A really important note that we really do need you to read: We are not saying that any of the players below are awful, or even that they necessarily had bad seasons. We are saying that their 2018/19 isn’t as good as we expected. And that makes us sad. Some people need to go away and think about what they have done…
Arsenal – Mesut Ozil
Perhaps we are a tad naive but we always expect one of the Premier League’s most ludicrously talented footballers to play like one of the Premier League’s most ludicrously talented footballers. But this season has been largely stop-start-stumble from the German, who seems to have belatedly worked out that working like a dog will get him in this Unai Emery side. He was lauded by a teammate this week for his ‘physicality’. That’s Mesut f***ing Ozil, lauded for his ‘physicality’. We cannot help but be disappointed.
Bournemouth – Jefferson Lerma
When you’re Manchester City and you spend £25m, you’re buying somebody on the cheap and any impact is a bonus. When you’re Bournemouth and you spend £25m, you need to see tangible returns. And when that £25m is spent on a defensive midfielder, you would expect your defence to be less exposed. And yet the Cherries are on track to concede more goals than ever in the Premier League. The goalkeepers have not helped, and nor have Eddie Howe’s counter-attacking tactics, but we expected so much more bang from this Colombian buck.
Brighton – Pascal Gross
“Obviously me and Pascal had a really good relationship last year. Unfortunately it hasn’t flourished as much this year. To be brutally honest, yes, I think I have missed him,” admitted Glenn Murray. Gross is currently injured for the second time this season, but that does not really explain seven goals and eight assists in the Premier League becoming just two of each in a damp squib of a season in which he has too often been the fall guy for Chris Hughton’s change of formation. He is simply not as effective as an orthodox midfielder. Think Dele Alli for England.
Burnley – Robbie Brady
We remember when Robbie Brady was in all those ‘best of the rest’ XIs and then in every ‘five best players available from relegated teams’ when he was part of the Norwich team that dropped out of the top flight in 2016. There was a time when it looked like Everton might pay upwards of £15m for his signature. Now – the other side of a serious injury – he is largely confined to the Burnley bench, and the Clarets have a new hero in Dwight McNeil. Robbie who?
Cardiff City – Josh Murphy
Cardiff have largely exceeded our expectations; even being in a fight for survival in early April means that Neil Warnock and his band of merry hoofers have overachieved. But we cannot help but feel a little disappointed with a three-goal return from Murphy, who cost over £10m when he joined last summer. He might have expected to do just about enough for Cardiff to avoid a swift personal return to the Championship, but at this rate he will be waving to former club Norwich on an imaginary escalator between the two divisions.
Chelsea – Gonzalo Higuain
I genuinely thought this would work, and when I wrote a piece about his arrival in January, it was with some regret that he had not come sooner. Well, now we absolutely see that Chelsea were right not to spend big money on the Argentine last year, because it turns out that he really, really is not suited to Premier League football. “He said to me that it’s difficult, because the physical impact of the defenders here is really very strong,” said Sarri this week. Diddums. No sympathy for you have let me down, your school down, your parents down, your…
Crystal Palace – Max Meyer
What a ridiculously underwhelming season from a player cited as one of the genuine coups of the summer when he signed for Crystal Palace on a free transfer. He occasionally looks excellent from the bench, earns a start and then disappears like a wisp of smoke on a cloudy day. He has started just 12 Premier League games, scored just one Premier League goal and assisted two more. He should be embarrassed that Jeffrey Schlupp has played more football for Palace this season.
Everton – Morgan Schneiderlin
This time last year we chose Michael Keane, which was clearly the kick up the arse he needed. So let that be a lesson to Morgan Schneiderlin, who is steadfastly refusing to be the same player who was so bloody excellent at Southampton. He actually started the season in Marco Silva’s starting line-up, but has appeared there only six times in total this season as he has suffered what his manager diplomatically calls “difficult moments”. These “difficult moments” have now been going on for almost four years. When do ‘moments’ become a career?
Fulham – Ryan Sessegnon
Is it okay to be disappointed in a teenager that’s not your own? Perhaps it was unrealistic but we expected him to be extraordinary, but instead he sank into the mediocrity of a Fulham side that has been chewed up and spat out by the Premier League. Having stayed at Fulham when every elite club in England was interested last summer, he will now have to settle for a club in the middle tier and hope that his confidence can be restored. While the likes of Callum Hudson-Odoi and Phil Foden get better the less they play, Sessegnon has been trusted and has seen his stock plummet.
Huddersfield Town – All of them
Every f***ing one of them.
Leicester – Rachid Ghezzal
Leicester have actually had a good season on the transfer front. James Maddison seemed like a good deal at the time and has proven to be an exceptional one. Ricardo Pereira has been quite brilliant at times. And, if it can be made permanent, signing Youri Tielemans would be an obvious coup.
But there’s always a dud. Ghezzal’s performances this season begs the question: was the entire basis for signing him his uncanny resemblance, in appearance and playing style, to Riyad Mahrez? He receives the ball in the same way, his cuts in-field are remarkably similar too, and he promises to be such a good footballer in more or less the same way. Alas not; he’s not quite quick enough, he’s definitely not physical enough, and he comes with almost no production.
