By Ben Fleming
With the cold, harsh realities of February now upon us, so concludes the January transfer window, and for the most part it was a somewhat anticlimactic affair with very few marquee signings and last-minute panic buys to talk about.
By comparison, this year, Premier League clubs spent only £180m, with the ‘big six’ clubs spending only £62m, all of which was spent on players who were immediately loaned back to selling club.
Thus, reviewing this season’s January transfer window becomes more difficult. However, a few clubs did make some shrewd (and some not so shrewd) acquisitions which are deserving of a mention.
Best Signing: Higuain/Almirón
As aforementioned, there is not a plethora of big-name signings to pick from, but a few do stick out.
One of those is Gonzalo Higuain’s loan move from Juventus to Chelsea.
Despite his age, Higuain still possesses the qualities of a top-class striker and showed such ability with his brace at the weekend against Huddersfield.
The fact is, a loan means that Chelsea aren’t forced to pay his wages, and can make a big move in the summer for a younger striker, who perhaps they were unable to recruit in January.
Crucially, Higuain has an in-depth understanding of Sarri’s footballing philosophy, having played under the Italian for a season at Napoli.
In thirty-seven games under Sarri, Higuain has thirty-eight goals and two assists and I would be surprised if he doesn’t continue that form during his sixth month stay in London.
The other signing that stands out is Miguel Almirón who moved from Atalanta United to Newcastle United for a record-breaking £20 million.
Almirón was the co-star, along with fellow South-American Josef Martínez, in an Atalanta side who dominated MLS this season. Almirón was named in the team of the year and picked up thirteen goals and eleven assists in thirty-seven appearances from the attacking midfield position.
Almirón represents not only good value but a perfect stylistic fit for Rafa’s Newcastle side who like to sit deep and counter in a 4-4-1-1 formation.
Almirón’s pace and supreme dribbling ability, as well as his impressive work rate, marks a substantial improvement on Ayoze Pérez and he should make a big impact in the number ten role.
Finally, on a physiological level, the fact that Newcastle have actually spent some money and broken their transfer record will be a huge boost for the plans and the dressing room and could well be the difference between them remaining in the Premier League and getting relegated.
This time last year, Premier League clubs forked out £430m
Worst signing: Peter Crouch
This one really speaks for itself. Whilst Crouch is a perfectly likeable footballer, he is 38 years old and not even getting in a Stoke team that is languishing middle-table in the Championship.
Furthermore, the deal meant that Sam Vokes went the other way to Stoke. Given that Burnley are playing two strikers up top currently, having Vokes as a rotation option would seem useful and infinitely more valuable than a glorified ageing giant.
Best window: Bournemouth
No big-name signings that will absolutely revolutionise Eddie Howe’s side, but a series of shrewd acquisitions represent more steady progress and a successful January transfer window for the south-coast side.
The loan signing of Clyne adds much experience and crucially cover at right back, especially after club captain and fellow right back, Simon Francis, was ruled out for nine months.
In defence, they added Chris Mepham from Brentford. Bournemouth’s weaknesses have lied in defence and Mepham, who is already capped by Wales, adds another ball-playing option at the back and comes with a lot of expectation from Brentford, who have a reputation of bringing through a host of talented players in the past.
Finally, up front, Bournemouth have offloaded Defoe to Rangers for eighteen months which alleviated a lot of wages and enabled them to bring in young England striker, Dominic Solanke from Liverpool for £19 million.
Solanke has shown promise for England U-20’s and 21’s and whilst not being able to replicate such form for Liverpool, could develop nicely under the tutorage of Wilson and King and in the future, could be sold on for huge profit, given the inflated price tags that are often attached to English players.
Worst window: Burnley
As aforementioned, the Crouch-Vokes swap deal would appear to be poor business. And given Burnley’s current predicament in the Premier League, it is somewhat surprising that they haven’t invested to try and spark an improved second half of the season.
Some creativity on the flanks or a commanding presence in the middle of the park might have been wise acquisitions, especially as other relegated threatened sides such as Newcastle and Crystal Palace have strengthened with the signings of Batshuayi and Almirón
One to watch: Karlan Grant
Whilst Huddersfield look destined to be relegated and made few signings in January, one of their signings was the promising English striker Karlan Grant from League One side for £2 million.
Charlton have an illustrious recent history when it comes to young talent with the like of Ezri Konsa, Ademola Lookman and Joe Gomez graduating from the Charlton Academy in recent years.
Karlan Grant scored fourteen goals in twenty-five games for Charlton and should add some much-needed pace to the Huddersfield front line lower league experience especially next year when Huddersfield will undoubtedly find themselves in the Championship.
What seems certain, however, is that the teams left in the title race will have to deal only with the players that they have now.
Photograph: Nazionale Calcio via Flickr