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A closer look at Liverpool’s early transfer market hustle

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If we can take one thing from the transfer window thus far, it’s that Liverpool are hustling. Hard.

Just three weeks into the summer drama and the Reds already have signed one player, Celta Vigo’s Iago Aspas, bid on two others, Sunderland’s Simon Mignolet and Sevilla’s Luis Alberto, and are reportedly close to signing two others, Porto’s Christian Atsu and Shakhtar Donetsk’s Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

Which begs the question – if these transfers go through, what will Liverpool look like when the Premier League kicks off in August?

Iago Aspas

The deal for Aspas was finalized last week after what seemed like ages of negotiations. The final accord saw the Celta born player, who recently helped his boyhood club avoid relegation on the final day of the season, come to Anfield in exchange for £7.6 million ($11.9m).

Was that good deal for the striker? At this juncture, it’s difficult to say. The 25 year old did manage an impressive campaign last season, scoring 12 goals in 34 La Liga appearances. Prior to that, however, the bustling and somewhat tempermental striker spent four seasons in the Segunda where he scored 16 goals in 86 matches, not exactly a bragable goal haul.

Those close to the Spanish game, however, suggest that Aspas may be developing somewhat late for a European striker and if so, then that’s promising news. The Galician typically operates by himself up top, which means he could slide right in to help Liverpool overcome Luis Suarez’ suspension (and potential transfer) and Daniel Sturridge’s ankle ligament damage. What’s more, once Sturridge gets healthy, Aspas could be moved out wide and used along with Philippe Coutinho when Suarez and/or Sturridge return.

With the possible departure of Suarez, the health of Sturridge and the recent sale of Andy Carroll to West Ham, Aspas finds himself in a wonderful position to make an immediate impact at Anfield. While Liverpool may look to bring further competition in up front, for now we can expect Aspas and Fabio Borini to compete for the spot up top.

Simon Mignolet

As for Simon Mignolet, Liverpool reportedly made a £6.5 million ($10m) bid for the Sunderland goal-keeper last week only to be told to increase the price. Rumors claim the Black Cats are looking for £9 million ($13.9) for the 24 year old Belgian but it’s not the price difference that’s holding this deal off.

The dominos will fall when Sunderland finds a suitable replacement, Liverpool reaches a deal to send Pepe Reina to Barcelona, and the Blaugrana figure out where to dump off Victor Valdez. Deals for starting keepers are tough like that. This one may take some time, but expect it to be done and done before the transfer window closes.

Luis Alberto

The other bid Liverpool have made is for Sevilla midfielder Luis Alberto who spent last year on loan with Barcelona B squad where he shined. While it’s unclear what the Reds bid for Alberto, Sevilla descibed it as being “very good” but wanting more. It’s believed the Andalucian club are looking for something in the range of £7 million ($10.8m).

If Liverpool give Sevilla what they want they’ll have yet another creative, attacking midfielder to join the ranks. And while the 20 year old is not expected to push anyone out of Anfield, he would fit right in with similar up-and-comers Coutinho and Suso.

Christian Atsu

Liverpool is reported to be in advanced negotiations with Porto over Ghanaian international winger, Christian Atsu (pictured). Atsu may sign with the Reds for as little as £3 million ($4.6m), an unbelievable deal that is due to the player’s contract running out next season and his refusal to re-sign.

Atsu may not come in and make an immediate impact at Anfield but with freakish pace and bags of talent he could very well end up knocking Stewart Downing from his rickety perch while providing a healthy push for Raheem Sterling.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan

The player who, for now, has Liverpool in the biggest tizzy is Shakhtar’s holding-come-attacking midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan. The Armenian’s versatility, pedigree, skills, intelligence and nose for goal has all of Liverpool clamoring for his services. And although the price tag is a bit steep – £22 million ($34m) is the current quote – all indications are that he’s well worth it.

Where Rodgers will deploy Mkhitaryan is anyone’s guess. Shakhtar used him as a deep laying playmaker as cover for Fernandinho when he broke his leg. Once the Brazilian recovered, Mkhitaryan was back in an attacking role, dominating the Ukrainian Premier League for 25 goals this past season.

