Players to Watch in 2022-23: The Analyst 50
Who will be the players to watch in 2022-23? Ninety-eight teams will battle it out across the big five European leagues, with titles to be won, European football to be secured and relegation to be avoided.
We recruited the very best of Opta’s data editors to give us a list of 50 players to keep an eye on. These players aren’t who they think are the greatest – you’ve all read that. Some are obvious, some less so.
Click below to skip to the player:
Darwin Núñez ••• Vinícius Júnior ••• William Saliba
Mike Maignan ••• Hugo Ekitike ••• Nico Schlotterbeck
Luiz Henrique ••• Karim Adeyemi ••• Julián Álvarez
Reece James ••• Florian Wirtz ••• Branco van den Boomen
Noussair Mazraoui ••• Mario Götze ••• Paul Pogba
Fabio Carvalho ••• Randal Kolo Muani ••• Rasmus Kristensen
Gauthier Hein ••• Giorgi Mamardashvili ••• Ángel Di María
Gavin Bazunu ••• Filip Kostic ••• Gavi
Jonathan Clauss ••• Gabriel Jesus ••• Kai Havertz
Umar Sadiq ••• Anthony Gordon ••• Martin Terrier
Luis Díaz ••• Luis Sinisterra ••• Nicola Zalewski
Brennan Johnson ••• Thijs Dallinga ••• Rodrygo
Bruno Guimarães ••• Deniz Undav ••• Arnau Martínez
Lovro Majer ••• Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall ••• Khvicha Kvaratskhelia
Loïs Openda ••• Joelinton ••• Sandro Tonali
Vinícius Souza ••• Raheem Sterling ••• David Raum
Jesús Corona ••• Ivan Perišić
Goals weren’t an issue for Liverpool last season, with Jürgen Klopp’s side scoring 147 in all competitions across the campaign. However, the scorer of 23 of those – Sadio Mané – has now departed to Bayern Munich and well, you can never have too many goalscoring options in your squad, can you?
With Darwin Núñez arriving from Benfica, Liverpool and Klopp certainly have another one of those.
The Uruguayan striker scored 34 goals in 41 competitive appearances for the Portuguese giants last season, including 26 in 28 league games. Across Europe’s big five leagues and Portugal, only Robert Lewandowski (35), Kylian Mbappé (28), Karim Benzema (27) and Ciro Immobile (27) scored more league goals last season, and it’s this ferocious appetite for goals that forced Klopp to make his move.
With an average non-penalty xG of 0.19 per shot in 2021-22, he not only finds himself shooting from great quality positions, but he’s also able to convert these chances at a very high rate too.
He averaged more non-penalty goals per 90 than any other player in the top six ranked European leagues in 2021-22 (1.00), while his 0.69 non-penalty xG per 90 was only bettered by four players.
Not only that, but Núñez’s non-penalty shot conversation rate last season stood at 27.2% – none of the 162 players to attempt more than 55 shots from non-penalty situations across the top six European leagues in 2021-22 could match that.
Núñez had more league goals than new Manchester City arrival Erling Haaland (22) last season. He also proved himself at Champions League level too, scoring six goals in 613 minutes at a rate of a goal every 102 minutes.
A heavy price tag hanging round his neck will be a concern in his debut Premier League season, but Núñez clearly has the attributes to blow opposition defences away in an already world class Liverpool attack.
In what was only his fourth season as a Real Madrid player, Vinícius Junior’s performances in 2021-22 were among the most outstanding of any player in the Spanish top flight. He scored 17 league goals last season – nine more than in his previous three La Liga campaigns combined (8 in 82 apps), while he was involved in an exceptional 38 goals in all competitions (22 goals, 16 assists).
His 27 goal involvements in league competition (17 goals, 10 assists) were the most of any Brazilian in the top five European leagues in 2021-22 and struck up an exceptional understanding with Karim Benzema at Real Madrid. Overall, they combined for 11 league goals in 2021-22, more than any other pairing across Europe’s major leagues.
Running at opposition defenders is a key attribute for Vinícius Jr, and with 234 dribbles attempted in league competition last season, this meant he tallied the highest number for a Real Madrid player in a single La Liga season since such records began in 2005-06. Those 234 dribbles were 64 more than any other player in the Spanish top-flight last season, ahead of Levante’s José Luis Morales (170).
No player within the top five European leagues made as many progressive ball carries as the youngster (694), while only Kylian Mbappé could match the Brazilian’s output of shots and chances created following a ball carry (76) in Europe’s major leagues last season.
He also displayed his quality in the Champions League. At 21 years and 320 days old, Vinícius Júnior became the second youngest player to score in the final of the European Cup/Champions League for Real Madrid, after Marco Asensio in 2017 (21y 133d).
In addition to this, his 31 chances created from open play in the UCL across last season were the most by a player in a single season of the competition since Dusan Tadic tallied 36 in 2018-19 for Ajax.
Can William Saliba finally get his chance to become an Arsenal first-team player. He’s been part of their pre-season plans after failing to make a single competitive appearance for the Gunners across three years of loan spells at different clubs since signing for a reported €30 million.
After a year on loan at Saint-Étienne followed by six months at Nice, the central defender was sent to Marseille for 2021-22, where he became a shining light in Jorge Sampaoli’s side. Helping his side to finish second in Ligue 1, Saliba was named as the Young Player of the Year in the competition, while he was rewarded with a senior French call-up for the first time in March, where he made his debut in Marseille.
Saliba was the player to play the most minutes for Marseille in all competitions last season (4,675), just ahead of another Arsenal loanee (but since bought by OM ahead of 2022-23), Mattéo Guendouzi.
He became an essential part in Sampaoli’s side’s attempts to build out from the back, with the highest tally of passes completed in Ligue 1 across 2021-22 (2,834) and the highest per 90 average of all defenders (78.7). In addition to this, he carried the ball further than any other player across the top five European leagues last season (9,694), while only beaten by more experienced defenders Aymeric Laporte and Joel Matip for carry distance up field. Not only can he pass, he’s equally comfortable dribbling the ball out from the back – further shown by the fact that only RB Leipzig’s Josko Gvardiol (37) completed more take-ons than him (31) among central defenders in Europe last season.
All these elements had raised Marseille’s hopes of keeping the defender for another season, but those wishes were soon dashed by Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta, who said “he has to come back. He has the experience and the environment to be competitive with us.” The Gunners’ first-choice central defenders from last season, Ben White and Gabriel, will be hoping for a strong start, because there is a new kid in town.
This edition of The Analyst 50 is only the second following its debut in 2021-22. The only goalkeeper to make both editions is Mike Maignan.
Maignan arrived at Milan to replace Gianluigi Donnarumma last summer, and he came with high expectation. Having won the Ligue 1 title with Lille, and with Milan looking to win their first Serie A since 2011, Milan knew that having a solid goalkeeper would be a key part in any hopes they had. They needn’t have worried.
Among all goalkeepers to have played at least 10 matches in the big five European leagues last season, nobody could post a save to shots ratio as high as the Frenchman (79.4%) – a statistic that helped him achieve the Best Serie A Goalkeeper of 2021-22 award at the end of the campaign.
On the way to winning the French league title with Lille in 2020-21, Maignan kept a phenomenal league-high 21 clean sheets in 38 games – a record among goalkeepers in the season across Europe’s major leagues. The second half of the 2021-22 season was much the same, with Maignan keeping 12 clean sheets in his final 19 appearances – no goalkeeper kept as many in Europe’s big five leagues in 2022.
He conceded just twice in Milan’s final 11 games of the season to help them to a 19th Scudetto, whilst with Maignan turning 26 years old ahead of last season, he was one of the older members of the squad. Milan had an average age of just 26 years and 97 days in Serie A last season – the youngest side to win the Italian top-flight in the era of three points for a win (since 1994-95). His experience and presence in goal was a key factor to the glory.
It had been five years since Paris Saint-Germain last signed another Ligue 1 player – that was Kylian Mbappé. Those are certainly big shoes to fill for Hugo Ekitike in 2022-23, as he takes up a new challenge following a move from Reims this summer.
This will be a completely different environment for Ekitike, coming from a Reims team that had the youngest average starting XI across the big five European leagues in 2021-22 for whom he was their top scorer in the league (10 goals), to a side full of experience at the top of the game. Last season’s 10-goal haul saw him become the youngest Reims player to reach double figures in Ligue 1 since Francis Méano back in their ‘golden era’ of 1949-50. Ekitike, who has just turned 20, was the second youngest player to reach double-digit figures for goals in Ligue 1 last season, behind only Montpellier’s Elye Wahi.
It’s unlikely that he’ll walk straight into PSG’s starting XI, but he’ll certainly be a great option off the bench – four of his 10 league goals in 2021-22 came as a substitute, with only Wissam Ben Yedder (six) scoring more as a sub in the French top flight.
He showed ability when carrying the ball in attacking areas last season, with two goals and two assists following a ball carry – only 10 players in the league exceeded that goal involvement tally from carries and four of them were at PSG (Mbappé, Messi, Neymar and Hakimi) so he’s joined a club where he can learn from the best.
He was also involved in a goal every 96 minutes on average (10 goals and three assists across 1274 minutes played) – the best ratio among big five league players born this century with at least 500 minutes of playing time in 2021-22.
It remains to be seen if Ekitike’s name will be remembered at PSG for his on-field record, but one thing to remember about the striker is that he is the only PSG player in Ligue 1 history to have a surname that is a palindrome – a fact to enjoy.
Last season’s Bundesliga saw Borussia Dortmund finish second and qualify for the UEFA Champions League, but it was hard to ignore their defensive frailties. They conceded 52 goals in 2021-22, with no runner-up in Bundesliga history ever conceding this many in a season.
To remedy this weakness, BVB have signed both Niklas Süle from Bayern Munich and Nico Schlotterbeck from SC Freiburg – two German internationals who will bring some much-needed stability to their backline for 2022-23.
Schlotterbeck – still only 22 years old – looks like an astute acquisition by Borussia Dortmund.
Part of the Freiburg side that surprised everyone in 2021-22 to finish sixth in the Bundesliga and reach the final of the DFB Cup for the first time, the defender won 69% of his duels in the league last season. No defender involved in at least 50 duels had a higher win ratio than this, with other signing Süle the third best (68%).
Schlotterbeck is not only strong in duels on the ground, he also won 75% of his aerials – that was only surpassed by two players in the league with at least 15 aerials – one of those was Süle (77%) and the other was Stuttgart’s Konstantinos Mavropanos (76%).
Schlotterbeck also showed his danger in attack, scoring four goals (two with his head), which was only surpassed by one defender in the league, his former team-mate Philipp Lienhart (five).
Thanks to his strong performances, Schlotterbeck made his debut for the German national team under Hansi Flick in March 2022, and if Schlotterbeck and Süle continue their strong performances and stay without injuries, they will not only form the central defence together in Dortmund, but also on the international stage.
With left-footed Schlotterbeck and right-footed Süle at the heart of the Dortmund defence next season, perhaps Bayern’s decade of dominance in German football could come to an end.
A left-footed Brazilian winger heading to Spain to play for Real Betis?
In 1998, it was Denílson. Now, it’s Luiz Henrique, who arrives from Rio de Janeiro side Fluminense, where supporters are already missing his obvious talents.
