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Time to kill the deadline coverage

- March 3rd, 2015

By the time the bell rang at 3 p.m. on Monday for the NHL trade deadline the amount of players on the move roughly equalled the amount of people covering the trade deadline on TSN and Sportsnet.

It was that uneventful.

When you consider the most excitement of the day came when TSN had Gino Reda wrangling llamas in the parking lot, well, you get the picture of what actually went down on deadline day.

This came after months of advertising for this “event” by both sports networks, which devoted at least a dozen people each for on-screen duties.

The biggest trade of the day? Jeff Petry from Edmonton to Montreal for a couple of draft picks. I can honestly tell you that I have never of Petry and wouldn’t have even known he played for the Oilers.

But the spectacle raged on. The whole thing on TSN went on from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. – nine hours of coverage! – and then followed that with a one-hour recap show.

A bit excessive when you’re breaking down deals like Maxime Talbot and Paul Carey for Jordan Caron.

Compare that to the coverage both networks gave the NBA trade deadline a couple of weeks ago: None. Not even a ticker on the main networks while some pretty big and unexpected deals were breaking. It was the exact opposite of what happened at the NHL deadline.

The whole thing really got started in 2010, when there were a record amount of deals that went down and networks were scrambling to keep up.

Now, nothing happens until around noon and, even then, there’s nothing too big.

This year especially, teams were making deals in the weeks leading up to the deadline. While there were some interesting names on the table like the Leafs’ Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel, there was no way that either would be dealt in a panic trade in an effort to tank for Connor McDavid. After all, the market for them will still be there around draft time.

This should be a wakeup call to the networks and media in general that we shouldn’t go treating the the NHL trade deadline like it’s a Canadian national holiday. It’s a bank holiday at best and, at worst, it’s a bunch of llamas running through a studio full of guys staring at their cell phones.

It’s time to tone things down.

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki

Chelsea’s first Cup of many

- March 2nd, 2015

The way that this season is going, Chelsea might look back at Sunday’s Capital One Cup win over Tottenham as practice – a rehearsal of how to celebrate after winning a title.

With the league leaders taking it to their London rivals at Wembley, this could’ve been an opportunity for chasers Manchester City to gain some ground in the standings – even if the Blues would have that game in hand.

But Manchester City found out the hard way that trips to Anfield in 2015 are no joking matter.

Liverpool has certainly found its game and are now undefeated in 11 games. This run has helped them jump right into the race for the Champions League as it now sits just two points behind Manchester United in fourth.

This win was all thanks to another Philippe Coutinho rocket. His past three goals have been great shots from outside the box and all three have been game-winners as well – even if his goal against Southampton was in the third minute.

Even the Reds’ defence is playing better, something that has dogged them since Brendan Rodgers took over the team.

But this game wasn’t about Liverpool’s win, it was more about City’s loss.

Even settling for a draw would have been a bad result, but now it’s that much worse.

While having a game in hand is nice and all, Chelsea still has to get a result in it. But with so much room for error, I think we’re getting closer by the day to putting a bow on this season and handing Chelsea another piece of silverware.

FANTASY CORNER

Thanks to the Cup final, we now get our first fantastic double gameweek of the season.

It’s time to stock up on Spurs and maybe Charlie Austin if you fancy QPR’s fixtures – which I wouldn’t.

This is the time in the fantasy season where your moves matter the most. Captaining a guy like Harry Kane for a double gameweek and perhaps getting a goal or two can boost your score big time. Of course, you likely won’t be the only one doing so.

The big debate I think is whether you go with either Kane or Christian Eriksen as your captain, do you take a shot with Austin or do you take Sergio Aguero at home against bottom-of-the-table Leicester City. That’s a decision that should be mulled over carefully.

CHANGING THE LAWS

FIFA met this week to talk about something that didn’t end with the world rolling its collective eyes. Shocking, I know.

But with a committee talking about some rule changes that actually make sense, well there is some hope from the rulers of the world’s game.

Probably the best idea would be the elimination of so-called triple punishment. Really, it made no sense from the start that a player could be send off, suspended for the next game and the other team gets a penalty all for one foul that wasn’t even egregious.

By removing the ban, that takes at least some of the bite out of it.

Another proposal was adding an extra substitution if a game goes into extra time. While I’m all for protecting players’ health, playing an extra two 15-minute halves isn’t enough to necessitate an extra change.

Really, soccer doesn’t need to change to become more like North American sports, either.

Changing the clock to stop when the ball goes out of play is completely unnecessary.