If placed in the playmaker role that could spell problems for Lucas and Jordan Henderson while it could be curtains for players like Jonjo Shelvey and Joe Allen. More likely than not, however, Rodgers will play Mkhitaryan just behind the striker, meaning Coutinho will likely stay out on the left with Sterling and Downing/Atsu on the right. Suso, the cretive young Spaniard who did so well for the Reds last season, may also see his playing time seriously impeded.

Such is life for a club on the hustle.

10 Premier League teams enter Football League trophy

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 15:  Sesc Fabregas (L) of Chelsea celebrates scoring his team's first goal with his team mates Gary Cahill (C) and Tammy Abraham (R) during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Leicester City at Stamford Bridge on May 15, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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10 Premier League teams have accepted an invitation to play in a revamped version of the Football League Trophy during the 2016-17 season.

Relaunched as the “EFL Trophy” the competition was previously only open to teams in League One and League Two, the second and third tiers in the English soccer pyramid, but in a one-off trial the Football League has included 16 Category A academy teams from both the Premier League and English Championship to participate.

[ MORE: Guardiola bans pizza

Chelsea, Leicester City, West Ham United, Everton, Southampton, Stoke City, Swansea City, Sunderland, West Bromwich Albion and Middlesbrough are the 10 PL teams who have decided to enter the competition.

A number of other Premier League clubs declined the invite and some purists in England are concerned that essentially “B teams” from the top two tiers will run away with the competition and easily win it. For example, PL side Southampton won the Football League Trophy in 2010 when they were in the third tier but now their U-21 side will be competing in the competition.

Shaun Harvey, chief executive of the Football League, explained the reason to mix things up as member clubs in the Football League voted in favor of the changes this summer.

“When opting to make these innovative changes to the competition, at the very heart of our thinking was to ensure younger players got an opportunity to test themselves in competitive games against experienced professionals. By involving them much earlier at senior level, we have a real chance of developing more and better home grown players.”

A regional group stage draw took place on Wednesday with eight groups in the south and eight in the north. Each team will play three games and the top two teams from each group will then compete in a knockout tournament with the final at Wembley Stadium in April.

The full schedule for the upcoming tournament can be found in the link below.


Zidane suggests Real Madrid in the hunt to sign Paul Pogba

Real Madrid's headcoach Zinedine Zidane follows a Champions League, round of 16, first-leg soccer match between Roma and Real Madrid, at the Rome Olympic stadium, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
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Zinedine Zidane is a mischievous so and so.

With Juventus sealing a $98.7 million move for Gonzalo Higuain on Tuesday, everybody is expecting the Italian champs to sell Paul Pogba to Manchester United in the next few days for a fee in excess of $130 million.

[ MORE: Guardiola bans pizza ]

Well, hold your horses. Real Madrid could be back in for Pogba.

Speaking to the media ahead of Real’s opening 2016 International Champions Cup game against Paris Saint-Germain in Columbus, Ohio on Wednesday, Zidane has

“I do not know if he’ll come. Until August 31 anything can happen,” Zidane said. “Pogba is a great player and when you’re with Madrid you always want the best. But today he is not a Madrid player, he is with Juventus. I cannot say anything else.”

Zinedine, my friend, quickly try and screw the lid back on that can of worms you’ve just opened.

[ MORE: How did Yedlin, CCV do for Spurs? ]

Pogba, 23, is currently on vacation in Florida with his agent Mino Raiola and it has been reported that his potential world-record transfer to Manchester United has hit a snag. Raiola is in line to make over $22 million on the deal but reports suggest Juve and United are at odds over who pays Pogba’s agent that fee.

All of that aside, do Real really need Pogba?

Yes, he’s a fine player but as we’ve already discussed at PST, is he really worth over $130 million? As his up and down form at EURO 2016 proved, he may still not be the complete player but his athletic ability combined with his deft touches and penchant for taking over games with his lung-bursting runs are his biggest assets. The lure of working with Zidane, a French national team legend, could be strong for Pogba and of course Zizou knows all about switching Juve for Real Madrid as he made the same move during his playing days for a then world record fee.