Since his debut in August 2020, Luiz Henrique became a vital player to all five of the coaches that took charge of Fluminense in this period. The winger played in 73 games for the team in the Brasileirão, the most of any player in this interval, alongside Yago Felipe.
Not only was he participative, but he was also decisive. He was directly involved in 17 goals in the Brasileirão in his career – the most of any Fluminense player since his debut – having scored 10 goals and assisted other seven for his team-mates.
Most of his chances created in the Brasileirão came from the right half of the field (36 of 59), while only four of them were created from set pieces, showing the player is much more effective when carrying the ball and going for one-on-ones. Overall, 10 of his 17 goal involvements have come following a ball carry in the Brasileirão – six goals, four assists.
In fact, dribbling is a key part of Luiz Henrique’s style of play. Until his deal with Real Betis, the winger played in 14 rounds of the current season in the Brasileirão. He attempted 49 take-ons in those matches, making him the sixth-ranked player for most take-on attempts in the tournament from the beginning of the season until his last game in June.
The 21-year-old arrives at Real Betis after their successful 2021-22 campaign. They won the Copa Del Rey, progressed from the group stage of the UEFA Europa League and finished in fifth place in La Liga – just five points behind city rivals Sevilla. Betis fans will be hoping that Luiz Henrique can elevate them even further and into the Champions League qualification spots in 2022-23.
Karim Adeyemi burst onto the scene in last season’s UEFA Champions League, leading Austrian side FC Salzburg to their first knockout stage berth in the competition. Along the way he became the youngest player to score a UCL brace across the last two seasons, with his double against Lille in September.
He’ll play football for Borussia Dortmund in 2022-23 – a club renowned for progressing the careers of young talent, with Erling Haaland the latest off the conveyor belt following his big-money move to Manchester City. With Haaland gone, Adeyemi will be joined at Dortmund next season by another player who massively impressed in the Champions League last term – Sébastien Haller.
Whilst he scored a modest nine goals in 38 games in 2020-21 for FC Salzburg, 2021-22 was the season that Adeyemi really broke through to open the eyes of major European clubs.
Not only did he score three times in the UCL group stage, with his goals helping his club to famous wins over Lille and VfL Wolfsburg, he topped the scoring charts in the Austrian Bundesliga with 19 goals – all despite only turning 20 years old in January.
Fifteen of his league goals came from non-penalty shots, with Adeyemi’s non-penalty conversion rate at an impressive 23% in the Austrian top-flight across 2021-22. That conversion rate was higher than Haaland’s at Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga last season (21.6%), while he showed that he’s nearly as adept at finding quality goalscoring positions – his non-penalty xG per 90 was 0.60, just below Haaland’s 0.65.
Adeyemi even forced his way into the German national team, making a scoring debut in their 6-0 win over Armenia in September 2021. He became the first post-war player to appear for the full German men’s national team whilst playing for an Austrian club.
This season will no doubt be a test for Adeyemi, with expectation levels high. We have little doubt he can meet those, however.
Maybe it’s unwise to choose a player most won’t expect to get consistent gametime next season, a player whose signing has been completely overshadowed by a Norwegian phenomenon who plays in his prospective position; but Julián Álvarez has the quality to force his way into Manchester City’s team this year, and Pep Guardiola knows it.
Before eventually signing for Man City in January, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Álvarez was a figment of your imagination, a Football Manager game wonderkid whose purpose in life was only to be perennially linked and unlinked to a club of your choice.
Even after his signing was confirmed and his existence realised, there was then a high probability that he would be sent on a two-year loan to somewhere sunnier than Manchester.
After all, to go straight from Argentina and into arguably the most talented squad on the planet is a tough ask. But City rejected loan bid after loan bid, with the belief that he was ready to take a spot from the likes of Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus.
Guardiola has clearly decided he trusts him to be able to make an instant impact at the Etihad. So why is that? 54 goals and 29 assists in 122 appearances for River Plate is a good place to start. A fantastic record considering 35 of those matches came from the bench while he was still earning the trust of Marcelo Gallardo, often appearing in wide positions.
Over the last two Argentine Primera División seasons, up to his final game at the start of July, River Plate scored 108 non-penalty goals, with Álvarez scoring (29) or assisting (16) a whopping 42% of those.
You won’t be surprised to hear that his 45 non-penalty goals and assists were far and away the most of any player in the competition over that period, and three times more than any of his teammates.
Erling Haaland will be Manchester City’s starting no. 9 for some time, but that doesn’t mean Álvarez won’t get ample time to state his case. Haaland is yet to play 30 league games in a season in his admittedly young career and owing to multiple injuries last season he only played 63% of the minutes available to him in the Bundesliga.
Álvarez already feels a perfect fit for the loose forward role that City have been so successful with over the last two seasons and could be a perfect alternative during any potential Haaland absence.
Sergio Agüero and Carlos Tevez may have paved the way for the Argentinean’s journey to east Manchester, but Araña has the talent to write his own story.
The recent development of Reece James has been extremely encouraging for Chelsea and England fans. The 22-year-old has established himself as Chelsea’s first choice right wing-back and seems to have made enough of a splash in the ever-deepening pool that is England’s right-backs to make manager Gareth Southgate seriously consider starting him at the World Cup.
In 2021-22, James was directly involved in 16 goals in 39 appearances in all competitions for Chelsea (six goals, 10 assists), which was the third most amongst Premier League defenders.
A fine feat, when you consider the two players ahead of him (Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson) had both played eight more matches than the Chelsea star, who missed time through injury.
In the Premier League, James provided nine assists for Chelsea last season; more than twice as many as he registered in his first two campaigns combined (4). Impressively, those nine assists were the most by a Chelsea player aged 22 or under in a single campaign since Eden Hazard in 2012-13 (11).
Indeed, James has become a dependable creative outlet for Chelsea on the right-hand side. He averaged more chances created in open play per 90 minutes in the Premier League last season (2) than any other defender to play at last 500 minutes and despite missing 12 league games, James also led the way for Chelsea for most chances created in open play (42).
An ongoing theme in James’ career has been the comparison with Trent Alexander-Arnold. While Alexander-Arnold might edge it in certain metrics, James’ numbers are still very effective and it’s his defensive solidity that has also caught the eye of Southgate. In the Premier League last season, James (0.6) was dribbled past by opposition players on average less often than Alexander-Arnold (1.0), suggesting a potential superiority in one-on-one defending.
Most likely owing to his higher starting position as a wing-back, James (47.1) was pressured on the ball more often per 90 minutes last season than Alexander-Arnold (31.6), but what it does suggest is that James had less time on the ball to make key decisions in the final third, which makes his chance creation output very impressive.
2022-23 promises to be another key year in the development of James and if he can continue his upward trajectory, he will yet again be a major player for Chelsea and hopefully cement his place in the England side for the World Cup.
Bayer 04 Leverkusen
After Florian Wirtz ruptured his ACL in March, it’s not just Bayer 04 Leverkusen fans who are hoping for a quick return. With the 2022 World Cup in Qatar kicking off in November, supporters of the German national team are keeping fingers crossed that one of their best young talents will be fit in time for the tournament.
The qualities of the attacking midfielder are already clear for everyone to see, but the main hope is that such a serious injury won’t have any lasting consequences for the German.
Wirtz, who has already played 60 times in the German top-flight, became the second youngest scorer of all-time in the Bundesliga back in March 2020 (17 years and 34 days old) and remains the youngest player to ever reach 50 appearances in the competition – a record he set in December 2021 at just 18 years and 226 days of age.
His experience, combined with incredible understanding of the game, means that Wirtz is a constant threat to opposition defences, finding pockets of space between the lines where he can be targeted by team-mate’s passes – once he has the ball at his feet, it’s usually too late for the opponents.
Wirtz prefers to bring his team-mates into the action in the attacking third of the pitch, with 46% of his passes ending in that zone last season – that proportion was only surpassed by Christopher Nkunku (51%) of all midfielders to play at least 700 passes in the Bundesliga.
The German teenager averaged 2.4 chances created and 1.2 secondary chances created in open play per 90 minutes on average in 2021-22, with that total of 3.6 beaten by only Thomas Müller (4.5), who also leads the ranking across the big five European leagues last season. Wirtz is ranked eighth overall in this ranking of players with at least 1,000 minutes played, but the youngest in the top 200 players.
Wirtz already has 19 competitive goals for Bayer Leverkusen despite not playing a single minute of action over the age of 18 yet, while last season only Montpellier’s Sepe Elye Wahi (10) scored more league goals than Wirtz (7) as a teenager across the big five European leagues. Furthermore, the B04 star’s total of 17 direct goal involvements (seven goals, 10 assists) was by far the most of any teenager, with a direct goal involvement every 110 minutes on average.
The fact that he makes this list of 50 players despite his projected absence in the opening months of the season show how highly rated Wirtz is.
Branco van den Boomen
There’s a very good chance that you’ve never heard of Branco van den Boomen. That should change in 2022-23.
The 27-year-old rose through the ranks of the Ajax youth academy, but never got a chance at first team football in Amsterdam, which led to six years of club-hopping around the top two tiers of Dutch league football.
In 2020, the Dutch midfielder made a €350,000 transfer to French side Toulouse, who’d just been relegated from Ligue 1. With 12 goal involvements, his first year outside of the Netherlands ended well but it was the 2021-22 campaign in which Van den Boomen surprisingly broke record after record in the French second-tier.
A small summary of his incredible mid-season stats: he became the first player since competition data records began (2014-15) to assist 12 goals in the first half of a Ligue 2 campaign, reached 15 assists quicker than any other player in the last eight Ligue 2 seasons (in just 24 games) and became the first player to both score and assist 10+ goals in a single Ligue 2 campaign since Kévin Fortune in 2018-19.
Van den Boomen ended the 2021-22 Ligue 2 season with an exceptional 12 goals and 21 assists, a league record.
In fact, since Opta began collection of assist data in full, no player in the big five European competitions and their second divisions ever assisted more goals in a single season. It’s a record Van den Boomen now shares with Lionel Messi and Thomas Müller, who both provided 21 assists in 2019-20.
He created at least 32 more chances than any other player in the 2021-22 Ligue 2 season, with almost 60% of his created chances coming from set plays. The Dutchman recorded 73 created chances from set pieces last season, at least 12 more than any other player in the first and second tiers across England, Germany, Spain, Italy and France.
His last top-flight league campaign came in 2016-17, when he failed to score or assist in eight appearances for Willem II in the Eredivisie, while overall he’s only played 31 games in a top tier league across Europe with an additional 23 games for sc Heerenveen in 2015-16. He’ll be hoping to make a much bigger impact this time around.
Noussair Mazraoui is just one of the many players to have left Ajax for a big name within the top five European leagues in the last few seasons. Bayern Munich snapped him up this summer as a free agent following a great 2021-22 campaign for the Dutch champions. In particular, the Moroccan right-back showed his attacking capabilities from the full-back position, making him a suitable fit for another possession-dominant side like Bayern.
The 24-year-old scored five goals and assisted two more in his 25 Eredivisie appearances last season – a big improvement on previous campaigns. Across his previous 68 games for Ajax in the league, he’d only scored once and assisted twice. Among Eredivisie defenders, only AZ left-back Owen Wijndal (11) – who will play for Ajax next season – had more involvements last season than Mazraoui (seven).
