Every transfer window throws up winners and losers for clubs and players.
Bruno Fernandes cried with joy when his £68million move from Sporting Lisbon to Manchester United was agreed in January 2020 and after 18 goals and 14 assists in the Premier League plenty more tears have been shed.
Timo Werner has struggled to settle in the Chelsea team since his move from RB Leipzig, but Bruno Fernandes has had great success after leaving Sporting Lisbon for Manchester United
Recruitment departments and analysts are now working overtime to ensure their picks in this window hit the ground running, while players and their agents are weighing up where they will have the most impact.
The aim is to be more ‘Bruno’ than ‘Timo’.
With huge talents on the market and even bigger fees on the table, there is little margin for error on either side.
And while there is no crystal ball, there are superpowered computers using neural networks matching playing style and personality on and off the pitch to calculate every players’ ideal destination.
How artificial intelligence predicts the chemistry and the perfect fit
A footballer’s individual performance is dependent upon how they fit into the style and dynamics of a team.
Ai Abacus has created a system that rates the chemistry between players who may never have played together before.
This chemistry model analyses millions of passages of play and uses artificial intelligence, developed at the University of Southampton, to determine what makes successful pairings for each player and therefore it can predict which players will link well as team-mates.
They also consider what type of person a player performs best with, based on language, age, previous team-mates and nationality.
Ai Abacus combines the chemistry model with information about playing styles and a cost-benefit analysis, which incorporates transfer fee, wages and agents’ fees, to evaluate the best transfer options for buying clubs.
The company has access to detailed data on 125,000 players in 53 leagues and 84 competitions, worldwide, including the National League, Bundesliga 3, Japanese J1 League and Brazil’s top tier, the Brasileirao Serie A.
As reported by Sportsmail, top-level recruitment is no longer based on gut instinct or a chief scout’s nose for a player, but powered by algorithms and artificial intelligence that seek out the best fits.
Football recruitment analysts Ai Abacus let Sportsmail look over their shoulders while they crunched the numbers on which move makes the most sense for some of the top players in this year’s market.
So, where should the likes of Jadon Sancho, Erling Haaland, Eduardo Camavinga, Perr Schuurs and the unloved Dele Alli go next?
The computer says….
Managers at both ends of the table, like Sam Allardyce at West Bromwich Albion and Frank Lampard at Chelsea are under pressure to recruit players who makes an instant impact
Top pick: Liverpool
This chart shows a player’s suitability for a team, based on playing style and their chemistry with potential team-mates. The cross hairs are used to indicate a good fit between player and team. Players who appear where the lines meet and into the top-right quadrant of the chart have high suitability and good chemistry and are expected to fit in well and contribute from day one. The position on the chart is not definitive, but rather an indication that a player and a team are compatible. Ai Abacus also applies a cost-benefit analysis before scoring different transfer targets. This chart suggests Liverpool will be a good fit for Jadon Sancho.
Jurgen Klopp is not above a cheeky dig at Liverpool’s eternal rivals, Manchester United.
He stepped up to receive the BBC Sports Personality of the Year coaches’ award in December and quipped how receiving the prize in Manchester ‘makes it even sweeter’.
How red Mancunians ground their teeth at that and after Liverpool’s imperious triumph in last year’s Premier League title race.
Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho looks like a perfect fit for Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool
And if Liverpool were to beat their near neighbours to the signature of the United’s long-term target, Sancho, supporters, players and manager would no doubt revel in the capture of a scintillating talent – and the Red Devils’ schadenfreude.
The Borussia Dortmund flyer would certainly be an amazing fit at Anfield. The computer analysis conducted by Ai Abacus suggests Liverpool is one of the strongest matches, based on chemistry with existing players.
‘The model predicts that Sancho will link up well,’ says Ramm Mylvaganam, founder of Ai Abacus. ‘In particular he would create strong partnerships with Andy Robertson, Sadio Mane, Takumi Minamino, Jordan Henderson and Naby Keita.’
Klopp admires Sancho and has admitted the winger would ‘look good’ in a Liverpool shirt
This season, Sancho has spent time in an advanced two at Dortmund, playing behind the striker, which does not match Liverpool’s style, but he has also played in an attacking midfield three in Germany, suggesting he would adapt to Liverpool’s progressive, fluid approach.
