Best and worst signing of each EPL team this season. (part 2)

As last time, please note this list features only permanent deals only, no loans. And only features players signed this season (2016/17) not before. I will also be following it up with the rest of the teams in future parts.


Best: Idrissa Gueye

Gueye went down last season with Villa but was one of the few players who could hold his head high. Escaping back to the Premier League with Everton has has become a complete dynamo in midfield. He tops the chart for tackles with 135 in total – given him totalling 2,686 minutes this season that results in him averaging under 20 minutes per tackle.


Worst: Yannick Bolasie

This isn’t really his fault, but Everton’s signings have been largely good: Williams has lead the defense, Gueye was a revelation, Schniederlin was great after arriving in January and both Lookman and Calvert-Lewin have been good as youth prospects. But Bolasie got injured in February and before that had only scored once anyway. He was OK – but nothing special and missed half the season. Sorry Yannick.


Hull City:

Best: Kamil Grosicki

After arriving in January, Grosicki positioned himself as a first choice player out wide – providing 5 assists in 15 appearences as Marco Silva got extremely close to saving Hull from the drop. Working hard on his flank (whichever his was) will have endeared him to many a manager in the top flight. Would not be suprising to see him back in the EPL next year.


Worst: James Weir

Signed from Manchester United’s youth Academy and expected to make an impact. He didn’t. Only made 3 senior appearences – all in the EFL cup before being shifted off to Wigan in Januaray – where he only made 4 appearences. Not good enough.




Best: Wilfred Ndidi

Ndidi was Leicester’s second attmept to replace N’Golo Kante – the heartbeat of the title winning team after Mendy failed to in the first half of the season. And in doing so was excellent – he didn’t have the same ability to carry the ball forwards to start attacks that Kante did – but he has covered the defensive aspect expertly.


Worst: Bartosz Kapustka

Kapustka has only made four senior appearances this season – solely in cup competitions. Though he is only 20 still this season has to be considered a failure. Especially given his performance in EURO 2016. But it’s far from a clear descision – the vast majority of the Leicester signings have not worked out well.




Best: Sadio Mane

He won their player of the year! How could it be anyone else? His destructive running and pace not only stretched opposing defenses but gave a target for Liverpool’s brigade of creative midfielders to exploit. Liverpool scraped to a top 4 place this season – but has Mane been available all season, they would have likely walked to qualification.


Worst: Ragnar Klavan

A reasonable shout here would be Alex Manninger – given he failed to make a single appearance, but he was never supposed to given has brought in as backup backup keeper. Klavan however has largely been a mess at the back unable to displace Lovren and even losing his position as backup later in the season to Lucas – who isn’t even a defender.



Manchester City

Best: Leroy Sane

This was another hard one – as though City made some transfer blunders, they also made some great moves. Namely: Ilkay Gundogan, Leroy Sane and Gabriel Jesus. All three have been excellent, but I give this to Sane due to the the fact Gundogan and Jesus were only present for part of the season (be that due to injury of arriving in January). Sane has however been brilliant on the left flank – his dribbling, skill and pace tearing defenses apart almost every game. Well done Leroy.


Worst: John Stones

Stones vs Bravo – a battle of 2 evils. Both seemingly intent to allow City to concede as many goals as possible in the name of ball playing (inexplicably in Bravo’s case). Honestly Either would be deserving winners – but I went for Stones given his price tag was triple Bravo’s and that Stones comitting defensive errors was predictable – given that was his primary job at Everton as well.




Best and worst signing of each EPL team this season. (part 1)

please note this list features only permanent deals only, no loans. And only features players signed this season (2016/17) not before. I will also be following it up with the rest of the teams in future parts.



Best: Rob Holding.

It’s been hard to really call any of Arsenal’s signings a success this season. All of them have been OK, but not great. But probably the best of the bunch has been young CB Rob Holding. He wasn’t involved much until the switch to a back 3 late in the season, but since then he has looked an extremely accomplished ball playing CB from those wide CB positions.


Worst: Takuma Asano.

Likewise, It’s been hard to call any of Arsenal’s signings flops either. Xhaka has been largely good, but prone to moments of madness, Perez has spent most of the season injured – and when not he’s either been benched or played out of position (though still performed very well) and Mustafi to put it likely has had a season of 2 halves – his form collapsing post-January. So that leaves Takuma Asano – who signed but was promptly denied a work permit and sent on loan to the German second division. Which isn’t really the level Arsenal should be targeting.



