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What every Premier League contender needs to target in the January window

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The January transfer window is already on the horizon, meaning Premier League fans, coaches, scouts and sporting directors are keeping their eye on the reinforcements they plan on signing during the window.

Many will remember the first month of this year when over £966.9 million was spent in Europe’s top five leagues alone. The British transfer record was broken when Todd Boehly’s Chelsea secured the services of recently crowned world champion, Enzo Fernandez. And Premier League sides from top to bottom strengthened their squads, in the hope of acceding the expectation of fans.

Re-live what happened last January right here.

This year will be no different. There isn’t a side in the English top flight without need for (European) winter reinforcements.

Rather than run through each of the Premier League’s 20 sides and analyse their needs and wants, today Only Sports looks at what each side hunting European football will be after come January 1.

January transfer window targets, postecoglou, klopp, arteta
What will Klopp, Postecoglou and Arteta try to pull during the January transfer window?

January transfer window priorities for every Premier League contender

Starting from the top down, we’ll take a look at where each Premier League side is deficient and who’s rumoured to be making moves through the January transfer window.

Manchester City

Cover for Rodri

What do you get the spoilt kid for Christmas when he has and wants everything? That’s what Manchester City’s director of football, Txiki Bergiristain, would be scratching his head wondering. Pep Guardiola’s side haven’t looked as far from perfect as they have to begin this campaign.

A large reason for their poor form has been Rodri’s absence in the heart of midfield. Prior to gameweek 18, City’s three Premier League losses were incurred with the Spaniard watching on from the sideline.

Pep doesn’t trust Kalvin Phillps, who is likely to leave come January, while Mateo Kovačić and Matheus Nunes aren’t defensively inclined. Add to this a persistent hip injury to Pep’s favoured Rodri deputy, John Stones, and City are in desperate need of defensive midfield strength.

Perhaps a player like AC Milan’s Ismael Bennacer will suffice?

Rodri, January transfer window
Manchester City star Rodri | January transfer window

Injury to Bennacer’s right knee has sidelined the Algerian since May’s Champions League semi-final defeat to fierce rivals Inter Milan, meaning any January movements will come less than a month after his return to first time football. The former Arsenal academy product proved his metronomic midfield presence during Milan’s 2021-22 title charge.

According to FBref, over the last year the Algerian has averaged more tackles, interceptions, and blocks per 90 minutes than Rodri, albeit in a side lacking City’s level of control while also completing more successful take ons than Kovačić.

Tottenham

Build squad depth

Ange Postecoglou has Spurs enterprising, attacking football that starkly contrasts the dross served up under Antonio Conte and Nuno Espirito Santo.

After years of not getting it right, Spurs produced their shrewdest window in a long time over the European summer bringing in Micky van de Ven, Guglielmo Vicario, Brennan Johnson, and James Maddison, while also making Pedro Porro and Dejan Kulusevki’s moves permanent.

This business means there are few gaps in Ange’s arsenal. The Australian has an uncanny knack to extract every bit of potential from his players, meaning former squad players, such as Pape Matar Sarr and Yves Bissouma, become capable of first team excellence.

Maddison, tottenham, FPL Gameweek 7
James Maddison has been Spurs’ standout to begin the season. Who’s next on Spurs’ hit list? | January transfer window

But, for all the good fortunes their excellent recruitment and brilliant coaching has created, Spurs still lack the necessary squad depth to compete at the highest level. Recent history has indicated that clearly.

Yves Bissouma and Cristian Romero are walking red cards, Destiny Udogie’s discipline is juvenile, while James Maddison’s injury created a gaping creativity hole that is only just filled by Kulusevski. With AFCON and the Asian Cup further denting Spurs’ squad depth in January, any form of investment into increasing the number of options available to Postecoglou will be critical not only for Spurs finishing the 2023-24 campaign in Europe, but also in their fortunes beyond this season.

Arsenal

Right wing competition

Half an hour into Arsenal’s Champions League loss to Lens Mikel Arteta’s star boy, Bukayo Saka, went down with a muscular injury. His minutes have grown and so too has the concern around them. Arteta’s trust in his talismanic Englishman is clear and understandable; he is the one of football’s brightest young stars who has five goals and four assists in nine matches this season.

