This season a number of stars across Europe’s top leagues haven’t featured as much as one might expect.
In England, Italy, Germany, Spain and France, elite-level players have played fewer than 1,000 minutes, which translates to around 11 games played in their entirety.
So with that being said, here’s a list of footballing heavy-hitters finding space more often on the bench (or in the stands) this season, than on the pitch.
1. Mesut Ozil (Arsenal)
League minutes played: 981
The German playmaker is Arsenal’s highest-ever paid player, earning £350,000 a week. However, such an exorbitant salary hasn’t translated to the pecking order or Emery’s plans. Instead this season, the Spaniard has opted for a more solid, defensively capable midfield, and that means Ozil’s often been benched, subbed off at half-time or not even in the matchday squad.
Will this continue? Yes and no. It’s hard to see a time where Ozil is central to all Arsenal do under Emery due to his style. The price Arsenal are paying literally for that makes the situation untenable.
2. James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich)
League minutes played: 484
In fairness to Rodriguez and a few others on this list, he has been out injured for over 50 days, and so it would be expected that he’d be nearer 1,000 minutes of game time in the league under his belt. However, he’s played just 484, with Bayern looking unlikely to keep the Colombian when his loan runs out in the summer.
On the topic of James, Niko Kovac alluded to extensive competition in the Bayern midfield and told reporters: “I see that he’s motivated and totally focussed.
“We are a big club with great footballers. James is a great footballer who can stake a claim to play. But those who aren’t called James also want to play.”
Will this continue? His future doesn’t seem to be at Bayern, but he ought to feature more than he has.
3. Isco (Real Madrid)
League minutes played: 607
For whatever reason Santiago Solari doesn’t seem to favour Isco as much as Julen Lopetegui and Zinedine Zidane did, and as a result he’s seen his playing time take a dive. Isco’s yet to play 90 minutes in the league under Solari. After not playing him against Real Betis, Solari said, “In no way is there anything personal”, citing tough team selections due to intense competition.
Will this continue? It’s becoming an ongoing problem at Real that Solari doesn’t trust Isco – the commitment the manager is showing to the midfielder’s exclusion suggests it will continue.
4. Fred (Man United)
League Minutes played: 566
Fred has been totally unable to break into the first-team at United with any regularity since his arrival this summer for £47m. A key Mourinho signing last summer, the Brazilian has so far looked distinctly average in a red shirt.
Explaining his lack of playing time, Mourinho said in December: “Step by step… You also have other players in other clubs that needed their time, and you have some of them that played even less than Fred.
“When the team is defensively stronger and doesn’t need people in midfield that are more worried about giving some balance to the team than being involved in creation and attacking dynamics, I think the horizons for Fred change completely.”
Will this continue? No, the pressure’s off at United and with games coming thick and fast, Fred is likely to get more opportunities in a fast-improving team under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
5. Alvaro Morata (Chelsea)
League minutes played: 943
The Spaniard seems unable to prove his suitability as Chelsea’s No.9 and with five goals in 16 appearances, that figure seems to be about his strike rate. Gonzalo Higuain is close to joining the Blues on loan, which could see Morata return to La Liga.
Will this continue? At Chelsea, yes. But with the Spaniard looking likely to leave for Atletico Madrid, he may find more game time soon.
6. Olivier Giroud (Chelsea)
League minutes played: 632
Giroud’s certainly been second-fiddle to Morata, scoring just once in the league so far this term. However, with the arrival of Higuain, it’s conceivable Giroud will see more game time than Morata in the middle and long-term as he offers a different approach in style.
Will this continue? Giroud will almost certainly continue to be a bit-part player at Chelsea; the situation he finds himself in west London is basically the one he was in at Arsenal, with forwards ahead of him in the pecking order.
7. Emre Can (Juventus)
League minutes played: 635
The German centre-midfielder has often been overlooked, at least in terms of starting berths in the league, for Juve mainstays Miralem Pjanic and Blaise Matuidi. Can has played more than Sami Khedira (420 mins).
Will this continue? It’s not clear. Juventus will have Ramsey on the way soon and Matuidi will remain ahead of the German for the foreseeable future.
8. Douglas Costa (Bayern Munich)
League minutes played: 428
The Brazilian has clocked few league minutes this term as Ronaldo’s arrival offset the ecosystem of the attackers at Juve.
Will this continue? The Brazilian may well leave should it persist, with Manchester United rumoured to be an interested party.
9. Riyad Mahrez (Man City)
League minutes played: 943
The Algerian has hit the ground running at Man City really, a missed penalty notwithstanding. It’s little surprise he has failed to make 1,000 league minutes with the form of Sterling and resurgence of Leroy Sane, not to mention the irrepressible energy of Bernardo Silva. Mahrez was left out the squad altogether for Sunday’s win over Huddersfield.
Will this continue? A similar appearance rate in the league is to be expected with such competition in the wide areas.
10. Arturo Vidal (Barcelona)
League minutes played: 717
The Chilean has not looked the same player that brought so much industry and verve to Juventus and Bayern Munich, and this is reflected in his lack of playing time in the league.
Will this continue? Possibly, it’s not obvious whether Vidal can rediscover his earlier form, and at 31, it won’t get easier for him. Meanwhile, Barcelona appear much more fluent with Arthur in midfield, while Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic and Philippe Coutinho will likely be preferred going forward too.
11. Radja Nainggolan (Inter Milan)
League minutes played: 761
A similar story of injuries and less than impressive performances when he has played the full 90 explains why Luciano Spalletti’s man has featured so rarely thus far.
Will this continue? It’s unclear, Spalletti wanted the Belgian so much that highly rated Davide Santon and Nicolo Zaniolo were exchanged for him – the manager’s commitment to Nainggolan should ultimately win out as long as he can rediscover his form and avoid further off-field problems.
12. Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal)
League minutes played: 888
The unfolding contract situation at Arsenal has been odd. The suggestion is Ivan Gazidiz offered Ramsey a £150,000-a-week deal, only to head to Milan. Meanwhile, the lack of funds due to deals given to players like Ozil and Henrikh Mkhitaryan means Ramsey’s deal was later recalled and all talks broke down. This was all happening while Emery sought to enact his own vision on the current Arsenal team – the result was Ramsey was sidelined.
Will this continue? No, at least not in the long-term. The Welshman has reportedly since signed a pre-contract agreement with Juventus.
13. Tiemoue Bakayoko (Milan)
League minutes played: 886
The 24-year-old Frenchman has made 886 minutes in Serie A this term. After a loss to Napoli in August, Gattuso admitted the midfielder has “defects”, saying: “Bakayoko has to learn how to get the ball,” the 40-year-old told his post-match press conference. “We must work correctly. It will not be easy.
“One week is not enough to remove the defects of a player. I would have preferred to be managing older, more experienced club players.”
However, more recently Bakayoko has fought his way into the side, leading the manager to admit to Milan TV he was surprised by the Frenchman’s tactical improvement in December: “Bakayoko? Bakayoko’s biggest surprise is his improvement on a tactical level. We knew the physical abilities he has. I like for how he listens, for how he moves.
“You are seeing a Bakayoko who closes more lines of passage, impacts more and pinches forward. It’s what he missed earlier, today he does not touch it more than twice, it’s an important sign.”
Will this continue? By the manager’s account Bakayoko has proved his value to Milan. However it’s unclear what will happen next term, if the player will stay beyond his loan or return to Chelsea.