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Marouane Fellaini’s potential transfer to United and how Everton can soften the blow

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During the next press conference that David Moyes holds I’d love for the following question to be asked:

‘If the Glazer family offers to trigger Marouane Fellaini’s £23 million release clause, will you make him a Manchester United player?’

I’ve got to assume his answer would be ‘yes,’ primarily because £23 million is great value for a 25 year old, freakishly athletic, multi-tooled player who, whether deployed as a holding midfielder or a striker, is a nightmare for the opposition.

More: Marouane Fellaini’s £23 million release clause is a joke

Sir Alex Ferguson isn’t likely to disagree as the Belgian single-handedly tore apart Manchester United when the two clubs met last August, scoring the 57th minute game-winner. And the fact is, United need a player like Fellaini. While Michael Carrick has been brilliant this season, Tom Cleverley, Paul Scholes and Anderson have all underwhelmed. Fellaini’s presence next to Carrick would reduce the Englishman’s defensive load and free him up to do what he does best – provide pinpoint passes to generate the attack.

But what about Phil Jones, you ask?

The 21 year old has quality written all over him. But for me, it’s center-back quality. While he could deputize for Carrick and Fellaini in the pivot, the former Blackburn man needs to be groomed as the future leader of United’s back four. It’s a bit crowded back there at the moment, but Jones would blossom if inserted into a rotation alongside Johnny Evans, the oft-injured Nemandja Vidic and the soon-to-be-retired Rio Ferdinand.

As someone who follows Everton extremely close, however, I must be honest: I’m still in the dark as to whether or not Moyes is a fan of Fellaini’s character.

For Evertonians, the following quote will feel a bit like a kiss from your sister but it wasn’t a fortnight ago that Moyes had this to say about the Belgian: “[Fellaini] is a big part of our squad, and he is someone that we will be more than happy to see here again next year at Goodison.”

It was a nice comment, but fairly stale in nature. When asked whether Fellaini was equally adept at defending as he is attacking, the Scot replied: “He is a good player in either role and is capable of doing both,” Moyes explained. “I think, as he matures, he might grow into a deeper role, but currently he does give us a different attacking option and has scored quite a few goals.”

Now, perhaps this is just me trying to read between the lines, but it doesn’t feel like Moyes has a ton of love for the Belgian.

Hopefully I’m wrong because what a great story it would be for all parties involved if Fellaini went to Old Trafford: United would get a dominant player on the cheap, Fellaini would get to play in the Champions League, Moyes would be able to continue grooming the player who he spent the last 5 years turning into a man, and Everton . . . Well, what would Everton get out of this?

Karma.

That sounds rather crappy, doesn’t it?

Well, it’s all Evertonians can hope for at this point. Allow me to elaborate.

In an ideal world Fellaini’s release clause would be £30-35 million but, because Everton failed to negotiate good value for their player, it’s not. So, we move on to the next best thing – hoping that Fellaini’s release clause is triggered by a club so far away that the Toffees never have to see that that luscious afro again. A place like, Makhachkala.

Ah, Russia. Perfect. Send the dude to Anzhi and be done with it.

The problem is, the chance of that happening is extremely slim. If anyone is triggering Fellaini’s release clause it’s going to be a club with expansive financial wherewithal and a heightened familiarity with Fellaini’s game. Meaning one of following three: United, Chelsea or Manchester City.

And it all comes down to who pulls the trigger quicker. The summer transfer window opens at midnight of the last day of the season – I suggest interested parties submit bids no later than 12:01 am.

But back to that karma thing.

Evertonians should favor Marouane Fellaini’s move to United because recent history has established a healthy pipeline between the two clubs. It began with the sale of Wayne Rooney to Old Trafford in 2004. Then in 2005, United sent Phil Neville to Goodison and in 2006, it was Tim Howard who made the switch. In 2008, United moved Louis Saha to Merseyside and in 2012 Darron Gibson changed kits.

That’s some strong pipe. And you better believe it grew much stronger yesterday when Moyes signed with United, which, notably, was at the end of his contract meaning United didn’t owe a dime in the form of a transfer fee.

So if the Everton board has an ounce of business savvy – and the jury is still out on that one – it will sit down and negotiate with United the intricacies of the Fellaini deal. Specifically, I suggest Everton calmly remind United of the sweet deal they’re getting and request (as a nice gesture to the pipeline) a right of first refusal on all of the Red Devils’ out-going transfers and loans for the next three years.

Of course, United would never owe such terms as there’s no additional consideration being tendered by Everton, but one would hope that good faith (in the name of the pipeline) would play a roll and United would at least consider it.

Again, not a huge victory for Everton but at least the Toffees get something out of the deal. Then, when guys like Nani and Anderson come up for sale or Alexander Buttner and Nick Powell are sent out on loan, Everton would have first dibs and the option of strengthening the club.

Bottom line, come the last day of the season, Marouane Fellaini is walking out that door.

Everton best do what they can to soften the blow.

