10 Seasoned Campaigners Who Are About to Lose Starting Spots to Young Players
The football world waits for no man, regardless of reputation and past glories. It is a fact of life that we will all age in time and football requires adaptation to survive.
Sometimes, though, even the best must fall by the wayside as young pretenders emerge in their position. Just as they once forced their way into senior football, the same will eventually happen to nearly all players at some point in their career—not necessarily right at the end.
This season will once more see the emergence of new young stars in the game and, as a consequence, others will need to drop out to accommodate their arrival.
Whose position, then, looks to be in some danger?
Perhaps Xavi's time has already come? The legendary Spanish midfielder started his first game of the season for Barcelona against Apoel Nicosia on Wednesday night, having become accustomed to a role from the substitutes' bench in recent weeks.
As good as he still is, he is not short of competition for a midfield berth. Beyond Ivan Rakitic and Andres Iniesta, manager Luis Enrique has also shown willingness to utilise the likes of Sergi Roberto, Rafinha and Sergi Samper—all of whom offer some form of competition for places.
Xavi will still have a role of sorts at the Camp Nou, but it is becoming very clear that Luis Enrique is not intending to build his new side around Xavi. Recent weeks have very much felt like the end of an era.
Barcelona's academy continues to bear fruit and, just as Xavi himself deposed a certain Josep Guardiola, he is finding that there are plenty eyeing his own position at the present time. The question now is whether he still has one last push in his legs to fight for his place over the course of the season.
Maxwell (Lucas Digne)
Brazilian defender Maxwell has been something of a surprise success for Paris Saint-Germain, proving himself to be far more than the bit-part squad player he had been regarded as for much of his career. In the process, he was justifiably rewarded with a place in Brazil's squad for the World Cup earlier this summer.
When PSG signed left-back Lucas Digne from Lille last summer, many had considered it the end of Maxwell's tenure in the first-team at the Parc des Princes. He resisted, though, and put in perhaps the best complete season of his career.
However, Maxwell is now 33 and PSG are in need of greater dynamism as they seek to fasten their grip on Ligue 1 for a third consecutive season. The 21-year-old Digne, a bundle of energy on the flank, can not be overlooked much longer.
Laurent Blanc continues to count upon Maxwell when the pressure is on, such as Wednesday's Champions League clash with Ajax. Digne must do more to make his selection irresistible, but his talent suggests it will not be long until he is bombing up and down the flank for PSG on a weekly basis.
Yoan Gouffran (Rolando Aarons)
Newcastle United are rooted to the bottom of the Premier League with just two points from four games this season. Summer optimism generated by the signings of Remy Cabella, Siem de Jong and Daryl Janmaat now seems a thing of the distant past.
The Magpies have failed to score in three of their four league games thus far—a continuation of a trend set in the second half of last season.
Among those most guilty in that regard is Frenchman Yoan Gouffran, who is yet to even come close to adding to his six goals and 3 assists last campaign—of which the majority came before Yohan Cabaye's January departure.
Waiting in the wings is 18-year-old flyer Rolando Aarons (pictured), the only Newcastle attacking player to have hit the target this season and almost their saviour in a 3-3 draw with Crystal Palace a fortnight ago.
If Gouffran continues to draw a blank, it cannot be long before Alan Pardew is forced to act. Aarons may be raw and require patience, but Newcastle are in desperate need of incision in the final third.
Charles N'Zogbia (Jack Grealish)
Nineteen-year-old Irishman Jack Grealish is set to make the Aston Villa first-team sooner rather than later and, with contract renewal talks in progress per the Daily Star's Alex Harris, accelerating his development may become a priority for manager Paul Lambert.
Charles N'Zogbia dropped out of the side this past weekend to accommodate the arrival of Tom Cleverley, with Villa winning at Anfield to move clear into second position in the Premier League. Of the club's first choice attacking players, he is the only player yet to register a goal or an assist.
Regardless of whether N'Zogbia regains his berth, Grealish's time will come and attention instead may turn upon the inclusion of the thus far impressive Kieran Richardson. He may be performing well, but Grealish's potential is enormous.
An adroit dribbler who has already attracted physical attention from opponents this season, the spark he can add to what is a functional Villa unit could come in useful once teams are content to sit back and allow the Midlands outfit to play.
Glen Johnson (Javier Manquillo)
Far from a favourite with the Liverpool crowd and increasingly injury prone, it is difficult to envisage Glen Johnson remaining as the first-choice right-back at Anfield for too much longer.
Always an attack-minded defender, Johnson's lapses in judgement and position have been a contributing factor to Liverpool's poor defensive record over the past year, while just five of his 51 crosses found a target last season. Per WhoScored.com statistics, he is yet to pick out a man with seven attempts this campaign.
