By this point, the 2016-17 season is ramping up into full gear. Title races are beginning to formulate across Europe, while it is becoming evident which clubs are going to struggle to stay afloat in their respective divisions.
There have been spectacular goals, thrilling matches and wonderful skills; underdog success stories, bitter rivalries and managerial mastery.
But amid all the excitement, several top-level players have seen their careers stall, almost becoming forgotten about. Some previously heralded talents are now struggling to make matchday squads, let alone earn valuable game minutes.
Morgan Schneiderlin joined Manchester United from Southampton last summer in a £25 million move. The switch to Old Trafford was meant to be the Frenchman’s shot at the big time; it was supposed to signal his arrival among the elite.
But, instead, the 26-year-old former Saint has struggled to make any discernible impact in Manchester and rarely even enters the conversation over who should start for the Red Devils on a weekly basis.
Schneiderlin was signed by Louis van Gaal to sure up United’s midfield last season. Having impressed with Southampton on their rise from League One to the Premier League, becoming a full France international in the process, the former Strasbourg player was expected to add a degree of physicality and drive to the 20-time champions’.
He made a total of 29 Premier League appearances in his maiden Old Trafford campaign, but failed to truly influence games in the way he had at St. Mary’s Stadium.
This term, under José Mourinho, the 15-cap Les Bleus player has made just one league appearance – as a late substitute in the opening day win over Bournemouth – and frequently misses out on making the 18-man matchday squad.
If Schneiderlin has any hope of resurrecting his flagging United career, he needs to take full advantage of the few minutes he is afforded by stamping his authority on games as he is capable of. If not, a move away from Manchester could soon be on the cards.
Real Madrid midfielder Isco has found regular first-team football hard to come by since Zinedine Zidane took over at the Bernabéu in January.
The 2012 Goldon Boy award winner has found it hard to displace the impeccable pairing of Toni Kroos and Luka Modric in the Madrid midfield, while Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale are understandably preferred in the wide attacking roles.
But just as talk of a possible January transfer away from the Spanish capital began to pick up speed – Tottenham Hotspur were thought to be readying a £30 million bid – Isco completed his first full 90 minutes since April in Los Blancos’ 6-1 victory over Real Betis.
The gifted midfielder scored twice and generally performed to the level of his early Real Madrid career, forcing Zidane to once again consider the former Malaga man as a genuine regular.
With Modric injured, Isco started again last weekend as Madrid edged out Athletic Club 2-1 at the Bernabéu. His seventh-minute assist for Karim Benzema to open the scoring means that the 24-year-old has now set up more goals that any Madrid player since 2013.
Isco’s lack of playing time had seen him miss out of Spain’s Euro 2016 squad, but with the player apparently recovering form, La Roja coach Julen Lopetegui will be counting on him for the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign.
Yaya Toure is arguably one of the greatest and most important players in Manchester City’s history. Signed from Barcelona in 2010, he was the driving force behind their 2011-12 Premier League title win. Two years later, he scored 20 league goals to wrap up another championship success for the Citizens.
But since that phenomenal campaign, in which he was crowned the club’s player of the year, Toure’s influence has steadily faded.
Since Pep Guardiola took the reins at the Etihad this summer, the Ivory Coast midfielder has not played a single minute of Premier League football.
The 33-year-old’s only appearance this term came in the Champions League qualifier defeat of Steaua Bucharest.
The former Monaco star was linked with a summer move to Internazionale, but no such switch materialised. After a fallout with Guardiola over criticism of the coach from the player’s agent, there appears no way back for Toure at City, and a January transfer may be the only solution to get his career up and running again.
Chelsea midfielder Cesc Fabregas has only started one Premier League game this season under new manager Antonio Conte.
Fabregas moved to Stamford Bridge in the summer of 2014, signing from Barcelona in a €33 million deal. The former Arsenal man was a key figure in José Mourinho’s title winning side that season, scoring three goals and registering an impressive tally of 18 assists in 34 appearances.
He was unable to replicate this kind of form last season, though, as Chelsea failed to mount a serious defence of their Premier League crown.
Conte’s recent switch to a 3-4-3 formation has seen the Italian coach opt for the more physically imposing and tactically disciplined pairing of N’Golo Kanté and Nemanja Matic in central midfield, with Fabregas on the sidelines.
At 29, Fabregas still has plenty of miles left on his clock at the highest level. But with no natural position within Chelsea’s new system, a move away from Stamford Bridge may be required.
In what would be the surprise switch of the January transfer window, Manchester City are reportedly eying a £20 million move for Fabregas, with Pep Guardiola keen to reunite with the midfielder he signed for Barcelona in 2011.
About the author – Ryan Baldi
Ryan is a Midlands based freelance sports writer specialising in European football. He has been fascinated with the continental game ever since he was presented with his first football kit at the age of 7 whilst on holiday in Spain – a Barcelona shirt with ‘Romario 10’ printed on the back. A contributor to numerous footballing websites, Ryan has also covered martial arts for local and national print publications.