American Golfer Tiger Woods on Monday at the Zozo championship, Chiba, Japan, goes into the record books by becoming only the 2nd golfer to amass 82 PGA tour wins, equalling fellow American Sam Snead haul of 82. Woods emerged triumphant ahead of the home favourite, Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, Britains Rory McIlroy amongst others.
7 months ago(April), the whole golfing community celebrated the return to the podium of arguably the best golfer of all-time Tiger Woods. The 43-year-old then notched his 5th Masters’ tournament(his 15th Majors) at the Augusta National golf course, and many felt it was time for Tiger Woods to leave the stage when the ovation is loudest, however, Woods has more tricks off his sleeves. Fast track the months to October and Woods is breaking more grounds.
Tiger Woods’ appearance at the Zozo championship was his 1st PGA tour since knee surgery back in August and very few would have expected Woods’ commanding display and lead going into the suspension of play on Sunday evening. The American showed no sign of rustiness as he held a 3-shot lead with 7 holes left to play for going into play resumption on Monday morning. Though, some sloppy play from Woods saw his lead cut to 2, after he hit a bunker at par-four 12th and was unable to save it(par). Fortunately for Woods, his closest challenger Matsuyama hit a bunker of his own, paving the way for Woods to coast away.
If there is any team in the EPL that needed the International break so badly, it would be Manchester City. The Citizens, before the break, fell to a shocking 0-2 defeat at the hand of Wolverhampton Wanderers in matchday 8, the break would have handed Pep Guardiola the needed time and space to ruminate and fashion the next line of action for his stuttering defence line. A trip to Crystal Palace in matchday 9 come Saturday offers City a chance to respond to critics and shows their title credentials. Any further slip up would spell doom for the Citizens and they may as well kiss goodbye to the title defence.
Pep Guardiola’s decision not to replace the departed Vincent Kompany in the heart of Manchester City’s backline seems to be taking a toll on City’s title defence. With centre back, Aymeric Laporte out injured and John Stone consistently going on and off the treatment table, City is left thin at the rare guard and now left with Nicolas Otamendi as the only senior centre back available. Even though make-shift defender Fernandinho is doing a decent job, the home defeat to Wolves has shown that the Citizens are lightweight at the back and hence, an urgent call for reinforcement need to be addressed.
Sitting in 6th position on the English Premier League table with 14 points, just 2 points adrift of their Saturday opponent, Crystal Palace offers a genuine test, another potential banana peel to Manchester City. The Eagles sure know how to hurt City, they defeated City 3-2 at the Etihad in one(1) of the league fixtures last season and will sure draw inspiration from that victory going into Saturday’s late kickoff.
City was on a decent run of form before slumping to the shocking 0-2 home loss to Wolves, however, they still hold the H2H advantage over Palace in the last 5 league meetings. Crystal Palace, on the other hand, comes into matchday 9 with a back-to-back league wins and had lost just 1 league fixture in their last 5(W3-D1-L1) but they still fall short of City on H2H stats, losing 3(including the two 0-5 losses in May & September 2017) and drawing 1.
Manchester City is sweating over the fitness of their mercurial midfielder Kevin De Bruyne, though there are several players that can fill De Bruyne void, the importance of the Belgian to City’s title defence cannot be over over-emphasized, 8 assists in 7 league fixtures is a testimony of De Bruyne’s role. Other usual suspects include Sergio Aguero, Raheem Sterling and a host of other goal threat across the team.
Crystal Palace do not possess the array of stars City boasts off but they do have tricky players of their own, one(1) of such players is the much sought after Wilfried Zaha. Though Zaha has not fully hit the ground running for Palace this season, he is still a menace for any opposition. Of course, the likes of Jordan Ayew, Andros Townsend will run at opposition all day long.
Prediction: It has to be a straight win for Manchester City or else, they can kiss the league title bye-bye. So, I am going to stick out my neck for a City 3-1 win.
The 2019 America’s Major League Soccer(MLS) playoff lineup is now completed and most of the biggest franchise made the postseason championship. High profile players will get another opportunity to steer the team to glory, amongst these big guns includes; Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Wayne Rooney, Carlos Vela, Josef Martinez and a host of others. The complete list of 14 clubs(7 each from both Eastern and Western Conferences) that made the Audi Cup is shown below, also see the detailed standings of both conferences here
Eastern Conference: New York City FC(NYC), Atlanta United, Philadelphia Union, Toronto FC, D.C. United, New York Red Bulls, New England Revolution(NER).
Western Conference: Los Angeles FC(LAFC), Seattle Sounders(SEA), Real Salt Lake(RSL), Minnesota United, Los Angeles Galaxy(LAG), Portland Timbers, FC Dallas.
LAFC & Carlos Vela: There is no better place to begin this review than in Los Angeles, the City that houses rivals, LAFC and LAG. LAFC secured the top spot in the Western Conference and made history in the process, scoring 72 points, some 16 points ahead of the nearest rival in the Western Conference(SEA) and 8 points ahead of the Eastern Conference leader(NYC). LAFC now holds the highest points total in a single-season and scored a staggering 85 goals, also the highest by a club in a single season.
The manner by which LAFC stormed out of the block was remarkable, recording a commanding lead for the entirety of the regular season, securing the Supporter’s Shield with matches to spare. One man stood out for LAFC success story, Carlos Vela. The Mexican ruthlessness in front of the opposition goal has seen him broken the MLS single-season goal haul with 34 goals(the former record was 31 goals scored last season by Atlanta United Josef Martinez). Vela’s game is more than scoring, he also contributed 15 assists, 3rd on the assist chart this season. No doubt Vela is the overwhelming favourite for the season’s MVP.
LAG & Zlatan Ibrahimovic: Can Zlatan carry the LAG into the playoff? This was a burning question that has been asked in various quarters some weeks back, well, the answer is yes, Zlatan can. Having endured a tough season, a see-saw season that saw LAG dangerously languishing out of the playoff spot. Then, eyebrows were raised and the questions were asked whether LAG would miss the playoff for a 3rd consecutive season, however, the Swede star answered critics in style.
With the regular season coming to the home stretch, Zlatan went on a scoring spree of 14 goals in the last 10 matches of the regular season, lifting LAG from 8th to 5th on the Western Conference table. Zlatan eventually finished the season with 30 goals, 4 short of Vela for the golden boot race. The Swedish was recently quoted saying that he is the best ever in MLS history, maybe he was right or he was just being Zlatan.
Atlanta United & Josef Martinez: Atlanta United will have the chance to defend the title she won last season, having made the playoff yet again by finishing 2nd on the Eastern Conference table. With 54 points, Atlanta fell short of their last season point total of 69, however, the postseason championship presents another opportunity to finish 2019 on a high. Atlanta United’s standout player is Josef Martinez, the Venezuelan made a name for himself last season by winning not just the MVP but the Golden boot as well, scoring a record 31 goals that have now been broken by Vela. Martinez, at some point this season was neck-to-neck with Vela & Zlatan on the scorers chat but suffered injury and eventually finished the regular season with 27 goals, 7 short of Vela’s 34.
D.C. United & Wayne Rooney: D.C. United finished 5th on Eastern Conference log table and thereby made the playoff cut. Having made a decent start to the season, they wobbled at some stage but recovered quickly. Coming into the home stretch, D.C. United was unbeaten in their last 5 games of the season(W3, D2).
D.C. United also has a household name in their ranks, former Manchester United and England International Wayne Rooney. Rooney has been decent for D.C. United this season, directly involved in 19(11 goals & 8 assists) of D.C. United’s 42 goals. The Highlight of Rooney’s season was the 70 yards strike against Orlando City, however, his decision to call his time quit at D.C. United after just 2 seasons and join English Championship side Derby County marred his season.
Tottenham Hotspur fell to their all-time low with a humiliating 2-7 home defeat to German outfit Bayern Munich in the matchday 2 of the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday night. The defeat followed Spurs disappointing 2-2 draw against Olympiacos of Greece in the UCL matchday 1. The 2-7 defeat is the biggest ever home defeat by any English club in European competition, Mauricio Pochettino’s heaviest defeat as Spurs manager.
Tottenham Hotspur’s torrid season has also seen them exited the domestic football league cup, an embarrassing defeat to a lower league club, Colchester United. Spurs have also drawn 2 and lost 2 of their 7 league fixtures so far, it all makes one wonders what might be the problem with Pochettino’s side.
Pochettino recently hinted at unease in the locker room following the uncertainties surrounding the future of several key players. Spurs playmaker Christian Eriksen made his desire to move across Europe known during the summer window but a move failed to materialize. Danny Rose was on the verge of moving away from White Hart Lane, so was Toby Alderweireld and Serge Aurier but moves never happened. It’s almost 7 weeks since the close of the summer transfer window and with all the distraction gone, it’s expected that Spurs’ Ship would be steady and cruising, but instead, it has been a season short of vintage Spurs.
Talking Points: • Spurs biggest problem is coming from the right-back, reliable Kieran Trippier was sold during the summer and why Spurs failed to adequately replace the Englishman is a misery, Leaving Serge Aurier as the 1st choice at right-back. The Ivorian, however, has not covered himself in glory with his poor performances in recent games. A below-par performance against Bayern Munich came at the back of a sending off in the EPL over the weekend.
• The manner in which Spurs loses points from a winning position is alarming(2-2 vs Arsenal, 2-2 vs Olympiacos, 1-2 vs Leicester & 2-7 vs Bayern), a far cry of the usually pressing and resilience Spurs, It used to be Spurs earning points from a losing position. Could it be as a result of a distracted defence line or perhaps, an underperforming team?
• Whatever reason is making Pochettino leave his most creative player Christian Eriksen out of the matchday starting 11 remains to be unclear, could it be Pochettino is preparing his team ahead of the impending departure of the Dane? Pochettino sure needs his best legs on the pitch and that includes Eriksen. Spurs struggle without Eriksen in most matches.
• Injuries to key players have not made things easier for Pochettino, his team’s progression has been certainly hampered with injuries to new boys Giovani Lo Celso and Ryan Sessegnon, while Dele Alli only returns to the squad recently.
Positive: It is not all disaster yet for Spur though. The good thing about such heavy defeat in the early fixtures of the season is that it gives an opportunity to both team and management of a club to perform a ‘forensic look’ so to say, at the team and put machineries in place ahead of the transfer window.
Tottenham Hotspur, 6 years under the tutelage of Mauricio Pochettino has been a team on the rise, however, it has been reiterated by football pundits that Spurs need to back their progression with a trophy. The team has always been a season away from a trophy, it is time to really buckle up and actually move up a notch from another nearly season.
The battle of Buffet(2004/05), The battle of Old Trafford(2003/04), Manchester United – Arsenal brawl(1990/91),… these were some of the popular captions that made the tabloids when Arsenal visits Old Trafford in the past, admittedly so, the pre-match, on-field and post-match war of words and/or scuffles between the managers and players of the two(2) clubs are 2nd to none in the premier league. The rivalry between United and Arsenal reach a boiling point in the 1990/91 season that both clubs were docked points by the FA(the only time till date in premiership history in which points were deducted from clubs due to players brawl). It is unsure whether the new set of players and managers of both clubs still have such burning fire and combativeness in them, to replicate Man United-Arsenal classic of the time past, however, the encounter is delicately poised.
Manchester United’s performances have been appalling in recent weeks, having begun the season with a comprehensive 4 nil drubbing of Chelsea, United has since gone on to lose 2 and drawn 2 out of their 6 league matches so far and currently sits 8th on the league table with just 8 points. In defence of the manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, his team has been ravaged by injuries to key players such as Anthony Martial, Paul Pogba and recently Marcus Rashford and are now short of players upfront, however, United made her own travails by selling striker Romelu Lukaku.
Arsenal may sit 4th on the log table with 11 points, their performances, however, have left little to admire. Their shambolic defence has put them in all sort of troubles already this campaign, Opta stats show that the Gunners’ defence has committed some of the most errors that led to goals conceded, errors that led to penalty-kicks conceded etc. They have conceded 10 goals in 6 matches already, a poor return for a UCL chasing team. Arsenal’s bright spot is their formidable attack that has scored 11 goals.
Both teams met 3 times in all competitions last season, a 2-2 league draw at Old Trafford, a 3-1 United win in the FA Cup and an Arsenal 2-0 reverse league-fixture win at the Emirate, which happened to be Arsenal’s first win over United in 5 meetings. In terms of form, United(L, D, W, L) could only manage 4 points in 4 league fixtures while Arsenal(L, D, D, W) only better United by a point in 4 fixtures also. Nevertheless, United seems to often raise their game when they face Arsenal.
United boss Solskjaer will be sweating over the fitness of his players Martial, Rashford and Pogba, if they all failed a late fitness test, then, Solskjaer may be forced to drop his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation and deployed a more cautious approach. Youngster Mason Greenwood may be called on to spearhead United’s forward line.
Arsenal boss Emery had tweaked his formation between 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3 & 4-4-2 diamond formation, whatever tactics he decides to use, the focus will be on his fragile defence line. Will the return of defenders Rob Holding, Kieran Tierney and Hector Bellerin improve Arsenal’s defence? It is a big ask.
Either team wins,… I’ve never gotten my Man United – Arsenal prediction right, so, you’ll all cut me some slack for opting to sit on the fence.
Cross-posted @scorum, feel free to blog on Scorum.
Much noise had been made on Arsenal’s successful summer transfer window, perhaps so, for a team thought to have had just a little above £40M transfer budget but ended up spending as much as triple of the claimed budget, it seemed a successful window, after all, forking out well over £100M in a single transfer window is not a popular occurrence at the club. However, were that huge amount of money well spent?
Arsenal’s defence had been on a free fall since the end of the invisible era(2003/04 title-winning squad), and the then manager Arsene Wenger was consistently criticised for not bolstering his defence, and the damaging consequence is Arsenal’s lack of league title in 16 years, unacceptable feat for a team in Arsenal’s status.
Arsene Wenger had since left the club and in came a new manager Unai Emery. The Spaniard understandably had to use whatever players available at his disposal to try and tidy a crippled Arsenal defence in his 1st season in charge. However, Emery has now had 3 transfer windows since his arrival at Arsenal but yet, the defence is still in shambles. The 2019/20 league season has just past matchday 5 and it’s the same old anguish for the fans, as Arsenal had conceded a whopping 8 goals already(2-1 Burnley, 1-3 Liverpool, 2-2 Spurs & 2-2 Watford), a poor return for a champions league chasing team. Their poor showing at the back was highlighted in the 2 all draw at Watford on Sunday.
Arsenal allows their best centre-back Laurent Koscielny to leave the club during the summer window but failed to bring in a replacement, a title-winning Van Dijk-Esque signing. Instead, they brought in David Luiz(whom many believe should not have been a defender) to supposedly add stability and leadership to the back 4, a player Jose Mourinho was never a fan of because of his inconsistencies as a centre-back. Seems like Luiz is only adding more chaos to the defence.
So, the burning question is, why spent as much as £72M on Nicholas Pepe(a winger) when Arsenal’s urgent need is a world-class defender? Many had argued in Arsenal’s defence that a top-class defender is hard to come by when you are not playing champions league football but others disagree, they argued that the £72M spent on Pepe would have persuaded either Juventus(Italy) or RB Leipzig(Germany) to let go of center-backs Daniele Rugani or Dayotchanculle Upamecano, either of whom could have offered immensely than David Luiz.
At the weekend, Emerick Aubameyang’s brace had given the Gunners the lead but a horrendous pass in own box by Sokratis Papastathopoulos was intercepted by Watford’s Gerard Deulofeu and Tom Cleverly fired home to pull 1 goal back. Then, the infamous David Luiz conceded yet another penalty, his 2nd in 3 league games, Arsenal’s 3rd in 3 consecutive league games. Robert Pereyra converted from the spot, to earn his side a deserved 2-2 draw.
A difficult period for Arsenal and her fans, with centre-back Rob Holding still few days short of a return to matchday squad and Kieran Tierney and Hector Bellerin still recuperating from injuries, the winter transfer window seems like light-years away(should Arsenal come true with their promise of being proactive ahead of the window).
Time is running out for Derby County Manager Phillip Cocu as his reign at the elms of the club’s affair has taken a somewhat downward turn since the season’s opening win at Huddersfield. The Rams, on Friday night, were held to a 1-1 draw by fellow stragglers Cardiff City at the Pride Park Stadium. The draw means Derby have now failed to win in their last 6 championship matches, and are lingering in the bottom half of championship table with 7 points, just 4 places above the relegation spot(18th position).
Cocu’s task couldn’t be more straight forward, to return the Rams(who came agonizingly close to gaining promotion last season) back to the EPL, but after matchday 7, Cocu’s task seems to be a huge mountain to climb. Derby started the 2019/20 league season started quite well with a hard-fought 2-1 victory at Huddersfield Town but followed it up with a disappointing back-to-back draws against Swansea City and Stoke City respectively. Coupled with the 2nd round exit from the EFL Cup(a 0-3 defeat to Nottingham Forest), Derby has gone on a 6-league-match-winless run, drawn 4 and lost 2. In a championship race where the trio of Swansea City, Charlton Athletic and West Brom are still unbeaten are setting the pace in the league, playing catch up wasn’t what Derby owner Mel Morris signed Cocu up for and might be growing thin on patience.
Bielik pulled on Cardiff goalscorer Glatzel, source
Unlike the poor showing in matchday 6 0-3 loss to Brentford in which Derby registered an absolute zero shot on target, they put up a better performance, dominating proceedings against Cardiff but weren’t clinical enough in front of the opposition goal. They registered 13 total shots but managed just 5 on target. The match sparked into life in the 6th minute of kick-off when Jack Marriott, Tom Huddlestone and Martyn Waghorn had their efforts blocked or saved in quick successions, however, former Cardiff defender Scott Malone was on hand to finally fire home from close range, to give the home side the lead. The lead lasted only 13 minutes as Cardiff drew level from the spot-kick after Robert Glatzel dusted himself up to convert from 12 yards. Derby huffed and puffed for a winner but was repeatedly saw their efforts either blocked by Cardiff defenders or saved by Alex Smithies in Cardiff’s goal. It finished 1-1 to the disappointment of Derby manager Cocu who felt his team was denied a blatant spot-kick when Martyn Waghorn was brought down in the box.
Phillip Cocu might just be hanging on to his job at the moment, he needs to focus his attention on his team’s poor finishing and not on the spot-kick the referee failed to give. His team has not been decisive enough in the opposition final 3rd, likewise, has not been clinical in front of the opposition goal, 7 goals in 7 matches are unapt of the Derby under Frank Lampard and even worse was the 10 goals conceded in those 7 matches. Seems like Lampard’s shoe is proving to be too big to fit Cocu.
It is hard to understand if the off the pitch crisis(Derby under evaluation for selling Pride Park Stadium to owner Mel Morris) is responsible for Derby’s underperformance, nevertheless, Cocu needs to put in a string of results to remain on the job. He understandably needs time but unfortunately, time is not what club owners have any more in modern football.
The English national men’s football team, the 3 Lions recorded their 4th straight win in Group A of the ongoing EURO 2020 qualifiers, first-half goals from Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane, an own goal and a Jadon Sancho brace set England to an eventual 5-3 victory over combative Kosovo in a pulsating 8 goal thriller at St Mary’s Stadium on Tuesday night. The result showed that England are still vulnerable at the back despite their attacking prowess and may well find themselves in the same old perfect qualifying campaign but disappointing tournament.
The 3 Lions as expected are on a smooth ride in the EURO 2020 qualifiers, scoring goals with reckless abandoned against Group A opponents that include the Czech Republic, Montenegro, Bulgaria & Kosovo. Their 5-3 win over Kosovo was the 4th consecutive Group A qualifier to have scored 4 goals or more(5-0 Czech, 5-1 Montenegro & 4-0 Bulgaria), a staggering 19 goals in 4 matches. As impressive and flattering the scoring spree might seem, England were never expected to fall short of convincing results in this group, perhaps so, going past a group stage has never been a hiccup for the past EURO/World Cup qualifiers played within the past 10 years. Opta stats showed that England had avoided defeat in all 43 qualifiers played within the aforementioned years(W34, D9, L0). The last English side to lose a qualifier was the Fabio Capello tutored side in a 0-1 loss to Ukraine in the 2009 World Cup qualifiers.
Much has also been said, especially in the English media, about the competitiveness among the current crop of talented players at Manager Gareth Southgate disposal. Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling forming a fearsome front 2, Jadon Sancho coming into the fray, the array of options at right-back(Trent Alex-Arnold, Kieran Tripper, Kyle Walker & Wan Bissaka) giving Southgate a healthy headache. It seems like England now has a formidable team at hand.
Poor individual mistakes were how Manager Southgate referred to his defender’s errors on the night. Michael Keane under no real pressure gave the ball to the opponent(Valon Berisha) who fired home just 34 seconds into kick-off, England’s 1st ever goal conceded under just 60 seconds in a qualifier. Declan Rice got in on the act, losing possession in the midfield and Kosovo made a great deal out of it for their 2nd goal(Berisha). Keane’s centre-back partner Harry Maguire then conceded a clumsy spot-kick which Kosovo’s Vedat Muriqi duly converted. Such basic errors cannot be afforded at the top level, quality sides such as France, Portugal or Italy will make them pay if gifted such. It could be recall how individual lapses from Kyle Walker, Ross Barkley & John Stone caused England places in World Cup(1-2 semifinal loss to Croatia) & Euro Nations League(1-3 semifinal loss to the Netherlands) finals.
