All things Sport

British Sport Predictions for 2015

The new year brings with it the promise of a feast of sporting events throughout 2015. Here are my predictions for some of the things that will happen.

Chelsea to win the Premier League

Chelsea

Relatively cliche but a prediction nonetheless. Despite Manchester City’s recent performance beginning to reflect a revival of the poor early season form, the Sky Blues proved  in the 2012-2013 season that they often lack the desire or hunger to defend the Premiership title. Manchester United are beginning to at least show signs of the team of old, but are now too far behind to be considered contenders this season and are still in the rebuilding process. Chelsea did their own rebuilding last season, and having added Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas to their ranks, have already shown solid consistency in all competitions. It is hard to see anyone pipping Mourinho’s side to the title this term.

Andy Murray will get another major 

Andy_Murray_2590815bIt has been a long time coming, but Britain’s most successful male tennis player since Fred Perry finally begun to recapture some of the form which led to his Wimbledon win in 2013, over the winter period. Recovering from a back operation undertook the previous year, Murray struggled to get back to full fitness and play the tennis that saw him rise to be one of the world’s best. However, towards the end of 2014 we saw a revival from the Scot, Despite losing in straight sets to Roger Federer at the ATP finals, Murray managed to beat Milas Raonic to get there and at the end of October, defeated David Ferrer in straight sets to claim the ATP Erste Bank Open. Climbing the world rankings once again, there are signs that Murray is on his way back to rivalling the likes of Djokovic and Federer. Should improvements continues in the next four-six months, then come the summer at Wimbledon or the US Open in Autumn, we could see the British number one lifting a major once again.

Amir Khan vs Floyd Mayweather

Floyd-Mayweather-Vs-Amir-khan-10

I’m not a traditional boxing fan, I don’t dislike it but I don’t discourage it either. If a good fight ison, I will by all means watch two men bash each other to pieces for the entertainment of the masses. And if you’re happy to watch that, or if you’re a lover of pugilism and all things blood-sport then why wouldn’t you want to see these two flying fists at each other? Khan, long seeking the fight, is now in a position to be calling out the world’s best after his convincing win over Devon Alexander in December 2014. And with Floyd claiming he’d love to ‘shut up’ the British boxer, 2015 could be the year we see the two go head to head at last. As for who will win, well I’ll leave that to those who know more about boxing….

Ireland will retain the six nations but England could lift the World Cup at Twickenham

Wales v Ireland - RBS 6 NationsWinning the Six Nations is never easy. So defending it, especially without Brian O’Driscoll, will be no simple task for the Irish, but I believe they will do it. Their coach, Joe Schmidt,  has provided them with the structure and tactical nous to move them from northern hemisphere competitor, to potential world beaters. Ireland’s convincing win over South Africa in the Autumn internationals helped to secure a deserved third world ranking and will give them great confidence going into their six nations defense in February. Wales, the other home nation to beat South Africa during the Autumn are the only really tough fixture that Schmidt’s Ireland have as an away match during the tournament. Of course, no game during the six nations is easy, but the fixture list always plays a part. In contrast to Ireland’s fortunes, England play Wales away first before entertaining Ireland in Dublin after playing Italy at home. Should England fail against the Welsh and Irish, their tournament will be over before they’ve even been up against the Scottish and the French. Ireland, with Wales as their 4th opponent, have the opportunity to gain a good run of form before then and can use this momentum at the Millennium stadium. Even losing to the Welsh could still result in consecutive tournament victories for the Irish.

