Changing of the Guard

In previous articles, we've touched on how the European elite have been a mature selection this season.

30 plus year olds on the pedestal include the likes of Messi, Ronaldo, Lewandowski, Vardy, Immobile, Benzema, Suarez, Aguero. A big bunch of names approaching their twilight years.

In this article, we're outlining the current situation regarding their replacements. Of course, transfer speculation changes the entire dynamic, but if there was 0 movement over summer, what would the club look like - have they started to consider the rebuild or are they relying on heavy spending to replace their stars?

1. Messi | Barcelona

No replacement. Messi is from another planet. He can't be replaced. But we'll try to piece together something. Barcelona have vast depth in many positions, and in recent years have been very active in the market. Without considering any transfer movement - such as Neymar - we're selecting Ansu Fati as the man in the pipeline to succeed. Obviously there are huge boots to fill, and Barca are more than likely to find somebody in between the phasing out of Messi and phasing in of Fati. However, Ansu Fati has already proven his ability and shone in UCL football at the delicate age of 17. Unbelievable. From a long-term perspective, Fati does have potential to start for Barcelona as the left winger in years to come.

2. Suarez | Barcelona

Barcelona have had a rough season up front. Injury-prone Suarez hasn't been fit for action and lack of depth in this area lead them to sign Martin Braithwaite on an emergency transfer. However, far greater talent is likely to be required to fill the boots of the Catalan talisman. Antoine Greizmann has a few years on Suarez and will have to step up after a poor term since his arrival last summer. In all likelihood, Barcelona will also be looking to bring a more youthful out and out striker to their ranks. Lautaro Martinez leads the odds here, but with nothing concrete signed, Griezmann is next in line to lead Barcelona's offensive activities.

3. Ronaldo | Juventus

Juventus have juggled formations throughout the season, slowly transitioning Ronaldo from his natural wide positions to a central striker role. Ronaldo has been partnered with a combination of Dybala and Higuain throughout the season, though the latter is also approaching an age worthy of stepping down. Dybala is a world-class striker already in the starting lineup already, so Juve are in need of the next striker to succeed both Ronaldo and Higuain in coming seasons. Mandzukic and Kean both left recently, leaving a huge gap up tops in Turin. The Old Lady will certainly be acquiring another forward in the next window. But who do Juventus currently have to fill in for the ageing Ronaldo as well as Higuain? Dejan Kulusevski is on his way in as a promising right winger, though he's not an out-and-out striker. Federico Bernardeschi has played as a second-striker before but is nowhere near proven as a centre forward. In their new U23 squad, Alejandro Marques is the obvious forward they'll call up. The 19 year old was acquired from Barcelona for a fee of around £7m - though he has a lot to prove before he's called upon as Juventus' main man. All signs point to Juve acquiring their next striker.

4. Immobile | Lazio

Lazio still presumably have a few years of Immobile playing great football, though this high-profile season has lead to transfer speculation surrounding his future. Immobile will be leaving a big gap in the Italian outfit, given the 30 year old has been their go-to goal scorer for the last 4 seasons. They have good time to consider his replacement as he's still in his peak. The likely candidate to step up at present is Joaquin Correa. The 25 year old is predominantly a second striker though his eye for a goal is more than sufficient for Lazio to compete at. The Argentine has scored 7 and assisted 3 having only started two thirds of the league games this season. Correa sits at just £1.07, offering a budget option to those who want a versatile forward yet to hit his potential. Immobile is younger than some of the other big names across Europe, but it's still in Lazio's interest to consider his replacement sooner rather than later if they want to transition without breaking the bank or compromising their UCL efforts in coming seasons.

5. Benzema | Real Madrid

Real Madrid have heavily relied on Benzema over the last decade. He's been the starting striker for years but now, at 32 years old, faces limited time at the top in seasons to come. Madrid have tried to build their attacking force, acquiring masses of creative attacking midfielders and wingers. They have struggled, however, to lock down a viable strike option. With plenty of rumours drifting in the mill, including Haaland, it seems Madrid are in the market to buy their next talisman. As it stands, they've got Luka Jovic in line to step up. He's struggled with poor form and injury in his debut season, leading to transfer speculations arising within 12 months of his arrival to the Spanish Capital. There's a chance they'll offload, but also a chance that Jovic will be given another chance to prove his worth and become Real Madrid's centre forward. Mariano Diaz doesn't look to stand a chance to replace Benzema, so it's down to Jovic if Madrid want to rebuild their strike options without breaking the bank. 

