A Good Summer Ahead for the English! (Part Two)

Yesterday was the release of the first of a three part blog about the magnificent summer that awaits English sport’s fans. If you missed it then don’t worry, it’s never too late to read it. A Good Summer Ahead for the English! (Part One)

So today marks the start of another huge tournament with the first match played between favourites England and perennial “chokers” South Africa.

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ICC Cricket World Cup Trophy (Via WikiCommons)

 

Cricket World Cup 2019 (May 30th – July 14th)

The blue ribbon event of the cricketing world is upon us again. Originally contested by eight nations in 1975, this year’s event will witness the top ten cricketing nations fighting it out to be crowned world champions. All of the partaking nations will play each other in a round robin tournament, with the top four going on to contest the semifinals. The cricket fest will come to an end on July 14th at the Mecca of cricket, Lord’s Cricket Ground, London.

The nations in order of world ranking:

  1. ENGLAND
  2. India
  3. South Africa
  4. New Zealand
  5. Australia
  6. Pakistan
  7. Bangladesh
  8. West Indies
  9. Sri Lanka
  10. Afghanistan

The main pavilion (left), and the media centre at the home of cricket. (Via WikiCommons)

Do England deserve to be the favourite?

England are easily the best ODI (one day international) team in the world. A combination of aggressive batting, and above average bowling has helped the creators of the sport become the best at it. Since the last World Cup in 2015, England have won around 70% of all ODI’s played. A feat that no other nation can surpass. In the meantime, they have also accumulated four of the largest run totals with the relentless stroke making abilities of their top order batsmen. In the likes of Jason Roy, and Johnny Bairstow, England has the most destructive opening partnership in world cricket. Follow that up with Jos Buttler, a man on a mission to demolish every bowler’s self-confidence. Buttler scores big and scores fast, an important asset when it comes to limited overs cricket. In fact, only on five occasions has a nation scored over 400 runs in an innings since the last World Cup. South Africa once and England four times (Usually a score over 300 is deemed good, depending on the conditions).

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Jos Buttler (Via WikiCommons)

However, that same aggression when batting can lead to a massive collapse on the wrong day, which is where the bowlers need to step up. Something that they are more than capable of doing with the likes of Adil Rashid, Moeen Ali, Tom Curran, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood and the recent addition to the squad of Joffrey Archer. The latter has made a name for himself in recent years as a specialist of the short-game (T20/ODI).

With all this firepower, a smart leader is necessary. Enter Eoin Morgan. Ironically, Morgan is Irish-born, but captains the three-lions after switching allegiances in 2009. He is one of only two players to score a century – 100 runs in an innings – for two different nations. The other being Ed Joyce, who went from England to Ireland. Eoin Morgan is labelled as a “finisher” thanks to his hitting ability towards the end of a game, and that nickname may get put to the test on many occasions during this tournament.

Who are the other possible champions?

Australia:

Most final appearances (7), most wins (5) and the reigning champions. Australia have won four of the last five tournaments and have long been a force in all formats of the game. However,  in recent years, this cricketing nation has been hit with major issues. Most recently, Steve Smith, who captained the Aussies in all forms of the game, and vice-captain David Warner, both received lengthy suspensions for ball-tampering. This is basically the equivalent of when Tom Brady may or may not have reduced the air in the football’s being used when playing for the New England Patriots.

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David Warner (Via WikiCommons)

Both Warner and Smith have served their suspensions and are back in the squad, which could prove a huge factor as they both come into the tournament on the back of some great individual performances. I expect Warner to be one of the leading run scorers in the tournament, and Smith to aid current captain Aaron Finch in making the right decisions.

India:

The only country to snatch a World Cup from the Aussies when they won on home soil eight years ago. The chances of another success seems unlikely. However, any team with Virat Kohli in their ranks, has a chance. He is a messiah in the world of cricket. He is Ronaldo and Messi combined when it comes to hitting a ball with a bat. Backed up by the enigmatic MS Dhoni, India always have a chance. Unfortunately for Indian fans, this team are definitely much better in the kind of conditions expected in the sub-continent. England and Wales don’t really fit that bill. Nonetheless, you can never count them out.

