Shane Duffy

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Watch Live: Newcastle United v. Brighton and Hove Albion

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Hometown hero Andy Carroll is on the bench for Newcastle United as the Magpies host Brighton and Hove Albion in an early season six-pointer at St. James’ Park (Watch live at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

That is if you’re comfortable with the term six-pointer in Week Six. We bet both these teams are well aware of the import either way.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Steve Bruce‘s Black and White Army has Carroll in the team for the first time since being sold to Liverpool nearly a decade ago.

“A bit old school, if you like to say that, but certainly in his time I don’t think there has been anybody better in the last eight or ten years, when he’s been playing, of that certain type of centre forward as Andy Carroll. It’s going to be huge and it will be great for us going forward, that’s for sure,” Bruce said before the game.”

Meanwhile for Brighton, long-time stars Shane Duffy and Glenn Murray are again on the bench to start the fight up north.

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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

Premier League Numbers Nerd: Week 1

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Small sample sizes can make for terrible science, but they’re delightful for stat hounds and simple amusements.

For example, the Premier League’s opening weekend saw a hat trick for Raheem Sterling and braces for Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford, and Ashley Barnes.

[ MORE: USSF promotes Stewart, hires USWNT GM ]

Who was the top dog of the week in terms of match rating, though? Man City’s Riyad Mahrez, who was nearly perfect with two assists, 83.3 percent passing despite his placement in low success areas of the pitch, four tackles, two interceptions, and four key passes.

Here are our favorite numbers, notes, and names from Week 1 (Stats via WhoScored):

Two (2) assists is the current top total in the league. It won’t surprise you to see Mahrez and Paul Pogba on that figure, but the third player to do it is… Burnley’s Erik Pieters!

Four (4) players won eight or more aerial duels: League-leader Christian Benteke (9) of Crystal Palace, as well as Newcastle’s Joelinton, Burnley’s Ben Mee, and Brighton’s Shane Duffy.

Under five: Three players in the Premier League played 90 minutes and couldn’t register higher than a 5.0 on WhoScored’s rating system. Kurt Zouma of Chelsea (4.86) could not come close to replicating his stalwart play with Everton last season and conceded a penalty and four goals. West Ham star Issa Diop (4.93) had the sort of statistical day a lot of players do against Man City, and two of his back line teammates joined him in the Bottom Six. And Grant Hanley of Norwich City posted a 4.99, dinged largely by an own goal despite completing 92.3 percent of his passes against Liverpool.

Five (5) –> Villa fans will want this to be six, as Tyrone Mings couldn’t stop Tanguy Ndombele‘s equalizer, but no player in the Premier League blocked as many shots as the former Bournemouth man. And we’re not done with him yet.

(Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

Five is also the league-best number of key passes recorded, by Chelsea’s Pedro. Perhaps Frank Lampard‘s feeling about his team’s play in a 4-0 loss to Manchester United will make sense over time.

And five is also the most fouls drawn by anyone in Week 1, with Villa’s Jack Grealish and Palace’s Jordan Ayew needing some time in an ice bath.

Finally, five is the number of players who completed more than 80 passes on Opening Day. Leicester’s Ben Chilwell led the way with 85, followed by Granit Xhaka (Arsenal), Toby Alderweireld (Spurs), Harry Winks (Spurs), and Jonny Evans (Leicester).

Seven (7) interceptions were made by Newcastle’s Fabian Schar, the most in the league. Seven is also the amount of fouls committed by Crystal Palace’s Luka Milivojevic against Everton, three more than anyone else (Yes, he saw yellow).

Eight (8): The amount of shots taken by Harry Kane, double the amount of anyone else in the Premier League.

Eight is also the most successful tackles won by a single player this weekend, done by Liverpool’s Fabinho and Aston Villa’s John McGinn?

Seventeen (17): This would also be more appropriately read as “Seven-(expletive)-teen!” Aston Villa’s Mings cleared danger 17 times against Spurs, almost double the No. 2 man, Palace’s Martin Kelly.

100%: Only one field player in the league played more than a half-hour and completed all of his passes, and that was… Christian Pulisic of Chelsea and these United States of America. He was 12-for-12, but here’s the bad news: That came as part of a statistically miserable 6.09 showing.

