FINAL HURDLE; 14 OR 7?

FINAL HURDLE; 14 OR 7?

(The UCL Trophy)

The stage is set. May 28, 2022, in the Stade de France in Paris. Liverpool vs. Real Madrid, La Liga vs. The Premier League, Klopp vs. Ancelotti, Benzema vs. Salah, we are in for possibly one of the greatest UEFA Champions League (UCL) finals in history. How did both teams conquer an array of European oppositions to make it to the pinnacle of cup competitions? Let’s take a look.

Liverpool began the campaign in group B of the 32-team competition, going up against the likes of Atletico Madrid (Spain), Porto (Portugal), and AC Milan (Italy). Historically, the names of the teams would make it seem to be the group of death, but this was far from the case. Liverpool made light work of the oppositions, winning all six of the games with an aggregate score of 17-6.

(Liverpool players after a goal against Atletico Madrid)
For Real, it was a bit more challenging, with a loss to FC Sheriff (Moldova) by 2-1 in Spain. Apart from that blemish, Los Blancos went unbeaten in their other group games against Inter Milan (Italy) and Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine), with an aggregate score of 14-3. Defensively more sound when it comes to the concession of goals, however, that one loss tarnished that reputation

When the knockout stages began, Madrid drew Paris Saint-German (France) in the round of 16, while Liverpool got Inter Milan. It was a PSG vs Madrid clash in France for the 1st leg, with the Parisians coming out on top by 1-0, scored by future Real forward, Kylian Mbappe. They were dominated. Marco Verratti ran the show, stifling Madrid from starting/continuing attacking build-ups, but it was all to play for at the Bernabeu.

(Kylian Mbappe celebrates with teammate Neymar Jr)
Liverpool on the other hand made light work of Inter dispatching them 2-0, and were by far the better team, with Inter not even registering a shot on goal. Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino got the goals in Milan and the tie never looked in doubt for the reds. In the reverse fixture on Merseyside, Inter was victorious 1-0, however, when the Italians were pushing for an equalizer, Alexis Sanchez got sent off for two yellow card offenses, leaving his team a man down and less likely to produce an attacking outburst.

What happened to Madrid after being outplayed in the previous encounter? Karim Benzema. After going behind again in the game to another Kylian Mbappe goal, things got tense. After an inspired substitution by Carlo Ancelotti to replace Toni Kroos with Eduardo Camavinga, everything clicked. Karim Benzema scored a 15-minute hat-trick to turn the tie on its head. The final whistle blew to the delight of the Spaniards winning the match 3-1, and 3-2 overall.

(Karim Benzema)
Into the Quarter Finals both teams go, Liverpool has drawn against Portuguese team Benfica, while Real was drawn against defending champions, Chelsea. Both the Reds and Los Blancos ran out 3-1 winners, making the 2nd leg much easier. Real however were shocked by Chelsea as they ran out to a 3-0 lead, but when Luka Modric played the assist of the season to Rodrygo, we had an extra thirty minutes. In extra-time it was that man again; Karim Benzema scored to give the Madridistas the overall lead, which eventually gave them the victory.

In the game at Anfield, Benfica scored 5 goals. Unfortunately for them, two were offside which meant they were disallowed. Liverpool never gave up and scored three of their own to give an end to an enthralling game. Next up: the semifinals. Liverpool vs. Villarreal in one and the other consists of English champions Manchester City against the newly crowned Spanish champions Real Madrid.

Villarreal, or as they are commonly known as, the Yellow Submarine, was a pushover losing 2-0 to Liverpool for them to have one foot in the final. In the other semi, it was end-to-end, leaving fans, pundits, and commentators breathless alike. City ended up with the advantage of 4-3, but as previously shown in the competition, Real Madrid is never out.

As expected Liverpool put both feet in the final with a come from behind 3-2 win. A bright start to the game was not capitalized on by the Yellow Submarine as they crumbled in the 2nd half and conceded three goals in 12 minutes, crashing out of the final four.

