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Chelsea can thank Cech for Mendy arrival, and Rennes may pay the price
Rennes could be forgiven for thinking they had seen the last of Petr Cech. The legendary goalkeeper's announcement in January 2019 that he would retire at the end of that season turned Arsenal's deep Europa League run into a personal farewell tour that took him back to where it all began for a round-of-16 first-leg tie at Roazhon Park in March.
Cech had impressed in his native Czech Republic with Chmel Blsany and Sparta Prague early in his career, but it was his two years with Rennes between 2002 and 2004 that piqued the interest of Europe's top clubs -- eventually earning him a £7 million move to Chelsea aged just 21.
While he became acknowledged as the best in the world during 494 appearances in an 11-year spell at Stamford Bridge -- winning four Premier League titles, four FA Cups, one Champions League and one Europe League -- before adding another FA Cup in a four-year spell at Arsenal, the goalkeeper's impact at Rennes in those formative years was relatively brief, yet profound.
On Cech's return to the club in 2019 with Arsenal, 14 years and 288 days after his last appearance there, French publication Ouest-France ran a piece with the headline: "Petr Cech, the return of a legend."
In the end it was a bittersweet night for the 36-year-old. Cech was warmly received on a bitterly cold evening in northwest France, but the Gunners were beaten 3-1 and left with a mountain to climb in the tie. Yet Arsenal managed to overcome Rennes 3-0 in the second leg back in London to seal a 4-3 aggregate win and, after seeing off Napoli and Valencia, set up a Europa League final against ... Chelsea.
It was the perfect chance for the goalkeeper to bow out with a trophy in what everybody thought was his final game as a professional, but the Blues ran out easy 4-1 winners. Despite several offers to keep playing, within a month of his retirement, Cech was back at Stamford Bridge as technical and performance advisor and now, aged 38, he's even been registered for Chelsea's Premier League squad amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Wednesday evening, Rennes will renew their acquaintance with Cech, this time in the Champions League. He can't play, as he wasn't registered for Europe, but he'll be watching on with interest as Rennes come up against another of their former goalkeepers, Edouard Mendy, who was prised away this summer to help head coach Frank Lampard rectify Chelsea's goalkeeping issues.
Far from disappearing into the shadows, Cech's influence remains firmly pronounced and there is no clearer sign than the arrival of Mendy.
Five years ago, Mendy was 23 and unable to win himself a contract even in England's League One. In fact, he was on the verge of giving up on his dream of becoming a professional footballer. A three-year spell at Reims from 2016 to 2019 -- where he helped them gain promotion to Ligue 1 -- got him back on track and Rennes came calling with a €4m move last summer. But he was on Cech's radar long before that.
"I've been following him for three-and-a-half years, when he was at Reims," Cech told L'Equipe recently. "At the start, it was [Chelsea's head of goalkeeping] Christophe Lollichon who told me about him, because he had been unemployed."
Mendy has a long way to go to emulate Cech's impact at Chelsea given the latter won 13 trophies in 11 years. Yet the Senegal international could hardly have made a better start, keeping five successive clean sheets and becoming the first Chelsea goalkeeper since Cech to open his league career with three consecutive shutouts.
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Mendy has replaced the error-prone Kepa Arrizabalaga and brought about a calm that has contributed to a promising set of results at home and abroad, with two of his clean sheets helping Chelsea amass four points from their opening two Champions League games in Group E.
Rennes, who have earned just a solitary point after drawing with Krasnodar and losing to Sevilla, will aim to become only the second team after Tottenham in the Carabao Cup to find a way past Mendy since his £20m move at the end of September.
It was a deal that Cech had his fingerprints on almost from the outset, but it also owes plenty to the relationship he forged years ago at Rennes with Lollichon. Cech did not work with Lollichon straight away upon joining Rennes as a spiky-haired 20-year-old, but the pair quickly formed a close bond.
"We felt every time we saw each other that there was a connection," Lollichon was quoted as saying last year in the French media. "Quickly, he expressed the wish that I joined him to become his personal coach."
Cech had already set a Czech league record by not conceding a goal for 903 minutes during his time at Sparta Prague, but he knew there was plenty of improvement required to reach the heights he aspired to. He was impressed by Lollichon's innovative training methods, which included sessions with different-sized balls to encourage greater hand-eye coordination, and expanding peripheral vision by holding up a card as a ball is being thrown and asking the goalkeeper to shout the colour of the card as he makes a save.
Cech went on to keep 27 clean sheets in 78 matches for Rennes -- no mean feat for a team battling to stay in Ligue 1, which they were at the time -- attracting admirers including then-Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson, who made a personal trip to watch him against Auxerre in March 2003 before Chelsea agreed a £7m deal a year later.
Sources told ESPN that Lollichon had been flagging Mendy's progress for months before Chelsea made formal contact. Lollichon continues to enjoy a close working relationship with Cech and, in his role as technical advisor, Cech recommended Mendy to Lampard as a signing to provide greater competition for Kepa, who has struggled for consistency since his £71.4m move from Athletic Bilbao in August 2018 -- a fee that remains a world record for a goalkeeper.
Cech's off-field role is a busy one, but it has not prevented him from working on the training pitches at Cobham with the first-team goalkeepers and even continuing a high level of personal fitness despite hanging up his gloves. Sources at Chelsea's training base describe witnessing regular examples of Cech's enduring skills -- one source told ESPN that they noticed how Cech's performance stats were still "ridiculous," which reinforced the idea of registering him -- although it was still a major surprise when he was added to the club's 25-man Premier League squad last month as "emergency cover."
Ironically, Cech is almost eight months younger than 39-year-old Willy Caballero, Chelsea's other backup goalkeeper, and his domestic inclusion was a sign Lampard is convinced his former teammate is still capable of performing on the pitch.
"It's true that it would have been a professional error to do this if I wasn't at Premier League level, but that's not the way we work here," Cech told Telefoot on Monday. "I know I'm 100% ready to help if need be. I'm fit, and with the two months of training, I've seen I have the same quality.
"Furthermore, I rested for a year without playing football. It really gave me energy, my body recovered after playing 20 years as a professional. If the circumstances put me on the pitch, I'm ready."
Rennes won't have to beat Cech on the pitch on Wednesday, but his impact off it in helping to sign Mendy will ensure that the Blues have the upper hand as they look to build on their fine defensive turnaround.
Sources: Maradona to have emergency brain surgery
Argentina football legend Diego Maradona underwent successful brain surgery for a subdural hematoma on Tuesday after he was admitted to a hospital a day earlier.
"I was able to evacuate the hematoma successfully and Diego tolerated the surgery very well," Leopoldo Luque, Maradona's neurosurgeon and personal physician, told reporters outside the Olivos clinic in Buenos Aires province where dozens of fans were gathered.
"Diego is under control. He has a small drain [to remove fluid] that we are planning to take out tomorrow. His stay at the hospital will depend on his evolution. But the start of his recovery was great. The way he reacted after the surgery is promising," Luque added, saying the procedure had taken around 80 minutes.
Maradona was admitted to the Ipensa clinic in La Plata on Monday with anemia, dehydration and depression. On Tuesday morning, an MRI revealed a subdural hematoma.
Maradona manages first-division side Gimnasia y Esgrima de La Plata but has sat out of the team's training as a precaution to avoid the risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 as he is considered in the risk group.
Maradona, who celebrated his 60th birthday on Friday, was in attendance of Gimnasia's 3-0 win over against Patronato before leaving at kickoff.
He led Argentina to the World Cup title and is widely considered to be one of the greatest players of all time.
Since ending his playing career in 1997, the ex-Napoli, Barcelona and Boca Juniors star has battled a series of health issues. He admitted to the hospital in January 2019 with internal bleeding in the stomach. He also fell ill at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, where he was filmed passing out in an executive box at the Argentina-Nigeria game.
In 2004, he was hospitalised with severe heart and respiratory problems related to a long battle with drug addiction. He has undergone two gastric bypass operations to control his weight and also received treatment for alcohol abuse.
Information from Reuters was used in this report.
Reyna gets U.S. call; Pulisic, Musah also included
USMNT manager Gregg Berhalter has called up uncapped Gio Reyna as well as an injured Christian Pulisic and England youth international Yunus Musah, 17, in his 24-man roster for a pair of friendlies later this month.
The youthful roster -- the average age is 21 years, 300 days -- is comprised entirely of players who ply their trade abroad.
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Borussia Dortmund midfielder Reyna, son of former United States captain Claudio Reyna, is one of 10 uncapped players to make the squad.
Alongside Reyna and Musah -- who can represent Ghana as well -- Internacional's Johnny Cardoso was also given the nod.
