Now that the World Cup is over, all eyes can return to domestic football. With the unprecedented nature of a winter World Cup, and the disruption to the club campaign it has resulted in, Premier League clubs will find themselves in the unusual position of entering the January transfer window having played a maximum of 17 league fixtures. With more than half of the fixtures remaining, this could mean that the timing and subsequent influence this winter window has on each teams’ fortunes is greater than ever before. With that in mind, which position should every Premier League side be focusing on recruiting?
Arsenal entered the World-Cup-induced break five points clear at the top of the Premier League table and they will be desperate to pick up where they left off. Although Gunners fans will be tired of hearing it, there is a degree of truth behind claims that they are a couple of injuries to key players from struggling slightly. The depth of the squad is the best it has been in a very long time, but an injury to the likes of Thomas Partey or Bukayo Saka and it feels as though Mikel Arteta’s men could struggle to sustain a title challenge. The club have constantly been linked with winger Mykhalio Mudryk of Shakhtar Donetsk over the past few months and the 21-year-old Ukrainian could help provide depth in the wide attacking areas and ease the burden on the likes of Saka and Gabriel Martinelli.
However, the key area that Arsenal are likely to look to strengthen is in midfield. Partey and Granit Xhaka have been immense this season along with Martin Ødegaard but the drop off between that trio and the likes of Mohamed Elneny and Albert Lokonga is drastic. Youri Tielemans has been a long-term target for the club and is out of contract in the summer. Arsenal could wait until then to try and secure the Leicester City midfielder on a free transfer, but if they are to force the issue and make a cut-price bid in January they could add a much needed player of quality in the middle of the park to give them a lift in the second half of the campaign.
Aston Villa fans have cause for optimism with the arrival of serial Europa League winner, Unai Emery, as manager prior to the World Cup. A name with as much clout in the game as Emery’s makes Villa a very attractive proposition for transfer targets, although they have already been successful in recruiting big names such as Philippe Coutinho, Diego Carlos, and Boubacar Kamara in recent windows. Emery’s favoured 442 formation often involves central midfield players playing on the left and right of the midfield which may be bad news for the wingers currently at the club.
Up front the club have Danny Ings and Ollie Watkins but little in terms of senior experience beyond that. Subsequently, this is likely to be an area that the club seek to strengthen and France and Borussia Mönchengladbach’s Marcus Thuram has been heavily linked.
Bournemouth are holding their own following their return to the promised land of the Premier League; this is especially impressive given that – after winning their opening game – they lost their next three games with an aggregate score of 16-0. Following this run, Bournemouth sacked Scott Parker and Gary O’Neil has been in charge ever since, initially as caretaker manager but now permanently.
The Cherries are 15th and have found a way to win football matches in the Premier League again. Their major downfall is their defence, though. Bournemouth have conceded 32 goals in 15 league games, which is the worst record in the division, and their backline is simply not good enough. A Premier League quality centre back is essential if Bournemouth are to sure up their leaky rear-guard and have a real chance of avoiding a return to the Championship. It will also be interesting to see how the club do in the wake of O’Neil’s permanent appointment given how often in the past promising starts as caretaker managers end in disaster once made permanent.
After finishing 13th in their debut Premier League campaign last season, Brentford have kicked on again this season and sit 10th in the table. The club’s business model is the envy of many clubs and as such they are in the luxurious position of having no desperate need to sign a particular position. The concern would perhaps be if a big offer came in for Ivan Toney or the striker picked up an injury. There is also a worry that he will face a ban due to the investigation into his history of betting on football. If any of those scenarios materialise then the club will be dependent on Bryan Mbeumo and Yoane Wissa. Both of these players have three league goals to their name this term and are good players but both are significantly better when playing alongside Toney rather than instead of.
An addition to the forward line may be a sensible idea with the uncertainty over Toney and to add depth to a position that currently looks a little light. You could argue that a creative midfield player to replace the influence that Christian Eriksen had last season would be high on the wish-list, but Keane Lewis-Potter and Mikkel Damsgaard were both signed for this purpose and both may have a greater role in the side following the World Cup break.
Brighton and Hove Albion are surely one of the best run clubs in the country. Their recruitment from top to bottom is incredibly effective and their talent identification is quite remarkable. In the summer, Marc Cucurella was sold to Chelsea, Yves Bissouma left for Tottenham Hotspur, and weeks later manager Graham Potter left for Chelsea too. Up stepped Pervis Estupiñán, Moisés Caicedo and Roberto De Zerbi to arguably improve the club in each department. Add to that the World Cup heroics of Alexis Mac Allister and you begin to see why there are so many admiring glances aimed towards the Amex Stadium.
