We are only half-way through the season, yet the game tonight between Man City and Liverpool has the ring of a title decider.
A win for the Reds (Liverpool) will put them nine points clear of a very inconsistent Tottenham, and ten ahead of Man City, who are the only serious challengers. I realise that there are still 17 games after this one, with a total of 51 points to play for, but that will not be enough for the chasing pack to pass a formidable Liverpool side (that have only failed to obtain sixof the 60 available points possible so far).
More importantly, Liverpool are playing with freedom, and a swagger that no other team seems to have this year. In Salah, Mane, and Firmino, they have goals. Defensively, they are stronger, and there is a lot of force and doggedness in midfield. Shame about the lack of quality on the bench.
Will a win secure the title with half the season to go?
Short answer: Yes, I believe so!
Looking ahead to Liverpool’s fixtures, they play both Chelsea and Tottenham at home, which is a great advantage. The only tough-looking away fixture is to Old Trafford – to face a rejuvenated Manchester United – on February 24th (a trip that Manchester City also have to make on March 16th).
So, if Liverpool win, the title is theirs.
Can Manchester City stop Liverpool?
Manchester City will be defiant going into the game, despite being on a bit of a bad run of late. Three defeats in the last five league games has put them in a bit of a precarious situation in terms of the title, yet they can go into the game knowing that they dominated Liverpool at Anfield. On that day, surprisingly the game ended goalless. The recent lack of points for Manchester City coach Pep Guardiola shouldn’t surprise anyone. Even at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, it was well-known that if you could get past the initial pressure exerted by Pep’s teams, you had a chance to catch the defence short-handed – something that Chelsea, Palace and especially Wolves have done.
Liverpool are a cut above all three of those teams, and have the ability to demolish what feels like an ageing Manchester City side. Fernandinho doesn’t seem to be able to recover as quickly. David Silva is missing more games than usual. De Bruyne isn’t quite fully fit yet, and Aguero isn’t his usual prolific self.
Recent history isn’t looking favourably on Man City’s chances either. Liverpool beat their rivals three times during the last campaign, and have only lost twice in their last 11 meetings.
What will happen?
Whatever way you look at it, this is a huge game in the title race. Both Man City and Liverpool are gunning for the trophy, and if Liverpool win, they will all but secure it in my eyes. And yet, I see Man City showing up and closing the gap to the top with a convincing 3-1 win. Eventually, Man City will be able to grind down Liverpool as the season progresses. The expected cries from Jurgen Klopp (Liverpool’s coach) will be about how his players are tired, especially if they progress to the latter stages of other competitions. That’s the reason they weren’t able to secure the title.
I was sat at home relaxing when the bringer of bad news walked in …
“Babe, I have something to tell you …”
Those dreaded words!
I realise you lot are probably thinking the worst. But I knew it was even worse than that.
I could tell from the determined entrance and tone of voice that my partner had some genius fitness idea to get us both in to shape.
Note to all: Circle is a shape!!
And then the dreaded words: “Let’s do a 30-day challenge.”
The basic premise of the challenge is to set yourself a daily challenge, which needs to be completed for 30 consecutive days. The challenge needs to be something that you wouldn’t normally do.
Queue the jokes.
My first response was that I would, “Smoke a cigarette a day.”
I took it seriously after that.
Now, I realise that this sounds a little like a non-religious version of Lent. Except it is taken more seriously than Lent, but not as serious as fasting during Ramadan.
So, about this 30-day self-torture. I set myself a simple task, as I didn’t want to screw myself over.
Unfortunately, I screwed myself over.
My daily challenge started well, as the workout (50 crunches, 50 ankle touches, 30 push-ups, 10 leg lifts and 10 roll-outs) wasn’t too difficult. Stupidly, though, I designed a set of exercises that would work my stomach – something I hadn’t done in almost a year.
Day 2: It hurt to laugh, cough or do any other movement.
Day 3: I couldn’t sit down properly.
Day 4: I couldn’t tell if I needed the bathroom, or if I was feeling uncomfortable from the workout.
By Day 5, I was looking for ways to alter the workout itself.
By the end of the 30-day challenge, that pain left it’s place to boredom and tediousness because the workout had become a little mundane, and easy. Don’t get me wrong, I am still incredibly happy to have done the challenge and completed it. As the benefits were visible.
I hated Wednesday nights, though. I really did.
It’s tough to get home from two hours of football and hear the dreaded words, “You should do your workout soon and then shower.”
I can proudly say that I stuck to the original set of exercises, and I feel much stronger for it. I’m still far away from a six-pack, but my belly is a powerful one. The best thing is that I get to share another experience with my partner, and become healthier while doing so.
