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Is Man City’s defense strong enough, or deep enough?

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Manchester City’s chances of repeating (again) as Premier League champions in 2019-20 appears to hinge upon the performances of one unit in particular: the defense.

[ MORE: 2019-20 season preview: Manchester City ]

It’s a rather thin unit which could have probably used reinforcements during the summer transfer window, but with barely 24 hours to go before the window closes, that’s a largely moot point. They are who they are, and they’ll kick off their quest for a third straight PL title against West Ham United on Saturday (Watch live, 7 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com).

Thanks in large part to Aymeric Laporte proving himself worth every last penny of the $65 million he cost, and in smaller part a renaissance of health from Vincent Kompany, Man City shaved four goals from the conceded column in defending their 2017-18 PL crown (when they conceded 27 times) with another triumph in 2018-19 (23, one more than Liverpool).

[ MORE: 3 days to go until new PL season: Will Man City 3-peat? ]

Now, though, Kompany is gone after taking over as player-manager at Anderlecht, and Man City went against conventional wisdom and signed no one to replace his on-field production, let alone his off-field leadership. If paying $97 million for Harry Maguire was their best, or only, option, perhaps they are better off going this route.

Given the personnel that Pep Guardiola has at his disposal, he faces one of two — or, potentially two of two — unsavory options for how to line up his defense.

  1. In a back-three, he’ll have just one backup (Nicolas Otamendi, most likely) for three positions, likely to be occupied by Laporte, John Stones and Kyle Walker
  2. In a back-four, he’ll have three options who fit (Laporte, Stones, Otamendi) for two positions and one who’ll be forced out to right back (Walker), at which point he’ll still have just one backup

[ MORE: Will big-spending Spurs be Premier League title contenders? ]

If Benjamin Mendy can stay healthy for a full season, the full backs are likely to be a non-issue; Joao Cancelo should lock down the starting spot at right back after arriving at a bargain price; Angeliño is the wild card of the bunch; and Oleksandr Zinchenko has been up to the test when called upon in the past.

With all of that said, Man City’s safest path to having one of the PL’s best defensive records yet again lies ahead of the backline. When — not if, but when — they’re able to dominate possession each and every game, City’s midfield and forward line will squeeze the life out of opponents and leave the three, or four, at the back with precious little to do.

[ MORE: Man United to fine Lukaku for missing training without permission ]

Defensive midfielder Fernandinho was arguably City’s most important player in 2018-19 but he began to show signs of slowing down toward the end of last season, so they were wise to sign Rodri from Atletico Madrid for $78 million. It’s true that Kompany’s departure leaves a broad hole in the backline, but Rodri, along with the embarrassment of attacking talent ahead of him, should more than make up for his absence and give City a real shot at back-to-back-to-back PL titles.

VIDEO: Breaking down some celebrated Premier League derbies

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The kickoffs aren’t coming back soon, so we’re finding solace in anticipating the biggest matches on the Premier League calendar.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Certain rivalries are circled on the fixture list when it arrives each summer, the sort of games that seem to level the playing field regardless of the gulf in class.

Is Arsenal struggling? No better way to bounce back than Spurs.

Liverpool sliding a bit? It’ll snap back to form when Everton hits Anfield.

PST lead writer and editor Joe Prince-Wright has prepped up for several of these derbies over the years, and here’s a cheat sheet for those new and a tasty summation for those missing their hated foes.

Liverpool-Manchester City

Arsenal-Tottenham Hotspur

Liverpool-Everton

Manchester City-Manchester United

Chelsea-Tottenham Hotspur

Bournemouth’s Howe takes voluntary pay cut, first PL manager to do so

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Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe is the first Premier League manager to take a pay cut due to the coronavirus suspension.

Howe joins Bournemouth chief executive Neill Blake, first team technical director Richard Hughes, and assistant manager Jason Tindall in taking “significant, voluntary” pay cuts.

Howe is the longest-serving manager in the PL. He started with Bournemouth’s academy in 1994 and spent just a few short seasons away from home (Portsmouth and Swindon Town) during his playing career.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

The club has also furloughed employees throughout the organization. From a Bournemouth statement:

There is no script for moments like this. No tactics and no set plays to find a winning formula. But as a board we are continually looking at ways to ensure the future of the club and our employees is protected when the season returns.

