Best loan signings 2018/19: The emergence of a super sub and why Real Madrid don't need Christian Eriksen

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With the kind of exorbitant transfer fees being tossed about in the transfer market, clubs are always going to be on the lookout for a shrewd loan deal.

The arrangement can often be beneficial to all parties. They can also be hit and miss at times but the risk is certainly worth the reward and there have been a few this season that have proved as much.

Here are five of the best over the 2018/19 campaign.

YOURI TIELEMANS

From featuring in France Football’s biggest flops over the first half of the 2018/19 season to being coveted by the likes of Manchester United and Arsenal, it’s been quite a remarkable turnaround for Youri Tielemans.

Having been hailed as a future star for Belgium during his teenage years, the midfielder’s talent has never been in doubt. However, after a superb final season with Anderlecht – during which he scored 18 goals in 53 appearances – his move to AS Monaco in the summer of 2017 hasn’t lived up to expectations.

Tielemans has failed to establish himself as a regular starter at the French club under both Leonardo Jardim and Thierry Henry while the former’s return prompted a loan move to Leicester City in January.

The pace and intensity of the Premier League didn’t faze the 22-year-old one bit. After starting well under Claude Puel, he flourished within new manager Brendan Rodgers’ system, registering three goals and four assists in 13 appearances.

His ability in tight spaces, passing range and runs from midfield have been a revelation. The Foxes will hope to strike a permanent deal for him this summer but will likely face stiff competitions from higher bidders.

PACO ALCACER

Unsatisfied with his limited playing time at Barcelona, Paco Alcacer made a smart move joining Borussia Dortmund on loan at the start of the season. The Spaniard immediately built a reputation as a super sub, scoring several goals in the closing stages of games.

The 25-year-old showed a remarkable ability to identify weak spots in the defence and take advantage of tiring legs with his sharp, goal-poaching instincts. Alcacer enjoyed great success in the Bundesliga this season, scoring 18 goals in 26 appearances – 15 of those appearances came off the bench.

His goal against Fortuna Dusseldorf in December was his 10th off the bench, setting a new Bundesliga record for goals from a substitute in a single season.

It was no surprise then when Dortmund exercised their option to buy him for €23 million on February 1, securing his services on a five-year contract.

RAUL JIMENEZ

After three solid seasons at Benfica without really standing out, the Portuguese outfit agreed to loan Raul Jimenez to Wolves for the 2018/19 Premier League season. The striker proved to be a revelation for the newly-promoted side, leading the line with aplomb.

Under Nuno Espirito Santo, Jimenez has been integral to Wolves’ system with his clever movement and link-up play. He’s provided their attack with a clear focal point and it doesn’t hurt that he’s also led the way with 13 goals and seven assists in the league. His four goals in the FA Cup helped them to a semi-finals appearance.

In the second half of the season, he forged a lethal partnership up front with compatriot Diogo Jota. That combination looks likely to carry the impressive mid-table side to greater things next season.

Such has been Jimenez’s impact that the Premier League outfit have taken up their option to buy the Mexican forward for a club-record €38 million. The striker was named Wolves’ Players’ Player of the season.

MARTIN ODEGAARD

In January 2015, Martin Odegaard was unveiled at the Santiago Bernabeu to much fanfare after Real Madrid beat the likes of Bayern Munich, Liverpool, Arsenal and the two Manchester clubs to his signature. Two years and just five goals for Castilla later, supporters were ready to give up on the teenage prodigy.

After a loan spell at Heerenveen last season seemed to do him some good, he returned to the Eredivisie for the 2018/19 campaign with Vitesse. Odegaard made a marked improvement from his three goals and five assists in 43 appearances last term. He finished with eight goals and 10 assists in 35 appearances this time.

A greater maturity has been witnessed in his game as he’s helped Vitesse qualify for the Europa League. His 3.4 key passes per game is second in the Dutch league only to Hakim Ziyech – Ajax’s star playmaker he’s touted to replace next season.

