Every year there are a few young players who are tabbed for greatness, saying they will break out and show the word what they are made of, and then don’t. Some players in this lose confidence and form and just fizzle out – didn’t fulfill their potential being the standard line trotted out.
But what of the others? Those who get back up after this stumble and proves the doubters wrong, who despite a bad year bounce back and show what they are about.
So in order of biggest turnaround, let’s begin:
15. Raheem Sterling
Let’s start with someone who last year didn’t play that badly – just fine. After a few good years as Liverpool’s (and Europe’s) golden boy, but after a long contract saga he was sold to Manchester city for nearly £50 million. Under Pellegrini Sterling was fine, flashed potential and was a nuisance to defenders, but overall didn’t do very much. Pellegrini seemed reluctant to play him on the right – instead preferring him cutting inside on the left or as a number 10.
However, with Pep now at the helm all has changed. As much as Pep is known for playing out from the back and ball possession one thing key to his style are high, fast and technical winger, many people predicted sterling would flourish under Pep and for sure he has – Arguably City’s best player this season and after Sane found his feet the two have been destroying fullbacks in recent weeks – both with ball at feet going wide and then getting the ball in or off the ball running onto crosses. When they play well City have been among the most exciting teams to watch this season – and Sterling is a big part of that.
14. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Ox has always had problem with injuries, but 2016/17 has probably been his most injury free year having before march almost having matched his highest ever EPL game total of 23. He’s also producing more – admittedly he still has only 6 goals this season but that is nearly a third of all goals scored though his entire arsenal career.
But ignoring goals and focusing on performances he has stepped up big time, In the past Ox often drifted though games and failed to really achieve anything, now he’s fighting tooth and nail for every touch as well as with Iwobi for a starting spot. He’s been extremely versatile as well, on both wings to great effect and providing good cover during Arsenal’s annual injury crisis – honestly as a CM he’s performed better than half of the actual central midfielders Arsenal have on their squad list. Looking at you Ramsey and Coquelin.
13. Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco
Carrasco prior to this season has been something of an enigma, not quite good enough to win a consistent starting spot, but good enough to always be in the conversation. Spent periods blowing hot and cold last year and Simeone clearly didn’t think he was the player he wanted. Dropped for big games and the big money signing of Gaitan made a spot on the bench look a near certainty.
This season though he has sprung back to form, scoring 8 goals in LaLiga – only 1 fewer than the much more talked about Antoine Griezmann, despite playing as a winger. As much as goal scoring return perhaps the biggest thing Carrasco has gained is consistency, bar a period through December where he inexplicably vanished he has always been a threat whenever on the pitch.
12. Alejandro Grimaldo
Ah, Alex Grimaldo, once the golden boy of La Masia, the next great hope for the fabled academy to produce a player worthy of the top level – Unless of course your name happens to be Luis Enrique. For reasons no-one is entirely sure Enrique refused to give Grimaldo chances. Ever. Alex even said this about Enrique: “I have not had any contact with him, nor do I have anything to say to him”.
Consequently, He left for Benfica and after 6 months biding his time established himself as Benfica’s first choice left back. Questions remain about his defensive ability but his rise in just a few months from rotting in the Segunda B to starting for Benfica on a regular basis is commendable to say the least.
11. Angel Correa
Angel Correa has always been interesting, especially to watch. His dynamic, high energy running are so driven and error inducing it’s amazing. But when he first arrived at Atleti he was rarely used. An impact sub was his role at the best of times. He was very good at it, but regardless 14 minutes every 2 weeks isn’t enough to make efficient development. But there was little he could do – playing as a second striker you’ll always struggle to get minutes when Greizmann is in the squad.
Over the summer something changed. Atleti started badly: 2 scoreless draws against newly promoted sides gave them a gap in the title race they never recovered from. But it did help Correa. Knowing he would have to change something Simeone decided to play attacker in the wide midfield slots rather than central midfielders. Correa found a home on the right flank – sitting in the channel he could come inside or out, shoot or pass, dribble or cross. Without him Atleti could be having a bigger problem this season than they already are.
10. Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg
Hojbjerg burst through at Bayern as the youngest player to ever play for the fist team at only 17 but never really made an impression – never playing more than 8 league matches for Bayern in a season. Soon Joshua Kimmich replaced him as the midfield wonderkid and after 2 semi successful loan spells (and a change of manager) he left for Southampton in summer 2016.
On the south coast he has impressed as a number 8 in Claude Puel’s 4312 and 433 systems. His combative strength and intelligent passing make him a great asset to the team, and though he has had his role diminished by the recent shift to 4231 he remains a vital to the team – with starring performances in wins over Bournemouth and Leicester among his highlights.
9. Andreas Periera
The 2015/16 season wasn’t a good one for Andreas Pereira. A often seen presence on the bench, but rarely off it. Come season end he had made only 4 league appearances and though he was clearly good, had little impact in admittedly little time. Mourinho was clearly watching this and upon taking over loaned him to LaLiga strugglers Granada for the season to see what he was made of.
Long story short, his loan is turning out a great success. Along with the 14 (!) other loanees Granada brought in he is keeping them from being completely left in the dust in the relegation fight and though his individual stats may look meh, but in a team as bad as Granada it’s very impressive. He hasn’t been the star of the show (probably has to go to Mehdi Carcela-Gonzalez) and is still a long way before he’s ready to become a regular face in the Man United first team, but his technical ability, work rate and defensive acumen have served him well, be that on the left wing, as a number 10 or even deeper in a pivot.
8. Mattia de Sciglio
In 2015/16 Mattia de Sciglio kind of floated along not really contributing anything. Injuries helped in that regard but overall his quality of performances left quite a lot to be desired – even the some of the Milan faithful began to give up and pin their hopes on even younger Davide Calabria as the new fullback hope. But over the summer that changed.
Despite his iffy at best form Antonio Conte still picked him for EURO 2016 (to much dismay) and though it started with him on the bench behind Candreva, Florenzi and Darmian as wing back choices in the latter part of the tournament he established himself as a key player – driving up the left flank to support the attack. He continued this form into the 2016/17 club season and has locked down the left back spot as his own. Until injuries hit again. Please don’t be another Phil Jones Mattia.
7. Serge Gnabry
Anyone remember Serge Gnabry playing the premier league? Me neither. In 4 full seasons there with both Arsenal and West Brom he made but 11 appearances in the league. Now at the time of writing he is 1 short of doubling that tally after less than one season in the Bundesliga with Werder Bremen.
Since joining Bremen he has been shifted around the pitch – up front, on the left and deep in midfield most often. But regardless of where he plays his strong dribbling and threat when cutting inside make him a dangerous player to face. Many Arsenal fans were disappointed to see him leave, despite failing to make an impact at West Brom – on this seasons evidence it’s not hard to see why.
6. Iker Muniain
Ah, Iker Muniain – I’ve been following him for years (along with the rest of Athletic’s academy) and he’s always had something special about him. I written about him before (https://fedginator.wordpress.com/2016/05/23/how-arsenal-should-line-up-next-season/) an in that article I described him as ‘Back to his best’, So why is he here? As I also mentioned in that piece it was extremely injury hit, disrupting his progress: this season is a different story.
Now however 8 months on, his improvement is even more clear. He’s ousted Inaki Williams as the current standout wonderkid and forced him out to the right to accommodate him cutting in off the left, but more interesting is him playing with greater frequency as a number 10 – showing off his cooler head and great intelligence to play it out to wide areas as much as to attack the centre alone. Don’t be surprised to see Raul Garcia out wide to let Muniain play centrally – he’s good enough to deserve it.
