Here Comes The Sun

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With our season shuffling towards it’s sorry close thoughts begin to turn towards the summer and potential ins and outs at L4.

Last season’s summer was widely regarded as a shambles, with a flip-flop themed pre season combined with suspect recruitment meaning we started the campaign in a weaker state than the previous one.

The only new additions to the squad 12 months ago were Atsu and Besic, with neither making any tangible impact on the field this season. Whilst Besic could do a job further down the line, Atsu was a half-baked tk maxx acquisition, and never an Everton player in a million years. In contrast the 4 sides directly above us in the table each invested in effective personnel that have enabled them to leapfrog us in the table.

This, combined with some of the other duds Martinez has brought in like Kone, Alcaraz and McGeady doesn’t really give the Catalan much room to manoeuvre this time round, and he needs to prove he can eek out value in the market with his low-mid range purchases. His big investments in terms of Lukaku, Barry (wages) and McCarthy have all been hits, but the rest have neither provided value nor represented any potential future profit in terms of sell on fees etc.

Granted Moyes wasn’t flawless in his recruitment, but being a frugal Scottish mingebag was undoubtedly a key factor in his impressive transfer strike rate, which, barring a couple of exceptions, was very good. Martinez record against his peers this season in terms of points per £ spent on fees/wages puts him 14th /20, so he needs to up his game.

The positive for Martinez is that he has a ‘unique opportunity’ to shape a new, younger squad according to how he wants to play.

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Who could go ….but probably won’t

Mass clear outs are always mooted, usually after either a bad result or 6 pints of foreign lager – or both. The truth is that such clearouts rarely materialise unless there has been a seismic change in the clubs fortunes i.e relegation, promotion or a takeover.

The consensus this season is that Howard has been absolute crud, and statistically the data shows that he’s been the most error prone keeper in the league. This, combined with poor handling of his area and his off field situation,  indicates that a change is needed. Personally I don’t see this happening for another 12 months.

Unwanted Speculation will also focus on the futures of key forward duo Lukaku and Mirallas.

Lukaku’s had a decent season in front of goal and is probably the best forward we’ve had for a quarter of a century, but none of the top clubs really fancied him 12 months ago and you could argue little has changed despite the goals he’s plundered in the Europa. He’s currently without a league goal from open play in 16 hours, and a move to another English Champions League side seems unlikely meaning any move would probably be abroad and a likely pay drop given the current position re tv money. Mirallas looks more certain than ever to stay, with his agents search for a Champions League suitor providing fruitless. Mirallas is inconsistent (and a tit) but unlike most of our roster he can finish 1v1, so he’s worth keeping on the payroll.

The hope is that James McCarthy will accept a comparatively modest upgrade on his terms to parity with the likes of Barry and Pienaar on £60k per week, a 50% increase on his current terms. The worry is that he’ll look across the park at Liverpool’s recent renewal of the services of Jordan ‘Hendo’ Henderson – amazingly at a cost to ‘dem yanks’ of £26m over 5 seasons with a £100k weekly wage. It’s a huge outlay on a relatively mediocre runner, and a player with arguably less in his locker than McCarthy.

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Where do we need to strengthen then?

Generally speaking the wing back and defensive midfield spots look healthy enough, and wouldn’t be areas we need to urgently prioritise.

Our goals per game this season has gone down to 1.2, the worst since Moyes nadir of 05/06. A look at the data will indicate this isn’t down to missed chances, it’s down to chances not being created; our chances created per game this season is 9 per game, which is 28% down on Moyes final season at the club.

The protracted demise of Pienaar and, to a lesser extent, Osman make a cunning, attacking midfielder who can operate wide and come in off the flank to influence things centrally, with youth on his side and an end product, our number one priority.

At the back our woes pre-new year focused on Howard’s prolific errors, combined with the unravelling of Distin. These problems have generally gone away since Stones return and Martinez shift to a more defensive approach in 2016, but you could argue the continued lack of equilibrium between defence and attack means he hasn’t really fixed the problem completely. From what I’ve seen so far there is no way the physically slight Besic is remotely close to being trusted further back, so we need a new centre half sharpish.

This interview with Moyes in the Guardian recently talked about how he wanted to get his recruitment network setup at Sociedad, and you’d hope that by now Martinez would have his infrastructure in place. The age of the squad – the 5th oldest in the league – is something which needs to be addressed as a priority, as is the mentality of the people he brings into the club. I’d argue most of his recruits haven’t had the right mentality, and that this has been a contributory factor as to why we find ourselves marooned in the middle of the table, comfortably at arm’s length to the likes of Stoke and Swansea.

