How Man City plan to overcome World Cup dip and resume Premier League challenge – Alex Brotherton

History would suggest that ordinarily, City would pick themselves up, dust themselves down and string together a run of wins that would reclaim their place at the top of the pile. Thanks to the World Cup, that wasn&apost possible this season.

The Brentford defeat, which allowed Arsenal to establish a five-point buffer at the top of the table, was City&aposs final league outing before a six-week break. Immediately after that game 16 members of Pep Guardiola&aposs squad jetted off to Qatar to play in the World Cup; 11 of them are still there.

With such a long pause preventing any immediate bounce-back and the very real possibility of players returning from the tournament either tired, injured or both, City&aposs task of yanking Arsenal&aposs leash is more daunting than it might have been.

The Blues have therefore formulated a plan that should hopefully see them hit the ground running when they return to Premier League action. At the least, it will give them the very best chance of doing so.

This week Guardiola and his staff took a 19-man squad to Abu Dhabi for a week of warm-weather training. While the group is largely made up of Elite Development squad players due to the involvement of most of the first team at the World Cup, the likes of Erling Haaland, Riyad Mahrez, Cole Palmer and Sergio Gomez have got the chance to get up to speed after enjoying a rare three weeks off.

Following their return from the United Arab Emirates, City will take on Girona in a friendly match on Saturday 17th December. The Blues will welcome the Spanish side to the Academy Stadium although it is unclear which, if any, of City&aposs World Cup attendees will take part.

Regardless, whoever features can expect a competitive but low-intensity run out against a fellow member of City Football Group, the perfect way to return to action after over a month off.

Five days later City will return to competitive action with a mouthwatering Carabao Cup tie against Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium.

Though facing Jurgen Klopp&aposs side lukewarm after a lengthy break is never ideal – see August&aposs Community Shield – the fact that the meeting comes in the least important of the four competitions City are fighting in means the players can use the challenge to ready themselves for their Premier League fixture against Leeds on 28th December.

Not part of the plan, but still a very welcome addition to it, is the unexpected early return from the World Cup of some key players. Kevin de Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan didn&apost make it past the group stages, while the tournament came to an end in the last-16 for Rodri, Aymeric Laporte and Manuel Akanji.

While there are still 11 City players representing their national teams in Qatar, extra rest for five key squad members can only be a good thing for City&aposs title bid.

The World Cup break is unprecedented, but thanks to planning and a touch of good fortune, City are now in a strong position to negate any ill-effects and redouble their efforts to catch Arsenal and retain their Premier League crown.

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