Traffic jams, player fatigue, injuries and a wide-open race for the 2021 Premier League title mean the temptation – and the need – to spend big money in the January transfer window has never been so great.
However, successful recruiting in the middle of winter is notoriously difficult. Recall that Liverpool signed Andy Carroll for £ 35m in January 2011 for the ultimate panic buy.
The goal is not only to relieve those on the front lines, but also to force the final urge to glory so new recruits have to jump straight into the action. Carroll, for example, didn’t play until March or didn’t score until April.
So if you play Liverpool, Manchester City, Spurs, Chelsea, Manchester United or Arsenal – which remain the established Big Six clubs of the Premier League despite some bad (or in the case of the Gunners’ case, sad) campaigns – you are now buying for their title and To overcome Champions League challenges or, in the latter case, simply to save your season?
Who can be back for Harry Kane, replace Virgil van Dijk, repeat Sergio Aguero’s successes or relieve Bruno Fernandes, and who can make a decisive contribution to making a meaningful contribution right away?
So far the answer to the last question has been a matter of judgment and intuition. But not anymore.
Clubs are starting to go beyond simple player data and use artificial intelligence to calculate which players will pass and shoot from day one.
Tottenham Hotspur has to make a decision – will they bring more support for Harry Kane? And is Manchester City signing a new talisman to replace the extraordinary Sergio Aguero to give them a chance at the Premier League title this season?
The man behind the AI
The Professional Zone – or Prozone – marked the beginning of digital performance analysis in sports when the company started in 1998.
It was the idea of Ramm Mylvaganam. He came to the UK from Sri Lanka in 1968 to study chemical engineering at Aston University in Birmingham and then worked for Mars.
Years later, he recruited a group of technicians and pioneered his Prozone approach with Steve McClaren, Derby County’s first team manager, under Jim Smith.
In a time before reliable GPS, the system used cameras positioned around a stadium so analysts could measure the movement and touch of players
Suddenly the coaches knew exactly how far the players were going, what strengths and weaknesses they had and where they were effective on the pitch.
Mylvaganam sold the company to US investors 15 years ago and now operates as Stats Perform. His latest project Ai Abacus aims to go beyond raw data and predict the best outcome for clubs and players from it.
“People always talk about chemistry between players, but until now it was just words,” says Ramm Mylvaganam, founder of Ai Abacus, a company that uses artificial intelligence to find the perfect match between players and clubs “Chemistry” that a player will have with his new teammates.
‘We found a way to define these criteria. We want to find out how people will play on another team. This enables clubs to make recruiting decisions. ‘
Mylvaganam may not be a household name outside of boardrooms and analytics suites in top clubs, but its influence on football is legendary.
The former Mars marketing director is the man who started Prozone almost 25 years ago. It’s why we now know how many kilometers a player runs, how many passes they make, where they are going and with what success.
He and his new company want to go one step further.
To go beyond the numbers and allow the computers to battle their way through millions, if not billions of data points, and then offer the best options for clubs in the transfer market that provide players who can pass and fight on the field the moment they go through the door.
The Ai Abacus model is based on identifying potential options in terms of skills, individual strengths, and price, and then evaluating a player’s “suitability” in terms of style of play and their potential “chemistry” with new teammates.
The best options are those talented players who do very well on both aptitude and chemistry (see the panel below for more explanation).
Using the Ai Abacus system,can reveal Whoever shows the data will make the difference in this year’s race for the title and Champions League places.
Who should Liverpool address as a replacement for injured star defender Virgil van Dijk (top left)? And where should Manchester United look now after it failed last summer in the hunt for Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho (right)?
Tottenham: Secure yourself for Harry Kane
Pep Guardiola described Spurs as the “Harry Kane Team” in 2017. It wasn’t quite right then and it is no longer true today as Jose Mourinho’s side grinds out the results like a well-oiled machine.
Yet Spurs’ successful attack on the title to date depends on keeping Kane fit or at least having a credible replacement. After all, Kane and Son Heung-min have scored 31 goals together. This is the second highest total in Premier League history, but it also proves that the team depends on the duo.
