One player each Premier League club should sign: Top Half edition
Welcome back to the second part of our January transfer series, where 101 take a look at one player each Premier League club should sign this transfer window.
If you missed the first one, that covered the bottom half of the table, you can read it here:
Newcastle, Leeds United & more: One player each Premier League side should sign in January part 1https://t.co/XqlRSN4bEA
— 101 Great Goals (@101greatgoals) January 1, 2022
However, this time it’s the turn of the top half.
Manchester City | Borna Sosa (VfB Stuttgart)
It would be too easy to suggest Manchester City bring in a true centre-forward during the January transfer window, especially in the wake of Spanish starlet Ferran Torres completing his move to Barcelona before the official opening of the winter market.
Persistent links with strikers like Erling Haaland and Dušan Vlahović increase the ease with which one can suggest having just Gabriel Jesus as the only recognized number 9 in the City camp cannot last.
But City and boss Pep Guardiola have already stated they are not pushing for a Torres replacement in the coming month, so instead, VfB Stuttgart left-back and Croatian international Borna Sosa occupies this spot.
✅ Hiroki Ito’s sumptuous finish
✅ Borna Sosa stunner
✅ Three #Bundesliga points
Friday night, @VfB_Int style! 🤩🍿 pic.twitter.com/5dxrPX51il
— Bundesliga English (@Bundesliga_EN) November 26, 2021
The former Dinamo Zagreb academy graduate registered nine assists in 26-appearances last season and at the time of writing has been credited with three in fourteen Bundesliga fixtures while adding a goal as well.
His KP90 (key passes per 90 minutes) last season in Baden-Württemberg was credible indeed at 2.49 (2020-21) but his decrease in that category is indicative of a drop in performance of Stuttgart overall than a lack of quality. Still just 23-years-old and Die Schwaben in a potential relegation scrap, City could add quality in the right age profile at left-back in the wake of Benjamin Mendy’s growing criminal record.
Chelsea | Jules Kounde (Sevilla)
Chelsea have one of the most stacked squads in the Premier League right now and can perhaps boast the title of having the best squad in the division also.
Manchester City and Liverpool do arguably have better individuals than Chelsea such as Kevin De Bruyne and Mohamed Salah. But when it comes to pure quality squad depth, there is probably no one who can out-do the Blues.
Even in central midfielder, which is arguably one of Chelsea’s weakest areas right now owning to N’Golo Kante’s persistent injury issues and the poor form of Saul Niguez, Chelsea are set to welcome back Conor Gallagher and Billy Gilmour from their respective loans in the summer, making a move for a central midfielder somewhat redundant.
So, where do Chelsea actually need to strengthen this January? Well, though they are well stocked in this position right now, the Londoners could probably do with some fresh legs at centre-back going forward.
The reason for this being that Thiago Silva, Cesar Azpilicueta, Andres Christensen and Antonio Rudiger are all out of contract in the summer, with the former two of that quartet now also well into their 30s.
And, though there is a chance some of those players could re-sign, rumours of Rudiger making the switch to Real Madrid have ramped up a fair bit of late, whilst Barcelona are said to be eyeing Azpilicueta.
With this in mind, Chelsea should be looking to target a quality young centre-half. And, in Jules Kounde, they should have that.
The Frenchman is still only 23 years of age, but he is already a key cog in a Sevilla side who boast one of the best defences in La Liga this term.
And, though Chelsea were unable to land Kounde this past summer, more recent reports suggest the Spanish outfit have dropped their asking price for the stopper, which was previously believed to be €80m.
Liverpool | Antony (Ajax)
Liverpool have one of the best starting elevens in world football right now. However, the Reds are lacking somewhat when it comes to quality squad depth.
This is apparent when you look at Liverpool’s attack. Roberto Firmino and Diogo Jota interchange quite well in the centre-forward role, though a case could be made that Firmino needs to be replaced in the coming years anyway.
Elsewhere, though, Liverpool have very little quality depth for Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah. Jota can play left-wing, but he operates best up top, whilst Takumi Minamino is a decent option but he is nowhere near the level of Salah and is not going to be an adequate replacement for him either in January when he leaves for the AFCON, or when the Egyptian eventually decides to leave the club.
So, with their defence and midfield fairly well-stocked for the time being, Liverpool should probably be looking to target a winger in January.
One such player they could look to target is Antony. The Brazilian is currently plying his trade with Ajax, who he has scored 18 and assisted 15 for in 65 outings.
The 21-year-old is extremely fast, quick-footed and, like Salah, heavily favours cutting in from the right-wing to shoot on his strong left foot.
