Tough night for Joshua but brighter times ahead

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It would be easy for Anthony Joshua to argue preparation was not on his side in the wake of his tenth round stoppage of Carlos Takam. After months of anticipation of fighting Kubrat Pulev, he was forced to adapt his approach, less than a fortnight before the bout in Cardiff and fought past Takam to retain his WBA and IBF belts. 

AJ’s Performance 

Pre-fight, AJ weighed in at the heaviest he has ever been, at 115kg. Opposite Takam’s 106.5kg, he looked much the bigger guy, yet still very lean.

However, in the ring, it could be said he looked sluggish. Against a waspish opponent in Takam, he unleashed 454 punches, of which 152 landed on the Frenchman. The heavyset Joshua set about picking away at an opponent who was two stone lighter and four and a half inches shorter than he. The heavy build of Joshua against Takam’s lean frame can perhaps attribute to his 33.5% punch success rate, where a lighter Joshua may have got the better of his opponent in earlier combat.

Indeed it took four rounds to bring Takam to the ground, and a further six before referee Phil Edwards ended the fight in a controversially premature decision.

Both had encountered blood in the heat of the battle, yet Joshua can lend an ounce of gratitude to Edwards, as his fatigue started to emerge. There were times in this contest where uncharacteristic cracks in his defence were exposed by Takam’s movement and weaving, and this fight surely would have gone the distance had Edwards not stepped in.

The encounter with Takam will need to be analysed very heavily by AJ and his camp if he is looking to unify the division. Such rash decisions may have cost him more dearly had he been in the ring with the likes of Deontay Wilder.

Who Is Next?

Joshua’s first 20 fights have seen him end the challenges of Wladmir Klitschko, Eric Molina and Dillian Whyte. All wins achieved by knockout. In doing so, he now seems to have set his sights on the bigger characters in 2018.

The WBC and WBO belts still elude Joshua, and belts that he will no doubt make an assault on in the new year. Which puts Joseph Parker, as the WBO holder, and Deontay Wilder, who possesses the WBC belt, firmly in his crosshairs.

A showdown with Parker has already been ignited from the pair’s press exchanges. At this point, it is merely respectful words as they attempt to force through a package agreement. But it gives Joshua time to reassemble after coming through the woods against Takam.

Takam himself has good reason to want to see Joshua again, clearly vexed by the manner in which his defiance against the Watford-born tank came to an end. Having gone ten rounds with Joshua on just twelve days preparation, it would interesting to see just what the 36-year-old can do with several months to assemble his arsenal.

For now, Joshua has to review a fight that was a heavy lesson in itself. He will then assess who is next to face him. For 2018, Joshua looks determined to make it his biggest.


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Can Wales Bale themselves out?

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Chris Coleman’s Wales side are facing a battle to emerge from their World Cup qualifying group with efforts to repeat their brilliance at Euro 2016 looking narrow.

Gareth Bale has been central to this effort. A galactico in his own right since his move to Spain in 2012, he was influential during the campaign in 2016 which saw wales run to the semi-finals. But now, just when Wales need him the most, he is out.

What Happened?

Bale’s international representatives and his Real Madrid unit are at loggerheads as to where the injury was actually picked up. Both are denying their own responsibility for the Wales number 11 being ruled out of action.

What we do know is that it is a calf injury that sees Bale sidelined, the extent of which is unknown. Both Chris Coleman and Zinedine Zidane are adamant that Bale sustained the injury in the opposite camp, but Zidane insists Bale returned to Spain with merely a swollen hamstring.

What Is The Welsh Plan Now? 

Coleman must have been dreading this situation, but he has to address it to ward off any indication that Wales are a hapless force without Bale.

Hal Robson-Kanu has proved able in the past, and Sam Vokes is well established as the muscle at Burnley. Alternatively, Coleman can call on Ben Woodburn to deputise up front.

The Liverpool youngster is considered one of the most exciting players in Welsh football and his scorching winner against Austria last month put him firmly on the international scene.

Though just 17, it may be his raw potency and fearlessness that Coleman can unleash against the Georgians on Friday.

What Are Wales Up Against?

Wales have to go to Tbilisi to play Georgia, before a final qualifying showdown with the Republic of Ireland in Cardiff on October 9th.

Both are not the easiest games to navigate, certainly the Irish are still in with a shout of the runners up spot. Just a point separates them in the final two games.

Shane Long is still running the show up front, with Seamus Coleman now returning and Harry Arter beginning to blossom at Bournemouth. Though without veteran Jon Walters, they do look in fine shape for the final two games they must win.