Wales themselves, play France away, where historically they have struggled and the team lacks the consistency it had during the six nations wins of 2012 and 2013. The French tend to either turn up for the occasion of they don’t, and this year I can’t see it happening and their is no point even discussing the chances of Italy and Scotland taking the title, despite the latters recent improvements. As for England, as always they face the difficulty of being the team everyone always wants to beat and do not always rise to this challenge for every game. After nearly four years with Lancaster at the helm, the side still don’t seem to be fully prepared. Despite a strong platform coming from the depth of the front five, there are still a number of decisions to be made in the back line, most notably to decide between Ford and Farrell at fly half and the centre partnership. Lancaster would be better to work out what he wants during the six nations tournament, in preparation for the world cup next Autumn, where they will benefit from home advantage. If he can do this, and if the performances pick up (forget the results) then England just might have the chance to lift the Web Ellis trophy again.

Rory Mcilroy will only get better

320289-131129-rory-mcilroyIt saddened me to see Mcilroy miss out on Britain’s 2014 sport’s Personality of the year. As much as Lewis Hamilton deserves credit for being the first British driver to win two formula one championships since Jackie Stewart, I would argue that the runner up’s achievements were much more astonishing. The Northern Irish golfer won two out of the four major championships last year and became the third youngest player to have reached a career total of four, behind Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus. Nicklaus himself has even predicted that Mcilroy will go on to win more majors than he ever imagined and to be mentioned in the same breath as these two greats only emphasizes the quality of the British golfer. After the success of last year and the pace of Mcilroy’s progress, I would be surprised if he didn’t go on to win at least three of the championships in 2015.

Advertisements

Alan Pardew will be happy to see the back of Newcastle United

Just what is it about Newcastle United? Why do the Geordie’s have this intolerable sense of entitlement to success? You would think that with no league title since 1927 and no major trophy for nearly 40 years (the Intertoto cup of 2006 does not count, for those Magpie fans outraged at this sentence) they would realise that they are exactly what Sir Alex Ferguson described as in 2013; ‘a wee club in the North East.’ For those Newcastle supporters offended and upset by this, I say to you, get over it and accept it because it is true. I have seriously never been able to understand where the expectation comes from up in the toon. Historically, Newcastle have not been dreadful and have won more than many others, yet not more even than their bitter rivals and neighbours, Sunderland, who have accumulated 6 league titles to Newcastle’s 4 and do not put nearly as much pressure on their manager and board to get results. Of course, the fans want the best, but don’t all fans? sometimes you have to accept that things take time and with those clubs above you with more money, history and prestige, you can’t achieve greatness with ease.

Alan Pardew, the Newcastle United manager, knows that north-east derbies can be tough for managers

In the mid-early nineties, Newcastle were in a position where expectation was relatively fair. Challenging for the Premier League title, they had players of the calibre of Shearer, Asprilla and Les Ferdinand, led by Kevin Keegan, and only pipped by Manchester United after the former Liverpool man’s infamous post match interview where to say he lost his emotions is an understatement. It would be unfair, during these times, to have criticized the toon army of complaining, should there have been a fall from grace, as it turned out there was. Alas, we are now in different times and in the modern game, the only clubs able to sustain consistent success appear to be those with either a strong financial backing or a colorful history in winning trophies and a reputable tradition. In some cases, the successful clubs will have both. If you look at the Premiership table you can list a number of teams with a much stronger financial backing than Newcastle; Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur will all provide their managers with sufficient transfer kitty’s. In respect of tradition and history, City, Chelsea and Tottenham are more aligned than the other three in the list, but the former two’s financial resources vastly outweighs the need to lure players with the prospect of playing for a club with a rich history. Both Chelsea and City have also managed to have a lot of modern success, making them an attractive proposition to players of good calibre. Spurs may be a good comparison to Newcastle in the respect of history and prestige, but have had much more consistency of top table finishes and European football as well as having had success stories in players such as Gareth Bale and Luka Modric. Already then, you have six clubs who you would expect to consistently finish above Newcastle United. Throw Everton into that mix, with solid top half finishes over the last 10-15 years, similar financial prowess and a much richer history of success and that leaves Newcastle just about scraping into 8th, provided that the many other clubs on their level don’t beat them to it.

