Sunday Transfer Rumor Roundup: Dzeko talk strengthens, while Draxler noise reduced

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With Manchester City flying high, strike man Edin Dzeko may be headed elsewhere in search of regular playing time as Sergio Aguero has returned from injury.  The Bosnian has bagged 15 goals across all competitions for Manchester City (five in the Premier League), but with the trio of Aguero, Alvaro Negredo, and Jesus Navas firing on all cylinders, Dzeko will be sent back to the bench.

According to German outfit Die Welt Wolfsburg could make a run at their former striker, fresh off shelling out £16 million ($26.2 million) for Chelsea winger Kevin De Bruyne.  The 27-year-old spent three and a half seasons at the Bundesliga club before making a big £30.5 million ($50 millio) move to the Etihad in January of 2011.

That would be a heck of a January haul for the 5th place club, and would give Wolfsburg a massive boost as they search for a return to the Champions League.

As one rumor sees a star Premier League player possibly headed to the Bundesliga, there has been plenty of noise that young Julian Draxler could be headed in the other direction.  His Schalke manager Horst Heldt has done his best to quell the speculation, and while that may be impossible, he’s certainly sewed the seeds of doubt across Gunner nation.

“I have not been told that Julian would like to leave us, either in the winter or the summer,” Heldt said. “There have not been any requests from any club regarding Julian. It boils down to wild speculation, which has been happening in England. The clubs would have to tell us if they were interested.”

Draxler has been publicly coveted by Arsenal defender Per Mertesacker, while it’s no secret manager Arsene Wenger feels the same. However, they’ll be put on alert now that his home club has come out to make a stand against losing their best young player.

source: Getty Images
A loan move Mirko Vucinic could be the answer to Arsenal’s striker depth issues, but Wenger didn’t sound interested.

Many media outfits are speculating that ultimately the fate of this transfer lies in the hands of Arsenal’s biggest rivals, Tottenham Hotspur.  They are rumored to be in negotiations to offload Lewis Holtby onto Schalke and the Spurs winger could serve as a replacement for Draxler, allowing them to then sell their man to Arsenal. But if Tim Sherwood decides he wants to nix Draxler’s chances of seeing Premier League action, he could pull the plug on Holtby’s move, causing Schalke to think twice about selling their 20-year-old assist machine.

Wenger is a seasoned vet when it comes to his media reaction to speculation.  Therefore, he wasn’t biting when prompted with another rumor, a loan move for Juventus striker Mirko Vucinic.  Wenger stated Arsenal are “not especially interested in” the owner of 8 Serie A appearances this season. Relegated to a squad depth role at Juventus Stadium, 30-year-old Vucinic could be tempted by Wenger who is searching for a striker to serve a similar role. However, with the Serie A league leaders disappointingly out of the Champions League, this could be another chance for Vucinic to serve a role in Europe’s highest competition.

Another name fresh on the lips of English media is Atletico Madrid’s Spanish youngster Saul Niguez.  At just 19 years old, Niguez has impressed on loan at Rayo Vallecano in a holding midfield role.  But according to the Daily Mail Atletico have alerted Premier League clubs such as Manchester United, Chelsea  and Arsenal that he would cost a whopping €24.3 million ($32.8 million).  With a 79% pass completion rate and 49% of his tackles won (according to Squawka statistics) in a holding midfield role, it’s unlikely anyone would pony up that kind of money for such a risk.

Championship Focus: Bluebirds flying, Villa second-last

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The wild 46-game slate that is the Football League Championship is already howling, with all 24 teams three matches deep into their campaigns toward Premier League promotion (or avoiding relegation to League One).

The three clubs relegated from the Premier League last season all sit within the Top 8 after three match days. Sunderland is unbeaten with a win and two draws, while Hull City is 1-1-1.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

Middlesbrough has two wins from three matches, three points behind three sides who’ve started a perfect 3-0.

Wolves and Ipswich Town are two of the three, and Cardiff City leads the way. Owner Vincent Tan has seen his club score six goals without conceding once in defeats of Burton Albion, Aston Villa, and Sheffield United.

Burton is 0-3, while Steve Bruce‘s Villa is just one point better and sits 23rd.

As for individual superlatives, Bristol City’s Bobby Reid has four goals to lead the league while familiar names Lewis Grabban (Sunderland) and Abel Hernandez (Hull City) are among a quartet of players to score thrice.

Meanwhile, PL transfer target Jota of Brentford continues to impress with three assists through three matches. Will he remain in the second tier by the close of the transfer window?

