SOCCER

Which Champions League contenders have the best transfer window? | Soccer

ADVERTISEMENT

Jthere have been big moves this summer and it’s not even August. The continent’s most prestigious teams have spared no expense in their bid to usurp Champions League winners Real Madrid. The Spanish champions beat Liverpool in the final in Paris in May to claim their third Champions League title in six years. With their rivals strengthening, they wasted no time in strengthening their team.

The big-money arrival comes in the form of Aurélien Tchouaméni, the 22-year-old Frenchman who hails from Monaco. Real Madrid are preparing to bring the old guard out of their midfield. Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Casemiro are all in their 30s, so bedding in a new generation is vital. With Federico Valverde and Eduardo Camavinga already at the club and Tchouaméni signed for €100m, Carlo Ancelotti has the bulk of Real Madrid’s next midfielder in place.

ADVERTISEMENT

Antonio Rüdiger swells the defensive ranks of the team, having joined on a free transfer. Chelsea were understandably keen to keep Rüdiger, but they were limited by the financial sanctions put in place during Roman Abramovich’s stay at the club. The 29-year-old is one of the best centre-backs in the game and he will provide extra cover and competition for David Alaba and Éder Militão in the heart of defence.

Rüdiger is not the only top centre-back to leave Chelsea for Spain this summer, with Andreas Christensen moving to Barcelona. After finishing 13 points behind their fierce rivals last season, Barcelona are on a mission. Xavi’s appointment in November has brought much-needed stability to Camp Nou and the board have been more than willing to support him in the transfer market.

Despite their financial problems, Barcelona have been busy this summer. Franck Kessié also arrived on a free transfer from Milan, and the club spent big on Raphinha (€58m) and Robert Lewandowski (€50m). Chelsea pursued Raphinha but the Brazilian was keen on a move to Barcelona who eventually got their man. The 25-year-old will provide stiff competition on the right wing to Ousmane Dembélé, who has extended his stay at the club until 2024. Barcelona are also set to sign Jules Koundé, another Chelsea target, from Sevilla for 50 million euros.

Raphinha celebrates after scoring for Barcelona against Real Madrid in a friendly match in Las Vegas. Photograph: Frederic J Brown/AFP/Getty Images

Lewandowski is the headline-grabbing addition to the squad, having ended his 12-year stint in Germany. The 33-year-old scored 35 goals for Bayern Munich last season to clinch another European Golden Boot. With the wealth of attacking talent already at Xavi’s disposal, Lewandowski is set to tear La Liga apart as Barcelona look to not only overtake Real Madrid as the best in Spain, but to surpass the quarter-finals for only the second time in the last eight. seasons in the Champions League.

Bayern wasted no time in bringing in a replacement for Lewandowski. Following in his footsteps won’t be easy, but the German champions will be confident they have secured his successor in Sadio Mané. The 30-year-old scored 16 Premier League goals last season – not quite at Lewandowski’s level – but he shone in a pivotal role for Liverpool as they reached the Champions League final and won two trophies.

Even after clinching the Bundesliga title, Bayern took steps to strengthen, signing two players from Ajax. Noussair Mazraoui is swelling Julian Nagelsmann’s options at right-back, easing the burden on Benjamin Pavard, while Ryan Gravenberch will give them some extra driving force in the middle of the park. Signing a new centre-back was a priority for Nagelsmann once Niklas Süle left for Borussia Dortmund, and Bayern spent heavily on his replacement.

Bayern brought in Matthijs de Ligt from Juventus for €80m, meaning three of their record four signings have been centre-backs. De Ligt struggled for consistency at Juventus, although working under three different managers during his three seasons at the club did not help as he tried to adapt to a new league in a new country. Nonetheless, Juventus have basically recouped the fee they paid for the Dutchman in 2019.

They used that money wisely. Bremer came on as a replacement for De Ligt, with the Brazilian crossing the city from Turin. Bremer made more interceptions (105) than any other player in Europe’s top five leagues last season. Juve head coach Max Allegri now has a new centre-back ready to step up and take the pressure off Juventus’ goal.

Paul Pogba tries on his new Juventus jersey.
Paul Pogba tries on his new Juventus jersey. Photo: Daniele Badolato/Juventus FC/Getty Images

Most of their business this summer, however, has been in the open market, where the Old Lady rules. Paul Pogba has returned to the club following the completion of his contract with Manchester United, despite tearing his meniscus and facing a few months out of action. Giorgio Chiellini, Paulo Dybala and Federico Bernardeschi have all left, with Ángel Di María arriving on a free transfer to bolster their attacking ranks.

Paris Saint-Germain have let Di María go and appear to be taking a different approach to the transfer market under new sporting director Luis Campos. The French champions have beaten Newcastle thanks to the signing of Reims striker Hugo Ekitike on an initial loan, while defender Nordi Mukiele and playmaker Vitinha are also players with room for development rather than superstar signings .

Dominant Premier League pair Manchester City and Liverpool have also strengthened their squads for the upcoming campaign, the former perhaps more. Julián Álvarez has arrived in Manchester following the completion of his loan spell with River Plate. City agreed a £14million fee for the 22-year-old striker in January and he will be eager to leave.

Their main addition is goal machine Erling Haaland, who has signed with Borussia Dortmund. City scored more goals (99) than any other side in Europe’s top five leagues last season, so the prospect of Haaland leading the charge for the Premier League champions is frightening. Kalvin Phillips arrives as a replacement for Fernandinho in the middle of the park and City are still in pursuit of another left-back, notably Marc Cucurella, following Oleksandr Zinchenko’s move to Arsenal.

Liverpool’s need for a new striker was born more out of necessity than desire. Mané’s determination to join Bayern effectively forced Liverpool’s hand to make a move for Darwin Núñez. The Uruguayan scored 26 goals and provided four assists for Benfica in Primeira Liga last season and his four goals in a pre-season game against RB Leipzig gives a taste of what awaits the 23-year-old year. The teenagers Fábio Carvalho, who joined Fulham, and Calvin Ramsay, who signed from Aberdeen, will offer something different to Jürgen Klopp. Carvalho is a true No.10 and Ramsay will be a solid understudy for Trent Alexander-Arnold at right-back.

Raheem Sterling challenges another former Manchester City striker, Gabriel Jesus, in Chelsea's pre-season friendly against Arsenal.
Raheem Sterling challenges another former Manchester City striker, Gabriel Jesus, in Chelsea’s pre-season friendly against Arsenal. Photograph: John Raoux/AP

The gap between second and third in the Premier League last season was 18 points, so Chelsea have a lot of work to do if they are to mount a sustained title challenge. Centre-back reinforcements are Thomas Tuchel’s priority this summer, although they have missed De Ligt and Koundé. Chelsea made a statement by signing Kalidou Koulibaly, the imposing centre-back who arrived from Napoli for £33.8m. Koulibaly had been linked with a move to the Premier League for some time, and that move has finally materialized.

In attack, Raheem Sterling is the selfless striker that Tuchel craved 12 months ago. The English international replaces Romelu Lukaku, back at Inter. There is still a lot of work to be done at Stamford Bridge, but fans are hoping Todd Boehly will flex his financial muscles and sign the players Tuchel needs.

What is clear is that the powers of European football have grown stronger in key areas. Real Madrid have every chance of retaining their Champions League crown, after adding Tchouaméni and Rüdiger. That said, Barcelona can’t be counted out as they seek to capitalize on an embarrassing group stage exit last season – nor can Bayern Munich, even after Lewandowski’s departure. City will hope Haaland send them back to the continental glory they crave in what promises to be one of the most competitive Champions League campaigns for some time.

ADVERTISEMENT