The 3 Lions may have a potent attack to boast of but they need to address the schoolboy errors at the back that had denied them in their quest for major honours since their last and only title, 1966 FIFA World Cup triumph.
Lightning strikes twice at the US Open final as Americas Serena Williams loses her 2nd consecutive US Open final to tournament revelation and Canadian 19-year-old Bianca Andreescu, Andreescu won in straight sets 6-3, 7-5 to stun not just Serena but the capacity crowd at the Arthur Ashe Stadium on Saturday and lifts the US Open trophy in her very 1st US Open main draw appearance.
The rise of Andreescu to women tennis is swift, just a little over a year ago, Andreescu was ranked outside the top 200 in the world(WTA) and was ranked 152 at the start of the present calendar year, however, astonishing title-winning runs at the WTA Indian Wells Masters & Canadian Open has seen her stock risen on world stage, moving to 15th on the WTA rankings. Her latest feat will see her move to 5th in the world when the new rankings are released. Bianca Andreescu becomes the 1st Canadian man or woman to win a Grand Slam singles title, the youngest woman to win a Grand Slam title since Russian duo of Maria Sharapova(17yrs) and Svetlana Kuznetsova(19yrs) won the 2004 Wimbledon and US Open respectively. Andreescu also joined a few women on the list of tournament’s debutant to lift the trophy(Goolagong Cawley; 1971 Roland Garros, Virginia Wade; 1972 Aus Open, Barbara Jordan; 1979 Aus Open, Monica Seles; 1991 Aus Open.)
Contrasting performances for both players on the night, while Serena struggled to replicate the sorts of confidence and finesse she’d displayed all tournament, her opponent Andreescu, on the other hand, was brimming in confidence, despite all the jeers and cheers of the home crowd rooting for Serena. Andreescu got off to a dream start, breaking Serena’s serve in the very 1st game and held on to lead 2-0. Serena did pull back to 1-2 and then, saved 5 breakpoints to hold serve in game 7 but still trails Andreescu 3-4. By the end of the opening set, Serena had uncharacteristically made 14 unforced error and would eventually succumb to 3-6 1st-set loss to Andreescu.
Andreescu began the 2nd set with the same momentum as the 1st, racing to a 2 game lead. Serena immediately broke back but found herself trailing and fighting to stay on the court at 1-5. However, with the home fans constantly cheering her, she found her momentum, saved championship point to break Andreescu 2-5 and went on a 4 consecutive winning game to level the 2nd set at 5-5. Andreescu would not be denied of victory though, as she wrapped up he set 7-5 in a remarkable fashion.
Serena made a total of 33 unforced errors and 8 double faults on the night to her own undoing. Her quest for a record-equalling 24 Grand Slam titles will have to wait for another Grand Slam at least. It’s the 2nd consecutive Grand Slam final defeat for the American, having lost Wimbledon to Romania’s Simona Halep, and her 4th Grand Slam defeats since her 2018 Wimbledon loss to Germany’s Angelique Kerber.
Another sporting achievement for Canada in 2019(Toronto Raptors winning the NBA). Congratulations to Bianca Andreescu and to all Canadians.
The last Grand Slam of the tennis season, the US Open is at the quarterfinal stage and it may yet again see perennial rivals, world number 2 Rafael Nadal and world number 3 Roger Federer square it out against each other in the final barring no further upset in the tournament men’s draw. With the defending champion Novak Djokovic(1) out of the last 8 due to injury and 6 other top 10-seeded players Dominic Thiem(4), Alexander Zverev(6), Kei Nishikori(7), Stefanos Tsitsipas(8), Karen Khachanov(9) & Roberto Bautista(10) eliminated from the competition, leaving just Rafael Nadal(2), Roger Federer(3) & Damiil Medvedev(5) as the remaining top-ranked players of the last 8, it seems like an easy ride to the final for both Nadal and Federer.
R. Federer vs Grigor Dimitrov, QF
First into the quarterfinal was Federer, the Swiss maestro eased into the last 8 with a swift straight sets 6-2, 6-2, 6-0 win over Belgian’s David Goffin in the round of 16 earlier on Monday draws. On his way to the last 8, Federer was given scares in his 1st-2 matches, dropping the 1st set against an unseeded Sumit Nagal from India but recovering to win 4-6, 6-1, 6-2 & 6-4 in the round of 128 and then dropping the 1st set again in the round of 64 against another unseeded player, Bosnia and Herzegovina Damir Dzumhur but yet again rallied to win 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 & 6-4. Federer was however ruthless in his round of 32 straight sets 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 win over United Kingdom Dan Evans.
Federer has now qualified for his 56th Grand Slam quarterfinals, where he will now face the Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov for a place in the last 4 and a chance to win his 6th US Open title and a 21st Grand Slam title.
R. Nadal vs Diego Schwartzman, QF
Rafael Nadal also joined Federer in the last 8 after overcoming Croatia’s Marin Cilic in a 6-3, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 win. It was Nadal’s 1st set dropped in the tournament so far, having ease past the earlier rounds in straight sets, round of 128 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 win over Australia’s John Millman, then, an easy passage into round of 32 after his round of 64 opponent, another Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis retired due to injury. And then, a straight-sets win 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 over South Korean’s Chung Hyeon to reach the round of 16.
Standing in Nadal’s way to the semis is the Argentine Diego Schwartzman(20). It’s Nadal’s 9th quarterfinal appearances at the US Open, his 40th quarterfinals in the Grand Slams, as the Spaniard aims to win his 4th US Open titles and 19th Grand Slam titles.
The remaining quarterfinal lineups include Damiil Medvedev(5) vs Stan Wawrinka(23) & Gael Monfils(13) vs Matteo Berrettini(24). Not underrating the other quarterfinalist, especially Stan Wawrinka who can trouble both Nadal and Federer, however, the odds still favour both the world number 2(Nadal) & 3(Federer). If Nadal-Federer materialises, it would be a dream showdown at the tournament. The last time both players met was at the semifinal of the last Grand Slam Wimbledon where Federer came out top in a 4-sets thriller. However, it’s Nadal who holds the highest win over Federer, winning 10 of their 14 Grand Slam clashes and 24 out of 40 overall clashes.
The Rome Derby popularly known in Italy as the Derby Della Capitale or Derby Della Capitolino is a ferocious intra-city rivalry between Roma and Lazio both of Rome. Many believe this Derby is the most fiercely contested in Italian football ahead of other famous derbies such as the Milan Derby( Derby Della Madonnina) and the Turin Derby( Derby Della Mole). The 90-year-old rivalry and bad blood between these 2 clubs is so fierce that in 1979 it recorded the 1st fatality in Italian football when a Lazio fan was struck and killed by a flare gun fired by a Roma fan. It also saw a league clash in 2004 abandoned just 4 minutes into the 2nd-half due to fans violence. Such was the nature of Derby Della Capitale, thankfully, the latest episode of the Rome derby wasn’t dramatic or fatal, rather, an entertaining 1 all draw.
With 5 Scudettos shared between Roma(3; 1941/42, 82/83 & 2000/01) and Lazio(2; 1973/74 & 1999/2000), they came into matchday 2 at the Stadio Olimpico, not with the unrealistic aim of winning the Scudetto but the chance to qualify for next season’s European competitions.
The last 5 league meetings between them have seen both teams with 2 wins and a draw including a 3-nil Lazio win and a 3-1 Roma win in the reverse fixtures of last season. Lazio the team in form, having started the season with a convincing 3 nil win at Sampdoria, Roma, on the other hand, were held at home 3 all by Genoa in their season opener.
Lazio manager Simone Inzaghi made just 1 change to the team that won 3 nil at Sampdoria, dropping Marco Parolo for Lucas in the holding midfield role, Roma manager Paulo Fonseca, like his counterpart, made just 1 change to his line up, Gianluca Mancini preferred at the heart of the defence to Juan Jesus.
Like in most derbies, form doesn’t really count, as Roma put their nose in front from the spot-kick in the 17th minute, Aleksander Kolarov with his 2nd goal of the season(having scored 1 in the 3 all draw against Genoa). Roma held unto the 1 nil lead going into the half-time break. However, Lazio levelled 13 minutes into the restart, Luiz Alberto teed up by Ciro Immobile in the 58th minutes. It ended 1 all at the Stadio Olimpico with both teams having 3 or more players in the referee’s disciplinary book.
The result didn’t tell the full story, it was a ferocious encounter as expected and the scoreline could have ended in a 3-3 or 4-4 draw as Lazio struck the post 4 times while Roma also hit the woodwork 2 times but in the end, it was a goal apiece.
It is matchday 2 in the Italia Serie A and we have an interesting inter-city rivalry on hands, Naples’ finest Napoli travels to Turin’s Heavyweight Juventus in what promises to be one of the weekend’s biggest fixtures. The early season clash will present Napoli an opportunity to test if their squad is ready to challenge Juventus for the Scudetto.
Juventus’ dominance in the Serie A is no more breaking news, as they seem to have made the Scudetto their own, 8 consecutive Serie A title summed up Juventus’ reign. In those 8 years, the only team that often time push Juventus for the title was Napoli, as she has come up as runners up 4 times, so, one can be forgiven for naming Napoli as one of the title challengers to Juventus yet again.
Juventus, despite an inconsistent preseason, began the season with a hard-fought, slim 1 nil victory at Parma, courtesy of a 1st-half strike from defender Giorgio Chiellini. Having dominated the proceedings against Parma, Juventus were limited to few scoring chances and will be raring to improve on that performance against rival Napoli, hopefully, manager Mauricio Sarri has shaken off pneumonia to be in Juventus dugout on Saturday.
Napoli, also had a not-too-good preseason but in her season opener had to come from a goal down, to edge an entertaining 3-4 scoreline at Fiorentina. However, they can not afford to be porous at the back against Cristiano Ronaldo lead Juventus attack, or else it might prove difficult to undo the damage.
Juventus vs Napoli, H2H;
Juventus W68, Napoli W31, 47 Draws. Both teams had played a total of 146 Serie A matches against each other, with Juventus having the upper hand with 68 wins, Napoli had 31 wins while 47 matches ended in a draw. Juventus’ 68 wins include victories in both return legs in last season’s fixtures(2-1 & 3-1).
Juventus: Home side will definitely rely on the finesse of Ronaldo in this tie, the Portuguese will be aiming to get into his groove having drawn blank against Parma. Gonzalo Higuain, Paulo Dybala and Mario Mandzukic will also offer threats in Napoli’s half. Also, new signings such as Adrien Rabiot, Aaron Ramsey and Matthijs De Ligt may be in for their 1st start.
Napoli: Lorenzo Insigne, Dries Mertens and Jose Callejon will inflict trouble to any defence, the trio scored all 4 goals in Fiorentina win and will be raring to have a go at Juventus defence, plus they have a manager that has the technical know-how to hurt Juventus, Carlo Ancelotti.
>>>Juventus 2-0 Napoli<<< Losing at home is never an option for Juventus, they have made the Allianz Stadium a fortress over the past 8 seasons and are still hungry for more success. A draw will certainly be a step in the right direction for Napoli but it will be a tough task.
There were periods in the time past when the Italia Serie A honour, the Scudetto or Coppa Campioni d’Italia was dominated by a single club for years, from city rivals Inter(2005-2010) & AC Milan(1991-94) to Juventus(1930-35) & Torino(1942-49). In all of those dominant seasons, none of those clubs come close to the domestic successes achieved by this present Juventus, the present Old Ladies of Turin has reign supreme for the past 8 seasons, holding firm to the prestigious Serie A throne, She’ll stop at nothing to extend her reign for the 9th straight season.
The Bianconeri is not resting on her oars as she grows even stronger, the already untouchable squad that includes Cristiano Ronaldo, Paulo Dybala, Miralem Pjanic, Giorgio Chiellini etc is being bolstered by the arrival of the midfield duo Aaron Ramsey(former Arsenal) and Adrien Rabiot(former PSG), and the talented teenage defender Mattijs de Ligt(former Ajax) amongst others. Even though Juventus had parted ways with their former manager Massimiliano Allegri(double domestic winner between 2015-18), and had since replaced him with former Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri(who has never won a domestic honour in Italy, however, won UEFA Europa League with Chelsea last season), it will still take some collapsing from Juventus before any of the Milan Clubs(Inter or AC), Napoli or other clubs can stop Juventus from winning a 9th successive Scudetto.
PARMA vs JUVENTUS, H2H;
Juventus begins her Scudetto defence on the road to Parma on Saturday, a team that has proven to be a tough nut to crack by the Old Ladies in recent fixtures, it took a Blaise Matuidi 2nd-half winner to separate the 2 in a hard-fought 2-1 win while the reverse fixture ended in an entertaining 3-3 draw. Further previous league fixtures saw both teams securing a win each(1-0 Parma, 7-0 Juve).
PARMA; Manager Roberto D’Aversa will be hoping his Ivory Coast import Gervinho reproduce such performance that saw him scored 2 goals in the 3 all draw with Juventus last season.
JUVENTUS; Maurizio Sarri, on the other hand, has a pool of stars to pick from, Cristiano Ronaldo, who also scored 2 goals in the 3-3 draw with Parma last season(and 21 league goals for Juve, their leading scorer) should be available for the opener, he could be playing in starting 11 with the new signings, talented box-to-box duo Aaron Ramseyand Adrien Rabiot who will provide him with plenty scoring chances.
Juventus yet to sort out the future of the Argentine Paulo Dybala, nevertheless, it is not expected to be a distraction or excuse for Juventus not to get all 3 points against Parma at the Stadio Ennio Tardini. I reckon a Juventus win.
It may be too early to be reading too much meaning to the English Championship table, however, some teams have got off to a good start. Leeds United and Swansea City occupy the 2 automatic promotion spots with 10 points each after 4 matches, while Fulham(9 pts), Sheffield Wednesday(9 pts), Charlton(8 pts) and West Bromwich Albion(8 pts) take the playoffs spots, the promotion race has begun in earnest.
Leeds United will be leaving no stone to unturn and ensure their promotion race doesn’t collapse like it did last season, Bielsa’s lads started last season swiftly but collapsed at the home stretch and eventually missed promotion agonizingly.
It’s matchday 4 in the EFL, and it’s 3 wins and a draw for Leeds United, they had to leave it late before getting the desired 3 points against Brentford on Wednesday night. New signing, Arsenal’s 20-year-old on-loan striker Eddie Nketiah tapped in from close range with 9 minutes of regulation time to play, having just came on 4 minutes earlier.
Leeds dominated their visitor Brentford but weren’t clinical in front of goal, they had a mere 11 total shots all night and just 4 on target. They will have to do better if they are to remain on top of the league table.
Swansea’s quest to gain promotion is going according to plan, a long way to go but they must keep grinding out results as they’ve done at the weekend at home to Preston North End(3-2 Swansea) and on Wednesday night.
Swansea started the game on the back foot, with their goalkeeper Freddy Woodman called to fine save in the early exchanges, however, they gain confidence and got into the lead through Bersant Celina in the 29th minute. The home side equalised in the 66th minute when Jordan Hugill nodded in, but the scoreline didn’t stay level for long, as Swansea regained the lead from the spot-kick when Borja Baston sent Joe Lumley in goal the wrong way. Sam Surridge made the game safe for Swansea with a headed goal in the 80th minute.
Swansea joined Leeds at the tabletop with same 10 points but with lesser goal difference.
Fulham will stop at nothing to gain an immediate return to the premier league, having dropped down at the end of last season. The Cottagers brought in Wolverhampton forward Ivan Cavaleiro on loan to bolster their attack, the Portuguese is surely paying dividends.
Fulham host Millwall at Craven Cottage on Wednesday night and it was a one-sided clash, not only did Fulham enjoyed 84 possession of the ball, but they also put 4 goals past their helpless visitor.
Cavaleiro opened the scoresheet with a fine effort in the 15th minute and then provided a cross for teammate Anthony Knockaert to nod in just after the half-hour mark. Fulham made it 3 from spot-kick in the 56th minute when Serbian Aleksandar Mitrovic dusted himself up to score from 12 yards. Cavaleiro completed his double in the 63rd minute when he rounded Millwall’s goalie Bartosz Bialkowski, to make it 4 nil on the night.
It’s 3 goals each from 4 matches for Fulham’s duo of Ivan Cavaleiro and Aleksandar Mitrovic. Millwall’s 3-match unbeaten run ends in a whitewash.
Sheffield Wednesday is keeping the pace with the frontrunner with just a point adrift of Leeds and Fulham, if they can maintain the pace remains to be seen, however, it’s an encouraging start for Sheffield.
A narrow 1 nil home win over Luton on Tuesday night help Sheffield to momentary top the EFL table. It was a game Luton dominated in possession and in shots but couldn’t make their shots count. Sheffield Wednesday fired lesser shots but fared better by getting a goal, which ultimately separated both teams. Kadeem Harris with the decisive goal in the 54th minute.
Luton still without a win after 4 matches and is just a place of the bottom of the league table.
Both Charlton Athletic and West Brom played out a 1-1 draw with Nottingham Forest and Reading respectively in their Wednesday fixtures and are still unbeaten after matchday 4 with 2 wins and 2 draws but it’s only good enough to earn them 8 points, 5th and 6th(the remaining playoff spots) position respectively on the log table.
Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino said in his post-match comment on his team’s 2-all draw with Manchester City at the Etihad that he is in love with the VAR and for good and obvious reason, 2 major VAR decision come his way in just about 4 months, firstly, the thrilling UEFA Champions League 2nd-leg all-English quarterfinal clash at the Etihad last season and now, the English Premier League matchday 2, also at the Etihad.
A quick reminder of how it went down in that historical 2nd-leg UCL clash between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspurs. Spurs go into the 2nd-leg with a slim 1 nil advantage and had to avoid a 2-goal-margin defeat. However, it looked like they would fail in their quest when they went down to a Raheem Sterling 4th minute goal, they kept their nerves and fought back to a quick-fired Son Heung-Min’ double, to take a 2-1 lead. City well aware of the challenge, regained a 4-3 lead and needing one(1) more goal, Raheem Sterling scored what looked like the clincher in the injury time, but much to their heartbreak that put City manager Pep Guardiola on his knee with his head in his hands, the goal was disallowed by VAR due to Sergio Aguero’s offside run in the buildup to Sterling’s goal, ouch! Isn’t it?
Fast forward 4 months later, in an EPL week 2 fixture where Tottenham took on Manchester City again at the Etihad, again it was Spurs boss Pochetino having the last laugh. Like the April clash, City took the lead through that man again, Raheem Sterling(he’s sure getting beneath Spurs skin these days), however, the lead only lasted 3 minutes as Spurs equalised through Erik Lamela in the 23rd minute. City regained the lead in the 35th minute through Sergio Aguero, as the Argentine put away Kevin De Bruyne’s cross, but again City got pegged back by Spurs through Lucas Moura(56′) who just got substituted onto the pitch seconds earlier. Deja Vu as City thought they won it late in the injury time when Gabriel Jesus curled into the bottom corner, however, VAR disagreed as City’s Aymeric Laporte was adjudged to have handled the ball in the buildup to Jesus’ goal. 2 all it finished at the Etihad much to the disappointment of the Citizens who felt Laporte should have been awarded a spot-kick earlier in the game when Spur’s Davison Sanchez pulled him down in the box(but VAR turned a blind eye).
I am in love with VAR… Sometimes you get the benefit like today or in the champions league…-an elated Pochettino says.
I just hope he won’t turn his back on his love for VAR when decisions don’t come in his favour in the nearest future.
FC Barcelona began her Spanish Primera title defence on a disappointing note, after going down 0-1 to Athletic Bilbao in the 1st match of the Spanish La Liga, a spectacular Aritz Aduriz’s scissors’ kick late in the game condemned the Blaugrana to their 1st opening-fixture defeat since the 2008 0-1 loss to Numancia, bringing a 10-straight opening fixture to win to an end.
Barcelona is still locked in the summer transfer window tug-of-war with PSG over the signing of their ex-forward Neymar Jnr and with rumours of a compromise between the 2 clubs still proving difficult to reach, the saga/drama is set to go to the wire as the European transfer window edges closer to it’s the final day. With so much attention on the transfer window, some quarters believe it’s a distraction to the team going into the Bilbao opener, and so it proved to be.
Barcelona went into the match without their mercurial talisman Leo Messi due to a reported injury, and so, the onus falls on new signings like Antoine Griezmann and Frenkie De Jong to show their qualities, however, it wasn’t a debut both players would have hoped for. The Blaugrana as expected enjoyed plenty of the ball possession but were worryingly reduced to a single shot on target in the 1st half(2 in the entire regulation time) when substitute and Barca’s only lively player on the night Rafinha drew a finger-tip save from Bilbao’s goalkeeper Unai Simon in the 44th minute. Bilbao on the other hand, kept Ter Stegen in Barca’s goal busy in the half, calling the shot-stopper to some fine saves[Inaki Williams (7′), (15′), Unai Lopez(31′) & Raul Garcia(36′)] to keep the scoreline at goalless before the break.
The 2nd half was same old Barcelona moving the ball around with no real threat to Bilbao and just when it seemed like the match was going to end in a goalless statement, then came a moment of sheer brilliance from substitute and Bilbao’s old warhorse Aritz Aduriz, the 38-year-old Spaniard was barely on the pitch when he met teammate Ander Capa’s ambitious cross into the box with a delightful overhead kick(such that Messi & Ronaldo would be proud of) beyond a helpless Ter Stegen in the 89th minute.
