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Big signings key as new Premier League season begins | Football News

For all the defensive diligence that Josko Gvardiol may have displayed on a football pitch, it is 30 seconds of inadequacy against Lionel Messi in last year’s FIFA World Cup semi-final that most will associate him with. Having been a rock-solid presence in the Croatian backline until that semi-final, Gvardiol, all of 20, was at the receiving end of a genius’ artistry as Messi, 15 years older and wiser, twisted and turned past him on the right flank before crossing the ball for Julian Alvarez to seal a 3-0 victory.

Josko Gvardiol
Josko Gvardiol

It was a forgettable moment alright, but to let that overshadow his contribution to Croatia’s semi-final run would be doing a disservice to one of the most promising centre-backs in Europe. He now has a shot at changing the narrative and showing his promise to a wider audience week in, week out after a high-profile move to Manchester City from RB Leipzig for a reported fee of €90 million ($98 million).

Gvardiol’s fee is the second highest for a defender behind Harry Maguire’s move to Manchester United for $102 million in 2019. “I want to thank Messi. Before the World Cup, Gvardiol was really expensive. Leo really helped us by knocking 20 million off Gvardiol’s price tag,” Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola chuckled in an interaction with Sky Sports.

Beyond his “beautiful surname”, there are many things that Guardiola likes about the left-footed centre-back. “First of all, he’s a central defender left, that’s not easy,” Guardiola told ITV Sport. “His physical condition is really, really good and his build-up with his left foot is also really, really good.”

That Manchester City were willing to beat stiff competition for Gvardiol, even as the club is being probed by the Premier League for breaching Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules, is indicative of the high esteem the defender is held in.

Now 21, Gvardiol has all the attributes to succeed in the Premier League. A towering presence at 6 feet 1 inch, he is quick across the turf and comfortable with the ball at his feet. He also has sound organisational skills and the ability to read a game. According to Manchester City’s Director of Football Txiki Begiristain, he has “everything you want in a centre-half.”

While Gvardiol may take a bit of time to settle in at Manchester City, his Croatian teammate Mateo Kovacic — he moved to the treble winners on a four-year deal (£30 million) from Chelsea — should have no such hassles. With his ability to carry the ball from midfield being one of his innate strengths, Kovacic will only benefit from the quality around him at Manchester City.

As opposed to his gut-busting runs at Stamford Bridge often yielding no reward, he will have the astuteness of Kevin de Bruyne and the sharpness of Erling Haaland to work with at the Etihad. Kovacic will have the task of filling the void left by Ilkay Gundogan though, one that will take some doing given the German’s impact in the middle of the park at Manchester City.

If City are to be knocked off their perch, Arsenal’s new signing Declan Rice (£105m) will have to make a similar impact in midfield himself. The 24-year-old England midfielder, long linked with a move to Chelsea, will get at Arsenal what he has always yearned — the chance to compete in the Champions League and show he belongs to Europe’s elite.

“I see him like a lighthouse,” Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta said of Rice. “He is willing to put the light in others, improve others and make the team better. He has an aura. The experience he has in this league is going to bring the team to a different dimension. He has the physical qualities we were missing for a while.”

That last bit could be key. While Arsenal have always had crafty players, what they have perhaps lacked since Patrick Vieira’s departure is a strong presence in the midfield. It’s no coincidence that Vieira was at the helm of the team when Arsenal last won the league in 2003/04. Rice could be that player, putting his physicality to use and orchestrating moves from the middle.

Not quite in the same mould, but Argentina’s Alexis Mac Allister (£35m) will be expected to be just as influential for Liverpool. Having signed from Brighton, the 24-year-old will have to get accustomed to the higher expectations at Anfield, but his experience of being part of Argentina’s World Cup-winning side should help him cope swiftly.

Among the other big clubs, Manchester United have roped in Mason Mount (£55m) and Andre Onana (£47.2m) while Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur have made a raft of new signings unproven at the top level. These clubs will hope that their new acquisitions can add lustre to what will hopefully be a competitive Premier League season.

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