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Who’s the most irreplaceable player on ‘Big Six’ Premier League sides?

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When Aymeric Laporte was lost for months with a knee injury, there was a fairly standard reaction to the news.

This was the player Manchester City could least afford to lose for a long period of time.

[ MORE: Juve wants De Gea ]

There’s a debate to be had there, and it’s been had plenty, but it has us thinking: Which player is the most indispensable for each of the “Big Six” in their quest for a successful PL season?

It’s going to be a defender heavy list.

Tottenham Hotspur

Tough one, here, and we may be just a few months of consistent performances from changing the answer to Tanguy Ndombele (Yes, he looks that good).

But this one’s down to two players. It’s not a defender, as Spurs have three dynamite center backs and the drop-offs between full backs don’t hold wide-enough margins.

It’s between the Harrys (Harries? Anyway, “Between the Harries” sounds like we just started a new reality show).

Don’t be misled by Spurs’ remarkable job making up for the loss of Harry Kane to injury late last season; the big striker is still on history-making pace for his young-enough career. Since becoming a full-time starter, Kane has 162 goals in 241 matches. Would you believe he’s not 27 until next summer?

Harry Winks is the ball-possessing, clean-passing motor that so many teams crave for their midfield. He’s been a 90-plus percentage passer in every season, and has completed 94 percent this early season. Again, small sample size, but his 75 passes per game trails Nicolas Otamendi, Aymeric Laporte, Granit Xhaka, Paul Pogba, and teammate Toby Alderweireld.

It’s almost a coin flip here. We’re taking Kane, but we’re basing it on a tiebreaker of advanced statistics. Anyone making an argument for the 23-year-old Winks deserves to be heard.

Manchester United

This is perhaps the trickiest call of the bunch.

Anthony Martial has been far and away the most important player to the Red Devils’ early season, sputtering as it may be, but it’s far too soon to say he’s irreplaceable.

Four players have played every minute of the early season: Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Harry Maguire, Paul Pogba, Victor Lindelof, and David De Gea. Both Marcus Rashford and Scott McTominay have nearly played the full 360.

The fact of the matter, and this belies United’s plight, is that United is too thin to have a single player who would hurt the most to lose; Forced to choose one, we’ll say Maguire as he’s the most proven consistent entity of the bunch.

Chelsea

Another tough one, though it seems like it should be an easy one: N’Golo Kante. But he’s still finding his footing under Frank Lampard and last season wasn’t a great one as Maurizio Sarri messed with a great recipe by moving Kante from his role of pure opposition destruction.

Again, Chelsea’s has a good answer in replacement players for any of their stars getting injured; Marcos Alonso is barely playing, same with Michy Batshuayi. Olivier Giroud, Willian, even Pedro.

So while we’d like to make the case for Cesar Azpilicueta, the answer is probably still Kante.

Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

Arsenal

The easy answer is Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but it is not necessarily the correct answer because of replaceability. If the Gabonese superstar goes down, Unai Emery can still roll out a strike force with Alexandre Lacazette and Nicolas Pepe.

The Gunners are very thin at center back, but the problem is that the starters aren’t stars.

So we’ll proffer one that’s a bit out of the box: Bernd Leno. The goalkeeper has been pretty darn good considering his team has offered very little resistance to attacks. His back-ups are Emiliano Martinez and Matt Macey. There’s no rule stating one of those two wouldn’t be a good starter, but they have six PL appearances between them (all Martinez).

Liverpool

It’s Virgil Van Dijk.

Mohamed Salah is the straw that stirs the drink, but the Reds have a very good attackers behind him (both young and experienced) and made a run to the Champions League and a record league point total while he was not exactly thriving in form (Salah had a lone goal in an eight-match league run over February and March, and missed the incredible Barcelona comeback with a concussion).

The idea of it being Alisson Becker is interesting, but for Liverpool supporters that is probably fueled more by watching substandard keepers derail their dreams for a couple of years. For a neutral and especially for stat hounds, it’s not as big of a drop to Adrian as it seems (but it’s big).

We may want to revisit this discussion in January regarding Fabinho, but Liverpool is very deep in the midfield, too. It’s Van Dijk, and it’s not close.

Man City

It was a combination of a few things, the first obviously being the players’ quality. The PFA Team of the Year winner helped City lower its goals conceded total in his first full season at the Etihad, as City won almost every competition it entered in 2018-19.

