Ajax show Juventus that winning requires more than individual quality
All this time, Juventus thought they needed someone the caliber of Cristiano Ronaldo to reach the next stage of their evolution. But in two matches, Ajax showed them that another way exists.
Ajax were everything Juventus weren’t in the Champions League quarterfinals, using the full length of the pitch and all 11 players to dismiss another favorite. They played with a ferociousness and collective mentality that the Bianconeri couldn’t match.
Usually, it’s a choice between one or the other, but Ajax managed to beat the seven-time defending Serie A champions with a combination of substance and style, a formidable one-two punch that left the Italians without breath and response. Ajax moved in quick sequences, making two or three touches in a flash and regularly ducking out of tight situations. Not even a team as defensively conscious as Juventus could track them.
Ajax didn’t bother man-marking Ronaldo; they had bigger plans in mind. They had their own game to execute, and in the end, Juventus had to adapt to them.
Manager Massimiliano Allegri can downplay it all he likes, but the fact is that his Juventus lacked the personality and determination of his Dutch opponents. Juventus played too much of this season with the handbrake on, and on many of those occasions, they relied on individual brilliance to get them across the line.
That didn’t work in the Champions League.
Few teams win trophies playing as poorly as Juventus have this season. They’re the champions of winning without playing well, but that only lasts so long.
Imagine what Juventus could achieve if they were conditioned, and more importantly, allowed to play like they did in the second leg of their last-16 encounter against Atletico Madrid. Staring down a 2-0 deficit on aggregate, Juventus threw away the shackles and embraced the challenge. They pressed like they hadn’t all season and left Diego Simeone’s Atletico – the team that never dies – in a heap.
But that was merely an anomaly. Juventus only played that way out of necessity, which, considering the attacking talent at the club’s disposal, is a shame.
Ajax can’t afford that luxury. They have quality, just not enough to sit around and wait for someone to win the match for them. So they attack in bunches, knowing they’re better as a team than individuals. The end product hasn’t always been there, but the commitment to their football has given them a chance to win. They wouldn’t have the same success if they hoofed the ball forward in the hopes that Hakim Ziyech – the talented winger whose foolhardy shots are his only letdown – scored all the goals.
“What impresses me the most isn’t the work rate or the technical ability, both of which are exceptional,” Juventus legend Alessandro Del Piero said Tuesday, according to ESPN’s Gabriele Marcotti. “It’s the way they fill the pitch, their understanding of space and time, their tactical nous … all at such a young age.”
It’s not even about playing pretty football. The important distinction to make is that Ajax understand how to attack and make an opponent vulnerable. It’s about finding solutions to problems on the pitch – and that takes some creativity and cojones.
The Old Lady hardly stoked the imagination in this competition or in Serie A. They came into Tuesday’s match with the third-most crosses attempted and the most long balls played in the top five European leagues. If someone didn’t get on the end of those hopeful balls, nothing would happen. Ronaldo and Mario Mandzukic can’t be expected to convert every single one of those passes.
Ronaldo wasn’t even the problem here. He did what he could, converting his side’s only two real chances against Ajax over the two-legged affair. Juventus signed him to deliver on the big stage, and that’s what he did. They just didn’t get the same performance from the rest of the team.
Juventus don’t have to entertain the masses to be more successful, but they can’t expect to progress if they continue to do the bare minimum. That’s worked in Serie A because teams give them too much respect. It’s a different game entirely in Europe, where 180 minutes of football can change anything. Ajax went for it – and they were the ones rewarded.
Ranking the 20 best deals of the January transfer window
With the January transfer window slamming shut on Tuesday night, theScore ranks the 20 best moves made across the game’s top leagues.
20. Alistair Johnston ?? Celtic
Details: Signed from CF Montreal for reported £3M fee
Johnston, a standout performer for Canada at the World Cup, is already becoming a cult favorite among the vociferous Celtic fan base following his transfer from Major League Soccer. The versatile defender made his debut against bitter rivals Rangers – at Ibrox, no less – and acquitted himself well under extremely testing circumstances. “Baptism of fire. Wouldn’t want it any other way,” the 24-year-old said on social media after the match. Eloquent and honest off the pitch and a gritty competitor on it, Johnston has all the tools to become an adored figure at Celtic Park.
19. Josef Martinez ?? Inter Miami
Details: Signed after being released by Atlanta United
The remarkable success that followed Josef Martinez’s arrival won’t soon be forgotten in Atlanta. But, while the admiration from supporters never wavered, it became obvious that things were unraveling behind the scenes after the 2018 MLS MVP was suspended for a week late last season. Fast forward five months and the Venezuelan star is looking to revive his career at Inter Miami. If he can avoid injury setbacks and issues off the pitch, the 29-year-old should turn out to be a huge upgrade for a club that needed to replace Gonzalo Higuain, who retired after the 2022 campaign.
