The Premier League’s Big-money Signings Who Need to Start Performing

London – Gylfi Sigurdsson, Everton, £45m

It wasn’t just the £45m fee Everton forked out for Gylfi Sigurdsson that was costly but also the time they spent securing his signature when they could have been looking at areas of the squad that were in greater need of strengthening. An outrageous goal on his first start for the club in the Europa League hinted that he could prove money well spent but his form in the league has been far from reflective of such an inflated price tag.

Everton fans will hope their new arrival can take confidence from a memorable international break, when he helped Iceland book a place at the World Cup for the first time in their history. He scored in the game that clinched qualification but is yet to do so in the Premier League for his new club (only two of his 11 shots so far this season have been on target) – and he hasn’t registered an assist in 479 minutes of action. With Ronald Koeman’s men hovering above the relegation zone, they need more from their record signing.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Liverpool, £40m

Having made a relatively bright start to the season in a struggling Arsenal side, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s season took an almighty dip around the time of his £40m transfer to Liverpool. His last match for Arsenal ended in a 4-0 defeat and his first for Liverpool ended in a 5-0 defeat. He has been given limited opportunities at Liverpool – he hasn’t started a Premier League match yet – but he did himself few favours when given his full debut against Leicester in the EFL Cup. Liverpool lost the game 2-0 and Oxlade-Chamberlain was truly awful.

Another disappointing display on international duty for England in their drab 1-0 win over Slovenia offers little encouragement for an imminent upturn in form; he looked isolated while he was on the pitch and was the first England player to be substituted. Oxlade-Chamberlain needs to get out of this current funk or risk becoming something of a comedy figure. Sadio Mané’s injury could give the 24-year-old a route into the side in the coming weeks. Putting in a good performance against Manchester United on Saturday would be a good way to kickstart his Liverpool career.

Michael Keane, Everton, £25m

Michael Keane’s start to life at Goodison was very promising. His first four starts ended in victories and clean sheets – and he even managed to score in the last of those games, a 2-0 win over Hajduk Split in the Europa League. Keane’s form has taken a concerning downturn since, however. Ashley Williams has taken the brunt of the criticism at the back but he hasn’t been helped by his 24-year-old central defensive partner, who has looked particularly shaky recently.

His distribution from the back has been found wanting at times, particularly against teams willing to press high up the pitch. Keane’s confidence seemed to dip as Everton suffered four straight defeats without scoring a goal. They faced strong opponents in that run but conceding 12 goals in four games is not good enough for Everton. Keane must prove that he can cut it against the better sides if Everton are to move up the table.

Nathan Aké, Bournemouth, £20m

A successful loan spell on the south coast last season was enough to persuade Bournemouth to part with a record £20m fee for Nathan Aké, but the Dutch international hasn’t reached the same heights since his return. There was some cause for optimism that the youngster was beginning to re-adjust ahead of the international break, however, with his strongest showing of the season coming as Bournemouth were held to a stalemate against Leicester, securing a first clean sheet of the campaign.

The 22-year-old was impressive last season, weighing in with three goals and one assist in his 10 league appearances, but his form has dipped since he signed a permanent deal. He hasn’t scored or set up a goal but, more concerning for Eddie Howe will be his drop in pass accuracy and tackles (down from 2.2 to 1.6 per 90 minutes), clearances (down from nine from 6.4) and blocks (down from one from 0.4) per 90 minutes. Howe put a lot of faith in the Chelsea graduate but as yet he has been far from convincing.

Andre Gray, Watford, £18.5m

Another record signing for his new club during the summer, Andre Gray has plenty to live up to following a modest debut campaign in the top flight. He only scored nine league goals for Burnley last season but Watford were still willing to splash out £18.5m on the 26-year-old, who has struggled to make a real impact under Marco Silva.

He scored his first league goal in 510 minutes in Watford’s 2-1 win at Swansea last month but other than that he has been quiet. Gray has mustered just seven shots in as many appearances for his new club – and just two on target – and he doesn’t offer the same link-up play or aerial threat as out-of-favour Troy Deeney. Four of Deeney’s five league appearances this season have come as a substitute but he has managed to register an assist (unlike Gray), while also winning eight aerial duels in just 123 minutes compared to Gray’s three in 460 minutes.

The Guardian Sport

Transfer Window: Players Who Should Move to Help Their World Cup Chances

Transfer window

Diego Costa
Diego Costa’s situation at Chelsea keeps rumbling on. Back in June Antonio Conte sent the player a text message to tell him he had no future at the club, but Costa’s preferred move to Atlético Madrid is yet to materialise. Costa has accused Chelsea of pricing him out of the move but the situation at Atlético is complicated by their transfer ban, which prevents them from registering new players until January 2018.

Monaco, Marseille and Milan have apparently shown an interest in Costa but he is adamant about Atlético. “Chelsea have offered me to several clubs, but I was very clear with them,” he said. “I said that if I’m not part of the manager’s plans, I would like to choose my destination. I’m not going to let them decide just to get more money.”

Costa may have to compromise to keep his place in the Spain squad. Álvaro Morata, the player who was signed to replace him at Chelsea, is likely to lead the line for Spain in their World Cup qualifiers against Italy and Liechtenstein next weekend. Costa didn’t make the squad, with 35-year-old New York City forward David Villa called up to take his place. Costa has been playing five-a-side football with his friends in Brazil to stay fit but, if he wants to make an impact in what could be the final World Cup of his career, he will need to prove himself against tougher opponents over the next nine months.

Michy Batshuayi
Michy Batshuayi isn’t out in the cold at Chelsea like Costa, but the 23-year-old is still very much on the fringes of the first team and may struggle to push his way into the Belgium side unless he can earn more starts in the Premier League. Romelu Lukaku will almost certainly lead the line for Roberto Martínez’s team next summer but Batshuayi needs to be ready to pounce if the Manchester United striker suffers an injury or a dip in form.

As things stand, Batshuayi is not even guaranteed a place in the squad. Last season – his seventh as a senior professional – he was only on the pitch for 239 minutes in the Premier League. Ambitious interest from Lille has emerged this week and a return to France would make sense for a player who made his name in Ligue 1, where he scored 17 goals and laid on nine assists in his final campaign with Marseille.

Anthony Martial

Sticking to the topic of strikers who are playing second fiddle to Romelu Lukaku, Anthony Martial will be hoping his early season form as an impact substitute for Manchester United will convince José Mourinho to give him more chances. With two goals and one assist in just 26 minutes of action this season, the 21-year-old has been key for United; five of their eight goals so far have come with him on the pitch.

