The beginning of the January transfer window saw Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s return to Milan and Juventus defeating bitter rivals Inter in the race for the breakout player of the season Dejan Kulusevski. While those were the sexy moves, some significant trends also emerged in the first third of the winter window:
Napoli rebuilding their midfield
Many praised the partneopei for their work in the summer transfer window, including yours truly. But the fact that they made a coaching change and acted quickly to bring in two veteran midfielders with international experience clearly shows things haven’t gone according to plan for De Laurentiis and sporting director Giuntoli.
With Gattuso bringing back the 4 3 3 formation following Ancelotti’s varied approach, Napoli’s priority was to find a regista- Lucas Torreira was the their top choice but Arsenal were determined to keep him, so Giuntoli quickly closed the deal with Leipzig for Diego Demme, who was named after Maradona and idolized Gattuso growing up, as well as Celta Vigo for Stanislav Lobotka who was recommended by the club’s former captain Marek Hamsik and had been a target dating back to last summer.
While Napoli always did feel a midfielder short following Hamsik, Rog and Diawara’s departures in 2019, the acquisition of both Demme and Lobotka will impact Zielinski, Allan and Fabian Ruiz’ playing time and may lead to the departure of one of them. Allan has improved since Gattuso’s arrival while Fabian Ruiz has been unrecognizable dating back to the botched team retreat- it will be interesting to see if De Laurentiis chooses to cash in on one of them with a spot in the next Champions League a remote possibility.
Hellas Verona selling their jewels early
In addition to Demme and Lobotka, Napoli are also trying to close the deal for Sofyan Amrabat, one of the best new additions in Serie A following his transfer from Club Brugge to Hellas Verona. The 23 year old Moroccan midfielder is a more technical version of Allan, his arrival would complete the overhaul of the midfield. Amrabat cannot join Napoli in January since he has played matches for two clubs this season and is also a target for Inter.
Amrabat isn’t only Verona player drawing a lot of interest from top teams in Serie A. Central defender Amir Rrahmani has drawn comparisons to Milan Skriniar because of his physicality and effectiveness while Marash Kumbulla has been the leader of Juric’s staunch defense this season despite only being 19 years old. Napoli are set to close the deal for Rrahmani while Inter are leading the race for Kumbulla with both moves being delayed until the summer.
Inter going all in for scudetto by shopping in the Premier League
Following the home draw to Atalanta, Conte once again brought up the fact that he can’t count on a deep squad after reminding us earlier in the week that in the summer they had to replace three key players in Icardi, Perisic and Nainggolan. Which is in sharp contrast with Juventus since they can essentially field two different starting elevens that could compete for a Champions League spot, leaving directors Marotta and Ausilio with the responsibility of adding a few pieces to the squad to keep up in the scudetto race.
The first need is at the wing back position where Biraghi hasn’t moved the needle and Asamoah has battled injuries, Ashley Young is expected to arrive next week to provide coverage on both the left and the right- he could be Conte’s new version of Simone Padoin who arrived at Juventus during the January window back in 2012. Conte had tried to acquire Young two years ago while at Chelsea, and is now set to get him also because his new club Inter have developed a good relationship with Manchester United.
Following Alexis Sanchez’ injury, Inter have had no choice but to consistently trot out Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez in almost every match, Olivier Giroud- who just like Ashley Young has an expiring contract- will likely come to give them a breather after a recent phone conversation with Conte who managed him at Chelsea.
While Young and Giroud would bring experienced depth to the squad, Marotta is looking to make an addition that truly moves the needle in the midfield. With Arturo Vidal less likely to arrive now that Barcelona are set to make a coaching change, Inter have intensified their pursuit of Christian Eriksen. The Danish midfielder has an expiring contract so the nerazzurri want to first get him to agree to a long term deal and then convince Tottenham to let him go in January rather than losing him for nothing in the summer- while Matias Vecino will probably not get it done in a swap deal, Spurs are asking for about 20 million.
Atalanta cashes in while taking a worthy gamble
Few clubs had a better 2019 than Atalanta, who on top of great results on the pitch modernized their stadium while signing their manager Gasperini to an extension. At the start of the new year Atalanta cashed on the breakout player of the Serie A season by selling Dujan Kulesevki to Juventus for the highest transfer fee the bianconeri ever spent on a midfielder- which sounds bad until you realize Kulusevski wasn’t even part of the squad that got achieved all of the recent success.
Atalanta did bolster their defense by bringing back Mattia Caldara on a low risk/high reward move which should help them in stretch run of the season. Caldara has struggled with injuries and the pressures of being at a top club, but he should be able to relaunch his career in a system he knows very well.
Bologna continue to add talent
Last summer they followed the Atalanta blue print by targeting players in the secondary leagues abroad for better values- they brought in Tomiyasu Denswil, Schouten and Skov Olsen. In January, Bologna welcomed very highly rated Argentine prospect Nicolas Dominguez who has all the tools to be added to the list of talents discovered by Walter Sabatini and are set to acquire Atalanta’s Musa Barrow who should be an intriguing partner for Palacio and Orsolini upfront.