ISSUE #33: 5 Bundesliga Players Ready For a Move This Summer
In the penultimate issue of the 2021/22 season we look at 5 players primed for the next big move, with The Euro Expert joining us to present some possible European destinations.
With less than 60 days to go between today and the opening of the transfer window, countless clubs across the continent are beginning to shift their focus away from 3-points on the weekend, and towards scouting the market in order to build a competitive outfit for next season.
In the penultimate issue of the 2021/22 season we look at 5 players primed for the next big move, before handing the reins over to Alex Barker - a.k.a the Euro Expert - to provide some sensible destinations for these impressive Bundesliga talents.
With Eintracht Frankfurt dazzling the world of football with another deep run in the Europa League, countless talents from the eagles’ aerie have drawn attention from clubs around the continent.
Jesper Lindström’s silky skills have raised comparisons to Kevin de Bruyne, Filip Kostić blessed the Camp Nou with the greatest performance from a number 10 since a certain Lionel Messi departed, whilst Ansgar Knauff's surging runs have left BVB fans bewildered as to why their club let him go.
The list goes on and on, but there’s one name seemingly impossible to look past: 22-year old Evan Ndicka.
A cornerstone of the Frankfurt side since joining as an 18-year old from A.J. Auxerre in the French second-tier, the imposing center half is the latest example of the marvelous route forward for French talent in Germany.
With a world-class physique, and ever-improving composure in possession, Ndicka has the makings of a player capable of reaching the very top of the game. In fact, even in front of goal the Parisian born defender is excelling, contributing 4 goals and 4 assists in 29 Bundesliga matches.
No centerback in Europe’s top 5 leagues has contributed to more goals in domestic league play than Eintracht Frankfurt’s Evan Ndicka. In fact, even when we expand our database to include all center backs in the global top 15 leagues, only Dávid Hancko of Sparta Prague has provided more.
And, though he experienced a slight dip in form during the 2019/20 campaign, all in all he has been a fantastic signing for just €5.5m.
No outfield player has featured more often for Die Adler this season, whilst the likes of Mats Hummels, Jérôme Boateng, and David Alaba all accumulated fewer first team minutes by their own 23rd birthday.
The fact that Ndicka has yet to feature for his country or in the Champions League may unsettle some potential suitors, but his starring role in two deep runs in the Europa League could prompt an eventual sale which would see the Hessen club recuperate a fee 6-7 times more than what they paid to Auxerre in 2018.
With Ndicka’s own contract set to expire in 2023, and Frankfurt only able to qualify for European football if they win the Europa League, this summer may be the right time for The Eagles’ to make their next massive sale of the magnitude of Luka Jović and Sébastian Haller.
The Euro Expert’s Transfer Tip:
There is a dearth of quality, left-footed center backs on the market at the moment, with Europe’s top clubs ready to fight over the signatures of Sven Botman, Alessandro Bastoni, and Joško Gvardiol this summer.
Of course, Ndicka has primarily played in a back three at Frankfurt, so it would make him a slightly more risky option for teams such as Bayern in Germany, or even PSG and Lyon back in his home country.
That leaves a rather simple destination, with my pick being Chelsea F.C.
Antonio Rudiger’s move to Real Madrid was all but confirmed last week, and with the Abramovich shaped cloud hanging over Stamford Bridge, it’s unlikely they’ll be moving the quickest for the first names on their shortlist.
Ndicka represents a safer option who would be cheaper than established alternatives, and while he may not hit the ground running straight away, he should fit well into the left centerback slot available in Tuchel’s system.
After arriving for a then club-record €41.50m in 2017, a 22-year old Corentin Tolisso had the makings of a future legend in the heart of the Bavarian’s midfield.
Now 27, the former Olympique Lyon pro has won 5 German Championships, 2 DFB-Pokals, a Champions League, and even a World Cup, but failed to ever make the personal breakthrough in Munich.
Despite an impressive first year in which Tolisso featured in almost 2,500 minutes in all competitions, recurring long-term injuries, the stark midfield competition, and his own inconsistency have never allowed him to cement his status under any of the 5 Bayern managers that have graced the touchline during his spell at the club.
With various muscle tears, a lengthy ankle rehab, and a career altering cruciate ligament injury, Tolisso’s major hurdle has always been his fitness since breaking on to the scene under Hubert Fournier at OL.
