The earliest-ever English Premier League summer transfer deadline has come and gone. And while there are still a few loose ends to tie up – did Everton get its deals for Yerry Mina, Andre Gomes and Kurt Zouma across the line in time? – the vast majority of moves have been signed, sealed and delivered.
Or, in the case of Manchester United and Tottenham, the vast majority of fans are fuming about inactivity. And Jose Mourinho is among them.
It’s there, at Old Trafford, that we’ll begin our rundown of the summer window’s winners and losers – Premier league only, of course, because elsewhere, windows remain open for at least another week.
Loser: Manchester United
United didn’t need to go throwing money around. It has done that plenty in the past. Just over six months ago, it sunk exorbitant amounts of cash into Alexis Sanchez’s contract. Mourinho has plenty of talent to work with in midfield and attack – plus the best goalkeeper in the world.
But he did have needs. Namely, defensive needs. And he knew it. He claims he handed a five-name wishlist to United executives earlier in the summer. In the weeks that followed, the club reportedly chased Toby Alderweireld, Jerome Boateng and Harry Maguire. The Red Devils were linked with Leonardo Bonucci and just about every other center back presumed to be on the market.
But Boateng turned them down – with a call to Mourinho personally. United was unwilling to meet asking prices for Alderweireld and Maguire. It reportedly chased Kurt Zouma late in the window, which would have fixed precisely nothing. It reportedly put big money under Diego Godin’s nose out of nowhere on deadline day, only to give the 33-year-old leverage to get a pay bump at Atletico Madrid.
And so Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia are still the starting fullbacks. Chris Smalling and Phil Jones could very well play a combined 50-plus games in the middle. Victor Lindelof, who looked like anything but a Champions League-caliber center back last season, remains an unknown.
United is the richest club in England. It was arguably the sixth-best team in England last year. And it signed … Fred (who’ll be useful), a teenage fullback and a reserve goalkeeper. That’s it. It ran into obstacles in pursuit of its top targets – likely the players on Mourinho’s list – and was clueless thereafter. A club with all the resources in the world, to pour into scouting and shortlist-making and negotiations and contract offers, was clueless. Unbelievable.
Liverpool was the opposite of clueless. It had a defined plan. It identified its weaknesses. It addressed them early and thoroughly. The Naby Keita deal had been agreed 10 months in advance. Fabinho was brought in to account for Emre Can’s departure before calendars turned to June. Xherdan Shaqiri was snapped up from Stoke for a bargain-bin price as attacking depth.
No player represented the Reds strategy better than the final signing of the four, Alisson. A $72-plus million buy from Roma, the Brazilian keeper was probably overpriced. But he solved Liverpool’s biggest shortcoming. Very few high-profile transfers don’t look like overpays these days. The only ones that are misguided are the ones unsupported by extensive planning and analysis.
Liverpool knew who it wanted. It knew it had owners willing to spend more than they ever have before. And it executed – and might just have closed the gap on Manchester City in the process.
Draw: Manchester City
City’s window was a mixed bag. On one hand, it didn’t fortify its thinnest position, defensive midfield. Pep Guardiola reportedly wanted Jorginho. He didn’t get him.
On the other, it didn’t sell a single player of note, and still recouped more than half of the fee it paid for Riyad Mahrez by cashing in on youngsters who were never going to feature for the first team (and Joe Hart).
Mahrez, meanwhile, is the epitome of a luxury signing. He’s been one of the most effective attackers in the Premier League for three seasons now. He also might be fourth on City’s winger depth chart, and there are legitimate questions about how he’ll function in Guardiola’s system on the defensive side of the ball.
