With the January transfer window now open, clubs all around the country will be looking at which players to bring in to strengthen their squads for the second half of the season. However, with the current situation, finances are tight, so clubs will not be able to spend the same amount as usual. They may instead have to turn to the EFL to sign players, and so, with that in mind, I have listed 14 players from the EFL that I think higher clubs should look at as options to improve their squads; some are being linked with other clubs, and some are just good players who I would not be surprised if moves came about for.
LINKED WITH: Aston Villa, Manchester United
Brooks made his name playing for Sheffield United between 2015 and 2018, and was linked to many Premier League clubs before a move to Bournemouth came about in 2018. He made a big impression in his first season at the club, and I have no doubt that Bournemouth might have picked up a few more points if he had not been injured for the majority of last season, possibly even just staying up. Since the club’s relegation, he has become integral to his team’s form in the Championship. His versatility, able to play on either wing, and his ability to create and score, means he would be a good signing for several teams looking to add a different element to their attack. However, he will not come cheaply, with Bournemouth understandably unwilling to see him go.
Aston Villa are strongly interested in making a move this month for him, and he would definitely add something different to their attack this did come about. Villa have some good attacking players already, but he could be the one to link everything together much more.
CLUB: Blackburn Rovers
LINKED WITH: West Ham United, Leicester City
Armstrong has been one of the most prolific strikers in the Championship over the last few seasons, and it is very rare for a game to go by when he doesn’t score. That tells you how important he is to them, particularly when the likes of Bradley Dack and Sam Gallagher are injured and having quiet spells respectively. He has been hugely influential in the Lancashire side’s rise back up the table, finishing seven points outside the play-off places last season. He has everything you need to be a good striker; pace, spatial awareness, a range of shots and excellent ball control, and it would be no surprise to see him make a move this month or in the summer. Blackburn will not let him go easily, so it will take a fairly sizeable fee to prise him away from Ewood Park. However, it is getting to the stage where he needs to make the next step up, which will help him continue to develop as a player.
West Ham, who are in the market for a new striker this month, after Sebastian Haller’s move to Ajax, have been linked with him in recent days, and it would be no surprise to see them make an offer. The Hammers do have history with bringing in top EFL players in January, having signed Jordan Hugill (now at Norwich) from Preston on deadline day in 2018, whilst Jarrod Bowen made the move to the London Stadium on deadline day in 2020 from Hull, so they know where to find the best players in the second tier.
POSITION: Left-back/left wing-back/winger
LINKED WITH: n/a
Johnson has proven to be a dependable player this season, playing mainly at left-back this season, after signing from Oxford United in the summer of 2017 as a winger. His pace and ability to get up and down the pitch has helped him become a key part of a Middlesbrough side sitting in seventh place in the Championship, just one point outside the play-off places. He is not a goalscorer necessarily, but makes the movements to open up spaces for others, and would be a good move for any team looking to sign that type of player. I think he will stay at Middlesbrough beyond this month, but I still also think he is one of the Championship’s more underrated players.
CLUB: Norwich City
POSITION: Attacking midfielder/winger
LINKED WITH: Arsenal
Emi Buendia has become one of the Championship’s hottest prospects, able to play in a multitude of positions. He is a Championship player through and through, playing very well in Norwich’s promotion season, before showing some signs of what he can do in the Premier League last season. However, whilst he struggled to really impose himself in the top flight, he has shone this season back in the Championship. He tends to play behind the striker, in the “10” position, and can create and score goals from anywhere on the pitch. Whilst Finland striker Teemu Pukki has been gradually regaining his form, Buendia has been the one chipping in with the goals to keep his team at the top of the table.
Arsenal, who need a creative spark in the final third, have been strongly linked with a move to sign him, and it is no surprise that he has been linked with a move to a top side, given what he brings to the team. However, like most of the players on this list, he will not go cheaply, with Norwich seeing him as a player to keep if they possibly can to aid their aim of getting back into the Premier League at the first time of asking.