Across 2021-22, Mazraoui was one of the best defenders when ranking shots (37), chances created from open play (32) and completed dribbles (37), while with 199 touches in the opposition box, he outperformed every other Eredivisie defender by a mile – Wijndal (86) and new Manchester United signing Tyrell Malacia (85) were far behind him on the list.
Of his touches on the pitch last season in the Eredivisie, 38% came in the final third of the pitch, showing how much of an attacking threat he could pose at his new side in the Bundesliga, as they try to win their 11th successive league title.
At Ajax, he averaged 5.8 attacking open play sequence involvements per 90 minutes in 2021-22 – only five players in the squad were more influential in attacking moves than this, with the top three of those being attacking trio Antony (8.4), Dusan Tadic (7.7) and Steven Berghuis (7.3).
Mario Götze is back in the Bundesliga. Germany’s 2014 World Cup winner, who scored the match-winning goal in the final against Argentina, is returning home after two seasons with PSV Eindhoven in the Dutch Eredivisie.
Still only 30 years old, Götze can become an important piece of the Eintracht Frankfurt puzzle in their first ever UEFA Champions League season following their Europa League success in 2021-22.
Götze will look to build on his successful time with Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich in the German top-flight, for whom he scored 57 goals and contributed 50 assists in 231 Bundesliga games, but with a downward trend. While he was directly involved in a goal every 123 minutes on average during his first time at Dortmund, this went up to every 190 minutes after his return to Westphalia.
In Eindhoven, he returned to his old form under German coach Roger Schmidt. With five goals and six assists in 17 games (including qualifiers), Götze was directly involved in the most goals in PSV’s 2021-22 European campaign.
He was the central playmaker in PSV’s game – his 626 passes into the attacking third and a pass rate of 88% being season highs for the Eindhoven team in the Eredivisie last season.
Although he only contributed four assists in the league, his Expected Assists value of 8.0 shows that his potential would be much greater with better finishing from his team-mates.
At Frankfurt, he’ll be looking for his first Champions League goal in six years, last scoring in the competition in a 6-0 Borussia Dortmund win at Legia Warsaw in September 2016.
Should Filip Kostic leave Eintracht at some point in 2022-23 as reported he might, Götze could be the man to fill that creative void in the side. Coach Oliver Glasner would have to adjust his system to a more central approach, but then he would have a duo with high dribbling skills in the attacking midfield with Götze complementing Daichi Kamada in Frankfurt’s creative centre.
Who knows, even the 2022 World Cup could still be an option for the hero of eight years ago in Brazil. National coach Hansi Flick is watching Götze closely and could soon call him up for his first international appearance since November 2017 versus France.
From Manchester United to Juventus, back to United and now his return to Juve has been completed. Paul Pogba’s back in Serie A, where arguably his best years as a footballer have been.
There’s even more familiarity for Pogba, as he’ll be playing under Massimiliano Allegri at Juventus once again. It was under Allegri that the Frenchman produced his best goal involvement averages, with his 16 goals and 15 assists in Serie A across just 61 matches arriving every 165 minutes on average.
Whilst his goalscoring form abandoned him across the last three seasons at Manchester United, where he scored just five goals in 4,455 minutes of Premier League action, Pogba looked like he could potentially break the Premier League seasonal assist record at points of 2021-22.
He assisted seven goals in his first four appearances of the league season – all coming before mid-September, becoming the first player to do this in their first four games of a Premier League campaign. Unfortunately for both Pogba and United, the French midfielder suffered from various injury woes across the rest of the campaign and would appear in just 1,354 league minutes (40% of possible minutes).
All this means that his best season for assists remain his final league campaign at Juventus, in 2015-16 and under Allegri’s management (12). With eight goals added to that tally, Pogba was able to be involved in 20 Serie A goals that season, which was only less than one midfielder – Miralem Pjanic (22).
In that final season for Juventus, he also ranked as the key player for the club in open play sequences ending in a shot (222) – a tally that was also the fifth highest in Serie A – while no player in the top-flight was involved in a higher number of unique goal-ending sequences in open play where the player both scored the goal and was involved in the build-up (32).
Liverpool raided Fulham for young talent this summer – and not for the first time. The signing of Fabio Carvalho as the latest addition to Jürgen Klopp’s midfield comes just three years after stealing Harvey Elliott from the London club, three months after he became the youngest ever Premier League player.
Having played together in the Fulham youth setup, Elliott already knows a lot about the qualities of Carvalho, saying ‘’he’s got everything in him, every attribute you can think of, and that’s why Liverpool have signed him.’’
Carvalho – who turns 20 years old at the end of August – plays in an offensive midfield role, and with a similar stature and physique to former Liverpool star Philippe Coutinho, obvious comparisons have been made.
In Fulham’s title-winning Championship season in 2021-22, Carvalho scored 10 goals and assisted a further eight – one of only nine players to record at least eight goals and eight assists in the competition.
When taking his age and position into consideration, Carvalho’s statistics are even more impressive.
Across the last 10 years of the Championship, only one player has created more open play chances than Carvalho did in 2021-22 (60) while aged under 21 years old in a season – Nathan Redmond at Norwich City in 2014-15 (67). Carvalho’s efforts last season in open play chance creation were near identical to Elliott’s the season before, while on loan at Blackburn Rovers (59).
One standout performance of the young Portuguese was in the FA Cup meeting with eventual Premier League champions Manchester City in February. Fulham were knocked out in a 1-4 defeat eventually, but Carvalho, who had scored the early lead for his side, showed why many Premier League sides were interested in him, recording 41 touches all over the pitch. He was involved in three of Fulham’s six shots and had an impressive passing accuracy of 86%, losing possession just six times overall across the match – the fewest of any Fulham player to start that game.
Randal Kolo Muani
Having only played 119 minutes of top-flight football two year previously, many were unsure if Randal Kolo Muani’s breakthrough Ligue 1 season in 2020-21 was just an anomaly. His performance for Nantes last season out paid to those fears.
After scoring nine times in the 2020-21 Ligue 1 campaign, Kolo Muani went three better in 2021-22 with 12 goals to help Nantes secure a top 10 finish for the first time in Ligue 1 since 2017-18, as well as a Coupe de France title.
After his contract expired in the summer, he’s moved across to German Bundesliga club and UEFA Europa League champions Eintracht Frankfurt for the new season.
Not only is he a player who can provide big goals for his side – he’s notably scored in each of his last league games against Paris Saint-Germain, of which he’s ended on the winning side twice, but his presence in the team has also proved to be more than worthwhile.
Since his debut at Nantes in August 2020, his team has scored more than twice as many goals per 90 minutes when he was on the pitch (1.4) than when he was a spectator (0.6).
“He has a very wide technical range,” said former coach Christian Gourcuff, “including a speed that turns opposing defenders on their heads”. He was able to win a joint-third highest tally of fouls in the final third of the pitch last season (26), while only fouls on Seko Fofana (16) provoked more yellow cards than those on Kolo Muani (13).
He comes alive in the opposition box – only four players had more touches in the opposition box than he did in Ligue 1 last season (166), while of the 48 players to attempt at least 50 shots in the competition in 2021-22, nobody saw a higher proportion come from inside the box than Kolo Muani (93%).
The Bundesliga has always been able to acquire quality French attacking players to bring out their talents. The French national team will hope that Kolo Muani follows the same path as his recent predecessors, such as Alassane Pléa, Kingsley Coman and Christopher Nkunku.
Alexandre de Moussac
Leeds United moved quickly to add to their squad following the culmination of their dramatic 2021-22 campaign, which saw the Whites secure their Premier League safety on the final day of the season.
Leeds announced two new signings before the transfer window officially opened in mid-June, with Brenden Aaronson and Rasmus Kristensen joining up with Jesse Marsch for the second time from his former club RB Salzburg.
With Leeds vice-captain Luke Ayling unlikely to be fit for the beginning of the season after undergoing knee surgery in May, Kristensen will have a great opportunity to cement the right-back spot as his own in the early stages of the new campaign.
The full-back – who averaged more tackles per 90 than any player to register 200+ minutes in the 2021-22 UEFA Champions League (4.6) – could be key to helping fix a defence that only bottom of the league Norwich City (84) conceded more goals than in the Premier League last season (79).
Kristensen could impress the Elland Road faithful going forward too, with the Danish international scoring more goals than any other defender in the 2021-22 Austrian Bundesliga (7).
With three league assists to his name as well in 2021-22, Kristensen could be a creative spark that Leeds regularly missed last season, with that burden mainly falling on the recently departed Raphinha.
Only Michael Liendl (7.8) recorded a higher expected-assists figure (xA) than Kristensen (4.9) from open play in the Austrian top-flight last season, whilst the right-back also created more chances from open play than any other defender in the competition (32).
Though Leeds will likely look to attack in more central areas in the upcoming season under Marsch – after being one of the Premier League’s most direct sides under Marcelo Bielsa’s successor, Kristensen possesses the qualities to aid the American manager’s desire to get the ball upfield as quick as possible from wider positions.
Amongst full-backs in the Austrian Bundesliga last season, only two carried the ball further upfield than Kristensen (2,600m), who ranked seventh overall in the competition for carry progress.
This season will see Auxerre play in Ligue 1 for the first time since 2011-12, after 10 consecutive campaigns in the second tier of the French league. They achieved promotion the hard way in 2021-22, with Auxerre having to play three extra games in the play-offs following the end of the regular league season.
Carried by 17-goal striker Gaëtan Charbonnier, Auxerre might also rely on the talent of Gauthier Hein in their upcoming top-flight campaign. The diminutive attacking midfielder – only 5-foot-7 – was another key player in Auxerre’s promotion-winning campaign, with 11 goals and seven assists across 2021-22.
Hein is a player who can cause the opposition defence all sorts of issues when he’s running with the ball at his feet. No player in Ligue 2 last season was involved in more shots following a ball carry than he was (51), while a league-high eight of those led to goals – his 29 chances created following a carry were eight more than any other player in the competition.
Overall, Hein created 54 chances from open play in Ligue 2 last season, a record in 2021-22 and four more than the best assists provider of the season – 21-assist man Branco van den Boomen (50).
The tricky midfielder was especially successful in front goal, despite attempting more difficult shots. With a goal tally of 11 from an expected goals total of 6.01, Hein overachieved his xG total by a league-high tally of 4.99. His three goals scored from outside the box – including his direct free kick goal against Nancy in February – go some way to explaining why he outperformed his xG total by that much.
If Auxerre are to stand a chance of remaining in Ligue 1 for more than a single season, Hein will have to keep up his levels of performance in 2022-23. He’s been a French top-flight player before – playing 16 times for Metz between 2016 and 2017 with a solitary goal, but he’s returned a much more rounded talent.
Valencia signed Giorgi Mamardashvili from Dinamo Tbilisi last year, with the hope that the Georgian stopper would be able to make his mark at some point much further down the line. The then 20-year-old was brought in on a one-year loan, with the remit of training with the first team, but playing for the B team in Tercera RFEF – the fifth tier of Spanish football. After the year was up, Valencia would know whether to proceed.
