Tag Archives: Transfers

City’s Defensive Wall Reshaped?

On Manchester City’s acquisition of Rúben Dias and how it may or may not fix their defensive issues…

Manchester City finally got their center back target this summer. Rúben Dias, the promising young Portuguese center back that launched into the spotlight in Portugal’s Nations League triumph, joins the Citizens from Benfica for £62 million plus £3 million in add ons, with City and ex-Porto center back Nicolás Otamendi going to Benfica for £13.6 million. City’s long hunt for defensive reinforcement finally comes to an end. Securing the signature of Bournemouth’s Nathan Aké earlier this window, Pep remained on the hunt for a top-line, world class partner to Aymeric Laporte. Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly was their top target, but after trying and failing to pry him away, the club redirected their search toward other options. Rúben Dias was the deal they could get across the line, and, value for money, is probably the best deal they could have gotten this summer, even better than had they signed Koulibaly. But more on that later.

You know the structure of this by now; we talk about how this move fits for the player and for the club that signed him. Let us talk about the player first, as Rúben might be more of an unknown prospect for many Premier League fans.

Rúben Dias emerged from Benfica’s world-famous academy, bursting onto the scene in 2017. He won the award for the best young player in Liga NOS for the 2017-18 season, making the Portugal squad for the 2018 World Cup. While he did not feature at the World Cup, he came back and had another phenomenal season, helping Benfica to the league title and making the Portugal squad for the Nations League Finals, starting alongside Jose Fonte in the heart of defense in the final against the Netherlands. Another strong season with Benfica saw him garner significant interest from other clubs, finally sealing a move to Manchester City earlier this week.

Even after everything he has accomplished so far in his career, Rúben is only 23. His first move away from Benfica was always going to be colossal in determining the path of his career, and a wrong move could stunt or derail what has been a fantastic start to a career. There are very few clubs that he could have joined that are more talented than Manchester City, and joining the Citizens puts Rúben immediately in the position to contend for and win major honors in one of the best leagues in the world, as well as consistently play Champions League football, something that Benfica were not able to guarantee. He also comes into the club in a very good position to feature immediately. City’s defense has been less than great over the last year, especially with the extended absence of Aymeric Laporte. Nicolás Otamendi and John Stones were never able to reach the level needed to fit into that defense, and Eric García has not shown the consistency needed to see if he is able to reach that top level. Fernandinho, at age 34, was often asked in the last year and a half to play in defense, and Rodri had also been asked on occasion to deputize at center back. With Otamendi leaving and García heavily pushing for a move away, there are quite a few opportunities opening up in defense, and Laporte is really the only nailed-on starter in central defense. Rúben comes in with the experience and talent needed to contend for serious playing time early on. This seems to have been the best move the young Portuguese could have made. He joins a team brimming with world-class talent, contending for major honors, and that still has an opening he could realistically fill immediately. Pep also loves ball-playing center backs, so Rúben gets to learn from one of the best in the world. When looking at all of the clubs that were linked with a move for him over the last two years, choosing City was the right move.

So this move was a home run for City, right? Well, for the most part, yes. There are multiple facets of this move to discuss from a City perspective, so let us look at them all one at a time.

First, let us talk about what I said in the introduction. City signing Rúben Dias was a better deal, value for money, than if they had signed Kalidou Koulibaly. This is no disrespect to Koulibaly. He is one of the best center backs on the planet, a true world-class player that would have made City’s defense much stronger. However, Koulibaly is also 29. Yes, the obsession with player ages in this sport is ridiculous, but it is still obvious that you would not be able to get much out of Koulibaly at a world-class level at this point, and you would lay out a significant amount of money in order to do it. Rúben may not reach the level of Koulibaly, but he still is a great player and, at only 23, has plenty of room to grow and become a world-class player. Koulibaly was City’s top target, but they may have gotten the better deal at the end of the day. Rúben also better fits the mold of what City need in a center back.

There is a lot that can be said about Rúben as a player and how he fits into the City defense, but all of those ideas can be simplified and summarized into one sentence:

He reminds me quite a bit of Vincent Kompany.

No, this is not the first time you have heard this comparison, and it will definitely not be the last time you hear it. I imagine that, by the end of the season, you will be sick and tired of hearing it. But it is true.

Vincent Kompany is a City legend, and their defense has never really been the same since his decline took him out of the team regularly, leading to his departure from the club in 2019. Since his departure, that right-sided center back position has become a black hole, with Stones, Otamendi, and García being unable to fill it. Rúben comes in sharing many traits with Kompany. Neither player is particularly quick, but they are both very good positionally and in reading the game. Both players are very strong in the tackle and very good in the air, winning a high percentage of their aerial duels and tackles, and they are daring enough to step up and pressure the attacker in order to win the ball back. They both function well in a pressing defensive line, able to make the right tackle when needed. They are both very good on the ball, able to pass out of the back and set up their teams going forward, or just placing a pass needed to relieve pressure. They are both very good on set pieces, using a combination of strong athletic ability and good timing to be important in attacking and defending set pieces. Footballing-wise, they are seemingly cut from the same cloth. There is a lot that is similar between the two players, and, in theory, there is no better way to fill the void Kompany left behind than to bring in a player that is almost identical in playing style to him.

Most importantly, however, is that both Kompany and Rúben are very vocal leaders in defense. Many pundits and journalists have commented on how “quiet” the City defense is relative to several years ago. The void left by Kompany’s departure can be heard, as the booming voice of the Belgian, barking orders and instructions at his defense, is now gone. This seems like a very small thing, and that it should not be an issue for a team as loaded financially and in player options as Manchester City, but it can be massive. Having loads of talent is one thing, but ensuring they are organized and working as a cohesive unit is still important in having a very good team, especially in defense, where coordination and organization is immensely important. Communication in defense is important in relaying instructions to your teammates, such as when to press high or where to play the pass or when you need help marking an open runner. Lack of communication creates confusion, and when confusion strikes a defense, goal-scoring opportunities are conceded. During their peak under Guardiola, that City defense was a well-oiled machine with Kompany at the heart of it, directing his defense on when to press and where to be. He was the leader on the pitch, relaying Pep’s plan in real time. Since his departure, no one in the defense, or even in the team as a whole, has been able to fill that void.

Rúben comes in as someone considered a natural-born leader, having captained several youth teams during his formative years. Benfica president Luis Felipe Vieira considered him a future club captain, and he will likely be one of the players in consideration to captain Portugal upon the eventual retirement of current captain Cristiano Ronaldo. He carried a significant amount of respect among his teammates in the dressing room, and that leadership was carried out on the pitch as well. Like Kompany, he is a very vocal player, shouting instructions to his teammates and making sure the high defensive press, which Benfica also has utilized, is executed effectively. In this sense, he is seemingly a like-for-like replacement. If he is able to build the same rapport with his teammates in Manchester that he did in Lisbon, he may grow into the effective leader that City have lacked since Kompany’s departure.

Now let us address concerns, as I do have some. The tag line of this article says how this signing “may or may not” fix City’s defensive issues. I do not believe it fully will, but that is because these issues are not as simple as not having good enough players. Yes, Rúben will likely be a better player than Otamendi, Stones, or García and, especially following the myriad of mistakes García made in City’s 5-2 loss to Leicester this past weekend, it is clear that having great players is a difference maker. However, he is not a magic “quick fix” for this team, and he should not be considered the savior of City’s defense, as many of the problems with City defensively do not stem directly from their center backs. Shown specifically in their league loss to Leicester and their Champions League loss to Lyon, their team press is quite disorganized. Most of the time, the defensive line does not follow the midfield and attack in the team press, and the attack and midfield are not always coordinated in when to press. As a result, if the opposing team is able to play through the first one to two layers of pressure, the pitch opens up massively for them.

For example, look back at Leicester’s first goal in their recent 5-2 win (Vardy’s first penalty). City’s defensive line did not follow their midfield and attack into the press, so when Leicester’s Nampalys Mendy was able to evade the pressure from De Bruyne, he had practically the entire pitch open in front of him. This allowed him to find Harvey Barnes in space, who ran at a terrified and backpedaling City defense and led to the penalty being won. The same applies to that match against Lyon, where Houssem Aouar specifically was able to find himself in space with time to pick out passes if he was able to get around the initial pressure. Sure, Rúben’s ability to step further up, challenge the attackers with pressure, and work in a high press can help here, but this is not an issue that he alone can fix. His leadership and on-pitch direction can help, but this is also a tactical issue. Guardiola needs to be the one that finds the solution, whether it be compensate more in midfield for his defense or finally find the “Fernandinho replacement”-level talent that many think is in Rodri. Regardless of everything I said before about how great of a signing this could be, the expectation on Rúben’s shoulders should not be the need to be a cure to all that ails City’s defense.

While the structural issues in the City team may remain, this is still a great signing. Rúben Dias is a fantastic young player, really growing into his own as a footballer and a leader and is destined for a great career. City shelled out a significant amount of money to sign him, but with his track record, it seemed to be a very logical deal. While not their main target, Pep has gotten the man who could be a fixture at center back for years to come, finally replacing the influence Vincent Kompany had in their team.

Yes, we are all tired of City signing defenders, they have only spent around £400 million on defensive players under Pep, but I swear this is one that should work out very well for them.

