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Chelsea’s win over Man City says a lot about Sarri. PLUS: Sterling stands up, River claim Copa Lib

Manchester City’s first league defeat of the campaign probably says more about their opponents, Chelsea, than it does Guardiola’s crew. Without Kevin De Bruyne, Sergio Aguero and Benjamin Mendy, they marched into Stamford Bridge and dominated the first half, only to be punished by Eden Hazard’s quick thinking, N’Golo Kante’s finish and Leroy Sane’s brief daydream. The goal allowed Chelsea to tighten up further and play on the counter even more; they added a second through a David Luiz header later on.china nike nfl jerseys cheap

Other than Sane’s distraction and the absentees — though with City’s depth, that’s hardly an alibi — Guardiola probably won’t find too much fault with his side’s performance. They controlled the game and created chances. Raheem Sterling up front in place of Aguero (and the currently star-crossed Gabriel Jesus) may not have yielded goals but wasn’t a particular problem on the day.

What messed City up was that, far from being the dogmatic fundamentalist that some accused him of being, Maurizio Sarri showed he can be a pragmatist too. Other than his choice to play the three little guys up front, forsaking Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata for Hazard as a “false nine,” it was the usual personnel. The difference is that their lines were much tighter, they didn’t insist on possession, they limited their pressing to the final third and they dropped deep once City broke into midfield.6

It was a humble, blue-collar performance, and it’s exactly what Sarri, with his obsession with patterned movements and pushing men forward, was supposedly unable to do. So much for those who hammered him for not having a Plan B or not playing N’Golo Kante in front of the back four. (Those who insist with this trope are, frankly, without help: that role in a Sarri team is an attacking role and requires a playmaker, and putting Kante there is the equivalent of a long-ball team deploying Sergio Aguero as a center-forward and lumping long balls towards him.)nfl nike jerseys cheap china

Oh, and while I feel like I’m discussing Kante every week, let me also add this. He won a title at Leicester playing alongside a purely defensive midfielder like Danny Drinkwater and then won another title the following year next to Nemanja Matic, also a purely holding guy. What’s more, he had three central defenders behind him. This isn’t to diminish him in any way — he’s one of the best in the world — but rather to point out that context matters. And it’s simply silly to compare Kante’s positions without comparing the personnel and formations around him, as well as what the manager is trying to do.

 

Keeping playoff hero Eovaldi a risk Red Sox could afford to take

One of my favorite moments of the postseason came when the Red Sox lost Game 3 of the World Series to the Dodgers, the 18-inning game that never ended. Nathan Eovaldi was the losing pitcher after serving up a walk-off home run to Max Muncy. He had already pitched in the first two games but still went six innings in Game 3, throwing 97 pitches and allowing just three hits. If Ian Kinsler doesn’t make a throwing error in the bottom of the 13th, the Red Sox win the game and Eovaldi gets the W.

Sure enough, the Red Sox announced Thursday they had signed Eovaldi to a four-year, $67.5 million contract. That $17 million per season price tag lines up with the predicted contract Eovaldi would receive, so the Red Sox didn’t retain his services on any kind of discount.cheap nike nfl jerseys china

It’s also not without a lot of risk, even for a pitcher, given that Eovaldi has two Tommy John surgeries in his past and a career 4.16 ERA. He had his best season in 2018, however, returning in late May after missing all of 2017 after surgery in August of 2016, then dramatically increased his stock with a huge performance in the postseason.6

He started twice and pitched four times in relief, showcasing his 100-mph fastball and allowing just 15 hits and four earned runs in 22 1/3 innings against the loaded offenses of the Yankees, Astros and Dodgers. In both the ALDS and ALCS, he started Game 3 of a tied series and pitched well, allowing one run in seven innings against the Yankees and two runs in six innings against the Astros.

The injury history aside, there are several reasons to like Eovaldi’s future, and you can make a strong claim that Eovaldi at $67.5 million over four seasons is a better signing than Patrick Corbin at $140 million over six years. Eovaldi, 29, obviously has the big fastball, but also began utilizing a cutter more often, throwing it 32 percent of the time after first unveiling it with the Yankees in 2016. That seemed to help his four-seam fastball, as his swing-and-miss rate with his fastball improved from a career rate of 15 percent to 25 percent.nike nfl jerseys cheap paypal

He also showed improved command with a career-low walk rate of just 4.4 percent. Out of 140 pitchers with at least 100 innings, that was the seventh-lowest walk rate, right up there in Corey Kluber/Justin Verlander territory. So you have a guy who throws 100 and throws strikes, mixes in a cutter, splitter, slider and curveball and you can see why many believe he hasn’t quite tapped his potential yet. After all, out of those 140 pitchers, Eovaldi was just middle of the pack — 67th — in strikeout rate.

