With 2014 now approaching its climax, it is time to assess the signings who have excelled after making a move in 2014. Not every signing will be a hit, as we have seen with great regularity in the Premier League over recent seasons however here five of the best signings of the calendar year.
5. Frank Lampard: Manchester City (Joined August 2014)
Much was said about Chelsea legend Frank Lampard not being handed a new deal by the club he had been with since 2001 however it was the general consensus that his time at the very top level of English football may well have been up, particularly when Lampard agreed to join Manchester City’s MLS-bound New York City FC.
However given Manchester City’s Financial Fair Play restrictions adding to their already excellent squad would prove to be difficult and thus Lampard shocked English football by agreeing to join City on a six-month loan. Neither party has ever looked back.
Lampard has been one of City’s key performers in the first-half of the campaign contributing six goals in 14 appearances in all competitions. This doesn’t tell the whole story however, with Lampard’s presence coming off the bench often galvanising a City team chasing a game with the perfect example being the 1-1 draw with title rivals Chelsea in September.
Jose Mourinho has defended his club’s decision to allow Lampard to leave, but with City frantically trying to extend Lampard’s loan deal the 36-year-old has certainly shown he still has a lot to give at the top level and could be a decisive part of the title race should he remain in the North West.
4. Jeremy Menez: AC Milan (Joined June 2014)
Jeremy Menez made his return to Italian football this summer following a largely disappointing spell with Paris Saint-Germain where the vast investment in the playing squad at the Parc des Princes simply saw the former AS Roma starlet fall by the wayside in the French capital.
However, back in Serie A, Menez has started what looks like being a wonderful spell with the Milanese giants contributing eight goals in 14 league appearances. Apart from his excellent goalscoring record from midfield, Menez also seems happy playing football again and is producing moments of magic that are only even considered by individuals at the very peak of their powers.
The prime example of this came in Milan’s 5-4 victory over Parma back in September when Menez took the ball round an outstretched keeper before sensationally back-heeling the ball into the net.
At 27, Menez is approaching what should be the peak years of his career and he is certainly back in a good place with Milan. He has been one of the few plus points of the Rossoneri’s campaign so far and Filippo Inzaghi will be hoping his French star can continue his good form into 2015.
3. Nicolas Otamendi: Valencia CF (Joined February 2014)
Having been purchased by Valencia in February 2014 with his contract due to start in July 2014 Otamendi had to wait before making his mark on La Liga. However, ever since the Argentine made his debut at the start of this season he has looked every bit the elite centre-half Valencia believed they were getting for their rumored £9.5million investment.
A long-time target of Manchester United, Otamendi at just 26 has the potential to move to an even more reputable club than Valencia in the future, but at this point the defender has found a rhythm to his football and is part of a team on the verge of a successful period.
Backed by Peter Lim’s finance the future looks bright for Valencia with work expected to restart on the Nou Mestalla as well as significant improvements being made to the playing squad.
Otamendi is just a small part of the project at Valencia at the moment and his fantastic form has seen him earn an unexpected recall to the Argentinean national setup. His play in 2014 having really stood out not least by the fact Valencia sit in fourth place in La Liga with the joint second best defensive record in terms of goals conceded.
2. Angel Di Maria: Manchester United (Joined August 2014)
Arguably Real Madrid’s most important player in the 2013-14 season, Angel Di Maria found himself in a difficult position with the Rosario-born midfielder unconvinced of President Florentino Perez’s commitment to him.
Having narrowly avoided being sold to Arsenal the previous summer at the request of Cristiano Ronaldo, Di Maria left the Bernabeu this summer in order to try and kick-start Manchester United’s domestic revival after a disastrous campaign under the stewardship of David Moyes.
The results have been spectacular with Di Maria being arguably one of the very few truly world-class players United have had at their disposal since Ronaldo left for Madrid in 2009. The Argentine has instantly slotted into life at Old Trafford, settling with his family as well as becoming a fan-favorite for his energetic, attacking style of play.
United’s record signing has added a real sense of urgency to the team’s attacking play and has often been the catalyst for United’s positive results so far this season. It really has been noticeable during Di Maria’s recent absence that the club struggles to counter-attack with any conviction without the Argentine.
As United look set to continue their return to the top four, Di Maria is only going to have more of an impact, fitness permitting, and his contribution to United’s revival to this point has been staggering.
1. Nemanja Matic: Chelsea (Joined January 2014)
Eyebrows were raised when Chelsea paid £21 million for a player they let go for nothing just three years earlier, but the investment looks to have paid off already with Matic having been right up there as one of Europe’s truly elite footballers since his return to Stamford Bridge last January.
The Serbian has missed just one Premier League match since January and has been a pivotal point of reference at the heart of Jose Mourinho’s carefully constructed midfield. Matic initially sits just in front of the back-four acting almost as a defensive shield coving the entirety of the width of his zone, rather like Gilberto Silva did at Arsenal during the 2003-04 season, however more recently Matic has shown his technical development as a footballer acting as a box-to-box operator, even getting on the scoresheet with a little more regularity.
A truly effective, natural holding midfield player is very difficult to find. Arsene Wenger has been looking since Gilberto left Arsenal in 2008 whilst Manchester United too have failed to properly replace Roy Keane.
Matic has given Chelsea such an outstanding array of options. One of the things Mourinho spoke about in his early days at the club was the vast amount of talent in the attacking midfield position he had with Andre Schurrle, Willian, Oscar and Eden Hazard all excellent in that role. It didn’t seem to fit with how Mourinho likes his teams to operate with all members of the team working extremely hard in their defensive duties.
Whilst individual players have improved their work ethic in both phases of the game, it must be said that the presence of Matic in the defensive midfield role does allow a certain amount of freedom for Chelsea’s attacking stars. Quite often you see teams being countered after an attack, for example Arsenal, with sizeable gaps in their midfield due to players moving forward in attack. At Chelsea the transitions are so much smoother simply due to Matic being an efficient ball-winner in a key position.
In transforming the fluidity of an entire Chelsea team, Matic has taken Mourinho’s side to the next level and there really are few other candidates to rival the Serbian for the title of 2014’s best signing.
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