Welcome to Window Shopping, a recurring feature in which Defector highlights and analyzes some of the biggest players rumored for a big-money transfer each window. Each summer and January, we will take a look at these potential stars in order to answer two simple questions: Who the heck is this guy, and why is he worth so much money?
With just six days remaining until the end of the transfer window, the rumors are starting to develop on a timeline of days, rather than weeks or months. There simply isn’t time for prolonged sagas anymore. For this last edition of Window Shopping until January, let’s look at the most exciting of those rumors that popped up this week, those surrounding the future of Lyon midfielder Lucas Paquetá.
The 24-year-old Brazilian has been Lyon’s star in attack since moving on from an underwhelming season at AC Milan in the summer of 2020. At Lyon, his numbers have shot through the roof, and he now stands as one of the best young midfielders in Europe. As tends to happen with players who shine in leagues outside of the Premier League, this has caught the eye of a variety of English clubs, with the current last-place team somehow the most linked for his signature.
That’s right, it’s David Moyes time. West Ham has had a terrible start to the season, losing all three of its Premier League games so far. What’s perhaps even more distressing is that the club has failed to score a single goal in domestic play. Gone are the Hammers of last season who started hot and rode competency all the way to a seventh place finish in the league. In light of those attacking woes, it’s not surprising that the club is reportedly pushing hard for a goal-scoring and -creating player like Paquetá.
If West Ham doesn’t land the midfielder—on Thursday the deal was reportedly off, but Friday morning brought news that it’s not only on but also all but officially completed, so who knows if there will be more twists to come—that could open the door for two other teams that have been linked with Paquetá this summer. The first is less likely: Arsenal was reportedly interested in him back in July, but the club’s hot start and splurging on Gabriel Jesus probably make this a non-starter now. Newcastle United, on the other hand, could attempt to swoop in and nab Paquetá from under West Ham’s nose. As I covered this week, the Magpies have more money than anyone, so it might be willing to drop a huge sum of money to give its own attack a boost.
Up until Friday morning, it looked like West Ham might not match Lyon’s asking price for Paquetá’s services. That would have allowed Newcastle to get into the fray, which could have made for an exciting back-and-forth in the final days of the windows. Unfortunately for fans of chaos, but fortunately for the Hammers, The Athletic’s David Ornstein, as close to a sure thing in European transfer reporting, tweeted on Friday that the deal was done. Paquetá will be a West Ham player, so these rumors turned out to be completely true.
Paquetá is one of the best attacking midfielders in the world, if the metric that one uses to evaluate this type of player is “attacking,” rather than “midfielder.” Having Paquetá in the lineup allows a club to know that it has an additional forward, simply playing further back than wingers and strikers do. For this reason, unsurprisingly, Paquetá ranks among the very best midfielders in Europe’s top five leagues in attacking statistics. He is in the top seven (or better) percent of midfielders at the following metrics: goals, expected goals, shots, assists, and shot-creating actions. Goals happen when Paquetá gets up into the opposition third, at about a rate of 0.5 per 90 minutes (combining his goals and assists) over the last year.
Also, his ability to trade give-and-go passes while charging into the box is delightful:
Paquetá is also a stellar dribbler, as might be expected from his passport. He’s both flashy and efficient with the ball at his feet, and his carries from midfield have purpose: His 5.21 progressive carries per 90 minutes rank him in the top 20 percent of midfielders, and his 2.33 dribbles completed per game is in the top one percent. Simply put, when the ball is at his feet with a bit of space ahead of him, he’s got the juice to make defenders look silly.
Finally, despite being an attacker at heart, he’s not half-bad on the defensive side of the ball, which makes him versatile. He’s not an interceptor or the fastest midfielder, but he sticks into tackles well and is strong at pressing. Though most of his work is done on the ball, Paquetá isn’t a bystander on defense, which allows him to play further back in a formation.
