About RJC Sports

Sports journalist. Current freelancer for Perform Group, data analyst for RunningBall. Former journalist at Huddersfield Giants and Shaw Cross Sharks Find me on Twitter: @rjconway92

Manchester United v Chelsea: match report

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Jose Mourinho produced a tactical masterclass. His side were smarter, sharper and more ruthless than their opponents in every department and showed fans and critics alike what he can do when the big matches roll round. The game in question here, though, was Chelsea’s 3-1 destruction of Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United almost 12 years ago. On that day Mourinho enhanced his reputation further as Chelsea marched towards a record-breaking triumph in the Premier League.

 

12 years is a lifetime in football and this time, Mourinho seems like he is rebuilding his once unquestionable reputation. The Portuguese managed his best Man United game yet as he got the better of rival Antonio Conte in a feisty encounter. Marcus Rashford and Ander Herrera got the goals in what turned out to be a convincing 2-0 victory at Old Trafford and perhaps gives new life to their top four ambitions as well as the title race.

 

The Special One sprung surprises on Easter Sunday choosing to leave star man Zlatan Ibrahimovic on the bench and lining up in a 4-2-2 set-up with Rashford and Jese Lingard up front. Ander Herrera was tasked with marrying himself to Eden Hazard – flashbacks of the F.A. Cup tie where the Spaniard was given his marching orders after a late challenge on the Belgian may have had Man United fans worried. Not so this time as the tenacious midfielder stuck to his task diligently and frustrated the Chelsea talisman in an all-action man of the match performance.

 

Mourinho’s men flew out of the traps at Old Trafford with the pace and understanding between Rashford and Lingard causing problems for the Chelsea back three. The game was not even ten minutes old when Herrera stole possession – questionably as big shouts for handball appeared to be justified – before sliding an excellent ball in behind for Rashford to chance and calmly finish. A goal move unable to materialise, perhaps, if Ibrahimovic was spearheading the attack.

 

Diego Costa, often the subject of many subplots throughout Mourinho’s time at Chelsea, yet has seemed more measured under Conte, showed his unsavoury side yet again. The brutish Spanish striker found himself embroiled in battles with United’s defensive duo Marcus Rojo and Eric Bailly. His frustrations earned him a yellow card after a late challenge on Pogba.

 

Chelsea looked unusually unfocused, drawn into Manchester United’s clever mind games and acts of street-smarts. The focus was so much lacking that Gary Cahill was more attentive in hauling Lingard up from the ground during the build up to Herrera doubling United’s advantage.

 

It took Chelsea 45 minutes to muster their first effort on goal albeit a frustrated lash from Costa.

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Whatever Conte’s half time message was to his flat Chelsea side at the forefront of it must have been not to concede another goal early in the second half. However, some three minutes into the second period they found themselves further behind. Chelsea failed to clear their lines once more and Ashley Young, who was given the captain’s armband for the occasion, drove into the Chelsea penalty area before another failed clearance fell to Herrera. The Spaniard, the beneficiary of two slices of good fortune after his alleged handball in the first half for his assist for Rashford’s goal, arrowed his shot through a crowd of players which ricocheted off player’s in blue shirts on its way past Asmir Begovic in the Chelsea goal.

 

Before the hour mark Conte attempted to turn the tide in this giant game of chess. Cesc Fabregas came on to offer much needed creativity in place of Victor Moses, asked to operate out of the other full-back position after a pre-game injury to Marcos Alonso.

 

Mourinho countered with a tactical change of his own, sacrificing pace for control, as he brought on Michael Carrick for Lingard. The switch left Rashford isolated but that did not stop the young England centre forward from hustling and bustling his was up front and making life uncomfortable for the Chelsea defenders.

 

N’golo Kante failed to get his usual grip in midfield, partly due to the excellence of Mauroane Fellaini and Herrera in midfield scurrying around refusing to give the Chelsea key players a moments rest. Matteo Darmian found himself handcuffed to Pedro on the other side of the field refusing to let the former Barcelona wide man find space to operate in.

 

Mourinho’s side could have filled their boots in truth, Rashford smashed an effort into the side netting and Young spurned two excellent chances from the edge of the area to inflict more misery onto Conte’s men. England manager Gareth Southgate was in the stands and will have been impressed with what he saw from the Manchester United English trio – especially in a new tactical set-up.

