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Transfer Rumor Roundup: Cairney to Boro, second Foxes bid for Mbodji

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As the January transfer window comes close to shutting, teams who missed out on targets earlier in the season begin to panic as they try desperately to fill holes for the second half of the season.

That perfectly describes the situation Middlesbrough is in right now, having missed out on Hull City playmaker Robert Snodgrass, who moved to West Ham a few days ago. Boro was thought to be heavily involved in discussions for the player, and Aitor Karanka has yet to bolster his toothless attack. Middlesbrough also reportedly was in for Bojan, but missed there too as the Stoke forward went to the Bundesliga.

Now, according to a report in The Sun, Karanka has turned his sights to the Championship and Fulham playmaker Tom Cairney. The 26-year-old has been statistically the best player in the second tier this season, leading the charge of Fulham’s possession-heavy attack.

[ RELATED: West Ham sells Dimitri Payet to Marseille ]

According to the report, Middlesbrough is “in discussions” with Fulham for Cairney, but they will need to seriously pay up if they wish to pry the most important player off a team pushing for promotion. He is the gem for manager Slavisa Jokanovic, who favors a Barcelona-like style, and American owner Shad Khan has Premier League ambitions. Fulham sold 31-year-old striker Ross McCormack for a whopping $15 million last summer, and Cairney is both much younger and equally as important to the squad as McCormack was then.

Leicester City also needs to boost the squad, in 15th place a season after shockingly winning the title. The Foxes defense has regressed mightily from its championship winning form, and as Robert Huth, Wes Morgan, and Christian Fuchs all creep further away from the 30 year old mark, Claudio Ranieri knows he needs to get younger at the back.

Cue the rumors of Leicester’s interest in Anderlecht defender Kara Mbodji. The 27-year-old Senegalese international has spent the last three and a half seasons in the Belgian top flight after coming from the Norwegian league. This season, Mbodji has made 17 league starts for Anderlecht, helping the club to a third-place position and one of the league’s better defensive records. Mbodji is currently on international duty in the African Cup of Nations, although he will be returning shortly as Senegal was eliminated by Cameroon on penalties in the quarterfinals. Kara scored in the shootout, while Liverpool forward Saido Mane had the deciding miss.

According to rumors in England, Leicester is readying a second bid for Mbodji after their first was rejected. The reports say the first bid totaled $9.5 million, while Anderlecht values the defender at around $16 million.

One player definitely not on his way to England is Liverpool target Leandro Paredes. The Roma midfielder is not someone the Reds are going to continue pursuing, according to the Liverpool Echo. Manager Jurgen Klopp said the other day that he would not likely be adding players in this transfer window, saying, “It’s not about not wanting [to sign players], it’s about getting the right players.” The Echo report also shoots down links to Real Betis defender Riza Durmisi.

Finally, there are reports that Tottenham could look to make a late move for Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha, who has just returned from African Cup of Nations after the Ivory Coast fell short of expectations with a group stage exit. The Sun reports that Spurs were interested in Zaha over the summer, and now could make a move before the window shuts.

Jonas nets 2 late goals to keep Benfica in title hunt

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LISBON, Portugal (AP) Jonas scored two late goals to lead Benfica’s 3-1 comeback win at Pacos Ferreira on Saturday, keeping it close to Portuguese league leader FC Porto.

Jonas equalized in the 72nd minute and gave the defending champion the lead in the 88th.

[ MORE: Man United-Chelsea meet in giant Sunday PL clash ]

Rafa Silva added a third goal after the host was reduced to 10 men in stoppage time when Gian dos Santos was shown a direct red card.

Luiz Phellype gave Pacos Ferreira the lead in the ninth.

The double increased Jonas’ league-leading tally to 27 goals.

Benfica moved to within two points of Porto before the pacesetter visits Portimonense on Sunday.

Sporting Lisbon is third at five points behind Porto. It hosts Moreirense on Monday.

