While Europe’s top domestic leagues are still in full swing, many clubs will already be casting an eye towards this summer’s transfer window.
Last year, teams from across Europe’s top five leagues spent a combined eye-watering sum of €4.5billion (£3.96million) on player transfers, which was an increase of 52 per cent on the year before.
It’s more than possible that sum gets surpassed again this summer, especially with Premier League sides like Newcastle United, Chelsea and Manchester United - expected to be under new ownership - likely to be eager to flex their newly inherited financial mite.
We are also expecting to see big stars such as Jude Bellingham, Harry Kane, Victor Osimhen and Josko Gvardiol all make high-priced transfers this summer.
Yet despite the astronomical fees being spent, there’s still been an increased focus on utilising the free transfer market in more recent years by some of Europe’s biggest clubs.
Last summer, we saw Paul Pogba join Juventus on a free transfer following the expiry of his contract at Manchester United. Paulo Dybala left Turin to join Roma, while Franck Kessie (AC Milan to Barcelona) and Angel Di Maria (Paris Saint-Germain to Juventus) also made similar switches.
With that in mind, we at Flashscore have highlighted some of the standout names with contracts due to expire at the end of this season - and predicted which clubs may look to sign them.
There was plenty of anticipation when Keita (28) arrived in the Premier League back in 2018 after tearing it up in the Bundesliga with RB Leipzig. The Guinean actually showed so much promise in Germany that Liverpool committed to the £52million deal 12 months before his arrival.
He was meant to bring a new edge to a Liverpool midfielder that was, at the time, fairly industrious, made up of hard-working profiles like Georginio Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson who pressed well and kept possession ticking over, but lacked the ability to penetrate through a side like Keita could.
We have had glimpses of his technical prowess at times during this five-year stint on Merseyside, especially in his first season at Liverpool where he topped the Reds’ rankings in terms of progressive carries (4.42 per 90) while also ranking within the squad’s top four players for through balls completed and attempted dribbles per 90.
The problem, though, was that his 1,390 accumulated league minutes that season - which is lower than any campaign he had at Leipzig - proved to be the most he’s played in a single season at Anfield.
He’s played just 293 league minutes so far in this campaign, shedding some light on why Jurgen Klopp will have no qualms seeing him exit through the Anfield door.
Next possible club - Borussia Dortmund
News reports this week revealed that Dortmund midfield maestro Bellingham will join Real Madrid in the summer, and if he does, the German giants might be wise to consider Keita as a replacement.
While injury issues during his time at Anfield would make Keita a potential gamble, his availability on a free transfer does minimise some of that risk from a financial perspective.
Additionally, there’s a case to be made that there’s also been an element of bad luck that has played a part in his failure to succeed at Liverpool.
This is because the evolution of that side under Klopp saw greater attacking freedom handed to the team’s wing-back players - Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson.
Attack-minded midfielders, such as Keita, were overlooked for the likes of the aforementioned Wijnaldum and Henderson, plus Fabinho who can all offer greater defensive stability to cover that increased attacking focus down the flanks.
While Keita may not be as talented as Bellingham, he has proven he can thrive in Bundesliga. Slotting him into the same role as what Bellingham plays now at Dortmund, and giving him the same freedom, could see BVB get the best from the 28-year-old.
Roberto Firmino - Liverpool
Another big departure at Liverpool this season will be Firmino (31). His tenure at Anfield will be remembered much more fondly than Keita’s, with the Brazilian star scoring an impressive 109 goals and registering 79 assists en route to forming one of the most deadly trios the Premier League has ever seen, alongside Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane.
Only Salah will remain at Liverpool from those three after this summer with it revealed earlier in the year that Firmino opted to turn down an extension to his current expiring Anfield deal.
While playing time has gradually decreased for him in more recent seasons, his nine Premier League goals - averaging out a 0.75 per 90 - plus a further four assists this season highlight how deadly he can still be in the heart of a team's attack.
Next possible club - AC Milan
It shouldn’t be a huge surprise, then, that there's plenty of interest in the attacker from across Europe, with AC Milan one of the sides most heavily linked.
