Solskjaer hopes Martial can emulate Ronaldo

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has big plans for Anthony Martial.

The Frenchman signed a new long-term contract at Manchester United on Thursday, with Martial sticking around until at least 2024 and the player has an option to extend it for another year.

Speaking about Martial’s new deal ahead of United’s trip to Leicester City on Sunday (Watch live, 9:05 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) Solskjaer revealed that Cristiano Ronaldo could be the inspiration for Martial moving forward.

No pressure, Ant…

“I’m here to help players, to guide players until the summer and I think when you sit him down and talk to him, for example, about Cristiano’s career, what he’s made of his career and how he’s got there and we talk about all the fantastic players with the history they’ve got, I think Anthony just said, ‘If I can be a part of this I’d like to,'” Solskjaer said.

“I speak about my experience at this club and what [Martial] can achieve. I talk about Cristiano’s career, what he’s made, how he’s got there. That’s up to any player, how you make a decision on how to develop your own career. Cristiano was the best, the way he’s changed to now; that’s part of any player – you’ve got to model yourself on someone and you’ve got to have more challenges ahead of you.”

Martial’s return of 46 goals in 127 appearances for United is pretty decent considering a huge chunk of his games have been off the bench under Louis Van Gaal and Jose Mourinho. Since Solskjaer arrived, and even in Mourinho’s final weeks, Martial has been in fine form and United’s caretaker boss said he wants to see the French international get behind defenses more often due to his fine finishing ability.

Solskjaer obviously believes in Martial, whether or not he’s in charge beyond this season, and that has played a huge part in him remaining at Old Trafford. Some of Europe’s top clubs were circling for the 23-year-old, but he will now get the chance to become a more consistent performer and kick on after the flashes of promise he’s shown since arriving at United in 2016 as a teenager.

He may never get to Ronaldo’s level, but there is a sense that Martial is improving month after month right now. His potential is obvious.

In team news for United, Solskjaer revealed that Martial should be fit after recovering from a knock and he will train ahead of the clash on Sunday.

Paul Pogba, who limped out of Old Trafford following the late comeback 2-2 draw against Burnley on Tuesday, is also fit for the clash with the Foxes.

Solskjaer knows that Leicester away is never an easy task, especially with Claude Puel‘s men buoyed by their fine display and 1-1 draw away at Liverpool in midweek.

United sit just two points off the top four and have yet to lose any of Solskjaer’s nine games in charge in all competitions, with eight wins and that draw against Burnley the only blip. Given their defensive issues, having Pogba, Martial and Marcus Rashford settled down and in good form will be key if they’re going to finish in the top four this season.

It’s another Zlatan day, as Galaxy star rips Vela, talks Area 51

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic took a shot at his rivals and his league in one fell swoop.

Perhaps Major League Soccer’s hit is down to proximity and not intent, but the LA Galaxy star certainly didn’t disguise his feelings when asked whether LAFC star Carlos Vela is the best player in the league.

[ MORE: De Ligt joins Juve ]

Vela, 30, has lit MLS on fire to the tune of 19 goals and eight assists in 19 matches, driving the second-year squad to the top of the Western Conference.

Zlatan and the Galaxy’s seasons have trailed behind, relatively speaking. The third-place Galaxy are 12 points behind LAFC, with Ibrahimovic contributing 13 goals and three assists in three fewer games.

“29, he’s playing in MLS and he’s in his prime. When I was 29, where was I?”

Herculez Gomez replies that Ibrahimovic was in Europe (Vela turned 30 in March. At 29, Ibrahimovic scored 21 goals in 41 appearances for AC Milan, on loan from Barcelona. At 30, he scored 35 in 44 for Milan).

“Big difference, exactly.”

Vela, for what it’s worth, spent 2005-17 in Europe. Anyway, here is the exchange.

But wait, there’s more.

Zlatan was also quizzed on Area 51 while in a scrum. For those who may not know, Area 51 is a classified United States military facility in Nevada which has long been speculated as the home of extraterrestrial testing and scientific experimentation.

He doesn’t need to worry about going there, because he has his own Area 51 and there is only one Zlatan.

Who will make Ballon d’Or final three?

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When Luka Modric won the Ballon d’Or last summer, marking the first victor neither named Lionel Messi nor Cristiano Ronaldo since 2007, it threatened to signal a new era for the trophy in more ways than one.

Ronaldo didn’t win the honors, finishing second, but Messi was inexplicably left off the final ballot altogether.