When Wales and Ireland lock horns, the Reds will be out to prove the loss of Bale doesn’t weaken them as significantly as is often suggested. Should they naivigate Georgia without issue, the pressure will be on Ireland to gain a result in Cardiff. It may also strength Chris Coleman’s argument that Wales can get the job done without Bale.


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Ben Stokes – The Root problem

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Joe Root is assembling his troops for the Ashes series in Australia, due to begin on November 13th.

He now has to formulate a plan should he board the plane without Ben Stokes.

The 26-year-old, lauded for his brilliance with both bat and ball, has seen the ramifications of his fiery temper begin to emerge from his latest outburst. After an altercation outside a nightclub in Bristol, he and Alex Hales have been dropped from the international squad without further selection consideration.

Root might not have cause to panic, certainly not if Stokes is reprieved without police charges.

What did Stokes and Hales do?

The CCTV indicates both Stokes and Hales in confrontation with another man outside the nightclub in. The footage suggests that Stokes lands several blows to this man before being restrained by his team-mate.

What if Stokes is charged?

If Stokes is charged by police, the England selection committee is unlikely to allow him onto the plane to Australia.

Replacing him with a like minded player will prove enormously difficult, such is Stokes potence at both ends of the crease. It may even increase England’s reliance on Moeen Ali, given his performances this summer.

Bearing in mind Stokes’ versatility, a like minded replacement would be appropriate. Mark Wood and Toby Roland-Jones would be popular candidates, having made excellent contributions of late, but look set ruled out through injury.

Dawid Malan has drawn some applause as a batsman at number 5, though his bowling remains raw – he has bowled just one over in the entirety of his Test cricket career.

Haseeb Hameed is another who could be considered – but his stats again do not live up to Stokes. He faced intense scrutiny when stepping in as an opening batsman earlier this year. The scrutiny led to his dropping, and injuries have curtailed any form of comeback.

The dominant issue is that there are a distinct lack of all rounders at the disposal of Root, which is where Moeen Ali’s talents may be relied upon further for England to offset the loss of Stokes.

Can England Still Win The Ashes?

Of course. The loss of Stokes is a hit, but they are still armed with talent in the batting order and the bowling order.

James Anderson and Stuart Broad are both raring to go, while Alistair Cook is in solid form, alongside Root and even Jonny Bairstow at the batting end.

England will need a sharper edge to their batting and bowling without Stokes, but as much as Australia pose a threat, England are not written off yet.


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The Fall Of McLaren

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They have been a heavyweight in the constructors market since their inception in 1966. From Bruce McLaren all the way to Martin Whitmarsh, they were able to attract the biggest names in the field, and put Ferrari in their place on many occasions.

Now, currently sitting second from bottom of the Constructors Championship, McLaren are in freefall…

Lewis Hamilton’s Departure

One can trace the roots of this fall to the 2013 departure of Lewis Hamilton. The man who staked a claim as the best British driver of this generation has led from the front since 2007, putting in consistent high-quality drives that kept McLaren within touching distance of Ferrari and Red Bull. Amidst the dominance of Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso, Hamilton was never far away.

The partnership McLaren had with Mercedes met with a fruitful success for Hamilton, and partner Alonso. Both finished within the top 5 during the final constructors standings during their two years together.

The Honda Partnership

In 2015, McLaren announced their split from Mercedes as the teams primary engine supplier and formed a deal with Honda.

The intention was to provide their drivers – Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso – with a car that could challenge the dominance of Mercedes and Red Bull. Nothing of this nature materialised and it is prudent to ask whether the investment was ever going to work.

Honda, as a F1 team themselves, were mid-table finishers for the most, with Button and Rubens Barrichello at the wheel. Indeed it took Button 113 races with Honda before he secured his first win for the side. Barrichello, by contrast, failed to take a victory at all.

Even under the direction of Ross Brawn, in which both Button and Barrichello dominated the 2009 season before Button emerged victorious, it only lasted a year before the side morphed into Mercedes GP.

Honda supplied engines which failed to prove either successful nor consistent in race finishing. Both Alonso and team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne have suffered from engine failure numerous times over the season, in addition to over 200 grid penalties. McLaren, as a legend of the F1 circuit, has fallen to mid-table as a result.

The Future of Alonso

Questions are being asked over the commitment of the Spanish hero. The dignity of the two time world champion has taken a hit since rejoining the side he left in 2007, though try as he might to bring the points home. He lashed out at the engine he was working with during a furious failing in Belgium, describing the mechanical setup as ‘embarrassing‘.

At 36 he is a well established veteran of the circuit with nothing to prove. He has already opted out of Formula 1 before to race the Indy 500 (he placed a much respected fifth), and the lure of American motorsport may prove too much as he approaches a crossroads in his career.

The alternative is that Alonso stays now that the partnership with Honda has ended.

