We’re now two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, and the transfer landscape is starting to return to some sense of normality. Despite that, no one expected the 2022 January window to be busy for any club not nicknamed after a highly intelligent black and white bird. But by the time February rolled around, the 2022 January window turned out to be one of the most exhilarating affairs since COVID hit the football market. Unfortunately for many top quality stars, that only resulted in places lost, broken promises and newfound roles on the bench. Without warning, some of the Premier League’s most in-form stars suddenly dropped out of the team, only increasing the intrigue of all that happened earlier this year. So with that, today, we take a look at 6 Premier League stars who lost their place this season to little fault of their own.
MATT TARGETTEmbed from Getty Images
Matt Targett is a fantastic place to start this countdown, having gone from one of the first names on the team sheet at Villa, to suddenly, seemingly, a nobody. Villa had no other left-back to truly challenge Targett for a place, which allowed the former Southampton man to develop his craft and come into his own as a Premier League level defender. Not only did Targett up his attacking output and quality, he also improved his 1v1 defending and positional understanding. At the time of leaving Villa, Targett was having his best season at the club in terms of progressive passing in areas like passes into the final third (4.21 per 90), key passes (1.38) and passes into the penalty area (1.45). He was also achieving defensive highs in tackles + interceptions (4.15 per 90) and blocks (2.77) since arriving at the club, again showcasing his improvement.Embed from Getty Images
But without warning, all of that came to a halt when Everton’s Lucas Digne (above) entered the frame and earned a place on reputation and experience alone. Targett immediately fell out of the lineup, and Newcastle smartly swooped in to save the Brit from having to spend the rest of the season on the bench. Since moving to Newcastle, Targett has been a revelation, and has only upped those highlighted numbers all the more. This story certainly has a happy ending, and Newcastle deserve immense credit for finding a perfect match for one of their greatest needs at exactly the right time. But nevertheless, how Matt Targett got to this point remains particularly peculiar, and seems slightly unjustified no matter how talented Lucas Digne may be.
LUCAS MOURAEmbed from Getty Images
Out of everyone at Tottenham Hotspur, Lucas Moura demonstrated the most immediate improvement in Antonio Conte’s initial set of matches at the club. The Italian manager found a perfect role for the wing wizard, allowing him to invert in central areas and involve himself in build-up phases, on the right side of Spurs’ illustrious front three. Every Batman needs a Robin, and Moura was perfectly playing that supportive role up until the end of January – even chipping in with 4 goals and 3 assists in Conte’s first 10 matches in charge. But with Conte scouring the market at the end of January to identify ways of taking Tottenham to the next level, he found a perfect fit in Swedish youngster Dejan Kulusevski. Since joining, Kulusevski has been an absolute revelation, even earning himself a standalone article on our site. His defensive work rate and movement off the ball have been particularly eye-catching, and he’s nearly matched Moura’s goal contribution this season already in his first six matches. Lucas Moura is the type of player to put his head down and use this as motivation to only grow stronger as a player, but he would be justified in feeling hard done by, given the start he had to life under Conte.
DIOGO JOTAEmbed from Getty Images
Diogo Jota has to be the biggest name on the list, having been the second highest scorer in the Premier League at the time of losing his place. Jota was having a remarkable season, and establishing himself as a genuine Team of the Year candidate before the end of January. We wrote an entire series about who Liverpool should sign to be their next Firmino, Mane and Salah, operating under the assumption that Jota would continue to play anywhere in that front unit without worry. But out of nowhere and relative obscurity, Liverpool plucked Colombian winger Luis Diaz out of the Portuguese league, and instantly installed the rampant wide man into their team. There’s an argument that Luis Diaz has adapted quicker to Premier League life than 99% of the players before him, to a near Bruno Fernandes or N’Golo Kante level, without needing to be as revolutionary given what Klopp already had at his disposal.Embed from Getty Images
He’s been absolutely perfect for Liverpool, dominating 1v1 duels with his pace and trickery out wide. But at the same time, you have to feel Jota’s been hard done by, given his exceptional form to this point in the season. Making matters all the more unfortunate, he suffered a knock at the exact same time that Diaz arrived and Mane + Salah returned from AFCON, almost initially losing his place by accident. But Diaz has performed to such remarkable heights, that it’s hard to imagine a scenario where the Colombian comes out of the team. Sadio Mane has also stepped up his goal return since moving into the striker role, while Mohammed Salah is one of the unequivocal un-droppable players in world football at the moment.
So for the time being, whether it’s right or wrong, Diogo Jota will have to bide his time from the bench. When he does return to the starting eleven, he’ll have to hit the ground running and find the back of the net with regularity. Otherwise, Luis Diaz will continue to steal his hard-fought spot away.
