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The 15 Most Sought-After Players Heading into the January Transfer Window

Charlie MelmanCorrespondent IIDecember 25, 2012

The 15 Most Sought-After Players Heading into the January Transfer Window

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    It's Christmas time, and you know what that means: The January transfer window is about to open.

    For months we've been hearing about players who could potentially switch clubs during January, and as the new year approaches, the speculation is ramping up.

    As always, some of the biggest names and best players in the world are being mentioned as targets. As injury crises hit, trophies begin to slip away and weaknesses become more obvious, clubs get more desperate. And that leads to transfer drama.

    Let's look at 15 of the hottest players on the market as January inches closer.

Marouane Fellaini

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    Marouane Fellaini is having the best season of his life and has consistently ranked among the best midfielders in the Premier League since the start of this campaign.

    Everton sit level on points with fourth-placed Arsenal, but Fellaini's skill, like his hair, might be growing too large for Goodison Park to contain. From his position in central midfield, he has already become Everton's top scorer in the Premier League.

    Any club in the world would welcome the Belgian's services. Fellaini's combination of size, vision and striking talent will command a hefty fee, but any club that he would move to would have the funds to pay it.

    Two clubs that Fellaini has been linked with are Chelsea (via the Mirror) and Paris Saint-Germain (via The Guardian). Don't be surprised if he widens his options, though.

Daniel Sturridge

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    Sturridge has been sought after by only one team, and it looks like a deal is about to happen.

    According to the BBC, Liverpool are set to finalize their £12 million purchase when Sturridge completes a medical on Merseyside just before the transfer window opens.

    While Sturridge suffers from the chronic over-hyping that the media tends to burden young English players with, Liverpool need a striker. After letting Andy Carroll go to West Ham on loan, Luis Suarez has been Brendan Rodgers' only respectable option up front.

    Sturridge will fit in nicely with Liverpool's already sizable English contingent, but will have to shoulder much of the burden of lifting the Reds above their current mediocrity.

Wilfried Zaha

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    Wilfried Zaha, too, suffers from the English media's enthusiasm about young stars, but is nevertheless a fine talent.

    The highlight reel shows it plainly. Zaha has strength, skill on the ball and vision that belie his tender age of 20, and it would not be surprising to see him move beyond the confines of Crystal Palace.

    And if rumor is to be believed, Arsenal and Manchester United are both in for him. Both would be able to develop and groom Zaha into the player he is capable of becoming.

    Arsenal probably need him more, as Theo Walcott gets ever closer to the end of his contract. Speaking of which...

Theo Walcott

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    Walcott's contract issues have been well-publicized during the last several months, and it's common knowledge at this point that the Englishman will be out of contract in the summer.

    That means a sweet deal for any side interested in his services this winter. While Arsene Wenger has steadfastly refused to sell one of his biggest stars before the season ends, Arsenal will certainly be tempted to get some money out of Walcott's wanderlust.

    However, any club that wants him for the long term would have to be willing to play him at striker, and that, as he showed against Wigan, is not the right position for him.

Wesley Sneijder

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    Wesley Sneijder has flirted with a move away from Inter Milan in the past, and the time finally seems right for the Dutchman to move abroad.

    Sneijder's wife has given conflicting messages recently about a possible move (or perhaps not, claiming that inflammatory quotes were fabricated), but Inter have been fairly obvious regarding their opinion of Sneijder.

    With a total of five Serie A appearances this season, clubs across Europe are on alert. Still one of the most creative and technically skilled midfielders in the world, the captain of the Dutch national team will not struggle to find suitors.

    However, one potentially sticky situation could arise if Sneijder wants to move to Manchester United, who have courted him in the past. He and Robin van Persie hate each other, so they might have to reconcile their differences in a hurry.

Nani

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    As Nani enters the prime years of his career, he is falling out of favor with Sir Alex Ferguson.

    Limited to just seven Premier League appearances this year, the Portuguese winger has not been a part of Fergie's plans, and would do well to find another club that appreciates his flicks and tricks.

    Nani isn't a bad player, but Manchester United just have too much talent to give everyone game time. With the likes of Antonio Valencia, Ashley Young, Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez all competing for places, someone has to get frozen out.

    And for now, it looks like that man is Nani. That could be good news for other teams, though, as a very good international could be available to add a bit of flair and unpredictability to any side that will take him.

Fernandinho

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    Fernandinho is the latest member of Shakhtar Donetsk's sizable Brazilian contingent to be linked with a move to a big club.

    While Spurs have been linked with the 27-year-old box-to-box midfielder, it appears that Manchester United and Manchester City are the front-runners for Fernandinho's signature.

    It would seem that City have a greater need for a midfielder of his ilk, with Yaya Toure, arguably the club's most valuable player, set to leave for the African Cup of Nations in January.

Robert Lewandowski

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    Borussia Dortmund are playing some of the most attractive football in Europe at the moment, so it will be difficult to pry one of their most valuable assets away from them. But that doesn't mean that Robert Lewandowski won't be hotly pursued in January.

