Hasenhuttl’s Return to 4-4-2 has Saved Southampton’s Season

One team’s form that has slightly gone under the radar is Southampton. Ever since their 9-0 defeat to Leicester, there were massive question marks on whether manager Ralph Hasenhuttl would last the week. It was the biggest defeat a team had suffered since Manchester United’s 9-0 win over Ipswich back in 1995. This defeat was more significant, considering the finances in the league, you rarely see such high scores anymore. The red card does have a massive effect on any team, but not the extent of conceding nine goals.

Many folks, like me, on twitter, began to wonder if Hasenhuttl was as good as we all thought. Southampton are, at best, functional, which is a shame considering just how fun his Leipzig side was in their debut Bundesliga season. The 3-5-2 formation just looked so stale. I assumed it was only used last season to improve the team defensively, but instead, they persisted with it. Having the extra body in defence did help a pretty weak side stay up, but it took away any attacking threat, especially when Valery and Bertrand weren’t offering enough width. Southampton were already lacking numbers in attack, and taking away more players in the front line made them a lot less exciting.
To save his job, Hasenhuttl had to do something. After defeats to Leicester and Everton and a Carabao Cup exit to Manchester City, Hassenhuttl scraped the back three and moved to a 4-4-2, a formation he consistently used when in the Leipzig dugout.

Embed from Getty Images

If we’re looking at the Premier League from the 23rd November, the first time Hasenhuttl used the 4-4-2, in a 2-2 draw against Arsenal, then Southampton would be 4th in the table. Their impressive turn-around has coincided with victories over Chelsea and Tottenham, keeping clean sheets against both London clubs. While their attacking numbers have improved slightly, taking 13.8 shots per game instead of their usual 12.3, it’s in defence where the team has become a lot more interesting. Southampton have faced 199 shots this season, with 60% of those coming during the period where three at the back was favoured. They’ve stopped opponents from dominating games, which can be best shown through their pressing. Southampton’s pressing has intensified throughout the winter period, and the statistics show this. Southampton are allowing 7.55 passes per defensive action, the joint least in the league. It’s also a massive improvement compared to the 9.24 passes they were allowing per defensive action at the beginning of the season.

This change meant some significant tweaks to personnel. Due to Vestergaard’s lack of pace, there wasn’t a chance he could play in this more attacking system. Jack Stephens and Jan Bednarek, two young and athletic defenders have formed a good partnership. Ryan Bertrand and Cedric Soares, while not near the level they were four years ago, are still solid enough at the back. But most importantly, they’ve enabled the wingers in front of them to focus primarily on ball progression.

The midfield is where the most significant improvements can be seen. In the last nine games where Southampton have played a 4-4-2, James Ward-Prowse and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg have played every minute. Other than his set-pieces, Ward-Prowse has failed to impress me. He’s never been a consistent creator from open-play and seemed to only play for his magic from a dead ball situation. Højbjerg has always been an exciting player. A great distributor who wasn’t afraid to put in a tough challenge, Højbjerg finally found his place in the team, after struggling under Mauricio Pellegrino and Mark Hughes.

Embed from Getty Images

The 4-4-2 has allowed Southampton to play with genuine wingers again. Nathan Redmond has remained an ever-present either on the right or as a second striker, while Moussa Djenepo or Stuart Armstrong fill in on the opposite side. Redmond has been the most improved player under Hassenhuttl. He has always been a great dribbler, but his end product is still quite not there. Last season, Redmond went from 0 goal contributions under Hughes to 10 under his current coach. He has only contributed to 3 goals so far this season, but his performances have improved.

Danny Ings has easily been Southampton’s best player this season. He has been the only player in this team who has consistently put his chances away. Many of Ings’ goals have come from inside the penalty area, and has never been better than during these nine games. Ings has scored 8 goals, the most in the league. While Ings hasn’t quite found his striking partner, (Long has primarily played, but Obafemi and Redmond have played there too) there is no doubting his importance to this side.

So let’s look at their 1-0 over Tottenham, and see what they’re doing so well. Let’s start defensively. During Tottenham’s buildup, Southampton were consistently defending in a 3-4-3, with Djenepo joining the front two and Bertrand taking the Belgian’s place. It allowed them to simultaneously cut off the passing options to Ndombele (later Lo Celso) and Sissoko. It forced the full-backs to either drop insanely deep to give their teammates an option, or move further forward and hope Alderweireld or Vertonghen could find them with a long ball. The forward three wouldn’t press the centre-backs during these situations, because their goal is for Spurs to lose possession through a misplaced pass. The long pass became a regular method for the Belgian defenders, but a failed one. Out of the combined 35 long balls attempted by Vertonghan and Alderweireld, only 6 were completed. Southampton forced two players, considered to be very comfortable on the ball, to resort to hopeful balls into the path of Harry Kane.

On the occasions where Spurs would either find their full-backs in space, or Sissoko would drop deep and attempt to dribble through the midfield, the players would quickly shift to a 4-4-2. This would give less space, especially in the wide areas, for spurs to transition play and create chances. Aurier and Sessegnon would be crowded by their opposing full-back, winger and midfield. The sheer amount of ground covered by Højbjerg and Ward-Prowse was impressive. The pair were always there to support their teammates in keeping the Tottenham wide players isolated, forcing them to play it back to their own half, or put in a poor cross for Bednarek and Stephens to efficiently deal with.

