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Transfer gossip: Kovacic to Chelsea; Dembele to Arsenal

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Mateo Kovacic appears to be some kind of makeweight in a potential deal between Real Madrid and Chelsea for Thibaut Courtois.

WATCH LIVE: Transfer Deadline Day show, August 9 at 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com 

Following the news that Courtois, 26, didn’t return to preseason training as expected on Monday, it is being reported by Marca that Croatian midfielder Kovacic will head to Stamford Bridge on loan for the season. Per the report, Kovacic wants more playing time and with the likes of Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Isco ahead of him, that isn’t likely at Real. The Croatian international is said to have trained on his own on Tuesday as he tried to force through the move.

Kovacic will compete with Cesc Fabregas, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Tiemoue Bakayoko for a spot in Chelsea’s central attacking midfield areas, while he can also play out wide. If he does arrive, it could spell bad news for Fabregas as Maurizio Sarri has already brought in Jorginho and has N'Golo Kante to return to central midfield.

Adding a player of Kovacic’s quality, plus the fact that he’s 24 years old, is all well and good, but what will Chelsea do about signing a goalkeeper? They have Willy Caballero and Rob Green available and it looks like Caballero will be their No. 1 unless they can make a big move in the goalkeeping department in the final 48 hours of the window.


Ousmane Dembele is being lined up by Arsenal, according to Mundo Deportivo.

The French winger, 21, has yet to settle at Barcelona following his huge $120 million move from Borussia Dortmund in the summer of 2017.

He played a bit-part during France’s World Cup success over the summer and although Dembele’s quality is undoubted, would the tricky winger be an upgrade on Arsenal’s current wide attacking options?

New Gunners boss Unai Emery has Alex Iwobi, Henrikh Mhitaryan, Reiss Nelson and Mesut Ozil who can play in those positions, plus Danny Welbeck and Aaron Ramsey at a push.

A nugget which could suggest something is possible with this deal: last week Dembele was seen hanging out with Mkhitaryan, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette via social media posts. Just a coincidence?

Maybe a loan deal with an option to buy would work best for everyone, but the best option would probably be signing another Dembele. Mousa, from Tottenham, as a destructive, silky central midfielder. That would make too much sense though…

Preseason roundup: Arsenal clobbers PSG, Liverpool swamps Man United

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The preseason is in full swing for Premier League teams, with the start of the 2018/19 campaign less than two weeks away.

Almost all top PL clubs were in action on Saturday somewhere around the world, with the International Champions Cup continuing to pit top teams against each other all across the globe.

Earlier in the day, Arsenal stomped new manager Unai Emery’s old club PSG 5-1 in Singapore in a game that actually started out in the French club’s favor. American Tim Weah started the match and was instrumental as PSG began on the front foot, but it all went wrong when Mesut Ozil scored in the 13th minute on a 2-on-1 counter-attack. It was 1-0 until after halftime when Arsenal ran riot, as Alexandre Lacazette bagged a pair plus efforts from Rob Holding and Eddie Nketiah. Holding’s goal especially was a thing of beauty, an absolutely stunning header from a good distance out that looped perfectly into the top-left corner. Mesut Ozil, fresh off his controversial international retirement, had an inspired performance for Arsenal while wearing the captain’s armband.

Chelsea drew with Inter 1-1 with their only goal scored by Pedro inside the opening 10 minutes. Alvaro Morata picked a defender’s pocket on the end line and shot from a tight angle, and Samir Handanovic’s save fell to Pedro who poked into the open net. The Italian side drew level just after halftime as the Blues were punished for a bad giveaway in their own half and Roberto Gagliardini slid it past Willy Caballero for the equalizer.

Liverpool and Manchester United met at the Big House in Michigan, and unlike many of this summer’s ICC matches, it was an exciting affair with Jurgen Klopp‘s men winning 4-1. Right from the start, both teams were flying, and it produced plenty in front of net. Liverpool forced Manchester United goalkeeper Lee Grant into some early saves, while a fabulous Alexis Sanchez long-ball saw the ball in the net but ruled out for the offside flag. Just before the half-hour mark, Liverpool drew first blood as Mohamed Salah was fouled by 21-year-old Demetri Mitchell and Sadio Mane bagged the effort from the spot. Manchester United responded almost immediately as 22-year-old Andreas Pereira unleashed a spectacular free-kick from 30 yards out.

After halftime, the pace dropped a bit and Sanchez struggled to influence things as he did in the first half. Liverpool capitalized and took off. New Reds signing Xherdan Shaqiri came on and made a difference, teeing up Daniel Sturridge for their second. A third came from the spot as Sheyi Ojo slotted it home, and then Shaqiri marked his Liverpool debut with a stunning bicycle kick to cap things off.

