January 2021 Premier League transfer window: the winners

Matt Stead

It was a January transfer window. That much is certain. But beyond that what can we ascertain from a quiet month? This lot should be cheery. Step this way for the losers.


Jesse Lingard
Both men would likely have pondered their career choices and lamented where it presumably all went wrong if Jesse Lingard and David Moyes were told in the summer of 2013 that they would be reunited at West Ham in the winter of 2021. As it happens, fate has transpired to bring them together in a deal that suits all parties and reflects how much the individuals in question still have to offer, despite both being written off long ago.

It was Lingard who scored the first goal of Moyes’ regrettable Manchester United reign, the 20-year-old netting twice in a 5-1 pre-season friendly win over A-League All Stars seven-and-a-half years ago. He ended that tour of the Far East and Australia with four goals, apparently the first breakout star of the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era.

Moyes conceded then that he “didn’t know as much about” Lingard as the rest of the squad he inherited but there is little more to learn about the erstwhile England international now. His strengths and weaknesses are established. The Hammers have themselves a talented, hard-working player with limits but also a point to prove and a platform on which to do it.

Considering his options ranged from Tottenham to Sheffield United, and as far afield as Nice, Porto or Inter Milan, some might see West Ham as a safer, middling choice. He could have gone abroad. He could have joined a club in European competition. He could even have guaranteed himself a more central role at a struggling club as a refreshing change to the supporting cast character he has played for half a decade at Old Trafford. But six months in a settled team under a manager that has worked with him before, however briefly, feels like the right decision.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has challenged him to return “revitalised” and “show how good a player he is”, emphasising twice that he wants him to “come back” into the fold at the end of the season. Yet it is time for Lingard to fly the coop, shun the harsh and blinding Manchester United spotlight and prove what he is capable of when judged on his own merits and not against the preconceptions of what people expect him to be and do. This should be a fine start to that process.


Mikel Arteta
Little over six weeks have passed since reports emerged of the ‘toxic’ atmosphere that had engulfed Arsenal’s dressing room. It was the Daily Mirror who claimed that the ‘large group of players’ Mikel Arteta presided over was creating problems, with ‘some’ said to be ‘unhappy’ at the ostracising of ‘big characters and personalities’, Mesut Ozil and Sokratis in particular.

There has been an obvious revival in terms of results since. Their 2-1 loss to Everton came the day before that story was published, their seventh winless Premier League game in succession. They have now gone as many consecutive league matches unbeaten. It might be pure coincidence, perhaps the quirk of a kinder list of fixtures, but it is interesting to note that the upturn in form has come when those squad issues were cut off at the source.

Mesut Ozil has left for Fenerbahce. His last appearance for the Gunners may have been in March but he cast an undeniable and foreboding cloud over the team. That distraction is gone. So, too, Sokratis, a popular figure thus one whose continued exclusion posed obvious issues. The same can be said for Shkodran Mustafi and Sead Kolasinac. Joe Willock and Ainsley Maitland-Niles might not have been disruptive behind the scenes but their loans further reduce the risk of disharmony in a healing squad, while giving both Premier League experience. And as regrettable and frustrating as it has been to see William Saliba’s career stall in north London, he and Arsenal both benefit from this temporary separation with a view to a fresh start in the summer.

Even before assessing the shrewd, risk-free arrivals of Mathew Ryan to bolster their goalkeeping options and Martin Odegaard as an exciting creative option, Arsenal have overseen a necessary squad refresh. Those ‘factions’ that were developing under Arteta have become fiction, and further proof that he has full backing from the board.


Sam Allardyce
Between them, the teams currently residing in the Premier League’s bottom half bought or loaned 11 players in the January transfer window. If and when Sam Allardyce pleads poverty and suggests he wasn’t backed enough in the transfer market, someone ought to kindly remind him that West Brom account for five of those signings.

Robert Snodgrass has already made an impact, as has Mbaye Diagne. Andy Lonergan brings the invaluable experience of a world, European and Premier League champion. Okay Yokuslu and Maitland-Niles are the undoubted cherries atop a cake that still carries an aftertaste of relegation.

“We need to bring players in this window, everybody does,” Allardyce said earlier this month. “But no-one more so than us. We need players in more than anyone else in the Premier League to give us a chance of moving out of the position we’re in.”

Ask, and you shall receive. But maybe ask for a defender next time and see what happens.


