Matt Macey

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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

EFL Cup wrap: Swansea, Palace fall; 18-year-old plays Arsenal hero

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A pair of Premier League teams fell in Carabao Cup action, while another barely survived as the quarterfinals of the competition are nearly set.

[ MORE: Madrid not interested in signing Kane, they say ]

Swansea City was thoroughly beaten by Manchester United on a pair of Jesse Lingard goals, while struggling Crystal Palace was beaten heavily by Championship side Bristol City despite an early 1-0 lead. Meanwhile, Arsenal just squeaked by Norwich City with the help of a young hero, scoring a late goal to force extra time before winning things early in the added period.

Manchester City failed to score, but would advance on penalties thanks to the help of their veterans.


Swansea City 0-2 Manchester United

Jesse Lingard came into the squad and got back on the scoresheet with a simple finish 21 minutes in to complete the play started by a skillful flick from Marcus Rashford. That goal sent the Red Devils through, but Lingard would complete his brace after halftime on a spectacular header, connecting with Matteo Darmian‘s cross just inside the top of the box for a long-range strike.

Arsenal 2-1 Norwich City (AET)

Arsenal started a mostly second-choice lineup in their home Cup match, and it almost backfired massively. Josh Murphy struck for Norwich just past the half-hour mark, getting loose through the central defenders on a fast-break and chipping goalkeeper Matt Macey to stun the Emirates.

Needing a hero, 18-year-old striker Eddie Nketiah – an Arsenal academy product – came off the bench for his second pro appearance in the 85th minute and struck an astonishing 15 seconds later, poking home after Francis Coquelin had flicked the ball in front of net with his head from a corner.

Nketiah wasn’t done, bagging the winner on a header six minutes into extra time, powering the ball into the top corner off a set-piece a la Olivier Giroud. Fun fact: Nketiah is the first player born after Arsene Wenger took charge at Arsenal to score a goal for the Gunners. Yay for everyone feeling old!

Bournemouth 3-1 Middlesbrough

Callum Wilson hit from the penalty spot in the 75th minute to give Bournemouth a spot in the quarterfinals. The referee had pointed to the spot after Dael Fry fouled Jack Simpson on a corner, and Wilson buried the chance to put Bournemouth through. Benik Afobe added the Cherries’ third with seven minutes to go.

Wilson’s winner came after Simpson and Marcus Tavernier had cancelled each other out following a scoreless first half.

Bristol City 4-1 Crystal Palace

Former Wolves winger Bakary Sako put Crystal Palace in front early, but the Championship side Bristol City cancelled out the Eagles’ lead before halftime through Matty Taylor. Five minutes later, Palace would find themselves walking into halftime down a goal as substitute Milan Djuric would poke the ball home on a scrum in the box following a long throw.

Joe Bryan gave Bristol City a third after halftime to ensure Palace’s misery on the hour mark, and Callum O’Dowda added on a fourth.

Leicester City 2-1 Leeds United

Islam Slimani was the hero as the Foxes prevailed over Championship side Leeds United in a come-from-behind win at the King Power Stadium. He touched home on a cross from Kelechi Iheanacho following a through-ball from Vicente Ibarro.

Pablo Hernandez put Leeds in front 26 minutes in, but the lead only lasted till the half-hour mark when Iheanacho struck to bring Leeds back level, catching Leeds goalkeeper Felix Weidwald out of position.

Manchester City 0-0 Wolverhampton Wanderers (City wins 4-2 on penalties)

Championship leaders Wolves frustrated a decently strong Manchester City side all night, and with the game scoreless all the way through extra time despite 25 Manchester City shots – but just six on target – we went to penalties.

Claudio Bravo saved efforts from Alfred N'Diaye and Conor Coady, while Kevin De Bruyne, Yaya Toure, Leroy Sane, and Sergio Aguero were all successful from the spot to send Manchester City through