Football Features

Combined XI: The most disappointing players from Europe’s top five leagues this season

By Ben Green

Published: 13:38, 30 May 2019

For all the praise, tributes and acclaim lavished on football’s A-list stars, there is an equal amount of criticism reserved for those who fail to flourish.

With extortionate price tags and excessive wage bills dominating the game, the weight of expectation has peaked in recent years, sometimes reaching unattainable levels of demand that can often prove too much for some players.

Over the years, we have seen some of the very best crumble, from Radamel Falcao at Manchester United to Andriy Shevchenko at Chelsea, these world-class strikers received a healthy dose of flak when they failed to thrive.

And each campaign there are a new group of players who suffer banana skin seasons, often earning the moniker ‘flop of the year’ or Serie A’s less forgiving Bidone d’Oro, which literally translates to “Golden Bin”.

So, who fell below expectations across Europe’s top five leagues in 2018/19? Well, we have come up with a combined XI based on players who weren’t necessarily the worst performing, but simply failed to deliver on the promise they emitted before a ball was even kicked.

Goalkeeper: Asmir Begovic

It has been a season to forget for the Bosnian shot-stopper, from having fingers of steel at the start of the campaign, to falling down the pecking order to a 39-year-old Artur Boruc, and more recently an inexperienced Mark Travers.

The mountainous gloveman’s drastic fall from grace has seen him go from one of the league’s most reliable between the sticks, to Eddie Howe telling him he can take an early holiday. It will come as no surprise that he is destined to leave Dean Court this summer.

Right-back: Djibril Sidibe

Tipped for Premier League stardom last summer, linked with some of Europe’s biggest names, a member of France’s World Cup winning squad, Sidibe has experienced a season of epic decline, well, all of Monaco’s squad has in fairness to the Frenchman.

With Les Monegasques languishing at the foot of the Ligue 1 table for most of the campaign, Sidibe was unable to replicate his insatiable 2017/18 form, famously earning a one out of 10 rating by French publication L’Equipe – known for its harsh ratings – earlier in the season against PSG – and more recently not making Didier Deschamps’ latest Les Bleus squad.

He’s still a formidable force at right-back, but honestly, what on earth happened to Monaco at the Stade Louis II in 2018/19?

Centre-back: Salif Sane

A brilliant defender on his day, one of the best the Bundesliga has to offer in fact, but his arrival from Hannover 96 coincided with a wretched campaign for Schalke, with the Senegal international making the third-most errors leading to shots in the German top-flight across 2018/19, as well as being dribbled past the fourth-most times of any centre-back (19).

Sane’s form drastically picked up after the winter break – notably a goal in the Revierderby – but there can be no hiding from his involvement in Man City’s 10-goal haul against the Royal Blues, or his poor start to the season, culminating in the axe for Domenico Tedesco.

Centre-back: Shkodran Mustafi

Despite reaching the Europe League final, Mustafi has come in for some scathing criticism this year, with the £35m defender frequently looking at sea when an opposing player attacks Arsenal territory.

Mishaps and mistakes followed the Germany international like a shadow in 2018/19, with his Crystal Palace horrorshow the zenith of a season blighted by error. Mustafi has all the attributes to continue at the top level, but a proneness to more-than-occasional blunders has stunted his progress.

Left-back: Sebastian Rudy

Nominally a central midfielder, Rudy is capable of playing at full-back – as he has done in his career – and so will operate as our auxiliary left-back, and well, given his non-existence in Schalke’s midfield this season, the German may as well be jostled out wide to a less prominent role.

Signed from Bayern Munich last summer, Rudy relocated to the Veltins-Arena with huge expectations but failed to fulfil them, looking a shadow of the player who exploded onto the scene with Hoffenheim nine years ago as well as being an important member of Joachim Low’s Die Mannschaft squad at one point.

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Central midfield: Andre Frank Zambo Anguissa

Any number of Fulham players could have made this XI, in fact, the entire team could have been comprised of players just from Craven Cottage, but Anguissa, in particular, was a monumental disappointment.

Signed from Marseille last summer, the Cameroon international was recruited with the promise of installing a bullishness and tenacity to the Cottagers’ midfield, instead he looked out of his depth. The Jean Michael Seri-Anguissa combination had all the makings of a high-quality midfield partnership, but it failed to blossom, with the duo often looking out of tune as the west Londoners sank.

Central midfield: Javier Pastore

The Argentina international should be at the peak of his powers at this stage in his career; he should have been a focal point for La Albiceleste at the World Cup, and he should be Roma’s talisman, their fulcrum if you will. Instead, fortune hasn’t particularly favoured the 29-year-old, who is now significantly on the wane, and has so far failed to vindicate the bumper fee I Giallorossi couriered to Paris for his services.

Right-midfield: Alexis Sanchez

Probably the less said about Sanchez the better. How this once prodigiously gifted Chilean went from the Premier League’s most lethal forward to complete flop in the space of less than a year is a Homeric fall the Roman Empire would have been proud of.

Manchester United were pretty woeful this season, but Sanchez’s feeble exploits were the nadir of a nightmarish 2018/19 at Old Trafford. Indeed, at the Theatre of Dreams this summer there will be fantasies aplenty of how the Red Devils can offload the former Barca man from their books.

Left-midfield: Thomas Lemar

Atletico Madrid went all out to sign Lemar – who was strongly linked with Arsenal – last summer, with high hopes the France international would add significant zeal and zest to their final third, but for the circa £60m paid for his creativity, the 22 starts and just three assists proved a poor return.

This is often the problem when spending large sums on individual players, the expectation levels rise precipitously, and Lemar struggled to cope at times with the demands of plying his trade at the cacophonous Wanda Metropolitano, often failing to adapt to Diego Simeone’s obsessively organised and tactically disciplined system. The Gunners may well have dodged a very expensive bullet.

Malcom ran a close second, but considering he cost around half the fee, Lemar pips him to the unwanted spot. Both were voted in the top three worst La Liga signings of the year after Marca conducted a poll in January, and well, we all know what happened to one of the former worst signings of the season – there is hope yet for Lemar and Malcom.

Striker: Giovanni Simeone

Simeone was heading for the stars after lighting up Serie A in his maiden campaign with Genoa, prompting Fiorentina to break the bank to acquire his signature last summer, and it proved an acute piece of business with a fine goalscoring return in 2017/18.

This season, however, has been diametrically at odds with his debut Viola campaign. The Florence club were dreadful in 2018/19, staving off the threat of relegation just a few matches before Serie A’s conclusion, and Simeone was noticeably guilty of aberrations in the final third, squandering a number of excellent opportunities throughout the campaign, much to the disdain of many Fiorentina fans – in a season where he was expected to take his game to new heights, he faltered, but like so many of the players on this list, so too did his teammates.

Striker: Mariano Diaz

In a campaign Real Madrid self-exploded in, it wouldn’t feel right to not include at least one Los Blancos player, and Mariano Diaz has taken the unwanted berth. There were hopes the 25-year-old would make a name for himself in the marbled halls of the Bernabeu, instead he often sat on the periphery, scoring just three La Liga goals, and will no doubt be deemed surplus to requirements should a move for Luka Jovic materialise this transfer window.