Football NewsThursday 19th January 2017

Premier League: The 10 best signings of the season so far

Premier League: The 10 best signings of the season so far

When the Premier League’s £8 billion TV deal kicked in at the beginning of the summer – a 71% increase on the previous contract – a chaotic and decadent transfer window was inevitable.

More than £1 billion was spent by Premier League clubs, with 13 of the 20 breaking their transfer record. And while sizeable sums of cash has been burned, there have been plenty of success stories in the first half of the 2016/17 season.

Here are the 10 best signings so far…

10. Adama Traore (Aston Villa to Middlesbrough, £7m)

The 20-year-old La Masia graduate struggled badly at Aston Villa last season, with a metatarsal injury keeping him out for almost three months and neither Tim Sherwood nor Remi Garde willing to risk playing such an attacking winger during their team’s battle against relegation.

But Middlesbrough boss Aitor Karanka has been richly rewarded for his bravery.

No player in the Premier League has completed more dribbles this season than Traore’s 8.6 per 90 minutes in 2016/17, and it’s his powerful runs that have been most impressive. He tore through Manchester United, Chelsea and Spurs earlier this term, beating an astonishing 29 players against those three teams.

Such fearlessness will prove invaluable for Middlesbrough as they fight for survival, and it could even lead Traore to Chelsea, who’ve been linked with a move this month.

9. David Luiz (PSG to Chelsea, £34m)

Chelsea’s centre-back was criticised for being unreliable and erratic during his first stint at the club, but after two years at PSG the 29-year-old has returned to become an essential part of the Blues’ romp to the Premier League summit.

Luiz’s occasional positional errors have been eradicated by Conte’s ruthlessly effective system, and he clearly benefits from being part of a back three. It’s largely thanks to the Brazilian that Chelsea have the second-best defensive record in the division.

 

8. Shkodran Mustafi (Valencia to Arsenal, £35m)

In Mustafi, Arsenal have finally found the ideal centre-back to partner Laurent Koscielny. The German’s no-nonsense defensive attitude and positional intelligence complement Koscielny’s more elegant, ball-playing instincts, which should provide the Gunners with a platform to challenge for honours.

His immediate importance to the team was highlighted by his absence in December, when Arsenal lost back-to-back games against Everton and Manchester City. Arsene Wenger’s team have won 34 points from 14 games in which Mustafi has featured, and 10 from the seven when he hasn’t played.

Mustafi is exactly the kind of sensible – and expensive – signing that Arsenal have struggled to complete for much of the last decade. Fans will be hoping he represents a turning point in the Gunners' transfer policy.

7. Joe Allen (Liverpool to Stoke, £13m)

The “Welsh Xavi” has lived up to his name this season with some stunning performances in an advanced midfield position for Mark Hughes. Allen was deployed in a deep-lying protector role at Swansea and Liverpool, but it looks as though Brendan Rodgers and Jurgen Klopp may have missed a trick.

Unshackled at Stoke, Allen is dictating the tempo of matches with surprisingly adept positional skills; if the Welshman keeps up his good form, it might not be long before he moves back to a club like Liverpool.

6. Victor Wanyama (Southampton to Tottenham, £11m)

Tottenham had a pretty disastrous summer, but among some costly flops (Vincent Janssen and Moussa Sissoko cost the club £47m), Wanyama has been a rock at the heart of midfield. The Kenyan has adapted quickly to the high-tempo, short-passing demands of Pochettino and essentially nabbed Eric Dier’s defensive midfield spot.

This has allowed the England international to play in his favoured centre-back position, helping Spurs achieve their excellent record of only 14 goals conceded in 21 league games.

5. Joel Matip (Schalke to Liverpool, free)

Liverpool's new centre-back has been out of action since mid-December with an ankle injury but still makes this list after an excellent first 12 matches at Anfield. The 25-year-old is undoubtedly the best free transfer of the summer, having moved from Schalke following the expiration of his contract.

Liverpool have conceded an average of 1.44 goals per game in league matches without Matip, and 0.9 when the Cameroonian defender has started. Liverpool’s title challenge might just depend upon his return to the starting XI.

4. Matt Phillips (QPR to West Brom, £5.5m)

Pundits were praising Tony Pulis for his capture of Nacer Chadli at the beginning of the season, but Phillips has been a considerably more effective signing at West Brom.

Along with four goals, the former QPR winger has already notched eight assists this season. Three more and the Scot will break the club’s Premier League record for individual assists in a single campaign.

3. Idrissa Gueye (Aston Villa to Everton, £7.1m)

A lot of people were surprised to find out that Gueye, with 285 tackles and interceptions completed, almost matched N'Golo Kanté’s defensive statistics last season.

But not Aston Villa fans. The similarities between the two players are striking; both are athletic, box-to-box midfielders with a rare ability to spot danger long before it's developed.

At a bargain £7.1 million, it's becoming increasingly clear that the Premier League’s big six dropped the ball on Gueye. The Senegalese has made more tackles (94) than any other player in 2016/17, proving highly effective in Ronald Koeman’s Everton midfield.

 

2. Sadio Mané (Southampton to Liverpool, £34m)

Jurgen Klopp’s grand plan has been accelerated by the addition of Mané, who left for the Africa Cup of Nations as the club’s top goalscorer (with nine) and its most valuable asset this season.

Liverpool’s fluid passing and focus on sharp interplay in front of the opposition defence has been a joy to behold at times this season, and their Senegalese schemer has injected an element of chaos that’s often left opposition backlines reeling.

His directness and dribbling skills pull defenders towards him, which in turn creates pockets of space for the likes of Adam Lallana. The £34 million price tag looked like a gamble back in June, but the 24-year-old has lived up to it so far.

1. N’Golo Kanté (Leicester to Chelsea, £30m)

It’s only the natural inclination towards goalscorers that prevented Kante from sweeping all of the individual awards last season. Chelsea have been transformed overnight by this supernatural talent, who somehow acts as both an anchor at the base of midfield and an athletic box-to-box creator.

Kanté’s defensive statistics have dropped this season (he averages 3.1 tackles and 2.6 interceptions per match in 2016/17, compared with 4.7 and 4.2 at Leicester) but this merely reflects his changed role.

Chelsea’s opponents don’t try to storm through the middle as Leicester’s did last year, and Antonio Conte’s desire to play on the front foot limits the number of tackles or interceptions the Frenchman needs to make.

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