Emmanuel Dennis has been the Premier League’s best signing of the summer: there is no simpler way to say it. So far, he has been Watford’s best attacker and defender. The only player who surpasses Dennis, who has six goals and five assists, in goal contributions this season is Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah (thirteen goals, eight assists). The Hornets signed the 24-year-old for just £3.6 million, making his phenomenal start to life in the Premier League even more impressive.
Attacking Star Smashing Expectations
Dennis is only the sixth player in Premier League history to reach five goals and five assists in their inaugural 12 (or fewer) matches in the competition. That statistic alone shows how well he has hit the ground running since joining from Belgian side Club Brugge. However, a deeper look into his goal-scoring and contributing output reveals even more resounding conclusions than what the raw numbers can tell.
The Nigerian forward has been beyond clinical in front of the net this season. With an Expected Goals statistic of 3.22, he has overperformed what is statistically predicted by 2.78 goals (source: Infogol). In other words, he is scoring nearly twice as much as what his chances would mathematically suggest he should be scoring, showing peak efficiency in front of the net.
Even when shooting from difficult angles, his shots have significantly-above-average precision and accuracy. Exactly 50% of his shots have been on target, ranking in the 91st percentile for “Premier League attacking-midfielders and wingers” this season (with Dennis mainly lining up as a winger, admittedly also having spells of matches in the center of the attack. When discussing percentiles in this article, they all refer to the percentile of the group quoted above) (source: FBREF). His conversion rate of 0.21 goals per shot epitomizes his efficiency, ranking in the 93rd percentile.
In terms of chance creation, he has overperformed Expected Assists by nearly three, suggesting his teammates have inflated his assist output by putting away their own low-quality chances. Nonetheless, Dennis’ chance-creating prowess cannot be overlooked. Five assists in thirteen matches are no accident. Furthermore, his dribbling-with-pace talent has led to many solid chances, carrying the ball into the penalty area 1.73 times per 90 minutes (76th percentile). His 2.18 players dribbled past per 90 minutes (78th percentile) also shows the influence his individual brilliance has in sparking attacks. He also drew a penalty in the recent 4-2 defeat against Leicester City.
Aerially, despite being just five feet, nine inches tall, Dennis has excelled, winning 42.6% of aerial duals (69thpercentile) and emerging victorious in 2.37 aerials per 90 minutes (94th percentile).
And, for many people’s favorite statistic, Dennis ranks highly. He sits in the 97th percentile for nutmegs per 90 minutes (0.82).
Phenomenal Defensive Prowess
The claim Dennis is Watford’s best defender this season is not difficult to substantiate. Especially since Claudio Ranieri took over (but even under Xisco Munoz), Dennis’ pressing talent and work rate have yielded tremendous dividends on both ends of the pitch. Especially in a team where a clean sheet is yet to be achieved in the league this season, quality defensive play needs to, in part, be evaluated by how an individual’s defending helped sparked attacking opportunities.
Dennis’ tremendous defensive work must also be considered when evaluating his chance creation. He averages 0.18 defensive actions that lead to a shot attempt per 90 minutes (94th percentile), and 0.09 defensive actions that lead to a goal per 90 minutes (99th percentile).
He tracks back well to sometimes tuck behind the fullbacks when most other wingers would stay higher up the pitch and not provide support. Dennis sits in the 94th percentile for tackles in the defensive third, with 1.09 per match. However, his best defensive contributions come in the press in advanced positions on the pitch. He averages 21.66 pressures per 90 minutes (90th percentile) and 7.37 pressures in the attacking third per 90 minutes (88th percentile). In terms of tackling in the attacking third, he averages 0.55 per 90 minutes, ranking in the 99th percentile.
Oftentimes, attackers are solely evaluated by their attacking contributions. Doing so with Dennis would still show he has been excellent this season. Yet, when the layers are peeled back to reveal his defensive metrics, his output on both sides of the ball becomes even more magnificent.
Honorable Mention: Maxwel Cornet
Second place for Premier League signing of the season (so far) is Maxwel Cornet. The versatile winger signed for Burnley for a fee in the region of £13.5 million from Olympique Lyon. With five goals in just seven starts, he is scoring at a rate surpassing Dennis. Cornet’s defensive ability is also above average. Nonetheless, Dennis edges Cornet out on the basis of a considerably cheaper transfer fee, chance-creating prowess, and pure defensive/counter-attacking contributions.
Both are names to watch intently for the rest of the 2021/22 campaign and beyond.