And as Antony is still fairly young, Liverpool should be able to bed him in slowly until Salah leaves. But, as he has shown both domestically and in the Champions League, Antony is already a quality talent who should provide better cover for Salah than the Merseysiders have right now.
Arsenal | Denis Zakaria (Borussia Mönchengladbach)
2021-22 is shaping up to be a season to remember for many Arsenal fans as boss Mikel Arteta has his Hale End-led Gunners purring at the time of writing, winning four on the bounce and heading into the new year in the once heavily-maligned fourth place spot in the Premier League. And after a summer of excellent recruitment headed by both Arteta and club technical director Edu Gaspar, there are perhaps few ways that the club can be improved on when it comes to its playing personnel.
However, Borussia Mönchengladbach and Swiss international midfielder Denis Zakaria could be one of them. With his contract at Borussia Park coming to an end after the current Bundesliga campaign and reportedly unwilling to sign an extension, Zakaria will certainly be available in the summer on a free but a low-end bid far under his current market value (~£23million via Transfermarkt) could secure his services in January and offer Mikel Arteta the only true shield for the back four in his current squad set-up.
Boasting 3.62 interceptions/90min as well as 2.15 blocks & 1.70 clearances (by the same metric), and a 50% aerial duel success rate, Zakaria is the perfect option for an Arsenal squad that lacks a player of his profile. None of Granit Xhaka, Thomas Partey, Sambi Lokonga, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, or Mohamed Elneny are ideally suited to be a true holding midfielder. His arrival could open up additional tactical options for Mikel Arteta that do not currently exist.
West Ham | James Tarkowski (Burnley)
Now, before you unsheath your swords and take your pitchforks off the walls, hear me out. The need for West Ham and boss David Moyes to supply key striker Michail Antonio with an option to support him during a tw0-front campaign this season would certainly fall under the better part of prudence, but the Hammers equally are in dire need of center-back reinforcements in light of recent events.
Update from Moyes on Zouma and Cresswell.
Still no date on either but very pleased with Zouma’s progress. #WHUFC https://t.co/A7O7anCEpx
— Jack Rosser (@JackRosser_) December 30, 2021
The season-ending injury suffered by Angelo Ogbonna as well as the absence of Kurt Zouma has left David Moyes down to just veteran Craig Dawson, and Issa Diop. With the resumption of the Europa League just around the corner and the Hammers challenge in the race for fourth slipping away, added depth at the back for both the current season as well as moving forward is equally vital as is a center-forward recruit.
Burnley’s England international James Tarkowski would hardly be a poor shout in this regard. With his contract expiring at the end of the season and Burnley currently sitting in the drop zone and one of the favorites to make a return to the Championship, the aerially dominant Manchester-native is a decent shout and should also come at a reasonable price point. Winning 5.1 headers/90min this season as well as 1.5 tackles and 1.5 interceptions, his experience in the center of the backline could offer a very nice tandem along with Zouma once the Frenchman returns for duty.
Tottenham | Pau Torres (Villarreal)
Antonio Conte will no doubt be eyeing up several areas of his squad which could be improved upon in January.
Up top, it is fair to say that Spurs are long overdue a natural centre-forward option to provide adequate competition for Harry Kane. Spurs could also do with some fresh legs at right-back and potentially in central midfield.
However, the most pressing issue in Tottenham’s squad looks to be their lack of high-quality centre-backs. In particular, Spurs’ lack of a natural left-footed defender is an issue for Conte, who operates with a three-back formation.
Ben Davies has largely been operating as the left-sided centre-back in Conte’s system during his stint with the Lilywhites. But, Conte would no doubt like to improve on the Welshman with a younger, more natural option.
And, in Pau Torres, the north Londoners could well have the perfect player for this. Torres is only 24 years of age, but he has excelled with both club and country.
The Spaniard played a key role in Villarreal winning the Europa League last year, and he has also impressed with Spain on numerous occasions.
Crucially, though, Torres is a natural left-footer and has all the qualities one would want when eyeing a ball-playing centre-back. And, with Villarreal having a much poorer 2021/22 than last season, perhaps Torres will be more open to a move this time around as he has already snubbed Tottenham once.
Manchester United | Amadou Haidara (RB Leipzig)
Manchester United and Ralf Rangnick are looking for a physical presence in the centre of midfield who is well in tune with a pressing system and can slot straight into their starting XI as they look to recover from an awful season start.
Scott McTominay and Fred are okay, but are often found wanting against higher-calibre opposition, while Donny Van De Beek is trying to rebuild his Manchester United career and at 33 years old, Nemanja Matic is well past his peak.
To this end, while incredibly obvious, a move for RB Leipzig midfield man Amadou Haidara is a no-brainer.
