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Champions League

10 thoughts from Matchday 5 in the Champions League

The Champions League rumbled on this week with another entertaining slate of action. Below, we dissect the biggest talking points from Matchday 5 in Europe’s premier club competition.

Lewy keeps rolling

Despite the brutal conditions, Robert Lewandowski extended his Champions League scoring streak with a moment of magic. After somehow picking out the orange ball in the snowy sky, the Polish star pulled off an audacious bicycle kick to open the scoring against a stunned Dynamo Kyiv side in Bayern Munich’s 2-1 win on a wintry night in Ukraine.

Bayern were missing several quarantining players Tuesday, but concerns were eased after 14 minutes when, out of nowhere, Lewandowski hit the spectacular shot to extend his scoring run to a remarkable nine games in a row in the competition.

Sound familiar? Well, it should, as it was just last year that the 33-year-old treated the football world to a nine-game scoring streak in the Champions League.

Another nine-game run is a nice feather in the cap for a player who’s aiming to dethrone the old guard at next week’s Ballon d’Or award ceremony and win the honor for the first time in his career.

Manchester United weather the storm

Though Manchester United relied on the usual protagonists to beat Villarreal on Tuesday, they came away with the necessary result to keep an overwhelmingly negative few days from defining their season.

United simply did enough to get through their first match since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s departure, locking up first place in Group F and a spot in the round of 16 with a 2-0 victory. Cristiano Ronaldo bagged another decisive goal – his fifth winner since rejoining the club in the offseason – and Jadon Sancho broke his duck with a wonderful strike that kissed the crossbar on its way in. David De Gea, who’s enjoyed an incredible bounce-back season, made two excellent saves just to keep the score level.

Michael Carrick may not even coach United’s final match of the group stage on Dec. 8. But all he needs to do is keep the ship upright. This isn’t the time to preach philosophy or create expectations. The next manager will do that, and Carrick knows he’s keeping the seat warm for Solskjaer’s true successor.

“It’s not an important result for me personally,” the 40-year-old said afterward. “It’s an important one for the players and the club.”

If Carrick can insulate these players from all the chatter, he’ll have done his job.

Xavi’s Barcelona showing improvements

Barcelona may still need a win at Bayern to guarantee a spot in the round of 16, but the takeaways from Tuesday’s goalless draw against Benfica are largely positive. Despite clearly lacking finish, the Blaugrana played with the kind of verve and attacking spirit you’d usually expect from the five-time European champions, further separating themselves from the drab and aimless product that dropped to new lows under Ronald Koeman.

Anadolu Agency / Anadolu Agency / Getty

It’s too early to say whether Xavi will find success as manager of this storied outfit, but he’s off to a good start. With 14 shots, 12 chances created, and 65% possession, Barcelona forced Benfica to spend an overwhelming amount of time in their own half. Yusuf Demir, another promising talent at just 17 years old, rattled the crossbar, and center-back Ronald Araujo, who was excellent throughout, strayed just offside before poking home what would’ve been the winner.

Xavi’s gung-ho tactics weren’t risk-proof, however. Benfica forced a number of turnovers, and Haris Seferovic botched a late counterattack when he contrived to miss an open goal. Barcelona still need time to find the right balance. But it’s encouraging to see this team move together with an identity.

“We played exactly the game the boss asked us to, pressing high up the pitch in particular,” Araujo said. “All we lacked was the crucial goal.”

Chelsea’s academy shines bright

Chelsea get a lot of flack for their manipulation of the loan system and opulent spending in the transfer market. Both criticisms are valid to some extent. But Tuesday provided an important reminder that the Blues are also adept at developing young talent when they want to.

Academy standouts Trevoh Chalobah, Reece James, and Callum Hudson-Odoi all scored in the 4-0 evisceration of Juventus, the Cobham graduates taking center stage as the Champions League holders assumed top spot in Group H and secured their place in the knockout stages of the competition.

Thomas Tuchel is striking the right balance between youthful exuberance and veteran leadership. He’s getting results – emphatic ones, at that – and winning trophies while continuing to give young standouts like the aforementioned trio key minutes in big matches. It doesn’t get any better than that, really.

