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Predicting EFL Cup final lineups: Man United v Saints

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Manchester United and Southampton contest the EFL Cup final at Wembley Stadium this Sunday as the first trophy of the domestic season in England is up for grabs.

[ MORE: Follow EFL Cup final live

Jose Mourinho’s United go into the clash on a roll after losing just one game in their last 25 in all competitions, while pushing themselves back into the top four hunt and reaching both the quarterfinals of the FA Cup and the last 16 of the Europa League.

As for Southampton, Claude Puel‘s men are the undisputed underdogs but will fancy their chances of causing an upset after beating both Arsenal and Liverpool to make it to their first League Cup final since 1979 and just the second in their 132-year history.

Below is a look at how both teams could line up on Sunday, with some analysis on how it could play out.


Manchester United

—– De Gea —–

— Valencia — Bailly — Smalling — Blind —

—- Herrera —- Fellaini —-

—- Mata —- Pogba —- Rashford —-

—– Ibrahimovic —–

Subs: Romero, Young, Rojo, Jones, Martial, Lingard, Rooney

United have some injury concerns ahead of the final with both Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Michael Carrick limping off against Saint-Etienne on Wednesday in the Europa League. Mourinho believes they’re big doubts to play at Wembley. That means one of Marcus Rashford or Anthony Martial will come in for Mkhitaryan and it will probably be Rashford who has looked increasingly dangerous in recent weeks.

The back four picks itself and with Carrick likely out, you’d expected Ander Herrera to be joined by Marouane Fellaini in midfield. The only other question is whether or not Wayne Rooney will be fit enough to play some part after spending over three weeks on the sidelines.  Zlatan Ibrahimovic will lead the line and his partnership with Paul Pogba will test Southampton’s makeshift defense severely.


Southampton

—– Forster —–

Cedric — Stephens — Yoshida — Bertrand —

—- Romeu —- Davis —-

—- Redmond —- Tadic —- Ward-Prowse —-

—– Gabbiadini —–

Subs: Hassen, McQueen, Caceres, Hojbjerg, Rodriguez, Sims, Long

Saints have a few key players missing for this clash and their biggest concern will be in central defense. After selling Jose Fonte in January, they then lost Virgil Van Dijk through injury. That forced Puel to bring in Martin Caceres on a short-term deal but the former Barcelona and Juventus defender hasn’t played in over a year so academy product Jack Stephens will likely start alongside Maya Yoshida. Can they shackle Ibrahimovic? In midfield Oriol Romeu has been incredible in the holding role and he will go head-to-head with Pogba, while alongside him club captain Steven Davis will provide a good base to snuff out United’s attack.

James Ward-Prowse could get the nod over Shane Long and Jay Rodriguez out wide due to his set-piece deliveries, while Dusan Tadic in-behind Manolo Gabbiadini will be Saints’ biggest attacking threat. They were struggling for goals and creativity with Charlie Austin out injured, plus Sofiane Boufal missing in recent weeks, but Gabbiadini has scored three in his first two games for Saints since arriving in January from Napoli.


Timbers sign Peruvian winger Andy Polo from Liga MX’s Morelia

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) The Portland Timbers have acquired winger Andy Polo on loan from Liga MX club Monarcas Morelia for the upcoming season.

The 23-year-old native of Peru played in 25 matches last year for Morelia and made six starts with two goals.

He’s also World Cup-bound, having appeared in Peru’s two-legged playoff against New Zealand in November. Peru won 2-0 on aggregate. Overall, he’s appeared with the Peruvian national team 15 times since his senior debut in 2016.

“Andy is a versatile, young player who will add another element to our attack, and we believe that he has further upside to his development,” Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese said in a statement.

The Timbers used targeted allocation money and have a purchase option. Polo’s arrival is pending a physical and receipt of a visa.

He will occupy an international roster spot.

Can Man United still sign Sanchez without Mkhitaryan swap?

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The answer to the (first) titled question is, undoubtedly, yes.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

The latter question — the “will they?” — remains a relative unknown at this point, but if reports out of the UK are to be believed, Manchester United are just as likely to send $40 million (or so) Arsenal’s way in exchange for Alexis Sanchez, should Henrikh Mkhitaryan refuse the move by declining any contract offers from the Gunners.

