Ranked! The 10 best Premier League signings in 2018/19 so far
5. David Brooks (Bournemouth)
There’s no way that Brooks should already be this comfortable, this at home, in the Premier League.
It’s not just his waif-like figure which prompts that reaction, nor his face of a 14-year-old boy; Brooks is a creative, elfin man-child of a footballer, flitting around in a physical league on the back of just nine Football League starts – a figure he’s already surpassed in the top flight. Surely, it would take time.
But Wales knew, and Bournemouth knew. At only 21 years of age, 5ft 8in and 10 stone wet-through, Brooks has quickly become a key figure for both teams. The former Sheffield United sprite has shone on the wing and glimmered as a No.10; although he’s yet to make that position truly his own, at a club that generally prefers two forwards at the front of their 4-4-1-1, his vision, ambition and fearlessness on the ball have worried opposition centre-halves just as they have worried full-backs.
4. James Maddison (Leicester)
Right away, Maddison did more than just get the measure of Premier League matches – he shaped them. The 21-year-old wasn’t fazed by making his debut at Old Trafford and made some eye-catching passes, before running the game against upwardly-mobile Wolves a week later.
Leicester had faith when they spent an eyebrow-raising £20m on this Championship midfielder that they were getting a game-changer in the present, not mere potential for the future. Maddison had quantifiably made the biggest impact of any player in the second tier last season, his goals and assists for Norwich being worth a division-high 26 points, and he took those numbers into the Premier League.
The Foxes playmaker contributed directly to five goals in his first seven appearances and won an international call-up after creating the most chances of any Englishman.
3. Lucas Torreira (Arsenal)
Torreira wouldn’t be the first player to be all-too-hastily declared as the solution to Arsenal’s midfield problems, but the early signs are very positive.
Although it was odd that Unai Emery made the Uruguayan wait for his first Premier League start, as he did with Bernd Leno until Petr Cech nobly sustained an injury to end the awkwardness, Torreira did benefit from appearing as a substitute in each of Arsenal’s first five games. It allowed the 22-year-old to learn the speed of the English game – a luxury that wasn’t afforded to Matteo Guendouzi, 19 – and that’s key when your own defensive game is geared around interceptions rather than tackles, as is the case for Torreira and Arsenal alike.
Torreira is already improving Arsenal’s transitions. Having won the ball, he moves it forward and rarely loses possession. Torreira’s pass success rate of 89.5% is one of the best in the division, and no midfielder has been fouled more regularly – in fact, he’s being hacked down at the same rate as Wilfried Zaha, who may as well have a target painted on him. Torreira could be the real deal.
2. Rui Patricio (Wolves)
If Patricio has a claim to be one of the Premier League’s best goalkeepers, his performances this season are admissible evidence. Only the current top four have conceded fewer goals than Wolves, and he’s the only goalkeeper in the top five for save percentage (76%) who isn’t at a top-five club.
Patricio’s importance should not be underestimated. Against Manchester City, he produced an incredible save to palm Raheem Sterling’s shot onto the crossbar. Against Manchester United, he produced an almost-as-incredible save to palm Fred’s free-kick onto the crossbar. Both matches finished 1-1. Wolves are one of only two teams to take points off City, the other being second-placed Liverpool.
Then there was Patricio’s quick-thinking double save away at Crystal Palace, in a match Wolves won 1-0, and away at West Ham he made two excellent stops, charging down Marko Arnautovic and stretching to claw a Michail Antonio header off the line. Wolves won that game 1-0, too. Where would they be without the Euro 2016 winner in goal?
Although the 30-year-old joined Wolves as an astonishingly good free transfer due to Sporting’s unique situation, the two clubs have since settled on a fee of £15.8m. He’s been worth every penny.
1. Richarlison (Everton)
Much was made of the hefty transfer fee commanded by Richarlison when he followed Marco Silva from Watford to Everton, but the Toffees’ outlay of £40m (potentially rising to £50m) would have turned fewer heads had it come in January rather than July.
In 2017/18, Richarlison was superb up to December, when Watford were destabilised by Everton’s pursuit of Silva and Richarlison’s own magic touch eluded him. Incredibly, he contributed nary a goal nor assist after December 12, having netted five and set up four before then, and when he left Watford it was after failing to score with any of his final 53 shots for the club.
But his underlying numbers had remained impressive throughout the season, his first outside Brazil. A total xG of 12 is very encouraging for a winger who was just 20 at the time; in scoring only five goals, he was let down by his finishing and the occasional bit of bad luck, yet he was nonetheless getting into excellent positions. He excelled in that rare combination of skills: dribbling and heading. And he was the most-fouled player in the Premier League, which is handy when fellow £40m+ man Gylfi Sigurdsson is available to take free-kicks.
With all that in mind, perhaps it shouldn’t have been surprising to see Silva turn his former Watford charge into a striker at Everton. Richarlison has embraced the challenge, turning his xG differential on its head by scoring six goals in his first 10 games from a total xG of only 3.4. His brace against Brighton comprised a fine first-time finish to conclude a glorious counter-attack, then a ruthlessly composed exploitation of a defensive error.
Now he must continue that form. This season, you wouldn’t bet against him doing it.