Monthly Archives: January 2017

UEFA Nations League: An experiment that could go either way


Yeah, it’s a little complicated. Source:

Something that went a little under the radar this week in the world of football was UEFA’s announcement of a new international tournament, the UEFA Nations League.

The basic principle, try to stick with it as it is a little convoluted, is that 55 teams will be competing in four separate league containing four groups in each starting in September 2018. The winners of the groups will be promoted to the next league, the bottom team in each of those groups are relegated.

The four winners of League A will compete in a knockout round called the Final Four, that will take place in June 2019. It will be replacing friendlies during the autumn period and will happen every two years in between the other two major international competitions.

Did you keep up? It’s a lot to take in.

It is a good move for those that hate irrelevant friendlies as it eliminates most of them other than those before a tournament. With more of the international breaks either devoted to qualifying or to the Nations League, there will be less fluff and more emphasis on building a team that can compete at any occasion.

That, in turn, may improve the quality of international football during the season. With more games meaning something, teams are more likely to play strong starting line-ups and that consistency will also help managers in building a proper squad rather than piling up those that did well for their clubs.

UEFA do say in their reveal piece that it will not increase their workload, which is true during the season, but for the bigger teams in the Final Four of the tournament it surely would. While it may take the place of some summer friendlies that would usually occur, it will be much more competitive and for those in nations like Spain or Germany that may get to the finals regularly, it could tire out their players in an already hectic schedule.

It will also be an unwelcome addition to the season for club sides, who will not be happy that their players are playing more competitive fixtures. That opens them up to potentially more injuries during the season and potential to need extra time off after the summer finals.

Whether it is a tournament that really catches fire remains to be seen. It’s not the best idea but it’s also not the worst, with the incentive of performing well in the lower divisions giving you a real chance of making the European Championships rather than the convoluted third-place system for Euro 2016.

However, it will be the competitive nature at the top that will be the real factor. Competing against teams of a similar level will help show a measuring stick ahead of a big championship but will those teams also clamour for the title or will it be a glorified friendly tournament.

Again, only time will tell. The best case scenario is it makes international football a little more exciting overall as it improves competitiveness or it implodes with the extra work load and potential lack of enthusiasm for another tournament.

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Russell Westbrook should be starting the All-Star game


Westbrook is an All-Star starter in all but actually being one.  Source: Bleacher Report

Two players are currently the front-runners for the league’s Most Valuable Player trophy at the end of the season. However, only one of them will be starting the All-Star game, showcasing the NBA’s best talent, in November.

Russell Westbrook has been on a tear this season. With the departure of Kevin Durant weighing heavily on his shoulders, it’s pretty much his outstanding form alone that’s kept the Oklahoma City Thunder in the playoff race.

He leads the league in points per game, averaging 30.6 a night and is currently the only player averaging a triple double, which is insanity. There has only ever been one player to maintain it throughout an entire season, the great Oscar Robinson, which just highlights how monumental that feat is.

Voting ended with the weighed rankings leaving him, James Harden and Steph Curry neck-and-neck. The fans ranked Curry ahead of Harden then Westbrook, while the player’s and media votes put number zero up top, Harden second and the reigning MVP third.

With that, Curry goes in ahead of Westbrook. Is that fair?

No. Curry’s role with the Golden State Warriors has unsurprisingly diminished this season with the introduction of Durant. He’s no longer the top scorer on the team, he’s not the leading assist maker and he’s barely the best three-point shooter ahead of Klay Thompson.


Curry is a great player but this year, he should not be an All-Star starter. Source:

While he’s not putting up awful numbers, quite the contrary he’s still an exceptional player, he’s not killing it night in and night out like Westbrook. All of his averages are down this season, he’s not the key to the Warriors any more but he’s still a once-in-a-generation talent.

That still doesn’t mean he deserves to start over Westbrook. He’s pulling his team out of the mire on a nightly basis, bringing everything he has to get them in a position to win and even when he does go off, sometimes they don’t win.

The fan voting and popularity of Curry got him in over the body of work over the course of the current season. That’s not what these games are meant for, a reward for those who have earned it rather than a tool for fans to see an exhibition.