We have also advised a number of staff across all areas of the club that they will be temporarily furloughed, as a result of the ongoing pandemic.

These measures have been taken to safeguard the financial stability of the club during what is such an uncertain period, not only in football but for businesses in all industries across the world.

Surely Howe won’t be the last during this uncertain time for clubs and businesses all over the world.

Ex-Marseille president first coronavirus-related death in Senegal

Pape Diouf
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DAKAR, Senegal (AP) Pape Diouf, a former president of French soccer club Marseille, died Tuesday in Senegal after contracting the coronavirus. It was the West African country’s first COVID-19-related death, according to the health ministry. He was 68.

Diouf, who was president of Marseille from 2005-09, had been treated since Saturday in intensive care in Dakar, health minister Abdoulaye Diouf Sarr said.

Senegal President Macky Sall wrote on his official Twitter account that he had followed Diouf’s health closely after he was admitted for treatment.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

“I pay tribute to this great figure in sport,” Sall wrote. “I pay tribute to the medical staff at Fann Hospital who spared no effort to save him.”

Relatives said Diouf was meant to be moved to France. He had recently traveled to several countries in the West Africa region.

In its most recent count, Senegal has reported 190 cases of the coronavirus, with 45 of those having recovered.

Diouf was a charismatic and popular leader who was close to the fans and players at Marseille, the only French team to win the European club title.

“Pape will forever remain in the hearts of Marseille people and (is) one of the great architects of the club,” Marseille wrote under a photo of Diouf.

Shortly before his time at the club ended, Diouf signed Didier Deschamps as the new coach and Deschamps won the French league title and League Cup in his first season in charge. It was Marseille’s first league title in 18 years.

Deschamps, who coached France to World Cup success two years ago, described Diouf as “a man of convictions, a spirited man, passionate about football” adding that his “sudden and brutal death deeply saddens me.”

“I could measure his popularity, which was immense with the Marseille people whose hearts he had won,” Deschamps said on L’Equipe’s website.

The French soccer league called Diouf’s death “a moment of immense sadness for French soccer.”

Diouf was born in Chad to Senegalese parents. After arriving in Marseille at the age of 18, he became a sports journalist and then a players’ agent.

Diouf was not afraid to take risks in signing unheralded players, such as the diminutive Mathieu Valbuena from third-tier side Libourne in 2006 when he was 21.

The 1.67-meter (5 feet, 5 inches) Valbuena went on to prove Diouf right, and all the doubters wrong, playing 52 times for France.

“A great man with a great heart,” Valbuena said. “We were hypnotized by his speeches, he had a lot of charisma.”

Diouf was awarded the French Legion of Honor medal in 2012, one of the country’s highest honors.

Pugmire reported from Paris. AP reporter Babacar Dione in Dakar, Senegal contributed.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Report: Griezmann plus cash could finally get Neymar back to Barcelona

Neymar
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Neymar’s long-rumored return to Barcelona hasn’t quite reached the point of exhaustion, but it’s close.

A new report has said Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain may be coming to terms with what’s been a fairly obvious swap deal for some time.

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According to Sky Sports, PSG would send Neymar to Barcelona in return for French hero Antoine Griezmann and money.

The $167 million price tag attached to Neymar is significantly more than the $110 million on Griezmann, and there’s no doubt the former is more of a gamechanger at this point on their careers.

While Neymar gets both the #whenhealthy and #whenavailable tags to his rep, he’s scored 18 times with 10 assists in 22 matches across all competitions this year.

Before the full phrase ‘Ligue 1’ exits your lips, he’s scored against Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Celtic, Galatasaray, Liverpool, Anderlecht, and Red Star Belgrade in his three seasons with PSG.

Griezmann is a full year older than Neymar and, while one of the world’s elite attackers, he’s a step below the Brazilian’s tier. He’s also said to want to keep finding his way at Barca, with Gerard Pique and others ready to lend support.