From left: Goncalves, Nunez and Turnbull have games ready-made for mid-table Premier League teams

When Manchester United signed Bruno Fernandes in January 2020, their fortunes changed. Since then, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team have steadily improved, inspired by their goalscoring midfield talisman, to reach the top of the table with Tuesday’s win over Burnley. Despite what managers often say, there does appear to be value in the January window, even if the price tags are high.

The pandemic will prevent many clubs from making potential season-altering purchases as they look after their money, but if any Premier League clubs were to invest, who would they be interested in?

The most likely places they’d find value in are Portugal, Holland and Scotland, leagues which have provided Premier League-ready individuals in the past and which are useful for comparison. Here are ten players — on form and with high potential — who could turn out to be the ‘next’ Bruno Fernandes.

Pedro Goncalves (Sporting Lisbon, midfield)

A Portuguese goalscoring midfielder who plays for Sporting Lisbon, Pedro Goncalves, better known as Pote, is on fire in the Primeira Liga this season, having scored 11 goals and provided two assists in 12 games.

To continue the similarities with Bruno Fernandes, 22-year-old Pote is also a central attacking playmaker who scores a variety of goals, occasionally finishing a move off inside the six-yard box but often shifting into space on the edge of the box to find the back of the net with a shot from range. He stays cool while everyone around him panics and reacts.

The 3-4-3 system that Sporting usually play puts Pote in one of the wide forward or double 10 positions, allowing him to move into space and take up these goalscoring positions. The example below is from a game against Braga, as the ball is switched to the right wing from the left. Pote, the right inside-forward, manages to find space between the lines as play progresses.

The ball is cut back into the box and Peto finishes with power and placement low into the right corner.

A goal born from clever off-the-ball movement and positioning within Sporting’s attack. It’s something which should have suited him at Wolves, the club at which he spent two years without featuring for the first team. Nuno Esperito Santo may regret losing the player before he developed into the goalscoring machine he has become. Has the potential to improve any team below the traditional top six.

Darwin Nunez (Benfica, striker)

Uruguayan forward Darwin Nunez, 21, is a player several Premier League clubs will be getting regular updates on from their scouting department, as a striker who hasn’t quite caught fire but is clearly a hugely talented player.

Nunez looks like a centre forward. He has a powerful frame, is deceptively quick, and likes to play inside the width of the penalty box, finishing off moves and setting team-mates up with hard-struck low crosses, scoring three goals and providing six assists in the league this season, and scoring five and assisting one in the Europa League.

There is work to do, particularly on his positioning, but he plays a little bit like fellow Uruguay international Edinson Cavani without the elite off-the-ball movement, and with some development could turn into one of the big-money forwards that everyone wants. Wouldn’t come cheap and would need game time to improve but clubs like Wolves, West Ham, Southampton, and Leeds could end up turning a profit after benefitting from his forward play.

Donyell Malen (PSV, forward)

Left Ajax as a teenager to join Arsenal in 2015, failed to get into the first team over two years in the academy and was sold to PSV, and is now one of the best players in the Eredivisi and a full international.

Malen is some player, scoring 12 goals and providing four assists in the league and Europa League this season, with plenty of near-post tap-ins made possible by clever movement in the box, and the occasional wondergoal thrown in for fun.

Donyell Malen goal

Malen is somewhere between a centre-forward, a 10, and a winger, and plays as a second striker in PSV’s 4-4-2 system, floating around a strike partner. For want of a less convenient comparison as a Dutch former Arsenal and PSV playing forward, he’s a little bit like a young version of a right-footed Robin Van Persie. AC Milan and Juventus are said to be interested too.

David Turnbull (Celtic, midfield)

Turnbull is a special talent who exploded onto the Scottish scene from almost nowhere in 2018/19, scoring 15 goals in 30 appearances for Motherwell having played just twice off the bench the season before.  

A number eight who can break lines with passes or by carrying the ball, 21-year-old Turnbull has asserted himself as one of Celtic’s most important players after struggling to break into the team following his move in the summer, winning the December Premiership Player of the Month award for his performances as a 10 behind two strikers in Neil Lennon’s 4-4-2 diamond setup. He’s scored four and set up two goals from 14 league appearances this season.

Goalscoring midfielders are hard to come by but Turnbull has that unique ability to arrive in the right areas at the right time, keep composure and create chances for himself with a smart little pause or drop of the shoulder, striking the ball with brilliant technique.

WHAT A GOAL!

Finally a breakthrough as Turnbull chips the free kick up and over the wall leaving Macey with no chance!

Watch live on Sky Sports Football or follow it here: https://t.co/KAFIQBixRB pic.twitter.com/OGk8aD2WDn

— Sky Sports Scotland (@ScotlandSky) January 11, 2021

It is as though he always knows where everyone else on the pitch is, with his next pass always going forward, no matter whether in the final third or defending near his own box. He doesn’t do anything spectacular, doesn’t use unneccessary tricks or flicks, but is turning into one of the league’s best midfielders, in much the same way John McGinn did before his move to Aston Villa. 

