Johnny Phillips: An intriguing window that shook up the fight against relegation

The 2021/22 mid-season transfer window – in a departure from recent years – turned out to be quite intriguing.

Defined as much by clubs looking to offload mistakes as those wanting to make serious progress, January’s activity is likely to have a big impact on the Premier League for the remainder of this season and beyond.

Two clubs, in particular, appeared to have a clear plan that they were able to execute to good effect.

A third one could also be said to have done some great business.

Villa, Newcastle United and Everton, for different reasons, can look back on this window as a significant one.

Let’s start with Villa, who made their managerial change in November.

Steven Gerrard’s impact has been hugely positive but he would have wanted to make his own immediate mark on the squad, even given the difficult circumstances of trying to find value in a mid-season window.

The arrival of Philippe Coutinho on loan, with Villa paying less than 50 per cent of his wages and securing an option to buy in the summer, represents a real coup.

It is a sign not only of Gerrard’s pulling power but the ability of the club’s board to get a big continental deal done in the face of strong competition.

Gerrard backed that up when taking advantage of the fall-out from Rafa Benitez’s troubled time at Goodison Park by capturing Everton’s best defender, Lucas Digne.

And in Callum Chambers he has also secured a versatile option in defence.

Newcastle, backed by their fresh injection Saudi Arabian cash, needed to act quickly to give themselves the best opportunity of turning around a dreadful season on the pitch.

Eddie Howe has essentially signed half a new team with five outfield players: Kieran Trippier, Chirs Wood, Bruno Guimaraes, Matt Targett and Dan Burn. All are set to become regulars in the battle to avoid the drop.

Newcastle have flexed their new financial muscle and it is hard to see how any of their relegation contenders could compete with such activity.

Everton fans will look at this window with relief, given the sheer state of disarray at the club.

They spent the second half of the window without a manager, having already dispensed with their director of football, Marcel Brands, earlier in the campaign.

When Digne departed for Villa it looked as if the white flag has been waved.

Yet, with Frank Lampard’s arrival, there is renewed hope despite the struggles that undoubtedly lie ahead.

That Everton were able to capture Dele Alli and Donny van de Beek right at the death shows they are still fighting.

Two youngsters – Scotland’s Nathan Patterson and Ukraine’s Vitaliy Mykolenko – arrive with bags of potential, alongside the loan signing of Villa’s Anwar El Ghazi.

It represents good business given the shambolic state of the campaign so far.

Elsewhere, Liverpool will be hoping that the £42million spent on Luis Diaz will be as productive as a similar outlay on another forward, Diogo Jota, 18 months ago.

Spurs headed to Italy and picked up a pair of Juventus players – Rodrigo Betancur and Dejan Kulusevski – after missing out on Adama Traore.

And Brentford’s ability to bring Christian Eriksen to West London is a sign of the Bees’ progress under Thomas Frank.

But an over-riding theme of this window has been the keenness of clubs to offload players.

Manchester United did not make a success of Van de Beek at Old Trafford.

Whether that was down to the player or club may be easier to fathom now that he has been given a fresh chance at Everton.

Anthony Martial’s mediocre time in Manchester has also been brought to a close, for now, with his loan move to Sevilla.

As well as moving on Alli, Spurs were able to get Tanguy Ndombele, Bryan Gil and Giovani Lo Celso out on loan in a bid to declutter their misfiring squad.

Similarly, North London rivals Arsenal undertook some clearing out of their own on top of Chambers’ departure with the exit of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Sead Kolasinac, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Folarin Balogun.

Both clubs illustrated their previous failings in moving on so many expensive recruits.

And at the bottom end of the table, Dean Smith clearly believes Norwich City are better served by a thinner squad, with Todd Cantwell one of several players let out on loan.

So where will January’s business have the biggest impact? Unquestionably, it is at the bottom end of the table.

Newcastle should have done enough to avoid relegation with such a huge outlay on players, whereas Burnley – who sold their star striker to the Geordies – have possibly condemned themselves to the drop.

Everton are still in danger given the porous nature of their defence, but they should have enough further up the pitch to pull clear.

Locally, Villa can establish themselves higher up the table and their fans will be hoping for an enjoyable second half to the season.

At the top, Diaz will not make an immediate difference to Liverpool and Chelsea’s first team squad remains unchanged.

With Manchester City already looking out of sight and only the Reds matching their form, the title run-in could be a dull one unless Pep Guardiola’s side slip up.

City’s draw at Southampton a couple of weeks ago showed they are not infallible, but they remain firm favourites for a second successive title.

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