Transfer window: Ten questions to be answered in second half of January sales
The transfer window is just coming to life so Jack Pitt-Brooke outlines where the deals that could alter the season will be done.
1. Will Arsenal sign a striker?
The biggest difference between Manchester City and Arsenal is the depth and quality of City's striking options. While Manuel Pellegrini can call on Sergio Aguero, Alvaro Negredo and Edin Dzeko, Arsenal have been desperately reliant on Olivier Giroud this season – Lukas Podolski and Nicklas Bendtner have started just three league games between them.
With Bendtner struggling with an ankle strain and Theo Walcott out for the rest of the season, Arsène Wenger – not one to rush into these things – is considering going into the market. He would love to take 21-year-old Alvaro Morata on loan from Real Madrid but a more realistic option might be the Fulham veteran Dimitar Berbatov on a short-term deal. Or he could rely on Giroud and hope for the best.
2. Can Manchester United strengthen their midfield?
One of the many problems of Manchester United's season stems from their failure to bring in quality midfielders in the summer, despite attempts for Cesc Fabregas and Ander Herrera. They have been punished, repeatedly, for this, languishing in seventh in the Premier League and out of the FA Cup.
David Moyes is trying to redeem this now, travelling to Italy to watch Cagliari against Juventus on Sunday. Juventus's first-choice midfielders – Paul Pogba and Arturo Vidal – are probably beyond United, Claudio Marchisio might not be. Moyes' coach Phil Neville went to Getafe v Rayo Vallecano, to see Saul Niguez, just 19 and on loan to Rayo from Atletico Madrid. There could be another move for Herrera – but United certainly need someone.
3. Will Ravel Morrison recast the relegation battle?
In a miserable season for West Ham United, Ravel Morrison has been one of the few bright sparks, impressing in midfield with his balance and skill. But he feels undervalued at Upton Park and knows that there are better options out there for him.
Fulham and Cardiff City – both managed by former coaches of Morrison from Manchester United – can probably offer him better terms. Fulham could certainly do with his youth and pace – manager Rene Meulensteen said they had a bid for Morrison rejected – Cardiff with his quality. If he were to leave, it could fatally undermine West Ham's attempts to stay in the division.
4. Which summer additions will be discarded?
January is the month of scaling back and cutting down, and some players bought in the enthusiasm of high summer may be cast off this month, if interested clubs can be found. Tottenham could send Lewis Holtby, bought last January, back to Schalke. Erik Lamela is desperate to leave but Spurs are likely to turn down loan requests for now at least, while there is Continental interest in midfielder Etienne Capoue. Andreas Cornelius – £8m in the summer – is yet to start a league game for Cardiff, similar to Nicklas Helenius at Aston Villa. Sunderland are awash with unwanted buys.
5. Which top-flight team will finally go for Tom Ince?
The best player in the Championship, Blackpool's Tom Ince is at last on the verge of his long-awaited Premier League move. The England Under-21 winger nearly rejoined Liverpool last January and was then heavily linked with Cardiff in the summer, but now, with just six months left on his Blackpool contract, he is almost certain to leave. Swansea and Everton are keenest, with Everton offering the benefit of keeping Ince's young family in the North-west, but Newcastle and Tottenham retain an interest in the dangerous winger. There is even an offer from Monaco, but expect Ince to stay in England.
6. Will Liverpool get the edge on Everton?
Separated by just one point, Liverpool in fourth, Everton in fifth, the Merseyside race for a Champions League place will be one of the most interesting parts of the second half of the season. Everton have started their January recruitment already, adding the intelligence and skill of Aiden McGeady on the wing, a crucial addition after the injury to Gerard Deulofeu.
Liverpool, of course, will want their own wing additions and are aiming even higher for Basel's wideman Mohamed Salah. He will require a serious bid to extract from Switzerland this month, but Salah could well be the man to keep Liverpool in the top four.
7. Who will be the Ilan of the window?
Sometimes, a striker will come from relative obscurity at this time of year and score enough goals to save his new team. It has happened twice at West Ham, with Paul Kitson in 1997 and Ilan in 2010, or when Manchester City signed Emile Mpenza in 2007. Many teams at the bottom of the table could do with a striking saviour, unlikely or not – West Ham and Crystal Palace especially – so it remains to be seen which centre-forward will ride in to save their season. It could even be Carlton Cole, whose short-term deal with the Hammers has expired and which mean he is up for grabs.
8. Will Manchester City replace Samir Nasri?
Just one point behind leaders Arsenal, but still playing the best football in the country, City cannot afford to let their season be derailed by Samir Nasri's two-month absence with his knee injury. The French midfielder's imagination and technical skill have been vital this season and the two obvious deputies – James Milner and Jesus Navas – do different things.
Then there is the issue of security in midfield, with City lacking an authentic holding player ever since Gareth Barry left last summer. They need to improve their away form to win the league and a new defensive midfielder might be the best way to do it.
9. Will Aston Villa add the experience they need?
Aston Villa's problems are obvious enough – Paul Lambert has built a team based on hunger, youth and enthusiasm, which can produce some stirring football, but they lack the experience and nous to win many games. Lambert seems to have recognised this and has added Grant Holt – who did so well for him at Norwich – on loan. They could do with another veteran defender or midfielder, but the obvious option, City's Joleon Lescott, is surely out of their salary range.
With Hull City on the verge of adding Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic this window, the value of players who know the division may become even clearer.
10. Will Pepe Mel follow Solskjaer's example?
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has not been at Cardiff very long but has already added two players – Magnus Wolff Eikrem and Mats Moller Daehli – he worked with at Manchester United and Molde. It makes perfect sense – Cardiff need to stay up and Solskjaer is signing known quantities – so he may well repeat the trick before the end of the month. Pepe Mel, newly in at West Bromwich Albion, could well bring in some of his better former players from Betis in the hope that they settle in quickly.
Belfast Telegraph Digital