CLUB: Queens Park Rangers
POSITION: Attacking midfielder/winger
LINKED WITH: Brentford, Bournemouth, Reading, Watford
Following Eberechi Eze’s move to Crystal Palace over the summer, QPR needed a new creative midfield force in their team. However, rather than signing a replacement, they found one already in their squad, with Belgian-born Moroccan U23 international Ilias Chair taking on that mantle for the side. Chair first made people take notice of him during his loan spell at Stevenage in the second half of the 2018/2019 season, when he constantly caused problems for opposing teams, creating plenty of chances and running at defenders with considerably technical ability. His skills include good ball control, a range of passing and crossing, and versatility; he can play either behind the striker or on the left-hand side, cutting inside and shooting from wide.
Given what he adds to the team, and QPR’s slightly perilous position in the table at the time of writing, it is no surprise to see him being linked with a move to other clubs higher up the league. Bournemouth is an interesting one, as they may be targeting him as a replacement for Wales winger David Brooks, should Brooks move to the Premier League this month.
LINKED WITH: Aston Villa, Chelsea, Arsenal, Leeds United, AC Milan
Michael Olise is another young talent who has emerged in the Championship this season, with many sitting up and taking notice of him. Despite only being 19 years old, the French youth international has been one of the most important players in an impressive Reading side, who took the league by storm in the first few games, before stalling a little as the season went on. However, most of Reading’s good play has come through Olise, and he can play as a wide forward or as a creative midfielder in a central three, so offers plenty of flexibility to clubs looking at him.
Any move to Chelsea or Arsenal would likely be with a “loan back” clause in the contract, as he is a prospect for the future with them, whereas Leeds would possibly look to implement him immediately, such is the way they use young players in the side (such as Ben White last season or Jamie Shackleton, who has been a bit-part player for the side). The fact that AC Milan have been linked with him shows how good an impression he has made, and how good a player he could be in the future.
CLUB: Swansea City
LINKED WITH: n/a
Swansea have plenty of attacking talent, but that doesn’t come together unless they have a solid midfield behind them. Captain Matt Grimes has established himself as that, ensuring that others can get forward and aid the attack. His form since becoming a mainstay in the Swans’ team under Graham Potter and now Steve Cooper led to him being linked with a move to Watford last summer, but no relocation ever materialised. However, given that he brings a solid base for his team to build their attack from, and leadership in the middle third, some of the clubs in the bottom half of the Premier League may find him a useful player to sign. However, it is just a small chance he will leave, as he hasn’t been linked with any moves as of yet.
CLUB: Crewe Alexandra
LINKED WITH: n/a
There have been several impressive players in League One, but I think Charlie Kirk is one of the best at the moment. He is a quick winger who can score and create goals, and is very direct with his movements. Last season, he scored nine goals for the Railwaymen, and has already netted four in 20 appearances this season. Crewe have been one of the most exciting teams to watch so far, playing some really nice football under David Artell, and Kirk has been a key part of that. At the age of 23, he still has a long way ahead of him in his career, but I don’t think it would be a surprise to see Championship clubs looking at him as a player to add goals and pace in the wide areas, and an element of trickery in the final third.
CLUB: Hull City
LINKED WITH: n/a
When Hull were relegated last summer, you wondered which players would move on, which loanees would not return, and which would stay and help the team this season. Having signed on loan from Barnsley in January, rejoining his former Doncaster boss Grant McCann at the KCOM Stadium, Mallik Wilks made his move permanent over the summer, and has gone on to be one of their best players this season. He can play on either wing or as a striker, and scores and creates from all of those positions. There are no links between him and other clubs at the moment, but it would not be a surprise to see him move on if clubs in the Championship do show an interest at some stage. I hope Hull keep hold of them, because there is no doubting that he is central to their hopes of regaining a place in the second tier next season.