    The Pole provides the lethal finishing touch that complements all of Dortmund's technical brilliance. With a bulky six-foot frame, Lewandowski provides valuable physical power to accompany his excellent striking ability.

    Any club would benefit from playing Lewandowski at striker, but Manchester United have been mentioned (both by the media and the man himself) as a possible destination. Not that the Red Devils need more firepower or anything.

Fernando Llorente

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    Given Fernando Llorente's prolific season a year ago, it was a tad surprising that the Spaniard did not transfer last summer. With another opportunity to do so, the spotlight will be on him once again.

    Take one look at Llorente and it's not difficult to see why. The man is a physical specimen, which has served him well in La Liga and would be a massive advantage in the Premier League. Plus, he is a class act; the sort of quiet warrior that will never give a manager locker room problems.

    And he's not bad at playing football, either. Llorente scored 29 goals in all competitions last season for Athletic Bilbao and earned a spot on Spain's roster for Euro 2012.

    At the age of 27, now is the perfect time for Llorente to make a move if he and Bilbao are willing to do so. Perhaps Arsenal, perennially bereft of striking depth, could swoop in?

Neymar

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    Neymar's name crops up every year around this time: Why can't the fabled European move actually happen this time?

    Usually, Read Madrid and Barcelona are the only two clubs named as suitors for the Brazilian wunderkind, but The Telegraph is reporting that Manchester City are sending a top executive to negotiate Neymar's signing.

    It's not difficult to see why the 20-year-old has been courted by the biggest clubs in the world for years. Though he is a more than a tad immature and selfish, Neymar's raw footballing ability is probably matched only by Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi today.

    That is worth tens of millions of dollars. And some club will undoubtedly dip into its pockets in the near future to bring this precocious talent to Europe.

Demba Ba

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    Last season, Demba Ba tore through Premier League defenses, scoring 16 goals as the main striker in Newcastle's potent attack. He has not slowed his pace this year, netting 11 for the Toon.

    In today's predatory transfer market, such a consistently lethal player is bound to cost a princely sum, right? Fortunately for Arsenal (and other potential suitors), Ba's release clause is just £7.5 million.

    At that price, there are few better values on the transfer market today. What is so extraordinary about Ba's performances this season is that he has been banging in goals for a team that is five points above the relegation zone.

    Surely a striker of his quality cannot stay at a stagnating club for long. Indeed, Ba himself has recently signalled that he would be more than willing to consider an offer from Arsenal if it does arrive.

Radamel Falcao

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    If two guys named Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo weren't playing, Radamel Falcao would be getting more than a few votes for the Ballon d'Or.

    While no player in Spain has been able to compete with Messi's incredible scoring record, Falcao is beating Ronaldo this season. With 17 goals already, he is three clear of the Portuguese superstar, and he is the biggest reason why Atletico Madrid are currently in second place in La Liga.

    It never hurts to have a player whose sole objective is to put the ball in the back of the net, and, unsurprisingly, some of the biggest clubs in the world are being linked with one of the most in-form players in the world.

    That list includes Real Madrid and Chelsea. Both have the financial might to get a deal done, but they must also summon the will.

David Villa

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    David Villa's time at Barcelona seems to be drawing to a close, with most of the striker's recent appearances coming off the bench and age beginning to creep up on him.

    While Barca might be able to dispense with Spain's all-time leading goalscorer, many other clubs would be happy to have him.

    Arsenal have been mentioned as potential suitors due to their lack of striking depth (and no, I'm not counting Theo Walcott), but they might run into a fair bit of resistance from Barcelona's director of football Andoni Zubizarreta.

    Nevertheless, Villa will surely draw a lot of interest this January.

Frank Lampard

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    It's difficult to think of Chelsea without Frank Lampard, but now would be the best time for the English stalwart to depart Stamford Bridge.

    Last Sunday, Lampard made his 500th appearance for the Blues, becoming the club's all-time top-flight leading scorer in the process. Since he has not yet signed a new contract, the writing seems to be on the wall.

    The Los Angeles Galaxy have been rumored to be interested in Lampard, as have Arsenal, although it's difficult to imagine the Chelsea legend ever wearing the cannon.

    Regardless of who he signs with, Lampard can still add quality and goal-scoring to whatever midfield he is in.

Mario Balotelli

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    When will Roberto Mancini have had enough of Mario Balotelli?

    Thousands of words have been written about the Italian's endless antics on and off the pitch. As Roberto Mancini recently summarized, Balotelli simply needs to have some respect for himself.

    His unpredictability when in uniform is much more worrying to Manchester City than his volatility when not. How can Mancini place any trust in Balotelli when the striker could be red-carded or make an incredibly stupid mistake at any moment?

    The easiest solution to that problem is just to get rid of Balotelli. And, despite his incredible baggage, more than one big club would be interested. Could Super Mario move to Inter Milan?

    Don't think that Manchester City won't get a call.

     

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