SoccerSix Swiss in the Premier League. But to do what?
With Manuel Akanji and Denis Zakaria who joined Remo Freuler, Kevin Mbabu, Fabian Schär and Granit Xhaka in the final hours of the transfer window, the contingent of internationals in England has grown.
Activate your memories. Until last June, the Premier League looked like an unrecommended destination for the Swiss. Too prestigious, perhaps. Too competitive, no doubt. Only Fabian Schär at Newcastle and Granit Xhaka at Arsenal spent their season there. They will no longer be left to themselves. The reunion between Swiss internationals on English grounds will now take place every week, or almost.
The contingent has indeed expanded during the summer. Kevin Mbabu had quickly reached an agreement with Fulham, which he joined from Wolfsburg. During the month of August, Remo Freuler left Atalanta Bergamo to embark on the adventure of Nottingham Forest. And then, the last hours of the transfer window reserved two surprises. Not least. Manchester City offered the services of Borussia Dortmund defender Manuel Akanji, before – almost on the gong – Chelsea reached an agreement with Juventus for the loan with option to buy Denis Zakaria.
This promises beautiful duels. Provided you play. With Murat Yakin’s World Cup slate just over two months away (due to be released on Friday, November 11), some have taken risks. You will have to play to be selected. This is at least the official speech: there will be no time this year for an extended preparation, in order to take the time to get back to physical level. So, what fates for this new Swiss Premier League diaspora?
Manuel Akanji (Manchester City)
Manuel Akanji therefore left Borussia Dortmund for one of the best clubs in the world, reigning English champions. The challenge is colossal. What place for the 27-year-old from Zurich within this constellation of stars?
By aligning nearly 18 million francs for the central defender, Manchester City has at least stated its intentions. Pep Guardiola sees a role for his new player. Which? That of lining in defense, at best. In a contingent that includes Ruben Dias, John Stones, Aymeric Laporte and Nathan Aké, Akanji will not start. Especially with the small inconvenience of not being able to play elsewhere than in the axis, unlike Laporte and Aké (who have already been deported to the left side).
The fact is that Akanji was to leave Dortmund, who had dismissed him since the start of the season while waiting to be able to sell him one year from the end of his contract. City is an opportunity like no other. And Akanji, with his ball-to-foot confidence and ability to defend high, matches the style. Does he have the level? That’s another question. Will he have game time? Probably few in big matches. On the other hand, at City, we play a lot and therefore we tour a lot. It’s hard to imagine him arriving in a complete lack of rhythm at the World Cup.
Remo Freuler (Nottingham Forest)
It must be seen as a challenge: at 30 and after more than six and a half years spent at Atalanta Bergamo, of which he had become a major executive, Remo Freuler therefore chose to try his hand at the Premier League this summer. And to engage with the ambitious neo-promoted Nottingham Forest, who dropped nearly 10 million francs to secure the services of the midfielder.
What role will the Zurich player have? Hard to say, knowing that Forest has a dozen players capable of playing in midfield. And that he spent a lot of money for these same players (more than 30 million for Gibbs-White, 13 for Mangala, 9 for O’Brien…).
Freuler made his first Premier League appearance in the 6-0 loss to Manchester City on Wednesday. He had previously made his debut there against Tottenham last weekend, days after playing the full League Cup tie against Grimsby Town. He therefore comes into consideration for trainer Steve Cooper. But can he be as indisputable as at Atalanta?
Kevin Mbabu (Fulham)
Whoever signed for around 5.5 million francs at Fulham at the end of July has not yet fully found his place. As a right-back, he has to deal with competition from Dutchman Kenny Tete, who is having a successful start to the season in a team that is working quite well for a newly promoted player. The Cottagers are in 8th place after five days.
Kevin Mbabu is no stranger to these results, even though he has yet to start a Premier League game. He entered three times. And he has already contributed to a decisive victory. It was August 20 against Brentford, when he headed Aleksandar Mitrovic late for the 3-2 win.
His reward? A start in the League Cup match against Crawley Town, a 4th division formation. With the key a 2-0 defeat. He will still need a little time to get his chance from coach Marco Silva. And this time, you shouldn’t miss it.
Fabian Schär (Newcastle)
He is almost untouchable: Fabian Schär is an indisputable holder in the central defense of Newcastle. Except last Wednesday, when his coach Eddie Howe had reshuffled the cards for the trip to Liverpool: the two usual holders (Schär and Botman) were left on the bench.
Whatever, in the mind of the English technician, the Swiss international goes ahead. He recently extended his contract until 2024 with the Magpies. So far there is little to worry about.
Granit Xhaka (Arsenal)
A captain without the armband. Granit Xhaka does not want it. Or only during the match, when the agent Martin Odegaard leaves. But that doesn’t take away from his importance: Xhaka is one of the centerpieces of Arsenal’s excellent start to the season, which sits top of the Premier League with five wins in as many matches.
In a freer role, where coach Mikel Arteta is counting on him to project himself a little more, he has a blast. The captain of the Swiss team has already scored a goal and provided two assists. In the shape of his life? Not far away. If everything continues like this, he will be ready to take the keys to the game at the World Cup.
Denis Zakaria (Chelsea)
The unexpected gamble. Chelsea pulled the rabbit out of the hat a few hours before the market closed on Thursday night. Denis Zakaria is therefore on loan from Juventus for the entire coming season, with a purchase option of 35 million francs for the Blues.
What about it? Although he only joined Juve last January, with only fifteen matches played, the 25-year-old Genevan had little hope of finding playing time in Bianconero. Even more after the arrival of Leandro Paredes. The exit door is therefore interesting.
But it is not easy. In midfield, Thomas Tuchel has a choice: Jorginho, N’Golo Kanté, Connor Gallagher, Mateo Kovacic, Ruben Loftus-Cheek or even Mason Mount. What place for Zakaria in the middle of all this? Hard to say, except that he has a different profile for him, probably suited to the Premier League. Also, Chelsea are engaged in the Champions League and it must be assumed that Tuchel will have to practice a certain rotation. Zakaria might get his chance. You will have to enter it.