Five contenders to replace Antonio Conte at SpursMar 27 | 3 min read
Are Arsenal the real deal? Will Man United thrive without Ronaldo? The big questions heading into the second half of the Premier League season
Elsewhere, Erling Haaland will be looking to pick up where he left off on the goalscoring front, while Graham Potter will be aiming to reverse Chelsea's dreadful run of league form.
It's supposedly the Most Wonderful Time of the Year, and that's certainly the case for Premier League fans, who were treated to a glorious World Cup final just eight days before England's top flight resumes in earnest with the institution that is the Boxing Day fixtures.
Arsenal unexpectedly sit top of the tree at Christmas and will almost certainly do so when the clocks tick into 2023, but reigning champions and title favourites Manchester City have a fully rested Erling Haaland to call on.
Read on as we address the six big questions heading into the remaining 24 games of the campaign.
Will Arsenal combat Jesus blow?
Not even the most ardent Arsenal fan could have predicted that their team would be leading Manchester City by five points going into the World Cup break.
Aaron Ramsdale has backed up his impressive debut season at the Emirates with a string of solid showings in goal, William Saliba has been an ever-present rock at the back at just 21 years old alongside Gabriel, while the trickery and elegance of Bukayo Saka, Martin Odegaard and Gabriel Martinelli has wreaked havoc with opposition defences.
The list of strong performers goes on, but another reason for Mikel Arteta's success has been two players poached from City, Oleksandr Zinchenko and Gabriel Jesus, whose title pedigree and undoubted quality have taken the level of the squad up a notch.
However, Jesus is now out for around three months after sustaining a knee injury while on duty with Brazil in Qatar meaning Arteta's only recognised striker is Eddie Nketiah. With Saka and Martinelli currently on holiday after their international exploits, the forward line is looking light on options heading into the London derby with West Ham next Monday.
A Jesus replacement is Arsenal's top priority in the January transfer window, with that new signing needing to hit the ground running if the Gunners are to stay ahead of Pep Guardiola's men.
Can Haaland smash league goals record?
Erling Haaland's start to his Premier League career has been unprecedented, making "the most difficult league in the world" look like child's play after bagging 18 times in his first 13 games.
Blessed with frightening physicality and searing speed, along with a golden goalscoring touch, the 22-year-old is on course to obliterate Andy Cole and Alan Shearer's joint record of 34 goals in a Premier League season - and that was done when each team played 42 matches!
The only thing standing in Haaland's way is injury. His finishing will be relied on even more than usual in the coming weeks given that fellow attacking players Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, Bernardo Silva and Julian Alvarez are on holiday following the World Cup, while Joao Cancelo and Kyle Walker will also be on the beach.
Haaland's cool finish against Girona in a friendly earlier this month showed that his finishing instincts are still sharp despite his time off, meaning Leeds will have to be on their guard when the 6'5'' striker rocks up to Elland Road on 28 December for what Pep Guardiola hopes will be the start of his charges reeling Arsenal in and winning their third league crown on the bounce.
Can Newcastle sustain top-four push?
Even accounting for the money that has come Newcastle's way since their highly publicised Saudi takeover, Eddie Howe has certainly outperformed expectations in getting the Magpies up to third by Christmas, with five league wins on the bounce making them the in-form team in the league.
Sven Botman and Fabian Schar have been the backbone of the strongest defence in the division - 11 goals conceded in 15 games - while Kieran Trippier has taken his Champions League-level form from Atletico Madrid to Tyneside, Bruno Guimaraes is proving to be one of the most complete midfielders in the country and Miguel Almiron is playing like a man reborn this season, already having scored twice as many times for Newcastle (eight) than he has in any previous Premier League campaign.
The scary thing for Newcastle's top-four competitors - Tottenham, Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea - is that there is significant room for improvement ahead of January, while marquee summer signing Alexander Isak has endured a frustrating start to life in England with injury, although the 6'4'' Sweden international is not far off contention once again following a long-term thigh issue.
The likes of teenage striker sensation Youssoufa Moukoko and World Cup finalist Marcus Thuram - whose contracts both expire in the summer - are reportedly on Newcastle's radar ahead of next month and although it is probably premature to talk about a title challenge this season, 2023/24 may be the year for it to happen.
