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Injuries to key Premier League cogs could open door at top of table

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A pair of important yet relatively unsung players could make things interesting at the top of the table this weekend.

Tottenham, sitting third in the Premier League standings, travel to Bournemouth in an early Saturday game without critical defender Toby Alderweireld.

The 27-year-old Belgian is the Premier League’s newest Iron Man, having played every single league minute for the club since he joined in the summer of 2015, a massive string of 46 matches that ended this past weekend when he was forced off after an hour against West Brom with a knee problem.

[ WATCH: Stream all 10 games in Week 9 of Premier League action ]

Alderweireld’s injury was a let-off, with the club initially fearing worse but scans midweek showed no lasting damage. However, he has been ruled out for this weekend, and for the first time Mauricio Pochettino will have to craft a teamsheet without his most reliable player. Pochettino moved Eric Dier back to central defense for the midweek match against Bayer Leverkusen, but with Dele Alli and Victor Wanyama teaming up to replace Dier in front of the back line, Spurs struggled to create much of anything and were ultimately lucky to find themselves with a point from a 0-0 draw.

Should Pochettino wish to return Dier to the defensive midfield so as not to lock his more creative players down, he could use 22-year-old Kevin Wimmer to deputize at central defense. The Austrian defender has made just 10 Premier League appearances for Spurs, all coming in a row last season during a spell without Jan Vertonghen, a spell which saw the club register seven wins and a single loss conceding seven goals.

A kick to the heel of Santi Cazorla could leave him on the sidelines against Middlesbrough (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images).
A kick to the heels of Santi Cazorla midweek could leave him on the sidelines against Middlesbrough (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images).

Just a single place above Spurs in the Premier League table sits Arsenal who face a similar situation. Santi Cazorla, the often unsung midfield playmaker in a squad among more flashy stars, will potentially miss this weekend’s date with Middlesbrough thanks to an Achillies problem he suffered after being kicked by a Ludogorets player in the midweek Champions League match. With Granit Xhaka suspended and Aaron Ramsey also injured, the Arsenal midfield is looking relatively thin, but none of those other misses bear similar to that of Cazorla’s.

Cazorla has yet to return to his stunning form from two seasons ago, with injuries having derailed his consistency since, but he still remains a key part of the Arsenal machine. The Spaniard has started every Premier League match this season but one, mostly back in a deeper midfield role, pushed back alongside a defensive midfielder thanks to the form of wingers Alex Iwobi and Theo Walcott. Without Cazorla, Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny will be forced into the side. Coquelin started the season in poor form and has seen less of the field since, while Elneny has been a squad player since joining in January.

The deeper role has seen Cazorla’s productive numbers decline, with Mesut Ozil’s creativity now front and center, but the 31-year-old’s importance as the link between back and front remains strong, with a 91% passing accuracy through the season’s first eight matches. Elneny and Coquelin will have to figure out a way to recreate Cazrola’s ability to push the team forward to break down Middlesbrough’s stout defensive shape.

[ MORE: JPW gives his picks for this weekend’s Premier League games ]

Lastly, Chelsea is looking resurgent this season under Antonio Conte, and while not injury related, they could be without a similarly productive piece for this weekend’s massive matchup with Manchester United. One of the only bright spots in Chelsea’s lost season last year, Willian has maintained his ability to produce from the edge this season , but could be sidelined on Sunday due to the loss of his mother.

Through eight matches this season, the Brazilian has concocted 23 chances for his teammates, a stunning rate that has him third in the Premier League despite having missed two of those eight games. Should he continue this pace, Willian would end up with 110 chances created this season, a number that would have sat him second last season behind just Mesut Ozil’s 125.

Last time out, Chelsea didn’t miss Willian against a shell-shocked Leicester City side that seemed to unravel after Diego Costa‘s seventh-minute goal, but against Manchester United it seems unlikely that Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses could again fill the shoes of the Brazilian. With Oscar also possibly out, Conte will need to rely even more on his outside backs in the attack, leaving the wings potentially exposed to the likes of Juan Mata, Marcus Rashford, Ashley Young, and Jesse Lingard.

The top of the table is suffering from some important losses, and those could see chaos reign this weekend.

Belarusian Premier League roundup: BATE Borisov pick up win, end early-season drought

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The Belarusian Premier League – the only active European top-flight league at the moment – continued on Saturday despite the coronavirus pandemic.

FC Rukh 0-1 BATE Borisov

With an early goal from midfielder Stanislav Dragun, BATE Borisov, Belarus’ most successful team (15 league titles) and a regular face in European competition, earned their first win of the season. Kirill Alshevsky, who took over at the helm prior to the season, had started his spell on a two-game losing streak.

BATE, despite not winning the possession battle decisively, generated twice as many shots on target as the visitors, registering a total of 11 shots throughout 90 minutes at Borisov Arena.

