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Six young stars of the early season in Europe

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Erling Braut Haland’s UEFA Champions League coming out party has the teenage striker’s name on the tip of the transfer market’s tongue.

The 19-year-old is being linked with Liverpool after scoring against the Reds last week to join his group stage opening hat trick against Genk.

[ MORE: USMNT players in focus ]

Haland has — no, we’re not kidding — 18 goals and five assists in 785 minutes for Jesse Marsch’s Red Bull Salzburg and is going to cost someone a pretty penny.

Here are some other top performers to start the season, names certain to move from whispers to shouts in January and beyond.

Donyell Malen, PSV Eindhoven — The 20-year-old has 10 goals in the Eredivise alone, five of which came against Vitesse, and has chipped in another six across European competition. The smallish striker — 5’9″ — is an elite passer and finisher.

Victor Osimhen, Lille — Another 20-year-old, the 6-foot plus Osimhen scored against Chelsea in the UCL and has seven goals and two assists in league play. He’s had no problems making the transition from RSC Charleroi in Belgium to Ligue 1.

Tiemoue Bakayoko, Monaco — There was no room for Bakayoko in Frank Lampard‘s midfield at Chelsea, so he’s on loan again and thriving back at Monaco. With 4.2 tackles and 1.4 interceptions per game, he’s showing even better than he did when Maurizio Sarri sent him to AC Milan last season. He’s not a baby, but it might surprise you to read he’s 25.

Eberechi Eze, Queens Park Rangers — At 21 years old, Eze is chewing up minutes for QPR and boasts four goals and three assists. The R’s are a point off the playoff places in the Championship, and the free-dribbling attacking midfielder is a big part of the operation.

Aleksandr Sobolev, KS Samara — The Russian 22-year-old has reportedly caught the attention of Arsenal and Manchester United. At nearly 6-foot-4, the youngster has bagged 10 goals and three assists in 12 matches.

Willian’s vicious volley gets Chelsea win at Lille

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Chelsea earned a hard-fought 2-1 win over Lille on Wednesday in France, taking their first three points of the UEFA Champions League campaign.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Tammy Abraham and Willian scored for the Blues, while Fikayo Tomori had a strong day at the back and also produced an assist.

Willian’s goal came on his 300th Chelsea appearance.

Victor Osimhen scored Lille’s goal, the Ligue 1 side still without a point following a 3-0 loss to Ajax in the group stage opener.


Three things we learned

1. Tomori is the true story: The Calgary-born defender was everywhere for Chelsea, and he has to be getting a phone call from Gareth Southgate at some point soon. His assist on the goal was obviously important, but he held sway over the game with five tackles and 13 duels won.

2. Willian delivers the win: You know how sometimes a ball is hit so hard it appears to shrink in size? That’s the sort of venom-dripping volley Willian delivered for the win.

Mason Mount didn’t have his best day, but substitute Callum Hudson-Odoi cued up this goal for Willian as a pair of wingers delivered the difference.

3. Pulisic, Barkley left home: Frank Lampard had a laugh about Ross Barkley‘s off-field issue with the cops over the weekend, but left the Englishman behind for the trip to France. Christian Pulisic was also out of the 18 after admitting to our own Joe Prince-Wright that he wasn’t sure what he needed to do to get into the Starting XI. Not a good time right now for the American star.

Man of the Match: Tomori


Either Abraham or Mason Mount could’ve scored the opener, beating the line to Fikayo Tomori’s incisive cross.

But set pieces can really sting, and Jonathan Bamba’s corner kick was met by a powerful Osimhen header to make it 1-1.

The Blues controlled the proceedings in France, but needed Willian’s vicious late volley to deliver the three points.

Report: Nicolas Pepe agrees to Arsenal move

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Nicolas Pepe is set to become an Arsenal player this week in a club-record transfer.

The Ivory Coast international, 24, has returned from his break following the Africa Cup of Nations and Lille are said to have agreed $87 million deals with both Arsenal and Napoli to sell him this summer.

Pepe is also said to be attracting a late bid from Paris Saint-Germain, but Sky Sports say that Pepe has decided he will move to Arsenal. The report adds that he will undergo a medical in London in the coming days.

What’s that? Oh yes, we thought Arsenal didn’t have any money to spend this summer. Apparently they do.

The $87 million deal for Pepe will be paid in several instalments by Arsenal in order to fit into their financial plans, with Unai Emery‘s side winning the race for his signature.

Pepe scored 22 goals in Ligue 1 last season as Lille finished second behind PSG, and only Kylian Mbappe was involved in more goals as the tricky winger (who can also play as a center forward) added 11 assists in the league.

