The Premier League returns this weekend with all clubs entering the final straight of the season and issues to be decided at both ends of the table. But while the focus will be on Manchester City’s pursuit of four trophies, the race for Champions League qualification and the battle to avoid relegation, there is also plenty at stake for a number of leading players.
Some have yet to resolve their future with their contracts set to expire on June 30, while others have less than two months to earn more minutes on the pitch to potentially avoid looking for a new club this summer.
A small group are facing a “now or never” summer in terms of landing a big move and there are also those who will have just one year remaining on their contract at the end of the season, meaning they must decide whether to leave, sign a new deal or run down the remaining 12 month to become a free agent in 2021.
ESPN has assessed what lies ahead for the players who face one of the most important periods of their careers in the coming weeks.
Question marks are growing over the Chelsea forward’s future at Stamford Bridge following his failure to make an impact under Thomas Tuchel, since the German’s appointment as Frank Lampard’s managerial successor in January.
Tuchel has shown his faith in Kai Havertz and Timo Werner, while also helping take Mason Mount’s game to a new level, and the big loser has been U.S. captain Pulisic. Having been handed his senior debut as a teenager by Tuchel at Borussia Dortmund, Pulisic looked to have an advantage over his teammates when the new coach took charge, but he has yet to complete 90 minutes under Tuchel and the majority of his game time has come in FA Cup ties.
If Pulisic fails to make his mark in the final weeks of the season, the 22-year-old may have to consider his Chelsea future this summer.
The France midfielder enters the final 12 months of his Man United contract this summer, making the weeks ahead are crucial for both player and club. Pogba’s agent, Mino Raiola, went public last December with the 28-year-old’s desire to leave Old Trafford this summer, but the situation has calmed in recent months with the player performing well for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team until injury forced him out for six weeks.
– Dawson: Man United’s big decisions include Pogba’s future
Pogba’s wages and likely fee will ensure that only the richest clubs could afford to sign him this summer, but the pandemic has hit the market hard and United could avoid losing him as a free agent in 2021 by agreeing a lucrative new contract. How Pogba and end the season could decide whether he stays or goes, but there is no easy solution to the problem for either side.
The on-loan Real Madrid winger has said his future is still undecided, having initially claimed last week that he would go back to Spain this summer at the end of his season-long loan at Tottenham. But with Bale having 12 months to run on a contract worth up to £600,000-a-week at Real, he will have to do a lot more for Spurs over the final two months of the season to convince manager Jose Mourinho and chairman Daniel Levy that he is worth a major financial outlay to keep him at the club next season.
– Marcotti: Bale’s contract conundrum haunting Real Madrid, Spurs
Bale, who will be 32 in July, has scored a respectable 10 goals in 25 games in all competitions for Spurs this season, but despite his impressive strike rate, the Wales international has missed too many games to be considered as having provided value for money.
A fit and in-form Bale would be an asset, but getting him fit and in-form has been Tottenham’s problem for most of this season.
With two years still to run on his Liverpool contract, there appears no sense of urgency over Mohamed Salah’s Anfield future. But the Egyptian has made a series of remarks in recent months about the possibility of a move away from Liverpool, specifically to Spain.
The financial crisis in the game, caused by the pandemic, has left Salah with limited options in terms of seeking a move. The same applies to Liverpool who, if they were ready to sell, would find the market far less fruitful than when they sold Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona for £142m in January, 2018.
If there is a club willing to spend upwards of £80m to sign Salah, Liverpool would face a big decision as to whether the time is right to sell a player who will be 29 in June in order to reinvest in Jurgen Klopp’s squad.
At 24, Dele Alli is approaching a crossroads in his career this summer, which he’s likely to spend at home having lost his place in the England going into the rescheduled Euros. With three years to run on his contract at Tottenham, Alli will command a high fee if sold, but his failure to earn a regular place under Jose Mourinho means he will have to seriously consider a move in order to kickstart his career.
Alli has made just 22 appearances in all competitions, scoring three goals, but he still has admirers — namely his former Spurs boss, Mauricio Pochettino, who is now at Paris Saint-Germain. A return to the team over the final weeks of the season could defuse the situation for Alli, but that appears an unlikely prospect, so he will either have to sit it out and hope he outlasts Mourinho at Spurs, or try to force a move elsewhere.
The England captain was non-committal about his Spurs future when asked this week about the prospect of moving away from the club to win major trophies. Sources have told ESPN that Manchester City and Manchester United would both move for Kane if the 27-year-old signalled a readiness to leave Spurs, but with three years remaining on his contract, the London club would insist on a huge fee for their goalscoring talisman.
With his 28th birthday approaching in July, Kane may regard this summer as make-or-break in terms of landing a move to one of Europe’s biggest clubs. He either seeks glory elsewhere or commits to helping Spurs achieve it themselves, but beating City in the Carabao Cup final and finishing in the Premier League’s top four would go a long way to persuading him to stay.
If Kane does decide to leave, Spurs will not make it easy for him to go.
Liverpool’s Dutch midfielder is out of contract this summer and has so far resisted all attempts to persuade him to extend his deal. The 30-year-old is a target for Barcelona, with former Netherlands coach Ronald Koeman keen to sign him on a free transfer.
Wijnaldum’s consistency and versatility would be a big loss for Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, who would need to replace the former Newcastle player without receiving a fee for him. But with Liverpool hit harder than most by the financial impact of the pandemic, the short-term cost of handing Wijnaldum a pay rise to keep him at Anfield may prove to be better business than trying to replace him.
Manchester United have a big decision to make about their No.1 goalkeeper, with Dean Henderson’s progress at Old Trafford ensuring that one of them will likely leave this summer.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s selection for Sunday’s home game against Brighton may give us the answer to the club’s dilemma, with Henderson having played the last six games following De Gea’s return to Spain for the birth of his child.
If De Gea fails to reclaim his spot this weekend, it will signal that Henderson now the first-choice and De Gea is unlikely to want to stick around for the final two years of his contract as a number two. But with wages worth a reported £300,000-a-week at Old Trafford, De Gea will be tough for United to sell. Those wages, a big fee and the 30-year-old’s inconsistent form in recent years make him a costly gamble for any potential buyer.
With one year to run on his contract at the Emirates, Alexandre Lacazette faces a decisive few weeks ahead. The 29-year-old has struggled to convince manager Mikel Arteta of his worth this season, but he has still managed 13 goals in 34 games in all competitions, so remains a proven scorer at the highest level.
Yet with Arsenal needing to raise funds with which to strengthen Arteta’s squad, Lacazette falls into the category of being a saleable asset. At the same time, with his 30th birthday approaching at the end of May, the Gunners may decide that it doesn’t make financial sense to offer him a new contract. It means Lacazette has just under two months to earn a new deal or convince a potential buyer that he is worth signing.
This will be a crucial summer for the Aston Villa midfielder, who has taken his game to a new level with the club and England this season.
A failure to move last summer, when Manchester United chose not to pursue their interest in the 25-year-old, prompted Grealish to sign a contract until 2025 at Villa Park. But in doing so, Villa also ensured that they would be able to command a big fee for Grealish this summer if he impresses at Euro 2020.
Manchester City are monitoring Grealish and could make a move, but if he performs well for England this summer, Villa will find it hugely difficult to hold onto their star player.