Hub Community writer Stuart Saint shares his thoughts on how the January transfer window affects different kinds of Premier League players and the impact that could have on FPL.
It’s that time of year when every fan believes they could be about to make the signing that will change their season, keep their team in the division or take them to league and cup glory. Whether it be Messi, Isco or Jesse Lingard; everyone is in the shop window. But what does this mean to FPL managers? I consider the January market as a bit of a bonus for FPL managers for many reasons.
During times of uncertainty around players arriving and leaving clubs, there are always a few, often the same few, players that flourish in January. These players are generally the ones who know they are not moving on and can capitalise on the uncertainty around the clubs they are playing. A prime example of this is Sergio Aguero who he has stated for a long time he wants to win the Champions League with Manchester City and finish his playing days back in Argentina. All the time he has had a chance of winning it with City, while still being hot property within European football, we have known he’s not moving on, so in January he would (injuries permitting) be a safe bet. Aguero won the January Player of the Month award in 2020 (6 goals in 4 games including a hattrick against Newcastle and a brace against Crystal Palace), 2018 (5 goals in 4 games including a hattrick against Newcastle) and 2016 (5 goals in 4 games with 2 braces) with these awards broken up by other consistent club men like Rashford (2019), Dele Alli (2017) and Harry Kane (2015).
To be clear, this season is vastly different, and I wouldn’t advise we should all sign Aguero; he hasn’t proven his fitness yet and added to the fact he is in the last year of his contract he may now have an uncertain future. What I am advocating for is players that we know are not going anywhere, have secured their place as ‘first name on the team sheet’ such as the likes of Harry Kane, Bruno Fernandes, and Mohamed Salah. These players will always be good picks but when other players are placing pressure on themselves to make sure they are not replaced or to get a move, these solid picks can really benefit.
There are a number of players, as touched on above who do not see their futures with their present club and want to move on to ‘bigger and better’ things. I almost called this section ‘the Paul Pogba Effect’ after watching last week’s game against Aston Villa, where we saw Paul Pogba pulling the strings, creating, having chances, more physical with less of the tricks and flicks; almost like a player that wouldn’t look out of place in any side. Call me sceptical, but it was 1st January, the transfer window was open, and we get to see how good he can be. Remembering of course Pogba’s agent, Mino Raiola, back in December with awful but maximum impact timing (before the make-or-break game with Leipzig in the Champions League) declared that the star’s time at Manchester Utd is coming to an end. These two events could of course be a coincidence; Pogba could now be fitter and stronger as Solskjaer commented in his post-match interview and playing with more confidence, or the truth could lay somewhere in between this. The positive we should look to take is Pogba, may become an option for FPL.
But its not just Pogba. Players like Wilfried Zaha, who has already started the season in great form, but makes no secret of his desire to leave Palace is back in the shop window. Dele Alli, who may get a chance in the FA Cup against Marine, which if he impresses may lead to more Premier League time. With Pochettino now installed at PSG, it would not be unthinkable he raids his previous club and a Dele that is trying is an FPL option.
The Spinning Slows
We have seen and continue in the short term to see a lot of football nearly on a daily basis. Whilst this is great for us football fans (not so much for our families although I am sure Netflix is getting well used in the room next door). for FPL the rotation worry has been amplified. When added to Klopp’s constant comments on player’s fitness and five substitutes, even the most consistent players are seeing their time managed. In January this continues but it definitely slows. Whilst it is true there are no Champions League fixtures and no international break, there is the respite of the FA Cup; following on from the hectic Christmas schedule the FA Cup 3rd round weekend gives a perfect opportunity for recovery periods for many.
There are, as always, some exceptions of all premier league ties, we have:
• Wolves Vs Palace
• Villa Vs Liverpool
• Arsenal Vs Newcastle
However, I do not expect first teams to be named in these games. Liverpool I assume will start with Origi and Minamino giving two of Salah, Mane and Firmino a rest. This gives us FPL managers a comfort blanket of knowing for the next Premier league game, for Liverpool this is a big one against Man Utd on the 17th January, players are rested, and strongest teams should be selected. The rested players, again using Liverpool as an example will get nearly a 2-week break, which especially this season, gives plenty of time to get out of the famous ‘red zone’ and back towards the green.
