Three potential summer bargains: Lorenzo Insigne, Lars Stindl and Karl Toko Ekambi
By Adam Newson, Football Whispers
Last Updated: 01/03/18 2:22pm
Football's top European clubs had their fingers on the trigger. The big question was: who would be the first to squeeze? The answer came in emphatic fashion last August: Paris Saint-Germain.
By pushing ahead with a £198m deal to sign Neymar from Barcelona, it was the Ligue 1 side that set a new yardstick for transfer fees and that's why stats have been the game changer - which is where our friends at Football Whispers come in.
By using their Player Value, Player Performance and Player Persona models, finding stars who are undervalued in European football becomes that little bit easier.
Football Whispers have used their mountain of data and different algorithms to identify three players who would offer clubs excellent value in the current transfer market.
Lorenzo Insigne - Napoli and Italy
In 2000, Napoli retired their No 10 shirt in honour of Diego Maradona - a man referred to in Naples as 'God'. But last summer the icon who many deem to be the greatest player of all time admitted there was one star he would allow to pull on his famous jersey: Lorenzo Insigne.
The 26-year-old has become the archetype modern No 10, or inside forward. Short but powerful. Quick yet poised. And technically gifted.
Football Whispers' Player Persona model highlights Insigne's major strengths. He is a creator who is used from the left of a 4-3-3 and a player who affects the game infield, rather than a strict winger who gets to the byline.
In Serie A this season, Insigne is playing 2.63 open play key passes per 90 minutes and creating 0.72 big chances a game.
The Italy international is not just a puppeteer who pulls strings though - he is averaging 5.09 shots per 90 in Serie A this season. It has led to the winger scoring five league goals, which is slightly below his xG (expected goals) of 7.03, but it highlights he is a threat in and around the box.
Insigne does benefit from playing for the Serie A leaders and working under Napoli boss Maurizio Sarri. The Italian sets his side up to dominate games - no team has averaged more possession per 90 (59.8 percent) than the Partenopei.
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However, Insigne's influence can't be underestimated. It's why Football Whispers' Player Performance model ranks him as one of the most devastating attackers in world football.
Insigne's 93 rating puts him alongside another legendary Argentine No 10, Lionel Messi, and he is also keeping company with the likes of Neymar, Mo Salah and Paulo Dybala.
He may be worth around £100m in their Player Value model, but Insigne is matching the world's best and would prove a shrewd signing - not to mention Napoli may indeed sell for less.
Lars Stindl - Borussia Monchengladbach and Germany
For years, Lars Stindl was a run-of-the-mill midfielder in the Bundesliga. He was technically sound and rarely let Hannover down, but he didn't decide games.
That was until he joined Borussia Monchengladbach and was pushed further forward. Stindl was transformed and German football suddenly had another 'raumdeuter' (space interpreter) to rival Thomas Muller.
The 29-year-old, now in his third season with Gladbach, has shone for the club. He isn't prolific, having struck 36 times in 110 games, but is the leader of their attack.
It's why Stindl is the seventh-highest rated Bundesliga player in Football Whispers' Player Performance model at 84. And if he were younger, their Player Value algorithm would have the Germany international far higher than the current £32m.
And for good reason too. Stindl is a highly effective second striker. A player who can create but also defends from the front. It's why the Player Persona model has the Gladbach captain comparable to Roberto Firmino, Antoine Griezmann and, tellingly, Muller.
In the Bundesliga this term Stindl has averaged 1.39 tackles per 90 and 1.21 interceptions - both figures that are up on last season. With the ball, Stindl makes a telling impact. He is playing 1.52 open key passes per 90, which factors into his xA90 (expected goals assisted per 90) of 0.15. Again, both those metrics are an increase on what he achieved during the 2016/17 campaign.
The German international may be a late bloomer but he is a player who is undervalued at just £32m.
Karl Toko Ekambi - Angers and Cameroon
Angers striker Karl Toko Ekambi is a player who will need introducing to many.
He wasn't playing professionally until the 2014-15 season when he joined Ligue 2 side Sochaux. He settled instantly and scored 25 goals in 79 games before signing for Angers, who secured promotion to Ligue 1 in 2015.
He was shifted out to the left flank but made the step up, finding the net eight times as Angers surprisingly finished 11th. This term the club have struggled but the 25-year-old has improved once more.
Predominantly playing in his favoured role as a striker, he has netted 13 goals and assisted four more in 26 Ligue 1 games this season.
It's an impressive return and indicates why his score in Football Whispers' Player Performance index stands at 86, the fifth highest in France's top tier.
Delve deeper into the numbers and it's clear just how impressive a season Ekambi is having.
While Angers are clearly struggling in 17th, Ekambi isn't. His expected goal contribution per 90 (xG plus xA) stands at an impressive 0.64, with his xG 0.44. The next highest expected goal contribution per 90 in the Angers side for players who've featured in more than 500 Ligue 1 minutes is Angelo Fulgini at 0.35.
Angers reportedly rejected a £12m bid for the striker in January from Brighton, while he is also an Everton transfer target and wanted by Crystal Palace.
Football Whispers' Player Value has Ekambi at £20m while the Persona model shows he has similar characteristics, if not the same natural talent, as Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford.
Angers have an operating budget of £25m a season, the fourth smallest in Ligue 1. If they were to go down, they'd almost certainly cash in on Ekambi and a club could grab themselves a bargain this summer.
You can read more data-led and analytical football content at Football Whispers' website