It's football's equivalent to last call at the bar. The transfer window for Europe's biggest leagues closes Sept. 2. Drunken team spending is coming to an end, as the clock is about to hit 2am. Get your players while you can. Indulging on over-priced commodities, many that you'll regret, will recommence in January.
Playing fantasy football in the transfer window is fun. The headlines are lavish. The team you support being linked to top players is like a dream. The only issue is, we wake up each morning and realize the transfer buzz is nothing more than speculation. It's a vicious cycle really, and a massive distraction with the season up and running.
That being said, it's near impossible to say any team in the Barclays Premier League has anything close to a complete roster. Every team has needs and all club managers are clear with their message: they will do everything possible to improve the team before the window closes.
Here's a team-by-team breakdown of needs before the Sept. 2 deadline.
Arsenal – A club with money to spend but reluctance to spend it. Pressure remains sky high, even after a stroll over Fenerbahce in Champions League qualifying and an away win at Fulham. The wins can only mask so much.
Upgrades are required at multiple positions, including (in order of priority): attacking midfielder, goalkeeper, top centre forward, and central defender. Fourth place has been as good as a trophy in recent years, but with rivals Spurs strengthening, as well as a host of others nipping at their heels, standing pat would be entirely disappointing. Lukas Podolski (out for the next three weeks with a hamstring injury) adds to the list of walking wounded. The squad is too thin. It makes little sense to wait until January to make moves where they may have already dug a hole and prices become even more inflated.
Juan Mata has been linked and Arsene Wenger should test Jose Mourinho's claim he plans to keep the player. If Mata is a no-go, Wenger must pounce on whichever player will be deemed expendable after Gareth Bale's transfer is completed to Real Madrid. And that's not even a sure thing. Angel Di Maria would be a massive upgrade and an ideal fit in a young Gunners side. Arsenal is clearly the most disappointing team of the transfer window with the most to lose and gain in the coming days. They are the ones to watch. Odds are, Gunners supporters will be left disappointed.
Aston Villa – A nice start to the season. Some veteran support would seem appropriate to help navigate through a long season. Acquiring experience through the midfield would seem to be a preference. Paul Lambert has stuck to his guns, entrusting his young players with roles above their comfort level. The likes of Ashley Westwood have risen to the challenge and looks to be a mainstay. In addition, complementary players in the shape of another centre forward to take the onus off Christian Benteke, as well as more cover at the back would help. Don't expect any big moves to be made before Monday. The team is more likely to try to cash in on players surplus to need.
Cardiff City – A shock win over Manchester City got headlines, and deservedly so. The team showed some positives; they are athletic, tough to play against and surgical on set pieces. The questions remain as to whether they can produce goals in open play and keep enough possession away from home to stay competitive. More creative influence is certainly needed in the midfield. The team simply doesn't have sufficient cover for Craig Bellamy. A winger is a must, to be honest. Another striker – a true goal scorer - could also go a long way to ensuring survival. Those are the wishes, but the reality is that the team doesn't have money to spend.
Chelsea – Jose Mourinho's flirtation with Wayne Rooney seems to have come to an end. Whether the approach was a tactic to test David Moyes or sincere in nature will never be known. Instead, Mourinho landed another attacking midfielder in a £32 million move for Willian. The Brazilian is a wonderful player, but another attacking midfielder? Seriously? Mourinho needs a goal scoring target-man. He needs a player similar to what Didier Drogba was in Mourinho's last go-around at Stamford Bridge.
Fernando Torres lost his way a long time ago. Demba Ba cannot be relied upon for consistent production and is now being linked back to Newcastle. And Romelu Lukaku is an unfinished product and at this early stage of his career, not the best fit for a team intent on quick ball movement and intricate running off the ball.
The papers say Samuel Eto'o is on his way. Although Eto'o may be an upgrade, it's hard to say with conviction he's the best man for the job. Other than a striker, the team seems set with more depth than a season ago. Defender David Luiz will be an important player. The versatile centre-back staying at the club is priority. And the Juan Mata saga seems perplexing. The Spaniard was a top player a season ago. But with Willian's arrival it's fair to ask what his role will be. There seems to be too many bodies for too few spots in the attacking midfield positions, unless Mourinho plans to play with six in the midfield and no true striker. It would be foolish to count Chelsea out of a shock move in the coming days.
Crystal Palace – Some desperation is sinking in at Selhurst Park. Ian Holloway has voiced his transfer window frustrations not being able to land potential targets. After a shock loss to Bristol City in the Capital One Cup, the concerns became real. Palace lost Wifried Zaha (Manchester United) and top scorer Glenn Murray (injury) from last season's team. They simply cannot create goals. The work-rate is there, but if you can't score, it's all for naught. Attacking midfielders, preferably at the wide positions has to be top priority. A top striker on the roster is non-existent - no chance you can rely on Marouane Chamakh. In fairness, the squad is thin top to bottom. There is only so much Holloway can do. Multiple signings would be nice, but unlikely. William Gallas is now being linked and makes sense. But it's nowhere near enough business.
