Eden Hazard and (maybe) Hulk: Chelsea makes their play for third place

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Before we get to the summer’s most anticipated European soccer signing, allow me to give you a brief synopsis of the day on Twitter: People complain the entire day about mixed messages from (soon to be former) Lille awesome-o Eden Hazard (the word “troll” is prominently used); Hazard finally announced (above) and people refuse to believe him (maybe he means any all-time winner); some of the least funny jokes ever ensue; Lebron James comparisons begin.

As a peripheral member of the mainstream media, I offer this: We are not funny, but we wish we were. On days like this, Twitter is no more useful than sitting at a local bar at 9 p.m. after the editors at your local rag take solace in alcohol (or maybe that was just my experience as an editor).

Now, the news:

source: Getty ImagesHazard to Chelsea: Spectacularly good talent set for mildly surprising move

Eden Hazard seems intent on joining Chelsea. After over year’s worth of speculation linking the Belgian wunderkid to the club, “the champion’s league [sic] winner” beat out Manchester City and Manchester United to sign the best player in Ligue 1.

Some background: Hazard was much sought after last year but said he would give then-league champions Lille one more year. In the middle of the season he said he would move to England, with the two Manchesters thought well-positioned to get his signature. Chelsea, however, went and won Champions League and (more importantly) secured their spot in next year’s tournament. And London’s only a two hour flight to Brussels.

City supposedly offered Hazard a salary of over $18 million per year. United’s offer wasn’t close, but the fact that they stayed in the race showed Hazard’s interests went beyond money. Expect Chelsea’s wages to fall between City’s offer and the near-$12 million the Red Devils put forth.

How good is this guy? Really good. The final transfer fee could end up anywhere between $38 and $62 million (depending on the details and how those details are reported).  The season before last (2010-11), he posted seven goals and 10 assists in Ligue 1, winning player of the year. This year, he had 20 goals and 15 assists. Obviously, he won player of the year again.

He increased his goalscoring by nearly 200 percent the year after being voted the league’s best player. That, in addition to the demand generated by the three pursuing clubs, have driven both the wages and transfer fee.

Where will he play for Chelsea? Anywhere in the front four, though he’ll probably settle in on the left. In the André Villas-Boas-era, that was Juan Mata’s spot, but since Mata has been deployed centrally. Though Hazard can play through the middle, he’s not a Premier League number nine, nor is he likely to see time on the right after Hulk arrives in London.

Incredible Verdão: Hulk could cash in on name, move to Chelsea

Oh, did I mention Hulk? That’s right. Speculation has reached a boiling point surrounding Porto’s fortunately nicknamed striker, a man who has been linked with Chelsea for longer than Hazard. He was also linked with a lol-tastic, $80 million bid from Russia’s Anzhi Makhachkala – the same team that bought Samuel Eto’o.

No, this one is nowhere as certain as Hazard’s move, so everything below is pure speculation, but …

Who knows how much Hulk will cost, but the prices floating around seem more linked with his name than his play. Those prices: Sometimes you’ll see numbers far north of $50 mllion.

The Brazilian forward is a very good player but probably not one of the top 20 strikers in the world; however, he’s almost always cited by rumors as being an elite capture. He’s not.

Hulk has a thunderous left foot, has scored 57 goals in two years for Porto, but there are some questions. He plays as a right forward but doesn’t project as a very good winger. Despite his size (a barrel chested 5’11”), he does not play as a strong number nine. His production also dipped after Porto sold Radamel Falcao, yet he’s likely to be very expensive (at least, in terms of transfer fee).

Ideally, you would have a right back who can provide width while Hulk cuts onto his left foot. Branislav Ivanovic is not that guy, but Ramires overlapping from midfield? That could work.

Hulk should be a good Premier League player. But you don’t pay $50 million for a good Premier League player.

Despite Hulk’s shortcomings (and the high price Chelsea’s likely to pay for them), Chelsea is a much-improved team, should they acquire him and Hazard. It’s not enough to catch City or a healthy United, but it is enough to distance them from Arsenal or Spurs …

Provided they hire a coach.

Dempsey, Sounders steal a point on wild night in Portland

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The game in 100 words (or less): An entire game can change in the blink of an eye. For the Seattle Sounders, that blink came in the 44th minute of Sunday’s 2-2 draw with the Portland Timbers. Up 1-0 by way of Joevin Jones’ opener in the 27th minute, the defending MLS Cup champs were poised to head into halftime with a one-goal advantage and every belief imaginable that they’d been the better team for the entire first half. Blink. Brad Evans wrapped his legs around Darlington Nagbe, giving away a penalty and earning himself a red card, just like that, in the blink of an eye. Fanendo Adi stepped up to convert from the spot, but it still was to be a hard-fought 1-1 scoreline from Seattle’s perspective. Then, Dairon Asprilla got loose, completely unmarked atop the six-yard box, on a corner kick, and it was 2-1 after four minutes of first-half stoppage time. 45 more minutes pass, and the Timbers… blink. Clint Dempsey, 34 years old but fresh off the bench 40 minutes earlier, out-leaps everyone in the box and heads past Jake Gleeson to steal a point for Seattle.

[ MORE: San Jose fire Kinnear after 2.5 seasons ]

Three Four moments that mattered

27′ — Jones gets two chances, puts the second away — It’s a classic case of “I dropped my controller” from Alvas Powell, who just stops as Jones cuts across the penalty area. There’s no reason Jones should get a second look on this one.

44′ — Evans brings down Nagbe in the box, sees red — Goodbye, lead. Goodbye 11 versus 11. Things would unravel very quickly for Seattle.

