We are two-thirds of the way through the Premier League season. Here is a quick look at what was the best decision each club has made from the summer window through to the season run-in:
Arsenal: Keeping William Saliba In House
It would have been easy for Mikel Arteta to think he had his central defence sorted with Ben White and Gabriel and send Saliba out for another loan spell. However Arteta kept Saliba at the Emirates and moved White to right-back and in doing so strengthened his team in two positions without spending more money. Saliba has been outstanding throughout the season and Arteta seems to have a stable backline in place for years to come.
Aston Villa: Hiring Unai Emery
Villa were in danger of following the Everton approach to managers after firing two in barely a year. However moving quickly meant they could move for serial Europa League winner Emery before others came calling. Emery has brought clarity after Steven Gerrard’s tactical muddle, moving to a 4-4-2 and hitching his striker hopes firmly on Ollie Watkins who’s responded with an excellent goal return. Emery hasn’t been perfect, that FA Cup embarrassment proving a low point, but he has got Villa punching their weight and sparing their fans a brush with relegation.
Bournemouth: Sacking Scott Parker
Parker deserves credit for getting Bournemouth promoted but it always looked a stretch for him to keep The Cherries up. After that 9-0 drubbing at Anfield, Parker committed the cardinal sin of deflecting blame and throwing shade at his employer, leaving the Bournemouth board an easy decision. Bournemouth still face a dog fight to stay up and fumbled the appointment of his long term replacement. However Bournemouth have avoided becoming this season’s Norwich or Watford which is more than they would have got with Parker in the dug out.
Brentford: Signing Thomas Frank to a Contract Extension
Brentford fans got what they wanted for Christmas when Thomas Frank signed his contract extension on Christmas Eve. Keeping the man who brought Premier League football to Brentford is the best chance Brentford have of keeping it and he’s now under contract until 2027!
Brighton: Selling Marc Cucurella
Brighton perfectly illustrated how a moneyball strategy is supposed to work by buying Marc Cucurella for £15m and quadrupling their money a year later. Cucurella’s replacement Pervis Estupinan has proved an ample replacement whilst Chelsea have struggled to get a tune out of Cucurella despite his enormous price tag, that and a certain more hire profile switch to Stamford Bridge should give Brighton fans a giggle when they look at the current Premier League table.
Chelsea: Signing Enzo Fernandez
We have yet to see if there’s method in Todd Boehly’s madness but in January he at least hit on good players with their best years ahead of them. Fernandez was a case in point, yes Chelsea overpaid for a player they could have got for far less prior to the World Cup but Fernandez should prove the long term successor to N’Golo Kante Chelsea desperately need if they are to retain their place at the top table after a year of huge upheaval.
Crystal Palace: Signing Cheick Doucoure
In year of minimal change at Selhurst Park, the big arrival has proved a solid addition. Midfielder Cheick Doucoure has provided a solid lynchpin in Palace’s midfield and at 23 on a five year contract he looks an astute long term signing to a Palace side who continue to sit in lower midtable.
Everton: Hiring Sean Dyche
It says everything about Everton’s slide that a fanbase who previously derided Sam Allardyce now see Allardyce 2.0 as their saviour. Sean Dyche brought an immediate up turn in work rate and far better organisation to a struggling Everton. Of course they should have got him before the transfer deadline and Dyche is facing the toughest battle of career at Goodison. However Dyche gives Everton a fighting chance of staying up and that’s more than they were getting from Frank Lampard.
Fulham: Keeping Faith with Aleksandar Mitrovic
The last time Aleksandar Mitrvoic was in the Premier League he scored just 3 goals after a 26 goal season in the Championship. Despite a 43 goal return in the Championship last season, many questioned if Mitrovic would cut it in the Premier League. Marco Silva kept faith in his talisman (unlike Scott Parker) and Mitrovic has repaid him with 11 goals in just 19 games. Fulham have got a lot right this season notably signing Joao Palhinha but standing by Mitrovic has could yet see The Cottagers into Europe next season.
Leeds United: Signing Wilfried Gnonto
Leeds bought mostly well in the summer but their best move came almost by accident. Having failed with their deadline day bid to sign first Cody Gakpo and then Bamba Dieng, Leeds brought forward their proposed January move for Italian international Gnonto. Jesse Marsch initially claimed Gnonto wasn’t ready for the Premier League, but the 19-year-old quickly proved him wrong and has been Leeds’ best attacking player. Gnonto’s pace and dribbling combined with an eye for goal have quickly made him a marked man and at £3.8m he represents the bargain of the year.
