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28th Dec 2018

Top 10 Premier League transfers of 2018

Melissa Reddy

“When a Premier League club makes a signing that doesn’t work out, it’s like there’s a party,” a senior English club official declared in January.

“Everyone is quick to make accusations about waste, but not as much fuss is made when there is good business.”

It’s hard to disagree with that opinion when words like “flop” and “fraud” have become so interspersed in football vocabulary.

There has been some superb trading by England’s top-flight clubs in 2018, so much so that the list of players who didn’t make the cut of best buys was almost as lengthy as the final 10.

The decisive and cost-effective Xherdan Shaqiri can flip the middle finger to this selection as can the young, gifted Matteo Guendouzi.

Aleksandar Mitrovic – vital to Fulham – as well as Richarlison and Felipe Anderson were also in consideration, but couldn’t crack the best transfers of the year listicle.

10. Joao Moutinho – Wolves

A sizeable portion of Wolves’ impressive, authoritative start to life in the Premier League this season can be attributed to their controller.

Signed in July on a two-year deal for a reported £5 million, Moutinho’s composure, intelligence and ball-winning ability coupled with his creative, forward-thinking approach in possession has been one of the core attractions of watching Nuno Espirito Santo’s side.

Opposition managers have highlighted the 32-year-old’s partnership with Ruben Neves in the heart of midfield as crucial to Wolves implementing their aggressive, enterprising approach.

“They press in midfield, these two Portuguese boys, they are both the kind of player that likes to bite,” as Jose Mourinho explained. “They don’t give long time for you to have the ball, to turn, one touch, two touches, you don’t have much of that.”

                                     9. David Brooks – Bournemouth

In early August, when JOE visited the Vitality Stadium for an in-depth exclusive with Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe, there were whispers around the place about the “scary potential” of their new £11.5m acquisition from Sheffield United.

The only question mark surrounding the 21-year-old, who by his own admission is “not the most physical” and “has to impress in other areas,” was how well and soon he would acclimatise to the top flight.

The answer has been emphatic from Brooks, one of the standout young players of the campaign as the Cherries push for European football.

The biggest compliment I can pay him is there hasn’t been a big bedding in period,” Howe said of the attacking midfielder, who is a boyhood Manchester United fan that was released by Manchester City.

“He has got better as the season has gone on. He fits well into the team.”

 8. James Maddison – Leicester

The 22-year-old, signed from Norwich City for £25 million, has the substance to match his swagger.

With five goals and three assists already this campaign, Maddison excels between the lines, has a catalogue of key passes, is adept at set-pieces as well as recycling possession.

Leicester City manager Claude Puel likened the attacking midfielder to Glenn Hoddle on account of “inventing some different moves,” but also stressed “before the talent, there is the work and he has worked for the team.”

Maddison’s only big misstep thus far has been his dismissal for diving against Brighton in November, an incident he apologised for and vowed to “learn from.” 

7. Lucas Torreira – Arsenal

His interpretation on the pitch, tactically, in attacking moments and defensive, he’s very fast in his mind and his feet. He can do very good work in defensive moments and can get into the box and score.”

Unai Emery’s description of the Uruguay international easily translates into exactly what Arsenal have craved and been crying out for.

Signed from Sampdoria for around £26m in the summer, Torreira’s interception skills coupled with his tenacity have not just been welcomed by the club’s backroom staff, but by his midfield partner Granit Xhaka too, who now has greater freedom to execute his deep-lying playmaker duties.

It is not just the 22-year-old’s on-pitch contribution that has been impressive, but his attitude as well. Sources at London Colney reveal Torreira has adapted to a new system and different demands with minimum fuss and he is one of the most unrelenting characters in Arsenal’s squad.

6. Lucas Moura – Tottenham

Tottenham signed a sum total of one player in 2018, but their chief scout Steve Hitchen made sure he was a good one. The Brazilian joined from Paris Saint-Germain for £25m in January – a window Mauricio Pochettino is wary of operating in – and his adaptation process was slow.

Lucas started only five matches in all competitions over the second half of last season, but has been a significant contributor in this campaign. He kept them in the Champions League with an equaliser at Barcelona and had also scored away to PSV Eindhoven earlier in the group.

There were the two goals in the 3-0 top-flight victory over Manchester United too, which prompted the Tottenham manager to thank those involved at the club for his recruitment.

I think I need to say well done, because the performance from Lucas Moura, for the people that advised and feel responsible too, they need to be praised,” he said.

“That is why I want to congratulate them. There are always people who are working behind and it was a fantastic job because Lucas deserves a lot of credit.”

