Football Features

Early contenders for signing of the season in each of Europe’s top five leagues

By Chris Smith

Published: 13:23, 9 October 2021 | Updated: 13:07, 11 October 2021

We’re now so far into the new season that it doesn’t even qualify as ‘new’ anymore.

Already, we’re starting to find out who is really going to challenge for the top spots, who will be battling at the foot of the table, and who will fade into anonymity somewhere in the middle.

Much of that is down to the impact of summer signings. A shrewd bargain or a blockbuster deal can make or break a team’s season given the fine margins involved at the highest level.

With that in mind, who has been the signing of the season in each of Europe’s ‘top five’ leagues so far? Here are three suggestions for each.

Premier League

1. Andros Townsend

Plenty scoffed when Everton signed Andros Townsend given his age and relative lack of return on his potential. But who’s laughing now, after the former England international notched five goals and three assists in his first nine appearances for the club across all competitions? Townsend is well and truly leading the Rafa Benitez counter-attacking machine, and he didn’t even cost a transfer fee.

2. Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher was one of the few bright sparks in a dismal West Brom team last season and he’s continued to show what he’s made of since joining Crystal Palace over the summer with two goals and an assist, while he ranks third among his teammates for tackles (24). He’s an instant fan favourite, for sure. Meanwhile, former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher praised Gallagher’s ability to contribute so effectively as a two-way midfielder.

“He’s been one of the best players for Palace this season,” Carragher said.

Maybe with the new manager, there is a slightly different style but he is so energetic.

“We talk about certain types of midfielder, he seems to do a little bit of everything. He has so much energy getting into the box, he will score goals for palace this season no doubt.”

3. Marc Cucurella

£15m is a lot for Brighton to spend on any player, let alone a full-back. But then again, Marc Cucurella was one of Getafe’s main creative outlets over the previous two years and recently picked up his first senior cap for Spain. He is creating on average 1.5 chances per 90 minutes in the league while contributing 3.6 tackles. These are the third-best and outright strongest figures at the club, respectively, and he’s put in some truly outstanding performances, most recently against Arsenal. He’s also earned high praise from manager Graham Potter.

“We couldn’t have asked for any more in terms of how he has settled in on and off the pitch,” Potter said of Cucurella. “He is a great guy, the lads all love him. He is a real personality and plays the game in a really refreshing way.

“He gives everything but has also got quality so I think he typified the team performance.”

Honourable mentions: Demarai Gray, Cristiano Ronaldo, Hwang Hee-chan

La Liga

1. Radamel Falcao

He’s old and slow now, so nobody really expected anything of Radamel Falcao’s move to newly-promoted Rayo Vallecano. A marketing ploy or crowd-pleaser for one of Spain’s more modest clubs, right? Not quite. The Colombian veteran has already come up with three goals in just 154 minutes of football, firing Vallecano to the surprising position of sixth after eight games, ahead of the likes of Barcelona, Villarreal and Athletic Club. It’s always great seeing a legendary striker roll back the years.

2. Arnaut Danjuma

Arnaut Danjuma was sensational in the Championship for Bournemouth last season, scoring 17 goals and setting up another seven. Even so, it’s unlikely anyone predicted he’d adjust to life in La Liga so quickly. Already, the flying Dutchman has five goals and an assist to his name across La Liga and Champions League play, including a brace most recently to fire Villarreal to a 2-0 win over Real Betis in just their second league victory of the season. Danjuma himself has credited manager Unai Emery for his smooth transition to Spanish football.

“I feel very good here. I need to give a massive thanks to Unai Emery,” he told the club’s official website. “The coach is really busy with me and he really helps me to perform with the team. I’ve integrated well with the culture of the team, and my teammates trust me.”

3. Aleix Vidal

Espanyol have been solid upon their top-flight return, sitting 13th with nine points from eight games so far. Aleix Vidal can be credited for a fair bit of that with some solid defensive displays and decent creative exploits. But what we’re really here for is that ridiculous goal against Real Madrid, where he torched the entire Blancos defence to help his side to a shock 2-1 win. That probably deserves an award on its own.

Honourable mentions: Memphis Depay

Serie A

1. Edin Dzeko

With Romelu Lukaku gone, there was a huge void to be filled at the point of Inter Milan’s attack, not to mention their dugout with Antonio Conte leaving, too. Many scorned the arrival of Edin Dzeko from Roma over the summer. A 35-year-old striker signing for less than £2m, surely he was an option from the bench and a stop-gap at best? Well, so far he’s chipped in with five goals and an assist in seven Serie A appearances, only five of which have come from the start. All of his goals have come from open-play or set-piece deliveries, so there’s no stat-padding going on with penalties, while he’s also second at Inter for successful aerial duels (9) and chances created (9).

