Stoke City boss Mark Hughes will have been a relieved man on Tuesday (3 January) after watching his side ease to a comfortable 2-0 victory over injury-stricken Watford at the bet365 Stadium. Such a triumph ended five-match winless run in the Premier League and a clean sheet was most welcome after the Potters conceded four in back-to-back festive defeats at Liverpool and Chelsea that came after a dreadful collapse against Leicester City in which they failed to hold a 2-0 lead against a team reduced to 10 men.
That success against Watford saw Stoke, who have finished ninth in each of their three seasons under Hughes, climb to 11th. A top-six berth is evidently unrealistic given the current sizable 15-point gap and another comfortable top-half finish appears to be the principal aim once again.
What they need
Hughes is certainly not afraid to splash the cash in January if necessary, a fact evidenced by last year's £18.3m ($22.4m) club record capture of Giannelli Imbula. And while he acknowledges that the winter window is a difficult time to sign new players, the gruff Welshman has already made clear that there are areas of the squad he believes can be improved.
After urging his side to be sounder in defence and cut out their "catastrophic errors", Hughes could well be set to target improvements to his backline. The acquisition of a new striker is also high on the agenda, although that is also true of countless other top-flight clubs.
Who could join?
With Jack Butland potentially set to miss the entire season after suffering several setbacks in his recovery from a fractured ankle suffered on England duty in Berlin, signing Lee Grant to a full-time deal was priority number one for Stoke in the weeks leading up to January. The 33-year-old had looked likely to return to Championship promotion contenders Derby County at the end of his short-term loan before the two clubs finally reached an agreement worth £1.3m.
Bruno Martins Indi's season-long loan from Porto could also be made permanent, while Davie Selke of RB Leipzig and Napoli's Manolo Gabbiadini have emerged as key forward targets. Hughes claimed there was "nothing definite on those names", but did reveal that one could be available for loan.
Italian newspaper La Repubblica claim that Stoke are ready to launch a bid worth £24m for summer target Gabbiadini amid rival interest from Southampton, Everton and Wolfsburg. Olarenwaju Kayode also appears to be back on the radar.
Who could leave?
Stoke's need for reinforcements in the final third depends largely on the situation involving Wilfried Bony. The 28-year-old, who will represent the Ivory Coast at this month's Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon, is currently on loan from Manchester City but such an agreement is believed to contain a clause that would allow him to be sold outright to a Chinese club.
Sky believe that Valencia and Las Palmas are among the clubs to have made enquiries over a potential deal for Bojan Krkic, who has become frustrated over a lack of regular starts. However, Hughes has since stressed the player's importance during a meeting with his advisors and guaranteed that he will feature more over the coming weeks with Bony, Mame Biram Diouf and Ramadan Sobhi all bound for AFCON.
What the manager has said
"I've always got a list. That doesn't change throughout the year," Hughes said last month. "We're constantly looking at opportunities and agents will be calling over Christmas I'm sure. January isn't an easy time to go into the market. We're not looking for squad players, we're looking at players to have an immediate impact.
"We've got areas where we think we can do something to help the team. If we have to bide the time until the summer so be it... If you can do work in previous windows it can sometimes help you, like it did with [Xherdan] Shaqiri. We've got an amount that we can spend. If the right player becomes available we'll be able to spend it I'm sure."