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Transfer window preview: Top 50 players who could move this summer

The era of €100-million signings may be over – for now, anyway – but that doesn’t mean there won’t be plenty of wheeling and dealing in the coming months. With that in mind, here are 50 high-profile players who could switch clubs during the summer transfer window.

Note: Estimated transfer values provided by transfermarkt.com

Premier League

Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur)

Age: 27 | Position: Striker | Estimated value: €120M

Kane wants to leave Tottenham this summer in pursuit of silverware. All the top dogs in England are circling. Though Daniel Levy surely wants to retain his star man, cashing in may not be such a bad decision right now.

Paul Pogba (Manchester United)

Age: 28 | Position: Central midfielder | Estimated value: €60M

Another transfer window, another round of Pogba speculation. With the Frenchman’s contract slated to expire next summer, now is the time for Manchester United to make a move if they don’t think an extension is likely.

David De Gea (Manchester United)

Age: 30 | Position: Goalkeeper | Estimated value: €18M

De Gea has never been closer to leaving Old Trafford than he is now. His lack of heroics in the Europa League final aside, the presence of Dean Henderson – and the potential addition of Tom Heaton – could push the Spaniard out.

Jack Grealish (Aston Villa)

Age: 25 | Position: Winger, attacking midfielder | Estimated value: €65M

Grealish is absolutely and obviously vital to Aston Villa, but it’s widely accepted that the mesmerizing dribbler will move on at some point. He’s too good not to be playing for one of the world’s best sides.

Declan Rice (West Ham United)

Age: 22 | Position: Defensive midfielder | Estimated value: €65M

Rice’s reputation continues to grow after another strong year with West Ham. Still, the versatile Englishman could opt to remain with the Hammers for one more year after they secured European football for next season.

Youri Tielemans (Leicester City)

DAVE THOMPSON / AFP / Getty

Age: 24 | Position: Central midfielder | Estimated value: €55M

Tielemans has hugely enhanced his status since joining Leicester City, establishing himself as one of the Premier League’s most exciting players. His varied skill set would do wonders at several clubs.

Granit Xhaka (Arsenal)

Age: 28 | Position: Central midfielder | Estimated value: €22M

For the good of all involved, surely Xhaka has to leave Arsenal, right? Often derided by fans – and sometimes even clashing with them – the former club captain still has suitors in Europe, to the surprise of many Gooners.

Tammy Abraham (Chelsea)

Age: 23 | Position: Striker | Estimated value: €40M

Chelsea decided to re-sign veteran Olivier Giroud, which could signal the end of Abraham’s time at the club. The English striker was slowly phased out of the team by Thomas Tuchel, so a change of scenery could be for the best.

Raphinha (Leeds United)

Age: 24 | Position: Winger | Estimated value: €25M

Raphinha dazzled this past season. The Brazilian is always looking to make something happen with the ball at his feet, and a move from Leeds United doesn’t feel far away. It will be a treat to witness the reaction of fans watching him live.

Yves Bissouma (Brighton & Hove Albion)

Age: 24 | Position: Central midfielder | Estimated value: €17M

Brighton was most definitely a stepping stone for Bissouma, who looks destined for a transfer this summer. Liverpool and Arsenal have both been linked with the Malian midfielder’s signature.

La Liga

Lionel Messi (Barcelona)

Age: 33 | Position: Forward | Estimated value: €80M

The biggest fish of them all. It appears as though Messi is now leaning toward staying at Barcelona, but these things can shift quickly. Should he have (another) change of heart, the usual suspects will come running.

Philippe Coutinho (Barcelona)

Age: 28 | Position: Attacking midfielder | Estimated value: €40M

Barca need cash. It’s that simple. The free transfers they’ve made so far have been nice, but those players still need salaries, so an injection of capital would be welcome. Coutinho is a prime transfer candidate.

Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid)

Age: 35 | Position: Center-back | Estimated value: €14M

Ramos, another pending free agent, has apparently seen his contract talks with Real Madrid stall. The club just brought David Alaba aboard, fueling rumors that the longtime defensive anchor could be on the move.

Raphael Varane (Real Madrid)

Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Age: 28 | Position: Center-back | Estimated value: €70M

This would be something of a surprising move, but there continues to be smoke here. Varane has been a Manchester United target for quite some time. Perhaps this is the summer the Red Devils finally present a suitable offer.

Martin Odegaard (Real Madrid)

Age: 22 | Position: Attacking midfielder | Estimated value: €40M

Odegaard is on his way back to the Spanish capital after the conclusion of his loan spell at Arsenal, and it’s unclear what his future holds. Extremely talented and still young, he would improve many a team in Europe.

Saul Niguez (Atletico Madrid)

Age: 26 | Position: Central midfielder | Estimated value: €55M

Could Saul go out on top? After helping Atletico Madrid capture the La Liga crown, he’s once again being touted as a transfer target. This time, though, it appears the Spaniard is the one who wants a move.

