We’re hitting that time in the season where games – despite Covid-19 postponements – are coming thick and fast for Premier League clubs, with squad depth being tested to the limits.
Yet at every club, whether it be due to injury or managerial preference, there are players chomping at the bit to feature and help their sides despite a quiet first half of the season.
Antonio Conte bringing Dele Alli back into the fold against Liverpool is one such example. Here, Sportsmail takes a look at the Premier League’s forgotten men who can make the difference in 2022.
Tottenham boss Antonio Conte has brought Dele Alli back from the cold in recent weeks
Manchester United’s Donny van de Beek and Chelsea’s Saul Niguez have not featured regularly
ARSENAL – PABLO MARI
The Brazilian centre back has not been in a matchday squad since September, after making 16 appearances in all competitions for the Gunners last season.
Mikel Arteta confirmed that the 28-year-old is currently is out with Covid, but should he return to full fitness, he would provide a boost to Arsenal’s squad.
That being said, he will find it tough to usurp Ben White and Gabriel at centre back – but could be used regularly in the cup competitions.
Pablo Mari has not been in an Arsenal matchday squad since September and is out with Covid
ASTON VILLA – Trezeguet
The Egyptian midfielder has been out of action since April after he suffered a torn ACL following a challenge from Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold.
But he is close to a return, having played 60 minutes for the Under-23s on December 6 – and he was named on the bench for the first-team’s two most recent games against Liverpool and Norwich.
He was a dependable player under Dean Smith and Trezeguet will hope to prove his worth to Steven Gerrard sooner rather than later, though his availability for Egypt in the Africa Cup of Nations could have an impact here.
Egyptian midfielder Trezeguet is back in training and will be looking to impress Steven Gerrard
BRENTFORD – Mads Bach Sorensen
The Danish centre back featured from the bench in that famous opening-day win against Arsenal – but has not played in the Premier League since.
The 22-year-old suffered a medial knee injury in the Carabao Cup against Forest Green Rovers in August and only returned to full fitness last month.
He has made the bench two times since, and could be back on the pitch for the first team if the Bees are impacted by Covid and the festive schedule in the coming weeks.
Mads Bach Sorensen (R) featured from the bench in Brentford’s opening win against Arsenal
BRIGHTON – Aaron Connolly
The Republic of Ireland international has become a key player for the Seagulls in recent years, but has struggled for form this season.
He made his fist Premier League appearance in eight games in the 1-1 draw against Southampton at the beginning of the month, before 65 minutes in the loss to Wolves.
The winger was even dropped by national team manager Stephen Kenny last month. Graham Potter could do with a flying Connolly again – his side have not won a game since September.
Aaron Connolly has become a key player for Brighton in recent years, but is struggling for form
BURNLEY – Phil Bardsley
The veteran defender has been in 15 matchday squads so far this season, but has only featured twice.
Now 36, those two appearances came in the Carabao Cup, and he is yet to play in the Premier League.
Matt Lowton has tied up the right back berth, but with the FA Cup approaching amid short recovery times in between games, Bardsley come be Sean Dyche’s Mr Dependable again.
Phil Bardsley has been in 15 matchday squads so far this season, but has only featured twice
CHELSEA – Saul Niguez
Signed amid much excitement on-loan from Atletico Madrid in the summer, to say the Spaniard has flattered to deceive would be an understatement.
He was shipped at half-time on his debut against Aston Villa and has not recovered since, though chances have been few and far between in the Champions League and domestically.
What is undeniable, however, is the attacking midfielder’s quality. Can Thomas Tuchel repair his shot confidence and make him a valuable asset in 2022?
Can Thomas Tuchel repair Saul Niguez’s shot confidence and make him a valuable asset?
CRYSTAL PALACE – Eberechi Eze
Ok, so one of Palace’s main men is hardly a ‘forgotten man’. However, following an achilles injury in May, the 23-year-old is yet to start this season.
He has featured twice from the bench in the last month as he looks to, slowly but surely, regain his form and fitness which made him one of the Premier League’s standout young players last season.
With Wilfried Zaha on the other wing, Patrick Vieira could build on what has been a promising start to his tenure come the New Year.
Eberechi Eze has featured twice from the bench recently as he looks to regain his fitness
EVERTON – Cenk Tosun
It’s been tough going for the Turkey international since his £27m move to Goodison Park from Besiktas in January 2018.
The 30-year-old – who only recovered from a knee injury in November – came on in the closing stages of the Merseyside derby defeat by Liverpool on December 1.
But that has been it so far this season. Amid the Toffees’ struggle for goals, Rafa Benitez could do a lot worse than give Tosun a run in the team.
Rafa Benitez could do a lot worse than give Cenk Tosun a run in the struggling Everton team
LEEDS – Robin Koch
The German had been absent since the first day of the season due to injury, before he started and played 90 minutes in the 4-1 defeat to Arsenal on December 18.
He moved to the club in 2020 but such was the impact of the pandemic, that outing against the Gunners was Koch’s first in front of fans at Elland Road, to which he paid tribute afterwards.
As Marcelo Bielsa battles a lack of first-team options, the centre back’s return to the fold is timely.
Robin Koch played in front of Leeds fans for the first time in the defeat against Arsenal
LEICESTER – James Justin
The right back was flying for the Foxes before his unfortunate knee injury picked up in February.
