The most valuable XI available for free in 2021

Sarah Winterburn

This lot have just one year left on their contracts. We have used transfermarkt as a guide to who is termed the ‘most valuable’ but really, this is just a list of the best…


Goalkeeper: Gianluigi Donarumma (AC Milan)
Long linked with Chelsea but the latest noises coming out of Milan are that the 21-year-old goalkeeper is not just ready to commit to Milan, but is ready to take a pay cut to stay.

“It is certainly Milan’s duty to try and keep hold of an important player like Gigio, for what he represents as a symbol, a player who came up through our youth academy and, in my humble opinion, because he is the best goalkeeper in the world,” technical director Paolo Maldini told DAZN last week.


Right-back: Timothy Castagne (Atalanta)
“When a team like PSG or Tottenham come knocking on your door, you can’t say ‘no’,” said the Belgian last month, but he might have changed his mind after watching Spurs get something of a shellacking from Sheffield United on Thursday night. Will he really swap Champions League football with Atalanta for the mid-table stylings of Spurs?

What is certain is that Atalanta will make a profit on the Belgian international they signed from Genk for less than £6m. And what is also certain is that he is better than Serge Aurier.


Centre-back: Dayot Upamecano (RB Leipzig)
Arsenal thought they had secured a deal for Dayotchanculle Oswald Upamecano but the France Under-21 international would quite like to play Champions League football, thank you, so the new favourites are Chelsea, though it is thought that Upamecano himself quite fancies a move to Manchester City. That would certainly make perfect sense.

Is he any good? According to his teammate Yussuf Poulsen: “He is now the best centre back [in Germany]. He’s a top player, fast, clever, good in a duel. It’s very hard to get past him.”


Centre-back: Matthias Ginter (Borussia Mönchengladbach)
“In general, I can imagine staying at Borussia for the long term. But let’s see how the future looks. Now other issues have priority. No one is under time pressure on this issue,” said Matthias Ginter in April, and it seems unlikely that he has since changed his mind. While Upamecano is lauded by his teammates, Ginter has been busy being named in Kicker’s Bundesliga team of the season after a stellar campaign.


Left-back: David Alaba (Bayern Munich)
The Guardian said this week that Austrian Alaba is a Manchester City target because he can play as both centre-half and left-back, and that is a move that would certainly make sense. The doubt is whether Alaba really wants to leave Bayern Munich or if he is just stalling on a new contract because he believes that £250,000 a week is a risible offer. It is thought that he is seeking pay parity with Lucas Hernandez.

Inter Milan, PSG and Chelsea (of course) are also said to be interested in Alaba, but Bayern are rumoured to be confident that only Real Madrid or Barcelona could tempt Alaba into leaving his beloved Bavarians.


Central midfield: Thiago Alcantara (Bayern Munich)
“I hope he won’t go,” said Bayern manager Hansi Flick as reports gather pace about Thiago heading to Liverpool this summer. In a world of exorbitant transfer fees, the latest report claims the Spain international could be available for as little as 35million Euros. Which seems an almost ludicrously low price for a beautiful footballer.

But then Thiago is out of contract next summer and refusing to sign a new deal as he apparently believes that he is being phased out at Bayern, who seem to be doing just fine with a midfield of Leon Goretska and Joshua Kimmich in his absence with a groin injury.


Central midfield: Paul Pogba (Manchester United)
The truth is that although his contract technically expires in 2021, Manchester United hold the option of a one-year extension and it would be madness not to trigger that option to either keep a world-class footballer or protect his value. It is said that the Frenchman is happy at United now that he has Bruno Fernandes and no longer has to play with Fred. We are paraphrasing of course.


Attacking midfielder: Ferran Torres (Valencia)
There’s no hope of that £87m release clause being matched by Manchester United, Juventus or anyone else after Torres failed to pick up a La Liga goal or assist in the first six games of the restart. Indeed, he has only four of each to show for his whole season, which makes him a pretty poor alternative to Jadon Sancho, though that has to be placed in the context of Valencia’s struggles and a system that gives Torres plenty of defensive responsibility.


Attacking midfielder: Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
You might have heard of him. He is pretty good. And he is also set to leave Barcelona next summer, according to various reports emanating from Spain. Newell’s Old Boys might be about to gain quite a few new global fans.

Mind you, we have been here many times before…


Attacking midfielder: Memphis Depay (Lyon)
Nine goals in 13 Ligue Un matches and five more in five Champions League matches before he suffered a cruciate ligament injury that kept him out of the last-16 first leg against Juventus. He is expected to be back for the second leg in August when he will be hoping that the eyes of the world lead to a transfer to somewhere more glamorous than Arsenal.

Still, could a player be more Arsenal? We can absolutely see him turning up for a reserve game in his Rolls-Royce, wearing a leather jacket and a cowboy hat. We want more of that.


Striker: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal)
One of the most prolific strikers in the history of the Premier League despite Arsenal being in an extended period of decline, so you can hardly blame him for wondering if his career will bring one more big move.

But Mikel Arteta seems quite confident, saying this week: “The way that I communicate with him, the conversations that I have with him and the people around him. It is the energy I sense. It is just my opinion. Things change in football very quickly, but in this moment, I feel that he wants to continue with us.”