Red Devils steal a point from Chelsea

- October 28th, 2014

It was a point not necessarily earned – it was more lucked into than anything.

After a dominant second half in which it should have scored more than the one goal it managed, Chelsea gave up an injury time goal at Old Trafford to settle for a draw.

When you consider Chelsea was playing without it’s top two strikers and was starting ancient Didier Drogba, perhaps it’s not that surprising this was the final outcome.

The same can be said for Manchester United, which was without Radamel Falcao and Wayne Rooney, starting Robin van Persie up front.

Fitting it was Drogba and RvP that potted the match’s two goals.

And while some could say that Branislav Ivanovic’s sending off contributed to the final outcome, that would be false. An extra man wouldn’t have been able to stop RvP’s rocket off the rebound that bounced perfectly to him.

And Ivanovic won’t even miss a match of any importance either, serving his suspension during a midweek Cup tie against Shrewsbury Town.

So far this season, the league-leading Blues have dropped points just twice and both occasions came in Manchester. If that’s the quality that this Chelsea squad is capable of under Jose Mourinho, this could be a very short title race.

As for United, it is actually doing worse than it did last year during that harrowing season under David Moyes. With 13 points from nine games, it is, however still in the thick of it when it comes to Champions League places. But it should be noted that perhaps Moyes wasn’t as bad as we thought, considering he had a much worse team than what Louis van Gaal is working with currently.

CITY’S STRUGGLE

It just wasn’t Manchester City’s day visiting West Ham on Saturday.

How else could you explain it nailing the woodwork twice while leaking at least one goal that should’ve been stopped on its own end.

Sergio Aguero and Yaya Toure both had terrific chances that were denied by the bar before David Silva put one home after a sweet, slaloming run through a couple of defenders.

But a loss is a loss and this result surely doesn’t help the defending champs in the race against Chelsea. These are the types of games that Chelsea lost last year and ended up falling short. That’s looking like what could be Man City’s fate this campaign.

Not to take anything away from West Ham either, as the East London club are on fire right now.

The Hammers have found some brilliant attacking players with Diafra Sakho and Enner Valenica leading the charge. Once Andy Carroll can return from injury, it’ll be interesting to see if he fits into this side.

The scene of the day also came from this contest, when post-game Russell Brand burst in on Big Sam Allardyce and gave the usually curmudgeonly manager a big kiss on the cheek. I’m sure that’s just what the birthday boy wanted.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

Mario Balotelli can’t buy a goal. Another game, some more misses on decent chances in front of goal. I can only imagine Liverpool fans are growing impatient with the talented forward and can’t wait for Daniel Sturridge to return … At least the Reds got a clean sheet! That doesn’t happen very often … Alexis Sanchez is having the same type of impact that Mesut Ozil provided the Gunner last season. Arsenal can only hope this story doesn’t have the same ending … Another game, another injury for Arsenal. Kieran Gibbs has been added to the lengthy injury report and I’m not sure how much longer the Gunners can go before calling up youth squad players … Those two Sanchez goals were aided greatly be Sunderland mistakes. If not for those two terrible passes, this might’ve actually been a scoreless draw … Newcastle’s on a winning streak?! All hail Alan Pardew! We never wanted him gone! … Sammy Ameobi scored his first career EPL goal on what can only be described as the FIFA 15 kickoff glitch in real life … Doesn’t it look odd to see a forward like Samuel Eto’o wearing No. 5 for Everton? Did they not have any other numbers available? Burnley is now firmly at the bottom of the table with QPR beating Aston Villa. I don’t see how the Clarets are getting out, either … Esteban Cambiasso has the miss of the year from two feet hitting the post then watching the keeper swat it away … Aston Villa somehow has three wins, but have scored just four goals all season. It has also been more than eight hours of gametime since it has found the back of the net now.

THE LAST WORD

If you haven’t seen Erik Lamela’s ‘Rabona’ goal from Tottenham’s Europa League match against Asteras Tripoli, you’re in for a treat.

It was a remarkable amount of precision, power and guts to pull off a goal of that calibre. But what got me about it was how unnecessary it was.

Lamela could’ve very easily pounded that rolling ball home with a normal shot. The keeper wouldn’t have had a chance with any sort of precision and power on the ball.

This also came when the game was still young (just a half hour in) and Spurs were only up 1-0 against the Greek side. Europa League is a competition that could come down to goal differential and, if Lamela had messed up that audacious attempt, his team could’ve suffered by playing a tougher team in the next stage.

If he had pulled this sort of stunt under a manager like Mourinho, we may never have heard from the Argentine again.

But, thankfully, this time we got a moment of pure joy – something that doesn’t happen often enough in sports any more.

It’s a shame that we might never see something like it again.

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki

Why does nobody mention Favre? + Week 8 picks

- October 25th, 2014

Joe Montana, John Elway, Dan Marino, Joe Namath, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning.