ILKAY GUNDOGANEmbed from Getty Images
Manchester City’s top scorer last season, Ilkay Gundogan was essential to the team’s ‘false nine’ tactics in 2020-21, and a major reason why they were able to claim another dominant Premier League title triumph. Perhaps most impressively of all, Gundogan was never a goal-scorer in any of his previous seasons. At Dortmund and his other seasons at City, he was always more of a defensive presence and a box ticker (we’re claiming royalties on that term), keeping the ball ticking and moving as he went from box to box. Out of nowhere, he stepped up to score 13 goals in 28 Premier League matches, essentially allowing the team to continue playing without a recognized number nine. He started the season off in similar form, and has scored 5 goals with 4 assists in 20 Premier League matches, his best return for assists since moving from Dortmund. But despite continuing to impress, the 31-year-old hasn’t been able to get a regular look into City’s midfield three in recent months, due to the impeccable form of Bernardo Silva, the resurgence of Kevin de Bruyne, and the emergence of Phil Foden in the false nine role. Gundogan’s had a tremendous amount to work around in reclaiming a place, but continues to be one of the team’s first substitutes given his vast skillset. Nevertheless, he can consider himself unlucky not be one of the first names on the teamsheet this season, given his importance in 2020-21.
JOHN STONESEmbed from Getty Images
After years of hit and miss campaigns, John Stones finally established himself as the man to be in a Manchester City shirt in 2020-21, forming a remarkably solid partnership with Ruben Dias. Both players made our Team of the Year (2020-21) and the actual PFA Team of the Year itself, with their leadership at the back providing massive solidity en route to another Premier League win. But since an exhausting campaign at the Euros with England, Stones has struggled to reclaim his place this season. Aymeric Laporte has re-emerged instead, and the consistency in City’s performances haven’t dropped one bit. With Laporte performing to an equal effect as Stones’ 2020-21 campaign, the Englishman hasn’t been able to emerge from the shadows and has even needed to shift over to right-back to break into the team on occasion. Given that Aymeric Laporte offers slightly more experience, and operates as a left-footed centre-back to compliment Dias’ incredible ability and leadership, John Stones will be lucky to break into the team again anytime soon. Nevertheless, that’s through no fault of his own, given that 2020-21 was the very best campaign of his career for both club and country.
MARCUS RASHFORDEmbed from Getty Images
Marcus Rashford was one of the stars of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s reign in charge of Manchester United, and had a formidable past two seasons under the influence of the United legend. The now 24-year-old scored 28 goals with 16 assists combined across the 2019-20 and 2020-21 Premier League seasons, performing a pivotal role in Ole’s quick attacking transitions. Even in a team that had Bruno Fernandes as its star, Rashford continued to be the one to pull United out of the dark and score all-important goals that propelled the club to where they wanted to be. But then, after a tireless couple of seasons, Rashford’s energy levels began to fade and he hardly kicked a ball at the Euros, with the formidable form of Raheem Sterling only making his life more difficult. Injuries and fatigue continued to play their part at the start of the 2020-21 campaign, with Jadon Sancho and Mason Greenwood holding down a place on the wings in his absence. Since Ralf Rangnick’s come through the door, Rashford’s struggled to truly nail down a place. It hasn’t helped that Jadon Sancho’s finally found top form, and that Anthony Elanga’s burst onto the scene to compound matters. But this is Marcus Rashford we’re talking about – one of the stars of the past two seasons for United.Embed from Getty Images
There’s no real reason why Rashford shouldn’t be starting every match for the club, even ahead of someone like Cristiano Ronaldo who’s been inconsistent in performance. He perfectly fits the profile of what Rangnick wants to achieve at Old Trafford, and can play in multiple positions across the front-line. Unfortunately, the 24-year-old will need to continue to showcase that day in and day out in training. Otherwise, it will continue to be a season to forget for Marcus Rashford, and the least promising of his career up until this point.
CONCLUSIONEmbed from Getty Images
If there’s one thing we can all take away from this case study, it’s that every single Premier League player is susceptible to losing their place, and that starting matches is never a guarantee. As the Premier League’s second highest scorer, no one would have expected Diogo Jota to spend so much time on the bench at the start of this year. Similarly, no one would have thought Ilkay Gundogan would lose his place in the City team, after finishing as their top scorer last season. But nothing is guaranteed in football, which as we all know, is one of the many reasons why the beautiful game never fails to entertain. Hopefully all of these stories will reach a happy climax, such as Matt Targett’s remarkable start to life at Newcastle. But for the time being, you have to wonder what these six players did wrong to lose their place.
So there it is! Six Premier League stars who unfairly lost their place this season. Be sure to check out more of our Player Analyses, Tactical Analyses, and our Transfer Market compilation. Also be sure to give us a follow on social media @mastermindsite, or join our email list via the links below. Thanks for reading and see you soon!
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