And we’re defining ‘regular’ as either playing in over 80% of games, or starting over 50%. Capeesh?
Chris Smalling (Manchester United – 19 league appearances, 18 starts)
Every six months or so, Manchester United go through a comparatively sticky patch, coinciding with a defensive ricket or three. Within two days, a news story is leaked that Manchester United’s manager wishes to part with one, two or three of the guilty party.
The problem for Smalling is that he is always on that list, destined to spend his Manchester United existence with one foot out of the door. He clearly struggles with confidence issues, but also has a knack of squeezing three or four individual mistakes into a 30-second period to compound each one.
At some point, Smalling will join Everton or West Ham and become a competent central defender, away from the spotlight’s glare. At 28, it’s surely not going to happen at Old Trafford. He’s somehow less than two years younger than Jonny Evans.
Moussa Sissoko (Tottenham – 24 league appearances, 12 starts)
One of the secrets behind Tottenham’s consistent overachievement (according to expectation, I should say for the squawking ‘but what have they won?’ brigade) is their ability to keep players fit. This season, the list of players to appear in 25 or more of their 27 league games comprises of Harry Kane, Eric Dier, Jan Vertonghen, Hugo Lloris, Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli and Heung-Son Min.
Next on that list comes Sissoko with 24. Only half of those have been starts, but it’s still a baffling dependency on a player who most supporters would have been happy to sell at the end of last season. Or never buy at all.
Sissoko, so the accusation goes, is a symbol of old Tottenham, a club that panics at the end of a transfer window and splurges on a player for a high price but with a low ceiling of potential and at an age where resale value is likely to be limited. Sometimes those transfers work out, but they are not the percentage move.
Morgan Schneiderlin (Everton – 22 league appearances, 17 starts)
When Manchester United signed Schneiderlin in July 2015, he seemed the perfect fit for their needs. Michael Carrick was slowing down, and Louis van Gaal wanted a replacement who was capable of playing sharp passes into feet but whose principal responsibility was protecting the defence.
In his first season at Old Trafford, Schneiderlin was effective without being spectacular, but as Jose Mourinho froze out a number of Van Gaal’s recruits, he slipped down the pecking order. When a £22m offer came from Everton 13 months ago, it was the perfect move for all parties.
How life has soured for Schneiderlin. Having dropped out of the Everton’s first team, he reached his lowest ebb on Saturday when he was booed by Everton supporters having replaced Idrissa Gueye against Crystal Palace. Even if the catcalls were more towards Everton’s scattergun transfer activity as a whole rather than Schneiderlin as an individual, there’s surely no way back.
Petr Cech (Arsenal – 27 league appearances, 27 starts)
Minded to put Granit Xhaka in here, but there is still a percentage of Arsenal supporters who believe that he could succeed at the Emirates with the right central midfield partner. I don’t agree, but this isn’t about what I think. Everyone’s sick enough of hearing that.
Instead, it’s Cech who epitomises the frustrations the majority of Arsenal supporters have with their club. Eight months ago, they sold Wojciech Szczesny to Juventus for a relative pittance and in doing so provided them with the heir to Gianluigi Buffon’s throne.
That would have been a questionable decision even if Arsenal had two in-form goalkeepers in the prime of their careers; they don’t even have one.
Cech was excellent in the north London derby but his errors still far outweigh his strengths. Turning 36 before the end of the season, at some point soon Arsenal will need to replace their No. 1 goalkeeper. What about that Polish guy at Juventus?
Dejan Lovren (Liverpool – 21 league appearances, 18 starts)
This not an attack on Lovren per se, and nor do Liverpool fans wish him ill in any way. It’s just that, like Smalling above, trouble and mishap seems to find the Croatian. There’s controversy over Harry Kane’s penalty decision, but who’s that missing his kick? There’s a free man at a set-piece, but who’s that looking around sheepishly?
Not all of this is Lovren’s fault. Having been signed in the summer of 2014 after impressing at Southampton, he has been picked alongside a regularly changing cast. In just 91 Premier League starts he has been in central defensive line-ups with Martin Skrtel, Mamadou Sakho, Glen Johnson, Emre Can, Kolo Toure, Ragnar Klavan, Joel Matip, Lucas Leiva, Georginio Wijnaldum and Virgil van Dijk. It’s also hard to get set when you are consistently being taken in and out of the team.
Unfortunately, Lovren now stands for something that Liverpool are trying to move away from. Van Dijk’s arrival does not solve their defensive problems, but he eases them. What price another defender joining this summer?
Cheikhou Kouyate (West Ham – 22 league appearances – 21 starts)
For so long considered a bargain at £7m due to his marauding displays in central midfield (he provided the legs and brain, Mark Noble the heart and side parting), things have dropped away badly for Kouyate at West Ham. Add him to the list of people who wishes they’d never left Upton Park.
From box-to-box energy to lumbering, labouring lethargy, Kouyate has managed to master being both slow to surge up the pitch and yet simultaneously being caught out of position. One of the cult heroes of West Ham’s teams has become the scapegoat for this season’s decline. There’s a reason why David Moyes was desperate to buy a central midfielder in January.
Planet Sport exclusive: Umpire: Officials shouldn’t be pally with players. (Tennis365)