Could comfortably slot into the midfield of any Premier League side and would suit somewhere like Arsenal or Southampton. 

Paul Onuachu (Genk, striker)

Nigerian centre-forward scoring for fun in Belgium. Onuachu has 19 goals in 19 appearances for Genk this season as a pure penalty-box poacher, scoring backpost headers, near-post tap-ins, dinks over the goalkeeper, and powerful strikes from 12 yards out. The concern is that the defending in the Jupiler Pro League isn’t up to the standards of the Premier League and Onuachu may very well be riding a wave of form.

That said, he has a record for scoring a goal almost every two games in Belgium and for FC Midtjylland in Denmark. A decent squad option? Could provide a bit of goalscoring magic for a team lacking in it like Sheffield United.

Patson Daka (RB Salzburg, striker)

RB Salzburg have an excellent reptuation for developing high-potential players into European stars, with Dominik Szoboszlai the latest to confirm a transfer to a bigger club in RB Leipzig and follow the footsteps of Sadio Mane and Takumi Minamino. Next might be Zambian striker Patson Daka.

Daka scored 24 goals in 31 league games in 2019/20 and has eight goals in eight games this season. Lightning quick with excellent movement off the ball — think a not-quite-ready-yet Sadio Mane, Dan James but much better and a different position, or Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang but again, not as good on the ball or at finishing.

English football loves a player with pace who works hard out of possession though and Daka could give several clubs a great option up front, either as a wide forward in a 4-3-3 or as part of a forward two. Would really suit Southampton, Wolves or any side who specialise in exploiting opponents in transition.

Ryan Christie (Celtic, attacking midfield)

There have been rumours linking Arsenal with a move for Celtic’s goalscoring midfielder Ryan Christie, a left-footed playmaker best behind a striker or when coming off the right wing to attack central space.

At times there’s a bit of the Ozils about Christie with his lack of defensive work occasionally leaving team-mates exposed, something forgotten as he conjures a match-winning goal or assist from nowhere. Pulling rabbits out of hats is his speciality, with the devious low shot against Serbia which helped Scotland reach Euro 2020 one example, and two absolute rocket shots from 25 yards in cup semi-finals at Hampden against Aberdeen and Hearts others.

INCREDIBLE strike for Ryan Christie as he delivers another Hampden screamer 🔥

"It's an absolute wonder of a goal from Ryan Christie!" 🗣 pic.twitter.com/YQC0cE3HMd

— Premier Sports 📺 (@PremierSportsTV) December 20, 2020

Has quick feet, always looks for the forward pass and possesses excellent technique. For a Premier League comparison, think of a more creative, Ozil-like version of Stuart Armstrong, or a more dynamic James Maddison, minus the free-kicks.

Alfredo Morelos (Rangers, forward)

An absolute nightmare for Steven Gerrard to deal with. Morelos gets booked and sent off a lot, most often for deliberate acts of nonsense like kicking opponents or giving them a knock off the ball, but that dogged, determined side to his game, labelled as ill discipline, is part of what makes him such a talented player.

Morelos is a superb finisher, a cunning goal poacher, has great technique and defenders hate him. He is as likely to run off the shoulder of the last man as he is to duck into the 10 space and link play in the final third and though he hasn’t found form this season, has 50 goals in 109 league games and 22 goals in 41 European matches for Rangers.

The 24-year-old Colombian would instantly improve a heap of Premier League teams at both ends of the table, bringing penalty-box nous, aggression and a bit of magic, as well as giving away a lot of needless free-kicks. West Ham would love him, Leicester would suit him and all the teams in the lower half of the table would benefit from signing him now, before he starts finding the back of the net regularly again and his price rockets.

Emiliano Buendia (Norwich, attacking midfield)

Was one of the most creative players in the Premier League last season in a doomed Norwich side and would create goalscoring chances to any team he joined.

Likes to play as a 10 but often started on the right wing as an inside forward, this season Buendia has scored seven goals and provided six assists in the Championship, exceeding his total of seven assists and one goal in the Premier League last term, and creating 3.3 chances per game — more than any other player by some margin. 

His player radar from last season shows how involved in Norwich’s play he was, especially when compared to the highly rated Todd Cantwell:

Buendia vs Cantwell 19/20 PL comparison

Arsenal are said to be interested but just like Ryan Christie, mentioned above, Buendia’s lack of defensive work could put Mikel Arteta off. 

David Brooks (Bournemouth, attacking midfield)

Not all of these players are anywhere the level of Bruno Fernandes, but Brooks was great for Bournemouth in 2018/19 and again in 2019/20 when fit, and is playing very well in the Championship. Would likely cost a little bit too much for many clubs at the moment what with him playing for a club in England and subject to the corresponding inflated value, but as seen with West Ham’s signing of Jarrod Bowen last year, spending the cash now could end up saving a lot more in the long run with the improvement in results he’d potentially bring about.

Brooks is a left-footed right-sided forward who can spot a pass and dribble past a player. Would get in the first XI of almost any team in the bottom half of the table.