18. Facundo Buonanotte ?? Brighton & Hove Albion
Details: Signed from Rosario Central for reported £5.3M initial fee
Have Brighton done it again? The Seagulls’ ability to mine talent from all over the world is becoming a thing of legend in world football. Their vaunted recruitment team will hope that Buonanotte is the latest in a conveyor belt of players purchased for nominal fees and sold for exorbitant amounts. The 18-year-old, who was tracked by the likes of Juventus and Atletico Madrid, is comfortable playing multiple roles in central midfield. A dynamic dribbler, the Argentine midfielder has “very big potential and can become important for (Brighton) this season,” according to manager Roberto De Zerbi. Chelsea should just go ahead and prepare their £100-million offer now to save everyone the time.
17. Hamed Traore ?? Bournemouth
Details: Signed from Sassuolo for reported £21M fee
Another deal that showcased the unrivaled financial might of the Premier League. Bournemouth, battling relegation, scooped up a player that’s been linked with some of Italy’s top clubs at various points in his burgeoning career. Traore, an explosive attacking midfielder, is a spellbinding dribbler who thrives when asked to progress the ball up the field and take on defenders. The 22-year-old’s creativity will provide a much-needed spark for a club that averages less than a goal per game in the Premier League this season.
16. Keylor Navas ?? Nottingham Forest
Details: Loaned from Paris Saint-Germain until the end of the season
Nottingham Forest don’t need a second invitation to bring in new faces, but they got one when goalkeeper Dean Henderson was ruled out for four-to-six weeks with a serious thigh injury. Relying on 36-year-old Wayne Hennessey to assume the starting job was simply not an option, so Forest went out and picked up the decorated Navas on a low-risk deal. The Costa Rican netminder, a three-time Champions League winner, will instantly provide an assured presence between the sticks for Steve Cooper’s side.
15. Weston McKennie ?? Leeds United
Details: Loaned from Juventus, deal can become permanent for up to €40.5M
This deal makes sense on multiple levels for Leeds, who needed a do-everything midfielder to help in their pursuit of Premier League salvation. Given the existing American influence at the club, McKennie should feel comfortable almost instantly, eliminating a barrier that can exist for January signings who don’t have much time to acclimate before being asked to contribute. McKennie embraced compatriot and USMNT teammate Tyler Adams upon his arrival at Elland Road, and their on-field chemistry will go a long way to determining if Jesse Marsch keeps his team in the top flight.
14. Terem Moffi ?? Nice
Details: Loaned from Lorient with obligation to buy for reported €30M
Only two players have scored more goals in Ligue 1 this season than Moffi – one of them is Kylian Mbappe. Any time you’re in the same conversation as the Paris Saint-Germain superstar, you’re doing something right. The Nigerian striker, 23, was a consistent scorer for multiple seasons at Lorient. He was ready for the next step in his career and found it at Nice, the ambitious club with aspirations of a rapid ascension under new owners Ineos. No team in France’s top half of the table has scored fewer goals than Nice, who hope their marquee January acquisition can hit the ground running.
13. Pablo Sarabia ?? Wolverhampton Wanderers
Details: Signed from Paris Saint-Germain for reported €5.3M fee
The lowest-scoring team in the Premier League with a pitiful 12 goals in 20 matches, Wolverhampton needed someone who knows how to find the net. Checking that box for such a nominal fee is just excellent business. Sarabia enjoyed a prolific loan spell with Sporting CP last season but, understandably, found minutes hard to come by at Paris Saint-Germain this campaign, so Wolves seized a prime market opportunity. The 30-year-old also links up with a familiar face at Molineux, as he’s worked with manager Julen Lopetegui on two previous occasions – once with Spain’s Under-19 team that won the European Championship in 2011 and then again, albeit very briefly, at Sevilla.
12. Memphis Depay ?? Atletico Madrid
Details: Signed from Barcelona for reported €3M fee
Atletico Madrid’s tradition of signing veteran forwards from Barcelona continued last month with Depay’s arrival. The Dutch striker follows in the footsteps of David Villa and Luis Suarez, who both won the league title in the Spanish capital after entering the twilight of their respective careers. Expecting Depay to enjoy similar success seems far-fetched considering Atletico’s struggles this year and the gap to league leaders Barca. But the bargain fee Barca accepted after falling out with the 28-year-old makes this a solid signing for Atleti, who recognized and seized an opportunity to improve their squad after Joao Felix’s departure.
