Stoke City enter the New Year in a state of considerable peril. A calamitous run of seven defeats from 10 matches has seen the club slip into the Premier League relegation zone and amass their lowest top-flight points total at this stage of the season since 1984-85, while the spectacular backfiring of a controversial selection gamble has seemingly pushed under-fire manager Mark Hughes further towards the brink.
The embattled Welshman rested a whole host of senior faces for a heavy drubbing at Chelsea in preparation for a pivotal home clash with fellow strugglers Newcastle United 48 hours later - a match they also lost courtesy of another insipid display that left the natives extremely restless and increasing calls for him to be sacked.
While Hughes is expected to remain in charge this weekend when Stoke travel to face League Two promotion contenders Coventry City in the third round of the FA Cup, his future after four-and-a-half years at the helm is being considered.
Stoke, ninth-place finishers in three consecutive years before last season's disappointing bottom-half effort, are in desperate need of fresh blood to ensure they avoid a first return to the Championship in a decade.
It has been suggested that they are eager to press ahead in the transfer window in spite of the uncertainty surrounding Hughes' position, though any major business may have to wait until there is definite clarity with regards to that precarious managerial situation.
What they need
Strengthening central midfield is believed to be a priority for Stoke, particularly if a January exit for the influential Joe Allen leaves them with only the quartet of Darren Fletcher, Geoff Cameron, Charlie Adam and Stephen Ireland, the latter of whom recently returned to the matchday squad after more than 600 days on the sidelines.
Hughes focused on defensive additions over the summer with the highly-rated Kurt Zouma loaned from Chelsea and Kevin Wimmer and Bruno Martins Indi signed permanently for a combined fee of almost £25m ($33.9m), yet no team has conceded more than the porous Potters so far this term. The 47 goals shipped to date is seven more than nearest challengers Watford, currently 10th, and 17 more than fellow relegation battlers West Bromwich Albion.
Stoke could definitely use greater competition/cover in the full-back areas and a reliable, pacy striker.
Who could join
Stoke are unlikely to have a sizable kitty at their disposal, so any additions will have to be cost-effective. A loan deal for Liverpool frontman Danny Ings would fit the bill, although the competition in that particular race is especially fierce.
Likewise Celtic striker Moussa Dembele, who was supposedly watched by head scout Lee Maybury during the latest installment of the Old Firm derby.
Leicester City's Islam Slimani is another forward said to be of interest, while a renewed bid for Fabian Delph - who turned down a switch to the bet365 Stadium in August - seems incredibly unlikely given that he has now become a regular fixture for dominant league leaders Manchester City.
Who could leave
If Stoke alter their hardline stance on passing specialist Allen, then supporters may as well start planning their trips to the Pirelli Stadium and Oakwell now. West Ham United have been chasing the Wales midfielder for weeks and, despite David Moyes' insistence that nothing is currently moving on that front, the Mail report that they are willing to spend up to £15m to make it happen.
A far more likely departure is that of Glen Johnson, who made the last of his four appearances in 2017-18 in October despite an injury crisis that saw youngsters Tom Edwards and Josh Tymon fill in at full-back. West Brom and Leicester are both rumoured to covet the veteran, who is out of contract at the end of the season.
Speaking of soon-to-be out of contract players, it remains to be seen if the experienced Adam will be offered elsewhere or retained until the summer having recently impressed on his return to the starting XI.
Jese Rodriguez's disappointing season-long loan stint may be ended prematurely and record signing Giannelli Imbula could be offloaded to Torino having fallen out of favour at Toulouse.
Jack Butland is rumoured to be Chelsea's preferred replacement for Thibaut Courtois, yet it has been suggested that the £30m-rated England goalkeeper would prefer to join Liverpool.
What the manager has said
With his job on the line, transfer-related musings have been in short supply from Hughes of late as he focuses on reiterating that he is still the right man to take Stoke forward.
Speaking before the meek surrender at Chelsea, he echoed chairman Peter Coates by saying: "There is nothing definite at the moment, but it is clear that we are too stretched and ideally we would like to rectify that.
"We all know that January isn't the ideal time to get deals done, but there are opportunities and we would like to be active - we feel there are areas that we need to strengthen."