The final days of the transfer window were exciting rather than genuinely productive; the major stories were about the transfers that didn’t go through. But there were nevertheless some interesting captures this week. Here’s analysis of 10 intriguing Premier League signings.
Serge Aurier, Paris Saint-Germain to Tottenham
Questions persist about Aurier’s behaviour and professionalism, and Mauricio Pochettino must be slightly nervous the Ivorian will disturb a happy, cohesive and together dressing room.
But in raw footballing terms, Aurier is as good a replacement for Kyle Walker Tottenham could have hoped for — and at half the price, too. A rampaging, overlapping right-back who should be perfectly happy as a wing-back in Tottenham’s 3-4-3 system, it feels like this transfer was worth the risk.
Spurs simply needed someone in that position. Kyle Walker-Peters started the season impressively but is probably too raw to depend upon, while Kieran Trippier is a right-back in a deep defence, rather than a right-wing-back in a pressing side. Aurier ticks all the boxes.
Wilfried Bony, Manchester City to Swansea
Bony described his return to Swansea as “going home”, and it’s easy to understand why. After smashing in 26 goals in 54 games during an impressive 18-month stint at the Liberty Stadium, Bony has managed just eight goals in 46 appearances — albeit many as a substitute — since.
But Bony remains a hugely talented forward, and more of an all-rounder than often assumed. Occasionally depicted as a classic “big man”, perhaps partly as he was purchased by Manchester City as a Plan B to Sergio Aguero, Bony is actually only 5-foot-11 and impresses more with his movement, touch and link play.
That’s partly why he was so successful at Swansea; he provided a focal point to their attack while also contributing to their possession play. Paul Clement is less focused upon ball retention and the Swans now play in a more direct manner. Signed for less than half of what Swansea sold him for two-and-a-half years ago, Bony unquestionably has a point to prove.
Danny Drinkwater, Leicester to Chelsea
Many eyebrows have been raised over Chelsea’s decision to sign Drinkwater, but Antonio Conte’s side badly needed strengthening in the midfield zone, with only N’Golo Kante, Cesc Fabregas and Tiemoue Bakayoko competing for two slots — and David Luiz forced into that role in the recent victory over Tottenham.
Drinkwater isn’t the elite defensive midfielder Chelsea supporters may have hoped for, but he offers something particularly crucial: a proven excellent relationship with Kante. They were sensational in Leicester’s title-winning campaign of 2015-16, with the Frenchman buzzing around the pitch and putting out fires, allowing Drinkwater to sit deep and spray long passes into attack.
Drinkwater also offers more positional discipline than Fabregas, who is eternally caught out of position at turnovers of possession. Conte’s 3-4-3 system depends upon two central midfielders playing side by side, and Drinkwater and Kante are a dependable combination.
Kieran Gibbs, Arsenal to West Bromwich Albion
Gibbs’ decline at Arsenal was somewhat sad to observe; a doubtlessly talented youth product who seemed perfect to continue the tradition of nippy, overlapping full-backs like Ashley Cole and Gael Clichy at the club. But in recent years, he found himself sidelined behind the more solid Nacho Monreal and often used as a substitute left-winger to defend the lead.
But Gibbs remains an impressive footballer when fully fit and confident. His acceleration and the timing of his runs are among his best features, but he also offers positional discipline and is good in one-against-one situations in wide positions.
The question, however, is precisely where he’s used by Tony Pulis. West Brom’s manager has often attempted to assemble a defence featuring four natural centre-backs, concentrating on being narrow, solid and aerially impressive. Gibbs is fine in the air, but isn’t quite the typical Pulis defender. One wonders whether he might find himself playing on the left of midfield, and using his acceleration in more-advanced zones.
Grzegorz Krychowiak, Paris Saint-Germain to West Bromwich Albion (loan)
Pulis’ second signing this week might prove among the best of the summer. Krychowiak is a supremely talented all-around midfielder who excelled in Sevilla’s back-to-back Europa League triumphs, before spending a sole unhappy season in Paris, where he struggled for opportunities in a midfield packed with talent.
Krychowiak wasn’t particularly suited to PSG’s 4-3-3 formation, either; he’s the type of player better suited to a partnership deep in a 4-2-3-1 system. West Brom play that system, and while Krychowiak will spend longer without the ball than he’s accustomed to, he’s capable of playing as a tough-tackling, destructive defensive midfielder, before distributing the ball quickly to the flanks.
A formidable aerial force, the Polish international has also occasionally deputised in the centre of defence too, so it’s easy to understand why Pulis considers him suited to his back-to-basics approach.