I have set myself a new challenge. This time, I wanted to add more elements to my daily goal.
The New Challenge:
50 ankle touches
15 leg raises
30 second side planks
60 second plank
30 second wall sit
1x fruit and 1x vegetable
Run 8km over the week (not including running at football)
No fast food
As you can see, I have kept the workout, but also added weekly cardio and, most importantly, some dietary requirements. I realise the dietary part isn’t very demanding, except, I am absolutely terrible at eating fruit.
The challenge was a very good idea, and definitely worth doing, as it gives each individual the chance to decide their own challenge.
So, for anyone who is interested in getting healthier, I would advise the 30-day challenge, but there are some things you should consider:
Share the experience with someone, as you will motivate each other.
Set goal-orientated challenges and not time-orientated ones.
Create a chart that you can colour in on a daily basis. Visually seeing your progress helps keep you motivated.
Quick Note: Portions of this blog previously ran on my partner’s site, as she detailed her own experiences during our 30-day challenges. You can check out her pieces here:
Some of the quotes were exceptionally funny. Wesley Harms declaring that it would “take him two days to get rid of the rotten smell” and Gary Anderson swearing on his children’s lives that he didn’t do “it.” His children are still alive, so, guess we have to believe him now.
However, Anderson has admitted to “blowing” the opposition off the stage in the past, and as we know, “once a farter, always a farter.”
Anderson did then go on to add, “It was bad. It was a stink, then he (Harms) started to play better and I thought he must have needed to get some wind out.”
The match took place on Thursday, and ended up finishing 10-2 to Anderson. Unfortunately for him, somebody’s backside took the plaudits.
You’re all probably wondering how far Anderson got in the tournament. Who cares!
I was going through my usual routine of checking the different sports websites – BBC Sport, SporX.com, SkySports.com – and they were reporting on the same-old topical stories. Apparently some person scored a goal or did something amazing, while another was upset because of a referee’s call. Then, on the BBC, a couple of articles that caught my eye.
Let’s begin with the insanity surrounding Floyd “Money” Mayweather. He has decided to take up mixed martial arts and will fight Tenshin Nasukawa.
Who? I hear you ask.
In the world of MMA, he is pretty much an unknown. But don’t let that fool you. Nasukawa, 20, is unbeaten in 27 fights. (Four of those fights being in MMA.) He currently fights in the RIZIN Fighting Federation, the organisation that Mayweather also signed with.
He is no mug!
Mayweather is double Nasukawa’s age, and a retired boxer, albeit an exceptional one.
This fight has already been confirmed for December 31, but the rules and weight class are yet to be decided. Everything is due to be ironed out over the next few days. And you know, Mayweather isn’t going to be allowing his “money-maker” to become too disfigured going into 2019.
Expect a hell of a lot of rules, one of which will be, “No fighting on the ground,” (which immediately disqualifies this from being an MMA fight). So, we are looking at a kick-boxing match, with extra rules. What those rules will be, I’m not really sure. Maybe a limitation on the number of kicks being allowed. Even with a limitation, I am confident that Nasukawa will be knocking Mayweather out, as long as those yet-to-be-decided “rules” allow for it.
This fight is basically the equivalent of someone asking you if you want a fight, but then following it up with, “Okay, but no hitting me in the face.”
Which, for me, makes the contest a waste of time, and one that I will not watch. Not even to see Floyd’s eyes widen once that first blow lands on his melon, and he realises that the fight was not a good idea.
What about Wayne Rooney’s inclusion to the England national team?
People have argued that it’s a ridiculous decision, and it takes away an opportunity from a youngster who could become an England star in the future. Especially as England coach, Gareth Southgate, has been complaining about his main stars having to play too many competitive games, and that he doesn’t have enough opportunities to give youngsters an opportunity.
As a result, many people are adamant that Wayne Rooney’s appearance prior to the game would have sufficed, instead of taking up a position in the team. That way, he could have got the send-off that he deserves.
Wayne Rooney (left) and England coach Gareth Southgate.
But it’s important to know that such a procedure (Introducing a legend before a game and giving them a ceremonial round of applause) is more common for retired players who haven’t kicked a ball in months, or a player who is playing at a very low level, and hanging onto a career because they’re not ready to call it a day yet.
Rooney doesn’t fit that description.
So, is it ok to give him the call-up?
He is clearly still a great player!
Let’s look at the facts here:
It’s not a competitive game.
Rooney is playing competitively against international players (Plays for DC United in the American MLS).
He has scored 12 goals in 21 games.