Some may dismiss it as that but at the end of the day, people still rank players on their All-Star appearances. Those that maybe only made one Finals or failed to get a ring are then weighed up on MVP wins and then All-Star appearances, so it can’t be said that it simply doesn’t matter.

There was a re-jig in the voting system this year after Zaza Pachulia got a ridiculous number of votes last year but it hasn’t worked. It still pulled the wrong names out of the hat and gave those deserving a cold shoulder.

Isaiah Thomas has been on a tear scoring this season and is another big miss but this one on paper is the more blatant. Westbrook has proven he’s a sensational talent and deserved the nod more than pretty much anyone.

Credit to him for saying he didn’t care, which is not surprising, but it will just add fuel to the fire. Fuel to win another All-Star MVP, fuel to push himself to being out alone to win the overall MVP and quite possibly push him to crush as many as he can take with him come playoff time.

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The San Diego Chargers are dead, long live the Los Angeles Chargers?


Ew.  Source: CBS

Philip Rivers summed it up perfectly earlier today in a speech to the Chargers’ faithful:

“I’m a little bit numb about it all. It hasn’t really settled in yet.”

Two days ago, the team’s owner Dean Spanos announced in a letter that after over 50 years in San Diego, the Chargers are moving to Los Angeles. They will play at the StubHub Arena, home of the LA Galaxy, for two years before joining the Los Angeles Rams at Inglewood in 2019.

Unsurprisingly, the faithful that had gathered to Qualcomm Stadium for decades were none too pleased over the news. Shirts, banners and formerly treasured possessions were left in a heap outside of the team’s headquarters as many fans turned their back on a team that scorned them for one final time.

Spanos reportedly tried every avenue of finding a solution in San Diego, with him believed to not want to stump up much of his own declining wealth and hoping tax payers would give him the boost. That did not happen, which is more than reasonable from the citizens of a great city and when the NFL did not come running with the cash instead, Spanos instead hit the eject button.

It stung. Reportedly there were ways for the team to stay in San Diego for now and work at something but in the owner’s eyes, the city had plenty of time to do something but instead decided to sit on their hands.

I feel for the city, even though I’ve never been but I have always felt a bit of a connection to because of the team I support. The Chargers have always been my team but they’ve also been San Diego’s, in fact it’s at least one of the reasons I chose to support them.


The StubHub Center, the Chargers’ temporary home in LA before moving in with the Rams in 2019. Source: LA Times

However, my disappointment will never match their grief. I am sad that I never managed to get out there to catch a game but the fact that they don’t get the chance to after supporting them with everything for so long, it must be heart-breaking.

Also, the badge is super fugly. It has no relevance to the team, it looks too much like the Dodgers logo and it just feels empty. They tried to change the colours but it doesn’t hide it at all.

That’s not to say the previous badge was a work of art but it was wonderful in its simplicity. It was another reason I chose them in the beginning, it was the blandest, simplest badge from such a varied crazy set that I simply fell in love with it.

Now, it does seem to put me in a slightly weird conundrum. Do I stick with the team I supported with the move? Or do I switch after they took away a lot of what I loved about the team in the first place?

Should I follow those players, who have had zero say in the matter, and rally behind them as they move to the same city as the basketball team I support? Or should I abandon them in solidarity for those that lost them?

That wound may take longer to heal than I thought it initially might but Thursday was a sad day for us all. To me, and to many others, they will always be the San Diego Super Chargers.

I have to stop playing that song, too?!? Goddammit, can they really stop stepping on everything I hold dear?!?

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Aaron Rodgers is an unstoppable force of nature


Rodgers is a video game character, that’s the only logical explanation. Source: Sporting News

Rumours of his demise have been greatly exaggerated, yet again. Just when people think he’s on the decline or he’s past his best, Aaron Rodgers proves exactly why he is the best quarterback in the NFL.

Back at 4-6, people were thinking that the Green Bay Packers would not be making the postseason for the first time in eight years and that the offence took a big brunt of the blame. Number 12 wasn’t hitting the strikes he had in the past as he struggled to rack up big numbers to support a flagging defence.

