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On The Chopping Block: Seven Premier League Starters Who Could Be Benched Next Season

Something we often forget about professional footballers is that unlike most of us, they actually have pretty lousy job security. A manager will bench a player who is playing poorly without any second thought because the success of the team is more important than any individual player. 

Of course, the starting lineup is always fluid, but players have to fight every week to make the starting XI, even when it seems like their position is secured. And eventually, every player will be replaced; it is only a question of when. 

If a player is fortunate, he will retire or earn a transfer before he loses his starting role. Other players are not so lucky. As the 2020-21 campaign is coming to a close and we start to think ahead to 21-22, here are some Premier League players who could be facing a job security crisis.

Premier League Players In The Hot Seat

David de Gea (GK) — Manchester United

De Gea was named to the Premier League team of the year five times during the 2010s but has been on the decline since his sensational 2017-18 campaign. Of Premier League goalkeepers, only Sheffield United's Aaron Ramsdale has performed worse than de Gea in the league this season (per WhoScored?).

The Spaniard will certainly be feeling the pressure from backup Dean Henderson, one of the most promising keepers in England. Henderson, a Man Utd youth product, was impressive while on loan at Sheffield United the previous two seasons and has also played well in limited opportunities with the Red Devils this year. The young Englishman is the consensus pick to one day be United's starting keeper, the only question is: How soon?

Rui Patricio (GK) — Wolverhampton Wanderers

While we're on the topic of struggling veteran goalkeepers, Wolves' Rui Patricio is another longtime performer on the international stage who is simply not Premier League quality anymore. After a poor initial EPL campaign in 2018-19, Portuguese international appeared to bounce back last year, but this season, Patricio has allowed 4.1 more goals than expected, second-worst in the league.

At 33, he is also dreadful when it comes to defending outside of the penalty area, as his 0.14 actions outside the penalty area per match are second worst among keepers in Europe's "Big 5" leagues. Likewise, he is poor when it comes to the number of passes attempted. In today's game, goalkeepers need to be able to play with their feet and defend outside the 18, and Patricio simply does not have the skillset to succeed as a modern keeper. With only the even older John Ruddy on the roster, Wolves will have to outsource to find a new keeper.

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David Luiz (CB) — Arsenal

It doesn't take an expert soccer analyst to identify David Luiz as a major weakness in this Arsenal squad. The Brazilian has been mistake-prone and untrustworthy at the back, both in possession and in defense. I could give a long list of stats to demonstrate, but it would only be reiterating what any football fan who has watched Arsenal this season has already realized.

With talented center backs like Williams Saliba (on loan at OGC Nice this season) returning this summer, recent addition Pablo Marí as well as Rob Holding, Gabriel and Callum Chambers already with the club, Arsenal has no shortage of replacements for its aging Brazilian center back.

Ryan Bertrand (LB) — Southampton

With a recent run of bad form, Southampton now has allowed the second-most goals in the Premier League this season. Some of this is bad luck (according to expected goals, the Saints should have 14 fewer goals allowed). Centrally, Jannik Vestergaard has been one of the best defenders in the EPL this season, center back partner Jan Bednarek has played well and Kyle Walker-Peters has also performed well on the right, which leaves us with Bertrand.

Once a team-of-the-year candidate back in 2014-15, his performance ratings have decreased every year since (per WhoScored?). Recently, the Englishman has been Southampton's lowest-rated defender in six of the club's last seven losses. Against Newcastle back in February, Bertrand's only assist of the season was canceled out by an error that led directly to a goal in a 3-2 defeat. Bertrand is holding back what is otherwise a very proficient backline.

Jeff Hendrick (CM) — Newcastle United

About a month ago, we ran a piece about players who made a career of failing upwards. While Jeff Hendrick hasn't exactly failed upwards because he's only at Newcastle right now, the fact that he is still a regular starter in the Premier League after four dreadful seasons at Burnley is one of the biggest mysteries in modern football. Even more bewildering is the fact that Hendrick was seriously courted by AC Milan over the summer, which leads me to believe that this man has the best agent in all of football.