Best: Lewis Cook.

Lewis Cook only made 9 appearances in all competitions this season. So why is he on this list? Because frankly Bournemouth’s transfer business has been nothing short of atrocious. Ake was a good signing and Wilshere was OK – but both came on loan so are ineligible. Congrats Lewis – You were these least incompetent.


Worst: Lys Mousset.

Wow was this hard. Jordan Ibe played more than 1,000 league minutes and ended with 0 goals or assists. Brad Smith was largely missing from matches and when on the pitch was possibly more so. But I’ve gone for Lys Mousset for being the most outright detrimental to Bournemouth’s hopes this season. His own goal cost Bournemouth a win vs Stoke and that was the only time he hit the back of the net all season. Congrats Lys – You are the only striker I’ve heard of score more own goals than goals in a season.



Best: Robbie Brady.

I’ve raved about Brady before here ( and he made the step back to the EPL with Burnley after 6 months. Since then he has made a impact offensively from a starting position on the left wing, being a creative hub linking the midfield and defence. Something important when the midfield is as workmanlike as Hendrick and Barton. Speaking of Barton…


Worst: Joey Barton.

Barton isn’t here for performance reasons. As a ball winner in Burnley’s midfield he quickly became a starter and a key cog in the midfield after joining in January. The reason Barton is here is that 3 months later he is banned from football for betting on his own games! Burnley, given his track record you should have seen something like this coming. This is on you as much as on him



Worst signing: Michy Batshuayi.

If you were new to football you could be mistaken for thinking Michy was brought in as a social media rep. despite playing 20 times in the league the length of those appearances has averaged less than 12 minutes per game. That said, he’s scored 5 and assisted 1 in that time. Frankly, he hasn’t been bad – just not at the standard of Chelsea’s other players and signings.


Best signing: N’Golo Kante.

Kante is the PFA player of the year and the FWA player of the year. Need I say more? I will anyway though. Kante has been a ball winning machine in the midfield this season – him and Matic a fantastic barrier that few attacks can break down. Key to Chelsea’s title win as he was to Leicester’s.


Crystal Palace

Best signing: Christian Benteke.

It had to be, didn’t it? He’s scored 15 goals this season and assisted 2 more. To put that in perspective all Palace’s other strikers totalled 3 goals. That’s a fifth of what Christian achieved. Free from a bizarre, ill-fitting stint at Liverpool he’s back doing what he does best: dominating defenders physically and smashing goals in from crosses.


Worst signing: Jonathon Benteke

Who? Good question. Signed from Zulte Waregem in the summer, Christian Benteke’s younger brother joined him at Palace. Or at least he did on the training ground – he’s only totalled 6 minutes of play in all competitions. He looked OK in that time, but the fact he could only manage that much speaks volumes

15 young players who bounced back from a bad 2015/16

Screenshot from 2017-02-27 17-41-37.png

Every year there are a few young players who are tabbed for greatness, saying they will break out and show the word what they are made of, and then don’t. Some players in this lose confidence and form and just fizzle out – didn’t fulfill their potential being the standard line trotted out.

But what of the others? Those who get back up after this stumble and proves the doubters wrong, who despite a bad year bounce back and show what they are about.

So in order of biggest turnaround, let’s begin:


15. Raheem Sterling

Let’s start with someone who last year didn’t play that badly – just fine. After a few good years as Liverpool’s (and Europe’s) golden boy, but after a long contract saga he was sold to Manchester city for nearly £50 million. Under Pellegrini Sterling was fine, flashed potential and was a nuisance to defenders, but overall didn’t do very much. Pellegrini seemed reluctant to play him on the right – instead preferring him cutting inside on the left or as a number 10.

However, with Pep now at the helm all has changed. As much as Pep is known for playing out from the back and ball possession one thing key to his style are high, fast and technical winger, many people predicted sterling would flourish under Pep and for sure he has – Arguably City’s best player this season and after Sane found his feet the two have been destroying fullbacks in recent weeks – both with ball at feet going wide and then getting the ball in or off the ball running onto crosses. When they play well City have been among the most exciting teams to watch this season – and Sterling is a big part of that.


14. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

Ox has always had problem with injuries, but 2016/17 has probably been his most injury free year having before march almost having matched his highest ever EPL game total of 23. He’s also producing more – admittedly he still has only 6 goals this season but that is nearly a third of all goals scored though his entire arsenal career.

