Football Features

The best and worst January transfer windows in recent Premier League history

By CJ Smith

The best and worst January transfer windows in recent Premier League history

Published: 11:00, 1 February 2024

The January window is certainly a strange one in the Premier League.

More often than not, it’s Much Ado about nothing, with many clubs turning their noses up at arrivals or only making slight tweaks to their squads. However, there are plenty of Hail Mary moves from clubs desperate to stay up or targeted splurges on elite players (think Bruno Fernandes to Manchester United in 2020).

Read more:

But who has had the best and worst January transfer windows across the last five?

Best: Newcastle United, January 2022

  • Players signed: Bruno Guimaraes, Chris Wood, Dan Burn, Kieran Trippier, Matt Targett (loan)
  • Net spend: £90m
  • Points per game difference pre/post-January: +1.42

When Eddie Howe arrived at St. James’ Park in November 2021, Newcastle United were floundering in the relegation battle and in deep trouble. By the end of the 2021/22 campaign, they were 11th, closer to the European places than the bottom three. Much of that turnaround was thanks to Newcastle’s January recruitment.

It was driven by a +1.42 points-per-game differential, by far the most of any team in our study, and a net xG per-game gain of 0.98.

Now, £90m is a lot of money for any club to spend in a January transfer window. However, the Magpies were in serious need of reinforcements and you just need to look at the success of most players signed in that window to prove the club arguably found a number of bargains.

Bruno Guimaraes, for example, hit five goals in 17 Premier League appearances in the second half of that season having scored just three goals in 71 appearances across all competitions during his previous spell with Lyon. That scoring has slowed down somewhat, but the Brazilian remains one of Howe’s most important pieces thanks to the tenacity and dynamism he offers.

And then there’s the creativity and leadership of Kieran Trippier, who has returned to England and once again proved he remains an elite full-back. This season, he’s been a rock to cling to in a storm of injuries for Newcastle and only Bruno Fernandes and Pascal Groß have created more chances. On the other flank, Dan Burn has been converted from a lanky centre-back into one of the most solid left-backs in the league. It looks awkward given his height, but it just works.

This is a trio of players that played a key role in turning Newcastle United into a Champions League club once again. Meanwhile, Matt Targett only initially joined on loan to be made permanent in the summer while Chris Wood can be regarded as the only disappointment of the group. And Newcastle were even able to claw back 15 of the £25m they spent on him.

Relegation fodder to mid-table, laying the foundations for future ties against the likes of PSG, AC Milan and Borussia Dortmund. January 2022 was the catalyst for Newcastle United.

Honourable mention: Wolves, January 2023

Wolves were in dire straights heading into the January 2023 transfer window, sitting well inside the bottom three with just three wins to their name. However, the acquisitions of the likes of Matheus Cunha on loan, Mario Lemina, Pablo Sarabia and Joao Gomes playing under Julen Lopetegui got them right back on track, with a 0.57 points per game improvement lifting them to a 13th-place finish.

Worst: Chelsea, January 2023

  • Players signed: Enzo Fernandez, Mykhaylo Mudryk, Benoit Badiashile, Noni Madueke, Malo Gusto, Andrey Santos, David Datro Fofana, Joao Felix (loan)
  • Net spend: £310.8m
  • Points per game difference pre/post-January: -0.77

There’s an argument that Chelsea’s splurge just over 12 months ago represents the worst transfer window ever.

Staggeringly, the Blues parted with well over £300m to bring no fewer than eight new players to Stamford Bridge. The previous biggest spend in a Premier League January transfer window was Arsenal’s £85.4m push for the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan in 2018.

Among the new arrivals were the likes of Enzo Fernandez for a British transfer record £106.8m, Ukrainian winger Mykhaylo Mudryk for over £60m and Joao Felix, whose loan cost more than most clubs would pay for a permanent deal in January. All that on top of a supporting cast of French defenders and future talents.

And what was the result of all this spending? Well, from the close of the January window until the end of the season, Chelsea won just three of their 18 Premier League matches — losing nine — to drop all the way down to 12th in the table, 0.77 points per game worse off than before the spending spree. This is the worst differential of any team that made at least one permanent signing across the five windows. Meanwhile, Graham Potter was dismissed as manager in April.

The Blues ended the campaign just 10 points clear of the relegation zone with a 27-point chasm between themselves and the Champions League places. Ultimately that 12th-place finish represents their worst since coming 14th in 1994.

All that after just a year previous, reaching both domestic cup finals, finishing third and winning the Club World Cup and Uefa Super Cup double. And after shelling out well over a quarter of a billion pounds.

Some may say a few of signings still have time to come good and Enzo Fernandez still appears an elite player. But he’s yet to live up to Chelsea’s record-breaking investment. In many ways, the Blues still haven’t reset the balance from this disastrous window, with the club frantically looking to get players out the door in the summer just gone and languishing in mid-table under Mauricio Pochettino.

Dishonourable mention: Watford, January 2022

They weren’t pulling up any trees, but Watford were steadily hovering just above the relegation zone heading into January 2022. Then, the Hornets decided to spend big in a bid to make sure of their safety, bringing in the likes of Samuel Kalu, Edo Kayembe, Samir and Hassane Kamara. After investing almost £25m, Watford got substantially worse, with their new signings missing the mark and helping the club to just two more wins for the rest of the season, finishing 19th with only 23 points — 15 adrift of safety.