By David de Winter – Sports Editor
@davidjdewinter [email protected]_Sport
The January sales. Traditionally a time where one can purchase the best of last season for a knockdown price. Not so in the world of football. The January blues cause chairmen to write cheques left, right and centre, and managers to sign players they would never normally even consider at enormously inflated prices. Most managers and chairmen hate January. But if one looks hard enough, there are some bargains to be had. For every Kostas Mitroglou there is a Christophe Dugarry. For every Alfonso Alves there is a Clint Dempsey. January can be a make or break month for every team. Get the right players in and you can avoid the drop or mount a challenge for the Champions League places. Get it wrong and you are left with some expensive signings on long contracts and relegation to the Championship. So much to gain, so much to lose. Roll on the January madness.
The Gunners find themselves only two points off fourth place but all is not well at The Emirates. There have been rumblings of discontent from the fans and some have even called for Arsene Wenger to go, despite the club reaching the knockout stages of the Champions League for the umpteenth season in a row. Even with the addition of Alexis Sanchez (who has looked every inch the £35 million Wenger paid for him) the Gunners are nine points worse off than this stage last season. Injuries have played their part, especially in defence and Wenger was foolish not to replace the experienced Thomas Vermaelen at centre-back in the summer. With Mesut Özil, Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey coming back from injury they should be stronger in the second-half of the season. Nevertheless, a commanding centre-back is imperative.
Linked to: Mats Hummels (Borussia Dortmund), Marco Reus (Borussia Dortmund), Lars Bender (Bayer Leverkusen), Javi Martinez (Bayern Munich), Ron Vlaar (Aston Villa), Petr Cech (Chelsea), Sami Khedira (Real Madrid), Edinson Cavani (PSG), Alessio Cerci (Atletico Madrid), William Carvalho (Sporting Lisbon)
It’s been a topsy-turvy season for the Villans. The turmoil behind the scenes with owner Randy Lerner looking to sell and the controversial departure of Assistant Manager Roy Keane has cast a shadow over the club. Despite that there have been some bright sparks: the defence has been relatively sturdy, even without first choice centre-back partnership Ron Vlaar and Philippe Senderos. Ashley Westwood has stood out in midfield and, when fit, Fabian Delph has shown glimpses of the form that resulted in an England call-up early in the season. Scoring goals has been their Achilles heel in recent years and it is no different this campaign. Christian Benteke has looked menacing without actually scoring many goals and Gabriel Agbonlahor and Andy Weimann are the club’s leading scorers with three apiece. They may want to concentrate on keeping their assets with plenty of clubs sniffing around this transfer window, especially given the situation with the owner, although a late Christmas present of a proven Premier League goalscorer or a winger wouldn’t go amiss.
Linked to: Alex Mowatt (Leeds United), Ashley Young (Manchester United), Ikechi Anya (Watford), Matt Jarvis (West Ham United)
With the playing budget that they have (or lack of), Burnley have done well to still be in touching distance of their relegation rivals. Their resilience has been impressive and, as one might expect from a Sean Dyche side, the defence has been solid. Predictably, they are suffering from a lack of firepower – 12 goals in 18 games isn’t a recipe for Premier League survival. Danny Ings is beginning to adapt to life in the big time with a few lively recent performances but he needs service from midfield and support from his fellow strikers. Unfortunately, proven Premier League players do not grow on trees and Burnley don’t have the financial resources to attract such players. Nonetheless, if Dyche can bring in one or two loans and free transfers without altering his team’s admirable spirit, and if Danny Ings goes on a goalscoring run, Burnley could still be in with a shout of survival.
Linked to: Troy Deeney (Watford), Raul Albentosa (Eibar), Lewis Macleod (Rangers), Kris Commons (Celtic), Junior Sornoza (Independiente del Valle)
How can you improve the league leaders? Chelsea have been in imperious form all season and they should be at least four points better off having conceded late equalising goals away to both Manchester clubs. Their three major summer signings look like the final pieces in Jose Mourinho’s expensive jigsaw puzzle. Diego Costa started off like a train, Cesc Fabregas has bossed the midfield and has already contributed a staggering 12 assists, and Thibaut Courtois has played like a veteran, belying his relatively tender years. Do they need anyone? Not really – maybe a long-term successor to John Terry but Mourinho has already stated that he won’t be adding to the squad in January. Don’t always believe what comes out of the Portuguese’s mouth though.
Linked to: Tyrone Mings (Ipswich Town), Sami Khedira (Real Madrid), Kwado Asamoah (Juventus),
Having sacked their manager after only four months at the helm and only three league victories, the Eagles are going for broke. Hopefully the new incumbent will be backed with significant resources because the squad needs improvement especially going forward. Midfielder and captain Mile Jedinak is their top league scorer, most of which have been from the penalty spot, which says it all really. Frazier Campbell has struggled up front, as has the wildly overrated Marouane Chamakh. It baffles me why their most natural goalscorer, Dwight Gayle doesn’t play more often. If they can get someone to help Yannick Bolasie give the front men decent service then that would be a bonus too. Survived last season thanks to a mean defence; it looks a lot leakier this season which isn’t helping their cause. Worrying times for Palace fans.
