January transfer window: What could happen and who needs what?
A closer look at the January transfer window
With the World Cup firmly in the rear-view mirror and the Premier League back in full swing, it is time to turn our attention to the key questions surrounding the January transfer window.
Which clubs need to spend? Will we see managers bring in reinforcements on the basis of World Cup fatigue? What about some of the breakout stars at the Qatar tournament – have they earned themselves a big move?
Before getting into all of that, we have looked back at 10 years’ worth of winter moves to determine the effectiveness of mid-season arrivals.
Don’t expect an instant return
Signing the right players in the January transfer window is seen as more difficult than in the summer, with managers’ minds occupied with upcoming games and the short-term status of their squad.
Looking back over recent history, big mid-season buys have a mixed record – for every Luis Suarez there is an Andy Carroll.
Only five of the 14 most expensive January signings in the last decade saw their new clubs win more points per game after the window closed compared with beforehand. This includes some deals that have been enormously successful over the long term, such as Virgil van Dijk to Liverpool.
The recent signings of Bruno Guimarães by Newcastle, Luis Díaz by Liverpool, and Bruno Fernandes by Manchester United have been the most impactful, with all three clubs enjoying significant uplifts in form following their respective arrivals.
Guimarães in particular has been part of a dramatic transformation at St James’ Park. The Magpies were sitting in the relegation zone at the end of January but have since kept pace with the Premier League’s big six.
An overhaul can pay dividends
The Brazilian midfielder was one of five signings made by Eddie Howe in the January transfer window, alongside defenders Kieran Trippier, Matt Targett and Dan Burn, and centre-forward Chris Wood.
Newcastle’s subsequent improvement continues a trend enjoyed by the majority of clubs that bring in five or more new players in January.
Everton, for example, benefited from investment in the winter window under new manager Frank Lampard as they eventually moved clear of the bottom three, with Vitaly Mykolenko and Nathan Patterson providing attacking threat from the full-back positions.
In contrast, clubs that fail to strengthen in the January transfer window have traditionally paid the price over the past decade.
The majority of teams that made no signings or welcomed just one new face saw a drop-off in performance, including Manchester United last season who were well-positioned in fourth at the end of January but finished sixth after a severe downturn in form.
Interim manager Ralf Rangnick did not bring a single new player into the club after taking over from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. The lack of investment showed as United ended the campaign with six successive away defeats.
Who earned themselves a big move at the World Cup?
This is a unique January transfer window because it comes hot on the heels of the World Cup in Qatar.
World Cup stars have gone on to make big moves in the past – think back to James Rodriguez who switched from Monaco to Real Madrid on the back of winning the Golden Boot in 2014, or Harry Maguire who commanded a fee of nearly £80million from Man Utd only a year after starring in England’s run to the semi-finals in 2018.
We have selected a team of players whose performances in Qatar could have earned them some potential suitors in January.
Aston Villa’s Emiliano Martínez picks himself in goal following his penalty shoot-out heroics for Argentina in the final, while former Premier League centre halves Romain Saïss and Dejan Lovren enjoyed excellent tournaments with Morocco and Croatia respectively.
Celtic’s right-back Josip Juranović is reportedly generating lots of interest having also impressed for Croatia, while Fulham’s Antonee Robinson gets the nod at left-back thanks to a string of energetic displays for the United States.
Morocco’s Azzedine Ounahi features in central midfield alongside Argentina’s Alexis Mac Allister and Rodrigo De Paul. Ounahi – who plays for the bottom side in Ligue 1 (Angers) – was described as “absolutely incredible” by Roma boss Jose Mourinho as he watched on in Qatar.
Up front another Moroccan could be a popular target in January, with Sevilla striker Youssef En-Nesyri netting twice in their historic run. Clubs in need of some attacking guile will also be looking at Senegal duo Ismaïla Sarr and Boulaye Dia, who were both regular starters at the tournament and got on the scoresheet.
Which players are out of contract in the summer?
Something that will surely be playing on the minds of club owners during January is the intentions of players who will be out of contract at the end of the season. There is clearly a risk that anyone who has not yet signed an extension to their existing deal could leave for free in the summer, and therefore cashing in now may be preferable.
There are some big Premier League names in this situation at present, including several who are likely to be interested in a new challenge.
Chelsea midfield duo Jorginho and N’Golo Kante fall into this category and – given their advancing years – could be allowed to leave by new Blues boss Graham Potter as he looks to rebuild the squad in his image.
Across London at Crystal Palace, the skilful Wilfried Zaha is also entering the latter stages of his career and could be enticed by a bigger contract than the one the Eagles are able to offer him.
There could also be changes at Leicester, where once-lauded centre back Çağlar Söyüncü has found himself on the fringes of the team this season and could prove a capable reinforcement for a manager prepared to play him regularly.
This could also finally be the year that interest in Youri Tielemans manifests itself as a firm offer. The Belgian is entering his prime years and could prove to be a bargain for a bigger club in need of another midfield option.
The Red Devils are being kept at a distance
Manchester United are short of options up front following the acrimonious departure of Cristiano Ronaldo. The Red Devils’ only recognised out-and-out striker is the injury-prone Anthony Martial, with most of their attacking threat coming from wide areas through the likes of Marcus Rashford, Antony and promising youngster Alejandro Garnacho.
The stats bear this out. United’s average shot distance this season is almost 19 metres, the longest of any Premier League team. If Ten Hag were to bring in a centre-forward, Breel Embolo (Monaco), Marcus Thuram (Gladbach) and Victor Osimhen (Roma) have all recorded an average shot distance of 13m or less in 2022-23.
Embolo and Thuram impressed at the World Cup for Switzerland and France respectively, while Osimhen has been linked with a move to Old Trafford for some time.
The Eagles are lacking an edge
Crystal Palace have taken a step backwards after an encouraging first season under Patrick Vieira. In 2021-22 they ranked 11th for the rate of passes made into the opposing penalty area with 7.1, but so far this season it’s dropped to 5.4 – lower than anyone except struggling Nottingham Forest.
Given their recent trend of recruiting from the Championship, the likes of Ilias Chair, Grady Diangana or João Pedro – all putting plenty of balls into the box in the second tier – could add penetration to the Palace midfield.
If Vieira has the means to look further afield, then bringing Udinese’s Gerard Deulofeu or Hoffenheim’s Angeliño back to the Premier League would also secure a regular source of penetrative passes.
Arsenal are bad in the air
The Gunners have enjoyed a successful season so far but the stats suggest that they are not without weaknesses. No side has won a smaller proportion of their aerial duels in the Premier League so far, so if Mikel Arteta is given money to spend in mid-season then he could do worse than adding some height to his squad.
With Gabriel Jesus out injured, Arsenal could make good on their repeated links with Everton’s Dominic Calvert-Lewin to add some aerial menace up front. If broader coverage of the pitch is desirable then Lazio’s towering midfielder Sergej Milinković-Savić could fit the bill while offering plenty of attacking output.
Spurs have been sloppy
Antonio Conte has kept Tottenham in the Champions League hunt so far this season but his side have not always convinced. In addition to their four defeats so far, Spurs have been one of the easiest teams to play through, with only Bournemouth allowing passes into their third of the pitch more frequently.
Spurs could therefore make good use of a midfield tackler and interceptor such as Tomáš Souček of West Ham or Leeds’ Tyler Adams. If Conte would prefer to shop in his native Italy during the January transfer window then Juventus’ Manuel Locatelli – recently linked with rivals Arsenal – could fit the bill.