Gronk not peaking, but Patriots ‘better when he’s on the field’

This is why what unfolded late in the second quarter of Sunday’s win over the Minnesota Vikings stood out as such an outlier, and sparks a question as to whether Gronkowski can ultimately get the consistent explosion back in his legs in order to return to his status as the game’s premier tight end.cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

In the official box score, it reads as a 4-yard completion to Gronkowski, but there was much more to it than that.

The Patriots were carefully managing the clock in their two-minute offense, facing a second-and-5, when Gronkowski — moving laterally from right to left — caught the football 1 yard shy of the sticks. Safety Anthony Harris chased him and didn’t make contact until after Gronkowski had caught the ball and began to turn up the field.

In the tale of the tape, the 6-foot-6, 268-pound Gronkowski had favorable odds to lunge forward and get the necessary yardage against Harris, who is 6-foot-1 and 202 pounds.5

That it was even a question was telling, because at his best, Gronkowski has always been the player initiating contact in those situations, driving his legs with powerful force and playing fearlessly, whether it’s a 202-pound safety or two 202-pound safeties bearing down on him.

But since Gronkowski landed on the injury report with ankle and back injuries two months ago — missing three games over a five-week stretch — he hasn’t been that player. Hence the reason Gronkowski’s production is considerably down in nine games played, as he has totaled 35 receptions for 530 yards and two touchdowns.

“It’s great to have him back out there. Certainly coming back and working back into it, he’s practicing hard,” offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. “He has a great attitude and approach, he’s unselfish and does whatever [you need]. Ran-block pretty well the other night and does some things, too, that don’t necessarily get noticed or don’t show up on the stat sheet, but helps us do a lot of different things and also takes a tremendous amount of coverage. Sometimes they put a lot of attention to him and the ball goes somewhere else.”cheap nfl jerseys china nike

Gronkowski, whose upbeat demeanor uplifts his teammates, seemed to have an extra hop in his step the past two weeks. His interactions with reporters were filled with humor and smiles.

Urban Meyer to retire after Rose Bowl, with Ryan Day taking over as Buckeyes head coach

Meyer, who has coached Ohio State for the past seven seasons, will formally announce he’s stepping down at a 2 p.m. news conference in Columbus alongside Day and athletic director Gene Smith. The 54-year-old has battled the effects of an arachnoid cyst on his brain, which causes severe headaches, especially when under stress. The cyst was diagnosed in 1998 but worsened the past few years, and Meyer dropped to his knees on the sideline during an October game against Indiana and often looked distressed during games, rubbing his head and wincing.nike nfl jerseys cheap china

Meyer repeatedly said he planned on coaching in 2019, but uncertainty remained, even after Meyer seemed to improve in recent weeks and Ohio State won the Big Ten championship in beating Northwestern on Saturday. Several Ohio State staff members told ESPN after the game that they noticed a positive change in Meyer the past two weeks. Smith denied a Football Scoop report last week that Meyer would not coach past the 2019 season and Day would take over as head coach. Meyer declined to comment when asked about the report.5

Meyer on Friday called Day “elite” and, when asked about Day’s future career opportunities, said, “Certainly now is not that time, this week is not the time. But there will be a time.”

Ohio State wanted to announce Meyer’s plans before the early signing period (Dec. 19-21) and with most of the coaching staff on the road recruiting. Naming Day as Meyer’s successor shows a commitment to continuity with the staff for 2019 and beyond.

Day, 39, is in his second season on the Buckeyes’ staff after previously working for Chip Kelly with the San Francisco 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles.cheap nfl jerseys china nike The New Hampshire native turned down college head-coaching opportunities and the Tennessee Titans’ offensive coordinator job after the 2017 season. He was mentioned as a candidate for college head-coaching jobs this year but never strongly pursued any. Day served as Ohio State’s co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2017 before being promoted to the primary coordinator and playcalling role this season.

