Football News: January 2018 - The Big 6

 

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January 2018 - The Big 6
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Finally, the window has closed! All 6 teams at the top of the Premier League have desperately scrambled to strengthen their ranks in preparation for what looks like being the most tightly contested top 4 race in the Premier League era. So how did they all get on in the market?

Manchester City:

Pep Guardiola's team probably could've sold Kevin De Bruyne and still won the Premier League, such is the enormity of the points gap to 2nd place. As it happens though, they have actually signed him to a new deal in what was arguably the best business by any club in the Premier League. It is great for the league too. De Bruyne is probably the best player in the world right now and it is a great advert for English Football that it can now attract the best players to go with the best managers.

After spending weeks chasing down Alexis Sanchez, it soon came to the forefront that the deal made no sense financially. With just 6 months left on his Arsenal Contract, the Gunners played hard-ball and asked for far too much money, even by the Citizens standards. Added to that the huge signing on fee, agent fee's and the astronomical wage demands, it was probably a good decision to walk away considering Manchester City are hardly desperate for attacking players.

Unfortunately, Leroy Sane suffered a bad injury following a horrendous tackle against Cardiff City in the FA cup, which was embarrassingly defended by Neil Warnock. It looked to me like Guardiola may have panicked when he realised Sane would miss the League Cup final, because all of a sudden Manchester City started throwing money at Leicester City for Riyad Mahrez. The whole situation got very messy and it has resulted in Mahrez totally downing tools and refusing to play or train because Leicester resisted the transfer. This is a real ugly side of modern football.



Manchester City did find success eventually though, landing French centre back, Aymeric Laporte for a club record fee. Laporte is a monster of a defender who will go a long way to rectifying the City defence which has recently shown it's fragilities when it was taken to pieces by Liverpool. With Laporte signing, and faint quiver of hope from the chasing pack that City would capitulate is totally gone.

Overall, Manchester City have improved their team and they can now have a real tilt at the unprecedented quadruple. I'm not jealous... Much.

Manchester United:

The Red Devils had something of a quiet window initially. There were lots of silly rumours about Gareth Bale and Antoine Griezmann but not a lot in the way of actual movement.

That was, until Manchester City pulled out of the Alexis Sanchez deal. United are no strangers to over paying aging players with very little time left at the highest level (Radamel Falcao, Zlatan Ibrahimović, Bastian Schweinsteiger to name just a few). With their unrivalled commercial revenue stream, they can afford it though. So in they swooped to steal Sanchez away from Pep Guardiola at a massive financial cost. Forget the risks of putting a 29 year old player reliant on his explosiveness on a huge long term contract though; from a football perspective this was arguably the biggest short term improvement any team made in the whole window. United will get at least 18-24 months out of Sanchez and if in that time he can help shift the balance of power back to the red half of Manchester, he will arguably be worth every penny. Robin Van Persie didn't make sense financially either, until he fired United to the league title. Is Sanchez that good though? Man United also sent Henrikh Mkhitaryan to Arsenal as part of the Sanchez deal. It was actually great business to off load a player they neither wanted nor needed to help land one of the best talents in the division.

Not much else happened at Old Trafford aside from Daley Blind nearly leaving. It does look like Ibrahimović may move on to the MLS though at some point. Sanchez will directly address their lack of quality going forward in the short term and for that reason, i think Manchester United arguably had the best transfer window in terms of what they needed, what they got, and what they as a club could afford. Sanchez would've been too much of a gamble for any other team, but Jose Mourinho and Manchester United can afford that risk. So value for money is unimportant.




Liverpool FC:

January couldn't have started any better for Liverpool fans. The window was barely open, and yet Jurgen Klopp had somehow managed to squeeze the 6ft 5in frame of Virgil Van Dijk through the crack. Not only was this a club record transfer fee, but it also made Virgil the most expensive defender in world football by a long way. Widely regarded as the best centre back in the Premier League, on paper this is a great deal. Concerns will have to be raised by the fact he looks likely to partner Joel Matip though. With both of those players preferring to venture forward with the ball, Virgil doesn't look like the right player to plug the leaky Liverpool back line. A new partner for Virgil will surely be in the pipeline for the summer.

