December 19, 2018

Mourinho’s firing was a long time coming

by Dan Bilicki In: Soccer

So what do we call Jose Mourinho now? The Sacked One? The Special Gone?

Whatever you want to call him, it’s no longer going to be Manchester United’s manager.

Mourinho was relieved of his duties on Tuesday morning, days after his team was torn apart by rival Liverpool, leaving it 19 points behind the first-place Reds in the table.

Coming off a second-place finish, United has greatly underachieved in the first half of this season. It sits in sixth place, has a goal differential of zero and has already allowed more goals than it did during the entire 2017-18 campaign.

To make matters worse, Mourinho has been openly feuding with the team’s most expensive player, Paul Pogba, even keeping the Frenchman on the bench or out of the squad entirely. As we’ve seen before in sports, when a manager and a star player are at loggerheads, it’s usually the manager that is sent packing.

When watching the Liverpool-United game on the weekend, it was astounding to see how much of a gulf in class there is between the teams at the moment. Also, consider that Mourinho and Reds manager Jurgen Klopp have spent the same amount on transfers since starting in their posts, it shows just who the ‘Special’ manager really is.

The Reds outplayed the Red Devils by an incredible amount. Every facet of the game was in Liverpool’s favour, with only an error by Alisson keeping his team from clean sheet.

Liverpool’s 36 attempts on goal were the most in the Premier League this season, something you’d expect to see in a game between Man City and Huddersfield – which was the previous high at 32.

United reportedly will now look to find a caretaker manager for the remainder of the season before naming a permanent successor. Plenty of names are being thrown around for the post, with Laurent Blanc the bookies’ heavy favourite at 6/4 while Zinedine Zidane and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer are next at 5/1 each.

Spurs’ Mauricio Pochettino has already squashed rumours that he could move north to take the job, but you never know.

And we’re sure that even the possibility of Arsene Wenger taking over the team would drive United supporters to the bottle.

INGS CLIPS GUNNERS’ WINGS

Danny Ings didn’t need much warmup in his return from injury.

After sitting out four games the Southampton striker bagged a brace to end Arsenal’s unbeaten run at 22 games. Even better for the Saints, it was their first win at home since April.

The whole thing was made a bit easier for Southampton and Ings thanks to the abundance of injuries and suspensions that Arsenal was dealing with. It got even worse during the game, with Hector Bellerin getting subbed off due to a knock.

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–Eden Hazard has done really well playing in the false 9 role for Chelsea. He has a goal and three assists in his past two games in that role, though he did pick up a slight knock on Sunday.

–Manchester City got back on track and back on top of the table for at least one day. It’s clear that the Sky Blues are intent on starting another unbeaten run after their first loss last week.

–Wolves have now won three consecutive Premier League games for the first time in the club’s history. They’re also just a point back of United, sitting in seventh place. Could Europa League play be coming to Wolverhampton next fall?

–Christian Eriksen played the hero for Tottenham after rather dull game against Burnley. You have to credit the Clarets for holding on into injury time, but there’s no way that Eriksen should’ve been able to get unmarked in the box like that.

–Things are going to get really crazy, really soon. With Boxing Day games next week, teams will be playing three times in the course of a week. Spurs and Everton get the quickest turnarounds, playing Sunday and Wednesday.

–The Boxing Day fixtures also mark the halfway point of the season, when each team has faced every possible opponent. That should give us the best idea about which teams are for real and which might’ve had early runs based on scheduling luck.

December 14, 2018

NFL Week 15 picks

by Dan Bilicki In: Football, Picks

The lines are from Betway.com and the home teams in CAPs.

L.A. Chargers +3.5 over KANSAS CITY

So, are the Chargers the best team in the AFC right now? Phil Rivers’ MVP odds should be on the rise after that magnificent comeback in K.C.

Houston -6 over NEW YORK JETS

The Texans should bounce back from last week’s loss, which snapped a nine-game winning streak. The Jets will play hard, but needed a gutsy fourth-down call to beat the 4-9 Bills last week. This Saturday showdown can probably be skipped.

