• Tom Abadie

JANUARY BUSINESS: Top 5 Premier League Winter Transfers

The transfer market has just closed. The winter window is usually quite calm, with a few adjustments to make in order to better the current squads. Sniff out the right opportunities, get a good loan deal or even sign a player in advance for the summer when his contract runs out, those are the main movements you usually see during this window.

However, it seems this was a big window for many clubs. You can look at how Vlahovic moved from Fiorentina to Juventus as a good example, or Ferran Torres moving back to Spain with his transfer from Manchester City to Barcelona.

Meanwhile, in English train stations and airports, we saw a few arrivals as well. Although these were mainly concentrated in Birmingham and Newcastle, with the Magpies and the Villains bringing in many players, there were transfers elsewhere. So, taking one arrival per club, here are the top 5 players to have joined a Premier League side this winter. This includes players moving within the country.

Coutinho – Barcelona to Aston Villa

Villa were the most active club of this window. Being the first one with Gerrard as manager, the club backed the ex-Liverpool captain with some quality arrivals. This includes Lucas Digne, transferring from Everton, as well as Robin Olsen on loan from Roma and Callum Chambers on a permanent deal from Arsenal. While all three were good pickups, the best signing to arrive at Villa Park is Gerrard's old teammate on Merseyside, Philippe Coutinho.

The Brazilian might have had a difficult few years as of late, with his initial transfer to Catalunya not quite working out the way he wanted it to. While his first few months showed promise, his role changed with new managers of the club and injuries kept him away from the pitches numerous times. His loan to Bayern Munich was a glimmer of hope to kickstart his career again, but that never quite worked out. Barely making an appearance since Koeman took charge, this was even less the case with the arrival of Xavi, who preferred playing younger players. He was unfortunate to see Ansu Fati emerge in his position, keeping his minutes to a bare minimum.

However, his first appearance for the club against Manchester United in January showed just why the club picked him up. Still talented, his vision and dribbling are still there and can bring a lot to a team which has struggled to create much since Jack Grealish left for the Citizens this summer. He is an ideal pickup for the club, who showed in this window true determination to progress, push for the higher parts of the league and showed ambition with quality signings. While many will feel Coutinho has dropped low since his years at Anfield, the reunion with Gerrard could certainly spark a few things. With a loan and an interesting option to buy in June, Villa are trying out this option which could be truly beneficial for them and the player in the long run. Seeing him unite with Buendia is very exciting for the fans and they will hope he can kick start his Villa career as soon as possible.

Vitaliy Mykolenko – Dynamo Kiev to Everton

It has been a tough few months for the Toffees, with the drop zone edging closer to Goodison Park week after week. The management got rid of Benitez, who was a destined failure seeing the welcoming of the fans upon arrival. Who can blame them, as he took their arch rivals to European glory. They brought in Duncan Ferguson for a few weeks, before signing Lampard this week. Just before sending off Lucas Digne to Aston Villa, the club made their first move for a new left-back: Mykolenko.

Unknown to the English audience, this 22-year-old left back from Ukraine brings youth but also experience. He started in 5 of his club’s 6 games in the Champions League, has 21 caps for his country and a few seasons in the top flight of Ukrainian football. Standing tall at 1m80, an unconventional size for a wing-back, he brings defensive solidity as well as a quality attacking output with 3 assists in the league already this season. He played 90 minutes for his debut against Norwich at wing-back but was pushed at a Left Midfielder position in the FA Cup win against Hull City earlier last month.

While Digne was one of the most consistent players for the Toffees since his arrival, the manager did not like him and he dropped out of the squad this season. The arrival of the Ukrainian is a blessing for the supporters, who saw Ben Godfrey play out of position on the left most of the season, bringing very little from an attacking standpoint. Mykolenko will need a bit of time to adjust but Lampard will most likely continue trusting young players, so he should get his opportunity to shine before the end of the season.