Fulham, technically the lowest-rated team in the Prem after having earned promotion via the playoff, might have had the best window of anybody. Just look at this (still growing) list of incomings:
Jean Michael Seri (M) from Nice ($32.1 million)
Maxime Le Marchand (D) from Nice ($9.7 million)
Fabri (G) from Besiktas ($6.4 million)
Andre Shurrle (F) from Borussia Dortmund (loan)
Aleksandar Mitrovic (F) from Newcastle ($28.3 million)
Alfie Mawson (D) from Swansea ($19.3 million)
Calum Chambers (D) from Arsenal (loan)
Sergio Rico (G) from Sevilla (loan)
Joe Bryan (D) from Bristol City
Luciano Vietto (F) from Atletico Madrid (loan)
Andre-Frank Anguissa (M) from Marseille ($34.7 million, reportedly – unconfirmed)
Timothy Fosu-Mensah (D) from Manchester United (loan, reportedly)
Fulham’s net spend was greater than that of United, City, Arsenal or (of course) Tottenham. It could ultimately top Chelsea’s as well.
It was spread out across all positions, age profiles, deal structures and wage levels. It served two simultaneously important purposes: To upgrade the first-choice 11 and add depth. The Cottagers appear to be in outstanding shape to not only survive year one back in the top flight but re-establish themselves in the Premier League’s mid-table.
More Jorge Mendes clients. More World Cup participants. Euro 2016 winners. Like we did with Fulham, let’s just gawk at a list of the signings:
Willy Boly (D) from Porto ($12.9 million)
Diogo Jota (F) from Atletico Madrid ($16.2 million)
Raul Jimenez (F) from Benfica (loan)
Rui Patricio (G) from Sporting CP (free)
Leo Bonatini (F) from Al-Hilal ($6.4 million)
Ruben Vinagre (D) from Monaco ($2.6 million)
Joao Moutinho (M) from Monaco ($6.4 million)
Jonny Castro (D) from Atletico Madrid (loan)
Adama Traore (F) from Middlesbrough ($23.2 million)
Leander Dendoncker (M) from Anderlecht (loan)
Wolves made previous successful loan deals permanent. It secured new ones that could become permanent in the future. Jimenez, a Mexican international, is very intriguing up top. Dendoncker, a 23-year-old Belgian international who’ll join permanently for around $15 million next summer, is flexible and still improving. Patricio is a coup. Moutinho, with 113 Portugal caps to his name, might be as well.
How are they getting accomplished Portuguese stars? We addressed that in depth yesterday. But this goes beyond the Mendes connection. Wolves, like Fulham, were aggressive, and had an excellent summer.
Loser, but not as much of one as you think: Tottenham
The hand-wringing over Spurs’ idleness often gets a bit carried away. They spent their money on contract extensions, including one for their brilliant manager, and on a club-trajectory-changing new stadium. They didn’t lose a single contributor from the only Premier League team that’s finished in the top three each of the past three seasons. They’ll be good once again.
They’re also the first club to not sign a single player during a summer transfer window since it was introduced in 2003. That’s nonetheless remarkable. And it’s one of a few reasons Spurs are losers of the summer window.
First, if there were ever a summer to take the next step, this would have seemed to be it. The trophy drought is now the longest in Tottenham’s post-war history. The clock is ticking. There were needs in midfield. There was a broader need to prove the club hadn’t reach its ceiling.
Second, there was the Alderweireld situation. Pochettino seemed to freeze out the Belgian defender last season as contract talks stalled. Alderweireld seemingly wanted to leave. United wanted him. It’s unclear if Pochettino plans to use him in 2018-19. If he doesn’t, it’s absolutely inexcusable that Spurs couldn’t meet United halfway and get somewhere in the neighborhood of $50 million.
(Of course, Spurs could still ship Alderweireld abroad and get their money. But it’s doubtful anybody will display a higher willingness to pay than United.)
Tottenham has built its core by cashing in on latter-prime contributors and reinvesting the money in promising youngsters who’ll grow under Pochettino. Its two options this summer were to continue to do that, or to spend on prime-age stars and lurch into unabashed win-now mode. It appears to have done neither.
But spending on new show ponies is often overrated. There is comparatively little correlation between transfer splurges and success; there is plenty correlation between wage bills and success. Spurs have chose to spend their money to retain players they know are good rather buy players who may or may not be good. That’s the responsible way to operate.