That’s pretty much the list of the greatest QBs of all time. But isn’t there a name missing on there? What happened to Brett Favre?

Manning has received a lot of attention in the past few weeks in his pursuit of the record for the most passing TDs all-time. The man who previously held that record: Favre.

So why does Favre never get brought up in the conversation of best QBs ever? He’s a Super Bowl champion, an 11-time all-star, a three-time MVP and was on the 1990s all-decade team.

Not to mention that up until a week ago he had the most passing touchdowns in the NFL history and also has the most passing yards.

Is it because he’s a “gunslinger” and not a thinking-man’s QB like Manning? Is it because he also holds the record for most interceptions in his career? Perhaps it’s because he stabbed Packers fans in the back by signing with rival Minnesota and led them to the playoffs.

Maybe it’s because he texted a dick pic that went public and we’d rather not be reminded of L’il Brett.

Either way, there’s no getting around how great of a QB Favre was and he should get his due in the conversation of best of all-time. His career may not have ended the way we all wanted it to, but it was still one of the best we’ve ever seen.

The lines are from Vegas and the home teams are in CAPS.

San Diego +8 over Denver

The Chargers won in Denver last year, so what was the harm in taking eight points? Oh yeah, Peyton Manning is playing at another level right now and is basically unstoppable.

Detroit -3.5 over ATLANTA in London

I hope you like waking up early! In a bid to cause even more divorces, this 9:30 a.m. EST start will create a quadruple header and much marital tension. The Lions shouldn’t have much trouble against that terrible Falcons defence, even without Calvin Johnson.

Minnesota +2.5 over TAMPA BAY

Just because the Bucs were off for a week, doesn’t mean you should forget how bad they’ve been this season.

Chicago +6 over NEW ENGLAND

Somehow, Jay Cutler always performs better on the road. The Patriots also have a lot of injuries piling up on defence.

KANSAS CITY -7 over St. Louis

This game would’ve been infinitely more interesting if we had a Cards-Royals World Series. The Chiefs looked good coming off their bye and the entire city of K.C. is riding a high.

Seattle -5 over CAROLINA

At some point, the Seahawks have to start playing like the champs, right?

Buffalo +3 over NEW YORK JETS

Shockingly, getting Kyle Orton to throw the ball more with Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller out may actually be a recipe for success.

Miami -6 over JACKSONVILLE

It’s this simple: The Dolphins are good and the Jaguars aren’t.

Houston -3 over TENNESSEE

The Titans are on their third QB of the season and I’m not sure how good I’d feel about backing Zach Mettenberger against J.J. Watt.

Baltimore 1 over CINCINNATI

With A.J. Green sitting out once again, how can you back the Bengals against a good Ravens team?

ARIZONA -3 over Philadelphia

This looks like the game of the week. With Carson Palmer back, the Cardinals look like they can win the NFC West.

Indianapolis -3 over PITTSBURGH

The Steelers are on a short week and, really, needed some luck with that incredible three-TDs-in-two-minutes stretch to really handle the Texans on Monday.

Oakland +7 over CLEVELAND

The Raiders aren’t actually that terrible since Tony Sparano took over as head coach. Covering with more than a TD against this Browns team might not be too hard.

Green Bay +1.5 over NEW ORLEANS

The Pack are flying high and the Saints can’t stop anybody on defence. This could be a high-scoring game if Drew Brees can answer the bell at home.

Washington +10 over DALLAS

If you don’t think that Washington is licking its chops about trying to stop the Cowboys winning streak, you don’t know this rivalry.

This week: 8-7

This season: 56-49-1

Richard Dunne goes and does it again + EPL roundup

- October 21st, 2014

You would think that in a game in which a team scores four of the contest’s five goals, that side would win. In the case of QPR-Liverpool, you would be very wrong.

Two own goals from Rangers defenders cost the London outfit a desperately needed point after some incredible injury time drama.

Things really picked up after QPR brought on Eduardo Vargas in the 79th minute, with plenty of attacks coming close at both ends. The Chilean winger brought his side even in the 87th minute to set up the fantastic finish.

How great was the close to this game? Well you don’t often see three goals scored in the 90th minute or later.

Philippe Coutinho put the Reds in front in the 90th minute, a goal that the announcer mistakenly called the winner – if only he knew what was to come.

Vargas would come back and hit the tying goal two minutes later and QPR would even come close to scoring a winner, but a Liverpool breakout would end with Steven Caulker putting a Raheem Sterling pass into his own net, ending the game.

It was the second QPR own goal of the game, after own-goal maestro Richard Dunne put one home earlier in the game. It was Dunne’s record 10th career own goal, which is nine more goals than he has scored for his own team in his career.

