It has come again, The January transfer window. The time of the year full of speculations, rumours, false reports, great expectations, surprises and large sums of money spent by football clubs all over the world. Although not as popular among managers and clubs as the summer window, it represents an opportunity for clubs to address long term injuries suffered by key players and to strengthen the squad if any weaknesses come to the surface in the first half of the season. It is rare that a club would splash more cash in January than in the summer, but sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures.
Although the transfer window does not open until Saturday 3rd, agents, journalists and football fans all over the world have been talking about possible transfers ever since the summer window had closed. As everyone knows, it is very rare that rumours become reality, but there are those rare occasions when they do. Not to mention that there is always something exciting and magical about transfer speculations no matter how likely or unlikely they are to happen.
Over the last half year, we have all heard many rumours and stories, some of which may have some truth in them. Let’s take a look at the top Premier League clubs, where their need to reinforce is the greatest and the transfers that would make sense for these clubs.
Arsenal’s weak point is truly not hard to find. It is blatantly obvious that the Gunners lack in the defensive aspect of their game. Another injury epidemic this year resulted in full backs Nacho Monreal and Mathieu Debuchy being forced to play out of position as centre halves. It doesn’t take a genius to realise Arsenal’s priority should be an experienced centre back and a defensive midfielder who will cover in midfield and marshall the centre of the park. What did Arsene Wenger do? He brought in a winger or an offensive midfielder.
To much of Wenger’s credit, the summer signing of Alexis Sanchez has payed off already. It was the Chilean who inspired Gunners to victory in many games where they were not necessarily at their best. Despite getting a fantastic coup, the Arsenal boss failed to address his sides long term greatest problem. Of course he brought in Callum Chambers and Mathieu Debuchy who was a good reinforcement until he suffered an injury. But the pair came in while Thomas Vermaelen, Bacary Sagna and Carl Jenkinson all left, which hardly added to the Gunners strength in depth.
With another injury crisis tormenting the team, it is time for the manager to realise this is not just a question of bad luck and that he must “sign” new physiotherapists and condition coaches. His other two priorities remain a centre back and a defensive midfielder. Of course, Arsenal have been linked with the striker Edinson Cavani in recent weeks, but with Olivier Giroud, Danny Welbeck and Alexis Sanchez all fit and firing, it is very hard to imagine this one going through, especially in the winter window.
Many central defensive midfielders have been linked with the North London team. First of all Southampton’s Morgan Schneiderlin; the Frenchman has been solid for the Saints and is one of the reasons the team is where it is in the league, challenging for a top 4 spot. With Schneiderlin having rejected a move over the summer, it is unlikely he would change his mind now, especially considering Southampton truly might pull off a Top 4 finish. The Frenchman knows if he continues his impressive performances, the interest in him will not go down over the course of the next six months. William Carvalho is another name who is supposedly on Wenger’s wish list. The 22 year old Portuguese is rated at £20 million by Sporting Lisbon and it is a question whether Wenger would be willing to splash such cash on a player who would be cup tied for the Champions League and is inexperienced in the Premier League.
This cannot be said about another possible target, Yohan Cabaye. The Frenchman failed to break into the starting 11 for PSG and could look for a way out. While also being cup tied in the Champions League, he is a proven Premier League player and showed what he can do in Newcastle. Failing to impress, Cabaye could be available for a cut price of the £19 million PSG sent to Newcastle for him one year ago. Moussa Sissoko is the last of the three French players on this list. He combines strength with good technical abilities and could prove to be a very good signing if Arsenal could pull this one off. It is understandable that the Magpies will try to hold on to the Frenchman but it will likely all be down to how much Arsenal are willing to pay and Sissoko himself, who currently has a contract until 2019 and is valued at £10 million.
Sami Khedira has been another long term target of Wenger’s. The Real Madrid midfielder has fallen out of favour at the Bernabeu also due to his long term injury problems and finds himself behind fellow German Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and James Rodriguez in the pecking order. He has six months left on his contract and if Madrid want to cash in, they will do so now for a low fee. Signing a World Cup winner who has just six months left on his contract would be a bargain for almost any team. The question remains if the injury prone German who had little playing time in recent months is worth the risk for an injury prone Arsenal team… The last midfielder on this list is Bayer Leverkusen’s Lars Bender. The midfielder is a rock in the middle of the German team and is happy to create chances, but even happier to sit and provide cover for the players ahead of him, breaking down oppositions attacks. However it is unlikely the German will leave Leverkusen who sit third in the Bundesliga and are in the Champions League last 16.
