Europe's top players in the last chance saloon

Naby Keita is battling to save his Liverpool career, Gabriel Jesus must take his final Man City chance and Antoine Griezmann is on borrowed time as Lionel Messi’s ‘replacement’: The stars of Europe’s top clubs in THE LAST CHANCE SALOON

  • A host of players around Europe know their time to impress is running out 
  • In a depressed transfer market many big names are being retained by their clubs 
  • This is giving the likes of Antoine Griezmann and Gabriel Jesus a final chance
  • Sportsmail takes a look at some of the names sitting in the last chance saloon 

As a fresh football season approaches many big names around Europe are fully aware that they are working on borrowed time.

The knock-on effects of the Covid-19 pandemic are still being felt across football and as a result, in a depressed transfer market with clubs tightening the purse strings, many players are being retained when they would have been otherwise sold.

This means opportunities of redemption are being served up for some stars and the moment is now to seize the day.

With stars across the leading clubs in England and Europe now champing at the bit to prove the doubters wrong, Sportsmail takes a look at some of the biggest names currently stopping off for a drink in the last chance saloon…

Liverpool 

Despite a hugely promising start to life in a red shirt, Oxlade-Chamberlain has embarked on a road of injury-strewn misery ever since.

Last season the former Arsenal man amassed less than 250 Premier League minutes and was left without a single shred of hope of making the England squad for the delayed European championships.

It was a blow that would have cut deep, yet the 27-year-old has knuckled down in pre-season and hugely benefitted from being fit from day one.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain battled injuries for years but is entering the season fit and healthy

Looking sharp and being deployed in a variety of positions, Oxlade-Chamberlain has received all the right signals from manager Jurgen Klopp that he will indeed be trusted with game-time this season.

Opportunities will fall to the Englishman and Gareth Southgate will be watching on from afar, yet Oxlade-Chamberlain will know all too well that if his big Anfield chances are squandered, it’s only down the football pyramid from here. 

Naby Keita

Liverpool 

Another player in a very similar position to Oxlade-Chamberlain is his Guinean team-mate Keita.

Signed to much fanfare and costing north of £50million, Liverpool even paid a premium on Keita a year in advance to make sure no other rivals could claw him away from RB Leipzig.

To say his Reds career hasn’t gone according to plan so far would be an understatement.

Naby Keita has not lived up to his price tag at Anfield but now has one final, golden opportunity

Keita has looked mesmerising in flashes but has failed to deliver on a consistent basis. It has pretty much been the story of his Liverpool career to date.

The dynamic midfielder has lacked confidence, which wasn’t helped at all last season after he was named as a surprise starter to face Real Madrid away in the Champions League – only to struggle immensely and be dropped for the decisive second leg.

Now, after working on a bespoke programme with the club’s medical staff Keita is expected – or at the very least hoped – to get through a full campaign with suffering repeated injuries.

Given the departure of the ever-reliable Georginio Wijnaldum this summer, a gaping hole has emerged in the Liverpool midfield with Keita now has a prime opportunity to fill.

Should he fail to, Klopp may well finally consider cashing in. 

Timo Werner

Chelsea 

Despite being constantly told he had the fellow backing of his compatriot Thomas Tuchel last season, Werner has spent a summer anxiously watching Chelsea’s transfer movements.

It was no secret that last season was a baptism of fire for the Germany international. Werner went as far as to admit that English football was much harder, and more physical, than he ever expected.

Timo Werner didn’t do enough last season to show Chelsea he cant be the main man up front

Still, while the goals may have lacked, the pacy forward was able to find himself in plenty of goal scoring position and terrified defenders with his acceleration.

The arrival of Romelu Lukaku is a major red flag for Werner though. Chelsea are paying huge money to bring back a player they once used to own.

Now, with Werner’s chances playing up front set to be more limited than ever, he must grasp each and every opportunity when they come. The time of missing routine one-on-ones with the goalkeeper must now be gone.

Werner is still highly regarded across Europe and Chelsea will not be short of suitors should they decide the German’s time in west London needs to come to an end. 

Callum Hudson-Odoi

Chelsea 

Another Chelsea star finding himself in no-man’s land, Hudson-Odoi is badly in need of confidence and an injection of self-belief.

Injuries have held back the youngster, though it would be fair to say he has not progressed as many have had hoped.