A fee of €20 million has been talked about but after the season he’s had, Madrid are only interested in discussing a loan deal with the Dutch champions. Los Blancos have been linked to Christian Eriksen but as comparisons between Odegaard and the Dane continue to grow, they may be inclined to wait for the 20-year-old to develop into the player they desire.

Martin Odegaard

DUVAN ZAPATA

The 2018/19 season was Duvan Zapata’s fourth successive one on loan. After initially coming to Italy with Napoli in 2015, he was deemed surplus to requirements two average seasons later. After a two-year loan spell at Udinese, he spent one season on loan at Sampdoria who were obligated to buy. He was again loaned out to Atalanta last summer.

Zapata had just one goal to his name by the start of December but that’s when the tide began to turn. After scoring against former side Napoli, he bagged a hat-trick against another former team in Udinese, going on to enjoy an eight-game scoring streak.

With 22 goals and seven assists in 36 Serie A games, the Colombian tied for second place in the scoring charts, above Cristiano Ronaldo. His incredible physicality and powerful play made him a handful for defenders.

Now that he’s added a substantial number of goals to the equation, he’s a sought-after player this summer with Chelsea (though they’re appealing a transfer ban) and West Ham in particular among the suitors.

Duvan Zapata

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Former Man United manager Jose Mourinho promises return to coaching this summer

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Jose Mourinho left Manchester United in December.

Jose Mourinho says he’ll be back in management this summer as he continues to be linked with several high-profile jobs.

After being sacked by Manchester United in December Mourinho had said he would wait until finding his next role. Since then, there was talk he could join Lyon, especially after current manager Bruno Genesio confirmed he would be leaving at the end of the season, and this week Juventus parted company with Massimiliano Allegri.

Bayern Munich are said to be considering sacking Niko Kovac, while there is the remote possibility of a sensational return to Chelsea, who remain unsure over Maurizio Sarri after an inconsistent debut season in England.

“I have a lot of qualities and one of them is to respect other clubs and their management,” Mourinho told French radio station RMC. “I have never spoken like ‘this club wanted me, they contacted me’.

“When I left Manchester United in December, I immediately took the decision I want to work from summer. I hope to be back to work in July in a project I really like.”

Mourinho, who has also managed Real Madrid, Inter Milan and Porto during an illustrious if sometimes controversial career, refused to be drawn on his United exit, saying he could not speak freely about the manner of his departure, which came after the club’s worst-ever start to a Premier League season and amid rumours of the manager falling out with several of the squad’s players, most notably Paul Pogba.

“It’s difficult for me to talk about Manchester,” he said. “I can’t talk about them in the same joy and freedom as I talk about other clubs.”

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Champions League-chasing Atalanta and Getafe among Europe's biggest overperformers

Matt Jones 16/05/2019
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Getafe have a chance at qualifying for the Champions League for the first time in their history.

The dust is just about settling on an enthralling 2018/19 season across Europe – and there’s been plenty of highs and lows for clubs and individuals.

Manchester City and Liverpool played out an epic battle for the Premier League crown in England, while Borussia Dortmund went toe to toe with Bavarian behemoths Bayern Munich in Germany, even though it looks like they’ll come up just short.

Juventus proved their enduring class in Italy where they will hoist a record-extending eighth Scudetto. Likewise in France, Paris Saint-Germain lifted a sixth league crown in the last seven years. Meanwhile, in Spain, Barcelona also continued their recent dominance by winning an eighth La Liga title in the last 11 years.

But while there is much to celebrate in terms of title successes, what about teams that have surpassed all expectations? Maybe by finishing higher than anyone thought possible, qualifying for Europe or completely flipping their fortunes?

We pick out our top five overperformers from Europe’s top five leagues.

ATALANTA

Gian Piero Gasperini has worked a miracle at Atalanta.

Gian Piero Gasperini has worked a miracle at Atalanta.

High up in the hills of northern Italy, there is a story unfolding this season that – if realised – will seem taller than the mountainous Alps in which the city of Bergamo is situated.

However, it is very real, as the city’s Atalanta football side sit perched on the cusp of true greatness. A maiden campaign of elite cross-continent football beckons next season as La Dea (the Goddess) dare to dream of a first brush with the Champions League.

