Connect with us

Champions League

10 thoughts from this week's Champions League action

The Champions League rumbled on this week with another entertaining slate of action. Below, we dissect the biggest talking points from Matchday 4 in Europe’s premier club competition.

Hudson-Odoi making rare starts count

Chelsea’s Callum Hudson-Odoi continued to prove his worth Tuesday with an effective, utilitarian performance against Malmo, setting up the game’s only goal with a gorgeous assist from out wide. After switching from the left to the right, Hudson-Odoi stretched Malmo’s compact defense, finding space that became sparse in the opening half.

He’s done well to bide his time and wait for his chance, which is now in his hands due to injuries to Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner. The 20-year-old could’ve easily fled for greener pastures in the summer. Instead, he accepted his role, along with the challenge of fighting his way back into the starting lineup.

Darren Walsh / Chelsea FC / Getty

And he’s come a long way since manager Thomas Tuchel made an example of him in February by hauling him off just 31 minutes after subbing him on. The difference lies in Hudson-Odoi’s commitment to the task at hand. He’s made himself available as a right-wing-back, right-winger, and attacking midfielder, filling roles as Tuchel sees fit.

He did it again in Sweden on Tuesday, making an impact within 10 minutes of Tuchel’s tactical switch.

Can Ronaldo continue saving United?

If you have to depend on one player to regularly bail you out, it may as well be Cristiano Ronaldo, the greatest scorer of all time.

But just how long can Manchester United go on without paying the piper?

United cheated death once again Tuesday, relying on Ronaldo’s heroic interventions to eke out a 2-2 draw away to Atalanta. His match-saving brace – scored via two off-script plays that caught Atalanta’s otherwise alert defense off-guard – came as the rest of his teammates struggled to execute anything resembling a game plan. Only center-back Eric Bailly – author of several last-ditch tackles – can also fly home feeling remotely proud of his performance.

Jonathan Moscrop / Getty Images Sport / Getty

United’s erratic football was in direct contrast to Atalanta’s slick and stifling style of play. La Dea moved the ball with purpose and hounded United whenever they were in possession. United captain Harry Maguire couldn’t cope with Atalanta’s speed.

The frustrating thing about this team is it’s more than capable of playing good and tidy football. United can even play at high intensity. They just don’t do it for a full 90 minutes; the quick exchange of passes that led to Ronaldo’s initial equalizer in first-half stoppage time were by far the exception.

At some point, the Red Devils’ inefficiencies will begin to outweigh Ronaldo’s own individual greatness.

Barcelona don’t need to win pretty

A win’s a win – even for Barcelona.

At no point during Tuesday’s 1-0 victory at Dynamo Kiev did Barcelona look like the juggernaut of old. They played in 25 crosses – many of the speculative variety – and fired a measly four of 15 shots on target. It was up to 19-year-old Ansu Fati to secure the club’s first away win of the season, an important hurdle cleared during a forgettable campaign that’s been low on style and even lower on substance.

SERGEI SUPINSKY / AFP / Getty

Forget the principles of Cruyffian football. Even with Fati, the promising Gavi, and Pedri in the side, and Xavi potentially coming on board, this team can only dream of playing good football.

Simply put, it needs to find ways to win, if only to bide time until the club can sort itself out. With an interim manager in place, crippling debt, and Camp Nou poised for redevelopment, Barcelona have no time to worry about the sheen of their performances. A win like Tuesday’s is exactly what they need to get through this storm, no matter how uncharacteristic it may be for a club and fan base that demands a certain polish on every result.

Lewandowski in the GOAT bracket?

Some food for thought: just how highly would Robert Lewandowski be regarded if he didn’t play in the same era as Ronaldo and Lionel Messi?

The same can be asked of a handful of elite stars who have been overshadowed by two of the greatest to ever play the sport, but Lewandowski should arguably be the most aggrieved with having to share the spotlight.

The Bayern Munich scoring machine – who racked up another hat-trick in Tuesday’s 5-2 victory over Benfica – now has 81 Champions League goals in 100 tournament appearances; when Messi and Ronaldo reached the 100-match mark in the competition, they had 77 and 64 tallies, respectively.

There’s an inevitability about Lewandowski. At this point, it’s a surprise when he doesn’t score. That rarely happens, by the way; the Polish hitman now has 22 goals in 18 games across all competitions for Bayern this season.

Individual accolades are an imperfect way to evaluate footballers – we put too much stock into them, generally – but Lewandowski is the obvious pick for the Ballon d’Or this year.

Dybala vital to Juve’s revival

Juventus’ early-season domestic struggles have been discussed ad nauseam, but the Bianconeri are enduring no such problems in the Champions League, joining Bayern in the round of 16 by virtue of an entertaining 4-2 win over Zenit St. Petersburg on Tuesday.

Juve, languishing in ninth place in Serie A and tied on points with the likes of Hellas Verona (against whom they just lost), Bologna, and Empoli, are perfect on the continent after four games, including a win over title holders Chelsea.

Stefano Guidi / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Massimiliano Allegri is still tinkering, searching for the right tactical approach and lineup. One thing is abundantly clear, though: the team needs to accentuate Paulo Dybala’s skillset to thrive. The Argentine, along with Federico Chiesa, is capable of elevating the club back to recent heights.

Dybala was at his intoxicating best on Tuesday.

He scored twice (including a penalty), showed off his mazy dribbling ability in tight spaces, linked up sharply with his fellow forwards, and came agonizingly close to sealing a hat-trick with multiple trademark curlers from just outside the area. It was a vintage performance from the 27-year-old, who seems to be getting back up to speed after recovering from a thigh injury.

