If there’s one thing top-flight clubs have done well this summer it’s signing players to get excited about, says Joe Brewin.
From top to bottom the big boys have invested wisely, leaving Europe’s other top flights looking barer than a poodle with alopecia.
So, over to the new guys…
Manchester City fans aren’t likely to see a reinvention of Roberto Mancini’s 4-2-3-1 this season but you can bet your bottom dollar they’ll be more exciting under Manuel Pellegrini – not least thanks to Shakhtar Donetsk recruit Fernandinho.
To everyone’s relief, City have twisted on the dull Gareth Barry- Javi García combo in central midfield by bringing the all-action 28-year-old to Eastlands.
There’ll be no sluggish displays from the Brazil international, whose abilities were demonstrated no more perfectly than in last season’s dazzling Champions League display against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
Fernandinho ran the Blues ragged (after netting in the home clash two weeks previously) with brilliant assists for both goals, a game-high number of completed passes in the attacking third (and overall), five tackles and, most excitingly, six take-ons (from eight attempts).
Clearly he isn’t afraid of the big stage, recording similar figures against finalists Borussia Dortmund – albeit this time completing eight of nine take-ons. Few players register such numbers but then again, few players have confidence in such high stock.
Lining up alongside the Brazilian will be a Pellegrini favourite from Spain, Navas.
The 27-year-old has upped sticks from Sevilla after 13 years with the Andalusians, where he made 388 appearances and netted 34 times.
City were weak on the wings last season but that’s where Navas, a truly recognised wide man, comes in. James Milner is disciplined but uninspiring, Samir Nasri uncomfortable and Scott Sinclair just plain out of favour, allowing Navas the opportunity to become the club’s first wing wonder for quite some time.
If it’s evidence you crave simply heed the above and look where the wing-hugger received the vast majority of passes in this thumping home win against Real Betis last season.
And, once more, he’ll be looking to provide for Spain international Álvaro Negredo, who also joins from the Rojiblancos. In the match above Navas provided a game-high nine crosses – though only two were met by a team-mate.
Over at Chelsea, meanwhile, intrigued eyes will direct towards Germany’s Schürrle, who arrived from Bayer Leverkusen after two seasons with the Bundesliga side.
But the 22-year-old will command patience. Though undoubtedly exciting, confident and potentially lethal the young forward comes with a reputation for greed and, according to Opta, missed more clear-cut chances (20) than any other player in the Bundesliga last season.
Against VfL Wolfsburg, for example, he successfully completed six of an ambitious 13 take-ons (three times as many attempted as any other player) – and it’s a similar story elsewhere. Subsequently, four crosses attempted in the same game suggests a direct approach.
He’ll likely be utilised out wide and, after netting 11 goals last season, his prowess isn’t under question. Should he be willing to learn quickly, Chelsea’s rough diamond could be polished before they know it.
It’s fair to say Tottenham can evaluate their summer business with smug satisfaction. Areas of improvement have been identified and acted upon, while deadwood has been chopped with equal efficiency.
And when Spurs fans dream of converting promise into Champions League football they’ll no doubt have in mind their new hitman from Valencia.
Options upfront were thin on the ground last season, but in Soldado they now boast a proven goalscorer who bagged 24 times in 35 league games last season. Already he’s set himself a lofty 20-goal target in his debut campaign.
The 28-year-old is a poacher for whom getting his hands dirty isn’t a priority – though that’s not necessarily a bad thing bearing the likes of Ruud van Nistelrooy in mind.
In the spanking of Malaga last season he attempted just 10 passes, but was in the right places to score twice and trouble the goalkeeper inside the box with another pair of on-target efforts. Spurs fans will tell you he’s just what they need.
At the other end of the scale is Liverpool’s latest Spanish import, industrious Celta Vigo forward Aspas.
In Luis Suarez’s absence there’s at least one spot available upfront and a sharp pre-season has done nothing to harm his first-team chances.
With a modest 12 goals in La Liga last season the 26-year-old is unlikely to trouble the Premier League’s top hotshots, so it’s elsewhere that Aspas’s qualities appear to lie.
In the home game against Real Valladolid last season he netted twice (converting a penalty he won himself) while covering almost the entire opposition half in possession.
Elsewhere, his received passes demonstrate a willingness to play off the last man, and that’s something he may be asked to do more of in Liverpool’s similar lone-striker system.
Completing the Premier League’s shameless Spanish ram-raid were Cardiff City, who surprised all with the capture of Sevilla (yes, them again) tearaway Medel.
