Tottenham striker Harry Kane is the transfer flavour of the week with reports from Spain claming he’s already chosen his shirt number at Real Madrid.
It’s doubtful talks have progressed to that extent but no doubt rumours will continue with Kane excelling again this season while talks over an improved deal with Spurs have yet to begin.
His links to Spain had us thinking about the wider spectrum of English talent in the Premier League and whether or not the five best the country has to offer could right now make a success of a move to La Liga’s big two.
Here, we take a look at the five best England stars and analyse whether they would be suitable for a move to either Barcelona and Real Madrid.
As a 19-year-old at Liverpool, Sterling was already being talked up as a future prospect to play for either Real or Barca.
Indeed, in 2014 Sterling was linked with Los Blancos and the Blaugrana’s iconic midfielder Xavi was doing his best to woo the winger.
Talking up the qualities of both Sterling and England teammate Ross Bakley, he said: “They have incredible physical capabilities and they are good technically.
“In Spain, we prioritise players who are technically gifted but both things are very important in football.”
In the intervening years Sterling hasn’t just improved from a technical standpoint but tactically, too.
As has been shown this season, Pep Guardiola has unlocked a positional flexibility from Sterling, deploying him as a false nine – see the Manchester Derby – and on either side of a front three.
His intelligence, arguably his most underrated attribute, lends well to a Barca but a major drawback is just how many time he is dispossessed. Sterling is still prone to losing the ball and the recyclical nature of Barca’s style would mean Real is a better fit given his athleticism.
Their counter-attacking football would embrace his pace and the fact he’s added goals (19) and assists (4) to his repertoire is a huge plus point in a side which is desperate for extra artillery to aid Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema.
Real Madrid: 4/5
Another Man City man with a previous link to La Liga. Before signing for City from Everton in a £47.5m deal, Stones’ agent reportedly met with representatives from Barca.
Targeted as a long-term replacement for Javier Mascherano, Stones’s grace and cultured style on the ball caught the attention of the Catalan giants.
Defying the notion an English centre-half can’t be hallmarked by class, the technical yet tough Stones is the centre-piece of Pep Guardiola’s possession-heavy brand of football.
Playing out from the back and moving into midfield, his ability to recycle the ball with either feet is the base of City’s success this season and during a spell on the sidelines with a hamstring injury, the 23-year-old was sorely missed.
There is still no other player with a higher pass success rate for City in the Premier League than Stones this season (96.5 percent) and naturally that talent would gravitate towards Barca rather than Real.
Madrid defenders are required to be more physically dominant with the focus on defending to soak up pressure while technique on the ball to build from the back is a cornerstone of Ernesto Valverde’s Barca.
The issue for Stones is the fact he remains error prone. There is still that nagging doubt of a mistake or two in him and in the cauldron of Camp Nou, that’s something which would ultimately be ostracised.
Real Madrid: 3/5
Real Madrid will reportedly go shopping in the summer as a reaction to Barca’s recent heavy squad investment and Alli, who despite dropping off from the form he showed last season, is apparently on their list.
Barca, too, were said to be sniffing around around with the 21-year-old a natural alternative to Philippe Coutinho but considering his performance against Real at Wembley in the Champions League – not just his best of the season but perhaps best full stop – you feel the Spanish capital is a preferable destination.
A mainstay in Mauricio Pochettino’s dynamic midfield, the 3-1 win over Madrid was built on his energy, flair and clinical edge in front of goal.
True, his form since has been erratic but as a Spurs centurion it’s easy to forget just two years ago he was playing for MK Dons and is still only 21.
Tottenham haven’t seen a talent like his since Luka Modric and inevitably the comparison goes for both ability and career path.
The regression hasn’t put Madrid off and the north-London club have reportedly offered Alli new terms to check any interest.
His intoxicating talent would freshen up a Real midfield which has felt stale with the diminishing form of Toni Kroos and Modric.
True, Barca also need new talent in the middle with Ivan Rakitic not at his best this season and Andres Iniesta aging but it’s obvious Alli is more suited to their La Liga rivals.
Real Madrid: 4/5
Loyalty to his boyhood club is arguably the only reason Kane wouldn’t leave for one of La Liga’s big two right now.
