Marcelo Brozovic

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Europa League: Inter held, Napoli wins big, Benfica beaten

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Arsenal slumped to a 3-1 defeat on the road at Stade Rennais in the first leg of Europa Round of 16 play, while Chelsea hammered Dynamo Kiev 3-0 in a comprehensive victory.

The Gunners put forth a dismal performance in France, with Mesut Ozil the scapegoat again, putting together an uninspiring performance up front. Nacho Monreal gifted Rennais the lead with an odd own-goal and Rennais scored an important third as Ismaila Sarr beat Aaron Ramsey to a header at the back post in the 88th minute. Arsenal would have fancied its chances down 2-1 heading home, but they now have a two-goal deficit to make up.

[ MORE: Arsenal falls to Stade Rennais ]

Chelsea, meanwhile, enjoyed a dominating display at Stamford Bridge, taking a significant lead with them into the second leg in the Ukraine. Pedro scored the opener on a wonderful flick from Olivier Giroud, while Willian and Callum Hudson-Odoi added the cherry on top as the Blues were in charge throughout. Chelsea finished the match with eight shots on target and held Dynamo to none.

[ MORE: Chelsea pummels Dynamo Kiev ]

Marcelo Brozovic missed a penalty and Ivan Perisic was yanked with an injury as a poor Inter performance resulted in a 0-0 draw at Eintracht Frankfurt. Lautaro Martinez was fouled in the penalty area on 22 minutes running away from goal chasing a loose ball, leading to Brozovic’s attempt from the spot, but his penalty was low and weak, and Eintracht goalkeeper Kevin Trapp dove to reach it for the save. In the 59th minute, Perisic was withdrawn after an injury, replaced by Antonio Candreva. Perisic has been a critical player for Inter this season, playing 2,511 minutes out of a possible 3,240 across all competitions.

Inter was lucky to escape with the draw, as Frankfurt had a goal disallowed in the 50th minute for an interfering player standing in an offside position, while defender Martin Hinteregger missed a wide open header in the 69th minute. Samir Handanovic was required in the 89th minute as he made a fingertip save on a shot by Luka Jovic.

Napoli blitzed FC Salzburg with two goals inside the opening 20 minutes and cruised to a 3-0 win.¬†Arkadiusz Milik found himself free on goal after a beautiful feed from Dries Mertens for the opener just 10 minutes in, while Fabian Ruiz volleyed in Napoli’s second eight minutes later. The Italians found a third just before the hour mark, with Mario Rui’s deep cross headed into his own net by Jerome Onguene.

Valencia grabbed two early goals at home on a brace by Spanish international Rodrigo, but Russian side Krasnodar picked up an important away goal in a 2-1 finish. Rodrigo’s first was a wonderful curler unleashed at the top of the box and finishing in the top-left corner of the net in the 12th minute. He doubled Valencia’s lead in the 24th minute with a powerful low finish on a cross from Toni Lato. The visitors picked up the important consolation just past the hour mark as Viktor Claesson beat Cristiano Piccini to a long ball and muscled the Valencia defender off the ball for a fastbreak finish.

Dinamo Zagreb topped Benfica in Croatia 1-0 on a penalty by Bruno Petkovic in the 38th minute. Benfica held 65% of possession but managed just two shots on target and conceded the penalty when Ruben Dias barged over Dani Olmo in the penalty area.

Sevilla drew 2-2 at home with Slavia Prague with all four goals scored in a wild first half. Wissam Ben Yedder scored in the opening minute of the match, threaded through after a turnover in midfield to put Sevilla 1-0 up after just 24 seconds. The visitors drew back level in the 25th minute, but Munir El Haddadi put Sevilla back up just three minutes later, volleying home a corner with power. Alex Kral levelled things up again in the 39th minute on a hilarious goal that saw the ball ping off his neck unintentionally, looping into the top corner.

That was all for the scoring, as Sevilla pushed for a winner with nine total shots including four on target, while holding Slavia Prague to no shots on target in the second half. The final result is a win for Slavia Prague who heads home with a pair of away goals.

Villareal went into halftime level with Zenit St. Petersburg 1-1 and came away with a 3-1 win after second-half goals from Gerard Moreno and Manuel Morlanes. Moreno headed home Pablo Fornals’ cross in the 64th minute to give Villareal the lead, while Morlanes blasted his low effort through traffic in the 71st minute to seal the win. Sardar Azmoun and Vicente Iborra had cancelled each other out in the first half.

Top three battles in 2018 World Cup Final

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The World Cup Final is Sunday, and there are three areas which could tip the scales in favor of a Croatian upset or an expected French title.

[ MORE: PST’s World Cup roundtable ]

Kante and Pogba vs. Modric, Rakitic, Brozovic

Yes, Antoine Griezmann is a midfielder, but he’s a fourth forward if N'Golo Kante and Paul Pogba are at their very best. Croatia’s midfield triangle has been responsible for much of its World Cup success, and will need to keep that up if it hopes to collect an upset.

Mandzukic renews acquaintances with La Liga CBs…

Two goals in the Champions League semifinals against Real Madrid, one the year before in the final, and an assist in that UCL run-up versus Barcelona.

So, yes, Real’s Raphael Varane and Barca’s Samuel Umtiti have tangled with him a time or two. And the big Croatian striker Mandzukic really seems to be rounding into form.

…And Giroud versus Lovren and Co.

Olivier Giroud has yet to score in the tournament, but sleeping on his industrious performance up top is a mistake. Dejan Lovren has branded himself “one of the best defenders in the world” based on this tournament and his Champions League run with Liverpool.