6. Vardy | Leicester

Jamie Vardy has been iconic to say the least. His rise to stardom resembled a fairytale, or perhaps a 'money-ball' story. The rapid centre forward has been a threat in the Premier League since his title-winning season in 2014. Aged 33, he's still relying on speed and tenacity to better his opponents - but this may be physically compromised as his body clock ticks on. Leicester have Iheanacho as a second choice striker at present. It's likely there'll be some chop and change, but Leicester aren't renowned for big-money signings. Iheanacho is still just 23, but will have to seriously step up his contributions if he's filling Vardy's boots. He's currently regarded as a super-sub, but the gap between his efforts now and the efforts of an elite starting striker is still visibly significant. Leicester will have to seriously whip Iheanacho into shape to drive their team forwards as Vardy's numbers will begin to drop off. Failing that, they'll have to step up their activity in the market to sign their next star striker if they want to compete with the Premier League Top 4. 

7. Aguero | Manchester City

Man City have been phasing in Gabriel Jesus for the last couple of years as Aguero's understudy. The Brazilian has featured regularly, both as a starter or a substitute, earning good minutes across various competitions. Aguero is now 32 years old, and his contract expires in 2021. All indications show Jesus will be the man to take the role on. City have the bank-balance to acquire another striker, though Jesus is at an age where he can establish himself as a title-contending forward leading City's attacking line. City's transfer activity in the next few months will surely capture intrigue, particularly as UCL football becomes a concern - we're confident Jesus will be the first name on the list as City's preferred talisman in the next couple of seasons regardless.

8. Lewandowski | Bayern Munich

Lewandowski is having the best season of his career. The Polish star turns 32 this summer though. Although his numbers are still topping Europe, it's only a matter of time until they drop off. We all know how quickly a player be toppled from the top of the mountain - Luka Modric is a prime example following his Ballon D'Or in 2018. So Bayern face a dilemma, how will they continue to improve their youngsters whilst Lewandowski starts every match? The German champions will need to carefully consider how they dethrone Lewandowski without compromising the potential of Joshua Zirkzee and Jann-Fiete Arp. Both young forwards are held in high regard, and both have potential to follow in Lewandowski's footsteps. The most likely option we'll see is Zirkzee continuing to develop earning minutes off the bench. Arp will need a loan spell or Lewandowski to retire to play serious minutes though. A world-class forward may be required in between the phasing in of the youngsters and the phasing out of Lewandowski - so we wouldn't be surprised to see Bayern move for a striker soon.

Final Thoughts

Many of the superclubs have historically had the bank balance to acquire talents outside of their own academy. If they lack their next superstar in their ranks, it's been easy enough to throw money to a less successful club to pry their best talents away. However, the financial difficulties that some of the European Giants face are stark. Barcelona are learning a tough lesson surrounding their losses from the Dembele transfer. Real haven't had luck with Jovic. Joao Felix is looking an increasingly gut-wrenching investment to Atletico's directors. Even Manchester United have said they have no interest in paying £100m in this current economic climate for Jadon Sancho. Superclubs are not in a financial position to buy a prime player for the expected fee.

So the giants of Europe may be required to emphasise developing their own stars rather than acquiring them from less wealthy outfits and feeder clubs, as transfer fees go up and competition from smaller sides increase. Dortmund will happily hold on to Sancho. Leipzig to Werner. Inter to Martinez. Now could be a crucial time to start the replacement of the megastars, but the negotiation process will be tediously intricate to keep all parties satisfied. Developing from within could be vital for the survival of such clubs - Chelsea, City, Arsenal and Manchester United have all started to noticeably call upon their youngsters in the last couple of seasons to rebuild successfully. Others have only skimmed the surface. Time will tell how difficult it could be to maintain success throughout the changing of the guard.

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