West Bromwich Albion vs. Everton: Can new Albion boss Pepe Mel get a surprise win?

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Romelu Lukaku returns to The Hawthorns on Monday (3 p.m. ET; watch life on NBCSN and live online viaNBC Sports Live Extra), with his task to help Everton emerge victorious against West Bromwich Albion, the side he did so much to help while on loan there last season.

The Belgian striker scored 17 goals in the league for West Brom in his time with the Baggies – a number that the struggling side are sorely missing at the moment. The Midlands outfit has but 23 goals thus far, with top scorer Saido Berahino notching four, and second best, Shane Long, has just moved to Hull City. With just one win in their last eleven matches, West Brom are currently 14th in the table, just three points above the relegation zone.

But that may all be about to change. Pepe Mel will take the reins for the first time on Monday night, set to put Albion back on track. Mel comes in after being sacked from Real Betis last month, with the side bottom of the La Liga table. That shouldn’t worry West Brom supporters too much: Juan Carlos Garrido was fired from the same post this weekend, after the side lost 5-0 to Real Madrid. And let’s not forget that just last season, Betis finished seventh, qualifying for Europa League. Mel could be just the man to pull the Baggies out of their slump.

(WATCH: West Brom vs. Everton live on NBCSN, 3 p.m. ET Monday and online via Live Extra)

Everton aren’t about to play the role of gracious visitors, allowing Mel to have his dream debut. With a win, the Toffees could go above rivals Liverpool, but even more importantly, three points put them in fourth, the coveted final Champions League position.

The visitors have but two losses to their name, one at Manchester City and the other, oddly enough, at home to Sunderland. They’re undefeated in their last three and will obviously look to extend that run. Under Roberto Martinez, Everton are playing a much more attractive sort of soccer, with an emphasis on free-flowing attack that prevents their opponents from seeing much of the ball. And they’re deadly on set pieces, whether it’s a corner or a free kick sent in from Leighton Baines or Kevin Mirallas.

Everton have a couple concerns, however. They’re without midfielder Ross Barkley, who’s been a bright spot this season, as he’s suffering from a broken toe. And the aforementioned Lukaku has hit a bit of a rough patch, having not scored since the end of November. However, that just might mean the Belgian is due…

 What they’re saying

New West Brom boss Pepe Mel on changing the side’s approach: “West Brom need to have an aggressive approach and – in my personal opinion – create more goal-scoring ­opportunities. The players are showing an awful lot of desire to adapt to my model. They are being very positive. I’m convinced things are going to go well here and they are going to be a success. They are more than capable of having a good rest of the season.”

Everton manager Roberto Martinez on Pepe Mel‘s appointment: “I think he will surprise a lot of people. He has been very successful in his time in Spain. The first time I was aware of his work was at Rayo Vallecano when he got them promoted to the top league against the odds with a very small budget and since then he has done a remarkable job wherever he has been. It is probably the wrong time to face Pepe Mel, but we wish him the best of luck after Monday.”

Prediction

Draw. With eight draws for Everton and nine for West Brom, these sides are far and away the best at coming out of games with a point. The reverse fixture ended in a goalless draw at Goodison Park back in August, although Everton did manage to hit the woodwork twice. Finally, Pepe Mel knows how important it is to make a good first impression in front of the home fans, but the visitors are simply a stronger side. He may decide to play it safe, as even a draw against the Toffees would likely spell success.

Barcelona GM: “We’re close to signing Coutinho, Dembele”

Philippe Coutinho
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Barcelona did not post a magical comeback versus Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup second leg, instead losing 5-1 on aggregate after Wednesday’s 2-0 loss at the Bernabeu.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

But perhaps the celebrated La Liga club has worked some wizardry in the transfer market, with not one but two big targets “close” to the Camp Nou.

Barca general manager Josep “Pep” Segura was on television after the match, and noted Spanish football expert Sid Lowe relays his words: Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho and Borussia Dortmund’s Ousmane Dembele are coming to Barca, “but until it’s closed I can’t say anything.”

