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Analyzing 10 sneaky signings you may have missed this summer

Plenty of cash has changed hands in the summer transfer window, with some of Europe’s top clubs making huge investments to improve their squads. But there has been some shrewd business, too. Below, we examine 10 sneaky deals that could have a big impact now and in the future.

Andre Silva ?? RB Leipzig

  • Details: Reported €23M fee from Eintracht Frankfurt

It’s hard to discreetly sign a center-forward; such is the high-profile nature of the position. But with much of the focus aimed at the likes of Harry Kane, Romelu Lukaku, and Erling Haaland, RB Leipzig quietly picked up Silva for an eminently reasonable fee in June.

After a nightmarish – and short – spell at AC Milan and a quick stint at Sevilla, the Portuguese forward found his groove in the Bundesliga with Eintracht Frankfurt, scoring 28 Bundesliga goals last season. That total was good for second in the league behind only Robert Lewandowski. Silva, 25, is already off the mark this season and should replace the production that disappeared when Timo Werner left for Chelsea; Marcel Sabitzer was Leipzig’s top scorer last season with eight league goals, a figure Silva should easily eclipse this campaign.

In typically astute fashion, Leipzig also signed promising youngster Mohamed Simakan this summer. Some clubs just get it.

Emiliano Buendia ?? Aston Villa

Jan Kruger / Getty Images Sport / Getty
  • Details: Reported £33M fee from Norwich City

Replacing attacking focal point Jack Grealish was always going to be extremely difficult. Finding a like-for-like substitute for the new Manchester City star’s skill set was, frankly, impossible. But Aston Villa did manage to nab one of English football’s most skilled playmakers in Buendia, who’s coming off a dominant season in the Championship with Norwich City. Yes, it was the second tier, but 15 goals and 16 assists in a single campaign is nothing to scoff at.

Different as he may be – the Argentine is an elite passer who looks to pick out teammates rather than dribble past defenders – Buendia was one of the few players available in his price range who could offset Grealish’s departure. Beating the likes of Arsenal to his signature was a nice bonus for Villa, too.

Mike Maignan ?? AC Milan

  • Details: Reported €15M fee from Lille

When it became clear that AC Milan weren’t going to meet the hefty salary demands of Gianluigi Donnarumma and notorious agent Mino Raiola, the search for a new netminder picked up steam. It didn’t take long for that hunt to bear fruit.

Milan reached an agreement to sign Maignan before the transfer window officially opened in Italy, pouncing quickly to acquire the netminder who so brilliantly backstopped Lille to the Ligue 1 title last season. At 26 years old, the Frenchman is experienced enough not to let the pressure of replacing Donnarumma bother him and young enough to develop further at the club. An excellent shot-stopper who provides a reassuring presence between the sticks, Maignan should be a hit in Milan.

Marc Guehi ?? Crystal Palace

Sebastian Frej/MB Media / Getty Images Sport / Getty
  • Details: Reported £20M fee from Chelsea

After honing his craft at Swansea City, Guehi was ready to make the leap to the Premier League. All he needed was a real opportunity. That chance was unlikely to arrive at Chelsea; despite already boasting an impressive core of defenders, the Blues continue to seek reinforcements in the transfer window. Instead of becoming the latest member of the club’s vaunted loan army, the 21-year-old Guehi now finds himself leading Crystal Palace’s backline.

The Eagles deserve credit here. Identifying this sort of opportunity in the transfer market is what separates well-run clubs from those that spend frivolously and land in financial trouble. Guehi’s career path should eventually lead him to bigger places than Selhurst Park. But he should be a stalwart in the coming years, and a future sale could net the club a healthy profit. Any way you slice it, it’s a win.

Juan Musso ?? Atalanta

  • Details: Reported €20M fee from Udinese

Atalanta have hit dizzying heights and won widespread acclaim in recent seasons, despite relying on netminders who are mediocre at best and detrimental at worst. Playing a high-octane, aggressive style tends to leave the defense and, by extension, the goalkeeper exposed at times; the Italian duo of Pierluigi Gollini and Marco Sportiello was simply not good enough to make up for that.

