Monthly Archives: March 2014

The revival of Angel Di Maria

Di Maria has proven just how good he is this season, possibly only Modric has been better this season.  Source: ronaldo7.net

Di Maria has proven just how good he is this season, possibly only Modric has been better this season. Source: ronaldo7.net

Having been linked with a move away all summer, much like now Arsenal star Mesut Ozil, Angel Di Maria has managed to reinvent himself this season and become an integral part to a Real Madrid side that are still in the hunt for three titles this season.

Many expected that he would be the most likely to leave with Gareth Bale joining the Galacticos this summer but it was the creative German that was the one to go. Even then, with the inclusion of Isco and the possible breakthrough of Jese (which has also happened) people felt that Di Maria was an expensive luxury and would be moved on in the summer.

However, the Argentinian has been revived by manager Carlo Ancelotti and not only is he unable to keep Di Maria out of the first team but as shown in the Classico, he can be vital to sparking Real Madrid into life. Changing his starting position from out wide to in the centre of the park has been a master-stroke from the Italian, with Di Maria being more involved in play and that has contributed to his 13 assists in all competitions so far, already more than the entirety of last season.

Ancelotti has masterminded Di Maria's improvement this season, he's been excellent.  Source: mlssoccer.com

Ancelotti has masterminded Di Maria’s improvement this season, he’s been excellent. Source: mlssoccer.com

The position he now occupies is what many may mistakenly see as a number 10 or false number 10, but Di Maria is essentially playing as a box-to-box midfielder yet he is allowed to drift out wide during attacks if needed. This allows him to use his experience as a winger to make the runs out wide and deliver crosses, allowing Ronaldo and/or Bale to be in the box where they are the most dangerous.

What he brings that Isco and also Ozil wouldn’t is the balance that Ancelotti was desperate to find in his team. Madrid has had a lack of it in recent years, their defence left exposed by maurading wing-backs and two wingers unwilling to track back but with Di Maria has seemed to stem that issue with his willingness to run for the majority of a game.

With that new found position has come new found confidence and Di Maria is possibly in the best form of his career. Had it not been for the red card for Sergio Ramos, Madrid may have won the Classico and Di Maria would have certainly been at the top of the list for Man of the Match with his two excellent assists to Karim Benzema.

Isco has probably been hurt the most by Di Maria's rise, having struggled to hold down a starting spot this season.  Source: scaryfootball.com

Isco has probably been hurt the most by Di Maria’s rise, having struggled to hold down a starting spot this season. Source: scaryfootball.com

But what underlined his recent upsurge was the worry when he seemed to have fainted on the pitch. Whilst clearly a possible health concern, he was okayed by doctors to return and within seconds he brilliantly set up Benzema’s second. It’s that spirit that Ancelotti has given him to go above and beyond for the team.

Di Maria has repaid the manager’s faith in him in spades. The man management style of the Italian could be key in Madrid’s attempt at a treble this season and he’s been the breath of fresh air the squad needed after the Mourinho era. He’s stuck by his guns, got Madrid playing the stylish football without as much reckless abandon whilst getting every single player on his side, bar possibly the still isolated Iker Casillas.

But going back to Di Maria, he’ll be delighted with his season so far and will be keen to continue impressing in a World Cup year. He’d be desperate to start for Argentina in a South American World Cup, just as much as his side will be desperate to upstage Brazil in their own backyard. If he keeps it up, Di Maria might be key in the summer too.

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Free Agency and what teams have done to improve

D-Ware will trade the Star for the Orange and Blue, he's a very nice addition to the Broncos and an upgrade on Shaun Phillips.  Source: thesource.com

D-Ware will trade the Star for the Orange and Blue, he’s a very nice addition to the Broncos and an upgrade on Shaun Phillips. Source: thesource.com

It’s been over a month since the Super Bowl, the dust has settled and last week was the official start to the new NFL season which each year starts off with a free agent frenzy. Some teams tagged key players beforehand, like Jimmy Graham with the New Orleans Saints, but many players hit the market to be snapped up by teams looking to improve their teams for the upcoming season.

The most impressive and potentially surprising team in the initial rush of business is the Super Bowl runners-up, the Denver Broncos. Already equipped with an incredible offensive unit, they made key moves to create a defence to match it and take one big swing at the Lombardi Trophy this year. Bringing in TJ Ward at safety, nabbing cornerback Aqib Talib from New England and adding a real QB killer in DeMarcus Ware, the Broncos have gone all in behind what could be Peyton Manning’s final season.