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Virat Kohli (left) and MS Dhoni facing off for their franchises during the 2015 IPL season. (Via WikiCommons)

New Zealand:

Now this is a fantastic team, built with a great foundation and the ability to destroy opposition batting line-ups. Every other nation is definitely better at batting than bowling. Same can’t be said about the Kiwis. New Zealand have named six specialist bowlers. Four of those are world class, two are good. Their opening bowlers Trent Boult – who I think will be the top wicket-taker in the tournament – and Tim Southee have on many occasions ripped through the batting line-up of the opposition.

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Trent Boult (Via WikiCommons)

Don’t get me wrong, they have decent batsman who can score big, too. The likes of captain Kane Williamson, opener Martin Guptill, Ross Taylor and Colin Munro can all go big, but relying on them to consistently score heavy is not a smart move.

Other players to watch (Not included in the aforementioned nations):

Kagiso Rabada and Dale Steyn (South Africa): The pair have been the linchpin for the Proteas bowling attack. Two stars for a team that lacks the quality of previous generations.

Chris Gayle (West Indies): The phrase “fetch that” is perfect for this man. Chris Gayle has one of the heaviest bats in the game, and when he swings his wood, balls go flying.

Rashid Khan (Afghanistan): Watching Rashid Khan bowl is a joy. He is a spin bowler with the ability to spin the ball both ways, and that makes for some exciting viewing. I am a huge fan!

Tamim Iqbal (Bangladesh): Tamim has had to change his batting in recent years as his team relies on him to bat deep into the innings. Yet, he is still an exciting batsman who likes to smash the bowlers around.

On their day, any one of the teams could go a long way and essentially win the tournament. No matter what happens, an exciting five weeks awaits; full of runs, wickets and drama, as long as the British summer allows for it.

A Good Summer Ahead for the English! (Part One)

With Aston Villa securing their way back into the Premier League on Sunday, the domestic season in England came to an end. As a result, all eyes can turn to the Summer ahead for English sports’ fans, starting with the Europa League on Wednesday evening and Ending with the Cricket World Cup on July 14th at Lord’s, London, England. English teams are guaranteed success in two of the five major events, while favourites in two of the remaining three competitions, but is a clean sweep actually possible. What better place to start than…Azerbaijan!

Europa League: Arsenal vs Chelsea (May 29th)

These two Goliaths of English football are going to make the almost 6,000 mile round trip to Baku, Azerbaijan. Something that is all the more ridiculous as the teams are separated by a not so lengthy 10 miles. For the fans who want to go support their team, they will need to pay between £450 – £800 for flights alone and that’s only if they are lucky enough to be able to score a ticket. You see the money grabbing, greedy so and so’s at UEFA have decided that both Arsenal and Chelsea are to be given 6,000 tickets each – guess that’s one ticket for each mile they are having to travel – even though the Olympic Stadium in Baku has a capacity exceeding 69000.

Eden Hazard looking for a fairy tail ending (Via WikiCommons)

Unfair but expected by UEFA, especially as they know that the tickets will be swooped up by the local Bill Gates, Richie Rich, Scrooge McDuck and any other rich dude who wants to witness high quality football. Both teams will be near full-strength apart from Arsenal who will be without Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who will miss the final due to safety concerns. Current affairs between Armenia and Azerbaijan has left the Armenian footballer no alternative than to pull out of this important match.

On the night, there will be many players looking to make headlines. Chelsea’s Hazard will be one of those stars. The Belgian is likely to be on his way to Real Madrid next year, and wants to leave with a win. While Arsenal strikers Aubameyang and Lacazette will be hoping to fire Arsenal to their first ever European trophy at the third attempt. Arsenal’s previous defeats came in 2000 against Galatasaray in the UEFA Cup (previous name for the Europa League) and Barcelona in the 2006 Champions League Final.