A word on Chelsea’s stellar defense

This one will be short and sweet: In the wake of Tuesday’s 4-0 win, Chelsea shot-stopper Edouard Mendy has now conceded fewer goals at Stamford Bridge this season (three) than Juventus netminder Wojciech Szczesny.

Let that sink in.

Chelsea’s defenders are garnering plenty of headlines for their scoring prowess at the other end – and with good reason – but they’re pretty good at keeping the ball out of their own net, too.

Underlying numbers suggest they can’t keep this level of stinginess up forever; Chelsea have only conceded five times between league and Champions League play, despite a combined total of 14.5 expected goals against in the competitions. But that shouldn’t obscure the fact that Tuchel’s side is capable of shutting down anyone, and on the back of a sturdy defense, it should be considered among the handful of favorites heading into the knockout stages of the tournament.

Long way back to the top for Juve

Massimiliano Allegri was expected to restore Juventus to the heights they reached during his first tenure in Turin when he was rehired as manager prior to the campaign.

Coming up on December, things have … not quite worked out that way. Tuesday’s shellacking in west London was a harsh reminder that there’s a long way to go to reach the top of the mountain again. Juve looked physically feeble, nervous and unsure in possession, and, crucially, totally overwhelmed when Chelsea turned up the intensity in the second half. If anything, the scoreline flattered the visitors a little bit.

Marc Atkins / Getty Images Sport / Getty

“Unfortunately, tonight we saw the difference between the two teams,” a dejected Szczesny told Sky Sport Italia after the defeat, via Football Italia. “They are the best team in Europe, the reigning champions of Europe, and today we were unable to challenge them in any way. It hurts, it really hurts.”

The loss, which comes on the back of a solid away victory over Lazio in Serie A, highlights the main issue Allegri is trying to resolve: inconsistency. Some of that is on the 54-year-old tactician, who is still unsure of his best lineup and is struggling to provide continuity for his players.

It will help to some degree if the club’s injury issues ease, but both the manager and the players need to take a hard look in the mirror after a humbling setback.

Group G going down to the wire

With one matchday remaining, it’s anyone’s guess as to which two teams will emerge from Group G. And, perhaps, that shouldn’t come as a surprise considering how competitive an evenly matched group featuring Lille, Sevilla, VfL Wolfsburg, and Red Bull Salzburg was predicted to be heading into this Champions League season.

Lacking a true giant or minnow, it’s no wonder there are just three points separating the top team from the bottom through five games.

For the second round in a row, Salzburg blew an opportunity to pull away from the pack after kicking off the competition in impressive form. The Austrian side succumbed to its second straight defeat, losing to Lille in a match that resulted in the defending French champions leapfrogging Salzburg to move into first. Meanwhile, Sevilla swapped spots with Wolfsburg after beating the German side 2-0 to jump out of last place.

Team Played Won Drawn Lost Points
Lille 5 2 2 1 8
Salzburg 5 2 1 2 7
Sevilla 5 1 3 1 6
VfL Wolfsburg 5 1 2 2 5

After Matchday 5 failed to solve anything, Group G is going to be an intense showdown going right down to the wire, as Salzburg host Sevilla while Lille travel to Germany to take on Wolfsburg. Get your popcorn ready.

Dzeko making Inter forget about Lukaku

No one is saying Dzeko has replaced Romelu Lukaku at Inter Milan because they’re not nearly the same player. Dzeko is 35, Lukaku is 28, and the Belgian is a far more well-rounded center-forward.

Nevertheless, the Bosnian has filled in nicely, offering the Nerazzurri a reliable presence up front.

Now up to 10 goals since joining Inter, Dzeko put the club in a position to advance to the knockout round with a timely brace against Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday. Inter were struggling mightily to convert their chances until Dzeko showed up in the second half to bury their demons.

