With Michael Bradley, Jermain Defoe, what would a Toronto FC starting XI look like

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We’re still two months away from the start of Major League Soccer’s season, but given the news Toronto FC made today, it’s impossible to resist taking pen to paper and imagining what Ryan Nelsen’s team could look like in March. Jermain Defoe is moving to BMO Field, as is U.S. Men’s National Team stalwart Michael Bradley. Add in the team’s other offseason acquisitions — Gilberto, Jackson, Justin Morrow — and the somewhat permeable state at the bottom of the Eastern Conference’s playoff picture and it’s difficult to tell a TFC fan they shouldn’t dare to dream.

Beyond the players, we know Nelsen has almost exclusively played a 4-4-2 formation since signing on in Toronto, preferring one defensive midfielder in the middle. With that in mind, here’s some blind speculation as to what a TFC starting XI could look like, provided Defoe and Bradley end up in Ontario.

[MORE: Report: Bradley to Toronto done, set to earn $6.5 million per season after $7-$10 million transfer fee]

GK: Joe Bendik – The 24-year-old acquired from Portland before last season made 33 starts for Nelsen, keeping the No. 1’s job from the eventually traded Stefan Frei. Recently re-signed, he’ll be back in goal this year.

LB: Justin Morrow/Ashtone Morgan – It look Nelsen a little time to warm to Morgan last season, but ultimately, the 22-year-old played the fourth-most minutes on the team. The former San Jose Earthquake will challenge his place in the starting XI, but Morrow’s flexibility could lead to significant playing time for both players. (This is where I’ll reiterate our caveats: It’s only January, this is very speculative, and Ryan Nelsen/Tim Bezbatchenko may have no idea who will be starting Mar. 7 against Vancouver.)

[MORE: Michael Bradley-to-Toronto: Take a moment to suspend your whys, consider how far MLS has come]

CBs: Doneil Henry, Steven Caldwell – Though Gale Agbossoumonde is lurking, the young U.S. hopeful is actually two years older than Henry, who is likely to start next to the veteran Caldwell.

RB: Mark Bloom? Ryan Richter? – This is the one position where it’s unclear what Toronto’s doing, leaving you to wonder whether Morrow may actually make his way over to this flank. A Canadian Press report from mid-December speculated the 26-year-old Bloom had inherited the spot, perhaps a second ex-Atlanta Silverbacks full back loanee ready to make an impact in Major League Soccer (along with Colorado’s Chris Klute).

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Brazilian Jackson, acquired from FC Dallas this offseason, is likely to hold town one flank in Ryan Nelsen’s 4-4-2.

LM/RM: Jackson, Reggie Lambe – Alvaro Rey and Jonathan Osorio are also options here, but Lambe’s 27 appearances hint he was one of Nelsen’s favorites last season, something that could give the 22-year-old Bermudan a leg-up on a starting spot. Jackson, acquired from FC Dallas, looks like an obvious choice for Toronto’s starting XI, provided he makes a smooth transition to his new team.

[MORE: Making sense of the “whys” surrounding Michael Bradley’s Toronto move]

CMs: Michael Bradley, Jeremy Hall or Jonathan Osorio (Kyle Bekker?) – How does Nelsen envision using Bradley? Is the U.S. international seen as a holder? Somebody who will typically be the deepest man in midfielder? Or will Nelsen craft a more expansive role for his DP midfielder? That may dictate whether Jeremy Hall, Toronto’s most-used field player in 2013, continues to be a regular in the starting XI. It’s also possible somebody like the 21-year-old Osorio (or, maybe Kyle Bekker) ends up partnering Bradley in the middle. This may also be a position when the opposition has something to say about who Nelsen chooses from one weekend to the next.

[MORE: Defoe to Toronto FC official… and maybe Michael Bradley, too? (or “How Taylor Twellman broke Twitter”)]

Fs: Jermain Defoe, Gilberto – Bright Dike and Dwayne De Rosario give Nelsen options, but the top of the depth chart is clear. Both Defoe and Gilberto’s track records hint they’ll be very successful Major League Soccer players, and while fans of the league have seen enough flame outs to know nothing is guaranteed, Toronto should be able to avoid their 2013 goal-scoring woes. Provided Nelsen loosens the reins (far from a given), TFC should drastically improve on the 30 goals they scored last season.

Premier League Preview: Liverpool vs. Crystal Palace

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  • Liverpool will still be without Philippe Coutinho due to a back injury.
  • Adam Lallana, Nathaniel Clyne also miss out, but Daniel Sturridge is fit.
  • Crystal Palace has won three-straight games against Liverpool in the Premier League.
  • Both teams have scored in each of the last 10 meetings in all competitions between Liverpool and Crystal Palace, averaging 3.9 goals per match.

For the second-consecutive week, Liverpool will have to play without Philippe Coutinho, who is still missing with a back injury.

However, that didn’t seem to be an issue last week against Watford as Liverpool scored three goals, but it was the leaky defense that allowed Watford to score three goals themselves. (Watch live at 10:00 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Crystal Palace meanwhile also allowed three goals last week but couldn’t score any of its own as it was humbled, 3-0 to Huddersfield. Crystal Palace’s squad is still struggling to adjust to manager Frank De Boer‘s free-flowing style of play and Wilfried Zaha will miss Saturday’s encounter.

