Premier League Transfer Watch: Part 1

Matt Hein: Welcome back loyal readers. After spending a beautiful summer at the beach (work), relaxing (working), and getting our minds right for the upcoming season (nervously twitching from withdrawal symptoms), the Workmanlike Performers are ready to once again go the whole 90 minutes with you. Today we will be taking a look at some of the big Premier League transfers so far, and Sam will tell you why Brighton will win the league this season.

Sam Cicci: They will?? Wait, I wasn’t prepared for this. Let’s, uh, circle back next week.

<Ahem>

Regardless, there have been some pretty big moves at both ends of the table. Some are well worth the money, while clubs may have overpaid for others. Let’s take a look at some of the big deals that have gone down. We’ll start with an easy one for Matthew:

Tanguy Ndombele, Lyon to Tottenham Hotspur: $70 million

MH: So Spurs actually bought a player. It’s been literally years since that happened. It still hasn’t sunk in. While this is a steep price tag it shows Tottenham’s intent to try and keep up with the best of the world and cement their status as a top European team. Ndombele is young and  will have the entire offseason to absorb Pochettino’s system. He addresses Spurs’ biggest need at defensive midfield where the squad has depth but no real world-beaters. As fun as the Moussa Sissoko resurgence has been, he probably shouldn’t be starting a Champions League final.  At Ndombele’s best, he will be a supercharged Moussa Dembele, as one of his best skills is dribbling through the lines of the defence. Spurs really struggled moving the ball out of the back at times last year but Ndombele’s 4.6 dribbles/90 with an over 80% success rate should really help them. An excellent passer as well, Ndombele will bring a presence to the base of the midfield Spurs have really lacked the past few years.

While there have been questions about his dedication and defensive capabilities, Spurs have both the coaching and personnel to make those questions disappear. While he comes with a high price tag, all the pieces are there for this to work well for both parties.

Speaking of high price tags, do you expect Captain American Christian Pulisic to immediately fill Hazard’s shoes and carry Chelsea on his back?

Christian Pulisic, Borussia Dortmund to Chelsea: $73 million

SC: I absolutely do not expect that to happen, and I’m hoping that Chelsea hold the same view. Pulisic is still only 20 years old, and I’d say he needs some more time to grow. He hasn’t been required to shoulder the burden of being a week-in, week-out starter for an entire season, so he’ll need to be given time to adapt. Plus, he’s leaving a team focused on working with youth and developing players to Chelsea, a team that is famous for doing…not that. However, this may have been the best time for the young American to join. Club owner Roman Abramovich’s visa issues have meant the executioner’s axe won’t be wielded with as much impunity for underperformers, and with a transfer ban restricting the Blues’ transfer opportunities, these may be the lowest expectations Stamford Bridge has seen in quite a while.

Eden Hazard is a world class winger, and right now, I can’t put Pulisic in the same bracket. However, as long as he isn’t expected to single handedly carry the team, it should be fine. Watching him in recent games for the USMNT, it’s clear that he can make something happen whenever he’s on the ball and can be an effective part of any offense. A concern is that in some of the Gold Cup games, he went long stretches without seeing the ball. It’s my hope that, on a regular basis, Chelsea’s midfield can find him more often.

On a positive note, Frank Lampard’s assistant Jody Morris has previous experience with Chelsea’s U-21 team, so that should be an extra boost to Pulisic and all the young players turning out for Chelsea this year. It will be interesting to see how much he can produce after playing a full season, but it’s no guarantee that he’ll be a starter with Willian, Pedro, and Callum Hudson-Odoi all vying for playing time. There are a lot of question marks over what will happen at Chelsea this year, but that’s something for a different article.

Rodri, Atletico Madrid to Manchester City: $78 million

MH: Sometimes the obvious moves are the right moves, and the Premier League’s evil empire continues to grow stronger. For a couple years now, it’s been tough to pinpoint many weaknesses in the City’s lineup, and everyone knew that the most pressing concern was to address the aging of their defensive midfield stalwart Fernandinho. The only time City looked vulnerable in their last campaign was when the Brazilian picked up a thigh injury and they proceeded to lose multiple games in December without him. But in Rodri, Pep has tabbed his future fulcrum. Pep asks his defensive midfielders to cover acres of ground defensively while being cool and collected on the ball. Often compared to his Spanish counterpart Sergio Busquets, also coached in his formative years by Guardiola, Rodri loves a tackle and has no glaring weaknesses to his game. However, Rodri will have to adjust to playing a much different style, as in the counter-attacking Atletico system he played much more without possession, contributing to him making three tackles a game. He will have to consistently win the ball and cover much higher up the pitch; unfortunately Rodri has showcased the tools to be able to do just that.

