More success for Roger Federer as he picks up a third Miami Open Title

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Roger Federer has won the 2017 Miami Open Presented by Itau as he beat Spaniard Rafael Nadal in straight sets 6-3 6-4.

The 35-year-old Swiss had already won this year’s Australian Open in January and Indian Wells a fortnight ago going into this final, and he ‘rolled back the years’ with some fantastic tennis and stroke-playing and will move up to World Number 4 on Monday as there were early exits and players that were forced not to enter into the tournament.

A lot of neutrals were hoping for an entertaining final and we certainly got one as you could not separate the two in a quite entertaining first set, with it being on serve until Federer broke Nadal to take a 5-3 lead in the opening set. The ‘GOAT’ (‘Greatest Of All Time’), went on to close out the first set 6-3 and the Spaniard was visibly deflated.

Federer was sublime in set two as he did not concede a point in his first three service games and was piling on the pressure as Nadal had to hold his serve to even stay in the match. But Federer got his all important break in the second set, to take a 5-4 lead in the all-important set, which then gave him the platform to successfully serve his way to the title and it will stand him in good stead going into the clay court season.

In my opinion, it was a fantastic final as two juggernauts of the sport faced each other and it failed to disappoint. There was no definitive shot that amazed the crowd, but it was two rivals with contrasting styles going at each other, and you just couldn’t take your eye off it. It was textbook tennis. The only issue that Federer might have is how long he can keep this run going. You can’t criticise his motivation because he has so much of it. He will have to select his tournaments carefully if he wants to be in contention for the grand slam events which are the pinnacles of the sport. It is likely that he will make the year-end ATP World Tour Finals at the O2 Arena in London, but he has to determine which tournaments will benefit him the most.  Will we see Nadal vs Federer again? Many will hope that is the case, and at this moment, there will be many more to come.

 

 

 

A perfect start for new boys, Huddersfield Town, but the Champions, Chelsea, have a lot of work to do

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What a start for recently promoted, Huddersfield Town, as they beat Frank De Boer’s below par Crystal Palace, 3-0, in the first game of the season, with Steve Mounié bagging a brace on his debut. The Terriers, under David Wagner, could be the surprise team of this season, and they could cause some upsets against the big six.

However, Chelsea struggled in their first game against Burnley, as they had two players sent off in their 3-2 defeat at home. But the question is, are we reading too much into the opening weekend of the season? There is an underlying problem at Chelsea, with a lack of depth, as an enormous number of players have been sold or moved out on loan, which leaves them a massive hole, if there are injuries or suspensions to key players. But full credit for Burnley for getting the victory and a fantastic goal from left back Stephen Ward.

It was plain sailing for Manchester United, as they beat West Ham United, 4-0, as they reach the top of the table, with two goals from Belgian striker, Romelu Lukaku. The Red Devils were by far, the team of the week, as Nemanja Matić was also impressive. West Ham will want to forget their trip to Old Trafford, as they are at the foot of the table.

Rivals and title favourites, Manchester City got the job done against Brighton & Hove Albion, beating them 2-0, with the wing-backs impressing, and Sergio Agüero scoring, but it wasn’t a world-beating performance under Pep Guardiola, but they have improved. The Seagulls defended well in the first half, but could struggle this season, if important players such as Lewis Dunk, and Anthony Knockaert, and the new signings such as Davy Pröpper and goalkeeper, Matt Ryan will have to adjust quickly to stay up this season.

And Tottenham were comfortable in their 2-0 victory against Newcastle United, as Jonjo Shelvey was sent off, and debutant Kyle Walker-Peters (no relation to Kyle Walker) was awarded the Man of the Match. Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen played brilliantly, and Harry Kane had some great chances, but some improvements will need to be made, and they need to recruit. If they do sign Anthony Martial, that could give different options to Mauricio Pochettino’s eleven, as he can play out wide or in the middle. It does sound worrying that they haven’t signed anyone.

