Mesut Ozil and 20 Underwhelming Premier League Performers This Season
With the Premier League coming to its conclusion—one that looks likely to prove particularly dramatic—it is about time to start taking stock of everything we have seen this season.
Some players have stood out for their remarkable contributions, but others have received intense scrutiny—and sometimes the ire of their own fans—for failing to deliver up to expectations.
With that in mind, here is a selection of 20 players whose seasons are unlikely to be considered a success by anyone other than their closest friends and family.
Are there some players we've left out? Leave your suggestions in the comments below.
Mesut Ozil (Arsenal)
If Mesut Ozil's season had occurred in reverse, it is highly likely that pundits and fans would be far kinder in their assessments of his first season in English football.
The German made a fast start to life in the Premier League, impressing immediately with his poise and vision as his playmaking quickly propelled Arsenal to the top of the table. He was immediately hailed as the £42.5 million difference-maker, the sort of A-list talent that the Gunners had been missing for so many seasons.
Unfortunately, as the campaign wore on, Ozil seemed to wear out. The loss of Aaron Ramsey from the engine room seemed to blunt his effectiveness somewhat, while he seemed to go missing in big away games in the Premier League and crucial Champions League ties.
His penalty miss against Bayern Munich at the Emirates, where he never looked like scoring, seemed to sum up his form at the time.
Four goals and eight assists (in 21 league appearances to date) is a mediocre return for such a talent, even if it was always likely to take him at least a season to adapt to a more physical league than he was used to, along with the difficulties of moving to a new country and a new culture.
Ozil will surely be far better next season.
Fernando Torres (Chelsea)
You would have had to have hidden under a rock for the past few months to not have heard Jose Mourinho bemoan his lack of striking options at Chelsea this season.
Demba Ba and, to a lesser extent, Samuel Eto'o have hardly covered themselves in glory this term, but it is Torres who has been the most obvious frustration. The Spaniard has contributed just four goals and four assists as the supposed "main striker" in a season where the Blues have nevertheless found themselves strong title contenders.
His touch and composure has been poor throughout; Torres continuing to look a shadow of the player who was once the envy of the Premier League while at Liverpool.
Torres is widely considered one of the players most likely to leave their current club in the summer. It will be interesting to see just how much the value of the one-time £50 million man has depreciated.
Maarten Stekelenburg (Fulham)
Perhaps the best goalkeeper at the 2010 World Cup, the Dutch international could well miss out on this summer's tournament after a terrible season that has seen him lose his No. 1 spot at struggling Fulham.
Stekelenburg arrived in the summer as a supposedly experienced goalkeeper to seamlessly fill the void left by the departing Mark Schwarzer, but it has not worked out like that as a number of errors have led him to be usurped by David Stockdale as the season has gone on.
Fulham fans will have expected so much more.
Fernando Amorebieta (Fulham)
Like Stekelenburg, Amorebieta was signed with the intention that he would settle into central defence and give the Cottagers a resolute pairing alongside Brede Hangeland.
Unfortunately, initially at least, that proved not to be quite the case—as the ex-Athletic Bilbao man struggled to adapt to the Premier League and looked far from the experienced and cultured centre-back he was proclaimed to be.
The managerial uncertainty at Fulham has hardly helped, and Amorebieta has improved over time, but if the club manage to stay up (and it remains a big "if") more will be expected of the Venezuela international next term.
Iago Aspas (Liverpool)
Without wanting to get too blunt about it, it became pretty clear pretty quickly that Iago Aspas was not up to the standard Liverpool required this season.
Aspas, signed from Celta Vigo in the summer for just under £8 million, started Liverpool's first three games and then came off the bench in the next two, but since then has managed to play more than 10 minutes in a league game exactly once—an hour-long cameo against Hull City on New Year's Day.
Partly that is down to the form of his team-mates—Philippe Coutinho, Daniel Sturridge, Luis Suarez and Raheem Sterling have been consistently excellent, something that has also minimalised Victor Moses' game time—but equally it was because Aspas looked off the pace and undercooked in his initial appearances.
The Spaniard's agent has recently insisted to Italian journalist Gianluca Di Marzo that he wants to stay at Liverpool next season (via Ben Jefferson of the Express), but it remains to be seen if he can find himself a squad role at Anfield.
