Thursday 22 February 2018

Ten questions to be answered in the January sales

Transfer window crucial at both ends of table as title challengers and basement battlers get ready to splash cash, writes Jack Pitt-Brooke

David Moyes is on a scouting mission
David Moyes is on a scouting mission
Aiden McGeady
Grant Holt
David Aguero

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Will Arsenal sign a striker?

The biggest difference between Manchester City and Arsenal is the depth and quality of City's striking options. While Manuel Pellegrini can call on Sergio Aguero, Alvaro Negredo and Edin Dzeko, Arsenal have been desperately reliant on Olivier Giroud this season -- Lukas Podolski and Nicklas Bendtner have started just three league games between them.

With Bendtner struggling with an ankle strain and Theo Walcott out for the rest of the season, Arsene Wenger -- not one to rush into these things -- is considering going into the market. He would love to take 21-year-old Alvaro Morata on loan from Real Madrid but a more realistic option might be the Fulham veteran Dimitar Berbatov on a short-term deal. Or he could rely on Giroud and hope for the best.

Can Manchester United strengthen their midfield?

One of the many problems of United's season stems from their failure to bring in quality midfielders in the summer, despite attempts for Cesc Fabregas and Ander Herrera. They have been punished, repeatedly, for this, languishing in seventh in the league and out of the FA Cup.

David Moyes is trying to redeem this now, travelling to Italy to watch Cagliari against Juventus on Sunday. Juventus' first-choice midfielders -- Paul Pogba and Arturo Vidal -- may be beyond United, Claudio Marchisio might not be.

Coach Phil Neville went to Getafe v Rayo Vallecano, to see Saul Niguez, just 19 and on loan to Rayo from Atletico Madrid. There could be another move for Herrera -- but United certainly need someone.

Will Ravel Morrison recast the relegation battle?

In a miserable season for West Ham, Ravel Morrison has been one of the few bright sparks, impressing in midfield with his balance and skill. But he feels undervalued at Upton Park and knows that there are better options out there for him.

Fulham and Cardiff City -- both managed by former coaches of Morrison from United -- can probably offer him better terms. If he were to leave, it could fatally undermine West Ham's attempts to stay in the division.

Which summer additions will be discarded?

January is the month of scaling back and cutting down, and some players bought in the enthusiasm of high summer may be cast off this month, if interested clubs can be found.

Tottenham could send Lewis Holtby, bought last January, back to Schalke. Erik Lamela is desperate to leave but Spurs are likely to turn down loan requests for now at least, while there is continental interest in midfielder Etienne Capoue.

Andreas Cornelius -- £8m in the summer -- is yet to start a league game for Cardiff, similar to Nicklas Helenius at Aston Villa.

Which top-flight team will finally go for Tom Ince?

The best player in the Championship, Blackpool's Ince is on the verge of his long-awaited Premier League move.

The England U-21 winger nearly rejoined Liverpool last January and was then heavily linked with Cardiff in the summer, but now, with just six months left on his Blackpool contract, he is almost certain to leave.

Swansea and Everton are keenest, Everton offering the benefit of keeping Ince's young family in the north west, but Newcastle and Tottenham retain an interest. There is even an offer from Monaco, but expect Ince to stay in England.

Will Liverpool get the edge on Everton?

Separated by just one point, Liverpool in fourth, Everton in fifth, the Merseyside race for a Champions League place will be one of the most interesting parts of the second half of the season.

Everton have started their January recruitment already, adding the intelligence and skill of Aiden McGeady on the wing, a crucial addition after the injury to Gerard Deulofeu.

Liverpool, of course, will want their own wing additions and are aiming even higher for Basel's Egyptian wideman Mohamed Salah. It will require a serious bid to nab him this month, but Salah could well be the man to keep Liverpool in the top four.

Who will be the Ilan of the window?

Sometimes, a striker will come from relative obscurity at this time of year and score enough goals to save his new team.

It has happened twice at West Ham, with Paul Kitson in 1997 and Ilan in 2010, or when City signed Emile Mpenza in 2007.

Many teams at the bottom of the table could do with a striking saviour, unlikely or not -- West Ham and Crystal Palace especially -- so it remains to be seen which centre-forward will ride in to save their season. It could even be Carlton Cole, whose short-term deal with the Hammers has expired and is up for grabs.

Will City replace Samir Nasri?

Just one point behind leaders Arsenal, but still playing the best football in England, City cannot afford to let their season be derailed by Nasri's two-month absence with his knee injury.

The French midfielder's imagination and skill have been vital this season, and the two obvious deputies -- James Milner and Jesus Navas -- do different things.

Then there is the issue of security in midfield, with City lacking an authentic holding player ever since Gareth Barry left last summer. They need to improve their away form to win the league, and a new defensive midfielder might be the best way to do it.

Will Aston Villa add the experience they need?

Villa's problems are obvious enough -- Paul Lambert has built a team based on hunger, youth and enthusiasm, which can produce some stirring football, but they lack the experience and nous to win many games.

Lambert seems to have recognised this and has added veteran striker Grant Holt -- who did so well for him at Norwich -- on loan. They could do with another veteran defender or midfielder, but the obvious option, City's Joleon Lescott, is surely out of their salary range.

With Hull City close to adding Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic this window, the value of players who know the division may become even clearer.

Will Pepe Mel follow Solskjaer's example?

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has not been at Cardiff very long but has already added two players -- Magnus Wolff Eikrem and Mats Moller Daehli -- he worked with at United and Molde.

It makes perfect sense -- Cardiff need to stay up and Solskjaer is signing known quantities -- so he may well repeat the trick before the end of the month. Mel, new to West Brom, could well bring in some of his better former players from Betis in the hope they settle quickly. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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