Diego Valeri, Sebastian Blanco grew up together; now they’re MLS Cup hopefuls 6,800 miles from home

The distance between Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Portland, Oregon, is more than 6,800 miles. The flight time is approximately 17 hours and 15 minutes, and that’s if you manage to fly direct. Driving is practically impossible — the Darien Gap on the border between Colombia and Panama is basically impenetrable, a 55-mile break in the Pan-American Highway that runs from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, to the southern tip of Chile. Should they ever find a way to pave that bit of swampland, Buenos Aires to Portland would take you something close to 200 hours by car.

For Timbers teammates Diego Valeri and Sebastian Blanco, who have known each other since they were boys playing for the same youth academy in the southern suburbs of Argentina’s biggest city, the metaphorical distance is even more yawning than that.

Would they ever have imagined, when they first started playing together on Lanus’ senior squad in 2006, that they’d end up here, of all places? In Portland, Oregon, in the MLS Western Conference finals vs. Sporting Kansas City (second leg Thursday, 9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), the two most important players in a small-market team battling for its second league championship in four years?

“No,” Valeri said from a bench at the team training facility in Beaverton last week. “Never.“cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

Blanco agreed: “Impossible.”6

The Timbers were a minor league team in 2006. Providence Park was still predominantly a baseball stadium. Both Valeri and Blanco harbored dreams of one day leaving their hometown for a bigger country, but those musings were murky and undefined. Before signing with the Timbers in 2017, Blanco had been to the U.S. only once, to Miami, and he pictured New York skyscrapers, not “Portlandia.“cheap nfl jerseys china nike

“We never thought about this,” Valeri told ESPN FC, with a smirk that was borderline patronizing, gesturing at the facility around him, on a lovely autumn Northwest day. “We never imagined.”

Blanco, again: “The opportunity for what’s happening is incredible.”

Valeri and Blanco were aware of one another almost from the start of their respective soccer careers. Although they both came up through Lanus’ system, Valeri is two years older, so they played at different age levels before finally linking up in the first team.

To belabor the mileage imagery just one more time to underscore how small-world all of this is: Their childhood homes were less than 3 miles apart, about a 15-minute drive without traffic. Where they come from, the bordering neighborhoods of Lanus and Lomas de Zamora, very few residents ever even relocate elsewhere in Buenos Aires, let alone outside the country, and fewer still outside the continent.

Josh Donaldson hopes to spend rest of career with Braves

“We were looking for a middle-of-the-order bat,” general manager Alex Anthopoulos said after a news conference at SunTrust Park less than 24 hours after the team announced the signing of catcher Brian McCann. “We had to find a way to get it done.”

Donaldson was looking for a team that would pay him big bucks while giving him a chance to show he’s healthy after three injury-plagued seasons. He’ll make the same salary he received this past season, while setting himself up for a much more lucrative deal if he returns to MVP form.nike nfl jerseys cheap china

Plus, he gets to play with his favorite team from childhood. Donaldson is a native of Pensacola, Florida, and he played his college baseball at Auburn, about a two-hour drive from SunTrust Park.6

“I was a huge Braves fan coming up,” he said. “My very first favorite player was Ron Gant. It’s a very full circle from coming to my very first Braves game, my first major league baseball game, when I was about 12 years old to now being 32 years old [next week], being able to wear this jersey and wear it with pride.”

By committing to Donaldson for only one year, the NL East-winning Braves addressed their top priority while leaving themselves plenty of financial flexibility beyond 2019. They have some of the most talented young players in the game, led by NL Rookie of the Year Ronald Acuna Jr., and didn’t want to make a move that impeded their long-term progress.cheap nfl nike jerseys china

“I think it’s a win-win across the board,” Anthopoulos said. “We love Josh. We’re thrilled to have him. But it’s a one-year deal. Beyond one year, we don’t know what’s going to happen, other than we hope we’re pouring champagne over each other’s heads and he’s had an MVP year again. It would be a good problem to have.”

Donaldson was AL MVP in 2015 after hitting 41 homers and leading the league with 123 RBIs in his first year with the Blue Jays. He was acquired from Oakland in a blockbuster deal engineered by Anthopoulos, who was then Toronto’s general manager.

