AS the 2022-23 Premier League season approaches, eyes are inevitably trained on the new arrivals at each club, with a string of headline-grabbing deals already done this summer and several more in the pipeline.
But the advent of a new season brings a chance not only for new beginnings but for second chances, too. Here, we take a look at five players who, for different reasons, fell short of expectations last term and will be hoping to bounce back in 2022-23.
A list of players in need on bounce-back campaigns in the coming season could have been compiled entirely of Manchester United stars, such was the Red Devils’ dreadful under-performance – individually and collectively – last term.
But it’s impossible to overlook one United player in particular. Last season Marcus Rashford looked a shell of the dynamic and deadly forward who’d burst on to the scene as a teenager before developing into one of English football’s brightest attacking talents in recent years.
The 24-year-old’s meagre five-goal return was by far the lowest of his career to date, and too often he looked lost in a United attack desperate for someone of his talent and stature to lead by example.
Fortunately, Rashford has youth and an abundance of ability on his side. He should benefit, too, from new manager Erik ten Hag’s fine-detailed tactical approach. The England forward will, for perhaps the first time in his young career at club level, benefit from a sharply defined role, no longer required to freelance in order to muster magic within a flagging frontline.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin established himself as one of the best young strikers in Europe in 2020-21. It was the second consecutive season in which he notched double figures in the Premier League, this time contributing to a career-best all-competitions return of 21 goals from 39 appearances.
He started to appear in transfer rumours with eye-watering price tags quoted. Everton held on to their emerging star and the 2021-22 campaign could hardly have begun more brightly – the England centre-forward scored in each of the opening three games as the Toffees collected seven points from a possible nine.
But then a fractured toe kept Calvert-Lewin out of action for four months and Everton’s form descended. By the time of his return, in February, Rafa Benitez had been sacked, replaced by Frank Lampard. Everton were languishing in the bottom half and sliding towards a relegation battle. Calvert-Lewin didn’t score again until mid-May, first in a 3-2 defeat to Brentford and then a crucial strike in a win over Crystal Palace to seal safety on the season’s penultimate weekend, his fifth and final league goal of 2021-22.
So flashes of his previous form returned just in time to save Everton, and Calvert-Lewin will hope to build on those encouraging signs to put together a run of form and fitness next season ahead of the winter World Cup.
If the news of Jack Grealish’s British-record £100m move to Manchester City last season had been followed by a premonition that his debut season at the Etihad would yield a return of just three league goals and three assists, most would have considered the outlay for the England winger a gross overpay.
But, while Grealish’s personal performances for City haven’t yet quite matched expectations following his switch from Aston Villa, the 26-year-old can point to a Premier League winner’s medal as justification for his acrimonious split with his boyhood club and of City’s faith in him.
And it is not unusual for a high-profile arrival at City in the Pep Guardiola era to take a season or more to truly bed in. Several stars of the back-to-back champions’ current squad – such as Rodri, Bernardo Silva, Joao Cancelo and Riyad Mahrez – found their feet and delivered on their full potential after a year of settling in and adapting to Guardiola’s tactical demands.
With Gabriel Jesus having joined Arsenal and Raheem Sterling’s departure for Chelsea imminent, and with marquee signing Erling Haaland the ideal target for the England man’s creativity, the stage is set for Grealish to shine in 2022-23.
New Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag has already confirmed that he does not plan to make a change to the Old Trafford captaincy, meaning Harry Maguire will retain the arm band and suggesting the England centre-back is likely also to hold on to his place in the team, despite efforts to sign Lisandro Martinez from Ajax.
Maguire’s captaincy and competency were questioned routinely by swathes of United fans last season amid an error-strewn campaign from the world’s most expensive defender. Apparently bereft of confidence, the once-commanding centre-half made persistent errors of judgement and basic positioning.
For the most part, Maguire’s England form has held steady throughout, which perhaps suggests his recent woes have been environmental. With Ten Hag’s arrival intended to breathe fresh air into a stagnant and under-performing squad, United will be hoping their captain is quickly revitalised.
In his seven seasons as a Liverpool player, Roberto Firmino has been – literally and figuratively – central to the club’s success. The nominative striker at the heart of the Reds’ vaunted front three, his movement, skill, intelligence and unselfishness was key to unlocking Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, helping the wide pair develop into two of the world’s most prolific forwards.
But last season Firmino’s importance to Liverpool’s fortunes diminished. An injury-disrupted campaign saw the Brazilian make just 10 Premier League starts, with a further 10 appearances from the bench. Although his scoring output has never been the greatest asset he offers to the balance of Jurgen Klopp’s attack, his 2020-21 return of five league goals was the lowest of his Liverpool career.
With Jota providing reliable scoring in his place last term, January signing Luis Diaz settling quickly into a prominent role and the £85m arrival of 23-year-old Uruguayan striker Darwin Nunez from Benfica this summer, Firmino has a battle ahead to re-establish himself as a key cog in the Reds’ frontline.