One more victory from their remaining two games – admittedly they face a tall task in Turin this Sunday as they travel to Serie A champions Juventus – will likely be enough for Gian Piero Gasperini’s side to claim fourth spot and send them into the Champions League. At the expense of national giants AC Milan, Roma and Lazio.

They finished fourth two seasons ago when it came with a Europa League berth – an end to a 27-year European drought was exciting enough. But this would mean so much more.

Gasperini’s side are Italy’s great entertainers. No-one has scored more goals (73) – not even Juve. But only Roma (47) have conceded more than their 44 in the top eight.

The sky is the limit.

GETAFE

Getafe head coach Jose Bordalas has steered his side onto the cusp of the Champions League.

Getafe head coach Jose Bordalas has steered his side onto the cusp of the Champions League.

Another epic story is being told in Spain this season, where Getafe go into the final day of the La Liga campaign needing to better the result of Valencia in order to make a maiden Champions League appearance.

It would bring European football to the Coliseum Alfonso Perez for just the third time after featuring in the Europa League in 2010/11 and its predecessor the UEFA Cup three years earlier.

It would be the biggest chapter yet to be written in the history of a fledgling club that is only 35-years-old, founded in 1983 beneath the shadows of mighty Madrid neighbours Real and Atletico.

Jose Bordalas’ Azulones (Deep Blues) have lost only nine games this season – two fewer than Los Blancos – and conceded one less goal than champions Barcelona.

They are tied with Valencia on 58 points in a tussle for the final Champions League spot that could not be more tense ahead of the final day.

WOLVES

Wolves

Two of Wolverhampton Wanderers’ four previous Premier League campaigns ended with them finishing 20th and going straight back down – their other two visits yielded finishes of 15th and 17th.

On the last occasion that happened in 2011/12 they followed it up with successive relegations, to League 1.

Wolves have had to claw and scratch their way back to England’s top table in the ensuing five years. How fitting then that a blistering return to the top-flight in 2018/19 might yet end in Europa League qualification.

Nuno Espirito Santo’s side have taken four points from home and away meetings with Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea this season, as well as beaten Tottenham and drawn with champions Manchester City.

They have played a bold and brilliant counter-attacking style that many giants have been unable to trample – they even beat United and Liverpool on their way to the FA Cup semi-finals.

Wolves have shown plenty of bite and they will be howling at the moon with delight should City complete a domestic treble and beat Watford at Wembley on Saturday.

LILLE

Lille

Amid all the hype – but mostly boredom – surrounding Paris Saint-Germain and their dominance of Ligue 1, many more interesting storylines often go unheard.

Take Lille for example. They’ve led a fairly mediocre existence since lifting their fifth French title eight years ago. 2010/11 ended a 57-year title drought – but since then the powerful Parisiens have lifted six trophies in eight years.

So bad had the malaise become for Lille, that they finished fourth from bottom and narrowly avoided facing a relegation play-off with the third-placed team in the second tier last year, finishing a point ahead of Toulouse.

Christophe Galtier, in his first full season in charge, has transformed the Great Danes – driving them to 34 more points than a year ago and firing them 15 places up the league table to second, and back into the Champions League, courtesy of the league’s best defensive record.

BORUSSIA MONCHENGLADBACH

Dieter Hecking

It seems strange now that Gladbach announced in early April they would not be extending manager Dieter Hecking’s contract, considering he has brought them to the cusp of Champions League qualification after two below par ninth-placed league finishes.

True, Die Fohlen (The Foals) need to beat Borussia Dortmund – who have an outside chance of winning the league title – on the Bundesliga’s final day on Saturday in order to return to Europe’s top table. But the fact they are even fighting for just a fourth shot at Champions League participation in its 27-year history is remarkable.

Alassane Plea’s arrival from Nice last summer has paid off with 12 Bundesliga goals, while the younger Hazard brother, Thorgan, continues to shine, with 10 assists.

The hierarchy made the Hecking call when the club briefly slipped out of the top four for the first time since September in April. If he ends up leading them into the Champions League next season, it could prove a poor one.

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