Arsenal scraped to a Friday Night 4-3 over Leicester City, as Lacazette scored on his debut, and fellow French striker, Olivier Giroud scored the winner. They will get games where the score will not go their way, if they don’t make changes. Three important defenders were missing in that game, in Mustafi, Koscielney, and Mertesacker.

Liverpool dropped two points against Watford as they conceded a late equaliser from Miguel Britos. They will need to improve defensively against Hoffenheim on Tuesday to progress into the Champions League Group Stage. However, good performances from the front three could help Liverpool, but only in some games. Virgil Van Dijk will improve the team, but they still need to sign him, and they have also failed on target in Naby Keïta and Philippe Coutinho has handed in a transfer request, so it could be testing times for Jürgen Klopp.

Merseyside counterparts, Everton, picked up three points as Wayne Rooney scored on his second debut against Stoke City in a 1-0 win. Everton have made some good signings this summer, most notably, Wayne Rooney returning to his boyhood club, and they look to be challenging the top six and astound the rest of the league, even though Lukaku has left.

West Bromwich Albion will be delighted with their 1-0 win against Bournemouth, but they lack real quality, and still need an explosion of youth. Southampton and Swansea played out a 0-0 draw, and I think that both clubs should have enough to be middle table and can cause major upsets.

We could be witnessing the beginning of the end of sports coverage on mainstream media

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As more people, every day, are using social media by checking their Twitter or Facebook feed for news rather than reading a newspaper or watching the 6 o’clock news. We are now witnessing live sport, such as American sport and even pre-season football friendlies, being moved over to social media to attract a younger audience. Last season, more people are illegally streaming live sport, with the use of a KODI box, and also over the last few years, there has been an increase in online streaming. Is this a concern for clubs or do institutions need to rethink their plans for the next tv rights deal?

Sky Sports are introducing new dedicated channels for customers from Tuesday where you can choose what sport you want to watch. There will be two dedicated football channels in Sky Sport Premier League and Sky Sports Football and there will be dedicated golf, Formula 1, and cricket channels where customers will pay a monthly fee to activate these channels. For more information, head to their website: www.skysports.com/relaunch. BskyB (British Sky Broadcasting) are recognising that customers are unhappy with paying a considerable monthly fee for sport they do not really want to watch. Speaking to Sky Sports Customers, most of them have said that they only pay the monthly fee for the Premier League and a few matches from Spain or the EFL (English Football League). A Sky Sports package will cost you £49.50, however that might be subject to change on Tuesday.

We are seeing many sporting events being shown live by streaming. You can watch every NFL game on an NFL game pass (providing there is no TV blackout), and you can see almost every ATP tennis match online. Sometime within 5-10 years, it is possible that the UK would be able to have access to every Premier League match including the 3pm games, without a Sky or BT subscription. It will be likely, if this does go ahead, that there will be a monthly subscription, but not to the extent of the excessive monthly fees that UK Premier League customers are paying.

Socially, we are an on-demand generation where we watch what we want and when we want to watch it, and not being told to watch it. Hence the massive increase in the use of Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Now TV. We have seen these organisations invest in sports documentaries, such as the NFL’s All or Nothing on Amazon Prime, and Netflix’s Last Chance U and Icarus. They are interested in sports, especially American sports, but it will be interesting if they dip into the Premier League or Football market. Amazon Prime are, for sure, interested in sports as they are after ATP Tennis rights as they have also picked up 10 Thursday Night NFL games a season from 2017.

Will this mean the death of free-to-air television? Not yet. The BBC have continued their coverage of the Wimbledon Championships until at least 2024 and the FA Cup until 2021. The Beeb have also won rights for free-to-air coverage of two England t20 matches and also ten matches for the new t20 competition from 2020. However, they have lost rights to live coverage of The Open Golf, and could lose all rights to the Olympics which will be in the hands of the Discovery Network. There are broadcasting laws that do protect some important sporting events across the world.

