In reality there is likely to not be too much transfer movement in the EFL this January transfer market, given the parlous state of finances due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, that only goes to highlight those clubs who are able to show agility and creativeness in the transfer market.
A lack of finance does not need to end a club’s transfer activity. Beyond the obvious - selling players to create a budget - there are loans, swaps and free transfers to ponder, as well as copying what Blackburn Rovers did this time last year: snapping up left-back Harry Pickering, one of then League One’s best talents but allowing him to remain at Crewe Alexandra for the rest of the season before he made his debut in August.
Tony Mowbray’s side sit just a point off the automatic promotion places currently, despite selling star striker Adam Armstrong last summer. And Bristol City should look on enviously at how yet another Championship club has shown the Robins how to work the transfer market to improve on the pitch and work themselves into a good position in the league.
Barnsley, Huddersfield, Sheffield United and plenty of others have overtaken City (and fallen behind them too, in some cases) as the West Country side have stagnated in the last seasons in the English second tier. But get things right off the pitch and things can come together on it for Nigel Pearson’s team.
January marks another chance. There are opportunities to strengthen in the coming transfer window, but can the Robins spot them and execute?
What is needed?
Ask the supporters and many would say a top striker is still required at Ashton Gate. Senegal international Famara Diedhiou moved to Alanyaspor last summer, netting seven times in 14 starts in the Turkish Super Lig since, but the powerhouse forward was not replaced.
The manager has all but ruled out such a significant signing next month - with chairman Jon Lansdown also hinting at making a purchase further down the line - but then City are a little too close to the drop zone for comfort currently.
The right incoming could help steer the club forwards and galvanize supporters who are split on whether Pearson is the right man at the helm.
Beyond finding some competition for Chris Martin in attack, the Robins’ main weakness is their porous defence. They’ve conceded the third most goals in the league - only Peterborough United and Cardiff City have conceded more. Perhaps more worryingly, City have the worst Expected Goals Against stats in the whole division, as per the WyScout data platform. That means, that had the opposition been more clinical, City would have conceded more goals, and also that Pearson’s team are conceding the most chances in the Championship.
No doubt injuries to key defenders Nathan Baker and Rob Atkinson at times this campaign have not helped the situation, while an inexperienced midfield has also led to more pressure being exerted on the defence. But this is a clear area for the club to look to improve on, less they get dragged into the basement battle for who might go down to League One.
Who we would like to come in
We’re assuming that there is little money to spend and instead are looking to be creative this window. And along that theme, it’s been well reported that Newcastle United will be very active this coming window. As the Magpies make signings, they will need to move players on too.
Dwight Gayle is approaching the twilight of his career at 32 years old and has suffered from a hamstring injury this season, but the former Crystal Palace man has not made a league start in 2021/22, featuring from the bench three times. Gayle’s goal-scoring pedigree at Championship level is undoubted and no doubt he would want to play more in the second half of the campaign. Could City come up with a deal to make that happen?
A change of tactical system would be needed to incorporate the man who has twice hit 23 goals in English second tier seasons, but Gayle’s pace would also stretch opposition defences. No doubt wages would be a problem but the Robins managed to reduce their wage bill last summer and could do again by offloading players in January too.
Another forward who is reported to be interesting Championship sides this coming window is Arsenal striker Folarin Balogun. The England U21 forward is just 20 and is at the opposite end of his career to Gayle, but likewise has been given few league minutes this season. Nottingham Forest have been credited with an interest, but could Pearson swoop in and seal a move that would recall when Tammy Abraham joined up at Ashton Gate to great success?
Elsewhere, if the Robins could sell on any of their fringe players - with Kasey Palmer, Jay Dasilva, Taylor Moore and Nahki Wells possibly targets for other clubs - some revenue could be raised for reinforcing the defence.
Swooping for Plymouth Argyle’s experienced Dan Scarr or Conor Grant could add handy reinforcements from the league below, with both having played well for the Pilgrims in 2021/22 and with a move up the M5 surely appealing.
Or taking Chelsea’s 6ft5 centre-back Xavier Mbuyamba on loan would offer another way to augment the defence, with City’s own Robbie Cundy still injured. The Netherlands U19s international played in the EFL trophy earlier this year, is highly regarded at the European Champions and may welcome the chance to play men’s football rather than at U23s level as he currently does with the Blues.