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.

PSG signs American defender Alana Cook from Stanford

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PARIS (AP) Paris Saint-Germain’s women’s team has signed American defender Alana Cook from Stanford University.

The 21-year-old Cook, who was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, has signed until June 2022. She was named the Pac-12 defensive player of the year this season for her performances with Stanford and has represented the U.S. at Under-20 level.

[ MORE: Atlanta signs Watford teen ]

She played 93 games and scored five goals for Stanford.

PSG’s women’s team is second in the French first division and sits two points behind five-time European champion Lyon after 15 rounds.

Cook says “I really wanted to play in a European club and to play against the best teams in the world.”

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

MLS notes: Zimmerman spurns Europe, Vazquez sold, DC youngster in remission

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Let’s sweep up some good, somewhat-expected, and wonderful news from around Major League Soccer.

DC United defender and Maryland product Chris Odoi-Atsem announced that he is in remission after a fight with Stage Two Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

[ MORE: Atlanta signs Watford teen ]

Odoi-Atsem was expected to undergo four months of chemotherapy, and the announcement comes just under three months into the journey.

At 23, Odoi-Atsem hopes to rejoin the team after his final round of chemo later this month. He was the 12th overall draft pick in 2017.

Another defender is extending his stay in Los Angeles.

USMNT center back Walker Zimmerman was a huge part of LAFC’s success as an expansion club following his arrival from FC Dallas, and was reportedly ready to test the waters of European soccer with interest from the Premier League, Ligue 1, and the Bundesliga.

But Bob Bradley pushed the right buttons and LAFC will have its 25-year-old mainstay back in the fold via a Targeted Allocation Money contract running through the 2022 season.

Finally, one of the key pieces to Toronto FC’s 2017 MLS Cup triumph is on his way out of Ontario.

Victor Vazquez is going to be sold to an unnamed Qatari club, pending a physical according to TSN’s Kristian Jack.

The 32-year-old scored posted 18 goals and 15 primary assists for TFC.

Transfer rumor roundup: Pellegrini to Man Utd? Dabbur wants Liverpool

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As Arsenal might be losing its head of recruitment, other Premier League movers and shakers are looking to bring big names to the Top Four fight.

If Northern Ireland is the hub for transfer movement, January is going to be a wild ride for one of the Premier League’s flagship clubs.

[ MORE: Atlanta signs Watford teen ]

The Belfast Telegraph is reporting that Manchester United is pursuing young Roma midfielder Lorenzo Pellegrini in addition to the whispers linking the club to former Liverpool wizard Philippe Coutinho.

Pellegrini, 22, has two goals and six assists for Roma this season, having become a regular call-up for Italy. He reportedly has a $35 million release clause in his contract, though he is cup-tied in the Champions League (Roma next faces Porto).

His 2.6 key passes per game lead Roma and only AC Milan’s Suso and Atalanta’s Alejandro Gomez average more across Serie A. Pellegrini is second on Roma in crosses with 1.5.

How does $115 million sound for an elite 27-year-old defender? That’s what Napoli would reportedly accept from Real Madrid to bring Kalidou Koulibaly west to Spain.

The report, which also links Real with interest in Roma’s Kostas Manolas and Porto’s Eder Miliato, says United remains interested in the player despite the exit of admirer Jose Mourinho.

Anything more than $97 million, the fee Liverpool paid for Virgil Van Dijk, would break the world transfer record for a defender.

Meanwhile, Israeli striker Munas Dabbur is angling to bring his 20-goal season to Anfield.

Reports that Dabbur has turned down a move to Valencia in the hopes of joining Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, and Roberto Firmino at Liverpool.

The Red Bull Salzburg striker has scored half of his 20 goals in the Champions League and Europa League, and has 11 Israel caps.

The cost for Dabbur is said to be $28 million, but is there any guarantee Dabbur can produce at a level that would demand playing time. Divock Origi has three goals in six matches and can hardly get time for the Reds, and Daniel Sturridge has only found 576 minutes in the first half of the season.

Arsenal to reportedly lose head of recruitment Mislintat

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The man expected to usher in an era of exciting new young talent at Arsenal may be leaving the club after less than 14 months.

Arsenal head of recruitment Sven Mislintat, 46, has been hailed as the man who discovered Christian Pulisic and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang while at Borussia Dortmund.

[ MORE: Atlanta signs Watford teen ]

Well-connected reporter Raphael Honigstein says Mislintat is frustrated by a change in recruitment policy since Ivan Gazidis left the Emirates Stadium. Gazidis hired Mislintat to use analytics and stats to find diamonds, whereas new head of football Raul Sanllehi prefers to work his own network for players.

Mislintat is considered the key to bringing in Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi, as well as clear connections like former BVB center back Sokratis Papastathopolous.

His departure would be a shot across the bow of an organization which enjoyed stability under Gazidis and Arsene Wenger for years.