Name: Henrikh Mkhitaryan
Previous Club: Borussia Dortmund
Transfer Fee: £26 million
Contract: 4 years, £200k per week
Last Bundesliga Season: 31 games, 2574 minutes played
Most Important Stats: 15 assists, 82 chances created, 84 dribbles won
Manchester United have been struggling with their right-wing slot pretty much since 2009, when Cristiano Ronaldo departed for Real Madrid. From that point onwards, players like Antonio Valencia, Park Ji-Sung, Bebé and Nani have all tried to fit in CR7’s shoes, all with little to no effect. The last man to try his luck was Juan Mata, who, unfortunately, has never been and never will be a true winger. Last season, he’d occasionally pop up with an assist or a goal, but his overall contributions were limited compared to those he used to make back in 2012, when Chelsea would deploy him as their #10.
With Mkhitaryan’s arrival, United have pretty much sorted out their long-lasting issue for good. The Armenian was Bundesliga’s best assisting player of 2015/16 season and one of the most consistent right wingers in the world. This year alone, he’d provide 7 goals and 7 assists in 18 games for Dortmund, being one of the key players in Dortmund’s relentless, though unsuccessful race with Bayern. Since José Mourinho has a well-known aversion to Mata (rumours already linked the Spaniard with an Everton move), ‘Miki’ should be a 100% guaranteed starter – and also my personal pick for Signing of the Season.
Name: Zlatan Ibrahimović
Previous Club: Paris Saint-Germain
Transfer Fee: free
Contract: 1 year, £250k per week
Last Ligue 1 Season: 31 games, 2549 minutes played
Most Important Stats: 38 goals, 13 assists, 60% shot accuracy
Zlatan has picked up the gauntlet. After years of money-making and record-breaking in France, he finally left the tinpot league and went to England. At the age of 34, he could’ve gone for an easy option like China, USA or even total retirement – but the old sentiment towards José Mourinho from the 2008/09 Inter days prevailed. The Swede, who would rather forget about his performance at EURO 2016, will now be a part of probably the strongest Manchester United squad in years – and his goalscoring record for PSG suggests he could even hope to break Didier Drogba’s record of the oldest forward to win BPL’s Golden Boot.
Last season, it was between Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford to decide the lone starting spot for a striker Louis van Gaal had in his game plan. Even though both youngsters had terrific starts to their Premier League careers, at the moment, neither of them can realistically compete with Ibrahimović’s levels of skill and experience. Mourinho has already announced that Wayne Rooney will be another contender for Ibra’s place as #9 – but in his current shape, England’s captain isn’t much of a competition either. Wazza as number ten, Martial down the left wing, Zlatan upfront: this is the most likely configuration. Looks formidable to me.
Name: Granit Xhaka
Previous Club: Borussia Mönchengladbach
Transfer Fee: £35 million
Contract: 5 years, £110k per week
Last Bundesliga Season: 28 games, 2360 minutes played
Most Important Stats: 73 interceptions, 90 aerial duels won, 85% pass accuracy
It seems like a match made in heaven: one of the best passers in the Bundesliga last season has joined one of the most possession-oriented team in England. However, things are not so simple. After all, Arsenal have made the good midfield signing of Mohamed Elneny just couple months ago and are still retaining the services of both Santiago Cazorla (who has already recovered from Achilles problem) and Aaron Ramsey (who had a terrific time during EURO 2016). Add another freshly-recovered lad in form of Jack Wilshere and it turns into a bit of midfield overkill – assuming of course that all those players will stay fit.
In a best-case scenario: Xhaka will outperform all his CM rivals and lead Gunners where neither Cazorla or Ramsey have led them – to Premier League title. More realistically: he will take advantage of injuries and suspensions of his teammates and play a solid first season with Arsenal finishing between 3rd and 5th place. The other option is that he could be tried in a bit more defensive role and contest Francis Coquelin’s starting spot. One scenario I cannot foresee though is him becoming a flop; his recent record for Gladbach and Swiss national team is simply too convincing. Just don’t let him take the penalties, Arsène!
Name: Manuel Agudo Durán – Nolito
Previous Club: Celta Vigo
Transfer Fee: £13.8 million
Contract: 4 years, around £60k per week
Last La Liga Season: 29 games, 2471 minutes played
Most Important Stats: 12 goals, 7 assists, 60 chances created
A classic example of a late bloomer, Nolito has lived the career of a journeyman before finally making a breakthrough for Celta in 2013, at the age of 26. Deployed as a left winger, he has quickly become an undisputed leader of the offensive department in Vigo, netting double-digit figures in the last three La Liga seasons. Just a year ago, he even scored a rare accomplishment, outracing Messi to the title of a player who created the most (96) goalscoring chances in a 2014/15 league campaign. That, combined with a recent, very good display at EURO 2016, makes up for an excellent résumé.