Cleveland +2.5 over DENVER

The Browns are showing what promise their roster has and was wasted under Hue Jackson. Gregg Williams isn’t a great coach by any means, but he has this young squad playing well. The Broncos are running out of receivers and could struggle in to move the ball.

ATLANTA -9 over Arizona

The big worry is that Julio Jones has the flu. If that’s all that’s stopping you from taking the Falcons at home, it shouldn’t. The Cardinal offensive line is in shambles and even Atlanta’s pass rush should get pressure on Josh Rosen.

Tampa Bay +7.5 over BALTIMORE

As they showed in the first half against the Saints, the Bucs might not be terrible. At least not terrible enough to be spotted more than a touchdown. We know that Jameis Winston is bound to throw a pick or two to the Ravens defence, but pulling out a backdoor cover is certainly a possibility.

BUFFALO -2.5 over Detroit

Josh Allen is doing his best to make the Bills a decent team. The rookie QB is running the ball with a surprising amount of efficiency while the Lions are staggering to the finish line.

Green Bay +6 over CHICAGO

The Packers got their boost from the firing of Mike McCarthy last week and now need to carry it over to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. The Bears are coming off their shutdown win in prime time over the Rams and could be ripe for a let-down game. The big worry is that Chicago’s pass rush will be in Aaron Rodgers’ face all day.

Oakland +2.5 over CINCINNATI

This could be the worst matchup of the year. At least the Raiders are a bit healthier than the Bengals, who are certainly in line for a coaching change.

INDIANAPOLIS -3 over Dallas

The Cowboys needed to rack up 576 total yards to beat the Eagles at home last week and now must go on the road to face a feisty Colts team. Indy needs to come up big down the stretch to make the playoffs and could catch Dallas napping.

JACKSONVILLE -7 over Washington

This Washington team has quit. Even one of its defensive captains is slagging the team and the fan base. The Jags aren’t much better, but jobs are on the line and this defence has something to prove against a fourth-string QB.

Miami +7 over MINNESOTA

Everything about the Dolphins this season has been fishy, pardon the pun. But the reality is that the Vikings simply aren’t anything special and a change in OC won’t help too much. This feels like a few too many points to give.

NEW YORK GIANTS -2.5 over Tennessee

All aboard the Giants hype train. Saquon Barkley is unbelievable and the Titans can’t expect another Derrick Henry performance like last Thursday. If the Giants keep believing in it, they could actually make the playoffs.

Seattle -4 over SAN FRANCISCO

Nick Mullens had another brilliant outing last week, but we haven’t seen any sort of consistency from the undrafted QB yet. While some will blame the now-fired Vikings OC John DeFilippo, you can’t discount the Seahawks defence at this point.

PITTSBURGH +2.5 over New England

We doubt James Conner will play but we do believe Ben Roethlisberger will. While the Pats have a great record against the Steelers, having the host getting points is too nice to pass up. You have to consider the Pats are just 3-4 on the road this season and their defence hasn’t impressed, either.

L.A. RAMS -10.5 over Philadelphia

It’s all over for the Eagles, with Carson Wentz seemingly done for the season with a chronic back issue. The Rams are going to be fired up after last week’s failure and the Eagles D just allowed more than 500 yards against Dallas. If L.A. doesn’t get right here, then something’s really wrong.

New Orleans -6 over CAROLINA

It’s all falling apart for the Panthers with Cam Newton struggling through a shoulder injury and hardly looking himself. The Saints got off to a slow start in Tampa but found their form after the break. They don’t stay down long.

Last week: 7-9

This season: 96-100-8

December 11, 2018

EPL FREE KICKS: Man City’s walls fall at Stamford Bridge

by Dan Bilicki In: Soccer

It was bound to come sooner or later.

Manchester City, the side that most figured would have the best shot to run the table as an invincible, has fallen. And you can’t really blame it, either.

City had its hands full facing a Chelsea side at Stamford Bridge, which up until a few weeks ago, was unbeaten.

The Sky Blues were also without several key players, including Sergio Aguero, Benjamin Mendy and Kevin De Bruyne, who is still working to return from a knee injury.

