Now we've got that World Cup out of the way – did anyone really enjoy that? – we can get back to the bread and butter of football's top flight domestic calendar.
Yes, the Premier League returns on Boxing Day after an enormous six-week hiatus – the second-longest mid-season break the division has endured, after 2020's COVID-19 disruption.
Missing your weekly fix of pure, unadulterated Barclays? From wedding speech fails to ungraded managerial tenures, fans from each team give FourFourTwo the lay of the land as we negotiate the domestic breather...
Grade your manager: A*. Super Mik Arteta has been near-flawless – precisely what we hoped for when we appointed Pep Guardiola’s No.2.
Star man: The Swiss Frank Lampard himself, Granit Xhaka. The clumsy duckling has become a wonderful swan, already equalling his best goalscoring return for a season and earning a chant from the fans (albeit a poor imitation to William Saliba’s).
Biggest disappointment: That Albert Sambi Lokonga and Eddie Nketiah aren’t raring for first-team places, with our rather ropey Europa League adventures proving annoyingly dull. But when you’re top by five points, any serious criticism is a nitpick.
WTF moment of the season: We conceded the inevitable equaliser to Southampton in October because Aaron Ramsdale appeared to be distracted by a pigeon in his six-yard box. No, really. Watch it for yourself.
One thing you’d change for 2023: Nothing. Please, football gods, more of the same. Just imagine...
Mark White (@markwhlte (opens in new tab))
Grade your manager(s): A. It’s early days, but first impressions of Unai Emery have been really positive. Great track record, humble, enthusiastic and tactically astute. The less said about Steven Gerrard, meanwhile, the better…
Star man: Ashley Young. Whether it’s starting or coming off the bench, the 37-year-old’s been key. His attitude is an example to all. And he scored
a banger against Nottingham Forest.
Biggest disappointment: Villa had approached this year with hopes of qualifying for European competition, only for it to disintegrate with a series of woeful performances taking us towards the bottom of the league.
WTF moment of the season: The way Tyrone Mings was stripped of the captaincy just before the opening match of the season. Bizarre.
One thing you’d change for 2023: More games like Emery’s first one
in charge: a 3-1 destruction of Manchester United, for our first home win over them for 27 years.
Grade your manager(s): Scott Parker complained his own team were s**t until they had no choice but to sack him, so he gets a U: did not finish. As interim, Gary O’Neil gets a B, shoring us up defensively and getting a clean sheet four days after losing 9-0.
Star man: For attacking returns, it’s Philip Billing, and Lewis Cook has been outstanding in midfield, but I’m tempted to give it to Chris Mepham. The centre-back has barely played in the past few seasons, but he’s been so solid and proved plenty wrong.
Biggest disappointment: Losing 9-0, isn’t it? That was something we had over Southampton, but now we don’t even have that. Thanks, Scott.
WTF moment of the season: Losing two consecutive two-goal leads, to Spurs and Leeds. The third time we went 2-0 up, against Everton, we were all very stressed, but won 3-0.
One thing you’d change for 2023: It’d probably would be a good idea to hire a permanent manager [Gary O'Neill has since got the job on a permanent basis] and stop throwing away two-goal leads.
Grade your manager: B+. The urbane Dane, Thomas Frank, continues to
do a sterling job. His tactics were the foundation for astonishing victories against both Manchester clubs and we’re happy to be 10th. Our dodgy away form – notwithstanding the City success – needs sorting, though. That immense result at Eastlands was our only three-point haul on the road.
Star man: Mathias Jensen, Ben Mee and Rico Henry have been excellent, but I can’t not pick Ivan Toney – 10 league goals and so much good play to go with them. If he’s banned following his FA charge for betting, he’ll be sorely missed.
Biggest disappointment: Fulham’s late winner against us wasn’t ideal.
WTF moment of the season: After 35 minutes, Brentford 4-0 Manchester United – I was crying with laughter.
One thing you’d change for 2023: Christian Norgaard’s terrible luck with injuries. I’ll also sneak in a plea from my sister: some burger sauce in the North Stand, please.
Will Gore (@WillGore (opens in new tab))
Brighton & Hove Albion
Grade your manager(s): Graham Potter: A on the pitch and F- off it. Roberto De Zerbi: B+. We will have to wait and see how he manages the risk/reward of the attacking system he wants to play. The 4-1 defeat of Potter’s Chelsea is the benchmark.
Star man: Leandro Trossard, who’s gone from strength to strength and shows no sign of stopping! Moises Caicedo and Kaoru Mitoma deserve mentions for exciting starts.
Biggest disappointment: Potter jumping ship and taking the entire backroom staff with him. It was also devastating for Enock Mwepu to be forced into retirement, aged just 24, just as he was establishing himself.