To address his defensive woes, Arsene Wenger may turn to Basel’s Fabian Schar. The highly rated 23 year old Swiss centre back has a contract running out this summer and it is obvious he is looking for a new challenge, a bigger challenge and Arsenal may give him just that. He would not be available in the Champions League, but if Basel do not cash in now, they will lose the Swiss defender for free in the summer. Another option is Celtic’s Virgil van Dijk, also a 23 year old prospect who Wenger was interested in over the summer, although his interest in the Dutchman has cooled off somewhat since.
Chelsea have made a very good start to the season but have somehow thrown away an eight point lead in a few weeks. The Blues still appear to be perfectly balanced throughout the team and Jose Mourinho is happy with the team he has available at his hands. He has been heard saying he will be making no additions to the squad in January. But that was before Chelsea were thrashed at White Hart Lane and Manchester City hunted the Blues down. Mourinho’s words can still quite possibly end up being the truth with the Blues manager having little need to throw cash around now and will rather save it for summer.
But Mourinho and the Blues fans will be alarmed by the manner the team that looked invincible just a few weeks back have thrown away their lead at the top of the table. Some of this may go down to the fact Mourinho rarely changes his starting 11 and tiredness may have crept into their ranks, especially with nine players starting all three league games over the Christmas period in which Chelsea took just four points of nine available. The same team has started almost in every game this season with Schurrle, Zouma, Cech, Luis and Mikel seldom getting the nod ahead of the established players. His reluctance to start other players may prove costly for the Blues who may run out of steam at some point.
Marco Reus has been heavily linked to the club (and just about any other big club in Europe) but it is very unlikely the German midfielder will make a move away from the Westfalen, at least until the summer. He will most likely stay, and once available from his ankle injury, will try to spark the turnaround in the season for the former Bundesliga Champions who currently sit in the bottom three. Paul Pogba is another name that has been related to Chelsea in the last couple of years but the Frenchman is again very unlikely to move away from Turin halfway through the season, and Juventus would hardly let him go.
The one transfer that is close to certain to happen for Chelsea is HNK Rijeka’s 23 year old highly rated striker Andrej Kramaric signing for the Blues. The Croatian will be subsequently loaned out at least till the end of the season and if the transfer does go through, it is unlikely we will see him in a Blue shirt after the summer at the earliest.
However there may be one player that could appear in the blue shirt for the remainder of the season, Sami Khedira. Being also on Arsenal’s radar, the German needs not to worry about finding a new club once his contract expires in Madrid. Questions will be raised about his fitness having suffered two long term injuries in one year. Khedira of course knows Mourinho from the Portuguese’ time in Madrid and the manager knows what to expect from the German international. Khedira played an instrumental part in Mourinho’s Madrid team but has failed to break into the starting eleven under Carlo Ancelotti. It remains to be seen whether Madrid opt to cash in on the midfielder while they can or if they have him stay given a long term injury to Luka Modric.
Khedira could be a good fit for the Blues. Nemanja Matic and Cesc Fabregas are of course first choice for a starting spot but with a packed list of fixtures ahead, the pair cannot play every game and will require a rest every now and then. Khedira could be the player to slot in when that happens. However Mourinho can have a different plan and could chose to bring back Marco van Ginkel from his unsuccessful loan spell at AC Milan instead and then look to sign a different midfielder in the summer, Paul Pogba apparently being the priority in the position. But Khedira could still prove to be the signing (and a free one!) then if he does not leave Madrid in January and Chelsea’s pursuit of Pogba shall fail, afterall the Frenchman will not be available for less than £50-60 million. Only the next month will tell whether a new player will appear in the blue shirt in the second half of the season.
