Welcome to Serie A Star Power Index: A weekly gauge of the players who are most controlling the buzz around Italy. Inclusion on this list isn't necessarily a good thing. It simply means you're capturing the Serie A world's attention. This is also not a ranking. The players listed are in no particular order as it pertains to the buzz they're generating. You can watch Serie A's top players all season long on Paramount+.
Dušan Vlahović, Fiorentina
The 21-year-old Serbian striker from Fiorentina, still one of the most talked-about players, faces an uncertain future after the club made public on Oct. 5 that contract negotiations have stalled. His current contract expires in June 2023 and as we approach the one-year-to-go mark, club owner Rocco Commisso is searching for a resolution either now or in the summer transfer window. Multiple clubs are keeping tabs on one of the best young strikers in Europe, who chose to stay last summer despite interest from Atletico Madrid and Tottenham.
Amid all the rumors of a possible departure, Vlahović, who's been a professional and extremely respectful to the club and its fans, has been laser-focused on the current season at hand and has given his all on the pitch with 17 goals scores already, tied with Lazio's Ciro Immobile for tops in Serie A. Fiorentina vice-president Joe Barone publicly admitted that he's patiently waiting to see if suitors will place any bids in the next few days for the sought-after striker, with the transfer window set to close in less than two weeks.
Arsenal are one of the clubs interested in Vlahović, but until now the player and his agent have not opened up to the idea of joining the Premier League side in January. While Vlahović's situation continues to evolve, there's a chance he could choose to wait until the summer to make his Fiorentina exit. If that happens, he could be just one of many top strikers looking to shake up the market and find new opportunities elsewhere.
Rafael Leão, AC Milan
Despite the last-minute loss to Spezia Calcio, Stefano Pioli's side can count on Rafael Leão, who has finally showed this season why he is considered by many as one of the most talented young Portuguese players with a ton of upside and potential. The 22-year-old moved to AC Milan in the summer of 2019 from Lille for around €23 million, signing a five-year deal with the Rossoneri. Paolo Maldini and the board are currently in talks with his agent to extend his contract, with his current agreement expiring in summer 2024.
Leão has put together world-class performances this season, especially as of late, with three goals and three assists in his past five matches in all competitions. Milan has outscored opponents 12-4 over that span with four wins -- the only blemish being that last-minute defeat on Monday to Spezia. Leão has also found the continuity he had lacked in the past, having already scored six goals and provided three assists in league play. The fans and the club view him as an untouchable, and even against Spezia in a poor-luck result for the Rossoneri, Leão was the best player on the pitch, as he scored the opening goal of the evening.
Juan Cuadrado, Juventus
Amid all the noise surrounding Paulo Dybala's future, there's another key Juventus player who could be ready to leave at season's end. Juan Cuadrado, whose contract expires in the summer, scored his first Coppa Italia goal in seven years as Juventus made easy work of Sampdoria on Tuesday. In a post-match interview with Mediaset, the 33-year-old said he's at a state of "calm" about his future: "We have to let the club work and they know what I want." His comments are certainly a change of pace compared to Dybala's, who has made it clear there is tension between his people and the club as they try to negotiate a new deal.
Thanks to his individual decisions and dynamic skills, the Colombian winger has stepped up in several clutch moments to win games for Juve and to solidify himself as a key player in Massimiliano Allegri's squad. In addition to the goal scored in the Coppa Italia match, Cuadrado has found the back of the net five times in 25 games.
Since joining Juventus, Cuadrado has been the focal point of the attack on the right wing, but he's managed over the past few years to become a more careful player in the defensive area. As a result, he's now become one of the best full-backs in Serie A. Juventus cannot afford to lose someone as important as Cuadrado on a free transfer this summer, especially considering how difficult it would be to find a replacement.
Stefano Sensi, Inter Milan
Could an extra-time goal change the course of history for Stefano Sensi? The 26-year-old Inter Milan central midfielder was one of the names to watch in the January market in Italy, as he was initially expected to arrive in Genoa on Thursday ahead of his move to Sampdoria on loan for the rest of the season.
Sensi joined Inter in 2019 from Sassuolo for around €30 million and immediately showed his potential and became a key player for Antonio Conte's team. His stock was high in the opening weeks of the 2019-20 season, as he was widely considered one of the best midfielders in Serie A and was also called up by Roberto Mancini to play for the Italian national team. But that was before he was hit hard with several injury absences -- spanning anywhere between issues with his calf, foot and biceps -- that caused him to miss a ton of playing time. He has not made more than nine Serie A starts in a single season with Inter and has never been able to reassume his responsibilities once he returned to full strength.
Under Simone Inzaghi, things didn't change much with only 194 minutes played in all competitions. The player and the club decided that the best route was a loan for six months to find more space and continuity in another club. But then Sensi scored the extra-time winner against Empoli in Coppa Italia play, pushing the Nerazzurri to the quarterfinals against either Roma or Lecce (on Paramount+).
It's worth noting that in the opening minutes of the match, Joaquin Correa went down with a hamstring injury that could keep him sidelined for a lengthy period and change Inter's transfer strategy. Sensi is not expected to leave before the weekend and at this point, his status for the immediate future seems to have opened up. He might stay at Inter, but we won't know until a likely decision is made early next week.