Linked to: Kris Commons (Celtic), Jermain Defoe (Toronto FC), Troy Deeney (Watford), Pape Souare (Lille)
After a storming 2013/14 with a record Premier League points haul, 2014/15 has been something of an eye-opener for Roberto Martinez’s men. Their usually watertight defence has been leakier than a sieve and going forward, record signing Romelu Lukaku is yet to justify his hefty transfer fee (he was only £7 million cheaper than Alexis Sanchez). With Sylvain Distin and Phil Jagielka the wrong side of thirty and John Stones on the sidelines, a centre-half is a priority – but having spent so much on Lukaku in the summer, is there any cash left? Everton have a good squad – they just need to find their mojo again.
Linked to: Breel Embolo (FC Basel), Lewis Macleod (Rangers), Alex Mowatt (Leeds United), Lacina Traore (AS Monaco)
Before Boxing Day’s rather fortunate win away to Sunderland, Steve Bruce was probably anxiously checking his e-mail inbox for an e-mail from his chairman entitled ‘urgent meeting – you’re sacked.’ Thankfully the immediate pressure has lifted but given the relatively large investment Hull City made in the playing squad, they have little to show for it. The defence, marshalled by the superb goalkeeper Alan McGregor has been good but given that Bruce brought in the attacking talents of Tom Ince, Robert Snodgrass, Abel Hernandez, Gaston Ramirez and Hatem Ben Arfa, the Hull boss would have been expecting to be higher up the table than 17th. A top striker to partner Nikica Jelavic is imperative.
Linked to: Aaron Lennon (Tottenham Hotspur), Andre Ayew (Marseille), Lee Cattermole (Sunderland)
Where to start? After an encouraging opening few months to the season it has been a nightmare autumn for Nigel Pearson’s men. 11 defeats in the past 13 league matches is relegation form and if something doesn’t turn around quickly, they will be looking at spending next term in the Championship. The defence has been ponderous, their midfield has lacked spark and bite, and since the 5-3 drubbing of Manchester United, the attack has looked blunt and tame. There are too few players in the squad who can’t cut it at the top level. They need quality in the side, starting with a striker and, if there are any available, a centre-back and, if there is one going, a classy midfielder. Not too much to ask for then.
Linked to: Kris Commons (Celtic), Jermain Defoe (Toronto FC), Kyle Naughton (Tottenham Hotspur), Andrej Kramaric (HNK Rijeka), Curtis Davies (Hull City)
After splurging the best part of £110 million in the summer on bench-warmers, I’m not sure Brendan Rodgers can be trusted to buy the weekly shop, let alone talented footballers. Given their lowly league position, Liverpool are being linked with all and sundry but what they really need is a) an injection of confidence and b) Daniel Sturridge back fit and firing. Those two would solve most of the squad’s problems, as would a fit Jon Flanagan. Nevertheless, purchasing more new players who are alien to Rodgers’ footballing philosophy will just cause more problems. It is abundantly clear that Mario Balotelli doesn’t fit in and if he can be sold for a decent price, he should go. The team needs quality so if the right player becomes available then buy him. If not, don’t buy a player just for the sake of it. Rodgers has a chequered record in the transfer market and he has all too frequently been ready to splash the cash on untested fringe players like Iago Aspas, Luis Alberto and Oussama Assaidi instead of buying proven players. That philosophy needs to change, pronto.
Linked to: Petr Cech (Chelsea), Saido Berahino (West Bromwich Albion), Will Hughes (Derby County), Martin Montoya (Barcelona), Xherdan Shaqiri (Bayern Munich), Matthew Spiranovic (West Sydney Wanderers), James Milner (Manchester City), Wilfried Bony (Swansea City)
City have been criticised in some quarters for their slow start to the season but they spend the Christmas period in second place in the league only three points behind leaders Chelsea without having hit anywhere near top gear. Having added Eliaquim Mangala to strengthen the centre of defence in August, it would appear that a fourth striker is top of City’s wish list, although they seem to be coping just fine without any forwards at the moment. Getting Frank Lampard to sign for the rest of the season is perhaps their most urgent transfer business. With Sergio Aguero to return and Yaya Toure yet to hit the form of last season, they look ominous for the second-half of the campaign.