Everton – The biggest challenge for Roberto Martinez is to keep Marouane Fellaini and Leighton Baines. Both players are important to the squad and have been linked to a move to Old Trafford. It's difficult for players to turn down the lure of Manchester United, especially with their former manager at the helm. If they do leave, Martinez will have little time to fill the holes. A left back would be a must. And widespread rumours that Martinez will turn to his former club Wigan (again) for James McCarthy makes a whole lot of sense. The rest of the team looks relatively structured and sound. The continued struggles of Nikica Jelavic remain a concern. It is doubtful Everton would be able to make a true play for a top striker. Everton continues to be linked to prospective attacking midfield players. Blackpool's Tom Ince would be a perfect addition to a team looking to grow under a new manager.
Fulham – Martin Jol has done some decent business, bringing in Adel Taarabt, Darren Bent and Scott Parker for next to nothing. Where they do need help is at the back. They are thin at full back, and could use cover at centre back as well. The Cottagers have absolutely no depth in those positions. Two more players may keep them well covered. If not, any injury will leave Jol dangerously under-manned. The team was dismal away last year. A more sound structure and positional discipline can go along way to changing their fortunes. Not likely, but possible.
Hull City – Steve Bruce has actually been quite busy in the transfer window. Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore were solid acquisitions from Spurs. How much the team has improved otherwise is debatable. Danny Graham is a massive question mark up front. If he fails to find form or show the ability to give his team goals, Hull City will be in a world of hurt. Like all teams with eyes for survival, a bona fide goal scorer can make or break a season. Hull doesn't have one. Nor are they likely to find one before Monday. Good luck, Stevie.
Liverpool – You can thank Daniel Sturridge and his bright start for alleviating some of Liverpool's roster concerns. With Luis Suarez coming back, these two look to be a decisive potential strike partnership. That being said, there is no way Brendan Rodgers can feel confident with his options at the back. Centre back Kolo Toure was stretched off midweek with a groin injury and the team is without Sebastian Coates for the season.
Rodgers will have to dip into the market for a centre-back, or hold his breath Toure comes through without long-term concern. I really like how Steven Gerrard has played a far deeper position than we've ever seen before, holding the team shape together. And while Coutinho has looked strong, another attacking midfielder to compliment his vision and creative ability would be welcome.
Manchester City – Another high spending summer for City, but it has to be questioned whether they spent wisely. In bringing in Alvaro Negredo, Fernandinho, Jesus Navas, and Stevan Jovetic, City bought good players, but would you categorize any as being ‘great'? None of the above is a match-breaker. Going all out for a Radamel Falcao or Edinson Cavani could have reaped bigger rewards than marginally improving positions they were already sufficiently equipped. They didn't find their equivalent to United's swoop for Robin van Persie a season ago.
No matter the result at Cardiff, this team is still stacked and only has one pressing need. A centre-back is a must and without captain Vincent Kompany, the back-line looks shaky. Martin Demichelis and Adil Rami are being linked. For this team's need to win now, the former may be preferred. No point getting into worries about goaltender Joe Hart. He will be the preferred choice, sink or swim.
Manchester United – David Moyes has been afforded the luxury of inheriting the most complete squad in the Premier League. It still has to be said that the lack of movement this summer has been surprising. This is not based on need, but expectation. Seemingly, Moyes seems unbothered, acting more and more like his predecessor every day.
The biggest need remains a standout, all-purpose, box-to-box centre-midfielder. Although it can be argued Tom Cleverley, who starts for England, deserves a true look. It's not the popular choice, but one United seem comfortable with for the time being. Fellaini seems another logical fit. Again, Fellaini is not the sexiest choice, but an efficient player entering his prime (25) who adds a physical presence and the ability to serve multiple roles to a side suited to his strengths.
United continues to be linked to attacking players in the mold of Mesut Ozil. A purchase as such would be a no-brainer. At present time, Ozil remains publicly committed to Real Madrid. Moyes may be wise to add another centre-back to provide reinforcements to the back-line instead. After all, this is a team with serious competition for places in the attacking positions – Chicharito, Shinji Kagawa, Zaha, Nani and the young Adnan Januzaj - providing substantial depth for Moyes to choose from.
