Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Manchester City recover to defeat Monaco in Champions League tie for the ages

“Let’s hope the fourth official indicates 15 minutes of added time,” joked Darren Fletcher commentating on BT Sport. Who could blame him? As Manchester City recovered to beat Monaco in the first leg of the Champions League second round, the two combined to produce one of the most thrilling matches in the tournament’s history.

Monaco swept aside the hosts in the first half, with goals from Falcao and the prodigious Kylian Mbappe cancelling out Raheem Sterling’s opener. After Sergio Aguero equalised, Falcao regained the French side’s lead with a dink over Willy Caballero that will live long in the memory – and not just for the way the Colombian left John Stones on his back-side.

During the mayhem Aguero was booked for diving when he should have had a penalty and Falcao missed his own spot kick. Eventually City roared back with three goals between the 72nd and 81st minute. Aguero levelled with a lovely volley from David Silva’s corner, while Stones earned a redemption strike to make it 4-3. Leroy Sane finished the rout after a scything move featuring Aguero and Silva. In truth, Monaco collapsed just as City had earlier.

It was the kind of match that had you watching through your fingers because of the lapses in defence. Consider Caballero’s clearance which plunged his team into danger before Mbappe scored. Think back to how Subasic should have saved Aguero’s first goal. But on the other hand there were moments of brilliance, such as Falcao’s chip and Sane’s endless running and productivity.

The fun started with Bernardo Silva nutmegging Yaya Toure and Mbappe dribbling past Nicolas Otamendi as if he wasn’t there. It’s easy to see why Mbappe, 18, is being touted as the next Thierry Henry. Sterling opened the scoring, turning in Sane’s cross after the German evaded three defenders on the left.

Monaco battled back to take the lead. Fabinho swung a cross towards goal which Falcao headed in, and moments after Aguero was wrongly booked when Subasic brought him down, Mbappe scored the vistors’ second. He left Otamendi for dead and side-footed into the roof of the net, taking advantage of Caballero’s shanked clearance.

The Ligue 1 leaders should have been further ahead by the time Falcao missed a penalty that would have put his side 3-1 up. The forward with 16 league goals this season slid to meet a cross with Otamendi, resulting in a tussle which nobody on the pitch thought was a foul apart from referee Antonio Miguel Mateu Lahoz. Otamendi was booked, and Falcao rolled his penalty straight at Caballero. It was never a penalty and City got their just rewards.

They pulled it back to 2-2 when Sterling, breaking from the halfway line, laid off a diagonal ball for Augero whose shot tricked through Subasic’s grasp and into the Monaco net. The Croat may have gained solance from Falcao’s lob for 3-2, but City completed their rout thereafter.

Aguero equalised after meeting Silva’s corner beautifully, while it felt ironic that it was Stones who put them 4-3 ahead after he let Falcao muscle past him earlier. The England defender converted Kevin De Bruyne’s corner at the far post, and as Monaco began waving the white flag, Sane got the goal his performance warranted. Meanwhile City and Monaco will meet again in the second leg on 15th March, just in case you were thinking this season’s Champions League couldn’t get any better.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

UFC Fight Night Halifax: Six things we learned as Derrick Lewis stops Travis Browne

Heavyweight Derrick Lewis earned his sixth victory in a row by coming from behind to stop Travis Browne at Sunday’s UFC Fight Night event in Halifax.

“The Black Beast” clutched his belly in pain from Browne’s body kicks, but the 32-year-old rallied and smashed through Browne’s guard with uppercuts to complete his comeback.

While Johny Hendricks earned his first win at middleweight, let’s take a look at six things we learned from this weekend’s bouts.

Lewis can move up further in the heavyweight division

Indeed, ranked at number eight, Lewis is enjoying the best form of his career and with his finishing instincts, active game on top and steely mentality he can challenge for a spot in the top five. He never gave up against Browne and once he’d recovered from a body assault in round one, he cut off the distance and hammered his rival with uppercuts. Eventually Browne crumbled to the mat and Lewis finished with ground-and-pound. Next up Lewis could face the number six from France, Francis Ngannou.

