Zlatan Ibrahimovic

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Zlatan open to MLS after United; could play at World Cup

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic is never far away from being headline news. These comments from the veteran Swedish striker ensure this is once again the case.

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Ibrahimovic, 36, hasn’t featured for Manchester United since December after suffering a setback following his speedy comeback from a serious knee injury last April which saw him feature seven times this season in all competition before breaking down.

Asked in his homeland this week if a move to Major League Soccer, with the LA Galaxy repeatedly linked with signing him, is close to happening, here was Zlatan’s response to Swedish media.

“I did not know that several Swedes went to MLS,” Ibrahimovic said. “That means it’s tempting to play in the United States. Los Angeles is a nice city and I’ve been there a lot on vacation. It is laid back. I think it’s rumors all the time [about my future]. When I play and when I do not play it is rumors. That’s good, that means I live.”

Ibrahimovic appears to firmly open the door to a move to MLS and his manager at United, Jose Mourinho, has previously stated he will not stand in Zlatan’s way if he wants to end his career playing in North America’s top-flight and said the following on Friday.

“We all think it is his last season at Manchester United. It will be a very personal decision about whether to play or to stop. He has won the right to choose his future, his life with an amazing career. This season it has been really difficult for him. Is he injured? No. Does he feel totally ready and totally convinced to help the team in this moment? No. He is such an honest guy and such a champion that he only wants to be back with that feeling that ‘I’m totally ready for it.’ He is working hard.”

The concern for the Galaxy will be Ibrahimovic’s knee injury which kept him out for seven months and still seems to be nagging the former Ajax, Juventus, Inter Milan, AC Milan, Barcelona and PSG striker.

Still, his return of 28 goals in all competitions for United in the 2016-17 season proved all the doubters wrong and if he can regain full fitness in the final months of this season, perhaps his move to LA will be wrapped up by May 1 when the transfer deadline is over. There is also the option of Zlatan being a free agent on May 13 when his short-term deal with United expires.

Moving from his club future to his international future, Sweden’s all-time leading goalscorer retired from the national team after EURO 2016 but calls for him to go to the 2018 World Cup this summer are mounting.

Here’s what he had to say about that about being part of Janne Andersson’s squad as Sweden have been placed in a Group of Death in Group F alongside Germany, Mexico and South Korea.

“I miss the national team. If I want, I do it. I want to feel I can deliver a good performance,” Ibrahimovic said. “We’ll see, it’s a tough question. I want to feel that I can perform and give back. I don’t want to come just because I’m somebody. The door isn’t closed for anything… I don’t think anyone needs to call. If I want to, I’m there, that’s how it is. But one thing at a time. When I can do what I want to, I’ll have other thoughts.”

That chilly draft you can feel is because Zlatan is leaving the door open to literally everything…

But why wouldn’t he? His contract his soon up at United with clubs in the U.S., China and elsewhere all interested and if Sweden need him, he should go to the World Cup and come on late in games to deliver goals, like he always has done.

Man United, Chelsea prepare for La Liga tests

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The final two Premier League teams to get their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 ties off and running are Manchester United and Chelsea who both play this week.

Both PL giants face Spanish opposition but both are in very different situations heading into these games.

 [ MORE: Champions League schedule

United travel to Sevilla on Wednesday as the firm favorites to advance to the quarterfinals, while Chelsea host Barcelona on Tuesday hoping to still be in the tie after the first leg at Stamford Bridge against Lionel Messi and Co.

After Liverpool battered FC Porto, Manchester City demolished Basel and Tottenham went to Juventus and dominated in a draw last week, all of a sudden United and Chelsea are under a little bit of extra pressure to not let the PL sides down.

That pressure is ratcheted up given the fact that Spanish clubs have dominated the Champions League for much of the last decade, with six of the last 10 European champions hailing from La Liga.

Chelsea were the last PL club to reach the UCL final, when they beat Bayern Munich in 2012, while United reached the final in three of four seasons from 2008 to 2011 but only prevailed on one occasion… when they beat Chelsea in the final 2008. That rich run for English clubs in the Champions League saw seven of the eight finals from 2005-2012 have at least one English club in it, but none have made it that far since.