Since then, he has hit 19 touchdowns without an interception, leading his team to yet another NFC North crown and a playoff victory over the New York Giants. After a slow start, it was Rodgers who was the x-factor that turned the game with a quite stunning display late in the first half.

The first magical moment from A-Rod came on the first touchdown pass to Devonte Adams that got the Cheeseheads in front. After some excellent work from his offensive line, especially Brian Bulaga who absolutely decimated a Giants pass rusher, he bobbed and weaved as his wide receivers improvised in the end zone.

With Adams finding a glimmer of space in the left corner of the end zone, the quarterback threw an absolute dart straight into his hands and away from the defender. Without his favourite target Jordy Nelson on the field, his extra options stepped up and he has that special ability to make them better with plays like this that only he can do.


McCarthy is very glad to have Rodgers back at his best. Source: USA Today

However, there was one big moment yet to come. We’ve seen some truly great Hail Mary plays from him in the past, the winner against the Detroit Lions being the prime example, but to do one in a big playoff game is something to really applaud.

With seconds to go until the break, Rodgers used that cannon of an arm he has to launch the ball high in the air from about midfield. There was a little suspicion of a push off from Randall Cobb, although I’ve never seen pass interference called on a Hail Mary pass, but it was just enough for him to bring it in and send the Packers into the break with a big lead.

To many, that could have been the knockout blow but with the Giants down by just eight points, they had every chance to get back into it. That was a chance they took, bringing the deficit down to just a point but the killer blow came just a few minutes later.

Just a few plays later, Rodgers found Cobb in space again and the wideout sped into the endzone after avoiding a few New York defenders. The master gunslinger simply took the wind out of the Giant’s sails in one fell swoop that the away team never recovered from.

It was a truly expert performance for one of the best to ever pull on an NFL uniform. Aaron Rodgers is probably the most indispensable player in the entire league, with his play being so vital to the Packers that with him in the team in the form he’s currently in, they have every chance of winning it all.

The question now moves to Arlington, Texas where his side will take on the young up-and-coming Dax Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys. Can Rodgers perform miracles again? I would not bet against it.

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Is expanding the World Cup a good idea?


The World Cup is changing, but for the better? Source: CNN

This morning, FIFA president Gianni Infantino announced that from 2026, the World Cup will be expanding to a 48-team format.

Sixteen groups of three teams will duke it out for two qualifying spots before the final 32 face off in knockout rounds. There will be a decision made two years before the finals whether ties in the group stages will be settled by penalty shootouts.

So, the real question out of this is, have they gone absolutely bloomin’ bonkers?

Well FIFA certainly don’t think so, as they can’t see any of the anger towards them through the shower of money raining in front of them. With the extra 16 games comes only more need for fans to fill stadiums, more games for television companies to cast and more heavy-duty wallets for the bigwigs.

That’s not to say that any positive is because of greed. The four additional spots for Asia and Africa to qualify are great for two developing continents within the world of football to gain exposure on what is the largest stage.

It’s also another well for FIFA to drain should it take of as well.

However, there are also legitimate arguments against the idea of a big expansion like this, starting with it diluting the competition element of the tournament. With the most recent European Championships a prime example, adding more teams means that some that missed out because they weren’t good enough then will slip through the cracks, bringing the overall football on show down a peg.

That also, unfortunately, includes those extra teams coming from nations like Asia and Africa. When current rankings are taken into consideration, teams like Sweden, Denmark, Scotland and Austria would not make it whereas powerful footballing sides like China, UAE and Curacao would.


Infantino has wanted to expand the tournament for a long time and he finally has his wish. Source:


But then, those heart-warming stories about the plucky underdog can become more likely. With some bigger nations maybe taking it easy or tired from a long season, some small nation may get the chance to stun us like Iceland or Wales did in Euro 2016.

Then again, there’s just as much chance of drubbings that require the score prompter to spell out the number because it’s got that high.

There will also be a big backlash from a number of the big European clubs, filled with international players, who already have to give some a longer rest if they go far in the tournament. With it likely to last longer or attempt to pack more matches into a shorter timeframe, especially with plans to move kick off times for big markets, it will only exacerbate an already strong issue for club football.