CLUB: Oxford United
LINKED WITH: n/a
When you think of good young English right-backs, the obvious names coming to mind are Trent Alexander-Arnold, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Reece James and Tariq Lamptey, to name just a few. However, in the lower leagues, one player who has made a name for himself as a player to watch is Oxford’s Sam Long. Oxford play with attacking full-backs, and Sam Long has the pace and directness to get forward and aid the play in the final third, setting up goals and scoring some every now and again as well. It’s unlikely that he will move to the Premier League any time soon, but I could see him in the Championship. There have been no rumours surrounding a move for him, but Cardiff are on the hunt for a new right-back, and are looking at players in the lower divisions to fill that gap; I think they could do a lot worse than looking at Long as a potential addition, given what he brings both defensively and, more importantly, in attack.
CLUB: Plymouth Argyle
LINKED WITH: Nottingham Forest
Plymouth have had a lukewarm return to League One so far, but you do feel they are in safe hands with Ryan Lowe as their manager. One player who has really impressed at Home Park has been young striker Luke Jephcott. The 20-year-old Wales U21 international was not even in the squad for the first part of last season, spending time with Southern League Premier South side Truro City, where he scored five goals in 18 games. However, this season, he has already netted 12 league goals for the Pilgrims, and is surely on track to get over 20 before the season concludes, such is the way he is going. He has a good instinct in front of goal, able to get in the right positions to make sure Plymouth make the most of their visits to opposing final thirds.
His form has seen him linked with Championship strugglers Nottingham Forest this month, who need a striker to convert the chances they are creating. Jephcott would add that, but it would be unfair to expect too much of him at the City Ground too quickly. However, he could make a difference in the long run for them, and having him, Brennan Johnson and Alex Mighten as the possible next generation of Forest is an exciting thought.
LINKED WITH: n/a
Portsmouth have had a few lukewarm seasons, going close to promotion, but always falling away just at the end. Portsmouth-born midfielder Ben Close has been a big part of that, chipping in with goals every now and again, and helping to connect play up during matches. This season, he has not made so much of an impact, but I do think he is a good player who can make things happen for his team. He has not been linked with a move, and I don’t expect him to make one this month, but I do see clubs in the lower half of the Championship potentially keeping an eye on him for a potential future transfer. However, as he is not a serial goalscorer, as mentioned, any move for him would be because of what he brings to the midfield, rather than the final third.
CLUB: Crawley Town
LINKED WITH: Swansea City, Cardiff City, Brighton and Hove Albion, West Bromwich Albion, Watford
Having been released by Doncaster over the summer, Max Watters joined Crawley in one of those moves that you read about and then watch him get a few goals here and there to help the team to a mid-table finish. However, no-one expected him to become the player he has been, and that is down to him. Crawley have been really impressive this season, and Watters has been the one leading from the front, scoring the goals to help his team convert chances, and they currently sit seventh in League Two, in the play-off places, at the time of writing. John Yems has done an incredible job at the People’s Pensions Stadium, making several good decisions, and signing Watters is definitely one of those.
The number of clubs linked with a move for him this month shows how highly-rated he has become, and how much notice is being taken of him. Any of those clubs would benefit from bringing the 21-year-old in. However, we can’t expect too much of him yet, especially if he moves to the Premier League, because he would need time to adapt to the club’s and league’s demands. Therefore, the likes of Brighton and West Brom can’t see him as the striker to keep them up; he won’t have that quality in the top flight just yet.
CLUB: Leyton Orient
LINKED WITH: n/a
When it comes to players in form, Danny Johnson has been one of those who has defined “consistent”. Following all that Leyton Orient have been through, with the unexpected death of former manager Justin Edinburgh the summer they were promoted back to the Football League, it is nice to see them doing well in the division again. Johnson has been involved in most of their attacks this season, scoring 14 goals in the league so far this season. He is capable of playing through the middle or on the wing, so would bring versatility and flexibility to any side looking to sign him. No-one as of yet has been linked with him, which suits Orient just fine, but, if he continues his form in the second half of the season, I can see him being targeted by other League Two and some League One clubs in the summer.
This January transfer window could be one of the most interesting windows for a long time, with the limitations financially on what business clubs can do, as well as the current pandemic and Brexit making it harder to bring players in from abroad. Therefore, whilst these are just players that I think others should look at, and some are already being linked with moves, the EFL will be seen by many as a way of adding quality without spending too much.