Social media is becoming a crucial part of our daily lives and as we become busier and busier, can we afford to spend a couple of hours watching a live match? Many predict that people will only want to watch highlights, and maybe only just watch the goals. When the match has finished, I go onto Facebook to see the various reactions from different sources, some posts are created for humour or as for breaking news. These posts are released during the game, which shows that football fans don’t put their full concentration into the game anymore, especially if it’s a dull 0-0. If you heard about a ‘wondergoal’, it would be very easy to see that goal on Facebook or Twitter without having to pay to watch the video. Will we see in 10-20 years where there will be no live matches on television? It is quite possible.

Unfortunately, nobody in the UK is legally allowed to watch 3pm games on television because of the broadcast blackout as the Football League are worried that attendances for their clubs’ matches will decline. This is one of the reasons why illegal streaming has rapidly increased, because you will find a stream of a Premier League match with English Commentary. This has been regularly discussed for many years and Virgin Media bosses have said that they should abolish the 3pm blackout. This does not just influence English football, big games across Europe has fallen foul of the 3pm blackout, such as El Clásico and El Derbi Madrileño. Countries, including the US, can show every Premier League game, whereas we legally cannot. Some of the most entertaining games last season kicked off at 3pm, and we have to wait until Match of the Day to watch the highlights.

The problem that every TV company is facing, is that the rights for live sports are becoming more expensive. And as prices are increasing for customers as they look to find cheaper options to watch sports, it is getting tougher for customers and companies to get the best deal. This paves a road for streaming companies and social media to enter the market and will be good competition for Sky and BT.

English Academies has been a failure and it will continue that way

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This has been a hot topic for many years and it will still be talked about if we don’t perform well at next year’s World Cup. But from what I can see, the recent finals of the young lions this year is just papering over the cracks.

The difference in ideology between English and European clubs is that young players in are given a better chance to play in La Liga and the Bundesliga. A report from the Guardian stated that England under-21 players had spent more than 20,000 fewer minutes on the pitch in their domestic league than their Spanish counterparts. This is extremely concerning as players like, Nathaniel Chalobah (Chelsea), Lewis Baker (Chelsea) and Matt Targett (Southampton) are not getting enough game time in the Premier League. Whereas in Spain, players such as Saúl Ñíguez (Atlético Madrid), Marco Asensio (Real Madrid) and Dani Ceballos (Real Betis) are getting regular top-flight football. It is the same story in Germany and France as their young players continue to get better and better. They are not getting left to rot away and be forgotten about. It is a certainty that if they were English, they would not get as many opportunities as they do in Spain, or Germany, or France.

The continuing problem that surrounds academies is that there is no longer a direct route into the first team at the top clubs anymore. The cut-throat manner that clubs go through with academy players is quite concerning. Last season, there were 37 Chelsea players out on loan, and they would be lucky to find one player who will be a first team regular next season or the season after. It’s financially effective for Roman Abramovich as he’ll make constant small profits on these players. Most recently, Dutch defender Nathan Aké joined Chelsea aged 16 from Feyenoord, and six years later has been sold to Bournemouth for £20million which showed that they were not interested in fully developing the centre back. The Blues have been interested in various centre backs in the summer transfer window with interest in Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus) and Kostas Manolas (Roma). Many Chelsea loaned out players have come out saying that they have no future at Stamford Bridge. This is not just happening at Chelsea, it is happening at the top clubs in England including the Manchester clubs, Liverpool and Arsenal to mention a few.

These young players are too nurtured at Premier League clubs and they are not challenged enough at their respected academies. We talk about these expansions of academies and the amount of money being put into developing young talent, but what has been the success of it if clubs are constantly buying foreign mediocrity. Manchester City have claimed to have the best academy in the world, beating the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Benfica. But statistics have clearly shown that no player from the academy has gone through the ranks and playing for the first team in 10 years. This is shamefully painful because they are signing average players from across the world. I cannot see how Joe Hart, who was an established goalkeeper at Manchester City, was replaced by Claudio Bravo, who in the end, only made three saves all season in the Premier League. What I commend of Joe Hart was that he tried to stay at the club but he knew he was not going to get a run-in, so he travelled to Italy and went on-loan at Torino. Some would say that he had a good season considering of their defensive frailties.

