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Aron Jóhannsson linked with Stoke City: Are U.S. fans ready for another player at the Britannia?

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Eight million dollars is a lot of money, but it’s not that much when you’re talking about a 23-year-old averaging nearly two goals every three games in the Dutch first division. That, however, is the price that’s being mentioned in rumors connecting the Premier League’s Stoke City with a move for U.S. international Aron Jóhannsson, who is coming up on his one-year anniversary with AZ Alkmaar.  In the same transfer window in which he moved last season, the Alabama-born, Iceland-raised forward could be ready to take another step up, this time to one of the best leagues in the world.

Since moving to Holland from Danish club Aarhus last January, Jóhannsson has scored 14 times in 23 league appearances, 11 of those goals coming this season. Purchased for $2.58 million 12 months ago, Johannsson’s quick sale would allow last season’s Dutch Cup winners to turn  quick profit. If the move happens early in the window, they could be able to take a fraction of the profits and procure a new striker.

In what’s become a seller’s league, the question is less ‘can we afford to lose Jóhannsson’ than ‘could we get more later’? Sitting 13 points back after 18 (of 34) rounds, AZ have European but not title ambitions, something which may not prevent them from cashing in.

But we’re not here to discuss the AZ angle, as interesting as that is. If Jóhannsson wasn’t a U.S. international, this rumor wouldn’t warrant enough attention to make our daily rumor roundup. All the intrigue in this market behind a potential move is Jóhansson’s already much-discussed Americanness. And in that regard, Stoke couldn’t be a more controversial destination.

The Potters are the biggest Amerophiles in Europe, holding three U.S. internationals under contract and launching a failed move for a fourth this fall. But while Geoff Cameron has seen success, Brek Shea and Maurice Edu can’t get any time with Stoke (Juan Agudelo’s move fizzled after failing to gain a United Kingdom work permit). Six months ahead of the World Cup, how does it help the U.S. if Jóhannsson becomes a third player to see Stoke’s U.S. fetish compromise a regular place in the national team?

source: Reuters
Although Geoff Cameron is the one American to win regular time at Stoke, he has had to move to a new position to do so. (Photo: Rueters.)

Even Cameron’s success is tinged with one forgotten asterisk. A center back and central midfielder upon arriving at the Britannia, the former Houston Dynamo has been used at right back by both Tony Pulis and Mark Hughes. Yes, that move has earned him a regular spot with a decent Premier League team (never something to sneeze at), but it’s also cast Cameron as a type of utility man for the national team, with ‘utility man’ often the nicest way of saying somebody isn’t a starter. While the move has been a success for Cameron’s club career, it hasn’t helped him nail down the starting position he was competing for before moving to England.

After Edu’s disappearance and Shea’s loan to Barnsley, you can’t blame U.S. fans for wondering if a future at Stoke holds something for different for Jóhannsson. Yet whereas concerns about previous moves were tinged with trepidation about playing under Pulis’s atypical approach, now worries take a more traditional tact. Will Jóhansson actually play? Because whereas that was also problematic under Pulis, regular time under Mark Hughes would certainly further Jóhansson’s career.

To get that, he’d have to beat out Peter Crouch, the former England international who’s started 14 games for Hughes this season. Kenwyne Jones is also in the picture, with Jon Walters and Marko Arnautovic also capable of playing up top. But on talent alone, there’s no reason why Jóhannsson can’t eventually win significant time at Stoke.

But eventually is not now, and in a World Cup year — with a player who is right on that borderline to make the Brazil 2014 squad — it’s a chance not worth taking. As Jozy Altidore is discovering, transferring success from the goal-friendly Eredivisie to the Premier League is far from given. Not everybody can be Luis Suárez, and given Johannsson’s only make 23 career league appearances above the Danish league, there’s reason to think adjustment period might be particularly pronounced for the 23-year-old.

More than his Americanness, that’s what should concern U.S. Men’s National Team fans. It’s not that Jóhannsson lacks the talent (he doesn’t) or his status as a U.S. international makes him more likely to fail at Stoke (it doesn’t). The concern is the timeline before Brazil.

We’re six months out from the next World Cup, and players in frame for Jurgen Klinsmann’s squad need to be playing. Making a move from a sure-fire, you’re going to start every game environment to a new league, new club, and new depth chart could put Jóhannsson’s World Cup dreams in doubt.

Besides, if Stoke are interested now, they’ll still be interested in six months. Saying ‘no’ in January doesn’t mean you’ve turned your back on England. It just means you’re setting your sights on Brazil.

Report: Chelsea’s Diego Costa, Antonio Conte agree truce

MIDDLESBROUGH, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 20:  Antonio Conte, Manager of Chelsea celebrates victory with Diego Costa after the Premier League match between Middlesbrough and Chelsea at Riverside Stadium on November 20, 2016 in Middlesbrough, England.  (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
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The feud is over. For now.

[ MORE: New rules stop Costa move

After Diego Costa was left out of Chelsea’s traveling squad for the win at Leicester City last weekend, he has been training on his own amid reports of a back injury which his manager Antonio Conte

It seems very likely that this situation was about much more than a back injury as Costa and Conte reportedly had a bust-up on the training ground, while links surrounding a big-money move to China continue as Costa’s agent, Jorge Mendes, was seen visiting owners of Chinese Super League clubs last week.

A report in The Times states that Costa and Conte have decided to put their differences aside and the Spanish international is back in contention to start against Hull City on Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

It was also stated that although everyone is buddy-buddy for now, Costa could still leave in the summer as his volatile nature is far from impressing Conte who continues to stamp his authority not only on the players but the entire club.

It’s clear Conte is boss but he can’t have Costa undermining him as seems to have been the case over the past week and it was also the case earlier on in the season when Conte demanded Costa remained on the pitch.