Lewis performs an entertaining post-fight interview

Of course, the Texan has always been a bit of an oddball, but he took this to a new level with his hilarious post-fight interview. Was he hurt from Browne’s tirade to the body? “No, I’ve just got to do a number two.” Too much information, Derrick. The heavyweight then spoke of all the sex he’s been getting recently, and Brian Stann must have used all of his restraint to stay professional by this point.

Browne needs to trust his instincts

On the other hand, Browne suffered his third defeat on the spin and is falling into a habit of losing fights when he has the upper hand. For instance, he hurt Andrei Arlovski before losing that war in 2015, and it was the same story against Lewis. Browne boasted a 3.5 inch height advantage and used it to connect with a range of kicks to the body and the head. But as soon as he started taking punishment, he covered up and couldn’t fight back. Should he have tried to clinch with Lewis? Should he have kept it at range with his boxing? Browne now has plenty of soul-searching to do.

Hendricks has the cardio to succeed at middleweight

Soon after Hendricks got his unanimous decision over Hector Lombard, the former welterweight king grinned into a camera and yelled: “185 motherf---ers!” Judging by the way he scored knees and punches on the exit and for the most part avoided going to the mat with Lombard, Hendricks’ delight was understandable. Notching a win on his debut at middleweight, Hendricks looked fresh at his new home, and his power and fitness should keep him around the top ten. But does he has the size to compete in the higher division? His 69 inch reach pales in comparison to the champion Michael Bisping’s 75.5 inch reach.

Marshman belongs in the UFC

Also at middleweight, Welshman Jack Marshman suffered a stunning knockout via a second round wheel kick from Brazil’s Thiago Santos. But given the boxing prowess he showed in dropping Santos with a counter right in the opener, he should be able to develop as a fighter in the UFC’s 185lbs scene. Indeed, Marshman was unhappy with the stoppage and don’t be surprised to see him lining up at a UFC event in Europe any time soon.

Tucker boasts nerves of steel

Imagine making your UFC debut in your home country. And on the main card, no less. You’ll hear UFC commentators discussing “Octagon jitters” for UFC debutants, but that wasn’t the case for featherweight Gavin Tucker, who landed kicks at will against Sam Sicilia before winning a unanimous decision. Although Tucker’s opponents had a combined ledger of 37-46 before the bout, the 30-year-old used his footwork and variety to dominate Sicilia. He landed 60 strikes to his opponent’s 10 and even found time to showboat for his home crowd. Nicely done.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Roma thrash Fiorentina to seal a record 14th consecutive home win

Roma earned a record 14th consecutive home win on Tuesday with Edin Dzeko scoring twice to complete a 4-0 rout over Fiorentina.

The hosts broke a record that stood since 1930 thanks to strikes from Dzeko, Radja Nainggolan and Federico Fazio.

With that, Roma closed the gap on leaders Juventus to four points, while Fiorentina sank to only one win at the Stadio Olimpico in their last 22 visits. 

But it was the Giallorossi who were tested early on, as Fiorentina winger Federico Chiesa went close twice in the first half. 

Fazio cleared Chiesa's lob off the line, while Emerson headed Federico Bernadeschi’s cross out for a corner before the youngster could meet it. 

Roma found their groove soon enough though. Nainggolan linked up with Kevin Strootman who fed a diagonal ball to the Brazilian, Bruno Peres, who scuffed over from six yards out.

Would Dzeko have finished from there? Roma wouldn’t have to rue their missed opportunity for long. The former Manchester City striker scored his first on 39 minutes, killing Daniele De Rossi’s lob before stroking past Ciprian Tatarusanu in the Fiorentina goal.

