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Transfer rumor roundup: Bale’s future in Madrid; Chelsea’s makeover

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The 2018 World Cup is complete, which means we now fully turn our attention back to the club game, which means it’s time for (an abbreviated) transfer season to begin…

[ VIDEO: What do Liverpool, Spurs need this summer? ]

With Cristiano Ronaldo out of the way — and the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and/or Eden Hazard signed to replace him (yet) — Gareth Bale is expected to remain at Real Madrid and fill the “main man” void left by Ronaldo’s move for Juventus. The 29-year-old Welshman will meet with new Madrid manager Julen Lopetegui prior to the start of preseason friendlies in the United States. Bale has repeatedly been linked with a move to Premier League side Manchester United.

However, given Bale’s troubling history of injuries since moving to Madrid in the summer of 2013, it would be unwise — and unlikely — that Florentino Perez doesn’t make at least one massive signing this summer to replace Ronaldo’s otherworldly production. It makes all the sense in the world on the field, and fits Perez’s m.o., off of it.

[ MORE: Hazard hints at Chelsea exit, has “preferred destination” in mind ]

The next month could see the Chelsea squad undergo a total and complete rebuild, and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, one of the breakout stars of the 2018 World Cup for Serbia, is said to top the wishlist of owner Roman Abramovich and new manager Maurizio Sarri. Man United have also been heavily linked with Milinkovic-Savic, dating back to pre-World Cup rumors.

The 23-year-old box-to-box dynamo will likely cost the Blues well over $100 million — if Lazio get their way — but in return they’ll be getting a player who, alongside N'Golo Kante, will re-establish Chelsea as one of the best midfields in club soccer, and arguably the toughest to play against.

Quick hits

  • Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Mousa Dembele has reportedly rejected a potential move to Inter Milan
  • Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has said that forward Daniel Sturridge could still have a future at Anfield
  • West Ham United forward Andy Carroll has reportedly been offered, on loan, to Turkish side Besiktas
  • Crystal Palace and Bournemouth are reportedly both working toward signing forward Ollie Watkins from Championship side Brentford
  • Everton and Bournemouth are reportedly expected to make bids for Genoa and Uruguay defender Diego Laxalt

Watch Live: Manchester United vs. West Bromwich Albion

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Manchester United looks for a win which would delay Manchester City’s Premier League title ambitions a bit longer when it hosts (seemingly) relegation-bound West Bromwich Albion on Sunday at Old Trafford (Watch live at 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Daniel Sturridge is on the bench for West Brom, while Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial, and Marcus Rashford all begin on the bench for Jose Mourinho’s Red Devils.

LINEUPS

Manchester United: De Gea, Valencia, Lindelof, Smalling, Young, Matic, Herrera, Pogba, Mata, Lukaku, Sanchez. Subs: Pereira, Jones, Rojo, McTominay, Lingard, Martial, Rashford.

West Brom: Foster, Nyom, Dawson, Hegazi, Gibbs, Livermore, Phillips, Brunt, McClean, Rodriguez, Rondon. Subs: Myhill, Yacob, Sturridge, Gabr, Burke, Krychowiak, Field.

PL Sunday preview: Man Utd to delay City’s party another week?

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Manchester United are the last hurdle standing between Manchester City and the Premier League title, a race which could come to its rather anti-climactic end on Sunday, while Arsenal continue battling for Champions League Europa League qualification…

[ MORE: Man City on the brink of PL title ]

Newcastle United vs. Arsenal — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

10th-place Newcastle entered the weekend every bit as hot as sixth-place Arsenal, with both sides having won three straight PL games ahead of Sunday’s clash at St. James’ Park. The Magpies have clawed their way back following a disastrous start to the season (just four wins from their first 18 games, including a run of one point from nine games from October to December) and are all but mathematically safe from relegation after knocking off fellow relegation battlers Southampton and Huddersfield Town, as well as eighth-place Leicester City. Rafa Benitez will surely feel this is one of the best coaching jobs of his illustrious career, given the (lack of) resources at his disposal in the summer.

For Arsenal, the top-four is no longer a possibility (they sit 13 points behind north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur), and even fifth appears a big ask with just five games to go (six points separate them from Chelsea). In short, Arsene Wenger is all-in on the Europa League, which will see them face Atletico Madrid in the semifinals beginning next week. Similarly to Newcastle, their three-game streak has come against sides all currently 12th or lower in the table (12th, 18th and 19th). After a late scare away to CSKA Moscow in Thursday’s quarterfinals second leg, expect a heavily rotated lineup on Sunday.

INJURIES: Newcastle — OUT: Jesus Gamez (ankle) | Arsenal — OUT: Henrikh Mkhitaryan (knee), David Ospina (ankle), Santi Cazorla (achilles); QUESTIONABLE: Granit Xhaka (flu)

[ MORE: Three things we learned from Man City’s win over Spurs ]

Manchester United vs. West Brom — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Jose Mourinho’s Man United already delayed Man City’s PL title-winning party one week, and they have the chance to do it again on Sunday. City breezed past Tottenham on Saturday, leaving them three points from the title, which could also be achieved by a United loss to last-place West Brom at Old Trafford — an unlikely outcome, in all honesty.

