La Liga Lowdown
Every LaLiga Team's Biggest Need In The January Transfer Window
Written by Andrew Miller, Sam Leveridge, Matt Clark and Alan Feehely
The opening of the January transfer window is upon us, so our LaLiga experts took an individual look at each team's biggest need as they prepare for the second half of the season.
Alavés Alavés spent the first six matchdays in the bottom three, but they got a priceless win just before Christmas as they beat near neighbours Eibar 2-1 to give them a bit of breathing space above the relegation places. Despite winning just four of their opening 15 games, home form is absolutely key – they’ve drawn against Barcelona, Valencia and Real Sociedad at Mendizorroza, and beaten Athletic Club there as well as Eibar. Keep that up, and they’ve got a chance of staying up. “We’re going to need a centre-half now that Rodrigo Ely is out for the rest of the season after being stretchered off against Celta Vigo,” says Alavés supporter Robert Hextall. “Pablo Machín is going to be praying that José Antonio Querejeta doesn’t get a good offer for anyone, especially up front, as the president is well known for cashing in when the opportunity arises. “They’ll still be looking to offload some players, especially the ones they couldn’t shift in the summer like John Guidetti, Burgui and Tachi. In October, director of football Sergio Fernández said that they’d only move in the January market if they could sell someone. I reckon they need a proven centre-half and could do with an experienced right-back, ideally without selling anyone.” Athletic Club Making just the one signing in the summer in the shape of Álex Berenguer, many Athletic Club fans wanted more. Governed by their unique transfer policy of only signing players who are Basque or of Basque heritage, their options are naturally limited. There were rumours swirling about Ander Herrera, Fernando Llorente and Javi Martínez, but none materialised. Perhaps they will look to explore those avenues again this time around. Improving the depth of their attack has to be the priority, however. By mid-December, only six of their goals had come from their strikers (Iñaki Williams and Asier Villalibre with two apiece, plus one each for Raúl García and Kenan Kodro). No player in their squad has more than two, and they have failed to score at all in five of their first 15 LaLiga matches. There is an Aritz Aduriz-shaped hole in their squad which urgently needs to be filled. Atlético Madrid The best business for Atlético Madrid this January would almost be no business. The club has every base pretty well covered and is finally building some consistency on the pitch. Fans won’t be too dismayed if, come February 2nd, there have been no new additions. The one area to perhaps look at is whether a short-term replacement is needed at right-back or right wing-back for Kieran Trippier. He was recently given a 10-week ban by the English FA for breaching betting regulations, meaning he’s out for at least 13 games in all competitions.
Aside that unexpected scenario, Atleti supports would probably be happy to see some players leave. Héctor Herrera has earned a second chance with some of his performances since the summer, when he was expected to leave, though it wouldn’t be a shock to see him depart with Lucas Torreira and Geoffrey Kondogbia having come in. Vitolo continues to be a big earner making little impact from the bench, with just three starts in the club’s first 12 matches of the LaLiga season. Finding a destination for him could be a challenge, but Atleti’s financial status means outgoings would be more likely, and preferred, to incomings.
FC Barcelona Barcelona are another team with several gaps to fill. The fast-tracked development of Ronald Araújo and the emergence of Oscar Mingueza means Ronald Koeman now finally has a healthy rotation of 4 centre-backs alongside Clement Lenglet and Samuel Umtiti. It may not be a Champions League-winning defence, but it’s some much-needed stability at least for Barça in Gerard Pique’s absence. Barcelona journalist Román de Arquer thinks the main issue lies further up the pitch for Koeman’s men. “It's a close call, but with Mingueza's phenomenal breakthrough into the team, I think a striker is now the priority. Braithwaite can only provide so much and doesn't have that killer instinct Barça lost after selling Luis Suárez. So Messi needs some extra help scoring goals, given Ansu is still out injured.” Antoine Griezmann and Martin Braithwaite, the only two recognised forwards in the team, have a mere five LaLiga goals between them this season, so that would indicate that firepower is exactly what Barça need to close the gap on their Madrid rivals. Cádiz The Yellow Wall have been a curious team to get a read on this season. For a newly-promoted side, their start to the season away from home was incredible, but they have only one win at home – it was against Barcelona, though. Álvaro Cervera’s preferred tactics are well known to regular LaLiga watchers, and when the plan works, it intensely frustrates opponents, who struggle to break down the organised backline. The problem for Cádiz is when they do concede the first goal of a match - invariably, they struggle to change their approach and turn defence into attack. 35-year-old Álvaro Negredo has been directly involved in six of their 11 LaLiga goals this season, which suggests an over-reliance and a need for a Plan B. A possible solution is to sign more mobile wide players and forwards, helping them transition up the pitch more effectively and sustain attacks. That said, to be sitting in mid-table in late December is undoubtedly a positive result for Cadistas. Celta Vigo Chacho Coudet’s arrival has meant a huge swing in fortunes for Celta Vigo. From looking almost dead certs for relegation, Celta have now almost caught up with the teams in the fight for Europe next season. This winter window could say much about the plans of the club. While the obvious step would be for Coudet to reinforce the squad with some of his own style of players, there’s much to be said for the approach of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.