By the halfway point of the campaign, they had already exercised the option to buy Mamardashvili, and on the cusp of the 2022-23 season, the club are actively trying to extend that deal even further, while adding a release clause of €100m to ward off interest from elsewhere.
How things moved so fast for Mamardashvili is a story of talent, fortune and opportunity, all coming together at just the right time. Shortly after joining the club, Valencia’s two senior goalkeepers – Jasper Cillessen and Jaume Doménech – both suffered injuries ahead of the season opener, which meant the Georgian was drafted in for the team’s first game essentially by default. And after a brief tussle with his competition during the mid-part of the season, the 21-year-old became indispensable between the sticks from February onwards.
The 6-foot-6 Georgian goalkeeper is a monstrous presence who ensures his frame makes life difficult for attackers. This is most clearly on show in one-v-one situations, where Mamardashvili’s ability to protect shooting space – combined with his agility as a bigger goalkeeper – makes him a tricky proposition to beat.
Among goalkeepers with 900+ minutes played in La Liga last season, only Sevilla’s Yassine Bounou (76%) and Real Madrid’s Thibaut Courtois (75.8%) posted a higher save percentage than the Valencia stopper (73.3%). And according to Stats Perform’s xGOT model, Mamardashvili ranked seventh in the league among the same group for his rate of goals prevented (1.3).
For a player who was practically unknown to Valencia fans at the start of last season, Mamardashvili will return in 2022-23 as a pillar of Gennaro Gattuso’s new-look side. And if he can develop his distribution in line with the Italian’s style, Valencia will soon be the owners of one of the most prized goalkeeping assets in Europe.
Ángel Di María
With one eye on Qatar 2022, Angel Di María has joined Italian giants Juventus for what is likely to be his final dance in European football. Following the World Cup and the 2022-23 domestic season it’s expected that he’ll head back to home club Rosario Central, where he’s always expressed a desire to return.
To make an immediate impact at Juve, the Argentine winger will have to do what he does best – create goalscoring situations and assist his teammates.
He left Paris Saint-Germain as the top assister in the history of the club (111 in 295 competitive appearances). Across just the last two seasons alone, he registered 21 assists (including 17 from open play) in 68 games, second only to Kylian Mbappé (31 assists in 84 games).
Of players to play at least 1,000 minutes in Ligue 1 last season, only Lionel Messi (0.36) averaged a higher expected assists total per 90 minutes from open play than Di María (0.34) – a metric that the Argentine led in 2020-21 (0.39) and was second behind only Mbappé in 2019-20 (0.41).
Di María is not only a creator, but he can also score goals. Overall, since joining PSG in 2015, the forward scored 92 goals in all competitions for the club, with 56 of those in Ligue 1. Admittedly, there has been question marks about his scoring ability in big games – he only scored three goals in 20 Champions League knockout stage matches for PSG, but he did score the winning goal for Argentina in the 2021 Copa América final against Brazil, as well as another goal in the 2022 Finalissima versus Italy.
In a Juventus squad with plenty of good players but no superstars to assist, Di Maria will have the chance to regain the limelight and prove his quality. It may be his ability to adapt to different roles and offer solutions on both sides of the pitch that will be key to Juve’s return to Serie A´s dominance and hopes of reaching the latter stages of the Champions League, while he will have his chance to prove to the world that Manchester United was his only false move.
As Gianluigi Buffon recently stated, Di María “has quality in abundance, while Serie A is technically impoverished today.” The 34-year-old’s move to Italy will provide a new test, but one that he has the quality to pass with flying colours.
No goalkeeper has been able to nail down the number one position at Southampton under Ralph Hassenhüttl. Just one shot-stopper has started 30 or more games in a single Premier League season since the Austrian’s appointment in December 2018, that was Alex McCarthy in 2020-21 (30 starts).
That could change this campaign however following the departure of Fraser Forster to Tottenham, and more significantly, the arrival of Gavin Bazunu.
The 20-year-old spent last season on loan at EFL League One side Portsmouth from Manchester City, with the young goalkeeper enhancing his reputation during his spell at Fratton Park, finishing the campaign as the club’s Player of the Year and earning a spot the PFA League One Team of the Season.
He recorded the third-most saves in the division (135), had the fourth highest save percentage (72.6% – min. 70 saves) as well as keeping third-most clean sheets (16).
A proficient shot-stopper, Bazunu is equally adept with the ball at his feet having attempted more passes (1630) and recorded more successful passes (985) than any other keeper in League One last season.
He also had more open play build up involvements that ended in a shot (43) and the third-most open play build up involvements overall (1305) in that division in 2021-22.
Bazunu also adopts a high starting position during games, lending himself well to be being an effective sweeper keeper, completing all 13 of those actions in League One last season, which bodes well considering Southampton had the fifth-highest start distance in the Premier League last season (42.7m).
Despite yet making his Premier League debut, Bazunu needn’t worry about getting his opportunity, with Southampton giving the fourth-most minutes to players aged 20 and under in the Premier League since Hassenhüttl’s arrival in December 2018 (8355), with only Arsenal (17040), Wolves (11494) and Manchester United (8466) giving more.
What they already have however is a 20-year-old with 10 caps for the Republic of Ireland since making his debut in March 2021, keeping three clean sheets and even having a penalty save against Cristiano Ronaldo on his record.
Southampton certainly aren’t shy when it comes to entrusting young players with an opportunity in the Premier League, and in the shape of Bazunu, they look to have found a permanent presence in goal for both the short and long term.
An 11th place finish on just 42 points and with their second lowest points tally in a Bundesliga season (19) – their worst for 57 years – it was hardly a domestic season to remember for Eintracht Frankfurt in 2021-22. However, European football saved their blushes – winning the UEFA Europa League after a penalty shootout victory in the final versus Glasgow Rangers, means that they’ll play their first ever Champions League campaign in 2022-23.
Whether they’ll have Filip Kostic to help them next season is yet to be decided. At the time of writing, he’s still at Eintracht, but Premier League club West Ham United are keen on sealing a transfer before the start of the season.
Last season began in a similar fashion, with a transfer tussle between his club and Lazio. Eintracht won that battle, but it led to a dispute with the club’s leadership and an eventual short-term ban. Despite this, he evolved to become their most important figure in attack.
In 2021-22, Kostic created a team-high 87 chances for his team-mates – no player created more chances in the Bundesliga than this. Nine of those assisted goals, with eight coming from a cross – the only player who could match this tally of assists from crosses was David Raum. The first player that comes to mind when you think about the best crossers in the Bundesliga is undoubtedly Kostic.
No player across the big five European leagues in 2021-22 fired in more crosses (including corners) per 90 minutes than Kostic (13.3), with another high of 3.8 per 90 being successful. Only Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold (12.4) played more passes into the opposition box per 90 minutes than Kostic (12.2) last season, while his 7.8 open play crosses per 90 minutes were a Bundesliga high.
Whether it turns out that the Serbian stays at Eintracht and plays Champions League football for the first time,or joins Premier League side West Ham and tastes another of Europe’s big five leagues, Kostic is sure to impress with his creative output out wide and is set to be one to watch in 2022-23.
Last season was a third successive campaign in which Barcelona saw one of their young players break out and become a crucial part of their side. Ansu Fati was the name on everybody’s lips in 2019-20, the following season it was the turn of Pedri, before 2021-22 saw Gavi come to the fore.
When he made his La Liga debut for Barcelona as a 73rd minute substitute in August 2021 against Getafe aged 17 years and 24 days old, few realised the impact he’d have at the club across the whole season.
As it turned out, he appeared 34 times in La Liga for the club in 2021-22 – no player aged under 18 made as many across the top five European leagues, while only Marc-André ter Stegen (49) and captain Sergio Busquets (51) played more games for Barcelona across all competitions than Gavi (47).
Gavi certainly played for the right club in terms of trusting youth – no side across the top five European leagues in 2021-22 handed more minutes to players aged under 21 than Barcelona (7,902), while thirteen different players made a league appearance for Barca while aged under 21 years old last season, one more than Ligue 1 club St Etienne (12) and three more than the next most by a La Liga club (Valencia, 10).
Just four months after his debut, he scored his first La Liga goal with a strike against Elche at the Nou Camp, becoming the second youngest scorer across the top five European leagues in 2021-22 at 17 years, 135 days old – just behind Borussia Dortmund’s Youssoufa Moukoko (17y 92d). Overall, in 2021-22, Gavi was involved in seven league goals (two goals, five assists), which was again the highest tally among under-18 players in the top five European leagues.
In October 2021, Spain manager Luis Enrique sprung a surprise in calling Gavi up for the UEFA Nations League final four, starting both of their matches against Italy and France. His debut against Italy in October 2021 saw him become the youngest player to represent the senior Spanish national team, at just 17 years and 62 days old. He broke another record in June 2022, with a goal against the Czech Republic in another UEFA Nations League match as he became Spain’s all-time youngest scorer (17 years, 311 days old).
There are high expectations for Gavi in 2022-23, both for club and country. With Barcelona looking to win the La Liga title after three seasons off the top and Spain aiming to secure a second FIFA World Cup crown, the teenage midfielder could be central to any success they have.
Nearly 30 years old but with only 70 French top-flight matches under his belt, Jonathan Clauss wouldn’t appear to be a key recruit for Marseille in 2022-23. Don’t be fooled.
The player became famous in France more than five years ago after scoring a goal while playing for non-professional side US Avranches in the Coupe de France, and there’s no doubt in our minds that he’ll be a big asset for Marseille in their Ligue 1 and Champions League campaigns this season.
Clauss occupies a position that Marseille have needed to find depth for. 2021-22 saw central midfielder Valentin Rongier often occupying the right side of defence – although the hybrid systems put in place by coach Jorge Sampaoli leave room for debate. Over his time at Lens, he established himself as one of the best full-backs in Ligue 1 and this earnt him a call-up to the French national team by Didier Deschamps last March, since winning four caps between March and June 2022.
Since Lens return to Ligue 1 in 2020-21, he’s been involved in 25 goals (eight goals, 17 assists) – the highest total by a player at the club. It’s also the highest tally by a defender/wing-back over that period, with the next best on 15 goal involvements (Hamari Traore). In fact, only Kylian Mbappé (24) and new team-mate Dimitri Payet (20) assisted more French top flight goals than he has over this period, considering all players.
Constantly looking to get involved in matches – only three Lens players averaged more touches per 90 than he did over the two seasons there – while he also provides crossing threat out wide. No player could match his total of 312 open play crosses across the last two Ligue 1 seasons. Since 2020-21, he’s created 126 scoring chances for team-mates in Ligue 1 – the most of any player in his position and fewer than only three players in the whole competition over that period (Bourigeaud, Payet, Faivre).
After making his top flight debut at the age of 27, Clauss has already shown his ability to step up and adapt quickly to playing at the highest level in France. We’ll see if he can continue his upward trajectory at his next challenge and in the 2022-23 UEFA Champions League at Marseille.
During Gabriel Jesus’ five-year spell at Manchester City, he made 236 appearances scoring 95 goals and providing 41 assists, contributing significantly to City’s four Premier League titles, four League Cup wins and their FA Cup triumph back in 2019 where he scored twice.
The Brazilian never fully cemented his place in Man City’s ever-rotating starting XI, playing second fiddle to Sergio Agüero in early campaigns, while in more recent seasons he’s also been deployed out wide, with Pep Guardiola often opting for a more creative player at false nine.
