Maurizio Sarri to Juventus: A Good Move?

With Allegri leaving the club at the end of the season, Juventus are in a place of difficulty. They spent a lot of money on players who were at their peak to win the Champions League. First, it was Higuain. The Argentine arrived for over £75 million. He scored a record 36 goals in the league and was seen as their best chance at finally winning the trophy at eluded the team for so long. While they did reach a Champions League final in 2017, they were truly outclassed by a better Real Madrid side. After succumbing to defeat by the hands of the European Champions again, it left Juventus in a difficult place, of where to take this team next.

The Old Lady decided to sign the same player who was consistently stopping them from winning the Champions League, signing a 33-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo for £100 million. At the time it was arguably the best move for all parties involved. Real Madrid managed to get a colossal amount for a player who was coming to the end of their career, allowing them (in theory) to find a long-term replacement for the forward. Ronaldo was given a chance to win another league title and prove he is the solution for a team’s hope of winning in Europe. Juventus were given the best player in the competition’s history. This was their best short-term solution to winning the Champions League.

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However, it did not turn out as expected. Ronaldo wasn’t nearly as effective as many were hoping he would be. While he did win Juventus the tie against Simeone’s Atletico Madrid side, that was mainly thanks to Simeone making some huge mistakes in the game and allowed Juventus to score those goals. Juventus spent a lot of money on a player who failed to win the golden boot in the league and on the continental stage. Messi scored twice the goals Ronaldo did in Europe, while veteran forward Quagliarella and journeyman Duvan Zapata all finished ahead of him in Serie A. It isn’t to say Ronaldo has been bad but spending so much on a player for short term success should give you more goals than this.

What has been worse for Juventus is the effect that the Balon d’Or winner has had on the rest of the squad. Higuain and Caldara left in a swap deal with AC Milan, to bring Bonucci back to Turin. It’s similar to the situation the LA Lakers were in when LeBron James joined them last year, They had to bring in a bunch of older players, guys who were at the same stage as LeBron, who didn’t need any time to develop and were ready for success. Juventus lost one of the most promising Italian defenders around in favour of bringing back a player who left for disagreements with Allegri. It’s also meant that Rugani’s game time has diminished, going from starting 22 games before Bonucci’s arrival to now starting 15. Juventus making moves for these older players will make players like Rugani and Caldara leave, meaning the club have no players to succeed their experienced ones when they depart or retire.

Dybala is another who was massively affected by the arrival of Ronaldo. The Argentine was seen as the heir to Del Piero, wearing his famous number 10 shirt. He had been fantastic for Juventus since his arrival and was easily the jewel of their crown. Soon as Ronaldo arrived, Dybala’s future was in doubt. He couldn’t play in the same attacking midfield role in a 4-2-3-1 as he did when Higuain was in front of him. He was excellent at covering a lot of ground and linked well with Dybala. Ronaldo has never done that, meaning he couldn’t play in that free role he performed so well in, because Ronaldo was to have that role. Allegri seemed unsure with what to do with Dybala and it has now led to speculation on whether their superstar will remain at the club.

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After failing to win a domestic double and crashing out to a talented Ajax side, it has left Juventus with having arguably their worst season under Allegri. He was tactically beaten by Erik ten Hag and were the worst side in both legs. Their performances in the league weren’t good, with the effect of Ronaldo making them predictable and uninspiring in attack. He’s a player who you have to build your whole attack around if you wish to get the best out of him. Atalanta were taking more shots and Napoli were playing a better style of football. Juventus were playing football similar to the Milan clubs, who have been criticised all season for being lacklustre. The most troubling thing for Juventus is how xG shows just how poor they have been. According to xPTS (expected points), Juventus would have finished 4th, behind the clubs mentioned.  This Ronaldo move has ended in calamity, and it could be worse if their younger players are to leave.

With Allegri now gone, Juventus have turned their attention to Maurizio Sarri. The Italian has had a slow road to the top, not managing in Serie A until he was 55. He managed to save a good Empoli side, which earned him a move to Napoli in 2015. This was seen as a strange appointment at the time and after only gaining 2 points in his first 3 games, doubts were raised. Napoli legend Diego Maradona even stating they should have kept Benitez. However, these doubts were erased quickly. By November 2015, they were only 2 points from the top, with Higuain scoring 9 in 12.

Sarri transformed a defensive side under Benitez to one of the most attractive sides in the history of the game. He changed the defensive 4-2-3-1 to a free-flowing 4-3-3. He changed Jorginho from a rotation player to their most important midfielder. Allan arrived from Udinese to add a defensively solid player who could help transition the ball. Pepe Reina arrived from Bayern Munich. While past his prime, he offered experience and is a solid distributor. These signings helped turn Napoli into an aggressive, pressing side off the ball, and a patient, possession side when with the ball. They are a side gifted with technical players all over the pitch, allowing Napoli to make quick passes to expose the opposition defenders. Their full-backs offered great width, with Hysaj and Ghoulam comfortable attacking in the final third. Jorginho is a fantastic passer who helped the side keep the ball, while Hamsik and Allan were better in attack with the pair pushing forward to support the forwards. Lorenzo Insigne was by far the best player in the team. He was the player who could add that spark and brilliance in the final third. His teammates were always looking to get the ball to him. fully aware of how he could break through the tough defences in Serie A.

What made Sarri’s Napoli so impressive is how they improved every season. They achieved 82 points in their first season, 86 in their second and 91 in their final season. It was Sarri’s last season which saw Napoli at their best. While playing at a high level for 2 years, they took it to another level. Napoli went viral. Their goals beginning with defenders and finished with the precision of their forwards. They were gifted with players who could play in between the lines and expose those difficult sides, and overload the wide areas to find weaknesses. They were the side the whole of Europe were hoping and praying to take the Scudetto from the Old Lady, but failed thanks to falling off right at the end. While failing to win a trophy that season, it was a side made many fans remember how football could be played in Italy.

With Sarri’s contract expired, he moved to Chelsea. While bringing Jorginho with him to help implement his style with the hardest role to play, it didn’t turn out as successful as Chelsea would have hoped. While a 3rd place finish and a Europa League (the viral clip of Sarri admiring his medal was arguably one of the purest moments of football this year) does seem good on paper, many problems with his Chelsea side were identified.