Champions League: Liverpool vs Tottenham (June 1st)

Prior to the second leg of the Champions League semi-finals, Barcelona and Ajax held the advantage, yet neither of those two clubs made it to the final on Saturday. Liverpool demolished Barcelona 4-0 while Tottenham secured a final berth with a hat-trick completing goal from Lucas Moura in the dying moments of the game.

Liverpool will definitely go into the game the favourites and rightly so. They have the stronger squad, better balance, superior form and have beaten Spurs in both the games that the two teams played against each other this season. If Liverpool play anything like they did against Barcelona, then there’s nothing Tottenham could do about it.

Tottenham on the other hand are likely to be rejuvenated by the return of their captain, Harry Kane. This will likely pose a problem for Mauricio Pochettino as he will have to drop someone from the starting line-up to make way for Kane. Do you drop Lucas Moura who scored a hat-trick against Ajax, Heung-Min Son who is arguably their best player this year, Dele Alli who can be incredible on his day.

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Wanda Metropolitana, Madrid (Via WikiCommons)

The Wanda Metropolitana in Madrid will definitely witness a great game of football and a fantastic advert for the English game. Thanks to UEFA, at least the teams will be well-represented in the stands with both sides allocated just over 16,000 tickets each. How generous of them…

So there you have it, the two events where the English are going to be taking home the spoils. Part two of three will look at the Cricket World Cup, while the final section will concentrate on the Nation’s League and the FIFA Women’s World Cup in France… Unless UEFA prevent me from doing so…

Football: What a Week!

In a week where football has shown why it is the number one sport in the world, there are still people who continue to remind us of the violence and corruption that will continue to lurk in the shadows, waiting to emerge its ugly head once more. So what better way to enjoy the good and bad of this fantastic sport by having a quick look at the top events from the week.


He’s Back!

Talking of the ugly side of the game, let’s begin with Sepp Blatter.

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Sepp Blatter (Via WikiCommons)

Since being removed from his position as the president, ringleader and king of the fraudsters, Sepp Blatter has been a little less common on publicly circulated media forum and outlets. Clearly not happy, he decided to make himself relevant by coming out and stating that “money is at risk of ruining football!”

Really Sepp?

Blatter went on to add that, “people already pay a lot to get into the football stadium. Prices are getting higher and higher because clubs need more money.”

“When all of this (law case against FIFA) is done, I want to write a book – my memoirs, more or less.” Hope he title’s it, “My Confession by Sepp Blatter!” 

Two things immediately come to mind…

  1. He doesn’t realise that money has ruined football already, hence why the same teams, from the same leagues are always taking the trophies.
  2. Immediately after hearing the comment about ticket prices, does he not realise people will want to know how much a ticket to see a World Cup match is?

The answer to the latter question is $105 for the cheapest seats in a group match, to a whopping $1100 for a ‘Category 1′ ticket at the Final. Same category ticket at this years’ Champions League final is $660 and $140 at the Europa League Final – otherwise there’s no way anyone would go all the way to Azerbaijan, where the final is being held, to watch Arsenal and Chelsea fight for the trophy.

Don’t get me wrong, I completely agree with Blatter that ticket prices are high, but it’s ridiculous to hear him say it knowing full well that the organisation he ran for 17 years charged astronomical figures for games.

Dummkopf!


Give Me Your Kit!

This season has been a bust for many teams that had high hopes and for one team it couldn’t have been worse. Grasshoppers Zurich of Switzerland have officially been relegated from the Swiss top division for the first time in 68 years!

During the final league game, Zurich players consistently made unbelievable errors and were losing 4-0 at F.C. Luzern. The fourth goal seemed to be all that the traveling fans could take. As a whole, they moved pitch-side and threatened to storm the pitch. As a result, the referee had to stop the game, giving the Zurich players a chance to go over and calm their fans down.

Which they manage to do after some of the players partly succumbed to the demands of the fans in order to prevent the situation from escalating.