And thank God that the idea of a penalty box has been quickly struck down.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

Europe hasn’t treated England well so far this season. Both Liverpool and Tottenham went out in Europa League and things aren’t looking great for Arsenal and Manchester City right now. Even Chelsea isn’t on the most surest of fitting after its 1-1 draw against PSG. The weird thing is Italy’s solid record in Europe, with six teams still alive. You don’t see that everyday … Saido Berahino is doing his best to force his way into England’s plans. He scored a stunner of a volley to give West Brom its win on Saturday … Peter Crouch tied Alan Shearer’s record of 46 headed goals this week. While I’m not surprised that the lanky striker tied the record, I am that they actually keep track of that sort of thing. Although, they do have numbers for everything these days … Wayne Rooney also set a record this week, hitting the 10-goal mark for the 11th straight season. He’s the first player to do so and considering the type of transfer movement we see from top players these days, it might not happen again.

THE LAST WORD

We laughed when Arsenal’s Keiran Gibbs was sent off instead of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in a case of mistaken identity last year, but this time was just sad.

The ref got it completely wrong when Sunderland’s Wes Brown was given his marching orders after a foul in the box on Radamel Falcao gave United a penalty.

The problem is that it was John O’Shea that committed the foul.

Even after pleading with the ref that he should be the one sent off Sunderland’s captain O’Shea remained on the pitch.

After the game, the referee association backed the official and gave the reasoning that he saw Brown foul Falcao and that it was the right call.

I wonder how this will all hold up after an appeal that will surely come.

My take on the whole thing: I don’t think it should’ve been a red card to begin with. Nobody would’ve complained if it was simply a penalty and a yellow for O’Shea.

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki

Go fourth, my sons

- February 23rd, 2015

Don’t look now, but we have one hell of a race on for the Top 4 and the Champions League spots that come with them.

With Liverpool’s win over Southampton and Tottenham’s draw on Sunday, only four points separate Arsenal in third from Spurs in seventh.

Realistically, you could see a team go from out of Europe entirely to sitting in an automatic Champions League spot.

While the top two spots are all but locked up, this adds some intrigue for that next group of teams, who aren’t all that bad, if you haven’t noticed.

Arsenal is firing on all cylinders and has seemingly gotten over the injury bug.

Manchester United can’t seem to keep it all together despite having an immensely talented side.

Liverpool is coming on strong after some early season struggles.

Southampton is sticking around, despite getting outplayed by the Reds on Sunday.

And then there’s Harry Kane, keeping Spurs alive in this race and in the driver’s seat in the Europa League playoffs.

So who will end the season looking forward to a European trip next season?

Well you can’t count out the Gunners and their reputation for winning that fourth-place trophy. United has too much riding on finishing in Champions League, but might have to settle for Europa League if it doesn’t play its cards right. Southampton’s dream season seems to be going downhill and its attack can be spotty at times. That leaves Liverpool and Tottenham, but both are looking at a nice Europa League run and also have some domestic Cup ties in the future, stretching their squads.

What we do know for certain is this: The race for Europe is going to come down to the final days of the season and it’s going to be fantastic.

TITLE TALK

Manchester City was able to put a little bit of pressure on Chelsea this week, thanks in no small way to the refs at Stamford Bridge.

Burnley did its part in pestering the league leaders into some frustrated fouls – including the clattering challenge that saw Nemanja Matic sent off. The Clarets knew that they would never beat the Blues through skill and seemed set on just playing it rough and hoping for the best.

But what they weren’t counting on was the ref missing a clear hand ball in the box, denying the hosts a penalty and likely all three points. Instead, it was a draw and an opportunity for City to make up ground.

In a fixture that Manchester City always seems to excel at, the result was never in doubt. After a giveaway in the first minute led to a penalty call, you could tell Newcastle was always going to be on its backfoot on Saturday afternoon.

Five goals later, it was all over but the crying.

It’s these type of performances that City needs to remind people that there is a title race on the go. And it was especially nice to see City go full throttle and not really rest players ahead of the Citizens’ huge game against Barcelona midweek.

With Champions League on the go again, you can never be sure which games will get priority and what kind of squad rotation will go on.

With Chelsea playing in the League Cup final next weekend, it will be interesting to see how it deals with the fixture congestion later on.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

Hey, Everton, we’re waiting. Wasn’t this team supposed to contend for a spot in Europe? Instead, it isn’t too far above the relegation fray and drawing against bottom-dwelling Leicester City isn’t easing worries … West Ham has lost Andy Carroll for the season, again. If he could ever stay healthy, he could become a world-class target man in front of the net for England … It should be noted that there were four clean sheets this week and two of them came in Sunderland and West Brom’s 0-0 draw.

THE LAST WORD

Like it or not, Qatar 2022 is going to happen.

This week, reports were made that it will be taking place in November and December too. You know, because you can’t play soccer in the middle of the desert in the middle of the summer.

Hasn’t enough happened since the middle Eastern nation was awarded the tournament that it should’ve been moved by now?

There are human rights violations and construction workers deaths piling up every day, yet FIFA is giving it all a blind eye.

