LEICESTER CITY VS SPORTING BRAGA

The foxes have impressed in the last few games and there was no letting up on Thursday night. What a pass from Tielemans in the build up the third goal from fellow Belgian Praet. Iheanacho, deputizing for the rested Vardy struck a brace to stake a claim for a starting berth but it will take some doing to depose Vardy in the form he is in. Braga on the other hand barely threatened Schmeichel’s goal. With competition for the top 4 places in the Premiership promising to be at an all time high, this competition may provide a route for Leicester into the Champions League. They need to sort out their consistency issues particularly after Christmas. Their over reliance on goals from Vardy may come back to bite them and may possibly need to dip into January market to find a player who can supplement him. No offence to Iheanacho and Slimani of course.

PARIS MASTERS HIGHLIGHTS

Standout result on Thursday was Stan Wawrinka beating the in form Russian Andrey Rublev in 3 sets. Stan the man recovered impressively from losing the first set for just 1 game showing his younger upstart he has a lot in his 35 year old self.The key to his victory was winning his efficient conversion of break points(3/5) to Rublev’s (3/6). There was not much in it but it proved to be telling. Rafa Nadal celebrated a milestone 1000th win on the tour with a straight sets win over Australian Thompson. Thompson impressed me with my shot of the day when he was 3-2 up in the second at 0-15. Nadal is now ONLY behind Jimmy Connors(USA), Roger Federer(SUI) AND Ivan Lendl(CZE). He looked much settled after a shaky last match with Lopez.

DAVIS CUP:SERBIA VS KAZAKHSTAN

Europe showing the way in this year’s Davis Cup. Disappointingly the balance of power has long shifted from USA and Australia with the retirements of Roddick, Sampras , McEnroe , Agassi, the Woddies and Rafter. Serbia has emerged as one of the main contenders in this year’s Davis Cup on the back of some HERCULEAN victories by none other than world number one Djokovic. He produced one such effort in this tie with Kazakhstan in which he was scheduled to play in the doubles as well as singles. Kazakhstan led by Alexander Bublik led the way in Group B which included Sweden and Canada. They won the opening rubber when Kukushkin won against Krecmanovic. Bublik is a seasoned player on Tour despite his 24 years of age. In his arsenal is a strong first serve in line with his big frame as well as some good ground strokes. He found the going tough against a returner and a defender in the mold of the 20 times Grand Slam champion. Check out 2-1(30-15) Serbia. The forehand retrieval by Novak in the middle of the rally set the tone for the break of serve gained , Bublik unlucky with the net cord though. Novak makes you second guess yourself as long as the rally drags on. Both players employing the kick serve with a tinge of slice but Novak mixing it up more to test the Kazakhstani. Watch 4-2(15-0) the element of surprise. In no time Djokovic was a set up at 6-3.

You know , it is surprising thing about players who have a great serve is that they seldom use it to. It is like they sabotage themselves somewhat. Bublik is one such player. Watch first game second set at 40-30 Kazakhstan. Inch perfect serve. He prefers to grind it out in rallies but if he did this more often he would be high up on the rankings. The point of the match 1-0 second set 30-30. Novak let Bublik off the hook with that tame forehand volley which could have been better executed but great net coverage by Bublik. Novak would hold on to his serve in this match but only just. Then a crazy service game by Bublik with some shocking errors swung the set in favor of the Serbs. Check out the second serve at 1-1(40-30). If you are learning to serve that is how not to, look away. Feet not set properly leaning too far back. Just no. That break was enough as Serbia drew level at 1-1 in the tie. Djokovic and Nikola Cacic teamed up to beat Andrey Golubev and Aleksandr Nedovyesov in the doubles in three sets to book a semi final date with Croatia(should be an interesting all Balkan clash). Novak has not lost a Davis Cup singles match in 10 years. He deserves credit for showing up when other pro players would think about resting for 2022.

