The foxes have impressed in the last few games and there was no letting up on Thursday night. What a pass from Tielemans in the build up the third goal from fellow Belgian Praet. Iheanacho, deputizing for the rested Vardy struck a brace to stake a claim for a starting berth but it will take some doing to depose Vardy in the form he is in. Braga on the other hand barely threatened Schmeichel’s goal. With competition for the top 4 places in the Premiership promising to be at an all time high, this competition may provide a route for Leicester into the Champions League. They need to sort out their consistency issues particularly after Christmas. Their over reliance on goals from Vardy may come back to bite them and may possibly need to dip into January market to find a player who can supplement him. No offence to Iheanacho and Slimani of course.
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Standout result on Thursday was Stan Wawrinka beating the in form Russian Andrey Rublev in 3 sets. Stan the man recovered impressively from losing the first set for just 1 game showing his younger upstart he has a lot in his 35 year old self.The key to his victory was winning his efficient conversion of break points(3/5) to Rublev’s (3/6). There was not much in it but it proved to be telling. Rafa Nadal celebrated a milestone 1000th win on the tour with a straight sets win over Australian Thompson. Thompson impressed me with my shot of the day when he was 3-2 up in the second at 0-15. Nadal is now ONLY behind Jimmy Connors(USA), Roger Federer(SUI) AND Ivan Lendl(CZE). He looked much settled after a shaky last match with Lopez.
Who do you think has sparkled this season? Here are my top five. They have been awesome this season
Arsenal have had a retched season thus far. Their main man Aubamayeng has been sub par all season. They have been terrible defensively. They have lost their discipline in matches against the smaller sides and lost crucial points as a result. Up stepped the 19 year old to give Arsenal fans the lift they desperately needed. His transition from left wing back to left winger has been seamless.The Boldeagle thinks his best position is at number 10 where he can influence the game more and get more assists. Of course that means having to bench Odegaard and Emile Smith Rowe which would be very brave of Arteta. He and Tierney are in contention for Arsenal player of the season but for me Bukayo comes tops.Check out his skills. His major strength?When he cuts inside the full back opening the angle for the cross or shot at goal.
Arguably the signing of the season. Is it a coincidence that Liverpool were top of the table when he got injured and during his absence they have slumped to 6th, a massive 19 points from first place City. At Wolves he added something different in attack from Jimenez and was brought to Liverpool for the same effect. He scores goals for fun and slots in that front three of Liverpool when Mane, Firmino and Salah are off form or injured.
3.LUKE SHAW(MANCHESTER UNITED)
When Luke burst on the scene at Southampton eight years back, he attracted a lot of interest from the top clubs. Manchester United won his signature and he floundered in the interim. He went from first choice England full back at the 2014 World Cup to not making the bench under Jose Mourinho(who publicly criticized him). This season he showed why the Red Devils had paid such a huge fee to get him. He has not put a foot wrong(at least not a lot) in defense has been a threat all season on the overlap. He is one of those players that need a jaunt to get him going(if only the hair dryer was around) so the signing of Alex Telles was what the doctor ordered.He is a similar player to Saka, he likes to come inside the full back.
2.JAMES MADDISON(LEICESTER CITY)
This was a tough one for me to choose between him , Griealish and Foden. Maddison takes the spot for the following reasons. He is good on the flank, assists, crosses , free kicks and goals.Grealish is great especially on the flanks and crosses but am not convinced on the goals side.As good as Foden has been this season he is part of a team of 15 or so good players so he has not carried his team like James had on occassion.James is the best dribbler in the England team next to Rashford and second only to James Ward-Prowse in the free kick section(Disclaimer:This article is the sole opinion of the Boldeagle, does not mean Maddison will finish the season better than the other two so do not get your panties in a bunch lol)
JOHN STONES(MANCHESTER CITY)
The Yorkshire answer to Virgil Van Dyk. Last season he looked set to end his stay at the Etihad having fallen out of favor with Pep. Now he looks un-droppable. Otamendi had to leave the club because in honesty he had no chance of taking either John or Ruben Dias spot in the starting line up. City hardly concede goals if he is around. He is handy with goal scoring too(Did you check out his cool finish against West Ham at the weekend). He reminds me a lot of Rio Ferdinand. He knows when to tackle and when to stay on his feet. His timing is everything and more.
This five round bout went the distance. Jaizinho Rozenstruik’s kickboxing background failed to inspire him to victory over Frenchmen Ciryl Gane. The bout was off to a slow start with the only major event being a takedown by Gane right at the end of it. The second saw Jairzinho rocked by jabs, Gane taking advantage of his longer reach. With 2:16 left of the round to go, we can see Jairzinho complaining about a strike by Gane, pointing to his nose. On second glance it looked like a finger poke which is fighting dirty but I do not think it was deliberate. That must have wound up the Surinamese fighter Jairzinho who went on a ruthless offensive, attempting a takedown but was thwarted by the brave defense of Gane. Key to the victory by Gane was his high success on strikes, attempting over 200 and landing 63% to Jairzinho’s 111 attempts and landing 44%. Take a look at the combination of strikes in the fifth and final round with 4:30 to go. Because he has such a big reach, Gane could strike combinations such as the jab and kick leaving Jairzinho unable to react quickly. Gane is now 8-0-0 after this victory.
