There’s no question in my mind that Aron Johannsson should be in the mix for a starting spot for the United States come this summer’s World Cup. I’m fired up to watch him progress and become the most famous Icelandic-Alabaman of all-time (though I’m presuming he already may have that in the bag).
Yet as the 23-year-old AZ Alkmaar forward continues to absolutely deconstruct defenses in the Eredivisie — and to a lesser extent, the Europa League — I’ve had a nagging thought regarding the deft striker’s strike rate:
How much are we overestimating the Eredivisie? Would what Johannsson’s doing be any less impressive in MLS (excluding cosmetic pro-European emotions)?
Scoff if you will, but this thought was introduced to me by a longtime friend from the Netherlands who is now a professional coach in the States. I was asking him about the injury to Kevin Strootman and potential Eredivisie replacements on the Dutch national team when he told me, “Nick, the league just isn’t that good.”
Before I go any further, let me again point out my excitement over Johannsson. His highlight videos are passing the smell test and he’s scored for the States on the road in a World Cup Qualifier at Panama. He’s also got goals in Europa against Atromitos and Anzhi. That’s quite decent. There are myriad reasons to be enthusiastic over the youngster.
Back to my Dutch friend’s criticism of the current Eredivisie: He pointed to one of the only players in the Dutch top flight scoring more than Johannsson this season: Graziano Pelle. Here’s a 28-year-old striker with 47 goals in 53 Eredivisie matches over two seasons despite carrying a strike rate of five goals in 23 matches in two seasons of Serie A.
And then there’s Jozy Altidore and his well-documented struggles at Sunderland. While some pundits have been quick to point out how well he’s holding up the ball and making his teammates better, Altidore has a single goal in 23 appearances. This after 23 goals in 33 Eredivisie matches last season.
I understand Johannsson is 23 — hence, the added excitement — but Altidore is 24 and many are rolling their eyes at the prospect of him leading the forward ranks in Brazil. The fact that presumed-World Cup forward Eddie Johnson hasn’t had a season like this anywhere is another question for another day.
The Eredivisie has two spots in the UEFA Champions League this year due a coefficient that has the Dutch league eighth in Europe, behind Portugal and Russia amongst other nations. Their coefficient is as close to Greece as is it to France.
So the question isn’t whether or not you should be excited about Aron Johannsson — He’s young, gifted and promising — it’s whether you should be turning a blind eye to the goal scorers in your backyard.
Alonso, 25, previously played for Bolton and Sunderland in the Premier League but the Real Madrid product moved to Serie A in 2013 and has flourished for Fiorentina. He is able to operate as a left back and in midfield and could provide Antonio Conte with another option in defense so he can switch Cesar Azpilicueta to right back and potentially Branislav Ivanovic to center back.
Another player who could be on his way to Chelsea is Real Madrid’s forward is James Rodriguez. This is one we’ve heard before, many times.
The Colombian national team captain, 25, was subject of a $80 million bid from Chelsea but according to the Daily Mirror the bid was turned down by Real Madrid.
James has found himself a bit-part player at the Santiago Bernabeu with Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema around. However he has a huge release clause in his contract and Chelsea would have to pay close to $100 million for his services. Is he really worth that? When you have Oscar, Pedro, Willian, Eden Hazard, Victor Moses and others already in your squad, probably not.
In terms of outgoings at Stamford Bridge, Kurt Zouma has been linked with a move to Schalke in the Bundesliga as the French central defender continues his long comeback from a horrendous knee injury he suffered against Manchester United in February last season. Zouma, 21, is said to be close to joining Schalke on a season-long loan deal wit a view to a permanent move.
Chadli, 27, has spent the past three seasons with Spurs after arriving from FC Twente in 2013 for $9.1 million.
The Belgian international fell down the pecking order at Tottenham last season under Mauricio Pochettino and has now moved on to secure regular minutes in the Premier League.
Speaking to West Brom’s website about his move to the Hawthorns, Chadli was delighted to be on board with Tony Pulis‘ side.
“I feel very good to be here. It came very quickly but I spoke to the Club and they have a good team, a good manager and I am very pleased to be here,” Chadli said. “My ambitions? I just want to help the team win as many games as possible.”
Chadli can operate in central midfield, out wide, in a No. 10 role or even up front and he is very good on the ball and has an eye for goal with 25 goals in 119 appearances in all competitions for Tottenham.
West Brom have picked up a player who can create chances and is a powerful presence in midfield. With his creativity Chadli should slot in nicely in front of Darren Fletcher in the Baggies’ midfield and Pulis will be hoping he can lay chances on for Salomon Rondon up top.
This seems like a really shrewd piece of business by West Brom, while Spurs are also looking to offload Ryan Mason and Son according to multiple reports. Is Pochettino lining up some last-minute business in the transfer window?
