January 31st 2013: A date which, outside the footballing world, has little significance.
However, take a glance inside the corridors of Premier League clubs around the country and you would witness a flurry of activity as owners and managers frantically search for talent to assist in their domestic campaigns. A cacophony of transfer speculation stems from the back pages of national newspapers, enticing fans with rumours of that defender they so desperately need or the striker their goal difference so urgently requires.
The difference between the forthcoming January transfer window and its annual predecessors is that for the first time in many a Premier League season, the destination of the coveted, lion-adorned trophy could depend on the calibre of signings that the contenders choose to make.
Last year, the two Manchester clubs were battling for the top spot as everyone else languished behind, but neither City nor United made any significant movement in the first month of 2012. This year could be a whole different story. With the greatest respect to third placed West Brom, the chances of bringing a Premier League trophy to the Hawthorns are about as slim as Fernando Torres claiming this season’s golden boot.
By way of elimination and the structure of the league table as it stands, Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea are the genuine contenders at the present moment. However, all three clubs have genuine issues that need resolving.
The January transfer window.
The current holders are finding their first season as Champions difficult to contend with. Despite remaining unbeaten in the Premier League thus far, Mancini’s men have struggled to find that killer instinct that won them so many games last season.
With main man Sergio Aguero hardly firing on all cylinders, City have drawn too many games and have had to rely on underrated super sub Edin Dzeko to bail them out of trouble on numerous occasions.
Meanwhile, their summer signings have had very little impact, with Scott Sinclair anonymous for most games and Jack Rodwell and Javi Garcia finding it difficult to break into a team that has a midfield boasting some of the best players in the world. Matija Nastasic is the only new kid on the block who has wholly impressed thus far.
Sign another striker – While this may seem a foolish idea to suggest, given the amount of forwards at the Etihad, a new, world class goal machine could see the side improve dramatically. To allow this move to occur however, Mancini may have to…
Sell. Sell. Sell – Unhappy players make for unhappy clubs. With an incredible amount of talent at Manchester City, world class athletes are forced to remain on the bench or in the stands. Players of the calibre of Mario Balotelli and Edin Dzeko staying side-lined for much of the available playing time, will only bring unwanted unrest and anger to the club. By cashing in on fringe players, Mancini will be able to focus on a core group of footballers with a couple of new additions, to continue with the fierce battle to retain their Premier League crown.
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A short journey across Manchester takes us to Old Trafford, where United currently sit atop the Premier League table. However, their position at the summit does not tell of the defensive frailties that have been ever present with Sir Alex’s men this season, especially at home.
The club have conceded more goals than the likes of Fulham, Stoke and Sunderland, forcing United to score an unusual amount of goals themselves in order to win matches. While the summer months allowed Fergie to boost his offensive options, this winter the Scotsman may have to strengthen other areas of his squad that were overlooked during the previous window
Bolster the Defence – Injury problems have not helped the cause at Old Trafford. However, Man United’s back four have looked worryingly leaky whatever the combination of players. A reliant, ever present goalkeeper would help matters no end, but the issues in defence still need to be addressed.
Rafael and Patrice Evra are both world class forward thinking full backs. However, they are not the most adept defensive options. Meanwhile, Jonny Evans, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic have all played some of their worst football at the back this season. A new face in defence may reinvigorate the team and allow the United faithful to trust their defensive line.
Find a long term replacement for Paul Scholes – You don’t have to be a genius to realise that Manchester United need a world class midfielder. Darren Fletcher and his impressive return from illness may bring a momentary answer to the dearth of in-form middle men at Old Trafford. However, it is essential for Sir Alex to find a long term replacement for Paul Scholes.
At times, the team still rely on the 38-year-old for a moment of magic. This will not be available for much longer as the Premier League legend is well into his twilight years. The addition of a new, exciting, world class midfielder could be the remedy for success this season.
With Chelsea already five points adrift from the top of the league, new man at the helm Rafa Benitez already has some catching up to do. While the personnel on the pitch at Stamford Bridge looks stronger than ever, problems with consistency in all areas of the club are leaving the Blues in danger of falling further adrift of their desired position. With Roman Abramovich ringing the changes with regularity and Fernando Torres misfiring once again, the fans at the Bridge will be praying for January’s arrival.
Find a striker – Oh Fernando. The £50 million that Chelsea spent on the Spaniard has to now be considered a waste. Everyone is still patiently waiting for El Nino to find his form again. Why?! It is now clear that after two years, Torres is no longer the same player we all witnessed arrive with a flurry of goals at Anfield. It is an absolute necessity for Abramovich to bring in a new striker who can hit the back of the net with regularity. Falcao, Cavani and Willian have all been linked. Let’s see it happen.
Sell the old guard – All the talk of Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard leaving for far off lands has quite obviously distracted Chelsea from the task at hand – reclaiming the Premier League trophy. The best course of action would be to let the old guard leave the club quietly in January, in order to move on from the whole furore and let the young talent take the club forward.
With little over four weeks to go until the floodgates open and the merry-go-round of the transfer window swings back to life, it will be an interesting December. For the three aforementioned clubs, unless their issues miraculously disappear over the Christmas period, January will be a time for change and New Year’s Resolutions will need to be upheld.