Arsenal: Sead Kolasinac
Kolasinac arrived a year ago to general acclaim: a free transfer and a good fit for Arsene Wenger’s 3-4-3 system. With Nacho Monreal occupying the left-of-centre role in the Gunners’ back three, Kolasinac more often than not took up the wing-back position.
A handful of assists and a goal against Cologne early in his spell had fans salivating about his powerful runs and value for money, but Unai Emery’s reversion to a back four has changed matters.
An injury sidelined the Bosnian early this season and now Monreal has the left-back slot locked down, limiting the former Schalke man to just a single Europa League run-out so far.
Bournemouth: Jermain Defoe
Time has seemingly caught up with Defoe; he’s now 36 and has played only 13 minutes of Premier League football this season, yet this time last year he had started five of Bournemouth’s first eight top-flight matches of the campaign. Indeed, it had been enough to earn him a place in Gareth Southgate’s England squad for the October internationals.
In 2018/19, however, the limits of Defoe’s action amount to a couple of cameo sub appearances and EFL Cup run-outs against MK Dons and Blackburn.
Brighton: Ezequiel Schelotto
Schelotto played midfield or full-back as needed last season, and started 10 matches in a row toward the end of the campaign. Thus far, though, he hasn’t even made a bench for the Seagulls across league or cup.
Far from ideal for the former Sporting CP and Inter full-back, then, although he’s far from the only player to drop off a club’s radar entirely this season...
Burnley: Tom Heaton
From first-choice goalkeeper, team captain and England World Cup squad candidate, to nowhere at all. Heaton’s misfortune can be traced back to a shoulder injury sustained last term, which led to Nick Pope’s unexpected promotion and fine form for the Clarets (then a deserved first England cap).
Heaton is fit again now, but yet to play in the Premier League this season thanks to the arrival of Joe Hart as Burnley’s new No.1.
Cardiff: Harry Arter
A positive change here. Arter was a Bournemouth regular for a time last season, but lost his place around December 2017 and didn’t make a Premier League appearance for the Cherries after New Year’s Day.
A half-season watching from the sidelines convinced the former Woking man to move on, and he’s been one of the relatively few bright spots for Cardiff at the start of 2018/19.
Chelsea: David Luiz
Few have enjoyed a more radical swing of fortune over the past year than David Luiz. Ostracised and blamed under Antonio Conte, the Brazilian played just twice in the league last term after October.
Much of that was down to a knee injury that kept him sidelined, but it’s no secret that he wasn’t trusted by the former Chelsea boss. “If the manager had stayed the same, of course, everybody knows maybe I had to move clubs,” he said in the summer. “Now I am here and so happy.”
That’s no surprise: Maurizio Sarri has restored him to the heart of the defence and Luiz is yet to miss a minute of action in the Premier League.
Crystal Palace: Aaron Wan-Bissaka
Palace’s 20-year-old played a handful of games last term as a promising-yet-untried youngster, but this year he has taken a major step forward and even earned his first cap for England’s U21s.
Wan-Bissaka is now Roy Hodgson’s right-back of choice, impressing with his recovery pace and lung-busting runs down the flank to complement his aggressive ball-winning.
“For him to break in [to the senior setup], he has to knock a few people over along the way before he's maybe considered,” said Hodgson of his youngster’s Three Lions call-up. “But we believe in him, we think he's very good. And England obviously do too.” Quite.
Everton: Leighton Baines
A staple of Everton’s backline for well over a decade, it seems Baines has finally been ousted by Lucas Digne for good. The 33-year-old left-back missed a large chunk of last season through injury, but was still a clear first choice when available and played every minute of 2017/18’s last nine games after returning to fitness.
It took just three matches this year for Marco Silva to demote him in favour of Digne, though, and Baines faces a major fight to win his place back now.
Fulham: Sergio Rico
From Europa League winner and Spain contention to Fulham’s bench as third-choice goalkeeper. In truth, Rico’s talents always looked a little over-exaggerated by his supporters at Sevilla, but he was making a name for himself and even won a senior cap for his country in 2016/17.
He remained first-choice stopper at Sevilla until April of last year, but is yet to make a league appearance for Fulham behind Marcus Bettinelli and fellow summer arrival Fabri.
Huddersfield: Collin Quaner
Considering their start, it’s no surprise that there aren’t too many candidates at Huddersfield to be included under the ‘massive upswing’ category. Travelling fast in the opposite direction is forward Quaner: a regular impact sub last term as one of David Wagner’s first ports of call from the bench, the German is absolutely nowhere this season.
A spot on the bench in the EFL Cup – without playing – is as good as it’s got so far.
Leicester: Ben Chilwell
Leicester had to be patient with Chilwell last season – in his first proper season as a first-choice player ahead of Christian Fuchs, even the young left-back himself admitted that he struggled for consistency.
