As the new season approaches, Europe’s biggest clubs are preparing themselves for a hectic few weeks as they look to ensure their squads are ready to compete with their rivals in the 2017/18 campaign.
For some that will mean heavy rebuilding, but others just minor tweaks to an already strong group, a situation that Barcelona now find themselves after falling short of expectations this term.
There is no doubting that the Catalan giants will want to ensure Ernesto Valverde has the tools at his disposal to restore them to the heights they have become accustomed to, and the manner of their Champions League exit highlighted a number of fragilities that must now be addressed.
With that loss to Juventus in mind, we asked Italian football expert Adam Digby to run the rule over four Serie A players who could be Barcelona transfer targets this summer. Here’s a look at the names he suggested could be useful to the Blaugrana.
Stefan De Vrij – Lazio
In the Champions League, both Paris Saint-Germain and Juve picked Barca apart in their home ties, although only the latter managed to shut up shop at Camp Nou to complete the task.
Each of those deficits would have been lessened if the Catalan club was able to rely on its backline to repel opponents, but instead Edinson Cavani, Gonzalo Higuaín and Mario Mandžukić caused them no end of problems.
7 Future Ballon d’Or Winners | FWTV by FootballWhispers
With that in mind, Italy would seem the perfect place to go shopping for a central defender. Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly would be an obvious choice, but perhaps Dutch international Stefan De Vrij would be a more comfortable fit given his vastly superior ability on the ball.
The Lazio defender – whose fitness appeared much-improved this term – connected with 85.7% of his 44.6 pass attempts per game according to WhoScored.com. He displays a fine range of passing too rather than just repeatedly knocking the ball sideways to pad those figures.
However, he is first and foremost a defender, one who reads the game well and is capable of neutralising attackers of any variety while playing in both three and four-man systems. Happy to engage in physical one-on-one confrontations, the 25-year-old also possesses good speed across the pitch and recorded 1.9 tackles, a team-high 2.2 interceptions and 4.1 clearances per game.
De Vrij has one year left on his contract at Lazio and reportedly earns just €1.3 million per season, meaning that not only is he likely to be available this summer, but Barcelona could offer him a vastly improved salary.
Suso – A.C Milan
Playing at the San Siro last season, Suso went from A.C Milan squad player to Serie A superstar. It seemed the Spaniard was finally living up to the his early promise. Displaying creativity, ingenuity and the control on the ball to thrive as an inside forward.
Although he plays on the right of the Milan attack, he has a left-foot that can cut open the most stubborn of defences. The former Liverpool youngster has been linked with several top clubs, including making him a Spurs transfer target.
If Barcelona lose Neymar this summer, the Spaniard, who scored seven goals and picked up nine assists last term, could be a valued addition.
Suso came through the youth system at Cádiz and then spent a loan spell at Almería, but that’s the only exposure he’s had in La Liga, so a return to his homeland could be tempting.
The 23-year-old averaged 2.9 shots per 90 minutes last term, adding 2.4 successful dribbles and two key passes.
He made a step up for Milan in the last campaign, a move to Barcelona could help him elevate his game to another level.
Sergej Milinkovic-Savic – Lazio
After moving the Lazio from Genk in 2015, this Serbian midfielder has emerged as a special talent. Last term, during his 39 appearances in all competitions the 22-year-old scored four times and more importantly added nine assists.
Barcelona are chasing Liverpool for Brazilian midfielder, Philippe Coutinho. At the end of last season, Jürgen Klopp moved him a little further back as a No.8, giving the 25-year-old space to create. The Reds are playing hardball and it will cost over £75million if Barça are to pry him away from Anfield.
If the move breaks down, Milinković-Savić would be an ideal alternative. He’s shown a combative side, proving to be physically gifted. He can challenge aerially, out-muscle opponents, something that would be welcome in the Catalan midfield.
In his 46 passes per 90 minutes, he picks up 1.3 key passes, while attempting 2.3 shots, four tackles and 1.2 interceptions. With room to grow and still improve, he is a real all-rounder.
The Serbia Under-21 international has also shown technical proficiency, smooth on the ball with a good first touch. Impressive vision, decisive passing in the final third too, Milinković-Savić can step up from central midfield to the position behind the centre-forward.
Paulo Dybala – Juventus
While Delolufeu might only be a stop-gap solution as a backup to Messi, Suarez and Neymar — or a move made to improve the balance sheet — Paulo Dybala is perhaps the one player in Serie A capable of supplanting one of that trio.
Over the past two seasons, the Argentinian has gone from promising young talent to fully fledged star, prompting talk of a move to one of Spain’s two biggest clubs.
He would certainly fit in at Camp Nou, possessing the audacity, talent and personality that appear to be prerequisites for success there.
Particularly as his short stature and magical left foot become increasingly reminiscent of some famous compatriots.
Delivering when it matters in both domestic competition and the Champions League mark him out as a target for the continent’s giant clubs, but signing him would be extremely difficult and expensive — he has a lucrative contract that makes him one of Juve’s highest earners after signing a new deal recently.
That does not expire until June 2021, meaning any potential suitor would need to make an offer so large that the Bianconeri were forced to accept it, but that would be nothing new for Barcelona who have made a habit of spending big when necessary.