WTF moment of the season: Scoring two goal-of-the-season contenders – Alexis Mac Allister against Leicester and Trossard against Aston Villa – and having both of them chalked off.
One thing you’d change for 2023: More of the same going forward, but maybe a bit more of the old Brighton stinginess further back...
Matt Barker (@TheMattBarke (opens in new tab))
Grade your manager(s): D for Thomas Tuchel. He didn’t go because of results; the situation between him and the owners seemed untenable. We’re told Graham Potter is a long-term appointment but, with a string of awful results already, will that turn out to be true? C.
Star man: Reece James was by far our best player. Injury scuppered
his World Cup prospects as well as Chelsea’s chances of being any good.
Biggest disappointment: Kalidou Koulibaly has been touted for a big Premier League move for the best part of a decade... we might be seeing why it took so long to happen.
WTF moment of the season: Tuchel’s results were absolutely appalling,
but Chelsea never fail to shock and amaze with managerial changes.
One thing you’d change for 2023: Just one? Well, the club buying a first new central midfielder since 2018 would be a start. N’Golo Kante is showing signs of age. Mason Mount and Mateo Kovacic can’t do it all.
Rory Jennings (@Chelsearory (opens in new tab))
Grade your manager: B. Patrick Vieira was such a good appointment. Four comeback wins already this season show the fight he’s instilled.
Star man: Cheick Doucoure. He’s hard-tackling and confident on the ball; the only concern is he’s having to do two people’s work to allow more attacking-minded players to play higher up. Honourable mention to centre-back Joachim Andersen.
Biggest disappointment: No Palace player made England’s World Cup squad. Marc Guehi can consider himself incredibly unfortunate and perhaps it’s a tournament too soon for Eberechi Eze and Tyrick Mitchell.
WTF moment of the season: Conor Gallagher scoring his first Chelsea goal at Selhurst Park was sore, and predicted by almost every Eagle.
One thing you’d change for 2023: Wilfried Zaha signing a new Palace contract to keep him at the club beyond the summer. No Palace fan would begrudge him a big move away, but if he leaves it’ll hurt. A lot.
Jack Pierce (@Jackpierce88 (opens in new tab))
Grade your manager: C-. All year, it has been one step forward, two steps back. Frank Lampard speaks brilliantly and ‘gets’ Everton, but any positives have been undone by some rubbish performances and results.
Star man: Alex Iwobi. His renaissance from last season has continued into this one and he’s now a proper No 8, with five assists in 2022-23. He’s one of the first names on the team-sheet.
Biggest disappointment: The entire attack. The team is crying out for goals, and with a bit more threat, some of our five draws would have been the wins we desperately need.
WTF moment of the season: After a 4-1 League Cup thrashing away at Bournemouth in November, losing 3-0 to the same opponents at the same ground four days later. Awful.
One thing you’d change for 2023: Sign some more forwards in January: a proper No.9 to compete with – or replace – Dominic Calvert-Lewin, and at least one winger who knows where the back of the net is.
Joe Strange (@joe_strange (opens in new tab))
Grade your manager: A-. Unlike the past few attempts at the Premier League under different managers, Marco Silva’s Fulham finally look like they have what it takes to stay up.
Star man: Midfielder Joao Palhinha has been one of the signings of the summer. He gets to places water can’t.
Biggest disappointment: Conceding late goals. Stoppage-time winners for Manchester City and Manchester United in our two games preceding the break were a kick in the teeth.
WTF moment of the season: Harrison Reed transforming himself into a goalscoring midfielder. He’d scored no goals for the club in three seasons, but has managed to notch twice this term already.
One thing you’d change for 2023: Buy a back-up striker. Aleksandar Mitrovic was playing with an injury since the autumn international break – goalscoring cover could be needed. And some improved facilities in the Hammersmith End, please.
James Andrew (@JamesAndrew_ (opens in new tab))
Grade your manager: C-. Still not fully convinced. Jesse Marsch had two decent wins recently, but the style of play is a consistent concern. Leeds are too easy to score against.
Star man: Tyler Adams. Even though I write this after a red card that will keep him out of the first game back, against Manchester City, he’s a born leader; a true winner. When Leeds recruited him from RB Leipzig, few expected the level he’s delivered.
Biggest disappointment: Leeds’ fixtures have been kind, but losing to Fulham, Crystal Palace, Leicester and Brentford hasn’t been ideal.
WTF moment of the season: The Top Six bias – controversial but true. Arsenal got the luck of the draw against Leeds as a Patrick Bamford goal was wrongly ruled out, while another came in the 4-3 defeat to Spurs – a blatant push on Illan Meslier, not given. Very much WTF.
