Deadline lacked luster, but few actual transfers can reshape EPL table
There's an old adage that you can't find value in the January transfer window. Even before that mind frame has been debunked by more advanced analytics and savvier football directors, though, you typically expected some meaningful movement before the midseason transfer deadline. With TV money making Premier League membership irreplaceably lucrative, teams that are in any danger of relegation usually will roll some sort of dice.
This January, though, there was a surprising lack of movement, especially given the closeness of the tussles at both ends of the table.
The title is not yet Chelsea's, there are Champions League spots still very much up for grabs, and at least half a dozen clubs are staring warily at the trap door that will eventually send three of them down to the Championship next season.
With almost no one but the teams already in the UCL pole positions making what appear to be significant moves, a strangely quiet transfer window morphed into a bad Alanis Morrisette verse:
A right flank man when you're already great,
A new striker with a potent strike rate.
It's like a center back who's not Monreal.
You're going for UCL when all others fail.
I'm not sure it's ironic, but the limited number of gambits definitely is curious.
First, the good stuff. Chelsea pulled off another January heist, this time offloading Andre Schurrle to Wolfsburg for approximately a trillion dollars (in actuality, £22 million). Not that the Blues necessarily need to re-line Roman Abramovich's coffers before making a move, but getting someone to pay for you to upgrade in a position of some need is a nice bonus. That's effectively what's happened here, with Chelsea landing Colombian right-sided player Juan Cuadrado, who better fits into the Blues' current roster (and approach) than Schurrle.
Manchester City, still five points and nine goals behind Chelsea for the league lead, knows its margin for error is slim and scoring goals will be a mandate in the final 15 matches. The Citizens upgraded their attack by adding Wilfried Bony from Swansea. Once he's back from the African Cup of Nations, he should pair really nicely with Sergio Aguero as a better proxy of Edin Dzeko.
Bony's not a great all-around striker, but he's an excellent and composed finisher and should find himself on the money end of lots of service with City. His two-goal performance has put Ivory Coast into the AFCON semifinals, so City will have to wait a bit longer for his services.
Not to be outdone, Arsenal became the only team that badly needed a center back to actually go buy one, importing Gabriel Paulista from Villareal. While it's somewhat unclear why a 24-year-old Brazilian with no international caps should qualify for a work permit, he won't be the first to benefit from generous Home Office interpretations.
While virtually anyone who pushes Nacho Monreal out of the center of defense is going to be an upgrade, Gabriel looks like a clear improvement. Arsenal, which has underlying stats better than its league position, now looks like an even better bet to finish in a UCL spot again.
The other contender that did some interesting business was Southampton. Most potentially intriguing is the loan signing of Benfica's attacking midfielder Filip Duricic, and the outright purchase of left back Ryan Bertrand from Chelsea.
On the other end of the table, it was mostly meh. Sunderland flipped the unproductive-in-England Jozy Altidore to Toronto for Jermaine Defoe, who's already found the back of the net for the Black Cats. Leicester is trying to claw its way out of the drop zone by bolstering its attack, importing Croatian striker Andrej Kramaric.
Aston Villa, on pace to score the fewest goals for any team that survived relegation in the Premier League era, brought in playmaker Carles Gil from Valencia, but probably needed more help. Crystal Palace brought in a bunch of guys, most notably re-importing England's Wilfried Zaha from his lost foray at Manchester United. Maybe West Brom, in bringing in Callum McManaman from Wigan as well as Darren Fletcher from Manchester United, did something that seems to be helpful.
Desperation is never a good quality for an acquiring team, but with So. Much. Money. at stake by retaining Premier League status, it's somewhat surprising that clubs didn't do something splashier, even as an overt overpay. Some of these guys likely will make important contributions down the stretch, but there doesn't seem to be an obvious choice that carries certainty.
Anyway, now that rosters are more or less set for the rest of the season and the teams at both ends of the table seem to have made comparable moves (or the lack thereof), it should be a fascinating final stretch of the campaign. Come May, we'll certainly look back at a couple of these moves as decisive, even if we don't expect most of them to be right now. At that point, basking in season-altering transfer success, a few clubs may have reason to sing different Alanis tunes. After all, on her Greatest Hits album, there are back-to-back tracks called "You Oughta Know" | "That I Would Be Good."