With international friendlies swiftly following the Premier League’s transfer deadline day, the dust has barely settled on what was a remarkable day of spending.
But among the myriad of high-profile transfers, Tottenham Hotspur pulled off a brilliant coup with the £4.7 million capture of French midfielder Benjamin Stambouli from 2012’s Ligue 1 champions Montpellier.
Of course Stambouli – who has never been capped at any level for France – was not Tottenham’s first choice.
That was Morgan Schneiderlin, the midfield maestro who makes Southampton tick. Schneiderlin has arguably been the best holding midfielder in the Premier League for the past two seasons, and undoubtedly the best tackler in the league.
But with the Saints wanting £27 million for their team’s most important player (thanks to Adam Lallana’s move to Liverpool), getting Stambouli instead for under £5 million is a bargain.
Of course, Schneiderlin is slightly the better player – or at least that’s what the stats say.
Last season was Stambouli’s breakout season for Montpellier. The team struggled a lot last season, but had a strong score with their captain Hilton at the centre of defence, Stambouli has the stronger half of a double pivot with Morgan Sanson in the 4-2-3-1, and Newcastle United’s new signing Remy Cabella thriving in the no.10 role.
So it’s fairest to focus at the stats from last season, when Schneiderlin also had his best days under Mauricio Pochettino.
Benjamin Stambouli made almost double the tackles (111) of any Spurs player last season (Paulinho & Dembele 65). Bargain @ 5m #THFC
— Farah’s Football (@FarahsFootball) September 1, 2014
Schneiderlin also made 69 interceptions at a rate of 2.1 per game, significantly higher than Stambouli’s 57 interceptions at a rate of 1.6 per match.
And in building play out from the back – combined with tackling and intercepting the most important of a holding midfielder’s game – Schneiderlin appears to be streets ahead with a pass success rate of 89.3 per cent from an average of 58.5 passes per game.
To be a truly world-class midfielder he’d need a success rate of 90 per cent or more with an average of over 60 passes per game, but Schneiderlin is certainly very close when it comes to passing.
Stambouli’s statistics in this regard aren’t anywhere near as impressive. The 24-year-old managed a success rate of 82.8 per cent from an average of 40.6 passes per game.
However, Schneiderlin was part of a stellar Southampton side filled with great talent, working under one of the game’s most intelligent and innovative managers in Mauricio Pochettino.
Stambouli meanwhile was part of a poor Montpellier team which had ditched his stellar midfield partner Marco Estrada, replaced title-winning manager Rene Girard with the lacklustre Rolland Courbis, sold star players Younes Belhanda, Henri Bedimo, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa and allowed key striker John Utaka to leave on a free.
In a team that struggled to a 15th place finish in Ligue 1 last season, Stambouli comfortably made the most tackles, interceptions and accurate passes. In fact, only three players made more tackles than him in France’s top-flight last season.
Without him, Montpellier could well have been relegated, he was that important.
While Morgan Schneiderlin can boast some impressive statistics from last season, Stambouli’s were no doubt skewed by his poor-performing teammates.
In fact, to have those kind of stats in a team which were two points clear of the relegation zone last season shows the potential Stambouli has.
Potential which can be filled at White Hart Lane. As was clear in the 3-0 defeat to Liverpool, Spurs are crying out for a high pressing, enthusiastic midfielder to fit Pochettino’s Barcelona-esque pressing game.
That’s even clear by looking at the stats from last season – Stambouli made almost double the tackles than any Tottenham player did in 2013-14.
The Frenchman will add that steel which has been missing with the shy and retiring partnership of Nabil Bentaleb and Etienne Capoue, both in the tackle and vocally.
Indeed the player himself said (h/t SkySports):
“I like to talk in the locker room, it’s a pleasure for me. You have to manage when it goes wrong and I’m glad to have responsibilities.”
So while Stambouli may not be the Morgan Schneiderlin Tottenham fans wanted, he is a very similar player to the man who is the same age, same nationality and plays in the same position as him.
And on the pitch Stambouli brings all of the same qualities as the Southampton midfielder.
The only difference is, he’s more than £20 million cheaper. A better fit for Pochettino’s plans than any of Tottenham’s holding midfielders, and with a point to prove in the Premier League, Benjamin Stambouli could well be the bargain of the season for Tottenham.
Here are some Premier League betting tips for Gameweek 3.
While these tips are based on tactical, psychological and statistical analysis, the Premier League can be damn near impossible to predict at times.
As such, they could all be wrong.
Or they could all be right.
Or some of them could be right.
Aston Villa v Hull City – Draw @ 9/4 (or 0-0 @ 6/1)
Aston Villa are favourites for this game at Villa Park, but this one has draw written all over it.
Even Paul Lambert and Steve Bruce would probably be surprised if either walked away with a win.
Going for 0-0 would be a good shout for a number of reasons. Looking back at the stats, Hull have failed to score in eight of their last nine matches against Villa.
On top of that, the understanding between Ron Vlaar and Philippe Senderos is improving every match, and crucially both are in top form.
They both close down the space well, can read an opponent’s run and most importantly, they can read each other’s play as well.
Especially after losing Shane Long, who – despite his lack of good finishing ability (reflected in his goal tally) – is great at dragging defenders out of position to create space for teammates, Hull don’t have the imaginative kind of striker or midfielder who could trouble such a solid partnership as Vlaar and Senderos.
