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Benitez makes Merino loan a permanent deal for Newcastle

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Rafa Benitez knew he liked Mikel Merino when Newcastle United signed the dynamic midfielder on loan from Borussia Dortmund.

Did Rafa know the 21-year-old Spaniard would look like this big of a part of what Tynesiders call the “Rafalution?”

[ MORE: Top Premier League story lines ]

Probably not, but Newcastle has made Merino’s loan a permanent deal, signing him through 2022. After 14 minutes off the bench versus Spurs on Opening Day, Merino has played all but 16 minutes of the Premier League season.

Here’s Benitez, from

 “I’m really pleased we have been able to bring Mikel to the club permanently. He has played very well since he joined us. He has settled in quickly, has a lot of quality on the ball and is keen to learn – that is a crucial part of his future development.

Stuck behind Julian Weigl and Nuri Sahin at BVB, Merino is a young 21 (June) has shown his skill alongside and without Jonjo Shelvey. As a valuable part of a rotation that has kept Isaac Hayden out of the mix at times, Merino is a good sign that Benitez has aims to develop Newcastle despite some problems with owner Mike Ashley (who is said to be shopping the club).

Rose, Gacinovic to Man United; Alli, Griezmann to Barca?

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It’s nowhere near January 1, but Manchester United (of course) have been linked with moves for two wide players.

Danny Rose continues to be linked with a move away from Tottenham Hotspur with the England international left back still out injured and his comments at the start of the season about wanting to be “paid what he deserves” still rings true.

With Ben Davies filing in ably for Rose over the past six months, that could persuade Daniel Levy to cash in on another full back if United offer over $60 million for the 27-year-old. Italian outlet Tuttomercatoweb say Jose Mourinho will come in with a fresh bid for Rose in January after missing out on him in the summer.

Another wide man United are keeping on eye, according to the Daily Mirror, is Eintracht Frankfurt winger Mijat Gacinovic.

The 22-year-old is regarded as one of the top attacking talents in the Bundesliga and it would explain why Mourinho was spotted in Austria last week wearing a baseball cap as he looked on sheepishly from the stands. Serbia (who have since qualified for the World Cup) lost 3-2 to Austria in a 2018 World Cup qualifier and Mourinho was said to be watching Gacinovic closely.

Gacinovic scored two goals in his first three games for Serbia and comes from the same youth team as Dusan Tadic at Vojvodina. With a deal for Ivan Perisic not coming to fruition following a summer-long chase, Mourinho could well swoop for the promising winger.

Quite why he needs another wide man with Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Jesse Lingard, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Juan Mata all capable of playing those positions is beyond me. But Jose usually gets what he wants.

Tottenham’s Dele Alli has been linked with a move to Barcelona and Real Madrid as Barca turn their attentions away from Philippe Coutinho.

According to Sport, Alli, 21, is a key target for both Barca and Real and Real are also eyeing up a move for Harry Kane. Of course, we would be taking about monstrous transfer fees for both of these Tottenham and England stars but given Alli’s recent dip in form, perhaps Spurs would be more wiling to cash in on him compared to Kane.

Barcelona are said to believe that Spurs cannot keep hold of both of their star attackers and that enticing Alli away from north London, just a few weeks after he changed his agent, could be a lot easier to do.

Another star attacker said to be interesting Barca, according to Mundo Deportivo, is Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann.

The Frenchman decided to stay at Atleti last summer once their transfer ban was confirmed but now that Diego Costa is back at Atleti from January onwards, it is believed Barca will try and swoop in to meet Griezmann’s release clause of $117 million before July 1 when it doubles for the remaining five years of his contract at Atletico.

Griezmann, 26, looked set to move to Manchester United in the summer but Barca will be keen to make him their main man and his record of 86 goals in 167 games for Atleti has seen his star rise over the past three season.

Barca are keen to exploit this loophole in Griezmann’s contract and after all, they now better than most about the risks and rewards of release clauses.

Report: Arsenal, Inter Milan after Atlanta United playmaker

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Atlanta United’s remarkable first season under Tata Martino is attracting attention to its most prized players, from Josef Martinez to Hector Villalba, Yamil Asad to Miguel Almiron.

Calcio Mercato says Inter Milan is keeping a close eye on Almiron, and that Arsenal also want to lure the Paraguayan playmaker to the Emirates Stadium.

[ MORE: U.S. stays perfect at U-17 World Cup ]

The Daily Mail put a nearly $24 million price tag on Almiron, three times what Atlanta paid to get him from Argentine club Lanus.

The 23-year-old has nine goals and eight assists in 29 MLS matches this season, and is currently out of the lineup with injury.

Can Almiron make the leap to the Premier League or Serie A? Certainly, and it may be hard for both MLS and Atlanta to pass up a 300 percent profit.

Can, Goretzka linked to new Champions League homes

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Two players out-of-contract this summer have their futures very much in focus early in this UEFA Champions League season.

Liverpool’s Emre Can and Schalke’s Leon Goretzka are no strangers to the transfer rumor mill, and both players can sign pre-contracts with new homes in January.

The BBC, citing Tuttosport, says Manchester United has joined the pursuit of Goretzka, a race reportedly being contested by Bayern Munich, Arsenal, Liverpool, and Juventus.

[ MORE: Top talents at U-17 World Cup ]

The 6-foot-2 midfielder, 22, has an Olympic silver medal to go with a Confederations Cup and 10 caps.

If Goretzka finds his way to Juventus, the Schalke man could meet a new teammate in fellow German midfielder Can.

The 23-year-old is yet to sign a new deal at Anfield, and Juventus CEO Beppe Marotta wants him in Turin. Marotta does not expect Liverpool to allow a sale in January, but hopes to sign him to a pre-contract around that time.

Spanish report: Real Madrid readying $235m Kane bid

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File this under: Probably not but just in case.

Could Real Madrid be prepared to place a major bid for another Tottenham Hotspur star?

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The European champions will reportedly bid $235 million for Harry Kane next summer, five years after splashing about $119 million for Gareth Bale.

Now first things first: Kane loves Spurs, and would have to want to move abroad. But could the red-hot striker with 13 September goals for club and country be tempted to move to another big club?

Spanish web site Don Balon said Madrid would finance the move by selling Karim Benzema and/or Gareth Bale, and that Antoine Griezmann and Paulo Dybala would also whet the whistle of Real president Florentino Perez.

It seems unlikely, especially with Spurs flying high. But could group stage stumbles or matches with Real tilt his head? Only time will tell.