Domestic leagues around the world are entering the crucial stretches of the season when champions are determined and clubs struggle to avoid relegation. Managers have typically found the formations and lineups that work for their clubs, but the ongoing evaluation of form and quality must continue. The atmosphere in the dressing room must be assessed to determine if it is in accordance with the club’s current objectives. In many cases, those objectives may be very different than at the beginning of the season, with many teams currently out of the title race and competing for spots in European competition.
During the 2014-15 campaign, we have seen a select few teams transcend the level of their competition. However, this dominance has not necessarily been an indicator of sustained individual performances. In some cases, these teams have several underperforming players that could be holding the squad back from excellence. Clubs that are not currently near the top of the table can look to some of these individuals as scapegoats for a decline in overall quality. When it comes to the players on this list, that finger pointing may be warranted when players are not performing to their past standards.
The players on this list may be considered among the great players of football’s current era, but at this point in their careers cannot be considered among the best in the world. Their decline in form may not necessarily be permanent, but may indicate that these player are not what they once were. The following players are regarded too highly by the general public, while underperforming for their respective teams.
20 Jack Wilshere – Arsenal
Jack Wilshere is regarded by some as a future prospective captain of the English National Team. However, the young midfielder displayed little of the quality necessary to earn that position during his time with Arsenal this season. Aside from a goal and assist against Manchester City, Wilshere only contributed to one other goal for the Gunners last season in league play. He has also found himself on the physio table once again with a serious ankle injury that kept him off the pitch. Once considered a top prospect in English football, it's possible that we jumped the gun with Wilshere.
19 Nicklas Bendtner – Wolfsburg
Nicklas Bendtner has long been regarded as a tremendously talented player that continuously fails to deliver for the clubs that invest in him. The Danish striker has world class confidence in his ability, but has failed to find a regular place in the Wolfsburg lineup. He ended with only five goals last season, with two of them coming in a Europa League tie against FC Kuban Krasnodar. Bendtner was recently quoted as saying, according to this article by ESPNFC.com, “People either think that I am the greatest or throw bottles at me.” That is an interesting quote from a striker that is now struggling at his fourth club in four years.
18 Ciro Immobile – Sevilla
When Ciro Immobile moved in a £17 million transfer from Torino to Borussia Dortmund, he was expected to contribute for a Bundesliga challenger. Instead, he found himself trying to keep the club in the top tier after a slow start to their season. Immobile was less than stellar in his Bundesliga appearances, with only three goals to his name. After only one season in Germany, they shipped him off to Sevilla on loan, where he'll be attempting to reinvent himself and get himself back on track.
17 Yohan Cabaye – Crystal Palace
After joining Paris Saint-Germain in a £22 million move from Newcastle United, Yohan Cabaye scored a grand total of three goals with the club last season. This dismal production came despite Cabaye featuring in 36 matches with PSG. Cabaye’s struggles were noted and he was quickly moved after a year and a half, being sold to Crystal Palace for nearly half of what he was purchased for. He has the potential to matches with his gamebreaking ability, though he sadly hasn't showed it over the last two years.
16 Christian Benteke – Liverpool
Last year, Christian Benteke suffered a devastating injury to his Achilles tendon, which caused him to miss six months and the 2014 World Cup. After returning from this injury, Benteke had a decent season, scoring 13 goals in 29 league appearances. Benteke wasn't exactly surrounded by talent, but the striker also struggled to convert the limited opportunities he had seen. Despite his far from elite season last year, Liverpool decided to spent way too much on the striker (£32.5m) and will likely be hugely disappointed this season.
15 Kevin-Prince Boateng – Free Agent
Kevin-Prince Boateng’s production dropped significantly during his second season with Schalke 04. After a nine goal campaign in his first year, he only scored five goals during the second year of his tenure. His average match rating has dropped from 7.3 in the previous season to his current average of 6.74. He was also lackluster during his Champions League appearances, a competition he used to bring his best to. He's since been released from his contract and though he's only 28, suitors haven't been lining up. Perhaps teams are releasing he's overrated as well.
14 Sami Khedira – Juventus
Since suffering a torn ACL during a friendly match with Italy in 2013, Sami Khedira has returned only to find himself struggling with several nagging injuries that have caused him to miss time. Following another knee surgery last summer, Khedira then suffered hamstring issues that caused him to miss huge chunks of last season,. He also missed time with ankle injuries and a concussion. Even when healthy, Khedira has not performed up to his past standards and most of his appearances this season have come as a substitute. Now with Juventus, Khedira has already injured himself and is expected to miss time.
13 Gabriel Agbonlahor – Aston Villa
Aston Villa’s struggles to convert chances resulted in their team nearly being relegated last season. One of the many culprits involved in this was Gabriel Agbonlahor, whose performances were particularly poor. Agbonlahor saw a red card against Manchester United and returned to the squad only to play every minute of a four match scoreless streak. Agbonlahor had a single assist last season and only scored six goals, which is not what exactly ideal production from a forward.
12 Jozy Altidore – Toronto FC
During the January transfer window, Jozy Altidore’s disastrous tenure at Sunderland came to a merciful end with his transfer to Toronto FC for an undisclosed fee. Jozy struggled for playing time during his two seasons with Sunderland, where he scored only a single goal in Premier League competition in 42 appearances. Now, Altidore features alongside USMNT teammate Michael Bradley in Major League Soccer. Some critics viewed the move as a step down for the 25-year-old striker and he's taken the backseat to Sebastian Giovinco in Toronto, who's been their premier player.
