Worst Premier League Team of the Season so far

While pre-season expectations have been met thus far by many of the Premier League’s top stars, others have not fared as well. Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, Luis Suarez & Co. continue to deliver at the highest level, but some players a little further down the league have failed to get to grips with the 2012-13 campaign. So, using our unique Ratings Index, which takes every Premier League performance into account, we take a look at the worst players in the top flight so far this season…

Having been linked with Arsenal and Liverpool after Wigan’s impressive start to the season, it has been quite a downfall for goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi. The Oman international earned rave reviews early on in the campaign but has been at fault for goals on a number of occasions since as Roberto Martinez’s men slipped from genuine top-10 contenders to relegation material.

Dubbed ‘the next Paolo Maldini’ when he broke through at Inter in 2008, Davide Santon has failed to live up to such hype in the Premier League this season. Like many of his Newcastle team-mates, the full-back is yet to find the kind of form that helped the club seal a shock fifth-placed finish last year and is a shadow of the player that was performing so well when he arrived in English football.

The summer signing of James Collins and impressive form of Winston Reid at West Ham has hampered the progress of James Tomkins. The 23-year-old was named in the PFA Championship Team of the Year as the Hammers won promotion via the play-offs last term but he has so far been unable to regain his preferred centre-back position and has struggled when called upon by Sam Allardyce in midfield.

You can forgive a player for trying too hard to make a good impression on their Premier League debut, but Ivan Ramis‘ rash first seven minutes in a Wigan shirt provides the perfect example of how not to make yourself known. The Spanish centre-back, a summer signing from Mallorca, was at fault for both Chelsea goals in a 2-0 defeat on the opening weekend of the season, and has been part of a Latics defence that has already conceded 32 goals in 17 matches.

A whirlwind 2012 has seen Ryan Bertrand win the FA Cup, Champions League, England caps and a regular place in the Chelsea first team, but his performances in the Premier League this season have been far from convincing. The 23-year-old is yet to impress when deputising for Ashley Cole at left-back and has been ineffective when deployed on the left of midfield.

QPR looked to have pulled off a coup with the signing of Shaun Wright-Phillips from Manchester City at the start of last season. Neither Neil Warnock or Mark Hughes, who the winger had recaptured his form under at City two years previously, were able to get the best out of him again, though, and his steady decline has continued at Loftus Road this campaign.

A serious ankle injury cut Gary O’Neil‘s Premier League return short after he joined West Ham from Middlesbrough in January 2011. Despite impressing in the Championship as he made his long-awaited comeback towards the end of last season, he has been outshone by fellow midfielders Mohamed Diame, Mark Noble and Kevin Nolan, and is yet to prove he still has what it takes at the top level.

A nailed-on starter for Manchester United in ‘big games’ in recent seasons, a lot was expected of Park Ji-Sung when he made the move to QPR in the summer. The South Korean was given an important role in the centre of midfield and named captain upon his arrival, but he has not bounced back from a dismal performance against Swansea on his debut and is now sidelined through injury.

It took until November 10 for a Sunderland player other than Steven Fletcher to find the target in the Premier League, with Stephane Sessegnon failing to ease the goal burden on the club’s £12 million summer signing. The Benin international’s form has picked up in recent weeks but his early-season showings summed up what has been a below-par campaign thus far for the Black Cats.

Brendan Rodgers said he would not have allowed Andy Carroll to leave Liverpool if he knew a replacement would not be brought in, but the striker has hardly shown his boss what he is missing out on with a slow start to his loan spell at West Ham. Injuries have restricted the £35m England international to just nine Premier League starts for the Hammers and a lack of form has seen him score just once this season.

Signed for £4.6m from Sochaux in the summer, Modibo Maiga had looked set to challenge Carlton Cole for the lone striker role at West Ham. However, the surprise arrival of Carroll late in the transfer window means the Malian’s chances have been limited, and even when he has been given an opportunity to prove his worth he has failed to take it. Marseille have been linked with a January move for the forward.

Backing Newcastle to bounce back

After a disappointing home defeat against West Ham last weekend, Newcastle will be desperate to get back to winning ways when they face Swansea on Saturday.