Whatever system Allegri ultimately settles on as his primary setup, Dybala will be the central figure.

AC Milan lacking something in Europe

AC Milan are undefeated in Serie A after winning 10 of their first 11 matches with 25 goals scored. So why are they still winless in the Champions League?

Sure, one could call it inexperience. Several starters made their Champions League debuts this season – in the Group of Death, no less. One could also highlight the questionable officiating that put the Rossoneri at a disadvantage in otherwise tight contests against Atletico Madrid and Porto; a clear foul on Milan’s Ismael Bennacer went unnoticed Wednesday as Porto scored their only goal of a 1-1 game.

But none of that fully explains why Milan can’t replicate in Europe the quick, cohesive football they love to play in Serie A.

Anadolu Agency / Anadolu Agency / Getty

One could forgive Milan for losing to Liverpool in September. It was the club’s first Champions League match in seven years and in the cauldron that is Anfield. The loss at home to Atletico, meanwhile, came against the backdrop of a refereeing disaster. But Milan struggled in the air and in midfield in both games against Sergio Conceicao’s organized Porto.

Maybe this season will help Stefano Pioli’s side understand what it takes to win in the Champions League. Because if Milan continue to perform in Serie A, they’ll certainly be back.

Vinicius rewards Madrid’s patience

A big-money move to Real Madrid is always accompanied by sky-high expectations – especially for a teenager billed as Brazil’s next superstar.

That’s precisely what happened to Vinicius Junior when Los Blancos splashed €45 million to acquire him from Flamengo in 2017. Early returns were a source of frustration for Real Madrid supporters before this season, with the young winger showing undeniable promise but failing to find the consistency expected of such an expensive signing.

There have been no such issues this season.

Vinicius, now 21, has been on a tear to begin the campaign, forging a dynamite understanding with attacking fulcrum Karim Benzema. After setting up both of Benzema’s goals in Wednesday’s 2-1 win over Shakhtar Donetsk, the electrifying Brazilian now has 14 goal contributions (nine goals and five assists) in 13 starts this season.

Vinicius was always going to need some time to make the leap. But, all things considered, it’s happened in a flash for the blossoming star, who’s well on his way to winning over the famously impatient Real Madrid crowd.

Wijnaldum deserves more chances at PSG

Mauricio Pochettino took Georginio Wijnaldum’s plea to heart.

Wijnaldum made clear in October that he was displeased with his lack of playing time since joining Paris Saint-Germain as a free agent last summer. After serving as a vital cog in the Liverpool midfield in recent years, the Dutch international expected a larger role in the French capital.

“The situation is not what I wanted. I have played a lot in recent years, was always fit, and also did very well,” the midfielder said at the time. “This is something different, and that takes getting used to. I was really looking forward to the new step, and then this happens. It is very difficult.

“That’s football, and I’ll have to learn to deal with that. I’m a fighter. I have to stay positive and work hard to turn it around.”

Mission accomplished.

Stefan Matzke – sampics / Corbis Sport / Getty

Wijnaldum entered Matchday 4 having played just 87 Champions League minutes this season. He’s surely earned more opportunities after scoring twice in PSG’s 2-2 draw with RB Leipzig on Wednesday.

It’s easy to say in hindsight, but Wijnaldum’s lack of action always seemed odd: He profiles as the ideal box-to-box player to link PSG’s oft-isolated attackers to the rest of the team, and Pochettino’s squad has looked painfully disjointed this season. Wijnaldum’s performance Wednesday should help cement his status as a consistent starter, which should give PSG more structure.

Atletico’s street smarts don’t cut it anymore

Atletico Madrid tried their best to unsettle Liverpool during Wednesday’s visit to Anfield. They targeted Sadio Mane from the beginning, knowing they’d have a chance if they slowed down Liverpool’s star players.

But Atletico’s game plan was obvious from the beginning.

NurPhoto / NurPhoto / Getty

“We know they’ll be streetwise and ruthless,” Reds boss Jurgen Klopp said before the match. “We have to overcome that.”

That they did. Liverpool were already up 2-0 when Atletico’s Felipe was sent off for stomping on Mane’s heel. Luis Suarez – one of the most streetwise players in the game – barely made an impact. In the end, the score flattered Atletico.

Diego Simeone even went with four attackers, an unusual tactic given his preference for defensive, rough-and-tumble football. The Argentine has struggled to find the right balance with this squad, and it could prove costly with Atletico now sitting third in Group B.

Immutable law of the ex haunts PSG

When a club has Messi, Kylian Mbappe, and Neymar, its brass won’t lose too much sleep over the attackers it may have bailed on too early in previous years. PSG certainly don’t need more firepower up front.

But it’s obvious now that PSG’s decision to let academy graduate Christopher Nkunku depart in 2019 for a mere €15 million was a mistake.

picture alliance / picture alliance / Getty

The 23-year-old is enjoying a true breakout campaign, with his exquisite header at the Red Bull Arena on Wednesday giving him five goals in four Champions League matches this season. A constant thorn in the side of his former team over a frenetic 90 minutes, Nkunku also won the penalty that led to Leipzig’s last-gasp equalizer.

Nkunku could have been a homegrown success story had PSG exhibited some patience. Instead, he looks destined to become the latest in an ever-growing list of players who secure a mega-money move after a brief stop at Leipzig.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Champions League

5 thoughts from Tuesday's Champions League action

The Champions League is back! Below, we dissect the biggest talking points from Tuesday’s action as this season’s group stage kicked off in Europe’s premier club competition.

