For Chelsea to be successful in the league again, Mourinho must not look to the bright lights

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With Jose Mourinho on his way back to Stamford Bridge for a second go at the Premier League, one of his early goals will be to prove to fans he’s in it to win it even before the season begins.

Only, that would be a terrible idea.

With Mourinho’s golden boy and preferred target Radamel Falcao off the market, the Blues have been looking for another marquee name to show fans they mean business.  However, the marquee name isn’t always the best idea for a squad.

Rumors say Chelsea have now trained their sights on Brazilian striker Hulk, playing for Zenit St. Petersburg in Russia.  He’s since confirmed that interest, and if the rumors are to be believed, a £35 million ($54.6 million) offer is on the horizon.  That’s a lot of money.

However, if you look at the numbers, it’s hard to believe he’s really worth the fortune Mourinho’s preparing to shell out.  Across all competitions this season for Zenit, Hulk scored 11 goals and assisted 9 more in 30 matches, scoring once every 225 minutes. In addition, while playing in European competitions, arguably against much harder competition than the Russian league, he got only 3 goals in 9 appearances, one every 266 minutes.

Meanwhile, Demba Ba, already on the squad at Stamford Bridge, banged across 19 goals in 44 matches, with a far better average of a goal every 169 minutes.

Juan Mata has done equally as well as Ba, scoring 19 goals and assisting 35 scores in 66 matches across all competitions for Chelsea.

Speculation, however, is that Mourinho would prefer to bring Hulk in and then flip either Ba, Mata, or Fernando Torres somewhere else.  Is that really a good idea?

Fernando Torres has to go, I think many agree there.  They’d take a loss, but his fee and wages spent are already a sunk cost.  Chelsea should get what they can for him, and his removal from so much limelight and scrutiny could only help the player as well.

Selling Ba or Mata though would be a huge mistake.  Both are in the primes of their careers and fit wonderfully into the Chelsea squad.

This situation at Stamford Bridge reminds me of a saga many baseball fans will remember.  The New York Yankees splashed for Rafael Soriano in the free agent market for $35 million over 3 years, making him the highest paid setup man ever.  The move created a huge rift between GM Brian Cashman and the men who orchestrated the deal, Randy Levine and Hal Steinbrenner.

Cashman was against the deal because he was against the money and having to give up a draft pick in compensation for a setup man.  Meanwhile, the other two believed a big-name move was necessary to appease fan pressure.

While the Soriano deal ended up being great for the Yankees, it only ended up that way because Mariano Rivera blew out his ACL and Soriano excelled in his place as the closer. I don’t think Mourinho expects Eden Hazard or Juan Mata’s knees to explode any time soon.

A deal for Hulk would be entirely to appease fans, and prove they’re willing to spend money.  Since Falcao and Neymar have already been swallowed up, the top-level striker market is drying up quickly.  Mourinho is looking to make a big-name move, and a swoop of the Brazilian would satisfy that requirement.

Chelsea’s new boss could instead look towards the French Ligue 1, where a 23-year-old Moroccan is lighting up the newspapers.  Younes Belhanda, while more of an attacking midfielder than a pure striker, would put a charge into Mourinho’s lineup and cost half the price of Hulk.  The youngster scored 10 goals in 30 appearances this season and 12 in 28 last year.

Jose would also do well to heavily consider instead rescuing Edin Dzeko from Manchester City, if he still wants to splash the cash.  Dzeko has always played second fiddle to Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero, but has excelled at the role, and his numbers have indicated he could take on a much bigger burden.  The Bosnian giant scored 14 goals in 32 Premier League appearances for City last season, although just half of those were starts.  He averaged a goal every 130 minutes, and is a true poacher in front of the net, scoring both efficiently and with style.

At most, Dzeko would cost the same as Hulk, although I imagine he’d go for less than the whopping £35 million, and he’s proven himself in the Premier League despite being just a year older than the Brazilian.

If Mourinho wishes to avoid a sour second spell at Stamford Bridge, than I would advise him to not look for the sexy transfer with a big name and big price, and instead look to those who would help the team on the pitch. Then he can let the results do the talking.