Jules Kounde (Sevilla)

Age: 22 | Position: Center-back | Estimated value: €60M

Sevilla have an absolute star in Kounde, but for how much longer? The French defender, great with the ball at his feet, would command a sizable transfer fee with three years left on his contract.

Goncalo Guedes (Valencia)

Age: 24 | Position: Forward | Estimated value: €25M

A strong finish to Valencia’s club season has vaulted Guedes back into the rumor mill, with the likes of Fiorentina and Sevilla believed to be interested. If the Portuguese forward does anything at the Euros, his value could rise further.

Serie A

Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus)

Age: 36 | Position: Forward | Estimated value: €45M

Publicly, Juventus maintain that Ronaldo isn’t going anywhere. Of course, they said the same thing about Andrea Pirlo. A lack of suitable destinations may ultimately keep Ronaldo in Turin, but his future is far from certain.

Paulo Dybala (Juventus)

Age: 27 | Position: Forward | Estimated value: €50M

Returning manager Massimiliano Allegri wants to build his team around Dybala, but he may not get the chance. The Argentine is out of contract in 2022. If Juve can’t strike a new deal now, they may sell to avoid losing him for free.

Achraf Hakimi (Inter Milan)

Age: 22 | Position: Wing-back | Estimated value: €60M

In an ideal world, Inter would keep one of the most exciting players in football, especially after he was so crucial to their Scudetto win. In reality, though, finances are tight, and Hakimi’s value is through the roof.

Hakan Calhanoglu (AC Milan)

Jonathan Moscrop / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Age: 27 | Position: Attacking midfielder | Estimated value: €35M

Another soon-to-be free agent, Calhanoglu is coming off a superb season for AC Milan. The Turkish playmaker’s set-piece delivery should be particularly enticing to any club, though there’s still hope for the Rossoneri to keep him.

Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli)

Age: 29 | Position: Center-back | Estimated value: €48M

It feels like the moment has passed for Koulibaly to make a mammoth move, but make no mistake, the Senegalese defender is still a dominant force. Napoli’s inability to secure a top-four finish could be the deciding factor here.

Sergej Milinkovic-Savic (Lazio)

Age: 26 | Position: Central midfielder | Estimated value: €70M

Milinkovic-Savic hasn’t returned to the heights that once saw Lazio slap a nine-digit price tag on his signature. But he can still put a contender over the top, and he may be amenable to a move after Simone Inzaghi left the club.

Robin Gosens (Atalanta)

Age: 26 | Position: Left-back | Estimated value: €35M

One of the key figures in Atalanta’s incredible rise, Gosens offers a blend of scoring ability, physicality, and defensive solidity not widely available at his position. The German would need to find the right situation to thrive, though.

Rodrigo De Paul (Udinese)

Age: 27 | Position: Central midfielder | Estimated value: €38M

De Paul took a major leap for Udinese this season after being pushed into a deeper role, spending more time dictating the play and carving through the midfield with his combination of silky dribbling and playmaking.

Dusan Vlahovic (Fiorentina)

Age: 21 | Position: Striker | Estimated value: €40M

Vlahovic showed flashes of his potential in 2019-20, but he truly announced himself to the world this past season, scoring 21 league goals. Speed, power, technique, and a keen instinct inside the box make him the total package.

Manuel Locatelli (Sassuolo)

Age: 23 | Position: Central midfielder | Estimated value: €35M

Sassuolo have admitted Locatelli will likely be on the move after his involvement in Euro 2020, with Juventus tipped as the Italian international’s biggest admirers. A budding star, he can play a variety of roles in central midfield.

Bundesliga

Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund)

INA FASSBENDER / AFP / Getty

Age: 21 | Position: Winger | Estimated value: €100M

Erling Haaland has supplanted Sancho as the name on everyone’s lips when it comes to Borussia Dortmund transfer rumors, and that’s fair. But Haaland isn’t moving this summer, and Sancho most certainly might. The Englishman is a breathtaking talent and remains very much in demand.

Corentin Tolisso (Bayern Munich)

Age: 26 | Position: Central midfielder | Estimated value: €20M

Injuries, including a devastating ACL tear in 2018, have disrupted what looked like a potentially spectacular club career for Tolisso. Now 26 and not Bayern Munich’s first option in midfield, he may find more playing time elsewhere.

Florian Neuhaus (Borussia Monchengladbach)

Age: 24 | Position: Central midfielder | Estimated value: €35M

Neuhaus quashed rumors that he’s already agreed to a deal with Bayern Munich, news that was surely well received by the likes of Liverpool. Always keen to play between the lines, Borussia Monchengladbach’s clever midfielder looks like a good investment.

Andre Silva (Eintracht Frankfurt)

Age: 25 | Position: Striker | Estimated value: €45M

Only Robert Lewandowski scored more Bundesliga goals this past season than Silva, who edged Haaland for second place with 28 tallies. Once discarded by Milan, the Portuguese international has found his feet with Eintracht Frankfurt.