25-year-old Brazilian Carlos Vinicius, who was loaned out by Benfica for one season in October, has yet to impress outside of the Europa League. Why should Mourinho and Chairman Daniel Levy miss this golden opportunity to win the Premier League for them? Do you want a little more firepower?
So who can they get at a price Levy is willing to pay?
IDEAL GOAL: BREEL EMBOLO
Other options: Borja Mayoral, Ivan Toney
Breel Embolo (right) hasn’t scored many goals this season but he seems to be a good fit for Kane
Breel Embolo may not be a name that Spurs believers will love, but the Borussia Mönchengladbach striker could be invaluable if Kane is out – and in the last four seasons he has missed 51 games due to injury and illness.
Embolo, 23, is a player Spurs targeted two years ago when he was in the market for £ 8m. Tottenham eventually paid £ 3m on a one-year loan for Vinicius, albeit with the option to buy for £ 40m at the end of the season.
Now Spurs could expect to pay £ 28m for the Gladbach striker. He may have only scored three goals and has assisted twice in 15 games this season, but his profile suits Kanes.
Embolo chose the Ai Abacus model because he plays in a formation similar to Spurs. He falls short and connects well with runners who walk past him. He also fits the full back well and is known for good movement in the box.
This table shows a player’s suitability for a team based on their style of play and their chemistry with potential teammates. The crosshair indicates a good fit between the player and the team. Players who appear where the lines meet and get into the top right quadrant of the chart are highly apt and chemically qualified and are expected to fit and contribute well from day one. The position on the map is not final, but an indication that a player and team are compatible. Ai Abacus also carries out a cost-benefit analysis before assessing various transfer goals (see below). In the end, however, it is up to the recruiting club to decide on the most important characteristics of the player.
Roma’s Borja Mayoral would be a cheaper option for Spurs
Brentford’s Ivan Toney has taken the championship by storm
Embolo is a great choice when it comes to considering transfer goals that could fit in at a reasonable price from the start.
The Roma Spanish striker, Borja Mayoral,23, on loan from Real Madrid, could also be considered if Levy is looking to limit spending.
He’s less suited to the Spurs game plan in terms of aptitude and chemistry, with Roma preferring two upfront, but a £ 18m price tag slightly toggle the model in his favor by improving the cost-benefit analysis .
The third option that Ai Abacus offers is Ivan ToneyThe 24-year-old Brentford forward who took the championship by storm and scored 16 goals in 21 games in his first season.
He tends to play in a 4-3-3 formation in west London.
Toney was selected as a potential recruit to Spurs by scout David Pleat this summer when he scored 49 top division goals for Peterborough in two seasons only to keep a deal off the coronavirus pandemic.
The striker moved to Brentford for a fee of up to £ 10m, including add-ons, and has now fetched a price of £ 18m.
The increase of a relatively unproven, albeit exciting, player could turn Spurs away from the champions.
This graphic shows different options for Spurs if they decide to support Kane. The total score is based on aptitude, chemistry and a cost-benefit analysis taking into account the referral fee, contract length and wages. It shows that Breel Embolo is a better fit, while Borja Mayoral is a cheaper option
Manchester City: Aguero mk II
City has lost its pace by their standards, but they are still well placed to strike after Christmas.
Her at times indifferent form this season has been attributed to various factors including the departure of magician David Silva and a lack of distance following Leroy Sane’s departure, but the ongoing problem is a lack of goal.
City have only scored 18 goals in 12 Premier League games this season, but that includes a 5-0 win over Burnley. The frustrating 1-1 draw with West Bromwich Albion on Tuesday underscored the lack of firepower and must make Guardiola even more determined to find a striker who can take her back to the top.
Sergio Aguero’s goals have fueled Manchester City’s success in recent years and Kevin De Bruyne has been a key player
At 32, Sergio Aguero, who has had a knee injury since June, has had no impact this season and will have to be replaced in the long term. With 256 goals in 375 games for City, Aguero is a big part of the club’s success.