But ignoring goals and focusing on performances he has stepped up big time, In the past Ox often drifted though games and failed to really achieve anything, now he’s fighting tooth and nail for every touch as well as with Iwobi for a starting spot. He’s been extremely versatile as well, on both wings to great effect and providing good cover during Arsenal’s annual injury crisis – honestly as a CM he’s performed better than half of the actual central midfielders Arsenal have on their squad list. Looking at you Ramsey and Coquelin.


13. Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco

Carrasco prior to this season has been something of an enigma, not quite good enough to win a consistent starting spot, but good enough to always be in the conversation. Spent periods blowing hot and cold last year and Simeone clearly didn’t think he was the player he wanted. Dropped for big games and the big money signing of Gaitan made a spot on the bench look a near certainty.

This season though he has sprung back to form, scoring 8 goals in LaLiga – only 1 fewer than the much more talked about Antoine Griezmann, despite playing as a winger. As much as goal scoring return perhaps the biggest thing Carrasco has gained is consistency, bar a period through December where he inexplicably vanished he has always been a threat whenever on the pitch.


12. Alejandro Grimaldo

Ah, Alex Grimaldo, once the golden boy of La Masia, the next great hope for the fabled academy to produce a player worthy of the top level – Unless of course your name happens to be Luis Enrique. For reasons no-one is entirely sure Enrique refused to give Grimaldo chances. Ever. Alex even said this about Enrique: “I have not had any contact with him, nor do I have anything to say to him”.

Consequently, He left for Benfica and after 6 months biding his time established himself as Benfica’s first choice left back. Questions remain about his defensive ability but his rise in just a few months from rotting in the Segunda B to starting for Benfica on a regular basis is commendable to say the least.


11. Angel Correa

Angel Correa has always been interesting, especially to watch. His dynamic, high energy running are so driven and error inducing it’s amazing. But when he first arrived at Atleti he was rarely used. An impact sub was his role at the best of times. He was very good at it, but regardless 14 minutes every 2 weeks isn’t enough to make efficient development. But there was little he could do – playing as a second striker you’ll always struggle to get minutes when Greizmann is in the squad.

Over the summer something changed. Atleti started badly: 2 scoreless draws against newly promoted sides gave them a gap in the title race they never recovered from. But it did help Correa. Knowing he would have to change something Simeone decided to play attacker in the wide midfield slots rather than central midfielders. Correa found a home on the right flank – sitting in the channel he could come inside or out, shoot or pass, dribble or cross. Without him Atleti could be having a bigger problem this season than they already are.



10. Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg

Hojbjerg burst through at Bayern as the youngest player to ever play for the fist team at only 17 but never really made an impression – never playing more than 8 league matches for Bayern in a season. Soon Joshua Kimmich replaced him as the midfield wonderkid and after 2 semi successful loan spells (and a change of manager) he left for Southampton in summer 2016.

On the south coast he has impressed as a number 8 in Claude Puel’s 4312 and 433 systems. His combative strength and intelligent passing make him a great asset to the team, and though he has had his role diminished by the recent shift to 4231 he remains a vital to the team – with starring performances in wins over Bournemouth and Leicester among his highlights.


9. Andreas Periera

The 2015/16 season wasn’t a good one for Andreas Pereira. A often seen presence on the bench, but rarely off it. Come season end he had made only 4 league appearances and though he was clearly good, had little impact in admittedly little time. Mourinho was clearly watching this and upon taking over loaned him to LaLiga strugglers Granada for the season to see what he was made of.

Long story short, his loan is turning out a great success. Along with the 14 (!) other loanees Granada brought in he is keeping them from being completely left in the dust in the relegation fight and though his individual stats may look meh, but in a team as bad as Granada it’s very impressive. He hasn’t been the star of the show (probably has to go to Mehdi Carcela-Gonzalez) and is still a long way before he’s ready to become a regular face in the Man United first team, but his technical ability, work rate and defensive acumen have served him well, be that on the left wing, as a number 10 or even deeper in a pivot.


8. Mattia de Sciglio

In 2015/16 Mattia de Sciglio kind of floated along not really contributing anything. Injuries helped in that regard but overall his quality of performances left quite a lot to be desired – even the some of the Milan faithful began to give up and pin their hopes on even younger Davide Calabria as the new fullback hope. But over the summer that changed.

