Premier League clubs shatter record for January transfers

For those enamored of last-minute transfer mayhem, Deadline Day didn’t disappoint.

A swap that involved forwards between bitter rivals as well as a German giant and a big-money move to Barcelona closed down the January transfer window in England.

The 20 clubs paid out a combined $610 million, which is a league record for a January window. Activity had dropped sharply during the last six windows from the previous high of $348 million in 2011, but a new TV deal that kicked in this season along with the demands for success produced a bumper month of wheeling and dealing. The net spend (fees paid minus fees received) of approximately of $213 million was also a record.

Klopp deals. All the teams chasing leader Manchester City made significant moves, as did the leader itself. City failed to land either of highest-profile targets, and will have to make do with centerback Aymeric Laporte instead of Virgil van Dijk, whose $107 million move from Southampton to Liverpool was the costliest domestic move in the Premier League last month. 

(Laporte, who left Atheltic Bilbao, cost "only" $81 million. Still the deal -- for 57.2 million pounds -- broke the club's transfer record of 55 million pounds paid to Wolfsburg for Kevin De Bruyne in August, 2015. Because of differences in the exchange rates between the pound and the dollar, that deal was worth about $83.6 million.)

Van Dijk’s rocky start to his Premier League tenure in games against Swansea City and West Bromwich Albion has caused a bit of concern, and it’s less than two weeks before Liverpool takes on Porto in the Champions League round of 16. He is certainly seen as a long-term solution to the team’s defensive woes, but manager Jurgen Klopp is under great pressure to get a lot further than the first European hurdle.

It will do so without Phillippe Coutinho, who left Liverpool for Barcelona in a deal originally valued at $151 million; it could jump to as much as $202 million if certain benchmarks are met. At that price, Liverpool could hardly turn the deal down yet he’s been so stellar for the club its fans desperately wanted him to stay and move during the summer or find a suitable replacement. 

Coutinho’s departure and consecutive losses to Swansea City (league) and West Bromwich Albion (FA Cup) restored feelings of angst that had dissipated during an 18-game unbeaten run that ended with a scintillating 4-3 victory and Man City’s first league loss of the season.

Desperate Gunners. City, which holds a 15-point lead atop the standings with just 13 rounds remaining, had also dabbled in the pursuit of Chilean striker Alexis Sanchez, whose prolonged saga at Arsenal ended with him trading the Gunners’ red and white for the red and black of Manchester United.  Henrikh Mkhitaryan goes in the other direction. He's joined at Arsenal by the English window’s priciest import, ex-Borussia Dortmund forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang ($80 million). Rebuffed at previous attempts to move, Sanchez’s departure in the EPL version of a trade marked a major shift in the club’s recent history.

Arsenal unloaded three players to help pay for the Aubameyang acquisition. Winger Theo Walcott, 28 and a Gunner since 2006, has already scored twice for Everton after a $28 million-transfer. Striker Olivier Giroud headed crosstown to Chelsea for $25.3 million, and three weeks ago midfielder Frances Coquelin signed with Valencia for a fee of $17 million.

With the Gunners in sixth place and eight points out of the Champions League slots, they are desperate to rack up goals and victories with Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan leading the charge.

Sour mood at Chelsea. Acquiring Giroux will not quiet the rumblings at Chelsea. Manager Antonio Conte has been harping about reinforcements since the summer, and a shocking 3-0 home loss to Bournemouth the day the window closed didn’t improve his mood nor that of the fan base.

Of a previous acquisition, ex-Everton midfielder Ross Barkley, Conte said after a 2-1 loss to Arsenal last week in the Carabao Cup semifinals, “When there is an injury to one of your best players [Willian] it is not simple, especially when on the bench the only substitute is Ross Barkley.” Ouch.

Barkley had come off the bench to make his first Chelsea appearance since rehabbing a hamstring injury that had sidelined him for weeks, and his rustiness was apparent.  A day later, Conte backed Barkley’s quest to find a spot on England’s World Cup team and admitted it will take time for him to learn a new system. He is also integrating left back Emerson Palmieri (from Roma, $25 million) and modifying the front line to accommodate the loan to Borussia Dortmund of Michy Batshuayi.

Chelsea was able to hang onto Belgian international Eden Hazard amid speculation his next destination is Real Madrid. Impaired by significant injuries this season, Chelsea would not be anywhere near its current position in third place (tied with Liverpool on points) if not for his consistently outstanding performances.

Tottenham, currently fifth and facing a daunting challenge against Juventus in the Champions League, beefed up its main area of need by paying $35 million to Paris St. Germain for speedy scorer Lucas Moura. Spurs has rebounded from a 4-1 shellacking at Man City to run off a nine-game unbeaten streak that includes an impressive 2-0 home victory over Manchester United Wednesday. Tottenham has outscored its last nine opponents, 22-5, and its run of a gauntlet against the top teams continues at Liverpool Sunday and at home against Manchester City a week from Saturday.

In addition to adding Walcott and cutting loose Barkley, Everton manager Sam Allardyce -- who replaced Ronald Koeman at the end of November -- has acquired Turkish striker Cenk Tosun from Besiktas ($38 million) and defender Eliaquim Mangala on loan from Manchester City.

(Speaking of loans, City has sent Jack Harrison, acquired from New York City FC for $5.7 million, to Middlesbrough of the League Championship for the balance of the season. It’s a major coup for MLS and NYCFC, which swung a trade with Chicago to get the 2016 SuperDraft No. 1 pick who started all but one league match and scored 10 goals last season.)

The promoted three. So flush with cash, relatively speaking, are Premier League clubs that what would be a blockbuster deal in MLS is a “ho-hum” across the pond. Brighton earned promotion from the League Championship last spring to reach the top tier for the first time in 34 years, before the Premier League was formed. It has set a club transfer record for paying $25.5 million to PSV Eindhoven for striker Juergen Locadia.

At the close of the January window, none of the three promoted teams are in the relegation zone. But amazingly, Newcastle (14th), Brighton (15th and Huddersfield Town (17th) all have 24 points, which his just one more than 18th-placed Southampton.

The Magpies didn’t buy or sell anybody in a transfer, but their net spend of zero doesn’t fully address the nine players it either sent out or brought in via loans, nor the reported $2.8 million loan fee, plus salary, it is paying Leicester City for striker Islam Slimani.

Huddersfield manager and former U.S. international David Wagner was more aggressive; a fee of $14.2 million was paid to Norwich City of the League Championship for playmaker Alex Pritchard.

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