NBA:BUCKS VS HORNETS

The defending world champs are on a roll going into this one, on a 7-0 run going into this match at the Fiserv forum. Charlotte’s form has been patchy, winning 3 out of last 6 so they are rightly positioned dead middle at number 9 in the East. Slow start for Milwaukee, they couldn’t cope with the three point shooting from the Hornets in Q1. LaMelo Ball had the best figures for the match for Charlotte with 36 points and 9 assists. Check out this 3 pointer at 27-18 Hornets. Normal service on the paint for the Bucks, Giannis ever so dominant there but this play at 30-21 Charlotte came out of nowhere from Pat Connaughton. He made sure the ball was his and great understanding with Rod Hood there.

Bucks took time to get going but they did in Q2. Bucks are more than just Giannis. Khris Middleton provides much needed support in the field goal aspect of their game. He contributed 21 points with Connaughton contributing 11. Three points of which were at 58-46 Hornets as the Bucks started gnawing at the lead. Pat fortunate as he was off balance when he hit the shot but direction was good. Milwaukee eventually seized the lead in Q3. Hornets suddenly started to miss a whole lot of 3s. A lot of turnovers committed by Charlotte as well, the passing got a bit lousy too. Check out LaMelo at 73-66 Hornets give it to Allen, he clearly didn’t think he could take on Giannis and Jrue but clearly a shot was on there. Rebounds started getting lousy too, just 3 offensives for the whole game for Charlotte. Kelly Oubre for the Hornets had 25 points with Mika Bridges getting 22. Giannis is human after all, check him out getting mugged by LaMelo at 86-83 Hornets with Bridges finishing with an exclamation point dunk.

Q4 was a battle of attrition. Refs don’t always call it fair when they call fouls on the SUPERSTAR PLAYERS for the merest of touches on them. Ref called it spot on at 101-100 Bucks as Hornets took the lead, brave call. Going into the last seconds of the match 125-122 courtesy of a down towner from Middleton, the fadeaway 3 from LaMelo had the Bucks sweating and planning for overtime. Giannis made it count on a trademark drive to the bucket with 5 seconds remaining. Would have loved to see the Hornets do the tactical foul on Giannis there and take a chance on the free throw. Bucks now 14-8 and 4th in the East whilst Charlotte is 9th with a 13-11 record.

PREMIER LEAGUE:ASTON VILLA VS MANCHESTER CITY

Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard made his coaching bow north of the border last season at Rangers. Winning the league there unbeaten persuaded Villa to part company with Dean Smith and take a chance on Stevie G, so far it looks like an inspired decision. Two wins out of two going into this one, which is against one of world soccer’s most formidable teams in City. Have you ever wondered why coaches who have never been actually good on the field make the best coaches? It is because they do not always pay attention to the technical aspects of the whole game , only concentrate on perfecting their designated position. Gerrard in this match showed that he still has a lot to learn about the defensive organization of his team particularly when they lose the ball high up the pitch. Check out the Bernardo Silva wonder goal and how exposed they were, Mings caught out of position.

Bernardo Silva has been blazing this season. What you got to love about the City roving winger/number 10 is that he doesn’t take unnecessary touches, isn’t selfish and always looks for the pass if it is there. Ball control is superb too. What of Villa? Watkins was their best player by a mile, holding possession, leading the line allowing his teammates a chance to attack. His goal richly deserved , a training ground corner move, no doubt Gerrard had a say in that. Zimbabwean International Nakamba was awesome in the first half neutralizing Fernandinho although he inevitably runs out of steam in the second half. Just one sub for City, former Villa Park hero Grealish coming on to a rousing reception. Second half better for the home side, City as known haven’t the best defense in the world. But Ederson saving well from Chukwuemeka was the save of the match. Gerrard losing for the first time in a league match in over a year as coach. I think Villa hierarchy will be realistic as to the club’s position at the end of season so won’t expect much this year. City up to second a point behind Chelsea.

