Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta described it as “unprecedented”, former Tottenham boss Antonio Conte called it “crazy” and Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp said it made him “angry” whenever he talked about it.
Last autumn, the Premier League was bracing itself for a season like no other – with a World Cup shoehorned into the middle of a packed club schedule.
When the top flight paused for the World Cup, Arsenal were five points clear at the top.
“We don’t know how that’s going to affect us,” admitted Arteta.
With the Premier League season over, we know exactly how every club was affected.
The answer? Some more so than others.
Did the World Cup play any part in the title race?
When the season concluded, Manchester City were the champions by five points.
For Arteta and Arsenal, the facts are difficult to ignore.
Having averaged 2.64 points per game before the World Cup, they averaged just 1.96 afterwards. No other Premier League club experienced a bigger drop off in results.
And it seems to be in defence where they suffered most, conceding 1.33 goals per game after the resumption, having let in a miserly 11 in 14 games prior to the tournament.
So was momentum lost? Not necessarily, given they won four and drew one of their first five league games back.
And, having had just eight players taking part in Qatar compared with City’s 16, you couldn’t point to fatigue either.
Erling Haaland scored 18 goals in 13 Premier League games before the World Cup – but ‘only’ 18 in 22 appearances after
With Norway not qualifying for the World Cup, much was made of how Manchester City forward Erling Haaland might benefit from a mid-season break.
After scoring twice in a 3-1 win over Leeds on 29 December, he said “to watch other people score to win games at the World Cup kind of triggers me”.
That proved something of an understatement, given he ended on a record 36 Premier League goals.
It was a similar tale for many of the leading strikers in the English top flight, with only three of the division’s nine top goalscorers actually starting a game in Qatar.
For Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford, the World Cup even proved to be a catalyst for the second half of his season.
Having netted three times during the tournament, the 25-year-old went on a remarkable scoring run with 16 goals in 17 games across all competitions after returning to his club. He’d scored eight in 19 matches in the run-up to the World Cup.
Terrible timing for Leicester
Leicester City went into the World Cup break in high spirits after a run of four wins in five matches had lifted them up to 12th in the table.
When asked following a 2-0 victory at West Ham whether the tournament might halt the Foxes’ momentum, then manager Brendan Rodgers denied there was any frustration.
“What the players have done in this last period, to move away from where we were, has been absolutely fantastic,” he added. “We’ll have a bit of a rest and then we’ll work very hard.”
Halt the momentum, however, is exactly what it did.
Star man James Maddison picked up an injury to the back of his knee just before the World Cup, and returned with trouble at the front of his knee. In his absence, Leicester resumed their Premier League campaign with four successive defeats.
It wasn’t until 4 February, Maddison’s first league start since November, that they won another league game.
As it is, they only went on to taste victory three more times after that, with Rodgers departing on 2 April and Leicester’s relegation sealed on Sunday.
Maddison, whose superb form in the early part of the season had many fans and pundits clamouring for his inclusion in Gareth Southgate’s squad, scored just three times after recovering from injury. Only one of those came in the last 15 matches of the campaign.
Leicester City’s James Maddison
James Maddison’s last goal from open play came in Leicester’s 4-1 win over Tottenham on 11 February
Did the World Cup cost Vieira his job?
On the subject of momentum, the other club to fall foul of the World Cup break was Crystal Palace.
Immediately before the mid-season break, Patrick Vieira’s Eagles won four out of seven Premier League games.
On their return to action, they won just once more in the league before Vieira was sacked on 17 March.
Unlike Dean Smith at Leicester, the returning Roy Hodgson was able to steer Palace away from trouble.
Lopetegui’s mid-season pre-season with Wolves
By contrast, timing was everything for Wolves – even if it was “only by accident”.
Wolves were bottom heading into the World Cup, winning just two of their first 15 games under Bruno Lage and then interim boss Steve Davis.
Former Spain and Real Madrid manager Julen Lopetegui was in the stands to watch their 2-0 defeat by Arsenal immediately before the break – and his taking over as boss the following day proved decisive.
“Rather than having to find a short-term fix, the six-week stoppage allowed him time to install his ideas with the players and work on a plan for January recruitment,” explained BBC WM’s Wolves reporter Mike Taylor.
“Coaches taking over mid-season don’t usually get the chance for an immediate pre-season-style reset.
“The evidence shows that it ironed out the bugs in the defensive programming – Wolves won seven home games after the World Cup, all with clean sheets, and the signings of Craig Dawson and Mario Lemina in January were essential to that improved organisation.
“However, it’s worth remembering Wolves had approached Lopetegui as soon as he had been fired by Sevilla, the same week as Bruno Lage was sacked. At that time, Lopetegui was caring for his ailing father and demurred. A month later, with Wolves seemingly drifting, Lopetegui felt the time was right. And so it proved.”
Wolves’ points-per-game average rocketed from 0.67 to 1.35 for the remainder of the season – the biggest improvement of any side post-World Cup.
How did the World Cup affect your club’s form?
Points per game average
Team Pre-World Cup Post-World Cup Difference
Arsenal 2.64 1.96 -0.68
Aston Villa 1.20 1.87 0.67
Bournemouth 1.07 1.00 -0.07
Brentford 1.27 1.74 0.47
Brighton 1.50 1.71 0.21
Chelsea 1.50 0.96 -0.54
Crystal Palace 1.36 1.08 -0.27
Everton 0.93 0.96 0.02
Fulham 1.27 1.43 0.17
Leeds 1.07 0.67 -0.40
Leicester 1.13 0.74 -0.39
Liverpool 1.57 1.88 0.30
Man City 2.29 2.38 0.09
Man Utd 1.86 2.04 0.18
Newcastle 2.00 1.78 -0.22
Nottingham Forest 0.87 1.09 0.22
Southampton 0.80 0.57 -0.23
Tottenham 1.93 1.35 -0.59
West Ham 0.93 1.13 0.20
Wolves 0.67 1.35 0.68