Moussa Diaby (Bayer Leverkusen)

Age: 21 | Position: Winger | Estimated value: €38M

Another outstanding young talent fresh off France’s relentless conveyor belt, Diaby is attracting interest in the Premier League. Bayer Leverkusen’s dynamic winger has shown he’s adept at both scoring goals and creating them.

Ligue 1

Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain)

Age: 22 | Position: Forward | Estimated value: €160M

The financial constraints created by the coronavirus pandemic likely mean it’s one year too early to expect Mbappe to leave Paris Saint-Germain. Still, it’s no secret he’s Florentino Perez’s dream signing. Can Real Madrid get creative?

Eduardo Camavinga (Rennes)

Age: 18 | Position: Central midfielder | Estimated value: €60M

Widely regarded as the best young midfielder in the game, Camavinga is a true all-around talent. A crafty loan setup in which Rennes’ teen phenom stays put for one season could be an option here.

Houssem Aouar (Lyon)

PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP / Getty

Age: 22 | Position: Central midfielder | Estimated value: €50M

The trail isn’t quite as hot as it was a couple of years ago, but Aouar’s stock remains high. Being 22 and supremely gifted with the ball will do that to a player. A summer of upheaval beckons at Lyon.

Sven Botman (Lille)

Age: 21 | Position: Center-back | Estimated value: €28M

Despite his tender age, Botman is an absolute rock. Only three outfield players logged more minutes in Ligue 1 this season than the Dutchman, who helped guide Lille to a shocking league title. His future is very bright.

Boubakary Soumare (Lille)

Age: 22 | Position: Defensive midfielder | Estimated value: €23M

Leicester City are reportedly on the verge of completing a move for Soumare, another member of Lille’s impressive young contingent that knocked PSG from their perch atop French football. This could be another masterstroke by the Foxes.

Renato Sanches (Lille)

Age: 23 | Position: Central midfielder | Estimated value: €30M

In case it wasn’t already clear, this will be an interesting summer for Lille. Despite their surprise title win, financial issues remain. Player sales may be inevitable, and the resurgent Sanches – now back to his best – is another candidate for departure.

Benoit Badiashile (AS Monaco)

Age: 20 | Position: Center-back | Estimated value: €28M

In keeping with their tradition of making a fortune by selling young stars, Monaco have another jewel on their hands in Badiashile. His patience – he opted against a move last year to keep developing – is a good omen.

Elsewhere in Europe

Andre Onana (Ajax)

Age: 25 | Position: Goalkeeper | Estimated value: €30M

Onana’s future is perhaps the murkiest of all. The Ajax shot-stopper is serving a 12-month doping ban but is in the process of appealing. His undeniable talent could see a club chase a cut-rate deal even if the ban is upheld.

Ryan Gravenberch (Ajax)

Tullio Puglia – UEFA / UEFA / Getty

Age: 19 | Position: Central midfielder | Estimated value: €33M

No discounts here. Anybody interested in the angular Dutch teenager will need to pony up a significant sum. Gravenberch has all the skills to thrive as a creative box-to-box midfielder for years to come.

Sergio Oliveira (FC Porto)

Age: 29 | Position: Central midfielder | Estimated value: €19M

One of the stars of Porto’s unexpected Champions League run this past season – he put Juventus’ midfield to shame in the last 16 – Oliveira is reportedly a target for new Fiorentina manager Gennaro Gattuso.

Patson Daka (Red Bull Salzburg)

Age: 22 | Position: Striker | Estimated value: €22M

It’s only a matter of time before Daka takes the next big step in his blossoming career. The Zambian forward has been a scoring machine for Salzburg. How long until RB Leipzig come calling to keep him in the family?

Odsonne Edouard (Celtic)

Age: 23 | Position: Striker | Estimated value: €15M

Edouard is generating interest in both the Premier League and Serie A after leading Celtic in scoring for a third consecutive season. Not bad for a 23-year-old.

The free-agent class

In addition to the players above, several marquee names have already confirmed they’re embarking on new adventures this summer. Some are leaving their old clubs by choice, others by force; only the destinations remain to be determined.

Gianluigi Donnarumma

Age: 22 | Position: Goalkeeper | Estimated value: €60M

Goalkeepers of this ilk don’t become available for free at such a young age. Hence the excitement of Juve, PSG, and Barcelona, who are all in talks with Donnarumma’s agent, Mino Raiola, about the former Milan netminder.

Memphis Depay

Age: 27 | Position: Forward | Estimated value: €45M

With Ronald Koeman now confirmed as Barcelona manager for another season, Depay’s move to the Camp Nou is simply a matter of time. The Dutch bench boss has been trying to unite with his compatriot for over a year.

Georginio Wijnaldum

Phil Noble – PA Images / PA Images / Getty

Age: 30 | Position: Central midfielder | Estimated value: €30M

The same goes for Wijnaldum, who’s reportedly on the verge of completing his own free transfer from Liverpool to Barca. The midfielder would bring an element of energy to the Blaugrana. Will it be enough to convince Messi to stay?

