Top ten players who have been like new signings, including Man Utd outcast and Brentford ‘glue’
The January transfer window closed long ago but some Premier League players have assumed the ‘like a new signing’ mantle, with a Man Utd outcast among them.
10) Joe Worrall (Nottingham Forest)
Perhaps every Nottingham Forest player feels like a new signing, such has been the level of squad churn overseen by Steve Cooper in two transfer windows at the City Ground. But Joe Worrall is part of the furniture around which those extreme renovations have taken place. The 26-year-old started the first six games of the Premier League season – one win, one draw, four defeats and 14 goals conceded – then did not don the armband again from the beginning of a match until November. Since his recall against Crystal Palace in the final match before the World Cup break, Worrall has started in three wins, three draws and two defeats, keeping Erling Haaland quiet along the way.
9) Angelo Ogbonna (West Ham)
While declaring before the visit to Tottenham that “we are looking to get more than one point” was proof he and his West Ham manager are on drastically different pages, Angelo Ogbonna has at least re-established his importance under David Moyes. A cruciate ligament injury in November 2021 had threatened to ruin what remained of the 34-year-old’s career but the end of a long road back has coincided with West Ham’s increasing desperation.
A formation change and the lack of other viable options has given Ogbonna a shot at redemption in his ninth year at West Ham. The Italian started his first Premier League game in 13 months against Brentford in December and his reintroduction to the team – alongside the excellent Nayef Aguerd – did engender an upturn in performances and results, albeit one which cannot possibly hope to offset an inability to score, create chances or pass accurately in the opposition half.
8) Oliver Skipp (Tottenham)
It bordered on a plea from his right-hand man Cristian Stellini, who insisted that “this type of player needs to play, we can give him all the love we can but the player needs to play and want to play to stay in confidence”. But it remains to be seen whether Antonio Conte listens on the subject of Oliver Skipp.
The polarising midfielder had been substituted early in all three of his pre-January starts this season, the longest of which lasted 66 minutes. But circumstances forced Tottenham’s hand when Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s suspension, Rodrigo Bentancur and Yves Bissouma’s injuries and the club’s atrocious squad composition gave Skipp and Pape Matar Sarr a chance against Milan.
Both were excellent in the Champions League knockout match and Skipp retained his place against West Ham, whose midfield he dominated despite spending 80 minutes on a yellow card. The 22-year-old “needs to play” and Tottenham cannot currently afford for that to be elsewhere.
7) Aaron Wan-Bissaka (Man Utd)
The word Erik ten Hag used most often in his appraisal of Aaron Wan-Bissaka was “fight”. The defender has had to scrap and struggle for a mild Man Utd redemption arc, but after “a difficult first part of the season” the manager at least sees a player who “is improving his game”.
Before the World Cup, Wan-Bissaka played four of a possible 1,890 minutes across all competitions for Man Utd. There was a brief back injury which rendered the right-back’s October obsolete but Diogo Dalot had otherwise made the position his own with no view to sharing.
The Portuguese’s delayed return from those exertions gave Wan-Bissaka an opening which he has not wasted. The 25-year-old has started crucial games against Manchester City, Arsenal and Barcelona since the turn of the year, as well as both legs of the Carabao Cup semi-final. It should still be the case that Man Utd eventually evolve well beyond a player of Wan-Bissaka’s qualities but he has at least restored his reputation and enhanced his career prospects.
6) Evan Ferguson (Brighton)
Interest from Tottenham and Chelsea will come as no surprise to either Evan Ferguson or Brighton, who had to fend off Liverpool and Man Utd to land the monstrously talented striker in January 2021. The youngest Premier League player to score in consecutive games since Federico Macheda in 2009 also became the youngest Premier League player to both score and assist in the same game since Michael Owen in 1997 this season, as if to emphasise the two diverging paths that teenage brilliance can follow. Ferguson could hardly have chosen a better chaperone in Brighton.