11. Leandro Trossard ?? Arsenal
Details: Signed from Brighton & Hove Albion for reported £27M fee
The Belgian winger wasn’t Arsenal’s first choice to bolster an injury-riddled attack, but the Premier League-leading Gunners could’ve done a lot worse than Trossard. Although the 28-year-old was essentially Plan B after Arsenal reportedly missed out on Mykhaylo Mudryk, he offers Mikel Arteta another attacking weapon and – more importantly – depth. Also, considering that teams like Chelsea were happy to pay insanely high fees for everyone and anyone, Arsenal’s shrewd deal with Brighton could go down as a steal if Trossard helps the north London club win the Premier League for the first time in 19 years.
10. Marcel Sabitzer ?? Manchester United
Details: Loaned from Bayern Munich until the end of the season
This move wasn’t in the works for long, but after Christian Eriksen suffered a serious injury during an FA Cup fixture, Manchester United quickly searched the transfer market for a replacement. The Red Devils reportedly inquired about Bayern Munich’s Ryan Gravenberch and Leicester City’s Youri Tielemans before brokering a low-risk loan deal for Sabitzer. His ability to drive his team up the pitch, leadership skills, and versatility could prove to be valuable assets for Erik ten Hag’s team.
9. Yann Sommer ?? Bayern Munich
Details: Signed from Borussia Monchengladbach for reported €8M fee
Manuel Neuer’s decision to jet off for a ski trip resulted in a season-ending broken leg, which turned out to be bad news for both Bayern Munich and Borussia Monchengladbach, and led to an unexpected search for the German goalkeeper’s replacement. Bayern didn’t have to look far, though, as the Bavarians settled on Sommer, who had become a staple of the Gladbach side since joining the club almost nine years ago. In completing a deal for the Swiss international, Bayern ensured they have an experienced Bundesliga goalkeeper who will slot in immediately and provide a sturdy presence across multiple competitions.
8. Mykhaylo Mudryk ?? Chelsea
Details: Signed from Shakhtar Donetsk for reported potential £88M fee
So much is unknown about Mudryk – the Ukrainian sensation who had two Premier League teams chasing after him despite his relatively little experience at the senior level at Shakhtar Donetsk. After Arsenal’s initial interest, Chelsea swooped in to win the race with a lucrative bid for the 22-year-old. What is known, though, is that Mudryk hasn’t disappointed when the spotlight has been on him. He showed tons of promise in the Champions League and offered a glimpse of the exciting talent that earned Mudryk such high praise during his debut at Anfield.
7. Malo Gusto ?? Chelsea
Details: Signed from Lyon for reported £26.3M fee
Gusto is already on a trajectory to stardom, but Chelsea fans will need to wait until next season to get a proper look at the highly rated French right-back. If Gusto, who was loaned back to Lyon for the rest of the season, continues to evolve into a top talent in Ligue 1, the Blues will have the enviable luxury of being able to choose between the 19-year-old and their other world-class right-back, Reece James. By all accounts, Chelsea could have themselves a real star in the making here.
6. Pedro Porro ?? Tottenham Hotspur
Details: Loaned from Sporting CP with obligation to buy for €45M
Tottenham rode the rollercoaster to sign Porro. The protracted deal with Sporting CP appeared on the brink of collapse roughly 48 hours out from the transfer deadline, but Spurs ultimately landed the wing-back that Antonio Conte views as an ideal fit for his squad and tactics. The Spaniard caught Conte’s eye with impressive performances against Tottenham in the Champions League group stage and could have a transformative impact with the club. Porro, still only 23, is an enormous upgrade on incumbent Emerson Royal. Conte will be hoping his arrival lifts Spurs in the same way that Achraf Hakimi did during his Inter Milan tenure.
5. Cody Gakpo ?? Liverpool
Details: Signed from PSV Eindhoven for reported potential £50M fee
Gakpo is one of a few World Cup stars who earned a big transfer in January. Although Liverpool aren’t in the best shape right now – they’re ninth in the Premier League table, 10 points adrift of the Champions League places – they have a proven track record of improving young players and playing adventurous, attacking football. Gakpo, who scored nine goals and assisted 12 times over 14 Eredivisie outings before his move, should fit right in.
4. Enzo Fernandez ?? Chelsea
Details: Signed from Benfica for reported £106.8M fee
The absurdity of the January transfer market was perhaps best illustrated by Chelsea’s relentless pursuit of Fernandez. Time after time, Benfica rejected the Blues’ advances before succumbing and losing the war of attrition to a team that refused to take no for an answer. But the Portuguese side’s stiff bargaining tactics resulted in a massive return on investment for the Argentine World Cup winner, who only joined Benfica last summer from River Plate for €10 million. By the time the dust settled on another frantic winter signing period, Chelsea’s spending in January topped €300 million after paying a British record fee for a player who, in all likelihood, probably wasn’t even on free-spending owner Todd Boehly’s radar before the World Cup.