But do Arsenal really need another attacking player? It would appear the one area of their squad which is well-stocked with options, but when a player of Pepe’s ability, and potential, becomes available then you have to snap him up.

The Gunners never got close to the $100 million valuation Crystal Palace wanted for Wilfried Zaha, but it is clear that Emery wants a speedy winger to link up with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette in attack. What this means for the futures of Alex Iwobi, Mesut Ozil and Henrikh Mkhitaryan remains to be seen, but Pepe’s arrival is a major coup as Manchester United, Liverpool and Bayern Munich were all linked with signing Pepe.

If the signing of Dani Ceballos on a season-long from Real Madrid excited Arsenal’s fans, this deal for Pepe will knock their socks off. In addition, signing highly-rated teenage center back William Saliba from Saint-Etienne for $33 million then loaning him back for this season is another positive move. That last transfer doesn’t help Arsenal where they need help most (defense) this season, and that is still the concern regarding their chances of finishing in the top four.

They conceded 51 PL goals last season, the third most of teams who finished in the top 10, and they’ve also seen club captain Laurent Koscielny refuse to go on their U.S. tour during preseason as he wants a move away from the club. However, Rob Holding‘s return from injury is a big boost and Hector Bellerin is also set to come back soon after a lengthy spell out.

Emery has to deliver a top four finish this season and now that he’s had an entire campaign to bed in his ideas, he must deliver a return to the Champions League for the Gunners. Pepe will help that push in a big way, but Arsenal must get better defensively if they’re going to be a success under Emery.

Manchester United in ‘concrete talks’ with Lille over Pepe

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Manchester United are reportedly in “concrete talks” to agree a fee with Lille for much-tracked playmaker Nicolas Pepe.

The 24-year-old attacking midfielder has been linked with Liverpool and Arsenal amongst others, and Lille has admitted he’ll be leaving the club.

[ REPORT: Man Utd, Leicester agree Maguire fee ]

United’s reported salvo was around $87.5 million. He’d give them a star who could play across from Anthony Martial or as an attacking midfielder under Romelu Lukaku.

Only Kylian Mbappe and Teji Savanier garnered better season-long ratings than Pepe in the 2018-19 Ligue 1 campaign, and Pepe’s 22 goals and 11 assists stand out from the pack. Only Mbappe had more goals and only Savanier more assists.

Pepe has four goals in 11 caps for the Ivory Coast, and made three starts in Les Elephants’ five-match run at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations. He’s a fit for the Premier League, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s system. And if the Red Devils can keep him from Liverpool, well, all the better we’re sure.

USMNT’s Weah joins Lille in permanent transfer

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In search of first team opportunities, Timothy Weah is leaving the club where he arrived as a boy and grew into one of the world’s brightest prospects at his position.

The U.S. Men’s National Team attacker signed a five-year contract with Lille, the club announced on Saturday. The move is a full transfer for Weah, who leaves Paris Saint-Germain after joining the club in 2014 as a 13-year-old.

“For me, LOSC is the best choice to progress and earn playing time,” Weah said in a statement on the club’s website. “It’s a young and ambitious team. I know that Christophe Galtier and his staff are very professional and appreciated by the players. Joining LOSC, it’s not nothing since this team had a great season last year because a second place is a huge performance: playing the Champions League is also a dream that I will be able to achieve. To score goals in my new colors and help this club to win games and why not trophies!”

Weah became a mainstream name in U.S. Soccer households in 2017 at the FIFA Under-17 World Cup, in which he scored three goals and was a breakout star along with Josh Sargent.

In 2018, with only friendlies on the schedule, Weah earned his first USMNT callups and this year was potentially going to be named to the Gold Cup squad, only for him to request that he could play at the 2019 FIFA Under-20 World Cup. He scored twice and was terrific as the U-20s shocked the tournament by knocking out France. However, despite scoring, the USYNT was knocked out by Ecuador in the quarterfinals.

For his club, Weah has predictably found it difficult to break through. Ahead of him at PSG has been Neymar, Edinson Cavani and of course Kylian Mbappe, leaving the young American to go out on loan to Celtic to fight for minutes.

This is a great move for both Mbappe and the USMNT. Lille is a club with a reputation of raising top young players (Eden Hazard spent many formative years in the northeast of France) and with a second-place finish, Weah will have a chance to compete in the UEFA Champions League, pushing himself against the world’s best players. That will only be good for his growth as a player and for the USMNT to see him grow into a star up top or on the wing.