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Defensive concerns mounting for Guardiola at Man City

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MANCHESTER, England (AP) During Manchester City’s offseason of heavy spending, Pep Guardiola prioritized improving his midfield and wide areas rather than upgrading the team’s defensive unit.

John Stones, an upcoming center back with lots of potential but still much to learn, was the only defender to arrive at Etihad Stadium ahead of the new season despite City’s aging collection of full backs and the worrying state of his central defense.

Guardiola might be regretting it now.

[ MORE: Breaking down UCL, Europa draws ]

Undermined by a porous back line that has kept only two clean sheets in 15 games, City is stuttering as it tries to keep pace with Chelsea near the halfway stage of the Premier League campaign.

City is in fourth place – seven points behind Chelsea – after winning three of its last nine league games, and four of its last 14 games in all competitions. On Saturday, Guardiola’s team conceded two goals in the first four minutes and was beaten 4-2 by previously out-of-form Leicester.

The 10-match winning run to open the season seems a distant memory now for City. But even during that period, when Guardiola was being widely hailed for his apparently seamless transition to the English game, concerns were being raised about the team’s defense and what the coach was asking of it.

Bacary Sagna, Pablo Zabaleta, Gael Clichy and Aleksandar Kolarov are City’s full backs. They are all in their 30s and have been given new tasks under Guardiola, such as playing as center backs in a back three or tucking into central midfield when City attacks to free up space for wingers and be in good positions for an opposition counterattack.

[ MORE: Klopp hammers Nevilles after Karius criticism ]

Meanwhile, center backs Stones, Nicolas Otamendi and – when fit – Vincent Kompany are being asked to bring the ball out from the back and start attacks. They are playing in front of a ball-playing goalkeeper, Claudio Bravo, who rarely kicks it long and often takes risks with his passing and build-up play.

It seems like Guardiola hasn’t got the defenders to carry out what he wants. The defense is looking exposed and error-prone, and City is conceding sloppy goals that are overshadowing the team’s attractive passing game. Guardiola frequently changes from a four-man defense to three at the back, which doesn’t appear to be helping, either.

“Always I try to control the games so that we concede few goals,” Guardiola said in reference to his time in charge of Barcelona and Bayern Munich, who mostly had strong defensive records. “Here I cannot do that and I have to analyze why.”

After the loss to Leicester, Guardiola appeared to dismiss the importance of tackling – “What’s tackles?” he said, “… we are not going to win or lose for the tackles” – and suggested he would continue playing the same style.

“Of course here in the Premier League, there are some special things but the pitch is the same, it’s 11 vs. 11, so I have to control the little differences between the other leagues. But (my) idea, I think, is good; it will be good.”

Not helping City’s defense is the fact that when it’s breached, Bravo isn’t proving as able a shot-stopper as the goalkeeper he replaced, Joe Hart. Bravo doesn’t have an imposing presence when strikers bear down on goal and was easily beaten by low shots in the 3-1 loss to Chelsea and the loss to Leicester.

Next up for City is Watford at home on Wednesday, part of a full round of midweek matches in the Premier League. Who knows what the make-up of City’s defense will be, and whether Guardiola will play with three defenders or four? At least he has Otamendi back from suspension.

 

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Chelsea still pursuing Roma duo, and more

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Chelsea is looking to make a big transfer splash as it searches for potential replacements for Michy Batshuayi and David Luiz.

According to multiple reports, Chelsea is attempting a double signing from AS Roma, forward Edin Dzeko and midfielder Emerson Palmieri. The Brazilian left-back is rated by Roma at $30.5 million but he could join Chelsea on loan. However the interest in Dzeko is much newer, and it’s unclear whether Roma would allow Dzeko to leave, especially in the middle of the season.

[READ: MLS SuperDraft 2018 Live Tracker]

With Roma preparing to face Inter Milan this weekend, talks between the two clubs have been put on hold until next week.

Dzeko’s agent confirmed that Conte is interested in the Bosnia and Herzegovina international but stated Dzeko’s desire is to remain at Roma.

After failing to beat out Sergio Aguero in the starting lineup for Manchester City, it would be interesting to see Dzeko give the Premier League another go, although he’d likely play second-fiddle again, this time to Alvaro Morata.

Here are some more transfer rumors from around Europe and the Premier League:

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MLS SuperDraft 2018 Live Tracker

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For a few dozen players, hearing their name called up to the big stage will validate all the hard work and sacrifices they’ve made since they were children.

Starting at 11:00 a.m. when Los Angeles FC is on the clock at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia, the 2018 MLS SuperDraft will be underway. Many of the top college prospects will soon find out whether they’ll be headed to the Pacific Northwest, New England, the Southeast, Southern California or anywhere in between.

[MORE: 2018 MLS Mock Draft]

This year’s draft class is loaded with attacking talent, from Generation Adidas trio Ema Twumasi (Wake Forest), Mason Toye (Indiana) and Francis Atuahene (Michigan) to Twumasi’s college teammate Jon Bakero.

But potential No. 1 overall pick is a three-time national champion, Thomas Hilliard-Arce, who could become the anchor of a backline for a decade.

Follow along below as we update the picks live as we hear them:

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Bayern signs Germany midfielder Goretzka from rival Schalke

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MUNICH (AP) Bayern Munich signed Germany midfielder Leon Goretzka on Friday on a free transfer from Bundesliga rival Schalke effective from next season.

Bayern said the 22-year-old Goretzka signed a four-year deal from July 1 through June 2022.

Schalke, which Goretzka joined in 2013 from hometown club Bochum, said the player informed the club this week of his wish to join Bayern when his contract expired.

[ MORE: Bundesliga scores ]

“We think we did everything in the last months to convince Leon to stay with us,” Schalke sporting director Christian Heidel said. “In the end, it wasn’t enough.”

Schalke had long been engaged in trying to get Goretzka to extend his contract, but was aware of reported interest from Bayern, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus and Liverpool.

“We’re very happy that Leon Goretzka, a German international with big potential, has decided in favor of Bayern despite big-name international competitors. This way it’s ensured that Leon Goretzka remains in the Bundesliga,” Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said.

Goretzka scored 19 goals and set up 13 more in 130 appearances for Schalke.

The club had previously expressed its displeasure with Bayern making public statements about its player after Goretzka was praised by sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic and coach Jupp Heynckes.

Heidel said “we don’t need to hear every day from the Munich people how good our player is.”

Goretzka has six goals in 12 games for Germany.

Pele hospitalized overnight in Brazil

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The most famous soccer player in the world had a scare last night as he was hospitalized in Brazil for “severe exhaustion.”

Pele, 77, was set to travel to London this weekend to be honored by the Football Writers Association, though it looks like that trip has now been postponed.

In the early hours of Thursday morning, Pele collapsed and was taken to a hospital in Brazil where he has undergone a series of tests which appear to point to severe exhaustion,” a FWA statement said. “He remains on fluids while doctors monitor his recovery.

“Thankfully, there is no suggestion of anything more serious than exhaustion.”

Here’s to hoping Pele makes a full recovery.

[MORE: USMNT centerback heads to Championship club]