IN FOCUS: JAN­UARY TRANS­FER WIN­DOW

Soccer 360 - - Inside -

WITH THE SEA­SON MID-WAY THROUGH, SOME PLAY­ERS HAVE BOOSTED THEIR REP­U­TA­TIONS, WHILE OTH­ERS HAVE FOUND THEM­SELVES SUR­PLUS TO RE­QUIRE­MENTS. GREG MUR­RAY PICKS OUT ONE OF EACH FROM EUROPE’S TOP FIVE LEAGUES.

WIL­FRED ZAHA

The live-wire winger has been amongst the top play­ers out­side the top six for the past three sea­sons, and has been al­most sin­gle-hand­edly drag­ging Crys­tal Palace up the ta­ble at times. An ill-fated move to Manch­ester United back in 2013 has dis­suaded suit­ors in re­cent years, but Zaha has moved on from the 20-year-old that strug­gled to fit into the post-Alex Fer­gu­son era. Should a big club to make a move this win­ter, they would be get­ting an elec­tric, ex­cit­ing winger who got nine goals last term, de­spite his club break­ing the record for the worst start to a sea­son.

DANNY DRINKWATER

Drinkwater’s move to Chelsea in the sum­mer of 2017 reeked of a panic-buy at the time, and there has been lit­tle ev­i­dence to the con­trary since. The Pre­mier League win­ner with Le­ices­ter can be for­given for vi­sions of re-unit­ing with his for­mer team­mate N’Golo Kante, with the duo’s part­ner­ship for the Foxes earn­ing both play­ers plau­dits. How­ever, the English mid­fielder has failed to es­tab­lish him­self un­der both An­to­nio Conte and Mau­r­izio Sarri, and re­cently has been touted for a move to West Ham, or to re-unite with Claudio Ranieri at Ful­ham.

MARCO VERRATI

A per­haps slightly more con­tro­ver­sial in­clu­sion in the list given Marco Ver­ratti’s Paris SAIN­TGER­MAIN are top of Ligue 1 and qual­i­fied for the Cham­pi­ons League knock-out stage. How­ever, for a man pre­vi­ously de­scribed as the next An­drea Pirlo and the fu­ture of the Ital­ian na­tional team, the diminu­tive mid­fielder has failed to take his game to the next level. This is not to say that the for­mer Pescara man is not a top-level player, but for what­ever rea­son, be it dearth of com­pe­ti­tion, man­age­rial in­sta­bil­ity, or a lack of em­pha­sis on tran­si­tional play, Ver­ratti may be bet­ter off tak­ing his tal­ents else­where, with Ju­ven­tus har­bour­ing a long-term in­ter­est.

NA­BIL FEKIR

A far less sur­pris­ing men­tion goes to Lyon’s

Fekir, who saw a move to Liver­pool fall through over the sum­mer, re­port­edly on medical grounds. The ver­sa­tile at­tack­ing player has failed to quite repli­cate the goalscor­ing form that saw him notch 18 strikes in Ligue Un last sea­son, but has con­tin­ued to im­press in the Cham­pi­ons League. De­spite the French side’s stel­lar per­for­mances in the Euro­pean com­pe­ti­tion, their busi­ness model re­lies heav­ily on the sell­ing of star play­ers, with Alexan­dre La­cazette, Karim Ben­zema, Corentin Tolisso and Michael Essien all coming through the Lyon tal­ent fac­tory. As Liver­pool are still sniff­ing around, Fekir’s name may soon add to the list of Ly­on­nais alumni.

CHRIS­TIAN PULISIC

The Borus­sia Dort­mund winger is an in­ter­est­ing case, as he has found him­self on the side­lines hav­ing starred last sea­son for the Bun­desliga heavy­weights. The emer­gence of Jadon San­cho, who has made the left flank his own, has made Pulisic old news at the club, at just 20, and limited him to spo­radic League starts this sea­son. Blessed with blis­ter­ing pace and lethal in a one-on-one sit­u­a­tion, while will­ing to work hard on the pitch, the Amer­i­can winger would be an ideal fit for the Pre­mier League, and has re­cently been linked with Chelsea.

