The winter transfer window is increasingly a marketplace only for the most desperate clubs in Europe—the ones in relegation battles, or mid-table teams whose fortunes rest heavily on UEFA Champions League qualification.
Long gone are the days when the winter window saw the Liverpool selling Fernando Torres and buying Luis Suarez in the span of a few hours. Last winter’s biggest signing was Juan Cuadrado, who flopped spectacularly at Chelsea. Very few of the world’s other elite teams made any moves at all.
With that in mind, here is a look at some of the best transfer signings of this past summer’s window through the first half of the 2015-16 season.
Kevin De Bruyne, Manchester City
(5 goals, 8 assists)
When City spent a club record £55-million on Wolfsburg’s dynamic attacking midfielder, many wondered which De Bruyne would show up: the Bundesliga 2014-15 MVP or the Chelsea flameout. It turns out Jose Mourinho made a big mistake when he booted the Belgian two years ago. De Bruyne has been City’s most important attacking player, especially given David Silva’s and Sergio Aguero’s injury problems. Only an unconscious Mesut Ozil has more assists (16) in the Premier League this season.
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Georginio Wijnaldum, Newcastle United
(7 goals, 2 assists)
Newcastle is in a relegation battle, but you can’t fault the stellar play of Wijnaldum, a talent who is clearly head and shoulders above an also-ran squad. The Magpies have won or drawn every game in which Wijnaldum has registered a goal, and his four-goal performance in a 6-2 over Norwich is surely the highlight of Newcastle’s abysmal season.
Xherdan Shaqiri, Stoke City
(2 goals, 3 assists)
While Stoke’s giant-beating form is due in large part to the play of Marko Arnautovic, credit also goes to Shaqiri, the club’s most surprising signing in recent memory. After a slow start, the Swiss winger is showing he was worth the club record £12-million spent to extract him from Inter Milan (where he was a massive flop). His speed and creativity down the right side has given defenders fits, and increasingly he’s figuring out how to find his capable teammates in the middle.
Toby Alderweireld, Tottenham
(20 games started, 7 clean sheets)
Tottenham’s wildly improved form is thanks in part to two newcomers. At the front, there is 19-year-old Dele Alli, a six-foot-two cannon Spurs signed from Milton Keynes Dons at the end of the last winter transfer window, but who didn’t join the team until the summer. At the back there is Alderweireld, who has been a perfect complement to mainstay Jan Vertonghen in central defence. Spurs have been so bad at finding a match for the Belgian until now—they have seven clean sheets, have allowed the fewest goals (16) and are tied with Manchester City for the league’s best goal differential (18).
(20 games started, 9 clean sheets)
Arsene Wenger received plenty of criticism for signing just one player in the summer transfer window, but it’s hard to argue that player hasn’t had an impact on the Gunners’ fortunes. After a year spent mostly on Chelsea’s bench, Cech has once again proved himself one of the league’s best keepers. His 66 saves are tied for second in the league, and they are a huge part of Arsenal’s position at the top of the Premier League table.
Elsewhere in Europe….
Angel Di Maria, Paris St-Germain
(6 goals, 9 assists)
Di Maria’s disastrous stay at Manchester United seems like a distant, terrible memory at this point. The player who arrived in Paris is the one who helped Real Madrid win La Decima and the Copa del Rey in 2013-14, not the one who struggled to understand what Louis Van Gaal wanted him to do instead of simply being one of the best wingers in the world.
Douglas Costa, Bayern Munich
(2 goals, 7 assists)
With the Franck Ribery/Arjen Robben era coming to a close, Bayern has started to focus its transfer window attention on midfielders who can replace their dynamic duo. They scored a huge hit with Brazilian Costa, who seems to provide a highlight reel play in almost game. He also made news for a bit of skill on the practice pitch:
Paulo Dybala, Juventus
(9 goals, 5 assists)
Juventus have overcome a tough start, and now sit just two points off the top of the Serie A table. The catalyst for the club’s turnaround is Argentine starlet Dybala, who Juventus surprisingly signed this summer from Palermo despite interest from bigger clubs in more glamourous leagues.
Iago Aspas, Celta de Vigo
(8 goals, 1 assist)
Nobody blinked when Celta brought Aspas back to the fold following two lousy seasons at Liverpool and Sevilla. But he and Nolito have been one of the best attacking duos in La Liga this season. Celta briefly challenged for the top of the league and its 4-1 triumph over Barcelona in September was one of the biggest results in Europe this year—Aspas had two goals in that contest.