Football Features

Premier League ‘Big Six’ players set for a ‘last chance saloon’ season

By Steve Jennings

Published: 16:19, 31 July 2019

With the start of the 2019/20 Premier League season fast approaching, some players will be more excited about the new campaign than others.

Indeed, many will be concerned about the amount of game time they are set to be given. For various reasons, a number of footballers – particularly those who play for the ‘Big Six’ – are primed for a ‘last chance saloon’ season.

With new signings arriving all the time, several players could be running out of opportunities to prove they belong at a top six side.

We’ve picked out two players from each of the ‘Big Six’ and explained why 2019/20 could be their last chance to make an impression before potentially being moved on.

Eric Dier

Once tipped as a future England regular and targeted by Jose Mourinho at Manchester United, Eric Dier has suffered a mini-downfall of sorts over the last couple of years. Mixed displays for England combined with injuries and illness reduced his game time for Spurs last term and saw his reputation take a hit.

Mauricio Pochettino still trusts the 25-year-old but he is no longer a guaranteed starter. The record signing of Tanguy Ndombele means Dier’s minutes will be even fewer in the coming months. If he doesn’t make the most of his time on the pitch – whether that’s in midfield or at centre-back – the former Sporting Lisbon youngster may be forced to move on next summer.

Kyle Walker-Peters

Right-back was one of Spurs’ main issues last season. Kieran Trippier’s form fell off a cliff and Serge Aurier was on and off the treatment table throughout the campaign. Perhaps it’s damning, then, that Pochettino didn’t turn to Kyle Walker-Peters more often.

With Trippier out, this year will be decisive for the 22-year-old. He has made just nine Premier League appearances over the last two seasons. That’s likely to increase this season, especially if Tottenham don’t sign another right-back. But can Walker-Peters prove he is the answer to Pochettino’s quandary? Or will Pochettino prefer centre-back Juan Foyth on the right as has been suggested by pre-season?

Olivier Giroud

Since joining Chelsea from Arsenal in January 2018, Olivier Giroud has scored just five Premier League goals. Most of his best work for the Blues came in last season’s Europa League; he scored 11 goals in 14 outings, including a fine header in the final against his former club. But despite that vital contribution, there are still question marks over Giroud’s ability to lead the line for a top six club.

The Frenchman was never quite first-choice at Arsenal, who were willing to sell him in order to bring in last season’s Golden Boot winner Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Similarly, Chelsea brought in Gonzalo Higuain on loan last term to make up for Giroud’s lack of league goals. This season, Giroud has a chance to stake his claim as he battles Tammy Abraham for a starting spot.

Andreas Christensen

Can a footballer still be described as promising at the age of 23? Therein lies Andreas Christensen’s conundrum at Chelsea. The Dane has been trying to break into the first-team since returning from two years on loan at Borussia Monchengladbach but has found it difficult to displace the likes of David Luiz and Antonio Rudiger.

A transfer ban means Chelsea have been unable to sign another centre-back for Christensen to contend with, although Kurt Zouma appears to be part of Frank Lampard’s plans after impressing for Everton on loan last season. Christensen will be hoping to increase his eight league appearances from last term, or else he might be forced to move on.

Adam Lallana

Injuries have consumed the last two years of Adam Lallana’s career. The former Southampton midfielder has played just 31 times across all competitions since the beginning of 2017/18, and Jurgen Klopp might find it difficult to give him minutes this season, especially if Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is back, fit and firing.

It’s difficult to see Lallana still being a Liverpool player this time next year unless he stays fit for the entire 2019/20 campaign and makes an impression when given the opportunity to do so. How often those opportunities will come, though, is a mystery. What’s more, not all Liverpool fans are eager to see Lallana in the starting line-up regularly.

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Xherdan Shaqiri

Xherdan Shaqiri endured a turbulent, if mostly positive, debut season at Anfield. The Switzerland international provided some decisive moments in the first half of the Premier League campaign and in the Champions League group stages, only to find himself effectively exiled at times in the second half of the season.