Martin Demichelis (Manchester City)
Martin Demichelis has often been the scapegoat for Manchester City this season, with a number of high-profile errors, in equally high-profile games, costing his side at key points this season.
In Demichelis' defence, it has not helped that injuries to Vincent Kompany and Matija Nastasic (along with the latter's stuttering development) have forced him to play far more than his manager, Manuel Pellegrini, initially envisioned. Nevertheless, his notable inconsistency has forced City to pay a heavy price at key moments.
The first leg of the Champions League loss to Barcelona was a fine case in point; Demichelis enjoyed a brilliant first half of well-timed interventions and astute reading of the game, before losing Lionel Messi for a split-second, bringing him down in the box and earning a red card.
Messi scored the penalty, and City never looked like winning the tie. City need far better from Demichelis, or whoever ends up playing central defence alongside Kompany most regularly, next season.
Papiss Cisse (Newcastle)
Two goals all season is a shocking return for Cisse, who announced his arrival in the Premier League with 13 goals in 13 games back in 2012.
This season, in contrast, the Senegalese started by getting involved in a spat with the club about wearing its sponsor on his shirt, before unconvincingly shrugging off reports of a potential (lucrative) move to the Middle East.
With no other out-and-out goalscorer of note to call upon, Newcastle have been exposed all season by Cisse's dramatic loss of form.
Ricky van Wolfswinkel (Norwich)
If Cisse's season has been a disappointment, then spare a thought for Norwich City fans. All their strikers (many signed in the summer) have been busts, but Ricky van Wolfswinkel has been the biggest disappointment of all.
The £8.5 million signing has scored exactly once all season—on the very first day of the season!—as the Canaries have remained precariously poised just above the relegation zone.
If they go down, Van Wolfswinkel may well become an even more expensive weight around the club's neck.
Pablo Osvaldo (Southampton)
After joining the Saints for £12.8 million, Osvaldo scored three league goals and got in one training ground fight before being sent on loan to Juventus for the rest of the season—an impressive return, in its own way.
The Italy international has always been a controversial figure, but if proved to be nothing more than a disappointment for Southampton. It remains to be seen whether they can claw back much of their initial outlay when they attempt to sell him on in the summer.
Jozy Altidore (Sunderland)
While we are on the subject of underwhelming strikers, there is the case of Jozy Altidore, who has played nearly 1,700 minutes for Sunderland this season—with the total return of exactly one goal.
To some extent that cannot be entirely blamed on the American, as the Black Cats have been rooted to the bottom of the table for much of the campaign. But he has done remarkably little to help lift them from that struggle, putting himself about at the head of the attack to little discernible impact.
Altidore's particular gifts may see him well-suited to the Championship, should Sunderland end up being relegated. But this season has been nothing but a disappointment for him.
Robert Soldado (Tottenham)
What sort of return should you expect on a £26 million striker? Roberto Soldado started so well, with three goals in his first three games, but a return of just three more since then is surely far less than Tottenham were expecting when they signed the cheque.
Four of those goals were penalties, only inflating Soldado's final total. That would be bad enough, but the ex-Valencia man has also contributed remarkably little to his side's build-up play, invariably looking isolated and vaguely disinterested in the games before Emmanuel Adebayor (back from the reserves) usurped him as the preferred option.
A quick sale in the summer cannot be ruled out.
Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand (Manchester United)
While he is far from the only Manchester United player the accusation can be levelled against, it is no exaggeration to suggest Nemanja Vidic has underwhelmed for United this season.
Usually so dependable at the heart of the side, this season the Serbian (when not injured) has looked a pale impression of his former self, getting exposed time and time again. Although he has found a bit more consistency in recent weeks and months, his impending move to Inter seems to be coming at the right time for club and player.
He has not been helped, however, by the fact his usual partner, Rio Ferdinand, is suffering a similar late-career demise. If anything the ex-England man has looked even less impressive; slow to the ball and making far more uncharacteristic errors.
Put simply, Paulo Gazzaniga just is not very good. Southampton have conceded 16 goals in the eight games he has played in this season, with the Argentine somewhat at fault for many of them.
