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Best PL Bargain Signings XI - 2022/23


GK - Bernd Leno: Fulham – signed from Arsenal for £5m

Nick Pope could have so easily taken this spot in the XI, but in the circumstances, we feel that Bernd Leno just takes it ahead of the Englishman, despite how tough it was to separate the two.

Both of the goalkeepers switched clubs for very low fees, with Pope only going for around £10m and Leno for £5m, and they both also joined teams that weren’t expected to do much this season, but both Fulham and Newcastle have shocked many with what they have achieved. Really, the only way to separate the two is with their on-pitch performances, and even then, it is very close, but we feel that Leno just edges out a very impressive Pope.

The German has made 128 saves (around 4 saves per game) to Pope’s 78, with the two also sharing essentially the same save percentage, but the German has often had to bail out his team-mates with some fine saves, whereas Pope is not only playing in a much better squad overall, but has the division’s toughest defence in front of him, which limits him in how many saves he needs to make.

That is not a slight on Pope, but Leno has been more key to his team than Pope has to his. But despite Newcastle’s impressive campaign, Pope has made a fatal error that some may not forget - many of the Toon faithful will look back at Pope’s needless red card against Liverpool in February that ruled him out of the Carabao Cup final.

For Leno, he has been key in Fulham potentially finishing in the top half of the table after many predicted the Cottagers to be relegated at the start of the season, and for just an initial £3m plus add-ons, was a smart capture by the club.

RB - Aaron Hickey: Brentford – signed from Bologna for £17m

20-year-old Scottish full-back Aaron Hickey made the move to Serie A with Bologna in 2020, and his impressive performances in Italy culminated in him receiving a nomination for the 2021 Golden Boy award, and in 2021/22, he became just the second Scot to score five goals in a Serie A season since Graeme Souness back in 1984/85 for Sampdoria.

Hickey's composed performances at full-back saw Brentford lodge a £17m bid that was accepted, and his first season in the Premier League has been a fine one. Despite an ankle injury 11 games in that stopped the momentum that he had built up at that point, Hickey has done well to overcome that hurdle and has performed admirably at full-back in what has been one of the Premier League’s tighter defences, with Thomas Frank’s handing of 19 starts to the youngster proving pivotal in aiding the young Scot’s confidence and development.

For their initial £17m investment, Brentford have got themselves a reliable performer who can go on to become a mainstay over the years, or, with links to Manchester City already being reported, could be set for a big move soon.

CB - Ben Mee: Brentford – signed from Burnley on a free transfer

The second Brentford player on this list, Ben Mee has been central to the stunning season that the Bees have had as they look set for a shock top-half finish.

The Englishman initially made the move to West London from relegated Burnley, and his signing has proven to be an inspired one. Mee has admirably led this Brentford side to what will be their best-ever top-flight finish since finishing 5th in 1935/36 via his leadership and commanding performances from the back, which has seen Brentford score wins over Liverpool, Chelsea and both Manchester clubs in what has been a season to remember, with Mee actually scoring the third goal in that memorable 4-0 win over the Red Devils.

The 33-year-old's consistency and availability has also been an underrated facet of his, completing a full 90 minutes in 30 of Brentford's 34 league matches this season. For a free transfer that was initially received with little to no fanfare, the signing of Ben Mee has been an excellent one.

CB - Manuel Akanji: Man City – signed from Borussia Dortmund for £15m

For the small fee of just £15m, Manchester City have acquired a solid centre-half in Manuel Akanji, who has also occasionally slotted in at full-back when required.

Were there to be a downturn in form for Ruben Dias or an injury to the peerless John Stones, Pep Guardiola can rest easy knowing that he can call upon someone who can come in and perform to a similarly high standard. Already, the Swiss defender has played more minutes than any other City centre-back this season and has completed a full 90 minutes in the Premier League 20 times.

But, Akanji is not just a fine out-and-out defender, he also possesses the on-the-ball skills that Pep Guardiola likes in a centre-half. Akanji records 4.59 progressive passes per 90, attempts over 80 passes and has a pass completion rate of 92% per 90, and attempts 5.11 passes into the final third per 90, while also ranking highly in other related metrics.

LB - Pervis Estupinan: Brighton – signed from Villarreal for £15m

Marc Cucurella's £62m move to Chelsea left a void at left-back for Brighton, but as we have come to expect from the Seagulls recently, they seem to have replaced an impressively-performing outgoing player with someone new who has seamlessly slotted into the team straight away.

Pervis Estupinan has had a fine first season in a Brighton shirt, registering four assists and generally impressing with his solid performances at full-back. At 25, he could go on to be a solid addition in the Brighton team for years to come or like Cucurella and Ben White, be sold for big money in the near future.

Estupinan is one of the division's most underrated attacking full-backs, registering highly in many attacking metrics such as progressive carries, touches in the opposition box and both his attempted and completed passing numbers.

DM - Joao Palhinha: Fulham – signed from Sporting Lisbon for £17m

Joao Palhinha holds the record for the most tackles in not only the Premier League this season (129), but out of any player in all of Europe’s top 5 leagues, with the Portuguese midfielder being the only player to reach triple figures in doing so.