Born to Brazilian parents, Cardoso is the first player in 24 years to earn a U.S. call-up while playing for a club outside of CONCACAF or UEFA. Another dual national is Telstar forward Sebastian Soto, who besides the U.S. is eligible to represent Mexico and Chile.
Among the other call-ups are a record nine players participating in the UEFA Champions League, including RB Leipzig's Tyler Adams, Barcelona's Sergino Dest, Juventus' Weston McKennie and Chelsea's Pulisic.
Pulisic had been a doubt for the roster after injuring his hamstring during the warmup of last weekend's game against Burnley. However, at a news conference ahead of Wednesday's Champions League game against Rennes, Chelsea manager Frank Lampard said that a scan of the injury revealed that it was "very minor" but that he wouldn't play on Wednesday.
"We are excited about getting this group back together," Berhalter said in a statement. "I'm proud of the way the players have handled the challenging times -- they really stuck together. We have built a solid foundation, and now we get a chance to continue our work together ahead of what is going to be a critical 12 months for our team."
The USMNT will play Wales, who will be without manager Ryan Giggs, first on Nov. 12 before travelling to Austria to play Panama on Nov. 16.
The roster's average age is 21 years, 300 days. Starting goalkeeper Zack Steffen, now a backup Manchester City following a loan to Fortuna Dusseldorf, is on the roster for the first time 2019. Lille forward Tim Weah, a son of former FIFA player of the Year and Liberia President George Weah, is with the U.S. for the first time since 2018 after recovering from a string of injuries.
Due to the conditions related to the pandemic, the matches will be played without fans in the stadiums. The participants have received an exemption from quarantine provided to professional sports organizations.
The match against Wales will be the first match for the USMNT since February when they beat Costa Rica 1-0.
The Americans have not played on a FIFA date with most of their player pool available since a 4-0 victory over Cuba in the CONCACAF Nations League on Nov. 19 last year. Exhibitions in March at the Netherlands and Wales were canceled, along with the CONCACAF Nations League final four in June and the start of World Cup qualifying in September.
The players will report to camp starting on Nov. 8.
USMNT squad (caps / goals)
GOALKEEPERS (3): Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge/BEL; 4/0), Chituru Odunze (Leicester City/ENG; 0/0), Zack Steffen (Manchester City/ENG; 17/0)
DEFENDERS (7): John Brooks (Wolfsburg/GER; 38/3), Reggie Cannon (Boavista/POR; 10/0), Sergino Dest (Barcelona/ESP; 3/0), Matt Miazga (Anderlecht/BEL; 18/1), Tim Ream (Fulham/ENG; 40/1), Chris Richards (Bayern Munich/GER; 0/0), Antonee Robinson (Fulham/ENG; 7/0)
MIDFIELDERS (6): Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig/GER; 10/1), Johnny Cardoso (Internacional/BRA;0/0), Richard Ledezma (PSV Eindhoven/NED; 0/0), Weston McKennie (Juventus/ITA; 19/6), Yunus Musah (Valencia/ESP; 0/0), Owen Otasowie (Wolverhampton/ENG; 0/0)
FORWARDS (8): Konrad de la Fuente (Barcelona/ESP; 0/0), Nicholas Gioacchini (Caen/FRA; 0/0), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea/ENG; 34/14), Uly Llanez (Heerenveen/NED; 1/1), Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund/GER; 0/0), Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen/GER; 12/5), Sebastian Soto (Telstar/NED; 0/0), Tim Weah (Lille/FRA; 8/1)
Jota hat-trick leads Liverpool past Atalanta
Striker Diogo Jota netted his first hat-trick for Liverpool as they thrashed Atalanta 5-0 on Tuesday in a blistering performance to go five points clear at the top of Champions League Group D after three straight wins.
Jota's treble continued his scintillating start to his Liverpool career while Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane also got on the scoresheet in a superb display from Jurgen Klopp's Premier League champions.
"I don't think anyone could've defended against Sadio Mane, Mo Salah and Diogo Jota so it wasn't about the tactics or our system it was about the team," Klopp said after the match.
Jota wasted an early chance before giving his side the lead in the 16th minute, latching on to a pass from Trent Alexander-Arnold and holding off Jose Luis Palomino before delicately flicking the ball past Marco Sportiello.
The Portugal forward, who arrived from Wolverhampton Wanderers for a reported fee of £41 million in September, made it 2-0 in the 33rd minute, controlling a raking pass from Joe Gomez with his left foot before firing home with his right.
"I'm playing in the best team of my career so far. I don't know if it's the best moment of my career but obviously scoring goals is my way of playing football. I'm happy with this, a great win away in Champions League, a good moment and a good night," Jota said afterward.
Steve Nicol says Liverpool were back to their best in their Champions League victory over Atalanta.
With the home side reeling, Salah scored a super solo goal two minutes into the second half, collecting a clearance from Andy Robertson and running from the halfway line before curling the ball in at the far post.
Minutes later it was Mane's turn to make it 4-0 with a sublime chipped finish before Jota completed his hat-trick with another coolly-taken effort in the 55th for his seventh goal in his first 10 appearances for Liverpool.
Atalanta's best chances on the night fell to Duvan Zapata, who clipped the underside of the crossbar with a superb curling strike. He twice tested Liverpool keeper Alisson with stinging shots and also had a stoppage-time effort ruled out for offside.
Salah almost scored a sixth for Liverpool in the 83rd minute. Once again he ran half the length of the pitch after an Atalanta corner was cleared, but this time his shot was steered out for a corner by Sportiello.
The victory puts Liverpool top of the group with nine points after three games, having conceded no goals. Ajax Amsterdam are second on four points and ahead of Atalanta on goal difference after a 2-1 win away to Danish side FC Midtjylland.
Liverpool now turn their attention to the Premier League and their marquee weekend matchup against Manchester City ahead of the international break.
"90% of my players have three games in the international break, my players are still on duty. After City this weekend it's only me who gets a week off. But we have to recover now and we will need it. Then we can see who is available and City are a different team so we have to make sure we're ready for that," Klopp added.
Rawlings 2020 MLB Gold Glove Winners Announced
- The Rawlings 2020 Gold Glove winners were announced Tuesday night, headlined by Nolan Arenado and Alex Gordon, each winning their eighth Gold Gloves
- In total seven players won at least a second Gold Glove with another 11 first-time winners
It’s been a big 24 hours for hardware in Major League Baseball. Monday night, the BBWAA released its major award finalists for league MVPS, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year and Manager of the Year.
Tuesday morning, BetOnline released odds for said awards, prompting me to immediately dive in with my picks which included upsets in both the NL Rookie of the Year and NL Manager of the Year.
Fast forward to Tuesday night and the Rawlings Gold Glove winners were announced, highlighted by a pair of players who took home their eighth Gold Gloves in the form of Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado and now-retired Royals outfielder Alex Gordon.
Keep in mind the 2020 Gold Glove finalists were determined by a spreadsheet based on analytics as opposed to a vote by managers and coaches who are not allowed to vote for their own players.
Here are your 2020 Gold Glove Winners
Catcher: Roberto Perez, Indians (2nd)
Perez posted 6 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), as per FanGraphs, and allowed just four steals on 14 attempts, good for an enormous 71.4% caught-stealing rate.
Runners Up: Yasmani Grandal (CWS), James McCann (CWS)
First Base: Evan White, Mariners (1st)
White posted 7 DRS and an Ultimate Zone Rating /150 (UZR) of 7.3 in his rookie season as the Mariners’ No.4 prospect. Statcast pegged him in the league’s 82nd percentile in outs above average (OAA).
Evan White's elite defense is already on display for the @Mariners. pic.twitter.com/mXgzAGvNiI
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) July 25, 2020
Runners Up: Yuli Gurriel (HOU), Matt Olson (OAK)
Second Base: Cesar Hernandez, Indians (1st)
Hernandez was worth 6 DRS and a 7.1 UZR/150 in his first season, and possible only, season with the Indians while Statcast pegged him in the league’s 94th percentile in OAA.
Runners Up: Danny Mendick (CWS), Jonathan Schoop (DET)
Third Base: Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Rangers (1st)
The versatile Kiner-Falefa played 121 innings at shortstop and 366.1 at third after catching 586 innings over the last two seasons. Nevertheless, he posted 8 DRS and a 4.8 UZR/150 at third base in 2020 with Statcast placing him the league’s 96th percentile in OAA.
Runners Up: Yoan Moncada (CWS), Gio Urshela (NYY)
Shortstop: J.P. Crawford, Mariners (1st)
Another first-time winner, Crawford worked to 6 DRS and a 7.6 UZR/150 in his second season with the Mariners with Statcast putting him in the league’s 94th percentile in OAA.