The jinxed jersey

Thomas Tuchel hasn’t tried to lessen the weight of Chelsea’s No. 9 shirt. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The head coach has repeatedly branded the digit a “curse” at Stamford Bridge.

Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Hernan Crespo, and Tammy Abraham are the club’s most successful No. 9s this century, but Crespo and Abraham’s fruitful spells were only brief. Fernando Torres, Radamel Falcao, Alvaro Morata, and Gonzalo Higuain are among the players who’ve disappointed while donning the number, which is traditionally reserved for goalscorers.

“We demand a lot from our strikers in terms of defending. We want to be a physical and hard-working group, one that’s not shy to make it a physical game and not only a skillful game. That maybe plays a part,” Tuchel offered in February of how Chelsea’s traditional playing style could contribute to Romelu Lukaku’s struggles.

But deadline-day arrival Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had no problem with inheriting Lukaku’s shirt. If the 33-year-old is to break the curse, he’ll have to do better than he did in Tuesday’s 1-0 loss at Dinamo Zagreb.

Pixsell/MB Media / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Aubameyang struggled to make a positive impact in his debut, showing none of the conviction that Chelsea so desperately need in the center-forward position. Instead, he strayed offside three times and failed to fire a single shot on target. Armando Broja replaced Aubameyang after 60 largely frustrating minutes.

His face mask may have narrowed his vision, and after sustaining injuries during a violent break-in attempt at his home near Barcelona, he may need some time to regain his confidence. But he shouldn’t need too much time to adapt to Tuchel’s tactics. The 49-year-old coached Aubameyang for two seasons at Borussia Dortmund, and it was in Germany where the former Gabonese international learned how to play his best football, operating as well up front as he would out of possession.

Based on his performance in the Croatian capital, Aubameyang has a long way to go before he can become that player once again.

New season, same PSG?

Now more than ever, there are no illusions about Paris Saint-Germain’s aspirations. It’s Champions League title or bust.

And, not for the first time, some of the early signs were enormously promising. PSG toyed with Juventus for much of their 2-1 win Tuesday in the French capital. Kylian Mbappe, Neymar, and Lionel Messi seemed to be playing a different sport at times, connecting with intricate tricks and flicks and making a mockery of the Juve backline. Neymar’s scooped pass for Mbappe’s early goal, and the Frenchman’s thunderous volley itself, belong in the Louvre.

DeFodi Images / DeFodi Images / Getty

Leading 2-0 after just 22 minutes and in complete control, PSG should’ve gone for the jugular. They could’ve blown Juve away and made a huge statement of intent, even if beating this version of the Old Lady isn’t quite the accomplishment of previous years. Still, a marker could have been laid down.

Instead, PSG became complacent after the interval. The smooth, slick, devastating unit from the opening 45 minutes disappeared and let Juventus back into the match. PSG were, and are, comfortably the better team, but after Weston McKennie halved the deficit, doubt started the creep in for the hosts. The defense, untested in the first half, looked nervous and susceptible whenever a cross was whipped into the penalty area.

The scenes were somewhat reminiscent of PSG’s collapse against Real Madrid last season, only this time, Karim Benzema wasn’t there to punish them. A relatively feeble Juventus side worried PSG when it played on the front foot. How will Christophe Galtier’s men handle the pressure against better teams in the knockout stages? The question, yet again, lingers.

Allegri holding Juve back

Passive. Timid. Apathetic.

Juventus fans and pundits alike had their thesauruses out after the opening half of Tuesday’s eventual defeat to PSG, with Massimiliano Allegri’s team completely outclassed and overawed by the pace, skill, and intensity of Mbappe and his teammates. Juve, who have looked turgid in Serie A this season, struggled to string multiple passes together.

The knives were being sharpened for the Italian manager, whose monotonous tactics have come under heavy criticism of late.

Then, suddenly, McKennie’s aforementioned goal in the 53rd minute seemed to flip a switch. Juve pressed forward, Leandro Paredes started to dictate the tempo and spray passes across the pitch, and the Italian side found pockets of space between the lines instead of playing repetitive, low-risk balls out wide and simply recycling possession over and over again.

JONATHAN NACKSTRAND / AFP / Getty

Ironically, that improvement is part of the issue. Juventus can play more aggressive, attractive football. The talent is there, even without the injured star trio of Federico Chiesa, Paul Pogba, and Angel Di Maria. Allegri can’t wait for all three to return before he takes the handbrake off; the former pair likely won’t be back in full force until January, at the earliest.

The players need to take some responsibility, of course, but Allegri is being paid very handsomely to put his team in a position to win. Being overly conservative, even if it will occasionally deliver results, isn’t the right approach to get the best out of his team.

If things haven’t changed by the time PSG visit Turin in the reverse fixture in early November, the Tuscan manager could be in trouble.

Is Akanji one of the top summer bargains?

You wouldn’t have guessed it was Manuel Akanji’s Manchester City debut. He didn’t need to do much defensive work in his new side’s 4-0 win at Sevilla, but he was unhurried when he had the ball, using both feet as he moved it along to his new teammates. He completed 71 passes, creating two chances along the way.

It all seemed very familiar to Akanji.

Pep Guardiola likes to rotate his lineup, but he prefers to have a set center-back duo for most of his team’s matches. Ruben Dias and John Stones were his last regular pairing, but injuries and the occasional off-color performance from the latter have loosened that partnership’s hold on two spots in the lineup.