There’s no sense of entitlement here, but finishing way adrift of these stellar names is not good enough.

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Who will definitely go then…

Distin and Alcaraz contract’s are both up and the duo look shoe ins to be sent to the glue factory in the coming weeks.

Luke Garbutt could well be on his way out despite Everton trying to avoid losing him on a free. To stay presumably he’d need to be given some assurances, which means Oviedo is probably on the endangered species list. If he’s actually any better than Oviedo is hard to determine. Yes he can take a good corner but defensively I’ve not seen conclusive evidence that he’s good enough to start crying over should he fuck off.

The likely departures of Distin, Garbutt/Oviedo, Alcaraz and the loan conclusions of Atsu and Lennon will this leave us five players light from this season’s squad, so in theory we need 6 to strengthen the ranks numbers wise.

The money saved in wages from Distin (60k p/w), Alcaraz £25k p/w)plus and one of either Garbutt/Oviedo – both on comparably lower wages – will be around £5.2m annually. McCarthy’s proposed new deal would eat into this by around £1.5m, so overall this would leave around £3.7m in the wages pot, the equivalent to £70k per week, i.e. not even a full Jordan Henderson.

Who is coming back ? ….and who could be bumped up?

A sift through our youth ranks will show that Hallam Hope struggled at Sheffield Wednesday, albeit he didn’t get on much and when he did he was deployed in midfield. Given he’s dropped down to League One again I’d strongly doubt he’s got a future with us. The same could be said about John Lundstram who endured an unspectacular loan at Blackpool, whilst Chris Long has had a more fruitful spell at the top end of the Championship with Brentford, scoring key goals and appearing the most likely to step up from the youth pool next season.

The nucleus of the u21 squad this season – aside from those on loan – have been defenders Galloway (centre back) Kenny (predominantly right back but can also play centre back/mid), Ledson in centre mid and Henen further forward, albeit the Belgian is only on loan at the moment. Whilst all four remain decent prospects – along with George Green – the likely outcome next season for all 5 will be loans – hopefully to Championship clubs – to get them closer to the first team for 06/07.

Who could come in?

Based on the above requirements I think 3-4 players will come in; a centre back (preferably left footed) with the experience of playing in a top flight league, a right-sided winger with pace and an intelligent attacking midfield player. Another quick, powerful forward player who can run in behind and put pressure on Lukaku would be good too, given that neither Kone or Naismith are capable.

To finish this protracted ramble I’ve had a look at our requirements , taken a look at what’s out there, analysed credible non itk links and put together the following shortlist of 5-6 players for each problem position.

Centre Back

At the top end of the spectrum, Real Sociedad’s Inigo Martinez is valued at £10m, although expect that figure to jump up if as expected creepy brenny and his seat sniffing gegs in. The 23 year old left-sided centre back is a bit like Cannavaro like in terms of stature –  he isn’t the biggest but will bring the ball out of play, can switch play effectively via a diagonal and doesn’t go to ground easily in the tackle.

Kara Mbodj is a different proposition altogether, the 6ft 3″ right footed Senegalese centre back is more physical, and can also slot into defensive midfield if required. Valued at£4m, he’s also the subject of interested from West Ham and Celtic. Mbodj is currently deployed at Genk but has spent previous time spent in the Norwegian top flight. Cameroon defender Nicolas N’koulou has enjoyed a very good season in ligue 1 but without European competition to offer , plus an obstructive £11m fee,  it’d be difficult to see us nabbing him.

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At a more economical £6m, the 20 year old Brazilian Doria is a competent left-sided centre half. Also owned by Marseille but currently on loan at Sao Paulo, he would be a decent balance to the right footed Stones. At the value end of the market, Bremen defender Jannik Vestergaard (market value £3m) has been ‘mooted’ by various ‘media outlets’ recently.The Dane would bring the height we lack in the squad although his major flaw is that he’s not as fluid on the ball as Martinez would like. At the netto end of the line is the 6ft 4 Filip Helander – a 22-year-old tall, Swedish left footed centre back currently plying his trade in Malmo. Helander would command a more economical fee of £2m, but would be something of a punt given his limited experience

Creative Midfielder

This is the top priority for me, and the options are aplenty. Eintracht ‘s 19 year old midfielder Mark Stendera (market value £4m) has 5 assists to his name this season, is versatile and can make things happen. Tom Cleverley – up to a month ago universally hated by his own fans more than Mick Quinn presumably hates himself – seems to be ‘first pick’ for this slot, and is nowhere near as bad as he’s made out. He’s also on a free which gives us a greater mandate to strengthen other positions.