The first being the midfield. The sight of Kovacic, Jorginho and Kante in midfield before the season began was terrifying for opponents, but as the season progressed, it didn’t have the same impact as Sarri’s midfield at Napoli. While Kante is a fantastic destroyer and a good passer, he isn’t nearly as good as Allan with his impact in the final third. Kante completed 0.9 dribbles per game, while Allan completed 2.1 per game during his final season for Sarri. Kante is one of the best midfielders in the Premier League, but he played in a role he has not quite adjusted to yet. Kovacic was another who didn’t offer enough. Hamsik was scoring goals from midfield, positioning himself outside of the box to give an option to the forwards and find space to take a shot from distance. He was taking 2.3 shots per game, while Kovacic was taking less than a shot per game. Kovacic is another great player, but he wasn’t accustomed to playing this role. He arguably would have suited playing in the role that Kante was occupying. The Croatian has great tackle numbers while being a great dribbler. Hamsik wasn’t afraid to take risks to push his side further up the pitch, while Kovacic just isn’t as good in attack as Sarri arguably wanted him to be. Finally, let’s talk about the player who has been criticised the most out of the trio. What I think about regarding the issues many have had with Jorginho is out of ignorance. When Rio Ferdinand blasted the Italian for not getting assists, it underlines an issue of expectation. Jorginho has never been a creator in the final third, with his highest return for Sarri previously being 4. His tackles and interceptions have stayed similar and his passing has been strong as ever. Kante cannot play at the base of the midfield because Jorginho isn’t as athletic as the Frenchman. Jorginho works at the base of the midfield because he is an intelligent player who can set the tempo of the attack. I’m not completely defensive of Jorginho, because he has been far from flawless. Teams have targetted him in big games and he hasn’t made it difficult for them. Jorginho is a player who is quite immobile. He has struggled to adjust to the speed of the Premier League and struggled through the tougher periods of the season.

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The attack has been a major issue for Sarri. It’s been very reminiscent of watching Manchester United under Louis Van Gaal. When approaching the final third, there was a lack of movement, making it difficult for his United side to score goals.  It’s similar to what is happening for Sarri. While Hazard has a similar skillset to Insigne and is a better player than him, the rest of the team doesn’t match the same quality that Napoli had. The midfielders do not contribute enough in the final third, the full backs don’t offer the same attacking prowess and defensive strength and the strikers do not possess the same intelligent movement as Mertens does.

To say that Sarri has had a problem with his forwards is an understatement. He began the season with Morata. While the Spaniard did link well with his teammates, he was frustrating in front of goal, scoring 5 in 16 appearances. Higuain came in as Sarri’s choice. The Argentine had his best season in club football under the Chelsea manager and it seemed like a safe choice, but Higuain has been getting worse since that record-breaking season. He had fitness concerns at Milan and his sharpness is not nearly as good as it once was. He’s been very disappointing for Chelsea, as expected. The work rate he was famed for is not nearly as good as it once was, and the team has generally looked worse since his arrival. While Morata wasn’t great in front of goal, he at least was a presence in the air and linked well with Hazard. Higuain’s poor form meant that Giroud was given a consistent run in the team. The World Cup winner is a selfless forward and brought back the best side of Hazard but is far from a long term solution.

Chelsea were fantastic for the first couple of months in the season, but teams began targetting Jorginho and effectively making them predictable and easy to defend. Their form plummeted during the winter and a 4-0 defeat to Bournemouth highlighted some of the problems with the side. Chelsea did improve as the season went along, with Hudson-Odoi and Loftus-Cheek playing a vital role for their club in the final stages of the season. Hudson-Odoi offered a more inventive and exciting forward on the right, while Loftus-Cheek finally added that goal threat from midfield that Chelsea were craving. Their injuries were massive losses for Sarri because those two players were a big reason why Chelsea seemed back on track at the end of the season.

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So what are Sarri’s strengths? He is capable of building a side that have an identity, a style of play which would be unique to the club and enable them to stand out. He is able to work with what he has, getting the best out of older players like David Luiz, Giroud, Raul Albiol and Pepe Reina. He will generally improve the attackers given to him and enable them to flourish in an attacking system. Sarri-ball is arguably the closest some teams will get to playing the football seen under Pep Guardiola, a style that every fan wants at their club.

Sarri generally has a lot of weaknesses. The first being his lack of squad rotation. Sarri doesn’t care what players, fans and owners want. If a player is good enough to him, he will start. His Napoli side, while fantastic, rarely ever gave the rotation players in his squad a chance. Highly rated players like Diawara, Zielinksi and Marco Rog only managed to start 19 games between them. It’s been one of his biggest issues at Chelsea. Fans were desperate to see Hudson-Odoi start consistently well before Sarri began doing it, but he didn’t deem him ready. If you want your younger players to come through and break into the first team, Sarri is one of the worst managers for doing that. He wants to find eleven players who can play a majority of the games, not wanting to change that. His desire to find a small group of players to rely on is seen by Gary Cahill’s dismay of Sarri. The former England international has been hugely frustrated in how he has been treated, but he isn’t good enough anymore and Sarri knows that. You could deem the Italian old fashioned, but it has worked in building a good side. Sarri also needs extremely technically gifted players for his system to work. His buildup player revolves around players knowing how to effectively distribute the ball under pressure, and quick passes and intelligent movement is vital in how Sarri wants his sides to play. These are problems that simply have to be resolved through the transfer market. Some players just cannot play the system Sarri desires.

Would Sarri be the right fit for Juventus? the short answer is no. While the squad does have players that Sarri would definitely like, with Sandro, Cancelo, Dybala and Cuadrado all being players the Chelsea manager would favour, however, the signing of Ronaldo has made this move impossible. Ronaldo will not press from the front or offer enough off the ball to fit what Sarri would want to do. Juventus have spent a lot of money on the forward and cannot afford to have him placed on the bench. What Juventus need is a short term solution in someone similar to Allegri, to allow them to begin turning over the older players in the side. Sarri’s system takes at least 2 years to fully implement, depending on the personnel at his disposal. Sarri would be a better fit once the older players in the side are moved on. If Juventus never signed Ronaldo, this move would make much more sense.

 

PLAYER ANALYSIS: Marcus Thuram and Safe Risks for Big Clubs

One matter regarding the big clubs in Europe that can be frustrating is the lack of risks some of them rarely ever take. When there are so many young talents performing well and available for a cut-price, they are rarely ever taken by the bigger clubs. It’s why the rumours of United chasing Daniel James and Tottenham looking at Jack Clarke were so interesting. These are players available for less than £20 million, with little risk, yet are never signed. If they work out, you have at least a squad player, with potential to grow and if it fails, they can be sold without drastic loss. Juventus are a club who have understood the benefits of doing this. Players in the mould of Zaza, Stuararo and Caldara. Domestic talents they can sign and profit from. It’s one factor to how the club has consistently been able to afford some of the top talents in Europe. It was one of my many criticisms of PSG after their humiliating defeat to Manchester United. While Ligue 1 constantly earns critique for its lack of talent compared to the other top five leagues, I will still stand by the statement that there is an interesting talent in every team in the league. To prove this point, let’s look at a player who plays for the worst team in Ligue 1, yet is still attracting interest from across Europe.

