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Reports: Chelsea edging closer to signing Higuain

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The transfer window appears to be heating up as we head towards the close in the next two weeks, with the first of many dominoes about to fall.

According to The Telegraph and reports out of Italy, Chelsea have now made an official offer to Juventus for Gonzalo Higuain, who is currently on-loan with AC Milan. If confirmed, the report states that Chelsea will effectively take over Higuain’s loan for six months, and then the Premier League side will have the option to keep Higuain on loan for another 12 months or buy him outright.

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Higuain and Chelsea coach Maurizio Sarri have history, as Higuain had arguably his best club season under the Italian manager at Napoli. Higuain scored 36 goals in Serie A, by far the top scorer in the league in 2016, which led to a $102.6 million move north to Juventus. However, it’s been an up and down time in the North of Italy for the Argentine. He scored 24 goals with Juve in his first year with the club but finished with just 16 last year before the Italian giants signed Cristiano Ronaldo, which effectively meant Higuain had to look for a new home.

News that a deal is close to completion is a big turnaround from a few weeks back, when even as Higuain struggled at Milan, the two sides didn’t seem close to breaking apart, and Juventus reportedly was insistent on recouping some of their transfer fee. However, following the Italian Super Cup on Wednesday, it appears both sides are ready to move on.

Higuain coming to Chelsea may be the first domino to fall. With Sarri getting his preferred striker, that frees up Alvaro Morata to return to his native Spain, although he’s reportedly set to join Atletico Madrid, instead of his former side Real Madrid. In addition, Chelsea has been shopping Michy Batshuayi, the top target for AS Monaco, where he would reunite with Thierry Henry, his former assistant coach with the Belgian National Team. The Telegraph reported that Chelsea wanted to recoup some of the $51.5 million it spent on Batshuayi but at this point, it’s looking more likely that he’ll move to Monaco on-loan or for a cut-rate fee, with his current loan to Valencia likely to be terminated shortly.

In Italy, the next domino to fall is Genoa’s Krzysztof Piątek, who is set to take Higuain’s place at AC Milan. Piatek has been the revelation of Serie A this season, with the Polish international scoring 13 Serie A goals in 19 games, just one goal behind Ronaldo. It’s unclear what the transfer fee will be for Genoa – Piatek joined the club last summer – but it’s likely to be a big one considering the premium on goals these days.

Once Higuain moves and the dominoes fall, we’ll see how it affects the rest of the Premier League, with other players becoming available as the transfer window enters its final weeks.

Italian Super Cup to be played against backdrop of protests

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The Italian Super Cup showcasing the Serie A and Italian Cup champions is normally regarded as a friendly. But there’s nothing welcoming or sociable about the match on Wednesday.

Because it’s in Saudi Arabia.

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Italian politicians and human rights activists have objected to the game being played in Saudi Arabia, citing the assassination of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

Against this backdrop of political outrage and protests, the match between Juventus and AC Milan is still slated to go ahead at King Abdullah Sports City Stadium in Jeddah, and both teams are already in the kingdom.

But more protests are planned.

The game is slated to be broadcast domestically by RAI, and the Italian state TV’s journalists’ union said recently it was “absurd” and “unacceptable” for the game to be in Saudi Arabia little more than three months after Khashoggi’s killing. The union has planned a protest for Wednesday at the Saudi Embassy in Rome, in agreement with other journalists’ unions and human rights group Amnesty International, under the slogan “(hashtag)UnCalcioAiDirittiUmani” (A Kick Against Human Rights).

“The Italian league, Juventus and Milan are giving this (a kick against human rights) with the decision to go out on the field in Jeddah, in Saudi Arabia, for the Italian Super Cup,” read a statement. “And everyone who has chosen silence is giving this. Accomplices.”

Last June, the Italian league announced it agreed to a deal with Saudi Arabia’s General Sports Authority for three of the next five Super Cups to be played in the country. The deal will provide more than 20 million euros ($23 million) to Serie A and 3.5 million euros to participating clubs.

“Seven million euros,” the statement continued. “That is how much silence is worth in front of bombs which have been massacring civilians in Yemen for four years.

“In front of the enlistment of child soldiers. In front of the brutal murder … of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. In front of the investigations which have singled out as direct instigator Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. In front of a stadium with `sectors reserved for men.’ In front of a country where women’s rights are still crushed and many activists are in prison …”

Women were allowed into Saudi sports stadiums a year ago for the first time to watch soccer matches, although they were segregated in the stands to the “family section” away from all-male crowds elsewhere, and those rules will be applied for Wednesday’s match, prompting some female fans to decide not to travel.

One such fan, 49-year-old lawyer Maria Luisa Garatti, is set to miss her first Milan match – home or away – in years.

“They conceded that women on their own could go to the match, but the fact remains that I would still have to watch it from a certain sector, far from my friends, with whom I couldn’t sing, show my support and raise the banner of my club,” Garratti told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

“This segregation in separate sectors hurts me, and it hurts me that Italian football is accepting it.”

Tickets for the game nevertheless sold out in less than two days, with the first 50,000 sold in four hours.