What exactly then, did the Geordies expect of Alan Pardew during his tenure at the club? or for that matter any of the many other managers they’ve had since the late Bobby Robson was sacked in 2004? This is a question I’m not sure anyone can answer with any seriousness, it is something I have wandered ever since I was about 12 years old. Do they really expect European football every year? If so then why? What makes them so much more deserving than the likes of Southampton, Aston Villa or Sunderland? Of course supporters should always strive for the best, but the 11 managers they had in 6 years (from 2004-2010) shows an incredible lack of patience, instigated by an arrogant and deluded sense of entitlement. The irony of course is that Alan Pardew wasn’t pushed like the many men before him, he walked. Clearly he had had enough of the fickle nature of the North East club. Just a few games into the season fans were calling for his head, only for him to completely turn the fortunes of his side around. Its as though the Magpies don’t seem to understand that every team experiences poor form and that you can’t judge a manager over a few games, half a season, or in some cases a whole season. To be fair to Pardew he’s actually proven to at least ensure consistency during his time at the helm. Newcastle may not have set the world alight but they have been far from trouble during his tenure and even finished 5th in 2012. Building on such success isn’t so easy at a club without as much financial strength or long line of trophy wins. In this respect, theres not much more Pardew could really have done to satisfy the toon. The Newcastle fans will do well to remember that prior to Pardew’s appointment, they had fallen into Championship football after a string of managers and much uncertainty. Although Chris Hughton was unfairly dismissed, Pardew ensured a long run of security and stability which they had been craving since Robson had left. The likes of Tim Sherwood, Steve Mclaren and the rest on the other hand, will do well to remember that taking the job at St James Park will bring with it an expectation of mammoth and frankly unrealistic proportions, as well as a fickle and ungrateful fan base. They would do well to stay clear, nothing is good enough for the Toon army.

Benteke Proves He Could Be Vital To Villa’s Success

f one thing has always been certain in football, if we have learnt anything, is that you simply need goals. As obvious as this sounds, there have been countless examples over the years of sides who have lacked the potent attacking force going forward which has significantly cost them over the course of a season. We only have to look at where Liverpool were last year with Luis Suarez still at the club and Daniel Sturridge free from injury in comparison to their current position. In Rickie Lambert and Mario Balotelli, they brought in two strikers who managed a combined tally of 32 during 2013-2014, not a bad effort, yet both have been misfiring in Sturridge’s absence. The importance of having a top quality and consistent striker can make a major difference in the outcome of a club’s performances. Would Newcastle have been able to sustain European football and top half finishes without Alan Shearer? Would Manchester City have been crowned Premier League champions instead of United in 2013 if Robin Van Persie had chosen blue over red? Would even Charlton Athletic have spent so many seasons in England’s top flight without the goals of Darren Bent?

Back from injury, the Belgian striker is again showing his quality

Back from injury, the Belgian striker is again showing his quality

Of course, not every club is completely reliant on a star man upfront, but many become so, or if not based purely on reliance, then at least as a platform to elevate them to bigger and better things. A top goalscorer, at least in a statistical sense will often make a marginal difference to how results pan out. Christian Benteke is one such footballer. His debut season in 2012-13 saw him claim 19 goals in 34 for league games for Villa. Wriggled with injuries last year, his achievements in 2013-2014 consisted of 10 goals in 26 league games, with Villa looking a different team in his absence.They started the 2014-15 campaign in the same vein, and at one point had scored just two goals in six games. There had been murmurings of a relegation fight and potential sacking of manager Paul Lambert.

Although Benteke’s return has not directly influenced the Villans results up to now, the presence of a major goal threat will come as a sigh of relief for the West Midlands club who, in the Belgian forward, have a player who most defenders will see as their worst nightmare. Big, strong, powerful, good in the air and with a fair amount of pace, Benteke is able to lead the line with natural confidence and is not shy to demand the ball. His performance against Manchester United on Saturday was reminiscent of what we saw two years ago, and it appears he could well be back to his best. Villa will certainly hope so, he could well be the difference between relegation or at least near relegation and a comfortable middle table finish.

