Premier League football is just around the corner with just a week until the new season kicks off, with clubs perfecting their final preparations ahead of what is likely to prove another enthralling campaign.
A new season offers a new start for both clubs and players who disappointed last year, and the opportunity of a fresh slate sure to appeal to the six players on this feature.
We’ve decided to profile several Premier League stars who have fallen on rather difficult periods of late and will need to up their game this coming season.
Here are six high profile players who need to get their finger out in 2020/21.
David de Gea
David de Gea has slipped from a status as arguably Manchester United‘s best player to a position where his first-choice role is now being questioned, the performances that saw the Spaniard crowned as the club’s Player of the Year on a record four occasions proving ever more distant.
The 29-year-old was once regarded as arguably the best goalkeeper in world football but those displays of flawless consistency have been replaced by a rather more error-prone period, a series of high-profile blunders seeing his previous aura erased.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has remained loyal to his number one despite the presence of Sergio Romero at Old Trafford, but the pressure on De Gea is set to increase tenfold following the return of loanee Dean Henderson.
Henderson has thrived during a two-season loan spell at Sheffield United with his performances earning him a call into the senior England squad, where he will hope to stay as he bids to challenge for the country’s number one position.
Securing that position at club level comes first, however, and De Gea will have to be at his very best to hold onto his position amid competition from the 23-year-old. A stellar performance for Spain this week was a reminder of De Gea’s capabilities, he must now produce that form on a consistent basis once more.
Premier League pundits have been queuing up to take swipes at Dele Alli following his dip in performances over the past two seasons, and whilst we’re certainly not jumping on that bandwagon, we are keen to see the return of a player who once lit up the top flight at Spurs.
Injury problems have hindered the midfielder’s progress but even when fit he has looked a shadow of the player that was named as PFA Young Player of the Year in back-to-back seasons, losing his place in the England squad as his precocious sparkle has faded.
Last season saw Alli score eight league goals and provide a further four assists and whilst those numbers are respectable, they are a fraction of what the 24-year-old is capable of as a goalscoring midfield talent.
It’s been a notable – if exaggerated – decline for a player once linked with the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona, and it feels like a defining season for the Spurs star ahead of next summer’s European Championships.
Alli enjoyed a brief upturn following the arrival of Jose Mourinho and his finest form has come as a roaming number 10, playing behind Harry Kane, where his late arrival into the box has proven problematic for Premier League defences.
Enjoying an extended run in the side in his preferred position may prove key to reigniting a career that has stuttered of late, Alli needing to rediscover the swagger and self-confidence that saw him burst onto the scene.
Another player who many leapt onto the bandwagon to criticise for his performances last season, Nicolas Pepe was subjected to intense scrutiny following his £72m club-record move to Arsenal.
The Ivorian had starred for Lille to establish himself as one of most exciting players in French football and when the comparatively modest spending Gunners splashed the cash on the winger, the Premier League expected big things.
Pepe – as with many additions from foreign leagues – took time to settle and the critics grew louder following a series of underwhelming displays, the social media vultures out in force to prey on a player whose record-breaking price-tag hung like a millstone around his neck.
Perspective, however, is a wonderful thing in the fickle world of football and whilst Pepe undoubtedly failed to replicate his performances and output for Lille (22 goals, 12 assists in 2018/19), he managed a respectable tally of nine goals and eight assists in all competitions.
The period of patience for adaptation has since passed and the winger faces increased competition for a first-team place following the signing of Willian from Chelsea, he’ll now need to improve on those tallies to not only win over the doubters but maintain his importance in Mikel Arteta’s rebuild.
It’s fair to say the hype surrounding Naby Keita is yet to truly be justified since his move to Liverpool, a player who Jurgen Klopp was prepared to patiently wait for yet to explode as a Premier League star.
Keita’s progress has been hampered by a succession of injury problems with the 25-year-old failing to gain any form of momentum as a Liverpool player, his brief runs in the side often ending swiftly with another spell on the sidelines.
The Guinea international has shown flashes of excellence and possesses an x-factor often lacking in the champion’s midfield, his ability to pick the ball up in tight areas and ghost past challenges a differing option to an often workman-like Reds’ trio.
Keita impressed following the Premier League’s restart and he will hope to take that form into the new campaign, his third full season in English football seemingly ‘now or never’ for the £52.75m man.
Klopp clearly rates a player who often fails the eye-test despite his impressive statistical output, its time for Keita to win over his doubters following a stop-start experience at Anfield to date.
Once considered the perfect ball-playing defender for Manchester City’s title-winning sides, John Stones has become somewhat of a forgotten man at the Etihad and looks in danger of failing to fulfil his potential.
His status as first-choice for club and country has all but disappeared, the continued errors in his play leading to Pep Guardiola losing faith in a player who made just 12 league starts for a City side crying out for defensive solidity last season.
Stones has always been a supremely confident footballer but even his faith in his own abilities must have been dented, the centre-back falling behind Fernandinho – shifted into defence to cover for City’s shortcomings – Nicolas Otamandi and Eric Garcia in the pecking order at the Etihad.
Nathan Ake’s arrival has added more competition for places whilst City’s scouting network are hunting another addition in central defence, an intelligent defender comfortable in possession – exactly the characteristics that were seen in Stones ahead of his move from Everton.
The 26-year-old has enjoyed great success with two league titles and a host of cup triumphs at City, but a fresh start looks a sensible move if he is to remain in the thoughts of Gareth Southgate and England ahead of next summer’s European Championships.
Arsenal, Leeds and former side Everton have been previously linked with the player, who needs regular first-team football to eradicate the all too frequent mistakes.
It’s been a difficult debut season in the Premier League for Tottenham’s club-record signing, Tanguy Ndombele having failed to demonstrate the talents that had Europe’s leading clubs queuing up for his signature last summer.
The France international arrived with a huge reputation and his signing was viewed as a coup for Spurs, but following a stunning debut goal it has been largely downhill for the talented 23-year-old.
Form and fitness issues have plagued the former Lyon star, with Jose Mourinho’s half-time substitution of the player at Burnley and public criticism a low-point in a season of struggle.
He failed to start a league fixture following that disappointing display at Turf Moor and made just two substitute appearances following the Premier League’s restart, an indication of his current status under Jose Mourinho.
Ndombele has shown flashes of his talent – a confidence to carry the ball in possession and find intelligent passes for teammates – but his notable tiring throughout the course of 90 minutes has been a major concern.
Spurs have reportedly rejected interest in his services from the likes of Inter Milan and Barcelona this summer, and will hope their decision was justified with a much improved second season in north London.