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Why Gareth Bale could, and could not, be exactly what Tottenham needs…

Tottenham announced the shock resigning of Gareth Bale this past week, with the player returning to North London on loan from Real Madrid. It was a deal that seemed to come out of the blue, almost seemingly being a tacked-on extra to Tottenham’s signing of Real Madrid left back Sergio Reguilón. Bale needed to leave Real Madrid, and a move back to his former club could be seen as a positive turn in the right direction for the Welshman’s career. Even if he is not fit to play until November, the excitement around his return offers the momentum needed to possibly help turn their fortunes around following a rough previous season and rough start to this season, potentially allowing manager Jose Mourinho to get the results that he desires.

As we have asked with every transfer on this site, let us examine how this Bale move will work out, and whether this is the right or wrong move for Spurs to make. It is certainly a move that has generated quite a bit of hype and generated many opinions and takes throughout the football world.

For Spurs, this move is a bit of a gamble while still filling an immediate need in the team. Under Jose, Spurs have often lined up in a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1, with Kane as the front striker with two wingers running off of him, sometimes utilizing a number ten behind him and sometimes not. Despite the tactical organization of Jose’s teams, the attacking strategy has often revolved around the individual brilliance of Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son. The third spot in the front three has been filled by several options, most notably Lucas Moura and Steven Bergwijn, but neither have consistently shown enough to be the solid third option. Also, when Son and Kane missed significant time last season due to injury, the attack struggled, having to rely on other players who were not able to contribute at the level of their injured counterparts. In Bale, Spurs have a player who can naturally fit into that right winger role, being a left-footed right winger able to cut inside and score, as well as play as a striker when the tactical situation demands it or if Kane were to be out due to injury. Despite whatever the last few years has shown, Bale is still a fantastic player on his day. Skillful and aggressive with an eye for goal and a pension for doing the spectacular, Bale quite simply makes Spurs better if he is able to find his footing and perform at the level that we all know he is still capable of. After all, we are only two years removed from him nearly single-handedly winning Real Madrid the Champions League against Liverpool with two incredible goals. There is still talent there, and if Bale is able to find form, then he could be in for a fantastic season.

I anticipate Spurs would line up in a 4-3-3 when Bale is fully fit and in the team, with him playing on the right in a front three with Son on the left and Kane playing through the middle. In this set up, Spurs more or less emulate Liverpool’s front three or, more applicable for Bale, Real Madrid’s Bale-Benzema-Cristiano partnership. Kane, while being known for being a great goalscorer, is also very good at playing somewhat of a false nine role, with the positional understanding to drop into space and occupy the center backs to free up space for his teammates. He is also a very underrated playmaker, with the vision and ability to pick a pass that many strikers do not have, as he demonstrated with his four assists against Southampton this past weekend. In an ideal attacking scenario, Kane’s movement is able to open up space for Son and Bale to attack, leading to plenty of goalscoring opportunities for both wingers, similar to Firmino for Liverpool and Benzema for Real Madrid. In this sense, Bale has re-entered a scenario where he had plenty of success, entering a team that emulates an attacking pairing he enjoyed during his prime in Madrid. In a situation not as toxic as the one he left behind, Bale will hopefully be able to fit into the Spurs team naturally and combine with the other attacking players to form what could potentially be one of the best attacks in the Premier League.

For Bale, this is the most logical move to make. Bale has long needed to get out of Madrid. While he is at fault for his share of the degrading relationship between himself and Los Blancos‘ manager Zinedine Zidane, it has been apparent for a while now that this loveless marriage between Bale and Real Madrid needed to come to an end. He needed to go to a club where not only would he play and play a significant part in the team, but he would also be comfortable. Even before the serious problems with Zidane began, it was clear that Bale was not fully adapted to life in Spain. Not only does he now return to the United Kingdom, but he returns to the club where he made his breakthrough into superstardom. It is this facet that has me believe that returning to Spurs was the better decision than going to Manchester United, the other English club that was seriously exploring the options to sign him. Sporting-wise, neither Tottenham or Manchester United are exactly in great positions at the moment. Neither club will seriously contend for the title this season, and they will likely both be in scraps to maintain Top Six status and chase a Champions League place against Arsenal and, potentially, Everton, Wolves, and/or Leicester City. A move to United would have likely been a permanent move, unlike the loan he is currently on, and he probably would have been paid more in Manchester and likely would have also started immediately, but he is not going to get the sense of comfort he will from playing for his former club. This ability to feel comfortable and be in an environment you are used to, especially after everything he went through in Madrid, will be important in allowing Bale to return to the level that we all know he can achieve.

However, there are plenty of reasons as to why I am skeptical of this move, or at least skeptical of this move being exactly what Spurs need to elevate them back into a top four side. First, let us revisit that attacking system we discussed earlier. This team, even with Bale in it, is still incredibly reliant on Harry Kane. It is still a system that needs Kane’s very particular set of skills to create serious attacking chances. Liverpool can at least rely on the fullbacks to create some chances, and Real Madrid could always find chances from Modric and Kroos, but Spurs have not shown to have any consistently serious attacking threats outside of Kane and Son. Bale could prove me wrong in this sense and provide some form of creative element, and I recognize this criticism is not necessarily about Bale, but I do not see this attack working nearly as well if Harry Kane were to go down injured again. Also, this is a Jose Mourinho team. Jose’s teams are not quite known for being high-speed attacking sides similar to the Liverpool team I compared this front three to. It is very possible that Jose’s pragmatic, more defensive approach means that we do not get to see this front three play with the handbrake off, and Bale’s influence in the team could be more limited. Again, another criticism about the Spurs team and not necessarily Bale, but these concerns with Spurs do show that bringing the Welshman back may not be something that fully revolutionizes the team overnight.

Ok, now let us actually talk about concerns with the player, as there are definitely some concerns about this move. Bale has had quite the unfortunate injury record since leaving London, and this has seen him spend several long stints on the sidelines and was probably the main reason that we were never able to see the full potential of the Bale-Benzema-Cristiano front three. Bale is now 31, having not played a significant role in a team for several years, so if his injury history has followed him back to London, it could be something that ruins his ability to gel in the team. Especially for a player like Bale, whose best and most famous trait has seemingly been his lightning-quick turn of pace, injury concerns could hamper his ability to contribute in the team. After all, he already comes in carrying an injury that has ruled him out until November. Considering the very unfortunate injury luck Spurs had last season, they better hope that does not carry over into this season.

Bale could also not be the right archetype of winger needed to make the most impact. Throughout his career, Bale has always been a very direct player, primarily effective as a goalscorer on the wing and not necessarily always known for creating chances for his teammates. Yes, Bale is still a need for the team and is still better than the other options at the club, but Spurs already have a winger of that style in Son, and something that they still immensely struggle with is chance creation. Since Christian Eriksen’s departure last season, they never really had a player who was able to create attacking chances to that degree. Part of that was by design, with Jose not really preferring Eriksen even when he was still with the team, but part of it was also due to the inability to replace Eriksen’s impact outside of an over-reliance on Kane. It is very possible that Spurs have these three very effective attacking players and not enough creativity behind them to get them the chances they need. Hence, my point in the previous paragraph, their over-reliance on Kane might still be a downfall in the team, and Bale might not be able to solve that.

I am also going to spare a moment to talk a bit about the first big-picture, domino-falling impact that this move has had: it has seemingly pushed Dele Alli closer to the exit door. Dele has been through a wild ride under Mourinho at Spurs. His revitalization during the early days of Jose’s reign was seen as the telltale sign that Jose was having a massive impact on the team, but he has seemingly since fallen out of favor with the Portuguese manager. After being subbed off after only 45 minutes against Everton and not featuring at all against Lokomotiv Plovdiv in the Europa League Qualifiers or against Southampton in the league, it seems that the Bale transfer is the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. I understand that Bale’s return is too difficult of a prospect to turn down, and I understand that Dele has been inconsistent in recent seasons, but is it really worth giving up on him now from Spurs’ point of view? I am not quite sure. Yes, he has not consistently hit the levels he was at during his breakout seasons in North London, but I would argue that was not entirely on him. Yes, his attitude and injury issues were part of the problem, but his utilization was also an issue. Under Pochettino, he was slowly but surely shoehorned into a deeper lying role, away from his desired attacking number ten role and in a way that did not allow him to have serious influence on the attack. Mourinho started playing Dele back in that attacking role, and he thrived in it early on, but Mourinho slowly but surely forced him further back as well. Many look at Dele as a lost cause or failed talent now, but despite how long it seems he has been in the spotlight as a player, he only just turned 24. He has plenty of time to turn around his misfortunes and find the consistency in his career that he needs, but it does not seem that Spurs want to do what they need to do to get the best out of the player.

This is seemingly a story that is told at many clubs Jose manages; a young player not trusted by the manager leaves and has success elsewhere. At Manchester United, it was Memphis Depay. At Chelsea, it was Kevin De Bruyne. At Real Madrid, it was Nuri Sahin. At Inter, it was Leonardo Bonucci. Will Dele be another case of this? Bale is a very short-term risk; he is only at the club for one season, and even if it was not a loan, he is already 31, with a bad injury history and very high wages. This is part of Jose’s, and chairman Daniel Levy’s, plan to win right now, a gamble Jose often makes, which is part of the reason why clubs have often been left in a worse situation when Jose leaves compared to when he arrived. This is the bedrock of why this move is such a massive risk. If Bale is a star and Spurs win silverware or get back into the Champions League while he is at the club, then it is a massive success. If he does not thrive and Spurs finish outside of the top four, or potentially outside of the top six, it could lead the club down the road that most Jose managed teams have gone down, with key players leaving and the club falling from their peak. With this move, Spurs are essentially trading a player who could still become a valuable future asset for a player with a very limited shelf life remaining in an attempt to win immediately. If Dele goes to another club and succeeds, then it will likely haunt Spurs for the foreseeable future, especially if they do not win a trophy with Bale.