Hyndman, Hamid seal permanent MLS deals

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Two players who have featured for the U.S. Men’s National Team in the past signed permanent MLS deals on Monday, after spending the all or parts of the 2019 MLS season on loan in the league.

The question is, should we be disappointed? It’s two USMNT-eligible players in their prime who are leaving Europe for regular playing time? Will that playing time get them back in the USMNT picture? Or were their old club teams simply the problem before?

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It was a return for Bill Hamid, who was a D.C. United homegrown player and arguably the first player on the team sheet between 2009-2017. Hamid actually returned from Europe in 2018 and spent all of the last year and a half on loan from FC Midtjylland in Denmark.

Hyndman on the other hand signed a permanent deal with Atlanta United, after the former MLS Cup champions signed the 23-year-old midfielder on a loan deal from Bournemouth in the Premier League. It was Hyndman’s fourth club in four years – including three loan moves – and perhaps Atlanta is a place he can put down roots and stay for the long term.

Per both D.C. United and Atlanta United, both players signed multi-year deals. D.C. United reportedly even paid a transfer fee for Hamid.

Both players are solid to good players in MLS, and as Americans, they add quality and don’t cost a team an international spot. But for the U.S. Men’s National Team, it’s unclear how this could affect the pair.

On one hand, USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter has shown a preference to certain players he had in the 2019 January camp, including guys like Nick Lima, Paul Arriola and Christian Roldan, even if performances don’t necessarily merit them playing each match. On the other hand, as someone who has played in Germany, and England, Berhalter surely understands the benefits of challenging yourself every few years to play and train at a higher level. It doesn’t have to be Jurgen Klinsmann levels, where every single year they have to step it up, but finding a new way to freshen things up in a tough environment can have positive benefits for everyone, assuming there is playing time.

For Hyndman, who moved to Fulham’s academy in 2011 at the age of 15, it marks the end of seven years in Europe trying to break in. He had decent half-season spells with Hibernian and Rangers in the Scottish Premier Division, but one can argue that Atlanta United is itself on a higher level of play. That being said, Hyndman has clearly decided that regular gametime is best for his development as a player than relocating to the Netherlands, Italy or Germany to play. He wasn’t likely to get any at Bournemouth, even with their current Premier League struggles.

In Hamid’s case, he took a chance on Europe with FC Midtjylland. However, pretty quickly he realized that it wasn’t the right situation for him and within six months, he was back on D.C. United on loan for the next year and a half.

In both cases, there may have been options to continue their European adventures. Whether it was in the Championship or another “mid-major” European league, in the past, two players entering their primes might have tried to stay in Europe a little longer. But the lure of MLS, with a decent salary, less competition for places and the opportunity to play at home in front of family is a strong one, and the national team will have to adjust with it.

 

Would Saul make sense at Man United?

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As Manchester United prepares its roster construction for the future, one player that’s reportedly on the shortlist is Atletico Madrid central midfielder Saul Niguez.

Although originally from Elche, in southeast Spain, Saul has been on the books of Atletico Madrid since 2008 (other than a season on loan with Rayo Vallecano), making his first team debut in 2012 and growing from a scrawny midfielder into an international-calibre box-to-box star for both club and country. Per Diario AS, Man United has been interested in signing Saul before, and now it’s been revived. The report states, “The interest from Manchester is very real, and strong.”

[READ: Arsenal comes back to beat West Ham]

So, what kind of a player is Saul?

As mentioned before, he’s a sturdy, powerful box-to-box midfielder who can win headers defensively and knows how to play well in a Diego “Cholo” Simeone system. At the same time, he’s certainly not afraid to make a late run into the box. Last season he tied a career high with four goals in La Liga and also scored in the UEFA Champions League.

At 25-years old, he’s a hardened veteran player. But is he what Man United needs?

If you look at the current squad at Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s disposal, he’s got quite a few No. 8’s, right? There’s Paul Pogba, Andreas Pereira, and Fred. You can argue Scott McTominay has at times played like an 8, as has Jesse Lingard on occasion. One might argue that what Man United really needs is a better No. 6, someone who can be a destroyer and cover a lot of ground, freeing up that side of the game so Pogba could feel more comfortable attacking.

