Fix up, look sharp: One per club who has started the season slowly

Date published: Tuesday 4th September 2018 6:50

Arsenal: Granit Xhaka
It’s not that we dislike Xhaka, honest. It’s that Arsenal went so long without buying a proper central midfielder that when they dropped £35m on a player who had impressed in the Bundesliga, we finally had reason to hope for long-term improvement. Instead, Xhaka has flattered to deceive and so hampered Arsenal’s progress rather than helped it. Now 25, he’s supposed to be helping Matteo Guendouzi settle into Premier League life and yet is already being outshone by him.

 

Bournemouth: Lewis Cook
Having been called up for England’s senior squad last season following his Under-20 World Cup success, this was supposed to Cook’s season (and still might be). At the age of 21 and having been linked with a £30m summer move, the least we expected was him to be ever-present at Bournemouth. Jefferson Lerma has still only started one match – and we would expect that to change soon – and yet Cook is still stuck on 16 league minutes. What’s happened?

 

Brighton: Alireza Jahanbakhsh
Of course he has time on his side, and Brighton are playing very well without him, thank you very much. But when the Seagulls broke their transfer record to sign one of the brightest talents in the Eredivisie, we got a little hot under the collar. Three substitute appearances totalling 49 minutes has not satisfied our desires.

 

Burnley: Chris Wood
On Sunday afternoon, Burnley supporters persistently complained that striker Wood was being fouled by Manchester United defenders. The truth is that the striker was merely struggling to hold the ball up, and Burnley’s system relies upon their record signing retaining possession and bringing midfielders into play. He’s so far created one chance and had four shots in 288 minutes, and that isn’t good enough.

 

Cardiff City: Junior Hoilett
With Josh Murphy signed for a club-record fee in the summer, one of Nathaniel Mendez-Laing and Hoilett was always likely to lose their first team place. Hoilett currently leads the other two by three starts to two, but has had five shots – all off target – and created only one chance. A lack of end product was always the accusation.

 

Chelsea: Alvaro Morata
Eden Hazard might be happy, the central defence settled, a new goalkeeper bedding in nicely and the team with a 100% record heading into the international break, but the arrival of Maurizio Sarri has not magically reignited the form of Morata. Both of the goals against Bournemouth were scored after his substitution, while Pedro has double the number of shots on target in 36 fewer minutes. Pedro in the Dries Mertens role with Hazard and Willian either side?

 

Crystal Palace: Christian Benteke
Started the season as slowly as he ended the last one, Benteke is quickly becoming unfit for Crystal Palace purpose and yet is their record signing. Clubs such as they cannot afford for £27m transfers to just not work out. With two goals from open play in his last 35 league matches, that carthorse might have bolted.

 

Everton: Cenk Tosun
Fewer shots on target than central defender Michael Keane having been on the pitch for more than an hour longer, which tells the story perfectly. If the hope was that a full preseason would see the Turkish striker improve upon his goal record from last season, we’re still waiting. The opposite of too much, Tosun.

 

Fulham: Ryan Sessegnon
Very harsh given his age and considering that Sessegnon is taking his first steps in top-flight football. But the winger came with the type of fanfare that made his selection for England’s first post-World Cup squad a virtual assumption. Instead, Andre Schurrle has played just behind Aleksandar Mitrovic and drifted left to hog Sessegnon’s space. The result is three completed dribbles and three created chances.

 

Huddersfield: Aaron Mooy
Quite possibly half knackered having carried Huddersfield last season and then played every one of Australia’s World Cup minutes, we have seen far less of the 2017/18 Aaron Mooy who controlled the tempo of Huddersfield’s play. Last season, Mooy created almost double the number of chances of any of his teammates. This season so far, Steve Mounie has created more.

 

Leicester: All those central defenders
Grouped together, but when Leicester signed Jonny Evans, Filip Benkovic and Caglar Soyuncu in the summer we didn’t expect Wes Morgan to start three of their first four games. Evans has played once, Soyuncu hasn’t even made the bench for a matchday squad and Benkovic has already been loaned out to Celtic until at least January. He cost £13m!