The Ukrainian was joined on Merseyside with two very last-minute signings made by Everton. A few hours after announcing that Lampard would take charge, the club signed a loan agreement with Manchester United ‘reject’ Donny Van de Beek, before signing eternal prospect Dele Alli. While the Dutchman will most certainly be a success, as the quality and determination are still there even with the lack of confidence, not so much can be said about Alli. He has fallen off in recent months and is very far from what he used to be able to produce. All three signings could be big successes however.

Bruno Guimaraes – Lyon to Newcastle

It has been a very busy window on Toon side, and it is little surprise that the Magpies brought in a few players in their first window since the purchase of the club by Saudi investors. It started with England international Trippier, followed up by relegation battle rivals’ striker Chris Wood. While we haven’t seen much of either of them so far, these were recruitments made in key positions which needed improvement. In the final hours, Newcastle tried to get an attacking player, but both Reims and Manchester United refused to let go of Ekitike or Lingard respectively. In the final two days of the window, the club brought in three more players however. This includes Matt Target, arriving from Aston Villa on loan, having lost his starting position to new signing Lucas Digne, Brighton defender and Newcastle fan Dan Burn, as well as Bruno Guimaraes.

The main acquisition however is the exciting Brazilian prospect. While he is not exactly an uncovered talent arriving directly from South America, he is certainly at the start of a very promising career. Newly transferred from Olympique Lyonnais, the Brazilian Olympic Team captain has a lot to bring to the team and will be central to the project in years to come.

So who is this midfielder, who’s just arrived from France? Bruno G., as his kits indicates, is a transition midfielder, capable of defending properly before exploding into space to help his team get into attacking positions. He is however most well-known for his quality passing and his vision. Capable of picking out dangerous passes throughout games, he has extremely high numbers when it comes to progressive passes. He takes risks, slots the ball into half-spaces and most often finds teammates in acres of space. With an impressive 88% of successful passes, he is clearly very capable on the ball, even when he tries difficult passes.

He brings technical abilities, a desire for dribbling and for exciting attacking football. If Eddie Howe persists with transition football, he will be able to use his quick thinking and great passing range to find the attackers on the counter and get his team in front of goal in no time. Even at a relatively young age, he has experience of European football, notably playing a central role in Lyon’s Final 8 run in the Champions League in the summer of 2020, but he also has a lot of leadership qualities. Being the captain of his national Olympic team for many months shows exactly that, guiding them to Olympic glory in Tokyo this past summer. He is vocal on the pitch, will tell players where to go and has the confidence to lead any team he comes into, even when surrounded by more experienced players.

Now the most important question is will he succeed in the Premier League? He certainly has the technical baggage to do so, and the quick thinking. Many believe the transition from France to England in league football terms is simpler than with other leagues, as the pace and the physicality are closer. Bruno Guimaraes certainly has the physical attributes to succeed at St James’ Park, but he needs to be given the keys to the truck and have a partner next to him to do a little more defensive work. Maxence Caqueret excelled at that in Lyon, giving Guimaraes the freedom to roam throughout the pitch, with less concern of whether there is enough defensive coverage behind him. Lyon fans are heartbroken, Newcastle fans can certainly rejoice as this is an incredible signing.

Dejan Kulusevski – Juventus to Tottenham

It took a while, but for Conte’s first window in charge, Tottenham eventually started getting busy on the last day. On the way out, Ndombele went back to Lyon on loan, Lo Celso and Bryan Gil left for Villareal in similar deals, while Dele Alli had a very last-minute medical to join Everton. Meanwhile, Paratici used his old contacts to bring in a pair from his previous club Juventus: Dejan Kulusevski and Rodrigo Bentancur. The latter, a Uruguayan midfielder, arrives for a little over 20 million euros including add ons and will certainly slot straight into the Spurs midfield. The Swedish attacker however arrives with an 18 months loan and an option to buy in June 2023.