Until then, the Toon Army will just be praying for Champions League qualification for the first time in 20 years.
Will Man Utd thrive without Ronaldo?
Erik ten Hag and his players - as well as the Manchester United fans - will be glad that the Cristiano Ronaldo saga has come to an end.
Whatever your thoughts on Ronaldo's ability to still contribute on the field, his wide-ranging attack on key figures at Old Trafford in his exclusive interview with Piers Morgan was only ever likely to lead to one outcome, with the 37-year-old's departure now freeing up significant space on the wage bill as well as removing an unwanted topic of discussion around the club.
Ronaldo's largely ineffectual displays at the World Cup, following some poor performances in England, will have vindicated the stance by the Red Devils stance in getting rid of their highest-paid and highest-profile asset, who twice stormed out of Old Trafford this season after failing to come on against Rayo Vallecano and Tottenham before his contract was terminated last month following the Morgan interview.
Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford are capable of excelling in the No 9 role following Ronaldo's departure, but both frontmen have had form and fitness struggles in recent years, even though Rashford especially seems to be coming out the other side of that fallow period with three goals in six games for his club before a further three with the Three Lions in Qatar.
Ten Hag revealed recently that Jadon Sancho is not "physically and mentally" ready to play after an alarming drop in form over the last year, meaning it is likely that another attacking option will be sought in January, with Cody Gakpo seemingly high on that list after shining for PSV and the Netherlands since the start of the campaign.
Can Potter work his magic at Chelsea?
In the initial weeks following his move from Brighton to Chelsea, Graham Potter's start to life at Stamford Bridge was going swimmingly.
Despite making his debut in the dugout with a 1-1 Champions League draw against Red Bull Salzburg, Potter then led the Blues to three straight league wins against Crystal Palace, Wolves and Aston Villa, with comprehensive home and away victories over Milan thrown into the mix.
Things soon started to turn however as a lacklustre display at Brentford saw the Blues lucky to escape with a point before they conceded a 94th-minute equaliser against Manchester United, and while wins over Salzburg and Dinamo Zagreb followed to see them top their European group, the west Londoners entered the World Cup break off the back of three successive league losses against Arsenal, Newcastle and a thumping 4-1 reverse at the hands of Potter's previous employers.
It is clear to see that Chelsea's main issues lie in attacking areas. The threat provided by Ben Chilwell and Reece James wasn't there heading into the break with both players out injured - although James is on the cusp of a return - while Raheem Sterling and Kai Havertz sit top of the club's top scorers' list in the league this season with just three apiece.
Mason Mount (two league goals) and Christian Pulisic (one) will also be looking to up their attacking output heading into a crucial period of the season, and Potter's No 9 options are limited to just 33-year-old Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang after Armando Broja was ruled out for the rest of the campaign following an ACL rupture in a friendly against Aston Villa earlier this month. Time for Todd Boehly to loosen the purse strings.
How will Jones and Lopetegui fare?
Nathan Jones succeeded Ralph Hasenhuttl as manager at 19th-placed Southampton on 10 November, with Julen Lopetegui appointed head coach at bottom club Wolves four days later and set to make his managerial bow for the club at Everton on Boxing Day.
Jones' only game in charge so far has been a 3-1 defeat to Liverpool just before the World Cup break, a contest that saw Che Adams cancel out Roberto Firmino's opener before a Darwin Nunez double put the Reds out of sight.
Southampton have the third-worst defence and the fourth-worst attack, with Adams, Joe Aribo and Romain Perraud the only three players to have scored more than once for the Saints in the league this season.
Jones, who left Luton for the South Coast, will also need to address the team's home form, a 2-1 win over Chelsea the only victory at St Mary's in 2022/23. Three points against Brighton would be a good start in banishing that unwanted statistic.
Lopetegui meanwhile inherits a squad with just eight league goals between them this term - the lowest in the league - while the defensive solidity that largely defined Bruno Lage's era slowly disappeared immediately before and after his sacking.
Nottingham Forest sit just above Southampton and Wolves on 13 points, while Aston Villa, Leicester, Bournemouth, Leeds, West Ham and Everton are all within five points of Steve Cooper's men. It's going to be a nervy ride at the bottom.