The world is a difficult place right now, and while football provides some much-needed respite for the masses, it must be incredibly challenging for the Premier League footballers trying to help us take our minds off things.
Constant COVID tests, living in bubbles and playing in empty stadiums – top-flight football is very different to the norm at the moment, and although some footballers can take such changes in their stride, others will inevitably struggle.
Which brings us onto the question at hand: which players – perhaps as a consequence of COVID, perhaps not – have regressed the most in the Premier League this season? We’ve ranked the 16 players to have shown the biggest downturn in form at the start of 2020/21…
16. Raul Jimenez
It may seem harsh to criticise a striker with a one-in-two strike-rate this season but it’s the rest of Raul Jimenez’s game that has left something to be desired.
He’s averaging fewer shots, dribbles, key passes and aerials won than last term and for a centre-forward whose reputation rests as much on his all-round game as his goal tally, those drops are certainly concerning.
It’s still early days in 2020/21, but the Mexico international has slipped down a gear or two.
15. Dan James
It feels like some time ago now but Dan James started last season with a rich run of form, scoring or assisting in nine of his first 19 Premier League games as a fresh Red Devils signing.
But there’s been incredibly little from the Welshman since and when starting in the Premier League this term, he’s been pretty anonymous with just three key passes and one successful dribble from three outings.
Even during United’s 4-1 demolition of Newcastle James couldn’t get in on the action, and he’s now not featured in any of the Red Devils’ last four games.
14. Marcos Alonso
In fairness to Marcos Alonso, it must be difficult to stay motivated when your manager is so obviously planning on replacing you with his own big-money signing.
Nonetheless, the Spaniard had a prime chance to make Frank Lampard second-guess himself after Ben Chilwell arrived at Stamford Bridge injured, but he just didn’t take it.
Averages for tackles, shots, key passes and dribbles all nosedived from last season as Chelsea conceded six times in the three games Alonso started.
In the last, a draw with West Brom in which the Blues initially went three goals down, Alonso was hooked off at half-time.
13. John Egan
In reality Sheffield United’s entire squad could make this list such has been the size of the Blades’ backward step since their debut season in the Premier League, but as arguably their most reliable defender last time out, John Egan must unfortunately take the flack.
The 28-year-old looked solid as a rock last term but has this season averaged fewer tackles, interceptions, clearances, aerials won and blocks per match, while committing more fouls.
That’s indicative of a side that have already conceded 36% of the 39 goals they allowed in last season after just eight games.
12. Naby Keita
Towards the end of last season, it seemed Naby Keita had turned a corner after an incredibly unconvincing start to life at Anfield.
His final six Premier League outings of 2019/20 produced two assists and one goal, but that output hasn’t carried across to the new season with the 25-year-old yet to register a goal involvement in any competition.
With injuries and a COVID false alarm also affecting his game-time, the Guinea international has now featured just once since being hooked off at half-time in Liverpool’s 7-2 defeat to Aston Villa.
It’s starting to feel like Groundhog Day for Keita, who can just never seem to build on any momentum he makes at Liverpool.
11. Jordan Ayew
Perhaps Jordan Ayew’s form last season was simply a flash in the plan.
The Ghana forward netted nine times for Crystal Palace, representing his best ever return for a Premier league campaign, but has failed to pick up where he left off with just a single goal in six outings so far.
He’ll hope a goal against Leeds last weekend proves to be the turning point; with Michy Batshuayi and Eberechi Ezi added to Palace’s squad during the summer, Roy Hodgson is by no means obliged to stick with Ayew if he can’t produce the goods.
10. Chris Wood
As a centre-forward, Chris Wood has only ever served two purposes – winning headers and scoring goals.
And while he’s continued to pull his weight on the former front this season, averaging the fourth-most aerials won per match of any Premier League player, he’s significantly lacked in the goalscoring department.
Last term, the New Zealand international bagged 14 strikes from 29 starts in the Premier League.
This time out, that return has slumped to just one in seven, and Sean Dyche will be desperate for his star front-man to rediscover his scoring touch sooner rather than later.
9. Bernardo Silva
Bernardo Silva was voted the club’s Player of the Year during Manchester City’s last title campaign but if his form in 2019/20 was a little disappointing, this time around it’s been downright worrying.
Granted, the Portuguese started the season late due to injury and he’s not been a consistent starter, but for a midfielder of such undoubted creative talent, the fact he’s produced just two key passes in eight appearances shows how significantly his influence has waned.
Silva’s yet to register any goal involvements in the Premier League and has been benched for Man City’s last two games in all competitions.