He’ll hope to play a bigger part for his country next summer too, but France have an abundance of attacking competition. Didier Deschamps’ squad for their upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Holland and Luxembourg contained seven attackers – Kingsley Coman, Nabil Fekir, Olivier Giroud, Antoine Griezmann, Alexandre Lacazette, Kylian Mbappé and Florian Thauvin – leaving Martial to compete on the outside alongside Dimitri Payet and Ousmane Dembéle. If Mbappé signs for Paris Saint-Germain, Martial could do worse than returning to Monaco and leading the line for them in the Champions League.

Julian Draxler
Mbappé’s potential move to Paris Saint-Germain could also affect Julian Draxler, who only joined the club in January but already looks surplus to requirements. Paris Saint-Germain need to balance their books after signing Neymar for £197m and Draxler has been linked with all sorts of clubs: Bayern Munich, Arsenal if Alexis Sánchez leaves, Liverpool if Philippe Coutinho leaves, and Monaco as part of a deal for Mbappé.

The 23-year-old winger captained Germany to glory at the Confederations Cup earlier this summer and is very much a part of Jogi Löw’s plans, but limited league appearances would significantly harm his chances of finding a place in the starting XI once Germany’s senior stars return. The world champions are not short of attacking talent so the last thing he needs is a season on the bench.

Ross Barkley
Everton valued Ross Barkley at £50m earlier this year but he could leave the club in the next week for half that fee given the understandable lack of interest. With just one year remaining on his deal, the midfielder refused to extend his contract having been given an ultimatum by manager Ronald Koeman. With no serious bids forthcoming, both he and the club are left in a sticky situation.

A hamstring injury suffered in pre-season has also held up a transfer, though Tottenham and Chelsea appear to be interested in the 23-year-old if the price is right. Barkley has hopes of playing in Russia next year despite a lack of action under Gareth Southgate so far. Playing Champions League football for either Mauricio Pochettino or Antonio Conte could prove a godsend for a player with undoubted ability – no Englishman has registered more assists over the last two Premier League seasons (16).

(The Guardian)

Everton Should Think Twice Before Signing Gylfi Sigurdsson for £50m


London- This transfer window is taking the phrase “silly season” to a whole new level, with record signings being unveiled throughout the Premier League. Thirteen of the 20 clubs in the league broke their transfer records last summer but Everton broke the mould. Their record signing dates back to 2014, when they paid Chelsea £28m for Romelu Lukaku.

Lukaku has nearly trebled in value in three years, becoming Everton’s most lucrative sale by a country mile, and the club are ready to spend a huge chunk of the £75m they received from Manchester United to break their transfer record once again. They have bid £40m and £45m for Gylfi Sigurdsson but Swansea City are holding out for another £5m.

We all know how this ends, with Swansea getting the fee they want and Everton getting their man. Everton secured the services of the Swansea captain last season when they signed Ashley Williams and they are just a few million short of repeating the trick this summer. Sigurdsson was instrumental for Swansea as they escaped relegation in the last few weeks of the season, so it’s little wonder the club have asked for such a huge sum, but is he really worth all that cash?

There’s little doubt that Sigurdsson is a quality player at Premier League level, but he turns 28 in September and is not likely to improve. You know what you’re going to get with Sigurdsson, which might be a positive for some, but you also know what you’re not getting: an elite player. Perhaps some other signings in the £50m bracket – such as Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy – are not elite players either but at least they are among the best available in their positions. That is not really the case with Sigurdsson. His impressive statistics from last season show he is a superb set-piece taker but his creative output is somewhat skewed by that fact.

His tally of 13 assists last season was the third highest in the Premier League – behind just Kevin De Bruyne (18) and Christian Eriksen (15) – and fifth-equal in Europe’s top five leagues, where he tied with Luis Suárez, the most prolific assist provider in La Liga. However, only five of Sigurdsson’s assists came from open play, which puts him outside the top 20 in the Premier League and equal 85th in Europe, below the man he is tipped to replace at Goodison Park, Ross Barkley (who provided six assists from open play), and level with the returning Wayne Rooney, who had less than half as much gametime as Sigurdsson.

The majority of Sigurdsson’s assists came from set pieces – eight of the 13 – which was enough to put him alongside Toni Kroos as the best in Europe’s top five leagues, but Everton have just sold their big target man and none of Lukaku’s replacements in attack – Sandro Ramírez, Davy Klaassen and Rooney – are as strong in the air, suggesting Sigurdsson’s greatest asset will not be put to use too often. His tally of six assists for Fernando Llorente last season was the joint most effective combination in the Premier League, but Everton do not have a player like Lukaku or Llorente on the books at present, which makes £50m look like a huge gamble.

Sigurdsson was not nearly as effective from open play last season. His figure of 25 key passes from open play was incredibly modest to say the least. It’s the same number that Gareth Barry and Idrissa Gueye produced for Everton from holding midfield and less than half of Barkley’s total (56).

The Iceland international may have valuable Premier League experience but there are significantly cheaper alternatives out there. Ronald Koeman should consider Chievo’s Valter Birsa and Montpellier’s Ryad Boudebouz, who are both available at a fraction of the price. Birsa provided five assists from set pieces in Serie A last season and, crucially, he created more chances from open play than Sigurdsson (38 to 25).

When it comes to creating chances, Algeria international Boudebouz is streets ahead. The midfielder – who is thought to be available for around £15m – created the most chances per game in Europe’s top five leagues last season (3.5), with 68 of them coming from open play. At 27, he is the same age as Sigurdsson but he offers considerably more by way of dribbling ability – 2.7 dribbles per game compared to 0.8 – while matching Sigurdsson for tackles per game (both 1.2) – and he also produced those figures while playing under similar circumstances in a relegation battle. With more goals (11 to nine) from significantly fewer shots, Boudebouz could be a steal.

Everton have also been linked with a move for the Las Palmas captain Jonathan Viera, whose release clause of £27m is about half of Sigurdsson’s asking price. He didn’t score as many goals or lay on as many assists – seven goals and seven assists for Viera, compared to nine goals and 13 assists for Sigurdsson – but he is far more inventive in general play, with 67 key passes when excluding set pieces. With a greater number of dribbles (two per game) and tackles (1.4 per game), the Spanish playmaker would also be a more cost-effective option – and he is capable of playing deeper in midfield or wide on the left if necessary.

