Managers brace for a season of two halves with prayer on their lips

Managers brace for a season of two halves with prayer on their lips

The English Premier League kicked off last night, facing a brand new challenge -- the minor matter of having to stop in mid-season for six weeks to accommodate the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

This will involve a six-week break for the league from Nov 13-Dec 26. It effectively means we are in for a season of two halves.

Most of the teams will have players in the World Cup and many managers will be praying their prize performers escape injury during their Qatar experience.

The lengthy break could have a major impact on the league, with some teams losing momentum while others that have not done so well will be happy to have time to reset, which could mean sacking their managers.

Despite the disruptive schedule, the teams likely to be challenging for the title are the usual suspects led by defending champions Manchester City and Liverpool, the two clubs looking a class above the rest.

There should not be too much made of Liverpool's victory over City in the Community Shield, although Juergen Klopp will be much the happier of the two managers.

He witnessed a lively display from his team, especially Mohamed Salah and new signing Darwin Nunez.

City on the other hand looked a little disjointed and Norwegian star signing Erling Haaland never got into the game.

But it's early days.

One match has already been played with Crystal Palace hosting Arsenal at Selhurst Park last night.

The Gunners, one of seven London clubs in the top flight, have enjoyed an excellent pre-season including an impressive 4-0 drubbing of Chelsea and if Gabriel Jesus finds his scoring boots, they must have a chance for a top-four place.

Chelsea have not looked in top shape and will have to battle to keep a Champions League spot.

They will be hoping new signing Raheem Sterling builds a quick understanding with Kai Havertz who looks like he will be the main striker.

The arrival of Napoli centre-back Kalidou Koulibady should tighten up the leaky Blues defence.

Tottenham Hotspur will be happy if they can keep up the momentum of last season in which Son Heung-Min was outstanding as they clinched a Champions League place.

They have made several signings and it will be interesting to see how former Everton striker Richarlison fits in as Spurs also have England striker Harry Kane.

Manchester United fans believe their team could be back as a real force.

Under manager Erik ten Hag, they appear to have restored some of their passion.

However, the increasingly tedious saga of Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo is something the manager could do without.

One team that are bit of an "X-factor" are Newcastle United who after astute signings last season by Eddie Howe were finally looking halfway decent, finishing in 11th place.

They have been relatively quiet on the transfer market during the summer suggesting that despite their Saudi riches they are being careful who they sign.

One thing for sure, as long as French star Allan Saint-Maximin is playing, it will be entertaining.

With the transfer window not closing until the end of August, there is still time for significant changes in all the line-ups, making forecasts a little tricky.

The newly promoted teams are invariably tipped as those most likely to be relegated and last season both Norwich and Watford went straight back down, although unfancied Brentford performed remarkably well for "a bus stop in Hounslow," finishing in 13th place.

This time around, without the inspirational Christian Eriksen, who are now at Man U, they might find it tougher.

It is no surprise that bookmakers are forecasting both Fulham and Bournemouth to face the drop again while Nottingham Forest are also among the tips for relegation.

It is good to see Forest back in the top flight after a painful 23 years.

They have been busy in the transfer market and you can be sure they will fight all the way to maintain their Premier League status.

Other teams that may face a struggle are Leeds United and Southampton whose defences looked decidedly dodgy last season.

Let's just hope that it's another tight race at both top and bottom, but this time with more than just two clubs vying for the title.

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