Cockerill-Johnson in Tigers bust up

Sources close to Welford Road have revealed that the Leicester Tigers coach, Richard Cockerill and ex England icon Martin Johnson were involved in a bust up just a few months ago over taking the East Midlands club forward. Cockerill and Johnson were apparently both with their children at a local swimming gala in Market Harborough, Leicestershire when the argument took place. Although it is not clear exactly what was said, a friend who witnessed the event believed that it was down to the Tigers shortfalls last season coupled with Johnson’s desire to move back into a leading role with his former club. The England icon, who captained the country to glory in 2003 and had a stint as head coach where he reclaimed the six nations but was relieved after a poor display at the 2011 world cup is also a club legend at arguably England’s biggest rugby club.

Spanning a career which lasted 18 years, with 6 of those as captain, Johnson played over 350 games for Leicester Tigers, winning a number of major honours which included the Premiership and Heineken cup, as well as playing a huge part in the successful Lions Tour of 1997 to South Africa. As a player he was known for his mental and physical toughness, ability to get about the field and exceptional leadership qualities. Despite mixed results as England head coach, it could be argued that he simply stepped into management too early on with still much to learn.

Under pressure Cockerill needs his Leicester side to find form

Under pressure Cockerill needs his Leicester side to find form

A club legend, Martin Johnson has more ambitions with his former team

A club legend, Martin Johnson has more ambitions with his former team

His ambition to be a force of nature in the Leicester Tigers’ dressing room once again, albeit in a different role and the tension between himself and Cockerill will only crank up the pressure on another man who Tigers’ fans hold close to their hearts. Despite claiming the Aviva Premiership in 2013 in a game which was all but over once Northampton Saints hooker Dylan Hartley saw a straight red for abusive language, Cocerkill has since been unable to ensure that Leicester can continue to be the force they once were. The loss to their Midlands rivals on Saturday has seen them drop to 6th, four points off the playoffs and with the likes of Sale, Exeter and Saracens among those above them also looking strong, Leicester need to start putting in some good performance. Their loss against Toulon just over a week ago, and consequential ousting from Europe’s biggest competition only emphasizes how far away they are from the team that once dominated much of Northern Hemisphere club rugby. If Leicester are to truly replicate their former glories, then a fired up Martin Johnson, filled with pride and out to prove a point may not be such a bad thing.

Jamie Redknapp calls Brendan Rodgers ‘arrogant’ over Balotelli signing

Sky Sports pundit and ex Liverpool midfielder Jamie Redknapp has hit out at Brendan Rodgers’ decision to sign Mario Balotelli. Speaking to Talksport last week, Redknapp scrutinized his former sides transfer policy and the manager’s naivety in signing a notorious troublemaker. “I don’t think the recruitment has been good this summer, they didn’t get it right,” Redknapp said. On Balotelli, he added: “Why he [Rodgers] felt like he could be the one manager when everybody else has tried to turn him around struck me as a little bit of arrogance to a certain extent.” Once described as ‘unmanageable’ by his boss at Inter Milan, Jose Mourinho, Balotelli is yet to score a single league goal for the Reds in 10 appearances with just 2 in 15 in all competitions. He has also caused problems off the field for Liverpool and has looked lazy and frustrated with teammates at times, justifying Redknapp’s claims.

Redknapp criticizes Liverpool's transfer policy but still believes in Rodgers

Redknapp criticizes Liverpool’s transfer policy but still believes in Rodgers

Redknapp did however, show his support for Rodgers during this difficult time, believing that he is still the right man to take Liverpool forward and that there would currently be no worthy candidates to succeed him.“Where do you go [if you sack Rodgers]? You’ve got Arsenal at the weekend. He needs to be given time like the players need to be given time. He added: “Jurgen Klopp has lost more games in his league [Bundesliga] than Rodgers so we have to be a little bit careful about that one.”

