These are my top 10 transfers from the January window:
1. Goran Pandev – Lazio to Inter – Free – The Macedonian has his best years ahead and came on a free, the definition of a bargain.
2. Ruud van Nistelrooy – Real Madrid to Hamburg – Free – The prolific Dutchman will fit in almost straight away and the goals will flow.
3. McDonald Mariga – Parma to Inter – Co-ownership swap – While he could have been in the sky blue of Manchester City, the Nerazzuri will be delighted to have secured a signing that will reap long-term benefits
4. Oleksandr Aliyev – Dynamo Kiev to Lokomotiv Moscow – Undisclosed – Having fallen out of favour at his long-time home in Kiev, Lokomotiv was able to secure the talented midfielder for a small fee.
5. Keisuke Honda – VVV-Venlo to CSKA Moscow – £7.8m – Venlo loses its skipper to CSKA, who has signed a dynamic, goal-scoring midfielder.
6. Luca Toni – Bayern Munich to AS Roma – Free – Toni fell down the pecking order in Germany, so the opportunity to return home in a World Cup year was a massive incentive. For the Giallorossi, Toni should take the goalscoring burden off Totti.
7. Mario Bolatti – Porto/Huracan to Fiorentina – £3m – After a great spell at Huracan, the Viola has moved for the 24 year-old who it hopes can fill the gap left by Felipe Melo in the summer.
8. Jesus Datolo – Napoli to Olympiacos – Loan – Something of a coup for the Greek giants, Datolo has featured for Argentina and required the move to secure his place in the squad for South Africa.
9. Nicolas Lodeiro – Nacional to Ajax – £3.5m – Martin Jol has been desperate for a quality playmaker and the young Uruguayan should fit the bill nicely.
10. David Beckham – LA Galaxy to AC Milan – Loan – Beckham perhaps needed this more than the Rossoneri. Beckham has been solid so far and will be looking forward to the Champions League clashes with Manchester United. With the deadline day signing of fellow wideman Amantino Mancini from Inter Milan, Beckham will have to fight hard for playing time.
The Bundesliga has been extremely exciting over recent weeks as Bayer Leverkusen have been joint at the summit by Bayern Munich with Schalke only three points off the pace. Munich’s winning streak is now at eight in a row and the Bavarians are in ominous form. The football the team is playing is attractive and attacking under Louis van Gaal. Franck Ribery is regaining his fitness, but it is the form of Arjen Robben that is driving this team forward. With no injuries in the squad allowing the boss to pick a settled side which might see another German league title for Bayern, despite much clamour for Leverkusen (aka Neverkusen) to finally win the big one. Unfortunately, Leverkusen, driven by Liverpool legend Sami Hyypia, probably does not have the resources for the battle ahead. The side has shown early signs of nervousness after a disappointing 1-1 draw at Bochum over the weekend, contrasting to an impressive 3-1 away win for Bayern at Wolfsburg.
Barcelona won against Getafe, despite finishing the game with nine men. Gerard Pique was sent off early against the unfancied visitors, with Rafa Marquez receiving his marching orders at the very end. Barcelona took the lead early through Lionel Messi and doubled the lead mid-way through the second half after Messi teed up Xavi to finish. Despite a late Roberto Soldado penalty, Barcelona maintained its five point lead over second-place Real Madrid, who cruised to a win over Espanyol without the suspended Cristiano Ronaldo, with goals from Sergio Ramos, Kaka and substitute Gonzalo Higuain. Indeed, without the Portuguese superstar, Real seems to play better as a team. The feeling is that these two giants are just too good for the rest of the league. Valencia, who is the nearest challenger to these two, solidified their position in the third with a solid 2-0 home win against Valladolid. The match will be remembered for a great performance from Argentine midfielder Ever Banega, long linked with a move to Everton during the summer. Valencia tried to offload him as the team felt he did little on the pitch and was a problem off the pitch. However, the player has turned his performances around and is probably competing for the accolade of best midfielder outside of the top two with Mallorca’s Borja Vallero.
Lazio is in major trouble. The Biancocelesti is now in the relegation zone following a 1-0 home loss to fellow strugglers Catania, who leap-frogged the Rome side. It is incredible to think that less than a decade ago, Lazio won the Scudetto. A lot of the issue revolves around the club and owner Claudio Lotito freezing out two of their top players in the summer, Goran Pandev and Cristian Ledesma, so as to garner a higher transfer fee from them as both players were looking to move on. This move was also taken because Lotito was furious with the pair and subsequently banned them from taking part in team affairs. However, the move has backfired spectacularly; Pandev had his contract with Lazio cancelled and then joined champions Inter for free. Ledesma has been unable to secure a move elsewhere, with Inter coming close to signing the midfielder before it switched targets and moved for McDonald Mariga from Parma. The story got worse when star forward Mauro Zarate pleaded with the club to bring Ledesma back into the side after the midfielder admitted that he would consider a new contract. However, this plea was refused and Zarate was fined for his outburst. Now the manager has turned, Davide Ballardini, has turned on the owner, expressing that he needed to sign another midfielder on top of Thomas Hitzlsperger, who arrived on loan from Stuttgart. It now looks like Ballardini might be leaving the side too. The fans, not the most patient, are now up in arms. Away fixtures at Parma and Palermo mean that Lazio could find itself in deeper trouble.
This is in stark contrast to cross-town rivals Roma, who keep on winning, stealing a 1-0 win at Fiorentina thanks to Mirko Vucinic. The win propels Claudio Ranieri’s charges to second, behind Inter who disposed of Cagliari 3-0. Jose Mourinho was lavishing superlatives at Pandev, who played in the hole behind Milito and Eto’o (a role usually filled by the suspended Wesley Sneijder), calling his performance “stratospheric”. Inter is eight points clear with a game in hand – it is hard to see the Nerazzurri letting its lead slip. Elsewhere, Juventus continued to struggle with a 1-1 draw at Livorno and AC Milan also drew away at Bologna 0-0. Udinese picked up a huge 3-1 win against Champions League chasing Napoli, who must be feeling the pressure from in-form Sampdoria who won 2-1 at Siena, which is its third win in a row and propels them up to sixth, just two points of fourth place.
In France’s game of the weekend, Rennes claimed the giant scalp of Bordeaux, the Brittany side triumphing 4-2. The pick of the goals came from African Cup of Nations star Asamoah Gyan. The Ghanaian forward came off the bench and, surrounded by four of the opposition, nutmegged defender Marc Planus and unleashed a bending, long-range effort past goalkeeper Cedric Carrasso. Montpellier took full advantage of the leaders’ loss, winning 2-0 away at struggling Boulogne. It is fairly tight between the chasing pack, with the teams from third to seventh separated by just two points. None of these teams seem to be making a genuine claim for third place, though perhaps Marseille maybe has gained significant momentum after a crushing 5-1 win over Valenciennes. At the wrong end of the table, the bottom three of Grenoble, Boulogne and Le Mans are seven points off closest strugglers Saint-Ettiene and Nice. Unfortunately, the bottom three show are showing little sign of life and almost seem condemned to their fate.
Next time – I will be splitting the blog between the Euro 2012 draw and focussing on Real Madrid’s new signing (though he will remain at Racing Santander until the end of the season) Sergio Canales and looking at whether the move is the right one for the gifted playmaker, which all might have a massive impact on defending European Champions, Spain, in Poland/Ukraine.