New Picture (87)Sergio Canalas is a long-standing target for us. A left footed, attacking midfielder, like Inigo Martinez he is also currently plying his trade under former boss David Moyes at Sociedad. He’s previously played for Santander, Real Madrid and Valencia and is available for around £5m.

Dennis Praet, Anderlecht’s Belgian attacking midfielder, can ‘do a job’ on the left or right, and has 7 assists to his name this season. He’s still a relative pup at just 20 and his fee of £7m combined with low wages should make him affordable even to kenwrong.

The last name on my list is the Croatian Alen Halilovic, who can operate at number 10 or on the left of midfield. Halilovic is a mercurial talent; he’s slight and cunning, and is similar to Ossie and Pienaar in build and grace. Currently at Barca’s b team, the 18-year-old ex Zagreb playmaker hasn’t made a massive impact in Spain’s second tier yet, so it would seem a reach to pin much hope on him hitting the ground running at L4.

Winger

In terms of the wing role, the clamour for Aaron Lennon to be recruited full-time seems to be shared by Martinez. Lennon’s pace is still good although not what it was a few years ago and will continue to fade given he’s now 28. He does deliver a shift defensively, though, putting our other wingers to shame in this respect, and his forward forays have yielded decent returns so far. I just don’t see him scoring many, and maybe he will bag 3-4 assists per season on top of this, which, in context of the lack of end product we have received from our attacking midfielders this season, we can ill afford. He’s certainly worth no more than £6m and I think personally there are younger, better value alternatives out there.Lennon is certainly more of a credible short term option than, say, Gerard Deulofeu, whose name is likely to be on many fans wish lists, although for me it’s a no.

A more tried and tested ex Premier League player is Nani, a two footed elegant, if often frustrating, winger, who would cost brewstees at £14m.

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The £14m rated (but out of contract) Ukrainian flyer Yevhen Konoplyanko has been mooted, and he is certainly on the move from current club Dnipro this summer. I like this cat. He’s quick, can dribble, is two footed, versatile and there’s end product to his game. He’s certainly more Kanchelskis than Billy. Plus there is a big hunger to succeed. Never underestimate the power of desperation. Sadly he’s supposedly Spurs first choice wing option this summer – ahead of Mirallas – plus creepy b-rod is rooting through his bins, so it will be tough to get him in.

Braga’s £7m rated 21-year-old Rafa Silva is right footed but plays mostly off the left wing, and is another option that shouldn’t be discounted. The knee jerk would be the toffee tormentor Yannick Bolasie who should cost no more than £6m. He’s been more consistent this season and has been directly involved in 10 goals for Palace. Man United’s Adnan Januzaj could potentially do either of the midfield roles were after. I’m not sold on him personally;  he seems a player of dubious moral fibre with his on field theatrics, plus his feud with Mirallas won’t do much good for dressing room cohesion at Finch Farm.

Forward

The departure of Samuel Eto’o wasn’t filled last season and you’d think it would need plugging this summer. The 19 year old Obbi Oulare is a big youth, standing 6ft 5″ he currently operates in the Belgian league with Club Brugge. His goal ratio this season is 1 in 4 and he’s valued at around £3-4m. Oulare is decent with his back to goal,has good technique and a decent turn of pace.

At the top of my list is Breel Embolo, a powerful 18-year-old who is technically strong and decisive in front of goal. The right footed striker is currently plying his trade at Basle where he is the club’s top scorer. He has explosive pace and is a composed finisher, averaging a goal every other league game this season. He can also ‘do a job’ on the wing should it be needed. The only fly in the ointment is that other clubs including Juventus have supposedly shown an interest.

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Youseff el Arabi is a Moroccan striker standing 6ft. Predominantly a 1 in 3 man, this 28 year old right footer has played in France and Spain’s top flights so has decent pedigree. He can play as a 9 or a 10. If Martinez is going like for like, namely a has-been experienced international forward who can play up top or as a second striker, Argentine Javier Saviola – on a free at the end of season from Verona – is your man. But given what we’ve already noted regarding our dads army squad you’d hope not. Exx Partizan Belgrade ‘hit man” Alexsander Mitrovic could provide value at £8m. The Serb forward is a right footed striker with 14 goals to his name this season, making him the top scorer in the Jupiler League. Finally, our pre season tormentor last season, Celta Vigo’s tricky Nolito, would command a fee of around £6m. The 28 year old left wing / forward has impressively contributed 12 goals and 11 assists in la liga this season.

Thats all for now folks, enjoy the summer.

EB

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