3. Azzedine Ounahi ?? Marseille
Details: Signed from Angers in deal reportedly worth up to €10M
In a matter of 18 months, Ounahi dragged himself from obscurity in France’s third tier to becoming a standout player on the world’s largest stage. The midfielder wowed World Cup viewers with his close control, composure, and incredible stamina during Morocco’s run to the semifinals, making the fee that Marseille paid for his services seem like a bargain. At just 22, there’s plenty of time for Ounahi to improve even more at one of France’s biggest clubs.
2. Jorginho ?? Arsenal
Details: Signed from Chelsea for reported £12M fee
Jorginho polarizes people. His detractors gesture toward his overly conservative use of the ball and relatively slow movement, while others praise how he breaks up play and rarely loses possession from the base of midfield. And surely his trophy haul with Chelsea and Italy wasn’t sheer luck? Ultimately, Jorginho’s arrival at the Emirates Stadium fulfills a need: He’ll be immediately installed as Thomas Partey’s backup and could be crucial as Arsenal navigate Europa League football while pushing for the Premier League title.
1. Joao Cancelo ?? Bayern Munich
Details: Loaned from Manchester City with option to buy for reported €70M
Cancelo upset team morale at Manchester City when he was left out of the lineup. The coaching staff felt he didn’t pay attention during tactical briefs ahead of a recent FA meeting with Arsenal, according to The Athletic’s Sam Lee and Pol Ballus. So, Pep Guardiola decided he had to go. That decision works out nicely for Bayern Munich, who now have a try-before-you-buy arrangement with one of the best full-backs on the globe.
Honorable mentions: Benoit Badiashile (Chelsea), Kamaldeen Sulemana (Southampton), Harry Souttar (Leicester City)
Transfer window preview: 50 players who could move in January
With the January transfer window set to open on Sunday for most of Europe’s top leagues, we’re teeing up the wheeling and dealing by presenting 50 high-profile players who could be on the move in the coming weeks. It’s notoriously difficult to make opulent signings during the January window, but the mid-season World Cup could reinvigorate the transfer activity after putting a host of players on display. Cristiano Ronaldo and Cody Gakpo may have already decided on their next clubs, but dozens of other stars could also be on the move between now and Deadline Day.
Note: Estimated transfer values provided by transfermarkt.com.
Alexis Mac Allister (Brighton & Hove Albion)
Age: 24 | Position: Midfielder | Estimated value: €42M
A vital member of Argentina’s victorious World Cup side, Mac Allister thrust himself into the spotlight with consistently industrious performances in Qatar. Dealing from a position of strength, Brighton would demand a sizable fee.
Moises Caicedo (Brighton & Hove Albion)
Age: 21 | Position: Midfielder | Estimated value: €38M
Caicedo’s aforementioned teammate’s showing at the World Cup has somewhat distracted from the fact that the all-action Ecuadorian footballer remains the most desirable midfielder in Brighton’s ranks. He is destined for stardom.
Christian Pulisic (Chelsea)
Age: 24 | Position: Forward | Estimated value: €38M
Pulisic remains open to leaving Chelsea in search of more consistent playing time, with Manchester United tipped as a potential suitor. The American phenom, who showcased his leadership qualities at the World Cup, has plenty to offer.
Hakim Ziyech (Chelsea)
Age: 29 | Position: Winger | Estimated value: €20M
In what will be a common theme for several players on this list, the World Cup helped reinvigorate Ziyech, who – like Pulisic – has struggled for minutes at Chelsea. His creativity was vital during Morocco’s historic run in Qatar.
Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace)
Age: 30 | Position: Winger | Estimated value: €32M
Zaha is running out of time to secure the big transfer he’s long been mulling. The crafty winger is set to become a free agent this summer and could decide to run down his contract and join a club of his choosing in six months.
Caglar Soyuncu (Leicester City)
Age: 26 | Position: Center-back | Estimated value: €22M
Having lost his starting place at the heart of Leicester’s backline, Soyuncu is eyeing a fresh start elsewhere. The pugnacious Turkish defender has been linked with Atletico Madrid, a fit that almost seems too perfect.
Youri Tielemans (Leicester City)
Age: 25 | Position: Midfielder | Estimated value: €40M
Tielemans has seemingly been a fixture of lists just like this since the moment he arrived at Leicester. The Foxes are in a tricky place with the impending free agent. Tumbling toward the drop zone, can they afford to sell him in January?
