AC Milan's Cristian Zapata has attracted particularly strong interest from an EPL club
In between the fireworks and celebrations which marked the advent of 2014 on January 1, one may have been able to hear another sound on the stroke of midnight. A booming and victorious sound.
Yes, that of the January transfer window swinging emphatically open. Much to the delight, or despair, of club managers across Europe, players can now be bid on, purchased and transferred between clubs.
After four months of endless speculation, now is the time when we discover whether all those column inches dedicated to potential comings and goings may amount to anything.
With its many foreign investors and wealthy owners, it is the English Premier League that is often seen as the trend-setter of transfers.
In the same transfer window this time last year, there were only two EPL clubs (out of 20) who did not add to their team: West Brom and, surprisingly, the big-spending Manchester City.
This is despite being the world's ninth most valuable team (as reported by Forbes), although they did eventually miss out on the league title and may have regretted this abstinence.
One thing is for sure: We will not see wholesale changes, instead a case of "fine-tuning." Regardless, one or two shrewd signings could mean the difference between survival or relegation, Champions League or Europa League, title winners or runners-up.
But where will these new imports come from? One place could be Italy—many have seamlessly made the transition from Serie A to the Premier League and the country is renowned for producing some of the world's most technically-gifted players.
Let's now take a look at five players who, with the credentials to augment the right team, may be the subject of bids from EPL clubs.
Whilst city rivals Inter Milan have performed admirably this season, things have not quite been as rosy with their fellow stadium inhabitants AC Milan.
Languishing in 13th, the Rossoneri have accrued just 19 points and have lost more games than they have won (six, compared to four) and are closer to the relegation zone than European qualification.
Despite this show of mediocrity, head coach Massimiliano Allegri remains in charge of the team. This may be because the side made it through a tough Champions League group to qualify for the knockout stages or, more likely, because of uncertainty at boardroom level.
With owner Silvio Berlusconi ensconced in legal troubles, instrumental vice president Adriano Galliani came very close to ending his 27-year relationship with the club, only to make an 11th hour U-turn (as discussed by The Guardian's Paolo Bandini).
Whilst the club is mired in disappointment, one player has been a constant source of hope. Crisitan Zapata, a domineering man-mountain centre-half, has submitted a string of impressive performances.
The Colombian international has missed just one the team's 17 league games, having been omnipresent for all 90 minutes of all other games.
He is also capable of contributing goals. As well as scoring the second in the 3-0 Champions League rout of Celtic, he also scored a valuable equaliser in the 2-2 draw against Roma.
This show of strength has not gone unnoticed. In the weeks before Christmas, there was heavy speculation linking the 27-year-old with a move to Manchester United—a team who are also performing below par—as Steve Bates of The Mirror reported that United coach Phil Neville flew to Italy to scout the defender.
The EPL champions, in their first season under David Moyes, require more strength in defence. With the ageing Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand unable to play every game, and deputies Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling looking unconvincing, the Colombian would make a great addition.
The player, however, has distanced himself from a move. Speaking to Italian TV (h/t Alex Richards of The Mirror), the defender stated: "I am just thinking about Milan. I have a contract until 2016 and I want to stay here".
Inter Milan's fortunes have experienced an upturn this year. Following the arrival of coach Walter Mazzarri from Napoli, the former European champions have begun to look like a disciplined outfit, once again.
After toiling to an eventual finish of ninth under the inexperienced Andrea Stramaccioni last season, when injuries wreaked havoc with the side, a smattering of smart signings in the summer has helped reinvigorate the 18-time champions.
In fifth position, they are only five points from a Champions League qualification berth.
Central to this success has been Fredy Guarin, a pacey and tricky Colombian who, despite wearing No.13, has been a lucky omen for Inter.
With Mazzarri favouring a 3-5-1-1 formation, the 27-year-old plays a vital role as the playmaker, operating just behind the lone striker. He completes this function to great accomplishment: Having started all 17 of Inter's league games, he has contributed three goals and four assists.
In the Derby della Madonnina fixture just before Christmas, when Inter took on deadly city rivals AC Milan, Guarin provided the assist for the game's only goal as Rodrigo Palacio saw the Black and Blues emerge victorious.
Signed initially on loan from Porto in January 2012 by then-coach Claudio Ranieri, the transfer was made permanent the following summer.
Having completed just one full season at the San Siro, Guarin is purportedly being tracked by one of the EPL's title-chasing teams who seek a cutting edge—former Inter coach Jose Mourinho, now at Chelsea, is rumoured to be wanting to loot his old club to sign Guarin.
Pre-Christmas, The Guardian's Dominic Fifield reported that Inter had already turned a bid of £12 million down.