With this being a World Cup year and Man City acquiring the services of Erling Haaland and Julian Alvarez, Jesus decided this summer was the right time to make the next step in his career and reunite with former coach Mikel Arteta at Arsenal. The Brazilian arrives in North London with a point to prove, that he can be the man to spearhead a Premier League attack – but what can the Gunners expect from their recruit?
To put it plainly, a lot.
Jesus has averaged a goal or assist every 107 minutes in his Premier League career to date, the seventh best ratio in the competition’s history (of players to play at least 2,000 minutes) and he is the top scorer in Premier League history among those to have scored 100% of their goals from inside of the box (58/58) – music to the ears of Arsenal fans, who saw their main centre forward for the majority of last season, Alexandre Lacazette, score just two open play goals throughout the entire campaign.
62% of Jesus’ Premier League appearances have come as a starter, providing 76 goals involvements (53 goals & 23 assists) from just 99 starts. At the age of 25, with 159 Premier League appearances already under his belt, Jesus epitomises Arsenal’s new-found approach when it comes to recruitment, targeting younger players, with top-flight experience, approaching their peak years.
The fact that Jesus has already won major trophies during his time in England could also prove to be hugely beneficial for Arsenal, as they aim to ease the burden that has been put on some of the younger players shoulders in recent seasons.
Twenty-three goals and 11 assists from 92 games in all competitions might not sound like the best return for a player you spent around £70m on. And in truth, there is no question that Kai Havertz has taken some time to adjust to Premier League life after his move to Chelsea from Bayer Leverkusen.
But in the context of a Chelsea side that has spread the goals around quite evenly across the last two seasons (Jorginho top scored in the 2020-21 Premier League season with just seven goals, while Mason Mount was the other player to register double figures last season), his contributions have been valuable.
In fact, since his debut for the club in September 2020, no one has scored more goals for the Blues than Havertz’ 23 in all competitions, while only Timo Werner (33.7) has accumulated a higher expected goals tally (27.1). He has genuinely been one of Chelsea’s most threatening players since his arrival.
But 2022-23 could be the year that Havertz’ takes a step forward, and fully realises the potential he showed in Germany?
Romelu Lukaku, his biggest competition for the starting striker role, has returned to Inter Milan. Even with the lingering presence of Lukaku in the Chelsea squad last year, Havertz still played the bulk of his minutes as a number nine. And given Chelsea’s big attacking splurge has been on Raheem Sterling, who could be called upon to play centrally, but is more likely deployed as a winger or inside forward, it’s clear that Thomas Tuchel has the confidence in Havertz playing plenty of minutes leading the line.
But while he may be nominally fielded as a number nine, Havertz doesn’t play like a traditional one, often drifting out to either the right or left half-spaces to get in between full-back and centre-back. Tuchel has praised his movement and the timing of his runs mean he can draw defenders out of position and be in the right place to finish off attacking moves.
When balls are played into the area, his 6-foot-3 frame gives him an aerial advantage over a lot of defenders. His seven headed goals since his arrival are the most of any Chelsea player.
And despite straying from that position as a central striker, Havertz still has excellent shot volume. His non-penalty expected goals per 90 of 0.47 was 11th best overall and only second to Werner in the league last year for Chelsea.
But unlike Werner, Havertz has produced some of his best performances when it really matters. He skipped through the Manchester City defence to seal the UEFA Champions League for Chelsea in May last year, and then scored the winning penalty in the subsequent FIFA Club World Cup final. He became the first player since Lionel Messi in 2011 to achieve that feat.
It’s easy to forget that Havertz is still exceptionally young. At the European Championships last summer, he became Germany’s youngest ever scorer in a Euros match, while he holds the same record in the Bundesliga for Leverkusen.
At the tender age of 23, he has a real chance to enjoy a breakout year this season.
Sadiq’s name will be familiar to many, simply because his career seems to have taken him all over the place despite only being 25-year-old.
Once a very highly rated young striker at Roma, a sequence of underwhelming loans – including with Glasgow Rangers – saw Sadiq’s stock fall significantly until a decent stint at Partizan Belgrade earned him a permanent move to Serbia in 2019. A little over a year later, he became Darwin Nunez’s replacement at ambitious Almeria, and Sadiq eventually managed what the Uruguayan couldn’t: he fired them to promotion.
A tall and rather gangly striker, Sadiq’s playing style probably doesn’t match up with the preconceptions that his physique might conjure. He’s not particularly effective in the air considering his 6-foot-3 height, winning just 62 of his 141 aerial duels in the Spanish Segunda last season (44%), but he’s quick and loves to dribble, with his 156 attempts the second most in the division.
Clearly, he’s technically efficient and that undoubtedly helps make Sadiq something of a double threat in attack. With 18 goals – none of which were penalties – and nine assists last season, he is a huge asset for Almeria.
Granted, he outperformed his 5.6 expected assists (xA), but Sadiq was one of just three players to record over 5.0 xA and score at least 10 non-penalty goals, evidence that such a combination of creativity and decisiveness was by no means the norm in the Segunda. Similarly, only 12 players managed more than 5.6 xA last season and considering chance creation wouldn’t have been his chief focus, it’s certainly a fine skill to have as a secondary strength.
Sadiq’s mobility makes him a threat out wide and on the break as well, which should be even greater weapons in La Liga given Almeria are likely to find themselves under pressure more often than in the Segunda.
Of course, it remains to be seen if Almeria can even keep hold of him, as there have been mutterings of interest from Villarreal, Real Sociedad, Sevilla and others. If they can retain him, Almeria’s chances of retaining their top-flight status after 2022-23 will improve exponentially given how much he offers to their attack, otherwise whomever signs him shall be acquiring a very well-rounded striker.
Frank Lampard has set the bar high for Anthony Gordon, newly minted with the number 10 shirt. The 21-year-old was a rare bright spot from a dismal 2021-22 season that very nearly culminated in relegation for the Merseyside team.
No player featured in more league matches for Everton than Gordon last season. His 35 top-flight appearances matched the tally managed by goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, as he went from a promising academy talent, who had struggled on loan at Preston North End in 2021, to one of the first names on the team-sheet.
Rafael Benitez managed to add defensive discipline to Gordon’s game, but it was Lampard that realised the winger’s talismanic ability. Only Demarai Gray (42) and Alex Iwobi (36) created more chances than Gordon’s tally of 35 in the Premier League last season, with just Gray (six) and the now Tottenham player Richarlison (seven) crafting more big chances.
While Gordon, linked with Tottenham and Newcastle United, is set to be a key player again in the coming campaign, his end product must improve. For all his effort last season, he managed just four goals and two assists – and one of those strikes came courtesy of an accidental touch from a Richarlison strike. He underperformed his expected tallies in both of these metrics, too (xG 4.8, xA 3.1).
From 44 shots, Gordon registered a conversion rate of 9.1%, and that must improve if he is to contribute more to an attack that is, as it stands, relying purely on Dominic Calvert-Lewin for goals, though it still ranks better than fellow creative outlets Gray (7.7%), Alex Iwobi (8.3%).
Yet it is not just on the ball that he can prove useful. Lampard’s desire for Everton to press high has at times – including in a 4-0 friendly defeat to Minnesota United on July 20 – left them vulnerable at the back. But in Gordon, he has a tenacious forward able to at least partially fill the void left by Richarlison’s departure, with only the Brazil forward having gone into more duels, or won more, than Gordon (513 and 173 respectively).
Gordon has plenty to improve upon, but Everton’s financial constraints mean he is likely to get the chance to continue to build on his promising breakthrough. If they are to avoid another relegation scrap in 2022-23, then he is likely to be a prominent figure.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way early on: Martin Terrier has a surname that is a breed of dog.
With Leeds United reportedly sniffing around the 21-goal Rennes forward this summer, you can sense a potential announcement already formulating: The Yorkshire Terrier. Here he is and he’s ready to play ball. But a more apposite dog breed, perhaps, would be the whippet, because if there’s one thing the six foot, right-footed forward likes doing, it’s cutting inside from the left flank and trying to — yes — whip it in. And as Terrier’s shot map from last season illustrates, it’s something he’s increasingly effective at doing.
The relative wealth of the Premier League’s middle class means that they can hungrily look around the European scene in the knowledge that their spending power gives them the footballing equivalent of a gift card, and someone like Martin Terrier certainly has the sort of customer reviews that catch the eye.
One of four players to score 20+ goals in Ligue 1 last season, the 25-year-old Terrier also had the biggest xG overperformance (+5.9) of any player aged under 30 in Europe’s big five leagues. And what strikes you about the location of Terrier’s 2021-22 goals is the huge variety. Three from inside six yards – the sort of fox-in-the-box behaviour that would animate a true terrier – a couple of penalties, plenty of strikes from the Thierry Henry zone to the left of the penalty spot and five goals from outside of the penalty area.
If that sort of spread feels rare then the numbers prove that it is: in the last five seasons, only three big five league players have scored both 15+ goals from inside the box and 5+ from distance in the same season, and they are Lionel Messi (three times), Paulo Dybala and Terrier. It’s no surprise, therefore that a Premier League future seems inevitable for the former French under-21 international. It’s taken a few seasons to get there, but Terrier’s pedigree is increasingly hard to ignore.
It is never easy arriving at a new club in the middle of a season, especially not at one with such a well-established attack and in a position where they could not afford to carry any passengers as they sought an unprecedented quadruple.
Liverpool seized an opportunity in January and added Luis Diaz to their forward line, and the Colombia international adapted to the Premier League seamlessly.
Diaz had been enjoying a productive season at Porto, scoring 14 goals in 18 Primeira Liga games, more than he had done in his previous 59 league appearances (12 goals). Had he stayed at the Estadio do Dragao for the remainder of the campaign, he may have given his new Reds team-mate Darwin Nunez a run for his money in the race for the Bola de Prata, thetop scorer award in Portugal.
The 25-year-old made such an instant impact at Anfield that Jurgen Klopp even moved Sadio Mane from his familiar role on the left of the attack to the centre, perhaps knowing that the Senegalese star only had a few months remaining at the club, preparing for life after Mane by handing Diaz the reigns on the left.
It was not long before he was bringing something a little different to an already potent side. From his debut off the bench against Cardiff City in the FA Cup to the end of the season, no Liverpool player attempted as many dribbles as Diaz’s 95 in all competitions, with him completing 60% of those.
Looking at all players across the top six ranked European leagues in 2021-22, only Vinícius Júnior and Kylian Mbappé (both 76) were involved in more shots following ball carries than Diaz (72 – 45 shots, 27 chances created). Quite ridiculously, despite leaving Porto halfway through the season, he still led the Portuguese Primeira ranking for this metric at the end of 2021-22 (46).
Within four months of joining Liverpool, Diaz had won two trophies, starring in the EFL Cup final against Chelsea and even winning man of the match in the FA Cup final against the same opposition, giving him an xTrophy value (this might not be a real metric) of one every two months in England. It could have been even greater had Manchester City not pipped them to the Premier League title and Real Madrid not edged a tight UEFA Champions League final.
