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Analyzing contenders in Chelsea’s hunt for star striker

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With Diego Costa‘s Chelsea future seemingly non existent, who will Antonio Conte turn to for goals this season?

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The Chelsea boss has to first offload Costa, which is proving problematic given the striker only wants to re-join Atletico Madrid and their current transfer ban is making his departure complex.

One thing which is easy to understand is that Conte wants Costa out and the sooner the 28-year-old Spaniard departs, the sooner his replacement can arrive.

After losing out on Romelu Lukaku to Manchester United, Conte has seen his options diminish when it comes to signing a new striker to spearhead Chelsea’s quest for success in the Premier League and the UEFA Champions League.

Below is a look a the contenders to replace Costa, with all five players linked with a move to Chelsea over recent weeks (or in Alvaro Morata’s case, many months).


Alvaro Morata (Real Madrid) – Transfer value, $103 million
With James Rodriguez leaving Real Madrid for Bayern Munich on a two-year loan deal, it appears Morata may well stay with the reigning European champs after all. Chelsea, and Conte, have been long-time admirers of Morata and the Spanish international is about to enter his prime. If he stays at Real Madrid he will still be behind Cristiano Ronaldo, Karem Benzema and Gareth Bale in the pecking order, but Zinedine Zidane appears to want to play the 24-year-old more. If he doesn’t, perhaps this deal happens later in August but Chelsea will surely want their main man to be in place by the start of the season on Aug. 11. Real’s valuation is another stumbling block.

Andrea Belotti (Torino) – Transfer value, $114 million
He has become an oft mentioned target for both Man United and Chelsea during the summer window and the Italian forward has had two impressive seasons for Torino, scoring 38 goals in 70 Serie A games. “The Rooster” possess a powerful shot, is a clinical finisher and is quick off the mark. He is everything a modern forward should be, hence why clubs around Europe are willing to pay big money to sign him. That said, Torino are holding out for $114 million and that doesn’t seem likely. Belotti is just 23 years old and has never played in European competition, but he does have four goals in nine games for the Italian national team.

Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang (Borussia Dortmund) – Transfer value, $80 million
Reports state that Dortmund are willing to let the 28-year-old leave for $80 million this summer and he could be just the man Chelsea need. The price is high, but Aubameyang has pedigree in the UCL and he led the Bundesliga in goals last season nwith 31 from 32 games. He can run the channels, lead the line and is good in the air. The Gabon striker would appear to be the perfect fit for what Chelsea need and he’s used to playing in a fluid front three from his time at Dortmund. If Chelsea can get the fee down to $70 million, then surely he will be their first choice to replace Costa.

Christian Benteke (Crystal Palace) – Transfer value, $60 million
Palace aren’t willing to sell Benteke this summer but with Everton and Chelsea reportedly interested, could a bid of over $60 million twist their arm? Benteke, 26, scored 17 goals in a struggling Palace side last season and his pedigree as a clinical finisher is clear for all to see. Benteke’s arrival may not wow the Chelsea faithful, but if Conte is looking for a pure finisher who can hold the ball up and be a menace in the air, Benteke is your man.

Fernando Llorente (Swansea City) – Transfer value, $15 million
A bit out of left field, but there’s definite interest in Llorente from Chelsea with Conte working with him at Juventus in the past. Llorente scored 15 goals in a poor Swansea side last season and despite his broken arm, which means he’ll likely miss the start of the season, the Spanish veteran (32) has plenty to offer. Signing Llorente would mean Conte backs Michy Batshuayi to be his main striker next season and that seems unlikely given the lack of playing time for the Belgian last season.

Quick look at the other options: Even though Alexis Sanchez would be perfect, it’s unlikely Arsenal will sell him to a London and Premier League rival, and the same could be said for Olivier Giroud. Daniel Sturridge would be an intriguing buy, but after his tumultuous spell at Chelsea in the past a return seems unlikely. Mauro Icardi from Inter Milan is a poacher but the Argentine would cost big bucks from Inter Milan and another cheap but potentially solid option is Mexico’s Javier Hernandez with his contract at Bayer Leverkusen said to have a release clause of less than $18 million.

Report: U.S. U-17 midfielder Reyna to sign for Borussia Dortmund academy

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Another top American youngster is set to head for Germany for the crucial development years of his career.

According to Goal USA, U.S. Under-17 Men’s National Team midfielder Giovanni Reyna is expected to join Borussia Dortmund’s academy when he turns 16-years old this November. Reyna is able to head to Europe before his 18th-birthday thanks to a Portuguese passport he received by way of his father, former U.S. Men’s National Team captain Claudio Reyna and Claudio’s mother, who was born in Portugal.

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Reyna just finished a tournament in Mexico with the U.S. U-17s, and earlier this summer he led NYCFC’s Under-18/19 team to the U.S. Soccer Development Academy title, despite being just 15 years old. Reyna was also a standout on the U.S. U-15 national team the past couple of years.

While not every American moving to Europe is successful (see: Haji Wright, Junior Flores), there is plenty of good precedent at Dortmund, especially thanks to Christian Pulisic. With Josh Sargent looking strong in the youth ranks and reserves at Werder Bremen and both Pulisic and Weston McKennie (Schalke) starring for the first team for their clubs in Germany, it’s an attractive place for young players – not just Americans – to move to. It’s still much too early to start the hype train on Reyna, but if he impresses in the Dortmund academy over the next two years, he could see a chance to play with the first team by 2020.