Both full-backs were playing different yet effective roles. Bertrand would regularly push up and support Djenepo either through a diagonal run inside, or giving him a short pass option behind him. Cedric, on the other hand, would have more of a reserved role, slotting into the backline, making the back three. This was common throughout the game:

 

PP 1-0

Cedric (number two) stays behind the halfway line, while Bertrand (number twenty-one) is alongside the forwards, and ahead of his winger. This was very effective in both attack and defence. It allowed Southampton to exploit the space left from Aurier’s forward runs and Alderweireld’s lack of pace while having the right numbers if Spurs managed to get out of their own half.

In attack, Southampton can be best described as direct. Some of their attacks that contained some excellent interplay between their forwards. But generally, the Saints were looking to get the ball in the opposition third as quickly as possible. Stephens and Bednarek would look to send balls straight into Ings and Redmond. While the probability of the pair beating Alderweireld and Vertonghen in the air is very low, they primarily did this to win the second ball. Over and over again, Ings would lose the aerial battle, but at least three players would be close to win the ball back. Southampton’s lack of creativity is something that hasn’t been addressed since the departure of Dusan Tadic. Avoiding the midfield and taking advance of the stamina and speed of the forward line is an effective method for the short term.

As seen from Bertrand average position, Southampton were frequently attacking down the left side. In fact, 44% of their attacks were coming down Djenepo and Bertrand’s side. As mentioned, this was down to Spurs’ weakness in that area, but to benefit the players on the pitch. With most of the attacks coming down the left, it allowed Armstrong to make runs into the box and cause plenty of problems for the Tottenham defenders. During the second minute of the game, Djenepo put in a pretty dangerous ball into the box, with Ings, Armstrong, Redmond and Ward-Prowse all available. While Djenepo did waste this chance, it was a sign of things to come, with Tottenham struggling with the number of players pushing forward.

Embed from Getty Images

Ings was a vital cog in his team’s performance. The former Liverpool forward not only scored the winning goal but helped his teammates all over the pitch. Ings would drift to both flanks, aiding Djenepo and Armstrong, while also holding onto the ball well. Ings completed 4 dribbles in this game, failing to be dispossessed. Not only was his attacking play good, but defensively he did a lot to help his teammates. He was pressing well, tracking back when Spurs broke quickly and worked his socks off. Ings was substituted at the 75th minute, likely because of the shift he put in.

The midfielders also deserve plenty of credit for their performances. James Ward-Prowse fits seamlessly in a double-pivot, while Højbjerg continues to show why he is undroppable. The Danish international completed the most passes for his side, while also attempting 12 long balls to help push his team further up the pitch. Ward-Prowse played a more attacking role, joining the forwards in attack, at the same time always tracking back to help his midfield partner. The England international completed 9 tackles in this game, more than anyone else on the pitch.

At the start of the season, I put Southampton down as my team to watch. I like a lot of their players and have backed Hasenhuttl since his arrival in the South Coast. The change of formation was needed and is clearly getting more out of the talent at the club. There are still issues regarding creativity that need to be addressed in the summer. But for now, this change in approach could be enough to not only keep Southampton in the division but challenge Wolves for that seventh spot.

Predictions for the Premier League – 19/20

Let’s finally discuss arguably the only league much care about, and for understandable reasons. While the Bundesliga is the league I cannot keep away from, England’s top division has the competitiveness and star quality that many more casual fans want to see. England’s top-flight currently possesses the best team in Europe and the best team the Premier League has ever seen. There is always plenty to talk about, so let’s get into who will succeed, and who will fail. 

Outside Shout – Southampton

Since I’m bored of talking about Leicester, let’s look at another team, one that might finally be on the up. Between 2013 and 2016, Southampton were one of the most likeable clubs in the league. They were getting quality from a host of domestic talent in Shaw, Lallana, Bertrand, Clyne, Rodriguez and Ward-Prowse. They combined this well by picking up players from more inferior leagues, like Tadic, Van Dijk and Sadio Mane. They were consistently finishing in the top half of the table and brought two talented coaches to the league, with Ronald Koeman and Mauricio Pochettino both moving on to better things. They weren’t following the trend of other mid-table teams, in making generally bad decisions in terms of appointing the old guard of managers. They were more forward-thinking than most clubs, which enabled them to stand out in a league where the quality of football below 7th was questionable at best.

There were apparent issues off the pitch, but the moment the club’s problems became apparent was during the 2016/17 season. In the previous season, Koeman managed to push his side to finish 6th, ensuring they had European football the following season. After the Dutchman departed to join Everton, Southampton replaced him with the experienced French coach Claude Puel. I saw this appointment as a smart one from Southampton. While he was never fantastic at either Nice or Lyon, he still did a very respectable job. During his time at Lyon, they reached the Champions League semi-finals, the first time in their history. The club attempted to give Puel the players to help him succeed in arguably their biggest season, with the signings of Nathan Redmond, Sofianne Boufal and Pierre-Emile Höjbjerg. Redmond showed at Norwich that he was good enough for the Premier League, while Boufal came off the back of a stand out season in Ligue 1, contributing to 15 goals for Lille. All were under the age of 23, which helped continue their habit of signing younger players and aiding in their development.

