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Archive for January, 2010|Monthly archive page

United Still Top Dogs, But City Slickers Are On The Rise

In Football on January 28, 2010 at 4:33 pm

Following a week of handbags and insults, Manchester United asserted their dominance over their city rivals once more last night, with Wayne Rooney’s injury time header giving them a 3-1 win on the night, and a 4-3 aggregate victory at Old Trafford. They now advance to the League Cup final while City’s fans rue an inability to keep clean sheets.

Rooney's 91st minute winner kept United on top, for now

But despite the familiar sound of the reds fans’ crowing, there is a palpable sense that these clubs are heading in opposite directions.

More and more grisly details are emerging each day concerning the Glazers’ apparent abuse of a worldwide sporting institution. While undoubtedly overstated by the press, these details do paint a worrying picture for Manchester United. Certainly in the short term, their spending power will be reduced, and it may never again be on a par with their neighbour’s billions.

With Alex Ferguson’s imminent retirement set to finally make referees and journalists’ jobs a little more bearable, United face a terribly uncertain future.  Deprived of the two most important elements of their double decade of success – Fergie and spending power – will they continue to compete?

Add to this the inevitable squad turnover which will see such bulwarks as Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Edwin van der Sar and Gary Neville finally call it a day, and the club could find themselves in a precarious position. For all their jubilant claims that ‘money doesn’t buy success’ after last night’s game, the squad in red cost far more to assemble, even with the aforementioned trio of Giggs, Scholes and Van der Sar, who cost a pittance between them.

Don’t expect that to be the case next season though. The likes of Garrido, Zabaleta and Boyata will struggle to keep their places in the coming years, and the only reason their value didn’t dwarf that of the home side last night was because of former manager Mark Hughes’ transfer bungling. Read the rest of this entry »

Championship Round-Up

In NFL on January 26, 2010 at 8:43 pm

After a furious Sunday night of Championship games, only two teams remain. When the dust settled and the stadiums emptied, we were left with one final showdown between the Indianapolis Colts and the New Orleans Saints.

The NFC title game was 60 minutes of sport at its absolute pinnacle. The first half especially was a perfect example of what every contest should be; a series of challenges met. The Saints and the Minnesota Vikings matched each other drive for drive, catch for catch and tackle for tackle, as each player on the field stood up and played as if their career depended on it.

Drew Brees (9) and the Saints have New Orleans dreaming of its first ever Superbowl

In the end, the Saints needed some luck and five minutes of overtime to overcome a worthy Minnesota Vikings. Once again it was their defence that came up trumps. They’ve been the masters at forcing the turnover all year, and it was the key to claiming the NFC Championship.

Looking at the stats, it’s still hard to believe they actually won. Adrian Peterson was due a big one, and sure enough the Vikings key weapon caused some major damage. He rushed for 122 yards and three touchdowns. Brett Favre threw for 310 yards to Drew Brees’ relatively prosaic 197. The Saints were held to just 68 yards on the ground compared to the Vikings 165. Minnesota gave up 32 yards in penalties, while New Orleans were tooted for 88, and the time of possession and total first downs were both around 2:1 in favour of the visitors.

But the key stat was turnovers, which favoured Sean Payton’s men by 5 to 1.These turnovers not only came at crucial times but also caused a huge swing in the game.

With the game in the balance right before half time, Reggie Bush’s short career must have flashed before his eyes when he tried for a special play that was never on, and handed the ball to Brett Favre in the red zone. That should have been a guaranteed 3 points and a probable 7, which would have seen the Vikings gain the lead and a crucial psychological advantage going into the break. Read the rest of this entry »

NBA Breakdown

In NBA on January 21, 2010 at 6:29 pm

Last Monday, the NBA celebrated Martin Luther King Day the only way they know how – with a feat of basketball action. MLK Day also marked (roughly) the half way point of the season, and with four of the top teams in action, here’s a breakdown of the night’s games and a run-down of the strengths and weaknesses of this quartet of playoff hopefuls.