Enter Musso, who arrives after rising to prominence at Udinese. The Argentine had been linked with Inter Milan in recent years, but instead, it was Serie A’s other “Nerazzurri” who landed the 27-year-old – immediately improving an obvious area of need. Add young defender Matteo Lovato to the mix, and Atalanta’s outstanding scouting department keeps getting the job done.

Ryan Bertrand ?? Leicester City

Visionhaus / Getty Images Sport / Getty
  • Details: Free transfer from Southampton

With more players exercising their right to run down their contracts and fetch better terms on the open market, mining the free-agent pool has become a critical part of squad-building in Europe. And while no free transfer will ever match the fanfare of this summer’s Lionel Messi move – obviously – there’s plenty of value to be found in the Bosman space. Bertrand is a perfect example.

After seven stellar seasons and 240 appearances with Southampton, the left-back should add a veteran presence at Leicester City and help blossoming talent Luke Thomas continue his development at the position. The Foxes have faltered at the final hurdle in recent bids to qualify for the Champions League, and adding this type of squad depth should – in theory – help prevent another late-season tailspin.

Yusuf Demir ?? Barcelona

  • Details: Loan from Rapid Vienna with €10M purchase option

Barcelona doing something right in the transfer market? What a time to be alive. Dubbed the “Austrian Messi,” teen sensation Demir was expected to spend this season with Barca’s B team before joining the senior squad on a permanent basis next year. But the 18-year-old impressed manager Ronald Koeman in the preseason and found himself among the substitutes for the La Liga opener against Real Sociedad.

A versatile attacker who can operate in multiple positions across the front line, Demir looks most comfortable playing on the right wing, where he can drop the shoulder and cut inside onto his crafty left foot. Sound familiar? Comparisons to Messi are obviously farfetched – and unfair to Demir. But the early signs are promising and should give Barcelona fans some reason for long-term optimism after a soul-crushing summer.

Nicolas Gonzalez ?? Fiorentina

Gabriele Maltinti / Getty Images Sport / Getty
  • Details: Reported €27M fee from Stuttgart

After finishing no higher than 10th – and as low as 16th – over the past three seasons, Fiorentina badly needed something to get excited about heading into the new campaign. They found it in the form of Gonzalez. The Argentine forward should add pace, trickery, and scoring ability to a team that relied far too heavily on young striker Dusan Vlahovic last season. In an ideal world, La Viola will retain the Serbian and allow Gonzalez to act as the primary setup man, but the 23-year-old can operate as the primary scoring threat should Vlahovic move on in the next week.

Assuming he stays fit and avoids hamstring issues – something he’s struggled with thus far in his career – Gonzalez has the potential to be an absolute nightmare for opposing full-backs all season long.

Denzel Dumfries ?? Inter Milan

  • Details: Reported €15M fee from PSV Eindhoven

Inter Milan’s transfer window has largely been a disaster, with cash-strapped owner Suning facilitating deals that saw Romelu Lukaku, the club’s best player, and the electrifying Achraf Hakimi both depart; Antonio Conte, the architect of Inter’s first Scudetto triumph in over a decade, left the club in anticipation of the cost-cutting measures, too. But it’s not all doom and gloom at the San Siro.

The titleholders opened the new season with a dominant 4-0 hammering of Genoa, with summer arrivals Edin Dzeko and Hakan Calhanoglu each scoring once and recording an assist. But it’s another signing whose progress may be the most interesting to track. Dumfries, who came off the bench on the weekend, should slot directly into the right wing-back role vacated by Hakimi. If new manager Simone Inzaghi’s usage of Manuel Lazzari at Lazio is any indication, the Euro 2020 standout should be a focal point of Inter’s attack, flying forward down the flank and frequently seeing the ball.

Kaio Jorge ?? Juventus

Daniele Badolato – Juventus FC / Juventus FC / Getty
  • Details: Reported €3M fee from Santos

Any time a club can beat its rivals to a sought-after Brazilian teenager – and pay a minimal fee in the process – it’s worth taking notice. Juventus did exactly that by acquiring Jorge, the 19-year-old striker who turned heads while coming through the famed pipeline at Santos. There’s no guarantee he’ll reach the heights of high-profile predecessors who made the same switch from the storied Brazilian club to Europe, but the prospect alone is tantalizing.