Linked to: Wesley Sneijder (Galatasaray), Paul Pogba (Juventus)
Louis Van Gaal’s Dutch revolution started off like a damp squib with an embarrassing defeat to MK Dons the lowpoint of a very humbling opening few months. Thankfully, for United fans at least, things have improved to such an extent that even the manager is talking up their chances of a title challenge. The Red Devils’ defence has been suspect, especially given the lack reinforcements following the departures of stalwarts Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra, but with David De Gea in scintillating form between the sticks, that has hardly mattered. Given the array of attacking talent at their disposal, United haven’t exactly been banging the goals in, but in recent weeks Wayne Rooney has looked back to his best, as has Robin Van Persie. The most significant player for United has been Michael Carrick, whose return has brought an array of calm to an at times frantic back four. With all the money they apparently have to spend they have been linked to almost every footballer on the planet, but for me, an imposing centre half would do just fine.
Linked to: Kevin Strootman (Roma), Gareth Bale (Real Madrid), Mats Hummels (Borussia Dortmund), Nicolas Gaitan (Benfica), Ron Vlaar (Aston Villa), Sami Khedira (Real Madrid), Aymeric Laporte (Athletic Bilbao), Enzo Perez (Benfica), Wesley Sneijder (Galatasaray), Diego Godin (Atletico Madrid), Nathaniel Clyne (Southampton)
As always it’s not been an uneventful first half of the season on Tyneside. First there was the ‘Sack Pardew’ brigade which went strangely quiet when the team actually started winning some games. Then came the derby defeat to Sunderland which brought back the murmurs of discontent. There have been some exceptional performances by the Magpies alongside some dreadful ones; a victory at Manchester City and inflicting Chelsea’s first defeat of the season have been combined with a 4-0 drubbing at Southampton and a pretty woeful performance at Arsenal. So what do they need? Nothing urgent, but a quality wide-man wouldn’t go amiss, as wouldn’t a proven goalscorer to back up Papiss Cisse because Ayoze Perez and Emmanuel Riviere haven’t convinced me that they’re going to bang in the goals for seasons to come. In other news, Moussa Sissoko is being continually linked away from St James’ Park.
Linked to: Danny Ings (Burnley), Virgil van Dijk (Celtic), Ondrej Duda (Legia Warsaw)
Queens Park Rangers
Thank God for Charlie Austin. If it wasn’t for the hirsute Hoops’ front man, QPR would probably be halfway to the Championship by now. He has scored a staggering 57% of Rangers’ goals this season and with the form he’s in, manager Harry Redknapp will have a job keeping hold of him. If the R’s can keep him at the club and make sure he doesn’t get injured then they have a good chance of survival. If something befalls Austin then the back-up doesn’t look too clever. Bobby Zamora is not exactly in the prime of his footballing career and whilst Edoardo Vargas has impressed fleetingly, I wouldn’t trust him to fire the Hoops to safety. Rio Ferdinand arrived to much fanfare (mainly from himself) but has fallen behind Nedeem Onouha, Steven Caulker, Richard Dunne and Clint Hill in the pecking order (how the mighty have fallen). Some decent back-up to Austin is imperative, as is a creative midfielder (or the return of Adel Taarabt c. season 2010/11) and hopefully some away form too.
Linked to: Scott Sinclair (Manchester City), Jermain Defoe (Toronto FC), Andros Townsend (Tottenham Hotspur), Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy), Aaron Lennon (Tottenham Hotspur), Joel Campbell (Arsenal)
Many were tipping Southampton for a season of struggle having lost their manager, chairman, and most of their star players over the summer. How wrong they were. New gaffer Ronald Koeman has continued playing the attractive brand of football pioneered by his predecessor Mauricio Pochettino and has brought in some bargains alongside some relative unknowns to fire the south coast club into the upper echelons of the league. Fraser Forster in goal is now arguably a valid threat to Joe Hart’s England jersey; Ryan Bertrand has been a revelation at left-back, as has Nathaniel Clyne on the opposite flank. Dusan Tadic has settled into English football with relative ease, as has Saido Mané and striker Graziano Pelle. They suffered a four game losing streak before getting back on track with a victory against struggling Everton. Can they mount a realistic challenge for a Champions League place? It all depends on whether they can keep hold of Morgan Schneilderlin, Clyne, Jay Rodriguez et al.
Linked to: Lee Nguyen (New England Revolution), Danny Ings (Burnley), Andros Townsend (Tottenham Hotspur), Javi Garcia (Zenit St Petersburg)
It’s been an average season for Stoke City so far. Notable wins at Manchester City and Spurs and at home to Arsenal have been accompanied by home defeats to Leicester City, Aston Villa and Burnley. The Britannia Stadium is not quite the fortress it once was in the Tony Pulis era but Stoke are now playing a more expansive brand of football characterised by the purchase of the little Spaniard Bojan Krkic. Goals have been difficult to come by, only 19 in 18 games at the time of writing, but as one would expect from Stoke City, the defence is holding firm. Long-term absentees Steve Sidwell, Stephen Ireland and Victor Moses are expected back in the new year. More firepower required though.