Premier League friendly roundup: West Ham, Crystal Palace win; Everton falls twice

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With two weeks to go before the start of the season, there were a number of Premier League teams in preseason friendly action Saturday morning, and almost all of them came out victorious.

Early in the morning, Manchester City topped Yokohama FM in Japan 3-1, with Kevin De Bruyne impressing for the defending Premier League champions.

[ MORE: Man City tops Yokohama FM 3-1 ]

West Ham United visited Craven Cottage and came away with a 1-0 win thanks to Manuel Lanzini‘s 18th minute goal. The defense for the most part kept Fulham in check and the Hammers were in control for the entire first half. The Whites only found one good opportunity with 12 minutes to go as Aboubakar Kamara came close, and Andriy Yarmolenko nearly scored at the death for West Ham.

Everton played a pair of matches, with the Opel Cup featuring two 60 minute games against Sevilla and Mainz. The Toffees dropped both games, falling to Sevilla 1-0 before dropping to Mainz 3-1. A penalty was the difference in the opening game against Sevilla, while Lewis Gibson scored in the losing effort against the German side. Robin Quaison did the damage for Mainz with a pair.

Aston Villa came out on top of Charlton Athletic 4-1 as Scottish international John McGinn scored twice. His second was an absolutely blistering solo effort that came when he stole the ball in the attacking third, skipped around a foul by a defender, rounded the keeper on the end line and scored from a tight angle.

Anwar El Ghazi and Andre Green were also on the scoresheet as Villa heads into its final week of preseason preparations, with one more friendly coming next weekend against RB Leipzig.

Leicester City got a winner from Youri Tielemans in the 84th minute as the Foxes topped Stoke City 2-1. The Belgian finished off a cutback from Ben Chilwell for the winner, which added to Marc Albrighton‘s strike on the hour mark. The two goals were required to wipe off Stoke’s 70th minute goal by Nick Powell. The game was marred by a horrible ankle injury to Ryan Shawcross which had the home fans spooked for quite some time at bet365 Stadium.

Bournemouth got goals from Jordan Ibe and Dominic Solanke as the Cherries topped Brentford 3-1. Ibe was especially bright, opening the scoring just before halftime and assisting the third from 20-year-old Sam Surridge. A pair for Bournemouth against Lyon and Lazio on back-to-back days in early August are the final tuneups before the season.

Burnley drew with Wigan 2-2, throwing away a two-goal lead they built in the opening 10 minutes thanks to goals from Jay Rodriguez and Dwight McNeil. The Clarets were pegged back by a James Tarkowski own-goal just before halftime and Joe Gelhardt’s equalizer past the hour mark. Burnley controlled much of the first half but they were forced to defend for significant stretches after the break.

Brighton clobbered Birmingham City 4-0 as Glenn Murray got on the scoresheet early and a Shane Duffy second-half pair finished things off. It was all seagulls, as Jurgen Locadia also found the back of the net and Martin Montoya struck the crossbar 15 minutes from time. Only the first 15 minutes of the second half saw Birmingham City truly threaten, and Brighton was able to weather the storm. New manager Graham Potter utilized a three-CB defense and it worked wonders in the opening 20 minutes, working a team goal finished off by Murray before Leandro Trossard stole a poor pass by the goalkeeper and fed Locadia for a turn-and-shoot.

Sheffield United also took a four-goal haul to victory, topping nearby Barnsley 4-1. Callum Robinson scored twice and Ben Osborn scored on his debut for the club as the Blades won for the fourth this this preseason. Ravel Morrison also made his club debut, seeing time in the final 15 minutes.

Watford secured a 1-0 victory over QPR as main man Etienne Capoue scored the game’s only goal in a repeat of the same opponent, scoreline, and goalscorer from the FA Cup 5th round last season. QPR had chances and moments throughout the game, but Capoue took charge past the half-hour mark in an otherwise drab first half.

Crystal Palace obliterated Bristol City 5-0 as everything was working for the Eagles in their preseason tuneup. Christian Benteke provided a thumping header while Andros Townsend and Jeffrey Schlupp were also on target in the match. Wilfried Zaha was not in the squad for Palace but they certainly didn’t miss him as Luka Milivojevic controlled the midfield powerfully and the attacking threat was constant.

Euro qualifiers: Spain rolls, Ukraine blasts Serbia, Poland hangs on

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The third round of Euro 2020 qualification began Friday as 12 games all took place around the continent with teams looking to reach the multi-national final next summer.

