Manchester City's Toure and Dzeko react after being defeated by Southampton after their English Premier League soccer match at St Mary's Stadium in Southampton

Death rattle of Manchester City’s title defense goes quiet at Southampton

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Given the miraculous way Manchester City won last year’s title, we’ve been cautious about calling the English Premier League race, but at some point we have to stop living in the past. Last year’s Manchester City team was capable of tracking down Manchester United and finding a stoppage time title winner on the season’s last day, but this team bares little resemblance to them. Most of the names are the same, and the general (squint your eyes) style of play is identical, but as full-time blew on Southampton’s 3-1 win over the visiting Citizens, the defending champions looked incapable of defending their title.

Now the math’s become daunting. The Citizens came into the day nine points back of league-leading United, who host Everton tomorrow. It’s the same lead Barcelona holds over second place Atletico Madrid in Spain, a race few consider viable. If the Red Devils get a result tomorrow, only Bayern Munich will have a larger lead among Europe’s top five leagues. The Premier League race may not be truly mathematically over, but in the parlance of the sport, it is done and dusted. If City makes this a race, they’ll be rising from the dead.

(MORE: Bale double downs Newcastle.)

The holders were second best from the opening kickoff, with Saints taking advantage of an early Gareth Barry giveaway and some slack defending to go up in the seventh minute. James Puncheon punched Southampton in front. Steven Davis doubled Saints’ lead in the 22nd before Edin Dzeko gave City momentary life, scoring in the 39th.

Then Barry, capping an uncharacteristically poor performance, provided a perfect finish to Ricky Lambert’s 48th minute cross, beating Joe Hart to put Southampton up 3-1 and deal his team a demoralizing blow.

Southamption is a better team than their 15th-place record suggests, and with a progressive style of play that challenges teams expecting reverence from their opponents, you can see why they gave City trouble. Still, a more ready reason for City’s failures rests with the men from Manchester. They are just nowhere near as good as they were last year. The strength and constant imposition that defined last year’s squad as been replaced with a dependence on resilience and ingenuity, a dependance that’s failed to carry then through the season. They’re a different team, a worse team, and a squad that’s not going to replicate last year’s miracles.

(MORE: Chelsea back into the win column | Arsenal hold on at Sunderland.)

Out of Europe, too far behind Manchester United, and in no danger of falling out of the top four, all that’s left is for City to reclaim the FA Cup. They travel to Elland Road to face Leeds United next weekend. After that, they enter the ennui-laden state of a disappointing squad forced to cast their eyes to next year four months too soon.

Transfer rumor roundup: Icardi’s Italian stay, Atleti still seek Costa

MILAN, ITALY - MAY 07:  Mauro Icardi (L) of FC Internazionale Milano celebrates after scoring the opening goal with team mate Stevan Jovetic during the Serie A match between FC Internazionale Milano and Empoli FC  at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on May 7, 2016 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
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Gonzalo Higuain and Mauro Icardi both spent some time as potential Arsenal players in the summer rumor mills, but will the former’s move to Juventus keep the latter from the Emirates Stadium?

As we wait for official confirmation that Juventus has purchased Higuain from Napoli for $103 million, it seems Napoli is aiming to replace him with Icardi. Football Italia says Inter has rejected an offer of $22 million plus Manolo Gabbiadini that would send Icardi to Naples.

[ MORE: Messi back, blonde at Barca ]

Gabbiadini has 20 goals in 60 matches for Napoli, but Icardi is among the hottest properties in the world. The 23-year-old Argentine is signed through 2019, and the fee is obviously going to be quite high, but Napoli is ready to spend money that others may not.


Many players have been rumored for the “fourth chair” behind Lionel Messi, Neymar, and Luis Suarez in the Barcelona attack orchestra, but could the issue be settled with a reserve from Atletico Madrid?

Luciano Vietto, 22, is being linked with a $24 million move from the Vicente Calderon to the Camp Nou. AS says personal terms are the only obstacle remaining, and Vietto would have a lot to prove in Barcelona. After belting 20 goals for Valencia in 2014-15, Vietto found the net just thrice in 28 matches last season.


