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Defensive regression biggest culprit of Leicester collapse

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Rome wasn’t built in a day, but Leicester City’s title run last season seemed to be.

They have both gone up in flames just as quickly.

Leicester City is fighting relegation just a season removed from one of the most improbable championship campaigns of all-time. Plenty has been written about the reasons for their continuing collapse. Some have blamed manager Claudio Ranieri, hailed as a hero less than a year ago. Others point to the utterly eye-opening goalless streak, now at an ugly 610 Premier League minutes thanks in large part to the sudden ineptitude of Riyad Mahrez. Many point to the departure of midfield adhesive N'Golo Kante, who is nearing a second title in two seasons.

[ RECAP: Leicester City falls to Swansea City, fifth loss in a row ]

Those would all have merit. However, the overwhelming perpetrator is a massive regression of the back line, and unlike the other factors which have seemingly come from nowhere, this one we all should have seen coming.

Robert Huth, Christian Fuchs, and captain Wes Morgan played a combined 9,550 Premier League minutes last season as both Huth and Morgan played every tick of the clock. This year, those three players are 32, 30, and 33 years old. How the Leicester City board never found capable replacements or backups for those players is mind-boggling. Could we really have expected that trio to continue playing at an all star level as they climbed further above the 30-year-old mark?

[ LISTEN: 2 Robbies talk Leicester City ]

Squawka Statistics ranks Leicester City as the third-worst defensive team in the Premier League by its Performance Score, but it shows directly on the pitch as well. Fuchs was undressed in the recent 3-0 loss to Manchester United, and was yanked at halftime in the loss to Swansea on Sunday. Huth has looked slower and slower, and should have been sent off by referee Jon Moss for a terrible challenge on Swans midfielder Tom Carroll. Morgan should have been called for a handball when he clumsily went to ground to block a shot. The mistakes are there for all to see, and they’re getting more and more glaring.

Sky Sports tweeted this out on Saturday before the Swansea loss. It’s meant to put the loss of Kante into an image, but doesn’t this simply serve to display the defensive frailties? Look at the massive increase in defensive errors leading to goals.

It must be said that the disappearance of both Mahrez and Jamie Vardy is a troubling trend, and Leicester can’t win if they can’t score, that much is true. As the club grows increasingly incapable of scoring goals against Premier League opposition, their chances of survival get slimmer and slimmer, and the pair may end up finding themselves benched, Mahrez just a year removed from winning Player of the Season.

Ultimately though, the defense must improve if the club is to survive, and it likely won’t come with Huth, Fuchs, and Morgan all on the field together. Expect them to start seeing less time, with Ranieri saying after the Swansea loss, “Am I too loyal to my players? I could be, could be. It is difficult when you achieve something so good. You want to give them one chance, two chances, three chances. Maybe now, it is too much.”

The club failed to strengthen in this department in January, and ultimately Ranieri may be unfairly blamed for the sudden ineptitudes of the squad he led to the title just a year ago.

Rumored Neymar for Bale swap: Who wins?

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Who would gain more of an advantage from the rumored, sensational Gareth Bale for Neymar swap: Paris Saint-Germain or Real Madrid?

Both players are currently problems for their clubs, though neither is known as a true rabble-rouser; Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane wants to be done with the newly-minted 30-year-old Bale, while PSG knows Neymar wants to leave and would love to satiate Kylian Mbappe’s appetite to be the man at their club.

[ REPORT: Man Utd, Leicester agree Maguire fee ]

Presumably some money would be headed PSG’s way in addition to Bale, and both clubs would be getting a motivated megawatt star.

Neymar doesn’t turn 28 until February, but the difference in age may be offset by the Brazilian’s track record of injuries.

In fact, his injury status last season combines with an off-field accusation of sexual assault and a red card for confronting a fan to overshadow his production: Neymar’s 23 goals and 13 assists in just over 2300 minutes last season, including five and two in the Champions League (and a goal and an assist against defensively-stout Liverpool).

