My Top 5 Signings This Summer
As I publish
this blog, it’s started to get real tasty. Yesterday, Al Hilal had a £259
million offer for Kylian Mbappe accepted by PSG and Daniel Levy was told he
must sell Kane this summer. Both sagas could rumble on until the window closes.
But in the here and now, football clubs have spent £2.5billion this summer. No
one is hanging around here. I look at some of the most intriguing transfers
that have happened this summer and give my take. This is the Lowe-Down.
After years of rumours and speculation of his next move from Borussia Dortmund, you’d be forgiven for thinking Jude Bellingham was entering the prime of his career. Since the World Cup at the end of 2022, the noise became louder, the speculation more intense until the saga reached its conclusion. Hey Jude! Or, “Ey Jude” as they would say in Madrid. On 15th June 2023, Real Madrid announced they had completed the signing of Jude Bellingham for an initial £88.5million and Bellingham had agreed a six-year contract. The race was over. Bellingham had become the new ‘Galactico’.
Out of the interested parties, there were only three who were close to signing him. These were Manchester City, Liverpool and Real Madrid. Liverpool “pulled out” of the race for his signature as they prioritised “value for money” options to commence their midfield rebuild with the financial outlay it would cost to bring Bellingham to Anfield considered too high. That left Real Madrid as the frontrunner. Not a bad short straw at all.
How will he fit into the Real Madrid team? Naturally he is here to replace the two lynchpins who have underpinned all of the recent successes, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos. Both are still at the club and Modric is still considered a starter, however Bellingham will provide some much-needed energy. When Madrid crashed out of the Champions League to Man City, not only were they tactically outclassed by Pep Guardiola’s side, but their midfield looked extremely leggy. Bellingham, long term, will be accompanied by Tchouameni, Camavinga and Valverde in what looks like a midfield set for the next decade.
What makes Bellingham so special then? First of all, the experience he has accumulated for someone his age is second to none. To be so composed and level-headed, not just on the field but off it too, is frightening. Secondly, in an age where lots of elite footballers are considered technicians in one or two aspects of the game, Bellingham can do a bit of everything. His world cup performances for England showcased his ability to go box to box, his playmaking skills and even his tenacity in winning defensive duels at the heart of the midfield. All-action midfielders with physical attributes like his are rare and only a few examples such as Paul Pogba and Yaya Toure spring to mind. Whilst it’s very early to put Bellingham up there with those two players, his raw attributes are potential to grow certainly mean he could reach those heights. Playing in La Liga will ensure his technical skills will continue to develop and his physical prowess will shine above any other midfielder in the league. Training each day alongside Luka Modric can only be a good thing too.
I see Bellingham having a prosperous career at Real Madrid and proving himself to be one of or if not the best midfielder in the world in the years to come. As long as Mbappe doesn’t move this summer, Bellingham will be the signing who defined the 2023 summer transfer window and I can’t wait to see how he gets on.
Szoboszlai to Liverpool
It’s well documented that Liverpool were, and still are, rebuilding their midfield this summer. A lack of midfield signings in previous years and several departures this summer including Naby Keita, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, James Milner and now potentially both Fabinho and Jordan Henderson has left Liverpool short. Following the signing of Alexis Mac Allister from Brighton, who will conceivably fit in well at Liverpool, their next signing came out of the blue.
Having been linked to Newcastle in the days before, it became public knowledge that Dominik Szoboszlai of RB Leipzig had a release clause of £60million that expired on June 30th. Liverpool swooped in and activated the release clause and that was Szoboszlai’s mind made up. On 2nd July, Liverpool officially announced the signing. The second addition to their midfield and one that not a lot, if any, saw coming.
Szoboszlai at Liverpool is a very intriguing and exciting prospect. His profile is completely different to any Liverpool midfielder in terms of his build and versatility. He’s only 22 years old and has played in every position from centre midfield to striker including on both wings. However, without watching any pre-season games, I believe he’s been brought in to play centrally. With 64 goals in 226 career games, he will provide a genuine goal threat and the first from midfield at Liverpool since Phillipe Coutinho. Whilst Liverpool have had other weapons such as a prolific front three and creativity from full-back, Szoboszlai will ease the creativity burden and add goals. At 6ft 1 too, he brings height to the Liverpool midfield which, last season, often looked light weight.
Most signings are and rightly so, afforded a season of settling in, particularly at the big clubs. Players such as Jack Grealish and Martin Odegaard are examples of players who have particularly benefited from this. Liverpool’s forwards Darwin Nunez and Cody Gakpo are two players who will hope they can produce on a more consistent basis next season. Whilst Szoboszlai will be given that time to adapt, I believe he will settle in quickly to Klopp’s Liverpool. Having come through the Red Bull “system”, starring for both Salzburg and Leipzig, both teams renowned for playing high-pressing, intense football, Szoboszlai will be well versed in the “Gegen-pressing” way of playing.
Szoboszlai scored 10 goals last
season whilst providing 13 assists and will be hoping to repeat and improve these
tallies this coming season. In 2022/23, Szoboszlai ranked 1st
against Liverpool’s midfielders for goals scored, assists, shots on target and chances
created. Klopp will hope and expect that Szoboszlai gives Liverpool a different
dimension from midfield. At the age of 22, he is already the captain of
Hungary, and now he’s taken the famous number 8 shirt at Liverpool. Szoboszlai
is one to watch this season and I believe Liverpool fans will have a new number
8 to fall in love with.