Despite his iffy at best form Antonio Conte still picked him for EURO 2016 (to much dismay) and though it started with him on the bench behind Candreva, Florenzi and Darmian as wing back choices in the latter part of the tournament he established himself as a key player – driving up the left flank to support the attack. He continued this form into the 2016/17 club season and has locked down the left back spot as his own. Until injuries hit again. Please don’t be another Phil Jones Mattia.


7. Serge Gnabry

Anyone remember Serge Gnabry playing the premier league? Me neither. In 4 full seasons there with both Arsenal and West Brom he made but 11 appearances in the league. Now at the time of writing he is 1 short of doubling that tally after less than one season in the Bundesliga with Werder Bremen.

Since joining Bremen he has been shifted around the pitch – up front, on the left and deep in midfield most often. But regardless of where he plays his strong dribbling and threat when cutting inside make him a dangerous player to face. Many Arsenal fans were disappointed to see him leave, despite failing to make an impact at West Brom – on this seasons evidence it’s not hard to see why.


6. Iker Muniain

Ah, Iker Muniain – I’ve been following him for years (along with the rest of Athletic’s academy) and he’s always had something special about him. I written about him before ( an in that article I described him as ‘Back to his best’, So why is he here? As I also mentioned in that piece it was extremely injury hit, disrupting his progress: this season is a different story.

Now however 8 months on, his improvement is even more clear. He’s ousted Inaki Williams as the current standout wonderkid and forced him out to the right to accommodate him cutting in off the left, but more interesting is him playing with greater frequency as a number 10 – showing off his cooler head and great intelligence to play it out to wide areas as much as to attack the centre alone. Don’t be surprised to see Raul Garcia out wide to let Muniain play centrally – he’s good enough to deserve it.


5. Nabil Bentaleb

Part of Sherwood’s legendary midfield alongside Ryan Mason, He, unlike his partner, was tabbed for great things – anchoring Spurs’ midfield for years to come. Pochettino however didn’t quite see it that way – preferring an out-of-position Eric Dier to hold it together in midfield and without regular game time and the confidence of his manager Bentaleb suffered. In 2015/16 it got even worse 11 appearances in all competitions sounded a clear death knell for his tottenham career and he was promptly shipped off to Schalke where he played alongside former Spurs reject Benjamin Stambouli who signed from PSG (though why PSG signed him in the first place is a big question)

At Schalke however he has become a permanent fixture in the midfield – playing on the left of the central midfield 3 in Schalke’s 3142 system where he largely wins the ball back and plays through balls to Sead Kolasinac and whoever is playing up front. A simple job, but he’s doing it well – well enough Schalke are getting him permanently.


4. Nathaniel Chalobah

Did anyone find Chalobah when on loan at Napoli last season? Probably not – because he only totaled 31 league minutes across an entire season. Clearly Napoli were above his level at that stage – even when he did play, he was not an effective presence (except in the Europa league, oddly).

Fast forward to 2016/17 and Chalobah still hasn’t been a key player at his club, but his club is now Chelsea – who are running away with the title this season and Chalobah for Pedro/Willian has become one of two standard defensive changes Conte makes to protect a lead (the other being Ivanovic/Zouma for Moses). His aggressive pressing and conservative positioning make him a great late game number 8. Oh, and his assist for Moses early in the season – absolutely beautiful.


3. Luciano Vietto

Luciano Vietto was supposed to be Antoine Griezmann 2.0 – a hybrid forward/winger from a mid table club (Villareal to be precise) for Simeone to mould into a fearsome, pressing striker – pity it didn’t actually happen. Vietto floundered horrendously regardless of where he was played – and bar some nice link play at the edge of the box never actually contributed anything to Atleti’s attack despite 19 games and nearly 1000 minutes in the league. A meagre return of 1 goal and 3 assists was not enough for the notoriously ruthless Simeone – who shipped him off to Sevilla on a loan with option to buy.

In stark contrast to his time at Atleti, his time under Sampaoli his been a clear success – having already surpassed his leauge minutes total and directly contributed to 15 goals in all competitions. The big question is if Sevilla take their option to buy him – Ben Yedder has been great as well and the winter arrival Stevan Jovetic has been a revelation – dropping Vietto to third choice through no fault of his old. And Sevilla don’t take up their option will Simeone (or his replacement?) give him a second chance?