If he is no longer contributing in attack—last season was also the first time in five years he went goalless—then it is difficult to see him retaining his place much longer. Liverpool, too, are now fortunate enough to possess one of Spain's best right-back prospects in Javier Manquillo.
Manquillo is raw and was given a real test by Dusan Tadic on his Premier League debut, but has also shown signs of being able to offer the side energy and technical quality on the flank.
Liverpool are a youthful side built upon the flair and speed that the likes of Raheem Sterling, Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho bring to the table. For all the learning he must do, it would seem Manquillo is a better fit for the team's needs.
Sylvain Distin (John Stones)
Having come into the Everton first-team last year due to an injury to the experienced Sylvain Distin, it was a surprise to many that England international John Stones (pictured) found himself back on the bench to begin this campaign.
Now 36, Distin is more injury prone than he has been in the past and this past weekend Stones was already back alongside Jagielka at the heart of the Toffees' defence. A first clean sheet of the campaign was recorded and Stones once more impressed.
Given his development over the past 12 months and the effects of ageing on an admittedly still impressive Distin, it is hard to imagine it being too long before his return to the centre of defence is made on a permanent basis.
Everton need solidity in key areas if they are to come close to repeating the feats of last season and Distin's body is now unlikely to handle the rigours of a 38-game season as well as a European campaign.
Stones is ideally positioned to take advantage and make a place in the first-team his own.
Andre Carrillo (Carlos Mane)
To his credit, 23-year-old Peruvian Andre Carrillo has begun the current season with Sporting Lisbon well, scoring two goals and providing one assist in four league outings. However, last year he managed just two goals and two assists from 27 matches per Transfermarkt.
With 20-year-old winger Carlos Mane (pictured) breathing down his neck for a starting berth, he had better hope his recent form continues, for it will be he rather than Nani who is forced to make way.
Mane has been with Os Leoes since childhood and was last year linked with a move to Manchester United by the Mirror's John Cross. Sporting would be loath to lose him due to a lack of opportunity.
As a club, Sporting have never been one to worry about handing opportunities to young stars and Carrillo will know that his place is on the line should his contributions begin to drop back to the levels seen last year.
Martin Harnik (Timo Werner)
It is fair to say that Stuttgart's opening to the new Bundesliga season, in which they have scored just once in three games, has been woeful. At this rate, change will not be long in occurring.
The club are fortunate enough to be able to call upon interesting young talents in Antonio Rudiger, Moritz Leitner, Filip Kostic, Carlos Gruezo and Timo Werner. For now, though, only Rudiger is a definite starter.
Of the group, it is 18-year-old forward Werner whose potential is highest, and he has already settled into a regular bit-part role within the first-team squad. If the side's poor form continues, it is easy to see that becoming a more regular role.
For Martin Harnik, who scored 10 Bundesliga goals last season, it would be a harsh punishment. However, with Werner generally used from the left, he is the direct competition with whom the youngster has generally begun to rotate.
Goalless thus far this campaign, he will need to quickly find form if the seemingly inevitable is not to happen very quickly.
Vitolo (Gerard Deulofeu)
Gerard Deulofeu at times lit up the Premier League last campaign while with Everton and it was something of a surprise when he departed Barcelona on loan once more this summer, this time in the direction of Sevilla.
Given his considerable natural talent, it is difficult to imagine that he will not become a regular starter for the Andalusian side before too long and that will require either Aleix Vidal or Vitolo, the team's two wide players, to drop out.
A few weeks ago, the obvious answer would have been Vidal dropping to the bench. However the Spaniard has enjoyed a fine start to the season, scoring twice in the process. Attention, then, is very much on the thus far goalless Vitolo.
Deulofeu came close to earning a late inclusion in the Spain World Cup squad—a demonstration of the standing upon which he is held in his homeland. While Sevilla are winning, Vitolo's place is safe but the slightest sign of a downturn in form and it is almost impossible not to imagine Deulofeu taking up a starting berth.
Pedro (Munir El Haddadi)
For 19-year-old Munir El Haddadi (pictured) it has been some start to the new La Liga season, starting all three league games for Barcelona and earning himself a first cap for Spain. His league debut against Elche, meanwhile, was marked with a first senior goal.
Munir has built quite a reputation for himself at youth level and appears to be a favourite of manager Luis Enrique. With Neymar returning to full fitness, though, his run as a starter may soon be coming to an end.
The way he is going, though, it will not be long before he is pushing the side's more established players for a starting berth and with Neymar and Messi in the side, that will likely mean direct competition with Pedro for the third attacking berth.
Over the last five years Pedro has been terrific for Barcelona, but will know that starting berths in the Camp Nou side are never guaranteed for long. If he is to hold off Munir, he must find form quickly.
It is great news for Luis Enrique to have such options at his disposal and a sense of internal competition will do much to maintain performance levels. Barcelona strive for the best and it is now up to Munir and Pedro to demand a starting berth on a weekly basis.