Juventus’ pursuit of Manuel Locatelli dominated their transfer window; the deal, eventually successful, took ages to complete. Fruitful as that signing may ultimately prove, don’t sleep on Jorge, who will have time to acclimate and grow in Turin playing behind some elite attacking talent. The Brazilian is one to watch for the future.

Honorable mentions: Mitchel Bakker (Paris Saint-Germain to Bayer Leverkusen), Leonardo Balerdi (Borussia Dortmund to Marseille), Gianluca Busio (Sporting Kansas City to Venezia)

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Who's in, who's out? World Cup field taking shape after European qualifying

The European contingent for next year’s World Cup is nearly finalized.

Tuesday brought an end to the group stage of UEFA’s qualifying format, with the Netherlands securing the last of 10 automatic berths allocated to Europe for the showpiece tournament in Qatar; 13 European teams in total will partake in the event.

Below is a breakdown of the nations that already qualified, along with a complete explanation of the new playoff system, which will decide the final three European countries that will head to Qatar in November 2022.

Qualified for World Cup

The 10 group winners from qualifying can officially start booking their flights.

  • Serbia
  • Spain
  • Switzerland
  • France
  • Belgium
  • Denmark
  • Netherlands
  • Croatia
  • England
  • Germany

Going into qualification playoffs


With 10 nations earning a ticket to Qatar, that leaves three outstanding World Cup places for UEFA. Those berths will be determined by a new 12-team playoff format. The nations will be drawn into three groups of four – called “Paths” – and play one-off semifinals and a final to decide which teams get the last three spots.

The draw for the playoffs takes place on Nov. 26 at 11:00 a.m. ET.

  • Seeded: Portugal, Scotland, Italy, Russia, Sweden, Wales
  • Unseeded: Turkey, Poland, North Macedonia, Ukraine, Austria, Czech Republic

The six seeded nations will be drawn against the six unseeded teams to create the semifinal matchups; the seeded sides will play those respective games at home. The semifinal matches are scheduled for March 24.

The draw will also determine the potential finals for each of the three “Paths,” meaning each team will know its prospective opponent before a ball is kicked in March.

  • Path A: winner of Semifinal 1 vs. winner of Semifinal 2
  • Path B: winner of Semifinal 3 vs. winner of Semifinal 4
  • Path C: winner of Semifinal 5 vs. winner of Semifinal 6

The three finals are slated for March 29.

Aside from Russia and Ukraine being kept apart for political reasons, there are no restrictions on the draw. That means the two most recent European champions – Italy and Portugal – could potentially meet in a one-off final to determine which continental heavyweight goes to the World Cup and which one misses out.

Italy, which famously failed to qualify for the 2018 tournament by losing in a two-legged playoff to Sweden, could very well meet the Swedes again, too.

Notable absentees

Fran Santiago / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Erling Haaland won’t get the opportunity to play in his first World Cup, as Norway finished third in Group G by virtue of Tuesday’s defeat to the Netherlands, thus failing to earn either automatic qualification or a playoff spot. The Borussia Dortmund superstar missed the 2-0 loss due to injury.

Norway will be joined on the sidelines by the likes of Ireland, Hungary, Greece, Finland, and Iceland.

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10 thoughts from this week's Champions League action

The Champions League rumbled on this week with an entertaining slate of action. Below, we dissect the biggest talking points from Matchday 3 in Europe’s premier club competition.

What happens if goals dry up for Liverpool?

Liverpool’s exhilarating 3-2 win over Atletico Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitano on Tuesday was arguably the best match of the competition this season. It had a little bit of everything: an electric atmosphere, great goals, a red card, a penalty, and wild swings in momentum.

And though Jurgen Klopp should be enthused by Mohamed Salah’s sizzling form and his team’s continued ability to fill the net (Liverpool have now scored 18 goals in their last five matches across all competitions), it wasn’t all positive for the German tactician.

After a ferocious start in which the Reds rocked Atletico during the first 15 minutes, Diego Simeone’s side steadied the ship and was the better team over the remainder of the contest. Looking beyond all the noise – the excellent finishing, Antoine Griezmann’s red card, and the late penalty incidents – Atleti probably should have come away with three points; Alisson was forced into some stellar saves on both sides of the halftime interval as Liverpool afforded an uncharacteristic amount of space, especially out wide, to the hosts.