While the Reds did pick up the three points, needing those two gifts against a relegation-battling team like QPR isn’t exactly promising. Defence continues to be a huge issue, with Martin Skrtel and Glen Johnson having particularly poor showings.

If Liverpool wants to remain in the Champions League next season, it’s going to have to shape up at the back.

THE TWO-HORSE RACE

It’s still early in the season – there are still 30 games to play – but this season is shaping up to be a real two-team race for the title. It might not be a close one either.

Chelsea, playing without superstriker Diego Costa, was briefly a man down against Crystal Palace and never really looked in trouble. Some beautiful passing led to the winner by Cesc Fabregas and Oscar had a stunner of a free kick. This is a team with very few weaknesses, but you have to wonder if Loic Remy would cut it up front if Costa was to miss a game against a better opponent.

Sitting in second at five points back is Manchester City, which got an outstanding four goals from Sergio Aguero – hope you captained him in fantasy – to defeat Tottenham.

This defeat shouldn’t come as a shock to Spurs fans, as City dominated them last year as well.

The only real shock came when Frank Lampard won a penalty kick and it was Aguero who stepped up to take it. Lampard is one of the best and most consistent penalty-takers in EPL history. It was curious to see him step aside, even if this isn’t exactly his team like Chelsea was.

Thanks to those four goals, Aguero – like Lampard with Chelsea – became City’s all-time leading scorer in the Premier League with 59 goals. Just think about how many he could bag if he stays healthy and with the team for an extended amount of time.

WHAT A DISASTER

Could Gus Poyet be joining the sack race?

After losing a whopping 8-0 at Southampton, you have to wonder.

That was the biggest catastrophe to leave Southampton since the Titanic.

In case you missed the worst scoreline of the season, Sunderland was crushed 8-0 by the surprisingly third-place Saints.

It was a complete breakdown all over the pitch. Five different Southampton players scored while two Black Cats players scored on themselves – and these weren’t your average own goals like QPR scored against itself on unfortunate misdirections.

If Santiago Verigini had rocketed his own goal into the proper net, it would’ve been hailed as one of the highlights of the weekend while Liam Bridcutt literally walked the ball into his own net.

It was amateur-hour type stuff that you would expect from a team sitting in 17th place, where Sunderland now resides. It will take a some effort to right this ship.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

Aguero actually could have had five goals, but Spurs keeper Hugo Lloris made a save with his toes on another penalty attempt … If not for Alexis Sanchez pulling some nice moves around some FIFA 15-style defending, Arsenal could’ve lost to Hull. The Tigers can’t be happy with dropping points after an inspired effort … Congrats to Alan Pardew for getting his first win of the season. Don’t think for a second that a lacklustre win over a promoted side will call off the dogs, though … Which was the miss of the week: Mario Balotelli’s putting a sitter 20 rows into the stands, or Papiss Cisse putting the ball into the side-netting after rounding the keeper? I’d say Balotelli; Cisse’s miss was at least at a somewhat tougher angle.

THE LAST WORD

Hey Premier League schedule-makers, where was the late game on Saturday?

Due to the hours that I work, waking up early isn’t always an option for me. So that 12:30 EST kickoff can be the only entire game that I can watch live. Sure, they can often be duds, but at least it’s live football.

So where was it this week?

Instead of running six games at 10 a.m., why not slide one into that prime-time slot?

Sure, the Newcastle-Leicester City match ran late because kickoff was delayed by a wobbly video screen creating a safety hazard, but that wasn’t planned.

It would work out better for the league as well, since more games shown live means more exposure and more fans that can watch.

Get your act together, EPL.

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki

The ties that bind + NFL Week 7 picks

- October 18th, 2014

I hate ties in the NFL.

They’re the worst. Football should be a game that is won or lost, not drawn.

Now, thanks to the highest-scoring tie in NFL history, we’re going to have to see records at the end of the season like 8-7-1 instead of a much cleaner 8-8. I’m sure you’re not going to care, but that plays hell with an editor’s layout.

There’s a very easy way to avoid these damned ties, which are cropping up more and more often with three in five years: Play NCAA-style overtime.

While many will say that the NFL should just extend overtime until a winning score is produced, that’s not a feasible way of doing things when you consider the players’ safety.

Longer games mean more chance at injury and that’s certainly something that you don’t want.

So play the shootout style like both college and the CFL use – although the CFL does have ties after a certain amount of rounds. It’s a lot more exciting than a battle of field position that overtime can become, when teams are more afraid to lose than they want to win.

Nobody likes ties and there’s plenty of ways to get rid of them. So let’s do it.

The lines are from Vegas and the home teams are in CAPS.

NEW ENGLAND -9.5 over New York Jets

I am a little shocked that this game came down to a blocked field goal with time expiring, but should’ve known better considering the Patriots injuries and the that Rex Ryan is always out to get Bill Belichick.