Celtics are going from preseason favorites to average disappointments after 20 games

To say this isn’t the way the Celtics — or frankly, just about anyone — envisioned this team looking through the opening 20 games of the season is an understatement. Yet here Boston is, floundering at 10-10 and already trailing the Toronto Raptors by six games for the top spot in the Eastern Conference — the one Boston was expected to claim for itself after LeBron James abdicated his throne atop the East by joining the Los Angeles Lakers this summer.

And, as Smart said, the Celtics find themselves saying the same thing game after game. Their offense remains inefficient, mired among the bottom 10 in the league despite a wealth of players capable of filling it up. Too often their first quarters are like the one Boston had Saturday night, as the Mavericks raced out to a 32-18 lead behind some spectacular shotmaking and playmaking from sensational Mavericks rookie Luka Doncic.cheap nike nfl jerseys from china

Even Boston’s defense, which is normally among the league’s best — and is ranked second behind the Oklahoma City Thunder in efficiency over course of the season — has slipped a bit lately. The Mavericks sliced through the Celtics time and again at that end of the floor Saturday night, knocking down 16-of-41 3-pointers (39 percent) and finding DeAndre Jordan multiple times at the rim for easy alley-oop dunks.6

“I thought we were a step slow all night,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said. “I thought they put us on our heels.

“They made a ton of effort plays, they got a bunch to the rim, and then we couldn’t contain the drive … those drives really hurt us. They turned the corner, laid it in, and had a couple of and-1s, lobs … those are just killers.”

The Celtics have been on the receiving end of plenty of those kinds of moments lately. Not only did Saturday’s loss drop Boston to seventh place in the East standings, but the Celtics have now lost four of their past five, and eight of 12. Of those four wins, two came in overtime — including one miraculous road comeback against the hapless Phoenix Suns. The other two came against the equally hapless Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks.

Boston simply hasn’t looked like the team it was expected to be entering the season. So what is the issue?

Perhaps there is something to be said for the Celtics having to adjust to the feeling of being the favorite, as opposed to the scrappy underdog.nfl cheap nike jerseys

Throughout the past few seasons, Boston has been seen as a team punching above its weight — first when Isaiah Thomas was lighting up scoreboards two and three seasons ago, and then last season when first Gordon Hayward, and then Kyrie Irving, were sidelined because of season-ending injuries.

Seahawks’ margin for error gets slimmer after sloppy loss to Chargers

Eight points separated the Seattle Seahawks and Los Angeles Chargers on the scoreboard Sunday, but it might have been closer to a half-inch that separated them on the field.cheap nike nfl jerseys china

Or whatever amount of fingertip safety Jahleel Addae managed to get on Russell Wilson’s final pass into the end zone, an incompletion on the game’s last play that ended the Seahawks’ comeback bid.

“It was really close,” Wilson said of the last play.6

The Seahawks were also really close to rallying from 15 down over the final seven minutes of what turned out to be a 25-17 defeat. They would have needed a two-point conversion to send the game to overtime, but they never got the chance after Wilson’s throw to David Moore bounced off the receiver’s chest and through his hands after being tipped at the last second.

“It’s heartbreaking, especially at home,” receiver Doug Baldwin said after Seattle’s second loss in three games this season at CenturyLink Field. “We’ve got to do better.”

The loss drops the Seahawks to 4-4 as they head into the second half of the season. Their road to the playoffs becomes that much tougher, and their upcoming schedule doesn’t get any easier as they head to Los Angeles next week for a rematch against the 7-1 Rams, who are still in control of the NFC West after suffering their first loss of the season.nike nfl jerseys cheap paypal

In other words: This was a win Seattle really could have used.

It was right there, despite the Seahawks’ most uneven performance since an 0-2 start that preceded four wins in five games. They committed drive-killing penalties on offense, got uncharacteristically gashed early by big plays on defense and didn’t get the type of mistake-free play from Wilson that he had been giving them of late.

He threw an interception that Desmond King returned for a touchdown to put the Chargers up 25-10 with less than seven minutes left. On Seattle’s first possession of the third quarter, Wilson had Jaron Brown open behind the Chargers’ secondary for what could have been a touchdown, but his underthrown pass fell incomplete, leading to a punt. He took a sack — one of four for the Chargers — for a 13-yard loss in the third quarter in one instance of him not getting the ball out quickly enough.

