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Are Everton quickly becoming Wigan Athletic II? As Alcaraz and Robles join Kone

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First Everton’s new manager Roberto Martinez arrived from Wigan Athletic.

Wait, did you hear that horn blast? Now the cavalry are on their way.

Former Wigan striker Arouna Kone joined Everton yesterday for $9 million, earlier today Wigan’s Paraguayan defender Antolín Alcaraz arrived at Goodison Park and now the goalkeeper Wigan had on loan from Atletico Madrid last season, Joel Robles, has signed for the Toffees on a five-year contract

Martinez certainly likes to have familiar faces around, with more players from his Wigan days rumored to be on the way in cut price deals. Is this a sign of things to come for Everton?

Alcaraz is a quality defender, who is a bargain on a free transfer after being handed a two-year deal. Alcaraz was more suited to the 3-5-2 system Martinez deployed now and again with the Latics, so is his signing an early indication that Everton are set to switch to that formation for the upcoming season?

Perhaps. But the arrival of Kone was expected after Everton and Newcastle both met the 29-year-old Ivorian’s release clause. He will add goals and power to Everton’s attack, but how pivotal a role he will play is questionable.

And then their is Atletico Madrid’s young goalkeeper Robles. He wasn’t first choice at Wigan while on loan last season but did play in the FA Cup run and showed that he he has plenty of potential to develop into a top class ‘keeper after winning the European Under-21 title with Spain this summer. At 6 foot 5 he is certainly intimidating, and he is just 23.

What does that mean for Tim Howard? Maybe we will fire up another blog post on the USMNT ‘keepers future at Everton later. But I’d assume it is safe for the foreseeable future. But you never know. Stranger things have happened.

(MORE: Everton finalize $9.7 million deal for Ivorian striker Arouna Kone)

So is Martinez taking a huge gamble by recruiting players that have just been relegated? Yes they are all good players but Martinez, no matter what people say about their playing style, did get Wigan relegated. Okay his resources were very limited and many would argue he worked wonders to keep them within touching distance of safety all season.

But should he be going back to grab the players who ultimately failed to secure Wigan’s EPL survival? I thought at Everton he would have had more resources to bring in some bigger name players who were impressed with what he did with the Latics. A step up in the quality of the club you manage should signify a step up in the standard of player you recruit.

However certain managers take certain players wherever they manage, it just happens, look through the history books.

Maybe it is just me, but if Everton want to push on, Martinez will need to bring in more quality, quickly. His loyal servants from Wigan are solid buys for relatively small sums of cash. But if Everton expect the Spaniard to deliver an improvement on what David Moyes achieved on a smidgen of the budget, they have a rude awakening on the horizon.

Premier League Preview: Stoke City vs. Manchester United

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 02:  Paul Pogba of Manchester United (L) shoots while Erik Pieters of Stoke City (R) attempts to block the shot during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Stoke City at Old Trafford on October 2, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
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  • Man Utd leads all-time 43W-34D-28L
  • Clubs even in last six (2-2-2)
  • Red Devils unbeaten in 16
  • Stoke winners of two-straight

After wins over Sunderland and Watford, Stoke City gets a higher class of opponent on Saturday at the Britannia Stadium (Watch live at 10 a.m. EDT on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Fortunately for Stoke, it’s had some success against Manchester United in recent years.

Stoke and United drew 1-1 at Old Trafford on Oct. 2, though Jose Mourinho’s Red Devils are flying now. United is hard to break down, and arguably deserved better than the 1-1 draw it earned versus Liverpool last weekend.

Stoke is now 11 points clear of the drop zone, and a win could raise its status to closer to the Top Five than Bottom Three. United, meanwhile, wants three points that would move it to precipice of the Top Four.

 

What they’re saying

Stoke City’s Glenn Whelan on facing United“There has been a wind of change there and the supporters seem a lot happier now and you get the sense that they are together as a group now. You only have to look at the players within the squad, and even the ones who are leaving, to see how much strength in depth they have there.”

