The Serie A has arguably been Europe’s most closely contested league this season. Only four points separate the top four teams, and behind them there is only a five point gap between Fiorentina in fifth and Lazio in ninth.
The outcome will depend heavily on which team gets its moves right in the January transfer window, filling the gaps in their respective squads. FootTheBall brings to you what the big eight teams in the Serie A will be hoping to get as a Christmas gift in the coming transfer window.
Goalkeeper – Unai Simon
The Nerazzurri are the defending champions in Italy and after a slow start, they look like the Inter of last season that steamrolled to the title. They have scored the most goals in the league and conceded the second fewest and it is hard to find any major shortcomings in the squad.
However, their rock at the back, Samir Handnovic, has not been as solid this season as he has been in past campaigns. He has a negative differential between Post Shot xG and Goals Allowed (-0.4) which means he is letting in more goals than he should, although the difference is marginal.
Unai Simon says NO. 🚫@Athletic_en | #LaLigaSantander pic.twitter.com/QOC3VJitjm
— LaLiga English (@LaLigaEN) July 20, 2021
Unai Simon would be a major coup for Inter in the January window and could be a long-term solution given Handanovic is already 37. The Spanish number one has spent all his career at Athletic Bilbao but he surely deserved to play in Europe regularly and compete for trophies given his calibre.
Bilbao though do not sell cheap because of their Basque-only strategy and Inter may have to look elsewhere. Walter Benitez of Nice might be a more realistic option for the Italian champions. Nice have conceded the joint-second fewest goals in Ligue 1 and it is in no small part due to Benitez.
The Argentine has the highest Post Shot xG differential (2.9) in the league and could be due for a move to a bigger club and Inter can sneak a march this January.
Attacking Midfielder – Jesse Lingard
Inter’s fierce rivals are just a point behind in the Serie A table and they need some attacking thrust to keep the pressure up. The departure of Hakan Calhanoglu was expected and while the Turk has not been sorely missed, he has not really been replaced in the squad.
Manchester United’s Jesse Lingard could be the perfect fit for Stefano Pioli’s intense, high-pressing AC Milan side. The Englishman has found game-time hard to come by at Old Trafford and after his exceptional loan spell at West Ham last season, there is a feeling that he deserves better.
Jesse Lingard was directly involved in 13 Premier League goals for West Ham:
◎ 16 games
◉ 9 goals
◉ 4 assists
Only Harry Kane (14) was involved in more during Lingard's spell in London. ⚒ pic.twitter.com/vtA9dFlzZW
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) November 19, 2021
Lingard is an exceptionally hard-worker off the ball and is also a big goal-threat. He makes clever runs which can be a big asset for Milan as he can benefit from playing with Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Olivier Giroud who can link well with Lingard. The attacker should not be too expensive either seeing that he is surplus to requirements at Man United.
Centre Back – Anel Ahmedhodzic
Atalanta’s attacking prowess can make the best of teams shudder. Gian Piero Gasperini has built an entertaining, modern side in Bergamo in the past few seasons and it feels like this year might be their best shot at bringing a Serie A title to the small city in Northern Italy.
They have scored the second highest goals in the league but only Fiorentina in the top seven have conceded more goals. If Atalanta are to challenge for the title, then they need to shut up shop a tiny bit more without compromising on their style and Malmo’s Anel Ahmedhodzic can be the perfect player to help Gasperini do that.
🇧🇦 This Anel Ahmedhodžić tackle 💪
What's the most satisfying thing to watch in football? 😍@NFSBiH | #WCQ pic.twitter.com/heOQ11xZ6r
— UEFA EURO 2024 (@EURO2024) December 2, 2021
The Bosnian stands tall at 6ft 4 and is one of the most exciting talents outside the big five leagues. He is defensively astute, with great tackling skills and smart reading of the game. His frame allows him to dominate opponents with ease.
However, his defensive qualities do not stop the 22-year old from being a great attacking defender. Ahmedhodzic is a good passer of the ball, comfortable with playing line-breaking passes which is important in Atalanta’s set-up.
The centre-back has been linked with Atalanta in the past and reports are that Brentford are also interested. Ahmedhodzic is a perfect fit for Atalanta and he could be the x-factor to propel the side to the Serie A summit.
Attacking Midfielder – Hakim Ziyech
Luciano Spalletti looked like he was working miracles at Napoli with his side going unbeaten until late November in the league. The Naples outfit failed to qualify for the Champions League last season but came out all guns firing in 2021-22. The shine though has faded as four points from the last fifteen available has seen them fall back into fourth, although they remain firmly in the race.
Their success has been built on defensive stability, conceding just 13 goals in 17 matches but an injury crisis has seen them struggle. Napoli need to back their defense up with more attacking prowess and for that, they need more creativity from midfield and the wings.
Chelsea’s Hakim Ziyech could be an answer to their problems – Napoli’s wingers are primarily goal scoring threats and do not create as much which is where Ziyech comes in. The Moroccan attacker’s career has stalled a bit at Stamford Bridge and he could be for a change this winter.
Hakim Ziyech had started just 3 Premier League matches this season before today. Despite this, he has taken more shots from outside the area  than any other Chelsea player.
Trigger happy. 🔫 pic.twitter.com/Grewkrochg
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) December 4, 2021
The 28-year old has not played as much as he would like to under Thomas Tuchel and Napoli could be his saviour. He is technically gifted and shone in a very intense Ajax side, which shows that the allegations of being a ‘luxury player’ are unfounded.
Ziyech can play across the attacking line which is useful for a Napoli side that is fluid in attack. His creativity can work well for Dries Mertens, who is in a huge purple patch, and Victor Osimhen, who was looking imperious before his injury. Napoli can refind their early season magic with the help of Ziyech.
