The drama of the summer transfer window is far in the rear-view mirror, but more madness may be on the horizon.
The January transfer window should be quite interesting given the current status of league races around Europe. The Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga and Ligue 1 races don't have all that much suspense in them, and Serie A is the only one of the "major" leagues whose title remains up for grabs as the calendar turns to 2018. The pursuit of Champions League places, a Champions League title and an eye on the future, coupled with a number of soon to be out-of-contract players and players on the outs with their current clubs, however, could make for some headlines in the coming weeks.
Changing clubs in the winter leading into a World Cup can be a dicey proposition, though, given that the variables in play could jeopardize a player's hopes at competing in Russia.
Then there's the matter of players who have already played in the Champions League this season, as they may have their value diminished for the clubs still remaining in the last 16, given that they are cup-tied and cannot feature for a second team in the competition. For those who are out of contract at the end of the season, they can negotiate moves for six months from now, exclusively pledging their futures to new clubs while playing out the season at their current ones.
With all that said, here are 18 names to watch for the 2018 January transfer window and who are most certainly on holiday wish lists around Europe (in alphabetical order):
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Borussia Dortmund
Will he stay, or will he go? That seems to be the question always surrounding Aubameyang, but with Dortmund effectively out of the race for the Bundesliga title and ousted from both the German Cup and Champions League competitions, there's little upside to staying at a place where the Gabon striker has run into his share of discipline issues. He reportedly agreed to a lengthy extension with the club, but that hasn't stopped many a player from moving on before. If the right offer comes in, Dortmund would be wild not to at least consider it while casting an eye on continuing to build for the future.
Ross Barkley, Everton
An injury killed Barkley's chances of being sold in the summer, and while Everton is under new management now, that doesn't mean Barkley necessarily wants to stay. Fighting for a place on England's World Cup team, Barkley has other suitors among the Premier League's top teams—though seeing consistent playing time at the likes of Chelsea or Tottenham is certainly not a given.
Hatem Ben Arfa, PSG
PSG likely needs to sell some assets in order to meet Financial Fair Play requirements after the outlandish spending for Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, and the out-of-favor Ben Arfa is a prime candidate to go. Mercurial but talented, Ben Arfa has been linked to a reunion with Leicester manager Claude Puel, who coached him previously at Nice.
Emre Can, Liverpool
Can is out of contract at the end of the season and has teams around Europe drooling at the prospect of either landing him for free in the summer or securing him for a relative discount now. Juventus, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund are among the clubs reportedly interested, and the versatile 23-year-old German will surely be on plenty of other holiday wish lists as well.
William Carvalho, Sporting CP
Carvalho has been touted as a Premier League player for some time but has never made the move. Will Sporting get the price it's looking for to part ways with its Portugal international? West Ham and Arsenal have been discussed as potential landing spots for the defensive midfielder.
Philippe Coutinho, Liverpool
The Barcelona saga continues. All throughout the summer Coutinho was reportedly holding out hope for a Barcelona move that never came to fruition. Liverpool is in the same position it was in a few months ago: It shouldn't feel compelled to sell, as it has Coutinho under a long-term contract, but if the price reaches an exorbitant level, then the best move may be to part ways. To Coutinho's credit, he's played well with Liverpool and its four-headed attacking monster since the summer soap opera, and for the Reds to break that group up at this juncture could be a risk to its top-four and Champions League aspirations.
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Stefan De Vrij, Lazio
Viewed in some corners as a consolation prize behind countryman Virgil Van Dijk, De Vrij hasn't committed his future to the Roman club yet and has suitors galore. At 25, he's got plenty of years to give, and his summer won't be consumed with the World Cup, given that the Netherlands didn't make it. Liverpool, which could use plenty of defensive reinforcement, is said to be on the prowl.
Angel Di Maria, PSG
Like with Ben Arfa, Di Maria could be a cost-cutting casualty. He was reported to be close to a Barcelona move in the summer, which would have teamed him with countryman Lionel Messi, but he stayed put at PSG. He's started just over half of the team's league matches, but plays a position of considerable depth. PSG's overflow of riches could be another team's gain.
