We are well and truly into the January transfer window, and football fans worldwide probably feel a combination of emotions ranging from disappointment to delight. Ideally, many clubs wouldn’t intend to do business of any substantial amount in the winter, but this isn’t the case when many sides find themselves in situations where a season-defining signing is needed. January 2023 feels different from most. Off the back of the first inaugural winter World Cup, it’s more likely than ever that many clubs look to the January window for aid to support their squads in what will be a challenging second half of the season both mentally and physically.
So, who needs a fresh face (or three) in the closing days of the window?
Antonio Conte’s spell in North London has been mixed so far. It started off positively as he took over from an underwhelming Nuno Espírito Santo squad which was immediately enhanced by Rodrigo Bentancur and Dejan Kulusevski being captured from Juventus. Fast forward 12 months, and his Spurs side are devoided of confidence and sincerely lack quality in specific areas of the pitch.
Tactically, the Italian can be stubborn, but his stubbornness has earned him both critiques and plaudits. Conte often sets up in mid-block and is heavily reliant on the automatism instructed into his team. Also, the press within the side is limited to certain areas of the pitch; Conte’s team ranks 18th for pressures in the final third (599) and fifth for pressures in their own third (810). This exemplifies the lackadaisical approach from Tottenham in their build-up, with a lot of the creative burden being put on Kulusevski to create an opportunity out of basically nothing; his 4.91 shot-creating actions rank first in the squad for players who played 500 minutes or more and tops second-place Son Heung-Min at 3.95.
For a team built on transitioning quickly and heavily reliant on the individual quality of their front three, Spurs aren’t getting the ball from back to front quickly enough. They need a midfielder who thrives in the second phase of build-up can play line-splitting passes and has an abundance of athletism. This is further emphasised by the fact that Spurs are joint 19th in the league for successful passes ending in the last third (22%). Another position that undoubtedly needs upgrading is the right wing-back. With many of Spurs’ build-ups forming through the middle, they need a sustainable outlet, as they have with Ivan Perišić on the left. Emerson Royal and Matt Doherty have proven to be insufficient options on the right-hand side, and a technician in a similar mould as the Perišic, as mentioned earlier, who is comfortable in overlapping and underlapping with Kulusevski ahead, will be much needed for Antonio Conte.
Recommend players: Pedro Porro and Manu Koné.
Unlike the previously mentioned Tottenham Hotspur side, Ligue 1’s wonder-story in RC Lens is a club only on the up. Franck Haise’s side has been a joy to watch in his three-year tenure and has captured the hearts of French fans across the country and worldwide.
In the summer, Lens lost three fundamental players to the project being built at the club. After finishing seventh in back-to-back campaigns – missing out on European football by only four points – there was a belief amongst the Lens faithful that a project that burned so bright wouldn’t burn much longer.
Arnaud Kalimuendo, the top goal-scorer, returned to his parent club Paris Saint-Germain before leaving on a permanent to Rennes. The more experienced Jonathan Clauss ended that season as one of the more exciting wing-back prospects in Europe and earned a move up the table to Marseille. Cheick Doucouré, a player touted to move to the likes of PSG and Napoli, ended up moving to the Premier League to join Crystal Palace.
Nonetheless, the departure of these pieces who were crucial to an emerging side hasn’t hindered Lens, but instead has spurred them on to be more impressive collectively. At the time of writing, Lens are currently second in Ligue 1, three points off top place PSG.
With that, Franck Haise has a settled side, but the opportunity to push for a historic Ligue 1 title is not beneath them if they act in this window.
Defensively, Lens are the best in the league. Their 13 goals allowed is better than league leaders PSG (14), but the same can’t be said offensively. Their 32 goals scored ranks bottom for teams in the top six, and is 16 goals fewer than the most prolific team in the league PSG, at 48. As an offensive outlet, Lens are very reliant on their wing-backs, and the emergence of Przemysław Frankowski on the right flank has softened the loss of Jonathan Clauss. But just like the last season, it makes Lens a predictable outfit going forward, and the team tends to funnel it to the less productive left side. Massadio Haidara and Deiver Machado have been rotated in the position, but neither has made a significant impact for it not to be a position of focus. A left wing-back adept at getting beyond the last offensive line and crashing the box is needed, and neither of the aforementioned players has the skillset to offer that.
Lens’ first-choice attacking options have been reliable this season, with Loïs Openda (10) and Florian Sotoca (12) registering the most goal contributions in the team, dwarfing next-best Seko Fofana who has six from midfield. But despite the prolific pair up front, the depth options will be a prominent issue the further the season goes. Arnaud Kalimuendo left the club in the summer, and the likes of Alexis Claude Maurice, Rémy Lascary and Adam Buksa have underwhelmed. Whilst Wesley Saïd has signed an extension to 2026, his patchy goals-scoring record throughout his career is a worry.
Finding an adequate alternative to the regular front three – a forward who can play in various positions, press and drop deeper and link play – won’t be easy. However, Kevin Schade’s links early on in the window would’ve proved a sensible option, but he has signed for Brentford now.
Recommended players: Giorgos Kyriakopoulos and Armand Lauriente
Sevilla fans couldn’t have imagined a worse position to be in halfway through the season. After 17 games, three wins, six drawsm and eight losses, Jorge Sampaoli’s side sits 19th in La Liga. Last season, then-manager Julen Lopetegui had Sevilla contending for the league for a large part of the season but couldn’t sustain any charge and finished fourth. The Spaniard was sacked in October after losing five of his last eight matches in charge, and new boss Jorge Sampaoli isn’t currently doing any better.
It’s as simple as this: Sevilla needs to get out of the relegation battle and, as always, have a chance to get a seventh Europa League title. To do that, they have to address some issues.
Under Sampaoli, there have been many glaring issues within this team. But one has been the evident need for goal-scoring power from any attacking options. Youssef En-Nesyri, Erik Lamela, Rafa Mir, Suso, Jesus Corona and Adnan Januzaj have all underwhelmed throughout large parts of the season – they share only six goals this season. At Marseille, Sampaoli had one of the most prolific teams in France. He preferred to play a lone striker in Arkadiusz Milik with a shadow player behind Dimitri Payet. En-Nesyri should’ve been the profile to replicate the success of Arkadiusz Milik, but his goal-scoring prowess that was attracting moves to the likes of Arsenal and PSG has faded to the abyss.
The players, as mentioned earlier, are used to being utilised out wide and lack the creative ingenuity that Dimitri Payet possess. So we’re looking for a physical, penetrative striker who can occupy the box and an attacking midfielder with clever nuance on and off the ball.
One area in that Sampaoli has improved is the defensive structure within the team. Switching to a three at the back has limited the spaces for the opposition to attack, but it still has yet to stop the isolation of the centre-backs, especially when the wingbacks bomb forward. The wide centre-backs in the team are pretty athletic, and when they are pulled out to defend an iso situation, they have the mobility to not be overexposed. Still, when they lose those iso situations, they need a central centre-back to aid, with Nemanja Gudelj, Fernando and Thomas Delaney often being utilised in the role and taking away from their traditional midfield-screener positions.
A more natural, physically-commanding centre-back would be helpful in Sampaoli’s system. Bringing in a centre-back will negate the issue of taking players out of their natural positions and playing them in a place that the opposition can target.
Recommend players: Iñigo Martínez, Amine Harit and Rodrigo Moreno