Paul Pogba (Man United)
This list could feasibly have been filled with six Manchester United players, but Pogba sits head and shoulders above (below?) his team-mates. There’s no doubt that a rocky relationship with Jose Mourinho has demotivated the Frenchman this season, and if it truly was a case of star player vs star manager, United have made their choice.
But Pogba too must take some responsibility. It’s too extreme to say, as Gary Neville did on commentary during the Liverpool game, that Manchester United’s midfielders can’t pass the ball 10 yards and that Mourinho bears no responsibility for that, but Pogba has hardly helped his cause. He remained on the bench at Anfield partly due to Mourinho’s spite and partly because he hasn’t dominated a game in months.
Pogba will be confident of flourishing under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, but he also has a huge amount of goodwill to claw back from supporters who see him as part of the disease rather than a symptom of it. Having seen him flourish for Juventus and France, we know Pogba has the characteristics to succeed in the Premier League – but right now, that doesn’t make United fans feel much better.
Last season, Kenedy was Newcastle’s saviour. His arrival in January gave the squad a lift and a precious creative presence, and the Brazilian backed that up with a very tangible impact. He scored or assisted four goals in 13 games, while also dragging opposition players out of position and playing with a confidence that belied Newcastle’s league position. When his loan deal was renewed for a further year, there were celebrations on Tyneside.
Perhaps Kenedy has got complacent in familiar surroundings, or perhaps he’s being suffocated by the smog of negativity that eventually dulls everything bright at St James’ Park. Either way, he’s become a shell of his 2017/18 version, providing half as many goals or assists as last season despite having played more minutes. He’s also been caught in possession too often, taking multiple touches when one might do.
“I don’t think Kenedy is low on confidence, although I think he knows that he isn’t playing at the level he can play,” Rafael Benitez said diplomatically after the victory over Huddersfield, before going on point out that he’s asked Kenedy to take on a slightly more defensive role in the team. But that still doesn’t excuse the carelessness and lack of spark. It would be lovely to see it return.
Jean Seri (Fulham)
As Fulham’s season continues to lurch from disaster to disaster – the goals have started to dry up for a team still conceding comfortably more than two per game on avaerge – it’s easy to forget just how excited we all were by a big-spending promoted club with eyes on a top-half finish.
Fulham’s dire defending hasn’t been helped by the flaws of individuals who struggled to keep clean sheets in the Championship, but Seri’s signing from Nice was intended to provide an excellent central midfield screen. The Ivorian was reportedly chased by several Champions League clubs but was sold on the idea of Premier League football and life in London.
Seri hasn’t been appalling; that description would be unfair. But his form of September and October has trailed off into mediocrity, a problem the player has blamed on ingrown toenails which make playing in cold weather a problem. It’s a niche excuse.
Now there are reports that the FA are investigating his transfer due to potential irregularities over agent involvement. It really isn’t going well.
Alvaro Morata (Chelsea)
An accomplished striker going through a wretched run of form, or a striker who flourished in a bit-part role but is simply not good enough to lead the line for a team with title ambitions? The regular change of manager at Stamford Bridge has often given key players a new lease of life, and Antonio Conte’s extended exit strategy did stymie several of Chelsea’s best. But it has done nothing for Morata.
The abiding image of the Spaniard last season was him hitting the floor in frustration having missed a presentable chance. The abiding image of the Spaniard this season is him holding his hands up in innocence having been caught offside. No Premier League player has been flagged more than him; Morata has only started 10 matches.
With Maurizio Sarri now preferring Eden Hazard as false nine or Olivier Giroud as a central striker – and Hazard has revealed that he prefers to play with Giroud – it’s hard to see how Morata redeems his reputation at Chelsea. A move back to Italy or Spain next summer would make sense.
Jordan Ayew (Crystal Palace)
Ayew was hardly likely to score 15 league goals in a struggling Crystal Palace team, but his arrival on loan from Swansea gave him a third shot at the Premier League after spells in south Wales and at Aston Villa. He scored seven times in the top flight in 2017/18, and Roy Hodgson reasoned that Ayew could ease Palace’s goalscoring woes.
Not a bit of it. The Ghanaian has played 667 Premier League minutes and had 10 shots in total, only one of which was on target. Rather than giving Palace’s attack an edge, Ayew has fitted in with the bluntness that surrounded him when he joined.
“I know that I will get rewarded,” Ayew said last month. “My career hasn’t been easy but I always keep working hard and have belief in my qualities so I don’t have any problems.” Sound intentions, but nothing is changing. The chances of his loan move being made permanent next summer seem slim.
Jamie Vardy (Leicester)
After the disappointment of playing very little part in England’s World Cup campaign, Vardy made the call to retire from international football. Now in his 30s, the striker believed that staying on top form for Leicester should be his priority.
The problem is that Vardy’s form has tailed off badly ever since he made that decision, to the extent that he’s even been left on the bench by Claude Puel for several Premier League fixtures – not helped by a niggling groin injury with has stunted his season. The striker has scored two non-penalty goals, yet taken 28 shots in the league.
Vardy is a confidence player; he thrives on the high-intensity, aggravating style that made him almost unique in the Premier League over a three-year period. But, feeling that his status within the squad was waning, Vardy’s mood has dampened. If Leicester are looking to make a managerial change to address the club’s middle-lane coasting, it might well do Vardy a favour too.