With the Premier League currently defrosting on the kitchen sideboard ahead of the big re-thaw the weekend after next, Pies thought we’d run the rule over a tensome of off-the-boil players who are in dire need of putting in a big’n.
Without further ado, in we doth delve…
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal): While there’s no need to be over-dramatic (he’s still only 22, after all), The Ox needs to start convincing folk that he’s more than just the undisputed prince of the pre-season, zero pressure wonder goal and start bedding himself in properly at Arsenal.
Having missed Euro 2016, he should be relatively fresh and raring to go, but the continuing quandary of just where to fit him into Arsene Wenger’s first-choice XI may continue to stymie his developmental progression.
Wayne Rooney (Man Utd): With United’s speedy attacking ranks shaping up nicely over pre-season, Rooney is in serious danger of getting left behind (quite literally) if he doesn’t adapt and rediscover his vitality, his instinct and his sodding first touch while he’s at it.
Rooney also needs to seriously rethink his newfound predilection for choking up the midfield, because another bumbling season like the last two could see him consigned to the knacker’s yard.
Saido Berahino (West Brom): Very nearly two years. That’s how long the circus concerning Berahino’s frame of mind and future employ has been rumbling on now.
Having scuttled himself at West Brom, it looks as though the 22-year-old striker is finally edging towards the Hawthorns exit as was the original plan all those months ago.
However, the Baggies have shown impressive resolve and unwillingness to secede to bolshy player power by dragging the whole sorry saga out, month after month after month.
There’s no doubt Berahino is capable of establishing himself as a reliable top flight marksman, but his current situation is hardly conducive to doing so. The sooner he completes his nigh-on inevitable move to Stoke, the better for all concerned.
Roberto Firmino (Liverpool): With an incredibly shallow pool of strikers at his disposal, Jurgen Klopp will be relying on his flighty counter-attacking stable to provide the lion’s share of the creativity and the goals up top.
While Philippe Coutinho was and is intermittently spectacular, Firmino was decidedly patchy last year despite ending as top goalscorer (with 10 goals). His responsibility to deliver will be far greater this time out.
He’s been on song in pre-season but the Brazilian will definitely need to start pitching in more this coming season; sharpening his chance conversion rate and hacking that bloody awful pony-tail off for starters.
Eden Hazard (Chelsea): Hazard’s various surly tribulations last season have been documented ad infinitum but a positive showing at Euro 2016 (notably against Hungary) is hopefully indicative of a return to form for 2016/17.
As we’ve said before, when he’s not masquerading as an insufferable mard-arse, the Belgian is a rare treat to behold; moving past players like a fine mist.
Memphis Depay (Man Utd): We can’t really dress it up any other way: Depay was the square root of useless for the majority of last season, looking increasingly forlorn and lost as his role in the first-team reckoning diminished weekly under Louis van Gaal.
However, with a new manager and a new regime comes new opportunities. That said, we can’t imagine for a minute that a charismatic winger so fundamentally averse to rigid structure and defensive donkey work will get much of a sniff under Jose Mourinho.
Raheem Sterling (Man City): After finding himself singled out as the epitome of England’s flaccid, inspirationless showing at Euro 2016, Sterling’s confidence appears to have bottomed out completely.
The general consensus seems to be that the dinky forward’s pre-season showings have ranged between ‘anonymous’ and ‘lacklustre’ which hardly points at a defiant statement of intent to prove anybody wrong.
He’ll probably have a fine season, scurrying and winning free-kicks, scurrying and winning free-kicks, lather, rinse, repeat – but in Leroy Sane, City have probably just signed the raw, mouldable materials they thought they were getting when they blew their wad on Sterling last July.
John Stones (Everton?): Whether he stays or goes, Stones must be acutely aware that his performances are going to subject to even more ridiculous levels of scrutiny after the summer just gone.
Through no real fault of his own, the 22-year-old has gone from a tender young centre-back in need of nurturing to a £50million man who has already wasted too much time proving his virtue to a sea of heckling disbelievers in a matter of months.
Pies’ two-penneth? Spending another season honing his craft at Everton under Ronald Koeman, one of the finest ball-playing defenders of his day, probably wouldn’t hurt him too much.
Joe Hart/Vincent Kompany/Nicolas Otamendi/Eliaquim Mangala (Man City): With Pep Guardiola insisting that his defence are able to maintain focus, muck in and play out for 90 minutes, the onus is most definitely on City’s resident back line to shape up, smartish.
All four players aforementioned are prone to an array of errors, with their handling, mobility, positioning, technique, stability, reliability and fitness all coming into question last season as City leaked more goals than any other side in the top five.
No wonder Pep’s gearing up to play Fernandinho at the back from the off.
Theo Walcott (Arsenal): Theo the Wunderkind will turn 28 this season. Maybe it’s time we all accepted that this is all we’re getting.
Honourable mentions: Ross Barkley (Everton), Pedro and Diego Costa (Chelsea), Jack Wilshere (Arsenal), Xherdan Shaqiri (Stoke City), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool)…
Agree/disagree, Pies fans? Any more names you’d like to chuck into the ring? Feel free to let us know.