Gareth Bale’s move has sure got people talking, and with good reason. This could potentially make a very exciting Spurs team, or it is a massive risk that may or may not pay off for Jose Mourinho and Daniel Levy. For Bale, it offers him a chance to redeem his legacy. If he wins silverware with Spurs, then many will likely forget about the issues he has had in his last few seasons in Madrid. Bale gambled on himself, and Levy gambled on Mourinho’s ability to build him a winning team right now. Given all of the factors in this deal, I think it was the right gamble to make. Spurs need something that massively shifts the mentality and attacking side of this team, and taking a risk on a year of Gareth Bale is not a ridiculous move to make. I think Spurs might regret fully giving up on Dele Alli, but I feel his time in North London was numbered regardless of this move.

If it does not work out, I am sure there are plenty of great golf courses in the south of England that Bale would enjoy playing.

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A Brand New Midfield

What Everton’s new signings mean for Carlo Ancelotti’s team and their chances at finally challenging the Big Six…

Everton have been active in the transfer market, bringing in three big name signings in a matter of a week. Allan Marques, James Rodríguez, and Abdoulaye Doucouré joined the Toffees from Napoli, Real Madrid, and Watford, respectively, giving manager Carlo Ancelotti almost an entirely new midfield in the blink of an eye. All three players were brought in for a total fee of around £50 million, making this an incredible bit of business for Everton and sporting director Marcel Brands.

With Everton’s first league match of the season on the horizon, many assume all three players will take part in their match against Spurs this weekend. Those three players should make a big difference for this Everton team, but how specifically will they fit into Ancelotti’s system? Well, this gives them the one thing the Italian manager seems to love the most: options.

In Allan and Doucouré, Ancelotti now has two midfielders that are very good at many different things and seem to complement each other very well. Both are very hard-working, dynamic midfielders, but their individual proficiency in defensive and attacking roles, respectively, allows them to function well in a midfield together. Allan is a warrior defensively, saying he prides himself in winning tackles and recovering the ball all over the pitch. He is also a competent passer, but it is mainly his defensive work rate that will greatly benefit this Everton team. Paired with him, Doucouré presents a box-to-box midfielder able to contribute defensively while also being a threat going forward, specializing in late runs and getting a high volume of shots off relative to his position. In some respects, Allan is forming a similar relationship to Doucouré that he had with Marek Hamšik at Napoli. The system is different, however, as they are fitting in with James Rodríguez, a natural attacking midfielder, compared to their former teammate Jorginho, a defensive midfielder. Allan could still function as the defensive player in the midfield, allowing Doucouré and another midfielder to play ahead of him. Doucouré could function in a deeper lying role or more forward, as shown when he was playing almost behind the striker for Watford near the end of last season. The options are there for Ancelotti, but what will they do? How does the system change? How will Everton line up?

Ancelotti has historically not glued himself to one formation or system. While he strongly preferred a 4-4-2 during his early years managing in Italy, he has seemingly grown into a process of formulating a formation and tactical plan to suit the players available to him. For Everton, he returned to his 4-4-2 roots, a system that, while it was not fantastic, seemed to get the best out of the limited resources he had available upon taking over on Merseyside in late December. I wrote in a previous piece about Everton that it is difficult to envision who Ancelotti and Brands might target in the transfer window, as it is hard to pin down exactly how Everton were going to play moving forward. Three signings into the window, and the vast unknown idea of how Everton could line up has formulated into three separate systems, and the key player in how the final system will be decided upon is James Rodríguez. They could line up in the same 4-4-2 they used last season, with a flat midfield four of Richarlison, Doucouré, Allan, and James, but that would seemingly require quite a bit of work defensively from James on the right, taking him out of his preferred attacking role and putting quite a bit of pressure on the right back. There were discussions of James playing in a traditional “number ten” role, which would indicate the usage of a 4-2-3-1, with Dominic Calvert-Lewin operating as a lone striker ahead of Richarlison, James, and the right winger, likely Theo Walcott or Anthony Gordon. Allan and Doucouré would then operate as a double pivot behind James.

Of those two likely options, the 4-2-3-1 is probably the best suited to the personnel available. James can play in that inverted winger role, and we will discuss that further in a bit, but a 4-4-2 system requires quite a bit of defensive work from both wingers in order to support the fullbacks in defending the wide areas and marking the attacking wingers and wingbacks. James is not a lazy player by any account, but he is a player who needs to be further up the pitch in dangerous attacking areas in order to impact the match, and forcing him to operate in that 4-4-2 will either run the risk of pinning him further back or isolating the right back. Both scenarios are not ideal. While the 4-4-2 has an added benefit of two strikers, and the pairing of Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison showed some potential last season, it still does not have an ideal midfield set up. The 4-2-3-1 is better, and while the “number ten” role is starting to die out in football, it is a system that still functions if used correctly. Some may argue it is making a comeback, as demonstrated by Bayern Munich on their road to Champions League triumph, as well as by Manchester United during their resurgence following the arrival of “number ten” Bruno Fernandes. James is a traditional “number ten”, so he would function well in a system that provides him with freedom going forward and the ability to focus on the attack. The pairing of Doucouré and Allan would be a solid double pivot, with Allan being a defensive workhorse and solid passer from deep and Doucouré being a dynamic box-to-box midfielder with an eye for goal, and they could also count on the potential inclusion of André Gomes and Jean-Philippe Gbamin in that position. It is not without its negative aspects, as it breaks up the partnership of Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison to put the Brazilian on the wing, and it also forces Everton to utilize a right winger, a position without much proven quality for the Toffees at the moment. Calvert-Lewin also hit his stride in a 4-4-2, and while he will definitely have much better service now than he did previously, he does run the risk of being isolated up top. Despite the negatives, the 4-2-3-1 seems the more logical choice to get the most out of his signings, so I would anticipate Ancelotti strays from his 4-4-2 to begin the season.

However, there is one system that could get the most out of James while not utilizing that now unconventional “number ten”. Everton could line up in a 4-3-3, with James as part of the front three with Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin ahead of a (likely) midfield of Allan, Doucouré, and Gomes. In this system, James would function as a sort of inverted winger/inside forward, akin to how Hakim Ziyech was deployed for Ajax the past two seasons. He would have the room and space to drift inside, moving onto his stronger left foot and able to cross into the forwards, have a shot himself, or play a pass to the overlapping fullback. The cross specifically is tantalizing, as James has always been very good at the left-footed, in-swinging cross toward the far post. Calvert-Lewin is clearly competent in the air, but the potential late runs from Richarlison and Doucouré, who are both also very good in the air, onto that cross make it a very difficult move for teams to defend against. While his starting position is not as central as it would be if he were a “number ten”, this still provides James with freedom in attacking moves. The right back would still face a decent amount of pressure defensively, but at least the right sided midfielder would be able to provide some cover should the right back overlap James. A midfield three of Allan, Doucouré, and Gomes provides a nice blend of ability on the ball and defensive solidity, though the likely best third midfielder in that treble would be the now-injured Gbamin. Doucouré still brings goals from midfield to help lessen the goalscoring burden on the front three. It also means Everton do not have to field a right winger, where they are weak, and are able to keep Anthony Gordon as a game-changer coming off the bench. A 4-3-3 could also easily shift to a 4-4-2 defensively, with James moving up and Richarlison pivoting back to form the bank of four with the three midfielders. Calvert-Lewin would be available to knock down a clearing pass and James would be able to drop into space and play the pass to the darting winger or advancing midfielder. It is an unconventional set up, but it is one that just might work.

So how will these signings do? Well, they are definitely risks. For those who focus on resale value, which quite a few Everton fans have, these three do not have much in the way of resale potential. James, Allan, and Doucouré are 29, 29, and 27, respectively, so they have theoretically reached the peak of their values. Doucouré is a bit more of a known quantity than the other two, having played several seasons in the Premier League, but simply having experience in the league does not guarantee success. Everton fans know well that players who move from smaller teams in the league to bigger teams are not guaranteed constant success, despite having the notorious “proven Premier League player” tag attached to them. Allan has experience in a strong Napoli team and was part of their Coppa Italia triumph last season, as well as multiple European runs. He has not been at his best as of late, however, and there is a fear he could be on the decline as a player. James is the biggest risk, as the last few years have been very up and down for the Colombian. Success at Bayern Munich has been bookended by struggles for fitness and playing time at Real Madrid. The World Cup in Brazil, where James announced himself to the world, is getting further and further away, and this move to England represents a likely final hope at fully reviving James’ career. The risks are clear, and there is no guarantee any of these signings work out.

But there are still absolutely reasons to be positive about these signings. Doucouré has been a very solid player for several years, being a key player in a Watford team that regularly went through managerial and tactical changes. He demonstrated an ability to function in multiple roles while still being a difference maker in a Watford side that struggled at times throughout the years before their relegation last season. Allan was a favorite of Ancelotti while he was at Napoli, and he seems to bring the fight and toughness that the Everton midfield has lacked since the departure of Idrissa Gueye. He has many characteristics and personality traits that the Everton fans should love, and he brings a level of experience and leadership as a veteran and a trophy winner into a dressing room that already has quite a few Portuguese speakers in it. James’ best season since his breakout World Cup year came at Bayern Munich under Ancelotti. They have a good relationship, and Ancelotti tried to bring the Colombian to Napoli before his eventual departure from Campania. I still trust Ancelotti’s judgment as a manager, and if he sees quality still in James, then I trust that judgment. If you needed another testimony, you can look to the other team in Madrid. Diego Simeone was very interested in bringing James to Atlético Madrid before last season, and the deal was apparently very close to being finished. It was reportedly Real Madrid’s 7-3 loss to Atléti in their preseason match up in the United States that pressured Real Madrid to cancel the deal, not wanting to seemingly aid a direct rival. Simeone is also no fool, and he is a manager that is hard to impress as a player if you do not bring the level of effort and defensive work rate that fits into Simeone’s system. James does not seemingly bring that, but if El Cholo pushed hard to sign the Colombian in spite of that, then there clearly has to be some level of talent still there. There are clearly risks in these signings, but there is indisputable star power in all three of these players. If they are able to come into the team, fit into Ancelotti’s system, and find form, then Everton suddenly become a much better and much more dangerous team.

