LONDON • Chelsea kicked off the English Premier League's January transfer window on Wednesday with the £58 million (S$100 million) signing of Christian Pulisic from Borussia Dortmund, but history has suggested that this is likely to be the exception for top clubs.
Loan signings are likely to dominate this transfer season, although this is also "the window for the desperate" for the relegation-threatened clubs, as one leading football agent terms it.
Only 37 of the 178 players leaving EPL clubs last January moved permanently and close to one in every three of the incoming signings in the top flight, a ratio that for the second successive year was twice as high as in the summer, joined on a temporary basis.
A year ago, unfinished business and acrimony from the preceding summer sparked off a domino effect, with Philippe Coutinho, Virgil van Dijk, Alexis Sanchez and Ross Barkley finally getting their wish to leave.
This time round, it seems unlikely that clubs will match the record £431 million committed last year, with most of the top six teams indicating that they have no plans for big signings this month.
Manchester United will hold fire until they know the identity of their next permanent manager and might only sell fringe players.
DIVOCK ORIGI (LIVERPOOL)
The Belgian forward has barely played for the Reds this season, featuring in just two league games and a total of 72 minutes, although he did come off the bench to score a late winner in the 1-0 victory over Everton last month.
Besides his goal, he also provided an assist during the 3-1 win over Burnley.
Origi, who spent last season on loan in the Bundesliga with Wolfsburg, is reportedly frustrated at a lack of playing time at Anfield and is looking to move on. His suitors include the likes of Wolves, Celtic, Schalke and Lille.
AARON RAMSEY (ARSENAL)
Arsenal have decided to withdraw the new contract they had put on the table for the Welshman and he will be free to discuss terms with overseas clubs this month.
Juventus and German Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich are rumoured to be interested, with reports saying the midfielder has already signed a pre-contract with the Italian champions.
Arsenal may also be tempted to cash in should they receive a substantial offer from a Premier League rival. Manager Unai Emery has insisted there is no prospect of reopening talks for a new deal but could change his mind should Mesut Ozil leave.
VICTOR MOSES (CHELSEA)
Moses is clearly not part of manager Maurizio Sarri's plans, having featured for a mere 28 minutes in the Premier League this season, and Chelsea are willing to let him leave.
Having signed a contract until 2021 last year, the Nigeria international is valued at £12 million (S$20.7 million) and a return to Crystal Palace, where he came through their academy, appears most likely.
Wolves and West Ham have also been linked, but the 28-year-old should be key to provide some much-needed support to Wilfried Zaha at Selhurst Park.
Champions Manchester City have to play catch-up on leaders Liverpool and have looked vulnerable in the absence of Fernandinho recently. But Pep Guardiola emphasised there will be no spending: "This is the third time I answered that question. No news is good news, so no."
It could be a bluff. In the past two January windows, they have bought Aymeric Laporte for £57 million and, the previous year, Gabriel Jesus for £27 million.
With Tottenham needing to provide a sweetener for a manager attracting attention, there is an opportunity for judicious reinforcement. Whether Spurs sign anyone could be taken as a clue to the future of Mauricio Pochettino as manager beyond the end of the season.
Spurs are under pressure to act but, if they satisfy his wish to freshen up the dressing room, the arrivals may not be wanted by a new manager should he still leave.
City and Chelsea also face the possibility of a transfer ban over the signing of junior players, which could affect thinking.
In general, though, all clubs are mindful of the pitfalls of spending big money this month.
Chelsea's decision to commit £50 million to bring in Fernando Torres from Liverpool eight years ago turned out to be such an ill-advised move that it is still cited by those nervous about making big-money signings in January.
It looks likely to be a more traditional one in which teams near the bottom are most active but face the frustrations of buying in a seller's market. As one agent said: "It will be only those clubs who are desperate who try to deal, and the big clubs will act only if a player unexpectedly becomes available."
Another said that it was mainly second-tier players who are likely to be available and even struggling clubs may not take the plunge until the final days of the window.
The case may be different for clubs who feel they are in a false position and could push up the table with help. Crystal Palace are one, with chairman Steve Parish noting the problems of availability, affordability and the prospect of being taken advantage of.
"January is a pretty terrible window to get value," he said. "The deals are not there now.
"It is difficult if people know you need that player and there is no other solution."
A popular solution is loan deals.
Halfway through the season is normally short-term fix territory rather than a buyer's market, which partly explains the prevalence of loans.
Yet arguably the biggest factor is the sheer number of professionals that EPL clubs have on their books these days and the need to find regular first-team football for as many as possible while recouping a bit of money at the same time.
Some will be high-profile and out of favour - such as Jermain Defoe, who has just joined Rangers on loan from Bournemouth; Liverpool's Nathaniel Clyne, who has signed for Eddie Howe's side until the end of the season; and Chelsea's Gary Cahill, who may join Fulham.
The majority, though, will be younger players who are some way off the first team and are, in the eyes of senior figures at their clubs, neither developing in a competitive environment by playing Under-23 football nor increasing their value.
Business has already been brisk this time around and, as the days tick by, it will be interesting to see what becomes of players such as Everton's Morgan Schneiderlin, Vincent Janssen at Spurs and Chelsea's Danny Drinkwater, all of whom cost a fair few quid and could do with a new home - temporary or otherwise - to revive their careers.
THE TIMES, LONDON, THE GUARDIAN