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Top Premier League storylines – Week 4

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It’s back, friends, and the Premier League’s fourth week again finds a battle of giants on the docket.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Liverpool visits Man City as the league’s five UEFA Champions League sides eyeball their table positioning as well as European group stage debuts next week.

Elsewhere, Europa League entrants Arsenal and Everton have home matches while Swansea City’s big name signings should debut versus Rafa Benitez‘s embattled Newcastle United.


Fireworks exploding in the distance
Manchester City – Liverpool (Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) STREAM ] 

Temporary towers soar Saturday at the Etihad Stadium when Pep Guardiola‘s City and Jurgen Klopp‘s Reds bid for second place or better in the Premier League. Both attack-minded sides have seven points, and harbor dreams of a title.

Both sides were hopeful of landing Virgil Van Dijk or another center back stud before Deadline Day, and this match faces the prospect of goals upon goals. Philippe Coutinho is back training for the Reds, and Klopp will have to find the best fit for his attack once the Brazilian is ready to enter the fold.

City is off to Feyenoord to start its UEFA Champions League campaign on Wednesday, the same day Liverpool hosts ex-City men Nolito, Jesus Navas, and Sevilla.

The much anticipated Emirates Stadium reception for Arsene Wenger
Arsenal – Bournemouth (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) STREAM ] 

The Gunners have one win in three matches to start the season, could not land any late transfer targets, and sold neither Alexis Sanchez nor Mesut Ozil. The #WengerOut brigade is at full throat, and who knows what’s cooking from the North London faithful as oft-rumored Wenger replacement Eddie Howe and Bournemouth hit the scene in search of its first points of the season.

Bournemouth broke Arsenal’s four-match Hex in a 3-3 draw at the Vitality Stadium in January. Could this be the day it finds love at the Emirates?

Nathan Ake of AFC Bournemouth and Olivier Giroud of Arsenal (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

Early separation day for Spurs, Toffees
Everton – Tottenham Hotspur (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, CNBC) STREAM ] 

On form, Spurs arguably deserve to be 3-0 but have followed up their strong performance at Newcastle with poor finishing days against Chelsea and Burnley. They also can’t afford to look past the Toffees and to their Wednesday’s UCL visit from Borussia Dortmund.

The Toffees have an extra day to prepare for Europa League, where they’ll look to the road and a Thursday trip to Atalanta. Everton received very little love from the Premier League schedule makers, and now face Spurs after a draw versus Man City and a loss to Chelsea leave it level with the visitors on four points.

Chelsea’s ex-Foxes return to the King Power Stadium
Leicester City vs. Chelsea (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) STREAM ] 

Danny Drinkwater and N'Golo Kante will get an interesting reception at the building where they completed one of the biggest surprises in football history, as the Blues’ engine room duo hits Leicester City. Chelsea has two wins from three matches, and would like to keep its title defense aspirations pointed in the right direction.

Breathing room, new additions welcome in Wales
Swansea City vs. Newcastle United (Sunday, 11 a.m. ET, NBCSN) STREAM ] 

The similar vibes between these two clubs begins and ends with acquiring desperately needed wins before the international break. That’s because Swans had big success toward the end of the transfer window in landing a loan of Bayern Munich’s Renato Sanches in addition to buying Wilfried Bony and Sam Clucas. Newcastle’s big 3-0 home win versus West Ham was burnished with… zero additions on Deadline Day. Rafa Benitez has his work cut out for him.

Brighton’s Potter joins Howe in taking voluntary pay cut

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Brighton and Hove Albion boss Graham Potter has joined club chief executive Paul Barber and technical director Dan Ashworth in taking a voluntary pay cut for the next three months.

The trio said the decision was made to support chairman Tony Bloom’s “significant efforts to protect all jobs at our club and charity.”

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Clubs all over the world have been furloughing workers if not laying them off altogether as the coronavirus wreaks havoc on club finances.

On Thursday, Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe became the first Premier League manager to take a voluntary pay cut. The clubs were also together in a prior initiative to reward medical workers.

Here’s Potter, via  BrightonandHoveAlbion.com:

“I spoke with Tony Bloom a couple of weeks ago, and I just felt like a normal thing to offer him because he has been good to me. I know the pressure he is under as a chairman and the challenges he faces. It is a small thing we can do but I think it was an important offer.

“Tony being Tony said, ‘Thank you very much but, at the moment we are working through things.’ As things have moved forward, I think we have come to the right decision to do what we have done.”

Man City’s Pep Guardiola donated $1 million to fight coronavirus in Catalonia. Whether donations or pay cuts, surely more will come.

Brazil, Argentina league soccer players seek full pay amid coronavirus

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SAO PAULO (AP) As soccer players around Europe accept pay cuts amid the coronavirus pandemic, some of their less-well-compensated South American counterparts are fighting for every penny.

In Brazil and Argentina, players aren’t budging during the league shutdown despite forced cuts to staffing and wages in other leagues around the continent.

