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On The Move: Hoffenheim’s Roberto Firmino

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With a confirmed transfer awaiting the talented Brazilian after his national sides Copa America adventure, many are eager to see where the Roberto Firmino ends up. After a “He’s moving to England” statement from his agent, Roger Wittman, the spectrum of club choices has been somewhat narrowed.

The Mirror have tipped a move to the North West most likely for the ambidextrous Hoffenheim star and following praise from his national manager Dunga, stating he ‘smelt of goals’ since scoring 3 times in 6 appearances following his call up,  Firmino looks likely to produce a record transfer for his current outfit, 1899 Hoffenheim.

The confident 23 year-old can be utilised as a false 9, 10 or a winger on either side making him appealing as he has comes with a preconceived attacking entourage.

With a battle of the North West footballing powers about to unfold, let’s take a look at where the best option could lie.

Liverpool

Before entering Manchester, Merseyside based Liverpool would be the most suitable option for Firmino, especially if Raheem Sterling heads for the exit door. The Brazilian could become a direct replacement for Sterling while also leaving The Reds with a hefty amount of profit, that is assuming there isn’t a monumental bidding war for Firmino. Moving to The Reds would also allow Firmino link up with his national counterpart Coutinho on a regular basis. For Rodgers it would mean he can take the creative responsibility of Coutinho allowing him to flourish even more. For the team, it would equal more goals as both Brazilians assist and score regularly, Firmino created 69 chances last season while Coutinho made 58.

Along with the Coutinho connection, Firmino would compensate for the lack of flair signed so far this window. Milner and Ings are both hard-working while lack the technical skill Firmino possesses. This combination may have a bigger impact than the one with Coutinho as the graft of the English signings would reduce Firmino’s workload, allowing him to focus on attacking play only, resulting in a better goals return for Liverpool. Signing the Hoffenheim star would also disperse any animosity towards Rodgers over his previous transfer dealings.

This signing would also bring its risks however. Having took almost 3 seasons to show his true talent in the Bundesliga, Firmino signed to the German club in 2010 yet was named in the Breakthrough team of the season in the 2013/14 season. The poor start sheds a bad light on his total goal return as well, only notching a meager 35 goals in 140 appearances.

The man from Maceió may also struggle in an arguably more demanding league and an intense training program to bulk him up may lead to injuries meaning the fans would only see glimpses of the talent that he so clearly possesses.

Other problems would include Liverpool’s failure to qualify for the Champions League, something which both Manchester clubs offer, and the fact that Firmino is not the vocal leader they need to replace the loss of Gerrard. Finance could be spent elsewhere especially as it wouldn’t be incorrect to say Firmino and Coutinho mirror each other’s playing style, meaning the Hoffenhiem star isn’t what’s needed at Anfield.

Manchester United

Travelling along the M62 from Liverpool would leave Firmino on Mancunian soil. A city split by footballing loyalty, one side with vast history, another pushing to create theirs. Firmino would have ‘The Matrix’ choice of a red or blue pill. Choosing red means Firmino joins Manchester United, the bookies favourites, although it is quite hard to decipher quite why.

Signs suggest that Louis Van Gaal is a fan of the number 10 as he fits the mould of the Dutchman’s ideal player. His outstanding dribbling talent which left him at the top of the table for successful take-ons by players under 23 betters that of any current United player. Firmino is also a combative 5 ft 8 player being unafraid to get stuck into tackles and battle for headers.

Firmino’s arrival could cause a ripple in the squad layout, leaving Van Gaal with a number of transfer options. If sticking with the 433 formation that did United well last season, United would have Firmino, Young, Di Maria, Valencia, Mata, Januzaj and young Pereira all competing for the wide positions. Young and Valencia seem to be admired by Van Gaal meaning their sale is unlikely. However that leaves 4 current squad players to sort out. Januzaj could be loaned with Everton the most likely destination. Pereira could also leave on loan although Van Gaal seems keen to push through academy talent meaning he could feature next season. The admiration of Firmino from Louis Van Gaal may lead to moves for two Champions League winners in Mata and Di Maria.

Signing Roberto Firmino would keep everybody on their toes leaving Van Gaal with positive problems, if there is such a thing.

Yet, the cost of importing Firmino may be an unnecessary one as United have such strength in depth. With Mata’s sparkling end of season form and the acceptance that Di Maria will shine means Firmino could prove to be a worthless addition. Spending big on world beaters such as Gareth Bale may be more useful than a less expensive Brazilian import that would only play second fiddle.