Unfortunately, those demands were to hand over their shirts and socks, and crawl back to the changing rooms in just their pants.

As you can imagine, the game was abandoned.


How The Hell Did That Not Go In???

Football is all about fine margins. Ultimately, those fine margins have been the decider of what has been an incredible Premier League season.

January 3rd 2019, Man City vs Liverpool. Man City won 2-1 but the talking point was the 11mm that cost Liverpool dearly…

Man City vs Liverpool talking point

Then a similar incident occurred, once again benefiting Manchester City, when they played Burnley…

Title deciding goal

Either one of those go the other way, and Liverpool – came second by one point – would would have become the Champions. Instead they have created history by accumulating the highest ever points total for a team that finished runners up.

Obviously, no one is silly enough to pinpoint one or two moments in an entire season but if we could then surely these two moments would be it.

What a week it has been, and that’s not even considering the comebacks in Europe. More of the same next week please…

Football: Could There Still Be All-English Finals?

Via WikiCommons

It is crunch time in both the Champions League and Europa League, with the second legs of the semi-final fixtures approaching. Most advocates of the English Premier League would have been expectant of an all-English final in the Europa while being hopeful of one in the Champions League.

So far, it isn’t really going to plan.

Last Tuesday saw Tottenham fall to a 1-0 defeat at home to Ajax, and Liverpool lost 3-0 to Barcelona just a day later. Thursday saw both Arsenal and Chelsea put themselves in an advantageous position with decent results against Valencia and Eintracht Frankfurt respectively.

Let’s have a closer look at the four games coming up.

Champions League first!


Liverpool vs Barcelona

Barcelona hold a 3-0 advantage thanks to a goal from Suarez and two from Leo Messi.

Liverpool have a mountain to climb, which is incredible when you consider that they were the better team in the first leg. Not many teams can go to the Camp Nou and outplay the side from Cataluna, but that is exactly what Liverpool did. They had more of the ball and created the better chances. For majority of the game they even stifled the brilliance of Leo Messi. Yet, time and time again, the Argentine genius produced brilliance when it mattered most. Combine that with the amateurish finishing of the Liverpool strikers, and here we are.

Can Liverpool actually turn this tie around?

No!

I don’t see how it will be possible for them to keep a clean sheet against Barcelona.

Barcelona historically don’t travel well to England, and as destinations go, Liverpool’s Anfield stadium is not the nicest of places to visit. Expect Liverpool to come flying out the traps and if they can grab an early goal, anything could happen. The injuries to Salah, and Firmino have not helped the situation. Barcelona by no means are clear yet, but a goal will be more than enough. Expect an exciting game, full of drama and a lot of diving from both Suarez and Busquets. Whatever way you look at it, Liverpool have shown they are the better team, but Leo Messi, as he has done many times, will end up being the difference.

Images Via WikiCommons

Verdict: Liverpool 2 Barcelona 2 (Barcelona go through 5-2 on aggregate)


Ajax vs Tottenham 

Early goal from Danny van de Beek has the Dutch side 1-0 up. 

Tottenham’s manager, Mauricio Pochettino, came out after the game and admitted that he got it tactically wrong, and who am I to disagree. Spurs got overrun in midfield and never really competed. Expect a completely different game to take place in Holland.

Firstly, Spurs will definitely have one, possibly two of their star players back for the second leg. Heung-Min Son will definitely play and should be relatively fresh after being sent off just before half-time during the league game against Bournemouth. Also, Spurs’ captain and talisman, Harry Kane, may be fit enough to come off the bench for an important cameo in the last 15 minutes. If anything, Kane’s presence will provide the boost that the London side may need.

Ajax, on the other hand, have already surpassed expectation. They have been great for the neutral, knocking out Juventus and Real Madrid along the way thanks to some clinical finishing. They will go into the second leg as favourites, and if Spurs overcommit going forward, then the Dutch team will pick them off, just like they did the previous teams. So far Ajax hasn’t experienced a nervous final half-hour in any of the previous ties against Real Madrid or Juventus, so it will be interesting to see if they would be able to keep their discipline if they need to go searching for a goal with the game winding down.

