Christmas is finally upon us and it’s a decisive time in the football calendar when seasons can be made or broken.
With that in mind, here’s a look at what every Premier League club should be asking Santa Claus for this year…
1. Arsenal – A Backbone
Right on cue, Arsenal are proving once more that they are spineless when it comes to standing up and performing in the big games that really matter.
The Gunners were awful for 89 minutes against Manchester United in November, wilted under pressure from Liverpool back in August, and allowed a weakened Manchester City to bully them at the Etihad Stadium just last weekend despite taking an early lead.
Arsenal’s title drought will only continue if they can’t be strong for the fight.
2. Bournemouth – Some Consistency
Bournemouth are the team right now who can beat anyone and lose to anyone. That much is clear having won against Liverpool and Leicester, yet suffer defeats at the hands of Burnley and Sunderland in recent weeks.
The Cherries form in the last seven games reads: L W L W L W L
A bit of consistency, maybe some back-to-back wins here and there, and a top half finish come the end of the season might not be out of the question.
3. Burnley – An Away Day Formula
In their attempts to avoid an immediate relegation for the first time and stay in the Premier League, Burnley have so far managed to stay afloat on their home form alone.
The Clarets have picked up 16 of their 17 points at Turf Moor, with that sole away point coming at Old Trafford of all places.
At present, they’re only collecting points from half their fixtures and it would be like expecting a team to avoid the drop despite only being allowed to play 19 games to every other club’s 38.
4. Chelsea – A Guardian Angel for Diego Costa
Diego Costa is playing like a man possessed for Chelsea right now. He bullied Manchester City earlier this month, is back to his best in front of goal and is driving his club back towards a potential Premier League title after a horrendous 2015/16.
The Spaniard is at his best when he’s on the edge and it’s always a fine between performing well and going too far. He needs to keep doing what he’s doing but all the while keeping the lid firmly on so he doesn’t start boiling over again.
5. Crystal Palace – A New Manager
Crystal Palace are a very likeable club with a squad of good players, but there was a feeling that manager Alan Pardew had come to the end of the road after just two years in charge.
Reaching the FA Cup final aside, Palace have had a shocking calendar year in 2016 as far as their league form has been concerned. It’s typical Pardew as he has so often begun really well at new clubs before tailing off into oblivion within two or three seasons.
Someone new seems like the best solution for a club that otherwise has a lot going for it. Big Sam anyone?
6. Everton – A Replacement Assist King
Yannick Bolasie had directly provided nearly half of Romelu Lukaku’s Premier League goals this season before a devastating long-term knee injury struck down the Congolese winger.
The pair had enjoyed the most productive winger/striker relationship in the whole division and replacing Bolasie’s contribution in wide areas is critical. Memphis Depay is a known target. The Dutchman has obvious quality but needs his shattered confidence restoring.
7. Hull City – Several Better Players
Hull boss Mike Phelan is a good coach but he’s struggled with the squad at his disposal and the Tigers go into Christmas sitting bottom of the table as a result.
After the uncertainty surrounding Steve Bruce and the club’s ownership, the summer was characterised by a noticeable lack of investment in the transfer market. That is showing now, but whether it will actually be addressed when the window re-opens remains to be seen.
8. Leicester City – One N’Golo Kante
Barring a good run in the Champions League and a spectacular win over Manchester City, it’s been a tough few months for Leicester since lifting the Premier League trophy in May.
The Foxes have already lost five more league games than the three they lost in the whole of 2015/16 and it looks as though teams have very much ‘figured them out’. Things just haven’t been the same since N’Golo Kante, the beating heart of the team, left for Chelsea.
9. Liverpool – Cotton Wool to Wrap Philippe Coutinho
If the last few weeks have taught us anything, it’s that Liverpool are a much worse team without Philippe Coutinho. That’s entirely understandable given that he is their best player, but it means he absolutely has to stay fit once he returns from injury.
The Reds have only won two of four games since the Brazilian left the field on a stretcher against Sunderland and had to wait for a very late stoppage time winner in one of those victories against Everton.
He is their creative inspiration and a title challenge can’t happen without him fully fit and firing for the rest of the campaign.
10. Manchester City – A Working Brain for John Stones
Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola may say his philosophy is not to pass to the opposition forwards, but John Stones keeps doing it.
There is no doubt that the young England international is an incredibly talented footballer, but that destructive devil on his shoulder telling him to play technical football no matter the situation needs silencing for the good of his team and his career.