Sancho could slot into a front three and link with right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold. The pair are good friends in the England camp and already have a fine understanding.
In contrast, the analysis suggests Old Trafford looks less exciting for Sancho.
While the young Englishman would be comfortable in the 4-2-3-1 formation currently favoured by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, which he has played in at Signal Iduna Park, the algorithm finds he would not link as well with United’s current crop of players.
Sancho and Trent Alexander-Arnold already have a good understanding from England camps
And it seems everyone wants an Anfield move to happen, except perhaps United and Liverpool’s owners, who would have to pick up the tab, which given the negotiations in the summer could go beyond £100m.
Reports in the German press have suggested Sancho himself fancies the move, Klopp has said the lad from south London would ‘look good’ in a Liverpool shirt and Alexander-Arnold told an Instagram Q&A in May: ‘I’d be more than happy for him to come. I played with him for England and he’s a special, special talent.”
Liverpool’s pressing need may be for a defender to cover for Virgil van Dijk, but if you have one of the most exciting forward lines in Europe and outscore the opposition every week, who cares what happens at the other end?
Top pick: Atalanta
This chart looks at which teams would be a good match for Dele Alli. As above, teams which appear where the cross-hairs meet and into the top-right corner of the chart show the strongest correlation between the player, the playing style of the club and the chemsitry with potential team mates. Atalanta is one of the strongest matches, while Paris Saint-Germain is a poor match based on the team’s previous style. This may change under Mauricio Pochettino.
Dele Alli is desperate to clock up some game time before England manager Gareth Southgate makes up his mind on his Euro 2020 squad.
One thing seems certain, Alli, who has fallen spectacularly out of Jose Mourinho’s favour, will leave the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium one way or another during the January transfer window, most likely on loan.
Spurs’ chairman Daniel Levy will be hoping Alli impresses, wherever he ends up, and can command a bigger fee if he goes permanently in the summer.
The England man has only made the squad for five of Spurs’ 15 Premier League games this season, and failed to clock up a total of 90 minutes on the pitch.
Whatever has been said behind the scenes is now becoming public with Mourinho calling out Alli after he gave the ball – and a goal – away at Stoke in the Carabao Cup before Christmas.
Dele Alli has had a frustrating season at Tottenham Hotspur where he is out in the cold
The expectation is that that Alli will flee to Paris and into the arms of his former mentor and manager, Mauricio Pochettino, who has taken over from Thomas Tuchel.
But is Paris Saint-Germain the right fit for an out-of-sorts No 10?
‘PSG have not often played with a 10 over this season or last season, instead playing with either two eights (4-3-3) or two nines (4-4-2),’ said Mylvaganam.
The Ai Abacus analysis should at least give Alli pause for thought.
The perfect match could be the free-flowing football of Gian Gasperini’s Atalanta because the Italian side match Alli’s creative instincts and their 3-4-1-2 formation is built for a traditional 10, pulling strings for the strikers and getting in behind.
Dele Alli may be tempted link up with former mentor Mauricio Pochettino at Paris Saint-Germain but Gian Gasperini’s free-flowing Atalanta may just be the perfect tonic
Atalanta scored a whopping 98 goals in the league last season; the most in almost 70 years in Serie A. They have scored a respectable 28 from 13 games this time around and sit seventh.
The Bergamo-based side could scarcely be a greater contrast to Mourinho’s regimented Spurs and it could be perfect for Alli. Imagine him dictating the play with the Italian sun on his back. It would be like a holiday. He would be rejuvenated.
‘Dele Alli’s most common position is a support striker or a 10 and Atalanta often deploy a 3-4-2-1/3-4-1-2 formation which would see Alli competing with Papu Gomez or Josep Ilicic for that role,’ said Mylvaganam.
‘The model predicts Alli will link up well with his proposed team-mates. In particular he would create strong partnerships with Gómez, striker Duvan Zapata, Ilicic, midfielder Robin Gosens and forward Luis Muriel. We also find that Dele Alli is similar in style to Matteo Pessina.’