(Villarreal’s Francis Coquelin rises to score a header)
The game of the tournament between Madrid and the Citizens lived up to the anticipation. More of a chess match than the 1st leg, Man City kept most of the ball, while Madrid had chances few and far between. It wasn’t until the 73rd minute where Algerian winger Riyad Mahrez slotted home past a busy Thibaut Courtois to apply added pressure to the home team.

When it was looking like the comeback was not possible this time, that man Karim Benzema had his say. In the 90th and final minute, a deep cross from Camavinga was diverted by Benzema into the path of the onrushing Brazilian Rodrygo to give some hope for Ancelotti’s side.

A quickfire 91 SECONDS later the Brazilian got his second to level the tie and send it to extra-time. At the start of the additional period, a mistimed challenge by Ruben Dias gave Real a penalty. Karim face-to-face with shot-stopper Ederson coolly dispatched the penalty into the bottom corner to give his team the lead and the eventual win.

(Rodrygo scoring his second goal via header against Man City)
Now the final has been set with Real Madrid chasing title number 14, and Liverpool chasing number 7. With the talent both teams have, form comes into the selection of both teams for the final. The fireworks will be set off in France when both teams take the field, and viewership to quite possibly beat last year’s total of 700 million viewers.
PREDICTED TEAMS
REAL MADRID
Thibaut Courtois
Ferland Mendy
David Alaba
Eder Militao
Dani Carvajal
Luka Modric
Casemiro
Toni Kroos
Federico Valverde
Karim Benzema ©
Vinicius Jr.
(Real Madrid XI)
LIVERPOOL
Allison
Andrew Robertson
Virgil Van Dijk
Ibrahim Konate
Trent Alexander-Arnold
Jordan Henderson ©
Fabinho
Thiago Alcantara
Luis Diaz
Sadio Mane
Mohammed Salah
(Liverpool XI)
MAY-DAY

MAY-DAY

MAY-DAY(Photo from SkySports) [Manchester United players surrounding the referee]
With a tragic and disappointing season coming to an end after a start with such prestige and promise, Manchester United can now only hope they can secure European football in the Europa League Cup competition for next season. The red devils are approaching their worst ever Premier League points total if they win out the final three games of the season. In the past, the lowest points total came in the 2013/14 season when they accomplished 64 points under then manager David Moyes. After the start that United had to the season, how did it all go so wrong?

August 14, 2021, when United thrashed arch-rivals Leeds United at Old Trafford by five goals to one looked like the start of something special. The unveiling of one of the most decorated defenders in the world Raphael Varane, the debut of English wonderkid Jadon Sancho, world cup winner Paul Pogba providing an assist to four of the five goals, and Bruno Fernandes scoring a hattrick. These were special times. Things got even more exciting when it was reported that Cristiano Ronaldo would be making a sensational return from the Italian side Juventus.

However, all these things somehow got awful. Many different reasons could be eluded to, whether it was the non-continuity of the team, inept playing style without an identity, or even a lack of effort but one thing was for certain; it could not continue.

(Photo from REUTERS) [Ole Gunnar Solskjaer]
Following humiliating losses to Liverpool (5-0), Manchester City (2-0), and Watford (4-1), the club parted ways with the manager and club legend Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in November. The club was at an all-time low. Bad morale, news being leaked, the works. The board at United was quick to try and appoint a new permanent manager, but when their approach for PSG boss Mauricio Pochettino was rejected by the club, they ended up hiring German coach Ralf Rangnick on an interim basis with a two-year consultancy role as part of the board at the end of the season.

With the godfather of “gegenpressing” now in charge, fans were positive hoping to see similar playing styles to the likes of Liverpool and Chelsea, both of whose coaches were mentors of Rangnick. That was far from the case. Only a select few got to grips with it without issues and even though those players weren’t the best, they gave 110% on the pitch. The other “talented” players couldn’t give a damn and just made the dressing room even more toxic.