Guingamp, like many sides at the bottom of the table, were the furthest from inspiring. They only managed to score 28 goals and conceded 68, the worst in the league in both departments. It makes the idea of any player standing out quite difficult to believe, but Marcus Thuram has done that. Famously the son of World Cup winning defender Lillian Thuram, Marcus ended the season with 9 goals and an assist, meaning he contributed to more than a third of Guingamp’s goals.

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The young Frenchman, like his father, is a real physical presence. He matches centre backs, like Jan Vertonghen and Harry Maguire in strength and it works well alongside his pace. Many full-backs have struggled to deal with Thuram this season. He is hard to dispossess because players cannot simply push him off the ball. He is given an advantage over many other wingers. His size has given him the edge in the air. The winger has been winning 3.5 aerial duels per game, the third-highest in the squad. He has been a focal point for Guingamp in attack. The goalkeeper Caillard (or Johnsson) will constantly use Thuram to quickly transition the ball from defence to attack. Since he is matched up against full backs, it makes it easier for him to win the ball. Against Lyon and Marseille, he was using this aerial dominance to cause their right backs trouble throughout the game. In their 4-0 defeat to Marseille, he won a ridiculous 8 aerial duels, the most on the pitch.

In this same game, he also completed 9 dribbles. It’s surprising just how good he is at dribbling. It’s usually the smaller players who excel in this area, thanks to their low centre of gravity, but Thuram stands out. He’s good technically, can quickly evade pressure when opponent attempt to retrieve the ball and most importantly, his size and power make it so difficult for players to even get near him. Thuram usually likes to receive in the wide areas, drive with the ball and looking for space to shoot in the box. The Frenchman can have a serious case of tunnel vision. When receiving the ball, his first thought is always to go straight on the front foot (as cliche as it is) and try and help his team score.

One of the most encouraging signs of Thuram is his performances in the bigger games. Some of his best performances this season have come against the top sides in the league. While all of your displays should never be judged based on a small number of games, it’s promising for any top side who would consider signing him (we’ll get to that) to know he can play well against better opposition. He scored a brace against Lyon, put away the winning penalty against PSG in the Coupe de France and scored against 4th place St Etienne on the opening day of the season. While young, he has shown how he can perform on the big stages.

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Playing for a poor side, especially a side who mostly play without the ball means as a forward you will be tracking back. Thuram does this constantly. He isn’t afraid to do the hard yards for his side. With the added benefit of having a player so physically gifted, it makes it a role he is ideal to play. The 21-year-old has been putting in 1.4 tackles per game, a high amount for a forward. It’s a promising sign for clubs to see. A lot of coaches want their players to defend in all areas and Thuram is comfortable doing this.

While I’ve complimented his physicality and his dribbling, it’s his shot locations that are most impressive. Thuram is taking 1.9 shots per game, with 1.6 coming into the penalty area. I’ve criticised plenty of players in the past for poor shot locations. Ziyech, Maddison and Milinkovic-Savic have all been frustrating for how often they’ll take shots from bad areas. Thuram isn’t as wasteful as his peers. It could be an effect of playing for a side who need to take their chances if they want any chance of survival, but he’s showing a lot of maturity at his age. Being such a good dribbler, it makes it easy for him to find space in the box to take those shots. The last trait a bigger club wants to see is a player give the ball away needlessly.

With taking all of his strengths to account, being his size, speed, dribbling, work rate and shot location, which side should sign him? The first club that comes to mind is Arsenal. The Gunners have a lack of pace and adequate dribblers in the wide areas, with Iwobi being the only natural winger I’d consider them to have. They are in desperate need of reinforcements in that area of the pitch. We’ve discussed Ryan Fraser in the past, and came to the conclusion he is not the player Arsenal should be looking at. Thuram definitely fits the type of player they’re looking for. Guingamp have stated they’re asking for roughly €20 million for their prospect. With Arsenal lacking funds, it could be one of their best options in the market for them. He improves that squad. While they’re questions on whether he would start, he is a great option to have in the team. He is a must signing for the red side of North London this summer.

 

PLAYER ANALYSIS: Romelu Lukaku and Overperforming Expected Goals

Stats have always had an involvement in football. Many like to believe that the use of statistics in football has only been relevant since Opta began using them back in 2003. The beginning of statistics can be traced back to after the Second World War, with Charles Reep attempting to prove how the W-M formation should be played, by highlighting how many goals and attacks were scored by 3 passes or less (he’s also seen as the founder of long ball football). It has gained mainstream recognition in the current decade. Shot locations were highlighted, passes in the final third, saves per goal, chance creation. These are some of the stats that have been seen as very useful for proving the strengths or weaknesses of certain players. One statistic that has been revolutionary in the past couple of years has been expected goals. It is a metric that can determine the strength of the chances being created. It can help highlight how well players are doing in front of goal. When you watch a game of football, it can be clear which side deserved to win. Expected goals gives a number to that, making it simpler to understand how some games were played in case you didn’t have the time to view it. While many have some serious dislike towards expected goals, I don’t think it is as impactful as many want to believe, simply a tool to help analyse football even further.

One use of the tool is to analyse strikers, especially their finishing. When a striker underperforms his expected goals, it shows how he is missing chances that he should be scoring. However, if they are overperforming expected goals, it shows how a player is scoring chances that many other players couldn’t, proving they’re elite finishers. We’ve seen this in the past with Harry Kane. He is arguably the best striker on Europe, and consistently overperforms expected goals. Last season, he finished the campaign with 30 goals, but xG predicted he should have scored 26. It just further highlights how good of a finisher he is. Another player who has shown himself to be an elite finisher is Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian forward has been one of the most consistent strikers in the Premier League, never failing to score less than 10 goals a season, since his loan move to West Brom. While he did perform very well under Roberto Martinez, it was his final season for Toffees that showed why clubs were ready to spend huge amounts of money on the forward. He scored 25 goals under Ronald Koeman, but xG showed he should have scored 16. He was scoring chances from very difficult areas. Many of his goals that season were headers too. Headers are always less likely to go in compared to a shot from a stronger foot. Lukaku had a fantastic season, which persuaded Manchester United to spend £75 million on him. However, it is already well documented that Lukaku hasn’t been at his best for the Red Devils. Let’s look at what’s went wrong for him.