Striker – Sasa Kalajdzic
Fiorentina, or as casuals know them – the side Dusan Vlahovic plays for, have been the surprise package of sorts in the Serie A. They are currently fifth, ahead of Roma, Juventus and Lazio and will hope to secure European football for the first time since 2016-17.
Much of the renewed positivity has been thanks to Vlahovic’s goals (although the support cast is good) and it is no secret that the Serbian wants to move on come summer. He may be tempted in January as well but Fiorentina need to plan for his replacement either way.
The best person to replace him would be his Bundesliga doppelganger, Sasa Kalajdzic. The Austrian striker has barely played this season due to a shoulder injury but is due to return in a few weeks and Fiorentina could make a move for him in January to provide backup to Vlahovic this season, and replace him from the summer onwards.
The Stuttgart man scored 16 goals and had six assists to his name in Germany last season and has been linked with the likes of Borussia Dortmund. He is tall, technical, and has an eye for goal and will fit right into Fiorentina’s system.
Stuttgart though are struggling, lying 15th in the Bundesliga and will be reluctant to sell their main man in January. However, they have problems all over the field and could be tempted into cashing in on Kalajdzic to get in key reinforcements for the relegation battle.
Striker – Wout Weghorst
The ideal answer to what Roma fans want for Christmas is a new manager but given Jose Mourinho’s past compensation packages, it is unlikely that Roma can afford that. The Portuguese’s side has fluctuated up and down, struggling to find what works and it is somehow always the players’ faults.
Despite Mourinho’s shortcomings, one thing is clear – they need more goals in the side. They have only scored 26 goals so far, five fewer than any team in the top six. Tammy Abraham has played well but he has not exactly been prolific and he needs more support in shouldering that burden.
Wolfsburg’s Wout Weghorst can be Mourinho’s man to secure European football this season. Weghorst ticks most boxes that the Roma boss usually wants for in a striker and he has been a regular goalscorer for the Wolves in the Bundesliga, scoring 59 times in three and a half seasons since moving there.
Poacher ✅ Fox in the box ✅
💚 All 54 of Wout Weghorst's Bundesliga goals have come from inside the penalty area 😮#UCL pic.twitter.com/LQNNtCdtxQ
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) August 16, 2021
A partnership of Weghorst and Abraham could finally see Mourinho commit to his inner Sean Dyche and go for a 4-4-2 but more realistically, Abraham could move out wide, as he has done in the past. Abraham is a far more rounded player and is not exactly a target man as he is currently used.
Getting Weghorst would solve Roma’s goal-scoring problem and get the best out of Abraham and who knows they could even make a push for the top four in the coming months, a true Mourinho masterclass.
Goalkeeper – Dean Henderson
The Old Lady faithful could be forgiven for asking for a whole new squad from Santa but that is a long process, one which Juventus are not undertaking particularly well. Their most pressing needs are at the two ends of the field – they need a striker and they need a goalkeeper.
Arguably, the more important one is at the defensive end. Wojciech Szczesny has not quite fulfilled expectations and he remains an error prone goalkeeper, which has cost Massimilano Allegri’s side on multiple occasions this season already. He is also not very good with his feet which should not be the case for a team of Juve’s stature.
Dean Henderson’s always been respectful and professional but he’s now prepared to leave Manchester United. His priority is to play. Whether it will happen in January or summer, it will depend on the offers 🔴 #MUFC
NO talks ongoing with Ajax, as things stand. 🇳🇱 #Ajax pic.twitter.com/IejLSwXiVa
— Fabrizio Romano (@FabrizioRomano) December 16, 2021
Allegri can replace Szczesny, temporarily or maybe permanently, with Manchester United’s Dean Henderson. The Red Devils have inexplicably made the decision to stick with David de Gea as the first choice and that has left Henderson frustrated and he is open to loan moves away this January.
The Englishman is a very good and highly reliable shot-stopper and is much better at sweeping and commanding his area than Szczesny or de Gea. Ajax were reportedly interested but Juve could swoop in with a loan deal with an option for a permanent move. The Old Lady can afford Henderson’s Old Trafford wages and he can be the foundation stone for the rebuild in Turin.
Defensive Midfielder – Exequiel Palacios
Lazio boss Maurizio Sarri would be both happy and sad at Jorginho’s recent rise in the footballing public’s eyes. Happy because it is vindicating for him and sad because he cannot sign the Italian as he did at Chelsea and tried to do at Juventus.
Sarri’s return to the Serie A has not been as impressive as his first stint with Napoli and his Lazio side have particularly struggled. They lie ninth in the table and really need to kick start their season if they hope to make it to Europe come May.
A large reason for their problems has been a poor midfield. They do not create enough and are not defensively sound. Lazio need an enforcer in the middle of the park, someone who can both do the dirty work, and be the focal point of play in the first phase.
Exequiel Palacios in #RBLB04
⏱️ 90 minutes played
🅰️ 1 assist
🎯 86% pass accuracy
⚔️ 19 ball recoveries pic.twitter.com/78hYNFfpaU
— Bayer 04 Leverkusen (@bayer04_en) November 28, 2021
Bayer Leverkusen’s Exequiel Palacios can be the new Jorginho for Sarri. The Argentine is a nifty operator, often going under the radar, but he makes the German side tick. His campaign this season has been somewhat hampered by injury but he would be a major upgrade on Lazio’s current midfield.
Palacios was also an important member of Argentina’s Copa winning squad this summer and he can shoulder a lot of the defensive burden. His passing range is decent but he always shows for the ball and links the middle and defensive thirds of the field. Lazio need to be realistic about their targets and Palacios is an attainable upgrade that they should be going for this summer.