By Alison ChinFollow @@AlisonChin9
The importance of squad strengthening in the off-season can never be underestimated. While some teams can boast a good track record with regards to their buys, others have been less fortunate and struggled when their marquee signings proved to be expensive duds.
Here are a handful of clubs across Europe which ESPNSTAR.com expects to be very satisfied with their purchases come the end of the season.
To many, the loss of Robin van Persie and Alex Song would immediately guarantee Arsenal a place on the list of ‘Losers’. However, manager Arsene Wenger’s foresight, combined with his keen eye for football talent has ensured the Dutchman is unlikely to be too sorely missed. The club entered the transfer market early this summer, snapping up Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla.
Giroud, a former Ligue 1 top scorer, is yet to open his scoring account for the Gunners, but should be encouraged by the start his new strike partner Podolski has made. The German got off the mark marvellously against Liverpool recently, and this new Arsenal striking duo should clamber their way up the scoring charts soon.
One of the reasons why the pair should feel optimistic is because of the service they are likely to receive from fellow Arsenal new boy Cazorla.
Cazorla’s move to England from Spain ignited a frenzy of excitement from Arsenal supporters, and one can hardly blame them. The former Malaga man is blessed with technical excellence and vision, allowing him to shoulder playmaking responsibilities with ease.
Many of the goals the Gunners will score in the new campaign will likely involve the Spaniard in some shape or form.
However, for all the excitement generated on the pitch, it could be a member of the club’s technical staff that proves the difference this season. The appointment of Steve Bould in place of the long-serving Pat Rice has already paid dividends for Wenger’s squad in the form of three consecutive shut-outs, making them the only team with a clean goals against record in the campaign so far. Arsenal were more often than not forced to come from behind last season, and this marked improvement in defensive discipline instilled by Bould should ensure the team now have a strong backline from which to build success on.
Pushed by the loss of their long-serving star striker Didier Drogba, the Champions League winners went on the offensive, both literally and figuratively. Manager Roberto Di Matteo has brought in six players in the summer – five of whom are attack-minded.
The Blues’ initial foray into the transfer market was modest enough, completing a deal for Marko Marin – a player dubbed the German Lionel Messi. In need of a new challenge, Marin has it all to do to prove that he can live up to his moniker after his big Premier League move.
Another Chelsea summer signing who has arrived with big expectations is Eden Hazard. Early signs for the player, which owner Roman Abramovich shelled out £32 million for, is very positive. They appear to point out that Hazard might just be worth every penny of his inflated transfer fee as the former Ligue 1 Player of the Year has been ripping defences apart so far.
Oscar’s move to Stamford Bridge may not have been given as much media coverage as Hazard, but the Brazilian’s displays at London 2012 have left Blues fans equally eager to watch him in a Chelsea kit. A classy playmaker unafraid of holding on to the ball under pressure, Oscar’s incisive passes into space will surely benefit Chelsea striker Fernando Torres this season.
Despite the expensive assembly of a very exciting looking Chelsea side, the Blues appear light in the striking department. While calling upon Daniel Sturridge from the bench may be good enough for some, Di Matteo might rue missing out on the likes of Falcao in the summer transfer window should Torres suffer an injury.
As is always the case with Manchester United, there were several big name players linked with a move to Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad. The Scot decided to swoop for four names this summer, finding the right mix of quantity and quality in his new buys.
While Eden Hazard’s move to Chelsea generated plenty of headlines, the deal might not translate into as many goals for the Blues as a certain Robin van Persie could register for the Red Devils this season. It was a lack of goals compared to eventual winners Manchester City which burst United’s title dreams last season, and Ferguson’s move for the Dutchman is a clear indication that he has no intention of letting the situation repeat itself.
As capable as the club’s strike-force may be, they will be reliant on service from midfield, hence the swoop for playmaker Shinji Kagawa. Blessed with nimble footwork and creativity, Kagawa can carve open opposition defences with ease.
Keeping up his tradition of blooding in youngsters, Ferguson also purchased 18-year old Nick Powell, who was Crewe Alexandra’s top scorer in the previous campaign. The lack of cover for the aging Patrice Evra was dealt with by the Scot’s move for pacey attacking left-back Alexander Buttner.
In what has been a summer of change at White Hart Lane, Tottenham have integrated fresh faces at the helm and in the squad’s ranks. Despite the loss of talismanic playmaker Luka Modric and fan favourite Rafael van der Vaart, along with surplus-to-requirement players like Steven Pienaar and Niko Kranjcar, chairman Daniel Levy managed to cobble together sufficient funds to bring in several exciting new signings to herald the start Andre Villas-Boas’ era at the club.
