What’s the best thing about Christmas?
The food? Well, that’s certainly up there. The drink? A fair shout. Seeing the family? That’s always nice. The presents? Yes, that’s it. The presents.
There is nothing quite like receiving gifts, especially if they are exactly what we wanted. And for fans of Premier League sides it is no different.
So ahead of the festive fixtures – an admittedly brilliant part of holiday period – we at Football Whispers have carefully drawn up a list of what every English top flight side would have at the top of their Christmas wishlists.
Let’s begin with the Gunnners….
Arsenal: A trip away for Öz
The festive period is, for many people, the perfect opportunity to get away from the stresses of day-to-day working life. You imagine Arsenal star Mesut Özil can relate.
The mercurial No.10 has been in and out of the Gunners side this term. The reasons for his absences have been varied; from illness, to injury, and finally tactical reasons.
Clearly not all is well between Özil and Unai Emery and given the German is Arsenal’s biggest earner on a reported £350,000 a week, their differences can’t be allowed to fester.
So either a New Year’s resolution is found or the 30-year-old is given the opportunity to search for pastures new. Although finding a club that can match his current pay packet will be difficult.
Bournemouth: A much-needed win
The Cherries made an excellent start to the season, winning six of their opening 12 Premier League games. However, as autumn turned to winter, Bournemouth’s form deteriorated.
And as we head into the festive period, the Cherries sit bottom of the form table with only one win in their last five games, during which they’ve scored just four times and conceded 12 goals.
They face South Coast rivals Brighton today before games against Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United. So it may get a little worse before it gets better for Eddie Howe’s side.
Brighton: A receipt for Jürgen Locadia
It was almost 12 months ago that Brighton paid an initial £10million to sign the forward from PSV. The deal could rise to £15million with add-ons but, in truth, few of those are likely to have been triggered.
The 25-year-old has scored just one goal for the Seagulls since he arrived at the AmEx Stadium and has failed to challenge Glenn Murray for the first-choice striker’s role.
Locadia could argue he hasn’t been given a proper run in the starting XI, which is fair. However, those have to be earned and with just two goals from 722 minutes of action, Chris Hughton is unlikely to be giving him starts any time soon.
Burnley: A Dyche decision
It was always unlikely Burnley would repeat last season’s Premier League heroics; a seventh-place finish did, after all, defy belief and all statistical models.
However, this campaign has been tougher than many imagined and the Sean Dyche magic appears to have partly worn off at Turf Moor. So a difficult decision has to be made.
Either Burnley decide that, after more than six years in charge, Dyche’s message is no longer getting through and a change is required. Or they double down, support their manager in the January transfer market and accept he is the best man for the job, regardless of the consequences.
Relegation wouldn’t harm Burnley in the same way as many other Premier League sides, and Dyche has twice earned promotion from the second tier with the Clarets. The smart money would be on the club backing him all the way
Cardiff City: A dose of creativity
Like him or loathe him, you know what you’re going to get from Neil Warnock and his sides.
They’re going to be physical; they’re going to be resolute; simply, they’re going to be difficult to play against. And after 17 Premier League games it’s difficult to argue with the 70-year-old’s methods.
Despite limited investment in a squad that overachieved to gain promotion, Warnock has Cardiff outside of the relegation zone as we go into the festive period.
However, the second half of the campaign could prove trickier for the Bluebirds if they don’t come up with an alternative approach to win games when Plan A isn’t working.
This season Cardiff have created just 0.70 big chances per game – the 18th fewest in the division – and average just 3.17 on-target shots a game, a figure only ‘beaten’ by two sides.
Adding a little more finesse to his squad should see those numbers improve, and it could be enough to keep Cardiff in the Premier League against all odds.
Chelsea: A striker to complete Sarriball
At times this season Chelsea have been scintillating. At other points, their possession football has become sterile as they struggle to break down stubborn defences.
So, top of Sarri’s Christmas list will be an elite striker who can knit his attack together. Gonzalo Higuaín has been linked, Mauro Icardi too. Both would be excellent additions but wouldn’t come cheap.
Yet Christmas is a time for giving…Chelsea’s head coach will be hoping Roman Abramovich is in a generous mood.