Where Do McLaren Go Now?

A split between the pair seemed almost inevitable as the results fail to speak for the noise of investment and promise made.

A pairing with Renault has entered the pipeline for the 2018 season, which will sit well with Alonso – his championship victories came courtesy of a Renault engine. It would also mean an advantage of around 60bhp on the current Honda engine, which would propel McLaren’s drivers back into the top six.

Designs for the 2018 cars have already begun for most, if not all, other teams. McLaren have finally closed the chapter on their engine supplier. Catch up is already being played, but whether it will be of benefit remains to be seen.


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Rafa Reborn And On The Rampage

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It seems quite incredible that the next generation of tennis players progress into Grand Slam dominance is being held up by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

Between the pair, they have scooped 3 of the 4 Grand Slam’s of the year, with the final title – the US Open – again up for grabs to the pair.

Nadal is in pole position

So talked about has been the almost unexplainable brilliance of Federer as continues to defy age, that Nadal’s reinvigoration, by comparison, seems almost to have passed the world by.

Let it be known though, that Nadal looks all the more likely to snatch the US Open title ahead of his fellow thirty-something compatriot Federer.

Why Rafa is the Favourite?
Nadal heads into the final Grand Slam of the season with a 49-9 record over the calendar year. His consistent performances over all surfaces have led him to regain the World Number 1 ranking for the first time since June 2014.

Hard court is an inconsistent surface for the Spaniard, and not his favourite by any means. He holds a 22-7 record in all hard court competition this year, but that included reaching the final of the Miami Open and the Australian Open

Yet on both occasions, he was beaten by Federer, who very much favours the hard court over the clay.

Yet the Swiss wizard’s fitness has been a cause for concern lately. He struggled noticeably in his third defeat of the year against Alexander Zverev. This concern was raised again when he took five sets to finally put unseeded Frances Tiafoe to the sword.

Not only that, but the list of absentees including (Sir) Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori puts Nadal amongst the headline acts again.

He was in ruthless form against world number 85 Dusan Lajovic, and has looked to be free of any wrist impediment which hampered the past few years of his game.

Should all go well for Nadal and Federer, they look set to meet in the semi-finals. Although Federer has a hard court advantage, the Spaniard’s imperious form and fitness looks like it will give him the edge over his longtime foe.

 

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Liverpool rising, Arsenal gunned down

Klopp vs Wenger


It is perhaps with some irony that on the sixth anniversary of Arsenal’s obliteration at the hands of Manchester United, Arsene Wenger is yet again being summoned to the stand to stake a defence for his job. A thumping 4-0 loss to Liverpool, who themselves have encountered a few falls from grace in recent years, only seeks to add to the turbulence that is becoming par for the course for the Frenchman.

#WengerOut

The now regular hashtag has once again reared its head as the protesters begin sharpening their pitchforks. Piers Morgan has again taken to Twitter to discuss his despair amidst Wenger’s odd tactical calls and his failure to address the situation of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil.

As a tactician, Wenger has no excuses. Against a Liverpool side who were shipping goals as much as they were scoring them, he elected to bench record signing Alexander Lacazette. Thus devoiding Sanchez of any potential link up that his chance creating gameplay deserved.


Partnering Sanchez with the inconsistent Danny Welbeck over established aerial threat Olivier Giroud will have drawn frustration. But what was insulting was that Liverpool gambled on starting rookie goalkeeper Loris Karius, and neglected to use veteran fullback James Milner in a match which should have been a lot closer than it eventually was.

There are some whose statements are little more than dramatic. Indeed, the sight of a fan literally butchering his Arsenal shirt with a cleaver was strong viewing, but indicates a mere destructive tantrum. But there are some who have the the articulation to sense that Wenger may be on his last legs as manager – but just how long he has left remains a mystery.

The Sanchez/Ozil farce 

It is a farce, let’s be honest. Sanchez has made no secret of his desire to leave the Emirates. Unconvinced that the club is moving forward, he has been the centre of a blizzard of rumours as to where he might go. Although Mesut Ozil has been a lesser target, the sheer invisibility of his performance this weekend only serves to suggest he too has had enough.

Rather than seeking a sale and taking the money for his star players, Wenger has seen fit to keep them for a year, perhaps deluded to think that they might perform as the world knows they can. It is Sanchez and Ozil’s petulance versus Wenger’s desperation. A strategy simply not viable for a club to function competitively. Times like these were ended by a manager showing his player the door, emphasising that the player can and will not hold sway over the club he plays for. Wenger’s old nemesis Sir Alex Ferguson did this to great effect, and maintained a dignity through these times that seems to have deserted the long suffering Frenchman who must wonder if he is the primal cause of a sinking ship.