Ancelotti’s revolution on Merseyside is more than underway, and it will be interesting to see what else Everton can do in this window. If this is it, then it is definitely not a failure of a transfer window, and it shows how far Everton have gone in the last few years that they are able to attract this level of talent without the promise of European football. This team is far from the finished article, however, and there should not be an expectation of breaking into the Top Six this season. Everton are not there yet, but this has the potential of being a massive step in the right direction toward that goal of getting into Europe. At a bare minimum, this is an immediate upgrade on the Toffee midfield that struggled through the second half of last season. The phrase “scared money don’t make money” comes to mind, and while this was a risk, the reward is also quite high.

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My Response to Vikram’s Article About Donny van de Beek

He may not be an exact fit, but that does not make him a bad signing…

Two days ago, Manchester United announced their first signing of the summer. Dutch midfielder Donny van de Beek joins the Red Devils from Ajax for an initial £35 million fee, not including add-ons. The 23 year old signed a five year deal with United with an option for sixth year.

This is a signing that I was unsure about, and some of the reasoning was echoed by Vikram in his blog post recently. However, the more I think about it, the more I believe this is a sound signing, and many of the issues with the deal have very little to do with van de Beek himself or this deal in isolation.

There is quite a bit to discuss regarding this deal, the fit, the structure of United’s midfield, and where United’s transfer priorities should lie, but let us ignore all of that for just one second and talk about the first main point about this signing:

Donny van de Beek is a very good player.

For three years, van de Beek brought a combination of youthful aggression, dynamism, and technical brilliance into an excellent Ajax team, bringing a great blend of goalscoring and assisting from midfield into that team, alongside a bulldog-like mentality. He was a key player in the Ajax team that won an Eredivisie title and made the final of the Europa League and semifinals of the Champions League, quite possibly being the main unsung hero of that team. In a team full of incredible, budding world-class talent, van de Beek seemed to miss some of the acclaim that Frenkie de Jong, Matthijs de Ligt, Hakim Ziyech, and others received. This might be most exemplified by his performance in their 4-1 win over Real Madrid, where he was arguably the best player on the pitch outside of Man of the Match Dušan Tadić despite not really receiving much in the way of deserved recognition from that match. He ran the show from midfield and carried the team forward into attack, finding Ziyech, Tadić, and David Neres in space in order to threaten a stagnant Real Madrid defense. Van de Beek shone this season in midfield following de Jong’s departure, demonstrating a flexibility and tactical understanding that allows him to feature in any role in midfield, even as a defensive number six outside of his preferred attacking role. United are bringing in a technically brilliant, tactically flexible, intelligent, and dynamic midfielder who, at only 23 years old, has quite a bit of room to grow before he reaches his ceiling as a player.

But let us look at Vikram’s points specifically. The two points he brought up were in regards to van de Beek’s utilization in this United team and questioning how this signing fits into what United’s priorities should be in the transfer market. These two ideas are connected, but we will first look at how van de Beek fits into the team before looking at the grand scheme of United’s transfer market.

It is clear that United’s midfield still needs some work. Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba are clearly locks in the team, but Ole Gunnar Solskjær has seemed to want to fill that third midfield role by committee, utilizing one of Fred, Scott McTominay, or Nemanja Matić in a midfield three in his 4-2-3-1. With van de Beek coming into the team, will he be the third midfielder United are looking for? Well, maybe. While van de Beek has the ability to fit into any role in midfield, his key technical traits and desire to get forward makes him best suited to a box-to-box role, similar to Pogba. There were times where he played as the deepest midfielder in the Ajax 4-3-3, but he usually played in a role where he had the freedom to get forward, with someone like Frenkie de Jong, Daley Blind, or Lisandro Martínez playing in that defensive role. However, this does not mean that he cannot play in a defensive role for United, and Ole’s tactical set up makes it somewhat easier for van de Beek to play in this role. In Ole’s 4-2-3-1, the two midfielders playing behind the front four operate as a double pivot. This means that both midfielders sit in front of the back four when the team is defending, but when they are going forward, one of the two is able to join the attack, while the other stays back to shield the defense. The midfield is “pivoting” through those two players, one going forward to help carry the ball from defense to attack while the other stays back. In this case, Pogba and van de Beek operate as the double pivot. Both are very strong players going forward, and both are capable enough to cover the defensive needs of being in that role.

I will admit, however, it is not the most ideal pairing. Even in a double pivot, many teams utilize one player that is more of a playmaker and another that is more of a defensive-minded player, or they will use a deep-lying playmaker paired with a midfielder more prone to get forward in attack. This could be seen with Cesc Fàbregas and Nemanja Matić at Chelsea, Thiago Alcântara and Joshua Kimmich (or Leon Goretzka) at Bayern, and, a pairing that Vikram and Rynaldy will remember well, Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes at Man United. A pairing of Pogba and van de Beek is a bit weird in this sense because they are two similar players who will want to do the same things, neither fitting into this ideal pairing. Having that double pivot would be very effective for United against teams that sit deep in a low block, as they now have three midfielders able to pick out key passes and break down a defense, but they do risk being caught out on the counter if all three midfielders are forward. It definitely can work, but it will require very strong positional discipline from both players. Pogba has, at times, shown a lesser defensive work rate than would be ideal, and while van de Beek’s engine can make up for that, a double pivot of the two would likely need very good defensive discipline from both players to work. Both players would need to understand when they needed to stay back and would need to sacrifice for each other when both want to get forward. It is a partnership that definitely can work, and can work wonders, but I do admit there are issues with it that would stop it from working, and van de Beek may not have been the most ideal signing to fill that role. The aforementioned Thiago, as well as Arsenal-linked Atlético Madrid midfielder Thomas Partey, would have fit into that role perfectly, cost about the same or only marginally more than van de Beek, and likely would have been more logical signings for United in this role.

This does not make this a bad signing, as this move meets two crucial needs for United: it offers them depth in an important position and provides them options tactically and personnel-wise. One of United’s biggest weaknesses as a team last season was a lack of ability to rotate Pogba and Fernandes, forcing Fernandes especially to play nearly every minute from the time he made his move to Manchester until the end of the season. Solskjær also lacked a “Plan B”, and he seemingly had nowhere to turn when he needed to make an alteration to change the course of a match. While this is partially a reflection of Ole’s weakness in game management, it is hard to look at that United bench and see many players who can come on and impact a match. These two issues were exemplified in United’s arguably two biggest losses of the season: their FA Cup semifinal loss to Chelsea and Europa League semifinal loss to Sevilla. Against Chelsea, Ole heavily rotated the team, taking out Pogba and leaving Fernandes as the only creative outlet in the team. They struggled massively to create anything going forward, with Chelsea’s midfield game plan effectively able to stop Fernandes, knowing there was no other player United could use, apart from Pogba, that could have that level of creative impact. Against Sevilla, United struggled to create chances for most of the match, outside of a strong first 15-20 minutes of the second half. Ole did not have anyone to bring on to change the match, however, and he only made his first substitutions in the 87th minute. This is partially on Ole’s poor game management, but also it shows that he had no one to turn to when he needed someone to come in and make a difference. Van de Beek fills both voids. He is a player who offers more in that creative or box-to-box role than any player currently at United, able to be rotated into the team when Fernandes or Pogba need to be rested or get injured, or he can come on late in a match to be a spark of creativity. He also presents a tactical plan B, as this allows Ole to play with a midfield four if needed, likely deploying van de Beek as one of two box-to-box midfielders on either side of a diamond. In a situation where Ole feels that he needs another player in midfield to sure up the team or to overwhelm the opposition midfield, van de Beek is able to come in and fill that role very well. United now have viable options when things need to be changed.

But this is too much to pay for a squad player, right? Well, not really. A fee of £35 million definitely is not chump change, but in this market, that is not a bad fee for a player who will not immediately play but offers, at minimum, a great influence off the bench and a high future potential. He also acts as the eventual successor to Pogba, should the Frenchman decide to not extend his contract with the club. Especially when the reported fee for the player was in the £50-60 million range last summer, getting him for £35 million a year later is a great deal, possibly one of the best deals of this window, financially speaking.

Now for the final point that Vikram brought up: a player like van de Beek is not a priority for United in this market. In many ways, he is right. I would argue van de Beek offers that depth and “plan B” role that United do very much need, but I would not say a midfielder in his profile is something United were desperate to sign this window, especially when compared to their need for a center back, left back, and proper defensive midfielder. But, for the reasons I have stated, this is still a great move and makes sense for United football-wise and financially. The overall view of this move might end up being influenced by whatever else United do in this window. The club has seemingly turned a corner under Solskjær’s management, getting back into the Champions League and seeming to be only a few pieces away from potentially challenging the Liverpool-Manchester City duopoly on the league title. They are also seeing the moves that Chelsea and Arsenal are making, knowing they need to make upgrades in key positions to at least keep pace with their top four rivals. This window is absolutely crucial for United, even with the impact of COVID on the market. If they do not sign anyone else between now and October 5th, then van de Beek will always be prefaced as “that player United did not need”, which is massively unfair on him. This window will be the greatest referendum of Ed Woodward’s role in this football club. He did a very good job bringing a high rated youngster like van de Beek to the club for a financially reasonable fee, but his ability to bring in the players this United team desperately need will have a much bigger impact in their fortunes next season, especially with the moves that clubs around them in the table will be making. Van de Beek could work out as a United player or he could not, and while I have faith that he will be a great signing for United, I do feel that people’s reflections on this move will be too influenced by whatever else the club do in this crucial window, instead of solely focusing on the player and his performances.