Liverpool’s priority for this season is a Top 4 finish and at the moment, the Reds are struggling to achieve that target. They truly outdid themselves last year with a strong title challenge and came so close to winning their first title in a generation. This subsequently highered the expectations on them for this year. Having lost their two star strikers which almost fired them to the title this year, one to Barcelona the other to injury, of course they are coming nowhere near fulfilling the higher expectations this season. On top of that, few of their summer signings have been up for filling in the gap that was left by Suarez. This leaves Liverpool in need to improve their squad to mount a challenge for a Top 4 finish.
Liverpool’s main weakness was obvious in last season as well, but Sturridge and Suarez often made up for the team’s defensive lapses. Despite the signing of Lovren, Moreno and Manquillo, there is little improvement visible in terms of goals conceded. On top of that, the goalkeeper Simon Mignolet has been under much criticism lately which left him being dropped to the bench. Mario Balotelli still hasn’t scored for the Reds and Brendan Rodgers is already looking to get rid of the problematic £16 million forward, who has been benched with Raheem Sterling prefered as the striker ahead of the Italian and other signing Rickie Lambert.
To solve his goalkeeper issues, Brendan Rodgers may turn to Mexico World Cup hero Guillermo Ochoa of Malaga or Argentina keeper Sergio Romero of Sampdoria. The Argentine is in his last year of contract while Ochoa signed for Malaga in the summer. Neither of them have experience with the Premier League but if the Liverpool manager is truly looking to replace his Belgian keeper, he will overlook that fact. Petr Cech is top of Rodgers’ wishlist, but the Czech international is unlikely to leave Stamford Bridge for loan with Mourinho more than keen to keep Cech at the Bridge.
With Sturridge set to return from injury this month, Rodgers might not be willing to take further risks and will try and bring in another striker. Edinson Cavani, Jackson Martinez, Luciano Vietto and Saido Berahino are just some of the names said to be on Liverpool’s list. Either would certainly be an improvement to the controversial Balotelli. All three would be available in the Europa League but it is doubtful that Cavani or Martinez would leave their respective clubs who are both in the Champions League last 16. Berahino is certainly a great prospect though his goalscoring rate from the start of the season fizzled out a little bit. The England U21’s talent is obvious but whether he feels it is time to move to a bigger club depends on him. Vietto is another great talent, one of the best in Europe who is currently banging in goals for Villarreal. He might be tempted by a move to a side such as Liverpool and could start for the team with Sturridge and Sterling alongside him.
Xherdan Shaqiri of Bayern and Ezequiel Lavezzi of PSG are both wingers who are struggling for play time at their respective clubs and are looking for a way out. Liverpool may be the perfect destination for either of the pair. They would certainly get more play time and could fill the gap left by Suarez to some extent. Shaqiri was signed by Bayern in 2012 as a great prospect but failed to break into the starting 11 with competition from the likes of Ribery, Robben, Gotze and Muller. However he remains a great player and he showed his talent at the World Cup where he lead Switzerland out of the group. Lavezzi is a player with great pace. With Hamsik and Cavani they were one of the most dangerous attacks in Europe. However the Argentine is already 29 and already seems to be past his very best. Shaqiri on the other hand is still 23 and is already an excellent player with the best from him yet to come. He is definitely the better option of the two.
It appears the Blue team of Manchester has put their difficult period behind them. Although the Manchester side has not always been at its best, it still collected points and has now impressively hunted down league leaders Chelsea and brought the title race to them. Ever since Manuel Pellegrini’s men came back at home to beat 10-man Bayern, the team has not won only once in their last ten games and are unbeaten in 12 straight. Despite losing all three of their main strikers to injury, the Citizens still scraped through with David Silva being the main man to step up his goal scoring in the period. They have shown the spirit of champions by winning games in a difficult period which they have effectively turned around.
Manuel Pellegrini has already done what will most likely be his most important business this transfer window before the window itself has even started by securing Frank Lampard’s loan till the end of the season. Lampard started just three games for Citizens but has bagged seven goals in 18 appearances. There should be no question about Lampard’s quality even though he is 36 now. His intelligence, experience and instinct still take him very far in the game. Ironically it was the Chelsea legends goals that gave Manchester City a point against his former club when the two met in September and it was Lampard who fired City level in the league with Chelsea for the first time this year. With Yaya Toure leaving for the African Cup of Nations, Lampard will be an instrumental player in City’s midfield in the Ivorians absence.