Runners Up: Carlos Correa (HOU), Niko Goodrum (DET)
Left Field: Alex Gordon, Royals (8th)
Gordon hung up the spikes after the 2020 season, but not without claiming his eighth career Gold Glove award in left field after coming up the Royals’ system as a third baseman. He posted 1 DRS and an 11.1 UZR/150 while ranking in the league’s 74th percentile in outfield jump, but strangely just 11th percentile in OAA.
Runners Up: Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (TOR), Kyle Tucker (HOU)
Center Field: Luis Robert, White Sox (1st)
Robert wins a Gold Glove in his rookie season, posting 8 DRS and 8.6 UZR/150 while ranking in the league’s 99th percentile in OAA and 70th in outfielder jump.
LUIS ROBERT WHAT A CATCH pic.twitter.com/72Kk39b1t2
— Starting 9 (@Starting9) September 6, 2020
Runners Up: Byron Buxton (MIN), Ramon Laureano (OAK)
Right Field: Joey Gallo, Rangers (1st)
Gallo slumped at the plate in 2020, but took home his first Gold Glove by way of his elite 12 DRS and 16.9 UZR/150 while ranking in the league’s 89th percentile in OAA and 95th in outfielder jump.
Runners Up: Clint Frazier (NYY), Anthony Santander (BAL)
Pitcher: Griffin Canning, Angels (1st)
Canning posted 3 DRS in 2020 to go along with a .938 fielding percentage and recorded just one error on the season.
Runners Up: Kenta Maeda (MIN), Zach Plesac (CLE)
Catcher: Tucker Barnhart, Reds (2nd)
He played in just 38 games, but Barnhart was elite behind the plate, posting 9 DRS and throwing out 36.3% of his base runners while ranking in the league’s 77th percentile in terms of pitch framing.
Runners Up: Willson Contreras (CHC), Jacob Stallings (PIT)
First Base: Anthony Rizzo, Cubs (4th)
Rizzo wins his fourth Gold Glove thanks to 3 DRS, an 10.1 UZR/150, but Statcast was not nearly as pleased, placing him the league’s 20th percentile in OAA.
Runners Up: Brandon Belt (SF), Paul Goldschmidt (STL)
Second Base: Kolten Wong, Cardinals (2nd)
Despite seeing his optioned declined, Wong wins his second career Gold Glove thanks to posting 6 DRS and a 7.5 UZR/150 and ranking in the league’s 82nd percentile in OAA.
Kolten Wong just missed a two-run HR in extras, but he already saved the game with this play
Absolute magician on defensepic.twitter.com/DkxNGGXo10
— Sean Zerillo (@SeanZerillo) September 14, 2020
Runners Up: Adam Frazier (PIT), Nico Hoerner (CHC)
Third Base: Nolan Arenado, Rockies (8th)
Arenado not only wins his eighth Gold Glove, but his eighth straight, otherwise known as every year he’s been in the league. He posted a massive 15 DRS, 15.5 UZR/150 and ranked in the 99th percentile in OAA.
Runners Up: Brian Anderson (MIA), Manny Machado (SD)
Shortstop: Javier Baez, Cubs (1st)
Interestingly, this is Baez’s first Gold Glove after he posted 7 DRS and a 1.7 UZR/150, but also ranked in the league’s 94th percentile in OAA.
Runners Up: Miguel Rojas (MIA), Dansby Swanson (ATL)
Left Field: Tyler O’Neil, Cardinals (1st)
Perhaps one of the more underrated outfielders in the game, O’Neill posted 9 DRS and a 15.4 UZR/150 in 2020, also ranking in the league’s 94th percentile in OAA and 70th in outfielder jump.
Runners Up: Shogo Akiyama (CIN), David Peralta (ARI)
Center Field: Trent Grisham, Padres (1st)
Grisham wins his first Gold Glove in his first season with the Padres, posting 7 DRS, a monster 21.1 UZR/150, a 99th ranking in OAA and 89th in outfielder jump.
Runners Up: Ronald Acuna Jr. (ATL), Cody Bellinger (LAD)
Right Field: Mookie Betts, Dodgers (5th)
Betts wins his fifth straight Gold Glove in his first season in Dodger blue, turning in 11 DRS and a 15.9 UZR/150 while ranking in the league’s 96th percentile in OAA and 81st in outfielder jump.
Mookie Betts. Again. Spectacular defensive gem to rob Freddie Freeman of a home run. pic.twitter.com/XEBeEtrHhl
— Positive Residual (@presidual) October 19, 2020
Runners Up: Charlie Blackmon (COL), Kole Calhoun (ARI), Jason Heyward (CHC)
Pitcher: Max Fried, Braves (1st)
Fried earns in his first Gold Glove as the team’s 2020 ace, working to 5 DRS, 15 assists and a .941 fielding percentage with just one error on the season.
Runners Up: Kyle Hendricks (CHC), Alex Mills (CHC)
Brady-Gronk Tandem Moves To 2nd Place in All-Time TD List
- Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski have connected on a total of 93 career touchdowns.
- Brady is having an MVP season in Tampa Bay while Gronkowski is starting to look good as well.
- The 7-2 Bucs are the new betting favorites to win the NFC Conference this season.
Tom Brady to Rob Gronkowski, touchdown! How many times have we heard that line before?
During Monday night’s game against the New York Giants, that connection produced the first of two touchdowns that helped the Tampa Bay Buccaneers come from 14-3 down to beat the Giants 25-23 for their sixth win of the season against only two defeats.
.@RobGronkowski and @TomBrady connect for touchdown 9️⃣3️⃣.
Stars’ Seguin, Bishop Out 5 Months After Surgeries
- Stars center Tyler Seguin has underwent a right hip arthroscopy and labral repair on November 2 and is expected to miss five months
- Stars goaltender Ben Bishop underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee on October 21 and is also expected to miss roughly five months
- Announcements from the Stars have yet to shift odds, but certainly diminish the value of current 2021 Stars odds
The NHL is targeting a January 1 start date for the 2020-21 season, but pair of valuable members of the Dallas Stars will remain sidelined for much of the season despite the start date still being nearly two months away.
Such a happening would appear to severely diminish the value of current Stars odds in terms of the 2021 Stanley Cup and Western Conference after the club made a relatively surprising run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2020.
Seguin Repairs Hip, Out Roughly 5 Months
Only the Columbus Blue Jackets sported an inferior offense to that of the Dallas Stars among the 24 teams that qualified for the expanded playoff format this past season.
As a result, the Stars can ill afford to lose a key member to what is already an anemic offense, but a Tuesday announcement from the team revealed the news that was widely rumored to be on the verge of taking place.
Tyler Seguin, the Stars’ leading point-getter by a wide margin last season, underwent hip surgery to repair a torn labrum on November 2 and is set to miss roughly five months. That timeline would peg his return somewhere around the beginning of April, three months after the NHL plans to begin it’s regular season.
The 28-year-old Seguin led the Stars with 50 points in 69 games last season, 11 points clear of his next-closest teammate Jamie Benn who notched just 39 points on the season.
It was a crazy @EASPORTSNHL OT before Tyler Seguin put an end to it with his game-winning goal. #DALvsTBL | #GoStars pic.twitter.com/pecOdGtus0
— Dallas Stars (@DallasStars) December 20, 2019
It was the second consecutive season Seguin has paced the Stars in scoring as their offense has progressively tailed off over the last few seasons. The team ranked 26th with just 2.58 goals per game last season.
Seguin is not only the team’s top offensive player, but their top center, leaving a massive hole atop the lineup at the most important position in the forward ranks. Joe Pavelski, Roope Hintz, Jason Dickinson and Radek Faksa are candidates to help fill the void, otherwise the free agent market is dried up down the middle, leaving a trade as the only viable upgrade option at this point should the Stars wish to explore that avenue.
Seguin has otherwise been quite durable in his career, having not missed a single regular-season game in each of the last four seasons.
Bishop Repairs Knee, Also Out 5 Months
The Stars received some of the best goaltending in the league over the last couple of seasons, but one half of their elite tandem is also set to miss significant time this season.
Ben Bishop underwent knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee on October 21, and is also expected to miss about five months. That timeline would put him near the end of March if all goes to plan.
Bishop appeared in just three postseason games for the Stars after the league’s return to action, getting shelled for a 5.43 GAA and .844 Sv% in that time. Otherwise, he was deemed “unfit to play” and Anton Khudobin was thrust into action.
