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League Cup semifinal preview: Manchester City vs. Bristol City

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Manchester City looks for a berth in the first Cup final of the English calendar as they host Championship side Bristol City in the first leg of the EFL Cup semifinals at 2:45 p.m. ET from the Etihad.

It remains to be seen how seriously Pep Guardiola will take this match given recent injuries that have sapped his squad of its depth through the festive schedule. However, the Manchester City boss has suggested he will name a strong side, telling fans that trophies of any kind will satisfy his craving.

While Gabriel Jesus and Phil Foden are unquestionably ruled out with long-term injuries for the hosts, the most interesting situation to watch will be that of Kevin De Bruyne. The Belgian was stretchered off in an air cast on New Year’s Eve after a heavy challenge by Jason Puncheon, but made a miraculous recovery to start just two days later against Watford. That decision was questioned as de Bruyne was withdrawn after 79 minutes at the Etihad in obvious discomfort. It will be interesting to see if Guardiola again risks his Player of the Year candidate or if he gets a rest 12-day rest until their next Premier League match against Liverpool on Sunday.

Bristol City, meanwhile, has taken down four Premier League sides in their stunning EFL Cup run, knocking Watford, Stoke City, Crystal Palace, and Manchester United all out of the competition. They will be without young midfielder Callum O’Dowda who played the full 90 minutes in four of their five EFL Cup matches, but went down with a serious ankle injury in late November.

The visitors currently sit fourth in the Championship table, but have lost two league games in a row, a worrying sign after losing just one match since late October. They were blasted by Aston Villa on the road by a cringe-worthy 5-0 scoreline last time out. Nevertheless, they have thus far not been intimidated by Premier League opposition in the Cup, taking an attacking mentality to all their Cup matches to date.

What they’re saying

Pep Guardiola on fixture congestion: “We are going to try to win the game, take the best result possible, then go to Bristol away with the best result – that’s the only way I know. The important thing is to be involved in all competitions and we are there as well as other teams. Chelsea are in the same position, they’re in them all.”

Bristol City manager Lee Johnson on playing Man City: “The players have been exceptional so far,” said Bristol City boss Lee Johnson. The effort they’ve demonstrated to beat four Premier League teams en route has been phenomenal. Now they find themselves in the semi-finals of a major cup competition and facing the best team in the country right now. The concentration levels it will take to ensure we don’t get infiltrated in our back-line will be huge. In saying that, I do believe in the qualities in our squad and the challenge is to make sure we play our game.”

Bayern signs Germany midfielder Goretzka from rival Schalke

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MUNICH (AP) Bayern Munich signed Germany midfielder Leon Goretzka on Friday on a free transfer from Bundesliga rival Schalke effective from next season.

Bayern said the 22-year-old Goretzka signed a four-year deal from July 1 through June 2022.

Schalke, which Goretzka joined in 2013 from hometown club Bochum, said the player informed the club this week of his wish to join Bayern when his contract expired.

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“We think we did everything in the last months to convince Leon to stay with us,” Schalke sporting director Christian Heidel said. “In the end, it wasn’t enough.”

Schalke had long been engaged in trying to get Goretzka to extend his contract, but was aware of reported interest from Bayern, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus and Liverpool.

“We’re very happy that Leon Goretzka, a German international with big potential, has decided in favor of Bayern despite big-name international competitors. This way it’s ensured that Leon Goretzka remains in the Bundesliga,” Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said.

Goretzka scored 19 goals and set up 13 more in 130 appearances for Schalke.

The club had previously expressed its displeasure with Bayern making public statements about its player after Goretzka was praised by sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic and coach Jupp Heynckes.

Heidel said “we don’t need to hear every day from the Munich people how good our player is.”

Goretzka has six goals in 12 games for Germany.

Pele hospitalized overnight in Brazil

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The most famous soccer player in the world had a scare last night as he was hospitalized in Brazil for “severe exhaustion.”

Pele, 77, was set to travel to London this weekend to be honored by the Football Writers Association, though it looks like that trip has now been postponed.

In the early hours of Thursday morning, Pele collapsed and was taken to a hospital in Brazil where he has undergone a series of tests which appear to point to severe exhaustion,” a FWA statement said. “He remains on fluids while doctors monitor his recovery.

“Thankfully, there is no suggestion of anything more serious than exhaustion.”

Here’s to hoping Pele makes a full recovery.

[MORE: USMNT centerback heads to Championship club]

USMNT centerback Carter-Vickers heads to Ipswich Town on loan

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Cameron Carter-Vickers has a new club to call home for the next five months or so after a rough first half of the season.

Tottenham announced Friday morning that it had loaned the U.S. Men’s National Team centerback to Championship club Ipswich Town for the rest of the season. Carter-Vickers spent the first five months of the season at fellow Championship side Sheffield United, starting 17 times though he struggled recently as Sheffield won just one game he played in during the month of December, losing three and drawing one.

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Carter-Vickers was then recalled earlier this week and now has a new home with a mid-table Championship club, with a new chance to impress. Hopefully Carter-Vickers can recover his form and continue to grow, potentially latching on to another Premier League side next year or breaking into the Tottenham first team.

There’s another interesting American tie-in to this. Carter-Vickers appears to be a short-term replacement for Ipswich Town’s Tommy Smith, who the club states is headed to join the Colorado Rapids ahead of the 2018 MLS season.

Sanchez, Mkhitaryan transfer still up in the air

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The player-swap/trade/transfer between Arsenal and Manchester United still appears to be heading towards completion, but it was further delayed Friday.

Multiple reports in England state that while Alexis Sanchez seems set to move to Manchester United, Henrik Mkhitaryan has yet to agree to move the other way, as talks between the player’s agent and Arsenal continue. Mkhitaryan was seen training at Manchester United’s practice facility on Friday, and because the latest delay, both players would be unable to debut for their new teams this weekend after missing the Premier League registration deadline.

[MORE: JPW’s Premier League picks]

Arsenal hosts Crystal Palace Manchester United travels to Burnley, both on Saturday at 10 a.m. (Watch Arsenal live on CNBC, Manchester United live on NBCSN, and both live on NBCSports.com)

The London Evening Standard reports that Mkhitaryan would command a $242,000-per-week salary but that as of Friday morning he had yet to undergo a medical for the transfer. Arsenal reportedly still wants a transfer fee included for Sanchez, while Manchester United would prefer to just swap the two players.

It’s also looking as if that won’t be Arsenal’s only business in the transfer market. While it seemed like a far-fetched rumor at first, the links between Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Arsenal have only grown stronger in the past few days, and the Gabon international appears to be in the Gunners sights. It appears that Bordeaux’s young striker Malcolm is now off the table.