Atalanta have a reputation as a free-flowing side that scores lots of goals in Serie A
But the problem, of course, will be money. Alli is earning more than £100,000 per week and the top-paid player at Atalanta is closer to £70,000.
That is unlikely to be an issue at the Parc des Princes, where top-earner, Neymar, is believed to earn around £600,000 a week and Alli’s salary looks comparatively modest.
And France’s Ligue 1 may yet prove a good option for the disaffected midfielder, if Pochettino reverts to type and employs his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation. Alli could then find a nice little niche in the Paris spring.
Top Pick: Arsenal
The chart shows potential destinations for the Rennes teenager, Eduardo Camavinga. Clubs from the cross-hars into the right-hand quadrant of the chart suggest a good fit in terms of playing style. Two clubs that stand out are Sevilla and Arsenal.
Eduardo Camavinga is like Harry Potter in Ollivanders’ wand shop: The teenager is destined for great things, but which is the club that will bring the best out of him?
Of all the young talent on show in Europe, it is Camavinga, the 18-year-old Stade Rennais player, who excites more than most.
The energetic midfielder, who became the youngest player to play for French national team since Maurice Gastiger in 1914 at 17 years, nine months, and 29 days in September, can play a holding role at No 6, go box-to-box as No 8, or thrill in the No 10 position.
Eduardo Camavinga is one of the most impressive young players in European football
Camavinga’s performances last season – he started in 24 of 28 Ligue 1 matches – drove Rennes to an impressive third-place finish behind Paris Saint-Germain and Marseille.
This season, Rennes’ youngest-ever player has appeared in 15 of 17 Ligue 1 games and added four Champions League matches to his CV, including the home leg 2-1 defeat by Chelsea.
So, Camavinga’s value is in no doubt and his quality and versatility mean he will link well with good players at all of Europe’s top clubs. Most of them, including Manchester United, Real Madrid and Juventus have been linked with Camavinga, too.
Rennes play an attacking 4-3-3 formation, but he could happily hold his own in a central midfield two, both creatively and physically. He has said himself, he loves a tackle.
The talented teen, Camavinga, can play any role in central midfield defensive and offensive
The standout match, according to Ai Abacus’ analysis of the youngster’s style of play and the pairings he has with players in the Rennes team, suggest Sevilla, who play the same way as the French outfit, in Spain’s La Liga.
‘This season, Rennes have mostly used Camavinga as an 8 in a 4-3-3. Sevilla almost always set up in a 4-3-3 shape (alternatively 4-2-3-1), the same as Rennes this season. However, last season Camavinga was used as an 8 in a 4-4-2 which has slightly affected his score for tactical suitability,’ said Mylvaganam.
However, it is likely the money Sevilla have to spend simply won’t be enough. Camavinga is expected to move for north of £45m.
Camavinga has a reputation for accurate and progressive passing, but also a tough tackler
Where the bigger clubs are concerned, Camavinga is an attractive prospect. Whether Arsenal can afford the fee is a big question, but the analysis suggests he would be a wonderful fit for the Gunners, who are already orchestrating a mass exodus of surplus talent under Mikel Arteta.
What could be better than to bring in a super-charged youngster desperate to make it in the big league? As Arsenal clear the decks there may just be a space for Camavinga, whose salary will be less than an established star. He currently earns £1.8m per year at Rennes.
And Camavinga, with his energy and tackling, combined with progressive passing, (he has an accuracy rate of over 90%) could add to the Gunners’ defensive shield, while also get the team moving forwards.
Signing Camavinga would excite fans and be a huge statement of intent by Arsenal.
Top Pick: Real Madrid
The chart shows clubs where Ajax defender Perr Schuurs would make a positive and immediate impact. Clubs in the top-right quandrant of the chart have the best fit in terms of playing style and chemistry with potential team mates. The chart suggests Liverpool and Real Madrid would be a strong fit for Schuurs.
The only question for defender Perr Schuurs is, when does he take the step up from Ajax to one of Europe’s super-power clubs?