Not to be outdone, the New England Patriots made a few nice moves to match up to their AFC rivals. After losing key CB Talib, they brought in an even better replacement with Darrelle Revis and added a very solid starter on the other side in Brandon Browner. Keeping Julian Edelman was a good move, a man who knows the Patriot’s offence well and with another potential wide receiver addition in the draft it could be Tom Brady and Peyton Manning duking it out again in the AFC Championship game this year.

Adding Revis was inspired by Bill Belichick and it'll infuriate Jets fans.  Source: Sky Sports

Adding Revis was inspired by Bill Belichick and it’ll infuriate Jets fans. Source: Sky Sports

It is unusual this year for the teams with the biggest cap rooms not to go all out, they are usually teams that need improvement but none of them made any wave-making moves to retool their squads. The Cleveland Browns put up a few iffy deals with Carlos Dansby, a good player but paying too much for a 32-year-old Interior Linebacker, and Donte Whitner who whilst talented is a downgrade from their previous safety TJ Ward. They did make a solid move with Ben Tate, on a very team-friendly deal too, but it’s the only real change the team has seen.

The Oakland Raiders were another team with plenty of money to splash and they almost pulled a real stinker paying way over the odds for guard Roger Saffold who then failed a medical to return to the St Louis Rams. They’ve pulled off some nice moves since, with James Jones and Antonio Smith coming in on very good deals, but also some questionable ones like a declining LaMarr Woodley and a real boom-or-bust in Justin Tuck.

While no team made anything dramatic in the NFC, there were some very shrewd signings made by teams looking for that extra push. The New Orleans Saints picking up the best safety on the market in Jairus Byrd was a clever decision, linking him up with promising youngster Kenny Vaccaro is something that must have Rob Ryan rubbing his hands in glee. Lamarr Houston found a new home in Chicago, Tampa Bay filled the Revis void with a great replacement in Alterraun Verner and Arizona added significantly to their offensive line bringing in Jared Veldheer.

One of my favourite players, Byrd is a great signing for the Saints.  Souce: gcobb.com

One of my favourite players, Byrd is a great signing for the Saints. Souce: gcobb.com

There was a few players a little miffed by their releases, with Steve Smith praying he faces Carolina again with his new team in Baltimore, but none had as bigger middle finger as Julius Peppers joining Green Bay. He might be past his best but a year prove-it kind of deal is perfect to motivate a player who will see his former employers Chicago twice next year.

There will be a few nice little moves from now until the draft but teams have restocked where they can so they can focus on what they need to pick up next. Most would recommend not building your entire team in free agency but making small yet significant moves will help your team change it’s course dramatically for the upcoming season.

Diving and how it’s got this way

Boyd is clipped, but is in the air before Hart touches him. So why does he do it?  Source: Daily Mail

Boyd is clipped, but is in the air before Hart touches him. So why does he do it? Source: Daily Mail

It’s a topic that seems to occur every week, a topic that everyone is certain they know everything about and it’s always clear cut – it’s either a dive or not a dive. There’s the blatant dives, there is the exaggeration dives, there are the going-down-before-being-brought-down dives and there is being fouled. With a few more to add to the growing repertoire this weekend, there needs to be more strict rules to define what is a dive, what isn’t and which should be punished.

So the main “culprit” of the weekend was the accused dive of George Boyd where he’s going to ground before being clearly touched by Joe Hart, infuriating the England goalkeeper. It’s one of those where, if he stays on his feet, he’ll probably be brought down and penalty given but he chose not to. “So why throw yourself down before contact?” most would ask but there are bigger questions to fry on this kind of “cheating”, with the big one being is it actually cheating?

As said in the example above, it’s pretty much been agreed that had he stayed on his feet he’d have been brought down and given the referee a decision to make. Hart has missed the ball, Boyd is close enough to catch up to the ball if he’s not caught and that all points to penalty, so why if Boyd tries to avoid being hurt in the challenge is he punished?

Suarez, usually over-keen to go to ground, stayed on his feet this time. Why wasn't it "rewarded"?  Source: Telegraph

Suarez, usually over-keen to go to ground, stayed on his feet this time. Why wasn’t it “rewarded”? Source: Telegraph

That is an if though, he doesn’t look like he’s trying to avoid contact like other divers, so why has he thrown himself to ground with such ease? To possibly explain that, let’s look at a potential penalty that probably should have been given to Suarez at the weekend.