As for Liverpool….

The Reds are very much a club on the up. Jurgen Klopp has masterminded a turnaround for Liverpool that puts them very much in the top four mix.  The £34m capture of Sadio Mane and then £39m Mohamed Salah look like bargains so far, both have hit the ground running up top. Roberto Firmino has dipped in with goals and assists as Liverpool look to establish a potent attacking trio than can assault any defence.

But their problem lies in their own defence. Conceding three away at Watford says more for Liverpool’s failings than Watford’s triumphs, and the Reds did not help themselves further with three more goals shipped against Hoffenheim over two legs. Also exposed in the win over Arsenal was their defensive indiscipline. Joe Gomez and Dejan Lovren going into the book early on for less than clever challenges. Klopp has to address this further rather than riding his luck with his current back four.

The Coutinho debacle

On Sunday they hardly missed him. The menace of Firminio, Sane and Salah was enough to extinguish any lingering worries that Coutinho’s absence would affect the squad. The only injustice being done is that Klopp is taking too long in seeing him sold. Two rejections from Barcelona have seen Coutinho’s dream move pass him by, and with it he is getting more and more bitter.

Like Sanchez, he is unlikely to return to form, or show commitment to the Reds cause. His departure seems set by the impending arrival of Naby Keita from RB Leipzig. The attacking midfielder is due for an Anfield arrival in 2018, but Klopp ought to raise funds by selling Coutinho, who is contracted until 2022. He has time to cash in on the Brazilian, but will look more foolish the longer he continues to allow Coutinho to rot on the sidelines.

Very much a tale of contrasts for Arsenal and Liverpool. Arsene Wenger is in big trouble of letting his team spin beyond his control, whilst Liverpool must look to reassemble their defence before it begins to cost them.


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Rooney: Lion, Leader, Legend! 


There are few careers to rate alongside that of Wayne Rooney. Some might suggest that he did not transcend in the manner expected when he blasted onto the England stage in a whizz of goals and tenacity. Though some may mark him as one of the most exemplary players of his generation who was the axis of an England team that always seemed to fall short.

Rooney has, on his own terms, stepped away from England duty at a time when the next generation are filing to take up the reigns he carried single handedly. Whilst not ousted from the Three Lions, there can be little doubt his influence was waning.


The Goal Getter 

Yes, he is the all time top scorer of England’s national team. But questions spurt as to the deservedness of this title. The majority of his goals have come in qualifying rounds of World Cup and European Championship competition. Goals which have been struck with easy frequency against the likes of San Marino, Lithuania, Macedonia and other ‘minnow’ sides.

With the exception of that glorious opening chapter at Euro 2004, he has failed somewhat on the big stage. A goal at Euro 2012, another single strike at the World Cup 2014 and a penalty in the defeat to Iceland at last year’s Euro’s is all else Rooney has to show for being England’s greatest goal scorer.


The Warrior

Here is where Rooney deserves the most credit. Far be it from him to just dispatch the goals. He led by example, in outright determination not to admit defeat. Opinion is divided as to whether his indiscretions on the pitch were the actions of a boy, or the definition of a one man war against the entire opposition. That often seems to be how Rooney approached the games. He handled the enormity of the occasions himself, and led the way even when the armband was not his to wear.

In the build up to the World Cup of 2010, and Euro 2012, Rooney was injured in the months leading up to these tournaments. A nation stood in unified prayer as Rooney faced a race to be fit for both. That was how much they relied on him to be the weapon against the international heavyweights.


The Teacher 

Yet where youngster took tentative steps, they always had Rooney to look to for guidance. He was the man they looked to on the training pitch and in the changing room. An example in his own right.

Doubters would suggest that he himself still had a lot of growing up to do, as petulance got the better of him on the pitch. Yet he never shirked responsibility, and always seemed a contender for the England captaincy once John Terry abdicated in 2012.

Hodgson handed him the armband in 2014, as the golden generation faded out and Rooney carried the team. Raw youngsters like Raheem Sterling, Dele Alli, Kyle Walker and Eric Dier appeared around him, and suddenly he went from being the youngster out to prove himself to the responsible elder that the new generation looked to.


The Chief

Rooney first made his bow on the international stage against Australia in 2003. After he lit the fuse on his career at Euro 2004, it was upwards from there. A 14 year career at the highest level of football and he stayed consistent throughout. The reigns of all coaches, from Sven Goran Eriksson through Steve McClaren, and to Roy Hodgson have all used Rooney as a base around which to build their own chapter of England football.

Now that is a hard act to follow. As far as England’s international players go, he will rank as one of the best.  Not just for the goals he scored, but the contributions he made in every department.