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Klopp tabs Matip as ‘one of the best pieces of business’ for Liverpool

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On Friday, in Liverpool’s run-up to a Premier League battle with Sheffield United, Jurgen Klopp labeled Joel Matip as “one of the best pieces of business we did in the last few years.”

He’s not wrong.

“In a world of big transfer fees, to sign a player like Joel Matip on a free transfer is incredible,” Klopp said. Again, he’s not wrong.

The 28-year-old signed on a free from German side Schalke back in the summer of 2016, and he has become a fixture of the Liverpool defense, standing strong next to Virgil Van Dijk as part of one of the best back lines in Europe.

It essentially happened by accident. Matip, signed as nothing more than defensive cover for a squad that included Dejan Lovren, Mamadou Sakho, Joe Gomez, and Ragnar Klavan. Yet he started 27 matches that season, forging a partnership with Lovren with Sakho on his way out, Gomez still too young for a consistent role, and Klavan down the depth chart. The next season van Dijk was brought in and yet Matip pushed through hamstring and ankle injuries to make 22 starts. Last season, en route to a vicious title challenge and a Champions League crown, Matip again was not meant to start, but with Lovren and Gomez both injured, Matip formed a critical partnership with van Dijk and has led by example.

So who else has come from relative obscurity on a savvy bit of business to take a starring role? Here are the five best bits of business in the Premier League currently playing for the club that snagged them, outside of Klopp’s prized center-back of course.

5) Kasper Schmeichel, Leicester City (Leeds United, $2 million)

Goalkeepers never draw the same massive transfer fees as their outfield counterparts, but even so, the Leicester City shot-stopper has been a true man of the badge since joining in 2011, making 341 appearances for the Foxes and proving a key cog in the legendary run to the title a few years back. That team was full of great value players (more on that in a bit), and while they cashed in on some, the son of the legendary Manchester United goalkeeper stuck around the club he loves.

4) Dele Alli, Tottenham Hotspur (MK Dons, $6 million)

As just a teenager, Alli was sent to Spurs in the winter of early 2015 and immediately loaned back to MK Dons for the rest of the season. Immediately, they had to know their mistake. Alli was selected as the Football League Young Player of the Year in April, and his career skyrocketed from there. Providing both a physical presence and free-flowing nature on the ball, Alli has proven a versatile option in midfield for Spurs, and while he struggles to maintain consistent form, his best is both fearsome and artistic. Still just 23 years old, it seems the best may be yet to come for the England midfielder who has already racked up 187 appearances for the London club.

3) Andy Robertson, Liverpool (Hull City, $10 million)

Sure, Joel Matip came for free, but he still might not be the best bit of business on the club. Andy Robertson, Liverpool’s stellar left-back, signed for $10 million and looks to be the makings of a downright star. At 25 years old, he also looks set to be a Red for quite some time, giving the club incredible value for its money. $10 million in today’s market doesn’t net teams what it used to, making it all the more impressive the Reds could snag a player of his promise for such a price. Along with Trent Alexander-Arnold on the other side, the Reds appear set for a long time with one of Europe’s best back lines.

2) Cesar Azpilicueta, Chelsea (Marseille, $9 million)

The Blues are known for splashing the cash, but the then-23-year-old Spaniard came over from Ligue 1 in the summer of 2012 to little fanfare. He has gone on to make 345 appearances for Chelsea, serving as captain for many and proving a versatile and consistent option along the defense. Perhaps the most stunning part of Azpilicueta’s career is that he only has 25 caps for Spain, a shockingly low number for such a valuable player at one of Europe’s biggest clubs. Still, his service to Chelsea has been a far cry from his measly up-front cost.

1) Jamie Vardy, Leicester City (Fleetwood Town, $1.5 million)

Much has been made of Vardy’s story, having come from the semi-professional ranks and risen up to a Premier League title. For what he’s given Leicester City – 277 appearances and 110 goals, including 83 Premier League strikes in 182 appearances – the fee is next to nothing. Not many could have predicted what Vardy would provide, or that he’d become a regular for the England national team before the rise of Harry Kane, but now the tale has been written. Vardy will go down as one of the most undervalued transfers in Premier League history, deservedly so.

Preview: Brazil v. Mexico in U-17 World Cup final

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There will be plenty of 2005 U-17 World Cup final shades at Estadio Bezerrão on Sunday.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE, HERE

On that clear night in Lima, Peru, the likes of Carlos Vela and Giovani dos Santos wrote history for Mexico, as they powered El Tri to its first-ever World Cup title over a favorite Brazilian side, who was composed of Marcelo, Renato Augusto, and Anderson, in a 3-0 win.

14 years and some change later, both youth powerhouses meet again in the same tournament, for the same silverware, and with the same pressure looming over them from entire nations who expect nothing but excellence from their respective teams.

But of course, to the Brazilians, there is a sense of added pressure given the fact that they’re on home soil.

“We’re familiar with Mexico’s quality,” Brazilian forward, Veron, said ahead of the final. We know they are a great team. But we’re Brazil, and we have five stars on our chest. We intend to play our best match and get the result that makes history.”

As it stands, Mexico is the clear-cut underdog, having barely crept into the knockout stages and being composed of players with far less notoriety to its Brazilian counterpart, who boast three players with three goals or more in the tournament.