Crystal Palace: A proven goalscorer
It’s not often that the best thing to do at Christmas is to give up on a Christian… but that’s exactly what the Eagles must do.
The Eagles have lacked a consistent goalscorer for the past 18 months and that simply can’t be allowed to continue. While a striker won;t arrive until January 1, at the earliest, the club’s board would be wise to get a deal done early.
Everton: A Portuguese treat
It says a lot about how André Gomes‘ time at Barcelona went that the Toffees were able to take the midfielder on loan just over two years after the Catalan club signed him from Valencia in a deal that could reach £50million.
At the Camp Nou, the Portuguese international badly struggled; he was even booed by the club’s fans.
Enter Everton and Marco Silva. The Merseyside club paid around £2million to borrow Gomes for the season and, with his confidence restored, the 25-year-old has shone at Goodison Park.
A standout display in the Merseyside derby was the highlight but also piqued the interest of other sides.
Tottenham are reportedly now interested in Gomes but, with the Portugal star enjoying life at Everton, the club would be wise to get a permanent deal done as soon as possible.
Fulham: A Premier League clean sheet
It wasn’t supposed to be like this for Fulham. The west London side earned promotion to the Premier League – via the Championship play-offs – playing attacking, effective football.
They then spent more than £100million in the summer to ensure they were capable of entertaining in the top flight. And, to an extent, they have. But for all the wrong reasons.
Goals are guaranteed in their fixtures as the Cottagers are the only side in the Premier League not to have claimed a clean sheet. Slaviša Jokanović was sacked for his failure to tighten up the defence; his replacement, Claudio Ranieri, hasn’t fared much better.
Fulham are averaging 0.53 points per game in the top flight this term. Without shutting out their opponents, that is unlikely to change drastically and relegation will follow.
Huddersfield Town: A striker, any striker, that can score
So who is the Premier League striker with the highest expected goals (xG) total that hasn’t struck a goal this season? Sorry, Terriers fans, it’s Steve Mounie (2.60).
The Benin international is the Premier League striker with the second-highest xG total that hasn’t struck a goal this season? Sorry again, Terriers fans, it’s Laurent Depoitre (2.41).
Clearly, that’s a problem. Perhaps it explains why Huddersfield are the Premier League’s lowest scorers with just ten goals in 17 matches.
There has seemingly been an element of misfortune as David Wagner’s side have hit the woodwork nine times this term. Yet is that actually bad luck or simply poor finishing?
What is certain, however, is that if Huddersfield don’t recruit a striker that scores goals, they’re likely to endure an equally difficult second half of the season.
Leicester City: A change in approach
It wasn’t so long ago that Leicester were one of the Premier League’s entertainers. In recent weeks, though, their games have become insipid and dull.
Claude Puel has to take the blame for this. The Frenchman has tightened up their defence but that has had an adverse effect on the Foxes ability to score goals.
The festive period is an opportunity to change things up.
Liverpool: A slip up from City
Jürgen Klopp’s side have been excellent this season. Sure, they’re not the same swashbuckling entertainers of last term but, as has been proven over the years, open, attacking football doesn’t always result in titles.
This term the Reds have tightened up defensively and look to control matches through possession. And it’s paid off. After 17 games, Liverpool are unbeaten and top of the Premier League table; they have only dropped six points.
In many a top-flight campaign, Klopp’s side would be runaway leaders. However, this isn’t an ordinary season. Manchester City are just one point behind the Reds.
So what Liverpool really need this Christmas is a mistake from Pep Guardiola’s side before they meet on January 3 at the Etihad Stadium.
Manchester City: A back-up goalkeeper
What do you get the person – or in this case club – that has everything? We thought a pair of socks, or perhaps more knitwear for the ever-dapper Guardiola.
Yet instead City probably need to plug the only major gap in their squad; their back-up goalkeeper. With Claudio Bravo ruled out, potentially to the end of the season, with a ruptured Achilles, 20-year-old Aro Muric is currently the club’s No.2.
And while we don’t doubt the Kosovo international’s potential, a long-term injury to Ederson, a vital cog in Guardiola’s system, could harm City’s quest for the quadruple.
So expect a shiny new goalkeeper to arrive at the Etihad in January.
