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Time for Neymar, Cristiano Ronaldo to swap?

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Okay, so we’ve seen a mega swap deal in the Premier League in January with Alexis Sanchez and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and who says it can’t happen between two megastars?

[ MORE: Tottenham come of age

Ahead of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg clash on Wednesday, reports continue to link Neymar with replacing Cristiano Ronaldo at Real Madrid and the theme within all of them is clear: Real Madrid are incredibly confident of signing the Brazilian star this summer.

Could the duo swap places this summer? Think about it.

Not the craziest idea, but of course with Neymar 26 and Ronaldo 33 years old, you’d expect Ronaldo plus cash to be heading to PSG if Neymar, their $265 million prized signing from Barcelona last summer, is ever allowed to leave.

The crux of the reports regarding Neymar moving to Real point to his belief that he won’t win the Ballon d’Or if he remains at PSG. Neymar has been a star for PSG since his huge move from Barca, scoring 7  goals in 27 games and adding 14 assists in his first season in the French capital.

He is the main man, just as he wanted to be at Barcelona but found himself stuck behind Lionel Messi and even Luis Suarez. If he moved to Real in the summer, would he be the main man at the Santiago Bernabeu?

Ronaldo, who has been the main man for Real for the past decade after leading them to three European titles, has been linked with a move away from the Spanish capital multiple times over the past 12 months due to unhappiness. This season he’s scored 23 goals in 28 games in all competitions which is a little low by his own lofty standards and Real’s poor form has coincided with Ronaldo’s dip.

Rumblings continue that a summer of huge upheaval is planned at Real as Zinedine Zidane’s side falter in La Liga, despite winning the league last season and two-straight UCL titles. You get the sense this is the end of an era with not only Ronaldo discussed in potential outgoings but also Gareth Bale, Keylor Navas, Karim Benzema and Luka Modric.

Are all of those deals lined up so Neymar can arrive and be the new star of the show?

Ronaldo heading back to Manchester United for the final years of his career has always seemed like the smart bet but given the success of Zlatan Ibrahimovic at PSG at a similar stage of his career, perhaps Les Parisiens’ would be willing to do this deal considering the commercial income which would also arrive?

There’s also the problem regarding UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules as PSG have yet to officially sign Kylian Mbappe from Monaco for $220 million, but they will do in the summer when his season-long loan ends. Can they afford to have the world-record fee for Neymar and then the blockbuster deal for Neymar with regards to FFP? It’s clear that will cause problems.

It is also clear that Neymar isn’t fussed with rocking the boat and doing what he feels is best for his own personal career. Just 12 months after his huge move to PSG from Barca, we will see him make an even bigger move back to Spain to join Real Madrid?

Wednesday’s showdown in the Santiago Bernabeu will be about much more than Real Madrid vs. PSG. It will be a glimpse of the current (Ronaldo) and perhaps the future (Neymar) of the most successful team in European history.

Mourinho: “Paul made a big effort”

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Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho had fine words for Paul Pogba, but was tickled by the performance of 21-year-old Scott McTominay in the Red Devils scoreless draw with Sevilla in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday.

[ RECAP: Sevilla 0-0 Man Utd ]

The visitors emerged unscathed, though without an away goal, and Mourinho raised eyebrows when he kept Pogba on the bench to start the match. The young McTominay started the match, and was paired with Pogba once Ander Herrera left the match with injury.

When a reporter asked Mourinho about McTominay after the match, the boss asked if he could give the reporter a hug before elaborating (via the BBC):

“In the press conference, the questions were about Paul [Pogba] but the question should be about the kid. He was fantastic. He did everything well. He put pressure on Ever Banega and stopped him playing, he’s their playmaker. I think Scott was brilliant.

“I think Paul made a big effort to try to give the team what I asked of him. Paul replaced Ander, he tried to bring to the game the same kind of qualities. He lost a couple of possessions but he also gave us stability because we had a good percentage of possession for the way we played.”

Mourinho was sure to include Nemanja Matic as a big part of the midfield trio.

The Pogba-Mourinho questions aren’t going to go away any time soon, though it should be noted — perhaps strongly — that the player was ill this weekend and United has to face Chelsea in Premier League play this weekend.

Still, he couldn’t help but mention how much he believes “Old Trafford has missed a big European night,” and how he’s looking forward to a potentially big win come March 13.

Nil-nil in Seville as De Gea stars

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  • English sides unbeaten vs. La Liga in UCL season (2-6)
  • Pogba subs into match for Herrera, 17′
  • De Gea with seven saves for United

David De Gea was the star as Manchester United escaped Sevilla with a scoreless draw in the first leg of the two sides’ UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Sevilla won a corner kick within 90 seconds, but the ball made its way through the 18 without finding a receiver.