Atleti could use that money, according to Marca, as Diego Simeone’s bunch reportedly believes it can pry Diego Costa from Chelsea. The Brazilian-born Spanish international has massive success at Atleti before moving to North London, and Simeone has not quit on the idea of bringing him back “home”.


Also, we’re just going to leave this right here, with the lone add-on that Aaron Schoenfeld is tearing it up for Maccabi’s rival.

Messi returns ahead of schedule, sporting golden hair (photo)

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - JUNE 26: Lionel Messi #10 of Argentina looks on against Chile during the Copa America Centenario Championship match at MetLife Stadium on June 26, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Chile defeated Argentina 4-2 in penalty kicks. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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Lionel Messi is back with Barcelona a week earlier than expected, as the Camp Nou set prepares to defend another La Liga title.

That means Messi will be on the roster for the International Champions Cup, as Barcelona is slated to play Celtic, Leicester City, and Liverpool.

[ MORE: Manchester Derby in China on Monday ]

That’s not the only surprise from the 29-year-old, who has pulled an Aaron Ramsey and dramatically altered his ‘do.

Glad to have him back on our screens a bit earlier than planned, and — although I’m far from a style icon — I’ll be just as glad when the blonde grows/washes out of his head.

Ronaldo seeking new contract, says he’ll miss UEFA Super Cup

FUNCHAL, MADEIRA, PORTUGAL - JULY 22: Dionisio Pestana, Cristiano Ronaldo and Miguel Albuquerque (President of the Regional Government of Madeira) during the opening of the new 'Pestana CR7 Funchal' Hotel owned by Cristiano Ronaldo on July 22, 2016 in Funchal, Madeira, Portugal. (Photo by Octavio Passos/Getty Images)
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Cristiano Ronaldo’s long summer has earned him an extended vacation, but the knee injury he suffered in the EURO 2016 Final would’ve kept him from this season’s first big club match anyway.

The 31-year-old star will not be available for the Aug. 9 UEFA Super Cup match between Real Madrid and Sevilla, saying he’ll be back in the mix just one day later.

[ MORE: Discussing Yedlin’s future ]

Ronaldo also said he’s going to speak with the club about extending his contract, which runs through the 2017-18 season. He’s very been vocal about his desire to finish his career at the Bernabeu, and will put pen to paper in order to prove it.

From Sky Sports:

“I spoke to the president on the phone and when I get to Madrid, we will talk about it.

“Obviously it’s something I want, I have mentioned it many times, and the club also wants it. But we only spoke briefly, and there will be more concrete things to come.”

No surprises here, though it would’ve been nice to have Ronaldo on our screens for the match-up between his Champions League winners and the Europa League champions.

Guardiola, Mourinho prepare for derby in China, shake off personal rivalry

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 16: Barcelona manager (L) Josep Guardiola shakes hands with head coach Jose Mourinho of Real Madrid before the start of the La Liga match between Real Madrid and Barcelona at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on April 16, 2011 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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Preseason matches rarely have legitimate hype, let alone live up to it.

Yet Monday will see Manchester United and Manchester City tangle outside of England for the first time in history, and there are a lot of fans looking forward to the early morning match in China.

[ MORE: Discussing Yedlin’s future ]

A lot of that has to do with it being the first match-up between Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho as bosses of City and United, to the extent where journalists asked whether the longtime rivals would shake hands (admittedly a weird question, as if to say, “Are you a grown-up?”).

They essentially issued the same answer, and here are Mourinho’s comments, from ManUtd.com:

“Of course I will shake his hand – why wouldn’t I? I don’t understand the question to him or to me. We were opponents for three years [in Spain] but we are professionals. I don’t see why I wouldn’t shake his hand.”

Both managers also talked, understandably, about fitness and health being their No. 1 goal of the match, and there are concerns about the pitch in China due to heavy rains.

Guardiola also gave insight into Vincent Kompany‘s continued struggles with recovery from the injury that hampered him for much of last season, refusing to give a timetable for the captain’s return.