5. Nabil Bentaleb
Part of Sherwood’s legendary midfield alongside Ryan Mason, He, unlike his partner, was tabbed for great things – anchoring Spurs’ midfield for years to come. Pochettino however didn’t quite see it that way – preferring an out-of-position Eric Dier to hold it together in midfield and without regular game time and the confidence of his manager Bentaleb suffered. In 2015/16 it got even worse 11 appearances in all competitions sounded a clear death knell for his tottenham career and he was promptly shipped off to Schalke where he played alongside former Spurs reject Benjamin Stambouli who signed from PSG (though why PSG signed him in the first place is a big question)
At Schalke however he has become a permanent fixture in the midfield – playing on the left of the central midfield 3 in Schalke’s 3142 system where he largely wins the ball back and plays through balls to Sead Kolasinac and whoever is playing up front. A simple job, but he’s doing it well – well enough Schalke are getting him permanently.
4. Nathaniel Chalobah
Did anyone find Chalobah when on loan at Napoli last season? Probably not – because he only totaled 31 league minutes across an entire season. Clearly Napoli were above his level at that stage – even when he did play, he was not an effective presence (except in the Europa league, oddly).
Fast forward to 2016/17 and Chalobah still hasn’t been a key player at his club, but his club is now Chelsea – who are running away with the title this season and Chalobah for Pedro/Willian has become one of two standard defensive changes Conte makes to protect a lead (the other being Ivanovic/Zouma for Moses). His aggressive pressing and conservative positioning make him a great late game number 8. Oh, and his assist for Moses early in the season – absolutely beautiful.
3. Luciano Vietto
Luciano Vietto was supposed to be Antoine Griezmann 2.0 – a hybrid forward/winger from a mid table club (Villareal to be precise) for Simeone to mould into a fearsome, pressing striker – pity it didn’t actually happen. Vietto floundered horrendously regardless of where he was played – and bar some nice link play at the edge of the box never actually contributed anything to Atleti’s attack despite 19 games and nearly 1000 minutes in the league. A meagre return of 1 goal and 3 assists was not enough for the notoriously ruthless Simeone – who shipped him off to Sevilla on a loan with option to buy.
In stark contrast to his time at Atleti, his time under Sampaoli his been a clear success – having already surpassed his leauge minutes total and directly contributed to 15 goals in all competitions. The big question is if Sevilla take their option to buy him – Ben Yedder has been great as well and the winter arrival Stevan Jovetic has been a revelation – dropping Vietto to third choice through no fault of his old. And Sevilla don’t take up their option will Simeone (or his replacement?) give him a second chance?
2. Youri Tielemans
Everyone has heard of Youri Tielemans. He’s been tipped for since he made his debut a 16 – 3 years ago. But despite what the hype suggested it hasn’t been a clear ride for him – Stephan Defour and fellow youngster Dennis Praet became Anderlecht‘s first choice midfield pairing for most of 2015 and then 2016 – leaving Tielemans accomplishing little more than being linked to Manchester United for the 47th time.
This season with both Defour and Praet moving one (Defour to Burnley, Praet to Sampdoria) the spotlight has firmly been on Tielemans again – and in it, he has sparkled. The statistics speak for themselves – 15 goals and 10 assists in 37 games! From a nineteen year old. Now that is a big return to the spotlight.
1. Sandro Ramirez
Sandro had a bad last year. Originally competing with Munir for the role of backup to Luis Suarez (not a role you’d expect o get regular game time) and then rotated with Munir on the right hand side of attack when Messi was injured – not small boots to fill. And frankly, he failed. When he first broke through alongside Munir in the first few weeks of Lucho’s reign though most of the media attention went to Munir, Sandro outperformed him in most cases, but in Enrique’s second season he flopped and by the end of the season even the board were saying they didn’t really want him.
So off to Malaga then. Since moving to La Rosaleda (great stadium BTW, very much enjoyed my visit) he has played 17 times in the league and provided 7 goals and 7 assists, not amazing, but good nonetheless. But what has impressed most has been his all around play – despite being La Masia trained he is a typical physical number 9, but due to his history in La Masia he blends this with excellent technical ability to make him a great LaLiga striker. Certainly better this season than his direct replacement at the Camp Nou – Paco Alcacer.
And that concludes this list of players who had it within them to overcome their stumbles and critics and stand tall and prove them wrong. Hopefully you agree with at least some of my picks