British players need to be bolder and try playing abroad because they will be given a better opportunity to play at the top level. Last season, Scottish Winger, Oliver Burke signed for RB Leipzig and made 17 appearances for the German side. Also, this summer, West Ham defender Reece Oxford will go out on a one-year loan to another German side in Borussia Mönchengladbach. Arsenal winger, Chris Willock, has been linked with the Portuguese side, Benfica. This shows some promise as this could snowball into more players will look even further to play their football. Manchester City have a loan deal with Dutch side, NAC Breda, where they will loan out four to six players (between the age of 18-21) every season for the next five years. If it is proven to be a success, this could lead to a spurt of English young talent coming through, providing they are the ones going out on loan.

With the Under-20s winning the World Cup in South Korea earlier this year, will they become the next golden generation? At the moment, it is hard to tell. The main priority is for them to find regular first team football. None of those players were getting regular football. They will have to drop down to the Championship where they’ll get more chances as there are more games in the lower tiers. The only signing from that team was Dominic Solanke, who moved from Chelsea to Liverpool on a free transfer, but might have to move on loan if he stands any chance of progressing as a player.

The problem is that Premier League clubs are not willing to risk playing young players. West Ham joint chairman, David Gold, said that they are looking for a striker. But when asked whether he would go for 19-year-old, Tammy Abraham, Gold declined saying that we want an experienced Premier League striker. Clubs that are constantly towards the foot of the table don’t like to risk the chance of playing younger players. The average age of West Bromwich Albion’s team was 30 and it is doubtful whether that will change next season.

Another discussion that has been made is whether there should be B-teams entering the football league with Pep Guardiola wildly in favour of that happening. Some Premier League clubs have accepted an invitation into the Checkatrade Trophy, where their u-23 teams will play in the competition. If ‘B’ teams do enter the English Football League, this will stop clubs sending as many players on loan but whether they then go onto the first team is a whole different story.

There are many different areas that the English game can improve on, but the academy system must change as English players aren’t given the chance and it is becoming a detriment to how successful we can be at major tournaments.

Roger Federer is now one of the favourites to win Wimbledon as he wins his ninth Halle title

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The Swiss, aged 35, was emphatic against the young German, Alexander (Sascha) Zverev, by beating him in straight sets 6-1 6-3 earlier today.

It was the match-up that the organisers had wished for prior to the final, however the match was finished in just under an hour as Federer rolled back the years on the grass, as he now heads to Wimbledon for the third grand slam of the year in eight days’ time. This is now Federer’s 4th title of the year, after winning the Australian Open, Indian Wells and the Miami Open before today’s final.

The rain came down heavily in Halle, Germany, but that did not interrupt play, as they have a retractable roof which was used throughout the whole of the ATP 500 event final. Roger Federer has one of the best records on grass and is incredible when playing indoors, so the odds were against Zverev, but he is growing to play great tennis on all surfaces, and the German did beat the top seed in the semi-final of the same tournament 12 months ago. However, Sascha did go on to lose the final to Florian Mayer. Whether losing last year’s final had an impact on today’s match, it’s very hard to tell because Federer was so impressive.

In the whole of the first set, Roger Federer won every point on his first serve, whereas the World No.12’s was under 50%, and the German was broken three times. Zverev found it hard to read where Federer was going to play the ball, and the Swiss’ drop shots were out of this world, some of them where he had no right to play them from.

