January window is chance to buy players
Decision time for relegation-threatened clubs
With the Premier League grossing over $8 billion for its latest domestic television rights deal, the rewards for remaining in English football’s promised land are richer than ever.
So it’s no coincidence that clubs occupying the bottom five positions in the table have already sacked four managers as they bid to stay in England’s top flight.
The next big decision for the owners of those clubs threatened by the drop is how much they should spend in the January transfer window – after all, just being in the EPL was worth a basic £55 million ($68 million) per team in 2015-16, and a reported £85 million ($105 million) this season.
Do they break the bank and bring in a crop of new players to reinvigorate underachieving squads, or is it time to cut their losses and start planning for life in English football’s second tier?
CNN Sport looks at the strengths and weaknesses of the bottom five to identify what each squad needs and why.
Defensively, Aitor Karanka’s men have been excellent – conceding fewer league goals than the likes of Liverpool, Southampton and Everton.
With six clean sheets, only Spurs (7), Southampton (7), Manchester United (7) and Chelsea (11) have more than the newly-promoted side.
Karanka’s issue is in attack. No team has had fewer shots (182) and no team has scored fewer league goals than Middlesbrough’s 17 so far this season.
Experienced striker Alvaro Negredo has five goals to his name but cannot be expected to fire the club to safety alone.
Aston Villa forward Rudy Gestede was secured on a three-and-a-half-year deal in the first week of the window and Boro should now press on to acquire a creative midfielder to complement Gaston Ramirez.
Only the Premier League’s top six boast a better goalscoring record than Crystal Palace.
With attacking players like Wilfried Zaha, Yohan Cabaye, Jason Puncheon, Andros Townsend and Christian Benteke, the Eagles have scored an average of 1.5 goals per game.
So where did it all go wrong for previous manager Alan Pardew? The Palace frontline might have been prolific, but eight defeats in the 10 matches leading up to his departure epitomized a nightmare year.
No team lost more league matches in 2016 (22), and new manager Sam Allardyce has admitted keeping his side in the division is a “bigger challenge” than he expected.
If he’s to arrest the slump, getting the best out of Zaha and Benteke could hold the key; the Eagles have attempted the third-highest number of crosses (476) in the division this season and are clearly set up to exploit the strengths of their record signing.
No player in Europe has won more headers than the 1.90m Belgian in 2016/17 and with eight Premier League goals to his name, it’s now down to his teammates to start keeping them out.
January could prove to be a tough month for Allardyce’s men, with Zaha away with the Ivory Coast for the African Cup of Nations between January 14 and February 5, and Benteke awaiting a scan on a shoulder injury sustained in the recent 2-1 defeat by Swansea.
Airlifted to hospital after a road accident in September 2016, left-back Pape Soaré has also been missed at Selhurst Park.
The Senegalese international admitted he felt “very lucky” to be alive in the aftermath of the crash, and with Palace currently relying on right-sided defender Joel Ward, Allardyce has reportedly already launched a bid for Norwich’s Robbie Brady.
The Black Cats have only kept two clean sheets all season under the management of former Manchester United boss David Moyes.
New faces Jason Denayer and Didier Ndong have shown industry in the middle of the park but, aged 21 and 22 respectively, perhaps lack the experience for a relegation scrap.
That both are yet to register an assist in a Sunderland shirt typifies the team’s lack of creativity going forward; full-back Patrick van Aanholt has made at least 10 more key passes (27) than any of his teammates, and only Jermain Defoe has scored more than the Dutch defender’s three league goals.
First and foremost, after a $7 million bid from West Ham, Sunderland surely have to retain Defoe’s services.
His two penalties against Liverpool in Monday’s 2-2 draw took the former England striker’s tally for the season to 11 and the 34-year-old has been involved in 68% of Sunderland’s 19 league goals in the 2016-17 season.
With Ndong off to Gabon for the African Cup of Nations, Moyes could do worse than sign a central midfield player with the pedigree to match his star striker.
Until Tuesday’s long-awaited victory against Crystal Palace, Swansea had the unenviable record of having as many managers as wins.
What a difference three points can make.
Despite conceding more than twice as many league goals as fellow struggler Middlesbrough after 20 matches this season, the Swans are just four points behind the promoted team.
Head coach Paul Clement’s appointment has brought fresh hope to the Liberty Stadium, but the Welsh club need to tighten up quickly if they’re to avoid joining rivals Cardiff in the division below.
Ashley Williams made more clearances than any other Premier League player last season and, while he hasn’t hit the same heights in the blue of Everton, the Swans surely miss their longstanding club captain.
Efforts have reportedly been made to sign Barcelona right-back Aleix Vidal, but with Williams inadequately replaced this summer, any defensive reinforcements would be welcome.
Hull City has just three Premier League wins in 20 matches and the worst goal difference in the division by a distance.
Record signing Ryan Mason has flattered to deceive and, rock bottom of the Premier League, owner Assem Allam has sacked head coach Mike Phelan less than three months into his permanent role.
A striker to lift the goalscoring burden from Robert Snodgrass.
Having scored more than 40% of Hull’s league goals, the Scotsman is exposing the limitations of the squad’s current forward options.
Between them this season, Adama Diomande, Dieumerci Mbokani and Abel Hernandez have three Premier League goals in 36 appearances so a proven striker is needed fast. Hull will also lose Mbokani and Ahmed Elmohamady during the African Cup of Nations.
A forward like Leonardo Ulloa, who has made it clear he wants more playing time under Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri, could save the Tigers from the drop.