Unlike Seguin, Bishop has had a tough time staying healthy of late, failing to appear in 50 regular-season games in each of the last two seasons. That said, he’s arguably been the best goaltender in the league when healthy over that time, ranking first with a 2.23 GAA and .927 Sv% among goaltenders with at least 80 games played over the last two campaigns.
Just @Benbishop30 doing Ben Bishop things… like grabbing a 27-save @pepsi shutout. pic.twitter.com/pnedhM1HVD
— NHL (@NHL) January 10, 2020
The good news for the Stars is that Khudobin is tied for second with a .926 Sv% and ranks sixth with a 2.42 GAA among goaltenders with at least 70 games played in that same span. Khudobin was excellent for the Stars in Bishop’s absence this postseason, posting a 2.69 GAA and .917 Sv% in 25 postseason appearances on the heels of a regular season in which he turned in a 2.22 GAA and .930 Sv%, numbers that ranked second and first, respectively, among netminders who appeared in at least 30 regular-season games.
Khudobin, a schedule unrestricted free agent this offseason, inked a three-year, $10M extension to remain with the Stars in lieu of testing the open market.
Stars 2021 Futures Values Decline
We’ve yet to see an odds shift given the news released on Tuesday, but there’s little doubt that the Stars’ 2021 futures have diminished in value.
As per BetOnline, the Stars sit at +2000 to win the 2021 Stanley Cup and +1000 to win the Western Conference behind only the Avalanche and Golden Knights who are heavy co-favorites at +375.
The offensive output was a concern to begin with, but without their scoring leader and No.1 center, it will be interesting to see if Dallas’ stout defense will be enough to consistently win games despite an offense that could fall dangerously near the bottom of the NHL.
The goaltending situation isn’t as dire with Khudobin set for the No.1 job, but he’s never been a No.1 goaltender and has a career-high of 41 games played from the 2018-19 season. It’s likely to be a shortened regular season, a benefit to the Stars’ situation – but it will also be a condensed schedule with rest needed for the 34-year-old veteran.
That means notable work for 21-year-old Jake Oettinger, the team’s 2017 first-round pick. Oettinger appeared in two postseason games for the Stars in relief of Khudobin, turning aside all eight shots he faced.
The Boston University alum posted a solid 2.57 GAA and .917 Sv% in 38 AHL contests with the Texas Stars in 2019-20, but needless to say the Stars will absolutely require Khudobin to stay healthy to avoid a worst-case scenario of having the wildly inexperienced Oettinger having to carry the bulk of the load until Bishop’s return late in the regular season.
Needless to say, I’m avoiding Stars futures at all costs.
Berhalter looks to USMNT's future with exciting young squad
There are moments when the focus of an international manager veers decidedly toward near-term concerns. Who is in form? Who is fit? Who is the next opponent? But there are also those occasions when a manager can allow him or herself to scan the horizon and look to the future.
In the case of United States men's national team manager Gregg Berhalter, this is decidedly one of those occasions. The 24-man roster he announced on Tuesday for matches against Wales on Nov. 12 and Panama four days later features 19 players who are age-eligible for the 2021 Olympics and 14 who are 20 years old or younger. This group's youth and its corresponding potential makes this squad among the most tantalizing in recent memory.
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The roster has some names that, at least publicly, have only recently appeared on the national team radar. The most intriguing is that of Yunus Musah.
The 17-year-old winger was born in New York, plays for Valencia, scored his first professional goal last weekend, and is a product of Arsenal's academy. He's played for England's youth national teams -- although not in official competition, meaning he doesn't have to file a one-time switch to represent the U.S. -- and is eligible to represent Ghana as well. Credit, then, to U.S. Soccer Federation sporting director Earnie Stewart, U.S. men's national team GM Brian McBride and Berhalter for jumping on the opportunity to bring in a player that Berhalter said the USSF has been tracking for 18 months. And yes, much like the U.S. did with Sergino Dest when he was deciding his international future, this is as much a recruiting trip as anything.
"What we see from [Musah] is a player that's hungry, he's hungry to make his impact," said Berhalter. "He has a connection with the United States. He loves the direction the team is going in. He loves the young talent that he can be alongside. And we see him as having a ton of potential. And for us, it's about getting him on the field with us, letting him experience how we work as a group, how we work as a staff, [and getting] him in the team environment that we're able to create, and then all we can do is hope that in the end, he chooses us for the long term."
It's not just a question of Musah choosing. Berhalter will be doing some choosing of his own.
"One thing I'm always careful about is, I want to know the player's connection to the United States in terms of: Do they feel it in their heart?" he said. "Do they feel like they want to be part of this team? Do they feel a connection to the United States? Because that's really important. We also want to create a team that has a deep passion for representing our country."
Then there are the likes of Internacional holding midfielder Johnny Cardoso, Wolverhampton Wanderers midfielder Owen Otasowie and Caen forward Nicholas Gioacchini. Cardoso has been called in for a couple of U23 camps, and is one of those out-of-nowhere players to whom fans latch on. He is the first player in 24 years to earn a national team call-up while playing for a club outside of CONCACAF or UEFA. Cobi Jones last did it, earning a call-up to the 1996 CONCACAF Gold Cup while playing for Vasco da Gama.
To a large degree, this is all part of a roster's natural progression. Thirteen players in this squad have represented the U.S. at a youth World Cup, including six at last year's U20 tournament.
There's also the chance to get another dual national -- or in this case, triple national -- into the fold in Sebastian Soto. Names like Dest, Chris Richards, Alex Mendez and Ulysses Llanez have been on the minds of fans for some time now. Now that the quartet is breaking into their respective first teams, the time is right to take the next steps at the international level.
There's even a "Man Who Came in From the Cold" aspect to the roster, as Lille attacker Timothy Weah makes a return after dealing with injuries for much of the past year.
Granted, Berhalter isn't looking exclusively to the future. It has been nearly a year since anything close to his first-choice group has been together, so the November get-together will be an all-too-rare opportunity to see some first-choice players up close. That's even more so the case with the triumvirate of Christian Pulisic, Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie, who have shared the field for just 62 minutes since the start of 2019.
Alas, that dynamic could continue as Pulisic suffered a hamstring injury while warming up last weekend for Chelsea's match against Burnley. Blues boss Frank Lampard said that the injury is "very minor" but given Pulisic's injury history, it seems there is more than a decent chance the U.S. attacker will miss out.
Pulisic's possible absence is mitigated by the presence of 17-year-old Giovanni Reyna. In a world without COVID-19, Reyna would have long since made his debut given his performances for Borussia Dortmund. Now that wait is almost certain to give way to actual minutes on the field alongside Adams and McKennie.
"I think we should be able to be very aggressive offensively, getting behind the opponent, really putting the opponent on their heels," Berhalter said. "And those are things that we need to just work on because we haven't been together with this group often. Tyler's played one game for us since I've taken over. So it's just about getting them on the field playing together, getting them comfortable with each other."
With several competitions scheduled for 2021, including World Cup qualifying, the time is now to get that chemistry established.
Valentina Shevchenko Calls For Third Fight With Amanda Nunes
- Valentina Shevchenko is calling for a third fight against Amanda Nunes.
- Nunes beat Shevchenko at UFC 196 and at UFC 215.
- The UFC 215 win though was debatable, and Shevchenko has valid claims that she was robbed.
Valentina Shevchenko has ascended as one of the premier fighters in the UFC. The 32-year old Kgrystani-Peruvian fighter is the current UFC women’s flyweight champion. Bullet won the inaugural women’s flyweight belt at UFC 231 when she dominated former UFC women’s strawweight champion Joana Jedrzejczyk in a five round striking battle.
Since winning the belt, Shevchenko has successfully defended the title three times. She knocked out Jessica Eye with a spectacular head kick at UFC 238, decisioned veteran Liz Carmouche at UFC on ESPN +14 in August 2019, and then knocked out Katlyn Chookagian at UFC 247 last February.
Massive Favorite To Retain Her Title
With Shevchenko repulsing one contender after another with relative ease, she has earned her spot as the third best female pound for pound fighter in the promotion behind women’s bantamweight and lightweight champion Amanda Nunes and UFC women’s strawweight champion Weili Zhang.
Shevhenko is scheduled to defend her title for the fourth time against 3rd ranked Jennifer Maia at UFC 255 on November 22. But the oddsmakers aren’t giving her next challenger a shot at beating her. According to SportsBetting.ag, Bullet is a massive -1200 to keep her belt against Maia who is currently listed as a heavy +800 underdog. If the oddsmakers are correct, Shevcehnko would be leaving UFC 255 with the belt around her waist and looking for her next challenge.
Valentina was a guest at Hablemos MMA earlier this week, and called for a third fight with Amanda Nunes in the future.