2. Youri Tielemans

Everyone has heard of Youri Tielemans. He’s been tipped for since he made his debut a 16 – 3 years ago. But despite what the hype suggested it hasn’t been a clear ride for him – Stephan Defour and fellow youngster Dennis Praet became Anderlecht‘s first choice midfield pairing for most of 2015 and then 2016 – leaving Tielemans accomplishing little more than being linked to Manchester United for the 47th time.

This season with both Defour and Praet moving one (Defour to Burnley, Praet to Sampdoria) the spotlight has firmly been on Tielemans again – and in it, he has sparkled. The statistics speak for themselves – 15 goals and 10 assists in 37 games! From a nineteen year old. Now that is a big return to the spotlight.


1. Sandro Ramirez

Sandro had a bad last year. Originally competing with Munir for the role of backup to Luis Suarez (not a role you’d expect o get regular game time) and then rotated with Munir on the right hand side of attack when Messi was injured – not small boots to fill. And frankly, he failed. When he first broke through alongside Munir in the first few weeks of Lucho’s reign though most of the media attention went to Munir, Sandro outperformed him in most cases, but in Enrique’s second season he flopped and by the end of the season even the board were saying they didn’t really want him.

So off to Malaga then. Since moving to La Rosaleda (great stadium BTW, very much enjoyed my visit) he has played 17 times in the league and provided 7 goals and 7 assists, not amazing, but good nonetheless. But what has impressed most has been his all around play – despite being La Masia trained he is a typical physical number 9, but due to his history in La Masia he blends this with excellent technical ability to make him a great LaLiga striker. Certainly better this season than his direct replacement at the Camp Nou – Paco Alcacer.


And that concludes this list of players who had it within them to overcome their stumbles and critics and stand tall and prove them wrong. Hopefully you agree with at least some of my picks

Overlooked players number 3: Rafinha Alcantara

Today I’m going to write about one of my favourite players in world football – Rafinha Alcantara. The younger, less well known brother of Thiago Alcantara, he remained at Barcelona rather than flying the nest at a young age and though he isn’t an regular starter at Barca (who could be honestly) but is almost the definition of underappriceiated.

So what kind of player is Rafinha? He is a central midfielder. Probably. In all honesty no-one is really sure. In the last 2 seasons he has played on both wings (primarily the right), Central midfielder (both right of a three, left of a three and in a double pivot), striker and even right wing back – despite being left footed. He could almost certainly play number 10 as well, but Barca don’t use one. Where he is best in is very much up for debate – personally I think either RW or RCM show his strengths the best.

A saviour is needed.

But what are those strengths? His versatility is exceptional and this allows him to play the 12th man role effectively – being a rotation player and backup in the event that Sergi Roberto got injured. His work rate also means if regardless of the situation he will likely have an impact off the bench However sine then he has been a more fringe player due to Lucho’s insistence on playing Andre Gomes (his signing critiqued previously here).

Above is the lineup for the second leg of the Copa Del Rey match which Barca went into 2-1 down. He got his start – alongside Iniesta and Busquets in midfield he was quietly effective. Standout? No, that was Iniesta, but did everything asked of him, worked hard, supported the attack and won the ball back with aplomb. Likewise in the 5-0 thrashing of Las Palmas he played again in midfield (this time the left) – and though Aleix Vidal and the front three of Messi, Suarez and Turan stole the show Rafinha still more than showed his worth – dropping wide to cover for Turan dropping inside into midfield, driving forwards to create overloads in the box and giving someone for Gomes and Busquets to play to as well as getting an assist for his troubles, which brings us neatly on to Rafinha’s greatest strength…


Goalscoring. When playing Rafinha near guarantees an impact in the final third. Going into October he was top five in the LaLiga scoring charts. Despite being a rotational midfielder he has 5 goals so far putting level with elite forwards like Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, Raul Garcia and Alvaro Morata but what makes that even more impressive is the rate of scoring. Lets make a table comparing him with a few top LaLiga strikers:

Player Goals scored Minutes played Minutes per goal
Rafinha Alcantara 5 599 120
Antoine Griezmann 7 1441 205
Aritz Aduriz 6 1281 213
Neymar 4 1257 314
Gerard Moreno 7 1570 224

This is eye opening to me – Rafinha Alcantara, a midfielder scores at nearly twice the rate of a Balon D’or finalist. In fact in terms of minutes of goals he is fifth behind the big three of Messi, Suarez and Ronaldo and Wissam Ben Yedder and comfortably the highest for a midfielder.