Six of the last eight teams to reach the UCL final have been from Spain, with Juventus reaching the final in two of the past three seasons but failing to the might of Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Yet this season, with five teams from one league reaching the last 16 for the first time in the competition’s history, there’s a sense the English clubs are back to their best and are ready to put La Liga in their place. United and Chelsea will have the first crack at doing that in the knockout rounds with all eyes on what could be a seismic shift in power back to the PL.

Chelsea were the only one of five PL teams in the Champions League this season to not win their group and they paid the ultimate price for that as they were drawn against Barcelona, the current La Liga leaders and one of the red-hot favorites to win yet another European title.

Antonio Conte‘s men have recovered well in recent weeks after patchy form in the Premier League briefly dropped them out of the top four, but there’s no doubting that there are still issues behind-the-scenes with Chelsea’s Italian manager who many expect to walk away at the end of this season.

On the pitch, Chelsea continue to be Lionel Messi’s kryptonite as the Argentine star hasn’t scored in any of his eight previous outings against the Blues. Conte will hope that is once again the case and we may well see a more defensive Chelsea side than usual as they will keep it tight, then play it up to either Olivier Giroud or Alvaro Morata to link up with Eden Hazard on the break.

Barca lead La Liga and if Messi once again fires a blank against Chelsea, at least this time they also have Luis Suarez in reserve, although Philippe Coutinho is cup-tied and can’t feature in the UCL after his January move from Liverpool.

As for United, the rigmarole around Paul Pogba continues as Jose Mourinho’s star midfielder missed their FA Cup fifth round win at Huddersfield on Saturday due to illness but is expected to be fit to play against Sevilla. Does Pogba have a future at Old Trafford?

That’s the key question right now but the likes of Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez will be eager to lead United in the latter stages of the UCL for the first time since 2014 when they reached the quarterfinals, but Mourinho is dealing with an injury crisis as Marcus Rashford could join Ander HerreraAntonio Valencia, Zlatan IbrahimovicMarcos RojoPhil Jones and Marouane Fellaini on the sidelines.

Sevilla drew against Liverpool twice in the UCL group stage and even though their La Liga form has been up and down throughout this season (they currently sit in fifth place in the table) and since Vincenzo Montella was appointed as their new boss in December, they’ll be a threat.

Wissam Ben Yedder is Sevilla’s chief goal threat and has six goals in six UCL games so far this season, while ex Manchester City pair Nolito and Jesus Navas will cause problems and Steven Nzonzi continues to impress in central midfield.

Both United and Chelsea know they face tough tests against Spanish opposition this week, and it is perhaps made a little tougher with expectations growing for English clubs in the Champions League this season.

Mourinho claiming injury crisis ahead of CL showdown

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The next three weeks will go a long way toward defining Jose Mourinho’s second season at Manchester United, with the Red Devils facing not only fellow top-four aspirers Chelsea and Liverpool, but also contesting their Champions League round-of-16 tie with Sevilla.

[ MORE: VAR provider admits incorrect graphic displayed on TV ]

Thus, it’s not exactly the most convenient time for the words “injury crisis” to rear their ugly heads yet again, but that’s the challenge Mourinho claims he faces ahead of Wednesday’s CL clash.

Paul Pogba missed Saturday’s FA Cup victory with a last-minute illness; Marcus Rashford is dealing with a leg injury and remains questionable, as are Ander Herrera and Antonio Valencia; Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones and Marouane Fellaini are all but officially out, according to Mourinho — quotes from ESPN.co.uk:

“I didn’t rest one single player so we had today every player available here. I didn’t rest anyone. I brought two kids that played on Friday 90 minutes [for the under-23s] because I don’t have another player, so we arrive at this crucial moment with some problems.”

“Can we recover some of them to Wednesday? I believe so. I think Rashford, Herrera, Valencia — I think they have a chance.

“Paul, I don’t know. Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones, Marouane, Zlatan — I don’t think they have any chance.”

