The summer means players’ contracts are up across Europe. We take a look at the numbers behind the best players who could move to a team in the top leagues on a free transfer.

Adrien Rabiot

Hold on. We’ve been here before, haven’t we?

A year ago, Adrien Rabiot was on our list of the best players available on a free transfer in summer 2023, only he then signed a one-year extension at Juventus. This year, his future is again up in the air, though this time he has spent the summer playing a key role for France at Euro 2024.

He is a technically talented midfielder who is at home alongside the best players in the world in the biggest games against the toughest opponents. At Euro 2024, he completed 92% of his passes despite taking up plenty of attacking positions.

Adrien Rabiot pass map at Euro 2024

He can play in front of the defence as a pivot, higher up as a number eight or tucked inside on the left, creating space for an overlapping full-back by taking up central positions. He tries to affect the game high up the pitch, contributing five goals and three assists in Serie A last season, as well as averaging 2.2 shots and chances created per 90. Rabiot also does plenty of defensive work, ranking favourably in Serie A in 2023-24 for tackles (2.0 per 90) and overall possession regains (5.1 per 90).

If he behaves himself (he’s had plenty of disciplinary issues over the years), Rabiot will make a good signing for a Champions League club this summer.

Mario Hermoso

A yellow-card-prone left-back or left-sided centre-back, Hermoso came through the ranks at Real Madrid but has spent the last five years at Atlético Madrid, where he was a key member of the team that won La Liga in 2020-21. Playing on the left side of a back three, he started 30 games, and only a few teammates were on the pitch for more minutes than him (2,584 of a possible 3,420).

The defence he was a key part of conceded just 25 goals in 38 games that season, with Hermoso usually on the left side of the three in central defence, though he also played at left-back when Yannick Carrasco was fielded further forward.

Hermoso is tidy in possession, completing more than 87% of his passes in each of the last three seasons in La Liga, while he is competent bringing the ball out of defence, ranking favourably each season for progressive carries, with 191 last season.

Mario Hermoso progressive carries La Liga 2023-24

A left-footed centre-back who can step out of the backline with the ball is a valuable commodity in the modern game, and Hermoso will improve another big team both in and out of possession.

Wilfred Ndidi

If you’d believed what the newspapers were saying a few years ago, there was a time when Ndidi could basically have chosen his next club. Such was his importance to Leicester City and the regard in which he was held, the Nigerian was being linked with Arsenal, Barcelona, Liverpool, Real Madrid and Manchester United. Oh, how the mighty can fall.

After failing to agree a new contract to extend his stay at the King Power Stadium, Ndidi is now being linked with a reunion with former Foxes boss Brendan Rodgers at Celtic.

That wouldn’t be a catastrophic move by any means, but given he is only 27, he might hope to play at a higher level.

However, Ndidi wasn’t exactly the undroppable force last season that he once was at Leicester. Injuries played their part, but he only completed 90 minutes on six occasions in all competitions in 2023-24, perhaps signalling he wasn’t quite as suited to Enzo Maresca’s all-dominating possession play as he was to Rodgers’ football.

Maybe that is an indication as to where Ndidi would fit in in the modern game: not quite at the elite level he once was but still at a decent standard. He is, after all, an exceptional ball-winner; in his six seasons in the Premier League with Leicester, there are 14 instances of a player averaging at least 3.9 tackles per 90 across a Premier League season (1,000+ minutes played), and Ndidi accounts for five of them.

He didn’t hit those heights with Leicester in the Championship because they had so much more of the ball, but he still made plenty of telling interventions right across the pitch.

Wilfred Ndidi defensive actions for Leicester 2023-24

Raphaël Varane

A legend of the game with a woeful injury record, Varane has left Manchester United largely due to concerns over his fitness, but when he was around, he made a big difference to the team.

His assurance brought a calming presence at the back during a chaotic time at United. In 5,116 minutes of Premier League action over three years at the club, he committed only one error leading to an opposition shot, and none that led to a goal. For comparison, Harry Maguire (four) and Aaron Wan-Bissaka (three) both made at least three errors leading to an opposition chance in less game time than Varane.

Given his injury problems a move out of Europe could be a possibility this summer, although he could certainly still play at the top level for a few more years. He has been linked with a move to Cesc Fàbregas’ Serie A newcomers Como.

Ché Adams

A slight drop off in quality from the multi-Champions-League-winning Varane, but it was Adams rather than the more decorated Frenchman who played at Euro 2024 this summer.

