Football

Premier League: Champions League hopefuls must use January

Liverpool must keep Suarez (©GettyImages)
Liverpool must keep Suarez (©GettyImages).

Usually the gulf between the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal and the rest of the league is too much for anyone to force their way into the Champions League.

However, this season, the Premier League is as competitive as ever.

A combination of managerial changes and increased television revenue has meant we have seen the smaller clubs, so far, bridge the gap between the top four and the rest of the league. A few teams in particular, if they make the right moves in January, and we could see a different team breaching the top four for the first time in years.

We have already seen Liverpool storm to second place, Newcastle have beaten Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea, Southampton took a point at Old Trafford and Everton beat Chelsea 2-1 at Goodison Park. With the right deals in January, these are the sides that could possibly mount a challenge on the so-called big four.

Liverpool have started very brightly and find themselves only two points behind league leaders, Arsenal. The 'SAS' (Suarez and Sturridge) partnership has devastated the league's defences and the pair have already amassed 16 league goals between them in only 11 games. However, having made full use of the summer transfer window, Brendan Rodgers has hinted he is keen on making further signings if they can improve the team. concentration will be focused more on who is leaving the club before bringing anybody in.

The Liverpool manager's main aim throughout will be to make sure Luis Suarez is still at Anfield come February. The Uruguayan striker was already attracting attention from Real Madrid and Arsenal, with the latter lodging a cheeky £40,000,001 bid to activate a complicated clause in his contract in August. Liverpool managed to convince the striker to remain at the club and they will try and do the same again come January. However, it will be harder this time around to fend off any interest from a Champions League side considering the hot-headed forward is in blistering form with eight league goals in six games.

Once Rodgers has assured he is keeping hold of his most-prized asset, he may turn his attention to Southampton winger, Adam Lallana. Lallana has impressed so far this season and his versatility and playing style would means he's a perfect fit for Liverpool's dynamic system.

Also on Liverpool's radar may be Greek forward, Konstantinos Mitroglou, as Brendan Rodgers looks to further reinforce his attacking options. The 25-year-old has already scored 17 in 15 games for Olympiacos this season and could serve as a perfect backup for the 'SAS'  pair and help Liverpool break into the Champions League places.

Roberto Martinez seems to have proven he is the perfect fit as Everton manager as the Toffees squad seemed to make a seamless transition between David Moyes and the former Wigan boss.

Having lost Marouane Fellaini late in the transfer window, Martinez raided his former club for James McCarthy and brought in experienced midfielder, Gareth Barry. Both signings have proven to be masterstrokes by the Catalan and the emergence of young Ross Barkley has very much been like a new signing.

Like his Merseyside rival, Martinez's main concern in January will be keeping hold of his prized possesion. Left-back Leighton Baines has been attracting interest from former manager, David Moyes, at Manchester United. His scintillating form for Everton and England this season will not have made Martinez's task in January any easier but with a chance for a starting berth at the World Cup up for grabs Baines may not want to unsettle himself with a January move.

If Everton are to make reinforcements, it may be to bring in somebody to provide backup for hotshot Romelu Lukaku. Arouna Kone, who followed Martinez from Wigan to Everton in the summer has been ruled out for a 'long time' with a knee injury. Saido Berahino has been cited as a possible target and could come at a cut-price deal with his contract expiring in the summer.

Newcastle's season, as is often the case, has been a roller-coaster ride already with inconsistent weekly performances. Many of the Geordie faithful were disappointed with the lack of permanent signings during the summer and will be hopeful of a bumper January shopping list similar to last season's when they signed five players.

The Magpies have been linked with a move for Blackpool's Tom Ince and a loan move for Manchester United winger Wilfried Zaha with Newcastle's transfer mogul, Joe Kinnear, clearly keen to bolster Pardew's attacking options.

With Papiss Cisse under performing and Loic Remy not signed on a permanent deal, Joe Kinnear may be focused on signing a striker having missed out on Darren Bent in the summer.

One thing is for certain, Pardew will be anxious to see if the transfer saga surrounding Yohan Cabaye is reignited come January. Manchester United are crying out for a central midfielder of Cabaye's mould and Arsenal may choose to launch a second bid for the playmaker to bolster their midfield options.

If Newcastle can repeat recent performances against Manchester City and Chelsea or get Cisse scoring again, Mike Ashley might see no point in spending any money at all, so it could turn out to be another frustrating transfer window for the Geordie faithful. 

Southampton have been this season's surprise package and sit in third place, three points off top spot. Mauricio Pochettino, heavily backed by Nicola Cortese with the signings of Dejan Lovern, Victor Wanyama and Daniel Osvaldo, may not think he needs to strengthen his squad after such a good start. However, with the interest some of his stars are attracting, he may have to brace himself for a hectic January. If the Saints can fend off suitors for Luke Shaw, Gaston Ramirez and Adam Lallana then the Argentine will definitely be able to deem the transfer window a success.

Whoever any of these sides are planning to pursue in January, a lot will depend on who the big clubs decide to target. All the sides have players that are being eyed-up around Europe and as is often the case, when a player is impressing at a club outside of the Champions League, they are to attract on the big guns attention.

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Premier League

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