Sancho next? Nine Bundesliga stars who struggled in the Premier League

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Manchester United winger Henrikh Mkhitaryan

We’re less than halfway through the 2021-22 Premier League season and it’s far too early to start writing off summer signings, such as Manchester United‘s Jadon Sancho.

Yet the fact remains that Sancho, who at Borussia Dortmund was one of the most talented youngsters the Bundesliga has ever seen, has not got off to a good start at Old Trafford.

He’s already in and out of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s starting XI, is yet to register a goal or an assist, and has lost his spot in Gareth Southgate’s England squad.

Search his name on social media and you’ll likely find critics talking about the ‘Bundesliga tax’ – the idea that players that thrived in Germany don’t reach the same standards in England.

The likes of Son Heung-min, Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan all provide a strong counter-argument, but there are plenty of examples of Bundesliga signings that have failed to deliver.

Here are nine standout Bundesliga players that have – so far – struggled to hit the same heights in the Premier League.

Kai Havertz

“I don’t give a f*ck because we’ve just won the f*cking Champions League,” is – to be fair – a pretty good response to your critics. Having scored the match-winner in the final, no less.

As with Fernando Torres against Barcelona, scoring a goal of such magnitude will cement Havertz’s place in Chelsea folklore – even if he went and did a Winston Bogarde and sat on his arse collecting wages for the rest of his Blues career.

But it would also be fair to say that £70million signing Havertz hasn’t quite recaptured his stellar form for Bayer Leverkusen just yet.

He notched 36 goals and 25 assists in the Bundesliga before he’d even turned 21 and averaged a goal contribution every 136 minutes in his final season in Germany.

In 37 Premier League appearances for Chelsea, the attacking midfielder has six goals and six assists, averaging one or the other every 174 minutes.

Timo Werner

Werner’s reputation as one of German football’s deadliest goalscorers was well-founded. The forward averaged 19 Bundesliga goals a season across his four years with RB Leipzig, including a quite incredible 28 goals in 34 appearances in his final year with the club.

You can’t accuse him of a lack of effort at Chelsea, and with marginal offsides and VAR calls, he’s been a bit unlucky to have a fair few goals chalked off. But it’s just not happening for him at Stamford Bridge.

His debut Premier League campaign yielded just six goals, while the club-record arrival of Romelu Lukaku may see his opportunities limited going forward.


Thiago Alcantara

Having left boyhood club Barcelona in search of regular playing opportunities under Pep Guardiola, Thiago certainly found that and more at Bayern Munich.

The metronomic midfielder won the Bundesliga title in each of his seven seasons in Germany, plus four DFB Pokals, before waving goodbye in style with a starring role in their Champions League triumph in 2019-20. He looked on top of the world as he departed for a new challenge at Liverpool.

But he endured a difficult debut season in England. First he was sidelined by Covid-19, then suffered a knee injury in after suffering a nasty challenge by Richarlison in the Merseyside derby – his first start.

By the time he was finally fit and available, Liverpool were fielding a makeshift defence and were unrecognisable to the imperious title-winning side from the year before. Thiago struggled amid the dysfunction.

Further injury niggles have denied him an opportunity to kick on in 2021-22. He may yet show his unquestionable class and become a key player for Jurgen Klopp’s Reds, but we’re still waiting.

READ: Thiago’s first touch is so good it’s like he’s playing a different sport to others

Naby Keita

AKA the original Thiago. The Guinea international demonstrated how good he can be – and consistently was at RB Leipzig – with a commanding performance (before getting clattered by Paul Pogba) in Liverpool’s 5-0 victory away to Manchester United. 

But injuries have denied him a real consistent run in Liverpool’s midfield, and you start to wonder if he’ll ever get one. He’s made just 60 Premier League appearances since his arrival in 2018.

Sebastien Haller

Haller is once again demonstrating that in the right set-up he can be an absolutely lethal striker – he’s scored 27 goals in 39 appearances since moving to Ajax in January 2021 and has seven goals in four Champions League group stage games this season.

That’s even better than he was at Eintracht Frankfurt, where he scored 15 Bundesliga goals in 2018-19, resulting in a club-record £45million move to West Ham.

In spite of the Hammers looking a rising force under David Moyes, Haller – spectacular overhead kick aside – is one player that didn’t quite click. Ten goals in 48 Premier League appearances is testament to that.


Oh, Newcastle.

Still the Magpies’ record signing at £39million, Joelinton has scored six goals in 79 Premier League appearances. That’s one every 866 minutes. To be fair, he wasn’t especially prolific at Hoffenheim, but he was a handy support striker there.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan

Armenia international Mkhitaryan was absolutely brilliant under Thomas Tuchel for Borussia Dortmund. He led the Bundesliga for assists (15) in 2015-16, as well as scoring 11 goals, resulting in the winger being named German outlet DW‘s Bundesliga Player of the Season that year.

A move to Manchester United promptly followed, but Jose Mourinho failed to get the best out of him, and nor did Arsene Wenger or Unai Emery at Arsenal.

Mkhitaryan hit double figures for goals and assists in Serie A for Roma last season and is now working under Mourinho once again. Gulp.

Baba Rahman

A £14million signing from Augsburg in 2015, Ghanian left-back Rahman made 15 Premier League appearances during his debut season at Chelsea before sinking without a trace – three successive loans to Schalke, then Reims, Mallorca, PAOK and now Reading.

He remains contracted at Stamford Bridge until 2024, somehow. Something tells us we’re unlikely to see him back in the blue of Chelsea again any time soon.

READ: Six of Chelsea’s most panicky panic buys: Pato, Djilobodji, Rahman…

Shinji Kagawa

AKA the original Mkhitaryan.

Japan international Kagawa played a key part in Jurgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund winning back-to-back Bundesliga titles, and he went on to lift the Premier League title during his debut season at Manchester United, albeit with a more peripheral role of just 17 starts.

But, as with so many others, he struggled after David Moyes succeeded Sir Alex Ferguson and returned to Dortmund for roughly half (£6.5million) what they sold him for in 2014.

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