Emre Can, Ander Herrera, Aaron Ramsey and some other horribly misused players.
10. Jonny Howson
It’s hard to believe that any Premier League player has been used in more roles than Jonny Howson at Norwich this season. The former Leeds man has played 10 games in all competitions, starting nine and featuring as a half-time substitute in another, with his appearances coming in six different positions.
Alex Neil has used the Englishman all across the midfield and in the three roles behind the striker, culminating in a start directly behind Diumerci Mbokani in the 6-2 defeat to Newcastle at the weekend. Surely Neil will not experiment with a similar line-up next time around, with Howson hopefully dropping into a more accustomed central role. Coincidentally, Norwich’s last two wins (of a total three) this season came with Howson in central midfield.
9. Salomon Rondon
It’s not exactly gone well for Salomon Rondon at West Brom, has it?
The Venezuelan had perhaps the smallest shoes possible to fill after becoming West Brom’s record signing in the summer, usurping Brown ‘£10million for seven goals in 30 games’ Ideye. While the Baggies paid £1.4million per Ideye goal, they have shelled out £12million for just one in nine from Rondon.
Of course, the striker is only partially to blame for his profligacy. The stifling nature of Tony Pulis’ style has seen Rondon’s shots-per-game ratio fall from a career high of 3.7 in 2013/14 with Rubin Kazan to 2.4 this season, with the 26-year-old suffering from a severe lack of support. Rondon is used as a physical battering ram of a lone striker and target man, negating his pace and unheralded link-up play.
Pulis has used a formation featuring two strikers just twice this season: in the opening-day defeat to Manchester City and in last weekend’s win over Sunderland. The former saw Rickie Lambert and Saido Berahino toil against the league leaders, but, partnered with Berahino on Saturday, the signs of encouragement were there in Rondon’s performance.
8. Christian Eriksen
Swap Wayne Rooney with Harry Kane, Ander Herrera with Christian Eriksen and the remainder of Manchester United’s midfield and attacking ensemble with that of Spurs and you’ll find their problems very much mirror one another’s.
On Saturday, United beat Everton 3-0 by using not only the right formation, but the right players in their right positions, with Herrera playing a starring role as the No. 10. Spurs fans had better hope that Mauricio Pochettino was watching, for Eriksen’s sake at least.
In nine Premier League games this season, Spurs have used six different players in the role behind misfiring central striker Kane. Among those used are Ryan Mason, Erik Lamela and Dele Alli, while Eriksen has played there just three times. The Dane has twice been shifted out to the left this season as Pochettino has sought to solve Kane’s goalscoring drought. In truth, it’s Eriksen who the manager should be building his side around.
Despite having played just six games this season, Eriksen stands as Spurs’ joint-top goalscorer (two), joint-top assist provider (two), second-highest chance creator (15, five behind Lamela) and second-highest key pass producer (13, five behind Lamela). All this despite having played three games less than his team-mates.
Basically, Eriksen’s bloody good, so play him where he flourishes, Mauricio.
7. Cesar Azpilicueta
It may have taken an injury, but Branislav Ivanovic’s reign of terror at right-back was finally brought to an end on Saturday. After 63 consecutive Premier League starts dating back to January 2014, the horribly out-of-form Serb was nowhere to be seen on the team sheet at Stamford Bridge, much to the delight of the home fans.
Ivanovic’s knock facilitated the tactical change Chelsea had been screaming out for since signing Baba Rahman in August. This was a potentially £21million left-back who would allow Cesar Azpilicueta to finally switch over to the right-hand side, allowing for Ivanovic to be phased out. Obviously, Mourinho will now reinstate Ivanovic and shift the excellent Azpilicueta out to an unfamiliar and detrimental position once more upon his trusty lieutenant’s return.
6. Mamadou Sakho
It’s difficult to fathom why Brendan Rodgers never seemed to trust Mamadou Sakho. A young, strong, ball-playing centre-half, but also a seasoned international and vice-captain for his country. It seemed like a match made in heaven. But alas, he was not Ashley Williams and it was not to be.
Dejan Lovren was instead preferred to the Frenchman alongside Martin Skrtel in defence, with Sakho forced to watch a mistake-ridden back line from the bench. The 25-year-old has made only 38 Premier League appearances since signing from Paris Saint-Germain in 2013, but an impeccable performance in Jurgen Klopp’s first game against Spurs should guarantee him a deserved and long overdue place in the starting line-up for the foreseeable.