La Liga: Ronaldo scores twice, Neville gets 1st win as a manager

Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates after scoring a goal during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Real Madrid and Athtletic Bilbao at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Spain, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza)
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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Cristiano Ronaldo scored two goals to lead Real Madrid to a 4-2 win over Athletic Bilbao on Saturday, provisionally lifting it into second place in the Spanish league.

Ronaldo opened the scoring in the third minute before Javier Eraso quickly leveled for the Basques in a back-and-forth first half at the Santiago Bernabeu that finished with James Rodriguez and Toni Kroos giving Madrid a 3-1 lead at halftime.

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Madrid defender Raphael Varane, whose error led to Eraso’s goal, was sent off in the 83rd after earning identical bookings for twice thrusting his forearm into Aritz Aduriz’s head while contesting a high ball.

Despite being a man down, Ronaldo found the net again in the 87th to move past Barcelona’s Luis Suarez as the competition’s leading scorer with 21 goals this season.

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Gorka Elustondo headed in Bilbao’s second goal in the 90th.

Madrid’s fourth win in as many home matches under coach Zinedine Zidane – by a combined score of 20-3 – lifted it two points ahead of Atletico Madrid before it visits Getafe on Sunday.

Leader Barcelona is one point ahead of Madrid with two matches to play: against Celta on Sunday and at Sporting Gijon on Wednesday.

Zidane will make his European coaching debut on Wednesday when Madrid visits Roma in the Champions League’s round of 16.

Ronaldo’s goals were his 31st and 32nd in 30 games across all competitions this campaign, a season in which he has been criticized by some for failing to score against important rivals.

“About Cristiano, what can I say?” Zidane said before employing an expletive in Spanish to describe how good he considers the forward’s form.

“We are ready for the match against Roma. We are in shape, playing well, and very pleased with how we played today against a very good rival. We are prepared for Wednesday.”

Also Saturday, Villarreal strengthened its hold on fourth place and the last Champions League spot with a 1-0 win at home over Malaga thanks to striker Roberto Soldado‘s 18th-minute goal.

Ronaldo gave Madrid a brilliant start when he received a pass from Karim Benzema, used a deft dribble to wrong-foot Xabier Etxeita and fired a right-footed strike just under the crossbar.

But Bilbao was undaunted and quickly leveled in the 10th when Eraso pounced on Varane’s poor backpass that goalkeeper Keylor Navas did well to stop from becoming an own goal but left for Eraso to finish off.

Aduriz went close twice to putting the visitors ahead with a header saved by Navas before the striker hit the bar.

Rodriguez turned the flow back in Madrid’s favor with an excellent strike with his left foot from outside the area that curled around outstretched goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz in the 37th.

Kroos put Madrid in full control heading into the break when he took a pass from Ronaldo in the area and sent a shot that deflected off a defender past Iraizoz in first-half injury time.

“We leave with the feeling that we had a good first half. Maybe we missed a great opportunity today,” said Bilbao manager Ernesto Valverde, impressed by Madrid’s “extraordinary firepower.”

Ronaldo hit the upright before finally getting his second goal from a pass by substitute Lucas Vazquez.

Valencia hosts Espanyol later, while Real Betis visits Deportivo La Coruna.

Juventus win 15th straight to take Serie A lead from Napoli

Juventus' Simone Zaza, second from right, celebrates with is teammates after scoring during a Serie A soccer match between Juventus and Napoli at the Juventus stadium, in Turin, Italy, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Massimo Pinca)
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(AP) — Substitute Simone Zaza scored two minutes from time and Juventus beat visiting Napoli 1-0 on Saturday to take the Serie A lead from the southern club.

[ MORE: Napoli fans support racially abused Koulibaly ]

Seeking its fifth consecutive title, Juventus moved one point ahead of Napoli with 13 rounds remaining in the Italian league.

Near the end of a match in Turin that had been characterized by few chances for either side, Zaza’s goal came with a long, curving shot that deflected slightly off defender Raul Albiol.

https://twitter.com/beINSPORTSUSA/status/698622502587621376

[ MORE: Chelsea’s next manager? Juve GM tells Allegri to “think twice” ]

It was Juventus’ 15th straight win, moving the Bianconeri within two victories of the Serie A record established by Inter Milan in 2006-07.

Earlier, Daniel Ciofani scored twice as promoted Frosinone beat Empoli 2-1 for its first away win in the top division. Also, Chievo Verona and Sassuolo drew 1-1.

Bundesliga wrap: Leverkusen win without Chicharito, drop Hertha to 4th

Leverkusen's Omer Toprak, right, celebrates his side's equalizing goal during a German Bundesliga soccer match between SV Darmstadt 98 and Bayer Leverkusen in Darmstadt, Germany, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)
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A roundup of all of Saturday’s action in Germany’s top flight…

[ FOLLOW: PST’s Bundesliga coverage ]

Borussia Dortmund 1-0 Hannover

Bayern Munich’s lead has been cut to five points (for the time being – they play on Sunday) after Borussia Dortmund (48 points) returned to winning ways via Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s game-winning goal in the 57th minute (below video).