Suarez has managed to create himself some space, running at Phil Jones, when Marouane Fellaini runs back a little clumsily, clipping the Liverpool forward once when he’s entering the box and again later on when Jones almost wins the ball back. He’s clearly impeded, although by accident, and it should be a penalty. But possibly due to reputation, because Suarez doesn’t fall to the ground the referee is unsure if the contact has stopped the Uruguayan enough to give a spot-kick.

This is the real reason that diving is such a murky area within football. If you don’t throw yourself to the ground every time you’ve been touched, you aren’t going to win anything because a referee will feel that you’ve not been fouled. It’s a problem that should be sorted in the rule books, because then you start getting incredibly odd-looking penalties.

Referees, like Mark Clattenburg, need stricter rules to enforce so they can have more consistency.  Source: ITV

Referees, like Mark Clattenburg, need stricter rules to enforce so they can have more consistency. Source: ITV

Which leads on to the final example of the weekend in Everton’s victory against Cardiff, where Deulofeu is kicked on the shin by Cala in the box, with him ceremoniously hitting the turf. The commentator on Match of the Day said that he’d seen them given and whilst they might be a penalty, there’s no need to throw yourself down because of it. Or is there?

It all comes full circle, that’s probably why Boyd felt the need to jump before he was pushed because he wouldn’t win a penalty otherwise. The contact might not have been strong enough to pull him down or he’s anticipated the hit and gone wild. It’s not at all acceptable but it’s the rules that are creating these situations for the players where they have to make these decisions in a short space of time.

There needs to be more black and white rulings for diving, especially in these grey areas. If a player simulates contact before contact, that should always be a booking and likewise, should a player be fouled in the box but remain on his feet, play any kind of advantage then pull back for the penalty.

If the governing body really wants diving to be taken out of football, it needs to be more consistent with decisions and with the punishments dealt. The players should take the majority of the blame but at the same time, the choice of doing it should be taken out of their hands unless they want to be punished. It’s not only detrimental to the spirit of the game, it’s ruining the art of the slide tackle and it’s hurting the credibility of it’s top stars.

It’s good to see managers like Tony Pulis and Steve Bruce take action against their own players doing it and more should follow suit. It might even take video replays or retrospective action to completely eradicate the problem but with some changes that are easier for people to digest, they can at least look to be trying to deal with the diving epidemic.

LeBron James vs Kevin Durant: MVP race is heating up

KD vs LeBron, the fight of this generation, who will win the MVP?  Source: thunderobsessed.com

KD vs LeBron, the fight of this generation, who will win the MVP? Source: thunderobsessed.com

Just as the regular season is heading towards its climax, the competition for the MVP award is becoming a real battle between the two best players in the league, four-time winner LeBron James and the three-time scoring champion Kevin Durant.

Many felt that KD was pulling away from LeBron, with him leading the scoring charts and leading Oklahoma City Thunder to the top spot in the West even with Russell Westbrook injured. However, out of the blue, back came LeBron on Monday when he scored a career-high 61 against the Bobcats whilst also making at least two-thirds of his shots.

Then just when you think that LBJ has made himself the front-runner, last night Durant scored 42 points in just three quarters against the 76ers. We know the two are firm rivals and they are now trading blow for blow in an effort to edge ahead in the race for the best player in the league, so let’s look at how they compare.

"The Durantula" has been sensational this season, even without playmaker Russell Westbrook.  Source: usatoday.com

“The Durantula” has been sensational this season, even without playmaker Russell Westbrook. Source: usatoday.com

Starting with their scoring notches, Durant is leading the league with an average of 31.7 points per game whilst LeBron is at 27.5 PPG. However, LeBron has an incredible 58.2% field goal percentage that eclipses a still impressive 51.0% mark from Durant, so there isn’t much room for manoeuvring there.

From beyond the arch, Durant is averaging 2.2 per game from 5.6 attempts with an FGP of 39.5% which beats LeBron’s 37.9% but he does attempt on 3.9 per game making 1.5. He’s also better from the line, with a 87.4% average on free throw attempts whilst LeBron is making 74.5% of his shots from the line from a lower amount of attempts.

This is where KD seems to start to pull away statistically, he’s leading LeBron is rebounds 7.7 to LBJ’s 6.9 and he’s also making 0.5 more blocks than the two-time NBA champion. LeBron does have more assists with him averaging 6.4 to KD’s 5.5 but he’s behind in both double-doubles and triple-doubles made this season.