After securing his move, Nolito will most likely compete for a first-team spot with Raheem Sterling or David Silva. He’s already outperformed them both at EUROs and with Silva’s frequent injury woes, along with Sterling’s inconsistent rate of development – it could be down to the FC Barcelona’s academy graduate, to provide the necessary quality down the left wing. His chances in a backroom rivalry do look excellent: after all, few months ago, he was on a brink of returning to Camp Nou. Barca’s executives finally gave up the chase – but can Sterling or Silva claim they’ve been ever chased by the Catalan giant?
Name: Ilkay Gündogan
Previous Club: Borussia Dortmund
Transfer Fee: £23 million
Contract: 4 years, around £100k per week
Last Bundesliga Season: 25 games, 1990 minutes played
Most Important Stats: 88% pass accuracy, 55 interceptions
It was an expected move from Pep Guardiola. Just like after his arrival at Bayern Munich, the very first thing he’s done in Manchester was signing a midfielder with an exceptional passing ability. Gündogan, linked in the past with Manchester United and FC Barcelona, was probably the easiest transfer choice for a midfield playmaker, especially since other options (Toni Kroos, Marco Verratti) still remain out of Citizens’ reach, regardless of the possible amounts of money that could have been offered there. After refusing to extend the contract with BVB, similar obstacles ceased to exist in the Germany International’s case.
At Etihad, Gündogan’s first task will be a speedy recovery from a nagging injury that’s been haunting him for ten weeks. He is set to miss the Premier League kickoff against Sunderland and potentially, one more game due to the lack of fitness – but afterwards, baring some new health issues that could arise – he’ll be good to go. However, with Fernandinho being pretty much a regular starter, it could be between Yaya Touré, Fernando and Gündogan to decide who will take the other remaining midfield spot. Still, knowing Pep – the ex-Dortmund man should be a favourite there.
Name: Michy Batshuayi
Previous Club: Olympique de Marseille
Transfer Fee: £33.2 million
Contract: 5 years, £100k per week
Last Ligue 1 Season: 36 games, 2936 minutes played
Most Important Stats: 17 goals, 9 assists, 56% shot accuracy
The search for new Didier Drogba continues. Some time ago, Romelu Lukaku has been shipped to Everton following his Supercup penalty miss against Bayern – and it was a costly loss for CFC. Later, Diego Costa came around – and even though he has an excellent maiden season in England, he largely faded away a year later, when The Blues struggling from the very beginning of the season. Now, with the Spaniard still in Antonio Conte’s squad, it’s Batshuayi’s time. Just like Drogba, he previously played for OM; just like Lukaku, he’s from Belgium. Is it finally the man to end the DD nostalgia at Stamford Bridge?
In London, there will be first a tactical dilemma, namely: will Conte persist with his 3-5-2 system he’s been using with success at Juventus and in charge of the Italian national team? If yes – Batshuayi and Costa could potentially form a strikers’ partnership. If no – there will be a rivalry there and a much fiercer one that was once going on between Diego and Demba Ba or Loïc Rémy. Last season, the new Abramovich’s signing had a better shot accuracy (56% to 53%), better goal-per-game ratio (0.52 to 0.45) and assist ratio (0.28 to 0.23) that Costa. But it was in Ligue 1. Personally, I’m predicting rather rough start for OM’s superstar…
Name: Eric Bailly
Previous Club: Villarreal CF
Transfer Fee: £30 million
Contract: 4 years, £75k per week
Last La Liga Season: 25 games, 2019 minutes played
Most Important Stats: 120 clearances, 65 interceptions
The Daley Blind Centre Back Experiment has ended. The results are inconclusive. But games like the one against West Ham, during Boleyn Ground’s farewell, have convinced Mourinho that it’s time to sign a more typical, tough, tall and strong centre-back. With Bailly playing alongside Chris Smalling, United will not be as likely to be athletically dominated, as it happened when Andy Carroll, Diafra Sakho and Michael Antonio stood in front of them. And for a manager, who’s been endorsing talents of powerful centre-halves (Ricardo Carvalho, Lúcio, Pepe) – this is a perfectly sensible first signing for his new, Old Trafford job.
