‘Who on Earth is that chap up front?’ must have been one of a number of questions Chelsea fans were asking themselves as they slipped to defeat against Leicester on Monday. ‘What’s he doing scoring and looking decent? He’s supposed to be a striker, isn’t he?’
Chelsea’s season has been one encapsulated in intrigue, bizarre decisions and inexplicable occurrences. ‘Why has Diego Costa played so often?’ would rank near the top of the lists of all three but, conversely, the question should be ‘why has Loic Remy not played more?’ Far more, in fact. The Frenchman has started one Premier League game of 16 so far this season, featuring for just 132 minutes; only Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Bertrand Traore have played fewer. Yet Remy, in one of his six substitute appearances, showed on Monday why he is worth far more than back-up to Diego Costa and Radamel Falcao. His strike against Leicester means only Costa – who has started 11 more games – Ramires and Willian have scored more Premier League goals than Remy this season. A deserved run in the first team would not rescue Chelsea’s season, but it could solve one of their main problems.
When Arsenal signed central defender Gabriel from Villarreal in January of this year, with Joel Campbell heading to Spain on loan as part of the deal, few would have envisaged their current standings in the current Gunners squad. While Campbell has emerged as key in the midst of an injury crisis, Gabriel’s thumbs have practically eroded through incessant twiddling. The central defender signed for £11.2million, and has played just 18 of a possible 47 games in all competitions since, starting only 14. Arsenal have conceded 13 goals in 16 Premier League games so far this season, but just four of those have come in the seven games in which Gabriel has featured, with Arsene Wenger’s side conceding nine in nine without him.
It would be remiss to ignore Gabriel’s Champions League record this season, with the Brazilian’s three appearances in the competition coinciding with all of Arsenal’s defeats. The 25-year-old is clearly an inexperienced quantity alongside Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker, but with both first choice centre-halves now in their 30s, Gabriel has surely earned more of an opportunity to impress.
Angel di Maria, Javier Hernandez, Victor Valdes and now Ashley Young; the list of players who have fallen out of favour under Louis van Gaal at Manchester United seemingly grows with each revolting bafflement. A case could be made for Ander Herrera to join such luminaries. Van Gaal hailed the Spanish midfielder as “a great guy and a great professional” back in February, but there seems to be a disconnect between manager and player. The Dutchman admitted it would be “difficult” to drop Herrera after he starred in United’s finest performance of the season – and perhaps Van Gaal’s tenure – a 3-0 win over Everton, in October. Herrera was back on the bench a mere three games later. Of a possible 21 games up to picking up an injury against Watford last month, Herrera started just 11. The 26-year-old has played just 514 Premier League minutes so far this season – fewer than 12 of his team-mates, and only one hour more than Luke Shaw – yet only Juan Mata and Anthony Martial have scored more league goals, and only Mata has provided more assists. Wanting ‘showdown talks’ would be understandable.
‘Carles Gil is set to play a significant role for Aston Villa this coming season, just two months after appearing on his way out of the club,’ read the headline on a piece by the Daily Mail in mid-July. Not quite.
In order, the five players who have played fewer Premier League minutes than Gil this season, and a possible reason why in brackets: Charles N’Zogbia (fashion sense), Jose Angel Crespo (failed clone of three separate South American players), Adama Traore (youngest player in first team squad), Jores Okore (returned from injury a fortnight ago), and Kieran Richardson (is Kieran Richardson). Illustrious company. Gil was overlooked by Paul Lambert, one of many scapegoated by Tim Sherwood, and has been used sporadically by Remi Garde. Despite his lack of opportunities, only Jordan Veretout and Ashley Westwood have created more chances at Villa this campaign.
“There was interest from Tottenham, especially from Pochettino. It is a compliment to me. In the end it did not work because Newcastle considered me too important and would not let me leave.”
Newcastle are lucky Ayoze Perez is patient and understanding. Speaking back in October, the Spanish forward discussed interest from Tottenham in the summer, with Spurs having reportedly offered £15million for his services. Newcastle rejected the bid, considering him “too important”. He was an unused substitute in their first two games of the season, and was treated to the same ignominy for the Magpies’ last two. While that looks a decision vindicated for Steve McClaren after first back-to-back wins in a year over Liverpool and Spurs, both games shared one key similarity: Newcastle were either level or behind when they brought Perez on from the bench after the hour mark, and had won by the full-time whistle.
Perez played a combined 49 minutes across both games, with the Magpies scoring within one minute of his introduction at 0-0 against Liverpool, and equalising within nine minutes of his arrival at Tottenham. He went on to score the winning goal at White Hart Lane on Sunday. Coupled with his winner against Bournemouth and goal against Chelsea in September, one struggles to understand how seven of his Newcastle team-mates have played more minutes this season.