Lukaku had a solid debut season. He scored 16 goals in the league and was one of the better performers in a United side that was inconsistent, to say the least. His build-up play was showing improvements and began looking like more than the strong poacher we all knew him to be. The issue he had under Mourinho especially was he wasn’t being played to his strengths. Mourinho has had a history of preferring strikers who are able to hold the ball up effectively and bring others into play. While Lukaku does have the strength and size to match up with some of Mourinho’s most effective forwards, he has never had the technical ability to do so. He is at his best when balls are played through to him, instead of to his feet. He has always used his physical dominance when chasing balls to push opposition players away. He has always been a lethal finisher, with physical traits that gave him an advantage over other poachers in the game. He was being called Chicarito with a gym membership last season, and it can be hard to argue that to an extent. Poachers are something we do not see much of anymore. Managers want strikers who are able to do so much more than score goals. It’s why players like Giroud, Benzema, Costa and Griezmann have earned so many plaudits in recent years.

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While Lukaku’s buildup player will be a criticism for the rest of his career, the most worrying part of his game at the moment is how he is doing in front of goal. United have had a massive creativity issue for years now, with fullbacks being relied on for chance creation, fullbacks like Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia, players who haven’t been good creators for the last 5 years. it means Lukaku is feeding off scraps to an extent, but the player does deserve some criticism. He has been criticised for not asking questions of opposition defenders and it’s easy to see why. So often in games, Lukaku will drop deep to receive the ball, taking the easy option instead of making threatening runs beyond defenders. It’s why Rashford has been such a breath of fresh air whenever he plays. He is a player with pace and stamina to burn and is constantly making runs into the channels, trying to make defenders uncomfortable. Lukaku isn’t doing the same, and United are losing that bite in the final third, whenever Lukaku starts on his own. There is still some sympathy to be had for the player. After a long season for United, which saw him barely be rested by Mourinho, he then went to the World Cup and played nearly every game for Belgium. Like Kane, he showed a lack of sharpness for the first few months of the season. He was rushed back thanks to Mourinho constantly complaining about his issues with the squad. What Lukaku needs at the moment is a serious break, to recover and come back to his best.

Solskjaer has rumoured to be selling some high-value players in the squad, with Lukaku being among them. Inter Milan are the club with massive interest in the striker, with Antonio Conte wanting the striker while he was at Everton. Do I think he would succeed in Italy? He would fare much better over there than he would at United. Serie A isn’t nearly as demanding as the Premier League, which would put less pressure on elements like pressing and buildup play. Inter have been playing to Icardi’s strengths for years, so it wouldn’t be much of a change in having a similar player. His shot numbers and key passes have been declining since his time in Manchester. A change of scene might be exactly what Lukaku needs. He is still one of the best finishers in Europe but needs a side who is willing to play to his strengths.

PLAYER ANALYSIS: Jean-Philippe Mateta and Harry Kane’s Backup

Since his title of one season wonder was successfully shaken off thanks to back to back golden boot winning seasons, there has been much discussion on Tottenham finding a player who could fill in for Harry Kane, in case of injury or England’s talisman needing a rest for a big midweek game. While I’ve never seen this as much of a priority as needing midfielders, it has increasingly become an area of concern. Kane has suffered from minor injuries for years, but an ankle injury sustained in a game against Stoke back in February 2018 has left Tottenham with a problem. Kane has always had this habit of coming back from injuries earlier than expected, but this time was different. He arrived back from injury weeks earlier and didn’t look the same. He looked slower and his shot numbers dropped from 5 down to roughly 3.5. It was clear that Kane needed a rest, but unfortunately, it was a World Cup year, and Kane was needed for his country. After playing nearly every game, he returned to Tottenham looking exhausted. His lack of sharpness continued into the season, and while he was scoring goals, he wasn’t looking nearly as impressive as he has been in previous years. After suffering another ankle injury in their 1-0 win over Manchester City, it seems the search for the Harry Kane understudy is underway.

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This isn’t a new experience for Spurs. In 2016, they signed Vincent Janssen for £22 million. It was seen as a smart investment, with the Dutchman scoring 27 goals and putting up very high shot numbers. However, the cliche of the risk involved in signing players from the Eredivisie continued, with Janssen looking short of confidence throughout the season. After a failed loan spell at Fenerbahce, he returned to Tottenham, where he has since remained and only played 36 minutes of Premier League football this season. Llorente was the next player to fill in for Kane. The Spaniard was the complete opposite in approach compared to Janssen. Llorente had played for Bilbao, Juventus, Sevilla and Swansea. It was in Wales which persuaded Tottenham to take a punt on the striker, who scored 15 goals in his only season for the Swans. He was a short term solution that could fill in for Kane when needed and have an impact off the bench. This has not worked. He has only managed a single goal in the Premier League and has shown his age, with his lack of mobility highlighting how inferior he is to Kane. In search of a new forward, multiple strikers have been linked, with Callum Wilson, Moussa Dembele, Jarrod Bowen and Maxi Gomez all being linked to the Champions League finalists. However, the player I am recommending is not any of the players mentioned, and will hopefully enable Kane to receive the rest he deserves.

The player I’m referring to is French striker Jean-Philippe Mateta. He has had a very good season for Mainz, scoring 14 goals in 34 appearances. He is one of many forwards to have a breakout season. With the talk all surrounding Jovic, Lukebakio, Belfodil and Joelinton, Mateta has gone under the radar. The 21-year-old has had a difficult journey to the top. Growing up just outside of the French capital, Mateta was playing more unfashionable clubs, like FC Sevran and FA Drancy. Unlike many of the top French talents today, he was never picked up by one of the top clubs at youth level and was playing in the third division of French football as recently as 2016. After a season which saw him score 13 in 26, Lyon signed the young striker. He failed to make an impact during his first year at the club and dropped to a tier below, playing for Le Havre, a club famous for promoting young talent like Paul Pogba. Mateta scored 17 in 35, which then persuaded Mainz to sign him for a small fee of €8 million.

Mainz have had a huge issue in regards to scoring goals. Before Mateta’s arrival, no player had scored over 10 goals since Yunus Malli scored 11 in the 2015/16 season. Last season, they were one of six sides to score fewer than 40 goals in the league, an achievement that highlighted the need for goals in the side. Mateta gave just what they needed. When you hear Mateta is a 6.3ft striker who even compares himself to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, it paints a picture of a forward who must be fantastic at holding the ball and is able to bring others into play effectively, but that isn’t the case. I’m unsure why he compares himself to the huge Swede because he is actually quite different. Mateta is much faster than you expect a player of his size and figure to be. He is very quick on his feet, constantly looking to make threatening runs in behind the opposition defenders. He is agile, being able to quickly turn and beat defenders with ease when receiving the ball. Mateta rarely ever drops deep. The Frenchman only averages 13 passes a game for Mainz. It makes the Zlatan comparison even stranger. Mateta’s only focus is on scoring goals and is very good at taking shots in good locations. Out of the 3.4 shots he takes per 90, 2.5 are coming from inside the penalty area. This is very impressive for a side that is starved of creativity. He is making the most out of the chances he is getting, and it is why I’ve found him so impressive this season. He is one of very few players who managed to match what their xG predicted and had a better expected-goals than Yussuf Poulsen and Kai Havertz, players who managed more league goals than him. It shows how good of a finisher he is, and while his xGP90 could be higher, he is the focal point for this side and seems to relish in the responsibility. His desire to chase every chance coming his way is admirable. He has been one of the best players in the league at finding space in the box and is arguably his best quality.