And now, with this move of the tournament to winter, it will throw a serious wrench in Europe’s domestic seasons. Considering how much money is at stake in TV deals with the Premier League, which just re-upped for about $5 billion, this could be a serious problem.

We constantly harp on the NHL for caving to the Olympics while only a small percentage of players actually go to the Games. It will be interesting to see if any leagues will continue play during Qatar 2022.

After all, League Championship doesn’t take international breaks. The German Bundesliga and some eastern European leagues have winter breaks already. How will this affect those leagues?

While there is still plenty to work out in terms of logistics, the 2022 World Cup is becoming more of a nightmare by the day.

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki

Super Mario scores – finally!

- February 12th, 2015

It took roughly six months and 48 shots, but Mario Balotelli has finally scored – and he couldn’t have timed it better.

The Italian stallion’s first goal with Liverpool turned out to be the game-winner against Tottenham on Tuesday. And boy, should he and fans of the Reds feel relieved.

With the easy tap-in, his account is now opened and that huge monkey is off his back. Really, is was an opportunity that would’ve been nearly impossible to miss – thankfully for Balotelli.

Now, if Balotelli can start scoring anywhere close to the rate that he has in his career, the Reds could become the hottest offensive team in the league with Raheem Sterling in good form and Daniel Sturridge back from injury.

As for Tottenham, it put up a valiant fight, with the hottest player in the league Harry Kane scoring yet again. Kane now has five goals in the past three games and eight in the past six.

These two teams are going to be right in the hunt for places in Europe at the end of the season and this win gives the Reds a nice leg up. With five other teams above them at the top of the table, these two sides are likely going to be duking it out for the last Europa League spot.

And, in case you were wondering, the player with the most shots in the Premier League without a goal is now Manchester City’s Jesus Navas, while teammate Samir Nasri was actually next behind the Spanish winger on the list before scoring on Wednesday.

THE TITLE RACE

They came in two different ways, but both title contenders came up with three points on Wednesday.

Chelsea left it late, a minute after Everton’s Gareth Barry had been sent off for his second yellow, to snatch the win.

Willian’s goal was the definition of a seeing-eye goal – a shot that somehow made it through a bunch of buddies without even getting deflected and found the back of the net.

It wasn’t the best performance, but that doesn’t matter when it works. Jose Mourinho will surely drill his charges for looking a bit sluggish at times.

There was some good news for the Blues though; January signing Juan Cuadrado made his debut while Cesc Fabregas returned from a minor injury with a substitute appearance.

Manchester City didn’t have nearly as much trouble with Stoke City. Although the Potters did level the game at 1-1, the Citizens were able to pound in three more and take this one easily.

Sergio Aguero slotted home two to put him one behind Diego Costa for the league lead. But now for the bad news: Kun was subbed off with an apparent injury.

It seems that whenever something starts to go right for Man City, one of the wheels suddenly falls off.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

In case you were wondering, Wayne Rooney hasn’t started as a forward this year, yet. While he has always been good at tracking back on defence, even when playing as an out-and-out striker, you have to think that this isn’t the best use of him. Playing as a central midfielder, you also have to wonder if Rooney is going to be happy in this role going forward and if he’ll stay at United through the summer … After Harry Redknapp’s resignation and the loss of top scorer Charlie Austin on the weekend, you would’ve thought QPR was in trouble on Tuesday, but it was hardly the case. With a 2-0 win over Sunderland, the R’s are now that little bit closer to escaping the relegation zone. Let’s just see them do it again, though … Leicester lost again and is now four points out of second last. This squad is doomed … Alan Pardew’s Crystal Palace scrapped to a 1-1 with the gaffer’s former team Newcastle and, really, were robbed of three points after an amazing save by Tim Krul late on … Squad rotation is a great thing for a side like Arsenal. With two games so close and a nearly healthy, large squad, there was no loss of quality, even with some big changes to the lineup.

THE LAST WORD

The inevitable has finally happened: Aston Villa has sacked Paul Lambert.

That’s what a run of 2-6-13 over the past 21 games will get you. The fact that this side has only scored eight goals in that span while allowing 33 doesn’t help either. Also, those two wins came in a row and Villa has been on losing streaks of six and five games.

With the team’s ownership in flux and American Randy Lerner trying to sell the team, this was always going to be a season in limbo for the Villans.

Unfortunately, it has gone a lot worse than many expected. Even with Christian Benteke back from injury, this team just cannot score.

This 2-0 loss midweek to Hull City was the last straw, apparently.

Now, I’m just not sure how exactly to turn this team around.

Would bringing on Tim Sherwood help?

Is there something more to be brought out from the players in this squad? It’s not like it can make any additions with the window closed.

Whoever takes the helm of the midlands club will be fighting for history as well: Aston Villa is one of just seven teams that have played in every season of the Premier League.

