Messi, Hazard, Lukaku: The most disappointing XI of 2021/22

  • Kobe Tong

Lionel Messi, Romelu Lukaku and Harry Maguire all line up in our most disappointing XI of the 2021/22 season.

As the current campaign gathers pace towards the climax of key competitions like the Premier League and Champions League, the landscape of which players have shone and which have struggled becomes clearer and clearer.

It’s no secret that expectations are brutal in the beautiful game, so it’s only natural that even players at the highest level, who you might even call world-class, have an ‘off season’ every now and again.

A tough 2021/22 season for some

Whether that’s down to moving clubs, changing positions, simply not being at the races or matters entirely non-football-related, there are always a few players who fall short of what you expected them to achieve.

And the 2021/22 campaign has been no different because for every European star who has burst onto the scene and made a name for themselves, there’s a star whose stock has fallen in tandem.

So, as the current season on the continent gradually draws to a close, we’ve taken a closer look at the players who have raised eyebrows and dropped jaws by performing below the level that was expected of them.

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Let’s start easy: who’s this iconic character?

Players who have disappointed

Our ‘Most disappointing XI of the season’ is not what we consider to be the worst line-up of 2021/22, far from it, but rather the players whose performances have been the furthest below what was anticipated.

As such, it’s critical to bear in mind that there is an element of both fan and media culpability here where it might not always be the player’s fault with the disappointment actually coming from too much hype or excitement.

And that leads to a situation where all of the players in the XI are incredibly, incredibly talented as greater quality leads to greater expectations in turn, so don’t think for a second that we’re doubting their ability.

Norwich 1-3 Chelsea Match Reaction (Football Terrace)

The most disappointing XI of the season

Nevertheless, as much as we might not like it, the fact remains that they have disappointed across the 2021/22 season and you can check out how the line-up takes shape down below:

GK: Jan Oblak (Atletico Madrid)

In one of the most inexplicable declines in form that we’ve seen in years, Oblak has tumbled from being many fans’ pick for the world’s best goalkeeper to looking seriously out of shorts for Atletico Madrid.

It’s staggering to think that Oblak ranks 190th out of 191 goalkeepers in Europe’s top five leagues this season for goals prevented with the former top dog having shipped an eye-watering 9.8 goals that he ‘should’ have saved.

Soccer Football – LaLiga – Atletico Madrid v Levante – Wanda Metropolitano, Madrid, Spain – February 16, 2022 Atletico Madrid’s Jan Oblak during the warm up before the match REUTERS/Juan Medina

RB: Emerson Royal (Tottenham Hotspur)

Were expectations dizzyingly high for Emerson? In the grand scheme of the XI, not so much, but you’d forgive Spurs fans for having set the bar a little higher than what the former Barcelona man has hitherto reached.

In the space of just seven months, Emerson’s stock amongst fans has nose-dived from an exciting acquisition to one of the flops of the season with transfer rumours already tipping him for a summer exit.

CB: Harry Maguire (Manchester United)

Ahead of the 2021/22 season campaign, Maguire was deservedly ranking amongst the world’s best centre-halves on the back of a stellar run of form for United and making the Euro 2020 Team of the Tournament.

So, to think that the world’s most expensive defender is now being panned week in, week out for a series of dreadful displays leading to claims that he should either be stripped of the captaincy or sold is regretfully ‘disappointing’ to a tee.

Soccer Football – Premier League – Manchester United v Brighton & Hove Albion – Old Trafford, Manchester, Britain – February 15, 2022 Manchester United’s Harry Maguire celebrates after the match REUTERS/Peter Powell EDITORIAL USE ONLY. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or ‘live’ services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club /league/player publications. Please contact your account representative for further details.

CB: Sergio Ramos (Paris Saint-Germain)

Like we say, it’s not always the player’s fault that they’ve disappointed. It’s just that Ramos’ arrival in Paris was treated as a ‘Galactico’ purchase – the second coming of Thiago Silva – that would help to inspire Champions League glory.

Instead, calf problems have seen Ramos miss 168 days of action already, making only two starts and four appearances overall in which time he picked up a red card and attracted exit links to the MLS.

LB: Luke Shaw (Manchester United)

Much like Maguire, Shaw’s form has inexplicably fallen off a cliff this season despite wrapping up his Euro 2020 campaign with a goal in the final and status as the year’s standout left-back.

However, Shaw couldn’t possibly have fallen further behind Andrew Robertson, Alphonso Davies and co across the intervening months with Alex Telles suddenly grappling for the chance to usurp him at United.

Soccer Football – Premier League – Manchester United v Southampton – Old Trafford, Manchester, Britain – February 12, 2022 Manchester United’s Luke Shaw during the warm up before the match REUTERS/Russell Cheyne EDITORIAL USE ONLY. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or ‘live’ services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club /league/player publications. Please contact your account representative for further details.