If France needs to whip crosses toward Giroud, we’d expect things could look a bit like the below highlight reel. Check around the 1:00 mark of this video:

Sunday’s transfer rumor roundup: Pep wants Suarez; Benzema to City?

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The transfer rumors doing the rounds this Sunday are not messing around, with the like of Luis Suarez, Karim Benzema, Andriy Yarmolenko and Marcelo Brozovic all being linked with moves during either the upcoming January or summer transfer windows.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Up first,¬†the Daily Star¬†is reporting that current Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola, who himself¬†will be heading elsewhere¬†in the summer, will demand his new employer make¬†Barcelona striker Luis Suarez the centerpiece of his first transfer window in charge. How much would Suarez cost the still-unknown club? Perhaps as much as $150 million. We’ll see.

As for La Liga’s other giant, Real Madrid, they’re also said to be losing a top striker in the coming months, according to the Mirror. Where’s Karim Benzema¬†heading, you ask? Manchester City, supposedly. Man City is an obvious candidate to this summer land Guardiola, whom was just linked with Suarez. Suarez and Benzema in the same summer? Get your rumors straight here, guys.

Arsenal are said to be in the market for a bit of¬†midfield depth, with 22-year-old Inter Milan man Marcelo Brozovic a top target, according to the Metro. Brozovic, who’s already a regular for the Croatian national team, is currently on loan from Dinamo Zagreb. The Metro reckons Inter would sell him on for about $18 million.

[ MORE: Saturday’s rumor roundup | Friday | Thursday ]

It feels as if Andriy Yarmolenko has been linked with the Premier League’s big boys for practically a decade now, yet he’s still a Dynamo Kyiv player to this day. The Sun believes¬†that might not be the case much longer with Everton lining up a reported bid of $30 million to sign the 26-year-old Ukrainian attacker.

Manchester United are reportedly interested in 22-year-old Lille winger Sofiane Boufal.¬†In the Telegraph¬†is a report linking bottom Premier League side Aston Villa to Everton’s Steven Naismith in $10-million move. Jamie Vardy has reportedly been told by England boss Roy Hodgson that he should stay at Leicester City rather than move during the January window.

Real Madrid sign coveted Brazilian midfielder Lucas Silva

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The transfer window is a time when many teams are looking for reinforcements to try and turn around the second half of their seasons.

Real Madrid is not one of those teams, as they currently sit atop La Liga and have been nearly unbeatable all season long.

So what did they do? Went out and signed two of the most prized players on the market.

Earlier this week, Real signed 16-year-old Norwegian wonder-kid Martin Odegaard, and today they have agreed on a deal for Brazilian midfielder Lucas Silva.

[ RELATED: Odegaard needs time before becoming a regular for Real ]

Silva comes¬†from Brazilian side Cruzeiro, a club he has helped capture the league title each of the past two seasons. He was also named the league’s best defensive midfielder in 2014.

At 21-years-old, Silva will cost Real a reported transfer fee of about $16 million as the playmaker will sign a contract to keep him at the Bernabeu until 2020.

The midfielder has drawn comparisons to Xabi Alonso, known for his smarts defensively while also possessing great vision on the pitch.

[ REPORT: Inter to sign Croatian midfielder Marcelo Brozovic ]

Asier Illarramendi was brought to Real over the summer to replace Xabi Alonso, but has failed to maintain a starting role for Carlo Ancelotti’s side. Illarramendi, who cost the club over $30 million, now faces more competition in an already loaded lineup.

Rumors have been swirling that Silva’s arrival will mark the end of Illarramendi’s short run at Real, but his manager said the club has no plans to move the defensive midfielder in the January transfer window.

Report: Inter bags young Croatian midfielder Marcelo Brozovic from Zagreb

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According to a number of reports in Italy, Dinamo Zagreb is sending 22-year-old defensive midfielder Marcelo Brozovic to Inter on what initially will be a loan but is in essence a permanent transfer.

David Amoyal, a reporter for Italian media powerhouse Gianluca di Marzio’s network, is confirming Brozovic’s move to be an 18-month loan costing Inter around $3.5 million through next summer, and the loan has a mandatory buy clause for that time costing another $5.5 million. All that’s left is a medical and signatures, with Brozovic’s eventually permanent deal running through summer of 2019.

The midfielder has three goals and six assists in 26 matches across all competitions this season for Zagreb, including decent time in the Europa League. In six Europa League matches, Brozovic put together a modest 83% pass completion rate, created nine chances, scored a goal, and completed an impressive 16/28 take-ons. Statistics are not readily available from the Croatian league, but he’s been dubbed the “Croatian Xavi” by many, quite high praise, although those names and comparisons seem to be handed out endlessly these days.

These two teams did a similar deal for 20-year-old Croatian Mateo Kovacic last January, a deal which has worked out well for Inter. Costing Inter a rumored $12 million, the young attacking midfielder has gone on to become a force in the Serie A attack, and has earned himself links to teams like Manchester United in the process. Kovacic and Brozovic have played together on the Croatian national team, with each on Croatia’s 2014 World Cup roster, although neither played a highly significant role.

Inter has gone a long way towards fixing its broken season, and strengthening its attacking power has been a priority this winter, the first transfer window with Roberto Mancini in charge. Lukas Podolski has come in and seen significant playing time immediately.

Mancini also seems to be stockpiling defensive midfielders. It would appear Yann M’Villa’s time short time in Serie A would be up, with Brozovic expected to overtake him in the squad, and possibly even start over Serbian Zdravko Kuzmanovic who is rumored to be on his way out. It would follow that Gary Medel and Fredy Guarin also would see some decreased playing time should Brozovic slide straight into the XI.