Speaking of the Hornets, they are one of those teams who just hover just outside the 6th and final play off spot along with the Knicks, Pacers and the Bulls. Despite the loss, they have a not so bad win ratio of 0.469 which if maintained will see them in the post season for 2021. Malik Monk top scored for them in this match with 25 points in a 130-121 losing cause. Golden State blew the Hornets away in the opening half of the match. The Warriors make sure there is always an extra man free for the killer pass inside the arch.So it wont surprise you to note that they were better in the field goal category 61% to 46%. The usual suspects Stephen Curry(29 points) and Kelly Oubre(27 points) were on fire for San Francisco side. The in your face dunk by Oubre with 2 minutes of the first quarter to go, ironically against the Hornets best defensive player PJ Washington(10 rebounds) showed how good Oubre was.
Hornets had their moments too. LaMelo Ball dribbled past Draymond Green like he was not there twice in the second quarter, with 2 minutes and 1 minute 45 of the quarter to go.
The United Arab Emirates cycling tour reached stage 5 with Tour De France 2020 winner Pogacar leading the way in the Emirates. Stage 2 although I did not cover the race on the Sporting Mecca was marred by a mysterious crash by Antonio Tiberi as he finished the crossing line at speed on Stage 2. From what I see Antonio may have suffered a case of vertigo. Vertigo is a described by medical professionals as a feeling of imbalance. From the footage below you can see that Antonio was in a straight line, leaning on his handle bar so it seemed like it was a mysterious crash at best. It is common among cyclists of above 30 years of age so it was surprising to see a youngster exhibiting signs of it here. He suffered a gash on his knee as a result. I am sure the high temperatures in that part of the world contributed as well.
On to the business of the day, Day 5 saw Jonas Vingegaard win the stage. Jonas timed his late sprint to perfection having trailed until the 500 meter mark. Also finishing strong in 2nd was Pogacar who broke free from the pack to finish well.One guy who will be disappointed is Alexey Lutsenko who was in the breakaway for most of the race but did not finish in the top 10.
STAGE 5 RESULTS
1. Jonas Vingegaard (DEN) – Jumbo-Visma, 4:19:08
2. Tadej Pogacar (SLO) – UAE Team Emirates +3
3. Adam Yates (GBR) – INEOS Grenadiers
4. Sergio Higuita (COL) EF Education-Nippo +5
5. João Almeida (POR) Deceuninck – Quick-Step +6
6. Nicholas Schultz (AUS) Team BikeExchange
7. Sepp Kuss (USA) – Jumbo-Visma +8
8. Wout Poels (NED) – Bahrain Victorious
9. Ben Hermans (BEL) – Israel Start-Up Nation
10. Geoffrey Bouchard (FRA)- AG2R – Citroën Team
1. Tadej Pogacar (SLO) – UAE Team Emirates 17:09:26
2. Adam Yates (GBR) – INEOS Grenadiers +45
3. João Almeida (POR) – Deceuninck-Quick-Step +1:12
4. Chris Harper (AUS) – Jumbo – Visma +1:54
5. Neilson Powless (USA) – EF Education – Nippo +1:56
Number one seed from Spain Roberto Bautista Agut made light work of French qualifier Gregoire Barrere 6-0 6-3 to progress to the last 8 One thing I like about Roberto is that he is comfortable on any surface which is more than we can say about a lot of European continental players.The former Wimbledon semi finalist closed out the first set without much problems, helped by somewhat terrible hitting from the Frenchman. Barrere put up a fight in the second set but lost out to a fitter and more experienced opponent in Bautista Agut.
Arsenal’s stellar Europa League season goes on after a hard fought victory 3-2 over former European Champions Benfica of Portugal. Captain Pierre-Emerick Aubamayeng seems to have rediscovered his mojo, scoring a brace. There was a surprise in the starting 11 for the Gunners. Odegaard and Smith Rowe started the match together whilst former Spurs defender Jan Vertonghen, former City defender Otamendi and former QPR man Adel Taraabt started for the Lisbon side. Both sides technically were away as the match was being played in Greece. Bukayo Saka threaded a ball to Aubameyang for the first goal in the 21st minute. The young winger is making a strong case for player of the season for Arsenal.A clumsy foul by Dani Ceballos on German midfielder Weigl earned Benfica a free kick on the edge of the box on 42 minutes. Diogo Concalves bent the resultant free kick beyond Bernd Leno for 1-1. Sunday football defensing best describes the Benfica’s second goal of the evening. Take a look below. Dani Ceballos was having a nightmare of a game and Rafa Silva will not score an easier goal than that at this level.2-1 Benfica after 61 minutes.