Could West Brom’s Saido Berahino be heading for Spurs with Chadli the sweetener in the deal? Let’s see what the next 48 hours or so brings before the transfer window slams shut at 6 p.m. ET on Wednesday.
Joe Hart is said to be mulling over an offer from Serie A side Torino.
It is widely reported that both Sunderland and Torino want to loan Hart for the rest of the season after Pep Guardiola revealed the England international is free to leave City with Claudio Bravo City’s new number one and Willy Caballero also ahead of Hart.
Hart, 29, has been at City for over a decade and is said to be devastated at being dropped in this manner, however his focus must now switch to finding somewhere he can play regularly. A move to Sunderland would see him stay in the PL but the Black Cats look destined for a season of struggled as David Moyes has already warned fans to get ready for a relegation battle. Does Hart really want to switch the UEFA Champions League and a title battle for a relegation scrap?
A move abroad may give Hart time to experience a new culture, plus play regularly out of the firing line of the PL. Hart will be allowed to leave City if he finds the right option for himself and the club but his hefty wages of over $156,000 a week will certainly provide an issue for any team willing to take him on board.
Reports in Italy say that Napoli striker Manolo Gabbiadini, 24, could be leaving the Serie A outfit for Everton. Sky Sports in the UK is reporting that the Toffees are locked in talks with Napoli after initially having a $25 million bid rejected.
The 24-year-old scored 20 times for Napoli following his $14 million move from Sampdoria in January 2015 and it is believed the Naples club now want in excess of $32 million for him. Gabbiadini can also play out wide and in a deeper position just behind a central striker, which would be useful for Ronald Koeman as he continues to revamp his Everton side.
According to multiple outlets Arsenal center back Calum Chambers is likely to move to Middlesbrough on a season-long loan deal.
Chambers, 21, has fallen behind Rob Holding in the pecking order at Arsenal and with Laurent Koscielny back fit, plus Skhodran Mustafi about to sign from Valencia and Gabriel close to a return from injury, Chambers’ chances of playing for Arsenal this season look limited.
The England international made his debut as an 18-year-old for the Three Lions but since joining from Southampton for $15 million in 2014 he really hasn’t got going at Arsenal. Able to play at right back, center back and in central midfield, Chambers will provide newly-promoted Middlesbrough with plenty of option as Aitor Karanka aims to further bolster his squad who have made a fine start to life back in the PL with five points from their opening three games.
When it was announced that Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte would be taking charge of Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea respectively, pursuits drooled for days at the thought of the tweaked tiki-taka, ruthless efficiency and passionate counter attacks all three would respectively bring to their teams.
In fits and starts we are already seeing the style of each manager seeping through his team.
Three teams in the Premier League have 100 percent records: Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea. And three weeks into the season we are already clearly seeing the ideologies of Pep, Jose and Conte in their teams. That, my friends, is exciting and is also exactly why they are world-class managers.
Mourinho is under no illusion that a fast start means nothing.
Of course Mourinho and Co. have been handed vast amounts of money to overhaul their squads. That helps massively and although Conte has spent big on Michy Batshuayi and N'Golo Kante, he has totally transformed the mentality of the same under-performing group of Chelsea’s players from last season. That deserves huge credit and is testament to the huge job he’s done in preseason to turn things around.
All three are box office, all three bring something unique in their coaching styles and all three are ruthless perfectionists. Even though their teams are perfect in terms of points gained, they won’t be happy as performances haven’t been of the highest caliber in the full 90 minutes of each of their three wins.
Guardiola’s City purred in the first half against West Ham United and Stoke City with fast-moving attacking interchange boggling the mind, but faded in the second. Mourinho’s United started fast against Southampton as they got the ball wide often and delivered telling crosses but labored against Hull before winning it late on. Conte’s Chelsea have struggled to break down stubborn West Ham and Watford outfits but have been solid defensively and their pacey counter-attacks blew away a lackluster Burnley.
All three coaches have a clear philosophy of playing and we’ve already seen that their methods are working in the short space of time they’ve been with their new group of players.
There have been moments for real optimism for all three superstar coaches but there’s also been enough moments of underachievement to keep them on edge. They all live on the edge. It is what makes them great. Until one of Guardiola, Mourinho or Conte has the PL trophy in his grasp on May 24, 2017, they won’t be content. Even then, they’ll already be planning out how to replicate their success.
These three are born winners. These three are at massive clubs. These three already looked destined for a straight shoot-out for the Premier League title this season with any questions marks about Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool to suggest they’ll be playing for fourth.
It’s early days yet but the early signs suggest the powerhouse gaffers will deliver at the powerhouse clubs.
Only one manager can win it all but philosophically they’ve already made their mark. That’s impressive in just over eight weeks.
