Expectations are always high when a club like Manchester United, Liverpool or Arsenal sign a player, especially when there is a tangible amount of hype surrounding the individual which is often the case. Sometimes, it can push him to new levels while pressure can be his own worst enemy. Manchester United and Liverpool made some early signings in the summer of 2015 to add key attacking reinforcements in the form of Memphis Depay and Roberto Firmino whilst Arsenal retained Joel Campbell, a player they bought in 2011 for an undisclosed fee.
It was one eventful summer when both Man United and Liverpool ‘reportedly’ went in for both Memphis Depay and Roberto Firmino. As with every similar case when two big sides go for a player and one come out on top, the other often takes the familiar ‘we were never in for him’ stance. Hindsight, if not always beautiful, is often revealing. As the old cliche goes, numbers seldom lie. In this piece I’ve looked at the numbers of the two players and Campbell, numbers that matter in terms of real contributions, so do not expect something like the number of sprints per 90 minutes or the number of shirts swapped in the season so far.
It’s no surprise that Liverpool fans are giving it large to their rivals on social media about why they got the better deal with the ex-Hoffenheim attacking midfielder Firmino after they resorted to the fact that Depay preferred Manchester United to the Merseyside club. The Brazilian has been a revelation under Jurgen Klopp, looks like he understands the German’s high pressing and intense style of football from the top end of the pitch. His link up with Coutinho has given them an upper-hand in big games, especially in the game against Man City at the Etihad. The 24-year-old Firmino has scored 8 goals in the Premier League alone, creating 1.6 chances per game – with a higher shot accuracy than the other two in comparison, suggesting his relatively quicker taking to the game in England than many would have imagined.
Memphis Depay could not replicate his unbelievable season he had with Dutch champions PSV often coming under criticism both from the fans and the manager with his lack of form or lack of consistency rather but it would always take time – for a winger who relies on the time and space available to him. His best games have come in the European competitions but with still a lot of football to be played between now and May, it is only fair when he is judged after the curtain falls. It’s been a tough initiation for the Costa Rica international Joel Campbell but it seems like Wenger’s decision to not send him out on loan for a fourth season in a row is vindicated. He’s impressed the manager and the supporters when he’s been given the chances with his work ethic and raw pace – and next season could be the time when the 23-year-old can prove what he is all about in an already flamboyant Arsenal side.
Winner – Roberto Firmino
Although young exciting players like these are not expected to do the dirty work at the back and rather they stayed forward to do it at the business end of the pitch, it’s these kind of moments that can positively affect a football match as much as goals and assists. Arsenal’s Campbell has been the most involved player from a defensive perspective with his aforementioned ‘work ethic’ and diligence coming to the fore when it is needed the most. He’s made the most interceptions, blocks and clearances among the three with Firmino leading the pack for tackles won per game at 1.80 – which is a high statistic for a player who makes a living in the final third.
Manchester United’s Depay, still only 22, is often beaten with the stick that he fails to track back and help his full-back, which he has been deserving of all the criticism he gets so far. Whilst that would be forgotten if he could add a few more goals to his game, to thrive in the Premier League in the modern day, with the difference in quality between clubs decreasing at the rate of Wayne Rooney’s hair-fall, it’s imperative he added this dynamic to his game, to keep himself in the team long enough to reach the level he aims to achieve.
Winner – Joel Campbell
The fact of the matter is one cannot deny that these three players are in three fantastic football clubs at the right moment in their careers that will provide them the perfect platform to mold themselves into what they aspire to become and improve on. As for now, let us watch them grow.