Report: Shakhtar Donetsk set Henrik Mkhitaryan’s price at …. $50 million?

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The moments after a big game can cast a soccer diehard into a netherworld, especially after a match like today’s between Brazil and Uruguay. As Paulinho’s header flew just under Fernando Muslera’s crossbar, we were forced to come to grips with a premature end. What were we going to do with that next 30, 45 minutes we wanted filled by extra time? Even penalty kicks?

Ray Wilkins and Trevor Brooking provided my methadone via Al-Jazeera’s studio, a comedown that went haywire when the channel’s news update tried to convince me Shakhtar Donetsk wants Liverpool to fork over just under $50 million (€38 million) for attacking midfielder Henrik Mkhitaryan – a 24-year-old attacking midfielder who exploded for 25 Ukrainian league goals in 28 appearances. While that’s a prodigious total, it’s also completely out of character for the Armanian international, a less than one-in-three scorer for country who’d averaged just over eight goals per game during the previous three Premier League season.

And that gets to the crux of the problem. If Mkhitaryan really was a guy who’d proved he was scoring a goal-per-game soccer in the Ukrainian league, maybe you could justify that insane fee. But he’d also need to be replicating that output in Champions League. And at international level. And he would have had to have done so over a number of years. And when he wasn’t helped by a Shakhtar team that ran circles around their domestic competition.

Unfortunately, every piece of context tells is Mkhitaryan isn’t really a 25-goal player, yet that’s the kind of money Shakhtar want.

To put that into perspective, there have been 31 transfer fees in world soccer history that eclipse €38 million. Only 38 players in the whole, illustrious history of world football. Perhaps inflation, more money coming into the game, and the demand for players means that fee is justified for a player like Mkhitaryan, but it seems unlikely.

And when I say “a player like” Mkhitaryan, I don’t want to disparage him too much. He’s an extremely productive player, as his numbers can attest, but when you’re talking about a potential move to Liverpool, there are legitimate questions if a player of relatively normal speed and athleticism can justify that fee once h’es playing in the Premier League. Before last season, he wouldn’t have been on many’s radars, and while you can’t completely discount what he accomplished in 2012-13, there are more than your usual number of questions surrounding Mkhitaryan’s potential step up.

Searching online, there aren’t any sources that corroborate Al Jazeera’s reporting. The Sun’s grab bag puts the number at $38.3 million, while the Mirror says Liverpool’s bid is just under $30 million. Neither are the most reliable sources, so who knows where Shakhatar’s reported demands stand.

If you’re a Reds supporter, you should hope these reports are way off. That, or your club is smart enough to move on from Mkhitaryan. While there is a need to keep upgrading the talent around Anfield, there are better ways to use this money. Players with longer track records, better skillsets, and fewer doubts can be had for $50 million.

Mexico captain Guardado suffers hamstring injury

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With the World Cup still half a year away, there’s plenty of time to heal from injuries and get the body right after tweaking things during the club season.

And yet, there will still be some concern among Mexico fans.

Team captain Andres Guardado suffered a hamstring tear, his club Real Betis confirmed on Monday, and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks. That’s nothing to write home about when it comes to preparing for the big tournament, but with Guardado 31 years old and struggling with injuries in recent years, Mexico fans will be keenly aware that hamstring injuries can return with a vengeance if not given the right time to heal.

Guardado has shown his age in recent times, not necessarily with his play on the field, which has been critical to his country, but with his fitness. Guardado has just four full 90 minute performances for Mexico dating back to October of 2016, missing time with ankle, leg, and now hamstring injuries in that span.

The 31-year-old has had a fine season so far for Real Betis, scoring one goal and assisting six while appearing in all 15 La Liga matches for the club thus far. The club sits 12th in the La Liga table with 18 points.

Guardado will be fine with plenty of time to spare, but if not fully healed properly, there’s always the risk that muscle injuries can flare back up, and Mexico fans will hope that their captain’s club gives him plenty of rest to recover.

Mark Hughes wants Stoke City to “suck it up”

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Mark Hughes is under fire at Stoke City with the Potters firmly entrenched in the relegation battle, and with that he’s charging his players, staff, and himself to gut the rest of the season out.

