Greetings from 2017! A new year may be upon us, but this is merely brief respite for the Premier League. January can be a defining period in the top flight. Not least, the opening of the transfer window is an opportunity for teams to strengthen: for some to challenge for honours, others to consolidate their position, and a number to stave off the threat of relegation. To get the ball rolling, it is time to address some of the rumoured ins and outs that have cropped up with the opening of the transfer window.
BLUE IS THE COLOUR
Antonio Conte’s Chelsea have now won 13 games in a row, but the restless Italian manager is plotting long-term domination beyond this season. The Premier League leaders have been linked with a new box-to-box midfielder to supplement their ranks. Roma’s Belgian midfielder Radja Nainggolan has been linked since last summer, and he would offer energy and bite in midfield. Nainggolan has stated before that he is happy at Roma, but it is anybody’s guess if that is simply code for “raise your bid and we will consider, every player has a price”.
Another potential target is Ivorian Franck Kessie, who plays for Atalanta, and will be proudly displaying his wares at the African Cup of Nations this month. Kessie could be well suited to Conte’s 3-4-3 system, as he plays a similar role as one of two centre midfielders in Atalanta’s system. Interest has grown, with Kessie being linked with Man City, Liverpool and Arsenal. It is hard to say if Kessie will move in this window. The hype train moves pretty quickly, and disentangling this from a club’s transfer strategy is not a straightforward business.
WILL THEY WALK ALONE?
Liverpool have been linked with a couple of departures in this window, with Philippe Coutinho and Mahamadou Sakho apparently heading for the exit. There is no chance that Coutinho will leave in January, even if Barcelona comes calling. Liverpool are title contenders, and manager Jurgen Klopp will not let a key player depart halfway through the season. Sakho, on the other hand, may be saying his farewells. After falling out with Klopp, Sakho was linked with a loan switch to Stoke last summer, but refused to leave. Even if he is one of the Kop’s favourite characters, Sakho’s time at Anfield may very much be over.
The Reds have also been linked with wingers and attackers lately to fill up the absence of Sadio Mane who will be representing his country at the African Cup of Nations. Recent names include Swedish winger Emil Forsberg who has had an impressive season so far for Bundesliga side RB Leipzig.
Liverpool could also be in the market for a goalkeeper following a rough spell for summer signing Loris Karius. Notable names include Joe Hart although any move for England’s No 1 may have to wait till the summer while he sees off his loan spell at Torino.
GUNNING FOR GLORY
As Arsenal looks a rejuvenated side this season by placing Alexis Sanchez up front, there may be slightly worried looks coming from the Emirates as reports indicate Juventus has placed the Chilean attacker as top priority. Though unlikely to take place in January, the potential summer move might force Wenger’s move this window.
The Gunners have also entered the race to sign Sevilla defensive midfielder Steven N’Zonzi, but may have to compete with Juventus, Chelsea and Manchester City for his signature. The Frenchman has indicated his desire to move this month and the club will mostly likely listen to offers north of £25million.
LOUIS VAN GAAL’S LEFTOVERS
Change remains afoot at Man United, with the remnants of Louis van Gaal’s tenure still peppered across the squad. Many of LVG’s second season signings were originally heralded as game changers, capable of bringing United back to the glory days of Sir Alex Ferguson. Instead, Memphis Depay, Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger all spent far too much time on the sidelines. Depay may move to Everton, who may may give him the platform to reignite his career. Schneiderlin is also in need of game time, and a move to Everton and West Bromwich Albion may be attractive. Schweinsteiger does not feature in Jose Mourinho’s first eleven, and it is surely a matter of time before he leaves.
A surprising addition here is Anthony Martial, who enjoyed a strong debut season, but has not featured as regularly under Mourinho. Martial was apparently looking at a loan move to Sevilla to play regularly. Notwithstanding this, Mourinho has publicly stated that he will not sanction any loan departures from his first-team squad, but accepts that some of them will look to play regularly elsewhere. Martial should stay, given United’s lack of forward options beyond Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Depay and Schneiderlin may very well depart, even if a little unfortunate that United fans never got to see them at their best.
In terms of signings, the club has been linked with Atletico Madrid superstar Antoine Griezmann with recent reports suggesting that Griezmann’s colleague Saul Niguez might join him at United for a combine fee of £145m.
Before we move onto other clubs, Manchester United have also been heavily linked to Benfica’s defenders Victor Lindelof and Nelson Semedo. With Mourinho encouraged by Phil Jones’ and Marcos Rojo’s partnership as United’s central defensive axis, and Chris Smalling and Daley Blind in reserve (Eric Bailly will be off to the African Cup of Nations this month), a move for Lindelof in January looks out of the question. United need greater competition for Antonio Valencia at right back, which lends credence to the Semedo rumours, but this may something to return to in the summer.
Mourinho has been instructed to trim his first team, before he is allowed to make any new purchases. To address the amount of speculation over both transfers, there is a suspicion that Portuguese teams have a tendency to link their players with clubs like United in an attempt to raise their transfer value. This explains why players like Nicolas Gaitan and William Carvalho of Sporting Lisbon would often be linked with a switch to England, with little materialising. Of course, Gaitan eventually moved last summer from Benfica to Atletico Madrid last summer, having frequently been linked with United over the past two seasons.
SAINTS YARD SALE
Moving to the South Coast, departures from Southampton are not uncommon, and happen with fairly regular occurrence. José Fonte and Virgil van Dijk have cropped up as potential departures since the start of the season. At 33 years old, Fonte’s age may be prohibitive to a move, particularly if Southampton have no intention of selling their captain. The same cannot be said for van Dijk, who has been steadily linked with a whole raft of clubs, with Chelsea and Man City the main contenders. With a serious lack of top quality centre halves across the league; a van Dijk move may simply be a matter of time. The question is whether the rumoured £50-60 million pound price tag will scare clubs off from making a move during this transfer window. They may see this as a premium for signing mid-season, and elect to wait until the summer.
IRONS IN THE FIRE
West Ham United’s underwhelming first half of the season has led to talk about potential reinforcements. A move for Sunderland striker and former West Ham youth product Jermaine Defoe has been widely speculated, but both Sunderland manager David Moyes and Defoe have denied that this as a possibility. It is highly unlikely that Defoe will leave the Stadium of Light. Defoe is a bang on certainty for goals and is absolutely vital to Sunderland’s hopes of staying in the division. West Ham is unlikely to pay a king’s ransom for Defoe, who, at 34, is unlikely to be first choice ahead of a fit Andy Carroll.
The Hammers may also move for old Manchester United favourite Patrice Evra, with the veteran’s pathway to the first team now blocked by Alex Sandro. This move too looks unlikely. West Ham’s first choice left back Aaron Cresswell is highly rated by the club, and has only recently returned from injury. Evra will not join the Hammers to play second fiddle to Cresswell, even if West Ham’s alternative left back Arthur Masuaku has looked rather out of his depth so far.
On a final note, the draw of the Chinese Super League (CSL) cannot be understated during this window. There is every possibility that Oscar’s departure to Shanghai SIPG for £60 million is a sign of things to come. An unknown Chinese club apparently offered Aston Villa £25 million for French left-back Jordan Amavi. Since Amavi does not feature in the Premier League, and Villa were relegated to the Championship last season, the CSL seems willing to drop serious money to put themselves on the map, no matter the cost. The Chinese are here to stay, and it would not be surprising at all to see them flex their financial muscle to attract Premier League calibre during this window.