Athletic Bilbao is now undefeated to Barca in 3 league games(W, D, D). Barcelona, on the other hand, once again proved that they are incomplete without a certain Argentine Leo Messi. They might feel hard done by with the early injury to Luiz Suarez(37′), however, Suarez replacement did remarkably well, arguably was Barcelona’s best player on the night.
BAYERN MUNICH 2-2 HERTHA BERLIN:
Also on Friday night, across Europe was the commencement of the German Bundesliga and it was kicked started by the reigning champion Bayern Munich versus Hertha Berlin at the historical Allianz Arena Stadium. Bayern needed a 2nd-half spot-kick to rescue a point at home in their league opener.
Bayern spent much of the summer transfer window chasing Manchester City Leroy Sane but they were consistently rebuffed by the Citizens. Bayern then shifted their attention to an unsettled Brazilian, Barcelona’s Phillipe Coutinho which despite the green light, might turn out to be a long shot too as it’s reported that Barcelona is including the Brazilian in a potential deal that would see 2 Brazilians switch clubs(Neymar the other).
Bayern was favoured to come out of this clash with Hertha Berlin victorious, an opponent they defeated in both home and away league fixture last season. They got a deserved lead through the usual suspect, Robert Lewandowski in the 24th minute and it seemed like the flood gate would open afterwards with Bayern dictating the proceedings, however, Hertha Berlin got other ideals, they struck in 2-quick minutes, Dodi Lukebakio’s deflected shot in the 36th minute and Marko Grujic’s stunner in the 38th minute.
The Bavarian, however, were relentless with their attack and got a chance to draw level when that man again, Lewandowski drew a foul from Marco Grujic in the area and was confirmed by VAR, Lewandowski dusted himself up to convert from 12 yards, to save the champion’s blushes( his double for the night).
With loanee James Rodriguez returned to his parent club Real Madrid, the Bavarian is lurking the transfer window for a playmaker, and it is uncertain if they can truly pull off a Phillipe Coutinho loan deal.
The good thing about not getting an opening day result is that it will give the club concerned an opportunity to perform a ‘forensic’ check on their team and make the necessary transfer business before the window closes, Barcelona and Bayern still have the chance to do so.
Real Madrid begins the new La Liga season with a tricky tie away at Celta Vigo, the Galacticos will be aiming to do better this season having finished last season on a disappointing note, an unacceptable 3rd for the 2nd year running, 19 whooping points behind champion, it was a difficult season that followed the unceremonial departure of their record goalscorer Cristiano Ronaldo and 3-time UCL winning manager Zinedine Zidane. The team struggled and laboured without Ronaldo and Zidane at the dugout, and it was expected that an immediate team rebuilding would begin.
In-come big-name signings that include long- coveted Belgian Eden Hazard, Serbian Luka Jovic, Ferland Mendy and a few more, and with the European transfer window still open until September 2, fillers around the world claim that there are still more signing on the horizon, with the likes of Neymar Jnr, Ajax youngster Van De Beek still can make the switch over, boosted with the return of former manager Zinedine Zidane, glory days awaits.
CELTA VIGO vs REAL MADRID: H2H;
Real begin the season title challenge with a trip to the Estadio Balaidos, Celta Vigo, a ground they know too well and had enjoyed recent successes over the past 3 seasons, with 2 La Liga wins and a draw, Real’s last 5 clashes with Celta Vigo stands at WWWWD.
Iago Aspas: the 32-year-old Spaniard is mainly Celta Vigo’s danger man having sold out strike partner Maximiliano Gomez, Aspas’ 20 league goals last season was 4th o the goal chat behind Messi(36), Karim Benzema(21) and Luiz Suarez(21) respectively, Aspas now has new offensive support in the shape of former Barcelona forward, Denis Suarez, both can form a dangerous frontline for Celta Vigo.
Karim Benzema; one of the standout Real player last season, stepping up when it mattered, the French striker beat the 20-goal mark(P36-G21-A6-S85) in La Liga for the 1st time since he scored 24 goals in 2015/16 season. It gets even better for Benzema and Real with the acquisition of Eden Hazard who can sure create scoring chances. Others include new signing Lukas Jovic and the usual suspects Vinicius Jnr, Marcus Asensio Luka Modric, Gareth Bale(if he stays) etc.
Real’s poor preseason(DWWLLDL) should not be an excuse for not starting the league with a win,
The Spanish Premera League will commence on Friday with the Champions Barcelona travelling to San Mames to take on Athletic Bilbao in the season’s opening weekend fixtures. La Liga fans couldn’t ask for a better curtain-raiser than the champion kicking off the season.
Barcelona spends almost the entirety of the preseason and summer transfer window trying to resign their former forward and PSG ace Neymar Jnr, the Catalan giant has been locked in the transaction table with the Parisian club PSG, who wants to recoup the £200M they paid for the Brazilian 2 seasons ago. If Barcelona can pull off Neymar resigning, it will add to an already formidable frontline that also includes new mega signings Antoine Griezmann and Frenkie De Jong( who has been likening to be a blend of Sergio Busquet and ex-Barcelona legend Xavi Hernandez).
Athletic Bilbao, on the other hand, may have not brought in a household signing, however, their best piece of business was the tying down of the much sought after player Inaki Williams. The Spaniard has been tied down to a long-tern 9 years contract, thereby ending interest from European powerhouses such as Manchester United and others.
Top on Barcelona’s wishlist is no doubt the return to European glory, the Catalan club has endured a turbulent and embarrassing past 4 seasons in which they’ve witnessed arch-rival Real Madrid won 3 of the last 4 UEFA Champions League(2015/16-17/18), while Barca also collapsed to a humiliating semifinal defeat to eventual champion Liverpool last season. Barcelona has however been on the front foot in domestic campaigns, winning 4 out of the last 5 La Liga & Copa Del Rey, including a successful defence of the La Liga last season.
Head-To-Head: Athletic Bilbao-Barcelona;
Although the Rojiblancos as Bilbao are referred to as has proven to be a torn in Barcelona’s flesh in the past, like both return legs of the Liga fixtures last season where they played out 1-1 & 0-0 scoreline respectively, the Blaugrana(Barcelona) still poses a better record of 3 Liga wins in 5(and 2 draws), and are favoured to win this clash.
Athletic Bilbao Attacking Threats:
Inaki Williams; arguably Bilbao’s best player, the Spaniard last season posed a decent threat of 38-13-4-75(Games-Goals-Assists-Shots). He will be raring to better those stats this season. Others include midfielder Raul Garcia(33-9-3-81), forward Iker Muniain(34-7-4-25)…
Barcelona Attacking Threats:
Leo Messi; a lot have been said concerning Barcelona’s driving force, Leo Messi, the club tends to struggle without the mercurial Argentine. Messi’s contribution to Barca over the years is phenomenal, he’s not just scoring the goals, he made goals for his teammates too, Messi top both the goals and assists chat in La Liga last season(34-36-12-141), his 6th La Liga Golden booth. His partner in crime wasn’t left out, Luiz Suarez’s last season record stood at 33-21-6-93. Other attacking threat will definitely come from newly acquired French forward Antoine Griezmann(37-15-9-86). By the close of the transfer window on September 2, Barcelona’s front 4 could be as shown above; Messi, Neymar, Griezmann & Suarez, how all of them will fit into the starting 11 remains to be seen
With so much firepower within the Barcelona ranks, one can not be faulted for opting for a Barcelona win, Athletic Bilbao 0-3 Barcelona.
So, Folks, sit back and enjoy the Spanish Premera League. Thank you all.
The Curtain is finally raised on the much-awaited English Premier League season and it started with an exciting match at Anfield where Liverpool begins her 2019/20 title challenge with a comfortable 4-1 win over Norwich City on Friday, to set the tone for what looks to be another intriguing campaign, 4 1st-half goals by the Reds quickly clear any hope of a matchday 1 slip-off by the reigning UEFA Champions League Champion.
Liverpool put the clash to rest as quickly as the 42nd minutes of the 1st-half, an own goal from Norwich City Grant Hanley(7 min), Mo Salah(19 min), Virgil Van Dijk(28 min) and Divock Origi(42 min) completed the riot. Norwich top shot Teemu Pukki did show his finesse in front goal by slotting the ball past substitute Liverpool goalie Adrian, but it was just a consolation goal. The Reds eased off at the restart and scored no further goals having been comfortably in control of proceedings, clearly Wednesday night’s UEFA Super Cup clash against league rival Chelsea FC in the sight.
Liverpool has almost everything going their way at the moment, OPTA’s stats reveal that Jurgen Klopp’s Red Army has now scored 15 goals in their last 4 opening weekend EPL fixtures, a run that started back in 2016/17 4-3 win over Arsenal on the opening day clash( 2017/18 3-3 Watford, 2018/19 3-0 West Ham). Further stats show that Liverpool has now won their last 10 EPL matches and has extended their unbeaten home run to 41-straight EPL matches.
Mo Salah impression time at Anfield is not about to end as OPTA stats show that the Egyptian has now scored in Liverpool’s last 3 opening day matches( scoring against Norwich, West Ham and Watford respectively). His teammate Trent Alexander Arnold wasn’t left out of the OPTA’s stats sheet, as he has now assisted a goal at least in his last 5 EPL matches.
Divock Origi would not be out-shine by Salah and Alexander-Arnold as he bagged the Man-of-the-match award. The Belgian continue from where he left it at the Semi-final UCL win over Barcelona last season with another impressive display, his cross into Norwich box forced an own-goal from Grant Hanley, while he scored a goal and assisted another. He’s proven to be an adequate cover for Liverpool front 3(Salah, Mane & Firmino).
Liverpool evening was however dented with a calf injury to their reliable shot-stopper Alisson Becker, the Brazilian was instrumental for his team’s title charge last season starting all 38 league games. It is unclear whether 2nd choice keeper Adrian can perform at the same level at Alisson in coming-Liverpool fixtures starting with had Super Cup on Wednesday.
Baptism of fire for Norwich City as they begin their EPL campaign with a heavy defeat. They remain winless against Liverpool in 13 league matches(W0-D2-L11). However, they showed a glimpse of what they can do with a goal against a mean Liverpool defence.
Leeds United, West Bromwich Albion, and Derby County all made the championship playoffs last season but fell by the roadside to eventual winner Aston Villa. All 3 aiming to put the heartbreak aside began the new season on a high, with Leeds and West Brom recording away wins. Some might say it’s too early to read too much meaning into the wins, as the league is some long way from concluding, there is no better way to show their intent than a good win on the road.
Nottingham Forest 1-3 West Brom:
Having gone so close to gaining immediate promotion back into the EPL last season(missed out by a semi-final playoff loss to Aston Villa), The Baggies as West Brom are popularly called are aiming to go one better this term, and they started with some statement. They set the ball rolling at The City Ground, home of Nottingham Forest with a win. The home team isn’t a pushover though, they also narrowly missed out on a playoff spot, having finished last season, just 3 places out of the playoff spots(9th).
Nottingham Forest didn’t take too long before they made home support count, Right back Matty Cash finished off his marauding run into the opposition box with a right-footed shot after a fine team play and delightful flick from Albert Adomah. However, as they did in more than half of their matches(27 matches) last season, West Brom came back from a losing position to win. West Brom got their equalizer in the 15th minute when Forest’s goalkeeper Arijanet Muric couldn’t keep out Kyle Edwards left-footed shot, The Baggies completed the comeback just 6 minutes later, again Muric failed to deal with Matthew Phillips cross-like shot and the ball dropped into the net(an afternoon to forget for the Manchester City loanee). 2-1 it finished in favour of the visitors.
A good start for West Brom new manager Slaven Bilic who gave a debut to 5 players( 4 newly acquired players; Semi Ajayi, Romaine Sawyer, Flip Krovinovic, Kenneth Zohore, and 18-year-old Nathan Ferguson), and they all gave remarkable displays.
Bristol City 1-3 Leeds United:
Leeds United was coasting under new Boss Marcelo Bielsa towards winning the EFL Championship last season but then got caught up in a certain ‘Spygate’ controversy, and then everything went south as results were hard to come by. Leeds slipped out of the automatic promotion spot into the playoffs which they also lost to Derby County in the semifinals.
They put all behind them now as they began the new season with a swift 3-1 win at Ashton Road, home of Bristol City. The head-to-head stats didn’t favour City, as they have only won 1 out of 14 meetings, drawn just 2, and certainly, they weren’t ready to change the poor results against their visitor on Sunday afternoon.
Leeds got off with a 26th-minute opener, their Spanish import Pablo Hernandez found space at the edge of the opposition box and fired a left-footed curler into the upper right corner. The Spaniard then turned provider in the 57th minute, as Patrick Bamford nodded home at the near post for Leeds 2nd goal. It was game over in the 72nd minute when Jack Harrison made it 3 nil for Leeds, Andreas Weimann‘s goal in the 79th minute was a mere consultation for the host, as Leeds ran out with a 3-1 win.
Good start for Bielsa and his lads as they aim to live up to the preseason favourite tag given them by pundits.
Huddersfield – Derby County(Monday Night):
Derby County will begin her life without former handler Frank Lampard(whose managerial feat last season at Derby had earned him a call-up with his former club Chelsea FC) with a trip to newly relegated side Huddersfield in a Monday night football.
The last 5 league meetings between these 2 dated back to 2015 saw Derby won 2 in contrast to Huddersfield’s 1, with 2 draws including 2017 1 all draw at Derby before Huddersfield gained promotion into the EPL.
If new manager Phillip Cocu can match/replicate Lampard’s feat at Derby last season, then a good start and another wonderful season await Derby County.
This blog is cross-posted across other platforms as usual.
Zlatan ‘Lion’ Ibrahimovic on Saturday couldn’t replicate an inspiring performance that saw him bagged a hat-trick in the Los Angeles Galaxy(LAG) 3-2 win over city rival Los Angeles FC(LAFC) in the battle of Zlatan vs Vela about 2 weeks ago, Zlatan was toothless in an embarrassing 0-4 defeat at the hands of Portland Timbers FC. 2 goals in either half condemned the LAG to her 3rd defeat in 5 MLS matches.
LAG came into the week 22 fixture full of confidence having defeated LAFC 3-2 in their last league game as earlier mentioned, with Zlatan upstaging the league-leading scorer Vela with 3 goals on the day, Zlatan’s performance was an exhibiting to his critics and whoever cared to listen that he is still the ‘Lion King’ after recent accolades have been showered on Carlos Vela for his stellar performances for LAFC.
Portland & LA Galaxy are 2 teams that know each other too well, both teams have met 5 whooping times in the last 16 month alone, sharing the head-to-head stats with 2 wins each and a draw. However, the recent meeting was at the United State Open Cup last month when Portland demolish LAG 4 nil, it seemed as lightning had struck LAG twice.
Portland is a team in form too, unbeaten in her last 5 matches with 3 wins and 2 draws and sure came into the clash with a plan, ‘stop Zlatan and you stop LAG’. Zlatan! the self-proclaimed ‘Lion’ was duly cage by the Portland ‘ringleaders’, he(Zlatan) was reduced to only 5 shots all 90 minutes. Portland 1st-2 goals came off a swift counter-attack, firstly, it was Cristhian Parades who finished off Jorge Moreira cross with a glancing header in the 37th minute, and 4 minutes later, another counter-attack saw Argentine’s Diego Valeri put through down the left-hand side, to finish off a mazy-solo run with a cool finish into the far post.
Further 2 goals were scored in the closing minutes of the 2nd half, Parades completed his double with a fine volley in the 81st minute. LAG’s night was made even miserable when they were reduced to 10 men in the 84th minute after Efrain Alvarez couldn’t keep his frustration in check, and just 4 minutes later, Portland got their 4th goal of the night when Jeremy Ebrobisse nodded in to complete the rout. More frustration for LAG after the final whistle when one of her player Diego Polenta was sent off alongside Portland player Dairon Asprilla for violent conducts.
The defeat now means LAG has slipped further behind city rival LAFC into 3rd place still on 37 points, level with San Jose Earthquakes also on 37 points but with superior goal difference, and have been overtaken into 2nd place by Seattle Sounders who are now on 38 points.
Los Angeles see-saw season continues with her last 7 league matches’ Lose-Win sequence goes like L-W-L-W-L-W-L (Win 3-Lose 4), not a healthy set of results for a playoff-chasing LAG.
Former Arsenal ace Carlos Vela may have surprisingly switched European football for the Major League Soccer in the United State of America about 2 years ago, his skill and finesse in front of goal is undoubtedly undeniable, a reason why the Los Angeles FC(LAFC) took a giant leap to bring him over, and only 2 seasons on, LAFC are reaping the dividend. With the Mexican International leading the attack, LAFC sits aloft of rival clubs on the MLS Western Conference league table with 49 points after 22 matches (W15-L3-D4), some 12 points ahead of the nearest challenger and city rival Los Angeles Galaxy(37 points after 21 matches).
MLS week 21 league match paired LAFC against equally high flyers Atlanta United and once again Vela was inspiring and among the goal scorer in his team’s battling 4-3 win, his 22nd goal of the season. The last time both teams met, it was Atlanta United that ran over their opponent in a 5 nil whitewash win, and another whitewash seemed on the card when the visitors and the defending MLS Cup champion raced to an early 2nd-minute goal through Mohammed Adams, LAFC however, responded with a 1st-half 12-minute goal rout that was started by Adama Diomande in the 33rd minute , Diego Rossi, Carlos Vela and Eduard Atuesta completed the turnaround and capped off a crazy scoring spree with a 4-1 lead. Nevertheless, LAFC got complacent and conceded a 1st-half late goal through Josef Martinez, to go into the break 4-2. They conceded another goal in the 51st minute through an own-goal by Eddie Segura, to make the remaining minutes of the match a nervy one, but kudos to LAFC, they held their nerves to edge the match 4-3.
While the Swede superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic often time make the headlines on and off the pitch, the Mexican International focused on his on-the-pitch performances, and his performances sure speak for him. He’s already been voted as player of the week 3 times and counting, the league-leading scorer with 22 goals from 21 matches, 6 goals ahead of the Swedes(16 goals) and 5 goals ahead of nearest scorer on 17 goals(Josef Martinez) , the 22 goals coming from a total of 47 shots on target(league highest), from a total of 108 shots(also the league highest). Vela’s game is not just about scoring, he provides assist too, and he is the league joint assist maker with 13 alongside NYCFC’s Maximiliano Moralez. Vela is also ranked highest by Audi’s player index rankings with 886 points ahead of nearest performer New England Revolution’s Gustavo Bou on 750 points, check here for more stats. The total goals for a single season by a player was Josef Martinez’s 31 goals for Atlanta United last season, however, with Vela’s present scoring rate, he is well on course to break Martinez tally before the season ends.
2 years after playing her 1st MLS game in a 1 nil victory over Seatle Sounders FC, LAFC is on course for the playoffs and a probable title with Carlos Vela pulling the strings for the Black and Gold.
Boxing fans across the world were treated to a sumptuous weekend with 3 entertaining bouts that include a WBA Super Welterweight title bout between the holder Keith Thurman and Challenger Manny Pacquiao and Heavyweight bouts between Dillian Whyte and Oscar Rivas & Derek Chisora and Artur Szpilka. Pacquiao battled past Thurman to become the new WBA Super Welterweight Champion while both Whyte and Chisora recorded victories respectively on Saturday night.
AGE IS NOTHING BUT NUMBER:
40-year-old Philippine Manny Pacquiao keeps reminding us all that age is just a number, the Philippines congressman continues to awe fans after another commendable victory over a younger opponent Americas 30-year-old Thurman at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Pacquiao won in a split decision(to the mystified commentator, who in his opinion believe it should have been a unanimous Pacquiao win) 115-112, 115-112 & 113-114 on the 3 judges scorecard.
The PacMan came off the block blazing and quickly cornered his opponent but Thurman showed quick feet and some counter punches to get out of trouble, however, not for long as Pacquiao landed a fierce jab that caught Thurman’s jaw which sent the American to the canvass, a statement of intent from Pacquiao right from the 1st round. Thurman, as expected, wouldn’t lie down without a fight, stepped up the gas and duly stifled Pacquiao especially in round 6 & 7, however, the composed PacMan had done enough to be ahead in the judges’ scorecard and overall out-boxed his opponent as the bout went the full rounds.
Manny Pacquiao’s record now improves to Win 62(39 KOs)-Loss 7-Draw 2, and at 40 years old, he became the oldest Welterweight champion in boxing history. Thurman, on the other hand, did not only lose his Super Welterweight title but has been handed his 1st ever defeat, now W 29(22 KOs)-L 1-D 0.
WHYTE FINALLY SET FOR A HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE SHOWDOWN:
Somewhere across the Atlantic Ocean, in the United Kingdom was a heavyweight clash between long overdue title challenger Dillian Whyte and the unbeaten Oscar Rivas took place at the O2 Arena London. Whyte has always been repeatedly overlooked by the likes of former WBO & WBA Champion Anthony Joshua and current WBC Champion Deontay Wilder, however, he can now have a shot at the WBC title come 2020 after he’d been made a mandatory challenger.
It wasn’t all roses for Whyte as his Colombian opponent came out of the block with the aggressiveness in round 1, but Whyte responded immediately in round 2 with devastating jabs which could have ended the bout but Rivas managed to see the round through. Whyte continued to punish Rivas with his customary jabs and body shots round after round and was coasting until the 9th round when he was shockingly sent to the deck by Rivas, an unforeseen Rivas’ uppercut landed clean, to land the Brixton his 3rd career knockdown having only previously been knockdown by Anthony Joshua and Joseph Parker. Nevertheless, Whyte had done enough in all 3 judges’ scorecard to earn him a unanimous victory 115-112, 115-112 & 116-111.