JAMES RO­DRIGUEZ

James Ro­driguez’s ca­reer tra­jec­tory hasn’t quite gone in the di­rec­tion that many pre­dicted when the mid­fielder burst onto the scene at the 2014 Brazil World Cup. A move to Real Madrid that sum­mer saw the Colom­bian strug­gle to break into the first team, over­shad­owed by Cris­tiano Ron­aldo and Gareth Bale, lead­ing to a two-year loan move to Bay­ern Munich last sea­son. How­ever, with the Bavar­ian club un­likely to ex­er­cise their op­tion to buy, Ro­driguez will be look­ing for yet an­other move and an­other new start this sum­mer, and will cer­tainly at­tract at­ten­tion from the world’s top clubs.

NICOLO BARELLA

One of the lesser known names on the list, Barella came up through the Cagliari youth sys­tem be­fore break­ing into the first team in 2014. Since then, the diminu­tive mid­fielder has be­come one of the hottest prospects in Ital­ian football, mak­ing his de­but for the Italy se­nior side this sea­son, aged just 21. Com­par­isons to An­drea Pirlo fail to rep­re­sent Barella’s dy­namism, with his play­ing style more akin to a young Steven Ger­rard than any of his le­gendary Ital­ian com­pa­tri­ots. The Sar­dinian na­tive has made no se­cret his de­sire to move to the Pre­mier League, although he may ben­e­fit from ex­pe­ri­ence with a big­ger Serie A club be­fore he makes the switch.

AN­TO­NIO CANDREVA

Candreva has been a vic­tim of In­ter’s re­cruit­ment pol­icy, with the Mi­lan club’s pur­chases of Keita Balde and Mat­teo Poli­tano leav­ing the for­mer Lazio man down the peck­ing or­der on the right wing. Far from a fan favourite, the Ital­ian in­ter­na­tional did his rep­u­ta­tion lit­tle good by fail­ing to score for In­ter last sea­son, de­spite mak­ing 36 ap­pear­ances, not to men­tion play­ing a key role in Italy’s failed World

Cup qual­i­fi­ca­tion cam­paign. With his 32nd birth­day ap­proach­ing, Candreva has lost the pace that made him a star in Rome, and only has a few years left at the top level. How­ever, the Coppa Italia win­ner of­fers top-level ex­pe­ri­ence, not to men­tion a real threat from set-pieces, and, with a point to prove, would be a valu­able ad­di­tion were he to move.

ISCO

Fran­cisco Román Alar­cón Suárez, bet­ter known as Isco, is a bizarre case, as he fits both into the cat­e­gories of a top-level player, but also one that has lost favour at his club. With Real Madrid cur­rently a team in tran­si­tion, San­ti­ago So­lari has placed his faith in Gareth Bale, Marco Asen­sio and Lu­cas Vazquez on the wings over Isco, leav­ing the Spain in­ter­na­tional side-lined. Aged 26, the at­tack­ing mid­fielder should be en­ter­ing his prime, and will want to be the first name on the team sheet, although due to Madrid’s strong fi­nan­cial po­si­tion, a re­ported $800m re­lease clause means it will take a mas­sive of­fer to prise him away from the Cham­pi­ons League hold­ers.

BRAIS MENDEZ

An­other rel­a­tively un­known quan­tity, the Celta Vigo player has at­tracted the in­ter­est of a num­ber of for­eign clubs for his im­pres­sive per­for­mances this sea­son. Mendez, who can operate on either flank and through the centre, is at his best cut­ting in from the right wing, util­is­ing his thun­der­bolt of a left-footed shot, which has also seen the Spa­niard pose a threat from set­pieces this sea­son. Far from a tra­di­tional winger, Medez is a phys­i­cal pres­ence, con­vinc­ing Le­ices­ter City to re­port­edly make an in­quiry for a Jan­uary trans­fer.

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Danny Drinkwater

Na­bil Fekir

Crys­tal Palace would hate to lose Wil­fred Zaha in Jan­uary

A move from Borus­sia Dort­mund would give Chris­tian Pusilic a fresh start

James Ro­driguez’s fu­ture at Bay­ern Munich re­mains un­clear‘James Ro­driguez is look­ing for yet an­other newstart’

Brais Mendez

Real Madrid’s in­sta­bil­ity has been bad news for Isco

An­to­nio Candreva

Nicolo Barella

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