Embed from Getty Images 

The problem for Puel during his reign was the high bar which was set by the previous managers. An 8th place finish alongside a cup final is an acceptable finish for a side which lost their best attacker in Sadio Mane. Southampton were ineffective in the final third and Puel does deserve some criticism for that, but what did they expect? Puel had a reputation for being a defensive coach, and with his lack of attacking talent, it isn’t a surprise his team were quite dull to watch. He was let go at the end of the season, and replaced by Mauricio Pellegrino.

This is where things went from decent to very bad. The club failed to bring in any forwards during the 17/18 summer window and left Pellegrino with very little in attack. There was no rhythm or inventiveness in the final third, which made the Saints one of the most boring sides in recent memory. After being ambitious with their managerial choices, it wasn’t a surprise it finally came crashing down. Poor recruitment throughout the team resulted in a side where goals were a rarity, which resulted in Pellegrino’s sacking. Mark Hughes arrived to steady the ship, and while they were slightly improved, he did not deserve a three-year deal. The idiocy on giving him a long term contract came back to bite them, after Southampton only managed to win a single game in the 18/19 season, before his sacking after a 2-2 draw with Manchester United in December. 

After 2 years of ruining the good reputation they built for themselves, they finally made an appointment to match the ambition they once shown. Ralph Hassenhuttl arrived after departing RB Leipzig after a disappointing follow-up season to their second-place finish in 16/17 season, where they crashed out of a relatively easy champions league group. Hassenhuttl is an excellent coach, who built an aggressive, pressing side in Germany that enabled them to compete with the very best. For the first time since Koeman, it felt like Southampton were finally going somewhere.

While his half-season with Southampton wasn’t spectacular, Hassenhuttl did lead them to survival in a comfortable fashion. Redmond went from 0 goal contributions under Hughes to 10 under his new coach, a definite improvement for one of their most important players. There were slight improvements all over the field. A back 3 with an aggressive midfield partnership of Höjbjerg and Romeu and focus on the wing-backs pushing forward saw an increase in results and general entertainment. 

Embed from Getty Images

Many do not predict Southampton to challenge the other top 6 chasers, but I do believe that once everything clicks, they could be one of the best sides outside of the top 6. They’ve started the season in mixed form, losing 2 of their opening 3 games. However, they have been so unfortunate not to have an unbeaten start. Liverpool were fortunate to win as well as Brighton. Djenepo is an excellent addition and could add that much-needed creativity and dribbling that the team is desperate for. Che Adams is a slight risk at £15 million but has the potential to contribute. This could be another disappointing season, but there is a possibility that everything goes right. 

Overachievers – Arsenal

Arsenal are really bad, and at this point, it is getting worrying. Emery’s debut season was dreadful. They had a chance to sneak into that top 4, but three consecutive defeats to Crystal Palace, Wolves and Leicester ensured they would be forced to play Europa League football once again. It wasn’t just the league table where things were looking bad, but especially on the pitch. Arsenal went from a fun but extremely vulnerable side under Wenger to a dull yet weak team at the back. The overreliance on Aubameyang and Lacazette to convert every chance that came to them, which they basically did, is not a practical way to build an attack. Aubameyang ran hot throughout the season and carried Arsenal to at least challenging for top 4. 

Embed from Getty Images

Arsenal did have a good summer, with record signing Pepe adding an elite player to the right-side. David Luiz and Kieran Tierney added better defensive personnel, and Ceballos finally filled that Santi Cazorla-shaped hole. However, if early season form is anything to go by, I do worry if Arsenal can actually become a champions league-level side. Their shot numbers are still deficient, and if their Gabon forward suddenly hits a dry patch, I have no idea how they will cope. It’s unlikely they will drop out of the top 6, but it really wouldn’t surprise me if Chelsea with a transfer ban or an extremely poor Manchester United finishes above them. 

Underachievers – Chelsea

Speaking of Chelsea, I genuinely have no idea what to expect from Lampard’s side. They have a very talented team and still waiting for Loftus-Cheek and Hudson-Odoi to return from long-term injuries. This transfer ban, while having apparent issues, does have its positives. Lampard has said multiple times that everyone was going to be given a chance, something we have seen already. Tammy Abraham has started 2 of the first 3 games of the season, showing how faith has finally been put in him. Mason Mount is another to start a majority of the season. Even though I’m not his biggest fan, there is a clearly a decent player in there. The midfield and central defensive options are still elite. Having Ngolo Kante in your team will always keep your midfield functional, and the added addition of Kovacic’s permanent signing is a massive boost in ensuring the middle of the park is secure. 

