It’s going to be a big summer transfer window for Manchester City, Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham
The transfer window hasn’t even officially opened yet, and already the Premier League rumour mill is well up and running.
In fact, several clubs have made their first signings ahead of what promises to be one of the most active windows in recent memory.
The re-emerging financial security following the end of lockdown football, not to mention new ambitious owners at the likes of Newcastle and Chelsea, sets us up for another big summer as the Premier League consolidates its power.
But who should the biggest clubs in the English top-flight be targeting this summer? GOAL has selected one player for each ‘Big Six’ team to prioritise bringing in before the window closes:
Manchester United: Declan Rice
It feels only a matter of time before Declan Rice is in a Manchester United shirt, and though the club’s tactical direction has swung dramatically from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to Erik ten Hag, the England international remains an excellent option.
That is because he is, put bluntly, world-class as both a defensive and ball-carrying central midfielder.
Often mischaracterised as a No.6, Rice is superb at driving forward and playing intelligent passes under pressure, which is precisely what a tired, hesitant, and sideways-passing United midfield needs.
Rice ranks third in the Premier League for ball carries into the final third in 2021-22, sandwiched between Bernardo Silv and Kevin De Bruyne, and he tops the charts among midfielders for most passes played into the final third. These are not the statistics of a defensive midfielder.
The 23-year-old’s commanding presence across the pitch would also inject some genuine leadership into the Old Trafford dressing room, lifting the team vocally and with consistently gutsy performances.
Whether United can afford what is likely to be a huge fee that West Ham will demand for their prized asset remains to be seen, but the Red Devils should at least be testing the waters in the coming weeks.
Arsenal: Paulo Dybala
It is widely understood that Mikel Arteta’s number one priority this summer is Gabriel Jesus, a player with whom he has worked with at Manchester City.
And yet while Jesus is the right kind of player, there is a better – and cheaper – option available.
Jesus is very good at dropping off the front line to help sew things together, which is a skill Arteta demands and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang could not provide. Paulo Dybala, therefore, would be a huge upgrade.
Among forwards, he is in the 99th percentile for passes attempted, 98th percentile for progressive passes, 93rd percentile for progressive carries, and 95th percentile for shots. Dybala is strong both outside and inside the box, amassing 10 goals and five assists in a struggling Juventus team this season.
What’s more, Dybala’s capacity to play on the half-turn, to flick passes quickly round the corner and burst late into the penalty area, fits nicely with how Martin Odegaard and Bukayo Saka have been interacting in the final third throughout this season.
Failure to land Champions League football might be an issue, and Dybala may wish to stay in Italy with an offer from Inter reportedly on the table. It would be a coup for Arsenal, but not an implausible one.
Tottenham: Ousmane Dembele
How does Antonio Conte get more creativity and attacking flair into his side? That is the big question this summer, because Tottenham regularly looked flat when up against deeper opposition – the consequence of Conte’s relatively deep block.
One route is adding a more creative midfielder, with Christian Eriksen or Youri Tielemans attractive options, but more important to Conte is creativity found through piercingly aggressive wing-backs.
At Chelsea, the secret to his success was converting the pacey Victor Moses into a right wing-back. Perhaps he could do the same thing with Ousmane Dembele, the extremely gifted Barcelona winger who may be looking for a fresh start this summer, despite his upturn in form under Xavi Hernandez.
Dembele has been trialled as a wing-back on half a dozen occasions in the last 12 months and has generally performed well.
It would be a left-field move, of course, but Spurs could do with more speed from the flanks, and with Sergio Reguilon and Ben Davies strong defensive figures on the left, Dembele would have licence to stay high up the pitch on the opposite flank.
It’s worth remembering Conte was considering Adama Traore for this role before he joined Barca. Dembele is of a similar profile, and with no transfer fee to pay, could be an ideal addition in north London.
Chelsea: Jules Kounde
Thomas Tuchel’s summer hinges on what he decides to do with Romelu Lukaku, but the £98 million striker will be short on suitors and the chances are Chelsea will need to keep working on how to integrate him into the first team.
Consequently, the main concern is replacing Antonio Rudiger, who is set to join Real Madrid this summer, with long-time target Jules Kounde a ready-made replacement.
The 23-year-old Sevilla centre-back, who GOAL understand is the Blues’ priority signing this summer, is a commanding presence defensively, but what really draws the eye is what he can do with the ball.
Compared to centre-backs across Europe over the last 365 days, Kounde is in the 97th percentile for shot-creating actions, 84th percentile for progressive passes, 90th percentile for progressive carries, and 96th percentile for touches in the attacking area, according to FBRef.
Rudiger is vital to how Chelsea attack, regularly stepping out of the back to break the lines in the dribble or with an assertive forward pass. Tuchel needs this to stop his 3-4-2-1 going stale, making Kounde the perfect signing.
Liverpool: Aurelien Tchouameni
With Fabio Carvalho arriving from Fulham and Harvey Elliot expected to be fully reintegrated next season, Liverpool do not have many areas to improve.
Yet Thiago Alcantara’s continuing injury concerns through 2021-22 have highlighted the need to find an upgrade on squad players such as Curtis Jones and James Milner.
Jurgen Klopp never replaced Georginio Wijnaldum, but he could do so with the signing of the highly-rated Aurelien Tchouameni, who is also wanted by Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain and is expected to fetch around €80 million (£68m/$85m) when Monaco eventually sell.
The 22-year-old central midfielder is an unusual all-rounder, as strong at breaking up play as he is creating, and his profile perfectly fits the Klopp mould.
Tchouameni is highly aggressive in the press, ranking in the 99th percentile for interceptions among central midfielders across Europe according to FBRef, and is both an assured passer and dribbler – fitting with Liverpool’s verticality.
More importantly, he can comfortably play as a No.6 or a No.8, meaning he will be good cover for both Fabinho and Thiago – Liverpool’s most injury-prone midfielders.
Klopp is often forced to rotate his midfield three, but with Tchouameni developing at Anfield, Liverpool can mould a future star of the game however they like – and in multiple positions.
Manchester City: N’Golo Kante
Pep Guardiola has got most of his business done very early. The two main priorities for City were a new striker and a new forward to make penetrative runs in the mould of Leroy Sane (particularly with Raheem Sterling possibly on his way out), and both have already been found in Erling Haaland and Julian Alvarez.
The next priority is finding a backup central midfielder to replace the departing Fernandinho, and although it might sound a little far-fetched at first, Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante is a plausible option.
Kante only has one year left on his contract at Chelsea, and there are rumours abound of interest from Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United.
But it is Man City who should pounce. First of all, it would align with a surprising recent policy of approaching established superstars, including Jack Grealish, Cristiano Ronaldo and Paul Pogba.
He would also be the ideal tackler and interceptor for City so as to break down opposition counterattacks, while his experience would be a useful replacement for what is lost when Fernandinho departs.
As Kante ages he is looking less mobile running up and down the pitch, although his career at the top could be extended by stripping back his all-action style for a more conservative position at the base of midfield.