Depending on your point of view, the most magical time of the year is almost upon us.
It’s Christmas, which means over-eating, over-drinking and a packed Premier League fixture schedule. But, on top of that, it’s almost time for the January transfer window to open too.
So while the country prepares for bone-dry turkey roasts, unwanted presents and arguments with the in-laws, 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.
Arsenal: Defending classes for Luiz & Sokratis
Not much changes at Arsenal and, year after year, their backline remains a serious weak spot. This season David Luiz‘s defensive lapses have outweighed the benefit of his experience while, alongside him, Sokratis has been equally haphazard.
With William Saliba finally arriving from St. Étienne next summer, the Gunners are unlikely to sign a centre-back in January. Which means they’ll have to make do with what they’ve got. The good news is Shkodran Mustafi is their other senior central defender. Oh, hang on…
Former Gunner Steve Bould is on the coaching staff while Martin Keown has been a critical friend in his role as a pundit. Could the appointment of some Arsenal legends-cum-defensive coaches finally solve this age-old problem?
Aston Villa: A safe house for Jack Grealish
With January looming, you can bet Villa’s decision-makers will be taking more than a few phone calls about the availability of their talisman and captain.
Grealish has been the star of Aston Villa’s return to the Premier League and looks destined to move on sooner rather than later. Manchester United are reportedly keen on the local lad.
Villa manager Dean Smith will hope to hold onto his most-important player until the end of the season if he is to re-establish the Villans as a Premier League team. Keeping Grealish under lock and key for the next month might be the only option.
Bournemouth: The receipt for Dom Solanke
The one-cap England international cost a staggering £19million last January, that was despite having just one Premier League goal to his name and having never established himself at Anfield.
A year on he’s still got a single Premier League strike to his name and shows little sign of improving upon that number.
Time to check your wallet, jacket pocket and down the back of the sofa, Eddie!
Brighton: More points on the road
There’s nothing like home comforts and the Seagulls know it.
The majority of their points this season have been won in front of their own fans at the Amex Stadium.
But if they are to kick on and steer clear of the relegation zone, Graham Potter’s side need to start collecting more from their travels.
This is less about the Clarets and more about their back-up keeper who has gone from being England and Manchester City No.1 to a running joke.
With Nick Pope fit again, the former City favourite is back on the bench, a familiar place in the last few years.
What comes next is probably a drop into the Championship. But given his first-team prospects at Turf Moor are extremely limited, that’s probably for the best. He just needs to feel loved again.
Chelsea: A return for Ruben Loftus-Cheek
A Christmas miracle? Probably not. The England international is expected to make his long-awaited return from an Achilles injury in the New Year but that cannot come soon enough.
Chelsea have missed the 24-year-old’s driving runs from deep and his ability to carry the ball forward which can open up deep-lying defences.
With Blues boss Frank Lampard unable to sign anyone – pending another appeal against the club’s registration ban – Loftus-Cheek’s return to fitness would be like a new signing, etc, etc.
Crystal Palace: A proven goalscorer… still
Rewind 12 months and a reliable marksman was what we put top of Roy Hodgson’s Christmas wish list. But the former England boss is still having to make do with Jordan Ayew and Christian Benteke, so we’ll repeat ourselves.
A new No.9 does appear to be on the Eagles’ agenda, it must be said, with Alfredo Morelos, Olivier Giroud, Michy Batshuayi and Rhian Brewster all linked. Any of those would (probably) represent an upgrade on their existing options.
It’s hard to imagine Roy on the naughty list, so maybe this is the year he finally gets what he wants…
Everton: A guide to defending set-pieces
Maybe it’s a trait which follows Marco Silva – his Watford side just could not get to grips with dealing with dead-ball situations either – but Everton are among the worst in the Premier League again this season.
That could be connected to their failure to sign a proper, organising centre-back. Yerry Mina has shown flashes since signing from Barcelona for £27million two summers ago but the Toffees are light at centre-half where Michael Keane is their only other out-and-out central defender.
One for new boss Carlo Ancelotti to work on as a matter of urgency.
Leicester City: Cotton wool to wrap Jamie Vardy in
The age-defying Vardy is at it again this season, knocking in goals for fun to spearhead the Foxes’ surprise push for Champions League football.
Having already bagged his 100th Premier League goal, the 32-year-old shows no signs of slowing.
The problem is that after Vardy there isn’t another reliable striker at the King Power Stadium; Kelechi Iheanacho’s Manchester City form – barring his winner against Everton at the start of December – has long since abandoned him.
So, just in case Vardy’s pre-match diet of Red Bulls and nicotine patches doesn’t keep him primed between now and May, how about some cotton wool to keep the Foxes’ most important player fresh?
Liverpool: Cover at full-back
Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson are engaged in a highly competitive battle to see who can finish with the most assists this season. Underneath the fun, though, is the reality they’ve been two of the Reds’ most important players.
Everywhere else Jürgen Klopp has cover and options. Full-back is not one of those places though and given Alexander-Arnold and Robertson’s importance to the team, it really ought to be.