The Mali international was signed by Rangnick when he was in charge ar RB Leipzig, and even has a rumoured 33 million pound release clause in his contract, meaning that a deal should be fairly straightforward if Manchester United want to pursue it.
Still only 23 years old, and a self-professed Manchester United fan, it wouldn’t be hard to agree on terms with him either, while his arrival would add greater strength to the spine of a side that already includes the likes of Raphael Varane, Bruno Fernandes and Cristiano Ronaldo.
With the stars already in place, Rangnick needs someone willing to do the dirty work and fly under the radar in games, something that Haidara would be perfect for.
Wolves | Vincenzo Grifo (SC Freiburg)
Another Bundesliga representative on our list of possible January transfers, SC Freiburg’s unsung hero and Italian international Vincenzo Grifo could be just the fit for Bruno Lage’s Wolves outfit despite not being Portuguese; zing!
🦊 Vincenzo Grifo has played a key role in helping @SCFreiburg to third in the #Bundesliga table at the halfway point! ⚡️ pic.twitter.com/UES37XNezj
— Bundesliga English (@Bundesliga_EN) December 26, 2021
One of the perennial dark horse performers in the Bundesliga for the last seven seasons during spells with Freiburg, Borussia Mönchengladbach, and TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, Grifo commands the utmost respect as he offers both a credible goal threat as well as bring a creative fulcrum in the Black Forest.
His current contributions this season for a Breisgau-Brasilianer outfit under Adi Hütter cannot be understated with 4-goals and 6-assists in seventeen league appearances while posting a KP90 of 2.45.
Grifo has been one of the key catalysts in a season that has seen Freiburg enter the Winterpause sitting third and dreaming of Champions League football, so a mid-season departure to the Premier League is somewhat of a long shot overall.
But he would suit Bruno Lage’s Wolves incredibly well as a dead-ball specialist to compliment Portuguese pair João Moutinho and Rúben Neves while offering a key source for goals and assists in a side that lacks consistency in either category.
If his 71-goal contributions in 145-appearances over the last seven seasons are anything to go by, he could be a key to pushing the club into more credible metrics in the final third.
Leicester City | Sven Botman (LOSC Lille)
It has been a mixed season once again for Leicester City.
When their first team can play together, they are a force to be reckoned with, and shrewd seeming acquisitions in the summer added some much needed squad depth to ensure that they haven’t fallen away completely.
They have recorded the same number of wins as losses so far this season (7), and sit five points below the Europa League spots, while they have also been knocked into the Europa Conference League after a poor run in the Europa League group stage this time around.
And although Kieran Dewsbury-Hall is a welcome breakthrough talent in the centre of midfield, they were already well-stocked in that position. They need additions.
Their major problems lie defensively, with the side having conceded 33 goals already this season, the fifth-most in the top flight. And while Wesley Fofana’s imminent return will be, to coin a well-used phrase, like a new signing, they need more.
That’s why they could do far worse than a January move for Lille’s Sven Botman.
The Lille centre-back is thought to be available for around 30 million pounds, while Leicester already have good relations with Lille after they dealt with the French club for Boubakary Soumare in the summer.
Still only 21 years old, Botman would provide an upgrade while also fitting into the Foxes’ transfer policy, although he is more expensive than they would perhaps like. However, he could be the difference between getting European football and not, while his potential partnership with fellow 21 year old Wesley Fofana could be one of the most exciting in the top flight.
Brighton | Darwin Nunez (SLB Benfica)
Brighton have, so far, had a fairly stellar 2021/22 campaign to date.
The Seagulls have spent much of the season around midtable and are currently on course for their highest-ever finish in the Premier League.
Brighton, though, could certainly improve upon their squad in one key area.
That area is, of course, their striking department. It has become something of a running joke that Brighton do not score enough goals despite having a pretty high xG across 2020/21 and this season to date.
This campaign, at the time of writing, Brighton are 9th in the PL, yet they have scored just 16 goals from 17 outings. Only Wolves, Norwich and Burnley have scored less in the league.
So, as they create enough chances but do not score that many, the obvious solution would be to sign a new striker.
And, it appears as though the seaside outfit have already identified an option, they have just not been able to sign him yet.
The man in question is Darwin Nunez. Brighton were linked with Nunez over the summer following a stellar 2020/21 on the part of the hitman, which saw him score six and assist 10 in 29 league games.
No move was, of course, forthcoming, but Nunez has since continued to shine in Portugal netting 13 and assisting two in 13 league outings at the time of writing.
Of course, signing a player who has not featured in any of Europe’s top-five leagues is something of a risk. But given Brighton cannot afford to compete with the Premier League’s elite, a player like Nunez looks like the ideal signing for them.
What do you make of our choices?