If you ended up here and are older than 25 (well, maybe even if you are younger than that…), chances are you owned a football stickers album at least once as a kid. Transfer market sessions are pretty much like that: A stickers swapping exercise. Players come and go. “Got, got, need.”
The Cult of Calcio’s Stickers Swapping column brings you the best of the “calciomercato” trends and rumors, looking at who’s set to close the next big deal and who has already done it…
With the transfer window now open and some teams already starting to make some moves, it’s time to take a look at some of the top club’s market situation and how they should be acting this month.
Starting with the reigning champions, there doesn’t seem to be any hole to be plugged as a priority. The Bianconeri have already made a statement by signing young Swedish star Daniel Kulusevski in the past days, but chose to let him continue his spell at Parma where he is currently on loan from Atalanta.
The move was mostly made to take care of their future and maintain their position as top-dogs. With a numerous and balanced squad, there is no obvious department in which Juventus need to strengthen. The fact that they are not leading the table right now comes down more to Maurizio Sarri failing to make his philosophy understood by the players – who need to adapt to a new style of play after five years under the helm of Massimiliano Allegri.
However, if there were any transfer move the Bianconeri should attempt, those would be in the midfield area, where the usual starters are starting to age and newcomers like Adrien Rabiot or Aaron Ramsey seem to find it difficult to fit in.
On that note, the rumored Paul Pogba could be an addition to revamp their whole midfield package and give them the extra edge to finally reach the European glory they have been chasing for such a long time. The tricky and energetic Frenchman linking up with Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala sound like a thing of beauty that could terrify any defense in the world.
This year Inter look like the real deal. With Antonio Conte in charge, the Nerazzurri seem closer than ever to winning the title. After failing to qualify for the Champions League Round of 16, Conte’s men can focus more on the league and end Juve’s hegemony.
Inter are yet to close any deal, but have been linked with several players, especially some previously coached by Conte himself. First, the Nerazzurri need to find some backups for their wingers, taking into consideration the system they play and the options they currently have. A 3-5-2 module is Conte’s favorite system – which he has been using at both Juventus and Chelsea, and which requires the wing-backs or out-and-out wingers to continuously run back and forth on the pitch.
This season’s left-wing first choice has been Kwadwo Asamoah. The Ghanaian has done a good job but a lingering injury has caused him to miss multiple games. A man who could fill in that position and who lived his best season under Antonio Conte’s tenure is Chelsea’s Marcos Alonso. Should the Spanish left wing-back leave London to join Inter, he would give Asamoah a run for his money and assure the competition needed at a club of the Nerazzurri’s level.
The next area where Inter have been looking to add is central midfield, with rumors of Arturo Vidal making a return to the Serie A popping up frequently in the last period. Conte has previously talked about the lack of experienced players in that area of the pitch. Well, if there is one thing the Chile international does have, that is experience. Plenty of it. A serial title-winner at Juventus, Bayern Munchen, and Barcelona, Vidal can be the rock in the heart of the field.
There have also been talks about Paul Pogba, Christian Eriksen, or Olivier Giroud joining the club, but it seems a little bit over the top for Inter to manage all of the transfers mentioned. While Giroud looks like a reasonable move and could be very useful as a back-up for Romelu Lukaku, Pogba seems more like a dream and Eriksen could join only in case Barcelona managed to snatch up Lautaro Martinez – whome they have made their top priority. But the whole story seems fitter for the summer transfer window rather than for this winter one.
Sitting 3rd in the table, 6 points behind Juventus and Inter but with a game in hand, the Biancocelesti fans can dream about a title run, which would be the first in 20 years and only the 3rd in their entire history for Lazio.
Winning the Scudetto could prove extremely difficult but not impossible. However, maintaining their position and qualifying for next year’s Champions League is not out of reach and that is the main objective Simone Inzaghi and his man should be aiming for. Relying on the excellent form of Ciro Immobile – currently the Serie A top scorer with 19 goals in just 17 matches – as well as Luis Alberto’s skills as an assist-man (11 so far for him), the key goal is keeping hold of the two and making sure they don’t get injured.
