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)