Branislav Ivanovic looks likely to be phased out of Chelsea’s starting XI sooner or later, but he isn’t the only Premier League player on borrowed time this season…
10. Charles N’Zogbia
In the brave new world of Tim Sherwood’s Aston Villa, there are victims. Charles N’Zogbia is one such man. The one with the middle name ‘Mercurial’, N’Zogbia will struggle for game time this season to say the least; his zero playing minutes so far this season attests to that. You wonder just how much money the once £9.5million signing would fetch in the current day, but with Villa reportedly struggling to shift him and his £60,000-plus weekly wage, we might not see that day any time soon.
9. Steven Fletcher
When examining the standing of Steven Fletcher in Dick Advocaat’s current Sunderland squad, you quickly realise how far the Scot’s stock has fallen. Of Sunderland’s five league and cup games so far this season, Fletcher has started one, featuring in each of the remainder as a substitute. The man he is generally chosen to replace is Danny Graham; he of ‘one goal in two years at the club’ fame. The only time Fletcher has been substituted on for someone other than Graham this season was when he started against Norwich, with Duncan Watmore replacing him after 70 minutes. In his short cameo, the 21-year-old did what Fletcher could not – and what Fletcher has done only nine times in his last 51 league games – and found the back of the net. It was the most damning indictment of Fletcher’s Stadium of Light career yet.
Advocaat would do well to recoup a fraction of Sunderland’s club-record £12million outlay on Fletcher back in 2012. Selling club Wolves are due an extra £2million in performance-related add-ons; one fears it will be a lengthy wait for said clauses to be met.
8. Aiden McGeady
“With Aiden, there is nothing,” was Roberto Martinez’s response to apparent interest from Celtic in Aiden McGeady this summer. You wonder whether the Freudian slip was intentional.
Intrigue surrounding McGeady was apparent even before Everton signed him for around £2.5million in January of 2014. Regularly linked with a move to the Premier League, the Republic of Ireland international was very much considered a YouTube footballer – skills to fill a highlight reel but lacking in substance. The winger has since belied such criticism, for even his deft footwork has been found wanting at Goodison Park.
Simply put, the 29-year-old has barely even flattered to deceive. One goal and five assists in 44 appearances just does not constitute close to enough. “There has not been a conversation with another club about a possible transfer,” said Martinez when reports of Celtic’s interest surfaced in the summer. There’s a reason, Roberto.
7. Per Mertesacker
Much loved the BFG may be, but the German could well be approaching his final chapter as a first-team regular at Arsenal. Doubts have been persistently raised over the 30-year-old’s suitability as a starter for a Premier League title contender, and rightfully so. The German international is good, but he simply isn’t good enough for such lofty ambitions.
Of course, Mertesacker’s saving grace for so long has been the lack of an able deputy. His illness-enforced absence against Liverpool, combined with Laurent Koscielny’s injury, provided Gabriel and Calum Chambers the perfect opportunity to stake their claims. While the latter failed his test miserably, the former earned the plaudits. Though not the finest of opposition, the central defensive partnership of Gabriel and Koscielny kept their third clean sheet in just four starts together against Newcastle on Saturday. To consign the Brazilian to the substitutes’ bench once more upon Mertesacker’s return would be counter-active of Arsene Wenger. It’s the main reason such a scenario feels so plausible.
6. Cheick Tiote
A quick Google search for ‘Cheick Tiote to Arsenal’ left me very confused earlier. ‘Was it really as recently as January this year that Tiote had been linked with a £12million move to the Gunners?’ I pondered. A steep price and an incredibly unlikely suitor for Vurnon Anita and Mehdi Abeid’s current understudy.
It’s been a drastic fall from grace for the Ivory Coast international. Once considered among the finest central defensive midfielders in the Premier League, it’s fair to say the 29-year-old’s stock has fallen somewhat. An injury-ravaged 2014/15 season saw Tiote make just 12 appearances, and he has failed to win back his place in the starting XI since. The appointment of his former FC Twente boss Steve McClaren will have offered some hope, however. The ex-Derby head coach refused to write off Tiote’s St James’ Park career in early August: “What we’ve got to do is get him fit and get him playing to the level he can play. If he does that, he’ll be a great asset.” And if he doesn’t..?
5. Andros Townsend
Part-time Spurs winger, full-time England international. Andros Townsend has struggled with injury of late, but making just one more appearance for club than he has for country in all of 2015 isn’t a good look. And good luck is exactly what Townsend will need if he is to rectify that.
Outside of his exploits for the national team, it’s never really happened for Townsend at White Hart Lane. An incredibly underwhelming haul of three goals and two assists in 47 Premier League games since his debut in 2012 doesn’t evoke confidence, nor does it justify the reported £15million valuation bestowed upon him this summer. There was scant surprise when interested parties Southampton and West Ham baulked at such a fee.
