5 Thoughts on the Premier League Transfer Market
1 – Arsenal don’t need another striker
Saying ‘Arsenal need a striker’ has become one of those permanently acceptable opinions applicable regardless of the season, but this time around it’s not necessarily true.
Arsenal might not have a world-class number nine, but they have plenty of options. Olivier Giroud has performed a valuable job upfront for the past couple of seasons, and while there are legitimate questions about his performance in big matches, he’s been excellent as the central pivot. His one-touch hold-up play, best summed up by his contribution to Jack Wilshere’s superb goal against Norwich last season, is often excellent.
Then Arsenal have Alexis Sanchez, not considered an out-and-out forward, but almost certain to play there on a semi-regular basis. The reality is that relatively few top-class centre-forwards – Leo Messi, Robin van Persie, Luis Suarez – are pure strikers, but the demands of modern football mean deeper-lying forward are often forced to become ruthless goalscorers. Sanchez should be another in that mould.
Then, Arsenal have Theo Walcott – who prefers playing upfront and was fielded in that position against Tottenham in his last match before injury – as an alternative. There’s also Yaya Sanogo, who has shown signs of promise, even if he needs serious improvement in some aspects of his game, and the highly promising Joel Campbell, who starred at the World Cup. Even Lukas Podolski is an option. Arsenal have enough quality – Arsene Wenger just needs to get the best out of his attackers.
2 – Mario Balotelli is worth the risk
If Mario Balotelli was ever going to buckle down and become a true professional, it would have been at Milan. They were ‘his’ club, and in his first half-season at it seemed he was happier, more settled and more determined. In the end, however, Milan found him as difficult to manage as Inter and Manchester City, and he looks set for a move to Liverpool.
We’ve reached the stage where managers have to accept that ‘taming’ Balotelli is basically impossible, and understand that he’ll cause disruption, turn in half-hearted performances and collect silly red cards. In return, he’ll provide occasional moments of magic – spectacular goals, bursts of unstoppable power, and at his best, the ability to come short and then spin in behind, occupying two centre-backs at once.
Top managers always believe they can bring out the best in inconsistent individuals, and Brendan Rodgers owes it to Liverpool to try with Balotelli. If not, another manager will have the same belief, and it’s difficult to believe Liverpool would make a loss on the Italian, even if he proves problematic.
3 – Spurs’ squad is too big
Tim Sherwood’s pronouncements at Tottenham Hotspur varied between the inventive and the implausible, but his assessment of his squad was actually very interesting.
“I couldn’t tell you what my best team is and I don’t know whether that’s good or bad,” Sherwood said. “I have assessed the players more than anyone and I could not tell you the best 11 players at Tottenham. They are all so similar, much of a muchness regarding the same quality. I’m not sure there’s any hierarchy.”
Spurs are in a peculiar position – if there was a competition to find the best second-string XI in the league, Spurs would be in with a chance of triumphing. You wouldn’t be entirely certain, however, that their first-choice XI would beat their second-string XI.
A brief glance at their squad – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tottenham_Hotspur_F.C.#First-team_squad – reveals a staggering number of professionals on their books. Players are never happy when left out, but it’s highly dangerous to have significantly more players on the sidelines than on the pitch – it’s difficult to keep a happy, settled squad. The very nature of the problem means it’s difficult to find obvious candidates who need to be sold, but Spurs simply need to lose players.
4 – Manchester United target Angel di Maria can play in central midfield
Real Madrid’s Angel di Maria is often regarded as a winger, but he’s spent much of his career playing in much deeper, more central positions.
He first starred in Europe on the left of a midfield diamond at Benfica, a position he also played under Diego Maradona for Argentina. Under Alejandro Sabella he generally played in the centre of a three-man midfield for Argentina, while under Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid he was on the right of a 4-2-3-1, but very close to his central midfielders to compensate for Cristiano Ronaldo and Mesut Ozil’s lack of interest in defending.
Switching him to a permanent central midfield role would certainly be a risk for Louis van Gaal, especially in a 3-4-1-2 with Ander Herrera alongside him in the engine room. But Di Maria has all the qualities to succeed in a central position – he can turn defence to attack smoothly, is capable of scrapping and protecting his defence, and is highly energetic.
Alternative midfielders offer more of a guaranteed success, and Di Maria is more suited to other roles. But as a central midfielder, he’d still be one of the best in the Premier League.
5 – Southampton could do with another attacker
Despite various departures, Southampton’s squad should be strong enough for them to steer clear of relegation this season, with the strong performance – even in defeat – at Anfield last weekend suggesting they’ll remain a dangerous side.
There remains a question about the true level of quality upfront, though. Shane Long is talented but inconsistent, while neither Dusan Tadic or Graziano Pelle are guaranteed successes, and it’s difficult to know when Jay Rodriguez will return to 100% match sharpness.
Southampton still have money to spend – of course, whether they want to is another question entirely. But with plenty of movement in the transfer window still to come, Ronald Koeman should be in the market for another attacking player, if Southampton want to finish in the top half again.
August 21st, 2014 by Michael Cox