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Your big, bad January transfer window guide

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The players, the fits, the price-tags; the who, what, where and whys

Arsenal FC v Manchester United - Premier League Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

Hurray! The transfer window is open again. And you know what that means: a deluge of nonsensical transfer gossip that offers hope and desperation and everything in-between.

But I am here for you. Transfer shenanigans is a year-round, billion-dollar industry. Spreading shite in the name of clicks is the name of the game. But I will save you those clicks and ask only for a couple of scrolls.

Here’s a roundup of the latest gossip surrounding potential January reinforcements.

Marcos Alonso, Chelsea, LWB

Conte is keen to reunite with Alonso, with whom he enjoyed a great relationship at Chelsea. Alonso played the best form of his career -- at least going forward -- under Conte. He was given more license to get forward, acting essentially as an out-and-out winger. He finished both Conte seasons with four expected goals and three expected assists, as well as a career-high in shots per 90; the only time he has burst the 2 shots per game mark.

Upgrading the left wingback spot is high on Conte’s priority list. His much discussed morphing 3-5-2 / 3-4-3 can only function at a high level with two quality wingbacks. And given the coaches propensity for running players into the ground, having a couple of backups who can rotate into those spots, but maintain a high standard, is a must. Kwadho Asamoah lingering injury concerns have made the position all the more a priority.

Alonso gets a bad wrap as a defender. He is not blisteringly quick, and so relies on his anticipation and nous to screen in front of forwards. He is a pretty decent take-on defender: adept at reading the game and poking the ball away when he’s head-up against an on-running attacker.

His issue is concentration. Alonso consistently gets sucked towards the ball (and it’s a trend that’s only on the up) regardless of where it is on the pitch. That doesn’t mean he sprints towards the ball, abandoning his post altogether. But he does shuffle and creep towards the ball -- if he’s in the left-sided half-space and the ball is on the right-wing, for instance, he will inch closer towards a ball he has no way of defending. Fractions of space make a giant difference at the top-level.

But Alonso remains serviceable defensively and would have the added protection of a true back three and a screener (Brozovic) at Inter. He would be allowed to focus on going forward.

Few wingbacks in Europe have a better, more consistent delivery from wide areas than Alonso. Want a ripped ball across the ground for a tap in? He’s got that. Want a curler from within 18-yards? Check that off, too.

How about a perfectly weighted ball, on the run, from depth, directly into the path of an on running midfielder?

Goodness gracious that’s orgasmic.

Can’t you just shut your eyes and picture Lautaro running onto that one? We know Conte can.

Alonso wouldn’t represent an expensive deal, but he’d give Inter a bunch of things: A good, attacking wingback; someone who understands Conte’s system; someone who understands Conte’s culture. He has slipped down the pecking order behind Emerson during Chelsea’s youth revolution, though there remains an ongoing debate as to who is the better player and fit (Alonso slightly better right now, Emerson the long-term bet). For Inter, no deal makes more sense given their slim budget.

Layvin Kurzawa, LWB, Paris Saint-Germain

Sensing a theme? Based on all the latest speculation it seems obvious that Conte is least satisfied with that left-back spot. Christian Biraghi has been up-and-down: a decent, rotational, mostly defensive fullback who has offered little going forward. Conte has consistently switched a naturally right-sided player -- Lazaro, D’Ambrosio -- over to the left to get a little more oomph.

If not Alonso, Kurzwawa seems like the next on the list -- perhaps as an initial loan deal. Kurzawa has played less than 500 minutes in 10 games this season and is available at a bargain price.

PSG remains the hunting ground for cut-price, oh-has-he-been-playing-there deals. You have to fit your FFP threshold at some point (I guess?), meaning they’re often willing to offload quality players for pound shop prices — though players extraordinary wages often throw a spanner in the works.

At 27, Kurzawa represents more of an investment for the future than Alonso, who is 29. Kurzawa has been linked to both Manchester clubs. If Inter is able to grab him now at a cut-price deal, they could potentially turn around at flip him in 18-months to one of the Premier League’s big boys, with the defender still south of 30. Alonso has no re-sale value.

RCD Espanyol v FC Barcelona - La Liga Photo by Pablo Morano/MB Media/Getty Images

Arturo Vidal, CM, Barcelona

The most talked-about will-they-wont-they deal of the transfer window. I wrote a big ‘ol piece on what adding Vidal would mean, how he would fit, and why he’s such a talent back in the summer when it looked like a deal was imminent.