One thing you’d change for 2023: More points and some sexy football, please. It’s very tight in mid-table.
Conor McGilligan (@ConorMcGilligxn (opens in new tab))
Grade your manager: C. Most clubs would have sacked Brendan Rodgers, but our owners kept the faith. He hasn’t won back everyone’s affections yet, though, and we have some tricky games coming up after the restart.
Star man: We all sing about Youri Tielemans being our star man, but James Maddison has outshone even our brilliant Belgian.
Biggest disappointment: That start – one point in seven games – but losing leads at home to both Brentford and Southampton in particular. We looked mentally weak and you wondered where the first win was coming from. Nottingham Forest, as it happened.
WTF moment of season: Shipping five at Brighton, then six at Spurs. But WTF could stand for Wout ‘Turnaround’ Faes, whose signing has seemingly kick-started our season.
One thing you’d change for 2023: The contract situations of Tielemans and Maddison. If they’re not going to sign new deals, we need to be ultra-savvy in the winter market.
The Fosse Way (@TheFosseWay (opens in new tab))
Grade your manager: B. He’s still the best manager in the world and the injuries haven’t helped him, but Jurgen Klopp hasn’t got things spot on as he usually would – he’s been workshopping as he goes.
Star man: Alisson. What a man. He is a goalkeeper operating at the peak of his powers during a difficult period for the club.
Biggest disappointment: Beating Manchester City 1-0 and then going on to lose to Nottingham Forest and Leeds. Where’s the consistency?
WTF moment of the season: Signing Juventus and Brazil’s Arthur Melo on deadline day, then watching him for play for the under-21s at Rochdale and teleport back to the treatment room for the foreseeable future.
One thing you’d change for 2023: Our record against Real Madrid. We are now without a win against them in four meetings under Klopp and they’re standing between us and the Champions League quarter-finals. It’s time for revenge.
Jack Lusby (@LusbyJack (opens in new tab))
Grade your manager: Pep Guardiola still overthinks big games. Kevin De Bruyne on the right wing at Liverpool meant Phil Foden couldn’t exploit a 36-year-old James Milner. Still an A.
Star man: Who else? When we played Nottingham Forest, the groom at the wedding I was at (a United fan) was slagging off City in his speech. Erling Haaland scored twice while he was delivering it, and a third by the time the best man stepped up.
Biggest disappointment: The home defeat against Brentford. Not only did most of our rivals win too, but it was the last game before the World Cup, leaving us to stew on it for a month.
WTF moment of the season: Three home hat-tricks in a row for Haaland. Maybe the Premier League is the ‘farmers league’, eh? It’s reached the point where I’m almost disappointed when he only scores once.
One thing you’d change for 2023: The sloppy defending. Pep’s constant is Joao Cancelo, but he’s chopped and changed every other position.
Alex Horlock (@alexhorlock (opens in new tab))
Grade your manager: B. Take away the drubbings by Brentford and Manchester City and it appears as if we’re on the right path under Erik ten Hag. Wins over Liverpool, Arsenal and Spurs show this is the beginnings of a squad which could compete.
Star man: Lisandro Martinez: what a great signing! Many in the media predicted he’d fail (Jamie Carragher, we’re looking at you), but he’s had a galvanising effect on the defence.
Biggest disappointment: Cristiano Ronaldo – we all know why...
WTF moment of the season: Alejandro Garnacho’s stoppage-time winner against Fulham. We love a youngster breaking into the squad and this boy looks the real deal. The goal was way ahead of his 18 years and gave us our first ‘jump-out-your-seat’ moment of the campaign.
One thing you’d change for 2023: Consistency. This squad remains capable of pulling a 3-1 defeat at Aston Villa out of the bag when it matters most. Infuriating.
Jamie Ward (@jamie_ward84 (opens in new tab))
Grade your manager: A*. Eddie Howe is defying expectations, but keeps calm while the rest of us are going absolutely f**king mental.
Star man: Clear tactics and proper coaching have turned Miggy Almiron into one of the league’s most lethal forwards. Just about everyone else had given up on him fulfilling his potential in England – especially Jack Grealish...
Biggest disappointment: Injury to our club-record signing Alexander Isak. The 23-year-old Swede hit two in three, but a thigh injury has kept him out since mid-September. Isak, Allan Saint-Maximin, Callum Wilson and Almiron will be quite an arsenal to choose from after the World Cup.
WTF moment of the season: Being 3-1 up at home to Manchester City after an hour on matchday three.
One thing you’d change for 2023: Better luck with VAR. We had a goal controversially ruled out that would have put us 2-0 up at Anfield. We lost in the 98th minute – our only defeat.
