Shoulders slouched, eyes sad, and cheeks unmistakably blushed, Ross Barkley cut a forlorn figure as the TV cameras panned in on him last Sunday.
He’d just ballooned a shot so horribly wide it had gone out for a throw-in, and you couldn’t help but feel it was a moment that encapsulated his season so far.
Good players sometimes have bad campaigns. It happens to great ones too. And here’s a quartet of top Premier League stars that just haven’t been themselves this term…
This was supposed to be Barkley’s biggest season yet. With his pin sharp football brain, explosive burst of pace, and instinctively deft feet, the 21-year-old should have spent the last few months tearing opponents to shreds, cementing his status as the English game’s brightest young icon.
He hasn’t. In fact that scenario hasn’t looked remotely close to occurring in a campaign that’s passing Barkley by in tortuously underwhelming fashion.
There was one sparkling strike (and performance) at home to QPR, but for the most part Everton’s gifted youngster has worn the look of a sorry, disheartened figure. He’s contributed precious little.
Can he still fulfil his potential? Yes of course, but only if Roberto Martinez stops messing him around. To extract the best from him he must be used in a central role, either as a box-to-box midfielder or a creative No.10. The longer the Spaniard persists with the notion Barkley can ‘do a job’ out wide, the more exasperated his prize asset will become.
I’m not sure what’s got into the Belgian. He may be a City legend, but right now he’s more of a liability.
Kompany has been unusually head strong, that’s for sure. The Manchester City skipper has always had a penchant for charging into challenges that aren’t necessarily his to win, but that habit has taken hold much more dramatically. Previously heroic lunges have looked hapless instead. Left on the seat of his pants far more regularly than before, the defender’s rash decision-making has seen him booked six times in 19 Premier League games. He’s never hit seven in a season.
A lack of adequate protection could in part be to blame. City’s midfield has shunned its defensive duties too often this season, and his partners Martin Demichelis and Eliaquim Mangala are prone to more than the occasional wobble.
Twelve months ago Vincent Kompany was regarded as one of the worlds best in his position. Not so as it stands today.
I’m a huge fan of the Welshman’s so it gives me no pleasure to include him in this list, but judging Ramsey by the tremendously high standards he set last term, it’s impossible not to conclude he’s under-performed.
Last season he was a man inspired. Forget the fact he bagged 16 goals for the Gunners, ignore all those assists he made too, for in general play Ramsey was a consistent revelation. Bouncing around the pitch like he owned it, the high-spirited midfield man was nailed on to land Footballer of the Year until an injury kept him out for three and a half months.
Although his phenomenal 35-yard strike against Galatasaray in December was a reminder of his scorching brilliance, the Wales international has by and large been a shadow of last season’s self. Perhaps trying too hard to be the main man, passes have gone astray and chances have gone a begging. Defensively he’s made less impact with his tackling too. The bounce and energy are still present but for now at least, the magic has faded.
I believe he’ll recapture world-class form, but as of the now, Ramsey’s initial challenge is to win back a regular place in Arsenal’s first team.
Angel di Maria
It’s easy to snigger at Radamel Falcao and claim he’s been the biggest flop at Manchester United this season, but the Colombian’s a striker who relies on good service – and he’s received precious little of that at Old Trafford.
For me English football’s most expensive purchase has been a greater disappointment. Since getting off to a bright start the Argentine maestro’s impact has wilted game by game, to such a degree that Louis van Gaal was compelled to substitute him at half-time against Sunderland last weekend.
He’s new to the Premier League and needs time to settle (blah blah blah) but performance-wise I still think we’re right to have expected a lot more. Statistically he may have created goals, but this time last year Di Maria’s dynamism and dribbling skills were propelling Real Madrid to Champions League glory. He was borderline unstoppable. For the past few months, he’s looked average at best.
Di Maria will shine again but until Manchester United start using him properly – in his best position on the left wing – fans must be patient with him. It’s high time his manager extracted the best from a player of his undoubted talent.
Which Premier League star has surprised you most with their disappointing form this season?
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