Diaz will want to push on from his 10 goal involvements (six goals, four assists) in 26 appearances so far, but with a full pre-season under his belt heading into the new campaign, there is every reason to think he can fill his boots in a mouth-watering frontline alongside Darwin and Mohamed Salah.
With Raphinha completing his long-awaited move to Barcelona, Leeds have moved quickly to replace him with another South American winger, Colombian Luis Sinisterra.
Sinisterra enjoyed a productive season with Feyenoord, scoring 23 goals and providing 14 assists in 49 appearances in all competitions, helping the Dutch side reach the UEFA Europa Conference League final and finish third in the Eredivisie.
Sinisterra’s direct style is evidenced in his numbers for last season, with the winger top for both attempted take-ons (166) and completed take-ons (107) in the Eredivisie, with only Allan Saint-Maximin and Kylian Mbappé completing more take-ons across the top-seven leagues in Europe in 2021-22.
In his domestic league campaign, he also topped the charts for the most chances created following a take-on (8) and most goals following a take-on (4), while no player attempted more take-ons in the opposition’s box than Sinisterra (21), who also ranked fourth for the most touches within the opposition’s box in total with 197.
He may also be the ideal man to replace the departing Raphinha’s prowess for creating chances, with only two players – Ajax duo Dusan Tadic and Steven Berghuis – creating more chances in open play in the Eredivisie in 2021-22 than Sinisterra (60), while the Colombian also created the most chances following a ball carry (28) in the division.
All 14 of his assists in all competitions came from open play, with only Tadic (18) having more among Eredivisie players in 2021-22. Sinisterra also excelled in the newly formed UEFA Europa Conference League, providing a goal involvement per game (11 goals and 7 assists in 18 games including qualifiers), while no player created more chances in open play in the competition proper (25).
Although right-footed, Sinisterra played on the left for Feyenoord, with over 75% of his touches in the Eredivisie last season coming in that area of the pitch, allowing him to cut inside and score with his right (13 of his 23 goals in all competitions were right-footed); only three players scored more goals for Eredivisie clubs in all competitions last season, and Leeds will hope he can replicate that form in English football.
Born and bred in Italy from Polish parents, Nicola Zalewski joined the AS Roma youth system when he was only a nine-year-old. He had to wait 10 years before his debut with the first team, coming in a huge match against Manchester United in the semi-final of the Europa League in May 2021, where his shot cannoned off Alex Telles to win the game for his side.
Since the arrival of Jose Mourinho, the 20-year-old has been permanently aggregated to the senior team collecting a couple of appearances as a substitute, but his breakthrough came during the Serie A game versus Verona. Trailing 0-2 at home at half time in February 2022, the Portuguese manager relied on his younger squad players for inspiration – on came Zalewski (20), Cristian Volpato (19) and Edoardo Bove (19). It was Volpato and Bove that scored the goals to level the scores at 2-2, but it was certainly Zalewski who caught the attention of those watching.
His speed, control and dribbling skills were as impressive as his personality on the pitch. Since then, the Polish international featured in every one of Roma’s 12 Serie A matches – starting nine – and in each of their five UEFA Conference League games, where he supplied two assists in consecutive appearances versus Bodø/Glimt and Leicester City.
In addition to his attacking threat, Zalewski’s ability to help his team recover possession – something he’s used to when playing for his national side, for whom he’s usually deployed in a deeper position. In 2022, he’s been second to only Bryan Cristante among all the Roma players for attempted tackles in all competitions (42 v 68).
Seen at the beginning as just a cover for Matías Viña (himself covering for the injured Leonardo Spinazzola), it looks like Zalewski has found himself higher up the pecking order. Considering his adaptability and capacity to play in different roles, it would not be surprising to see Mourinho finding a place for him in the starting XI and even possibly on the left-wing for 2022-23.
Brennan Johnson wasn’t even born when his father David made his final Premier League appearance in December 2000, coming on as a late substitute in a 3-0 Ipswich Town win over Tottenham Hotspur. Fast forward to 2022 and the Welsh international is all set for his first season in the Premier League having spearheaded a remarkable Nottingham Forest promotion push under Steve Cooper last term.
Johnson was named last season’s EFL Young Player of the Season and it’s not difficult to see why. The list of Nottingham Forest rankings that he topped in the Championship last term is extensive – he led the way for goals (18), assists (10), shots (95), open play chances created (61), touches in the opposition box (222), expected goals (14.8), expected assists (7.0). All this from a player who only turned 21 years old less than a week before Forest won the Championship play-off final against Huddersfield.
All told, Johnson directly contributed to 26 goals in the Championship last season, not even including their successful play-off campaign. This was comfortably the most combined league goals and assists of any player aged 21 or younger in the entirety of the Premier League and EFL last term.
Johnson is the youngest player Opta have on record to reach both 10+ goals and 10+ assists in a single EFL campaign. And despite his young age, he ranked sixth overall for open play xA in last season’s Championship (7.0). He’s already a reliable goal scorer and chance creator.
That creativity could be key for Nottingham Forest this season as they look to enjoy a successful Premier League return. While he was both top scorer and top assister for them in 2021-22, the goalscoring burden on Johnson has been somewhat lessened with the notable acquisition of Taiwo Awoniyi after an impressive Bundesliga campaign with Union Berlin.
How Johnson links up with Awoniyi could be crucial to deciding Forest’s fate in the Premier League this season.
Whilst it’s usually the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and Wissam Ben Yedder who take the headlines for strikers in Ligue 1, newcomers Toulouse may have pulled off a masterstroke in the south-west with the signing of Thijs Dallinga for a seemingly paltry € 2.5 million, especially if their top scorer from last season Rhys Healey moves on.
Dallinga proved destructive in collecting the Eerste Division Player of the Season crown, scoring 32 goals in 37 appearances for Excelsior, at a rate of a goal every 101.97 minutes, during the regular season. If outperforming his xG for the season (26.7) wasn’t enough, the 21-year-old stepped up the plate during a successful promotion play-off campaign for his former side, netting four goals during their six games.
Despite this impressive goalscoring streak, perhaps the most pleasing part of Dallinga’s play is his willingness to drop deep and wide to pick up the ball and create opportunities not only for himself but for teammates as well, as shown by the nine assists he recorded during the 2021-22 Eerste Division season.
It might be a challenge for Dallinga to fully repeat his goalscoring exploits in Ligue 1, especially for a side who only returned to the French top-flight after relegation in the pandemic shortened 2019-2020 season. But with a recruitment policy driven by former Liverpool and Arsenal chief Damien Comolli that has set a clearer strategy for success, maybe there’s a chance that the Dutch maestro can follow in the footsteps of club legend Andre Pierre-Gignac.
Whilst team-mates Karim Benzema, Luka Modric and Vinícius Júnior won most plaudits in 2021-22, it was another Real Madrid player who made a more unheralded impact across the season – Rodrygo.
There’s a good chance that Rodrygo could become a key player for Carlo Ancelotti this season. That’s not to say he wasn’t last campaign, with Real Madrid winning the La Liga and Champions League double and the 21-year-old being a vital part of their attacking output.
It was only Benzema (59) and Vinícius Jr (38) that were involved in more goals for Real Madrid last season than Rodrygo (18 – nine goals, nine assists), with the youngster’s goal involvements coming every 134 minutes on average.
One of the youngster’s strongest attributes for Real Madrid in 2021-22 was his ability to provide a fresh impetus off the bench. Of all La Liga players last season, only Mallorca’s Ángel Rodríguez (eight) had a hand in more competitive goals as a substitute than Rodrygo did (seven, level with Matheus Cunha) – four of those came in the UCL for Real Madrid. Two of these goals helped to knock out Manchester City in the semi-finals, before their eventual trophy win in Paris against Liverpool in the final.
After signing from Santos in June 2018, it was obvious that the then-teenage Rodrygo would take some time to adjust to life in Spain and make a big impact. But now he’s beginning to flourish.
Last season saw him play nearly as many competitive minutes (2,413) as in his first two seasons combined (2,724) across all competitions, while he’s already had a hand in 37 goals across 108 appearances for the club before turning 22 years old in January next year.
Rodrygo will have to compete with the likes of Eden Hazard to have a regular starting birth alongside Benzema and Vinícius Jr next season, but 2022-23 feels like it could be the breakout season for the young Brazilian – just like his compatriot Vinícius Jr in 2021-22.
Newcastle United were still in the relegation zone in February when Bruno Guimarães – in his introductory news conference – outlined his aim to win the Champions League at St James’ Park. It was (and remains) an optimistic target, but the Brazil midfielder’s £35 million arrival had already lifted the mood on Tyneside on the eve of his debut from the bench in a 3-1 victory over Everton.
That was the first of 17 games and 11 wins Guimarães featured in before the end of the season; only two Newcastle players to have appeared in 10 or more Premier League games for the club can top his primitive win ratio of 64.7% – Paul Robinson (68.8%, 1999-2000) and Scott Sellars (66.0%, 1993-95). Over this period, Guimarães’ Newcastle ranked fourth in the division for points (34) and third for points per game (2.0) – form with which to reach the Champions League, if not to win it.
In many ways, Guimarães excelled simply by carrying on where he left off at Lyon. One of four players in the top five leagues with at least 30 tackles, completed dribbles and chances created from open play at the time of his transfer, he finished the season as one of six with 45 or more in each category. The 24-year-old helped to improve Newcastle both with and without the ball, leading the team in tackles (44) and ranking second for both touches (797) and successful passes (433) from February onwards. The Magpies’ average share of possession climbed from 37.8% pre-February to 41.3% post-February, while they allowed 14.2 opposition passes per defensive action (PPDA) – down from 16.3.
Yet there was also a new element to Guimarães’ game: goals. Having scored just three in 71 at Lyon and 10 in 115 for clubs in his native Brazil, he has five already on Tyneside (3.1xG) – a fine blend of sublime and instinctive finishes. Whether this unprecedented scoring rate is sustainable may be another thing, as only six Premier League players enjoyed a greater overperformance of their xG following his signing.
But if Guimarães can continue to disrupt games with his tackles, control games with his passes and decide games with his goals, Newcastle may have a complete midfielder on their hands as they now bid to match his lofty ambitions.
Brighton & Hove Albion
Signed from Belgian league leaders Royale Union Saint-Gilloise on deadline day in January 2022, 25-year-old Deniz Undav’s move to Brighton went under the radar. He was loaned straight back to the Brussels-based team where continued to propel them towards a historical title triumph. USG came close to performing their own rendition of the Leicester title-winning season but ultimately fell short having just been promoted from the second division last season. They have won the Belgian top flight 11 times, but not since 1935.
Undav was an integral part of their last two campaigns along with his teammate Dante Vanzeir. The German striker scored 26 goals in 39 league appearances, with just three of those being penalties. Twenty-three of those were non-penalty goals, with his conversion rate at an impressive 16% across the two seasons and scoring every 149 minutes on average. With an average of 3.8 shots per 90 across 2020-21 and 2021-22 combined, he was also the most prolific non-penalty shot taker in the Belgian top-flight.
It’s not just his ability to score that attracted Brighton, as he also assisted 12 goals in the Belgian Pro League across those two seasons, taking his total goal involvements to 38 in 39 league games at Union SG.