MLS Snapshot: Montreal Impact 3-0 Chicago Fire

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The game in 100 words (or less)Ignacio Piatti is very good at soccer, and Chicago backstop Matt Lampson is going to see him deep into his dreams. Piatti beat Lampson up close on a turnover and then, with Montreal ahead 2-0 off a PK, the Argentine curled a surprise shot from distance around the keeper. Game, set, match, and it wasn’t even halftime. The loss keeps Chicago from using its match-in-hand to catch second place New York City FC, while the three points move Montreal to within two points of the East’s final playoff position.

Three moments that mattered

6′ — Piatti starts the party — Gifted a chance with the keeper by a sloppy missed clearing attempt, the Argentine deftly pops the ball over Fire keeper Matt Lampson.

36′ — Lampson hurts his cause — Chicago’s backstop wasn’t at fault on the opening goal, but he was for the second. After chopping down Matteo Mancosu in the box, Lampson guessed wrong on the striker’s penalty kick and the Fire went down 2-0.

38′ — It’s not your night, Lamps — Pretty sure you can anyone named Lampson, Lamps. Anyway, this time it was one of MLS’ top newcomers who set up Piatti for a goal. “Nacho” has his 12th of the season thanks to Blerim Dzemaili, and my goodness did Piatti do well here.

Man of the Match: Piatti.

Forbes ranks the top supporters in Major League Soccer

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Forbes claims the shared honor will give two Cascadia Cup rivals one less thing to argue about, but we completely disagree.

The celebrated magazine says their metrics show the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders tied for the honor of who has the best fans in Major League Soccer.

The post says the determination was made through four factors: attendance, local TV ratings, merchandise sales, and social media followers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Attendance was weighted heaviest, which certainly gives Atlanta United hope to go charging up the rankings in the future. For now, the “Five Stripes” are not included in the list.

The Galaxy finish third in the rankings, while the sixth-place New York Red Bulls edge New York City FC by one spot.

For the report and full explanation, head here.

Europa League preview: Everton, Milan, Marseille take next steps

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The UEFA Europa League playoff round takes full flight Thursday, a day after Utrecht struck a blow for the Eredivisie with a 1-0 win over Zenit Saint-Petersburg in a Wednesday first leg.

Premier League participants Everton will be seeking a result at home against Hajduk Split, the third-place team from Croatia’s top flight.

Gylfi Sigurdsson passed his medical at Goodison Park but will not be available for Everton on Thursday.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

As for the match, manager Ronald Koeman knows the Thursday matchdays for the UEL will try his club’s endurance and depth. From EvertonFC.com:

“We know English teams have some problems. I think it is more mental than physical because if you play in the Champions League – so Wednesday and Saturday – you have the same amount of days to recover. I try to put out the strongest team to start the game. That will take into account the tactical aspects of each game. That will mean different players start and different options in terms of substitutions.”

Captained by Zoran Nizic and managed by Joan Carrillo, Hajduk has a young star in the making in the form of 19-year-old attacking midfielder Nikola Vlasic, but Everton is heavily favored at home with Hajduk given 12:1 odds by bookmakers.

[ MORE: Barca GM says Coutinho, Dembele “close” ]

Those numbers are a relative sure thing compared to AC Milan’s visitors. Macedonia club Shkendija are a 33:1 underdog for its trip to Italy.

Elsewhere, Slovenian side Domzale is a longshot at home to visiting Marseille.

Speaking of bookmakers, Arsenal won’t enter the competition until the group stage but is considered the favorite to win the UEL by a hair over Milan. Everton, Villarreal, and Athletic Bilbao are level with third-best odds.

UEFA Europa League playoff first legs
Utrecht 1-0 Zenit — Weds.
BATE Borisov vs. Oleksandriya — 1 p.m. ET Thursday
Apollon Limassol vs. Midtjylland — 1 p.m.
Krasnodar vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m.
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Skenderbeu — 1 p.m.
FH vs. Braga — 1:45 p.m. ET Thursday
PAOK vs. Ostersund — 2 p.m. ET Thursday
Vardar vs. Fenerbahce — 2 p.m.
Plzen vs. AEK Lamaca — 2:15 p.m. ET Thursday
Altach vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv — 2:30 p.m. ET Thursday
Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Suduva — 2:30 p.m.
Panathinaikos vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:30 p.m.
Domzale vs. Marseille — 2:45 p.m. ET Thursday
Osijek vs. Austria Wien — 2:45 p.m.
Viitorul vs. Red Bull Salzburg — 2:45 p.m.
Ajax vs. Rosenborg — 2:45 p.m.
Legia Warsaw vs. Sheriff — 2:45 p.m.
AC Milan vs. Shkendija — 2:45 p.m.
Club Brugge vs. AEK — 2:45 p.m.
Partizan vs. Videoton — 3 p.m. ET Thursday
Everton vs. Hajduk Split — 3:05 p.m. ET Thursday
Maritimo vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:30 p.m. ET Thursday