Rangnick spoke in press conferences about how a revolution is needed at the football club, stating that United doesn’t have the quality footballing department as compared to the current top three (Man City, Liverpool, Chelsea) and even said for any new permanent manager, this job would be like “open-heart surgery.”

(Photo from Getty Images) [Erik Ten Hag]
It has since been reported that the manager of Ajax Amsterdam Erik Ten Hag will become the new manager of Manchester United on a three-year deal. The 52-year-old will take charge at the end of the season, and is fully focused on Ajax with the club in a title race in the Dutch first division; the Eredivise. The former centre-half has a very good record managing Ajax winning 157 out of 212 games managed since 2017.

This will be a really difficult job to find a new identity at Manchester United and it could take time. The club is going through another season without a trophy, last lifting one in 2017 so frustration could creep in after the first year but patience is key. In all fairness, Ten Hag, Rangnick, and the newly revamped recruitment team have a lot of issues to work out.

The team has around six players who are out of contract this offseason. They are Jesse Lingard, Paul Pogba, Lee Grant, Nemanja Matic, Edinson Cavani, and Juan Mata, with players such as Phil Jones, Eric Bailly, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, and Dean Henderson looking for moves to get regular game time. With an exodus like that, the club must be looking to sign about four or five players in the summer transfer window. This season was a nightmare for United fans all around the world but there were some positives.

(Photo from Manchester Evening News) [Charlie McNeill and Alejandro Garnacho (right)]
With the emergence of youth players such as Hannibal Mejbri, Anthony Elanga, Alejandro Garnacho, and Zidane Iqbal just to name a few, development over the next 18-24 months will be instrumental in the future success of the team. These players though inexperienced will have to buckle down and apply themselves to the new manager to ensure the team continues on an upward trajectory.

The Red Devils haven’t had a recognized holding midfielder that can play twice a week since Michael Carrick retired in 2018. That position has been neglected for years and cannot be avoided in this window. With the upcoming arrival of James Garner from his loan spell at Nottingham Forest, the team has a ready-made gem to look forward to.

(Photo from The Peoples Person [Harry Henshaw]) [James Garner]
Garner has had a successful loan spell, to say the least. Having produced 4 goals and 8 assists in 39 appearances, and making multiple teams of the week, Garner should be a contender to be the driving force in the midfield going forward, without having to spend. Reports over the last year have linked West Ham’s Declan Rice to a move to Old Trafford, but with a valuation of over $100 million, it is unlikely the deal gets done.

If United feels James is not ready for Premier League football, alternative options could be Wolverhampton’s Ruben Neves, Monaco’s Aurelien Tchouameni, and Leeds’ Kalvin Phillips. A scout was sent to Wolverhampton’s latest game to gather more info on Neves as a transfer gradually looks increasingly doable. As reported by Jonathan Shrager, Phillips would prefer to sign a new deal at Leeds and would find it hard to join Manchester United because of the rivalry between the clubs. When it comes to Tchouameni, he looks to be bound for Real Madrid even though he is “tempted” by a PL move.

(Photo from Getty Images) [Uruguayan Striker Darwin Nunez]
United are also reportedly interested in a young striker with Cristiano leading the line at 37, and Mason Greenwood’s future uncertain, names being linked are Darwin Nunez from Benfica and Jonathan David from Lille. A right-sided forward and a central defender are also on the agenda with Pau Torres being linked to the reds yet again. A fullback may also be prioritized but Rome was not built in a day, so some work will have to take place in future windows.

As stated earlier Ten Hag will have a mammoth job to make this team the force it once was, being the winningest team in PL history. A style of play and philosophy will need to be implemented during the preseason tour and a group of players that can be trusted to execute and give 110%. It will be an interesting summer for this group, especially since this is sports and anything can happen.