After a turbulent 3 weeks in which Milan lost to Spezia and Inter and only just scrapped through to the last 16 of the Europa league, the Rossonerri got back to winning ways with a battling performance in the capital. Zlatan failing to capitalize on a fumble by Roma keeper Lopez early in the first half, he shanked a heel kick wide. It was nice to see young English talent on display in Serie A in the form of former Chelsea defender Fikayo Tomori who is now at Milan. It is an indictment to the premier league though, why are so many young players seeing it fit to look elsewhere for a chance at game time?Milan meant business from the off, maybe Zlatan a little too eager and was flagged offside on 8 minutes. When you have Hakan, Rebic and Zlatan in your team chances are going to come your way. Stefano Piolli’s side rattled the woodwork from a header by Danish defender Kjaer midway through the first half. As the half wore on this looked like one of those matches were the teams cancel each other out. Unlike the Chelsea Vs Man United match this one had genuine goal mouth action.
Roma’s Mkhitaryan should have handed Roma the lead after being put through and side footing wide on 37 minutes with only Donnarumma to beat. It is a VAR ref’s dream to have to make an obvious decision like he did to award Milan the penalty that led to Milan’s opening goal. Fazio prodding on Calabria’s foot in the glare of the cameras. The ever so reliable Franck Kessie dispatching the spot kick competently. After the break Veretout equalized for Roma with a finish through a crowded Milan box with the defenders failing to close him down quick enough. Ante Rebic restored Milan’s lead on 58 minutes. A turn and shoot against a ball watching defender was the final nail in the coffin of Roma. Zlatan went off for Leao with another injury concern, father time can be a very stubborn guy.
David Goffin got his season up and running with a tournament victory in Montpellier. He had to play through the pain barrier of a knee injury to win 5-7 6-4 6-2. He had a slow start to the match, broken to love in his second service game to trail 1-3. The set went on serve until Davis broke back with Roberto serving for the set 5-3. David keeping Roberto deep away from the baseline with clinical hitting, the forehand winner which was bang on the line leaving no margin for error at break point 15-40. The gingerly moving Belgian was broken again at 6-5 clearly looking in some discomfort. The longer rally at set point in that game clearly is not what he needed, eventually running out of steam. The time out between sets seemed to have worked a charm for Goffin. He was majestic in net and court coverage breaking Roberto in the very first game of the second set.
Roberto probably lost the match in his approach to it. He needed to make Goffin run more,extend the rallies a bit more stretching David’s legs. Instead Roberto was his own worst enemy. Look at the serve he made at 2-4(15-30). It was way short and was pounced on by the Belgian for a backhand winner down the line. David wrapped up the match in style winning the 10th game to love. In the deciding set, Goffin was handed the break in the very first game, Roberto pulling a forehand cross court hit wide. Goffin served well . His tactic of keeping the points short by serving aces worked a charm(13 aces in total). My point of the match. Roberto serving down 2-4 at break point 15-40. Accurate hitting by Goffin had him in control of the rally, Roberto reeling.The finish was emphatic, a overhead smash at the net by Goffin set up by a forehand down the line which left Roberto with very little court to aim at. Roberto woke up from his slumber next game. Great hitting bringing up the break point at 30-40. The next game Roberto should have won the break but luck abandoned the Spaniard with the net cord helping David. We can say he was still his own worst enemy, pulling the backhand volley wide after the net cord set him up nicely. David will win the deuce game for the victory.
Nicolas Pepe was the main man for the Gunners capping off a 5 star showing at the King Power with a goal in their 3-1 win. Things went downhill for Leicester after the Tielamans goal. Arsenal dominated the ball ,Arteta’s instruction clearly targeting inexperienced full back Thomas(not Partey) of Leicester with special treatment from Pepe. Thomas more often had to foul Pepe. The ref had given a pen to Arsenal midway through the half after Tielamans had brought down Pepe just on the edge of the box. VAR canceled the pen and awarded a free kick instead.
Arsenal would get a more legitimate penalty later in the half. Not before a classy header by David Luiz who equalized for the away side. The penalty award was much more clear cut ,Ndidi stretching out his arm to block a cross. After the break, the fight seems to be sucked out of Leicester. Losing two players with injury who joined the likes of Maddison in the treatment room. Pepe scored an easy tap in after the ball fortunately ricocheted in his favor just after the break. Arsenal pushing for a top 6 finish. Should be an interesting battle with Liverpool and EVERTON for those spots.