Nathan Ake has improved following some unconvincing displays earlier in his City career, but he seems to get injured just when he’s strung together a few starts. Meanwhile, Aymeric Laporte’s increasingly common spells on the sidelines may be the main reason City swooped for Akanji on deadline day; the Spaniard might not be back until mid-October after knee surgery.

So, Akanji could be very busy in his first few weeks in Manchester, and, based on his debut display, that’s no bad thing. He has the intelligence, awareness, and selflessness that should set him up well for Guardiola football, and at around £17 million, he could prove to be the bargain of the summer.

Well, that’s if Erling Haaland – who already has 12 City goals after his double against Sevilla – didn’t cost just £60 million.

Salzburg no pushovers in Group E

AC Milan learned Tuesday night that Red Bull Salzburg are a serious threat in Group E.

Salzburg, after all, are playing in the Champions League group stage for the fourth consecutive season. They routinely develop some of the world’s most promising talent, most notably Haaland, and press as relentlessly as the very best teams in Europe. It should come as no surprise they held Milan to a 1-1 draw – they managed to do the same against Bayern Munich last season.

Given Chelsea’s early struggles, Salzburg can envision a path into the round of 16, especially with Swiss forward Noah Okafor developing into a fine scorer and dribbler and 19-year-old forward Benjamin Sesko showing promise in advance of his move to sister club RB Leipzig.

JOE KLAMAR / AFP / Getty

Salzburg took the game to Milan early in the first half, pressing the Rossoneri and limiting their time on the ball. The hosts had a goal and nine shots by the half-hour mark despite only having 35% possession. It was a devastating display that set the tone for the rest of the game. Salzburg’s defenders double-marked Rafael Leao, knowing they had to cut off an artery of Milan’s attack to stand a chance against the Italian champions. Though the Portuguese winger assisted the equalizer, he could’ve done a lot more damage.

By the end of the night, Salzburg’s players covered an average of 11.09 kilometers, trumping Milan’s 10.8 kilometers per outfielder. Even after starting the game so aggressively, the Austrian side sustained itself throughout the 90 minutes, doing the majority of its work off the ball.

Continue Reading

Champions League

Predicting where soccer's top 20 free agents will sign this summer

Two of the biggest fish in this summer’s free-agent pond – Kylian Mbappe and Antonio Rudiger – have already been snapped up. However, there’s still a wildly impressive crop of stars who have decided to run down their contracts and hit the open market – a growing trend in world football. Below, we’re guessing the landing spots for 20 of the most desirable players available on a Bosman.

Honorable mentions: Nemanja Matic, Juan Mata, Dries Mertens, Andrea Belotti

Paul Pogba ??

Age: 29
Position: Central midfielder
Potential suitors: Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain

Deja vu. Pogba is leaving Manchester United for the second time, and Turin – again – seems his likeliest destination. Reports suggest a four-year deal is imminent, with Pogba set to reunite with Max Allegri and, hopefully for Juventus, add panache to a midfield desperately lacking that type of spark.

? Prediction: Signs for Juventus

Paulo Dybala ??

Age: 28
Position: Forward
Potential suitors: Inter Milan, Tottenham Hotspur, Atletico Madrid

Since Dybala’s departure from Juventus was confirmed, a switch to rivals Inter has been in the offing. The Argentine’s agent met with the Nerazzurri brass last week, and continued talks are expected. When healthy, the left-footed attacker is one of Serie A’s most spellbinding talents.

? Prediction: Signs for Inter Milan

Ousmane Dembele ??

Fran Santiago / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Age: 25
Position: Winger
Potential suitors: Barcelona, Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain

A clear fracture exists between Dembele and Barcelona’s front office, but the oft-injured Frenchman looked spectacular on the pitch under Xavi. Despite playing fewer than 1,500 minutes, Dembele led La Liga in assists last season. His creativity and playmaking are appreciated by former boss Thomas Tuchel.

? Prediction: Signs for Chelsea

Franck Kessie ??

Age: 25
Position: Central midfielder
Potential suitors: Barcelona

Barcelona’s infamous financial situation is likely the only thing holding up Kessie’s move. After playing a vital role in helping AC Milan end their Scudetto drought, the Ivorian midfielder might find himself in a more intense fight for minutes in Catalonia. How he slots into Xavi’s team will be fascinating.

? Prediction: Signs for Barcelona

Angel Di Maria ??

Age: 34
Position: Winger
Potential suitors: Juventus, Barcelona, Benfica

Di Maria’s decorated tenure at Paris Saint-Germain is now over, and he’s mulling a few options. He wants to play one more season in Europe before returning home to Argentina. Juventus, where he can help bridge the gap until Federico Chiesa returns from his ACL tear, seems a good fit.

? Prediction: Signs for Juventus

Gareth Bale ?gbwls

Soccrates Images / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Age: 32
Position: Forward
Potential suitors: Cardiff City, Tottenham Hotspur, AS Roma

One thing is certain with regards to Bale’s future: he’s not joining Getafe. After leaving Real Madrid, the Welshman could seek a lower-leverage situation where he can focus on being in top shape for the World Cup. Cardiff City may seem an improbable destination, but the Bluebirds fit Bale’s need.

? Prediction: Signs for Cardiff City

Andreas Christensen ??