More bursts of quality came through, but this has happened with Shaqiri before; he has failed to prove consistent enough to remain at other European giants, including Bayern Munich and Inter Milan, joining lesser clubs in between spells with the big boys. With that in mind, the 27-year-old will have to work hard to stay in Klopp’s good books this term or risk his strange career cycle continuing.

Calum Chambers

Last season, Calum Chambers spent the season playing in central midfield during a loan spell with Fulham. His job was to protect a back four that conceded 81 goals, more than any other team in the division – a fool’s errand. Now back at Arsenal, Chambers could prosper from being around better players and might be given a fresh chance by Unai Emery.

The 24-year-old’s last run in the Arsenal team came in the 2017/18 season when he made 24 appearances across all competitions. With Shkodran Mustafi’s future looking uncertain, Chambers may get a similar amount of game time this term. He’ll need to make the most of it with William Saliba arriving from Saint-Etienne next summer.

Alex Iwobi

Alex Iwobi has cut a divisive figure at Arsenal in recent seasons. The Nigeria international scored a cracking goal in last season’s Europa League defeat, a volley emblematic of the quality he possesses. But a lack of consistency has raised questions over his status as a ‘big six’ player, and Nicolas Pepe’s arrival could see Emery line up with a 4-3-3 with no spot for Iwobi.

Pepe will likely join Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette in attack, meaning Iwobi may have to spend a lot of time on the bench. If he can impress in his role as a substitute, there might be a future for him at the Emirates – but it’s a big ‘if’.

Benjamin Mendy

Left-back has been one of Pep Guardiola’s main issues since joining Manchester City. He temporarily solved the problem in the summer of 2017 by signing Benjamin Mendy from Monaco, but the Frenchman’s knee injuries have been a constant hinderance. He has made just 22 appearances for the club, and even when fit he may now be considered back-up to Oleksandr Zinchenko.

Mendy has two things to prove this season: that he can stay fit for a long period of time, and that he is still a better left-back than Zinchenko. If he fails to do either of those things, Guardiola could attempt to upgrade his left flank once again next summer and Mendy might be a victim of that.

John Stones

John Stones has the chance to step into Vincent Kompany’s shoes after the Belgian’s summer departure. With Harry Maguire seemingly opting for Manchester United, it doesn’t look like City will be signing a centre-back this summer, so Stones and Nicolas Otamendi will be used on rotation as a partner for Aymeric Laporte.

Essentially, the 2019/20 campaign will function as a trial for Stones. He must finally prove he is good enough to play for a Guardiola side. A shaky display for England in the UEFA Nations League finals drew criticism, with many suggesting Stones hasn’t improved since joining City three years ago. If that continues to be the case, he might be searching for a new club next year.

Andreas Pereira

Andreas Pereira scored one goal and registered one assist last season. Both came in the same match, a 3-2 league victory over Southampton at Old Trafford. Pereira’s contribution was a hint of what he can offer Manchester United, but he simply hasn’t done it anywhere near enough to warrant a starting position.

United continue to be linked with Sporting Lisbon star Bruno Fernandes, a development that will be a concern to Pereira. The attacking midfielder will know 2019/20 is his final chance to kick on and become a regular at Old Trafford. If it doesn’t happen this season, it’s unlikely it ever will, and Fernandes’ arrival could make things even more difficult for Pereira.

Chris Smalling

The Red Devils conceded 54 goals in the Premier League last season, more than any of their top six rivals. As a result, their pursuit of Maguire makes total sense. If he gets his man, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will have to decide who to partner with Maguire. Victor Lindelof is leading that particular race, but Chris Smalling and Phil Jones will be keen to muscle their way in.

The English duo struggled at times last season, but Smalling appears to be at bigger risk of losing his place than Jones, who was handed a new contract in February. In truth, United fans would like upgrades on both players; at least Maguire will ensure one of them plays fewer games next term.