Lotto Soudal recon Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

31 Dec

Lotto Soudal aren't wasting any time getting ready for the upcoming 2019 Classics season, posting video on Twitter today of the team's recent reconnaissance ride for Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, the WorldTour Classics opener on March 2.

Team director Frederick Willems said that although Omloop is a very important race in general, the Belgian race takes on special significance for the Belgian team and their sponsors.

"It is mostly about the course recon today, but also about testing the equipment," Willems said. "Once the races start, it's hard to get the whole group together."

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The team took the race by the scruff of the neck in 2018 and went on the early offensive through Tim Wellens and Tiesj Benoot, only for the race to boil down to the Muur van Geraardsbergen and Bosberg in the final 17km, by which point they were nowhere to be seen.

"We should have just waited for the Muur," a rueful Wellens told Cyclingnews at the time. "You never know if the early moves are the right choice, but today it was the wrong choice."

In the end, a late solo attack from Michael Valgren (Astana) won the day, with Łukasz Wiśniowski (Team Sky) in second and Sep Vanmarcke (EF Education First-Drapac) in third. Lotto Soudal's top rider was Jens Keukeleire in 21st, part of a large group that finished 12 seconds behind Valgren.

You can read more at Cyclingnews.com

Tottenham top, Arsenal 11th – The Premier League table based on every club’s away results in 2018

31 Dec

Winning at home in front of your fans is a priority for teams in the Premier League but if you can collect points on the road then you’re doing your chances of a successful season no harm at all.

And with such the English top-flight such a competitive division, any points earned away from home should be treasured.

Vincent Kompany and Manchester City secured a vital win at Southampton in their final match of 2018

With this in mind, we wanted to see how the Premier League table would look if clubs were scored based on their away results and if the season lasted a calendar year instead of the typical nine-month format over two separate years per season.

Below, you can see how the standings would be based on every side’s away form including the relegated teams from last season in England’s top flight in 2018 – courtesy of Opta.

23. Fulham – Away points in 2018: 2

22. Swansea City – Away points in 2018: 4

21. Cardiff City – Away points in 2018: 5

20. West Brom – Away points in 2018: 7

West Brom’s final away game in 2018 in the top flight was a 2-0 loss at Crystal Palace in May

19. Stoke City – Away points in 2018: 7

18. Brighton – Away points in 2018: 10

17. Huddersfield – Away points in 2018: 11

16. Watford – Away points in 2018: 13

Watford are much better at Vicarage Road than on the road

15. Wolves – Away points in 2018: 15

14. Burnley – Away points in 2018: 16

13. Everton – Away points in 2018: 16

12. Southampton – Away points in 2018: 17

Saints have won more away matches than home matches so far this season

11. Arsenal – Away points in 2018: 18

10. Bournemouth – Away points in 2018: 19

9. Newcastle – Away points in 2018: 19

8. Leicester City – Away points in 2018: 21

Leicester won at Cardiff in the club’s first game since the tragic death of club owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha

7. Crystal Palace: Away points in 2018: 22

6. West Ham – Away points in 2018: 22

5. Manchester United – Away points in 2018: 30

4. Chelsea – Away points in 2018: 35

Maurizio Sarri’s first Premier League game in charge of Chelsea was a 3-0 win at Huddersfield

3. Manchester City – Away points in 2018: 39

2. Liverpool – Away points in 2018: 40

1. Tottenham – Away points in 2018: 45

Spurs top the charts for away points in 2018

Liverpool 2nd, Manchester United 4th – The Premier League table based on every club’s home results in 2018

31 Dec

The most successfull teams in football usually make their home stadium a fortress.

And in such a competitive league like the Premier League, home wins are of paramount importance if any team is to achieve their ambitions.

Liverpool are currently top of the Premier League

With this in mind, we wanted to have a look to see how the Premier League table would look if clubs were scored based on their home results and if the season lasted a calendar year instead of the typical nine-month format over two separate years per season.

Below, you can see how the standings would look based on every side’s home form including the relegated teams from last season in England’s top flight in 2018 – courtesy of Opta.