Whyte record now stands at W 26(18)-L 1-D 0, Oscar Rivas now suffered his 1st career defeat and shares an identical record with Whyte at W26(18)-L 1-D 0.
CHISORA STILL HUNGERS FOR THE BIG FIGHTS:
Still at the O2 Arena on same Saturday night was Derek Chisora taking on Artur Szpilka in another heavyweight showdown. The 35-year-old Brixton was in a no-nonsense mood as he took just under 2 rounds to brushed aside his 30-year-old Polish opponent.
The early exchanges were all about Chisora’s attacks and Szpilka’s counter-attacking as Chisora seeks an early breakthrough. He got what he wanted in the 2nd round when one of his right hooks sent Szpilka wobbling to the ropes, he quickly followed up with more combos that eventually sent the pole to the canvass much to the delight of the cheering home fans. Chisora’s record now stands at W 31(15 KOs)-L 9-D 0 while his opponent slumped to his 4 career defeat W 22(15 KOs)-L 4-D 0.
Derek Chisora reiterated after the bout that his age is nothing but just a number, that he feels like a 16-year-old. He also made his intention of getting a big fight against the like of Joseph Parker known.
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South Africa bowed out of the ongoing FIFA Women World Cup in France after losing their 3rd successive group B match. Coach Desiree Ellis tutored side lost 0-4 to the current Olympic Champion, Germany, to become the 1st African team to exit the tournament. Another Africa’s representative, the Super Falcons of Nigeria will have to wait for other results to go their way before they can book a spot in the next round. Nigeria was beaten 0-1 by the host, France, via a controversial VAR call in their last group A match in Renne.
Participating in the Mundial for the 1st time ever, the South African had an uphill task of advancing from the group stage having been drawn in a tough group that includes 2-time former champion Germany, Spain and China. Banana Bayana as the South African women are called, began their world cup campaign with a disappointing 1-3 loss to Spain. Much improved performance by the Bayana Bayana in their 2nd match against China, unfortunately, it also ended in a 0-1 loss. The South African needed a miracle to beat Germany and advance into the next round, but the miracle never came.
Germany, on the other hand, is one of the bookmakers favourite to lift the trophy, but the German Machines are yet to reach top gear so far in this year’s tournament, 2 slim 1-nil victories over China and Spain was not a vintage efficient German performance women football had seen over the years. However, the German women fancied a goal feast against the 1st timer, South Africa, in what was definitely a mismatch on paper.
Germany took the early ascendancies as expected, imposing the physical advantage on their smaller South Africans. Germany is known for their Aerial and set-piece prowess, they duly made it count in the 14th minute, Melanie Leupolz was left unmarked in the South African box, and she obliged with a nodded goal from a corner kick. Germany was then gifted the 2nd goal in the 29th minute when South African goalkeeper Andile Dlamini made a mess of a wayward square play, Dlamini pushed the ball unto the path of un-rushing Sara Dabritz, who fired into an empty net. Yet another headed goal for Germany in the 40th minute, Giulia Gwinn’s fine cross into the box was met by Alexandra Popp, to make it 3 nil in favour of Germany. South Africa’s chance of scoring was made even harder with their pacey forward, Thembi Kgatlana not fit enough to make the starting 11, and it was evident in the teams poor showing in the attack, firing a single shot at Germany’s goal in the entirety of the 1st 45 minutes.
Desperately needing a goal, South Africa brought on half-fit Kgatlana after the break, and she could have gotten on the scoresheet when she broke away with lightning pace, but she couldn’t beat Almuth Schult in goal for Germany. Soon after, Germany got their 4th goal in the 58th minute, another set-piece was nodded goal bound as Dlamini put a hand to it, it rebounded off the post and was tapped in by Lina Magull. Germany could have scored as much as twice as they did, but series of fine saves from Dlamini plus a handful of mises from Popp and Magull kept the scoreline at just 4 nil.
South Africa exited the world cup with 3 losses out of 3 group matches, 1 goal scored and 8 goals conceded, a spirited fight from a team ranked 49th on FIFA’s roster, some way down the ladder below their Group B counterparts Germany(2), Spain(13) and China(16).
WAITING GAME FOR NIGERIA;
Having won their 2nd Group A match 2-0 over South Korea, Nigeria needed a point to guarantee a spot in the next round, however, the Super Falcons were on the back foot throughout the encounter as the host asked all the threatening questions. At some point in the match, the possession was 30% – 70% to France. Nigeria held the host to a half-time stalemate and looked like they were going to weather the storm all 90 minutes, however, with France threatening and probing, it was only a matter of time before the breakthrough goal came for the host, in a bit of controversy though. Falcons’ Ngozi Ebere conceded a penalty-kick which led to her been dismissed in 75th minutes, after her 2nd booking, France’s Wendie Renard’s initial kick missed the target, however, VAR called for a replay as Nigeria goalkeeper, Chiamaka Nnadozie was adjudged to have left the goal line as the ball was kicked. The burning question is, why call for a replay when the spot-kick was completely missed by Wendie? Nevertheless, Wendie retook the spot-kick and scored as France won Group A with 9 maximum points.
Nigeria still has a slim chance of making the next round, if other groups’ results turn out in their favour, for now, its a nail-biting wait for the Super Falcons, Nigerians and Africa as a whole.
The 2019 Copa America host, Brazil began their campaign with a routine 3 nil win over Bolivia, 3 2nd-half goals from unsettled Barcelona ace, Philippe Coutinho and a further goal added by a substitute, Everton, was all the host needed to overcome Bolivia, in a far from vintage Brazil performance. With the other Group A tie between Peru and Venezuela ended in a goalless stalemate, Brazil sits atop Group A with 2 points margin and 3 goals advantage.
Brazil have failed to win the tournament since they last won it in 2007, the pressure is on for the Samba Boys to add to their tally of 8 Copa America titles, and they have to do it without their talismanic striker, Neymar Jnr, who got injured while preparing for the tournament.
The last 5 meetings between Brazil and Bolivia is slightly in Brazil’s favour, with 2 wins, 2 draws and a solitary defeat, and the odds favoured them to win again at the Sao Paulo’s Morumbi stadium. Wearing an unpopular white shirt for the 1st time in about 60 years (most of us on scorum platform were not even conceived when they last wore a white shirt), in honour of their 1st Copa America win on home soil some 100 years ago(1919), Brazil lacked inspiration in the final 3rd. It was a lacklustre 1st-half performance by the Samba Boys, where they failed to register a shot on target. The front trio of Richarlison(Everton), Firmino(Liverpool) and David Neres(Ajax) failed to trouble an unfazed Bolivia defence despite dominating the entire proceedings, which prompted jeers and boos from the home supporters towards the Brazilians.
However, the host put up a better show in the 2nd half and was rewarded with a goal 5 minutes into the restart via a VAR assisted penalty-kick. Adrian Jusino was adjudged to have handled the ball in the box, and Coutinho duly converted for the 1st goal. The host pulled further clear just 3 minutes later, with Coutinho at the double, the Barcelona ace nodded in from close range from a Firmino cross. The host made victory sure with a 3rd goal 5 minutes from stoppage time and in style, substitute, Everton’s right footed shot from outside the box beat the Bolivia goalkeeper, Carlos Lampe to the bottom right corner.
A slightly improved 2nd half saw Brazil fire 5 shots on target, scoring 3 out of it, however not the kind of performance expected of Brazil, aiming to host and win for the 5th times, having hosted and won in 1919, 1922, 1949 and 1989, they won’t have the luxury of recovering from a slow start against the likes of Chile, Argentina, or even Uruguay.
An oftentimes difficult opening match is out of the way, they can now focus on the next game against Venezuela, with plenty of room for improvement.
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Toronto Raptors defied all odds to claim their maiden NBA Championship with a 114-110 victory in Game 6 to take a 4-2 series triumph over favourites and the 2-time defending champion, the Golden State Warriors. Few would have seen this coming, probably Drake and a just a handful die-hard Raptors fans, but the Raptors did it, not without a stroke of good fortune on their path and misfortune on the path of their opponent, Golden State Warriors who were ravaged by injuries to key players.
Once the Raptors had claimed a 3-1 series lead, it was always going to be a daunting task for the Warriors playing catch-up. The Warriors were never at full strength throughout the playoffs till the final, with injuries at some point or the other to the likes of Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, starman Kevin Durant and then DeMarcus Cousins was never really the same player since his return from a torn left quad.
The Raptors drew the series’ 1st blood with Game 1 victory, winning 118-109 at home, but like a warrior, the Golden State Warrior fought back to take the next Game 109-104 on the road. However, Raptors did the unthinkable, taking the next 2 games at the Oracle Arena, 123-109 & 105-92 respectively to take the series lead 3-1 and be on the brink of a historical NBA final triumph. But then, a surprise return of Kevin Durant for Game 5 which was short-lived, as Durant lasted just the 1st quarter and 3 minutes of the 2nd quarter, however, his presence may have boosted his teammate’s morale as they went on without him to narrowly win Game 5 106-105. Nevertheless, there was no denying the Raptors of the glory, as they seal the series 4-2, with a Game 6 hard-fought 114-110 win.
It was a close Game 6 contest, right from the 1st quarter, the Raptors raced to an 8-0 lead through Kyle Lowly, but the Warriors gradually claw their way back into the game, as the quarter ended 33-32 to the Raptors. It was a see-saw game from then on, as the lead kept exchanging hands several times. Klay Thompson in the thick of things for the Warriors, while Kawhi Leonard was also up and running for the Raptors, as the Raptors still edged the 2nd quarters 60-57. The Raptors were destined for victory, as Golden State Warriors leading scorer with 30 points, Klay Thompson left the court injured with about 2 minutes of the 3rd quarter remaining, Warriors did manage to overtake the Raptors though, ending the quarter with an 88-86 lead. However, the loss of Klay Thompson in the Warrior’s rank proved crucial in the 4th and final quarter, as the Raptors regained the lead through a Fred VanVleet jump shot with less than 4 minutes to play, and the Raptors never relinquish the lead, closing up the game 114-110, for a famous win.
Pascal Siakem and Kyle Lowry both recorded 26 points for the Raptors, with Kawhi Leonard and Fred VanVleet adding further 22 points each. Serge Ibaka(15 points) and Marc Gasol(3 points) also got on the scoreboard for the Raptors. Warriors’ Klay Thompson led the way with 30 points before getting injured, Andre Iguodala(22 points), DeMarcus Cousins(12 points) and Draymond Green(11 points) all in double figures, but wasn’t enough for the Warriors.
The Golden State Warriors will not be defending the NBA Championship for a 3rd successive year, no thanks to the Toronto Raptors, who won the NBA finals for the 1st time in their history. More worrying for the Warriors is the talisman Kevin Durant may be out of the entirety of the next NBA season.
Is this the end of the Golden State Warriors’ dynasty? or An injury free next season will propel the Warriors back to the summit of NBA dominance?
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Rafael Nadal became the 1st tennis player to win the same Grand Slam title 12 times, 1 better of Americas Margeret Court, when he swept aside Austrian, Dominic Thiem 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 6-1 in just over 3 hours on Sunday afternoon. Nadal was in business, as usual, taking the 1st set, but Thiem who has never taken a Grand Slam set over Nadal, broke the hoodoo to take the 2nd set. However, in his response, the king of clay stormed through the next 2 sets to claim his 18th Grand Slam total, 2-titles shy of Roger Federer’s 20.
Going into the final, Nadal led Thiem 8-4 on head-to-head series, however, all 4 Thiem’s victories had come from clay surface; 6-4, 4-6, 7-6(7-4) at 2016 Buenos Aires, 2017 6-4, 6-3 Rome Masters win, 2018 Madrid Masters’ 7-5, 6-3 win and last April’s 6-4, 6-4 triumph at Barcelona. Thiem had, however, lost all 3 previous meetings against Nadal at Roland Garros in straight sets, and was once again taken to the cleaners by Nadal.
NADAL, THIEM RESPECTIVE SEMIFINAL VICTORIES;
The King of Clay got his record-extending 12th title aim in pole position with a crushing dispatched of great rival, Roger Federer. Nadal was in fine form in a straight set 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 under a stormy weather condition at the Court Philippe-Chatrier. It was the 39th Nadal-Federer clash, with Nadal now claimed 24 wins over Federer’s 15 wins. The straight set Nadal victory didn’t portray the fight put on by Federer, it was one of his best display against Nadal on clay, matching the Spaniard ace for ace(3-3), 61% 1st serve win percentage, just better by Nadal’s 69%, however, Federer was largely let down by unforced errors, 34 of them against Nadal’s 19. Federer has now lost 6 French Open meetings that include 4 finals against Nadal, 14 in total on clay surface, won just 2.
4th seeds, Dominic Thiem held his nerves to upstage world number 1 and number 1 seed, Novak Djokovic, in a breathtaking, rain interrupted, 2nd semifinal that lasted 2 days, totalling 4 hours and 19 minutes. Thiem won the 5 sets thriller by 6-2, 3-6, 7-5, 5-7, 7-5 to reach the French Open final in the 2nd successive year, where he set up the clash with Nadal in a repeat of last year final, which Nadal emerged victorious in 3 straight sets. Djokovic was aiming to become only the 2nd man after Rod Laver to win all 4 Grand Slam simultaneously twice, but that dream was scuppered by an equally ambitious Austrian whom many believe to have secured a Grand Slam title at 25 years old( Nadal, Djokovic and Federer secured their 1st Grand Slam title at the age of 19, 21 and 22 respectively). A dramatic see-saw contest saw both men took a set each before play was suspended due to rain for the 2nd time with Thiem leading the set(3rd) 3-1. The Austrian managed to hold off a Djokovic fight-back after play resumption to win 7-5. Nevertheless, the momentum had shifted unto Djokovic’s favour has the Serb took the 4th set 7-5 to force a deciding 5th set. Advantage Thiem, as he raced into 4-1 in the 5th set, but play was suspended for the often time due to downpour, however, Thiem would not be denied a place in Sunday’s final as he wrapped up the set 7-5, to win 3 sets to Djokovic’s 2.
Dominic Thiem can take solace in the fact that age is no longer on Nadal’s side, sooner or later, if he continues to play at this level, he will surely take over the mantle from the king of clay, as he is widely seen as the successor to Nadal, but for now, he can either wait out Nadal’s reign or be the man to end it.
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The 2019 French Open has a 1st-time women’s winner, 23-year-old Australian, Ashleigh Barty was crowned the champion on Saturday afternoon at the Court Philippe-Chatrier after a crushing defeat of Czech’s 19-year-old Marketa Vondrousova 6-1, 6-3 in straight set in just over an hour. With her victory, Barty now became the 1st Australia Grand Slam winner since Samantha Stosur’s triumph in the 2011 US Open and the 1st French Open winner since Margaret Court won the 1973 French Open title.
Prior to the final, Barty and Vondrousova had played each other just 2 times at Masters tournament, with Barty winning both, the 2017 7-5, 7-6(7-1) Birmingham win, and 2018 6-3, 7-5 Cincinnati triumph. However, those Barty wins were on hard and grass surfaces and not clay, she has now added a clay victory over her opponent.
Barty’s triumph means she will now be the new World number 2 ranked women player when the rankings are updated. Vondrousova was aiming to become the 1st teenage champion at Roland Garros since Iva Majoli of Switzerland won the crown in 1997, but it wasn’t to be.
Ashleigh Barty’s run to the French Open final include;
Ashleigh Barty had never played in any Grand Slam semifinal before, her last campaign in 2018 French open-ended in a round of 64 loss to Serena Williams, Barty battled past teenage-star, Americas 17-year-old Amanda Anisimova, who also created an upset in the quarterfinal by knocking out the tournament’s defending champion, 3rd seed Simona Halep in straight sets. Barry raced to a 5-0 lead against Amanda in the 1st set but surprisingly lose the set 6-7(4-7), but the Australian fought back to take the next 2 sets 6-3, 6-3 to reach her 1st ever Grand Slam final, the 1st Australian to play in the French Open final since Samantha Stosur lost the 2010 final 6-4, 7-6(7-2) to Francesca Schiavone of Italy.
Other wins are;
• R128: 6-3, 6-3 win over Jessica Pegula(USA)
• R64: 7-5, 6-1 win over Danielle Rose Collins(USA)
• R32: 6-3, 6-1 win over Andrea Petkovic(GER)
• R16: 6-3, 3-6, 6-0 win over Sofia Kenin(USA)
• R8: 6-3, 7-5 win over Madison Keys(USA)
Safe to say Barty is responsible for the elimination of the majority of Americas players.
Marketa Vondrousova’s run to the final include;
Like Barty, Czech’s Marketa Vondrousova had never played in any Grand Slam semifinals before her Friday triumph over Konta, her last year’s French Open ended right from matchday 1, a 1st round loss to Ana Bogdan of Romania, however, just a year on, Vondrousova is playing at the biggest stage of her career. She defeated new favorite, British number 1, Johanna Konta in a surprising 7-5, 7-6(7-2) straight sets, to set up a final with Barty. Konta has been playing some great tennis all tournament and was expected to be in the final with all the top seeds in her half has been eliminated, but either she let herself down when it mattered most or her opponent, who had not to drop a single set all tournament was just too strong for her. Sweet revenge for Vondrousova who lost to Konta at the Rome Masters last month.
Other wins are;
• R128: 6-4, 6-3 win over Yafan Wang(CHN)
• R64: 6-4, 6-0 win over Anastasia Potapova(RUS)
• R32: 6-4, 6-4 win over Carla Suarez Navarro(SPA)
• R16: 6-2, 6-0 win over Anastasija Sevastova(LAT)
The 3 Lions of England had hoped to play in the Maiden Euro Nation League final, but their hope was dashed after losing 1-3 to the resurgence Orange Boys of the Netherland. The Portuguese midfielder, Bernando Silva had hope for a Portugal-England final, a chance to play against familiar English lad faces but it wasn’t to be as Portugal will play Netherland instead in the final at the Estadio Do Dragao, Porto.
England was the architect of their own woes as 2 sloppy defending from John Stone and Ross Barkley cost them victory, having to take a 1st half lead only to relinquish the lead late on and then lose out completely on a disappointing fashion.
Most of the pre-match news in the English camp was the fitness of their captain and striker Harry Kane, the Englishman was rushed from injury to play for his Tottenham team in the UCL final against Liverpool, but he was largely ineffective in the 0-2 Spurs loss. So, it was understandably when England Boss, Gareth Southgate started Kane from the bench and opted for the young trio of Jaden Sancho, Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling in England’s front 3 line up.
Rashford justified his inclusion in the line up when he won and converted a 32nd-minute spot-kick against the run of play, having been brought down by Dutch’s young central defender, Matthijs De Ligt. England held on to the lead going into the half-time break. The 2nd half started, and it was the Dutch side probing for an equalizer, which they eventually got. De Ligt made amends for his conceded spot-kick when he rose highest in the 73rd minute to nod home teammate, Memphis Depay’s corner kick to leveled scores at 1 all. With no further legitimate goal in the regulation time, the match was forced into an additional 30 extra minutes.
It was barely 7 minutes into the extra time(97 min) when Netherland went into the lead, a careless and nerve play by England’s defender, John Stone and he was robbed off the ball by Depay whos initial effort on goal was saved by England Jordan Pickford in goal, but it was rebound into the net through un-rushing Kyle Walker in an attempt to block Dutch’s Quincy Promes. Netherland sealed their victory with 6 minutes to play of the extra time, England midfielder, Ross Barkley this time was dispossessed in the area as he dwelled too long on the ball, Depay once again the fox in the box who squared yo teammate Promes to tuck home, 3-1 is finished, as the Dutch’s good run continues.
MATCH TALKING POINTS:
• Marcus Rashford was sub-off for Harry Kane at half-time after picking up an injury, and the substitution may have snuffed the fire out of England’s attack as Kane was once again ineffective.
• criticized style of play was criticized at some quarters, with no real, talented ball-playing, deep-lying midfielder to call on, playing from the back is always going to be a delicate style, and it proved costly as 2 errors from trying to build attack resulted in Netherland’s winning goals. However, England Manager, Southgate reiterated that he will not abandon the style, that his team got to the Nation League final playing from the back.
• VAR was in the radar yet again, as England’s goal through Jesse Lingard was chopped off for a fractional offside, a good call from the Dutch point of view, I doubt if England agrees with the call.
England will now play Switzerland in the 3rd & 4th place play-off tie while the host, Portugal slug it out with the Netherland, both matches on coming Sunday.
Anthony Joshua may have pocketed an estimated $25M from his bout with Andy Ruiz Jnr, but what he earned in money, he lost in prestige and pride, he is no longer ‘the undefeated heavyweight champion’. And Guess who was lurking in the corner, waiting to pounce via twitter? you guessed right, Deontay Wilder!
Fierce rival and WBC champion, Wilder took to Twitter to bare his mind.
he wasn’t a true champion, his whole career consisted of lies, contradictions, and gifts, … facts and now we know who was running from who – Wilder
What a humiliating troll coming from Wilder. AJ-Wilder has been involved in harsh words and trash talks down the years, it could be recalled that AJ once criticized both Wilder and Fury for ducking him, he also said that both were fighting ‘cab drivers and binmen’, so, this latest tweet from Wilder couldn’t be more savage.
