January transfer window, is it? Got to be careful with that, lots of scammers and rip-off merchants about. But it’s also the only mid-season opportunity to sort out any remaining weak spots in your squad and turn that unlikely title tilt/top-four bid/relegation scrap your way.
So here are five transfer moves that Premier League clubs should make this month – or more accurately, four moves clubs should make and one that should sit on its proverbial hands despite having the greatest number of conspicuous areas of pitiful weakness…
Wilfried Zaha to Arsenal
If there was ever a transfer that screamed ‘no-brainer’ it’s surely this one? It feels like a slight stretch to praise Arsenal for sticking to their ‘financial principles’ in only going to 90-odd million euro for Mykhaylo Mudryk before backing off in the face of Chelsea’s absolute madness, but still. They set a line, however mad, and they stuck to it. Ditto Joao Felix.
But even before Gabriel Jesus’ injury, which already appears to be veering into classic Arsenal territory where a couple of weeks out ends up being months and months and never-ending monthsthe attacking options looked high on quality but short on depth.
Given that now appears very much the time for Arsenal to take a bit of a punt in pursuit of what would be a sensationally unexpected and unexpectedly sensational Premier League title, some short-term divergence from the overarching transfer strategy might be advisable.
And if that is what they do, then Zaha represents just about the lowest risk imaginable in a move that might just suit all parties.
If he’s not signing a new contract at Palace – and all the indications are that he is not – then getting a bit of money for him now is arguably better than getting nothing in the summer. Safely in mid-table and out of the FA Cup, there is little of great significance at stake for Palace over the months ahead and a bit of extra preparation for the post-Zaha world they face next season could be no bad thing.
For Arsenal there would be no long-term profit to be made and money spent on Zaha would be money sunk. But we would not be talking vast sums here and if he were to prove the difference between winning the title and not then it would surely be worth a nice two-and-a-half-year contract for a player who is as Premier League- proven as you could possibly wish for, who continues to churn out very solid numbers (he’s got as many Premier League goals this season as Bukayo Saka) to go with the obvious crowd-pleasing flair he brings to the game and who would surely love the chance late on in his career to prove he can deliver for a Big Club after the Manchester United unpleasantness.
Sofyan Amrabat to Liverpool
There’s one golden rule of football transfers, one that sits above all others and must never ever under any circumstances be broken: do not buy a footballer based on an eye-catchingly good performance at a major tournament.
Just don’t do it. It never works. It always ends up underwhelming. They’re never as good week after week as you thought they were in that unique tournament environment. You’ll always end up spending more money on a player who will be more disappointing. Not worth it. Terrible idea. The opposite of sensible.
And yet Liverpool absolutely must, must, must sign Morocco hero Sofyan Amrabat this month because we love him and want him in the Premier League, and while of course he won’t be as good for Liverpool as he was for Morocco, they are clearly the team who need midfield muscle.
There’s a strong case to be made that the seeds of Liverpool’s current decline were sown in the replacement of Gini Wijnaldum with Thiago Alcantara. Lovely footballer that Thiago undoubtedly is, there’s a nagging sense that Liverpool have lost more than they’ve gained. They no longer control Premier League midfields as they once did, and if you don’t dominate the midfield then you can no longer have playmaker full-backs making merry for a tricky bunch of striking talents.
Would Amrabat solve that? Probably not, because of the major tournament tax. But he’s exactly the sort of player they need and for entirely selfish reasons exactly the player we want them to sign. Make it happen.
Nobody to Tottenham
Spurs’ squad is littered with problems and myriad obvious positions where new signings are needed. They desperately need a creative midfielder, they urgently need full-back upgrades on both flanks, and they could probably do with another striker that would mean Harry Kane doesn’t have to play every single minute of every single game.
Spurs may well eventually move to address some of those issues this month but here’s our hot take: they shouldn’t. They shouldn’t sign anyone. At all. Because it would be pointless.
It’s accepted practice to bemoan Daniel Levy’s failure to back his managers with signings, but Antonio Conte has had £150m lavished on the squad he took to fourth place last season and made them objectively worse and, arguably even more unforgivably, drably yet ineffectively defensive. It’s worse than Mourinho now.
Conte remains absolutely wedded to his back three despite its palpable unsuitability for the players he has at his disposal, which means the full-back options he would want this month would be wing-back specialists like Sporting’s Pedro Porro. Which is fine if you anticipate Conte being Spurs manager next season and beyond. But you wouldn’t currently bank on him remaining Spurs manager next month and beyond, with two games against Manchester City coming up that could see the one-time Champions League contenders dragged right back into mid-table.
Backing Conte this month would appear to be throwing good money after bad, and Spurs should absolutely wait until their latest summer reset and inevitable appointment of Thomas Tuchel to throw more bad money around and start the cycle once more.
James Maddison to Newcastle
Newcastle’s relentlessly sensible approach since becoming an uber-rich superclub is, frankly, annoying. If we must have sportswashers laundering their reputations through Our League, then the very least they can have their clubs do is sign Neymar and be a gloriously entertaining shambles.
Newcastle have, disgracefully, gone entirely the other way and made a series of shrewd yet resolutely unshowy signings having made a shrewd yet unshowy managerial appointment to pull everything together. It’s utterly unacceptable behaviour, and has left them well ahead of schedule and with a squad somehow containing few obvious points of immediate weakness.
Yet there remains a tantalizing opportunity, thanks to their own fine form and the catastrof**ks going off at Chelsea, Liverpool and Spurs, to do something truly remarkable this season and a bit of January investment would surely be prudent.
We’re trying to meet the Magpies halfway here. If they won’t do something overtly insane like signing Neymar of offering Lionel Messi several million pounds a week then we’re going to suggest a signing that splits the difference between quietly sane and entertainingly silly.
We actually, genuinely think this would make a significant difference to Newcastle’s attacking output and are extremely confident that getting away from the Leicester medical team will sort that dodgy knee out in no time but also can’t deny that ‘signing quality player with a mysterious injury’ is part of the appeal.
Terem Moffi to Brighton
It’s now a long-established Premier League banter that Brighton are in perpetual need of a proper striker to bring tangible reward for all that lovely football they do. It’s undeniably funny that Graham Potter finally took the plunge and made his move to a Big Six club and went to Chelsea, who lack a proper striker.
For all that Brighton continue to impress despite the frequent loss of key players to loftier if more shambolic rivals, there remains a ceiling placed on what they can achieve by the lack of goals in the squad.
This season, those familiar problems in front of goal have been masked to an extent by the form of Leandro Trossard, but with the Belgian and his seven Premier League goals currently on either the naughty step or wantaway perch or both, Brighton could be right back in the goalscoring aim. Pretty much all their goals have come from midfielders (Gross, Mac Allister) or wide players (Trossard, March, Mitoma) with Danny Welbeck scoring just once and exciting 18-year-old prospect Evan Ferguson another couple.
It’s got to be worth trying to bring in another striker, hasn’t it? Brighton are currently three points behind fifth-placed Spurs with a game in hand. A top-six finish is a genuine possibility. It’s always easier to say ‘just sign a 20-goal striker you fools’ than it is to actually find one, but Moffi has 12 goals in 18 Ligue 1 games for Lorient this season and there is plenty of talk that he could be available this month if the right offer comes along. Go on, Brighton. Give it a real, proper go. See what happens.