Alvaro Morata and the over-performing summer signings & Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and the under-performing summer signings
by George Keaney
A whole host of players were signed by Premier League clubs in the summer, from rival Premier League teams, the lower leagues and further afield. As players new and old prepare for the October internationals, how have the recent arrivals fared against expectations?
Alvaro Morata (Chelsea)
Diego Costa was a huge part of Chelsea’s title-winning campaign last time out, and he’s nowhere to be seen having spent the season so far ‘training’ on Brazilian beaches, reciting texts from his boss, and ultimately rejoining Atletico Madrid. Yet, has there really been much talk of him to date? Not as much as one may have expected. The reason? Alvaro Morata.
Though his fee and standing might have precluded him from being an over-performer, not many people would have expected him to hit the ground running in English football like this. Six goals in seven games, including a hat-trick in the most recent win at Stoke, have shown him to be a stellar purchase to this point. Of course the challenge will come in the big games, the busy Christmas period and the title run-in, but he can only be judged on his performances so far, and he can barely be faulted. The hamstring injury that could keep him out of action for up to six weeks is a big blow for the Blues.
Morata will have to improve his hold up play undoubtedly, which may well come in time as he acclimatises to the physical nature of the Premier League, but his finishing can’t be questioned to this point.
Kurt Zouma (Stoke City)
Not a summer Signing in the traditional sense, but Kurt Zouma has certainly made an impact in the Potteries. If you’re looking for a gauge of quite how important he is, then the two games of interest should be the 1-0 win over Arsenal and 4-0 thrashing from Chelsea. Stoke were missing other players against Chelsea, but Zouma left by far the biggest void against his parent club.
He has shown pace to shut down the likes of Alexandre Lacazette, the strength to battle with Romelu Lukaku, and even the footballing ability to start attacks and manage time accordingly. It all begs the question: why did Chelsea let him go? No answers to that question here, unfortunately.
When playing with a back-three, as both Chelsea and Stoke do, his array of power and pace makes him seem like two defenders at times. His attitude to battling and harassing opposition forwards, as well as his tough tackling, have already made him a favourite at the bet365 Stadium. Enjoy him while it lasts, Potters: he’s unlikely to be back next year.
Romelu Lukaku, Mohamed Salah, Chris Wood.
Marko Arnautovic (West Ham)
Arnautovic was a hot-and-cold flair player at mid-table Stoke before joining West Ham, which makes it difficult to label him as an under-performer. The reason for his inclusion is his ludicrous transfer fee of around £25m.
He flatters to deceive going forward and although he might do a fair bit of chasing back, it’s often at the expense of defensive shape and for the sole purpose of fooling onlookers into thinking that he’s working hard. Against Tottenham last month, he showed flashes of why Slaven Bilic bought him down to east London, with a couple of mazy runs and a reasonable penalty shout. But on countless occasions he picked the wrong pass, and was regularly culpable when it came to moves breaking down.
He has already missed three games after a ludicrous sending off, highlighting his tempestuous nature, and with his manager already fighting to stay in a job, he wouldn’t have been high on Bilic’s list of friends following the incident. The Hammers are struggling. If Arnie can show some signs of life and even pick up a goal, his confidence and the fate of the team may be significantly improved. So far though, it’s all been very disappointing.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Liverpool)
This one seems harsh on the face of it, because the Ox has only been with his new club for a handful of games. However, his lacklustre performances before the switch from Arsenal, which may have been put down to ‘unrest’ (not how Gary Neville described them), have continued in his limited minutes on Merseyside.
It is painful to be so damning of a young English player with a great deal potential. But during his substitute appearances since joining Liverpool, he’s looked disinterested and short of match sharpness. When coming into attacking positions he appears hesitant, almost as if time spent at wing-back has caused him to forget how to attack with freedom. His final ball was never his strength, but even that seems to have declined.
At only 24, there’s so much time to improve, which is a saving grace at least. His potential hasn’t disappeared, and Jurgen Klopp has a good track record in bringing the best out of under-performers (just ask Adam Lallana), so there is hope yet. In time, a string of regular starts might be just what he needs to push on.
Pablo Zabaleta, Sandro Ramirez, Nathan Ake.