Being a footballer isn’t an easy task, and maintaining consistency at the highest level is more difficult as players have to constantly meet expectations. Many youngsters failed to reach their full potentials due to immense pressure, while some already established stars still have to re-prove their ability each season to silence doubters and critics alike. At the same time, some have to showcase their abilities to a new manager in a new club or league, as others have to justify the heavy fees paid to sign them.
Here, TOP SOCCER BLOG looks at 20 footballers who need to prove themselves in the 2020/21 season.
1. EDEN HAZARD (REAL MADRID)
When Real Madrid paid €100m to secure the signing of Eden Hazard from Chelsea last summer, much was expected from the Belgian. He was to fill the void left by Cristiano Ronaldo, be the team’s new star, provide inspiration when needed, among other things, but his first season in Spain was plagued by injuries. He managed just 22 appearances in all competitions, scoring just a single goal. Going into the 2020/21 season, Madridistas will be hopeful of seeing the Hazard that terrorized opponents when he was at Chelsea, and the 29-year-old has to prove that he can thrive at the very highest level.
2. KEPA ARRIZABALAGA (CHELSEA)
Kepa was signed as a replacement for Thibaut Courtois at Stamford Bridge in a club-record deal worth £72 million in 2018, but the Spaniard has done nothing to justify that hefty fee so far. He had a torrid 2019/20 season in which he conceded 58 goals in 41 matches and managed only 10 clean-sheets while also failing to convince new manager Frank Lampard of his ability. Chelsea were hoping to sell and replace him ahead of the new season but were unable to do so, which gives Kepa another opportunity to prove his mettle.
3. ANTOINE GREIZMAN (BARCELONA)
Barcelona forked out a whopping €120 million to lure Antoine Greizman to Camp Nou last summer, expecting the Frenchman to boost their attack, but the transfer hasn’t worked so far. He played under 2 different managers in Valverde and Setien, failed to adapt to the team’s style, and was forced to play out of position. Griezman scored 15 goals and made 4 assists in 48 matches across all competitions, which was below the 21 goals and 10 assists he had in the same number of appearances in his final season at Athletico Madrid. With new manager Ronald Koeman assuring him of being played in his favoured position in the new season, Griezman needs to start firing on all cylinders or risk being moved on, especially with Inter’s Lautauro Martinez being constantly linked with Barcelona.
4. NICOLAS PEPE (ARSENAL)
Pepe was brought in from Lille last summer in a club-record £72m deal. The Ivorian’s first season at Arsenal didn’t go well as planned as he managed a fair 8 goals and 10 assists in 42 appearances in all competitions. He now risks losing his place in the first eleven to new signing Willian — who dazzled on his debut against Fulham and laid on two assists. Pepe needs to prove himself in order to keep his place and to justify his transfer fee.
5. MESUT OZIL (ARSENAL)
No doubt about Ozil’s world-class abilities, which was the reason why Arsenal handed him a mouth-watering £350k per week deal in 2018. But ever since then, he has downed tools and failed to meet all expectations. The World Cup winner managed just 23 appearances last season, scored 1 goal, and provided 3 assists in all competitions. He has to prove his commitment to the club in the new season or risks tarnishing his legacy at Arsenal.
6. PHILLIPE COUTINHO (BARCELONA)
Ever since Coutinho’s €105 million transfer to Barcelona from Liverpool, he has failed to produce the kind of scintillating displays that convinced the Blaugranas to pay such a heavy sum. He was loaned to Bayern Munich last season, and he rubbed salt into Barca’s wounds by scoring twice against them in their 8-2 humiliation in the Champions League semi-finals. But the positive side was that he scored 11 goals and provided 9 assists in 38 matches last season at Bayern, which has convinced Koeman to give him another chance to salvage his Barcelona career. Coutinho needs to be at his best as he will face competition from the likes of Rafinha, De Jong, Miralem Pjanic, Riqui Puig, and Carles Alena at Camp Nou.
7. OUSMANE DEMBELE (BARCELONA)
Yet another Barca player on this list points to how terrible the club’s board has mismanaged the team under president Josep Maria Bartomeu. Dembele is another big-money flop that was signed during Bartomeu’s tenure. €105 million was paid for him in 2017, a decision that looks more and more shocking each passing season. Dembele’s career at Camp Nou has been affected by injuries and ill-discipline on his own part. He managed just 9 appearances last season.
In 2020/21, he faces competition from the likes of Griezman, Ansu Fati, Pedri, and even Coutinho for a starting role, which will afford him the opportunity to prove himself. He has everything to prove this season or risks being moved on.
8. DAVID DE GEA (MANCHESTER UNITED)
De Gea is a goalkeeper that belongs at the highest level, no doubt, but his performances in the past three seasons have not been up to his usual standards. Last term, he managed 15 clean-sheets in 43 appearances across all competitions, but his performances didn’t inspire much confidence, which prompted United to bring back young academy graduate, Dean Henderson — who spent last season on loan at Sheffield United where he put in some impressive performances. De Gea now faces real competition for a starting place in the lineup. He needs to be in his best form this time around or lose his place forever!
9. PAUL POGBA (MANCHESTER UNITED)
Pogba is the most talented player in Man United’s squad, but he doesn’t put in the performances to match his skills. He hasn’t lived up to the £89 million fee that was spent to sign him from Juventus. He was injured for a large part of last season, playing just 22 games. But this season will not be like previous seasons as he faces competition in the midfield from the likes of Bruno Fernandes, Donny Van de Beek, Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard, Nemanja Matic, and Scott McTominay. No doubt that Pogba is more gifted than the aforementioned players but should he fail to put in his best performances, he will find himself warming the bench throughout the season!