The Seagulls are 7th in the league currently and their fans can get excited about the second half of the campaign, albeit with some fears over bids for their key players. The one criticism of the club’s recent recruitment could be their inability to find a striker who can benefit from their free-flowing football, with Leandro Trossard often acting as a false 9 rather than trusting the more orthodox strikers on the club’s books. Admittedly, Trossard performs this role very well but De Zerbi’s men could certainly benefit from a more prolific, conventional centre-forward to lead the line. Deniz Undaz linked up with his new teammates in the summer but is yet to show that he is that man. Add a striker with a predatory instinct in front of goal to this immensely talented side and there is no reason they can’t aim to maintain their current position.
After sacking Thomas Tuchel in September, the appointment of Graham Potter has yet to have the desired effect at Chelsea. The club lie in a lowly 8th place and failed to win any of their five league games prior to the World Cup break; the 4-1 defeat to Potter’s former side, Brighton, the worst of the lot. For much of Tuchel’s time in charge the attack lacked cohesion and did not seem to function fluently. This problem has continued into Potter’s tenure and is something that desperately needs addressing.
The player who was signed to lead the line in the summer was Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but the 33-year-old’s best days are behind him and he has only scored one league goal since his arrival. Add to that the long-term injury to academy product Armando Broja in a recent friendly and it is clear Chelsea are in dire need of a striker. The signing of Molde striker David Datro Fofana for £10.5 million is imminent, but the 20-year-old is very much one for the future and will not be tasked with being the main source of goals for a while yet. Given the uncertainty at Juventus, a move for Serbia centre-forward Dusan Vlahovic could be tempting for the Chelsea hierarchy.
Crystal Palace have undergone a really positive transition under Patrick Vieira and are widely considered a side that look to play an attractive brand of football with exciting players in attacking areas; a far cry from their perception under Roy Hodgson. Crucially, this has happened alongside getting results. The Eagles are currently 11th in the league and should have their eyes fixed firmly on at least a top half finish. Despite this, there are a couple of areas that the Palace hierarchy may be looking to improve this January. One is the fullback area and the other is central midfield.
Chris Richards signed from Bayern Munich in the summer but has only managed three league appearances due to injury. The USA international can play at right-back and centre-back and his versatility is one of the key reasons for his arrival but the club are yet to benefit from that. Other than Richards, Palace have Nathaniel Clyne, Joel Ward, Tyrick Mitchell, or the seemingly permanently injured Nathan Ferguson as fullbacks, with Jeffrey Schlupp able to cover at left-back if required. In midfield, Palace signed Cheick Doucouré to anchor the centre of the pitch and he looks a very good signing but they could benefit with another quality central midfielder joining their ranks. Eberechi Eze has often been tasked with performing the role of last season’s loanee Conor Gallagher and has been very impressive; although is a different profile of player to Gallagher. Aside from that, Vieira can call on any of Schlupp, James McArthur, Luka Milivojevic, Will Hughes or Jairo Riedewald. All of these players have differing qualities, but to take the next step it feels as though a number 8 style midfielder of real quality on the ball may be key for the Selhurst Park side.
After surviving a relegation battle by the skin of their teeth last season, Everton once again find themselves in a precarious position. Frank Lampard’s side are 17th in the league and are only a point above the relegation zone. They have found a way to make themselves more difficult to beat than last campaign though, which can mainly be attributed to the signings of James Tarkowski on a free and Conor Coady on loan. In fact, only three teams in the league have conceded less goals than the Toffees. The problem is at the other end.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin just cannot get himself fit and summer-signing Neal Maupay has struggled to make an impact as Everton have scored just 11 goals in 15 league games. with their new-found defensive solidity, a striker capable of scoring 15 goals a season could see this Everton side fly up the table. Unfortunately, strikers of this quality come at a premium and are not easy to find.
Fulham have had a very promising first part of the season upon their return to the Premier League and look in far better shape to consolidate their top flight status than they have in their last couple of attempts. The defence was an area of concern at the beginning of the season and they do concede more goals than Marco Silva would like but ultimately they are 9th in the league after 15 games.