Which is a shame, because before he left Lyon for Monaco he was seen as one of the brighter talents in Ligue 1 and it was tempting to think that Leicester had found themselves a nice little restoration project. They haven’t and he’s already very expendable.
Liverpool – Naby Keita
Maybe this betrays the issue with signing a player so far in advance. By the time Keita actually arrived at Liverpool, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had joined, Fabinho had signed from Monaco and Georginio Wijnaldum had evolved to become more important than probably anticipated.
That’s not meant to be as damning as it sounds, because 12 Premier League starts is clearly not the time to be passing any definitive judgements, but so far the player seen on those Bundesliga highlight packages bears no relation to the tentative one now on Merseyside.
Manchester City – Gabriel Jesus
Remember what he was when he first turned up? This was a player who was supposed to take Sergio Aguero’s position and, for a while, was clearly favoured over the Argentinian by Pep Guardiola.
Ludicrously, despite starting just seven games, he’s still managed to score six times, but that probably speaks more to Manchester City’s strengths than it does his own personal form. At his best, he’s electrifying. His movement and ability to combine with supporting players briefly made it seem as if he’d be one of the faces of City’s image for years to come. Now, he’s no closer to displacing Aguero than Edin Dzeko ever was.
Manchester United – Fred
What even is he? Or, more precisely, what was his role expected to be and whose place was he supposed to take?
We’ll admit to rushing off to YouTube when his transfer was announced and being enthused by his touch and his long-range shooting, but he’s looked clunky and awkward, and doesn’t seem to work in concert with any of United’s existing midfield pieces. There are differences between Ukrainian and English football – clearly – and he’s entitled to the same grace period as any other new arrival, but there isn’t even the suggestion of a vague suitability.
Newcastle – Jamaal Lascelles
Let’s be careful here, because Lascelles is still a fine player, just one who hasn’t developed as promised. Last year he was terrific. Perhaps his form was exaggerated by some, but the calibre of the clubs he was linked with over the summer certainly suggests it wasn’t a trick of the mind.
He hasn’t been bad in 2018-19 – and some of this might be recency bias – but there are just a few too many errors in his game and, arguably, he’s been the least impressive of Newcastle’s three centre-halves. In which there’s no shame, actually, because Fabian Schaar has proven a fine signing and Florian Lejeune only didn’t reveal himself last year because of injury.
Southampton – Mohamed Elyounoussi
Les Reed didn’t lose his job for any single reason, but because he oversaw a period of protracted, poor recruitment. Elyounoussi isn’t quite Guido Carrillo, but this has proven to be another horribly misjudged (and expensive) transfer. It’s easy to see how it happened, because Elyounoussi did have a fine reputation in the Swiss Super League as a dynamic, skilful and goalscoring wide player.
Unfortunately though, he’s just a slower, right-footed and less tenacious Erik Lamela (without the fun step-overs) and, worst of all, he seems to have no natural place in Ralph Hasenhuttl’s reimagined Southampton.
Tottenham – Kieran Trippier
Even allowing for post-World Cup drag, Trippier has been all sorts of awful. It’s not that any one technical attribute has declined – he’s never been particularly quick, he’s not the most secure defender – more that entire decision-making ability has short-circuited since returning from Russia. Reckless nutmegs in his own third, careless passes in-field, a ludicrously cavalier attitude towards runners going beyond him; fatigue doesn’t explain that all away. He’s had an abysmal year and will surely – hopefully – hasten Mauricio Pochettino to the buying window in the summer.
Watford – Nathaniel Chalobah
The caveat is that Chalobah only returned in September from a very serious knee injury and, typically, players need a full season (and pre-season) to recover their form. But part of rehabilitation occurs on the pitch and Chalobah just isn’t getting the game-time. Javi Gracia remains insistent that he still has a role to play at Watford, but his only Premier League appearance of 2019 was a seconds-long cameo at the end of the win over Everton.
It’s a minor tragedy, actually, because his injury occurred at the very moment he began to establish himself. In September 2018, the £5m Watford paid for him looked like a steal and an England cap wouldn’t have unwarranted. Now, 18 months later, he’s nowhere at all.
West Ham – Jack Wilshere
More fool us, really, because it did seem as if his injury problems were a thing of the past. Not so much. He managed three-and-a-half games before breaking down again in September, then reappeared very briefly at the beginning of December, but another – another – ankle injury has meant that he hasn’t been seen since.
He is now back in first-team training and should return sooner rather than later, but – come on – it’s over. At his best, he might have been the player around whom a new era was built at West Ham, but that ‘best’ is almost mythical now.
Wolves – Adama Traore
You don’t need a vivid imagination to picture what Traore could be; his ability to go past players is real enough, but he looks as far as ever from acquiring that elusive end product. He panics. He gets into space and panics; it’s as if he can only play at one speed.
He’s excited Molineux at times this season, and the sight of him squaring up to an isolated full-back will always create the perception that something’s about to happen. Trouble is, it rarely does: Traore has just one Premier League goal this season, against a shambolic, early-season West Ham, and just a solitary assist, for a goal against Newcastle which should never been allowed. We’re with the Proper Football Man on this: there aren’t enough clever analytics radars in the world to convince us that he’s anything more than a massive tease.
Sarah Winterburn and Seb Stafford-Bloor