Making the case: Raheem Sterling as PL Player of the Year

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Even a year ago, I wouldn’t have imagined someone making this case in a rational manner any time soon.

I especially didn’t think it would be me.

But as the Premier League takes a deep breath ahead of the stretch run, I’m going to have to say it.

[ MORE: JPW ranks the candidates ]

Raheem Sterling has been the best attacking player in the Premier League this season, and quite possibly the best player period.

Whether he earns the nod over defender Virgil Van Dijk is another story altogether, as it will probably comes down to wins and losses and one or two titles, but consider how deadly, consistent, and deadly consistent Sterling has been since the start of the season.

Of the four Premier League players who’ve accounted for some combination of 24 goals and assists, Sterling gets the least amount of positive publicity. Eden Hazard has largely been the Chelsea attack, Sergio Aguero has tied the PL hat trick record, and Mohamed Salah is riding his 2017-18 season through a remarkable cold snap of form.

But there’s Sterling, with 15 goals and nine assists in the second-fewest minutes of the bunch (Aguero).

How about these numbers — via WhoScored.com — in 2,149 league minutes?

Sterling is also averaging a tackle and .6 interceptions per match, the best of the bunch, while committed the fewest bad touches per game (most remarkable considering his second touch haunted him for several seasons).

A concession: For what it’s worth given the above stats, Hazard is easily in second of the bunch if not competing directly with Sterling. But Sterling hasn’t been a part of underachieving teams for three different managers, so we’ll abide.

There are two things going against Sterling, neither of which are his fault. The first is that Man City’s dominance of last season and run back into a title right this season has people imagining that the feast of talent at the Etihad Stadium makes numbers an afterthought; That is to say that Sterling, Aguero, and the Silvas (not to mention Leroy Sane) aren’t producing much more than their theoretical replacements.

And maybe there’s something to that, but here’s how important Sterling’s production has been to City.

In Premier League matches in which Sterling neither scored, assisted, nor drew a penalty, City has four wins, two draws, and four losses. When he has, that mark is 17-0 (He sat out wins over Huddersfield Town, Burnley, and Watford to complete Man City’s 24W-2D-4L record).

Aguero, for his part, racked up nine of his goals in three matches. I’m not here to hat trick shame, but Sterling feels a less replaceable part of Pep’s team.

The second thing going against Sterling is a bit more nefarious, linked to articles and conceptions about his gun tattoo or hairstyles. This part, hopefully, doesn’t require us to refute it.

Van Dijk has been phenomenal, and as a longtime defender admirer — those who can’t do it, love those who do it well — I’d be thrilled to see him join N'Golo Kante in non-scorers to claim such an honor.

But VVD was also on the scene for a moment that encapsulates what Sterling has become to City’s attack. He’s arguably been this season’s Leroy Sane, and coincidentally cues up the German with this incisive pass from well outside his office for the January winner against Liverpool.

Chelsea rejects Real’s $78m Hazard offer; Anderson back-up plan

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Chelsea wants more than $150 million for Eden Hazard which could lead Real Madrid to look to a different part of London for its next playmaker, according to Sky Sports.

A Thursday report says Chelsea has shot down a $78 million bid for Hazard and is expecting at least twice that amount as desperate Real Madrid looks to revolutionize its team after a European trophy-free 2018-19 season.

[ MORE: Man Utd stars set for exit? ]

The Blues may not sell at all because of its impending transfer ban, despite Hazard being able to walk away for free after the 2019-20 season.

And Hazard isn’t exactly shying away from his long-held interest in a move to Real in this sly exchange with Belgian outlet HLN:

Interviewer: “Look, I have a friend who has been playing in the Premier League for seven years. At a club that plays in blue. He has won everything there and he is ready for a new challenge. He is now in the interest of another club, one in a white outfit. What would you recommend to that boy?”

Smiling, Hazard replied: “Well, buy that friend a white shirt.”

So Real is training its eyes on West Ham United’s Felipe Anderson to the tune of an $85 million bid, a figure which would see the Irons profit in a big way following a $48 million purchase just last summer.

Anderson, who turns 26 in April, has been very good as the Irons bid for seventh place and a possible Europa League spot next season. The Brazilian has nine goals and five assists across all competitions for Manuel Pellegrini.

Hazard is two years older than Anderson, and has produced at a world class level dating back to his 20-goal, 18-assist Ligue 1 season at Lille in 2011-12.

Although, even with the transfer ban, maybe Chelsea will take the money and its medicine without Hazard, who is one of the only players who have been a part of the Blues teams to quit on Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte (and possibly tried to do the same to Maurizio Sarri).

Do you want the bitter Belgian playing out the string? West Ham fans probably hope the answer is, “Nope.”

Get ready for a summer of speculating that Real might buy any player on Earth outside of Lionel Messi, given chairman Florentino Perez’s penchant for hunting Galacticos; In the past week alone, Real has been linked with Neymar, Paul Pogba, Kylian Mbappe, Hazard, and Anderson. Wow.

Report: Man United stars lined up for exit

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It appears that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer already knows the players he wants to get rid of this summer.

We know that Antonio Valencia, the club captain, will leave this summer after the club declined to offer him a one-year contract extension, but a few others may be joining the 33-year-old Ecuadorian in heading through the exit door at Old Trafford.