 

Rashford was brought off with just two minutes of time remaining to a standing ovation and allowed Ibrahimovic to get on in a cameo appearance.

 

Conte pleaded with his side to push forward in the closing stages but by that point United had become water tight, refusing to give an inch.

 

The final whistle brought with it a rapturous ovation, it was perhaps the most complete United performance since the days of Ferguson, and certainly the best day so far in Mourinho’s time as Man United manager. The former Chelsea boss could not have asked for much more in a week where his side have a vital away goal in the Europa League quarter-final against Anderlecht capped off by a monumental league victory over what many believe to be the champions elect. Mourinho was at his meticulous best – substituting captain Young fully knowing it would take the winger-turned-full-back more time to exit the field due to him passing on the armband.

 

United fans chanted Mourinho’s name in unison clearly buoyed the masterful display. The same fans which were often sickened by Mourinho bringing his Chelsea teams to Old Trafford and furthering his reputation as The Special One now get to experience perhaps what is come down long road ahead.

West Brom V Liverpool: match report

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A particularly stale encounter in the Black Country on Easter Sunday saw Liverpool take another step towards Champions League qualification while West Brom’s stagnation after reaching the 40-point mark continued. Before the fireworks at Old Trafford Jurgen Klopp’s men took their chance to establish themselves even more in the hunt for the top four and heap further pressure on those behind – including Mourinho’s men in Manchester. Roberto Firmino got the solitary goal – and managed to keep his shirt on – in a hard-fought 1-0 victory at The Hawthrones.

 

West Brom by comparison look to be on their holidays – mentally if nothing else. Now past the magical 40-point mark and with their Premier League status promised for at least another campaign the hard work for the Baggies has been done. Perhaps this speaks to a wider problem about the ambition at West Brom, but most of their players looked to have downed tools and lacked motivation – so much so that Pulis was screaming encouragement throughout the whole 90 minutes instructing each player when to close down, take on their full-back and so on.

 

The game started with Liverpool half asleep in the opening two minutes being sloppy from two throw-ins to the annoyance of Klopp on the touchline. West Brom failed to capitalise on their visitor’s slow start however with little creativity from their midfield. A huge area of need this summer if West Brom are to build on their impressive season.

 

The first big chance of the tussle fell to Firmino after a quarter of an hour. Claudio Jacob lost possession to Philippe Coutinho inside the West Brom final third. Coutinho then slid in his fellow Brazilian with a deft ball in. Firmino’s effort was scuffed but had Ben Foster beat, instead trickling past his far post.

 

West Brom endeavoured to get down the flanks with Matt Phillips and Nacer Chadli the likely benefactors from deep balls by Jake Livermore and Chris Brunt. Perhaps just the lack of a high-quality playmaker all that was missing to really carved Liverpool open down the sides.

 

On the other side, Liverpool’s high end architects were struggling. Coutinho and Firmino were smothered under the organisation that came with a Tony Pulis side.

 

West Brom’s success from set pieces caused them to spring into life and maraud forward when anything as little as a throw in in Liverpool’s final third presented itself. Phillips’ throw ins were no match for those of Rory Delap and the Stoke side of nearly a decade ago which built theirs, and Pulis’ reputation, as a rugged, no-nonsense outfit.

 

Right on the stroke of half time it was Liverpool taking a page out of their opposition’s book. James Milner’s free-kick was flicked on by Lucas and found Firmino all alone in the six-yard area to nod past Foster. The goal was uncharacteristic from both sides. It is not often that Liverpool make the most of set pieces, and it was even less likely that West Brom surrender back-to-back headers to two Brazilians whom both measure under six feet tall. Firmino’s 12th goal of the season undoing all of the effort West Brom had put in with Pulis’ constant instructions from the side line counting for naught at the interval.

 

The home side conducted a small meeting before the second half got underway with captain Darren Fletcher offering encouragement amongst other things to try and spark some life into West Brom.

 

Hal Robson-Kanu, surprisingly making just his first home start for West Brom since joining in the summer, Offered the Baggies the best route to goal but too many times found himself compromised by the linesman’s chequered flag.

 

Liverpool offered more creativity and incision after the break with Divock Origi and Firmino exploiting the extra half a yard of space left behind by the West Brom midfield as they attempted to restore parity.

 

Milner was offered the chance to seal the game early in the second half after a delightful chipped ball from Firmino found the midfielder turned left-back in acres of space only for the England international to blaze his effort straight over the crossbar. A finish befitting of a full-back. Firmino could only offer up a knee slide in despair and not, as he probably anticipated, in celebration.

