What a long August this is shaping up to be. The Paul Pogba saga drags on every day, Arsenal’s quest for a striker has reached its third summer and it’s increasingly hard to get as excited about Diego Costa’s Chelsea future as well as Diego himself.
The Premier League and Ligue 1 seasons are just over one week away, and many clubs are still in need of new recruits, whatever messages of stability may emanate from the boardroom. Selling clubs are looking to earn a few extra million by pushing clubs closer to deadline day. And early-season predictions could be blown out of the water with one or two smart signings before the end of the month. The action may kick off next week, but the season proper really starts once the window closes.
Here are some players still available who could swing a title race one way or another (in alphabetical order):
Mario Balotelli, Liverpool, forward
Price: €20 million
Linked to: Besiktas, Napoli, Ajax, Crotone, Pescara
Anyone for Mario? Liverpool has no takers for the Italian forward who four years ago lit up Euro 2012. Balotelli is still only 25 and as the window draws on, a move to the Chinese Super League must appear ever closer. He last hit double figures for goals in a season in 2013-14 at AC Milan but the level of clubs interested is dropping steadily by the day. Talent is no good without the character to match, and Balotelli looks like he is running out of last chances.
It’s a busy summer for his agent Mino Raiola, who represents Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Romelu Lukaku and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, but this could be his toughest challenge of the lot.
Christian Benteke, Liverpool, forward
Price: €45 million
Linked to: Crystal Palace, West Ham, Hull City
The former Aston Villa forward had a wretched first season at Liverpool, which is prepared to sell the Belgian but not at a loss. Palace, in need of a striker with only Frazier Campbell and Conor Wickham on the books, would appear the best bet, but talks over the move have stalled. Benteke will not want to end the month stuck on the Anfield bench, so don’t rule out a late move to another side before the window closes.
Daley Blind, Manchester United, left back
Price: €30 million
Linked to: Barcelona, Real Madrid
The Dutch defender said he would fight for his place in the side in response to reports that he is on Jose Mourinho’s for-sale list. He will likely start at United as back-up to Luke Shaw but his versatility, an asset under Louis van Gaal, may count against him under Mourinho. That may not deter other clubs from trying to sign him, given that he can also play center back and in midfield better than most.
Wilfried Bony, Manchester City, forward
Price: €40 million
Linked to: Everton, West Ham, Swansea, Hull City
It’s hard to see how many opportunities Bony will get under Pep Guardiola given he is behind Sergio Aguero and possibly Kelechi Iheanacho and new signing Gabriel Jesus in the striker pecking order (and that’s before the possibility of playing Kevin de Bruyne or Leroy Sane as a false nine). His record at Swansea shows he can score at this level, but the move to City has just not worked out for him. He would be a good fit at Everton or West Ham, but might have to wait until September gets closer before knowing where his future lies.
Julian Draxler, Wolfsburg, midfielder
Price: €60 million
Linked to: Juventus, Arsenal, Real Madrid
The German attacking midfielder went public with his desire to leave Wolfsburg in a dramatic interview with Bild published Wednesday. Originally signed to replace Kevin de Bruyne, Draxler was superb at times last season, including his one-man destruction of Manchester United in the Champions League. Juventus had been interested in the past, as has Arsenal, but the 22-year-old would not come cheap. A €50 million tag may be the starting price, but whoever gets him will have a star on its hands.
Alexandre Lacazette, Lyon, forward
Price: €50 million
Linked to: Arsenal
Arsenal has made bids for two strikers this summer and failed with both: Jamie Vardy for €30 million and Lacazette for €35 million. The French forward, 25, has blistering pace and has scored 48 goals in his last two seasons in France. Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas is a famously tough negotiator and says he won’t sell for less than €50 million. With Arsene Wenger a parsimonious buyer with a habit of making deadline-day deals (Mesut Ozil, Danny Welbeck), this could be a stand-off that goes down to the wire.
Kylian Mbappe, Monaco, forward
Price: €25 million
Linked to: Arsenal, Liverpool
France won the Under-19s European Championship this summer, and Monaco teenager Mbappe was the star, with five goals, including two in the final. Nominally a left winger, he is strong and pacey and is good enough in front of goal to end up as a center forward; hence the comparisons to Thierry Henry. Monaco is in Champions League qualifying at the moment, but if it is knocked out, it might well be prepared to cash in on one of its best assets, as it did last season with Anthony Martial. Like Martial, any buyer will be mainly buying potential–but Mbappe has bags of it.
Shkodran Mustafi, Valencia, center back
Price: €30 million
Linked to: Arsenal, Chelsea, AC Milan
Valencia needs to sell and Mustafi, a German international who had a brief spell in the youth ranks at Everton, is a highly rated center back who is strong in the air, can chip in with some goals and has leadership potential. Spanish press reported that Arsenal was knocked back after a €19 million bid, while AC Milan was keen after failing to land Mateo Musacchio from Villarreal. That could allow Chelsea to sneak in and sign Mustafi, who is 24 and won't be in Valencia once September comes around.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Arsenal, winger
Price: €30 million
Linked to: Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City
The English winger has not started a competitive match since February but has been outstanding for Arsenal in preseason. With two years left to run on his contract, this is a big season for the 22-year-old. There were reports of interest from Premier League rivals earlier in the summer, and a decent start to the campaign could see the Ox start a bidding war before the month is out.
James Rodriguez, Real Madrid, midfielder
Price: €50 million
Linked to: Manchester United, Paris Saint-Germain
Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane this week claimed that James was not for sale, though the preseason form of cantera product Marco Asensio means it's likely that either James or Isco will be sold before the end of the month. Madrid president Florentino Perez wants to keep James and Zinedine would rather keep Isco; who wins that battle of wills could determine the Colombian’s future.