Sigurdsson’s time at Tottenham should also give Koeman some doubts. He may not have been given enough time in his best position to impress but his failure to make the grade and force himself into the team should be a concern. Sigurdsson didn’t look close to a £50m player then and in truth he doesn’t now either. It may not be the biggest fee in the current window, but that shouldn’t stop Everton from assessing players who could offer them more for considerably less money.

The Guardian Sport

Do Chelsea Really Need New £34m Signing Antonio Rüdiger?


London- Since arriving in London, Antonio Conte has had one definitive wish: to sign a centre-back schooled in his homeland. In Antonio Rüdiger, to an extent, he has finally got that man.

Yet, Conte would have preferred Leonardo Bonucci and there is a lingering sense that Chelsea have again had to settle for second best in this transfer window, even after winning the title so convincingly. They have stumbled over a number of targets this summer – most notably Romelu Lukaku – and the manager is unimpressed.

Rüdiger has been linked with the club for some time now but his arrival seems like a move designed to appease Conte in the short term. Chelsea needed to make a signing and, while a transfer for Monaco midfielder Tiemoué Bakayoko remains close, a deal for the Roma defender has proven more straightforward.

Conte has been keen to bolster his backline with a player who can quickly adapt to his tactical demands and, in that sense, Rüdiger should fit the bill. However, the 24-year-old Germany international is far from the finished article. After moving to Roma from Stuttgart in 2015, he took some time to adapt to a league that, from a defensive standpoint in particular, is different to any other.

While his versatility is certainly an asset, it has also held him back. He has often been asked to cover at full-back, which has restricted him from a run of games in what is clearly his strongest position. Thirteen of his 25 starts in Serie A last season came at either right or left-back, and while he is capable in both roles, Rüdiger is a centre-half.

A relatively meagre rating of 6.78 from full-back last season rose to 7.00 when he was stationed at the heart of the Roma defence, but such a modest figure shows he still has plenty of room for development. He looked more comfortable when deployed in a back three under Luciano Spalletti last season and his ability to play either side of the middle man is likely to have been key to Conte’s interest. It will offer Chelsea the opportunity to shift César Azpilicueta to a right wing-back role too, which would internally upgrade another position within the squad.

Conte’s relentless coaching has improved players such as Bonucci and, more recently, David Luiz. Rüdiger has the potential to develop in the same under Conte, but it remains an expensive risk to take on a player Chelsea don’t really need. He has the physical attributes to make a success of his time in England but his timing in the tackle is questionable: he committed as many fouls per game as he made tackles last season (both 1.7). No Roma player was penalised more often than Rüdiger, which is a rare statistic for a defender to top. He picked up seven yellow cards and one red in 26 league appearances, as well as a further dismissal in the Europa League.

Over the last two seasons, Rüdiger has committed more individual errors leading to a shot or goal than any other Roma player (six), and the third most of any outfielder in Serie A in that time. All in all, he took more time to settle in Rome than his new employers will hope to give him in London.

Rüdiger’s arrival also spells trouble for the young defenders currently at the club. Nathan Aké has has already been allowed to leave – making a £20m switch to Bournemouth – while the futures of Kurt Zouma and forgotten man Andreas Christensen – who has spent the last two seasons on loan at Borussia Mönchengladbach – have been cast into doubt. Zouma has had his injury problems in recent times but Christensen has really impressed during his time in the Bundesliga and would have hoped to make an impression at the Bridge this season. They both may have to seek opportunities on loan if they are after regular action.

The difference in quality between the three players makes Chelsea’s decision to spend £34m on Rüdiger seem curious. While Zouma spent the majority of last season on the sidelines, he started 21 Premier League matches the campaign before, with tackles per game (1.3) the only key metric in which he fared worse than Rüdiger’s (1.7) figures from the 2016-17 season. Indeed, the 22-year-old Frenchman averaged more interceptions (1.6 to 1) and clearances (5.3 to 3), and he committed considerably fewer fouls (0.4 to 1.7) and was dribbled past less often (0.3 times per game to 0.7).

Christensen also averaged fewer tackles than the new man (1.5) but at the expense of far fewer fouls (0.6), while his anticipation – 2.3 interceptions per game – and distribution are far superior to Rudiger’s. In fact, his pass accuracy of 91.5%, from 62.8 passes per game, was the third best in the Bundesliga last season, and well in excess of Rudiger’s 83.3%. The Danish international is still just 21, but he has only missed six Bundesliga matches over the past two seasons, while also picking up valuable experience in both the Champions League and Europa League.

Rudiger’s acquisition will send a message to players on the fringes at Chelsea that it will be increasingly difficult to make the breakthrough. That, of course, is no new experience for youngsters at the club. However, like David Luiz before him, the new signing has matured over the last year or so. Chelsea will hope he can follow suit and iron out the mistakes and indiscretions that, on paper, make his signature seem like the panic buy the Brazilian’s was billed as last summer – when he was signed for £34m.

The Guardian Sport

Who Should the 20 Premier League Clubs Be Targeting in the Transfer Window?

Expect to see Harry Maguire back in the Premier League next season. Photograph: Michael Regan/Getty Images

Arsenal: Naby Keïta

The fact Arsenal need reinforcements in central midfield every summer shows they have failed to rectify an issue that has been holding them back for some time. They have been linked with a move for RB Leipzig’s Naby Keïta on numerous occasions this year and the Guinean could be the answer to their problems. An all-rounder in the middle of the park, the 22-year-old scored eight goals, registered seven assists and averaged 2.7 dribbles in the Bundesliga last season, while producing 2.6 tackles and 2.6 interceptions per game to boot.

Bournemouth: Sam Larsson

The left wing has been something of a problem position that Jordon Ibe failed to make his own last season, with Marc Pugh starting more often (15 times) as Eddie Howe chopped and changed. If Howe were to address the issue again this summer, Sweden international Sam Larsson could represent an affordable and exciting alternative. The 24-year-old Heerenveen winger led the way in the Eredivisie last season in assists, with 12, while also scoring nine goals and ranking second for total dribbles (91).

Brighton: John Ruddy

It may not be a move that offers great excitement to fans of the newly promoted side but, with David Stockdale rejecting a new contract and expected to leave on a free, recruiting John Ruddy would make sense. The 30-year-old is also a free agent, having failed to really kick on in recent seasons, but he enjoyed his best form for Norwich under Chris Hughton at a time when he was capped for England and even linked with a move to Chelsea.

