Nani and Anderson
The transfer window approaches and Manchester United's Sir Alex Ferguson won't be the only manager with a Christmas shopping list.
Similarly the fans will be indulging their fantasy football once again.
There are two sides to the window however: buying and selling. While every club would like to tinker a bit or add a key player or two, some have a pretty solid squad; others have a desperate need; and a few have players that are surplus to requirements.
Football management is a precarious business. Of the 92 English clubs, only one quarter of managers have been in post for more than two years and eight for four years. Twenty-one have served less than a hundred days.
What's the first thing a manager does when he comes into post? Change the players. And the first thing he does when he's in trouble? Change the players.
Now Harry Redknapp has inherited a first team squad of 31 players, with another seven out on loan. Clearly he's going to need a "fire sale" in January if he wants to freshen his squad. But who's going to buy his off-casts?
But there are other clubs who will be desperate to do whatever they can to avoid relegation with the new Sky deal coming on stream next year.
Further down the leagues there will be teams at risk of going into administration unless they can turn their fortunes round.
Financial Fair Play
FFP rules really start to bite next season, with at least two consequential effects: the need to get expensive players off the books; and the need to moderate wages and transfer fees going forward.
For some time now, people have bleated that City and Chelsea can buy whoever they want and that United can't afford anyone. Sir Alex gave the lie to that in the summer with his purchase of Robin Van Persie, probably one of the highest paid players at United.
And there are growing signs of greater economic prudence across Europe. AC Milan have told Wesley Sneijder he must take a pay cut. They won't be alone.
Manchester United have steadfastly refused to consider Nani's request for a new contract with a hike from a rumoured £90,000 to £130,000 a week. The Portuguese player appears to have gone into a sulk as a result, believing that United don't want him any more. They may be right.
So Sir Alex may have at least one jewel in the crown to sell in January.
Does Sir Alex need to buy?
Elsewhere we've talked about some of the players United's fans might like to buy in January. If Nani goes, surely Sir Alex will buy at least one.
Central midfield seems the most likely need, with Strootman and Wanyama as possible options, but January is probably the best time to pick up Tom Ince if the Boss really wants him. In time he may be a useful replacement for Nani.
James Rodriguez is unlikely to be available while Porto remain in the Champions League and Sir Alex won't buy a central defender in January unless Vidic breaks down again.
There are probably several would-be suitors for a player of Nani's ability, but who else could United let go?
Time for a fire sale?
The biggest area of latent demand would seem to be from lower half Premier League teams and the Championship and below.
Sir Alex likes to use the loan system, particularly in the lower leagues, to give his budding stars first team experience. The trouble is that in the last couple of years there have been more prospects than since 1992 coming through.
Some will leave because they can't see an early way into United's first team, like Pogba and Fryers last summer. They probably wouldn't be right for United anyhow if they're that impatient.
But when is it right for Sir Alex to sit down with his coaching staff and be realistic about the prospects of some of his players, resulting in a decision to let them go?
United appear to be carrying a growing amount of baggage at the moment and it is probably time to let Macheda and Bebe go. United have tried to sell them in the past but Bebe is now a growing embarrassment because of his huge initial fee.
Watching the Reserves on Monday night, the penny dropped that there are probably several others that should be sold; either because they won't make it, or because there are even brighter talents coming through.
United's Reserves going backwards?
Monday was a wake-up call. Sir Alex wasn't at the match, but he will no doubt have watched the video.
Warren Joyce is doing an excellent job, like Ole Gunnar Solskjaer before him, but surely he too can see that there are some players who won't make it into United's first team and others who are simply going through the motions. Either way, surely they should be sold or let go.
After a modest couple of years there is now richer promise in the Academy. That is another reason to let some more senior players go.
So surely now is the time to promote the likes of Mats Daehli, James Wilson, Adam Januzaj and Anders Perreira to the Reserves. They look like they have outstanding talent. If you're good enough, you're old enough. Like the Keane twins and Nick Powell, they are surely part of United's rich future.
Who to sell?
While some people would gladly ship out Carrick and Young, as well as Nani, the only obvious possible player to move from the first team should be Nani (unless Sir Alex has had a sub-plot in showcasing Anderson recently).
The squad against Cluj on Wednesday night gave us some clues as to who is in Sir Alex's future plans. Unfortunately, apart from the loss, it showed there are still more problems than solutions. And actually he still only played Powell and Wootton from the Under 21s (plus a few minutes for Macheda which showed how limited he is).
Maybe the fact that Sir Alex had so few of the U21s in the squad on Wednesday gives us an insight as to who is in his thinking.
He had plenty of chance to look at Larnell Cole, Jesse Lingard, Ryan Tunnicliffe, Davide Petrucci and Robbie Brady on the pre-season tour. The fact that still none of them can make the squad for a dead European rubber is worrying.
Brady is out on loan at Hull. For whatever reason, the rest and Macheda looked listless and lacking ambition on Monday night in the Reserves match. They could only draw with Southampton after Macheda finally found where the net was.
Henriquez on the other hand looked sharp.
Of course you need enough players in the Under 21s to make up a squad for match days, but frankly some of the Under 21s sadly won't make it, despite the promise they showed last year.
Right now United have 25 players in the U21 squad, of whom five are on loan and Will Keane is still injured. In addition, they have Henriquez, Powell, Macheda, Bebe, Buttner, Johnstone and Michael Keane who they can call on from the First Team squad.
And as mentioned above, there are Academy players who have played for the U21s and who should surely now be given their chance full-time if gaps are made by releasing players.
Januzaj, Perreira, Wilson, Daehli, Barmby and Gorre should all be given their chance now, to leapfrog some of their seniors, because right now Lingard, Cole, Macheda, Bebe and Petrucci are going nowhere fast. And Brady, Brown, Cofie and King should probably be let go or sold when their loan spells end.
So who should go in January?
It's time to sell Nani, Bebe, Macheda and King. Possibly also Anderson if Strootman and a winger come in.
Brady, Lingard, Cole, Brown, Cofie and Petrucci should all be put on offer as well if they can find permanent clubs, otherwise they can be retained until the summer.
Tunnicliffe needs to be given and grab a chance soon.
And if United don't win any trophies this season again, Sir Alex will need to look hard at other players in his senior squad next summer. Whatever happens, it should be the last hurrah for Scholes and Giggs.
Ferdinand, Evra and Fletcher should be demoted to back-up players only (sadly in Fletcher's case, but he can still do a job when needed without being embarrassing).
In conclusion, the Cluj match on Wednesday and indeed the Under 21s on Monday should have given Sir Alex a reality check.
Wednesday gave second line players a real chance to impress, whether young or old and several were found wanting.
The Reserves match, considering United had to win it to qualify for the knockout stages (it would be shocking if they were eliminated), was also a chance for younger players to make a case for the first team squad. Tunnicliffe and Henriquez impressed, the rest made it look like a training match.
The most worrying thing about both matches was the dearth of passion except for a handful of players.
That was the essential quality that was missing from Manchester City's Champions League debacle this season. It is also the key quality that has made the difference between trophies and also-rans for United over the last 20 years or so.
It is equally worrying for Sir Alex, the players and indeed the fans, that he can't seem to plug the leak in the defensive dam; he can't get the players up to beat Norwich or Cluj; and some of the players who should be breaking the door down for a first team place just aren't doing it.
Time for a wholesale clear-out and buying at least two players to catalyse the squad: Strootman and Zaha or Ince would do for starters.