But overwork him and you risk running him into the ground before his prime. If Mikel Arteta doesn’t trust anyone in his squad to fill in on the right-flank effectively he needs to go into the market in January and find someone, specifically Real Sociedad’s Takefusa Kubo.

saka, january transfer window
In a crazy busy Arsenal schedule, Bukayo Saka needs help | Premier League January transfer window

A spritely winger, Imanol Alguacil’s dependable Japanese star is equipped with all the makings of a Premier League attacking star; an eye for goal, quick feet, and a crisp passing game, amongst others. Having featured in a myriad of positions this season, including up front and on the right, Kubo has bagged five six goals and three assists so far this campaign. With the ball at his feet, he is a delight, averaging more successful take-ons per game (2.32) than Saka (1.90) in the last year.

Alternatively, The Athletic’s David Ornstein is reporting the Gunners are heavily interested in Wolves’ Pedro Neto, who’s electric start to the Premier League season was disrupted abruptly by injury. His incredibly direct, fast style, which has seen him average 2.10 successful take ons per 90 mins in the last year according to FBref, would complement Arsenal’s game and offer a similar outlet to Gabriel Martinelli.

Liverpool

Continue the midfield rebuild

It was out with the old, in with the new for Liverpool over the summer, as the club rebuilt and refreshed their midfield. Out went James Milner, Naby Keita, Fabinho, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Jordan Henderson (average age 31.4 years), and in came Ryan Gravenberch, Alexis Mac Alliser, Dominik Szoboszlai, and Wataru Endo (average age 24.25 years).

Of Liverpool’s summer outgoings the only one not adequately replaced has been Fabinho. Endo has done what he’s had to in that midfield screening role, so too has Mac Allister, who has exceeded expectations so far. But the former isn’t a long-term project and the latter does his best work further up the pitch as a more creative outlet.

jurgen klopp, liverpool, january transfer window
Jürgen Klopp will no doubt be hoping Liverpool stays busy in the January transfer window.

Renewing interest in Nice midfielder Khephren Thuram may be viewed as the final piece to the Merseyside midfield puzzle. While not a holding midfielder of the Fabinho mould, the mountainous Frenchman, who at six foot three inches sticks out like a sore thumb in any midfield, averages around two tackles and interceptions in Ligue 1 this season.

Featuring on the left of Nice’s midfield three, Thuram, whose father Lillian was a stalwart for the French national team in the 1990s and 2000s, is an exceptionally silky dribbler capable of dancing his way through compact, well-oiled presses. According to FBref, amongst central midfielders he ranks in the 97th percentile for progressive carries in the last 365 days with 3.43 per game, and the 95th percentile for successful take-ons at 1.77 per 90.

Late last year, the midfielder summarised his progression into a more complete box-to-box midfielder, stating “I defend better and win the ball back more than I did last season and that’s what’s required of a midfielder.”

Aston Villa

Continue strengthening squad

For Villa, the January transfer window should be about building on the sturdy foundations already in place. A brilliantly assembled young squad with depth in just about every position has Unai Emery’s men right in the fight for the title. Doubling down on their existing transfer trajectory is paramount and with Monchi at the helm of this department it seems unlikely this won’t eventuate.

There have been numerous reports linking Villa to Bayer Leverkusen’s Dutch international, Jeremie Frimpong. Aston Villa’s last fishing expedition in the lake of Leverkusen proved fortuitous with the arrival of Moussa Diaby, who’s been dynamite for them this season. Should Frimpong opt to switch Xabi Alonso’s title-hunting Leverkusen side for Emery’s, Villa fans can expect a pacey excitement merchant.

Matty Cash image
Aston Villa has been flying; wing Matty Cash has been a big reason why | Premier League

Nominally a right-wing back on the right flank of Alonso’s 3-4-3 formation, Frimpong operates more as a winger with licence to hug the touchline or roam inside whenever he sees fit. Defensively, question marks remain about his capabilities, which is why Alonso’s defensive structure is constructed to maximise not minimise his flying Dutchman, but going forward there are few ‘fullbacks’ in world football with his instinct and technical ability.

Elsewhere, Ollie Watkins’ fine form would be delighting both Emery and Monchi. But what may remain on the back of their minds is their lack of first team ready coverage for their star striker. Jhon Duran is still raw and Bertrand Traore is more winger than centre forward. This may tempt Villa into the market for striker depth, with Bournemouth’s Dominic Solanke a Premier League proven forward possessing a game loosely resembling Watkins’.

Brighton

Midfield coverage

What has grown glaringly obvious this season is Brighton’s lack of midfield depth. For a manager fighting a multifront war, including bouts in the Premier League, Europa League, and other domestic cup competitions, Brighton remains thin in the midfield after losing two key contributors in the summer; Moises Caicedo and Alexis Mac Allister.