Kane is very able for Spurs

- February 9th, 2015

Who would’ve seen this coming: Tottenham has beaten Arsenal in the North London derby.

Even better for the Spurs, it was Harry Kane – who crew up an Arsenal fan – that did the damage for Tottenham.

The result itself is a huge reversal of course after years of seeing Spurs falter over and over again against the league’s top teams.

Spurs’ win also put to an end the Gunners’ run of 58 games without a loss after leading at the half.

With a find like Kane, it restores faith that Spurs can be a real contender for Europe after selling Gareth Bale two years ago and trying to rebuild through the transfer market. It turns out that the academy product is better than any of Andre Villas-Boas’ signings – with perhaps Christian Eriksen excluded.

Can this team make a run for the top four? That remains to be seen but it is a question worth asking now.

As for the Gunners, while they are getting healthier by the week, it didn’t seem to matter in the derby. Even with Mesut Ozil starting – and scoring – and Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck coming off the bench, it wasn’t enough offence for Arsenal. Alexis Sanchez should be back soon and this team couldn’t use him more.

Again, this adds up to a selection problem for Arsene Wenger, but there’s worse problems to have than having too many good players to choose from.

TITLE RACE TILTING

Chelsea avoided an upset, but Manchester City dropped points. What does it mean? A seven-point lead for the Blues and more questions about whether the title race is over already – again.

Still missing Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas, Chelsea took an early lead against Aston Villa – which all but assured the London side victory. After all, Chelsea has one of the EPL’s top defences and the Villans were coming into the game having not scored in nearly 11 hours of play.

But, defender Jores Okore sprung free and got on the end of a cross to make Villa Park erupt. It’s just a shame that the hosts couldn’t stop Branislav Ivanovic, who scored for the fourth time in the past five games against Villa.

In fact, you could call the Villans’ top villain.

As for the defending champs, City needed an injury time stunner from James Milner to salvage a draw against Hull City.

If you haven’t seen the highlight-reel free kick yet, it’s the type that will be replayed for weeks, bending around the wall with power rarely seen on such finesse attempts.

Hull’s goal will be on highlight reels for the opposite reason: It was a comedy of City errors that led to David Meyler’s score.

Really, it was the type of goal that City has allowed in the past and the type that makes you question how such an undisciplined team can be as talented as it is.

As long as the Citizens make these mental mistakes, they have no chance of catching Chelsea.

At least with Yaya Toure returning shortly after winning the African Cup of Nations, City can breathe a bit easier. With their midfield stud gone for the past month, City is 0-5-1 in all competitions, showing how important he is to his team.

 AROUND THE LEAGUE

Manchester United was able to rescue a point at West Ham after a little bit of blind luck. If not for a West Ham clearance falling right to Daley Blind for the Dutchman to hammer it home in injury time, United would have come home empty-handed. And honestly, the Red Devils didn’t play well enough to deserve the point either … Credit should go to the Hammers’ Adrian for making a few clutch saves … Sadio Mane, back from the African Cup of Nations, was the hero for Southampton, scoring in injury time to give the Saints three points against QPR. It looked like the R’s would pick up a point in their first game without Harry Redknapp in charge, but fate had other plans apparently … QPR got lucky that top striker Charlie Austin didn’t suffer a broken foot and will be out just 1-2 weeks instead of much longer … For all the grief he got at Newcastle, we’re being reminded now that Alan Pardew isn’t that bad of a manager. His Crystal Palace Eagles are flying with another win under him … Leicester looks straight up doomed. It’s funny how a team that dominated League Championship can be so bad in the top flight … Another promoted team, Burnley, continues to struggle. The Clarets failed to hold on to a lead at Turf Moor, dropping points to West Brom. But hey, at least they got back on the scoresheet.

THE LAST WORD

Not all Merseyside Derbys are created equal, apparently.

A year ago when Liverpool hopped the bus to Goodison Park, we got a thrilling 3-3 draw.

This year, we got a stale draw of the 0-0 variety.

From the start it looked like Brendan Rodgers wasn’t even taking this one too seriously. He started a somewhat experimental lineup, with youngster Jordan Ibe getting his second career start – it turned out to be a good move.

Ibe had the two best chances of the game, hitting the post with a stunning shot and almost getting on the end of a deflected shot before Joel Robles smothered it.

The game only got a little bit interesting after Muhamed Besic and Ibe tangled, leading to some cards being brandished.

That fired up the hosts and the home fans, leading to some pressing play up top.

But, it didn’t lead to anything and, with Besic taken off minutes later, the rally was quelled.

The biggest question of the match was why Roberto Martinez kept Ross Barkley on the bench for so long. The Toffees’ starlet wasn’t brought on until the 85th minute, far too late to make much of an impact.

The whole thing was hardly fit to be the last Merseyside clash for Steven Gerrard, but at least we’re sure that he has plenty of old memories from this rival to take with him to Los Angeles.