Age: 26
Position: Center-back
Potential suitors: Barcelona

Much like Kessie, all roads seemingly lead to the Camp Nou for Christensen following the end of his lengthy Chelsea career. Having played directly alongside Antonio Rudiger in west London, the next time the Danish center-back meets his ex-teammate could be as combatants in El Clasico.

? Prediction: Signs for Barcelona

Christian Eriksen ??

Age: 30
Position: Central midfielder
Potential suitors: Brentford, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United

Eriksen signed a short-term contract with Brentford in January to make his uplifting return and quickly proved that he’s still more than capable of making a difference on the pitch. Romance may be dead in football, but the two sides continuing their story together would be a truly welcome sight.

? Prediction: Renews contract with Brentford

Divock Origi ??

Andrew Kearns – CameraSport / CameraSport / Getty

Age: 27
Position: Forward
Potential suitors: AC Milan

Few players make Jurgen Klopp radiate quite like Origi, whom the German bench boss described as a Liverpool “legend” prior to his departure. “A pure joy … Wherever he will go, he will be successful,” Klopp added. That’s great news for AC Milan. They’ve been pursuing the clutch scorer for some time.

? Prediction: Signs for AC Milan

Luis Suarez ??

Age: 35
Position: Striker
Potential suitors: River Plate, Atalanta, Lazio, Aston Villa

Suarez played the fewest league minutes of his career this past season and recorded his lowest goal tally in a decade. That hasn’t dampened his suitors’ spirits, though. River Plate, who are losing hotshot Julian Alvarez to Manchester City, have made a formal approach for the veteran striker.

? Prediction: Signs for River Plate

Fernandinho ??

Age: 37
Position: Central midfielder
Potential suitors: Athletico Paranaense, Flamengo

Fernandinho caught Pep Guardiola by surprise when he announced in April that he was leaving Manchester City. The Brazilian said family considerations would factor heavily into his next move. Athletico Paranaense, where he started his professional career, are located in his home state of Parana.

? Prediction: Signs for Athletico Paranaense

Andre Onana ??

DeFodi Images / DeFodi Images / Getty

Age: 26
Position: Goalkeeper
Potential suitors: Inter Milan

With a nine-month doping ban firmly in his rearview, Onana has been tipped as the long-term replacement for Samir Handanovic at Inter. Whether Onana assumes first-choice duties immediately or has to be patient for his chance, Inter fans will be happy to have someone other than Ionut Radu on deck.

? Prediction: Signs for Inter Milan

Henrikh Mkhitaryan ??

Age: 33
Position: Attacking midfielder
Potential suitors: Inter Milan, AS Roma

It’s going to be a busy summer at Inter HQ. In addition to Dybala and Onana – and potentially Romelu Lukaku, among others – the Coppa Italia holders are working to land Mkhitaryan. After Roma and Inter made their respective sales pitches, it seems the Armenian has settled on Simone Inzaghi’s team.

? Prediction: Signs for Inter Milan

James Tarkowski ?gbeng

Age: 29
Position: Center-back
Potential suitors: Everton, Newcastle United

With Burnley dropping into the Championship, Tarkowski is looking elsewhere to remain in the Premier League. The imposing defender won more aerial duels than any player in England’s top flight last season and would slot in nicely for an Everton side that was hopeless at defending set pieces.

? Prediction: Signs for Everton

Alessio Romagnoli ??

Alessandro Sabattini / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Age: 27
Position: Center-back
Potential suitors: Lazio, Fiorentina, Valencia

Romagnoli may be the club captain, but Fikayo Tomori and Pierre Kalulu surpassed him on the depth chart. The pair became the Rossoneri’s go-to defensive duo during their stretch run to the Scudetto. Romagnoli is being eyed by Lazio, who can’t rely on 34-year-old Francesco Acerbi forever.

? Prediction: Signs for Lazio

Isco ??

Age: 30
Position: Attacking midfielder
Potential suitors: AS Roma, Sevilla, Real Betis

After nine trophy-laden years, Isco departs Real Madrid, where his influence waned. He started just two league games in 2021-22. The gifted Spaniard wants to stay in his homeland and could help a Sevilla team that mustered by far the fewest goals of La Liga’s top-five finishers last season.

? Prediction: Signs for Sevilla

Axel Witsel ??

Age: 33
Position: Central midfielder
Potential suitors: Marseille, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur

Witsel’s winding career likely has one stop in Europe remaining. The midfielder, still a key member of the Belgian national team, has admirers in England. But a move to Champions League-bound Marseille might make the most sense. He could slot in and fill the role vacated by Boubacar Kamara.

? Prediction: Signs for Marseille

Corentin Tolisso ??

Alexander Hassenstein / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Age: 27
Position: Central midfielder
Potential suitors: Lyon, Arsenal

It could be a summer of reunions for Lyon. Having re-signed Alexandre Lacazette, president Jean-Michel Aulas admitted he contacted Tolisso, too. After struggling with serious injuries at Bayern Munich, the Frenchman is “5,000% convinced” he can return to his physical peak.

? Prediction: Signs for Lyon

Jesse Lingard ?gbeng

Age: 29
Position: Attacking midfielder
Potential suitors: West Ham United, Newcastle United

Footballers, like anyone, want to feel valued by their employer. Manchester United no longer appreciates his versatile skill set, so Lingard could be in line for a return to West Ham United. That’s where he dazzled in a red-hot loan spell last year. If the sides can make the salary figures work, it’s a no-brainer.

? Prediction: Signs for West Ham United

Zlatan Ibrahimovic ??