Honestly at almost any club at Barca he would start consistently and a standout player for them – there is an arguament to be made that he has to leave Barca to gain the recognition he deserves, but as a Barca fan, I don’t want to see him go.

Overlooked players number 2: Nacho Fernandez.

I’m going to start this with a disclaimer: I am a Barcelona fan, I make no secret of this. However I try to be impartial and and recognise the abilities, innovations and strengths of other teams and their players. I think I do a pretty well, but who knows.

Nacho Fernandez. He has a fabulous beard

Ok, on to Nacho. For those of you who don’t know, he is a Real Madrid defender who can play comfortably across the backline and, frankly, I feel sorry for him. Why do I feel sorry for him? Because of the colossus of chaos himself: Sergio Ramos. No matter how well he plays he will always be dropped in favour of Ramos purely because of his name.

This season is already the perfect example; Sergio Ramos has been nothing short of atrocious so far this season – cards and penalties have come at rate of one every game, and that doesn’t even mention his awful positioning. He leaves both Marcelo and Varane exposed by leaving gaps when he charges forward. Truly, Ramos has been nothing short of shocking.

Nacho however has been by far Real’s best centre back this season (and has been excellent when filling in at left back) no matter where he has played. Lets take the Madrid derby as an example listed him as the best defender on the pitch and the fourth best player in total (after Navas, Bale and Ronaldo) what is his reward for excelling in such a big match? A spot on the bench alongside rejects Fabio Coentrao and James Rodriguez.

So other than being an easy target for dropping in favour of a big name, what else is there to say about Nacho? Well he is a product of Real’s La Fabrica youth system (which depending on how you count is the most successful in Europe), he is regularly in the squad for the Spanish national team as a backup defender, he is very short for a CB at 5 foot 10 inches and often fills in at left back. And I don’t mean the Azpilicueta style right footed defender who just protects his flank, Nacho comfortably charges up and down his flank, crossing with both feet and being a useful wide link player with excellent quick passing – the 2-2 draw with Las Palmas is an excellent example of this.

So why do I consider him overlooked? Because no matter what he does he will never establish himself as the Real Madrid Regular he needs to be to gain a mainstream following, Nor will he leave RM due to his home-grown status being useful for Real and him loving his youth club.

So both for now and the foreseeable future he will remain a reliable backup and nothing more. But make no mistake he is probably the most reliable backup in the world – and at the very least, that deserves recognition.

Overlooked players number 1: Santi Mina

OK, new segment time. I plan to do this regularly by the way – but who knows If I will be able to find the time. Anyway, the topic of this segment will be players who are not necessarily underrated (though may be so) but those who fly under the radar. Those who despite putting up decent numbers and contributing a lot to the team just never get mentioned like some of their team-mates. On to who is up first:

Santi Mina.

Ok seriously, outside of Spanish football fans who has even heard of Santi Mina? I’d wager very few of you. And perhaps understandably so, playing alongside Nani, Munir and (until recently) Paco Alcacer means little focus on Valencia’s attack can be directed towards the young talent that is Santi Mina. But frankly, that’s unjust. He’s only 20 years old but last season got 8 goals and the season before 9. Obviously not earth shattering numbers but for someone who at the time was only in their late teens it is very impressive. This season after 3 LaLiga games he has already scored twice while playing off the left wing – making him Valencia’s top scorer so far. Yet still, no hype or even mention of him anywhere.

That brings me onto my next point – versatility. Mina can play across the front line with ease. Though seen as a centre forward by many (myself included) he spent last season (and quite a bit of the season before) on the right wing and has started this season only on the left and his effectiveness hasn’t dropped (if anything its improved). He has even played number 10 on occasion.

Now we reach the elephant in the room – Valencia. Let me put this simply: They are atrocious. They shouldnt’t be atrocious, but they are. They have lost the opening 3 games of the season leaving them stranded in 19th. The golden age promised by Peter Lim has completely failed to materialise and all the sense of hope and positivity brought by the takeover has been entirely sucked out (into the pockets of giant economic leech super agent Jorge Mendes). Perhaps this combined with the loss of key players (like Paco Alcacer as mentioned earlier, along with Shkodran Mustafi and Nicolas Otamendi among others) have drained the optimism so much that no one can even get excited bout him (or anyone else) anymore – an argument supported by the demise of the Alcacer hype (until the Barca move of course) and eventual missing out of a euro squad place despite being top scorer in qualifying. The media however has no excuse.