Even if he doesn’t offer the same work rate or off-the-ball movement as Lukaku, Dzeko acts as the perfect foil to Lautaro Martinez, his all-action partner up front. When Martinez enters the penalty area, Dzeko can catch defenders off guard with late runs into the box, as he did Wednesday. On that particular play, teammate Ivan Perisic targeted Martinez with a cross from out wide, and after Matteo Darmian missed his follow-up attempt, Dzeko, smelling blood, rushed into the area to finish it off.

Dzeko also has an above-average 23% conversion rate in Serie A and the Champions League this season. As a free transfer, he’s likely to go down as one of the year’s best signings, too.

Messias saves AC Milan on fairytale debut

AC Milan still have a chance of reaching the round of 16 thanks to Junior Messias’ heroics in Wednesday’s nail-biter versus Atletico Madrid.

Milan’s first Champions League win in seven years followed much toiling at the Wanda Metropolitano, with Atletico determined to foul their way to the final whistle and preserve a draw.

NurPhoto / NurPhoto / Getty

Enter Messias, a summer signing from recently relegated Crotone who had never played in European competition before; the 30-year-old Brazilian hadn’t even experienced top-flight football until last year. He moved to Italy with his brother in 2011 and played for fun at the amateur level while delivering refrigerators for a living. But he performed like a veteran of the competition Wednesday, winning fouls in dangerous positions before heading in the winner.

“I need to stay humble,” Messias said afterward. “It’s the biggest success of my life, but I need to carry on with balance.”

To progress, Milan must beat group winners Liverpool at home on Dec. 7 and hope Porto and Atletico settle for a draw. After earning just a single point through their first four matches, the Rossoneri can’t ask for much more than a chance on the final day of the group stage.

City and PSG are polar opposites

The scoreline didn’t tell the whole story Wednesday at the Etihad Stadium.

Manchester City steamrolled Paris Saint-Germain for large portions of their 2-1 victory, highlighting the difference between a cohesive team with a clear plan and a dissonant collection of stars who don’t seem interested in operating as a unit. As City zipped the ball around the pitch, interchanged positions, and exhibited structured play, PSG relied on an isolated Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe, and Neymar to work some magic.

It was one-way traffic in the first half as PSG found themselves pinned in their box, yet they somehow reached the interval without conceding. Don’t forget, Manchester City did that without Kevin De Bruyne, Jack Grealish, or Phil Foden. It could have been worse for the French side.

Yes, some of this can certainly be attributed to time.

Pep Guardiola, who famously puts a very specific imprint on his teams, has been at Manchester City since 2016; he’s had five-plus years to fine-tune his side down to the most minute details. And he has.

Mauricio Pochettino can’t replicate that level of detail in just a few short months. Nobody can, in truth. What he can do, however, is implement a plan that will grow and develop over time, and it’s still not clear what that plan is. His attacking trio is so absurdly skilled that it won’t matter in most matches. But against the Champions League’s elite, praying for the “MNM” triumvirate to rescue the cause isn’t good enough.

Bonus: No Haaland, no party

With Borussia Dortmund eliminated from the Champions League and condemned to the Europa League at the hands of Sporting Lisbon on Wednesday, there’s a very real chance Erling Haaland has scored his last goal for the German giants in Europe’s elite competition.

The Norwegian marksman missed Wednesday’s 3-1 defeat due to an injury, and he’s widely expected to move in the summer transfer window.

On the bright side, though, Thursdays just got a whole lot more exciting for the rest of the season.

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Champions League

1 player Europe's top clubs should sign before transfer window closes

Time is running out for teams to make a splash in the January transfer window. With the shopping period set to close next week and a flurry of late activity expected in the coming days, we highlight one player that Europe’s top clubs should be targeting at the 11th hour, even if it means getting creative to get the deal over the line.

Note: Estimated transfer values provided by

Premier League

Arsenal: Alexander Isak

Club: Real Sociedad | Position: Striker | Value: €40M

With Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the outs and Alexandre Lacazette floundering, Arsenal have mustered one goal in their last five matches – the Gunners badly need an influx of scoring punch. Seemingly set to miss out on primary target Dusan Vlahovic, the north London outfit would be wise to put all their efforts into convincing Real Sociedad to part with Isak, the 22-year-old Swedish gem who would become the focal point of Arsenal’s attack.

