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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.

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)
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)
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.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

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.

Klopp, Liverpool still consulting lawyers over in-limbo Matip

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 11: Joel Matip of Liverpool and Andre Ayew of West Ham United compete for the ball during the Premier League match between Liverpool and West Ham United at Anfield on December 11, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)
Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images
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Few footballing sagas will ever reach heights of absurdity comparable to that of the Joel Matip/Liverpool versus Cameroon/FIFA battle currently raging, as the Reds defender finds himself “ineligible” to play for his club due to an international call-up 18 months after announcing his international retirement.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

PST’s Joe Prince-Wright summed up the situation quite well, in full, right here. An excerpt:

Matip, 25, was called up by the Cameroon national team for the 2017 African Cup of Nations which is currently taking place in Gabon. However, the former Schalke defender has previously stated that he did not want to play for them and he had retired from international duty.

Cameroon called him into their initial 35-man squad for the competition anyway but did not include him in their final 23-man squad once it became clear Matip, along with six other players, had no interest in playing for them at AFCON.

FIFA has confirmed that Liverpool has been in touch regarding Matip’s status and it now appears that he will not be able to play in any other competition while Cameroon is still in AFCON action under Article 5 of FIFA’s rules.

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

Fast forward a few days, and Jurgen Klopp and Co. have no further clarity regarding the situation. It’s so unclear, in fact, that Klopp said on Tuesday he may select the 25-year-old during one of two remaining games this week, and hope for the best — quotes from the Guardian:

“As you can imagine, we are in a lot of talks. We’ve done transfers quicker than this. It’s already long term but now it’s getting really tense on our side. We’ve tried everything but at the end I have to make the decision. Of course I have to ask [Liverpool’s lawyers] but the decision is for me to make. I could put him in the lineup. I don’t think the referee is going to say: ‘Stop, stop, you cannot go on the pitch.’ But I will do it when it’s OK from our point of view. Of course I need advice — I’m not a lawyer.”

“Most of the time in life you know if you do this, then you get this. But it’s not 100 percent clear what happens [if Matip plays]. We try everything to win football games. If this can happen — out of the tournament or whatever — then we have to decide about the risk. He’s ready to play for us and that makes it difficult.”

What an utter disaster of a situation Cameroon have intentionally created here.

VIDEO: Jeison Murillo’s incredible bicycle from a corner kick

MILAN, ITALY - JANUARY 17:  (R-L) Jeison Murillo of FC Internazionale celebrates his first goal with Geoffrey Kondogbia during the TIM Cup match between FC Internazionale and Bologna FC at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on January 17, 2017 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
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Look away now, Andy Carroll. Take a bow, Jeison Murillo.

[ VIDEOS: All in a week’s work — Messi free kick no. 1 | Messi free kick no. 2 ]

Just three days after Carroll scored the bicycle-kick goal of the year (so we thought), here comes Murillo, Inter Milan’s 24-year-old Colombian striker, to steal his thunder (below video). The fact he did it directly from a corner kick, with the ball traveling roughly 40 yards before flinging his body into the air and striking the ball so cleanly, (somehow) trumps Carroll’s accomplishment from Saturday.

[ MORE: PL Power Rankings — Tight at the top… and bottom ]

Sensational goals come in twos now, apparently, as Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Olivier Giroud scored stunning scorpion-kick goals (WATCH HERE and HERE) just days apart earlier in the season.