22 signings over the past three seasons have seen huge squad rotations which have made it even harder for many of their talented individuals to settle. Coudet sticking to his guns with an already bloated squad, at least until the summer, could be his wisest move yet. With Rubén Blanco back fit in between the sticks, Iván Villar can also resume his spot as back-up goalkeeper and fill the vacancy that the squad had open. Eibar Eibar sit 17th hitting the holiday period having won just three of their opening 15 games. They’d managed to put together a six-game unbeaten run in all competitions before back-to-back defeats heading into Christmas. José Luis Mendilibar has worked miracles before, but reinforcements may be hard to come by. “Eibar have several problems,” Eibar-based journalist Letizia Gómez said. “To start with, the salary limit is already hit and the departure of José Antonio Martínez Gil hasn’t fixed much. The club wants to get rid of Quique González and Roberto Olabe, who they tried to send on loan in the summer, but Quique’s injury has made things complicated. “I think they need a striker and a midfielder, although the right wing is also a problem. They haven’t found anyone convincing there and the manager has tried six different players.” Elche Like Eibar, Elche are on 15 points but this represents a decent tally with a third of the season completed. The main disappointment though is that they had made an excellent start, and are currently on an eight-match winless streak in LaLiga and they do need to stop the rot. Elche must make use of the games in hand they have over their nearest rivals and push back up the table. “The main thing Elche have in their favour is a highly motivated squad,” said Elche supporter Neil Parsons. “With nearly the whole squad having no Primera experience, the players want to prove they’re good enough for the top tier. Most Elche fans are happy with the start of the season with the standout being Édgar Badía, leader of a solid defence. “The main area of concern is the lack of cutting edge in midfield and attack. A player with the dynamism of Nino is what’s needed. The old man has looked good coming off the bench, but at 40 he doesn’t have the legs to play 90 minutes. Support for Lucas Boyé in the goalscoring area is essential.” Getafe This season has been a struggle for José Bordálas’ side, despite some promising signings in the summer. Primarily, the club requires options in central defence. Erick Cabaco and Xabier Etxeita have both stepped in, but there’s been a gap in the squad ever since Leandro Cabrera left for Espanyol in January. Bordálas can’t boast the biggest of budgets with which to go shopping this January, but it is where the club can most obviously step up a level in terms of quality. That goes linked with Getafe’s attack. At this time last season, Getafe had actually conceded more goals, but also had scored an additional 43% more at the other end. Enes Ünal and Cucho Hernández have had flashes of brilliance since signing, but with Jaime Mata not as prolific as in recent campaigns and Ángel Rodríguez not getting any younger, another attacking option would not be a bad move. Granada Diego Martínez has navigated the good ship Granada through some choppy waters in the autumn, but now they look to be back to something resembling their best. The club did a lot of proactive squad planning in the summer ahead of their maiden European campaign, so the squad is in healthy shape. In terms of what they might need going forward, the goalkeeper is the elephant in the room. Rui Silva is yet to sign a new contract and it is expected that he will command a lot of interest in the summer. Granada have a promising young replacement in Ángel Jiménez, but recruiting a more experienced back-up could be top of their priority list. That way they would be set for all eventualities: if Rui Silva leaves, they have a dependable replacement, and if he stays, they can loan out young Jiménez to gain more experience. Huesca Only Real Betis have conceded more goals than Huesca in the first half of the season, and despite the summer signing of Dimitrios Siovas and the form of Jorge Pulido, Huesca lack options in central defence. Pablo Insua has stepped in but hasn’t exactly convinced and youngster Manuel Galán is a fourth-choice option that Míchel seems reluctant to use. The real lack of quality in the side comes in midfield. That’s shown in that, of the nine different midfielders on the books, the average number of minutes played is under 500, despite Borja García and Pedro Mosquera having over 1,000 each. The likes of Idrissa Doumbia, Sergio Gómez, Kelechi Nwakali and Mikel Rico are all options, but not of Primera quality. Again, the club signed well in the summer by bringing in Borja García from Girona, but more strength in depth is required if this team is to compete for survival in LaLiga. Levante Levante, despite a talented squad, are still in relegation trouble as 2020 draws to a close. Paco López has built a team with the capacity to perform stylishly but injury to José Campaña has weakened their midfield and they’ve been unable to hit the heights they’re capable of on a consistent basis. Still, at least home form is decent – only Real Madrid have beaten them on their own turf, be it in Alicante, at Villarreal’s or actually at their own ground, since July. “Levante seem to be improving but still have important shortcomings,” said Valencia-based journalist Nacho Sanchis. “The priority is to reinforce the defence with neither Óscar Duarte nor Róber Pier performing at the expected level and just Sergio Postigo and Rúben Vezo proving able to measure up.