Mischa Zverev was in the player’s box and played Federer earlier this week, but he could do nothing to help his younger brother stand up to the former World No.1. If Zverev was playing any other opponent, he would have been favourited to win lift the title, but one of the greatest players of all time was on the other side of the net, and he was not going to lose the match, and was on it from the first to the last point. However, people did question Federer leading up to today’s final as he wasn’t quite 100% in the first semi-final, yesterday, against the Russian 21-year-old, Karen Khachanov, as he struggled to close out the match in the second set, in which he did win, but in a tie break. However today, he was in top gear and there was no looking back.

With just eight days to go until Wimbledon, Roger Federer should be the odds-on favourite to lift the trophy. He has been fantastic all year and has re-invented himself on the court as he approaches the net more frequently and looks to close out the point a lot quicker. The biggest question is his fitness, but he was in great condition when he beat Rafael Nadal in a five-set thriller in the Australian Open final this year and did not bother with the clay court season as he felt he wouldn’t go on to win the French Open and he would put more focus into Wimbledon as he is more comfortable on the grass.

With the World No.1, Andy Murray, and Novak Djokovic having slow starts to this season, this is the best opportunity for Federer to win his eighth Wimbledon title.

Also, Andy Murray lost on grass earlier this week as he was defeated by Australian World No.90, Jordan Thompson in the first round at the Aegon Championships at  Queen’s. Rafael Nadal has taken a short rest from winning his 10th French Open, so he hasn’t played any competitive matches on the grass as he was due to play in West London this week. Novak Djokovic has accepted a wildcard into Eastbourne, which is starting on Monday, and this will be an important tournament for him as he has been far from his best. Canadian, Milos Raonic, and the Swiss No.2, Stanislas Wawrinka also struggled at Queen’s this week, but that does not mean they will have an early exit at the All England Club. Five set matches do prefer the better players as they can settle into the match easier, compared to the frantic best of three set matches.

It’ll be interesting what Wimbledon this year has to unfold, and there is sure to be an upset in the early rounds. But it’ll be surprising if Federer does suffer a first-round exit.

A great 12 months for the British No.3 but will now have to face the consequences after yet another setback

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British tennis’ number three, Dan Evans released a statement last Friday evening at a hotel near Queen’s Tennis Club in West London, that he had been tested positive for cocaine after taking a drugs test back in April of this year. My first reaction was of shock, but he has had many downfalls in his career. However, over the last year, he has had his best season by reaching the third round in three of the last four grand slams and has dipped inside the world’s top 50. The main question is that will he come back from this?

Dan Evans said in his statement: “I made a mistake and I must face up to it… It’s really important you know this was taken out of competition and in a context completely unrelated to tennis”.

Of course, there will be severe sanctions for the 27-year-old from Solihull, but the International Tennis Federation (ITF) have obviously not stated how long he will be out of the game for. A previous case back in 2009, where Frenchman, Richard Gasquet was tested positive for cocaine after kissing a girl in a nightclub, had initially been given a two-year ban by the ITF under the terms of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). But it could be more unpleasant for Evans as Jose-Manuel Roman Gomez from Spain received a four-year ban for testing positive for the same illegal substance. There has been a wide discussion about a lifetime ban if players are caught taking drugs, and I think that is very extreme, but it is one way of stopping players from going down that path. We don’t know the full extent as to what happened with Dan Evans, so we can’t make rash opinions or conspiracies as to what happened. I am glad he came out within days of finding out the result. This might influence the length of his ban.

The complete juxtaposition of his career is astonishing. Back in April 2015, he was at one of his low career points, down in the lower tiers of tennis, at world number 772. But after he revived his career, he reached one of his highest points in his career in March 2017, reaching world no.41, and knocking out a top-10 player in Marin Čilić, from Croatia in the Australia Open earlier this year. Evans has not been short of controversy after he made comments that Aljaž Bedene is ‘not British’, as he cannot play in the Davis Cup for Great Britain after previously playing for Slovenia.