 

Liverpool briefly had a second which was quickly chalked off after Firmino had just leaned into an offside position before cushioning a header back into the path of Origi who calmly headed the ball into Ben Foster’s goal. The diminutive Brazilian was starting to find more leaks in the West Brom damn with Jurgen Klopp looking for his side to make it burst. An extra worry for Pulis surely had to be that his usually robust defensive outfit were losing headers to a slight midfield playmaker.

 

After just over an hour the Baggies boss had seen enough and threw on Salomon Rondon and James McClean, although Rondon himself has not been in great goal-scoring form with no goals in 17 club games since his hattrick against Swansea.

 

The home side’s biggest chance fell to Phillips after a powerful run from Rondon had Liverpool’s defence, often questioned but comfortable on the day, scrambling to stop the burly Venezuelan. His pass found Phillips on the inside left of the penalty area and the winger could only take aim and fire his effort into the onrushing Simon Mignolet.

 

A mad scrap ensued in the final moments of the game with the West Bromwich faithful roaring mightily with every set piece earned. The proceedings even saw Foster come up from his goal for an injury time corner – and nearly resulting in disaster. Substitute Alberto Moreno won the ball from the corner and tried his luck from all of 45-yards but completely missed the target, much to the disgust of Daniel Sturridge, when Foster a full 60-yards back from his own net. Amazingly, Foster stayed rooted in the heart of the Liverpool half in a desperate bid to snatch a leveller but to no avail. A smile of relief greeted Klopp upon hearing the ringing of the full-time whistle.

 

Klopp will care little that his side failed to provide their usual swashbuckling best, as at this stage of the season it is all about the three points which propel the Merseysiders into third – nine points ahead of fifth placed Everton and heaping even more pressure on Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger.

Five potential replacements for Mesut Ozil

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Mesut Ozil’s future at Arsenal is just as unclear as fellow teammate Alexis Sanchez and manager Arsene Wenger. The German playmaker has been linked with moves to Turkey as well as a return to his homeland and even Manchester United have reportedly expressed and interest, which would bring with it a reunion with former Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho.

 

Should Ozil leave Arsenal in the summer here are five potential replacements for the classy creator:

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5.

Mario Gotze

Club: Borussia Dortmund

Cost: £30m – £40m

Currently out injured with a metabolism problem, the scorer of the goal which crowned Germany world champions has many hallmarks of Ozil. Gotze is classy with a deft touch and the ability to spot passes which slice open opposition defences. Another hallmark he shares with his fellow German is his consistency – or lack of as it may be. Gotze failed to impress during his spell at Bayern Munich which lead to a reunion with Dortmund.

 

However, the German would offer almost a like for like replacement for Ozil. With the 24-year-old also keen to play in the Premier League he may well be wooed by Arsenal should they express and interest in the playmaker.

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4.

Ivan Rakitic

Club: Barcelona

Cost: £35m – £50m

The Croatian wizard made Barcelona tick in his early days at the Catalan giants but has since been wildly inconsistent and has fallen out of favour with Barca boss Luis Enrique. Rakitic offered a replacement for long-time metronome Xavi in the heart of the Barcelona midfield along with Andreas Iniesta. That alone speaks to how highly the former Sevilla man is rated.

 

Rakitic has been deployed in a deeper role in Spain but could easily push up the field and influence attacking play more. Arsenal is a club with many similarities to the Spanish powerhouses in terms of their style of play which would suit the Croat perfectly. His elusiveness in between the lines and vision often leaves defenders scrambling and attacking players licking their chops at the service he provides.

 

Rakitic may prove costly but with his pedigree at the top level he would almost certainly be worth the large outlay and with Arsenal making noises that they are ready to throw the kitchen sink at the Premier League next season they may be able to tempt the Barcelona midfielder to London.

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3.

Bernardo Silva

Club: Monaco

Cost: £55m – £75m

This guy is going to cost an awful lot. Silva is being courted by some of Europe’s biggest clubs and a bidding war could soon ensue.

 

With Leonardo Jardim’s side in vogue with young, exciting players strutting their stuff in both domestic and continental competition, Silva is just one of a handful of sort after players.

