5 Bold Predictions for the 2023 January Transfer Window
Ah, January, such a beautiful time of year. Christmas cheer is gone, the turkey has been devoured, and football clubs across the planet are incessantly trying to pretend they aren't looking to do business. It's truly magical.
But, thankfully, some expensive, unwrapped gifts are still to be delivered to fans thanks to club owners spending the money they got from grandma in the January transfer window.
The World Cup's recent conclusion means this is likely to be a month of bigger deals than we're used to as the race is on to land the talents who impressed in Qatar.
Here are some bold predictions for the weeks ahead—minus Cody Gakpo.
Manchester United Don't Sign a Striker
Everybody knows Manchester United are looking for a striker.
Erik ten Hag has made it abundantly clear the Red Devils need to replace Cristiano Ronaldo with a centre forward who can elevate the game of flying wingers such as Marcus Rashford, Antony and Alejandro Garnacho.
Anthony Martial's consistent injury problems are threatening to overshadow a sharp return. The Frenchman has scored five and assisted two in just 579 minutes across all competitions this campaign, averaging a goal contribution every 83 minutes.
He has played over 75 minutes just once, though, and came off during the 3-0 win over Bournemouth with yet another niggle. He simply can't be relied on to last the gruelling second half of the season.
Many would have expected Gakpo to join the club after continual links throughout the summer and World Cup, in which he was a standout performer. Football journalist Fabrizio Romano reported that United never bid, though, and Liverpool decided to snap the 23-year-old Dutchman up in a remarkably straightforward deal.
Gakpo arguably leans too much towards the Rashford type of player to have been exactly what United need; versatile, better suited to cutting in from the left wing and not the out-and-out central striker Ten Hag desires for his system.
Links to Borussia Monchengladbach's Marcus Thuram, per La Repubblica (h/t Goal's Gill Clark), and Eintracht Frankfurt's Randal Kolo Muani, per L'Equipe (h/t Metro), have also appeared, but it's unlikely United will opt to spend heavily while the Glazer family are considering selling the club.
A loan is most likely, with João Félix touted by The Athletic's David Ornstein. Low-cost options may also tempt United, with players on expiring contracts like Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Memphis Depay possibilities, per The Athletic's Laurie Whitwell (h/t Utdreport).
Félix is obviously talented enough to improve any team in the world, but he's not the traditional striker Ten Hag seems to be leaning towards.
Memphis would offer cover for Martial and could make sense, especially as he has a point to prove at Old Trafford. Choupo-Moting fits the bill if United are set on planting someone in the box, although Odion Ighalo's name will likely trend if he does arrive. He's not exciting, but he could be useful.
In all honesty, it seems like the timing and specific needs of the manager could make this a frustrating window for United fans. Finances are on the mind at a crucial time for the club's future, and it may prove too difficult to land a deal that satisfies the needs of the manager and the wants of the club's owners who are likely to walk away soon.
João Félix Stays with Atlético Madrid
That leads us nicely to a closer inspection of João Félix.
It's no secret he is butting heads with Diego Simeone this season. He has more substitute appearances than starts in La Liga, despite scoring four and assisting three in 578 minutes of game time. If you look further back, Félix has only started 42 percent of league matches since joining in 2019. This just isn't enough for a player who possesses such spark and creativity.
The problem is, though, Atlético spent £113 million to land Félix, not far off double their next most expensive purchase of Thomas Lemar. Allowing him to leave on loan is an admission that he's likely available for a significant loss in the summer.
Félix has been linked with a loan move to Arsenal or Manchester United, as noted by Ornstein, and the Red Devils have offered £3.5 million in addition to agreeing to cover his full salary, per Relevo (h/t the Mirror's Colin Millar). Atlético reportedly want £11 million plus wages. That's a major investment, albeit one that could look more appetising if an option to buy is included.
Félix moving could be the story of the window, but with Atlético struggling in fifth place and obviously looking to overprice him, it's a difficult deal to execute. Don't be surprised if he's looking glum on the Spanish side's bench when February arrives.
Liverpool Actually Sign a Midfielder
Liverpool's recent transfer business has both been exciting and odd. Darwin Núñez and Cody Gakpo are brilliant additions that have the long-term replacement of Sadio Mané, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Fimino in mind. But there's a greater need that has been glaring Jürgen Klopp in the face for some time: an ageing midfield.
Captain Jordan Henderson is 32 and is showing the wear and tear of a gut-busting career. Thiago and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are injury prone at 31 and 29, respectively, while Fabinho is also 29.
The clock is ticking for long-time leader and hole filler James Milner, who at 37 has noticeably slowed down this season. Naby Keïta has failed to reach expectations and will be lucky to remain at Anfield past this campaign after his contract expires.
The loan deal for Juventus' Arthur Melo was intended as a smart stopgap, but his signing has proved to be a disaster so far. He's played just 13 minutes after seriously injuring his quad muscle in October.
All the signs point towards Liverpool needing an immediate shot of life in midfield, but Klopp noted they cannot "splash the cash" after Gakpo's arrival earlier this month. The recent defeat to Brentford leaves them seven points off fourth and in an unexpected battle to reach the Champions League.
It may prove necessary to invest in a midfielder now, despite a possibly significant outlay, as missing out on Europe's elite competition would be painful for a club that has to run a tighter ship than the two Manchester sides and Chelsea.
Enzo Fernández Remains at Benfica
Midfielders are certainly a hot commodity right now, none more so than Benfica's Enzo Fernández, whose terrific display in Argentina's World Cup triumph has thrust him on to the radar of many big clubs.
He has a giant valuation of £105.5 million, according to The Times' Duncan Castles, that few have the might to match. Chelsea have so far tried and failed with a lesser bid, according to Romano, as Benfica weigh up the difficult decision of cashing in while hype is at its fullest.
Fernández is arguably only behind Jude Bellingham as Europe's most desirable midfield signing right now, so it's going to be a long month for Benfica fans who want to see their star man remain in Portugal for the rest of this season.
It will take a brave team to meet Benfica's demands, and despite constant speculation, this could be another Félix situation in that the player's current club are flirting with a major departure without really wanting to pull the trigger until 2023-24 arrives.
Chelsea Steal Mykhaylo Mudryk Away from Arsenal
Chelsea not spending all that cash on Fernández leaves a lot of potential money on the table for new manager Graham Potter to play around with.
According to the Independent's Miguel Delaney, momentum is building towards a sensational £88 million bid for Shakhtar Donetsk's Mykhaylo Mudryk, who has practically pleaded with Arsenal to sign him since he was linked to the Gunners in the summer.
Mudryk previously indicated to CBS Sports Golazo (h/t football.london's Chris Davison) he wouldn't be able to turn Arsenal down and recently posted an image of him watching the side's win over West Ham on Instagram. He then liked a "#FreeMudryk" post from an Arsenal meme account. It's blatantly obvious he wants the move as soon as possible.
All the signs point towards Arsenal. There's a lack of conviction in the Gunners' pursuit at present, leaving the door ajar for Chelsea, who are lacking the kind of creativity Mudryk can bring.
Blues owner Todd Boehly is decisive and will act quickly if Mudryk is on Potter's wishlist. Nizaar Kinsella of the Evening Standard reported Chelsea have a meeting with Shakhtar coming up. Expect this one to move quickly.