Orlando Magic@LA Lakers

This game saw the No.1 team in the NBA, Kobe Bryant’s LA Lakers, taking on the 4th ranked team in the East, the Orlando Magic, in a repeat of last season’s NBA Finals.

The Lakers have been downright scary this year, amassing a record of 32-9 to easily hold the 1st seed in the West. The Magic, by contrast, have struggled compared to last year. Their star player, centre Dwight Howard, is still the best big man in the league, but he needs to add some finesse to his game. He could also do with some help from his teammates. Not even ‘Superman’ can carry this side to the Championship single-handed.

This game provided another pertinent example of the flaws that exist in this Orlando side. They lead the league in 3 point attempts, and the Lakers lead the league in 3 point defence, so this was always going to be tricky match-up for them, especially at the Staples Centre.

Kobe Bryant was quiet on Monday, but got the help he needed from his teammates

LA came out swinging in this one, as veteran Derek Fisher sparked them off to a great start. They worked hard on defence, forcing the Magic to make the extra pass as they built a 21-8 lead. They also made a big statement in these early stages as they beat the visitors at their own game. The Lakers hit 4/4 from long range, as they held their trigger happy opponents to just 1/8. Read the rest of this entry »

NBA Breakdown

In NBA on January 21, 2010 at 6:05 pm

Last Monday, the NBA celebrated Martin Luther King Day the only way they know how – with a feast of basketball action. MLK Day also marked (roughly) the half way point of the season, and with four of the top teams in action, here’s a breakdown of the night’s games and a run-down of the strengths and weaknesses of this quartet of playoff hopefuls.

Dallas Mavericks@Boston Celtics

This game saw the No.2 teams in the East and West battle it out in Boston, and it turned out to be a perfect example of that hoary old cliché, the ‘game of two halves’.

Boston were by far the better team in the first period, and held a deserved 9 point lead at the break. Young point guard Rajon Rondo keyed the offense beautifully. He regularly committed two or more men before slipping the ball off to a teammate with an open look. Centre Kendrick Perkins and Ray Allen were the main beneficiaries, as Perkins racked up 8 points and 8 rebounds, while Allen knocked down numerous open jumpers. The veteran sniper can still take over a game with his outside shooting, and Rondo’s prompting allowed him to slip into rhythm. Brian Scalabrine and Glen Davis also gave them a jolt off the bench which their opponents couldn’t match.

Point guards Rajon Rondo and Jason Kidd both performed well on Monday night

Boston also did a great job taking care of the ball, as they outscored the Mavs 12 to 3 on fastbreak points, which is usually where Dallas flourishes. Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki can do it all, and he picked up 15 points on 5/9 shooting. He was rarely afforded too much space though, as the returning Rasheed Wallace closed on him every time he touched the ball. Nowitzki never got the support he needed either. Read the rest of this entry »

NFC Championship Preview

In NFL on January 19, 2010 at 11:37 pm

The expected shootout at the SuperDome never materialised last Saturday as the Saints crushed a weary Arizona 45-14. The Minnesota Vikings also strolled to a 31 point win, smashing the Cowboys 34-3 as both sides advanced to the NFC Championship game with ease.

Brett Favre celebrates his Minnesota's crushing win last weekend

It would be a major shock if either team wins that easily on Sunday though

What the Saints did last week was deeply impressive, as they recovered from an early Arizona score to crush the Cards inside three quarters. They did this by scoring on five of their first six possessions, taking full advantage of the three week break most of their starters enjoyed.

This freshness was a stark contrast to the poor Cardinals, who had spent what seemed like forever on the field trying to stop Aaron Rodgers in an overtime win just six days before. Their defence deteriorated so badly that they gave up 31 points to the Packers in last week’s second half, and had already given up 45 midway through the third quarter in New Orleans.