[ MORE: De Ligt joins Juve ]

Could this be the year that neither makes the top three? Probably not, but it could be the first time Ronaldo fails to make the list since Barca swept the honors Messi, Andres Iniesta, Xavi in 2010.

So while most of us are not thinking of the award right now, Ronaldo has it on his brain. It’s no surprise that Marca, known for its backing of Real Madrid royalty, has thrown his name in the mix as a “favorite” given his scudetto with Juventus. That it mentions his performance in the UEFA Nations League is a little goofy — it was a two-match summer — but such is life.

Ronaldo and Messi are deadlocked on five Ballons d’Or, the most ever, and Messi’s year was superior to his longtime rival. Both won their leagues and Messi did not claim domestic honors at the Copa America — in fact he was not his phenomenal self — but Messi scored 12 goals in 10 Champions League appearances before Liverpool stunned Barcelona prior to the final (Ronaldo’s Juve lost to Ajax).

Marca proffers this “I don’t care but obviously I very much care” from CR7:

“I don’t live with an obsession about awards,” Ronaldo explained. “My numbers don’t lie, this year I’ve won three titles and I’ve been good in the Nations League. What else can I do?”

Ronaldo, it should be noted, was still incredible last season. He scored all three goals as Juventus erased a 2-0 first leg deficit in the UCL Round of 16 versus old rivals Atletico Madrid, then scored in both legs of the side’s exit via Ajax. And he likely would’ve won the top scorer’s prize in Italy had he not missed six matches through injury and rest.

Messi again breached the half-century mark in goals, scoring 51 times in all competitions for Barcelona. He chipped in 22 assists and also missed six matches between the UCL and La Liga.

Are there three players who could surpass both to make a new final three?

It would be stunning if Liverpool and Netherlands center back Virgil Van Dijk was kept off the top three, while Sadio Mane may have a Champions League crown and Africa Cup of Nations victory. And you can follow the Luka Modric logic to a land where treble- and Nations League-winning Bernardo Silva is in the discussion (Raheem Sterling was also great).

Kylian Mbappe had probably the best-looking season on Earth, scoring 39 times with 17 assists in 43 matches and navigating the attention that came with Neymar’s long-term absence by shouldering the burden to great success. We made the argument that his 19 goals and six assists in 23 Neymar-free matches is one of the prime reasons he’s be worth almost any transfer fee.

Also remember that the odds of the captains of international teams having enough ballots without Ronaldo and/or Messi named is very difficult to imagine.

Still, Messi, Mbappe, and Van Dijk seems like the final three to us. What do you think?

LIVE — UEL second legs will determine possible Wolves opponents

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Wolverhampton Wanderers will find out its first Europa League opponent on Friday, and the field will be winnowed with a bevy of second qualifying round second legs on Thursday.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores  ]

Malmo, Aberdeen, Kilmarnock, Rangers, Legia Warsaw, and Hajduk Split are the biggest names in play on Thursday, with only the Polish side failing to hold an advantage after the first leg.

American forward Romain Gall is in the mix for Malmo, though he’s been an unused sub of late for the Swedish powers. That could change today, with Malmo in Northern Ireland with a 7-0 advantage over Ballymena United.

You can follow the dozens of ties by clicking the link above.

Klopp: Liverpool has all answers it needs even without transfers

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Claiming Liverpool has “solutions for all the situations” that could arise over the course of a season, manager Jurgen Klopp insists that the UEFA Champions League winners need not buy anyone this transfer window.

Of course, Klopp could still spend and admits that he has at least one position he’d like to strengthen by the end of the window.

[ MORE: De Ligt joins Juve ]

He also continues to play down the idea that Liverpool will spend big annually, naming Manchester City as one of four sides which can continue down that path on the day Juventus sealed the addition of reported Reds target Matthijs de Ligt.

From The Liverpool Echo:

“People talk about it like, ‘Now another £300m or £200m’. There are maybe only two clubs in the world – it looks in the moment like Barcelona and [Real] Madrid can do the same – City and PSG that can do it every year. I’m happy with the team, we are really happy.”

Klopp has claimed that injuries and youth progression make Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Rhian Brewster transfer-like additions to the squad. Perhaps he’s been told that there’s not a lot in the budget this summer.

However, he’s also said that Liverpool has to “splash the cash” to compete with its rivals, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if this was all more Cheshire Cat talk ahead of a purchase.