Manchester City

Choosing the blue pill would leave Firmino at Manchester City. The Arab owned Citizens would present Firmino with the potential for much more playing time, while also offering the Champions League challenge. With Navas playing poorly it would be easy for Firmino to replace the Spaniard in the starting 11 and the 23 year-old would also take the creative pressure of David Silva. The addition of the Brazilians goals may mean City can outscore their rivals to the title. In addition, the lucrative wages on offer may be an underlying factor in the move, even though fans would hope he doesn’t move for the money.

An attractive club for Firmino switches as he becomes an attractive signing for the club. Having come 3rd in the Bundesliga assists ranking, Firmino is a much cheaper option to the table leader Kevin De Bruyne, and City’s other target Raheem Sterling. The latter two could end up costing around £40 million which would cripple City if it caused them to overstep FFP regulations. Firmino would cost less than half of what Sterling and De Bruyne could cost making him a much more viable option. In addition to his smaller price tag, Firmino offers more variety in playing positions allowing Pellegrini to tinker with his lineup more often to fit the best players in.

However, the move could leave City struggling with FFP if they have to fight for Firmino in a bidding war.  Another regulation would also be in trouble of being broken as Firmino doesn’t fill out City’s homegrown quota which may result in star players being left out the already over capacity squad, as shown by Sagna being removed from the Champions League squad in January. Depending on the intricate depth of FFP, paying an increased sum for Sterling may be more beneficial than saving on Firmino.

For Firmino, the step up between his current outfit, Hoffenheim, and Champions League competitors, Manchester City, may prove to be to big allowing Liverpool to benefit from their own failure to qualify for Europe’s top competition.

With a lot to consider for the man ‘moving to England’, lets just hope the club he chooses allows him to convey the ambidextrous magic he holds in his flamboyant Brazilian feet.

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Journalism student at the University of Sheffield. Freelance for TheBootRoom.

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Manchester United

How will Manchester United line up with Alexis Sanchez?

Rob Meech

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Photo: Reuters

The most highly-anticipated transfer of the January window has finally been confirmed. Alexis Sanchez is now officially a Manchester United player after joining from Arsenal in a swap deal with Henrikh Mkhitaryan. It is quite a coup for the Red Devils to have snatched the Chilean from the clutches of Manchester City, who had long been the frontrunners for his signature.

Sanchez scored 80 goals in 165 appearances for Arsenal and his arrival at Old Trafford significantly strengthens Jose Mourinho’s attacking resources. United are second in the Premier League, but lie a distant 12 points behind their Manchester rivals. So how might the Red Devils line up with Sanchez, who will wear the iconic number seven shirt?

What will have most attracted Mourinho to Sanchez is his ability to play in any number of attacking positions. Although his goalscoring ratio for both Barcelona and Arsenal is close to one in two, he would not be classed as an out-and-out striker.

Wenger did sometimes deploy the 29-year-old on his own up top, but more often than not the Gunners boss favoured him on the left of an attacking three, alongside the likes of Mesut Ozil and Olivier Giroud.

Mourinho is hardly short of forward options. He signed Romelu Lukaku from Everton last summer to spearhead the attack, while Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba have all shown to be more than capable of chipping in with goals.

Sanchez provides another dimension altogether, though. He is more physical than the aforementioned quartet and his tireless work-rate is exactly what Mourinho looks for.

Sanchez could rotate with Lukaku in the number nine role – or even play alongside hm in a front two – but it is more likely that he will occupy one of the three spots behind the Belgian.

When fit, British record signing Pogba is guaranteed to slot into a central role in front of a deep-lying central midfield pairing, which gives the Frenchman the freedom to express himself. That leaves one of the two wider positions, currently occupied by two of Rashford, Martial and Lingard.

Of late, Mourinho has opted for Martial and Lingard, both of whom have been in scintillating form with goals and assists aplenty. To leave out either would seem harsh, but given the high-profile nature of this signing, one will surely make way to accommodate Sanchez, whose inclusion may also help to get the best out of the unconvincing Lukaku.

If Mourinho’s vision is similar to Wenger’s, then the fall guy would appear to be Martial. However, the Portuguese may have other ideas and such is Sanchez’s versatility that the United manager knows he can select the Chile international anywhere in attack without diminishing his influence.

The increased competition for a starting berth can only benefit United and it certainly would not be a surprise to see Sanchez selected as a number nine, should Lukaku’s form continue to suffer.

