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The Champions League Last-16 Stars Premier League Clubs Must Sign

Allan JiangTransfers CorrespondentFebruary 25, 2014

The Champions League Last-16 Stars Premier League Clubs Must Sign

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    Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

    There are 16 UEFA Champions League teams left and each team has a player with the quality to flourish in the Premier League. 

    This slideshow will profile one player who could be a summer transfer target for a Premier League team from the remaining Champions League clubs: AC Milan, Arsenal, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Bayer Leverkusen, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Chelsea, FC Zenit, Galatasaray, Manchester City, Manchester United, Olympiacos, Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid and Schalke.

AC Milan: M'Baye Niang

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    Mario Carlini / Iguana Press/Getty Images

    AC Milan's Montpellier loanee M'Baye Niang failed to score in 28 Serie A games for the Rossoneri.

    However, a loan to Montpellier has reinvigorated Niang's career since he has the trust of manager Rolland Courbis, whereas former Milan manager Massimiliano Allegri viewed Niang as a frustratingly inconsistent talent.

    Whether or not Niang has a future under Milan manager Clarence Seedorf is still unclear. 

    Niang has scored three goals and created another in seven Ligue 1 games on loan at Montpellier.

    He is pacey and solidly-built, so he has the physical attributes to thrive in the English Premier League.

    In 1999, Juventus cut their losses with the wayward Thierry Henry, who went on to become a legend at Arsenal. 

    That is the downside Milan management face if they decide to sell Niang. 

Arsenal: Bacary Sagna

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    Arsenal right-back and occasional centre-back Bacary Sagna is either playing out his contract or pressuring the Gunners into offering an inflated new deal since he has yet to extend his contract. 

    Sagna is a dependable right-back, who has shown he can slot in at centre-back. 

    "I see myself as a right-back but if I have to cover sometimes or play centre-back," Sagna said, per Nik Brumsack at Arsenal's official website. "It's different but I love learning."

    With seven Premier League seasons under Sagna's belt, he would be an invaluable squad addition to any Premier League team.

Atletico Madrid: Diego Costa

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    Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

    Atletico Madrid centre-forward Diego Costa would relish playing in the confrontational, physical and up-tempo style of the Premier League. 

    He is not just a prolific goalscorer, netting 21 goals in 25 La Liga games, but he works hard without the ball, he can take on opposing defenders and he possesses a maniacal devotion to winning at all costs. 

    Sportsmanship is not part of his forte, however being one of the best No. 9s in Europe right now is. 

    He would enhance any Premier League-contending team. 

Barcelona: Alex Song

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    Alvaro Barrientos/Associated Press

    Barcelona signed Alex Song from Arsenal because he played with dynamism, he was box-to-box and he could enforce in midfield while also being a creative outlet. 

    In his last season for the Gunners, he notched up 11 assists. 

    This season for Barca, he has created three goalscoring chances from 560 passes.

    He is monotonous, predictable and one-paced. 

    In the 3-1 defeat to Real Sociedad with Lionel Messi looking disinterested and Neymar being a no-show, it was the perfect opportunity for Song to be adventurous. 

    Yet, he was OK with passing the ball sideways and backwards. 

    What happened to Arsenal's Song? 

    Defensively, his own goal against Sociedad was his fault: He conceded the corner and did not mark Gorka Elustondo. 

    Song is more comfortable in the Premier League where he can roam around and have a meaningful impact.

    Whereas at Barca, he seems content with being pacified and a bit-part player—does he want to continue being a squad player?

    If not, he should come back to the Premier League. 

Bayer Leverkusen: Heung Min Son

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    Frank Augstein/Associated Press

    Bayer Leverkusen left-forward Heung Min Son would be a handful for Premier League defenders. 

    He is 6'0", possesses great balance, can accelerate instantly and cannot be pushed to a "weaker" side.

    Why? Son is two-footed.

    In the Bundesliga this season, he has scored three goals from his right-foot and five goals from his left-foot. 

    He is still only 21 years old and he will continue to get better. 

Bayern Munich: Toni Kroos

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    Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

    Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola has been inconsistent on Toni Kroos' future at the club. 

    During the January transfer window, Guardiola implied Kroos might leave, per ESPN: "Here today, there tomorrow."

    Guardiola was more optimistic after Kroos dominated Arsenal in a 2-0 UEFA Champions League win: Completing 144 passes, scoring a goal and hitting the post. 

    "We all want him to prolong, and he also wants that, I am very positive about it," Guardiola said, per Sky Sports. "The club, we all want that [Kroos extending his contract]."

    Kroos is a world-class midfielder, who would walk into the starting XI of all the major Premier League teams. 

Borussia Dortmund: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

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    Frank Augstein/Associated Press

    Borussia Dortmund right attacking midfielder Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will either move centrally next season to fill Robert Lewandowski's void (he is leaving for Bayern Munich), or he will continue to terrorise Bundesliga defenders with searing speed.  

    Aubameyang is Dortmund's second-leading scorer in the Bundesliga with 13 goals (Lewandowski has 14) and has exponentially improved since being discarded by AC Milan as youth player. 

    Aubameyang's goalscoring, his pace and ability to play any attacking position should make him a primary target for Premier League teams.

Chelsea: Thibaut Courtois

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    Emilio Morenatti/Associated Press

    Chelsea goalkeeping prospect Matej Delac has fallen behind Thibaut Courtois, who has emerged as the legitimate heir to Blues' No. 1 Petr Cech. 

    Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho has confirmed Courtois will return from his loan at Atletico Madrid to challenge Cech next season. 

    "Chelsea has Petr Cech, Courtois and Schwarzer. We are in a good condition," Mourinho said, per Matt Law at the Telegraph. "We don't struggle to keep him [Courtois] because he has two more years on his contract. I don't need to give any assurances to any player."

    Given Courtois' outspoken nature of not wanting to warm the bench, Mourinho saying he won't be giving "any assurances" is probably not what Courtois wants to hear. 

FC Zenit: Axel Witsel

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    Geert Vanden Wijngaert/Associated Press

    FC Zenit's most valuable player is Hulk, who has scored nine times and created four goals in 14 league games but is there a Zenit player who is a better fit for the Premier League?

    Yes, Axel Witsel. 

    He has stamina, he is a ruthless tackler and he is comfortable passing the ball (averages 63.4 passes per UEFA Champions League game). 

    Last November, he revealed he could see himself playing in the Premier League. 

    "My preference goes out to the Premier League," Witsel said, per Sportwereld (h/t to Richard Jolly at ESPN FC). "There will come a day when one of those [Premier League] clubs will show interest and I can leave."

     

Galatasaray: Semih Kaya

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    Uncredited/Associated Press

    Galatasaray centre-back Semih Kaya prefers to sweep up errant passes (2.3 interceptions per game compared to 1.5 tackles per game). 

    Kaya can bring the ball out of defence and controls the flow of the game from the back (completes 92.7 percent of his passes). 

    He is a summer transfer target for Manchester United, per talkSPORT

    How he performs against Chelsea in the UEFA Champions League could heavily factor in United's decision to pursue or abandon signing him. 

Manchester City: Micah Richards

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    Warren Little/Getty Images

    Manchester City right-back Micah Richards has played a combined nine Premier League games in the past two seasons. 

    His inability to stay fit has enabled Pablo Zabaleta to become a mainstay at right-back for City. 

    Last November, Richards revealed City wanted to renew his contract, but he wanted to wait citing a need to play more regularly, per Simon Mullock at the Mirror.

    There were reports that Liverpool attempted to sign Richards during the January transfer window, however Tony Barrett at the Times tweeted that was not the case: "Brendan Rodgers says it's not true that Liverpool have tried to sign Micah Richards on loan."

Manchester United: Shinji Kagawa

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    Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

    Shinji Kagawa has been played out of position, been asked to defend as a quasi-wing-back on the left and is not afforded the same attacking liberties he had at Borussia Dortmund.

    Manchester United management signed him based on his Dortmund performances, so it is counter-intuitive to force him to play a role that does not suit his playing style. 

    This is why he has not scored or created a goal in nine Premier League games this season. 

    Would it be unprecedented for another Premier League club to sign Kagawa, despite his failings so far in England?

    Nope. Chelsea did it in 2003, when they signed Juan Sebastian Veron from United, even though he was more suited to Serie A football. 

Olympiacos: Michael Olaitan

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    EuroFootball/Getty Images

    The departure of Olympiacos' leading marksman, Konstantinos Mitroglou, to Fulham, has opened the door for Michael Olaitan. 

    Olaitan did not cash in against a weak and undisciplined Anderlecht team during Olympiacos' 3-1 UEFA Champions League win, but he was lively with and without the ball. 

    In Olaitan's last six league games for Olympiacos, he has scored six times. 

    He will be given a worldwide platform to make a name for himself when Olympiacos take on United in the Champions League. 

    He is an outside chance to star for Nigeria at the 2014 FIFA World Cup, per Ed Dove at Kickoff.com.

Paris Saint-Germain: Adrien Rabiot

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    Francisco Seco/Associated Press

    Paris Saint-Germain central midfielder Adrien Rabiot moves gracefully, he can pick out a pass and has vision.

    PSG's crowded midfield—Blaise Matuidi, Marco Verratti, Thiago Motta and Yohan Cabaye—may force a world-class prospect in Rabiot to consider a move away. 

    There is a misconception that he shies away from physicality given his finesse style of play: He made 39 tackles and intercepted 34 passes in 13 Ligue 1 games on loan at Toulouse last season. 

    Rabiot should be able to make a smooth transition from Ligue 1 to Premier League football. 

Real Madrid: Casemiro

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    Paul White/Associated Press

    Real Madrid defensive midfielder Casemiro is a backup, but he has the quality to be a starter at a Premier League club. 

    In a 4-1 win over Galatasaray, he made five tackles and intercepted two passes.

    During a cameo appearance in a 5-0 win over Almeria, he created a goal for Gareth Bale and hit the post. 

    Those two sequences of play suggests Casemiro has the potential to be a good box-to-box midfielder. 

    He should not feel compelled to stay at Real due to the status of the club. He needs to think about his career and right now, he must play more regularly. 

Schalke: Julian Draxler

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    Michael Sohn/Associated Press

    Schalke left attacking midfielder Julian Draxler is one of the most sought-after prospects in Europe. 

    He is a 6'1" midfielder, who can glide past tackles, score from 30 yards out and facilitate for his teammates. 

    He is a special player hence why Arsenal tried to sign him in the January transfer window. 

    "Arsenal officially enquired about the services of Julian Draxler during the recent transfer window," Schalke general manager Horst Heldt said, per Sport1 media (h/t to ESPN). "Of course, it was big money on offer, but still it was not enough for us."

     

    @allanjianga

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