obviously Haaland's main aim will be to win his first major title, but there's now a strong chance that he is the only player realistically capable of challenging Lionel Messi for the Ballon d'Or.
If the Norwegian breaks the Premier League scoring record (he only need 14 in the next 24 to tie Mohamed Salah's record) and City win the Champions League for the first time, then there would definitely be a debate at least.
3. Newcastle's ahead-of-schedule European push
It's all well and good sitting in third place with less than half a season played, Newcastle. Many sides have been in your position and blown it - Wolves last year, West Ham before, Southampton for about six straight seasons in the 2010s.
The Magpies aren't in this position undeservedly at least, while they retain the financial muscle required to compete with the 'big six'. It's not an impossible dream to reach the Champions League so soon into this project.
4. Antonio Conte & Harry Kane's futures
Tottenham's season so far has been pretty par-for-the-course. Sitting in the top four and a place in the last 16 of the Champions League secure? Sounds pretty stable.
But it could be all about to unravel, particularly if they begin trending downwards. Antonio Conte's future is undecided. Harry Kane has 18 months left on his contract (and a barrage of abuse from angry England fans awaiting). Spurs need to come flying out of the traps and provide themselves with reasons to be looking up if they're to keep this key cohort together in the long run.
5. Cristiano Ronaldo's lingering legacy
There's always got to be a Cristiano Ronaldo angle, hasn't there?
He may now be without a club, but Ronaldo's legacy could still find itself worsening this season. Manchester United actually looked pretty competent under Erik ten Hag with the Portugal forward out of the side. If that momentum continues, CR7's stock could somehow dip even further.
6. Liverpool's banter season potential
Well, Liverpool, your season could still go one of two ways.
This could just be a re-run of your 2020/21 campaign in which you overcame a horrendous start to scrape a top-four finish, or you could decline even further with Luis Diaz still sidelined and fall back on a 'when Darwin Nunez adapts next year we'll be back' excuse. Ball's in your court, Jurgen Klopp.
7. Chelsea's battles in Brighton & west London
Personally, I don't think enough was made of Graham Potter jumping from Brighton to Chelsea, going on a long winning run, but still going into the World Cup interval behind his former club in the table.
They're also only two points ahead of west London neighbours Fulham and Brentford in the table. You'd imagine quality will eventually tell and Chelsea will pull away, so enjoy the nonsense while it lasts.
8. Unai Emery's revenge
Unai Emery has returned to England with a point to prove, and he has a talented (if flawed) Aston Villa team to work with.
They've already claimed a scalp against Manchester United, too. A European push is probably beyond them this season but they could lay down foundations similar to those of Newcastle last year if they're all singing from the same hymn sheet.
9. West Ham & Everton in 'too big to go down' chaos
David Moyes has already had to field questions about whether West Ham are in a relegation battle. Which means they are definitely in a relegation battle.
Over at his former club Everton, Frank Lampard has failed to kick the Toffees on after their near-miraculous escape antics down the stretch of last season.
The point here is three teams have to be relegated. West Ham have a bit more quality and scope to improve so you'd think they'll be fine, but Everton...reload the Spirit of the Blues tapes, lads.
10. Wolves are bottom, is everyone aware of this?
Just wanted to make sure that everyone is wise to the fact that Wolverhampton Wanderers - home of Ruben Neves, Joao Moutinho, Raul Jimenez and now Julen Lopetegui - are bottom of the Premier League.
What's that all about? Why do they only have 10 points?? When did they slip below even Nottingham Forest???