23. Stoke City – Home points in 2018: 6

22. West Brom – Home points in 2018: 8

21. Huddersfield – Home points in 2018: 12

20. Fulham – Home points in 2018: 12

All of Fulham’s victories this season have come at home

19. Cardiff City – Home points in 2018: 13

18. Swansea City – Home points in 2018: 13

17. Southampton – Home points in 2018: 14

16. Wolves – Home points in 2018: 14

Wolves’ arguably best top flight win in 2018 came against Chelsea in December

15. Burnley – Home points in 2018: 19

14. Crystal Palace – Home points in 2018: 22

13. Newcastle United – Home points in 2018: 24

12. Leicester City – Home points in 2018: 27

Leicester’s most memorable home win of 2018 came against Manchester City on Boxing Day

11. West Ham – Home points in 2018: 29

10. Bournemouth – Home points in 2018: 31

9. Watford – Home points in 2018: 31

8. Everton – Home points in 2018: 33

The Amex Stadium has become something of a fortress for Brighton

7. Brighton – Home points in 2018: 33

6. Chelsea – Home points in 2018: 33

5. Tottenham – Home points in 2018: 40

4. Manchester United – Home points in 2018: 42

United signed off their 2018 with a 4-1 win over Bournemouth

3. Arsenal – Home points in 2018: 45

2. Liverpool – Home points in 2018: 48

1. Manchester City – Home points in 2018: 49

City top the charts for home points in 2018

Manchester United news: How Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has already bettered Jose Mourinho at Old Trafford

31 Dec

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has made the perfect start to his reign as Manchester United boss and has already done something his predecessor Jose Mourinho never managed.

The former Red Devils striker and cult hero was appointed interim manager until the end of the season after Mourinho was sacked on December 18.

Solskjaer couldn’t have dreamed of a better start

Since then, United have scored 12 goals in wins over Cardiff, Huddersfield and Bournemouth – more than they ever managed in a three-game Premier League stretch under Mourinho.

In his two-and-a-half seasons in charge, the Portuguese never saw his side score more than 10 in three league games.

Their best run occurred when they opened the 2017-18 season with back-to-back 4-0 wins over West Ham and Swansea and added a 2-0 success against Leicester (having also wrapped up 2016-17 by beating Crystal Palace 2-0).

Mourinho never managed this many goals in three games

Another indication of United’s improvement is the form of Paul Pogba, whose relationship with Mourinho regularly came under scrutiny.

The France star scored twice in both the 3-1 win over Huddersfield and the 4-1 success against Bournemouth.

Those two games have therefore brought him more goals than his 14 appearances under Mourinho this season – despite being the former manager’s designated penalty taker. Jesse Lingard took on spot-kick duties for Solskjaer against Cardiff.

Pogba also set up goals for Lingard and Ander Herrera in the 5-1 rout of Cardiff and Romelu Lukaku against Bournemouth – doubling his season’s assist tally – as he revels in a more attacking role ahead of Herrera and Nemanja Matic.

And Lingard believes the Frenchman is back to the swashbuckling player he grew up with in the United academy.

“He’s enjoying his football,” Lingard said of Pogba, who he won the FA Youth Cup alongside at United in 2011.

Pogba has been unstoppable since Mourinho’s departure

“He’s playing in the role he likes to play in just inside off the left. He has the freedom to make things happen. He has always got forward in that position and scored goals.

“Ole has helped him 100 per cent. He has given him the confidence and licence to be free and play his game and do what we know he can do.

“I can definitely, definitely see the Paul I used to know. I have seen him playing through the ranks and he is back to that player, the player we know.”

Nairo Quintana: I still think I have a Tour in the legs

31 Dec

Despite failing to ride onto the podium of a Grand Tour in 2018, Movistar leader Nairo Quintana is confident he can still win the Tour de France in the coming years.

The 28-year-old Colombian's run of Grand Tour podiums started in 2013, when he finished second to Chris Froome (Team Sky) at the Tour de France, and continued the following year when he won the Giro d'Italia. Since then he's added a win at the Vuelta a Espana in 2016 and two more podium finishes at the Tour de France in 2015 and 2016.

The past two seasons have fallen short of expectations, however, with second at the 2017 Giro his best result in that time. He was 12th at the 2017 Tour de France, and his Grand Tour efforts in 2018 - the Tour and Vuelta - netted 10th and eighth overall, respectively. Nevertheless, Quintana is confident he can still wear the final yellow jersey in Paris one day. 

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"I still think I have a Tour in the legs," he said in an interview released by the organisers of the Vuelta a San Juan, where Quintana will start his season on January 27. "The goal in 2019 will be to pull off a big win."