The teams not facing premier league opposition, for example Spurs against Marine or Everton vs Rotherham may play reserve teams or alternatively may start strong, get the game won and then make changes to ensure injuries or the potential for injuries are minimised. Now as fans we all know this can backfire. The Match of the Day episode will invariably use the words ‘giant killing’ at least ten times, but it is a risk you take to attempt to ensure your aspirations for Premier League targets are met. For FPL managers, I have found this gives us a strong platform for double Gameweek 19, we can be as mildly confident as we have been able to be in this, the most disruptive and confusing season, of naming and getting the majority of minutes from ‘the regulars’.
It is a common thought that January signings are often not extremely exciting and rarely provide good value; there are many examples of where this is the case. But looking at the positives, there have been many great signings in January that have changed clubs’ fortunes and given them a real boost. The boost given by a new signing in January can be very similar to the new manager bounce or the leadership arc as described in Carlo Ancelotti’s book ‘Quiet Leadership’. The leadership arc, is how Mr. Ancelotti describes the time of a manager at any club and is basically made up of four distinct phases:
• The Courtship
• The Build
• The Success
• The Sack
The duration and steepness of this arc and the four phases are determined by many factors depending on timing, money, club, expectations etc. Now what does this have to do with FPL?
Simply any new signing in January has a very short courtship, the window is a month so this is how long the clubs have to tempt the players in, make them feel good about themselves and tell them all the things you as a club hope to achieve. The purpose of this, is if the transfer is successful the player will come into the club ‘full of beans’, bringing a positivity to the club which may have been missing. Invariably this positivity is picked up by the players that want to pick it up, this is the ‘Build’ towards the ‘Success’. Now a team starts to play with 5-10% more confidence, we often see results changing and players that have been, meh, up their games whether it be from the challenge of a new signing, ‘it’ll be me they replace next’ or belief in the new signing ‘he’s better than XYZ who played before’. This gives us as watchers of football the ability to understand who has been on the edge of good performances and how will this new signing make the others better. For example, if Jack Grealish was given a box finisher for all the chances he creates, Jack Grealish, already an incredibly good asset in FPL terms becomes a level up. The biggest difference between the manager and player experience is the player is staying, he is not or very rarely seeing the sack so we can also see the other side, where a new player gets a bumper pay rise, believes the hype and think they only have to turn up in these circumstances the transfer would be seen as unsuccessful.
So before we write off the January window, reflect on the positive ones with hindsight there have been some,
• Bruno Fernandes (the gift that keeps giving)
• Virgil Van Dijk (turned an also ran to World Champions)
• Luis Suarez (started the build for Liverpool)
• Nemanja Matic (Chelsea yoyo signing in 2014)
• Nemanja Vidic (part of the centre back pairing that lead Man Utd to major titles)
Big at the back
The final thing coming out of the back of January and we have, I believe, seen in the last few weeks, is the inhibitions of early season exuberance start to fade, and the teams start to know where they are. We are always told ‘do not look at the league till 10-15 games’, well here we are, and I think this is where many clubs will re-evaluate their seasons goals and targets. The points become vital at both ends of the table and the focus of training begin to reflect this. Teams now know if they are in a relegation battle as much as they know if they are safe or in contention for a high finish and maybe even a European place. Those in relegation battles start scrapping, they bolster their defensive plans and work harder on set pieces, knowing that if they do not concede they have a chance of picking up a one goal victory from a corner. Games between a ‘mid-table’ team and a relegation battler die out at 75 minutes if level as both teams rarely want to risk what they have so will take off the second striker in place of a defensive midfielder or make their substitutions to break the game up if the other side is building a head of steam. This doesn’t of course happen just at the bottom of the table, managing the games and results is often what sets apart the managers in mid table to those that win titles. We will start to see teams that are winning by the odd goal also behave in a similar manner in the second half of matches.
Generally, scores should start to reduce, we see more narrow victories and more draws, teams mentalities change from trying to win to trying not to lose and we start to see clean sheets appear more commonly. In 2019 at the halfway point (Gameweek 19), Man Utd had conceded 23 goals and by the end of the season (Gameweek 38) this increased to 36, reflecting an improvement in defensive performance, Man City 23 and 35, Spurs 27 to 47. There are exceptions to this, the best from last season being Liverpool who at the half way point had conceded only 14 goals and also built up a 13 point lead over Leicester in second, however they conceded more in the second half of the season, finishing the season on 33 conceded. It probably is fair to say following the first COVID lockdown with the league in the bag they took their foot off the peddle with a 4-0 loss to City, 2-1 to Arsenal and a 5-3 win against Chelsea.
What January will bring is an unknown, will the league take a break, will we lose more games to COVID or we will, probably least likely, just continue as planned……..good luck all.
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