Embed from Getty Images

My worry with Chelsea is the strain that European football and potential injuries could have on the side. Emerson is Chelsea’s only real left-back, and Azpilicueta isn’t the most forward-thinking. There is also a very likely chance the attack simply doesn’t click. Pulisic has never put in a lot of goals and assists, We still do not know if Tammy can play at the top level and I’m not sold on Mount. I hope their younger talents live up to the potential they have shown for years and guide Chelsea to a successful season. However, the chances of everything falling apart if these players do not flourish under Frank Lampard.

Best Transfer – Dani Ceballos

As mentioned, Ceballos is truly a great addition. While Ndombele, Wan-Bissaka, Rodri and Iwobi are fantastic signings, Ceballos’ added quality to a lacklustre Arsenal side was what they needed. The former Real Betis midfielder is a perfect allrounder, being able to play as both the teams’ creator, the anchor and the transitioner. It makes Ceballos so useful to have for a manager, being able to change his role based on the opposition or to accommodate specific players on his own team. This versatility in midfield is something Arsenal lack; a problem that intensified after the sale of Aaron Ramsey. Torreira can do a bit of everything, but you’d never play him as the most attacking in a two-man midfield, and Granit Xhaka is a player you have to facilitate due to his lack of speed and defensive awareness. Ceballos will give Arsenal an elite midfielder who could easily find a place in all the other top 6 sides. A masterstroke from the Gunners. 

Potential Flop – Jean-Philippe Gbamin

Everton have this habit of making good signings, then suddenly ruining all that in some foolish decisions. This time it was the sale of Idrissa Gueye. I’m fully aware there was no stopping him leaving. The defensive midfielder wanting to go in January but had to wait until the summer to earn his deserved move to PSG. He was Everton’s most valuable player and losing him would mean a lot of money would need to be spent on replacing him. Even from someone who has a love for midfielders in Gueye’s ilk, I had no idea who they could realistically sign. Sangare was linked, but he doesn’t possess the same speed as Gueye. Ander Herrera would have been a decent choice, but, like Gueye, his heart was set on joining PSG. This signing needed to be perfect if Everton want to meet their aspirations of reaching the top 6. 

Embed from Getty Images

Their choice of Mainz midfielder Jean-Philippe Gbamin was a very odd one. While I haven’t seen much of Gbamin play, I expected his tackle and interception numbers to match that of the player he was replacing, yet they do not seem alike. In fact, it is a massive drop off compared to Gueye. The Ivory Coast midfielder only averaged 3.5 tackles and interceptions last season, an enormous difference to Gueye’s 6.8. Everton cannot afford Gbamin to fail. If he does, that could mean the end of Andre Gomes. As mentioned before, Gomes only had a successful season due to Gueye covering for him defensively, allowing the Portuguese midfielder focus on ball progression. Gomes now has to contribute more defensively, which he has never been able to do. Gbamin could fail to replicate Gueye, which would result in Everton having an unstable midfield. 

4 Players Who Could FIX Spurs’s Midfield

Tottenham are in a position of trouble at the moment. Their stadium is still unfinished, which has left them with a real lack of resources to upgrade one some of the positions in their squad. It’s why players like Danny Rose and Toby Alderweireld are still at the club. They do not want to risk a sale because there is a low chance they could bring in an improvement or even an equal replacement. However with a midfield full of players, it gives them not only the ability to sell, but an easy chance to improve on them. Let’s go through their options first and find out who should stay and who should go. This will only be brief.

Eric Dier

An ever present since his breakout season back in 2014, Dier is a player loved by Pochettino. Since 2015/16, he’s played over 30 games every season. His versatility, aggression and his injury free record do make him a player easy to like. I do think he is a player who is good to have in a squad, with the hectic game schedules that occurs during the winter. I just do not think he excels in anything. His defensive work does leave a lot to be desired. He isn’t a creator or a good dribbler, and rarely ever shoots. He is definitely worth keeping however. His ability to cover in defense is great to have and it’s always good to have a player who seems to be available whenever the manager needs him.

Conclusion – Keep

Moussa Sissoko

Easily one of the worst bits of business done by Tottenham in the past few years. Sissoko arrived after performing relatively well in the Euros back in 2016 for £30m. This all happened in the last hour of deadline day, which just shows the desperation. He came in during a summer which saw Tottenham sign Janssen, N’koudou, and Wanyama. None of these players screamed title challenge and ambition at the time, even if some were pretty smart bits of business. This was the same summer that saw Manchester United bring back Pogba for a record fee, N’golo Kante moving to Chelsea and John Stones moving for £50m to Man City. Sissoko came in to remind the league that they should be taken seriously, yet made them more of a laughing stock. While he has had a bit of a resurgence in recent months. His age and quality just isn’t what this team needs.

Conclusion – Sell

Victor Wanyama

As mentioned, Wanyama came in back in 2016 for a very cheap £11m. Spurs sold both Mason and Bentaleb that summer, so midfield support was needed. The Kenyan did very well at Southampton. He was an absolute titan in midfield, using his size and strength to win the ball back for the saints, and help protect the defense. Dier did often cover in defense, so bringing in a player, who while not as flexible, was still a better player than his English teammate. He had an excellent first season at White Hart Lane, playing 36 games. While his defense work did drop (which is due to Spurs having more possession than his former side), his passing accuracy and chance creation were at a career high. He was on the up, but a growing injury record has halted his progression. It might seem ruthless, but it might be time to let him go. There shouldn’t be a place for a player who is this unreliable.