His partnership with Vanzeir was pivotal to his success – the pair combined for 11 league goals last season, as well as creating 43 chances for one another. Brighton have some very good attacking options at their disposal including Neal Maupay and Leandro Trossard, so they’ll be hoping Undav can be the gel that starts to mould that attack together.
Maupay and Trossard played 23 Premier League games together last season and only created 12 chances for each other – none of these resulted in goals across the 1897 minutes on pitch.
With the Seagulls becoming known as the team that dramatically underperforms their xG, Graham Potter will be counting on Undav striking up a partnership with either (or both) of these forwards in the hope that they can propel themselves higher up the table. Undav outperformed his xG by 3.1 last season & outperformed his xA by 5.2.
In a league fought on ultra-fine margins, Girona boss Míchel had to get many things right in ensuring his team’s return to La Liga last season. One of the most defining calls that he made, however, was converting Arnau Martínez from a centre-back into a wing-back. That decision alone – as unorthodox as it may seem — would transform the upper limits of Girona’s potential as a team and help to seal promotion after a gruelling play-off run.
The two roles require very different attributes, and there aren’t many other case studies of this type around. What Míchel saw in the 19-year-old though was a level of comfort in possession that permitted his progression up the pitch.
Arnau understood how to manage the ball from wing back effectively, whether it was as a steady hand in the team’s build-up or acting as a key outlet for chance creation in the final third. And when combined with his athletic capability and teenage freshness, the ingredients for a productive wing-back were duly presented.
Arnau’s impact from wing-back would go on to be one of Girona’s key weapons, and an outlet they profited from throughout the season. The distinction in the case of the teenager was that, although he didn’t feature in the top 10 in his position for chances created from open play, the quality of chances he did create were of a high quality, ranking third among defenders for expected assists (5.6) in La Liga Smartbank last term. Girona’s style is to seek incisive attacks with patient play, as opposed to loading up crosses from wide areas.
On a similar note, Arnau was the top-ranked defender for xG sequence involvement from open play (18.5), highlighting his involvement in possession that contributes to chance creation, rather than simply the final pass or cross. His smart use of the ball has been crucial to Girona’s approach in every area of the pitch, but particularly in the final third.
The youngster, who was let go by Barcelona in his formative years, is now set to make his top-flight bow in 2022-23 as a player with responsibility beyond his years. And while he remains a relative rookie as a wing-back, the performances he has shown so far on such limited experience mark him as a player with notable room for growth in the coming seasons.
It was a season of success for Rennes in 2021-22, pushing for European places and eventually qualifying for the group stage of the UEFA Europa League, showing a well-crafted entertaining brand of football. Despite ending fourth they scored only eight goals fewer than champions Paris Saint-Germain (82) and conceded just four more (40).
Part of that vertiginous style was helped by the vision and tireless efforts of Lovro Majer. The 24-year-old Croatian played a major part, either from the start or bringing fresh legs from the bench, for Bruno Genesio’s team.
After spending three seasons with Dinamo Zagreb, Majer made the jump to Ligue 1. His first campaign in the French top flight was a success, with the second-most chances created at Rennes (45) with eight assists – three of those coming in a 5-0 win over Saint-Étienne. This tally meant that he was the leading assister in Ligue 1 of midfielders aged under-25 (8), level with Caio Henrique (8) and ahead of Yacine Adli at Bordeaux (7).
Like other central midfielders from his country, Majer has a knack for carrying the ball with security, averaging 6.1 meters per carry in the 32.4 attempted per game. But his top-notch vision is where he excels, with the second highest number of passes in the final third for Rennes in the league per 90 minutes (12.3) and ranking second on through balls with six per 90 behind only Benjamin Bourigeaud, who had 1400 minutes more playing time than him.
With 81% of passing accuracy, shifting to 73% when including only passes in the attacking third of the pitch, the Zagreb-born playmaker pulls the strings to help move the ball forward and allow the full-backs to attack the spaces, a key part of Rennes style of play.
First seasons in a new league are always difficult, but Majer has shown not only that he can adapt quickly to a new country and team-mates but that he can be instrumental in a team that practices an attacking brand of football. With more minutes he could be the central engine in the midfield of a Rennes team that will have their aim towards qualifying for the Champions League.
2021-22 proved to be a somewhat underwhelming season for Leicester City, with the Foxes only managing an eighth-place finish, three spots and a sizeable 14 points down on their 2020-21 campaign. A UEFA Europa Conference semi-final appearance was one positive for Brendan Rodgers side while the emergence of Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall was certainly another.
The 23-year-old has had to bide his time before breaking into the first team of a club he joined when just eight years old.
Learning his trade via loan spells with Blackpool and Luton, Nottingham-born Dewsbury-Hall returned to his parent club and finally made his breakthrough at the end of 2021-22, starting 21 of Leicester’s last 22 league games of the season.
Following his first start in December, Dewsbury-Hall flourished in the heart of Leicester’s midfield, marrying sharp technical ability with productive mobility.
Indeed, overall last season, the midfielder covered more ground on average than any other Leicester player in the Premier League, averaging a hefty 11.9 kms per 90 minutes.
Always keen to move the ball forward, Dewsbury-Hall carried the ball 4431 metres in the Premier League since that first start in December, a figure bettered only by Declan Rice among central midfielders, while the Foxes’ homegrown product also saw 15 of his carries ending in a chance created in that period, again a haul bettered only by one central midfielder, this time Kevin De Bruyne (17).
The 23-year-old picked up Leicester’s Players’ Player and Young Player of the Season awards for 2021-22, fair reward for an impressive breakthrough season at the highest level and he looks set to play an even more pivotal role for the Foxes in 2022-23.
A rare left-footed English central midfielder, Dewsbury-Hall must also surely now be in the thoughts of England boss Gareth Southgate ahead of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Khvicha Kvaratskhelia has a tough task in 2022-23. The 21-year-old Georgian winger is the player that Napoli have chosen to replace their homegrown idol Lorenzo Insigne – born in Naples and grown in the youth teams of the club – who has left the club to join Toronto in MLS.
Kvaratskhelia spent the second part of the last season playing for Dinamo Batumi in the Georgian Premier League, after he suspended his contract with Rubin Kazan, as allowed by FIFA due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Prior to his short stint back in Georgia, Kvaratskhelia greatly impressed in the Russian Premier League after making his debut for Lokomotiv Moscow in 2018-19 and then spending the following two and a half seasons at Rubin Kazan.
Since debuting in March 2019, he’s the youngest player in the competition to have both scored 10 goals and assisted 10 times in the competition.
Kvaratskhelia main attribute is his ability to beat opposition players with take-ons and dribbling at pace. Since that Russian league debut, he completed 205 dribbles past an opponent – at least 40 more than any other player. Last season alone, he averaged 3.3 dribbles per 90 minutes, with only Chidera Ejuke (4.4) having a higher average among players to play at least 1,000 minutes in the competition.
Just like Insigne, he’s fantastic at cutting inside from the left wing. In 19 Russian Premier League appearances last season, he ended 33 ball carries with either a shot (21) or a chance created (12) for a team-mate. His average of 3.5 carries per game with a take-on past an opponent was a Russian Premier League high last season, while all four of his league assists in 2021-22 came in this manner.
Kvaratskhelia is also a key reason behind the Georgian national team’s recent good form, having contributed three goals and two assists in June’s four-game unbeaten streak in the UEFA Nations League (W3 D1).
If the Georgian is given playing time in Serie A this season, Napoli might just have a secret weapon at their disposal.
In a league that prides itself on the development of young talent, it is hard for a player in his early 20s to stand out. Especially when your club is not Ajax, PSV or Feyenoord or more recently, AZ.
None of this will have entered Loïs Openda’s head when he joined Vitesse – one of the more unfancied Eredivisie sides – on loan in the summer of 2020. Two years later, having spent the whole time on loan at the Dutch club, he’s now earned a move to Ligue 1 club Lens.
His displays over two seasons at Vitesse have provided enough evidence of quality for Lens to splash out a reported €10 million to Club Brugge for the 22-year-old. As an electric-paced forward in Tobias Letsch’s 3-5-2 system, the youngster developed a knack for finding space out wide and behind opposition defences, destroying teams with his speed in transition. In his first season at the club, Chelsea loanee Armando Broja and journeyman playmaker Oussama Tannane were the players that hogged the limelight, as Openda finished with 10 goals as a player in and out of the starting XI. That changed in 2021-22.
Vitesse were a side who struggled to find goals, but when they did score, Openda was often the source, with 18 of their 42 goals. Not only in league competition, either – the Belgian played out an impressive campaign in the UEFA Europa Conference League too, with three goals and one assist in nine appearances – including a strike away at Ligue 1 club Rennes.
Having only turned 22 in February this year, Openda became one of the 15 youngest foreign players to score 16 or more non-penalty goals in an Eredivisie season as well. The short list of alumni in this category consists of players like Ronaldo, Luis Suárez, Salomon Kalou and Søren Lerby – a very decent set of players to join.
His development was acknowledged by Roberto Martinez as well, who called up the forward to the Belgian national team. It took only eight minutes before Openda was off the mark for the Red Devils too, scoring in a 6-1 home win over Poland in the UEFA Nations League in June 2022.
Ligue 1 should be warned: it is Openda’s hunting terrain now.
From Cheick Tioté’s heroic late equaliser against Arsenal in 2011, to Jonás Gutiérrez beating cancer and returning to score against West Ham on the last day of the 2014-15 season, Newcastle fans have grown to love a good comeback story, or at least ones that don’t involve Joe Kinnear.
Originally signed from Hoffenheim for £40m during the summer of 2019, Joelinton still remains the club’s record signing – even after their Saudi-backed spending spree this year. Bought with the intention of providing much-needed goals for team, it’s fair to say that he didn’t settle in quite as quickly as he would have liked during his first two seasons on Tyneside.
A measly return of just six goals in 69 Premier League appearances saw him labelled a flop, before being stripped of the Magpies’ famous number nine shirt in favour of Callum Wilson, who many considered to be his direct replacement.
However, once the Magpies disposed of Steve Bruce’s services and brought in former Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe last November, the Brazilian quickly found himself deployed in an unfamiliar central midfield role.
This switch has allowed him to properly utilise the immense stamina and dribbling abilities which have always been present in his game and establish a formidable midfield partnership with compatriot Bruno Guimarães.
Since Howe took over and changed his role in the side, Joelinton’s ability to carry the call and progress the side from deep has been a key attribute for Newcastle in their improved form.
From 20 November – when Howe took over – Joelinton has averaged 1.3 more progressive carries per 90 minutes than he did before Howe came in, plus an additional carry distance per 90 of 21m. Not only this, but the Brazilian also ran further than any other Newcastle United player in the Premier League from Howe’s first game in charge (235.2km). These improvements were part of the reason that he won the Newcastle United Player of the Year award in 2021-22 – an award that would have been unthinkable 12 months previous.
Howe has repeatedly stressed the concept of ‘evolution’ over ‘revolution’ when it comes to rebuilding the club’s squad, and while many thought Joelinton would be one of the first names on the chopping block after Newcastle’s controversial take-over, he has instead become the epitome of this evolution with his seamless transition into the middle of the park.
While there hasn’t quite been a complete revolution, he has most certainly been an absolute revelation for the Magpies and should be a key part of their 2022-23 campaign.