“During the week I was trying to fight that result (the win over Man City) by working hard and trying to make the players understand that it’s not enough to deserve to finish second, we need the points to finish second,” Mourinho said this week. “Obviously to finish top-four we need four or five points, but to finish second we need much more than that and after three important points last weekend, we have to try to … be closer to the second position, which is, in this moment, our ambition.”

As for West Brom, their fate as a Championship side next season could be sealed as soon as next weekend. A loss on Sunday would mean the only way to avoid relegation is to win their final four games and Swansea City would have to lose all of their final five while overturning a minor goal-differential disadvantage (-19 to -26). An even more unlikely sequence of extraordinary events.

“From my discussions with the owners already, I know there is a genuine desire to build a team with greater goal power and attacking threat which can capture the fans’ imagination,” chief executive Mark Jenkins said this week. “In the event of our losing Premier League status, it will be a squad we will want to compete strongly for promotion back to the top tier.”

INJURIES: Man United — OUT: Phil Jones (fitness), Daley Blind (fitness), Sergio Romero (knee) | West Brom — OUT: Gareth Barry (knee), Hal Robson-Kanu (concussion), James Morrison (achilles); QUESTIONABLE: Daniel Sturridge (hamstring), Nacer Chadli (thigh), Jonny Evans (knee)

England’s evolution: How the Three Lions squad has changed from Brazil to Russia

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Even in the smoldering wreck that was England’s 2014 World Cup performance in Brazil, there was a bright light at the end of the tunnel.

Several of the youngsters included in the World Cup squad were beginning to come into their own, and in the Premier League and select matches for the England National Team, showed flashes of their world class talent. This includes Raheem Sterling, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Jordan Henderson, all who have developed into important Premier League players for their clubs.

But there were a number of youngsters, and players in their prime, that many would have presumed would be even better four years from then, and would be players England fans could count on at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Ross Barkley. Luke Shaw. Daniel Sturridge. Jack Wilshere. Phil Jones. Chris Smalling. Adam Lallana.

The septet of players, all of whom when fit can be world beaters, have failed to prove they can stay healthy consistantly for their club teams and England, save for Wilshere. But even Wilshere couldn’t stay fit for England’s last two friendly matches.

Then you have the declines of Gary Cahill, Joe Hart and Leighton Baines. Add in the international retirements of Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Glen Johnson and this summer’s England World Cup squad will have a much different look. And perhaps that’s a good thing.

After hiring a pragmatist in Roy Hodgson who ultimately saw England fall to Iceland in Euro 2016, Gareth Southgate has taken advantage of his work in the England youth ranks to give plenty of youngsters a chance, ones that weren’t ready yet for the big stage in 2014.

The Tottenham trio of Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Eric Dier are all expected to start in England’s opening match against Tunisia on June 18. Add in Manchester United pair Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford, as well as Jack Butland and Jordan Pickford (and maybe even Nick Pope) and you have an evolution of young players moving up the national team ladder, as well as performing each week for their clubs. And each of those players are 25-years and under.

From England’s lineup against Italy in the Three Lions’ opener at the 2014 World Cup, it appears that just Henderson and Sterling are locked in for starting places in 2018, with Danny Welbeck potentially making the list. But after a succession of veteran-laden tournaments, perhaps a tournament in Russia (not too far from England compared to Brazil) is the best place to throw out a group of youngsters on the field in the England shirt, and see what they can do.

Expectations for England remain grounded, and for good reason considering its last two tournament performances. But with so many fresh young faces, there’s still a chance that, like their counterparts at the Under-20 and Under-17 levels, they can put a run together.

England will certainly miss out on what could have been with Barkley and Sturridge in the attack, Wilshere in midfield, Smalling and Jones along the backline and Shaw bombing down the left. But with the introduction of more young players playing at a high level, this team has the talent to compete at the World Cup, and potentially get out of their group.

Daniel Sturridge out a week or two with new hamstring injury

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Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge – on loan at West Bromwich Albion – will miss a few more weeks of time after picking up a new hamstring injury just four minutes into the 3-0 loss to Chelsea on Monday.

Sturridge was withdrawn in favor of Jay Rodriguez after getting tangled up with Cesar Azpilicueta near the touchline.

The 28-year-old has been struck with a brutal spell of injuries in the past few years. Most recently, he missed six weeks after picking up a hamstring problem in training in early January. He had only just returned after moving on loan to West Brom, playing 78 total minutes through a trio of losses before re-injuring himself.

“We need him up and running as it’s goals we’ve struggled with,”West Brom manager Alan Pardew said after the loss to Chelsea. “He felt his hamstring after a 60-meter sprint in the first moments of the game. We’ll have to nurse him. He won’t play next week but hopefully the week after.”

Sturridge missed time with hip and hamstring injuries last season that sapped him of any type of consistency and form and leaving him to make just seven Premier League starts. The year before, he made just 11 Premier League starts while missing a full four months with knee, hip, and hamstring problems.

“It was a blow to lose Daniel on his first run,” Pardew said. “That didn’t give us the perfect start. We just can’t seem to get the goals that get us the wins, and they need to come, and come quickly, so Daniel’s recovery will be important now  we need to get him back.”