Difficult to look beyond the Manchester clubs for this one. And, like it will surely be in the Premier League shake-up, they are just about neck-and-neck for who did best – but they had to spend big to get here. There is nothing more box office than Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba at United, while Henrikh Mkhitaryan has proven himself as one of the finest schemers of his kind in Europe. Eric Bailly, meanwhile, clearly knows what he’s doing at centre-back.
Across the city, Pep Guardiola, knew what he needed and got it, even if it meant paying over the odds. Shelling out almost £50m on John Stones is a gamble but he wanted a bonafide ball-playing centre-half and they don’t come cheap. Further forward, the arrival of proven goalscorer Nolito, as well as Leroy Sane, Ilkay Gundogan and Gabriel Jesus add even more depth to a talented offensive unit. It will be interesting to see how Guardiola keeps everyone happy. Meanwhile, a nod must go to Crystal Palace, who have addressed a lack of goals with what look like impressive signings in Christian Benteke, Loic Remy and Andros Townsend this summer.
You do not get much better value than landing a global icon like Zlatan Ibrahimovic on a free transfer but that is exactly what Manchester United pulled off this summer after the Swede decided to leave Paris Saint-Germain at the end of his contract. Like him or loathe him, Ibrahimovic’s record of winning trophies over the past 15 years is quite incredible.
Since joining Ajax as a 19-year-old in 2001, there have been only two seasons during which he did not win the league title. That has included winners medals in Holland (2), Italy (6), Spain (1) and France (4) and he is now hoping to add the Premier League to his collection. Not to mention he has started life at Manchester United like a train, scoring four goals in his first four games, and the fact that the increase in shirt sales inspired by his arrival will help to cover his mammoth wages. For a less obvious choice, Southampton’s capture of Nathan Redmond for a relatively modest £11m looks like a snip while Alvaro Negredo, who arrived on loan at Middlesborough from Valencia for the season, could keep the north east club in the Premier League if he finds his best form.
Jeff Hendrick has been an integral member of the Derby County side who have come so close to getting back to the Premier League over the past few seasons but he will finally get to try his hand in England’s top flight after Burnley shelled out a club-record £10m fee to sign him. It should come as little surprise for the Dubliner, who has been at Derby since joining from St Kevin’s Boys back in 2008, following his performances at the summer’s European Championships in France.
Hendrick, still only 24, was one of the best performers in Martin O’Neill’s squad, who made it out of a group containing Belgium and Italy before succumbing to eventual runners-up France in the last-16. Burnley had already tried and failed to land Hendrick this summer when Derby knocked back their initial approach but they decided to break the bank to get him with an offer late on in the window. And Hendrick is not the only Irishman who cut his teeth at St Kevin’s Boys to join Burnley this summer as manager Sean Dyche also landed precocious defender Jimmy Dunne from Manchester United. There are high hopes for the 18-year-old, who signed a two-year deal with the option of a third.
Alex Manninger. Yes, that Alex Manninger. The fresh-faced Austrian goalkeeper who came out of nowhere to help Arsenal win the title in 1998 is still around. And never mind that, he signed for Liverpool this summer on a free from Augsburg. Back in the 90s, he covered for the injured David Seaman and kept six clean sheets in a row, including when the Gunners beat Manchester United 1-0 at Old Trafford thanks to a memorable Marc Overmars goal which secured perhaps the most important victory of their season.
Since then, he has played for nine different clubs in four different countries but he is back in England nearly two decades later having been brought in by manager Jurgen Klopp to provide cover for Simon Mignolet. Perhaps strangest of all, however, is that he is only 39, which in goalkeeper years means he still has a few seasons left in him. And while we are on the subject of goalkeepers, nobody quite imagined that Manchester City and England goalkeeper Joe Hart would be so dramatically blackballed by Pep Guardiola – and nobody would have predicted a loan move to Torino.
How nobody managed to conclude a deal to sign Alexandre Lacazette this summer is a true mystery of modern football. The rapid forward has scored 69 goals in his last 104 league appearances for Lyon, has been linked with just about every club in the top half of the Premier League and even told his French employers that he wanted to leave in a bid to force through a departure this summer.
Arsenal looked like early frontrunners to sign him, but they had a £29.3m bid knocked back by Lyon, who wanted closer to £40m. Then West Ham reportedly offered closer to the asking price, but even that was not enough to prise him away from the south of France. As it happened, he has stayed put, scored six goals in his first three league games of the season and is now about to sign a lucrative new long-term contract with Lyon. Arsenal, as well as Chelsea and Leicester, meanwhile, were also sad to see Brazilian goalscorer Gabriel Barbosa – known as ’Gabigol’ – head to Inter Milan instead of the Premier League after he decided to fly the nest at Santos.
Few clubs know the value of a dark horse like Leicester City, who famously paid Le Havre just £400,000 to sign a skinny Algerian winger called Riyad Mahrez. Now they are hoping to have struck gold again with Polish teen Bartosz Kapustka, who arrived from Cracovia in a £7.5m deal after impressing at Euro 2016. The 19-year-old is well known to Premier League scouts who have tracked his remarkable rise to the Premier League but it was Leicester who took a gamble to land him.
Special mention must also go to Eric Bailly, who arrived at Old Trafford this summer as a virtual unknown despite costing £30m. The 22-year-old had played a total of just 39 league games, across spells at Espanyol and Villarreal, before turning up at United this summer but he already looks like a man capable of becoming one of the best central defenders in the Premier League for years to come. Bailly has not missed a minute in the league so far and his impressive displays have already excited United fans, who have watched their club struggle to properly replace Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand over the past few years.
If Wilfried Bony can recapture the sort of form that prompted Manchester City to pay Swansea £25m to sign him in January 2015, Stoke’s loan capture of the Ivorian could be one of the signings of the summer, never mind deadline day.
Stoke are crying out for a centre-forward of his ilk as Mame Biram Diouf continues to struggle in front of goal while 35-year-old Peter Crouch’s best days are behind him. They are currently bottom of the table with just one point and two goals from their opening three games. Bony could change all that.