Danny Drinkwater (Chelsea)
I’ll let you see behind the curtain for a moment: I started writing ‘Leicester City’ instead of ‘Chelsea’ in the brackets above before correcting the mistake. I do it all the time with Drinkwater, because my brain cannot compute that he moved to Chelsea for £35m last summer.
That’s probably not a compliment, although it’s not all Drinkwater’s fault. Thigh problems and a calf strain meant that his Chelsea debut did not arrive until October 25, by which point Tiemoue Bakayoko had played 11 matches. With N’Golo Kante and Cesc Fabregas also fighting for central midfield roles, Drinkwater looked a bit-part player eight weeks after he arrived.
And now they have Ross Barkley too. Antonio Conte says that Barkley can either be a member of a midfield three or as a No. 10 in a 3-4-3 shape, but both impact upon Drinkwater’s chances of regular league minutes. It’s like the good old days when they signed Scott Parker and Steve Sidwell and rarely played either.
Juan Mata (Manchester United)
It’s all very well having a friendly smile and writing a mean blog, but neither of those things fly with Jose Mourinho. If Alexis Sanchez arrives at Old Trafford, someone is going to lose out. With Henrikh Mkhitaryan already persona non grata, it will probably be lovely Juan.
Sanchez is most likely to play as a No. 10 or on the right, with Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial sharing duties on the left. That leaves Jesse Lingard against Mata fighting for one position, and there’s only one person winning that contest right now.
That matters to Mata, because he is entering the last six months of his Manchester United contract and the club have not yet activated the one-year extension clause. It’s not a particularly strong look to be struggling for your place when trying to persuade potential suitors.
Danny Welbeck (Arsenal)
We’ve only just dealt with the emotional punch to the stomach that is Welbeck dropping out of the top 23 on the England ladder, but things are quickly getting significantly worse. He has played 704 league minutes of a possible 2,070 Premier League minutes this season, and that was before Arsenal tried to recruit two players to deal with the departure of Alexis Sanchez.
The reason for attempting to sign Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as well as Mkhitaryan is to recreate their fruitful relationship at Borussia Dortmund, but that only works if they play together. With Mesut Ozil and Alexandre Lacazette also confident of getting into a front four that suddenly looks a few different types of sexy, Welbeck and Alex Iwobi are fighting for scraps.
Iwobi at least has the advantage of being a) young and b) one of Arsene Wenger’s favourites. At the age of 27 – yes, all our lives are draining away – Welbeck has a difficult summer decision to make.
Dejan Lovren (Liverpool)
You can’t fault Lovren’s timing. Liverpool may have spent the entire summer chasing Virgil van Dijk, but four consecutive league clean sheets at the end of last season persuaded Jurgen Klopp that he didn’t need to scale down his ambitions. It was Van Dijk or nothing.
Unfortunately, 2017/18 has marked the return of the real Lovren, a player whose professionalism and desire cannot be questioned but whose ability is not sufficient for Liverpool’s grand intentions. The eventual arrival of Van Dijk should end this difficult marriage of inconvenience.
In fact, Lovren’s bad news might not stop there. If Liverpool have serious ambitions of challenging for the title, they will need to recruit at least one more central defender. A summer move away from Anfield would come as no surprise.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin (Everton)
When Everton announced their intention to sign Cenk Tosun for a fee of £27m, Calvert-Lewin was probably a little annoyed. He knew this day would come, having spent the last five months laughing at five No. 10s fighting for one or two positions while he started 16 Premier League games a year after signing from a League One club for £1.5m. But he reassured himself with the fact that he can also play as a wide forward.
And then Everton went and signed Theo Walcott, who basically does the same thing as Calvert-Lewin but will be paid a great deal more money for the privilege and therefore is far more likely to start. Now Calvert-Lewin either waits behind Tosun and Walcott in the striker queue, or Walcott and Yannick Bolasie in the wide forward queue. It might take a fair while for him to accrue his next 16 league starts.
Tom Ince (Huddersfield Town)
It will take me an awfully long time to get my head round Alex Pritchard moving for fees totalling £21m having played a total of 73 Premier League minutes before the age of 24. Yet if Huddersfield and David Wagner truly believe that Pritchard is the signing that will keep the club in the Premier League, he’s going to play every game.
Ince has been playing as a No. 10 since Kasey Palmer’s long-term injury. He did finally end his stint as the Premier League player who had taken the most shots this season without scoring (now Matt Ritchie, fact fans), but the performance level has been exactly the same as always: bright sparks but inconsistent.
With Elias Kachunga also injured, Ince is likely to be farmed onto the wing again. His output will have to improve if Wagner is to keep the faith.