Only a matter of years ago Bayern Munich tried to test Chelsea’s resolve with a loan bid containing a £70million obligation to buy, though the Blues held firm.

Callum Hudson-Odoi is in great need of regular game time and an injection of self-belief

Since, Hudson-Odoi has drifted in and out of the team and lost his position in the senior England ranks as a result.

It is truly last throw of the dice time for the starlet, who will be aware that manager Tuchel is set to be ruthless in his rebuilding of the side he has already manage to crown champions of Europe. 

David de Gea

Manchester United 

Towards the end of last season the Spaniard looked in real danger of losing his United shirt for good.

A specular downturn in form over the last couple of years has seen De Gea lose his standing as the finest goalkeeper in European football, if not the world.

There was a time when De Gea would simply decide games for United, and scoop a hatful of points for the club every single season.

David De Gea is United’s top-earning star and the club cannot afford for him to underperform

Last year the emergence of Dean Henderson pushed De Gea to the wire, though the experience of the Spanish star ultimately shone through.

Now, though, given he is United’s top earner and one of the most lucratively salaried stars in English football, De Gea must once again prove his worth.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has faith in the stopper, but chiefs in the Old Trafford boardrooms will be mindful that the player earns far too much to simply be sitting in on the match.

Put simply, if De Gea surrenders his No 1 shirt this season, it could be curtains. 

Jesse Lingard

Manchester United 

Many fans still expect Lingard to be offloaded by United late in the transfer window, though so far few signs of this happening have emerged.

United look set to retain the playmaker, who made a seismic impression on loan at West Ham in the latter part of last season.

Lingard showed exactly why he has played for the Red Devils from a young age, with a series of spellbinding performances under David Moyes in west London.

Jesse Lingard has returned to Manchester United though chances will unlikely be plentiful

The England international has vowed to win back his place in the national ranks, though has accepted that he must be playing minutes on the pitch for this to happen.

After talks with Solskjaer, Lingard has been ensured he will get chances to once again show what he can do in a red shirt, though in all likelihood these could be few and far between. 

Gabriel Jesus

Manchester City 

Following the emotional exit of Sergio Aguero, the fact that Jesus did not become the front-and-centre name showed how precarious his position has become at the Etihad.

For seasons it has become apparent that Pep Guardiola does not have full trust in the Brazilian to carry out his plans, and now City are hell-bent on securing a British transfer record move for Harry Kane.

None of this is good news for Jesus, who was reportedly also offered to Tottenham as part of any potential deal.

Gabriel Jesus could find himself as the main striker next season if City fail to get Harry Kane

The player is understood to have rejected any inclusion in the transfer, and could yet start the season as City’s main and only striker if Spurs chairman Daniel Levy continues to play hardball over Kane.

It would be quite the pressured scenario for Jesus, though no better chance to finally show what he can do and prove the doubters wrong.

Should he fail, however, City will almost certainly have to start offloading big earners off the wage bill, particularly if Kane does arrive this summer.

With Borussia Dortmund hitman also becoming available in 12 months’ time when his release clause comes into play, this really could be the final season for Jesus to stake a claim at the Etihad. 

Nicolas Pepe

Arsenal 

Ivory Coast international Pepe continues to divide opinion, though he regained the trust of Mikel Arteta last season after several weeks in the wilderness.

Following a sending off against Leeds United last season, when Pepe saw red and decided to headbutt Ezgjan Alioski, Arteta was left furious and dropped the winger from the first team.

It was only later in the season that Pepe was reintroduced, and soon started to repay the faith with a string of goals and dazzling performances.

Nicolas Pepe has divided opinion for some time following his club record £72m move

However, consistency has always been the main issue for the skilful star who arrived from Lille in a club record £72m deal in August 2019.

His season didn’t exactly get off to the best of starts when Arsenal lost 2-0 at newly-promoted Brentford on Friday night.  

Given that Arsenal are often accused of squandering money in the wrong areas, many in the club’s boardroom are desperate for Pepe to come good and be a leading light for the club in future.

Tanguy Ndombele 

Tottenham Hotspur 

Tottenham’s record signing has already publicly expressed his discontent in north London, though the club appear to be retaining his services.

This most likely boils down to the fact that Spurs are unable to find a suitor who will cover their losses from the £65m deal they struck with Lyon two years ago.