45+4′ — Asprilla rises above to make it 2-1 — Seattle’s marking of Asprilla was nonexistent, and the Colombian showed off some serious hops to get his head to David Guzman’s corner kick.

90+4′ — Dempsey heads home deep in stoppage time — A costly turnover by Asprilla, a hit-it-and-pray cross by Roman Torres, and Dempsey snatches a point at the death.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Cristian Roldan

Goalscorers: Jones (27′), Adi (45′ – PK), Asprilla (45+4′), Dempsey (90+4′)

Russia has reasons for optimism despite Confed Cup exit

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MOSCOW (AP) When the anger subsides after another group stage exit and another goalkeeping blunder, Russian fans might find they can be proud of their team at the Confederations Cup.

Russia failed to reach the knockout rounds of a fourth major tournament in a row, but there’s no shame in losing by one goal to European champion Portugal and North American champion Mexico.

“We will move on,” coach Stanislav Cherchesov said after Saturday’s 2-1 loss to Mexico. “We have won (the fans’) hearts and minds to a certain extent in this month that we have been together … I think that we have given some reasons to feel optimistic about us.”

If Russia’s fans agreed with Cherchesov that Russia had done well to limit Portugal to a single Cristiano Ronaldo goal, there was frustration that Russia hadn’t done better against a poor Mexican side.

Russia wasted chances to exploit Mexico’s ragged defending and add to Alexander Samedov’s opener, while goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev performed an inexplicable lunge which allowed Hirving Lozano to head in the winner. Akinfeev was lucky not to be red-carded, too, after his foot caught Lozano in the chest.

Akinfeev was the immediate scapegoat for Russia’s exit, with fans and newspapers calling for his removal.

The most-capped player in the squad – the Mexico game was his 101st international appearance – Akinfeev’s bulletproof consistency in the Russian Premier League has kept him the undisputed national-team No. 1 for years.

When the world is watching, though, he gets flustered and makes mistakes.

Against South Korea at the 2014 World Cup, an innocuous long shot slipped from his grasp and went in, paving the way for another early Russian exit from the tournament. There have been more than a few blunders in the 43 games since Akinfeev last kept a clean sheet for CSKA in the Champions League, too.

But it’s hard to see who could replace him. The naturalized Brazilian reserve keeper Guilheme is agile but injury prone, while Vladimir Gabulov is a solid but unspectacular veteran. Zenit St. Petersburg’s Yuri Lodygin challenged Akinfeev for a while, but was brought low by his own tendency for embarrassing errors.

On the positive side for Russia, defender Georgy Dzhikiya was solid in all three group games after having only made his debut on June 5, and Cherchesov’s three-man back line was mostly reliable.

Less successful was Cherchesov’s attempt to bolster the midfield by starting Roman Shishkin – usually a defender – in a defensive midfield role against Portugal and Mexico, while 33-year-old ex-Chelsea winger Yuri Zhirkov did his World Cup hopes no favors with a red card Saturday.

Russia’s run of injuries before the tournament weakened the midfield in particular, with Alan Dzagoev and the promising Roman Zobnin both missing out. Forward Artyom Dzyuba’s absence left Cherchesov relying heavily on Fyodor Smolov, who showed touches of class but missed a good chance against Portugal.

Perhaps the biggest damage from Russia’s Confederations Cup exit will be to Russian pride.

Officials have often bragged that the home advantage for next year’s World Cup could drive Russia to new heights, perhaps a repeat of South Korea’s charge to the semifinals in 2002. Those expectations are now being reviewed.

Just one World Cup host in history – South Africa in 2010 – has failed to get out of the group stage. Avoiding a repeat may be the most Russia can hope for.

FOLLOW LIVE: Timbers host Sounders in PNW showdown

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They don’t get much bigger, or more heated, than this one in MLS — it’s Portland versus Seattle, the Timbers versus the Sounders, tonight at Providence Park (10 p.m. ET).

[ FOLLOW LIVE: Timbers vs. Sounders ]

To keep up-to-the-second informed on proceedings in Portland this evening, hit the above link, or click right here.

Seattle won the first meeting between these sides, 1-0 back on May 27, on their home turf at CenturyLink Field. Cristian Roldan, who’ll depart for U.S. national team camp following Sunday’s game, scored the only goal that afternoon in Seattle, a 4th-minute header from three yards out.

Mustafi: Arsenal players powerless, hope “brilliant” Sanchez will stay

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Shkodran Mustafi admits that he, along with his Arsenal teammates, feels helpless with over the ongoing transfer saga of Alexis Sanchez.

[ MORE: Sunday’s transfer rumor roundup | Saturday | Friday ]

The Chilean superstar is linked with a move away from Arsenal this summer, as the Gunners fell out of the Premier League’s top-four and the 28-year-old’s contract is set to expire next summer. Perhaps most importantly, Sanchez hasn’t so much as publicly stated a desire to remain at the club, which, from the outside, appears to have left his future in even greater doubt.

Mustafi admits he hasn’t a clue how things will shake out in the coming weeks, but he’s quick with a pleading sales pitch for Sanchez to stay — quotes from Goal.com:

“I have no idea. Obviously the other players cannot make that decision, he has to make that decision.

“I’m not too much involved. I hope he stays because he is a really brilliant football player but there’s nothing in my hands that I can do.”

[ MORE: De Boer set to be named new Crystal Palace boss ]

Arsenal would likely have to double (if not more) Sanchez’s current $180,000 weekly wages in order to convince him to forego a season in the UEFA Champions League and commit his long-term future to a club presently trending in the wrong direction.