Aaron Wan-Bissaka (Manchester United)
Age: 25 | Position: Right-back | Estimated value: €18M
After finding himself stapled to the bench early in Erik ten Hag’s tenure, Wan-Bissaka is getting a consistent run of minutes after the World Cup. But that may change when Diogo Dalot returns, which could facilitate a loan move.
Djed Spence (Tottenham Hotspur)
Age: 22 | Position: Right-back | Estimated value: €13M
Spence has four Premier League minutes to his name this season after joining Tottenham from Nottingham Forest. Four! Antonio Conte clearly doesn’t think he’s ready to contribute at this level, and he can’t continue to rot on the bench.
Joao Felix (Atletico Madrid)
Age: 23 | Position: Forward | Estimated value: €55M
Has there ever been a more glaring case of a talented player joining the wrong club at the wrong time? Felix’s career has stagnated since his mega-money move to Atletico Madrid. It’s time for both sides to move on.
Rodrigo De Paul (Atletico Madrid)
Age: 28 | Position: Midfielder | Estimated value: €40M
De Paul benefitted greatly from the World Cup after a tough start to the team’s campaign. Atletico and the combative midfielder now have options: Trust that his success in Qatar will translate or parlay it into an expensive transfer.
Memphis Depay (Barcelona)
Age: 28 | Position: Forward | Estimated value: €20M
Robert Lewandowski’s arrival and immediate success finding the net have limited Depay’s chances this season. He came close to leaving Barcelona in the summer and will again be a prominent name in January.
Borja Iglesias (Real Betis)
Age: 29 | Position: Striker | Estimated value: €25M
Only Lewandowski has scored more La Liga goals so far this campaign than Iglesias, who is being viewed as a potential option to replace Felix at Atletico Madrid. Betis, chasing European football, would likely play hardball, though.
Ivan Fresneda (Real Valladolid)
Age: 18 | Position: Right-back | Estimated value: €1M
Exciting young full-back Fresneda is catching the eye at Real Valladolid this season, with clubs in Spain and beyond starting to circle. If the teenager does indeed move in January, it will be for more than his humble valuation.
Yunus Musah (Valencia)
Age: 20 | Position: Midfielder | Estimated value: €25M
Ascending young midfielders like Musah are always in extremely high demand. It’s simply a matter of when the American footballer will leave Valencia, not if. Various Premier League clubs are apparently contemplating a bid.
Samuel Chukwueze (Villarreal)
Age: 23 | Position: Winger | Estimated value: €20M
Chukwueze, the electrifying Nigerian winger who always looks to make something happen with the ball at his feet, has only made five starts for Villarreal this season – a surprisingly low figure for someone of his skill level.
Rick Karsdorp (AS Roma)
Age: 27 | Position: Right-back | Estimated value: €9M
A public dispute with manager Jose Mourinho means the writing is on the wall for Karsdorp’s Roma career. Likely available for a modest fee in January, various full-back-needy clubs could come calling for the Dutchman.
Nicolo Zaniolo (AS Roma)
Age: 23 | Position: Forward | Estimated value: €30M
Speculation about Zaniolo’s future will be rife until he officially signs a new long-term contract with Roma. Serious knee injuries have blighted the versatile Italian player’s career, but his talent is undeniable and hypnotic.
Sofyan Amrabat (Fiorentina)
Age: 26 | Position: Midfielder | Estimated value: €25M
Few players benefitted from the World Cup like Amrabat, who enhanced his reputation tenfold with a series of commanding performances. The driving force behind Morocco’s magical run, Amrabat is ready for the next step.
Milan Skriniar (Inter Milan)
Age: 27 | Position: Center-back | Estimated value: €60M
A contract impasse between Skriniar and Inter has Paris Saint-Germain on high alert. The French club – admirers since last summer when it tried and failed with hefty bids for the imposing Slovakian star – will come calling again.
Adrien Rabiot (Juventus)
Age: 27 | Position: Midfielder | Estimated value: €25M
Rabiot, another soon-to-be free agent, is enjoying the best year of his career. Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri adores him like few others and may not sanction a sale, even if it likely means losing him for nothing this summer.
Weston McKennie (Juventus)
Age: 24 | Position: Midfielder | Estimated value: €21M
If Juve intend to bring in any reinforcements in January, they’ll need departures to offset those arrivals. McKennie is the most likely candidate, especially as Paul Pogba nears returning, which will only add more midfield competition.
Wilfried Singo (Torino)
Age: 22 | Position: Right-back | Estimated value: €14M
Singo has flashed his enormous potential on multiple occasions. The Ivorian footballer, who thrives in a wing-back role where he can charge forward, is exactly the type of player that modern attack-minded clubs want roaming the flanks.
