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An Englishman in Bordeaux

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Very few have traveled the path from south London to Manchester, then Sunderland and then the Southwest of France. Then again, few people are Josh Maja.

While Jadon Sancho and Keiran Trippier may garner most of the media attention for English players plying their trade off the British Isle, one young Englishman is poised for a breakout year in Ligue 1. Maja, who joined Bordeaux during the January transfer window in 2019, is finally healthy after a knee injury cut short his first season in France, and he’s ready to make a big impact as part of a young squad.

 [ MORE: Ligue 1 score, schedule ]

The 20-year-old striker has an impressive story, overcoming the odds to not just become a professional, but also to make it to the top division in France. Maja began his career playing for St. Andrews Youth Club, its headquarters just steps away from Westminster Abbey.

He also spent time as a youngster with Crystal Palace and then Fulham, but left the club after three-and-a-half years for personal reasons. He then returned to St. Andrews, all the while going for trials across the country, trying to latch on with a team. While training with Manchester City and featuring in a friendly match against Sunderland, his fortunes suddenly changed. Sunderland liked what it saw, brought him to the northeast of England, and gave him a chance.

After working his way up the ranks from the Under-18s through the Under-23s and reserves, it was then-Sunderland manager David Moyes who gave Maja his first team debut in 2016. After working on his game for another season, Maja had a breakout year with Sunderland down in League One at the start of the 2018-2019 season.

Maja scored in Sunderland’s season opener, a 2-1 win over Charlton, and then went on to score 15 league goals in the first five months of the season, scoring with both feet and his head, and making it look easy at times.

Amazingly, Maja wasn’t even supposed to start that first game of the season. Sunderland had just signed experienced forward Charlie Wyke. But an injury to Wyke in the buildup to the game put Maja in, and he didn’t look back.

“I probably say everything was clicking,” Maja said in an interview with Pro Soccer Talk. “(Wyke) got injured in training so I had to start that game, and then I scored in the first game. From there, my confidence just went up. I think just the momentum and the confidence I had going into games was pushing me on to be successful that season.”

Suddenly, there was interest from clubs in the Championship, Premier League, and abroad. For a player who had trained at Manchester City, Fulham, and Crystal Palace, this could have been a big moment for him to make a move to a bigger club. But Maja said he didn’t see it that way.

“I just felt it was a good time for me to go abroad,” Maja said. “I didn’t feel like I was ready to take the step into the Premier League. I think signing for a PL team wouldn’t have been the right decision for my development.

“Obviously for me developing is playing games and I felt as if going abroad was going to enhance my development and get more game time. I think it was the right decision and I hope this season I can push on.”

By late January, it was done. Maja’s agent, Emeka Obasi helped Maja move from Sunderland to Ligue 1’s Bordeaux on an undisclosed fee, with Maja signing a four-and-a-half year contract. Obasi has been influential in seeing some of England’s top young talents move abroad, including Jadon Sancho’s move to Borussia Dortmund, Ademola Lookman’s move to RB Leipzig and Reiss Nelson’s loan to Hoffenheim last season.

“There was interest before the season, I knew there was a little bit there,” Maja said. “When I was scoring goals as the season was going on, the attention from them grew. My agent was the one, just because he’s got a good relationship with a lot of teams, he basically gave me confidence to listen to clubs abroad, and Bordeaux showed the biggest interest. That’s the main reason I took the opportunity to come here.”

After joining Bordeaux, Maja quickly integrated into the young squad and played in seven matches, starting three and scoring one goal. However, a torn meniscus in his left knee shut down the rest of his season for good. Instead of spending the time injured back home in London, Maja said he remained in Bordeaux to rehab, and he was ready to go at the start of the season for coach Paulo Sousa.

Following a preseason with Bordeaux, in which Maja participated in EA Sports League 1 games in Washington D.C., Maja seems primed for a big season in France. He’s come off the bench in each of the first three league matches of the season, scoring in Bordeaux’s 1-1 draw with Montpellier. Bordeaux’s young team looks to improve from a 14th-place finish last season, in which the club only earned 41 points.

“He’s very young like a lot of players on our team, but he has a lot of experience,” Maja’s Bordeaux teammate Aurelien Tchouameni said. “He played a lot of games in League One in England so he’s a very good player, a very good striker. I think he will help the team this season.”

At just 20, there’s still time for Maja to continue to improve, grow, and potentially return to England as a finished product.

“It’s a possibility,” Maja said about playing in the Premier League in the future. “I am focusing on my work in France with Bordeaux, maybe if the timing is right and the right club comes in, I’d love to take that opportunity. Right now I want to be the best I can be here.”