Choosing Newcastle over AC Milan is a very normal decision.

This was an actual headline in the Telegraph (paywall).

The Irishman was the worst or second-worst player in the Burnley squad in each of his Premier League seasons, twice finishing the season rated in the bottom five percent of all Premier League players by WhoScored?. Hendrick has not surpassed two goals or two assists in an EPL season, which, for a box-to-box midfielder is understandable, but he doesn't seem too adept at passing or defending either. Logo Jeff Hendrick Scouting Report Table
Statistic Per 90 Percentile
Shot-Creating Actions 0.89
Passes Attempted 33.94
Pass Completion % 80.6%
Progressive Passes 2.24
Progressive Carries 1.41
Dribbles Completed 0.64
Progressive Passes Rec 1.02
Pressures 10.93
Tackles 0.38
Interceptions 0.77
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 4/15/2021.

Allowing Hendrick to leave on a free transfer was the biggest win of the window for a Burnley club that bought exactly one player for $1.21 million. Republic of Ireland fans nearly celebrated in the streets when Hendrick didn't start either of the country's World Cup qualifiers back in March. If this is the skillset of a player who has started 124 Premier League games in his career, then I am convinced that anyone can make it professionally.

I guess anyone can be a Premier League player

The profile of a very skilled Premier League player (via WhoScored?).

Neal Maupay (ST) — Brighton & Hove Albion

For me, one of the most interesting statistics to study is how strikers perform relative to their expected goals totals. Although luck is always a factor when it comes to over/underperformance, it also provides a sense of which strikers are in-form and which ones are not. Newcastle's Joelinton (4.6 fewer goals scored than expected) is a favorite target of mine, but having already torn into Jeff Hendrick, I now turn my attention to a Brighton side that has underperformed quite unlike any other Premier League side in recent memory. 

Although the Seagulls have been the victim of significant bad luck this season, a 13-goal underperformance in the attacking third is not entirely based on chance. Frontman Neal Maupay, despite his modest eight-goal total, has been the biggest culprit of poor finishing this season. The Frenchman has scored 3.1 fewer goals than expected, seventh-worst in the league, while also underperforming last season in front of goal. While Maupay is great at chance creation, Brighton might be looking for a more proven finisher in the transfer market.

Roberto Firmino (ST) — Liverpool 

Much has been made about Liverpool's struggles this season (an overreaction in my opinion), and Roberto Firmino has been one of the Reds' most harshly criticized players. On one hand, you have a striker who has scored nine fewer goals than expected in the last two seasons. On the other hand, you have one of the most productive attackers in Europe when it comes to retaining the ball, pressuring on defense and creating chances for his team.

With Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané in exquisite goal-scoring form last year, Firmino's struggles in front of goal didn't really matter. But with Mané struggling in front of goal and Salah having an average season (by his impressive standards), the Brazilian's lack of goals suddenly becomes more noticeable. Does Jürgen Klopp go with Jota, a player averaging nearly a goal per game for Liverpool, in the center and push Firmino to the bench, or does he trust Firmino and Mané to rediscover their goal-scoring form? Logo Roberto Firmino Scouting Report Table
Statistic Per 90 Percentile
Non-Penalty Goals 0.20
npxG 0.39
Shots Total 2.56
Assists 0.17
xA 0.17
npxG+xA 0.56
Shot-Creating Actions 3.20
Passes Attempted 39.34
Pass Completion % 79.5%
Progressive Passes 3.79
Progressive Carries 5.11
Dribbles Completed 1.40
Touches (Att Pen) 7.41
Progressive Passes Rec 11.09
Pressures 16.76
Tackles 1.18
Interceptions 0.37
Blocks 1.74
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 4/15/2021.

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