Aston Villa have in many ways defied pre-season expectation this term. Paul Lambert's side were widely tipped to be stuck in a relegation battle for much of the campaign, predictions reinforced by a fairly uninspiring summer transfer window.
The club have steadily improved this season, however, having come through a miserable goalless run that undermined their impressive start to the season and the inevitable fallout from Roy Keane's departure. It hasn't been pretty, but careful handling of the January transfer window could leave the club in a healthier state than those fighting around them.
What they need
Given Ron Vlaar's injury problems this term and the likelihood of him leaving Villa Park when his contract expires in six months, Villa are likely to consider bringing in an additional centre-back sooner rather than later.
As demonstrated by their run of five games without scoring a goal in September and October, the lowest-scoring club in the league remain woefully short of reliable options up front, other than Christian Benteke. Neither Gabby Agbolahor nor Andreas Weimann provides a consistent threat in front of goal, a situation that will leave the club in a precarious position should Benteke suffer another injury.
Who could join?
With doubts over Fabian Delph's future at the club, Lambert has reportedly considered making Fulham starlet Lasse Vigen Christensen his long-term replacement. Tom Cleverley is also tipped to make his loan stay at the club a permanent one. The 25-year-old is on a season-long loan from Manchester United and has just six months remaining on his deal at Old Trafford. Lambert has the option of making the deal happen in the New Year.
Who could leave?
Delph has been the club's stand-out performer this term but with just six months remaining on his contract, his future may lie elsewhere. Liverpool remain persistently linked with a move for the England international and an offer in January could force Villa's hand, should they wish to avoid risking losing him for nothing in the summer.
The club face an identical dilemma with Vlaar, whose agent recently told Lambert 'thanks, but no thanks' after the latest round of contract talks.
What the manager has said
"The window doesn't worry me. I don't visualise anyone going at all, but Randy [Learner, club owner] will have the final say on finances.He will always have the say on that but from a football point of view I'm really comfortable about not losing anybody in January."