Top five: Players whose places are under threat

Date published: Wednesday 24th August 2016 11:52

Eric Bailly Anthony Martial

Jordan Henderson (Liverpool)
Henderson’s ‘highlights’ in Liverpool’s defeat to Burnley are already infamous, and the Reds captain’s performance against Championship outfit Burton was not much of an improvement. Already feeling the wrath of some sections of the Liverpool support, the England international was once again sloppy in possession and there are major question marks over whether he possesses the discipline and awareness to operate as a holding midfielder.

Jurgen Klopp has so far paired Georginio Wijnaldum with Adam Lallana in central midfield, with the duo able to match the energy and industry Henderson provides while also posing a greater threat going forward. Emre Can, meanwhile, appears a more natural option to play in front of the back four, which leaves the former Sunderland man starting to look like Liverpool’s answer to Wayne Rooney. Perhaps he can get a game at left-back.

 

Anthony Martial (Manchester United)
After establishing himself as United’s most potent attacking threat last season, Martial has endured a disappointing summer. The 20-year-old was handed a grand total of 79 minutes at Euro 2016, despite being the player France boss Didier Deschamps immediately turned towards as soon as Portugal took the lead in the final. And the arrival of Zlatan Ibrahimovic has seen him lose his favoured shirt number and thrown a spanner in the works of his social media brand.

While Juan Mata is currently enjoying a surprise honeymoon period under Jose Mourinho, Martial has underwhelmed on the left. The fact he was dispossessed three times against Southampton, despite having the least touches of any outfield player to start for United (35), is not the kind of thing that goes down well with Mourinho. It is only a matter of time before Henrikh Mkhitaryan is handed his first start for United; Martial appears the player in most danger of missing out.

 

Eric Dier (Tottenham)
Another player who made himself undroppable last season only to find his place in danger due to the arrival of a summer signing. Dele Alli may have stolen the limelight for Spurs last term, but Dier was more than happy to revel in his team-mate’s shadow and established himself as one of the most reliable performers for both club and country.

However, Dier’s campaign began by being substituted after only 55 minutes at Everton and the midfielder was outshone by new boy Victor Wanyama in the victory over Crystal Palace. Not only did Wanyama score the winning goal, but the Kenyan completed more dribbles, clearances, blocks and passes, with a greater passing accuracy to boot. Mousa Dembele will soon return from suspension, and the dynamism and power which could be offered by a midfield pairing of the Belgian and Wanyama may be too tempting for Mauricio Pochettino to ignore.

 

Santi Cazorla (Arsenal)
Perhaps a victim of Arenal’s – partly self-inflicted – lack of options at the start of the season, Cazorla has appeared to lose his niche in the Gunners’ midfield. The Spaniard was reportedly left devastated after being left out of the starting XI for the defeat to Liverpool in Arsenal’s first match of the season, when Arsene Wenger selected Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny to protect the back four.

The 31-year-old did come into the side for the 0-0 draw at Leicester, but not in his preferred position at the base of midfield, where new signing Granit Xhaka partnered Coquelin. Instead Cazorla was used as a number 10 and visibly struggled, while the Xhaka-Coquelin axis impressed. Mesut Ozil will surely return once fully fit, and Wenger is likely to view Xhaka as his first-choice central midfielder after making him one of the most expensive in football. The diminutive Cazorla must now out-muscle Aaron Ramsey, Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny to line up alongside the Swiss. Maybe even Jack Wilshere, too.

 

Oscar (Chelsea)
After being linked with a move away from Stamford Bridge for much of the summer, Oscar now appears a firm part of Antonio Conte’s first-team plans. The former Italy boss has started Oscar in his first two Premier League matches in charge, but the midfielder has been sacrificed in both as Chelsea have sought to find a winner.

The 24-year-old was by no means bad against West Ham, but the same cannot be said about his display against Watford, where he was one of the Blues’ worst performers. Cesc Fabregas played like a man with a point to prove after entering the fray at Vicarage Road, and with Michy Batshuayi taking to English football like a duck to water, Conte could switch to the 4-2-4 formation which was mooted in pre-season. Oscar is the obvious candidate to miss out.

 

Rob Conlon

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