Other than that Manuel Pellegrini is expecting a quiet transfer period. Manchester City currently have little weaknesses and may focus on their title challenge with their strikers coming back from injury. There was rumours the Chilean will bring in a forward in January and the names Bony Wilfried and Mario Mandzukic have been said the most, but the Ivorian or the Serbian will not leave Swansea or Atletico Madrid respectively to be a bench warmer in Manchester with space left for only two strikers maximum with Aguero, Dzeko and Jovetic already battling for those two positions. Pellegrini may bring in a striker but it would most likely be a lower profile one who would be happy to stand behind the previously mentioned trio.
Manchester United are still far from the best where they need to be, but the team has still gone through visible improvement over the last couple of months. Benefiting from David De Gea’s saves, Van Gaal’s disciplined play and the rest they get while other teams play in Europe, the Red Devils have silently crept into third place. Unbeaten for ten straight games, United are doing more than enough to secure Champions League football for next season and may still have some say in the title race.
However that does not mean Louis Van Gaal’s team is errorless. There still are weaknesses in this Manchester United team, though they have been well masked by the outstanding saves of their goalkeeper. With Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, Radamel Falcao, Juan Mata, Angel Di Maria and Ander Herrera all taking care of the offensive phase defensively the team is still struggling defensively. Van Gaal is not sure himself which defensive combination or formation works the best for his team, instead it appears he puts the defense together based on how the offense is put together. The Dutchman knows better than anyone that a centre back should be his priority in January.
But lets start with a player that has been linked to the club for quite a while; Kevin Strootman. The Dutch midfielder suffered a nasty knee injury almost a year ago and his fitness will be a question that Van Gaal would like to see answered before his fellow countryman would be the subject of a monstrous bid AS Roma are demanding for him. With the Italian club out of the Champions League but still in the Europa League and Strootman having played only 74 minutes of football all season, it seems unlikely he would leave Roma as much as it seems unlikely United would risk a multi million move for him after he was forced to the sidelines for a year. If a deal will be done, it is much more likely to come in the summer when United will be able to offer Strootman Champions League football (or at least it strongly looks like they will be able to do that) and the midfielder will be eased back into the game and hopefully will find his last years form again.
The Red Devils’ biggest priority remains an experienced proven centre back. Someone who can be a leader in the United defense. Barcelona man Dani Alves has appeared as a target in some reports. The 31 year old Barcelona right back still has a lot to offer and could slot in as right back or right wing back in a back four or a back five ahead of Rafael. The Brazilian’s quality and experience is unquestionable, he is more known for his offensive burst forward than his defending but could still be a personality in the United defense. With his contract running out in summer, The Reds might be able to secure a bargain deal for the full back and temporarily solve at least some of their defensive woes.
The remainder of those defensive woes will be much trickier to solve. There are few top quality, experienced centre backs available, especially in January, but United may just have the money and reputation to lure someone in. A signing out of desperation could be Aston Villa and Holland centre back Ron Vlaar. Again a player whose contract runs out in summer, he is a leader in defense and can organise his defensive colleagues around him. Aged 29, he is just about at the peak of his career. Van Gaal of course knows this man from their time at the Dutch national team. Shall the pursuit of other targets fails, the Manchester United manager may turn to the Aston Villa captain who has been troubled with injuries lately.
