10. Southampton: Winger
Few Premier League starting XIs come as settled as that of Southampton. Their top 11 players in terms of playing time comprise their first-choice line-up, and have all featured in at least 810 minutes of action this season. Injuries have fortunately been largely avoided, and it is arguable that Saints would not be able to cope with any further absentees; only six sides have fewer outfield players currently injured.
It is in attacking positions where Southampton would suffer most. Sadio Mane has made the most starts on both the right-wing (five) and in the No 10 role (six), with the Senegalese the only player to have started more games on the right-hand side than Dusan Tadic (three) this season. Tadic, in turn, has by far the most starts on the left (12). Mane aside, five players have started games on the right for Southampton this season, with central midfielder Steven Davis the most regular amongst them (three). Such an over-reliance on their two star players is a dangerous balancing act.
9. Crystal Palace: Striker
Alan Pardew’s side have scored 20 league goals, yet Alan Pardew’s strikers have scored none. Connor Wickham, Dwight Gayle, Marouane Chamakh, Patrick Bamford, Fraizer Campbell and, before his departure for Bournemouth, Glenn Murray, have all failed to find the net for Palace in the Premier League this season. Yannick Bolasie, Wilfried Zaha and Jason Puncheon comprise an effective and exciting attack, but it is one which lacks a regular focal point. Aside from Scott Dann, obviously. The only question is whether Pardew will choose Papiss Cisse or Loic Remy in January.
8. Liverpool: Full-backs
Javier Manquillo, Aly Cissokho, Paul Konchesky, Andrea Dossena, Josemi, Djimi Traore; looking back through a list of Liverpool’s first-choice full-backs over the past decade is to examine a problem which has plagued the Reds for years. Nathaniel Clyne and Alberto Moreno appear to have finally solved the issue, but who is next in line? Jurgen Klopp’s system demands so much of marauding full-backs that Clyne and Moreno will both surely be rendered exhausted soon, but Instagram’s Jose Enrique and the youth-team’s Connor Randall represent their back-ups. Jon Flanagan will return to the first team fold soon, but he himself has only ever played one full season of professional football.
7. Everton: Keeper
For all Roberto Martinez’s positive work at Everton, his attitude towards goalkeepers represents a huge negative. Tim Howard has been a solid if unspectacular first-choice since joining in 2006, but last season highlighted an alarming regression. Howard ranked the lowest in terms of save percentage (59.26%) of all 29 keepers to have started six or more league games last season, while only two made more errors leading to conceding goals. Such error-strewn performances have carried into this season, making Joel Robles’ continued non-inclusion all the more confusing.
“I’m delighted with the form of Joel Robles and delighted to have the experience of Tim Howard when it’s most needed, especially when you’ve got young or inexperienced players in front of him. You need that little bit of know-how and direction, and that’s why Tim Howard has always been so important, through good moments of form and bad moments of form. His role on the pitch is more important than his individual performance.”
Speaking after an impressive showing from Joel in the Capital One Cup win against Norwich, Martinez used Howard’s ‘experience’ as the decisive argument behind the American featuring in every minute of the Premier League so far this season. What does the underwhelming Gareth Barry offer if not plentiful ‘experience’? The problem is Everton’s indisputable No 1 is no longer good enough.
6. Man City: Centre-half
It seems staggering that after a summer in which they spent nearly £100million on attacking reinforcements in Raheem Sterling and Kevin de Bruyne, as well as £32million on centre-half Nicolas Otamendi, Manchester City’s two weakest areas remain in both defence and attack. Only Leicester have scored more in the league, while just five sides have conceded fewer, but injuries have highlighted a dearth of quality back-up in Manuel Pellegrini’s expensively assembled squad.
But while City cope admirably without their star striker Sergio Aguero, scoring 31 goals in the 13 games he hasn’t started, but 21 in the 11 he has, the absence of Vincent Kompany has been sorely felt. In the eight Premier League games in which their Belgian captain has featured this season, City have won six, conceding just one goal. In the seven without the injured 29-year-old, that becomes just three wins, with 15 goals against.
Otamendi has acquitted himself well since arriving in the summer from Valencia, but City’s centre-half curse lingers. Eliaquim Mangala continues to struggle, while Martin Demichelis cannot be relied upon. City are alarmingly short of leaders without their Kompany man.
