The opportunity for reflection has presented itself after Chelsea secured the 2016/17 Premier League title, resuming familiarity back to the English top-flight after the anomaly that was Leicester City last season.
Relegation spots have also been confirmed with Sunderland, Middlesbrough and Hull City all preparing for a long season in the Championship next campaign.
Only the top-four remains uncertain, as any two of Liverpool, Manchester City and Arsenal will take the Champions League qualifying spots, while Jose Mourinho and Manchester United have the chance to join those two teams in next season’s Champions League if they beat Ajax in the Europa League Final.
Here we begin a series looking at the best and worst signings of the Premier League season, kicking things off in defence. There’s a grey area that arises when judging the performances of defenders, as their output is much harder to quantify than a striker, who can be quickly summed up after a glance at goals and assists tallies.
This is further proven through the Ballon d’Or recipients, as even without Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi winning the accolade every season, it would be difficult to see a defender lift the trophy. The last to do so was Fabio Cannavaro, who won the Ballon d’Or in 2006, and he is only the third defender to ever achieve the feat after Franz Beckenbauer and Matthias Sammer.
Let us know in the comments section what you think of the list and who should or should not have been mentioned.
5. Marcos Alonso – Fiorentina to Chelsea for £24 million
A player familiar to English football fans after spells with Bolton Wanderers and Sunderland, Marcos Alonso has grown into a regular in Antonio Conte’s rarely-tinkered-with starting XI at Chelsea.
Deployed at left-wingback in a 3-4-3, Alonso has been a solid contributor in the final third with six goals and three assists, whilst keeping up with his defensive duties by being involved in all 16 of Chelsea’s Premier League clean sheets.
The 26-year-old collected his first trophy in senior football by winning the Premier League title and has the chance to add to his personal collection when Chelsea meet Arsenal in the FA Cup Final.
4. Shkodran Mustafi – Valencia to Arsenal for £35 million
Arsenal fans were crying out for defensive reinforcements after conceding four to Liverpool on the Premier League’s opening day, and they got exactly what they asked for in the form of German international Shkodran Mustafi just one day before the transfer deadline.
Mustafi has gone on to make 36 appearances for Arsenal in all competitions, and hadn’t played in a losing Arsenal side in the Premier League until January.
He is one of the league’s strongest centre-backs aerially, winning 3.8 headers per game, which ranks him 4th in the Premier League amongst centre-backs behind Nicolas Otamendi, Michael Keane and Virgil van Dijk.
Discipline is perhaps his weakest area and one for improvement heading into next season, as the German international has collected 10 yellow cards in the league, the joint-most for centre-backs alongside Watford’s Sebastian Prodl.
3. Joel Matip – Schalke to Liverpool on a free transfer
How exactly were Liverpool able to sneak in a deal for a 25-year-old with Bundesliga, Champions League and World Cup experience on a free transfer?
Could arguably be placed higher in the list due to both his performances and under the radar business from Liverpool, but an overall shaky defence and infrequency of appearances (thanks in part to niggling injuries and the African Cup of Nations debacle) leaves him in third.
His positioning alongside Dejan Lovren has returned Liverpool’s most assured performances, with Liverpool winning 10, drawing six and losing just once in the Premier League with their first-choice duo at centre-half.
2. Eric Bailly – Villarreal to Manchester United for £30 million
After almost a full season at Old Trafford, it’s clear to see why Manchester United were keen to sign Eric Bailly from Villarreal in the summer.
However, that doesn’t make it any less of a gamble, as Bailly had only a handful of experience in the top-flight in Spain, making just over 50 appearances with Villarreal and Espanyol, and perhaps a move to Manchester United was a step too far for the 22-year-old.
Thankfully for United fans, it’s been the complete opposite. United have a tenacious and uncompromising centre-half who has absolutely no qualms with the physicality of English football, and rather relishes the challenge.
At 2.5 interceptions per game (11th in the league for per game averages), Bailly has played a significant part in Manchester United being the second-most defensively sturdy team in the Premier League (conceded 29 from 36 games, 2nd only to Tottenham).
1. David Luiz – PSG to Chelsea for £30 million
Remember when David Luiz was an error-riddled centre-half noted for his fantastic abilities as a footballer but frailties as a defender? Plenty were quick to point to the second half of the last sentence when he signed from PSG in the summer, but most were tight-lipped over the fact that the Brazilian had largely matured as a defender in his two-season spell in Paris.
The result? A unanimous success, and our number one defensive signing of the season.
Luiz has started 32 of Chelsea’s 37 league games thus far, helping them to 15 clean sheets, and has secured his first Premier League trophy for the club after finishing as a runner-up in his first spell with The Blues in 2010/11.
Usually deployed alongside Gary Cahill and Cesar Azpilicueta in Antonio Conte’s back three, Luiz has hardly put a foot wrong. His 38 tackles (125th in the league) hardly registers amongst the top tacklers, but it’s his interceptions (61, ranking him 26th in the league for total number of interceptions) that shows how much his anticipation and reading of the game has improved since his departure in 2014.