23-year-old Gabriel Jesus is a good striker who has scored 71 goals in 162 games in the city but lacks the Argentine’s scoring instinct.
Whoever comes in now has to go online in January, but could also be the club’s talisman for years to come, which requires serious investment.
IDEAL GOAL: ERLING HAALAND
Pep Guardiola is said to be interested in Erling Haaland
Donyell Malen has scored 14 goals in 29 games for PSV
Benfica’s Darwin Nunez could replace Aguero
Other possibilities: Darwin Nunez, Donyell Malen, Paulo Dybala
If City wants to invest and benefit from a turbo-charged boost, Erling Haaland, 20, is her husband.
Of course he is an extremely successful goalscorer who scored 17 times in 14 games for Borussia Dortmund this season, but look a little deeper and no wonder Guardiola is interested.
Haaland was signed by RB Salzburg after Dortmund met their £ 17m buyout clause in January and he was instantly successful.
Since then, its value has skyrocketed. His £ 65m release clause won’t go into effect until 2022, and it’s likely that the German club will charge a hefty fee – more than £ 100m – to let him go mid-season.
The city could save some money by targeting the less established Darwin Nunez21st
The Uruguayan striker, who joined Benfica last year for £ 22million, is believed to be on Guardiola’s list of long-term options to replace Aguero but is not seen as an immediate candidate.
DutchDonyell Malen , 21, is another option.
The PSV Eindhoven striker was in the Arsenal Academy from 2015 to 2017 but failed to impress despite 27 goals in 67 games. He’s now grown up and has scored 14 goals in 20 games this season.
The cost-benefit analysis of these players depends on the fee their respective clubs charge for their assets.
Arsenal was linked to Malen earlier this year with a potential charge of £ 48m reported. That could put City off.
Even with a staggering price tag in January, the prospect of instant results makes Ai Abacus Haaland a close favorite.
He can play as a lone striker, supported by talented midfielders who play in, much like City.
According to analysis, Dortmund can be combined particularly well with Eden Hazard’s younger brother Thorgan, who plays as an attacking midfielder and winger and has scored three goals and three assists this season.
Here are the suitability of different players for Manchester City and the chemistry they would have with existing players. The data suggests that Erling Haaland would be a good fit
Paulo Dybala may not fit right into the city side
In addition, Hazard has a profile similar to Riyad Mahrez. The numbers suggest that there is likely a close connection with Kevin De Bruyne, who was a key target giver for Aguero.
In the meantime, take a look at another high profile option, Argentine Paulo Dybala,27. Ai Abacus’ data at the bottom right of the graph suggest that Dybala is not a good fit with City, although his capabilities are undisputed.
At Juventus he plays in a front two and comes deeper to receive the ball than a traditional No. 9. With a pre-season preparatory period, Guardiola could undoubtedly shape Dybala to his liking, but in January he doesn’t have that time and he looks for short-term Impact less attractive.
Potential replacement products for Aguero will be assessed based on suitability, chemistry with existing players and a cost-benefit analysis based on transfer fee, wages and contract length. Haaland is great, but his transfer fee would be huge
Liverpool: ideal replacement for Van Dijk
Liverpool’s youngsters have been superb since the injury shortened Virgil van Dijk’s season after Jordan Pickford’s desperate Merseyside derby failure.
Since then, Joe Gomez has suffered a serious knee problem in a catalog of injuries. James Milner and Thiago Alacantara were out and Trent Alexander-Arnold was also sidelined due to a muscle injury. Joel Matip limps through games.
The academy’s alumni have increased nowhere more than in defense, where center-backs Rhys Williams, 19, and Nathaniel Philips, 23, and right-back Neco Williams, 19, are doing exceptionally well.
Liverpool youngsters have done well in Van Dijk’s absence this season but reinforcements are needed
But the opportunity doesn’t knock often and Liverpool have a fantastic chance to get a better grip on English football and usher in a period of domination they haven’t enjoyed since the 1970s and 80s.