Overall Santi Mina is an extremely effective, versatile attacker – especially for someone only twenty years old and he has unjustly overlooked by pretty much everyone. And frankly why escapes me.

Jesse Lingard – How Manchester United can get the best out of him.

Undoubtedly last year was the breakout year for Jesse Lingard, but almost from day 1 he has been an enigma – some value his work rate, others criticise his end product. Some love his intelligent runs to open space for others, others criticise his end product. Suprisingly few people value his versatility and tactical intelligence, others criticise his end product. It should be clear now which side of the fence I stand.

Jesse Lingard tactically though is quite odd, here are very few players of his style around. Most of the matches he’s played have been on the wings (primarily the right) but he has played number 10, centre midfield, striker and even right wing back (albeit only once). However no matter where he appears on team sheet he plays largely the same role. Below is his heatmap for the community shield (playing, in theory, on the right wing):

Screenshot from 2016-08-11 12-13-49

He appears in both boxes, on both wings and frankly everywhere on the pitch. If you saw the game then that was evident – not least in his goal, where he started at the centre circle dribbled out towards the left then came back inside before shooting.

This is role I mentioned earlier is simple – run to create and exploit space. Be that by dropping deep dragging defenders out of position, running beyond to stretch the defence or moving across field to create overloads. Above all else Lingard is an intelligent footballer.

What about his weaknesses? Well his finishing is erratic (except in finals it appears) and crossing isn’t a strong point. The former is the bigger issue as the latter can be easily masked by tactics. At the moment (assuming he plays on the right) his crossing isn’t a problem as Antonio Valencia (who recently found the crossing boots he left in his parents garage 4 years ago) is a short pass away on the overlap, but on the right wing his time is limited. Mata has started there in the first two Premier League games due to Lingard’s injury (and impressed) and though he is being eased into EPL life, Henrikh Mhikitaryan will almost undoubtedly establish himself as a regular starter.

So where next? Left wing would be an option if not for Martial, and though he’s been average so far he isn’t going anywhere. Central midfield could have been possible, but with Pogba now at United such an offensive pairing of the 2 would be suicidal (Mourinho will be aware of this more than anyone). So that leaves one slot – number 10.

Louis Van Gaal tried Lingard last season at pseudo-number 10 in stretches and he was fine there but not outstanding. But the pseudo here is important; on the team sheet presented by the TV broadcasters he was number 10 (as they naively assumed it was the standard 4231) but it played out more like a lopsided 4141 – with Carrick holding and Lingard and Herrera/Schneiderlin/Fellaini/etc the other side of central midfield.

But now, LVG’s days of baffling tactical switches are over and with Mourinho in charge the standard 4231 has been implemented and there is no real reason to think that will change. So now a proper number 10 role emerges – for Lingard to slot into. The final question is how.

Looking again at his heatmap and style of play, him wandering the final third with freedom would likely be very effective – dropping out to the right when Mkhitaryan/Mata comes inside, going to the left to create an overload with Martial/Shaw, running beyond (the rather slow) Ibrahimovic onto his knockdowns and through balls – the possibilities are endless.

Having read that the first player that came to mind was Dusan Tadic. He is a natural winger who now plays as a number 10 for Southampton (as United fans saw in the first planned Friday night football) but even when he does he drifts wide to cross and impact play.

The second (and I think more apt) player I thought of was Bernardo Silva in the U21 EUROs last year – the Portugal side he played for finished second playing a strange 4312 system but with the 2 being wingers rather than forwards. The main attacking threat for that team was Silva – playing behind forwards(?) and generally running the games. In the final and couple of other matches the opposition tried clogging the centre to stop him playing but it didn’t help. His experience as a winger meant he just as comfortably exploited the extra space out wide – because Silva is an adaptable, intelligent player who finds space and exploits it.

Now set Lingard this role – starting in the number 10 area before pushing forward to press, or splitting wide to support a full back before dropping deep to defend. Not only would such an improvisational, intelligent player disrupt the opposition backline, but having those areas left free for Pogba to charge into would help him undoubtedly (and Mkhitaryan to an extent).

Playing in the number 10 area would emphasise his strengths, and make his main weaknesses less important. If Mourinho is able to overcome the enormous political wall that is Wayne Rooney to implement this, it will help Manchester United, and Jesse Lingard, no end.