Bailly, just 22 years old, arrives to England as probably the biggest winner of 2015/16 La Liga campaign. His Villarreal finished 4th with just 35 goals conceded and 17 clean sheets. In December, his immense contribution (4 dribbles, 2 tackles, 3 interceptions, 3 clearances) have led Yellow Submarine to a surprising 1-0 victory over Real Madrid. He also performed superbly against Atlético and Barcelona. His only major weakness – discipline – should not matter so much in England, where referees tend to be more lenient than in Spain. A perfect addition? Yes – once he improves his passing (77% ratio at the moment).
Name: Victor Wanyama
Previous Club: Southampton FC
Transfer Fee: £11 million
Contract: 5 years, £70k per week
Last Premier League Season: 30 games, 2495 minutes played
Most Important Stats: 71 tackles won, 68 interceptions, 65 clearances
Southampton seem to be keen on selling their star players. Over the past three years, Clyne, Lallana, Lovren, Lambert, Chambers, Cork and Schneiderlin have all found jobs elsewhere. This summer, Wanyama has joined another group of his former co-workers (Graziano Pellè, Sadio Mané and manager Ronald Koeman) in one more big SFC exodus. For the Kenyan, the choice was fairly straightforward: after all, Spurs have offered him nearly 100% wage rise. Also, the boss at White Hart Lane, Mauricio Pochettino, is a well-known face for Wanyama – in fact, it was the Argentinian, who brought him to St. Mary’s from Celtic back in July 2013.
Still, it will be a struggle for Victor to break in this Spurs’ side. The two starting slots he’ll be competing for are pretty much reserved for Eric Dier and Mousa Dembélé – arguably the two most consistent Tottenham players last season. However, the Belgian, who has also picked up an injury during EURO 2016, will be suspended for the first four games of new season, following his memorable finger-to-eye offences against Chelsea. If Wanyama can prove himself useful in August and September – he does stand a chance. But knowing Dembélé’s qualities – the ex-Southampton lad will have to be absolutely brilliant to prevail.
Name: Sadio Mané
Previous Club: Southampton FC
Transfer Fee: £34 million
Contract: 5 years, £100k per week
Last Premier League Season: 37 games, 2599 minutes played
Most Important Stats: 11 goals, 77 dribbles won, 41 chances created
Also known as the epitome of inconsistency, Mané has just completed the biggest move of his career, breaking the record transfer fee ever paid for an African player. On his day, the Senegalese winger is able to score the fastest hat-trick in Premier League’s history (2 minutes and 56 seconds against Aston Villa). On his day, he puts three goals past Manchester City or two past his future employers from Liverpool. But then, he wouldn’t score a single goal for over three months (December 2015 – March 2016) and pick up ridiculous red cards (like it was against Liverpool and Stoke last season). All in all: a loose cannon.
At Anfield, Mané is most likely to compete for the right-wing spot with Adam Lallana – as it’s rather unthinkable he could make a bid to Philippe Coutinho’s customary position down the other side of the pitch. On paper, Sadio’s 11 goals and 6 assists are easily outweighing 4 goals and 6 assists by the English international. However, if the new man in Jürgen Klopp’s squad falls into yet another slump (as he often does), we could see this transfer being a costly mistake. One thing is for sure: the more German manager should enforce the attacking, aggressive, free-flowing football – the better Mané’s chances are going to be.
Name: Vincent Janssen
Previous Club: AZ Alkmaar
Transfer Fee: £17 million
Contract: 4 years, £50k per week
Last Eredivisie Season: 34 games, 2742 minutes
Most Important Stats: 27 goals, 56 chances created, 35 dribbles won
One of the most mysterious additions out there, Janssen, 22 years old and newly crowned as Eredivisie’s top goalscorer, has joined Tottenham. But why? Everyone and their dog knows that the lone striker’s spot at White Hart Lane belongs to the two-time PFA Team of the Year member and a current BPL Golden Boot holder, Harry Kane. How can a former AZ poacher even compete with his direct rival? Granted, Kane had an abysmal EURO 2016 – but then again, Janssen’s national team didn’t even qualify for that tournament! And there’s simply no way Mauricio Pochettino will switch to 4-4-2 at cost of Lamela, Alli or Eriksen.
It is truly a bizarre signing. Yes, Tottenham have got their hands on a great back-up striker for a reasonable price – but is Janssen’s ambition to just warm the bench and maybe occasionally appear in some second-rate League Cup fixtures or as a substitute around 85th minute of few Premier League games? And that’s after he snubbed the chance to sign for West Ham – club with much easier competition for the #9 spot.
Option A: Janssen is just a money-grabber. Option B: he is so confident in his abilities, he thinks he can seriously challenge Kane. Option C: against all odds, Poch has decided to switch into 2-striker mode. Which one is true? It’s up to you to decide.