The January transfer window and the fight for the top four

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Why does the January transfer window always ‘slam shut’? It’s never gently closed or left ajar, to the dismay of some fans. Typically, it is characterised by teams facing the prospect of relegation strengthening their squads to stay in the Premier League and reap the benefits of the next monumental influx of money from lucrative TV deals. The difference this time around has been the huge amount of money spent by the giants at the top of the league. £420 million was spent this year, compared to just £100,000 last season.

Manchester City bought another £50 million defender in Aymeric Laporte, but missed out on Alexis Sánchez. Why did they allow Sánchez to join Manchester United? They were reportedly unwilling to match the exorbitant wages that their Manchester rivals were willing to pay. City were expecting Sánchez to choose them over United because they thought he was desperate to play for Pep Guardiola. Pure arrogance on their part. The Premier League title may be sewn up, but with the very real prospect of a quadruple, missing out on Sánchez could prove costly, particularly with a long term injury to Leroy Sané.

Sané’s injury prompted a late push to sign Rhiyad Mahrez, who has gone AWOL having been treated very poorly by Leicester City. Arguably the greatest player in the history of the football club has seen other stars from the Premier League winning season leave, earn more money and have the chance of consistent Champions League football. He handed in a transfer request last summer and again last week. Despite his clear will to be furthering his career elsewhere, he has performed superbly for Leicester in the last few months, playing a huge part in taking them from a relegation battle to potential European football. Despite all this, Leicester have refused to sanction his dream move to Manchester City. Leicester would have reportedly received over £60 million for Mahrez, but were holding out for £80 million. Some Leicester fans will see this as the club refusing to be bullied by the ‘big boys’ of the Premier League, but it could be a big mistake. They now have a player who clearly does not want to be there for the rest of the season for the sake of £20 million, a relatively small sum in the grand scheme of things. Will there be a club willing to pay £80 million in the summer?

Arsenal’s transfer business has been typical of the reign of Arsene Wenger. They have acquired two undoubtedly talented players in Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan. Both very attacking players, but as yet unproven in the Premier League. Arsenal performances of the last 10 years (at least) have been screaming out for improved defensive stability and leadership. The lack of defensive signings on Wenger’s part can not be down to ignorance, so it must be due to stubbornness. He must think that he is capable of moulding the defenders and defensive midfielders he has at his disposal into a winning team. With Mustafi at the back and Xhaka as his ‘holding midfielder’, they will always be a long way off winning one of the two major trophies, and will continue to struggle to make it into the Champions League places. Why did they not force West Brom’s hand with a significant bid for Johnny Evans, or offer David Luiz a route out of Chelsea?

While other teams fighting for the top four were looking to strengthen their starting elevens, Chelsea were looking for squad players. It’s hard to question the acquisition of Emerson Palmieri from Roma. Conté knows the Italian market very well, and if he performs half as well as his competition for the left back position, Marcos Alonso, a player seen as a very strange signing when bought from Italy 18 months ago, Chelsea will have a very adequate back-up player. Ross Barkley for £15 million and Olivier Giroud for £18 million also seems like shrewd business by Chelsea, but the worry for Chelsea fans would be that with the two Manchester clubs spending big money to improve their teams, the West London club may be looking over their shoulders rather than pushing for another title in the future.

Spurs have strengthened by bringing in £25 million Lucas Moura from PSG. As with any player recruited from overseas, it remains to be seen how quickly the Brazilian will be able to adapt to life in the Premier League. Assuming he does settle, this is astute business from Daniel Levy and Tottenham. He is technically gifted and has searing pace, something you could argue that Spurs have lacked this season, particularly following the departure of Kyle Walker to Man City. The most important thing for Spurs is to ensure they hang on to Harry Kane and Pochettino in the summer. It will require a huge bid, presumably from Real Madrid, to prize either of them away. However, if they don’t win something soon, they could be following former stars Bale and Modric out of the door to the Bernabeu.

Liverpool now have an overpriced defender in Van Dijk, who will improve their team, but still no decent goalkeeper. Manchester City have shown this season what a difference a top goalkeeper can make. Ederson’s athleticism combined with a cultured midfielder’s ability to use both feet has made a huge difference to City both defensively and in starting attacks. Liverpool have also lost their best player. Countinho had shown his best form in a Liverpool shirt since September, and has now got his dream move to Barcelona in a staggering £140 million deal. If Liverpool had managed to keep hold of him until the summer they would have been assured Champions League football next year and would have caused serious problems to the European elite in the competition this season. Now, without him, they have lost a player that can change a game in a moment, and may be faced with a real dogfight for to get into the top four. Whilst Klopp said that Countinho’s heart was already in Catalonia, with his famous ‘man management’ surely he could have persuaded him to stay until the summer, particularly as he is cup tied for the Champions league this season so won’t be able to play for his new club. It could prove costly for the Merseyside club.

Although Sanchez will prove a good signing for Manchester United, the best bit of business the Red Devils did in January was extending Mourinho’s contract until 2020. United fans may complain about the lack of attractive football at Old Trafford and look enviously across at Guardiola’s mouth-watering City side, but they need some semblance of stability. Mourinho is a proven winner, and seldom goes a season without picking up a trophy, as he proved last year. United fans should also be reminded that Mourinho has beaten Guardiola to a title before, when Real Madrid beat arguably the greatest Barcelona team of all time to the La Liga title in 2011.

Whilst the January transfer window has neither secured or lost Champions League football for any of the top 6 Premier League clubs, it has certainly increased the gap further between the best and the rest. City have won the title, but the inconsistent form of the remaining five clubs means the last three places are very much up for grabs.