Winning the Europa League and qualifying for the Champions League meant that this summer window carried a heavy weight of expectation: ensure there is enough quality and depth to handle the step up to compete with European elite in the Champions League. Drawing a tough group with Manchester United, Atalanta and Young Boys has emphasised the need for greater attacking firepower.
In a summer which saw some experienced players depart, Unai Emery was able to splash the cash, spending nearly £50m on four first team players: Arnaut Danjuma, Boulaye Dia, Juan Foyth and Aïssa Mandi.
Early in the window I wrote about what Danjuma could bring to the team when news of a first bid broke, and this was a deal the club were eager to get over the line. Signing for a hefty fee of £23m, placing him alongside Paco Alcacer as the most expensive player in the club’s history, Danjuma arrives in a position where a signing was necessary. Last season one of the biggest concerns was the reliance on Gerard Moreno for any goals and creativity, and a dynamic left winger like Danjuma will add more pace, goal threat and skill to a team which has struggled for goals in the opening stages of the season. Danjuma has already had a significant impact in his two substitute appearances so far, scoring a fine goal away at the La Liga champions Atletico Madrid, and his skill, speed and power are already evident. Emery specifically targeted the player from Bournemouth, and after a long few weeks of negotiations, was able to secure what is sure to be a fantastic signing in the short and long term.
Juan Foyth was signed after activating a £13m option to buy following his loan from Tottenham Hotspur. Foyth became a popular figure at Estadio De La Ceramica in the second half of last season, ultimately becoming the first choice right back. Initially signed as a central defender, he struggled to make an impact at first, also covering in defensive midfield as he tried to claim a starting spot, before having a rebirth at full back. After his outstanding performances, especially in the late stages of the Europa League, £13m is proving to be a bargain for a 23-year-old Argentina international defender, who will only get better as he matures.
The imposing Senegalese striker arrived from Stade Reims for £12m in a deal which seemed to emerge by surprise. Scoring 14 goals in Ligue 1 last season, question marks remain about whether he can make the step up to the top end of La Liga and the Champions League, but despite not scoring yet, he has impressed in the early stages of his Villarreal career. His strong physique and intelligent movement have already given signs that he can form a successful strike partnership with Gerard upfront, which is highlighted by his fantastic assist for his partner’s equaliser in the Super Cup against Chelsea. A striker was necessary this summer following the departure of Carlos Bacca and the uncertainty surrounding Paco Alcacer, and there is hope that Dia starts finding the back of the net soon, especially as Gerard Moreno is about to face a spell on the sidelines with injury.
Aïssa Mandi has had an eventful start to his Villarreal career. Arriving as versatile defensive cover on a free transfer from Real Betis, he has largely performed well, but a crucial penalty miss against Chelsea and calamitous own goal (which was mostly the fault of the goalkeeper) has put him in the spotlight early on whilst he steps up in the absence of Pau Torres. A free transfer who can play across the backline with plenty of experience in La Liga is a deal with very little downside, and the Algerian can bring a lot of knowledge to the dressing room.
Carlos Bacca and Jaume Costa, both reaching the end of their careers, moved on following the expiry of their contracts. There were La Liga loan moves for youngsters Cuenca and Fer Nino which will be beneficial in the long run, and Pervis Estupinan has remained with the club despite being linked with a move to Napoli. There was always a lingering fear that the club would lose Pau Torres to the Premier League, but he thankfully rejected a move to Tottenham (who wouldn’t?), whilst Gerard Moreno signed a 6 year deal to end all speculation surrounding him.
Overall, these are four very good signings, but I feel the team was desperate for another central midfielder. The first few performances have been desperately short of creativity without Dani Parejo, and extra legs in the middle was necessary. Iborra and Capoue are both at the late stages of their career, and former fan favourite Andre Frank Zambo Anguissa was available on loan. Anguissa has gone to Napoli, and plenty will feel that this was an obvious deal to do. There were links with Denis Suarez and Pablo Sarabia which never materialised, and whilst the squad looks in good shape, extra quality to compete in the Champions League would have made this a perfect window.