“I think a team of their level is okay going forward, even though I would have told you they needed to sign a striker only a few weeks ago. Dani Gómez and Jorge de Frutos have started scoring goals, so if there was money to spare, they would sign a striker and a defender but if I could only choose one it’d be a defender.” Osasuna Interestingly, the one player Osasuna need more than anything to reinvigorate the squad in January is sitting in the stands watching from a distance. Without Chimy Ávila, Jagoba Arrasate’s system doesn’t pack the same punch. The Argentine pressing machine hasn’t played a LaLiga game since January 2020 and it’s taken its toll on one of last season’s surprise packages after returning to the top flight in 2019. Barring a health miracle to Ávila, Osasuna could use some creativity up front. Summer acquisitions Jonathan Calleri and Ante Budimir have just four goals between them so far this season, and it’s not like they’re getting much help from elsewhere in that department. Having been 7th after seven matchdays, Los Rojillos are now bottom alongside Huesca after no wins in eight in LaLiga, which is a catastrophic fall from grace for a team that finished in 10th place last season. Rubén García and Roberto Torres have done their best to shoulder the load on their own, but Osasuna are dangerously close to reaching the point of no return. A few more bad results could condemn them to a fateful battle against relegation come the end of the season. Real Betis It’s hard to pinpoint just one thing Betis need to improve on, especially given that ‘consistency’ isn’t something you can just buy in the transfer market. Sitting in 9th place heading into Christmas, a physically-imposing centre-back who first and foremost is a defender should be top of Manuel Pellegrini’s list. Betis have decent ball-playing options available in Aïssa Mandi, Sidnei and Marc Bartra but still haven’t managed to nail down a mainstay partnership at the back. Even with the addition of Víctor Ruiz in the summer, Los Verdiblancos still have the leakiest defence in LaLiga and are currently tied for 3rd in penalties conceded. That’s an accurate representation of the disorganised and mistake-ridden back line that has hampered the progression of the squad and kept them just a notch below where they should be, given the individual talent on show at the Benito Villamarín. Having not spent any money on transfer fees in the previous window, Betis should realistically have a little cash to spend, but fans shouldn’t expect another big-money signing in the vein of Nabil Fekir, William Carvalho or Borja Iglesias. It’s more likely that they’ll return to the loan market as they’ve done in past winter markets. Real Madrid Los Blancos are crying out for a right-back, plain and simple. La Liga Lowdown’s resident Madridista Hasan Karim gave his thoughts on Real Madrid’s need for depth this season; “The quality difference is astounding. Dani Carvajal is vital to Zidane's system. When he's not available, not only do they lose that tactical solidity, but there is also a massive drop in quality. Álvaro Odriozola is a train wreck at right-back, a complete failure of a transfer.” Has continued: “Outside of him, what other options are there? Eder Militão? They caught lightning in a bottle with Lucas Vázquez's reliable form.” It’s true that slotting the out-of-form Spaniard in at right wing-back has given Real Madrid a quick-fix, but are there questions to be asked around squad planning? “Going forward, how can you allow for such inadequacy? A club of Real's size should have at least two top 10 level talents. Given the somewhat brittleness of Carvajal, that position needs strengthening.” Real Sociedad Being forced to pick out a weakness in Imanol Alguacil’s squad is tricky. Despite going winless for a month, the team have scored regularly, dominated games and conceded few. Yet their one area for improvement would come in the heart of defence. Diego Llorente departed for Leeds in late September and wasn’t replaced. Ruben Le Normand has stepped up as the leader at the back, usually alongside Aritz Elustondo, but the rotations between those two and Modibo Sagnan reflect Imanol’s doubts about what is his first-choice pairing.
