Christian Benteke hands in transfer request at Aston Villa: Let’s not act surprised

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In the face of speculation that their star striker would move during the summer window, a team that’s battled relegation for successive seasons has attempted to hold on to their contracted star. Now the standoff has reached a new level, with the young star handing in a transfer request, though it’s unclear the extent to which the club will honor it.

Keep that on file, swap in some proper nouns, and you’re not only well on your way to having your own transfer rumor blog – you’re also up-to-date on the latest Christian Benteke rumors. The Aston Villa striker, who scored 19 times in his Premier League debut, is said to have thought Villa was a London-based club when he initially moved from Genk last summer. Whether that anecdote’s apocryphal, it’s no surprise a 22-year-old Champions League-caliber talent wants to move to a Champions League-caliber team.

Benteke is said to have handed in his official request today. What exactly that formality means as it concerns compelling either side to action, I’m not sure anymore, but bere’s the club’s statement on the news, including speculation Benteke has refused to join the team for preseason preparations:

“In response to reports that Christian Benteke has not travelled to Germany with the club and has made a transfer request, we can confirm that both are accurate.

“For clarity’s sake, however, he had already been given extra time off until July 18 and was reminded that there are three years remaining on his contract.

“We consider him to be a Villa player and expect that he will be with us for the 2013-14 season.

“Having received his transfer request, we have also informed him that should we receive an offer within an appropriate timeframe during pre-season which meets our valuation we would act upon it. But he will remain a Villa player should this not happen.”

The biggest link has been to Tottenham Hotspur, where manager André Villas-Boas is said to covet the Belgian international, but while Spurs’ need for strikers may be greater than England’s other top four contenders, they’re not the only club that could use Benteke. If the interminable Gonzalo Higuaín transfer doesn’t end in Arsenal’s favor, the Gunners could be in the market. Chelsea and Manchester City both have too much money and too few quality striking options to not consider the Villa star. Even Manchester United could justify a move in terms of an upgrade over their current options, but if there’s one team that has enough current options, it’s the Red Devils.

So if Aston Villa really have a $37 million evaluation on their best attacker, it’s not impossible the pure market demand could see that price met, even if the availability of players like Higuaín, Roberto Soldado, Álvaro Negredo, and Luis Suárez creates a lot of supply. The bigger question is whether Villa would be willing to move off that price in the interest of resolving this quickly, acquiring another striker, and attempting to start the new season with as few conflicts as possible.

Manager Paul Lambert:

“While we’re hugely disappointed that Christian has put in a transfer request, it’s important that people appreciate we are trying to build something strong and vibrant here at the club, something this club demands and stands for, and we want Christian to be part of that.”

That sounds about right. Of course he’s not happy with the request — nobody wants their best player to leave — but for a club that’s trying to build into a new direction, one that leaves the post-Martin O’Neill descent in the past, there’s no room for people who aren’t on board. It’s just a shame Benteke may have never been truly on board.

Manchester derby “the game of the season”

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Whatever way you slice it up, Thursday’s Manchester derby is huge.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Manchester City host Manchester United (Watch, 2:45 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) at the Etihad Stadium with Pep Guardiola‘s side just one point ahead of United in the Premier League table.

City currently occupy fourth spot and the final UEFA Champions League qualification berth but are coming off the back of a damaging FA Cup semifinal defeat to Arsenal after extra time.

United and Jose Mourinho haven’t lost in 23 Premier League games, the longest current unbeaten streak across Europe’s top five leagues, and are in the UEFA Europa League semifinals as their banged up squad have stood tall in the final months of the campaign.

Speaking ahead of the derby, one of United’s stars this season believes everything comes down to this one game.

“It is going to be the game of the season,” Ander Herrera said. “We are one point behind them. If we win we have the chance to finish in the top four, if they win it is going to be very difficult. It is the game of the season.