Bale presents very few personality challenges, and PSG won’t have a problem with his massive wages (especially with Neymar off the books). His numbers have dipped in two of three seasons since his otherworldly 2015-16, but La Liga is a more difficult scoring league than Ligue 1.

Neymar has twice been a Ballon d’Or finalist and, presuming his legal troubles don’t persist, could be a title fight changer in La Liga. Imagine the Neymar, Eden Hazard, and Luka Jovic trying to outgun Lionel Messi, Antoine Griezmann, and Luis Suarez? Insane.

We’d say Real would be winning the straight-up swap, and that it’s pretty unlikely to go down that way. So it depends what PSG does with the relative Financial Fair Play freedom that would come with the money that also arrives from Spain. Is it Idrissa Gana Gueye? Someone else who helps take PSG’s Champions League hopes to the next level?

Manchester United in ‘concrete talks’ with Lille over Pepe

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Manchester United are reportedly in “concrete talks” to agree a fee with Lille for much-tracked playmaker Nicolas Pepe.

The 24-year-old attacking midfielder has been linked with Liverpool and Arsenal amongst others, and Lille has admitted he’ll be leaving the club.

[ REPORT: Man Utd, Leicester agree Maguire fee ]

United’s reported salvo was around $87.5 million. He’d give them a star who could play across from Anthony Martial or as an attacking midfielder under Romelu Lukaku.

Only Kylian Mbappe and Teji Savanier garnered better season-long ratings than Pepe in the 2018-19 Ligue 1 campaign, and Pepe’s 22 goals and 11 assists stand out from the pack. Only Mbappe had more goals and only Savanier more assists.

Pepe has four goals in 11 caps for the Ivory Coast, and made three starts in Les Elephants’ five-match run at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations. He’s a fit for the Premier League, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s system. And if the Red Devils can keep him from Liverpool, well, all the better we’re sure.

Report: Manchester United, Leicester agree to monster Maguire fee

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Manchester United and Leicester City have agreed a fee for Harry Maguire, clearing the way for the English center back to join the Old Trafford set.

That fee is a whopping $100 million, according to Bleacher Report’s Dean Jones. That’s about $4 million more than the world record for a defender, set when Liverpool purchased Virgil Van Dijk from Southampton.

[ MORE: USMNT CB to West Ham? ]

Maguire has been a statistical monster for Leicester City, and he passes the eye test, too.

Manchester United has needed to upgrade its stable of center backs for some time, and now the biggest question is who will work best alongside the 6-foot-4 26-year-old.

The former Sheffield United, Wigan Athletic, and Hull City defender is now 20-times capped by England.

The move could have a ripple effect on the Premier League, as the Foxes have been expected to bid for Burnley star James Tarkowski should Maguire leave the King Power Stadium.

Transfer rumor roundup: USMNT’s Long to London, Newcastle linked with pair

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Could USMNT center back Aaron Long be headed to the Premier League?

The 26-year-old could join West Ham United’s stable of center backs, which includes Issa Diop, Fabian Balbuena, and Angelo Ogbonna.

Sky Sports says that the Red Bulls defender has drawn the interest of Lyon and Fiorentina, but been offered to the Irons should they match his $5 million release clause.

Unable to find a place with Portland and Seattle, Long spent a few seasons in the USL before earning a place with RBNY.

Now 11-times capped by the USMNT with two goals, Long could be bringing his talents to London’s Olympic Stadium.

Elsewhere in the Premier League, Newcastle United has the chance to sign oft-injured Danny Welbeck on a free transfer.

The longtime Arsenal striker, weaned at Manchester United, scored five times in 12 matches last season in a return to injury woes following a 43-match season the prior year.

Newcastle is also being linked with a former defender. James Tavernier has gone on to captain Glasgow Rangers, and the 27-year-old would cost around $10 million.

Surely Steven Gerrard would want more for the defender, but prices haven’t met quality for Scottish Premiership players as we’ve seen with Kieran Tierney at Celtic.