Mohamed Salah, Kevin De Bruyne, Glenn Murray. Three players who’ve all had excellent Premier League seasons for their respective clubs and will head to the World Cup in high spirits – except for Murray, unless Gareth Southgate surprises just about everyone and calls him up to the England squad.
Unfortunately, not every star name has soaked up the acclaim on a weekly basis. No, it’s been a thoroughly miserable nine or so months for some, ranging from the expensive flop who can’t buy a goal to the ageing defender whose utter lack of pace has been ruthlessly exposed time and time again.
And instead of just letting the Premier League’s struggling crop reflect on their difficult campaigns, we’ve decided – in a strangely cruel football writing tradition – to name Football Whispers’ worst Premier League team of the season.
Goalkeeper: Joe Hart
Once the golden boy of Premier League goalkeeping, Hart has had a rough couple of years. His year-long sojourn in Torino was disappointing and, after arriving back at Manchester City to see that the club had signed a younger, better version of him in Ederson, he was swiftly shifted to east London.
Unfortunately, in West Ham United’s yawning concrete monstrosity of a stadium, there has been nowhere to hide. Not only has Hart lost his spot in the England team, he lost it in the Hammers side for a while, too, his error-strewn performances forcing David Moyes to drop him in favour of Adrián.
Hart’s woes were compounded when, after admitting that West Ham’s game with Stoke City was critical in determining his England future, he made a costly error, when he spilled Xherdan Shaqiri’s shot straight into Peter Crouch’s path.
The stats do not reflect kindly on Hart. West Ham’s xG conceded is 54 yet they have actually conceded 60. Hart has played 19 times to Adrián’s 17, so they have both been culpable in conceding soft goals.
But, interestingly, the 30-year-old has now emerged as a Wolves transfer target.
Right-back: Javier Manquillo
It’s difficult to select a Newcastle United player on the basis that Rafa Benítez has done such a stellar job back in the top-flight, but it’s become quite clear that, while the Spanish tactician is well-suited to the Premier League, his fellow countryman is not.
Manquillo has struggled in the games in which he has started and, with Benítez hoping for a summer of heavy investment, the right-back slot will surely be one he will seek to address.
The former Liverpool defender’s woes were compounded on his 24th birthday on Saturday no less, when a difficult afternoon against Watford resulted in him being hooked off for DeAndre Yedlin after 67 minutes.
Manquillo’s passing stats do not make for kind reading. His long ball accuracy is only 38 per cent while he completes only 47 per cent of all forward passes. Plus, his 0.61 successful take-ons per 90 places him below 29 other full-backs in the league.
Centre-back: Kevin Wimmer
Stoke have had a good run in the top-flight. Ten years, in fact, and in that time they’ve had their fair share of solid centre-backs. Ryan Shawcross is one, Robert Huth is another. Wimmer is not. The Potters forked up a tasty fee of £18million to prise the Austrian away from Tottenham Hotspur who, on the basis of how this season has panned out, must be laughing all the way to the bank.
Wimmer’s first – and one suspects only – season at the bet365 Stadium has been a disaster. He featured regularly under Mark Hughes but has not been seen since the Welshman was sacked and succeeded by Paul Lambert. In fact, it was revealed in March that the Scot had placed Wimmer on a special fitness regime in a last-ditch effort to get him match-fit.
For £18million, that is not the type of player Stoke fans had expected. With the club relegated, Wimmer’s future, like several of his teammates, is very much up in the air.
Wimmer ranks all the way down at 63rd in aerials won per 90 with an unimpressive 1.43 while his 26 accurate passes per game isn’t enough to rank him in the top 50.
Centre-back: Shkodran Mustafi
It’s been a season of high-profile mistakes for the German centre-back at Arsenal, many of which have cost the Gunners precious points. It’s unfair to lay the blame solely at Mustafi’s feet, given that Petr Čech, Héctor Bellerín and Granit Xhaka have all been culpable for the odd blunder, but the German’s inclusion has generally seemed to coincide with some sort of snafu.
Mustafi, who cost Arsenal £35million last summer, made schoolboy errors in recent games against Southampton and Newcastle United, while it was his lack of concentration which allowed Sergio Agüero to score the opening goal in the EFL Cup final at Wembley.
That wasn’t the league, of course, but the fact that Mustafi was picked apart by the same opponents in their league meeting four days later spoke volumes of his inability to learn from past mistakes.
Some of Mustafi’s stats, like 4.85 aerial won per 90 or 2.59 tackles won per 90, paint a misleading picture. While he has excelled in some of the fundamentals at times, it’s been his fatal and repeated lack of concentration in big games that have cost Arsenal this season.
Left-back: Patrice Evra
Someone jokingly claimed recently that West Ham signed Evra just so they could announce his arrival with a #ForEvraBlowingBubbles. Astute use of social media, sure, but the Frenchman’s struggles on the pitch have raised serious questions as to why he was signed.
Evra will turn 37 two days after West Ham’s final game of the season and, while disciplinary issues were the reason he was released by Marseille, it had been clear during the latter stages of his time with Juventus that he was a player struggling to elude with the inevitable march of time.
All three of the games in which Evra has started have resulted in 4-1 defeats for West Ham. Granted, two of those were against Liverpool and Manchester City but, seeing as Evra was subbed off after 45 and 66 minutes against Swansea and City respectively, Moyes clearly hasn’t been overly enamoured with his contributions.
