Laurent Koscielny to Barcelona gaining momentum

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We picked out one, but you don’t have look deep in your paper of choice to find a connection between Arsenal’s Laurent Koscielny and Barcelona, a team that’s lacked depth in central defense for some time. While more glamorous rumors around the Catalan titans have focused on the type of goal scoring forward the Blaugrana have ben without since David Villa broke his leg, the age of (and dependency on) Carles Puyol makes central defense a more-pressing need.

Stylistically, a connection to Koscielny makes sense. Competent on the ball and athletic enough to handle himself in the one-on-one scenarios to which Barcelona subjects their central defenders, Koscielny seems like somebody who could slot right in to the left of Gerard Piqué. At 27 years old, he’s no prospect, but the French international is young enough to be classified as more than a stop-gap measure.

All of which prompts the question: Why would Arsenal sell? Koscielny was clearly Arsène Wenger’s best defender last season, and in a year in which the Gunners are expected to push on after a rumored summer spending spree, keeping Koscielny would seem crucial to their hopes to solidify a place among England’s top four. Even if they sold him for an unexpectedly large sum, Arsenal can’t afford to take a step back from Koscielny.

Is $20 million (€15 million) enough for a player whose contract reportedly runs through the 2016-17 season? Yes, if you’re a team that can afford to take a step back. Or if you’re a team that has to fill multiple holes in the squad. If you’re a club for whom $20 million would be a once-in-a-generation sale, capable of bankrolling new facilities and the club’s wages for years on end, then the sale makes sense. Twenty million bucks is hard to turn down.

But Arsenal’s argument may be more straight forward. In their heart, they may not see Koscielny, who they bought for around £8.5 million, as worth that much. For them, this may be a sell high proposition.

Still, the timing is all wrong. After a year in which Koscielny proved so valuable, it’s hard to see a sale doing anything but moving the club closer to fifth-place Spurs. And reportedly having money to burn in the summer’s market, Arsenal doesn’t need to sell.

Given the club would need to replace him to meet next year’s goals, it’s difficult to see what the Gunners would get out of this type of Koscielny sale.

Mendy a doubt for start of Man City’s Premier League season

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High-flying left back Benjamin Mendy‘s Manchester City takeoff has been delayed by a thigh injury.

Pep Guardiola revealed Thursday that Mendy is doubtful for City’s Aug. 12 Premier League opener at Brighton and Hove Albion despite passing a medical to push through a $68 million move from Monaco.

Saying Mendy is “a little bit injured,” Guardiola said to expect an absence of two to three weeks.

[ MORE: LAFC hires Bob Bradley ]

The depth chart behind Mendy is incomplete, though City has added two right backs this offseason in Kyle Walker and Danilo.

The latter would be the front-runner to start in Mendy’s place, as he did in a 3-5-2 as Man City beat Real Madrid 4-1 on Wednesday.

Man City follows its opener at Brighton with a visit from Everton and a trip to Bournemouth.

Roma gives new 4-year deal to Premier League target Nainggolan

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Hard-nosed midfielder Rajda Nainggolan has been linked to Manchester United and Chelsea for some time, but Thursday linked up long-term with his present club.

Nainggolan, 29, signed a new deal with AS Roma through the 2020-21 season, putting the Belgian box-to-box mid at the heart of i Lupi‘s plans to chase down Juventus.

[ MORE: Chatting with De Rossi ]

Nainggolan has been in the last two Serie A Best XIs.

The 29-times capped Belgian has six goals for his national team, and has 255 Serie A appearances between Cagliari and Roma. Nainggolan has 31 goals and 18 assists in those matches, scooping 62 yellows and two send-offs but never being handed straight red.

While it’s a perceived blow for his Premier League suitors, it’s a welcome retention for Roma. He’s arguably the reason Roma was ready to part with Michael Bradley in 2014, and you can see why: He plays right up to the line but knows right where it lies.

Too many fans: Udinese vs. Hannover friendly called off

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ST. VEIT, Austria (AP) Local authorities in southern Austria have called off Sunday’s friendly match between Udinese and Hannover as the estimated number of spectators exceeds the capacity of the stadium.

The city of St. Veit says about 4,000 fans, including 280 potential football hooligans, were expected for the game at the ground of local amateur club FC Alpe Adria, which has a capacity of 2,430.

St. Veit mayor Gerhard Mock says “it’s a shame … but security comes first.”

It’s not immediately clear whether the match between the Italian and German top-flight teams can be moved to a larger venue. Both Udinese and Hannover are having their preseason training camps in the province of Carinthia.

LIVE – Everton kick off Europa League campaign

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Wayne Rooney will play his first competitive game for Everton in 13 years.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores

That storyline will dominate Everton’s return to Europe as they kick off their 2017-18 UEFA Europa League campaign in front of a packed house at Goodison Park on Thursday.

The Toffees welcome Slovakian side MFK Ruzomberok for the first leg of the third qualifying round as they aim to make it back to the group stage for the first time since 2014-15.

Click on the link above to follow not only Everton’s game but all of the Europa League qualifiers going on across Europe this afternoon with the likes of AC Milan, Fenerbache, PSV, Marseille and Athletic Bilbao all in action.

If Ronald Koeman‘s side successfully navigate their way past Ruzomberok then they will be in the play-off round which is the final hurdle before the group stage.