Age: 40
Position: Striker
Potential suitors: AC Milan, Inter Miami

Ibrahimovic is facing up to eight months on the sidelines after undergoing knee surgery in May, which complicates matters regarding his future. Re-signing with AC Milan, where his leadership of a young squad was even more important than his on-field contributions, seems prudent for all.

? Prediction: Renews with AC Milan

Already signed this summer

Kylian Mbappe – Renewed with Paris Saint-Germain
Luka Modric – Renewed with Real Madrid
Antonio Rudiger – Joined Real Madrid
Ivan Perisic – Joined Tottenham Hotspur
Noussair Mazraoui – Joined Bayern Munich
Boubacar Kamara – Joined Aston Villa
Alexandre Lacazette – Joined Lyon
Matthias Ginter – Joined Freiburg

Continue Reading

Champions League

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

With the summer transfer window set to officially open Friday, we’re teeing up the wheeling and dealing by presenting 50 high-profile players who could be on the move in the coming months. Stay tuned for our rundown of the best impending free agents next week.

Transfer window details

Country Window Open Deadline Day
England June 10 Sept. 1
Spain July 1 Sept. 1
Germany July 1 Sept. 1
Italy July 1 Aug. 31
France July 1 Aug. 31

Note: Estimated transfer values provided by transfermarkt.com.

Premier League

Marc Cucurella (Brighton & Hove Albion)

Age: 23 | Position: Left-back | Estimated value: €20M

Cucurella played more league minutes (3,089) during his debut season at Brighton than any outfield player. Potential suitors, including Manchester City, clearly appreciated what they saw from the follically endowed Spaniard.

Armando Broja (Chelsea)

Age: 20 | Position: Striker | Estimated value: €18M

Broja is another gem from Chelsea’s infamous “loan army.” He turned plenty of heads with an impressive 2021-22 campaign at Southampton, and the Blues now have a tough decision to make with numerous interested clubs circling.

Jorginho (Chelsea)

Age: 30 | Position: Central midfielder | Estimated value: €45M

Having fallen from the heights of being a Ballon d’Or finalist in 2021, Jorginho is entering the final year of his contract at Stamford Bridge. The Italian international could be tempted by a move back to Serie A this summer.

Romelu Lukaku (Chelsea)

Clive Rose / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Age: 29 | Position: Striker | Estimated value: €85M

Despite ending his first season back in west London as Chelsea’s top scorer in all competitions, Lukaku’s club-record €115-million return was a letdown. Now, a sensational loan move back to Inter Milan is being touted.

Richarlison (Everton)

Age: 25 | Position: Forward | Estimated value: €50M

After narrowly avoiding relegation, Everton could help fund a significant rebuild by selling their unique Brazilian attacker. Richarlison racked up a team-leading 10 Premier League goals for the Toffees this past season.

Raphinha (Leeds United)

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

Had Leeds fallen into the Championship, Raphinha’s departure would’ve been a foregone conclusion. Their top-flight survival makes the dynamic winger’s situation hazy, though. Can cash-poor Barcelona afford him?

Kalvin Phillips (Leeds United)

Age: 26 | Position: Central midfielder | Estimated value: €50M

England’s biggest clubs have had Phillips on their radar for quite some time. Manchester City and Liverpool, the nation’s two best teams, are monitoring the tactically astute midfielder. A possible Fernandinho replacement, perhaps?

Youri Tielemans (Leicester City)

Visionhaus / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Age: 25 | Position: Central midfielder | Estimated value: €55M

Tielemans has long been linked with a move to Arsenal. The silky Belgian midfielder is approaching the final year of his contract and seemingly unwilling to ink an extension, so this summer could be the Gunners’ best chance to strike.

Sadio Mane (Liverpool)

Age: 30 | Position: Forward | Estimated value: €80M

This is one of the marquee transfer storylines to watch in the coming weeks – and possibly months. Mane wants to leave Liverpool – he’s been suggesting as much publicly – and Bayern Munich are in negotiations over a big move.

Gabriel Jesus (Manchester City)

Age: 25 | Position: Forward | Estimated value: €50M

Erling Haaland’s impending switch to Manchester City will have a huge cumulative effect on the market. The most obvious domino could be Jesus’ departure from the Premier League champions.

Raheem Sterling (Manchester City)

Age: 27 | Position: Winger | Estimated value: €85M

Sterling is another player whose current contract expires in 2023. After garnering the fewest minutes of his Manchester City career since his debut season with the club, this may be the time for the English international to seek a move.

Anthony Martial (Manchester United)

Fran Santiago – UEFA / UEFA / Getty

Age: 26 | Position: Forward | Estimated value: €16M

A loan spell at Sevilla didn’t quite provide the “new atmosphere” Martial was looking for after sealing his desired move away from Manchester United. He’ll now return to Old Trafford, but he’s a prime candidate for a permanent transfer.

Marcus Rashford (Manchester United)

Age: 24 | Position: Forward | Estimated value: €70M

One of the most intriguing players to monitor this summer is Rashford. He’s young and extremely talented but coming off a despondent season marred by injury and poor form.

Declan Rice (West Ham United)

Age: 23 | Position: Central midfielder | Estimated value: €75M

Rice is West Ham’s prized asset. A contract until 2024 – with a club option for an additional year – puts the Hammers in an exceedingly strong position here. Any interested clubs will need to pony up serious cash to acquire him.

