Using the lovely pages of Transfermarkt.co.uk, we look at the five most valuable players left on the bench (or worse) for the last round of Premier League matches…
Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal): Transfermarkt market value estimation – £29.8m
We could be generous and give Ramsey the benefit of the doubt, surmising that the midfielder wasn’t quite over his hamstring injury and therefore not fit enough to start against Crystal Palace. Yet there was no indication from Arsene Wenger that that was the case. Instead, Alex Iwobi and Lucas Perez were picked in roles that Ramsey can operate in, and Iwobi scored.
Things are not going well for Ramsey full stop. Injury on the opening day and subsequent hamstring niggle have restricted him to two league starts all season, but he has also been on the bench six times. The reputation of being useful in a number of positions but vital in none is beginning to stick. He can speak to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain about that.
Nemanja Matic (Chelsea) – £27.2m
The assumption is that Antonio Conte has reaped the benefits of a settled team without any changes over Chelsea’s astonishing winning run, but the Italian has not been afraid to change a dominant side. In attack, Pedro has lost his place to Willian despite being in excellent form. In central midfield, the same has happened to Matic.
The Serbian could have been forgiven for complacency over his first-team place, but Conte has pulled the rug from under his feet. With Matic absent due to a muscle problem for the 3-1 win at Manchester City, Cesc Fabregas demonstrated to his manager that he and N’Golo Kante could be an effective pair. Chelsea have scored eight goals in the three games for which Matic has been absent, and Conte suddenly has options aplenty.
Juan Mata (Manchester United) – £26.4m
When Jose Mourinho was appointed, thinkpieces suggested that Mata’s time at Old Trafford was up. Having been shunted out of Stamford Bridge by Mourinho in favour of Oscar, was the same not likely to occur after the arrival of Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan?
Well, maybe. Mata was excellent in August as Manchester United started the season with three successive wins, but has been nudged closer towards the periphery ever since, albeit hardly left completely out in the cold. Benched against Manchester City and Watford in September and Liverpool and Chelsea in October, Mata started every league game in November as United responded to their slump. December has brought steps backward: two starts but three more on the bench. He’s only played 170 league minutes since November.
Mourinho’s team selection now seems to place Mata and Mkhitaryan in direct competition with one another: when one starts, the other doesn’t. That’s only going to end badly for lovely Juan.
Morgan Schneiderlin (Manchester United) – £23.8m
Still, at least Mata can get onto the Manchester United bench. For Morgan Schneiderlin, a dream move has turned sour very quickly. He has played 11 minutes of league football this season.
In fairness, you can see Mourinho’s point. Michael Carrick has been excellent, Ander Herrera is the outstanding candidate to be United’s next captain and Paul Pogba is Paul Pogba. The truth is that the manager just doesn’t think Schneiderlin is good enough, however cutting that sounds.
“If a player is not having lots of minutes and if a player really wants to leave we have no right to stop the player to leave if the conditions are our conditions,” Mourinho said last week, stopping short of screaming Schneiderlin’s name out loud. West Brom’s £15m offer will have been laughed out of the room; Everton’s £22m offer might not.
Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool) – £21.3m
When Jurgen Klopp chose to leave Divock Origi on the bench to face Manchester City, it made some sense. Origi is a talent, of that there is no doubt, but his ability to hold up the ball and bring others into play is sometimes lacking. So this was Sturridge’s chance to shine against his old club.
Errr… no. Rather than leave Roberto Firmino on the left and bring Sturridge in for Origi, Klopp instead shifted Firmino centrally and pushed Adam Lallana up into the front three, making Emre Can Origi’s replacement. Firmino was no great shakes against City, but that won’t have improved Sturridge’s mood much.
Until New Year’s Eve, Sturridge had actually been trusted by Klopp in Liverpool’s biggest matches. The striker’s four starts since August had come against Leicester, Chelsea, Manchester United and Tottenham. Now Sturridge doesn’t even have that, closing in on three months since his last league start. Even a role against Sunderland on Monday afternoon won’t lift the gloom.