Orlando City trades defender Jose Aja to Whitecaps for allocation money

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The Vancouver Whitecaps have struck a deal with an Eastern Conference side to help solidify their back line.

[ MORE: USMNT’s Johannsson leads Werder Bremen to win ]

On Saturday, the Cascadia club finalized a deal to acquire Orlando City defender Jose Aja in exchange for $125,000 in Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) for 2019.

Additionally, Orlando could receive another $100,000 in TAM if Aja remains on the Whitecaps roster next season and a 2021 second-round MLS SuperDraft pick if Aja is in Canada for the 2020 campaign.

Aja has made 25 appearances for Orlando since coming to MLS in 2016 from his native Uruguay.

The timing of the deal is intriguing, given Tim Parker’s willingness to exit the Whitecaps ahead of the 2018 MLS season.

PST reported on Thursday that Parker is seeking a move back to the East Coast, and the New York-native is being tracked by several Eastern Conference sides, including the New York Red Bulls, D.C. United and the Montreal Impact.

Parker is considered one of the top American defenders in MLS, and is actively seeking a massive pay raise ahead of the new season, after making just under $100,000 in 2017.

PL Sunday preview: Red Devils battle Chelsea at Old Trafford

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It will surely be one of the biggest fixtures of the season when Manchester United and Chelsea get together on Sunday, and for both clubs a victory could be vital in projecting their form for the rest of the 2017/18 campaign.

Meanwhile, a crucial meeting at Selhurst Park pits teams on opposite ends of the table against one another. Crystal Palace enters the weekend levels on points with 18th-place Swansea, while Tottenham could leap Chelsea for fourth if results go in favor of Spurs.

[ MORE: Liverpool continues to score at lightning pace against West Ham ]

Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN

The injury bug has hit Palace hard as of late, with a total of 12 senior team players being left out of Roy Hodgson‘s squad. The list includes Wilfried Zaha, Yohan Cabaye and Mamadou Sakho, which won’t make things easy against a talented Spurs side.

Tottenham have had a ton of success in this fixture recently, winning the last five encounters and only allowing one goal in the process.

Mauricio Pochettino‘s men have hit the ground running in the second half of the season thus far, picking up a league-high 15 points in the Premier League since the start of 2018.

If there is a saving grace for the Eagles though, it is that Palace has been solid at home this season, and gone unbeaten in nine of its last 10 fixtures at Selhurst.

Manchester United vs. Chelsea — 9:05 a.m. ET on NBCSN

After a pair of draws from the PL sides kicked off their Champions League Round of 16 campaigns midweek, United and Chelsea can now focus their attention back to England; at least for the time being.

Jose Mourinho’s team came away from Seville with a crucial scoreless draw after the hosts tested goalkeeper David De Gea on numerous occasions, while Chelsea were close to pulling out a victory against Barcelona had it not been for a big-time mistake from Andreas Christensen late in the match.

Nonetheless, this is a fixture that always garners significant attention, especially from the Blues, who tend to have a better go of it. United has won just once against Chelsea in their last 14 fixtures, with the lone victory coming last season.

That said, Antonio Conte and his side have failed to exemplify consistency this year, and that includes road matches. The Blues have just two road wins in their last nine attempts across all competitions, which bodes well for the Red Devils.

The good news for Chelsea is the recent form of attacking duo Willian and Eden Hazard. The Brazilian was constantly in dangerous positions up the pitch against the Blaugrana in their recent UCL encounter, nabbing the lone goal for the Blues, while Hazard has scored six times in his last six PL matches.

The 2 Robbies: Unstoppable Liverpool, Man United-Chelsea and more

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In today’s episode, Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe discuss Liverpool’s emphatic win over West Ham (0:17), breakdown an extremely complicated relegation situation where nearly half of the league is in jeopardy of going down (10:05), before closing the show with a preview of tomorrow’s Man United v. Chelsea match (28:10).

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.

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