Room for improvement
There are just 13 rounds of Premier League fixtures remaining. Thirteen games to clinch the title, secure European qualification or avoid the drop – depending on your objectives.
An immense £1.26 billion was splashed out on new signings by Premier League clubs last summer, and while some arrivals have hit the ground running, others have flopped completely. Either way, the following players are capable of better than they've shown at their new clubs so far and must improve in the run-in...
Fred (Manchester United)
Signed for an enormous £52 million from Shakhtar Donetsk last summer, United’s Brazilian midfielder has made just 10 Premier League appearance since and featured only twice as a substitute in the league under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
The 25-year-old has started three games in the last four months and is finding it hard to break into the Norwegian’s plans, having failed to feature at all in their last six matches.
Solskjaer has sought to reassure Fred that his time will come. He said: “I don’t think he needs to worry too much. He’ll get chances." When they come, Fred must take them if he's to shake off the flop tag that he's in danger of being branded with.
Riyad Mahrez (Manchester City)
Mahrez was Manchester City’s biggest summer capture, signed from Leicester for £60 million – but he has now featured for a grand total of two minutes in the champions' last five Premier League games.
The Algerian even dropped out of the matchday squad altogether for a recent trip to Huddersfield – Pep Guardiola citing "rotation, a tactical decision" as the reason – and must now pounce on any opportunity he gets to prove he should be starting ahead of Leroy Sane or Raheem Sterling.
It’s not a bad selection dilemma for Guardiola to have, but Mahrez is now without a goal since the start of December – one of five league strikes he has notched this season. City fans will hope he can be reintegrated to devastating effect as their team aims to oust Liverpool from the summit.
Caglar Soyuncu (Leicester City)
Jonny Evans lauded Soyuncu as “the future of Leicester City” after he made just his second start against Southampton at the end of November, but Foxes fans could be forgiven for expecting something more in the present.
The 22-year-old was brought in for £19 million last summer after featuring regularly in the Bundesliga with Freiburg, and was expected to move above Wes Morgan or Evans in the defensive pecking order.
However, six months later he has made just five Premier League appearances and there is little sign that Claude Puel is changing his mind about the Turkey international who's featured just once in Leicester's last 10 league games.
Jean Michael Seri (Fulham)
Seri’s arrival at Craven Cottage in July was met with enthusiasm after an impressive spell at Nice had made him a sought-after midfield prospect.
It looked like a fine piece of business for the newly-promoted Premier League hopefuls, but Seri’s impact has been less pronounced than fans had hoped; this was, after all, a player who Barcelona legend Xavi had described as a midfielder “with Barça DNA.”
His talent has been seen in glimpses, like the missile he scored against Burnley, but that remains his only strike in a Fulham shirt. The pace of English football has seemed too much for him at times. Seri has bags of ability, but Claudio Ranieri needs him to assert his influence on a consistent basis if Fulham are to be saved.
Kenedy (Newcastle United)
The 22-year-old Brazilian re-signed at St James’ Park on loan from Chelsea last summer after impressing in the second half of last season. However, six months on he's been the subject of calls from fans for the move to be terminated early.
Kenedy's indifferent form and recent social media activity – ‘liking’ a social media post of Song Heung-min celebrating his winning goal against the Magpies – has rubbed some Magpies up the wrong way.
Rafa Benitez has vowed to be patient, admitting that “he [Kenedy] knows he needs to improve”. With Newcastle hovering just two points above the relegation zone, that upturn would be welcome sooner rather than later.
Naby Keita (Liverpool)
Liverpool fans had to wait to see Keita in action: the Reds agreed a then-club-record £48 million move way back in August 2017, only for the Guinea international to stay on at RB Leipzig for another season.
Keita made a promising start to life at Anfield, but the 23-year-old’s form has since tailed off amid his adaptation to a new league, language and country – although an injury that ruled him out for a month back in October didn’t help either.
Jurgen Klopp has kept the faith, handing Keita starts in Liverpool’s last two league games, although he has admitted that “there is a lot more to come” from the all-action midfielder. A period of adjustment should be allowed for, but if Liverpool are to cling on to their place at the top of the table, they will need their expensive recruit to start delivering the goods more regularly.
Stephan Lichtsteiner (Arsenal)
Arsenal’s veteran full-back was hung out to dry over the weekend after his poor display in the 3-1 defeat to Manchester City. Pundit Alex Scott described him as “all over the place”, as the Switzerland international gave another suggestion that his legs simply aren't capable of competing at Premier League intensity.
When he arrived from Juventus last summer on a free transfer, many Gunners applauded a sensible move that would add some steel, leadership and a sprinkling of dark arts to a soft backline. It’s been an experience to forget so far for the 35-year-old, though, who Arsenal desperately need to rely upon with Hector Bellerin injured for the rest of the season.
Chelsea fans have been on Jorginho’s case lately, but Maurizio Sarri has insisted that it’s the midfielder’s team-mates who must adapt their games. “Jorginho needs movement without the ball from the other players because he is used to playing one-touch and it’s very difficult to play one-touch without the movement of the other players,” he explained.
There’s no doubt that Sarri will be reluctant to drop the playmaker after they excelled together at Napoli, but the Stamford Bridge faithful want more from their £57 million man. The 27-year-old is undoubtedly a hugely gifted footballer, but must find a solution to the man-marking brief that opposition managers have begun to regularly impose on him.
Andre Schurrle (Fulham)
A World Cup and Premier League winner with Germany and Chelsea respectively, Schurrle appeared to be a coup for Fulham when he arrived from Borussia Dortmund on a two-year loan deal in the summer.
The Cottagers’ problems have been widespread, but the hit-or-miss form of such a decorated player has fallen far short of expectations. The 28-year-old has scored six goals in 21 Premier League appearances so far this season, but his team-mates will need him to show his worth more often to help dig them out of relegation trouble – the west Londoners are currently 19th, seven points adrift of safety.
Everton’s Brazilian winger possesses all the qualities that excite football fans: lightning pace, the ability to beat a man and dazzling close control. If only he could add finishing to that list.
He was a bargain signing on a free transfer from Shakhtar Donetsk, and while his performances have often excited Toffees fans, his wastefulness in front of goal has also cost them – most notably against Manchester United and Chelsea.
His delightful goal against Lincoln City in the FA Cup was his first for the club, and with Everton’s form taking a nose dive recently, Toffees fans would like to see their winger breaking his league duck soon.