Kieran Tierney got Arsenal back level 6 minutes later, beating two defenders to find space and unleashing a heck of a left foot shot past Leite. 2-2 was not enough for Arsenal to go through as they had conceded 2″away” goals on the night and they only scored once in Portugal. Saka and Aubameyang were not ready to call it quits yet. Saka found Pierre-Emerick unmarked at the far post of Leite’s goal, the cross from the right flank by the left footed winger. Aubamayeng had an easy header to send Arsenal through to the last 16 of the competition. 3-2 to Arsenal after 86 minutes and that is how it stayed. Arsenal’s season could be saved by this competition if they continue in this form.
Belgian number 2 seed and favorite to win in Montpellier David Goffin had to work hard to dispatch Frenchman and conqueror of Lucas Pouille, Bonzi in three sets. The wild card’s backhand did most of the damage in the first set. Watch the back hand down the line at Goffin serving 1-2(Deuce) as Goffin was advancing to the net. Decisive break for Bonzi came with Goffin serving again this time to stay in the set at 5-4(Deuce Adv), another back hand this time cross court giving Goffin no chance. Strong serving saw Goffin level the match at one set apiece 6-4. The final set was pretty competitive. Watch the forehand winner down the line by Goffin, bang on the line no margin for error , at Goffin serving down 1-2(0-0). Bonzi went down fighting. Have a look at the point he won when a break down 4-3 with Goffin serving(0-0). Good net coverage by Goffin but he disappointingly let the forehand volley by Bonzi past him probably thinking its going wide. WHEN IN DOUBT ALWAYS MAKE THE SHOT. With match level now at 5-5, Goffin took the match by the scruff of the neck,keeping Bonzi deep on away from his baseline forcing the unforced error and the decisive break. Goffin winning the set and match 7-5.
In other encounters Ugo Humbert of France triumphed in three tie break sets against Dutchman Tallon Griekspoor. Rising star of men’s tennis Yannik Sinner of Italy lost to unseeded Aljaz Bedene of Slovenia 6-3 2-6 6-7. Sinner was a sinner in committing unforced errors in the decisive tie break. He looked uncomfortable coming to the net. The medical time out for a back injury did not help matters.
Champions League refs are the most incompetent bunch in world football. How does a foul outside the box with 2 more players covering for the fouling player in the box , be construed as a professional foul?Swiss International midfielder Remo Freuler was sent off in the 17th minute for the above foul. For the VAR ref not to pick up a possibility of a clear and obvious error is equally shocking. The least he could have done is advise the on field ref to have a second look. It is safe to say there was always one winner from there on. Los Blancos were utterly dominant in that encounter. This was sad to see for me . A match with both sides at full complement would have been something to savor. It is safe to say this is not the Real Madrid that struck fear in Europe during that run of consecutive wins from 2016 to 2018. They struggled to score against the ten men until the 86th minute. The scorer was the player who was fouled for the red card, Ferland Mendy. After Christiano left Los Blancos , Real have been searching for a new talisman. Hazard has been a flop. But one person has stepped up for me. Brazilian Casemiro’s role in the midfield three of Kroos and Modric is unfashionable but has been important in recent games.
Real Madrid attacked the Atalanta at will after the second half. Modric coming close, his deflected shot with outside of his right foot just missing the post. I have observed attack-minded teams tend to struggle playing with ten men. Atalanta proved this hypothesis. Zero shots on target from two attempts all game. Los Blancos were also not exactly proficient in from of goal, 4 on target from 19 attempts. The shocking part of Mendy’s goal was it came from his right foot curler and from outside the box. It started from outside the post and bent inwards ALA a former Real Madrid full back Roberto Carlos. He generated so much power by leaning back as he struck it beating despairing dive of Atalanta keeper Gollini. All hope is not lost for the Italian side though. Real has not been very good at getting results at the Stadio Alfredo Di Stafano with Shaktar beating them in their very first Champions League game of the season.