Conclusion – Sell

Mousa Dembélé

Dembélé is a classic example of a player who might not be a fancy name, but adds so much to your midfield. His dribble success rate, solid defensive numbers made him one of the critics’ favourite midfielders in Europe. He could plug a gap in midfield that can be so difficult. However last season, this talent of his started to decline. His dribble numbers were dropping and his defensive work jumped off a cliff. This season it has only gotten worse, making his usability even less. This isn’t all his fault. It’s the effects of aging in football. Eventually your numbers drop like this and every player has experienced it. It’s just a shame it’s happened faster to Dembélé. The Belgian was incredible on his day, but now it might be time for him to move on and play in a less demanding system.

Conclusion – Sell

Harry Winks

When he broke onto the scene last season, I thought he was a massive boost for Tottenham. Of course he was playing in the 2016/17 season, but only played 480 minutes. However he began last season very well, with his performance against Madrid highlighting how promising he is. His range of passing is incredible, and keeps a solid 91% pass accuracy. While his chance creation is still quite low, there is definitely a real talent here who still has a lot of work to do. My biggest problem with Winks is his defensive awareness. In their game against Barcelona at Wembley, he was at fault for a majority of the goals, because he allowed Messi and Arthur to just walk through the midfield. It is was arguably one of the worst midfield performances I’ve ever seen this season. He is still a talented player and does add something to this squad, so he will remain.

Conclusion – Keep

The reason I’ve went through this is to examine what Tottenham truly need, after the right sales are made. They will not only need one midfielder, but two. A very clear Dembélé replacement, to help with transition from defense to attack, and to win the ball high up the pitch. The first move I’ll be making is to promote Oliver Skipp to the first team, as an available option. He has only started a single Premier League game this season so it is difficult to know if he is ready. However he did put in the most tackles for Tottenham, won the most aerial duels and created a chance. He is only 18 so the experience is invaluable at his age. The next player to bring in is a more defensively minded player, someone who might not contribute much in an attacking sense, but will offer solid protection to the back line. Let’s begin with the 4 midfielders who could fix this midfield.

Nicolò Barella

This will be my Dembélé replacement. Barella has been on the radar of many big clubs for a couple of years now. He possesses very high defensive numbers and is a very good dribbler. Last year, Pirlo and Totti both highlighted him as the future of Italian football, and it’s clear to see why. He has been playing for an average Cagliari side, who aren’t prolific in front of goal and are mostly average at the back. He wins the most tackles for his side per 90, with 2.7, and attempts the most dribbles. The problem with Barella recently has been his decline in his dribbling. It’s went from a very impressive 1.5, to 0.8. This is easily explained by opposition teams seeming to figure him out. They have realised that he is one of Cagliari’s most threatening players and know he has to be dealt with. It’s shown by the number of times he is fouled is increasing. It’s went from 1.9 to 2.6, a dramatic increase and it has made this season a bit more difficult for him. He still attempts the most dribbles however and it’s clear how important he is to the transition of this side. Even with his completed dribbles decreasing, he is attempting more, giving away less fouls, shooting and creating more chances and even completing more passes. The problems he’s facing could only be because he’s the best player in this side, making him an easy target. If he did go to Tottenham, I don’t think he’d have the same problem, with Eriksen, Kane and Alli all seen as huge threats. It would give that unpredictability again, and truly bring out the best in him. He’s 21 at the moment, making him a perfect signing for Tottenham, but also a slight risk. He has never played in a Champions League side before, so the amount of games could be surprising, but as mentioned he will be one of two signings, and Spurs do not have the resources to spend of Champions League players. He attempts more dribbles than any other Spurs midfielder, and only Foyth (who has only played 6 games) wins more tackles than Barella’s 2.7. This could be explained by Spurs simply more of a possession side, but it would still be a massive help, knowing he’s that good at winning the ball back. His disciplinary record is also a bit of a worry, with the Italian being sent of already this season, and amassing 13 yellow cards last season. However it is his responsibility in the Cagliari side to win the ball back, and usually that involves making tackles to stop counter attacks. He would cost Tottenham a record fee of more than £45m, which for a player who would be such an improvement, would definitely be worth it.

Ibrahim Sangaré

A player I have spoken about previously, but let’s go through why I think he just makes sense as a signing. Ligue 1 is always a league full of players that go under the radar, as seen by Brighton signing Bissouma for next to nothing. Sangaré is another along this line. The Ivorian started the season so well for Toulouse, but picked up an injury at the end of October, tearing his tendon. It’s forced him to miss 10 games so far, and hopefully will be back by the end of January. Nevertheless, he is a player with a lot of potential. He’s played 9 games so far this season, playing the full 90 on every occasion, and his stats look incredible. He’s completing 4.3 tackles per 90, the most for his side and more than anyone who has made as many appearances as Sangaré. What is most impressive about the midfielder is his dribbling. For a 6.3ft player, he is actually very mobile, completing a crazy 2.3 dribbles per 90, with a 71% success rate. He can just do everything, all from a number 6 position. He’s even taking 1.2 shots per game, with 0.8 in the penalty area. He is somehow putting in a high volume of tackles, completing a lot of dribbles and even advancing to the opposition box. It is simply incredible. He seem to be able to fill in both in a defensive sense, and being able to help with transition, with Barella now being linked to Chelsea, I would recommend going for Sangaré, if Barella is too pricey. But this all depends on if these numbers continue when he comes back from injury. If they are, he has to be a high target.

