“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” If that old adage holds any truth, three players who swapped Serie A for the Premier League during last month’s transfer window will have reported for training today extremely pleased with their initial impact. Indeed, fans of Italian football would have seen some hugely familiar names as they glanced over match reports from England on Monday morning, with a trio of men writing impressive early headlines.
Perhaps nobody made as bright a start to life in Britain as Southampton’s newest recruit Manolo Gabbiadini. The striker – who joined the club from Napoli on deadline day – narrowly evaded the West Ham offside trap to gather Jay Rodriguez's lofted pass, looking up as he drifted wide of the goal and realising he had little option but to shoot just 12 minutes into his debut.
He lashed the ball past goalkeeper Darren Randolph at his near post, an unstoppable effort that cannoned off the bar into the back of the net. “For a first game we saw a lot of quality, it was a fantastic goal,” Saints boss Claude Puel said shortly after the final whistle. “He's a very good player and will be very important for the future.”
Gabbiadini could not prevent his new side from eventually slumping to a 3-1 defeat however, with his former Sampdoria team-mate Pedro Obiang grabbing the Hammers’ second goal with a superb long-range strike. Southampton have now lost six of their last seven league outings as they drop down the table at an alarming rate, and they will hope that their 25-year-old can quickly help arrest that slide.
Before making the move this winter, Gabbiadini had spent two difficult seasons with Napoli, failing to make the impact there that many expected. His deadly left foot failed too often for the Partenopei, coaches Rafael Benitez and Maurizio Sarri were fortunate to have more well-rounded players available as Gabbiadini failed to fulfil his earlier promise. However, the combination of a fresh start and the lowered expectations could see a resurgence at St Mary’s, where fans of Southampton will hope he emulates the impact of Graziano Pellè rather than that of the now retired Dani Osvaldo.
If that defeat was perhaps expected, then nothing could be more juxtaposed than the two results Andrea Ranocchia has featured in since joining Hull City. Seeking to be more than just a pub quiz answer to the question “Who replaced Javier Zanetti as captain of Inter?” the 6′ 5″ defender was solid in the 20+ minutes he featured during the Tigers’ 0-0 draw with Manchester United last week.
An injury to Michael Dawson then saw him rewarded with his first start as Liverpool visited KC Stadium on Saturday afternoon, tasked with neutralising an attack boasting Sadio Mané, Roberto Firmino and former Nerazzurri team-mate Philippe Coutinho. All too often throughout his career, Ranocchia has failed to achieve the consistency required at the highest level, but here he showed all the characteristics that once saw him more highly regarded than Juve’s Leonardo Bonucci.
The 28-year-old turned in a near-flawless performance, making one interception, 15 clearances and winning seven aerial duels as he helped Hull keep their first Premier League clean sheet at home this season. Ranocchia also provided the assist for Oumar Niasse's goal, a long ball forward that split the Liverpool defence perfectly and ensured all three points for manager Marco Silva’s men.
He has all the tools to succeed, but it remains to be seen if this was merely another false dawn for the former Bari and Genoa defender. Having joined Inter immediately after their 2010 treble-winning campaign, Ranocchia can at least point to a series of unfortunate events as having conspired against him. However, across town at AC Milan, far worse accusations can be levelled at new Watford signing M'Baye Niang who has repeatedly proven to be infuriatingly inconsistent and sadly lacking in self-motivation.
Making his Rossoneri debut in December 2012 at the age of just 17, much was expected of a player who reportedly had trials with Arsenal, Everton and Tottenham before joining the San Siro giants. Loan spells with Montpellier and Genoa followed, but 2015/16 would prove to be a breakout campaign for him as he recorded career highs for goals and assists, reacting well to the harsh discipline of coach Sinisa Mihajlovic. The Serbian said that there was “no surprise at his good performances, Niang is simply showing us what he has always been capable of.”
However, Milan appointed Vincenzo Montella this past summer and the 22-year-old striker regressed, looking listless and disinterested on numerous occasions. He was sent off for clashing with Napoli goalkeeper Pepe Reina in August, with a goal against Chievo in October perhaps his last meaningful contribution in a Milan shirt.
But he too looked inspired on English soil, laying on Watford’s opener against Burnley before dispatching what eventually proved to be the winning goal just before half-time. Niang was perhaps fortunate to only be booked for a tackle on Stephen Ward, while opposing boss Sean Dyche wondered why a second yellow for celebrating with Watford fans after his goal did not follow.
It was an eventful debut, one which perhaps showcased just what Watford fans can expect in the coming weeks and – with Fiorentina’s Mauro Zarate waiting in the wings – there is certainly a flavour of Serie A spreading at Vicarage Road.
”A player with his qualities, if he has made mistakes in the past the important thing is that he doesn't do it anymore and he keeps following my suggestions,” coach Walter Mazzarri said of Niang, but the same undoubtedly applies to Ranocchia and Gabbiadini. They certainly started on the right foot, and it will be interesting to see how their English adventures pan out over the next few months.