It also boggles the mind of the football purists, who can’t even fathom trying to cover that many games in a short space of time. That fatigue will also eventually hit the regular fan too, exhausted from a long club season and a myriad of pointless qualifiers that have even less significance now that when it does come to the summer, they would rather take a few weeks off.

Lost in some of this is the dream machine it will hopefully make for some of the youngsters around the world in some of the most impoverished areas. That may be true and that’s a beautiful idealism to root for but is that FIFA’s forward thinking or a by-product of them trying to expand their grip into new markets?

This is sure to be a debate that will roll on until the tournament, wherever it may be held, rolls around in nine years’ time. While some will be shaking their heads, some like those in FIFA will simply be blue-balling themselves with dollar signs in their eyes until then.

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NBA’s most improved players so far

Easily the most interesting award come the end of the season, the NBA’s most improved player can go a number of ways. It can go to a superstar returning from a dreadful injury, a veteran rediscovering his powers, a youngster making the leap or even an unknown entity suddenly sprining into life. Here’s a look at the three best contenders so far this season:


Giannis Antetokounmpo – Milwaukee Bucks


The Greek Freak is becoming a legit superstar before our very eyes. Source: USA Today

The Greek Freak is really a sight to behold. Standing in at 6’11” and a 7’3” wingspan, a physical specimen that has been spliced with great ball-handling skills that almost makes it seem like he was created in a laboratory.

The small forward always looked like he was destined for greatness in the NBA and it looks like this season will be the one where he breaks out into an All-Star level. Antetokounmpo is the only player in the league to lead his team in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks, showcasing just how big of a factor he is for the Milwaukee Bucks.

That was on full display in the victory against the Chicago Bulls last week, where he notched up 35 points off 13/19 shooting, nine rebounds, seven assists, seven block and two steals. It was a monstrous performance from a man that almost could have made that Monstars team back in the Space Jam days.

In fact, so far this season, almost all of his totals have gone up. His field goal percentage has risen from .506 to .536, he’s up to .295 from .257 from three whilst taking another attempt per game, he’s better from the line, he’s better at rebounding, he’s having more assists and steals while also posting almost seven more points per night.

Those numbers are outstanding.

He’s now become more of a guard too, taking more of a command of Jason Kidd’s offence and it’s paying dividends. The fact that Giannis can also cover any player in the NBA with his combination of size and surprising speed and athleticism, it’s a scary thought that it still looks like he’s not hit his peak.

At 22, the sky is the limit for this kid. With a real leap this season and a team slowly growing around him, there’s no doubt that the 22-year-old is so far the front-runner for this award come the end of the season.


Zach LaVine – Minnesota Timberwolves


Source: SLAMonline

The two-time and reigning dunk contest champion has gone from sideshow act in Minnesota to legitimate claim of the young Wolves having their very own big three. LaVine’s athleticism has never been in question, it was more to see whether his basketball skills could reach the same kind of level.

The 21-year-old has started every game for the first time in his NBA career but it’s the new rotation under Tom Thibodeau that has seemingly benefitted him the most. LaVine tends to play the traditional start of the first quarter then rests towards the end of the first period but he does start with the second unit at the start of the second quarter.

That has allowed him to get in a much better rhythm, emphasised by his big jump from 14 points per game last season to 21.1 this campaign. Not only that, he’s taking almost double the amount of three-point shots and is making more of them, from .389 percent beyond the arc to .417.

When he’s part of that starting unit, he can be another offensive weapon for Ricky Rubio to supply with the ball. When with the second unit, he can dictate things as the primary scorer and has helped the teams make runs that have kept them in games.

That is not to say he’s perfect just yet, he can sometimes be too easily outmuscled defensively and needs to work harder on that end of the floor. His offensive production is masking it a little, especially when he got bowled past by Joel Embiid a few nights ago but Thibodeau will make him better.

He also needs to be a little better with the basketball, as he’s averaging three assists to two turnovers. It’s not abysmal numbers but the fact that he’s second on his team behind Rubio shows that he needs to facilitate for others a little more to get this team moving in the right direction.

