Philippe Coutinho, David de Gea head up the biggest underperformers in Europe this season

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Philippe Coutinho

When expectation meets reality, there’s usually a massive disparity.

Few other arenas has quite the failure in meeting expectations – good or bad – than football.

Case and point is with players. Ahead of every league season, proclamations are made about certain individuals as to whether they’ll be a success or failure.

Some either struggle to meet standards while others surpass them. With the domestic campaigns drawing to a close around Europe, we’re examining the player’s who under and over performed given their respective expectations heading into the 2018/19.

Today, we look at the five biggest underperformers from around Europe’s top-five leagues.

Philippe Coutinho, Barcelona

Philippe Coutinho

The obvious starting point. Coutinho began this season as a club-record buy tipped to help Lionel Messi’s Barcelona deliver a coveted Champions League prize.

He’s ended it enduring the ignominy of having his every touch jeered and whistled by the Camp Nou.

When Coutinho departed Liverpool in January 2018, boss Jurgen Klopp offered a warning that at a club like Barcelona he would be “just another player”. It’s been worse than that, though, because the transfer fee has made him a prime target for vitriol.

He’s scored just 11 goals in 53 appearances across all competitions in 2018/19 and considering his strongest asset was versatility to operate in a front or middle three, it’s become a weakness with the 26-year-old an awkward fit for both roles.

David de Gea, Manchester United

Such has been United’s sharp decline this season any one of their strongest starting XI could feature.

But none even come close to how shocking De Gea’s drop off has been because the heights he’s reached.

Indeed, the Spaniard has slipped from strong consideration for being the world’s best goalkeeper, to not even the best in England.

Need evidence? He has made four errors leading to a goal in the Premier League this term – that’s more than in his previous five seasons combined.

It’s likely that he’s suffering mentally as opposed to any technical deficiencies – add in the fact the pile of hot mess in front of him has hardly helped either – but still, the 28-year-old has nosedived.

Gareth Bale, Real Madrid

Cristiano Ronaldo left Real Madrid and his departure was supposed to allow a Bale rebirth.

Instead, we’ve witnessed his Los Blancos career die in 2018/19.

In terms of talent and ability, Bale should be a superstar. But there’s something missing, mentally, physically; maybe even both? Whether his body won’t allow it, or his mind, the Welshman has shown this season he does not possess the build to replace a machine like Ronaldo.

Madridistas were understandably apprehensive at the thought of Bale being the star this season, not from a skillset perspective, but pure reliability.

They’ve been proved right. Eight goals in 29 La Liga appearances this season is appalling. He’s been left out of Zinedine Zidane’s recent matchday squads and with him turning 30 in July, Bale is a depreciated asset and one the club will struggle to offload.

Gabriel Jesus, Manchester City

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Sergio Aguero is 30-years-old and he is apart of a crew of City’s aging core which will need replacing in the near future. Pep Guardiola has already found David Silva (33) and Vincent Kompany’s (33) heirs through Bernardo Silva and Aymeric Laporte respectively.

The Catalan boss will definitely sign a replacement for Fernandinho (34) in the summer, but what about Aguero?

Jesus was primed to take over City’s attack but this season he’s stagnated. Yes, injuries have been a mitigating factor but of his 29 Premier League appearances in 2018/19, a staggering 21 have come from the bench.

He’s looked dreadfully short of confidence, has lost his starting spot in the national team and was even beckoned by Guardiola to “fight to win his position”.

The 22-year-old is in a demanding development phase of his career, yet after a period of maturation and evolution last season, he’s regressed. Don’t be surprised if the Brazilian leaves in the summer.

Gonzalo Higuain, AC Milan and Chelsea

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Two loan spells for Higuain this season and two relative disasters. The Argentine is one of the most elite finishers in world football, and at times he’s shown that. What is also very obvious, though, is that Higuain’s short of the fitness required for an elite club.

Watching him closely and all the mental traits remain, the instinct to find space, the intelligence to time his runs, but then his body just can’t seem to apply them quickly enough anymore.

He’s one of the highest-earning strikers in Europe and yet, in half a season for Chelsea, has scored just five goals with only one – versus 11th-placed Watford – against a side above 15th in the Premier League.

At Milan, Krzysztof Piatek took his place and practically transformed their season, providing more evidence of Higuain’s decline. He’s 32 later this year and now looks a spent force.

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