The COVID-19 climate has meant that the summer transfer talk has come somewhat earlier than usual this year, with uncertainty shrouding the finale of most domestic leagues around the globe.
This, combined with the ever-present desire of football fans to talk about football, has meant that in early April we are already in a position to look at a few of the potential free agents in question, and the clubs that would be a really good fit in the wider context of their playing style, current squads, and ambitions.
Olivier Giroud is a player that has been tagged as a good, but never great player for most of his tenure in English football.
Whilst the service he requires is largely direct, his contribution to the flow of attacks is a lot more subtle, producing some of the most deft touches the Premier League has seen in the last decade.
At 33, Giroud is no doubt losing mobility year on year, thus his ability to occupy two centre halves is diminishing. Chelsea opted for more of a raw young talent in Tammy Abraham for the majority of the season, with the Frenchman playing a mere 191 minutes in the league between August and February.
However, there was a resurgence of sorts in the crunch part of the season. Giroud featured in all of Chelsea’s last 4 league games, starting 3, and scoring two goals.
He has always been a player who has offered a great solution in terms of being able to bring attacking midfielders and wide forwards into the game.
This is key for Chelsea in the 4-2-3-1 system they deploy, and has never been more clear than in the last game to date versus Everton, where Giroud, Mount, Willian & Pedro all found the net.
Chelsea are reportedly in the market for Dries Mertens, which will obviously have a large say on where the Frenchman plays his football next season.
Meanwhile, Abraham is holding out for a lucrative new contract that would give him at least parity to the likes of Callum Hudson Odoi – so the budget in the centre-forward department may well be constrained.
So where could, and would, he go?
Palace would be a great option for Giroud being a London club.
Their semi-direct style, and use of inverted wingers, lends itself to direct strikers such as Cenk Tosun, Benteke, and Wickham in recent history, but they have ultimately faltered on their technical ability to offer a platform for attacks.
Giroud would work excellently as a pivot in the conventional 9 role. Zaha, Townsend or Ayew could service him with short passes which he can return to feet or spin around the corner to run in behind.
This, as well as his ability to receive direct long passes from the likes of Tomkins and Cahill, would add a great dimension to Palace’s attack and could be the catalyst they need to finally get the most out of their progressive midfielders.
Although his wage demands mean he would be an expensive option for the club, he would by no means be the first player they have bought in that bracket, perhaps representing a more logical fit in terms of style and track record.
Nathaniel Clyne is a player who has had a very unfortunate time since his move to Liverpool in 2015, for a fee for £12.5m.
He has only made seven league appearances for Liverpool since the end of the 16/17 season, and his loan spell at Bournemouth was not enough to convince Jurgen Klopp that he was the right man for the job at fullback (even without the rapid emergence of Trent AA as the world’s best in the position).
Clyne picked up a knee ligament injury in Liverpool’s pre-season tour of the US in 2019, and has not played a league game since, limiting his opportunities to attract a potential suitor.
Clyne is an athletic fullback with strong defensive positioning and work rate. Although he will provide a certain level of ambition going forward, he is someone who can be relied upon to defend his flank effectively, and provide cover for the defence as a whole.
He has also been utilised as a left back throughout his career, demonstrating a soundness of technique required to play on his naturally weaker side and, at 29, offers the experience that many teams towards the bottom of the division crave in defenders.
So where would, and could, he go?
West Ham are a club with a strong English contingent in the squad, and a side in need of a solid premier league right back.
Pablo Zabaleta has been a good servant for the club in the last few years, but he is another of the free agents going into the summer. This would suggest his days at the club are numbered without a major turnaround, leaving only Ryan Fredericks as the right back option.
Clyne would offer both the know-how, and the defensive solidity West Ham crave, as the team with the 4th worst defensive record in the league this season.
Not only would he sure up the defence, but he would also be able to provide some on field leadership in a squad that has a blend of youth and aging senior players such as Mark Noble.
Given the last few years of his career, Clyne would not be a player who would disrupt the wage budget at the club and, for a player of his calibre, the opportunity to sign him on a free would be a good one for West Ham.
The fall from grace for Joe Hart seems like a rapid one.
After the embarrassment of being deemed as not good enough technically by Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, Hart has seen loan spells at Torino and at West Ham, and then was picked up by Burnley in 2018.
His first season saw him make 18 league appearances, but the rise of Nick Pope and the return of Tom Heaton meant that the former England number 1 hasn’t made a league appearance since a 5-1 home defeat to Everton on Boxing Day 2018.
At 32 Hart still has plenty left in the tank, especially for a goalkeeper, and can offer a wealth of experience from his 75 England caps and domestic successes with Manchester City.
In terms of pure ability and confidence it is fair to say that he is not the goalkeeper he once was, but there is still a long way to go before Hart could be considered more as a hindrance than a help to a Premier League team in the bottom half.
Burnley are unlikely to want to renew his contract given the form of Pope and, even if he were to depart, Hart would sit beneath internal and external candidates for the job.
So where would and could he go?
If Bournemouth wanted to get an experienced goalkeeper in to oversee the progression of Aaron Ramsdale, then Hart would be a shrewd addition to the Cherries’ squad.
Hart would get intermittent starting opportunities, and be able to spread his knowledge to a strong young goalkeeper, at a club who are very keen for growth and development of their talent.
The only other keeper is potential free agent Artur Boruc. However, the Polish veteran is 40 years old, and is at the point where he would represent a risk even as a deputy.
In Hart, they would be securing the services of a good professional with the character to have a positive impact in the dressing room at a club like Bournemouth.