5. Man United: Striker
Louis van Gaal has spent over £250million since being appointed Manchester United manager in 2014. Such an outlay includes four of the club’s 10 most expensive signings ever, as well as the record fee paid by a British club. And yet, United’s pecking order of strikers reads: A deteriorating 30-year-old, a teenager with 93 career appearances, an out-of-form winger and a bumbling central midfielder.
Enough has been written about United’s ailing forward line, which has been outscored by seven Premier League sides this season. Van Gaal’s style has often restricted the Red Devils, but the players, who recorded 21 shots but just one on target against West Ham on Saturday, are just as much to blame.
4. Newcastle: Centre-half
Having scrapped to Premier League safety on the final day of last season, many thought Newcastle had learned a difficult lesson. The Magpies conceded 63 goals in a difficult campaign, more than all but bottom side QPR, as a central defence of Fabricio Coloccini and Mike Williamson struggled as a central defence of Fabricio Coloccini and Mike Williamson only can. The two made a cumulative 59 of 76 possible starts, with Steven Taylor, Paul Dummett and Daryl Janmaat providing cover.
Somehow, Newcastle allowed their defence to take an even worse shape this season. Captain Coloccini, despite desperately struggling for form and leadership over the past couple of seasons, has started all 15 league games, with summer signing Chancel Mbemba alongside him for 14. Taylor has started one, while Williamson, Jamaal Lascelles and Curtis Good – all injured – comprise the least inspiring central defensive back-ups in recent memory.
3. Chelsea: Striker
The 2014/15 version of Diego Costa was a sh*thouse who scored goals; the 2015/16 version of Diego Costa is very much still a wind-up merchant, but he is remarkably less effective now he is not scoring goals.
Costa’s 11 strikes in 35 games this calendar year have come against Norwich (16th), Aston Villa (20th), Maccabi Tel Aviv, West Brom (13th), Sunderland (19th), Hull (Championship), Swansea (15th), Newcastle (18th) and Tottenham (5th, and on New Year’s Day). After 19 games in all competitions so far this season, Costa has scored just four goals; at the same stage last campaign, he had scored 12.
Part of Chelsea’s striker issue is the lack of a suitable back-up. Radamel Falcao has continued where he left off at Manchester United, while Loic Remy has rarely been handed an opportunity by Jose Mourinho. Between them, they have three starts and one goal in the Premier League and Champions League, while the experiment with Eden Hazard as a striker has failed thus far.
Just five sides have scored fewer Premier League goals than the reigning champions, while only Aston Villa, with seven, have scored fewer goals from open play than the Blues’ eight. Costa is Chelsea’s highest league goalscorer this season, but with just three goals, he represents the joint-lowest scoring top scorer alongside Villa and West Brom. There are issues throughout Chelsea as a whole – and not just on the pitch – but adding a competent forward is a necessity.
2. Tottenham: Striker
Only Manchester City (13) boast more different Premier League goalscorers than Tottenham (11) so far this season; it is no coincidence that both need a new striker in January.
After their failed move for Saido Berahino in the summer, Spurs once again laid the burden of leading the line on Harry Kane’s burgeoning shoulders. The 22-year-old may have scored 10 goals in 21 appearances this season, but caution must be taken with regards to his future. The striker has been available for 30 competitive fixtures for club and country since June 18. He has played in every single one, playing 2,376 minutes of a possible 2,700 within six months, with just a one-month break in between. That is the equivalent of an 80-minute game every 5.7 days, a figure which does not include Spurs’ summer friendlies, during which he was extensively used. No matter how well he has taken to the task, Kane desperately needs back-up and competition in January.
1. Arsenal: Central midfielder
To slightly paraphrase an extract from Oscar Wilde’s 1895 play, The Importance of Being Earnest: ‘To lose one central midfielder, Mr Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.’ Injury to Francis Coquelin against West Brom was unfortunate; that Santi Cazorla could be out for four months (or the season…) is at least partly due to Wenger, who opted to play the Spaniard for the full 90 minutes against Norwich.
Nevertheless, Wenger must now act. Aaron Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini is a perfectly competent, if not limited pairing, but both are now expected to front a title challenge, and a push for Champions League qualification, as well as another FA Cup defence heading into the new year. Worse still, centre-half Calum Chambers is the next option, with 18-year-old Krystian Bielik not far behind.
Anyone have Kim Kallstrom’s number?