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Man City, Liverpool renew title fight

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MANCHESTER:

Premier League clubs have splashed an estimated £1 billion ($1.2 billion) in the arms race for new talent ahead of the start to the 2022/23 season on Friday, but champions Manchester City remain the side to beat.

After winning four league titles in five years, Pep Guardiola’s squad has been bolstered by the biggest name arrival of the summer in Erling Haaland.

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The Norwegian had his choice of Europe’s top clubs after scoring 85 goals in 88 games for Borussia Dortmund and followed in the footsteps of his father Alf Inge – a former City captain – to the blue side of Manchester.

Haaland may have had a debut to forget as he missed a glaring opportunity towards the end of City’s 3-1 Community Shield defeat to Liverpool on Saturday, but Guardiola warned the pretenders to his side’s throne that “the goals will come”.

“There is no reason not to be confident,” added Guardiola. “What these guys have done, not just in the Premier League, but in the cups, the steps we have made in Europe and in many things.”

In a window of significant change at the Etihad, Argentine forward Julian Alvarez and England international midfielder Kalvin Phillips have also arrived.

But Guardiola has let plenty of experience go to Premier League rivals with Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko heading to Arsenal and Raheem Sterling joining Chelsea.

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Liverpool are best placed to pounce on any slipping of City’s standards.

Jurgen Klopp’s side were denied a historic quadruple by the finest of margins last season as they were pipped to the title by a point and lost the Champions League final 1-0 to Real Madrid after winning the League and FA Cup.

The Reds have also refreshed their front line with the imposing presence of Darwin Nunez coming in to compensate for the loss of Sadio Mane to Bayern Munich.

Nunez did make an immediate impact in the Community Shield, winning a penalty and scoring to turn the game in Liverpool’s favour late in the game.

City and Liverpool have dominated English football for the past five years, but if there is to be a challenge from the chasing pack, it could come from Tottenham.

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Ahead of Antonio Conte’s first full season in charge, the Italian has been heavily backed by the normally thrifty Spurs board with the signings of Richarlison, Yves Bissouma, Ivan Perisic, Djed Spence, Clement Lenglet and Fraser Forster.

Crucially, Tottenham have also retained the star duo of Harry Kane and Son Heung-min as they aim for a first league title in 62 years.

Arsenal have been in blistering pre-season form with Jesus on fire in thrashings of Chelsea and Sevilla.

Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel blasted his side as “not competitive” after losing 4-0 to the Gunners in Orlando and the Blues are a team in transition following Todd Boehly’s takeover.

There is also plenty of work ahead for new Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag with the uncertain future of Cristiano Ronaldo hanging over start of a new era for the Red Devils.

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Amid the scale of big spending from English clubs, Newcastle have been surprisingly quiet in their first summer window since a takeover from the Saudi sovereign wealth fund.

The Magpies have spent just short of £60 million on Dutch defender Sven Botman, England goalkeeper Nick Pope and a permanent deal for left-back Matt Targett.

New boys Nottingham Forest have splashed over £70 million on 12 new signings in the two-time European champions’ first season back in the top flight for 23 years

That sum does not even include a one-year deal for Jesse Lingard worth a reported £200,000-a-week after he joined on a free transfer from Manchester United.

Aston Villa’s transfer business is arguably the best example of the growing financial gulf between the Premier League and the rest of Europe.

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French international midfielder Boubacar Kamara and Brazilian centre-back Diego Carlos have turned their backs on Champions League football with Marseille and Sevilla respectively to join Steven Gerrard’s side, who finished 14th in the English top flight last season



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Swiatek sails through as Gauff survives

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TORONTO:

Coco Gauff overcame 13 double-faults on Wednesday as she battled past Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina and into the third round of the WTA Toronto Masters, where top-ranked Iga Swiatek sailed through.

Gauff, the US teenager who fell to Swiatek in the French Open final this year, held on to beat Rybakina 6-4, 6-7 (8/10), 7-6 (7/3).

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Gauff lost out on four chances to close out a straight-sets victory as a quartet of match points came and went.

Kazakhstan’s Rybakina, aided by Gauff’s service struggles, had looked as if she might pull off another marathon victory. She had needed three hours to get past Marie Bouzkova in the first round.

But Gauff finally prevailed, 70 minutes after her first opportunities, claiming victory on her fifth match point.

Both players were appearing for the first time in Francophone Montreal after making Canadian debuts a year ago in Toronto.

World number 11 Gauff lost serve three times against Rybakina but broke on four occasions.

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Meanwhile, Swiatek glided through untroubled in her second-round match, defeating Australian Ajla Tomljanovic 6-1, 6-2 in 55 minutes.

The top-seeded Pole with six titles this season faced nine break points, saving six.

“From the first practice I played here I felt really good,” Swiatek said.