While some lamented yet another star departure to England (a newly promoted side, this time), Cardiff fans were whooping-and-a-hollering at the arrival of their much-needed midfield hard man.
So what can the Welsh side expect from this opposition-slapping, chair-smashing hot head?
Well, it seems Medel could be the ideal defensive shield Malky Mackay’s need to mount a serious bid for survival. At Getafe he played only slightly ahead of his central defenders, and that could prove particularly effective on Cardiff’s travels too.
His passing was concise, with 45 of his 52 efforts played short. However, a surprisingly small number of tackles (two) and interceptions (two) suggests the Chile international is perhaps more adept sweeping up and beginning attacks from deep. Expect to see him high on the list of balls recovered – new data to Stats Zone for 2013/14.
One of the more unnoticed transfers of the summer could be one of the best.
Paolo Di Canio is convinced the capture of compatriot Giaccherini will pay off for the struggling Black Cats, who flopped so disappointingly last season.
He may have started just 10 games as Juventus romped to the title last season but the diminutive attacking midfielder – all 5ft 6in of him – will fit into Di Canio’s grand plan with far greater regularity.
Despite being capable of playing in the centre of midfield (see Pescara) or on the left (Cagliari), Giaccherini’s dashboards are virtually similar because of his tendencies to go direct through the middle.
He isn’t afraid to shoot (six attempts against Pescara), while he often led in the opposition-half passing charts when given his opportunities by Antonio Conte last season.
The Italy international was tried upfront against Torino once last season but an unsuccessful experiment in which he exerted zero influence was aborted at half time. Thankfully the capture of Jozy Altidore should put paid to Di Canio doing the same.
They cracked the Premier League at the first time of asking – and now Southampton have begun their ascent towards serious improvement.
A host of European clubs, including Arsenal (but they don’t sign players, remember?), were rumoured to be in the hunt for Celtic’s Wanyama before his £12.5 million switch to the south coast.
It may seem like big money but for it proves just how confident Mauricio Pochettino is about his new Kenyan enforcer – the first from his nation to play in the Premier League.
Celtic’s Champions League win over Barcelona last season was stunning in many ways. Mostly because the Scots did it with just 18.1 per cent possession and made roughly five times as few passes, but mainly because, well, they beat Barcelona.
Wanyama played his part in Cetic’s jam-packed narrow midfield, winning a game-high six of eight tackles, making four clearances and winning one of two aerial duels – crucially, nodding home the hosts’ opener.
Last season he scored nine goals in all competitions, proving there’s more than meets the eye to this exciting capture.
Goals weren’t an issue for the Saints last season (below the top eight, only Fulham scored more than their 49) but keeping it tight was at times. Pochettino’s men improved after a leaky start but knew they couldn’t rely on Jos Hooiveld (og) and José Fonte for much longer.
And that’s where promising Croatia stopper Lovren comes in, snapped up from Lyon for £8.5 million after a solid two-and-a-half years in Ligue 1.
Last season injuries and suspensions (he was sent off twice) restricted his game time to just 18 starts but that didn’t (and shouldn’t have) put the Saints off in their quest for solidity.
In the two away games at Lille and Bordeaux pictured above, Lovren led the way in clearances, clocking eight against the former and 13 – four more than anyone else – at the latter. It’s a pattern that holds true in a large number of his matches and looks promising for Saints fans hoping for a centre back with grit.
Ricky van Wolfswinkel
We bet Chris Hughton was a dab hand in the swapsies market back in the day. But rather than dealing with football stickers and bubblegum, this summer the Norwich boss has done things for real.
After shipping out Steve Morison in exchange for Luciano Becchio and cash in January, Hughton’s ruthless chopping has seen Grant Holt, Simeon Jackson,
Chris Martin and James Vaughan head for the door with Gary Hooper and Van Wolfswinkel arriving in their place.
Rightfully, it’s about quality and not quantity – but their new men will have to settle quickly.
Sporting Lisbon endured dreadful campaigns on both domestic and Europe fronts but that was through little fault of the 24-year-old Van Wolfswinkel, whose one-in-two average for the Portuguese club kept them ticking over at very least.
He was almost always employed as the central striker in Sporting’s 4-2-3-1 formation – identical to that of Norwich – though Hughton may push him wide on occasions to accommodate Hooper. That isn’t how best to utilise him, though – his passes received (above) shows just how much he likes to run off the shoulder of the last man.
Whoever or however Hughton chooses to play, the affable former Newcastle boss has true quality at his disposal.