Why Palhinha has been so impressive this season is because with the more attack-minded Andreas Pereira and Harrison Reed being tasked with creating and progressing play from the middle of the pitch, it has left Palhinha to focus solely on what he does best – break up play. And he has excelled in doing so, with his all-action performances key to Fulham’s impressive performances this campaign.

The Cottagers were mooted by many to go down this season as they did the last time they gained promotion to the Premier League, but the signing of the Portuguese destroyer, among other smart transfers which the club failed to do the last time they were in the top-flight, has ensured that Fulham have defied all expectations and look set for a surprise top-half finish, with Palhinha a key reason why.

CM - Christian Eriksen: Man Utd – signed from Brentford on a free transfer

While not exactly setting the world alight with his performances this season, Christian Eriksen has still been a fairly reliable performer under Erik ten Hag at Manchester United this season.

At the age of 31, Eriksen’s career is slowly winding down, but he has still had a decent campaign at Old Trafford this year, winning his first trophy in English football when United won the Carabao Cup back in February. He has also made 23 appearances in the Premier League, scoring one goal and laying on seven assists, occasionally still showing sparks of the sublime creative ability that we all know he possesses.

However, ten Hag’s project is one that is very much ongoing, and Eriksen is not part of it long-term, with links to many other midfielders mooted for a summer move already being reported. Ten Hag will be looking for a younger, more dynamic central midfielder this summer, but considering that he was brought in on a free transfer, Eriksen has been a good stopgap signing while the search for that younger midfielder is ongoing.

AM - Julio Enciso: Brighton – signed from Libertad Asuncion for £9.5m

While primarily a striker, Julio Enciso has been utilised in a slightly deeper role by Roberto De Zerbi in recent weeks after seemingly managing to finally break into the Brighton starting XI after a facial injury and the impressive performances of others saw him only get sporadic cameos at the beginning and middle parts of the season.

But, Enciso has impressed over the past few weeks and has played at least an hour of Brighton’s last four league matches, with his performances culminating in him scoring two goals and registering two assists, meaning that at the age of 19, the Paraguayan is now the youngest South American player in Premier League history to register two assists in the same game.

Once again, it seems like the good work done by Brighton’s scouts and their data analytics team has seen the club land yet another star. And like those stars have gone on to do so often, Enciso could be set for a big-money move in the future. For now though, with 477 minutes of impressive Premier League action under his belt, Enciso should continue to shine at Brighton for a while.

RW - Marcus Tavernier: Bournemouth – signed from Middlesbrough for £10m

While traditionally playing on the left flank, Marcus Tavernier has been utilised in a number of positions this campaign as Bournemouth look to have done just about enough to avoid the drop in their first season back in the top-flight since being relegated in 2019/20.

The former Middlesbrough man was signed to little fanfare after recording just five goals for Boro in 2021/22, and seemed destined to be yet another surefire flop in the mould of a Max Gradel or Jordon Ibe, but Tavernier has actually been an important player for the Cherries this season.

His versatility has been key to Bournemouth’s push for survival, with his ability to play anywhere across the frontline or in midfield helping him to pick up five goals and four assists (the highlight being a stunning curling effort against Fulham) in what has been a relatively impressive Premier League debut season. That return, coupled with his impressive dribbling and successful take-on rate that has allowed him to cause plenty of problems for opponents, means that it looks like it was £10m well spent by Bournemouth.

ST - Leandro Trossard: Arsenal – signed from Brighton for £20m

Like Tavernier, the Belgian has played in a variety of positions this season, with Mikel Arteta having deployed Trossard on both flanks and as both a false-nine and a pure centre-forward on occasion. And no matter where he plays, Trossard has done a fantastic job and has shown exactly why Arsenal elected to spend £20m on him in the middle of the season.

The Belgian is a livewire, with his ability to draw defenders out of position alongside his impressive dribbling and subsequent ability to burst past players giving Mikel Arteta somewhat of a new dynamic to his frontline that Arsenal did not previously possess.

As a result, the Belgian has recorded a goal and eight assists so far in his short Arsenal career, taking his total for the season to 19 goal involvements. However, it is puzzling why Trossard was dropped for every game of Arsenal’s recent four-match winless run, when he had started the previous seven matches consecutively, which Arsenal won all seven of. It does certainly speak to Trossard’s influence and ability on the side when he does play.

LW - Wilfried Gnonto: Leeds – signed from FC Zurich for £4m

The young Italian has impressed in the fleeting appearances he has made this season, scoring two goals and picking up four assists in the 13 league games he has started.

Despite the Whites’ troubles this campaign, Gnonto is one of the very few players that has stood out in what is quite a poor Leeds team, with his quality in 1v1 situations and ball-carrying helping his side offer more of a threat going forward than they otherwise would have – at times, the teen has been one of Leeds’ best attackers, standing out amongst more established players such as Patrick Bamford, Luis Sinisterra and Brenden Aaronson.

Gnonto was used sparingly by Javi Gracia during his short tenure at the club, and while relegation does look very likely, Gnonto should now be utilised a lot more than he has been recently from now until the end of the season after Gracia’s sacking.