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Ndidi, Iheanacho on brink of Premier League exit after sorry season

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After Paul Onuachu and Joe Aribo in Southampton, it appear it is the turn of another Super Eagles; duo to get into Premiership relegation with their club.

Seven years ago, Leicester lifted the Premier League trophy. Now they are on the brink of relegation from the top-flight after a miserable season.

The Foxes, who drew 0-0 at Newcastle on Monday, will only avoid relegation if they beat West Ham this weekend on the final day of the season and fourth bottom Everton drop points at home to Bournemouth.

Dean Smith adopted a safety-first approach against Newcastle and Leicester failed to muster a shot until stoppage-time, but they kept their first clean sheet in the league since November.

It is a far cry from the heady days of 2016, when Claudio Ranieri delivered a fairytale triumph for the ages, overcoming monumental odds to win the title after Leicester narrowly avoided relegation the previous year.

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Despite that incredible success, the Italian did not last long at the King Power Stadium, but the arrival of Brendan Rodgers in 2019 gave fresh impetus to the Thai-owned club.

They finished fifth in the Premier League two years in a row — just missing out on Champions League qualification — and won the FA Cup for the first time in 2021.

Even last year the club ended a comfortable eighth and reached the semi-finals of the Europa Conference League.

But things began to unravel for Leicester in the first game of this season when they let a 2-0 lead slip to draw 2-2 with Brentford.

What followed was a horror show as they lost six straight league matches and despite sporadic mini revivals they have been unable to pull themselves clear of danger.

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Leicester have scored more goals — 49 — than any other club in the bottom half of the table but their defensive problems have cost them dear.

Smith, who was appointed as interim manager after Rodgers left by mutual consent in April, was unapologetic after his side’s defensively minded performance against Newcastle.

“We haven’t kept a clean sheet for too long and the reason we are where we are is because of that in my opinion,” he said.

The former Aston Villa boss added: “If it’s too little, too late, who knows? But we’ve taken it to Sunday now.”

– Problems mount –

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Leicester have long been a byword for canny recruitment with Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez, N’Golo Kante and Kasper Schmeichel playing starring roles in their title-winning side.

They continued to recruit well, bringing in players of the calibre of Youri Tielemans, James Maddison and Wesley Fofana.

Fofana signed for Chelsea last year while Schmeichel left for Nice, depriving the club of leadership and experience on the pitch. Vardy is now a fading force.

Signings including Patson Daka, Boubakary Soumare, Jannik Vestergaard and Wout Faes have not made the desired impact.

Rodgers raised the alarm in the early weeks of the season, saying he had “not had the help in the market this team needed”.

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“I came to Leicester to compete and initially I was able to do that,” he said in September. “You have to add quality but in the last two (transfer) windows we haven’t been able to do that.”

Two of Leicester’s star names — Tielemans and Maddison — are likely to leave the club if they go down.

Vardy, for so long the team’s talisman, is 36 and has had a peripheral role this term, while central defender Jonny Evans has only played 12 league games all season.

Dropping into the Championship is not the financial calamity it once was, with clubs cushioned by generous parachute payments for up to three years.

But losing their Premier League status for the first time in nine years will be a huge blow to the pride of a club who had experienced the unexpected thrill of winning silverware so recently.

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Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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Premier League

June 12 relief for Ten Hag…to stay at Old Trafford

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Manchester United Can Still Finish Fourth, Says Erik Ten Hag -

Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag will remain in the job for next season and has entered into talks with the Old Trafford club over a contract extension despite the team’s lowest ever Premier League finish of eighth, British media reported.

The decision comes after an end-of-season review by the club’s board for the 2023-24 campaign, which finished on a high with a shock FA Cup final win over favourites Manchester City.

Ten Hag’s contract runs until the end of next season, with the club having the option of extending it a further 12 months.

Former Ajax Amsterdam coach Ten Hag had come under increasing pressure after 20-times English champions United suffered their worst start to a season since 1962-63 with eight defeats in their first 15 matches in all competitions.

They ended up eighth after 14 defeats in their 38 league games and bowed out of the Champions League in the group phase.