Chelsea issue update on Abraham injury, striker search

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Chelsea boss Frank Lampard has issued an update on Tammy Abraham‘s ankle injury and has also been talking about their search for a new striker.

Lampard isn’t shy when it comes to admitting the Blues need help up front as he’s already lavished praise on Edinson Cavani this month and given the uncertainty around Abraham’s injury, he looks set to dip into the market in the final days of the January window.

Speaking ahead of Chelsea’s trip to Hull City in the FA Cup, Lampard gave this update on the knock Abraham suffered in the closing stages of their wild 2-2 draw with Arsenal on Tuesday.

“The good news is that he hasn’t fractured anything, we were worried about a hairline fracture,” Lampard said.  “The other news is we will have to see how he develops. It’s not clear cut,” Lampard said. “He’s not fit for the weekend, whether he’ll be fit for Leicester we’re still not sure. It’s not clear at the moment.”

In short, they aren’t sure how long Abraham will be out for and that is concerning as he’s been their main man up top all season long.

Lampard was perhaps more candid than he has ever been when discussing Chelsea’s ongoing hunt to find some help for Abraham, who has

“I think the impetus to bring in a striker or a player to get on the end of chances is there and we have to be honest about that,” Lampard added. “Recent games have shown that if we are creating chances that’s one problem, but if you’re creating 20 chances a game then it can be crucial. It doesn’t absolutely change [the situation], but with Tammy being our main source of goals it’s very relevant. I think there is choice. It is not the ideal window. I think history has proved that though there have been good acquisitions in the short term and long term. It is about getting it right. The club know my thoughts on it.”

When it comes to strikers leaving Chelsea, both Olivier Giroud and Michy Batshuayi have been linked with moves away from Chelsea in the final week of the window and Lampard admitted Giroud, 33, could leave as Inter Milan circle.

“With Olivier, we are still in the same position. We will keep contact with other clubs and if and when that’s agreed then we will let you know. So he’s still our player on those terms,” Lampard said.

Unless Chelsea bring in a new striker it would be wild for them to let one of Giroud or Batshuayi leave with the severity of Abraham’s injury not clear.

Even if Abraham does return soon, he needs help as his goals have dried up. The Chelsea academy product was on fire at the start of the season, scoring 10 of his 14 Premier League goals by the start of November. He also scored his first England goal in November but has hit a bit of a barren spell with three goals in his last 10 appearances in all competitions. The chances have been created but Abraham just hasn’t been putting them away like he was earlier in the season.

An experienced striker like Cavani or someone else is a must and they can help ease the burden on Abraham who is now set for a spell on the sidelines. Fourth-place Chelsea have a six-point gap to Man United in fifth and if they want to keep their Champions League qualification hopes on track they need a new striker to arrive in the final week of the window.

New Premier League schedule for March announced

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The Premier League have announced their new schedule for March as date and times have been switched for certain games.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

Some of the matches changed to new windows include the Manchester Derby on Mar. 8, a potentially huge clash in the top four battle between Tottenham and Man United on Mar. 15 and what could be a very special Merseyside Derby (for Liverpool, anyway) as the Reds travel to Everton on Mar. 16 with the title surely in reach by that point.

Chelsea v. Man City on Mar. 21 is also a very tasty looking clash as there are a smattering of local derbies and intriguing clashes in the battle for Europe which have also been switched to new dates.

Below is the new schedule for March in full and remember, due to Daylight Savings kicking in there will be just four hours time difference between ET and GMT for a few weeks in March.

That means extra time in bed on weekend mornings and that, above all else, is the gift dedicated Premier League fans across the USA truly deserve.


Saturday 7 March 2020
7:30 a.m. ET: Liverpool v. Bournemouth
12:30 p.m. ET: Burnley v. Tottenham

Sunday 8 March 2020
10 a.m. ET: Chelsea v. Everton
12:30 p.m. ET: Man United v. Man City

Monday 9 March 2020
4 p.m. ET: Leicester v. Aston Villa

Saturday 14 March 2020
8:30 a.m. ET: Watford v. Leicester
1:30 p.m. ET: Aston Villa v. Chelsea

Sunday 15 March 2020
10 a.m. ET: West Ham v. Wolves
12:30 p.m. ET: Tottenham v. Man United

Monday 16 March 2020
4 p.m. ET: Everton v. Liverpool

Friday 20 March 2020
4 p.m. ET: Tottenham v. West Ham*

Saturday 21 March 2020
8:30 a.m. ET: Chelsea v. Man City*
1:30 p.m. ET: Liverpool v. Crystal Palace*

Sunday 22 March 2020
10 a.m. ET: Leicester v. Brighton*
12:30 p.m. ET: Southampton v. Arsenal*

*Matches subject to FA Cup participation

Solskjaer’s transfer update; positive on rebuild

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has given an update on potential transfers at Manchester United and he’s also used a very bizarre analogy about a house roof to sum up their current struggles following their defeat at home to Burnley.

