Premier League: What Might the Title Contenders Do During the January Transfer Window?
Since the introduction of the January Transfer Window in 2003, English Premier League clubs have spent over a billion dollars on transfers in the first month of the calendar year, but that staggering amount of business hasn’t always resulted in success.
Take last year, for example.
The two teams who spent the most – Norwich ($39.2 million) and Newcastle ($34.8 million) – didn’t splash the cash wisely enough as they each tasted relegation after finishing 19th and 18th, respectively.
Meanwhile, eventual title-winners Leicester, runners-up Arsenal and the rest of the other top clubs didn’t exactly sit on their hands last January, though none came close to spending what the bottom sides did. In fact, most of the elite sent out more players than they brought in, highlighted by the sale or loan of a combined 15 squad members from Tottenham and Chelsea.
While it should be said that last year was a far cry from the typical splurge from the top we’ve seen over the years, it remains to be seen if 2016 was an anomaly or the new normal.
With the season halfway to completion and the 2017 January transfer window now open, here’s a look at what the top six sides -- who have separated from the pack -- look to be in the market for in the weeks to come.
Judging by the fact they recently won 13 league matches in a row and don’t have European football to worry about, it’s easy to say Antonio Conte’s side don’t need much to press on for their second Premier League title in three years.
Chelsea’s 3-0 Boxing Day stroll over Bournemouth without the suspended pair of Diego Costa and N’Golo Kante was further proof of the depth of quality available, even on the bench and in the reserve team.
And yet, it would go down as a shock if the West London club doesn’t do something, especially after the $73.3 million sale of Oscar to the Chinese Super League has the already cash-rich club with a little extra green available.
Even though Conte looks set on his first choices to fill out his preferred 3-5-3 formation -- he’s started the same 11 more often than not -- the addition of insurance at center forward would be wise, though the price tag likely won’t be cheap.
Outside of the reborn Costa -- who currently leads the league at 14 goals scored after tallying 12 all of last year -- the only alternative at center forward is Michy “Not Ready Yet” Batshuayi. The 23-year old Belgian international has a bright future, but he’s scored just once in 11 appearances since a $40 million move from Marseille this summer.
It’s likely Chelsea will look to address the midfield, as well, as the sale of Oscar and seldom-used John Obi Mikel coupled with the departure of Victor Moses for the month to African Cup of Nations duty for Nigeria has decreased the Italian’s options in the middle of the park. A deal for top target Franck Kessie of Atalanta, however, appears to be stalled until the summer.
As you’re no doubt aware, the biggest need for Liverpool in the summer transfer window was an upgrade at left back.
After incumbent Alberto Moreno’s misadventures followed him from the previous spring into the season opener against Arsenal, the cries for Jurgen Klopp to address the problem in the open market couldn’t have been louder.
And yet, Klopp promoted from within, inserting lifelong midfielder James Milner into the spot on the left side of defense.
What could have been disaster has actually turned into a master stroke. Milner’s been steady in defense and effective moving forward, and his transition has been a key to Liverpool’s rise to second this season. It seems crazy to say, but there are other more pressing areas of need for Klopp at present.
Goalkeeping has been
a disaster an adventure for LFC this season, but it’s hard to imagine them bringing in a third first-team caliber netminder midseason to compete with Simon Mignolet and Loris Karius, no matter how much ex-players-turned-pundits might stump for it.
The center of defense has been a concern, but it’s more likely Liverpool will sell than buy, with the out-of-favor Mamadou Sakho long rumored to be on the way out. The same can be said in midfield, with the long-serving Lucas potentially on his way to Serie A.
That leaves the wing.
Klopp has long said he needs more options out wide, and after being warned off American phenom Christian Pulisic by the Dortmund brass, the Anfield back room have now been linked with 24-year old Dutch international Quincy Promes of Spartak Moscow.
Should the deal ultimately get done, Promes’ arrival would soften the month-long loss of leading goal scorer Sadio Mane, who’ll be absent from Merseyside during the Africa Cup of Nations.
While much of the recent speculation surrounding Tottenham’s squad has involved Real Madrid and China’s interest in Dele Alli -- much to the dread of Spurs fans everywhere -- there’s no reason to believe the 20-year old superstar or any of his highly-prized teammates will be going anywhere any time soon.
After all, following the 2-0 dispatching of Chelsea at White Hart Lane on January 4th, Spurs have taken the mantle as the hottest team in the Premier League and look poised to mount an assault on the EPL title for the second year running.
