Whenever the Daily Mail pens an article “according to reports in the Spanish media” and then fails to name or cite those reports, one can be doubly (if not triply) sure there is some level of falsity to it.
Still, I’m a sucker for crappy reality television and juicy, if not baseless, transfer rumors. And this one’s a doozy: Come next summer Atletico Madrid and Chelsea will swap striker Diego Costa for netminder Thibaut Courtois.
Both players are currently playing for Atletico but Courtois’ presence there (where he has played the last three seasons) is courtesy of a loan deal from Chelsea. The 21-year-old Belgian giant has made no secret of his desire to stay in Madrid while Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho is desperate for a world-class striker to simplify the mind-numbing decision of having to play Fernando Torres, Samuel Eto’o or Demba Ba.
Costa and Courtois have been sensational of late, rising to prominence at their respective positions. Costa has fired home 19 goals in La Liga this season, second only to Cristiano Ronaldo, while Courtois is widely considered the best young keeper in Europe.
This past weekend Mourinho admitted his “hope” that Chelsea were done with business in the January transfer window but nevertheless left the door open for deals this summer.
As untrustworthy as the Daily Mail and “reports in the Spanish media” can be, the Costa for Courtois does make sense. Chelsea need a proven, world-class striker and with Petr Cech still performing as one of the top custodians in the Premier League, there’s no rush to call on Courtois. Financially, such a move would also be very attractive for Chelsea given the Financial Fair Play regulations.
So why doesn’t Chelsea get this deal done now rather than this summer?
Simple, their hands are tied.
As much as a striker like Costa could be the difference between winning the Premier League and finishing in second place for Chelsea, Atletico have zero motivation to do the swap now. They already have Courtois on loan until the end of the season so they’d gain nothing (unless significant cash were involved) in accelerating the process. Plus, Los Colchoneros are in fantastic shape both domestically (second in La Liga, even on points with leaders Barcelona) and in Europe (Champions League Round of 16).
So, if the swap is to go down Mourinho will have to wait until next summer. But if he does complete the deal Costa would be a major coup not only because he fits right in the mold of The Special One’s original prodigy, Didier Drogba, but because domestic competitors in search of a striker (Arsenal) will have one less star striker to choose from.
For a lot of us, that meant delving into statistics and seeing what matched the eye test. Many started Googling the name “N'Golo Kante“, the dynamic disruptor who’d move to Chelsea in August.
He’s a household name now, with some personalities even arguing that he should buck the trend of Ballon d’Or nominees including only major statistic producers (There was a time when names like Fabio Cannavaro and Matthias Sammer claimed the honor, you know).
For our purposes, we’ll use a pair of advanced stats sites and the good ol’ eye test. (Of the sites we’re using, Squawka seems to skew toward high attack scores, while WhoScored tilts a bit toward the back, so life is good if a player hits both sites’ Top 50).
Before getting into our team — we promise no 10-picture, click-to-reveal-next stuff — some stats that stood out.
— Three players have had outstanding “short” seasons for different reasons.
Leicester City’s Wilfried Ndidi took a short spell to adjust to the Premier League after arriving in January, but has been the Foxes’ most influential player in their recent turnaround).
Bournemouth’s Nathan Ake essentially was the Cherries’ first-half success before heading back to Chelsea where Antonio Conte won’t move him ahead of Marcos Alonso or Victor Moses (and that’s actually understandable as you’ll see below).
Chelsea’s Cesc Fabregas just doesn’t feature a ton for Conte, but in limited time his per-90 stats on Squawka trail only Eden Hazard and Alexis Sanchez.
Ander Herrera (Manchester United, 7.44, 36.64) – Long-heralded at Athletic Bilbao, Herrera is finally showing what made him so sought. One odd stat that may be explained by his willingness to run to any situation: he’s very high in average times dribbled past.
Idrissa Gana Gueye (Everton, 7.34, 20.57) – The best player in Aston Villa’s awful 2015-16, he’s been arguably as effective as N’Golo Kante. Seriously.
Matt Phillips (West Bromwich Albion) – Once the top player on a relegated QPR, Phillips is fifth in the Premier League in assists despite missing the last four matches with injury.
Christian Eriksen (Tottenham Hotspur, 7.41, 31.89) – Second in the PL in key passes, he doesn’t get the plaudits of English teammates Dele Alli and Harry Kane. The relationships are very symbiotic.
Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace, 7.44) – On an under-achieving team, Zaha’s statistics are wild. He’s the most-fouled player in the league, and attempts/completes the most dribbles in the PL. He gives the ball away a lot, too, but that happens when you’re the focal point of everything your team does in the attacking third.
Alex Iwobi (Arsenal, 30.54) – The Nigerian turns 21 in May, and has four goals and seven assists across all competitions.
“[Ibrahimovic] is a genius, he’s very intense because he wants to win everything, even football-tennis,” Herrera said to Radio MARCA.
“He assumes this role of doing or saying what he likes in front of the media because he does not care, he can say that he’ll score 30 goals or is the best because he can afford to.”
There’s certainly something to stature when it comes to saying what you feel (though on the other hand, being egotistical is rarely controversial. It’s not like Ibrahimovic is often railing on controversial soccer or social issues).
We’re sure there are plenty of players across all sports, casual and professional, who don’t understand hyper-competitive teammates, but we love a guy who doesn’t turn it down when it comes to on-the-field activities. Hopefully Ibrahimovic is the Jaromir Jagr of soccer.