Quiet Transfer Window for Premier League Powers Gives Glimpse Into Their Thinking

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The 2011 January transfer deadline day frenzy that saw Chelsea sign Fernando Torres for £50 million from Liverpool, who replaced him with Andy Carroll from Newcastle United for £35 million sure seems a long time ago.

January transfer windows these days tend to be much less frenetic affairs, characterized by cautious maneuvering as clubs, if they enter the market at all, do so merely to plug gaps. That’s not to say that January signings can’t be hugely important: Liverpool was transformed by the arrival of Virgil van Dijk in January last year, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has made a big difference to Arsenal. This window, though, has been notable for its lack of activity.

Neither of the two title contenders has signed a senior player, although with defensive injuries mounting, Liverpool’s decision to loan out Nathaniel Clyne to Bournemouth may be one it regrets. The sale of Dominic Solanke to Bournemouth, meanwhile, will hopefully mean more pitch time for a highly promising forward who has struggled to get a game at either Chelsea or Liverpool.

Manchester United’s only activity, similarly, has been to offload Marouane Fellaini, an imminient departure to China that seems freighted with significance given how he, as the first signing of the post-Ferguson era, had come to sum up the club’s struggles. How involved Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was in that deal is difficult to say, but this feels like another step in the counter-revolution to reassert Fergusonian values.

Of the top six, Chelsea has been the biggest mover, picking up Gonzalo Higuain and offloading Alvaro Morata, which should, at least temporarily, solve its issues at center forward and allow Eden Hazard to return to his preferred role coming in from the left–not that there was much sign of a positive impact in Wednesday’s 4-0 defeat at Bournemouth, a performance that means the pressure on Maurizio Sarri is beginning to mount.

A deal to sign Christian Pulisic for over $70 million was agreed upon, but the American has been loaned back to Borussia Dortmund until the end of the season, and, while the two are quite different players, his imminent arrival suggests that the club is preparing for the departure of Hazard in the summer. Cesc Fabregas, who had slipped out of the picture since Sarri took over, has gone to Monaco.

Tottenham has signed nobody for a second straight window, while at the same time losing a midfield option with the sale of Mousa Dembele to Guangzhou R&F. To get a fee of more than $14 million for a 31-year-old with a history of repeated injuries may represent good business, but it does place further strain on a squad that was already creaking.

And then there’s baffling situation at Arsenal. With former CEO Ivan Gazidis departed and head of recruitment Sven Mislintat to leave in February, its transfer policy has been thrown into chaos. There has been a crying need for defensive investment for years, one that has only intensified with a series of recent injuries. But Arsenal has done what it always does and decided the answer to all its problems is more technically adept creative forwards. Nobody doubts that Denis Suarez, who has arrived on loan from Barcelona with an option to buy, is a very good player, but is he really what Arsenal needs?

Elsewhere–and this consciously omits Cardiff City’s signing of Emiliano Sala, because to discuss that tragedy here feels trite–the biggest deal was Newcastle United’s purchase of Miguel Almiron from Atlanta United for $27.5 million, finally breaking a club transfer record that has stood since Michael Owen joined in 2005. He should boost Newcastle’s creative options, but almost more important is his symbolic role in demonstrating that club owner Mike Ashley is prepared at least to make some investment in improving the playing staff.

The arrival of Youri Tielemans at Leicester City on loan and Adrien Silva going the other way to Monaco is intriguing. It’s a case of two highly promising players who struggled to settle at new clubs swapping places to see if a new beginning can kickstart what has been a disappointing season for both. Even more eye-catching, perhaps, is the swap (plus cash) that has taken the 38-year-old Peter Crouch to Burnley with Sam Vokes moving the other way to join Stoke City.

Michy Batshuayi’s quest for a way out of Chelsea, meanwhile, has taken him–presuming all of the paperwork meets the deadline–on another loan deal, this time to Crystal Palace, for whom goalscoring has been a problem all season. The return of Samir Nasri, a turbulent personality but a gifted player, to the Premier League with West Ham also looks intriguing.

But, ultimately, this was a largely uneventful window–a few loan deals here, a few small signings there, as clubs look to plug immediate gaps. There was nothing likely to be anywhere near as significant as Liverpool’s signing of Van Dijk–or even Arsenal’s of Aubameyang–last January. That, perhaps, suggests Premier League clubs have at last stopped regarding new signings as the answer to any problem–although it may be that Higuain turns out to be the key to Sarri’s future at Chelsea, for better or for worse.

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