This is definitely a game worth watching, as it will be full of attacking intent from both sides, and technically both teams can afford to concede a goal without the need to alter their game plans. The main advantage for Spurs is that a win at Ajax’s Amsterdam Arena will be good enough to take the game to extra-time at least, which makes it much easier. Unfortunately, an away win hasn’t been very common for Tottenham this year, who have won once in the five games they’ve had in Europe, which was a 1-0 win at Dortmund, in the round of 16. In that game, Dortmund absolutely battered Spurs!

Verdict: Ajax 3 Tottenham 2 (Ajax go through 4-2 on aggregate)


What about the Europa?

Valencia vs Arsenal

Arsenal currently hold a two-goal advantage thanks to a 3-1 win at the Emirates Stadium in London. 

Defensively, Arsenal have been a completely different animal in Europe. In the last round, they were able to navigate past a Napoli side who were considered one of the favourites to win the competition. So, against a weaker Valencia team, you would expect them to have no major problems, especially when considering the two-goal advantage they have.

Valencia have shown themselves a worthy semi-finalist by getting rid of fellow Spanish team Villarreal in the last round. In the first game, they showed a lot of class and not for the first time in this article, they are a team who are ruing the chances that they missed.

As with every game in recent weeks, Arsenal’s defensive performance will determine the team that goes through. In Mustafi, Arsenal have a defender who leaves me scratching my head in disbelief.

As a youngster, I always heard my coaches tell the defenders;

“Don’t dive in.”

“Hold him up”

“Follow the runner”

“Play it simple”

All things which Mustafi doesn’t seem  capable of doing. He is by far the worst defender I have ever seen in the Premier League. Yet, he keeps getting picked. Just incredible. Going forward, Arsenal have a lot of quality, but it’s no surprise that they are much more prolific in home games and go a little missing on away days.

Valencia’s home form this season hasn’t been anything to shout home about either, but when you consider their recent form, the Spanish side have been much better. Making Valencia the more likely team to make it through, especially if Mustafi “plays.”

Verdict: Valencia 3 Arsenal 1, 4-1 after extra-time (Valencia to go through 5-4 on aggregate)


Chelsea vs Frankfurt

The tie is nicely balanced after a 1-1 draw in Germany.

The game in Germany will leave Chelsea the happier of the two teams. Even though Chelsea had the better of the game, Frankfurt definitely created the better chances and should have won. That lack of clinical finishing being a problem for another of the teams represented in this article.

Chelsea will be very confident going into game knowing that they have not lost a single game in this year’s Europa League (W:11, D:2) and furthermore, only lost twice at home all season, to Leicester City in the Premier League and to Manchester United in the English Football League Cup. Not looking good for Frankfurt.

Frankfurt will be heavily reliant on  Luka Jovic to repeat what he did in the first-leg and score at Stamford Bridge. The Serbian currently lies second in the scoring charts with nine goals to his name. Only player ahead of him will be visible on the night. Olivier Giroud is top with 10 goals. If Jovic has a poor game, Kostic and Rebic may offer alternative goal scorers on the night.

Frankfurt will definitely need to come out and play with confidence, but Chelsea are just too strong for them. Expect Chelsea to be very dominant from the off, and take a good lead into half-time, similar to the way that they did against Slavia Prague in the previous round.  But this time, I expect them to be a lot better equipped defensively, and make far fewer errors on the night.

Verdict: Chelsea 3 Frankfurt 1 (Chelsea go through 4-2 on aggregate)

My phone alarm is already set for 3am. Don’t tell my partner, though …

World Earth Day – Green Sports

A few weeks back, my partner Alexandra decided to log a few important dates on to our shared calendar, and the first one popped up yesterday. World Earth Day. Immediately, she then decided to come up with a way for me to link it to sports. It didn’t take her long.