Burnley: Tom Lawrence

After a successful season on loan at Ipswich in the Championship, Tom Lawrence has admitted that his future at Leicester remains unclear. If the club are willing to sell the 23-year-old, a switch to another Premier League club should be on the cards. Burnley could do with the forward’s energy and invention. Capable of playing from either flank or as a support striker, the Manchester United graduate was the one bright spark for Ipswich last season, with nine goals and nine assists.

Chelsea: Andrea Conti

Victor Moses exceeded expectations in his new right wing-back role but his season ended in disappointment and controversy. Antonio Conte would clearly like more options on the right and he’s rumoured to have an interest in his near-namesake, Conti, who has enjoyed an excellent season for Serie A’s surprise package Atalanta. The 23-year-old weighed in with eight goals and five assists from the flank in a similar system to that used by Chelsea.

Crystal Palace: Harry Maguire

If Palace are priced out of a permanent move for loan star Mamadou Sakho, they should look to Harry Maguire. Both center-backs have a slightly unconventional playing style but belie their somewhat lumbering frames to impress both in and out of possession. Maguire completed the most dribbles of any Premier League center-back last season, while reading the game well to average 2.2 interceptions per game and earn the captaincy under Marco Silva. With Hull relegated, the race is on for the 24-year-old’s signature.

Everton: Jordan Pickford

In desperate need of a goalkeeper after unconvincing claims for the No1 jersey from both Joel Robles and Maarten Stekelenburg, Everton’s interest in Pickford is unsurprising. The Sunderland stopper has reportedly gained higher profile admirers but a move to Goodison would make sense, given that he would unquestionably be first choice. The youngster made more saves per game (4.9) than any other Premier League keeper last season, earning a place in our team of the season with a rating of 7.04.

Huddersfield Town: Tom Cairney

With a shock promotion to the Premier League confirmed on Monday, Huddersfield’s transfer targets may have become a little more ambitious this week as they bid to establish themselves in the top flight next season. A move for an attacking midfielder could be on the cards and, while Tom Cairney has reportedly gained strong interest from Newcastle, Huddersfield should consider rivaling any offer for the Fulham captain. He would suit the side’s possession-based approach, having secured the best pass accuracy by a distance in the Championship last season (92.6%), when he also scored 12 goals and registered 10 assists.

Leicester City: Frederik Sorensen

With Wes Morgan’s injury towards the end of last season exposing Leicester’s lack of depth in defence, reinforcements at the back should be their first priority this summer. A player as versatile as Frederik Sorensen – he is able to play at center-back or right-back – should be on their radar, particularly following an underwhelming campaign from Danny Simpson. The 25-year-old Dane starred for Cologne as they secured an unlikely Europa League finish, averaging a highly impressive 3.1 tackles and 2.7 interceptions per game.

Liverpool: Ricardo Pereira

Full-backs likely to be on Jürgen Klopp’s wishlist this summer. James Milner and Nathaniel Clyne were dependable last season but neither really contribute a great deal in attack in open play. A more offensive option could be pursued in the coming months and the adaptable Ricardo Pereira has reportedly caught Klopp’s eye. He can play in either full-back position or in a more advanced role on the wing, having proven a valuable asset to Nice in Ligue 1 during a two-year loan spell from Porto. The 22-year-old averaged 1.2 key passes, 1.2 dribbles and 2.9 tackles per game last season.

Manchester City: Alex Sandro

If City have genuine aspirations of becoming a force to be reckoned with in Europe under Pep Guardiola, they will need to back him to rebuild an ageing squad. It would take a massive offer to convince Juventus to sell Alex Sandro, but it’s the sort of statement move that the club will be looking to make. The Brazilian has been consistently superb for the Serie A champions all season, earning their highest league rating (7.63), as he established himself as one of the very best full-backs on the continent.

Manchester United: Faouzi Ghoulam

Napoli failed to agree terms on a new deal with Faouzi Ghoulam and are willing to cash in on left-back, which has alerted the interest of most of the Premier League’s big hitters. The 26-year-old Algeria international is one of the finest attacking full-backs in Europe and proved as much last season by registering nine assists across Serie A and the Champions League. His average of two key passes per game was the most of any full-back in Europe’s top five leagues. With José Mourinho clearly not keen on Luke Shaw, a move for Faouzi would come as no surprise.

Newcastle United: Youssouf Sabaly

Youssouf Sabaly was linked to Sunderland last year but newly promoted Newcastle would be wise to offer him a route out of Paris Saint-Germain to the Premier League if he is deemed surplus to requirements in France. The full-back, who can play on either side of a back four, has spent the last four seasons out on loan and, at 24, has never made a league appearance for his parent club. He spent last season with Bordeaux, where he was the club’s highest rated player (7.28), having averaged 2.6 tackles and 1.6 dribbles per game as well as chipping in with four assists.

Southampton: Ben Gibson

Virgil van Dijk is almost certainly going to leave Southampton this summer. His absence in the second half of the season due to injury forced Claude Puel to employ an encouraging defensive partnership of Maya Yoshida and Jack Stephens. They performed admirably but, while neither deserves to be unceremoniously dropped, competition at the back is necessary. Ben Gibson has attracted interest from a number of Premier League clubs and, despite Middlesbrough’s relegation, he seems well placed to avoid a drop back to the Championship. Southampton would be a logical fit for a defender who showed good composure and positional sense in his first season in the top flight.

Stoke: Chris Wood

Stoke made two marquee signings to remedy their problems up front last season, first with the loan arrival of Wilfried Bony and then the permanent transfer of Saido Berahino, but both flattered to deceive. The latter will of course be given more time but with Bony’s unproductive spell at the Britannia coming to an end another striker may yet be a priority. An alternative to 36-year-old Peter Crouch would make sense, and so too would a move for the Championship’s top scorer Chris Wood. The 25-year-old was clinical in front of goal last season for Leeds United, scoring 27 times. He is a powerful target man who would suit Stoke’s approach.

Swansea City: Cheikh N’Doye

Having been linked with Angers captain Cheikh N’Doye last summer, Swansea may consider a move 12 months on now that the 31-year-old’s contract has expired. The Senegal international is thought to have offers from across the continent, and even China, so it could take a big contract to persuade the midfielder that Wales is the place for him. Swansea could do with greater quality and presence in midfield, so it’s certainly worth a shot. N’Doye won a massive 8.2 aerial duels per game last season, as well as contributing five goals and five assists.

