With the January transfer window now open, James Horncastle looks at how Italy’s top clubs will approach the market amid a tight battle for the title and the top four.
Napoli: Spending could make them champions
Napoli look like being the busiest of the top teams in Italy and for obvious reasons. Add the right depth in key positions and there’s no reason why the “winter champions” can’t make it stick and win the Scudetto for the first time since 1990. An agreement has already been reached with Roberto Inglese of Chievo and Amato Ciciretti of Benevento for a summer move, though both deals might be brought forward to this month. Meanwhile Ajax winger Amin Younes is another target and if all three joined this winter, Napoli would finally have cover and a different option for each member of their exciting attacking trident.
Arkadiusz Milik is also due back from injury in the spring, as is left-back Faouzi Ghoulam. Rather than find a better stand-in for him than Mario Rui like Benfica’s Alejandro Grimaldo, Napoli may instead concentrate on bringing in a right-back capable of making their attack less left-sided. Sime Vrsaljko and Matteo Darmian have been talked about as potential targets.
Juventus: No big moves planned
Juventus are no strangers to doing business in January but this year they seem reluctant to engage. The squad is deeper than ever and although the left-back position looks to need cover, Kwadwo Asamoah has done well enough that unless Juventus decide to sell Alex Sandro, they will wait until the summer when Leonardo Spinazzola is set to return from his two-year loan at Atalanta. They seem well-positioned to sign Emre Can but that’s more likely to happen in June than it is now, when he’s available for free. The same applies to Lazio centre-back Stefan de Vrij.
Juve tend to use this period a bit like Bayern and concentrate on getting the country’s up-and-coming players to commit to them early, as happened with Mattia Caldara and Riccardo Orsolini last year. Expect Marko Pjaca to be sent on loan to allow him to get the game-time to recover completely from the knee injury that kept him out for nine months.
Inter: Acquire a playmaker
“We probably need something to help us take that extra little step,” said Luciano Spalletti after Inter’s first defeat of the season against Udinese a fortnight ago. Top of the list is a No.10 of great imagination and talk of Suning’s sporting director Walter Sabatini bringing Paris Saint-Germain’s Javier Pastore back to Italy, eight and half years after he signed him for Palermo, refuse to go away, not least because the player admits contact with Sabatini is frequent. Also mentioned as a possibility is out-of-favour Man United playmaker Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Elsewhere, recall Inter failed to sign a back-up centre-back on deadline day and may rekindle their interest in Eliaquim Mangala, although it must be said Andrea Ranocchia has done better than expected when called upon this season. The problem for Inter is a mix of Financial Fair Play and Suning’s unwillingness to fall out of favour with the Chinese government by spending money abroad that could be invested at home. Loans with an option to buy seem the way to go unless they can offload Joao Mario.
Roma: Right-back the only need?
Monchi says Roma won’t be doing any business in January. “The solutions to our problems are already at Trigoria,” he claims, and you can see where he’s coming from. Record signing Patrik Schick has only recently started playing on a regular basis, Gregoire Defrel (another off-season recruit) is expected to contribute more once he returns from injury and Roma expect Cengiz Under to be better after a six-month period of getting to grips with Serie A. Emerson Palmieri, a revelation last year, is also fit again following his recovery from an ACL tear in Francesco Totti’s final game and then there’s the fact Roma’s squad is the deepest in Serie A after Juventus.
If anything, right-back is an area Monchi might look to improve upon in light of Rick Karsdorp’s surgery and Bruno Peres’ unconvincing performances in Alessandro Florenzi’s absence. A loan move for Barcelona’s Aleix Vidal, whom Monchi had at Sevilla, has been mooted. Generally Monchi isn’t a fan of this window. He spent just €20 million in January between 2012-17 and didn’t dip into Sevilla’s wallet at all in 2014 and 2015.
Lazio: Depth not an issue
The depth at Lazio is greater than many anticipated at the start of the season, partly because players whom fans expected nothing from have become major difference makers. Luis Alberto, for instance, has been the biggest surprise of the season in Serie A and goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha looks like another great piece of talent identification. Just how well Lucas Leiva has done in his first six months in the capital also means former captain Lucas Biglia isn’t missed.
Martin Caceres will join, as planned, from Verona in January, which is timely as he has looked back to his best in recent weeks. Felipe Anderson and Nani are yet to have the influence forecast at the start of the season, which would indicate this team has another gear to go to in the second half. One imagines sporting director Igli Tare’s primary focus will be on persuading star centre-back De Vrij to commit to a new deal, thus avoiding a situation whereby the Netherlands international leaves for free in the summer.
Milan: Expect a quiet month
After committing €230m in transfer fees in the last window, don’t expect Milan to be back on the market this winter. UEFA’s decision to reject their business plan mean sanctions are on the horizon and the focus is instead on refinancing the expensive loan Li Yonghong took out to complete the takeover of the club and extracting better performances from the players they recruited only six months ago.
No one expected Milan to finish the first half of the season in the bottom half of the table. Whether they look to bring in money already in January with the sale of a big name remains to be seen. The rumblings around Gianluigi Donnarumma are indicative of his agent sensing weakness and seeing an opportunity to perhaps get PSG to test Milan’s resolve already this month. Donnarumma’s comments are at odds with that, though, as his loyalty to Milan seems genuine. “I still have four years left on my contract,” he said last weekend.
James covers the Italian Serie A and European football for ESPN FC Follow him on Twitter @JamesHorncastle.