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Monday, April 2, 2012
Premier League: Analyzing XI flops

By Ravi Ubha
ESPN.com

de Gea
David de Gea has been better as of late, but he hasn't inspired confidence this season.

Andy Carroll's return to Newcastle on Sunday didn't go as planned for the big striker. He was criticized for what looked to be a dive (or did he simply trip?) as Liverpool's 2012 slump continued.

Given his hefty price tag, Carroll has unquestionably been a huge disappointment in the Premier League -- but he's not alone. With April Fool's Day just over, we present an XI who've been a joke this season. Call them a team of flops, expensive or inexpensive.

G, David de Gea, Manchester United: The lanky Spaniard's form has improved in the past two months, and at the right time, with United looking to edge Manchester City for the Premier League title. But he still doesn't inspire confidence, especially on crosses and long-range shots. If not for an ankle injury to Anders Lindegaard, de Gea would be on the bench. Will he have a long-term future with the Red Devils, or will Fergie go shopping in the summer?

LB, Armand Traore, QPR: Reared at Arsenal, is it any wonder that Traore often shirks his defensive responsibilities and leaves holes at the back? In September, then-Rangers boss Neil Warnock dubbed Traore "a disgrace," "thick" and "naive," and Warnock's mellowed in old age. Traore particularly struggled in Arsenal's 8-2 loss at Old Trafford in August and was sold two days later. Like de Gea, though, time is on Traore's side. He's 22.

D, Roger Johnson, Wolves: When Birmingham was demoted last season, Arsenal and Tottenham reportedly joined the queue to sign the towering Johnson. But he joined Wolves instead, and it hasn't worked out. Johnson is part of a defense that has conceded a league-high 68 goals. Off the field, he was fined in early March for showing up in an unfit condition to train. And he's the captain. The woe continued in a 3-2 loss to Bolton on Saturday, as Johnson clashed with his own keeper, was deceived by Kevin Davies on Bolton's third goal and gave away (unluckily) a penalty.

David Luiz
More experience will help David Luiz better understand his responsibilities as a defender.

D, David Luiz, Chelsea: For his unpredictability, Luiz is a pleasure to watch -- for neutrals. Even if the Brazilian's displays recently have been encouraging, a mistimed run up the field that creates space at the back is never far away. Luiz has a bad habit of taking an extra touch in his own box when a hoof will do and gravitating toward the ball when he should stay put. However, with a little more schooling and discipline, the immensely gifted Luiz has the potential to be one of the best in the Premier League.

RB, Michel Salgado, Blackburn: Salgado is 36, not the prime age for a fullback trying to thwart onrushing wingers such as Gareth Bale. Having not featured for Blackburn since December, apparently because of contractual issues, the Spaniard is now being linked with a move to MLS. When Salgado did play for Rovers this season he was ineffective. How is Salgado spending his free time? He was spotted in Malaysia last week during the Malaysian Grand Prix.

M, Stewart Downing, Liverpool: Kenny Dalglish's three midfield buys in the summer -- Downing, Charlie Adam and Jordan Henderson -- have all underwhelmed. In Henderson's defense, he's 21 and isn't being used in central midfield, where he flourished at Sunderland. Adam hasn't been a complete failure, and his price tag -- compared to Downing and Henderson -- was dirt cheap. It's difficult to defend 20 million-pound-man Downing, who has no assists or goals. How was he possibly sold for more than Ashley Young?

M, Andrey Arshavin, Arsenal: It began so well for Arshavin at Arsenal. Gunners fans won't forget the four goals he scored at Anfield or the pile driver that flew past Ben Foster at Old Trafford in 2009. But when he lined up for Arsenal this season, Arshavin drifted out of matches and his work rate was nonexistent. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger doesn't make a habit of off-loading experienced players midseason, so it said much when Arshavin was loaned to former club Zenit St. Petersburg. Don't expect him back.

M, Adel Taarabt, QPR: Taarabt scored a brilliant goal in QPR's improbable 2-1 win over Arsenal on Saturday, weaving past defender Thomas Vermaelen before giving keeper Wojciech Szczesny no chance. It's about time. The brooding Moroccan, who hit the target 19 times last season in the Championship, finally opened his Premier League account. Taarabt routinely relinquishes possession, shoots off target and he's hardly a team player. Remember him leaving the ground against Fulham in October after being subbed at halftime -- then happily posing for pictures with fans?

M, Stephen Ireland, Aston Villa: In the absence of Downing and Young, Villa needed Ireland to step up. Unfortunately for under-fire manager Alex McLeish, Ireland hasn't delivered, save for a man-of-the-match display against Chelsea in December when he scored his only goal. Time is running out for Ireland, who is no stranger to controversy, to duplicate his 2008-2009 form while at Manchester City. Back then he was one of the Premier League's top performers, tallying nine goals.

Roberto di Matteo
Fernando Torres has had trouble finding the back of the net with Chelsea.

F, Andy Carroll, Liverpool: Dalglish blew it, too, when he spent 35 million pounds on Carroll. In this era of overpriced transfers (thank Chelsea for that), he's at the top end of the scale. But after dispensing with the cash, why has Dalglish started Carroll a mere 16 times in the Premier League? How is Carroll meant to build any confidence? That said, three league goals …

F, Fernando Torres, Chelsea: Torres had reason to celebrate against Aston Villa on Saturday: The Premier League goal drought, dating to September, was over. But even the most pessimistic of Blues supporters would have banked on Torres scoring more than three times, matching Carroll, in his first full season in London following that 50 million pound move from Liverpool. At Liverpool, Torres was the man, guaranteed to start when he was fit. With Didier Drogba around, that's not the case at Chelsea and Torres has suffered.

Subs: Charles N'Zogbia, Jordan Henderson, Kevin Davies, Tim Cahill, Per Mertesacker, Pepe Reina.

London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com. You can follow him on Twitter here.