Tottenham Hotspur: Patrik Schick

Such is the quality of Tottenham’s first-choice XI, it’s difficult to think of a position that needs strengthening, with squad depth instead the priority for Mauricio Pochettino as he looks forward to another season in Europe. With that in mind, he may look to sign another forward following Vincent Janssen’ struggles last season. A bid for Sampdoria wonderkid Patrik Schick has been reported. The 21-year-old Czech international scored 11 times last season despite starting just 14 of his 32 appearances. His invention and strong dribbling ability could be put to use in a wider role too.

Watford: Pontus Jansson

The Watford squad is a real hotchpotch of nationalities so the fact that Walter Mazzarri was reportedly unable to get his message across in Italian – or any language for that matter – is no great surprise. The group doesn’t really have an identity so it’s difficult to suggest where to strengthen first but injuries at the end of the campaign exposed a lack of quality options at center-back. Pontus Jansson enjoyed an excellent campaign with Leeds and has been linked with a move to the top flight for some time, ranking among the top five in the Championship for clearances (10.1) and blocks per game (1.2). Also, Watford don’t have a Swede yet.

West Brom: Charlie Taylor

A long-term target of the Baggies, with Tony Pulis a known admirer of the 23-year-old, the fact that Charlie Taylor’s contract expires this summer actually seems to be making a deal for the left-back more complicated. The West Brom boss is keen to avoid a subjective compensation package to Leeds via a tribunal and would prefer to agree a fee for the promising defender. It’s understandable, with no real natural left-back in the squad – a position that has been covered by right-back Allan Nyom and midfielder Chris Brunt – that Taylor would be of interest. He endured an injury-disrupted campaign last time out but offers a good outlet from wide, averaging 1.1 dribbles per game while registering three assists from 26 starts.

West Ham United: Jermain Defoe

It’s a somewhat sentimental one but there’s no question West Ham would love Jermain Defoe to return to east London rather than moving to Bournemouth on the south coast. The Hammers need striking reinforcements, given Andy Carroll’s injury problems, and Defoe proved last season that he’s far from finished, forcing his way back into the England set-up aged 34. Defoe started all but one of Sunderland’s league games last season, scoring 15 goals for a side that managed just 29 in total.

(The Guardian)

Hazard – not Kanté – was Best Premier League Player this Season


London – Eden Hazard – not N’Golo Kanté – was the best performer this season, closely followed by Alexis Sánchez, Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku and Roberto Firmino.

Arsenal: Alexis Sánchez, 7.74

The second highest rated player in the entire league, Alexis Sánchez has carried Arsenal for much of the season, scoring 23 goals and laying on 10 assists, all of which have come from open play. He is the only Premier League player to register double figures for both. His workrate has been clear to see once more, winning possession the second most times in the final third (29).

Bournemouth: Steve Cook, 7.18

One of just four individuals to play every single minute for their side in the Premier League this season, Steve Cook has developed a reputation as a strong defender at this level. He has drawn admiring glances from a number of clubs, having made the most clearances in the entire division (342).

Burnley: Ben Mee, 7.14

Burnley’s home form guaranteed their safety, with much of that down to the performances of Ben Mee and Michael Keane at the heart of the defense. Mee ranks second for clearances (300) and first for shots blocked (46) in the league this season, with his proactive approach to defending a vital reason why Sean Dyche’s side will be back in the league next season.

Chelsea: Eden Hazard, 7.79

He may have missed out on the PFA Player of the Year award to team-mate N’Golo Kanté but Eden Hazard has been the top performer in the Premier League according to our statistical ratings. Along with 15 goals and five assists, he has completed the most dribbles (138), drawn the most fouls (98) and created the most chances from open play (75).

Crystal Palace: Wilfried Zaha, 7.39

Wilfried Zaha set Crystal Palace on their way to a thumping 4-0 win on Sunday, confirming their place in the Premier League for another season. This has probably been his best season to date, with nine assists and seven goals.

Everton: Romelu Lukaku, 7.50

As the top scorer in the Premier League (24 goals without a single penalty), it’s little surprise that Romelu Lukaku is Everton’s highest rated player, having also had the most shots on target this season (51). He has also laid on six assists, while completing more dribbles than any of his team-mates to ensure he is in demand once again this summer.

Hull City: Harry Maguire, 7.07

There are a handful of relegated players who are likely to return to the Premier League this season and Harry Maguire is one of them. The 24-year-old has been a standout performer for Hull, having completed more dribbles than any other defender in the league. It’s no wonder a number of clubs are interested in bringing him back to the top flight.

Leicester City: Christian Fuchs, 7.06

It was a disappointing title defense from Leicester City, but a top-half finish is still possible following their change of managers in February. Christian Fuchs has again enjoyed a decent campaign, ranking highly for assists (four), tackles per game (2.5) and crosses per game (0.8).

Liverpool: Roberto Firmino, 7.55

He may be the least lauded member of Liverpool’s front three but Roberto Firmino has led the line well this season. A return of 11 goals may be modest but his link-up play and work rate from the front ares invaluable to Jürgen Klopp. Only Eden Hazard has created more chances from open play this season (65), while the Brazilian ranks third for possession won in the attacking third (29).

Manchester City: Kevin de Bruyne, 7.49

While a goal tally of five is disappointing for a player of Kevin de Bruyne’s considerable talents, his creativity has set him apart. His tally of 15 assists is the highest in the league and only Eden Hazard and Alexis Sánchez have won more of our man of the match awards this season (eight).

Manchester United: Paul Pogba, 7.71

A controversial award, no doubt, but Paul Pogba has been influential for Manchester United in the league and in Europe this season. He has averaged the second most passes per game in the Premier League this season (73.7), delivered the second most accurate through balls (12) and also leads the way for United in both key passes (1.9) and dribbles (2.4) per game.

Middlesbrough: Calum Chambers, 7.07

It says a lot when your highest rated player for the campaign is on loan from another Premier League club. Calum Chambers has impressed during his time at the Riverside, at center-back and right-back, and he has made more clearances per game (7.2) than any other Boro player. Like Maguire, he is likely to be playing Premier League football next season, be it with parent club Arsenal or elsewhere.

Southampton: Virgil van Dijk, 7.43

When Virgil van Dijk’s season was cut short in January due to a serious knee injury, Southampton fans could have been forgiven for thinking they had seen the last of him in the red and white stripes. The 25-year-old is perhaps the most in-demand defender in the Premier League and for good reason. He has been dominant in the air, winning 4.7 aerial duels per game, and calculated when stepping in to make interceptions, averaging 2.6 per game. It would be a shock if Van Dijk were still at St. Mary’s next season.

