The January transfer window: a mid-campaign silly season to send even the most sensible commentators doolally. Andy Carroll back to Newcastle? Sure, why not. Lionel Messi to West Brom? You heard it here first! January always lands a few surprises, but here are some of the storylines I'll be keeping an eye on over the next few weeks.
We know Roman Abramovich has deep pockets, but that's a staggering amount of money (the club is already close on a deal with Bolton defender Gary Cahill for £7 million) to spend in a short spell, midseason. Especially given the effect the January transfer window has on prices; this time last year Chelsea was forced to pay £50 million ($80) for Fernando Torres in its desperation for a forward. The club currently sits fourth, 11 points off the top of the table and only three ahead of Liverpool, in sixth place, but it's rare that a spending spree at this time of year has a dramatic impact on the rest of the season. Not impossible -- think of West Ham United's (relative) splurges in 1997 and 2007, or even Edgar Davids to Barcelona in 2004 -- but for that kind of money you'd want better than a lunch-hour nose job.
The Manchester City fullback has played 77 minutes of football so far this season, in a straightforward Carling Cup win over Birmingham City, and even then he was deployed on the wing. Bridge says he is desperate to play, but the City manager Roberto Mancini reckons he has turned down several moves since being told he was surplus to requirements two years ago. Mancini has been unnecessarily catty in recent remarks -- "I don't know what [Bridge] does on Saturdays now. Golf?" -- but Bridge needs a move away from the Etihad sooner rather than later. He is being linked with a loan move to QPR and Arsenal, where Arsene Wenger has injuries to contend with, as well as several clubs in Europe. Paris Saint-Germain certainly wouldn't have a problem paying his £90,000-a-week ($139,000) wages.
Premier League managers routinely bemoan the impact on their squad of the African Cup of Nations, as if they didn't know about the biennial tournament when they signed their star player, or failed to realize he was an African international. There are only a handful of clubs having to surrender players this time around, with varying potential effect: Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City probably won't be too badly hit by the loss of Salomon Kalou, Marouane Chamakh and Kolo Toure, but Didier Drogba (being linked with a move to China, in any case), Gervinho and Yaya Toure will be more noticeable absences. At least those clubs have cover; will the Newcastle manager Alan Pardew dip in to the loan market to help a side particularly dependent on Demba Ba (Senegal) and Cheik Tiote (Ivory Coast)?
Really the most important thing to watch at White Hart Lane is the Premier League table, which still has Tottenham in third with half the season played -- by my calculations, this is the first time the club has taken 42 points from its opening 19 games in the three-points-for-a-win era. You have to keep one eye trained on Harry Redknapp when the transfer window is open, however, because he rarely resists bundling someone through it. Over the last month or so he has said he thinks it unlikely he'll do so this January, but has admitted he could be tempted by a 'special' signing: "The chairman would back me all the way if we felt it was someone who could take us that extra little bit forward." Spurs won't lose top scorer Emmanuel Adebayor to the Cup of Nations, but a permanent addition capable of a similar contribution could take Redknapp's fancy.
The team that took to the pitch at Old Trafford last week was Blackburn's youngest in the Premier League era (i.e. near enough the last 20 years), with 17-year-old Adam Henley helping to pull the average age down to a rather green 23-and-a-half, despite the presence of Yakubu, 29, and Morten Gamst Pedersen, 30. The manager Steve Kean insists he won't be strong-armed in to selling his best players in the transfer window, but Christopher Samba (27) has been linked with a move away from Ewood Park for what feels like forever, and that stunning result against Manchester United does not change the fact that Junior Hoillett is out of contract in the summer. He could earn the club upwards of £8 million ($12.3M) if sold now; Stoke and Tottenham Hotspur have been linked with moves.
In addition to the many thousands of reports suggesting that Internazionale maestro Wesley Sneijder would be the perfect fit for a sans-Scholes Manchester United, the club is being linked in this window with AZ Alkmaar's Rasmus Elm; Ajax's "new Michael Laudrup," Christian Eriksen; Dortmund midfielder Mario Gotze (who the club insist isn't going anywhere); and Granit Xhaka, who helped FC Basel to put United out of the Champions League last month. Though there is more to the new Frank Lampard rumours than the club is letting on, you can more often than not take Ferguson at his word when he says he will do no business in January. Especially given talk that he was recently denied the relatively measly sum of £5 million ($7.7M) to sign an unnamed midfielder.