Quintana has already said he will skip the Giro this year in favour of racing again at the Tour and the Vuelta. He is also returning to Argentina to start his season there for the first time since 2016, when he raced the former Tour de San Luis and helped his brother Dayer to victory. Quintana won the Argentinean race in 2014 and was third in 2015, his only other appearances there.

"They have always treated me very well in Argentina, and I have always been good at the start of the year in Argentina," he said. "That's why we decided to return this year, because the people are fantastic and the stages are ideal for the start of the season."

You can read more at Cyclingnews.com

Arsenal news: Unai Emery fined £8,000 for kicking bottle towards Brighton fan

31 Dec

Unai Emery has been fined £8,000 by the Football Association after admitting an improper conduct charge for kicking a water bottle into the crowd during a Boxing Day draw at Brighton.

The Arsenal boss accepted the standard penalty for the FA charge following the incident at the Amex Stadium.

Emery kicks the bottle in frustration

Emery immediately apologised to a supporter after kicking the bottle into the stand and again went to speak to the home fan at full-time after the Gunners drew 1-1.

The FA announced last Thursday that the Spaniard had been charged over the incident – although Emery himself had initially hoped his apology would have been enough to see him escape any punishment.

“I hope so, yes,” he replied when asked whether his apology should be the end of the matter.

“But I have to respect the decision because it is a circumstance of my action but not another intention from me with the supporter. I say to them my apology.”

“Arsenal Manager Unai Emery has been fined £8,000 after he admitted an FA improper conduct charge and accepted the standard penalty. It concerned his conduct during the game against Brighton on 26 December 2018,” the FA statement read.

Emery, whose side were thrashed 5-1 at Liverpool on Saturday evening, avoided any touchline ban and will be free to take the reins against Fulham on New Year’s Day.

The bottle flew towards of a section of spectators

Former Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho received a one-match touchline ban for kicking a bottle of water during the clash against West Ham in 2016.

He was also sent to the stands during his side’s 1-1 draw after lashing out following referee Jonathan Moss’ decision to book Paul Pogba for diving.

West Ham transfer news: Hammers confirm signing of Samir Nasri as doping ban ends

31 Dec

West Ham have confirmed the signing of free agent Samir Nasri after the former Arsenal and Manchester City star’s doping ban came to an end.

The 31-year-old midfielder has signed an initial deal until the end of the season with the option to extend.

Nasri was given an 18-month doping ban for using an intravenous drip treatment and has been without a club since January 31 after leaving Turkish side Antalyaspor.

However, the two-time Premier League winner is available to play again from January 1 2019, as his ban ends today.

“Coming back to the most competitive league in the world, with a team full of ambition with a manager that I know…. it’s the best job in the world, and I’m really excited about it,” Nasri said.

Nasri enjoyed great success with West Ham boss Manuel Pellegrini during his time at Man City, and the Chilean manager is thrilled to be reunited with the midfielder.

Pellegrini said on whufc.com: “I am very pleased to welcome Samir to West Ham United.

Nasri rose to fame at Arsenal

“He is a player I obviously know well from our time together at Manchester City and I am happy to be working with him again.

“He has been working very hard here in recent weeks to build up his fitness and condition after a long period without playing, and he is now very determined to return to his best.

“Samir will give us another dimension in our attacking play. He is a very technical player, with excellent quality on the ball, and the ability to create big moments in important matches.

“He already has very good experience of the Premier League and we hope that he will have a positive impact on the team between now and the end of the season.”

Chelsea transfer news: Blues set price tag for Callum Hudson-Odoi after snubbing £20million bid from Bayern Munich

31 Dec

Chelsea are understood to have turned down a £20million bid from Bayern Munich for Callum Hudson-Odoi.

The German giants are determined to capture the teenage winger but have been told by the Blues they must offer closer to £40million to tempt them into doing a deal.

Bayern have made Hudson-Odoi their top target in January

Bayern are great admirers of the 18-year-old and failed with an initial bid of around £13.5million before returning with a new and improved offer.

With Frank Ribery and Arjen Robben confirming their departure at the end of the season, Bayern have started to look towards the future.

Borussia Dortmund are also thought to be interested in Hudson-Odoi, whose Chelsea contract expires in the summer of 2020.

The Blues consider Hudson-Odoi one of the finest talents their academy has produced and they will be reluctant to let him go until the future of Eden Hazard is resolved.

