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Look out for the Middlemen this January

Just for a change I am going to make one or two predictions about the January Transfer Window. I would normally steer clear of any such speculation but this season I have had one or two snippets of information come my way, so why not share?

Chelsea, for instance, look like being active once again. The Juan Mata situation came to a head with the player’s angry reaction to being substituted at Southampton and I would not be surprised to see him travel across the channel soon.

It would be a real shame to lose one of the league’s finest players but this is a World Cup year and he wants to be playing. I don’t see a place for him at Barcelona or Real Madrid and he will not be sold to a Premier League rival so PSG would appear the most likely taker for his sublime services.

A friend who works in the nightlife industry insisted that David Luiz staged a farewell party in a London club recently. Well, I wouldn’t read too much into that -- the guy looks like he enjoys having fun with his friends -- but the whispers about a Barcelona move just won’t go away.

Only one stumbling block: it would appear Barcelona don’t have huge amounts of cash to spent right now but they would be able to buy him if they sold a player.

Which leads to my next educated hunch. Forget strikers, it’s a central midfielder that Chelsea most want to bring in. Xabi Alonso anyone? One will arrive very soon, mark my words. Now, will Chelsea risk doing January business for a striker or wait until the summer window? Perhaps the latter, as surprising as that may be.

Manchester United will continue to back David Moyes as he attempts to get a grasp on the huge job he has been given. To that end, the club will allow him to operate as he usually does in the transfer market: deliberately, cautiously even, with a view to only bringing in one or two players maximum.

If the club’s hierarchy is prepared to keep its nerve and allow Moyes to wait for the summer before he really gets busy, you can discount moves for virtually all the players whose names keep cropping up. My money would be on one “big” signing, with that being a midfielder.

Down the road at the Etihad, Manchester City looks like a club which has little need for transfer activity. The squad is powerful and Manuel Pellegrini appears to have cover in every position. Okay, maybe every position but one: the quest for a centre-half continues as City continue to let in more goals than they would like.

The biggest challenge City may face in January could be persuading Edin Dzeko to stay put and take his chances when they come his way.

One or two of City’s title rivals desperately need a striker of Dzeko’s quality but how many of them are out there? Well, have you been reading the Berbatov to Arsenal speculation? From where I stand, it may be no more than that.

What is interesting about the Gunners’ situation is that fit-again Theo Walcott and Lukas Podolski just might make Arsene Wenger a little hesitant about risking a January buy. And as we know, it doesn’t take much to spook Arsene away from a flutter in the Window.

As for Berba, well his agent’s comments in early December left little doubt as to his intentions but perhaps Fulham’s new managerial appointments, Alan Curbishley and Ray Wilkins, can do something to persuade the player to stay put in West London.

It’s curious how this situation has developed but most of the title contenders, with the exception of Manchester City and Arsenal, seem desperate to get hold of a central midfielder.

Take Liverpool for instance. We keep hearing about Basel winger Mohammed Salah and Real Madrid striker Alvaro Morata, but the Fenway Sports Group moneymen might find themselves asked to spare some cash for a player who can cover Gerrard and Lucas.

One thing we have to remind ourselves is that January is not traditionally a great time to do business. In fact, it is most often a time when those in trouble at the bottom of the table look for a quick fix.

So expect two clubs in particular to be busiest. Tony Pulis at Crystal Palace will very likely bring in some familiar (to him) faces as he continues to toughen up a club which could yet pull off a superb survival act this season.

Of the other promoted sides, Cardiff may have a new manager but is Mr Solskjaer going to have to suffer the consequences of the previous boss’s alleged overspend? Steve Bruce has proved to be a canny transfer market operator at Hull already but he still has to address Danny Graham’s continued struggle for goals.

There is talk of a big-money bid for Blackburn striker Jordan Rhodes and the club will have to think long and hard about risk-reward when it comes to that deal.

I think the busiest club this month could turn out to be Stoke City. Mark Hughes has by and large had to make do with the squad he inherited from Tony Pulis but his owners must accept that the club desperately needs a striker.

Peter Crouch could be tempted by a move to London and Marko Arnautovic has hardly been a raging success so could the club make a move for someone like Shane Long?

Owner Peter Coates has a habit of backing his managers with cash and Mark Hughes demonstrated during his time at Queens Park Rangers that he doesn’t mind spending it. Expect two or three players to come in at the Britannia.

Now, we wait. My parting shot, watch out for that midfielder at Chelsea.

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