WHO NEEDS WHAT?
As we enter the final two days of the summer transfer window in the Premier League, plenty of teams are still scrambling to sign players before the deadline at 6 p.m. ET on Wednesday.
Below is a handy checklist to have as the needs for PL teams are clear to see. Will the following clubs splash the cash to get more cover in the following areas?
Chelsea: Central defender Liverpool: Left back/Goalkeeper Tottenham: Winger Arsenal: Center back/Striker Man United: Central defender Man City: Full backs Everton: Striker, central midfielder Southampton: Striker Watford: Central defenders/Striker West Ham United: Winger Hull City: Center back/Winger/Striker/Attacking midfielder/Goalkeeper Sunderland: Center back/Striker/Central midfielder/Goalkeeper Stoke City: Striker Leicester City: Striker Burnley: Striker/Winger Bournemouth: Center back Swansea City: Striker/Center back West Brom: Striker/Attacking midfielder Crystal Palace: Attacking midfielder Middlesbrough: Central defender
Plus here a few other things to keep an eye as the deadline approaches…
Team who could do with selling a few: Man City, Everton Leicester City, Middlesbrough, Chelsea, Man United
Big deals to watch: Manolo Gabbiadini to Everton from Napoli, Marcos Alonso to Chelsea from Fiorentina, Joe Hart loan move to Sunderland. Jose Fonte to Manchester United, Islam Slimani to Leicester City, Wilfried Zaha to Tottenham Hotspur, Loic Remy to Crystal Palace
USMNT: CAMERON, GUZAN, GOOCH IN ACTION; PULISIC ON THE MOVE?
With the U.S. national team playing two crucial 2018 World Cup qualifiers in the next 10 days, Jurgen Klinsmann’s men still have plenty of work to do. The USMNT roster for the games against St. Vincent and the Grenadines on Sept. 2 and Trinidad and Tobago on Sept. 6 was announced on Sunday and there were no real surprises. It will certainly hurt Klinsmann to be without forwards Clint Dempsey and Gyasi Zardes who are both unavailable due to injury.
Two Premier League players have been called up to the squad with Stoke City’s Geoff Cameron and Middlesbrough’s Brad Guzan both included, and some could’ve argued that a third, Lynden Gooch, could’ve been called up.
It is most likely the Sunderland midfielder will be called up in October for the friendly matches against Cuba and New Zealand after the California native has become a regular fixture in the heart of the Black Cats’ midfield. Gooch, 20, has started all three games for Sunderland this season and has impressed with his poise on the ball, positional sense and passing ability. Klinsmann will surely be ready to hand the U.S. U-20 star a call up to the full national team in the coming months.
As for Cameron and Guzan, the former has started the last two games at center back for Stoke as they beat Stevenage Town 4-0 in the EFL Cup and lost 1-0 at Everton in the PL. After having flu-like symptoms at the start of the season, Cameron is back in as a regular for the Potters and has looked as solid as ever at the heart of the defense. In his fifth season with Stoke, Cameron is a guaranteed starter for the U.S. and was the only man to play every single second of their fourth-place finish at the Copa America this past summer. With John Brooks missing through injury, Cameron will hold the U.S. defense together.
Guzan didn’t start Boro’s first PL game but with Victor Valdes out injured the former Aston Villa goalkeeper has played well in their win over Sunderland last week and a draw at West Brom. Guzan was called into action on plenty of occasions against the Baggies and will remain the USMNT’s undisputed numero uno. On a related note, we lost another U.S. national team player from the PL as DeAndre Yedlin left Tottenham Hotspur and made the move down to the Championship with Newcastle United.
Another U.S. international rumored to be on the move is teenage sensation Christian Pulisic.
The 17-year-old Borussia Dortmund attacking midfielder has been linked with a move to Red Bull Leipzig in the Bundesliga and Stoke City in the Premier League. I can confirm the latter were never in for Pulisic, but an interesting rumor has cropped up linking the Hershey, Pennsylvania native with Liverpool.
Pulisic was signed by former Dortmund manager, and current Liverpool boss, Jurgen Klopp in January 2015. With whispers going around about Liverpool making a $14 million bid for Pulisic late last week, I spoke to Klopp and asked if Pulisic was a player Liverpool were interested in.
“No transfer rumors. I have no comment for this. Absolutely nothing to speak about,” Klopp said. “That’s for all the other cases too. When we know something and when we are close to doing something then we will inform you… or a little bit later.”
It is believed Pulisic wants to move elsewhere to play regularly but quite frankly Dortmund would be foolish to sell him right now, especially after they nurtured him for the past two years and he’s already shown he has supreme quality on the ball and an innate ability to pop up in the right spots in attack.
Watch this space.
Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here.