Sunday’s Transfer Rumor Roundup: Balotelli to Chelsea, Real Madrid staying put

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With Mario Balotelli unhappy with AC Milan’s floundering Serie A position, there is a new rumor that striker-hungry Chelsea could be in the market for the Italian superstar.  Balotelli’s previous success in the Premier League combined with the desperate need at the striker position for Jose Mourinho makes this rumor not just a juicy one but a sensible one as well.  Could we see the pairing of two of the most controversial and outspoken personalities in the game of soccer paired up on one team? It’s an exciting thought, and with Mourinho loving to make headlines and grab attention, this would be an outstanding opportunity to ensure he remains in the papers day in and day out.  Despite Milan’s struggles, Balotelli has six goals in 12 Serie A matches this season, and another three goals in eight other appearances elsewhere for his club.  But rumors are abound that between last year’s close shave into a Champions League position and this year’s current 13th place standing, the 23-year-old could be ready to move on. In three seasons previously with Manchester City, he scored 19 goals in 40 appearances before a very rocky 2012 saw him depart.

Rumors are flying out of Real Madrid (as they always inevitably do) that unsettled/dropped players such as Iker Casillas and Xabi Alonso could be ready to move on.  However, manager Carlo Ancelotti has insisted nobody will depart this January, and that contract talks with the Spanish captain Alonso will get moving shortly.  “No players are leaving and we’re not going to sign anyone. The window is closed for us,” Ancelotti insisted.  While this isn’t exactly a “rumor” per-say, it’s always difficult to take a manager’s intentions to heart considering the amount of times over the years we’ve seen bosses go back on their word.  Nevertheless, it’s hard to see where Madrid really need any serious overhaul, and it’s also likely that even the great Los Blancos could still be low on cash after their world-record transfer for Gareth Bale in the summer.

We heard just as recently as Friday that Juan Mata’s preferred destination was Napoli, but now it appears that serious moves are being made by Atletico Madrid, and the Spanish club on the rise are making a legitimate play with his agent in talks with a number of clubs (including PSG and Juventus).  The likely move would be a loan for the rest of the season with an option to buy, and the same Daily Star exclusive that describes the Balotelli situation also suggests Atletico could be leading the race for Mata’s arrival.  The rumor isn’t a new one, with the same coming through in summer from the Daily Mail, suggesting there could be some truth to it. It would be a serious coup for the Spaniards, who are into the Champions League knockout stage and also leading the La Liga table, and reinforcements of Mata’s caliber would give their chances in both competitions a serious boost.

As Robert Lewandowski gets ready for live at his new home Bayern Munich, talk has increased about what they will do with incumbent striker Mario Mandzukic.  Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge wants to put all that talk to rest immediately.  While that may be impossible, he worked quickly to do his part, saying, “He’s a fantastic player who has come on leaps and bounds with Bayern. His contract runs until 2016 and I told his advisor in Marrakech that we would be willing to talk about an extension. We have absolutely no intention of selling Mario.”

While Rummenigge was at it, he also ruled out a move inwards for Chelsea defender David Luiz.  When prompted on the player, Rummenigge said, “There’s always lots of speculation and it’s extreme in England, but I can say for certain that he is not a thought for us.” The chairman pointed to the potential return of defender Holger Bastuber from injury as a reason they do not need Luiz’s services.

STREAM: CONCACAF tripleheader concludes with USMNT

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CONCACAF’s bottom three sides in the Hex standings look to make the table incredibly tight as World Cup qualifying finds three-straight matches on the docket beginning at 5 p.m. EDT.

Honduras vs. Costa Rica

Los Catrachos were creamed 6-0 by the U.S. on Friday, and return home hoping a wounded Costa Rica remains vulnerable. Honduras is dead last on goal differential, but three points would be huge and put them level with Los Ticos. Costa Rica won its first two matches before falling to Mexico on Friday.

Trinidad and Tobago vs. Mexico

El Tri has two wins and a draw from their first three Hex matches, and will be without Rafa Marquez on Tuesday. A win guarantees Mexico the top spot heading into the next round of matches in June. The Soca Warriors surprised some with their 1-0 win over visiting Panama on Tuesday. Mexico is a different class.

Panama vs. USMNT

Despite its miserable start, the U.S. can find itself as high as second with a win and help from Honduras. The injuries remain plenty for the Yanks, who are without Fabian Johnson, Bobby Wood, Sebastian Lletget, and John Brooks. Panama has allowed just a single goal through three Hex matches, but also has only managed one.

AFC and Oceania wrap: Iran, New Zealand take next steps

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With CONMEBOL and CONCACAF serving as the main course later Tuesday, the morning and afternoon saw big World Cup qualifiers on the other side of the world.