LeBron James will go down in history as the best of this generation, but maybe not the best of this season.  Source: businessinsider.com

LeBron James will go down in history as the best of this generation, but maybe not the best of this season. Source: businessinsider.com

The game isn’t just about stats though or the NBA would be played out on paper. LeBron is the leader of his time and if he doesn’t have a good game it usually means the Heat don’t have a good night. His supporting cast of Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade are aging and contributing less on a nightly basis, placing the team firmly on his strong shoulders. He is an athletic freak and a defensive monster, we all know that he’s capable of the almost impossible (see Cavaliers vs Pistons in 2007) but he’s in a real fight for both the MVP award and against the Pacers to reach the NBA finals.

Kevin Durant has really stepped it up this season, which is really something when we it’s regularly said he’s the second best player in the league by far. Without Westbrook for a good portion of the season, he’s been the number one leader on the team and helped them climb to the summit in the West. He’s still got a pretty healthy supporting cast with Serge Ibaka, Kendrik Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha but he’s been the key and when his team have needed a big performance, he’s done it.

In games between OKC and the Heat it’s been pretty evenly split with both winning one game each. In the first at Miami, it was Durant who came out the better with an overall performance despite LeBron having a better scoring day. The second in Oklahoma belonged to James, where he helped his Heat side with some excellent shooting and timely steals. However, these aren’t conclusive with the excellent displays from Bosh and Wade in Heat’s win and big contributions from Ibaka and the bench to help OKC in their victory.

It’s an argument that will go on until very late in the day but for me at this moment in time, it’s Kevin Durant’s to lose. He has been the better, more consistent player throughout the season so far and LeBron will have to pull out more outstanding performances to catch up with OKC’s Small Forward. But in the end, it’s just great to watch these two superstars duke it out and let’s hope that not only they continue to trade blows in the regular season but that they meet in the Finals to really see who is the best.

The face of triple-A gaming is beginning to change

Soulban was the Lead Writer for Blood Dragon, therefore he is awesome.  Source: aenetwork.ie

Soulban was the Lead Writer for Blood Dragon, therefore he is awesome. Source: aenetwork.ie

This past week, the writer of Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon Lucien Soulban told Ubisoft’s Uniblog that it could be a while before we see a homosexual main protagonist in a triple-A title due to the fear that it would hurt sales.

It’s a pressing issue with many of the big sellers involving burly white male main characters and whilst games such as Mass Effect and Skyrim give you various options for gender and sexuality, there isn’t enough diversity in video games.

The positive to take from the last few years is that it looks like some video games have been willing to take the risk on something a little different. Two of the best games of the past year, Bioshock Infinite and The Last Of Us, both featured prominent female characters that were playable for a section of the game (that being the upcoming second piece of DLC in Infinite’s case).

Ellie was my favourite character of the past year, superbly written.  Source: imediamonkey.com

Ellie was my favourite character of the past year, superbly written. Source: imediamonkey.com

Both were excellent characters, not defined by being strong women like some creators feel you need but being strong, real characters that were believable as people. They weren’t just plot points and in many ways served as the central character in the narrative even though the player controlled the male lead. In the case of Ellie in The Last Of Us, she does have a moment in the Left Behind DLC that suggest that she is gay is another positive step, especially as it didn’t feel like it was shoe-horned in to tick some boxes.

There’s another to add to those two who is now the fully playable character of the franchise in Clementine and Telltale’s Walking Dead series. She was the emotional centre of the first season and seeing her develop into the character you play as in the second season has been a superb piece of storytelling on a growing young girl. It makes you feel how vulnerable she is but also how her relationship with Lee has made her stronger and helped her adapt to the dangerous world she lives in.

It’s not the first time that Telltale have gone against the grain, having chosen Lee as the main protagonist of the first season, an African American. Last year we also saw Franklin in GTA V, a series that isn’t too unfamiliar with going outside the norm with characters such as CJ and Huang Lee in previous iterations.

Lee was a well-written character no matter how you played him.  Source: gamerspective.net

Lee was a well-written character no matter how you played him. Source: gamerspective.net

Soulban did mention in his piece that it might take a “bait-and-switch” approach similar to the reveal of Samus as a woman at the end of Metroid or a left-field pitch from one of the more riskier developers like Rockstar, Valve, Telltale or Naughty Dog but it seems like the scene is throwing up new ideas.

Are we likely to get a homosexual central character in the near future? It’s unlikely but a strong team will fill that void at some point. And when they do, let’s hope they don’t make a Call of Duty “you can play as a woman online!” song and dance about it, either.