Iker Casillas (Real Madrid)
When the Spain captain was dropped by Jose Mourinho, most assumed that it was an exercise in political power. That Carlo Ancelotti has stuck with Diego Lopez in his stead perhaps suggests that there was sporting merit to Mourinho’s move. Casillas will hope to go to the World Cup buoyed by triumph in the Champions League, in which he does play.
Martin Caceres (Juventus)
The 26-year-old Uruguayan is a very complete footballer for a defender, and he is comfortable as a wing-back as well as in the centre. Unfortunately for him, he is competing with one of the world’s best right wing-backs in Stephan Lichtsteiner, so he must feed on scraps of action.
Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa (Newcastle United)
It’s rare for a signing from Ligue 1 to not hit the mark at St James’ Park, but that has been the case for the former Montpellier captain. Yanga-Mbiwa has disappointed but it’s not entirely his fault. He’s never had a decent run in his best position of centre-back, being used all too often at full-back and even in defensive midfield. It’s Newcastle’s loss.
David Luiz (Chelsea)
While Luiz is often great to watch, his cavalier nature has not found favour with Jose Mourinho, who has established Gary Cahill and John Terry as his first-choice centre-back partnership. The Brazil man’s main source of starts under the new regime is in central midfield, so a move is likely this summer.
Lucas Digne (Paris Saint-Germain)
After joining from Lille for €15million, Digne had a tricky start in Paris, with his pre-season programme compromised with his involvement in France’s victorious Under-20 World Cup campaign. Currently barred from the XI by Maxwell, this adventurous and skilful left-back will eventually become a fixture for club and country.
Lucas Moura (Paris Saint-Germain)
The 21-year-old wide player’s start on Friday against Bordeaux was only his fourth in Ligue 1 since early November. Often locked out of an Ibrahimovic-Cavani-Lavezzi front three, Lucas provides the zest and supply from wide that PSG sometimes lack. His two assists in the Bordeaux win should—should—see him leave the bench behind for a while.
Toni Kroos (Bayern Munich)
The versatile Kroos has actually started regularly for Bayern this term, in a variety of midfield positions. Yet his angry reaction to being substituted at Stuttgart last week, and his subsequent benching, suggests he may be on the sidelines for a while.
Claudio Marchisio (Juventus)
There’s no shame in being left out of one of the best midfields in Europe, and Marchisio is simply a victim of the fine form of Andrea Pirlo, Paul Pogba and Arturo Vidal. The marauding Marchisio is too symbolic of Juventus to be moved on though, and his time will come again.
Steven Defour (Porto)
With only seven Liga starts this starts this season, Defour has never been undisputed first-choice at Porto, perhaps damned by his own versatility. Lucho’s winter window exit should see him get more of an opportunity in the short-term at least, ahead of Belgium’s World Cup campaign.
Marek Hamsik (Napoli)
The Slovakian midfield dynamo hasn’t started in Serie A since November—partly due to injury but also because Rafa Benitez seems to prefer Jose Callejon to play behind Gonzalo Higuain. It’s a big call on such a prolific, and iconic, player.
Claudio Pizarro (Bayern Munich)
At 35, Pizarro is happy with a more marginal role than before, and he has started just one Bundesliga match this season. Yet he still knows how to make an impact with goals and guile; he did so in last season’s Champions League and recently scored a crucial equaliser at Stuttgart.
Adrian Lopez (Atletico Madrid)
A key player in the early segment of Diego Simeone’s reign at the Vicente Calderon, the Spain international has started just twice in La Liga so far this season. Rapid and intelligent, he might get more of an opportunity with a hectic campaign in La Liga, Copa del Rey and the Champions League to come.