Klopp, who correctly pointed out that winning “dirty” is an important attribute of successful teams, isn’t blind to the issues facing his squad at the moment.

“We are not that confident, to be honest,” he said after the match. “We know our struggles, we know our problems but we try to ignore them very often.”

In their last eight games in all competitions, Liverpool have conceded two or more goals in four of them, looking wobbly at the back against AC Milan, Brentford, Manchester City, and now Atletico. With Salah absolutely destroying his opponents right now, Liverpool can outscore their defensive issues, but at some point, they’ll have a spell when the goals don’t flow quite so freely. Hopefully, Klopp will have sorted out a suddenly susceptible backline by then.

PSG still lack a clear plan

With seven points from their opening three matches, Paris Saint-Germain are well-positioned to emerge from Group A and reach the knockout stages of the competition. But, not for the first time this season, the star-studded French side lacked cohesion and coherence, relying instead on individual quality from Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe to claim a 3-2 comeback win over RB Leipzig on Tuesday.

Mauricio Pochettino obviously has a plan for his team, but outside of scoring early and then using their elite attackers to wreak havoc on the counter, it’s been difficult to discern what, exactly, PSG want to do this season. Case in point: PSG had an open-net tap-in on the goal line – Messi’s first goal of the match – and still lost the overall expected goals (xG) battle when you exclude penalties from the equation.

Give the ball to Messi and Mbappe, and get the hell out of the way is, in fairness, an approach that will work more often than not. It was enough on Tuesday, after all. Conventional wisdom suggests that plan should be even more fruitful when Neymar is fit and involved, but something is still missing.

Great attacking tridents can carry a team very, very far – we’ve seen it happen in the past – but more than most sports, football truly is a team game. There needs to be balance all across the pitch, or the system crumbles. Barcelona’s famed “MSN” triumvirate, for example, was aided by an elite supporting cast, including a brilliant midfield.

Messi, Mbappe, and Neymar will deliver goals, but what Pochettino does with the rest of his squad will likely determine how successful PSG are this season.

Foden makes Manchester City tick

Amid doubts this season over Manchester City’s ability to get results without a traditional No. 9, victory in Belgium was proof that the Premier League club is doing just fine without a center forward in the fold.

In what was another example of Pep Guardiola’s tactical prowess, Manchester City produced one of their best attacking performances of the season in Tuesday night’s lopsided away win over Club Brugge.


With Phil Foden deployed as a false nine, City dominated en route to a 5-1 victory. The versatile 21-year-old was on another level, as his vision, passing, and movement off the ball caused problems for defenders all night long. This is a quality Brugge side that beat RB Leipzig and held PSG to a draw in its previous Group A matches, so such a thorough hammering is nothing to scoff at.

Foden’s confident display was one that City fans have come to expect from the exciting English international – and one that would be nearly impossible for just about any “traditional” striker in the world to replicate. With Ferran Torres out injured and Gabriel Jesus’ continued struggles with consistency in front of goal, Foden could be the target man of the future for Guardiola.

Toothless Milan on brink of humbling exit

AC Milan’s return to the Champions League has been nothing short of a disaster. Despite their impressive start in Serie A, the Rossoneri have struggled to get their Champions League campaign off the ground and now face the threat of an embarrassing exit after another frustrating night.

Stefano Pioli’s men arrived in Portugal with their best opportunity yet to secure their first Champions League point since 2014. Instead, a controversial goal from Luis Diaz lifted FC Porto to victory over the seven-time European champions, who were also the victims of very dubious officiating decisions that factored into their loss to Atletico Madrid on Matchday 2.

Regardless of their poor luck with the officials, Milan now have a mountain to climb just to avoid finishing last in Group B after losing their opening three matches; they sit four points back of Porto and Atletico, and nine behind leaders Liverpool.

The assignment was always going to be difficult given the strength of the quartet. But toothless displays such as the one on Tuesday night – when Milan managed only one shot on target – are likely to result in a humiliating departure from the tournament that fans were so desperate to see the club compete in again.

Just how far can Ajax go this season?

After years of consistently developing prodigious talents and selling them at huge profits, Ajax have often been relegated to underdog status during their recent Champions League endeavors. Based on some of their upsets, it’s a role the young Ajax teams of late have cherished.

