4 days to go until new PL season: Predicting this year’s Top 4?

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Perhaps the most coveted spots in all of English soccer, a top four finish in the Premier League ensures a berth into the richest club competition in Europe: the UEFA Champions League.

Each year, teams spend millions in the hopes of keeping a place in the top four, or breaking into the fraternity at the top of the Premier League, in order to see some of the revenues that come with playing on those mid-week European nights.

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With four days to go before the start of the Premier League season, we thought we’d take a chance to predict how the top four might look come mid-May, 2020.


Manchester City

The Back-to-Back Premier League champions are in pole position to win the league once more, with a battle-tested strong squad that’s been reinforced in a couple of key areas.

As Fernandinho gets older, Man City has brought in his successor in Rodri, which will allow the Brazilian to either play fewer matches or get to deputize as a centerback, where he’ll do a bit less running. The impending arrival of Joao Cancelo and the return of Angelino also helps out on the flanks for Man City as defensive options, while the team is still as strong as ever in the attack. Sergio Aguero is back for a ninth season in the Sky Blue uniforms and Raheem Sterling looks as dazzling as ever.

Man City may even get to see the best of Kevin De Bruyne once again, who admitted he needed a summer break after going almost non-stop between the start of the 2017 season and this summer, thanks to the 2018 World Cup. All in all, Man City is a team primed for success, and they’re the team to beat in both the Premier League and Champions League.

Liverpool

Jurgen Klopp‘s side hasn’t made any major signings this summer, but like Tottenham last year, it may turn out that Liverpool didn’t need any new players.

Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino, and Sadio Mane are as fearsome a front-three as their is in Europe, and this team took Man City to the brink in the Premier League as well as lifted the Champions League title. With everybody back, as well as some youth and young signings, there’s no doubt Liverpool can challenge again not only for the top four and Premier League, but the Champions League too.

Plus, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is back from a torn ACL that cut out most of his 2018-2019 season, which adds another diverse player to Klopp’s deck of cards to choose from.

Tottenham

After going an entire calendar year without making any signings, Tottenham has finally made a signing, breaking the club’s transfer record in the process.

Manager Mauricio Pochettino has finally received some reinforcements after an incredibly run last season, taking Spurs all the way to the Champions League final. In comes central midfielder Tanguy Ndombele from Lyon, who is expected to step right into a starting role for Spurs as it looks to remain in the top four hunt.

Things will still be tough for Pochettino and Spurs though, especially if there is an injury crisis. With the departure of Fernando Llorente, there’s only Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son as forward options, while Christian Eriksen and Danny Rose could still leave this summer. Kieran Trippier was allowed to leave earlier along with Vincent Janssen, and neither player has been replaced yet. Could Pochettino have a late signing or two up his sleeve?

It will be a tough road, but we’ve seen Pochettino overcome the odds before.

Arsenal

If Liverpool’s 2017-2018 Premier League showed us anything, it’s that a team with talented attackers can make some serious noise and rise up the Premier League table.

That’s exactly what Arsenal is hoping for this coming season. After smashing the club’s transfer record to sign Nicolas Pepe for almost $90 million, manager Unai Emery will have Alexandre Lacazette, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Pepe together in the attack, giving Arsenal some incredible options up front. All three were raised in France and have pace to burn in the counter-attack, something Emery will certainly look to use against other Big Six opponents.

Of course, Arsenal hasn’t done much to improve it’s already shaky defense, so it will likely be a roller coaster season of emotions, with Arsenal winning games with scorelines of 3-2 or 4-3. But if Liverpool showed us anything, it’s that an amazing attack can be just enough. Liverpool finished fourth that season, though it took the signing of Virgil Van Dijk and Alisson Becker to fortify the defense that took Man City to the last day for the Premier League title.

Other Contenders

Chelsea

Frank Lampard has arrived with much fanfare, but not a ton of pressure as Chelsea appears set to sit out this transfer window without any “new” signings – since both Christian Pulisic and Mateo Kovacic were already on the books before the summer.

The Blues won the Europa League title and can certainly grow from that experience, but it’s a big blow to lose a star in Eden Hazard, and Pulisic, among others, will have to find ways to pick up the slack. That, and long-term injuries to Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ruben Loftus-Cheek hit Chelsea as well.

But that being said, Chelsea could surprise a few teams this season, and if Pulisic excels in the Premier League and Giroud gets some good service into the box, there’s a decent chance the Blues can grab a top-four spot.

Manchester United

Man United feels like it can end up on two ends of the spectrum this season.

Best case: With a full preseason under his belt, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer shows he is a quality manager after all, and can both tactically set up his team to succeed and motivate them to play for one another, bringing Man United back into the Champions League. Paul Pogba stays in Manchester and becomes the midfield leader the team has been missing for years, while Marcus Rashford scores 20 goals.

Worst case: Even with the signings of Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan Bissaka, Man United continues to ship goals and move down the table. Rashford struggles against double and triple-teams in the middle of the field and Pogba nor Alexis Sanchez can take the step up necessary. Man United finishes out of the top six.

It just feels like this season can go in so many directions. Let’s see where it ends up!

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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