Messi’s not moving but Mesut might

The January transfer window will open in England this Saturday and some Premier League clubs are expected to be active as they try to strengthen the squad midway through the campaign. For some, like Sheffield United, the need for new players is bordering on desperation. For others, like Liverpool, new signings could help tide over shortcomings in what has been an injury-hit campaign.

Given the financial implications of the novel coronavirus pandemic and the uncertainty surrounding the ongoing season itself amid a spike in Covid-19 cases in the UK, big money moves are unlikely this winter. So, do not expect a move like Lionel Messi to Manchester City in January. The Argentine superstar was set to leave Barcelona last summer but the move was scuttled because the Catalan club refused to terminate his contract. That meant prospective suitors would have had to pay €700 million to trigger a release clause at worst or a lower negotiated transfer fee at best. A January transfer is highly unlikely as Messi would be available without a transfer fee in less than half a year. Theoretically, Messi can enter into a pre-contract agreement at this stage with another club. However, multiple reports in Spain have claimed that he will not decide on his future before the club’s presidential election later this month.

Hence, Messi is not going anywhere from Barcelona at least till the summer. However, do expect some serious transfer activity at quite a few clubs across Europe over the course of the next few weeks.

Clubs in England (and quite a few other European countries) are dealing with a new headache – a major uptick in coronavirus cases again. The Premier League confirmed on Tuesday that the latest round of testing returned 18 positive cases, the highest since weekly testing began. Two games – Everton vs Man City and Tottenham vs Fulham – have already been postponed after the jump in positive cases.

This spells more trouble for clubs with smaller squads and hence a greater need to buy back-up this January even as the season stalling remains a clear and present danger.

So, who are the players likely to move this winter? And which clubs would be more active? Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal for example could be more than window shopping. Two wins on the trot have helped the club recover from a nearly two-month-long winless streak that put question marks over Arteta’s future. The Spaniard could look for reinforcements in the market, with a creative midfielder being priority.

Arsenal unsuccessfully chased Lyon’s Houssem Aouar in the summer and it is unlikely the chase will continue in January because the French club could be unwilling to do business as they lead Ligue 1 standings. Arsenal could also buy a centre-back. On the other hand, the sidelined Mesut Oezil looks set to head out of the club though it could even happen in summer.

Liverpool could be in the market for a centre-back as injuries have meant the Reds are currently running thin in that department. A loan move for a defensive backup too could work out for Juergen Klopp’s side. The Reds may also offload Divock Origi after the Belgian fell further behind the pecking order since the arrival of Portuguese forward Diogo Jota.

There is also talk of Georginio Wijnaldum potentially leaving for Barcelona at the end of his contract at Liverpool which lasts till the end of the season. A January move looks unlikely but the Dutchman could indicate where his future lies once he decides on the reported latest contract offer from Liverpool.

Manchester United’s defensive troubles this season could have Ole Gunnar Solskjaer seeking reinforcements. The club hasn’t shied away from the January window in the past and some defensive solidity would complement the resurgence which has United second in the standings three points behind Liverpool with a game in hand. Norwich City right-back Max Aarons has been linked with a move to United as competition for Aaron Wan-Bissaka.

Former Chelsea forward Diego Costa could return to the Premier League after his request for contract termination was accepted by Atletico Madrid. As could Danish midfielder Christian Eriksen who has found himself out of favour at Inter Milan a year after moving from Tottenham.

Barcelona youngster Riqui Puig and Real Madrid’s Luka Jovic could be loaned in this window and some of the Premier League clubs would definitely be interested.

Two famous names – Lyon’s Memphis Depay and Bayern Munich’s David Alaba – are also reported to be heading towards the exit at their clubs. Depay has been linked to a number of clubs across Europe, notably Barcelona. Alaba may head towards the Premier League. Both players are likely to stay at their clubs this month as neither clubs would want to lose important players in January. However, both could be able to sign pre-contract agreements with their suitors.

There will also be interest in Norwich City midfielder Emiliano Buendia and Watford’s forward Ismaila Sarr although the two promotion-chasing Championship clubs could be unwilling to do business in January.

Five players likely to move

Mesut Oezil: The Arsenal outcast turned 32 in October and would interest clubs both in England and outside.

Christian Eriksen: The Danish midfielder hasn’t featured prominently in Antonio Conte’s Inter and could be back in England.

Diego Costa: He has done it in England before. Now a free agent, the 32-year-old forward could interest a few Premier League clubs.

Dele Alli: The Englishman doesn’t seem to be in Jose Mourinho’s plans and a move away in January looks plausible.

Jesse Lingard: After a year outside the Man United starting line-up, the English midfielder seems to be on the way out of Old Trafford.

Five January transfer hits

Virgil van Dijk: To say the Dutchman’s £75 million move from Southampton to Liverpool in January, 2018 has worked out well would be an understatement.

Luis Suarez: Arriving from Ajax in the same window where Liverpool lost Fernando Torres, Suarez had a great time at Anfield before departing for Barcelona.

Nemanja Vidic: Manchester United bought him and Patrice Evra in January, 2006, and both were key components of Alex Ferguson’s high-flying side.

Bruno Fernandes: The Portuguese midfielder has become a highly influential figure at Manchester United after moving from Sporting Lisbon last winter.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang: Arsene Wenger’s final and costliest signing, the Gabonese forward has been Arsenal’s best player during a turbulent period.

Five January transfer flops:

Alexis Sanchez: This is fresh in the memory of Man United fans. The Chilean’s best performance for United was arguably playing the piano at his unveiling.

Fernando Torres: The Spaniard did score quite a few goals for Chelsea but he was never the same player after leaving Liverpool at the beginning of 2011.

Andy Carroll: Liverpool received £50 million from the sale of Torres and promptly invested 70% of it in buying Andy Carroll. It turned out to be a mistake.

Juan Cuadrado: The Colombian had a torrid time at Stamford Bridge after moving in January, 2015. He managed just 15 games in his Chelsea career.

Wilfried Bony: After impressive stints at Vitesse and Swansea, Bony signed for Manchester City in January, 2015, but struggled for form at the club.

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