Former heavyweight champion, Tyson Fury was surprisingly subtle with his tweet,
we have our back and forth but @anthonyjoshua changed his stars through life, heavyweight boxing, these things happen, rest up, recover, regroup and come again – Fury
Prior to the bout against Andy Ruiz, majority of boxing fans across the world had criticized AJ’s choice of Ruiz, they had referred to the bout as AJ aiming for another easy KO under his belt, a more competitive and blockbuster fight with any of Deontay Wilder, Tyson Fury or Dillian Whyte would have satisfied boxing fans. However, what ensued at the Madison Square Garden caught everyone by surprise, It was a case of everything to lose for AJ and absolutely nothing to lose for Ruiz, and the Mexican sure grabbed the opportunity that was presented to him with both gloves.
We could quickly jump to the conclusion that AJ underrated his opponent, however, some of AJ’s pre-bout comments suggested otherwise,
Ruiz is a more sound, well-balanced, feet underneath him and little head movement, … he’s got confidence in his ability that he can kind of counterpunch, … he’s not afraid to throw punches – AJ
Or, was the bout thrown? because I’ve heard some friends insinuating a match-fixing. I personally don’t think AJ will agree to lose to Andy Ruiz Jnr, not by a long shot.
So, how did a champion that had never been floored since he became a champion kiss the canvas 4 times in 7 rounds? Some reports had claimed that AJ’s trouble started in the 3rd round when he was caught clean on the head by Ruiz left hook, a devastating punch that got AJ on the floor for the 1st time in quite a while. Reports had it that AJ started asking his corner a sequence of confusing questions,
•what shot was it? •what round was it? •why am i feeling like this?
one shot on top of the dome kind of rattled me a little bit – said AJ
This shocking upset can be likened to an upset in April 2001 when Champion Lennox Lewis lost his belts to an underdog, Hasim Rahman in a 5th-round KO. Also, Lewis had in 1994 lost to an unfancied Oliver McCall in a 2nd-round KO. We couldn’t also forget the Iron Mike Tyson lost his titles in a 10th-round KO to Buster Douglas in 1990. Anthony Joshua’s name will be added in the history book among champions that lost to an underdog.
AJ needs to ignore all the internet trolls and focus on the rematch, someone once said;
The only thing more frustrating than slanderers is those foolish enough to listen to them. – Chris Jammi
He certainly got more than he’d hoped for, however, a convincing KO of Andy Ruiz in the rematch come November-December will somewhat repair his dented status and pride but it cannot erase the historical defeat to the Mexican, Andy Ruiz Jnr.
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I recently blogged about the bad and ugly of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, well, the Swede star comes with plenty of goodies too, his latest goal proved so. Whatever side you are, his fan, hater or a neutral, we all disagree to agree that Ibrahimovic will always be a genius. His stunning overhead kick couldn’t rescue a point for his Los Angeles Galaxy(LAG) team on Sunday night though but it highlighted the skills the Swedes possess even at age 37.
LAG seems to have turned the corner with a back-to-back league wins after a torrid May in which they lost 4-straight matches. New England Revolution(NER) tie was supposed to be a routine home win for LAG over a team struggling to get a win, with 2 draws and a loss in their past 3 matches, but LAG was brought crashing down to earth by the NER.
If there was one thing that is certain in any LAG-NER tie? It is goals, there is no shortage of goals whenever these 2 clubs meet, the last 5 ties between them had produced 25 goals, an average of 5 goals per match and this latest tie wasn’t an exception.
As expected, LAG dominated their visitor from the start, however, they couldn’t break down NER defence, LAG were kept at bay by NER, managed just 2 shots on target out of a total of 14 shots compared to NER who managed 16 shots and fired 7 on target. The visitors made their intention known as early as the 7th minute with the 1st attempt of the night, Cristian Penilla tested LAG’s goalkeeper, David Bingham, but the goalkeeper was well placed to save Penilla’s left-footed shot. It took about half an hour before LAG had their 1st shot at NER’s goal, Ibrahimovic saw his effort well saved by NER’s goalkeeper, Brad Knighton. It was a personal duel between LAG goalkeeper, Bingham and NER’s winger, Penilla, as the latter’s efforts in double quick succession in the 43rd minute were saved by Bingham. Penilla had the last laugh though, just before the half time break(45 min), his left-footed shot from a Carles Gil’s assist finally beat Bingham as the half ended 1 nil in NER’s favour.
Penilla-Bingham duel soon began after the restart, It took another good save from Bingham to deny Penilla in the 57th minute. However, Bingham was beaten again in the 60th minute, as NER doubled their lead, Carles Gil 2nd assist on the night found Teal Bunbury who fired home. Ibrahimovic will not be denied his moment of brilliance in the 84th minute though, a long throw-in was knocked down in the box for the Swedes, who did well to gain control of the ball before scoring a delightful overhead kick. LAG should have gotten their equalizer in the added time of the full regulation period(90+7 min), unfortunately, Diego Polenta’s shot hit the crossbar rather than go in. It ended in favour of the away side, 2-1 to New England Revolution and a 3rd-straight home loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.
I have a feeling Zlatan Ibrahimovic will always hit the tabloids even after he eventually hangs his boot, the GOOD,the bad and the ugly of Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
2019 Roland Garros has already seen the mighty fallen by the roadside as a host of high profile women’s names have been eliminated as early as the 3rd round. 1st round casualties that include world number 5, Angelique Kerber, Caroline Wozniacki, Venus Williams are now joined on the sideline by world number 1, 2, and 4, Naomi Osaka, Karolina Pliskova, Kiki Bertens respectively, and 23-times grand slam winner, Serena Williams.
Serena Williams bowed out of the French Open in a disappointing 2-6, 5-7 straight set loss to the unseeded countrywoman, Americas Sofia Kenin in the 3rd round. The last time Serena failed to go past the 3rd round in a grand slam tournament was in 2014 Wimbledon where she lost to France’s Alize Cornet in 3 sets. Serena came into the French Open lacking game fitness, having retired after the 1 round of the Indian Wells, Miami and Rome masters respectively because of a recurring knee injury and it was evident in her 1st round come-from-behind 2 sets to 1 win in her 1 round tie at the on-going Roland Garros. Though her 2 round tie was a straight-set win over an unseeded Japanese, Kurumi Nara, she was far from her dominant best, her defeat to Kenin reiterated her below-par performances in the tournament. With age not on Serena’s side, the 37-year-old quest for 1 more grand slam is highly unlikely.
Taking nothing away from Kenin, she showed courage against 1 of best female player ever. At some point, Kenin was not just playing against Serena, but against the crowd who were rooting for a Serena victory, but she held her nerves and showed composure to win the deciding 2nd set by a tie-breaker 7-5, and reach her 1st ever grand slam 4th round.
World number 2, Czech’s Karolina Pliskova was also booted out in the 3rd round of Roland Garros. The Czech lost 3-6, 3-6 in straight sets to Croatia’s Petra Martic. The 27-year-old Pliskova fared better coming into the French Open with the Rome master triumph, and then followed the Rome master win with a dominant 1st round dispatched of Americas Madison Brengle in her Roland Garros opener. A 2nd round 6-2, 6-2 win over Slovakia’s Kristina Kicova soon followed, her defeat to Martic came as a shock judging by her form in recent days.
Following after the World number 2 exit was world number 1, Japanese Naomi Osaka. the 21-years-old’s quest for a 3rd straight grand slam hit a halt when she went down 4-6, 2-6 in a straight sets loss to Czech’s Katerina Siniakova. With no clay court title to her name and a poor run in the pre-French open tournaments(masters), she struggled with the demands of the clay surface. The double grand slam winner again loses the 1st set 4-6 like she did lose her 1st sets in her previous round of 128 and 64 respectively. Her luck ran out this time against Siniakova as she could not fight back as she did in those 2 previous round. It seemed like the mounting pressure of success is beginning to weigh Osaka down, her play was uncharacteristically characterized with an unforced error, 38 of them on the day, she said afterwards,
I just feel like there has been a weight on me, kind of – Osaka
Osaka’s conqueror, Siniakova admitted that Osaka wasn’t in her usual self, the 2-times grand slam doubles winner(2018 French & Wimbledon) said,
I could see that she’s not so confident like she was
The Japanese will not be winning a 3rd-straight grand slam but she sure will come back strong in next grand slam in the UK later in the year.
If there was any bout that the whole world has been clamouring and waiting for? it’s Joshua-Wilder unification bout, with Joshua-Fury & Joshua-Whyte also popular demands, unfortunately, those blockbuster bouts might forever be just a dream with the shocking defeat of Anthony Joshua by an unfancied Mexican-American, The Brit will now focus on a rematch rather than a bout with Wilder, Fury or even Whyte.
There was a major upset in the Heavyweight division of world boxing when Mexican-American, Andy Ruiz Jnr knocked out the world IBF, IBO, WBA and WBO champion, Anthony Joshua in the 7th round on Saturday night at the Madison Square Garden, United State America. AJ as Joshua is fondly called opted to fight Andy Ruiz jnr after the initial challenger, Jarrell Miller of the USA failed a drug test.
The matchup was tagged a mismatch by most pundit as AJ poses the bigger man and of course, the world champion is undefeated at 29, 0, KOs 21. However, Ruiz rules his world too, 1 solitary defeat in his 33 career bout(32, 1, KOs 21), he is no pushover.
ROUND 1 & 2: The early minutes of the 1st round was cagey as AJ circled the ring and kept Ruiz at bay with his longer reach and jabs. Ruiz, on the other hand, though looked nervous at first, but soon got his act together and started probing AJ as the round eased out. An Improved 2nd round for AJ as he landed a couple of shots on Ruiz coupled with a few body shots, but the Mexican landed his own hook too. The round ended with AJ slightly edging on the scorecard.
ROUND 3: The ring was ignited in the 3rd round as the crowd watched on in awe at the Madison Square Garden as AJ landed hook combos that sent Ruiz to the canvass, surprisingly, Ruiz got up on his feet to send the champion to the floor too with his quick combos. AJ beat the count at 8 to his feet, wobbling! as Ruiz fancied his chance and went for the jugular and had AJ back on the floor moments later, AJ regained his feet and was rescued by the bell as the round ended.
ROUND 4 & 5: The 4th round was more of a recovery round for both boxers they caught their breaths from an explosive 3rd round, with AJ the more shaken boxer. A relatively quiet round it was. AJ looked to have fully recovered by now and slightly edged the 5th round with a couple of both left and right hooks but Ruiz seems unrattled.
ROUND 6: This round is all about Ruiz, as he took the ascendances with a swift left hook on AJ, he soon followed up with a combination of body shots. AJ got a counter hook though but Ruiz was unfazed as he pushed AJ backing up on his heels. An entertaining 6 round that set up what was to come in the 7th round.
ROUND 7: The round started in style, AJ sprung an attack on Ruiz with a left hook, shockingly, Ruiz
counterattack and sent the champion to the floor at his own corner, for the 3rd time in the bout. The champion scrambled to his feet and staged an attack again, but Ruiz, fully in charge now, sent AJ back to the canvass for the 4th time, and this time, the referee had seen enough and wave the bout over, a TKO victory in favour of Ruiz.
Andy Ruiz jnr had inflicted AJ’s 1st knockdown since his heavyweight victory over Wladimir Klitschko and his 1st ever defeat in 30 career bout(29, 1, KOs 21). According to CompuBox, Joshua was outpunched by Ruiz 47 to 56. AJ and his camp immediately signalled to exercise the rematch clause included in the bout contract.
we will make the rematch in the UK, November or December…– AJ said afterwards.
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Novak Djokovic’s quest for a record-equalling 2nd Grand Slam sweep started at 2019 Roland Garros with a comfortable straight 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 win over Polish’s Hubert Hurkacz in the round of 128. The 32-year-old Serb had won the immediate past 3 Grand Slam; the 2018 Wimbledon and US Open and 2019 Australian Open respectively. A French Open triumph would make Djokovic only the 2nd man after Rod Laver to hold all 4 Open titles at the same time. Djokovic came into the French Open with a mixed fortune, winning the Madrid Masters and then lost the Rome Masters to Rafael Nadal in a back-to-back ATP Masters tournament finals. However, the Rome Masters’ loss perhaps might be a good omen for the Serb, who’s 2016 French Open triumph came at the back of a Rome Masters’ defeat to Andy Murray. If Djokovic can pull a French Open final triumph, it would be his 2nd ever and his 16th Grand Slam total.
The Rome Masters win over Djokovic couldn’t have come at the right time for French Open defending champion, Rafael Nadal, the Spaniard had had a torrid season battling with injuries and form, the Rome Masters win over 1 of French Open favourite is a much-needed confidence booster going into his round of 128 ties. Nadal’s dominance over clay court has no equal, having 11 French Open titles to his name compared to Djokovic and Federer’s 1 apiece. However, Djokovic still holds Nadal’s biggest threat, with the likes of Dominic Thiem also prowling the clay court. The 32-year-old Spaniard raced to a comfortable 1st round victory, 6-2, 6-1, 6-3 over Germany’s Yannick Hanfmann in just about 2 hours and will next play another German, Yannick Maden in round 2.
It is no news that the clay court is the least favoured surface by the Swiss Maestro, Roger Federer, his solitary 2009 French Open title out of a total of 20 Grand Slams speak volume, and it’s worthy of note that it was in the absence of Nadal who withdrew in the quarterfinals due to injury. Nevertheless, the 37-year-old Swiss can never be underestimated, not by a whisker. This year’s tournament is Federer’s 1st since his injury-self imposed exile from the clay court after 2015 tournament, and he began on an encouraging note, as if he was never away, a straight 6-2, 6-4, 6-4 win over Italia’s Lorenzo Sonego in less than 2 hours in the 1st round was a good start, and the Swiss said afterwards,
I really don’t know how far I can go in this event and I am very happy with my 1st round
Other men’s top 10 seeds players that made it past the round of 128 includes;
4th seed, Dominic Thiem(Austrian) dropped a set in his 6-4, 4-6, 7-6(7-5), 6-2 victory over Tommy Paul of the United State of America. 5th seed and German, Alexander Zverev began his French Open campaign in a 5-set thriller win over Australia’s John Millman, Zverev raised to a 2-sets 7-6(7-4), 6-3 lead, but Millman levelled 6-2, 7-6(7-5). However, Zverev showed resilience to take the deciding set 6-3. Number 6 seed, Greek’s Stefanos Tsitsipas saw off Germany’s Maximilian Marterer, 6-2, 6-2, 7-6(7-4). Japanese Kei Nishikori also made it, the 7th seed defeated France’s Quentin Halys 6-2, 6-3, 6-4. Argentine and 8th seed Juan Martin Del Potro beat Nicolas Jarry (Chi) 3-6, 6-2,6-1, 6-4. 9th seed Fabio Fognini defeated fellow countryman, Italy’s Andreas Seppi, 6-3, 6-0, 3-6, 6-3. Russian and 10th seed, Karen Khachanov made it past German, Cedrik-Marcel Stebe, 6-1, 6-1, 6-4.
World No 1 & Japanese finest, Naomi Osaka‘s breakthrough to stardom can be describe as swift, fast and furious, a back-to-back Grand Slam titles, having followed the 2018 surprising victory over Serena Williams in the US Open with 2019 Australian Open triumph, the 24-year-old is surely one of the next generation force to reckon with. However, she came into the French Open in poor form, losing out of both Madrid and Rome Masters in the quarterfinals. She had to dig deep to overcame Slovakia’s Anna Karolina Schmiedlova. Schmiedlova took the 1st set 6-0, but Osaka fought back to win the next 2 sets 7-6(7-4), 6-1 and advanced into the next round.
Serena Williams, arguably the best women tennis players of all time, definitely the best in Open era, with 23 Grand Slam singles titles, the most in women ranks and 8 runners up in 31 singles finals. However, Serena’s last Grand Slam title win was in 2017 Australian Open, as she struggled to combine motherhood with the asking nature of tennis and recent ankle injury. The 37-year-old American began her French Open campaign on a shaking note, dropping the 1st set, but she rallied to win the next 2 sets, 2-6, 6-1, 6-0 over Russia’s Vitalia Diatchenko.
Defending French Open Champion, Simona Halep began her title defence with against Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic. The Romania, 27, has not had the best of preparation coming into French Open, losing the Madrid Masters final to Kiki Bertens and then exciting the Rome Masters in the round of 32. She was stretched into 3 sets too by Tomljanovic, 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 she won and will now face Polish, Magda Linette in the round of 64.
There has been a major upset in the women’s draw though, as former Grand Slam winners; Angelique Kerber, Caroline Wozniacki and Venus Williams exited the 1st round already.
5th seed Kerber, recently returns from an ankle injury, obviously, the German has not yet rediscovered the form that saw her win 3 Grand Slam titles. Her 4-6, 2-6 straight sets loss to Russian, Anastasia Potapova meant she will not be adding the only Grand Slam missing in her cabinet. Just like Kerber, Venus Williams has been plagued with injuries in recent time and came into French Open unseeded which unavoidably paired her with a tough 1st round tie with 9th seed Elina Svitolina. Venus lost to Svitolina 3-6, 3-6. Denmark’s Caroline Wozniacki was also booted out in the 1st round by Russian’s Kudermetova Veronika, the former Australian Open champion was defeated 6-0, 3-6, 3-6.
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That will be all for now, thank you all for your time.
Ajax Amsterdam has successfully usurped PSV as the Eredivisie Champion, their 1st since 2014 and their record-extending 34th overall. Ajax clinched the title ahead of the defending champion, PSV with 3 points to complete a domestic double, having won the Dutch football cup, KNVB earlier in the month, they also had a commendable run in the UEFA Champions League, where they narrowly lost at the semifinals.
Ajax went through much of the league campaign neck-and-neck with bitter rivals, PSV, both teams were on the same point up to the pen-ultimate league matches, only separated on goal difference. However, Ajax opened up a 3-point gap over PSV in the matchday 33 with a win over Utrecht, coupled with PSV’s loss at AZ Alkmaar. They made the title sure with a comfortable 4-1 win at De Graafschap in the final round of league matches on Wednesday. Incredible season-long performances by coach Wrik Ten Hag tutored side, scoring a staggering 119 league goals, an average of 3.5 goals per match, a goal every 26 minutes, conceding just 32 goals in the same number of matches, an average of 0.94 goals per match, a goal every 96 minutes.
Ajax paraded some of the youngest lads in the Eredivisie, with an average age of 24.0 years, led by a 19-year-old captain, Matthijs De Ligt, they easily run their opponent ragged with their energetic, counter-attacking display. In their ranks includes Dutch duo, Barcelona bound, Frankie De Jong(22 yrs), Donny Van De Beek(22 yrs), Brazilian wide forward, David Neres(22 yrs), Algerian-French’s Hakim Ziyech(26 yrs) and the experience Dutch defender, Daley Blind(29 yrs) and many more exciting and talented players. Ajax’s season by the numbers;
The TOTO KNVB Cup is the Dutch football cup competition(i.e FA Cup). It was the 1st of Ajax’s season’s achievement, Ajax defeated Willem II 4-0 in the final to lift the cup. Ajax defeated the defending champion, Feyenoord 3 nil en route to the final, a run of 5 wins and a draw, scoring 21 goals and conceding just 2. It is now another record extending 19th KNVB Cup title for Ajax, with the closest Cup winner Feyernoord, coming a distance with 12 titles.
UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE;
Ajax remarkable run in this season’s UCL cannot be over-emphasized. They started their campaign in a relatively tough group that includes the German Champion, Bayern Munich, and the Portuguese seasoned campaigner, Benfica. Amazingly, Ajax scaled through the group undefeated, won 3 and drew 3 including away draws at Bayern and Benfica in the 6 group matches played. The young side then hit the headlines after defeating the 3-time defending champion, Real Madrid 4-1 at the Bernabeu, against all odds in the round of 16. They showed the footballing world that the result was not a fluke without another incredible result over Cristiano Ronaldo led Juventus, winning 2-1 at Turin to reach the last 8. However, their fairy tale run was ended by an equally amazing team, Tottenham Hotspur in the semifinals.
It is widely expected to be a mass exodus of these young, talented players as the summer transfer window is already here, we already seen a big-money transfer of Frankie De Jong to Barcelona, others are expected to follow suit as talks have been held with the likes of Matthijs De Ligt, David Neres, and co. It is hard to see whether Ajax will cash in on these players or ward off all these European suitors, whatever the case, Ajax has shown the footballing world of what they are capable of. A remarkable season they have had irrespective of their or Eredivisie rank on UEFA coefficient table.
The 2018-19 English Football League Championship playoffs final is going to be contested for between Aston Villa and Derby County at the Wembley Stadium. The 2 teams secured their places in the final by defeating their opponents, West Brom and Leeds United respectively. One last push for promotion into the EPL and a fat monetary reward lies in wait.
West Brom 1(3)-(4)0 Aston Villa (2-2 agg);
West Bromwich Albion went into the semifinal, home leg tie with a goal deficit, having lost at 1-2 at the Villa Park, only a 2-goal margin win would have seen them through to the final. Aston Villa, on the other hand, needed to avoid defeat to scale through to the final, having held a 2-1 home advantage into the 2nd leg, thanks to a Tammy Abraham spot-kick winner in the 1st leg.
As it is in every derby match, home advantage, stats and form play little or no effect, this West Midlands derby wasn’t an exception, as the away side, Villa dominated the proceedings at the Hawthorns. However, it was the home side that got a 29th-minute lead, Craig Dawson rose highest to nod in a Mason Holgate corner to level the aggregate score at 2 all, 1 nil on the night. Villa almost hit back in the 43rd minute, Anwar El-Ghazi fired a long-range effort from outside the box but it was well saved by Sam Johnstone in West Brom goal. The half ended with the scoreline still stood at 1 nil in favour of the home side.
