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January window made the difference in tighter relegation battle

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This year’s Premier League table sees just eight points between eighth place and 17th , and just four more before the relegation races. The latter gap will max at 15 and could be as small as nine.

It was 23 last season, and 21 the previous season. This year will end a three-season run of 20-plus points between 8th and 18th, and seems likely to be a harbinger of what’s to come.

With the big TV money increasing roster investment even more, it will become more difficult to stay in the league for all sides. Perhaps we’ll be talking a gap from 9th to the drop on occasion, especially if West Ham or Southampton ups its investments.

But look at tiny Burnley smashing its spending records this year, and how many clubs have shattered their transfer records. Part of that is a function of the market, but consider how much big boys Newcastle United and Aston Villa spent in an effort to return to the PL. The days of idle windows working are long gone. At best, they will be outliers.

Additionally, expect to see more activity in the transfer market itself (if not in January, then August).

Sunderland proved the old maxim of Jims and Joes being more important than x’s and o’s on a weekly basis this season, and — with apologies to Paul Clement, Sam Allardyce, and Craig Shakespeare — the winter window saved the seasons of Swansea, Palace, and Leicester as key pieces Patrick Van Aanholt, Luka Milivojevic, Mamadou Sakho, Wilfred Ndidi, Martin Olsson, and Tom Carroll arrived to new homes.

(You may find it curious to see Leicester there, but Ndidi’s arrival was probably the No. 1 move in the country. In a world without N'Golo Kante, he was Best XI quality at his position).

Even Hull City’s turnaround under Marco Silva prominently featured January buys in the forms of Andrea RanocchiaLazar Markovic, Alfred N'Diaye and others.

When you see that Sunderland whiffed on several half-hearted Moyes-Everton reunions and Middlesbrough got little from its four window buys, all four of which sit outside their Top 11 in per-match performance, it’s fairly clear that men make the difference.

There’s always danger in evaluating an entire league based on one season, but it feels prescient to me. What do you think?

Man City into League Cup final (video)

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  • City outshoots Bristol 28-5
  • Sane, Aguero put MCFC up 2-0
  • Pack, Kent pulls two back for Bristol
  • De Bruyne answers in stoppage
  • City wins 5-3 on aggregate

A pair of late goals put a scare into Man City, but the Premier League leaders scored just before and right after halftime to insure its first leg lead en route to a 3-2 win over Bristol City at Ashton Gate Stadium on Tuesday.

City wins 5-3 on aggregate in the League Cup semifinal, with Sergio Aguero, Leroy Sane, and Kevin De Bruyne scoring in the second leg.

Pep Guardiola moves to within 90 minutes of his first significant title as Man City boss, and will face either Chelsea or Arsenal on Feb. 25 at Wembley Stadium.

Marlon Pack and Aden Flint scored for Bristol City.

[ MORE: Full stats, box score ]

Sane scored in the 43rd minute and Sergio Aguero struck less than four minutes after the teams returned from the halftime break.

An errant John Stones clearance helped Bristol to the scoreboard in the 64th minute, with Pack scoring the goal.

Flint then nodded home in stoppage time to give the Robins hope for a miracle win, but new contract hero De Bruyne scored within a minute to burn those hopes to the ground.

Bristol would be in the Football League Championship playoffs if the season ended now, sitting in fifth place.

Midfielder Lassana Diarra joins PSG on short-term deal

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PARIS (AP) Paris Saint-Germain has made its first signing of the winter transfer window by hiring midfielder Lassana Diarra on a short-term deal until June 2019.

The 32-year-old holding midfielder will once again try to revive his career in the French league after a successful stint at PSG’s bitter rival, Marseille, that ended last year.

The much-traveled Diarra, who was born in Paris, then played for a few months with United Arab Emirates club Al Jazira.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Diarra, a former Chelsea, Arsenal and Real Madrid player, won English and Spanish league titles in 2006 and 2012. He has 34 caps for France and featured at the European Championship in 2008.

His strong performances with Marseille earned him a recall from France, but he eventually pulled out of Didier Deschamps’ squad for Euro 2016 because of a left knee injury.

“I am very happy to have signed for my hometown club,” Diarra said. “Paris Saint-Germain represents a lot to me and, with the international dimension the club has taken in recent seasons, it is every player’s dream to play here. I am lucky enough to make this dream come true.”

Diarra joined on a free transfer and his signing won’t affect PSG’s bank accounts, which are under UEFA’s scrutiny.

PSG is under pressure to sell players to balance the books after splashing out 402 million euros ($473 million) on forwards Neymar and Kylian Mbappe last year. That led to Qatari-owned PSG being placed under investigation by UEFA for potential breaches of Financial Fair Play rules.

Palace adds again with towering Polish center back

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Crystal Palace is delivering on Roy Hodgson‘s depth demands at injury-hit Selhurst Park.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

A day after signing Erdal Rakip on loan from Benfica, the South London set has added big Polish center back Jaroslaw Jach on a permanent deal.

Jach, 23, comes from Zagłębie Lubin and has played 17 matches, scoring a goal for the fifth place side in Poland’s Ekstraklasa. Like Palace, he’s risen through the lower leagues to reach Poland’s top flight and now the Premier League.

Jach was capped twice by Poland in November, going 180 minutes in a 1-0 loss to Mexico and a scoreless draw with Uruguay

Here’s Jach, from CPFC.co.uk:

“I know it is the club from south London and has an outstanding manager, Roy Hodgson, who led team England in the past,” he added. “Every game is a sell-out which is one of the greatest things, and I have also heard that even though there are many clubs in London, the biggest derby games for fans are those with Brighton, which makes it one of the biggest games in the season. I hope one day I will be able to win such a game.”

LIVE, League Cup semi: Bristol City host Man City

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Bristol City host Manchester City in the second leg of their League Cup semifinal on Tuesday, with the Robins 2-1 down from the first leg at the Etihad Stadium.

The winner will play either Arsenal or Chelsea in the final at Wembley, with the London rivals locked at 0-0 as they play their second leg at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday.

[ LIVE: Follow Bristol City-Man City ]

Lee Johnson’s Bristol City are the heavy underdogs, once again, but their fairytale run in the League Cup has seen them oust four Premier League opponents previously in Watford, Stoke City, Crystal Palace and Manchester United. Surely the runaway Premier League leaders won’t be Bristol City’s next scalp…

Pep Guardiola has named a strong starting lineup as he aims to reach his first domestic cup final as Man City boss, with Claudio Bravo replacing Ederson in goal the only major change.

Bristol City, who sit in fifth place in England’s second-tier, five points off the automatic promotion spots, have two absentees with goalkeeper Frank Fielding missing out, while defender Nathan Baker is only on the bench after late fitness tests.

We are all just waiting (and hoping) for Bristol City to score so they can put up an awesome goal GIF…

Click on the link above to follow the action live, while below are the starting lineups for both teams. We will have analysis and reaction on the semifinal second leg right here on Pro Soccer Talk.

LINEUPS

Bristol City: Steele, Wright, Flint, Magnusson, Brownhill, Pack, Smith, Walsh, Bryan, Paterson, Reid. Subs: Wollacott, Baker, Eliasson, Kent, Engvall, Taylor, Diedhiou

Manchester City: Bravo; Walker, Stones, Otamendi, Zinchenko; Fernandinho; Bernardo, Silva, De Bruyne, Sane; Aguero. Subs: Ederson, Danilo, Kompany, Sterling, Gundogan, Mangala, Yaya Toure