What Might We Expect From These January Signings?
Have teams made upgrades?
This was not a January transfer window to remember in the Premier League. Many sides largely sat it out due to the difficulty in getting things done, while others were happy with what they had. Even so, there are players who can have a big impact at their clubs down the stretch and next season. Let’s take a look at some of the bigger moves and what they might be capable of.
Bruno Fernandes, Manchester United
Oh, Bruno Fernandes, you fearless player.
Here’s what there is to know about Fernandes: he’s an incredible playmaker. He’s been blowing the Primeira Liga away with his vision and passing range. In many regards he is to Portugal’s top flight what Kevin De Bruyne is to the Premier League, with the obvious understanding that we’re talking a significant gap in league difficulty.
But here’s the issue: the way he does this is by constantly taking risks whenever he has the ball. A pass completion of 75% seems low for a top playmaker at one of the best sides in Portugal, but it makes sense when you see what he’s actually doing with the ball. He’s constantly taking risks, trying the most ambitious things in the hope, more than anything else, that they’ll pay off. Let’s start with his shot map. Fernandes likes a punt from range.
He’s a player who might be using his reputation from range to better his passing options. If a defender knows Fernandes might have a go from 30 yards, he’s more likely to rush out and close him down, opening up spaces in behind for the Portugal international to pick out a pass. But it’s not just his shooting where he’s prone to consistently bold choices.
The passing sonar above shows us just how much he takes the riskier, more ambitious option in possession. For point of comparison, here’s another Man Utd attacking midfielder who puts up a much higher pass completion rate, but clearly chooses to play things a lot safer.
If Fernandes had signed for another big club, I might have more concerns, but he fills such a need for United that this should be a clear upgrade. In the increasingly common instances where Paul Pogba is not on the pitch, the side totally lack the creative passing threat to break teams down. Juan Mata is currently their most creative player in terms of open play passes into the box, but he’s 31 and we’re not talking Lionel Messi here. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer got exactly the type of player he needed, even if there are questions over how good he truly is.
Steven Bergwijn, Tottenham
Well he certainly delivered a good first impression. Spurs signed Steven Bergwijn from PSV for a fee thought to be £26.7 million to fill a need from wide areas. During the Mauricio Pochettino era, much of Spurs’ best football came with the trio of Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen and Son Heung-min behind Harry Kane. Dele and Son offered shots and movements into the box, while Eriksen offered guile with the ball at his feet and Kane posed an all round centre forward threat.
It’s no secret that Eriksen had one foot out the door long before he officially joined Inter, and Spurs had been planning for this in the summer. Giovani Lo Celso had been signed as Pochettino’s idea of an Eriksen replacement, but Jose Mourinho sees things differently, with the playmaker thriving more recently in a central midfield role. Kane’s absence has led to Lucas Moura taking up the striking role, leaving only Dele and Son as obvious attacking midfield starters. Mourinho doesn’t need as much passing threat, and has all he wants from Lo Celso in a deeper role. What he really wants is a direct running wide player, who can offer a robust dribbling threat but defensive solidity.
Enter Bergwijn. His numbers are somewhat down from last year (in blue, while 18/19 is in red), and you’d hope it’s just an issue with PSV. But he still looks solid regardless.
The success rate of transfers from the Eredivisie to the Premier League is what it is. But nonetheless, Bergwijn looks a good fit for what Mourinho is going to want from a winger in this team. It might not be the most exciting comparison, but he could have his new Willian in Bergwijn. The best case scenario is that he translates everything he’s done in the Netherlands into being a genuine star, but a more modest outcome would still prove a good signing.
Jarrod Bowen, West Ham
First of all, I like Jarrod Bowen. His xG and xG assisted per 90 in the Championship this season has been bettered only by Nahki Wells and Patrick Bamford (if he could just learn how to finish). He’s the right age at 23, left footed, and able to get plenty of good shots despite starting in wide areas. Those players are always valuable.
He has beaten his expected goals this season, but the fundamentals are still strong.
The real question, then, is how he fits into David Moyes’ side. The Hammers’ biggest need for many years has been in central midfield. They have addressed this with Tomáš Souček, but it’s really hard to gauge how a player from the Czech First League will do in England’s top flight. Moyes has been starting the also left footed Robert Snodgrass on the right since his return to the London Stadium, and while we’re looking at a small sample size here, it’s hard to imagine there isn’t room for improvement.
The concern is that Moyes’ style won’t exactly encourage Bowen to get into the box a lot. There’s nothing innately wrong with using wide players conservatively, and West Ham were certainly far too open before his arrival. But I remain unsure that Bowen is the ideal player for this role. Regardless, West Ham are getting a talented player at the right age (23), with an English premium in the future. So it’s hard to see much in the way of downside.
Takumi Minamino, Liverpool
Liverpool’s signing of Takumi Minamino from Red Bull Salzburg feels like it happened so long ago that it's strange to include him on this list. Everyone knows how good the Reds’ front three are, so there’s no need to discuss that, but when the fourth choice attacker is Divock Origi (who has his uses, but remains a limited player), it’s understandable that you’d want to go into the market to find someone. The top line numbers point to this deal making a lot of sense.
Minamino can also offer flexibility. As the Japan international’s former assistant manager (and friend of StatsBomb) René Marić has explained, Minamino is “normally best as , but can play as a forward/striker or winger, too”, while he has also played at wing back and as a number eight style central midfielder. Liverpool have preferred to keep a relatively thin squad behind a strong starting eleven in recent years, so someone who can fill in for a number of players is useful. Thus far, he has featured as an alternative to Roberto Firmino in the false nine role without really looking up to speed. While adapting to the Premier League could take time, he shouldn’t have too much issue learning the pressing system that isn’t a million miles away from Red Bull’s approach. Even if this doesn’t pay off, for a low fee it’s a relatively risk free move for Liverpool.
Sander Berge, Sheffield United
If the table hadn’t told you already, Sheffield United’s signing of Sander Berge from Genk made it obvious: the Blades are here to stay. Chris Wilder’s side has relied on a midfield three of Oliver Norwood, John Fleck and John Lundstram to keep things compact in the centre of the park. This has been effective, but it’s understandable that they might look for a little more sparkle here without sacrificing what’s worked.
Berge is a good all rounder of a midfielder. He can pass and dribble well while putting up decent defensive work, and he stands at all of 6’5. Typically one might expect a player of his technique and mobility to lack in stature, so it’s a real bonus that he’s so big. There’s obviously going to be a steep adaptation curve from Belgium, but at age 21, this should all be doable and it’s hard to find fault in this deal.
Daniel Podence, Wolverhampton Wanderers
Wolves signed another Portuguese player. Drink.
Nuno Espirito Santo seems wed to his 3-4-3 system, with Adama Traoré and Diogo Jota either side of Raúl Jiménez. Traoré has been receiving a lot of hype this year, with his out-of-this-world dribbling ability finally being met with better decision making in the final third. Jota, meanwhile, has been putting up strong numbers, taking or assisting just under half an expected goal a game. Pedro Neto hasn’t been too far behind in his contributions as the third choice option.
It’s not really clear why Wolves felt they needed Podence. Perhaps he is a rotation option. Perhaps they are intending to sell one of the current attackers in the summer and want to give the new man time to bed in. Perhaps they think he is better than the good-for-Greece numbers he’s putting up in our data. Regardless, this one is slightly perplexing in purely footballing terms.