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?
How Inter blew AC Milan away to put 1 foot in Champions League final
Inter Milan are on the verge of the Champions League final after a confident and commanding 2-0 win over bitter rivals AC Milan in the first leg of their Champions League showdown Wednesday. Below, we dissect the biggest talking points from the derby at the San Siro.
Milan match up horribly against Inter
AC Milan looked like a team of strangers Wednesday, and not for the first time. The Rossoneri committed the very same disappearing act in January and February, and all the games they lost in Serie A during that horrific seven-match winless skid could cost them a place in next season’s Champions League.
Now, thanks to a similarly spineless showing against rivals Inter Milan in the semifinals of this year’s competition, Milan are down 2-0 on aggregate and all but certain of losing the tie if Rafael Leao can’t play in the second leg next week.
But how? How could last season’s Serie A champions look so lost and confused?
The players had no explanation for it in January and February, and they may not have any way to explain it this time around. It’s a conundrum: The same team that lost its last three derbies by a combined score of 6-0 also outscored Napoli 6-1 in their last three meetings. Nothing makes sense.
Or does it? Milan tend to have more success against teams like Napoli that control possession. They can lie in wait and pounce on mistakes. They can play extremely slick vertical football, especially on the counter. But they’re far more ponderous when they’re forced to probe for an opening.
Head coach Stefano Pioli has certainly struggled to find the right balance with this group of players. None of the summer signings have been particularly useful – Divock Origi has just two goals and the odd dribble in his locker, and €35-million acquisition Charles De Ketelaere has no confidence whatsoever when he steps onto the pitch – leaving Pioli with even less depth than he had during Milan’s title run last season. It’s also true that injuries have robbed the team of its best players at critical junctures.
But Pioli isn’t blameless, either. It’s up to him to devise strategies, and while he’s found ways to neutralize opponents – as he did when Brahim Diaz and Davide Calabria combined to double-mark Napoli’s Khvicha Kvaratskhelia – the coach has found it incredibly difficult to solve teams like Inter that play with a low block of five.
Inter preyed on this particular frailty, closing up shop after scoring early. They’ve done that to Milan often – four of their last six goals against their rivals have come inside the first 25 minutes of play – and it’s granted them the leeway to sit back and protect their lead. Milan, as ever, had no answer for it. Their first shot on target came in the 81st minute, and it was comfortably saved by goalkeeper Andre Onana.
Wily Dzeko puts on a clinic
AC Milan had no answer for Edin Dzeko, who, at 37 years young, is a fascinating player that defies conventional wisdom about the state of modern football. The Bosnian veteran, on the surface, is an old school No. 9, a big target man whose primary role is to act as a reference point up front, occupy defenders, hold the ball, and wait for his more fleet-footed peers to arrive on the scene before bringing them into the attack.
Some of that is accurate, in fairness. Dzeko easily outmuscled Calabria for Inter’s opening goal, standing his ground inside the penalty and putting the Milan captain on his hip before connecting with a sumptuous left-footed roundhouse volley; Dzeko has always been an expert technician when striking balls directly out of mid-air. His shrewd run also dragged Milan defenders out of the way and created an enormous hole for Henrikh Mkhitaryan to cruise into for Inter’s second goal just minutes later.
But he showed the entire array of his skill set, which includes talents not often associated with someone of his size. Dzeko, as if jolted by the spectacular atmosphere inside the San Siro, was spry throughout the match, often initiating runs from midfield and, to the astonishment of many, consistently pulling away from defenders with the ball at his feet – he bamboozled Fikayo Tomori on multiple occasions, too.
His understanding with Lautaro Martinez is crucial to Inter’s success. Romelu Lukaku’s partnership with the Argentine was one of the pillars behind Inter’s Scudetto-winning season under Antonio Conte, but with Lukaku spending much of this campaign sidelined, Dzeko has stepped up and fostered an excellent on-field relationship with Martinez. It’s not the classic big-and-small combo, but rather a complementary collaboration in which both players can do some of the same things, interchanging roles throughout matches and keeping the opposing defense off balance. Dzeko and Martinez took turns toying with the Milan backline Wednesday.
