Fit, value, circumstance: Initial reaction to Mata’s potential $65 million United move

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That Chelsea would even consider selling Juan Mata to Manchester United speaks of the depths to which the Red Devils have fallen, but since we’re completely embracing the extremes of this post-Alex Ferguson climate, we might want to consider the scenario that’s emerged Tuesday evening. That possibility has Mata, out of favor at Stamford Bridge ever since José Mourinho’s began picking favorites, moving to Manchester for $65.8 million (£40 million).

Setting aside the story’s veracity (it is a soccer rumor, after all) and that eye-bulging price, Mata would be an ideal fit for a United team that’s lacked creativity all season. With the absence of Wayne Rooney forcing 18-year-old Adnan Januzaj in from the wing to play behind Danny Welbeck, the club’s lack of playmaking options has been exposed. While some would say Shinji Kagawa’s a logical solution, David Moyes’ inability to craft a role for the talented Japanese international underscores the need for Mata. For as baffling as Mata’s exclusion as been in Stamford Bridge, Kagawa’s has been equally puzzling in Stretford.

When Rooney and van Persie return, Mata can play behind each, though the Spaniard’s defensive liabilities mean Rooney would have to pick up the slack. But given the lack of creativity in United’s team, that’s a tactical risk Moyes and Ed Woodward should accept. While Mata’s acquisition might require more imagination in how the Red Devils set up their team, the potential rewards shouldn’t be ignored.

If United is able to pull off the move, it would be adding one of the most productive players over the Premier League’s last two seasons. During that time, Mata recorded 18 goals and 30 assists in league play. Expand the scope to all competitions, and the Spanish international’s scored 32 times while setting up 55 others between August 2011 and May 2013.

This year, however, Mata’s been lost. Mourinho’s offseason arrival cost him his starting spot, with the 17 appearances he has made producing only one goal and three assists. Also linked with Paris Saint-Germain, Mata’s been a constant fixture on this month’s rumor mill, and with his team, having put a concrete price on one of their most talented players, speculation about Mata’s Chelsea future is bound to increase.

There are two big questions about the potential move. The first is whether the possibility even makes sense, but given the outlet (The Guardian), two trusted reporters in the byline, and the level of specifics in the report, this looks like one of the more solid transfer reports. Short of a direct quote from one the deal’s principals, there’s little more you could ask from a transfer rumor.

The destination makes sense, too. For the last decade, it would have been difficult to imagine Chelsea and United swamping such a high-profile talent. United’s swoon to seventh place, however, puts the prospect in a different light. Instead of helping a fellow title contender, Chelsea would be casting Mata into the battle for fourth. With the Blues done with United for the season, there’s no chance Mata could hurt Chelsea’s title hopes.

source: Reuters
Struggling in their first season under David Moyes (pictured) Manchester United have fallen from first to seventh in the Premier League. Only the league’s top four finishers qualify for UEFA Champions League. (Photo: Reuters.)

The money, however, is the second big question. Should United pay a club record $65.8 million for Mata? As far as on-field effects, few players are probably worth that money, but the players who can change games come at a premium. Although he hasn’t changed a game in a few months, Mata still carries that reputation. Particularly if PSG are still interested, Chelsea can justify setting an outrageous price.

From United’s point of view, this could be spun as a somewhat cost-conscious move. If the difference between seven and four (perhaps no Europe and Champions League) is acquiring somebody like Mata, the transfer fee could be justified. Going out in the Round of 16 last year, Manchester United made $46.8 million in Champions League revenue. If obtaining Mata also decreases the likelihood of a sell off that would preclude qualifying beyond 2013-14, the 25-year-old’s cost could be seen as a means to secure a financial end.

But that reasoning further underscores how much has changed in eight months. In May, Mata was an indispensable player for Chelsea. Now, his best use might be generating more room between Chelsea’s spending and the Financial Fair Play margins. And for Manchester United, they’ve gone from running away with the Premier League to pursuing players who can salvage their Champions League hopes. Unfortunately, those players are extremely expensive, with their scarcity meaning the Red Devils may have to line a rivals’ pockets.

Wigan player races off for son’s birth after scoring 2 goals

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WIGAN, England (AP) It was better than a hat trick.