Wilson entered Sunday with 11 touchdowns to only one interception in his past five games. The pick-six was his second of the season and only the third of his career.

Seahawks haven’t been shy about how well they ran against Rams

Fluker’s postgame comments will make for some added spice in Sunday’s rematch — assuming he’ll even able to play through a calf injury. His iffy status and that of running back Chris Carson threaten to undermine what might be the Seahawks’ best chance of prevailing, even with the Rams having just surrendered four touchdown passes at the New Orleans Saints in their first loss of the season. Because if they Seahawks are going to pull off an upset as 10-point road underdogs, it’s going to have to be with the same formula that nearly got it done last time, which included 190 yards on the ground and nearly 6 yards per carry.cheap nfl nike jerseys china

“We definitely have to have that again,” Seahawks left tackle Duane Brown said. “We have to have a solid run game in order to win.”

That won’t be easy given the injury situation. Carson is dealing with a sore hip that had him listed as questionable heading into Seattle’s home game against the Los Angeles Chargers last week. He left after only 10 snaps and didn’t return. Fluker left late in that game because of a tight calf; and while coach Pete Carroll said at the start of the week that Fluker appeared to be OK, the coach didn’t sound as certain on Wednesday when he said Fluker came back from the off day feeling more sore than he did earlier.5

Neither practiced Wednesday or Thursday, so their statuses heading into Los Angeles seem far from certain.

Carson looked like he could he headed for his fourth 100-yard performance in five games when he carried four times for 30 yards on the Seahawks’ opening touchdown drive against the Chargers. But he had an ice pack wrapped around his left thigh by halftime as Mike Davis took over.

Davis has proved to be a nice secondary option and even a more-than-capable spot starter. He averaged more than 4 yards per carry in Carson’s absence on Sunday. Davis had more than 100 yards and added two touchdowns in a start at the Arizona Cardinals in Week 4. And has shown enough to hold onto the No. 2 job ahead of first-round pick Rashaad Penny. But there’s a drop-off from Carson, especially when it comes to the punishing style that none of Seattle’s other running backs can replicate. Davis even acknowledged that when he said after the Chargers game that not having Carson “changes the physicality.”cheap nike nfl jerseys china

“Chris has been pretty hot lately, and he’s been doing a lot of really good things for us,” Carroll said, “and we certainly missed him.”

Could this finally be Banyana Banyana’s year?

If preparation, organisation, and motivation were the measures of champions, the rest of the field might as well surrender the 2018 Africa Women Cup of Nations trophy to South Africa.

Banyana Banyana, AWCON finalists in 2012 and fourth place finishers at the last two tournaments, appear to have zeroed in on a target of winning their first-ever title, and with it their maiden trip to a FIFA Women’s World Cup.cheap nfl jerseys china nike

Banyana are second only to Nigeria in number of appearances at Africa’s premiere championship for women, since the inaugural competition in 1991. Of the 12 official tournaments, South Africa have only missed one, the 1995 edition when they withdrew.

In that period, they have been runners up four times, finished third twice and fourth two times for a total of nine top four finishes behind Nigeria and Cameroon. Their points haul of 71 is second only to Nigeria, although a long way shy of the Super Falcons’ 126.

For all of the impressive numbers, the one thing they have never managed is to claim the top prize. Outside of Nigeria, who have won 10 out of 12, only Equatorial Guinea have managed that honour.6

After four near misses, Banyana now look primed to make a strong play for the top prize. And they have made no bones about it.

Of all the teams going to Ghana, Banyana Banyana can claim to be the most prepared. By the time they run out for their friendly against hosts Ghana on November 11, they would have played a total of 15 games in 2018. That is way more than any other team on the continent.nike nfl jerseys cheap china

Their results in those games have not been shabby, either. They racked up eight wins, three draws, and three losses. Those losses came against tough European and South American opposition in Sweden, Belgium, and Chile. They did beat Hungary and drew with Korea DPR, Slovakia, and Chile.

All their other wins came against African opposition, including 2016 AWCON finalists Cameroon, whom they despatched 2-1 in the COSAFA Cup final.

By contrast, Nigeria have only played eight games. Five of those were at the WAFU Cup, where they were beaten in the semifinals by Ghana, one was a friendly which they lost scandalously to France 8-0, and the other two were the two-legged AWCON qualifiers against Gambia, which they won 7-0 on aggregate.