But it was also City’s depth behind Laporte, with Vincent Kompany gone to Anderlecht and the next injury seemingly cueing up Fernandinho or Kyle Walker for center back duty.

An argument could be made for Ederson simply based on the keeper’s quality in possession and shot-stopping alone but no other position, really; City may have had to work harder for the title last season with Kevin De Bruyne injured, but it found an answer largely through Bernardo Silva. Leroy Sane looked like City’s MVP two seasons ago, but Raheem Sterling emerged as the club’s best wide man and there’s some guy named Mahrez behind him.

Laporte, it is (And if you want to really get into the nexus of this article, and why the stats say there is a big drop-off from Laporte to even John Stones, let alone a third wheel, check here. Also, I’ve learned that City fans vastly under-appreciate Otamendi).

Best of the Rest

Less explanation, similar amounts of confidence.

Aston Villa: Jack Grealish
Bournemouth:
Nathan Ake
Brighton and Hove Albion:
Shane Duffy
Burnley:
James Tarkowski
Crystal Palace: Luka Milivojevic
Everton:
Michael Keane
Leicester City:
Wilfred Ndidi
Newcastle United:
Fabian Schar
Norwich City:
Teemu Pukki
Sheffield United:
Dean Henderson
Southampton:
Jannik Vestergaard
Watford:
Abdoulaye Doucoure
West Ham: 
Sebastien Haller
Wolves: Willy Boly

American coach Marsch lauds players after Salzburg wins Austrian Cup

Jesse Marsch
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American coach Jesse Marsch has now managed a team to a silverware on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean following Red Bull Salzburg’s Austrian Cup triumph on Saturday.

Marsch’s men beat Lustenau 5-0 in the Austrian Cup Final, celebrating with a social distance-inspired celebration. Dominik Szoboszlai had a goal and an assist in the win, while Hee-chan Hwang posted two assists.

[ MORE: Thuram, Sancho honor George Floyd after scoring ]

The side’s red-hot start to the season dipped upon return from winter break after Salzburg sold a number of stars including Takumi Minamino (Liverpool), Erling Haaland (Borussia Dortmund), and Marin Pongracic (Wolfsburg).

Salzburg is back atop the Austrian Bundesliga after rivals LASK Linz lost six points for team training during the coronavirus pandemic.

Marsch, 46, won the 2015 Supporters’ Shield as New York Red Bulls coach, and was a regular trophy collector as a player with DC United and the Chicago Fire.

His Salzburg side impressed in a challenging Champions League group and the LASK punishment gives Marsch a look at the domestic double. There are 10 matches left in the Austrian Bundesliga season, which runs through July 5.

Sancho hits hat trick in Dortmund rout

Paderborn v. Borussia Dortmund recap and video highlights
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Borussia Dortmund clobbered bottom-dwelling Paderborn 6-1 on Sunday, piling on the goals late at Benteler Arena.

Jadon Sancho scored three goals in his return to the Starting XI, celebrating the first by removing his jersey to reveal a “Justice For George Floyd” message on his undershirt.

Dortmund stays seven points back of Bayern Munich with five matches to play and moves four points clear of both Gladbach and Bayer Leverkusen. RB Leipzig is five points back of second and plays Monday versus Koln.

Paderborn’s three-match unbeaten run is done, the last-place side eight points back of the relegation playoff spot and nine back of automatic safety. Uwe Hunemeier scored from the spot for the hosts.

[ Bundesliga: Gladbach wins | Saturday roundup | Bayern blowout  ] 

Thorgan Hazard had a goal and an assist, as did Marcel Schmelzer. Achraf Hakimi also scored, with Mateu Morey and Axel Witsel picking up assists.

Sancho now has 17 goals and 17 assists in 27 Bundesliga appearances this season.

Dortmund controlled possession but Paderborn manufactured some minor chances early before the visitors came close.

That’s when Julian Brandt set up Raphael Guerreiro for a shot across goal that bounded wide of the frame.

Brandt had a chance to curl a shot on goal just before half, but sliced the effort.

The breakthrough came just under nine minutes after half when Paderborn goalkeeper Leopold Zingerle couldn’t hold Emre Can’s hard cross and Hazard was in the catbird seat to slot home.