Manchester City picked up an impressive comeback against German giants Bayern Munich in Miami, Florida in a 3-2 victory, their final ICC match of the preseason. Both teams fielded relatively weak teams, and it resulted in an exciting match. Bayern took a 2-0 lead before halftime behind goals from 19-year-old Meritan Shebani and veteran Arjen Robben. Despite the scoreline, City was impressive in patches before the break, and they snagged one back before the break on a low drive by Bernardo Silva, who is seeing plenty of playing time this preseason. After halftime, Phil Foden put one on frame that Sven Ulreich parried directly into the path of 19-year-old Lukas Nmecha who brought City back level. They would win it on a second from Bernardo Silva, who somehow got a shot off through a double-team and past Ulreich to put City on top with 20 minutes to go.

Outside the ICC, Leicester City fell to Italian club Udinese 2-1 in Austria, held without a goal until Kelechi Iheanacho grabbed a consolation with a minute remaining in the match. Claude Puel named a strong side, with Kasper Schmeichel the only international left out of the squad, but they struggled to keep up. Wes Morgan was done for the first Udinese goal just four minutes in, while the Italians added a second before the break, with it clear that the Foxes need Maguire – who did not see time – to return along the back line. Leicester takes on Valencia on Wednesday to round off its preseason fixtures.

Still to come:

Barcelona vs. Tottenham Hotspur (Pasadena, CA) — 11:05 p.m. ET

Chelsea adds veteran goalkeeper Rob Green

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The potential departure of Thibaut Courtois has Chelsea scrambling to find a potential replacement if the Belgium international does leave, however, in the mean time the club has added depth at the position.

[ MORE: Three things from Liverpool-Man City in the ICC ]

The Blues have signed veteran goalkeeper Rob Green, who most recently played for Huddersfield Town a season ago despite not appearing in any matches.

Green, 38, began his career with Norwich City, before also spending time with West Ham, Queens Park Rangers, Leeds United and then Huddersfield.

Chelsea currently has three first-team goalkeepers as long as Courtois remains with the club, as the Belgian, Willy Caballero and now Green are in the squad.

Jorge Sampaoli is this World Cup’s biggest loser so far

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The World Cup is all about moments – moments of triumph, moments of heartbreak, moments of relief and weight lifted. On Tuesday night in Saint Petersburg, as Argentina secured a knockout round spot with a thrilling win over Nigeria, one moment stood above them all.

Not Lionel Messi’s first 2018 World Cup strike, a masterpiece of movement and high-speed ball control woven by the world’s most brilliant goal craftsman. Not Marcos Rojo’s winner, a life-changing howitzer launched from the most unlikely right boot.

No, the lasting image was beleaguered Argentina manager Jorge Sampaoli heading down the tunnel alone immediately after the final whistle, leaving his players to celebrate the triumph without him on the field.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]

His disappearance was beautifully symbolic of his World Cup performance leading the tournament’s most disappointing blue blood (that is, until Germany faceplanted its way to group stage elimination) considering he had hardly bothered to show up in the first place. Argentina is set to take on France in the knockout stage not because of Sampaoli, but in spite of him.

Chile’s 2015 Copa America knight errant has somehow become Argentina’s floundering jester with absurd lineup choices and tactical experiments that would make even Jurgen Klinsmann cock his head in confusion. Sampaoli has proven so clueless at the helm that a group of senior Argentine players even reportedly attempted a full-on coup, desperately pleading with FA chairman Claudio Tapia not for Sampaoli’s dismissal, but simply for control of the starting lineup. That reportedly fell short, but it proved to the world the former Sevilla boss is on an island.

Lionel Messi jumps on the back of Marcos Rojo after the defender scored a late winner against Nigeria to send Argentina through to the knockout round (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images).

The biggest and most glaring issue for Sampaoli’s squad selections have been the midfield, where he has proven utterly lost. In Argentina’s opening game against Iceland, Sampaoli started international veteran Javier Mascherano alongside fellow deep-lying midfielder Lucas Biglia in a central midfield pivot that proved redundant, leaving Lionel Messi on an island further up the field. With Manuel Lanzini injured in the buildup to the tournament, Sampaoli turned to little-known Independente playmaker Maximiliano Meza on the wing opposite perpetual international dud Angel Di Maria, leaving Messi completely isolated with the creative load on his shoulders. Meanwhile, electric Juventus striker Paulo Dybala, passing wizard Ever Banega, and midfield link Giovani Lo Celso were left to contemplate their thoughts among the substitutes. Argentina dominated Iceland in every facet of the game, but, as they have on many occasions throughout the last few years, produced no end product.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

While that result was disappointing, it provided Sampaoli with all the answers he needed to make changes for the better moving forward. 34-year-old Mascherano looked a step behind the play, and partnered with Biglia the midfield was static. Yet the boss failed to draw from the fountain, sprinting in the opposite direction completely. Instead of benching Mascherano (admittedly a bold move to make with a team leader) and introducing Lo Celso and Banega to patch the holes and give Messi some creative help, he threw common sense to the wind with the incomprehensible decision to press Croatia into oblivion.