Five straight wins have them situated in third position in the table on goal difference and only seven points back of the league-leading Blues, making it easier for Mauricio Pochettino to call for reinforcements in the midst of a title charge, even though the Argentine has said he’s “happy in all the areas” of his squad.
Spurs have one of the best rearguards in football and currently lead the Prem with only 14 goals allowed, so it’s likely the new blood -- if any do arrive -- will be of the attacking variety, specifically on the wing.
Much has been made of a potential move for Wilfried Zaha, though Sam Allardyce has claimed the newly-nationalized Ivorian is not for sale in January, essentially ending those reports. Big-name central midfielders Isco and Ross Barkley have also been rumored with a move to North London and would certainly be welcome, but it’s hard to see either deal getting done this window.
More likely, Pochettino will do what he did last January and stand pat, though given what happened to his side at the tail end of last season, it's easy to question if that's the right decision.
With 10 wins in his first 10 matches, Pep Guardiola’s maiden season in English football couldn’t have started better.
In the period since, however, defeats in three of six before the new year and Pep’s ensuing melancholic press conferences have many struggling to remember the good times.
Yet City remain in the top four, are even on points with Spurs, and still have the talent -- and capital -- to make a run at the Premier League crown.
A new striker is already on the way in Brazilian teenager Gabriel Jesus, but if a title challenge is to transpire, cover in defense appears to be the first priority. Guardiola is likely hoping to add a central defender and a full back in this window or next summer, with Southampton defender Virgil Van Dijk at the top of the wish list, but the $61.5 million asking price for Van Dijk will likely prevent any move until at least the summer.
Another potential January move that could be stalled involves Atletico Madrid’s Lucas Hernandez, a talented 20-year old who has impressed against top opposition when called upon in La Liga this season.
Assuming both of those moves don’t happen at present, Holger Badstuber of Bayern Munich seems to be the most likely short-term solution, as the German defender is down to the final six months of his contract and played under Guardiola in his time with the Bavarian club.
Further up the pitch, Sevilla’s Steven N’Zonzi looks to be on City’s radar
after the season-ending injury to Ilkay Gundogan and the loss of habitually-suspended Fernandinho has depleted the ranks in the midfield.
Look, we know how this story goes.
This January, Arsene Wenger is going to be linked with various star players around Europe, but no deals will ultimately get done as the asking price will always be too high.
It’s happened before (see Lacazette, Alexandre), and it’s happening again, with Torino’s Andrea Belotti the latest Gunner target that’s been deemed too expensive to capture.
In reality though, it’s hard to justify a $61.5 million move for a still-developing striker when attack isn’t a problem for Wenger’s squad. No matter what you think about Olivier Giroud, Theo Walcott and the like, the North Londoners have scored more goals than every EPL club not named Liverpool this season, and it's kept them in striking distance of the top of the table.
The midfield, however, is suddenly short on bodies, with Francis Coquelin (hamstring), Santi Cazorla (ankle) and Mohamed Elneny (Africa Cup of Nations) all out for at least a month.
Juventus’ Miralem Pjanic would fit the mold of a Cazorla-like creative type, but several dominoes would need to fall for the Old Lady to let the playmaker go this month.
Call it a hunch, but it’s likely Wenger will settle for a lesser name from the Ligue One ranks to deputize short-term before looking for more permanent options in the summer.
Ahh, yes. We’ve saved the most
ridiculous active for last.
Jose Mourinho and Man United are no strangers to making headlines, and they’ve dominated the transfer gossip section again in the early days of the January window.
Everyone from breakout stars (Antoine Griezmann) to disgruntled big names (James Rodriguez) to old “favorites” (Patrice Evra) have been linked with a move to Old Trafford. Although in reality, expect those exiting the red half of Mancunia to exceed the number coming in.
Morgan Schneiderlin and Memphis Depay -- both little-used relics of the Van Gaal Era -- are all but out the door, with the former reportedly set for a medical at Everton and the latter possibly joining his Dutch international teammate at Goodison, if a permanent fee can be met.
At least one recruit does seem to be on the way in, as Benfica and Sweden defender Victor Lindelof is on the brink of a $47 million deal that would bring him from Portugal to Manchester. Even with the deal for Lindelof rumored to be near completion, expect more smoke than fire regarding other moves around Old Trafford in the weeks to come.