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Mohammed Salisu – Real Valladolid to Southampton
Considering that Mohammed Salisu hadn’t played one minute of La Liga football before last season, his rise appears all the more meteoric.
The Ghanaian joined Real Valladolid’s youth team in 2017, eventually progressing to the club’s ‘B’ team. Following the move of Fernando Calero to Espanyol last summer, Salisu was promoted to the first-team. The move turned out to be a blessing for Real Valladolid. The team went on to concede just 43 goals (8 fewer than the season prior) as the club finished in 13th. Although, the sum of Valladolid is greater than the parts, Salisu’s defensive performances went a long way to helping the club maintain its La Liga status.
This summer, Southampton triggered Salisu’s modest, £10.5m release clause.
At 6’3 the defender offers a tall physical presence to the Southampton defence. Although, Salisu provides ‘The Saints’ with a more mobile option than Jannik Vestergaard. This will be crucial, if Southampton are to play Hasenhuttl’s expansive style of football.
Equally importantly, Salisu will add a sense of impenetrability to Southampton’s defence. The defender made the 3rd most clearances in La Liga last season (163) and the 5th most blocks (25).
Salisu’s 84.3% pass completion also ranks highly, topping the passing of all of Southampton’s current central defenders.
It’s unsurprising that Southampton were in the market for a new centre-back, after they conceded 60 goals in the Premier League last season. With fellow left-footer Vestergaard being phased out of the team, following the 9-0 drubbing of Leicester, it appears that the Ghanaian has been eyed as a youthful upgrade.
Bartosz Bialek – Zaglebie Lubin to Wolfsburg
Another player who exploded onto the scene last season is Polish striker Bartosz Bialek.
The 18 year-old excelled for Zaglebie Lubin, despite not playing for the first-team until November.
Since his introduction to the team, Bialek has been in inspired form, scoring 9 goals and assisting 4 in just 19 matches. Wolfsburg snapped up the striker this season for just £4.5m.
At 6’3, Bialek doesn’t have great dribbling or technical ability, but his height and finishing make him a considerable threat in the opposition box
Although the sample size of Bialek’s performances is small, his performances impressed the German team enough to take a gamble on him. Bialek finished 4th in the Ekstralasa for Goals and Assists per/90, at just 18 years old that represents an impressive achievement.
Bialek’s 9 goals last season highlight the prolific nature of his striking abilities. He is a player than excels around the penalty spot, with 66.6% of his goals coming near the spot, although none of them being direct penalties. Moreover, 7 of his 9 goals were one touch finishes. Bialek’s ‘nose for goals’ have earnt him comparisons with fellow Pole, Lewandowski. Wolfsburg will be hopeful he can make some sort of impact in the Bundesliga next season.
Their current number 9, Wout Weghorst has scored an impressive 33 goals in 66 games. Whilst it’s unlikely that Bialek will immediately swap places with the Dutchman, it will be interesting to see if the youngster can showcase his finishing in the Bundesliga
Aleksey Miranchuk – Lokomotiv Moscow to Atalanta
Atalanta’s £13m signing of Aleksey Miranchuk appears to have gone largely unnoticed. That’s not to say that the Russian is a player that deserves little attention. In the Russian Premier Liga last season, Miranchuk scored 12 goals and assisted 5 more in 27 games. Unlike the season prior to last, Miranchuk was deployed on the wing more frequently. A move that has seemingly boosted his goal involvement tally. Although his non-penalty goals per 90 was a much lower 0.19.
Despite his high goal tally, Miranchuk’s primary function is to find the killer ball. Playing off the right and left last season, he would often fizz the ball into dangerous positions across the box.
He also possesses tight control and a quick burst of pace, as was seen in his mazy solo goal against Ural.
Atalanta would have undoubtedly been encouraged by Miranchuk’s performances in last season’s Champions League.
