Marcel Brands’ reputation wasn’t built on big signings, but he pulled off the coup of the window. Signing Moise Kean for such a low fee looks like a steal. Signing him without a buy-back clause is brilliant business which makes Juventus look a bit silly.
More importantly, it cures an ailment which has only been partially treated since Romelu Lukaku left. Kean is not an orthodox forward in that same sense, but he is a natural goalscorer – and slightly crafty in his trade. He’s cuter (steady, now) than Lukaku and certainly more imaginative in the penalty box.
He isn’t a fully-formed player yet – let’s be clear about that – but his potential is so obvious and while all the usual variables and uncertainties apply, Everton might just have a star on their hands.
The midfield has had a re-fit too. Fabian Delph is what he is and will serve a purpose. Andre Gomes is returning permanently, as everyone at Goodison Park was eager for him to do, and Jean-Philippe Gbamin has been signed to replace Idrissa Gueye. Gbamin can also play at a centre-half. Whether that’s actually part of the plan with him remains to be seen, but it is slightly strange that another defender hasn’t arrived with Kurt Zouma heading back to Chelsea.
Yet the club weren’t exactly panicking about that, spending the final hours prioritising the other end of the pitch and that deal for Alex Iwobi. The fee does seems large, but there’s something to him as a player, even if we’re not quite sure what that something is yet. If Marco Silva can give him a full-time, properly defined role, we might find out.
He’s landed in a good place: he improves Everton, but they might also improve him.
On the basis that he’ll play as a centre-forward, consider the range of creative influences that he’ll be surrounded by: Gylfi Sigurdsson, Richarlison, Bernard, Iwobi, Theo Walcott, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Lucas Digne from full-back. That’s an eclectic range of attributes and it should equate to a lot of chances being created in different ways. For a goalscorer with good variation in his game, that’s a pretty optimal situation.
And there’s this too, which is lovely – particularly given what he suffered through last season.
It’s actually been a success.
Let’s reserve judgement on Dani Ceballos. For the sake of prediction: he’ll never fully buy-in and his attitude will deteriorate once he realises how challenging English football can be for a player of his background. Without the permanent clause, that’s a bad bit of business.
Aside from that, there’s plenty to be enthused by.
Nicolas Pepe was among the most thrilling players in Europe last season and any combination between him, Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang should be both destructive and highly watchable. Imagine that counter-attack, though.
And no, the defence isn’t perfect, but its issues have been overstated. Kieran Tierney has been a known commodity for some time and – injury history permitting – there’s nothing to suggest that he won’t adapt well. David Luiz? Yes, obviously there should be some reservations, but his role is really just to keep Shkodran Mustafi off the pitch and to act as a placeholder until William Saliba arrives in twelve months’ time.
But it’s not as if Luiz is signing to become a certain starter. Rob Holding is fit again; that’s excellent news. Sokratis is static but still capable, and – importantly – Unai Emery should have Hector Bellerin back some time before October. Add in Bernd Leno behind the combinations available, and is there really any need for the fatalism?
The YouTube caricatures will squeal and scream – they have to, that’s how they get paid – but enough has happened for the more balanced sections of the fanbase to be quietly optimistic. This has been their best window for some time.
Good job. First of all because they haven’t lost a single important player. It seems a long time ago that Ruben Neves was presumed just to be stopping in at the Black Country on his way to Manchester or Liverpool (or Paris or Madrid). He’s still there, though, and so is Willy Boly, Moutinho, Jonny, Rui Patricio, Diogo Jota and the rest. That attests to the authenticity of what’s happening at Molineux.
Because of Jorge Mendes’ relationship with the club and the wealth of its owners, the presumption was that this summer would involve a few lunges. Something attention-seeking, something which made a statement.
But Wolves have been understated and quiet. In fact, many didn’t even notice their loan signing of Jesus Vallejo, a ball-playing centre-back from Real Madrid who will improve the exits out of defence. He’ll be a starter almost straight away.
Patrick Cutrone is a slightly different case. There are similarities to Raul Jimenez, his energy without the ball for instance, but he’s a more traditional type and will offer a useful variation – or even a complement, depending on the situation. Cutrone is actually quite English in a way. He’s a good finisher, but he’s a grafter and a grinder and, like Jimenez, that should quickly endear him to his new fans.
Pedro Neto’s interesting, too. He’s Portuguese and also another Gestifute client, so there’ll be assumptions about him, but he’s got a nice left foot, a burst of pace, and could theoretically occupy the same kind of role as Diogo Jota. He’s one for the next couple of seasons rather than 2019/20 specifically, but he should have a couple of fun cameos in him. As with Bruno Jordao.
It’s gentle progress, but that was the requirement. Wolves are very well put together; that’s been the key to their success. But it also means that improving the side isn’t just a question of spending money and acquiring shiny components. Change has to happen gradually so as not to compromise structure and that seems to be the mentality.
Can anybody think of a player and coach more suited to working with each other than Youri Tielemans and Brendan Rodgers?
In fact, is there a greater synergy in the league than there is between Leicester’s squad and their coach? Maddison, Barnes, Gray, Ndidi. Now add Dennis Praet to the group. They’re all fairly technical and they’re all bound by roughly the same approach to the game.