Jerome Boateng

Age: 32 | Position: Center-back | Estimated value: €10M

Boateng’s departure from Bayern Munich was slightly more acrimonious than those of the aforementioned Dutch duo. Bayern made it clear they wouldn’t offer him a new contract during the season, leaving him searching for another club.

David Luiz

Age: 34 | Position: Center-back | Estimated value: €5M

Arsenal and Luiz also announced their split ahead of time, though it appears the feeling here was far more mutual than in Boateng’s case. The oft-derided Brazilian defender could be set for a return to his homeland.

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Champions League

10 thoughts from this week's Champions League action

The Champions League returned with a bang this week. Below, we dissect the biggest talking points from Matchday 1 in Europe’s premier club competition.

Solskjaer’s reactive tactics lead to defeat

Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s red card certainly left Manchester United with the unenviable task of protecting a 1-0 lead with 10 men in hostile territory for 55 minutes. Even still, the Red Devils’ poor game management, coupled with manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s reactive tactics, invited Young Boys to secure a famous come-from-behind victory in Bern.

Solskjaer has fumbled many a game during his coaching tenure. He oversaw lethargic losses away to Istanbul Basaksehir and at home to RB Leipzig in the Champions League last season, results that ultimately condemned United to the Europa League and drew widespread criticism from former players.

“It’s like under-10s football. Embarrassing. What the defense were doing I have no idea,” former United midfielder Paul Scholes said after the 2-1 defeat to Basaksehir.

On Tuesday, the Norwegian played right into Young Boys’ hands, opting for a back five at halftime even though the hosts hadn’t threatened all that much in the aftermath of Wan Bissaka’s dismissal. Removing both Cristiano Ronaldo and Bruno Fernandes with the score tied at 1-1 was another head-scratcher that left United without any presence up front.

Matthew Peters / Manchester United / Getty

So, what’s the verdict? Solskjaer has never had a better team at his disposal in two-and-a-half years in charge, and the stakes have never been higher. If he can’t figure out solutions on the go, maybe he’s not the man for the job.

By the numbers: Sevilla and Salzburg’s wild meeting

While most viewers watched Manchester United unravel in Switzerland, Sevilla and Red Bull Salzburg played out a scrappy yet eventful 1-1 draw in Andalusia.

There were four penalties in the opening period, a red card early in the second half, and a ridiculous 34 fouls across the 90 minutes. Here are more standout stats from the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan.

1 – Sevilla became the first team in Champions League history to concede three penalties in one match and not lose. FC Twente, Anderlecht, and Borussia Monchengladbach are the three other sides to give away three spot-kicks in a game, and they lost by scores of 4-1, 3-1, and 3-0, respectively.

3 – Karim Adeyemi, 19, won each of Salzburg’s three penalties at Sevilla. Since detailed data was collected from the 2003-04 season, the most penalties drawn by a single player in a full Champions League campaign is four (Bayern Munich’s Arjen Robben in 2013-14).

33% – Salzburg’s success rate from their three penalties. Teenager Luka Sucic goaded the home crowd when he netted his side’s second spot-kick but proceeded to hit the post with Salzburg’s third attempt just 16 minutes later.

100 – Ivan Rakitic’s converted penalty was Sevilla’s 100th goal in Champions League/European Cup matches, including qualifiers.

Hunting for positives at Barcelona

The club’s debts total €1.35 billion. Lionel Messi is gone. Luuk de Jong is playing up front.

Given Barcelona’s state, losing to Bayern Munich seemed an inevitability before the game even kicked off. So, what many Barcelona fans would’ve looked for in Tuesday’s match is a semblance of hope to cling onto; they would’ve wanted a hint that someday – not today or next month, but someday – their beloved, bumbling behemoth will be feared on the European stage once more.

LLUIS GENE / AFP / Getty

But such evidence was scarce. The 3-0 defeat flattered Barcelona, as they hushed an initially raucous Camp Nou with no shots on target and an inadequate response to Bayern Munich’s high press and patient passing. Barcelona’s greatest source of urgency came from Gavi, the 17-year-old who came on in the 58th minute and logged his team’s second-most completed tackles (three) and was the game’s dirtiest individual with four fouls. At least he gave it a go.

Perhaps that’s where Barcelona supporters can uncover one positive: their team finished the game with four teenagers on the pitch. Though that’s likely down to the shallowness of Ronald Koeman’s squad rather the emergence an immense, impossible-to-ignore generation.

Lukaku fills void in Chelsea’s attack

Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea didn’t bludgeon their way to the Champions League title, with chests out, weapons firing, and all the offensive ammunition in the world. The west London side finessed win after win, defending with supreme quality and concentration. The only thing Chelsea lacked was consistent scoring, and though they managed enough in Europe, it affected their performances in the Premier League.