He is the second-highest-capped player in England history (119 caps).
Highest number of England goals (53 goals).
Always fulfilled his England duty with pride.
Rooney is an England legend and deserves the correct send-off. This will be exactly that. A friendly game, against America, with the revenue from ticket sales going to the Wayne Rooney Foundation. Most importantly, his name will be chanted by the fans at the iconic home of football, Wembley Stadium.
Wembley Stadium, London (Via WikiCommons)
So, what about the youngsters?
Their time will come.
The funniest part of it all is that on the BBC, Rooney’s selection is being questioned, yet, Mayweather’s announcement is reported like it’s just normal behaviour.
As mentioned several days ago, Julen Lopetegui has been relieved of his duties at Real Madrid. So now, the question on every football fan’s lips is: Who will be the next permanent manager?
As it stands, ex-player Santiago Solari has taken the role as caretaker-manager. This basically means, “You are the manager until we find someone who is actually worthy of the position.” Now, that doesn’t mean that Solari has no chance of being named the permanent manager. Historically, many clubs use caretaker-managers to give themselves a chance to make the right appointment, and then end up giving that individual a full-time position, especially if those in power see a rejuvenated team start to perform.
It is also very important to know that a club like Real Madrid prefers to appoint managers who have grown up with, played for, or been involved with the club in the past. They need people at the club who understand the Madrid way, so they can eliminate the need for a honeymoon period. Solari fits the bill in this instance, as he was the manager of Real Madrid Castilla (Real’s reserve team) and, prior to that, was in charge of the youth team at the club. He also played over 130 games for the club between 2000 and 2005.
When you put these aspects together, Santiago Solari is rightfully the bookies’ favourite to be given the permanent manager role, especially if he can get the team playing well. He will be following in the footsteps of Zinedine Zidane, who was promoted to Real Madrid manager whilst being in charge of the reserve team.
Unfortunately for Solari, I don’t think he has the technical nous or knowledge to be successful at the top of the game, meaning that Perez will need to look elsewhere.
That leads us nicely onto the most obvious candidate … Antonio Conte.
Conte is currently available, which makes him a fantastic target. As Real Madrid will not need to pay any compensation to another club for stealing their manager from them. After forking out a fortune to sack Lopetegui, this might be the best option for them. Plus, it’s not like Conte is a terrible manager. He brings with him a fantastic record, winning five trophies in his three years in charge of Juventus (3x Serie A, 2x Supercoppa Italiana), receiving plaudits as Italy manager, and picking up a couple of trophies in England with Chelsea (Premier League and FA Cup). Conte is a winner, and Real Madrid need to find a way to win.
Yet, Perez will be tentative to go knocking on Conte’s door just yet. Last thing anybody at Real Madrid wants is a manager who will happily criticise the board members in front of the media, or sulk at not getting what he wants (both of which were things that Conte was happy to do regularly before getting the boot from Chelsea chairman Roman Abramovich).
My Italian isn’t up to scratch, so, I can’t verify what he is saying … but going on his facial expressions, he isn’t being very nice…
Other alternatives may include Roberto Martinez (Belgium’s coach), Joachim Lowe (Germany’s coach), or Jose Mourinho (with Manchester United). Unfortunately, those options wouldn’t be of any use to Real Madrid, as they are all tied up in well-paying jobs elsewhere.
So, it comes down to one of two options, as I see it:
Mauricio Pochettino (left) and Arsene Wenger (right)
Perez’s first choice is likely to be Mauricio Pochettino, who would be an exceptional fit for Real Madrid. Pochettino is a manager who has won plaudits wherever he has gone, despite not having any trophies to his name as a manager. Unfortunately for Perez, he is unlikely to get his wishes right now, and would have to wait until the end of the season before finalising any deal for Pochettino. The added bonus for waiting would be that Pochettino would probably be able to convince star striker Harry Kane to come along with him.
The only other possibility for Real could be to hire Arsene Wenger. Wenger has been out of work, by choice, since he resigned as Arsenal’s manager at the end of last season, after 22 years in charge. This opportunity with Real Madrid may be the one that brings Wenger back into management, as it’s a club that has the right tools for him to be successful.
It is important to know that Real Madrid do have time to make the right decision for them, as neither Mauricio Pochettino or Arsene Wenger are likely to be signing a contract anytime soon. Pochettino will not leave halfway through a season; he has clarified that on many an occasion. As for Wenger, he is only likely to join a top team from a top league, and that list is not very expansive. Especially if you rule out that he would unlikely go to Arsenal’s rival team, and all the other major teams are pretty happy with their managers, as it stands.