I got to be honest with you, I watched this match even though both sides lie outside the top half of the log knowing the game that follows this one( Atletico vs Chelsea) was likely to lack goals and I was right. Leeds pummeled the struggling Saints thanks to goals from what I think are their three best players, Bamford, Dallas and Raphinha. Have you ever heard of a 3-3-4 formation in soccer? You have now thanks to senor Marcelo Bielsa. That is how Leeds lined up against Southampton in an attacking formation that is rarely used in the Premiership. The risky formation may have paid off in terms of the result but not without some heart in mouth moments. The formation exposes the wings as well as the defensive midfield error, the risk of being overrun in those areas is there. Tella exposed the right wing of Leeds resulting in a penalty award to Southampton. VAR overruled the ref here saying no contact was made, but there was contact. The least the VAR ref could have done was to advise the on field REF TO HAVE A LOOK AT THE MONITOR so he makes the decision on his own. VAR IS NOT SUPPOSED TO TAKE THE DECISION POWERS AWAY FROM THE ON-FIELD REF. Another thing if Tella has dived, why was he not issues a yellow card for simulation?
In the same half after that incident Raphinha was put through at the half way line in his own half, ran with the ball into the Saints’ box was hacked down by Spaniard Romeu. No penalty. The right foot of Romeu caught Raphinha on the heel even though Romeu left foot got a slight touch of the ball. If that challenge was anywhere on the pitch besides the box that is a free kick, is that not so?Bamford’s tidy finish was typical of the striker, finds space, makes up for lack of pace with accuracy. For me he is a great alternative to Harry Kane if I was Gareth Southgate.Dallas’s left foot volley and Raphinha’s free kick put the matter to bed. Southampton in a free fall which Ralph Hassenhutl should arrest ASAP if he is to survive the chop.
Former Grand Slam winner Andy Murray lost his first match of the year in Montpellier, France against Belarussian Egor Gerasimov in a first round encounter. The match had a feel of a warm up match given the time spent by Andy off court. The first set went to a tie break. Great defense from Egor who was dominant at the net and on his serve. He served 12 aces for the match one of which ended the tie breaker in his favor 10-8. Andy looked spent in the second set, going down 6-1. He was 5-0 down in the set. He only served 50% first serves which was probably why he lost the match. It is wildly important to get the first serve in accurately as the second serve is more likely to have less speed than the first therefore prone to attack by the opponent.
Being a French tournament there are a host of French players in the draw. Lucas Pouille lost to compatriot Benjamin Bonzi in straight sets 7-6 6-2. The hard hitting Bonzi made light work of the rusty Pouille.
Look, I do not understand the logic of making a team play away in the so called “home” games. I understand there is a pandemic and there are travel restrictions in certain countries. But it just seems unsporting to make from Spain play a “home” game in Romania. I mean what happened to home town advantage? Back to matters on the field, Chelsea probably played their best all round game all season in winning against the La Liga leaders. Olivier Giroud’s classy overhead kick sealed the “away” win for the Blues. But not without controversy though. Giroud from my eagle’s perch seemed miles off side when the goal was scored and the linesman rightly flagged so. I do not know what VAR ref was smoking but it sure knocked the hell out of his eye sight. When VAR cannot pick those obvious plays out then the game is in trouble, its better to go back to back pass age. This however does not take away a great performance by Chelsea. The VAR ref will tell you the last touch before Giroud got to the ball was from an Atleti player. I dont think so.
3-5-2 seems to suit Chelsea well. The defense marshaled by Rudiger and Christensen held firm against a formidable threat of Suarez and Felix. Mendy almost made a Kepa like error in the second minute, mis-controlling a back pass which was almost intercepted by Correa. Correa was honest enough to stay on his feet but most strikers these day would have gone to the deck prompt upon the challenge and with VAR around the penalty would have been given. Atleti were restricted to no shots on target the whole game and thats disappointing from their point of view. The Blues beat Atleti in every single aspect of the game last night and the Rojiblancos need to get their heads out of the gutter for the trip to London. I have asked a lot of Chelsea fans about who the best forward for Chelsea is. It is almost unanimous that Giroud comes tops. Why they say? He is a threat aerially, with his foot and defending as well than say Werner or Tammy Abrahams. The only weakness with Giroud is that he does not score enough. But so does Werner and Abraham. Will Tuchel keep faith in him as opposed to playing the younger Timo and Tammy? Time will tell.
The first play of the week of the year 2021 goes to Dortmund’s youthful dual of Jadon Sancho and Erling Haaland for Dortmund’s second goal against Schalke 04 in the Ruhr Valley derby on Saturday. Sure, Schalke are not the force that they once were but that second goal takes some doing.Schalke defender Oczikpa left Haaland all by himself but the Norwegian had a lot to do to be fair to the defender. Erling’s awareness to take the shot first time with the scissor kick to find the bottom corner can only be applauded.Do not forget the assist from Sancho, the England International has come alive in recent weeks after a subdued first half of the campaign.