Onana to United
Andre Onana’s signing and David De Gea’s departure from
Manchester United, happening in the same window is rather striking. It draws
the curtain on De Gea’s wonderful career at United where he has proven himself
to be one of the best shot-stoppers the Premier League has seen.
It is also the product of a shift in the role of the goalkeeper and the evolution of an all-action keeper. As much as De Gea was a fantastic shot-stopper, his limitations as a ball-playing sweeper keeper meant his time at the top of the game was coming to an end.
So, with that, Erik Ten Hag has got his man. Having worked
with Onana in his emergence at Ajax, Ten Hag knows all about Onana and
identified him as his number one target. Ten Hag’s first season at United was a
success and whilst he has started to implement his “total football” style of
play, De Gea’s limitations held this back. The goalkeeper must be adept at
being the first player in the build-up phase, picking out the spare man with
accurate passes as well as being the last defender acting as sweeper.
With that in mind, Onana is an immediate upgrade on De Gea. Having been schooled at Barcelona’s famous academy, La Masia, Onana is well versed at having the ball at his feet and playing the mould Ten Hag wants United to play. Last season, Onana completed 81.3% of his passes which is considerably higher than De Gea who only completed 71.1% of his passes. One key statistic for a ball playing keeper is the amount of successful progressive passes he plays and Onana has a tally of 567.1 yards per game which is higher than not only De Gea but also Alisson and Ederson too. A progressive pass is one that puts the team 10 yards closer to the opponent’s goal so the higher the yards of passes you’ve made, the better. These statistics show that Onana is not only very comfortable with playing out from the back but that he also does so with a purpose, hence the progressive passes statistic. And yes, I know, he’s supposed to keep the ball out of his own goal. Well, he’s pretty good at doing that too. Onana had a higher save percentage than De Gea at 73.5% and also kept the most clean sheets in the Champions League last season.
There will be kamikaze moments, hearts in the mouth moments but
with that risk comes reward and Onana’s signing will be a crucial one for
Pulisic to AC Milan
Every summer there are a few transfers that catch you off guard. Transfers you just didn’t see coming. This is certainly one, and one I shall be keeping my eye on.
Perhaps, Christian Pulisic’s departure from Chelsea could have been anticipated. Chelsea’s need to sell players and sell players quickly has been well documented and, sadly, Pulisic was an asset they were happy to cash in on. Just how little cash they have received from him is slightly surprising. Just over £17million pounds is the sum that AC Milan have paid for Pulisic. In this day and age, £17m gets you an Anthony Elanga, a James Trafford who’s not played higher than League One and half of a Conor Gallagher. From what we have seen and know of Christian Pulisic, it’s a steal. Throw in the fact that he’s only 24 years of age and he’s a US Superstar and AC Milan are an American-owned club, and the deal makes sense for all involved.
Let’s talk about on the pitch. It is fair to say that Pulisic’s time at Chelsea has been a disappointment. Injuries have hampered him and changings of managers and even ownership regimes have led him to be on the periphery of things. Whilst showing promise, the youthfulness and exuberance he displayed whilst playing at Borussia Dortmund wasn’t always there and neither were the leadership qualities he shows whilst playing for his national team. Pulisic needed a fresh start to reignite his career and he has just that.
At Milan he will be reunited with both Fikayo Tomori who has
been a roaring success since moving from Chelsea and newly inbound Ruben
Loftus-Cheek. I envisage him playing on the right of a front three accompanying
Rafael Leao and a target man in attack and see him playing here consistently. Pulisic
on one wing and Leao on another is a mouth-watering prospect and the settled 4-2-3-1
formation Milan play should mean Pulisic will have consistency and this is why
I believe he will thrive I think the move is a great one for him and a
fantastic one for Milan who could easily have a player worth double or triple
what they have paid for him after a good season.
Skriniar to PSG
Whisper it quietly, but PSG have had a good transfer window and have made some sensible signings. This is, of course, amidst desperately trying to sell their star asset, Kylian Mbappe, so that he doesn’t leave on a free next summer. That kind of situation is more popular these days, just ask Daniel Levy.
Anyway, Manuel Ugarte adds some steel to their midfield,
Lucas Hernandez some versatility to their backline and then my pick of the
bunch, Milan Skriniar joining on a free transfer from Inter Milan. PSG have
signed some marquee players on free transfers in the recent past who have not
lived up to their reputation, however I don’t see that happening with Skriniar.
Having won Serie A, two Coppa Italia’s and fresh from
helping Inter reach a first Champions League final since 2010, Skriniar leaves
for Paris. At the age of 28, he’s in his peak years and has spent the last
three seasons challenging right at the top of Serie A, playing a key role.
During Inter’s title winning season in 2020/21, Skriniar kept a clean sheet in
13 games out of 32, giving him a percentage of 41% and the team conceded 0.74
goals per game with him on the pitch.
Luis Enrique’s PSG should be a completely different
proposition to Christophe Galtier’s PSG. As uncompromising as ever, Enrique
will not deviate from trying to play a heavy possession brand of football with a
high defensive line and an aggressive press. Both Conte’s Inter and Simeone’s Inter have used high lines and aggressive presses to win the
ball back and both have relied heavily on Skriniar’s defensive ability to play this way. Skriniar is a very good one on one defender who can not only defend in a
high line but can also play out from the back and should relish this role.
His age, profile and characteristics are exactly what PSG
need and value for money wise. He’s my signing of the summer.
Next week's Lowe-Down is a big one...