No such problem exists with Romelu Lukaku in the side.

Lukaku’s header delivered a narrow 1-0 victory over Zenit St. Petersburg on Tuesday, a rare glimpse at goal in a match that ran low on chances. Chelsea’s expected goals average sat at a lowly 0.82, meaning they didn’t create enough chances to realistically expect a single goal. Lukaku did the work with a lot less at his disposal.

James Williamson – AMA / Getty Images Sport / Getty

“The performance for Romelu was not easy. We did not create many chances for him, but he does not lose confidence and belief. That’s why he’s here and why he’s a world-class striker,” Tuchel said afterward.

Mason Mount and Hakim Ziyech struggled to produce anything going forward, and if Antonio Rudiger hadn’t made a decisive block in the second half, Chelsea would’ve been forced to play catchup. Lukaku restored order shortly after, and the reigning European champions avoided a setback as they began their title defense.

How will Juve replace Ronaldo’s goals?

Juventus finally got off the schneid this week, recording their first victory of the season against Malmo. The comfortable 3-0 triumph eased some of the concerns that had supporters ready to hit the panic button after the Bianconeri kicked off the new campaign with three limp performances – and just a single point – in Serie A.

The biggest question facing Massimiliano Allegri is one he probably didn’t expect to be dealing with heading into his second stint at Juve: how do you replace Ronaldo’s production? The obvious answer involves getting Paulo Dybala back to the scoring form he showed under Maurizio Sarri in 2019-20 when the Argentine was named Serie A MVP. But asking one player to replicate Ronaldo’s shot volume and goalscoring isn’t practical; it’ll take multiple contributors, and some of them may be unconventional.

Tuesday against Malmo offered a prime example.

Left-back Alex Sandro popped up in the center of Malmo’s penalty area multiple times, and that aggressiveness helped him open the scoring in the contest. With Ronaldo occupying that space last season, it wasn’t necessary for the likes of Sandro to get into those areas. That changes with the Portuguese star back in Manchester. Considering, too, that Dybala likes to drop deep in an effort to facilitate play, it’s even more vital for others to take chances getting forward. Allegri needs to find the right balance to make it work. On Tuesday, that meant using Adrien Rabiot in a hybrid wide midfield role to cover for Sandro’s forays. Different – and more challenging – opposition will force the tactician to keep innovating as the season goes along.

Have Atalanta peaked?

At some point, Atalanta are going to fall short of the incredible heights they’ve established in recent seasons. We might be witnessing that right now.

Quality Sport Images / Getty Images Sport / Getty

The plucky Italian side, now firmly established as a European darling thanks to its modest budget and swashbuckling brand of football, has looked ragged to start the new season. Gian Piero Gasperini’s men have just one win from four matches in all competitions, and even that took an injury-time goal from 20-year-old Roberto Piccoli against Torino. Not exactly inspiring.

Tuesday was yet another tough outing, as Atalanta were lucky to escape with a 2-2 draw against Villarreal; goalkeeper Juan Musso was the hero with a pair of stellar close-range saves on the night at the El Madrigal, while Robin Gosens provided a late leveler.

Have other teams figured out how to combat Gasperini’s uber-aggressive, man-marking approach, or is this simply a case of dwindling talent catching up? Atalanta were able to withstand the absence of Papu Gomez immediately after his January move to Sevilla, but that, combined with the waning influence of Josip Ilicic, is starting to look decisive. For all of his attributes, Matteo Pessina can’t replicate the inventiveness of the aforementioned playmakers, which then hampers Duvan Zapata and Luis Muriel up front. Perhaps the magic is simply running out.

Poch has plenty of work to do

Lionel Messi, Neymar, and Kylian Mbappe took the pitch together for the first at PSG on Wednesday, and the early returns were feeble. The attacking trio, perhaps unsurprisingly, didn’t combine with any great consistency in the 1-1 draw with Club Brugge. There were some bright moments that involved Messi picking out Mbappe and using some trademark one-twos to make progress around the penalty area, but on the whole, Brugge did an excellent job shutting PSG down.

“I didn’t really have much work to do. We played very well collectively,” Brugge goalkeeper Simon Mignolet correctly pointed out. “I made two, three saves, not very difficult ones at that.”

PSG finished the match with four shots on target. If anything, the vivacious Belgian side, spurred on by a roaring crowd, deserved to come away with all three points. Brugge brought an intensity that PSG didn’t look interested in matching.

That wasn’t entirely the fault of the newly-minted “MNM” triumvirate, of course. In fact, the unit didn’t even share the pitch for an hour, as an apparent ankle injury forced Mbappe off in the 50th minute. The larger issue that Mauricio Pochettino needs to sort out is everything that happens behind his attacking trio. PSG’s midfield was sluggish and overrun, and the full-backs were left isolated too often. There’s plenty of work to do before this super team looks the part.