Philip Billing

While both Sangaré and Barella should be top targets, and have potential to improve this team, Philip Billing is a signing I can’t recommend more. He is playing for an awful defensive and offensive side. Huddersfield seem unable to score goals, and keep clean sheets. There is a very likely chance they will get relegated, and Billing should definitely be the first player to be taken from them. He has been very good this season. He is a large player, who is winning 3 aerial duels a game, and is winning 5.6 tackles and interceptions this season. While that does seem likely considering how often he will be without the ball, it’s just how dynamic and aggressive he wins it. Billing is seen all over the pitch and doesn’t seem to have a set zone to stay in. He just roams and intercepts the ball, and does this effectively. He’s already started more than double the games he did last season, and only Idrissa Gueye wins more tackles in midfield than the Danish midfielder. The only problem is he really doesn’t offer much in attacking sense. While Sangaré was taking a majority of his shots in the box, making him a very good box to box midfielder, Billing is the complete opposite. He takes most from outside the box. It can’t all be blamed on him. As mentioned, Huddersfield are awful and it could be Billing just wanting to help his team in any way, and taking any half chance they have. His chance creation and passing aren’t exactly great, but he is playing for quite a poor side, and is seemingly being relied heavily on not only defensively, but on the other side of the pitch. If he is given a specific role, and grow in his ability on the ball, he would be a fine player for Tottenham. With Huddersfield going down, it’s possible to get him out for less than £15m, which would be a massive steal for a club that need some.

Mario Lemina

Arguably the most obvious of signings. Lemina fits the Dembélé mold pretty easily. He is an excellent dribbler and puts in a lot of defensive work. While he did excel in a poor Southampton team last season, completing 2.2 dribbles and winning 4.8 tackles and interceptions last season, he is now playing under a manager who isn’t awful. Ralph Hasenhüttl has brought in an aggressive press into this side. This made so much sense because many of the players at the club are able to play a pressing system, with Lemina being one of them. His ability to win the ball back and his transitional play make him perfect. The problem with trying to bring him in would be the price. He’s currently 25 years old, a player at the perfect age, where he’s at his peak while also having the ability to improve. The problem with bringing him in is the price. Southampton charge a lot for their best players, and Lemina would be no exception. Hasenhüttl has already said that Lemina is a very important part of his plans, so letting him go for less than £40m would be unlikely. I would definitely recommend him, but it just depends on if Spurs want to spend a lot on him.

That’s the four players I would recommend. I think Billing is a must depending on Huddersfield’s relegation (which looks likely). Sangaré would need to keep up his form after his eventual return to justify a big move. Barella is currently being pursued by Chelsea, which are a club that are difficult to beat when it comes to transfers. Lemina would make so much sense, but it all depends on how well he does this season. He has enough talent to justify a purchase. Spurs are in a real money problem at the moment. I’d recommend Sangaré and Billing if money is a problem. They might work, but would have sell on value. This is a massive area for Tottenham, and need to get it right.

Every Premier League Club’s Best Signing

Now with the transfer window coming to a close, and most clubs getting all of their business done, it’s time to look every clubs best summer signing. Most of these will be very brief, as I will be discussing 20 transfers and so not want to drag it on. Enjoy! (I will update this list if a certain club makes a better signing)

Arsenal – Lucas Torreira

Even with Arsenal signing 6 players, Torreira is the only exceptional bit of business. Torreira is a player I have praised all summer, for not only being a defensive machine, but also being an excellent passer, completing the most for Sampdoria last season. He will give Arsenal that bit of bite they have been missing since Gilberto Silva left the club. He will finally make Arsenal’s midfield look solid and will help them in their quest for top 4 again.

Bournemouth – Diego Rico

I still find it crazy that Bournemouth do not get more criticism than they should get. Last season was easily their poorest in their 3 years in the division, and no thanks to their defense. Bournemouth ranked bottom for tackles won, and 19th for interceptions. Their defenders were poor (besides Ake, who was pretty good) and it was their downfall in progressing from their 9th finish in 2016/17. The Cherries have brought in Leganes defender Diego Rico. Who had a very good season for the Spanish club. While Bournemouth were poor in a defensive sense, Rico was not. He was averaging an outrageous 5.5 tackles and interceptions per 90, which is a vast improvement over Ake’s 2.7. Hopefully Rico will add some solidarity to the back four and it might to an improvement compared to last season.

Brighton – Bernardo

Full backs are by far the most important position in football right now, which makes it crazy why there aren’t many to choose from in the world right now. Brighton, however, have added a very solid one to their ranks. The versatile defender Bernardo has signed from RB Leipzig, and is a very good addition. The Brazilian is excellent in the air, winning 2.8 aerial duels, while also completing 3.7 tackles and interceptions. He doesn’t offer much of an attacking threat however, but his versatility and defensive strength could be a real asset for seaside club.