But working in Crystal Palace’s favor is Christian Benteke and the club’s three straight wins over Liverpool. It will surely be an open and exciting match at Anfield.

What they’re saying

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp on Crystal Palace: “We played Crystal Palace a few weeks ago. I’m not 100 per cent sure about the line-ups in that game, but Phil and Zaha were on the pitch and they will not be [this weekend]. I’m not sure if Adam played in this game, but that’s how it is…The only thing we know is it’s a tough game, probably both teams were not overly happy – we were not really disappointed about our first game, but it was how a first game can be, there are things to improve and it’s always like this, but even then we could’ve won which I think everybody knows.”

Crystal Palace manager Frank De Boer on his system of play: “I am not a manager who suddenly after a defeat decides to change things around and as I say I did see some very positive points so I am not going to change the system. We don’t need to use adapting to a change in style of our play as an excuse, it’s not so difficult and quite easy to play. The Premier League is so competitive that you have to work hard as a team to get a result because if you don’t you get punished. The players don’t want to use the new system as an excuse and I think everybody understands what we want but we have to execute it better.”

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Prediction

Liverpool’s centerback pair of Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren looked better midweek in the UEFA Champions League against Hoffenheim, but it’s another challenge to face Benteke and a motivated Crystal Palace team. Still, the speed of thought and pace on the field of Mo Salah and Sadio Mane should prove to be the difference. Liverpool 3-2 Crystal Palace

Blaise Matuidi completes move from PSG to Juventus

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PARIS (AP) France midfielder Blaise Matuidi completed his move from Paris Saint-Germain to Juventus on Friday.

Matuidi arrived in Turin for a medical on Wednesday but the move finally went through Friday, PSG said in a statement.

[ MORE: Serie A scores, schedule ]

No financial details were given, but Juventus will reportedly pay PSG 20 million euros ($23 million) plus bonuses for the player, who had a year left on his contract. PSG did not say how long Matuidi’s contract is with the Italian champion.

The French club, runner-up to Monaco last year, is trying to balance the books after buying Neymar for 222 million euros ($261 million) and could not afford to lose Matuidi on a free transfer.

(more…)

Premier League Preview: Swansea City vs. Manchester United

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  • Manchester United have won two of its last three Premier League meetings with Swansea City (D1), this after losing the previous three all by a 2-1 scoreline.
  • Romelu Lukaku is looking to become the fifth player to score in his first two PL apps for Man Utd (also Ibrahimovic, Martial, Macheda, Saha).
  • Swansea City will be without forward Fernando Llorente (transfer) and playmaker Gylfi Sigurdsson (transfer to Everton)
  • Manchester United are still without Luke Shaw and Ashley Young, both of whom are injured.

Two teams on two completely different trajectories meet up in South Wales as Swansea City hosts Manchester United (Watch live at 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Manchester United are trending up, coming off an impressive 4-0 win over West Ham in the opening weekend in which new signings Romelu Lukaku and Nemanja Matic starred and dominated the game.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Swansea City on the other hand are trending down, slumping to a scoreless draw last week and this week seeing the club lose its top player, Gylfi Sigurdsson to Everton.

What they’re saying

Man United manager Jose Mourinho on his team’s start to the season: “It’s just the beginning. Last season, we started with three matches and nine points and we finished sixth. So it’s not because of a very good first day that I’m going to lose my stability and my discipline and let the players think differently from myself.”

Swansea City manager Paul Clement on facing Man United: “We have confidence because of what we did against Manchester United last season, while the record between these two clubs is quite interesting. Our record in the Premier League against Southampton, for example, is not very good, but against United it’s quite encouraging.

“We are looking forward to playing in front of our fans again and hopefully we can do well for them.”

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Prediction

Swansea City will have the force of its fans behind it as well as recent good performances against Man United. However, Jose Mourinho’s men should buck the trend and win this one without too much of a fight. Manchester United 3-0 Swansea City

Reports: Liverpool reject latest Barcelona offer for Coutinho

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Barcelona has reportedly upped its offer for the services of Philippe Coutinho. But the response from Liverpool has remained the same.

According to multiple reports, Liverpool has rejected a third Barcelona offer for Coutinho, believed to be worth up to $151.5 million. Coutinho put in a transfer request a week ago but Liverpool has remained firm on its desire to keep Coutinho for this season. Liverpool has not yet publicly commented on Barcelona’s latest transfer bid.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Coutinho meanwhile is still off the field for Liverpool due to a back injury, the club states.

“Phil is not available; he is not training so far, so there is nothing new,” manager Jurgen Klopp told reporters. “It is always how it is with injured players, there is no real time on when he is back.”

The Brazilian midfielder signed a new five-year contract with Liverpool just last January and the deal doesn’t have a buy-out clause. But should Liverpool accept a new bid for Coutinho, he’d become the second-most expensive transfer behind fellow Brazilian Neymar.

It’s unclear whether Barcelona will shift focus to other targets such as Borussia Dortmund’s Ousmane Dembele or Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann as a replacement for Neymar.