One player per Prem club found down the back of the sofa

Matt Stead

Simple enough: these players either didn’t feature much or at all last season, particularly towards the end, but have played regularly so far in 2019/20. Returning loanees are only allowed if they spent at least half the campaign at their parent clubs, too.


ARSENAL – Ainsley Maitland-Niles
Before this season, Ainsley Maitland-Niles had not started six or more consecutive league games since December 2015. Mick McCarthy will remember each of those fondly, having been the 22-year-old’s manager for that run at Ipswich. In Arsenal terms, starting their opening six games is twice as many as his previous record of three, equalled back in April. He is already more than halfway to his best season for Premier League starts of 11 in 2018/19. It doesn’t bear thinking what Unai Emery would have done without the versatile England youth with Hector Bellerin sidelined, Stephan Lichtsteiner departed and Carl Jenkinson sold – although Calum Chambers would probably have just come in and been immediately “amazing”.


ASTON VILLA – Henri Lansbury
Spare a thought for Henri Lansbury, perhaps the biggest victim of Kevin Friend’s request for chaos. It was the Aston Villa midfielder whose goal – which would have been the 28-year-old’s first in the Premier League on his fourth appearance – was disallowed for a perceived Jack Grealish dive against Crystal Palace last month. Coming four days after he secured a hat-trick of assists in a League Cup demolition of Crewe, Lansbury’s season might have been completely transformed in less than a week. But he remains an option valued by Dean Smith, who “told him he needed to go and look after himself in the summer and come back fighting fit and he has certainly done that”. Lansbury’s reward has been three appearances in all competitions, which is already half as many as he managed in the entirety of 2018/19.


BOURNEMOUTH – Aaron Ramsdale
When Aaron Ramsdale joined AFC Wimbledon on loan in January, few expected him to return from his brief sojourn in League One as a top-flight-ready goalkeeper. Yet under Bournemouth’s noses a Womble may be, and the 21-year-old clearly used his five months at Kingsmeadow wisely. Ramsdale was named their Young Player of the Season after helping guide a club that was bottom and five points adrift of safety on the day he signed to survival on goal difference by May. As August rolled around, a player who had previously only made two Premier League squads (in May and September 2017) was an integral part of a quiet revolution.


It has been quite the journey from a Fulham centre-half who had “never headed that many balls since the Conference” against David Moyes’ Manchester United in February 2014, to a 6ft 7ins defender either keeping £20m Adam Webster out, featuring at wing-back or playing alongside his new teammate in a side that prioritises a passing style from deep. Even earlier this year, Burn returned from a short-term loan spell at former club Wigan and continued to be overlooked – not physically, for that would be impossible – by a Chris Hughton desperate to keep his job and try nothing new. So the 27-year-old did not play a single Premier League game and was restricted to three starts of a possible six in the FA Cup, missing both the quarter and semi-finals. Graham Potter’s clean slate for all has been justified.


Sean Dyche literally uses the exact same players every single season. His sofa is barren.


CHELSEA – Emerson Palmieri
It feels like a lifetime ago that Maurizio Sarri was using height in attacking set-piece situations to justify his continued selection of Marcos Alonso over Emerson Palmieri. A January 2018 signing alongside Ross Barkley and Olivier Giroud, the left-back did not make his Premier League debut until that March, with his first start coming a month later. The 25-year-old’s sofa-based extraction has not been seamless, but it speaks volumes that his absence will be felt as he recovers from the injury sustained against Liverpool.


It’s safe to say Wilfried Zaha and Joel Ward disagree on whether Aaron Wan-Bissaka should have been sold to Manchester United in the summer. The former might consider that his subsequent chances of leaving Crystal Palace were considerably affected by the sale of the club’s only other sizeable asset; the latter would quite fairly surmise that one door closing simply opened another directly in front of him. Ward is now the one player Roy Hodgson cannot afford to lose, already matching his tally of Premier League starts last season after being invited back in from the biting cold.


EVERTON – Morgan Schneiderlin
What seemed a terminal case when his introduction in a Premier League game against Crystal Palace in February 2018 was booed by the Goodison Park faithful received an unlikely shot in the arm when Marco Silva pulled the trigger on his reintegration 12 months later. Ten of Morgan Schneiderlin’s last 14 Premier League starts have thus come from February 2019 onwards, including playing exactly as many minutes this campaign as summer signing Alex Iwobi. This Schneid bastard won’t mind all that much. Even if he is contributing to the sterile possession problem.


LEICESTER – Caglar Soyuncu
Given the choice between spending upwards of £40m on either Lewis Dunk or James Tarkowski, Leicester rather sensibly stood firm and took the third option: replacing Harry Maguire with a player who they actually signed a year earlier. Caglar Soyuncu joined in summer 2018 but found his duties of overseeing Duloc too all-consuming to concentrate on much else. The centre-half made just six appearances in his debut season – which he has already equalled this campaign – with Brendan Rodgers putting the delay down to the Turkish international “adapting to” the Premier League. It is now busy trying to adapt to him.


LIVERPOOL – Rhian Brewster
It will take more than a single League Cup appearance to convince the majority that Jurgen Klopp is serious about Rhian Brewster’s development. Before that start against MK Dons on Wednesday, the U20 World Cup winner had more Champions League medals to his name than games at club level. But the forward has already been on two benches – both against former club Chelsea – to match the number of match-day squads he made last season. It will be interesting to see whether Klopp keeps him down the back of the sofa or elects to place him somewhere in much plainer sight.