Stoke City: Joe Allen, 6.94

Stoke City’s big money signing came in the form of Joe Allen and he has not disappointed, even if the team’s form has dipped towards the end of the season. Allen ranks highly for tackles (2.4) and interceptions per game (1.7), with his ball winning ability vital for Mark Hughes’ side. He is also their joint-top scorer in the league.

Sunderland: Jordan Pickford, 7.05

Jordan Pickford’s form has been a shining light amid Sunderland’s dreary season. The 23-year-old will surely return to the Premier League this summer, having made more saves per game (4.5) than any other goalkeeper, with his rating of 7.05 the highest in the league.

Swansea City: Gylfi Sigurdsson, 7.26

It’s no surprise to see Gylfi Sigurdsson top of the pile at Swansea. He is seventh for key passes (78), second for clear-cut chances created (16) and joint-second for assists (13) in the Premier League. A lot of clubs will be keen to sign Sigurdsson this summer, but Paul Clement really needs to retain the services of the 27-year-old.

Tottenham Hotspur: Harry Kane, 7.52

Having become only the fourth player to score at least 20 goals in three consecutive Premier League seasons (after Ruud van Nistelrooy, Thierry Henry and Alan Shearer), Harry Kane took his tally to 22 by scoring Spurs’ last ever goal at the old White Hart Lane. A couple of injuries mean Kane has only started 27 times in the league but he has still mustered the second most shots on target (50) and registered a career-high total of six assists.

Watford: José Holebas, 6.99

José Holebas has been a consistent performer for Watford this season, with the experienced left-back topping the assist charts for the club, with four. The 32-year-old has attacked well – he ranks high for key passes (1.1) and dribbles per game (1.3) – without shirking his defensive responsibilities, as shown by his 1.8 tackles and 1.7 interceptions per game.

West Bromwich Albion: Gareth McAuley, 7.11

It may seem risky for a club to renew the contract of a 37-year-old but Gareth McAuley remains a crucial player for West Brom and warranted a new deal this year. The Northern Ireland international is a fantasy football favorite, having scored six goals this season – as many as any other defender when excluding penalties. He also leads the way of the Baggies in clearances (6.3) and blocks (0.9) per game.

West Ham United: Michail Antonio, 7.25

Michail Antonio was linked with a move to Chelsea earlier in the season and looked reluctant to sign a new deal but he has now put pen to paper on a fresh contract. West Ham will be relieved as he has been their top scorer this season, with nine goals in the league.

The Guardian Sport

Five Outsiders Who Deserve to be Called up to the England Squad


Gareth Southgate has a number of decisions to make as he prepares to name his third squad since replacing Sam Allardyce as England manager. The absence of Harry Kane and, in all likelihood, Jordan Henderson means there will be places for grabs in the starting XI, let alone the squad, so number of fringe players may be hopeful of a call-up. Here are five in-form Premier League players who deserve recognition before the matches with Germany and Lithuania.

Jordan Pickford

Jordan Pickford has secured the highest rating of all goalkeepers in the Premier League this season (7.09). Sunderland could have been dead and buried by now but for his efforts. The 23-year-old has made more saves per game than any other top-flight keeper (4.7), so it’s not hard to see why he is attracting interest from some of the league’s richest clubs.

Joe Hart remains a shoo-in for the squad given his international experience; Ben Foster looks solid at West Brom; and Tom Heaton has enjoyed a good season with Burnley; but Southgate may want to establish Pickford in the senior set-up sooner rather than later. With Fraser Forster seemingly suffering from a crisis of confidence – only Claudio Bravo has a worse save success rate in the Premier League – there may be a spot up for grabs.

Harry Maguire

Harry Maguire may not be given the call just yet but the Hull centre-back has been key to the Tigers’ survival prospects this season, stepping up in the absence of injured pair Michael Dawson and Curtis Davies. The 24-year-old has been in fine form since the turn of the year in particular, with his rating of 7.47 in 2017 the highest of all the centre-backs in the Premier League.

In that time Maguire ranks among the top five players in the Premier League for clearances (72), headed clearances (57) and blocks (10), with his physicality proving a real bonus to Marco Silva’s side. Maguire is not just a big unit who can hold off attackers with his strength. He also has commendable ability on the ball and offers a real threat in the opposition box too. Indeed, in 2017 he is the Premier League centre-back with the most attempts at goal (14) and dribbles out from the back (10). With Phil Jagielka ageing and Chris Smalling not getting the sort of game time he would hope for in the league, Maguire is among a crop of younger defenders waiting in the wings.

Michael Keane

If Maguire does not make the squad, that position may be filled by Michael Keane, who was included in Southgate’s previous selection. The England boss knows plenty about the Burnley man from their time together in the Under-21s and Keane has been one of the most consistent centre-backs in the Premier League this season. He too is believed to be in demand and it would be a surprise if the 24-year-old remains at Turf Moor too much longer given the ease with which he has made the step up to the Premier League in his second shot at top-flight football with the club.

Keane is the third highest-rated English centre-back in the top flight (7.12), with no player having blocked more shots all season (36). He’s among the top five for clearances and has put in strong showings against some of the Premier League’s top teams this season, most notably when he returned to Old Trafford to face his former club and when Burnley faced Liverpool at the weekend.

Ross Barkley

Beyond Harry Kane, who will miss the upcoming internationals through injury, few Englishmen have hit the heights that Barkley has managed in 2017. The playmaker recently received glowing praise from his manager, Ronald Koeman, who suggested the 23-year-old deserves a chance in the No10 role for England. Barkley looks to be back at his best after an underwhelming start to the season. His assist for Romelu Lukaku’s goal at the weekend was his seventh of the season, which leads the way for Everton, while his return of four goals is second only to Lukaku.

Barkley has been overlooked for the last three international squads and he did not play a single minute at Euro 2016. The youngster, behind the aforementioned Lukaku (7.93) and Kane (7.86), has earned the third highest Premier League rating in 2017 (7.74), with only Christian Eriksen creating more chances in that time.

Nathan Redmond

He may be a long shot, but when it comes to players Gareth Southgate has been able to trust in England colours, Nathan Redmond ranks highly. The Southampton player was consistently one of the top performers for the Under-21s under Southgate and he is among a select few who have not frozen on the international stage for England. Indeed, England flopped at the U21 European Championship in 2015, but Redmond performed admirably to earn a place in Uefa’s team of the tournament.