Manchester United: A guide to interviewing
The appointment of David Moyes was a mistake, yet one that was down to Sir Alex Ferguson. But Ed Woodward has to take the blame for bringing Louis van Gaal and José Mourinho to Old Trafford.
You get the feeling he was seduced by their past achievements rather than discussing their future plans.
Quite simply, United cannot afford another mistake. Woodward has to get his next appointment right, and that means the right questions being asked during any interview.
A guide would come in handy…
Newcastle United: A Christmas miracle
Newcastle United fans want Mike Ashley gone. And Mike Ashley wants to sell Newcastle United, or so we’re led to believe.
The businessman told Sky Sports at the start of December that a deal for him to sell the Magpies could be done by the end of the month. Yet, according to the Daily Mirror, the four active bidders are not willing to match Ashley’s valuation.
A Christmas miracle is needed to pull this one off.
Tottenham Hotspur: A new home
There’s no denying that for Tottenham fans, Wembley has lost its allure.
Sure, it was nice playing at the home of football to begin with. The walk up Wembley Way. The arch. The 90,000 capacity. But these novelties wear off after a while and, to quote Dorothy Gale, there’s no place like home.
Fortunately, Spurs are almost ready to open the doors to their new stadium. They will remain at Wembley for a few weeks but could move into the new White Hart Lane at the end of January.
The switch will galvanise Spurs fans and could have a big impact on he players during the second half of the campaign.
Southampton: A leap of faith in Ralph
The last 18 months haven’t been kind on Southampton. Yet their 3-2 victory over Arsenal last weekend provided a glimmer of light at the end of what has been a long and dark tunnel.
In Ralf Hasenhüttl the Saints may finally – after the poor appointments of Mauricio Pellegrino and Mark Hughes – have the right man in charge to ensure the club returns to the top half of the Premier League while playing entertaining football.
The Austrian will need to be backed, however. And with January just around the corner, Southampton would be wise to give Hasenhüttl the funds required to begin a transformation of the squad.
Watford: A clean bill of health
There have been very few reasons to grumble for Hornets fans since the Pozzo family purchased the club in 2012, but injuries have been a constant issue.
In the Championship it wasn’t a huge problem; Watford had a squad capable of absorbing eight or nine absentees. Yet the Premier League is a different proposition.
When injuries have mounted the quality of the starting XI has been affected – Walter Mazzarri playing Valon Behrami and José Holebas as centre-backs against Manchester City should never be forgotten.
It would take some doing but a fully fit Watford squad would be the ultimate Christmas gift for Javi Gracia.
West Ham United: A new Rice contract
It’s an issue that has dragged on throughout the season and one that needs to be resolved by West Ham.
Here’s what we know. Declan Rice is very good and, more importantly, Declan Rice and Declan Rice’s people know that Declan Rice is very good. So Declan Rice and Declan Rice’s people want a contract to reflect that.
However, West Ham don’t want to pay Declan Rice what they think he deserves. And so Declan Rice – and his people – are in a contract stand-off with the Irons.
The latest is that east London club are willing to wait until next summer to hold further talks, at which point the versatile defender will have two years remaining on his current deal.
According to the Guardian, West Ham have offered the 19-year-old £15,000 a week.
The player wants double that. And while it may sound steep, it’s hardly a figure that’s difficult to meet for a Premier League side.
Wolverhampton Wanderers: A back-up plan
The talk about Wolves being the best newly-promoted side in Premer League history has died down a little, but there’s no denying Nuno Espírito Santos’ side have made the transition to the English top flight look easy.
After 17 games they sit seventh in the table and have collected just one point fewer than Manchester United (Nuno can thank his old boss Mourinho for that).
Wolves have claimed several impressive results; they held Manchester City and overcame Chelsea at Molineux while drawing 1-1 with the Red Devils at Old Trafford. And yet they’ve lost at home to Watford and Huddersfield Town while going down against Cardiff City.
So what’s the problem? Well, Wolves have averaged 45.17 per cent possession in the Premier League this season, the 16th lowest amount in the division.
They are built to counter-attack which perhaps explains why they’ve done well against the ‘better’ sides in the top flight and have struggled against teams who let them have the ball.
So a Plan B is required… although it’s not urgent.