There’s very little that Paquetá doesn’t do. You could knock him a bit for his defensive awareness—this is why he is rarely going to pick off a dangerous pass—but he’s got the physical tools to make life hell for opponents anyway. He’s also only average at aerial duels, given that he’s relatively tall for a creative midfielder, at 5-foot-11. We’re nitpicking here, though.
If anything really hampers Paquetá’s game, it’s that he is a man without a set best position. His versatility is valuable, but it’s hard for a team to fit him into a system without minimizing his impact at one of his strongest points. I’ll get more into that in the next section, but he’s one of the few players, particularly at his price range, that could use a bit more specialization to truly take a leap into the upper tier of stars in Europe.
So, here’s the problem. Where do you play Paquetá? Let’s start with the more common formation, and the one that West Ham plays: the 4-2-3-1. In this formation, Paquetá slots in nicely at the central attacking midfielder position, where he can have freedom to dribble, create, and shoot to his heart’s content. Of course, a club would then lose out on some of his defensive contributions, and those are what make him so well-rounded and so valuable. But he definitely should not play as part of the double pivot behind the attackers, because then the reverse is true and he’d have to revert to simple a box-to-box midfielder.
What about in a 4-3-3, the other base formation played across Europe? Well, then he’s a classic No. 8 midfielder, a shuttler that can, with the right set-up, get forward into the opposing third. The part about set-up is key here, though; this is probably Paquetá’s best position if a team bends to his talent, but if he is required to play more safely, then his true talents in attack risk being minimized. I think Paquetá is worth altering a team’s tactics to fit him, given how good he is at creating goals, but it’s something to note as he, eventually and potentially, makes a move to England.
Expensive transfers tend to shake things up, be it the dressing room, the roster hierarchy, the manager’s position, the fans’ outlook, and the domestic and international landscape. With that it mind, this section tries to determine who stands to lose from the potential transfer.
As a Pool Boys fan, I would hate this move the most, personally. More broadly, Liverpool seems like the perfect fit for Paquetá. In the Reds’ lineup, he would fit the same role that Gini Wijnaldum filled with such efficiency for years, as a very attacking No. 8. His pressing would surely make Jürgen Klopp smile, and Liverpool desperately needs midfield depth and creativity. That’s why it’s a huge blow that the club didn’t even reportedly explore the option of signing Paquetá.
Arsenal has been linked to every midfielder under the sun, and so will likely feel the same way as Liverpool, only with the comfort of the club’s viciously entertaining start to the season dampening some of that wound. Also, the existence of Martin Odegaard makes Paquetá’s fit more awkward, so this will likely be a mild regret over not acquiring a player that the Gunners were reportedly in for at the start of the summer.
Finally, as it appears that Paquetá will not end up at Newcastle, then the ascending Magpies will likely regret missing out on the chance to pair him with his old Lyon and current Brazil teammate, Bruno Guimarães. The two Brazilians would have formed a formidable midfielder pairing, and Paquetá would solve one of the main problems facing Newcastle, in that he would be a goal creator and likely a better finisher than pretty much everyone on the roster currently. Oh well.
Important signings are bound to be controversial, so here we include a representative example at each end of the spectrum of sentiments.
Of all of the Window Shopping players so far this summer, Paquetá strikes me as both the best and the best-suited to instant contribution in the Premier League. Though his positional fit will require some work, his natural talents for goal, as well as his unselfishness in creating for other players, make him exactly the type of midfielder that can rejuvenate a team’s offense. His solidity in defense makes him easy to cover when he ventures forward, because he won’t give up on plays going the other way. His price seems low, even at Lyon’s valuation, for such a talent, and West Ham will now have two conflicting thoughts. The first is that the Hammers are lucky to employ his services. The second is that it will only be a matter of time before Paquetá moves to a club further up the ladder, once he shows his merit in the Premier League. For these reasons, Lucas Paquetá grades at a 95.7 on the Defector Boom/Bust Scale.