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Ten Hag’s job security had been the subject of speculation all season and many pundits believed the FA Cup final would be the Dutchman’s last game with the team, win or lose.

But moments after their thrilling triumph, the 54-year-old insisted he had no doubt he would be back and said he had received the backing of the club’s owners all season.

“I’m in a project and we are exactly where we want to be. We’re constructing a team. When I took over it was a mess at United, and we are on our way to construct a team for the future,” he told reporters at Wembley.

“The team is developing, the team is winning and the team also plays to an identity. What you need to play is to be available, you need a strong squad in top football, and especially when you play in England, the Premier League is so competitive.”

INJURY WOES

Ten Hag pointed to United’s revolving door of injuries last term, the most of any Premier League team and concentrated in key positions such as central defence.

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He also spoke about the breakout seasons of young players such as midfielder Kobbie Mainoo, who is part of England’s Euro 2024 squad in Germany, and Argentina winger Alejandro Garnacho.

In Ten Hag’s two seasons in charge, United have played in three Wembley finals and lifted two trophies, having also won last season’s League Cup.

Media reports said that all eventualities were considered in the club’s post-season review and the clear preference was for Ten Hag to remain in charge at Old Trafford.

Among coaches linked to the job as potential replacements were Thomas Tuchel and England manager Gareth Southgate.

Ten Hag is United’s fifth permanent manager since Alex Ferguson retired in 2013 as the club have searched for someone to lead them back to the heights of their glory years.

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He guided United to third in the league in his debut season

-Reuters

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Another Nigerian blood to flow in Chelsea veins

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Carabao Cup - Quarter Final - Everton v Fulham - Goodison Park, Liverpool, Britain - December 19, 2023 Fulham's Tosin Adarabioyo celebrates after the match REUTERS/Carl Recine

Chelsea have signed centre back Tosin Adarabioyo from fellow west London club Fulham on a free transfer, the Premier League side announced on Friday.

Adarabioyo, a former England youth international is of Nigerian descent. He is the latest Nigerian linked with Chlesea after Celestine Babayaro, Mikel Obi and Victor Moses among others.

The 26-year-old Adarabioyo who will join the Stamford Bridge side on a four-year contract beginning on July 1, has made one appearance for the England Under-19s and has played 78 times in the Premier League.

He is the first player to join Chelsea since they announced the arrival of new head coach Enzo Maresca, opens new tab earlier this week, and will bolster their options at centre back following the departure of veteran Thiago Silva.

“We are delighted to bring Tosin to Chelsea,” Chelsea co-sporting directors Laurence Stewart and Paul Winstanley said.

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“Throughout his career, he has showcased his maturity and defensive qualities and has gained a wealth of experience in the Premier League in recent seasons.

“He is ready to make the step up to Chelsea and work alongside the talented players in our squad. We look forward to Tosin joining up with us for pre-season.”

Chelsea are looking to revive their fortunes under Maresca after finishing sixth in the standings last season.

“I’m looking forward to starting work with Enzo and I’m sure the boys are too,” Adarabioyo said.

“It’s going to be exciting. We’re going to play good football and win a lot of games. There are top players in this squad and I’m eager to play with them all.”

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-Reuters

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Nigerian-born Ogbonna leaves West Ham after nine-year stay

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Premier League - West Ham United v Luton Town - London Stadium, London, Britain - May 11, 2024 West Ham United's Angelo Ogbonna applauds fans as he is substituted REUTERS/Tony Obrien/File Photo

West Ham United centre back Angelo Ogbonna is leaving the club after nine years in east London, the Premier League side said on Wednesday.

Ogbonna was born to Nigerian parents who emigrated to Italy from Nigeria in 1983, settling in the city of Cassino in the central part of the country, but managed to obtain Italian citizenship only after his 18th birthday. He is now 36.

The  Italy international made 201 Premier League appearances for the club and was part of their Europa Conference League-winning side last year.

The former Juventus player struggled with several injuries during his time at West Ham, including a cruciate ligament tear suffered in 2021 that kept him out for almost a year.

“When he was not playing, Ogbonna was always a willing supporter of the club’s community work,” West Ham said in a statement. “He will always be a beloved member of the West Ham United family

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-Reuters

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