Down to the Wire: With the window nearing its close, who will beat the clock?

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With just three hours remaining in the January transfer window, it’s a race to the finish for many teams to try and secure the players they desire for the final half of the season.

The top clubs appear to be very quiet as we approach the moment of truth, but with 10 clubs within nine points of each other, the bottom half of the table has been a flurry today, and to no surprise, the pickings have gotten a bit slim.

As we race towards the home stretch, let’s take a look at who could make a play just before the deadline.

After all, that’s what Deadline Day is all about, right?

Lee Cattermole to Stoke City:

An on-again, off-again rumor, Stoke haven’t given up the fight just yet. Known for his crunching tackles, many are joking (with a hint of truth) that Cattermole would be a perfect fit for Stoke’s physical style.

Originally said to be nearing completion with Sunderland having accepted a bid for the midfielder (pictured, left), his current club is now insisting that the deal is dead.  And yet it won’t go away…

According to Sky’s Rob Dorsett, Cattermole’s agent has arrived at the Stoke City training ground.  We’ll see where it goes. I can’t imagine Sunderland would be too happy with that news. Chances of completion: 4/10

John Heitinga to Fulham:

The furious attempt by Shad Khan, Alistair Mackintosh, and Rene Meulensteen to keep their club up is far from over, with deals for Kostas Mitroglou and Lewis Holtby already done and dusted.

The Cottagers have conceded a Premier League-high 50 goals this year, 10 more than anyone else in the league.  With that in mind, the club’s focus has now shifted to shoring up that back line.

With a serious need at left-back, Fulham first looked to Swansea’s Neil Taylor with a pair of bids, but amid reports that the defender’s wife has gone into labor today (typical Deadline Day!), the 24-year-old is apparently staying with Michael Laudrup.

Now, Fulham have turned their attention to the Everton central defender. Heitinga won the Toffees Player of the Year award as recently as the 2011/2012, but has been shoved aside by Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin, leaving the 30-year-old with just a single Premier League appearance this year

With Fulham out of domestic loan slots (you get 2, and they have Holtby and Darren Bent), the transfer would have to be a purchase of his contract, most likely on a free.  Sky Sports are reporting he is having a medical at Fulham. From the sound of things, it’s a pretty likely possibility.  Chances of completion: 7/10

source: AP
With his name in the papers for years, could the 22-year-old Blackpool winger finally be headed to the Premier League?

Thomas Ince to Crystal Palace:

The Tom Ince Deadline Day Tour looks to have found a conclusion at Crystal Palace. This one has been in the reports for most of the day, but the longer these deals linger without confirmation, the more likely they are to have a twisted ending.

Slowly, news is trickling out that the move is nearing completion, with the Blackpool Gazette reporting that striker Stephen Dobbie will be sacrificed in the other direction to Blackpool.

Ince was rumored to be in contact with numerous Premier League clubs in the past week, and it would appear Crystal Palace are the winners. A very likely deal at this point, on a loan with a £1 million fee. Chances of completion: 8/10.

Jonathan Pitroipa to Stoke City:

It seems that Stoke aren’t finished, even if Lee Cattermole falls through.  Sky Sports is reporting another target for Mark Hughes – Rennes striker Jonathan Pitroipa.

The striker market is beginning to dwindle, and Cardiff City, West Ham United, and other bottom-half clubs have missed out on key striker targets.  So Hughes has targeted the 27-year-old Burkina Faso international for the job.  French paper L’Equipe is reporting a loan deal with an option to buy has been agreed upon, but nobody else has taken that leap yet.

Unfortunately, his numbers are a bit ugly – no goals and four assists in 20 appearances (16 starts) – but he’s been playing mostly on the right wing. Also, that’s what happens when you wait until three hours left in the transfer window. Chance of completion: 5/10.

Ross McCormack to anybody:

With news that all hell has broken loose at Leeds United – they’ve shockingly sacked manager Brian McDermott on the heels of an Italian takeover – will anybody make a play for former Cardiff City striker Ross McCormack?  The 27-year-old told Sky he was “gutted” by the news.

Ok, with 3 hours left that’s probably not likely, but hey, it’s Deadline Day. You never know! Right on cue, Sky reports SIX (!!) clubs have contacted Leeds about McCormack. Buckle up… Chances of completion: 2/10.

How will USMNT line up versus Costa Rica?

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Saturday brings a first look at the United States men’s national team in 2020, though Gregg Berhalter’s bunch won’t look anything like its best self.

The Yanks have an almost exclusively MLS roster for the match, with Hobro’s Christian Cappas, Wolfsburg II’s Uly Llanez and unattached 17-year-old Bryang Kayo in the fold.

Many of Berhalter’s best MLS stars won’t be in Carson either for the 3:55 p.m. ET Saturday kickoff. Jordan Morris, Jozy Altidore, and Michael Bradley are the biggest names.

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Ronald Gonzalez’s Ticos will be similarly hampered, although more of Costa Rica’s A-side play in MLS and domestically.

We’ll leave the breakdown of the visitors for a later date, but who will rep the U.S. in Saturday’s Starting XI?

