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6 days to go until new PL season: Modern number 6 is flourishing in Premier League

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We are officially inside the final week of preparations for the new Premier League season, with just six days to go until the opening match of the new 2019/20 campaign.

With 6 days standing in the way of now and the new season, we take a look at how the Premier League has led the charge for the meteoric rise of the modern number 6 and is experiencing a golden age for the defensive midfielder. To make the argument that the current iteration of the defensive midfielder is the most important position in modern football, one simply has to look at the makeup of the Premier League over the last five years.

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Just this summer, in fact, Manchester City – the defending league champions – broke its club transfer record bringing in a new defensive midfielder in Rodri. With 34-year-old Fernandinho‘s occasional absence last season exposing the two-time Premier League champions, Pep Guardiola identified a position of need and filled it with a bang.

After Fernandinho made his way to the Premier League with his title-winning physicality and passing precision, N’Golo Kante engineered one of the most spectacular underdog stories of this generation, leading Leicester City to the title. One season later, he was shipped off to Chelsea and promptly saw the Blues to the top of the table, winning consecutive Premier League titles with two different teams.

Prior to Kante, Nemanja Matic helped Chelsea to the 2014/15 Premier League title, arriving from Benfica to patrol the Blues midfield and log over 3,000 league minutes in a season to remember.

As top-end Premier League teams look to play out from the back, the defensive midfielder is a critical component of the new style of domination football, but there’s more to it than that. The best defensive midfielders in the world possess an inate sense of the field that allows them to cover passing lanes and grab interceptions, turning possession back over to teams that want to possess the ball.

Taking a peek at the interception leaders in the Premier League last season, the top of the list is dominated by teams dominated in possession which gives them far more opportunities to cut out passes. Still, it proves teams up and down the table have begun employing a modern two-way defensive midfielder to cover the back line, with Watford’s Etienne Capoue leading the charge at a wonderful 2.6 interceptions per 90 minutes, followed by Huddersfield Town’s Jonathan Hogg and Everton’s Idrissa Gueye among the league leaders. Leicester City’s Wilfried Ndidi and Wolverhampton’s Ruben Neves both appear near the top, fitting as they both proved leaders of form for their clubs last season – where they go, the team goes. Lucas Torreira was a heralded signing at Arsenal and quickly proved he could help cover a struggling defensive side. Luka Milivojevic has become a vital part of Roy Hodgson‘s structure at Crystal Palace.

Aside from Pep Guardiola’s use of Rodri and Fernandinho at Manchester City as the club looks to transition from older to younger, one of the most interesting league storylines for the coming year is how Frank Lampard looks to make use of Kante one season removed from a change of scenery. Kantee took significant time to adjust after Maurizio Sarri yanked him from his best position and moved him higher up the pitch, with Jorginho slotted into the role. In the end Sarri was out after just one season and Lampard is left to pick up the pieces. A formerChelsea midfielder himself, Lampard has kept his cards close to his chest and Kante has seen zero playing time this preseason due to injury. Will the French international return to his favored defensive midfield role, or will Lampard continue Jorginho in that role as Sarri did to mixed success?

The new season is nearly upon us, and the modern game is very much alive in the growth, expansion, and dominance of the number 6.

Europa League preview: Man Utd, Wolves travel to stadium burdened by racial abuse

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Manchester United hopes to build off Monday momentum when it visits Partizan Belgrade in the Europa League, though the hosts have some off-field aims following a pair of closed-door matches due to racist behavior.

Partizan boss Savo Milosevic, a former Aston Villa striker, has vowed that the match will be void of racism and a “celebration of football.”

United players Harry Maguire and Marcus Rashford were part of an ugly atmosphere in Bulgaria while on England duty — something Maguire called “sickening” — but believe things will be better in Belgrade.

[ MORE: Genk 1-4 Liverpool | Ajax 0-1 Chelsea ]

Maguire is set for a new experience in the tie should he start, sort of. Maguire played a UEL qualifying round match with Hull City in 2014, but this is his first start in a European tournament proper. From ManUtd.com:

“Playing in Europe is another challenge,” he said. “It’s something I’m looking forward to, something I’m relishing. I want to play in the biggest games with the biggest pressure and that’s why I signed for a club like Man United, one of the biggest in the world. I’m looking forward to challenging myself under the lights in European football.”

United kicks off at 12:55 p.m. ET as one of two early starts for Premier League teams.

Wolves begin back-to-back matches against Slovan Bratislava in Slovakia, another situation where the hosts are dealing with recent racial problems.

Thursday’s match was supposed to be behind closed doors, but UEFA have allowed ticket giveaways to youth players and school kids. Wolves aren’t exactly impressed at the lessened punishment.

Here’s Matt Doherty, who says his Wolves will gladly leave the pitch if there’s a problem of any kind. From The Birmingham Mail:

“If it comes to it when players feel uncomfortable then I wouldn’t have a problem with it,” Doherty adds. “I would hate to be in a position where you have to choose. I would hate that, so hopefully it doesn’t happen. I would be more in the mind of trying to beat them on the pitch.”

Wolves have a win and a loss, leaving them a point behind their Thursday opponents and Braga.

The lone PL club kicking off at 3 p.m. is Arsenal, the Gunners having played very well in the Europa League but fairly substandard in the league.