“Hey, I wonder if any sports do anything to help the environment!”

To which I replied, “I bet they do.”

It is actually very impressive how many sporting organisations are actively trying to reduce waste within their day-to-day runnings. Interestingly they all seem to be located in America. Many teams utilise solar panels or some form of renewable energy for daily operations. Recycling and composting systems are available at practically all the major stadiums.

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Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Philadelphia Eagles (Via WikiCommons)

According to CBS news, the Philadelphia Eagles (NFL) are one of the most active teams. Their Lincoln Financial Field accommodates 11,000 solar panels and 14 wind turbines that have been generating since 2015. The Eagles are currently in the midst of a “Go Green” campaign (Launched in 2003) that has seen them reduce water and electrical use, among many other improvements they have made. The most incredible fact is that they have increased their recycling rate by 209%.

Wherever you look, you will see improvements. Many of the American stadiums use rainwater to clear their stadiums, and are making conscious decisions to improve. The Seattle Mariners (MLB) installed a scoreboard in 2010 that uses 90% less electricity when compared to the previous one.

What about the rest of the world?

There is a lot of catching up to do, and it shouldn’t be too difficult if the right people put their minds to it. Take the footballing world for example. UEFA has a financial fair play rule which is in place to stop clubs from spending beyond their means, yet there isn’t such a push when it comes to the environment. Biggest issue right now is that aesthetics is more important than the planet for most teams. I’m not silly enough to think that English football stadiums should have solar panels, as we don’t enjoy enough sunshine, but a few wind turbines would be a huge positive, even though they look “ugly.”

Furthermore, match-day programmes could be digitalised or printed on recycled paper, and the governing authorities could financially reward the teams that help the environment. After all, money is what it all comes down to for most of the owners!

As much as there are potential steps that could be taken in some sports, others are just plain awful for the environment. Near the top of the list is one of the most pleasurable yet infuriating sports I have ever played; Golf! All around the globe, golf courses require approximately 4 billion gallons of water per day! I don’t think that’s being used on any course that I’ve ever played at if truth be told.

There’s also the small matter of the amount of times players and teams need to travel via planes, which add to the pollution levels.

golf water
Wasting Water (Via WikiCommons)

 

Whatever way you look at it, the sporting industry as a collective could do a lot more than what it is doing right now, apart from in The States. I will be one of the first to admit that whenever I think of American sports, I always sigh and go on a rant about how they refer to the winners of their domestic league as “World Champions.” However, when it comes down to being eco-friendly, World Champions they definitely are.

 

Champions League – Quarter Finals

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Via WikiCommons

 

Sport is full of unpredictability, which seems like an understatement on a day when the Golden State Warriors squandered a 31-point lead, at the Oracle Arena (home court) against the eighth seed, L.A. Clippers. Yet, this may be the week of sporting upsets with four closely fought Champions League Quarter Finals about to take place over Tuesday and Wednesday across Europe.

Here’s a look at the four games, and where it may be won and lost.

Barcelona vs Manchester United

Barcelona lead 1-0 after winning in Manchester, thanks to an own goal from Luke Shaw. 

Manchester United are returning to the scene of their most memorable triumph in the Champions League (They beat Bayern Munich of Germany in the final of the 1998-99 competition thanks to two late goals from Teddy Sheringham, and current head coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer). The English club will feel confident having knocked out Paris St. Germain in the last round despite losing the first leg in Manchester. However, even the most fanatic United fan could admit that they were a little fortunate in victory.

Similarly, Barcelona haven’t looked all that comfortable despite their 5-1 win against Lyon in the last round. What was once considered to be the best midfield in Europe is starting to show more and more cracks. They are more reliant on their talisman Lionel Messi – 13 goals in his last nine appearances against English sides in the Champions League – who hasn’t really had the support of his teammates. The only player who has played at a high level this year apart from the Argentine, is the Spanish defender Gerard Pique. Long gone are the days when teams would fear the Barcelona midfield. Yes, they can still play keep ball, but they don’t have the same penetration as they once had.