2. Tammy Abraham

Tammy Abraham, cruelly forgotten at times by Chelsea, is enjoying a wonderful turnaround in fortunes under Jose Mourinho at Roma, netting four goals and two assists across all competitions so far. Not only has this earned him a recall to Gareth Southgate’s England side, but it’s also drawn praise from none other than Francesco Totti.

“He’s a formidable player,” said the Roma legend. “He was a top signing, he is a guy who is intent on making a contribution to the team. In a city like Rome, a player like him who shows attachment is absolutely fundamental.”

3. Juan Musso

Who is this defensive juggernaut named Atalanta? Usually famed for their blistering attack, Gian Piero Gasperini’s men have conceded nine goals in seven Serie A games so far, bettered only by the top four and Torino. Only seven of those goals have been conceded by newly-signed goalkeeper Juan Musso in his six appearances for the club so far. The Argentina international has kept two clean sheets and saved 13 shots from inside the box in Serie A, while he’s pulled out some outrageous saves in the Champions League.

Honourable mentions: Odilon Kossounou, Gianluca Busio


Serie A top goalscorer odds with William Hill

  • Ciro Immobile – 5/2
  • Edin Dzeko – 4/1
  • Lautaro Martínez – 6/1
  • Victor Osimhen – 6/1
  • Dušan Vlahović – 10/1
  • Duván Zapata – 11/1
  • Tammy Abraham – 14/1

18+ only. Be Gamble Aware. Odds in this article are correct at 15:30, 08/10/2021.


Bundesliga

1. Mohamed Simakan

With Dayot Upamecano and Ibrahima Konate departing over the summer, RB Leipzig had some serious surgery to do at centre-back. Replacing two Frenchman with another Frenchman seemed a smart move and that’s proved the case so far with Mohamed Simakan.

Signed from Strasbourg, he is eighth among Bundesliga players for tackles (17), fourth for interceptions (17) and fifth for aerial duels won (24). Although Leipzig have had a tough start to the season, they’ve been pretty sound defensively, with only Freiburg and Mainz (both 5) conceding fewer goals (7). All the tools are there for Simakan to follow in the footsteps of Upamecano and Konate.

2. Mitchel Bakker

Though he played 40 times across all competitions last season, it’s very hard to get into the Paris Saint-Germain side nowadays. Mitchel Bakker needed minutes to start making inroads into the Netherlands set-up, so he left and joined Bayer Leverkusen for just €7m. Already, the left-back has popped up with a goal and three assists across all competitions, including registering one of each in a 4-0 win over Gladbach. Keep that sort of form up and Louis van Gaal will have no choice but to call him up.

3. Suat Serdar

According to reports, Schalke rejected a massive €45m bid from West Ham for midfielder Suat Serdar in January 2020. Given their financial situation, capitulation and his drop in form since, they must be absolutely kicking themselves for not accepting that offer now. Especially since they let him go to Hertha Berlin for just €8m this summer. Since the switch, Serdar has scored two goals in seven games and ranks second at Hertha for chances created (6), while no teammate has made more tackles (26). Schalke’s loss is certainly Hertha’s gain.

Honourable mentions: Chris Richards, Josko Gvardiol, Andre Silva.

Ligue 1

1. Achraf Hakimi

He might have cost in excess of £50m, but Achraf Hakimi has once again proved he’s one of the world’s best full-backs, just as he did at Inter and Dortmund previously. The Moroccan has three goals and two assists to his name in nine Ligue 1 appearances, which is a ridiculous return for a full-back and bettered on both counts only by Kylian Mbappe among PSG players. You can debate whether or not Hakimi has any defensive misgivings but in a dominant team like PSG, it really doesn’t matter. He’s facilitating some fantastic attacking play for the Ligue 1 leaders and that’s exactly what Mauricio Pochettino signed him for.

2. Cengiz Under

Cengiz Under’s loan spell at Leicester City last year was something of a letdown, but he’s absolutely hit the ground running at Marseille. The Turkey international has scored four goals in 10 games across Ligue 1 and Europa League play so far. And in the league, no Marseille player has completed more dribbles (10), while he’s second only to Dimitri Payet (19) for chances created (14). The buyout clause in Under’s loan from Roma is worth less than £8m and on the evidence we have so far, he’d be worth every penny to Marseille.

3. Kamaldeen Sulemana

Rennes famously developed Ismaila Sarr before shipping him off to Watford and now, they have another dazzling winger coming through in Kamaldeen Sulemana. The Ghanian arrived from Danish side FC Nordsjælland for just shy of £17m in the summer, breaking the Danish record for an outgoing transfer. And already, he’s well off the mark with four goals and an assist across all competitions. Kamaldeen is quick, skilful and clearly has a fantastic end product. If he keeps this up, he won’t be at Rennes for long, but they’ll make another handsome profit for sure.

Honourable mentions: Gaetan Laborde, Przemyslaw Frankowski, Andy Delort

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