Jeremie Frimpong (Bayer Leverkusen)
Age: 22 | Position: Right-back | Estimated value: €25M
Bayer Leverkusen desperately want to retain Frimpong until the summer, but as other clubs miss out on targets and get desperate late in the window, a massive offer for the blossoming right-back could change their mind.
Raphael Guerreiro (Borussia Dortmund)
Age: 29 | Position: Left-back | Estimated value: €20M
Left-back remains a position of need for many top teams across Europe. Finding a player capable and experienced like Guerreiro, who wouldn’t break the bank, is a rarity that could facilitate several offers.
Youssoufa Moukoko (Borussia Dortmund)
Age: 18 | Position: Striker | Estimated value: €30M
Dortmund need to act very fast to secure Moukoko’s future. The teen sensation, a free agent this summer, is the subject of serious Premier League interest as contract talks between the German club and player stall.
Yann Sommer (Borussia Monchengladbach)
Age: 34 | Position: Goalkeeper | Estimated value: €5M
With David De Gea’s future unclear, Manchester United are working to sign Sommer, the Swiss stalwart who has been at Gladbach for nearly a decade. Whether that deal happens now or after the season remains to be seen.
Ramy Bensebaini (Borussia Monchengladbach)
Age: 27 | Position: Left-back | Estimated value: €20M
Bensebaini, whose contract with Gladbach expires at campaign’s end, presents another prime opportunity for clubs looking to bolster their left-back ranks. Dortmund, who may need to replace Guerreiro, are interested in the Algerian player.
Randal Kolo Muani (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Age: 24 | Position: Striker | Estimated value: €37M
Kolo Muani only joined Eintracht Frankfurt this year as a free agent after his contract expired with Nantes. Brilliant business by the Bundesliga club in hindsight, as the French striker is now worth a pretty penny.
Ritsu Doan (Freiburg)
Age: 24 | Position: Winger | Estimated value: €15M
Doan, the diminutive Japanese winger who can also play in a more central role, bolstered his profile at the World Cup with memorable goals against Germany and Spain. Freiburg will turn a healthy profit whenever he moves on.
Josko Gvardiol (RB Leipzig)
Age: 20 | Position: Center-back | Estimated value: €75M
Don’t let Lionel Messi posterizing him at the World Cup fool you. Gvardiol is destined for a gargantuan transfer very shortly. The Croatian center-back will anchor the backline of a top club for years to come.
Azzedine Ounahi (Angers)
Age: 22 | Position: Midfielder | Estimated value: €15M
The world learned this winter what Angers fans have been shouting from the rooftops: Ounahi is a burgeoning star. One of the game’s silkiest dribblers, the Moroccan No. 8 was perhaps the one true “breakout” player in Qatar.
Benoit Badiashile (AS Monaco)
Age: 21 | Position: Center-back | Estimated value: €40M
Chelsea are reportedly closing in on a deal worth around €40 million to sign Badiashile. The Frenchman has a seductive profile for a central defender: He’s wildly athletic, comfortable on the ball, and, crucially, left-footed.
Terem Moffi (Lorient)
Age: 23 | Position: Striker | Estimated value: €15M
Only Kylian Mbappe and Neymar have more Ligue 1 goals this season than Moffi, the Nigerian striker powering Lorient’s unlikely push for a European place. A transfer to a mid-table Premier League club could be on the cards.
Lovro Majer (Rennes)
Age: 24 | Position: Attacking midfielder | Estimated value: €22M
It was impossible to shake the feeling that Majer deserved more playing time for Croatia at the World Cup. He seemed capable of making something happen every time he touched the ball. Suitors will have noticed that, too.
Elsewhere in Europe (and beyond)
Edson Alvarez (Ajax)
Age: 25 | Position: Defensive midfielder | Estimated value: €35M
Versatility is a valued trait in world football, and Alvarez’s ability to play both in midfield and central defense makes him hugely desirable. The Mexican international nearly joined Chelsea – Ajax can’t hold on to him forever.
Mohammed Kudus (Ajax)
Age: 22 | Position: Attacking midfielder | Estimated value: €20M
Kudus already exploded onto the scene with superlative performances in the Champions League this fall, and the Ghanaian footballer further enhanced his reputation at the World Cup. Ajax have unearthed yet another gem.
Enzo Fernandez (Benfica)
Age: 21 | Position: Midfielder | Estimated value: €55M
Benfica played this one perfectly. Beating the competition to Fernandez in the summer – for a modest fee, at that – will net the club a monstrous profit after his excellent World Cup. Chelsea are working hard to sign the Argentine midfielder.
Goncalo Ramos (Benfica)
Age: 21 | Position: Striker | Estimated value: €30M
Anybody who replaces Ronaldo for Portugal and then immediately scores a hat-trick will garner attention. Truth is, Ramos has been filling the net all season for Benfica. The club could be swimming in cash come Feb. 1.