8. Trent Alexander-Arnold
Liverpool haven’t hit top gear this season so perhaps it’s a little unfair to be singling out relative youngsters like Trent Alexander-Arnold, who is still only 22 years of age.
But the England international has set such high standards for himself over the last few seasons that this season’s regression of form becomes inevitably glaring.
Alexander-Arnold hit double figures in the assists charts for the last two seasons but has managed a miserly one so far this term, having also averaged fewer key passes.
Of course, much of that comes down to set pieces – Alexander-Arnold’s deliveries this season have been well wide of the mark more often than not.
Maybe the calf injury against Manchester City could prove to be a blessing in disguide, allowing the Liverpool defender some time off to regain his focus.
7. Harry Maguire
In fairness to Harry Maguire, his form has massively improved since being sent off on England duty, going on to help United to clean sheets against Chelsea and RB Leipzig while scoring against Newcastle.
But the Red Devils captain’s early-season showings remain difficult to ignore. He was largely ineffective in United’s home defeat to Crystal Palace, absolutely abysmal in the 6-1 demolition by Spurs and then received two yellow cards in half an hour for the Three Lions.
Seemingly linked to the summer’s nightmare trip to Mykonos, Maguire appears to be through the worst of it now.
6. Roberto Firmino
Doubts about Roberto Firmino’s true influence over Liverpool’s fortunes have circulated for some time, but his start to this season in particular feels like a step backwards.
The Brazil international is averaging his lowest returns for shots and key passes since moving to the Premier League, as well as his second lowest for aerials won and successful dribbles and his highest for unsuccessful touches.
There comes a point when “not being in the team to score goals” becomes an excuse for actually doing the bare minimum and whether it’s simply the fact he’s now 29, it’s becoming harder and harder to dispute that Firmino isn’t the force he once was.
It’s not always easy to hit the ground running at a new club but considering Willian already has seven years of Premier League experience under his belt, his form since swapping Chelsea for Arsenal has been thoroughly disappointing.
Far from nine goals and seven assists in the Premier League last season, the Brazilian winger hasn’t recorded any goal involvements since his two setups against Fulham on his top flight debut for the Gunners.
There have also been drops across the board for tackles, interceptions, shots, key passes, crosses and dribbles, and his £220k per-week contract already looks like an ill-fated investment from the north Londoners.
4. Paul Pogba
Paul Pogba’s 2020/21 has caused so much concern that even France manager Didier Deschamps has felt compelled to have his say on it.
Averages for shots and key passes are way down from last year, while the Frenchman is yet to play a hand in any of United’s Premier League goals.
But the bigger problem is the sheer fact Ole Gunnar Solskjaer doesn’t quite know where to play the most expensive signing in Manchester United’s history. This season he’s been shuffled around the midfield so much that for parts of Manchester United’s 1-0 defeat to Arsenal he was playing on the left wing.
That has resulted in Pogba starting just three of United’s Premier League games so far, which tells all about how far the World Cup winner has fallen.
3. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
It’s incredible how signing a new contract often coincides with a drastic slump in form.
That’s exactly what’s happened to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who hasn’t managed a single goal from open play in the Premier League since agreeing a new deal at Arsenal. (
Of course, that miserly return compared to 22 strikes in each of his last two Premier League campaigns is no doubt influenced by the Gunners striker finding himself deployed out wide this season.
Nonetheless, it’s been a disappointing start for the 31-year-old bearing in mind the standards he’s set in an Arsenal jersey.
2. Mason Greenwood
Sent home from England duty for breaking COVID regulations, caught inhaling nitrous oxide and reportedly raising concerns over his attitude amongst those at Old Trafford, off the pitch it’s been a troubled season for Mason Greenwood.
On the pitch, performances haven’t been great either, especially in comparison to the end of 2019/20 when the young forward scored five goals in his final eight Premier League appearances.
Greenwood is yet to score in the Premier League and his performances have been so disappointing that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer didn’t even include him in his squad for wins over Newcastle and Everton.
There’s no doubt Greenwood is a massive talent, but the start to the new campaign represents a disappointing backwards step.
1. Anthony Martial
Anthony Martial’s start to the new Premier League campaign has been nothing short of disastrous.
Despite being given the central role in United’s attack, the Frenchman has failed to record a goal or an assist in the top flight, while he managed to get himself sent off against Tottenham for a moment of pure stupidity. In his absence, the Red Devils lost 6-1.
In total, Martial has managed just three shots, three dribbles and no key passes in four starts, while he’s been dispossessed nine times and recorded 12 unsuccessful touches.
The only saving grace has been his Champions League form, with two goals and one assist in Europe (), but domestic displays have been well below the expected standard.