Leicester: Keeping James Maddison
It’s been a dramatic fall from grace for Leicester City this season, but it would have been fatal had it not been for Maddison. With the club under financial pressure and only one more season left on his deal, it would have been easy to let Maddison go in the summer. However it was Maddison’s form that saw Leicester recover from a horrific start to the season and force his way into England’s World Cup plans. Injury has frustrated his progress since, but a fit and firing Maddison remains Leicester’s best hope of avoiding the drop.
Liverpool: Keeping Faith with Klopp
It’s been a horrific season for Liverpool (Sunday’s 7-0 win not withstanding) and Jurgen Klopp isn’t blameless in his team’s decline, however Liverpool have rightly stood by their man. Klopp has brought a level of success to Anfield not seen since the 1980’s and it’s highly unlikely Liverpool will return to the top of the league by moving on from him. Instead rebuilding the team and refreshing the coaching staff around Klopp; a trick Manchester United mastered in the Alex Ferguson era offer Liverpool the best chance of contesting the title. For those pointing out Klopp’s last season in Dortmund as evidence Liverpool should move on there’s an obvious repost; how many titles have Dortmund won since he left?
Manchester City: Signing Erling Haaland
There’s a school of though that says signing Haaland has made Manchester City worse. The facts are these, Haaland is 7 goals short of the Premier League season scoring record with 12 games to play and Manchester City have scored 66 goals this season- that’s 7 more than Arsenal and 19 more than anybody else, ’nuff said.
Manchester United: Signing Casemiro
Many would argue getting Erik Ten Hag was the best move United have made in a decade. However Ten Hag’s Old Trafford revolution became far easier when the serial Champions League winner arrived, as some pundits laughably claimed he was a spent force. Casemiro has provided the anchor to United’s midfield that’s been lacking since peak-era Michael Carrick. Now aged 31 the Brazilian is not the long term answer but it’s easier to find that solution whilst in the Champions League, thanks to Casemiro that’s likely to be where Ten Hag will be doing it.
Newcastle: Signing Sven Botman
Under Dan Ashworth and Eddie Howe Newcastle’s buying policy has been divided between players who provide immediate improvement (Trippier, Burn, Pope) and those who may eventually take Newcastle to the game’s biggest prizes (Isak, Gordon, Guimaraes). Botman was in the latter category but like Guimaraes has provided a huge upgrade here and now, finding the form he showcased in Lille’s Ligue 1 title win. It’s given Newcastle the defensive lynchpin they’ve desperately needed and allowed Burn to move to left-back where he too has excelled in the tightest defence in the league.
Nottingham Forest: Signing Morgan Gibbs-White
Plenty of eyebrows were raised when Forest spent a club record fee on the relatively unproven 23-year-old winger. However Gibbs-White excelled in the Championship at Sheffield United and has replicated his form at Premier League level to lead Forest in assists and form a potent attacking midfield pairing with Brennan Johnson.
Southampton: Turning to Ruben Selles
In a season of horrific misjudgements at Southampton, The Saints may just have landed on their feet with Selles. It’s debatable if this could really be taken as a decision given only days before Selles guided Southampton to their vital win at Chelsea, Southampton had been trying to sign Jesse Marsch. However Selles clearly has the respect of the the dressing room after the unpopular tenure of Nathan Jones and by keeping his own council whilst the club pursued Marsch, Selles also proved himself a canny political operator. It may not be enough to keep Southampton up even if they go down Selles does provide hope for the future.
Tottenham : Keeping Oliver Skipp
It seemed Skipp’s Tottenham career was going the way of Harry Winks. Having failed to establish himself as a regular and Tottenham signing Yves Bissouma, Skipp could easily have been heading for another loan or a permanent move further down the football food chain. However with Roman Bentancur getting a long term injury, Skipp has made an major impact on the Spurs first team and proved a catalyst for a a top four push and now it seems Bissouma is the one heading for a summer exit.
West Ham: Signing Danny Ings
Sometimes the obvious move is the right move; West Ham were struggling for goals so added a proven Premier League goalscorer for a mere £15m. At 30 and boasting a patchy fitness record Ings isn’t the long term solution, but it was Ings’ brace that sparked the vital 4-0 win over Nottingham Forest. If Ings can add a handful of other key strikes it will go a long way to keeping West Ham in the Premier League and make him the bargain of the January window.
Wolves: Hiring Julen Lopetegui
Wolves were spiralling into relegation prior to the mid season World Cup. Replacing Bruno Lage with former Sevilla and Spain manager Lopetegui has turned around Wolves flagging fortunes. After winning just once in 11 under Lage, Wolves have won 6 in 15 under Lopetegui (helped by a productive transfer window) and Wolves now sit 6 points clear of the drop.
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