This week, the same paper reported that a bid of £16 million could be a sufficient amount, but with the caveat that it hinges on whether unsettled and unplayed Belgian midfielder Kevin De Bruyne leaves the west London club.
As Juventus finally navigated past unbeaten Roma to regain top spot in Serie A, the reigning champions went into the Christmas break with a five-point lead over the capital club.
Amongst this bonhomie though is one player who is recognised as one of Europe's finest talents, yet cannot break into the Bianconeri first team.
Martin Caceres has, despite still being only 26, already played for some of the continent's best teams: Barcelona, Sevilla, Villarreal and now Juventus. But having made only two league appearances this season—and only 20 since signing in January 2012—the player is primed to be the subject of transfer bids.
Following the closure of the summer transfer window, talkSPORT reported back in September that Arsenal's overtures had been rejected with an enquiry turned down.
In the days after Christmas, the player's agent Daniel Fonseca told Tuttosport (h/t Football Italia) that his client would not be pushing for a transfer, stating that "Martin is in love with Juventus and wants to remain in Turin".
As we can now officially begin the countdown to this summer's World Cup, will this show of resistance from Caceres continue? With his native Uruguay being one of the favourites to perform well, those not playing regularly for their clubs may find their place in this talented squad not assured.
Currently atop of the English Premier League, Arsenal—with only three recognised centre-halves—may return to the Bianconeri to see if their stance is still the same and that the 26-year-old is not for sale.
If they could secure the former Sevilla player on loan, he could provide the perfect cover should the Gunners suffer an injury within their defensive ranks.
Our third Colombian player, Luis Muriel bears a strong facial resemblance to the "original" Ronaldo, the buck-toothed Brazilian who scored 62 goals in 98 international appearances.
Whilst Udinese's attacking player has a way to go before being compared technically to Ronaldo, he is looking like a hot prospect whose high-octane style, blistering pace and lethal finishing could be used to devastating effect in the EPL.
Signed from Colombian outfit Deportivo Cali in June 2010, the prodigious 22-year-old enjoyed a spell on loan at Lecce before returning to the Zebrette.
With his team playing a 4-2-3-1 formation, Muriel is at ease when operating either behind the striker or as the team's attacking focal point. With a pass success rate of 77 percent, the No. 9 has contributed three goals and one assist in his 11 league appearances.
Prior to the transfer window opening last summer, Charles Perrin of The Express reported in May that Liverpool could be a potential destination for the Colombian.
This was augmented in June when the future of Liverpool's Luis Suarez was engulfed in uncertainty as he courted interest from other teams.
Bleacher Report explored players who could potentially replace the Uruguayan (who opted to stay and has now scored 20 goals in 15 league games). Luis Muriel featured, because of his vivacious and ferocious attacking style.
Whilst no bid materialised, in the aftermath of the summer transfer window, Calcio Mercato reported (h/t Soccerlens.com) that Arsenal—perennially renowned as a club who cultivate talent—could also be interested in the attacker.
The only caveat is that he has been troubled with injury problems, limiting him to starting just seven of his team's 17 league games this season.
To complete a list comprised solely of South Americans (apt, ahead of next summer's Brazil-based World Cup), Hellas Verona's Jorginho is an exciting talent who exudes an expansive playing style.
With his newly-promoted team riding high in sixth, the man from southern Brazil has been instrumental to this success. After seven goals and three assists in his 16 league appearances, the midfielder thrives when operating as the side's engine room in the heart of the pitch.
He averages 20 passes per game (with a success rate of 86 percent) and, according to Squawka, makes the fourth-most defensive actions.
Back in October, Jorginho told Gazzetta dello Sport (h/t Nick Lustig of the Daily Star) that he was content with life in north-eastern Italy and was not looking to move: "I feel at home here and there is great enthusiasm in this place".
As talkSPORT mentions though, the Verona hierarchy know that they are in possession of an in-demand player and that scouts often attend their home games.
One EPL team who could bid for the Brazilian is Brendan Rodgers' Liverpool. This time last year, he raided Serie A to pluck Philippe Coutinho from Inter Milan. The attacking midfielder has settled in seamlessly to life at Anfield and is one of the league's most exciting players.
With this in mind, Rodgers may opt for the deja-vu effect and bring the Verona player to Merseyside, where he would have compatriots Coutinho and Lucas Leiva to help him acclimatise. Peter Guy of the Liverpool Echo confirmed that the midfielder is on Liverpool's radar.
If the Reds deem their midfield to be at sufficient depth, Chelsea may make a move for the 22-year-old, especially if they miss out on Inter's Fredy Guarin. Failing that, talkSPORT also moot the fact EPL teams may face competition from Serie A sides, namely Fiorentina.