Sancho then scored his first from close range before a controversial penalty awarded for a sliding block by Emre Can allowed Hunemeier to convert from the spot. That made it 2-1 in the 72nd minute.

The English winger bagged his second goal with a powerful striker Zingerle could only turn inside his near post in the 74th minute, and BVB scored three more times from the 85th minute.

American teen Giovanni Reyna came off the bench and had a goal ruled out in his 10-minute cameo. He had nine touches, completed all five of his passes, and registered a shot. Reyna both of his duels, drew one foul, and made a clearance (Stats by Sofascore).

Sancho, Thuram, Hakimi honor George Floyd after scoring (video)

George Floyd tribute
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Statements in support of George Floyd continued in German soccer on Sunday, as two African-European players used their goal celebrations to honor his memory and plead for justice.

Borussia Monchengladbach’s French star Marcus Thuram took a knee after scoring a brace Sunday in a 4-1 defeat of Union Berlin.

Then Borussia Dortmund’s English winger removed his shirt to reveal a hand-drawn “Justice For George Floyd” statement on the front of his yellow undershirt. Later, Morocco teammate Achraf Hakimi would do the same.

[ PREMIER LEAGUE: Remaining schedule | Reaction to return ]

Floyd was killed Monday after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin putting his knee on George Floyd’s neck for more than 8 1/2 minutes, and calls for justice have reverberated around the world.

The moments came a day after Dallas native and American midfielder Weston McKennie wore a black armband with the words “Justice For George” in Schalke’s match versus Werder Bremen.

Following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN on Monday there have been widespread protests across the United States. Chauvin was arrested Friday and charged with murder, authorities confirmed.

Thuram also turned to Instagram to confirm that his gesture referenced Floyd’s death.

Transfer news: Cavani freed by Icardi signing, Saul teases new home

Saul to Manchester United
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Edinson Cavani is going to be one of the top targets in the free agent markets, as Paris Saint-Germain’s purchase of Mauro Icardi ushers the Uruguayan out of the Ligue 1 champions’ stable.

Icardi’s loan move to PSG from Inter Milan has been made permanent for big money, and the 33-year-old Cavani is set to bring his 259 goals somewhere else.

[ PREMIER LEAGUE: Remaining schedule | Reaction to return ]

Cavani scored 200 times in 300 matches with PSG after arriving from Napoli, scoring seven times despite being limited to just over 1000 minutes due to several injuries.

The target striker is free to negotiate with teams having nearly moved to Atletico Madrid in the January transfer window. Inter Miami has also been linked with Cavani, but that was before the coronavirus pandemic lowered the market and put an emphasis on free transfer targets.

Chelsea, Spurs, and Manchester United were (are?) also in a mix that is going to be very deep with suitors for Cavani, who has 50 goals in 116 caps for Uruguay.


Lille has received plenty of offers for young striker Victor Osimhen, but the club tells The Daily Mail that they’re expecting a fee close to what Arsenal paid them for Nicolas Pepe last season.

That was about $87 million, though Pepe had a better (not to mention full) season in 2018-19 than Osimhen’s strong 2019-20.

Pepe is about four years older than Osimhen and has 22 goals and 11 assists during his final Ligue 1 season. Osimhen, 21, has 13 and four in about 1100 fewer minutes and scored in the Champions League versus Chelsea and Valencia, so the comparison is closer than upon first look.

Here’s Lille owner Gerard Lopez:

“I am not being a sales guy because last year people didn’t believe that we had the offers we had with [Nicolas] Pepe and it turns out we had multiple of them. “Let me tell you with Osimhen, it is the same thing, whatever number you heard, the high number I have read is very much on the money of the offers that we have received. That’s where we are.”

Osimhen has been linked with Arsenal, Liverpool, Tottenham, and a host of clubs outside the Premier League. He lit up the Belgian league with RSC Charleroi the previous season after failing to score in his teen years with Wolfbusgr.


Atletico Madrid star and reported Manchester United target Saul Niguez is teasing a new club for him, saying he’ll announce it in three days.

We cannot be sure it won’t end with some sort of new sponsored product, but the game-controlling center midfielder has featured in reports of a “practically done” transfer to United in recent weeks.

Saul, 25, has become an indispensable part of Diego Simeone’s midfield and was one of the steadiest parts of Atleti’s victory over Liverpool in the UEFA Champions League.

He’s said to have an approximate $168 million release clause.