 

Liverpool: Fabinho
Less slow starter and more non-starter. Fabinho has been entirely absent since being named in the squad to face West Ham, and so still we wait. Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp are busily briefing that there is no cause for concern, and the club’s other central midfielders are playing perfectly well, but it’s still a little odd that a £50m player signed in May is still not ready for a place on the bench by September.

 

Manchester City: Leroy Sane
Left out of Germany’s World Cup squad with whispers over his attitude, and omitted from Manchester City’s squad to face Newcastle after the same rumours at club level. It all might be based on little more than conjecture, but Sane looked comically rusty as a substitute against Wolves and has played 30 minutes in City’s four league games. With Bernardo Silva on form and Riyad Mahrez newly arrived, there is no room for coasting under Pep Guardiola.

 

Manchester United: Alexis Sanchez
Fred has been a little disappointing after arriving for a fee of £52m, left out of the team against Burnley on Sunday, but we’re still waiting for Sanchez to click in a Manchester United shirt and it has been eight months. The Chilean was better against Burnley, of that there is no doubt, but this is the highest-paid player in the Premier League. We can be forgiven for demanding an awful lot more.

 

Newcastle United: Kenedy
One of the saviours of Newcastle’s campaign in 2017/18, Kenedy has started this season in rotten form. Could have been sent off against Cardiff City and missed a penalty in the same game, was robbed of possession to concede a goal in the EFL Cup against Nottingham Forest and has failed to create a single chance in the Premier League. If he doesn’t improve, Newcastle could be a bit buggered.

 

Southampton: Manolo Gabbiadini
Like Benteke, another striker whose form has tailed off so badly that we’re beginning to think this is the new norm. We and Mark Hughes hoped that the arrival of Danny Ings might spark Gabbiadini into an improvement having become a little stagnant at St. Mary’s, but it has only pushed him further into his funk. Barely got a kick of the ball in his 36 minutes, and hasn’t even been on the bench for Southampton’s last two games. It’s mad that he started a competitive match for Italy less than ten months ago.

 

Tottenham: Harry Kane
It seems a little strange to criticise Kane after he finally broke his August goalscoring duck, but the general performance level is still way off despite the clever finish against Fulham and fabulous header against Manchester United. Kane looks hampered not by a specific injury, but the slight reduction in general output that becomes an inevitability when you play quite so much high-level sport without rest.

 

Watford: Adam Masina
At the end of January, Jose Holebas was involved in an angry exchange with Watford supporters that reportedly ended in him offering to fight them. So when Watford signed Adam Masina from Bologna, a 24-year-old left-back with bags of Serie A experience, the assumption was that Holebas’ time may have come. Instead, the 34-year-old has been just as impressive as Benjamin Mendy, Andrew Robertson and Marcos Alonso, and no player in the Premier League has more assists. Which means Masina sits waiting on the bench for his chance.

 

West Ham: Jack Wilshere
It’s a sorry situation that was detailed in this week’s Winners and Losers, but West Ham really might have cocked up all of their long-term planning this summer by spending £100m and making their central midfield worse. Wilshere wants to either play in a three-man midfield with license to go forward, play as the advanced central midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 or at worst be played alongside a defensive enforcer in a two. Instead he has been paired with Carlos Sanchez or Mark Noble, and watched on as West Ham have been overrun or picked off. The career salvation isn’t going well.

 

Wolves: Leander Dendoncker
Yes, you had forgotten that Wolves had signed a central defender/midfielder who was seriously linked with Manchester United last year. And you’re forgiven for forgetting because we’re still not fully convinced that Dendoncker even exists. He’s been named in the latest senior squad for the country that finished third in the World Cup but has yet to even break into the matchday squad for a promoted team.

Daniel Storey


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