Assessment of the major signings in the Premier League
Ian DarkeESPN.com author
CloseDarke, who was calling games for the network during the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, is ESPN’s leading voice in football in the United States. He has been in the Barclays Premier League and Champions League since 1982 and has one of the most recognizable football voices in the world.
This summer, Premier League fans will once again be calling for signings to bring their beloved clubs back to life. But they should be careful about what they wish for as not all transfers have happy endings. Indeed, there are few guaranteed successes … although Erling Haaland could be next.
The 20-year-old Haaland has scored 49 goals in 52 games for Borussia Dortmund since arriving in January last season and is the main target for several of the best European clubs this summer. However, they wonder who can really afford him after reports that his agent is Mino Raiola, looking for the first £ 1 million a week wage package for football.
Since the pandemic is putting a strain on the finances of even the richest clubs, the field of suitors in Haaland will be small. Even then, like last summer, Dortmund will play hardball to fend off Manchester United’s attempts to sign Jadon Sancho and sources have told ESPN they are aiming for £ 155m (€ 180m).
Manchester City’s all-time high scorer Sergio Aguero is fascinatingly available for free after his contract expires in June and allegedly wants to stay in the Premier League. The big question for applicants after an injury-related year is, how many games do you have to deal with him and is he still the same fatal finisher? It is a game of chance that some clubs are willing to play.
The rest will be looking for uncut diamonds to polish them or players who somehow got under the radar, such as when Leicester City signed N’Golo Kante for just over £ 5m from Caen before the Foxes won the unlikely Premier League title in 2015/16. Riyad Mahrez was also on that Leicester team and came from Le Havre for just over £ 400,000. These two grossed Leicester £ 90 million in transfer fees on their departure! Nice job if you can get it.
However, that kind of genius from HR is rare. Take a look at this season’s Premier League signings and give your opinion.
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Remember how Arsenal thought Thomas Partey was the answer to their midfield prayers? Since joining Atletico Madrid’s Gunners for £ 45m, the Ghana international has either been injured or has had very little impact on a team that appears to be destined to end up in midfield. Willian, and to a lesser extent Gabriel, didn’t tear up too many trees either. Real Madrid loanee Martin Odegaard had his moments but is he an upgrade for home product Emile Smith-Rowe?
Chelsea were the biggest donor in Europe last summer when they brought in Kai Havertz, Timo Werner, Hakim Ziyech, Ben Chilwell and Thiago Silva. It’s fair to say that none of them have won rave reviews, although given the quality of these people, it may only be a matter of time. So far, new goalkeeper Edouard Mendy has probably been the most consistent feat among the newcomers, and it was an academy product, Mason Mount, that sprayed the most stardust.
Manchester United invested £ 40m to sign Donny van der Beek, a Champions League star at Ajax, but he hasn’t had a kick in any major game. Even striker Edinson Cavani, who was successful everywhere, has scored a modest eight goals in 29 games for United. And then there’s full-back Alex Telles, who is nothing more than Luke Shaw’s understudy.
Manchester United won the Donny van de Beek race last summer but the midfielder struggled to make an impact. Laurence Griffiths / PA Images via Getty Images
Tottenham Hotspur achieved value for money by signing midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg from Southampton for a transfer fee of around £ 20m. He barely missed a minute in the Premier League. But Gareth Bale’s loan from Real Madrid was a wet squib and Sergio Reguilon, who was part of Seville’s European success last summer, looks better than defending his own goal in the future.
Liverpool likely haven’t refreshed their squad enough after the runaway title triumph. Lively Diogo Jota has scored important goals and increased the lead up front, but Ozan Kabak and previously unused Preston North End’s Ben Davies haven’t looked strong enough to prop up an injured defender. Looking back is a wonderful thing, but Jürgen Klopp missed a trick when he didn’t make a big defensive signing as insurance last summer. It has proven costly.
So far, so common in the transfer market activity of the big clubs. But Manchester City can claim the signing of the season and possible player of the year in Ruben Dias, bought by Benfica for just over £ 60million. City manager Pep Guardiola said of his defense: “He plays every game as if it were his last.” and makes everyone around him better. “Dias, assisted by a rejuvenated John Stones, made the big difference in turning City into Quadruple Hunters. City is always fatal to attack and now has a guard on the back door.
However, the jury disagrees with City’s other signings from last summer. Ferran Torres scored in four group games in the Champions League but had seen very little action in the past few weeks before scoring against Leeds on Saturday. Nathan Ake had injury problems but is well behind Dias, Stones and Aymeric Laporte in the pecking order despite having transferred £ 41m from Bournemouth after relegation.
Janusz Michallik praises Jesse Lingard’s influence on West Ham and insists he has done enough to regain his place at Manchester United.
Other notable hits? Renaissance man Jesse Lingard has been so sensational since loaning out to West Ham that it’s fair to imagine Manchester United want him back. The Hammers are also delighted to welcome Craig Dawson and Vladimir Coufal.
Other newcomers valued by their clubs include Aston Villa forward Ollie Watkins (12 Premier League goals so far in his first season and one on his debut in England) and right-back Matty Cash, the dangerous Raphinha ( Leeds) and the quick and determined Wesley Fofana (Leicester). All are automatic selections every week.
Everton’s marquee for Colombian international James Rodriguez always produced some magical moments, but the 2014 World Cup star misses a few games and it’s questionable whether he can make the consistent impact they need to become European regulars. The Toffees have done a solid job picking up Abdoulaye Doucoure, Allan and Ben Godfrey – though their fans have to wonder how Moise Kean went from Goodison Park underdog to Champions League star and loaned Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain.
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In the end, Sheffield United’s £ 20m punt, which Rhian Brewster picked up from Liverpool and scored goals in the Premier League, shot poorly. He has yet to score for the Blades in their nightmare season.
Sam Allardyce tried to save West Bromwich Albion with five signatures in January. Loanees Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Turkey international Okay Yokuslu helped make them a more solid outfit, but Senegalese striker Mbaye Diagne has only scored twice and the key player remains one who inspired their promotion last season – Matheus Pereira. Despite that amazing 5-2 win at Chelsea, their position still looks hopeless.
Fulham would have already failed without the heroics of Joachim Andersen, who was loaned from Lyon. He has looked not only as the best defender but also as a top creator with some precise long balls. It’s hardly his fault that his team’s forwards or midfielders can’t score for Toffee.
Callum Wilson, who moved to Tyneside from Bournemouth, was another major addition. Without his ten goals, Newcastle could easily have been eliminated from the Premier League. Even the disaffected Toon fans have to accept that the much-criticized hierarchy got a smart deal to get Wilson on board. However, Jeff Hendrick and Ryan Fraser exerted little influence.
Elsewhere, the jury is made up of several others: Matt Doherty (Spurs), Cengiz Under (Leicester), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (his Fulham loan only scored one goal), Rodrigo (Leeds) and Ebere Eze (who is still learns how to dovetail his goal) undoubtedly flair in the play pattern of Crystal Palace).
All of this underscores an essential truth in the modern game: Any club that dreams of success needs to have a recruiting team with a sixth sense of whether transfer goals in the Premier League will sparkle or fight. Nobody ever said it was going to be easy.