He has started twice for Chelsea in the Europa League this campaign, scoring his first senior goal for the club against PAOK at Stamford Bridge.

And Blues boss Maurizio Sarri gave him his first Premier League appearance of the season in the Boxing Day victory at Watford.

Hudson-Odoi has been given first-team opportunities in the Europa League

Hudson-Odoi, however, is tempted to follow fellow English winger Jadon Sancho’s path to stardom in the Bundesliga.

Chelsea have reportedly agreed a £45million deal to bring Sancho’s Dortmund team-mate, Christian Pulisic, to Stamford Bridge in January, and that could result in a lack of first-team opportunities for Hudson-Odoi in the future.

Everton vs Leicester City: Premier League match preview and confirmed line-ups – Coleman dropped, Tosun back in squad

31 Dec

Everton and Leicester both hope to bounce back from surprise defeats when they clash at Goodison Park on New Year’s Day.

The Toffees ended 2018 by losing 1-0 to Brighton, while Leicester were stunned at Cardiff in stoppage time to lose by the same scoreline.

Everton ran out 2-1 winner in the last meeting between the two sides

Leicester’s defeat was particularly unexpected as it followed back-to-back victories over Chelsea and Manchester City.

Nonetheless, both teams remain in the top half of the Premier League table ahead of their clash and just one point separates them as they chase the Europa League spots.

What the players are saying

Jordan Pickford (Everton): “I think we are playing well, we’re gelling well, we just need to start getting that consistency.

“If you can’t win, don’t lose the game but Brighton scored and we couldn’t break them down.

“Leicester are a tough side. We won at their place (2-1 in October) so they will be trying to get a bit of revenge but we’ve just got to bring our A-game, recover well and hopefully get three points.

Jordan Pickford and Harry Maguire have been speaking to the media ahead of the game

Harry Maguire (Leicester): “That is the best thing about the Christmas period. Once you get a defeat you only have to wait two or three days before you are playing again.

“It’s nice to have another game in three days and it’s a big game for us now at Everton.

“We will look forward to that one, try to rest and recover and hopefully get the three points up there.”

Confirmed line-ups

Everton: Pickford, Kenny, Keane, Zouma, Digne, Andre Gomes, Gueye, Walcott, Sigurdsson, Richarlison, Calvert-Lewin

Subs: Baines, Mina, Tosun, Bernard, Stekelenburg, Coleman, Davies

Leicester: Schmeichel, Simpson, Maguire, Evans, Chilwell, Mendy, Choudhury, Ndidi, Ricardo Pereira, Vardy, Ghezzal

Subs: Soyuncu, Gray, Maddison, Albrighton, Ward, Okazaki, Fuchs.

Where La Liga title chasers Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla and Real Madrid must strengthen in the January transfer window

31 Dec

With three points between first and second, five between top and third, and fourth place Real Madrid’s game in hand giving them the opportunity to cut the distance with Barça to a not insurmountable five, it’s going to be a nail-biting race for the La Liga title in the coming months.

All four of the hopefuls have problem areas in their squads though, and with the margins so fine, that could make a difference. Here’s where they need to strengthen…

How La Liga’s top four looks ahead of the winter break

FC BARCELONA

The defending champions are already well aware that this year’s Spanish title isn’t going to be easily won, having lost twice, including a rare home defeat to Real Betis, as well as dropping points in four further games. Defensive problems were a particular issue in the first third of their campaign, and can in part be explained by the absence of key centre-back Samuel Umtiti due to persistent knee issues.

An inability to rely on the Frenchman coupled with recurring injuries to Thomas Vermaelen have left Barça threadbare at the back: Ivan Rakitic even had to fill in at centre-back for 30 minutes of their trip to Levante. Sensing the impending danger ahead, the Catalans acted swiftly, securing a loan deal for Valencia’s Jeison Murillo before the winter window had even opened.

Murillo has barely kicked a ball this season and wasn’t exactly a glamour signing, but Barcelona feel his pace and ability on the ball should fit the requirements at the Camp Nou. Their biggest problem position is now covered, but a less discussed issue is at centre-forward: 31-year-old Luis Suárez remains a vital player for Barça, and the drop off from him to back-up striker Munir is huge.

