With the Premier League season complete and the offseason officially upon us, Premier League teams are shopping to keep up with those around them and plug holes that might need improvement.
Manchester United is reportedly after a trio of Portuguese players, and there is significant news regarding two of them.
According to reports in Portugal, central defender Ruben Dias is on the verge of a new contract with his current club Benfica which would bump his release clause from its current $67 million to a whopping $112 million, making it that much more difficult for the Red Devils to pursue the 22-year-old this summer. Currently, Dias is signed through 2023, but the club wanted to boost its ability to control the market with Dias connected to the biggest clubs in Europe.
Dias, a Benfica youth product, played the full 90 minutes in 32 of Benfica’s 34 league matches this season, a fixture at the back for the club as they won the league by a two-point margin over rivals Porto. While Benfica’s main asset was its blistering attack that scored 103 goals, the most in the league by a massive 29-goal margin, the defense conceded just 31 on the season, second-fewest behind Porto’s 20.
Part of that sparkling Benfica attack, 19-year-old Joao Felix, is also reportedly wanted by Manchester United, but the club announced Friday that there had not yet been any official submissions for his services. “No offer has arrived,” Benfica executive Domingo Soares told Portuguese television channel TVI24. “There is talk and rumors. It’s true that top European clubs have expectations, but no proposal has arrived to us.”
Felix appeared 26 times for Benfica on the season, including starts in the final 19 games of the year once he earned his permanent place in the team in early January. He scored 15 goals and assisted nine others, earning comparisons to Cristiano Ronaldo for his style of wing play that sees him like to drift centrally.
Tottenham is preparing for the possibility of Christian Eriksen to depart the club this summer, with a move to Real Madrid heavily reported. They are reportedly keeping a close eye on Real Betis midfielder Giovani Lo Celso, who had a fine season with the Spanish club after moving permanently from Paris Saint-Germain.
The 23-year-old proved his value with an outstanding 16-goal haul in 46 matches across all competitions, a gluttonous tally for a midfielder. Lo Celso was on loan at Betis this season, but the club activated a clause in the loan to secure him permanently this summer for a modest $25 million. According to Spanish publication AS, Tottenham would be willing to pay up to $67 million for the Argentine, a sizable and immediate return on investment for Betis despite owing PSG a 20% sell-on fee for any outgoing transfer.
Lo Celso has been slighted in his career to this point. Proving valuable in his time at PSG, he started 33 league games in 2017/18 and scored four goals with five assists in a deeper midfield role, but was still considered surplus to requirements the next campaign. He was left on the bench for most of Argentina’s disappointing 2018 World Cup journey despite the attack constantly crying out for his creative abilities, and subsequently loaned out to Betis, where he flourished.
According to reports in Italy, Napoli has already rejected a $100 million offer for defender Kalidou Koulibaly from Real Madrid. Koulibaly is yet another defender linked with Manchester United, as it’s no secret the upgrade needed along the Red Devil back line, so the price tag will come as a blow, as will interest from other top clubs. Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis has previously said publicly that he has turned down massive bids from clubs for his Senegalese defender, but never specified the club.
The 27-year-old signed a five-year contract last summer that runs through the summer of 2023 and contains a whopping $168 million release clause. Napoli appears to be using that as leverage, although any return even remotely close to that would be a significant gain for the Italian side that secured him from Genk for just $8 million back in 2014.
Koulibaly was a reported target of Jose Mourinho before his dismissal at Old Trafford, and it could be difficult again if the price tag is that high. With a number of top defenders on the market this summer, including the aforementioned Ruben Dias as well as Matthijs de Ligt, clubs may be forced to look elsewhere for a defensive replacement.
Arsenal and Manchester United are reportedly targeting Atletico Madrid midfielder Thomas Partey, as the 25-year-old Ghanan international anchored the Atletico Madrid defense well last campaign and could be on his way out, especially if Atleti faces an overhaul this summer.
Partey played it cool when asked about his future, noting that anything he says can and often will be used against him by the media. “It’s hard for me to talk about transfers because the next minute it will be like ‘Thomas is trying to leave’ but for me playing football is what makes me happy,” Partey told BBC Sport.
“I don’t know what the future holds for me but as long as I play and they are happy with me here then there is no need flirting with others.”
An Atletico Madrid youth product, Partey has made 130 appearances for the club, including a 32-game league season this past campaign. Atleti finished second in the table with 76 points, eight above third-placed Real Madrid and 11 behind the champions Barcelona. They conceded just 29 goals, the least in the league by a significant margin.