Indeed, Dzeko’s weight of touch belied his 6 foot 4 frame but Bruno Sanchez should have shrugged him off the ball.

By the time Fazio netted with 58 minutes gone, Fiorentina looked down and out. De Rossi whipped in an inswinging free kick which Fazio nodded in across goal. The defender wanted the ball more than anyone else, while De Rossi impressed with his second assist of the evening.

After the hour mark, Roma picked up the tempo. Nainggolan dribbled through tight spaces, and Stephan El Shaarawy carried the ball with intent. 

Dzeko was everywhere. He cut out a Sanchez back-pass and swiped wide. He flicked a header towards Fazio, who couldn’t quite stretch enough to head in his second.

As Fiorentina continued to crumble, Naingollan took full advantage. The Belgian scored a third on 75 minutes when, in one airborne motion, he brought down a Strootman lob with the outside of his boot and slammed in past Tatarusanu.  

Few defences can live with Nainggolan in this kind of mood and the same can be said of Dzeko, who became Serie A’s top scorer with his second of the match and 17th of the season on 83 minutes.

Sanchez played another suicide ball in the air towards Davide Asotri, who Dzeko easily muscled past to slide in the winner. Roma were rampant but it’s hard to decide which team 4-0 flattered the most.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Costa and Chelsea unite to hold off Hull

Diego Costa and Chelsea appear to be on the same page again after the Spanish international scored to help the west Londoners hold off Hull on Sunday.

Costa, who returned to the side after being dropped amid rumours of a training ground bust-up, rammed home Victor Moses’s cross before Gary Cahill’s header sealed the three points.

Ironically enough, the man who was exiled was Chelsea’s best player as Hull looked much better than a side occupying nineteenth in the table.

Costa took his chance when it mattered, but Harry Maguire was a threat for the visitors through the match, while Tom Huddlestone and Sam Clucas lined up through-balls that should have been gobbled up by Abel Hernandez.

But even on an off day, Costa’s teammates are more than capable of grinding out victories. It’s that sort of coolness under pressure that Pep Guardiola and Manchester City would kill for at the moment.

With an eight point lead at the top of the table, Costa and Chelsea sent a statement to Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and the chasing pack: whatever happens, we will always produce on the pitch.

They were made to work though. Although Hull trailed by a goal at half time, Maguire dribbled with intent and drew saves from Thibaut Courtois with a swipe across goal, a tame header and a 25-yard bullet. At times it felt like Maguire wanted a ball of his own. His battle with Courtois dominated the first half.

But the visitors suffered earlier when Ryan Mason was stretchered off injured after bashing heads with Cahill. Costa added to their woes, finishing Moses’ cut-back after a skillful dummy by the Belgian, Eden Hazard.

Maguire continued to stand out and Hernandez should have got a penalty when he was hacked from behind by Marcos Alonso. While Marcos Silva’s team kept the ball well in the second half, Antonio Conte regained Chelsea’s control by bringing on Cesc Fabregas in place of Hazard.

Fabregas lofted a free kick from the left which sailed over everyone apart from Cahill, who ghosted in at the far post to head in one of the most stress-free goals he’ll ever score.

And if Costa does stay at Stamford Bridge – and it looks like he will, for now at least – his exchanges with Fabregas will be crucial to Chelsea’s march to the title.

The Premier League’s joint scorer fired straight at Eldin Jakupovic in the Hull goal after Fabregas slid him through beautifully.

There was enough time left for Hull’s Everton loannee, Oumar Niasse, to turn and shoot but Chelsea held out to keep the clean sheet.

Moving forward, Conte has crunch Premier League matches against Liverpool and Arsenal in the next two weeks, but they will start as favourites in both if Costa continues his revival.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

5 things we learned from Lazio-Napoli

Napoli rebounded from last weekend’s defeat to Juventus by defeating Lazio 1-0 to go third in the table, one spot ahead of their rivals in the capital in the race for the Champions League.
Rafael Benitez’s side arrived in Rome intent on shutting their opponents down and Gonzalo Higuian’s acute finish in the first half was all they needed.