Luis Suarez has scored 11 goals in 16 league matches this season

Even if they could do with some more quality there, it’s unlikely Barça will bring in an extra striker in winter though, so they had best hope the Uruguayan’s long-term knee niggle doesn’t flare up for the sake of their trophy hopes.


ATLETICO MADRID

Atlético did some impressive business in the summer, adding the likes of World Cup winner Thomas Lemar and last year’s outstanding Spanish midfielder Rodri to their squad. Both have made significant contributions to their excellent league season so far, where the Madrid side have only lost once and are undefeated since early September.

Adding back-up for Diego Costa was also a necessity, and Atleti’s business there was less impressive. Bringing in Niko Kalinic, who only managed six goals in Serie A last season, was slightly underwhelming. With Costa now injured, the Croatian has stepped in to score two goals in his last three league games, but it remains to be seen whether he can sustain the kind of scoring rate necessary to keep the Colchoneros biting at Barça’s heels.

Diego Costa has just one league goal for Atletico Madrid this season

Doubts over Kalinic combined with a persistent sensation that Costa may be on a downward trajectory mean Diego Simeone could do with another striker. A salary cap holding an iron grip on the Colchoneros however means they won’t sign unless someone goes in the other direction. Depending on the outcome of Bayern’s push for Lucas Hernández that could yet happen, but losing a huge player from an already stretched defensive line would open up a need for further reinforcement in other areas of the pitch.


SEVILLA

Given an injection of attacking intent and tactical sophistication by new coach Pablo Machin, Sevilla have been one of the surprise packages of the season, turning over Real Madrid in a thrilling 3-0 win in September then keeping within touching distance of the other big boys Barça and Atleti. Even if they still lead Madrid in the table, Sevilla remain the outsiders of the top four to stay in the title race, and have the biggest talent gap to close of all the hopefuls.

Sevilla have been the league’s surprise package under Pablo Machin

The financially immaculate Andalucians have some money to spend though, and boss Machin expects winter signings from sporting director Joaquin Caparros, sensing the unique opportunity offered up by an unusually even La Liga season. In a dream scenario the coach would love to reunite with old pupil and Girona forward Portu, who Sevilla pushed hard to bring to the Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán in the summer. Girona will try to hold their nerve once more however, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if Caparros has to turn elsewhere.

Machin’s desire to go fishing at his old club doesn’t end there. Girona centre-back Juanpe was another summer target, and according to Girona-based journalist Gerard Bellera, Sevilla will make a new offer in the forthcoming winter window. The 27-year-old has been excellent this season and knows the system the coach uses like the back of his hand.

There is one reunion that looks more likely than any other. The Sevilla media is currently in overdrive about the possibility of Liverpool left-back Alberto Moreno returning to the club, and as an academy graduate who would slot into the left wing-back position that Machin is keen to cover, he fits the bill well.

Alberto Moreno recently criticised Jurgen Klopp and looks set for the exit at Liverpool

Estadio Deportivo reports that Moreno rejected a contract extension at Anfield because he wants to return to Sevilla, where he recently bought a new house, and with only six months left on his Liverpool deal the fee to sign him in January would be well within the La Liga side’s means.


REAL MADRID

Real Madrid’s shaky start to the league season has already cost one coach his job, and Julen Lopetegui’s replacement Santiago Solari found out through an embarrassing 3-0 defeat to Eibar that the problems in their squad still run deep. The impending changing of the guard at the Santiago Bernabéu can’t be fixed in a January transfer window, but some marginal improvements can at least be made, and Madrid are expected to sign.

The principle target is Manchester City youngster Brahim Díaz, who has been all over the front pages of Marca for several weeks now, where it is claimed that the final details of a deal to bring him to the Spanish capital are being hammered out. Brahim would add some much-needed energy and creativity to a forward line that has struggled for consistency and goals, most obviously in the wide positions.

Brahim Diaz is set for return to his homeland to join Real

As a general rule Madrid are reluctant to do bring players in during the winter window, so adding Brahim alone would be significant, but the exceptional nature of their circumstances mean a further surprise isn’t out of question. The other most likely arrival is River Plate midfielder Exequiel Palacios, who Los Blancos clearly like, judging by the series of leaks to the local media about their interest in him during recent weeks. Fresh off a Copa Libertadores win at the Bernabéu, the sharp-minded midfielder with a good eye for a cutting pass would provide useful relief for both Toni Kroos and Luka Modric, who have had an inconsistent season.