10 Premier League players facing make-or-break seasons

From big-money signings to England internationals, we’ve picked out the players at a career crossroads and facing crucial campaigns.

By Tim Williams Published: 3 August 2022 - 12.08pm

Ahead of the new Premier League campaign we’ve picked out 10 players who are facing make-or-break seasons.

They could be looking to bounce back from previous disappointments, struggling to live up to their price tag or in last chance saloon. Regardless, they are all at pivotal stages in their careers and face a big nine months.

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Marcus Rashford

Rashford endured the toughest year of his career to date after England’s Euro 2020 heartbreak.

After missing his penalty in the final against Italy, he underwent shoulder surgery and was widely criticised after a string of poor performances when he returned to action for Manchester United.

He was omitted from the England squad as a result and cut a forlorn figure for much of the campaign.

However, he has benefitted from a full pre-season under new boss Erik ten Hag ahead of what feels like a crucial season for the 24-year-old.

“Definitely last season was a time for me to reflect on,” he said. “I’ve had the time off in the summer and a long pre-season, so I feel a lot more ready this season.”

His comments should be music to Man Utd fans’ ears, but it remains to be seen if he can find form of old this season.

Jack Grealish

Harsh perhaps, but the time for integration for Grealish at Man City is over.

The England international was on the periphery last season and scored just three goals and registered three assists in 26 Premier League appearances.

He made the £100m switch from boyhood club Aston Villa last summer but hasn’t replicated the form that made him the most expensive English player ever since the high-profile move.

It is true that players generally take a season to adapt to life under Pep Guardiola, but time is off the essence for Grealish who must deliver as City chase more trophies and England head to Qatar.

He lacked creativity in the Community Shield defeat to Liverpool and was substituted for Phil Foden after 59 minutes.

His quality is unquestionable, but there is no time like the present for Grealish to deliver 12 months on from the biggest transfer in British football history.

Dele Alli

Where did it go wrong for Dele Alli? Heralded as England’s next superstar in his Tottenham heyday, the midfielder has fallen horribly out of form and has looked a shadow of his former self in recent years.

Still only 26, the midfielder joined Everton from Spurs in January in a bid to revive his career, but he struggled to stand out as the club narrowly avoided relegation last season.

He made 11 Premier League appearances without scoring and didn't have the impact he would have hoped for at Goodison Park.

But there have been encouraging signs. Dele was a galvanising force as Everton came from 2-0 down to beat Crystal Palace last season to secure their safety and showed signs of promise in a pre-season win over Blackpool.

Frank Lampard clearly has faith in him and 37-cap international could have a major role to play this season as Everton look to make up for the loss of Richarlison.

Timo Werner

German international Werner arrived at Chelsea to a great deal of fanfare after developing into one of Europe’s most sought-after forwards at RB Leipzig.

He scored 93 goals for the Bundesliga side and was tipped to hit the ground running in the Premier League.

Despite glimpses of potential, he has struggled to replicate the form that made him a £50m player. The 26-year-old has scored 23 goals in 89 appearances in all competitions, and only scored four times last season.

There have been rumours that he could leave Stamford Bridge before the transfer window closes but assuming he stays, he is facing a crucial season after the departure of Romelu Lukaku.

Chelsea look light up front and Werner must convert his tenacity into goals. Otherwise, the Blues could look for more creative solutions to their attacking problems.

Harry Maguire

Maguire described his poor form last season as a “setback for my career” but the Man Utd captain is ready to move on as the Erik ten Hag era begins at Old Trafford.

The defender became a figure of ridicule for club and country in a season of misery, but he has retained the captaincy and faces a huge campaign.

The formative stages of the upcoming season could be crucial for the former Leicester man after the arrival of Argentine defender Lisandro Martinez from Ajax.

In Martinez, Raphael Varane, Victor Lindelof, Eric Bailly and Phil Jones, United have considerable depth in the centre-back position and Maguire will have to improve to justify his starting berth.

It’s conceivable that his form doesn’t improve and he finds himself down the pecking order. It’s also feasible that he banishes memories of last season and re-establishes himself as a key player. Either way, it’s a huge few months for Maguire with the World Cup looming.

Tanguy Ndombele

Ndombele has all the attributes to thrive in the Premier League, but Tottenham fans are still waiting for the Frenchman to deliver on his undoubted talent.

He became Spurs’ record signing when he joined from Lyon for £63m in July 2019 but returned to the Ligue 1 club on loan in January after he started just three games following the arrival of Antonio Conte.

The signings of Rodrigo Bentancur and Yves Bissouma suggest that Ndombele has his work cut out to force his way back into contention.

But there is a sense that the 25-year-old still has so much to give and that he could finally produce if he is afforded the opportunity.

Convincing Conte will be difficult though and he could still be offloaded in the transfer window, with Villarreal rumoured to be interested.

Christian Pulisic

Injuries and lapses in form have hampered Pulisic’s development at Chelsea, but the American could play an important role at Stamford Bridge this season.

The United States international was one of Europe’s most coveted players during a spell at Borussia Dortmund. He has shown flashes of brilliance at Stamford Bridge since his move in 2019 but has failed to nail down a starting place.

The departure of Romelu Lukaku has left something of a vacuum in attack for the Blues and Pulisic, who has plenty of experience as a central striker, could help fill the void.

That said, the arrival of Raheem Sterling from Man City could leave him struggling for minutes if he doesn’t hit the ground running.

He will be desperate to play himself into form ahead of the World Cup in a seminal season for the 23-year-old.

Nicolas Pepe

Club-record signing Nicolas Pepe has been linked with a move away from Arsenal after a frustrating three years.

The Ivorian managed just three goals and six assists in 23 appearances last season, but manager Mikel Arteta looks willing to persevere, giving the former Lille man two starts in pre-season.

He is unlikely to start on the opening day against Crystal Palace but could have a role to play from the bench as the Gunners look to improve on last season’s fifth-place finish.

The 27-year-old has scored 27 times in 111 appearances for Arsenal but hasn’t produced on a consistent basis since his switch to the Emirates in 2019.

Make or break feels apt for Pepe who must impress in the opening months of the new season to convince Arteta that he has a role to play as Arsenal push for the top four.

Leon Bailey

Aston Villa fans will be relishing the prospect of a fully fit Leon Bailey after his maiden Premier League season was blighted by injuries.

The Jamaican winger joined for £25m last August and has impressed in pre-season, scoring three goals in five games.

Manager Steven Gerrard said the winger sent a “massive signal” to be in the first team after a game-changing display against Man Utd in Perth.

He made 11 Premier League appearances last term, scoring once in a stop-start season and will be desperate for better returns after a promising lead up to the new campaign.

There is plenty of competition for places at Villa Park though and he must stay fit long enough to prove he is capable of propelling Gerrard's men towards Europe.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin

Calvert-Lewin was back among the goals as Everton concluded their pre-season with a win over Dynamo Kyiv and the Toffees need a big season from their star striker.

The loss of talismanic forward Richarlison is a seismic blow and manager Frank Lampard will be desperate for the 25-year-old to step up after injury ruled him out for much of last season.

He scored five goals in 17 appearances last term, most memorably the dramatic winner against Crystal Palace that secured their Premier League status in May.

The England international also notched 16 goals in a breakout 2020-21 campaign that saw him force his way into the England reckoning.

Everton’s hopes don’t rest solely on Calvert-Lewin’s shoulders, but his form will go a long way to determining how the Toffees fare.

In many ways, it’s a make-or-break season for Everton and the forward is central to their fortunes.