Football Features

Griezmann, Wan-Bissaka & De Ligt: Major signings’ pre-season debuts rated

By Ben Green

Published: 13:38, 25 July 2019 | Updated: 11:26, 28 July 2019

It’s pre-season and, with that, comes the perfect opportunity to see whether your club’s marquee signing or superstar new boy has what it takes to excel in 2019/20.

As is customary every summer, there have been a number of major ins and outs across the continent, with most managers working overtime to bolster their ranks, remedy voids and plug gaps.

Some clubs have been more active than others in this precarious period, but every major side from Europe’s traditional ‘ big five’ has acquired at least one new signature, including Chelsea, who are currently enduring a transfer embargo, and Spurs, last season’s prodigious penny-pinchers.

With that considered, how have the latest recruits fared so far in this chapter of friendly-match festivities? Some have impressed, while others have provoked early concerns.

And so, who are the major signings to have flourished on their debut matches, and who are the ones to have already enticed an early sense of unease?

Rodri (Manchester City)

Fee: £62.6m

Signed from: Atletico Madrid

Debut match: Man City 4-1 West Ham (Premier League Asia Trophy)

Rodri was presented his first opportunity to showcase the deep-lying, Sergio Busquets role Pep Guardiola will be expecting of him next season against the perfect opposition: a full-strength Premier League side.

The Hammers opted to send out a fully fledged XI against last term’s treble-winning juggernaut, and Rodri – who played 69 minutes – looked comfortable, composed and elegant in front of the back four.

It wasn’t the showstopping performance you might expect from a record signing but the Spaniard wasn’t brought in to attempt anything too extravagant on the pitch. Instead, he operated as a cool, sophisticated axis at the base of a midfield trident and this calming presence will be key to striking a balance in Guardiola’s full-throttle system next season.

Verdict: Hit

Aaron Wan-Bissaka (Manchester United)

Fee: £45m

Signed from: Crystal Palace

Debut match: Man Utd 2-0 Perth Glory (friendly match)

Introduced at half-time at the Optus Stadium against Perth Glory, Man Utd fans were given a very transparent insight into what they can expect from their latest recruit, Aaron Wan-Bissaka: dogged defending and tackling mastery.

Last season, the Londoner made more tackles (129) than any other Premier League defender, with only nine individuals managing to dribble past him, and that form was transmitted to the capital of Western Australia as he finished the match with a 100 per cent tackle ratio, leading to early rave reviews.

Meanwhile, Scott McTominay has already spoken of his amazement in the 21-year-old’s “absolutely ridiculous” yet “controlled” tackling ability.

Verdict: Hit

Matthijs de Ligt (Juventus)

Fee: £67.8m

Signed from: Ajax

Debut match: Juve 2-3 Spurs (International Champions Cup)

Introduced in the 63rd for his much-anticipated debut against Spurs, after a transfer saga that lasted far longer than anything we would have hoped, Matthijs de Ligt was immediately made to relive a Champions League nightmare, as that man Lucas Moura netted just two minutes after the teenager entered the fray, inflicting another devastating blow on his nascent career.

And it didn’t get much better from there for the Ajacied graduate as Harry Kane went on to score a quite outrageous goal from the halfway line. At least he was able to make amends just 10 minutes into his debut start against Inter Milan…

Verdict: Miss

Luka Jovic (Real Madrid)

Fee: £57.7m

Signed from: Eintracht Frankfurt

Debut match: Bayern 3-1 Real Madrid (International Champions Cup)

After Karim Benzema failed to impress in the opening 45 minutes against Bayern Munich at the NRG Stadium in Texas, Luka Jovic was presented with the ideal scenario to show Zinedine Zidane exactly why he should immediately supplant Los Blancos’ No 9 stalwart, except, he flattered to deceive during his second-half cameo.

The Serb failed to muster a single shot on goal and registered just 13 touches. Granted, he didn’t have the likes of Eden Hazard breaking ankles alongside him, but with Selecao starlets Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo flanking him on the wings, there wasn’t much semblance of cohesion or attacking nous between the trio.

Verdict: Miss

Antoine Griezmann (Barcelona)

Fee: £107.6m

Signed from: Atletico Madrid

Debut match: Barcelona 1-2 Chelsea (Rakuten Cup)

In the sweltering heat of Saitama, Griezmann made his Blaugrana introduction and while he may not have hit the onion bag during his first-half appearance, he looked a competent component of Barca’s fluid system.

Utilised in the centre-forward role, the Frenchman looked comfortable playing under the weight of expectation following his seismic shift across Spain, forming a coherent understanding with fellow countryman Ousmane Dembele.