Josip Juranovic (Celtic)
Age: 27 | Position: Right-back | Estimated value: €9M
Juranovic looks destined to leave Celtic after the Scottish giants apparently signed his replacement in the form of Canadian international Alistair Johnston. The unwearying Croatian footballer gave a standout performance at the World Cup.
Tajon Buchanan (Club Brugge)
Age: 23 | Position: Winger | Estimated value: €12M
Buchanan, who has devastating pace and trickery, has worked hard to build the defensive side of his game, and he showed at the World Cup that he excels in both phases. Italian clubs are keeping tabs on the Canadian winger.
Dominik Livakovic (Dinamo Zagreb)
Age: 27 | Position: Goalkeeper | Estimated value: €14M
Livakovic made more saves (24) than any goalkeeper at this year’s event in Qatar and punctuated his performance by turning aside four penalties across Croatia’s shootouts. Any club in need of a netminder should be calling Dinamo Zagreb.
Andries Noppert (Heerenveen)
Age: 28 | Position: Goalkeeper | Estimated value: €5M
A surprise starter at the World Cup, Noppert made the most of his chance, helping the Netherlands reach the quarterfinals. A big transfer would cap a dramatic rise for the giant shot-stopper, who was in the Dutch second tier two years ago.
Age: 21 | Position: Defensive midfielder | Estimated value: €25M
Real Madrid’s eye-watering Endrick signing has overshadowed everything happening at Palmeiras right now. But another ascendant Brazilian star is generating interest, with Arsenal closely monitoring Danilo.
Mykhailo Mudryk (Shakhtar Donetsk)
Age: 21 | Position: Winger | Estimated value: €40M
Mudryk’s future will likely be one of the hottest topics of the January window. The winger is Arsenal’s primary target this month, but Shakhtar are apparently holding firm in their €100-million valuation. This one could take a while.
Pedro Porro (Sporting CP)
Age: 23 | Position: Right-back | Estimated value: €25M
Tottenham are keen on adding Porro, who manager Antonio Conte views as an ideal fit at right wing-back. But the apparent existence of a Manchester City buy-back clause in his Sporting contract could complicate matters.
Selim Amallah (Standard Liege)
Age: 26 | Position: Midfielder | Estimated value: €6.5M
Stop us if you’ve heard this one already, but Morocco’s inspiring fourth-place finish at the World Cup helped fire Amallah into the public spotlight. The midfielder featured in all seven matches for the Atlas Lions.
Harry Souttar (Stoke City)
Age: 24 | Position: Center-back | Estimated value: €6M
Souttar almost missed the World Cup entirely due to injury, but the towering Australian center-back recovered in time to deliver some stellar performances for the Socceroos. The likes of West Ham and Wolves are interested in his services.
Andrey Santos (Vasco da Gama)
Age: 18 | Position: Midfielder | Estimated value: €10M
Chelsea’s strategy of snapping up enticing young players from all over the world continues unabated. The Blues are seemingly on the verge of signing Santos for €12.5 million, adding him to a growing list of promising teenagers.
Age: 30 | Position: Attacking midfielder | Estimated value: €9M
Isco, once one of the most enchanting attacking midfielders in the world, is now looking for a new club after Sevilla released him earlier this month. How much gas does the former Real Madrid star have left in the tank?
4 thoughts from Tuesday's Champions League action
The Champions League group stage concludes this week. Below, we dissect the biggest talking points from Tuesday’s action in Europe’s premier club competition.
Mignolet made the Club Brugge surprise possible
The departures of head coach Alfred Schreuder, playmaker Charles De Ketelaere, and towering frontman Bas Dost indicated Club Brugge was a team in transition. Many predicted the Belgian side would flounder in Group B. But the reality was very different. Club Brugge progressed with a six-point cushion in second place, while Atletico Madrid finished bottom following Tuesday’s 0-0 draw at Bayer Leverkusen.
And no player deserves more credit for Club Brugge’s feat than Simon Mignolet.
The 34-year-old added a spectacular swat at Patrik Schick’s 54th-minute header to his acts of heroism during an excellent European campaign. He previously produced 12 saves across both fixtures against Atletico without conceding and has generally been a reassuring presence between the sticks for Carl Hoefkens’ outfit.
He’s helped Club Brugge recalibrate their expectations.
“I don’t think we should be disappointed with the performance today,” Mignolet said after Brugge finished second following the final round of fixtures in their quartet. “Porto have been on a good run and were probably the best in the group.
“But our five clean sheets still mean something. We are advancing to the next round, and that’s the most important thing.”