The travel roster includes keepers Sean Johnson, Bill Hamid, and Matt Turner, as well as defenders Aaron Long, Walker Zimmerman, Reggie Cannon, Julian Araujo, Chase Gasper, Justen Glad, Mark McKenzie, and Sam Vines. Listed midfielders Sebastian Lletget, Jackson Yueill, Brenden Aaronson, Cappis, Kayo, and Brandon Servania are joined by forwards Gyasi Zardes, Paul Arriola, Jonathan Lewis, Jesus Ferreira, and Ulysses Llanez.

Goalkeeper is anyone’s guess, but Johnson’s got the most run of the three during the Berhalter era. The younger Turner or more accomplished Hamid may step in there.

It would be surprising to see any other center backs besides Walker Zimmerman and Aaron Long given what we know of Berhalter and his respect for regulars. Reggie Cannon should start at right back and it’s between Chase Gasper and Sam Vines for the left. We’ll choose Vines out of intrigue.

Jackson Yueill, Paul Arriola, Sebastian Lletget, and Gyasi Zardes are safe bets to start, and this would seem a spot to give Jonathan Lewis more than subs’ run. That leaves one spot, and we’re pegging Brandon Servania to be the one chosen of four midfielders aged 17-20.

There’s also the matter of whether FC Dallas striker Jesus Ferreira will be internationally cleared to play Saturday. We sure hope he will be!

How do you think Berhalter will line them up?


How Berhalter may go

Johnson

Cannon — Zimmerman — Long — Vines

Yueill — Servania

Arriola — Lletget — Lewis

Zardes


What we’d like to see

Turner

Cannon — Zimmerman — McKenzie — Vines

Yueill — Cappis — Servania

Arriola — Ferreira — Lewis

Watch our transfer deadline day show from 6-8 p.m. ET on Jan. 31, live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com.

Report: Sheffield United in ‘advanced talks’ for $22M Norway star

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Sheffield United is ready to add one of the game’s brightest young talents to its blossoming Premier League side.

Norway midfielder Sander Berge is the name, and he’s been linked with Liverpool amongst others over the past few months.

Berge turns 22 next month and already has 20 caps for Norway in addition to 113 senior appearances for Genk in Belgium and 43 more for Valerenga in his home country.

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The defensive midfielder has chipped in six goals and four assists. He won the Belgian Super League with Genk last year and has a career-best four goals so this season.

It shows what success brings to a club, as Sky Sports reports that Berge turned down a move to Bramall Lane in the summer.

The fee is said to be $22 million, which isn’t small but completely reasonable given his stature for club and country.

This may move may join the Lys Mousset purchase as one of the Blades’ smartest bits of business, especially as Chris Wilder‘s men look for success on multiple fronts. Their success as a newly-promoted side is one of the great stories of the European season, and a place in Europe would be a fantastic achievement.

From The Yorkshire Post:

“It is going well, no doubt about it,” Wilder said. “On the Premier League front and in the Cup. You probably would not think it, but the win at Millwall has given me an enormous amount of pleasure in confirming, not even seeing, what my team is about. Players have come in with the likes of the skipper (Billy Sharp) and other players who are really driving it forward and want to produce individual performances and the atmosphere is good.”

Watch our transfer deadline day show from 6-8 p.m. ET on Jan. 31, live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com.

Espanyol identify 12 fans who racially insulted player

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BARCELONA, Spain — Spanish club Espanyol says it has identified 12 fans who racially insulted an Athletic Bilbao player in the Spanish league last weekend.

Espanyol said on Monday in a statement that nine of the fans were club members and would face punishment that could include suspension or a full-time ban.

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It said a report of its analysis of the video images of Saturday’s game at RCDE Stadium were sent to authorities.

The club reiterated its “categorical condemnation of any displays of violence and racism.”

The fans made monkey noises directed at Athletic forward Inaki Williams, who is black. Television images showed Williams confronting the section of Espanyol fans who taunted him after he was substituted late in the game in Barcelona.

The Spanish league said it will seek a partial stadium closure for Espanyol and will raise the incident with the Spanish soccer federation’s competition committee, which handles disciplinary issues.

Transfer rumors: West Ham want $44M midfielder, Barca eyes Rodrigo

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West Ham United is being linked with a big transfer splash, and it’s not even a striker.

Uruguayan midfielder Nahitan Nandez is the man in question, and West Ham is reportedly tempting Cagliari with a $44 million offer this January.

Nandez, 23, arrived from Boca Juniors for less than half that fee this summer, and has chipped in a goal with three assists for Tommaso Giulini’s sixth-place Serie A side.

He’s got 31 caps for his national team, and is averaging 1.5 tackles per match with Cagliari. Nandez is also averaging a key pass and 1.1 successful dribbles per league outing.

Football-Italia says that Cagliari will try to tie Nandez to a new deal with a $44 million release clause if the move to West Ham is unsuccessful.

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Meanwhile Barcelona’s pursuit of a Luis Suarez replacement isn’t limited to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, according to Marca.

Club president Josep Maria Bartomeu admits that Valencia striker Rodrigo Moreno is interesting his coaches.

“We don’t talk about players from other teams. But [Rodrigo’s] name is on the table of the coaches, and a replacement will arrive. I do not know whether it will be from Barcelona B or from outside. I like many players.”

The Spaniard has eight goals in 21 caps, and turns 29 in March. Rodrigo has four goals and 10 assists in 23 matches across all competitions this season.

Valencia beat Barcelona this weekend to send the Blaugranas three points back of La Liga leaders Real Madrid.