Mourinho dealt with a similar rash of injuries very late on last season, as his side barreled its way into, and eventually won, the Europa League final, securing a place in the CL this season. With a top-four finish all but out of reach at the time, Mourinho opted to rest his bare-bones group of first-team regulars in Premier League action and prioritize Europe’s “other” competition.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

This time around, United sit second in the PL table, just four points clear of fifth-place Tottenham Hotspur, and the path to winning the CL will prove far more difficult than taking on the likes of Saint-Etienne, Rostov, Anderlecht, Celta Vigo and Ajax.

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.

Players are bigger than the club at Paris Saint-Germain

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PARIS (AP) It’s a scenario that has been repeating itself at Paris Saint-Germain.

A scenario where a player becomes bigger than the club, and is basically allowed to do anything he wants.

It used to work that way with Zlatan Ibrahimovic when the Sweden international was the most emblematic figure of the French league. Now it’s Neymar’s turn to call all the shots at PSG, and it does not seem to be a problem for the club’s Qatari owners.

[ MORE: PL Power Rankings – 2017-18 ]

It was with their blessings that Neymar, the world’s most expensive player who just turned 26, hosted a lavish birthday party on Sunday, less than 48 hours before a French Cup game at Sochaux, and only a few days before PSG’s biggest game of the season in the Champions League.

Neymar invited about 250 guests including all of his teammates as well as PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi.

Many videos of the players partying and dancing late circulated on social media. On one of them, left back Yuri Berchiche appeared to be drunk. The videos drew the ire of Sochaux captain Florian Tardieu, who said it showed a lack of respect toward his team.

For PSG coach Unai Emery, who attended the party, it was not a problem at all. He said the event was a rare joyful gathering for his players. “It’s good for our collective mindset to have shared this moment with Neymar,” Emery said.

Fortunately for PSG, the party had no immediate impact on the team’s results. Neymar – who joined from Barcelona for a world record 222 million euros ($260 million) last summer – was granted permission to skip the cup match, and Angel Di Maria scored a hat trick as PSG eased into the French Cup quarterfinals with a 4-1 win.

But Neymar’s party could come back to haunt Al-Khelaifi if PSG fails to produce a good result at Real Madrid next week when the teams meet in their Champions League last-16 first-leg tie.

In any case, the party organized about a month after PSG stars returned from their winter holidays, once again underlined the players’ power at the club.

When Ibrahimovic was at PSG and Laurent Blanc was coach, everything revolved around the athletic forward. Ibrahimovic could mock journalists and the quality of the French league without anyone at the club publicly finding anything wrong with it. Ibrahimovic was allowed to go back to his native Sweden on hunting trips, while Thiago Silva enjoyed tailor-made modifications to his training program.

[ MORE: Zaha injured ahead of brutal Palace fixtures ]

A serious incident during Blanc’s time spoke volumes about PSG’s lack of authority on its players and stained the club’s image. Just before a Champions League game against Chelsea two years ago, defender Serge Aurier abused Blanc and insulted teammates during a live session with fans on social media. Instead of being fired, Aurier got away with a six-week suspension.

Nothing has really changed under Emery’s leadership. For instance, PSG’s all-time leading scorer, Edinson Cavani, has kept the habit of returning late from his Christmas holidays, doing it again this winter without much consequence.

Emery has failed to make a clear decision on who should be PSG’s first-choice penalty-taker. In September, Cavani and Neymar argued over who should take a penalty kick, and the pair clashed again in November during an 8-0 win against Dijon. That night, PSG was 7-0 up and Cavani needed one goal to become PSG’s outright all-time leading scorer. But instead of showing generosity and letting Cavani take a penalty, Neymar guarded the ball and blanked his teammate when he approached.

Sebastien Tarrago, a reporter who has been covering PSG for years for L’Equipe newspaper, said Emery was not the only one to blame for the anarchy.

“Club officials are obviously the main people responsible for creating the possibility for players to have too much power,” he said. “If club officials were strong, it would never happen.”