Whilst not a single manager seems to have a bad word to say on him, the fact remains that Tolisso has never started 4 Bundesliga matches in a row, or completed 90 minutes in a UCL knockout fixture.
Just about any club in world football can profit from his box-to-box nature and goal-scoring instincts, but whether his body can withstand the test of time is still a major question mark which will undoubtedly throw off many suitors from ultimately pulling the trigger.
Though injuries have hampered his progress, Tolisso shows undeniable quality on the pitch.
In this clip vs Köln earlier this season (above), Tolisso shows the whole range of his talents in under 30 seconds, first winning possession in his own half, then continuing his run into the oppositions final third, before finally unleashing a fabulous strike into the top corner.
Tolisso is now months away from free agency as Bayern have opted against renewing his contract in favor of a pursuit of teenage sensation Ryan Gravenberch, so the Frenchman should have ample opportunity to finally fulfill his wish of not just winning silverware, but playing a starring role in the pursuit.
At 27 he is entering the supposed prime of his career, so the desire to get consistent first team minutes unhampered by niggling injuries should be at the forefront of any decision he makes this summer.
The Euro Expert’s Transfer Tip:
Olympique Lyon demonstrated a willingness to take on their former players when they brought Tanguy Ndombele on a loan from Spurs earlier this season, and Corentin Tolisso will hopefully follow as the next OL star to return to the Groupama Stadium this July.
The Frenchman’s injury issues have placed his stock at an all-time low, as according to Transfermarkt, his value has sunk nearly £30m since its height of £40m in 2018. Yet, we shouldn't forget this is the same player who contributed to 13 goals from central midfield in his final Ligue 1 season.
The landscape of French Football has changed a lot since Tolisso left, so he may find it harder to re-adapt than expected, but we still believe this is a smart option for a French side desperate for reinforcements in midfield, especially if Lucas Paquetá is to leave this summer.
With a goal or assist every 105 minutes, Lucas Nicolás Alario has a better conversion rate than Taiwo Awoniyi, Andrej Kramarić, and Saša Kalajdžić in the Bundesliga.
In all of his last 4 topflight campaigns the former River Plate forward has contributed at least 10 goals + assists, and his current season record of a goal every 5th shot is identical to that of Europe’s golden boot leader Robert Lewandowski.
With such impressive numbers you’d imagine the Argentine international to be leading the line for one of Germany’s Champions League contenders, yet in reality Alario sits firmly out of the plans at Bayer 04, starting just 4 Bundesliga matches all season.
Given the arrival of Sardar Azmoun in January, and Patrick Schick’s long-term contract (2025), an exit could be on the cards as Alario’s dream of featuring in the upcoming World Cup continues to fade. Since November 2020, the 9-time international hasn’t made it onto the pitch for Lionel Scaloni’s national team, and something will need to change if he should earn his place in Qatar.
When he is earning consistent minutes though, Alario's quality is clearly apparent.
Adept with both feet, a strong aerial presence, and a natural goal-scorer since his early breakthrough at Club Atlético Colón, numerous clubs around the continent could profit from his wide-range of talents.
Furthermore, having won both the Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana in his time at Los Millonarios, Alario could be an exciting prospect for countless top sides in South America.
Having conquered the cauldron-like arena at the Estadio Monumental and played a formative role in ending River’s 19-year wait for a continental title, very few atmospheres will have the capacity to unsettle the 29-year old forward born to score goals.
The Euro Expert’s Transfer Tip:
Lucas Alario could be a contender for the most underrated forward in Europe, especially to those who view him regularly. Last season he converted shots into goals at a rate of 27% which for context, is 4 points more than Lewandowski’s rate this season.
That makes Arsenal a brilliant destination.
With a Spanish-speaking contingent of Mikel Arteta, Martin Ødegaard, and Thomas Partey, and German speakers in Granit Xhaka, Cédric Soares, and Bernd Leno, Alario will swiftly settle in the dressing room to create the right environment to perform on the pitch.
What the Gunners can get from the Argentine is quality finishing, and a cheap back up to whichever big gun they bring in this summer. Even in saying that, Alario could potentially step up to fill the void himself.
Though Evan Ndicka is the biggest Frankfurt prospect to appear on our short-list, Swiss teammate Djibril Sow doesn’t trail far behind, with the 25-year old making a big impression in central midfield.
Of all the sides to compete in the Champions League or Europa League this season, only F.C. Liverpool have completed more progressive passes than Eintracht Frankfurt, so it’s proven crucial for Oliver Glasner to have a vertical thinking midfielder dictating the tempo in the center of the park.
