So a season of redemption was put in the books. The plan was to have a season of consolidation in the Top 4 of La Liga.
With only a few million to spend but a significant amount in the wage budget, we had to get creative to bring in any quality.
Marc Bartra came in as a replacement for Ezequiel Garay on a free transfer. Aged 29, at the very edge of the age profile we’d normally go for, his experience will be vital in the Champions League. He also gives us something different in his role preference as a ball playing defender. Those are some exceptional defensive stats though.
Zine El Abidine Youcef or Maga to his friends, is a five star potential keeper. Scouted from a long way out, very much one for the future. Looks like he should have been the drummer for Oasis, Zine heads straight out on loan.
The final signing of the offseason was a bit of a steal. Julian Draxler was listed by Real Madrid with an asking price of a mere 13million. We were able to scrape together 7m in cash from the budget, some wage budget management, bought out clauses and the back of Mr Lim’s couch for the upfront with the rest in addons. Worth it.
There were no significant outs with Draxler taking the place of loan signings in the previous season. We had a number of youngsters who were no longer eligible to play in La Liga unless registered (no longer U19) and they have been moved out on loan. Saul Egea (Tenerife) and Filipe Oliveira (Feirense) the ones I’ll be keeping an eye on.
Performances to the end of the winter transfer window
22 games played and we’ve managed to lose twice, both to Atletico Madrid. There’s been a couple too many draws, particularly in recent times as Vallecano and Osusuna (Atletico Pamplona) are not great shakes in the league. We’ve certainly lost our spark in the league recently scoring one or none in the last seven. I’ll need to dig a closer into the stats and replays to see how we can start generating some more chances.
Despite only the two losses we find ourselves in fourth. The two names you’d expect to see around the title race are there but Malaga’s performance has been exceptional as well. The recent performances have seen us lose touch with top spot but 2nd to 5th is still very competitive. We now find Atletico Madrid right on our hammer, having a redemption season themselves under Pochettino.
Despite the difficult recent run, out goals per game are very similar to the previous season – 1.63 per game current year vs 1.53 per game prior year. Defensively we have improved on last year and have a very sound record – .5 against per game current year vs .97 prior year.
There’s plenty of work to do for Champions League football however we have the Europa League as the minimum expectation and this looks achievable with a little over a third of the season left to go.
Our performances in the Spanish Cup haven’t been infected by the scoring issues though. With a generally weaker, rotated squad appearing we have made our ways to the semi finals with a soft draw received so far. The highlight was the first leg against lower league Lealtad with youngsters Guillem Olivan, Dragan Maksimovic and Bruno Fontana all netting their first goals for the club.
We also rejoined continental competition, drawn against Manchester United, Napoli and Monaco in a tricky Champions League group . United were a dominant team again with Pogba and Rashford still present but now supported by Koke, Griezmann, Isco and Umtiti.
A promising start was thrown away. A result in the final game would have seen us through but we were unable to make our dominance count after Monaco notched just after half time. It was great to experience them European nights and we held our own for most ties, apart from our visit to Old Trafford. It certainly cemented my view that we need to get back next year.
Our star man is Joan Jordan. After showing some ability towards the end of last season, he has built on it again in the roaming playmaker role. 26 appearances all up, scoring 5 and assisting on 3 for an average rating of 7.36.
Up front Michy Batshuayi is having a better year than prior, already matching his goals tally of 8. Juan Iturbe has shown something cutting in from the right scoring 6 across 10 starts and 10 substitute appearances. He has shared the spot with Ousmane Dembele who has 4 goals and 7 assists. New man Julian Draxler has blown hot and cold, his average rating of 6.92 is one of the lower marks in the club but he has provided three goals and four assists across all competitions.
Defensively, young full back Mario Nunez has led the way with avg rating of 7.27, a goal, assist and 3 player of the match in 16(4) appearances. He is primarily a defensive full back and he may need to be tested offensively to offer slightly more overall to the team. Marc Bartra’s first season has been solid with an average rating of 7.02 in 25(2) appearances. Keeper Chichizola has already set the season clean sheet record for the club and will be looking to extend that mark in the run in.
Winter Transfer Update
The scouting network remains active and a couple of signings joined in January.
We brought in a couple of five star youth targets and a depth loan.
Francis Tapoko comes in and then straight out on loan. Good physical ability combined with teamwork and work rate. He’ll spend a couple of years in Portugal learning his trade.
Goncalo Riberio had a stack of larger clubs floating around him so we pulled the trigger on a deal to get him in. He’s good enough and young enough to stay around the squad for this year but a good chance he’ll move on loan next year to get games. He’s already put one in the top corner after debuting in the cup against Vallecano.
Joe Gomez has come in as a back up for the back four. Danilo D’Ambrosio asked to leave so we organised Joe as a replacement, only for Danilo to get injured.
The only exit of note was Roman Eremenko. Bologna took him for zero compensation, with us contributing 30k per week for the rest of the year. He wasn’t getting a shot and at his extended years, he needed to play.
So the task from here is simple, turn the very recent bad run of form around and keep that top four spot as a minimum.