That was nearly two year ago, but the winger has been in good form of late. His man-of-the-match showing against Watford in Southampton’s last match was well timed, with a brace in that game helping to give Southampton a 4-3 win. He has only scored five goals in the league this season, so his finishing needs work. He has only provided one assist this season but that owes a great deal to poor finishing from his team-mates, with the youngster having created the most chances from open play (43) of any Englishman in the Premier League.

Will Tottenham Finally Finish above Arsenal in the Premier League this Year?


When Arsenal lost for a fourth time in five league games at West Brom on Saturday, Spurs fans sensed another opportunity to extend their lead over their local rivals. Arsenal’s 3-1 defeat reduced the pressure on Mauricio Pochettino’s team before their game against Southampton the following day, which they won 2-1 – their fourth victory in five league games – to establish a nine-point lead over Arsenal, who have now fallen to sixth in the table.

Arsenal have a game in hand on Tottenham but, given their current form and the overriding sense of uncertainty at the club, there is no guarantee that they will be able to reduce the gap. Aside from Manchester United’s win at Middlesbrough, it was an excellent weekend for Tottenham – if you accept that Chelsea are now out of reach at the top of the table.

Coming second this season would be a real achievement for Spurs after they failed so emphatically on the final day of last season. There would be no shame in finishing runners up to this Chelsea team. Although Arsenal pipped Tottenham to second place last May, the fact they finished behind Leicester City somewhat reduced the achievement, perhaps unjustly, as fans were frustrated that they had missed a massive opportunity to win the league for the first time since 2004.

Tottenham did not lead the league at all last season and, given Chelsea’s form this season, their fans will not have expected to win the title this year either. But the tide is turning in North London, if it hasn’t already. Finishing below Arsenal for the last 21 seasons has hurt Tottenham but the expectations have changed. Spurs fans now feel that they should be above Arsenal in the table, and rightly so.

Tottenham are undeniably the stronger team at present. Pochettino’s side manage matches and situations with far more professionalism than Arsenal, so surely they can’t let their advantage slip this time around. This time last season – after 28 games – Tottenham were in second place just three points clear of their rivals, with five points fewer than they have this campaign. Funnily enough, if Arsenal win their game in hand, they will be two points better off than they were after the same number of games a year ago. While their recent capitulation has understandably stolen the headlines, it’s Tottenham’s continued improvement that has enabled them to extend the gap.

Spurs fans have cause for optimism – and their next five matches are against teams in the bottom half of the table – but their run-in isn’t what you would consider plain sailing. Tottenham’s away form has cost them a shot at the title this season. They have won just four of their 13 matches on the road – the same number as Crystal Palace, who just happen to be one of the six sides they are still to face away from home.

Before then they travel to Turf Moor to face a Burnley side whose vast chasm in points won at home compared to away (26 points) is the only one in the league greater than Spurs’ (23). Burnley have won seven of their last nine at home and haven’t lost to Tottenham in four at Turf Moor. Then Spurs are off to Swansea City, who are fighting for their lives and have won their last three home matches.

However, back-to-back home games with Watford and Bournemouth, who between them have won just two of their last 16 away games, makes far more encouraging reading. Spurs then travel to Selhurst Park for a rescheduled midweek game against Crystal Palace, who are also scrapping for points at the bottom and have found some form of their own.

The comes the big one. The North London derby at the Lane in late April will be massive in deciding whether Arsenal can catch Spurs once more, if it’s not already too late by then. The game just so happens to fall on the same week as “The Battle of the Bridge” last season – just a year and two days after Tottenham spectacularly unravelled in West London.

Another London derby at West Ham kicks off what is likely to be a run of three away games in four, with a fixture at a resurgent Leicester City still to be rearranged. Then Spurs play their last home game of the season and potentially the last ever Premier League game to be played at White Hart Lane, against Manchester United, who just don’t lose matches at present, before a trip to Hull on the final day of the season.

Tottenham will be desperate to finish in second and they will be a facing a Hull City side who might be relegated by then. If it is in their own hands and Hull are unable to budge from their current spot in the relegation zone, memories of their disastrous trip up to Newcastle last season are sure to come flooding back.

It seems unlikely that Arsenal will be the side challenging them for second come the end of the season though, and Tottenham shouldn’t lose focus as they did last season. Pochettino’s team seem all but certain to usurp their rivals for the first time in over two decades and, while Arsenal’s recent struggles have played a big part in that, Spurs will deserve great credit for outgunning the Gunners this time around.

The Guardian Sport

Aston Villa have not Won a Match in 2017. Are they in Danger of Another Relegation?


Three Championship clubs decided to replace their managers in the same week back in October. Cardiff City were second from bottom with only eight points from 11 games, so they brought in Neil Warnock to replace Paul Trollope. Derby County, who found themselves in 20th, having secured 10 points from 11 games, sacked Nigel Pearson and welcomed Steve McClaren back to the club. And Aston Villa, who were level on points with Derby but still had aspirations of a top-two finish, decided to wave goodbye to Roberto Di Matteo and bring in Steve Bruce.

All three clubs enjoyed immediate improvements. McClaren’s return to Derby proved to be an instant success, with the team winning eight of their next 10 league games. Warnock steadied the ship at Cardiff, who have won six of their nine matches in 2017 – including victories over Villa and Derby – as they have moved into the comfort of midtable.

Bruce was tipped to bring a revival at Villa and the former Birmingham City boss had a big impact initially. The club went seven games unbeaten, winning four, and looked set to launch an attack on the play-off places. However, since the turn of the year, the crippling fear that has cursed the team in recent seasons and under Di Matteo has manifested itself once again. Regardless of how many new players are brought in or who is in charge, Villa seem so lacking in confidence.

The team didn’t perform too badly under Di Matteo but the players didn’t have the mental strength or game management to cling on to promising results. Their early season was defined by conceding late goals. They dropped a point in the 85th minute on the opening day of the season against Sheffield Wednesday, and then dropped two points in draws against Huddersfield, Nottingham Forest, Brentford and Barnsley in the 86th, 87th, 88th and 90th minutes, respectively. They were often the better team for much of their games but lapses of concentration and late errors proved costly as they threw away leads under Di Matteo.

When Villa scored late winners at Reading and at home to Fulham in Bruce’s opening three games, it looked as if he had managed to instil a greater self-belief in the side, but that steadfastness has all but disappeared. In 2017 they have picked up just one point from seven games – the lowest in the Championship – and have a worse record in Bruce’s last 11 games (eight points) than they had under Di Matteo (10 points from 11 games). Calls for Bruce to get the chop too are understandable.