Tottenham’s record signing Tanguy Ndombele needs to start making more of a major impact

Under new manager Nuno Espirito Santo the midfielder now has something of a fresh start, and a late opportunity to show Spurs fans why the club were willing to part with so much money.

His confidence certainly took a knock during the Jose Mourinho era, when his manager criticised his work-rate and application in front of the live broadcast cameras.

Ndombele has shown flashes of what he can do in a white shirt, and the now-or-never phase is most certainly upon him. 

Eden Hazard

Real Madrid 

How many chances can the Belgian be given to dazzle in Madrid? The answer, so far, has been as many as he wants.

Cash-strapped Madrid have had no option but to simply will Hazard to come good.

Each time the forward has returned from injury Madrid fans have held their breath and counted their lucky stars that the Belgian would come back and look like the player he used to be at Chelsea.

Thus far it hasn’t happened.

Real Madrid have been desperate for Eden Hazard to succeed but now time is running out

Hazard made a rod for his own back when he twice returned back for pre-season training appeared to be overweight and out of shape, but still retained the trust of former boss Zinedine Zidane, with whom he had a close relationship.

Now, Zidane is gone and Carlo Ancelotti is tasked with restoring Madrid to greatness on a limited budget.

It would not be too far off the mark to suggest that Hazard will be given one final season to dazzle in LaLiga and seize the title as the league’s most exciting player, now Lionel Messi has departed for Paris.

Should he fall short again, the urge to flog him in 12 month and receive at least some of his transfer fee back will be too tempting for Madrid to resist. 

Antoine Griezmann

Barcelona 

Few players in world football would want to be Griezmann right now.

That seems like an odd thing to write, given he is a first choice footballer for one of the world’s greatest clubs and very handsomely paid.

Yet Griezmann finds himself in the middle of a blame-game after Messi’s shock departure, and now has monumental pressure on his shoulders to deliver.

Antoine Griezmann has huge pressure on his shoulders after Lionel Messi left the club

Due to their financial turmoil Barca are unlikely to bring any other faces in this summer, and are still in an ugly situation where they cannot even officially register new signings Sergio Aguero and Memphis Depay with LaLiga.

Griezmann therefore stars as the most pressured star in the last chance saloon, and will perhaps have many sleepless nights in store as the season gets under way.

If he cannot step up and be Barca’s leading light, as he was at Atletico Madrid before, the exit door will start to swing open. 

Barca are desperate for funds, and Griezmann would quickly find himself on a for sale list at cut-price fee. 

Leroy Sane

Bayern Munich 

Whatever happened to Sane?

It feels like the speedster completely went off the grid after admitting he no longer wanted to play for Man City and instead wished to return to Germany.

Bayern Munich have a healthy record of developing wingers into world class talent, just ask Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery.

Sane was already among European football’s elite young players when he sealed a huge move to the Allianz, yet so far things have failed to click and the concern is mounting.

Leroy Sane has not met the heights expected since returning to Germany with Bayern Munich

Now, under the innovative approach of new coach Julian Naglesmann, Sane has the opportunity to enjoy his football once again and really flourish.

Despite their domestic dominance, Bayern always have one eye on the Champions League and Sane must play a huge role in firing his team to the latter stages this season, or there will likely be consequences.

The reality is that no other sides in Germany, Dortmund included, can afford to take Sane on from Bayern.

Should he fail this season and the Bavarians opt to cash in, his rosy-eyed homecoming in Germany would come crashing to an abrupt end. 

Paulo Dybala 

Juventus

Far from Cristiano Ronaldo elevating Dybala’s game to another level, the Argentine striker has been pushed into a very dark shadow.

From scoring 26 goals for Juventus in 2017-18, he has been repeatedly bumped out of position and suffered a loss of form and confidence as a result.

Things reached their low point last season when Dybala managed just five goals in a season sliced in half due to a serious knee injury.

Paulo Dybala managed only five goals for Juventus in 2020-21 amid an injury-disrupted season

With just one year remaining on his current deal, talks are underway on a renewal but it remains far from certain he will stay in Turin.

If he does, Dybala needs to find a new way to work in tandem with Ronaldo, rediscover his best form and supply the steady stream of goals to restore Juventus to the top of the table.




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