F365’s top ten Premier League regressors

Daniel Storey

10) Mile Jedinak (Crystal Palace)
For the first half of 2014/15, Mile Jedinak was exceptional, somehow an improvement on his already-excellent form from the previous season. Then Alan Pardew got appointed, Jedinak went away to the Asian Cup for three weeks and Crystal Palace’s captain was promptly pushed away from centre stage.

This season, things have got much worse. Jedinak has only started 11 Premier League games, and Palace’s record in his 20 league appearances since the end of August reads as follows: Won 2, Drawn 7, Lost 11. Now 31, there were rumours both last summer and in January that Jedinak would be moved out of Selhurst Park by Pardew. As long as the manager keeps his job beyond this season, the captain’s time is surely up.


9) Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea)
While most Premier League players used the international break to recuperate before the home straight of the domestic season, Courtois took the opportunity to talk up a move away from Stamford Bridge.

“I do not say yes, I do not say no,” Courtois said, like he was about to drop the hottest riddle of 2016. “I do not know. I still have three years on my contract. We must see what Chelsea want. It is true that it this season has changed me. Until now I had always won a trophy every season. We hope that next season will be better.”

The most galling thing for Chelsea supporters is that Courtois must share the blame for the club’s After being brilliant throughout their 2014/15 title victory, the Belgian has looked decidedly ordinary during Chelsea’s annus horribilis. Real Madrid and Paris St Germain might not care.


8) Yaya Toure (Manchester City)
Those who lay the blame solely at Toure’s own feet for his decline would do well to remember that the Ivorian has now played 646 senior career games, over 450 of those since joining Barcelona in July 2007. Given that his best role is as a marauding midfielder, it’s no surprise that his legs are slowing down. Toure turns 33 next month.

That said, the regression is obvious. Toure is still creating the same number of chances and having roughly the same number of shots on target, but the dynamism is lacking. Toure has the demeanour of a man who has just been forced to deal with five years of the ageing process in one job lot.


7) Saido Berahino (West Brom)
At the start of March 2015, all was good in Berahino Towers. West Brom’s striker had just scored his 18th club goal of the season, and recently been called up by Roy Hodgson to England’s senior team. Interest from Tottenham looked serious, with the striker intent on the move. Then came the bad news.

Just as West Brom cannot be blamed for wanting to keep hold of Berahino, nor too can the striker be censured for wanting the move. Tony Pulis’ methods are hardly conducive to a short, pacy striker who prefers to hang on the last shoulder of the defender. Pulis only ever plays with one striker, and he bought Salomon Rondon as his all-action forward. Berahino has started 15 league games, which does make you wonder why West Brom bothered keeping him.

“I’ve been through a lot this season but I’ve put the past behind me,” said Berahino last month after finally getting into West Brom’s team. “I can only thank God.” So that’s who’s picking all those centre-backs.


6) Martin Skrtel (Liverpool)
Perhaps Liverpool predicted this fall from grace. Last June, Skrtel announced that he had rejected an “unacceptable” contract offer from Liverpool, and would therefore be considering his future with a year left on his contract. In hindsight, Liverpool should have stuck to their guns. A month later, a new three-year deal had been signed.

At that point Skrtel was Liverpool’s first-choice central defender, but he’s now firmly behind both Dejan Lovren and Mamadou Sakho in Jurgen Klopp’s pecking order, with Joel Matip shortly to arrive at Anfield. The Slovakian has completely failed to lead by example as Liverpool have struggled to keep clean sheets and suffered repeated woe from set-piece situations. Against Southampton last month, Skrtel turned in one of the worst individual halves of football in a long, long time.


5) Ashley Young (Manchester United)
I don’t get many things right, but at the end of last season wrote a piece (you can still find it here, apparently) in which I expressed doubts about the logic of Manchester United giving Ashley Young a new contract.

Young was excellent last season, filling the void left by Angel di Maria’s disappointing form. Yet I described him as United’s bellwether player, perfect as a stop-gap but insufficient as a long-term option. United promptly gave him a three-year contract worth £120,000 a week.

So it has proved. As demonstrated by his bizarre cameo as a striker at White Hart Lane on Sunday, Young is now the second reserve in four positions. The one reason to patch up a hole is to save on cost; United are paying £6m a year to a very expensive sticking plaster.


4) Pablo Zabaleta (Manchester City)
Zabaleta may not have been at his best last season, but he was still the second best right-back in the Premier League. While Branislav Ivanovic has at least partly addressed his abysmal start to the season (enough to be named in Graeme Souness’ bizarre team of the season), Zabaleta has dropped from the radar.

The Argentinean has started eight Premier League games this season, sat on the bench 13 times and lost his first-team place to 33-year-old Bacary Sagna. Zabaleta still remains one of the most likeable players in the Premier League, but it would be no surprise to see Pep Guardiola move him on for someone a little more sprightly this summer. We’d be sorry to see him go.


3) Nemanja Matic (Chelsea)
By almost every measure, a worse season than last. Chances created less often. Fewer touches of the ball. Fewer passes made. Shots less accurate. Tackles less frequent and at a less successful rate. Duels won less often and at a less successful rate. If auto-Matic was the central midfielder of last season, he has been stuck in park since August.

You can rattle off all the statistics you like, but there is a far better way of describing Matic’s downfall at Chelsea: He’s lost his first-team place to John Obi Mikel.


2) Christian Benteke (Liverpool)
‘Arsenal still need a world-class centre-forward,’ wrote Stan Collymore in May last year. ‘For me, that would be someone such as Christian Benteke of Aston Villa, who will be much sought after. I don’t know if Olivier Giroud or Danny Welbeck will win you the league.’

Take those Villa goggles off, Stanley. Collymore’s last line may have been valid, but his first two look even sillier now than they seemed at the time. When we urged Arsenal to break the bank on a striker, we were thinking Karim Benzema, Gonzalo Higuain or Romelu Lukaku, not Christian Benteke.

The internet drowned in think pieces last summer on how difficult it would be for Benteke to fit into Brendan Rodgers’ system, but all contained the same valid point: This just felt wrong, whatever Rodgers said to the contrary.

The arrival of Jurgen Klopp has done little to change Benteke’s mood, and the only question is whether Liverpool’s fourth-choice forward (Sturridge, Origi, Firmino) will remain at Anfield beyond this summer. He’s started 12 league games.


1) Eden Hazard (Chelsea)
Never before has a PFA Player of the Year suffered such a worrying decline. Fatigue, injuries, a lack of motivation and even weight have been touted as possible reasons for Hazard’s dreadful 2015/16, but none individually fail to account for a rotten campaign. Premier League neutrals want to see the best players performing to the height of their abilities. Watching a brilliant attacking player become so quickly blunted is no fun at all.

Unlike Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas, Hazard’s form has hardly picked up since the arrival of Guus Hiddink. Last season he contributed 23 goals and assists, this season just three. Hazard’s last Premier League goal was on May 3, 2015. Dirt.


Daniel Storey