The transfer window promises so much, yet consistently delivers so little.
Those glued to the social media feeds of the in-vogue ‘in the knows’ set themselves up for a fall. And even when the big transfer sagas are finally concluded, it all feels anti-climactic.
Were Juventus fans really whooping for joy when the Matthijs De Ligt deal crawled over the line? What about when Harry Maguire finally rocks up to Old Trafford after months/years/Ice Ages of speculation?
Shut that window and look behind you. With the Premier League kick-off just two weeks away, there are a surfeit of prospects waiting to show that transfers are not the only panacea available for desperate teams.
Below, we pick out a potential world-class six for the top six to get excited about this season …
Mason Greenwood has been the talk of the Manchester United academy for years – and for good reason. Not even 18 until October, Greenwood scored 30 goals in 29 games across United’s age-group teams last season.
That deadliness has transferred to the senior team during preseason. An opportunistic goal against Leeds was followed up by a wicked curling effort against Inter Milan that had RvP written all over it.
The comparisons to Robin van Persie don’t start and stop there. He’s so comfortable with either foot that his left is 1A and right 1B, while his technique has a touch of the Dutch about it, which Inter centre-back Milan Skriniar found out to his misfortune.
All this time United thought they needed Skriniar but all they needed was Greenwood pic.twitter.com/McxU3sJkiN— cC (@TellesRole) July 20, 2019
WHERE DOES HE FIT IN?
“A loan for Mason has never been on my mind,” Solskjaer said earlier this week. “We have to keep him at our place and play him when we feel it is good for him.”
Despite his tender years, Greenwood certainly fits the Solskjaer mould – young, fast, flexible across the forward line and is presumably someone knows who ‘gets United’.
Apart from a hobbled Alexis Sanchez and another raw prospect in Daniel James, there’s a spot on the right wing up for grabs. Expect 25 or so appearances across the Europa League and cup competitions, but any 17-year-old will need their minutes carefully managed in the hustle and bustle of the Premier League.
It’s the obvious storyline. Frank Lampard takes the new Frank Lampard under his wing.
There is, however, a lot of weight to the comparison.
Though not particularly fast, Mount has a penchant for driving into space and keeping his eyes forward, whether it’s delivering the final pass or killer blow.
His goal record is impressive for someone who has just two full seasons under his belt – 14 with Vitesse in the Netherlands, 11 in the Championship with Derby this season – and much like Lampard, can hit a spectacular free-kick.
The 20-year-old is a little more dexterous and could become a more polished passer than Lampard. ‘Super Frank’ was a sheer force of nature, though – whether the diminutive Mount will have that gravitas on the pitch remains to be seen.
WHERE DOES HE FIT IN?
Lampard is travelling down the same route as Solskjaer at United, though not necessarily by choice given Chelsea’s transfer embargo.
Mount, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and reportedly Callum Hudson-Odoi have all signed new contracts to hand the former academy lads a commodity precious few have been afforded at Stamford Bridge – trust.
The return of a Chelsea legend has seen the return of flexible line-ups in pre-season – a stark contrast to Maurizio Sarri’s rigid 4-3-3 last year – and that’s good news for Mount, as he can be deployed in a three-man midfield or higher up the pitch.
Predominantly stationed on the left side of a three by Lampard last season, the club legend has also tested Mount in a 4-2-3-1 and a diamond. The 20-year-old took the No.10 role behind another return loanee in Tammy Abraham in the 2-1 victory against Barcelona and looked very comfortable in doing so.
He isn’t going to break Lampard’s goalscoring record, but they certainly need a net-finder like him from midfield.
In the summer of 2017, Rhian Brewster had the world at his feet – quite literally.
The Liverpool prodigy was the talisman of an England team that clinched the Under-17 World Cup, firing hat-tricks against the United States and Brazil before opening the scoring in the final against Spain.
Brewster retreated to the shadows after a rotten run with injuries, but two years later he finds himself in a position to supplement the Mane-Firmino-Salah show at Anfield. It’s difficult to see him supplanting any of them in the near future, but given the opportunities, he’ll repay the faith with goals.
When the 19-year-old is on the run there are striking similarities to another nippy striker who entranced the Kop as a teenager – Michael Owen. He makes full use of his low centre of gravity and incredible burst with a bachelor’s degree in the art of finishing.
Be it one-on-ones, narrow angles, simple tap-ins, it’s an ultra-rare sight when he misses.
WHERE DOES HE FIT IN?
