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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.

UEFA Champions League final preview — Madrid’s finest Real or Atleti?

MILAN, ITALY - MAY 27:  Diego Simeone head coach of Atletico Madrid looks on during an Atletico de Madrid training session on the eve of the UEFA Champions League Final against Real Madrid at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on May 27, 2016 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Saturday’s UEFA Champions League final isn’t quite the unstoppable force against the immovable object — Real’s defense is good and Atleti has plenty of attacking intent — but it’s fair if you’re expecting the Madrid Derby final to be Diego Simeone’s diligent defenders attempting to counter Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid’s potent attack.

[ MORE: Mourinho confirmed ]

Simeone’s built his name on tight teamwork, and La Liga teams broke Atleti down a mere 18 times in 38 matches this season. Before you crow about the weakness of Spain’s top flight from top to bottom, Real only managed a single goal against Atleti in a 1-1 draw that came at the Vicente Calderon. Atleti triumphed 1-0 at the Bernabeu to take four of six points from their derby mates.

But this is the big one, and a rematch of the late thriller we saw in the 2014 final. That’s when Diego Godin’s 36th minute goal came within seconds of being the difference, only for Sergio Ramos to net in stoppage time and Real to score three goals in extra time for a 4-1 win.

[ MORE: Torres ready for “game of my life” ]

Ronaldo will be fine to go, which is obviously bad news for Atleti. While his goal at the end of the 2014 final was just chiseled-ab window dressing, he has scored in both of his UCL finals (He scored for Manchester United in the 26th minute of their 2008 defeat of Chelsea).

(Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)

The beauty of Atleti’s defense is how well it springs into the attack, with Godin and Filipe Luis both capable of providing offense.

But really, with respect to Gabi and Antoine Griezmann… that defense! Atleti allowed three goals in the group stage, and just seven across its 12 UCL matches.

How will Simeone aim to stop Real this time around? Will it be banks of four or five, with Torres and Griezmann waiting to strike on a fleet-footed counter? That could serve their disciplined unit well, but something tells me Simeone has something special cooked up for this much-anticipated rematch, and manager is a distinct edge for Atleti against a still-learning Zinedine Zidane.

As an aside, Griezmann has been fantastic, scoring 32 times this year with seven coming in the UCL. Torres is second in scoring, with 12.

Championship playoff preview: Sheffield Wednesday vs. Hull City

DERBY, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 14:  Eldin Jakupovic of Hull City celebrates as Andrew Robertson of Hull City scores their third goal during the Sky Bet Championship Play Off semi final first leg match between Derby County and Hull City at the iPro Stadium on May 14, 2016 in Derby, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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One is hoping to rejoin the Premier League at the first time of asking, while the other to see its first top flight action since 2000 with a win in Saturday’s promotion playoff final at Wembley Stadium.

Hull City did not make the top flight from its inception in 1904 until winning the playoffs in 2008. Since, the Tigers have spent a pair of 2-season stints in the Premier League.

Sheffield Wednesday, for its part, spent nine seasons in the top tier from 1991-2000, but fell as low as League One in the 21st century before a run to the playoffs this season.

[ MORE: Three battles that could determine UCL final ]

Hull’s stingy defense allowed 35 goals this season, tied for the second-best mark in the league, while scoring the fourth-most goals (69). The Tigers finished in fourth place to Wednesday’s sixth, and the sides drew 0-0 at Hull and 1-1 in the reverse fixture.

Uruguayan striker Abel Hernandez was far and away Hull’s most deadly scorer, notching 21 goals in the Championship this season, while Sam Clucas paced the club with 8 assists.

Wednesday’s scoring was paced by former Watford attacker Fernando Forestieri’s 15 goals. Veteran Gary Hooper added 13 for the Owls, who got a team-best eight assists from Ross Wallace.

It’s the “richest game in sports”, and kicks off at Noon ET Saturday.

Sturridge injured again, Rashford set for England debut

England v Norway - International Friendly
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GATESHEAD, England (AP) England striker Daniel Sturridge has picked up another injury, potentially affecting his chances of being selected for the European Championship.

England manager Roy Hodgson says Sturridge has a calf injury that has prevented him from training and is a doubt to play in the warmup match against Australia on Friday. Hodgson has until Tuesday to finalize his 23-man squad for the tournament in France.

[ MORE: Mourinho confirmed | Speaks more ]

Sturridge has been beset by injury problems in recent years.

His latest injury increases the possibility of 18-year-old Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford‘s fairytale season being extended to include Euro 2016.

Hodgson said Thursday that Rashford will make his debut against Australia in Sunderland – as a starter if Sturridge isn’t fit. Rashford only made his United debut in February.

Ex-Leicester boss Pearson hired by Derby County

Nigel Pearson, Leicester City FC
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Nigel Pearson lives.

The combustible former manager of Southampton, Hull City and Leicester City will now lead Derby County in the hopes of Premier League promotion.

Derby has been on the edge of promotion to the Premier League for several seasons, but neither Steve McClaren and Darren Wassall could do the trick.

[ MORE: Mourinho confirmed | Speaks more ]

Enter Pearson, 52, who has been hired on a three-year deal. It’s his first stop since a roller coaster ride saw him guide Leicester into the Premier League, only to be fired in the aftermath of some players being involved in a racist sex tape incident on a tour of Thailand.

This was after a bizarre season that saw him put his hands on an opposing player’s throat, call a journalist an ostrich, and ultimately save Leicester from the drop.

From Derby County’s site:

“I am honoured to be named as the Manager of Derby County, which is one of the biggest clubs in the country, a club in excellent shape and one with strong ambitions. It is firmly focused on achieving Premier League football.

“I will give absolutely everything I have to this role and do all I can to bring exciting, entertaining and winning football which our supporters can be proud of.”

At the very least, the Rams will be interesting to watch next season.