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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

Petr Cech earns win with 2 penalty saves in hockey debut

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Former Chelsea and Arsenal goalkeeper joined English fourth-division hockey team Guildford Phoenix four days ago and made his debut on Sunday.

He did not disappoint.

The 37-year-old saved two penalties in the shootout, earning Man of the Match honors.

Cech is reportedly a fan of the Guilford Flames, the first-division side who use the Phoenix as their developmental side. He was signed to be the team’s third-choice goalkeeper, just a chance for him to get in on the action before his body gives way for good, but he was given a chance to play right away. He wore number 39, a nod to famous Czech goaltender Dominik Hasek. His custom helmet was adorned with Arsenal and Chelsea colors. Regulation finished level at 2-2 before Cech’s shootout heroics.

“I wanted to win, that was the main thing, and I’m glad we did,” Cech said after the match. “I was surprised that I wasn’t more nervous. I didn’t know what to expect so it was nice how quickly my body switched into matchday mode.”

Giroud upset with reserve role at Chelsea

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Olivier Giroud does not look back on his transfer to Chelsea and wish he had done things differently, but that doesn’t mean things are all sunshine and roses for the 33-year-old.

Giroud, who moved to Chelsea from Arsenal in the winter of 2018 after six years with the Gunners, has played just 43 times in the Premier League, averaging just 35 minutes per appearance. That has him frustrated, hoping to prove his loyalty to the club and work harder than the other options up front.

“I had competitors in attack – [Alvaro] Morata, [Gonzalo] Higuain, who ended up leaving,” Giroud said. “I won at the end: I played the final of the FA Cup in 2018 and the [Europa League] final in 2019. Once again, I’m starting the year in a difficult situation. But as my brother says, I have always built myself in the face of adversity.”

Giroud is trying to be smart about how he approaches the competition for time with the likes of Tammy Abraham and Michy Batshuayi, but he says it is emotionally taxing.

“You do not have to be fatalistic in certain situations,” Giroud says about keeping a level head. “I have always been respectful and humble. Even if I do not agree with the coach, I do not criticize him. But in myself, I cannot accept it because I know what I’m worth on a pitch.”

The French international has made just three league appearances this season, mostly thanks to Abraham’s scalding form. Abraham, still just 22 years old, has snatched his opportunity for first-team minutes with eight goals in eight games to start the campaign. That has left Giroud on the sidelines for each of the last five league games, missing out on a spot in the matchday squad altogether for the last three.

Despite his struggles at the club level, Giroud has maintained his place in the French national team, missing just five matches of France’s last 64 games, including 37 of the last 39.

James says he was not knocked unconscious in Wales draw

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Head injury awareness again rose to the forefront in the 1-1 draw between Wales and Croatia in Cardiff when Daniel James went down after colliding with a pair of opponents.

The Manchester United winger looked to almost sure have been knocked unconscious when Domagoj Vida’s knee appeared to tap the back of his head while challenging for a ball in the air. Vida went toppling over the back of teammate Borna Barisic who ducked out of the way, but it was James who many were concerned for as he lay motionless on his back with his eyes closed.

Yet James was allowed to come back onto the field and completed the full 90 minutes, sparking criticism from injury advocates and fans who were concerned for James’ safety on the field, at potential risk for even more serious consequences should he indeed have suffered a concussion.

After the game however, despite what fans saw as James lie on the turf, the 21-year-old insisted he was not knocked unconscious. “I’m fine,” James claimed after the match, speaking to Sky Sports. “I think he just caught me in the head but I didn’t get knocked out fortunately.”

Wales boss Ryan Giggs backed up the decision as well, calling James’ motionless display “a bit of acting.”

“The medical staff went over, he was compos mentis and we did all the checks at half-time and he was fine,” Giggs said, referring to the latin phrase for “of sound mind.”

If James was indeed faking unconsciousness, it’s natural to wonder if he should face a fine from UEFA for looking to con referees, and in the process possibly confusing the independent neurologists on site assigned to assess head injuries.

ESPN broadcaster Taylor Twellman, who has been outspoken over the past few years advocating for head injury awareness after his career was cut short by concussions, took to Twitter to criticize Wales for allowing James back into the game. Twellman, who was on the ESPN call of the broadcast with Ian Darke, said more needs to be done to prevent players from being able to force their way back onto the field, lest someone be killed by second impact syndrome.

Former Hull City player Ryan Mason, who was forced to retire after a serious skull fracture saw him fighting for his life, was also seriously concerned about the incident.

Interestingly enough, later in the match just seconds after the second half restart, young Wales midfielder Ethan Ampadu was whalloped from behind by Croatia’s Bruno Petkovic in a wild and reckless aerial challenge. Petkovic’s elbow went clattering into the back of Ampadu’s head, and the was left writhing on the ground holding his head. The Chelsea youngster was taken off the field and immediately replaced by Joe Morrell, while Petkovic was lucky to escape with just a yellow card.

Kane reflects on Tottenham, England struggles

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Harry Kane keeps finding the back of the net, but his teams keep losing.

The 26-year-old striker has bagged five Premier League goals in eight games for Spurs thus far, plus another seven goals for England in five Euro 2020 qualifiers this cycle. Yet Tottenham sits ninth in the table after three losses already this season, while England slumped to its first Euro defeat last time out, putting its seeding at the Euro finals next summer in jeopardy.

Kane is hoping to be a leader through the tough times for both club and country, wearing the armband for both as it currently stands.

“I think you need to lead by example,” Kane said ahead of England’s visit to Bulgaria on Monday. “Not getting too down when you lose a game, not getting too high when you win games. It is a long, old season for club and country ahead – a lot of games to be played so there are going to be tough periods.”

Kane has taken over the England captaincy on a permanent basis, and is filling in for the injured Hugo Lloris at Tottenham. “I am still the same person,” he said. “I still try and lead by example on and off the pitch and I will continue to do that. I have been in high pressure situations before in my career, whether that is going through goal droughts, playing in high-pressure games or not playing well as a team. It is something I will take in my stride and improve on.”

Leading by example includes finding the back of the net, while also supporting teammates both on and off the pitch. He knows even if he’s in good personal form on the stat sheet, there’s always ways to improve and help the squads through tough times.

“I am scoring goals but can I get more assists, create more chances? So yeah, I always look at little things I can get better at. Yes, the England form has been good but as ever, it can be better. We will see if I can continue scoring. It has been a good campaign but important I do not stop now.”