10. Georginio Wijnaldum Appearances: 36 Goals: 6 Fee: £25 million
“I think a player with my quality has to at least get a minimum of 10 a season” – Georginio Wijnaldum
He scored 6…
If Wijnaldum’s season was judged solely on that declaration, then we would be having a very different conversation about an overpriced player who failed to live up to expectations. Instead we’re talking about a player who recognised that in order for his team to be successful, he’d have to take on a much more understated role than the one he’d become accustomed to at his previous clubs. He duly obliged.
Vying for the left-midfield or No.10 positions would’ve been a fruitless battle for the Dutchman, as both slots in the team were already filled by two players who had already earned their stripes in the Reds Starting XI; Lallana and Coutinho. Instead Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp opted to deploy Wijnaldum as a deep-lying midfielder, giving Liverpool some much needed athleticism and support for the creative talents of his more established teammates – he went on to produce with a team high of 9 league assists playing in that position.
Not to mention crucial goals against Chelsea, Arsenal and a goal on the final day of the season against Middlesbrough which guaranteed the Reds top 4. Not bad for a player who was relegated last season.
9. Leroy Sane Appearances: 25 Goals: 5 Fee: £37 million
Even prior to Leroy Sane’s £37 million transfer to Manchester City, he already commanded a reputation as one of the most promising young talents in Europe; and proceeded to spend to majority of the 2016/17 season justifying both the hype and the price tag.
I say ‘majority’ of the season because initially Sane found playing time hard to come by, spending many of the first few games as an ‘impact sub’ or flat out ‘bench-warmer’. The dark days on the City bench soon became a thing of the past once he established himself in the first team. After an outstanding display against Arsenal in a 2-1 victory – in which he scored one and assisted the other – there was no looking back. Sane’s addition gave the ageing Man City side a much needed injection of pace and flair. Alongside fellow youngsters Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus, Sane looks set to go from strength to strength next season. Watch this space!
8. Marcos Alonso Appearances: 31 Goals: 6 Fee: £23 million
If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again… there are few who have taken that saying as literally as Marcos Alonso. Four seasons ago Alonso was part of the Bolton Wanderers team that suffered relegation, whilst his second spell in the Premier League was spent trying to avoid the same fate with a struggling Sunderland side in 2014. With all of that still fresh in the memory, it’s no wonder that the £23 million signing of Alonso from Fiorentina wasn’t met with the rapturous reception from Chelsea fans.
It didn’t take long for him to win them over.
After Chelsea suffered a 3-0 defeat to Arsenal in September, Antonio Conte decided that it was time to switch to his favoured 3-4-3. From that moment on Alonso went from a fringe player to a crucial team member. The Spaniard’s intelligent reading of the game and dominance on the left flank, meant that the likes of Eden Hazard were able to operate in a more central role without being burdened with the task of providing The Blues with width.
Although Chelsea manager Antonio Conte will receive all of the praise for switching to 3 at the back, the system wouldn’t have been able to work without Alonso in the side.
7. Fernando Llorente Appearances: 33 Goals: 15 Fee: Free
“Passed his peak”… “Wrong player for the system”… “Not built for a relegation battle”… just a few of the criticisms hurled at the Spaniard when he arrived at the Liberty Stadium in the summer. Despite signing on a free transfer, Swansea took a massive risk signing Fernando Llorente. They were banking on an ‘out-of-form’ striker with zero Premier League experience to deliver the goals to keep them in the top-flight.
Needless to say, Llorente had a point to prove… He ended up proving 13 of them. Llorente’s goals won Swansea a crucial 13 points last season, a tally bettered only by Chelsea’s Diego Costa (15 points).
Complimented by the creative talents of Gylfi Sigurdsson, Llorente was able to take on the goalscoring responsibilities of his less prolific partner, Borja Baston, and drag Swansea from a relegation dogfight to a respectable 15th place finish.
6. Victor Wanyama Appearances: 36 Goals: 4 Fee: £11 million
Victor Wanyama’s signing went largely under the radar. At a cost of £11 million he was relatively inexpensive compared to Spurs’ other signings Vincent Jansen (£17 million) and Moussa Sissoko (£30 million), and had already spent 3 years in the Premier League at Southampton prior to the move. Let’s just say fans weren’t queuing up for his autograph…
9 months on and the Kenyan is a fan’s favourite. The midfield colossus forced his way into arguably the best midfield in the League and made it better – some achievement considering most of us were under the impression that he was signed as a back-up.
His short passing game and controlled aggression in the middle of the park gave Spurs’ more adept dribblers a licence to go forward without having to track back. Leading more goals and more clean sheets. Proof that defence really is the best form of attack.
5. David Luiz Appearances: 33 Goals: 1 Fee: £34 million
The second coming of David Luiz split the Stamford Bridge faithful into two camps. Those who remembered David Luiz the ‘personality’ and those who remembered David Luiz the ‘defender’. As a personality, Luiz was adored, fans chanted his name every game and children wore big curly wigs in his likeness… As a defender he put the fear of God into their hearts. Luiz’ lapses in concentration and tendency to ‘dilly-dally’ on the ball in dangerous areas led to him being shipped off to PSG for £50 million in 2014.
This season Luiz the ‘defender’ is adored just as much as Luiz the ‘personality’. His performances last season were of such a high quality that Chelsea were able to phase out club legend and captain John Terry with little to no complaint from Blues Supporters.
The Brazillian proved to be a vital linchpin in Antonio Conte’s back 3 system, offering Chelsea a means of connecting the defence to the midfield with his comfortability, whilst still taking care of his to defensive duties alongside Cahill and Azpilcueta.
