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Out of contract XI including Kylian Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele, Paul Pogba

Ahead of the January transfer window opening, Sports Mole selects the best XI of out-of-contract players, including Kylian Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele and Paul Pogba.

January 1 is a date which will be highlighted in the calendar of almost every club across Europe as the winter transfer window opens.

The mid-season window has split opinion in the past, with some clubs relishing the chance to bolster their ranks in pursuit of their targets for the campaign, while others brace themselves for unwelcome interest in prized assets.

However, more and more in the modern game we are seeing top players run down their contracts and leave clubs on free transfers, enabling their new clubs to spend more on wages due to the lack of a transfer fee.

The increase in such deals has seen January 1 take on even greater importance, with players able to open talks with foreign interested parties over pre-contract agreements as soon as they enter the final six months of their contract.

Plenty of big names will be free to do just that as soon as the calendar flips over to 2022 on Saturday, and here, Sports Mole looks at the best XI who could currently leave their clubs for nothing in the summer.



Goalkeeper: Hugo Lloris (Tottenham Hotspur)

 Tottenham Hotspur's Hugo Lloris celebrates after Sergio Reguilon scores their second goal, November 21, 2021© Reuters

It is not often a World Cup-winning captain is available on a free transfer, and even accounting for his advancing years, there will be plenty of clubs still interested in 35-year-old Tottenham skipper Hugo Lloris this summer.

Spurs remain hopeful of extending his 10-year stay at the club, for whom he has made almost 400 appearances across all competitions, but there has also been talk of a return to his boyhood club Nice.

Other notable free agent goalkeepers: Andre Onana (Ajax)



Right-back: Noussair Mazraoui (Ajax)

Ajax's Noussair Mazraoui pictured in December 2021© Reuters

At just 24 years old, Noussair Mazraoui represents a rare chance for clubs to snap up a promising player with his best years ahead of him for free next summer.

The Morocco international came through the ranks at Ajax and has gone on to make more than 120 appearances for the senior team already, but it looks increasingly likely that he could leave in 2022.

Barcelona and Manchester City are among the clubs thought to be weighing up a move for the attacking full-back, who already has four Eredivisie goals to his name this season.

Other notable free agent right-backs: Serge Aurier (Villarreal), Calum Chambers (Arsenal), Juan Cuadrado (Juventus)



Centre-backs: Antonio Rudiger (Chelsea) and Niklas Sule (Bayern Munich)

Chelsea centre-back Antonio Rudiger pictured in September 2021© Reuters

One of the biggest January transfer sagas is set to surround Antonio Rudiger, who has established himself as one of the Premier League's best defenders this season but who is also out of contract in the summer.

Chelsea remain eager to keep him but talks over an extension have so far come to nothing, and there is no shortage of suitors for the 28-year-old Germany international.

Real Madrid are understood to be leading the race, but a host of Europe's biggest clubs - including Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur - have been credited with an interest in his signature.

Bayern Munich's Niklas Sule pictured in October 2021© Reuters

Coincidentally, the man alongside Rudiger in this XI could be the man who replaces him at Stamford Bridge, with Chelsea thought to be at the front of the queue to sign Niklas Sule.

The 26-year-old is reportedly keen on a new challenge after five years at Bayern, and a move to the Premier League is understood to interest him.

Like Rudiger, Sule is a German international and Newcastle United are among the other clubs to have previously been linked with him.

Other notable free agent centre-backs: Andreas Christensen (Chelsea), Matthias Ginter (Borussia Monchengladbach), James Tarkowski (Burnley), Alessio Romagnoli (AC Milan), Jason Denayer (Lyon)



Left-back: Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea)

Chelsea defender Cesar Azpilicueta pictured on September 25, 2021© Reuters

The one position where there is a notable dearth of quality free-agent options this summer is at left-back, so teams looking to strengthen that area of the pitch may be forced to splash the cash.

Versatile Chelsea stalwart Cesar Azpilicueta is more than capable of filling in on the left, though, with his decade-long spell at Stamford Bridge set to come to an end next year if terms over an extension cannot be met.

Barcelona are thought to be interested in bringing the Spain international back to his home country, while Chelsea have not given up hope of keeping him.



Centre-midfielders: Paul Pogba (Manchester United) and Franck Kessie (AC Milan)

Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba pictured on October 16, 2021© Reuters

There is a wealth of central midfield talent available for free next summer, but none of them has a bigger profile than Manchester United's record signing Paul Pogba.

Never far away from a transfer saga, rumours regarding Pogba's future are set to rage more fiercely than ever over the next two windows, with an exit from Old Trafford looking increasingly likely.

Real Madrid have long been linked with the 28-year-old World Cup winner but are now understood to have cooled their interest, raising the question of which other clubs could afford his sizeable wages.