If the road to victory is hard, reconfirmation is even more difficult. Milan are well aware of this, as next season the Serie A champions will try to defend their title from vengeful rivals Internazionale, Juventus, Napoli and possibly Roma.
Sandro Tonali played an integral role in Milan’s 2021-22 Serie A success, significantly improving his performances on the pitch – mirroring Milan’s growth from the previous campaign. He’ll need to be at the top of his game again in 2022-23.
Tonali made his Serie A debut as a 19-year-old in August 2019 for Brescia, a side that he’d represented for two seasons in Serie B (2017-18 and 2018-19) and won the best young player award in both.
Despite a tough 2019-20 campaign, in which Brescia were relegated, Tonali stood out and Milan took a punt on him that summer to bring him to San Siro. That first season at Milan was a struggle, without a goal or an assist in 25 league appearances. 2021-22 would be a different story.
He led the way in Milan’s scudetto-winning season, as the midfielder with the most minutes on pitch (2,606), interceptions (34), duels won (144), completed passes (1,170) and most importantly chipped in with goals (five) and assists (two). One of those goals, a 92nd minute winner away at Lazio on 24 April, was arguably one of the most crucial strikes in their successful campaign.
Tonali’s 44 chances created for Milan last season in Serie A were only bettered by Theo Hernández (51) and Rafael Leão (45), while Leão was one of only two players to create more than Tonali while aged 22 years old or younger, alongside Nedim Bajrami (48).
With Franck Kessié moving to Barcelona this summer, Tonali’s importance and responsibility in Milan’s midfield will be increased next season. It’s time for him to show exactly why some consider him to be one of the best young midfield prospects in European football.
La Liga may have another Vinícius to look out for in 2022-23. Spanish club Espanyol have recently signed Vinícius Souza on loan after the 23-year-old Brazilian impressed at KV Mechelen in the Jupiler Pro League across 2021-22.
Growing up in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, Vinícius Souza came through the Flamengo youth ranks before joining City Football Group-owned Lommel SK in Belgium back in 2020. After playing just 18 league games for Groen-Wit, he switched to top-tier side KV Mechelen ahead of the 2021-22 campaign. This was where the midfielder made an impact in Belgium. Blessed with a strong physique and good situational awareness, he was the player with the most tackles won (76) and duels won (293) in the last Jupiler Pro League campaign.
With his performances, Vinícius Souza helped his team to finish 7th in the Belgian top-flight – good enough for play-off qualification. Mechelen’s 52 points was their most in a regular top-flight season since 1992-93, when they took 60 points (accounted for three points per win).
But it was not just his defensive performances that persuaded the Catalan side to make a move; he also proved his worth in starting attacks for Mechelen. Despite playing only 32 of the possible 40 league games, Vinícius Souza initiated 535 open play sequences last Jupiler Pro League season, more than any other player in the competition – showcasing his ability in regaining possession and recovering the ball for KVM.
Next season will show whether Vinícius Souza can take the next step in his career. One question mark might be his tendency to unfairly disposses his opponents. He ranked among the players with the most fouls last Jupiler Pro League season (60) and collected 11 cards in the process. With La Liga being famous for their technical, agile attacking players, it remains to be seen how the Brazilian will adapt to Spain without racking up the bookings.
Ultimately, his key performances in Belgium justified a move to a bigger league and he might just be the person to offer more defensive stability to Diego Martinez’ Espanyol side.
Chelsea have signed Raheem Sterling after seven seasons with Manchester City, six under Pep Guardiola. For some reason there is always a sense of underachievement for the England forward, with critics often citing spells of inefficiency in front of goal. However, a dive into his numbers shows a level of consistency in the Premier League that is somewhat undervalued.
He has registered 20 or more goal involvements in all but his first season at Man City (19 in 2015-16), while he has more goal involvements (205) than any other player at City since his debut in 2015. To highlight how valuable his contribution has been under Guardiola; only Lionel Messi (291) has been directly involved in more goals than Sterling (186) for top-flight clubs under the Spanish manager.
Chelsea sold Eden Hazard to Real Madrid in 2019 after the Belgian’s best-ever season with the club, registering 21 goals and 17 assists in all competitions. While the club have been in the market for attacking players since and brought in some good players, they haven’t appeared to find that player that directly replaces Hazard, until now perhaps. With the ball at their feet, both players really enjoy taking players on and driving into attacking areas committing defenders which not only results in shots (and goals) but also creates space for team-mates to provide good quality chances for others.
Hazard spent seven seasons at Chelsea between the age of 21 and 28, scoring 110 goals and providing 81 assists, with Sterling’s time at City producing 131 goals and 74 assists from 20 years old to 27. The Englishman boasts a better minutes per goal involvement record (122) having played nearly 2,000 minutes less than the Belgian did at Chelsea.
Since 2016, a Chelsea player has only registered 25 or more goal involvements in a league season on four occasions (Hazard twice, Diego Costa and Mason Mount) while Sterling has achieved this in five of his last six seasons, falling just one shy (24) in 2020-21. His 186 goal involvements in the last six seasons for Man City are more than double that of any Chelsea player in that time (Hazard, 91) and in the three seasons since the Belgian left, Sterling (85 – 62 goals, 23 assists) is way ahead of the highest Blues player; Mason Mount (59 – 30 goals, 29 assists).
These outstanding numbers almost guarantee Chelsea more firepower going forward and will create higher expectations on the current forwards at the London club to keep up with Sterling.
Traditionally considered a square-peg-in-a-round-hole position and something of an unwanted burden, the full-back role has evolved to such a degree that it’s become one of the most influential positions on the pitch. David Raum epitomises why it has become such a productive outlet, with the German marauder’s chance creation in his inaugural top-flight season rivalling some of Europe’s most instrumental playmakers.
Indeed, only perennial crafters Filip Kostić (87) and Thomas Müller (84) created more chances than Raum (83) in the Bundesliga in 2021-22, whilst Raum was just one shy of reaching the top 10 in Europe’s top five leagues. Considering Raum was able to hit those heights despite it being his first top-flight season and all while playing at wing-back is testament to the artillery he provides from the left flank.
Raum had previously impressed with a joint league-high 13 assists for Greuther Fürth in 2. Bundesliga in 2020-21, yet it was still difficult to envisage Raum’s level of productivity undergoing such a seamless transition to his debut in top-flight football. Only four players provided more Bundesliga assists than Raum’s 11 in 2021-22, whilst Trent Alexander-Arnold (12) – the blueprint for modern full-backs – was the only defender to register more across Europe’s top five leagues.
Raum’s consistent chance-creation barrage is not just about volume either, with the quality of the chances he provided for his Hoffenheim team-mates ultimately outweighing his assist tally; the chances Raum created amassed an expected assists tally (xA) of 13.9, the highest for any player in Europe’s top five leagues last season.
Remarkably, that’s a figure very few have attained in recent years, with only four players on record (since 2015-16) achieving a higher xA across a single campaign in Europe’s top five leagues – all of whom are considered footballing masterminds of the 21st Century. In 2021-22 Alexander-Arnold (13.0) was the only other player to accumulate an xA above 12, demonstrating how apposite both he and Raum are to the forward-thinking demands of the modern-day full-back.
Crossing is evidently Raum’s most proficient creative source, with his ability to deliver such wicked crosses allowing him to conjure up chances in a multitude of fashions: Raum topped the Bundesliga in 2021/22 for crosses following a take-on (12), and only toiled behind Kostić for crosses (372 to 311), open-play crosses (218 to 205) and passes played into the box (343 to 321), even matching the Serb for successful crosses from open play (56).
Eight of Raum’s 11 Bundesliga assists came from crosses – again only matched by Kostić – whilst the wing-back pair were also the only players to reach the 50-mark for chances created via crosses: Kostić (64), Raum (54).
Raum’s somewhat unprecedented 2021-22 expedited his fledgling career to a spot in the Bundesliga Team of the Season, along with nine caps for Germany, with Raum providing his first national team assist in the fourth of those. Potential Champions League football with Leipzig – should the move be completed – will enable Raum to showcase his talent to a global audience, whilst he also has the credentials to be of Germany’s star performers at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Jesús Corona, aka “Tecatito”, will begin his first full season in La Liga since his arrival at Sevilla from Portuguese giants FC Porto last January.
Sevilla is his third European club since he left his home country of Mexico, originally arriving at Twente in the Netherlands in 2013, before his move to Porto in 2015, where he accelerated his career. After 29 goals and 49 assists in 251 matches at the club and winning the Porto and Primeira Liga Player of the Year awards in 2019-20, Corona made the step up to one of Europe’s big five European leagues.
After his arrival in the winter of 2021-22, Tecatito appeared 22 times for Sevilla across all competitions, scoring twice and assisting four more times. His per 90 averages of 2.3 chances created and 0.18 expected assists were the highest of all Sevilla players last season, proving that the La Liga club were right to bring in the experienced 29-year-old during the January transfer window.
Sevilla will once again play UEFA Champions League football in 2022-23 after their fourth-place finish in La Liga last season. This is a competition that’s familiar to the Mexican, with 41 appearances across six different seasons for FC Porto – in fact, only three Mexicans have appeared more often in the competition: Héctor Herrera (52), Chicharito (46) and Rafael Márquez (45). It’ll be expected that Tecatito will surpass Chicharito and Márquez’s tallies in 2022-23.
Expect to see Tecatito play an integral part for Mexico at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar later this year, with him being a crucial member of their squad during qualification. No outfield player played more often than he did in the qualifiers (13), which was only less often than goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa (14). Across the final CONCACAF qualification octagonal, the Sevilla star was the most creative player both for Mexico and from every team overall, with 25 chances created in his 13 matches.
A former Inter player on an expired contract catches the attention of a former Inter manager in need of a winger. Good business or forced business?
The first number pointed out about Ivan Perišić is that Ivan Perišić is joining Tottenham as a 33-year-old. But he’s also been talked about as one of FPL’s preseason bargains. Let’s call it crowdsourced trust.
To make good on that, he’s going to have to play. He will likely expect to after being on the pitch for a career-high 3,800 minutes last season in 48 appearances in all competitions. That came with 19 goal contributions, which he’s only bettered twice in his career. It was in part due to great finishing. His 10 goals came from 6.9 expected goals, and that kind of overperformance is no certainty for Spurs as it hasn’t been a season-to-season thing for Perišić.
What might be more attractive is the nine assists that came from 9.2 expected assists from 2021-22. It’s about spot on with expectations, but 9.2 expected assists and a career-high 77 chances created from open play has the potential to translate to some serious goal contributions if those chances are finding the feet of the always efficient Harry Kane and Son Heung-min.
For the past two seasons, Spurs have outperformed their xG by nearly 23 goals. In the same period after Perišić’s return from Bayern Munich, Inter underperformed on xG by a fraction of a goal. So it may be distribution rather than goals Antonio Conte wants from Perišić, and that may be the most realistic area of production because he’s coming into a side with a crowded front line he figures to play behind, and his non-penalty xG took a serious dip last season to 0.13 per 90. That was almost halved from 2020-21’s 0.24, which had been his single-season floor dating back to initially joining Inter in 2016-17.
Enjoy this? Subscribe to our mailing list to receive exclusive weekly content.
Design by Matt Sisneros