The January transfer window open and in the Premier League, it may be a busy one.
At the top of the table, we have one of the tightest title races in recent memory, with Liverpool, Arsenal, Aston Villa, Man City and Tottenham all separated by just three points.
And at the other end, we have the promoted three of Sheffield United, Burnley and Luton all desperately trying to gain ground on the likes of points-deducted Everton, Nottingham Forest and Brentford in the battle stay up.
All of that is not even mentioning the battle for European places, Manchester United’s struggles under Erik ten Hag, or Newcastle’s injury woes.
Of course, a revolutionary signing doesn’t always have to cost the Earth. In the most recent transfer window, for example, there were plenty of shrewd acquisitions, with a number of players arriving for cheaper prices (if any) than their positional peers and offering serious value to their teams.
At Squawka, we’ve ranked the best of these so-called ‘bargain’ transfers from the summer window, using players that cost less than £20m:
Thomas Kaminski (Luton Town)
- Joined from: Blackburn Rovers
- Fee: £2.5m
For teams who are promoted to the Premier League, goalkeeper may be the most important position to look at when you’re planning your squad. A good goalkeeper can be the difference between staying up and relegation. Luton’s choice was to sign Thomas Kaminski from Blackburn Rovers for a fee believed to be around £3m, after he kept 10 clean sheets and made 83 saves in the championship last season — the Hatters needed to replace Ethan Horvath who was only on loan from Nottingham Forest last season.
Kaminski has conceded 37 goals this season, the third-most in the Premier League. According to Opta’s Expected Goals On Target Conceded model, however, he would be expected to have conceded 42 times. That +5 differential is the best figure of any ‘keeper in the division, and a strong indication Luton would be significantly worse off without Kaminski.
He has also won Save of the Month this season, claiming the award in November for a double save against Crystal Palace to help secure Luton’s first Premier League at Kenilworth Road.
Cameron Archer (Sheffield United)
- Joined from: Aston Villa
- Fee: £18m
£18m is still a lot of money, even in football. But is it that much to spend on a player who has contributed to nearly a third of your league goals?
If you include Jordan Pickford’s own goal in Sheffield United’s 2-2 draw with Everton early in the season, Cameron Archer finds himself on four goals with the Blades only totalling 15 so far. Even if you don’t give him that one, he’s still responsible for a fifth of his team’s haul.
What’s more, Archer is second on his team for chances created (18) and first for Big Chances created (5), as well as completing 1.44 take-ons per 90 minutes.
If the Blades manage the improbable and stay up this season, they’re probably going to owe Archer a huge debt of gratitude.
Youri Tielemans (Aston Villa)
- Joined from: Leicester City
- Fee: Free
Youri Tielemans’ start to life at Aston Villa was slow, finding himself in and out of the squad as he struggled to make his mark among a talented group of players. But you can’t keep a good player down long and now, the Belgium international looks far more comfortable with his surroundings.
Tielemans started six out of his last seven games across all competitions — playing the full second half in the other — prior to succumbing to injury in mid-December, providing three assists during that run. We’re yet to see him unleash one of those trademark bangers into the top corner, but Tielemans is definitely adding quality in possession to this Aston Villa midfield.
To get a player of his calibre on a free transfer was quite simply excellent business from Unai Emery and his club.
Jefferson Lerma (Crystal Palace)
- Joined from: Bournemouth
- Fee: Free
Jefferson Lerma has a very specific set of skills — and yes, we’ll resist the temptation to go full Liam Neeson here — but he uses them to incredible effect. Simply put, he’s a midfield bulldozer put on this Earth to ruin opposition build-up play.
With that in mind, it’ll come as no surprise to hear that the Colombian has committed the second-highest number of fouls (23) of any Palace player this season, while also featuring in their top four when it comes to interceptions (19) and recoveries (97).
Of course, Lerma is no one-trick pony and is first at Palace for passes into the final third completed (159) and second for progressive passes (51).