“Sometimes you get in this difficult moment where the ball doesn’t want to go in,” said Dzeko, who scored twice over the weekend to break a drought that dated back to mid-January. “Patience and work always pay off. I was calm knowing the goals would come as always. Today is the proof.”
Dzeko isn’t the same prolific force that he was earlier in his career – Father Time is inescapable – but even as the game gets faster and everyone around him gets younger, the artful striker still has the tools to thrive and help drive Inter toward an unexpected European triumph.
Inzaghi knows how to win cups
Inter manager Simone Inzaghi is becoming quite the cup specialist. After winning the Italian Cup and Super Cup with Lazio in 2019, the 47-year-old helped Inter win the same two trophies over the last 12 months. He’s now within touching distance of reaching the Champions League final after outcoaching adversary Stefano Pioli in yet another convincing derby win. Inzaghi’s tactical approach – typified not by beautiful passing sequences but by resolute defending and clinical finishing – usually pays dividends in knockout tournaments precisely because it’s so short term. Inter haven’t had nearly the same consistency in Serie A, losing 11 of their 34 league matches this season, but they’ve stymied enough teams to make a Champions League run.
Leao and Bennacer’s ill-timed injuries
Star forward Leao injuring his thigh just days before Wednesday’s clash was a cruel blow for AC Milan. The explosive winger makes magic happen all on his own and can actually force the opposition to alter its tactics to account for the threat he poses in open space. But losing Ismael Bennacer early in Wednesday’s game was equally impactful; the Algerian international is Milan’s best midfielder. While they were already down 2-0 when he was forced off in the 18th minute, his absence robbed the Rossoneri of the composed on-ball presence needed to help calm the team down after its brutal start. “There was a bit of anxiety in the team (after going down 2-0),” Tomori admitted. Bennacer’s injury meant Sandro Tonali had too much ground to cover in midfield on his own. The Italian started to influence the match in the second half after Inter took their foot off the gas and sat back. By then, it was too late.
Stat of the day
Inter have owned their city rivals this season.
Tweet of the day
You can’t help but feel like Napoli are kicking themselves right now.
Key thoughts and analysis from Tuesday's Champions League action
The Champions League quarterfinals got underway this week. Below, we dissect the biggest talking points from Tuesday’s action in Europe’s premier club competition.
Tuchel didn’t lose this one, his team did
Thomas Tuchel’s main frustration with Bayern Munich’s 3-0 defeat at Manchester City will stem from the fact that such a scoreline was avoidable. The hosts found it hard to pass it out of the back in the first half while Rodri and John Stones were habitually crowded out by red shirts – usually Leroy Sane and Jamal Musiala – and Erling Haaland wasn’t given many opportunities to run at goal and grapple with defenders.
There was little fault with Bayern’s shape and their organization – but there wasn’t anything Tuchel could do about the brief positional lapses and defensive jitters that resulted in the Bavarians’ disintegration at the Etihad Stadium.
Tuchel was furious when Rodri opened the scoring in resplendent fashion. From a City perspective, the Spaniard’s first Champions League goal required evasive footwork and a superb strike (with his weaker foot) to send the ball curling out of Yann Sommer’s reach. However, Tuchel was furious on the touchline after it went in, presumably directing his ire at Musiala for his tardy attempt to plug the area in front of the back four and ineffectual challenge on Rodri. Musiala was admittedly given a lengthy job list in Manchester – but it was one he should’ve conquered. He’s already set himself those high standards in his young career.
Bayern weren’t out of the game, though, and could’ve taken the lead soon after halftime. Ederson was forced to save three Sane shots within the first eight minutes of the second period, Nathan Ake blocked a Matthijs de Ligt header, and Benjamin Pavard’s deflected shot looped onto the roof of the net.
But, for no clear reason, the visitors’ composure was fraying deeper in the lineup. Miscommunication between Dayot Upamecano and goalkeeper Sommer triggered a calamitous chain of events that eventually ended with Joshua Kimmich heroically blocking a Haaland shot.
City’s second goal unsurprisingly followed another Bayern gaffe. Upamecano received the ball under no pressure but seemed to try to dribble it around Grealish before the City winger was anywhere near him. It was too easy. Grealish swiped the ball, backheeled it through for Haaland’s overlapping run, and Bernardo Silva met the Norwegian’s subsequent cross with an emphatic header.