The long term target at Manchester United is of course Mats Hummels, but like Marco Reus, the defender is unlikely to leave the club in January, (if at all!) with Champions League football and a league turnaround being the prospects ahead of the Dortmund club. He is a great modern centre back who can tackle as well as pass the ball, he is strong in the air and in one on one situations. He has good pace and he is a threat from set pieces, on top of that he is a leader for his club and country. No wonder he is the main target, but injuries seem to hamper his game too often which is a shame. A characteristically similar defender is another on United’s radar, Diego Godin of Atletico Madrid. Another defender at his peak, the Uruguayan had a breakthrough season with Atletico last year when his qualities came to light for the first time. He was one of the men behind the Rojiblancos’ charge in the La Liga and Champions League. As a typical centre back, he is a good tackler, strong in duels and in the air, but is slightly less comfortable with the ball at his feet. However it is unlikely Godin would nod to a move away from Atletico halfway through another promising season for the Madrid team. Maybe in the summer…
But Manchester are also eyeing up a possible move for his colleague, the Brazilian Miranda. Forming a formidable partnership with Godin, Miranda has been bit by bit eased out of the starting team in favour of the teenager Jose Gimenez at Atletico. With his place at risk, Miranda may chose to move to Manchester for a regular starting spot, or he may want to stay till the summer and give Jimenez a fight for his spot. Though he is not quite Hummels or Godin, he still is a top quality defender who would almost certainly start for Van Gaal. The last defensive target of a big name, huge name in fact, is the out of favor Barcelona defender Gerard Pique. Pique has struggled to cement his spot in the starting 11 under new coach Luis Enrique and the once unshakable starter for Barcelona has found himself on the bench more often than he would like. A couple of years back he was one of the three best centre backs in the world. A move to the club where he broke into adult football may be the perfect way to spark his career again. Being good with his feet and a threat from set pieces, the Spaniard also boasts with great positioning and his strength in duels.
The start to life at Tottenham under Mauricio Pochettino has been slower than most have imagined, but after some lacklustre performances and last minute Christian Eriksen match winners, things are really starting to shape up for the North London club. The Argentinian manager is finally showing why Daniel Levy brought him in over the summer and a few months after being destroyed by Sergio Aguero, Spurs destroyed the best team in England. The future looks bright, especially with one Harry Kane in the side who is well shaping up to be the clubs next Gareth Bale (or even better!). Tottenham sit just three points behind third place Manchester United in fifth position, not where someone would see them a few weeks back.
However Tottenham still have areas to improve. Harry Kane is leading the line with Roberto Soldado and Emmanuel Adebayor struggling to make an impact for the club. With Pochettino finally giving Kane a chance to rise in the Premier League, the pressure on getting a new striker decreased somewhat but it would still be wise to cover the England U21 with someone capable of banging in goals. The North London side has been related to Saido Berahino, Jay Rodriguez and Bony Wilfried. Already having one U21 forward leading his line, it is questionable whether Pochettino would chose to bring in another one or turn to someone more experienced. Wilfried would fit the bill as a proven goalscorer but could turn out to be too expensive, unless the Lilywhites offload one of their current strikers to get some cash to fund a move for the strong Ivorian. Rodriguez could be the perfect signing as he would cost less than Bony but his goalscoring record is no less impressive. On top of that, Rodriguez knows Pochettino well from their time together at Southampton. However the England international has still not recovered from a bad knee injury suffered towards the end of last season.
Another player Pochettino is trying to lure to White Hart Lane is his former midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin. His good relationship with the Tottenham manager may put Spurs in pole position to sign the Frenchman if he does chose to leave St. Mary’s, but it is unlikely to happen in January having already rejected all offers in the summer. However if Spurs reach a top 4 finish at the expense of the Saints, we might see him playing in white from next season.
The defense is by far the weakest point of this Tottenham team. Vertonghen, Davies and Rose are all doing well to impress but the latter two are competing for one spot. That still leaves a right back position and right centre back position which are not as well occupied. Currently in the hands of the error prone Fazio and Vlad Chiriches, Pochettino might sign a defender to fill in gaps, perhaps offloading one in the process. With Kyle Walker coming back into the team, a priority should be a centre back and Spurs have two of those on their radar.
First of all it’s Matija Nastasic of Manchester City. The Serbian impressed in his first season at the Etihad and at first appeared to make a good partnership with Kompany, but then an injury halted his progress and his appearances for the first team have been sporadic since. He is still only 21 and has plenty of room left to progress if given the chance to play. If Manchester City would sell such talent to a Premier League rival is another matter. If they don’t, Pochettino can still look to Napoli centre back Raul Albiol. The ex-Real Madrid player has been enjoying a good spell ever since his move to Napoli and is an experienced centre back at the peak of his career.