But Tuesday felt like a turning point.

picture alliance / picture alliance / Getty

Ajax thwacked Borussia Dortmund, claiming a resounding 4-0 win befitting of a juggernaut, not an underdog. That’s exactly what the Dutch side has looked like this season; between the Eredivisie and Champions League, Ajax have racked up 43 goals in 12 games, conceding only three times.

Erik ten Hag’s team is supremely skilled in virtually every area on the pitch, and the imposing Sebastien Haller offers a change of pace up front that is, somewhat surprisingly, jiving perfectly with his more technical teammates.

FiveThirtyEight’s Soccer Power Index (SPI) has the usual suspects rated as the best teams in this season’s Champions League: Manchester City, Bayern Munich, and Liverpool occupy the top three spots at the moment. However, Ajax are fourth.

Until we see evidence to the contrary, the storied club should be viewed as a legitimate candidate to make serious noise in the tournament.

Barca’s unspectacular win papers over cracks

It took them until Matchday 3, but Barcelona got their Champions League campaign up and running with a 1-0 win over Dynamo Kyiv on Wednesday.

But the path to victory was rougher than it should have been against a team Barcelona would have historically been heavy favorites to beat. Less than a year after winning 4-0 on a trip to Ukraine, Barca had to grind their way to victory at the Camp Nou.

On an evening when the hosts struggled to generate scoring opportunities, it took the heroics of a defender to decide the match. Gerard Pique scored the winner and became the first player to register a Champions League goal for the club since Lionel Messi’s departure.

Despite getting the three points, it was a brutal performance that won’t fill fans with confidence ahead of the season’s first edition of El Clasico this weekend. If Koeman can’t inspire his men ahead of the showdown with Real Madrid, it could spell the end to the Dutchman’s time in charge.

Ronaldo rescues Solskjaer … again

Of course.

For the second consecutive Champions League match, Cristiano Ronaldo saved the blushes of Manchester United and manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, delivering a late header to cap a stirring 3-2 comeback win over Atalanta.

Villarreal know the feeling, too.

Martin Rickett – PA Images / PA Images / Getty

Solskjaer, who has come under increasing pressure amid the club’s poor run of form, was surely the most relieved person inside Old Trafford as he watched Ronaldo’s header hit the back of the net in the 81st minute. Though United created some chances in the first half, they again looked disorganized in defense and cumbersome overall, and the team, down 2-0 at halftime, was jeered off the pitch. The home crowd was growing restless.

Such a thrilling comeback will surely placate some – being able to turn that game around was no small feat, and praise is warranted – but getting into that situation in the first place should keep the alarm bells ringing. All is not solved, and the same pressing questions remain.

Does Solskjaer have the tactical nous to fix what’s ailing the team? Or, as has long been suggested by his detractors, is he more of a cheerleader who needs to make way for a more celebrated tactician who can get the best out of a very talented squad?

Welcome to the De Sciglio renaissance?

Mattia De Sciglio was an afterthought for many Juventus supporters following his return from a loan spell with Lyon, but the versatile Italian has shown in recent matches why Massimiliano Allegri continues to have faith in him.

The 29-year-old, never the most buccaneering full-back, has directly contributed to Juventus’ last two goals, whipping in delicious crosses against Roma this past weekend and Zenit St. Petersburg on Wednesday. Juve claimed 1-0 victories in both contests.

De Sciglio is often afforded plenty of space by the opposition, who have clearly identified him as the Bianconeri’s least threatening outlet, regardless of which flank he takes up. It’s not an unwarranted approach, to be fair, but if he continues to make worthwhile attacking contributions, opposing teams will eventually need to account for a player who some didn’t expect to see wearing a black and white shirt at all this season.

Time for Tuchel to get creative

Chelsea cruised to a 4-0 win over Malmo on Wednesday, but any delight was tempered after watching strikers Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner both leave the contest in the first half with worrying injuries.

Thomas Tuchel said after the victory that the Belgian star twisted his ankle, adding that the German speedster sustained a hamstring issue. He suspects the duo will miss “some games,” according to James Olley of ESPN. The extent of their ailments will be learned later this week.