[ MORE: Conte bewildered VAR not used in Chelsea PK controversies ]

The thinking, at least for the last few days since Man United somewhat unexpectedly entered the Sanchez sweepstakes, was that swapping the Armenian for the Chilean was the obvious — and, perhaps only — way forward. Call it special circumstances or an obvious audible, but that’s not necessarily the case — from the Guardian:

“It is understood that if Mkhitaryan does not leave Mourinho believes that, given the club’s robust finances, [Man United executive vice-chairman] Ed Woodward could still sanction a move for a player who would potentially vastly improve United.”

By the time Sanchez is signed, sealed and delivered, United will have also paid Sanchez and his agent, Fernando Felicevich, massive signing-on fees that could total another $30 million. No matter the order in which the Sanchez-Mkhitaryan saga plays out, United will come out ahead with a superior player at a massively discounted price — should Sanchez ultimately move to Old Trafford, of course.

Conte bewildered VAR not used in Chelsea PK controversies

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If the FA, English football’s governing body, is insistent upon testing video-assistant refereeing (VAR) as they have done in recent FA Cup and League Cup fixtures, Antonio Conte believes they should darn well use it.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

Following his Chelsea side’s penalty-shootout victory over Norwich City in an FA Cup third-round replay on Wednesday, Conte was equal parts frustrated and confused by the fact that video-referee Mike Jones failed to prompt referee Graham Scott to consult the on-trial system on multiple occasions.

Most notably, Chelsea’s 92nd-minute (extra-time) penalty shout following Timm Klose‘s tackle on Willian. Scott, instead, booked the Brazilian for diving — one of three cards, all shown to Chelsea players, for simulation on the night — and that was that.

“If you watch the replay you see very clearly it is a penalty,” said Conte after the game — quotes from the BBC:

“I think that there was a penalty but not on [Alvaro] Morata — on Willian.

“With Willian, the referee heard what the other referee watched and decided to continue to play. If we want to try to use this new system, it is important for the referee to wait, especially in this incident that is not so clear.

“And then when the referee that is watching had a doubt, he has to call the referee to watch and he can make a decision. The referee on the pitch has to make the decision, not one off the pitch.

“We can improve it for sure but we need to try to take the best solution. The final decision is for the ref on the pitch. Otherwise, why is there this ref?

“The mistake wasn’t of the ref on the pitch but the person watching. When you see this, you have to call the referee.”

VAR was used in another third-round replay, on Tuesday, and helped to correctly rule Leicester City striker Kelechi Iheanacho as being in an onside position when he scored his side’s second goal. While offside/onside calls are much clearer, cut-and-dry decisions to make — and with the aid of a natural stoppage in play — clearly much work lies ahead with regard to the process of determining whether the referee has made a “clear and obvious error,” which remains the threshold for using VAR, in instances of fouls/diving.

Copa QF: Messi misses PK, Barca’s 29-game unbeaten run ends

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MADRID (AP) — Lionel Messi missed a penalty and Barcelona conceded late as its 29-match unbeaten streak ended in a 1-0 loss to city rival Espanyol in the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarterfinal on Wednesday.

Messi failed from the spot in the 62nd minute, his shot brilliantly saved by goalkeeper Diego Lopez.

Youngster Oscar Melendo netted the winner for the hosts in the 88th with his first goal as a professional.

“I have no words, I was looking forward to this first goal,” said the 20-year-old Melendo, who had come on as a substitute in the second half.

It was Espanyol’s first win against Barcelona at its RCDE Stadium.

The second leg of the Catalan derby is next week at Camp Nou.

Barcelona hadn’t lost since a 2-0 defeat by Real Madrid in the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup on Aug. 16. It had won 23 of its last 29 matches in all competitions.

“We knew we would lose one day,” Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets said. “The positive thing is that in a week we have a chance to rebound and advance.”

Messi had his chance from the spot after Sergi Roberto was fouled by Esteban Granero, but his low shot into the right corner was stopped as Diego Lopez dived to his left to tip the ball away.

It was a rare miss for Messi, who is having a stellar season and is the Spanish league’s top scorer with 17 goals.

“The penalty save gave us the boost that we needed,” Melendo said. “We were playing too defensively.”

Melendo netted the winner with a low shot from the middle of the area after a well-timed pass by Marc Navarro.

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde did not use all of the team’s regular starters, leaving players such as Luis Suarez on the bench.

The match was interrupted for a few minutes in the 76th after Barcelona goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen was hit by an object thrown by fans behind his goal.

Barcelona midfielder Paulinho was replaced in the second half because of a foot injury.