Burnley – ?

As of the 30th of July, Burnley are yet to sign a player, which is confusing considering they could be playing Europa League football next season. This will be updated if they do sign a player however.

Cardiff City – Bobby Reid

I’m tipping Cardiff as relegation candidates. The Welsh side are probably the worst side that were promoted. Both Fulham and Wolves look more like Premier League sides, while Cardiff seem to be unable to possess the same quality. However I will give credit where it is due, with Bobby Reid being an excellent bit of business. The forward was excellent for Bristol last season, looking like a real all around forward. Finished the season playing every game, scoring 19 and assisting 7. He was averaging 1.9 shots per game. What is notable is where he is taking these shots from, with 1.2 coming from inside the penalty area, showing how he gets into very good areas. He also isn’t afraid to do some hard yards for the team, putting in 1.1 tackles per 90. If Reid can adapt immediately to the league, it could be the difference between survival and relegation for Cardiff.

Chelsea – Jorginho

Even though the Italian is the only signing Chelsea have made, he is still an excellent addition. For Sarri to impliment his system effectively, he needs a player who is excellent at controlling a game. Fabregas could do that, but his legs are gone. Who else to bring besides the guy who performed so well for Sarri’s last team, Napoli. The midfield maestro is a pass machine, averaging over 80 passes per 90 with a 90% accuracy. Chelsea have went from having an imbalanced midfield, into having one of the best in the league. That is how good of a signing Jorginho is.

Crystal Palace – Max Meyer

What an absolute bargain of a signing for the eagles. After some issues with the Schalke board, the young German was not given an extension on his contact, and was allowed to leave for free. Meyer was very good last season, topping the league with 2.8 interceptions. He was moved deeper last season, to take advantage of his ability on the ball, and it worked in his favour. He averaged an 89% pass accuracy last season, and ended the season with 4.3 tackles and interceptions. An improvement on his 1.2 in the 2016/17 season. Palace have given all of the creative burden to Zaha. Now with Meyer, it could allow Palace to be even more of a threat.

Everton – Richarlison

At the time of writing, Lucas Digne is very close to completing his move to Everton, however I still think Richarlison is the best signing of the window so far for the toffees. The young Brazilian looks like a real promising player. When many young wingers arrive in the premier league, they are usually incredible dribblers but do not contribute enough in front of goal (Adama Troare is the perfect example). Richarlison is not a great dribbler, however he is excellent in getting in goal scoring positions. While seeing the player not score a goal after November can be quite worrying, he is still very young, and his finishing will improve. A great signing all round.

Fulham – Jean Michael Seri

One issue many promoted teams face when arriving in the premier league is making that step up, to have the quality to stay in the league. Fulham have so far done a very good job in buying good level players, the likes of Mitrovic, Schurrle, Le Marchand and Fabri are all effective in showing the intention that Fulham are going for. However their best addition by far is Ivory Coast international Jean Michael Seri. Seri is a very good midfielder, not great, but is definitely an improvement on what they have. Seri averages 90 passes per game, with 2.1 key passes. He will add that extra bit of spark to the London side, and hopefully enough to stay up.

Huddersfield – Terence Kongolo

After looking at Huddersfield’s recruitment so far, I was very impressed. Selling Tom Ince and bringing in Sobhi is pretty good business. Diakhaby will give them another option, Eric Durm is a no risk signing, that could pay off. However getting Kongolo on a permanent was excellent. The Dutchman didn’t get much of a chance for Monaco, but he has excelled since arriving in Yorkshire. He was averaging 5 tackles and interceptions for Huddersfield, and even won a very good 2.2 aerial duels won. He doesn’t contribute much going forward however, but Wagner clearly is happy with the solid defensive work he does for the team. A great addition to the team.

Leicester – James Maddison

Replacing a player with Mahrez’s quality is a difficult challenge. The Algerian was an all rounder. He was able to create, dribble and also assist. The foxes made two great moves in doing this. The first being the acquisition of Portuguese full back Ricardo Pereira, a player with outstanding defensive and attacking numbers. The other was the signing of up and coming attacking midfielder James Maddison. The ex Norwich playmaker was absolutely excellent for them last season. Ending the season with 14 goals and 8 assists, making him one of very few players in the championship to end the season with over 20 goal contributions. His attacking numbers are actually very difficult to believe. He was averaging 2.8 key passes (David Silva averaged 2.2 last season), 2.6 shots, (Lukaku averaged 2.5), and 2.4 dribbles, more than Mahrez. A brilliant signing that could be the real push for Leicester.

Liverpool – Naby Keita

While the signings of Fabinho and Allison are both excellent in their own right, it is hard to compare to Naby Keita finally arriving at the club. The Guinean is one of the best box to box midfielders in Europe, and bringing him in for a bargain £50m (yes bargain) is excellent. Keita is a player who excels in all departments, being solid defensively, a good creator, an excellent dribbler and a player who will help massively in the final third. One void that Coutinho left when he departed to join Barcelona was his incredible dribbling ability. While Keita might not be as effective from distance, he still will be an brilliant player to give the ball to. Liverpool have lacked a player in midfield who can help against teams who sit back. Having Keita and Fabinho will help the reds break these teams down, and finally begin to launch a real title challenge.