Aston Villa
Ollie Watkins, one of only ten Premier League outfielders yet to miss a minute this season, and the only forward among that dectet, could probably have done with someone to share that burden. But Aston Villa have built their push for Europe upon paradoxical foundations in these knackering times: no club has used fewer players in the Premier League so far (20).

Dean Smith’s decision to maintain a smaller squad naturally makes it more difficult to sign new players, particularly mid-season. Their first-choice XI is almost completely set when everyone is available. Four players have started every game; four others have started all but one. Any new players arrive safe in the knowledge that they will have to prove themselves and adapt as opposed to being slotted straight in.

Yet in Morgan Sanson’s capture, Aston Villa have shown their propensity for forward planning and insuring themselves against foreseen circumstances. Ross Barkley has a matter of months left on his loan and Thomas Tuchel will surely want a look at him before his future is decided. Manchester City’s buy-back clause looms threateningly over Douglas Luiz. Conor Hourihane has been incredibly useful when called upon but his loan to Swansea opened up a space that Sanson, with his Champions League pedigree and vast Ligue Un experience, can slot straight into.

It is still a purchase that benefits Villa in the present but one that also shows they have a keen eye fixed on the future. If there were any doubts as to whether they could fulfil the ambitions of their better players last summer, they have been thoroughly dispelled both on the pitch and off it this season.


Michael Edwards
Liverpool themselves are difficult to place overall in this most meaningless of tasks. It remains to be seen whether their month-long escapade of centre-half chicanery will cost them come the end of the season. Defeats to Southampton and Burnley and the draw with Manchester United cannot be attributed to defensive fragility but the absence of key players at the back and determination to seek internal solutions, thus reshuffling a little further forward, caused problems the club could no longer ignore while pointing to their much-vaunted transfer strategy.

The reports insisting that Ben Davies and Ozan Kabak were both scouted extensively rather than being sourced and signed in a mild panic, do seem a little disingenuous. No other club could pull that card and pretend this has been in keeping with some grand plan. Imagine Ed Woodward presenting that one to the investors and getting away with it.

Yet Liverpool have earned that faith, that trust, that they know what they’re doing. At the very least, Michael Edwards should probably be given the freedom of Merseyside for getting two centre-halves in for an initial cost of £1.5m, easing the pressure on Rhys Williams and Nat Phillips, returning Fabinho, Jordan Henderson or both to their rightful midfield places and helping solidify the club’s recent renaissance. Keeping Joel Matip’s saddening and maddening injury quiet until both deals were secured was the sort of simple thing many other clubs might not even consider yet it has probably saved them millions.


Fikayo Tomori
What was not good enough for Chelsea’s porous defence might suffice when it comes to handing out Serie A title winner’s medals in May. Fikayo Tomori was given 45 second-half minutes against Liverpool in September to state his case at Stamford Bridge. Eight days after joining AC Milan, he had already started in a victory for the league leaders.

It might have seemed an obvious decision to make once one of Italy’s biggest clubs came calling but for a player who joined Chelsea’s youth system aged seven, with the furthest of his three previous loan spells coming at Hull, there would have been trepidation. The stasis he had been locked in at Chelsea would have shattered the confidence of a player whose England debut in October 2019 was supposed to be another checkpoint on his rise, rather than the start of his fall.

Milan may trigger that £26m purchase option. They may not. But for the 23-year-old Chelsea academy graduate this is the opportunity he needed to resuscitate a career that was ailing under a manager famed for developing youth. Sorry, Frank, but Tomori never dies.


Takumi Minamino
To be fair, if you’re finding it difficult to establish yourself at Liverpool then there are worse ideas than going to Southampton for a bit. That Takumi Minamino will be playing presumably regularly under one of the most talented coaches in the division, whose style bears enough similarities to Jurgen Klopp’s to make this properly worthwhile, is an added bonus.

It has been a stellar month when it comes to transfers that make sense for everyone involved, and we were made to wait the longest for perhaps the finest example of all: Minamino gets six months to develop and adapt with much less pressure on every touch he has, Liverpool can shop window his arse off or welcome back a better, more settled player in the summer and Southampton have a real talent that could help galvanise them after an otherwise poor month.


Cesar Azpilicueta
A shame he didn’t celebrate his recent first Premier League goal in more than a year by paying tribute to Lucas Piazon, but he finally replaced the new Braga forward as Chelsea’s current longest-serving player this month.


Said Benrahma
The most expensive Premier League signing of the 2021 January transfer window. He takes that particular crown from Bruno Fernandes. Could be worse.


Josh King
He finally did it! That should do his prospects of an England call-up the world of good.

Matt Stead