Here’s a rundown of each game that took place:

Faroe Islands 1-4 Spain

The visitors will be miffed to concede a goal, but the result was never really in doubt as Spain went ahead just five minutes in on Sergio Ramos’s header and never looked back. Jesus Navas made it 2-0 inside 20 minutes from a very tight angle, and while the tiny nation crawled back within one on the half-hour mark with a well-worked corner, Spain wrestled control back three minutes later with an own-goal by Faroe Islands goalkeeper Teitur Matras Gestsson, and killed off the game with 19 minutes to go as delicious through-ball from Marco Asensio fed Valencia winger Jose Gaya through on goal for a calm finish.

Ukraine 5-0 Serbia

A shocking scoreline saw Serbia lay an egg on the road in L’viv as Yevhen Konoplyanka’s brace led Ukraine to a massive win to take control of Group B. 21-year-old Dynamo Kiev winger Viktor Tsyhankov also bagged a pair, scoring two minutes apart just before the half-hour mark – the second of which was a screamer from well outside the box – while Konoplyanka tacked on to the lead with his stellar second half.

Serbia was well and truly thumped, managing just one shot on target the whole match despite a strong lineup that featured Dusan Tadic, Adem Ljajic, Aleksandar Kolarov, and new Real Madrid signing Luka Jovic.

Czech Republic 2-1 Bulgaria

Ismail Isa put Bulgaria in front just three minutes into the game on just his second international cap, but the hosts rallied in Praha behind a brace from 23-year-old Roma striker Patrik Schick to earn its first points of the qualifying cycle. Schick’s first leveled the score 19 minutes in, and the winner came just after halftime thanks to some silky moves in the box that turned Vasil Bozhikov around like a top.

Denmark 1-1 Republic of Ireland

Denmark appeared to have won a sloppy and physical match in the 76th minute on a thumping header by Southampton midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, but the Republic of Ireland stayed the course and earned a late draw as Shane Duffy pumped in a header of his own five minutes from time. Denmark was sloppy up front for much of the game, ripping off 18 shots but finding the target with just three, and they would rue their wastefulness in the end, drawing for the second time in two games while Republic of Ireland stayed top of Group D on seven points.

Macedonia 0-1 Poland

Halftime substitute Krzysztof Piatek carried his hot club form into the summer, with his 47th minute winner the difference as Poland earned a more difficult than anticipated win. The goal came in gloriously sloppy fashion, with Macedonia somehow unable to clear a corner and the ball pinged around to Piatek at point blank range with bodies all around. That was Poland’s only shot on target the entire match in an otherwise uninspiring performance despite the presence of Robert Lewandowski and Piotr Zielinski in the lineup.

Norway 2-2 Romania

Martin Odegaard scored his first international goal, but Romania came from 2-0 down to grab a last-gasp draw in the 92nd minute to secure a share of the spoils in Oslo. Alexandru Maxim’s initial shot was blocked, but it fell right to the feet of Claudiu Keseru who had snuck behind Kristoffer Ajer to poke home the late equalizing goal. All four goals came in the second half, with Keseru bagging a brace after his first in the 76th minute gave Romania life.

Sweden 3-0 Malta

Robin Quaison opened the scoring just two minutes in, Viktor Claesson struck just after halftime, and Alexander Isak finished it off five minutes from full-time as Sweden completed a wire-to-wire victory over Malta to stay within striking distance of Spain in Group F. The second was the best of the bunch as Claesson scored thanks to a simply stunning back-heel assist from Marcus Berg who popped the ball up and over the defense right at the feet of the Krasnodar frontman for the finish.

Austria 1-0 Slovenia

Schalke striker Guido Burgstaller earned Austria all three points with his 74th minute winner for the country’s first points in Group G play. Coming on in the 71st minute, he scored after just three minutes on the pitch after great work from stars David Alaba and Marko Arnautovic. Alaba’s ball into the box fell to the feet of Arnautovic right on the doorstep, and the West Ham attacker held off his defender to deliver a shot, and his saved effort rebounded right to Burgstaller.

Latvia 0-3 Israel

Lithuania 1-1 Luxembourg

Montenegro 1-1 Kosovo

Georgia 3-0 Gibraltar