With the curtains falling on the 2020/21 Premier League campaign this past weekend, The Hard Tackle takes a look at the top three best signings of the season.
The 2020/21 Premier League campaign was not like any other in recent memory. The cramped schedule, the absence of fans for almost the entirety of the season, squads battling with the outbreak of the pandemic at times and dealing with the toll taken by an unrelenting fixture list, it was most certainly very different and very difficult on the teams.
The curtains finally fell on the season this past weekend, with Manchester City reclaiming their throne at the top of the pile knocking Liverpool off and doing so in style. The top four battle went down to the wire up until the final day of the season while Sheffield United, the surprise package of the previous season, ended up facing relegation, along with two promoted clubs in Fulham and West Bromwich Albion.
All in all, it was yet another season wherein it became quite clear as to why the Premier League is regarded as one of the toughest and the best competitions in the world. So, for any new players coming into the league in the summer transfer window last year, things would have been difficult, the adaptation likely to have been made even more difficult by the prevalent conditions due to the pandemic.
While there were plenty of duds, there were also quite a few players who made the switch to Premier League clubs over the past couple of transfer windows and made a stunning impact, almost transformational in a some cases, playing an integral role in their team’s fate come the end of the season. The Hard Tackle now takes a look at three such footballers who have been the best signings in the 2020/21 Premier League.
Ruben Dias (Manchester City)
Transformational. Without a doubt, the most impactful transfer of the summer window, Ruben Dias was a key factor in Manchester City’s Premier League triumph. Arriving in a big-money deal from SL Benfica, the centre-back, aged just 23 at the time, forged a brilliant partnership with Aymeric Lapote initially, before doing so with John Stones, forming a central defensive pairing that was hardly beaten.
Dias, in many ways, was the ideal fit in a Pep Guardiola system. Exceptional game-reading abilities, calm and composure on the ball, precise distribution, he ticked almost every box for the Cityzens. However, the most important factor the defender, who turned 24 earlier this month, has brought to the table is his leadership.
Following the departure of Vincent Kompany at the end of the 2018/19 campaign, Manchester City were left with a huge hole in their defensive line which they had failed to address last season. But, Dias, in his very first season in England, assumed the role of the leader at the back, marshaling the troops and stepping up whenever the team has needed him to.
Rúben Dias is the 2020-21 FWA Footballer of the Year 🏆
▪️ 31 games
▪️ 16 clean sheets
▪️ Premier League champion and EFL Cup winner
The 24-year-old is the first defender in Premier League history to win the award. 🌟 pic.twitter.com/RinhbuNTja
— Champions League on CBS Sports (@UCLonCBSSports) May 20, 2021
Speaking in numbers, Dias has helped Manchester City to 15 clean sheets in 32 league outings, while chipping in with a goal as well. The Cityzens had an xGA differential of -2.41 before he joined and that has improved significantly to +1.02 since he made his debut.
It is not for nothing that Dias was named the FWA Footballer of the Year and the Manchester City Player of the Year for the 2020/21 season, while he is the top contender for the PFA Player of the Year Award as well.
Wesley Fofana (Leicester City)
Another defender on our list, Wesley Fofana has been one of the surprise packages of the season, owing to the fact that his transition from Ligue 1 to Premier League football has been absolutely seamless, especially for someone his age – he was just 19 years old when he joined Leicester City from AS Saint-Etienne.
Since making his Premier League debut in mid-October, Fofana has been an ever-present figure in Brendan Rodgers’ side, missing just five games, all due to injuries. Despite turning 20 just a few months ago, the Frenchman has demonstrated maturity that belies his tender age, as he played an integral role in the Foxes’ FA Cup triumph as well as their top four push in the league, which ended in heartbreak on the final day of the season.
Adept at reading the game, Fofana has impressed with his ability to step out from the back and nip out attacks in the bud without having to dive into tackles. The 20-year-old also possesses impressive recovery pace that has often come in handy this season while he also displayed the ability to carry the ball out from the back, while being strong in the air.
Aggressive and tenacious, all the while being composed and mature, Fofana has started to attract interest from the clubs at the top end of the table, with Manchester United already getting linked. Given his performances this term, it should hardly come as a surprise. A top talent with a bright future in front of him.
Emiliano Martinez (Aston Villa)
The final name on the list is one that has been in England for years but was never quite able to get a regular run in the first-team at Arsenal. And when he did, towards the back end of the last season, Emiliano Martinez showed what he could bring to the table, only to be surprisingly sold by the club to Aston Villa, with Mikel Arteta insistent on having Bernd Leno as his No.1.
Fast forward ten months and Martinez has emerged as the best goalkeeper in the Premier League whereas Arsenal are contemplating selling Leno in the upcoming window. The Argentine international, along with Jack Grealish and Ollie Watkins, was one of the main reasons behind Villa’s push for a top six finish in the early parts of the campaign, and even though it faded over the course of the season, the goalkeeper’s performances did not.
An ever-present between the sticks, Martinez kept 15 clean sheets in his 38 league outings – equalling the record for most shut-outs in a single league campaign for Aston Villa set by Brad Friedel. The 28-year-old made 135 saves (third-best) with a stunning save percentage of 76.8% – a stat only bettered by Burnley’s Nick Pope, only marginally that too (77%) – when he has faced the third-most shots on target in the league (177) this season. (h/t FBRef)
Martinez’s presence between the sticks made Aston Villa look much more secure at the back than they actually were at times. Vocal at the back, he organised the defence well, always showed great authority in his box to collect crosses/long-passes while his ability to stop shots is made quite evident by the aforementioned numbers. Arsenal’s loss proved to be Aston Villa’s gain, big time.
Honourable Mentions: Raphinha (Leeds United), Edouard Mendy (Chelsea)
Raphinha was a late arrival at Leeds United, signing from French outfit Rennes, and the Brazilian has grown into one of the most dangerous wide players in the league. One of the standouts in what has been a fine season for Leeds, the 24-year-old finished with six goals and nine assists in his 30 league outings.
Edouard Mendy, another import from Rennes, slotted in at Chelsea seamlessly, addressing a problem position for the Blues and offering a sense of solidity at the back. Just 25 goals conceded in 31 league outings with 16 clean sheets says a lot about the impact that he has had at Stamford Bridge.