It’s that time of the year, where directors of football are glued to their Whatsapp, where the gossip columns takes on a mind of their own. It’s agent season again – but not as we know it.
COVID-19 has, among other things, turned the transfer market into a liminal space. With football still trundling on through July and into August, we’re not keeping our eyes out for who Paul Pogba’s just followed on Instagram, or whether Jadon Sancho has been spotted at Heathrow or El Prat. It’s a relief from the madness that usually ensues each summer.
With the transfer window finally officially open, however, there will no doubt be a flurry of activity from all sides. The question is – as always – who’s needed where?
Arsenal: Attacking midfielder
Newsflash: Arsenal need a centre-back. But while it wouldn’t exactly take a huge signing to improve Arsenal’s backline, Arteta managed to coach them into a better structure towards the end of the season. The problem all season has been in creativity - as epitomised by an absolutely woeful performance at Aston Villa where the Gunners didn’t register a shot on target.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that Arsenal don’t miss Mesut Ozil at his pomp. He still hasn’t been replaced properly, and a top creator in the mould of Houssem Aouar or Kai Havertz should be high on Mikel Arteta’s list this summer.
Aston Villa: Striker
It’s no secret that Aston Villa have lacked goals this season. Wesley managed five in the league prior to his injury; replacement Mbwana Samatta has struck just once since arriving in January and top scorer Jack Grealish is not only a midfielder, but possibly off this summer.
If Grealish does leave for a decent fee, Villa should be looking at a player who’s efficient in the final third. Trezeguet has been good in patches and Wesley clearly has more to offer, but someone in the mould of Southampton's Danny Ings has been the difference between Villa finishing 17th and a little higher. Aleksandar Mitrovic would be a great buy though it's unlikely Fulham will sell to a rival.
Brighton and Hove Albion: Central midfielder
Graham Potter has struggled to balance style with substance this campaign and the Seagulls found themselves caught in a relegation battle as a result. Potter wants to play expansively but will struggle to do so without proper ball-playing central midfielders.
Both Aaron Mooy and Pascal Gross are more comfortable further up the pitch and would benefit from a better deep-lying playmaker than Dale Stephens. Huddersfield’s Jonathan Hogg is a good passer and would be available on the cheap.
Sean Dyche continues to answer questions regarding his future, as drama with the board over contracts reportedly rumbles on. It’s unlikely that Burnley will have much to invest in the window that’s been adjusted for a number of clubs - and we still don’t know who will get to spend it.
Whether Dyche stays or goes, another wide-man should be the order of the day. Johann Gudmundsson has barely featured this term; McNeil has looked a good prospect on both wings, but Burnley need more thrust in the final third. They’re solid behind the ball - let’s give them some more quality when they have possession.
Chelsea: Left-back and centre-back
It’s unlikely Lampard will stop there, with defensive reinforcements also required. A centre-back with leadership skills would be a smart move, plus a left-back with pace to replace the aging Marcos Alonso. Ben Chilwell is the preferred option but is unlikely to be affordable given the outlay so far. Nicolas Tagliafico from Ajax would be a cheaper choice. The Argentinian has a £22.5m release clause.
Crystal Palace: Striker
Crystal Palace have scored the second fewest goals this season – a mere 30 from 37 matches. That sort of prowess would have made them relegation candidates had it not been for the calm and experienced management of Roy Hodgson.
Uncle Roy has proved he can work miracles with a half decent striker and you have to wonder what he would give for a peak Bobby Zamora in this Palace team. Given financial restaurants, a raid for a Championship striker might be the best option. Perhaps Lewis Grabban from Nottingham Forest, who failed to make the play-offs on the final day of the season, or Timo Pukki from relegated Norwich City.
Carlo Ancelotti is hoping to shore up his midfield with the impending signing of Pierre-Emile Højbjerg from Southampton, and could now do with adding at least one winger with pace and end product. His current options include the ageing Gyilfi Sigurdsson and Theo Walcott plus erratic duo Alex Iwobi and Bernard.