That said, Costa’s importance to Chelsea can’t be understated as he is the join-top goalscorer in the Premier League with 14 goals and he’s added another five assists this season. With reports linking Chelsea with a summer move for Alvaro Morata, it appears Conte is already trying to plan for life without Costa.

Can the Blues win the PL title this season without Costa’s goal and presence up top? Despite a seven-point lead, probably not. That’s why Conte calling a truce in his instance makes sense.

That said, he now has six months or so to line up a long-term replacement for Costa.

The cracks have been papered over for now. But how long will it be until two fiery characters collide once again?

Lionel Messi discusses his Barcelona future

BARCELONA, SPAIN - JANUARY 11:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona looks on during the Copa del Rey round of 16 second leg match between FC Barcelona and Athletic Club at Camp Nou on January 11, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Lionel Messi has addressed speculation linking him with a move away from the only club he has ever known.

[ MORE: Who are title favorites? ]

Messi, 29, has been at Barcelona since the age of 13 and the Argentine superstar has won every possible trophy with the Catalan giants, plus has been crowned the World Player of the Year on five occasions.

Time for a new challenge?

Reports had suggested that Barcelona have wanted to start talks over a new contract with Messi for quite some time but with just 18 months left on his current deal, Messi and his representatives are yet to hold talks.

“I have always said that Barcelona has given me everything and I am here for as long as they want me to be,” Messi said in Coach magazine.

Hmm.

Messi also spoke about his former manager and mentor, Pep Guardiola, and his challenging start to life in the Premier League as manager of Manchester City.

“It is a very competitive league, last season showed that, so it makes it very difficult to predict,” Messi added. “Of course Pep is a very successful coach, he will be adjusting to the league, but I am sure that he will be successful.”

Will Messi be part of Pep’s success at City?

It is obvious Barca will want him to stay but if a huge offer comes in for Messi from Man City this summer, or others in the Premier League, then surely he will think twice about it.

If Pep can coax Messi to join him at City, who can clearly afford him, then it would be another glittering star in their attacking line. That said, if Guardiola is going to be successful then he’ll have to add plenty more quality in defense as City currently sit 10 points off leaders Chelsea with 17 games to go in the PL season.

Loss to Sevilla quickly puts Real Madrid’s Zidane on the defensive

SEVILLE, SPAIN - JANUARY 15:  Head Coach of Real Madrid CF Zinedine Zidane looks on prior to  the match against Real Madrid CF during the La Liga match between Sevilla FC and Real Madrid CF at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan on January 15, 2017 in Seville, Spain.  (Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images)
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MADRID (AP) Real Madrid’s first loss after a 40-game unbeaten streak was enough to put coach Zinedine Zidane on the defensive.

Two days after Madrid’s unbeaten record was halted by a 2-1 defeat at Sevilla in the Spanish league, Zidane was forced to defend some of his players against criticism from fans and local media.

[ MORE: Klopp, Liverpool still consulting lawyers over absurd Matip situation ]

Most comments were aimed at goalkeeper Keylor Navas, who failed to stop Sevilla’s injury-time winner on Sunday. Navas got to Stevan Jovetic‘s long-range shot but was unable to keep the ball from going in.

“He’s having a really good season,” Zidane said on Tuesday. “You can always ask for more, but if up until now we had gone 40 games without losing, it’s for a reason, and he has been there all the way.”

There have been calls for Zidane to give reserve goalkeeper Kiko Casilla a chance, but the coach said there was “no need to go over this again.”

Zidane also dismissed talk about signing a new goalkeeper.

“These are rumors,” he said. “We are focused on what we are doing this year. Whatever happens next I’m not interested and it’s not the time to talk about it. The three goalkeepers we have are important, they’re doing well and I’m very happy with them. I don’t want to change anything we’re doing.”

[ MORE: How Sevilla hope to break up the Madrid-Barca duopoly ]

Zidane defended forward Karim Benzema, who lost possession near midfield in a mistake that led to host Sevilla’s winner on Sunday.

“Everyone can say and write what they want,” Zidane said. “On a field, playing 90 minutes, you can’t do everything right. There is talk of lack of concentration, but we only had five bad minutes and that happens in football.”

Benzema also missed a chance to score from close range in the game, but a few days earlier it was the French striker who netted in stoppage time in a Copa del Rey match against Sevilla to help Madrid set the Spanish unbeaten record.

Zidane downplayed the end of Madrid’s unbeaten streak. The club hadn’t lost since a 2-0 defeat at Wolfsburg in the Champions League in April.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

“These things happen,” he said. “Nothing is going to change in what I’m going to do. Those who are not Real Madrid fans will want us to lose, but we must be ready and think that what we’re doing is fine. We lost a game, something that happens, and now we have to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”

Madrid hosts Celta Vigo on Wednesday in a first-leg match in the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey.

Celta has won all four matches this year.

“I am not surprised by Celta’s record because they’re a very good team, they fight and play very good football,” Zidane said. “It’ll be another complicated match for us.”

FA fines Man City’s Sagna over “10 against 12” Instagram message

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 02: Scott Arfield of Burnley (L) tackles Bacary Sagna of Manchester City (R) during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Burnley at Etihad Stadium on January 2, 2017 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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LONDON (AP) The English Football Association has fined Manchester City defender Bacary Sagna 40,000 pounds (around $50,000) for an Instagram post about a referee.

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Sagna posted a photo with the caption “10 against 12.. but still fighting and winning as a team” on the social network site following City’s 2-1 win against Burnley on Jan. 2.

Sagna later amended the post to read “still fighting and winning as a team” after a match that saw referee Lee Mason send off midfielder Fernandinho.

[ MORE: Klopp, Liverpool still consulting lawyers over absurd Matip situation ]

The FA also warned Sagna about his future conduct.