The best Premier League transfers from the summer of 2020: Who’s having the biggest impact on their new team?
Welcome to Benge’s Premier League Table. Every week James Benge ranks something, anything, in the Premier League, breaking down everything from the nerdiest tactics to the best kits, to the worst haircuts. This week, he’s looking at the best signings from the summer transfer window.
The end of the January transfer window brings with it an immediate (and perfectly natural) rush to judgement. But if it is inevitably too early to assess how the new additions to the Premier League are doing, now seems as good a time as any to look back on the summer’s business with more than half a season of games in the can.
Czech duo Tomas Soucek and Vladimir Coufal have both been cornerstones of David Moyes side since their arrival and it is only an act of brazen pedantry that denies the former a place in our top 10. However, he arrived at West Ham for the second half of the 2019-20 season and it was apparent even then that he was a smart fit. Arsenal duo Gabriel and Thomas Partey miss out thanks to injuries as they have missed too many games to be considered just yet.
Perhaps when we look back in another year’s time it will be Southampton that are judged to have done the best business having snapped up youngsters Kyle Walker-Peters and Ibrahima Diallo, the latter in particular looking like a top midfielder in the making.
10. Callum Wilson (Bournemouth to Newcastle, $27million)
It was hardly an act of great genius to pick up a relatively consistent Premier League goal scorer from a newly relegated side, but it was fair to question whether a player who had only reached double figures once in the top flight and would turn 29 this month was worth such significant expenditure. He has proven to be and with 16 games to be played he needs only four goals to match his best return in Premier League season, 14 goals.
Newcastle do not make many chances for their forwards but Wilson has the guile, pace and shooting quality to make the most of them. Of players who have scored more than five goals in the league this season only Heung-min Son and Alexandre Lacazette have converted a higher proportion of their shots than his 25 percent. Crucially when a big chance comes his way, he finds the net more often than not.
9. Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (Southampton to Tottenham, $20.5million)
Another proven Premier League performer and one whose price tag was balanced out by the sale of Kyle Walker-Peters from Spurs to Southampton. There have been few better fits between a manager and player than Hojbjerg and Jose Mourinho, who has the high-level anchorman that his teams invariably rely upon.
Only two midfielders have made more tackles than Hojbjerg in the Premier League this season, only four have recovered possession for their side more frequently. Above just the output though, it is the Dane’s attitude that makes him an ideal fit for his boss. He is the sort of man who gets hit and immediately comes back for more, as typified when he took a sizeable cut to the leg in the EFL Cup semi-final win over Brentford and refused to be substituted.
8. Raphinha (Rennes to Leeds, $23million)
At times you suspect it must be a challenge buying players for Marcelo Bielsa. Not that his Leeds team has so much talent it’s impossible to improve, but that he has such specific demands of his players that it can prove to be quite the challenge for them to fit in. Eddie Nketiah and Jean-Kevin Augustin both seemed like upgrades on Patrick Bamford but because they could not do what their manager required they did not last long at Elland Road.
All the more impressive then that Raphinha so swiftly proved himself up to Bielsa’s demands. Since the November international break he has been a consistent starter and his form only seems to be growing with greater exposure to the Premier League, his last three games bringing with them two goals and two assists. No wonder Bamford has said he sees parallels with Angel Di Maria.
As the chart below notes, Raphinha is whipping up a creative storm, but he is not the only new arrival to the Premier League doing so. More on some of them as we go along.
7. James Rodriguez (Real Madrid to Everton, free)
Had we asked this question six weeks into the season, James would surely have been near or at the very top of this list. That his form has slipped somewhat since he first arrived in the Premier League should not obscure how exceptional he was in those early weeks in an Everton shirt.
He is still averaging the eighth most chances created per 90 and is the third most successful high volume playmaker when it comes to beating an opponent with 67.6 percent of his take-ons ending successfully. Since November James ranks far less favorably, particularly in terms of creation, dipping to 21st among 23 players with 20 chances created this season. However, those points Everton earned through his exceptional performances early in the season are worth no less than those they gain now.
There is of course the more ethereal, unquantifiable boost that adding a major name like James brings to Everton at a time when there is a clear desire to build profile beyond England. Signing a World Cup golden boot winner has been a statement of intent from the Toffees, one that is all the more effective when he proves he is still able to excel on the pitch.
6. Ollie Watkins (Brentford to Aston Villa, $38million)
For all his excellence in the second tier there was widespread surprise that Villa had parted with such a sizeable sum for a player with no top flight seasons. After all if everything had gone wrong Watkins would hardly have been the first striker unable to bridge the gulf between the Championship and Premier League.
However, Dean Smith, who had worked with him at Brentford, saw a thoroughly modern striker with the mobility, strength and mindset to excel at the highest level. This is a player who can score a hat-trick in a 7-2 win over the champions and bemoan his failure to make it five.