Not even Kurt Warner at his best could make up for that kind of generosity, and certainly not the Kurt Warner that played last weekend. It was always a big ask for him to recapture his Wildcard form, and he was not helped by his receivers fumbling passes and big Bobby McCray serving him up a car crash hit after an interception in the second quarter.

Despite facing a tired team, the Saints were still at full throttle and they will fancy their chances against the Vikings. They rediscovered a bit of devil on defence after their late season travails, forcing three fumbles and an interception, and they recovered brilliantly from Tim Hightower’s 70 yard TD run from the first play of the game. Read the rest of this entry »

AFC Championship Preview

In NFL on January 18, 2010 at 6:49 pm

In the eyes of many, the New York Jets shouldn’t even be in the post-season. At one stage they were 4-6, and even late in the season coach Rex Ryan was under the impression that they were already out of playoff contention.

Then they beat the Indianapolis Colts in week 16 when Jim Caldwell pulled his starters and sacrificed his perfect season, and followed that up by battering an uninterested Bengals outfit who also played at reduced intensity.

That came back to bite the Bengals when they lost again in the Wildcard round, and after the Jets jaw-dropping upset of the San Diego Chargers on Sunday night, Caldwell better hope that he doesn’t live to regret his fateful decision to pull Manning and sacrifice a home game.

Jets corner Darrelle Revis hauls in a miracle interception against the Chargers

The Jets won Sunday’s game the only way they could; with suffocating defence. It doesn’t make for the most thrilling of games, but you won’t find a Jets fan who cares about that. Last week, I wrote that Rivers was prone to the odd turnover in close games. He is usually very careful with the ball, throwing only 9 interceptions all season. But all of those came in games that were lost or won by just a score.

Unfortunately for the Chargers, he did it again on Sunday, throwing two interceptions. Incredibly, the two picks came on consecutive passes, and in opposite red zones, likely causing at least a 10 point swing. Read the rest of this entry »

AFC Divisional Preview

In NFL on January 15, 2010 at 3:22 pm

Baltimore Ravens@Indianapolis Colts

The Baltimore Ravens upset the odds, history and a good portion of the country when they marched into Foxboro last week and destroyed Tom Brady’s Patriots, and they will have to do the same again this week if they want to advance to the AFC Championship game.

The Ravens are one of those teams that you can’t help but admire. They are one of the most physical teams in the NFL, and if there’s any group of players that will relish the challenge of overthrowing the 14-2 Indianapolis Colts in front of their home crowd, it’s Ray Lewis and co.

But while the Patriots were a team with obvious flaws to be exploited, this Colts side have looked almost untouchable for a good portion of the year. They were 14-0 and on track for a perfect season before Jim Caldwell decided to rest his starters. Sure, they had some close games, but with Peyton Manning looking more intimidating than Clint Eastwood with an Uzi, you always feel that they’re just a couple of snaps away from a match-winning play.

Peyton Manning runs an offense that's limited, but still almost impossible to stop

Manning, like Brady, is a sure-fire Hall of Fame player. He needs another Superbowl ring to cement his legacy though, and silence the doubters. This pressure has clearly weighed on Archie’s boy. At times, he’s looked haunted by the ghosts of playoffs past, and he’ll need to play with the bravery and freedom he’s capable of if he’s to break this B-more D.

Manning is a special case, because even if the unit in front of him are under pressure, he still has an uncanny ability to step up and make plays when he looks certain to be sacked. This must drive opposing pass-rushers insane. Read the rest of this entry »

NFC Divisional Preview

In NFL on January 15, 2010 at 2:56 pm

Dallas Cowboys@Minnesota Vikings

The Dallas Cowboys are the trendy pick for the Superbowl right now after ruining the New Orleans Saints’ perfect season and demolishing a miserable Philadelphia Eagles side.

But I’m not convinced.

The Minnesota Vikings have looked awesome for large stretches of the season, but frailties have been exposed in recent losses, leaving them as underdogs in the eyes of many, despite holding home field advantage for this Divisional playoff game.

