Connect in the back of the net

Between these ten players, they’ve won 28 league titles, 22 cups, 5 Champions Leagues and 2 World Cups, but they can’t get a Premier League game.

There are more than 500 players in the Premier League. Only 220 can start a match on any given weekend, with a maximum of 60 substitutes getting some action too.

That means lots of players miss out on regular football. Here we look at the most talented and most valuable of them.

 

10. Giannelli Imbula

 

After signing for Stoke in January, Imbula started all of the remaining 14 league matches of the season. Having impressed at Marseille and Porto, he made a good partnership with Glenn Whelan in central midfield.

Imbula is an exciting, explosive player and from the point he joined Stoke until May, he was fourth in the Premier League for duels won, rated fifth on ball recoveries and eleventh for total passes. Most impressive, he was first in the league for successful take-ons, with 61 over those 14 games.

When Joe Allen joined, some thought Whelan’s time might have come, but Allen has been playing further forward and so could complement both Imbula and Whelan.

The former French under 21 is now out of favour though – with Geoff Cameron and Charlie Adam preferred instead – he hasn’t featured since the fourth match of the campaign.

Being on a six game unbeaten run, perhaps Mark Hughes is proving a point and hoping Imbula works a bit harder because there’s no doubt he’s better over a prolonged period than either Cameron or Adam.

 

9. Saido Berahino

Transfer requests, attitude problems and lack of fitness.

Three reasons given by Tony Pulis – when he stands up to give his press conferences – over the last several months as to why Berahino hasn’t featured.

15 months ago there were calls for an England place as well as moves to a “bigger club”, but those talks have died down as Pulis has squashed transfer talks as well as the reportedly ballooning fee that the forward might cost.

This was August 2015, after Berahino had managed 20 goals in the previous season, as well as being named England U-21’s 2014 player of the year with a record of 10 goals in 11 caps for England’s “unders”.

Since the transfer saga, Berahino has started 20 games (of a possible 49), scored four goals and provided no assists.

What case is there for him to play regularly then? Well, Pulis has played it masterfully. From a player touted to be worth £25m, now unable to make the West Brom team.

With West Brom being slightly better than last season’s bottom six, there was no desperation needed from Pulis and now Berahino surely can’t start over at another club (certainly not a top one) after this run and so he has to prove himself at the Baggies.

Pulis has played the long game here and when it comes to being stubborn, the Welshman is a Rory Delap long throw ahead of the rest.

 

8. Max Gradel

The Bournemouth winger is quick, tricky, can deliver a good cross or set-piece and he’s won stuff – the 2015 African Cup of Nations, no less.

He scored 17 goals for St Etienne in 2014/15, before re-joining Bournemouth and getting injured within a few weeks.

A knee injury sidelined him until late February and despite returning to the side and now being fully fit, he hasn’t started a single league game this campaign.

Gradel is very talented and though he isn’t as proven or perhaps as high profile as the company he keeps on this list, it is a surprise he can’t get a game over Jordan Ibe, Josh King or Junior Stanislas.

Bournemouth have played well in spells this season but as a side in 13th place and one loss from being in the bottom three, Eddie Howe can ill afford to omit players who could contribute positively.

Howe is very popular amongst fans – even the neutrals – and so has been rightly trusted on this one.

Gradel must surely be missing whatever it is that attracted Bournemouth to him in the first place, or he’s still mentally recovering from injury.

Hopefully he comes through this benched spell, as he has lots to offer.

 

7. Michy Batshuayi

The Belgian forward joined the Premier League in the summer for £33.2m. He scored 23 goals for Marseille last season and played at Euro 2016, scoring against Hungary.

With Diego Costa standing ahead of him, I’m not sure anybody expected the young striker to oust him but with Antonio Conte playing with two or three forwards, there might be a chance for Batshuayi to play with Costa.

Instead, the new signing has played 84 Premier League minutes across seven substitute appearances, with no starts.

Conte has settled on a 3-4-3 formation, with Hazard seen to be the key asset and now in a position that gets the best from him.

What an honour and privilege it is for everyone having Hazard interested, by the way.

Pedro has started the last four on the right-wing and Batshuayi is seemingly the understudy to Costa only. A shame given Chelsea have no European commitments, nor the League Cup to play in.

Chelsea have hit form (five consecutive wins) and look like title-contenders again. Perhaps Batshuayi comes in fresh for the 2017 leg of the assault.

 

6. Bojan Krkic

He’d played for Spain, Barcelona, AC Milan, Roma, and Ajax before joining Stoke in 2014. It looked like a mistake but he is now a bit of a forgotten man.

He scored four goals from 14 Premier League starts in his debut season but suffered a bad injury in January 2015 and it ended his campaign after a promising start.

He came back strong though and scored seven goals in 22 starts the following season, with a further five league appearances off the bench.

As a support striker, wide midfielder or centre forward, his energy and ability to beat his man looked to complement what Stoke had and improve them, but this season he has been out of favour entirely.

Bojan has made three starts this season as Joe Allen has played as the number ten, Wilfried Bony the striker, with Marko Arnautovic and Xherdan Shaqiri in the wide roles.

Nonetheless, he has scored twice in the small chances he has had and if Allen is moved further back in a reshuffle or one of the front four get injured he may get his place back but it looks bleak for the Spaniard who can barely muster any minutes off the bench.

Who knew Stoke had such strength in depth, eh?

 

5. Yaya Toure

It’s difficult not to discuss a Yaya Toure problem without mentioning his birthday.