The clubs are trying to distance themselves from the political issues.

“The Italian league made this contract and we have to go,” Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said on Friday. “And there’s been a little step forward, in that women can go to the match. Let’s look at the positive aspect.

“In any case, I believe Italy has economic and political relationships with Saudi Arabia. They told us to play there and we’re going.”

Juventus won the Serie A and Italian Cup last season – as it did in the previous three years – so the other spot was given to the Cup runner-up.

The game has been contested abroad 11 times previously, most recently in Qatar in 2016, when Milan beat Juventus in a penalty shootout. Normally the season curtain-raiser in August, the Italian Super Cup’s overseas scheduling has prompted a move to December or January, at the beginning or end of the winter break.

Report: Higuain agrees terms with Chelsea ahead of loan

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MARCA claims that Gonzalo Higuain has agreed to a move to Chelsea.

The prolific finisher, 31, is on loan at AC Milan from Juventus and the move would reportedly be a loan with an option to buy for around $40 million in the summer.

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That would almost certainly seal Alvaro Morata’s exit from Stamford Bridge. He’s been linked with Sevilla, and an in-kind loan to Milan is not out of the question.

Higuain has had success under Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri while the pair were at Napoli. He scored a remarkable 36 goals in 35 Serie A matches during the 2015-16 season, and has not bagged less than 15 league goals in a full season since 2007-08.

He’s scored six times in 15 matches this season, adding two more in Europa League. Higuain is 10 goals away from 300 in his club career, which started in 2007 at River Plate and boasts stops at Real Madrid, Napoli, and Juventus.

How high would Chelsea sit in the table with a finisher up top? It’s an intriguing question, because Alvaro Morata has scored nine times in 24 matches but just five times in the Premier League. Eden Hazard has three goals and three assists in four matches at center forward, and the Blues went 3-1 including a 2-0 defeat of Man City in which the Belgian set up both goals.

The French-born Argentine striker is the younger brother of Columbus Crew attacker Federico Higuain.

Report: AC Milan nearing Milinkovic-Savic deal in January

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According to Italian journalist Franco Melli, AC Milan is getting close to a January transfer window deal for Lazio midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic that would cost the Italian club $80 million.

Melli went on the radio in Italy to announce his findings, stating that Milan was close to a deal for Milinkovic-Savic over the summer, and while he hasn’t been overly impressive this season so far, they still hope to bring him to the San Siro this winter.

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The bruising Serbian midfielder has played all but one of Lazio’s Serie A games this season, but the club has slipped of late, failing to win any of its last five league matches and seeing Atalanta creep just one point back of fifth-placed Lazio.

Just 23 years old, Milinkovic-Savic would shore up an AC Milan midfield that currently features a disappointing Tiemoue Bakayoko, an injured Lucas Biglia, an injured Giacomo Bonaventura, a young and inexperienced Jose Mauri, and an aging Riccardo Montolivo who has yet to appear this season. Only 22-year-old Ivory Coast international Franck Kessie has been a mainstay in the AC Milan midfield this season.

The club has already confirmed the arrival of Flamengo midfielder Lucas Paqueta for $40 million, and it seems like Milan wishes to continue bolstering its midfield. Sitting fourth in the Serie A table, they have slipped recently, with just one win in its last five league matches and a disappointing exit from the Europa League group stage thanks to a final-day loss to Olympiakos.

Milan spending significant money is also noteworthy given the fact they were handed down a suspended European ban just one week ago from UEFA for Financial Fair Play penalties, and must earn a net spend of zero by the summer of 2021. Any significant spending must be equaled out by that time, or the club will be barred from European competition for two seasons.

Transfer rumor roundup: Militao to Real, Man Utd; Higuain-Morata swap

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We begin Thursday’s run through the rumor mill with a player reported to be one of the final transfer requests of Jose Mourinho at Manchester United.

The Red Devils are whispered to still have interest in Eder Militao under interim manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, but Real Madrid is hot on the heels of the Porto center back.

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The once-capped Brazilian arrived from Sao Paolo in August, and is just 20 years old. He also plays right back and defensive mid. He scored against Schalke in the UEFA Champions League as Porto won its group, and is well-rated in league play.

Meanwhile, Chelsea is looking to the attack, with Maurizio Sarri still seeking a reunion with former Napoli pal Gonzalo Higuain.

Sarri is said to be hoping to lure Juventus into a swap deal for Alvaro Morata, as Juve still owns the rights to Higuain. The striker is on loan to AC Milan, but Chelsea could reportedly buy out the deal and send Morata the other way as a makeweight.

According to Football Italia, this would put Morata with Milan. The Spaniard scored 27 goals over 95 appearances in two seasons at Juve.


— L’Equipe says Liverpool has been talking with Adrien Rabiot‘s representatives as the touchy Paris Saint-Germain midfielder is frozen out in Ligue 1 for his refusal to sign a new deal.

— Finally, Fulham is kicking the tires on Irish midfielder James McCarthy, who has been with Everton since moving from Wigan Athletic in 2013. He’s been out for nearly a year after suffering a broken leg, but is back in training.