Here’s a snippet:

Vidal’s role with Barca was a little different last year than in his stints with Juve and Bayern. He started in his traditional role: a shuttler playing alongside an orchestrator. But he didn’t get much playing time as he got lost in the midfield shuffle. Up to March, Vidal played only 1,218 minutes in 33 matches, an average of 37-minutes per game. After March, however, Vidal was shifted wide. He played in a front-three alongside two of Leo Messi, Luis Suarez, Ousmane Dembele, and Malcom.

Vidal played nominally on the left. Ernesto Valverde’s egalitarian style allowed everyone to move and play anywhere and everywhere. Suarez, Messi, Arthur, Vidal and either starting fullback, would shift between a raft of positions. Only the defensive fulcrums – Busquets and a pair of centre backs – held their spots. Vidal would wind up in either half-space (that neat channel between the centre back and full back), as a False 9, or play in his traditional spot when starting in the central of midfield.

It was a brilliant move. Vidal thrived. Even when playing wide, Vidal would drift inside and occupy the positions where he is most dangerous. Jordi Alba was given free rein to maraud forward, overlapping and giving Barca some width. Vidal excelled trailing behind quick breaks. Rather than charge forward, he would move casually, reading everything before him. How best can I help?

It doesn’t get better than this:

Did you follow that? Watch Vidal at the top of the screen. He’s careful not to charge ahead and make it a straight 4 vs. 4.

Vidal knows he’s best served dragging a little behind. The defenders don’t know whether to pick up Suarez, Messi and Alba individually, or hold one line. In the end, they did neither.

The movement of the front two-plus-Vidal distorted the line of the defence. No one is more ruthless at punishing that than Messi.

Vidal read the landscape. In those spots, he knows exactly what to do. The ball was played back to him; his touch a little heavy. No bother. Vidal had already formed a nice wink-wink chemistry with Messi on quick counters. All four Betis defenders decelerated for a fateful half second. Look at the back line as the ball is played:

Two defenders were ripped out of the picture. Barca should have scored.

Some shuttling midfielders cannot strike that balance. They’re all gas, no break. Not Vidal. He understands sometimes the best thing to do is to sit and wait and then strike. At 33, in his 15th season, that genius remains in full bloom.

(Read the full thing here if you like)

There is such profound, simple power in Vidal’s combination of mass, touch, and speed.

Vidal’s game has evolved further still this season. He has become a genuine goal threat, notching six in La Liga alone, only one behind his career-best total. He remains on zero assists, but his expected assists per 90 are right his career average and only bested by his output last year.

Barcelona’s demands have been all over the place. When the two sides met during the Champions League group stage, the Spanish club met with Inter officials to discuss a number of deals. One thing they want in any Vidal deal: preferential treatment for Lautaro Martinez or Stefano Sensi (or ideally both).

Barca has been adamant that they won’t let Vidal go on loan. Inter want an initial loan deal. It remains an impasse.

There is hope, though. Barca is set to move for Dani Olmo, a Spanish star plying his trade in Croatia. Pull that deal off, and they will need to raise funds (and a squad place), opening up a possible cut-price deal or a potential loan.

Adding Vidal is the kind of move that pushes a team from contender to champions. Is it a short term bet? Sure. But he has an extra something-something that this squad is lacking. Along with Godin, Sensi, and Lukaku, Inter would be adding another tough player. Gather enough tough players and it can have an exponential effect on a team’s collective toughness. That’s how you turn dreary away trips from draws into wins.

Nemanja Matic, CM, Manchester United

Matic also fits the toughness bill. Yet while he’s younger than Vidal, he is starting to look cooked. Matic has been linked with Inter since Conte joined. Inter and United have done plenty of business and have been linked back-and-forth with one each others players for a solid eight months.

In his heyday, Matic was perfect for Conte -- he has his best assist season under the Italian. He could break things up through will or skill. He was essential to Conte’s early success alongside Kante as a shuttler and reader of the game. - That two man axis must be able to cover ground, read the game defensively, set the tempo of the team, and be penetrating enough – passing or moving with the ball – to create 1-on-1 opportunities in isolation further up the pitch. Matic played with intelligence and brute force. He was always in all the right places at all the right times, just mobile enough to hit his landmarks, win the ball back, and initiate transitions. But his legs are kaput. Anyone sinking big bucks into an aging, plodding Matic will come to regret it.

As the common cliché goes: those who do not rely on athleticism build other parts of their game to compensate. But there remains an athletic baseline. And once you dip below it the football Gods have not a care in the world for your speed of thought. It doesn’t matter if you still read the game the same way if you cannot get over there to do anything about it.

Christian Eriksen, CM, Tottenham

Eriksen is the biggest and most likely name being linked to Inter this window. A battle between who can offer him the most money, individually, to land him on a free in the summer and who can pay Spurs enough money to land him now has been underway for six months.

A more detailed Eriksen post will come this week.