Zidane already has Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Casemiro and Mateo Kovacic in central midfield but maybe the reigning European champs will look to strengthen further by adding yet another glittering star to their ranks.

If Pogba does head to Real Madrid, then surely the Los Galacticos nickname will be back in full force.

Guardiola responds to banning pizza, overweight Man City players from training

SHENZHEN, CHINA - JULY 27:  Manchester City's manager Pep Guardiola attends a press conference for 2016 International Champions Cup match between Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund at Shenzhen Stadium on July 27, 2016 in Shenzhen, China.  (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
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Pep Guardiola isn’t too impressed with the fitness levels of Manchester City’s players.

The new manager of City has apparently ordered certain players to train on their own away from the first team.

[ MORE: Winter break for the PL? ]

That’s according to French left back Gael Clichy, who said that “if your weight is too high, you’re not training with the team” and added that “you hear it a lot but, for my part, it’s the first time any manager has really done it. And we have a few players who are not training with the team yet.”

Clichy also revealed that Guardiola has banned “some juice and, of course, pizza and all the heavy food is not allowed” as part of a strict new diet for the Citizens.

Wow.

Speaking in a press conference in China ahead of City’s clash against Borussia Dortmund on Thursday, Guardiola revealed his issues with the current fitness of his squad.

“They are not overweight, but I want my players fit,” Guardiola said. “The weight is so, so important. You need to run, fight, jump, head the ball and then after two days you need to do it again. After three days you have to do it again, then another three days you need to do it again. When you are not fit, danger is coming. You are not fast enough or quick enough in the head. That is why you need to be fit.”

So, Guardiola didn’t deny this is the case but it goes to show just how meticulous and ruthless he is when it comes to getting his players in peak condition.

Now, it’s probably an honest slip of the tongue from Clichy to reveal all of this but will he regret telling the world about Guardiola enforcing a strict diet on the team? Who knows. Probably not.

It’s no secret that Guardiola is a hard taskmaster. Speak to players at Barcelona and Bayern Munich. You’re either with him or against him. There’s no ambiguity.

I’m expecting to see huge cardboard cutouts of pizza slices in the stands at City’s games this season…

Conte not going to sell Matic, enjoys quality midfield headache

VELDEN, AUSTRIA - JULY 20: Nemanja Matic of Chelsea reacts during the friendly match between WAC RZ Pellets and Chelsea F.C. at Worthersee Stadion on July 20, 2016 in Velden, Austria. (Photo by Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images)
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Antonio Conte feels he has a bit of an embarrassment of riches in his midfield, not that it’s a problem outside of deciding who hits the pitch.

The Chelsea boss does not plan on selling Nemanja Matic despite the acquisition of N'Golo Kante — in fact Conte thinks Matic can be one of the best in the world.

[ MORE: New club for Pato ]

That’s not surprising, given that Matic was one of the keys to Chelsea’s 2014-15 PL title run.

Conte says he has some tricky selections to make in the coming days, as Chelsea prepares to open its Premier League season Aug. 15 at West Ham United.

From ChelseaFC.com:

“Kante is a good player and he was a target of our market. I am pleased the club took this player, it’s fantastic,” said the 46-year-old. “The players in a great team like Chelsea must know there are many players that can play. It’s important for me to have a good choice to try the best solution game by game. It’s important for me to see always the right attitude and behaviour from the players.

“When I have players like N’Golo, Nemanja, Cesc, Oscar and Chalobah, and Mikel who is in the Olympics, it is not easy to choose. I want to have this problem.”

For a manager who loves to keep it tight in the midfield, it would be far from shocking to see Matic and Kante behind two attacking mids (Willian and Hazard?) or even three.

Regardless, Chelsea’s match day tactics will be one of the more fascinating subplots of 2016, especially when Conte matches up against the Blues’ former boss Jose Mourinho (Oct. 22 at Stamford Bridge and April 15 at Old Trafford).