Perhaps his greatest weapon has been his movement, his explosive runs dragging defenders out of position for team-mates to attack central spaces. Of Premier League center forwards with over 500 minutes only Wilfried Zaha, Anthony Martial and Edinson Cavani have a higher average possession width than Watkins. He explained to Sky Sports: “I think people who watch football closely will see if I am taking two defenders away, it frees up space for other people. I try to do that.”
It is the mark of a consummate team player.
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5. Alphonse Areola (Paris Saint-Germain to Fulham, loan)
Areola could be Fulham’s most important player if they are to avoid relegation from the Premier League this season.
Fulham’s keeper has been plenty busy this season, facing a lot of high-quality efforts. Only Illan Meslier of Leeds United and West Bromwich Albion’s Sam Johnstone face shots with a higher average expected goal value than the Areola. The difference between him and those two, and indeed most other goalkeeper in the Premier League, is how many of them the France international keeps out.
In terms of goals prevented per 90 minutes (that is, the difference between expected and actual goals conceded) only Nick Pope has a better goals prevented record than Areola, whose form has been crucial in Fulham’s impressive defensive record since the start of November. Whether they make the strides required at the other end remains to be seen but Scott Parker can set his side up knowing he has a top tier insurance policy behind him in defense.
4. Eberechi Eze (Queens Park Rangers to Crystal Palace, $23million)
Crystal Palace have long professed a desire to become younger and less reliant on Zaha. With Eze they look like they might be able to fulfil those desires. In raw output the 22-year-old has not quite shone yet with three goals and three assists in 20 Premier League appearances, five of which have come as a substitute.
But what is most tantalizing about Eze is the rich potential he has already shown. He is utterly fearless in possession, attempting the fifth most take-ons of any player in the division, and relishes the responsibility of building Palace’s attacks. No-one on his team makes more passes in the attacking third, quite the burden for a rookie in the top tier.
Of late his contributions have been ever more effectively timed with both a winner against Wolverhampton Wanderers, and a fine cross for Gary Cahill to head home the decisive goal against Newcastle. Responsibility sits easily on Eze’s shoulders.
3. Diogo Jota (Wolves to Liverpool, $56million)
The Premier League’s established powers were carefully monitoring Jota during his two-and-a-half years at Wolves but the Portuguese forward was overlooked for more glamorous options from abroad such as Nicolas Pepe and United’s unsuccessful pursuit of Jadon Sancho.
In his time at Wolves the 24-year-old had the underlying metrics of a top tier wide forward. His ability to get into the penalty area and get good shots away was remarkably similar to Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah before they joined Liverpool. Since arriving Jota has arguably outperformed them, at least when he has played. Nobody in the league averages more goals per 90 and although in part that is due to an unsustainable hot streak (he’s scored 0.9 goals per 90 but his expected goals are 0.41), it is also true that at his new club he has found the consistency in advanced areas that he did not always display in the Midlands.
Most impressively of all Jota arrived as the first reserve to the exceptional front three that had spearheaded Liverpool’s remarkable rise over the past few years and within a matter of weeks the possibility of him usurping Roberto Firmino had become a serious debate in which his case contained significant merit. That was no small achievement.
2. Emiliano Martinez (Arsenal to Aston Villa, $27million)
Arsenal probably made the right decision when they kept Bernd Leno and allowed Martinez to leave for regular first-team football. The Argentine had been outstanding when given his first real chance at the top level, carrying the team to a string of crucial wins that culminated in the FA Cup Final triumph, but they did not have the weight of games to make a judgement call on whether he could be a top tier number one. At Villa Park he has proven he can be.
Martinez’s greatest strengths are somewhat of a throwback to goalkeepers of old, though he is good with the ball at his feet, he is more impressive for his ability to claim crosses (the 26 he has taken is five more than any other Premier League player) and make saves. He has the third-highest save percentage in the division and a tally of 10 clean sheets bettered only by Ederson.
1. Ruben Dias (Benfica to Manchester City, $79million)
City weren’t always the best defensive side in the Premier League by a country mile, with just 13 goals against in a season where no-one else has let in fewer than 21. Two games into the campaign they had conceded six, only one fewer goal than the seven they have so far conceded in 19 games with Dias in the team.
From the day the 23-year-old broke into the team he has become an immediate cornerstone, missing just 20 minutes of Premier League football. In all that time he is yet to make an error that led to a shot, let alone a goal. Alongside that he is the perfect City center back in possession. No one in his position in the Premier League completes more passes, no-one makes more passes into the opposition half and only team-mate John Stones is more accurate with passes that end in the final third.
No wonder Pep Guardiola is so enamored. “He’s not just a player who plays good, he’s a player who makes the other guys play good too. It’s 90 minutes talking, 90 minutes communicating, 90 minutes saying what they have to do in every single action. When that happens, it’s difficult for me and undroppable.”
They say that defense wins championships. Certainly last season it was the City rearguard that cost them dearly. This year though, it looks like it’s what will win them the title.