Mario Balotelli edging closer to shock $26 million Liverpool switch

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In the past 24 hours Mario Balotelli’s potential move to Liverpool has gone from ‘surely not…’ to ‘oh my word, I think this actually might happen.’

On Wednesday evening at ProSoccerTalk, we brought you the story that Liverpool and AC Milan were reportedly in talks over one of the most charismatic players the game has ever seen.

[RELATED: Liverpool, AC Milan in Balotelli talks]

Now, those talks have intensified and Balotelli, 24, is said to be closing in on a move back to the Premier League with Liverpool. The enigmatic Italian joined AC Milan for $30 million last summer but is said to want a move back to England, with a switch to Anfield now a real possibility. Liverpool and Milan have reportedly agreed a $26 million fee for Balotelli, with Milan stating that Balotelli has said “goodbye to his teammates” after training and is now on his way out of the club. ProSoccerTalk have been in contact with Liverpool for an update on the situation but have not received any comment.

Despite denying a move for Balotelli all summer, it seem as though Brendan Rodgers has stepped up his move to sign a top-class replacement for Luis Suarez. Following Liverpool’s opening day win over Southampton on Sunday, Rodgers confirmed that “I do still think we need another striker” and that “it is something that we will look at, but it will depend on the availability of one. We will search through to the end of the transfer window.”

[RELATED: Transfer Rumor Roundup]

Most of the leading newspapers in Italy have already said their goodbyes to the Italian international, below you can see the headline from Corriere dello sport, which simply says “Mario for sale” across the front page.

That claim Balotelli is heading to Liverpool and will be paid in excess of $5 million per year, as he doesn’t want to play in the Europa League with AC Milan and wants to be in the UEFA Champions League. Liverpool can offer that after their second place finish last season but does manager Rodgers really want to risk tampering with the great team spirit present at Anfield?

Balotelli is a terrific player, we all know that. However bizarre incidents on and off the field have marred his career so far. The striker spent three seasons in England with Manchester City, becoming a cult hero among the Citizens’ fans and scoring 30 goals in 80 games as City won their first league title since 1968.

From the ‘Why Always Me?” shirt, to being allergic to grass, to shooting fireworks out of his bathroom window and handing out large wads of cash to homeless people on the streets of Manchester, Balotelli’s legend began to grow in Manchester. Then in 2013 he signed for AC Milan back in his homeland and has since scored 30 goals in 54 games, while becoming Italy’s main attacking threat. Balotelli scored the winner for Italy in their opening game of the 2014 World Cup vs. England plus he shone at the European Championships in 2012 as the Azzurri reached the final.

If Rodgers can get into Balotelli’s head and tap into his growing maturity levels, Liverpool may get a player who can link up superbly with Daniel Sturridge and help bring 20-plus goals to the team. In many ways, Balotelli is the missing piece of the puzzle for Liverpool.

Everyone is asking the same question: will Liverpool really take a gamble on him?

Rapids hire Patel as director; Highest ranking female exec in MLS

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The Colorado Rapids have hired Ena Patel as their new director of player personnel. She becomes Major League Soccer highest ranking female executive, according to the Denver Post.

[ FOLLOW: PST’s MLS coverage ]

According to the Rapids, she’ll report to club GM Padraig Smith and “oversee player contracts, salary budget, regulatory compliance, and soccer operations protocols.”

The move comes about a month-and-a-half after Sporting KC hired Megan Cameron as an assistant director of player personnel, the first woman hired to an MLS team’s technical staff.

Patel’s resume is outlandishly strong, though this is her first foray into the sports world. Here are some words from Smith, from ColoradoRapids.com:

“Ena’s hiring is the final piece of the puzzle for us on the front office side,” Smith, the Rapids executive vice president and general manager, said in a statement released by the club. “Bringing in a sharp, legal mind who can oversee our contractual processes and complex league mechanisms is a really important part of ensuring that we’re fielding the best possible team. We can’t wait for her to get started.”

Guardiola happy to reach final, knows Man City to be judged by hardware

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Bristol City made its interesting late with a pair of goals, but Manchester City’s League Cup destiny was never in jeopardy in a 3-2 second leg win at Ashton Gate Stadium on Tuesday.

