Onana, Mount lead Premier League’s disappointing XI for 2023


The end of 2023 and the start of 2024 can’t come quick enough for some of the Premier League’s top players. A loss of form or failure to succeed at a new club after a big transfer has rendered 2023 as a year to forget. But for others, seemingly endless injury problems have denied them the chance to rediscover their best form and reclaim a first-team place.

So as 2023 draws to an end, which players make the Disappointing Team of the Year? And no, they don’t all play for Chelsea.

André Onana, Manchester United

It’s been a strange year for the Manchester United goalkeeper. He shone for Inter Milan on their way to last season’s Champions League final and earned a £43.8 million move to Old Trafford. However, since replacing David de Gea — whose mistakes led to his departure from United, Onana has made a series of calamitous errors that have contributed to their dismal first half of the season.

There have been some highs — namely a stoppage-time penalty save to seal a Champions League win against FC Copenhagen — but overall, no goalkeeper has been as unreliable as Onana.

Reece James, Chelsea

The Chelsea defender has had no fewer than seven layoffs this year due to injury or illness, having also missed out on England’s World Cup squad a year ago because of a knee injury. James’s year to forget has not been down to a loss of form.

The 24-year-old has endured a miserable 12 months because he simply hasn’t been able to overcome his injuries. At his best, James is Chelsea’s first-choice right-back and captain, but his latest injury — a hamstring — is likely to delay his start to 2024 until March.

Eric Dier, Tottenham

Dier was playing for England at the World Cup last December, but a year on he can’t even get a game for Tottenham.

The 29-year-old has made just two Premier League appearances under new manager Ange Postecoglou, starting just once, despite his ability to play in defence and midfield. He started 31 Premier League games last season, but with Postecoglou making it clear that he doesn’t fit in his plans, 2024 is likely to start with Dier seeking a transfer.

Joško Gvardiol, Manchester City

Manchester City signed one of the most sought-after defensive talents in Europe when they sealed a £77.6m deal for the RB Leipzig player in the summer. But despite the Croatia international’s strong pedigree, Gvardiol has struggled to adjust to the pace and intensity of the Premier League, and his attempts to find form have been hampered by manager Pep Guardiola regularly selecting him to play at left-back.

Gvardiol made his name as a centre-half, but with Rúben Dias, Manuel Akanji, and John Stones all ahead of him in that position at the Etihad, it has been a tough start at City for the 21-year-old.

Marc Cucurella, Chelsea

Cucurella must often wonder how his career would have turned out had Chelsea not derailed a move from Brighton to Manchester City in Aug 2022 by offering almost twice the bid tabled by City to sign the left-back for £60m.

Nothing has since gone right for Cucurella at Chelsea. He is now on his fourth manager at Stamford Bridge in under 18 months and Mauricio Pochettino is the latest to have obvious doubts about the 25-year-old’s qualities. In a recent defeat at Manchester United, Cucurella was played out of position at right-back and was substituted at half-time.

Chelsea blocked a loan move to Old Trafford in August and although that may also not have worked out for Cucurella, he clearly needs a change of scenery.

Enzo Fernández, Chelsea

Through no fault of his own, Fernandez became the most expensive player in Premier League history when he joined Chelsea from Benfica for £105m in January.

Fernandez’s contribution to Argentina’s World Cup triumph in Qarar a month earlier had inflated his valuation, but having only joined Benfica from River Plate for an initial £8.8m in Aug 2022, Chelsea inexplicably valued the midfielder at over £100m when they made their move for the 22-year-old.

Fernandez clearly has outstanding talent, but the constant upheaval of players and coaches at Chelsea has not helped him settle and he has had a tough year because of it.

Kalvin Phillips, Manchester City

The Manchester City midfielder started four games last season and ended up with winners’ medals in the Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup. So far this season, the former Leeds player has started just one game in all competitions.

Despite failing to convince Guardiola of his merits at City, Phillips has retained his England place and made six appearances for manager Gareth Southgate’s team in 2023, becoming a rare case of a player appearing more often for his country than his club side.

With the January transfer window set to open, Guardiola has made it clear that Phillips can leave City if he is able to find a new club.

Mason Mount, Manchester United

Mount was Manchester United’s first summer signing, arriving at Old Trafford in a £55m transfer from Chelsea, but nothing has gone right for the midfielder at Old Trafford.

The 24-year-old has managed just eight appearances in all competitions for United, and having failed to start a game at Chelsea since March due to a pelvic injury, further injury issues at United have denied him the chance to impress for manager Erik ten Hag. As a consequence of his fitness problems and loss of form, Mount has been absent from the England squad for the whole of 2023.



Ogden: Antony ‘simply not good enough’ for Manchester United

Mark Ogden explains why Man United forwards Marcus Rashford and Antony had to be in his most disappointing XI.

Antony, Manchester United

So far this season, Antony has registered no goals and no assists for Manchester United and is proving to be an expensive mistake having been signed in an £85m transfer from Ajax in August 2022.

A spectacular goal in a Europa League win against Barcelona in February showcased what Antony was supposed to deliver regularly, but he has managed just two goals and two assists in the Premier League all year.

The Brazil international is also one-footed and one-paced, making it difficult to see how he can make 2024 better than 2023 at United.

Marcus Rashford, Manchester United

Rashford scored 14 goals in his first 16 games of 2023 and helped Manchester United end a six-year trophy drought by scoring in the 2-0 Carabao Cup final win against Newcastle.

But since that hot streak in January and February, the 26-year-old has had a nightmare year and lost his starting place at United as a result. Since helping United win the Carabao Cup, Rashford went into the Christmas fixtures having scored just eight goals in 40 appearances for the club and with a reputation as a top striker in shreds.

Mykhailo Mudryk, Chelsea

Just like Fernandez and Cucurella, Mudryk is paying the price for joining Chelsea for a fee way above his true value.

The Ukraine winger spent most of January encouraging a move to Arsenal, but Chelsea came in late with an £88m offer that was too much for Shakhtar Donetsk to refuse.

Mudryk has since cut a dejected figure for most of his time at Chelsea, but perhaps his late equaliser in the Carabao Cup quarterfinal win against Newcastle this month can be the spark that finally ignites at career at Stamford Bridge.

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