Wilfred Ndidi injury
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Premier League 2017-18 preview – Leicester City

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This is a bold statement given the potential league-shaking moves made by the Premier League’s biggest clubs, but there may be no more intriguing story to follow in the league this season than Leicester City.

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A club that won the title two years ago struggled with relegation fears during its reign, but also went deep into the UEFA Champions League and genuinely did look like a Top Six team by the time it found an appropriate replacement for N'Golo Kante in the form of Wilfried Ndidi.

Could they rival the top teams for another surprise — granted not as dramatic and high-end — season close to the top of England’s top flight?

Best, worst case scenarios – The worst case scenario sees Riyad Mahrez, Demarai Gray, and Danny Drinkwater leave and a brutal early slate sending them well behind the pack. Then, it sees Shakespeare over his skis the first time he has to clean up a mess under his watch, leaving Leicester with another midseason adjustment en route to a relegation battle and, subsequently, relegation.

That’s highly unlikely, though, and provided the Foxes keep Drinkwater and Ndidi continues his form, Leicester should be comfortably midtable. In terms of best case, Harry Maguire is the antidote to the aging back line, Iheanacho combines with Vardy to be a lethal force, and the Foxes either claims the League or FA Cup, or edge an overwhelmed bigger name for a Top Seven spot and the Europa League.


Best possible XI is… 

Schmeichel

Simpson — Morgan — Maguire — Fuchs

Iborra — Drinkwater — Ndidi 

Mahrez

Vardy — Iheanacho


[ MORE: 2017-18 PL season preview hub ] 

Transfers In: Vicente Iborra (Sevilla, $22 million), Harry Maguire (Hull City, $20 million), Eldin Jakupovic (Hull City), Sam Hughes (Chester City), Kelechi Iheanacho (Manchester City)

Transfers Out: Ron-Robert Zieler (Stuttgart), Marcin Wasilewski (released), Bartosz Kapustka (Freiburg, loan)

Last season:

UEFA Champions League quarterfinalists
— 12th in Premier League
— FA Cup fifth round loss to Millwall
League Cup third round loss to Chelsea

Star player: Wilfried Ndidi — Transitioning to the Premier League from the Jupiler Pro League took about a month for the Nigerian, who saw Leicester go 0-5 with no goals scored to start life in England, but the Foxes promptly won five-straight and Ndidi was no small part of it. He won 3.5 aerial duels per match, while averaging four tackles, 2.1 interceptions, and 3.2 clearances in front of a surprisingly suspect back line while leading the team in dribbles per match with 1.8.

Coaches’ Corner:  Craig Shakespeare — Taking over for Claudio Ranieri was surprisingly simple for the Birmingham-born 53-year-old, who took his 1-0 record as West Brom caretaker boss from 2006 and improved it to 9W-3L-5D all-time. It took until well after the season for Shakespeare to be crowned Ranieri’s permanent replacement, and he has a three-year deal to show his stuff at the King Power Stadium. We’ve seen he can clean up a messy side. Now we’ll see if he can set up a side to thrive in the top flight.

(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

PST predicts:  A fair share of bumps in the road, but the Maguire and Iborra buys show that the Leicester eyes for talent remain pretty sharp. A comfortable-enough midtable finish in the end, though don’t be surprised if alarm bells ring early: Four of Leicester’s first six matches are against Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool, and Chelsea, and the first two are away. Getting six points from the other two, versus new boys Brighton and Huddersfield, will be key to avoiding an early season rut.

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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