He scored home and away in the group games against Juventus – another club that were interested in the Russian. In particular, Miranchuk’s goal in Turin showcased the talent of the player. After picking up the ball 30 yards from goal, Miranchuk flicked the ball past Bonucci and then stabbed the ball away from Cuadrado to find his team-mate Joao Mario, whose shot was parried by Szczęsny. With the ball bouncing back into his path, Miranchuk volleyed the ball into the top-right corner.
If Miranchuk is to start for Atalanta next season, then it is likely that he will play as one of the two attacking midfielders in a 3-4-2-1 formation. With another left-footer, Josep Illicic on the verge of quitting football, Miranchuk may be seen as a direct replacement. Still only 24, Miranchuk may be the man responsible for Atalanta’s attacking creativity for years to come.
Seko Fofana – Udinese to RC Lens
This summer Seko Fofana completed a £9m move to newly promoted RC Lens.
In his 4 years at Udinese, Fofana was tasked with being the box-to-box midfielder in Udinese’s 3-5-2 formation. With 3.04 successful dribbles per 90, Fofana is an effective ball-carrier. Of all under-25 Serie A midfielders, only Ismael Bennacer and Gaetano Castrovilli bettered Fofana’s completed dribbles per 90.
Despite this, Fofana’s final ball is still lacking. The Ivorian manages only 4 passes into the final third per 90. His ex team-mate, Rolando Mandragora, who plays a deeper midfield role to Fofana, managed to complete more passes into the final third per 90 (5.6).
Fofana’s tackling could also improve. Last season he only managed 0.84 successful tackles per 90. Although his tackling success rate of 72% is amongst the highest for under-25 Serie A midfielders.
Unfortunately, Fofana only managed 3 goals last season, despite being the furthest forward midfielder. Yet, his 7 assists was Udinese’s highest total in Serie A. Udinese’s goal in their 1-1 draw with Napoli, encapsulates the best side of Fofana’s game. He received possession 40 yards from his own goal, then breaking through Napoli’s midfield with a surge of pace, before sliding a ball through the defence into Kevin Lasagna’s path.
In their only Ligue 1 game thus far, Lens deployed a 3-4-2-1 formation, with Gael Kakuta playing as the team’s attacking midfielder, with two holding midfielders behind him. We are yet to see whether Fofana will play in Kakuta’s position, or if he will play a deeper role, that is more focused on his excellent ball carrying ability.
Nico Gaitan – Lille to Braga
In 2016, Nicolas Gaitan was at the peak of his footballing powers. He recorded 4 goals and 16 assists in Liga NOS, as well as 4 goals and 3 assists in Benfica’s Champions League run to the quarter-finals. That summer would be Gaitan’s last at Benfica, he moved on to Atletico Madrid after six successful years with ‘The Eagles’. Gaitan had won ten trophies in his time at Benfica. His 0.51 Goals and Assists per/90, goes to show the calibre of player that Atletico Madrid had secured.
But, things didn’t work out for the Argentine under Simeone, and since then Gaitan’s career has taken a sharp decline. He’s had short spells at Dalian Pro, Chicago Fire, and most recently, Lille, before returning to Portugal this summer to join Braga on a free transfer.
Gaitan has been at his best, when cutting in on the right, with his left-foot, either to make a decisive pass or to dribble past a defender.
Now, at 32 and with a lack of high-level football under his belt for over two years, the question is whether the player is capable of replicating the form that saw him move to Madrid.
Last season, Carlos Carvalhal played a variety of formations, but the most prominent were: a 4-3-3 and 3-4-3. In both of those systems, Trincão was used on the right. With the 20 year-old’s transfer to Barcelona, Gaitan has been deemed the one to fill his boots, although the Argentine hit the ground running, when he was tasked with replacing Di Maria at Benfica. Trincao’s 16 goal involvements in Liga NOS will be hard for Gaitan to match, but don’t be surprised if ‘El Zurdo’ re-finds his form back in Portugal, four years after he left.