Even with 61% possession, City couldn’t generate any real chances, putting just four shots on target.

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When N’Golo Kante fired his shot past Ederson — and we should note that Leroy Sane was caught ball-watching on the goal — it was just the second time that City had trailed this season. The first was a 12-minute stretch against Wolves, a game in which it came back to win.

It was also the first time City has lost in the Premier League in eight months and its first road EPL loss since last January at Anfield.

Manager Pep Guardiola was quick to point out after the game that it’s the media that drives the narrative of “invincible” teams. We can’t say that he’s wrong, as both he and the team have never spoken about going undefeated or anything like it. As players at the highest-level of competition, they know that any opponent could put them on their backs on any given Saturday.

So, what does this loss mean for the title race? Liverpool is on top for now and is the only “invincible” left, but the Reds would be foolish to think that their run will last forever. With games against Manchester United, Arsenal and City over the next three weeks, it’s going to be tough.

City has it a bit easier leading up to that date with the Reds, but anything can happen around the holiday schedule.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK

Mohamed Salah hasn’t been as prolific as he was last season, but this week he showed that’s he’s still capable of running over opponents.

Salah netted a hat trick on the road at Bournemouth for his first multi-goal game of the season.

While we’re not expecting him to reach the lofty heights of the 32 goals he scored in 36 matches last season, 10 goals in 16 games is enough to have him tied for the lead in the golden boot race. Nothing wrong with that.

And, ever the classy guy, Salah gave his post-game Man of the Match award to James Milner, who had played his 500th career Premier League game, making him just one of 13 players to reach the milestone.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

A couple of cool stats about Milner upon reaching the 500 Club: He has never lost a match that he has scored in (50) and he has as many Premier League assists as David Beckham (though Becks only played 265 games) … We all like to think that Liverpool is getting by thanks to its awesome attack, but its defence has allowed just six goals so far, tied with some pretty good Chelsea teams for the fewest at this point of the season in EPL history … Arsenal is now unbeaten in its past 21 games in all competitions. Also keep in mind that the Gunners’ only two losses this season came in the first two weeks against City and Chelsea. Not too shabby … Lucas Torreira has to be in the running for best signing of the summer. We’ll never not like a smooth bicycle kick goal … Arsenal’s defensive depth is going to be seriously tested. Rob Holding is out for the year with a torn ACL, Konstantinos Mavropanos is out with a groin injury and Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis are both suspended. Luckily, Laurent Koscielny is set to return from his lengthy layoff … During last week’s midweek fixtures, it was the first time in eight years that there were no clean sheets in a gameweek. The previous time that occurred was in Nov. 2010 … Still not sure how we feel about having four timeslots for games on a Saturday. It especially seems like overkill throwing in a late afternoon game when there’s only one match on Sunday … Is there anything more poetic than Everton losing in the 96th minute last week and then scoring to tie the game in the 96th minute this week? Also, Lucas Digne looked pretty nervous taking that free kick … Fulham’s defence is just flat-out awful, even with Claudio Ranieri in charge. How else do you explain the Cottagers getting completely torn apart by Manchester United? Fulham was beaten on simple runs that you’d see get stopped in Sunday league. Embarrassing … In case you didn’t notice, Paul Pogba was stapled to the bench after playing just 15 minutes last week. But we’re sure things are cool between him and Jose Mourinho, right?

THE LAST WORD

Has Fortnite claimed another victim in the sports world?

After a couple of stories over the summer of athletes getting sidelined due to the addictive Battle Royale shooter — most notably David Price of the Red Sox — it appears that another one has bitten the dust.

Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil is dealing with a back injury and has apparently been slow to recover. A possible reason is the sheer amount of Fortnite the former German international has played.

According to a report in the Daily Star, the Wasted on Fortnite website shows that Ozil has played 5,221 matches, which, at about 20 minutes per match, is roughly 72 days worth of gaming.

We’re sure that isn’t the only contributing factor to his back injury, but we’re also certain it isn’t helping.

Of course, Ozil does have a reputation for being injury-prone and is ill quite often. Perhaps he’s just looking for reasons to stay home and game.

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