With the Red Devils hoping to go deep into the latter stages of the Champions League as well as the FA Cup, the flexibility Sanchez offers will be invaluable in facilitating squad rotation. Games come thick and fast at this stage of the campaign and, consequently, player burn-out is a real possibility.

By landing Sanchez, United have issued a massive statement of intent. Despite an improved Premier League season, they will almost certainly have to watch on as City lift the title in May.

Whether the former Barcelona star is the man to shift the balance of power back towards the red half of Manchester remains to be seen. Nevertheless, he undoubtedly improves Mourinho’s squad and it will be fascinating to see how he fares in a United shirt.

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Arsenal

How Arsenal could line-up with Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang?

Jake Jackman

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Photo: Reuters

Arsenal prefer not to do business in the January transfer window, but their hand has been forced this month due to the contract situations of Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Jack Wilshere.

They could all leave the club before the start of next season and Arsene Wenger will recognise the need to prepare for those departures. Sanchez is the only one to have left the club already this month, as he has joined Manchester United.

In return, the Gunners have secured the services of Henrikh Mkhitaryan. The former Borussia Dortmund player has struggled in England, but he has the talent to produce more at the Emirates Stadium.

Considering they are facing a battle to qualify for the Champions League, there could be more arrivals this month to improve their chances of making the top four.

Sky Sports reported that Arsenal are attempting to secure a deal for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Dortmund could be tempted to make a clean break from the striker

The Gunners are at risk of missing out on the Champions League for the second successive season, but their reputation remains strong across Europe. It would be a statement of intent to sign the Gabon international and an exciting move for supporters.

How could they line-up at the end of the window?

Arsene Wenger has favoured a 3-4-2-1 formation this season and it has achieved relative success. It was a major reason for their FA Cup win last season, as it provided more balance and made the side solid at the back.

However, Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang are both attacking players and will be expecting to start most matches. It could be that a switch back to 4-2-3-1 is required to fit both into the starting eleven.

One major problem that Arsenal have faced this season is their lack of quality at the back. Laurent Koscielny, Shkodran Mustafi and Nacho Monreal are serviceable as a three-man defence.

However, it has been rare for all three to be fit at the same time and the squad is lacking in depth. Per Mertesacker is passed his best, while Rob Holding and Calum Chambers remain inexperienced at the highest level.

A change back to a four-man defence would be a smart move unless a quality centre-back is signed this month. A tactical switch would likely mean Monreal loses his place in the starting eleven.

This would be a shame considering his impressive season to date, but he would offer stern competition to Sead Kolasinac.

It would be a boost if they were to sign another centre-back. Sky Sports reported earlier this month that Arsenal had made a fresh enquiry for Jonny Evans, but no reports suggest that a deal is in the pipeline for this month.

If they were to make no defensive signings, their back five would pick itself when everyone was available.

Petr Cech is not the player that he once was, but he remains the best goalkeeper at the Emirates Stadium.

The full-backs would provide the width, as Hector Bellerin and Sead Kolasinac are both excellent at going forwards. Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Nacho Monreal would offer good competition on the left side.

By playing two attack-minded full-backs, Arsenal can afford to play with narrow attackers, which will get the best from those playing in the forward positions.

There has been a resurgence in the career of Jack Wilshere, but he is unlikely to make the starting eleven when everyone is fully fit.

The midfield pairing of Aaron Ramsey and Granit Xhaka has been the most balanced of those chosen by Wenger this season.

The former has provided the drive and attacking support from deep, with three goals and six assists in the Premier League. Meanwhile, the latter sits deep and contributes in both halves of the pitch.

There is still more to come from the Swiss international and it will be next to Ramsey that he takes the next step forward.

The four attacking players would be best suited in a fluid attacking set-up as they are all intelligent players and capable of fulfilling any role. It would likely be a narrow formation with the full-backs providing width.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang would be the ones asked to start on the wing. It would be great to see the former be given a sustained run on the right flank, giving him a great opportunity to re-capture his Dortmund form.

Although Aubameyang is primary a striker, he has played on the left-wing during his career and he would be given freedom to interchange with the rest of the front-line. His pace will cause problems and he has the dynamism to excite supporters in the Premier League.

The 28-year-old has 13 goals in 15 Bundesliga appearances this season. In addition, despite Dortmund’s poor Champions League form, the forward found the back of the net on four occasions.