Chelsea: Jules Kounde

Club: Sevilla | Position: Center-back | Value: €60M

Chelsea’s interest in Kounde is longstanding – and with good reason. The Frenchman is a prototypical modern defender: He reads the game well, has excellent mobility, and, crucially, is comfortable on the ball. With Antonio Rudiger, Andreas Christensen, and Cesar Azpilicueta all impending free agents, the Blues need to be proactive to ensure they aren’t left frantically competing for signatures this coming summer.

Liverpool: Christopher Nkunku

picture alliance / picture alliance / Getty

Club: RB Leipzig | Position: Attacking midfielder/winger | Value: €55M

Nkunku is ready for the next step. An electric talent who offers positional versatility, his familiarity with a high-octane system at Leipzig would help make the acclimation process at Liverpool a little easier. Rumors of interest in Nkunku suggest the club’s scouting and analytics departments have already done their homework and identified the Frenchman as an ideal signing. The Reds hit a home run with Diogo Jota, and Nkunku could have the same impact.

Manchester City: Julian Alvarez

Club: River Plate | Position: Striker | Value: €20M

What do you get for the team that has just about everything? One of the most exciting young forwards in South America, apparently. Manchester City are on the verge of sealing a deal for the 21-year-old Argentine international, moving to ensure their recent run of Premier League dominance continues long into the future. City don’t need Alvarez right away – the title race is just about sorted already – and can start thinking about the coming years.

Manchester United: Bruno Guimaraes

Club: Lyon | Position: Midfielder | Value: €30M

Few sides can compete with Newcastle United’s newfound riches, but Manchester United, one of the sport’s established powers, are certainly one of them. The Red Devils, like Newcastle, happen to be in the market for a central midfielder and could aim to hijack their peers’ reported €40-million move for Brazilian standout Guimaraes. It would address a glaring need and send a message that at least some power still resides at Old Trafford.

Tottenham Hotspur: Adama Traore

Jack Thomas – WWFC / Wolverhampton Wanderers FC / Getty

Club: Wolverhampton Wanderers | Position: Winger | Value: €28M

The prospect of Antonio Conte working with Traore is tantalizing. For some time, discussions surrounding the strapping 26-year-old have focused too much on what he can’t do on the pitch – namely, his final product is sometimes lacking. But Traore brings so much to the table with his elite dribbling ability, and one of Conte’s best traits as a manager is amplifying the specific skills that his players do have. Together, the two could make magic at Tottenham.

La Liga

Atletico Madrid: Darwin Nunez

Club: Benfica | Position: Striker | Value: €32M

With Luis Suarez expected to depart this summer and Joao Felix potentially joining him in search of a better stylistic fit, Atletico Madrid should be in the market for another forward. Luckily, Nunez fits the bill. The 22-year-old is exactly the type of robust presence you associate with Diego Simeone’s side. Wildly athletic, the Uruguayan forward’s blend of top-line speed and physicality would be welcomed at the Wanda Metropolitano.

Barcelona: Alvaro Morata

Club: Juventus (on loan) | Position: Striker | Value: €35M

Despite relying on bank loans and magic beans to sign new players, Barcelona remain active in the transfer market. The rebuilding Blaugrana have a lot of issues to rectify, and additional scoring prowess is near the top of the list. Xavi’s admiration of Morata could help push a deal over the line, but any move is complicated because the Spaniard is on loan at Juventus from Atletico Madrid, adding another layer of complexity to negotiations.

Real Madrid: Noussair Mazraoui

DeFodi Images / DeFodi Images / Getty

Club: Ajax | Position: Right-back | Value: €18M

Real Madrid have a few players who can operate at right-back, but outside of Dani Carvajal, there aren’t any natural options. The Spaniard is now 30, though, and he endured an injury-plagued 2021 – the decline is on its way for the decorated veteran. Mazraoui is due to become a free agent in the summer, but Los Blancos could jump the line and pay a nominal fee to secure the services of the 24-year-old Ajax star, who provides oodles of attacking impetus.

