As the action begins to wind down at Euro 2016, transfer rumours are starting to come to the fore ahead of the summer window reopening on Friday. Some of Europe’s biggest clubs are already pursuing notable targets, and the Premier League elite are looking to make amends for the failings of a season in which relegation favourites Leicester performed the near-impossible.
On the evidence of this week, the standard price for stars making switches either to or within the Premier League seems to be around £30m. Michy Batshuayi is set to complete a move from Marseille to Chelsea, becoming the first new recruit under Antonio Conte, while elsewhere in the capital Granit Xhaka has secured a switch to Arsenal, and Eric Bailly has moved to Manchester United all for the same fee.
Getting value for money is increasingly difficult in the transfer market, especially for Premier League buyers. Indeed, the reaction to Liverpool’s signing of Sadio Mane for a price believed to be in the region of £34m was met with more than the odd raised eyebrow.
The Senegalese international became the fifth player to tread the path from St. Mary’s to Anfield in the last two years, with those before him having faced mixed reviews to say the least. While Nathaniel Clyne enjoyed a solid if unspectacular debut campaign on Merseyside, both Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren have faced criticism during their two seasons at Liverpool and Rickie Lambert’s dream move turned into something of a nightmare.
Mane, then, will hope to be the most impressive player to make said switch and certainly has the tools to exceed the levels of the rest of the former Saints contingent. Justifying such a lofty price tag will depend on whether he fulfills his unquestionable potential.
Doing so will rely on getting some consistency to his game. Despite some scintillating displays – not least against Liverpool having scored in more games against the Reds than any other Premier League team (three). With four goals in total against Jurgen Klopp’s side, it’s little surprise the powers that be at Anfield have been suitably impressed.
It was, in fact, Southampton’s 3-2 win over Liverpool in March that really revived a season that had gone into something of a slumber for Mane. The rapid attacker scored a brace from the bench and went on to score a further six goals in his last seven appearances of the season. That a tally of eight in eight to end the campaign saw Mane end the campaign with just 11 league goals tells a story though, and while he is one of only two players – along with Alexis Sanchez – that you wouldn’t recognise as an out-and-out striker to reach double figures in each of the last two Premier League seasons, Mane’s form in front of goal is patchy to say the least.
Indeed, said purple patch followed a run of 19 league appearances without a goal after the versatile forward had made a superb start to the season. Ironically, Mane’s last strike before that barren run also came against Liverpool in a match that he later received his marching orders, with goals against the Reds bookending a torrid spell in which his only goal in the cup came against – you guessed it – Liverpool. To recap, in a run of 22 appearances for Saints in the middle of last season Mane scored just four goals, all coming against Liverpool.
Mane’s greatest strength is not his finishing, however, but his power and pace on the break, completing 136 dribbles in his two years on the south coast. He offers a more direct approach than the players currently at Klopp’s disposal and one in keeping with the options the German had at his disposal during his time at Dortmund, bringing us nicely onto another big money signing expected to be completed this summer.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan was the star man for the Schwarzgelben last season, and indeed in the entire Bundesliga, thriving following the departure of the aforementioned Liverpool boss under the tutelage of Thomas Tuchel. The fact, however, that his current manager has clearly been able to get the best from the Armenian has not been enough to convince Mkhitaryan to extend his contract, with his heart set on a move to the Reds’ rivals Manchester United.
Expected to complete a transfer to Old Trafford before the new season starts for a price marginally lower than that which Liverpool paid for Mane, it’s certainly apparent that the Red Devils look likely to be getting the better deal. While very different players, with Mkhitaryan an incredibly skilled, technical playmaker and the new Liverpool man more reliant on his excellent physical attributes, comparisons can be drawn between the two.
Both put in the best displays for their club last season from the right flank according to WhoScored.com’s statistical ratings. The Dortmund man started 16 league games from that side of the pitch, scoring seven of his 11 goals to earn a rating of 8.20 in said appearances – up from an already league-high average of 7.90. Mane’s rating in the Premier League last season was far more modest at 7.14, but rose to 8.07 from 10 starts on the right wing, with 5 of his equal tally of 11 league goals scored from that position.
As with Mane though, Manchester United’s interest in Mkhitaryan is not primarily for his impressive finishing stats but his ability to create chances, which could see the Armenia international deployed in a more central role under Mourinho. With 15 assists last season representing a Bundesliga high, the playmaker’s ability to operate in tight spaces and pick that killer pass ranks among the best in Europe. For a side that only created 311 chances in total last season – only more than Watford, Villa and West Brom in the Premier League – Mkhitaryan’s skillset would be a godsend. The Dortmund man made 83 key passes alone last season, equating to almost 27% of United’s total tally.
In truth then, should Mkhitaryan join Mane in England’s top-flight, both Liverpool and United will have acquired players that crucially add variety and quality to their ranks. As far as value for money is concerned though, while Mane has some way to go to justify his price tag, the United wannabe looks to be worth every penny of his.