Signing for a new team in January is always tough. Managers largely have their best team in place and, if a side has gained a head of steam following the hectic festive period, a starting XI is unlikely to change. However, the lack of activity in the January transfer window meant that the few new additions made in the winter window were expected to hit the ground running.
In the Premier League, there were three headline-grabbing signings made in January - Gabriel Paulista, Wilfried Bony and Juan Cuadrado - as well as three less-publicised acquisitions - Jack Cork, Robert Huth and Aaron Lennon. The former trio were acquired for a combined £58m, while two of the latter three were signed on loan, with Cork signing for Swansea for a fee believed to be in the region of £3m.
As far as value for money signings go, Cork’s could be the best, not just in January, but of the season. The 25-year-old was well thought of at St. Mary’s, but opted against signing a new deal at Saints in favour of a move to Swansea at the turn of the year. His capture has certainly been the Swans’ gain. Of all players currently at the club, only centre-back and Swansea captain Ashley Williams (7.23) has gained a better WhoScored rating than Cork (7.19).
The tenacity he has brought to the midfield has benefitted the club in a season that has been the most successful in their history. Up until the weekend, Garry Monk’s side were still in with an outside chance of making the Europa League, though defeat to Manchester City, coupled with results going against them, put an end to their dream of a return to European football. Nevertheless, a positive campaign provides a platform to build on.
Cork could certainly be considered the heartbeat of the team, despite only signing in January. Having established himself as a regular in the side, the English midfielder has formed an effective relationship with Jonjo Shelvey and Ki Sung-yeung in the middle of the park.
Cork’s best attribute is his ability to retain and recycle possession, which he does to an impressive standard. Meanwhile 2.2 tackles per game fall behind only Neil Taylor (2.3) of all Swansea regulars this season, while no Swans player to register at least 150 minutes of league action this term is averaging more interceptions per game (3.1).
Furthermore, 56.8 passes per game is the best of all Swansea players, while a pass success rate of 85.5% is a respectable return from the former Saints star. Of the 14 league games Cork has started for Swansea this season, the Swans have won 50%. That figure drops to 39.1% of the 23 matches he did not start. The midfielder has quickly propelled himself to become one of the club’s most important players.
Elsewhere Huth, who moved to Leicester on loan at the turn of the year, has perhaps played an even more important role for his side given the Foxes' recent fortunes. Leicester seemed destined for the drop at the end of March, when they footed the table, yet a surge in form gave them a fighting chance of securing their top-flight status.
They confirmed their Premier League place for next season with a hard-fought 0-0 draw with Sunderland at the weekend and Huth has played a crucial role since joining Nigel Pearson's team - the 30-year-old defender is currently the Foxes’ highest rated player (7.37) according to WhoScored.
Much has been made of Leicester’s performances following the 4-3 defeat to Spurs at the end of March which kick-started their great run of form. In the 8 games since, Pearson’s side have won 6. Over that same period, only Arsenal and Burnley (both 4) have conceded fewer goals than Leicester (6), with Huth vital to their much-improved defensive showings.
An average of 1.5 tackles is a commendable return, but it’s the reading of the game that one would expect from a Premier League experienced centre-back that has stood out. Huth is currently averaging the most interceptions per game (3.2) of all Leicester players. Meanwhile, no Foxes player is winning more aerial duels per game than the burly defender (3.8) and an average of 7.8 clearances per match is the best of all Leicester players.
Nevertheless, Huth is not the only loan signing who has impressed since January, with Aaron Lennon also performing admirably in his new surroundings. Everton may be lumbering towards the season’s finish line, but their form improved once Lennon gained a regular starting berth in the Toffees XI. Only Leighton Baines (2.3) is averaging more key passes per game than Lennon(1.1) of all Everton players in what has been a successful loan move.
In the meantime Gabriel, Bony and Cuadrado respectively signed for Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea for substantial fees. It’s herein where the difference lies between the success of Cork, Huth and Lennon and the perceived failure of the aforementioned trio. Gabriel, Bony and Cuadrado each joined teams where the respective manager had his strongest XI in place.
Gabriel was always unlikely to usurp the centre-back partnership of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny unless one or the other was absent. Bony - who to his credit had been on AFCON 2015 duty with Ivory Coast - is not quite of the same calibre striker as Sergio Agüero, and Cuadrado is yet to learn the demands of a winger in a Jose Mourinho side.
Arsene Wenger, Manuel Pellegrini and Mourinho were unlikely to tinker with their respective XIs to attain their goal when the system in place was faring well enough. On the other hand, Monk, Pearson and Roberto Martínez required an injection of quality to either swell the ranks or give their team a chance of accomplishing their objectives.
However, while they have underwhelmed, the big money acquisitions are not to be written off at the earliest possibly opportunity. Gabriel has looked effective when needed, Bony reaffirmed his goalscoring ability at former club Swansea at the weekend and Cuadrado needs time to adjust to the rigours of his new manager.
January is a tough time to come into a new team, no matter the calibre of the player. Those with lower expectations, though, have clearly performed better than those burdened by big money moves at the turn of the year.