While both are exciting talents, having failed to live up to expectations in Turin, there is certainly high hopes they can rekindle past form. Kulusevski notably was marked as one of Europe’s future great talents when leading the line in Parma. Playing as a wide attacker or striker, his left foot shooting and his dribbling were constant threats on defenders. He however suffered firstly from the pressure of a big transfer fee at a young age, but also from the amount of talent on the wings at Juventus. Not having a clear-cut position did not help his case but being up against Bernardeschi and Chiesa on his wing, but also attacking talent such as Dybala, Keane and Morata when asked to play more centrally, meant he never got the right opportunities to express his talent.

In the first place, he was supposedly a replacement for Bergwijn, expected to sign for Ajax Amsterdam in the final hours of the window, but that transfer fell through. He is however an upgrade on Lucas Moura, who shines more for his inconsistency than his top-level performances. The Swede will certainly get a lot of opportunities to shine with Conte, who seemingly targeted him in the past, and will hopefully showcase his potential in London.

Overall, it was a good window for Spurs, who offloaded talent they did not use, and brought in two top players who were most likely expected to stay in a top European side such as Bayern or Real Madrid. Some good business from Paratici, who will also be helping his previous club’s finances, in dire condition since the purchase of Vlahovic.

Luis Diaz – Porto to Liverpool

Fabio Carvalho’s transfer might have fallen through at the last minute, but many football fans online consider with the single signing of Diaz, Liverpool have had one of, if not the best transfer window in the Premier League. That certainly vouches for how incredibly good Diaz is. Now yes, many fans will mostly likely have watched just highlights of games, or dribbling compilations. Maybe they just watched his dozens of nutmegs or just that slick flick he did with Colombia against Brazil recently. Rare are those who sit and watch Colombia or Porto every single week to watch the attacker play. However, that does not take away from the hype he brings to Anfield.

While Porto remains one of the main gateways for South American players in Europe, Diaz’s example is not the most classic one. Many players arrive from Brazil at the youngest age possible, with an extreme hype about them. Diaz in the meantime arrived in the summer of 2019, aged 22, a little older than the usual. Starting his professional career in the summer of 2016 aged 19, he moved around Colombia before making his move to the Old Continent. After a few years playing in the Primeira and the Champions League, he now makes a winter move while on international duty to the Reds. Before talking about him, let’s see why Liverpool would make such a move.

Firstly because he is talented. Highly regarded for his performances in Europe as of late, he would slot into many top European sides as a starter. The thing is, Liverpool has a very competitive front line which has worked well for a few years now. While Firmino does not quite make the team anymore, the least we can say is that Jota has been a great success on Merseyside. Behind Salah and Mane, the likes of Minamino or Origi barely make it into the rotation. That being said, one if not both of the latter players are expected to leave the club in the summer for other horizons. If it is not these two, there is that underlying feeling that Mane or Salah could depart the club soon, particularly the Egyptian. Contract talks have been stalled a few times, with the winger not feeling he is getting the salary he deserves. With one or two players leaving, particularly one of the starters, Diaz would slot straight into the lineup of one the top European sides and would certainly not be out of place there.

So, what does he bring? The Athletic said in their recent presentation that he could be compared to Salah, Mane and Firmino. The Brazilian’s touch and flair are comparable to the Colombian’s skillset. Cutting inside and finding shooting opportunities is something we have seen from the Porto man as much as the Liverpool wingers. He takes on players, has no fear of failing or being fouled and will create havoc against anyone. Now there is a question that he might not hold up against the physicality of the Premier League or the extent to which defences leave space is nothing comparable to Portugal. However, we have seen him play well against Manchester City as of late, and while teams approach the league and European competitions differently, it does show the class of the player and whether he can adapt to the English game. There are high hopes he hits the ground running and helps the Reds push City right until the end of Spring for the league. He will also be essential when it comes for a push in the Champions League, where he brings his own experience. An interesting signing all in all, like all the other ones in this article.