A winner of 13 straight Belarusian Premier League titles – spanning from 2006 to 2018 – pressure began looming over BATE after starting the 2020 campaign with back-to-back lackluster results. BATE, who lost to Arsenal in Europa League’s Round of 32 in April 2019, were outscored 5-2 in the first, two games of the league.

Dinamo Minsk, the second most successful Belarusian side, also picked up their first three points on Friday, following a slower-than-usual start to the season. Meanwhile, defending champion Dinamo Brest fell 2-1 to Slavia-Mozyr, dropping to eighth on the table.

Elsewhere in Belarusian Premier League 

Shakhtyor 0-0 Nerman

Dinamo Brest 1-2 Slavia-Mozyr

NWSL extends league-wide training moratorium through May

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The NWSL is extending its league-wide training moratorium another month amid the coronavirus pandemic, the league announced on Saturday.

All NWSL teams will be unable to partake in team trainings until at least May 5, extending its previous training moratorium that was set to expire on Sunday, April 5. The 2020 season – which was set to start on April 18 – is expected to start by the end of June, according to NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird.

“We’ve been just communicating with our players and we’re targeting for the end of June for our season to start,” Baird told The Equalizer. “I say that with conviction and hope, but … we’re gonna adhere to the public health guidelines that are in place at the time and I don’t think that we can predict what they are. But our strategy is in place.”

Earlier this week, Major League Soccer and United Soccer League extended their training moratorium through April 24 and April 19, respectively.

Report: England manager Gareth Southgate agrees to 30 percent pay cut

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England manager Gareth Southgate has agreed to a 30 percent pay cut amid the coronavirus pandemic, our partners at Sky Sports reported on Saturday.

[ MORE: What PL clubs are doing to help during coronavirus ] 

Southgate’s move, which is reportedly expected to be confirmed by the Football Association (FA) next week, comes hours after the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) released a statement on behalf of the Premier League players responding to proposed pay cuts.

A FA spokesperson told Sky Sports the following: “The financial implications of the coronavirus are not yet known however, as a not-for-profit organization, we want to ensure that we take the appropriate course of action to support the wider organization and our employees.

“We will make a further announcement on our next steps in due course.”

On Friday, Bournemouth’s Eddie Howe – and a handful of technical staff personnel – became the first Premier League manager to take a voluntary pay cut. Howe’s “significant, voluntary” pay cuts were done in light of the club furloughing non-playing employees throughout the organization, joining Tottenham, Norwich, Newcastle and Liverpool.

Spanish league and players still far apart on salary cuts

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MADRID (AP) The Spanish league and players are still far apart on the size of the salary cuts they need to take to help reduce the financial impact caused by the coronavirus outbreak, with the footballers saying the organization wants them to carry nearly half the total losses.

The league and the players’ association have been in talks to try to find ways to mitigate losses that could reach nearly 1 billion euros ($1.08 billion) if the season cannot be restarted because of the pandemic.

The players have said they are willing to reduce their salaries, but not as much as the league or the clubs want.

“After analyzing the current circumstances of the sector and given the distance in conversations with the players’ association, it is necessary to adopt measures in view of the serious economic crisis that COVID-19 is causing in the Spanish soccer industry,” the league said in a statement.

It also added that government furloughs are “an exceptional mechanism to avoid and mitigate the negative impact that COVID-19 is having on the sector, and thus guarantee its subsequent recovery.”

According to media reports, the league expects losses of 957 million euros ($1.03 billion) if the season is canceled, with 303 million euros ($327 million) lost if it resumes with games in empty stadiums and 156 million euros ($168 million) of deficits if it continues with fans.

The players said the total cuts in salaries requested by the league would account for 451 million euros ($487 million) if the top flight cannot restart.

The reduction in salaries being discussed reportedly varies depending on the clubs, and also on whether they are playing in the Champions League or the Europa League.

Team captains met with the players’ association late Friday to discuss their options after the league earlier in the day called for all clubs to put the footballers on government furloughs to reduce labor costs while the stoppage of play continued. The furloughs help the clubs and guarantee players their jobs once the crisis is over.

The league said it is responsible for preserving an industry that represents 1.37 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product and employs about 185,000 people.

Atlético Madrid and Barcelona were among the clubs to resort to the furloughs in recent days. Both reached an agreement with players to reduce their salaries by 70 percent, and guaranteed the wages of other employees were unaffected.

There are nearly 125,000 cases of the new coronavirus in Spain, which on Saturday surpassed Italy as the country with the second-most infections behind the United States. The death toll in the nation stands at 11,744.

The government is expected to extend lockdown measures until April 26, likely keeping the Spanish league suspended until then.

The league has said the season won’t resume until authorities deem it safe for everyone’s health. It said it will recommend a “minimum of 15 days” of practice before the games can restart, though it suggested recently the training period may begin with restrictions before the lockdown is removed.

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