That was then: Not even in the match-day squad for Manchester United’s first eight Premier League games of the season, back when there was some hope that Memphis Depay could somehow play himself into form. Reports at the end of September suggested that Lingard could join Sheffield Wednesday on loan; nobody would have batted an eyelid. The tide changed in the wake of United’s catastrophic defeat to Arsenal when Van Gaal starting hunting down the back of the sofa for other options.
This is now: Only nine players have played more minutes for United in all competitions this season, and Lingard is ahead of Depay, Ander Herrera and Marouane Fellaini on that list. This is mental: A month to the day after making his first Premier League appearance of the season, Lingard was called up to Roy Hodgson’s England squad. Suspicions linger that he is actually not very good.
That was then: This seems utterly bizarre now but Rose started just one of Tottenham’s first eight Premier League games as Mauricio Pochettino pinned his left-back badge to Ben Davies, while Rose was facing Qarabag in the Europa League. Google ‘Danny Rose transfer’ and you will find a Chelsea fan saying he would never watch his team again if they signed Rose. It’s been a long season for that particular chap.
This is now: Rose is not only undisputed first-choice left-back with title-chasing Tottenham, but has a case for being named the Premier League’s finest left-back of the season and England’s left-back starter at Euro 2016. Question marks persist about Rose’s qualities as a pure defender, but Eric Dier’s brief as an auxiliary centre-half allows Rose – and Kyle Walker on the other side – to thrive as Tottenham’s wide option.
That was then: Not a single minute of Premier League action in Leicester’s first seven games of the season meant that Simpson – fresh from being found guilty of assaulting his ex-girlfriend – was expected to head to the Championship on loan. He was even left out of the League Cup side that faced Bury (Yohan Benalouane, in case you were remotely interested). But then the Foxes were battered 5-2 by Arsenal and in came Simpson and Christian Fuchs for Ritchie de Laet and Jeffrey Schlupp.
This is now: Simpson has started every Premier League game for which he has been available since early October and is on the verge of being a Premier League title winner. The redemption is complete, recently telling The Times that the community service he served for his crime – for which he turned up in a £200,000 car – had “humbled” him. Of course it has.
That was then: Started the season as fifth-choice Newcastle centre-half, finally making it onto the pitch in October for 37 minutes. As a left-back in a 6-1 defeat to Manchester City. His first four appearances for Newcastle in the Premier League ended 1-6, 0-3, 0-0 and 1-5. It’s fair to say that things were not going well.
This is now: Phenomenal against Swansea and Manchester City this week as he started his sixth and seventh Premier League games of the season, Lascelles is now being touted as a future Newcastle captain after saying last week: “We’ve got flair players, tricky players, players with loads of talent but we need more heart, desire and bigger characters on the pitch.” As long as Benitez is at Newcastle, the boy has a future.
That was then: He played 16 minutes of Premier League football under Brendan Rodgers. On the left wing. “He’s a humble guy. He knows where he stands and that he’s here to develop. It’s a big step coming to such a prestigious club,” said Rodgers. Enter Jurgen Klopp, a clash with in-form Tottenham and a first start for the Belgian, who was Liverpool’s only fit striker at exactly the right time.
This is now: Arguably Liverpool’s first-choice striker, having started both Europa League quarter-final clashes with Borussia Dortmund and scoring twice. With nine goals in all competitions, he is just one goal behind Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho. “You see what confidence can do,” says Klopp, who has treated Daniel Sturridge like Dr Crippen but loves the tireless running of his 21-year-old teammate.