With Liverpool crashing out of the Champions league, sitting in mid table mediocrity in the Premiership and no sign of Daniel Sturridge returning any time soon, the pressure on Rodgers will only intensify if results don’t pick up quickly. He could really do with Mario Balotelli finally proving the many doubters wrong and to start showing why the Liverpool manager put so much faith in him, which to the rest of us, including Redknapp, looks completely misplaced.

Why Rory Mcilroy should have won Sports Personality of the Year

Going into last night’s ceremony in Glasgow, one could be forgiven for believing that it was a two horse race, and that eight of the candidates were simply making up the numbers, or at least battling for third. That is no disrespect to the likes of Jo Pavey, Carl Froch, Adam Peaty and the rest. What these sporting stars have achieved deserves great recognition, and one major positive of sports personality of the year is how it highlights the various sports that the general public rarely see or hear about. Those competing in these arenas deserve just as much credit as those within  football, tennis, formula one, rugby, cricket and the Olympic sports. It is however, usually those performers who excel themselves among what is popular with the public that will take the accolade of Britain’s best sportsman or woman. Look back on the past winners of this prestigious award and you will see some truly talented individuals; Stirling Moss, Henry Cooper, Virginia Wade, Seb Coe, Ian Botham, Steve Davis, Linford Christie, Steve Redgrave, Jonny Wilkinson, Ryan Giggs and Sir Chris Hoy just to name a few. All giants of British sport. They prove that you must do something special to claim the title of the countries sports personality of the year.

All smiles, but Mcilroy (right) will be dissapointed to have not pipped Lewis Hamilton (middle). Jo Pavey (left) claims third

All smiles, but Mcilroy (right) will be dissapointed to have not pipped Lewis Hamilton (middle). Jo Pavey (left) claims third

Both Lewis Hamilton and Rory Mcllroy made strong cases to take the crown in 2014, proving to be the top competitors in both their respective pursuits. Lets just put into context the scale of what both managed to achieve. Hamilton not only managed to win the formula one world championship in grand style, he did it for a team who had not found glory since Juan Manuel Fangio in 1955. Mercedes may have plowed investment into its cars and shown ambitions to be the best, but it was Hamilton behind the wheel who had to push them over the line. The British driver also had stiff competition from his German teammate and rival Nico Rosberg who could so easily have taken the championship himself if it were not for Hamilton’s consistency throughout the season. Added to this is the fact that no British driver since Jackie Stewart has been able to achieve two formula one championships, ranking Hamilton firmly above the likes of James Hunt, Nigel Mansell and Damon Hill, all who were considered successful racers. Hamilton it seems, is now at least on the path to greatness, and can be considered one of Formula one’s modern superstars.

But then there is Rory Mcilroy whose performances this year have had pundits uttering that his abilities are among the likes of Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus. Indeed, Mcilroy’s two masters titles this year out of a possible four meant that he is the first since those two golfing greats who has been able to claim three majors before the age of 25. That in itself tells you that he has been Britain’s greatest sports personality of the year. To achieve such a feat and be considered the undisputed golfing champion in the world at such a young age makes you wander, how could we as the public have looked passed the Northern Irishman? It may have been the very fact that those most patriotic Englishman would rather see an Englishman win the award. The timing may have also played a big part, the formula one season finished just three weeks ago and was fresh in people’s minds, or perhaps formula one simply has a bigger following than golf, at least of those who voted. If you think about it in great detail, both have achieved a huge amount in their respective sports. The difference is that Lewis Hamilton is half way to being a formula one great. Mcilroy is already among golf’s greatest. 