5. Aymeric Laporte – Man City

Has the Next Best Thing ever been this good? Manchester City twice tried and thought they had secured Virgil van Dijk’s services only for the Netherlands international to choose Liverpool as his preferred destination in summer 2017 – a decision he reiterated when he was finally allowed to move in January.

Laporte, watched by every elite club while at Athletic Bilbao, was unsurprisingly the alternative candidate for Pep Guardiola.

At a cost of £57m, City were aware they were paying for his high ceiling rather than the polished article but any apprehensions of how he would adjust to the Premier League were very quickly quashed. In fact, most at the club credit much of their impressive defensive improvement to the 24-year-old.

Beyond his clearances, interceptions, blocks and aerial challenges won, Laporte is composed and accomplished in possession which is essential to City’s build-up play.

He is also left-footed, which as Guardiola has explained gives the side greater balance and the ability to shift the ball slicker. “He gives us alternative for the build-up quicker and faster than the other ones,” he said.

“When you receive to go to the right, you have to go inside. In the left, you go to that side.

“It helps us to create this build-up. With the right, it is a little bit more complicated.”

4. Alisson – Liverpool

Liverpool have conceded seven league goals: eight fewer than City, 11 fewer than Tottenham, 24 fewer than Manchester United…

Of those, two have been down to a goalkeeping error and yet, Jürgen Klopp maintains that if he knew just how good Alisson was, he’d have paid double the £65m fee it took to secure the Brazil international from Roma.

The manager realises that for all Liverpool’s rearguard improvement, which started last year, their current pace-setting solidity would not be possible without the 26-year-old.

Composed in possession, commanding of his area and able to dust off mistakes immediately, Alisson has been every inch of the pedigreed No.1 the club have lacked for far too long.

He’s been fantastic for Liverpool and for us as players,” Virgil van Dijk offered recently.

He’s a great character, a great guy and he helps us all. He gives confidence to everyone.”

Alisson’s 12 league clean sheets is three more than David De Gea – long deemed the best keeper in the division – has kept in the whole of this calendar year.

3. Jorginho – Chelsea

Identified by Guardiola as City’s long-term successor to Fernandino in the summer, the midfielder opted to switch destination and join his Napoli boss Maurizio Sarri at Chelsea, where he is their “on-pitch heartbeat.”

Unveiled just three hours after the Stamford Bridge side confirmed the Italian as their manager, the £57m acquisition is pivotal to Sarriball.

This is so much so that opposition managers have made obstructing the 26-year-old a key part of their tactical weaponry against Chelsea.

If you play 4-3-3 in my style of football, then the central midfielder is a very technical player,” Sarri explained of his choice to use Jorginho rather than N’Golo Kante at the base in the centre of the park.

“Jorginho is very fast in the mind. He is able to play one touch or two touch.

“He knows what I am asking for and understands me straight away. It’s all about balance.

“Jorginho helps and guides the others, keeping them all involved.”

No midfielder has played more passes in the league than the metronome, who has also supplied the fourth-most throughballs in the division.

“Treasure” is a label Sarri has bestowed on Jorginho and it’s no hyperbole.

2. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – Arsenal

Brought in on the final day of the January window for a club-record £56m, the Gabon international felt like something of a wildcard despite being a proven, explosive goalscorer.

Question marks over why other elite clubs weren’t trying to entice the striker from Borussia Dortmund were soon ridiculed by his scoring rate.

Aubameyang has netted a total of 25 times in 38 games for Arsenal and is currently the league’s top marksman with 13 goals this season.

Given a high propensity of his appearances have come out wide rather than as the focal point of the club’s attack, that is a stellar return.

This versatility, though, is one of the speedster’s underrated strengths according to Unai Emery. “In his career he has played as a winger on the right, on the left and like a striker,” the manager explained.

“He [has] played with two strikers. I use with him in every position for us. And sometimes his best performance is starting the match on the bench and then playing 20 or 25 minutes.

“Now is the moment to say to him: ‘Don’t stop’.”

1. Virgil van Dijk – Liverpool

At the top of City, Chelsea and Liverpool’s defensive wishlist in 2017, it was Klopp’s charm offensive that paid off – even in the face of a tapping-up scandal in the summer.

The Merseysiders had to wait til the winter to secure the world’s most expensive centre-back, but he has been worth it.

Exceptional in the air and at averting danger long before it emerges, Van Dijk is a picture of composure and confidence at the heart of Liverpool’s defence.

They have kept 12 clean sheets in the last 14 home league games and the ability to build on a steely rearguard is largely down to the towering Dutchman.

A natural leader and a character that thrives with responsibility, Klopp has stated one of the most pleasing things about Van Dijk is that “with his skills and quality you have to be spot on and on that top level every day, which he is.

There are several contributing factors to Liverpool being top of the league and the 27-year-old is certainly chief among them.