Manchester City – Riyad Mahrez

Another signing here based on lack of options. Mahrez is a really good player, but they have spent a lot on a player who might not even play a majority of the games. This trick in bringing in league winning talent in every position has worked for Pep before. At Barcelona he had the choices Villa, Sanchez, Messi and Pedro. At Bayern he could choose Koman, Costa, Robben and Ribery. He likes to fill his team with players all at the same level, to increase competition to ensure every player is doing their best. the difference here is price. At Bayern, he used Costa and Koman as competition, who both costed less than £30m (Koman was on loan during Pep’s time as manager), and at Barca, Sanchez and Villa were not brought for much money at all. While I did think their wide talent did need strengthening, it was prominently their left side. However he will still perform very well for City and should help them retain the title.

Manchester United – Fred

I recently discussed the signing of Fred, but to reiterate, he is very good one. He might not be the flashy Brazilian signing we see in the modern game, but he is still a quality player. Fred is a very good box to box midfielder, able to fill in multiple roles, being able to play as a number 10 and a number 6. His biggest strength is his versatility. One issue United have been facing is how easy they are to suppress in big games. By just keeping Pogba out of a game, United always looked so much weaker and struggled to break teams down. Putting men on Pogba meant that he would have to come deep to receive the ball, basically making the Frenchman a zero threat. Having a player who also has good quality on the ball will mean the team will have more than one outlet of attack. Fred could be one very important signing.

Newcastle UnitedKenedy

While I like the permanent signing of Dupravka, I think bringing Kenedy back was a good move. I mentioned how much I liked Kenedy last season. He gave Rafa a real perfect winger. A guy who was able to put in some real defensive work, while also beating players and helping the team in a creative sense. Bringing him in for another season can only benefit the team. Newcastle are definitely going to struggle next season. They haven’t recruited in the right areas. They have failed to bring in a striker yet, with Mitrovic gone, and Gayle not performing last season. The magpies bringing back Kenedy will hopefully help them in their battle for survival.

Southampton – Mohamed Elyounoussi

Southampton’s biggest issue over the last couple of seasons has easily been their lack of goals. Charlie Austin was their top scorer last season with a small seven. While fixing the striker would be the easy solution, the goals from around the rest of the team just aren’t good enough. Nathan Redmond ended the season with only a single goal to his name. The worst part about that was he had 48 shots. The players are clearly needing competition. Bringing in the Norwegian international is very important. In 65 appearances in the swiss league, he got a goal contribution every 100 minutes. He was extremely impressive for Basel. He will add creativity, as well as a goal threat to a Southampton team in dire need for some.

Tottenham Hotspur – Harry Kane

While it isn’t technically a new signing, keeping their best player is so important, with Madrid looking for a new goal machine to replace Ronaldo. Spurs have put themselves in a position where they can never get rid of him. While they haven’t signed anyone, they don’t really have to. Everyone are saying they are weakened because of their lack of activity. But even if they do not sign someone. They have managed to keep Alderweireld and Rose, to players who were seemingly on their way out. Pochettino and Daniel Levy have managed this core group of players excellently. They are not in desperate need for a player, but some improvements could be useful. Maybe a back up to Eriksen could be handy to take the creative press off him (Grealish could fill that role) and a replacement for the aging Dembele (maybe going all out for Thiago Alcantara would be perfect). Spurs aren’t desperate for players, but improvements could definitely be made.

Watford – Gerard Deulofeu

Watford just seem so lackluster going into this season. They are in need for a new centre half, and most importantly, a striker. I am not expecting much from the hornets at all, however the signing of Deulofeu is still a good one. The Spaniard arrives at the club after joining them on loan back in January. After the loss of Richarlison, Watford now look like less of a threat in an attacking sense. Deulofeu and Richarlison are not similar players in the slightest. Richarlison is excellent at getting into the box and finding good areas, while Deulofeu is better at bearing his man and stretching the defense. Deulofeu makes them a bit less unpredictable. Let’s hope it’ll be enough for them to stay in the division.

West Ham United – Felipe Anderson

I’ve spoke about West Ham in another post, so I’ll keep this one short. Felipe Anderson is similar to Dimitri Payet in the sense of it gives West Ham a player with an ability to unlock a defense. I’m starting to love the fact that every team seems to be getting a top six standard player, and the Brazilian fits the bill. He is an incredible dribbler and is great creativily and in front of goal. West Ham needed to add goals to the rest of the team, and to add overall quality to match the aspirations of the owners. Anderson could definitely be that player to put them back into entertaining us again.

Wolves – Rui Patricio

No question in this choice. Wolves have signed a player (with the help of a certain super agent) who has not only won league titles, but has won a European trophy with his country. One area that recently promoted teams struggle with is defensively. Premier league teams attack in multiple ways, and it can expose a defense all sorts of ways. Having a goalkeeper who has played against and with some of the best players around, can only be beneficial. One of the best signings of the summer right here.