 

A classic number ten Silva has been highly praised by former Portugal great Deco, who believes the former Benfica product can be one of the world’s best. With the ability carve open a defence with his combination of exception dribbling and passing the young superstar is a difference maker for his current employers. If Manchester United, Real Madrid and other have their way he will soon be a difference maker for them, too.

 

The 22-year-old Portuguese playmaker has scored six goals to date as well as contributing seven assists this campaign as Monaco continue their charge towards the title.

 

Perhaps a wildcard for Arsenal with them no longer mentioned in the bracket of elite clubs when talking about Europe’s brightest youngsters going elsewhere. However, if they are willing to bid an extraordinary amount and pay the youngster extraordinary wages then they may just get their man.

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2.

Riyad Mahrez

Club: Leicester City

Cost: £35m – £48m

The Algerian made noises at the end of last season that he wanted to make the step up from The Foxes. However, then manager Claudio Ranieri convinced the playmaker to stay at least one more season to spur Leicester on their maiden Champions League campaign.

 

While the English champions have surprised many with their run to the quarter-finals of Europe’s elite club competition, their form in the league has been dismal – costing Ranieri his job. Mahrez has often looked disinterested during Leicester’s faltering title defence which could be cause for concern for any club interested in the Algerian’s services. However, much like Ozil, his ability should see perspective buyers overlook some of his inconsistencies.

 

At the start of the season Arsenal expressed an interest in the Algerian playmaker, as well as Barcelona, and it seemed to have turned his head. Should Mahrez leave the champions this summer he could well be a replacement for Ozil.

 

Mahrez is already acclimatised to the Premier League way of playing, technically gifted and with an eye for goal – as displayed during Leicester’s title run he may offer a slight upgrade over Ozil, who is often criticised for his lack of goals for Arsenal.

 

The 26-year-old has certainly see his stock drop from where it was this time last year. Leicester may not be able to command the same fee for the playmaker as they perhaps could have 12 months ago but would still get a handsome amount for their star player. Arsenal would probably be willing to pay the £45m it would take to acquire the Algerian.

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1.

Isco

Club: Real Madrid

Cost: £25m – £35m

 

The Real Madrid misfit looks set to leave the Spanish capital this summer with a number of potential suitors trailing the former Malaga midfielder. Falling behind Toni Kroos and Luka Modric in the pecking order for manager Zinadine Zidane the frustrated Isco is desperate for first team action.

 

Arsenal would offer the diminutive Spaniard a chance to start games with a void left by Ozil as well as experience the Premier League and – perhaps – be part of a rebuilding process at The Emirates should Arsene Wenger leave the Gunners in the summer, or even if he stays.

 

Isco was heavily linked to Manchester City in 2013 before being tempted to Madrid. Clearly the Spanish international is open to plying his trade in England.

 

Isco may have his inconsistencies but that could be put down to him not getting a run of games in the Madrid team. What is clear, is that when he is on his game he beautifully links defence to attack and can open pick the killer pass which results in a goal.

 

His style of play is very comparable of fellow Spaniard David Silva. If he could replicate anywhere near the standards Silva has set in England then he shall be very well received indeed by Arsenal fans.

 

Weight of pass in the modern game is often overlooked but Isco has the class and technique to perfectly pick out runners without them having the break stride before firing into the back of the net.

 

The price tag may start to rise with rumours circulating that even Barcelona are looking to prize Isco away from their bitter rivals. Arsenal are certainly in the mix, however. A tug-of-war for the 24-year-old’s signature is a likely outcome – in the past Arsenal have often fallen away when the bidding wars start. They did manage to outmuscle Liverpool for the signature of Alexis Sanchez however, so perhaps the Arsenal hierarchy are no longer afraid to go toe-to-toe with other clubs to get their man.

Five potential replacements for Alexis Sanchez

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Alexis Sanchez’s future is still in the air at Arsenal. The Chilean cuts an increasingly frustrated figure at Arsenal and while his manager Arsene Wenger dances to the tune of ‘He wants to stay’ the consensus is that Sanchez will be plying his trade elsewhere next season.

 

Should the former Barcelona forward leave The Emirates here are five potential players who could replace the dogged Chile frontman:

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5.

Anthony Martial

Club: Manchester United

Cost: £35m – £55m

A bit of a wildcard to start off with. With Jose Mourinho and Wenger’s open dislike for each other it is unlikely that Mourinho would want to sell a talented player to a rival. However, Martial is well out-of-favour with The Special One and could be offloaded this summer. Should Arsenal submit a bid which would recoup a lot – if not all – of what Louis van Gaal paid for the then teenager Mourinho may well be willing to part with the young Frenchman.