Arsenal is one of five 2-0 teams in the UEL, and can essentially cement their place in the next round by dealing with Vitoria at the Emirates Stadium.

Europa League full slate

12:55 pm. ET
Besiktas v. Braga
Roma v. Borussia Monchengladbach
CSKA Moscow v. Ferencvaros
Partizan Belgrade v. Manchester United
Qarabag v. APOEL Nicosia
Ludogorets Razgrad v. Espanyol
Slovan Bratislava v. Wolves
Porto v. Rangers
Saint-Etienne v. Oleksandriya
Gent v. Wolfsburg
Istanbul Basaksehir v. Wolfsberg
Young Boys v. Feyenoord
AZ Alkmaar v. Astana

3 p.m. ET
Celtic v. Lazio
Sevilla v. Dudelange
Arsenal v. Vitoria
Eintracht Frankfurt v. Standard Liege
Rennes v. CFR Cluj
Sporting Lisbon v. Rosenborg
Getafe v. Basel
Dynamo Kyiv v. Copenhagen
Malmo v. Lugano
PSV Eindhoven v. LASK
Trabzonspor v. Krasnodar

LIVE MLS Cup Playoffs — NYCFC hosts Toronto, Seattle-RSL

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Citi Field is the scene for New York City FC’s debut as the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed in the MLS Cup Playoffs.

Dome Torrent’s men have experienced opposition in Greg Vanney’s Toronto FC, who’ve been to two finals in three years but will have to advance another round without Jozy Altidore.

[ MORE: Live scores, box scores, stats ]

USMNT prospect Keaton Parks returns from injury for City and will partner with captain Alexander Ring beneath a dangerous quartet of attack-minded players.

Toronto hasn’t lost since Aug. 3 (5W-6D) and is well-equipped to deal NYCFC’s possession system on a postage stamp pitch.

The night-cap sees a 10 p.m. ET kickoff between Seattle Sounders and Real Salt Lake, the visitors bringing a stingy record; RSL has allowed the second fewest goals in the Eastern Conference.

The Sounders only lost two home matches this season, and have not lost a home playoff match under Brian Schmetzer.

Champions League wrap: Barcelona, Napoli hold group leads

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Antonio Conte‘s Inter Milan got a necessary win, while several other notable teams had a lot of work on their hands on the way to three points in the UEFA Champions League.

Lionel Messi set another record, Jesse Marsch’s Red Bull Salzburg put another scare into a big name, and both Lille and RB Leipzig puts difference-making wonder strikes on the board.


[ MORE: Genk 1-4 Liverpool | Ajax 0-1 Chelsea ]


Slavia Prague 1-2 Barcelona

Lionel Messi’s third minute goal didn’t send the Czech hosts running for cover, and Slavia Prague got a leveling goal through Jan Boril. It was deserved, too, with the hosts taking double the shots as their visitors when they made it 1-1. An own goal finished off the scoring in Prague.

Messi’s goal made him the first player to score in 15 Champions League tournaments. He’s good.

Red Bull Salzburg 2-3 Napoli

Jesse Marsch’s men know a bit about comebacks after last month’s memorable match in Liverpool, and Erling Braut Haland scored to make it 1-1 after Dries Mertens gave the favored visitors a lead. Haland answered another Mertens goal but the magic ran out for the hosts after Lorenzo Insigne provided the winner.

Lille 1-1 Valencia

Russian winger Denis Cheryshev looked like he’d see his goal stand up as a winner despite a late Valencia red card, but my goodness this equalizer from Jonathan Ikone:

Inter Milan 2-0 Borussia Dortmund

Make it six goals for Lautaro Martinez in 11 appearances for Inter Milan, who looked well-drilled at home under Antonio Conte. Roman Burki was sensational to keep the score 1-0, saving a penalty amongst several other timely interventions, but BVB couldn’t muster a goal. Antonio Candreva added the consolation marker.

Benfica 2-1 Lyon

Rafa Silva was in the right place to deposit a fourth minute goal, and Benfica rode the lead until Memphis Depay leveled in the 70th minute. Enter Pizzi, who scored with five minutes left to give Benfica a needed win. Last place Benfica is three points back of leaders RB Leipzig.

RB Leipzig 2-1 Zenit Saint-Petersburg

Yaroslav Rakitskiy gave the visitors a halftime lead against the run of play but Konrad Laimer leveled the score line and then — clear the deck — Marcel Sabitzer did this:

USWNT star Morgan pregnant, due 3 months before Olympics

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Add childbirth into USWNT superstar Alex Morgan’s summer plans.

The two-time World Cup winner said the “newest member of the Carrasco family” will be a girl, due April 2020. The Olympics begin three months later.

[ MORE: Pulisic assists Chelsea winner ]

Morgan is married to LA Galaxy striker Servando Carrasco, and the comments on her Instagram post include a who’s who of soccer including Kaka and Canadian WNT star Janine Beckie.

Congratulations are of course in order for Morgan, who understandably did not comment on how the addition to her family affects her late summer plans, but NBC’s Olympic Talk reports that she plans to play:

A source close to Morgan said, after the pregnancy announcement, that her goal is to play at the Olympics. Morgan has not stated her intention publicly either way since the announcement.