Fortunately for the Magpies, they have something of a hoodoo over the visitors in recent years, having won five and lost none of their last seven encounters with the Welsh side in all competitions. If you think we can win this match, then you can click here to bet on football.

Michael Laudrup’s men have failed to win away from home in the Premier League since their amazing 5-0 thrashing of QPR on opening day, and their goal in last weekend’s 1-1 draw at Southampton was the first on their travels since that game at Loftus Road.

Poor away form is nothing new for the Swans, who have lost 17 of their last 24 on the road in the Premier League, while Alan Pardew will be hoping to once again make St James’ Park the fortress where they lost just three league games last season.

Sunderland-Newcastle clash bigger than Milan derby, insists Santon

Newcastle United defender Davide Santon believes that the Tyne-Wear derby against Sunderland is bigger than the rivalry between his former club Inter and neighbours AC Milan.

The 21-year-old played in three Milan derbies during his time with the Nerazzuri but, after taking part in last season’s clash with Sunderland at St James’ Park, he is in no doubt over which is the fiercer rivalry.

“The Milan derby is a very important game but not like this one,” Santon told BBC Newcastle.

“Here there is more rivalry, everybody thinks about the game, it’s fantastic.”

Sunday’s clash will be Santon’s first trip to the Stadium of Light, and the Italian international is well aware of the importance of the match for his side.

However, the former Inter man joked that his side should have no problems maintaining their excellent record on Wearside with Shola Ameobi in the side, as the Newcastle striker has scored an impressive seven goals against The Black Cats.

“Sunday we have to win 100%, but it’s OK because if we put Shola Ameobi on the pitch and he scores,” he said.

“It’s an important game, that we have to concentrate on and make sure we win. I played the second game [last season], it was fantastic.

“When Shola scored I was so happy for the team because I know how important it is for the fans from the city.”

Will Italy's teenage wonderkid El Shaarawy follow in the footsteps of a Maldini or a Santon?

COMMENT
By Kris Voakes | Italian Football Writer

Italy are not exactly known for their tendency to hand out caps to teenagers, nor do AC Milan have a great reputation for shunning experienced heads in favour of starlets. But one player bridging the gap both domestically and internationally right now is Stephan El Shaarawy.

The 19-year-old forward made his Azzurri debut in the friendly against England in Berne in August and has since gone on a magnificent run of form which has seen him carry an ailing Milan side on his back. A run of five goals in 11 days has sparked a recent upturn in results that has postponed the death knell for Rossoneri boss Massimiliano Allegri.

Now his international coach Cesare Prandelli could be set to hand him a competitive debut in the famous blue shirt as Italy travel to Armenia for Friday’s World Cup qualifier. But, even if he does not see any game time in Yerevan or at San Siro against Denmark on Tuesday, his 59-minute showing against England ensured that he joins a small band of Italians to appear for their country at senior level before turning 20.

But El Shaarawy’s next job is to ensure that he replicates his recent performances for both Milan and La Nazionale for some time to come. Others who have in the past looked set to go on to bigger and better things have followed their Italy debuts with downturns in form belying their immense potential.

The Saviour | His form at Milan has been the one positive after a summer of key exits

Some players were destined for greatness from a young age. Giuseppe Bergomi was famously thrust into the unforgettable 1982 World Cup clash with Brazil at the age of 18, with only a single cap in a friendly against East Germany to his name. After performing admirably in the Paolo Rossi-inspired 3-2 triumph, the defender would go on to earn a World Cup winner’s medal in only his fourth game for his country and later captained the national side to Euro ’88 and at the home World Cup in 1990.

One of his defensive partners at Italia ’90 was also his captain when he made a surprise return to the national side – after seven years in the wilderness – in time for the 1998 World Cup in France, as Paolo Maldini continued a glorious career of his own having also been a teenage debutant for Italy.

Though Maldini was never able to emulate Bergomi by winning a World Cup, he was a runner-up in 1994 and also at Euro 2000, before eventually hanging up his boots in 2002 as Italy’s most-capped player at the time, with 126 appearances in the famous shirt. He remains one of the most storied defenders in football history, and it is seen as one of those quirks of fate that he would never get his hands on an international trophy.