Pascal Gross is ever-reliable, James Milner is a valuable squad player, while both Mo Dahoud and Billy Gilmour are proved highly competent midfield players. But none are Moises Caicedo.

Neither is Carlos Baleba, the man brought in to replace the Ecuadorian. Baleba has struggled to find his feet in the Premier League, and it shows

It’s clear the South Coast club needs to head into the market and find an adequate, ready-now Caicedo replacement, particularly if they intend on embarking on a deep European run. Who that is remains a mystery. Not even Nostradamus would confidently predict Brighton’s next signings.

brighton, pedro, january transfer window
Brighton brought João Pedro in in the summer to good effect. Now they need midfield depth | January transfer window

The club’s transfer business is so difficult to forecast in part due to the obscurity of their signings, Moises Caicedo was picked up from the Ecuadorian league at the age of 20, and the complexity of their scouting system, fuelled by owner Tony Bloom’s unique worldwide data system.

Such is the strength of their scouting and recruiting the joke goes, that instead of signing a Brighton player, clubs should sign the player Brighton is looking to replace their targeted player with. Who Brighton brings in to strengthen their midfield now and unlock the playmaking potential of Billy Gilmour and Pascal Gross remains to be seen, but what is certain is they’ll nail it.

West Ham

A new right back

It would’ve been hard to imagine a Declan Rice-less West Ham being stronger than they were last year, but it’s an argument that can be made. Across the park players are firing, Mohammed Kudus has found his feet, Lucas Paqueta looks creatively unleashed, James Ward-Prowse has made many worthwhile contributions, Edson Alvarez screens the back four brilliantly, and Jarrod Bowen is doing Jarrod Bowen things again.

Presently, David Moyes weakest link is his right-back, Vladimir Coufal. While the Czech Republic man’s commitment is undoubted, he doesn’t exactly scream European football, even if he may have in previous years. With Bowen firing, a brilliant fullback behind would facilitate the recently called-up England man’s continued career blossoming.

declan rice
West Ham have so far weathered the departure of Declan Rice.

A player like Ricardo Pereira who, despite a few lean years, has proven himself in the topflight for the Foxes, would be ideal for Moyes fast breaking side. Whether he leaves a high-flying Leicester remains to be seen.

Another point of contention for the Hammers is their striker situation. Jarrod Bowen has sporadically featured through the middle this season, without much impact on his goalscoring, while Danny Ings and Michail Antonio are still on the books at the club.

But Bowen isn’t a striker, while Ings is an effective, somewhat efficient goalscorer, his capacity to undertake Antonio’s off-ball duties and his lack of physical presence, something the Jamaican international possesses in spades, means a sustained injury to Antonio may force a shift in playstyle composition for the hammer.

Entering the market for a player with similar physical traits and goalscoring capacity as Antonio, such as Almeria’s Javier Luis Suarez, could be an adept use of January funds for West Ham.

Newcastle

Defensive cover

It’s impossible to fault Newcastle’s defence, especially considering they recently conceded just a single goal against a front four of Randal Kolo Muani, Goncalo Ramos, Ousmane Dembele, and Kylian Mbappe (!). But nonetheless, that’s what we’re going to do. An injury to Sven Botman meant club captain Jamal Lascelles started alongside Fabian Schar in the heart of Eddie Howe’s defence against PSG.

Lascelles, like the rest of the backline, was exceptional in clamping up the Parisian’s star firepower. But, unless we are in some warped parallel universe, his success in that competition in that position isn’t sustainable. If Newcastle want to build on last season’s foundations, defensive cover is required.

We Are Newcastle United documentary
Things are going well for Newcastle United. What will the club do in the January transfer window?

Whether the PIF (Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia) enters the market for centre-half cover remains up in the air. But one would imagine a player as highly touted as Nice’s Jean-Clair Todibo would suffice. The imposing former Barcelona man has been on the radar of plenty of top clubs, recently inquiring about enlisting the 23-year-old’s services. Todibo’s defensively sound – averaging two tackles, eight ball recoveries, and just over an interception per game in Ligue 1 this season – physically strong, and elegant on the ball. He is the prototypical modern defender who could anchor this Newcastle defence for years to come.

However, with Nice currently second in France, looking to return to the Champions League, and Todibo admitting reluctance to move in the summer window, Newcastle may need to explore alternatives.