“Even though there was jet lag and I was coming from clay I felt like I was in a good place. It’s this whole tournament and city that is giving me that, I really like being here.”

Swiatek was playing her second tournament since losing to Alize Cornet in the third round at Wimbledon last month, a defeat which ended her 37-match win streak.

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“I’m pretty happy I could actually just play my game. It was the first match so it’s never easy,” she said.

“But I feel like I found my rhythm; it was a pretty solid performance.”

Defending champion Camila Giorgi made it to the third round with a 6-3, 7-5 defeat of Belgian Elise Mertens.

Spanish fourth seed Paula Badosa lasted for just 13 games before retiring as she trailed 7-5, 1-0 against Kazakh Yulia Putintseva.

Simona Halep beat Zhang Shuai of China 6-4, 6-2.

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Barcelona sell off assets to make signings

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MADRID:

Barcelona’s attempts to establish themselves once again as a force in La Liga and the Champions League this season have seen the heavily-indebted Catalans gamble with their future to enable a striking summer spending spree.

A year after being forced to let Lionel Messi go as eye-watering reported debts of 1.35 billion euros crippled the club, Barcelona have spent 153 million euros on transfer fees alone to strengthen their squad, with Robert Lewandowski the most notable new arrival.

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“This is a really exciting season. Nothing would give me more pleasure than to make all the fans happy,” coach Xavi Hernandez said before last weekend’s 6-0 friendly win over Mexican side Pumas UNAM.

“That means winning trophies. That is our main objective.”

After three years of struggles, on and off the field, the summer has seen hope return to the Camp Nou, with president Joan Laporta talking of an exciting “new era” when the club unveiled Lewandowski as a Barcelona player.

“Euphoria” was the headline on the cover of local daily Sport the same day.

Even partisan Madrid-based sports daily Marca admitted that Barca were “frightening” in the wake of their drubbing of Pumas UNAM last weekend, when Lewandowski scored his first goal since his arrival from Bayern Munich.

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Yet how Barcelona have gone about raising the funds to sign Lewandowski, as well as centre-backs Jules Kounde and Andreas Christensen, AC Milan midfielder Franck Kessie, and Leeds United’s Brazilian winger Raphinha has raised eyebrows.

Faced with severe limits on spending in order to comply with La Liga’s financial controls, Barcelona knew they needed to raise money quickly to be able to invest in any signings and, crucially, to register any new players.

They quickly set about selling off assets to bring in money by activating a series of what have been called economic “levers”.

The club sold 25 percent of their domestic television rights for the next quarter of a century to US investment firm Sixth Street for some 400 million euros.

Barcelona sold 24.5 percent of Barca Studios, which manages the club’s digital business and audiovisual productions, to Socios.com for 100 million euros on August 1, and then another 25 percent to US investment firm GDA Luma for 100 million euros more.

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In the space of a few weeks, 600 million euros had been brought in to fill the coffers.

The aim was to clean up the club’s finances, make it possible to increase the salary limit set by La Liga and allow the new signings to all be registered for the start of the season.

On top of that, Barca signed the biggest sponsorship deal in their history with Spotify, bringing in a reported 435 million euros for the music streaming giant to feature on the club’s shirts and to have naming rights to the Camp Nou.

And so Barcelona look well placed to become serious title contenders again as they prepare to host Rayo Vallecano this weekend.



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Serena’s intimidating aura still intact

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TORONTO:

Serena Williams may be in the home stretch of her career, but the 23-time Grand Slam champion’s aura remains, Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic said Wednesday.

“You can feel her presence everywhere. She has that aura …whether you like it or not you are intimidated, you are scared,” said Bencic, who nevertheless managed to quell her emotions and beat Williams 6-2, 6-4 in the former world number one’s final match at the WTA Toronto Masters.

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“I’m star-struck every time I see her, it’s so difficult to play her,” Bencic said. “I feel like I’m paralysed a little bit, just, like, watching her.”

Williams, who turns 41 next month, had beaten Spain’s Nuria Parrizas Diaz on Monday for her first singles victory since the 2021 French Open, 14 months ago.

She revealed in an essay in Vogue magazine and an Instagram post on Tuesday that “the countdown has begun” to her retirement from the sport.

She is expected to compete next week in Cincinnati and at the US Open later this month before turning her attention to new business pursuits and her family life.

“It was a really special match, the occasion was really big,” said Bencic, who won Olympic gold in Tokyo last year.

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“It was more than just about tennis, it was really all about Serena and her career.”

Bencic claimed her second career victory over Williams.

She was an 18-year-old on the rise when she stunned the American in the semi-finals at Toronto seven years ago.

“It definitely felt very special to be able to be on court with her today again,” Bencic said. “I never imagined ever playing against her — and beating her twice now in Toronto.”

Wednesday’s victory, however, was bittersweet.

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“Today is a little bit more sad in a way,” Bencic said. “I don’t really want her to retire.”



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