Does Jürgen Klopp risk relying on the children, wonderful as they are, to bring the title back to Anfield for a second year?
Or does he go all-in, secure in the backline and invest in a player who not only sees the Reds across the line this year, but also improves them for years to come.
Dayot Upamecano (left) is the perfect replacement for future partner Van Dijk at the heart of Liverpool’s defense
Jules Kounde could be a potential target for Liverpool
IDEAL GOAL: DAYOT UPAMECANO
Other options: Jonathan Tah, Jules Kounde
The Ai Abacus analysis supports the view that Dayot Upamecano should be the No. 1 target in the transfer window with a high aptitude rating based on the style of play and good chemistry of the Liverpool players.
In the Ai Abacus analysis, it is a more attractive option than either Jonathan Tah, 24, the defender of Bayer Leverkusen, or Jules Kounde, 22, who plays for Seville.
Tah was linked to Liverpool in 2016 when the club decided to sign Matip and Ai Abacus Modeling narrowly favored him before. But he has only played six Bundesliga games this season after staying on the bench for the first few weeks.
Kounde was part of a group of center-backs linked to Liverpool following Van Dijk’s likely injury at the end of the season. His contract in Seville, where he played 14 games this season, including five in the Champions League, runs until 2024.
However, it is believed that Klopp had hoped to move to Upamecano at the end of the season. The 22-year-old has a clause in his contract that runs until 2023, allowing him to leave for £ 38million in the summer.
Liverpool may have to pay more in January but, on the flip side, Upamecano’s wages are “only” £ 40,000 a week below those of the established Premier League stars.
This graph shows the suitability of potential signings for Liverpool and the chemistry the players may have with future teammates. Players in the top right corner of the table are immediately considered best suited for the Reds
The good fit with Liverpool results from the similar style of RB Leipzig, where both use a press. So Upamecano comfortably plays a high line of defense with space behind it. He’s also a ball player, which makes him a strong match.
Jonathan Tah from Bayer Leverkusen was a goal in 2016
A comparison of Upamecano’s combinations with teammates in Leipzig and the player profiles in Anfield suggests that he will enjoy a strong pairing with Andy Robertson, Fabinho and Matip. So he can jump right in.
But perhaps the kicker, and further justification for paying a higher fee, is that Upamecano does best for its pairing with Van Dijk himself. So when the Dutchman is fit again, he could form an impressive partnership for any title defense for the next season and beyond.
The pair have complementary styles, Upamecano wins more one-on-one duels, and Van Dijk is more effective in the air. This could be the foundation for the period of reign that Reds fans crave.
This chart summarizes three options for Liverpool if Van Dijk is to be replaced, with Upamecano being the best option
This table shows the chemistry rating for different pairs of players in Liverpool’s Back Four. Upamecano goes well with Joel Matip and Fabinho, but also with Van Dijk
Manchester United: If Not Sancho, Who Will?
So confident was United that Jadon Sancho, the 20-year-old Dortmund aviator, was vital to the title challenge this year that it would seem remarkable if they didn’t re-examine the option, or at least an alternative, in January.
United may not be buying to support a title boost – but who knows this bizarre season? – but more likely to secure a spot in the Champions League and build a squad that can return to battle for domination another day.
The first question for United is, do they still want most to invest upfront? The Red Devils are losing goals at an alarming rate in big games and appear to benefit from defense and midfield recruitment as well.
Assuming the tactical analysis that led them to Sancho is still solid (which, admittedly, is a pretty big assumption), and the price that would be north of £ 100million for the fee alone is still too high ( a minor assumption) where should United go?
IDEAL GOAL: JULIAN BRANDT
Borussia Mönchengladbach’s Marcus Thuram could relieve Bruno Fernandes
Other options: Marcus Thuram, Emiliano Buendia
If the goal is to unleash more creativity and reduce reliance on Fernandes, who has scored 16 goals this season and assisted in 17 games for United, Borussia is Dortmunds Julian Brandt, 24, and Borussia Mönchengladbachs Marcus Thuram, 23, are both contenders.