Like Maldini, Gianni Rivera had been a teenage prodigy, a Milan legend and a Mondiale finalist, but he was also a part of the successful Euro ’68 winning Azzurri side. And before him the likes of Giampiero Boniperti and Giuseppe Meazza had debuted as teenagers with the national team, with Meazza scoring a phenomenal 33 international goals on the way to becoming a two-time World Cup winner.

NOTABLE TEENAGE ITALIAN INTERNATIONALS
18 years, 103 days GIUSEPPE BERGOMI
81 caps, 6 goals
18 years, 128 days GIAMPIERO BONIPERTI
38 caps, 8 goals
18 years, 155 days DAVIDE SANTON
7 caps, 0 goals*
18 years, 268 days GIANNI RIVERA 60 caps, 14 goals
19 years, 170 days GIUSEPPE MEAZZA 53 caps, 33 goals
19 years, 181 days ROBERTO MANCINI 36 caps, 4 goals
19 years, 274 days GIANLUIGI BUFFON 122 caps, 0 goals*
19 years, 278 days PAOLO MALDINI 126 caps, 7 goals
19 years, 292 days STEPHAN EL SHAARAWY
1 cap, 0 goals*
19 years, 363 days MARIO BALOTELLI
14 caps, 4 goals

* denotes active player

Of course, Italy’s most recent World Cup success was achieved with the help of another former teenage sensation, in the shape of Gianluigi Buffon. He made his international debut in a crucial play-off in the snow in Russia in 1997 and fulfilled his potential on the global stage by shutting out the opposition from open play as Marcello Lippi’s side marched to glory in Germany in 2006.

But there is one recent example of a player who has not quite hit the same heights as some of his young contemporaries, as Davide Santon’s career has seemingly reached an early crossroads.

Handed his Inter debut by Jose Mourinho just days after his 18th birthday, the full-back was immediately spoken about in the same breath as Maldini, with the mix of youthful exuberance and composure, along with the ability to play at left-back as a right footer, marking him out as an early contender for the berth in the national side that had gone largely unfilled since the Milan star’s retirement.

However, while team-mate Mario Balotelli would go on to excel in the Italy side, Santon has struggled with injuries and form for large spells during the last three years. Since making his Azzurri debut in June 2009 against Northern Ireland, he has played only twice in competitive internationals, with the last of those coming in the dead rubber against Cyprus in November 2009, when Italy had already qualified for the World Cup in South Africa.

From such a promising prospect in his early days at Inter, Santon has suddenly become the warning for the likes of El Shaarawy and Marco Verratti of what can become of a young prodigy. His form since his move to Newcastle United last year has failed to reach a level sufficient enough to earn the call of Prandelli, despite an apparent lack of quality full-backs at the coach’s disposal. Even during the recent controversial absence of Domenico Criscito, Santon’s name was a long way down the pecking order of potential replacements.

So for El Shaarawy, and for Italy, it is of vital importance that the Milan forward can continue his current streak for years to come. If he can, the national side may well have another future legend in their ranks.

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Santon and Zambrotta interest Napoli

Napoli are considering moves for either Davide Santon or Gianluca Zambrotta, as Partenopei coach Walter Mazzarri looks to bolster his defence.

The Serie A outfit, who finished fifth last season and won the Coppa Italia, have missed out on their first choice target, Lyon’s Ali Cissokho, due to financial complications.

With the deal for the France international apparently dead, and long-term target Federico Balzaretti electing to join Roma, Santon and Zambrotta have shot to the top of Mazzarri’s shopping list. Fans are wondering how will the club be able to buy these players.

The versatile Santon has insisted that he is settled at Newcastle after helping the Premier League side qualify for this season’s Europa League, but coach Alan Pardew could be willing to listen to offers for the Italy international.

Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis is keen on the Santon deal, although doubts persist regarding the 21-year-old’s experience and tactical nous.

Released by Milan this summer, Zambrotta – now 35 – represents a more experienced option for both Mazzarri and De Laurentiis.

The 2006 World Cup winner is attracting interest from a number of foreign suitors, but may prefer to join Mazzarri’s innovative side and remain in Serie A next season.