Premier League XI: Opening-day starters to benched, sold or discarded
Man Utd’s captain, Brighton’s keeper and Everton’s best prospect all started the opening weekend but now, ahead of the reverse fixtures, their fortunes look very different.
Here’s an XI, in 4-3-3, for whom the season started so brightly…
GK: Robert Sanchez (Brighton)
The Seagulls stopper started the season as undisputed No.1 under Graham Potter, playing his part in a 2-1 win over Manchester United at Old Trafford. But despite going to the World Cup with Spain, Sanchez’s standards have dropped this term. Mistakes have crept in and Roberto De Zerbi took action ahead of the win over West Ham, relegating the keeper to the bench with Jason Steele brought in instead.
“In this moment I prefer Jason, but only for our style of play,” said the manager before the trip to Leeds last week. “I think Robert has to improve in this part of the football, for him and us, but I don’t have a problem with him.”
RB: Joao Cancelo (Manchester City)
The Portugal international, who not long ago was apparently revolutionising the full-back role, fell out of favour with Pep Guardiola astonishingly quickly. Cancelo started all but one Premier League game up to the World Cup but upon his return, things went sour. Cancelo didn’t take kindly to being on the bench and Guardiola got rid. Bayern Munich seemed like a great move but it seems the Germans aren’t much fussed about keeping Cancelo. Real Madrid might take him.
CB: Harry Maguire (Manchester United)
The United captain started Erik ten Hag’s first two games in charge: a home defeat to Brighton, and a battering at Brentford. Those chastening defeats prompted Ten Hag to pair new signing Lisandro Martinez with Raphael Varane and, not coincidentally, United immediately improved. Maguire has since struggled to retain his status as first-choice stand-in, with Luke Shaw preferred at centre-back in the occasional absence of either Varane or Martinez.
Read more: Comparing every PL club to the same stage last season: Liverpool worst…
CB: Yerry Mina (Everton)
The Everton centre-back initially lost his place as a result of an ankle injury sustained in the opening-day defeat to Chelsea. But neither Frank Lampard nor Sean Dyche have seen fit to give him back his starting role, with Mina on the bench for all but two games since November. The two he started? A last-gasp home defeat to Wolves and a miserable loss at West ham that prompted Everton to fire Lampard. Dyche hasn’t yet given him a minute.
LB: Jordan Zemura (Bournemouth)
Zemura’s exile is very new and comes as a result of his contract stand-off with Bournemouth. The left-back has started 17 times for both Scott Parker and Gary O’Neil but the latter omitted Zemura against Liverpool as he approaches free-agency at the end of the season. The Cherries hardly missed him, with Lloyd Kelly impressing against the Reds. O’Neil referred to ‘an internal decision’ following Zemura’s apparent refusal to engage in contract talks.
MF: Lewis O’Brien (Nottingham Forest)
O’Brien started the first five games of the Premier League season before dropping to the bench amid a Forest flurry towards the end of the summer. Their splurge continued into the winter window, which saw O’Brien slip even further and out of the Premier League squad. He tried to get fixed up with Blackburn, which became a clusterf*ck that resulted in the midfielder staring at the prospect of twiddling his thumbs for the rest of the season. Until Wayne Rooney came to the rescue with an offer to temp at DC United.
MF: Ben Pearson (Bournemouth)
The midfielder started Bournemouth’s first three games back in the Premier League before, mercifully, being dropped to the bench for the 9-0 annihilation at Anfield. That cost Scott Parker his job and the ex-manager seemingly took Pearson’s prospects with him. He played only two minutes between the end of August and the middle of January before O’Neil shuffled him off to Stoke for the remainder of the season.
MF: Leander Dendoncker (Wolves/Aston Villa)
The Belgium midfielder started for Wolves in their opening-day defeat to Leeds and again the following week in the stalemate with Fulham. A fortnight later, he was shoved through the door in the direction of Aston Villa after Steven Gerrard plonked £13million on Wolves’ table – one of many mistakes that made Gerrard an ex-Villa manager. Dendoncker has managed only three starts, with the Villans already minded to move him on.
FWD: Jesse Lingard (Nottingham Forest)
As one of Forest’s marquee signings of a mental summer, Lingard started at Newcastle and regularly up until the World Cup, in which time he offered zero goals and zero assists. A hamstring injury briefly sidelined the ex-England attacker but when he returned, Forest were amid a run of five games undefeated. With no starts in 2023, he was recalled for the trip to Tottenham. Lingard lasted 45 minutes, making the weekend’s worst XI.
FWD: Joe Aribo (Southampton)
The summer signing from Rangers, who scored in last season’s Europa League final, has seen his status drop with each Southampton manager this season. Ralph Hasenhuttl played him in each of his Premier League games before he was axed. Nathan Jones used him rather more sparingly while Ruben Selles has yet to field Aribo in the Premier League. The only game time he has had under Saints’ latest boss came in the 2-1 FA Cup defeat to Grimsby.
FWD: Anthony Gordon (Everton/Newcastle)
Back in August, Gordon was Everton’s brightest talent. He started the season as their centre-forward against Chelsea amid serious interest from the Blues. But his star gradually waned to the point he struggled to get in a side as p*ss poor as Lampard’s Everton. He copped flak from the supporters and sought refuge through the exit door. Newcastle stumped up £40million and he was away amid rancour and resentment. Not that he’s seen much more action at St James’ Park.