Five key players from the Premier League run-in managers found down the back of the sofa

Dave Tickner

This was always going to be a challenging season for lots of reasons, not least of which being the sheer amount of football that would have to be squeezed into April and May to make room for a whole-ass World Cup before Christmas.

It was always going to stretch squads to their limits and throw up some unlikely heroes when the season finally hit that long home straight approximately eight or nine years after it began (subs please check).

Here are five such heroes…


Curtis Jones (Liverpool)
It’s pretty rare for a bit-part player’s sudden prominence to coincide as neatly with a huge improvement in a team’s general form as Curtis Jones’ new-found importance at Liverpool.

While he’d been involved here and there earlier in the season – including, it must be noted, a full 90 minutes in defeat at Nottingham Forest on his only pre-World Cup start in the Premier League – it’s only in recent weeks he’s become a regular.

Heading into April, Jones had played a grand total of 20 Premier League minutes in 2023 spread across three games. Then he started the goalless draw against Chelsea and has been in the first XI ever since. That’s seven starts in a row, and in those seven games Liverpool have won five (scoring 16 goals in the process) and drawn the other two.

Maybe Jurgen Klopp can count on him.


Jacob Murphy (Newcastle)
Can you find a player down the back of the sofa if that player has in fact appeared in every single Premier League game of the season? Probably not to be fair but also: shut up.

Yes, Murphy has technically appeared in every game of the season, but until recent weeks these were largely substitute appearances and often brief ones at that. Nineteen of Murphy’s appearances in Newcastle’s first 24 games were under half an hour, 10 of those 19 under 10 minutes. Since then he’s played at least 45 minutes in eight games out of nine. And in those nine games, Newcastle have picked up eight wins and almost certainly secured a Champions League spot that appeared to be slipping away in a run of one win in eight games where Murphy’s involvement amounted to no starts and barely 90 minutes all told.


Caglar Soyuncu (Leicester)
We humbly contend that if Leicester had spent more of this season picking Caglar Soyuncu and Daniel Iversen instead of mucking about having Danny Ward and Daniel Amartey in their starting line-up for the lols then they might not find themselves quite so deeply in the relegation excrement. As it is, they’re still right up to their necks in it.

Soyuncu has only been involved at all in six Premier League games this season. Two of those six were defeats to Manchester City which = as is true for literally any player and team in the division – can be pretty cheerfully filed under “fair enough”. No harm done.

The other four games? Two wins and two draws, with three of those games in the last fortnight. He even got himself on the scoresheet in that very silly 2-2 draw with Everton this week. Bear in mind that Leicester’s overall results this season are SHITBONE AWFUL and you do have to wonder whether a team that has spent much of its time cheerfully shipping three, four, five and even six goals a game might have given him a bit more of a go a bit earlier.


Joe Rothwell (Bournemouth)
Making the step up from the Championship with Blackburn to the Premier League with Bournemouth was always likely to be a tough ask for Rothwell even before a badly-timed injury setback in pre-season.

The midfielder managed just 35 minutes of Premier League football in 2022 but has spent 2023 slowly but surely establishing himself as a starter in the team while garnering the sort of praise from a manager where really you can hear the manager praising himself more than anyone else for being just so damn inspiring.

“I remember having a sit-down chat with him maybe six weeks ago and you’ve seen a real change in the way he goes about things,” Gary O’Neil told the Daily Echo last month.

“He’s got a lot more drive in his performance now. He’s much better than he was out of possession. So Joe has made huge improvements in the way he goes about things. Really pleased with where Joe Rothwell is at the moment.” Well done, Gary.

Can’t argue with the numbers, though. From the bittiest bit-parter, Rothwell has now played more than 45 minutes in nine of Bournemouth’s last 15 games. In those nine games Bournemouth have six wins, a draw and only two defeats (one of those the 3-2 heartbreaker at Arsenal in which Reiss Nelson’s 97th-minute winner came some 27 minutes after Rothwell’s withdrawal).

Of the other six, Bournemouth have lost four, drawn one and beaten only Wolves – and that thanks to a goal scored three minutes after our hero stepped off the bench.


Jason Steele (Brighton)
“Jason now is playing better than Robert (Sanchez). He is closer than Robert to my style.”

Those words a few weeks back from Roberto De Zerbi show that Steele may well be here to stay in the Brighton goal, hinting at something beyond such a nebulous concept as ‘form’.

Form was the starting point, though. Steele’s opportunity came when his own eye-catching displays in the FA Cup coincided with some patchy efforts from Sanchez. And Steele – who until a couple of months ago had a solitary Premier League appearance to show for his five years on the south coast – has taken that chance quite wonderfully.

He’s collected five clean sheets in nine games – only one fewer than Sanchez managed in the first 23 games of the season – and that’s still only half the story.

As De Zerbi’s point about “style” implies, Steele is also pretty handy with the ball at his feet (if that makes any kind of sense) and plays a decisive role in Brighton’s desire and ability to play out from the back. He’s a better fit and in better form.