Fernando Llorente, Swansea to Tottenham
Tottenham have desperately required a backup for Harry Kane in the past couple of campaigns, and after Vincent Janssen proved incapable of leading the line effectively, Mauricio Pochettino has turned to a different type of centre-forward — the aerially dominant Llorente.
He managed 15 goals in an impressive debut campaign at Swansea, and no other Premier League striker could beat the eight goals he scored with his head. Indeed, 14 of his 15 goals came following set pieces, crosses or cut-backs — Llorente is a striker who depends heavily upon good service from wide positions.
Tottenham don’t necessarily play that way, but Llorente should work effectively as Tottenham’s version of Olivier Giroud — a Plan B and an occasional complement to Kane against deep defences. It remains to be seen whether Llorente can participate in Spurs’ heavy pressing too, although having previously played at Athletic Bilbao under Pochettino’s idol Marcelo Bielsa, he’ll certainly understand the concept.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Arsenal to Liverpool
It seemed Oxlade-Chamberlain had finally found his best position at Arsenal, after Arsene Wenger’s switch to a 3-4-3 formation saw him fielded as a wing-back — first on the right, then on the left. A rampaging, energetic, quick player who has rarely demonstrated the intelligence required for central roles, it seemed perfect — and it was no surprise when Antonio Conte wanted Oxlade-Chamberlain to play wing-back in his own 3-4-3 at Chelsea.
But Oxlade-Chamberlain appears to have turned down this opportunity — and a higher salary — in order to receive central opportunities at Liverpool. This seems slightly peculiar, as Jurgen Klopp’s three-man midfield of Jordan Henderson, Emre Can and Georginio Wijnaldum has worked excellently so far this season, and he also has the return of Philippe Coutinho to look forward to, Adam Lallana’s re-emergence midway through the campaign and Naby Keita’s arrival next summer.
Oxlade-Chamberlain is a player of tremendous potential, but his lack of improvement in the past five years is a cause for concern, and while he might be suited to Klopp’s high-energy football, his long-term future might be in a wider position.
Renato Sanches, Bayern Munich to Swansea (loan)
Challenging Krychowiak’s status as the most surprising move of the last week — probably explaining why both players have only committed to a season-long deal rather than a permanent switch — is Euro 2016 winner Sanches moving to Wales.
This doubtless owes much to the fact Paul Clement, his new manager, was previously assistant to Bayern’s Carlo Ancelotti. The Italian trusts Clement to develop one of Europe’s hottest young talents, who needs playing time after a year spent on the bench in Bavaria.
Sanches has the potential to become one of the most complete attacking midfielders in European football. A dynamic direct dribbler with an eye for a killer pass and a fondness for a bit of a midfield scrap too, he could be a revelation this season. However, it’s impossible to ignore his lack of matches over the past 12 months, and his form at the European U21 tournament in the summer was somewhat underwhelming too. It’s an eye-catching signing, but it also carries some level of risk.
Nikola Vlasic, Hajduk Split to Everton
Everton have been desperate to splash the cash this summer, seemingly buying players for the sake of it, rather than to solve an obvious problem position. In that sense, their purchase of Vlasic seems suspiciously impetuous; he was Hajduk Split’s best player against Everton in their recent Europa League qualifier, so that served as adequate scouting, and Ronald Koeman pounced.
But the 19-year-old is a genuinely promising player. While often described as a forward — perhaps assuming this is a replacement for Romelu Lukaku — Vlasic is more of a winger who dribbles directly towards goal from deep positions. In that sense he appears more of a replacement for Kevin Mirallas, still at the club but out of favour.
What he brings more than anything else, however, is pace. Everton’s performances with and without the quick Dominic Calvert-Lewin demonstrate how much they need some level of acceleration going in behind the opposition, and while Vlasic might be used sparingly from the outset, he certainly provides that.
Davide Zappacosta, Torino to Chelsea
Antonio Conte desperately required wing-back backup, and after his move for Oxlade-Chamberlain broke down, he turned to a player he’d briefly coached for the Italian national team in Zappacosta — although he failed to include him in his Euro 2016 squad.
He’s not as dynamic as Oxlade-Chamberlain, and in truth is a relatively unexciting buy. He’s a typical Italian right-back — reasonably energetic and a good crosser in the final third — but ultimately first and foremost he’s a defender rather than a genuinely rampaging attacking option.
But Zappacosta is nevertheless very reliable, barely making defensive mistakes and is likely to thrive under Conte’s disciplined, solid system, particularly when Chelsea need to concentrate on keeping things tight at the back.
Michael Cox is the editor of zonalmarking.net and a contributor to ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Zonal_Marking.