Wilfred Ndidi

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Which outsiders have hope of breaking into Premier League’s Top Six?

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With unproven managers at Chelsea and Manchester United and a possible David Luiz-Shkrodan Mustafi center back partnership at Arsenal, there are scenarios in which the seas part and a new team finishes in the Top Six for the first time since Chelsea and Liverpool crashed out of the picture in 2015-16.

Wolves will like their chances, having made Raul Jimenez and Leander Dendoncker permanent members of the team and buying Patrick Cutrone, Pedro Neto, and Bruno Jordao from Serie A.

[ MORE: PST’s PL preview roundtable ]

But they’ll face a loaded fixture list thanks to the Europa League (assuming they don’t exit at the hands of Armenia’s Pyunik in the third qualifying round or a similar foe in the playoff round). The first group stage date is sandwiched between Chelsea and Crystal Palace on the league docket, the second between Watford and Man City.

That’s a test of depth, one of which most of their players are taking for the first time.

Then there’s Everton, which has amassed some serious experience and guile even amongst its youngsters. Moise Kean arrives from Juventus, while Andre Gomes, Djibril Sidibe, and Fabian Delph are no strangers to silverware.

If Jean-Philippe Gbamin can quickly adapt to the league to combine with Delph and provide 75 percent of what Idrissa Gana Gueye gave the club, look out.

West Ham is another interesting one: Issa Diop was a revelation at center back and the club is close to keeping a hold of Felipe Anderson.

The Irons have finally added their prototypical center forward and should be nice and settled at the London Stadium. The question is whether West Ham can rewrite their organizational reputation this season.

There are arguments to be made for Watford and even Aston Villa, but those seem a bit farfetched unless the Hornets are seriously out-scouting the rest of the world.

So we’ll finish with Leicester City, who needs to hope that Jamie Vardy can keep holding off the hands of time and youngsters Youri Tielemans and Wilfred Ndidi can take a hold of the team to take the next step as stars.

There are enough ancillary pieces in Ayoze Perez and Demarai Gray, as well as gleaming potential stars like Harvey Barnes and James Maddison.

But the question of how they’ll replace Harry Maguire is a real one, as is the big Brendan Rodgers effort: Can he focus the club the way he did when Liverpool had a Europe-free year in 2013-14, and take advantage of the fixture list to ride into the top tier?

Africa Cup of Nations last 16 preview: Salah, Mane on collision course?

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The group stage of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations has been low-scoring, so we’ll be hoping for some early goals to open up play for the many electric stars of Africa.

That doesn’t mean we haven’t seen the big names find the score sheet, as Mohamed Salah of Liverpool and host nation Egypt has two goals — as many as anyone in the tournament — the same amount as club teammate Sadio Mane.

[ MORE: JPW’s Round of 16 predictions ]

The Reds may be on a collision course for Cairo on July 19, with Senegal the 22nd ranked team in the world via FIFA and Egypt hosting the tournament.

All five of the nations to qualify for the 2018 World Cup remain alive, with three in the top of the bracket and two in the bottom.

The 32nd edition of the competition could see a rematch of the 31st final in the quarterfinals, but it will require Cameroon emerging from a massive Round of 16 meeting with Nigeria.

Should they do so, and the hosts beat South Africa, the rematch will arrive on Wednesday in Cairo.

The Cameroon-Nigeria match may be topped by one in the upper half of the bracket, as Ghana looks to reassert itself as a power by knocking of Tunisia. The Black Stars missed out on the 2018 World Cup, and the winner is arguably a favorite to reach the final.

Premier League talents on show

Senegal – Mane (Liverpool), Idrissa Gana Gueye (Everton), Cheikhou Kouyate (Crystal Palace)

Morocco – Romain Saiss (Wolves)

Democratic Republic of Congo – Arthur Masuaku (West Ham)

Ghana – Christian Atsu (Newcastle), Jordan Ayew (Crystal Palace)

Mali – Moussa Djenepo (Southampton)

Ivory Coast – Serge Aurier (Spurs), Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace), Jonathan Kodija (Aston Villa)

Algeria – Riyad Mahrez (Man City), Islam Slimani (Leicester)

Guinea – Naby Keita (Liverpool)

Nigeria – Leon Balogun (Brighton), Alex Iwobi (Arsenal), Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester), Henry Onyekuru (Everton).

Cameroon – Gaetan Bong (Brighton),

Egypt – Salah (Liverpool), Mohamed Elneny (Arsenal), Ahmed Elmohamady (Aston Villa)

Round of 16 schedule

Uganda v. Senegal – July 5
Morocco v. Benin – July 5

Madagascar v. Democratic Republic of Congo – July 7
Ghana v. Tunisia – July 8

Mali v. Ivory Coast – July 8
Algeria v. Guinea – July 7

Nigeria v. Cameroon – July 6
Egypt v. South Africa – July 6

FOLLOW LIVE: Day 2 of the Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt

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Egypt’s national team kicked off the tournament on Friday, and now the nations turns its eyes to playing host to the Africa Cup of Nations with three Saturday kickoffs.

[ LIVE: Africa Cup of Nations scores ]

Yannick Bolasie, Arthur Masuaku, and the Democratic Republic of Congo get us started with a Group A match against Uganda at 10:30 a.m. ET.

That’s followed up by the Super Eagles of Nigeria, with Wilfred Ndidi of Leicester City preparing to tangle with Burundi at 1.

Finally, Guinea and Madagascar round out the day’s matches with a 4 p.m. start.

Group A
Democratic Republic of Congo v. Uganda – 10:30 a.m. ET

Group B
Nigeria v. Burundi – 1 p.m. ET
Guinea v. Madagascar – 4 p.m. ET

Transfer rumor roundup: Neymar for Coutinho plus cash? Dembele to Liverpool?

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The rumors are plenty to finish the work week, so let’s dive right into the buzz around the Premier League summer.

The Rodri-to-City reports have been long-running, but that didn’t stop another team from trying a 23rd hour move for the Atletico Madrid midfielder.

Kicker in Germany reports that Bayern Munich tried to swoop into the picture and snatch the player away from Man City, but that Rodri remains sold on working with Pep Guardiola and the Premier League champions.

Barcelona’s hopes of acquiring Neymar for far less than what some say could be a $300 million transfer fee involves a part-swap deal.

AS says that Barca would offer Paris Saint-Germain $100 million plus Philippe Coutinho in exchange for Neymar’s services.

Given Neymar’s injury history and off-field issues, maybe PSG will jump at that and use the $100 million on one of the many players linked with the club this offseason. From Leicester City’s Wilfred Ndidi to Real’s James Rodriguez, that money would be useful.

And Barca is going to be selling any number of players this offseason, but would you believe they’d admit failure in the case of Ousmane Dembele?

Don Balon reports that Liverpool of all teams is ready to spend nearly $170 million on Dembele, giving them at-worst insurance and at-best a replacement for any moves made by Sadio Mane or Mohamed Salah (who are widely reported as happy at Anfield).

Finally, Sky Sports says Inter Milan’s action on Romelu Lukaku could not happen until June 30 when Financial Fair Play sanctions relax on the Serie A unit.

United apparently wants around $90 million for the Belgian striker, while Inter is hoping to spend a little more than half of that figure.

Inter would also, Sky says, have to sell Mauro Icardi and there’s been little interest in the prolific but controversial striker. Not a huge surprise.