I realise that most people will have ruled out United in this game, and I can understand why, but this Barcelona side can be beaten as long as Solskjaer’s team don’t lose their cool. Barcelona will likely try to use the 90,000+ fans packed into their famous Nou Camp stadium to put pressure on the match officials, and before you know it, Sergio Busquets (Barcelona Midfielder) will start throwing himself all over the ground in his usual heinous way. If the English club can avoid frustration, then they may just be able to upset the odds again, as unlikely as it may be.

Verdict: Barcelona 3 – Manchester United 2 (Barcelona go through 4-2 on aggregate)

Juventus vs Ajax

First leg was a 1-1 draw in Holland. 

Ajax are proving to be the dark horses of the competition this year. They dumped reigning champions Real Madrid out of the tournament with an amazing display of clinical finishing in the previous round. A similar display would have put them clear against Italian champions Juventus in this round. The side from Amsterdam were absolutely fantastic in the first game, but ended up missing chance after chance against a lacklustre Juventus before falling behind to a goal from none other than Cristiano Ronaldo.

These two teams are the complete antithesis of one another, which makes for an interesting match. Juventus have the experienced players, who have proven themselves to be amongst the world’s elite. On the other hand, Ajax will supply the youthful exuberance and in Frenkie De Jong, a player who is seen as the next big player to come out of the Ajax factory.

Verdict: Juventus 1 – Ajax 3 (Ajax go through 4-2 on aggregate)

Porto vs Liverpool

Liverpool lead the tie 2-0 thanks to goals from Naby Keita and Roberto Firminho).

I expect the second-leg in Lisbon to be end-to-end. Both teams definitely favour an attacking style of football, so expect plenty of goals. Although Porto possess some excellent players, well three of them to be precise (Jesus Corona, Octavia and Moussa Marega), they are no match for Liverpool.

Porto, in the last round against Roma, notched up a total of 23 shots (11 on target and 12 off), but ended up needing extra time to make it through. All throughout this year’s competition, they have tried to suffocate teams with their relentless attacking display at home, but Liverpool will be licking their lips at the prospect of seeing the huge spaces that will be left for the likes of Mane, Salah and Firminho to exploit. I expect the tie to be all but over by half-time with Porto coming out to salvage some pride in the second-half.

Verdict: Porto 2 – Liverpool 4 (Liverpool win 6-2 on aggregate)

Manchester City vs Tottenham

Tottenham surprised everyone by winning the first leg 1-0. 

Man City came into the tie as the favourite but were completely outworked in the first leg by a Tottenham side that didn’t stop forcing their will on the opposition throughout the entire 90 minutes. Yet, they only take a slender one-goal advantage into the second-leg which will be played in front of a packed Etihad Stadium. Tottenham will be without captain and top scorer Harry Kane, meaning that the likeable Heung-Min Son will prove the biggest threat to the home side.

Manchester City will definitely come into the game the more nervous out of the two teams as they attempt to achieve a historic quadruple by winning the English Premier League, League Cup, F.A. Cup and Champions League. The omens are not in favour of Pep Guardiola’s team, though. Man City have been eliminated by English clubs on all three occasions and have never managed to over-turn a first-leg defeat.

This is definitely going to be nail-biting tie in which the lack of an away goal for Manchester City will prove costly.

Verdict: Manchester City 2 – Tottenham 1 (Tottenham go through on the away goals rule)

 

Misunderstanding My A*#e

“Kepaze”

Surprisingly, the first word that came into my mind was the Turkish word for “shameful,” and/or “scandalous”. This word has the perfect letters and meaning to describe the actions of Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga.

(Ironically, Kepa’s surname is very similar to the Turkish word Ariza, meaning “defect”.)

Look, we have all have moments in our lives when we haven’t wanted to do something our boss wanted us to do, but like most people, we end up doing it, because that’s what grown-ups do. Yet, football players seem to think that normal rules don’t apply for them.

What happened?

