Transfer news: Where Liverpool, Manchester United and title challengers need to strengthen in January
As the January transfer window approaches, where do the top six need to strengthen so that their title challenge doesn't fall flat in 2017?
Centre-back and winger
Manchester United have been in scintillating form recently and it seems as though their big money signings from the summer are starting to be worth their weight in gold. Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba are to be performing well consistently and with more game time Henrikh Mkhitaryan seems to be relishing his time on the Old Trafford turf.
However, there are still pieces missing from the Jose Mourinho jigsaw. At times, their defence seems shaky. Marcos Rojo (pictured) looks like he could be sent off at any given moment and it appears that they are lacking a real leader in the heart of that defence.
For months Chris Smalling looked to be that man, but that has failed to materialise. United have been linked recently with bullish Benfica centre-back Victor Lindelof, but the 22-year-old Swede is reportedly close to signing a new contract that’d increase the fee and that may deter them. Another defender that may interest United is Aymeric Laporte of Athletic Bilbao. Also 22, the Frenchman has attracted widespread interest for his dominant displays for the Basque club.
On occasion, United’s attack seems to lack fluidity and a cutting edge and it may also be time to invest in another winger. The left wing has seen Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial deployed there and at times even Wayne Rooney but they’ve failed to have a high level of consistency. But if United can sign a winger of real quality then their attack would be as potent as some of the top teams in Europe, excluding Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Tottenham have last year’s top goalscorer in Harry Kane but the English forward has not yet hit the heights of last term. That said, even though he missed five games due to injury, the 23-year-old has scored seven goals in 12 games, which isn’t a bad return.
The real issue for Spurs is when he’s injured though. The Londoners scored six goals in Kane’s absence and comparably in the next five games, when Kane returned, they racked up ten. Mauricio Pochettino drafted in Vincent Janssen in the summer from AZ Alkmaar for £18m as back up for Kane, but the Dutchman has only managed one league goal, in a 1-1 draw with champions Leicester City.
Janssen got injured on international duty back in November and has yet to recover and surely the Argentinian coach will be looking at adding to the attacking quality currently at his disposal.
Striker and left-back
For the most part of this campaign, Alexis Sanchez has been spearheading the Gunners’ frontline but recently has been put back out wide by Arsene Wenger. In the last game against West Brom, Olivier Giroud (below) was brought back into the setup and inevitably grabbed the winning goal late on.
But although the French international has undoubted quality, he has failed to live up to expectations that the Arsenal faithful had for him and his been out of favour with Wenger. With that in mind, it might be time for Wenger to spend big and bring in a star name striker.
At the moment, with Sanchez on the wing, it is hard to believe that many of Europe’s top defences would be quaking in their boots at the prospect of facing the Gunners’ attack. A world class signing could change that, and give them a real chance of beating Bayern Munich in the Champions League last 16.
Where the defence is concerned, Arsenal have a lot of injuries at the moment with Per Mertesacker, Shkodran Mustafi, Mathieu Debuchy and Kieran Gibbs on the sidelines. Arsenal need to bring in another full back, even if it is just for back up, in case Nacho Monreal or Hector Bellerin get injured too.
At the beginning of Pep Guardiola’s reign, he made it known that he didn’t want Joe Hart in the Manchester City set-up – because he isn’t good enough with his feet – so ousted him immediately. Since Hart was loaned out to Italian club Torino, the man who has filled his shoes has done little to convince anyone that Guardiola has made the right decision.
The Spanish coach’s style requires players to play with the ball at their feet with the utmost confidence but whether that should extend to the goalkeeper is another matter.
Although in the main, Claudio Bravo has fared quite well with his feet he has shown that he is constantly susceptible to a shaky moment, especially that one at Old Trafford in the derby when he probably should have been penalised after a heavy touch saw him clatter in to Wayne Rooney.
He hasn’t been all that impressive with his shot-stopping either - arguably the most essential attribute for a goalkeeper. Some City fans have called for Guardiola to bring Hart back and that may well be a good decision if the Citizens want to catch up with Chelsea in the new year.
Goalkeeper and centre-back
It appears to be a reoccurring theme in Liverpool’s bid to win the title that prevents them from doing so each year – the number of goals they concede.
At the other end they’ve been unstoppable in the last five years, but keeping them out is another story. Critics have waded in on goalkeeper Simon Mignolet in recent years for his failure to keep goals out but it does seem a tad unfair that he has received the brunt of the criticism.
Liverpool now have two goalkeepers that have shown signs of quality but have failed to produce with any form of regularity. Loris Karius was bought by Jurgen Klopp in the summer but has not featured in the last three games.
Mignolet has received heavy criticism for the goal he conceded at his near post against Stoke City on Tuesday evening and Klopp may be considering buying another keeper. There have been rumours floating about that the Reds are ready to swoop in for Joe Hart with him surplus to requirements by Guardiola.
But it’s also the defence where Liverpool appear to struggle. The addition of Joel Matip from Schalke on a free transfer back in July has increased the solidity of the Liverpool back four but they still concede too many goals. The Reds have conceded 21 times this season and it’s their attack that has really bailed them out at times, simply scoring more than what the defence has conceded in games against Crystal Palace and Arsenal.
Midfielder and centre-back?
Right now, it’s hard to see what to change with this Chelsea team. Despite a less than satisfactory start, Antonio Conte’s ball is well and truly rolling and they seem unstoppable at the moment. The Blues have won every single match since being dismantled 3-0 by Arsenal, which has subsequently built the foundations for their record-breaking 12-match win streak.
With Diego Costa leading the line and Eden Hazard and Pedro showing signs of developing a striking partnership, Chelsea’s attack looks damaging. Conte has always prided himself on the defensive stability and organisation of his teams and he seems to have succeeded in bringing that to west London. The Blues haven’t conceded since their 3-1 win away at City and now are red-hot favourites to win the title.
With reports suggesting that John Obi Mikel is nearing the exit door, it may be wise for Conte to bring in another midfielder just to sure up his options.
There may also be the option to bring in another defender because if either Gary Cahill or David Luiz get injured, they don’t have the type of defenders that will plug the gaps in Conte's 3-4-3 formation, where both John Terry and Brainslav Ivanovic have looked out of place. All in all though, it’s hard to see where or why Chelsea need to change.
Independent News Service