The Toffees spent much of last summer courting Wilfred Zaha, only to be denied on the final day of the season. Expect more of the same this year.
Scott Parker has promised Fulham will not go on another mad trolly dash this summer after their previous promotion was derailed by the arrival of a number of signings that didn't gel quickly enough. The Cottagers look a little threadbare in several areas of the pitch, and could do with a backup striker and a new right-back.
The heart of defence is a priority, however. Finding a partner for the excellent Michael Hector would be a wise decision. Tim Ream has been a great servant but struggled to cope with the pace of Premier League strikers two years ago and is now 32, while Alfie Mawson is simply too injury prone to be relied upon. Timm Klose from relegated Norwich would be a smart buy.
While the flack Patrick Bamford gets from some sections of the Leeds support is unfair, it's true he's hardly been prolific as the spearhead of Leeds' attack. His 16 goals in 45 appearances last term wasn't a shoddy return, but they'll need a more reliable scorer if they're to compete with the big guns.
Callum Wilson from Bournemouth would guarantee plenty of goals, pace and industry - perfect for Marcelo Bielsa's system - but might prove costly. A move for Brentford's Ollie Watkins would also be a shrewd one. The Englishman scored 24 goals in the Championship last term and looks the full ticket.
Leicester City: Forward
The last few weeks have been painful for Leicester fans, but perhaps they can take comfort from the fact that it’s depth and inexperience that has failed them in the final furlongs of the season: at least they don’t need to turf out a dozen under-performing divas.
Losing defenders to injury and suspension has torn the roof off Brendan Rodgers' aspirations, but the loss of James Maddison has arguably hit the squad just as hard. Harvey Barnes has significantly improved, Ayoze Perez is yet to fully hit peak form, but another forward in the mould of Florian Thauvin or Marcel Sabitzer, who could play in multiple positions, not mention chip in with assists, would add much-needed depth.
WHERE DO LIVERPOOL GO NEXT? What Jurgen Klopp will be looking for in the transfer market this summer
Liverpool: Left back and a winger
What does a club that have just won the title by 18 points need, exactly? A back-up left-back would be nice if they can find one of quality. Though the only area that Liverpool have truly struggled in over the last two years have been with the competition to that otherworldly front three. It’s a difficult task, to come in and replicate Salah, Mane or Firmino, but Shaqiri and Origi haven’t managed to provide the goods nearly consistently enough.
Klopp likes a smaller squad; he favours positionally-intelligent players, often from the Bundesliga, and someone has to be young and hungry enough to come in and challenge.
Alphonso Davies? At Anfield, Klopp could shape the Canadian into whatever he wanted him to be – the marketing possibilities would be great in North America, too. It's not impossible...
Manchester City: Centre-back
Second place is first loser as far as Pep Guardiola is concerned and it doesn’t take a Catalonian tactical genius to see what the issue has been this year.
Aymeric Laporte’s lengthy injury lay-off was the one and only nail in the coffin for Manchester City’s title hopes this season. Vincent Kompany’s leadership was not replaced last summer and Pep remains unconvinced by both John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi.
Guardiola has moved quickly here: Nathan Ake's signing from Bournemouth guarantees Premier League experience as well as savvy build-up play. Rumours of a swoop for Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly refuse to go away, though – so don't be surprised if Ake isn't the only centre-back they land.
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Manchester United: Winger
Rivals have adjusted budgets, FFP has been relaxed - if not shown not to matter anyway, recently - and Manchester United are on the up. There has never been a better time to sign Jadon Sancho.
Yes, United have clicked nicely with Greenwood out wide and Martial up front. Yes, another centre-back would be nice if the chance comes along and yes, David De Gea is a worry, though Dean Henderson is ready to come back and fight for a place. But Sancho provides something different: the chance to establish genuine world-class depth and quality in attack, while giving another option to break teams down.
Newcastle United: Striker
Steve Bruce may have proved many of his detractors wrong by keeping Newcastle United out of the relegation battle this season, but even he would have to admit it’s not always been pretty to watch. Newcastle have scored just 37 goals this season, which puts them comfortably in the bottom half of the goals column.
