January 24, 2018

FREE KICKS: Inconsistency is the constant at Arsenal, Liverpool

by Dan Bilicki In: Soccer

One thing is for certain when you’re a supporter of either Arsenal or Liverpool: You never know what you’re going to get.

Yes, the only certainty with these two squads is uncertainty.

In one week’s time, the Reds went from ending league-leading Manchester City’s season-long unbeaten run to losing to the team at the bottom of the table, Swansea. Even worse, this was a Swans team that had lost 5-0 at Anfield less than a month ago.

Arsenal, on the hand, showed what it is truly capable of, scoring four goals against Crystal Palace in the first 22 minutes of their game. This comes hot off the heels of a disappointing loss to Bournemouth the week prior.

It must be truly maddening to know exactly what your team is capable of and then see it lay an egg against obviously inferior competition.

It’s this type of inconsistently that haunts both Liverpool and Arsenal. If either team truly has ambitions of contending for a title, they’ll have to address that factor, first and foremost. It’s the best teams in the world that show up to play, week in, week out, and get it done no matter who lines up against them.


Sergio Aguero just flat out loves playing against Newcastle. The Manchester City striker scored a hat trick against the Magpies this weekend and now has 14 goals against them in just nine games.

You’ll recall that the Argentine striker potted five against them a few years ago and hasn’t slowed down since.

After going through some injury woes and being benched by manager Pep Guardiola at times, Kun has proven that he remains one of the Premier League’s best scorers. It will be interesting to see what the team does when Gabriel Jesus returns from injury.


If the Gunners played London teams every week, they’d be on top of the table. Arsenal stayed undefeated in derbies this season with that crushing of the Eagles … The Gunners weren’t the only London team to score four this weekend. Chelsea battered Brighton and Hove Albion 4-0 and did so without top striker Alvaro Morata, who received a red card during their midweek Cup match … It was a brutal sight to see Solomon Rondon break the leg of James McCarthy. It was an accident that I’m actually surprised we don’t see happen more often … In the big-money starting XI of Manchester City, starting at left back this week was attacking midfielder Oleksandr Zinchenko, who cost them just 1.7 million pound … What a lovely backheel by Xherdan Shaqiri to set up Stoke’s second goal. It also helped get Paul Lambert a win in his first game in charge of the midlands club … Everton isn’t just sinking themselves this season, they’re taking down other teams with them. At least that’s what it seems like after Watford basically blamed the Toffees for unsettling manager Marco Silva, who was sacked this week … Oumar Niasse sure works quickly. He was only on the pitch for a minute before scoring the equalizer against West Brom … The most insane rumour of the week: Chelsea’s interest in Peter Crouch. Surely the Blues could find a better target man to backup Morata, right? … West Ham used the old FIFA kickoff glitch to equalize, officially just two minutes after Bournemouth’s Ryan Fraser gave his team the lead … Southampton should’ve at least tried to mark Harry Kane on that corner, right? Awful defending when the league’s leading scorer can get free on a set piece … In the 33 games that Mauricio Pochettino has managed this season (in all comps), he has made 99 subs and they have produced just one goal and one assist.


Alexis Sanchez finally got his wish and Henrikh Mkhitaryan gets another shot at proving himself in the Premier League.

With the two attackers being involved in a rarely seen straight swap, both get a new chance at regaining past glory.

Sanchez is well off the pace this season, scoring just seven goals so far after potting 24 last season. He also sat out the first few games of the season, looking for a transfer out, but didn’t get it until now.

Mkhitaryan’s tenure at United was nothing short of a disaster, scoring five goals in two seasons, but more shockingly, collecting just six assists in that span. You might remember that the Armenian led the Bundesliga in assists before his move to Old Trafford and was even voted player of the year in Germany.

Alexis will wear the revered No. 7 jersey for United – though to be reserved for Cristiano Ronaldo, should he return – and he has a lot of big names to live up to. We don’t yet know how Jose Mourinho will deploy him, but with a wealth of wingers already in the fold, somebody is going to lose out on minutes.

Mkhitaryan has less pressure on him and could be just the beginning of moves the Gunners could make. His former Borussia Dortmund teammate Pierre-Emerick Aubamayang is looking more likely by the day.

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki

January 19, 2018

NFL Conference Championship picks

by Dan Bilicki In: Football, Picks

The lines are from Vegas and the home teams are in CAPs.

Jacksonville +9 over NEW ENGLAND

The Jaguars offence isn’t as good as it looked last week, but it isn’t as bad as it was against the Bills. New England’s defence has improved after a terrible start to the season, but has some holes in it. Jacksonville’s run game could prove to be a lot for the Pats’ undersized line to handle, making this matchup closer than Bill Belichick would want it to be. With two great corners looking to blanket the Pats’ receiving corps, we could get a huge game from Rob Gronkowski as well as their extensive group of running backs. We’d say it’s likely that Tom Brady and Co. are headed to Minnesota in two weeks’ time, but covering the spread could be a tough propostition – even if Blake Bortles is prominently involved.

Minnesota -3 over PHILADELPHIA

If you’re a fan of defensive football, this game will be a treat. Both teams are capable of controlling a game and shutting down an opponent’s offence, but one team will have it much easier. Nick Foles was able to escape the Falcons’ clutches last week, but this week will be a whole different story. It’s easy to look competent when you have an extra week to prepare for your opponent. We should see the Foles that struggled mightily to close the season and Minnesota will take advantage. On the opposite side, Case Keenum is nothing special and he did need a miracle to beat New Orleans last week, but has proven capable under centre and has a better set of weapons around him than Foles. You can’t count out the underdog Eagles, who are perfectly playing the ‘Nobody-believes-in-us’ card, but this matchup is just too much.