Chelsea had a complicated window, made awkward by the delayed Antonio Conte sacking. But it came out on the other side of deadline day with:
- Mateo Kovacic;
- A slight goalkeeper downgrade at a significant price, but a youthful and retainable one who could prove to be a long-term upgrade;
- And most importantly, Eden Hazard.
Maurizio Sarri’s primary need was in midfield, and he’s assembled a three – Jorginho, Kovacic, N’Golo Kante – who can play together at a high level.
The Thibaut Courtois situation, meanwhile, was an unfavorable one, but Chelsea did about as well as it could have hoped to do.
Sarri still has unfilled holes elsewhere. But it’s often better to revamp a squad progressively rather than all at once.
They got their business done early, and the Lucas Torreira deal looks good … but the Gunners sign too many damn mediocre players, and the rest of their signings fit that bill.
What a deadline day it was for the Toffees. They’ve confirmed the capture of Bernard from Shakhtar Donetsk. They appear to have signed Mina and Gomes as well. Zouma could be the fourth of the day.
With Richarlison and Lucas Digne already on board, Everton has done wonders to rectify the mistakes of last summer. It solved the squad imbalance. It got faster, younger, more athletic. It cut fat contracts and/or players who had become the equivalent of deadweight (Wayne Rooney, Ashley Williams, Ramiro Funes Mori, Kevin Mirallas).
Marco Silva suddenly has a lot to work with in year one at Goodison Park.
Winner: Newcastle owner Mike Ashley’s pockets
And this is what the close of Premier League summer trading looked like at 5pm (with a few deals, pending completion, not included yet). News of the stragglers as they get done: https://t.co/7LwdBDVEhh pic.twitter.com/jfq0o8XlMD
— Nick Harris (@sportingintel) August 9, 2018
Given the circumstances, Newcastle’s business, from a value-for-money perspective, was actually decent. Salomon Rondon, on loan from West Brom, is a great signing. But there’s trouble brewing here. Not only does the lack of investment from ownership leave the squad alarmingly thin; it could compel manager Rafa Benitez to walk, in which case the Magpies would become relegation favorites.
Brighton seems to really know what it’s doing. As I wrote in our relegation preview:
Brighton is in the process of penning the latest chapter in How To Turn A Championship Team Into An Established Premier League One. It has struck a balance between overhaul and fatal frugality, sticking with its foundation but supplementing it with quality. Last summer’s signings – Pascal Gross, Mat Ryan, Davy Propper, Jose Izquierdo – seemed to stem from intensive, analytically-driven scouting, and they panned out. This year’s additions – Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Yves Bissouma, Bernardo, Leon Balogun – appear to follow the same blueprint.
Draw: Leicester City
Lost Mahrez. Offloaded Ahmed Musa and – reportedly – Islam Slimani (the latter on loan). Seem to have spent the money wisely, with Jonny Evans a bargain and former Norwhich midfielder James Maddison the pick of the bunch.
But none of the signings, save for maybe Portuguese fullback Ricardo Pereira, is a sure thing. The Mahrez departure will likely outweigh all of them, at least in the short term.
Losers: Watford, Huddersfield
Neither did enough to pull themselves away from the relegation zone. Perhaps we shouldn’t have expected Huddersfield to spend much. But Watford’s business, factoring in the loss of Richarlison, is worrying. That squad is old. And it got older this summer.
Draw: West Ham
Felipe Anderson is a fantastic capture, even if a bit of a mercurial one. Jack Wilshere on a free isn’t bad, either.
But the rest of West Ham’s $100 million outlay? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Monday: What could derail Man City’s title defense?
Monday: Can Sarri revolutionize or stabilize Chelsea?
Monday: Who’s getting relegated?
Tuesday: Who, if anybody, can break up the top six?
Tuesday: Is Liverpool closing on City?
Tuesday: What to expect at Arsenal post-Wenger?
Wednesday: Is a Mourinho flameout already underway?
Wednesday: Is Spurs’ trophy deadline approaching?
Wednesday: Wolves: Shady, brilliant, or both?
Thursday a.m.: Predictions
Thursday p.m.: Transfer window winners/losers
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