Brandt is a winger who was pushed into an offensive midfield role last season, often in United’s favored 4-2-3-1 formation.
He has a great influence on the Dortmund team and scored 13 assists and seven goals in 42 games last season.
This table shows the suitability of potential signings for Manchester United and their chemistry with existing players. The players in the upper right corner are probably the best fit
In terms of combinations, it seems like one reason Brandt scores very well as a potential target for United is that Ai Abacus analysis suggests he will mate particularly well with Paul Pogba.
Borussia Dortmund’s Julian Brandt is an option for United
Norwichs Emiliano Buendia wurde hervorgehoben
Es wird jedoch allgemein erwartet, dass Pogba Old Trafford verlässt, nachdem sein Agent Mino Raiola diesen Monat seine Abreise angekündigt hat.
Das Modell sagt auch hervorragende Verbindungen zu Alex Telles, Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford und Fernandes voraus.
Eines der Ziele bei der Verpflichtung neuer Spieler ist es, das Beste aus dem herauszuholen, was Sie bereits haben. Brandt setzt also viele Maßstäbe. Der deutsche Nationalspieler würde wahrscheinlich auch weit weniger kosten als Sancho.
Eine interessante Option, die von Ai Abacus hervorgehoben wird, ist der angreifende Mittelfeldspieler von Norwich. Emiliano Buendia, 23,
Buendia wurde von vielen Kommentatoren als potenzieller Rekrut hervorgehoben, nachdem United Sancho im Sommer nicht landen konnte, aber die Old Trafford-Hierarchie unterhielt diesen Schritt nie.
Der Argentinier ist seit seiner Ankunft von Getafe im Jahr 2018 eine Offenbarung und beeindruckte die letzte Saison trotz des Abstiegs seiner Mannschaft aus der Premier League. In dieser Saison hat er 14 Spiele für die Kanaren in der Meisterschaft mit vier Toren und sechs Vorlagen absolviert. Er wäre auch eine billigere Option als Sancho und Brandt.
Die künstliche Intelligenz legt nahe, dass Thuram, der in dieser Saison in 18 Spielen vier Tore und sieben Vorlagen erzielt hat, nicht nur eine gute Verbindung zu Fernandes, Rashford und Telles hat.
Mönchengladbach ist taktisch flexibel und hat die bevorzugte Formation von United, 4-2-3-1, gespielt, sodass Thuram, der Sohn des französischen Weltcup-Siegers Lilian, direkt einsteigen konnte.
In dieser Tabelle sind verschiedene Optionen für Manchester United zusammengefasst, wenn im Transferfenster im Januar ein kreativer offensiver Mittelfeldspieler verpflichtet werden soll
Arsenal: Szoboszlai ist möglicherweise nicht die Antwort
In der Vorsaison hatten Arsenal-Fans möglicherweise einige Bedenken hinsichtlich der Optionen ihres Vereins in der offensiven Mittelfeldabteilung, waren jedoch auch der Ansicht, dass es anderswo dringlichere Prioritäten gab.
Es ging um die Notwendigkeit, die Unterschrift von Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang für einen neuen Vertrag zu sichern, und um den Wunsch, mit der Übernahme von Thomas Partey die Mitte des Feldes zu versteifen.
Nach 12 Spielen und nur 10 erzielten Toren ist Kreativität heute ein wichtiges Anliegen.
Willian, der für einen kostenlosen Transfer von Chelsea unterschrieben wurde, muss noch liefern. Nicolas Pepe kämpft; und Mesut Ozil ist so gut wie weg. Im Durchschnitt erzielt Arsenal weniger als 10 Schüsse pro Spiel, wobei kaum mehr als drei Treffer erzielt werden.