The 23-year-old was seemingly close to a return last month before a minor setback, yet it is hoped he can feature sometime over the next month.
Justin’s return would be a boost to a Leicester defence which has been leaking goals in his absence this season.
James Justin was flying for the Foxes before his unfortunate knee injury picked up in February
LIVERPOOL – Harvey Elliott
Much like Justin, this is a case of forgotten simply due to injury. The scenes at Elland Road were horrendous when Elliott suffered a dislocated ankle in September, following such a super start to the season in the Premier League.
The 18-year-old underwent successful surgery and is back on the training pitch, nearing a return in the not-so-distant future.
And should he make an impact like he did at the start of the campaign – especially while key players are missing at AFCON – the teenager’s reputation in the Kop will only increase.
Harvey Elliott is back on the training pitch, nearing a return in the not so distant future
MANCHESTER CITY – Nathan Ake
This was pigeonholed as Ferran Torres before the announcement of the Spaniard’s move to Barcelona next month.
As such, it goes to the Dutchman who has started just four times in the Premier League this season.
However, after scoring against Leeds and as City eye glory on four fronts, the centre back’s involvement will only increase in 2022.
Nathan Ake has started just four times in the Premier League but scored a rare goal recently
MANCHESTER UNITED – Donny van de Beek
Nothing summed up the torrid end to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s reign than the Dutch playmaker – so often confined to the bench – scoring in the final defeat to Watford in November.
Yet Ralf Rangnick’s arrival presents a fresh opportunity for the £40m man at Old Trafford.
As United look to secure a top-four spot and eye unlikely glory in the Champions League, the former Ajax star’s role could be heightened as he looks to revitalise his career following 18 forgettable months.
Ralf Rangnick’s arrival presents a fresh opportunity for Donny van de Beek at Old Trafford
NEWCASTLE – Dwight Gayle
The 32-year-old has been fully fit all season but, despite the Magpies’ struggles, he has played just 21 minutes in the Premier League across three matches.
But Eddie Howe needs goals, and he needs results. Giving Gayle – who must be raring to go – a start here and there could be a clever move.
Gayle has had an up and down time on Tyneside since moving from Palace way back in 2016. Can he make a difference when Newcastle really need him in 2022 though?
Dwight Gayle has played just 21 minutes in the Premier League across three matches so far
NORWICH – Todd Cantwell
Once one of Norwich’s brightest young talents, the attacking midfielder has gone off the boil at Carrow Road.
He abruptly went down the tunnel after being subbed against Aston Villa, a move unlikely to impress boss Dean Smith.
Yet should the new Canaries manager be able to get the best out of the 23-year-old, Cantwell is capable of the quality in the final third which has been badly lacking and, with it, could spring an unlikely Premier League survival challenge.
Todd Cantwell is capable of the quality in the final third which has been lacking at Norwich
SOUTHAMPTON – Will Smallbone
The academy product was beginning to play regularly in the first-team before an ACL injury stemmed his progress in January.
He made his return in the Saints’ defeat to Chelsea in the Carabao Cup fourth round in October.
Since, he has mostly been confined to the bench but did play 70 minutes in the 2-2 draw to Crystal Palace. Expect the 21-year-old to feature more often in 2022.
Will Smallbone played 70 minutes in the draw to Palace and will now feature more often
TOTTENHAM – Dele Alli
Did a spirited, hard-working display against Liverpool give Dele Alli a final lifeline at Tottenham?
The 2018 World Cup star received a rousing reception from the home faithful after being handed a rare start by Antonio Conte.
Having had his confidence dashed by Jose Mourinho, Alli is now at a crossroads at the age of 25. With the right management and work-ethic though, he could be Spurs’ catalyst again.
Tottenham’s Dele Alli received a rousing reception from the home faithful against Liverpool
WATFORD – Ashley Fletcher
The former Manchester United, West Ham and Middlesbrough striker moved to Vicarage Road on a free transfer in the summer.
He also scored on his debut for the club in the Carabao Cup against Crystal Palace in August but has only registered 28 minutes in the Premier League.
As Claudio Ranieri looks to keep the Hornets in the division, using Fletcher more prudently could be a stroke of genius, particularly if Emmanuel Dennis’ form in front of goal tails away.
Ashley Fletcher scored on his Watford debut in the Carabao Cup against Crystal Palace
WEST HAM – Ryan Fredericks
Bar two minutes on the opening day, the West Ham right back has not featured in the Premier League this season.
Yet he has been a mainstay in the Europa League, playing three times as the Hammers target progression in Europe’s secondary competition.
As the matches increase in regularity, expect the 29-year-old to fill in when David Moyes fancies giving Vladimir Coufal a rest.
Bar two minutes on the opening day, Ryan Fredericks has not featured in the Premier League
WOLVES – Pedro Neto
The Portuguese forward suffered a broken kneecap in April and is yet to feature this season.
However, he is set to return to first-team training next month as Wolves look for some much-needed firepower in attack.
Neto was a regular in the Wolves starting XI before his injury and his return will be a timely boost for Bruno Lage, when it comes.
Pedro Neto is set to return to first-team training next month as Wolves hunt some firepower