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While his goalscoring is solid, there are still areas that could be improved. His build-up play could do with a lot of work. While he is faster than Zlatan, The LA Galaxy striker has always been fantastic at using his technical ability and strength to help bring others into play. Mateta is currently not at that level yet. While he is a good dribbler, he can be dispossessed relatively easily when holding the ball, in hope of his teammates joining him in attack. If he could strengthen in that area, it could make him a much more well-rounded player.

So is Mateta the perfect player to help keep Kane playing at his best? I think he is one of the best who would be available. While Llorente has largely been a failure, he still offers something different to Kane. Mateta can do the same, but add that sharpness, speed and agility that Llorente never possessed during his time for Spurs. The only issue in this move would be Mateta himself, and if he would be comfortable playing fewer games, after finally playing over 30 games in a top league. It would be the player’s decision, but it would allow him to learn from one of the best coaches in the game, while also playing for a side competing for trophies. If Pochettino would be comfortable in resting Kane for more games than he usually does, it would keep Kane at his best, while ensuring he finally gets the right amount of rest he deserves. His injuries are only getting worse, and it’s time for Tottenham to start looking at a player who can succeed in that number nine position.

 

 

PLAYER ANALYSIS: Tanguay Ndombele and the Mousa Dembele Effect

The evolution of the defensive midfielder is a fascinating one. From the physical destroyers in Keane and Gattuso to intelligent readers of the game in Alonso and Busquets. The next step in this evolution was Belgian midfielder Mousa Dembele. He arrived in the Premier League as an attacking midfielder for Fulham. After a relatively successful spell for the Cottages, he arrived in North London, signing for Tottenham. While he was good under AVB, it was the arrival of Mauricio Pochettino that transformed him. He decided to move Dembele deeper, using his superior dribbling to help transition the ball from defence. This truly changed what a defensive midfielder could do. Since his fantastic 2015/16 season, we’ve seen the emergence of players with a similar skillset to Dembele, with Kondogbia, Sangare, Kovacic and Allan. These players who combine elite dribbling with solid defensive output have made them a player in high demand. Clubs are ready to spend a lot of money on players with these skillsets.

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Dembele’s importance to that Tottenham side can be seen how much they’ve struggled in midfield this season. After Dembele’s defensive work slowing down each season, it was an area where they needed to strengthen in the summer. However, as it’s well documented, they didn’t sign any players. While Dembele has shown his age, no one expected such a huge drop-off. He looked a shadow of the player he once was, and his usefulness to Pochettino was dwindling. Some midfielders will reach this drop-off, especially those focused on their hard work, energy and defensive output. It left Tottenham in a real conundrum. They were lacking any midfielder who could effectively transition the ball from defence into attack. The solution they found just continues to highlight the genius of the Spurs manager, being able to get every last drop of quality out of both Winks and Sissoko, forming a midfield partnership that would solve the issue on the short term. It has given them a huge problem in attack, however. Without Dembele’s elite dribbling, it has forced Alli and Eriksen to come deeper to receive the ball, which has weakened their output and has put more pressure on them defensively. Pochettino has opted to place either Alli or Eriksen in central midfield, with his options that low. It has highlighted their midfield as the area that is in desperate need of improvement.

This is where Tanguay NDombele fits in. The Frenchman was one of the breakout stars of the 2017/18 season, establishing himself as one of the brightest midfield prospects in Europe. In a young and exciting Lyon side, Ndombele has been given the platform to flourish. His signing deserves a lot of credit from whoever handles Lyon’s transfers. In a summer which saw them lose both Tolisso and Lacazette for nearly a combined £90 million, it left a challenge for the club. They acted smartly in bringing in Mariano for less than £10 million, and NDombele on loan. It’s what makes NDombele’s arrival so strange. He arrived on loan and was signed for £7.2 million before the 2018/19 season, a true bargain in today’s market. Nothing was well known of him at the time and only made 3 starts for Amiens before leaving for Lyon. The club has been known for finding players in obscurity before. They’ve taken risks on older players like Marcelo and Jallet, while also ready give the younger players a chance. During the 2017/18 season, Genesio was starting Tousart, Aouar and NDombele in a midfield three. All were young and excelled in their bid to secure Champions League football. NDombele was the stand out of the trio. His maturity and strength showed him to be above his peers in terms of importance for the side. He was essential in giving the side defensive stability, while also using his incredible ball retention skills to help push Lyon further up the pitch. Lyon is a side full of great dribblers. Aouar, Fekir, Depay, Traore and Mendy are all excellent in moving the ball into the final third, but NDombele stands out. He’s been averaging over 70% success rate for dribbling, a high figure for a player who usually receives the ball in crowded areas. It’s actually one of his most impressive qualities. No matter how many players attempt to stay tight to him, he will always find a way to avert pressure. During their impressive 2-1 win over champions Paris Saint-Germain, NDombele had one of his best games. He would constantly find space to receive the ball and would drop deep to drag the opposing players in areas they did not want to go. He completed 3 dribbles, made 58 passes, the highest in the side, put in 3 tackles and completed 4 long balls. A well-rounded performance that helped show his best qualities. There is no player in Europe with such a similar skillset to Mousa Dembele. Good defensive numbers, a solid passer, a fantastic dribbler and a player who is press resistant make NDombele a player who is sought after.

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Can Tottenham sign the highly rated Frenchman? It is a possibility. If they are finally ready to spend money and show the rest of the league that they are ready to challenge both Tottenham and Liverpool, they have to. Ndombele was heavily linked to PSG, Barcelona and Manchester City for months. However, with Barcelona signing Frenkie De Jong, Manchester City looking at Rodri from Atletico Madrid and PSG focusing their attention on Allan, it has left Tottenham with a chance to sign him. It does beg the question of if they can afford him. He’s been rumoured to cost over £65 million. While that would be a fee that Tottenham could pay, the issue is there are other areas of that squad that need attention. If Trippier departs for Napoli, they will need another right back. If Alderweireld does decide to leave, as well as Eriksen, Rose, Lamela and Llorente, it leaves a lot of players that need replacing. While signing NDombele is possible, signing him while also needing to find replacements for all the players listed (as well as a goalkeeper with Lloris showing his age). When I spoke about the midfielders that Tottenham need to sign, I didn’t mention NDombele because I thought the idea of signing him was extremely unlikely. Spurs have a gift of having a manager who is able to get the best out of the talent at his disposal. The club might decide to look at players more in line of Billing, Grillitch, Anguissa and Lemina. Players who won’t cost an extraordinary amount while still improving the squad. If Tottenham do want to be taken seriously, it’s time to start buying the best players around, to show the ambition they claim to have.