 

Martial offers directness, pace and can finish. He is still inconsistent Wenger will no doubt have patience with the former Monaco man and give him the love he looks like he needs.

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4.

Yannick Carrasco

Club: Atletico Madrid

Cost: £51m – £65m

Carrasco will cost a lot of money; the type of money Arsenal have never parted with. However, the Belgian is becoming a star under Diego Simeone in the Spanish capital. The winger has eight goals and four assists this season for Atletico.

 

An explosive winger who can play on both flanks, Carrasco causes nightmares for opposition full-backs who have a difficult time dealing with tricky wide man. Carrasco is still 23-years-old and can get better with the right nurturing.

 

Carrasco would bring with him the directness which Sanchez would leave behind. While the young Belgium international may cost a lot but the windfall Arsenal should receive for Sanchez, should he leave, would go a long way to bringing the Atletico Madrid winger to The Emirates. Having said that, with speculation over the future of Antoine Griezmann, Simeone will be more than reluctant to let two of his star men walk away in the same transfer window.

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3.

Mohamed Salah

Club: Roma

Cost: £30m – £40m

 

After failing to shine during his first brief stint in England with Chelsea Salah has gone on to light up Serie A with goals and assists galore. The Egyptian forward has 11 goals and eight assists this campaign and 27 Serie A goals in total since joining Roma in 2015.

 

Salah himself is still only 24-years-old, although in recent years he has felt like somewhat of a journeyman since his Chelsea move did not work out with stints at former club Basel and Fiorentina before finally settling in Rome.

 

The Egypt frontman has pace in abundance, can play with either foot and finish in a variety of ways. Arsenal are always looking for classy forwards and Salah has shown that he is certainly one of them. His eight assists and 60 chances created this term show he can pick a pick a pass also – perfect ammunition for Olivier Giroud, or maybe a new Arsenal forward.

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2.

Douglas Costa

Club: Bayern Munich

Cost: £22m – £30m

Douglas Costa is reportedly unhappy at Bayern Munich and is seeking a move away. Now at 26 the Brazilian is at a stage in his career where he needs regular games – which he is not getting behind Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery.

 

Costa tore Arsenal apart during their 5-1 hammering of the Gunners in the last-16 tie of the Champions League with trickery and pace that neither Hector Bellerin nor Nacho Monreal could handle.

 

Costa’s inconsistency is perhaps what drives Carlo Ancelotti to leave him out of the Bayern first XI but he certainly has the ability to get Arsenal fans out of their seats. Not as direct as an out and out winger, Costa is strong on both feet and can float inside to get involved through the middle as well as beating his full-back down the line.

 

With his unhappiness at Bayern and the German giants seemingly happy to offload the wide man Costa would probably be the cheapest option of the list – which would probably appeal most to Wenger as he is notoriously tight with the  purse strings.

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1.

James Rodriguez

Club: Real Madrid

Cost: £45m – £55m

 

James is maybe the most likely player to make his way to The Emirates on this list. Not so much because he is desperate to join Arsenal or Arsenal are desperate to take him, but because Real Madrid and the Colombian have made no secret about his desire to leave and Madrid’s keenness to offload him.

 

James is typically a number ten but can play out wide. His goal in the 2014 World Cup against Uruguay was the stand out moment that summer and announced James to the world stage – it is also a glimpse of what he can do in a split second.

 

If Arsenal part ways with the £50m sum the Spanish giants are asking for then they will be getting a player that will not hound and harass defenders like Sanchez will, but will give you quality in abundance when going forward. In order for the Colombian to succeed he may need, perhaps like Mesut Ozil, a world-class holding midfielder who will pick up his lack of work ethic.

 

The former Monaco man has the flair that Arsene Wenger loves in a player and the technical quality which the Arsenal boss also looks for in his attacking players. He can float between the lines exposing the gaps in midfield and defence which can carve teams apart.

 

 

James is a different type of player to Sanchez – perhaps more in line with Ozil’s style of play but his quality cannot be denied and if Sanchez leaves Arsenal must replace him with quality – and James is certainly that.