The position that is potentially the most important for the Cottagers to recruit is a right-back, with Kevin Mbabu and Kenny Tete both struggling to make the position their own and Bobby Decordova-Reid having to act as cover when he is accustomed to playing much further forward. Arsenal’s Cedric Soares has been linked and could well prove good value.
Leicester City have suffered something of a fall from grace since their FA Cup win at the end of the 2020/21 season. The squad has been ravaged by injuries for much of that period but the feeling is that things have gone a little stale at the the club and the squad desperately needs a refresh; especially when you consider only one signing was made in the summer.
There are a number of positions that the side would benefit from recruiting but the glaring one is a right midfielder or winger. James Maddison has been one of the league’s in-form players operating from a right midfield position but this is not his favoured position by any means. The problem is the alternatives are poor. Realistically, the options are Ayoze Perez, who has suffered a huge decline, and Marc Albrighton who is a squad player at this stage of his career. An exciting, direct, right winger coming in would allow Maddison to operate more centrally – where he usually drifts anyway – and get into more areas where he can really hurt the opposition. Atalanta’s Jérémie Boga is one player who has been linked after struggling to make an impact at the Italian side and the former Chelsea man is likely to be available on an initial loan. Boga can cover both flanks and the loan means that it is a low-risk addition too.
Leeds United’s last two league games prior to the break both finished 4-3; once in their favour against Bournemouth and once against them, losing to Tottenham Hotspur. Leeds fixtures generally mean goals and the gun-ho approach of Marcelo Bielsa’s reign is still apparent in Jesse Marsch’s side. Patrick Bamford has been injured for the majority of the past 18 months, but Rodrigo Moreno has really stepped up this campaign with nine league goals thus far. Young strikers Joe Gelhardt and Wilfried Gnonto mean that the future is bright in that regard but they may be tempted to add another winger to their ranks.
The emergence of Crysencio Summerville could put this on hold, but Jack Harrison has not looked the same player this season and summer-signing Luis Sinisterra has been unlucky with injuries. They may also look for a defensive recruit. Pascal Struijk has been good at left-back this season but they could do with cover given that Junior Firpo does not look to have much of a future at Elland Road.
Liverpool have had an indifferent start to the season and find themselves 6th in the table but with a game in hand on some of their top four rivals. It is no secret that Jurgen Klopp’s men are light in midfield and have never really replaced Gini Wijnaldum since his departure two summers ago. Thiago Alcantara is a wonderful player but there are all too often concerns with his fitness. The same can be said for both Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain; neither of which can be depended on. Arthur Melo joined on loan in the summer but it was a deal that wreaked of desperation, with his limited involvement a sign that Klopp never wanted the Brazilian in the first place.
Links with Jude Bellingham are gathering momentum but this is unlikely to be a deal that happens in January. The likes of Inter Milan’s Nicolo Barella, Benfica’s recently crowned World Cup winner Enzo Fernandez, or even Morocco hero Sofyan Amrabat have all been mentioned and each would provide something different in the engine room of the Liverpool side.
When your squad is as good as Manchester City’s there aren’t too many things you can do to improve it. That being said, the club are a little light in the fullback department. With Joao Cancelo, Sergio Gómez, and Kyle Walker the club have three senior fullbacks but John Stones and Nathan Ake have both had to deputise there at times this season.
The club pursued Marc Cucurella in the summer after selling Oleksandr Zinchenko but were pipped by Chelsea. This resulted in them signing left-back Gómez and Cancelo can cover both sides but is more effective as a left-back despite being right-footed. Therefore, a right back may well be the most likely area that is targeted. Who that may be is up for debate, however.
Cristiano Ronaldo – and the circus that surrounded him – departing Manchester United should be a blessing for the club moving forward. However, it does leave the striker options at the club sparse at best. Marcus Rashford has played through the middle at times this season and Anthony Martial should return but beyond that Erik ten Hag has very limited options.
A striker must be the priority but there are not a great deal of available strikers that will improve United without costing a very inflated price; especially given that other clubs will be aware of United’s near desperation. United must look to sign a striker that takes them to the next level and names such as Victor Osimhen and João Felix have been touted. It would likely take a mega offer to convince Napoli to sell their prized asset in January so perhaps Felix represents a more viable option; particularly given that Atlético Madrid are actively looking to sell the Portugal forward.
Newcastle United are in dreamland. The Magpies are 3rd in the Premier League and every player in their squad seems to have raised their game to a new level. Combine this with a number of shrewd acquisitions and you can see why Eddie Howe’s side find themselves in such a dizzying position. Despite this, the club are very much a project in a transition period and there is a notable difference in the quality of the first 11 when compared to the fringe players.