Mignolet appeared to cower under the bright lights of Anfield during his six-year stay with Liverpool. His performances were so troubling that fans regularly called for him to be dropped, even when there were unconvincing options in reserve, such as Brad Jones and Adam Bogdan. He returned to Belgium in 2019 with his tail between his legs.
He’s unrecognizable as the stoic leader of Club Brugge, where he’s been key to ensuring his side made a mockery of pre-tournament predictions with their straightforward path into the knockout rounds. Mignolet’s resurgence is undoubtedly one of the standout stories of the Champions League season.
Spurs need to be so much better
There was a moment that summed up Tottenham Hotspur’s lack of ambition in the first half.
Usually, a player with Heung-Min Son’s counter-attacking ability lurks outside or on the edge of the box during an opponent’s corner kick, waiting to retrieve a loose ball and burst upfield. Instead, the ball spilled to Son deep inside his own box, and he smashed it as far away as he could, allowing Marseille goalkeeper Pau Lopez to restart another attack for the hosts.
There wasn’t much else Son could’ve done. The South Korean forward and his teammates were crammed into their own area.
And in the rare occasions Spurs ventured into Marseille’s defensive third, they were ruinously negative and uninspired. It’s disappointing to see attackers as gifted as Son and Harry Kane stifled by Antonio Conte’s frustratingly unadventurous game plan.
Conte – who watched from the stands after his red card during Spurs’ previous Champions League outing – and his backroom staff would likely gesture toward Group D’s final standings if anyone questioned their approach to games. First place in such a competitive quartet is commendable, especially when the Italian’s thin squad has recently dealt with costly injuries. A 2-1 win away at the raucous Stade Velodrome is always a fine result.
But playing like that in the competition’s knockout rounds isn’t sustainable. Spurs don’t possess the defensive quality to hold out the best Champions League teams – Chancel Mbemba was given too much space to shape himself for his first-half header. And, unlike when ex-Arsenal left-back Sead Kolasinac somehow missed a golden opportunity at the back post in the 87th minute, they’ll be punished in critical moments.
Being conservative might be the best way to manage this Tottenham team when it has so little creativity in midfield. Still, there has to be a way to pair deep defensive and midfield lines with more freedom for Son and Kane.
Right now, Spurs’ best players are being wasted.
The Champions League roller coaster
Going into Tuesday’s action, Marseille had permutations aplenty. The French club could finish in any four Group D spots, depending on their own result against Tottenham and the concurrent fixture between Eintracht Frankfurt and Sporting CP. The margin between a place in the Champions League knockout stage and being eliminated from European competition was slim. A wild ride was a distinct possibility.
They rode the roller coaster.
When Mbemba scored just before halftime to give Marseille a 1-0 lead, they were in line to advance. They dropped to third in the table when Spurs equalized early in the second stanza, out of the Champions League but still good enough to salvage a Europa League place. Then, following the heart-wrenching Kolasinac miss, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s 95th-minute rocket condemned Igor Tudor’s team to fourth place. Just like that. So long, Europe.
Sporting, too, fell victim to the wild emotional swings that only the Champions League can deliver. The Portuguese side won its first two group stage matches, only to finish third and miss the round of 16. As if to twist the knife, their bitter Portuguese rivals, FC Porto, lost the first two games of their Champions League campaign but rebounded emphatically to top Group B.
Admittedly, this tournament has flaws. The group stage has developed into a procession for some of the continent’s wealthiest teams. But when it delivers, the drama remains unmatched.
Anguissa flourishing this season
Liverpool’s struggles this season are down to a variety of factors – there’s no singular solution for Jurgen Klopp. However, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the club’s deteriorating midfield is playing a huge role in the Reds’ inability to sustain their recent high standards.
In Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, Liverpool got a firsthand look at someone capable of rectifying the issues plaguing Klopp’s midfield. The Napoli standout, enjoying the best season of his career for Luciano Spalletti’s high-flying side, has a unique blend of skills that would perfectly provide what the Merseyside outfit is currently missing.
The flourishing Anguissa, 26, is press-resistant and good in tight areas like Thiago Alcantara but offers more box-to-box coverage. He’s a feisty tackler like Fabinho but provides more attacking drive and scoring ability. He’s dynamic in possession like Naby Keita but can actually stay fit. The Cameroonian is the type of do-it-all player who can impact the game in different ways, including those that don’t show up on the stat sheet. In that way, he’s not dissimilar from prime Georginio Wijnaldum, a player who would help Liverpool immensely right now.
Even in a match that Napoli lost – their first defeat of the season in all competitions – Anguissa caught the eye at Anfield. The signs were there at Fulham, despite the team around him floundering. Now, in the right system, it’s all coming together.
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