 

PLAYER ANALYSIS: Kieran Trippier and Brits Abroad

With the Premier League becoming the most popular and money driven league in the world, it’s an attractive prospect for both player and manager, with the league becoming the most desirable item for broadcast companies. It’s helped attract elite coaches like Sarri, Pep and Klopp, which in turn became a reason for some of the best talents to join the league. With the increase in money and popularity, it did leave one massive issue that not many other leagues experienced, the lack of British players moving abroad. Thanks to no other league being able to offer the same high wages as Premier League clubs could offer, they had no real insentive to move. Thanks to the elite coaches in the league, the players didn’t have a football related reason to leave. While it could be a sign of laziness, why leave your country to be paid less in different and unfamiliar environment. While we have seen a rise in young British players moving to the other top 5 leagues for the purpose of game time (Sancho, Oxford, Nelson and Aina to name a few), many English players in their prime do not leave the Premier League.

It’s what makes the idea of Kieran Trippier moving to Ancelotti’s Napoli an interesting idea. Since Sarri departed the club to join Chelsea, bringing Jorginho with him, the former Bayern Munich and Real Madrid manager has tried to stamp his own identity onto the side. He has made them less of a team reliant on build up through long stretches of possession, into a side which is slightly more direct. While they haven’t been as good as they were under Sarri, they’ve been able to keep their place in the top four. Ancelotti has been able to get the best out of some of the talent his disposal, with Milik, Malcuit and Ruiz having great seasons for the Gli Azzurri. The issue they currently face is moving on some of their older stars. While Serie A does have a well known reputation for hosting many players in their twilight years, but there does come a point where some of these stars have to be replaced. Mertens, Albiol and Callejon have been vital to the side over the past couple of years. While they have young players, they do have some important business to make if they want to remain competitive.

Trippier could be a very useful addition for Napoli. The former Burnley defender has gained a reputation for being one of the best creators in the league. He became a well known player after his stand out performances at the World Cup. While I did put Sime Vrsaljko as the best right back in Russia, Trippier wasn’t far behind. He flourished playing as a wing back for Gareth Southgate, and was vital for England on the attacking side. He has continued this incredible attacking output this season. He’s averaging 1.8 key passes per game, the second highest in the Tottenham squad, and has been averaging 2 crosses per game, the joint second highest in the Premier League, and the same amount as Trent Alexander-Arnold. He has consistenly improved every season, from being Kyle Walker’s understudy, to being a player heavily relied on by Pochettino. During Spurs’s incredible comeback against Ajax, Trippier was vital. He was adding the width and creativity that they needed to beat a very good side. His threatening ball to Llorente was important in the second goal. He is arguably the best creative full back in the league, and continues to give his side an option down that right side.

So what are his drawbacks? While he is great at going forward, it’s the defensive side that leaves a lot to be desired. Walker had these same problems, but he had least had the pace and strength to recover for when an opponent found space past him. Trippier doesn’t have the same luxary. If he is caught out in possession, he is unable to catch players like a Sadio Mane or Leroy Sane. It’s one reason why Tottenham went behind in the first half in Amsterdam. Ajax were constantly attacking down his side, knowing how they can overload that area and expose his weaknesses. These issues can be fixed when Tottenham deploy a back three, so there isn’t as much space left when he goes forward. It’s why he was so good in the World Cup. England were playing athletic defenders in Walker, Stones and Maguire, to cover the wide areas while the wing backs could push forward. He doesn’t have that same advantage when playing for a Tottenham side struggling with injuries all over the field. Trippier’s strengths are as a wide creator, and will fail if asked to cover the areas you expect more athletic defenders to be able to cover.

So where would he fit into this Napoli side? While saying at right back would be a simple observation, he would actually be much better as a right midfielder, taking over from Jose Callejon. While Callejon has been very good since signing from Real Madrid, he is a player who is going to struggle as his pace begins to drop. Trippier could help give width for a side without consistent wide talent. When playing further up the pitch, he wouldn’t be exposed as easily as he does in a back four. He would also had a better defensive presence to the side. While Callejon works well in a 4-3-3, playing further back means more defensive work is required, since the midfielders aren’t able to cover as much ground. Trippier could be a great option for Napoli in the wide areas, adding the same creativity while also adding something different.

If this move does end up going through, he will be the first notable English player to move abroad since Joe Hart. With younger players already seeing the benefits of playing in other leagues, maybe it’s time for the more experiences players to test themselves in a different environment, in a side that eager to challenge for a title.

PLAYER ANALYSIS: Ryan Fraser and Improving Arsenal

While many like to look at Robin Van Persie, Cesc Fabregas or Nasri as some of Arsenal’s sales that have left a whole in the squad, Santi Cazorla is a hole they seemingly cannot replace. The Spaniard had one of the best debut seasons in the past decade, reaching double figures for both goals and assists. As Arsenal added expensive signings like Ozil, Sanchez and Xhaka, Cazorla remained to be their most important player. After the Arsenal medical staff failing to foresee the long term ankle injury (an injury that was noticed but not resolved until it was fatal), it left Cazorla in a terrible position, as well as Arsenal. While a midfield of Coquelin and Cazorla isn’t perfect, they balanced out each other and allowed them both to play to their strengths. Cazorla helped take pressure away from Ozil in the creativity department. In the 2015/16 season, Ozil was the best creator in Europe, making 4.2 key passes per game. The German was the only player who created more chances than Cazorla’s 2.5 key passes per game. It made Arsenal less predictable, ensuring that there was always one technically superb player on the pitch to assist the forwards. Cazorla was also influencial in transition, completing 2.5 dribbles per game. The Spaniard was arguably their best player during Wenger’s final years in charge.

So what does Cazorla have to do with a Scotsman who was sent out on loan to Ispwich while Arsenal were challenging for a title? Well with Arsenal in desperate need for creativity, thanks to Ozil seemingly falling out with Emery, it seems the Gunners will turn to Bournemouth winger Ryan Fraser as the saviour. He could help give Arsenal extra creativity from the wide areas, so let’s find out if he is the man to help Arsenal challenge for top four.