While he may not unlock defences from his position, he will not be asked to at Man City. Even without projecting any growth, the addition of the 23-year-old gives City another world class option at arguably their most important position. On another note: What does Financial Fair Play do exactly? How much is Man City paying FIFA not to investigate?

Leicester City making moves

MH: Leicester will be riding the wave of their surprise title for the rest of our lives (while I will probably regret Tottenham blowing their best chance for a title for the rest of mine). I generally like how they have remained aggressive, transforming from a relegation candidate to mainstays in the top half of the table. Taking swings on young, improving players and then selling them for big bucks after they perform well for you (hello, Riyad Mahrez), is a way to establish sustainable success. Leicester were a solid team for most of last year, with metrics suggesting they were better than their final point total.

SC: That may have something to do with the organization brazenly looking for an excuse to fire coach Claude Puel for a good chunk of the season.

MH: They continued to make positive moves, signing Youri Tielemans permanently from Monaco while also adding Ayoze Perez. Both are solid young players who will make the team better. Perez can play alongside Vardy while also providing insurance for his eventual decline. Tielemans has been on larger clubs’ radars for a while; for the Foxes to pick him up is excellent business. He chipped in 3 goals and 4 assists on a half-season loan to Leicester last year and looks to round out a strong midfield trio alongside Hamza Choudhori and Wilfred Ndidi. I am excited to see what Brendan Rodgers does with this team after a full offseason. While he may not have stars everywhere, the roster is stacked with quality.

Manchester United Falling Behind?

SC: After Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s honeymoon period ran out after taking over at Manchester United last season, the team embarked on a wretched run of form that saw them whimper to a sixth place finish. Solskjaer was adamant that new faces needed to come in, and come in they did…just maybe not enough, and not the right ones.

To be fair, the Red Devils needed a new right back with the Antonio Valencia’s departure and Diogo Dalot still a bit young, so they shelled out $63 million for Crystal Palace’s Aaron Wan Bissaka, who enjoyed a breakout season last year. A tackle rate of 68% alongside his 99 interceptions showcase his defensive acument, he had zero errors leading directly to a goal and he also added three assists last year for good measure. He’s a guaranteed upgrade at right back for United, but he won’t overhaul the entire defensive system by himself. Even though he’s only 21, he probably won’t have much time to settle considering United is chomping at the bit to return to their glory days. With only 40 prior Premier League appearances, he’ll have to adapt quickly.

MH: Defending for Crystal Palace is also a bit different than Man United. How good he can be going forward, essential to any high-end outside back these days, remains a question.

SC: United’s other signing is an intriguing one. They picked up 21-year-old winger Daniel James from Swansea, and the youngster sure has a motor. If he gets consistent game time up top alongside Rashford, United will have a blisteringly quick attack. He put up decent numbers in the Championship last year, with four goals and seven assists in 33 appearances. But here’s the thing: James doesn’t have any top-flight experience, and those numbers probably aren’t going to cut it for a team vying to qualify for the Champions League. Solskjaer is certainly looking to rebuild with a younger squad, but so far he’s only made two signings, and frankly, that’s not enough.

Liverpool and Manchester City boast world class squads, while Tottenham are actually making signings and will likely be competitive again next year (especially if Christian Eriksen sticks around). One of United’s signings will improve the team immediately, but the other doesn’t look ready to make a huge impact. United need to do more than just dither over Harry Maguire’s price tag, or they risk falling behind even further. Lucky for them, Chelsea have a transfer ban and Arsenal are owned by Stan Kroenke, so if they’re lucky, they can remain in the hunt. But if no big moves come to fruition, it could be another long season. Especially with B-tier teams like Wolves and Everton putting together capable squads…

Stay tuned for more Premier League transfer updates, as well as a jaunt across the pond to see what Europe’s other top leagues are up to.

— Matt Hein and Sam Cicci


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