When the nation emerged from the back end of 2012, bleary-eyed and somewhat fragile, they mirrored the Premier League elite, still nursing the effects of a particularly gruelling festive schedule. Calls for a winter break have once again been ignored and instead clubs are hastily preparing themselves for the most significant month of the season.
The title race may technically have been won the in final seconds of an enthralling campaign, but January certainly contained plenty of plot twists and defining moments. Manchester United kicked off the year with a 3-0 loss at the hands of high-flying Newcastle, which was preceded by a shock home defeat to rapidly imploding Blackburn Rovers. Sir Alex Ferguson must have cranked up his hairdryer to 11 because the club responded with three consecutive victories.
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Manchester City started and coincidentally ended the month in similar fashion, slipping to a 1-0 defeat against resurgent duo Sunderland and Everton. However, sandwiched between these two setbacks came the crucial last gasp victory over Tottenham Hotspur. The result effectively signalled the demise of the table-topping Lilywhites and installed a new ruthless mentality at the heart of Mancini’s side.
At the other end of the division, January marked the first win for new QPR boss Mark Hughes, but saw Wolves pick up just one point, plummeting them into the relegation zone. Mick McCarthy’s dismal New Year period saw him relieved of his duties in early February and with the transfer window firmly shut, Terry Connor was even less likely to instigate a great escape.
There’s a growing consensus that depicts the January transfer window as a baron wasteland, bereft of any value. The rash, panic purchases made my managers are usually lamented for years to come, but the elusive diamonds in the rough do exist. The fortunes of Everton and Newcastle were exponentially boosted thanks to the signings of prolific forwards Nikica Jelavic and Papiss Cisse.
On the flip side, Tottenham were forced to rue the capture of ‘experienced’ pairing Louis Saha and Ryan Nelson, especially when fierce rivals Arsenal leapfrogged their weary carcass to effectively claim the last Champions League spot. If the rumour mill still holds any credibility, it appears Daniel Levy won’t make the same mistake twice. Ever since the surprise arrival of Rafael van der Vaart in 2010, it seems entirely possible that any number of renowned faces could descend upon White Hart Lane.
With purse strings pulled increasingly tight, perhaps the loan market will play a more significant role. Last year, Thierry Henry made a triumphant return to revitalise Arsenal, Robbie Keane scored several important goals for ‘boyhood club’ Aston Villa and Steven Pienaar rediscovered his fine form back on Merseyside. Perhaps the most significant move was Roberto Mancini’s swoop for David Pizarro, who added a crucial injection of experience and reliability.
In truth, the transfer window can be as daunting as it is rewarding. Championship trio Blackburn Rovers, Nottingham Forest and Barnsley have all dispatched their managers, with chairmen undoubtedly eager to give their new employees a chance to reshape the playing squad. Will we witness the same mindset in the Premier League? Speculation continues to hamper those at the foot of the table but what if Jose Mourinho is exiled from Madrid?
The New Year at least provides players with a fresh slate in the disciplinary department. Despite the fact Gareth Bale endured a humiliating simulation-induced suspension, Andre Villas-Boas will be relieved to see key trio Jermain Defoe, Jan Vertonghen and Sandro no longer languishing on four yellow cards. Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney will also be breathing a sigh of relief alongside Yaya Toure, although he is set to miss several games while competing in the African Cup of Nations.
The Ivory Coast are set to lure away several big name players in English football. Newcastle enforcer Chieck Tiote and Wigan hitman Arouna Kone are likely to depart, as well as Arsenal’s Gervinho, however his absence may prove a blessing in disguise. Last season, the competition had a detrimental impact on the form of Demba Ba, but Newcastle won’t have to worry about that because it seems he’s on his way to Chelsea, who in turn won’t have to worry due to Senegal’s disqualification.
In summary, January has an array of different components that can influence or derail the fortunes of every club across the Football League and that’s why it’s the most critical time of the season.