The Premier League’s top six take stock this week ahead of the hectic festive football programme. How many of the clubs genuinely retain hopes of being top of the tree next May? The answer may dictate how busy they are in the January window.
It’s the age old question, what do you get someone for Christmas when they seem to have everything they need already? Only in this case it’s not dad you have to worry about, it’s Antonio Conte.
Chelsea are so far ahead in the Premier League, and playing so well, that it’s tempting to say they don’t need anything at all. But that’s not how the title race works — and history says teams that don’t strengthen when they are at the top often miss out in the long run.
In Chelsea’s case it’s more about adding to the strength of their squad than finding a marquee signing to add glitter to the mix.
There’s very little cover at wing-back and, given that John Terry is unlikely to be around next season, they need a quality centre-back at some stage. Top target Leonardo Bonucci has just signed a new contract at Juve, so he’s off limits. But Antonio Rudiger at Roma and Fenerbahce’s Simon Kjaer are next on the list.
In midfield, a deputy for N’Golo Kante would be nice and, considering Conte doesn’t seem to have much faith in Michy Batshuayi (the equivalent of a Christmas jumper that doesn’t fit this year but might be perfect next time) it’s likely they will be in the market for one more striker, too. If they find one then Batshuayi could be sent on loan to West Ham. James Rodriguez is a possibility.
Must get: A top-quality striker to cover for Diego Costa when he is inevitably suspended.
Santa won’t be in any doubt about what’s top of Jurgen Klopp’s list and if a goalkeeper doesn’t come down the chimney this Christmas then Liverpool may have to wait a little longer for that elusive Premier League title.
Judging by this year’s performances it’s pretty clear that Loris Karius is one for the future and Simon Mignolet is not up to the task, so the search for a senior keeper to bridge the gap is already underway.
Joe Hart is an obvious but purely speculative name in the hat.
There are few problems up front for Liverpool, who have created more chances than any other team in Europe, but with question marks about Daniel Sturridge’s future don’t rule out a flurry of rumours anyway, especially as Sadio Mane is off to the African Cup of Nations in the new year. Inter Milan’s Gabriel Barbosa is a possible target.
In defence, the imminent return of Joe Gomez from injury lessens rather than negates the urgency for replacement but don’t expect too much panic in the transfer window; Klopp is a man who prefers to trust the players he already has and make more considered signings.
Must get: A goalkeeper of proven quality.
Manchester City are a different kettle of fish to Chelsea in this market. They are the club which already has everything but still isn’t happy with it — and it’s going to take something very expensive to create a wow factor at the Etihad.
With City you can never rule out a surprise big-name arrival — and goodness knows they have been linked with just about everyone from Lionel Messi to Neymar in recent times.
The real problem, however, is in defence where Pep Guardiola has numbers to count on — but is stuck with too many presents bought in previous years for someone else. Too many expensive pairs of socks which simply aren’t the right size or style any more.
City spent more than €160m on the likes of John Stones, Eliaquim Mangala, Nicolas Otamendi and Vincent Kompany but none appear to fit the bill in Guardiola’s bid to recreate the Barceona model at the Etihad Stadium.
Southampton’s Virgin van Dijk could prove attractive, while recent reports suggest 34-year-old Croatian veteran right-back Darijo Srna is on his way from Shakhtar Donetsk.
In attacking areas, where City already look strong, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Celtic’s Karamoko Dembele, Real Madrid’s Isco and Dortmund’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang have all been linked. But surely the priority is in defence?
Must get: An experienced defensive leader who can organise the defence and be Guardiola’s voice on the pitch.
The usual Christmas panic is building amongst Arsenal fans, worried that stores will run out of this year’s must-have acquisition before their club finally decides it has funds to buy them.
In a year when the Gunners hope to break their title drought, they are being heavily linked again with Marco Reus of Dortmund and Julian Draxler of.
As usual these are signings in areas where the team already looks strong and not where you would think they need to focus on. It’s not easy picking the right present for Arsene Wenger.
The Arsenal manager does admit he has money to spend if needed, however. Further back-up on the right of defence might be a priority with Mathieu Debuchy injured and Carl Jenkinson struggling.
But the dream of a big-name striker still looks unlikely. The first priority, of course, is tying Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez to new contracts — that would be the best possible present for everyone in the red half of north London.
Must get: Someone in the dressing room who will fire up the troops when Arsenal suffer their off days.
The rest of the world might be planning a party but Tottenham are looking forward to a quiet Christmas by the fireside. Mauricio Pochettino is pretty happy with his squad but just as importantly he doesn’t have a lot to spend with the club investing heavily in a new stadium.
Just as Arsenal found when building the Emirates it can be a tough time in the transfer market.
The worry for Spurs is that having performed so well last season they may have missed the big opportunity to strengthen when they were on the up and gain an advantage on their rivals.
Extra help for Harry Kane would be a bonus, particularly from wide positions, but Spurs fans shouldn’t get too excited when Santa’s stocking arrives.
Wilfried Zaha from Crystal Palace has been linked, as has Ross Barkley from Everton. The latter is the more likely but it’s hard to see Spurs spending big without selling first.
Must get: Someone with experience of winning titles who can steer the team through the last two months of the season — unlike last season.
Jose Mourinho is like the little boy who was given his ‘big presents’ earlier in the year, all wrapped up in a ‘double your money’ birthday and Christmas combo.
So, United are going to struggle to match the summer buys of Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, even though there is clearly a willingness to spend again.
Defence could be an area where Jose looks to strengthen given the alarming way his team let in late goals earlier in the campaign.
Things do seem to have settled down since Phil Jones stepped in, but with Eric Bailly injured (and heading to the African Cup of Nations) there are gaps opening up.
Benfica’s Victor Ledelof has been heavily linked (and would cost more than €40m), Southampton’s Jose Fonte has been on United’s list for a year while, like Chelsea, they have watched Antonio Rudiger at Roma.
Another right wing-back, to provide support for Antonio Valencia, could also be a priority but United are just as likely to sell one or two fringe players — including Marouane Fellaini, Memphis Depay, Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Scheweinsteiger.
Must get: Defensive cover and a striker to ease the pressure on Ibrahimovic as the only regular goalscorer in the team.
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