Villa started the 2nd half with urgency, pushing West Brom into their own half, but the Baggies stood their ground. West Brom resulted to set pieces and long-range shots looking for the winner, and almost got it in the 55th minutes through a Jay Rodriguez shot from outside the box, but Jed Steer in goal for Villa had it covered. With the home side proving difficult to break down, Villa also tried an outside the box shots in the 68th minute through El-Ghazi, but Johnstone made a good save. West Brom were reduced to 10 men with 10 minutes left of the regulation time, 2nd booking for Chris Brunt now made it difficult for West Brom to get the all important 2nd goal, as Villa laid siege on their box trying to take advantage of the extra man, they, Villa also got their goal, 2 quick-fired efforts from Albert Adomah and John McGinn were well saved by Johnstone in the 87th and 88th minutes respectively. But with no further goal from both side in the full regulation time plus the 30 extra times, and the tie still stalemates at 2-2 on aggregate and no away goal rule in play, the tie went into the dreaded penalty shootout.
A back-to-back misses from the spot for West Brom’s Mason Holgate and Ahmed Hegazi proved costly for the Baggies, as Villa converted 4 of their 5 kicks(Albert Adomah the only miss), Chelsea loanee, Tammy Abraham kept his cool to convert the decisive spot-kick, as Villa won 4-3 on penalties.
Leeds 2-4 Derby (3-4 agg);
What could Frank Lampard do to have 1 over Marcelo Bielsa? his Derby County side had gone down 3 times consecutively, including the 1st leg home loss, to Leeds United, He travelled to Elland Road to upturn a 1-goal deficit from the 1st leg. A home draw was what Leeds needed, having held the 1st leg 1 nil advantage, as Bielsa sought redemption having let automatic promotion slipped through his fingers from a very respectable position.
It was the home side that quickly asserted herself on the visitors, calling Derby goalkeeper, Kelle Roos to an early 6th minute save from a Luke Ayling left-footed shot. With Leeds calling the shot, it didn’t take much longer before they got their goal, an inviting free-kick was turned in by Stuart Dallas after it bounced off the post in the 24th minute to earn 1-0 scoreline, and it could have been 2 nil in the 36th minute had Patrick Bamford placed his effort into the corner rather than the centre of the goal, Roos well placed to save Bamford’s effort. Against the run of play, Derby levelled in the injury time of the 1st half(45 min), Jack Marriott capitalized on a Leeds defensive mix up to scored with his 1st touch on the ball having just came on for Duane Holmes in the 44th minute, as the half ended in a 1 all draw, Leeds still holding to a 2-1 aggregate scoreline.
The 2nd half started with a bang, with Derby coming off the block smoking, a quick-fired 1st half goal in the 46th minute by Mason Mount to level things up at 2-2 aggregate, 1-2 on the night. It was all Derby’s at the moment as Mason Mount drew a smart save from Kiko Casilla in Leeds goal in the 49th minute. Leeds tried a long-range effort through Stuart Dallas but Roos was on hand to save it. Derby scored what looked like the winning goal in the 58th minute through Harry Wilson converted spot-kick, to put the scores at 1-3, 2-3 on aggregate. However, just as when it seemed Derby are cruising away with a victory, the home side struck back, they pulled a goal back in the 62nd minute, with Stuart Dallas getting his brace on the night, 2-3 the scoreline, and 3 all on aggregate. The home side was reduced to 10 men with 12 minutes of the regulation time still to play for, Gaetano Berardi was sent off after receiving his 2nd yellow card for a reckless tackle. With 1 man down, it’s always going to be difficult for Leeds as Derby scored again in the 85th minute, Jack Marriott completing his brace, 2-4 on the night to Derby, 3-4 on aggregate. Derby has their goalkeeper, Roos to thank though, as he made 3 saves to denied Leeds a late equalizer, Liam Cooper, Stuart Dallas and Jack Clarke were all denied by Roos in the closing stages of the encounter. A late red card to Derby’s Scott Malone could not deny Frank Lampard a win over Bielsa at the 4th time of asking, 2-4 the match ended and 3-4 on aggregate. Leeds’ quest for promotion now vanished till next season when they will have to try again.
Aston Villa will hope to avoid a back-to-back playoffs final defeat when the play Derby County in the final, Villa lost last season’s playoffs final to Fulham who are now back in the EFL championship. Frank Lampard will now face his former Captain, John Terry(who is the assistant manager to Dean Smith at the helms of Aston Villa) in the dugout at the Wembley Stadium.
Who do you folks want to see back in the EPL? Frank Lampard barking instructions to his Derby players against Chelsea or John Terry doing a Mikel Arteta for Aston Villa against the Blues?
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The 2018-19 English Championship playoffs are here again, apart from the promotion into the elite division, the EPL at stake, the financial reward at stake is even more lucrative and worth playing for. It is by far the biggest prize money in football, more lucrative than the UEFA Champions League. While Real Madrid carted away an estimated £76.5 million for winning the 2017-18 UCL, Fulham earned an estimated £170.3 million for winning last season’s playoffs, more than double Real Madrid’s reward. So, it is understandable why teams will go the length in winning the championship playoffs. This season’s playoff fixtures include;
Derby Country vs Leeds United,
Aston Villa vs West Bromwich Albion.
the winner of these 2-leg ties with compete for glory at the Wembley Stadium.
Aston Villa 2-1 West Brom (1st leg):
Aston Villa-West Brom rivalry is dated back to the late 19th century (1882). The tie between these 2 West Midlands clubs is popularly known as the West Midlands derby, with the 2 rival’s stadia, Villa Park and The Hawthorns some 4 miles apart. West Brom holds the head-to-head advantage over Villa in the 2 fixtures played this season, winning 2 nil at Villa Park and a 2 all draw in the reverse fixture. Though West Brom lost the season’s finale match to Derby County, they had already secured playoffs status with 3 games to spare, finishing in 4th place behind Leeds United. A remarkable job by the caretaker manager, Jimmy Shan who only took over from Daren Moore in March. Aston Villa, on the other hand, had a brilliant end-of-the-season run, a run of 11-match unbeaten prior to the last game of the season, a run that includes 10-straight win and a draw. One player that has been singled out for Villa’s brilliant run is the much sort after, Jack Grealish, he has been outstanding for Villa, it is hard to see if he will not be snapped away by bigger clubs. The possibility of 2 ex-Chelsea player squaring up against each other at the dugout is very likely if Villa( which has John Terry as an assistant to Dean Smith) could navigate past West Brom and Derby County(which has Frank Lampard as her manager) overcomes Leeds United.
The odds overwhelmingly favoured Villa(@ 1.96) to Win this 1st tie over West Brom(@ 4.12), and so it turned out to be, but it didn’t start according to the script for Villa. They went behind in the 16th minute when Dwight Gayle long-range left-footed shot beat Villa’s Jed Steer in goal. They tried to get back into the game just 2 minutes later, but Anwar El-Ghazi’s effort was well saved by West Brom’s Sam Johnstone in goal. Villa probed for an equalizer but couldn’t hit the target, and when they did get an effort on target in the dying minutes of the 1st half(45+2 min) through defender, Tyrone Mings, but West Brom goalkeeper saved well to keep his team’s lead into the interval.
Villa start from where they left off after the break, asking all the questions from West Brom, Sam Johnstone in goal for Albion was call into action again in the 59th minute by Villa’s Grealish, the goalkeeper saved well, Johnstone pulled another save in the 65th minute to deny El-Ghazi. All Villa’s dominance and pressure paid off in the 75th minute when a long-range effort from outside the box by Conor Hourihane beat Johnstone atlas, 1 all at Villa Park, with about 15 minutes plus added time still to play for. 4 minutes after they levelled, Villa took the lead via a converted spot-kick by Tammy Abraham after Grealish had drawn a foul from Kieran Gibbs in the box. In the 88th minute, Albion was reduced to 10 men after Dwight Gayle received his marching order for a reckless tackle, and will now miss the decisive 2nd leg. 2-1 is how it finished in favour of the home team at Villa Park.
Derby County 0-1 Leeds United(1st leg):
If there is one thing in the mind of Derby County manager, Frank Lampard, it would be vengeance. His team lost both fixtures against Leeds United in the league (1-4 home loss and a 2 nil loss at Elland Road), Lampard would want to have one over Leeds manager, Marcelo Bielsa, whose Spygate comment after the 2nd defeat of Leeds sparked Lampard’s anger along with most managers in the league. Derby secured their playoffs status with a back-to-back end of the season’s wins, to finished 6th ahead of Middlesbrough. Leeds United started the league well and was cruising in 2nd automatic promotion spot until thing went south, especially after the Spygate comment. A dip in form that saw them lose 3 out of their last 4 end-of-the-season matches(L, D, L, L, ) and missed out on automatic promotion to Norwich City and Sheffield United. Leeds United fascinating tale is dated back to 2000, from playing back-to-back European football(2000 UEFA Cup semifinal loss to Galatasaray and 2001 UCL semifinal loss to Valencia) to getting relegated in 2003-04, they then fell into administration and end up in League 1 in 2006-07, it was a freefall from grace to grass. This season’s Championship playoffs is their 2nd attempt to gain promotion since their drop in 2004(1st attempt was a playoffs final loss to Watford in 2005-06).
Leeds once again proved her dominance over Derby County with a 1 nil win at the Pride Park Stadium, It was a fiercely contested tie that saw a total of 27 fouls, with 7 cautions, 4 for Derby and 3 for the visitors, Leeds. A match of limited opportunities where the home side failed to register a single shot on target all night, in fact, no shot was registered on target for either side until Leeds’ goal in the 2nd half(55 min), Leeds’ Kemar Roofe connected well with a Jack Harrison cross to beat Kelle Roos in goal for Derby. It could have been 2 nil a couple of minutes later, Harrison and Roofe combined again, but the goalkeeper saved this time. Derby thought they had won a spot-kick in the 77th minute, only for the referee to overturn his decision after consulting his assistant. Leeds substitute, Jamie Shackleton wants in on the action, but his effort was saved by Roos in the 81st minute. Leeds comfortably saw off the match for a 1 nil win going into the reverse fixture.
These 2 matches are far from over since the away goal rule does not apply in the playoffs, a 1 goal margin for both of West Brom and Derby County in the reverse fixture will level the scores against their opponents. The return legs will be played on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively.
This week’s Moanday blog takes us to the Scottish Premier League where a short burst of blood to the head saw a pro goalkeeper surprisingly showed a UFC fighting skill on an opposition player in what has been described as a disgraceful act from many quarters. Rangers Allan McGregor was the culprit, the goalkeeper lost his cool and sunk his studs into the back of Hibernian’s Marc McNulty, and he was immediately shown a red card by the referee. Who moans more? McGregor? for the red card he received, that could keep him out of the remainder of the season? or McNulty? for the bruising and sharp pains, he suffered as a result of the kick?
Happy Moanday blog is @pete initiative, you are welcome to be part of it here, while it still last
Rangers hosted Hibernian in a Scottish league matchday 36 in a match in which the result is inconsequential for Rangers. They had already lost the league title to bitter rivals Celtic and were playing for nothing but pride and bragging rights over their stubborn opponent, Hibernian, the 3 previous league meeting against Hibs this season had all ended in a draw. A win this time would secure Rangers’ 5th straight league wins. Hibernian, on the other hand, was also on a good run of form, unbeaten in their last 10 league matches, won 6 and drew 4 under their new manager Paul Heckingbottom. Hibs sits 5th on the league log table with 54 points, a win over Rangers would have drawn them closer to a 3rd place finish(occupied by Aberdeen prior to matchday 36), which is the last European spot.
Rangers started the match with the malign striker, Alfredo Morelos from the bench, having returned to the squad after completing his 4-match ban for violent conduct. Old warhorse, Jermaine Defoe again, spearhead Rangers’ attack, and he was a menace in Hibs box, alongside teammate and fullback, James Tavernier. They, Rangers could have taken the 1st-minute lead, but wide-forward, Scott Arfield nodded narrowly wide, having been left unmark by Hibs defence. Defoe then missed another glorious chance in the 20th minute when put through on goal by Tavernier. However, 4 minutes before the half-time break, Rangers broke the deadlock, Defoe fired home from a Steven Davis square pass, to give the home side the only goal of the match. Hibs offered little or no threat to Rangers’ rare guard, as they, Hibs spent all evening defending and only had a single shot on target all evening.
However, the moment of madness for McGregor unfolded in the dying minutes(89 min) of the regulation time, McGregor just made a good save from Hibs only effort on target, and he raced to launch the ball infield, and whatever he was thinking, he launched a kick into McNulty’s back, have a look below;
McGregor was correctly dismissed by the referee and will serve a 2-match ban, which ultimately ruled him out of the season. Rangers, having used up their 3 substitutions, midfielder, Ross McCrorie took up the goalkeeping duty for the remainder of the 90 minutes plus 5 additional time, McCrorie even made a decent 90+4 minutes interception to denied Hibs an equalizer(talk about a villain and then a hero), as Rangers held onto the slim 1 nil victory.
McGregor has to remember that sport is all about good sportsmanship, an old saying goes;
Sportsmanship is making sure you have respect for the guy you’re playing across from – Warren Moon
On a lighter note, if Allan McGregor is considering a change of career from football to UFC/kickboxing, his namesake, Connor McGregor of the UFC will sure be waiting in the arena, there is a saying;
you are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream – Aristotle
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The dust has barely settled down on what was a memorable Champion League semifinal victories for English clubs Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur in this season’s 2018-19 competition and we already have another scintillating semifinal, this time in the UEFA Europa League. Another 2 of English clubs, Arsenal and Chelsea emulated their league counterparts by advancing into the final in what is an extraordinary season for the EPL clubs in European elite competitions. Never has a country had all 4 finalists in the Champions League and Europa League in the same season? It just reiterated the competitiveness of the EPL’s top 6 rather than top 4.
CHELSEA 1(4)-(3)1 FRANKFURT (2-2 agg):
Chelsea held their visitors, Eintracht Frankfurt to a 1 all draw when they travelled to Germany a week ago and sought to get the job done in the reverse fixture at home Stamford Bridge. The tie was still evenly poised as a defeat or a score draw of more than a goal will eliminate Chelsea. Chelsea holds a very good stats against German oppositions in European competitions, played 9, won 7, drew 2 and kept 7 clean sheets, they hoped to keep the record going and had to do it without their combative defensive midfielder, N’Golo Kante who pulled a hamstring injury recently. Chelsea’s domestic form has dipped in recent time, winning just 2 of their last 5(W, D, D, L, W), fortunately, with the EPL top 4 all but secured, they can now focus on the Europa League. Frankfurt, on the other hand, still yet to seal top 4 in the German Bundesliga, the automatic UCL spot is still keenly contested for between Frankfurt and Bayern Leverkusen. Frankfurt recent poor form of a win in 5 league matches(L, D, D, L, W) has seen Leverkusen closed the point gap on her, with both clubs on 54 points, Frankfurt just ahead of Leverkusen in 4th position on a difference of just 5 goals with 2 matches yet to be played, as the season winds up. A Europa League win is a guaranteed back door to next season’s UCL finals.
Chelsea got out of the block as quickly as expected, but it was the away side that threatens 1st, Kepa in goal for Chelsea showed awareness by stopping Frankfurt’s Danny Da Costa’s effort. The host fired back with their own effort on goal through Chelsea defender David Luiz, whose effort was cleared off the line. Chelsea eventually got there goal in the 24th minute through Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who side-footed into the bottom right corner from an Eden Hazard pick-out pass. Chelsea held the slim 1 nil advantage into the half time break.
The visitor showed intent and quickly hit back 3 minutes into the restarts, Mijat Gacinovic and Luka Jovic combined with a one-two inter-play before the latter find the back of the net for the equalizer. The visitor probed the Chelsea defence for the winning goal but Chelsea held firm to extend the match into an extra-time. Frankfurt almost got the winner twice in the extra-time through Sebastien Haller, but he was twice denied off the line by defenders, David Luiz and Cesar Azpilicueta. After 30 minutes of extra time with no additional goal, the match went into the dreaded spot-kicks.
Chelsea blinked 1st from the spot-kicks as Azpilicueta missed from the spot, and when it seemed as if Frankfurt will coast home with the kicks, Kepa came good with back-to-back saves, denying Martin Hinteregger and Goncalo Paciencia, before Eden Hazard scored the last kick to win the match for Chelsea. The Blues are into the final where they will play country club and London rival, Arsenal.
VALENCIA 2-4 ARSENAL (3-7 agg):
Arsenal’s hope of automatic UCL qualifications through the domestic league is realistically all but gone, it will take a disastrous whitewash of Spurs by Everton at White Hart Lane in the last match of the season and a likewise whitewash win for Arsenal at Burnley, for the Gunners to still make top 4, it is an unlikely scenario. So, like most clubs that are still vying for next season UCL, Europa League win is the only realistic option for Arsenal, but Valencia with same ambition stood in the way. Arsenal held a decent but still delicately poised 3-1 home win advantage going into the reserve fixture at Valencia, and boss, Unai Emery, who has won the Europa League 3 successive times with Sevilla, knew how difficult it was going to be at his former employer’s stuff, knowing fully well how Arsenal has been dreadful on away ground across all competition. The Gunners’ league form is even less admirable, won just 1 in their last 5( D, L, L, L, W), and many have attributed the Gunners’ recent poor form to the loss of dynamic midfielder, Aaron Ramsey due to injury that has kept him out of the season, the Gunners sure needed someone to stepped into the Ramsey shoe, if they are to go past an opponent who has a record of 1 win and 1 draw over Arsenal in previous 2 meetings prior to the 1st leg tie(win). Valencia sits 5th on La Liga table, 3 points behind Getafe who occupy the last UCL spot with 2 games to go and are on a better league form with 3 wins and 2 losses. It was all to play for at the Estadio Mestalla, home of Valencia.
Just like in the 1st leg, Arsenal started on the back foot, going down to an early(11 min) Kevin Gameiro goal. Valencia almost made 2 nil, but Rodrigo Moreno’s goalbound effort hit his teammate Gameiro, the miss proved costly as Arsenal hit back soon after. Alexandre Lacazette and strike partner, Pierre-Emerick Aubamenyang combined well before the Gabonese volleyed in the equalizer in the 17th minute, the 1st half ended 1 all.
Arsenal got the all-important goal in the 2nd half when Lucas Torreira found Lacazette who duly finished off in the 50th minute. Valencia showed resilience and soon levelled, Gameiro at the double in the 58th minute after connecting with Rodrigo again. However, Arsenal showed superior qualities in the attack when Aubameyang taped in Ainsley Maitland-Niles square, and Arsenal pulled further away in the dying seconds of the regulation time when Aubameyang completed his hat-trick when he got behind Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s square, 4-2 to Arsenal on the night and 7-3 on aggregate to join Chelsea in the final in Baku.
Arsenal vs Chelsea in the UEFA Europa League Final, coupled with Tottenham Hotspur vs Liverpool in the UEFA Champions League means 4 clubs from the same country will contest the finals of European’s 2 elite club competition for the very 1st time ever, a proud moment for the English Premier League bosses.
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Another history was made at this season’s UCL semifinal as Tottenham Hotspurs qualified for the UEFA Champions League final for the 1st time ever after defeating Ajax Amsterdam 3-2 in an intriguing tie on the night and 3-3 on aggregate, having lost the 1st leg 0-1, advancing to the final on away goal rule. Spurs joined their English Premier League counterpart, Liverpool in the final to be played in Madrid. Spurs followed up an impressive quarter-final win over 1 of the tournament’s favourite, Manchester City with another hard-fought win over giant-killers, Ajax.
Having witnessed a spectacular turn around victory by Liverpool over Barcelona at Anfield in the 1st semi-final match, Spurs can be forgiven for believing they can get the result needed to progress. But things did not go according to plans at 1st as they already went down 0-2 before half-time, but quick 2nd half substitution and the kind of fighting spirit that saw Spurs overcame City swayed the results deep into injury time.
Ajax Amsterdam of the Netherland needs no introduction in this year’s UCL competition, their remarkable victories over 3-times defending champion, Real Madrid and then Juventus summed up their performances so far in the competition, and Ajax are achieving these results with a group of young lads led by Matthijs De Ligt and Frenkie De Jong. Ajax came into this 2nd leg tie the favourite and in form too, they have won their last 5 matches in all competition, scored 14 goals and conceded 5. Much has been said about their bravery and endurance, the could run all night, such as the strength that comes with youthfulness. Ajax had won the UCL 4 times in the past, 1971, 1972, 1973 and 1995, the quest for the 5th title remained well alive prior to the 2nd leg.
Mauricio Pochettino called on his players to match Ajax bravery if they are to progress into their 1st ever UCL final. Spurs needed to produce something special to overturn their 1-goal deficit against Ajax, and they had to do it still without Harry Kane. Spurs were on a back end of 3-straight defeats in all competition, and just 1 win(1 nil victory over Brighton) in last 6 matches and 5 losses Spurs certainly needed inspiration from somewhere. Talismanic South Korean, Heung-Min Son returned to the squad, so was the Belgium defender, Jan Vertonghen, who recovered from the concussion he suffered from the 1st leg.
MATCH DEFINING MOMENTS:
• 4′ Ajax started like a house on fire, calling Spurs goalkeeper, Hugo Lloris to an early save from Dusan Tadic
deflected the shot.
