Premier League new boys: what to expect from this season's new arrivals
Joel Matip, Liverpool
Jurgen Klopp identified the centre of Liverpool’s defence as an area that required strengthening this summer, with Ragnar Klavan and Matip brought in to help shore up a backline that was breached 50 times in the Premier League last season. The Cameroonian made 259 appearances for Schalke during his seven seasons in the German club’s professional ranks, with Klopp moving quickly to snap him up on a free transfer when it became apparent that he wasn’t going to extend his contract at the Veltins-Arena beyond the summer.
Strong both in the air and in the tackle, the 6ft 5in Matip should have no trouble adjusting to the physical demands of the English top flight, with his speed another asset that should stand him in good stead.
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Southampton
Pep had heard good things about Hojbjerg before coming to Bayern and it has taken just a couple of training sessions for him to fall in love with the player
“Pep had heard good things about Hojbjerg before coming to Bayern and it has taken just a couple of training sessions for him to fall in love with the player,” explained Marti Perarnau in his book, Pep Confidential, which tracks Guardiola’s first year at the helm in Munich. “Pep thinks he may have found the Sergio Busquets of Bayern.”
Things did not quite work out as planned, though, with Southampton taking advantage of the midfielder’s desire for regular playing time in the upcoming campaign by bringing him to St Mary’s for around £12 million. Technically adept, a fine passer of the ball and intelligent with his positioning and reading of the game, Hojbjerg can play as a holder in front of the back four, a box-to-box midfielder or even as a right wing-back.
Steve Mandanda, Crystal Palace
Crystal Palace already had three goalkeepers on their books but it’s easy to see why they jumped at the chance to capture Mandanda for just £1.5 million last month. The former Marseille custodian was voted Ligue 1 Goalkeeper of the Year for his performances between the sticks last term, a prize he’d previously scooped in 2008, 2011 and 2015; he was also voted Marseille’s player of the year in his final campaign at the Stade Velodrome, with some followers of French football even believing him to be better than compatriot Hugo Lloris. Mandanda is a superb shot-stopper with tremendous reflexes and agility, and while he may not be the tallest he’s still capable of commanding his penalty area.
Vincent Janssen, Tottenham
The transfer took a good few weeks to complete but Janssen officially became a Tottenham player last month, signing a four-year deal after a £17 million move from AZ Alkmaar. It’s not hard to see why the Eredivisie outfit weren’t overly keen to let him go: Janssen netted 27 goals in 34 league appearances in 2015/16, helping AZ to a fourth-place finish and a spot in the Europa League qualifiers.
A cool finisher and clever mover off the ball, Janssen – whose mum, a swimmer, won three Olympic medals for the Netherlands in 1984 – is also more than happy to close down defenders and press from the front, characteristics that will be vital if he’s to be a success under Mauricio Pochettino at White Hart Lane. Janssen will probably have to be patient this season, though, with Harry Kane Spurs’ first-choice option at the top of the pitch.
Granit Xhaka, Arsenal
Arsenal struck early to bring Xhaka to north London before Euro 2016 got under way in June, with the Switzerland international going on to impress as his country reached the round of 16 in France. The ex-Borussia Monchengladbach midfield maestro is a masterful passer who can control the tempo of a game from the centre of the park, with Arsenal’s possession-based style of play making the 23-year-old string-puller the perfect fit.
“He’s extremely mature, highly intelligent, reads the game well and has good technical skills,” said Ottmar Hitzfeld, who worked with Xhaka for three years during his time in charge of Switzerland. The former Bayern Munich boss also likened him to Bastian Schweinsteiger, whom he managed at the Allianz Arena at the start of the Manchester United man’s career.
Nampalys Mendy, Leicester
Mendy’s not exactly the same type of player as Chelsea’s new ball-winner, however: although he’s also adept at regaining possession with tackles and interceptions, he’s not quite the same force of nature as Kante
N’Golo Kante’s departure to Chelsea last month was a major blow for Claudio Ranieri and Leicester, but it would still be foolish in the extreme to write the Foxes off after their logic-defying Premier League title triumph in 2015/16. Mendy is the man with the unenviable task of replacing Kante in the champions’ engine room, with the midfielder completing a £16 million move to the King Power Stadium from Nice in July.
Mendy’s not exactly the same type of player as Chelsea’s new ball-winner, however: although he’s also adept at regaining possession with tackles and interceptions, he’s not quite the same force of nature as Kante. Leicester fans will nevertheless be hoping the 24-year-old can step into his predecessor’s shoes as the club prepare for their Champions League debut in 2016/17.
Eric Bailly, Manchester United
Manchester United may have boasted the joint-best defensive record in the top flight last term, but Jose Mourinho wasted little time in strengthening their options at the heart of the backline with the signing of Bailly from Villarreal. The 22-year-old Ivory Coast international, who set the Red Devils back £30 million, is one for the future as well as the present, with Daley Blind unlikely to continue in the centre-half role in which he was deployed in by Louis van Gaal in 2015/16.
Strong, athletic and physical, Bailly has the core characteristics to thrive in the Premier League, even if he lacks Blind’s ability to step into midfield with the ball. His propensity to play with aggression and on the front foot means he can be caught out positionally, though, with Bailly’s centre-back partner at Old Trafford likely to have to sweep up behind him at times.