He may be young and somewhat raw, but the Saints surely need a better back-up option next season.
Mohamed Diame (West Ham)
Mohamed Diame seems to think Liverpool want to sign him this summer, according to a report by Graeme Yorke in The Daily Mail, but that seems somewhat unlikely considering the season he has had.
While statistics are not everything, the ex-Wigan player has seen his numbers in most significant midfield areas diminish this season, and he has struggled to catch the eye in a West Ham midfield that has been pragmatic rather than inspirational for much of the season.
When asked about Diame's future last weekend, West Ham manager Sam Allardyce responded to reporters: "What, about going to a top-six club?! Aahh... well he'll have to perform better, wouldn't he?!"
A damning indictment.
Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa (Newcastle)
Wasn't Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa the steel at the heart of the Montpellier defence, the captain who inspired the club to an unlikely Ligue 1 triumph in 2012? Wasn't he supposed to bring that poise and quality to Newcastle?
Whatever the case, Yanga-Mbiwa's first full season on Tyneside has been underwhelming to say the least, slipping in and out of the first team as the likes of Mike Williamson have been called back to the fore in preference to the £8.5 million signing.
Occasionally Yanga-Mbiwa has been played out of position at right-back, but there too he has struggled, with his aerial ability called into question on a number of occasions. The jury is still out, but he looks like one Toon signing from French football that will not pan out.
Stevan Jovetic (Manchester City)
Can you really criticise a player if injury undermines his first season in a new country and unfamiliar league? Perhaps not, but at any other club than Manchester City, the travails of £22 million Stevan Jovetic would have become deeply scrutinised by fans and media.
Jovetic has managed less than 300 minutes of Premier League football in his debut campaign, scoring twice. Most of that has been due to injuries, although Manuel Pellegrini seemed somewhat skeptical about the legitimacy of the injury earlier in the season.
Whatever the case, City have paid for his troubles—with the absence of the reliable fourth striker Jovetic was supposed to be keenly felt when Sergio Aguero went down injured and Alvaro Negredo suffered an alarming loss of form.
City fans, and Pellegrini, would have hoped for much more this season.
Erik Lamela (Tottenham)
As underwhelming as Jovetic has been, at least he didn't cost £30 million. That is the price Tottenham paid for Erik Lamela, the winger who has managed to play barely 30 minutes more than the Montenegrin over the course of the season.
Injuries have also been a key factor, but it is the transition to a new country and style of play that seems most to have affected the Argentine, as he struggled horribly in the early part of the season before finding himself getting familiar with the physio room.
His only truly impressive games coming in the Europa League, Lamela's inability to fill Gareth Bale's old role in any meaningful way has been a contributing factor to Spurs' underwhelming season (far from the only reason, though).
Current Spurs boss Tim Sherwood claims there is no chance that Lamela will play again this season. If that is the case, he has a lot of making up to do next term.
Lukas Podolski (Arsenal)
In fairness, Podolski both started the season and is ending the season well—with injuries causing him myriad problems in between.
But the issue remains, he has not been the influential attacking player most fans would expect of a Germany international with over 100 caps. Part of that is due to being forced to play in a wider position than he might like (partly due to injuries, partly due to Wenger's own preferences), but six goals and two assists in 16 league appearances to date is a barely acceptable return for such a player.
Podolski was savaged by ex-Arsenal player Paul Merson prior to this week's game against West Ham, but then earned Merson's praise following a two-goal display that lifted the Gunners to a 3-1 victory.
He needs to continue in such a vein to convince others that his time at the Emirates has not been one of underachievement.
Victor Moses (Liverpool)
Victor Moses is one underwhelming player on this list that the club's fans won't be too worried about. Partly that is because Victor Moses is not a Liverpool player beyond the end of the season, but it's also partly because his own personal struggles only serve to underline just how well the club have done.
Initially signed on loan from Chelsea to provide attacking cover for the first team, the truly exceptional form of Daniel Sturridge, Luis Suarez and others has quickly left Moses as almost an after-thought, barely beating out Iago Aspas for minutes here and there and at the end of certain games.
Moses might come away with a Premier League winners' medal for his troubles, though, so it's not all bad.
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