Of course, Brewster has to be more than to fit into the demands of modern football and particularly Jurgen Klopp.
There is no space in the team for a player who usually sits on the last man in defence like Owen did.
While it’s an undoubted strength, thankfully Brewster is no such one-trick pony. All the nous and discipline that Roberto Firmino brings to the No9 role is unique – and it’s unfair to expect the London-born teenager to replicate that.
But, he’s not been afraid to drop deep as and when required during preseason.
That pre-season, by the way, has so far yielded four goals in three games. He’s battling with Divock Origi for next man up and, though the Belgian has emerged as a cult hero given last season’s exploits, a more explosive Brewster will fancy his chances.
By far the most established man on this list will nevertheless expect to impose himself on Manchester City’s midfield this season as Pep Guardiola begins to phase out David Silva, who has confirmed he will leave the club at the end of 2019/20.
He shares many of the same qualities as Silva, but it’s another Spaniard with whom he has drawn comparisons to. The ‘Stockport Iniesta’ may have been a moniker that started with a nod and a wink, but the left-footed and balletic Foden wouldn’t look out of place pirouetting across the pitch at Camp Nou.
One of Iniesta’s great qualities was being able to throw a defender off balance with the subtlest of movements. Foden may not be quite as graceful an operator but he shares a similar ability – and what’s more, has shown signs of being more potent in front of goal.
WHERE DOES HE FIT IN?
He’s a ready-made round peg for a perfectly matching round hole.
Numerous City and particularly England supporters have got twitchy about his supposed lack of involvement at Etihad Stadium, while contemporary Jadon Sancho – who left the club in search of first-team football – blossoms for Borussia Dortmund.
The reality is that a player who only turned 19 in May appeared 26 times in all competitions for the current overlords of English football. He’s now a little fuller in body, a midfielder of vast tactical understanding under Guardiola and it’ll be a surprise if the name of Phil Foden isn’t ringing in ears up and down the country come next May.
Nelson is blessed with pace. And lots of it. That’s not the only string to his bow, however, evidenced by the way Julian Nagelsmann used him while at loan on Hoffenheim last season.
The 19-year-old spent time on the wing, as a wing-back and even as a central attacking midfielder owing to his playmaking ability. He conjured 2.3 chances per 90 minutes, despite his scarce minutes in Germany.
Much of that was down to his naivety off the ball, with Nagelsmann placing great onus on quick transitions from attack to defence and vice-versa. The speed, dribbling and technique is there – now for the discipline.
WHERE DOES HE FIT IN?
Hopefully better than Serge Gnabry did, who possessed a similar set of skills but was shoved out on loan to West Brom in 2015. Now he just so happens to be, arguably, Bayern Munich’s best player.
Word has it that Nelson could go out on loan again, having been offered as a makeweight in a potential deal for long sought-after Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha, while Hertha Berlin are seemingly in the hunt too.
Instead of trotting out the ineffectual Henrikh Mkhitaryan and nonchalant Mesut Ozil time and time again, it would serve Unai Emery better to at least have a look at Nelson as an attacking option. With Arsenal unable to compete financially up against Europe’s elite, the time is surely now for many of their up-and-coming youngsters.
Teenage midfield enforcers don’t exist in the Premier League, but Oliver Skipp comes close. Though not tall, he’s bulkier than most 18-year-olds and is courageous to boot, regularly throwing himself into challenges at some risk to himself when called upon last season.
There’s finesse to his game, too. Operating on the right side of a diamond in the last-gasp 3-2 friendly victory over Juventus earlier this week, Skipp was not afraid to pick up the ball from the base of midfield and lend some quick-snap forward impetus to Spurs attacks.
He’s a little mad in the tackle, a little maverick in the pass, but certainly not a staid performer like Eric Dier. There’s a high ceiling there for the Spurs staff to shoot for.
WHERE DOES HE FIT IN
The most understated of these six is set to face as stubborn a battle for playing time as any of them, given Tottenham have already signed Tanguy Ndombele to bolster the midfield, are still on the hunt for Giovani Lo Celso and should be able to count on fewer injuries to their existing midfielders compared to last season.
Neither though should he be daunted about the prospect of taking minutes away from the likes of Dier, Harry Winks and Victor Wanyama, who all have qualities in their own right, but hardly scream undroppable.
It may take a while for Mauricio Pochettino to trust him regularly at the base of midfield, but progressive midfield players don’t exactly grow on trees and Skipp is low-hanging fruit.
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