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.

PL Preview: Brighton vs. Stoke City

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  • Stoke leads all-time 16W-14D-9L
  • First league meeting since 2006
  • Potters have won last 8 in series

Brighton and Hove Albion meets Stoke City for the first time in Premier League history when the two battle at the Amex Stadium on Monday (Watch live at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Brighton is unbeaten in its last four PL matches, with a pair of away wins and two draws at home.

They’ve been led at the back end by Shane Duffy and in attack by Pascal Gross, but it’s been a well-traveled Premier League veteran filling the goals. Glenn Murray has historic motivation to keep scoring, knowing that a marker versus Stoke would make him the first Brighton player to ever score a goal in four successive top flight matches.

Stoke followed up its win over Watford with a draw against Leicester City. The Potters have two goals and four assists from Swiss attacker Xherdan Shaqiri, and three and one from Senegalese scorer Mame Biram Diouf.

What they’re saying

Brighton’s Chris Hughton on bagging wins“For a club like us to get back-to-back wins would show the level we are playing at. It’s tough. I remember being told by somebody with one of the promoted teams that they didn’t get their first away win until February-March. That can happen and it’s exactly the same for a team getting promoted to get back-to-wins. They are hard to come by. Any way we are able to do that would certainly be a major boost for us.”

Stoke manager Mark Hughes on Xherdan ShaqiriHe is taking on more the role of the main instigator of our attacking threat. When he gets the ball, I think the whole team responds to that. You sense that maybe something’s going to happen. And I think the crowd sends it as well. And I know opposition team sense it too.”

Prediction

Few matches are more of a toss-up than this one, and there’s no recent match-ups on which to rest our heads. So we’ll side with the home team managing a point, and maybe a pair of old-timer goals from Murray and Peter Crouch, in a 1-1 draw.

Italy soccer chief resigns after failure to reach World Cup

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ROME (AP) Italian football federation president Carlo Tavecchio has resigned a week after the Azzurri failed to qualify for the World Cup.

Monday’s announcement came following calls for a complete overhaul of the nation’s most popular sport, from the amateur leagues right up to Serie A and the national teams.

[ MORE: What’s next for West Brom? ]

Sweden’s playoff win over Italy kept the four-time champion out of the World Cup for the first time in six decades.

Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura was fired two days after the loss.

For the last week, Tavecchio has resisted calls to step down but he eventually lost the support of the federation’s board of directors.

Former federation chief Giancarlo Abete said as he left the board meeting where Tavecchio resigned that a new election would be held within 90 days.

Managerial change a slippery slope for West Brom

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Tony Pulis brought much needed stability to West Bromwich Albion before his tenure soured in a hurry.

When Pulis took over at the Hawthorns, West Brom had seen both Pepe Mel and Alan Irvine do little winning in abbreviated managerial stints. Mel won three of 17 matches in charge, while Irvine could only nab five in 22.

[ MORE: Pulis sacked ]

So there is little debating, even for those who West Brom fans who revel in the club’s former free-flowing ways, that Pulis had a productive time in charge from January 2015 right on through most of last season.

But Pulis was seemingly limited to setting a points total and then kicking his heels up once Premier League safety was reached.

While that sounds a bit laughable, the facts are that the Baggies finished 10th last season despite an impressive start that saw the club comfortably eighth for much of the season. However, West Brom won five points from its final 12 matches to finish 16 points behind a European place (including five shutout losses at home).

The Baggies finished 14th the previous season, Pulis’ first full year in charge, but collapsed again after hitting the rarefied air of 11th. That final stretch? Five losses and four draws including shutout losses at home to Norwich City, Watford, and West Ham.

In doing so, Pulis belied his own budgetary critiques by proving the Baggies had the talent to compete for something relatively special.

Pulis was good at getting his side to play with the fury of a relegation contender from Day One, but it was so clear the side was sated once safety was secure. It wouldn’t be callous to opine that the manager would’ve viewed the Europa League as a nuisance to his “never been relegated” reputation (an idea buttressed by West Brom’s performances in Cup competitions, where Pulis never advanced to a quarterfinal while losing to Reading, Norwich City, Derby County, Northampton Town, and, this season, Man City).

What West Brom does next will say a lot. If it’s as simple as a rehashing of the “never been relegated” deck with Sam Allardyce, well, that’s something. But the Baggies are in the tricky predicament of having to replace a relatively stable hand who was their first good hire in three tries, while also running with the knowledge that their players clearly are capable of so much better than 17th.

The names on the bettor’s lists show what’s expected of West Brom: gritty style from an island manager. Derek McInnes is the favorite, with Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill just ahead of Sam Allardyce. Alan Pardew is next, followed by Ronald Koeman (For what it’s worth, bookies are still milking money from gamblers by including Jurgen Klinsmann’s name at 20:1 or so).

West Brom is in its eighth-straight Premier League campaign. The firing will jostle an already rocking ship, but the Baggies have steady leadership in Jonny Evans, Ben Foster, Chris Brunt, Gareth Barry, Gareth McAuley, and Craig Dawson. They have the wherewithal to achieve safety again, and can even look good in the process should a manager find the right way to use Salomon Rondon, Matty Phillips, Jay Rodriguez, Nacer Chadli, and others.

Who’s the right man for the job?

West Brom fires manager Tony Pulis

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Tony Pulis‘ reign over the Hawthorns is over, as West Bromwich Albion has fired the 59-year-old after just under three years in charge of the Premier League outfit.

Assistant coach Gary Megson takes over on an interim basis.

[ MLS: Steve Bruce to Miami? ]

The Baggies have not won a game since August, and were belted 4-0 at home by Chelsea on Saturday to leave the club one point above the drop zone.

Overall, Pulis oversaw wins in just 36 of his 121 matches, losing 49, in what will go down as one of the least successful stints in his well-traveled career. Only three PL clubs have scored less than the Baggies’ nine goals.

Here’s the club statement:

“These decisions are never taken lightly but always in the interests of the Club.

“We are in a results business and over the back end of last season and this season to date, ours have been very disappointing.

“We would like to place on record our appreciation of Tony’s contribution and hard work during a period of transition for the Club which included a change of ownership. We wish him well in his future endeavours.”

Pulis will almost certainly be back on the touch line soon, as he hasn’t spent more than a few months out of work since 2002.