BRING FORTH THE BROOM

BRING FORTH THE BROOM

(Getty Images: Seth Curry)
Who in their right mind did not see this coming? The Brooklyn Nets are the MOST OVERRATED team in NBA history without a shadow of a doubt. As I have always said, the Nets are not a team, they are two decent players with G-league level players sharing a court.

Kevin Durant made his shots tonight I won’t lie, but he proved he does not have the clutch gene. Missing a key free throw to bring the game within 2 points, which led to Al Horford’s putback, put him in a worse light than I thought. KD’s fanboys making noise after he hit a running shot over Marcus Smart, they were all over Twitter. I have to laugh. Vegas had the Nets as the favorites for the chip this year. Whoever decides those stats for the gambling market should resign immediately.

After beating an inexperienced Cavs team in the play-in tournament, mouths were running in the city of Brooklyn. BRUCE BROWN! This man ran his mouth and have to give him respect, if he did not put up 26 points in game 3 then it would’ve been ugly. However, making a staggering 2 points in the entire win-or-go-home scenario means you need to be traded to a team with no belief or future; Detroit or something like that.

Even though the Nets got swept, there was a record in their favor. Nic Claxton broke Shaquille O’Neal’s playoff record for most consecutive misses from the free-throw line. Shaq was 0-8 from the line in 2006, while Claxton went 0-10, until going 1-11 on the night.

(Getty Images)
Boston won not just because of the brilliance of Jayson Tatum, the physicality of Jaylen Brown, or the Gary Payton regen in Marcus Smart, but for squad rules. Grant Williams, Payton Pritchard, and the returning Robert Williams III gave Boston that W.

Grant went off for 14 points including 3 three-point daggers. Payton Pritchard gave crucial minutes in game 2 for that clincher, and the Time Lord’s presence was evident, albeit in his limited game time.

Brooklyn messed up the trade earlier in the season when they traded for BUM Ben Simmons paying him $20 million to sit on the bench and cry for every pinch in his back. For someone who has crucial back injuries myself, I get up and ball on the street which is way rougher than this soft league nowadays, but he’s all about his money. A pay-to-play format in upcoming contracts could be implemented in the future all because of Simmons.

The Nets have a long offseason ahead including what to do with their coach, Kyrie Irving’s contract situation, and what to do with players like Dragic, Claxton, Brown, and Andre Drummond who played a total of FOUR MINUTES as a starter.

Don’t even get me started on KD and Kyrie. Without LeBron James and Steph Curry those two would be ringless; FACT! They are not Jordans or Kobes or Birds, they are more of Pippens and Kidds of the world. Their 2nd string and not the main men. Never have, never will be.

Again, who saw this coming for the Nets, apart from me obviously who thought they wouldn’t even make the play-in tournament. The Nets got the broom out and did not know they were cleaning their own mess.

KEEP TALKING

KEEP TALKING

(@Grady from Twitter)
If you can’t take some good level banter from the team you put in turmoil for two years, Kyrie, I don’t think you should be playing competitive sports. Try Chess or something but to react the way you did, is unprofessional and frankly very petty. The Brooklyn Nets had their tail high after beating an inexperienced Cleveland team in the PLAY-IN tournament and thought they were gonna win the NBA.

Bruce Brown of all people in the post-match press conference talked about Boston and how they are short-handed because Robert Williams III is injured and to just basically shut down Jayson Tatum to win the series. I still cannot believe he was serious. Bruce Brown, not Kevin Durant, not Steve Nash, but Bruce Brown who has one good game every hundred attempts running his mouth.

The man got what he deserved though. In the first quarter of the game at the TD Garden, the jumbotron showed the quote he made about not having the “Time Lord” available. The Celtics made light work of the Nets in the first half even though the game was tied at 61, they rendered KD useless with only two made shots.

In the second half, particularly the 3rd quarter, Boston took even further control extending their lead up to eleven points. What else do you expect when you constantly leave Marcus Smart open on the perimeter? SPLASH! The Celtics then got a bit sloppy on defense leaving Kyrie Irving open to get the hot hand.