Jose Mourinho praises newly-extended Antonio Valencia“I don’t think it is a reward, I don’t see it in this perspective. I just think he is the best right-back you can have. There is no better right-back in football. It is just for us to keep the best. I don’t think it is a reward. It is a privilege for us to have such a good player and such a good man.”

Prediction

United gets it done, only barely. Stoke will put up a brave battle for boss Mark Hughes, but there are too many weapons to suppress. United, 1-0.

AFCON wrap: Results keep Group C undecided

Ivory Coast's Wilfried Bony controls the ball on his head during their training session at the Stade Akoakam, Oyem, Gabon, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017, ahead of their African Cup of Nations Group C soccer match against Congo. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
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Like Group A, Group C in the Africa Cup of Nations has very little decided ahead of the final group stage match.

[ MORE: Guardiola “said goodbye to title” ]

Ivory Coast 2-2 DR Congo

A thrilling first half had DR Congo leading 1-0 and 2-1, with only Wilfried Bony netting for the Ivory Coast. Les Elephants grabbed a draw through Serey Die’s 67th minute goal.

DR Congo now leads the group and is primed to advance with a result against Togo or a Morocco loss or draw against Ivory Coast.

Morocco 3-1 Togo

Mathieu Dossevi gave Togo a surprise fifth minute lead lead, but Aziz Bouhaddouz kickstarted the Moroccan attack to plug the victors into Group C’s second spot ahead of a Jan. 24 showdown with Ivory Coast.

Saturday’s matches

Ghana vs. Mali — 11 a.m. ET
Egypt vs. Uganda — 2 p.m. ET

Premier League Preview: Liverpool vs. Swansea City

SWANSEA, WALES - MAY 01:  Jefferson Montero of Swansea City is challenged by Nathaniel Clyne of Liverpool during the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and Liverpool at The Liberty Stadium on May 1, 2016 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images)
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  • Liverpool leads all-time 22W-8D-10L
  • Swans lost five-straight at Anfield
  • Reds unbeaten in 7 PL matches

One of the Premier League’s top attacks hosts the division’s leakiest defense, as Liverpool may be licking its chops ahead of a visit from struggling Swansea City on Saturday (Watch live at 7:30 a.m. EDT on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Liverpool has drawn at Sunderland and Manchester United in its last two Premier League outings, and sits seven points back of leaders Chelsea.

Swansea City has allowed multiple goals in five of six PL matches since beating Sunderland 3-0 on Dec. 10. It’s no surprise that they’ve lost those five (the sixth being a 2-1 win at struggling Crystal Palace).

What they’re saying

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp on the match“We’re really looking forward to this game. I don’t know when it happened but in England every game now is like a final. Swansea are trying to survive. I don’t know when the title run-in will start, maybe now and we’re in the race. I hope for a special atmosphere tomorrow.”

Swansea City back Federico Fernandez on Liverpool“They are a team that is very strong going forward and that is shown by the number of goals they have scored. If you lose a little bit of focus against these teams then they have the players that will punish you every time. But it’s not only defending strongly when they are attacking, it is also how we keep hold of the ball and how we use it when in possession.”

Prediction

Swansea boss Paul Clement has his hands full, and is grabbing reinforcements in the transfer window (Luciano Narsingh, Martin Olsson, Tom Carroll). That won’t be enough to handle what Liverpool will dish out Saturday, as the Reds break free with a 3-0 win.

Saints’ Fonte moves to West Ham for $10 million

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West Ham has been linked with big name strikers since the summer, but the Irons’ big January transfer to date is a center back.

EURO champion and Southampton mainstay Jose Fonte is moving to London.

[ MORE: West Brom finally sells Berahino ]

Fonte, 33, makes an approximately $10 million move from the South Coast, where the Portuguese back will better Slaven Bilic‘s back line while forcing Southampton to find an answer alongside Virgil Van Dijk.

It’s been a strange trip to London for Fonte and Southampton, detailed by our own Joe Prince-Wright here. Fonte joined Saints during the 2009-10 season, and became a cult hero at St. Mary’s in helping the club move from League One to the Europa League in just over a half-decade.

Something won’t feel right about seeing Fonte in claret and blue, and Saints host West Ham on Feb. 4. Should be quite interesting.