Lazio’s first team is good and seems to have the chemistry needed to push forward in their run this year but the roster also looks short and unbalanced. Even though they were eliminated from the Europa League, finishing 3rd in their group behind Celtic Glasgow and CFR Cluj, there are still plenty of matches ahead until the end of the championship and if they want to make it to the top 4, the management need to invest in some reserve players close to the starting 11’s value.
The team “spine” could use some decent backing-up, mainly a center-back, a central midfielder, and a striker to give the usual starters some chance to rest or as a replacement in case of injury. If they take care of this problem, Lazio can rest assured of a Champions League spot…and then, why not, even aim for the title?
After a bad start to the season, the Giallorossi made a strong comeback and are currently 4th in the table – though with Atalanta sniffing around just one point behind. New coach Paolo Fonseca doesn’t have any superstar in his squad but the mix of young passionate players like Justin Kluivert, Nicoló Zaniolo, or Lorenzo Pellegrini and seasoned veterans like Edin Dzeko, Aleksandar Kolarov, and even Henrikh Mkhitaryan is doing a particularly good service to him.
The squad is balanced and have multiple options, even though six of the players are on loan. If Roma want to make a statement and sign somebody, they should go for a world-class striker or a playmaker. That would help them go to the next level and cement their place in the Champions League top 4.
New manager Gennaro Gattuso has a tough job on his hands. Everything seemed right for Napoli before the start of the season: A very good squad and a world-class manager and proven winner, Carlo Ancelotti. The Partenopei fans were hoping for a dream year, but then the San Paolo Stadium abruptly plummeted into despair.
After a string of bad results coupled with the poor attitude of owner Aurelio De Laurentis, the squad leaders started a real mutiny, refusing to go on a training retreat. The standoff culminated with the sacking of Carletto and the appointment of hot-headed former Milan player and coach Gennaro Gattuso.
Rino has not yet proven himself as a manager and one would think that his task is more to shake up Napoli’s locker room and help rejuvenating a set of players who ooze talent but seem to lack motivation. Known for his rugged and rough style of play and for his fighting spirit, Gattuso always tried to imprint these attributes to the teams he has coached.
If there is an area in where Napoli need to look and sign a player for, that is the center of midfield, where they could use somebody just like their new manager – strong, combative, and ruthless. This is even more important now that the new manager will likely switch from a 4-4-2 formation to his prefered 4-3-3 module.
One player that is supposedly close to join Gattuso’s side is Stanislav Lobotka. The Slovakian international currently plays for Celta Vigo in the Spanish La Liga, and rumors have it that he was personally recommended by former Napoli captain and fellow Slovakian Marek Hamsik. According to multiple sources, the Partenopei are closing in on the deal, with just 5 million euro separating the two clubs’ expectations.
The team doing worst among the ones featured in this roundup is without doubt Milan. Already on their second manager this season, the Rossoneri have been changing players and ownership multiple times in the past two seasons. Milan were however the first ones to act as they signed Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a much-needed addition to an attacking line that disappointed everyone in the first half of the season.
Featuring one of the worst attacks in the league, it’s clear to see why the first deal done by the Rossoneri was bringing Zlatan back to Milano. We will soon find out whether the big Swede is still capable of being the savior he once was for the San Siro Stadium faithful.
Defense has been somewhat mediocre, but that is not the main problem of the team. Lately, there have been many rumors about Barcelona’s Jean-Clair Todibo being set to join the Rossoneri. with the Catalan-based club agreeing on a loan move that could turn into a permanent deal at the end of the season. The arrival of the young French U-21 would be a good addition to the squad, but it would seem the young Frenchman doesn’t like the possibility of a permanent move, as he believes he could still prove himself at the Camp Nou.
If Milan want to save their season, they should rather keep their assets and invest in a playmaker who can supply Ibrahimovic with assists and create goal chances, as Suso and Hakan Chalhanoglu’s have not been consistent enough. Maybe somebody like Christian Eriksen – heavily linked with rivals Inter and Juventus so far – would be better suited for a life in the red-and-black side of Milano. Also, a player like Atalanta’s Josip Ilicic could be an excellent addition, as he can cover several roles across the pitch.
However, aside from any signing, the Rossoneri should make sure not to lose any of their key players, the likes of Gianluigi Donnarumma, Alessio Romagnoli, Frank Kessié, Suso or Lucas Paqueta – whom are all being linked with several clubs.