[ RECAP: Bristol City 2-3 (3-5 agg.) Man City ]

That sent the club into the Feb. 25 final with a 5-3 aggregate win, and it’s very difficult not to leap to the story line that is Pep Guardiola‘s chance at a first significant title in his reign at Man City.

The closest City came to hardware last season was being bounced by Arsenal in the FA Cup semifinal. This time, City is the favorite to win at least three of its four entered competitions: the Premier League, the League Cup, and the FA Cup.

But to hear Pep say it, for now the club is just happy to have earned one final berth. From the BBC:

“We are so happy to be there, to reach this final. We played an amazing game until 2-0 and then we lost control, these type of games never end until the end. This is a lesson for next weekend in Cardiff in the FA Cup and especially for the Champions League.

“It’s not for me, it’s for Manchester City, a club who are trying to reach another level. … I know that we will be judged by trophies we win but we are so happy. Nobody can take away what we have done, but Chelsea or Arsenal are strong teams.”

Guardiola was serious about not overlooking the Robins, as he rolled out a very similar lineup to the full-strength bunch that beat Newcastle United 3-1 at the weekend. That may have cost City late, but it had already built a 4-1 aggregate lead with two superior away goals.

Yes, Guardiola is a man who measures himself by the way his club plays but also by winning in that attractive fashion. Expect a determined club to stride into Wembley late next month.

Chelsea and Arsenal square off Wednesday at the Emirates Stadium for the right to match up with Man City, who won the tournament in 2014 and 2016. Even year dominance?

Man City into League Cup final (video)

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  • City outshoots Bristol 28-5
  • Sane, Aguero put MCFC up 2-0
  • Pack, Kent pulls two back for Bristol
  • De Bruyne answers in stoppage
  • City wins 5-3 on aggregate

A pair of late goals put a scare into Man City, but the Premier League leaders scored just before and right after halftime to insure its first leg lead en route to a 3-2 win over Bristol City at Ashton Gate Stadium on Tuesday.

City wins 5-3 on aggregate in the League Cup semifinal, with Sergio Aguero, Leroy Sane, and Kevin De Bruyne scoring in the second leg.

Pep Guardiola moves to within 90 minutes of his first significant title as Man City boss, and will face either Chelsea or Arsenal on Feb. 25 at Wembley Stadium.

Marlon Pack and Aden Flint scored for Bristol City.

[ MORE: Full stats, box score ]

Sane scored in the 43rd minute and Sergio Aguero struck less than four minutes after the teams returned from the halftime break.

An errant John Stones clearance helped Bristol to the scoreboard in the 64th minute, with Pack scoring the goal.

Flint then nodded home in stoppage time to give the Robins hope for a miracle win, but new contract hero De Bruyne scored within a minute to burn those hopes to the ground.

Bristol would be in the Football League Championship playoffs if the season ended now, sitting in fifth place.

Midfielder Lassana Diarra joins PSG on short-term deal

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PARIS (AP) Paris Saint-Germain has made its first signing of the winter transfer window by hiring midfielder Lassana Diarra on a short-term deal until June 2019.

The 32-year-old holding midfielder will once again try to revive his career in the French league after a successful stint at PSG’s bitter rival, Marseille, that ended last year.

The much-traveled Diarra, who was born in Paris, then played for a few months with United Arab Emirates club Al Jazira.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Diarra, a former Chelsea, Arsenal and Real Madrid player, won English and Spanish league titles in 2006 and 2012. He has 34 caps for France and featured at the European Championship in 2008.

His strong performances with Marseille earned him a recall from France, but he eventually pulled out of Didier Deschamps’ squad for Euro 2016 because of a left knee injury.

“I am very happy to have signed for my hometown club,” Diarra said. “Paris Saint-Germain represents a lot to me and, with the international dimension the club has taken in recent seasons, it is every player’s dream to play here. I am lucky enough to make this dream come true.”

Diarra joined on a free transfer and his signing won’t affect PSG’s bank accounts, which are under UEFA’s scrutiny.

PSG is under pressure to sell players to balance the books after splashing out 402 million euros ($473 million) on forwards Neymar and Kylian Mbappe last year. That led to Qatari-owned PSG being placed under investigation by UEFA for potential breaches of Financial Fair Play rules.