At the midpoint of the second international break, the Why Always Mou team sat down to grade every significant transfer of the Premier League’s big six. The teams had their players graded individually and have been listed in the order they appear in the table. Disclaimer: To all Bournemouth and Watford fans, we are legally obligated to include Manchester United in the Top 6 due to our site's namesake being the manager in charge of the dumpster fire that currently holds 8th place in the league.
Riyad Mahrez – $ 77 Million - B
When you win the Premier League by 19 points, having won 7 more games than the second place finisher – you don’t need to spend the following transfer window overhauling your team. Manchester City followed this protocol, deciding to save up their cash for later windows and only dip into the market for a single player. That player, Riyad Mahrez, cost them a measly 77 million dollars.
Mahrez has to go down as this summer’s bargain transfer. At 77 million dollars, Mahrez had the second biggest price tag of the 2018/2019 window. But this is Man City we are talking about. That much money is chump change for a team backed by the entire nation of Dubai. Think about it, Sheikh Mansour dished out a clean 246 million back in 2016 without breaking a sweat. Man City finished third that year.
So far, Mahrez’s season has taken a couple of months to find its stride. Mahrez has 4 goals and 1 assist in 11 appearances in the Premier League. His first goals for city came six weeks into the Premier League in City’s 5-0 drubbing of Cardiff. While his production has been lacking, he has been able to solidify his role in the De Bruyne lacking City lineup. Taking up the right wing as Bernardo Silva dropped into midfield to fill the Belgian’s position, Mahrez has been able to catch up with the speed of Pep’s system.
The defining moment of Mahrez’s early career with Man City came in the form of a penalty taken in the 85th minute against title contenders Liverpool. Mahrez smashed the ball over the outstretched Liverpool goalkeeper, Allison, over the crossbar, and into the grey Liverpool sky. Mahrez had a chance to score the winning goal against Man City’s most robust competition. Instead, he missed the penalty and caused controversy within the City dressing room, because, moments before skying the kick, Mahrez took the ball from Gabriel Jesus.
Mahrez has not been phenomenal for City but - apart from his blunder at Anfield – he has not damaged the system that won the premier league at a jog last season. Expect Mahrez’s production to continue to improve throughout the season as he will inevitably find himself starting more games in the premier league the deeper City go into European Competition.
Guardiola also had his mind set on bringing in the former Napoli Regista, Jorginho to act as a tactical amuse-bouche to his midfield main course of De Bruyne, Silva, and Fabinho. The transfer was stifled, however, after Chelsea secured the services of Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri, who ensured that he and Jorginho would be making the trip from Naples to London together. More on that later.
Xerdan Shaqiri – $16.8 Million – A+
Shaqiri has been a real spark for a Liverpool side that has been sluggishly dominant through the opening third of the premier league season. Regarding true bargains (cough cough Riyad Mahrez), you rarely find steals as good as this. Stoke was basically forced to sell their cubic talisman after being relegated from the premier league, and Liverpool was more than happy to pluck him from their grasp.
Starting three games and being subbed on in five others, Shaqiri’s production in the premier league has been precisely what any red Scouse would have hoped for. He has scored twice and assisted twice in the Premier League; however the impact he has had in filling Liverpool’s weak spots has been most impressive. Whether subbing on for the stagnant Salah or dropping into a Coutinho role at the top of central midfield, his active presence and pugnacious attitude has made his presence felt.
In Liverpool’s 2-0 loss to Red Star Belgrade in the Champions League, Shaqiri did not travel with the team over concerns that his nationality would invite violence from the Red Star supporters. Political strife aside, Liverpool clearly missed his presence. The front three of Mane, Sturridge, and Salah were sluggish, lacking any creativity in the final third. The Swiss forward would have been able to tear up the fair competition and, at the least, create opportunities for the rest of the Liverpool attack. Bereft of his presence, however, the Reds struggled to muster any form of an attack and left Belgrade with their tails between their legs.
The impact Shaqiri has on Liverpool will be interesting to observe going forward as he slowly forces himself into the teams starting lineup in the Premier League. If Liverpool really wants to challenge City for the title, they will have to sacrifice one of Firmino, Sturridge, or a spot in midfield to allow Shaqiri to provide them the energy they too often seem to be lacking in big matches.
Alisson – $71.3 Million – B+
The former Roma goalkeeper strolled into Anfield as, at that point, the most expensive transfer in history for a man that guards the sticks. Alisson’s performances for Liverpool have been very satisfactory to most supporters because, for the most part, his last name is not Karius. Though he has had a few shaky moments (his blunder against Liverpool), the Brazilian is living up to his price tag. The only reason he wasn’t given a higher grade is due to his failure to really dominate any performances with his presence. Until it comes out that Mahrez missed his penalty because Alisson hypnotized him by stroking his beard in a counterclockwise rotation, Alisson will retain his rating of B+.
Fabinho - $51.4 Million – C–
When Liverpool announced the purchase of Fabinho from Monaco after what seemed like only a few hours of the transfer market being open – they were making a statement of their intention to go on and win the premier league. Bolstering a midfield of Milner, Keita, Henderson, and Lallana, Liverpool were not shying around the fact that they were intending to sign a starter in Fabinho.
Regarding the success of former Monaco stars, however, Fabinho’s brief career with Liverpool has been more Bakayoko than Mbappe. The Brazilian international has struggled to catch up to the pace of Klopp’s “heavy metal football.”
