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.

Watch Live: Swansea City vs. Liverpool

Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
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Swansea City’s bid to slow down steamrolling Liverpool begins at 3 p.m. ET Monday at the Liberty Stadium (Watch live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

The rampaging Reds are coming off a 4-3 win that ended Manchester City’s unbeaten Premier League season, and will hope to avoid a let down against desperate Swans.

The Welsh hosts are six points adrift in the race for Premier League safety, and look set for a 5-4-1 with Jordan Ayew the only forward. Wilfried Bony and Oliver McBurnie are on the bench along with attack-minded Luciano Narsingh.

LINEUPS

Swansea City: Fabianski, Naughton, Van der Hoorn, Fernandez, Mawson, Olsson, Ki, Fer, Clucas, Dyer, Ayew. Subs: Nordfeldt, Bartley, Roque Mesa, Carroll, Narsingh, McBurnie, Bony.

Liverpool: Karius, Gomez, Matip, Van Dijk, Robertson, Can, Wijnaldum, Salah, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Mane, Firmino. Subs: Mignolet, Milner, Klavan, Lallana, Ings, Solanke, Alexander-Arnold.

Kevin De Bruyne commits to Man City through 2022-23

AP Photo/Dave Thompson
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Kevin De Bruyne is one of the best players in the world, and he’s committing his prime to the club which has taken him to the next level.

[ MORE: How will Arsenal, Man Utd line up? ]

Manchester City announced a new deal for the Belgian wizard, keeping him at the Etihad Stadium through 2023.

De Bruyne, 26, has posted 31 goals and 38 assists for Pep Guardiola‘s men since returning to England from the Bundesliga, and appreciates being given a lot more money. From ManCity.com:

“As I’ve said previously, my intention has always been to stay here at City, where I’ve felt at home from day one. Not only are we winning – we are playing great football. It’s a pleasure to be a part of and I’m really excited about what we can achieve in the coming years.”

De Bruyne is in the discussion for a Ballon d’Or finalist spot this year, along with Lionel Messi, Neymar, Gareth Bale, Harry Kane, and others (Hot take: This does seem to be year Ronaldo possibly knocked off, barring a remarkable run in the Champions League or World Cup).

After the swap: Alexis, Mkhi-infused XIs for Man Utd, Arsenal

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The deal is done: Henrikh Mkhitaryan has moved to Arsenal with Alexis Sanchez going the other way in a monumental January move.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

How will it look for each side once the shape’s settled?

Arsenal

When Henrikh Mkhitaryan was at his very best — for Borussia Dortmund in 2014-15 — he was deployed as a left or right wing. He contributed 23 goals and 32 assists in 52 matches during his final season at the Westfalenstadion, and predictably saw those numbers drop as Jose Mourinho consistently moved him toward an attacking center midfield role.

He’ll get the chance to go out wide again at the Emirates Stadium, though perhaps not always to the extreme flanks. Expect Alexandre Lacazette‘s numbers to explode with this move.

Arsene Wenger used a 4-3-3 to batter Crystal Palace 4-1 at the weekend, with Ozil on the right wing and Alex Iwobi on the left. The club still needs better at center defensive mid while Aaron Ramsey is out, so that will likely keep the lineup similar until he returns (at a minimum):

Cech

Bellerin — Mustafi — Koscielny — Montreal

Elneny (Ramsey, eventually)

Xhaka — Wilshere

Ozil — Lacazette — Mkhitaryan

By the way, a lot of Arsenal supporters aren’t feeling great about this (understatement alert):

Manchester United

Alexis Sanchez prefers left wing, too, and Mourinho has a trio of in-form players who like that side of the field. Anthony Martial is red hot but plays wider than Jesse Lingard, and it seems one of them will take the slot of Juan Mata to the right of Paul Pogba in a 4-1-4-1. Marcus Rashford could also see the far right positioning.

But against top competition — continued apologies to Burnley — it’s usually a 4-2-3-1 for Mourinho with Pogba dropping next to Nemanja Matic a little deeper in the formation. Lingard has been getting the run as CAM here, usually to the detriment of Juan Mata. With Alexis as the clear-cut left wing in this formation, it causes real combat for the two other slots between Mata, Lingard, Rashford, and Martial.

So while it’s likely we’d see something like this in a big game for Manchester United…

De Gea

Young — Jones — Smalling — Valencia

Matic — Pogba

Martial — Lingard —  Sanchez

Lukaku

… We’d love to see something more like this:

De Gea

Young — Jones — Smalling — Valencia

Matic — Herrera

Pogba

Martial — Lukaku — Sanchez

How do you think Wenger and Mou will run ’em out?

Alexis Sanchez-Henrikh Mkhitaryan swap official (video)

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Arsenal and Manchester United have completed their American-style trade, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan joining the Gunners and Alexis Sanchez on board the Red Devils’ train.

Both 29 years old, the playmakers arrive at their new homes with plenty to prove.

More to come…