One player whose improvement has been the most stark is Miguel Almirón, with the Paraguayan winger on eight league goals already this term. Another winger is very likely to be a target though, due to the injury record of Allan Saint-Maximin and the fact that beyond that the club must rely on Jacob Murphy and Ryan Fraser. Napoli sensation Khvicha Kvaratskhelia is one player who has been linked, but just like Osimhen this would take an astronomical fee. Jack Harrison is another whose name has cropped up but this has cooled somewhat recently. Memphis Depay and Christian Pulisic are two big names who could also be options, whilst a bid to test the waters for Harvey Barnes wouldn’t be the worst idea.
After making 22 signings in the summer, it’s crazy to think that there could be any positions that’s Nottingham Forest should be targeting. Unfortunately – and perhaps predictably – it is yet to all click into place for Steve Cooper’s large squad.
Taiwo Awoniyi was signed from Union Berlin in the summer to spearhead the attack but has only managed three Premier League goals and has often found himself watching on as the likes of Morgan Gibbs-White, Emmanuel Dennis, and Brennan Johnson play as hybrid strikers. Therefore, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Forest dip back into the market to try and find a greater goal threat to help them improve on their 11 goals in 15 league games in the second half of the season.
The position that Southampton need the most is not even up for debate. A striker is an absolute necessity in the January transfer window. Danny Ings departed the club for Aston Villa in the summer of 2021 and is yet to be replaced 18 months on. Adam Armstrong was signed to do just that but his three Premier League goals have done little to help fans forget about their striker woes. Armanda Broja had a more successful loan spell last season than his six league goals would suggest but his season fizzled out last term and he has now sustained a long-term injury at parent club Chelsea.
Young striker Sékou Mara joined in the summer and has shown promise but not enough to be burdened with being the club’s primary source of goals. The Saints have managed just 13 goals in 15 league games this season. If they are to survive then they must surely go all out for a striker ready to be the main man instantly this window.
Tottenham Hotspur are 4th in the league and through to the knockout stages of the Champions League which is perhaps about par for the course at this stage of the season. The disappointing thing, though, will be the performances. It has become an expectation that Antonio Conte’s men will have a terrible first half of games and then spend the second half frantically trying to turn things around. They have developed a knack of finding a way, which is a good habit to have, but it still feels like this squad should be doing so much more.
Harry Kane is effectively the only source of creativity in the side and this needs to change. An imaginative midfielder should be top of the list for January, as Tottenham’s current midfield options are good, industrious players but not the most gifted in terms of providing a spark. James Maddison’s name has been mentioned and could be a shrewd addition, although he isn’t the stereotypical Conte player and would perhaps represent a Daniel Levy signing rather than that of the Italian manager.
West Ham United
West Ham United have struggled so far this season and sit in what can only be considered a lowly 16th place given their recent success. Injuries have definitely more than played their part and the Hammers have still successfully negotiated their Europa Conference League group but reinforcements this winter are required.
Fullback is a problem area for David Moyes’ men and it would come as no surprise to see at least one come in. Vladimír Coufal has struggled this season, whilst Ben Johnson and Aaron Cresswell have both had to act as unorthodox central defenders in a back three. Thilo Kehrer has also deputised as a right-back despite being signed as a central defender, so it is an area that has presented Moyes with real problems this campaign.
Wolves are another side who will be desperate to add a striker to their ranks in January and with good reason too. The Molineux side have managed to score just eight goals in 15 league games so far this season and had to secure the services of 34-year-old free agent Diego Costa as emergency cover for Raúl Jiménez, but neither striker has scored a league goal this campaign. In truth, Jiménez has never looked the same since his fractured skull injury and does not carry the same goal threat as he has done in the past.
With Wolves bottom of the league and four points from safety, new boss Julen Lopetegui has a number of areas to be concerned about but a striker may well be top of the list. It looks as though that man may be Matheus Cunha of Atlético Madrid, with the Brazil striker linked with an initial loan move with an obligation to buy. Cunha has struggled to get going in Madrid following his move from Hertha Berlin and is far from the finished article but at 23 he has time to develop. The concern will be that the area that perhaps leaves the most to be desired in Cunha’s all-round game is his finishing, especially given how few chances Wolves have been creating this season. The striker’s most prolific season to date resulted in just seven league goals, so Wolves fans will be hoping he finds his shooting boots in England.