A player for English soccer team Wigan had a night to remember when he scored his second goal before dashing off the field and to the local hospital, where his girlfriend was in labor.

[ MORE: Chelsea advances to UCL Round of 16 after win over Qarabag ]

A picture of Ryan Colclough holding his new-born baby, Harley, while still in his soccer uniform was shared on social media by Wigan chairman David Sharpe.

Colclough said his father, sitting in the stands on Tuesday for Wigan’s 3-0 win over Doncaster in the second division, “gave me the action that the waters had broken,” but he didn’t want to come off until the ball was out of play.

“My head was a little bit battered, but I went and scored, looked at the manager and he said we’ll bring you off now,” Colclough said Wednesday of his 58th-minute goal, which he celebrated by pretending to rock a baby. “I came off and was straight down the tunnel, grabbed my keys and my phone, and went to hospital.”

Colclough had visited the midwife that day, and was told the baby was unlikely to arrive for “another couple of days.”

Lille suspends coach Marcelo Bielsa

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LILLE, France (AP) French club Lille has provisionally suspended coach Marcelo Bielsa following a string of poor results in the top tier.

[ MORE: Basel stuns Man United late to keep UCL hopes alive ]

The northern side said in a statement that Bielsa has been suspended “as part of a procedure started by the club.” Lille did not elaborate.

Bielsa joined Lille this season but has failed to make the club competitive again, with the team second to last after 13 matches.

The 2 Robbies podcast: PL sides in the UCL, Pulis sacking and more

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In today’s Euro Pod Edition, the Robbies breakdown the latest Champions League action. Man United lose at Basel, Chelsea cruise at Qarabag, Spurs impress against Dortmund, Man City continue to win, Liverpool surrender a 3-goal lead against Sevilla. Plus, the guys weigh in on the Oumar Niasse ban for diving and the Tony Pulis sacking.

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

All of the The 2 Robbies content can be accessed by clicking on this link:

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]

Listen to the latest pod by clicking play below.

Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

Europa League preview: Arsenal looks to wrap up Group H and more

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While several teams have already booked their place in the knockout phase, the Europa League reaches its penultimate round on Thursday with many big matches in hand.

[ MORE: Yannick Bolasie finally returns to Everton training ]

Of the two Premier League sides in the competition, only one will advance to the Round of 32, as Arsenal have all but assured themselves of the top spot in Group H. The Gunners can do so tomorrow with a win over Koln or a Red Star Belgrade defeat.

The other end of the spectrum features Everton, who has already been eliminated from reaching the next round after acquiring just one point in its first four matches.

European giants AC Milan can lock up a spot in the knockout phase on Thursday despite the club’s ongoing struggles in Serie A, while fellow Italian side Atalanta can move a step closer to the Round of 32 in Group E along with Lyon.

Here’s the full rundown of Thursday’s UEL matches.

Astana vs. Villareal — 11 a.m. ET
Konyaspor vs. Marseille — 1 p.m. ET
Rosenborg vs. Real Sociedad — 1 p.m. ET
Lazio vs. Vitesse — 1 p.m. ET
Viktoria Plzen vs. Steaua Bucuresti — 1 p.m. ET
Lokomotiv vs. Copenhagen — 1 p.m. ET
Zenit vs. Vardar — 1 p.m. ET
Red Bull Salzburg vs. Vitoria — 1 p.m. ET
Athletic Bilbao vs. Hertha Berlin — 1 p.m. ET
BATE vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m. ET
Ostersund vs. Zorya — 1 p.m. ET
Koln vs. Arsenal — 1 p.m. ET
Nice vs. Zulte Waregem — 1 p.m. ET
Lugano vs. Beer-Sheva — 1 p.m. ET
Ludogorets vs. Istanbul — 3:05 p.m. ET
Braga vs. Hoffenheim — 3:05 p.m. ET
AEK vs. Rijeka — 3:05 p.m. ET
AC Milan vs. Austria Wien — 3:05 p.m. ET
Lyon vs. Apollon — 3:05 p.m. ET
Maccabi Tel Aviv vs. Slavia Praha — 3:05 p.m. ET
Sheriff vs. Zlin — 3:05 p.m. ET
Partizan vs. Young Boys — 3:05 p.m. ET
Skenderbeu vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:05 p.m. ET
Everton vs. Atalanta — 3:05 p.m. ET