With less than a week to go before we’re all blessed with the Premier League returning, all the excitement is naturally around who is going to play and who is going to grab the headlines.
But behind all that are a number of players who’ve failed to dazzle; either warming up the bench or offering precious little when called upon.
This is the case for a swathe of players across top flight clubs, and they’ve certainly got a point to prove to prevent their respective managers losing their patience, or even moving them on.
Here. 90min looks at ten players who need to step up to the plate when the Premier League kicks off again.
1. Tanguy Ndombele
He’s only been in north London for a short space of time, but Tanguy Ndombele has already faced the public wrath of Jose Mourinho.
Accused of being injured or unfit pretty much every week, Tottenham fans have yet to see the very best of their record signing since he joined from Lyon. Occasionally he’s shown glimpses of his ability, notably during the first half an hour of Spurs’ 7-2 humbling to Bayern Munich back in October.
That may sound bizarre considering the scoreline, but that brief showing in midfield was the level of output that the club have expected from the Frenchman. It’s not all been his fault, though, as Mourinho is yet to calculate the formula that brings out the best in Ndombele.
Clearly a fantastic talent, it’s now up to him to respond to his manager’s criticisms and do his talking on the pitch in order to fire Spurs into a Champions League spot.
2. Moise Kean
Juventus’ owners will be sat happily on a pile of notes amounting to £27.5m having seen how Moise Kean has performed since he joined Everton.
Looking like one of Europe’s top prospects at the time, the Italian club clearly thought otherwise when they allowed him to move to Goodison Park in one of the most surprising deals of the summer. Thus far, they were right to let him go – as he’s flopped considerably since making the move to the Premier League.
He’s found the back of the net just once in his 26 outings for the club to date, looking well off the pace and clearly struggling to adapt to English football. His confidence is shot, but he certainly hasn’t helped his case with some questionable antics during lockdown, including hosting elaborate parties and jetting around Europe.
Carlo Ancelotti has got a cemented front two now in Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison, so it’ll be a big ask for Kean to wrestle his way into the starting lineup. If he doesn’t up his game, Everton will cash in before it’s too late.
3. Felipe Anderson
Everyone was singing the praises of Felipe Anderson last season, and rightfully so. The Brazilian was superb in his debut season at West Ham, scoring nine goals and registering four assists to make this English malarkey seem a doddle to adjust to.
Fast forward to this season and, just like the Hammers, he’s been nowhere near good enough, hence why they’re staring down the barrel of relegation into the Championship.
West Ham’s run-in for the rest of the season is hard, but there are five winnable games left to play that will require some Anderson flair to earn valuable points.
He, along with the rest of David Moyes’ side, need to improve ten-fold. Costing nearly £35m and scoring just once all season simply isn’t good enough. Truthfully, the whole squad could be included on this list.
4. Harry Wilson
Seven goals from his 23 games on loan from Liverpool is, well, actually quite good. But for someone on the books at the Champions League winners, the fact he’s scored just once since matchday 15 is not up to scratch.
Bournemouth are in serious danger of being relegated, and in the situation they find themselves in, every player needs to step up to the plate. Wilson is certainly a talented player, but if he wants to make it at Liverpool (spoiler: he won’t) or even earn a move elsewhere, then he’s got to find his scoring boots again.
As a winger that’s not all, though, and the fact he’s not registered a single assist in the league is not helping Eddie Howe on his mission to dodge the drop.
It was a real coup for the Cherries when they secured him on loan, but his recent return is cause for concern.
Newcastle paid £40 million for Joelinton. Let that just sink in. AND this was before their potential takeover has taken place. Madness, really.
If he’d have hit the ground running and banged in 15 goals by now we wouldn’t be mocking the signing, but the striker has done the complete opposite of that and cuts a forlorn figure on Tyneside.
One solitary goal in 29 Premier League outings is utterly horrendous. It truly is.
Should this takeover actually occur, then you can be sure that a striker will be top of the wishlist for the new owners, and even if it doesn’t happen, I’m sure Steve Bruce would happily spend £10k on a League Two striker who’d surely do a better job.
6. Nicolas Pepe
Nicolas Pepe has not been dreadful this season, let’s make that clear. His goals and assists return is commendable(ish) for someone with a £72m burden on his shoulders, and who didn’t have any resemblance of a pre-season.
Yet, more has got to be asked of a player who tore Ligue 1 apart last season and had all of Europe scrambling for his signature.
Of late he’s shown his worth, with three assists and a goal in the three games prior to the league halting, but he’s going to have to maintain that for Arsenal‘s remaining ten fixtures.
Their hopes of securing a Champions League spot hang by a microscopic thread, and their record signing will have to show he was money well spent if the club are to stand any chance of salvaging their dire campaign.
7. Kyle Walker
Someone whose name we’ve heard plenty of during lockdown – but would have rather remained anonymous – is another who has a point to prove when the top flight returns.
Kyle Walker’s various lockdown floutings caused quite the stir, and his credibility took an unfortunate knock. But that aside, he has to prove he remains one of the finest right-backs in the country – first by convincing Pep Guardiola.
Dropped for Joao Cancelo for Manchester City‘s game against Manchester United – their last before lockdown – will not have sat well with the defender who has both a place in the Citizens’ team to fight for, as well as with England.
Now 30, there are a plethora of right-back options for Gareth Southgate to choose from when Euro 2021 comes around and, at present, it appears as if Walker is falling further and further down that pecking order.
8. Oliver McBurnie
Sheffield United are seventh in the Premier League table and should they win their game in hand on those above them, they’ll move into FIFTH.
It’s truly remarkable to consider (especially since the entire 90min team predicted they’d be relegated this season) but you can’t help but wonder where they would be if their strikers were scoring regularly.
Lys Mousset and John Fleck sit atop the scoring charts with five apiece, but neither of them cost the £17m that Oliver McBurnie did.
Granted, Chris Wilder’s style has worked brilliantly and doesn’t rely on a 20-goal-a-season striker, but with just four goals this term, McBurnie could be offering much more to his side considering he’s featured in all-but two of their Premier League matches this term.
9. Wilfried Zaha
Crystal Palace simply cannot score. That’s mostly down to their goal-shy strikers, but their star man hasn’t pulled his weight either this season – netting just three goals in 29 league matches.
Considering he’s desperate to leave Selhurst Park this season, in order for clubs to spend the money needed to lure him away from Palace, then more is needed.
As 90min revealed, Paris Saint-Germain have registered interest in Wilfried Zaha thanks to his change of agent, but in the case of Palace, more is needed from him in the final third for the remaining fixtures this season.
With interest from English clubs drying up, should he hit top form then certain clubs on these shores may reignite their pursuits of him, and offer other potential avenues in the summer.
10. Jesse Lingard
Less than two years ago Jesse Lingard scored a worldie for England in a World Cup match. Remember that? Since then it’s been anything but joyous for the forward, who looks nowhere near good enough to be turning out for Manchester United.
What’s more, with new signings arriving at Old Trafford and more seemingly on the way, his days with the Red Devils look numbered despite having a year left on his contract that includes an option for a further 12 months.
He simply hasn’t been near the standard required, with goals and assists drying up faster than a puddle in Peru. Without a full 90 minutes under his belt in the Premier League this season, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is clearly losing patience.
In his last eight league outings he’s seen only 23 minutes of action, so if he is to reignite his United career, the next nine matches will be pivotal in doing so. They could be crucial in determining how the rest of his career pans out.