Since breaking into Bournemouth’s first team back in the 2013/14 season, Fraser has found it difficult to find a place in the starting XI. While he did start 23 games in his first season in the Premier League, he was in a very poor Bournemouth side. However thanks to Eddie Howe building a much better attack, it gave all of his forwards a spark, and Fraser was by far the one who benefitted the most from the change. While Wilson finally seemed to be scoring the amount of goals we’ve all been waiting for him to reach, Fraser turned into one of the best creators in the league. The former Aberdeen winger formed a deadly partnership with Wilson, with the pair nearly breaking Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton’s record for most goal combinations between two players with 12. It highlights where Fraser strength has been in the final third. He is one of the best players in the league for making that final pass. It’s where he has become so vital for Bournemouth. His eye for an assist has turned him into the most important player for the Cherries. Fraser is the player the rest of the team look for. He is technically gifted and his passing is spectacular. his 2.4 key passes per game rank 4th in the league, with the likes of Maddison and Hazard ahead of him. His crossing is also an area to be admired. The Scottsman completes 2 crosses a game, the 2nd highest in the league. He is his side’s chief playmaker, and seems to embrace the responsibility entrusted in him by his manager.

So is there anything wrong with Fraser? There is actually a few things to note, starting with his dribbling. He isn’t exactly a good dribbler.  Fraser is completing less than a dribble a game. While Bournemouth rank 14th for dribbles per game, it’s an area of concern. The reason why Cazorla was spoken about so highly is because he is still a player they need to replace. His combination of high chance creation and expert transitional play made him an almost perfect Wenger player. If Fraser will be able to replicate Cazorla’s creativity, there is still a hole to be filled. This isn’t to complete diminish Fraser’s strengths. In fact, his lack of dribbling does highlight one of his better qualities. His ability to get into positions where he is able to cross for his team is what has made him such a threat for Bournemouth. He doesn’t have to dribble because there is no one to beat. It’s a concern for if he signs for Arsenal because it’s hard to know if he would be able to adapt in a way to suit what Emery might want. Arsenal have let Walcott, Sanchez, Cazorla and Oxlade-Chamberlein go and haven’t replaced them in what they added to the team, being the ability to beat players an add that element of unpredictability, something Fraser might not be able to add.

I like Fraser a lot, and would suit a side like Southampton, one which is starved of creativity, but are full of players who are excellent dribblers. These are more of the players that Arsenal should be looking for. Players who amase high dribble numbers. While players like Januzaj, Thuram or Sarr might not offer the same amount of assists as Fraser, they will make Arsenal a much better side.

PLAYER ANALYSIS: Daniel James and Improving Manchester United

Manchester United’s defence is always an area of discussion when it comes to improving the team, but the wide areas are definitely an area that has needed improving since Sir Alex Ferguson departed the club. While United have players like Martial, Rashford, Lingard and Mata, who can all play there, it isn’t their favoured position. They actually haven’t had a natural winger since Januzaj and Depay left the club. It has meant that United have been largely too predictable. Many of United’s best players are left sided, meaning if a team can just overload that area of the pitch, it massively limited United’s creativity. While a large 43% of United’s attacks go down the left side, they only attack the right side of the pitch 31% of the time, the lowest in the league. It’s understandable why United are like this. Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard, the two players who usually play there, like to come inside, meaning Ashley Young is usually the only option on that side of the pitch. Young is simply not good and shouldn’t be relied on to this extent, and it’s a side of the pitch that needs better options. If recent reports are to be believed, United are in talks with Swansea City to sign 21 year old Daniel James for £15 million. Is he the player to solve this problem?

James has more of an involvement this season than anyone really expected. After an unsuccessful season loan at Shrewbury Town, and later deciding not to go on loan to league 2 side Yeovil Town, the Welshman remained at Swansea to fight for his place, and it’s safe to say he has made an impression. He originally caught the eyes of football fans for his incredible solo goal against Brentford in this year’s FA Cup, which saw him single-handedly run 80 yards, through 3 players and score a great solo goal. He also scored in Wales’s first game for the Euro 2020 qualifiers, dispossessing one of their defenders, thanks to his blistering pace, and putting the ball away to win the game for Wales. It is by far his strongest attribute. While it is quite straight forward, having such speed gives you a natural advantage over defenders. His pace is a factor helps with other parts of his game, one being his ability to press. It’s why Leeds were desperate to sign him. He constantly keeps pressure on opponents and can the speed to be able to cover a lot of ground for his side. His versatility also deserves praise. Graham Potter likes his players to be able to play in numerous positions, to help tactical flexibility and formation changes. James has been stand out in this regard. He’s played both as a left winger and on the right side, while also playing as a number 10 and as a striker. Potter has used him in very inventive ways, and has brought out unique qualities in him. When looking at his numbers, we will only be looking at his performances only as a left winger. This is because it’s the position where he has seen the most minutes, so there is more to look at. He has been taking 2.9 shots a game, with 2.1 shots coming from inside the box. James is showing himself to be an intelligent player, taking shots in very good positions. He’s been making 1.3 key passes a game, with all coming from a short range. One of the only areas of improvement for the 21 year old would be his dribbling. While completing 1.3 dribbles is pretty good for a player who isn’t involved heavily in transition, he is only completing half of his attempted dribbles. He should be aiming for at least completing 60% of his dribbles, but it isn’t a huge area of concern at the moment. One of the best parts of James’s game is his ability on the counter attack. The Welshman is so fast that he has more control over counter attacks than any other player. He is the player who his teammate’s first want to pick out. His viral goal against Brentford shows this. When he receives the ball in his own half, he first hits it forward to chase onto it, knowing he can outrun anyone he is up against. He beat 3 defenders to score a brilliant individual goal. It was by far his highlight of the season. Many will look at James and see a player who has only managed 4 goals and 7 assists in the league. While that is a relatively small number for a player who is being linked to a top 6 club, his numbers show a player who if given more time on the pitch, could add more goal contributions.

The stats are showing a player who is putting in the shots and creating the chances that you see from elite players. Even comparing his stats to other players in the United squad, he would rank 2nd for shots per 90, with only Pogba being ahead of him. James is far from a finished article, but his ability to press, his versatility and his pure electric pace, especially on counter attacks, gives United additional options in an area they are in desperate need of fixing.

PLAYER ANALYSIS: Marcus Rashford and Fulfilling Potential

There’s always been a question on when do players hit their peak, but the problem is it’s a question with not a single answer. Certain players hit their peak at an extremely young age, similar to how Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney are seen as players who never aged as well as many wished, but in reality were at their best in their early twenties. It can work the other way too, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic not showing his best until he was in his thirties. It’s not to say these players didn’t play a role before or after their best years, but they will be remembered for the days where they were unbeatable on the pitch.

