10 players who have something to prove in the second half of the season
Ander Herrera, Manchester United
Herrera seemed the ideal signing for Manchester United this summer, after the club activated his €36 million release clause at Athletic Bilbao. Tom Cleverley had failed to fill the boots of Paul Scholes, and Marouane Fellaini looked clumsy and out of place in deeper central midfield role. United’s midfield had stopped dictating games under David Moyes: the Reds had lost their meanness from the Sir Alex Ferguson era.
Herrera, a midfielder with a little bit of everything, was the man to fix that.
But he hasn’t quite begun quite how he'd have liked at Old Trafford. A mixture of injuries and inconsistency has seen him start just six league games, and we're yet to see the Spaniard display his best form. A sumptuous volley against Yeovil last weekend highlighted his talent, but with a huge budget at United’s disposal, the 25-year-old will hope for a more defined role in the team before the season's end.
Mesut Ozil, Arsenal
This time last year Ozil could do no wrong at Arsenal, with the Gunners holding top spot in the Premier League as they entered 2014. The Germany international signed from Real Madrid seemed to have brought an extra level of creativity with him from the Bernabeu that could help the Gunners genuinely challenge for the title.
But as Arsenal’s league hopes began to crumble in spectacular fashion, so too did Ozil’s form. The German appeared unsuited to his starting berth on the left, and his impact diminished as the campaign wore. He was, of course, part of the Germany side that stole the show in Brazil, yet he still failed to reach his best on a personal level. This season he has been out since October with injury, and Wenger’s men have struggled in his absence. Arsenal fans will be hoping his return to the side will bring some added guile alongside the irrepressible Alexis Sanchez.
Danny Ings, Burnley
Ings’s return of five goals in a struggling side this season has been a solid one, and if he is to remain a top-flight player it will simply be a case of maintaining his current level of performance. The major question is whether that will be with Burnley or not.
The Clarets have battled valiantly to keep themselves within touching distance after a difficult start, but they remain in the bottom three with just over half the season gone. Ings’s contract is up in the summer, and his form for the remainder of campaign may determine where he ends up. Tottenham, Southampton, Newcastle and Leicester have all been linked with moves for the England under-21 international, who began his career at boyhood club Saints before being released.
Skip to 00:33 for Ings's first goal of the season
Wilfried Zaha, Crystal Palace
Zaha joined Manchester United on the crest of a wave in summer 2013 after dragging Crystal Palace to the Premier League, and big things were expected of the Eagles’ academy graduate. Yet things couldn’t have gone much worse for Zaha since his move up north.
The £15 million man didn't feature in David Moyes’s plans, making just four appearances before being loaned to Cardiff in the second half of the campaign. Zaha did play up front for United in their summer tour of the States, but with Van Gaal spending big on Angel Di Maria, the England international has found himself back where it all began. With Yannick Bolasie now on Africa Cup of Nations duty, Zaha will need to step up under Alan Pardew if he is ever to return to United. Helping his boyhood club to safety would be a good start.
Adam Lallana, Liverpool
Lallana wasn’t meant as a direct replacement for Liverpool’s departed figurehead Luis Suarez, but it was thought that among a raft of other signings, the Southampton man might be able to help Liverpool consolidate their place in the top four. Instead the Reds have crashed out of the Champions League group stages and lie eighth in the league, seven points off Lallana’s old club Southampton.
Lallana, weighed down by a hefty £25 million price tag, has been a symbol of Liverpool’s decline. There have been some promising signs, including a brace in the recent 4-1 win over Swansea, but he has too often found himself on the bench and unable to remedy Liverpool’s inconsistencies. He now faces a month on the sidelines, and will have to hit the ground running upon his return if the Reds are to reach Europe again next season.