Transfers

Premier League sides scrambling to sign Europe's next great finisher

 • by Sam McGuire
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Sooner or later, Premier League clubs are going to just have to sign the talent spotters at Lyon. The Ligue 1 side have a knack for developing and identifying quality forwards; the sort who thrive in the English top flight.

Nabil Fekir is perpetually linked with a move to one of the top six, Alexandre Lacazette is a firm Arsenal favourite and Moussa Dembélé is reportedly on the list of potential targets to replace Romelu Lukaku at Old Trafford. 

Now it’s Jean-Philippe Mateta who is interesting a host of English clubs. According to reports in France, the 21-year-old is a transfer target for Everton, Newcastle United, Cardiff City, Watford and Southampton, with Mainz, his current club, rejecting bids in the region of £20million for their prized asset.

The France Under-21 striker had two seasons with Lyon – albeit one of those was spent on loan with Le Harve in Ligue 2 – before they cashed in on him last summer. The deal struck with the Bundesliga club saw them net £8million while also getting 15 per cent of any profit from a future sale.

Not a bad deal for a player they plucked from Châteauroux for a fee believed to be in the region of £2million.

The clutch of teams outside of the top six in the Premier League will fancy their chances of breaking into it next season. With Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea all set for overhauls in key areas expected, clubs beneath could capitalise if they get their summer signings right.

Adding a reliable goal threat could be the difference between finishing tenth and sneaking into sixth. Mateta is just that.

The 2017/18 season was spent on loan with Le Havre in Ligue 2. There, Mateta scored 19 goals in 37 appearances. He continued that close to a goal-every-other-game record after joining Mainz, finishing his debut season with the club having averaged 0.5 goals per 90.

Mateta’s expected goals average was 0.48, meaning his return is sustainable, and he managed it while playing for a mid-table club. With better players around him and presumably better service, that figure could well rise.

What makes Mateta potentially so valuable is that expected goals average. It shows he’s regularly getting into high-quality goalscoring positions. And even if he isn’t the most clinical, the law of averages dictates he’ll net eventually.

If a forward knows how to get into dangerous areas then teams can build patterns of play around creating opportunities for him. Liverpool did exactly that to ensure Mohamed Salah’s goalscoring exploits extended beyond one season. Manchester City have done the same for Sergio Agüero and Spurs built their entire attack around getting the best out of Harry Kane.

Teams and managers do what is required to ensure goalscorers get chances to score.

Mateta ended the campaign scoring seven goals in his final seven matches to finish his debut season in the Bundesliga on a high. You could argue this run skews how his campaign is viewed. And perhaps it does.

But the 21-year-old was eased in initially and only found his groove in November. Prior to that he’d struck just once in nine appearances. The opener against Werder Bremen, which was a well-taken finish and didn’t suggest he was lacking confidence, opened the floodgates for the former Lyon youngster.

Players take time to adapt. It shouldn’t be something to use against him. If anything it shows why he was worth persisting with. His shot map, which can be seen below, suggests he was a forward who was bound to score goals.

A number of his efforts are concentrated in or around the six-yard box. He takes very few shots outside the area in general. In fact, of his 3.5 shots per 90, 0.75 of those come from outside the area while 1.04 of them are headers, showing just how much variation he has to his game.

This is what makes him difficult to stop and why he’s a dream to play alongside. Of his 14 goals in the Bundesliga, four arrived via his head and the other ten were split equally between right-footed and left-footed finishes.

While not blessed with blistering pace, his intelligent movement makes up for that and gives him something of an edge over many defenders. As cliché as it sounds, he has got good feet for a big man.

Attempting 2.34 dribbles per 90, it is quite a sight to see Mateta, standing at 6ft4ins, dancing past goalkeepers before tapping the ball into an empty net. But it goes a long way to showing how composed he is. And why so many clubs are courting him.

He might not be one of the biggest names up for grabs this summer but he could be the one to have the greatest impact on a Premier League club.

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