“Make or break? Probably. Both teams are in a good moment so if one of us wins the game we are not going to lose a lot of games, or make mistakes after that. Us or them. It is going to be key. I don’t know the ‘winner takes all’ expression but it is going to be a massive game. We are in a very good moment, a very good run and we respect them but we are doing a lot of good things and we have to show it on Thursday.”

Herrera’s comments say it all.

It is fair to say that both Manchester clubs have flattered to deceive for much of this season with Guardiola’s tactics yet to flourish in England and Mourinho’s rebuild hampered by injuries and a lack of goals at crucial moments.

On Thursday there will be a raucous atmosphere at the Etihad as both teams are aware of what is at stake.

More of the pressure may well be on City who now have just a place in the top four to focus on and with many previously giving United no chance of finishing in the top four, a win at City would take them above their “noisy neighbors” and into the UCL spots.

Former Czech Republic defender Rajtoral kills himself

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PRAGUE (AP) Former Czech Republic defender Frantisek Rajtoral, who won the domestic league title four times before joining Turkish club Gaziantepspor, died on Sunday. He was 31.

[ MORE: Bayern scouted Kyle Walker, Alex Sanchez this weekend ]

The Czech football federation said in a statement that Rajtoral had “committed suicide in Turkey.”

His agent Pavel Zika confirmed the player’s death, describing it as a “huge tragedy.”

Gaziantepspor announced Rajtoral’s death in a brief statement on its website.

Rajtoral played 14 international matches for the Czech Republic.

In the top Czech league, he won four titles with Viktoria Plzen and played in the group stage of the Champions League twice for the club. He moved to Hannover in the Bundesliga in 2014 for half of the season, on loan.

He left Viktoria Plzen last year to move to Turkey.

Bellerin wants to represent Spain U21s despite Wenger’s wishes

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Arsene Wenger has made it clear about Hector Bellerin representing Spain this summer but the Arsenal defender is prepared to go against his manager’s wishes if he is selected.

[ MORE: Bayern scouted Kyle Walker, Alexis Sanchez over the weekend ]

The 22-year-old has said he hopes to play for Spain’s Under-21 side this summer during the 2017 European U-21 Championship but Wenger has been weary of Bellerin’s injury status and wants his fullback to maintain a clean bill of health throughout the offseason.

“I really want to play,” Bellerin told IBTimes. “Representing Spain is very important. If [Albert] Celades gives me the chance I’ll be there.

“Those are opinions of the managers. I have to keep working. The truth is that I had a difficult injury but I think that I am at 100% now and I’ll try to prove it when I get the chance.”

Bellerin signed a six-and-a-half year deal with the Gunners in November, where he has resided since coming up in the club’s academy. He has made 102 appearances for Wenger’s team in that span over all competitions.

Roma boosts bid for 2nd in Serie A by beating Pescara 4-1

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PESCARA, Italy (AP) Roma boosted its bid for second place in Serie A and automatic entry into the Champions League with a 4-1 win at Pescara, which was mathematically relegated on Monday.

[ MORE: Newcastle joins Brighton in promotion to Premier League ]

Roma moved four points clear of third-placed Napoli, which drew against Sassuolo 2-2 on Sunday. Third place in Serie A receives a Champions League playoff.

Pescara remained 15 points behind Empoli. There are only five matches left and Empoli has the better head-to-head record, which is the deciding factor if two teams finish level on points.

There were 48 goals in total in the 33rd round, matching the record set in October 1992.

Roma took control shortly before halftime, with Kevin Strootman breaking the deadlock after Stephan El Shaarawy unselfishly rolled the ball across the area.

Radja Nainggolan, who earlier hit the bar, doubled Roma’s lead two minutes later.

Mohamed Salah extended Roma’s advantage three minutes after the break and the winger doubled his tally on the hour following a swift counterattack.

Ahmad Benali got a consolation for Pescara and a Cristiano Biraghi free kick also hit the post for the home side.