La Liga

Alvaro Morata (Atletico Madrid)

Age: 29 | Position: Forward | Estimated value: €25M

Morata’s future is unclear now that his two-year loan spell at Juventus is up. The Italian club can make the move permanent but want a discount on that €35-million option. Atletico are unwilling to budge. This could drag on for a while.

Renan Lodi (Atletico Madrid)

Martin Rickett – PA Images / PA Images / Getty

Age: 24 | Position: Left-back | Estimated value: €30M

Nouveau-riche Newcastle are making serious overtures here. The Brazilian would instantly provide a significant upgrade on the Magpies’ current options at left-back and could kickstart a busy summer for Eddie Howe’s team.

Frenkie de Jong (Barcelona)

Age: 25 | Position: Central midfielder | Estimated value: €60M

The mere thought of selling De Jong would be ludicrous if it weren’t for Barcelona’s ruinous financial state. However, the club needs cash to fund other signings. Whether the Dutchman will be open to leaving is another matter, though.

Marco Asensio (Real Madrid)

Age: 26 | Position: Winger | Estimated value: €60M

Once one of the game’s most exciting young attackers, serious injuries have relegated Asensio to a bench role at Real Madrid. The Spaniard wants more “regularity” with his playing time, but he likely needs to move elsewhere to find it.

Alexander Isak (Real Sociedad)

Age: 22 | Position: Striker | Estimated value: €30M

Despite the 22-year-old being in the formative years of his career, Isak’s name has been a permanent fixture of recent transfer windows. With Haaland and Kylian Mbappe off the board, the skillful Swede will be in the spotlight again.

Jules Kounde (Sevilla)

Aitor Alcalde Colomer / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Age: 23 | Position: Center-back | Estimated value: €60M

Now that Chelsea’s ownership saga is in the rearview, the Blues can fully pursue longtime target Kounde. The French defender would fill an obvious need with Antonio Rudiger already gone and Andreas Christensen likely to follow.

Carlos Soler (Valencia)

Age: 25 | Position: Central midfielder | Estimated value: €50M

Former president Anil Murthy may be out of the picture, but after spending his entire senior career to date at his hometown team, the time may be right for Soler to look elsewhere and leave the volatile club.

Pau Torres (Villarreal)

Age: 25 | Position: Center-back | Estimated value: €50M

A deep Champions League run helped many throughout European football recognize what those in Spain already knew: Torres can be the anchor around which a top-notch defense is built. Tottenham Hotspur are circling.

Serie A

Nicolo Zaniolo (AS Roma)

Age: 22 | Position: Forward | Estimated value: €33M

After two significant knee injuries, Zaniolo looked to once again be approaching his explosive, powerful best near the end of the season. Roma will fight hard to retain the scorer of the Conference League-winning goal.

Alessandro Bastoni (Inter Milan)

Nicolò Campo / LightRocket / Getty

Age: 23 | Position: Center-back | Estimated value: €60M

Bastoni, the future pillar of Italy’s backline, is the prototypical modern defender, equally comfortable carrying the ball as he is winning it back. A left-footed center-back is also one of the most coveted profiles in the sport.

Lautaro Martinez (Inter Milan)

Age: 24 | Position: Striker | Estimated value: €75M

Inter apparently have hopes of landing both Lukaku and Paulo Dybala this summer. Making that happen will likely require sacrificing Martinez, who blossomed and led the Nerazzurri in scoring this past season.

Sergej Milinkovic-Savic (Lazio)

Age: 27 | Position: Central midfielder | Estimated value: €70M

Maybe this is the window when the seemingly endless Milinkovic-Savic rumors finally result in an actual transfer. At his best, the imposing Serbian is a game-breaking talent who blends physicality and nimble skill on the ball.

Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli)

Age: 30 | Position: Center-back | Estimated value: €35M

A dominant force since arriving in Italy in 2014, Koulibaly remains an elite defensive presence for Napoli. So far, the club has withstood repeated efforts from some of Europe’s top teams to sign the Senegalese star.

Victor Osimhen (Napoli)

Maurizio Lagana / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Age: 23 | Position: Striker | Estimated value: €65M

Osimhen is quickly becoming one of the most exhilarating strikers to watch in Europe. Lethal inside the penalty area and boasting blistering pace, he seems destined for a gargantuan transfer, perhaps to England, sometime soon.

Gianluca Scamacca (Sassuolo)

Age: 23 | Position: Striker | Estimated value: €30M

Scamacca broke out in a big way in 2021-22, scoring 16 goals as the focal point of Sassuolo’s attack. The tattooed Italian is a handful for defenders with his angular frame and combativeness, and he has a penchant for the spectacular.

Gleison Bremer (Torino)

Age: 25 | Position: Center-back | Estimated value: €35M

He may not be a household name just yet, but there’s a real argument that Bremer was the best defender in Italy this past season, full stop. Inter are moving quickly to try and secure his signature.

Bundesliga

Serge Gnabry (Bayern Munich)

Age: 26 | Position: Winger | Estimated value: €70M

The elephant-sized saga in Bavaria has largely overshadowed Gnabry’s future. Still, Bayern would be wise to keep hold of the German international who has hit double figures in scoring in every season with the club.

Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich)

Marvin Ibo Guengoer – GES Sportfoto / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Age: 33 | Position: Striker | Estimated value: €50M

The biggest storyline of the window is also the summer’s most bitter feud. Lewandowski has made it abundantly clear that he wants to leave Bayern Munich, with Barcelona his desired destination, much to the club’s chagrin.