In three years’ time, if all things remain equal, wouldn’t that be described as one of the best midfields in the country? Maybe it is already. Leicester have been described as lucky to have Rodgers and – yes – after the Claude Puel months that’s a fair assessment. But what an opportunity he has, too, because adding Tielemans and Praet over the summer turned a cluster of talent into a glut.
Leicester are going to be fun.
Quietly excellent. Arnaut Danjuma could be anything. I have no idea whatsoever about him. But the defence has been smartly and systematically improved and that was the priority. Eddie Howe has upgraded each of his full-back positions – signing Bristol City’s Lloyd Kelly and Luton’s Jack Stacey – while also taking advantage of Philip Billing’s contractual situation at Huddersfield. He’s moved for £15m.
Bournemouth conceded 70 goals in the Premier League last season which, by any measure, was completely unacceptable, but they have at least targeted that weakness properly and tackled it from several angles.
Harry Wilson should be great, too.
…and Howe needed a good window. There’s a lot to like about him already, but some of the praise he receives can be disingenuous. He’s really only built half a team. It’s a side which has improved immeasurably as an attacking force, but which remains dangerously porous without the ball and cannot help but concede really soft goals.
He’s generally not criticised for that because it’s understood that he’s working with limited talent in defence. That’s changed now. His chairman has allowed him to construct a new backline from players who probably do belong in the Premier League. Younger, more pliable sorts who, together, can eliminate the needs for this perpetual asterisk.
So this will be a truer context and a chance for him to work with fewer limitations.
Lost in the kerfuffle caused by Mauricio Pochettino’s comments during that pre-season tour was that his squad had already been strengthened with the most rounded and coveted midfielder on the market. Tanguy Ndombele is a player Tottenham have been short of for some time, probably from the moment Mousa Dembele’s bones began to creak. He’ll need time to assimilate to life in a new country, but it’s hard to argue with the quality; he looks outstanding.
As does Giovani Lo Celso. Daniel Levy may throw pound coins around like manhole covers, but he has delivered ingredients with which Pochettino can reinvent his midfield.
One of the points raised here, in this early summer assessment of the Christian Eriksen situation, was that Spurs needed to become more thrusting in that area – less passive. Lo Celso is a gamble, but his profile is exactly right: he takes risks on the ball, breaks late into the box and, while his introduction will have to involve some rebalancing, he can certainly create a more aggressive tone.
Spurs had to evolve. It wasn’t going to happen in defence. Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen have another year together at least. It couldn’t happen in attack, because everything will – and should – orbit around Harry Kane. So it had to be in midfield; that was the only area which could accommodate significant change. Credit to Levy, he’s created the opportunity for that. Eriksen may still leave, but with or without him Tottenham are different and better.
West Ham, learning their lessons
It’s never easy being positive about West Ham, because smart recruitment is so against their trend. Perhaps that’s a dated assumption, though, because Issa Diop was one of the signings of last summer and Lukasz Fabianski was the club’s Player of the Season. They still walked straight into the Jack Wilshere trap, but nobody ever gets everything right.
So let’s approach this with cautious optimism. Yes to Fornals, he’s an excellent player. Yes to Albian Ajeti, too, because £8m is very cheap for such a gifted finisher. And maybe it’s a yes for Sebastian Haller as well. He’s the risk, but – skilful, sizeable, composed and brilliant in the air – he might be one of the missing pieces in this squad.
And, despite taking a net loss, getting as far away as possible from Marko Arnautovic is never a bad thing. There are caveats, of course, because it’s still West Ham. The owners still carry that desperate need for attention and are prone to saying and doing silly things. It’s not as if the chief executive is publicity shy, either.
But then maybe the mood has changed because none of those people are as involved in transfer strategy as they used to be. Mario Husillos arrived as Director of Football a year ago and appears to have brought a grown-up approach to squad-building with him. It’s logical: he had an existing relationship with Manuel Pellegrini and it’s no coincidence that, all of a sudden, a West Ham head coach appears to want the players being bought for him.
The moral of the story is this: owners have to know their place. Being rich enough to buy a football club is not the same thing as being qualified to make sporting decisions. At last, West Ham appear to have realised that.
Clearly they’ve taken some risks, but they needed to. Ravel Morrison is always interesting, you have to be intrigued by that, and Oli McBurnie will absolutely score goals.
Yes, he looks a little bit like he has a controlling interest in a cereal cafe, but McBurnie is a fine player. There are some holes in his game, because he’s probably not the best at holding the ball up, but he’s the sort of wholehearted, keen-as-mustard centre-forward that opposition defenders will find an absolute pain in the arse to play against. And that’s always good.
Chris Wilder has done well. Nobody should worry about United’s defence, they had the best record in the Championship last season, and their midfield will surprise Premier League crowds too. But expecting Billy Sharp and David McGoldrick to score at the same rate that they did last season wouldn’t have been smart, so swelling the forward options – Lys Mousset has been signed too – was crucial.
That’s rather nice.
Is there anything left in Carroll? Probably not, but he has it in him to thunder over a centre-half in the 89th minute one more time and that’s good enough.
Seb Stafford-Bloor is on Twitter