Samuel Cicci: Sure, our main beat is the English Premier League, but the cuisine on offer there can be bland and uninspired. Squads across the pond, however, are looking to spice things up with some intriguing and frankly brilliant additions. But not every recipe is destined for success. Just take a look at Real Madrid, where Zinedine Zidane is cooking up a Flemish-based squad rehaul that doesn’t call for the inclusion of any Welshmen. As with every transfer window, drama, intrigue, and experimentation abound, so let’s see what’s going on in Spain, Germany, and Italy.
Our first stop is the Spanish capital of Madrid, where Diego Simeone’s Atletico are throwing out the leftovers to try something with more of a Portuguese kick.
Notable signings: Joao Felix, Marcos Llorente, Hector Herrera, Kieran Trippier
Notable departures: Antoine Griezmann, Diego Godin, Juanfran, Lucas Hernandez, Filipe Luis, Rodri
Matt Hein: Atletico have undergone the most change of any top club this transfer window, losing stalwarts like Godin, Hernandez, and Griezmann. They have had to remake most of their team this summer, replacing most of their formidable backline and also trying to inject some creativity into a side that has struggled with that aspect of the game. Simeone can usually conjure a good defense, so much rests on the shoulders of 19-year-old attacker Joao Felix. With only one year of experience in Portugal’s top league, Atletico are taking a $140 million gamble on the talented youngster.
The biggest question, Sam, is will Simeone adapt his system to these new players, or will the players have to adapt to the packed-in, counter-attacking style Atletico has played for years?
SC: Well, Matt, Simeone has for years been providing a steady diet of grits and defense, but it’s probably time to change the menu. Now, don’t get me wrong, being a systems coach can be very effective. Antonio Conte has done masterfully well boosting individuals as part of a larger scheme, while Mauricio Pochettino has also elevated his group in North London. For a large chunk of his tenure, Simeone has done the same with a battle-hardened squad, but since he first started, the caliber of player at Atletico has risen. Now that he’s working with a more technically gifted squad (on paper) featuring the likes of Joao Felix and Thomas Lemar, it’s time to let all these pieces simmer and see what this new core can produce. Simeone has, occasionally, released the handbrake and allowed his team to play more expansively in crunch matches, so it’s not as if he’s running in blind. But it will still be quite the transition for this new-look Atletico.
But since you’re the Spurs expert, riddle me this: is Kieran Trippier a crucial ingredient, or a last minute impulse buy when approaching the cash register?
MH: Trippier is…..fine. Even if he is supposed to be a key ingredient, I think he lost a lot of his flavor last season. He was the subject of much ire from Spurs supporters, as the right-back was the clear weak link in matches against superior teams. I would say he won’t embarrass himself, but I can’t wipe my memory of the horrific own goal he scored in the match against Chelsea. However, Simeone won’t put him on an island, like he often was for Spurs.
Trippier can occasionally whip in a tremendous cross. Atleti are hoping that last season was a blip in form, because he had been a consistent performer before this past season. Still, this move definitely feels like Simeone had money he had to spend, and Trippier was extremely available yet not exorbitantly expensive.
Notable signings: Nabil Fekir
SC: Sacré Bleu! This was perhaps the most surprising move of the summer so far, showing a determination on Betis’ part to perhaps dine at the top table? Nabil Fekir, an excellent attacking midfielder from Lyon, was extremely close to joining Liverpool last year. So to see him transfer to Spain’s 10th best team is certainly unexpected. Fekir is a top-level player who chipped in with nine goals and seven assists in France last year, and is certainly a prime cut above many of his teammates in Andalusia.
MH: I had to pay a lot more than $20 mil for him in FIFA. But I think FIFA assumes he has working knees.
SC: The true mark of any talented chef is what they can whip up at cost, so an excellent piece of business on coach Rubi’s part, to be sure. If the Frenchman’s knees work as intended, perhaps Betis can push for that fourth Champions League spot? It was a tight race in Spain, with Betis’ 50 points putting them only 11 points behind final qualifiers Valencia. With 11 of their 16 losses coming by only a single goal, Fekir’s class could push them up to that elusive fourth spot, or as a consolation prize, a place in the Europa League. Added to last year’s coup of snagging Portuguese international William Carvalho, this is quite the nice little midfield Betis are whipping up. Ah, what a blend this simple, yet elegant Sofrito could turn out to be.
And to add an extra dash of intrigue, Betis are also rumored to be in talks with Napoli’s Arkadiusz Milik, a top-class forward! I confess I’m unfamiliar with any Polish-Spanish-French fusion dishes, but the aroma from here sure smells delightful if everything pans out as intended.
Notable signings: Thorgan Hazard, Julian Brandt, Mats Hummels
Notable departures: Abdou Diallo, Christian Pulisic
MH: After losing Captain America, Dortmund managed to hang onto Jadon Sancho, the rising English star (who is probably better but don’t say that too loud).
The lesser and younger Hazard brother, Thorgan, has turned out to be an excellent player in his own right, chipping in double digit goals and assists for Borussia Mönchengladbach
SC: Don’t turn your nose up at double digit goals and assists! Not many players are able to hit that benchmark (think of players like Messi or Eden Hazard). Thorgan doesn’t quite match up, but that’s an excellent piece for Dortmund to add.
MH: Julian Brandt is nothing to sneeze at either
SC: Achoo! Sorry, it’s dusty in here.
MH:….. An attacker who can play all across the line, Brandt has been around the German international squad for a couple years. Dortmund’s yellow wall will have plenty of creativity and attack to feast on this season.