• 5′ But they duly got their goal a minute later, Lasse Schoene in-swing corner was headed home by Matthijs De Ligh.
• 7′ Spurs showed intent too, Heung-Min Son hit Ajax’s post just 2 minutes after.
• 24′ double saves in succession for Ajax goalkeeper, Andre Onana, first, Dele Alli put Son through on goal, but the Korean was denied by Onana, then, the Ajax goalkeeper denied Christian Eriksen too when he was played through on goal by Lucas Moura.
• 35′ Ajax double their lead when Tadic’s pass found Hakim Ziyech at the left side of Spurs box, the wide forward left-footed shot found the bottom right corner. The half finished with Ajax holding a 3 nil aggregate advantage over Spurs.
• 45′ With the game slipping away from Spurs, manager, Mauricio Pochettino brought on Fernando Llorente for Victor Wanyama to add bite yo Spurs attack.
• 53′ Spurs got close to getting a goal back when Alli and Eriksen combined for the former to drew a save from Onana.
• 55′ But 2 minutes later, Spurs got the breakthrough, the pulled a goal back when Alli found Moura, and the little Brazilian obliged.
• 59′ It was all Spurs at the moment, and Llorente nearly got the equalizer when he connected with a Kieran Trippier’s square, but Onana’s save was unassured as he spilt the ball which fell to Moura, Moura showed composure and quick feet before slotting home the equalizer.
• Spurs sensed their chance and kept probing and prowling Ajax goal for that all-important winner, with enough added time, it looked they were going to get their goal, they did in the added time.
• When the 4th official’s board showed 5 minutes, the home fans showed their disapproval, and their fear was turned into despair in injury time of the added 5 minutes.
• 90+6′ Dele Alli and Lucas Moura combined for the often time for the latter to score a decisive goal that broke Ajax’s fateful heart, 2-3 it ended on the night, 3 all on aggregate.
Ajax’s incredible fairy tale run came to an end, and partly have their selves to blame as they waste a handful of chances, Ziyech could have easily scored a hat-trick too but he fluffed his line. Spurs wouldn’t care, they completely dominated the proceedings in the 2nd half as shown by the stats. 1st ever UCL final will live on Spurs fateful’s memories. It is going to be an all-EPL final in the 2018-19 UCL final for the 1st time since Manchester United defeated Chelsea on Spot-kicks 11 years ago(2008).
Liverpool completed a historic comeback by defeating Barcelona 4-0 at Anfield, and 4-3 aggregate in what was widely dubbed as a mission impossible by many pundits, in an explosive reverse semi-final fixture of 2018-19 UCL season. Overturning a 3 or more goals deficit looks like an unachievable feat, but it has been done before, Deportivo La Coruna of La Liga overturned a 1-4 deficit against AC Milan of the Serie A by winning the reverse fixture 4-0 in the 2003-04 UCL season, Barcelona of La Liga achieved even a greater feat, overturning a 4 nil defeat to PSG by winning the reverse fixture 6-1 in the 2016-17 UCL season, and last season, Barcelona were given a taste of their dish when they succumbed to a 0-3 defeat at the hands of AS Roma of the Serie A, having won the 1st leg 4-1. Liverpool now joined these few elite teams in the history book.
Liverpool has never lost at home at this stage of the competition in 10 games, won 8 and drew 2, conceded just 4 goals. They hoped to defend that record, and through the hard way, without 2 of their key players. With the EPL title race undecided and going down to the wire, Liverpool couldn’t rest their key players at the weekend’s league game against Newcastle United, and it proved to be costly as star striker, Mo Salah was stretched off after a head injury, and was later ruled out of the Barcelona tie for concussion, plus Roberto Firmino, who has also not recovered from a muscular injury, a really daunting task against Leo Messi-led Barcelona.
Having already wrapped up the La Liga title, Barcelona was afforded the luxury of resting the entire starting 11 going into the game at Anfield. They know too well how 3-goal lead can be overturned with the 3 nil defeat to Roma last season still fresh in their memory, Barca were not leaving any stone unturned, they all agreed to the fact that they all have to have a better performance than they had at Camp Nou a week ago if they are to go past Liverpool, and without the yet-again injured Ousmane Dembele. Luiz Suarez and Phillippe Coutinho returned to their former employer, It was really a match to behold at the Anfield.
It’s all Liverpool wanted it’s what the fans wanted, an early goal, and they got it, Jordi Alba back header was intercepted by Sadio Mane, and his pass found Jordan Henderson who showed determination and had a go at target, Barcelona goalkeeper, Ter Stegen could only parry onto the part of Divock Origi( 6 min), who tapped into an empty net, 1 up, 3 to go for Liverpool. Barcelona had the chance to level up in quick succession(16th and 18th minutes respectively, firstly, a Jordi Alba pull back to Leo Messi was squandered by the Argentine, then, former Liverpool ace, Philippe Coutinho drew a good save from Liverpool goalkeeper, Alisson Becker. It was really an entertaining 25 minutes as Andrew Robertson also drew a smart save from Ter Stegen in the 23rd minutes. There was a scare for Liverpool captain in the 31st minute, Henderson appeared to have twisted his knee and needed medical attention, he was able to continue. Another scare for Liverpool in the 39th minute as left-back Robertson appeared to pick a knock, but he also shook it off. Robertson then had a go from about 30 yards in the 42nd minute but he came off Arturo Vidal for a Liverpool corner-kick. Messi(45+2 min) also tried a long-range effort that went just off the target, He then found Alba who couldn’t beat Alisson in goal. A decent performance by Liverpool in the half, winning almost all the 2nd ball, and also edge the half’s possession as the referee blew for half time.
Early substitute for Liverpool as they came on for the 2nd half without Andrew Robertson who seemed not to have recovered well from the knock he picked up late in the 1st half, Georginio Wijnaldum came on for him. Early chance each for both teams in the 50th minute, firstly, Van Dijk drew a reactional save from Ter Stegen, then Luiz Suarez’s effort was smartly saved by Alisson. Liverpool kept the dream of a comeback alive when they pull another goal back in the 54th minutes, new man, Wijnaldum got at the back of a fine square play by Trent Alex-Arnold to make it 2 nil for Liverpool. Then came the moment all Anfield fateful have been waiting for, just 2 minutes later, Wijnaldum rose highest to nod in Xherdan Shaqiri cross to make the scoreline 3 nil on the night and 3-3 on aggregate. Anfield soon erupted when a quickly taken corner kick was turned in by Origi as Liverpool embark on a historic night, 4 nil on the night, 4-3 on aggregate. It was a nervy finish as Barca laid siege on Liverpool half, but Liverpool stood their ground for a memorable victory at the iconic Anfield Stadium.
It was a masterclass midfield performance by Liverpool’s Fabinho and Henderson as kept Messi at bay all night, and not to forget Origi and Shaqiri who came in for the injured duo of Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino. Also, it was not the return Luiz Suarez and Phillippe Coutinho had hoped for, both had a torrid night as they were outmarked by Liverpool defence, both players were also booed by the Anfield fateful each time they touched the ball. Liverpool achieved the unthinkable, overturning a 3-goal deficit, what an amazing feat.
Liverpool has now reached the UCL final back-to-back, having lost in the final last season to Real Madrid. They now await the winner between EPL counterpart, Tottenham Hotspurs and Ajax Amsterdam in the final. It seems all EPL final still on the card after all.
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Major League Soccer which 2019-20 season kick-started just a couple of month ago is now gathering pace as teams jostle for the top position on the log table on both Eastern and Western Conferences. Los Angeles Galaxy, which has a certain ex-Manchester United star, Zlatan Ibrahimovic in her ranks, is one of such ambitious team in the Western Conference, while D.C United, which also has another ex-United striker, Wayne Rooney in her ranks too, is another, in the Eastern Conference.
NY RED BULLS 3-2 LA GALAXY:
LA Galaxy travelled to New York Red Bulls at the weekend, with the aim of getting the 3 maximum points and then displayed Los Angeles FC at the top of the log table but they were brought down to earth 2-3 by a struggling NY Red Bulls.
Boosted by the presence of the charismatic Swede star, 37-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic in their ranks, LA Galaxy are an inform team, unbeaten in the last 7 league matches, won 6 and drew 1, they are favoured to run riot over their less fancied NY Red Bulls, which on the other hand, have only managed a single win in their last 5 matches, drew 1 and lost 3. Ibrahimovic prowess in front of goal cannot be over exaggerated, he is a proven goal scorer all through his illustrious career from AC Milan to Barcelona to Manchester United, his current goal tally after just 10 matches shows his finesse in front of goal;
As expected, LA Galaxy took control of the possession right from the start, but it was the home side that took a shock lead in the 15th minute through defender, Amro Tarek. It took LA Galaxy some 24 minutes to get their equalizer, and it was Ibrahimovic who put teammates, Uviel Antuna through on goal, and he duly obliged. Just 4 minutes after the equaliser, LA Galaxy puts their noses in front, it was the provider that turned scorer this time, as Ibrahimovic nodded in his team’s 2nd goal going into the break.
The home team won’t lie down without a fight as they battled hard for their own equalizer, and they got it in the 59th minute through Marc Rzatkowski, who was left unmarked in the box and he duly punished LA Galaxy. 8 minutes later, Red Bulls regained the lead, substitute, Derrick Etienne, who came on for Tarek, his team’s 1st goal scorer, scored from just inside the box. Red Bull held on for a hard-fought win over high flying LA Galaxy.
Despite the defeat, their 1st in 8 matches, LA Galaxy still sits in 2nd place on the log table with 22 points after 10 matches, and with a game at handoff leaders LAFC who still occupy the top spot with 24 points.
DC UNITED 3-1 COLUMBUS CREW SC:
Another ex-Manchester United player in the MLS is Wayne Rooney, his team DC United fared better at the weekend, recording a 3-1 home win over Columbus Crew, with Rooney among the scorers, with a well-taken spot-kick.
DC United are on a rollercoaster run with 2 wins, 2 losses, and a draw in 5 matched and desperately needed a run of wins to make top spot safe. Columbus Crew, on the other hand, are in poor form, they are on a 4-matches losing streak, with just 1 win the last 5 league matches, definitely needed a win to turn around the streak of bad results.
Rooney’s goal-scoring ability has been crucial to DC United decent run so far in the season as shown by stats;
The home side took the lead but it was against the run of play as the visitors had asked the earlier questions. Columbus will feel hard done by the VAR, as 2 defining-VAR calls went against them. firstly, Columbus’ goal in the 22nd minutes was chopped off after VAR review due to an apparent offside by Columbus player, and just 5 minutes after the disallowed goal, DC United went into the lead through Luciana Acosta. And then, in the stoppage time of the 1st half, DC United git their 2nd goal via VAR call, Wil Trapp of Columbus was judged to have handled the ball in the box, Wayne Rooney converted the spot-kick.
The 2nd half started with the visitors probing for a way back into the game but were hit with a further goal by the home team. Paul Arriola 61st-minute goal put the game beyond Columbus, though they pulled 1 back through an own goal, DC United’s goalkeeper, Bill Hamidi fumbled the ball into his own net, to make the scoreline 3-1, it was too little, too late for Columbus.
DC United still sits on 2nd place on the log table and close by at the mid-table, 6th place is Columbus Crew, which are now on a 5-match-losing run.
ORLANDO CITY SC 0-2 TORONTO FC:
Another ex-Manchester United player who also plies his trade in the MLS is Nani, the Portuguese plays for Orlando City SC, and as his former teammates, he is in decent scoring form as shown below;
Unfortunately, Nani’s team went down 0-2 at the weekend to visiting Toronto FC. 2 2nd-half goals from Jonathan Osorio in the 65th minute and Jay Chapman in the 77th minutes, condemned Orlando to defeat. Both teams had come into the game with a similar run of less admirable form, both won 2, drew 1 and lost 2 in their last 5 matches.
The defeat now pushes Orlando closer to the bottom of the Eastern Conference table on 10th place with just 12 points, but with a game at hand. Toronto now dits 4 on the log table but with 3 outstanding matches to play.
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Tottenham Hotspurs top 4 ambition now hangs in the balance after a back-to-back premier league defeat with just 1 match remaining for the season. Mauricio Pochettino’s lads lost to a late goal at the Vitality Stadium in a game that saw Spurs played almost the entirety of the 2nd half with 9 men, having seen Heung-Min Son(43 mins) and Juan Foyth(48 mins) received straight red cards.
Spurs sit 3rd on the EPL log table with 70 points, 4 points more than 5th place London rivals, Arsenal(66 pts), a win over Bournemouth would have given Spurs 73 points, which would have rubber stamped their top 4 status even if the Gunners win their 2 remaining matches, they would only amass 72 points. However, the twist and turn nature of the EPL meant, it will now go down to the wire before the remaining 2 clubs that will join Manchester City and Liverpool in the top 4 be decided.
Both teams were struggling for form, Spurs are coming from a poor run of 2 straight home losses, having lost to West Ham 0-1 at White Hart Lane and then, lose again to Ajax Amsterdam 0-1 in 1 of mid week’s UCL matches. Bournemouth, on the other hand, had only recorded a single win in her last 5 premier league matches, lost 3 and drew 1.
Pochettino finally has one of his key player available having missed him in the midweek due to injury, Heung-Min Son was in the starting eleven at the Vitality Stadium, but the Belgian defender, Jan Vertonghen is still missing due to head injury, other Spurs absentees include Harry Kane, Erik Lamela, Harry Winks and Serge Aurier. Bournemouth Manager, Eddie Howe made a surprise inclusion in his starting eleven, 19-year-old goalkeeper, Mark Travers was picked in goal ahead of both Asmir Begovic and Artur Boric, and he, Travers justified the fate entrusted in him with a man-of-the-match performance.
As expected, Spurs took the early ascendancies, with Lucas Moura and Dele Alli giving Bournemouth’s defence a torrid time, but they stood their ground, thanks to world-class saves from Travers, the young Irish goalkeeper made fingertip saves to deny both Moura and Alli, he was then faced with a one-on-one situation against Moura where he came out top, denying Moura with his leg. The home side felt undone by the referee though, 2 penalty shouts were waved away by the centre referee, first, Spurs goalkeeper, Hugo Lloris bumped into Josh King in the box, then, Eric Dier was also let off the hook after he fouled Callum Wilson in the box. Bournemouth soon got their justice just a couple of minutes to half time, Heung-Min Son reacted angrily out of frustration to shove Jefferson Lerma who theatrically fell to the turf, giving the referee no option than to show a straight red card to the South Korean.
The 2nd half had barely started before another red card incidence, just 3 minutes into the restart, substitute, Juan Foyth was shown his marching order too for a reckless lunge on Bournemouth’s Jack Simpson. It was all Bournemouth from there on as 9 men Spurs failed to register a single effort on goal in the 2nd half. Bournemouth laid siege to Spurs goal and it was only a matter of time before they got their goal, very late into stoppage time though. Just as it seemed Spurs was going to weather the storm and escape with a point, Nathan Ake broke their heart. Ake connected with a Ryan Fraser inswinger to head home the 90+1 min winner.
Bournemouth now finally win at home at the 6th time of asking, and their 1st win over Spurs after 8 attempts, having lost 6 and drew 1. Spurs have now gone 6 consecutive away league matches without a point, and also on a 3-match losing streak in all competition. A win for Chelsea in her matchday 37 will upstage Spurs to 4th place, and even more worrying for Spurs and her fans are fact that a win for Arsenal too will put the Gunners within 1 point of Spurs going into the last game of the season where Spurs host Everton and the Gunners travel to Burnley. It is a make or breaks match for Spurs at the White Hart Lane.
Mountain To Climb For Liverpool; Barca 3-0 Liverpool
Barcelona versus Liverpool is a match between 2 former champions, these 2 European giants have shared 10 titles between them, 5 each for either of them, it was expected to be a firework at the Camp Nou. Barcelona, newly crown La Liga champion paraded 2 former Liverpool in their ranks, Philipe Coutinho switches Merseyside for Catalunya during winter of 2018, while Luiz Suarez left quit longer, and was hoping to get a 1st home win over Liverpool having previously played 4 times, drew 2 and lost 2, while last year’s finalist, Liverpool aimed to keep their decent record at Camp Nou.
It was a really scrappy match, both sides closing down each other so rapidly. An early disrupt to Liverpool ranks as an early injury to Liverpool midfielder, Naby Keita meant a change of tactics. Liverpool seems to be edging the home team until they were cut napping when marauding left-back, Jordi Alba found Luiz Suarez who dinked the football above Liverpool goalkeeper, Alisson in the 26th minute for the opening goal. With clear cut chances hard to come by, the half ended 1 nil in favour of the home side. More of the same in the 2nd half, Liverpool really probing for an equalizer but were not afforded space by Barca defence. With all the Liverpool’s hard work on the night, they were caught in possession and were made to pay through Barca’s mercurial striker, Leo Messi in the 75th minute, after an initial Suarez’s shot came off the crossbar. It was all Barca from there on, and in the 82nd minute, Barca extended their lead through a delightful 30-yard freekick from Leo Messi for his 2nd of the night, 3 nil Barca lead at the Camp Nou, and it ended that way.
• It took a while before the referee finally got hold of the game, 1, 2 many fouls went by unpunished, Jurgen Klopp would especially be unhappy with the referee.
• Klopp’s decision to start Roberto Firmino from the bench seemed to have backfired, as Firmino is the anchorman in Liverpool’s attack.
• Failure to score an away goal will probably be Liverpool’s undoing, they sure have a couple of chances to put 1 into the back of the net.
• Liverpool’s defence chose a wrong time not to turn up, apart from left-back, Robertson who put in a decent show, others were below their usual par.
• Leo Messi proved to be the difference in a game controlled by Liverpool for the majority of the game. A 30-yard free-kick summed up his night.
• Ter Stegen in Barcelona’s goal made some match-winning saves against James Milner, and then Mo Salah. A Liverpool goal would have changed the whole scenario into Liverpool’s favour.
The prospect of an all-EPL final is seriously in danger now, with Spurs’ lost at home to Ajax and now Liverpool going down 3 nil. However, overturning a 3-goal lead seems to be an easy feat in modern day football, whether Liverpool can make history by turning the scoreline at Anfield Stadium is a big ask.
First Blood Ajax; Spurs 0-1 Ajax
Ajax amazing run in the 2018-19 UCL campaign continues with a crucial 1 nil victory at White Hart Lane, the young Dutch side’s display in the 1st 30 minutes of the tie was enough to finish off the 1st leg tie. Coach Erik Ten Hag tutored side will finish off the 2-leg contest if they avoid defeat in the reverse fixture in coming weeks.
Ajax has grown from the underdog team to the team to beat after their extraordinary results against the likes of Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Juventus. The Dutch team have yet to taste defeat in this year’s competition, such as the assured performance they have displayed so far.
Tottenham Hotspurs, on the other hand, though getting out of the group stage by the whisker, have grown stronger as the competition progresses. Spurs came out victorious in an intriguing quarter-final matchup with fellow EPL team, high-flyers, Manchester City, and after the match, Poch called his lads heroes, however, he did not saw a home defeat against Ajax coming. In Poch defence, he went into the tie with a depleted team, 2 of his influential players were missing for the match, Harry Kane and most importantly, Heung-Min Son did not make the team list, while Dele Alli was rushed back into the starting lineup, Moussa Sissoko could only make the bench. Nevertheless, Poch was banking on the frenzied atmosphere at the White Hart Lane to intimidate their opponent, and why not, the 12th man did work against Manchester City in the 1st leg of their quarter-final tie.
The tie was lost and won in the midfield as Ajax made their 1st 30 minutes of the 1st half counted. Spurs midfield led by Victor Wayama ran ragged by the trio of Frankie De Jong, Lasse Schone and goal scorer, Donny Van De Beek(15 min), and the attack led by former EPL and Southampton player, Dusan Tadic also stretched Spurs wingbacks. Spurs soon gained control of the match, that wasn’t until Moussa Sissoko came on for the injured Spurs defender, Jan Vertonghen few minutes to half time. Sissoko impact on the Spurs team since the turn of the year was highlighted yet again, as he steady Spurs midfield, but it was too little too late, as the damage was already been inflicted in the 15th minute. Both teams kept things really tight at the back, in a game that saw a combined shot on target to be just 3 all evening, 1 for Spurs and 2 for Ajax. There was a match-winning block from Ajax’s 19-year-old captain, Matthijs De Ligt to prevent Dele Alli from scoring an open goal. Spurs probed and prowled but couldn’t find the opening needed, it ended 1 nil to the away side. It’s now a back-to-back defeat at White Hart Lane for Spurs having lost a league match at the weekend to West Ham.
In his Post-match comment, Spurs boss admitted to getting his tactics wrong, should he be reminded that in a game of this magnitude and at this stage of the competition, there is no room for error.
The tie is not lost yet, far from it, a 1 nil scoreline at Ajax will extend the tie into extra-time, while a 2-1 victory will see Spurs qualify for the final.
At a time when Arsenal men’s team has failed to win the league title in almost a decade and a half, seeing their women counterpart gone 7 years without a league title is worrying for both the club and the fans across the globe. Thank goodness, the Arsenal women rallied, stopped the drought and bring some needed respite and consolation to the angry, long faces of Arsenal fans.