He is a top-tier striker and will add goals to the Arsenal attack. It will be exciting to see him link-up with Mkhitaryan again if a move does go through. Arsene Wenger will be hoping they can be as productive as they were in Germany.

Alexis Sanchez may have left, but Mesut Ozil is probably going to stay at the club until the end of the season.

The Evening Standard report that Arsenal are hopeful that the German international will extend his contract if they do sign Aubameyang alongside Mkhitaryan.

The 29-year-old will be given a central role in the team as the club try to convince him to stay and as the number ten position is his favoured role, this will likely be where he plays.

Alexandre Lacazette has had a mixed first season in the Premier League. It wasn’t easy to come into an Arsenal side that was short on confidence and Wenger will be wanting the Frenchman to kick on alongside the new arrivals.

If Aubameyang does sign, it will increase competition to start up front.

The current Gunners’ number nine has scored nine Premier League goals and contributed three assists. He is involved in a goal every 142.25 minutes, which is not bad, but he will be hoping to improve during the second half of the season.

If the club do sign Aubameyang, it will be a major statement of intent and serve as a reminder to the rest of Europe that Arsenal remain a force to be reckoned with.

A front four of Aubameyang, Lacazette, Mkhitaryan and Ozil promises to be exciting to watch and provide lots of goals.

No one player will be guaranteed a start and that is beneficial to the squad. The rest of the team needs strengthening, but this window would represent a good start to the rebuild.

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Burnley

Burnley 0-1 Manchester United: Three talking points from Turf Moor

Rob Meech

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Photo: Reuters

Anthony Martial scored the only goal of the game as Manchester United recorded their third consecutive victory by seeing off Burnley at Turf Moor. In a game devoid of end-to-end entertainment, the Frenchman struck in the 54th minute when his right-footed shot found the net via the underside of the crossbar.

Burnley tried in vain to force a leveller but could not find a way past David de Gea, as their winless run extended to seven Premier League matches. United, meanwhile, have maintained their grip on second spot but remain 12 points drift of runaway leaders Manchester City. Here are three talking points…

United pass another away-day test

Despite rumours of unrest at Old Trafford, United are now unbeaten in eight Premier League matches. While their hopes of reeling in Manchester City may be remote, Jose Mourinho’s men are red-hot favourites to finish as runners-up. That would be a huge improvement on last season – their first under Mourinho – where United finished sixth. It was only their success in the Europa League that guaranteed them a place in the Champions League.

The Red Devils are definitely progressing and the expected arrival of Alexis Sanchez would give them another dimension. In particular, their away form will please Mourinho. This was United’s fifth victory in their past six Premier League games on their travels, a run that is helping to keep the likes of Chelsea and Liverpool at bay.

Burnley is a notoriously tricky place to visit, but United withstood the physical threat of the hosts and just about had enough to claim all three points.

Burnley are feeling the effects

When looking at the table, Burnley’s position appears to be very comfortable. In eighth place and with 34 points to their name, the Clarets are all but guaranteed to be playing Premier League football again next season. That would have been manager Sean Dyche’s priority and he can feel satisfied with the job he has done.

Nonetheless, this is a difficult period for Burnley, who have not tasted victory since they beat Stoke City on December 12. Scoring goals has been their biggest problem, having drawn a blank in four of their seven-game winless  run. The Clarets are not renowned as being free-scoring – they have found the net only 19 times this season – and rely on a solid defensive foundation.

Perhaps the exertions of their promising start have taken their toll on a settled side. The challenge for Dyche, who had been linked with the Everton job during the height of Burnley’s success, is to ensure his players do not fall into the trap of thinking they have nothing to play for.

Martial is making rapid progress

The Frenchman began the campaign out of favour at United, but he has regained his place in the side thanks to a series of consistent performances. His output has been productive, too. His goal against Burnley was his third in a row, taking him to 11 for the season. Allied to his seven assists, Martial is beginning to fulfil his immense potential.

He cut a frustrated figure at being kept out of the starting XI by Marcus Rashford – there was even speculation he might be on his way out of Old Trafford. But Martial said all the right things publicly and is no longer in the ‘supersub’ category. Competition for places will only intensify if and when Sanchez’s switch from Arsenal is completed.

But the former Monaco starlet should not fear the Chilean’s arrival, but relish it. He has proved he can be a trustworthy player for United. Like Luke Shaw, he is another to have benefited from some stern words from Mourinho, who will soon have an embarrassment of attacking riches to call upon.

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