So as Napoli move forward, and Lazio remain weighed down by injuries, let’s look at what we learned from today’s action.

Higuian still loves playing The Eagles
By scoring his side’s winner, netting for the tenth time in Serie A this season, Higuian made it seven goals in his last four appearances against Lazio. You might think he raises his game against the Romans then, but to tell the truth, he’s been this good all season and now becomes the fourth player to score at least ten Serie A goals this term. His finish, a venomous drive at the near post after holding the ball up alone, was the mark of a striker in form.

Napoli grind it out without exerting themselves
Indeed, the solitary nature of Higuian’s goal epitomised Napoli’s performance – quick-thinking, industrious and economical. While the hosts wasted their chances in front of goal Napoli came off on top by making better use of the ball on the counter-attack - not from starting out with any sense of attacking panache or reckless ambition. Their pace on the break was frightening, and Higuian, Jonathan de Guzman and Jose Callejon all exploited space in the final third. 

Naples men can look ahead to European qualification
Although Napoli missed out on reaching the Champions League last season, dropping out in the play-offs to Athletic Bilbao, the Blues look assured of at least a preliminary spot again this time around. They move to third above Lazio and the nature of their battling, with Marek Hamsik benched until past the hour, shows they can grind out results on the road – a habit they will need in Europe. That’s without mentioning the experienced signing from Dnipro, Ivan Strinic, who kept Antonio Candreva quiet and impressed on his debut at full-back.

Crowded treatment room at Lazio is taking its toll
It’s not so rosy at the Stadio Olimpico however. Having thrown away a two-goal lead  to draw 2-2 in the Rome derby last weekend, Lazio entered this defeat with a threadbare squad once more. Standouts at both ends of the pitch such as Stefan de Vrij, Stefano Mauri and Felipe Anderson are all still out while the likes of Keita Balde, the tricky 19-year-old from Barcelona, and Danilo Cataldi, a 20-year-old with potential in midfield, will need time to express themselves.

Djordjevic is struggling to fill the void
Of course, with attacking talent on the sidelines now is the time for the Serbia forward, Filip Djordjevic, to rediscover the form that helped him score a hat-trick against Palermo in September. Still, against Napoli he failed to read any of Candreva’s crosses – despite their variety – and didn’t create any chances himself, stretching his barren run to just two goals in 12 appearances. Elsewhere Marco Parlo headed against the bar, while Balde and Luis Cavanda missed chances that will haunt them in their sleep.

By Alistair Hendrie (January 2015)



UFC Poland: Jimi Manuwa aims to keeps it standing against Jan Blachowicz

Jimi Manuwa says he is back to full fitness and raring to go ahead of his UFC Fight Night: Krakow co-main event against Jan Blachowicz on April 11.

The British light-heavyweight was meant to face Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua in November but pulled out because of a stress fracture to his fourth metatarsal.

Speaking to Mirror Fighting, Manuwa said, “I had some time off with my family and got straight back into training as soon as I could. It was the first time I’ve had to pull out of a fight and it was the right decision for my team to make.

“At the time the metatarsal was literally about to break but I was training on it every day. I’d never had this injury before so I didn’t know anything about it. I could have gone into the fight with a broken foot but kicking is one of my strongest weapons.”

The 35-year-old has been rebuilding at Allstars MMA in Stockholm, Sweden, where he trains with Alexander Gustafsson who handed him his first loss in March 2014.

“I’m comfortable there,” said Manuwa. “Everything’s so organised and (coach) Andreas Michael gives you so much confidence and inspiration. He’s a great man and a great person. I’ve always been friendly with Alex as well – before, during and after our fight.