Seni final day in the South of France saw Roberto Bautista Agut face Gojowczyk of Germany. Key moment of the first set. Gojowczyk leading 4-3 and had advantage on deuce. The backhand down the line by Roberto just when the German thought he had the point under control, to save break point was crucial. Bautista Agut eventually held serve to level at 4-4. At 5-5 Gojowczyk unlucky to hit net cord whilst in control of the point serving at break point 30-40 to hand the break to the Spaniard. Roberto would eventually win set 7-5. Gojowczyk’s confidence seemed shuttered going into the second set.Roberto breaking his serve in the very first one of the set for 1-0 lead. Lady luck smiled of Roberto again in the second game of the set. Gojowczyk hit net cord again,setting up an easy forehand winner while looking to break back at break point. Roberto would eventually hold serve to lead 2-0. The set and match would go to Bautista Agut 6-1.
He set up a final showdown with Belgian David Goffin today.Davis took on Gerasimov of Belarus in the other semi. After losing the first set 6-4,Gerasimov breaks first in the second to take a 2-0 lead after pouncing on a weak service game by Goffin. You must see the backhand down the line winner by the Belarusian leading 30-15 and a forehand cross court winner to convert break point ,in that game.Goffin answered to going down a break in style.How about that lob at 2-0 (0-30) against the tall guy.Gerasimov eventually took the set 6-2 proving a worthy opponent to the 7th ranked Belgian. Check out my interview with Courtney Lock of Zimbabwe who said Balarus led by Gerasimov was the most challenging opponent he ever faced in David Cup.
On to the third and last set. Goffin broke at 3-3 after back hand by Gerasimov went wide as unforced errors started creeping into the Belarusian’s game.In the end Goffin proved too strong winning it 6-4.
Tadej Pogacar won the UAE tour yesterday but Caleb Ewan of Australia takes the 7tg and final Stage. Ewan beat Stage 6 winner Sam Bennett in the final bunched sprint.Course was a flat one in the desert starting from Yas Mall Island and finishing in Abu Dhabi. Pogacar’s closest challenger Adam Yates crashed at the 41 kilometer mark close to the front of the peloton. He received medical help from the doctors for a wound on the head. He was soon back on his bike afterwards. Great sportsmanship displayed by the other riders who slowed down and enabled Yates to catch up so he could have a fighting chance at the red jersey.
The bunched sprints make it hard for someone behind the head of the bunch to win so it is trivial to say falling too far behind is fatal to chances of winning. Bennett worked well with teammate Morkov just as they did in the 6th Stage. Bennett missing a third stage victory of the tour in finishing second.
It has got to be absolutely maddening if you are a Manchester United fan to see City play a basically crappy game and still come out on tops in the end. West Ham can hold their head high in losing here. They were disciplined in keeping their shape defensively and attacked with speed when they won the ball which is the only way to play against City. Kevin De Bryune had no right to make that peach of a cross with his left foot finding Ruben Dias’s head for 1-0. City for once had not created enough in attack up to that point.Did I mention the attack was being spearheaded by none other than Kun Aguero?Starting his first match in 4 months,the Argentine failed to make an impact and was eventually subbed for Gabriel Jesus.
After the goal,the Hammers almost made it 1-1. Antonio hit the post with Ederson well beaten.Good build up with Lingard at the heart of the quick counter together with the impressive Coufal. They did get the equalizer though. Antonio did get it ,latching on to a shot by Lingard which was going wide. No offside ,he timed the run well. Having gone level at the break, normal service resumed as West Ham began getting sloppy in possession. City got the goal and the winner after dispossessing the player attempting the counter. Mahrez found space to cut back to Dias’s defensive partner John Stones who did not lash out wildly at the ball but calmly steered the ball past Rundolph in the Hammers his. It is a risky philosophy to allow your centre back to go up that deep into the opponents’ box a lot but that is how Pep likes it. It’s now 20 wins on the bounce for Man City and are 13 points too of the League. They look unstoppable.
David Goffin and Roberto Bautista Agut are on course for a finals showdown on Sunday. Both negotiated tough encounters against Lorenzo Sonego and Ugo Humbert in straight sets respectively. Roberto was down a break at 2-0 in the first set the left handed Ugo getting the better of the Spaniard in the longer rallies. Roberto leveled things up at 2-2 dominating the net and he never looked back.How about that forehand winner at 3-3 in the first set, Humbert nearly tripped himself trying to get to it.
Second set Bautista Agut brought out the big winners, especially that forehand is proving to be a major asset for him this tournament. Roberto winning second set and match 6-3 setting a semi final against German qualifier Peter Gokowczyk. The other semi pits David Goffin of Belgium take on Egor Geradimov of Belarus. Goffin beat Lorenzo Sonego of Italy 6-4 6-4. Goffin’s major asset is his speed in movement and how about that forehand wrist action to win match point at 5-4.
The penultimate stage of the tour was won by Briton Sam Bennett of Ireland(his second of the Tour) after a sprint finish at the death.Tadej Pogacar still maintains his red jersey although finishing the stage in 24th place.The crowded last sprint meant there was a risk of a crash so it is a minor miracle that it didnt happen. Tony Gallopin led the early break away in the same group with Alexey Lutsenko who like Stage 5 could not maintain the momentum. Teamwork was the key for Bennett’s victory. His teammate Michael Morkov(who finished 10th) of Denmark broke out with 150 metres to go paving way for Sam to profit.