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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?

Daly collapses during match, treated for heat illness

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HOUSTON (AP) Houston Dash forward Rachel Daly collapsed during the final minute of a National Women’s Soccer League match against the Seattle Reign as temperatures climbed into the 90s.

The 25-year-old Daly was stretchered off the field and taken to the hospital, where the team said she was being treated for heat illness.

The temperature at BBVA Compass Stadium was 92 degrees at the 3 p.m. kickoff. The Reign won 2-0.

[ MORE: Perisic talking with Man Utd? ]

The NWSL issued a statement that said the league had worked with the Dash before the season to schedule any afternoon games early in the year to help avoid heat issues. The teams took a hydration break late in the match.

“We will immediately review these measures to prevent this situation from occurring in the future,” the statement said.

Reign coach Laura Harvey posted to Twitter: “Proud of the team today. Some of the hottest conditions I’ve seen. Road games are tough but that was crazy.”

MLS roundup: Outrageous dive, posts doom ‘Caps; Ramirez stays red hot

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Six matches are in the books on a busy Saturday in Major League Soccer, and five of them finished 1-0.

How they got there? Much different stories. With the Cali Clasico still to play, let’s dig into the five that followed Seattle 1-0 Portland.

[ MORE: Perisic to Man Utd? ]


Vancouver Whitecaps 0-1 DC United

It’s especially difficult to win on the road in Major League Soccer, unless the hosts fritter away four good chances off the woodwork — including a Cristian Techera PK — and give away a spot kick of their own. Lamar Neagle converted the 61st offering after a sinister dive from Jose Guillermo Ortiz. He was taken off soon after, and is probably going to miss sometime when the DisCo is done with him. Outrageous.

New York Red Bulls 2-1 New England Revolution

Not one, not two, nor three, but four New England players saw a low cross slide by them for Daniel Royer to finish as New York came from behind to take all three points at Red Bull Arena. Cody Cropper committed a gaffe that allowed Bradley Wright-Phillips to equalize after a Lee Nguyen PK had put the Revs ahead early.

Colorado Rapids 1-0 Sporting KC

Homegrown defender and University of Denver product Kortne Ford has his first MLS goal, as the Rapids surprised the Western Conference leaders on Saturday. SKC outshot Colorado by nearly 20 attempts (Shoulder shrug emoji).

Minnesota United 1-0 Orlando City

There were questions as to whether NASL superstar Christian Ramirez could translate his game to Major League Soccer.

Yes. The answer is yes.

Ramirez has eight goals in 13 MLS matches, and should be hearing his name from a certain Bruce Arena around Gold Cup time. Those USMNT dreams of last season should come true.

Bobby Shuttleworth made six saves for his third shutout of the season. All have come at home.

Real Salt Lake 1-0 Philadelphia Union

Joao Plata keeps shooting, and the tiny Ecuadorian menace keeps scoring, too. His 36th minute goal was enough for the hosts at Rio Tinto.

Raiola: Zlatan to “100 percent” stay in Europe for two seasons

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic may be 35 and coming off major knee surgery, but that isn’t stopping suitors from lining up across Europe.

[ MORE: Perisic to Man Utd? ]

Ibrahimovic’s agent, Mino Raiola, says that MLS is not an option for the Swede over the next two seasons. From Sky Sports:

“Many clubs have asked for Zlatan. He can play two more years and will stay in Europe, 100 per cent.”

It would make sense for Ibrahimovic to stay around Manchester United, where he is admired by Jose Mourinho and coming off a season that showed he’s still capable of contributing at a high level.

But he remains beloved in Italy, and would be effective for most clubs in the Top 5 leagues should he return at even 75 percent of the Zlatan we’ve seen regularly.

Report: Manchester United, Inter Milan keen on Perisic deal

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Manchester United wants Ivan Perisic, and both the player and his current club are all about it.

Perisic, 28, is ready to leave Inter Milan, and the Serie A mainstays are happy to accept $46 million for his services according to Sky Sports.

[ MORE: No China for Costa ]

Primarily a left winger, Perisic moved to Inter from Wolfsburg at the start of the 2015-16 season. He scored 10 goals and added nine assists in Serie A play this season, and has kept up his production pace since moving from the Bundesliga to Italy.

United needs stars and depth for its Champions League campaign, and Perisic would buttress an attack with Marcus Rashford, Henrikh Mkhitaryan amongst others. He was a difference maker for Croatia at EURO 2016, and can do the same at Old Trafford.