Rodgers feeling the pressure as Liverpool continue to struggle

This game could have proved a turning point for Brendan Rodgers’ side. As the countries two biggest football clubs, Man United and Liverpool may have clashed for major honours in the distant and recent past, without much in the way of niceties or decorum. But local bragging rights and pride aside, this encounter was more about redemption, of re steering the ship in the right direction, and proving that relative success could still be achieved. Manchester United came into the game with a good run of form, but had yet to convince us that they truly were back into contention for Champions League football and Liverpool badly needed a result to restore confidence in a side riddled with inconsistent performers and a lack of tactical nous. A win here for the Reds could have given them much needed momentum, and propelled them to a strong run of form, much like their opponents over at Old Trafford. In some respects, this derby meant more than it has done since the two sides were at loggerheads for the title in 2008-2009.

The stats will tell you that the visitors deserved to win the game, let alone lose 3-0. Liverpool had a total of 19 shots to United’s 11, with 9 of the former’s on target to the latters 6. Liverpool also had a higher number of corners at 7, with United’s totaling just 2. The 55% possession to Liverpool’s 45% was the only aspect where the Red Devils were on top. But stats don’t win you a football match. The result should reflect how lacking Liverpool are both defensively and up top, making poor mistakes at the back and squandering the host of attacking chances that they created. They will point to the outstanding man of the match performance from David De Gea, who is looking better every week, and who arguably, was the only reason United were able to keep the Reds at bay. But Liverpool must look to their own failures here. Raheem Sterling had a number of opportunities to give his side a foothold back into the game, in particular the one on one with De Gea which should really have been capitalized on. Rodgers’ decision not to play a striker was also a strange one. As much as either Balotelli or Lambert have not really been performing, having neither on the pitch didn’t exactly make things any easier going forward. Balotelli in fact, even looked quite dangerous when he came off the bench, though yet again showing the good and the bad side to his game without really making a true impact. It was he who forced perhaps the best save from the remarkable De Gea.

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers will be feeling the pressure

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers will be feeling the pressure

Brad Jones in the opposite net on the other hand, showed no signs of rising to the challenge of such an occasion, diving bizarrely in the opposite direction to Rooney’s strike to put United 1-0 up. To be fair to the Australian, he wasn’t helped by some incredibly lackluster defending during the build up to the first goal. Although the second looked easily offside after Robin Van Persie flicked a header onto Juan Mata, the Liverpool defending was atrocious. The three centre backs held no line whatsoever and Skrtel gave Van Persie an enormous amount of space to attack the ball. The third goal pretty much summed up Dejan Lovren’s career at the Anfield outfit so far. Giving the ball away to a re-surging Juan Mata on the edge of the box enabled to Spaniard to pick out Van Persie for an easy finish, leaving Jones in no man’s land. The United defence made mistakes too, much of which consisted of giving the ball away in dangerous areas, but generally stood firm, and at times of danger, were bailed out by their Spanish goalkeeper. In short, both sides attacked fairly well and defended relatively badly. The difference was that the cutting edge of the likes of Rooney, Mata and Van Persie were able to take their chances when they came, even if they didn’t come as frequently. As Gary Neville pointed out, Liverpool gave United a lot of jabs but United delivered the knockout blows. The home side were patient, composed, and clinical because they knew they could be. Rodgers’ side on the other hand didn’t have the quality needed and haven’t all season, to put the ball in the back of the net, and snapped at a number of well created chances.

As much as the Liverpool manager will take encouragement from the chances created, this should be treated as a cause for concern, as not one was turned into a goal. With Daniel Sturridge out until at least early January, the Christmas period at least, looks bleak. Even with the front man’s return you cannot expect Sturridge to work miracles immediately. Rodgers will be feeling the pressure and may need to spend in January, but spend well, as many of his signings in the past haven’t proved to have been of the best quality. He will be looking over at Old Trafford and eating his words from the start of the season when he suggested United would struggle. Liverpool are now the ones who face a very hard fight to finish in the top four and need to hit form quickly.  United on the other hand will feel as though anything is now possible, and with a goalkeeper like De Gea, coupled with the firepower they have available, who can really blame them.