Now, it was officially a capitulation. Haaland was left completely unmarked for his goal, and as the match neared 90 minutes, the extent of some of the Bayern players’ panic was summed up by, of course, Upamecano. The center-back, who has seldom looked convincing since he moved to Bayern from RB Leipzig for around €42.5 million in 2021, vaguely hit the ball toward Sommer, sending it rolling across Bayern’s goal and out of play for a City corner.
It wasn’t the kind of performance you’d usually associate with Bayern Munich. But it was exactly the display that City have been offering in recent weeks: professional, clinical, and with an ability to quickly move through the gears.
Bayern were poor but make no mistake: Manchester City were excellent.
Dias leads solid City backline
Few would’ve predicted Guardiola settling on a quartet of center-backs this season.
The goals have flowed during City’s run of nine consecutive victories across all competitions, but they’ve only conceded three goals over that span. It seems Guardiola has accepted his squad’s shortcomings at left-back – both in numbers and quality – and the difficulties in achieving balance when fielding one full-back in the lineup on the right, so he’s stripped them away altogether. Ake goes forward but his primary focus is on his defensive responsibilities. Manuel Akanji moved inside from right-back against Bayern, letting center-back Stones step up into midfield. There’s no full-back streaming ahead with little thought to what’s going on behind him, like Joao Cancelo before he moved on loan from City to the German champions.
The fresh approach has given City a solidity and some sleeves-up drudgery, while also allowing the team to regularly string five players along the attack.
Dias was his side’s standout player in Beswick. He timed his tackles and blocks to perfection, most notably spreading his legs to deny a Musiala shot and whipping the ball off Sane’s toes shortly before Rodri’s opener. But in truth, Dias, Ake, and Akanji all excellently kept Bayern at bay.
“The key for me today was the defensive side, it was great, and we understood how to punish them,” Rodri told BT Sport post-match, according to BBC Sport.
Inter’s cautious approach works in Europe
The Champions League is all about results. It’s not a popularity contest, or else Inter Milan wouldn’t be in such a great position to reach the semifinals.
No one would rate Inter as a particularly attractive team to watch, and yet here they are, up 2-0 on aggregate after a professional performance away to Benfica on Tuesday in the first leg of their quarterfinal. As they’ve been all season in the Champions League, Inter were solid at the back, dangerous on the counterattack, and clinical enough to get the goals they needed to win. They didn’t play much better than Benfica – one could argue the Portuguese side was better with the ball – but they managed to get the most important details right.
While Benfica controlled possession and waited a virtual eternity to slip in each and every final pass, Inter struck swiftly. Alessandro Bastoni emerged from central defense to curl in an accurate cross that Nicolo Barella headed into the far post. Then, substitute Romelu Lukaku dispatched a penalty kick to seal the victory. Benfica did all the huffing and puffing, but Inter were the ones who actually blew the door down.
In the end, Benfica’s slick passing moves counted for nothing. They outshot Inter 12-9 but managed just two on target. With Matteo Darmian and Bastoni covering so much ground as the most mobile defenders in Inter’s back three, the Nerazzurri boxed out the hosts on most occasions, forcing them to take pot shots from distance. The majority of Benfica’s chances came on the edges of the penalty area, and the one time they penetrated Inter’s force field, deep into second-half stoppage time, Andre Onana was there to make the save.
Now the Italian outfit has an incredible advantage ahead of next week’s second leg in Milan – and it hasn’t even had to play that well to get there. Tuesday’s win was just its second on the road in the Champions League, and it had scored the fewest goals of any team heading into the quarterfinals.
They’ve also had luck on their side. The penalty Inter won was tenuous at best – Denzel Dumfries’ cross appeared to hit Benfica’s Joao Mario in the head before striking him in the arm – and Goncalo Ramos was seemingly denied a spot-kick of his own when Bastoni slid into his backside. But every team that goes on a run in Europe has some kind of helping hand.
They’ve also earned it. One doesn’t record three clean sheets in a row in the Champions League without doing something right.
Stat of the day
Haaland set foot on a football pitch today, so, naturally, he set another scoring record.
Tweet of the day
How rough has Liverpool’s season been? They weren’t even playing on Tuesday and they were still the butt of jokes.
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)
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