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.

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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.

Lletget diagnosed with foot sprain, escaping further damage

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Word has arrived from the LA Galaxy camp that will see USMNT fans feel relieved as Sebastian Lletget has escaped the news many feared.

The young attacker was impressive in the first 18 minutes of the United States’ 6-0 win over Honduras, but was injured minutes after scoring the opening goal and could not continue. Replays showed that Lletget got his foot caught underneath a defender in the process of a hard challenge on the right wing.

There was concern that Lletget would be out for a significant amount of time, but the Galaxy announced that after testing over the weekend, Lletget did not suffer any structural damage and was diagnosed with a left foot sprain.

[ MORE: USMNT adds Paul Arreola to roster, drops Lletget, Brooks, Morris ]

Lletget will visit a specialist on Monday to determine a plan for recovery, and it’s possible that he will still have to miss some time in the near future. The Galaxy visit Vancouver on Saturday, and his status for that match has to be considered up in the air. They then host Montreal on April 7.

While Lletget obviously misses out on the next USMNT game at Panama on Tuesday having already been dumped from the roster, he will most definitely be available for the June games against Trinidad & Tobago and Mexico, and will likely be an option for Bruce Arena given the manager’s history with Lletget at Los Angeles.

The United States have been struck with a collection of injuries that all occurred just before the international break, hampering the squad significantly. Bobby Wood, Jordan Morris, and Fabian Johnson all went down in the days before reporting for international duty, and the team lost Lletget and John Brooks in the Honduras win. Lletget’s departure could see Alejandro Bedoya into the starting lineup on Tuesday, with the Union midfielder having replaced Lletget in the Honduras match. Also in contention is Jermaine Jones, who could come in after his suspension and push Darlington Nagbe onto the wing.

Southgate can see Defoe in England squad long-term

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Gareth Southgate praised Jermain Defoe after his contributions to England’s 2-0 win over Lithuania on Sunday, but accidentally put a condition on his position in the squad.

The 34-year-old scored the opening goal and contributed heavily to the buildup of Jamie Vardy‘s score, and Southgate was happy that his decision to play an in-form striker paid off.

“If he scores like he is in the Premier League, there’s no reason why he wouldn’t be,” Southgate said. “We’re never able to pick a full cohort, so it’s important we can call upon the likes of Jermain and he can have the impact like he did today.

“I think we’ve got to look every time we get together as to who is in form. I don’t know if we can have a distinct pecking order because players who are playing well deserve the opportunity. If we are going to be successful, we have to have that competition for places. The reality is we will always lose players to injury.”

[ MORE: Defoe walks out Bradley Lowery before England game ]

A reporter asked him to clarify why he specified that Defoe should be scoring in the Premier League, and with his club Sunderland under heavy threat of relegation, Southgate admitted he let one slip.

“I walked into that,” Southgate said. “I guess the ideal world for all our players is they are playing regularly at a high level. The flip-side is we don’t have a huge pool of players to pick from.  We have to balance off a few different things. I can’t constrain myself on selection entirely, but I know ideally what I’d like to have. His performances and his goalscoring form this season have counted for him.”

Defoe has 14 goals in 28 Premier League appearances for Sunderland this season, but he’s proved the Black Cats’ only threat as they sit bottom of the league table with 20 points. Defoe has become the center of opposition game plans, and as a result he’s slowed down, with just two goals in his last seven games, and the club has little else to pick up the slack.

Still, at 34 years old, many wonder how much longer Defoe can contribute, and if he’ll be a viable option for next year’s World Cup.

Group F gets messy as Slovakia and Scotland grab wins

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England is in control at the top of Group F, but below them things are beginning to get complicated.

Despite the absence of Marek Hamsik due to a last-minute injury, Slovakia defeated Malta 3-1. They took the lead just 97 seconds in as Vladimir Weiss put the visitors in front with a beautiful curling strike from outside the box. Malta struck back through domestic striker Jean Paul Farrugia in the 14th minute, but that was all Malta could muster.

Slovakia would go ahead just before halftime as FC Copenhagen midfielder Jan Gregus put them in front in the 41st minute. The speculative shot from Gregus came from a great distance out, and as it skipped across the ground, it appeared Malta goalkeeper Andrew Hogg saw it late, as his dive was poor and it skipped off his hands and in.

Both teams ended with 10 men on the field, as Farrugia was sent off with 16 minutes to go for a second yellow, and Adam Nemec saw the same fate in injury time, but before he was sent off, Nemec was there to kill the game off in the 84th minute.

That put Slovakia up to nine points, and it moved them into second place thanks to late drama in Glasgow. Chris Martin gave Scotland all three points with an 88th minute strike as the home side won 1-0 over Slovenia, who dropped from second to third with the loss. The Fulham striker got a beautiful feed through the back line from Stuart Armstrong, and while his shot wasn’t terribly accurate, it was enough to win the game as Slovenia goalkeeper Matus Kozacik gave it a poor effort.

The win for Scotland pulls them above Lithuania and into fourth, a point back of Slovenia in third.

Wasteful Poland snatches late 2-1 win at Montenegro

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Poland was in control for much of the game, but failed to finish in front of net until Borussia Dortmund full-back Lukasz Piszczek found the winner with eight minutes to go as the visitors increased their lead at the top of World Cup qualification Group E.

Robert Lewandowski put Poland in front five minutes before halftime with a brilliant free-kick that left Montenegran goalkeeper Mladen Blozovic completely baffled, but Montenegro looked sturdy at the back for much of the game and dangerous on the counter. They’d hit just past the hour mark as Stefan Mugosa headed in to level the score.

Lewandowski had a pair of massive chances in the second half, but couldn’t get either to go down as Blozovic was there to turn him away, and Montenegran defenders cleared off the line as well. Luckily for Poland, they had Piszczek who burst down the right to beat Aleksandar Sofranac, and he produced a stunning finish looped over the closing Blozovic from a tight angle, dinked off the far post, and into the back of the net.

That would do it for Montenegro who had little attacking ability outside of their countering abilities, and with Poland happy to ease out the clock, the hosts didn’t have enough.

The win pushes Poland six points clear at the top of Group E, a sizeable lead with five matches remaining. The battle for the second-place spot is tight, with Montenegro still in command on seven points, level with Denmark but ahead on goal differential. Armenia and Romania are even with six points each.