Last week: 3-1

Playoffs: 4-4

January 15, 2018

FREE KICKS: Reds conquer the Invincibles

by Dan Bilicki In: Soccer

Manchester City’s record undefeated run came to an end after one of the most exciting games of the season.

Liverpool and City put on quite the show in their 4-3 thriller. With the Reds taking an early lead, City countering, Liverpool scoring three goals in eight minutes and the league league-leader potting two late scores to nearly even things up, it was edge-of-your-seat action for most of the contest.

Most of the goals were of high quality, too. Roberto Firmino had a beauty of a chip, Mohamed Salah scored from quite the distance by chipping Ederson following a giveaway and all of the others were well-worked and well-deserved.

The Reds’ strategy to do what no other team has this season was actually quite simple: They wouldn’t sit back and allow City to play its possession game, the Reds were going to press and attack.

This was perhaps best summed up by watching left back Andrew Robertson charge down the pitch from his defensive position, chasing the ball from there all the way to Ederson. He looked like a mad man and nearly created a great scoring chance.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had an excellent game, putting pressure on the Citizens while scoring the opener and also tallying an assist.

Post-game Jurgen Klopp said there was “no alternative” strategy and that “standing on the edge of your box” was akin to “hoping to win the lottery.” He’s not wrong and he has the track record to prove it: No other manager has beaten Pep Guardiola as many times as him in all competitions, winning five matches.

Will this give other teams a formula to beat the previously unstoppable juggernaut? That remains to be seen, as, obviously, not every club has the pieces that Liverpool does in attack.

This could be the first crack in the armour for the Sky Blues, or it could just be an aberration after 23 games unbeaten. We’ll just have to see how Newcastle sets up next week, but we’re going to bet that we won’t see City drop two in a row.


Marko Arnautovic is one of the most frustrating players in the Premier League. He is remarkably inconsistent and prone to take foolish cards due to the occasional temper flare up. But it is week’s like this that remind us why he is frustrating and not just a forgettable pain: He can be REALLY good. This week he scored and set up two goals in West Ham’s 4-1 win over Huddersfield Town on the road. The Austrian is riding an incredible hot streak – which happens once or twice a season between extreme dry spells – having scored six goals with three assists in the Hammers’ past eight games. He’s certainly worth watching until the next time he blows up – which could be any minute.


We’ll talk more about transfer rumours later, but with Alexis Sanchez being left out of Arsenal’s squad, his time in London seems to be at an end. With City reportedly out on the Chilean, that could see him headed to Old Trafford for around 35 million pounds … Also being left out of their squad this week: Henrikh Mkhitaryan. The Armenian has fallen off after a hot start and might be better served with a move – potentially as part of a swap for Alexis … The Gunners completely blew it against Bournemouth, switching off on defence and allowing two goals in four minutes. These sorts of meltdowns are all too typical of Arsenal and why they’re destined to miss out on the top four again … Harry Kane was at it again in Spurs demolition of Everton, scoring twice and nearly taking of player of the week award. That’s 20 goals this season already for Kane and he also became Tottenham’s highest career scorer, edging past Teddy Sheringham … I’ll never get why players rip off their shirts to celebrate a goal. They know it’s an automatic yellow card and can hinder their game. Yet guys like Firmino do it for some reason and put themselves at a disadvantage. It’s not like he was showing off his physique or anything, the guy was wearing a long-sleeve shirt underneath … Don’t look now, but West Ham are up to 11th in the table. David Moyes is working some magic after Slavan Bilic completely bottled the beginning of the season for the Irons … Another team thriving after a managerial change: Crystal Palace … Antonio Valencia returned for Manchester United and had an immediate impact against Stoke, scoring nine minutes in. The winger-turned-fullback is having a marvelous renaissance to his career … Even with Leicester playing a man down for the final 22 minutes of the match, Chelsea couldn’t crack its defence. The Blues’ attack has been seriously lacking of late, despite what should’ve been an excellent run of fixtures.


What have we missed on our break? Well there’s plenty of transfer rumours to dive into … Liverpool started spending their Philippe Coutinho money before they even got it, signing Virgil van Dijk to a 75-million pound deal before the window even opened … At this point, it would’ve been wiser for Liverpool to just buy Southampton the club when it was for sale a couple of years ago than slowly pry away every good player it has an pay the premium … Could Salah be the next Liverpool star to leave? Real Madrid’s rumoured interest … The watch is now on for who the Reds will look to as a replacement for their Brazilian playmaker. Thomas Lemar was a hot name, but apparently the Reds’ interest has dropped in the Monaco star … How about Pierre-Emerick Aubamenyang? After being left out of this week’s match by Borussia Dortmund, a move to the Premier League could be on the horizon, but Arsenal seem to be at the top of the list … Stoke’s sacking of Mark Hughes seemed a bit overdo. Can Paul Lambert save them? The new manager is a professional at saving teams from relegation – but we’ve said that about other managers before … Everton signed Turkish striker Cenk Tosun, but let’s see how he adapts to the league. The hotter Toffees rumour is their interest in Theo Walcott, which would give them some much-needed speed … Naby Keita will have to wait until the summer to join Liverpool, with Leipzig opting to hold on to the midfielder … Gabriel Jesus is off crutches and could be back in 4-6 weeks. Just what City needs, another attacking option.

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