8 big players who need to step it up in 2016/17 (ft. Arsenal, Chelsea and Man United stars)
1. Juan Mata (Man United)
If the Red Devils do finish in the top four and Mata remains at the club beyond the summer, he could face a fight to stay in the first team
When you consider Mata was bought for over £37 million, it’s fair to say the Spaniard has been a disappointment at Old Trafford.
He’s sometimes been saved by his knack of scoring and assisting important goals (although he's only netted three and set up three in his last 25 games), but the Spaniard simply hasn’t stepped up enough when it’s really counted – especially considering Manchester United’s woes this season.
If the Red Devils do finish in the top four and Mata stays beyond the summer, he could face a fight to stay in the first team. There's another spending spree in the pipeline as United seek to mount a challenge for the title again, and he will have to take things up a notch if he's to remain a starter in his third full campaign at Old Trafford.
2. James Rodriguez (Real Madrid)
A move to Real Madrid may have come too soon for the former Monaco man, who has only played the full 90 minutes in three of his side's last 17 games
It’s been nearly two years since James Rodriguez was the most-talked-about footballer in the world. Having dazzled crowds with his superb goals and standout performances at the 2014 World Cup, there was a sense in Brazil that a new world star had been born.
Fast-forward to the present day, though, and he's most frequently seen on the Bernabeu bench.
A move to Real Madrid may have come too soon for the former Monaco man, who has only played the full 90 minutes in three of his side's last 17 games. Rodriguez was never going to be afforded the luxury of being the main man in the Spanish capital, with former Colombia national team coach Pacho Maturana recently admitting that he doesn’t see a place for him in the Blancos' starting XI.
Rodiguez could rectify the situation by seeking pastures new, with Manchester United and Chelsea both linked with a move this season.
3. Eden Hazard (Chelsea)
A loss of confidence, niggling injuries and the destructive influence of Jose Mourinho's third season have probably all played a part in the downturn
Hazard's fall from grace has been spectacular, the 2014/15 PFA Player of the Year and driving force behind Chelsea's title-winning campaign having become a shadow of his former self in 2015/16.
A loss of confidence, niggling injuries and the destructive influence of Jose Mourinho's third season have all played a part in the downturn, but nobody could have envisaged Hazard sinking so quickly when he was at his imperious best last year. The Belgian will be desperate to return to his best next term, whether he's playing his football in London, Paris or Madrid.
4. Mario Gotze (Bayern Munich)
Formerly considered one of the hottest prospects in European football, Gotze is in limbo at Bayern Munich, who may not offer him a new contract in the upcoming close-season
Another player whose current situation is a far cry from what people expected back at the World Cup, Gotze finds himself in no man’s land at present.
Formerly considered one of the hottest prospects in European football, the German is in limbo at Bayern Munich, who may not offer him a new contract in the summer.
Gotze only featured in 11 games for Bayern before sustaining a ligament injury in October, and looks set to see out the season from the bench now that he's fit again. He's also got a big task on his hands at international level, with the former Borussia Dortmund man unlikely to be part of Joachim Low's first-choice XI.
A reunion with Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool could be on the cards – could his former mentor revive his career?
5. Yaya Toure (Man City)
He's still capable of scoring the odd spectacular goal, but that's often no longer enough to make up for his lack of contribution in general play
Gone are the days where Yaya Toure would consistently power his way through midfields and provide pieces of magic to turn a game in Manchester City's favour; at 32 years of age, the Ivorian is clearly on the decline.
He's still capable of scoring the odd spectacular goal, but that's often no longer enough to make up for his lack of contribution in general play. A change may be welcome for both club and player – particularly with Pep Guardiola set to arrive at the Etihad Stadium – with Roberto Mancini reportedly keen to bring Toure to Inter.
6. Isco (Real Madrid)
There have been question marks over his attitude as well his on-pitch performances, while Isco failed to step up when Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema were sidelined
Another Madrid player who was destined for great things, Isco has – like Rodriguez – struggled for game time this term: the Spaniard has only completed the full 90 minutes once since the end of January, and contributed only two league goals all season.
There have been question marks over his attitude as well his on-pitch performances, while he failed to step up when Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema were sidelined. He could be shipped out by Madrid this summer, with Juventus, Manchester City and Arsenal all linked. If he does stay on at the Bernabeu, Isco needs to remind the club's supporters and management what he's capable of.
7. Cesc Fabregas (Chelsea)
Having struggled to make an impact on games, been accused of being a defensive liability and given the ball away too easily, Fabregas' reputation has taken a hit
Fabregas is another Chelsea player to have suffered a prolonged dip this season, with the former Arsenal midfielder routinely looking uninterested and on the decline.
He was one of the Blues' worst performers under Mourinho in the first half of the campaign, and while he has improved under Guus Hiddink, Fabregas has never hit the levels of early 2014/15.
Having struggled to make an impact on games, been accused of being a defensive liability and given the ball away too easily, Fabregas's reputation has taken a hit. If he wants to be a starter under Antonio Conte next season, he'll have to hit the ground running.
8. Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal)
When Santi Cazorla was struck down with injury earlier this season, bringing an abrupt end to a promising midfield partnership with Francis Coquelin, the blow was softened by the return of Ramsey. Or at least, that’s what Arsenal fans were hoping.
Things haven't gone to plan, with Ramsey largely underwhelming in the centre of midfield. All of the qualities that marked him out as a potentially great midfield player – namely his drive, box-to-box running and passing ability – have been nonexistent at times.
It speaks volumes that January signing Mohamed Elneny has taken his place in the Arsenal engine room already, immediately looking like a better fit alongside Coquelin. Ramsey's still only 25, but he needs to prove he can flourish in central midfield sooner rather than later.