One thing to keep in mind is that NYCFC, which has likely spent thousands of dollars investing in coaching and facilities for Reyna’s development – along with other players – is losing him for nothing to Dortmund. And other talented young players, James and Will Sands or Joe Scally, haven’t seen much if any time with the first team.

La Liga plans to play regular-season matches in US

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A regular-season Spanish league game is coming to the United States, possibly as early as this year, but a “clasico” between Real Madrid and Barcelona is pretty much out of the question.

The league said Thursday it is planning to play a match across the Atlantic as part of a new 15-year partnership with sports and entertainment group Relevent to promote soccer in North America.

[READ: Real Madrid players, manager react to UEFA Super Cup defeat]

The group operates the International Champions Cup, the world’s largest summer club tournament. Barcelona and Real Madrid faced each other in the tournament in Miami last year.

The league gave few details on the planned regular-season game. League president Javier Tebas, however, dismissed the possibility of taking the “clasico” away from Spain.

The league said it is still making arrangements for the game and there is no timetable for when it will happen, but it could be this season.

The Spanish league has been trying to expand internationally for some time, hoping to grow and keep pace with the powerful Premier League in England.

Tebas last year also talked about the league possibly playing a regular-season match in China, and a few days ago the Spanish Super Cup was held in Tangier, Morocco, marking the first time it was played outside Spain. The league game in the United States would be the first to be played outside of Europe.

“Joining with Relevent to create LaLiga North America is a major milestone in our international expansion strategy,” Oscar Mayo, the league’s international development director, said in a statement. “This agreement ensures not only a bright future for soccer in North America, but also for LaLiga and our clubs.”

The league said “the operation will support the league’s growth in the U.S. and Canada through consumer related activities including youth academies, development of youth soccer coaches, marketing agreements, consumer activations, exhibition matches and plans to have an official LaLiga Santander match played in the U.S.”

A decade ago, the Premier League tried to introduce an additional international match but plans for each team to play a 39th game overseas were abandoned amid opposition from FIFA and fan groups.

The Premier League has more exposure than its Spanish counterpart in the United States, in part because of a six-year TV deal with NBC worth about $1 billion.

Since 2012, the Spanish league has been on BeIN Sports, which was received by less than a quarter of American English-language television households even before it recently was dropped by the Comcast Xfinity cable system.

Relevent was founded and is owned by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, who called the partnership “the next giant leap in growing soccer’s popularity in North America.”

“This unique relationship will create new opportunities for millions of North American soccer fans to experience the most passionate, exciting, and highest level of soccer in the world,” Ross said.

The Spanish league called the agreement “an inflection point for soccer in the U.S. and Canada,” coming in anticipation of the 2026 World Cup that will be hosted in North America.

Ramirez makes instant impact in first start for LAFC

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Christian Ramirez showed Minnesota United FC exactly what it is missing.

Back home in Southern California, Ramirez scored twice in his first start for Los Angeles FC as the expansion side comfortably held on to a 2-0 win over Real Salt Lake in mid-week MLS action. It was his first MLS goals since he scored a brace against LAFC four weeks ago.

Once LAFC heard Ramirez was on the market, Bob Bradley and co. quickly snapped him up, and he is already paying dividends.

Playing as a lone striker, Ramirez found himself between two RSL defenders as LAFC took control of the ball off a turnover. Carlos Vela cut inside and delivered a perfect pass to Ramirez, who made a diagonal run away from the nearest defender and then back to the ball. All Ramirez needed was to loop the ball over Nick Rimando’s head in goal to give his side an early lead.

When someone is in good form, the ball seems to just find its way to you, and that’s exactly what happened for Ramirez’s second. Waiting at the far post, Ramirez side-stepped a couple of times to his left before slotting home easily. It showcased solid awareness and anticipation for the 27-year-old striker, who could still have a future with the U.S. Men’s National Team, especially with September friendlies coming up.

Ramirez has always seemed like he was destined to play on a bigger platform, and with LAFC’s impressive first year and numerous placements on national television, Ramirez may finally be getting the respect he’s due.

France is king, USMNT at No. 22 in latest FIFA rankings

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France’s World Cup title has given the nation the coveted No. 1 ranking from FIFA.

In its latest World Rankings, FIFA crowned France as the top team in the world, as well as promoting the U.S. Men’s National Team to  No. 22 in the rankings. The USMNT now sits one spot behind Italy and one place ahead of Austria. England’s semifinal run also boosted the Three Lions to No. 6 in the world.

Both Russia and Croatia earned massive jumps in the rankings based on their excellent World Cup performances. Russia moved an impressive 21 places up to No. 49, while Croatia jumped 16 slots to the top five. Sweden also rose 11 places to No. 13. While Russia and Croatia made big moves up, two nations made moves in the opposite direction. Former World Cup champion Germany fell 14 places to No. 15, Argentina dropped six spots to No. 11 and Iceland and Poland both dropped ten spots. Egypt’s disastrous World Cup cost the national team 20 places, down to No. 65.

Behind France, the rest of the top 10 looks like this: Belgium, Brazil, Croatia, Uruguay, England, Portugal, Switzerland, Spain and Denmark. The latter two are both tied for ninth.

The next World Rankings will be released on September 20 following the September FIFA dates. The USMNT returns to action on September 7 against Brazil at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey before heading to Nashville to take on Mexico on September 11. England hosts Spain in UEFA Nations League action on September 8 at Wembley Stadium before heading north to Leicester for a friendly match against Switzerland.