Either side would have him and there is no other English player more equipped to be a success at either Real or Barca than Kane.
The 24-year-old has broken the shackles of his ‘one-season wonder’ tag and has entered the world class bracket.
He is the only Three Lions star with that distinction and as such would command a fee closer to Neymar’s €222million than Philippe Coutinho’s €160million.
His goalscoring pedigree is stretching far beyond the Premier League now and his steely consistency in England is now being replicated on the international stage and in Europe.
Only Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar and Roberto Firmino have scored more than his five goals in the Champions League this season.
At 24, his best years are ahead of him and Kane is adding more than just guaranteed goals as he continues to expand his exponential talent.
His ability to drop in the hole between the opposition midfield and defence to pick out a defence splitting pass is unlike any other forward in Europe.
Kane’s movement and technical capacity would be a seamless fit for Barca but again with their need for a long-term replacement for Ronaldo, Madrid would be a frontrunner.
He ticks all the boxes for both, though. He’s young, ambitious, scores goals and crucially has the mental fortitude to be a success in Spain.
The Premier League’s best always end up in La Liga and Kane could be the next to outgrow it.
Real Madrid: 5/5
The youngest of the five and understandably the most raw as well but with Zinedine Zidane keen to continue their long-term investment in youth, Rashford is viewed as a logical target.
Scoring on every debut for United in the Premier League, Champions League, Europa League, FA Cup and Manchester derby, the 20-year-old has embraced the responsibility bestowed by Jose Mourinho.
Rashford’s flair and athleticism is married to an work ethic to apply his precocious talent and primarily used on the left of a United three behind Romelu Lukaku, his defensive intensity and acceleration going forward are rare qualities from English attackers.
We’ve truly yet to see the best from Rashford because he’s a victim of his versatility, though. He’s swapped in and out the team with Anthony Martial and opportunities to spearhead United’s attack have been infrequent.
Granted, they’re aren’t many elite sides in world football’s so trusting of a 20-year-old but in 33 games this season he’s returned just nine goals and it’s indication he’s still some way from the likes of Real and Barca.
Tentative in front of goal and often on the fringes of play out on the touchline, it’s fair to say Rashford is still a work in progress rather than ready made for a move abroad.
Real Madrid: 3/5
A thrilling 2-2 Premier League draw at the Emirates Stadium a week ago was followed by a cagey encounter here.
The Blues had the better opportunities to take a first-leg lead, but Cesc Fabregas and Andreas Christensen spurned headed opportunities either side of half-time in a 0-0 draw.
Former Gunners midfielder Fabregas wanted a penalty after a Danny Welbeck challenge after 88 minutes, but play continued after referee Martin Atkinson consulted Video Assistant Referee Neil Swarbrick.
Tweet of the match
Iwobis still got the stamp on his hand from the club last night. #arsenal
— Jack Whitehall (@jackwhitehall) January 10, 2018
Star man – Victor Moses
Chelsea’s wing-back made plenty of enterprising runs down the right and caused a fair few problems for Arsenal’s young defender Ainsley Maitland-Niles. Moses also came close to giving the Blues a valuable first-leg lead with a couple of low shots which troubled Gunners goalkeeper David Ospina.
Moment of the match
Goalmouth action was at a premium for much of the match but there was a contentious incident in the closing minutes when Fabregas went down in the area under Welbeck’s challenge. Referee Atkinson appeared to consult VAR over the tackle before ruling it did not warrant a penalty, to the frustration of Chelsea boss Antonio Conte.
View from the bench
Arsene Wenger sat in the press box while serving the second game of his three-match touchline ban. The Gunners boss was banished to a position high in the East Stand, next to his gardener, in the February 2017 Premier League clash at Stamford Bridge but, serving another touchline ban at Stamford Bridge, Wenger on this occasion opted to join journalists just behind the tunnel. His seat offered swift access to the dressing room area, television screens for replays, and was within shouting distance of the away dugout.
In with the crowd
Despite little entertainment on the pitch during the first half, there was plenty of banter between the two sets of fans. The Gunners’ healthy travelling following taunted their rivals about the fairly subdued atmosphere inside Stamford Bridge in self-deprecating style, singing “Is this the Emirates?” during the early stages. Chelsea supporters responded, chanting “Arsene Wenger, we want him to stay” in reference to Arsenal’s relative lack of recent success under the Frenchman.
