Five signings that could prove decisive

Posted by Michael Cox

Guenter Schiffmann/Getty ImagesAfter scoring 70 goals in 90 games in his two seasons at Atletico Madrid, Radamel Falcao should give Monaco a leg up on the rest of the competition in Ligue 1.

The summer transfer window can be highly frustrating, with constant rumours and a small minority of predicted deals actually being completed -- but one intelligent transfer can be the difference between a season of mediocrity and a genuine title charge.

It's difficult to envisage the duopoly in Spain or Germany being broken in 2013-14, but other European leagues remain more competitive. Here are five completed transfers that could transform last season's also-rans into title challengers.

Mario Gomez, Fiorentina

Fiorentina's run to fourth in last season's Serie A was a fantastic reward for last summer's astute recruitment. New coach Vincenzo Montella took advantage of sporting director Daniele Prade's excellent work in the transfer market, and assembled his squad of talented, technical players into a cohesive unit that played exciting, attack-minded football.

The signing of Mario Gomez is a huge statement of intent. Although the German had fallen behind Mario Mandzukic in the pecking order at Bayern Munich and seemed unlikely to play a major part under Pep Guardiola, his scoring record over the past five seasons is truly sensational -- and even in a disappointing final campaign in Munich, he managed a league goal every 80 minutes, and two more in the German Cup final.

In the same way Gomez didn't really fit into Guardiola's plans, he's not a natural fit at Fiorentina. Last season, Montella, a classic striker himself, generally used Steven Jovetic as his primary forward, although Luca Toni -- briefly a teammate of Gomez's at Bayern -- acted as a more permanent target man when required. Gomez's status and transfer fee ensures he'll start the vast majority of games, and Fiorentina will have to base their play around a more basic, old-fashioned No. 9.

Gomez's arrival means Jovetic, Fiorentina's most popular player, will leave within the next month, but with Giuseppe Rossi ready to make his long-awaited return from injury, Fiorentina have a potentially lethal strike partnership.

Paulinho, Tottenham Hotspur

Even as a pure individual signing, Paulinho is a hugely exciting addition to Andre Villas-Boas' side. A powerful all-round central midfielder, Paulinho's performances at the Confederations Cup demonstrated that he's capable of reliable short passing to spread the play wide, as well as a burst of energy to surge forward into attack. A more attacking player at club level than for the Selecao, the Brazilian's goal-scoring ability from midfield is sorely needed at Spurs.

But the signing appears to transform Spurs into a side capable of playing in the manner Villas-Boas desires. Last season, there was something slightly clumsy about the way Spurs often lined up -- in a 4-2-3-1 system without a top-class No. 10, or in a 4-4-2 formation that seemed distinctly un-Villas-Boas-like.

The Portuguese coach is a 4-3-3 man, and Paulinho is the perfect man to complete Spurs' midfield trio. It will allow his compatriot Sandro to sit solidly in front of the defence, while Mousa Dembele can showcase his unusual blend of direct dribbling and sideways passing, without worrying about his lack of goal scoring. Gareth Bale can push farther forward, too.

South Americans can take time to acclimatise to the Premier League, but this could turn Spurs into genuine challengers.

Radamel Falcao, Monaco

It's not just the signing of Radamel Falcao that has turned Monaco into title contenders in their first season since promotion, of course. They've bought experienced, European Cup-winning defenders in Ricardo Carvalho and Eric Abidal, two extremely intelligent midfielders in Jeremy Toulalan and Joao Moutinho, plus the wide threat of James Rodriguez.

Whereas those players are all encouraging signings, only Falcao has a genuine claim to being the world's best in his position. His scoring record is quite extraordinary -- 72 in 87 for Porto, and 70 in 90 for Atletico Madrid. And whereas other strikers are consistent over the course of a season but sometimes invisible in big games, Falcao has twice dominated Europa League finals, in 2011 and 2012, overwhelmed Chelsea in the 2012 European SuperCup and also played a pivotal role in Atletico's Copa del Rey triumph at the Bernabeu in May.

It will be tough for the principality club to win the league in their first season after promotion -- and Claudio Ranieri has an unfortunate reputation as a man destined for second place -- but it's no surprise bookmakers have installed the club as second favourites for Ligue 1, behind defending champions PSG.

Kevin Strootman, Roma

Few clubs have been so consistently fascinating in so many recent guises as Roma. From Luciano Spalletti's striker-less system, to Claudio Ranieri's nearly title-winners, to Luis Enrique's Barca-Roma attempt and Zdenak Zeman's famous all-out attack strategy, the Giallorossi never fail to entertain.

Now, they have a manager more famed for his success than his style, with former French double winner Rudi Garcia joining from Lille. While he generally appreciates technical players, his midfielders usually have a harder, more combative edge. In the same way he loved Yohan Cabaye at Lille because of his ability to combine intelligent passing with tough tackling, Strootman is a perfect player for the new Roma.

With the likes of Javi Martinez, Arturo Vidal and Ilkay Gundogan enjoying excellent campaigns last season, this mould of all-around midfielder has returned to the fore. Strootman's passing statistics are consistently excellent -- in qualification for Euro 2012, his figures were comparable to Europe's best. It remains to be seen how Garcia structures his midfield, but Strootman is certain to play a key role alongside the likes of Michael Bradley, Daniele De Rossi, Miralem Pjanic and Alessandro Florenzi.

Michal Kadlec and Bruno Alves, Fenerbahce

Galatasaray were the runaway winners of the Turkish league last season, but with Fenerbahce triumphing in the domestic cup and reaching the Europa League semifinals, there were hints that Ersun Yanal's side are preparing for a more significant title challenge this season.

Fenerbache's recent big-name signings have concentrated on strengthening the attack (Moussa Sow, Dirk Kuyt, Pierre Webo) and the midfield (Emre Belozoglu, Raul Meireles), but Fener's "goals against" count has risen steadily over the past four years, and there were too many silly, unnecessary concessions last season as the club lost nine of their 34 league matches.

Now, Fenerbahce have concentrated on making the back line more secure. Bruno Alves arrives after a decent three-year stint at Zenit, and is the type of fierce, commanding figure who will be appreciated in Turkish football. Michal Kadlec, meanwhile, is capable of playing at left back but appears set to partner Alves in the centre -- the former Leverkusen man has significant experience for both Leverkusen and Czech Republic, and will be determined to win his first trophy since leaving his homeland.

Fenerbahce appear to have succeeded in their bid to overturn a two-year European ban for match-fixing -- but they might be better off concentrating upon domestic success.


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