With 10 games still to go in this season’s Premier League, some may argue it is too early for us to be commenting on future arrivals. But this is football – half of what is written is hypothesis.
The truth is, every manager already has their summer wishlist, so here is a look at the one player each of the current top four should be seriously considering if they want to improve next season.
Manchester United – Mats Hummels
For years, fans and pundits alike have been calling for Sir Alex Ferguson to buy a creative midfielder. But creativity and link-up play don’t seem to be a problem anymore. Not with the emergence of Shinji Kagawa, whose first season has been stop-start but who, at just 23, has all the attributes to be a silent superstar; and not with Nick Powell and Wilfried Zaha waiting in the wings.
Instead United should be looking for a long-term successor to Rio Ferdinand. And in Borussia Dortmund centre-back Mats Hummels, they would be signing one of the best young defenders in Europe.
The 24-year-old has already made over 150 appearances for the reigning Bundesliga champions and is regularly linked with moves away from the club he is contracted to until 2017.
The fact is that when Ferdinand and latterly Nemanja Vidic leave Old Trafford, there are three ready-made replacements in Johnny Evans, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling. And yet Hummels’ pace, strength and ability to read the game would seal a hole that has too often been gaping this season, and at its best has been temporarily boarded-up.
With Hummels forming a regular partnership with one of the above, that hole wouldn’t be big enough to get a ball through without a whole lot of effort. But it will take a big bid to get him.
Manchester City – James Rodriguez
The 20-year-old Columbian winger has been regularly linked with United, but it is City who are in most need of him. Currently at FC Porto, he would bring a new dimension to Roberto Mancini’s team, who too often this season have been lackadaisical and missing the energy and thrust of an out-and-out winger.
While unquestionably talented, the Blues’ forward line has lost some of its mojo since outscoring their city rivals last year, and for every intricate David Silva pass or surging run from Carlos Tevez, the addition of lightening pace would make them a terrifying prospect, not least because their defence has now been further fortified by the ever-improving Matija Nastasic.
A consistent goal-threat himself, Rodriguez also has an impressive assist-record and will be a defining capture for whoever ultimately signs him. As with so many players these days, there is talk of an over-inflated release clause (in this case more than £36 million). But as with so many over-inflated release causes, a bid £10 million shy of that could tempt the Portuguese club’s hand and pass the advantage back to City next season.
Tottenham Hotspur – Robert Lewandowksi
The Polish striker is the one player on this list certain to be pulling on a new shirt next season. With only a year left on his contract at Borussia Dortmund, there seems little chance of him signing a new one. And while his current club have produced their best poker face in declaring he will remain should an acceptable offer not arrive, that won’t happen. Reasonable bids will come, as top clubs both in England and abroad compete to sign a man who, quite simply, knows where the goal is.
With his only criteria likely to be regular football and another crack at the Champions League, a Daniel Levy bid is surely being readied. In fact the addition of Lewandowski could turn Tottenham into viable title challengers.
With new signings Hugo Lloris, Jan Vertonghen and Mousa Dembele excelling this season – and Gareth Bale coming of age – the one thing Spurs fans bemoan is the lack of a consistent goal threat. And while Leandro Damiao will again be linked this summer, Levy should put all his efforts into signing a player who will turn an impressive squad into true contenders, both in England and in Europe.
Chelsea – Romelu Lukaku
When Chelsea paid close to £20 million for the Belgian forward in the summer of 2011, he called the Blues his dream club. But since then he has hardly kicked a ball for them. Instead it is West Bromwich Albion reaping the benefits of a loan deal Lukaku has talked about extending. Quite simply, Chelsea can’t let that happen.
When your best striker is excelling for another club something is wrong. And while he may only be 19, he has shown in a series of outstanding displays for the Baggies that he is ready to be playing first-team football back in London.
With arguably the most creative midfield in the Premier League, Chelsea’s one problem is their lack of forward options. Fernando Torres was last seen circa 2010, and he is not coming back; while Demba Ba is still dining out on his outstanding debut season for Newcastle.
Whoever is in charge at Stamford Bridge next season, he will be looking for a player who is on the same creative wavelength as Juan Mata and Eden Hazard, a player who scores, creates and can put finishing touches to the patterns his midfield will only get better at creating.
Lukaku is already better than the two men Chelsea currently rely on for goals. If they haven’t yet realised that, they may lose him altogether.