10. DELE ALLI (TOTTENHAM HOTSPURS)
For the first time in his Spurs career, Alli faces the prospect of losing his place in the starting eleven. His form has dipped in the past two seasons, and he has a manager who doesn’t play to his strengths in Jose Mourinho — who prefers defensive-minded players in midfield (Eriksen’s exit in January attests to this fact). Alli faces competition from Lo Celso, Lamela, and Gedson Fernandes and has to prove himself all over again. He also risks losing his place in the national team.
11. TANGUY NDOMBELE (TOTTENHAM)
Ndombele was signed from Lyon last season for a club-record £55 million but hasn’t justified the fee so far. Injuries and inconsistent performances have become synonymous with him in North London. He made 29 appearances in his first season, with 2 goals and 4 assists to his name. Pierre-Emile Højbjerg has been brought in to intensify competition this season alongside Harry Winks, Eric Dier, and Moussa Sissoko. Ndombele needs to fend off competitions from them for a role in the team. He also needs game time at club level to remain in contention for France.
12. WILFRED ZAHA (CRYSTAL PALACE)
Zaha was linked with a big-money transfer last summer, but Crystal Palace managed to keep him. The attacker has never hidden his desire to play for a top club, but his performances last season weren’t top-notch as he scored 4 goals and provided 5 assists in 38 league matches, which is probably why none of the big teams made attempts to sign him this summer. For him to realise his dream of playing at the highest level, he needs to up his performances and prove that he deserves to be in a bigger club.
13. JAMES RODRIGUEZ (EVERTON)
It now seems like a long time ago when James Rodriguez was the toast of football after his brilliant displays at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. He secured a move to Real Madrid that summer but has failed to nail down a place at the Santiago Bernabeu. He returned to Madrid last season after a loan spell with Bayern Munich but managed a paltry 14 appearances in all competitions. He has reunited with his former boss at both Madrid and Bayern, Carlo Ancelloti, at Everton this summer. James now has a golden opportunity to prove himself as a world-beater once again and must make the most of it.
14. MOISE KEAN (EVERTON)
Moise Kean showed immense potential as an academy player at Juventus but failed to break into the senior team. He moved to Everton in 2019, hoping to secure regular game time, but his performances were unconvincing. He scored just 2 goals in 33 matches. With the new additions to the Everton midfield in the mold of Abdoulaye Doucoure, Allan, and James Rodriguez, the team won’t be short of creativity this season, and Kean has to take his chances.
15. LUKA JOVIC (REAL MADRID)
Luka Jovic scored 27 goals and laid on 7 assists for Eintracht Frankfurt in 2018/19, which was enough to convince Real Madrid to cough out €60 million to sign him. But he failed to justify the fee last season with his insipid displays in front of goal. He managed just 2 goals in 27 appearances in all competitions. He has to prove that he belongs at the top level this season and faces competition from Benzema, Rodrygo, Borja Mayoral, and Mariano Diaz.
16. JOAO FELIX (ATHLETICO MADRID)
Joao Felix became the 2nd most expensive teenager in world football when Athletico Madrid paid €126m to prise him away from Benfica amid competition from other top teams. Athletico —who are not known for spending large sums on players — were happy to have secured one of the most coveted youngsters in world football. But Felix didn’t live up to the hype, scoring 9 goals and providing just 3 assists in 36 appearances last season. Diego Simeone will be hopeful that the 20-year-old will hit the ground running in 2020/21.
17. SAMUEL UMTITI (BARCELONA)
The 4th Barcelona player on this list. Umtiti has struggled with injuries in the last two campaigns playing just 33 games (15 in 2018/19 and 18 last season), which is below the 40 he played in 2017/18 alone. The strong partnership between Clement Lenglet and Gerard Pique means Umtiti has a lot to do to regain his place. He also risk missing out on the French team for the Euros next summer.
18. NABY KEITA (LIVERPOOL)
Much was expected from Keita when he moved to Liverpool from RB Leipzig, but the Guinean hasn’t lived up to expectations, rarely fit, and lacking consistency. He faces competition from Chamberlain, Shaqiri, Wijnaldum, Minamino, and youngsters; Elliott, Jones, Woodburn, and Wilson. Liverpool are also looking to sign Thiago Alcantara from Bayern Munich. Keita has to stay fit and put in good displays to remain in Jurgen Klopp’s plans going into the future.
19. CHRISTIAN ERIKSEN (INTER MILAN)
Inter and Antonio Conte were very delighted when they captured Eriksen from Tottenham for just £17 million in January amidst interest from Real Madrid, Manchester United, Juventus, and PSG. The Danish midfielder hasn’t settled in yet at San Siro and faces question marks on whether he can adapt to Conte’s 3-5-2 formation. He is a key member of Conte’s Inter Milan that challenged Juventus for the Serie A crown. Heading into the new season, Eriksen has to produce the kind of displays he showcased at Tottenham under Mauricio Pochettino in order to help Inter in their quest to dethrone Juventus as the best club in Italy.
20. HIRVING LOZANO (NAPOLI)
Lozano’s excellent displays in 2018/19 attracted Europe’s elite clubs, and Napoli won the race by splashing a club-record €42 million on him, making him the most expensive Mexican footballer in history. But the 24-year-old’s dream move to Naples is fast becoming a nightmare! He lost his place in the team when Gattuso replaced Ancelloti as manager, and scored just 5 goals and provided 2 assists in 36 appearances in all competitions last season — a far cry from the 21 goals and 12 assists in his final season at PSV. The arrival of Nigerian hotshot, Victor Osimhen, means Lozano faces a tougher competition for places in 2020/21, and the 25-year-old has to summon the spirit of his PSV days to be reckoned with once more.