If Man United were to sign Saul in January – or next summer – we could potentially see him line up in a midfield three, though he’d be center right with Pogba to his left. Behind the pair would be McTominay to clean up the messes.

On paper, it’s a decent midfield for sure, but it’s just one step on Man United’s path towards becoming a team that can challenge for the Premier League and Champions League.

Of course, this is all theoretical. Saul carries a $166 million transfer release clause, and for the player he is, considering he doesn’t score many goals and affects the game in little ways, it’s a lot to spend for a guy who isn’t a guarantee to improve his team enough to make it back to the Champions League.

But if Man United was able to negotiate a better transfer fee for Niguez, they could do worse than a talented midfielder from Atletico Madrid. The question then will be – is Saul a system player (only successful under Simeone), or can he find success in the Premier League too?

USWNT’s Rapinoe named SI Sportswoman of the Year

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In 2019, Megan Rapinoe won a World Cup title, Golden Ball, Golden Boot, FIFA World Cup MVP, and the Ballon d’Or. Now, she can add her name to another distinguished list.

Sports Illustrated on Monday revealed that Rapinoe had been named SI’s 2019 Sportsperson of the Year. She’s the first individual soccer player from any gender to win the award, and she follows the 1999 U.S. Women’s National Team as the second USWNT-related athlete to garner the award.

[READ: Rapinoe wins 2019 Ballon d’Or]

Other notable winners of this award are Serena Williams, LeBron James, the Golden State Warriors, Michael Jordan, and Muhammad Ali.

“Even in a year with many great candidates, choosing Megan as the Sportsperson of the Year was an easy decision,” Steve Cannella, co-editor-in-chief of Sports Illustrated said in a statement released by the magazine. “She is a force of nature on and off the field, a trailblazing soccer player who also proves every day how large and loud a voice a socially conscious athlete can have in 2019.”

Rapinoe has had about as good of a year as a player can have, and she did it under enormous pressure. She withstood verbal and online taunts from the U.S. president for her noted opposition against his political decisions, as well as dealt with injuries during the tournament. Even if she wasn’t always at her best on the field, she found a way to score key goals at important moments.

Every Women’s World Cup seems to raise the profile of the USWNT and soccer in this country, but beyond her work on the field, Rapinoe’s hair, media savvy and ultimately, her performance won over any critic she could have. What she’s done for soccer in this country is immeasurable, and hopefully there are people that have a desire to keep watching the beautiful game after the World Cup, thanks in some part to Rapinoe.

Rapinoe will grace the cover of Sports Illustrated for the Dec. 16 issue.

Ljungberg on Pepe: He ‘showed his quality’

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Arsene Wenger used to say that players needed around six months once they came to the Premier League to get adjusted to both living in England and getting acclimated to the pace and physicality of the league.

For Nicolas Pepe, it was advice well heeded.

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Offensively, Pepe was outstanding as he scored a goal and an assist in Arsenal’s 3-1 win over West Ham. At the same time, Pepe worked hard on the defensive end, making life difficult for West Ham left back Aaron Cresswell and anyone down West Ham’s right flank.

On Monday, Pepe showed that he was worth his $87 million transfer fee, and he only needs a yard of space to create something magical.

“People always ask me about Nico and I try to explain,” Ljungberg after the game. “He comes from the French league, he comes to the Premier League – in my opinion the best league in the world – and it’s a lot faster and a lot harder. He needs to adapt. People put pressure on him but that’s not so easy, and I thought what he did today was he worked really hard offensively and defensively and showed his quality.

“I’m so pleased for him because at the same time he was a big, big buy for the club and then comes pressure with that as well. He will fall asleep with a smile tonight.”

In the 66th minute, Pepe found himself isolated on the wing with just Cresswell to beat. After cutting inside, Pepe curled home a beauty which ended up being the game-winning-goal. It was just his second Premier League goal of the season and his first from open play. Perhaps now after five months of bedding in at Arsenal, Pepe is ready to shine.

There’s no doubt that with Arsenal’s defensive issues, they need their attacking stars to score in bunches from here on out. If Pepe can finish the season with ten goals and ten assists, it will be a wild success, and set him up well for the next season.