Five Premier League players returning from injury who could transform their club’s season
These guys have all missed a significant chunk of the season and look set to return soon after the international break. All of them could be crucial in the run-in…
Since N’Golo Kante was named Man of the Match in the Champions League final win over Manchester City in May 2021 he’s had six separate injury lay-offs, missing 50 games as a result. He’s not played since Matchday 2 of this season, when Thomas Tuchel and Antonio Conte held hands after the 2-2 draw with Tottenham, which feels like it was (and sort of is) in an entirely different era for Chelsea.
The Blues have spent £600m on new players and yet their best hope of winning another Champions League trophy, slim though that hope will still be, is through Kante, whom they signed for just £32m in 2016, and is thus the club’s third longest serving player after Cesar Azpilicueta and Ruben Loftus-Cheek.
Chelsea’s opponents in the quarter-final, Real Madrid, will be desperate for Kante’s quick return to the treatment table, after the midfielder was named Man of the Match in both semi-final legs in 2021 and was again superb in the 3-2 win in the Bernabeu last season.
Graham Potter is in a position where he need not play Kante in the Premier League, but can give him just enough game time to ensure he’s in fine fettle for those all important Champions League clashes.
Probably because his brilliance has come as no surprise whatsoever, Eriksen has received nowhere near the widespread praise for his impact on Manchester United’s midfield as Casemiro. But the upgrade from McFred is at least as much to do with the Dane, who has arguably provided more of what the Red Devils were missing when that much maligned duo sat at the base of midfield than his more celebrated accomplice.
Only Bruno Fernandes (10) – who’s played for nearly 1,600 more minutes – has more assists than Eriksen (9) for United this season, and no player plays more passes into the final third (6.65 per 90). Casemiro has admittedly been more of an attacking influence than expected, but is still more of a like-for-like – and vast – improvement on Fred and Scott McTominay.
Eriksen has provided something United just didn’t have in midfield: he’s progressive and creative. And while Marcel Sabitzer has adapted impressively following his January move, there’s no doubt Erik ten Hag’s side have missed the guile of Eriksen, as well as his ability from set pieces.
Casemiro’s absence could end up costing United a Champions League spot, but Eriksen’s return softens that blow considerably.
Jurgen Klopp will be hoping Luis Diaz can have the same immediate impact on his return as he did when he first arrived. Like a Colombian double espresso, Diaz gave Liverpool the mid-season shot of energy needed for them to challenge on four fronts last term.
Things are different this campaign. Diaz won’t be making what seemed a close to flawless forward line better; he’s needed to provide unpredictability to what has been, with one obvious exception, a pretty listless and formulaic attack in recent weeks, as Klopp’s side look to secure a top-four finish.
That definitely shouldn’t be the case when you’ve got Mohamed Salah, Darwin Nunez, Diogo Jota and Cody Gakpo in your armoury, but your goalscorers will struggle to score goals when they’re not being provided for. With Liverpool’s midfield as unproductive as any in the Premier League and Trent Alexander-Arnold’s attacking instincts curbed, it falls on the forwards to provide for each other. Diaz is the best and most creative of all of them in that regard.
“We’re trying to get him to [be] as strong as he was two years ago, and get him back to that statistical level, as well as what we see and how he feels,” said Dyche, who’s done admirably without a big f**ker up front so far for Everton, but would love his very good big f**ker available for the Premier League run-in.
It does depend which Calvert-Lewin returns, and that’s presumably why Dyche is being so careful. He wants the one-touch fox in the box who earned a place in the England squad for Euro 2020, not the plainly unfit version who floated about for a while in the middle part of this season.
The big difference between Everton and the teams around them in the relegation fight, who have all been struggling to score, is that they actually have a striker who can score five goals in the last ten games to keep them up; he’s just not been playing.
Leicester may just need one last hurrah from a player who’s been on the brink of leaving for over a year and definitely will be leaving at the end of the season. It seems pretty foolish that a club in such desperate need of cash will get nothing for an asset as valuable as Tielemans, but the Leicester bosses will argue that they may not have retained their Premier League status without him.
They may still not of course, but both empirical evidence and cold hard facts point to Leicester being a whole lot more likely to stay up with Tielemans in the team. Brendan Rodgers said six weeks without the Belgian would “feel like six months when you lose a player of that quality”, much like the last six months must have felt like six years to the Leicester fans.
They’ve got a win percentage of 38 per cent with Tielemans and just 20 per cent without him. They’ve won five or their last six games when Tielemans has been playing alongside fellow summer-sinking-ship-jumper James Maddison, with Manchester City the exception. One (eleven) last hurrah(s), boys.