Loan signings can be very hit and miss. Whether it’s a young player eager to kickstart their career or an established talent desperate to rediscover their best form, so many factors have to be right for a loan to be successful.
There’s a lack of permanence in most cases and also a lack of thought when it comes to matching loanees with the right playing style.
Yet 2019/20 has been a success story for the loan market with several players of varying ages and positions coming up big.
Some have earned permanent moves to their new homes while others will return to their parent club better players. Picking 10 of the best turned out to be a bit of a challenge…
Ante Rebic | On loan at AC Milan from Eintracht Frankfurt
It’s hard enough to have one successful loan deal, but two in the same transfer is practically unheard of. The mirroring of Rebic’s move to Milan and Andre Silva going in the opposite direction to Eintracht Frankfurt is quite something, too.
Both struggled in the first half of the season only to then light up the second half, and particularly after their respective pauses because of Covid-19. Rebic, though, has been marvellous.
Take penalties scored out of the equation and only Robert Lewandowski and Erling Braut Haaland have scored more league goals in 2020. The Croat has 11 goals since breaking into the side in January, collecting strikes against Serie A heavyweights Juventus, Lazio, Inter milan and Roma along the way.
He’s been an absolute tank up front for the Rossoneri and a big reason for their recent revival. Don’t be surprised to see this deal made permanent once the two-season loan expires next summer.
Chris Smalling | On loan at Roma from Manchester United
Chris Smalling has dropped the Mike this season and now everyone remembers his name.
Mistakes more crude than Louis van Gaal’s error littered his Manchester United career, but Italy has proved to be far more suited to his playing style.
Smalling’s biggest weakness is with the ball at his feet. When it came to positioning and particularly interceptions, he was always strong but in possession he often crumbled when met with resistance.
However, Serie A sides largely press with far-less intensity than in the Premier League and so his weakness on the ball hasn’t really received much attention. He’s enjoyed his highest pass accuracy statistics ever at 90.4 per cent – for reference his best ever mark at United was 88.6 per cent in 2014/15 – and has been one of the least dribbled-past defenders (3) in Serie A this season.
The Giallorossi are desperately hoping to retain the 30-year-old with United seeking a fee of around £18 million to make the move permanent. Even with the club mired in debt, Smalling has turned out to be a transfer they can ill afford to miss out on.
Achraf Hakimi | On loan at Borussia Dortmund from Real Madrid
On the surface and on the evidence of his two seasons at Dortmund, Real’s decision to sell Hakimi to Inter Milan appears odd.
The Morocco international is arguably the world’s second-best attacking right-back and Dani Carvajal’s declining form over the last would make a transition into Real’s XI fairly smooth. But Hakimi’s concentration in defensive phases, while vastly improved in comparison to last term, means that he is far more comfortable as a wing-back in a back five (Inter) as opposed to a full-back in a back four (Real Madrid).
Dortmund’s loss is now Inter’s gain because the Bundesliga giants have helped nurture his attacking exploits. From right-backs, only Trent Alexander-Arnold (13) has managed more league assists than Hakimi (10) this season, while the 21-year-old has added nine goals in all competitions as well.
He’s emerged as one of the fastest players in Europe and looks to have found the perfect style and environment to take his game to the next level at Inter.
Patrik Schick | On loan at RB Leipzig from Roma
One of the most important factors in any loan move, in fact just any transfer period, is the stylistic match between the talent and the team.
For Schick, Roma was a poor fit after they made him their club-record buy from Sampdoria, despite Edin Dzeko’s seniority in the XI and the fact they play with just one striker. Still, much was expected, little was delivered, but a loan spell at Leipzig has revived his career as he has thrived under Julian Nagelsmann and his high-energy, minimal-touch approach.
Obviously his aerial ability commands attention, yet Schick is a very technical centre-forward in the mold of Olivier Giroud. It was a gamble taking on a striker who so far had only produced in one season for Sampdoria, but it’s paid off handsomely with the Czech scoring 10 times in 22 Bundesliga games.
Nagelsmann is said to be keen to make his move permanent but his €29m price tag is likely going to dissuade Leipzig from doing so, opening the door to other suitors like AC Milan.
Alexander Sorloth | On loan at Trabzonspor from Crystal Palace
Confusion over euros and pounds almost scuppered Sorloth’s transfer from FC Midtjylland to Palace back in January 2018 and there’s now equal doubt over the currency of his goals in Turkey.
Finding an appropriate valuation of Sorloth is proving difficult after the Norwegian struggled so badly in the Premier League only to explode on loan at Trabzonspor in the Super Lig. He’s reached 32 goal contributions in 2019/20, leading the league with 24 strikes and adding eight assists. Not bad for a player who scored once for Palace.
He’s been nicknamed the King of the North, which is fitting considering that’s the direction his form and reputation has taken since leaving Palace.
However, it’s hard to gauge whether he is that good, or the defences he’s faced are really just that bad. Regardless, Sorloth has been an absolute machine and some of his finishes this season have been breathtaking.