Negotiations in Brazil between an association of clubs and the players’ union have failed to reach a deal on pay and early vacations. Team captains and executives are now trying to reach individual decisions, but those could end up in court.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Brazil’s top clubs, fearing a loss of sponsors and rising debts, wanted to cut player salaries by 25% until the pandemic ends. But some players – including those who have been paid late in the past – have asked for the Brazilian soccer confederation to step in. So far it hasn’t, but the union did give some ground on the issue of vacations.

Former players, executives and coaches said they were inspired by the example set by Lionel Messi, who took a 70% cut in pay to help Barcelona keep its staffers during the pandemic. But the voices in Brazil sound more like that of Atlético Mineiro defender Guilherme Arana.

“I don’t think there is a reason (to cut). We are stopping because we need to,” the 22-year-old Arana told Fox Sports. “It is the world that is stopping.”

Atlético, however, said Sunday it will cut salaries by 25%, except for staff members on lower wages.

In Argentina, which has about 4,000 male and female professional soccer players, clubs have not cut salaries and the country’s national federation has not made any recommendations on the issue.

Players’ union leader Sérgio Marchi was, unsurprisingly, against any cuts. He insisted in a radio interview that “it is fundamental” to respect the salaries of soccer players because it would allow the league to resume “without any sort of conflict after this contingency is over.”

“Some (officials) are seeking excuses or mitigating factors for their bad management or to their flawed behavior at the time they are setting up a budget,” he said.

[ MORE: Serie A could return in late May ]

Players in Colombia asked for full pay, but clubs acted swiftly to start saving money.

Jaguares suspended the contracts of 13 members of its squad, Millionarios reduced wages without much debate and Santa Fé pitched fans against players on Twitter by asking them if salaries should be cut. The query ended with 62% of fans voting yes.

Colombian league organizers are also asking the government to broaden some economic policies to help clubs, including those that have suspended players’ contracts so they wouldn’t go bankrupt.

“We don’t want taxpayer money to deal with the financial difficulties during this mandatory stop,” Jorge Enrique Vélez, the head of the league, said in an interview with Radio Caracol. “We are asking for policies that the government has already set for tourism and aviation industries. We also had to stop 100%, and we have no revenues during this time.”

In Uruguay, some players are now claiming unemployment benefits after several clubs, including Montevideo powerhouse Peñarol, suspended their contracts. The country’s soccer association has also cut pay for staff, including 73-year-old national team coach Oscar Tabárez.

The biggest exception is in Peru, where Alianza Lima players openly suggested they should be paid less so the club can afford to keep all its workers. Goalkeeper Leao Butrón said the decision was “easy to make.”

“Yes, the offer actually came from us. We wanted to give the club a break,” Butrón said in a radio interview. “They told us that it is not necessary for now. But we don’t know when this will end. We are still willing. Beyond being an economic problem, it is a liquidity issue. A financial issue. We can give a hand if extreme measures are needed.”

Associated Press writers Debora Rey in Buenos Aires and Eric Nuñez in New York contributed to this report.

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

Report: Serie A could resume training May 2, games late in month

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Blanket testing for players and a 14-day quarantine for foreign players are on the menu as Serie A reportedly looks to resume in May.

Football Italia cites a report from Italian news outlet Adnkronos that discusses a May 2 return to training with matches resuming late in the month.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Vincenzo Spadafora is Italy’s minister for sport, and is hopeful that the worst of the coronavirus is behind the country.

According to the report, any player returning to Italy from abroad would be quarantined for two weeks before returning to training.

After an initial round of testing for all players, more would follow:

More tests would be made weekly to maintain that level of certainty all the way to the end of the season. Clubs are believed to be stocking up on COVID-19 tests, in accordance with medical structures in their cities, ensuring everyone has enough to go around.

The plan may be met with resistance, as combustible Brescia owner Massimo Cellino says his club will not play and has accepted that it earned relegation.

European bodies implore member associations to wait to abandon seasons

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UEFA is speaking up regarding its hope to finish club seasons once the environment is safer.

Sky Sports reports that UEFA has sent a letter to its 55 members associations imploring them not to cancel their competitions early and that they exhaust all options “until the last possibility exists.”

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The letter is signed by UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin, European Club Association chairman Andrea Agnelli and European Leagues president Lars-Christer Olsson.

The report comes as the Belgian Super League reportedly prepares to award its league title to Club Brugge on April 15. The league would be the first to see its season abandoned due to the coronavirus pandemic.

From Sky Sports:

“We are confident that football can restart in the months to come – with conditions that will be dictated by public authorities – and believe that any decision of abandoning domestic competitions is, at this stage, premature and not justified.”

Many leagues, such as the Premier League, continue to suspend their seasons indefinitely as they wait for improvements with the coronavirus pandemic.

Although UEFA have relaxed their previous stance that domestic seasons should be finished by June 30, it is looking more likely that the 2019-20 season would need until August or September.