Zlatan Ibrahimovic

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Transfer rumor roundup: Zlatan to leave United; City’s offer to Alexis

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The Alexis Sanchez-to-Manchester City transfer saga, which began in the summer, seems headed down the same path as Philippe Coutinho-to-Barcelona, which also began in the summer and culminated in a move in January

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Friday | Thursday ]

While Arsene Wenger insists no approach has been made to the club, the Guardian claims that Man City have already offered Sanchez a five-and-a-half-year, $340,000-per-week contract that would begin this month, should City and Arsenal agree a transfer fee for the 29-year-old.

[ MORE: Wenger says no approaches for Alexis Sanchez… yet ]

According to Yahoo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic could leave Manchester United before the end of the season. Man United would prefer to keep Ibrahimovic through the end of his current contract which expires this summer, but the Red Devils do not expect him to return for a third season at Old Trafford and could choose to cash in (for a presumably small-ish fee) in the coming weeks or months, should an MLS or Chinese Super League side tempt the 36-year-old away from the Premier League. It is understood that United would not stand in his way in such a scenario.

[ MORE: Man City come back to lead Bristol City in League Cup semi ]

With Coutinho having left for Barcelona, Liverpool find themselves sitting on a cool $95 million, even after parting with $100 million for Virgil Van Dijk earlier this month. As such, a replacement attacker is expected to top Jurgen Klopp‘s wish list. According to the Mirror, 22-year-old Monaco playmaker Thomas Lemar, who was heavily linked with a move to Arsenal as part of Sanchez’s failed move to City, will cost any potential suitors — you guessed it — somewhere between $95 million and $125 million.

[ MORE: MLS comings & goings — LA, RSL, Colorado make big moves ]

Michy Batshuayi has made just two PL starts this season and could finish the campaign out on loan, according to ESPN UK. Sevilla are said to be interested in the 24-year-old who just eight months ago scored the PL title-clinching goal for Chelsea. Squarely stuck behind Alvaro Morata, last summer’s $81-million centerpiece signing, Batshuayi’s place in the Belgium squad for this summer’s World Cup is in real danger.

Mourinho: Willing to play Ibrahimovic behind Lukaku

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Jose Mourinho didn’t hate how Romelu Lukaku and Zlatan Ibrahimovic looked together despite Manchester United’s late loss at Bristol City in the League Cup on Wednesday.

So he may turn to the pairing again on Saturday when his Red Devils visit Leicester City for a 2:45 p.m. ET meeting at King Power Stadium (Watch live on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

[ MORE: El Clasico preview ]

Mourinho would use Ibrahimovic as a No. 10 with Lukaku, sitting just behind his fellow big striker. Ibrahimovic is not alien to playing a bit deeper in the formation, and in less structured systems like Paris Saint-Germain would drift into something more akin to “No.10” than center forward. From ManUtd.com:

“He played the last match [against Bristol City] in that period in the second half where we replaced Daley Blind with Lukaku and Lukaku played no.9 and Zlatan played no.10.”

“I know that was in the period where his energy was going down but, obviously, there are spaces where a no.10 plays and spaces where Ibrahimovic, even when he was clearly a no.9, feels comfortable to play. So, yes, why not?”

Why not, indeed? I like it more for the possibilities of changing the pace against a defense. Go from Martial-Lukaku-Rashford as a trident to twin towers atop a 4-4-2? Yes, please.

Bristol City stuns Manchester United

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Lee Johnson’s rising managerial star now shines over the biggest upset in this season’s League Cup.

Korey Smith restored Bristol City’s lead over Manchester United in the third minute of stoppage time, as the Robins eliminated the holders from the tournament with a 2-1 win in the quarterfinals.

[ MORE: Wild finish at Chelsea ]

From the rugby lines at Ashton Gate to the appearance of Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the Manchester United starting lineup, there was plenty to discuss from the quarterfinal.

That leapt up a notch when Joe Bryan scored an outstanding goal to give the underdogs a moment in the sun.

United outshot Bristol 19-11 on the night, but their only goal came from Ibrahimovic.

The big Swede zipped a free kick zipped low through the wall to make it 1-1 within six minutes.

Mourinho: Pogba starts Tuesday, caution with Zlatan

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The Manchester Derby’s loss is the UEFA Champions League’s gain.

With Manchester United virtually locked into the knockout rounds for some time — but still needing to get across the line — Paul Pogba was likely to be rested for Tuesday’s match with CSKA Moscow until he picked up a red card this weekend against Arsenal.

[ WATCH: Pogba’s red card tackle ]

Now Pogba will miss next Sunday’s match against Man City, and manager Jose Mourinho will use him Tuesday.

Mourinho made the announcement along with the news that Sergio Romero would start in goal, Luke Shaw should feature, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic is out.

On Pogba:

“He is very happy to play tomorrow,” says Mourinho. “It is the match that matters. Of course he is a bit tired because it was a huge match last weekend and just two days to recover. He is very happy to play tomorrow and try to keep this momentum – since he was back form injury he has been phenomenal.”

Mourinho also explained that Ibrahimovic is not injured, per se, but has to be careful how often he plays and trains as he continues to work toward full fitness following his serious knee injury. The recovery allows him to be fit to play, but United has to take a measured approach with their veteran freak of nature.

He says he’s not thinking of the derby, but that’s unlikely. United’s weekend may make the difference between a true title fight and the polishing of a place in City’s trophy case.

Mourinho delighted to have “engine of the team” Pogba back

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One takeaway which has been made 100 percent clear — in case the first four games of the season weren’t enough — is this: Manchester United are, in every way imaginable, a different team when Paul Pogba is on the field.

[ RECAP: Pogba’s star (re)turn lifts United past Newcastle ]

Pogba returned to action on Saturday and paced Man United to a 4-1 thumping of Newcastle United. After the game, United manager Jose Mourinho wasted little time in pointing the finger as Pogba, acknowledging he’s the player that makes the Red Devils tick — quotes from the Express:

“Paul Pogba is different class. Paul and Nemanja Matic grew up together at the start of the season and are the engine of the team. It was in Paul’s hands, how many minutes to play until he began to feel fatigued. It was a great performance from him.

“I know that strikers depend on goals for confidence and happiness. I was really happy to see him score his goal.

“We go match to match — we can only play Manchester City twice in a season. In those games we will try to take points — outside of those fixtures we are not in control.”

As for another returning superstar, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, we shouldn’t gloss over the fact that he returned from a torn ACL in just seven months. The original period for recovery was pegged at nine months.

“I am pleased for the three three points, the quality of our performance after Newcastle’s goal, that mentality to react without panic and in a positive way, and obviously the return of injured players is always nice, especially in Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s case. His was such a dramatic injury. To see him back is a great emotion”

The gap between United and City is currently eight points, but 26 games remain. There is time, but Mourinho’s men can afford to drop very few points the rest of the way.