Wataru Endo (Liverpool)
- Joined from: Stuttgart
- Fee: £16.2m
Nowadays, a holding midfielder can cost a team a pretty penny thanks to their importance in helping teams build possession from the back. Just look at the £60m+ that Manchester City spent on Rodri, or when Fabinho arrived at Liverpool from Monaco.
Well, the very man to replace Fabinho at Anfield, Wataru Endo, landed in Liverpool for a much more modest fee of £16.2m. That’s still a decent fee for a 30-year-old, but it’s the way Endo has grown into his role for the Reds that has impressed the most.
“It’s a bit of a shame how he found his feet and now he goes to the Asian Cup but that’s how it is, it’s fine. What a boy and what a player and very important,” Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp said of Endo recently.
“At least in January we have to play more or less without him but against Newcastle, he is still here. Then the boys leave and then we have to find another way and we will. But for the moment, I am really happy for him. It took him a little bit [of time] that he really showed how good he really is, but now we can see it and I’m really happy about that.”
Those words from Klopp came after Liverpool’s 2-0 win over Burnley in which Endo registered eight recoveries, three clearances and five of seven aerial duels won defensively, as well as contributing to the attack with two chances created, one shot, and going three for three on long passes.
Ross Barkley (Luton Town)
- Joined from: Nice
- Fee: Free
Given their tiny budget, Luton Town had to be creative with their summer recruitment, taking chances on younger players or more seasoned options that perhaps needed another chance in the Premier League. Ross Barkley certainly falls into the latter category, with no doubts over his talent despite just not quite making the grade over the years.
So far, the Everton academy graduate has proven top value on a free transfer, scoring twice, completing more dribbles (29) than any other Luton player and ranking third for chances created (14). Barkley was particularly good in games against Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea. In fact, he’s made such a big impression at Luton that teammate Andros Townsend even compared him to Argentine legend Diego Maradona.
“Honestly, they’ve been some of the best midfield performances I’ve seen in my career,” said Townsend. “It’s just unbelievable – the calmness, the ability to get the ball off the back four and knock it past some of the world’s best midfielders without a care in the world.
“We saw yesterday against Man City, Maradona was in the midfield to set up our goal – honestly, it’s been a joy to watch.
“In a way, he’s given confidence to the rest of the players around him, including myself. Just that calmness to take the ball under pressure, it’s such an underrated skill.
“He’s been absolutely incredible and he’s been an absolute joy to play with, but a joy to watch as well.”
Guglielmo Vicario (Tottenham)
- Joined from: Empoli
- Fee: £17.2m
Just like the No.6 position, goalkeepers now carry a serious premium thanks to their match-saving moments and, quite often, ability with the ball at their feet.
In recent years, we’ve seen Premier League clubs splash out on the likes of Ederson, Alisson, Kepa Arrizabalaga and Andre Onana, all with varying degrees of success.
Guglielmo Vicario cost a much more modest £17.2m from Empoli in the summer, but the effect he’s had on Tottenham so far has been worth much more than that.
Vicario already has five Premier League clean sheets under his belt, while he ranks sixth in the English top-flight for saves (65) and, most importantly, is second when it comes to goals prevented with 6.62.
Of course, we mentioned that goalkeepers now need to be good with their feet, especially at the top teams in the country. Well, the Italian — who is still only 27 years old — stands up here, too, ranking second in the Premier League among goalkeepers for touches (978), passes attempted (739) and passes completed (586).
“Vic was outstanding today with a couple of brilliant saves. He’s been brilliant from day one for us, and we haven’t always needed him like we did today,” Spurs boss Ange Postecoglou said following the recent 2-1 win over Everton.
“Other times, it’s probably one or two saves a game, if that, he’s been important in our build-up and in our organisation, but today we needed his goalkeeping. It wasn’t just the saves he makes. They’re so strong from corners and put so much pressure on the goalkeeper, and I thought he stood up really well.”
Honourable mentions: James Milner, Igor Julio, Jonny Evans, Ilya Zabarnyi, Milos Kerkez, Calvin Bassey, Djordje Petrovic.