Arsenal failed to win against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge for the seventh successive game, while Antonio Conte has now beaten the Gunners just once in seven meetings since taking over as Blues boss in the summer of 2016. The two teams have now drawn four times this season, including the Community Shield.
Thibaut Courtois 6 (out of 10)
Antonio Rudiger 6
Andreas Christensen 6
Cesar Azpilicueta 7
Victor Moses 7
Marcos Alonso 5
Danny Drinkwater 5
N’Golo Kante 6
Cesc Fabregas 6
Eden Hazard 6
Alvaro Morata 6
Willian (on for Drinkwater, 68) 5
Tiemoue Bakayoko (on for Hazard, 84) 5
Michy Batshuayi (on for Morata, 87) 5
David Ospina 7
Hector Bellerin 6
Rob Holding 6
Shkodran Mustafi 7
Calum Chambers 6
Ainsley Maitland-Niles 5
Granit Xhaka 6
Jack Wilshere 6
Alex Iwobi 5
Danny Welbeck 6
Alexandre Lacazette 5
Mohamed Elneny (on for Wilshere, 57) 5
Alexis Sanchez (on for Lacazette, 66) 6
Who’s up next?
Chelsea v Leicester (Premier League, January 13)
Bournemouth v Arsenal (Premier League, January 14)
Despite coming up against a depleted Gunners side, the attacking talents of Eden Hazard and co. were unable to make a breakthrough and gain the upper hand in the tie.
Here, we look at three things we learned from the encounter.
A GLIMPSE OF LIFE AFTER STAR DUO
Arsenal’s January transfer window has been dominated by the uncertain futures of both Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil, both of whom will become free agents in the summer. The Chilean has been heavily linked to league leaders Manchester City while Ozil has drawn the interest of Jose Mourinho at Manchester United.
The Gunners were quickly made aware of the bleak state of affairs should they fail to replace their star duo whether that is in this window or in the summer. Ozil was left out of the semi-final squad citing knee trouble while Sanchez was only afforded a place on the bench.
It left the visitors seriously lacking bite or panache in attack with Alexandre Lacazette being supported by Danny Welbeck and Alex Iwobi instead. Jack Wilshere was the one who looked most likely to unlock Chelsea if at all and it was only in the 65th minute that Sanchez was introduced.
Arsenal fans got a taste of a future absent Ozil and Sanchez and were presented with a side short of attacking quality against top opposition. The Gunners were uncharacteristically focused on keeping their opponents at bay while trying to sneak a goal against the run of play instead.
CHELSEA FAIL TO CAPITALISE
The hosts failed to make the most of the advantages they were afforded. At home, against a depleted Arsenal outfit lacking their main threats in attack, Chelsea weren’t nearly as adventurous as they could have afforded to be.
A certain level of caution in the first leg semi-final of a cup tie is usually understandable, but under the circumstances, Antonio Conte’s side should really have gone on the front foot and worked David Ospina a lot more than they did.
In the absence of the injured Laurent Koscielny, Nacho Monreal and Sead Kolasinac, Arsenal’s defence was vulnerable and a more ambitious team could’ve gained the upper hand.
Wenger will be delighted to come away from the Bridge with a 0-0 draw and the Blues could well be left kicking themselves for not putting the tie to bed already.
CAN’T HANG YOUR HAT ON WILSHERE
Wilshere has been in good form since his return from injury and was significantly handed the captain’s armband for this fixture. He was the one pulling the strings for the away side and seemed to be at the heart of every one of Arsenal’s ventures forward.
However, almost predictably, he had to go off injured in the 58th minute. While Wenger has shown faith in the Englishman of late, affording him a leading role in the absence of Aaron Ramsey in particular, it was once again made clear that Arsenal’s central midfield demands reinforcement.
For all of Wilshere’s technical ability and influential play, he’s hardly the player you can hang your hat on over the course of the season.
His brittleness came to the fore again, leaving his side in the lurch with the rather unspectacular Mohamed Elneny having to slot in alongside Granit Xhaka in his stead.