Serie A

AC Milan: Andreas Christensen

Club: Chelsea | Position: Center-back | Value: €35M

With Simon Kjaer shelved for the campaign and Fikayo Tomori sidelined for at least one month with a knee injury, AC Milan would be wise to strengthen their backline if they hope to overtake city rivals Inter Milan in the race for this season’s Scudetto. Christensen, who’s on an expiring deal, represents an opportunity to add someone who can improve the squad immediately but also offers a long-term solution should Alessio Romagnoli depart.

Inter Milan: Paulo Dybala

Club: Juventus | Position: Forward | Value: €50M

Dybala’s contract kerfuffle presents an alluring opportunity for Inter to make a huge statement, and frankly, stick it to a direct rival in an extremely satisfying way. The Argentine forward is Juventus’ vice-captain and has been a longstanding pillar of the squad. Beppe Marotta, the former Juve CEO now at Inter, could bolster his attacking ranks and kick his former club while it’s down. Inter already ended Juventus’ title run – now it’s time to take things up a notch.

Juventus: Denis Zakaria

Matthias Hangst / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Club: Borussia Monchengladbach | Position: Defensive midfielder | Value: €27M

Juventus are nearing a deal for prolific Fiorentina striker Dusan Vlahovic, which will certainly help the club’s anemic attack. The Serbian’s addition, though a huge boon, doesn’t rectify the glaring weakness in midfield that continues to plague Max Allegri’s team. Zakaria would instantly improve a positional group that lacks mobility and a trustworthy shield for the defense while simultaneously freeing up Manuel Locatelli to get forward more often.


Bayern Munich: Josko Gvardiol

Club: RB Leipzig | Position: Center-back | Value: €25M

With hulking defender Niklas Sule on his way out at campaign’s end, Bayern Munich have been tabbed as players in the impending Antonio Rudiger sweepstakes. But bidding wars for stars in their late 20s isn’t this team’s modus operandi – snapping up exciting young talent has become the Bayern way. Gvardiol, the 20-year-old Croatian who can play both center- and full-back, would help replace the versatility and physicality that Sule provided.

Borussia Dortmund: Karim Adeyemi

Club: Red Bull Salzburg | Position: Forward | Value: €35M

Beating everyone to the punch and procuring a rising young star’s services is quintessential Borussia Dortmund fare. That’s partly why it almost makes too much sense for Adeyemi to end up at the Westfalenstadion. The German forward, who just turned 20 last week, would add to Dortmund’s celebrated crop of youngsters while also helping to soften the blow should Erling Haaland make his anticipated move elsewhere this summer.

Ligue 1

Paris Saint-Germain: Tanguy Ndombele

Tottenham Hotspur FC / Tottenham Hotspur FC / Getty

Club: Tottenham | Position: Midfielder | Value: €38M

For the good of both the player and club, Ndombele’s time at Tottenham appears to be nearing its end. The partnership simply never worked out the way it should have. But the Frenchman remains a supremely skilled midfielder, and reuniting with former boss Mauricio Pochettino at Paris Saint-Germain could reignite his career. Would a midfield with Ndombele and Marco Verratti be functional? Maybe not, but it would be a wild ride that we deserve to see.

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Champions League

FIFA awards: Live coverage as Lewandowski, Putellas eye top honors

World football’s top players and managers of 2021 are being recognized at The Best FIFA Football Awards show on Monday. Below, theScore is tracking all the winners of the various trophies being handed out in Zurich.

Best Women’s Goalkeeper

Masashi Hara / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Christiane Endler (Lyon and Chile)

After finishing second in each of the last two years – to Sari van Veenendaal in 2019 and Sarah Bouhaddi in 2020 – Chilean netminder Endler finally landed the award at the third time of asking. Endler backstopped Paris Saint-Germain to the Division 1 Feminine title last season, posting 19 clean sheets while allowing just four goals the entire campaign.

