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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.

Dempsey returns to training after second heart procedure

SAN JOSE, CA - JULY 28:  Clint Dempsey #2 of MLS All-Stars chases after the ball up field against the Arsenal FC during the second half of the AT&T MLS All-Star Game at Avaya Stadium on July 28, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
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Many were concerned about USMNT and Seattle Sounders attacker Clint Dempsey‘s future when he underwent a pair of heart procedures in 2016.

The 33-year-old Dempsey took another step to allay those fears when he hit the pitch for Seattle’s first day of preseason camp.

[ MORE: How will U.S. line up vs. Serbia? ]

The Sounders won the 2016 MLS Cup despite the absence of Dempsey, and his return would further strengthen the side. General manager Garth Lagerwey said Dempsey won’t be rushed, but could be nearing a return.

EFL Cup second legs preview: Liverpool, Hull City aim for comebacks

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 11:  Divock Origi of Liverpool battles with Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (L) and Ryan Bertrand of Southampton during the EFL Cup semi-final first leg match between Southampton and Liverpool at St Mary's Stadium on January 11, 2017 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images
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Manchester United and Southampton are 90 minutes from Wembley Stadium.

Hull City and Liverpool would prefer to change that.

After first legs a fortnight ago, the EFL Cup semifinals play out on Wednesday and Thursday ahead of Feb. 26’s final at Wembley.

[ MORE: How will U.S. line up vs. Serbia? ]

First up is Southampton‘s trip to Liverpool, with the Saints nursing a 1-0 lead from the first leg at St. Mary’s. The Wednesday kickoff sees Saints hoping the Reds’ poor run of form will continue at Anfield. Liverpool has one win 2017, and that was an FA Cup replay victory over Plymouth Argyle.

Southampton boss Claude Puel knows the Reds will be ornery:

“We know Liverpool. They lost against Swansea at home, and I am sure they will want to react against us, but it’s important to keep all of our focus about our play.

“We know they are fantastic, a great team, with great players, but you saw in the first leg we have the ability to produce a strong game against them. It will be important to make a strong game – a perfect game – I think.”

Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United got a terrific result in the first leg at Old Trafford, scoring twice and holding Hull City from scooping up a valuable road goal. Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini scored the goals in the 2-0 win, but the KC Stadium will be rocking on Thursday as the Tigers look to reverse the result.

United midfielder Michael Carrick says the Red Devils will play as if they are starting from scratch:

“It’s definitely not over, we all know that. We are telling ourselves that. I think we’ll be pretty much full strength and will approach the game like it’s a 0-0 and starting from scratch.

“It’s dangerous when you go in there defending a lead to tell yourself this result will do or that result will do, or we can afford to do this or that.”

Report: China tempting TFC’s Giovinco with big offer

Toronto FC's Sebastian Giovinco celebrates his goal against the Philadelphia Union during the first half of an MLS soccer playoff match in Toronto, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
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Could Sebastian Giovinco’s chances of another MVP award be diminishing?

It wouldn’t be on account of a lack of production, rather massive money coming his way from the Chinese Soccer League.

[ MORE: How will U.S. line up vs. Serbia? ]

Great, and right when we were daydreaming about how Toronto FC’s Italian attacker could run a revenge tour on the folks who somehow left him out of the MVP finalists last year.

Giovinco turns 30 on Thursday.

From The Toronto Sun’s Kurtis Larsson:

“The Chinese club seems to be very interested, but I don’t think it’ll be easy to take him away from Toronto,” Giovinco’s agent, Andrea D’Amico, told the broadcaster.

“We received an important offer from China and we’ll talk to Toronto to decide, along with Sebastian, what to do.”

Giovinco is with Toronto FC for preseason training camp, and both the club and player have shown no interest in moving on from the diminutive winger and 2015 MVP.

But if China comes calling with crazy money, say a $25-30 million transfer fee, shouldn’t TFC think twice? Any figure above $25 million would be more than the sum of the three biggest incoming transfer fees in MLS history (Miguel Almiron, Michael Bradley, Jermain Defoe).

AFCON wrap: Ivory Coast bounced, DR Congo wins Group C

Congo's soccer players celebrate after scoring a goal against Togo during the African Cup of Nations Group C soccer match between Congo and Togo at the Stade de Port-Gentil, Gabon, Tuesday Jan. 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
AP Photo/Sunday Alamba
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Down went another knockout round mainstay from the Africa Cup of Nations, as the Ivory Coast failed to capture one of the top two spots in Group C.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Morocco 1-0 Ivory Coast

Needing a win to move on, the Ivory Coast fell in its final group match. Rachid Alioui scored a 64th minute goal that meant the Ivory Coast needed two to advance to the quarterfinals. The goals didn’t come, and Morocco will face the Group D winner next.

Togo 1-3 DR Congo

Junior Kabananga, Paul-Jose M’Poku, and Ndombe Mubele scored as the Leopards finished the group stage with an unbeaten record of 2-1. DR Congo will face the runner-up of Group D in the quarterfinals.

Wednesday’s matches

Ghana is through with six points, while Uganda is out. Egypt will go through with a result against Ghana, while Mali needs a win and an Egypt loss to get to tiebreakers.

Egypt vs. Ghana — 2 p.m. ET
Uganda vs. Mali — 2 p.m. ET