5. Carles Gil
If anything sums up Tim Sherwood’s style of management it was his decision to reinstate Carles Gil to Aston Villa’s starting XI against Chelsea at the weekend after demoting the Spaniard to the bench against West Brom and Stoke. A trademark big call ahead of a pressure game from a guy who puts the ‘man’ in ‘manager’, with the predictable conclusion of a demoralising defeat.
Of course, Gil provided a flicker of light at the end of the tunnel for Villa at Stamford Bridge, providing the most key passes of any visiting player (two), and making the second most passes at the second best rate of accuracy of all of his team-mates. Considering it was only Gil’s second start since February, the signs are positive.
We’ve been here before, however. Gil’s only previous start this season came at Leicester, with his goal seemingly sending Villa on their way to a 2-0 victory before he was substituted on 66 minutes. By full-time and in Gil’s absence, Villa lost 3-2.
But Gil’s first false start came after signing last January. The former Valencia man made four consecutive Premier League starts the following month, before being inexplicably dropped for the remainder of the season. Sherwood’s explanation? That he needed to use players he “trusted” during their relegation battle. With Villa currently in 19th this season, Sherwood would be best advised to place more faith in the 22-year-old.
4. Raheem Sterling
What is often lost in the ether with regards to Raheem Sterling is the fact that the 20-year-old has had to adapt from being the best player at Liverpool to just another piece of the puzzle at Manchester City. That is not to detract from Sterling’s immense ability, but when David Silva and Kevin de Bruyne are your competition instead of Jordon Ibe and Lazar Markovic, it’s more of a staircase than a step up.
Against Bournemouth, Sterling was finally handed the platform which he had enjoyed so frequently at Anfield. As the focal point of the attack behind Wilfried Bony, the England international scored his first ever senior hat-trick. In eight-and-a-half games on the left-hand side of City’s front three, Sterling has provided no goals and just one assist. In 90 minutes playing centrally on Saturday, he had scored three, following on from his goal as a second-half striker against Watford. Silva’s imminent injury return will likely see him shifted out wide again to accommodate him, but Sterling at least deserves a central role on a rotational basis.
As Daniel Storey wrote in this week’s Winners and Losers, it’s time we all started appreciating our brightest young talent.
3. Aaron Ramsey
It took a deflection and a large portion of luck, but Aaron Ramsey finally ended his league-high run of 21 shots without a Premier League goal in the 3-0 win over Watford. In the midst of one of his country’s biggest ever successes, the Welshman has struggled for form this season.
It’s not exactly difficult to work out why. While Ramsey played 17 Premier League games in central midfield for Arsenal last season, just two of his nine this campaign have come centrally. In his desperation to shoehorn Ramsey into his side, Arsene Wenger has forced the midfielder into a role on the wide right which, in simple terms, is not his forte. At all.
With a natural wide player in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain waiting in the wings, it makes Wenger’s stubbornness all the more bizarre. Of course, finding a central place for Ramsey in the current side would be a thankless task, with Santi Cazorla, Francis Coquelin and Mesut Ozil all in excellent form, but the 24-year-old is clearly not a winger.
2. Ander Herrera/Man United’s No.10
In an ideal world, the slash above would instead be a comma or a colon. In Louis van Gaal’s world, there probably remains more than a flicker of doubt as to whether Ander Herrera is his long-term solution in the No.10 role.
Wayne Rooney, Adnan Januzaj, Memphis Depay, Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini have all been handed opportunities behind the striker this season, but none came close to replicating Herrera’s performance against Everton at the weekend. The Spaniard scored one and assisted another, with the only niggle being the likelihood of Van Gaal not trusting him enough to give him a regular role there. Not doing so would be the Dutchman’s biggest mistake yet.
1. Emre Can
‘Midfielder plays well in midfield’ is hardly the most eye-catching conclusion to draw from any football match, but it was one met with glee by the red half of Merseyside on Saturday. Emre Can, a midfielder, played in midfield and, frankly, he did pretty bloody well.
After just three appearances in the middle last season, it was a strange predicament Can had found himself in. The German was almost the victim of his own relative successes as a centre-back – although right-back was most certainly a step too far.
But with Steven Gerrard gone, this was supposed to be the campaign where Can, his beautiful hair and his lovely beard took the reins. The 20-year-old found himself playing in midfield for the first six games of the season, and he was doing well.
Then Norwich happened. And Carlisle. And Aston Villa, FC Sion and Everton. Brendan Rodgers reverted to type and inexplicably placed Can back in the centre of defence. I listed the German as one of five players who would benefit from the Northern Irishman’s sacking, and if his performance at Spurs is anything to go by, he’s already showing the signs.