He has a very different character compared to most players on the circuit, some like that, some not so much. One of the things he makes people do, is to watch him play to see what happens. He breaks the stereotypical tennis mould. He has the potential to inspire a lot of young and upcoming tennis players in Britain, but what he has done has unfortunately put him in a bad position. If he has already been in the lower depths of the sport, then he is more than likely to come back again. If he does get presented with a two-year ban, will he want to restore his career aged 29? When he comes back, he will be at the lower ends of the future tournaments, and I doubt whether he will get the opportunities (e.g. wildcards to major events) like Maria Sharapova has after coming back from her 15-month ban.

Whatever happens, he will be missed on the circuit, as he is one of the sport’s most entertaining players on and off the court. But what he did was no question, a horrendous mistake and he must learn from it and come back even stronger.

The most important person on the pitch

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Are we being too harsh on referees? Do we need to cut a bit of slack? Do you think you could be a referee? Referees have been put in the limelight for a long time a lot of them have been scrutinised by fans, players, and even the media, and I went to find out the pressures of becoming a referee.

Coming from no experience of refereeing, I was very naive in how they train and learn the game. So I travelled to the Hampshire FA Headquarters, for a CORE meeting with young referees who have the potential to be a Football League Official.  It consisted of referees from the Southern Region, who came from the counties of Hampshire, Sussex, Surrey and Dorset. This is the first season that it has come into place, and it has previously been successful with UEFA referees. I had no expectations on what was going to happen on the day.

The morning session started outside on the pitch, where they practiced certain game scenarios. The three drills were penalties, assistant refereeing, and a counter attack from a corner. The most interesting point to make from those scenarios were the differences in opinions when discussing what the referee should do. What surprised me the most about the practical session was the amount of decisions they had to make within a small period of time.

In the afternoon, there was a theory session, which started with penalties, which had no coincidence with the unfortunate mistake by Keith Stroud when Newcastle United played Burton Albion last Wednesday, when he gave a free kick to Burton Albion. The silver lining was that it was the perfect example for the referees to discuss what the match officials should have done to have prevented that from happening. Fortunately for Stroud, ‘The Magpies’ did go on win the three points, so the implications weren’t as heavy as what they could have been. The referees and coaches discussed about what makes a second yellow card and how it affects the dynamics of the game, whether it’s a mandatory yellow card or whether the player should stay on the pitch. Once again, the differences in opinion made it interesting to hear in terms of what the referees were thinking when looking at various situations.

Overall, it was an enjoyable experience and it was great to get some insight and the pressures of being a referee. It got the balance of having fun but also a serious tone to the coaching aspect. It got a sense of being ran like a football club but for referees. Some will stay on for next season, but some will no longer be on the course, which is similar to having football trials.

With video technology coming into fruition in the next season or two, this could help or hinder the beautiful game. I think that there should be an appeal/challenge system like in tennis and cricket, because if only the referees are allowed to use the video technology, the game will become slower and it damages the fun of the sport. Also, there will be some decisions where you look at the footage 20-30 times and there will be no conclusive answer. The sport is made for humans, not for computers. People make mistakes and that is what makes sport, sport. It’s what makes the back pages and gets people talking. It’s what makes people turn the TV or radio on. On the whole, goal-line technology has been a success, but by going too far will ruin the game that we all love. Use video technology, but don’t abuse it!

Referees are there to be inspected, but some of the scrutiny is over-exaggerated. We should be more lenient, because at the end of the day, they are only human.

Leicester’s defeat last night will turn their season around

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Yes, I said it, but I strongly believe that Leicester’s loss last night to Sevilla will get their season going, and will be safe for the rest of the season. Even though the Foxes lost 2-1 at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium, it’s that important away goal that will spur them on not just for the second leg at the King Power Stadium, but for the rest of the season. All they need now in that second leg, is an away goal, and my word will they be hungry for it.

