Prem Previews: Windowmas & bottling Berbatov

As the nights draw in, the weather becomes ever more bitterly cold and the neon-yellow ball comes out, we console ourselves with the knowledge that a season of much joy is almost upon us

A season when some splurge semi-recklessly, while others scrimp and save; where some will get the gift they’ve always wanted and needed, while others are forced to settle for some old tat; a season of joy for some, pain for others, but always a time to reflect.

We are, naturally, not talking about all that Christmas nonsense, we’re obviously getting geared up for the frenzied month of gossip, buzz and rumour (yes, we know those things are all the same) that is the January Transfer Window.

For some reason, Windowmas doesn’t enjoy the same profile as that non-footballing semi-religious consumerism-fest, quite possibly because it’s lacking a figurehead. Christmas has Santa Claus, Easter has the Easter Bunny and Wimbledon fortnight has Cliff Richard.

Minimum fee release Claus: Sums up the spirit of the season 

Peter Ridsdale, we reckon. Who better sums up the month long orgy of desperate and gratuitous over-spending than the jolly former Leeds chairman and tropical fish enthusiast?

Besuited, wearing a moronic gleeful grin and carrying upon us back a sack full of dreams (and money to buy crap, over-priced players) – 'Minimum fee release Claus' brings joy to football agents and lazy tabloid journalists nationwide and reminds us all that money doesn’t always by you happiness or success - and that’s it’s often best to give Robbie Fowler the swerve.

One place that’s certain to be a festive flurry of steamy hardcore transfer chat and action is, naturally, Manchester City.

Among the names linked with a move to Eastlands in recent weeks are Kolo Toure, Emmanuel Adebayor, Lukas Podolski, John Terry, Gianluigi Buffon, David Villa, Andrei Arshavin, Carlos Tevez, Fernando Torres, Cristiano Ronaldo, Roque Santa Cruz, (fat) Ronaldo, Kaka, Lassana Diarra, Craig Bellamy (no, really), Sergio Aguero, Torsten Frings, Wayne Bridge, Karim Benzema, Thierry Henry, Franck Ribery, Cesc Fabregas, Antonio Cassano, Michael Essien, Luis Fabiano, Samuel Eto’o and errrrrm Craig Bellamy.

City would do well to add just one of the names from that list to their squad next month (not Bellamy, obviously), given they’re currently floating around just north of the relegation zone – but you fancy their new owners maybe firing out bids like David Dickinson, and that’s a contemporary cultural reference if ever there was one...

David Moyes would probably kill to get 10% of the funds Sparky will have at his disposal next month. While the Welshman will have millions at his disposal, the Scotsman will probably be left rubbing pennies together and hoping to creat another Tim Cahill. 

Moyes takes his Everton side to Eastlands on Saturday, looking to build on an impressive away record of five wins in eight, which is certainly proving more of a factor in their climb up the table than their home record of one wins in eight.

Different strokes 

Conversely, City have been reliant on their home matches for points, with four of their five wins this season coming at ‘the Blue Camp’.

Everton are also on a steady climb, having started the season poorly, while City – having flown out of the traps on a wave of Arabic-billionaire-inspired enthusiasm (which is the best kind of enthusiasm, surely) – are now struggling to match their own high expectations.

And this highlights yet another difference between the two clubs.

When Everton were struggling – fans and people close to the club were concerned that Moyes would walk away – having done so much for the Merseyside club. City’s similar dry spell saw speculation mount that the club’s new owners were considering disposing of Mark Hughes, with some City fans on the Interweb calling for ‘the granny-haired former rag’ to be given the boot.

Everton may be a tad deflated following their late, late, late, late capitulation against Villa last weekend – while City might also be feeling a little fragile – having lost two of the last three league matches at home.

This probably means the two sides may exercise a bit of early caution, and things might be a bit cagey at first, but it should ultimately be a good game and we expect an entertaining score draw and one probably played, as they say, in the right spirit.

One place where things are more likely to get a trifle tasty (as opposed to a tasty trifle) is White Hart Lane – where former cult hero Dimitar Berbatov returns with his Manchester United team-mates for the first time. That is if he’s ‘fit’.

Fergie has claimed that the Bulgarian is an injury doubt ahead of Saturday evening’s X-Factor final rivalling match-up – but Berbatov actually being crocked is probably the least likely cause for his comments.

Cristiano: "... and this, Berba, is how you feign injury" 

Berbatov is a bottler. He bottled it at Spurs when the going got tough, he bottled coming out and saying he wanted to leave for United and he’s bottled it so far at United – failing to live up to his £30 million price tag and failing to produce goals when it’s counted – i.e. in matches against anyone but Stoke or West Brom.

Is it really that far-fetched to suggest he might not fancy popping down to White Hart Lane and spending an hour and a half getting clog from Spurs's infamously spiteful crowd?

What’s probably more likely is that Fergie is playing mind games, and Berbatov, along with Rio Ferdinand and Michael Carrick who are also ‘injury doubts’, will all make a ‘surprise’ recovery and be ready to face Harry Redknapp’s rejuvenated side.