MANCHESTER CITY – Benjamin Mendy
It rather encapsulates the nature of the squad that Pep Guardiola has built at Manchester City when a £50m left-back has only just scraped to 25 appearances for the club in over two years. Any ordinary team would have felt the metaphorical pain of Benjamin Mendy’s injury struggles, yet City have masked his absence unbelievably well. Guardiola has managed the situation so well that the Frenchman has never lost, with 22 of his appearances coming in victories and the other three in draws. The aggregate score in matches Mendy has played currently stands at 82-11. Him fit and firing is a fearsome thought.


As long as his wait for a first Premier League start of his career was, Andreas Pereira must have thought the delay in being given his second was even more unbearable. The midfielder played 90 minutes of Manchester United’s season-opening win over Leicester last August, and was thanking a different manager for the same opportunity when it finally emerged against Burnley in January. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s squad refresh took a while to extend to Pereira, who still sits between Juan Mata and Phil Jones in a list of most United appearances under the Norwegian. Having started two of the club’s last nine Premier League games of 2018/19, twice as many starts from three fewer matches so far this season must feel like a godsend, albeit one only initiated by Paul Pogba’s injury.


NEWCASTLE – Jonjo Shelvey
“I think Steve is more straight with you,” said Jonjo Shelvey, trying to convince both himself and Newcastle fans that their new Championship yo-yo was better than their Champions League-winning coach. “As soon as he came in, all he expects is that you work hard. If you work hard you will be fine. That’s what we need to do.” The midfielder presumably worked hard enough in training to subsequently start the club’s first two games, dropped off to justify being dropped for the next two, then picked up his efforts again to start the two after that. Considering the last time he started at least two consecutive Premier League games under Rafael Benitez was last November, he must be satisfied. At least someone is at St James’.


NORWICH – Grant Hanley
An unwanted captain
, albeit one that lifted the Championship trophy mere months ago. Of course, the actual nature of Grant Hanley’s contribution should be put into perspective: his solitary minute in the meaningless final league game was one of only two he was given in 2019. The 27-year-old started Norwich’s first six Championship games and played 32 minutes in the entire season thereafter. He started their first three Premier League games and has not been seen beyond a bench since. Daniel Farke was always likely to shove him down the back of the sofa again when the injury crisis subsided.


Before John Lundstram came along, the last player to score in a Sheffield United Premier League win was Chris Powell, whose own goal for Watford gave Neil Warnock a glimmer of survival hope in April 2007. But the Blades have grander ambitions and finer football tastes 12 years on, and Lundstram has been surprisingly central to it all. The midfielder is one of eight players to have started all six games, having started just five in all of last season in the Championship. An injury to John Fleck, the retirement of Paul Coutts and the departures of Kieran Dowell and Mark Duffy opened up a space that Lundstram has ably filled. And as Chris Wilder said in pre-season: “He’s possibly a player that many would have thought we’d have moved on in the summer, but he’s got a definite part to play.”


SOUTHAMPTON – Cedric Soares
“I don’t want to say they have no chance to play, but for sure the challenge is a big one because of the players here who have been successful in the last months,” said Ralph Hasenhuttl of two particular Southampton players in July. Eager to continue stamping his authority on the side, the Austrian coupled returning loanees Cedric Soares and Wesley Hoedt together, having taken both on their pre-season training camp. But while the latter was sent out again to Royal Antwerp, the former stayed to prove his loyalty to the cause. A brief spell with Inter Milan from January until May did little to dampen Cedric’s Saint-like patience, which has been proven particularly virtuous after Yan Valery’s untimely injury. Even when the 20-year-old returns, a switch to left-back is not out of the question for the formerly outcast European Championship winner.


TOTTENHAM – Kyle Walker-Peters
Despite him being the club’s only fit and available right-back at the time, it was a genuine surprise to see Kyle Walker-Peters start for Tottenham against Aston Villa that month. He impressed sufficiently to be trusted even against Manchester City, before Newcastle swept the rug from under the feet of the Champions League runners-up. And now the 22-year-old is unfortunately back to square one, behind Serge Aurier and, inexplicably, Davinson Sanchez in the pecking order. Perhaps his is one of those “different agendas”.


WATFORD – Nathaniel Chalobah
It is an inexact science, but the fact that a Google search of ‘Chalobah’ returns Huddersfield’s Chelsea loanee Trevoh as the top result is an indictment of sorts on brother Nathaniel five years his senior. The permanent summer 2017 move to Watford was supposed to help the midfielder realise his potential, but a career-threatening knee injury put paid to those hopes. Chalobah has never truly recovered, with Javi Gracia referencing “other players” and stating that he tries “to choose the best option” in explaining his absence in April. That burden has now fallen upon Quique Sanchez Flores – although Chalobah’s 19 minutes after six Premier League games does beat last season’s nine after 11 already.


WEST HAM – Ryan Fredericks
Even with his ankle injury as mitigation, it took Ryan Fredericks until February to make his sixth Premier League start in 2018/19. Missing just ten minutes at the end of the Manchester United humbling this season means he has already reached that mark with ease, and his complete absence from League Cup squads altogether encapsulates the new-found importance of the only obstacle between a 34-year-old Pablo Zabaleta and regular Premier League football.


WOLVES – Roman Saiss
Easy enough, this: three Premier League starts in six games this season is not a bad haul for a player who started four Premier League games from February to May last campaign. Roman Saiss also featured in each of Wolves’ six Europa League qualifying wins, before being named as an unused substitute in the defeat to Torino. Go bloody figure.


Matt Stead