While the Rossoneri are looking forward to their first Champions League semi-final in 16 years, it’s been a bitterly disappointing domestic campaign with last season’s champions some 21 points from leaders Napoli.
Only Rafael Leao has managed to reach double figures (12) for them in the league this season. Behind him is Olivier Giroud on eight goals - but he turns 37 later this year and is also out of contract this summer.
Manager Stefano Pioli usually lines his Milan side up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, and Firmino’s versatile skillset means he could successfully operate as either the No.9 or No.10 in that set-up, bringing with him a capacity to both score and create goals.
It’s turning out to be a sour end to Messi’s (35) time in the French capital. The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner joined PSG in the summer of 2021, signing a two-year deal with an option for third.
Despite 31 goals and a further 34 assists during his time at the club, neither they nor he seem open to activating the optional third-season clause in his contract. Furthermore, this week, the Argentina World Cup winner was hit with a two-week suspension by PSG after making an unauthorised trip for two days to Saudi Arabia.
Messi could be available again for his side’s three remaining matches of the season against Auxerre, Strasbourg and Clermont Foot, however with his relationship with the club deteriorating, it’s also very possible we’ve seen his last appearance for the French giants.
Messi’s impromptu trip to the Middle East does add some weight to the notion that could be his next destination. Messi has a role as a tourism ambassador for Saudi Arabia, and reports have suggested that one of Saudi’s top sides, Al-Hilal, is willing to offer him up to £250m a year to lure him over.
But that may come later down the line, as for now, there still feels like there is unfinished business between Messi and Barcelona.
The attacker looked destined to be a one-club hero but was forced to depart two years ago when the Catalans’ financial issues meant they were unable to renew his contract or offer him another worthy of his ability.
Barcelona are back at the pinnacle of Spanish football and one win away from being crowned La Liga champions again. Some might argue, then, that they don’t need their former hero.
However, the success of Xavi’s team has very much been built on defensive solidity, rather than attacking proficiency. They have conceded just 11 league goals all season - the lowest number across Europe’s top five leagues.
Yet, 13 teams from across those major divisions have netted more league goals - including the likes of Brighton and Newcastle United. Five of those sides also boast a better Expected Goals tally (64.3).
With Real Madrid sure to bounce back next season, perhaps he can give their attack a shot in the arm that it could well need. Plus, there's a certain romance to this one coming to fruition.
It's going to be a blow for Eintracht Frankfurt to lose someone of Kamada’s (26) quality this summer, particularly for nothing. In their statement confirming his departure last month, the club admitted they wanted him to stay, but that those ambitions “didn’t align with the player’s interests”.
The attacker has developed year after year since he arrived in Germany five years ago and has returned 37 goals plus 31 assists for the Eagles during that period. He was particularly influential last season in Frankfurt's triumphant 2021/22 Europa League campaign, registering five goals in 13 outings en route to helping his side beat Rangers in the final.
Those goals on the continent will see him depart from Frankfurt as their record goalscorer in European competitions with 14 overall.
Next possible club - Atletico Madrid
When La Liga halted for the World Cup late last year, Atletico sat fifth and nine points behind rivals Real in second. Champions League football for next season didn’t look assured and pressure was mounting on manager Diego Simeone.
Since the return, though, no La Liga side has picked up more than their 45 points, helping them climb up the table into second, sweetly surpassing rivals Real.
With the draw of Champions League football set to be firmly back on the table, this summer will be crucial one for Atletico as they look to build on the momentum from the second half of this campaign to mount a La Liga challenge once again next season.
Diego Simeone is keen to add reinforcements and they were rumoured to be eyeing up a move for Real’s Dani Ceballos who looked set to depart this summer due to a lack of game time.
However, the former Arsenal loanee’s importance has increased for manager Carlo Ancelotti in recent weeks, highlighted by the fact he has started each of the last three matches he’s been available.
Kamada offers himself as a potential alternative to the Spanish international. Like Ceballos, he can play in a variety of midfield and attacking positions. He also has great technical ability, is comfortable using both feet and is an ever-present threat in terms of scoring goals, or indeed setting them up.
Based on what they’re looking for, it’s easy to see why he could tick the box for Simeone’s side.