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Shakespeare focused ahead of Leicester-Sevilla

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Leicester City is getting ready for perhaps their biggest game in club history with a new man in charge.

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On Sunday the appointment of Craig Shakespeare as their new manager until the end of the season was confirmed as Claudio Ranieri‘s former assistant now moves into the hotseat.

Following back-to-back 3-1 home wins in the Premier League (first against Liverpool, then against Hull City) when in charge on an interim basis, Shakespeare has eased fears that the reigning PL champs will be relegated.

Speaking ahead of Leicester’s UEFA Champions League Round of 16 second leg clash at home against Sevilla on Tuesday, Shakespeare sent out a message that he plans to prioritize man-management and also not look past this season.

“For me how you treat and talk to people is so important. Man management is a real big component, of course there will be decisions that have to be made but as long as you explain it to people players will be happy with that,” Shakespeare said. “I’m not looking beyond this season. We have massive games coming up and we have to focus on that. We will have plenty of time in the summer to take stock and evaluate things then.”

Leicester midfielder Danny Drinkwater also spoke about the level of respect Shakespeare has from the current squad (many reports state Ranieri lost the trust of his staff and team) and how the players know this occasion is one of the biggest nights in the Foxes history.

“He [Shakespeare] has been a pleasure to work with as manager – but he’s taken different roles as a coach. Maybe more of a step back than he is now but he worked both roles as good as each other. He helps us enjoy the football,” Drinkwater. “Just enjoy your football. Work hard, do the simple things and the rest will shine through. It’s one of the biggest games in the club’s history tomorrow. A massive thing for me is hearing the music before kick-off. There’s not really a bigger stage in club football.”

Trailing 2-1 from the first leg in Seville two weeks ago, Leicester needs a 1-0 win to advance to the UCL last eight in their first-ever season in the competition.

Despite their season-long struggle at the wrong end of the PL table — they are just three points above the relegation zone — this game is an opportunity to dream of glory once again.

Sevilla have stumbled in recent La Liga games, drawing against Alaves and then against Leganes at the weekend to fall behind Real Madrid in the title race. Jorge Sampaoli’s men will be fully aware that they should’ve been three of four goals ahead before Jamie Vardy scored a crucial away goal for Leicester in what turned out to be Ranieri’s last game in charge. Sevilla will be the favorites but we all know what Leicester are capable of if their players turn up.

An intense atmosphere awaits the Spanish side at the King Power Stadium as Leicester’s players and fans aim to invoke the spirit of their incredible title-winning season in 2015-16 and added further fuel to yet another fairytale.

Gerard Pique signs news Barcelona deal

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Gerard Pique has signed a new contract at Barcelona which keeps him at the club until 2022.

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Pique, 30, joined Barcelona in 2008 from Manchester United after leaving his boyhood club Barca in 2004 to join United’s youth team.

The new release clause in Pique’s contract is $610 million, with the Spanish international set to spend the rest of his career at the Nou Camp. The center back, who has won 25 major trophies with Barca, was delighted to nail down his future to his hometown team.

Pique has played in 422 games for Barca and scored 37 goals with the flamboyant defender a mainstay for much of the last decade.

Breaking out of the back line with surging runs and assured passing, Pique will go down as one of the greatest defenders in Barcelona and Spain’s history when he hangs up his boots.

In a team where the supreme attacking talent is always praised, it’s easy to overlook the achievements of Pique and his fellow defenders in the Catalan capital. However, there’s no doubt his composure on the ball, reading of the game and ability in the air makes him one of the top center backs on the planet.

Wenger: Sanchez likely to leave for Man United

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Alexis Sanchez’s move to Manchester United is close to completion.

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Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has confirmed that Sanchez is “likely to leave” for Jose Mourinho’s side, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan thought to be heading in the opposite direction plus a sizable transfer fee.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday ahead of Arsenal’s clash with Crystal Palace on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com), Wenger revealed the deal for Sanchez is almost complete.

“I worked on transfers for 30 years so it is likely to happen, but at any moment it can break down,” Wenger said. “As long as it’s not over the line you have to accept it may not happen, these kind of things are not guaranteed. I have no problem with Sanchez’s attitude. He was in training fully committed. He is 29 years old and the next contract will of course be very important to him.”

So, there you have it. Sanchez to United is happening and with the numbers being mentioned, it’s easy to understand why he will leave. Sanchez will be paid $19.2 million per year, after tax, and he will also receive a $27.7 million signing-on fee and his agent will get $13.8 million.

United will get a new star No.7 in his prime and Sanchez getting a fresh start and being hungry to impress will certainly be music to the ears of Mourinho. Whether or not the Chilean international will have the same impact as Eric Cantona, who joined United in his late 20’s and helped led them to multiple PL titles, remains to be seen, but this deal does remind you of that circumstances. One player doesn’t make a team but a special player like Sanchez can make a heck of difference overall.

Wenger also spoke about the possibility of Mkhitaryan being part of the deal and it seems he is very keen on signing the Armenian international who almost joined the Gunners in the summer of 2016 before joining United instead.

“I like the player. We played many times against him when he was at Dortmund. He appreciated the quality of our games. The wages would not be a problem,” Wenger said.

It seems like everyone will be happy with this deal. Of course, Arsenal wanted Sanchez to stay and that’s why they didn’t sell him to Manchester City in the summer. Wenger couldn’t persuade him to sign a new deal and now, less than six months before he leaves on a free, they are getting a decent chunk of change and playmaker who, on his day, can unlock any defense in the world.

For United, Mkhitaryan is out of favor under Mourinho and they will get him off their wage bill, while they also get Sanchez in his prime and get one over on Man City where everyone thought he would end up.

All in all, this tricky situation seems to have worked out best for everyone, especially Sanchez and his agent.

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.

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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.

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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.