A report from the Daily Star claims that both Alexis Sanchez and Marcos Rojo will be sold this summer, as caretaker boss (for now) Solskjaer plans to offload the injury-prone South American duo.

Sanchez, 30, has been a big disappointment at United following his arrival from Arsenal last January, as the highest-paid player at the club has scored just once in 17 Premier League appearances this season. The Chilean star was injured in their 3-2 win against Southampton earlier this month and isn’t expect to return to fitness until mid-April at the earliest.

As for Rojo, the 29-year-old Argentine center back suffered a serious knee injury early in the season and has struggled for fitness since as he then picked up a back injury. With Chris Smalling and Phil Jones handed new contracts and United constantly linked with moves for new center backs in Toby Alderweireld and Kostas Manolas, it seems like Rojo’s five-year stay at United is almost up.

Would these exits make sense? For both the club and the player, 100 percent.

Sanchez just hasn’t looked happy at United since he arrived, as Solskjaer clearly has other players ahead of him in the pecking order. A move to PSG or maybe one of Italy’s big boys either permanently or on loan seems like the best bet for everyone, although Sanchez will be in no hurry to leave United as he still has over four years left on his huge $650,000 a week contract.

As for Rojo, the writing is on the wall for him given his poor record with injuries and United’s persistence to try and sign a new center back. He is a solid defender who can play at either center back or full back, and he did rebound well in Jose Mourinho’s first season after struggling under Louis Van Gaal. Rojo’s current contract runs until the summer of 2021 with an option to extend by a further year so, like Sanchez, he probably won’t be in a hurry to go anywhere and a loan move is probably more likely.

It remains to be seen how ruthless Solskjaer will be if and when he does take charge of United on permanent basis, but it is likely Sanchez and Rojo will not be alone in being available.

Declan Rice apologizes for pro-IRA comments on social media

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Ahead of his potential debut for the England national team on Friday, Declan Rice has had to apologize for his past comments on social media. 

Rice, 20, switched his allegiance from the Republic of Ireland to England last month after his rise to stardom in the Premier League over the past 12 months.

The West Ham academy produce made three friendly appearances for the Ireland senior team, as well as playing for their U17 side, but was born in England and FIFA approved his switch to represent the Three Lions.

Rice has apologized for the comments he made on social media in 2015 in response to his Irish teammates as he responded “up the RA” which is short for the IRA and “Wait until we get England” on Instagram.

“I am aware that a poorly-expressed comment I made when I was a junior player has been circulated on social media,” Rice said. “I recognise now that my attempt to show support for my team-mates at the time could be negatively interpreted. While my naive words were not meant to be a political opinion and do not represent who I am, I sincerely apologize for any offence caused.”

Rice was called up to the England national team for the first time on Mar. 13 and is in line to play against the Czech Republic on Friday and against Montenegro next Monday in the Three Lions’ EURO 2020 qualifiers.

USWNT name final roster before World Cup squad announcement

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The USWNT are getting ready for the big dance. The 2019 Women’s World Cup, of course.

Jill Ellis named her 24-player roster for the April friendlies against Australia and Belgium, as this is the final squad announcement before the World Cup roster is confirmed.

This is the last chance to impress.

The big news on this roster is that Ali Krieger returns for the first time since 2017, as she joins her fiancee Ashlyn Harris in the squad fresh from their engagement announcement last week. Midfielder Lindsey Horan returns after missing the SheBelievesCup through injury but Kelley O’Hara misses out with an ankle injury.

Before the U.S. play Australia at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park on Apr. 4 and Belgium at LAFC’s Banc of California Stadium on Apr. 7 they will embark on a training camp in Santa Barbara, Calif.

Ellis likely already knows the USWNT squad she would like to take the World Cup in France, but this is the final chance for players to change her mind and get on the plane to Europe as the U.S. aim to defend their title as world champs.

Below is the roster in full for the upcoming friendlies.


USWNT roster for games v. Australia, Belgium

GOALKEEPERS (3): Adrianna Franch (Portland Thorns FC; 1/0), Ashlyn Harris (Orlando Pride; 20/0), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars; 41/0)

DEFENDERS (7): Abby Dahlkemper (NC Courage; 35/0), Tierna Davidson (Chicago Red Stars; 17/1), Crystal Dunn (NC Courage; 80/24), Ali Krieger (Orlando Pride; 98/1), Becky Sauerbrunn (Utah Royals FC; 153/0), Casey Short (Chicago Red Stars; 27/0), Emily Sonnett (Portland Thorns FC; 30/0)

MIDFIELDERS (7): Julie Ertz (Chicago Red Stars; 77/18), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns FC; 64/7), Rose Lavelle (Washington Spirit; 23/6), Allie Long (Reign FC; 40/6), Samantha Mewis (NC Courage; 45/8), Andi Sullivan (Washington Spirit; 11/0), McCall Zerboni (NC Courage; 8/0)

FORWARDS (7): Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns FC; 146/27), Carli Lloyd (Sky Blue FC; 269/105), Jessica McDonald (NC Courage; 6/1), Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride; 158/99), Christen Press (Utah Royals FC; 111/47), Mallory Pugh (Washington Spirit; 48/13), Megan Rapinoe (Reign FC; 149/43)