At 6’2’’, Fabinho’s build resembles that of a defensive midfielder who would have thrived under a system such as Mourinho’s at Chelsea – a decade old, defense-minded, counter-attacking force. However, his lack of pace has slowed his production in the modern game. Compared with small, pacy, defensive midfielders such as Alex Torreira or N’golo Kante, Fabinho is clearly a step behind.
His failure to adapt has led to numerous rumors that, like his past colleague Bakayoko, he will be shipped off to AC Milan in the coming transfer window.
Keita - $68.5 million – D
Let’s get this straight – Keita has been one of the more hyped transfers in recent years. His signing for Liverpool over a year ago was a massive statement of intent from the Reds. Klopp was taking the initiative to sign a quick, small, creative midfielder who would act as Coutinho 2.0, taking control of the midfield and pulling strings for their strong front three. Gerrard gave Keita his number – and the rest was meant to be history.
That history will have to wait.
Though Keita has looked full of energy in his early starts, injuries and a failure to hold down a starting role have prevented him from fulfilling his potential. Keita has been a disappointment so far in that he has not lived up to the various highlight reels from his Leipzig days that showed him tearing through defenses and scoring bangers from 20 yards.
Some reports indicate that the language barrier has prevented his integration into the team. This is not a good excuse. Keita knew for over a year he would be moving to England in the summer of 2018. He had time to prepare his game for the premier league. His sluggish start indicates a lack of genuine commitment to a new brand of football. His start, however, is not a determining factor in his final development as a red. One thing is clear about Keita, he has all the attributes to succeed.
Keita will find success at Liverpool, only it will not resemble the image many Liverpool fans had before his arrival at Anfield.
Jorginho - $65 Million – A+
When Maurizio Sarri was officially announced as the new manager of Chelsea, he had less than a week to integrate his system of “Sarriball,” a vertical tiki-taka style of play that took him years to develop at previous clubs Napoli and Empoli. To institute his changes, he insisted he bring with him the man who pulled the strings of his team in northern Italy. That man was Jorginho.
Not only has Jorginho been instrumental in adapting the squad to Sarri’s tactics, but his presence in the dressing room has done much to improve the dark atmosphere that surrounded the second half of Antonio Conte’s stint at Stamford Bridge.
Jorginho will not dominate the goal scoring tallies nor will he give a team 15+ assists in a season. He will, however, set the pace for a style of play that demands concentration and enthusiasm both on and off the ball. It is not enough to have David Luiz hoof the ball up to Willian and Hazard every five minutes. Instead, the current team needs to have the speed on the ground to find space and create genuine chances. Jorginho is indeed the quarterback of the current Chelsea squad, and his health will determine the outcome of their season.
To put Chelsea’s current success into perspective, they are undefeated in all competitions three months into the season. Their manager had less than a month in the summer that included a world cup to completely change the style of play for a squad that was coming off of five years of counter attack-minded football. It took Guardiola two years and hundreds of million dollars to win the league and Klopp, who has had his own chest to pull from, has now been at the helm of Liverpool for roughly three years and whose highest finish in the league is 4th.
Jorginho has been the key to Chelsea’s smooth transition under Sarri. Their future in the league will be on his shoulders.
Kepa – $91.3 Million – A
Allison Becker was supposed to be the most expensive transfer for a goalkeeper in history. That was until Thibaut Courtois failed to show up for Chelsea’s preseason camp, and the board at Stamford Bridge were forced to tell the football world: “hold my pint – watch this.”
At 91 million dollars, Kepa needed to perform. And, in short, he has. Chelsea has yet to lose this season, and Kepa has played an integral role. In a defense consisting of two Spaniards, a German, and a Brazilian, it takes a significant presence between the sticks to hold it all together.
At 24 years old, and having never left his boyhood club of Atletico Bilbao, Kepa Arrizabalaga was thrown into a completely different world once he arrived in London. He has been noted as one of the goalkeepers of the future with other youngsters such as Milan keeper, Gianluigi Donnarumma.
Kepa has skyrocketed since being injected into Chelsea’s squad. His performances have exceeded his reputation and led to him receiving praise from even his international manager, Luis Enrique. Enrique mentioned that Kepa may soon fill the spot in the Spanish national team currently occupied by the man generally regarded as the best keeper in the world, David De Gea.
Kepa has also integrated well with Sarri’s fast-paced system. His distribution, in particular, has been vital to Chelsea’s ability to play out from the back. Look for Kepa to be another defining factor in the success of Chelsea this season.
Kovacic – Loan – B+
Matteo Kovacic has been a welcome sight in Chelsea’s midfield this season. He has supplied energy when needed and has been clinical when called upon.
He has not exactly broken down any doors, but he has provided the impetus needed in an aging Chelsea midfield. The biggest hindrance to his success at Chelsea has been the arrival of the new Ross Barkley. Barkley’s goal-scoring ability and love from the Chelsea faithful have made him a star at the bridge this season. Also, Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s hattrick in the Europa League added another contender to the vacant spot in the midfield of N’golo Kante and Jorginho.
Kovacic comes as part of a loan deal with Real Madrid. Chelsea has no option to buy, however, they are likely to go in for a bid at the end of the season – given that Kovacic continues his success in London.