In discussion of players hitting their peak, Marcus Rashford is the player who we will be looking at today. The Englishman has been a key member of United’s squad since his breakthrough back in 2016. In a season that consisted of a lack of goals, Rashford coming into the scoring with nearly every shot he was taking was just perfect to see, even if it was not sustainable. His time under Mourinho can be difficult to describe. Some of his strengths truly started to blossom. He showed himself to be a very versatile forward, being able to put in good performances playing on either wing or as a central striker. His strength and power were improving every week, and add that to player who already had pace to burn, it built a recipe for a player with the physique to succeed at the top. While his new found versatility was a good asset, it was seen as block to halt his progression. Mourinho’s lack of trust in Rashford to lead the line for his side meant his chances to play as the number 9 were very limited. He couldn’t learn how to play in his preferred position because he wasn’t as big as Zlatan and Lukaku. It meant that when he was one on one with the goalkeeper, multiple times he would make the wrong decision. The moment that springs to mind would be United’s 2-2 draw to Leicester in the 2017/18 season. It was Rashford up against Schmeichel, and seemed to not know what he wanted to do, and he ended up wasting a chance, taking too long to make a decision. When Mourinho’s United collapsed as expected, Rashford was one of the few players to keep any semblance of a good name, and he continued and even improved on that when Solskjaer arrived. Rashford finally started to fulfill that potential. In the first couple of months of Ole’s reign, Rashford seemed to go out on that pitch with a point to prove. The forward went out on that pitch with a point to prove, to show that he is ready to become the first choice. Rashford’s shot numbers finally started reaching elite levels, with the FA Cup winner hitting 5 shots in many games. His shot locations could definitely improve, but it’s showing a desire to score that he seemed to not have. He was the first player to truly get what Solskjaer was trying to implement, and showed the rest of the league what this United team could be. He combined that excellent finishing from his time under Louis Van Gaal, with the added physique from his time under Mourinho, to make a striker who finally showed just why his old Dutch manager put him in the first team. He’s now taking 3.1 shots per 90 (it would be much if his time under Mourinho was discounted) and is also creating 1.3 chances per 90. Rashford is on a respectable 10 goals in the league, but would be higher if he positive runs were rewarded. Rashford is great at finding space to exploit, and his first thought is always to attack.

However his good form was put to a halt thanks to an ankle injury against Manchester United’s biggest rivals, Liverpool. The forward hasn’t looked the same since, with that risk and energy not being an ever present. Even when looking at United’s historic comeback against PSG, Rashford had a bad game. While he did score the winning penalty, it was clear that he was still struggling with that injury, and it meant that United did miss some great chances to seal the game early. His decision making is still a bit of a concern. While he is fantastic at getting into goal scoring positions, he will occasionally make the incorrect decision. In the first couple of minutes at the Nou Camp, Rashford had a chance to put United back in the game, yet decided to try and lob the keeper, ending with the ball going over the crossbar. It’s very clear where he needs to improve, but those are elements he can improve on over time. Rashford has the blueprint to succeed at the top level, and for now he needs that brake over the summer, to get back to full fitness and show the world next season why Solskjaer trusted him so much at the beginning of his reign.

PLAYER ANALYSIS: David Brooks and How Young Players Should Develop

When a young player reaches a certain age and is yet to establish themselves in the first team, a loan move away is usually the best move. It allows them to be given a higher of getting game time, while also learning from others players and coaches. What’s become more popular in recent years in big clubs buying these young players, in a hope to secure a potential talent for a low price. Jadon Sancho is the most recent example of this, with Michael Keane and Serge Gnabry also fitting into this category. The only thing a young player should worry about about is playing football, and if another club promises that, they can never be blamed for saying yes. One element of this that is overlooked is what coach they will be playing under. Players want to develop the strengths of their game under coaches will know how to do that. It’s reminiscent of Roger Schmidt’s Bayer Leverkusen side from 2016. While they were defensively suspect to say the least, but he did allow players like Bellarabi and Julien Brandt to flourish and put out some of their best outputs in their career. Players need to make a choice that will improve them on the long term, and David Brooks’s choice to join Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth is at the centre of this.

To say that I’m not Eddie Howe’s biggest fan is a slight understatement. He isn’t a bad coach in the slightest, but when I see many fans and pundits link him to Arsenal or Tottenham, I have to ask what they’re seeing. After a strong start which saw them sit sixth by November, they did what they usually do and drop off, now sitting in 14th. They are a defensive mess, with Howe’s side conceding the 17th most goals in the division, with only the teams sitting in the relegation area conceding more. It’s a record that has unfortunately continued from last season, where they conceded 61 goals. It’s simply not good enough for a manager who many think is ready for a step up. I do have some sympathy this season however, with the Cherries suffering injuries to key players. Callum Wilson, Lewis Cook, Diego Rico and Simon Francis have missed parts of the season due to injuries. Howe has a defensive, excluding Nathan Ake, needs upgrading if they wish to compete in the top half of the table.

I have criticised Howe heavily here, but by far his biggest strength has a coach is how he forms his attacks. The way he has gotten the best out of his attackers a feet to be proud of. Josh King, Callum Wilson and Ryan Fraser have performed this well in their careers, and have blossomed in Eddie Howe’s counter attacking system, which has seem them score more goals from counter attacks than any other side in the league with 9. No one would have predicted both Fraser and Wilson equalling a Premier League record for goals contributions between two players, with 12. While they have been fantastic, not many would have the thought the answer to bringing the best out of the trio was to add a 20 year old Welshman from Sheffield United, right?

Enter David Brooks, one of the most exciting young players in the league. There is an element of bias here. As a Welshman myself, the thought of seeing a genuine talent come through is just too exciting. Bournemouth paid a very reasonable £11m for the wide player. On the surface, it’s crazy how Brooks has had this impact in his first season in the Premier League. In his last season at Sheffield United, he did make 30 appearances, but only 9 were starts. Brooks has now started 29 games for the Cherries, and has been the attacking signing they needed so badly. Fraser is great at making that final pass, Wilson is their best finisher, and King’s strength and dribbling make him great at driving those counter attacks. Brooks fits right in these three. During their strong start to the season, only Josh King was attempting more pressures than Brooks. However what is most exciting about the Welshman is his offensive involvement. Brooks’s role in Howe’s side is seemingly to help overload areas of the pitch, and use his impressive intelligence to find space and help move the ball to the likes of Fraser and Wilson. Out of the 4 attackers, Brooks’s xGChain is the highest with 0.66 (a metric that shows players’s involvement in goals that lead to goals or assists). He is the one that keeps the provides the more decisive players, and seems to flourish in that role. His number aren’t exactly stand out, with Brooks taking 1.4 shots, making 1 key pass and completing 0.8 dribbles per game. Brooks is one of those specific players where stats cannot measure a player’s effectiveness. It’s similar to how Jesse Lingard and Gini Wijnaldum’s success for their side cannot be measured by numbers, but their sides are certainly better when they are in the XI. It’s no coincidence that Bournemouth’s attack has arguably had its biggest success since Brooks has arrived. He has been the final jigsaw piece they needed, and has a bright future ahead of him