As the Premier League enters the fixture-congested month of December, football fans find themselves holding more questions than answers. As each week passes the Manchester duo trade blows, more teams reveal their European ambitions while the relegation trap door is repeatedly clogged by a host of big names. By being so bad, this has been the best start to a season in recent history.
Every side in the division needs to strengthen their squad in January. This is perhaps a painfully obvious statement, but it is certainly more evident this year than in previous seasons. Whether it’s a misfiring strikeforce, an undetectable presence in midfield or a leaky defence, there has been an undeniable frailty in English football that is a far cry from the consistency they all strive for.
Show me a supporter that’s genuinely happy with the status of their squad and I will point at his jacket, the one that does up at the back. With this in mind, I am declaring this impending transfer window as the most significant since its conception.
At the top of the table, Sir Alex Ferguson and Roberto Mancini will take pride from their reputation as the ‘Comeback Kings’, but will be increasingly irked that conceding first has become a reoccurring theme. As ludicrous as it sounds both sides are undergoing a goalkeeping ‘crisis’. United are enduring their customary wobble while they search for a consistent successor to Edwin van der Saar and Joe Hart is falling foul of his own, and the nation’s sky-high expectations.
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There is also a distinct lack of steely grit at the heart of either side, which is the very essence of a Championship winning team. Vincent Kompany is the sole torchbearer for City while the Red Devils are once again rueing the prolonged absence of Nemanja Vidic. It’s therefore unsurprising that Mancini has been once again linked to the bearded brilliance of Daniele De Rossi and some tabloids are even blowing the dust off the rumours that saw Cheick Tioté destined for Old Trafford.
If both managers fancy pursuing defensive midfielders then they will surely have to compete with Rafael Benitez. Providing of course he is a) still employed in January and b) able to get close enough to Roman Abramovich to lift his chequebook from his pocket. The Chelsea chairman will have undoubtedly been hoping for a quiet window, especially after spending £80m on reshaping his favourite plaything in the summer.
However, John Terry’s lengthy lay-off has exposed the unreliable nature of the club’s remaining options at centre-back. The perfectly adequate trio of Branislav Ivanovic, Gary Cahill and David Luiz have so far performed with the poise and communication skills of two teenagers at their first school dance. Fernando Torres on the other hand, needs to convert all the energy he currently spends sulking into his once burning desire to find the back of the net. Failure to do so will surely ignite the pursuit of Edinson Cavani or Radamel Falcao.
Elsewhere, Liverpool are widely expected to invest heavily considering their squad has more teens than target men, but Brendan Rodgers has already hinted that the owners are keen to restore a sense of order to the finances at Anfield. Rodgers must therefore continue to raise hope despite the club’s insistence on balancing the books. Could a return for Andy Carroll be on the cards or will Rodgers merely persist with trying to revive the deflated figure of Jordan Henderson?
Perhaps the biggest and most influential spenders will be those who have noticed the door to the top four has been left wide open. David Moyes will view this as the perfect opportunity to remove the word ‘over’ from Everton’s persistent tag as ‘over-achievers’, although he may be too preoccupied with beating away Marouane Fellaini’s long list of admirers. Tottenham’s chairman and prolific bargain hunter Daniel Levy will also be on the prowl, with a Luka Modric shaped void still evident in spite of the heroics of Moussa Dembele.
I have of course been ignoring the elephant in the room, the aging, raging Harry Redknapp. Queens Park Rangers sit rooted to the bottom of the league, with their glamorous new arrivals so far failing to produce the performances worthy of their price tag. Aston Villa, Sunderland and even Newcastle will also be tugging away at the purse strings as the threat of relegation mutates into an increasingly realistic worry.
I could make a case for every team in the division, highlighting their flaws and predicting their transfer activity that is all ready well under way. The point is, each manager will be setting up their transfer market stall this January, but they will have to do so with their finances under an unprecedented level of scrutiny. Transfer fees and wage demands continue to rise, which means clubs will have to work harder and faster to complete any deals.
The big money moves we all cherish may only materialise in the French capital, but there is a hint of panic and desperation already looming elsewhere. Arsenal’s profits may look good on a spreedsheet but they have infuriated supporters, forced to dig deeper only to watch their team suffer. The new broadcasting deal is set to further line the pockets of the Premier League elite, which will force clubs to take greater risks to obtain this greater reward.
Who should your club sign in January?