Matthew Ketchell (@Ketchell (opens in new tab))
Grade your manager: Solid C. It couldn’t be lower after last season’s success, but Steve Cooper hasn’t set the world alight despite spending over £150m. Even so, he’s the best thing to happen to us for years. In Cooper we trust.
Star man: The starting line-up has been different every week, but Dean Henderson in goal has won us points on his own. I heard a rumour that he doesn’t concede penalties. This may or may not be true. [It definitely isn’t true – Ed.]
Biggest disappointment: Our boy J-Lingz. No goals or assists in the league for Jesse Lingard, who is costing us a pretty penny in wages.
WTF moment of the season: Beating Liverpool 1-0. What a performance. We shut them down constantly and managed a rare clean sheet. Superb.
One thing you’d change for 2023: Less quantity and more quality signings. We’ve got a full squad now; just make some smart additions to key positions and we might survive.
Grade your manager(s): C. If Ralph Hasenhuttl was still at Saints, it’d be worse. It’d be harsh to score Nathan Jones any lower, having taken charge of just the 3-1 defeat to Liverpool. He is making all of the right noises so far.
Star man: It has to be Romeo Lavia. It’s telling quite how badly Southampton’s form dropped off after the midfielder’s injury. It’s a sad indictment on this Saints side that it’s so dependent on an 18-year-old.
Biggest disappointment: The end of Ralph’s reign. He’s a great man and he gave his absolute all to manage Southampton, but we were stuck on a downwards trajectory under his leadership. A real shame.
WTF moment of the season: Southampton’s come-from-behind victory over Chelsea in late August. I don’t think any sane Saints fan saw that one coming.
One thing you’d change for 2023: Where do you start? Saints need
a striker who can bag some goals, so that needs to be a January priority.
Jake Hughes (@JJHughes_ (opens in new tab))
Grade your manager: B+. Spurs fans would have taken being in the top four by the World Cup break, having also topped our Champions League group. The style of football and League Cup exit to Nottingham Forest denies Antonio Conte top marks.
Star man: The reason we won’t be playing on Thursdays this season (or hopefully next) is Rodrigo Bentancur. Five goals in all competitions already is fantastic for a holding midfielder.
Biggest disappointment: That League Cup exit. Spurs fans are often bashed for the lack of silverware, and what an opportunity we missed with a lot of the big boys falling in the third round. Let’s go deep in the FA Cup.
WTF moment of the season: Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s late, late winner in Marseille. Winning away in the Champions League was a shock, never mind in that style. RIP ‘Spursy’. Now: more of that in the league.
One thing you’d change for 2023: Spurs turning up for the first half of games would be nice.
Lilywhite Rose (@Lilywhite_Rose (opens in new tab))
West Ham United
Grade your manager: C. Some fans may grade David Moyes lower, but I have faith he’ll turn things around. He does, however, need to get us back on course – and very quickly.
Star man: Declan Rice. Hasn’t quite reached the same heights as in previous seasons, but he’s still head and shoulders above the rest. Flynn Downes and Said Benrahma have also impressed at times.
Biggest disappointment: There have been plenty, particularly three straight defeats before the break. My overall disappointment has been our new signings, including Gianluca Scamacca and Lucas Paqueta, who haven’t hit the ground running.
WTF moment of the season: Two contenders: the VAR call at Chelsea that ruled out a late equaliser and Southampton’s goal where Jarrod Bowen was obstructed by the ref.
One thing you’d change for 2023: Moyes’ in-game management. He always baffles with his substitutions and changes to the formation.
Blowing Bubbles Fanzine (@WestHamMagazine (opens in new tab))
Grade your manager(s): Bruno Lage: D-. Stubborn use of a back four, poor substitutions and no game plan. Steve Davis: C+. He tried his best but, as interim, momentum was against him. Fingers crossed that Julen Lopetegui proves an instant success.
Star man: Ruben Neves. Absolutely no hesitation – he’s pure class and
a consummate professional, the only player to give his all in every game.
Biggest disappointment: Seeing a talented group of players lacking any cohesion or philosophy and repeatedly passing backwards when deep in the opponents’ half.
WTF moment of the season: Nelson Semedo’s rugby tackle, the Diego Costa headbutt, or Conor Coady to Everton? It has to be Coady leaving before we realised a back four didn’t work. It didn’t in previous years.
One thing you’d change for 2023: Become solid at the back to begin with, then pray for a new striker. If we can’t improve in front of goal, we’re going down, no doubt about it.
This article originally appeared in the January 2023 issue of FourFourTwo.
Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription
Join now for unlimited access
Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1