The Decline: Three players whose incredible form has vanished in the second half of the season
Stretching from August to May, the Premier League season is widely regarded as a long old slog with little time for rest. Nine months of exhaustion as each team strives to achieve their respective end of season targets, with the cost of failure ultimately lying at the feet of the manager.
For some in the upper echelons of the Football Association (FA) hierarchy, the rapid consumption of energy centres on the lack of a winter break, frequently musing over its impact on player performance in tournaments at the back end of the domestic campaign, yet failing to remedy the issue.
While across the Channel, those pesky Germans, ever-ready to obliterate the very best teams en route to the latter stages of international tournaments, relax and enjoy a deserved rest from mid-December through to the end of January, feasting on piles of succulent turkey scraps and mince pies.
For the players lucky enough to be gracing the grand stadiums within England’s top flight, the exhaustive fixture list, combined with ever-increasing levels of physical and mental fatigue as teams battle for silverware and safety, can have a detrimental impact on their form. Old heads appear weary, bright prospects look jaded, and expensive foreign stars new to these shores can slip into the realm of mediocrity.
As the 2013-14 Premier League season draws to a close, with the PFA Team of the Year announced recently, upon reflection, three players in particular have failed to live up to their impressive first half.
Who are they, and what happened?
Arsenal’s £42.5million signing began life in England in splendid form, weaving past opposition midfielders with ease and threading passes through the tightest of defences.
As great starts go, Mesut Özil’s arrival was certainly impressive, inspiring teammates to produce greater performances because of his noteworthy presence, in addition to triggering the media to speculate that this may be the fabled year wherein Arsène Wenger lifts silverware once more, thus silencing his never-ending queue of detractors.
However, Özil’s debut season has petered out in recent months, due in part to the German trickster requiring further time in which to become accustomed to the rigors and demands of Premier League life, in addition to suffering a hamstring injury versus Bayern Munich in early March.
Nevertheless, ignoring injury, the former Real Madrid midfielder’s decline throughout the second half of the season has not gone unnoticed. Özil’s goals, assists and total number of chances have dried up, and the number of Squawka Best Awards (10 in the first half of the campaign) is but a distant memory – one which gave the Arsenal faithful hope of a fruitful season.
Oscar played 60+ games last season, followed by the Confederations Cup in the summer of 2013. Add another 50+ game season for Chelsea and participation in the 2014 World Cup, and it’s clear to see why the minute Brazilian needs a prolonged rest.
“Last season I played so many games and it has been the same this season as well,” Oscar told Chelsea’s official website.
The 22-year-old has produced a greater number of chances and assists for his teammates during 2014, however the number of goals has decreased, as well as his ability to win duels (34% success) with opposition players – a possible sign of fatigue.
It may be harsh to criticise Oscar, whose work rate is often applauded on a frequent basis, but there has been a noticeable decline in the Brazilian’s impact during games, which has seen the former Internacional midfielder collect eight Squawka Worst Awards from December 29, 2013.
Why? Well, perhaps the first place to cast our gaze should be towards José Mourinho.
Surprising defeats to Basle in the Champions League prompted the naysayers to emerge from under their rock of negativity, with further contempt directed at Mourinho as Chelsea slipped up to Stoke City on December 7 and Sunderland in the Capital One Cup ten days later. With goals flooding into the back of Petr ?ech’s net at an alarming rate, Mourinho decided to take action, declaring: “If I want to win 1-0 I think I can as I think it is one of the easiest things in football. It is not so difficult.”
Bravado perhaps. Maybe a hint of arrogance, suggesting that he could revert to defensive toughness at the flick of a switch. Whatever the reason, since making that bold statement, Chelsea have only conceded eight goals in 20 league games, which, if we analyse Oscar’s performances from the start of 2014 (some two weeks after the Sunderland loss), could go some way towards explaining why the playmaker’s attacking impetus has slowly declined, i.e., a decrease in the team’s attacking mentality.
Fresh from a fantastic season at Sevilla in southern Spain, in which he scored 20 goals in 33 La Liga appearances, Álvaro Negredo made the switch to sunny Manchester last summer to link up with Manuel Pellegrini.
His Premier League adventure started with a bang, slotting eight goals into the back of the net in 17 appearances. However, the second half of the season has seen the Spanish striker’s form take a severe nosedive.
Only eight players had scored more goals than Negredo at the halfway stage. Now, with only a handful of games remaining, a total of 17 players have scored more goals than the Manchester City forward, including the likes of Robin van Persie and Emmanuel Adebayor, who have yet to reach 20 league games (Negredo has featured in 30 matches).
With a negative Squawka Performance Score of -14 achieved since the final few days of December, Negredo needs to get back to his best or risk losing his place in the side for the start of 2014-15 when City will surely have invested in additional talent.