Playing Musical Chairs – Exchanging Strikers with Manchester United, Chelsea, and Arsenal
It’s crazy time. The Welcome To and Exit doors are swinging in and out and the new are replacing the old. Clubs are scurrying in hopes of improving their position in last season’s table or, in Chelsea’s case, hanging on to that coveted top slot.
Arsenal, for the first time in Arsène Wenger’s tenure with the club, has dropped out of the Champions League competition and, with the not-so-faithful nipping at his heels, is desperate to get back into the top four. Manchester United would have been even worse off than the Gunners had they not won the UEFA Europa League Cup—informally known as the Loser’s Cup—and has subsequently been invited to the Champions League competitions for next year as their reward in spite of finishing sixth in the EPL table.
So here is a brief overview of the latest goings on as we head into the final month of the 2017 summer transfer window.
Manchester United F.C.
While Manchester United were trying to cajole Real Madrid into selling Alvaro Morata they noticed that the Chelsea negotiators had taken a few days off during negotiations with Everton over signing Romelu Lukaku to watch Wimbledon. Jose Mourinho viewed this opportunity to quickly switch his target from 24-year-old Morato to 24-year-old Lukaku. In a matter of moments, Man U had successfully navigated the transfer of the Didier Drogba look-alike for a hefty £75 million fee.
Don’t forget, Romelu was very special to Jose. Lukaku was a 19-year-old who was being repeatedly loaned out by Mourinho when he was the boss man at Chelsea for not being skilled enough to be a regular squad player—and for being impudent in suggesting to the Portuguese that he was indeed good enough to play in the starting 11. After several seasons of loans, Jose finally kicked Romelu out the door to … where was it? Oh, yes. Everton! For £28 million. But now he has brought him back. But this time it’s for the Red Devils and it’s for £75 million from the club he sold him to when he was at Chelsea. Man U paid £75 million to correct an arguable oversight Mourinho made when he was Chelsea’s manager. Ah, the incongruity of it all.
All in all, the Red Devils have done well. All they’ve lost is 35-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimović to an ACL injury suffered toward the end of last season’s lucrative, one-year contract. And, who knows—they might even resign him sometime during the current campaign if needed. Rumour also has it that Jose is doing all he can to entice Gareth Bale to bolt Los Blancos and return to the EPL, but that falls under the heading of long odds.
In the meantime, they’ve brought in one of the most consistent goal scorers in the EPL over the past three years in Lukaku. He’s young, tough, has excellent pace for a big man, and a proven EPL goal scorer over the past three seasons. On the downside, Lukaku has a poor work rate, is a poor passer, and weak at holding up the ball to bring others into the play. Nevertheless, he has youth on his side and the odds are that he is going to learn these skills. If he does, the potential interplay with Pogba alone will make his addition to the Red Devils a huge plus. If not, major headaches and a very long year lie ahead for Jose Mourinho.
Chelsea did well. After having Romelu Lukaku stolen out from under their noses while trying to close negotiations with Everton, Antonio Conte was able to do what Man U couldn’t: he successfully pried 24-year old Alvaro Morata loose from Real Madrid for a comparatively “on the cheap” price” of £58 million.
But of course, Conte is giving up a very productive goal scorer in the person of the much disliked, persona non-grata Diego Costa. It wasn’t that Costa wanted to leave or that he has even been sold so far. For want of a better description, Costa has worn out his welcome at Stamford Bridge. Antonio Conte has simply had enough of him.
Conte is kicking out 20-plus goals per season striker because he does not want to deal with Costa’s lingering threats to leave for more lucrative options (China) or more preferred options (Athletico Madrid). And then there’s his age which is approaching 30 so it seems that now is as good a time as any to bring in someone new. Being able to sign Morata with the kind of rich experience he already has with Juventus and Real Madrid and Champions League play with both prior clubs is quite a find.
Morata’s minutes needed per open play goal is one of most impressive among all major European goalscorers—89 minutes. That’s better than a goal per match! He’s also superior to Costa in terms of touches needed per score, minutes between tackles, and percent of tackles won, and even better in the air (he’s larger than Costa). What he doesn’t have is Costa’s overall experience which includes Diego’s uncanny knack to pick up fouls. No one seemed better than Costa at earning set plays (direct, free kicks) for his team. However, overall, if the considerably younger Morata can transfer his goal scoring skills over from La Liga and Serie A to the EPL, Chelsea has struck it rich. There is even late talk that Chelsea might be able to swing a last-minute deal with Bayern Munich in bringing over the rarely used Renato Sanches to bolster their wing if the young Portuguese midfielder does not go to Milan.
After more than half of a season of “Arsène Out” confrontations, the Gunner’s spent £52.7 million prying Alexandre Lacazette loose from Lyon hoping of injecting a bit more life into the Gunner’s anaemic attack. Unfortunately, in the process, they have two possible downturns to this potential boost:
- Alexis Sanchez is running down the last year of his contract rather than sign a new one and
- An unhappy Olivier Giroud is being asked to move down the priority ladder to make room for Lacazette—the same player that is less preferred to him on France’s national squad.
There is also a chance that either Giroud or Sanchez or both might be sold during this transfer period if further transactions can be successfully carried out by Wenger and Ivan Gazidis.
Lacazette adds considerable scoring zip to the picture if it was not for the likely loss of one or both of Sanchez and Giroud. In fact, if Arsenal loses Sanchez alone, the addition of Lacazette is not enough to offset the large array of skills that will be lost. If Giroud is added to the list, the Gunners will be in even worse shape than the prior season.
Lacazette adds scoring punch but is weak in the air (he’s rather short), relies on a large percentage of penalty scores (10 of 27 goals are penalties), and requires far more touches per score than either of the current Gunner forwards. He is an excellent dribbler.
Unless more significant, new signings come into the Emirates, this season will make the last campaign look like a pleasure cruise. As an example, rumour has it (rumour always seems to have it) that Arsenal is going back and forth with Monaco attempting to sign Thomas Lamar. But, as is the Arsenal way, each iteration involves the addition of a few pounds to sweeten the pot with no change in Monaco’s reluctance to sell. And the negotiations drag on. Problems lie ahead for Arsenal.
2016-17 Performance Metrics
Here are some of the performance charts used to compare the specific transfer combinations of Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal discussed. You can easily select other combinations from the table at the end of the article to contrast different measures of your own choice.