Best Men’s Goalkeeper

Edouard Mendy (Chelsea and Senegal)

Mendy has been vital to Chelsea’s success since joining the club in 2020, solidifying what was a problematic position for the Blues prior to his arrival. The Senegalese shot-stopper, 29, backstopped Chelsea to the Champions League title in 2021, and finished the calendar year with more clean sheets (29) than goals conceded (27). After his shocking omission from the Ballon d’Or shortlist, Mendy’s spectacular season has finally garnered the respect it deserves.

Puskas Award winner

Erik Lamela – Tottenham Hotspur vs. Arsenal (March 14, 2021)

Lamela stunned the world with an outrageous rabona in the north London derby. It was the second of its kind that he had scored for Tottenham Hotspur. Already named the goal of the season in the Premier League, the Argentine’s spontaneous strike rightly has now received recognition on a global scale.

FIFA Fair Play Award winner

Denmark national team, medics, and coaching staff

Best Women’s Coach

Emma Hayes (Chelsea)

Hayes was speechless when she was revealed as this year’s award winner on Monday. The longtime Chelsea coach shouldn’t have been, though, after leading her side to a domestic treble in 2020-21. In capturing the Women’s Super League, FA Cup, and League Cup crowns, the 45-year-old tactician became the first Chelsea manager to win all three domestic titles on offer in the same season.

Best Men’s Coach

Catherine Ivill / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Thomas Tuchel (Chelsea)

The following awards are still to come today …

Best Men’s Player finalists

Bayern Munich star Robert Lewandowski is aiming to retain the honor he captured last year. The Polish striker was pipped to the Ballon d’Or by Lionel Messi in November but is the favorite to hoist FIFA’s top individual accolade after yet another goal-laden year.

  • Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich and Poland)
  • Lionel Messi (Paris Saint-Germain and Argentina)
  • Mohamed Salah (Liverpool and Egypt)

Best Women’s Player finalists

A pair of Barcelona superstars are in the running here, with Ballon d’Or holder Alexia Putellas headlining a field comprised of first-time nominees. After English right-back Lucy Bronze broke the trend and took home the silverware last year, the 2021 honor will go to an attacking player once more.

  • Jennifer Hermoso (Barcelona and Spain)
  • Sam Kerr (Chelsea and Australia)
  • Alexia Putellas (Barcelona and Spain)

Men’s FIFA FIFPro World11

To be announced.

Women’s FIFA FIFPro World11

To be announced.

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Champions League

Ranking the top 30 players set to become free agents this summer

With the January transfer window open, players on expiring contracts are able to negotiate with any club. There has arguably never been a more loaded crop of impending free agents, with some of football’s biggest names entering the final six months of their respective deals. “Free” may be a misnomer – agent fees and signing bonuses have never been so grand – but the absence of a transfer fee makes these 30 stars hugely desirable. Below, we rank the best players who will be out of contract this summer.

Note: Lorenzo Insigne has reportedly signed a contract with Toronto FC.

Honorable mentions: Eddie Nketiah (Arsenal), Luis Suarez (Atletico Madrid), Florian Grillitsch (Hoffenheim), Dries Mertens (Napoli), Todd Cantwell (Norwich City), Isco (Real Madrid), Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Roma)

30. Jesse Lingard ?gbeng

Club: Manchester United | Age: 29 | Position: Attacking midfielder

Lingard proved in his loan spell at West Ham United he’s still more than capable of contributing at the top level. Manchester United clearly have no intention of utilizing him, but another club – maybe the Hammers – surely will.

29. Hugo Lloris ??

Club: Tottenham Hotspur | Age: 35 | Position: Goalkeeper

Tottenham manager Antonio Conte wants the club captain to remain in north London and recently said the veteran netminder “loves” Spurs. Is that fondness enough for him to sign a new deal?

28. Andrea Belotti ??

Quality Sport Images / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Club: Torino | Age: 28 | Position: Striker

Somehow, Belotti is still at Torino despite rumors about a potential transfer swirling for years. The Italian striker will soon be free to decide his own future, and that likely won’t involve a return to the Granata.