He needs to engage his brain more and has to learn when to play and when to hoof.
11. Manchester United – A Bellows to Grow What’s Already Started
Manchester United may be off the pace in the title race, but they are not a club in crisis. Even when Jose Mourinho’s team was seemingly finding it impossible to see games out, there was clearly some kind of spark there given the way they were playing.
That has grown into a few flames in the past fortnight with three successive wins and now a strong blast of metaphorical air into the pit is needed over the Christmas period for United to become a roaring fire once more.
12. Middlesbrough – Anything Interesting
Middlesbrough are quite possible the least exciting, least talked about and generally least interesting team in the Premier League right now.
They haven’t scored many goals and haven’t conceded many either. They’re not so close to the bottom that they’re in a relegation fight, but equally aren’t so high that they’re much of a danger to the top half.
In a first season back in the top flight, it’s possibly how fans would prefer it, but the rest of us would perhaps like to see something a little more interesting happen on Teesside.
13. Southampton – An Invisibility Cloak
Where Southampton are concerned, a little bit of anonymity might be what’s best over the second half of the season, comfortably mid-table but not punching so high that the squad is thoroughly harvested of its prized crops once more in the summer.
Virgil van Dijk is highly tipped to be the next big sale out of St Mary’s, but it would be a huge win for the club if he and others could stay for the long-term.
14. Stoke City – Jack Butland in Good Health
As good as Lee Grant has been in goal for Stoke since joining on loan from Derby County, there’s a feeling that the Potters won’t be able to really kick on until they have established number one Jack Butland back between the sticks long-term.
It’s been nearly nine months since he fractured his ankle in action for England. Combined with a summer setback, he hasn’t played since.
The 23-year-old even had to undergo surgery again only this week, but it’s hoped a second programme of rehabilitation will see the problem gone for good.
15. Sunderland – A Time Machine to Erase the Alvarez Mistake
Ricky Alvarez played just 11 times for Sunderland two years ago, but the Black Cats are still waiting to find out if they will have to pay £8-10m despite the fact they refused to actually sign him at the end of his loan.
Although £10m isn’t worth as much now as it used to be, it’s still a big new contract for an existing star or the transfer fee for a decent new signing that could be the difference between relegation and survival come May.
16. Swansea City – An Oxford Dictionary for Bob Bradley
Perhaps if Bob Bradley could fake his way to an English accent and drop his American vocabulary, Swansea critics might for a moment stop focusing on the fact that he’s from the United States and therefore must not know anything about ‘soccer’.
The Swans are in another bad run after showing promising form in late November and early December, but just need people to get behind them a little more.
17. Tottenham Hotspur – Goals, Goals, Goals
With the second best defensive record and the joint fewest losses, it is only a relative lack of goals compared to the other Premier League title contenders that has seen Tottenham slip to a full 10 points off the lead.
Harry Kane’s two-month absence through injury proved costly, while Erik Lamela’s current spell on the sidelines has harmed creativity. Vincent Janssen, now also injured, has failed to recreate his Eredivisie form of last season and has looked largely hopeless.
18. Watford – The 2015 Odion Ighalo Back
Notwithstanding the surprising late emergence of Stefano Okaka and the future promise of Isaac Success, Watford have sorely missed the Odion Ighalo that lit up the Championship and then the Premier League in 2015.
He was English football’s top scorer for the calendar year with 30 goals, ahead of Tottenham golden boy Harry Kane, but hasn’t been at anything like that level since. He’s netted just once in 12 Premier League appearances so far this season.
19. West Bromwich Albion – A Sprinkling of Flair
West Brom are actually having a very good season. The Baggies sit 8th in the Premier League table, have won as many games as Everton and Southampton and there’s no hint of a relegation battle after losing just twice since October.
And yet, the Hawthorns is the least full stadium in the division in relation to its overall capacity. West Brom just aren’t fun to watch, but maybe a light sprinkling of flair on top of what’s already there would make all all the difference.
20. West Ham United – A Dose of Realism
Given the noise and bravado emanating from West Ham last season, you might be forgiven for being surprised that the club isn’t currently challenging from the Premier League title.
After all, they moved into a new stadium and have a player who is quite good at free-kicks. If those aren’t title winning ingredients, who knows what is.
The Hammers made the mistake of aiming too high after a single semi-good season and are paying the price after setting themselves up for a huge fall. Right now, it’s all about understanding what their level really is and making sure they avoid a relegation fight.