Currently he has quite a big problem and the birthdays continue to tick over. Pep Guardiola and Dimitri Seluk, Toure’s agent, fell out and for Toure, this is about whether he can turn this around – at City or elsewhere.

Seluk seems too arrogant or ignorant to serve up an apology and so Toure’s fate will probably lie elsewhere if he wishes to play football.

At 32, would he really contribute to City anyway? Given the number of games they have and the frequency with which Guardiola has changed the system, it seems inconceivable that he wouldn’t have had a look in.

He could comfortably play as a central defender in a back four or a back three, whilst there should still be a role in midfield during the right game.

Guardiola has his own plans. That Toure could fulfil those roles if he was fully fit and determined to do so is another matter.

The new manager has already offloaded Joe Hart, Eliaquim Mangala, Samir Nasri and Wilfried Bony – players who he doesn’t feel fit what he wants.

It was a statement, as much as the Toure treatment is another statement. A shame for a player who has 75 goals at the club to go with every domestic honour.

 

4. Bastian Schweinsteiger

The European Championship is the only medal missing from the former Germany captain’s cabinet (if he has one).

Three years ago he would have been rightly considered one of the world’s best midfielders and was a regular Ballon D’Or nominee. Under Jose Mourinho, he hasn’t played a single minute.

Never reliant on pace, his brain would do the work and so at 32 years old it seems bizarre to think that he’s finished at the top level.
On the occasions that he was fit and given chances at United, he did quite well.

He started ten of the first 14 league games last season and in that time, despite missing a few matches, he ranked sixth for most successful passes in the league.

He picked up a bad injury and returned at the Euros in the summer as Joachim Low kept his trust.

Mourinho has banished the German to train with the reserves, which is incredibly strange. He has never come across as unprofessional, so surely involving him with the first team is better than not?

If his legs have gone, then so be it. He’s had his share of injuries and Bayern did let him go for a reason, but for a player of his calibre not to have played a single minute in any competition doesn’t add up.

Now training with the first team again, it is likely that he is doing so to be fit for a January move and the MLS may come calling.

A real shame for such a decorated player who could potentially do a great job for so many Premier League or Bundesliga sides.

 

3. Daniel Sturridge

In the last month, Sturridge has started three times for England and just once for Liverpool. His fitness has always been a problem – last season he only managed 14 league games, though he did score eight goals.

His record for Liverpool is excellent, with 43 goals in 76 league games – and that’s accounting for no goals in seven games (four starts) this season.

The problem that the England forward has is not just that Jurgen Klopp likes energetic and mobile players in his front line but that he appears to have found three of them in Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane.

Christian Benteke was surplus, whilst Sturridge and Divock Origi must sit tight. Klopp also suggested that Sturridge was mentally weak last season because he won’t play with a knock.

Some pundits have said that Sturridge has failed at the top clubs he’s been at. City were not a top club in 2009 when he left and Chelsea let good players go all the time.

It also looked a big mistake initially as Liverpool came closer than Chelsea to the 2013/14 league title whilst Sturridge scored 31 goals in 43 games in those first 18 months.

Despite having no European commitments, Klopp will still want Sturridge as a back-up, even if his chances will be few and far between.

His contract expires in the summer of 2019 though, so he might have to make a move well before then. If he did, there would be a reasonably sized queue waiting (with a medical expert on hand).

 

2. Cesc Fabregas

Nearly two months ago, I wrote a piece about why Fabregas can’t get into the Chelsea team and since then, not a lot has changed.

The system has altered slightly, but the two players in central midfield remain.

Fabregas’ creativity remains far greater than Nemanja Matic and his defensive duties are not far behind either.

It seems that his 26 assists and eight goals in 75 Premier League games since joining Chelsea won’t impress Conte much. The problem appears to be mobility and mentality.

In short, whilst Fabregas puts his foot in, he gets run past too easily. Matic doesn’t.

Conte has a front three to score and set up the majority of the goals, along with good support across midfield without Fabregas going into a position where he is expected to defend, attack and aggressively press the opposition.

Conte has relied on workers before and will get good output from those he trusts. For Fabregas, as well as Oscar, the future looks bleak for regular starting berths.

 

1. Henrikh Mkhitaryan

Along with why teams win more matches at home than away, if someone could please look into why world class footballers can play well in one country and then fail dismally in another and let me know the findings, I’d be really grateful.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan left a trail in his wake at Borussia Dortmund as he ran the league ragged, scoring 11 goals with 15 assists in his final season.

He was signed by Manchester United in early July, completed a full pre-season and had no international tournament as a distraction.

Mourinho has cited “lacking match fitness” as the reason, but the Portuguese demands players that he likes be fit.

Simply, there is something Mourinho does not like about Mkhitaryan so far. He has started one league game, making three further sub appearances.

He also hasn’t started in the Europa League, either.

Watching Mkhitaryan last season was a joy to behold. He tore Bundesliga defences apart. His pace and dribbling ability should be precisely what this United side needs.

We’ve seen Mourinho play stubborn before and if Mkhitaryan is lost and offloaded similar to Angel Di Maria, it will be a real shame for everyone who enjoys the Premier League.

He is a real talent.

 

Got anymore players who should get a game? Get in touch!

 

Written by Richard Clark

Follow Richard on Twitter @richardtheclark

Check out his excellent football blog, Blog of the Net and follow them on Twitter @BlogOfTheNet

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