Napoli are said to be interested but the Turkish side have another year left on his loan deal with an option to buy.
Sergio Reguilon | On loan at Sevilla from Real Madrid
Reguilon has been one of the two best left-backs in Spain this season. Unfortunately for him the other one will ensure his future lies away from Real Madrid.
Ferland Mendy’s outstanding debut season for Los Blancos means that although Reguilon has progressed even further after being one of Real’s few positives in 2018/19, his future will ultimately be elsewhere. Indeed, the 23-year-old has shown that he deserves to be an important part of an important club and sharing minutes with Mendy won’t be beneficial to either player.
It will no doubt disappoint Madrid fans to see Reguilon depart given his development this season, particularly from an attacking sense. His defensive sharpness saw him usurp Marcelo, but going forward he’s been so effective for Sevilla.
His crossing technique is precise and his speed threatening. His diagonal passes from left to right to Jesus Navas have been a feature of their play this season while his ball progression has well, progressed. Too good to rotate, Reguilon appears set to follow Hakimi in using his loan spell to deliver a big more elsewhere.
Dani Ceballos | On loan at Arsenal from Real Madrid
Like the hair on his head, Dani Ceballos grew after the Premier League’s restart.
A permanent move looked dead given his largely indifferent displays, but much like the rest of the Arsenal squad, improvement arrived when Mikel Arteta walked through the door. Now the Gunners are eager to sign him permanently from Real Madrid having cemented his place alongside Granit Xhaka in the base of midfield.
The issue with Ceballos is perhaps more in perception because plenty of supporters expected a playmaking midfielder with the technical craft to supplant Mesut Ozil. Instead his graft to shut down passing lanes and hound players out of possession has been a real feature of his promising displays.
Obviously he’s very tidy in bringing the ball out from the back with the ability to play penetrative passes left, right and through the middle, evidenced by him producing the most key passes and successful dribbles after the restart.
Yet in the same time period, no other Arsenal player tackled more, made more ball recoveries, covered more distance or intercepted more than him.
Mauro Icardi | On loan at Patis Saint-Germain from Inter
It’s odd that a player can radiate such intense chaos off the pitch, yet but so chillingly calm in front of goal. Icardi’s Inter career descended into an absolute farce with his divorce from the Milan club brimming with bitterness. But in the city of love, the Argentina striker has found the perfect match, providing the ideal foil to Kylian Mbappe and Neymar.
He’s done exactly what he’s always done, scored goals. Across 32 games in all competitions last season the 27-year-old netted 20 times, and as is standard with Icardi, if there’s no service, there’s no touches. At PSG that’s not been an issue.
With club-record scorer Edinson Cavani departing the club this summer, the Parisians made his move permanent for an initial fee of €50m with €7m in add-ons.
It’s one of those rare high-profile win-win transfers for both clubs with PSG gaining a great goalscorer and Inter ridding themselves of a disruptive influence for a decent fee.
Alexis Sanchez | On loan at Inter from Manchester United
Sanchez really stung Manchester United good, but at Inter he’s been absolutely buzzing, more Neragiallo (yellow/black) than Nerazzurri.
In fact, since Serie A’s resumption, there have been few players enjoying better form than the Chilean. In 12 games he’s been directly linked involved in 10 goals, laying on seven and scoring three. Only Lionel Messi has provided more assists in that time.
Whisper it quietly, but he could actually be back to his best. He’s talked about falling back in love with football again since moving to Inter and it’s showed, not only in terms of production, but just his body language on the pitch.
He’s desperate for the ball to be at his feet, a complete contrast to the player who hurriedly shifted it away at Man United as if it was someone else’s baby. The authority has returned, evidenced by him screaming at Antonio Candreva in disgust after his team-mate wrongly opted to shoot instead of pass to him in the 3-0 victory over Genoa.
Another loan or even a permanent switch is on the cards for the 31-year-old.
Dean Henderson | On loan at Sheffield United from Manchester United
It’s impossible not to assess Henderson through the prism of David De Gea.
For instance, would his performances for Sheffield United this season have garnered this much observation were it not for the disintegration of De Gea? Has he actually been that good for Sheffield United, or has De Gea elevated his status because he’s been that bad?
There’s definitely an element of hype because of De Gea, but regardless Henderson has been a superb loan signing for the Blades over his two seasons. His 13 clean sheets are bettered only by Nick Pope (15), Alisson (15) and Ederson (17) while Statman Dave points out that of the 14 Premier League goalkeepers to have faced 100+ shots this season, only Bernd Leno (78%) has a better save percentage than him (77%).
One trait which permeates his goalkeeping is confidence. His stops are sturdy, his reflexes rapid and he’s brave under the high ball.
And he’s already shown an ability to recover from errors, producing three clean sheets from his next four games after gifting Liverpool three points back in September. It’s that mental resilience which has served him well in Sheffield during his debut Premier League season and would do so at United.
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