The Big 6 in the Premier League spent £276 MILLION during the January transfer window – and that’s not including the Sanchez/Mkhitaryan swap. An astronomical number, but one that actually isn’t very surprising at all. Whether it’s too ensure a club can challenge on all fronts (Manchester City) or to pursue the lucrative Champions League places (the rest), clubs are willing to spend what it takes, safe in the knowledge that the TV money they receive more than covers it.
But were the transfers each club made the right ones? What did each club need, and what did each club end up getting? As with all my articles, I’m going to take a data-driven approach to answering these questions; specifically using WhoScored ratings – a measure that has been shown to correlate strongly with Togga scoring (and therefore Opta stats). A quick note on this though; WhoScored ratings, like many football metrics, significantly undervalue a goalkeeper’s performance, therefore this is going to be taken into consideration when analysing the data. Also, in relation to the “needs” of each team, the discussion is centred around what would improve the first eleven, rather than simply providing depth for the club. For example, Tottenham would benefit from signing some forward depth, in case Kane gets injured and they are forced to start Llorente, however, a back-up striker wouldn’t improve their starting team, and therefore this won’t be included in this article.
Need: Goalkeeper. This may seem like a reactionary decision based purely on Cech’s performance against Swansea on Tuesday (and it partly is), but the data over the whole season is pretty unfavourable for the veteran ‘keeper. With an average rating of 6.67, we might be seeing Cech coming to the end of his illustrious career. This is his lowest average in the Premier League (since WhoScored began keeping the data in 2009/10), and is a sharp drop from back-to-back seasons of 6.94 ratings. Of Arsenal’s regular starters, the player with the next lowest average is Granit Xhaka with 6.94.
Got: Attacking Midfielder and Forward. There’s no denying the abilities of Aubameyang (163 goals in 309 career games) and Mkhitaryan (Bundesliga team of the season in 2015/16), but are they really going to help Arsenal get Champions League football? The former is understandable, given the need to replace out-going Sanchez, but Mkhitaryan? Where does he fit? The 3421 formation Arsenal have used for most of the season will need to change if they’re to ensure their best players (statistically) actually play.
Need: Centre Defender. With an average rating of 6.90 in the league this season, it seems a little harsh to pick out Andreas Christensen as Chelsea’s weak link, but every other regular starter (excluding Courtois, for reasons outlined at the start) has performed better. With David Luiz out of favour, and Cahill showing his age, solidifying the heart of the defence would have been a better strategy to ensure a top four finish.
Got: Centre Midfielder, Forward, Left Wing Back. Like Arsenal, the signing of Giroud was out of necessity when Batshuayi departed on loan. Emerson and Barkley, however, seem more like squad signings than first-team regulars. Unless Alonso is moving to right back, or Emerson converts there himself, it’s hard to see how the young Brazilian will get game time. Likewise, all the midfield spots are currently occupied by players averaging over 7.00 in the league: Hazard (7.75), Kante (7.30), Bakayoko (7.04), and Fabregas or Willian (7.15 and 7.03, respectively). That said, the Ross Barkley of 2015/16 had a 7.31 average, so if it’s him they bought, maybe they are strengthening.
Need: Goalkeeper. It was tempting to try and be clever and tell you something about Liverpool that you may not know…but the data is too damning for that. Mignolet’s 6.49 average is far below Liverpool’s next lowest regular starter (Wijnaldum; 6.77). Obviously Coutinho’s departure opens up a hole that needs to be filled, but as under enthusing as his replacements (Henderson/Wijnaldum/Oxlade-Chamberlain) have been, the most pressing concern for Klopp is between the sticks.
Need: Centre Defender. With a 15 point lead at the top of the table, City are hardly crying out for new players. However, if they are to pursue Champions League glory, they could possibly do with upgrading in central defence. I am a huge John Stones fan, but there’s no denying he has been very poor of late, and over the season he has an average rating of 6.86 – still okay, but probably not good enough when you consider City have 13 players averaging more than 7.
Got: Centre Defender. Perhaps this is why they are top of the league. City addressed their problem (ish) area with the signing of Laporte, and already the new man is looking good. On his debut he had a 7.14 rating…compare that to Sanchez’s 6.12 rating on his United league debut, and it seems the blue half of Manchester is winning again.
Need: Forward. I’m categorising this as a forward, but really, it is the position behind Lukaku. Currently, there are only 4 outfield players at United who have started more than 10 league games and also have an average rating of less than 7. Those players are Martial (6.97), Mata (6.91), Lingard (6.91), and Rashford (6.83). Clearly this area of the pitch needs strengthening.
Got: Forward. Like their cross-city rivals, United’s only bit of real business was to address a need. Alexis Sanchez should fit perfectly in the hole behind Lukaku, and allows Mourinho to rotate the remaining two attacking positions between Martial, Rashford, Mata, and Lingard as he sees fit. In his three full seasons at Arsenal, Sanchez had average ratings of 7.81, 7.72, and 7.76. A similar return for United would make him the fifth best performing player in the Premier League (behind Aguero; 7.83, Kane; 7.84, De Bruyne; 7.95, and the now-departed Coutinho; 8.03).
Need: Centre Midfielder. Finding an adequate partner for Eric Dier in the heart of the midfield has been an issue for Pochettino all season. Dembele was outstanding against Man United in midweek, but he still hasn’t recovered his form from last season. The less said about option B, Moussa Sissoko, the better. Tottenham have the 2nd best forward in the league (Kane; 7.90), 4th best attacking midfielder (Eriksen; 7.65), 2nd best full back (Davies; 7.36), 6th best centre back (Vertonghen; 7.22), and 6th best goalkeeper (Lloris; 6.75)…but the centre of midfield is a slight concern.
Got: Winger. Lucas Moura is a top, top player. In the pre-Neymar days at PSG he averaged 7.41 (2016/17), 7.40 (2015/16), and 7.47 (2014/15). Even if Ligue 1 is a Mickey Mouse league, the Brazilian averaged 7.60 in seven Champions League matches last season. But like with Arsenal and Mkhitaryan, where does he fit? First of all, Tottenham don’t play with wingers (their full backs provide the width), and secondly, if Moura plays centrally – which he can – that would mean dropping Dele Alli (7.05 rating) or Son Heung-Min (7.07). Rotation amongst these attacking roles may have to occur…which I’m sure Togga owners will be overjoyed about!
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