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La Liga & Serie A: Barca cruise in derby; Mertens bags four for Napoli

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A roundup of Sunday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights…

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup — Chelsea go 9 points clear; Man Utd streaking ]

Barcelona 4-1 Espanyol

The gap between Barcelona and Real Madrid is now just three points after the Blaugrana thrashed Espanyol in the Catalan derby on Sunday (though Madrid now have a game in hand due to their trip to the Club World Cup). Luis Suarez scored twice, his 11th and 12th goals of the 2016-17 La Liga season, with Lionel Messi and Jordi Alba also netting for Barca.

Suarez’s second, and Barca’s second, stands out as the pick of the litter, not for the Uruguayan’s finish, but for the mesmerizing passage of dribbling by Messi during the build-up (WATCH HERE). Messi was made to wait until the 90th minute to notch his 10th goal of the league season, but it was well worth the wait, even if only for the sequence of passes between himself and Suarez.

[ MORE: La Liga — Atleti end poor run of results; Sevilla go 2nd (for now) ]

Elsewhere in La Liga

Deportivo La Coruña 2-0 Osasuna
Leganes 1-1 Eibar

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Real Madrid 15 11 4 0 40 14 26 6-2-0 5-2-0 37
 Barcelona 16 10 4 2 41 16 25 4-3-1 6-1-1 34
 Sevilla 16 10 3 3 32 21 11 7-0-1 3-3-2 33
 Villarreal 16 8 5 3 25 11 14 6-1-1 2-4-2 29
 Real Sociedad 16 9 2 5 28 21 7 5-2-1 4-0-4 29
 Atlético Madrid 16 8 4 4 29 14 15 5-2-1 3-2-3 28
 Eibar 16 6 5 5 22 20 2 5-2-1 1-3-4 23
 Athletic 15 7 2 6 20 18 2 5-1-1 2-1-5 23
 Espanyol 16 5 7 4 20 22 -2 2-4-2 3-3-2 22

Napoli 5-3 Torino

Dries Mertens scored not one, not two, not three, but four goals as third-place Napoli blitzed ninth-place Torino early and held on for dear life late. Mertens had his hat trick after 22 minutes, and former Tottenham Hotspur defender Vlad Chiriches made it 4-1 (following Andrea Belotti’s league-leading 12th goal of the season) after 70 minutes.

Then came the comeback attempt, as Torino pulled one back six minutes later, only to be rebuffed by Mertens’ fourth of the game in the 80th minute, followed by another for former Tottenham man, Iago Falque, pulling the visitors back to within two goals. The victory pulls Napoli to within a point of Roma in the race for second, but still only fourth in the league table after Lazio made easy work of Fiorentina to remain third.

[ MORE: Serie A — Juventus beat 2nd-place Roma, go 7 points clear ]

Lazio 3-1 Fiorentina

Keita put the home side ahead after 23 minutes, and Lucas Biglia made it 2-0 during first-half stoppage time. Former West Ham United forward Mauro Zarate pulled Fiorentina back to 2-1 in the 64th minute, but that’s as close as the Viola would get, as Stefan Radu put a tidy bow on the victory in the 90th minute.

[ MORE: Ligue 1 — Pressure increasing on Emery as PSG lose 4th league game ]

Elsewhere in Serie A

Sassuolo 0-1 Inter Milan
Udinese 2-0 Crotone
Pescara 3-0 Bologna
Chievo 2-1 Sampdoria
Genoa 3-4 Palermo

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Juventus 17 14 0 3 36 14 22 9-0-0 5-0-3 42
 Roma 17 11 2 4 36 17 19 8-0-0 3-2-4 35
 Napoli 17 10 4 3 37 18 19 6-2-1 4-2-2 34
 Lazio 17 10 4 3 32 18 14 6-1-2 4-3-1 34
 AC Milan 17 10 3 4 27 20 7 6-2-1 4-1-3 33
 Atalanta 17 9 2 6 25 20 5 5-0-3 4-2-3 29
 Inter Milan 17 8 3 6 25 21 4 5-2-1 3-1-5 27
 Fiorentina 17 7 5 5 25 21 4 4-4-0 3-1-5 26
 Torino 17 7 4 6 35 27 8 5-2-1 2-2-5 25

Rumored Neymar for Bale swap: Who wins?

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Who would gain more of an advantage from the rumored, sensational Gareth Bale for Neymar swap: Paris Saint-Germain or Real Madrid?

Both players are currently problems for their clubs, though neither is known as a true rabble-rouser; Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane wants to be done with the newly-minted 30-year-old Bale, while PSG knows Neymar wants to leave and would love to satiate Kylian Mbappe’s appetite to be the man at their club.