Gianluigi Donnarumma, AC Milan
This is an odd one. Chastised by AC Milan fans for being greedy and not committed to the club, AC Milan may watch its homegrown goalkeeping great walk out the door. The mixture of Milan's ownership mess, agent Mino Raiola and the player's wavering over not committing to a contract then signing a long-term one over the summer has added up to a colossal mess. It'd take a huge fee to pry Donnarumma away from Milan, but 18-year-old, can't-miss goalkeepers don't sprout up every day.
Julian Draxler, PSG
See: Ben Arfa, Hatem and Di Maria, Angel. The key for Draxler is getting the playing time needed to ensure a spot on Jogi Low's Germany World Cup team. He's been getting it recently, but if the math results in PSG needing to cash in, then the playmaker would be a desirable target.
Nabil Fekir, Lyon
Tied for third in Ligue 1 with 13 goals (two more than Neymar), the 24-year-old Fekir has long been linked to a Premier League move. If an attacking void opened up at Arsenal, he'd be an ideal candidate to pair with his former Lyon teammate, Alexandre Lacazette. As it stands, Lyon is tied for second in Ligue 1 and nine points behind PSG, so perhaps it would want to hold onto its desired talent.
Leon Goretzka, Schalke
Perhaps the best of the out-of-contract rising stars, the 22-year-old Goretzka has yet to sign a new deal at Schalke. Doing so would at least force suitors into spending a massive fee to pry him away in future windows, but until he does, he's available for free come the end of the season. That'd be a horrible piece of business from Schalke to lose Goretzka for nothing, but if it feels like it can re-sign him, then it's worth the risk. For what it is worth, Schalke is currently in second in the Bundesliga and very much in the mix for a Champions League berth–something that isn't necessarily a given at the Premier League clubs calling for his services.
Thomas Lemar, Monaco
Monaco's VP claims Lemar isn't for sale this January and that a move is more likely in the summer. Newsflash: Club executives' public comments don't always hold up. Subject of an audacious last-minute attempt from Arsenal to sign him on deadline day, Lemar could fetch a fee approaching €100 million, at which point Monaco, which is out of the Champions League already and essentially fighting for second in Ligue 1, would have to consider moving on. Arsenal and Liverpool have been the two most reported destinations.
David Luiz, Chelsea
The mop-haired Brazilian is the focus of transfer talks, with Barcelona reportedly scratching the surface on talks with Chelsea. Said to be out of favor with Antonio Conte, the 30-year-old center back could be a stand-in for Javier Mascherano, who appears to be on his way to Hebei China Fortune in a lucrative move. A vital part to Chelsea's title team, it would mark quite a fall for the club to offload him for a second time in three years.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Manchester United
After seemingly settling into life under Jose Mourinho last season, Mkhitaryan has been the odd man out this season, and it's worth wondering if United would part ways with the Armenian playmaker. Could a return to Borussia Dortmund be the elixir for his woes?
Mesut Ozil, Arsenal
Out of contract at the end of the season, Ozil has been the subject of speculation for months. He's been vital to Arsenal's success this season, and Arsene Wenger remains convinced that he'll sign a new deal. That doesn't mean he necessarily will.
Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal
Like Ozil, Alexis is out of contract at the end of 2017-18, and there's plenty of chatter that he'll leave for free in the summer to join Manchester City's cavalcade of attacking talent. There's no doubting that he'd have a more featured role at Arsenal, but it doesn't appear that he's long for the Emirates. Would Arsenal cash in, for a discounted windfall, this winter? Not necessarily, if it doesn't think it can finish in the top four without him.
Virgil van Dijk, Southampton
Van Dijk was at the center of transfer rumors for weeks over the summer, with Liverpool in, out, then back in, only to leave empty-handed. He returned from Southampton exile to play for the Saints, and Liverpool still is very much in the market for an upgrade defensively. Manchester City is said to be in the mix as well, and joining Pep Guardiola's project has to be an enticing option for the Dutch defender.