Trent Alexander-Arnold’s defensive frailties were exposed once again on Tuesday night to provide further evidence that a very good footballer is having a very average season.
But he’s not alone. We’ve picked five Premier League players who have fallen from grace this season.
In naming Alexander-Arnold as Liverpool’s player of the season and young player of the season in 2019/20 we said: ‘the improvement is just as frightening as his natural talent’.
There appeared at that point – when few would deny he was the best right-back in Europe – to be no ceiling to his progression. He was a 21-year-old who had already won the two biggest club competitions, with a three-storey mural on his home patch, consistently bettering his already incredible performances on a weekly basis. Has there ever been a better season from a right-back in Premier League history?
And that’s the problem he’s had this season – that was such an extraordinary height to fall from. And no matter how you spin it, this has been a very poor season by his standards. 13 assists last season and just four this term, key passes per game dropping from 2.41 to 1.79, shot-creating actions down 30% per game and goal-creating actions down 55%.
And beyond the stats, he just looks off. There’s still some unbelievable passing and the vision will always be there, but he appears to be suffering from a dramatic loss of confidence. We assumed he was immune to such losses as we had no reason to believe he was a mortal footballer.
He’ll be back – form is temporary and class is permanent. It’s just a shame the two aren’t one and the same for Trent, as we thought they were.
Sadio Mane has scored one Premier League goal this year: a statement that would have seemed farfetched were we still hoovering up the last of the pine needles from the carpet, let alone hours away from the start of the cricket season.
While Mo Salah’s back creaks under the weight of goalscoring responsibility and Diogo Jota provides blessed relief, Mane has been little more than a cheerleader whispering words of encouragement.
Yes, he still stretches opposition backlines and makes darting runs only to be denied by defenders relying on personal referee vendettas. But is dogsbody work really the point on which the defence will rest their case? His speed, directness and skill on the ball were means to a goalscoring or assisting end last season.
He was a numbers machine – it was a surprise when he didn’t take a chance, a half-chance or make something out of very little. Now it’s a surprise if he does anything akin to the old Mane, with miscontrols, snatched shots and dribbles to nowhere the norm over the inevitability of a game-changing moment we had come to take for granted.
“I think Aubameyang’s performances this season have been lazy, at times. I don’t care how many goals he gets – he’s won Golden Boots in the past – but he’s definitely a player who doesn’t bring anything to this team if he doesn’t score a goal, and that’s a big problem.”
Jamie Carragher’s got a point – Aubameyang certainly has a lackadaisical style – but it’s also got absolutely everything to do with how many goals he gets. He got 33 last season and has 14 in this campaign; there would be no complaints were he anywhere near his normal highs.
The irritation is perhaps more to do with him being captain. While a laissez-faire style was fine while he was banging the goals in, without that credit his lack of obvious leadership on the pitch is a bit of a problem, or at least not a solution to a problem.
Arsenal fans have got to be concerned their club have landed themselves another Mesut Ozil situation. Aubameyang averaged 0.74 goals per game before he signed his three-year £350,000-a-week contract in September, which has now dropped to 0.4 per game, or £875,000 per goal.
On June 24 last year we said Manchester United should replace Anthony Martial as the Frenchman ‘spent most of the time standing still’. He scored a hat-trick in the very next game and notched a further four goals and seven assists in the remaining six weeks of the season to make fools of us.
But only briefly. Again he’s standing still and at the exact same point in the season as when we last berated him, we’re ready to slam him once again. He’s been even worse. After 30 games last season he’d scored 11 Premier League goals; he’s on four this term and now looks unlikely to have the chance to improve on that tally.
While West Ham reap the rewards of a United player at the top of his game, absolutely loving every moment and being loved for it, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been slumming it with misery guts Martial, at the bottom of his game, looking as though he’s hating every minute.
At the start of this season we questioned ‘whether Traore really is “unplayable” (Jurgen Klopp’s word) or whether he is just very, very fast. Or whether the latter basically makes him the former’.
His stats this season compared to last suggest that question has been answered. After six goals and 12 assists in what was billed as a breakthrough campaign for the formerly cigarless speed merchant, the Cubans have returned to the just-out-of-reach levels we were previously used to with just one goal and two assists this season. It’s fair to say he’s missed Wolves’ main man.