Villa face Newcastle and Derby in their next two matches and, if they fail to win either of those tough fixtures, their current winless streak in the league will reach 10 games, as well as potentially dragging them into a relegation dogfight. That eventuality should have been a near impossibility given the money they have spent and talent within the squad, so what has gone so drastically wrong?

Bruce has been quick to bemoan his side’s luck as well as individual errors. It’s true that Villa have started strongly in their last five matches – even in the 3-0 hammering at Brentford – but they have been unable to sustain their early threat and capitalise on their (half) chances. More than 23.5% of the goals Villa have conceded this season have resulted from individual errors, which is highest in the league by some distance – Newcastle, who are second guiltiest o giving away goals due to individual mistakes, are all the way down at 16%. The fact that Villa’s three goalkeepers this season have combined to make the second fewest saves (68) in the league points to three things: Villa’s defensive record in general isn’t particularly bad; they’ve struggled to solve a long-standing problem by not finding a goalkeeper who breeds confidence; and teams have been clinical against them.

Villa have lost their last four matches but the game that seemed to drain their confidence was the 2-2 draw at home to Preston before that run began. Having taken a 2-0 lead into half-time, they allowed Simon Grayson’s men back into the match. Villa have taken 32 shots in the opening 30 minutes of their last five matches and conceded just 12, highlighting that they are starting games well enough. However, they have taken 44 shots and conceded 47 in the remaining time in those matches.

Essentially, they run out of ideas, the intensity decreases and panic sets in. They have tended to resort to kick-and-rush football in the second half of matches under Bruce. They have played 972 passes in the first halves of their last five matches but only 837 in the second halves. Their confidence and creativity wanes – even though they have signed some of the Championship’s strongest attacking players.

Forwards Ross McCormack, Jonathan Kodjia and Scott Hogan all signed for a combined fee of well over £40m, while Henri Lansbury and Conor Hourihane – who had racked up a league high of 11 assists before he joined from Barnsley – were recruited to provide the creative energy in midfield. Villa’s players have scored from just 7.8% of their shots, which is a huge concern given the outlay on attackers.

Bruce’s side are not only seen as a real scalp but also as villains in this league. They have used their financial power to pluck some prized assets from other Championship clubs and have become a joy to beat for opponents. Three of their last four defeats been against clubs who sold Villa star players in January, results that have been particularly sweet for Brentford, Nottingham Forest and Barnsley fans.

The majority of Villa fans seem to be coming round to the idea that Bruce isn’t the man for this job. The supporters did not expect the new manager – who was considered a Championship specialist – to bring a particularly pleasing brand of football, but he was supposed to guarantee results.

However, now just seven points above the relegation zone and a monumental 19 adrift of the play-offs, Villa will be hoping they can secure their place in the Championship. With Newcastle and Derby to come their downward spiral seems unlikely to change quickly, which could leave the club in a previously unthinkable position.

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West Ham can Afford to Sell Dimitri Payet but they Must Keep Andy Carroll Fit


When Slaven Bilic confirmed that Dimitri Payet had expressed his desire to leave West Ham, the club’s fans were understandably devastated. Despite a drop off in form and an increasingly questionable attitude, the France international was still their most creative threat by far in the first half of the season – in fact, he played more key passes per game (4.1) than any other footballer in Europe’s top leagues.

Payet had signed a lucrative contract extension midway through his sensational debut campaign in London and supporters had every right to think he would be at the club for some time but, as speculation about a big-money move in the summer persisted, Bilic’s announcement became almost inevitable. The manager looked deflated by Payet’s decision – saying he was “angry” and “let down” – and the timing could not have been worse, with the news coming after a 5-0 drubbing at home to Manchester City, West Ham’s third defeat in a row.

In the games that have followed, however, West Ham have rallied in the absence of their star man and seem to have grown in self belief, no longer counting on Payet to conjure up moments of magic. The team is no longer over-reliant on Payet but they have a new talisman: Andy Carroll.

A very different type of matchwinner to Payet, Carroll has always made an impact for the club – when available. Plagued by injuries throughout his time in London, Carroll has started just 66 of a possible 172 league matches for the club. In that time West Ham’s win rate has been 40.9% when he has started compared to just 29.2% when he hasn’t – and his impact is even greater when this season is taken in isolation.

West Ham have won five of the seven games Carroll has started this season, having won just three of the 15 he didn’t start. They are scoring substantially more goals with him in the team: up from 1.07 per game without him to 1.86 with Carroll, whose presence has also helped to alleviate pressure on their fragile defence.

Not only is he strong when defending set pieces but his ability to hold up the ball means his defenders can play long passes up to him and bypass any high press from the opposition. By winning aerial duels (9.9 per game) and giving his team-mates an out-ball, he has helped the side concede just five goals in the seven matches he has started compared to 31 in the 15 matches he didn’t.

The issue, of course, is Carroll’s fitness. He has not started more than 12 league games in a row since he joined the club – initially on loan – in 2012. If he can avoid injury, Carroll will prove just as decisive as Payet was last season and he could take the club to a second successive top-half finish. Before his return to the starting line-up against Burnley last month, West Ham were just one point and one place above the relegation zone. Now they are 10th in the table, 12 points above the relegation zone.

Carroll’s inclusion allows West Ham to make the most of a back-three system that didn’t really suit them when he wasn’t playing. Bilic has fielded a back three on 12 occasions in the league, including three matches Carroll has started. They have won all three with Carroll in the team, but just two of the nine matches he didn’t start.

With Michail Antonio and Aaron Cresswell operating as wing-backs, the side has looked dangerous on the attack, with both players capable of providing the sort of service Carroll thrives upon. Moreover, Payet’s absence has encouraged Manuel Lanzini to flourish. Lanzini has scored one goal and set up two more in the two games Payet has missed. With Payet out of the team, Lanzini has produced ratings of 8.58 (against Palace) and 8.46 (against Middlesbrough) – his first and third best performances this season – compared to an average of just 6.78 in 14 starts when playing alongside Payet. Bilic will be hoping the 23-year old continues to relish the extra responsibility.

With Lanzini, Antonio and a fit again Sofiane Feghouli able to support Carroll – not to mention André Ayew, who is currently representing Ghana at the Africa Cup of Nations – West Ham have the players to hurt any side on their day. It’s now up to their top striker to prove he can be relied upon. If Carroll can avoid injury, which has proven a huge if in the past, West Ham will be on the up. The club might want to find a suitable replacement for Carroll rather than attempting to replace Payet, a player who had previously seemed irreplaceable.

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