Premier problem solvers
Big guns in England’s top flight will look to the transfer market for solutions to key positions
There is now less than a month until the transfer window opens in the Premier League and clubs will be busily reviewing their options.
For rampant leaders Manchester City, they can serenely bide their time and stick to head coach Pep Guardiola’s assessment that ‘in January, no window’.
Nearly every other team, however, is not so lucky.
Here, Sport360° picks out problem positions at three fellow heavyweights in the division and selects solutions from three different tiers:
MANCHESTER UNITED – CENTRE-BACK
The source of United’s greatest strength has become their greatest weakness during this toxic 2018/19 campaign.
Their 28 goals conceded last term was bettered only by runaway winners City as Jose Mourinho chose, in typical fashion, to build from the back.
Fast forward to a summer of discontent over a failure to bolster his centre-back options and the defence has fallen apart, letting in 23 goals – a number that is only beaten by the bottom five.
Mourinho – if he is still in place – will be desperate to procure an authoritative figure. In this context, Corriere dello Sport’s report regarding a world-record bid for Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly makes perfect sense.
The colossal Senegal international’s average of 2.5 aerials won per Serie A game is nearly double Victor Lindelof’s 1.3 in the Premier League. Mourinho’s challenge now is to continue pressing the case, with a board now reluctant to buy older players, and land a target who turns 28 next June.
France utility defender Benjamin Pavard’s defensive nous is exemplified by a Bundesliga-high 7.6 clearances per match for Stuttgart.
Smalling and Lindelof lag way behind with 4.5 and 4.2, respectively.
A note of caution is that 22-yearold Pavard’s a World Cup winner from right-back, but plays in the centre of the Bundesliga’s fourthmost-leaky defence.
Talent abounds in the Bundesliga and especially at RB Leipzig, who boast the division’s stingiest defence.
Willi Orban has been key to this success, with the Hungary international’s supreme spring earning the competition’s second-best average of aerials won with 5.1. Smalling’s 4.4 is competitive, while Lindelof’s struggles have already been pointed out.
Leipzig, however, are loath to sell any of their prized assets.
CHELSEA – CENTRE FORWARD
The Blues have adapted at remarkable pace to the unique demands of manager Maurizio Sarri, cementing a place in the top three throughout the season.
This success is made more impressive by the fact centre forwards Alvaro Morata (five) and Olivier Giroud (one) have contributed just 20 per cent of their top-flight goals. For a club that has boasted the likes of Didier Drogba and Diego Costa, this just won’t do.
A breakthrough season for club and country from Callum Wilson has led to links in The Sun to a £35 million move to Stamford Bridge – and it is easy to see why.
His seven Premier League goals is more than their resident strikers, while four assists from him is the same as Giroud. A note of caution comes from the fact he’s the only player in the division to miss more big chances than Morata (12/9).
Sarri’s respect for Mauro Icardi is long established, with links to the Inter Milan captain appearing throughout his Napoli reign.
This mid-season deal would be fiendishly difficult to pull off – and exorbitantly expensive. But it would be worth it.
Since Morata moved from Real Madrid in July 2017, he’s netted 19 times. In the same period, Icardi’s rattled in 40 goals.
If Chelsea need a striker to take responsibility, Maxi Gomez has scored 25 per cent of Celta Vigo’s La Liga goals.
The brawny Uruguay hit man also has the joint-seventh best average for aerials won in Spain’s top flight, with four per match. A rumoured ¤50m release clause makes the deal doable, but costly.
LIVERPOOL – ATTACKING MIDFIELDER
A piece of Liverpool’s title-winning jigsaw is glaringly absent.
The Reds have invested, wisely and extensively, in boasting every area of their squad. That is, apart from attacking midfield.
Their 27 through balls this term in the Premier League is 11 less than City. Plus, forwards Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino have provided 11 of the aforementioned figure.
This stance has seen usual winger Xherdan Shaqiri played, at times, through the middle like he does for Switzerland. For all his positive impact, better options exist elsewhere in Europe.
There was a time last summer that it seemed inevitable that Nabil Fekir would break his bonds at Lyon and head to Merseyside. Qualms about a previous knee injury and Les Gones’ valuation scuppered this move.
Since then, the 25-year-old has contributed two goals and two assists in nine Ligue 1 appearances. Solid, if not spectacular.
In 160 fewer minutes (477/327), he’s put up the same figures in the Champions League. Much more impressive.
Shaqiri’s solitary assist is the only one registered by a recognised Liverpool midfielder in this term’s continental competition.
It’s been several years, and several injuries, since Thiago Alcantara last regularly played in an advanced midfield role.
But only in 2016/17, he scored six times and assisted five more in 27 Bundesliga games.
There must be a reason, however, why Bayern Munich seemed willing to cash in last summer – and no appealing bids came in…
An ascendant star in Brais Mendez may have caught the eye of Liverpool scouts.
Although deployed on the right of Celta Vigo’s 4-4-2 formation, the promising 21-year-old loves to cut inside and has teed up three La Liga assists.
Experience could be the issue. He’s only made 31 career top-flight appearances, which is significantly fewer than the 307.6 average of resident Liverpool midfielders Jordan Henderson, Gini Wijnaldum, James Milner, Fabinho and Shaqiri.
Statistics courtesy of whoscored. com and premierleague.com.
Ruthless finisher: Clinical Inter Milan striker Mauro Icardi would give Chelsea a significant boost.