“We remain friends and we want to help each other get better – that’s what it’s all about. He’s a cool guy, very relaxed and friendly like myself. We’re not loud, aggressive, out-there people. We get on fine without talking much.”

So after Gustafsson smashed Manuwa inside a round a year ago, has the Englishman changed how he thinks about the sport?

“Not really. I am who I am and I tune my training to the fighter I am. I don’t think I could change anything now. How I fight is what got me into the UFC in the first place.”

And the 205lbs division is now one of the most exciting in the UFC, with Anthony 'Rumble' Johnson tearing through Gustafsson in two minutes and 15 seconds in January.

After returning to the UFC following a two-year hiatus - also making the huge jump from welterweight to light-heavyweight - Johnson will now face 205lbs champion Jon Jones at UFC 187 on May 23.

“It’s one of those fights I can’t call,” admitted Manuwa. “Johnson is really explosive around rounds one and two but if Jones survives that he can come into the fight. Jones knows what he’s good at and how he likes to fight.

“He’s very good at making the fight his own fight and that’s why he’s got the belt. I think he’ll move up to heavyweight and beat most of the guys there too.”

But before the Croydon ace can think any further about the champion, he will have to cut down Blachowicz, a tough Polish fighter who avenged a defeat to Rameau Sokoudjou in 2011 to grab the KSW title.

The Poznan native, 31, made his UFC debut last October when he dismantled Ilir Latifi with a savage kick to the body in the first round.

“It was impressive,” said Manuwa. “He’s a great fighter but he’ll be shooting for the takedown. I like all styles of MMA, my first classes in the sport were BJJ but I prefer to stand up. I’ll keep the fight on the feet because it’s an easier and quicker way to finish the fight than by submission.”

By Alistair Hendrie (The Mirror)

Chris Eubank Jr "on warpath" for Billy Joe Saunders rematch

Chris Eubank Jr may have lost his undefeated record last year but the Brighton man believes he has learned his lessons ahead of his February 28 battle with Dmitry Chudinov at the O2 Arena, London.

The middleweight star was edged out on the scorecards in November by Billy Joe Saunders despite tearing into his rival during the final three rounds.

“Losing is a part of the sport and I’m over it,” said Eubank Jr. “That fight was a big learning experience for me. I should have pressed earlier and started how I finished. I’m not saying it was a mistake because during the fight it felt like it was neck and neck but I’ve learned lessons which I plan to build on, on February 28.

The 25-year-old's father Chris Eubank Sr, who created controversy by replacing Ronnie Davies as his son’s lead cornerman, added: “He started late against Saunders and that’s how the judges saw it. That’s boxing. I do believe that everything I’ve said about Chris is still on track. Simply put, we follow strategy or learn the hard way. His ability is there for all to see.”

The bad blood between Saunders and his domestic foe still simmers while Eubank Jr confessed he is already calling for a rematch.
 “It’s definitely something we’re looking forward to,” he admitted. “Will he take a rematch though? I don’t think so. He walked away from our first fight with a lot of question marks whereas I walked away thinking, yeah, I can do this. It was the hardest night of his career.

“I respect every man who steps through the ropes but Billy’s not a respectful character because of the things he says and the things he does. He hasn’t apologised for that and I’d love the rematch; there’s nothing I want more. I’ve got a lot of pride and that loss is something I want to put right.”

First of all he’ll have to overcome WBA interim champion Chudinov, a come-forward yet untested Russian with a record of 14-0-2.

“I’m on the warpath now and there’s no messing about. I’m ready to jump into it with the top fighters and show what I can do. For Saunders I didn’t have the correct sparring but now, if I need to bring fighters over or travel, we’ll have to do that.

“This time for Chudinov I’m going to do everything perfectly. This guy isn’t Saunders; he’s not a slick southpaw who I’ll have to figure out. I know what he’s going to do. He’ll come to fight but he won’t last long and I’ll have too much for him on the night.”

By Alistair Hendrie (The Mirror)