Ferguson has also claimed that the match at White Hart Lane is one of United’s most important of the season, although he would say that given that they’ve already failed to beat Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal this term and have a great record in the lilywhite side of North London.

Some of the Spurs squad prepared for the United game in what has been described as an ‘unconventional fashion’ by some of the more stuffy newspapers this week – although a football team going out and getting lashed seems like the most conventional thing in the world to us – about as conventional as tabloids getting a bit carried away with largely irrelevant news stories, in fact.

For those of you that missed the earth shattering news (which was apparently a picture ‘exclusive' in at least three different publications), Spurs's 12-year-old Mexican winger Giovani dos Santos was photographed falling out of a nightclub and into a taxi, having had one Panda shandy too many.

Too much Tequilla? 

To be fair to our little Mexican amigo, he’s used to being wasted – Juande Ramos was playing him out on the right earlier this season (yes, this joke is stolen from elsewhere), and besides, he has a long way to go to match skipper Ledley King – who was dragged from the legendary Essex nightspot Faces the worse for wear on more than one occasion last season, once losing his shoes in the process.

Unsurprisingly some of the more reactionary quarters of the media have labelled Dos Santos’s actions a disgrace and proclaimed this kind of activity should be restricted to the close-season and are setting a bad example for the nation’s youth, Binge Britain etc.

Naturally, they're utterly ignoring the fact that Dos Santos is currently injured and unlikely to feature for the first team before Christmas, and was probably making the most of a rare opportunity to socialise with his new teammates, having spent a frustrating few months in surroundings alien to him – the rambunctious rascal.

Anyway, over-exuberant festive merriment aside, Spurs have been in fairly fine fettle of late, with just two matches lost in the dozen overseen by Harry Redknapp – which compares favourably (and then some) to the record of seven defeats in the same number of games under Juande Ramos’s supposed guidance.

Heurelho Gomes finally looks to have calmed down and stopped trying to decapitate his team-mates whenever the balls comes within 20 yards of his goal, which can only be a good thing.

Gomes: "Finally - caught one at last!" 

We seem to say this every other week, which might in itself be telling, but United are yet to hit their usual stride this season.

They seem to be labouring to wins that they’d usually get with ease in previous seasons, both in the Premier League and in Europe. Ironically many of they seem to be finding the going a little better in the League Cup, the competition that is naturally their lowest priority.

Sunderland went to Old Trafford and parked the team bus in front of Marton Fulop’s goal last weekend, and it very nearly paid off. Fortunately for United, Nemanja Vidic is apparently more powerful than busses, and proceded to knock one in in the 92nd minute.

If United can do what Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool have all failed to do this season and beat Spurs, they’re title challenge will be well and truly back on track. However if they were to drop points again, which we think they might, then they’ll be right up against it.

But then at least they’ll still have the League Cup…’s Premier League Predictions...

Saturday, December 13Aston Villa 1-0 Bolton Liverpool 2-0 Hull Man City 2-2 EvertonMiddlesbrough 1-2 Arsenal Stoke 2-1 FulhamSunderland 0-0 West BromTottenham 1-1 Man Utd (Live on Setanta Sports, 5:30pm)Wigan 2-1 Blackburn

Sunday, December 14Chelsea 2-0 West HamPortsmouth 2-1 Newcastle

Make your own predictions and win £180,000, with Footy15!

Footy 15 pundit’s predictions:

Alan HansenAston Villa vs Bolton - HOME WINChelsea vs West Ham - HOME WINLiverpool vs Hull - HOME WINMan City vs Everton - DRAWMiddlesbrough vs Arsenal - DRAWPortsmouth vs Newcastle - HOME WINStoke vs Fulham - DRAWSunderland vs West Brom - DRAWTottenham vs Man Utd - AWAY WINWigan vs Blackburn - HOME WIN

John BarnesAston Villa vs Bolton - HOME WINChelsea vs West Ham - HOME WINLiverpool vs Hull - HOME WINMan City vs Everton - DRAWMiddlesbrough vs Arsenal - AWAY WINPortsmouth vs Newcastle - DRAWStoke vs Fulham - DRAWSunderland vs West Brom - HOME WINTottenham vs Man Utd - DRAWWigan vs Blackburn - HOME WIN

Tony CascarinoAston Villa vs Bolton - HOME WINChelsea vs West Ham - HOME WINLiverpool vs Hull - HOME WINMan City vs Everton - HOME WINMiddlesbrough vs Arsenal - AWAY WINPortsmouth vs Newcastle - HOME WINStoke vs Fulham - HOME WINSunderland vs West Brom - HOME WINTottenham vs Man Utd - AWAY WINWigan vs Blackburn - HOME WIN

Graham PollAston Villa vs Bolton - HOME WINChelsea vs West Ham - HOME WINLiverpool vs Hull - HOME WINMan City vs Everton - HOME WINMiddlesbrough vs Arsenal - DRAWPortsmouth vs Newcastle - HOME WINStoke vs Fulham - HOME WINSunderland vs West Brom - HOME WINTottenham vs Man Utd - AWAY WINWigan vs Blackburn - DRAW