Darren Walsh / Chelsea FC / Getty

Barring a rapid recovery, Tuchel will need to get crafty with his lineup selections in the coming weeks. Kai Havertz, who found the net in Wednesday’s rout, figures to see some time as a false nine.

There’s never a good time for injuries, but the Blues will take solace in the fact that Lukaku and Werner’s setbacks come during the most favorable portion – at least on paper – of Chelsea’s schedule.

Adeyemi ready for big move

Karim Adeyemi will very likely be the subject of a bidding war in January.

The Red Bull Salzburg forward, 19, brought his tally to three goals in as many matches in this season’s Champions League, scoring an early marker in his side’s 3-1 triumph against Wolfsburg. The Austrian club is now sitting pretty atop Group G and will fancy its chances of reaching the knockout stage.

The German international’s explosiveness has been central to Salzburg’s success. In addition to his scoring prowess, the teenager has won four penalties in three games. Defenders can’t handle him.

Manager Matthias Jaissle should probably enjoy the next couple months while he’s able to call upon Adeyemi; a handful of Europe’s top clubs are apparently eyeing an opulent transfer for the youngster, who looks destined to be the next big star to come through the vaunted Red Bull pipeline.

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Chiesa, Son among 5 Ballon d'Or snubs

The finalists for the 2021 Ballon d’Or award were unveiled Friday, with many of football’s biggest stars occupying a spot on the prestigious list.

As is the case every year after France Football releases its 30-man shortlist, there are a handful of controversial omissions.

Here are five of the biggest snubs for the 2021 Ballon d’Or award:

Heung-min Son (Tottenham/South Korea)

Adam Davy – PA Images / PA Images / Getty

On the heels of another sensational season at Tottenham Hotspur, Heung-min Son somehow failed to make the cut for the revered honor.

Son was brilliant for Spurs last term, forming a dynamic partnership with Harry Kane on his way to finishing the 2020-21 Premier League campaign with 17 goals and 10 assists. But even though his statistics eclipsed the figures that earned him a place in the top 30 two years ago, the South Korean’s best season in north London went unrewarded by the French outlet.

Federico Chiesa (Juventus/Italy)

There’s not much more Federico Chiesa could’ve done to earn his place among football’s elite.

The 23-year-old winger developed into an integral component for both club and country last season. But even after playing an influential role in spearheading Italy’s journey toward capturing the Euro 2020 title and emerging as a star for Juventus, his heroic efforts weren’t enough for some, apparently.

Joshua Kimmich (Bayern Munich/Germany)

Alexander Hassenstein / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Joshua Kimmich is perhaps the most puzzling omission of the lot. The versatile German is one of Bayern Munich and Germany’s most consistent players, yet he’s been overlooked by France Football for the second time running.

There’s no doubting the 26-year-old will eventually get recognized in the near future. But there’s also no doubt that, right now, Kimmich is arguably one of the most important and talented players for a Bayern Munich side that habitually competes for – and wins – titles.

Jan Oblak (Atletico Madrid/Slovenia)

There wasn’t any room for Jan Oblak in this year’s list of Ballon d’Or contenders, with Italian Gianluigi Donnarumma singled out as the lone representative of the goalkeeping brotherhood.

While there are cases to be made for other goalkeeper snubs – such as Manchester City’s Ederson, Liverpool’s Alisson, Bayern Munich’s Manuel Neuer, and Chelsea’s Edouard Mendy – Oblak’s exclusion may be the most egregious considering his commanding performances in helping Atletico Madrid end their seven-year wait for a La Liga title.

Marquinhos (Paris Saint-Germain/Brazil)

Simon Stacpoole/Offside / Offside / Getty

A trophy-less season at Paris Saint-Germain could be one of the explanations for overlooking Marquinhos. But that doesn’t mean it’s a good reason to omit one of the world’s top defenders.

While it was a disappointing season overall for PSG, Marquinhos was a force throughout the campaign before going on to play a vital role during Brazil’s journey to the Copa America final last summer.

Honorable mentions: Marcos Llorente (Atletico Madrid/Spain), Thomas Muller (Bayern Munich/Germany), Edouard Mendy (Chelsea/Senegal), Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich/Germany), Kyle Walker (Manchester City/England)

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