SERIE A:SALERNITANA VS JUVENTUS

A miserable week for the Bianconeri was made even worse at the weekend when Italian police raided the Turin club’s offices as part of investigations into accounting fraud. Falsifying records on agent fees and transfer deals are the exact allegations which could see the Old Lady stripped of their last Serie A title as well as relegation to Serie B. Shades of the Calciopoli match fixing scandal of 15 years ago in which Juve was relegated to the third tier. Among transfers being scrutinized are Luis Suarez’s botched move last season and Joao Cancelo-Danilo moves. One thing you got to love about Juve is no matter how battered they are they seem to come back in a big way. They did just that here albeit against arguably the worst side in the division in Salernitana. Back in the four(thank goodness) was Chiellini and also in was Moise Kean in for Morata who was had a match to forget against Atalanta. No Chiesa with Kulusevski getting the nod on the right flank.

The home side’s inexperience has shown so far this season with just 11 goals scored this season. They have Nigerian attacker Simeon(Simy) Nwankwo in attack who is not a bad striker at all whose height adds that extra aerial edge. But their problems have been in defense shipping in 29 goals in 20 games and it reflected in the starting eleven. An ultra conservative 5-3-2 formation, it is safe to say Salernitana were not overly optimistic of winning it. Juventus to their credit didn’t rest on their laurels and attacked constantly ,keeping possession well. Yes, Dybala wants a million chances to score a single goal but at least he found the net here. Juve almost blew it though when Ranieri ,the Salernitana left back , struck the post in the second half. Szscezny a beaten man, Juve defense in sixes. Morata, on as a sub and making up for the error against Atalanta made the points safe with a flick finish. A John Terry like penalty screw up by Dybala failed to dampen the mood even for the Old Lady.

#TeamPlWDLFAGDPtsLast 6
1Napoli1411213072335
2AC Milan14102230181232
3Inter Milan1494134151931
4Atalanta1594232171531
5Roma148152415925
6Fiorentina158072420424
7Juventus157352016424
8Lazio146352525021
9Bologna146352024-421
10Verona155552825320
11Empoli146172126-519
12Sassuolo145362221118
13Torino145271714317
14Udinese143651620-415
15Sampdoria154382129-815
16Venezia154381225-1315
17Spezia143291532-1711
18Genoa141761726-910
19Cagliari151681629-139
20Salernitana1522111131-208

DAVIS CUP:GERMANY VS GREAT BRITAIN

Cam Norrie has emerged in 2021 as the best Briton on Tour making it to a year end ranking of 12. He led team GB into the last eight were they face surprise quarterfinalists Germany. The Germans , without the Zverev brothers, came through a tough Group that included Serbia and Austria with flying colors winning both matches. GB also won both matches in a relatively easier Group which included France and Czech Republic. My focus is on the match between Norrie and Germany’s number one seed Jan Leonard Struff which was the second rubber after Dan Evans beat Peter Gojowczyk in the earlier match. The match went to three sets and it was Norrie who showed early frailties. Cam got broken early in the first set but eventually got back into the match at 2-4 down. First set went to a tie breaker which Struff won only just, saving set point at 6-5 going for the weaker Norrie second serve. He eventually won the set 8-6.

Norrie showed why he is now Britain’s next big Grand Slam hope with a classy second set. His lefty serve shone through as he never faced break point in that set to take it 6-3 in no time. Struff asked for a short recess after the second set and came back a different player.We pick it up on the third set 4-2 Germany 30-30. Struff has got the height advantage which comes in handy on service speed. Here serving on the deuce court on second serve to a lefty cries out for a cross court serve to the backhand. He did just that with Norrie struggling right from the point of making the return, no doubt his weak side. He did the same on the ad court with the big down the liner which missed the mark. But check out the second serve after this. Struff has nerves of steel planting the huge second serve cross court which gave Norrie no chance forcing Norrie to serve to stay in the match. Now on the Cameron serve. Check out 5-2(15-15), when the Brit played to the German’s backhand on the deuce court, Struff had the upper hand. The net charge by Norrie was brave but the control on the volley was lacking. Struff winning 6-2 leveling the tie at 1-1. It was up to the heavily fancied doubles pair of Joe Salisbury/Neal Skupski to save the day in the doubles rubber. Unfortunately it didn’t pan out as they lost to Kevin Krawietz/Tim Putz in two tie break sets. Germany will face the winner of Sweden and Russian Tennis Fed in the semis.

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