[ REPORT: Man Utd, Leicester agree Maguire fee ]

Presumably some money would be headed PSG’s way in addition to Bale, and both clubs would be getting a motivated megawatt star.

Neymar doesn’t turn 28 until February, but the difference in age may be offset by the Brazilian’s track record of injuries.

In fact, his injury status last season combines with an off-field accusation of sexual assault and a red card for confronting a fan to overshadow his production: Neymar’s 23 goals and 13 assists in just over 2300 minutes last season, including five and two in the Champions League (and a goal and an assist against defensively-stout Liverpool).

Bale presents very few personality challenges, and PSG won’t have a problem with his massive wages (especially with Neymar off the books). His numbers have dipped in two of three seasons since his otherworldly 2015-16, but La Liga is a more difficult scoring league than Ligue 1.

Neymar has twice been a Ballon d’Or finalist and, presuming his legal troubles don’t persist, could be a title fight changer in La Liga. Imagine the Neymar, Eden Hazard, and Luka Jovic trying to outgun Lionel Messi, Antoine Griezmann, and Luis Suarez? Insane.

We’d say Real would be winning the straight-up swap, and that it’s pretty unlikely to go down that way. So it depends what PSG does with the relative Financial Fair Play freedom that would come with the money that also arrives from Spain. Is it Idrissa Gana Gueye? Someone else who helps take PSG’s Champions League hopes to the next level?

Manchester United in ‘concrete talks’ with Lille over Pepe

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Manchester United are reportedly in “concrete talks” to agree a fee with Lille for much-tracked playmaker Nicolas Pepe.

The 24-year-old attacking midfielder has been linked with Liverpool and Arsenal amongst others, and Lille has admitted he’ll be leaving the club.

[ REPORT: Man Utd, Leicester agree Maguire fee ]

United’s reported salvo was around $87.5 million. He’d give them a star who could play across from Anthony Martial or as an attacking midfielder under Romelu Lukaku.

Only Kylian Mbappe and Teji Savanier garnered better season-long ratings than Pepe in the 2018-19 Ligue 1 campaign, and Pepe’s 22 goals and 11 assists stand out from the pack. Only Mbappe had more goals and only Savanier more assists.

Pepe has four goals in 11 caps for the Ivory Coast, and made three starts in Les Elephants’ five-match run at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations. He’s a fit for the Premier League, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s system. And if the Red Devils can keep him from Liverpool, well, all the better we’re sure.

Report: Manchester United, Leicester agree to monster Maguire fee

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Manchester United and Leicester City have agreed a fee for Harry Maguire, clearing the way for the English center back to join the Old Trafford set.

That fee is a whopping $100 million, according to Bleacher Report’s Dean Jones. That’s about $4 million more than the world record for a defender, set when Liverpool purchased Virgil Van Dijk from Southampton.

[ MORE: USMNT CB to West Ham? ]

Maguire has been a statistical monster for Leicester City, and he passes the eye test, too.

Manchester United has needed to upgrade its stable of center backs for some time, and now the biggest question is who will work best alongside the 6-foot-4 26-year-old.

The former Sheffield United, Wigan Athletic, and Hull City defender is now 20-times capped by England.

The move could have a ripple effect on the Premier League, as the Foxes have been expected to bid for Burnley star James Tarkowski should Maguire leave the King Power Stadium.

Transfer rumor roundup: USMNT’s Long to London, Newcastle linked with pair

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Could USMNT center back Aaron Long be headed to the Premier League?

The 26-year-old could join West Ham United’s stable of center backs, which includes Issa Diop, Fabian Balbuena, and Angelo Ogbonna.

Sky Sports says that the Red Bulls defender has drawn the interest of Lyon and Fiorentina, but been offered to the Irons should they match his $5 million release clause.

Unable to find a place with Portland and Seattle, Long spent a few seasons in the USL before earning a place with RBNY.

Now 11-times capped by the USMNT with two goals, Long could be bringing his talents to London’s Olympic Stadium.

Elsewhere in the Premier League, Newcastle United has the chance to sign oft-injured Danny Welbeck on a free transfer.

The longtime Arsenal striker, weaned at Manchester United, scored five times in 12 matches last season in a return to injury woes following a 43-match season the prior year.

Newcastle is also being linked with a former defender. James Tavernier has gone on to captain Glasgow Rangers, and the 27-year-old would cost around $10 million.

Surely Steven Gerrard would want more for the defender, but prices haven’t met quality for Scottish Premiership players as we’ve seen with Kieran Tierney at Celtic.