Crucially, Liverpool lost one of the best players in the league though. Phillipe Coutinho was sold to Barcelona for the second highest transfer fee in football history. Fortunately for Liverpool, their wealth of attacking talent means that he probably won't be missed as much as everyone thinks. In fact since he has left the club, Liverpool have scored 9 goals in 4 games, with one of those games being against Manchester City, and the other 3 coming against teams who played a deep defensive line. It certainly hurts Liverpool's attacking depth, but the starting XI is barely dented unbelievably. Coutinho had been a regular fixture on the left of the front 3 this season with Sadio Mane struggling for form and fitness. The Senegalese will have to return to last seasons form if Liverpool have any aspirations of winning something this season, as he now retakes his place on the left that Coutinho took from him after the Ederson red card incident! Liverpool did try to reinvest the money, but deals for Thomas Lemar and Naby Keita went nowhere, and in the dying hours of the window the club made a half hearted attempt to lure Kerem Demirbay away from TSG Hoffenheim. It was too little too late though.

The most important business Liverpool did, was move on some of the fringe players they've spent years accumulating. Lazar Markovic was loaned to Anderlecht, Jon Flanagan will attempt to revive his career at Bolton Wanderers for the rest of the season, and most notably Daniel Sturridge has joined West Bromwich Albion on loan in a last ditch attempt to get Gareth Southgate's attention before the World Cup. This exodus will allow the coaches at Liverpool to focus their attentions on a much more manageable group of players.

Liverpool probably haven't got any stronger or any weaker. They lost Coutinho and gained Virgil. From a stating XI perspective it is one in, one out.

Chelsea FC:

I am still trying to get my head around Chelsea's recent transfer policy. This window was no different. With a glaring weakness in central midfield whenever N'Golo Kante doesn't play and Alvaro Morata being totally useless with his feet, Chelsea needed a solid midfield partner for Kante and a striker who can score goals aside from headers so they are not as one dimensional. So the club duely signed Ross Barkley who is totally ineffective anywhere other than in the free role Eden Hazard occupies, and Olivier Giroud who is essentially a carbon copy of Morata, except with a better ratio and more injuries. Neither of these signings make any sense at all. If they spend 80 minutes lumping it into the box for Morata and get nowhere, Antonio Conte's answer now is to make a completely like for like change up top and lump it in for Giroud for 10 minutes. It's truly baffling.




In what was probably Chelsea's best bit of business, they did sign Emerson Palmieri from Roma. Emerson will be perfect for either wing back position in Conte's system and should probably replace Victor Moses when he is fully settled. As a lightening fast, skilful, and direct player who likes to hit shots from range, Emerson should give Chelsea a bit more quality. The problem is, Emerson is an upgrade to a position that Chelsea weren't having any problems in, rather than a resolution to their main issues. Still, the fans should be excited.

The only other notable business was a couple of loan deals. Charlie Musonda makes the long trip North to join Celtic on loan, whilst Michy Batshuayi will join Borussia Dortmund on loan. I cannot help but feel he would've offered more to Chelsea than Giroud. Giroud is a better player (in fact he is probably the best target man in Europe), but Batshuayi offered something different to Morata and seemed to get goals whenever he got playing time.

I'm not sure Chelsea are strong enough to cling on to their current 4th position, but either way it looks set to be a nervy end to the season for them. They haven't addressed any of their problems and Tottenham and Arsenal are breathing down their necks.

Tottenham Hotspur:

Spurs had a good window purely because they have yet again managed to hold on to their underpaid (in football terms) star players; particularly Harry Kane and Dele Alli. It is sad that in recent years they've been happy simply to not lose anyone, but that is just the way it will always be until they start paying competitive wages or winning trophies.

In terms of signings, they made one in Lucas Moura. Unfortunately, Moura is incredibly over rated. At 25 years old, he should be in his prime and yet he has barely kicked a ball so far this season. Moura is totally one dimensional. He runs fast and kicks the ball hard at the end of it. In the French Ligue 1 playing for PSG, that was enough to get him through the season. In the Premier League though, I predict he will be totally found out. If there is anything Spurs didn't need, it was pace down the right side. They already have Son Heung-Min on the right wing, Moussa Sissoko on the right side of midfield, and Serge Aurier at right back. Bring me a quicker trio in world sport and i will tell you to send back the three quarters of the Jamaican 4x100m relay team you have just kidnapped. This deal smacks of desperation and a lack of forward planning. Moura needs to majorly improve if he wants to succeed at Tottenham and even at his absolute best, he is not in Son's league.