I highly doubt Chelsea will be so quick to sell him this time.
4. Idrissa Gueye Appearances: 33 Goals: 1 Fee: £7.1 million
When Everton first announced that they would be signing Idrissa Gueye for £7.1 million rather than splash out big money on a more established player, they were accused of penny-pinching, now they’re being applauded for a shrewd piece of business.
There may have been more experienced players available on the transfer market, but contrary to popular belief… there weren’t many better.
Despite playing in an Aston Villa side that finished rock bottom with a shocking 17 points, Ronald Koeman was able to recognise a diamond in the rough in the shape of Idrissa Gueye. Even in a team as poor as Villa, Gueye was still able to put up impressive individual statistics – registering the second most tackles and interceptions in the Premier League (only N’golo Kante had more). Everton’s flowing passing style made them a joy to watch in previous seasons, but they lacked a physical presence in midfield that would stifle opposition attacks… They found it in Gueye.
His defensive nous and knack for sussing out danger in the middle of the park transformed the Merseysiders from ‘habitual goal conceders’ to an organised defence unit. Gueye also led the league with the most tackles, 135 of them to be exact – that’s 8 more than Kante if you were wondering.
3. Sadio Mane Appearances: 27 Goals: 13 Fee: £34 million
If there was any doubt in the mind that Sadio Mane was worth £34 million, his debut ended all of that.
From the moment Mane took his first touches against Arsenal on the opening day it was clear that Liverpool had found the man that they were looking for. The Senegalese international put in a man of the match display at Anfield that day, scoring the winning goal with a sublime solo run and finish on his weaker left foot in a 4-3 win for the Reds.
A performance of that magnitude would have been a season highlight for most players, but for Mane it just became another moment for the 2016/17 highlight reel. With each game that passed Mane continued use his explosive dribbling to commit players, score goals and create chances for his teammates; arguably becoming as valuable a player as Liverpool’s talisman Phillipe Coutinho in the process.
Oddly enough Sadio Mane’s greatest influence on the Reds side was felt most in the games that he didn’t play, rather than the ones he did.
At the beginning of January, Mane jetted off to Gabon for the prestigious African Cup Of Nations tournament, taking of Liverpool’s title prospects with him. In Mane’s absence Liverpool won just once in seven games (against League Two side Plymouth Argyle in an FA Cup replay), only scored five goals and were knocked out of both cup competitions… talk about withdrawal symptoms. The 25 year-old then went on to pick up an ankle injury which ruled him out of the last 7 league games.
If it wasn’t for Mane’s absence from the squad at those two vital points in the season who knows where Liverpool would’ve ended up.
2. Zlatan Ibrahimovic Appearances: 28 Goals: 17 Fee: Free
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is cut from a different cloth to the footballers of today. Rather than a constant need for reassurance and encouragement, Ibra thrives in environments where the odds are stacked against him. Cue his arrival at Old Trafford.
The larger than life Swede touched down in England to the sound of critics ruling him out; either because of his age, poor goal-scoring record against English teams, temperament or all of the above. If age was considered a weakness when he first signed, it turned out to be his biggest asset as the season progressed.
“The older I get, the better I get, like red wine” – Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Despite never having played in the premier league before, Zlatan approached the challenge with a “been there done that” mentality, seemingly unphased by the big occasions. His willingness to take on responsibility helped take a lot of pressure off of United’s young players, especially at crucial moments of the season (e.g. the FA Cup Final).
Although his season was ended early by a serious knee injury in April, Zlatan had already done enough to silenced those who were brave (or foolish) enough doubted him.
1. N’golo Kante Appearances: 35 Goals: 1 Fee: £32 million
“70% of the world is covered by water, the other 30% is covered by Kante”
Another Season, Another Premier League Title, Another Impressive Performance By N’golo Kante. What’s new? Absolutely NOTHING!
Well there are a few things…
Kante’s first season in the Premier League was the stuff of legend. Under the management of Claudio Ranieri, the likes of Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and co. (AKA Leicester) beat all who came before them, dispatching every team with the same brand of free flowing counter-attacking football. Although the goals and assists didn’t come courtesy of Kante, it’s widely accepted amongst football fans, critics and anyone who watched a single one of Leicester’s games that season, that Kante played his part. The Lions would’ve been exposed by the bigger teams in the league if it wasn’t for the Frenchman’s tireless defensive work; without Kante in their team it’s impossible to think that a team with 500-1 odds to win the league could have lifted the title that year.
From a ‘team perspective’ it would ludicrous to suggest that Chelsea’s achievements were greater than Leceister’s, but from an ‘individual perspective’ Kante definitely reached new heights.
Last year Kante was able to go about his duties without much attention, he had just signed from Ligue 2 and most predicted that his good run of form was going to run out (it didn’t). This time around Kante had to adapt to playing in a team who had more of the ball than their opposition, meaning that he was called into action a lot less often, requiring him to do more with the ball when in possession. Although, the defensive side of his game was just as accomplished as the season before, his ability to distribute the ball and keep play ticking whilst Chelsea plotted their next moves were vital in their ascension up the table.
His sublime individual displays were deservedly rewarded with both PFA Player Of The Year and the Football Writer’s Player Of The Year.
And if you need any conformation on just how valuable a signing N’golo is, just compare at the fortunes of his former and current club. Leceister fell from top of the league to mid-table obscurity, whilst Chelsea rose from a disastrous seventh placed finish to become Champions.
The difference? N’golo Kante!
- Joe Allen
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- Matt Phillips
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Top 10 Signings (2015-16 Season)