The 21-year-old centre-back has steadily built a career and reputation in Holland, captaining second division, Fortuna Sittard, aged 17, and now successfully filling the boots of Matthijs de Ligt, 21, who moved from Ajax to Juventus for £77m in 2019.
The defender has forged a reputation for his bravery on the ball, as well as his defending.
‘He is a centre back who is strong, with really good skills on the ball, who is brave and takes risks,’ Football Oranje’s Dutch football expert Michael Statham told the Liverpool Echo.
Perr Schuurs has served his apprenticeship in Dutch football and is on the radar of big clubs
This explains why he is a good fit for the top clubs, who demand tough defenders with a good touch and passing range.
Since Schuurs is expected to command a modest fee of around £27m, clubs may feel the value is too good to miss, especially when other options such as RB Leipzig’s Dayot Upamecano are expected to cost more than £40m.
Liverpool may yet cast an eye in Schuurs’ direction, given their defensive injury crisis with both Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez out long term, but Upamecano still looks a great fit for the Reds. So, Real Madrid, who are eyeing up replacements for Sergio Ramos, might be a natural home.
Ball-playing centre back Schuurs is a good fit for Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid side
‘Real Madrid have a high match in tactical similarity to Ajax and Schuurs plays as a right-sided centre back in a back four, which would be possible at Madrid,’ said Ramm Mylvaganam.
‘The model siuggests Schuurs would link up well with midfielders Toni Kroos and Casemiro, right-back Dani Carvajal and central defender Eder Militão, 22, who are all important players for Real Madrid’s build up play.
‘The big question for this simulation would be, how a centre back can adapt from playing against a different level of opponents in the Eredvisie compared to La Liga. De Ligt found this difficult following his move to Juventus.’
Top Pick: Chelsea
No wonder Chelsea boss Frank Lampard wants to bring Erling Haaland to Stamford Bridge.
Lampard has reportedly told bosses that Haaland, who has scored 100 senior goals by 20 years of age, is his top target despite an extraordinary spending spree in the summer on more than £200m of talent.
Among the new recruits in the last window was exciting striking prospect Timo Werner, who cost £53m from RB Leipzig, but he is yet to find his feet in the Premier League.
Erling Haaland will be one of the most sought-after players in the January window
Using the neural network developed by Ai Abacus, we can see Haaland would be expected to thrive at Chelsea.
‘The model finds a high tactical similarity,’ said Mylvaganam. ‘Both teams use a sole centre forward as the focal point of their attack, which is where Haaland would play.
‘Haaland will link up well with his proposed team mates. In particular, he would create strong partnerships with Timo Werner, midfielders Kai Havertz, Hakim Ziyech and Mason Mount and forward Christian Pulisic.’
Chelsea started the season with a 4-2-3-1 formation, before setting into a 4-3-3 pattern; Dortmund play 4-2-3-1. Haaland is devastating up front on his own, lurking on the shoulder of the last defender ready to get in behind. He would not doubt stretch opponents allowing Chelsea’s gifted midfield to play.
Haaland, a Norwegian international, has scored 17 goals already this season
But Lampard won’t have it all his own way even if he persuades Chelsea to part with more money. Top players like Haaland inevitably link well with high calibre team mates, so in terms of fit he could comfortably find a berth in most of the continent’s top sides.
Haaland has scored 17 goals this season and a bidding war is widely expected for his signature.
There is no shortage of suitors already reportedly in the running, with Real Madrid linked with a move for the striker, and Manchester United and Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City tipped to throw their hat in the ring, with the latter looking for a long-term replacement for club legend, Sergio Aguero.
Chelsea manager Frank Lampard has reportedly made Haaland his top target in January
The analysis suggests the match with City is not as strong as some of their rivals, however the analysts say the chemistry and style ratings are still good, compared to most potential transfers and City may be hoping to tug on the heartstrings, since Haaland’s father, Alf-Inge, formerly played for the club.
Haaland’s current deal runs until the summer of 2024, meaning Dortmund have no obligation or real need to sell, but if the price is right he will go.
Speculation has mounted regarding a potential release clause in the striker’s deal, which is reported to be around the £65m mark though is said to only come into play from 2022. Dortmund are yet to publicly confirm whether talk of a release clause for their star striker is true.