To make matters even more confusing, Spurs made space for one speed-demon lacking in quality, by loaning out the one they already had to Burnley! Georges-Kevin N'Koudou will join Sean Dyche's team for the remainder of the season. So aside from a needless and costly reshuffle to their bench, Spurs didn't do anything else of note. The key for Spurs will actually be getting their best players fit and back on the pitch though. Their first choice starting XI is probably the most balanced in the league, despite their lack of quality in depth.

Kane's form and fitness will be crucial to Tottenham's aspirations, as he is currently scoring around half of the teams goals, and without him they have nobody else to lead the line with even half the quality or conviction.




Arsenal FC:

What on earth is going on at that club. The only thing keeping them marginally competitive was the fire and passion of Alexis Sanchez. His winning mentality and passion over the last few years, combined with Mesut Ozil's world class ability has kept Arsenal on the map, by dragging the other 9 lazy and/or average players over the line. That, coupled with the fact that Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud were good for about 30 goals a season even as fringe players! Having said that, Sanchez hasn't showed up this season. Carrying the team for so long finally pushed him over the edge to a point where he had stopped caring. Selling their 3 top scorers for the last few years is a dangerous gamble by Arsenal either way.

Arsenal's best signing of the whole window was getting Ozil to sign a new contract! Arsene Wenger must have some dirt on him, because despite the nonsense about him being lazy, he is one of the few truly world class players in the Premier League. He could walk in to nearly any team in the world. That new contract for Ozil is huge for Arsenal and it may help to attract the calibre of player they need going forward.

Onto signings, and Arsenal have somehow swindled themselves here. Henrikh Mkhitaryan is a dreadful move. No denying it, he has quality. However he is a far cry from what they needed in midfield. He does exactly what Ozil does, but to nowhere near the same level, and he is a player who genuinely is lazy. It is well documented that he hated playing under Jurgen Klopp because (and this is no joke) he made him do defensive work. Can someone tell Henrikh that is part of football, please? The fact they lost a player as hard working as Sanchez has been generally, for Mkhitaryan, just rubs salt into the wounds.

Arsenal did pull off a bit of coup (on paper) though, on the very last day. Wenger broke the clubs transfer record to secure the services of 28 year old Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Say what you like about Aubameyang, but he is a world class finisher. His goal record speaks for itself, and his 21 goals so far this season (that would make him top scorer at every English club except Liverpool and Tottenham) is considered one of his worst seasons! With Ozil supplying him, Aubameyang will score goals. Lots of goals. In fact, he's already captain in my Fantasy Football team! (10.5m? Bargain!) However, Aubameyang comes with a dark side. His attitude is truly woeful. He skips anything from games to team meetings whenever he feels like it, in favour of partying. Despite his individual brilliance, he is terrible for squad harmony, a terrible influence to have around the club, and with his game being built on pace he is a ticking time bomb in more than one respect. Eventually, this will go wrong at Arsenal. Either his team mates will grow to dislike his lack of commitment and that will create a dressing room divide, or his lack of effort in his training will finally catch up with him in his later years and his legs will fall to pieces. It won't end smoothly, but by god are Arsenal and the Premier League in for a exciting ride in the mean time! He's got a few good years in him yet.

Overall, it's hard to say if Arsenal are stronger or not. They have made such huge changes to their first XI that we won't really know until the end of the season. Can Ozil and Aubameyang do enough between them to rescue an otherwise bang average team, though? At least the ability to attract World Class players still, points to a good future once Wenger finally walks away.

Conclusion:

It is fair to say that the two Manchester sides have had the best windows. Neither team lost anyone of importance, and both added a player to strengthen an area in the starting XI that they were weak in. They will probably end up as the top 2.

Chelsea and Arsenal's business was messy but they both came out of it with at least one exciting signing. I think it is too much change mid-season though and they will be the two teams to miss out on the top 4 in my opinion.

Meanwhile Liverpool and Tottenham have effectively stood still. However, they both already had the quality to finish in the top 4, and just need to get their better players back on the pitch. Adam Lallana and Toby Alderweireld stand out in particular, as key absentees.

How much impact any of this transfer business will have on the final league standings is anyone's guess, but that was one hell of a January transfer window!

Written by Adam Jones

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