Sunday, December 16, 2012

Top Five Transfer Thoughts: 2012 - 2013

The time has come to take a hard look at the impact made by players purchased in the summer transfer window. Below, we will examine top five signings, flops and players to watch during the January transfer window.

Top Five Signings of the Summer

(5) Mario Mandzukic Bayern Munich
Following an excellent showing at the European Championshops with Croatia, Mario Mandzukic landed a huge deal with Germany's most regaled team, Bayern Munich. Since joining the Bundesliga giants, Mandzukic has scored a team high nine goals in league play, propelling the Bavarian club to the top of the table -- double digits ahead of their second place challengers. Even more impressive, Mandzukic was charged with fulfilling a bulk of the goal-scoring duties over the first few months of the season, after Mario Gomez was sidelined due to injury. Of late, Gomez has returned to the starting lineup, bringing the Bayern dream of a Mario Bros strike-force to life.

(4) Eden Hazard Chelsea
Before moving to Chelsea in June, many wondered if Eden Hazard could succeed in a top league with a world-class side. Following his blockbuster move to the House of Blues for a reported £40m, we can confirm the fleet-footed winger has lived up to every bit of hype that has surrounded him over the past few years. The Belgian midfielder immediately bursted into Chelsea's starting lineup, appearing in all of the Blues' Premier League matches. He's scored three goals and notched six assists, and has linked well with the likes of Juan Mata and Oscar to provide a string of entertaining moves. At just 21 years of age, it will be exciting to see how Hazard progresses as a player while continually competing at such a high level.

(3) Michu Swansea City
The striker's move from Rayo Vallecano to Swansea City for a mere £2M is considered one of the coups of the summer window. Not only does Michu have one of the best names in world football -- akin to a rare goal-scoring Pokemon -- he has been clinical in front of goal since landing in England. The lanky forward is currently joint-top in the Premier League scoring charts with 12 goals. Incredibly, this relatively unknown player from Spain is keeping pace with top forwards like Robin Van Persie, Kun Aguero, Luis Suarez and more in scoring! Furthermore, Michu's exploits have driven Swansea to the top half of the table for the first time since God knows when. Many clubs around the Premier League are ruing the day they passed on signing this gem.

(2) Robin van Persie Manchester United
The purchase of Robin van Persie feels eerily familiar to Manchester United fans, doesn't it? Does this guy ring a bell? The Red Devils captured the striker this summer, gaining yet again, a top Dutch player at the peak of his game. Since moving over from Arsenal, Van the Man has been in scintillating form, scoring 12 goals in EPL play, including a dipping free-kick deep into injury-time to purge rivals Manchester City in his first derby. RvP's goals have won United crucial games and driven them to the top of the Premier League table -- once again in line to be champions.

(1) Zlatan Ibrahimovic Paris Saint-Germain
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is by and large this year's top summer transfer. If there has been one constant throughout Ibra's career, it is wherever he goes, he scores. At PSG, the tall Swede has 17 goals to his name, an astounding achievement at this point in the season. Even as he ages, his prowess and daring in front of goal seem to be second to none. PSG currently reside in second place in Ligue One, but are poised to pull ahead given the continued efforts of players like Zlatan. On a related note, we all remember his great goal against England, the best ever scored

Honorable Mention
Kwadwo Asamoah, Juventus; Santi Cazorla, Arsenal; Jordi Alba, Barcelona; Marco Reus, Borussia Dortmund; Borja Valero, Fiorentina. 
Top Five Flops

(5) Giampaolo Pazzini AC Milan
Will the real Giampaolo Pazzini please come back? Since the instinctual striker's switch to city rivals Milan from Inter this summer, Pazzo has been less than satisfactory. Over the past few years, his name was on the score-sheet on a weekly basis. This year, starts have been few and far between for the Italian hitman, and he's tallied a mere 6 goals for the Rossoneri -- clearly not up to his standards. We are admirers of Pazzini's work in the final third, but unfortunately he has been truly flop-worthy thus far.

(4) Fabio Borini Liverpool
The young Italian has found life tough at Liverpool since straying from his homeland this past summer. After a dynamite year with Roma which saw him gain a spot with the Azzurri at the Euros, Fabio Borini found himself on the fringes of the squad early in the season, then on the sidelines injured. Not an ideal start to life at Anfield. This also confirms that Liverpool is the dying ground for Italian careers.