That said, Mexico pose as a balanced, reliable, and pragmatic team under coach Marco “Chima” Ruiz. Throughout the six games this tournament, El Tri have found the back of the net 14 times and have conceded a mere three goals (two of which came against Italy). With four goals and two assists in only 344 minutes, Los Angeles Galaxy’s Efrain Alvarez has proven to be the team’s most productive player going forward.

Asked who he would rather take between France or Brazil in the final, the Mexican American answered with the same confidence that has made him one of the most exciting players in the tournament.

“It doesn’t matter which of the two it is, we’ll beat them,” he said.

It’s 90 minutes for either team to make history, again. A win for Brazil will raise the number of U-17 stars to four, while Mexico can claim its third with another historic performance. Will Brazil’s high-flying attack crack Mexico’s solid defense? If Alvarez starts, will he rise to the occasion and guide Mexico to another U-17 title?

That has yet to be seen; the second final between two, routine winners awaits the first whistle.

Report: Man City considering Kingsley Coman as Leroy Sane replacement

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Pep Guardiola and Manchester City are considering Bayern Munich’s Kinglsey Coman as a replacement for injured Leroy Sane if he were to leave for the defending German champions over the summer, according to a report from Sky Sports.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Sane, who is projected to be out until February or March with an ACL injury, was the subject of a $176 million move to Bayern Munich over the summer, but a move never came to fruition, largely due to the aforementioned injury. If negotiations between Sane’s camp and the defending Bundesliga champions pick up again this summer, City have a replacement in mind: 23-year-old Coman.

Coman, who has played in 10 league games for the Bavarian club this season, was managed by Guardiola during his time with the club and flourished during the title-winning 2015-2016 season. In 2017, the Frenchman revealed that the Spaniard’s departure was tough on him, saying, “I found life easier at Bayern Munich under Pep Guardiola.”

As expected, Coman is not the only option City are exploring.

Real Sociedad’s Mikel Oyarzabal, who has a reported $82 million release clause, is also on the Premier League giant’s shortlist. Txiki Begiristain, City’s director of football, has strong ties to La Reala that goes back to his first day in the sport.

At the Etihad, the general feeling from Guardiola’s players is that the German winger is one foot out of England, and is instead focused on a move to Bayern and a return back home. With his contract in the final 12 months this summer, it is expected that the release clause for Sane will not be as lucrative as before. 

In 134 appearances for City, Sane has scored 39 goals, while Coman has scored on 28 different occasions in 139 appearances.

Abidal: Barcelona, Messi negotiating a new deal

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Lionel Messi and his representatives are in talks with Barcelona over a new contract, the defending champion’s sporting director Eric Abidal confirmed  to Mundo Deportivo in an exclusive interview.

“They are already talking,” Abidal, the former Barcelona defender, said. “I do not know if we will have news soon because the decision will depend on the player, but for us as a club I hope it is sorted as soon as possible.”

Messi – a five-time Ballon d’Or winner and Barcelona’s all-time leading goalscorer – joined the club’s well-known academy, La Masia, at the age of 13 and is under contract until 2021 but was recently questioned about his future after Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu revealed that the Argentine can leave Camp Nou on a free transfer due to a clause in his contract.

Asked when he expects an announcement to be made on a new and improved contract, Abidal made it clear he’s unsure but hopes it happens: “It will be known when it is known, but I am positive.”

Throughout seven games in La Liga this season, Messi has scored eight goals and assisted in four occasions. In his latest appearance for the Catalonian side – a 4-1 win over Celta Vigo – the No. 10 scored a first-half hat-trick.

Abidal also confirmed that Barcelona are in talks with breakout teenage starlet Ansu Fati and his camp on a new deal.

“We are also talking to him,” Abidal said. “He is a young player that we have to protect. We have to talk to his family and representatives.”

Earlier this year, the 17-year-old became the youngest player in the league’s history to score and assist in the same game.

EURO qualifying wrap: Germany, Austria, Croatia join Netherlands in qualifying

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Like the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, and Croatia qualified for EURO 2020 after wins on Saturday.

[ READ: Netherlands qualify to first EURO since 2012 ]


Germany 4-0 Belarus

With goals from Matthias Ginter, Leon Goretska, and a second-half brace from Real Madrid’s Toni Kroos, Germany routed an uncompetitive Belarus side 4-0 at Borussia-Park. The scoreline, however, should have been more lopsided, as the home side easily won the possession battle and outshot the visitor’s with a total of 31 shots (10 on target). Leaders of Group C, Germany is an early favorite for next summer’s tournament. Not hard to believe that, right? 

Austria 2-1 North Macedonia

Qualifying for Europe’s main tournament is becoming a norm for Austria.

Bayern Munich’s David Alaba scored early while Stefan Lainer added his own three minutes into the second half, as Austria edged North Macedonia 2-1 at Ernst Happel Stadion. Das Team, who stand second in Group G with 19 points after nine games, have now clinched a berth for the EURO on back-to-back occasions.

Croatia 3-1 Slovakia

When all was said and done, Croatia was too much for a 10-man Slovakia, who, initially, broke the deadlock in the 32nd minute.

Bayern Munich’s Ivan Perisic scored the home side’s third and final goal of the match, which punched Croatia’s ticket in next summer’s tournament. Nikola Vlasic and Bruno Petkovic also contributed goals in the second half for Croatia.

Elsewhere

Russia 1-4 Belgium

Azerbaijan 0-2 Wales

Cyprus 1-2 Scotland

Israel 1-2 Poland

Armenia 0-1 Greec