I have more faith in this move for United. I believe this is a very good signing, possibly the best pound-for-pound signing in this window among Premier League teams. Even if he cannot be the crucial third midfielder in that United starting XI, he will still be a very good player that can grow into a starting role in the post-Pogba midfield. Concerns about his utilization in the team are unfounded, and while he is admittedly not a major priority for United in this window, that should not take away from how good of a deal this is financially and when looking to the future.

Don’t worry, Vikram. He will be fine.

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What Sandro Tonali’s shock move to AC Milan shows about how Milan, and Inter, pursued this deal and how both are viewing next season…

Feature Image by chatst2 from Pixabay

Sandro Tonali, Brescia’s star midfield wunderkind and seemingly preordained future of the Italian National Team, is close to a deal to sign with AC Milan. The deal is basically all agreed, and, bar a massive change in direction or an act of God, Tonali will be joining the Rossoneri next season.

This is a big deal.

Given the level of talent Tonali is, as well as the clubs that were pursuing him, it is a little surprising he ended up at Milan. As the bidders fell out of the hunt, however, Milan became arguably the most logical destination. For those who had not been able to keep up with the Rossoneri this season, especially following Serie A’s return from the hiatus, there is some real, tangible positivity surrounding this team, a first after a long period of instability and negativity for the European giants. They were arguably the best team in Italy during that quick run up to the end of the season, putting in some very strong performances to get them into a European place, most notably beating Juventus 4-2 back in early July. There is a real spine forming in this team, mixing young promising talent with experienced veteran leadership. From back to front, the already present spine of Gigio Donnarumma, Alessio Romagnoli, Ismaël Bennacer, Franck Kessié, Zlatan Ibrahimović, and Ante Rebić is a team that will not quite win the Scudetto just yet, but one that is obviously building rapidly in the right direction. That spine is also joined by emerging, or already broken through, young talent, including the likes of Theo Hernández, Rafael Leão, Alexis Saelemaekers, Matteo Gabbia, and Pierre Kalulu, demonstrating the strong future that this team has. They are now adding Tonali, arguably the most promising young player in Italy, to this already solid spine. This is a move that brings another massive building block to this Milan team.

It is the Rossoneri midfield in particular that is now very intriguing, as the 20-year-old Tonali joins the 23-year-old Kessié and 22-year-old Bennacer in forming a very interesting, and good, problem for manager Stefano Pioli to have. Do you play all three of them together, going away from the 4-2-3-1 set up that seemed to serve Milan well recently, or do you only choose two of them to play in that midfield three alongside Hakan Çalhanoglu, a more natural number ten? It seems like Milan will use Tonali and one of the other two in a double pivot, using that depth and ability to rotate in order to balance playing in the league and the Europa League, but it is possible that they build toward a future of using all three, especially if they eventually replace Zlatan with a forward more able to drop into space as a center forward as well, similar to Roberto Firmino or Karim Benzema. It is hard to go wrong in this scenario, and the incredible depth that Milan now have in midfield is setting them up well to challenge for the Champions League places next season, and possibly, a few years down the line, the chance to challenge for the Scudetto as well.

It is still a risk, however, as, despite the pieces looking like they are coming together for Milan, there is still the chance it could all fall apart. The mess surrounding Stefano Pioli and seemingly-tabbed replacement Ralf Ragnick was definitely unfair on Pioli, who had done an incredible job getting the train back on the tracks in the second half of the season, but I do believe the jury is still out on whether Pioli is the right man for the job. That run after the hiatus was very impressive, but it could very well have been just a flash in the pan, possibly a strong run of form that would be reversed as Milan reverted back to their mean level of performance at the beginning of next season. There were genuine questions around Pioli’s management at the beginning of last season, questions that led to logical discussions around Ragnick replacing him. They will also soon have to find a replacement for Zlatan, who is crucial in their attack. Throwing all of their eggs into one basket like this is not always ideal, despite how talented and effective Zlatan still is, as despite what the 38-year-old Swede might tell you, he obviously cannot play forever. It is very possible, even likely, that Milan kick on next season, and they start the season with the momentum they got from how they ended last season and ride that to a strong 2020/21 season and potentially a spot in the Champions League. In that case, Tonali will have joined arguably the ideal club to play for, but if things do go wrong, it could bring up a large roadblock in the young Italian’s development, possibly derailing his career if things got bad enough. I do not think this is a massive risk, but the last half-decade of Milan’s history has had a strong “one step forward, two (or more) steps back” aura around them, so I am hoping the several steps back do not come.

It is impossible to talk about Tonali going to Milan without discussing the club on the other side of this massive tug-of-war. As the bidders fell away, it appeared the Tonali Sweepstakes had been reduced to only two teams: AC Milan and Inter. The two Milan giants duking it out over the signature of Italy’s next big young talent had a certain poetic feel to it, and it felt like a sign that the Derby della Madonnina was building back toward the iconic level the rivalry was at in the 1990s and 2000s. Curiously, though, Milan did not get Tonali because the player chose them, although it is possible that boyhood Milan fan Tonali did prefer to play for the Rossoneri. Inter pulled out of negotiations. Throughout this entire process, it appeared that Inter were the favorites to sign him, presenting Tonali with a chance to play in the Champions League and contend for a league title next season in a midfield alongside fellow Italian youngster Nicolò Barella and the experienced and quite underrated Marcelo Brozović. Tonali and Inter had even had personal terms agreed for a move since April. However, Inter weirdly decided to pull out of negotiations with Brescia, opening the lane for Milan to sign the player unopposed. It would later come out that this was a decision made by Inter manager Antonio Conte, who preferred that the club sign an older, more experienced player in midfield instead of the younger Tonali. This move came as Inter were reportedly closing in on a deal for Barcelona midfielder Arturo Vidal and potentially pursuing a deal for Chelsea midfielder N’Golo Kanté. It is a decision that has garnered quite a bit of criticism, and it is a decision that Milan fans might be thanking Conte for in the years to come.

Do not get me wrong, I get the gamble that Conte is trying to make here. He is seemingly throwing all of his weight behind winning a league title in the next two years with Inter. While I do think Tonali could immediately play a role in a Scudetto-winning Inter team, the desire to go for more experienced and guaranteed-talent midfielders over a young and still relatively unproven player is at least somewhat logical in that sense. But that is the thing, it is a gamble, and a massive one at that. Conte is throwing everything and the kitchen sink at winning a Scudetto with this Inter team, a team that can probably stay at the level of legitimate title challenger for maybe the next two seasons, three seasons at the absolute most. If Inter do not win a league title in that time, then what are they going to have to show for their efforts? They will be left with a team with an aging core, not many emerging talents to replace the aging players, and the possibility that the young players already playing a major role in this team, including the likes of Barella, Lautaro Martínez, and the newly arrived Achraf Hakimi, could be long gone. This is seemingly a move done by someone who cannot see past the end of his nose, someone who is so obsessed with the immediate goal that he cannot see how the image of his team is shaping up in the next three to five years. As a result, Conte has handed Inter’s biggest rivals what could be one of the final pieces of the puzzle needed to bring Milan back to true prominence. This is not even the first bad transfer decision Inter have made with young players, even in the last two years. Inter lost out in the race to sign Atalanta winger Dejan Kulusevski to Juventus despite being the front-runners to land the young Swede, possibly due to Conte’s preference, and previous manager Luciano Spalletti willingly sent Nicolò Zaniolo to Roma as part of the move that brought Radja Nainggolan to Inter. The Nerazzurri could have had a young, promising midfield five of Kulusevski, Zaniolo, Tonali, Barella, and Stefano Sensi, but due to completely avoidable issues of their own making, they now have lost out on three of those players.

Antonio Conte is obviously a brilliant and very accomplished manager, but he is an incredibly stubborn individual. Conte is so set in his ways and in the players he wants, which have usually been older veteran players, that he is unwilling to have his team sign one of the world’s most promising young talents. This gamble could ultimately work out. Inter could win a league title or two with this team, and a player like Vidal or Kanté could come in and be an immediate contributor. Winning league titles could allow them to build even further, adding talent that would make them not miss Tonali in the slightest. However, it is a colossal gamble. If Inter do not win a title in this window, and especially if Tonali becomes a superstar at Milan, Interisti will be sat wondering what could have been.

The move is not official, but it looks about set. Sandro Tonali will join his boyhood club. Milan have secured the signature of one of the most promising young players in the world and a key building block in bringing this storied club back to prominence. I am incredibly excited to see how this team shapes up and to see how this Rossoneri core develops. There is tangible hope and optimism around Milan now, and it is exciting to see.

In the words of transfer guru Fabrizio Romano: here we go!

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Donny van de Beek is a quality signing but is he a priority for United?