Viktor Fischer, Middlesbrough
It’s a sign of the times that a newly-promoted Premier League side can now attract players from a club that has won four European Cups and 33 domestic titles without too much bother, with Fischer helping to drive through his move from Ajax to Middlesbrough this summer.
His departure from the Eredivisie giants was a rather acrimonious one in the end – the forward spent much of last term in the Amsterdam outfit’s reserve team – but there can be no doubting that Fischer is a highly talented young player who has the ability to make a real impact in English football. It will be interesting to see whether Aitor Karanka uses him out wide, in a central attacking midfield role or even up top, with Fischer’s versatility only adding to his value.
Nolito, Manchester City
Manchester City had the best squad in the Premier League last season and have strengthened it further with the acquisitions of Ilkay Gundogan, Aleks Zinchenko and Nolito this summer. The latter had been linked with a move to Barcelona for long periods in the last year but has made City his next club after leaving Celta Vigo, with the 29-year-old admitting that the opportunity to work with Pep Guardiola at the Etihad Stadium was too good to turn down.
The Spanish forward found the back of the net on 12 occasions in 29 La Liga outings last time out, adding seven assists to help Celta secure a place in the top six. Nolito primarily operates on the left flank, from where he likes to cut inside onto his stronger right foot and take shots at goal.
Ramadan Sobhi, Stoke
There haven’t been too many players who have moved directly from Egyptian football to the Premier League, but skilful winger Sobhi’s switch to Stoke from Al Ahly in July saw the teenager follow in the footsteps of Amr Zaki, Ahmed Elmohamady and Mohamed Shawky.
“[He’s] the best talent in North Africa,” former Tottenham, Middlesbrough and Wigan striker Mido said of Sobhi, a tricky dribbler who possesses a good touch and excellent close control. “He can score and assist goals and works hard when he doesn’t have the ball, something which is essential for playing in England.”
Michy Batshuayi, Chelsea
If reports are to be believed, Romelu Lukaku could be on his way back to Stamford Bridge before the transfer window closes in four weeks’ time, but Chelsea have already landed one Belgian centre-forward this summer. Batshuayi, who had been linked with virtually every Premier League club in London during the preceding few weeks, put pen to paper on a five-year contract about a month ago, with Marseille accepting an offer of £33 million from the Blues.
The 22-year-old frontman plundered 17 goals in 36 appearances for L’OM in Ligue 1 last year, a tally that ensured the club didn’t sink even lower than 13th place, which is where they finished after an extremely disappointing campaign. Batshuayi is still a little raw but his speed, strength and finishing ability make him a very exciting prospect indeed.
Mike van der Hoorn, Swansea
After starting only 13 matches in the Eredivisie last season, Van Der Hoorn agreed to join Swansea from Ajax last month. The Dutchman is commanding in the air and a threat from set-pieces, with ex-boss Frank de Boer even using him as an emergency striker at times in 2015/16 due to the physical presence he can provide in the opposition’s penalty area. Still only 23, Van Der Hoorn will improve further if he’s able to play first-team football week in, week out for the first time in three years; with Ashley Williams heavily linked with a move to Everton, he could become even more important to Swansea than initially expected.
Isaac Success, Watford
Watford fans will be hoping that Success lives up to his name at Vicarage Road this term after the Nigerian attacker completed a £12.5 million transfer from Granada a few weeks ago. The 20-year-old made 30 appearances for the Nazaries – who survived relegation to the second division by a single point – last year, scoring six goals and supplying two assists while primarily operating from wide areas.
It will be interesting to see where exactly Success fits in under Walter Mazzarri. While Watford often lined up in a very narrow formation under Quique Sanchez Flores last year and were therefore seemingly in need of some wide forwards, the Spaniard’s replacement as manager is a 3-5-2 devotee who will probably stick with what he knows. Success could be tried as a wing-back or in a central attacking role, with the player still at a young enough age to be moulded by a manager like Mazzarri.
Johann Berg Gudmundsson, Burnley
Iceland’s run to the quarter-finals of this summer’s European Championship was one of the highlights of the tournament, with Gudmundsson benefitting from the underdogs’ extraordinary exploits at club level too: the 25-year-old’s performances for his country in France convinced Burnley boss Sean Dyche to move for the Charlton winger, who had short spells on the books of both Chelsea and Fulham when he was studying in London as a teenager.
Charlton may have been relegated to League One last season after finishing nine points adrift of safety in the second tier, but Gudmundsson still managed to record more assists (11) than anyone else in the division apart from Alan Judge, who set up the same number of goals for Brentford.
Sofiane Feghouli, West Ham
Landing Feghouli on a free transfer could turn out to be one of the signings of the summer if the West Ham winger can hit the ground running at the Olympic Stadium this season. The France-born Algeria international let his contract run down at Valencia after joining the club from Grenoble in 2010, with the Hammers winning the race for his signature and tying him down to a three-year deal in east London.
Feghouli is quick, direct and tricky, with the right-footer regularly taking on his man down the outside when he plays in his favoured position out on the right wing. He’s excellent at sparking counter-attacks and helping his team to transition from defence to attack at speed, with the 26-year-old excelling on the break for Algeria at the 2014 World Cup.