You be you, Ole.

Ahead of their FA Cup fourth round trip to Tranmere Rovers on Sunday (upset alert!), Solskjaer was asked about potential arrivals and current injuries during the January transfer window.

“It is stretched but we’re getting players back after the break as well. We will be better off for the break. We’re still working on one or two things so let’s see if the club get it over the line,” Solskjaer said.

With a deal for Bruno Fernandes seemingly off as United are $14 million short of Sporting Lisbon’s asking price, they’ve been linked with moves for the likes of Jude Bellingham, Edinson Cavani and Carlos Tevez who are at the opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of their experience.

United’s manager seems to be keen to stay on track with the process and isn’t feeling the pressure of being six points off the top four.

“For me we do have a way of doing things,” Solskjaer said about United’s plan to sign young players and stay patient. “Of course you can see other teams have done well. You can see Jurgen [Klopp] has spent four years building his team and they’re doing well now, so of course I’ve said it so many times, it’s not going to be a quick fix. It’s not going to be eight players in, or 10 players in, in one transfer window. We’ve had one transfer window, a proper one, in the summer, because Januarys are difficult, but we are still trying to do something now.”

Solskjaer then came out with this gem when asked about the pressure building after United’s recent defeats and try to fight off negative vibes from fans and pundits.

“I think our fans know what we have started on. I’ve been trusted to do that job and that rebuild doesn’t go one way all the time. We’re doing great, I’ve said it so many times,” Solskjaer said. “The foundation has to be laid and the culture properly set and laid down and this group is a good core of players that believe in what we’re doing to carry us forward, with signings and players coming back. You need to knock the house down, you don’t just start with the roof. We’ve had some rainy days and wish that roof was on but we can’t hide.”

Time for Ole to get his hard hat on and start hammering the roof shut on what is a very expensive but dilapidated house.

To continue with this analogy, United have laid some of the foundations with the signings of Maguire, Wan-Bissaka and James while promoting the likes of Williams and Greenwood too, but they seem to have hit a snag when completing the foundations.

Instead of finding an ancient burial ground under their house which takes time to excavate properly they have been hit by a lack of balance and cover in certain positions (center forward and central midfield). That will take time to rectify and Solskjaer knows this is a slow build, something executive vice chairman Ed Woodward keeps saying after they’ve thrown so much money at expensive signings under several different managers.

How long will United’s fans and everyone connected with the club wait until this house is firmly built and is looking shiny and stable? That is the $600 million (and probably more) question as their long and muddled squad rebuild continues, hitting plenty of delays and repairs along the way.

Sadio Mane injury update

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An injury update has arrived on Sadio Mane after the Liverpool winger was subbed off in the first half of their 2-1 win at Wolverhampton Wanderers on Thursday.

Mane, 27, is Liverpool’s leading goalscorer this season and the Senegalese star has taken his game to a new level.

Asked for an update on Mane’s fitness, Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp confirmed the details and that the Premier League leaders will assess the damage further.

“Sadio is a real shame he had to go off,” Klopp said. “Hopefully it’s not too bad – just a muscle tweak, but we will see tomorrow.”

Asked about their gruelling schedule coming up before their mid-season player break in mid-February, Liverpool’s boss basically confirmed that Mane will not play in the FA Cup fourth round this weekend.

“That is tough and it’s probably without Sadio,” Klopp said when asked about their FA Cup trip to Shrewsbury on Sunday.

Klopp was then about the pressure of being 16 points clear at the top of the Premier League table and look nailed on to win their first league title in over 30 years, Klopp shrugged it off but mentioned that the next week will take a big toll on his players.

“I didn’t think about it, I know we play Sunday at Shrewsbury, I know we play Wednesday at West Ham and I know we play Saturday,” Klopp said. “That’s three games in seven days which is a lot. We lost Sadio Mane and that’s the pressure I think about. All the rest is no pressure.”

Mane has spearheaded Liverpool’s title procession this season and there seems to be no real need to rush him back from a hamstring injury.

With the damage done and Liverpool’s Premier League title all but secured, Klopp should focus on having him fit for their upcoming UEFA Champions League knockout games. That should be the focus as the likes of Divock Origi, Takumi Minamino, Curtis Jones and Xherdan Shaqiri can step in for Mane.

Liverpool cannot replace Mane, especially given his form this season, but given the comfortable situation they find themselves in there’s no need to risk losing him for an extended period of time.