With the Premier League season coming to an end, The Hard Tackle takes a look at the three players who failed to live up to expectations and severely underperformed.
Curtains fell on the 2020/21 Premier League campaign a little over a week ago. In what was one of the shortest seasons in terms of time, in recent memory, due to the cramped fixture schedule Manchester City were able to reclaim their throne from Liverpool, who just about scraped through a top four finish along with Liverpool.
Towards the bottom end, there was disappointment for two of the promoted clubs in Fulham and West Bromwich Albion, both of whom ended up facing the drop along with Sheffield United who endured quite the collapse from the heady highs of the 2019/20 season.
Over the course of the campaign there were many established individuals who lit up the stage with stunning displays while there were a number of players who enjoyed their breakthrough in one of the toughest competitions in football.
At the same time, there were players of whom big things were expected but they failed to deliver for their respective teams. In this feature, The Hard Tackle takes a look at three of the biggest such underperformers who failed to meet the expectations that were there on them when the season kicked off.
Anthony Martial (Manchester United)
The most obvious one at the top, Anthony Martial entered the 2020/21 campaign with lofty expectations after enjoying a stunning previous season during which he had finished as Manchester United’s top scorer. Indeed, the Frenchman had banged in 23 goals across all competitions and finally looked like the centre-forward that the Red Devils needed him to be.
However, it only proved to be a false dawn as the 25-year-old Martial endured one of his worst campaigns since making the switch to Old Trafford from AS Monaco in 2015. The French international ended the 2020/21 term with a paltry total of four goals from 23 league outings, which is just nowhere near good enough from a player who is expected to be the main main at the top for a team like Manchester United who want to challenge for the biggest trophies.
Martial ended the season with ten big chances missed in the Premier League while averaging a goal every 371.75 minutes (!), looking devoid of confidence and the killer instincts in front of goal, before an injury cut short his campaign. The 25-year-old had an xG of 7.41 in the league, indicating that his finishing was just not good enough during the season.
Being outdone by a 34-year-old Edinson Cavani who hadn’t played a game for months altogether before the season started does not reflect well on the Frenchman and it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he is now being linked with an exit from United.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal)
After a fine 2019/20 season during which he scored 22 league goals to finish as the second-highest goalscorer in the competition, Aubameyang was rewarded with a new, bumper deal by Arsenal. What followed, though, hardly justified the lucrative deal that the Gunners had handed their club captain in a bid to extend his stay at the Emirates Stadium.
Aubameyang’s tally of 10 goals from 29 Premier League games, while being a major drop from his last season’s tally, might still not seem all that bad, especially factoring in Arsenal’s creative issues in the first half of the season. However, it must be noted that five of his ten goals came in two games against Newcastle United (2) and Leeds United (3), meaning he managed just five in the rest of his 27 league appearances.
Having averaged a goal every 142.68 minutes in the Premier League in 2019/20, the Arsenal skipper managed one every 233.7 minutes in 2020/21, which is very poor by the lofty standards he has set for himself throughout his career.
What makes it even worse is that the 31-year-old failed to step up when Arsenal needed him in difficult times this term, leaving Mikel Arteta & co. to rely on youngsters like Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe to do the heavy lifting.
Sadio Mane (Liverpool)
There were a number of contenders for the final name on the list, but we ended up going with Sadio Mane, owing to the fact that the Senegalese speedster endured his worst campaign in Liverpool colours by some distance since joining from Southampton in 2016.
The 29-year-old had played a critical role in Liverpool’s Premier League title triumph in 2019/20, with 18 goals from 35 games (153.06 min per goal). But 2020/21 was a far cry from that level for the ex-Southampton man. Even though his tally of 11 goals and 7 assists from 35 outings in the league reads decent on paper, a deeper dive into the numbers reveal that it was quite a sub-par season for Mane.
The brace on the final day against Crystal Palace, which helped the Reds earn Champions League qualification will likely mean that his struggles may potentially be overlooked. But, over the course of the season, there were many stretches when the 29-year-old struggled to impact proceedings in the way Liverpool fans have grown accustomed to seeing him do year after year.
Indeed, the Liverpool superstar managed a goal every 256 minutes this term, while his xG differential of +3.83 is an indicator that Mane was not good enough in taking his chances in front of goal. Take out his braces against Chelsea and Crystal Palace and Mane managed just seven goals in his remaining 33 matches, leaving Mohamed Salah to do the bulk of the scoring for the Reds in the season gone by.
Honourable Mentions: Steven Bergwijn (Tottenham), Willian (Arsenal)
Steven Bergwijn showed a lot of positive signs after arriving at Tottenham in January last year. The 2020/21 term, though, was largely forgettable for the Dutchman as he managed just one goal in 21 league games, falling out of favour with ex-boss Jose Mourinho as well as interim manager Ryan Mason.
Willian’s campaign for Arsenal, upon his free transfer from Chelsea, proved to be a major dud. One goal and five assists in 25 league games is not just good enough for a player as experienced as the Brazilian.