Well, you just said something about it, so what gives.

Now before anyone freaks out at Anfield or Westfalenstadion, this is a man speaking after a relatively embarrassing performance for one of the biggest clubs in the world. Segura could simply be treading water for new manager Ernesto Valverde after his club was simply worked over in 120 minutes versus its El Clasico rivals.

VIDEO: Asensio, Real Madrid outclass out-of-sorts Barca; PSG trolls?

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This one wasn’t even close, and is going to instantly have many Barcelona fans wondering if the loss of Neymar is going to be too much for Ernesto Valverde to handle.

Real Madrid rode a stunning Marco Asensio strike to a 2-0 first half lead at the Bernabeu on Wednesday en route to a 5-1 aggregate win over Barcelona in the Spanish Super Cup.

It’s Real’s 10th Spanish Super Cup, and first since 2012.

[ MORE: Bacca to Villarreal ]

Karim Benzema also scored in the opening frame, which saw Barca looking out of sorts and rudderless.

As in the first leg in Barcelona, the Blaugranas had their moments but failed to show sharpness and class against the reigning La Liga and UEFA Champions League winners.

Lionel Messi hit the crossbar, Luis Suarez headed off the post. The second half wasn’t producing a magic comeback.

Both teams kick off their La Liga seasons on Sunday, with Barca hosting Real Betis and Real off to Deportivo de la Coruna.

Meanwhile, it seems like PSG spent the afternoon trolling Barca, first posting a shot of ex-Blaugranas stars Dani Alves and Neymar training, and then an incredulous Neymar accompanied by a laughing emoji.

Carlos Bacca joins Villarreal, Boateng leaves Las Palmas

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MADRID (AP) Colombia striker Carlos Bacca joined Spanish club Villarreal on loan from AC Milan on Wednesday.

Villarreal said the one-season loan agreement includes the option to buy the player at the end of the season.

Bacca returns to a Spanish league where the 30-year-old forward flourished in two seasons at Sevilla before joining Milan in 2015.

[ MORE: UCL Wednesday wrap ]

Bacca has made 39 appearances for Colombia, scoring 13 goals. According to Villarreal, he has scored 165 career goals in 336 matches. He scored 14 goals for Milan last season.

Elsewhere in Spain, Las Palmas announced that Kevin-Prince Boateng was leaving the club after both sides agreed to end his contract two days before its season opener.

Las Palmas said that Boateng was leaving due to “personal reasons of an irreversible nature.” The club thanked the former AC Milan standout for his “professionalism” that he displayed during his single season on the Canary Islands.

Las Palmas opens the Spanish league season on Friday at Valencia.

Man City has $23 million Evans bid shot down by WBA

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Could Jonny Evans be the latest player to cross Manchester’s red and blue divide, albeit with a stop in between?

Reports Wednesday say West Bromwich Albion has rejected a $23 million Manchester City bid for the Northern Irish center back.

[ MORE: UCL Wednesday wrap ]

$23 million? That’s like 40 percent of a Kyle Walker!

Evans, 29, is the Baggies captain and a key piece of the club’s aims to continue its long stay in the Premier League.

He joined Manchester United’s academy at age 16 and stayed at Old Trafford through 2015, taking loan opportunities at Royal Antwerp and Sunderland on the way.

At United, Evans won three Premier League titles and two League Cups, and also has a Championship win from one of his two stints at Sunderland.

The 61-times capped Belfast native would give City a key component for Premier League play along with a center back corps of Nicolas Otamendi, Vincent Kompany, and John Stones. Eliaquim Mangala completes their veteran depth, and is certainly City’s weakest position.

Would West Brom sell at any reasonable price? The Baggies are not deep at center back, either — not too many clubs are — and will be in a boatload of trouble without Evans. And given the transfer market, finding a proper replacement at under $30 million is going to be difficult (Reread that sentence. What a summer).

It’s another argument for the transfer window closing before the start of the season.