5) Rico Lewis (Manchester City)
The opportunities have dried up since Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg pressed the teen spirit out of Rico Lewis to set up the only goal in Tottenham’s victory over Manchester City in early February. Lewis has not featured in any of the three games since. But this has been a stunning breakthrough season for Pep Guardiola’s “little Philipp Lahm”.
“Who knew? Not me,” Guardiola said of his inverted full-back’s unanticipated rise recently. “I did not expect in this part of the season for Rico in three, four or five games – important games – to be playing all the time. No. He was in the second team and arrived on the summer tour because you have to put in another player and he came. He convinced me.”
Bernardo Silva might have picked up the left-back mantle as everyone knew he was destined, but Lewis will be back in the frame soon enough.
4) Manor Solomon (Fulham)
The book of Solomon has been a difficult read at times. The Russian invasion in Ukraine forced a temporary end to three productive years at Shakhtar Donetsk, before a serious knee injury on his Fulham debut required more than four months to repair, rehabilitate and recover from. The 23-year-old returned in the new year as a fresh attacking option for Marco Silva’s Europe botherers, scoring 88th-minute goals in consecutive games as a substitute to beat Nottingham Forest and Brighton, lifting Fulham to within four points of Champions League qualification. It has been quite the as yet unfinished chapter. And yes, this breaks the rules of not including actual new signings but you will ultimately be OK.
3) Abdoulaye Doucoure (Everton)
As nuanced as some of the changes Sean Dyche has instilled at Everton must have been, the 51-year-old has also come in, coached some of his former players into the lowest of blocks, increased the number of crosses at the other end, made shin pads compulsory during training and welcomed a previously ostracised member of the squad back into the fold.
It was assumed that Abdoulaye Doucoure would be leaving Everton in January, with the midfielder’s contract expiring this summer. An argument with Frank Lampard further ‘marginalised’ a player who had only featured for 221 Premier League minutes of a troubled Toffees season. But while no suitors were found, Dyche has made room for Doucoure’s energy and industry in his side and the Malian is an ever-present under new management. But all parties will hope he is never put through on goal again.
2) Christian Norgaard (Brentford)
As the first permanent signing of Thomas Frank’s reign at Brentford in May 2019, it was no surprise to hear the manager describe his former Brondby comfort blanket as the “glue” who “makes the team tick” late last year. Christian Norgaard has taken almost every step of this glorious journey with the Bees and remains as integral to the cause as ever.
After missing most of the club’s pre-season with a knee injury, Norgaard started the first four games of the campaign before it was decided that an ongoing Achilles problem had to be addressed. The Dane missed 10 Premier League matches but has barely been absent for even a minute since making his return as a substitute in the victory over Manchester City in November. Brentford’s record this season without Norgaard is W2 D5 L3 F12 A18; with him it is W6 D6 L1 F23 A12. And it was his offside assist against Arsenal which persuaded Lee Mason to pack it all in.
1) Stefan Bajcetic (Liverpool)
Jude Bellingham alone would be no midfield panacea for a Liverpool side embarking on their latest overhaul of an entire position, following the mixed results of their ongoing attacking revamp. Fabinho is 30 this year, Thiago, Jordan Henderson and James Milner are already the wrong side of that number, Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have unreliable bodies and contracts and Curtis Jones has been unable to kick on in the way he and the club had hoped. Other current midfield options include 20-year-old Fabio Carvalho, teenager Harvey Elliott and Arthur Melo, who is indeed still a thing.
The emergence of Stefan Bajcetic has given Liverpool reason to think they can muddle through with that midfield selection until a summer of grand problem-solving investment. A professional debut in the cauldron of a 9-0 home win over Bournemouth hardened the Spaniard for a first-team future, but prior to the World Cup his only start was in a League Cup tie with Derby. As Liverpool’s season threatened to deteriorate through the winter, Bajcetic represented one final throw of the dice and the Reds have landed an unexpectedly effective double six. Their “best player” was barely in the picture until after Qatar; now he is thriving in the foreground.
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