I have mixed feelings about Manchester United signing Donny van de Beek. Recently, BBC Sport reported that Manchester United have agreed to personal terms with the midfielder and have negotiated a £40 million move with Ajax. On paper, it represents a well-calculated move by Manchester United. Like Bruno Fernandes, United haven’t overpaid for the Dutch international, who has been brilliant for Ajax last campaign. Van de Beek scored 10 goals and made 11 assists across all competitions last season and can play as a central, attacking, or defensive midfielder. On paper, he is a quality player who can play in the Premier League.

Yet, I can’t help but feel like he will be misused at United. Don’t get me wrong, I think van de Beek can excel in United’s set up if he is played correctly – a free-roaming central midfielder. Why does that sound familiar, you might wonder? Well, that’s cause Pogba currently plays in that role for United in a midfield set up where Bruno is an attacking midfielder and Matić plays as a defensive midfielder that sits back.

This raises an important issue for United: what do they do with their new acquisition? Where does he play?

One thing is for sure – Donny offers United depth because he can slot in and fulfill either Bruno’s or Pogba’s role. While Fred is a good player, he struggles in Pogba’s position, and van de Beek offers something different in that regard. Similarly, Manchester United do not have a proper back up to Bruno. Jesse Lingard, Andreas Pereira and Juan Mata pale in comparison to Bruno, but the Dutchman has shown a lot of promise in that central attacking midfielder role at Ajax. Hence, van de Beek is an excellent signing in this regard – someone who is brought in to provide cover for both Pogba and Bruno.

However, I have two main issues with this transfer. Firstly, it is highly likely that Ole might field a midfield trio of Bruno-Pogba-van De Beek, with the Dutchman sitting behind the other two. Secondly, van de Beek is not a priority signing given the issues in other areas in the squad. Allow me to go through both points.

Donny van de Beek is not the defensive midfielder that Manchester United needs.

If he is brought in to play as a defensive midfielder mainly, then United are not only under-utilizing the player but also will suffer in big matches. Yes, van de Beek can be deployed as a defensive midfielder, and he can do a decent job in that position, but to harness his full capability, he needs to play higher up in the field. Even if he does play as a defensive midfielder, I am doubtful that the player can sit back and ensure that the defensive line is covered. After enjoying the freedom to roam and express himself at Ajax, van de Beek would probably need a lot of time to adapt to a Fabinho-type role that Manchester United need for Ole’s system to work properly.

It is bewildering because there are other options out there. Wilfred Ndidi would have been the perfect signing for the Red Devils. Also 23 years old like van de Beek, he has the potential to become a main fixture in United for the next decade. Sure, United will have to fork out a fortune to purchase a promising player from a rival Premier League club (I mean we paid £80 million for Harry Maguire, so yes, Ndidi won’t be cheap). However, I believe he would be a worthy investment, and the massive fee paid would pay dividends because he is a significant upgrade from Nemanja Matić, who is the best player suited to that defensive midfield role under Ole’s tactics. Let that sink in a bit, Matić is 32 years old and past his prime. Yes, he has experienced a revival in form at the start of the year, but the aging Serbian cannot be starting every single game.

The thing is, given his playing style, I do not know if van de Beek would do a significantly better job than Matic. Maybe he could? I do not know. It’s times like these when I kind of regret selling Daley Blind. No, I am not joking. Blind has shown his defensive prowess at Ajax and has established himself as a solid centre-back but is also capable of executing long-range passes. Wilfred Ndidi may not possess the same calibre of passing, but I’d argue that he defends better than Blind, and by extension van de Beek, in that defensive midfield position. Manchester United are in dire need of this defending ability.

Not the Red Devils’ Priority

Secondly, while van de Beek is a fine addition, he isn’t a priority for United right now. Let me list our priorities in the order of what we need.

  1. A Right-winger
  2. A Centre-back
  3. A Left-back
  4. A Defensive Midfielder (that fits Ole’s tactics)
  5. Quality Depth in midfield [This is what the van de Beek signing accomplishes]
  6. A Forward (to replace Ighalo once his loan expires)

What we need now, more than ever, is a right winger. Yes, we also need a centre-back, a left-back, and a defensive midfielder are important but relatively less so. Daniel James is our only natural right winger Daniel James is not good enough to start every match, and I do believe a loan to another Premier League club would do him a world of good. Jadon Sancho should have been our priority signing, but it looks like we are going to miss out on him. There have been rumours circulating that united may pursue Kingsley Coman and Ousmane Dembélé. However, there have been no concrete developments just yet.

I’m afraid I have to disagree with the notion that United do not need to invest in a world-class right-winger because they already have options within their academy prospects. Yes, Tahith Chong played brilliantly in his first few friendly matches for Werder Bremen, providing an assist in his debut scoring an impressive solo goal against FC Groningen in his third match. However, he still needs time to develop. The same goes for Mason Greenwood, who even though has played well in that right-wing role, would probably fare better up front. The same goes for the other positions and United need to reinforce the squad before the start of the season.

Donny van de Beek is by no means a bad signing, and I am thrilled that Manchester United have finally made a transfer, especially since other clubs have already secured multiple targets. What I am fearful of is Manchester United misusing the Dutchman or, even worse, not signing anyone else. The club has done well so far in securing hot prospects for the United Academy and Reserves. They need to replicate this success of acquiring talented youth players for the first-team setup. I sincerely hope that van de Beek’s acquisition will open the flood gates and United go on to secure other priority targets. Only time will tell. Ed Woodward please, I beg you, do not screw this up…

Featured Image by Image by bertholdbrodersen from Pixabay

Manchester United’s Return: The Reds Go Marching On…

An Article by Khertan Harshad Ramanan

The Season

It has been a rollercoaster of a season for Manchester United, the players, the manager and the fans. It was a dream start for United as they ruthlessly overcame Chelsea 4-0 on opening day which gave fans huge expectations. However, the score in that match did not entirely tell the whole story as Chelsea was dictating the play for most of the game. Solskjaer’s men would go on to score six more in their next eight league games. As a result, after nine matches United found themselves sat in 14th in the table, having picked up 10 points winning only twice.

At that point, I predicted United would be finishing in 7th in the table, knowing that a long-term injury to Pogba and Martial would make it hard to go against teams using low-block defence. As predicted, the Red Devils faced an ailing Bournemouth and were defeated after their former striker, Josh King, scored the only goal. United were struggling to score against sides that used a low-block to defend, especially without Pogba and Martial. All the other teams noticed the issue and played United accordingly as a poor string of results kept piling on.

The lowest point of the season was when United lost to Burnley 0-2. In rare scenes at Old Trafford, the team were booed off at half-time and full-time. Former player Darren Fletcher described the atmosphere on the night as “toxic”, with fans voicing their anger towards club owners the Glazers and chief executive Ed Woodward. After the game, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer conceded it wasn’t good enough, with the team “lacking ideas”. In the weeks following the game, Solskjaer would solve this problem with the Fernandes signing. It was mid-January, and United would not lose a game for the rest of the league campaign.

The Bruno Effect

 Who knew that one single player was all that’s needed to turn this team around? Bruno Fernandes came from Sporting Libson for £47m and now he’s looking like a huge steal. He came in and gave the confidence that this side needed. He was that creative spark that was needed to help the team penetrate low block defence and ever since he came to Manchester United has only lost once in twenty-two games and that is astonishing. He has a record of 10 goals and 7 assists in 18 matches so far and he has only arrived in January.

 With the coronavirus pandemic bringing football to a halt, it allowed vital players such as Rashford and Paul Pogba to return back to match fitness, adding even more quality to the squad. Now with the full squad ready, United looked like one of the biggest threats in the Premier League. Since Bruno’s arrival, the Red Devils collected 32 points in just 14 games leading United to finish 3rd in the league, securing Champions League Football and are currently in the semi-finals against Sevilla on Sunday.

The Future

Now with Champions League football, Manchester United has the chance to beef up their squad by adding in new talents to make this team title contenders. With the likes of Jadon Sancho, Jack Grealish and Van De Beek closely linked to Manchester United, the club now has to get the job done by signing these players and back Solskjaer up as he fulfilled his promise of bringing Manchester United back into Champions League.

I am very excited for next season as a Manchester United fan. It’s been seven years since I felt this alive watching United.

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A New Challenge Outside England: Angel Gomes Moves to Lille

When Angel Gomes left Manchester United at the end of June, many believed he would secure a quick move to Chelsea or another top-flight club in Europe. Rumours circulated that Chelsea were seriously considering signing the player. However, no offer came from Stamford Bridge, and since the start of July, the pacey attacking midfielder has been without a club. July must have been a difficult month for Gomes, who probably second-guessed his decision to leave Old Trafford in search for regular first-team football elsewhere. August, on the other hand, paints a different story for him, as he starts a new chapter in his footballing career.

Ligue 1 side Lille have recently signed Gomes and have shown that they are serious about the player’s development because they have done something that United failed to: loan Gomes out. For the upcoming 2020/21 season, Gomes would be on loan at Portuguese side Boavista F.C. A move to the Primeira Liga is a sensible one because the level of competition is relatively high and Gomes would surely gain regular playing time. Also, as a footballing romanticist, I do think it’s pretty symbolic of a spiritual restart to Gomes’s career. The player heads to Portugal, where his family is from, to gain some much-needed experience before he returns to Lille.

