Darwin Nunez seemed an odd fit at Liverpool last season, but an actual creative midfield should unlock him, while Harry Kane has been released for £40m.
Darwin Nunez (Liverpool)
“There’s a lot more to come. That’s clear. He needs time to settle down,” Jurgen Klopp said in May, preaching patience in an industry hardly known for displaying the virtue.
“The hardest thing for a striker is to come into a team that doesn’t click,” added the Liverpool manager. “Think if we played for us a good season, a season of 80 points or more, for sure he would have scored more goals. But it’s like now that every situation we create and miss is a higher level (of pressure). Fifteen goals is just fine.”
And it is. Luis Suarez scored 17 in his first full season at Liverpool, with the Uruguayan enjoying a few months of acclimatization after joining in January. Mo Salah was the only team-mate to surpass Nunez, who suffered inevitable comparisons with Erling Haaland, whom he never invited.
But player, manager and club will only dampen expectations for so long. A fee of DKK 64 million. GBP, potentially rising to 85m. GBP, ultimately requires a level of performance and degree of consistency which far surpassed Nunez in his debut season.
Klopp was right to point out the impact of playing in a team “that doesn’t click”. The shortcomings in the midfield undoubtedly affected Nunez, who suffered from both the instability and the sterility behind him. Trent Alexander-Arnold (71), Mo Salah (65) and Andy Robertson (52) were the only Liverpool players to rank in the top 60 chance creators of the 2022/23 Premier League season, with Jordan Henderson (31) the only second teammate to actually rank ahead of Nunez himself (28).
With a refresh in midfield that introduces Alexis Mac Allister (47) and especially Dominik Szoboszlai (71) into a stimulated equation, a more settled Nunez should thrive with reliable service suited to his strengths.
Bruno Guimaraes (Newcastle)
The wording differs, but the general idea remains the same: the focus at Newcastle this summer is to identify signings that unlock, maximize or further unlock the talents of Bruno Guimaraes.
It’s a fair plan and another indication of Newcastle’s pragmatism. As the Champions League and a four-team balance beckon, Eddie Howe wants to formalize the platform from which his best player performs.
A more defensive-minded midfielder remains a target, but the Magpies have refined their engine room with the addition of Sandro Tonali. The Italian won’t be regularly deployed as the deep-lying fulcrum that promises to free Guimaraes of his more mundane responsibilities, but he will allow the kind of greater fluidity and flexibility that arguably suits the Brazilian’s skills even more.
Harry Kane (Spurs)
James Maddison naming Christian Eriksen “one of my favorite players growing up” was no happy accident. The comparisons are as apt as they are tired, but that doesn’t make them any less relevant or important. Tottenham have lacked a player like this for more than three years.
In the past two seasons, Harry Kane has been Tottenham’s leading goalscorer and open chance creator. A burdensome dual role has been made to look remarkably easy by a phenomenal player whose ability to simultaneously pass the balls and pull the trigger at consistently elite levels has been taken for granted.
Maddison is changing that by reducing the attacking load on Kane’s shoulders and improving a forward line that has been crying out for some diversification that Richarlison could not offer despite his best efforts.
With Ange Postecoglou’s system requiring Spurs to play on the front foot more often, Dejan Kulusevski, Heung-min Son and Kane will all benefit from a more progressive mind behind them.
READ MORE: Maddison is the Eriksen replacement Spurs have longed for for years – they could have just landed a transfer
Ollie Watkins (Aston Villa)
Aston Villa signing a midfield of Douglas Luiz, John McGinn, Boubacar Kamara, Jacob Ramsey and Youri Tielemans for a total transfer fee of £17m is something of that. Fair play to that.
Tielemans, like his new teammates, offers a unique quality that Unai Emery can call upon when tailoring his set-up to specific opponents and challenges. Luiz passes, McGinn dribbles, Kamara tackles and Ramsey buzzes in attack; Tielemans does a bit of everything while offering a passing range and variety that Ollie Watkins will enjoy with his runs in behind and hold-up play.
Cheick Doucoure (Crystal Palace)
With Roy Hodgson strapped for another year at Selhurst Park, Crystal Palace may tighten the budget accordingly. Across five relegation seasons aboard the Eagles, the 75-year-old has only signed one player for more than £10m. And why risk that record when Eberechi Eze has been so incredibly valuable?
Jefferson Lerma is a fitting first signing of the septuagenarian’s second coming, arranged before Hodgson’s reappointment was finalised, but no doubt welcomed by a manager keen to lighten the workload for Cheick Doucoure.
A £19m signing made under Patrick Vieira, Doucoure has been the designated water-carrier, doing the hard yards to allow Eberechi Eze, Michael Olise, Wilfried Zaha and the other silk-footed, snake-hipped impostors to express themselves properly.
Only four midfielders made more than his 133 combined tackles and interceptions in the Premier League last season, but Doucoure has needed an aggressive, reliable partner in the Lerma mold for too long – the Colombian was fifth for ball recoveries (260) while in Bournemouth last season.
Lerma’s versatility to switch between holding midfielder, central defender or box-to-box roamer will pair well with Doucoure as Palace establish an axis as strong as the more exciting players ahead of them.
READ MORE: All Premier League completed transfers in the 2023 summer window