INDIANAPOLIS -3 over Cincinnati

Without A.J. Green, the Bengals aren’t so scary. Their defence is also slacking and they’re a much better team at home.

WASHINGTON -5.5 over Tennessee

With Robert Griffin III somehow getting close to coming back after that gruesome injury, Kirk Cousins may be playing for his job.

Miami +3 over CHICAGO

The Dolphins are a real Jekyll and Hyde team, but the Bears are too. I’ll take Miami with the points on the road.

Cleveland -5.5 over JACKSONVILLE

The Browns have been on fire in the past few weeks and the Jags aren’t exactly a top-class opponent. Brian Hoyer is making himself a lot of money in the free-agent market this off-season.

Seattle -7.5 over ST. LOUIS

The Seahawks will use this as a statement game after losing at home in their supposed fortress last week.

Carolina +7 over GREEN BAY

The Packers aren’t exactly impressing every week and the Cats can keep it close.

Atlanta +7.5 over BALTIMORE

When two good offences collide, I’d rather take the points if it’s more than a TD. And why the heck isn’t Antone Smith getting the ball more often, Mike Smith?

Minnesota +7 over BUFFALO

The Vikings seriously have to start blocking better, but the Bills are due for a big letdown game.

New Orleans +2.5 over DETROIT

The Saints have to turn it around and soon. Although the Lions defence is one of the league’s best, I have faith in Sean Payton and Drew Brees to break it down. Although if Megatron plays, I’m going with Detroit.

Kansas City +4 over SAN DIEGO

The Chiefs are coming off a bye and Andy Reid has made a career by winning with two weeks of preparation.

New York Giants +7 over DALLAS

The Giants will look to bounce back and always play well when visiting the rival Cowboys.

Arizona -3 over OAKLAND

The Raiders did look improved against the Chargers last week, but this Cardinals team is 4-1 and just got Carson Palmer back.

DENVER -7 over San Francisco

The Niners are too banged up on defence to contain Peyton Manning on his march into the record books.

PITTSBURGH -3 over Houston

The Steelers are a very average team all around, but the Texans are essentially a one-man team on defence and won’t be able to contain Antonio Brown.

Last week: 9-5-1

This season: 48-42-1

NFL Week 6 picks

- October 11th, 2014

The lines are from Vegas and the home teams are in CAPS.

Indianapolis -3 over HOUSTON

Can you believe it? We finally got a competitive Thursday night football game! The only problem with that is that the game was only close because it got incredibly sloppy at times. It’s a real shame that these things are going to continue on forever.

Denver -10 over NEW YORK JETS

It really is all falling apart for Rex Ryan and the Jets. Even their run defence – their saving grace this season – looked awful last week while being shutout. The Broncos should have an easy one in New York.

Pittsburgh +2 over CLEVELAND

A lot of bettors are backing the Browns and I’m not sure why. That big comeback last week was aided by the Titans falling apart. The Steelers held on to win in Week 1 and should do it again.

Jacksonville +4 over TENNESSEE

If you want to bet on Charlie Whitehurst, do so at your own peril.

Chicago +3.5 over ATLANTA

This has potential to be a real shootout. Jay Cutler has been better on the road this season and Matt Forte could really run wild on the Falcons vulnerable front seven.

MIAMI +3 over Green Bay

Just because the Packers dominated the Vikings last Thursday night, doesn’t mean it will carry over against the Dolphins. Both teams are well-rested, but it’s tough to pass on a home dog that’s frisky.

Minnesota (pk) over DETROIT

Without Megatron and Reggie Bush, the Lions could be in big trouble against a division rival that has their number.

Carolina +7 over CINCINNATI

While the Bengals are on a good run at home, this game should be a close one without A.J. Green playing.

New England -3 over BUFFALO

The Bills could get an emotional boost with the announcement of their new owners, but the Pats ran wild last week and looked like the contenders they’re supposed to be.

TAMPA BAY +3 over Baltimore

The Ravens have some pretty poor road record while the Bucs can be feisty at times.

OAKLAND +8 over San Diego

Home dogs coming off a by favoured by more than a TD are a solid bet, according to recent trends.

SEATTLE -8 over Dallas

The Cowboys have looked very good this season, but the Seahawks – especially at home – are a very tough matchup for them.

Washington +3.5 over ARIZONA

If it’s Logan Thomas starting for the Cards, there’s no way I can back them. If Carson Palmer is somehow good to go, that’s another story.

PHILADELPHIA -2.5 over New York Giants

This will be the LeSean McCoy break out game fantasy owners have been waiting for.  Shady always dices up the Giants in these rivalry games.

San Francisco -3 over ST. LOUIS

The Niners haven’t looked anything special this season, but the Rams have barely looked average at times. Austin Davis is also punching above his weight right now.

Last week: 12-3

This season: 39-37