It is a smart piece of business from Lille, who look to rebuild their club with a host of key players expected to leave the club the upcoming transfer window. Victor Osimhen has already left for Napoli on a 50 million Euro transfer, and it will be hard to replace the Nigerian, who was Lille’s top scorer last campaign. Other players rumoured to depart the club include:

  • Gabriel Magalhães, CB
    • Linked with a move to Manchester United, Everton, Arsenal, Napoli
  • Boubakary Soumaré, CM
    • Linked with a move to Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool, Chelsea
  • Mike Maignan, G.K.
    • Linked with a move to Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea
  • Mehmet Zeki Çelik, R.B.
    • Linked with a move to Everton, Tottenham Hotspur
  • Jonathan Ikoné, FW
    • Linked with a move to Chelsea, Borussia Dortmund

These players formed the backbone of Lille, and the Ligue 1 outfit probably needs a season or two to rebuild and create a new spine for the team. Lille have already signed veteran Greek goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis from Napoli as a short term replacement for Maignan if he leaves. In addition, the club has also signed Turkish icon Burak Yilmaz on a free transfer from Besiktas. The move for Yilmaz is a good piece of business as well. Lille get an experienced forward who adds depth to their frontline, which would be severely depleted if Jonathan Ikoné leaves.

Lille have also attempted to sign Colombian forward Alfredo Morelos from Rangers F.C., who would come in as a replacement for Osimhen. Morelos would be a shrewd piece of business for Lille. They get a good player to build a new spine for the team at a bargain price, and yes, while the Scottish Premier League may not be the most competitive in Europe, his statistics in the Europa League show that he is a lethal finisher. He has scored an impressive 14 goals in 16 appearances for Rangers in Europe this campaign, and Lille would have an upgrade from their current crop of strikers (other than Ikoné).

Another player heavily linked with Lille is Jonathan David, which indicates that the club is more than likely going to cash in on Ikoné. David is one of the brightest talents to have emerged from North America, let alone Canada. He has been absolutely brilliant for Gent in Belgium and will easily fill the boots of Ikoné. Only 20 years old, David’s impending acquisition is further evidence that Lille are in the process of a rebuild.

The decision to sign Angel Gomes is in line with this plan of creating a new backbone for the long-term. He comes in as a free transfer and represents a low-risk acquisition with no significant transfer fee involved. However, his inexperience in first-team football means that he cannot be rushed into the first-team. As much as people call Ligue 1 a farmer’s league, the level of competition in France is high, and Lille cannot afford to risk fielding Gomes weekly.

Manchester United and Ole take note, this is how you develop your academy prospects. Loaning them out to gain valuable first-team minutes at another top-flight European team shows the players that they are part of the club’s plans for the future. Gomes was stuck playing Under-23 football when he could have been playing on loan at a club like Celtic. Seeing his peers and fellow academy teammates get significantly greater playing time

For Gomes, Lille have offered him a new challenge and the chance to prove Ole and Manchester United wrong. As a United fan, I sincerely want Gomes to do well. I hoped that he would develop into a phenomenal player and become an integral part of the United team. That dream has been crushed with his departure, but he can become an essential player for Lille if he performs well with Boavista and remains free from injuries. Only time will tell. That being said, I am probably going to closely follow Gomes’s spell in Portugal and see how he progresses. Fingers crossed that he shines!

Featured Image by Edar from Pixabay

On Leroy Sané’s Move to Bayern Munich

Super Bayern 2.0

A long-rumored and long-teased transfer has finally been made official. Leroy Sané, after three very solid years of lighting up the Premier League, with a fourth basically ended through injury, has returned to his native country to sign with Bayern Munich. Due to his contract winding down at Manchester City, Sané’s move to Bavaria was for a cut rate fee of about €50 million (£54.8 million). What does this move mean for Bayern? For City? For Sané? Let us take a look at everything related to this blockbuster transfer.

As you can tell by the subtitle of this piece, yes, this is a fantastic bit of business for Bayern Munich. Sure, they did not get him when they wanted, having initially enquired about this move last summer, but they finally got their man and for much cheaper than they initially thought they would have had to pay. Before his injury in the FA Community Shield, the discussed fee between the clubs was around €100 million, and Bayern have now got him for about half of that. Bayern are adding an incredible talent, a winger who is world class on his day, and a player that slots in perfectly into their team. Sané will play on the left for Bayern, as he did for City, taking the place that Kingsley Coman filled in the team. Since the departure of club legends Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry, Bayern have looked for attacking players that are able to have the level of influence on a match that the famous “Robbery” pairing did. Serge Gnabry has really cemented himself on that right side, but the rotating fixtures of Coman, Ivan Perišić, and others on that left side has been a key missing link in the Bavarian attack. The Bayern front four of Sané, Thomas Müller, Gnabry, and Robert Lewandowski now becomes one of the best in European football, cementing Bayern’s place as a Champions League contender for next season (Sané is not eligible to feature for Bayern in the resumed Champions League next month). Bayern also made this move on the relative cheap, meaning that if they are able to sell some players, they can still sign players in other positions. A €50 million move puts a significantly lesser strain on the Bayern books than a €100 million move, and that added financial breathing room allows them to continue upgrading the team and move better should some formerly key players, such as David Alaba or Thiago Alcântara, leave the club. This is undoubtedly a winning move for Bayern, and one that will launch them into the levels of Europe’s elite teams once again. They were dominant in the early 2010s, contending for the Champions League nearly every season, and this move will seemingly bring them to near that same level.

For Man City, this move is unfortunate, especially for how little he went for, but it is not the end of the world. It was no secret that, for some reason, Sané had fallen out of favor with manager Pep Guardiola. The German was always immensely talented and was exceptional when he did play for City, but near the end of his time in Manchester, he found himself riding the bench more often than not. He was living life as an attacking super sub instead of being a regular starting player. Guardiola preferred a set up utilizing Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva as his wingers, and the arrival of Riyad Mahrez and emergence of Phil Foden demonstrated that there were several other players ahead of Sané in Pep’s mind. This likely motivated Sané’s desire to leave City, refusing to sign a new contract and outwardly pushing for the move to Bayern. Sané was not going to heavily feature for this City side, so it is in Pep’s best interest to allow an unsettled player to leave the club. This move opens up some financial flexibility to allow City to make the upgrades they need to challenge Liverpool for the title next season. City’s attack, even without Sané, is still among the best in the league and the continent, but their defense was exposed several times this season, especially after Aymeric Laporte was injured. City could use the extra money to bring in an upgrade a center back over John Stones or Nicolás Otamendi, or possibly an upgrade at left back over Benjamin Mendy and Oleksandr Zinchenko. Obviously, City’s wealthy owners do not need the money, but with many more eyes on them following their FFP violations, they would be wise to abide by UEFA’s financial regulations. Bringing in money from a player sale is important in balancing the books and their ability to make a big name signing when the transfer window opens. Football-wise, this move opens the door a little bit wider for Phil Foden, who has shone in his chances with the first team since the league season resumed. Foden was always immensely talented when he emerged from the City Academy, with Guardiola calling him one of the best young talents he has ever seen, but he has lacked any chances in the ultra-talented City first team. Debates have raged over whether he should leave the Etihad for first team opportunities, and while that debate might still be valid, it is undoubted that Sané’s departure, along with the imminent departure of David Silva, has opened the door for the young Englishman to earn opportunities to feature with the first team. Foden could become a future superstar shining in the role in which Sané once played, and he did not cost City a penny. Yes, Sané is still a world-class footballer, and his departure is still unfortunate for City. They will also rue their inability to get more than €50 million for the talented winger, possibly having gotten more had he not gotten injured in the Community Shield, but his departure is ultimately not a massive loss for City or for Guardiola’s vision for the team.

So what does this all mean for Sané? Well, football-wise, he leaves a team where he possibly felt under-appreciated and like a bit-part player and goes to a team where he is the main guy, or among the two or three main guys. Sané will be a star player in Bavaria, playing every week and being among the biggest names in the team. He will be working with Hansi Flick, a man whom he worked with in the German National Team set up. Fit-wise, he is returning to his native country and to a league he is very familiar with. Adaptation to England never seemed to be an issue, but this return to familiar pastures may be even more beneficial for the player.

Is the fit in the team perfect? Well, sort of. Adding a world-class talent like Sané is clearly not going to make Bayern worse, and replacing Coman with Sané in that front four does make the Bavarians a much more imposing attacking team, but the one question I have is about the potential relationship between Sané and left back Alphonso Davies. Coman and Perišić, as right-footed left wingers, have the natural tendency to cut inside on their stronger foot, which allows Davies to overlap into the wide areas and cross the ball into the box. Davies also built a good understanding with the wingers, especially Coman, to know when to stay wide and overlap and when to cut inside or attack the channels on forward runs. Comparatively, Sané is a left-footed left winger, and while he is adept at moving wide and inside, his movement will lead to him wanting to end up on his preferred left foot. While this seems to be a minor detail, this can lead to a much different dynamic between Sané and Davies, and it is possible that the same wide overlapping space that was available for Davies this season will not be there for him next season. With Davies being billed as among the best attacking left backs in the world at the minute, it is in Bayern’s best interest to get the most out of his incredible technical and physical abilities. Sané and Davies will need to build a strong relationship and understanding on the pitch for Bayern to get the most out of the talent at their disposal. I do not doubt that Sané will be brilliant for Bayern, but this one seemingly small question could make the difference between Bayern becoming the best team in the world or missing out on another Champions League title.

Leroy Sané’s move to Bayern is a very big deal in European football. I have no doubts that it will elevate Bayern to another level as a team, and it will help City restructure their team for another title challenge. I have some questions about how Sané and Alphonso Davies will function in the same team, but if that minor issue is sorted out, the Bayern become an absolutely terrifying team. Sané will enjoy his time in Bavaria; he will be a success in Hansi Flick’s reformed Super Bayern.