Milan will grow from loss to Liverpool

AC Milan’s first Champions League match in seven years was a lesson in intensity. Liverpool swarmed the Rossoneri in the opening 30 minutes with a high press that forced several turnovers. Milan lost themselves in the sea of red and barely escaped that hellish half-hour with a 1-0 deficit.

But the courage they showed in a cauldron-like Anfield was encouraging. Milan continued to play dangerous vertical passes despite the obvious risk of losing possession to an opponent that can decimate the best teams on the counterattack. Eventually, Milan scored, and then they scored again to take a 2-1 halftime lead.

Simon Stacpoole/Offside / Offside / Getty

Ultimately losing 3-2 will sting for Milan. Head coach Stefano Pioli will note his players’ numerous mistakes under pressure and the gaping hole in midfield that they couldn’t fill. But the fact his side competed in such difficult circumstances, with a bunch of Champions League rookies and debutants, should boost confidence. That the players themselves believed they could win – and are disappointed not to – speaks to the team’s mentality.

Milan are still a work in progress, but they’ve already shown they won’t simply roll over in the worst of times. Wednesday’s trip to Anfield may be their toughest test of the season, and it’s best it happened early on when lessons can be learned and applied.

Ake still yet to impress

There’s a common factor to the three games Manchester City conceded this season: Nathan Ake started.

Ake was a notable weakness in his first two appearances this campaign. He gave up the decisive penalty in the Community Shield defeat to Leicester City and was overrun in the Premier League loss to Tottenham Hotspur. It should be noted that he suffered the misfortune of playing alongside the hapless left-back Benjamin Mendy in the latter match.

The 26-year-old then seemed to get a much-needed boost when he headed the opener in Wednesday’s 6-3 win over RB Leipzig. But then it went wrong. There was little movement under crosses – an issue that hinted at poor communication between the Dutchman and Ruben Dias – while Ake absent-mindedly stepped forward from the defensive line on a few occasions, opening up space for Leipzig’s Christopher Nkunku to fill.

Nkunku, who seemed to target Ake at various points in the game, scored a hat-trick.

Ake’s unfortunate run of injuries can take some blame for a rather forgettable 2020-21 campaign after his £40-million transfer from Bournemouth, but he’s only harming his chances of regular minutes with his performances so far this term.

A surprise in Group D?

Antonio Conte may have left the club, but Inter Milan made sure to honor their former coach by conspiring to somehow lose a Champions League match they thoroughly controlled. Despite crafting several quality chances and limiting Real Madrid to two shots on target, the Nerazzurri were rocked by an 89th-minute goal from Rodrygo, slumping to a disheartening 1-0 defeat.

That wouldn’t be too much cause for concern over the course of a league season. But, as Inter proved with their group-stage elimination last campaign, every point counts, and missed opportunities quickly come back to haunt. Wednesday’s result at the San Siro has, incredibly, opened the door for Sheriff Tiraspol in Group D. The unfancied minnows from Transnistria, a tiny Moldovan separatist state, sit top of the quartet on goal difference after opening their campaign with a win over Shakhtar Donetsk.

If Sheriff get anything from their games against Inter, this group could be flipped on its head.

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Champions League

Champions League preview: Predictions, players to watch, and more

With the Champions League making its anticipated return this week, we peer into our crystal ball to predict what will happen in Europe’s premier club competition this season.

Predicted group standings

How will the eight groups unfold in the coming months? Here’s our best guess at the final standings, and by extension, the knockout-stage participants:

  • Group A: PSG, Manchester City, RB Leipzig, Club Brugge
  • Group B: Liverpool, AC Milan, Atletico Madrid, FC Porto
  • Group C: Borussia Dortmund, Ajax, Sporting CP, Besiktas
  • Group D: Real Madrid, Inter Milan, Shakhtar Donetsk, Sheriff
  • Group E: Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Benfica, Dynamo Kyiv
  • Group F: Manchester United, Atalanta, Villarreal, Young Boys
  • Group G: Wolfsburg, Sevilla, RB Salzburg, Lille
  • Group H: Chelsea, Juventus, Zenit St. Petersburg, Malmo

Champions League winner

Paris Saint-Germain. Anything less than finally capturing the elusive Champions League crown would be considered a massive failure in the French capital. It’s the very highest of bars, but that’s what happens when you sign arguably the greatest player of all time and add several other elite contributors to a team that already boasts Kylian Mbappe and Neymar.

BERTRAND GUAY / AFP / Getty

PSG appear to be hitting the sweet spot needed to win any knockout tournament. The club is loaded, of course, but also battle-hardened after reaching the final and semifinals over the past two campaigns. The latter can’t be underestimated – “learning” to win is a skill only acquired after near misses.

A difficult group – headlined by an exhilarating matchup with fellow contenders Manchester City – should serve PSG well, especially considering they’re unlikely to get the same kind of consistent tests in league play. If Mauricio Pochettino can figure out a system that allows all his superstars to thrive in unison, watch out. Ill-timed injuries and plain old bad luck can render all of this moot, but all things being equal, PSG are best placed to claim the big-eared trophy this season.