Watching Leicester in that game last night was like a game of two halves. It was a complete juxtaposition. In the first half, Leicester looked lethargic, they played halfheartedly, and the chemistry wasn’t working like it did so successfully last season. You can’t put the excuses on Kante leaving anymore, you’ve had over half a season to sort it out. They conceded an early penalty, which was crucially saved by Schmeichel, however it was a poor strike from 22-year-old, Joaquin Correa. But then 25 minutes in, Sevilla opened the scoring through Pablo Sarabia’s fantastic header, which came off the post. But the reaction from the Leicester players was non-existent for the remainder of the first half.

When the ‘tinker-man’, Claudio Ranieri, changed Ahmed Musa for Demarai Gray, it was like the Foxes had a whole new lease of life. However, Sevilla doubled their lead, when Joaquin Correa scored, lifting the ball over Kasper Schmeichel. But then a perfect ball from Danny Drinkwater, set up Jamie Vardy for a tap in, which was his first Champions League goal, and of course, that crucial away goal.

Could Leicester’s away goal be the turning point for the rest of the season? Yes. Only because it was Jamie Vardy who scored it. If it was a defender or central midfielder who scored it, it wouldn’t have been as important, as Jamie Vardy was on a goal drought, and that goal will do him the world of good. They are one point from the drop, and recently got knocked out of the FA Cup by Milwall, so confidence was very low, but I believe if they put out similar performances to what they did in the second half last night, they will be fine.

Don’t worry, I’m not Gary Lineker in disguise, and will not wear over-sized Leicester City pants is they stay up, or win the Champions League. They’ll need more than a ‘brief’ run of results. Their next match is at home against unpredictable Liverpool on Monday. If they put out a performance similar to their 4-2 win over Manchester City earlier in the season, they could pick up the three points that they desperately need.

One thing that they’ll have to majorly improve is there defending, it has been poor all season. It is a stark contrast to last season where they didn’t leak as many goals. The most interesting thing is that it is the same back five (including goalkeeper) as it was last season, so how can it be so different? Both Wes Morgan and Roberth Huth are in their earlty thirties and are not the quickest of centre halves, so they’re ability to read the game has to be crucial in order to win the ball back. They’ll have some protection due to their new signing in Wilfred Ndidi.

In terms of going forward, the summer signings haven’t lived up to their billing. Islam Slimani and Ahmed Musa don’t help in terms of defending when Leicester are trying to press high up the field. To me, I think that Ranieri should start Demarai Gray in the return leg and for the rest of the season, he has been their brightest player this season. And behind Jamie Vardy, it looks to be last season’s player of the year, Riyad Mahrez, in that no.10 role.

Leicester City will be safe this season, but it will be tight. If they win one match, then surely that’ll snowball into a run of wins. It’s what got West Ham United out of danger, and it will happen to the Foxes, if they do the same.

An eight-goal thriller as Manchester City knock five past an impressive Monaco

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A fantastic match in the UEFA Champions League as Manchester City beat Monaco 5-3 in an enthralling game at the Etihad Stadium. Sergio Aguero and Radamel Falcao both scored twice for their respected clubs. A match definitely to tell your grandchildren all about.

Manchester City opened the scoring midway through the first half, which was scored by Raheem Sterling, who was questionably offside. But then two quick goals from Monaco, scored by Falcao, and French teenager Kylian Mbappe, put the game on a knife-edge.

The tie was almost put to bed but Falcao missed a penalty early on in the second half. City then leveled it with an absolute howler from the Monaco keeper Danijel Subasic, who misjudged the shot from Aguero. Then, came one of the goals of the season from the Colombian striker to put Monaco 3-2 up. You would have thought that the game would be over. You could sense that this game would be written into the Champions League history book, because this was an absolute classic. But that was only half of the story.

Aguero put the game in the balance once again, as he scored from a sublime volley to make it 3-3 with 20 minutes to go. And then two late goals from John Stones and Leroy Sane put Manchester City in prime position to go to the Stade Louis II in three weeks time.

A great advertisement for an attacking and expensive brand of football. However, not so much for the defending though.

Meanwhile In Leverkusen, Atletico Madrid will take a two goal advantage back home, as they beat Bayer Leverkusen, 4-2.