Die Notwendigkeit, das unbestrittene Talent von Aubameyang, der in 123 Spielen für Arsenal 74 Tore erzielte, und Alexandre Lacazette, der in 141 Spielen 52 Tore erzielt hat, freizusetzen, ist klar.
IDEALES ZIEL: FLORIAN NEUHAUS
Dominik Szoboszlai wurde bereits mit Arsenal verbunden
Andere Möglichkeiten: Dominik Szoboszlai, Lorenzo Pellegrini
Arsenal wurde bereits mit verbunden Dominik Szoboszlai , 20, der talentierte Ungar, der für den österreichischen Verein RB Salzburg spielt.
Und die chemische Analyse von Ai Abacus legt nahe, dass er gut zu einer Reihe von Spielern in den Emiraten passt und sich mit ihnen verbindet.
Sein Positionsprofil, das oft links von einem Mittelfeld-Vier spielt, und Stilunterschiede zwischen RB Salzburg und Arsenal sprechen jedoch gegen ihn.
Dies zeigt, welche Spieler gut zu einer kreativen Mittelfeldposition bei Arsenal passen würden
Roma’s Lorenzo Pellegrini would be expected to link well with Granit Xhaka and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Whoever Arsenal move for in January, Arteta may feel he needs a player who can slot right in.
Florian Neuhaus may be a good option for the Gunners
Borussia Monchengladbach’s Florian Neuhauscould be the answer.
The 23-year-old has been likened to the Bayern Munich and Germany legend Thomas Muller, who has been capped 100 times for his country.
Neuhaus’s positional awareness and ability to slip in between the opposition lines of defence and attack is highly praised.
Hard to pick up, he has scored 12 and assisted 16 goals in 89 appearances for Gladbach, and is comfortable playing behind one or two strikers.
Neuhaus has spoken of the need to have a good understanding with team-mates in order the break the lines. And his chemistry analysis is particularly strong. He is expected to pair well with Pepe and Willian, and could be a creative option alongside Partey.
Roma’s Italian midfielder,Lorenzo Pellegrini , 24, is an equally strong match, who pairs well with Aubameyang and Granit Xhaka, although after the latter’s sending off against Burnley that might not be in his favour.
Pellegrini’s cost-benefit analysis is less attractive than Neuhaus, however. He is valued at £30m, whereas Neuhaus could cost around £10m less.
This table evaluates Arsenal’s midfield options, which include Florian Neuhaus, Lorenzo Pellegrini and Dominik Szoboszlai
Chelsea: The final piece of the jigsaw – a holding midfielder?
It’s hard to imagine that Chelsea need any more players after an extraordinary, and highly effective, spending spree that racked up a bill of well over £200m in the summer.
However, the one ‘gap’ Blues boss Frank Lampard is believed to have an eye on is in defensive midfield.
On the face of it, Chelsea look well covered with N’Golo Kante, Jorginho, and Mateo Kovacic.
However, it appears Lampard does not see Kante as a holding player and, since Chelsea often play with two defensive midfielders, he is thought to want more cover.
So, what are the options?
IDEAL TARGET: ADRIAN FEIN
Manuel Locatelli (left) has helped Sassuolo to fifth in Serie A
Other possibles: Manuel Locatelli, Boubacar Kamara
Manuel Locatelli,22, is credited with being a driving force in the upward trajectory of the unfashionable Serie A team, Sassuolo, who currently sit fifth in the table.
He may be just what Lampard is looking for.
Schooled at AC Milan, Locatelli is disciplined and talented. He sits deep, holds his position, is effective at breaking up play and noted for being good in transition, launching attacks with trademark switch passes.
The Ai Abacus model predicts Locatelli, who has been capped by Italy six times, will link up brilliantly with the Chelsea defenders as well as Hakim Ziyech, which should help him hit the ground running.
This chart shows the suitability of players in defensive midfield for Chelsea, looking at the match between the playing style of the selling and buying clubs as well as the chemistry between each player and their future team-mates. The best options tend to be in the top right of the chart
PSV’s Adrian Fein could be a good fit in Chelsea’s midfield