With the November international break bringing a pause to the Premier League, Paul Macdonald looks at the five best signings of the season.
The sample size is small so far, but Hakim Ziyech has made a wholly encouraging start to his Chelsea career and his impact has already made him a guaranteed starter when fit.
That’s no mean feat. There’s plenty of competition for places and while Kai Havertz has been isolated from a positive coronavirus test, the Moroccan has been ruthlessly taking apart Burnley and Sheffield United with three assists and a goal in those matches.
His presence has instantly given Chelsea’s attack more balance as he plays in from the right and his glorious left-footed delivery is already one of the most difficult to stop in the division. Bigger tests will come than those he has faced so far, but he is already making it clear that he is not scared to be the creative force of Frank Lampard’s team.
Eyebrows were raised when £25m was spent on a Championship forward in Watkins’ move to Villa - it’s a substantial sum and as others have found, it’s quite the step up.
But Watkins was the best player at that level for two years, one who scored 26 goals last season without going near a penalty kick and featuring in virtually every minute of Brentford’s agonising bid for promotion.
Starting as a winger on the left of the Bees’ front three, he’s also had to adapt his game to play through the middle, and that’s now where he excels. Now he is off the mark in a Villa team with exciting playmakers such as Jack Grealish and Ross Barkley feeding him and has a total of eight goals in all competitions, including three against Liverpool and two against Arsenal. If he keeps this up, Gareth Southgate will be watching ahead of the Euros.
Arsenal are a bit of a mess at the moment but not much of it is Gabriel’s fault. He looks to be the one bright spark in a dysfunctional team that can’t really attack but, with the exception of Gabriel, showed that they can’t defend too much either against Aston Villa.
But Gabriel has more to him that the array of centre-backs Arsenal have had that just aren’t good enough. His display against Manchester United was commanding and he’s the type of robust stopper with ball-playing skills crying out for an any way-competent partner. It’s up to Mikel Arteta to find one for him.
William Saliba’s move to Arsenal hasn’t exactly worked out but his defensive partner at St Etienne, Wesley Fofana, has made an exciting start to life at top-of-the-table Leicester. The Foxes have conceded just three goals in their last seven matches in all competitions including a consistent run of performances in the Europa League.
And for a player who isn’t 20 until December, he has shown an immense amount of maturity and positional awareness in a short space of time in England. His 62% success rate in terms of duels won is already in the top five central defenders in the division, while his huge 3.5 interceptions P90 is the best rate of all.
The sample size is low, but Leicester have themselves a defender - and one they could likely sell on for a huge fee like Harry Maguire and Ben Chilwell.
This is a difficult one to gauge because Thiago’s injury record, particularly over the last few seasons, was one of the key negatives surrounding any transfer. It has borne fruit so far with the Spaniard only playing a game-and-a-half so far.
But he has been unlucky. A positive coronavirus test put him out of action for two weeks, then a bad tackle in the Merseyside derby has kept him out further still. He is fallible to injury but these incidents have to be marked as unfortunate. And when you pull it all together, you do whatever it takes to sign a player of Thiago’s undoubted class.
He has a passing range like no other and sees angles and opportunities others don’t. For £20m even getting 20 Premier League games out of him this season could decide the destiny of the Premier League title. He hasn’t done it yet. But he will - and in this weird campaign, that could be just enough to make the difference.