There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic impacted football clubs’ ability and desire to spend up in January. As an example, Premier League clubs spent a reported £70m during this window, a substantial decrease from the £230m total spent last campaign.
Now, more than ever, clubs are on the hunt for ‘safer’ low-budget bargains, rather than expensive long shots. Here are some potential steals from this window.
Martin Ødegaard. Real Sociedad to Arsenal (Loan)
Arsenal signed Norweigan international Martin Ødegaard on loan from Real Madrid until the end of the season. The 22-year old playmaker has struggled for minutes this season in Madrid, making just seven appearances so far.
Mikel Arteta will hope to see Ødegaard repeat the same high performance he displayed during his productive loan spell at Real Sociedad last season, helping them to a sixth-placed finish with seven goals and nine assists in all competitions. Operating from the inside left channel, he led the rankings at Sociedad in 2019-20 for chances created per 90 (2.2), successful passes in the opposition half per 90 (30) and expected assists per 90 (0.24).
When it came to Expected Assists, he was the joint-fourth best in the top five European leagues (6.8), behind only three of the world’s top young talents in Trent Alexander-Arnold, Kylian Mbappé and Jadon Sancho.
Ødegaard could provide the Gunners with some much-needed creativity following the departure of Mesut Ozil.
Alejandro ‘Papu’ Gomez. Atalanta to Sevilla (€5m)
In Spain, it was Sevilla who made the biggest splash this January. The Andalusians, currently fourth in the table just one point behind Real and Barça, signed Alejandro Gomez from Atalanta on a cut-price deal until 2024.
‘El Papu’ was one of the main protagonists at the heart of Atalanta’s fairytale rise during his six seasons in Bergamo, culminating with him leading the club to the Champions League quarter-finals last year. Since his arrival in Bergamo in 2014/15, Gomez has 58 assists in his 315 Serie A appearances, more than any other player in the same period.
He also has the record for the highest number of assists in a single Serie A season, since Opta starting collecting this data, with 16 in 2019-20.
Mario Mandzukic. AC Milan (Free Agent)
AC Milan have completed the signing of former Juventus striker Mario Mandzukic on a contract until the end of the season. The Croatian striker has been a free agent since last July and joins the 39-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the Rossoneri’s attack.
It’s no secret that Mandzukic is into the twilight of his career, one that peaked with his acrobatic goal scored for Juventus in the 2017 Champions League final defeat against Real Madrid and the goal scored in the final of the FIFA World Cup in 2018 against France. Mandzukic is one of only five players to find the net both in the Champions League/European Cup final and in the World Cup final.
During his first Serie A spell at Juventus, Mandzukic scored 31 goals in 118 league appearances, with 11 of those goals being headers (more than twice as many as any other Juventus player in the same period).
His contribution to the Bianconeri’s winning streak in the Serie A was instrumental, especially under Massimiliano Allegri who exploited the striker’s versatility by deploying him in different positions of Juve’s attack.
Mandzukic seemed very close to the end of his career when he moved to Qatari side Al-Duhail, where he made just 10 appearances, scoring two goals. Technical director Paolo Maldini clearly hopes the 34-year-old Croatian can add even greater experience to Milan’s attack, which is currently being spearheaded by the evergreen Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who was also signed in the winter transfer window just a year ago. Mandzukic, who won the Scudetto four times during his spell at Juventus, will provide Pioli with the opportunity to rotate his starting XI and will bring that winning mentality to a very young squad.
Stephan El Shaarawy. Shanghai Shenhua to Roma (Free)
Two years after leaving in a shock move to Shanghai Shenhua in the Chinese League, El Shaarawy has returned to the Italian capital, signing a new two-and-a-half-year deal with Roma. El Shaarawy will hope to recapture some of his best form to impress national coach Roberto Mancini and secure a spot in the Azzurri’s squad for the UEFA European Championships this summer.
After a good start with Shanghai Shenhua, when he played a significant part in winning the 2019 CFA Cup – thus helping his side secure a spot in the AFC Champions League 2020 – with four goals (incl. one in the final) and making two assists, El Shaarawy’s performance in the Chinese Super League did not live up to expectations.
During his last spell at Roma before his move to China, the ‘Pharoah’ scored 11 goals and delivered three assists in 28 league appearances. His 11 goals came from just 7.6 Expected Goals, meaning the Italian recorded the third-highest differential between his xG and actual goals at +3.4. Roma currently having the best shot conversion rate in this Serie A season, and El Shaarawy could add let another sharpshooter to their ranks.
Arkadiusz Milik. Napoli to Marseille (Loan)
The long-awaited arrival of Arkadiusz Milik at Marseille finally happened in January. Milik the Ligue 1 side on loan from Napoli until June 2022, despite interests from many Premier League Clubs.
Milik, who scored 48 goals for Napoli in 122 games in all competitions, has scored the third-most goals of any non-Italian striker over the last two Serie A seasons, just behind Duvan Zapata and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Overall, since his arrival to the Serie A in 2016-17, the Polish international had averaged a goal every 135 minutes of action for Napoli, with his most prolific season being 2018-19 where he netted 17 goals in 35 appearances.
Failing to feature in a single Serie A game this season, Milik has just four months to get back on track ahead of the Euros in the summer. In that Poland squad, he will have to compete with Krzysztof Piątek for a spot in the starting XI next to Robert Lewandowski.
Luka Jović. Real Madrid to Eintracht Frankfurt (Loan)
After being the most expensive Real Madrid signing in the summer of 2019, Luka Jović has returned on loan to former club Eintracht Frankfurt, where he enjoyed the most prolific time of his career between 2017 and 2019. During that period, the Serbian international was a completely different striker to the one we’ve seen playing (or not, as the case may be) for Los Blancos in the last 18 months.
In fact, Jović has made only 32 appearances for Real Madrid in all competitions since arriving, only 11 of these have been as a starter. In his debut season at Real, Jović ranked 20th in the Madrid squad in terms of minutes played (only 422), featuring only four times in the starting XI. He’s scored just two goals in total, which is certainly not the return Real had hoped considering the fee they signed him for.
However, returning home to Germany seems to have been the tonic Jović needed. He’s had an immediate impact at Frankfurt, scoring three goals from three shots on target in the four Bundesliga games he’s played so far.
Sami Khedira. Juventus to Hertha Berlin (Free)
Like Jović, Sami Khedira has also made a return to the Bundesliga after wearing the Real Madrid jersey. Khedira stopped off in Italy first though, where he played 99 games for Juventus, scoring 21 goals in the process (a joint-record for German players at Juventus). But while Jović is looking for a chance to revitalise his career, Khedira joins Hertha Berlin eager to prove that he can still perform at the highest level, following injuries that have undermined the latest part of his career.
His next appearance will be his 300th in Europe’s Top Five Leagues – he’s won the league in each of the three leagues he’s appeared with (five times with Juventus, once with Stuttgart and once with Real Madrid):
During his six-year spell at Juventus, Khedira recorded a win percentage of 83%, the highest ever record in Serie A history (in the three-points-for-a-win era) amongst players with more than 50 appearances.
Will he still be able to make an impact after not playing a single game so far this season, and featuring only 17 times as a starter in the previous two Serie A seasons combined. Time will tell, but on a free transfer, there is limited risk for Hertha Berlin.
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