Darmstadt 1-2 Bayer Leverkusen

No Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, no problem for Bayer Leverkusen, who went third in the Bundesliga with a 2-1 away victory over 12th-place Darmstadt. After going down a goal in the 28th minute, the game swung on a pair of goals 15 minutes apart just after the hour mark. Aytac Sulu put the ball into his own net for Leverkusen’s equalizer on 62 minutes, and Julian Brandt scored the winner in the 77th minute. Now on 35 points with a +9 goal differential, Leverkusen have leapfrogged Hertha Berlin for the third and final automatic qualification spot into the UEFA Champions League.

Stuttgart 2-0 Hertha Berlin

Hertha are now four league games without a win (three draws) after falling 2-0 away to Stuttgart. Serey Die and Filip Kostic were the goalscorers on Saturday, as U.S. national team defender John Brooks completed his 12th straight 90-minute shift (all competitions). With 35 points and a +6 goal differential, Hertha now sit just two points ahead of Schalke and Mainz in the race for the Bundesliga’s fourth and final Champions League place.

Elsewhere in the Bundesliga

Wolfsburg 2-0 Ingolstadt
Werder Bremen 1-1 Hoffenheim
Koln 3-1 Eintracht Frankfurt

Sunday’s Bundesliga schedule

Hamburg vs. Borussia Monchengladbach (9:30 a.m. ET)
Augsburg vs. Bayern Munich (11:30 a.m. ET)

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Bayern Munich 20 17 2 1 50 9 41 10-0-0 7-2-1 53
Borussia Dortmund 21 15 3 3 53 24 29 9-1-0 6-2-3 48
Bayer Leverkusen 21 10 5 6 31 22 9 5-3-2 5-2-4 35
Hertha BSC Berlin 21 10 5 6 29 23 6 6-3-1 4-2-5 35
FC Schalke 04 21 10 3 8 30 28 2 6-2-3 4-1-5 33
FSV Mainz 05 21 10 3 8 27 25 2 6-1-4 4-2-4 33
Mönchengladbach 20 10 2 8 40 35 5 7-1-3 3-1-5 32
VfL Wolfsburg 21 8 6 7 31 28 3 7-3-1 1-3-6 30
1. FC Köln 21 7 8 6 24 27 -3 4-4-3 3-4-3 29
VfB Stuttgart 21 8 3 10 33 41 -8 5-1-5 3-2-5 27
FC Ingolstadt 04 21 7 5 9 14 23 -9 4-2-4 3-3-5 26
Darmstadt 21 6 6 9 22 31 -9 1-4-6 5-2-3 24
Hamburger SV 20 6 5 9 22 28 -6 2-3-5 4-2-4 23
FC Augsburg 20 5 6 9 22 28 -6 2-3-5 3-3-4 21
Eintracht Frankfurt 21 5 6 10 27 37 -10 3-3-4 2-3-6 21
Werder Bremen 21 5 5 11 25 42 -17 1-3-6 4-2-5 20
1899 Hoffenheim 21 2 9 10 19 31 -12 1-5-4 1-4-6 15
Hannover 96 21 4 2 15 19 36 -17 2-0-8 2-2-7 14

USWNT tops Mexico, advances to Olympic qualifying semis on late Lloyd PK

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The U.S. women’s national team is one step closer to qualifying for the 2016 Olympics in after the Lady Yanks, on the back of Carli Lloyd’s 79th minute, knocked off their North American rivals, Mexico, in a narrow, physical affair at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Tex., on Saturday.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USWNT coverage ]

With only bottom-of-the-group Puerto Rico (0 points, -15 goal differential through two games) still to face, the USWNT are through to the semifinal round, at which point they’ll be one more win away from qualifying for this summer’s Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro.

The first half of Saturday’s clash was much different from what either side saw in their opening game — USWNT beat Costa Rica, 5-0, while Mexico routed Puerto Rick, 6-0 — as both sides engaged in a rough-and-tumble affair, racked up plenty of fouls and failed to create much of anything in terms of quality scoring chances.

The USWNT’s best chance early in the second half came in the 53rd minute, when Christen Press rifled a right-footed effort toward the far post from 15 yards out, but found nothing but woodwork before the ball caromed back into the field of play.

[ MORE: USWNT routs Costa Rica in Olympic qualifying opener ]

Alex Morgan very nearly opened the scoring in the 67th minute. Becky Sauerbrunn’s long throw was flicked on by Lindsey Horan’s header inside the penalty area, and eventually made its way to Morgan near the top of the six-yard box, from where her volleyed effort was sent inches over the crossbar.

With 77 minutes on the clock, Horan followed suit with a shot of her own off the post. From 20 yards out, her right-footed effort had beaten the goalkeeper, only to hit the same far post and bounce across the face of goal, where not a single American player was waiting to tap home the rebound.

All of Mexico’s dogged defensive work was undone in the 79th minute, though, as the USWNT was awarded a controversial penalty for handball. Lloyd’s initial effort from the penalty spot was saved, but the reigning World Player of the Year was first to the rebound and slotted the ball into an empty net (below video).