Crystal Palace v Arsenal: match report

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Arsene Wenger endured another humiliating night as his side were soundly thumped 3-0 by Crystal Palace. Andros Townsend, Yohan Cabaye and a first Crystal Palace goal for Luka  Milivojević saw The Eagles add to Arsenal’s woes.

 

For Sam Allardyce he collects his second scalp in nine days as his Palace side started April by beating Chelsea 2-1.

 

Wenger will now face a fresh inquest surrounding his future. In contrast, the Allardyce-effect is in full flight and the future of Crystal Palace looks to be edging closer to playing in the Premier League next campaign.

 

On a night when Arsenal looked half-asleep throughout, Palace were the sharper side from the first whistle with Wilfried Zaha and Townsend tormenting the Gunners’ back four with their lightening pace down the flanks.

 

The game was only 17 minutes old when Zaha burst into the penalty area and, even though he slipped, his cross met Townsend sneaking in between an oblivious Hector Bellerin and Shkodran Mustafi to bundle the ball into the back of the net from close range.

 

Arsenal retainined much of the possession but made it count for little. Mohamed Elneny saw a long-range effort tipped wide by Wayne Hennessey in the Palace goal and Alexis Sanchez saw his effort trickle wide but Arsenal muster no clear-cut chances throughout the 90 minutes.

 

Granit Xhaka was perhaps the worst player in yellow on Monday night. The Swiss international was sluggish across the ground allowing Cabaye and company to exploit the spaces in midfield and his usually sound passing range was well out of sync.

 

In a bid to claw his side back into the contest Wenger sent on Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud in place of Elneny and an isolated Danny Welbeck. Yet, three minutes later, Arsenal found their deficit doubled thanks to a superb finish from Cabaye. The Frenchman collected a pass from Zaha before unleashing a delicious curling shot into the far side of Emiliano Martinez’s goal to send the home support into ecstasy.

 

Zaha continued his rich vein of form, ending the night with two assists and a standing ovation as he was withdrawn from proceedings on 88 minutes. The Ivory Coast winger is now beginning to fulfil the potential Sir Alex Ferguson saw in him when he paid £15m to bring him to Manchester United.

 

The Gunners had no plan B. Persisting to dominate possession of the ball and hit hopeful crosses into the box. The dismal performance continued, Martinez committed himself to a 50-50 ball with Townsend and sent the England winger tumbling – while little contact was made it was enough to convince referee Michael Oliver to point to the spot. Milivojević did the rest to put the home side three to the good.

 

Palace hounded the visitors into mistakes and the bouncing Selhurst Park played its part, too, creating a hostile atmosphere which saw players in yellow wilt.

 

Palace and their supporters enjoyed the game thereon in. ‘Ole’ chants greeted every completed Palace pass while Arsenal fans commenced their ongoing witch hunt for Arsene Wenger’s head, chanting “Arsene Wenger, we want you to go.” Perhaps this may be the straw which finally breaks the camel’s back, only time will tell.

 

Down the years, Wenger has often been the architect of the tactical masterclass. On this night, he found himself on the receiving end of one from long-time nemesis Big Sam.

 

Palace could have extended their advantage further with Christian Benteke having half chances to add a fourth goal, and, but from a credible performance from Martinez between the sticks for Arsenal, they may well have got it.

 

The autopsy of Arsenal has now reached new heights. The futures of key members of the squad still way up in the air, their once masterful manager, increasingly looking a caricature of his former self, yet to decide his fate and now Arsenal’s Champions League hopes hang by a thread. Currently seven points off the pace for fourth spot perhaps their lacklustre season looks ever more like marking the end of two decades of Champions League football, and perhaps Arsene Wenger.

Ravens have a safety duo that can be one of the best in 2017

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When the Baltimore Ravens signed Eric Weddle in 2016 it was a shrew acquisition. Weddle, a ball-hawking free safety who had become disillusioned with life in San Diego and was set to become a free-agent and the Ravens had a need at safety after being gashed in the deep middle of the field during the 2015 season.

 

Now, General Manager Ozzie Newsome has got his hands on another solid safety selection from free agency, this time in the shape for hard hitting former Arizona Cardinal, Tony Jefferson.

 

Jefferson signed a four-year $34 million deal with Baltimore and will pair with Weddle to form a dynamic duo at the safety position.

 

Jefferson is a tough strong safety who diagnoses plays well and wraps up well in the tackle. Team his run stopping insticts with Weddle’s knack for finding the football in the air and the Ravens have one of the better safety combinations in the league.