27. Cesar Azpilicueta ??

Club: Chelsea | Age: 32 | Position: Full-back

It’s a little strange considering he’s the captain, but talk over Azpilicueta’s status has been muted. A return to Spain could be in the cards, especially if other high-profile defenders renew their deals with Chelsea.

26. James Tarkowski ?gbeng

Club: Burnley | Age: 29 | Position: Center-back

Tarkowski’s presence at the heart of Burnley’s defense has been a given for some time – he’s started over 30 matches in each of the last four seasons – but that union is in its final stages, with Newcastle United a likely destination.

25. Axel Witsel ??

Alexandre Simoes / Borussia Dortmund / Getty

Club: Borussia Dortmund | Age: 32 | Position: Midfielder

Witsel has been a midfield mainstay since arriving at Borussia Dortmund in 2018, but an Achilles rupture last year was a turning point. The Belgian veteran has struggled since his return and is unlikely to be retained.

24. Sardar Azmoun ??

Club: Zenit St. Petersburg | Age: 27 | Position: Forward

Azmoun has never made a senior appearance for a club outside of Russia. That’s about to change. The Iranian international, a consistent scorer for Zenit, is the subject of interest from England and France.

23. Divock Origi ??

Club: Liverpool | Age: 26 | Position: Forward

Can Origi, now entering the prime years of his career, be a bonafide scoring option if given consistent minutes? He’s delivered big goals for Liverpool, but his ability to extrapolate that will decide whether a top club makes a move.

22. Luka Modric ??

Quality Sport Images / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Club: Real Madrid | Age: 36 | Position: Midfielder

Modric isn’t the all-conquering midfield force of his Ballon d’Or days, but he continues to be relied upon by Carlo Ancelotti and Real Madrid. Another one-year contract extension seems the likeliest endgame for the Croatian icon.

21. Ivan Perisic ??

Club: Inter Milan | Age: 32 | Position: Winger/wing-back

Perisic has been a key contributor for the Serie A leaders this season. There’s a mutual desire to ink a new contract, but time’s running out. The prospect of one final payday elsewhere could push the Croatian toward the exit.

20. Jesus Corona ??

Club: FC Porto | Age: 28 | Position: Right-back/wide midfielder/forward

There’s a reason “Tecatito has made over 200 appearances for Porto – the Mexican’s adaptability is exemplary. That kind of positional versatility is attractive to any club, especially when there’s no transfer fee involved.

19. Alessio Romagnoli ??

Alessandro Sabattini / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Club: AC Milan | Age: 26 | Position: Center-back

Depending on who you believe, AC Milan captain Romagnoli is either close to a contract renewal, looking for a fresh start elsewhere in the summer, or being used as bait in a potential January swap. Isn’t the transfer window great?

18. Andre Onana ??

Club: Ajax | Age: 25 | Position: Goalkeeper

Having served a ninth-month doping ban that threatened to derail his hugely promising career, Onana is back and looking for a fresh start. All signs suggest the Cameroonian shot-stopper is on the verge of joining Inter.

17. Juan Cuadrado ??

Club: Juventus | Age: 33 | Position: Winger/right-back

Cuadrado’s reinvention as a flying full-back has added longevity to his career, and Juventus are working to keep the Colombian. A contract extension is believed to be close, but things can change quickly in the window.

16. Alexandre Lacazette ??

Stuart MacFarlane / Arsenal FC / Getty

Club: Arsenal | Age: 30 | Position: Striker

Similar to other players in his age bracket, Lacazette is looking for one more long-term contract. Arsenal appear unwilling to meet that demand, though things could change if the disgruntled Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang departs.

15. Matthias Ginter ??

Club: Borussia Monchengladbach | Age: 27 | Position: Defender

Ginter announced last week he won’t renew his deal with Gladbach, adding he’s “decided to follow another path” in his career. It certainly sounds like the German international has already mapped out his next move.

14. Boubacar Kamara ??

Club: Marseille | Age: 22 | Position: Defensive midfielder/center-back

Kamara has been linked with a handful of Premier League clubs in recent weeks. Everybody from Manchester United to nouveau riche Newcastle are in the running for the young, versatile Frenchman.

