Even in a pandemic, Premier League clubs have managed to make major splashes in the transfer market.
Several deals have raised eyebrows, with Chelsea’s spending spree is top of the list in that regard. However, other incoming players could be game-changers for their respective sides when the new season begins on Saturday.
The beautiful game has a new addition. Jeff Blair and Dan Riccio host A Kick In The Grass, a soccer podcast from Sportsnet.
Here’s a breakdown of the seven most intriguing transfers in the Premier League with around one month remaining in the window.
Kai Havertz, Chelsea
Havertz was part of a $250-million squad renovation for Chelsea, with fellow German forward Timo Werner and eccentric Ajax midfielder Hakim Ziyech also bolstering the attack. But as the 21-year-old is the priciest acquisition and the most positionally flexible, he’s easily the most fascinating signing for the Blues.
The German international had 12 goals and six assists in 30 Bundesliga appearances in coach Peter Bosz’s fast-paced, high-pressing system last season. Luckily for Frank Lampard, who also likes his side to press and play with a high defensive line, Havertz will be accustomed to those tactics.
That poly-positioning will behoove Lampard, too. Havertz tended to drift to the right no matter where he lined up. He executed off-the-ball runs to drag defenders out of position or to receive passes in space. That’s highlighted by his passing numbers in the radar above.
But Havertz maintained a heavy presence in the box as well. Thanks to his height, he was a useful target for set pieces and whenever Leverkusen played long, direct passes. This led to a healthy output of expected goals (xG) and shots.
This is why a front three of Havertz, Werner and Ziyech will complement each other. Werner is a lethal finisher who’s involved in the buildup while roaming to the left, Ziyech is just as active across the pitch, plus he’s a shooting and progressive-passing machine. Adding Havertz to the mix creates a scary attack for Chelsea.
Ferran Torres, Manchester City
One of the issues with Manchester City selling Leroy Sane was the lack of true out-and-out wingers. Sane tended to stick closer to the touchline compared to City’s other wide players.
This is where Torres comes into play.
Signed for a paltry £20.9 million ($35.9 million) from Valencia, Torres is considered one of the brightest young Spanish talents. He earned a significant increase in minutes last season, albeit in a struggling side. He still earned Spain call-ups despite Valencia’s woes, though.
Torres was deployed on the right at Valencia, although he could be moved to the left as an inverted winger under Pep Guardiola. The 20-year-old presses aggressively, recovers possession and creates chances, as backed up by his 0.17 open-play expected assists per 90 minutes.
Having a player who’s able to cut inside from the left, or to hug the touchline on the right is a nice luxury for Guardiola, one that he didn’t have last season due to Sane’s injury.
Aaron Ramsdale, Sheffield United
The absence of Dean Henderson will be a storyline to watch at Sheffield United. The 23-year-old posted a plus-4.8 post-shot xG (PSxG), per FBRef.com, which indicates he saved nearly five goals more than expected.
Having returned to Manchester United after his loan, Sheffield United replaced Henderson with Ramsdale from relegated Bournemouth. Ramsdale was about even in his PSxG plus-minus despite facing the third-highest amount of shots last season.
That’ll suffice for coach Chris Wilder. Given that Sheffield United conceded 41 fewer shots on target than Bournemouth last year, the hope is that Ramsdale – still just 22 years old – will have a platform to succeed this season.
Rodrigo, Leeds United
There may not be a more perfect fit for Rodrigo than Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United.
Just like his former teammate Ferran Torres, it’s worth noting Valencia’s attack was brutal last season. It scored 46 goals and posted an even lower xG, ranking 12th in that department.
Rodrigo was also rotating with Maxi Gomez and Kevin Gameiro. The Spanish international scored 16 goals under previous coach Marcelino in the 2017-18 season, then underperformed xG the following year, otherwise he would’ve come close to that previous haul.
But Rodrigo was trusted by Marcelino and that will be the case with Bielsa.
One reason why is Rodrigo likes to drop behind the opposition’s midfield to pick up possession, then execute well-timed runs in behind. He also presses high up the pitch and contributes defensively, which Bielsa will want from his No. 9.
This could be a match made in heaven, one that can help Leeds finish comfortably in the table.
James Rodriguez was Everton’s marquee deal but the most important signing of all could be another former Carlo Ancelotti-coached player.
Allan had a down year with Napoli last season after Gennaro Gattuso replaced Ancelotti. Gattuso used the Brazilian sparingly and that led to a loss in form compared to the 2018-19 campaign when Ancelotti was in Naples.
At his peak, Allan was one of the leading box-to-box midfielders in Europe. Considering Everton’s midfield needed upgrades both on and off the ball, the 29-year-old will be a welcome addition.
The only concern about Allan is his fitness. He suffered niggling knee and muscle injuries last season, and with a congested schedule this campaign, that’ll test his resolve.
Defence has been a problem area for Arsenal for what seems like forever. It’s still not perfect, especially if young defenders will be trusted by coach Mikel Arteta, but snapping up Gabriel from Lille might prove to be a bargain.
Gabriel has only logged three full seasons as a first-team regular in his career. The Brazilian is a project, but there’s one major benefit that he’ll instantly provide: comfort on the ball.
Compared to Saliba, Gabriel has more range with his passing. He bypasses high presses with his long balls and has the ability to hit line-breaking passes to catch opponents by surprise. This is crucial in Arteta’s system where defenders build from the back.
Gabriel is also defensively sturdy. He’s almost never beaten on the dribble and wins tons of aerial duels thanks to his height. This could be the signing of the season if he adjusts to the pace of the Premier League.
Callum Wilson, Newcastle United
The Wilson signing is an interesting one for Newcastle United because acquiring the former Bournemouth striker might indicate incoming tactical tweaks from coach Steve Bruce.
No club attempted fewer pressures in the final third than Newcastle last season, per FBRef.com. Bournemouth, meanwhile, was fourth.
With Wilson in the fold, Newcastle has a striker that likes to lead a high press and create chances. That means Bruce’s side could actually show more initiative and take some risks as opposed to last year.
It was a slightly down year for Wilson in 2019-20, although Bournemouth obviously struggled and was relegated. Wilson had 14 goals in the 2018-19 season so if he can gain chemistry with Miguel Almiron and Allan Saint-Maximin, it will be money well spent.