What will happen then?
For me, one of the following two possibilities will materialise, but it all depends on how Solari gets the team playing.
Option No. 1: Hire Solari until the end of the season and then approach Pochettino. He will very likely take the job. This option would be perfect, knowing that Wenger could be a very likely back-up.
Option No. 2: Approach Wenger now, knowing that he will definitely want a long-term contract. As a result, approaching Pochettino would be out of the question come the end of the season.
Whatever way you look at it, there will be a quality manager at the helm next year. Teams like Real Madrid don’t stay in a slump for too long.
“I’m from the future and it doesn’t work out very well for you!”
(So says the wise comment below a YouTube video)
I understand that this could be said to many: Donald Trump; Prince Salman; Theresa May; the list goes on and on. On this occasion, it’s Julen Lopetegui who has been the unlucky recipient. In fact, it turned out to be very true a mere three days after the humiliating 5-1 defeat at the hands of their biggest rivals, Barcelona, when Lopetegui was sacked.
Let’s wind back five months or so …
Spain are being classed as one of the favourites for the 2018 World Cup after a magnificent qualifying campaign, and their coach, Julen Lopetegui, is being hailed as one of the best in the world. It was hard to argue with the claim.
Unbeaten in 10 games, winning 9 of them. They only conceded 3 goals and scored a whopping 36! For many people, Spain was back and ready to get their hands on the title they had given up to Germany four years prior.
With a week left to the start of the highly anticipated tournament in Russia, Zinedine Zidane decided to step down as Real Madrid’s coach. And there are no surprises in guessing who Florentino Perez, Real Madrid’s president, eventually wanted at the helm. Yep, you got it: Lopetegui accepted the job, giving up his chance to take charge of Spain at the World Cup as a result. (His decision to take the Real Madrid job was seen as disrespectful by the Spanish football association (RFEF), and so they relieved him of his duties.)
From Day 1, Lopetegui was thrown in at the deep end.
Task 1: Try to keep the club’s talisman and star, Cristiano Ronaldo, at the club.
Task 2: Find replacements who can provide the goals that Ronaldo provided.
Task 3: Have a good start to the season.
Most football fans know that a seven-point gap in football is not that big. However, that idea can be thrown out the window in some countries. At seven points ahead, teams like Barcelona in Spain, Bayern Munich in Germany, and PSG in France are practically uncatchable.
Not only were the results not going well, but the team was performing very poorly. During Julen Lopetegui’s short reign as coach, Real Madrid won only six of 16 games, scored a mere 21 goals, and conceded 20. These are figures that are unheard of for the “best” club in the world, (termed so in terms of financial clout, trophies and an international fan base). After defeats against Sevilla, Alaves, and Levante in the league, a draw against Madrid rivals Atletico and a somewhat unlucky defeat against CSKA Moscow in the Champions League, everyone knew that a defeat in the El Clasico (the term for Barcelona vs Real Madrid games) could be the final straw for Florentino Perez. And so it proved to be.
Left: Julen Lopetegui. Right: Florentino Perez.
So, what next for Lopetegui?
Let’s get one thing straight. He is financially in very good stead. As his contract has been terminated by the club, he is due to receive a good compensation package.
Have a guess how much.
A reported €18 million (£15.9 million).
For that sort of money, you can sack me any day. I would happily sack myself. However, once we look past the money, it is important to understand that Lopetegui is unlikely to get another opportunity at one of Europe’s major clubs. So, he will more than likely return to international football. Spanish national team selectors are unlikely to take him back, and most of the major footballing countries prefer their own countrymen. This leaves the only viable option as a Middle Eastern national team, especially as they seem to love a foreign coach.
Sounds enticing, doesn’t it?
Come to think of it, I bet Julen Lopetegui would have appreciated the aforementioned YouTuber’s help five months prior. After all, it would have saved his reputation, and helped him avoid two sackings in quick succession.
After 120+ days, we have finally tipped off with the start of the 2018/19 NBA season. The pre-season was one of activity to say the least, and many questions were being asked. Most important of those was answered by the L.A. Lakers, who ended up securing the signature of “The King”, LeBron James. Despite the media frenzy surrounding his departure from where he referred to as home, there were other major moves that have resulted in a potentially exciting NBA season ahead of us. A season that won’t be easy to predict for a change.
Major Movers and Potential Impact
As previously mentioned, LeBron has moved from “The Land” to “La La Land.” He has been followed there by a bunch of experienced players, like: the feisty Rajon Rondo (who already got himself into trouble for punching Chris Paul); Lance Stephenson; and Javale McGee. All very good players. Add the incredible youngsters they already possess amongst their ranks, and you have a franchise that is not only going to make the playoffs, but could even go all the way.