I think the Vikings will win this, and they have a great chance of finally ending that Superbowl drought.

You see, the Eagles were really a perfect match-up for the Cowboys. They were also away from home and ravaged by injury. But Dallas will not be able to bully this Minnesota outfit in the same way.

Dallas QB Tony Romo still has a lot to prove

For one thing, running inside against the Eagles undersized interior is a far cry from budging Kevin and Pat Williams. This will put more pressure on Tony Romo, who had an armchair ride against Trent Cole and the Philly pass rushers, who hardly got near him all day. When they did though, it looked for all the world that the old Romo was still very much alive and well. One interception at 7-7 could have made last week’s game a very different affair, and there was one other panicked dump which could easily have been picked off. Jared Allen will be dusting off his hurting pads and licking his lips at those particular misfires. Read the rest of this entry »

All Or Nothing In Johannesburg

In Cricket on January 12, 2010 at 8:28 pm

England head to the Wanderers in Johannesburg this Thursday for the final Test of the series, and they have every chance of completing an astonishing victory on South African soil. They hold a 1-0 series lead after the first three Tests, and need only a draw to notch their third series victory in a row, and their first over the 2nd ranked South Africans since 2005.

The home side will be bitter at trailing the series, as they have arguably been the better side. Certainly at Centurion and Newlands they had the winning of the match. But their inability to take 20 wickets has cost them dear. It means they have let England off the hook twice, and after Andrew Strauss and his side found their form in the second test at Kingsmead, they are now on the brink of losing a series they really should be leading.

England prepare for the crunch final Test

To a certain extent, their worries are self inflicted. But injuries have also played their part. The loss of Dale Steyn for the first test robbed them of their biggest threat with the ball, and even when he returned at Kingsmead he was still recovering. The injury to Friedel de Wet in the last game also left Graeme Smith short of attacking options.

There have been some baffling decisions though.

It was clear early on at Centurion that Makhaya Ntini was a fading force, and his retention ahead of de Wet was clearly the wrong decision for the second test. Smith also left it far too late for his declaration on day four at Newlands. Anything over 300 was going to be a big problem for England, and 350 would have been enough to win it. 400 was the mark they should have set, but in batting on past lunch they wasted valuable time, and 466 was overkill. Read the rest of this entry »

Wildcard Round-Up

In NFL on January 11, 2010 at 9:42 pm

Midway through the 3rd quarter of yesterday’s Cardinals-Packers game in Arizona, it looked as though we were snoozing our way to the end of the tamest Wildcard weekend in living memory. With quarterback Kurt Warner and the hometown Cardinals shredding one of the toughest teams in the league and delighting their home fans with a 31-10 lead, we were well on the way to the fourth lopsided contest of a deeply disappointing couple of days.

But Aaron Rodgers had other ideas.

There’s always a worry how playoff rookies will react on the big occasion. And Packers fans must have feared the worst for the future as their general seemed overawed and uncertain on his first post-season appearance. His first play of the game will still give him nightmares, as he broke right out of the pocket, reached the sideline, and then threw a crazy blind pass across his body into double coverage. Cornerback Dominique Rogers-Cromartie duly picked off the pass and Tim Hightower got the scoreboard ticking with a 1-yard run just a few plays later.

Cardinals receiver early Doucet ships a big hit from Packers safety Atari Bigby

Cardinals receiver Early Doucet ships a big hit from Packers safety Atari Bigby

The Pack’s offense stalked back onto the field looking like they had something to prove. But it was the Arizona defence which once again rattled them into a turnover. This time, hard hitting linebacker Karlos Dansby was the one who stripped Donald Driver following Rodgers’ first completion of the day. This set Kurt Warner up for a quick 15-yarder to wideout Early Doucet, as the Cards shot out to a 14-0 lead and the neutrals grumbled. Read the rest of this entry »