The Scotland forward looks set to leave Southampton despite their promotion to the Premier League as he goes off in search of bigger and better things.

If he’s honest, Adams is probably hoping that anyone who might be considering signing him looks at his performances in the Championship last season rather than in Germany with Scotland. He had just two shots in three games at the Euros and played a largely peripheral role. He managed just 59 touches in 212 minutes of action.

Last season, however, he was the Championship’s sixth-highest scorer with 16 goals, despite playing second fiddle to Adam Armstrong and starting only 25 of Southampton’s 49 games (including the play-offs).

That meant he had the fifth-best minutes-per-goal rate in the Championship in 2023-24 (145.0) of players to score at least five goals, scoring at a rate that was 22 minutes faster than Armstrong (167).

che adams xg map for Southampton 2023-24

Adams was a constant threat, getting into dangerous goalscoring positions more consistently than most of his peers, registering 0.54 non-penalty expected goals per 90 – the third-best rate of players with 1,000 minutes played behind Leicester forwards Jamie Vardy (0.67) and Patson Daka (0.58).

It’s not surprising to see the strikers from the best teams up there, but the fact Adams is ahead of any player from Leeds or Ipswich – both of whom finished above Southampton in the table – as well as everyone else in the league suggests he has particularly good movement. He also averaged 0.17 xG per shot, which was up there with the best in the league. There’s definitely a decent player in there and a bargain to be had for another Premier League team.

Memphis Depay

Another striker who has underwhelmed at Euro 2024 and will be looking for a new club after the tournament is Memphis Depay. The Netherlands forward left Atlético Madrid after a frustrating 18 months in which he started only 12 of a possible 60 La Liga games, and completed the full 90 minutes on only one occasion.

He did, however, still manage to score nine goals, averaging one every 128.4 minutes and every 68.2 touches, which were both among the best rates of all players to play at least 1,000 minutes during Depay’s time in the Spanish capital.

Depay can often be accused of being too selfish, and his numbers at Atlético back up that accusation; only Karim Benzema (4.7) averaged more shots per 90 in La Liga in that 18-month period than Depay (3.8), while he created just 1.4 chances per 90 and won possession in the final third 0.4 times per 90, putting him 79th and 208th, respectively, of players with 1,000 minutes to their name.

There’s no denying his quality, though, and he is leading the line and starting every game for a Euro 2024 semi-finalist, so there will surely be plenty of interest later in the summer.

Mats Hummels

Hummels is at an age (35) that many out-of-contract players might be considering retirement, but having played a key role in Borussia Dortmund’s run to the Champions League final, he had hoped to go to Euro 2024 with Germany this summer. Julian Nagelsmann opted against picking him, but Hummels has given no indication he’s ready to hang his boots up yet, and his performances last season suggest he still has a lot to offer.

He played every single minute of Dortmund’s 13 games in the Champions League, meaning he played more minutes (1,170) than anyone else in the competition. In being ever-present, he became the first outfielder since Cristiano Ronaldo in 2017-18 to get to the final playing every game without being substituted once. Do we need to remind you that he’s 35?

As well as playing more minutes than anyone else in Europe’s premier competition, he also averaged more tackles per 90 (4.1) than anyone who played more than 400 minutes. That meant he totalled 53 tackles, which was a full 21 more than any other player. On top of that, he led the entire competition for both interceptions (25) and clearances (66). *checks notes again* Yep, he’s definitely 35.

He also popped up with key contributions at the other end of the pitch, too, with an assist in the quarter-final against Atlético and a goal in the semi-final against PSG.

He showed enough this season to prove he can keep going for at least one more campaign at the top level, if not a few more.

Dele Alli

It’s been a long, long time since we’ve seen anything like the best of Dele Alli. To be honest, it’s a been a long time since we’ve seen anything of him at all.

He has started only 26 league matches in the last four seasons – across spells with Tottenham, Everton and Besiktas – but still only 28 years of age and motivated to get back to the top, there are plenty of Premier League clubs he could help.

Incredibly, it’s been nearly a decade since he broke through at Spurs and scored 10 goals and got nine assists in his debut Premier League season, so he’s clearly going to be a different player these days, particularly after his injury problems and the off-pitch issues he has contended with.

Dele Alli career goal involvements

We shouldn’t expect him to get back to what he was high up the pitch, but he is technically gifted enough to play a deeper role at a high level.

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