As for Aston Villa, they simply don’t have the firepower, especially with Christian Benteke and Libor Kozak still injured. Much more on that is outlined here.
Both will be fatigued and lower on confidence after their midweek losses in the League Cup and Europa League respectively (Hull’s being on aggregate of course).
And at home Villa have a big problem tactically which manager Paul Lambert still hasn’t sorted.
He’s worked hard on making sure his team keep their shape, have runners in midfield who can slot into defence to provide cover (Kieran Richardson is the one who doing it most this season), and are ready to pounce on the counter-attack.
However, teams drop off and let Villa play when they’re at home, knowing that Villa don’t have a good rhythm when they have time and space on the ball.
Lambert has yet to get his team playing better with long spells in possession.
Again, this one has draw – and quite probably 0-0 – written all over it.
Everton v Chelsea – Draw @ 12/5
Chelsea are the favourites here by a fair distance, but Everton have won the past four out of five between the two sides at Goodison Park.
That doesn’t make them favourites however. They may have two strikers who used to play for the Blues – Romelu Lukaku and Samuel Eto’o – who no doubt will be more fired up than ever, but this Chelsea team will be the best they’ve played in a long time.
Roberto Martinez’s men were brilliant in the first half against Arsenal when facing Alexis Sanchez up-front.
But in that first-half, Sanchez couldn’t adapt to being a centre forward, and often looked for the ball on the wing, leaving nobody in the middle. That meant no focal point.
Arsene Wenger then makes a masterstroke sub at half-time, bringing on Olivier Giroud for Sanchez.
Suddenly the Gunners have direction in attack, and a focus in how they go forward. As a result, the Everton defence is tested more and eventually cracks.
Against Chelsea, Everton’s defence will be tested much more than last weekend with a direct striker like Diego Costa, or even Didier Drogba.
The weak point for Martinez’s men is their difficulty dealing with direct strikers who are supported with great service in midfield.
Hence Chris Wood got on the scoresheet for Leicester against the Toffees on the opening day.
Chelsea have the striker in Costa, and the midfielder in Cesc Fabregas (and of course the likes of Eden Hazard, Oscar, etc).
But, it will play on Chelsea and Mourinho’s mind that they lost the last game at Goodison, and that they haven’t done well there over the years.
On top of that, Everton have quality through the pitch themselves, which will leave the Blues vulnerable at times (as evidenced against Leicester last weekend).
The likes of James McCarthy, Gareth Barry, Steven Pienaar, Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman seem more comfortable in their play at Goodison – regardless of opposition – and that will help Everton stick to the manager’s tactics.
A draw with both teams scoring seems the most likely outcome here.
Tottenham v Liverpool – Home win @ 8/5
Mauricio Pochettino has worked wonders at White Hart Lane this season.
When Tottenham beat AEL Limassol 3-0 on Thursday night, the commentator on ITV4 was spot on. “Liverpool can’t come soon enough for Spurs”, he said.
The feel-good factor around the club is highly visible, even from the outside. It is only two games into the season, but the fact that Tottenham sit top of the Premier League is significant.
Pochettino has established a solid core to his team and has blended strong defensive football with attacking flair beautifully.
The likes of Nacer Chadli, Erik Lamela and Christian Eriksen have been reinvigorated by Pochettino’s arrival, while overall the team is finally starting to gel with the understanding between them much better than last season.
However, the picture is rather different at Liverpool. The defence still needs sorting (much more explained here) tactically, and confidence is fairly low after a lacklustre win over Southampton, and a crushing defeat at Manchester City.
And going forward, Brendan Rodgers still seems to be working out the best way for his team to attack without Luis Suarez, part of the reason why Daniel Sturridge hasn’t been in the same form as last season.
There seems to be a bit of transition at Liverpool after losing Suarez and adding a lot of numbers to the squad for the Champions League.
However, Spurs have hit the ground running and don’t look like stopping soon. A home win and a clean sheet for Tottenham appears most probable.
Sergio Aguero to score two or more @ 5/2 (or three or more @ 9/1)
Sergio Aguero has three goals in his three games in the Premier League at home to Stoke City.
He’s approaching full fitness and is providing early indications – with the ease at which he scores, the cleverness of his forward runs, the spaces he can create for himself, the list is endless – that he is in the form of his life.
Stevan Jovetic may also be in stellar form, but there’s no doubt Manchester City look first to Aguero for goals.
Tactically, Stoke’s defence and midfield simply aren’t good enough to stop a player like Aguero, especially at the Etihad.
Two goals is a safe bet for Aguero, but it could well be quids in with an Aguero hat-trick.
Manchester United and both teams to score @ 13/5
This one doesn’t need a great deal of analysis and is quite obvious, but with odds of 13/5 seems worth a punt.
Angel di Maria is in line to make his Manchester United debut, and besides the obvious improvement he will clearly give the team, his signing could well have the ‘Mesut Ozil effect’ seen at Arsenal.
Also, United have greater belief in themselves away from Old Trafford, and will seek a response from last week’s disappointing draw at Sunderland (the 4-0 MK Dons defeat compromised virtually none of those who will start this season, besides David de Gea).
Burnley did beat United 1-0 at Turf Moor at the start of the 2009/10 Premier League season, and while the teams are markedly different today, that will still give the Clarets confidence.
Combine that with a defence still struggling with their roles in the 3-5-2, and it does seem clear United will concede.
But overall, with the ‘di Maria’ effect, as bad as they’ve been it’s really hard not to see United win this one.