Arsenal Women on Sunday won the FA Women’s Super League (WSL), the 1st tier of English female football, for the 3rd time since it was rebranded as WSL in 2011 and for the 15th time overall by defeating Brighton & Hove Albion Women 4 nil away at the Amex Stadium, home to Brighton & Hove Albion. The Gunners knew that any slip off would be a catastrophe for their title charge, with rival and equally outstanding Manchester City breathing down their neck. City had not lost a single game all season, drew 5 matches and won 14 so far, and would have closed the gap on the Gunners to either 1 or 2 points should the Gunners failed to get the 3 maximum points at Brighton. Even more gingerly poised is the fact that both teams play each other in the last game of the season, and it could have been the title decider.
However, Arsenal Women put any doubt of a slip off to bed with a quickly fired goal from their in-form striker, Vivianne Meidema. Meidema scored the 6th-minute opener, and then provided another for her teammate, Katie McCabe in the 31st minute to make the scoreline 2 nil at half time. The Gunners made their dominance counted in the 2nd half with 2 more goals through Beth Mead and Danielle Van De Dork in the 70th and 76th minutes respectively to complete the rout. Stats below showed how the Gunners outplayed their opponent at their own ground, something that is well too familiar throughout the season,
The win now ensures that Arsenal Women can no longer be usurped at the summit of the women’s league table by their rival, Manchester City, who now trailed the Gunners with 4 points, even if City prevailed over Arsenal in the last match of the season, it will be inconsequential. The Gunners now have the last laugh over City having lost the Women’s league cup final to City in a 2-4 spot-kick defeat earlier in February. The Arsenal Women now add to their successes in 2011, 2012 (making 3 FA WSL title under the new format) and 15 title overall having won 12 titles(1992-93, 94-95, 96-97, 97-98, 2000-01, 01-02, 03-04, 04-05, 05-06, 06-07, 07-08, 09-10 ) under the defunct format; FA Women’s Premier League National Division.
The Man behind the Gunners resurgence is the Australian, Joe Montemurro. The 49-year-old former Melbourne City assistant coach joined the club in 2017, and have done really well 3 years on, bringing the Arsenal Women back to winning ways. Players like the newly crowned women PFA player of the year, Vivianne Meidema has become fine players under Montemurro. Meidena’s ruthlessness in front of opposition goal has seen her bagged 22 goals, 10 assists in 19 appearances for the Gunners, others like ever reliable captain Kim Little, Jordan Nobbs, Beth Mead, Katie McCabe are few amongst an exciting group of talents brought together by the manager. His 2nd season with the club has brought in his 2nd title, having won the women’s league cup last
The Gunners started the league season with a plum, hitting Liverpool for 5 in the 1st game of the season, with Meidema starting her goal hunt with a hat-trick, the result immediately put Arsenal women at the summit of the league table, a position they did not relinquish ever since. Though, they lost 2 games in the 19 matches played so far(in an 11-team league format), they made up for it with their 17 wins, scoring 69 goals, an average of 3.63 goals per game, and ensuring things are right at the back, conceding 13 goals, less than a goal per match(0.68 goals), keeping 11 clean sheets, They are sure a worthy winner.
Female football is vastly growing and gathering pace, the English Female National team have been putting in some tremendous result in recent time under Manager, Phil Neville, and the exploits of Vivianne Miedema, her Arsenal teammates and her counterparts from Manchester City, Chelsea cannot be overemphasised in the National team, perhaps it is time for me to put more of my energy into supporting the Arsenal Women team rather than the men counterpart, if you are an Arsenal fans, I think you should too, it’s definitely 1 form of solace for us all.
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Norwich City has finally secured their place in the English Premiership for the 2019-20 season with a game to spare, the Canaries defeated Blackburn Rovers 2-1 at Carrow Road to achieve their EPL status for next season. 1st half goals from Marco Stiepermann, a 13th-minute shot from just outside Rovers’ 18-yard box and Mario Vrancic, another long-range strike in the 21st minute, did the damage on Rovers, even though Rovers pulled a goal back in the 23rd minute through Lewis Travis. A win in their last match of the season will secure the Skybet Championship for Norwich. The Canaries are now back in the EPL having relegated about 3 seasons ago(2015-16 season).
Norwich’s aim of getting promotion as soon as possible was entrusted on the shoulders of Daniel Farke, the 42-year-old German was appointed in May 2017, just before the start of the 2017-18 season, and he became the 1st foreign manager in the history of the club. Norwich’s fate in the German has finally yielded fruit just 2 years on the job.
Nobody gave Norwich a chance to make the playoffs let alone make the 2 automatic promotion slots at the beginning of the season, as most predictions and odds are not in their favour. One of such prediction had place Norwich on a distance 9th-place finish as shown below;
Fast forward 9 months later, EFL table showed otherwise, with just a match to go;
This further buttressed the fact that football matches are not played on the pieces of papers but rather on the field of play, bookies have been proven wrong time and again.
Apart from the early season wobble that saw Norwich City loses 3 of her 1st 5 matches, won 1 and drew 1, they rallied well and got their campaign right back on track. There was no stopping them from the moment they assumed top spot, as they went on a commendable run since. Daniel Farke has managed to assembled a group of exciting lads in such short time, names such as their top scorer, Teemu Pukki, full backs, Jamal Lewis and Max Aarons are 3 of Farke’s players that made the PFA Championship team of the season, other sensational Farke recruits both from abroad and within includes Onel Hernandez, Tim Krul, Josh Martin, Ben Godfrey amongst others. Team rebuilding isn’t that hard, or is it?
Norwich City free-flow football that has seen them bruised and battered so many EFL teams will surely give some of the EPL teams a run for their money. However, if their performance is good enough to keep them up at the end of the 2019-20 season is a big ask, only time will tell.
Sheffield United has joined Norwich City on the way up, also with a game to spare. It is certainly more than a decade since Sheffield United tasted EPL’s top flight football, nevertheless, an eventful 12 years that had seen them dropped into League 1 and back into Championship, managerial shake-offs and other off-pitch hands on, the Blades are finally back in the EPL. Credits must be given to not only the players and coaching crew but also to the co-owners too, Kevin McCabe and Prince Abdullah Bin Musa’as Bin Abdulaziz Al Saudi(who bought 50% stake in the Club in 2013) for the full support both financially and morally.
Sheffield United went into the match against already relegated Ipswich Town, knowing a win and nothing else will tighten their grip on the 2nd automatic spot. They duly did just that at Bramall Lane, a goal each in either half sealed their victory. Scott Hogan, an Aston Villa loanee put United ahead in the 24th minutes of the 1st half, while Jack O’Connell close-range header completed United’s double on Saturday. United’s promotion was then rubber stamped on Sunday when Leeds United play host to Aston Villa, Leeds were hoping to keep their slim chance of automatic promotion alive with a win, but a dramatic 1 all draw against Villa at Elland Road meant Leeds United will have to slug it out for promotion in the dreaded playoffs.
Like Norwich City, Sheffield United were outsiders on the punter’s list of promotion prospects, they were ranked 12th on prediction table, but yet again, United exceeded all expectations and odds and got promoted ahead of the bookie’s favourites such as Stoke City, Swansea City and the likes as shown in table 1 and 2 respectively. Unlike Norwich that made some cheap smart signings, Sheffield United relied mainly on most of the group kept together from the time at league 1, of course with a few loan additions like Scott Hogan of Aston Villa, Kieran Dowell from Everton and so on. Players such as the captain, Billy Sharp, Paul Coutts, Chris Basham, Kieron Freeman have been ever-present for United and are so vital and instrumental in United solidity.
Sheffield United will have to produce much more than they did in the championship to survive in the EPL, Big funds will be available for making the EPL, smart addition will be needed to stay up come to the end of 2019-20 season.
Congratulations to both Norwich City and Sheffield United for their feat, and to all their fans, enjoy the stay in the EPL while it last.
Rafael Nadal, 32, is the undoubted king of the clay in world tennis, his stats, records and titles speak volume. 11 out of Nadal’s total of 17 grand slam titles was won on the clay court at the French Open, 11 Monte-Carlo Masters’ titles(Roquebrune-cap-Martin, France), 11 Barcelona Open titles, 8 Italian Open titles, 5 Madrid Open titles among many other Nadal’s clay court laurels. However, exiting from 2 of his hunting ground in quick succession in such an unfancy manner is what many newspaper tabloids have captioned to be the end of Nadal’s dominance on clay court.
It all started at the Monte-Carlo Masters at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, France. Rafael Nadal lost straight 4-6, 2-6 in the semi-final to ATP 12th-ranked player, Italian, Fabio Fognini. The ATP 2nd-ranked Spaniard was below par in his defeat. Nadal was aiming to defend the title for the 4th time in a row, having won the tournament back-to-back since 2016, a victory over Fognini would have marked his 12th title overall since his maiden win in 2005. Nadal’s hope was dashed by the Italian who brushed Nadal aside, and achieve his 4th career win over Nadal(who had 11 wins), Fogbini’s previous wins over Nadal were 2 times on clay court, outdoors, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil and Barcelona, Spain both in 2015 and also, on hard court, US Open, also 2015.
As if it was not a set back enough for Nadal, He followed up a disappointing Monte-Carlo Master semi-final exit with another semi-final exit at the Barcelona Open, just 8 days later. This time, Nadal’s conqueror was Austrian, Dominic Thiem. Yet again, Nadal was aiming to defend the Barcelona Open for the 4th time in a row since 2016, he had previously won the Barcelona Open 11 times too since his 1st in 2005( including a run of 5 straight titles from 2005-2009). Nadal’s run-in to the Barcelona Open semis includes, a hard-fought round-of-32 3 sets win over unseeded Argentine, Leonardo Mayer, 6(7)-7(9), 6-4, 6-2 Nadal won, then was a straight 6-3, 6-3 round of 16 win over fellow Spaniard, another unseeded, David Ferrer, and a tight straight 7-5, 7-5 win over German’s Jan-Lennard Struff in the quarter-finals.
Nadal’s play against Thiem was less impressive, 5 double faults compared to Thiem’s none, just 1 Ace all sets compared to Thiem’s total of 5, amongst other unimpressive display on the night. Like Fognini, Thiem now has 4 career win over Nadal( who has 8), Thiem previous win includes 2016 semi-final win in Buenos Aires, 2017 ATP Masters 1000 in Rome, and 2018 ATP Masters 1000 in Monaco, all clay surfaces. Thiem straight 6-4, 6-4 easy dispatch of Nadal on his preferred and favoured clay surface now brings to mind the burning question, Is Rafael Nadal fading away as the clay court king? or is it just a couple of setbacks that will quickly be forgotten as soon as he regains his full fitness?
Some fans and pundits have stood up in defence of the Spaniard though, He had gone through a lot in recent time, a re-occurring injury to his knee especially, he needed to be cut some slack really. Coming that close to a tournament win after those setbacks, since his last in August 2018(Toronto’s Rogers Cup) deserves some commendation. However, will Nadal get his hands on a trophy soon as the spring clay season comes thick and fast? especially defend the upcoming French Open and win it for the 12th times, It is a burning question that needs a swift response from the king himself.
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That will be all for now, thank you all for your time.
Boxing fans though they have seen the last of biting in the ring, but they were left stunned when another professional boxer was involved in a biting incidence.
History was made in June 1997 when the WBA Heavyweight Bout between the Iron Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield dubbed as ‘The sound and the fury’ ended in an abysmal Round 3 when Tyson bit off a chunk of Holyfield’s ear. He, Tyson was immediately disqualified and subsequently banned. The infamous Tyson bite made the bout to be dubbed by fans as ‘the bite fight’. 22 years later, history has been repeated, this time, involving 2 British boxers, Kash Ali the culprit and David price the victim.
Kash Ali, 27, Birmingham, the UK in a non-title heavyweight bout against his British counterpart from Liverpool, David Price, 37, lost his cool in the 5th round, wrestled his opponent to the ring floor and bit him on the chest. The bout was immediately halted by the referee, Ali was then disqualified instantly. David Price afterwards, claimed Ali had bitten him 4 times during the bout, GOSH! what will make a pro boxer to bite in a boxing ring, a non-title bout for that matter?
In the wake of Kash Ali’s disgraceful biting act, he has been banned for 6 months and fined £10,000 by the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBofC). Ali was also ordered to tender an apology to Price and boxing fans. He had since apologized, and he said;
I am sorry to all boxing fans, to my team, my family, the BBBofC, David Price, his team and his family, …I am hugely embarrassed for my actions and the way the whole fight unfolded – Kash Ali.
To the bout itself, it started slowly, both boxers trying to gain control and dictate the pace of the bout, few jabs and counter jabs were thrown. Round 2 went almost the same as the round 1, with both boxers trying to impose over the other. By Round 3, Price had up his antics, hurting Ali on several occasion with his right-handed jabs. Ali showed frustration when he hit Price at the back of the head in the round and was docked a point by the referee. He also was warned for bitting Price on the shoulder as round 3 ended. By now, Price seems to be slightly ahead in the judges’ scorecards as round 4 wounds down. In round 5, Price, 37, seems to be showing signs of tiredness, Ali who is chasing the bout fancied his moment and launches attacks, but he was met with Price’s right-handed jabs almost every time. Ali got frustrated as the 5th round wounds down, he hauled his opponent to the floor and sink in his teeth on his chest, there was no hiding place this time, as the tech mark was glaring on Price’s chest, a 5th round TKO win for Price and defeat for Ali.
With the win, David Price records now stand at 24(W)-6(L), 19KOs and Kash Ali now tasted defeat for the 1st time in 16 pro fights, 15(W)-1(L), 7KOs.
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The twist and turn of the English Football League, Skybet Championship 2018-19 season will continue right into the last day of the season. While Norwich City looked clear cut favourite to win the Championship and secure the 1st automatic promotion slot, Sheffield United are leaving no stone unturned to secure the 2nd automatic slot. Leeds seem to be free fall from the top 2 fight, and into the dreaded playoffs fight, that includes West Brom, Aston Villa, Derby County, Middlesbrough and Bristol City, all occupying 3rd to 8th position respectively on the EFL log table after the latest round of matches, with just 2 matches to end the season. 1 defeat to either of these playoffs teams will change the look and position of the log table all over, as the last 2 matches remain delicately poised.
Stoke 2-2 Norwich
An entertaining match at the bet365 Stadium between home side Stoke City and Norwich City that ends in a 2 all draw. A Norwich victory would have secured promotion and clinched the championship had Sheffield United lost at Hull City and Leeds United lose at Brentford in a late kickoff, but that would have to wait with 2 games to go.
Norwich is a dip in form and coming from a run of 3 straight draws including the 2-2 draws at home against Reading and Sheffield Wednesday, While Stoke had not had it better either, just 1 win, 2 draws and 2 defeats in their last 5 matches has put manager, Nathan Jason Jones under pressure.
Norwich started brightly and got a deserved lead in the 24th-minute through striker, Onel Hernandez well-taken strike. The half ended with Norwich clearly in control, though could have pulled further away but been wasteful in front of goal. They were made to pay at the restart, as Stoke defender, Ashley Williams rose highest to nod in from a corner in the 47th minute. Norwich went back ahead in the 66th minute through Teemu Pukki’s header, but the home side responded almost instantly with a 69th-minute strike from Tom Edward.
Norwich has now played 4 consecutive league draws, and with have to do better to secure the championship with 2 matches remaining against Blackburn Rovers at home and Aston Villa away.
Hull 0-3 Sheffield United
Sheffield United knows that their fate to gain promotion to the EPL remains solely in their hands, with better goal difference over their competitor, Leeds United, all they needed to do is march or better Leeds results in the last 2 games, and promotion is theirs. Hull City, on the other hand, have not lost at home since last year November and was expected to give Sheffield United a run for their money at the KCOM Stadium.
United was fast and furious and ensured victory in the 1st half, 3 1st-half goals snuffed the fire out of the home side. David McGoldrick was left unmarked in the box by Hull defenders, and he obliged with a towering header via a corner kick. McGoldrick then grabbed his 2nd in a delightful fashion, a right-footed curler from outside the box gave Hull goalkeeper, Goerge Long no chance in the 22nd minute. And then, 3 minutes to half time, Enda Stevens completed the win with a fine header. With 3-goals, half -time lead, United comfortably saw the match out in the 2nd half with no further goals. There were scenes of trouble between both home and away fans, but order was quickly restored. Sheffield United now face Ipswich Town at home and away at Stoke City in her last 2 games of the season.
Brentford 2-0 Leeds
Leeds United hope of automatic promotion may have been over with a nail-biting defeat at Brentford. The Marcelo Bielsa tutored side went down 2 nil and made their automatic promotion quest almost impossible to achieve.
Marcelo Bielsa infamous spying tactics seem to have been outdated, an inconsistent run of form that made them lost 2 matches in their last 5 matches including the last home defeat to Wigan Atletic. Brentford had only recorded a win in her last 5, drawing 2 and losing 2, the odds are against them to win against Leeds, but they prove the pundits wrong.
Leeds started with purpose as expected but were denied a clear spot-kick just a few minutes into the match when Patrick Bamford was clipped in the box by Julian Jeanvier, the spot-kick denial seems to have demoralised Leeds, as they allow Brentford to grow into the match and were duly punished in the dying minutes of the 1st half. Neal Maupay was put through on goal by a teammate, Sergi Canos, and the Frenchman coolly lobbed the ball over Kiko Casilla in goal for Leeds. The home side started the 2nd half the better side and were rewarded for their efforts in the 62nd minute when 1st goal provider turned scorer of the 2nd Brentford goal, it was game over at that point as Leeds struggled to put anything together. The final whistle couldn’t have come sooner for Bielsa and his lads as automatic promotion are out of their hands.
Leeds now host in-form Aston Villa at Elland Road and travel to Ipswich Town in the last game of the season, hoping for a miracle elsewhere for results to swing in their favour.
Reading 0-0 West Brom
West Bromwich Albion secured their playoffs spot with 2 games to spare despite playing a boring goalless draw at the Madejski Stadium, Reading. Sitting in 4th position and 10 points clear of Bristol City on 8th place, the Baggies can begin their playoffs strategies in earnest.
Reading, undefeated in her last 3 matches, 1 win and 2 draws were in high spirit coming into the game while West Brom were equally on a high too, back-to-back home victories over Preston and Hull City respectively a testimony to that.
Albion had a couple of chances in the 1st half of few chances, with Robson-Kanu, former Reading and Jacob Murphy drawing smart saves from the Reading goalkeeper, Arsenal loanee, Emiliano Martinez. The 2nd half was much livelier than the 1st, with the host taking the fight to Albion, substitute, 18-year-old Danny Loader tested Albion goalkeeper, Sam Johnstone, but the goalkeeper saved well. Robson-Kanu and Murphy kept Martinez busy too, but no breakthrough at either end. stalemate it ended, as West Brom secured their playoffs spot.
Albion’s remaining 2 matches are a home game against Rotherham and a scintillating encounter at Derby Country in the last game of the season
Aston Villa 1-0 Millwall
Aston Villa’s quest for promotion through the playoffs is still on track with another home win over Millwall at the Villa Park. Dean Smith”s tutored side were battling it out in mid-table few months ago but has successfully turned the corner and were on a record-equalling run of 9 straight wins prior to the tie against Millwall. While Villa seeks promotion, Millwall, on the other hand, languishing at the rear end of EFL table, Millwall fights to beat the drop ahead of Rotherham United which currently occupied the last spot.
Aston Villa is without their top scorer, Tammy Abraham due to a shoulder injury, yet still dominated the proceedings at the Villa Park, with Jack Grealish pulling the strings for the home side. The home side could not find the breakthrough goal until the 30th minute as Millwall were defending in numbers, but they did get the goal when Villa’s El Ghazi provided the assist for Jonathan Kodjia to score. Though Villa could not find the cushion goal, Millwall offered little to trouble or punish Villa, with just a solitary effort on target all evening compared to Villa’s 7 on target.
It’s now 10 consecutive league win for Aston Villa, a club record, beating the previous record of 9 set in 1910. Villa now faces 2 tricky ties away at Leeds United and home to leader Norwich City to finish the season.
Derby 2-0 QPR
Drama at the Pride Park Stadium as 2 stoppage time goals helped Derby County secure a victory over Queens Park Rangers, and now moved back into the last playoffs spot with 1 game still at hand.
The Rams as Derby are popularly called have been poor and shaky in recent times especially on the road, the main reason they are here fighting for 6th position, however, they have been ruthless at home scoring 10 goals in their last 2 home games, they put 4 past Bolton Wanderers and 6 past Rotherham United, and were expected to put a couple past QPR. They sure left it late, don’t they? QPR are not in a great run of form either, 1 win, 1 draw and e defeats in their last 5 matches are nothing worthy of any commendation, but they did give a fight at Derby.
It was a cagey affair all evening with QPR defending resolutely and Derby not making the most of the few chances that came her way. The visitors had just 2 attempts on target out of their 11 total shots, Derby, on the other hand, had 17 total shots, 8 0f the shots on target and did get their goals from those 8 on target. An injury and treatment to Derby’s Craig Bryson meant the referee put additional 9 minutes to the 90 played. Then came the controversial 90+5 minutes spot-kick, Luke Freeman was adjudged to have brought down Derby’s Jayden Bogle in the box, and the referee pointed to the spot, which was cooly converted by Harry Wilson, and just when QPR poured out plotting their equalizer, they were caught short at the back, with a breakaway goal by Harry Wilson again in 90+11 minutes of play, fired in through QPR’s goalkeeper, Joe Lumley’s arm.
With this victory, and a game at hand Derby can steer further clear of Middlesbrough which sits on the 7th spot on the EFL league table, but it won’t come easy, they have to travel to Bristol City which sits on 8th position and still hopes of making the playoffs, then another away at Swansea City, and then, an home game against 4th on the log, West Bromwich Albion.
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