Manchester City: A guide to losing with good grace
We could end up with egg on our faces here but, as things stand, Liverpool are on course to win their first title since 1990.
If they do, you can bet Pep Guardiola will be as diplomatic and magnanimous as he always is.
If he’s not accusing Sadio Mané of diving, berating VAR or congratulating the officials sarcastically after defeat, he’ll usually be found labelling his team’s performance ‘the best’ of the season.
Pep, you’re a wonderful coach but you are a sore loser. This season, you might have to get used to being second best, so try to do it with good grace, eh?
Manchester United: A director of football
If you believe what comes out of Old Trafford, the United hierarchy have been looking for a director of football to aid the recruitment process for some time now.
The Red Devils are one of the few Premier League clubs who operate without someone between the head coach and ownership with responsibility for negotiating with clubs and agents. And it shows in their slapdash approach to signing players.
Rio Ferdinand and Edwin van der Sar are just two names who have been linked, both ticking the United alumni box.
Clearly, they aren’t going to bother appointing one themselves so they need some divine intervention from the big man.
Newcastle United: A bazillionaire to buy out Mike Ashley
Whisper it quietly, but things aren’t going too badly for the Magpies at the moment. Steve Bruce is gradually proving he’s more than just a former Sunderland manager and Ashley even opened his wallet a few times in the summer.
But still, the Sports Direct owner shows little sign of leaving St. James’ Park any time soon. Rumours of a takeover have quietened in recent weeks and months leaving the prospect of a future with Ashley in charge a very real possibility.
Surely Manchester City’s owners have a long-lost cousin with a spare few hundred million?
Norwich City: Some luck with injuries
No team have been more affected by injury this season than the Canaries who have, virtually since the word go, have five or six first-team players missing throughout the campaign.
Daniel Farke was already up against it given his club’s meagre £500,000 outlay in the summer and yet the popular German tactician has pulled off showpiece results against Manchester City and Arsenal to keep his side afloat.
With a little more luck on the fitness front, could City pull off a shock and stay up?
Sheffield United: A new contract for Chris Wilder
The Blades boss only inked a new agreement with his boyhood club earlier in the season but his stock has continued to rise with United safely in the top half of the Premier League table.
Currently, Wilder is only mentioned in relation to other jobs when pundits ask ‘Why isn’t Chris Wilder ever linked with these kinds of jobs?’ It won’t be long, though, until the wily Blades boss is being lined up for something bigger.
With that in mind, Sheffield United would do well to get the 52-year-old to sign a fresh deal, even if it only increases the amount of compensation they’re owed to buy him out of his deal at Bramall Lane.
Southampton: A few buyers for their car boot sale
If reports are to be believed, the Saints only did limited business in the summer as they were unable to move on a plethora of unwanted former stars.
If boss Ralph Hasenhüttl is to truly stamp his authority on this side then he needs his players. In order to get them, he needs finance.
Tottenham Hotspur: Mediation between Daniel Levy and José Mourinho
With the January transfer window very nearly here, Premier League managers will long since have made their expectations for the upcoming month very clear.
None more so than Mourinho who has made a career from demanding serious financial investment wherever he’s been. Yet if the Special One thought Ed Woodward was hard to get through to, he ain’t seen nothing yet.
Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy is regarded as the toughest negotiator in the Premier League and won’t take kindly to the Portuguese’s very public demands for backing.
Someone will need to step in.
Watford: A revolving door for the manager’s office
With the Hornets already on their third head coach of the season, who’d bet against them making another change before the campaign is out? This is a club that won promotion with four men taking charge at some point, after all.
It’s easy to mock the Hornets. Even in an age where the life-span of a head coach or manager is shorter than ever, they’re making Roman Abramovich look patient.
However, their model has worked until now with five consecutive seasons in the Premier League.
But it must cost a lot of money getting the plaque on the door of the manager’s office changed. Why not save time and money by installing a revolving door. They could even spend the cash they’d save on a proven goalscorer or proper centre-half.
West Ham United: Social media training for David Gold
The Hammers joint-owner is a prolific user of Twitter and while it allows the 83-year-old to interact freely with the club’s supporters, the platform has also been a minefield for Gold.
Among his many bloopers include using a picture of Angelo Ogbonna to announce the arrival of Pedro Obiang – Ogbonna did sign soon after – while, on more than one occasion, being tricked into thinking the cast of sitcom The Inbetweeners were West Ham fans.
Wolverhampton Wanderers: More players chipping in with goals.
There’s always one person who’s impossible to buy for, who has everything. In the Premier League, that’s Wolves.
Nuno Espiríto Santo is an excellent, charismatic and popular coach. While his squad is small, it’s perfectly formed and that is the Portuguese’s preference. Somehow they are juggling the demands of their domestic and Europa League schedules, too.
So what would the Midlanders wish for?
The best we could come up with is a more even spread of goals. Top scorer Raúl Jiménez has seven in the Premier League already – and 16 in all competition – but no-one else gets close to double figures.
We’re nit-picking, but if the Mexican is injured, Wolves could be in trouble.