The arrival of Heung-min Son will do little to alleviate worries over Townsend’s playing time at Spurs under Mauricio Pochettino, nor will the addition of Clinton N’Jie. With Nacer Chadli, Christian Eriksen, Mousa Dembele and Dele Alli all ahead of him in the pecking order, the 24-year-old is in desperate need of new surroundings. The question is: Who will pay the price and become his 11th club of a six-year career?
4. Phil Jones
“Jones is going to be a phenomenal player,” said Sir Alex Ferguson of his utility man in April 2013. “I have no idea where his best position is. He could play anywhere on the pitch. But he will be one of the best players we have ever had.” Brushing past the Scot’s last sentence, Ferguson touches upon both Jones’ biggest strength and most potent weakness: Now 23, we still have no idea where his best position actually is.
Under a man who believes a giant central midfielder and a slight winger can provide back-up to his lone striker, it might actually be the bench. Jones was restricted to just 23 starts in all competitions under Louis van Gaal last season; he is currently suffering from his fifth injury under the Dutchman’s tenure. Upon his return, the Blackburn man will find himself behind midfielder Daley Blind in the central defensive pecking order. Not long ago, Jones was considered Chris Smalling’s superior. Said opinion would elicit roaring laughter now, with Jones regressing as Smalling continues to develop.
Jones’ is a situation we will only fully understand when both he and central defensive compatriot Marcos Rojo return from their respective injuries. One will be the first-choice back-up; the other demoted further. Considering Van Gaal signed Rojo himself, the England international may not fancy his own chances.
3. Jesus Navas
David Silva, Raheem Sterling and Samir Nasri. Add Kevin De Bruyne to the mix, and Jesus Navas’ is a name which sticks out. Not for a good reason.
It’s simple maths. Attacking midfield places in Manuel Pellegrini’s favoured formation: Three. Options: Five. Options capable of changing position with fluidity: Four. Navas is very much the odd one out. As much was evident against Watford. Struggling to break down a stubborn defence, Navas was sacrificed at half-time for Nasri. 4-2-3-1 became 4-4-2, with Nasri pushed to the left and Sterling moved to a central striking role. Within two minutes, the Englishman found the breakthrough. De Bruyne will only add to such a seamless attacking salvo, but Navas is far too limited in comparison. Whether Pellegrini will ever sell the 29-year-old is unknown, but the Chilean has favoured his winger in the past.But that was a past without almost £100million worth of talent in Sterling and De Bruyne.
2. Branislav Ivanovic
“We had a couple of players who were not in the game. When the team is not consistent and there aren’t 10 players on the pitch at a certain level it’s difficult.
“You have players who have fantastic seasons and fantastic moments and the next season do not have the same. If you ask me, ‘Will I accept this and wait calmly for the performance level to be back?’ No.”
No names, but the veil was as thin as can be. Defeat to Crystal Palace represented Chelsea’s second in their opening four games, and one man in particular has been held to account. Jose Mourinho may not have spoken the words “Branislav Ivanovic” in the above quotes, but the inference was clear.
It’s been a decline of epic proportions from the Serbian. Named in the Premier League team of the year last season, as well as the English game’s only representative in the Champions League equivalent, Ivanovic has looked every one of his 31 years (plus plenty more) this campaign. Jefferson Montero and Bakary Sako may not match the defender’s trophy haul, but they have certainly benefited from Jose Mourinho’s reluctance to upgrade on his trusty lieutenant this summer. One expects the arrival of Baba Rahman will precipitate Ivanovic’s dropping from the starting line-up, with Cesar Azpilicueta moving from the left to his favoured right-back position. An unceremonious but necessary removal of a player dubbed “one of the club’s best ever signings” by Mourinho in February.
1. Dejan Lovren
After a brief three-game hiatus at the beginning of the season, Dejan Lovren simply couldn’t take any more. Solid and dependable in securing consecutive clean sheets against Stoke, Bournemouth and Arsenal, the Lovren of old returned against West Ham, and boy, did he return in style. Watching the Croatia international turn a routine defensive duty into a conceded goal was like watching a car crash in the slowest of motions. Hoping to shepherd the ball out of play under pressure from Manuel Lanzini, the 25-year-old looked to have barely escaped trouble after the West Ham midfielder crashed into the linesman. Unsatisfied with his work, Lovren conspired to dribble the ball to the byline, panic, and pass the ball to a grateful Lanzini, whose cutback found Mark Noble for the Hammers’ second goal. Anfield had witnessed a master at work once more.
Equally as inexplicable as Lovren’s mistake against West Ham – compounded further by his refusal to tackle Diafra Sakho for the third and final goal – was Brendan Rodgers’ decision to maintain trust in his £20million signing. Only Rob Green made as many mistakes leading to shots or goals last season as Lovren (both seven); it took just four games for the former Southampton man to open his account for 2015/16.
At what point does Rodgers admit defeat? Liverpool fans will fear the Northern Irishman’s arrogance and pride will have him praising Lovren’s “character” well before such a scenario. With a far more able deputy in Mamadou Sakho cutting a looming figure on the substitutes’ bench, the Frenchman must be left wondering just what Lovren has to do to be dropped.