Pre­mier prob­lem solvers

Big guns in Eng­land’s top flight will look to the trans­fer mar­ket for so­lu­tions to key po­si­tions

Sport360 - - Premier League - By Matt Mon­aghan b @mattmon­aghan360 ✉ mattmon­[email protected]

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:


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.

Strongly linked

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.

Es­tab­lished name

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.

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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.


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.

Strongly linked

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).

Es­tab­lished name

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.

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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.


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.

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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.

Es­tab­lished name

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…

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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 pre­mier­

Ruth­less fin­isher: Clin­i­cal In­ter Mi­lan striker Mauro Icardi would give Chelsea a sig­nif­i­cant boost.

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