A striker who knows how to put the ball in the back of the net would also allow club-record signing Joelinton to move out to his preferred wide-forward role. A return for Aleksandar Mitrovic, whom they should never have sold in the first place, would be a smart option, while Burnley’s Ashley Barnes could be tempted by the promise of increased playing time.
Until the takeover happens, anyway – then, Bayern's Robert Lewandowski is quite handy.
Sheffield United: Goalkeeper
Chris Wilder’s top priority will be attempting to bring Manchester United goalkeeper Dean Henderson back for another season on loan. The Englishman has been a mainstay for the Blades this season, starting all but two matches in a stunning first season in the top-flight.
Wilder snapped-up Wes Foderingham on a three-year deal in July, bolstering his options for the time being. The former Rangers and Fulham keeper is only ever going to be a back-up option, however, and a new No.1 will be needed if Henderson decides to stay at Old Trafford and fight for his place. Tim Krul from relegated Norwich could be an option.
Southampton have shipped 59 goals in the Premier League season; more than any team not directly involved in the relegation battle since lockdown. That must be arrested next season, with reports claiming Ralph Hasenhuttl is in the market for at least two new centre-halves.
Tottenham Hotspur: Defensive midfielder and right-back
The fact that Tottenham Hotspur spent £60m on Tanguy Ndombele last summer doesn’t matter right now: if you’re going to hire Jose Mourinho, you’re going to have to play by his rules.
Mourinho likes very specific footballers. Ndombele’s struggles have been well-documented; Lo Celso and Sissoko have found homes as interiors, but Harry Winks doesn’t fit the bill - at least as a typical, Jose CDM. New full-backs may well be necessary, but they shouldn’t cost a fortune; the defence is ageing, so is the keeper, but Mourinho can work with them for now.
The important question Daniel Levy needs to answer is how committed he is to his manager. If the answer is “fully”, buy him his new Nemanja Matic: only then will the revolution really begin. It wouldn’t be such a bad thing either, given how much they miss Mousa Dembele dominating midfield.
SPURS SUMMER TARGETS 5 full-backs who would immediately improve Tottenham's defence
West Brom: Striker
On his day, there are few strikers who can trouble Premier League defences like Charlie Austin. The problem is, his day doesn't come nearly often enough and injuries are to blame for that. The 31- year old has had too many niggles over the past few years and some decent support up front would lessen the burden.
West Brom's style means a big, physical striker would be the preference, to add direct competition to Austin without forcing a change in tactics. Karlan Grant from Huddersfield would be a solid bet. The Englishman scored 19 league goals for struggling Huddersfield last season, and could be brought in cheap.
West Ham United: Full-back and forward
West Ham United have had a torrid season, but it seems to have brought through a couple of positives. At least the club now recognises that the hard-runners - Antonio, Bowen and Rice - are the players to rely on over the flashier signings of Felipe Anderson, Jack Wilshere and Sebastien Haller.
Tomas Soucek signing is a boost and more will be expected from Haller next term, too. New full-backs would be ideal either side - Jamal Lewis seems a much better fit than the rumoured Alex Moreno and Adam Smith from Bournemouth is at least a versatile workhorse. Beyond that, maybe another Bowen-type signing might give more depth - Ollie Watkins has impressed this season.
Nuno Espirito Santo’s European hopefuls have mined the Portugese leagues in recent years and fostered some very shrewd relationships with the movers and shakers in the Primeira Liga. They may need to get on the phone to their contacts out there for a new wide forward this summer if rumours linking Adama Traore away from the club are to be believed.
Even if Traore does stay, it would be shrewd to bring in a goalscoring wide player in order to lighten the load on Raul Jimenez and Diogo Jota. The pair have scored two-thirds of Wolves league goals this season, with the next highest scorer defender Matt Doherty (6). At the very least, they’ll need a few new faces to help them cope with the demand of a second straight Europa League campaign.
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