However, there is no doubt that LaVine has turned himself into a real player in this league. Not just a walking highlight reel, the former UCLA man is proving he can be so much more.


Myles Turner – Indiana Pacers


Turner is an inside beast thatSource: Sports Illustrated

Roy Hibbert looked like the future for the Indiana Pacers as he became a wall at the centre of their team for precisely about a year. With his fade into obscurity, there were real worries about where this franchise would be heading as they looked to maximise Paul George’s championship window.

Insert Myles Turner, who was good in his rookie season but is turning into a fantastic player in his sophomore campaign. He exploded out of the box with a sensational performance against the Dallas Mavericks, posting a career-high 30 points alongside 16 rebounds and four blocks.

It’s only got better for him from there. A regular starter averaging almost 30 minutes per game, the 20-year-old is averaging over five more points per game, almost two more rebounds and just above a bloke more a game than his rookie season totals.

Not only that, his field goal percentage is up from .498 to .538 but even more impressively is the addition of a three-point game to his arsenal. He takes 1.6 attempts per game but with a .429 percentage, which shows that he’s keeping defences on their toes in the fact they may soon have to close him down and leave where he operates best free.

There is still a little more you’d like to see in his game in terms of consistency. Turner recorded 15 rebounds the other night against the Brooklyn Nets and 12 two games prior against the Orland Magic but failed to hit double digits in the entirety of December, including notching just three against weak rebounding teams like the Chicago Bulls and the LA Clippers.

Regardless, Larry Bird and his team will be delighted on how this young man is progressing. A real part of the reinvigoration of the centre position, he could be a key part for the Pacers for many years to come.

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Why video refereeing will work in football


Mike Dean did not have the best of days on Monday night, to say the least. Source: The Mirror

Somewhat lost among the regular spiel during a match day weekend of referee rants and manager meltdowns was two instances where technology in football made a big difference. In two games, Hawkeye confirmed goals that otherwise were not caught by officials pitch side.

At the Etihad, Burnley clawed themselves back into the game after Ben Mee’s header was confirmed to have crossed the line after a scramble. The other instance was even more significant, with Gareth McAuley’s header against Hull City was not denied on the line and gave the Baggies their first lead in the game.

Both almost seemed like the norm, which is why there was no real talk about it. So, if that has significantly helped football, why can’t video evidence be used to aid referees in a similar manner?

There’s no getting away from it, Mike Dean had a bad day at the London Stadium on Monday evening officiating West Ham United versus Manchester United. Sofiane Feghouli’s red card is very harsh (it has since been rescinded), Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s goal was offside in both phases and with a couple of unpunished fouls, along with a deliberate handball that was given but no booking, it almost turned farcical.

Now avoiding the silly talk about Dean’s enjoyment of the limelight or how he seemed to never recover from the early red card, which all are slightly unfair shots at his character, let’s talk about how we can assist them. Without video evidence, none of these debates would have been brought up in the first place but with them there, there shouldn’t really be an excuse from the footballing hierarchy not to use them.

It would not take a dramatic amount of time to check them, the videos are available for TV companies in a heartbeat and after a few different angles, 95% of decisions are fairly clear cut. With an experience, official either at the game or a team based somewhere, it should be something that any major league or international competition could start quickly.


This goal would not have stood if it wasn’t for Hawkeye in football. Source: The Sun

There have been a few trials at international friendlies, with incredibly interesting results. It was used in France’s 3-1 win against Italy and with the use of VARs (video assistant referees), they helped make sure a Djibril Sidibe challenge was not worth a red card within 10 seconds.

10 seconds. That’s all it took.

Some commentators say that the managers should have challenges as well, similar to the system used in the NFL. If they get the first challenge right, they get to keep it but overall over the course of the game, an NFL coach can only make a maximum of three challenges which is dependent on that first call.

Mixing that in with the referee being able to check things that quickly and it could turn things that can completely change a team’s season into the norm. With everything checked quickly and then given an extra time to look at them because of a challenge would completely clear any doubt over the referee’s decision, although some will still refuse to accept it.