Manuel Akanji (Borussia Dortmund)

Age: 26 | Position: Center-back | Estimated value: €30M

Signing Niklas Sule and Nico Schlotterbeck could push Akanji toward the exit at Dortmund. The Swiss international, likely available for a reasonable sum, could turn into a prime opportunity for a club needing defensive help.

Filip Kostic (Eintracht Frankfurt)

Age: 29 | Position: Winger | Estimated value: €20M

Fresh off a starring role in Frankfurt’s Europa League triumph, Kostic is on several clubs’ radar. The Serbian wide player is a cerebral – and persistent – crosser of the ball and a dream for any center forward to play with.

Josko Gvardiol (RB Leipzig)

Age: 20 | Position: Center-back | Estimated value: €30M

Whether this summer or in the near future, Croatia’s Gvardiol looks set to follow in the footsteps of former Leipzig defenders Dayot Upamecano and Ibrahima Konate in securing a big-money move.

Christopher Nkunku (RB Leipzig)

RONNY HARTMANN / AFP / Getty

Age: 24 | Position: Attacking midfielder | Estimated value: €65M

No player raised his stock more in the last year than Nkunku. The Frenchman lit up every competition he touched, recording 35 goals and 16 assists. PSG, who let him get away in 2019 for peanuts, would love a mulligan.

Ligue 1

Benoit Badiashile (AS Monaco)

Age: 21 | Position: Center-back | Estimated value: €30M

The vaunted Monaco pipeline keeps producing. Badiashile, after an impressive season in the principality, has been touted as a possible Giorgio Chiellini replacement at Juventus. He has Premier League suitors aplenty, too.

Aurelian Tchouameni (AS Monaco)

Age: 22 | Position: Central midfielder | Estimated value: €60M

Speaking of that conveyor belt. Tchouameni is reportedly on the verge of a colossal €100-million move to Real Madrid, who faced competition from PSG and Liverpool for a player tabbed as France’s next generational midfielder.

Sven Botman (Lille)

Age: 22 | Position: Center-back | Estimated value: €30M

AC Milan and Newcastle have been engaged in a tug-of-war for Botman’s signature since at least January. The race to sign the defender continues to ebb and flow, with the English side believed to have grabbed the upper hand.

Jonathan David (Lille)

Sylvain Lefevre / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Age: 22 | Position: Striker | Estimated value: €45M

His scoring exploits for both Lille and Canada have generated a buzz, particularly in the Premier League. David was a key reason the Canadians finally ended their lengthy World Cup drought this year.

Renato Sanches (Lille)

Age: 24 | Position: Central midfielder | Estimated value: €28M

Sanches is back on track after an untimely move to Bayern Munich – and a pit stop at Swansea City – threatened to derail his burgeoning career. He appears to be on the verge of joining AC Milan, where his uptempo style will fit right in.

Lucas Paqueta (Lyon)

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

Newcastle already made one big splash by signing a talented Brazilian midfielder from Lyon. The club could try to recreate that same formula this summer by reuniting Bruno Guimaraes with compatriot and friend Paqueta.

Jeremy Doku (Rennes)

Age: 20 | Position: Winger | Estimated value: €20M

There may not be a player anywhere with a more rapid first step than Doku, who, at 20 years old, still has plenty of room to grow. You only need to watch him torment defenders in wide positions to know why Liverpool are interested.

Elsewhere in Europe (and beyond)

Ryan Gravenberch (Ajax)

DeFodi Images / DeFodi Images / Getty

Age: 20 | Position: Central midfielder | Estimated value: €35M

Bayern Munich have seemingly beaten strong competition from several clubs to sign Gravenberch, the smooth Dutch midfielder who’s garnered comparisons to Paul Pogba in the past. High praise, indeed.

Jurrien Timber (Ajax)

Age: 20 | Position: Center-back | Estimated value: €30M

Whenever a coach leaves one club for another, the rumor mill quickly roars into action speculating about the players who could follow along for the ride. Timber is exactly that player for new Manchester United boss Erik ten Hag.

Darwin Nunez (Benfica)

Age: 22 | Position: Striker | Estimated value: €55M

Benfica will be fielding a ton of calls in the coming weeks from clubs that missed out on the Haaland sweepstakes. Mobile and robust, Uruguayan international Nunez found the net with stunning frequency this past season.

Djed Spence (Middlesbrough)

Age: 21 | Position: Right-back | Estimated value: €8M

Spence was one of the standout performers who helped Nottingham Forest earn promotion to the Premier League. His loan spell at Forest may be over, but he’ll almost definitely be in England’s top flight next season regardless.

Valentin Castellanos (New York City FC)

Ira L. Black – Corbis / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Age: 23 | Position: Striker | Estimated value: €12M

Castellanos was expected to make his big move prior to the start of the MLS season, but nothing materialized to the surprise of many. The reigning Golden Boot winner will garner plenty of interest again this summer, though.

Ibrahim Sangare (PSV Eindhoven)

Age: 24 | Position: Defensive midfielder | Estimated value: €16M

Sangare is a colossus in midfield. He made more tackles and interceptions combined (169) than any player in the Eredivisie this past season. He’ll make his new defensive teammates, whoever they are, extremely happy.

Enzo Fernandez (River Plate)

Age: 21 | Position: Central midfielder | Estimated value: €15M

An all-action box-to-box presence, Fernandez is lightning in a bottle. He can progress the ball from deep midfield areas with an extensive passing range or dribble out of pressure himself. He’s the latest gem to come out of El Monumental.

Continue Reading

Trending