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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.

LIVE, UCL last 16: Atletico v. Liverpool; Dortmund v. PSG

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The 2019-20 UEFA Champions League is finally back as the Round of 16 kicks off this week and Atletico Madrid host Liverpool and Paris Saint-Germain head to Borussia Dortmund in what should be two epic battles.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

Liverpool are the first Premier League club to get going as Jurgen Klopp locks horns with Diego Simeone’s Atleti, who are a very dangerous team to play and they will scrap and battle for every ball against the reigning European champions. With Sadio Mane back fit, he could be the difference for Liverpool as the runaway Premier League leaders return to the stadium where they win their sixth European title at the end of last season. Madrid holds fond memories for Klopp’s boys. Atletico Madrid are struggling along in La Liga but they have played the underdog role very well in recent seasons and this encounter will be full throttle from the start.

Borussia Dortmund host Paris Saint-Germain in the other UCL last 16 first leg clash on Tuesday and that should be a cracking game between two very evenly-matched teams as former Dortmund coach Thomas Tuchel takes PSG to the Westfalenstadion. Kylian Mbappe v. Jadon Sancho equals chef’s kiss.

[ MORE: Which Premier League team(s) will reach last eight? ]

Next week the other four last 16 first legs take place as Man City and Chelsea are in action against Real Madrid and Bayern Munich respectively. Out of the four Premier League teams still in the competition, Liverpool and Spurs will be the most confident of advancing.

Below is the full schedule for the two UCL last 16 first leg games on Tuesday, with bothgames kicking off at 3 p.m. ET. You can follow the action live by clicking on the link above.


Tuesday Champions League action

Atletico Madrid v. Liverpool
Borussia Dortmund v. Paris Saint-Germain

Champions League score predictions: Round of 16

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The 2019-20 UEFA Champions League is finally back as the Round of 16 kicks off this week and two of the four Premier League clubs are in action.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur, the two finalists from last season, are first up and both will be happy enough with their draws in the last 16.

That said, Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool know that Diego Simeone’s Atleti are a very dangerous team to play as they will scrap and battle for every ball against the reigning European champions. As for Spurs and Jose Mourinho, the news that Heung-min Son has broken his arm and could be out for the rest of the season is a huge blow but they host an inconsistent RB Leipzig.

Borussia Dortmund host Paris Saint-Germain and Atalanta host Valencia in the other last 16 ties this week and both should be cracking encounters between two very evenly-matched teams.

[ MORE: Which Premier League team(s) will reach last eight? ]

Next week the other four last 16 first legs take place as Man City and Chelsea are in action against Real Madrid and Bayern Munich respectively. Out of the four Premier League teams still in the competition, Liverpool and Spurs will be the most confident of advancing.

Below we predict the scores for the UCL round of 16 games taking place over the next two days. Feel free to make your own predictions in the comments section below, too.


Tuesday
Atletico Madrid 1-2 Liverpool
Borussia Dortmund 3-2 PSG

Wednesday
Tottenham Hotspur 2-2 RB Leipzig
Atalanta 2-1 Valencia

Lampard issues Chelsea injury update; Pulisic remains out

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Chelsea boss Frank Lampard issued a lengthy injury update after their 2-0 defeat against Man United and USMNT fans will not be happy to hear that Christian Pulisic remains out.

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Ahead of Chelsea’s pivotal top four clash at home against bitter rivals Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com), Lampard could be without as many as five key players.

Andreas Christensen broke his nose and came off at half time against United, while N’Golo Kante was subbed off early after yet another leg injury for the French superstar.

“Callum, no. Pulisic, no. N’Golo, no, from that today. Tammy is a maybe. It is not going our way with injuries at the moment but the players who come in they have to show that. That is what the squad is there for. It is frustrating,” Lampard told Chelsea TV when asked about availability for Saturday.

Lampard then gave an extra update on Kante, who walked through the mixed zone after the game looking okay and told the French journalists who were assembled that it wasn’t too bad.

“It is an adductor injury,” Lampard confirmed. “We will have to assess it and scan it. It doesn’t look great. It is on the same leg [as he injured before].”

With four wins in their last 14 Premier League games Chelsea are not in good form and are just one point ahead of fifth-place Tottenham ahead of their game this weekend.

They also have a nasty habit of dominating matches but are failing to put multiple chances away and with these injuries piling up it certainly makes Chelsea’s decision to not spend in the January window to strengthen their squad, especially in terms of strikers, very surprising.

With Bayern Munich coming up in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League last 16 tie next week, Lampard will hope Chelsea’s luck turns and plenty of players return from injury.

FC Cincinnati coach Jans resigns amid investigation over remarks

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CINCINNATI — FC Cincinnati coach Ron Jans resigned amid an investigation by Major League Soccer of his use of a racial slur in the locker room.

Jans resigned late Monday, FC Cincinnati President Jeff Berding said: “The club had suspended Jans pending the investigation, which was prompted by a complaint from the MLS Players Association.

“As Major League Soccer’s investigation unfolded and some themes emerged, Ron offered his resignation and we agreed that it was the best course of action for everyone involved with FC Cincinnati,” Berding said.

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The club designated Yoann Damet as interim head coach while the team conducts a search. Cincinnati is training in Florida for its second season in MLS.

Cincinnati has been through two head coaches during its brief stay in the league. It fired Alan Koch after its 11th first-tier match, which left the expansion club with two wins, seven losses and two draws.

Damet also was the interim head coach while the team conducted a search that resulted in Jans’ hiring last August.

Cincinnati finished with the worst record in MLS in its inaugural season, with six wins, six draws and 22 losses. It scored a league-low 31 goals in 34 matches.

Cincinnati gained entry into MLS after a successful debut under Koch, who led the team to the semifinals of the United Soccer League’s playoffs in both 2017 and 2018.