Horncastle: where do Scudetto contenders need to shop to avoid drop?
We haven’t seen a title race this close in Serie A since the beginning of 1991. As was the case then, five teams are within four points of each other and perhaps like never before the business done in this winter transfer window could swing its outcome decisively in someone’s favour. So without further ado here are the intentions and needs of the principal contenders.
“January is a good month to go skiing,” Roberto Mancini said as he slalomed questions about Inter’s plans for the transfer window. “We’re not interested in new signings,” he concluded.
But that’s only half the truth. It’s no lie that FFP needs respecting and that the focus, at least initially, will be on the January sales of Dodo, Davide Santon, Danilo D’Ambrosio and Marc Montoya. Andrea Ranocchia needs game-time ahead of Euro 2016 and could turn out to be a useful bargaining chip. For instance, Lazio require a centre-back while Inter have a firm interest in captain Lucas Biglia and Antonio Candreva. Both clubs have done business together at this time of year before. Remember Hernanes [€18m] a couple of years back?
Make no mistake, Lazio owner Claudio Lotito drives a hard bargain and doing this deal would be like making one step forward to take two steps back. But it does reveal where Inter feel they’re short. Biglia is a regista. He would make Inter’s play flow better, as would Pirlo (who is staying in the US) and Stefano Sensi, a revelation at Cesena.
Candreva is an upgrade on Jonathan Biabiany, who might also become a makeweight. It really must be that time of year again, because the Ezequiel Lavezzi rumours are back. However, don’t Inter have more pressing needs than a game-breaking winger? A right-back for instance. The dream remains Pablo Zabaleta. The reality is Martin Caceres, Gregory van der Wiel or Jacopo Sala.
“I am working day and night,” Napoli owner Aurelio De Laurentiis insists. “Because we can’t get the two signings we want to make wrong.” The chance to win the Scudetto for the first time since 1990 or return to the Champions League is too great to miss. Napoli tried to sign Torino centre-back Nikola Maksimovic in the summer and will inquire again, but with Kalidou Koulibaly and Raul Albiol much improved and Vladimir Chiriches in reserve, it’s more likely they’ll pick up a talented youngster on the cheap as an ulterior back up rather than spend big.
The other priority is a deputy for captain Marek Hamsik. Although coach Maurizio Sarri doesn’t much believe in squad rotation - “you can launch a coup d’etat with 18 people” - added depth would be welcome. Sarri often goes with what he knows and would like a reunion with Matias Vecino or Piotr Zielinski but neither Fiorentina or Empoli look like budging. Hurdles of varying degrees of difficulty make deals for Gladbach’s Granit Xhaka, Ajax’s Davy Klaassen, Leverkusen’s Christoph Kramer and Valencia’s Andre Gomes very tricky. Things are less complicated for AZ’s Markus Henriksen although, even after scoring 13 goals in all competitions this season, he is considered a fallback option.
As with Inter with Ranocchia and Juventus with Simone Zaza, Napoli’s plans might be thrown out of kilter if Manolo Gabbiadini pursues a move away from the San Paolo to get more game-time ahead of France 2016. They’re reluctant to lose him not least because finding as good a stand-in for Gonzalo Higuain would be very hard indeed.
Like De Laurentiis, Fiorentina owner Andrea Della Valle has promised investment. Extra cover at centre-back is sought in order to ease some of the stress and strain on Gonzalo Rodriguez and Davide Astori. A deal was nearly done for Philippe Mexes at the end of the last transfer window but - thankfully - Milan owner Silvio Berlusconi and Fiorentina coach Paulo Sousa put a stop to it.
Sousa has made no secret of his No.1 preference: a certain Lisandro Lopez of Benfica. Relations with their sporting director Manuel Rui Costa are naturally very good, but an injury to Luisao has led the Portuguese champions to reconsider his sale. Tottenham’s Fazio has been mentioned as an alternative and before you roll your eyes, remember Stefan Savic didn’t do particularly well at Man City before performing admirably at the Franchi.
Juventus prove that it is not true that you can’t find value in the January transfer window. Five years ago they signed Andrea Barzagli from Wolfsburg for €300k. President Andrea Agnelli still considers it the best piece of business his administration has ever done. Better than the Pirlo and Pogba deals they did for free, because it was the foundation stone of this team’s cycle of success.
However, as general manager Beppe Marotta says, it is difficult to find players of Juventus’ standard on the market at this time of year and at fair prices. Edgar Davids was one in `97-98, and he delivered the boost needed to win the title. Another reinforcement in midfield wouldn’t go amiss now for Juventus, either. Aside from Paul Pogba and Stefano Sturaro, everyone else from Claudio Marchisio to Sami Khedira and Kwadwo Asamoah to Mario Lemina has got injured at least once so far.
All in all, they have missed 72 games combined. This season has also demonstrated that the one player Juventus absolutely cannot do without is Marchisio. A back up for him, or the signing of someone who can play in front of the defence (thus allowing The Little Prince to return to his old position) would be a bonus.
Attention has fallen on Ever Banega of Sevilla. His contract expires at the end of the season. Seeing as he a regular for the Rojiblancos, it would appear unlikely that they would let him go. Unless, of course, Sevilla return the favour Juventus did to them in the summer when they allowed Fernando Llorente to move to the Sanchez Pizjuan for nothing, despite still being under contract.
Meanwhile, Marotta’s efforts to make the Old Lady younger and younger continue. Groundwork is being laid to sign Genoa teenager Rolando Mandragora, currently on loan at Pescara, for next season.
This window was disastrous for Roma a year ago. Rather than help, it hindered them. Mattia Destro was allowed to go to Milan on loan while Victor Ibarbo and Seydou Doumbia joined injured, and immediately flopped. There can be no repeat if Roma want to end a 15-year wait for the Scudetto. The first thing to say is that Kevin Strootman and captain Francesco Totti will be like new signings, provided they stay fit. In the Dutchman’s case that’s a very big if.
Next on the agenda for Roma is to address the defence. If we’re honest about it Kostas Manolas doesn’t have a reliable partner. Ranocchia and Juan Jesus, both linked with Roma, aren’t the answer. Short at full-back, Barça’s Adriano can play either side, and with Aleix Vidal now available for the Catalans perhaps they will agree to a sale.
Kolasinac of Schalke has also been lined up.
Elsewhere, Juan Manuel Iturbe’s loan to Bournemouth, a debacle really when you recall how the decision to keep him last summer meant losing Adem Ljajic, has made a winger a priority. Genoa’s Diego Perotti, one of the best dribblers in the league, would be a great acquisition if Roma can pull it off. Good luck with that. Genoa won’t do a deal on the cheap.