(3) Marko Marin Chelsea
Last year, I found Marko Marin's wing-play to be top class in Europe. His trickery and quickness seemed to induce a "deer in headlights" kind of reaction amongst opposing defenders, allowing the tiny winger to work his magic. This year at Chelsea, the only magic Marko has worked is making himself invisible for team selection. The proclaimed "German Messi" made his Premier League debut about three weeks ago, better known as three months into the season. It seems like a mistake that he joined Chelsea, seeing as Eden Hazard and Juan Mata will always get selected before him.

(2) Nicklas Bendtner Juventus
Clearly, Juventus were desperate for strikers when they scooped up large-framed Dane Nicklas Bendtner on loan from Arsenal on deadline day. Things did not start well in Turin for Bendtner, as he was called chubby by team directors and promptly put on a diet. You know you've let yourself go when a bunch of pasta, mozzarella and prosciutto eating Italians call you fat. Plumpness cost Bendtner the first five games of the season and he has hardly played in many games following, barring a few substitute appearance full of shanked shots and whistles from the crowd. Suffice to say, it is going to be another season of wondering if Bendtner can be relied upon in the lineup.

(1) Hulk/Axel Witsel Zenit St. Petersburg
Hulk and Witsel, aside from having a name tandem you would find in an 80s cop show, are the top flops of the summer window. The dynamic duo has "ruined Zenit," according to numerous headlines I have seen (I am not joking). Over the summer, the Russian Champions splashed a record £64m on the duo (£32m/player) in hopes of bringing their squad to the next level: Champions League contenders. Instead, Hulk and Witsel have been dismal, and pressure on both to perform continues to grow. Fans often protest their prescene and other players, such as Russian captain Igor Denisov, have fought with team officials for pay raises -- seeing as the great Hulk and Witsel earn three times as much as the next highest earner at Zenit.

Honorable Mention
Marco Veratti, PSG; Antonio Cassano, Inter Milan; Marco Borriello, Genoa.

Top Five Players to Watch in January

(5) Daniele De Rossi AS Roma
Marauding Midfielder Daniele De Rossi makes this list because at any single moment, if you listen closely to the wind blow, you will hear a rumor about Manchester City wanting to buy him. De Rossi is yet again linked to a move away from the Giallorossi after a rough run of form and a media fueled falling out with coach Zdenek Zeman. I reluctantly admit there is teeny-tiny possibility of a move this January, but it is not likely to happen. Please stay Daniele!!!!!!!!!

(4) Gareth Bale Tottenham
Over the past few years, Tottenham winger Gareth Bale has made quite the name for himself, ignited by his transition from wing-back to attacking winger. Bale is rated by much of the football community as the best option down the left flank in the world. This hype has garnned the attention of top clubs, first in line being Real Madrid. Recent reports suggest Los Blancos are saving £56m in their transfer kitty to make a move for Bale in one of the next two transfer windows. Will it be this January? That is unclear, but one thing is for certain, Spurs fans are holding their breath.

(3) Klaas-Jan Huntelaar Schalke
Much talk has surrounded a mid-season switch for Dutch journeyman Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, as his contract is set to expire this summer. The striker has had a tumultous tenure with the Bundesliga side, thus there seems no ideal contract renewal in the cards this summer. The player seems keen on the Premier League, and luckily Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool are in the hunt for a striker.

(2) Wesley Sneijder Inter Milan
A messy contract situation has flamed up between Wesley Sneijder and Inter Milan. The trouble started after Sneijder refused to sign a new contract, stating displeasure for the terms, which offerend no raise in wages. Inter, in turn, has frozen Sneijder out of the squad. This terrible situation for both parties can be alleviated by selling the Dutch midfielder this January, and it seems like a distinct possibility. Premier League clubs looking for a quality midfielder have been put on alert.

(1) Fernando Llorente Athletic Bilbao
Over the past 18 months, there has been much speculation over where striker Fernando Llorente will end up post Athletic Bilbao. Recently, Llorente admitted his desire to leave the club after his contract expires this summer, immediately alerting top clubs around the world about the prospect of signing him January, before he leaves on a Bosman in the summer. A host of Premier League clubs are said to be preparing bids to test Bilbao's resolve to keep the player until summer, but it is not clear if a mid-season move will happen. This story should be particularly interesting due to the wide scope of reports surrounding Llorente.

Honorable Mention
Theo Walcott, Arsenal; Robert Lewandowski, Borussia Dortmund; Didier Drogba, Shanghai Shenua; Hulk, Zenit St. Petersburg; Kaka, Real Madrid.

 If I missed anyone, please offer your thoughts!

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