But after a disciplined summer of extra work and focus, the 21-year-old has emerged a different beast in 2018/19. Chilwell has arguably been Leicester’s joint-best player alongside James Maddison, earning his first three England caps and looking remarkably assured at such a level. Claude Puel’s patience has been well and truly rewarded.
Liverpool: Joe Gomez
Without an early-season injury to Nathaniel Clyne last year, it’s hard to see where Gomez might have gotten game time. As it happens, he was on rotation at right-back with Trent Alexander-Arnold, who eventually won that battle.
Not that it matters anymore; despite missing the Champions League final and the World Cup through injury, Gomez has come back this term in exceptional form – and in his more natural centre-back role too.
There’s a big case to be made for him being the Reds’ best-performing defender thus far, which is saying something for the league’s joint-meanest defence which features the world’s most expensive centre-back in Virgil van Dijk.
Manchester City: Benjamin Mendy
Sometimes players improve, sometimes managers have other favourites… and sometimes, a year-long injury can keep hidden just what a player can bring to their team.
Sidelined and restricted to entertaining via social media for the vast majority of last year, Mendy has roared back into the Manchester City lineup and brought an entirely new dimension to their build-up play.
He’s one of the first names on the teamsheet – when not aggravating Pep Guardiola, that is – and there’s a noticeable difference when he’s unavailable.
Manchester United: Luke Shaw
It would be easy to pick a Manchester United player underperforming or on a downturn, but the biggest variance comes from a player on the opposite trajectory.
Should he have been playing beforehand? Is he really taking his chance now, or merely looking better as results have been worse? Yes, and yes.
Shaw made eight league starts in the whole of last term; he’s already on seven this year and is in the team on merit. He’s back in the England fold under Southgate, and a new contract is just around the corner.
Newcastle: Rob Elliot
Poor Elliot knows just how Tom Heaton feels. Dropping from first-choice goalkeeper this time last year to not even being substitute now must sting, and the Irishman is now approaching a year without playing for the Magpies.
Injuries came at the wrong times in 2017/18; first, he was ousted by Karl Darlow and then by successful January signing Martin Dubravka, who was snapped up permanently last summer. Elliot’s last game was December 27, 2017, and it looks more likely than not that he’ll hit that anniversary.
Southampton: Fraser Forster
Another paid-up member of the frustrated keeper’s union is Southampton’s Forster, whose fall from grace hasn’t even been as a result of injury. The former Celtic man was the Saints’ regular No.1 and a contender for the same role with England, but on Boxing Day it all changed.
After a string of early-season blunders he was dropped and left as a sub for the remainder of the campaign, first by Mauricio Pellegrino and then Mark Hughes. The 30-year-old hasn’t even made the bench this season following the signing of Angus Gunn.
Tottenham: Lucas Moura
An explosive start to the season earned Lucas the August award for Premier League Player of the Month, completing his emergence from bit-part, mid-season signing to a crucial player in Spurs’ system.
Tottenham needed the Brazilian to step up with Son Heung-min busy on South Korea duty for much of the early season, and the 26-year-old responded. After a few largely ineffective months as a sub winger, Lucas has found his place in Mauricio Pochettino’s plans – and even bagged himself a (injury-assisted) return to the Brazil squad.
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Watford: Will Hughes
The Watford midfielder had a couple of spells in the team last term, but they were annexed by injury and being out of favour. Last season under Marco Silva his first Premier League appearance didn’t come until October 28, from whence he slowly established himself either side of hamstring knack.
But he has grown in prominence under Javi Gracia, playing a narrow role from the right of midfield, bringing energy, skill and invention that the Hornets’ front players have thrived off.
West Ham: Aaron Cresswell
Once upon a time, Leighton Baines and Aaron Cresswell looked destined to battle it out to become England’s first-choice left-back. The fight never really materialised, but their fortunes are mirrored now nonetheless.
Cresswell was an almost ever-present for West Ham last term, missing just two league games – yet he’s played just once in the top flight this term, with new boss Manuel Pellegrini preferring Arthur Masuaku. Not ideal.
Wolves: Raul Jimenez
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The summer signing has immediately slotted into Nuno’s first team at Molineux, leading the line and providing a physical presence which complements the pace and trickery of Wolves’ wider attackers. Jimenez has scored twice and assisted three more in five different Premier League matches, demonstrating a measurable impact.
That’s in stark contrast to his regular role of last season: a late sub for Benfica almost every week, closing out the game for 10 or 15 minutes at a time. In fact, the Mexican came on as sub in 26 of the Portuguese side’s first 28 league games, but his loan move this year has elevated him to automatic first-choice starter.
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