Midfield: Tiémoué Bakayoko
Signed as a long-term replacement for Nemanja Matić, the Frenchman has been slow to adapt to English football having excelled at Monaco.
His £40million price-tag means he has been widely derided as a ‘flop’ and, while he clearly has the potential to write the redemptive chapter of his career, it’s difficult to disagree with that assertion.
An injury in pre-season was far from ideal but Bakayoko has looked sluggish, careless and tactically undisciplined in the majority of the games he’s started, the crushing nadir being his inept 30-minute display against Watford, in which he routinely misplaced passes before being sent off for two bookable offences in the space of five minutes.
A lot of overseas players take a year to fully acclimatise to the English game and Chelsea fans will hope Bakayoko is over his worst spell.
The most striking stat with which to illustrate Bakayoko’s decline is passing. He is averaging eight less accurate passes per 90 at Chelsea than he was at Monaco, is trying fewer forward passes and has completed fewer through balls.
Midfield: Grzegorz Krychowiak
With West Brom relegated, it’s highly unlikely that we will see the Poland international back in the Premier League for a while (much to the delight of sub-editors up and down the country).
Krychowiak was considered a transfer coup when he joined on a season-long loan from Paris Saint-Germain and, like Sanches, he has turned out to be a flop.
There was the odd decent performance, against Leicester and West Ham for example, but the 28-year-old has fallen way below expectations, so much so that he hasn’t started under Darren Moore.
For a player that was called ‘The Man with Four Lungs’ after clinching back-to-back Europa Leagues with Sevilla, Baggies fans are entitled to say “what the hell has happened?”
Midfield: Renato Sanches
There can be no argument here. Sanches’ loan spell at Swansea has been an enormously frustrating experience for club and player. His arrival from Bayern Munich last summer generated serious excitement at the Liberty Stadium but the former Portuguese wonderkid has failed to adapt to the rigours of English football.
Clement was relieved of his duties in December, leaving the 20-year-old in limbo. An injury sustained in the FA Cup draw with Notts County in January saw him head back to his parent club for treatment and, while he returned in April, he has not featured under Carlos Carvalhal.
It’s been an unfortunate descent for Sanches. Named young player of the tournament at Euro 2016, he was cut from Portugal’s Confederations Cup squad and has no chance of playing in the World Cup. Clearly talented, here’s hoping he can get his career back on track at a new club next season (assuming that he will be deemed surplus to requirements at Bayern).
One of the main criticisms of Sanches, when he has played, has been his use of the ball and that is reflected by the fact that he’s been dispossessed 3.2 times per 90 minutes, the fourth-highest in the league.
Left-wing: Kelechi Iheanacho
It seems a long time ago now, but at the end of the 2015/16 season, Iheanacho had the best goals-per-minute ratio of any striker in the Premier League. At that point, the Nigerian hadn’t even turned 20 and his future seemed very bright at Manchester City.
And when Pep Guardiola arrived that summer, many expected Iheanacho to flourish under his new manager’s dedicated style of coaching. Yet, while Guardiola has improved Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sané and Gabriel Jesus, Iheanacho struggled to fulfil his promise.
But Leicester had seen enough to offer £25million for his services. So far, it hasn’t been money well spent. Iheanacho is behind Jamie Vardy in the pecking order but has failed to shine when given the chance, including his most recent start in the 5-0 defeat to Crystal Palace, during which he was hooked off at half-time after failing to impress in behind Vardy.
Still only 21, Iheanacho has plenty of time to learn but many Foxes supporters feel he needs to improve his attitude before he makes it as an accomplished Premier League forward.
Striker: Christian Benteke
In April, it was reported that Crystal Palace boss Roy Hodgson had officially lost patience with Benteke. It’s not hard to see why. The 27-year-old, signed from Liverpool in a club-record deal worth £27million back in 2016, has stuttered his way through his second season at Selhurst Park, with just three goals in 30 league appearances after 15 in 36 last term.
Benteke’s goals per game ratio has dropped to 0.12 from 0.43 last season, a dramatic descent which leaves the Belgian in danger of being offloaded. Strikingly, his post-shot xG is less than half of last season’s 14.0 per 90, standing at a comparatively measly 6.4 and, while he was outperforming his xG in the previous campaign, the forward’s goals-xG ratio stands at 0.29.
It remains to be seen whether Palace decide to sell Benteke this summer but, assuming the club pursues the signing of a striker, he may find himself playing second-fiddle to a new recruit.
Right-wing: Guido Carrillo
A club-record signing (costing an eye-watering £19million from Monaco in January), Carrillo has been a crushing disappointment. The Argentine failed to find the net before his compatriot Mauricio Pellegrino got the sack in March and hasn’t started in the league under Mark Hughes.
He isn’t a right winger, of course, but given his sheer lack of impact in the last four months, we simply couldn’t leave him out.
The fact that Carrillo remained on the bench when Southampton were chasing a goal against Swansea in the most important match of their season as Shane Long and Manolo Gabbiadini were sent on suggests that Hughes doesn’t think much of the 26-year-old.
Southampton’s Premier League status is secure for another year but the same cannot be said for Carrillo. Assuming Hughes stays in charge, Carrillo will be one of the first players headed for the exit door in a summer that is expected to bring a major overhaul to the Saints squad.
As an indicator of Carrillo’s sheer lack of impact on games, the No. 9 managed just two touches inside Newcastle’s penalty box during Saints’ 3-0 defeat to the Magpies in March. Two touches in 66 minutes. Ouch.