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|Liverpool's Xherdan Shaqiri celebrates after scoring against Manchester United at Anfield. (Photo: AFP/Paul Ellis)|
Everyone is looking for the same thing, too: Players who can turn contenders into champions and save doomed teams from sinking without trace. No pressure, then. Finding them in the crowded and chaotic January market is quite another thing, too, because by this stage of the season, you are probably getting someone another club is happy to let go. That is why a good recruitment team is gold dust for every Premier League club.
Of course, it doesn't take much for scouting to go wrong. Here's my review of the good, the bad and the ugly.
THE BEST BUYS XI
Possibly the most spectacular examples of scouting and signing are Leicester's purchases of N'Golo Kante - rated No 2 central midfielder in the FC 100 - for only £5.5 million and Riyad Mahrez for just £400,000. The pair were later sold to Chelsea and Manchester City, respectively, for a combined total of £90m. Not only did they earn Leicester a tidy £84m profit, but they were essential components of their astonishing title win in 2015-16.
So who did the best business last summer? Here is my team of best buys from the summer of 2018.
Goalkeeper: Lukasz Fabianski, West Ham He cost just £7m and has put those nervy days at Arsenal long behind him, looking every bit a top keeper. On Saturday, Watford's Troy Deeney ended his eye-catching run of three consecutive penalty saves.
Right-back: Ricardo Pereira, Leicester City The Portuguese international is quick and alert in defence while often adding another dimension to the attack. Witness his solo goal against Everton.
Central defence: Fabian Balbuena and Issa Diop, West Ham Everton's Yerry Mina has not played enough yet to form a solid opinion, so my vote would go to the solid West Ham pair, who do not look as if this is their debut season in the Premier League.
Left-back: Lucas Digne, Everton Despite the Toffee's six-goal mauling from Spurs, the former Barcelona man has generally looked a classy addition and keeps Leighton Baines on the bench.
Right midfield: Xherdan Shaqiri, Liverpool He was relegated with Stoke, and you wondered if he would get much game time at Liverpool, but his game-changing two-goal display against Manchester United underlined what a valuable option he has become for Jurgen Klopp's table-toppers.
Central midfield: Lucas Torreira, Arsenal, and James Maddison, Leicester Torreira is already a huge favourite with the fans, adding a bite and energy to the Gunners' engine room that they've been lacking for years. He'd be paired in my mythical team with the Foxes' graceful young creator Maddison, who (barring that dive at Brighton) has made a very favourable impression.
Left midfield: Felipe Anderson, West Ham Another good West Ham signing. Floating across the turf, the Brazilian is providing flair, goals and assists after a big-money move from Lazio and could one day attain the same Hammers cult status as Paolo Di Canio and Dimitri Payet.
Attack: Danny Ings, Southampton, and David Brooks, Bournemouth Ings has been a great loan signing, with eight goals already for the struggling Saints. Just along the south coast, Bournemouth picked a gem when they signed young Brooks from Sheffield United. His movement and intelligence have made him a name to note.
THE STRUGGLERS XI
For every useful signing, there are others for whom, to put it mildly, the jury is still very much out. In some cases, you suspect the verdict has already been delivered, though injuries may not have helped in some cases.
So here is my list of summer signings who are not exactly walking in a winter wonderland at their new clubs.
GK: Fabri (Fulham) DF: Ryan Fredericks (West Ham), Caglar Soyuncu (Leicester), Jannik Vestergaard (Southampton) MF: Fred (Manchester United), Jack Wilshere (West Ham), Alireza Jahanbakhsh (Brighton), Mohamed Elyounoussi (Southampton), Jean-Michel Seri (Fulham) FW: Lucas Perez (West Ham), Bobby Reid (Cardiff)
ON THE MOVE IN JANUARY?
Finally, there are several established names whose loss of status at their current clubs might well alert others to their possible availability.
Chelsea's out-of-favour captain Gary Cahill will be a good capture for some club, especially as the Blues have made it clear they will ease his path elsewhere in grateful thanks for services rendered.
Others in a similar plight might include Cesc Fabregas and Victor Moses, title winners for Antonio Conte but frozen out by Maurizio Sarri, and Everton stalwarts Phil Jagielka and Leighton Baines, now both on the outside looking in at Goodison. Morgan Schneiderlin is another Toffee who might attract interest.
Other big names on the fringe at their clubs these days are Adam Lallana and Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool), Jermain Defoe (Bournemouth) and Fernando Llorente (Spurs). All may be needed by their managers as important squad players, though that might not stop the phone ringing with the odd inquiry.
And as we are about to discover, everyone has his price.