The second major move was that of Kawhi Leonard. He made sure everyone knew he no longer wanted to play for the San Antonio Spurs. This news got the attention of all the general managers. After all, Leonard is one the best two-way players in the league. Not convinced? Well, the fact that the Toronto Raptors traded the face of their franchise, DeMar DeRozan, for him, tells you everything you need to know. This signature is a bit of a risky one, though, to say the least. Toward the end of the last season, his attitude was more reminiscent of that of an adolescent teenager. Combine that with the question mark of an injury he is still recovering from, and you have a very shaky foundation beneath your feet. Having said that, a fully fit Leonard, with the right attitude, is unquestionably better than DeRozan.
Other major movers: DeAndre Jordan (Clippers to Mavericks); Carmelo Anthony (Thunder to Rockets); Trevor Ariza; Ryan Anderson (Rockets to Suns); and DeMarcus Cousins (Pelicans to Warriors).
Will it be the Warriors again?
For some people, this is easy to answer:
And it’s very hard to disagree with them. After all, they are a great team. The best I have ever seen, and maybe the best ever. My home in Beijing has more weaknesses than the roster they had last year. (Unfortunately, that’s not even a joke. Ah, a new crack’s appearing on the wall …)
I do believe, though, that the Warriors’ domination is nearing its end. It should have ended last year, but injuries to key opposition players aided the Warriors on their way to a third title in four years. This year, they are unlikely to go down without a fight, likely because of the addition of DeMarcus Cousins. That improves their starting line-up, as long as Cousins can adapt. By adapt, I mean, understand that Draymond Green tells you what to do, Steph Curry controls the ball and Kevin Durant gets the ball when he wants it. I’m not sure if Cousins will be very happy with that. Losing McGee (who’s now with the Lakers) is a huge blow, as he brought a ton of energy and scoring off the bench. It is the lack of bench scoring that will be Warriors’ downfall come the playoffs.
Last year, the likes of the Rockets, the Thunder, and the Jazz, amongst others, were able to compete with their starters, giving the impression that the Warriors were in trouble. Let’s say Durant, Curry and Thompson (Klay) go to the bench. The game is tied. Your coach thinks, “Right, better give my guys a rest, too.” Then, the next time you’re back in the game, you’re facing a 10+ point deficit. Last year, this scenario was happening again and again, against every different team.
This is not likely to be the case this year. Don’t get me wrong, the Warriors are still the team to beat. However, they are more likely to be beaten for a change. The Lakers have beaten the Warriors in a competitive-looking pre-season friendly, and they haven’t looked very convincing. Then again, the Warriors never stress themselves until the playoffs. After all, they will be regarded the team to beat, even if they are the lowest-ranked outfit in the playoffs.
Who can stop them?
Houston Rockets should have won last year, and despite losing two key defensive players, Ariza and Anderson, they are still full of talent. The biggest worry for them is that they have a very injury-prone Chris Paul, aka CP3. CP3 seems to solidify his importance to a franchise by making sure he misses some key playoff games through injury every year. His absence always results in defeats. The Rockets are led by the reigning MVP, James Harden, the most lethal scorer in the league. They have also signed some very good players to bulk up their bench. Defensively, the Rockets will be much weaker, and will probably concede a century in most games, which is a huge X towards their chances. Having said that, any team that keeps them below 115 points will have done well.
The likes of the aforementioned Lakers, as well as the Nuggets and Jazz, will provide some worthy opposition to the Warriors in the Western Conference. All three have a balanced squad. These sides are sharing the ball and making sure that the points get spread around, whereas previous contenders, such as the Spurs and Trailblazers, are expected to fall away drastically as the season progresses.
From the East, expect the Boston Celtics to do very well. Last year, they were being touted as potential title winners. They had just signed two superstars, Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, only to witness Hayward break his leg at the start of the season. Think of this season as, “Take Two.”
The Raptors will need Kawhi to perform, and the Philadelphia 76ers will need the likes of Joel Embiid, Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons to stop thinking they are amazing, and actually show that they are.
Whatever happens, it will be an intriguing season with a lot of possibilities. My prediction: The Western Finals will see the Rockets and Warriors face off for a second year running. The Eastern Finals will be between the Celtics and Raptors. The Rockets will eventually beat the Celtics in the NBA finals, and put an end to Golden State’s domination.
Oh wait …
Did you guys hear that?
Yep. CP3 just twisted his ankle at the thought of winning a title.