Champions League runner-up

Chelsea. This was a toss-up between the reigning champions and last campaign’s vanquished finalists, Manchester City. Thomas Tuchel’s team is probably the more balanced unit overall, especially after Romelu Lukaku’s arrival, and for that reason, we’re giving Chelsea the edge.

Darren Walsh / Chelsea FC / Getty

Things may have been different had City successfully recruited Harry Kane – or even Cristiano Ronaldo – in the summer, but for all of Pep Guardiola’s undeniable genius, you’re likely going to rue not having a bonafide No. 9 to capitalize on the bounty of chances your elite playmakers create at some point.

Tuchel himself is also a huge factor. After replacing the underwhelming Frank Lampard and leading the Blues to glory last season, the German tactician now has a deeper, more talent-rich squad to help implement a footballing philosophy that has already proved capable of winning silverware.

Biggest surprise

Sheriff Tiraspol. This is not to say that the Moldovan club will make a Cinderella run to the latter stages of the tournament or even reach the last 16. In the current age of separation between the mega-wealthy and everyone else, that simply doesn’t happen anymore – at least not on this scale.

Pixsell/MB Media / Getty Images Sport / Getty

But Sheriff, after pulling off several upsets just to reach the competition’s group stage in the first place, aren’t going to easily roll over against Real Madrid, Inter Milan, or Shakhtar Donetsk in Group D.

If Sheriff’s 3-0 destruction of Dinamo Zagreb in the first leg of their playoff tie demonstrated anything, it’s that Adama Traore and Dimitris Kolovos – their scorers in that contest – are skilled enough to take advantage of any opportunities that may arise against the aforementioned trio. Taking points off Real Madrid may be too tall a task, but Inter have been chronic underachievers in this tournament of late, while Shakhtar are looking a little unsure of themselves thus far under new manager Roberto De Zerbi. Sheriff will keep things competitive.

Biggest flop

Atletico Madrid. There’s optimism around the Wanda this season after Atletico Madrid further bolstered a squad that captured the La Liga title last term – Rodrigo De Paul’s addition, in particular, was a masterful deal.

GIUSEPPE CACACE / AFP / Getty

But there have been signs of vulnerability in the opening weeks of the new campaign, with some extremely late goals against Villarreal and, more recently, Espanyol delivering points that so nearly slipped away. Diego Simeone undeniably has more attacking firepower at his disposal than at any other point in his hugely successful Atleti tenure, but that comes with added expectations on how to properly use those resources. It’s a tricky balancing act for any team, not least of which one that has been so heavily predicated on a stingy defensive approach for the better part of a decade.

Simeone doesn’t have the luxury of time to figure things out, either. Liverpool, AC Milan, and FC Porto are all more than capable of taking the Spanish champions down in Group B if they are disjointed coming out of the gate.

Top scorer

Erling Haaland. The (bonkers) numbers speak for themselves. Just about everything Haaland has touched since making his Champions League debut has found the back of the net. The Norwegian phenom has 20 goals in 16 tournament appearances, becoming the quickest player in history to reach the 20-goal benchmark in Europe’s showpiece event.

Alexandre Simoes / Borussia Dortmund / Getty

Explosive, almost unmatched goalscoring skill isn’t the only determining factor when selecting a Golden Boot winner, though. Penalty-taking opportunities and group stage opposition play a key role, too. Luckily for Haaland, both play in his favor.

The 21-year-old has assumed spot-kick duties for Borussia Dortmund in the wake of Jadon Sancho’s departure, and, crucially, Haaland will have the chance to bolster his numbers against Ajax, Besiktas, and Sporting Lisbon in arguably the most forgiving group of this season’s Champions League. Competition for the crown will be fierce – Ronaldo, Lukaku, and Robert Lewandowski will be in the running – but the fact that three potential winners from PSG will have to share the wealth also gives Haaland an edge.

Breakout star

Karim Adeyemi. For the most part, anybody playing in the Champions League is already on the radar. It’s hard to be a true “breakout” star if your side is competing in the most celebrated club competition in the sport. But some still manage to sneak up on us, at least to a certain degree.

DeFodi Images / DeFodi Images / Getty

Adeyemi, the 19-year-old forward for Red Bull Salzburg, fits that bill, even if he’s already a full German international. Off to a blistering start with six league goals through seven matches in Austria’s top flight, the speedy teenager is already being linked with Liverpool ahead of the upcoming January transfer window. Naturally.

If recent history with the likes of Haaland, Dominik Szoboszlai, and Patson Daka has taught us anything, it’s to buy stock early when a talented youngster shows some promise in Salzburg. Adeyemi is next in line.

Most excited about …

Upset potential … and the anthem. Despite the enormous chasm that has developed between football’s richest teams and the rest of the field, there is always an upset of some kind in the Champions League, and that’s part of what makes this tournament so riveting.

