Patrick Hayes discusses whether or not Emiliano Buendia is the next relegated prospect that Premier League sides will be targeting this summer.
It is safe to say that few are surprised that Norwich City sit at the foot of the Premier League table as football takes a break due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
After 29 games, The Canaries have gained only 21 points and lie six points from safety. Things have not gone according to plan for Daniel Farke’s men, despite their fantastic showing in the Championship in 2019/20.
The reason that so few are surprised at their positioning is largely due to their activity, or lack thereof, in the summer transfer window. They signed five players for the first team. These were Josep Drmic, Ralf Fahrmann, Sam Byram, Patrick Roberts (on loan) and Ibrahim Amadou (on loan).
Of these five, only Byram has made any form of impact. Drmic has only made 14 league appearances, scoring once, Fahrmann has failed to usurp Tim Krul as first-choice goalkeeper, while loan moves for Roberts and Amadou were terminated in January.
These failed signings have meant that Norwich have relied on the core of players that got them out of the Championship. Playing their attacking style that blew away weaker opposition has left them open against the much stronger Premier League teams. This means that they have the second-worst defensive record in the league in terms of goals conceded.
Despite this poor showing, according to reports, there are a string of clubs chasing their young talents, who have shown great potential in a poor side. They shone in the second division and have arguably adapted to top tier football better than their more experienced teammates.
The most noteworthy four are full-back pair Max Aarons and Jamal Lewis, centre back Ben Godfrey and the man most see as the jewel in the crown, Todd Cantwell.
Cantwell has been linked to Liverpool and Manchester United by a number of media outlets and rightly so. He is young, versatile, has an attractive look on the pitch and is English, which is a big plus point with homegrown places that need filling in every squad. However, is Cantwell Norwich’s best youngster? No. That man is Emiliano Buendia.
Born on Christmas Day 1996 in Mar del Plata, Argentina, Buendia spent time in Real Madrid’s youth academy before moving to Getafe. This where he made his first team debut.
He spent a season on loan in the Spanish second division with Cultural Leonesa, where he impressed. Buendia signed for Norwich in the summer of 2018 and, tasked with replacing James Maddison, he produced a stellar season in which he scored eight times and assisted 12, the second most in the league.
For a 21 year old in his first season in English football, those are remarkable numbers. Many Canaries fans claimed that he was even better than Maddison, a man who is now seen as one of the best attacking midfielders in England.
While his Premier League career thus far has not gathered as many headlines as his season in the Championship, Buendia’s underlying numbers are outstanding.
First in the Norwich team for assists and tackles, second for passes completed and yellow cards and third for shots taken, it is clear that the Argentine is a man of many talents.
He combines technicality with tenacity and is a rare blend of creativity and hard work. His 2.3 tackles per game are the best among attacking midfielders with 10+ games in the Premier League. His 3.1 key passes per 90 minutes are second only to Kevin De Bruyne. He is also in top 10 in the league for dribbles per 90 minutes, with 5.8.
His best position is probably in the number 10 role, where he can get on the ball and thread passes into the centre-forward and wingers. From there, he can also pressure the backline and lead the counter-press if his team loses the ball high up the pitch.
However he has played most of his football on the right wing in a 4-2-3-1. This is best for him as he develops further as it gives him the freedom to drift in field without being marked, to do as much damage as he pleases with more time on the ball. As he get older, it is easy to see him playing as a number 8 due to his work rate and press resistance.
His mix of technical ability and defensive contribution means that he fits perfectly with a high-pressing side. He could also play in a counter-attacking system as his tenacity and vision would allow him to win the ball before starting an attack from deep. The positional and tactical opportunities are endless.
He is by no means perfect. Consistency may be an issue, but that is the case for every young player. He has a tendency to drift in and out of games. His goal scoring record has also come into question, with zero to his name in the league this season.
It could be argued that if he is going to create as many goals as he does then he does not need to be scoring them. Nonetheless, if he does not add more goals to his game you can be sure that the unforgiving English media will argue that he is not good enough.
He was dropped for a spell during the season for what Farke described as ‘tactical discipline’ issues. This just goes to show that he is still young and has plenty to learn. He reacted well and worked his way back into the side before he unfortunately picked up an injury.
By the time he recovered, January signings Lukas Rupp and Ondrej Duda were being preferred. In fact, he was only starting to get himself back in the starting line-up before the coronavirus called a halt to football. He had started the last three games before the season’s postponement. It came at a bad time for the 23 year old, as he would certainly have looked to have finished the season strongly and to have put himself in the shop window.
At 23, he has many years left before he enters his prime. It is no doubt that the large amount of game time he has had in his young career will benefit him. The more minutes he gets, the more chance there is of him ironing out the issues in his game, sooner rather than later.
It is without doubt that a move to a top team under a top manager would do him the world of good too. He has been linked to a move to Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid. While working under Simeone would improve his game, it is possible that the defensive system would not see Buendia show his talent to the full extent.
A move to Liverpool could be a good option, as he could cover both the front three and midfield three. In a high-pressing system, under one of the world’s best coaches in Jurgen Klopp, maybe Buendia could take that step up to the next level.
It would not be The Reds’ first punt on a relegated player. Another interesting destination could be wherever Buendia’s countryman Mauricio Pochettino ends up. A team like Leicester under Brendan Rodgers could also be ideal if he was to continue to play as a right winger.
Whatever happens, one thing for sure is that this 23 year old key pass machine will not be short of suitors once Norwich suffer that inevitable drop back down to the Championship. Keep an eye on Emi Buendia.