Newcastle United – After Arsenal, Newcastle is the team needing to make the biggest move(s) before Monday. The summer has been an unmitigated disaster following a season where they fell to 16th in the Premier League. The French Revolution looked fruitful initially but has since fallen flat with players failing to settle while others seem disinterested. Joe Kinnear's arrival at the club hasn't helped matters. Yohan Cabaye's ‘emotional state' has sent the wrong message and the team continues to waver.
Cabaye looks good as gone. It is a priority to fill his void with quality, as well as bring in a striker to fill the vacancy left by Demba Ba last year. Funnily enough, Ba may end up being the answer. It's irresponsible for the team to not address these glaring issues. And those are just the tip of the iceberg. The midfield has been carved up and they look shaky at the back. A move for Lyon striker Bafetimbi Gomis is reportedly back on. I'll believe it when I see it.
Norwich City – After a flat, indecisive, and uninspiring performance in a 1-0 loss to 10-man Hull City, the Canaries bounced back to bury six in the Capital One Cup. It was a confident boost for a team still finding their way after plenty of summer activity. The business has been done. The test will be to see what they can be once healthy. They have some interesting pieces up front, and should be strong enough at the back. If they are lacking, it's players who can provide service in the final third. Without more attacking ability in the midfield, the team may not reach their potential.
Southampton - Few teams have done better in the window. Southampton built up and improved the spine of the team with Dejan Lovren, Victor Wanyama and Pablo Osvaldo, dipping deep into their pockets in the process. The Saints are a legit threat in the top half of the table to compete for a spot in Europe. Another full-back or even a serviceable body in the middle of the park would be nice to have. These seem more like luxuries at this point.
Stoke City – Mark Hughes has inherited a team built for Tony Pulis. It's going to be a difficult go, trying to play with more flare with a team ill-suited to do so. If Stoke wants to be more pleasing to watch, they'll have to go out and purchase more pace and technical ability at the wing positions. They've taken a flier on Oussama Assaidi on loan from Liverpool. Another similar move could help. But will the style work with a team more likely to park the bus rather than take a match to an opponent?
Sunderland – A total of 11 new players have already arrived at the Stadium of Light. And Paolo Di Canio claims he's not done. The manager requires upgrades at defender, a physical presence in midfielder and hasn't closed the door on pursuing another striker either. All are positions of need, but Di Canio would be best served bringing in more stability at the back. It must also be said that the goalkeeping position leaves much to be desired. Nothing will come easy for Sunderland and the final days of the transfer window won't be any different. Do they buy for the future? Or look for short-term solutions to make the team more competitive now? The pressure is on, already.
Swansea City – Another striker, please and thank you. Wilfried Bony hasn't been let of his leash as of yet. That will happen in due time. What we've noticed is Michu is much better served playing in a position behind the strikers rather than he is as a target man. Some added speed on the front line could open up more room in the midfield, giving the skill players the time and space to play. Another depth centre-back is also required to help navigate through a season of Europa League football. The next few days will be a time to clean up loose ends. Look for at least one arrival before Monday.
Tottenham Hotspur – Waiting for the shoe to drop on Gareth Bale's move to Real Madrid has been an exercise in patience. After refusing to train this week, the writing is on the wall for his desired move to Real Madrid and business is picking up. Wednesday's signing of Roma attacking midfielder Erik Lamela is a ready-made replacement for Bale. Spurs' midfield is big, strong, and technically sound. There is a lot to like and it's likely the group takes a step forward, rather than back without Bale. Romanian centre-back Vlad Chiriches looks set to arrive as well. Another left-back would certainly help the side. But that may be addressed in the Bale deal. Fabio Coentrao could be an intriguing piece if he lands at White Hart Lane. The eventual loss of Bale will hurt. But the team has done enough to dispel any true concern of demise. They are a better group than Arsenal.
West Bromwich Albion – A striker and attacking midfielder would do wonders for Steve Clarke. The unknown surrounding the future of Nicolas Anelka is unsettling. Reports say Anelka will return to training this week. But there is a level of instability when it comes to the Frenchman. Even if/when he returns, WBA still looks thin along the front line. Clarke probably doesn't have the funds for the type of player he needs. Scott Sinclair was proper pick-up, but more is needed. The team looks decent enough at the back. Even with goalkeeper Ben Foster set to miss three months, Boaz Myhill is a decent enough stand-in. Where the goals are going to come from is the biggest concern.
West Ham United - The Hammers have mid-table written all over them: A competitive team with some players of true quality. Defender Winston Reid comes to mind, continuing to grow into a very good Premier League player. West Ham has needs. A top striker is required for them to take the next step. And Sam Allardyce has kicked tires looking for attacking players on the cheap. Unfortunately for Big Sam, joint-chairman David Sullivan says the team will have to sell before they buy. The team is standing pat.