A return to Juventus has been touted, while star-studded PSG are also thought to be interested, but Pogba's options do seem to have dwindled compared to previous transfer windows.

AC Milan's Franck Kessie in action against Lazio on September 12, 2021© Reuters

Like our centre-back situation in this XI, it could be that one replaces another this summer, with Franck Kessie thought to be one of the names on Manchester United's list of targets should Pogba leave.

The 25-year-old AC Milan midfielder is a man in high demand, though, with Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur among the other clubs hopeful of snapping up his services.

Kessie has scored five goals in 16 Serie A appearances from midfield this season, operating mainly as a combative, box-to-box midfielder who can break up play at one end and finish off moves at the other.

Other notable free agent centre-midfielders: Marcelo Brozovic (Inter Milan), Corentin Tolisso (Bayern Munich), Denis Zakaria (Borussia Monchengladbach), Boubacar Kamara (Marseille), Luka Modric (Real Madrid), Axel Witsel (Borussia Dortmund), Sergi Roberto (Barcelona)



Right-wing: Ousmane Dembele (Barcelona)

Ousmane Dembele in action for Barcelona in November 2021© Reuters

Once selected as the heir to Neymar at Barcelona, Ousmane Dembele's time at Camp Nou has been blighted by a lack of form and fitness, with injuries in particular scuppering his progress.

New manager Xavi has made no secret of his desire to keep the 24-year-old at the club and use him as one of the building blocks for Barca's next generation, but recent reports suggest that talks over an extension have now broken down.

A switch to the Premier League has been heavily rumoured, with Manchester United and Newcastle among those linked, while PSG are also understood to be keeping tabs on the situation.

Other notable free agent right-wingers: Angel di Maria (PSG), Federico Bernardeschi (Juventus), Adnan Januzaj (Real Sociedad), Jesus Corona (Porto)



Attacking midfielder: Paulo Dybala (Juventus)

Juventus forward Paulo Dybala celebrates scoring in December 2021© Reuters

Talks over a new contract for Paulo Dybala at Juventus have been ongoing for months, and there have been numerous reports that an agreement - or even official confirmation - is just around the corner.

With just one day left until he can open talks with foreign clubs, though, no such agreement has been announced and as things stand he is still set to leave the club for free next summer.

Liverpool are reportedly keeping tabs on the 28-year-old Argentina international, who has scored over 100 goals for Juve since joining them from Palermo in 2015.

Other notable free agent attacking midfielders: Isco (Real Madrid), Jesse Lingard (Manchester United), Andrej Kramaric (Hoffenheim), Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Roma)



Left-winger: Kylian Mbappe (PSG)

Kylian Mbappe celebrates scoring for Paris Saint-Germain against Club Brugge on December 2021© Reuters

Comfortably the biggest prize available on a free transfer next summer is Kylian Mbappe - the second-most expensive player of all time and a man touted as the heir to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo's throne.

Still only 23, PSG rejected offers of around £200m for Mbappe from Real Madrid last summer but could now stand to lose him for nothing, which would be a loss of at least £163m on what they paid for him in 2018.

Mainly a centre-forward now but equally adept at playing anywhere across the front three, Mbappe has scored 15 goals and registered 15 assists in just 24 games across all competitions this season, while his overall record at PSG stands at a ludicrous 147 goals and 76 assists in 195 outings.

Long-time suitors Real Madrid are expected to snap up the fourth French World Cup winner to make this XI if PSG are unable to tie him down to a new contract, while Liverpool have also regularly been linked with an ambitious swoop.

Other notable free agent left-wingers: Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli), Ivan Perisic (Inter Milan), Todd Cantwell (Norwich City)



Centre-forward: Luis Suarez (Atletico Madrid)

Atletico Madrid striker Luis Suarez pictured in November 2021© Reuters

Undoubtedly one of the premier strikers of his era, Luis Suarez will be 35 in January but still represents a prolific option in the free agent market next summer.

Fresh from helping to fire Atletico Madrid to a shock La Liga title triumph last season, Suarez has netted another eight goals this term, including seven in the top flight.

A switch to the MLS has been touted as a possible move for the Uruguayan, although there are sure to be some suitors in Europe for such a goal-hungry forward.

Other notable free agent strikers: Andrea Belotti (Torino), Alexandre Lacazette (Arsenal), Sardar Azmoun (Zenit St Petersburg), Divock Origi (Liverpool), Eddie Nketiah (Arsenal)



SPORTS MOLE'S OUT-OF-CONTRACT XI

Out of contract XI 2021-22

Sports Mole's out-of-contract XI 2021-22 (4-2-3-1): Lloris; Mazraoui, Sule, Rudiger, Azpilicueta; Pogba, Kessie; O Dembele, Dybala, Mbappe; Suarez

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