Premier League title rivals playing risky game as deadline day approaches
Just like the husband who has waited until Dec. 24 to spend big on his wife's Christmas present, a raft of Premier League managers and chief executives are about to discover this week that leaving it until the last minute of the transfer window to make a key signing risks either getting it wrong or over-spending -- or both.
Between now and 11 p.m. BST on Thursday, Premier League clubs could top up their overall £1.2 billion summer spending by lavishing another £300 million on transfers.
And there are some big clubs and big-name players at the heart of the action this week, which promises to be the most dramatic summer deadline day since Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan arrived at Manchester City and delivered Robinho as a £32.5m arrival present in September 2008.
Robinho -- remember him? The last-minute signing, who cost a British-record transfer fee, and proved to be an expensive flop before being loaned back to boyhood club Santos in Brazil just 18 months later.
The former Real Madrid forward defines transfer deadline day in so many ways.
His transfer from Real to City, who snatched him from Chelsea's grasp, was dramatic, it was certainly expensive and it was done so late in the day to dispel any notion of planning or due diligence on City's part.
Still, they had the money, so they spent it and to Hell with the consequences.
But so many subsequent deadline-day deals have followed the Robinho blueprint and there are far more bad deals than good ones.
January 2011 gave us the drama of Fernando Torres leaving Liverpool for Chelsea in the final hours of the mid-season window, to be replaced by Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez.
Liverpool hit the jackpot with Suarez, a £22.8m signing from Ajax, but Torres and Carroll cost a combined £85m and both proved to be disastrous buys for their new clubs.
So who will make a fool of themselves this week with a panic buy that returns to haunt them before the season is out?
By this stage of most windows, the bigger, wealthier clubs have usually done their business and are happy to leave the deadline-day scramble to the rest, but this year will be different.
Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, City, Liverpool, Arsenal and Everton are all likely to spend this week and they could spend heavily.
Mauricio Pochettino wants three new signings at Spurs, who have left it dangerously late to get their targets, while Ronald Koeman still wants a striker and winger at Everton.
City want to sign Alexis Sanchez and Jonny Evans, from Arsenal and West Bromwich Albion respectively, and that double deal could cost them £100m.
Will Arsenal sell Sanchez, their talismanic forward who has rejected a new deal and could leave for nothing next summer?
If City offer £70m for the Chile international, which is possible, will Arsenal's business model allow them to reject the bid?
But if they sell, what then happens to the other wantaway players such as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (coveted by Liverpool and Chelsea), Mesut Ozil (wanted by nobody after his no-show at Anfield on Sunday) and Hector Bellerin?
Arsenal are vulnerable, but they could also allow Shkodran Mustafi, Kieran Gibbs and Jack Wilshere leave this week. Will anybody be left at the Emirates beyond Thursday?
Liverpool believe they have fought off Barcelona in their efforts to hold on Philippe Coutinho, but the Brazil playmaker still wants to leave and the prospect of £100m and Ivan Rakitic in exchange could yet prompt a change of heart by Jurgen Klopp.
And what of the forgotten men who have still been unable to force a way out of their clubs as the hours tick down to the deadline?
Will Atletico Madrid stump up the cash for Diego Costa, or will Everton pull off a coup by signing the Chelsea forward on loan?
Mamadou Sakho remains in the wilderness at Liverpool, waiting for Crystal Palace to take him back to Selhurst Park, while Virgil van Dijk must now be steeling himself for the prospect of another season at Southamption having seemed destined for Liverpool or Chelsea.
Eliaquim Mangala, a £42m signing by City three years ago, is surplus to requirements at the Etihad, as is the £27m forward Wilfried Bony. Fabian Delph is another player who is not wanted by Pep Guardiola, but the wages paid by the club make it difficult for City to offload those who are no longer in the manager's plans.
The determination of clubs to cut their wage bill, when met with the desperation of those needing to buy before the deadline, leads to the situation we find ourselves witnessing this week.
Which party will blink first? The one needing to cut costs or the club attempting to bolster its squad?
The reason why so many clubs are prepared to wait until the last minute to buy or sell is because they believe they can cash in at the expense of a more desperate rival.
But there is so much business yet to be done during this window that some clubs will know they have left it too late.
We are now at the time of the panic buy and cut-price cast-off, so stand back and watch the action, and the mistakes, unfold.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_