Simulating the best loan move for five young Premier League prospects

By the AI Scout

Going out on loan has been a rite of passage for some of the biggest and brightest names in the English game. Harry Kane learnt his trade with loans at four different EFL clubs, Mason Mount first came to prominence following a season-long loan at Derby County, while Manchester United’s Dean Henderson starred for Sheffield United in the Premier League last term. When it works well, it’s a system that suits everyone. The player gets valuable experience, the parent club develops a playing asset and the loan club adds cost-effective quality and depth to their squad. But it’s vital for all parties that the player moves to a team that suits their style and characteristics so they integrate quickly and contribute on the pitch.

Using the AiA Simulator, this article predicts which Premier League clubs could be the best fit for five rising stars who are being linked with loan moves in January. The AiA Simulator uses artificial intelligence and neural networks to analyse suitability based on playing style and player chemistry, computing a modelled rating from 0-100 for each club:

Playing Style Index rates the likely fit of a player based on similarities in the playing style and formation of their current and prospective team.

Player Chemistry Index predicts how well the playing characteristics of a new recruit will complement those of his prospective teammates to produce positive on-pitch performances.

Brandon Williams

Manchester United full-back Brandon Williams is rumoured to be available for loan in January. Having featured 36 times for the first team during a breakout 2019/20 campaign, Williams has played a peripheral role this season. Manchester United rate the youngster highly but with Luke Shaw and summer signing Alex Telles currently ahead of him in the pecking order for the left back spot, Williams may be allowed to temporarily leave Old Trafford to aid his development.

Capable of playing on either side of the defence, and with the stamina to get up and down the pitch, the 20-year-old has been linked with both Newcastle and Southampton. However, as the graphic below shows, the two teams differ considerably in terms of suitability. Southampton are rated as one of the best fits for Williams based on playing style and chemistry with his prospective teammates. In contrast, Newcastle rank as one of the poorest fits, and whilst Steve Bruce has strong links with Manchester United, a move to St James Park may not be the best option for the full-back who will be keen to join a team where he’s likely to thrive on the pitch.

Fikayo Tomori

A number of clubs are rumoured to be lining up a January loan move for Chelsea’s Fikayo Tomori. The centre back shone in the first half of the 2019/20 season, earning a first England cap and a new five-year contract at Stamford Bridge. However, Tomori has struggled for game time this season following the summer signing of Thiago Silva and impressive form of Kurt Zouma. The 22-year-old was linked with a loan move to both Everton and West Ham in the summer before opting to stay at Chelsea to fight for a place in the first team. But with only 45 minutes of Premier League football this season, and four other centre backs seemingly ahead of him in the pecking order, a temporary move away from Stamford Bridge could help him gain regular game time.

Chelsea are reportedly open to a loan move, and Tomori is likely to interest clubs looking to strengthen their defence in January. A move to a Premier League club seems likely for the player who had a successful loan spell at Derby County during the 2018/19 season, playing under current Chelsea manager Frank Lampard. The analysis suggests Leeds United, Everton or Fulham could be the best fit, although the latter would be unable to make a move as they’ve already loaned Reuben Loftus-Cheek from Chelsea for the season. Like Brandon Williams, Tomori has also been linked with a move to Newcastle but they rank as one of the poorest fits based on playing style suitability and player chemistry.

Eddie Nketiah

Arsenal’s Eddie Nketiah recently became England U21s’ record goalscorer, bagging his 14th goal in just 12 games in the recent win over Turkey. The academy graduate has scored five goals for Arsenal so far this season, making him the club’s top goalscorer. However, the majority of his starts have been in cup competitions, with nine of his 10 Premier League appearances coming from the bench. Mikel Arteta is thought to rate him highly but seemingly favours the more experienced Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette, despite their lack of goals this season. Gabriel Martinelli is also back in training after recovering from a knee injury and he will only add to the competition for places in Arsenal’s attack.

Nketiah spent the first half of last season on loan at Leeds United before being recalled in January, but may now seek another temporary move away from the Emirates to get regular Premier League game time. Despite a lack of top-level experience, the young striker has already demonstrated a knack of scoring goals and this may interest Premier League clubs. The analysis indicates West Ham or Wolves could be the best fit. Both teams have made solid starts to the season but could be looking to bolster their attacking options in January, particularly Wolves who lost Raúl Jiménez to a fractured skull he suffered in an aerial clash with Arsenal’s David Luiz in late November.

Japhet Tanganga

Jose Mourinho sprung a surprise by handing rookie defender Japhet Tanganga his Premier League debut against top-of-the-table Liverpool in January. Known for his versatility, Tanganga started on the right of Tottenham’s back three before switching to the left part-way through the second half. Having impressed on his debut, the 21-year-old made a further five Premier League appearances last season but injuries have since hampered his progress. He was rewarded with a new five year contract in July and Mourinho has spoken openly about his admiration for the young prospect, recently describing him as a “multi-functional defensive player” who he sees developing into a full back rather than centre half.

With Spurs currently top of the Premier League, having conceded fewer goals than any other team this season, Tanganga has been limited to four first team appearances in cup competitions. And whilst his long-term future is likely to be at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, the club may allow him to leave on loan to get more game time and top flight experience. The below graphic indicates a number of Premier League clubs could be well suited to the player. West Ham were linked with a host of defenders in the summer transfer window, eventually signing Craig Dawson on loan but he is yet to feature in the Premier League. West Ham have switched between playing four and five at the back this season, and Tanganga’s ability to play in both systems could provide David Moyes with a way of adding depth and versatility to his defensive options.

Billy Gilmour

Another Chelsea youngster who could be available for a loan move in January is Billy Gilmour. The 19-year-old burst onto the scene last season with a man of the match display in Chelsea’s FA Cup victory over Liverpool, going on to star in six Premier League games before a serious knee injury put an end to his season. He’s recently returned to fitness and started in Chelsea’s final Champions League group game against Krasnodar, with Frank Lampard describing his performance as “outstanding”.

The Blues are renowned for using the loan system to develop their young talent, and with a number of midfielders at Lampard’s disposal, they may feel a temporary move to play regular first team football could help Gilmour’s development. Based on playing style and chemistry with prospective teammates, Leeds United could be the best fit for the Scottish midfielder. Marcelo Bielsa’s team are known for their relentless work-rate and high chance creation, but central midfield looks to be an area where they’re light on options and could look to strengthen in January. Interestingly, Rangers are also being linked with a loan move for Gilmour and could be a good fit. Yet to be capped by Scotland at senior level, he may be tempted by a return to his boyhood club as he aims to force his way into the squad for the Euros next summer.