Six Premier League fallers from grace

Daniel Storey

Christian Benteke
“He’s a brilliant number nine. He won’t need just crosses to come into the box. That’s the type of guy he is and on his game he’s a handful. I’m delighted for him. He’s earned that move and if he can do what I think he can do, he’ll do great for them.”

That was the view of Benteke’s former manager Paul Lambert. While many questioned why Liverpool were spending £32.5m on a target man when that didn’t exactly suit their style, Brendan Rodgers joined Lambert in sticking both fingers in his ears and shouting “La la la la”.

As Sarah Winterburn wrote here, Benteke may well be brilliant for someone else next season, but this campaign has been truly rotten. From the fourth-highest fee in the Premier League last summer to Liverpool’s fourth-choice forward.


Bastian Schweinsteiger
Schweinsteiger has not been a complete disaster at Manchester United, but neither has he added the control and calming presence we had anticipated from a central midfielder who won every major honour during his time at Bayern Munich and played a crucial role in Germany’s 2014 World Cup victory.

It was Bayern coach Pep Guardiola who cast the most doubt on Schweinsteiger’s potential use to United: “When he does not have injury problems, I am completely convinced he will do very well at Manchester United. He is a top, top player. Unfortunately, during the last three years he was never in good condition.”

And so it has proved. Schweini has started 13 Premier League games, and has rarely demonstrated the quiet authority that made him one of Europe’s best midfielders before arriving in England.


Eden Hazard
If Chelsea’s fall from grace has at least been tempered by Guus Hiddink’s impact, Hazard’s shows little sign of abating. The worst title defence in Premier League history has been complemented by the worst defence of the PFA Player of the Year crown.

Last season, Hazard contributed a league goal for every 241 minutes played and an assist every 375 minutes. This season, he has an assist for every 595 minutes played and hasn’t even scored a league goal. Worse still, he’s hardly looked interested for long periods of matches.

‘Mr. Eden Hazard, with his ‘I’m the best footballer in the playground’ walk and his perma-wince,’ said one angry Mailboxer on Thursday. ‘Please leave. We have enough pacey and skilled players, the majority of whom look a lot more interested in playing for us.’ Who’d have thought it?


Kieran Gibbs
It’s not that long since Kieran Gibbs was being talked about as a definite for Roy Hodgson’s Euro 2016 squad. During the first half of last season he was keeping Nacho Monreal out of the Arsenal side. Gibbs played 1,658 league minutes during 2014/15.

Not only is Gibbs now surely fourth or fifth choice for England, he’s firmly Arsenal’s second-choice left-back, struggling to convince Arsene Wenger that he is anywhere close to challenging Monreal. Arsenal’s manager has tended to use Gibbs further up the pitch when introducing him as a substitute, but he is likely to be sold in the summer.

Gibbs has played only 365 league minutes this season. When you play every minute of the FA Cup and League Cup campaigns at Arsenal, you know you’re not considered a key player.


Julian Speroni
Only one Crystal Palace player spent longer on the pitch in the league last season than Speroni. While Joel Ward has continued to be a key player, Palace’s goalkeeper has fallen so far out of favour that he’s yet to play a league minute. Speroni has even dropped to third in the Selhurst Park goalkeeping queue. That’s despite neither Alex McCarthy or Wayne Hennessey looking overly reliable.

Palace supporters have had enough. Some have chanted for Speroni at home and away games, while others displayed their anger on social media at the goalkeeper having to turn out for the club’s Under-21 team at the age of 36.

Speroni is a Palace icon, and has never let the club down through his performances or behaviour. It would be a sad way to bow out.


Nabil Bentaleb
Bentaleb was one of the Premier League’s breakthrough stars of 2013/14, playing over 1,000 league minutes at the age of 18. That form continued into last season when the Algerian started 25 league games, a total beaten by only seven Spurs players.

Since then, Bentaleb has sunk without trace as Mauricio Pochettino has found significantly better options in Dele Alli and Eric Dier. Having managed 2,198 PL minutes last season, Bentaleb has managed only 168 minutes during this. Two of those minutes have come since August. Injury problems haven’t helped, but there is no doubt that Bentaleb has dropped down the pecking order.

“But we keep a very good relationship with Nabil and be sure that, if he works like he works in the last few weeks, he will have the possibility to play,” said Pochettino in January. “It’s always about a football decision, and performance.” We’re still waiting.


Daniel Storey