With Elustondo the eldest at 26 years of age, an experienced leader, like David Silva in midfield, may not go amiss if the club look to add depth. With chances of success domestically in LaLiga, the Copa del Rey, the Supercopa and in the Europa League too, Imanol will be desperate to avoid the end-of-season collapse witnessed in 2019/20. Real Valladolid Another team struggling to fight against the strong LaLiga current is Ronaldo’s Real Valladolid. Pucela made some significant investments in the summer to strengthen the depth of quality in the squad. Israeli goal-machine Shon Weissman and Eibar’s Fabien Orellana were supposed to take one of last season’s lowest scorers to the next level. Like a lot of teams in Europe this year, Sergio González could use some defensive reinforcements in his side. Valladolid haven’t been able to keep a single clean sheet in 15 LaLiga games so far this season and sit just two points off the foot of the table. Kiko Olivas hasn’t been able to feature this season due to injury and the inexperience of Javi Sánchez has left some frailties in protecting Jordi Masip in goal. It’s unlikely that Real Valladolid will open the chequebook like they did in the summer, so they’ll likely look at the loan market for a temporary and cost-efficient fix. Sevilla Sevilla enter the Christmas period in sixth place, keeping pace with the top four despite an inconsistent start to the season. The Andalusians haven’t looked as strong as they did last campaign but have managed to pull results out of the bag thanks to a combination of grit and late goals. Julen Lopetegui’s men are just a win away from the top four. “I think Sevilla may need to strengthen their goalkeeping options should Tomáš Vaclík leave, given his contract expires in June,” said Kevoni, an analyst and scout focused primarily on Sevilla. “Centre-back could also be a spot they move on, given that none of Karim Rekik, Sergi Gómez or Joris Gnagnon have convinced. “Right-back could also be one to improve if Aleix Vidal departs, and they could maybe bring in a poacher to complement Youssef En-Nesyri and Luuk de Jong. The main goal of Sevilla’s window will be to sell players they couldn’t offload in the summer or who have dropped in the pecking order, like Gnagnon, Vidal, Franco Vázquez and Carlos Fernández.” Valencia Another transfer window will send shivers down the spines of all Valencia fans. After the exodus in the summer, they will be hoping and praying that the board don’t sell any more of their bigger names. Keeping Jaume Domenech, Gonçalo Guedes and Maxi Gómez is paramount for Valencia to keep their heads above the water line and stay away from any kind of relegation trouble. Los Che score plenty of goals and create the chances to score even more. It has been the other end of the pitch which has cost them in matches so far this season: only Real Betis and the teams currently in the bottom three have conceded more than Valencia at the time of writing. Jaume has also made more saves than any other goalkeeper in LaLiga, so he is being kept super busy. If Javi Gracia belatedly gets his wish for reinforcements, it will surely be the defence he addresses first. Villarreal Unai Emery’s squad have been impressive so far this season, competing on three fronts and rotating heavily but to good effect in Europe and the Copa del Rey. They have already used 15 canteranos this campaign, showing that the club have a highly productive academy with accessible pathways to the first team. Their main area of focus has to be in defensive midfield. The horrible long-term injury to Vicente Iborra leaves Emery without a key cog in his system. With Francis Coquelin also injury-prone, that important protective area in front of the defence will need some winter reinforcement. Juan Foyth has filled in there recently, but Emery will want to lock in a more permanent solution.
Another item on his wish-list could be a goalscorer, someone who can poach on and finish chances efficiently. Gerard Moreno and Paco Alcácer are both brilliant, but neither can play every game, and have struggled with their own injury issues lately. Carlos Bacca is a useful forward, but his rate of scoring is not what it once was, so that is something for Emery to consider.
If you'd like to see more up-to-date Spanish football news, match information or simply need some Spanish football Christmas puns to share with your family, you can find us on Twitter @LaLigaLowdown.