On this week’s episode of @HablemosMMA, UFC women’s flyweight champ @BulletValentina told me she’d be interested in a trilogy fight with Amanda Nunes.
“It would be very logical to have that third fight between us.”
Full story: https://t.co/fccPtm7ONu
— Danny Segura (@dannyseguratv) November 2, 2020
Controversial Second Fight
Valentina Shevchenko on UFC 215 loss to Amanda Nunes: ‘3 rounds out of 5, I definitely won’ https://t.co/CY6vfwEKaR
— Bloody Elbow (@BloodyElbow) September 14, 2017
Nobody questions Nunes’ win over Shevchenko when they first met at UFC 196, but even then, Shevchenko finished strong and challenged the Lioness like no other opponent before. That strong finish was one of the reasons why they fought again, at UFC 215 three years ago. Now that fight was an entirely different story.
Nunes won the fight by split decision with judges Sal D’Amato and David Therien scoring the bout 48-47 in favor of Nunes and Tony Weeks scoring it 48-47 in favor of Shevchenko. Now that itself is an indication of how close the fight was. If you take a closer look at the scorecards, only the first round was the one that all three judges agreed upon.
Two judges gave Shevchenko rounds two to four and two also gave Nunes the fifth round. So if Shevhenko won three rounds, why did Nunes win? In a 10-point must system, the scores are tallied per judge, not per round. In this fight, D’Amato and Therien had Nunes winning three rounds each so she won, but disputedly.
Again, if you examine the scorecards, Nunes pulled off the win by taking Round 5 which D’Amato and Therien gave her. But if you look at the stats in that round, Shevchenko outstruck Nunes 14-4 in significant strikes. However, because Nunes landed a takedown which interestingly was initiated by Shevchenko but went the wrong way, the judges gave Nunes the round, even if she didn’t land any significant strike from her dominant position.
Logical Third Fight?
Valentina Shevchenko Believes She Beat Amanda Nunes at UFC 215, Wants Trilogy Fight https://t.co/5m8OVBxq1p #AmandaNunes #ValentinaShevchenko via @MiddleEasy
— MiddleEasy (@MiddleEasy) November 3, 2020
We can argue with so many points that Shevchenko won that bout. Because if you put a different set of judges to score that fight, the scores could have been different and it wouldn’t be a surprise if Valentina won the fight.
They say to win a title one must take the belt from the champion. It’s arguable that Valentina Schevchenko beat Amanda Nunes on points at UFC 215. But it wasn’t decisive enough to take the belt away from her. Shevchenko is now the UFC women’s flyweight champion with three successful title defenses. Perhaps the judges will score a third fight differently.
There’s no doubt that Nunes is one of the best female mixed martial artists of all-time, if not the greatest. She is the first two-division women’s champion in UFC history and the first to successfully defend both titles. She doesn’t need to beat Valentina Shevchenko a third time to secure her legacy. But fans wouldn’t mind these two champions settling their score once and for all.
Chelsea vs Rennes Betting Preview & Tips
CHELSEA welcome Rennes to Stamford Bridge on Wednesday in the Champions League. Daniel McCulloch (@DMcCulloch1984) shares his favourite fancies.
Chelsea vs Rennes | Wednesday 4th November 2020, 20:00 | BT Sport
In a similar way to recent results refining my view on Manchester City, goals in Chelsea games have also dried up. Since the 3-3 draw with Southampton (in which Kepa was in goal) Chelsea are yet to concede in four matches, with Burnley failing to register a shot on target in a 3-0 victory for Frank Lampard’s side at the weekend.
Chelsea are yet to concede a goal in their two Champions League matches – a 0-0 draw with Sevilla followed by a 4-0 victory against FK Krasnador.
Their opponents on Wednesday night, Rennes, do need to get something at Stamford Bridge having only managed one point and one goal from their two matches. Still, they have only lost one game in nine Ligue 1 matches so they go in to this match with some confidence.
That being said, I don’t expect them to take the game to Chelsea. They have rarely shown themselves to be an attacking force in Europe in recent years. Last season in a Europa League group featuring Lazio, Cluj and Celtic they managed just five goals in six matches (although they did only concede eight) and as stated earlier they have only managed one in their two matches so far.
Ultimately, I expect Chelsea to have too much for their French opponents but will repeat my bet from the Manchester City game and back Chelsea to win and under 3.5 goals. That is available at 6/5 with Boylesports. A fortnight ago I would have avoided such a bet but Chelsea look far more solid at the back at the minute, so this gets my vote.
Chelsea vs Rennes – Chelsea to win and Under 3.5 Goals (6/5 Boylesports)
Ramos hits 100, but Madrid ride their luck vs. Inter
Sergio Ramos scored his 100th goal for Real Madrid as they beat Internazionale 3-2 on Tuesday night to maintain their chances of qualifying from Champions League Group B.
A busy first half saw Marco Asensio have a shot tipped over the bar by keeper Samir Handanovic with just three minutes played, before Nicolo Barella hit the woodwork with a header and Arturo Vidal fired into the side netting. Karim Benzema opened the scoring, pouncing on Achraf Hakimi's poor back-pass, and Ramos doubled Madrid's lead with a header from Toni Kroos' corner. Lautaro Martinez pulled a goal back a minute later after Barella's backheel flick.
After the break, Inter equalised through Ivan Perisic before substitutes Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo combined for a late Madrid winner.
Madrid's hopes of making it through to the knockout stage were looking slim after their 3-2 defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk two weeks ago and going 2-0 down at Borussia Monchengladbach last week. They fought back to get a point in Germany, and this win, against their strongest group rival, puts them in a much better position.
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The reaction after Inter fought back to 2-2 was impressive, with Vinicius and Rodrygo providing some energy and cutting edge off the bench. The latter now has five goals in eight Champions League appearances and is a very useful plan B for coach Zinedine Zidane.
Real Madrid have conceded two or more goals in their past five Champions League matches, and they haven't kept a clean sheet in their past six games in all competitions. Going 2-0 up early on, they should have been able to go on and win this one comfortably. Instead, it was a much more difficult, hard-fought victory. The team need to find a way to tighten up at the back or they stand no chance of winning the Champions League this season.
Manager rating out of 10
7 -- The match saw Zidane face friend and former teammate Antonio Conte, a coach Real Madrid almost appointed in 2018. The two managers could not be more different in style and approach: Zidane the laid-back man-manager versus Conte the fiery disciplinarian.
Zidane made two changes from the team that beat Huesca in La Liga, both expected, with Ferland Mendy replacing Marcelo and Kroos coming in for Luka Modric. With the exception of the injured Dani Carvajal, this is now Zidane's preferred big-game eleven. The team started well, helped out by a generous Inter at the back, and then let the visitors back into it, before Zidane's double change paid off.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Thibaut Courtois, 6 -- Saved from Martinez early on. Could do nothing about either of the Inter goals. Courtois needs more protection from his defence.
DF Lucas Vazquez, 6 -- Fit after coming off injured at the weekend, and went up against Ashley Young. Got forward frequently, overlapping Asensio. Caught badly by Vidal, who was booked, before half-time.
DF Raphael Varane, 7 -- One well-timed interception to steal the ball from Martinez in the first half, but left the same player too much space for his goal. Looks better with Ramos alongside him, as he admitted pre-match.
DF Sergio Ramos, 8 -- One hundred goals for Real Madrid now. This one was vintage Ramos, rising to meet Kroos' corner at the near post with a guided header. Busy defensively, getting an early warning when he was beaten by Martinez on the left, and blocking a dangerous second-half cross.
DF Ferland Mendy, 7 -- Looks so comfortable in a Real Madrid shirt now, regardless of the occasion. Strong in attack and defence, with all the ingredients to be Madrid's first-choice left-back for many years to come.
MF Casemiro, 7 -- Performed well in a midfield battle up against the combative duo of Vidal and Marcelo Brozovic.
MF Federico Valverde, 8 -- Has played so well lately that his selection ahead of Modric is no longer a surprise. Put one dangerous-looking early cross into the six-yard box, before shooting twice over the bar in the first half. Played a key role in Madrid's winner too.
MF Toni Kroos, 7 -- Fresh after being rested against Huesca. Swung in a trademark, pinpoint corner delivery for Ramos' goal, and played well before being taken off for Modric.
FW Eden Hazard, 6 -- His second start in a row. Quiet, with some encouraging moments. Madrid will hope one first-half burst into the box, moving at pace with the ball at his feet, was a sign of things to come. Hurt by Brozovic in the second half and was substituted not long afterwards.