Manchester United

Everything, or a centre half

What don’t United need? By the time January rolls around, they may very well need a new manager. But at present, their worries lie in defence. United have been plagued by defensive injuries this season. All of Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw, Tyrell Malacia, Jonny Evans, Sergio Reguillon, Lisandro Martinez, and Aaron Wan-Bissaka have spent time on the sidelines this season.

It’s no secret Manchester United need wholesale changes to be made right across the squad, but multiple reports in England indicate the club’s hierarchy are targeting young centre halves in a bid to ensure their side is stronger today and in the future. The aforementioned Jean-Clair Todibo has been linked, as has Sporting Lisbon’s Goncalo Inacio.

Hojlund, Manchester United
Rasmus Højlund has been a bright spot up top for Manchester United | Premier League

A young, fresh-faced defender with a clip of pace, Inacio has become a stalwart at the heart of Ruben Amorim’s back-three. His most recent outing, a 2-1 defeat to Atalanta in the Europa League, saw the 22-year old make seven clearances, two blocks, and three interceptions while making 94 per cent of his passes.

In the Portuguese league, no player has completed more passes than the young defender, while only Orkun Kokcu has successfully played more passes in the opposition half than Sporting’s number 25, while FBref has him in the 99th percentile for progressive passes per game (8.72) and 98th percentile for progressive carries per 90 (2.1) amongst all centre halves in this last year.

Marcus Rashford, Manchester United
Manchester United’s struggles have impacted star players like Marcus Rashford.

All these factors paint a picture of a defender who’s comfortable and assured with the ball at his feet, capable of providing a passing option to the men ahead and around him as well as kick start attacking sequences himself.

He mightn’t be the final product just yet, and United – given their stature as a player graveyard – might not be the right environment to polish Portugal’s next defensive star, but given Raphael Varane’s age, Lisandro Martinez’s fragility, and the laughable lapses present in Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire’s games, Inacio, or a player of similar age and stature, is a January necessity at Old Trafford.

Chelsea

Goals

Football fans without at least one functioning eye and a basic understanding of the game have been shouting it since Romelu Lukaku’s second Stamford Bridge stint failed; goals! Goals! Goals!

Chelsea needs goals. Do they have goals already? Raheem Sterling offers goals; he’s shown that this season. Nicolas Jackson can score as well, just not very consistently. Armando Broja has the potential to become a serviceable striker, but his strengths lie outside the penalty box. Christopher Nkunku definitely has goals, anyone in Germany will testify to that, but did he pack his shooting boots on his move to London?

It seems remarkable to think Chelsea have poured over £1 billion pounds into the transfer market in the post-Roman Abramovic era and still, somehow, find themselves unable to buy a goal. In January, they’ll need to do just that.

Mauricio Pochettino
Chelsea manager Mauricio Pochettino appears to have his side heading in the right direction.

Ivan Toney has been heavily linked to the club. His gambling ban ends around the time the window opens and has a proven track record in the Premier League – 32 goals in 66 games. That kind of return should be a mouth-watering prospect for Todd Boehly. And don’t let his potent finishing deceive you; Ivan Toney is not just a fox in the box, he has it all. Strength – just ask Lisandro Martinez, pace and a beautiful knack to become effectively involved in build-up phases.

To put it plainly, he would be perfect for Chelsea. Brentford may be reluctant to sell; who wouldn’t be? But their hands may be tied, Toney may hunt fresher pastures in West London.

Ben Chilwell Chelsea image
Chelsea’s got work to do in the January transfer window.

Should the Englishman somehow not pass the Chelsea signings optics test, which I’m sure exists, then another player shrouded in controversy might hold the keys to unlocking Chelsea’s attack.

He brought Serie A glory to Naples. No, not him. The other guy. Victor Osimhen, whose 26 goals in 32 games fired Napoli to glory last season. At the moment, his red-hot form has continued, with seven goals in 12 games to open the new campaign. Arguably the world’s most complete number-nine, Osimhen is on the verge of agreeing a new deal with Napoli that keeps him in Italy’s south until 2026, though transfer guru Fabrizio Romano is reporting it includes a 130 million euro release clause.

If I’m Todd Boehly, I’m on the blower to Osimhen’s agent yesterday looking to arrange a move out of the EU and into Stamford Bridge. But I suspect he won’t be the only one eyeing the Napoli man’s services.

Picture of Kyle Robbins
Kyle Robbins
Kyle is a senior sports writer and producer at Only Sports who lives and breathes sport, with a particular burning passion for everything soccer, rugby league, and cricket. You’ll most commonly find him getting overly hopeful about the Bulldogs and Chelsea’s prospects. Find Kyle on LinkedIn.

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