Not only did Sampaoli’s tactics fail miserably, his team selection proved he learned nothing from the first 90 minutes. He left Mascherano in and paired him with Enzo Perez, another static midfield duo. He sat Di Maria and replaced him with an even more confusing wing pairing of Eduardo Salvio and Marcos Acuna. Instead of withdrawing Max Meza, he pushed him even higher up the pitch in a creative yet undefined role. He started a back three that included full-back Nicolas Tagliafico chosen over Roma standout and natural center-back Federico Fazio, who was ranked by Squawka as the 6th best defender in Serie A this past campaign. The result was a gloriously chaotic mess as Luka Modric carved Argentina to bits on the counter. Here’s the Sparknotes version:

(Dashboard stats from Opta via StatsZone app)

Lionel Messi was completely and utterly wasted. Arguably the world’s best player had one shot on goal, which was blocked. He completed two take-ons in the attacking third. He created two chances. Meanwhile, Croatia sliced Argentina’s midfield to pieces on the counter, as Mascherano again had a miserable showing and the rest of the players were too scattered to make a difference. Willy Caballero made another mistake in goal, and the makeshift back three was torn to shreds.

With Argentina staring down the barrel of group stage elimination, Sampaoli was given a vote of confidence from management and turned in another flop in a do-or-die scenario against Nigeria. The 58-year-old scrapped the back three and deployed Manchester United bruiser Marcos Rojo into central defense, again leaving Fazio on the bench. He organized a flat 4-3-3 with Mascherano behind two central midfielders, which admittedly was better than anything he flung onto the pitch in the previous two games. He gave Ever Banega a deserved start, but Mascherano again made a fool of himself on multiple occasions, complete with blood streaming down his face. He continued to utilize Perez, who put in a laughably useless shift on the wing with 25 of his 32 passes backward or square despite living on the same side as Messi. Di Maria came back into the team and was again invisible. Sampaoli handed perennial punchline Gonzalo Higuain the start up front in favor of the insubordinate Sergio Aguero, and he did what he’s come to do best – send one to the moon in a huge moment down the stretch. All this while Dybala, Lo Celso, and Christian Pavon rotted on the bench, while Mauro Icardi laughed himself silly on the couch at home.

Nobody has seen their stock plummet quite like Jorge Sampaoli this World Cup. In a tournament full of moments – ones on the biggest stage that shape our image of players and coaches more than any others in the game – Sampaoli has managed to dismantle his reputation from Copa America hero to World Cup goat. No, this Argentina team isn’t very good, but it certainly isn’t this grotesque.

Messi ended up on the shoulders of Rojo after the defender’s magical moment against Nigeria, and he hugged every teammate and staff member on the pitch after the final whistle. Truthfully, it should have been the other way around, because the magical maestro has willed his team to the knockout stage despite the repeated failures of his manager, and that truly is a feat worthy of recognition. Jogi Löw certainly made mistakes with Germany en route to their massive failure, but it also felt as if he still possessed a talented roster that simply didn’t gel. Argentina – unlike Germany – is still kicking this summer, but because of the boss; they’re still around in spite of him.

Modric urges humility after big win, stunning goal (video)

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There are few teams who’ve looked as strong as Croatia at the World Cup in Russia.

[ RECAP: Argentina 0-3 Croatia ]

Zlatko Dalic’s men now have a pair of shutout wins against decent competition, topping Nigeria 2-0 over the weekend before hammering Argentina 3-0 on Thursday.

The nature of those performances will have many, us included, debating just how far Croatia can run in this tournament. Veteran midfielder Luka Modric is hoping his team doesn’t do the same.

Let’s not be euphoric or get ahead of ourselves,” Modric said. “Of course this win will boost our confidence for the next game, and we have shown we can create opportunities, but let’s keep our feet firmly on the ground.”

Modric noted that Willy Caballero‘s howler “was a shot in the arm,” but added that they had played a “perfect game.”

That’s true. And while so much focus will be on Messi’s struggles, don’t sleep on the terrific performance of Vatreni. 

Modric also seemed to bristle when asked about shutting down Messi.

“I don’t want to talk about other players. We are happy with our own performance. We wanted to cut out Messi receiving the ball because he is the most dangerous player.”