17 minutes on, Los Rojiblancos took the lead with a ‘Robben-esque’ wonder-goal from the 22-year-old, Saul. Atleti made it two midway through the second half from the Frenchman, Antoine Griezmann, whose shot came off the crossbar. Atletico Madrid almost killed the tie off, when Griezmann had the chance to make it three, but the shot was well-saved by Bernd Leno

Bayer Leverkusen got one back three minutes into the second half when Karim Bellarabi tucked his shot into the far bottom corner. However, Los Colchoneros (The Mattressers) restored their two goal advantage, when Kevin Gameiro scored from the penalty spot, to make it 3-1 on the night.

An own goal from former Manchester City defender, Stefan Savic, gave Leverkusen little hope with only one goal in it. And 8 minutes from time, another chance went begging when Javier Hernandez’s shot was blocked by the former Chelsea left-back, Filipe Luis. But with 5 minutes of normal time left, Fernando Torres sealed the first leg for the Red and Whites, and added to his quite superb tally in the Champions League, with yet another goal.

Manchester City and Atletico Madrid have put themselves in great positions to book a place in the Quarter-Finals of the Champions League. However, it is not a guarantee that it will be both teams going through. Monaco and Bayer Leverkusen are very dangerous sides, especially going forward, and could cause an upset. Be sure for plenty of goals, and comical defending. So make sure you book the 15th March for Champions League night, because both games will be crackers.

 

The magic of the FA Cup on a new level! Is there hope for non-league football?

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As Lincoln City booked their place in the Quarter-Finals of the Emirates FA Cup, the first time in 103 years that a non-league club has reached the last eight, and also Sutton United reaching the fifth round, is the gap really closing between professional and non-league teams?

As a neutral, I am delighted that a non-league club has made it to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup. I don’t think you’ll see that in any other country. Does this suggest that National League teams are vastly improving? Or is this just a ‘one-off’? Most people would assume that the latter is not the case. However, the contrast in finances between Premier League clubs and semi-professional alliances really are quite astonishing. Comparing Arsenal to Sutton United, manager Arsene Wenger takes home a yearly salary of £8.3 million, whereas Paul Doswell (manager of Sutton United) earns no money from the club.

To get more insight into the day-to-day running of a non-league football club, I spoke to my local team’s Vice-Chairman of Bognor Regis Town Football Club (and a member of the FA Council), Jack Pearce. He started off by saying that running a non-league club is totally different than running a professional team, because you have to rely on volunteers giving up a lot of their time in order for the players to be paid. If there is no commitment from the volunteers, then the club can’t run properly. He also mentioned that the FA places 95% of its input into non-league football, which will surprise a few.

Sutton United are reported to earn over £1 million from the FA Cup this season, which shows the importance for lower league teams to get a cup run going because it can save them from going extinct. And now Lincoln City’s prize for reaching the quarter-finals of the FA Cup after beating Burnley, is a trip to the Emirates Stadium, to face the conquerors of Sutton United, Arsenal.

An honourable mention goes to League One side, Milwall Football Club as they overcame three Premier League clubs (Bournemouth, Watford, and Leicester City) already, and have booked themselves a quarter-final against Tottenham Hotspur, for a place at Wembley Stadium in April. Sutton United, Lincoln City, and Milwall, really have put the FA Cup back on the map.

I am a big fan of non-league football and watch the odd game or two on the television, and I strongly believe that it is the beating heart of the game. This is where clubs treat you like fans, and not customers. You have a great relationship with the players, the coaches and the backroom staff, and they will treat you with respect, because that’s how a club should run. It’s that overwhelming passion for the club which is second-to-none, and it definitely comes across. This will be unquestionably, the biggest game for Lincoln City in their history, and they will have nothing to lose.

Will it be another giant-killing for the Imps? Or will it be plain sailing for the Gunners? This really is ‘the Magic of the FA Cup’.