James, Saul and the Premier League's best deadline-day transfers
Focusing solely on those who moved on August 31, Goal picks out the players most compatible tactically with their new clubs
A total of 14 players were signed by Premier League clubs between the last round of games and Tuesday’s transfer deadline, taking the division’s total spending to £1.1 billion ($1.5bn) this summer.
Among the highlights, Crystal Palace have landed a very good striker in Odsonne Edouard to give Patrick Vieira the extra firepower he wanted, Wolves have added smartly in the loan signing of RB Leipzig’s Hwang Hee-chan, and West Ham United successfully upgraded their defence with Kurt Zouma.
Here’s a tactical perspective on the four best signings since the last set of Premier League games were played, and how they will improve their respective clubs...
Emerson Royal can add verticality to Spurs’ possession
Tottenham Hotspur might be top of the league but their good form won’t last without an improvement to their attacking construction.
So far, Nuno Esperito Santo has been able to win matches on the counterattack through a narrow front three, but once opponents realise Spurs want to sit deeper (they average 44.8 per cent possession) it will become harder to do so.
Spurs currently sit 19th in the Premier League for progressive passes (a WyScout metric measuring forward passes that ‘attempt to advance a team significantly closer to the opponent’s goal’) and 13th for smart passes (a ‘creative and penetrative pass that attempts to break the opposition's defensive lines to gain a significant advantage in attack’).
In other words, they aren’t passing the ball with verticality or fluency. This can be partially solved with more efficient use of the wings; as we saw in the Watford win, the first time this season Spurs have held the majority of possession, the full-backs are expected to overlap aggressively to provide penetration.
Japhet Tanganga isn’t very proficient at this, and so the addition of Emerson Royal – who has excellent pace, attack-mindedness, and crossing ability – is a timely one. He has 10 assists across his last two La Liga campaigns for Real Betis, most of them from pinpoint crosses.
Harry Kane will enjoy those deliveries, which might make up for the lack of guile in central midfield.
Tomiyasu’s attributes will suit Arsenal’s hybrid formation
Arsenal have looked pretty hopeless in all departments this season, so much so that Mikel Arteta’s wider tactical plan is hard to discern.
In broad terms, he wants to emulate the positional rotation and complex, press-resistant passing of his mentor Pep Guardiola – in order to build Arsenal quickly into the final third. His problem is that doing this requires elite players, and as soon as one part of the machine jams the entire system collapses.
Arteta needs more players like Takehiro Tomiyasu, a highly versatile right-back and centre-back signed for £16 million ($22m) from Bologna. He is a tall, powerful, and two-footed defender who should improve Arsenal in attack and defence.
With Tomiyashu at right-back Arteta’s lopsided formation should work more smoothly. In keeping with Arteta’s desire to play a 4-2-3-1/3-4-3 hybrid, the 22-year-old can drop into the back three when Arsenal have the ball, improving a calamitous back line and releasing Kieran Tierney to bomb forward on the other flank.
But Tomiyashi is confident in possession and will be able to slot into midfield gaps when needed, as well as make intelligent overlapping runs should he start as a right wing-back.
Although aesthetically a very different type of player, he can give Arteta the tactical versatility that Kyle Walker gives Guardiola.
James’ pace and directness perfect for Bielsa’s Leeds
Marcelo Bielsa's interest in Daniel James stretches back three years and it's easy to see why the right winger’s energy, pressing intensity, and pace will fit Leeds’s system.
Among players to have played more than 450 minutes last season James ranked 26th in the Premier League for pressures per 90 (applying pressure to an opposition player who is receiving, carrying, or releasing the ball), according to FBref.
That might not sound particularly high, but considering Manchester United ranked fifth from bottom as a club James is unusually energetic – and the second most frequent at the club behind Fred (24.0 per 90).
Leeds, unsurprisingly, topped the charts last season for pressures, so Bielsa will welcome and encourage the running that James had often been doing on his own at Old Trafford.
What’s more, his style of pressing is also well-suited to Leeds. James sprints directly at players, rather than close down the space, which looks odd – and inefficient – in most environments but fits the idiosyncratic man-to-man pressing style of Bielsa.
On the ball, James offers Leeds a pace and directness they are short on in wide areas. Bielsa tends to empty his central midfield when in possession in order to overload the flanks with gut-busting forward, overlapping, and third-man runs, but currently they lack someone with the incredible acceleration and top speed of James.
Saul’s versatility provides competition across midfield
Saul is one of the most versatile midfielders in world football, and it is perhaps this all-rounded playing style that has held him back recently; the 26-year-old played primarily as a left wing-back for Diego Simeone last season as his form from midfield slipped.
But Saul is better suited to Thomas Tuchel’s style of football, and after spending his entire career under the tutelage of a reactive tactician Saul could flourish in a more ambitious system.
Tuchel’s 3-4-3 demands that both central midfielders play box to box, with defensive and attacking attributes required for dove-tailing forward runs, progressive passes, pressing, and defensive screening.
Saul’s unusual versatility will serve him well: he has the passing range and technical ability under pressure of Jorginho, the tackling of N’Golo Kante (who is the only Chelsea player to average more than Saul’s 3.19 tackles per 90 last season), and the verticality of Matteo Kovacic.
The tempo of Atletico Madrid’s football does not really suit Saul, whereas the speed and dynamism of Tuchel’s Chelsea should reveal the more elegant sides of the Spaniard’s game.
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