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On the Arthur-Miralem Pjanić Swap Deal

And what it tells us about…well…a lot, really… So a week or so ago, rumors started to come out around a very peculiar deal. Barcelona and Juventus were in discussions over a deal for Bosnian midfielder Miralem Pjanić, which is not necessarily old news. People had been covering Barcelona’s potential interest in Pjanić for a […]

On the Arthur-Miralem Pjanić Swap Deal

And what it tells us about…well…a lot, really…

So a week or so ago, rumors started to come out around a very peculiar deal. Barcelona and Juventus were in discussions over a deal for Bosnian midfielder Miralem Pjanić, which is not necessarily old news. People had been covering Barcelona’s potential interest in Pjanić for a few weeks, if not a few months, now, but the terms of this arrangement were significantly more peculiar.

A few days ago, we got confirmation of those rumors. Two separate transfer deals were agreed, sending one Barcelona player to Turin and one Juventus player to Catalonia, almost like a faux swap deal. Pjanić would be making his way to the Catalan club for a €60 million + bonuses fee, while Barcelona midfielder Arthur Melo went the other way for a €72 million + bonuses fee. While they were two separate deals, the end result was the players swapped teams and Barcelona made €12 million. This deal seems very weird at face value, especially when looking at the fees for those players in a COVID-impacted market, but when digging deeper, the deal begins to make much more sense as long as you accept one reality:

The primary motivation behind this deal was financial, not sporting.

This motivation can be said for both teams, but very much so for Barcelona. Barcelona have been in a very serious financial strain for the last few years, but it was rapidly accelerated by the acquisition of Antoine Griezmann last summer. As a result, the club was put into a pinch to sell players and make that money back, and they have been actively trying to sell quite a few players in the team, mostly focusing on younger and fringe players. Samuel Umtiti, Jean-Clair Todibo, Ivan Rakitić, and Philippe Coutinho were among the names linked with moves away, and youngster Marc Cucurella recently made his loan to Getafe a permanent deal. However, there were no significant moves made, and they were in a pinch to make around €60-70 million in player sales before the end of the financial year on June 30th. Should that fundraising not happen, the Barcelona board of directors would be personally liable for a portion of the losses, in accordance to laws governing football clubs in Spain. I encourage you to read anything Sid Lowe has written on this for the Guardian or for ESPN to get the details, but long story short, Barcelona needed money and needed it quickly.

Along comes Juventus, a team that, if rumors are to be believed, are also not in the greatest of financial situations. The signing of Cristiano Ronaldo in 2018 was a landmark moment for the club, but it was also a very expensive moment for the club. Ronaldo made the move to Turin for around €117 million, and when adding on the €31 million net wage that the Portuguese forward commands, the move has put significant pressure on the Juventus finances. I, personally, would argue that the move for Cristiano made the Juventus team around him weaker due to the lack of money Juve could spend in the transfer market (apart from one large Dutch outlier), which led to the increased struggle for the Scudetto this season, but that is for another day. The point is that they needed to lighten the financial strain. The situation is not as dire as the one in Catalonia, but if Juve wanted to bring in players to upgrade their team and challenge for the Champions League title they brought Ronaldo in to win, they needed to balance the books, and there were a few outlier players on high wages that the Bianconeri looked at moving on. One of them was Miralem Pjanić, a midfielder who was among the best in Serie A for several years, but age and changes in manager and system seemed to take him past his prime. Despite his reduced role in the team, especially this season under manager Maurizio Sarri, Pjanić still has the fourth highest net wage of any player in the club, ahead of several crucial players such as Paulo Dybala, Wojciech Szczęsny, and Rodrigo Bentancur. He was a player the club wanted to part ways with, especially in their goal to find another midfielder to upgrade the Achilles’ heel of their team. Barcelona have had at least mild interest in Pjanić for a significant amount of time now, so when the deal evolved into the final “swap” deal, it was hard for Juve sporting director Fabio Paratici to say no.

So this is where we are at. Two clubs came together to give each other a little bit of help balancing the books. I am almost convinced that this deal could have been a number of different players and still would have gone through. Despite this, there is at least still some form of sporting impact and reasoning for this deal, especially on Juventus’ side. Barcelona have long searched for the “next Xavi” in midfield, and initially thought that person would be Arthur. The board seemed to have given up on that dream, opting for the more experienced Pjanić to try and fill that void instead. Juventus have been searching for ways to upgrade their midfield, easily the weakest area of their team, in order to counteract the growing title challenges from Inter and Lazio. Their attempts to sign Paul Pogba and Houssem Aouar have so far failed due to financial restrictions, but the move for Arthur allowed them to get a solid, young midfielder who could develop into a great player, with the added bonus of moving Pjanić out of the team.

But that is not really the point, now is it? It is clear that this was not for sporting reasons, especially for Barcelona. While it does make sporting sense for Juventus, it shows that they are starting to get a bit nervous and desperate. They know the move for Ronaldo was massive, and they need to at least get to a Champions League Final before he leaves, but they have steadily declined as a team overall since his arrival. They now have two genuine challengers for a title, with Inter looking like the most formidable over the next few years. Arthur could genuinely become a great player, and they got him for basically a paltry €12 million, but their desire to move on from Pjanić for very little concrete monetary value is a sign of panic regarding their wage bill and desire to scrape money from anywhere to build a team around Ronaldo.

For Barcelona, it seems to confirm what many already know: there just is not a plan. Barcelona’s leadership act on whims, panics, and guesses, especially in the last few years. Let’s look at how they handled Arthur, because it is a microcosm of a larger issue. Arthur arrived in Catalonia in 2018 riding sky-high expectations following his shining three seasons at Grêmio. The Barcelona board considered him the Xavi’s rightful heir, a player who they never really fully and effectively replaced when he left the club in 2015. Two years later, Arthur showed flashes of what he could be but could never consistently reach at or near that level, which, naturally, should be expected for a player who is still only 23 and having only played two seasons in Europe. The Barcelona board however, to cover up for their other litany of financially irresponsible decisions, decided that this was not good enough, and they considered him excess to requirement, which is patently absurd. If you are comparing him to Xavi, you would not say that Xavi really “arrived” on the scene as a world-class midfielder until 2008, when he was named in the FIFPro World XI. He was 28 years old. Setting that level of expectation on Arthur is insane, but again, this is just Barcelona’s board seemingly mortgaging future assets to save from personal financial trouble. Neither manager Quique Setién nor his teammates wanted Arthur to leave, but the board needed to dig themselves out of a hole. This hole was accelerated by the departure of Neymar, a player they viewed as the one to take the mantle from Messi when he left. The quite expensive acquisitions of Ousmane Dembélé, Philippe Coutinho, and Antoine Griezmann were quite knee-jerk reactions to Neymar’s departure, and, so far, none of those players have found really any success in a Barcelona shirt. They have been actively searching for clubs to sign Dembélé and Coutinho and, if the rumors are to be believed, might be trying to move on from Griezmann after just one season.

The Neymar saga was really just the tip of the iceberg, though. Just think about the laundry list of players Barcelona has signed since 2015, and there are a lot of them. How many would you say were actually successful signings? Dembélé was not fully successful but could still come good, but outside of him? Maybe Arturo Vidal? Clément Lenglet? Nélson Semedo? Samuel Umtiti had his moments, but is he really a success? This is me clutching at straw here, because there are way more players on this list who were not successes. Remember Kevin-Prince Boateng’s loan move? They took on his very high wages for him to score no goals in four games. Remember Malcom? I remember his dazzling goals for Bordeaux, but I will not lie, I genuinely had to google him because I forgot he had ended up at Zenit. Barcelona paid €41 million for him to play maybe a little more than a dozen games. They paid combined fees upwards of €75 million to sign Lucas Digne and André Gomes, only for them to make about 70 combined appearances and both end up at Everton. There are so many more names, so many more embarrassing moves that chipped away at Barcelona’s bottom line. This has left them with this deeply flawed team, led by a manager with seemingly no sense of an attacking plan outside of let Messi do everything. They have yet to find a replacement for Sergio Busquets and Gerard Piqué, who are both rapidly approaching the end of their careers. They went through an embarrassing hunt for a back-up striker to fill the void of the injured and still rapidly-slowing Luis Suárez, having to use loopholes in league rules to get around the transfer window rules and sign Martin Braithwaite because their cheapskate plan to sign Rodrigo did not work. Their obsessive, panicked pursuit of a Neymar replacement left them really having to rely on Messi and 17-year-old Ansu Fati to be the dynamic attacking players in the team.

The end result is that the Barcelona board have seemingly wasted away most of Lionel Messi’s prime. Yes, they won their fair share of La Liga titles over the last few years, but their main prize, one more Champions League for Messi, has eluded them. Since winning the trophy in 2015, they have only reached the semifinal stage once, that one time being their infamous meltdown at Anfield last season. After each failure, there is no measured discussion over how to improve the team overall or improve the system, it is just panic and buy, and the panic seems to continually get worse while the team gets more flawed. With Messi’s contract expiring at the end of the 2020-21 season, it is very possible that Leo decides to get away from the madness in pursuit of that one last Champions League triumph.

Yeah, we covered quite a bit here, didn’t we? A simple swap deal between two players tells us everything wrong with the current Barcelona management. Sid Lowe said this deal would be a failure regardless of outcome because of the reasoning behind it, and he is exactly right. Barcelona have learned nothing in the last five years, and this deal is just a signal of them continuing to try and get out of their mess by digging themselves deeper into it. Juventus could have gotten a steal in bringing in Arthur, but this was really motivated in trying to fix their broken wage structure. Two clubs trying to fix financial messes agreed to help each other out. Voila! One of the weirdest swap deals in football was born.

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