“He didn’t show the level I expect. I had to do something. He lost too many balls.”
Ronald Koeman’s summation of Ross Barkley’s dire 45 minutes against Sunderland on Monday told only half the story. The England international played as a No 10, but did not have a single shot, created a solitary goalscoring opportunity, completed 25 passes at an accuracy of just 80%, made one tackle, lost possession 11 times, and did not win it back once.
For those averse to statistics, the conclusion was simple: He was a bit sh*te. Save for a goal on the opening day against Tottenham, it has been a recurring theme this season. Whether the 22-year-old’s confidence has been hit by the lack of trust placed in him by Roy Hodgson and Sam Allardyce for England is difficult to say, but he looks a shadow of the player who contributed 16 goals to the Everton cause last campaign.
Koeman will perhaps consider resting the precocious talent for the upcoming game with Middlesbrough. The Dutchman will have noted that Everton struggled to break Sunderland down with Barkley on the pitch in the first half on Monday. With him removed, they scored three times in the second half. His regression from last season is not a cause for widespread pant-wetting, but it does perhaps suggest that Barkley needs a reboot. He could not ask for a better manager to provide that.
‘The big fish in a small pond has become a small fish in a big pond. Martial is struggling,’ I wrote in August. In the opening three games of the season, he had provided just two assists – both against Bournemouth in their opening fixture – and no goals. The mere suggestion that the Frenchman could lose his first-team place at Manchester United ahead of the upcoming derby was met with derision.
Some will claim that Mourinho’s subsequent decision to drop Martial against Manchester City proved unsuccessful. They did lose, after all. But it was not the decision to bench the winger that was the manager’s mistake; it was who he replaced him with. Martial had simply not earned the opportunity to start at Old Trafford, and rewarding poor form is hardly a Mourinho trait.
Last season, Martial was the star. He rescued United countless times under Louis van Gaal, finishing his debut campaign as the club’s top goalscorer. The introduction of Zlatan Ibrahimovic has lessened the pressure on the 20-year-old to perform, but his game has not thrived away from the spotlight; it has suffered.
He did not miss a single minute. He barely lost a single header. He did not pass up a single opportunity to intercept, block or tackle. He lifted the Premier League trophy come May.
You know you have had an excellent season when you are tipped for an England call-up (by Harry Redknapp) despite already boasting 29 caps for Jamaica. And ‘an excellent season’ is a rather understated way of describing Wes Morgan’s 2015/16 campaign. Leicester’s rise was remarkable; their captain’s was unfathomable.
His fall from grace has been nowhere near as dramatic, but still noticeable. The imperious Morgan of title-winning form has given way to the committed but limited Morgan of his Nottingham Forest days. The removal of safety blanket N’Golo Kante has hurt Leicester immeasurably, but nobody has felt his absence more than the 32-year-old.
Nine years. Nine whole years. It took Shane Long almost a decade of Premier League football, but he finally did it last season: He scored ten goals in a single campaign.
The Irishman could not have timed his upturn in form better. With Southampton suffering the departures of Sadio Mane and Graziano Pelle, Long was left as the most senior striker at St Mary’s. The goal burden was placed firmly on the shoulders of a man who had scored 43 times in 206 Premier League appearances before this season. What could go wrong?
Well, Long has found his position come under serious threat from Nathan Redmond, a winger who plied his trade for relegated Norwich last season. He has also failed to score or assist a single goal in four appearances. Only one player has registered more shots without scoring so far (11), and that man is Andros Townsend (15), who is contractually obliged to cut inside from the wing and shoot from range.
To cut a Long story short, the boy is struggling.
A harsh inclusion? Perhaps. Stoke have much, much bigger problems than the form of their best player even at this early stage of the Premier League season, such as their manager. But Arnautovic’s struggles must still provide cause for concern.
As Mark Hughes continues to change his playing system in the desperate search for results, displaying the patience of a two-year-old child lacking sleep and awake at 3am, Arnautovic is the individual to have suffered most. His dedication cannot be questioned, but his output has fallen dramatically. His ‘per game’ statistics, in comparison to last season, make for stark reading.
Arnautovic has attempted more shots (2.8 to 2.1), but has yet to score. He is creating fewer goalscoring chances for teammates (1.0 to 1.5). He is registering fewer passes (31.8 to 21.5) and his passing accuracy has fallen (79.5% to 70.9%).
Along with the aforementioned Long and Paul Pogba, Arnautovic completes the rather eclectic trio of players to have registered 11 shots without scoring, behind only the aforementioned Townsend. The summer transfer links to Everton seem so far away.
Fraud. Was much better last season.