However, spending $40 million to bring back an aging center back in Mats Hummels, who had one of the worst years of his career last season, makes me believe the back line could be a weakness for Dortmund.
SC: Well let me tell you Matthew, it certainly couldn’t be any worse than last season. I agree that the Hummels acquisition is…interesting…but considering how poor the young center backs could be at times, veteran leadership should be useful. In terms of on-the-pitch contributions, however, Hummels seems slightly overcooked. But, with Abdou Diallo off to Paris Saint Germain and a big hole in the backline, he’s at least a familiar face. We’ll have to see if the fans can forgive him for his desertion to Bayern.
But enough with the German cuisine! Let’s head over to the old boot and stop in at Turin. Cristiano Ronaldo continues to age like a fine wine for Juventus, but it’s their newfound buying power and two midfield acquisitions that intrigue me.
The Old Lady has continued its resurgence with a rebrand (half-colored shirt, rather than the umpire-esque prison stripe aesthetic of old) to go along with a new cosmopolitan image. Maurizio Sarri’s appointment as head coach indicates a push for more style, and some of the team’s new faces should make for De Ligtful additions to the squad.
To be honest, the Juventus recipe had become a bit stale. While there have been astute pickups, many of the Old Lady’s players have been around the block multiple times. What better chance for a refresh if not now? Chairman Andrea Agnelli engineered the bosman transfers of Aaron Ramsey and Adrien Rabiot, two players that could easily start on many high-level teams. Not only that, but both players are the right side of 30. Rabiot will likely need to thaw out after PSG shoved him to the back of the freezer after he refused to sign a new contract, but Ramsey should provide an instant spark of creativity and goalscoring. If those two start positioned just ahead of Sarri’s preferred Pjanic pivot in a midfield three, Juventus should be more than capable of feeding Ronaldo and whoever else starts alongside him. Add in the steel of Ricardo Bentancur and Blaise Matuidi, and you have an answer to almost any problem. But perhaps the most exciting purchase is that of young center back Mathis De Ligt, who turned down both Barcelona and PSG to play in Italy. He’s undoubtedly a mouthwatering prospect, and the Dutch defender has the potential to be one of the world’s best, but he’s not quite there yet. You saw him up close when Ajax faced Spurs in the UCL semi finals last year, Matthew. What can Juventus expect from their marquis signing?
MH: Despite opening his career in the black and white by allowing a goal against Spurs and conceding an own goal in back-to-back friendlies, Juve should expect De Ligt to be a staple in the side for years to come. He faces stiff competition at the center back spot this year with three starting-caliber players including captain Giorgio Chiellini, his long-time partner Leonardo Bonucci, and a stable presence in Daniele Rugani. But despite these big names, there is an opening for the Dutchman to make his case. Juventus conceded more Serie A goals last season (30) than any of their preceding seven (!) recent titles. Chiellini has become ancient in football years, but Bonucci’s play left a bigger question mark last season. De Ligt also delighted (I couldn’t help it) Ajax fans last season with seven goals, four more than any Bianconeri defender. I expect De Ligt to start soon, because of his price tag. As a teenager he may make more mistakes than the veterans but he brings more to the table not just with his potential but his all-around skills.
Rugani has asked out but it’s unclear whether Juve will want to sell another solid young defender
SC: Rumor has it that they’re looking to sell promising youngster Moise Kean, too. But it appears they’d want a two-year buy-back clause included with any potential sale; that would be good business, giving him time to marinate as Ronaldo ages out of starting contention. Either way, Juventus have an absolutely stacked squad. And with Sarri’s more proactive approach, they might make more waves in the Champions League this year if everything clicks.
MH: Because I know I am converting all of our blog readers into Tottenham Hotspur fans, let us celebrate! Somehow, no one pulled the trigger on Toby Alderweireld’s release clause. Why other clubs did not pay the $30 million required to add a world class defender is beyond me, but his return means the Belgian partnership with Super Jan Vertonghen continues for at least one more year.
SC: It is, frankly, quite staggering that Manchester United didn’t make a bid when they are clearly looking to improve their back line. I mean, the $30 million is peanuts in today’s market, and Spurs would have had no recourse if the Reds decided to move forward. It’s impossible to tell what the plan is over there at the moment. Their transfer “strategy” has been left in the oven too long, and those sympathetic to the red half of Manchester better hope that whatever charred, smokey disaster comes out can be salvaged. If not, even Gordon Ramsey won’t be able to fix this kitchen nightmare.
SC: I get wanting to send your youngsters out on loan to get valuable game time and experience, but…Arsenal? Madrid should have sent Ceballos out to a team that actually competes so as to prepare him for the rigors of high-level competition in case he does return. The midfield trifecta of Modric-Kroos-Casemiro is close to its sell-by date, so honestly I’m disappointed Zidane has no interest in utilizing Ceballos even as a squad player. There’s more to be said about this, but that’s a story for another article.
What other shocking maneuvers have clubs pulled off this transfer window? Find out next time on Dragon Ball Z…er, the Workmanlike Performers, where it’s back to jolly old England to scope out Aston Villa’s utter squad overhaul, see what Everton have been up to, and take a few more potshots at Arsenal. Then, we’ll take the chunnel back to the mainland and closely examine some of the resident superclubs.
Thanks for joining us! And remember kids, don’t blog when you’re hungry.
— Matt Hein and Sam Cicci
Header Image: @RealBetis_en on Twitter