Ander Herrera sprung Alexis Sanchez down the middle, but Jesus Navas cut across to catch the Chilean and thwart the United chance.

Navas then dragged a shot across goal and past a diving David De Gea but inches wide of the far post.

A Herrera injury — yes, another injury United supporters — meant Paul Pogba would join the fray after just 17 minutes with the key position in the 4-3-3.

Lukaku botched a terrific diagonal cross from Sanchez with a blast over the goal in the 25th minute.

The 38th minute saw Scott McTominay pump a ball right at Sergio Rico for the Sevilla backstop’s first save, and Angl Correa’s low shot was collected by De Gea for a third Red Devils save.

De Gea then made a leaping save on Steven N’Zonzi’s redirection of a bicycle kick just before halftime, and then slapped Luis Muriel’s header over the bar before the whistle.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

De Gea nabbed another save, his sixth in the contest, when Clement Lenglet got his head on an Ever Banega free kick in the 64th minute.

A Sanchez giveaway provided Sevilla the chance to counter, and Muriel couldn’t get the step back needed to power a header past De Gea.

United had a goal pulled back in the 83rd minute as the ball struck Lukaku’s arm in the build-up.

Fred’s vicious free kick leads Shakhtar over Roma

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Facundo Ferreyra and Fred scored second half goals to lead Shakhtar Donetsk past AS Roma 2-1 at the Donbass Arena in Wednesday’s first leg of the clubs’ UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie.

Cendig Under scored his fifth goal in four matches as AS Roma did manage an away goal before the March 13 second leg in Rome.

Fred has been linked with a summer move to Man City, and the banger of a free kick showed part of the reason the Brazilian is in demand.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Roma is bidding to make its first UEFA Champions League quarterfinal since 2007-08 when they went out at the hands of Manchester United, while Shakhtar last made the quarters only to be dismissed by Barcelona in 2010-11.

Ukrainian backstop Andriy Pyatov had an early save on Edin Dzeko off a cross from Aleksandar Kolarov, two minutes after Kolarov mailed a free kick over the bar.

Kolarov and Dzeko remained big parts of the story line, though Pyatov and the Shakhtar defense stood tall.

Dzeko would wind up assisting the opener, and it was the in form Under who’d bury his chance.

Not soon after the break, though, Yaroslav Rakitskiy cued up Ferreyra for the equalizer.

And Fred but the hosts ahead with this outstanding free kick, what they’d call a “bar down bingo” in hockey.

Madrid beats Leganes 3-1 in game postponed from December

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MADRID (AP) Real Madrid overcame the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo and other regular starters Wednesday, coming from behind to defeat Leganes 3-1 Wednesday in a Spanish league match postponed from last year.

The result allowed the defending champions to regain third place from Valencia, but it did little to put Zinedine Zidane’s team back in the title race as it still trails leader Barcelona by 14 points after 24 matches. Madrid is seven points behind second-place Atletico Madrid.

[ MORE: Messi defies Conte’s successful tactics ]

Less than a month ago, Leganes jolted Madrid into a crisis by eliminating the Spanish powerhouse from the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey.

The hosts from southern Madrid went ahead less than 10 minutes into the match on Wednesday, but Madrid answered with first-half goals by Lucas Vazquez and Casemiro. Sergio Ramos sealed the victory by converting a 90th-minute penalty kick.

The league match was rescheduled from the 16th round because of Madrid’s participation in the Club World Cup in December, a competition it won.

Only in its second season in the first division, Leganes had a promising start to the campaign but has struggled recently. It hasn’t won in six matches and has lost four straight, dropping to 13th with 29 points.

Madrid has won four in a row, including 3-1 against Paris Saint-Germain in the last 16 of the Champions League last week.

Ronaldo, who scored twice against PSG and has 10 goals in his last six matches, was rested on Wednesday along with goalkeeper Keylor Navas. Marcelo, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric are trying to recover from injuries in time for next month’s return match against PSG in Paris.

Leganes opened the scoring with a goal by Unai Bustinza six minutes into the match at Butarque Stadium. The defender dived in front of the ball as Madrid left back Theo Hernandez tried to clear it from near the goal line. The ball ricocheted off Bustinza’s head and shoulder and went into the net.

Madrid equalized five minutes later with Vazquez’s low shot into the far corner from inside the area after a through ball by Casemiro, and 20 minutes later it was the Brazilian defensive midfielder who found the net from close range after a pass by Vazquez.

Ramos scored from the penalty spot after Mateo Kovacic was pushed inside the area in the closing minutes.

More AP Spanish soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/LaLiga

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