[ MORE: Three keys for USA v Panama ] 

Asian qualifying

Iran is on the verge of qualification for Russia 2018 after Persepolis star Mehdi Taremi bagged his ninth international goal in a 1-0 home win over China.

Iran leads Group A by four points, but second-place South Korea and third-place Uzbekistan kept pace with 1-0 home wins of their own. Hong Jeong-ho scored in South Korea’s win over Syria, while Odil Ahmendov’s 65th minute free kick was enough to push Uzbekistan past Qatar.

The goalkeeping was… less than ideal.

Over in Group B, shutouts were the name of the game for high-powered hosts as well.

Japan stayed atop the group with a 4-0 win over Thailand, as a trio of players with Premier League experience — Maya Yoshida, Shinji Kagawa, and Shinji Okazaki — joined Gent’s Yuya Kubo on the scoreboard.

Saudi Arabia is level with Japan on points thanks to Yahya Al-Shehri’s post-halftime goal in a 1-0 win over Iraq, while Australia saw off United Arab Emirates thanks to goals from Burton Albion’s Jackson Irvine and Ingolstadt’s Mathew Leckie.

That leaves Australia three points behind Saudi Arabia and Japan in the race for two of three automatic spots. The Socceroos hosts the Green Falcons in June before an August trip to Saitama in a pair of matches which will decide who goes directly to Russia and who has to win a pair of playoffs: One against the Group A’s third-place team and another against CONCACAF’s fourth place side.

Oceania qualifying

New Zealand took the next step in collecting Oceania’s berth in the intercontinental playoff with a 2-0 win over Fiji in Wellington. PEC Zwolle winger Ryan Thomas bagged a brace for the All Whites.

New Zealand will next face either Tahiti, Solomon Islands, or Papua New Guinea over two legs in late August and early September for the right to battle the fifth place CONMEBOL team for a World Cup berth. That could be Ecuador, Chile, Paraguay, or even Colombia.

Tahiti hosts Papua New Guinea at 1 a.m. EDT Wednesday, and will be the odds-on favorite to face New Zealand with a win.

After further tests, Lletget to miss 4-6 months

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So much for initial reports.

Less than 24 hours after the LA Galaxy announced that Sebastian Lletget had come through his injury on USMNT duty with no structural damage, a specialist found something worse.

Lletget has a Lisfranc injury and requires surgery, meaning the Galaxy and the U.S. will be without the midfielder for four to six months.

[ MORE: Spurs eager for U.S. return ]

Lletget, 24, spent a half-decade with West Ham but couldn’t break into the squad before returning to the U.S. last summer. He became a mainstay for the Galaxy, earning a call-up to the national team.

He scored his first USMNT goal on Friday to open the World Cup qualifier against Honduras, but was injured after a hard sliding tackle from Ever Alvarado.

Galaxy has depth beyond Lletget and Jermaine Jones, with Rafael Garcia, Joao Pedro, and Baggio Husidic able to fill a similar role, but this one stings for the Galaxy. Get well, Sebastian.

Scouting report: Everton target Orlando’s Cyle Larin

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Reports have been suggesting the Orlando City’s star striker Cyle Larin is attracting some serious interest from Premier League side Everton.

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Larin, 21, has started the MLS season off in red-hot form and the report suggests the Toffees have bid $4 million for his talents. They’ll likely have to up that offer for the Canadian national team star.

What is Larin all about?

With Romelu Lukaku seeming to be heading towards the exit door this summer as his contract saga rumbles on, it’s not outlandish to state that Larin has a very similar style to the prolific Belgian international. Of course, he has yet to test himself in the PL and Lukaku’s boots would be a big pair to fill if Larin did arrive at Goodison Park as some kind of replacement in the coming months, yet when you watch Larin play there are so many similarities between the pair.

Ronald Koeman is always eager to give youth a chance and with Tom Davies, Ademola Lookman and Dominic Calvert-Lewin all getting regular minutes this season, so Larin would get chances to impress if he ended up on Merseyside.

Here are some key stats Toffees fans will want to know too:

  • 17 – Number of goals Larin scored in his debut MLS season, the most-ever by a Rookie
  • Larin has scored all three of Orlando’s goals so far in the 2017 MLS season
  • He has scored 39 goals in 68 appearances for Orlando since arriving in 2015
  • For Canada, he has five goals in 19 appearances after making his debut as a teenager
  • Larin became the first-ever Canadian to be selected as the first overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft when he joined Orlando in 2015

Click play on the video above to see Larin’s best moments so far in MLS, as he continues his impressive development.