Welcome back to another edition of transfer dossiers, where I scour the internet for stats on some of Europe’s most interesting and underrated players. If you are new to the series, you can find players from Germany here, France parts 1 and 2 here, and the first part of my Spanish dossiers here.
Today I’m going to examine two Barcelona players that have been heating up the transfer airwaves, and then look at a Madrid forward, one of Sociedad’s wonder kids, and finish with an unpolished gem from Bilbao.
Here we go!
Name: Cristian Tello
Position: Wide Forward (Left)
Potential Buyers: I could see him as a direct replacement for Jovetic at Fiorentina while they pocket the profits or spunk them on Mario Gomez. I could also see Liverpool or Arsenal getting involved if there is actual interest in Tello moving, and he wouldn’t be out of place at Milan or Napoli if either El Sharaawy or Cavani move.
I’m not sure if I have mentioned this before, but evaluating Barcelona players is hard. When a club is producing 11 of the top 12 players in the league for passing percentages, you know there are some systemic biases going on. When all three of your main forwards who are not named Lionel Messi put 50% of their shots on target, you might as well just throw up your hands and say, “I am totally guessing at how this player will play elsewhere.”
I am totally fucking guessing at how Tello will play outside of Barcelona.
That’s the problem with young Barcelona players. They are all probably wildly talented, but unless a team is replicating Barcelona’s system (and they aren’t), expecting those players to produce identical results at a new club is folly.
Every part of his stats except for the Shots on Target is excellent. And yet Barcelona seem unconvinced. Even assuming David Villa gets sold, he still has Alexis Sanchez and some dude named Neymar in front of him in the pecking order and Delofeu will be there in a year or two as well. It might be the case that Tello actually is really good, but plays the wrong position for that to matter.
The right play for Barcelona at this point is probably to loan Tello out to a bigger club where he can get game time, but what if he’s not convinced about that? He’s 21 and clearly itching for a full-time role somewhere, but the best clubs in Spain are all loaded at the attacking midfielder and wing forward positions.
Likely price: If the rumoured £8.5M release clause doesn’t exist, then £10-12M.
Name: Thiago Alcantara
Position: Central Midfielder
Potential Buyers: Manchester United, Real Madrid
Remember what I said about evaluating Tello? That goes double for Thiago. He’s a deep-lying midfielder, which means the offensive numbers won’t look great outside of pass completion. 5 assists in only 15 starts is a very good return, but the Key Pass numbers suggest that wasn’t a huge part of his role at Barcelona. Deeper midfielders usually are required to do a lot of defensive work, but Thiago’s numbers there are only okay, with 1.6 tackles per game and 1.3 Ints.
The one thing he does quite well even in the middle of the park is dribble, which can be really useful in transitioning immediately from defense to attack.
Here’s the deal. You are not going to complete 90+% of your passes if you are incompetent, even at Barcelona. And yet… I’m on the fence. Thiago might be the greatest passing prospect of his generation. Or he might just be an under-sized Spanish midfielder who does well in Barcelona’s system, but will have trouble thriving anywhere else. This is a classic case where the stats just don’t tell you enough to make an informed decision about a player.
Likely price: A £18M release clause that expires this summer, at which point his release clause goes up to 90M euros.
Name: Diego Costa
Team: Atletico Madrid
Potential Buyers: Arsenal
This is the player whose development made it past time for Falcao to go do his thing somewhere else. Assuming he can stay healthy (and he has had some injury issues), Costa is ready to become a major player for Atletico, as he assumes their primary forward role. When adjusted for penalties, he and Falcao had similar scoring rates, despite the fact that Costa clearly was not the primary option (only 1.6 ShpG this season).
The only thing that worries me about Costa are the turnover numbers, which float around 5 giveaways per game. If he can improve on those, while maintaining his lethal strike shots on target percentage, Madrid will be a force to be reckoned with next year, both in La Liga and in the Champions’ League.
Okay, I’d also be slightly worried about his discipline. A forward that wracks up 11 yellows in 24 starts? Who does that?
Likely price: Not for sale. Atelico are in the Champions’ League next season, and Costa is going nowhere. If he replicates his scoring rate of the last two years, he could even be in line to make Brazil’s World Cup squad next summer.
Name: Antoine Griezmann
Team: Real Sociedad
Position: Attacking Mid (LR)
Potential Buyers: None, yet.
Once every couple of years, you come across a team that has so many good, young players you have to ask yourself, “Man… how did they do that?” Real Sociedad is that club this year. In addition to Griezmann, who is a Sociedad academy product, they also have Illaramendi, Inigo Martinez, and Carlos Vela. Ask any Arsenal fan about Vela and they will shake their head sadly, and moan about another one that they somehow found, developed, then got away. (Arsenal tried to keep him last year, but he wanted to move to Spain for good. Then he put up 14 goals and 9 assists for Sociedad. Ow.)
Funny story – I don’t usually click on the defensive numbers for players that are clear attackers, but when watching video on him, I kept noticing opponent’s half recoveries and intercepts. Check the defensive stats, and you see 1.7 tackles and 1 Interception averaged per game. Tello is .5 and .3. Gareth Bale is 1 and 1.3. Theo Walcott is .5 and .3. Griezmann puts in a shift.
Beyond that, his offensive numbers are good. Over 80% passing success for an attacker is solid. A goal rate of .32 for a non-primary striker is also good. You could perhaps wish for slightly more key passes per game, but everything else is good to very good, and he’s only 22.
Likely Price: He won’t move this year because Sociedad are in the Champions’ League, but if they miss out on 4th spot in La Liga, expect the bigger fish to start recruiting him pretty hard. Players with his eye for goal, plus the passing ability, plus a clear desire to work on the defensive side of the ball are to be treasured. £15-18M a year from now.
Name: Markel Susaeta
Team: Athletic Bilbao
Position: Attacking Mid (Right)
Potential Buyers: Liverpool if Suarez leaves? Everton, as part of Martinez’s rebuilding effort and to give them some right-side balance? Any team clever enough to realize he’s really quite good and not that expensive?
Here’s a player just entering his prime, who is likely flying below everyone’s radar. Susaeta finished 14th in La Liga in key passes per game for a Bilbao side who finished 12th in the league. He’s got three full seasons of La Liga under his belt, and has shown improvement every time, this year lowering his turnover rate while increasing the key passes by an impressive 50%. Passing success is solid for an attacking mid, especially one who regularly attempts crosses, he’s now showing some dribbling skills, and his defensive numbers are great (2.2 tackle and .9 Int per game).
This is exactly the type of unheralded workhorse that will make almost any team better. That’s not to say he doesn’t have excellent skills – he does. He just works his butt off in the process too.
Likely price: £8M