CM: Georginio Wijnaldum (Paris Saint-Germain)

What looked like a shrewd purchase from PSG that Liverpool should have fought harder to prevent has turned into the latest transfer clanger at the hands of the French giants with ‘Gini’ continuing to struggle.

Astonishingly producing just 22 accurate passes against Nice despite playing 89 minutes in the heart of midfield marked the nadir of a crushing season for Wijnaldum with just three goals and two assists.

CM: Saul Niguez (Chelsea)

We can’t have been alone in rubbing our hands together at the prospect of seeing Saul play in the Premier League, so it couldn’t have been more disappointing to see him barely getting off the bench at first.

The Spanish baller has thankfully turned things around in recent weeks, but horror shows against Everton, Watford and Aston Villa with just 48 league mimutes to his name by late November have still made it an alarming year.

Soccer Football – Carabao Cup – Quarter Final – Brentford v Chelsea – Brentford Community Stadium, London, Britain – December 22, 2021 Chelsea’s Saul Niguez in action with Brentford’s Mathias Jensen REUTERS/Tony Obrien EDITORIAL USE ONLY. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or ‘live’ services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club /league/player publications. Please contact your account representative for further details.

CM: Marcel Sabitzer (Bayern Munich)

Bayern seemed to be laughing all the way to the bank when they once again raided RB Leipzig to reunite Julian Nagelsmann with a player who consistently delivered top-class performances under his stewardship.

But fast-forward to the business end of the season and that word ‘disappointing’ looms large with Sabitzer puzzlingly looking like a shell of his former self with zero goals, zero assists and just seven starts.

RW: Lionel Messi (Paris Saint-Germain)

Has Messi been terrible this season? No, not in the slightest, but you’re simply lying if you predicted the Ballon d’Or holder would only have two Ligue 1 goals to his name in seven months.

Marry that to crashing out in the Champions League round of 16 and generally looking miles off the pace compared to Kylian Mbappe to see why Messi – the GOAT or not – has fallen short of expectations in 2021/22.

Soccer Football – Champions League – Round of 16 Second Leg – Real Madrid v Paris St Germain – Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid, Spain – March 9, 2022 Paris St Germain’s Lionel Messi looks dejected after the match REUTERS/Susana Vera

ST: Romelu Lukaku (Chelsea)

Look, let’s not beat around the bush, Lukaku is one of the best number nines in the world and you can only really argue that Robert Lewandowski, Cristiano Ronaldo, Harry Kane and Karim Benzema were better in 2021.

So, to think that the £97.5-million reunion with Chelsea that came off the back of that has hitherto led to just five league goals, regular stints on the bench and a controversial interview is painfully accurate for ‘disappointing’.

LW: Eden Hazard (Real Madrid)

We could easily have picked Neymar, who is enjoying a torrid season of his own, but there’s something almost tearful in the way that Hazard has continued to struggle in his third(!!!) year at the Bernabeu.

The Chelsea icon has never had a cleaner bill of health in the Spanish capital, but his 2021/22 statistics still read at zero goals, one assist and just eight starts to leave you scratching your head all over again.

Soccer Football – LaLiga – Real Madrid v Cadiz – Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid, Spain – December 19, 2021 Real Madrid’s Eden Hazard during the warm up before the match REUTERS/Juan Medina

Bench

Emiliano Martinez (Aston Villa), Eric Garcia (Barcelona), Aaron Wan-Bissaka (Manchester United), Pierre-Emile Højbjerg (Tottenham Hotspur), Jack Grealish (Manchester City), Neymar (Paris Saint-Germain) and Andrej Kramarić (Hoffenheim)

Soccer Football – Ligue 1 – OGC Nice v Paris St Germain – Allianz Riviera, Nice, France – March 5, 2022 Paris St Germain’s Neymar during the warm up before the match REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

Still time to turn things around

It really does go to show that even some of the world’s best players aren’t immune to tough seasons.

Besides, that word ‘disappointing’ really does ring true for so many players in the line-up because you’d have to be the mother of all cynics not to have predicted much more from, say, Messi in 2021/22.

Did you really think things would go so poorly for Lukaku? Did you genuinely reckon that Saul would barely get any minutes to start with? Did you see Maguire and Shaw’s form falling off a cliff coming?

The answer for most of you will almost certainly be ‘no’, so while we don’t doubt for a second that all of these top players will turn things around very soon, there’s no escaping the disappointing element of their seasons.

MADRID, SPAIN – MARCH 09: Lionel Messi of Paris Saint-Germain looks dejected during the UEFA Champions League Round Of Sixteen Leg Two match between Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on March 09, 2022 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

Nevertheless, with all the talent, ability and elite mentality amongst every position in our line-up, there’s great scope for each starter and substitute to use the disappointment of 2021/22 so far to drive them on to a strong finish.

Let’s hope the most disappointing XI becomes the most resurgent one before we know it.

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