With Stoke heading to Turf Moor to take on Burnley, they sit just three points above the drop. The players were faced with jeers from angry fans at the train station following this past weekend’s 5-1 disaster against Tottenham. The fiery Hughes is hoping to use this jarring moment to jolt his squad.

[ PREVIEW: Tuesday’s Premier League action ]

“That is still resonating. It’s good we have a game because it is still fresh in their ears probably, and they can use it as a motivating factor,” said Hughes during his pre-match press conference.

“You either suck it up and do ­something about it or you go under, and we can’t accept players like that. I don’t feel we have players like that.”

With managers nowadays often reaching into the excuses barrel as they hope to save their own skins, Hughes refuses to do just that, instead placing the decision firmly on the players shoulders, telling them they are the only ones who can save the club.

“Maybe some hadn’t ­confronted that before – but sometimes you need a reality check, and understand how our results and ­performances affect people,” Hughes said. “When people criticize you, you have to grow a thick skin in this industry. If you don’t, you’re in the wrong place.”

Louis van Gaal calls Mourinho’s United “far more boring”

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Louis Van Gaal has picked just the right time to pipe up.

The former Manchester United manager, who took flak while in charge for his side being hideous to watch, has now taken shots of his own at his successor Jose Mourinho, kicking Manchester United while they’re down after a 2-1 derby defeat at home.

The Dutchman told Fox Sports Netherlands, “If you ask me how did I do at United, I will say it was my best year ever, given the circumstances I was working under. We played football that was quite alright. But it’s not football that is appreciated in England. And yet, right now, looking at United, I have to conclude Mourinho is not being criticized while it’s far more boring football.”

[ PREVIEW: Premier League Tuesday matches, including Chelsea vs. Huddersfield ]

Van Gaal was blasted consistently for playing a boring style, especially in front of the home crowd, and now Mourinho is being criticized for the same concept. Mourinho was denounced for similar reasons while in charge of Chelsea, but with the club winning multiple titles under his leadership, the noise was always less while the team was winning. With Manchester United still unable to crack the top 4, Mourinho is feeling the heat.

“What United produce now is defensive football,” van Gaal said. “I always played attacking football. The proof is that the opposition were always parking the bus. They don’t do that now because Jose Mourinho plays so defensive.”

To van Gaal’s point, Manchester United is seventh in the Premier League in possession, holding 51% possession this season. They were out-possessed by Manchester City 65-35 at Old Trafford over the weekend. Meanwhile, van Gaal’s last full season with Manchester United, the 2015/16 season, saw the Red Devils hold 54%, which ranked third in the Premier League, just a percentage point behind leaders Arsenal. However, van Gaal’s United ranked 15th in the Premier League in total shots, while Mourinho’s United this season ranks sixth at this point.

Van Gaal made sure to point out he prefers their cross-town rivals.

“I would rather watch City play than United. You need quality in a squad and it’s clear City have a better squad.”

Conte blames fatigue for dip in Chelsea form

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Antonio Conte has figured out what is plaguing his Chelsea side as they sit 14 points back of Premier League leaders Manchester City.

“I think when you play every three days, it is impossible to have a training session and to work on the physical aspects,” Conte said in his pre-match press conference as the Blues get set to play Huddersfield Town on Tuesday. “It’s impossible. It’s impossible because you have to prepare with the players for a game every three days.”

Chelsea has yet to find itself eliminated from a single competition, drawn against Barcelona in the Champions League while navigating fixtures across all four competitions.

And yet, this is nothing new for Conte. The Blues boss is more than familiar with fixture congestion, having taken charge of Juventus and regularly competing at a high level on multiple fronts. In 2012/13, he won the Serie A title, won the Supercoppa Italia, and reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

However, this is new for Conte at Chelsea. Last season, the Blues did not take part in a European competition thanks to their disastrous season the previous year. While they reached the FA Cup final, they were knocked out of the EFL Cup in the 4th round.

“We have to try to do our best,” Conte said. “For sure, some players can be tired, that’s normal because some players are playing from this summer and our tours in China and Singapore. It’s normal. But I repeat we have to find the best solution. We have to find more rotations. I’m doing this, we will try and do our best with hunger and desire. We will fight.”

As an example, Conte said Alvaro Morata will miss the match on Tuesday against Huddersfield Town due to fatigue, with the Spaniard battling a slight back injury. “Morata is out. He is a bit tired and he has a problem in his back.