11 Mesut Ozil – Arsenal
Arsenal’s title hopes came crashing down after an October defeat at the hands of Chelsea, where Mesut Ozil suffered a knee injury. Ozil performed at a decent level for Arsenal last season, with four goals and six assists, but was poor in key defeats against Chelsea and Tottenham. After missing over two months with injury last season, he is still failing to have the impact expected from a £44 million transfer. Though they still qualified for the Champions League, this likely not where the German midfielder anticipated being after his second season in London.
10 Gerard Pique – Barcelona
Gerard Pique’s form has improved since last summer when he declared he was no longer among the world’s elite central defenders, according to this article from Goal.com. However, he still showed signs of struggling during crucial matches against Real Madrid and Villareal So far, Pique’s admirable work has helped his team to a Liga leading 14 shutouts albeit not against the toughest competition in the world. Pique did produce solid performances in the Champions League, but still shouldn't be considered among the top defenders in the world today.
9 Steven Gerrard - L.A. Galaxy
Steven Gerrard played in most of Liverpool’s Premier League last season, but hs failed to contribute at the level he did the season before. Gerrard finished with nine goals in Premier League play, but in open play, Gerrard was underwhelming, with only one assist to his credit. He did not have a single man of the match performance last season and Liverpool finished well out of the title race. He's looked good with the Galaxy so far, but it's safe to say that he's fallen off where he used to be.
8 Javier Hernandez – Manchester United
Javier Hernandez once again struggled to find playing time in the squad of a major contender. Last season, as opposed to being Manchester United’s super sub, he came off the bench for Real Madrid. And, once again, he struggled to find the net. He finished with only seven goals in 23 appearances, producing an average rating of 6.45. It will be interesting to see where Chicharito ends up next season because the 26-year-old striker will have one year remaining on his contract and some are beginning to question his contribution to his last two clubs.
7 Giovani dos Santos - L.A. Galaxy
Two years ago, Giovani dos Santos was an integral part of the setup at Villarreal, contributing 11 goals and eight assists, helping them to a sixth place finish. During last year's La Liga campaign, he did not contribute anywhere close to that mark with only one goal and three assits. On top of that, his average performance rating declined significantly. The good news is that Giovani still has room to grow and mature as a player. In order to do that, he'll need to improve on his consistency.
6 Iker Casillas – Porto
Iker Casillas started off last season with howlers against Real Sociedad and Atletico Madrid, where he conceded six goals during the two matches. He recovered well enough, helping Real Madrid to a record setting winning streak, which helped Casillas tally 10 clean sheets so far this season. Sadly, he faltered down the stretch and Madrid didn't win any important trophies last season. He also continued to be suspect on big occasions, like during the 4-0 drubbing from Atletico. Casillas has since moved to Porto, where he'll look to end his career on a high note, but Casillas can no longer be considered among the world's elite.
5 Edin Dzeko – AS Roma
Last season, one of the reasons Manchester City didn't win the league title was because the club struggled to find goal production aside from Sergio Aguero and Yaya Toure. Last year, Dzeko only found the net four times in 22 Premier League appearances, well off the pace that saw him score 16 and 14 goals in previous campaigns. Two of those goals came during a man of the match performance against Hull City, but the big Bosnian was silent otherwise. Now with Roma, he'll hope to turn his fortunes around in the Eternal City.
4 Paulinho – Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao
Paulinho was out of favor with Spurs head coach Mauricio Pochettino last year. Paulinho started very few games last season, after starting 28 last season for Tottenham. During his 34 total appearances, he has managed only tw0 goals and five assist, with only one assist coming in Premier League competition. The midfielder’s match ratings have decreased dramatically from 6.89 to 6.27 from two years ago. His struggles have been recognized by sources within Brazil and around the world, with many wondering why this unique talent did not succeed in the Premier League.He's now moved to Guangzhou Evergrande for a meager total of £9.80m and it's clear that his star has fallen.
3 Mario Balotelli – Liverpool
Mario Balotelli is a cult figure among soccer fans that is known for his off field antics and creator of some of the best goal celebrations of all time. However, those celebrations were few and far between last season after Super Mario joined Liverpool. He has scored a total of four goals in his 28 appearances and scored his first Premier League goal after over 10 hours on the pitch. Liverpool did not compete for the Premier League title last season and Balotelli’s goal drought may be partially responsible. When Balotelli is involved and enthusiastic, he can be one of the best strikers in the world, but the question remains whether Brendan Rogers can keep him engaged.
2 Shinji Kagawa – Borussia Dortmund
Shinji Kagawa was given a hero’s welcome as he returned to Borussia Dortmund after spending two seasons with Manchester United. However, Kagawa failed to deliver on the promise that he displayed in the earlier stages of his career. In his 28 Bundesliga performances kast season, Kagawa had only five goals and six assists, while the clubstruggled significantly. Although he was involved in creating two goals for the club in the Champions League, his regular contribution is needed if Dortmund are going to compete with Bayern this year.
1 Radamel Falcao – Chelsea
Manchester United paid an extraordinary amount in loan fees and salary for Radamel Falcao, but he failed to produce at a level commensurate to his compensation. While he produced four goals and five assists in his 26 Premier League appearances, that is hardly what is expected of a player on a salary of £346,000 per week. He has also only scored against teams ranked 10th or below, while going scoreless against top tier competition. He's since moved to Chelsea, also on loan, where he'll look to regain his form alongside Jose Mourinho.