(Getty Images)
Durant well was not important as he just did his normal drive, push-off, and pull-up shot near the elbow like every game but was caught for it this time. What about the guy running his mouth before the game? Must be on 30-5-5 by the end of the game right? WRONG! Bruce Brown had a STAGGERING 5 points in 37 minutes. He had as many points as he did fouls which is laughable because of the comments he made before the game. The problem is 81/82 games a season he produces these numbers.

He is like that kid at school that has all the trash talk but is absolutely like his comments; trash. The Celtics nearly let the game get away from them, but when an intense double team made its way to Irving with the shot-clock running down, and Tatum with an aggressive close-out to KD on the perimeter to throw up a wild shot, it was now or never.

(SportsNet)
Al Horford grabbed the rebound and fed Tatum to bring it up the court. Tatum to Jaylen Brown, the good Brown, Brown drives and kicks to Smart where he has Bruce Brown and Nic Claxton living out their childhood dreams of being superman and flying through the air where he dished it to Tatum who put Kyrie in the spin cycle before the most delicate of finger roles to win it as time expires to win 115-114.

What an end to a game that was and first blood to the Celtics. Brooklyn is gonna come out all guns blazing on Wednesday for game 2 if they have any ammo left anyway. Durant and Irving are gonna do what they do best then too, score every point and just watch their team suffer when they need to take a breath. My prediction; Celtics in 4, five is Brooklyn win game 3.

DOUBLE TROUBLE

DOUBLE TROUBLE

(Photo Credit: Jamaica Observer) {From left: Tia Clayton, Brianna Lyston, Tina Clayton}
As the ISSA (Inter-Secondary School Athletics) Boys and Girls Athletics Champions move into day three, that 100 meter final in the class 1 girls was one race that had people chattering. The high school athletics championships that take place in the National Stadium in Kingston, Jamaica, is a five-day event that started on the 5thof April and commences on the 9th.

Heading into the championship there were talks of who were the favorites to win it all on both sides, and also some individual winners. The usual culprits such as Kingston College, defending champions Jamaica College, and Calabar on the boys’ side, with Edwin Allen, Holmwood Technical, and Hydel High on the girls’ side, it is shaping up to be an intriguing championship.

The race that had a tear in the athletics fanbase of the country was who was going to win the class 1 (age 17-19) 100-meter dash. The race was going to be contested by the World U-20 Champion Tina Clayton, her twin sister Tia, and the rejuvenated and fastest Jamaican girl in the world at the moment Brianna Lyston.

Lyston who got injured early in class 3 while still a St. Jago High School athlete, now of Hydel High, came back to the competition going a blistering 11.14 seconds at the Central Championships meet earlier in the year, and a majority of the athletics fraternity leaned towards Lyston for the win.

(Photo Credit: Jamaica Gleaner) {From Left: Tina Clayton and Brianna Lyston}

However, the Clayton twins were never to be denied, well Tina anyway. When they came out for the finals on Wednesday night, it was hard to read the emotions of the three athletes. Faces like World Series Poker players made it hard to see if anyone was more confident, or even nervous.

The stage was set. Tia Clayton in lane 4, Brianna Lyston in 5, and Tina Clayton in 6. A hush around the stadium then…….BANG! Off they go with Tina and Lyston getting off to glorious starts, Lyston is trying to get back at Tina with Tia a bit of a distance behind, but Tina finds the afterburners and JUST holds off Lyston at the end. The reigning world champion of her age group copped gold in 11.23 seconds, ahead of Lyston in 11.26 seconds, and Tia Clayton 3rd in 11.47.

“Champs” continues on Thursday at 9:20 am JA time on the track with the 200 meters preliminary rounds on both the boys’ and girls’ sides. Coverage can be found on onespotmedia.com for those outside the country.