Football Features

What if every Premier League contender got one free signing to boost their title charge?

By Muhammad Butt

Free agents january transfer window 2020

Published: 11:12, 9 January 2021

The Premier League is entering the new year and so title challenges are beginning to form in earnest.

The January transfer window is also active, meaning that the clubs chasing Premier League glory this season could add to their squad if they wanted to. Of course, most sides don’t have a lot of money to spend because of real world issues, so they would need to look for bargains.

And what bigger a bargain than signing a free agent? Nabbing someone out of contract and avoiding those hefty transfer fees.

This in mind, we looked at the title favourites by odds (i.e. the current top four as well as two of last season’s top four Manchester City and Chelsea) and ran the rule over which free agent they’d most benefit from picking up.

To be clear, we’re talking about signings made solely for the here and now. A hypothetical rooted in total short-termism, where player age and resale value don’t play so big a role. We also won’t be going over any possible impending free agent signings for the summer (i.e. David Alaba, Sergio Ramos, etc.) but players who are out of contract in January and could instantly sign up and improve a team’s chances of becoming champions.

Disagree with any of our picks? Let us know on Twitter.

2020/21 Premier League winner odds from William Hill:

  1. Manchester City: 10/11
  2. Liverpool: 21/10
  3. Manchester United: 6/1
  4. Spurs: 12/1
  5. Leicester: 33/1
  6. Chelsea: 35/1

All odds in this article are accurate at time of publication (19:00, 7/01/21). You can find more William Hill football markets here. 18+ only. BeGambleAware.

Liverpool: Jozo Simunovic or Ezequiel Garay

Position: Centre-back
Last club(s): Celtic, August 2020 & Valencia, February 2020

This one is as straightforward as it gets: Liverpool need a centre-back. Right now, their only fit ones are kids that Jurgen Klopp doesn’t mind throwing in there every now and again but clearly doesn’t want to overexpose, especially given the kind of pressure Liverpool have found themselves under in their own defensive third. And yet they can’t keep playing midfielders there.

So who are the best, most experienced currently unattached centre-backs?

Jozo Simunovic actually joined Celtic the summer Virgil van Dijk left, but he’s 6’3, has relatively proven pedigree (if also the memory of a high-profile mistake against Copenhagen) and what’s more, he’s won the league title in every single season of his professional career. First with Dinamo Zagreb and then in Glasgow. He is a player who should understand winning mentality, then, and what Klopp’s side have to come to value first and foremost is winning games.

The more familiar alternative for this thought experiment would be Ezequiel Garay. The former Real Madrid and Benfica centre-back has been without a club since leaving Valencia last year but has recently overcome a long-term knee injury and says he is “100% recovered and ready to step on the field.”

At 34, Garay has plenty of experience and quality. The problem is his legendarily injury-prone track record. Considering the situation Liverpool are in, do they really want to take a chance on that?

Manchester United: Ander Iturraspe

Position: Defensive midfielder
Last club: Espanyol, August 2020

When Athletic Club beat Manchester United in 2012, one of the key men for Marcelo Bielsa’s side was Ander Iturraspe. The defensive midfielder is an expert at sitting in front of the defence and spraying passes around.

And it is for this reason that United should sign him (if given a coupon for one free agent). While Fred and Scott McTominay are excellent enforcers in the middle of the park, neither is what you’d call comfortable on the ball. So immediately Iturraspe, 31, adds value and depth to the United squad. Not as a starter but as someone to play deep when the Red Devils want better ball circulation (since the manager clearly doesn’t rate Donny van de Beek).

Leicester: Diego Costa

Position: Striker
Last club: Atlético Madrid, January 2021

This was a strange one as Diego Costa looked like being a useful squad presence for Atleti as they romped to winning La Liga, but then he asked to leave the club where he made his name and everyone was confused.

Why leave now? Whatever his reason, he is still a player of phenomenal mental strength and character. A ruthless killer. And Leicester could definitely use a bit of that because their biggest weakness isn’t technical or tactical. It is – beyond injuries – that they lose their nerve on the biggest occasion. With Costa around as a Plan B, they might be more likely to hold their nerve. And who doesn’t want to see a snarling strike force of Costa and Vardy?

Spurs: Ramires

Position: Central midfielder
Last club: Palmeiras, November 2020

When José Mourinho was Chelsea manager (the second time) he played Ramires relentlessly. The Brazilian was exactly the kind of midfielder the Portuguese wanted: hard-working, physically adept and with a strong nerve.

And while his Spurs squad is strong, there’s not much depth behind Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Moussa Sissoko. Thus Ramires would be just that, perfect depth as well as a role model to younger midfielders with his relentless energy and drive on the field.

Manchester City: Kwadwo Asamoah

Position: Left-wingback
Last club: Inter, August 2020

The Ghanaian is an intensely versatile player and that would make him very attractive to Pep Guardiola. The Manchester City squad has most of everything you’d want. Some might suggest they could do with another centre-forward, but Guardiola has not played a recognised striker in the last four games and won them all in style.

Some more left-footed depth, on the other hand? That would be ideal. Asamoah, 32, can play left-back, left-wing-back, left-wing and left-centre-midfield. With him in the team, Joao Cancelo wouldn’t have to be drafted over to his weak side and Oleksandr Zinchenko would know that if he didn’t perform consistently there would be a seasoned veteran ready and willing to take his place at a moment’s notice.

Chelsea: Lasse Schone

Position: Central midfield
Last club: Genoa, January 2021

Chelsea’s transfer policy over the summer resembled a ‘galactico-style’ overhaul. Frank Lampard spent big on six players, exclusive of January 2020 signing Hakim Ziyech, but arguably the most successful of those signings so far has come in the form of freebie Thiago Silva.

With Lasse Schone now up for grabs, the experienced Dane would make for another tidy free transfer to add an extra layer of workmanlike quality to Lampard’s midfield. Part of the famous Ajax side that reached the Champions League semi-final in 2018/19, Schone comes with pedigree, quality and deadball expertise.

Regarding the latter, he famously paired with Ziyech to bring set-piece quality to Erik ten Hag’s side. Schone was one of only three players (alongside Alex Telles and Angel Di Maria) to register two or more assists directly from set-pieces in that 2018/19 Champions League campaign, as well as scoring that stunning effort against Real Madrid. And set-pieces seem to have been a huge part of Lampard’s system this term. No side has created more chances from set-pieces than Chelsea in the Premier League (34).

Schone would reunite with Ziyech in west London and bring further firepower from corners and free-kicks. Not to mention his midfield enterprise could work perfectly alongside the metronomic Jorginho (a la Frenkie de Jong) and attacking midfielder Mason Mount (a la Donny van de Beek).