The Portuguese failed spectacularly while trying to implement his preferred style at Chelsea because he lacked appropriate players to carry out the fast-paced football he craved. However, with the newly acquired talents of Gylfi Sigurdsson and Moussa Dembele, playing alongside Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon, Villas-Boas has put together an attacking force that most Premier League defences will face trouble keeping up with. The last minute swoop for Clint Dempsey also delighted Spurs supporters, and the American’s £6 million price tag might turn out to be a bargain if he can reproduce last season’s 23 goal haul.
There is fresh blood to boast of in the rear end of the Spurs starting eleven, with the arrival of the highly-rated Jan Vertonghen easing the loss of former captain Ledley King. The Belgian appears determined to succeed in a Tottenham jersey, which would surely delight the new man between the posts, Hugo Lloris. The former Olympique Lyon custodian is renowned for his lightning reflexes and is set to displace the dependable Brad Friedel in due time.
Despite the optimism generated from Villas-Boas’ recent spending spree, Spurs have not gotten off to the best of starts in this campaign. The Tottenham boss must make full use of the upcoming international break to rectify a string of sloppy performances and find a way to bring out the best from his new signings, as the club can ill afford for their winless run to continue.
The fact that AC Milan have signed five established players to bolster their squad should warrant them a place in the Winners list for this summary. Unfortunately for the Rossoneri, their summer signings lack the quality to replace departed stars like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva and Antonio Cassano.
Italian duo Riccardo Montolivo and Giampaolo Pazzini bring with them vital Serie A experience, while manager Massimiliano Allegri will turn to Nigel De Jong to carry on where Dutch compatriot Mark van Bommel has left off. However, the loss of top scorer Ibrahimovic and the excellent Thiago Silva in defence leaves Allegri’s squad severely lacking in game-changing players, an aspect that has not been relieved by the relatively mundane signings the club has made.
Scarred by the excessive spending of former manager Kenny Dalglish, Liverpool went into this summer’s transfer window focused solely on buying players Brendan Rodgers was confident could carry out his desired pass-and-move style. Anfield favourites like Craig Bellamy and Dirk Kuyt moved on, while players like Andy Carroll (loan) and Charlie Adam were also promptly shipped out.
In place of them came Fabio Borini and Joe Allen as well as Nuri Sahin (loan). The trio are not bad signings to say the least. However, while Allen was the team’s unsung hero in their draw against Premier League champions Manchester City and Borini’s raw talent has elicited much excitement from supporters, Liverpool concluded the transfer window in a hugely disappointing manner.
By Rodgers’ own admission, the club were foolish to approve Carroll’s loan departure to West Ham without first securing a reliable replacement. Reds fans were convinced the team would snap up Dempsey, only to be left utterly frustrated on the final day of the window. The former Fulham man appeared to have his heart set on donning the Liverpool kit, yet the transfer never came to pass.
Liverpool would have benefitted tremendously from having a goal-getter to ease this burden on Luis Suarez, and Dempsey’s goal-scoring heroics last season suggested he could have been the right man for them. If the manner in which they stuttered in front of the goal against Arsenal is anything to go by, the first half of this campaign could prove to be nervous one for the team’s supporters.
The La Liga side finished in a respectable fourth place last season, but the club should thank their lucky stars if they manage to retain a similar position at the end of this campaign. Wayward ownership by Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser Al-Thani has left Malaga heavily in debt, forcing management to sell away key players such as Santi Cazorla, Salomon Rondon and Joris Mathijsen.
Excluding the ranks of Real Madrid and Barcelona, Cazorla was widely considered as the most talented player in La Liga. The shoes of their former playmaker will be much too large for any of the remaining Malaga players to fill, and the retirement of Ruud van Nistelrooy means manager Manuel Pellegrini can no longer call upon the experienced Dutchman from the bench when the chips are down. Rondon was a promising striking prospect, but after being owed months of salary, he hightailed out of the club for Rubin Kazan.
Retaining the services of one-time Red Devils target Isco and veteran midfielder Jeremy Toulalan was perhaps Malaga’s only saving grace, while fans are hoping that new signings Javier Saviola and Roque Santa Cruz (loan) manage to contribute despite being in the twilight of their careers.
Queens Park Rangers
To say that Queens Park Rangers recruited heavily would be an understatement. After avoiding relegation by the skin of their teeth last season, Mark Hughes purchased a total of 13 players, including established names like former Manchester United utility man Park Ji Sung, the Champions League winning duo of Jose Bosingwa and Julio Cesar, and La Liga winner Esteban Granero (signed on the second-last day of the window).
However, in a summer where most of their rivals chose to invest in youth, the London side have brought in six players over the age of 30. If Hughes manages to get all of these experienced names to work together, success on the pitch would naturally follow. Yet, it remains a huge risk for the club to take as failure would leave the club with an exorbitant wage bill that could potentially sink the club.
Unlike Swansea or Everton, the contributions of QPR’s new recruits have only translated to a single league point so far. Hughes must pray that his short-term gamble pays off, or it will be another nail-biting finish to this campaign.