 

The ultimate safety paring in recent years has been Earl Thomas and Cam Chancellor. Thomas’ quick hips and nose for the football teamed with Chancellor’s bludgeoning hard hits in the run and pass game have made teams fear going at the middle of the field against Seattle – Baltimore now has the same kind of set up, even if is it a slight downgrade when looking at each player’s tale of the tape.

 

Weddle had a promising debut season in Baltimore with 89 tackles, one sack and four picks, which was his highest since 2011. Jefferson by comparison had 98 tackles with a pair of sacks but did not register a takeaway for his team. However the former Oklahoma Sooner started his season strong with a career high ten tackles against the New England Patriots before bettering that tally a week later in an all-action performance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

 

The Ravens were fifth against the run last season and Jefferson is a player who instantly makes them better in that aspect of the game, although there may be a slight drop off after allowing an average of 89.4 yards per game Dean Pees’ unit is still a strong contender to end the 2017 term a top ten defense in that aspect.

 at MetLife Stadium on October 23, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Weddle is entering his second year of his own four-year-deal, worth $26 million and with Jefferson and cornerback Brandon Carr joining the secondary major reinforcements will be helping the Pro Bowl safety be even more effective in 2017.

 

What the former San Diego Charger now lacks in speed he more than makes up for in football IQ having been in the league for 11 seasons. Perhaps the move also offers an opportunity for the Ravens to have Weddle impart some wisdom to Jefferson about the safety position and help the former Cardinal with his ball skills. While Jefferson is primarily there to snuff out the run and rough up tight ends – and generally set the tone for a typically aggressive defense, takeaways from all over the defense are vital in today’s pass-heavy NFL.

 

Acquiring Jefferson also allows for the Ravens to address other needs in the draft and get younger at certain positions but for the next three years at least they are set at safety. With Weddle being the model professional and maintaining a high level year on year and Jefferson’s upward trajectory Baltimore’s dynamic duo in the back end could but putting Joe Flacco in good field position many times during 2017.

Reborn van Barneveld’s big game mentality could carry him to the Premier League crown

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Coming into night nine of the Premier League Darts campaign Raymond van Barneveld is looking to add to his two-match win streak and get a firm grip on his semi-final hopes come May.

 

The Dutchman has produced back-to-back stunning performances to thrash Gary Anderson and put a stop to Michael van Gerwen’s record-breaking winning streak.

 

Van Barneveld is possibly the most frustrating figure in darts. His throwing action is as smooth as a Rolls-Royce and, when he is in the mood, his heavy scoring and combination finishing is enough to leave the very best reeling – as it did with Anderson in Rotterdam.

 

However, ‘Barney’ has often been accused of lacking in focus at times leading to uninspiring performances. This tournament he looks different.

 

The World Championship defeat to compatriot van Gerwen hurt the legendary darting Dutchman. Mulling retirement after averaging 109 against ‘Mighty Mike’ and still being on the end of a 6-2 hammering van Barneveld looked like he would follow his old rival Phil Taylor into a farewell tour and gracefully bow out.

 

Now, the old van Barneveld looks to be back. After collecting a huge four points in the last fortnight Barney sits third, just two points off top spot. Van Barneveld kicks off Judgement Day’s slate of games in Cardiff against a poorly performing James Wade.

 

The five-time world champion can put himself in a commanding position heading into the home straight of the competition. Having shown that he can beat the two best players on the planet the rest of the league will be put on red alert that the Netherlands native can still threaten for the major titles.

 

The big game mentality of Barney looks to have returned. He fed off the rocking Rotterdam throng to leave Anderson bemused in a score line that was in no way reflective of the match. Van Barneveld simply hit the big checkouts and punished the slips from the Flying Scotsman.

 

Seven days later the momentum carried over to Manchester as Barney produced arguably the performance of the tournament as he raced into an early lead against current World Champion van Gerwen, only to see Mighty Mike reel off four consecutive legs to lead 4-3. In recent times that sudden surge from a player would have seen van Barneveld’s head drop and his focus shift from hitting the big shots to pulling disgusted faces at the board.

 

However, the big Dutchman held off the world number one. Van Barneveld has often had big games and knocked off a rival in a match. However, for him to do it in back-to-back weeks against the world number two and world number one respectively is a sign that the marauding darting icon is as big a threat to the Premier League crown as any player remaining in the tournament.