The old guard will argue that the game’s gone to pot and with machines aiding it now, it’s not long until it’s completely out of pub talks forever, but they’ll soon get over it. The sport is continuing to modernise, even if it’s still vastly behind some sports in certain areas, and finally implementing these ideas would really help.

In fact, it will really help the officials the most. For how scrutinised they are, they can only give what they have seen on the field and especially when you only get one shot at it, then it’s almost a thankless task to have an absolutely spotless game.

This needs to happen as soon as FIFA and The FA can get it off the ground. It might seem a little hyperbolic but people’s jobs are at stake in this results-based business and the fact that it could change from the wrong decision should not be a factor in 2017.

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The crazy Christmas schedule needs to end


Southampton have a crazy Christmas schedule that has shown it’s toughness in the last two games. Source: The Mirror

Southampton play Everton today at 3pm.

They lost 2-1 to West Bromwich Albion in the 3pm kick-offs on New Year’s Eve. They played three nights before that in a 4-1 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur at 7:45pm.

Then the Saints go marching into Carrow Road to face Norwich City in the FA Cup before a midweek League Cup semi-final against Liverpool on the 11th. Burnely are then their foes at Turf Moor on the 14th of the first month of 2017.

6 games in seventeen days. A game every 2.8 days. Doesn’t that sound a little absurd to you?

Many will cry out that Christmas football is sacred and cannot be touched. Some will say that English football is a tough man’s game and doesn’t need the siesta seen by those less worthy on the continent.

When you a see a schedule like that for a team, it can’t be excused. In fact, every single team in the Premier League has at least an extra day’s rest than Southampton over the three games this week, a distinct disadvantage both for the now and for the future.


Premier League executive chairman Richard Scudamore doesn’t care as long as that truck of money doesn’t stop pulling up at his house. Source:

That goes for any team in the top flight who could have faced this kind of issue. To those that want to win the Premier League to those fighting to stay in it, they want to play at their full potential each game and that simply isn’t possible with so many games over a short period of time.

This also has a detrimental effect to the product you are watching. Is it any wonder that there will be a few lethargic, uninspiring displays and some terrible mental errors that could cost any team valuable points when they simply could have played them further apart?

What is even more absurd is how spread the games are this year through the period. There isn’t one day where every team is playing, all bowing to the whims of the ever-powerful TV deals that force them to move to their will to cater for their viewing public.

Injuries occur more often when playing in such a short space of time, which must put a real panic in teams that are already short-handed. Fatigue could also set in towards March, when regular internationals have been playing week-in, week-out since August or even since the summer for some, which is only amplified for those from South America who have had long flights on top of that.

Then there’s also the blame that this affects English players in major tournaments. With most of the national squad playing in the Premier League, the tiredness and lack of mental strength shown in the summer at least on the surface looks like it could be down to a long, arduous season, especially with most playing for a Tottenham Hotspur side that had to fight tooth and nail until the very end.


Can a break really help the international side as well? Or is that just more hope than anything? Source:

So, what is the real answer to fixing the clogging of games at this time of year? Lifting the 3pm kick-off ban so that we can have more teams play on one day without a fuss? Or take a few weeks off either after the traditional Boxing Day fixture or after New Year’s Day to refresh the batteries?

I’d actually like for some real hard evidence to be conducted to prove how much it can affect a player and how important a short-term midseason break can be. It’s easy to point at international tournaments and the fact there’s been no English side in the Champions League final for four years, but before then there was at least one representative on eight out of nine occasions.

It’s true that the players and coaches would absolutely welcome a break, which for many on the continent actually means a week off then more preparation for the restart rather than three weeks dossing. It will give them a chance to restart themselves, for coaches to work their ideas into their teams and get ready for the second half of the season.

Whether it will happen any time in the future is the real question. With the TV companies and the Premier League big-wigs probably seeing it as a great opportunity to take advantage of no overseas competition, it would be difficult to see it coming to fruition any time soon.

But seriously, Southampton’s schedule over the next month is a joke. That can and should be changed next year, it’s isn’t fair in the slightest.

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