FW Karim Benzema, 7 -- Four goals in three games now. Reacted quickly to take advantage of ex-teammate Hakimi's error for the opener. It was his 49th Champions League group-stage goal. Only Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have more.
FW Marco Asensio, 6 -- His fifth consecutive start, as Zidane has kept faith in Asensio, backing him to recover his form prior to his cruciate ligament injury. Had an early shot well saved by Handanovic and caused early problems as an inverted winger cutting in from the right, but faded as the match went on.
FW Vinicius Junior, 8 -- Introduced with 25 minutes to go, coming on for Hazard, and set up Rodrygo's goal brilliantly.
FW Rodrygo, 8 -- Replaced Asensio and grabbed a late winner. His goal-scoring record in this competition is impressive.
MF Luka Modric, N/R -- Played the last 10 minutes.
Don’t Expect Khabib’s Retirement From MMA to Last Very Long
- Khabib Nurmagomedov retired from MMA after his win over Justin Gaehtje on October 24th.
- UFC President Dana White claims he’s still the lightweight champion of the world.
- Khabib’s retirement from MMA is now being called into question.
On October 24th, Khabib Nurmagomedov defended his UFC lightweight title for the third time. Most agree it was one of the most impressive performances in UFC history. After the win, “The Eagle” announced he was hanging up the gloves. New reports from the UFC indicate Khabib’s retirement may not last for long, though.
Khabib Nurmagomedov is now widely considered one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the sport. He’s 29-0 as a professional will be guaranteed a massive fight if he decides to return. Today, we’ll talk about some possible opponents that Khabib could return for.
Let’s get into it!
Khabib’s Run at Lightweight Was Unparalleled
The UFC’s lightweight weight class has long-been considered the most competitive in MMA. For more than a decade, this division has been home to some of the best fighters in the sport. It takes a truly special athlete to become a champion at 155 pounds.
Back in April of 2018, Khabib Nurmagomedov became the lightweight champion of the world. It was a long-time coming for the Dagestani wrestler. He was already 25-0 in his career and had a skill set that no one could match.
Over the next two years, Khabib was involved in some of the biggest fights in the sport. That includes a massive title fight against Conor McGregor. Khabib did nothing but win and continued to prove that he’s the best lightweight on the planet.
The most recent win over Justin Gaethje truly proved Khabib’s greatness. Many felt that Gaethje had the perfect style to dethrone the champion. Khabib pushed the pace early and eventually secured a technical submission win in the second round.
At 32 years old, it would seem that Khabib is in the prime of his fighting career. For that reason, many were shocked to hear that he is hanging up the gloves. As we’ve seen time and time again, however, MMA retirements don’t always last for long.
UFC President Dana White seems to feel that Khabib Nurmagomedov may eventually make a return to the cage.
Here’s Why Khabib’s Retirement From MMA Probably Won’t Last
MMA is arguably the most grueling sport there is. In order to compete at a high-level, fighters need to commit their entire lives to training. When the desire to be the best is gone, you see fighter’s careers begin to decline.
It’s not uncommon to see early retirements from the sport. Khabib Nurmagomedov had enormous pressure on his shoulders every time he stepped into the cage. He left the sport a very rich man and can certainly live out the rest of his days without any worries.
A competitor will always have that spark inside of them, though. Not long ago, Dana White spoke to the media and claimed he wouldn’t be surprised to see Khabib fight again in the future.
“He didn’t say that he’ll fight whatever but he didn’t say no,” White said. “He’s considering the 30-0. His father wanted it and I think that he was super emotional. Had the mumps or measles or whatever, broken toe, trained on a stationary bike for that fight and then came in and fought.. I think he was super emotional. He’s still the champ. There’s no vacant title open right now or no interim title happening. He’s the champ and we’ll give him some time to figure out what he wants to do.”
Many were surprised to hear this news. It seemed obvious that Khabib would be stripped of his belt after announcing retirement. The UFC wouldn’t keep him as the champion unless they felt confident that he would step back into the cage at some point.
Khabib’s retirement from MMA was announced at a moment of extreme emotions. Fighters need time to assess their situation days after a fight to truly make decisions. For now, Nurmagomedov holds onto the lightweight title and we may see him reach 30-0 sometime in 2021.
Who Could be the Next Challenger to Khabib Nurmagomedov?
The UFC has actually grown more popular throughout 2020. The promotion is now home to a number of true superstars capable of generating Pay-Per-View buys. That includes Khabib Nurmagomedov.
For Nurmagomedov to return, he’ll need to have a worthy opponent. That is to say an opponent capable of generating major fan interest. Fortunately, there are several men that fans would love to see “The Eagle” compete with. Sites like BetOnline are even offering odds on these possible fights!
One obvious option is the rematch with Conor McGregor. These two men first fought in October of 2018 in what remains the biggest MMA bout of all time. Conor is expected to take on Dustin Poirier in January. With a win, he would become the number-one contender at lightweight.
Another man capable of ending Khabib’s retirement from MMA is George St. Pierre. For years, GSP was considered the best fighter in the world. He’s repeatedly claimed to be willing to challenge Khabib. This would be an incredible way for both men to officially end their fighting careers. Khabib enters this bout as the -250 favorite, while GSP comes in as the +210 underdog.
It will be interesting to see how this situation develops over the next few months. Khabib will likely be waiting for a true challenge to emerge. In the meantime, he can enjoy his time away from the sport.
Do you think Khabib’s retirement will last? Who would you like to see him fight next? Let us know in the comments section below!
Wednesday’s Champions League MD3 Betting Preview & Tips
THE irrepressible Jack Wright (@JackWright_BSB ) is on-hand to preview Wednesday nights's MD3 matches from the Champions League action not involving English clubs.
Zenit vs Lazio | Wednesday 4th November 2020, 17:55 | BT Sport
Zenit must surely win here if they are to retain any hope of qualification out of Group F after defeats to both Dortmund and Club Brugge however a win back in domestic action at the weekend will mean they at least come into this fixture having ended a three-game losing sequence.
Lazio in contrast are unbeaten in four (W3, D1, L0) despite having had to deal with a whole host of selection issues over the last couple of weeks and there will be key personnel missing again here in Saint Petersburg.
Sergey Semak’s side have struggled when stepping up to play Europe’s elite and have lost five of their last six UCL games at all stages. It is interesting to note though that from their last 11 UCL group stage home ties, Zenit have not conceded a first half goal in 10 of them.
This led to us picking up a nice win last week with Dortmund going on to win the game despite being level at half time and with Simone Inzaghi’s side the more in form of the two I am taking the same bet again – Draw half time with Lazio winning at full time is a very decent 6/1 with BetVictor.
One thing we should expect from Lazio and most Serie A sides for that matter is goals – the two Italian sides playing last night saw 10 goals scored across both matches. Le Aquile’s league fixtures this season have seen an average of 3.67 goals per game and both sides have found the net in nine of their last 10 UCL group games.
With this in mind and the fact Zenit will need to push for the win the 21/20 available with Boyle Sport for over 2.5 total goals and both teams to score, looks a good option to me.
Barcelona vs Dynamo Kiev | Wednesday 4th November 2020, 20:00 | BT Sport
Trying to extract value bets out of this game was a long and arduous process especially with news breaking that the visitors have up to nine players missing through testing positive for COVID-19 and travelled with just 17 members of their squad.
Both first choice goalkeepers are out meaning 18-year-old Ruslan Neshcheret should keep his place after making his debut in the win over Dnipro at the weekend.
Although this isn’t a vintage Barcelona side, they have managed to take control of this group with two wins from two including over Juventus and Lionel Messi must see this as an ideal opportunity to get some more goals under his belt.
The legendary Argentinian has actually picked up more cautions (2) in La Liga this season than goals (1) although he has scored in each of his sides UCL games so far – albeit both strikes were from the spot.
The Catalans number 10 is as short as 1/4 to add to his Champions League goals tally here, while you can get a top priced 13/2 (William Hill) he bags a hat-trick and it’s 3/1 (Sky Bet) he hits the back of the net from outside the area.
I can’t see anything other than a big win for Barcelona and I’m sure Messi will be heavily involved in any goals but at those prices I’m not getting involved so instead taking a bit of a speculative attempt at predicting the final score. Ronald Koeman’s side have already hit five once so I am taking them to do so again and will play a small stake on 5-0 at odds of 10/1 with Betfair/Paddy Power.
If the side from the Ukraine are to keep the score down – or better – than their defence will have to be on top of their game and that is likely to include 21-year-old Denys Popov. Barcelona have seen their opponents pick up a combined total of nine cards over their two UCL games so far and we should expect a similar haul here with England’s Michael Oliver the man in the middle.