Linked to: Joel Campbell (Arsenal), Nathan Redmond (Norwich City), Aaron Lennon (Tottenham Hotspur), Andros Townsend (Tottenham Hotspur), Junior Hoilett (Queens Park Rangers)
Sunderland find themselves in 14th position having lost fewer games than fourth-placed Southampton, but also having won only one more than bottom club Leicester. The reason? Ten draws. With a defence as shaky as theirs, it is beyond me how Sunderland have managed so few defeats but since shipping eight at Southampton they only lost three of the next ten games. Manager Gus Poyet has cut a frustrated figure in recent weeks complaining of a lack of influence over signings amongst other things. A lack of goals is their weakness alongside a defence that has the propensity to give away easy goals. Between them, strike partners Steven Fletcher and Connor Wickham have a paltry six strikes. That needs to change if Sunderland are to avoid accepting their almost annual invitation to the relegation scrap. Some younger centre-backs to complement the ageing Wes Brown and John O’Shea would also be welcome.
Linked to: Fabio Borini (Liverpool), Giampaolo Pazzini (AC Milan), Curtis Davies (Hull City), Mohamed Salah (Chelsea)
The Swans are flying high this campaign thanks largely to the goals of Wilfried Bony and the playmaking skills of Gylfi Sigurdsson. In his first full season in charge, Garry Monk has impressed at the helm and his major signings (goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski, Sigurdsson and tricky winger Jefferson Montero) have all played a part in the team’s success. Bony’s departure for the African Nation’s Cup in January will be a big blow – Bafetimbi Gomis will need to show a lot more than he has been so far if the Swans are to press on from their exceptional start to the season. A quality back-up to Bony is a must in the transfer window.
Linked to: Joel Campbell (Arsenal), Alex Pritchard (Tottenham Hotspur), Munir El-Haddadi (Barcelona)
It’s been a funny season for Spurs. They are yet to hit their stride but they still only find themselves two points shy of fourth place (at the time of writing). In their second season at the club, the likes of Erik Lamela and Nacer Chadli are beginning to show their true potential, albeit only fleetingly. New signings Benjamin Strambouli, Ben Davies and Michel Vorm haven’t set White Hart Lane alight and at the start of the season, when things weren’t going so smoothly a fair bit of vitriol was aimed at the board and chairman Daniel Levy. This has since abated as results have picked up, mostly thanks to Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane. Captain Hugo Lloris has been excellent in goal but the back four still does not inspire confidence. U.S.A international right-back DeAndre Yedlin has signed from Seattle Sounders but it is at centre-back that Spurs have problems. Fazio is an accident waiting to happen, Jan Vertonghen commits too many rash challenges, Younes Kaboul doesn’t quite cut the mustard and Eric Dier is too inexperienced at this level. A commanding centre-back is the order of the day; and a commanding holding midfielder; and a top quality striker to complement Harry Kane. A hefty shopping list.
Linked to: Bernard (Shakhtar Donetsk), Niklas Moisander (Ajax), Saido Berahino (West Bromwich Albion), Morgan Schneiderlin (Southampton), Jay Rodriguez (Southampton)
West Bromwich Albion
After an encouraging start to Alan Irvine’s reign at the Hawthorns, six defeats in their past 10 games have dragged West Brom towards the traditional relegation battle. The form of striker Saido Berahino has been a plus although he has been a little off colour in recent weeks. If they are to avoid a relegation dogfight then the Baggies have to eradicate the individual errors that have blighted their season so far. They have some very talented footballers in their squad but they don’t quite seem to all be on the same wavelength. Until they start gelling as a team, they will continue to struggle. Even though he has been in charge for 6 months, Irvine’s job is still under threat. This has not been helped by failure of record signing Brown Ideye to find then net regularly which makes it all the more important that West Brom keep hold of Berahino. A solid defender and a goalscorer are top of their wish list.
Linked to: Pedro Leon (Getafe), Matt Jarvis (West Ham United), Jermain Defoe (Toronto FC)
West Ham United
What a first half of the campaign West Ham have had. After all the rumblings of discontent from the fans, manager and at boardroom level last season, Sam Allardayce’s men are flying high and doing so by playing a brand of football that the Boleyn Ground faithful can finally be proud of. Deserved wins against Manchester City and Liverpool have been backed up by some impressive results on the road. The recent announcement by the owners that 20% of the club is for sale to pay off debt could cause some instability at boardroom level but the most important business in January is for the Hammers is to tie Winston Reid down to a long-term contract. The New Zealander is available for free in the summer and has been attracting flirtatious glances from the likes of Arsenal and Everton. He has been the rock of the defence for more than two years and it would be a big blow if they were to lose him. Making Alex Song’s move permanent would also be welcomed.
Linked to: Pedro Leon (Getafe)