13. Andreas Christensen ??

Soccrates Images / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Club: Chelsea | Age: 25 | Position: Center-back

Teammate Antonio Rudiger is the center-back getting more Bosman love, but at three years his junior, Christensen presents a rare opportunity for a club looking to sign a potential defensive anchor on a free transfer.

12. Denis Zakaria ??

Club: Borussia Monchengladbach | Age: 25 | Position: Defensive midfielder

It’s going to be a busy summer for Borussia Monchengladbach. In addition to Ginter, the club looks destined to lose Zakaria, the burgeoning Swiss international who is rapidly developing into a dominant all-around midfielder.

11. Noussair Mazraoui ??

Club: Ajax | Age: 24 | Position: Right-back

An exceptional dribbler who provides verve from his (nominally) defensive position, Mazraoui would be a key attacking cog at any club. With Mino Raiola as his agent, negotiations – either with Ajax or elsewhere – will be public.

10. Angel Di Maria ??


Club: Paris Saint-Germain | Age: 33 | Position: Winger

Di Maria’s expiring deal includes an option to extend for an additional year if both the club and player are in agreement. The Argentine has said his family is “very happy” in Paris – naturally – which suggests the option will be triggered.

9. Ousmane Dembele ??

Club: Barcelona | Age: 24 | Position: Winger

Barcelona manager Xavi wants Dembele to re-sign on reduced terms to help the debt-ridden club register new players. It’s not the Frenchman’s job to bail the club out of this mess, though, so that seems like a tough sell.

8. Zlatan Ibrahimovic ??

Club: AC Milan | Age: 40 | Position: Striker

The ageless wonder. Injuries are starting to hamper the veteran, but when he’s on the pitch, he finds the net; Ibrahimovic has delivered 0.89 goals per 90 minutes this season, third-best in Serie A. No wonder Milan want to keep him.

7. Marcelo Brozovic ??

Marco Canoniero / LightRocket / Getty

Club: Inter Milan | Age: 29 | Position: Midfielder

Inter are working hard to convince their velvety Croatian that he should renew, but they can’t wait around forever while he makes a decision. Brozovic, who dictates the tempo in midfield, would be a significant loss if he departs.

6. Niklas Sule ??

Club: Bayern Munich | Age: 26 | Position: Center-back

Defenders don’t come more imposing than Sule, but he’s no lead-footed brute; the German is consistently clocked as one of the club’s fastest players each year. That enticing combination has suitors ready to pounce.

5. Franck Kessie ??

Club: AC Milan | Age: 25 | Position: Midfielder

Paolo Maldini has a lot on his plate right now. AC Milan have been prominently featured on this list, and that’s before taking into account the situation with Kessie, who has been a cornerstone of the club’s recent revival.

4. Paulo Dybala ??

Nicolò Campo / LightRocket / Getty

Club: Juventus | Age: 28 | Position: Forward

A bureaucratic issue involving Dybala’s agent is apparently the only thing holding up an official announcement of his extension with Juve. Until he puts pen to paper, though, fans of the Old Lady will harbor some nerves.

3. Paul Pogba ??

Club: Manchester United | Age: 28 | Position: Midfielder

It’s easy to forget since he’s been out with injury for two months, but Pogba was on an absolute tear earlier this season, reminding detractors of his game-breaking skill and creativity. When he’s at his best, few can match it.

2. Antonio Rudiger ??

Club: Chelsea | Age: 28 | Position: Center-back

Everyone with the financial means wants a piece of Rudiger. Contract negotiations with Chelsea are at an impasse, and that has Real Madrid, among several others, on high alert.

1. Kylian Mbappe ??

Eurasia Sport Images / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Club: Paris Saint-Germain | Age: 23 | Position: Forward

There has never been a more desirable free agent in football history than Mbappe. Not even Lionel Messi. If the summer’s crown jewel leaves PSG – as is widely expected – it would alter the sport’s landscape for the next decade.

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