The man from Northumberland, averages five cards per game when in UCL action, up considerably on his average in the EPL and with Popov having been booked twice in just four league appearances this season I like the look of Sky Bet’s offering of 2/1 that he finds his way in to the referee’s notebook in this one.
Club Brugge vs Dortmund | Wednesday 4th November 2020, 20:00 | BT Sport
As they were at the weekend, Dortmund could be without Erling Haaland for this clash in Belgium, and that would be a big blow to add to the problem of having only one fit centre back and they certainly can’t take this game lightly with their hosts knowing a win would open up a four point gap to their German visitors at the half way stage of the group.
Both sides met in the 2018/19 competition with Dortmund keeping clean sheets in both games which is something they will be keen to do this time around and stretch their run of “wins to nil” to four games.
Lucien Favre’s side have been more grinding out victories as opposed to sweeping teams aside as highlighted by the fact, they are yet to find the net in the first half of any of their last four UCL games – or in any of their last five competitive matches.
Adding the fact Philippe Clement’s side are without a UCL home victory in 11 attempts I am chancing a low scoring affair here and taking the 7/5 with Betfair/Paddy Power on under 2.5 goals.
Regular starter Mats Rits had two shots last time out against Lazio but it is his work in central midfield to shut down the Dortmund supply line where most of his focus will be tonight.
Last week the 27-year-old from Belgium made four interceptions but also picked up a yellow card for one of his total of four fouls, which made it four cautions from his last six appearances and I am taking him to be carded for the third UCL game in succession at odds of 3/1 with Sky Bet.
Ferencvaros vs Juventus | Wednesday 4th November 2020, 20:00 | BT Sport
Cristiano Ronaldo is back!
After an enforced COVID-19 related lay off CR7 made his return to action last weekend at Spezia – and as you would expect from a 36-year-old it takes a bit of time to get back in the routine – well three minutes to be precise!
As a 56th minute replacement for Paulo Dybala the Portuguese legend scored on 59 minutes and added a second from the penalty spot 14 minutes from time. Beware Ferencvaros!
This is the sort of game Ronaldo will be licking his lips at to make up for goalscoring lost time and there are many options to get the great man onside.
It would not surprise me to see him go one better than his weekend brace and bag a hat-trick at odds of 11/1 with William Hill – but I will play things a little safe and take the option of 3+ shots on target with Betfair/Paddy Power at even money (1/1).
For a little spice, which we know Cristiano loves to sprinkle on his performances where possible, I am going to take the 6/1 on offer with Sky Bet for a Ronaldo goal from outside the area – this of course includes his trademark free kicks as well as any efforts from open play.
Before his layoff Ronaldo made two Serie A appearances for Andrea Pirlo’s side managing 14 shots across both games of which five were outside the box. If you don’t buy a ticket, you can’t win the raffle.
RB Leipzig vs PSG | Wednesday 4th November 2020, 20:00 | BT Sport
In a night where a lot has been made about who is missing from the starting lineup rather than who is actually playing none of the absentees come more impactful than Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.
In a repeat of last season’s UCL semi final Leipzig and PSG meet at the Red Bull Arena locked together on three points having both beaten Istanbul and both lost to Manchester United – with the German sides heavy 5-0 defeat meaning they sit below their opponents in the table on goal difference.
Julian Nagelsmann’s side actually go in to this one as slight favourites following that team news bulletin but will need to shake themselves from a slump that saw a 1-0 defeat to Monchengladbach follow that humiliation at Old Trafford.
This one is a tight one to call and the result will depend on how PSG settle with a very reshuffled pack – so I am going to focus on two players who I always keep an eye out for in the player props markets.
Angelino, on loan from Manchester City, has exploded into the new season with four goals to his name already from six Bundesliga appearances and two outings in the UCL.
The 23-year-old has been thriving in a left wing-back position and has been able to fire at least one shot off in all eight appearances this campaign and with at least two in five of those.
Most of these attempts have been inside the box which illustrates just how advanced Angelino is playing and in what you would expect to be a very open and attacking game against the French champions I think he can cross that two shots line again. Odds of 16/5 with Betfair/Paddy Power will do me nicely.
In a game involving two clubs with such a fantastic reputation for attacking football it is probably no surprise both my selections involve players having shots, but it shows the all over threat these sides possess when both are defenders.
Dayot Upamecano needs no introduction and is on the radar of the biggest clubs in world football. The French centre back is the poster boy for a modern-day defender, strong, athletic and aggressive but comfortable on the ball totally at ease striding out from the back with an eye for goal.
The 22-year-old has managed three shots twice from his six Bundesliga appearances, finding the back of the net once, as well as scoring from one of his two shots for France, in a 4-2 win over Croatia. He also had a shot against Istanbul and two more attempts in that defeat in England last week.
So that’s 10 games in total and Upamecano has had two or more shots in four of them, implied probability of 40%, and therefore odds should be around 6/4. With Betfair/Paddy Power offering 5/1 we are getting a huge slice of value and one I can’t turn down!
Sevilla vs Krasnodar | Wednesday 4th November 2020, 20:00 | BT Sport
Neither of these two sides enter this contest in good form with both of them winning only one of their last six fixtures – and Krasnodar having now lost their last three including a comprehensive 4-0 home defeat in this competition at the hands of Chelsea last week.
Sevilla’s victory was against Rennes last week so will be looking to build on that by also defeating their Russian visitors.
That win was the ninth occasion in their last 10 group stage games of European competition where no more than one team has scored and seven were deadlocked goalless at half time.
With the feeling Julen Lopetegui’s side will be too strong here but the visitors aim will be to hang in there as long as possible it makes sense to play the half time/full time market and Unibet have priced up a draw at half time with Sevilla running out eventual winners at 13/4.
Part of Murad Musaev’s plan to stay competitive will require his midfield to bite and cut off the supply line to the likes of Lucas Ocampos and much of that reliance will fall on to Tonny Vilhena who although only picking up two cautions from 13 games so far this season saw eight yellow cards from just 20 league appearances last season.
From his stats it is clear he likes to be involved in the game with three interceptions, two tackles and one foul against Chelsea last week with the league game before that seeing the Dutch midfielder make two interceptions, three tackles, commit four fouls and see a yellow card. Its that sort of performance I am expecting here and am taking pretty short odds of 14/5 with Sky Bet that Tonny Vilhena is carded again.
Zenit vs Lazio –Draw/Lazio (6/1 BetVictor)
Zenit vs Lazio – Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score (21/20 Boylesports)
Barcelona vs Dynamo Kiev – Barcelona to win 5-0 (10/1 Betfair)
Barcelona vs Dynamo Kiev – Denys Popov to be carded (2/1 Skybet)
Club Brugge vs Dortmund – Under 2.5 Goals (7/5 Betfair)
Club Brugge vs Dortmund – Mats Rits to be carded (3/1 Skybet)
Ferencvaros vs Juventus – Cristiano Ronaldo 3+ shots on target (1/1 Betfair)
Ferencvaros vs Juventus – Cristiano Ronaldo to score from outside the area (6/1 Skybet)
RB Leipzig vs PSG – Angelino to have 2+ shots (14/5 Betfair)
RB Leipzig vs PSG – Dayot Upamecano to have 2+ shots (5/1 Betfair)
Sevilla vs Krasnodar – Draw/Sevilla (13/4 Unibet)
Sevilla vs Krasnodar – Tonny Vilhena to be carded (14/5 Skybet)
Football League Betting Preview & Tips: Attritional tussle expected at St Andrew’s
CHAMPIONSHIP fan Matthew Kirby (@M_Kirby95) oversees Wednesday night's EFL action, picking out his best bets.
Birmingham vs Wycombe | Wednesday 4th November 2020, 19:45 | Sky Sports
I’ve got one up my sleeve for Wednesday and it comes in what looks an attritional game on paper. I’ll keep this one short!
Wycombe earned their first victory at this level when they beat Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday. David Wheeler’s goal was typical of them playing to their strengths – winning a header at a set-piece.
They looked on course for a point in their last away game at Norwich, but Mario Vrančić scuppered those hopes with a pinpoint last-minute free-kick. That makes it’s four defeats from four on the road.
Birmingham will be licking their lips at the chance to play Wycombe, although the Chairboys won’t be pushovers. Aitor Karanka’s side are on a three-game unbeaten run after winning their last two.
Saturday’s win at Preston saw Riley McGree score inside two minutes on his first start for the Blues before his replacement Gary Gardener netted the winner late on.
This is unlikely to be one for the neutral and the bet to be had here is mainly because of the man in the middle – Josh Smith.
It’s just his second season in the Football League and after a debut season on the National List, it looks like he’s been promoted to the Select Group 2 list despite his inexperience.