Marash Kumbulla, CB, Verona

Juventus and Inter are in a straight head-to-head fight to land the 19-year old Albanian centre back. Kumbulla has impressed in his first year as a first-teamer. He is comfortable on the ball, reads the game well, and is quick enough to recover if his first instinct isn’t quite right.

Kumbulla’s path to the first team is easier at Inter — Bastoni already starts, Godin is ageing, the team uses three central defenders — which should give them an edge over Juve.

Olivier Giroud, ST, Chelsea

A report out of Italy this weekend suggests Inter are looking into a two-player deal for both Marcos Alonso and Giroud. Chelsea want £50 million combined, which is steep but might be worthwhile. Giroud would add a proven player to the attacking mix. He would allow Conte to be less rigid in his approach, making for some potential funky lineups. And he’d add a nice change of pace off the bench. Giroud is no prolific striker, but he excels at manufacturing room for others and dragging individual defenders out of position. After missing on Dzeko and other taller, deeper lying strikers in the summer, a Giroud deal makes a ton of sense.

Dejan Kulusevski, RW, Juventus

Inter already missed out on Kulusevski, who tore up the first half of the year with Parma before transferring to Juventus this week. He will be loaned back to Parma for the remainder of the season.

Kulusevski is a rare talent. He has racked up 7 assists and four goals in less than 1,500 minutes this season. He has pace and power and a wonderful left foot, leading to him being compared with Mo Salah, albeit taller.

Kulusevski isn’t a complete package, though. His first touch is hit or miss (too often a miss). his close control is a little haywire, and he is extremely one-footed -- though what a foot it is. Kulusveski had concerns about how he would fit into Conte’s 3-5-2 system according to Sky Sport Italia, opting instead to play this year out at Parma while Maurizio Sarri fashions a squad in his image in Turin.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, ST, Arsenal

A long shot, but one both Inter and Barcelona are monitoring, apparently. Aubameyang’s contract is up in 18-months. The 30-year-old isn’t expected to hang around for Mikel Arteta’s revolution, meaning he could be up for grabs.

Arsenal has a choice. If they cash in on Aubameyang now, one of their best players, it will put any run at a European spot in jeopardy. But perhaps that’s not the worst thing for the club long-term. Perhaps just getting some value back that can be reinvested is the best thing.

If so, Inter will be a side ready to pounce.

Aubameyang remains a top player. He has 13 goals already this season, though some of that production is inflated (9.8 xG). His shots per 90 have tumbled to a career-low 2.59, a worrying sign for an ageing striker. But part of that is systematic -- Unai Emery could never figure out how to use his front-three to the best of their abilities. And other parts of his game picked up in place of his raw goal output: his off-ball movement remains sensational.

Few bend and run off the last shoulder as well. He can finish with either foot. And he can finish creatively:

That has been the story of Aubameyang’s career: some parts of his game rise and others fall. Perhaps in a new spot, with a proven top-class coach, it will all come together. His game should age gracefully. He isn’t wholly reliant on pace, just agility in short areas, similar to Jamie Vardy. His football brain is never leaving him, and that mini-bend where he comes back towards the ball, drops his shoulder and spins in behind, will continue to baffle defenders even when he’s a million years old.

There’s a bigger picture piece going on, though. Adding a 30-year old striker would tell us a lot about the Conte timeline. We all know three years is probably the limit, maybe four. If Suning go in on big-name veterans, we know they’re coming for it all here and now, not laying the groundwork for a long-term, sustainable winner.

Rodrigo De Paul, AM, Udinese

Inter have been linked to Rodrigo De Paul for what feels like a billion years. Finally, finally it looks like it’s happening.

That is, it will happen if they strike out on Vidal. Reports in Italy suggest both sides already have the framework of the deal in place: A £30 million deal for the 25-year-old Argentine midfielder, built as an 18-month loan deal with an obligation to buy attached.

It makes sense. De Paul knows the league. He is one of Italy’s most caffeinated players. He is wonderfully crafty and creative. He is two-footed, can play four of five positions, is a danger from set pieces, and has the kind of passing range that could unlock something pretty special from Lukaku and Lautaro on the break. Plus, every goal he scores is an absolute banger:

But is he top, top, top draw? Nope. He’s excellent. And he might help the team to a deep title challenge this season. But is he someone you would want in the Semi-Final of a Champions League group game, needing to control the tempo and flow of the midfield? Probably not.

Conte seems to agree. Moratta has a deal in place, waiting for it to be signed off by the coach. De Paul makes great sense as a club transfer and Vidal makes sense as Conte transfer. The club must think, even nominally, about the long-term. Conte wants to win the title this year and make a Champions League run next year.

Who will get their way?