For the people living under a rock, or who have no interest in sport, the basics are that, during the Carabao League Cup Final on Sunday between Chelsea and Manchester City, the Chelsea goalkeeper, in an act of defiance, refused to come off the pitch in the face of head coach Maurizio Sarri’s clear annoyance. Roughly 82,000 fans packed into Wembley Stadium, and the millions watching on television, caught a glimpse of what can only be seen as disrespect.

With extra time coming to a close, and penalties beckoning, Maurizio Sarri and his team wanted to make a tactical substitution by bringing on Willy Caballero. This was clearly a pre-determined decision, and one that could definitely be vindicated when considering Caballero’s excellent reputation as a specialist at saving penalties. The only problem was that Kepa clearly didn’t get the memo, or more likely, didn’t care about the memo.

(Via SkySports Football’s page on Youtube)

Maurizio Sarri was overcome with rage, and who could blame him? He was shown great disrespect in front of millions.

(Via SkySports Football’s page on Youtube)

Sarri wasn’t sure what to do, and he ended up having to give in. This was yet another example of a player’s defiance paying off, and Sarri was not happy about it, to say the least. (The faces of the players on the Chelsea bench say it all.)

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(Via SkySports Football’s page on Youtube)

As soon as the final whistle went, it was clear which team was feeling more like a collective. Kepa wouldn’t even look at Sarri, and Sarri was out for blood. Most importantly, Caballero had to be consoled by the team coaches.

The Outcome and Aftermath

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Man City win the first of a possible FOUR trophies (Via SkySports Football’s page on Youtube)

Man City went on to win 4-3 on penalties. Kepa saved one penalty, but made a huge mess of another, which he should have saved from Sergio Aguero. But the talking point was clear, and the  press were waiting for Sarri with questions about his goalkeeper’s refusal to come off.

Sarri, as expected, came out and faced a bombardment of questions about the incident. He said that Kepa was right to want to stay on, but wrong to conduct himself in the way he did.

Sarri went on to say that it was a substitution based on injury, because he thought Kepa was injured, and he wanted a fully-fit keeper in goal for the penalties. Apparently, Kepa wasn’t injured and hence refused to come off.

Sounds plausible.

Yet, before the penalties, even after the doctor’s words, both Sarri and Caballero were very upset. Caballero was having to be consoled by team coaches, while Sarri was being held back by Anthony Rudiger.

It was clearly a tactical substitution.

Still not convinced?

There is footage before the penalties of Kepa studying information on a phone. I guess he got a very important message from his mother about something. Or, more likely, he was being given the information that Caballero would have memorised and trained for throughout the week leading up to the game.

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Just some revision, maybe… (Via The Ultimate Chelsea Fan TV on YouTube)

After the loss, Sarri reportedly went back to the changing room and sat there by himself for a good amount of time before going to receive his runners-up medal.

What happens next?

Coming into the game, Sarri was under huge pressure. He made changes, and his team played fantastically. But that refusal has over-shadowed the entire performance. In professional football, when your number comes up, you go off and that’s it. What kind of message does this send to the rest of the footballing world?

The Chelsea board have some huge decisions to make regarding Sarri and Kepa Arrizabalaga. They seem to have sided with Maurizio Sarri at first glance, and rightly so. Kepa – Chelsea’s record signing at £71.6m –  has been fined a week’s wages (a reported £195,000), which will be donated to the Chelsea Foundation. An amount that is, truthfully, just a drop-in-the-ocean for the Spanish goalkeeper. But this will not be the end of this debacle, and many people will be interested to see who starts in goal in the next few games.

Next up for Chelsea is a big game against local rivals Tottenham in the league on Wednesday evening (Feb. 27). Tottenham are currently in third, while Sarri’s team – including Kepa, I guess – are in a battle for fourth (the final Champions League spot) with Arsenal and Manchester United. A defeat could signal the end for Sarri, especially after the incident on Sunday.

I guess if Maurizio was to depart, not everybody would be Sarri to see the back of him.