The question now is whether he will be able to play alongside Lionel Messi. As the saying goes: too many cooks spoil the broth. But, will Ernesto Valverde be able to bring his star-studded cooks together to form a well-oiled brigade de cuisine at the Camp Nou? Time will tell.

Verdict: Hit

Tanguy Ndombele (Tottenham Hotspur)

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Fee: £55.5m

Signed from: Lyon

Debut match: Juventus 2-3 Spurs (International Champions Cup)

He only made a brief cameo against the Old Lady, but left a lasting impressive that has since had Lilywhites supporters purring at the possibilities for next term.

His first ever touch in a Spurs shirt yielded an assist for Lucas Moura, splitting open the Juve backline before the Brazilian poked past Wojciech Szczesny.

There were huge concerns in north London that Spurs might struggle after Mousa Dembele left in January, and while they seemed to cope – reaching the Champions League final – an early viewing of Ndombele’s potential suggests Mauricio Pochettino’s midfield is set to enhance tenfold.

Verdict: Hit

Frenkie de Jong (Barcelona)

Fee: £65.3m

Signed from: Ajax

Debut match: Barcelona 1-2 Chelsea (Rakuten Cup)

Another to have transitioned from Ajax this summer, De Jong came in after the restart against the Blues and, like Griezmann, looked immediately at home in the esteemed Blaugrana strip, pulling the creative strings from the middle of the park and immediately stimulating fond memories of the midfield dominance he used to exert while donning the revered white and red of de Godenzonen.

A disciple of Cruyffian football, De Jong certainly played the part against Frank Lampard’s new look Chelsea and has brought a real sense of excitement to Catalonia for 2019/20.

Verdict: Hit

Eden Hazard (Real Madrid)

Fee: £88.5m

Signed from: Chelsea

Debut match: Bayern 3-1 Real Madrid (International Champions Cup)

Sporting the No 50 jersey in homage to the first moon landing, with last Saturday being the 50th anniversary of the famous Apollo 11 mission, Hazard didn’t produce a stratospheric performance, but certainly impressed on his premiere.

At times, his dizzying imagination and quick feet showed exactly why Los Blancos went all out to acquire his services, with the diminutive forward emitting a lunar appearance in the traditional white shirt of Real, providing an exciting glimpse of things to come in the Spanish capital.

Verdict: Hit

Joao Felix (Atletico Madrid)

Fee: £113m

Signed from: Benfica

Debut match: Numancia 0-3 Atletico Madrid (friendly match)

The supposed heir to Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portuguese throne was only afforded 26 minutes of action as injury forced him off midway through the first half at the Estadio Municipal de El Burgo de Osma, but that was more than enough time to convince Atleti fans that they have a real talent on their hands.

His twinkle-toed feet and balletic brilliance were both manifest during his brief cameo as he twisted and turned the Numancia defence.

There was a sombre mood at the Wanda Metropolitano when Griezmann left but even in that short space of time, Felix looks like he can be a more than adequate successor.

Verdict: Hit

Sebastien Haller (West Ham United)

Fee: £40.7m

Signed from: Eintracht Frankfurt

Debut match: Fulham 0-1 West Ham (friendly match)

Secured for a club-record fee by the Hammers, the towering Frenchman took to the pitch for the first time in the famous claret and blue against Fulham on Saturday.

Positioned up front at the tip of an exciting attacking line-up, which included the likes of Manuel Lanzini, Felipe Anderson and Pablo Fornals, Haller struggled to really get himself stuck into the flowing football Pellegrini’s side were producing.

When the 25-year-old was involved, he looked a fluid part of the system, but he often posed an isolated figure up top, and ultimately squandered two glorious opportunities right in front of the travelling away support to open his account; first a free header from a corner – straight at the ‘keeper – and then the rebound – straight at the ‘keeper.

West Ham fans need not worry just yet as the potential was clear whenever he did get the ball, but as far as debuts go, Haller failed to really leave a lasting impression.

Verdict: Miss

Joelinton (Newcastle United)

Fee: £40m

Signed from: Hoffenheim

Debut match: Preston 2-1 Newcastle (friendly match)

It has been an arduous, soul-searching summer for the Toon Army, but the one shining light, £40m-signing Joelinton, in this uncertain time for the North East club, gave fans the chance to see what he is capable of doing on the turf at the weekend.

Introduced in the second half for his debut at the Deepdale Stadium, the Brazilian immediately made an impact, winning a penalty mere minutes of his taking to the field.

Unfortunately, Miguel Almiron missed the spot kick and Alex Neil’s side went on to win the match 2-1 having trailed at the break, with Joelinton conceding a penalty kick and failing to get his name on the scoresheet against the Championship side.

It started off so well, but ended with very mixed feelings.

Verdict: Miss