Already, he’s shown 26 yellows and one red in eight games. In four of his last six, he’s hit that 40+ booking points mark, which looks so attractive here.
This will be his third Championship assignment of the season and he hasn’t exactly covered himself in glory. His two games at this level have seen 50 and 105 booking points respectively.
The Huddersfield v Preston, which saw that big number should really have been more given he only cautioned Brad Potts for a hideous two-footed lunge in the first half. How he saw fit to just issue a yellow is beyond me and from that point, he lost control
Birmingham rank fourth for fouls (14.2) and Wycombe are sixth (13.8) meaning we could see around 28 fouls. And that fits with Smith, whose two games have averaged around 27 fouls, which have been more than enough for him to throw the cards around like confetti.
In a tight game that could become a battle, and with a ref who might lack authority, it might turn into a war. And one the players might have to take into their own hands. The 5/4 on 40+ booking points looks too good with this official.
Birmingham vs Wycombe – 40+ Booking Points (5/4 Skybet)
Europa League MD3 Betting Preview & Tips: Enthralling fixture at San Siro
WORLD football fanatic James O'Rourke (@JamesOR1) shares his favourite fancies from Thursday's MD3 Europa League card.
Real Sociedad v AZ Alkmaar | Thursday 5th November 2020, 17:55 | BT Sport
Somewhat surprisingly to some, Group F is currently led by AZ Alkmaar thanks to maximum points from their opening two contests. They backed up their excellent away triumph in Napoli with a convincing 4-1 home success over Rijeka. Another tough trip awaits them on Thursday when they travel to Real Sociedad, who would lost at home to Napoli on MD2.
As we reach the halfway point, we very much enter the stage where teams can really take one step into the next round. AZ are very much in that territory if they can come away from San Sebastián with another three-point haul, although they would certainly take a draw from this, too. That being said, they’re not the sort of outfit to settle for a point, so it could be an all-or-nothing approach from the Dutchman.
Although La Real lost in their last European conquest, they are top of La Liga, mainly thanks to four straight victories. These results were a mixture of 4-1’s and 3-0’s, so they’ve certainly been convincing in their movement to the top of the pile.
AZ started their Eredivisie campaign a little sluggishly, yet they still remain unbeaten. A run of five draws to open their campaign was followed by their maiden league triumph over Waalwijk last time out. It is fair to say both teams are in high spirits.
Being the home team, the emphasis is really on the Spanish side to take the game to the opposition. That is ultimately what has proved to be the ingredient to their early season success. Whilst their last two Europa League clashes produce one goal each, their previous four in league action produced an average of 4.00 goals per game.
As for AZ, we can already chalk of scores in the region of 4-1, 3-0, 2-2, 4-4 and 3-3 to their name. Goals follow these two teams.
I think Real Sociedad are in the territory of really needing a win in this one, and as such they’ll be positive in their outlay and most likely team selection. As AZ aren’t a defensive outfit, I think BTTS is a real call, but I’ll just plump with Real Sociedad Win and Over 2.5 Goals at 11/8 (Boylesports).
Rapid Vienna v Dundalk | Thursday 5th November 2020, 17:55 | BT Sport
Dundalk were very much expecting to be the whipping boys in Group B and whilst they’ve not been disgraced in their opening two clashes, it is still ultimately two defeats to their name. Still, motivation won’t ever really be in doubt for them, even if deep down they know qualification is extremely unlikely.
This is a real European adventure for them and will make every game count. I therefore think this is probably a more important clash for Rapid Vienna, who hold slightly more claims of progression into the next stage.
Rapid would give Arsenal a fright in their opening group clash, but followed that up with an away loss to Molde, which could prove every so costly. They already have six points to make up, and with Arsenal likely to beat Arsenal in the other group contest, Rapid Vienna know they can ill-afford to drop points in this home assignment.
Domestically, both teams are very much back in action and in the swing of things, so factors such as fitness won’t necessarily be a great concern to either coach. Baring their last two UEL fixtures, Rapid can say they’re in excellent form. They’ve defeated the likes of LASK and Wolfsberger, who are also both in this season’s UEL, in league games in recent times.
Dundalk on the other hand have stumbled a little in recent weeks. Whilst they’re third in the Irish Premier Division, they’re a whopping 15-points behind runaway leaders Shamrock Rovers.
Rapid were quite disappointing on their visit to Molde last time out, and they’ll be eager to make more of a statement on this occasion. As mentioned, they gave Arsenal a real good game, so that probably highlights how important home advantage will be to them.
With respect to Dundalk, Rapid will be quite glad to be facing them on Thursday. The Irish outfit have conceded an average of 18 shots on goal in their first two group contests, so the Austrians may look to fill their boots here.
In the Austrian Bundesliga, only Red Bull Salzburg have managed more shots than goal than Rapid Vienna, and they’re the only two clubs to be in the 100+ bracket in that regard. They play a neat and tidy passing game, and I just fear Dundalk could be outrun here and the absolute key for them is to avoid conceding early, or ideally opening the scoring themselves. To do that away from home in Europe is tough at the best of times, so Rapid are certainly the safer call here.
Odds-on a home win are slim, but I will give Dundalk a little bit of credit here as I fancy them to frustrate their opponents to begin with. The hosts should break them down eventually, which is why I can picture a real attack versus defence situation in the second half.
Rapid Vienna Over 1.5 Second Half Goals pays 11/10 (Betway). Even if they’re leading at the break, Dundalk will have to open up anyway and Rapid are ever so dangerous on the break. The Lilywhites also held out until the 42nd-minute before Arsenal’s pressure eventually paid off at the Emirates last week, whilst it took Molde over an hour for them to score a few weeks back.
Milan v Lille | Thursday 5th November 2020, 20:00 | BT Sport
There is normally one or two Europa League contests which really catch the eye on a weekly basis and Milan versus Lille looks to firmly fit into that equation on this occasion.
Whilst we have the likes of Benfica v Rangers, PAOK v PSV and Leicester v Braga which will attract plenty, I fancy we have picked out the best game here. Two games in and both clubs very much have qualification out of Group H in their control.
Milan sit at the summit with two wins from two, and convincing wins away at Celtic and at home to Sparta Prague means they’re in confident mood. When we also consider their domestic form too, Stefano Pioli’s side are actually unbeaten since the restart, and they last lost a game of any kind on March 8th at home to Genoa.
To say the Rossoneri are in great form is an understatement, and veteran striker Zlatan Ibrahimović is certainly integral to that. The Swede has 11 goals in his previous nine appearances, and it wasn’t so long ago he contracted and recovered from Covid-19.
It won’t necessarily be plain sailing for them when Lille visit the San Siro. The French outfit have made real strides in the early part of this season under Christophe Galtier. The former Saint-Étienne boss has transformed this team into a very attractive ball-playing side, as well as being incredibly tough to break down.
Lille remain unbeaten this season in 11 attempts, but each of their last three have been draws, with the last two at home to Celtic (from 2-0 down) and Lyon (who had ten men since 49th minute) being particularly frustrated. They demonstrated some issues breaking the opposition down in those clashes, and things won’t get any easier versus the Italians.
Considering the attacking talent that is on show here, the natural thought process would be to look towards the goals angle on this occasion. That is with good reason as well. Milan’s last six games in all competitions featured over 2.5 goals, plus they’re at home anyway so there will be a natural desire to want to get forward. They know a win here realistically puts them through, baring a huge collapse in the final three games.
Lille are a team that like to take the game to the opposition as well, and for me that plays into the hands of Milan, the home team. That being said, the French outfit rank as a big danger on the counter attack for example. As mentioned, they have some issues breaking down both Celtic and Lyon in their previous two games. The first goal will be everything in this game, but I don’t necessarily think either team are going to be sitting back once taking the lead.
I can’t really look further away than Over 2.5 Goals here. 5/6 (GentingBet) isn’t a sexy price, but I actually thought it would be a bit shorter than this. I naturally thought it’d be around the 8/15 mark given it is a match which will catch the eye on the card.
Whilst Lille have developed a reputation for conceding few goals, four of their last six contained three goals or more, and they won’t have it all their own way against a side really at it. I’d be tempted to give Milan win and BTTS, or Milan win and O2.5, but I’ll play it a little safer and just stick with goals.
Real Sociedad vs AZ Alkmaar – Real Sociedad Win and Over 2.5 Goals (11/8 Boylesports)
Rapid Vienna vs Dundalk – Rapid Vienna Over 1.5 Second Half Goals (11/10 Betway)
AC Milan vs Lille – Over 2.5 Goals (5/6 GentingBet)