With three days remaining of the transfer window, two-thirds of the big six are yet to strengthen their squad. Liverpool recruited early, despite their need being easily the least urgent, while Tottenham have added Gedson Fernandes but are still yet to address the gaping void in their squad. What is everyone waiting for?
January is a difficult market to operate in, yes, but Spurs, Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea would have you think it’s akin to buying snow in the desert. Sometimes these clubs may have to pay a premium for dealing mid-season and very often – like Spurs and Chelsea in this instance – it requires clubs to be nimble in reacting to circumstances beyond their control. But none of that should be too much to ask of huge, rich clubs with expertise supposedly seeping out of every crevice.
With Liverpool the only exception, the big six are in real danger of squandering a much-needed opportunity to decisively enhance their prospects for the remainder of the season.
Manchester United were arguably the biggest basket case, at least until reports surfaced of there being a belated breakthrough over Bruno Fernandes. Despite being wretched for much of the season, they remain just one place and six points outside a Champions League place because all the other clowns have been tripping over the same rakes.
United’s deficiencies are even more obvious than they were in the summer when they were too busy looking at 804 right-backs to consider a midfielder and a centre-forward. Injuries to Scott McTominay, Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford have exposed their squad even further – yet the Red Devils seem oblivious to it all.
Some creativity and extra ruthlessness around the box would arguably put United in the front seat for the final Champions League place while their competitors hesitate. But instead, Ed Woodward and his mates have faffed over paying the going rate for Fernandes, while looking to borrow second-rate strikers to lead their line.
Jose Mourinho knows how hard it is to work with your hands tied behind your back, but the new Spurs boss is being similarly handicapped by Daniel Levy. The Tottenham chairman will point to the permanent signing of Giovani Lo Celso for what he made on Christian Eriksen plus £10million more, but that transaction still leaves Mourinho short of a body. Unless Levy is presuming Gedson Fernandes can do everything.
Mourinho is also in dire need of a right-back. It is possible Juan Foyth and Kyle Walker-Peters will go before the deadline while Serge Aurier won’t suddenly become trustworthy overnight. But even then, the chasm at right-back is dwarfed by the void in attack.
If Tottenham do not recruit a centre-forward before 11pm on Friday, then Mourinho will be entirely justified in the complaints which will probably form the soundtrack to the rest of Spurs’ season. They have been linked with a number of strikers and one, you would expect, should arrive before the deadline. But with Levy, we can never be sure.
Perhaps the Spurs chief believes he has done enough by changing the manager? Arsenal too. Both north London clubs changed coaches at the start of winter and in the Gunners’ case, it would be no surprise if they hold fire on recruitment to see if Mikel Arteta can get a better tune out of the current squad.
But their weakness is so painfully obvious. Arteta admitted at the start of the window that Arsenal were ‘obligated’ to look for players who can strengthen their side – could he really greet the media this weekend with a straight face, look into the camera and tell us: “We looked everywhere but we found no one better than David Luiz and Sokratis.”
Chelsea can claim to have been caught on the hop slightly more by their transfer ban reprieve, but we know the Blues fancied their chances of being able to buy this month. Right now, it looks like they might as well have saved the money they spent on legal fees.
Frank Lampard could improve every area of his XI. Kepa is on notice in goal; Lampard doesn’t have a settled centre-back pairing and their option on Nathan Ake expires this weekend; they struggle for creativity in midfield; and they are woefully short of bodies up front.
Chelsea seem to be gambling on retaining their current position in the top four before splurging in the summer. It’s a risky strategy, but no other club is stepping up to the plate to challenge them.
City, of course, are sat snugly in the top four, with their only Premier League concern being holding off Leicester in the race to be closest to Liverpool. But City’s domestic anti-climax could benefit their Champions League prospects.
Pep Guardiola shares City’s desperation to win the Champions League but without reinforcements at centre-back, they will struggle once more when they stumble upon the last eight. Aymeric Laporte – proof that City can recruit successfully in January – is back from injury but Guardiola remains a partner for the Frenchman short.
It is as though five of the big six have talked so much about January being a mug’s market that they have convinced themselves. But without a significant change in the dry forecast for this week, the only patsies in the Premier League will be them.