Porto, Lyon, Ajax, and Roma have all been responsible for memorable – and in some cases, epic – results in the knockout stages of late, while last season’s competition saw Manchester United fail to emerge from the group stage. It’s becoming increasingly rare, but it still happens. Someone will inevitably throw a spanner in the works at some point, creating another collection of players who will go down as heroes in the eyes of their fans. Any way you slice it, that’s exciting and good for the health of the sport.

And, in a far more trivial observation, hearing the famous Champions League anthem – and singing along with it no matter where you are or who you’re around – is undeniably one of the most intoxicating things about the tournament. When the iconic tune comes over the stadium speakers for the first time on Tuesday, everyone will be fired up.

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Champions League

Transfer Deadline Day: Live analysis of all the major deals, rumors

Transfer deadline day is in full swing. We’re providing live, quick-hit analysis of the biggest deals – and rumors – until tonight’s 6 p.m. ET deadline.

DONE DEAL: Ronaldo returns to Manchester United ?

  • Details: CR7 joins from Juventus for potential €23M fee (Read more)

Cristiano Ronaldo and Manchester United used deadline day’s early hours to put the final touches on the transfer that still has the football world in a frenzy.

The 36-year-old was seemingly on the verge of joining local rivals Manchester City after their pursuit of Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Kane collapsed. However, a chaotic few hours culminated with United announcing the return of Ronaldo from Juventus on Friday, pending an agreement of personal terms, the receipt of a visa, and the Portuguese forward completing a medical.

Some reports suggest City pulled the plug on a deal, allowing United to swoop in. Other accounts claimed the allure of United – and persuasive phone calls from former teammates such as Rio Ferdinand – encouraged Ronaldo to turn his back on City. There was even speculation that Ronaldo’s agent, Jorge Mendes, used City as a pawn to tempt United into an approach, though that would seem unlikely as some of Mendes’ top clients play for the reigning Premier League champions.

Sebastian Frej/MB Media / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Perhaps the biggest debate around Ronaldo’s return is United’s motivation. Was this primarily an emotional decision, one designed to stop a club icon from moving to City and instead bring him back to Old Trafford? Or does Ole Gunnar Solskjaer believe the Madeiran maverick is the crucial final piece in a title-winning team?

There’s no doubting the supreme quality and influence of Ronaldo, but the riches United already had in attack and their vulnerabilities in defensive midfield may suggest their money was best spent elsewhere.

Camavinga on verge of Real Madrid move

This could be one of the signings of the summer:

Will Manchester City get their No. 9?

It’s gone a little quiet at City HQ since Ronaldo moved to their cross-town foes, and there’s still a vacancy for an out-and-out striker in Pep Guardiola’s squad.

Winger Ferran Torres has impressed at center-forward while Gabriel Jesus, who’s flourished in his recent outings on the right flank, remains City’s most natural striking option, but there will inevitably be rumors linking the club to the likes of Borussia Dortmund’s Erling Haaland and Fiorentina’s Dusan Vlahovic on transfer deadline day.

City’s No. 9 hunt isn’t necessarily over.

DONE DEAL: Moise Kean re-joins Juventus ?

  • Details: Bianconeri could pay up to €38M after initial loan (Read more)

Kean signed off from Everton duty with a red card in a League Cup match at Huddersfield Town. It was a fitting way for him to end a disappointing spell on Merseyside.

Tony McArdle – Everton FC / Everton FC / Getty

With Dominic Calvert-Lewin establishing himself as the main striker at Everton and roving forward duties left to Richarlison, Kean struggled for minutes with the Toffees. The 21-year-old only once started in back-to-back Premier League matches and completed 90 minutes just twice: a 2-0 home defeat to Sheffield United and a cup win over League Two’s Salford City.

So, Everton potentially receiving even more than what they paid two years ago isn’t a bad return at all.

At Juventus, Kean is widely recognized as Ronaldo’s replacement. It’s a burdensome tag. But Juve should take confidence from his haul of 13 goals from 26 Ligue 1 appearances on loan at Paris Saint-Germain last season and his exploits as a teenager during his previous spell in Turin.

Kean has often thrived as a support striker or when being one of a few forwards, and Juventus can certainly play to those strengths when Massimiliano Allegri has the likes of Alvaro Morata, Federico Chiesa, and Paulo Dybala to call upon.

Best under-the-radar signing

Brighton & Hove Albion could be one of the most exciting Premier League teams to watch following the addition of Marc Cucurella.

Cucurella, a £15.4-million arrival from Getafe, will wreak havoc on the left flank while a fit-again Tariq Lamptey will raze everything in his path down the right. It promises to be a thrilling watch.

The 23-year-old addresses an area of need for the Seagulls after midfielders Pascal Gross, Solly March, and Jakub Moder have played at left-back or left wing-back during the opening three matches of the Premier League season. Cucurella could also feature to the left of the striker, with Leandro Trossard playing on the right.

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