Michael Cox names the players who could help five Premier League clubs enjoy a successful second half of the season...
Juan Mata's seemingly imminent move to Manchester United could soon change things, but so far the January transfer window has been quiet, with very few prominent players joining Premier League clubs. That is somewhat surprising, considering how tight the table is at both top and bottom, where one crucial signing could make a key difference.
Here are five clubs who are still looking to strengthen, and a potential match for each…
The player who could… help Man City dominate Europe
The arrival of Fernandinho has provided Manchester City with a decent partner for Yaya Toure, but there’s still a feeling they lack the calm, deep-lying midfield passer who will help them compete in European competition. The way their 4-4-2 was overrun at home against Bayern Munich was particularly ominous ahead of the meetings with Barcelona – and it’s clear Javi Garcia isn’t the right man to bolster City’s midfield.
Instead, Manuel Pellegrini could turn to an old friend from his Villarreal days. Bruno Soriano is the archetypal Spanish midfielder – sitting deep, knocking balls reliably to the flanks, and keeping a position in the centre of the pitch. He surprisingly stayed with the Yellow Submarine through their brief period in the Segunda Division, but has international and Champions League experience, and first came to prominence in Pellegrini’s system – where Villarreal often got the better of Barcelona – although excelled after the Chilean left to take charge of Real Madrid.
Bruno keeps his passing simple, and can contribute goals, too...
The player who could… help Man Utd make the top four
Yohan Cabaye is the Premier League’s in-form midfielder, with five goals in his last seven matches. His excellent all-round performance during Newcastle’s 1-0 win at Old Trafford last month was a stark demonstration of the fact United lack a player in his mould – someone who is both technical and combative, and who can help dominate the midfield zone.
Cabaye wouldn’t be playing his Newcastle 'number ten' role under David Moyes (particulary if or when Juan Mata arrives at Old Trafford), but Moyes would use him in a deeper position, shuttling forward from a position alongside Michael Carrick, and storming into attack in the role United presumably wanted the recently-departed Anderson to play. His mixture of bite and guile is perfect for United, and while the Frenchman would cost them a lot, so would failure to reach the Champions League.
He was superb last week against West Ham, winning tackles high up the pitch, creating chances and scoring two goals:
The player who could… help Arsenal sustain their title challenge
Arsene Wenger’s task in strengthening his attack is tougher than you might expect. The world’s best strikers are unlikely to leave their current club midway through the season, and Wenger is really looking for an alternative to Olivier Giroud, rather than a replacement. Preferably, it will be someone who doesn’t command a first-team place, but can do a job when asked.
Wenger generally looks for potential rather than a finished product, and it’s easy to imagine him recruiting a relatively unheralded, obscure forward who will develop over the next few years. So how about Vincent Aboubakar? Wenger often goes to France for new forwards – Marouane Chamakh, Gervinho, Olivier Giroud, Yaya Sanogo – and the Lorient striker has impressed this season, trailing only PSG pair Edinson Cavani and Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the goalscoring charts.
Aboubakar is pacier than Giroud, but generally takes up central positions and can meet crosses from wide positions. Lorient usually play good technical football, so stylistically the Cameroon international could be the right fit, and it wouldn’t compromise the role of Giroud.
Like Giroud, Aboubakar can be a goalscorer, or a provider.
The player who could… drag Swansea up the table
Swansea have averaged more possession than any other Premier League side this season, but find themselves just three points from the relegation zone, with the worst form in the division. It feels like they’re rather too nice, too content to play pretty football without the tough edge relegation battlers need.
Michael Laudrup won’t want to compromise his philosophy, but does need someone who offers something different. So how about Espanyol’s Victor Sanchez? Having spent six years at Barcelona between the ages of 17 and 23, the holding midfielder is well-versed in passing football having learnt from Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta, but at Espanyol the stocky midfielder has developed a tenacious side. He’s the most prolific tackler in La Liga, but is decent on the ball too. Able to fill in at centre-back, he could prove a useful addition.
Last week against Celta Vigo, he made 15 tackles and interceptions.
The player who could… help Crystal Palace survive
Tony Pulis initially wanted a variety of new players to arrive at Selhurst Park, understandably being underwhelmed with the quality of players already at Crystal Palace after Ian Holloway’s dismissal.
However, to Pulis’ great credit he’s already transformed the side into something resembling a Premier League outfit, and he’s improved the defence significantly. Palace have kept five clean sheets in Pulis’ eleven games, and have won each of these five matches.
However, they’ve still scored the fewest goals in the division, and Pulis us frantically searching for a striker. He’s enquired about Demba Ba on loan, but this seems unlikely given Fernando Torres’ recent injury, so how about a more obscure name? Pulis might vaguely remember Manucho, the Real Valladolid striker, from his only substitute appearance in a Manchester United shirt, against Pulis’ Stoke City in 2008.
He’ll be more intrigued by Manucho’s statistics, however. He wins lots of aerial duels, scores a high proportion of his goals from headers, and wins free-kicks around the box regularly. He’s only started once for Real Valladolid this season – he was dropped for the next week, despite performing well – and should be starting for a decent club.
Joint-top goalscorer at the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations and capable of playing upfront or wide-left, Manucho could probably be recruited for next to nothing. He’s extremely hard-working, constantly fighting to win the ball and battling in the air.