Constantly looking to expose opponents caught in transition with his incisive passing, the 26-time Swiss international is seemingly the perfect fit for a Frankfurt side molding a reactive counter-attacking game, with more prolonged phases of possession.
As the Eagles midfielder with the best pass percentage there is a clear consensus that Sow can flourish at a club with a robust possession identity, but his high volume of progressive passes also show signs of an adept midfielder for a club looking to expose transition moments.
In fact, almost 11% of Sow’s passes this season have traveled at least 10 yards (9.144 m) towards the opposition goal, a higher percentage than highly touted midfielders like Konrad Laimer or Jude Bellingham.
And, whilst predominantly these are passes breaking through opposition midfields to get Frankfurt into the final third, on occasion he’s even used his vertical range to single-handedly set up a Frankfurt shot - a fabulous sight reminiscent of Andrea Pirlo or Paul Scholes. (below)
With 3 goals and 6 assists in all competitions, the former Borussia M’gladbach and Young Boys Bern midfielder is on course for his most productive season in professional football. Few of his goal contributions were as impressive as this assist vs Bayer Leverkusen though.
The Euro Expert’s Transfer Tip:
Truth be told, Sow could move to most clubs around Europe. You can see this well-rounded midfielder fitting into Stefano Pioli's Milan, Marco Rose's Dortmund, or even a multitude of Spanish outfits.
However, it would be a treat to convince Brendan Rodgers of the Swiss-man’s quality, especially with the lack of midfield back-up he has had at Leicester this season. Even discounting Youri Tielemans moving on, a reality which seems to be growing by the day, Sow could provide a major boost in Leicester's pursuit of a return to Europe next season.
As for the player himself, he would be a smart pick up and at 25, has the potential to form a strong pivot with Boubakary Soumaré in a couple of years time. Sow's now helped Frankfurt reach the Europa League final for the first time in club history, so he's at a point in his career that's exactly where the Foxes want to be themselves.
For a side second bottom in the table who have failed to win any of their last 9 Bundesliga matches, it seems odd to think they should boast one of the hottest free agents in German football.
Yet, in Stefan Ortega Arminia Bielefeld have just that, one of the best goalkeepers in the division since the club from the Teutoburg Forest earned topflight promotion again in 2020.
With Die Arminen averaging less than a goal a game (.77) in their 66 topflight matches, Ortega’s goal-line heroics have been crucial to keeping them up last season, and now maintaining their renewed hopes of survival with two matches to play.
With 108 saves, Ortega has made the second most interventions of any goalkeeper in the Bundesliga after Yann Sommer, whilst his expected goals against (a measure of the likelihood of the goalkeeper in question to save a shot) overperformance is even more impressive.
According to a model developed at Understat.com, Bielefeld should have conceded 63.52 goals this season from the quality of chances they let up - approximately 13 goals more than what they have actually conceded. This performance blows the domestic competition out of the water, and even in Europe Ortega’s goalkeeping heroics are only rivaled by Wolverhampton Wanderers’ José Sá. (below)
In possession, Ortega is arguably even more crucial to Bielefeld’s ambitions of remaining in the topflight.
With no side in the Bundesliga moving the ball up the field quicker than Die Arminen, Ortega’s ability to play precise long-range passes has been invaluable across the past two seasons.
In the 2020/21 campaign, not a single player in Europe attempted more long passes than Bielefeld’s number 1, whilst his long-range output has only slightly tapered off this season due to the fact that he is on average completing 6 fewer passes per game.
The Euro Expert’s Transfer Tip:
Ortega is a keeper who deserves to be starting games at his next destination, but sadly for him there aren't a lot of teams around Europe who are in need of a keeper and are challenging for silverware. Inter Milan are signing André Onana, Bayern will be happy to stay with Manuel Neuer and hope Alexander Nübel continues to develop, while most Premier League teams are locked up in the GK position.
Crystal Palace though, should be on the lookout to replace their first choice, Vicente Guaita. He has conceded nearly seven goals more than he has been expected to over the past two Premier League seasons, has just 1-year remaining on his contract, and turned 35 in January.
As outlined above, Ortega is comfortable with the ball at his feet, and a sweeper-keeper is the next logical step for Patrick Vieira to take in developing his new-look Palace side.
Title Image: Gabriel Foligno