Such was Manchester City’s confidence that they would succeed with their appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport last month, they continued to work on huge deals for the likes of Napoli centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly (29) and Valencia winger Ferran Torres (20).
With the club now in the clear following their victory at CAS, Anis takes a look at a quartet of unorthodox players that they should consider in the upcoming summer transfer window.
Lucas Digne (27) – Everton
Even by today’s standards, Lucas Digne is something of a journeyman. The 27-year-old broke through as a youngster for Lille before winning a few titles with Paris Saint-Germain. After a successful loan move to Roma, he joined Barcelona for two seasons before finding himself at Everton.
The Frenchman has consistently been one of the most creative full-backs in Europe. Last season he created more chances (52) than any other defender in a top-five league, recording 7.71 expected assists in the process. With seven actual league assists this campaign, Lucas Digne proved his last season was no fluke.
You only have to look to his brilliant 40-yard cross field assist against Southampton last week as testament to his ability. Given his age, profile and the fact he only cost Everton £18 million in August 2018; Digne would be a sensible signing to exorcise the hexed left-back position for good.
Harry Pickering (21) – Crewe Alexandra
Something worth noting with full-backs in recent years is that the attributes required to be one now seem to be how good your cross is and whether you can get up and down the pitch quick enough.
You don’t have to be tall. You don’t have to be strong. You don’t even have to be particularly adept at defending. If you can run all game, whip a cross in and hold a line then most clubs in a top-five league would welcome you with open arms.
Now, that brings me to 21-year-old Harry Pickering. Now bear with me here; yes, he plays for Crewe Alexandra and yes, they did play in League 2 this season, but I genuinely believe there is far better value for full-backs in the lower leagues than punting £40 million on Max Aarons or Jamaal Lewis.
There are potentially dozens of unearthed gems who could make the cut in the top-flight, since all you need are the aforementioned perquisites to play in that position. And according to the statisticians, Pickering could be one of them. Just have a look at that pizza chart. Yummy!
Alexander Isak (20) – Real Sociedad
With 16 goals in all competitions in his debut season for Real Sociedad, Alexander Isak has enjoyed a great start to life in Spain.
The 20-year old Swedish striker with Eritrean roots stands tall at 6ft4, possesses electric pace and has fantastic shooting technique.
Having broken through as a 16-year-old for A.I.K in Sweden, Isak joined Borussia Dortmund in 2017, biding his time with a loan at Willem II. Last summer, he sealed a permanent move to Real Sociedad and has helped them to their current 6th placed standing in La Liga.
The Swedish international caught the eye with a brilliant brace against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu in the Copa Del Rey, where Real Sociedad won 4-3. In fact, he finished as top scorer in that competition with seven goals. Isak has performed just as well in La Liga where averages a goal every 159 minutes with an expected goals per 90 minutes of 0.53.
Isak looks like a player who could explode next season and given the murmurs over Gabriel Jesus’ future, he would certainly be an interesting option for Pep Guardiola should he look to bring in a forward with a different profile.
Nordi Mukiele (22) – RB Leipzig
Nordi Mukiele is another talented young French defender making a name for himself in Bundesliga. While not as known as his RB Leipzeig counterparts Dayot Upamecano and Ibrahima Konate, Mukiele stands out given his ability to play in both the centre-back and right-back position.
Most of the 22-year-old’s appearances this season have come from right-back but that’s a compliment to his technical and physical attributes rather than a stick to beat him with. He averages the second most tackles per game (2.4) for RB Leipzeig in Bundesliga and the most interceptions (1.9). He’s athletic and good on the ball so it’s no surprise Julian Nagelsmann opted to play him there.
Although Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly could still make the move to Manchester, City may find themselves in a position where one centre-back wouldn’t be enough. Fernandinho is 36 next year, while Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones could find themselves out of the door.
Would it be wise to trust Eric Garcia to play 30-40 games next season? I’m not so sure.
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