Robert Griffin III: Was the breakout star of the NFC East in 2012 The highest-profile division in the NFL has not been home to the highest-quality teams in recent years, but it remains as intriguing as ever.
Eagles Predicting injuries is never nice but I just can’t see Griffin staying healthy.
The Giants have the most solid set-up.
Last season it was the Washington Redskins who produced a big shock to finish atop the standings behind an inspired campaign from rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III.
But the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys are still very much contenders despite their disappointing records in 2012, and the possibility of Griffin toning down his playing style only enhances their chances.
With the Philadelphia Eagles having hired innovate offensive mind Chip Kelly as their new head coach, there is plenty to look out for in the NFC East.
WASHINGTON REDSKINS (10-6) Mike Shanahan: Led the Washington Redskins to the play-offs last season Ins: CB EJ Biggers, WR Devery Henderson, WR Donte’ Stallworth, DE Darryl Tapp.
Outs: OT Jammal Brown, CB Cedric Griffin,’s Madieu Williams.
Star Man: Robert Griffin III.
The quarterback inspired the Redskins to the division title following an incredible rookie campaign which saw him set the highest passer rating ever by a first-year signal-caller.
However, his season was ended by a serious knee injury in the first round of the play-offs and many are wondering whether his body can withstand another season of punishing hits.
If he is forced to cut down on his rushing attempts, will Griffin be as effective? Outlook: On paper the Redskins should be in a good position to build on the foundations that were laid last season.
There has been minimal change in the roster and both Griffin and running back Alfred Morris should be a lot better with one full year of NFL experience under their belts.
Griffin’s health is the biggest question mark, however.
He is set to be ready for the Redskins’ opener but if he continues to play the way he did last year, it is unlikely he will last the season.
The Redskins had fifth-worse rated defence in the NFL last season, but part of that can be attributed to an unfortunate string of injuries.
The likes of Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker are now fit again and return to bolster the pass rush.
If Griffin can stay healthy and improve on his incredible production from last year, the Redskins are Super Bowl contenders.
If not, they may struggle to make the play-offs.
NEW YORK GIANTS (9-7) Victor Cruz: One of the New York Giants’ main playmakers Ins: K Josh Brown, LB Dan Connor, TE Brandon Myers, DT Cullen Jenkins, CB Aaron Ross.
Outs: TE Martellus Bennett, DT Rocky Bernard, LB Chase Blackburn, LB Michael Boley, RB Ahmad Bradshaw, DT Chris Canty, WR Domenik Hixon, OT Sean Locklear,’s Kenny Phillips, K Lawrence Tynes, DE Osi Umenyiora.
Star Man: Victor Cruz.
Like the Giants as a whole, Cruz made a hot start last season before fading away over the second half of the campaign.
The speedy receiver, who went undrafted in 2010, signed a new five-year contract in the off-season and has a lot to live up to this season.
Outlook: The Giants have lost a number of starters on defence and even though some of them were clearly past their best anyway, the team may well be affected by the departures.
The defensive line has undergone a huge overhaul, with athletic pass rusher Jason Pierre-Paul now expected to step up as the star man of both the front seven and the defence in general.
Running back Ahmad Bradshaw’s exit was possibly the highest-profile of all but in David Wilson New York have an explosive replacement who can go the distance on any play.
Jerry Reese is renowned for building solidly through the draft and this year he selected offensive lineman Justin Pugh in the first round to aid the Giants’ pass protection issues.
Damontre Moore, a talented defensive end, was a great value selection in the third round.
But the outcome of the Giants’ season likely rests on the shoulders of two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Eli Manning, who has one of the best receiving corps in the NFL at his disposal if he can find the consistency he lacked last year.
DALLAS COWBOYS (8-8) Tony Romo: Signed a huge contract extension during the off-season Ins: LB Justin Durant,’s Will Allen.
Outs: LB Victor Butler, LB Dan Connor, CB Mike Jenkins, RB Felix Jones, WR Kevin Ogletree,’s Gerald Sensabaugh, DT Marcus Spears.
Star Man: DeMarcus Ware.
While the pass-rushing linebacker may have seen a slight dip in his sack totals in 2012, he is still the cornerstone of the Dallas defence and a player that no offensive lineman in the NFL will relish trying to block.
Outlook: That Dallas has a talented team has not been in question over the past few seasons.
The likes of DeMarco Murray, Dez Bryant, Ware, Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne are some of the most exciting players in the NFL at their respective positions, but as a team Dallas’ regular season records and play-off performances have consistently failed to match their potential.
The feeling heading into this season is that this is a make-or-break year for both head coach Jason Garrett and quarterback Tony Romo, who has the added pressure of a recently-signed six-year, $108 million contract to contend with.
If the roster plays up to its potential then the Cowboys have a legitimate shot at a Super Bowl run but, as we have seen in recent seasons, a spectacular implosion is also not out of the question.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (4-12) Chip Kelly: Is set to bring his high-tempo offence to the NFL Ins: LB Connor Barwin, TE James Casey,’s Patrick Chung, QB Dennis Dixon, Clifton Geathers, CB Bradley Fletcher, P Donnie Jones RB, Felix Jones, DT Isaac Sopoaga, CB Cary Williams.
Outs: CB Nnamdi Asomugha, OT Demetress Bell, OT King Dunlap, DT Cullen Jenkins, LB Akeem Jordan, P Mat McBriar, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, G Jake Scott, DE Darryl Tapp.
Star Man: LeSean McCoy.
Although his carries as a traditional running back may decrease in the offence of new head coach Chip Kelly, McCoy is still a major threat catching passes out of the backfield and is looking to bounce back from an injury-hit 2012.
Outlook: After their ‘Dream Team’ experiment ended in something more closely resembling a nightmare, the Eagles have opted to rebuild under Kelly and with a dramatically overhauled defence.
Cullen Jenkins, Akeem Jordan, Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie were all important starters last year but have left the franchise in the off-season.
Although the latter three may have been disappointing in their short stints with the Eagles, they still leave big holes to fill.
But all the talk heading into the season has been of the Eagles’ offence.
Kelly was famed for his high-tempo ‘blur’ attack while in charge at the University of Oregon and whether he can transfer it successfully into the professional ranks has been a source of much debate.
He certainly has suitable tools to work with – Michael Vick is still one of the NFL’s more mobile quarterbacks despite his age, McCoy is an elusive runner and DeSean Jackson has pace to burn either as a receiver or hybrid tailback/wideout.
Whatever happens, it will be interesting to watch.
Sky Bet Formula 1 Betting Retrieving latest Sky Bet odds Formula 1 Betting 10 Free Bet Lewis Hamilton says Mercedes “are feeling confident and competitive” ahead of this weekend’s Italian GP despite finishing nearly one second behind the Red Bull of Sebastian Vettel in Friday’s timesheets.
Having led the way in Friday morning’s practice session, Hamilton appeared to struggle for pace and balance in the afternoon running with the 2008 World Champion repeatedly out-braking himself into the Ascari chicane.
Hamilton ultimately finished the session almost nine-tenths behind pace-setter Vettel.
Yet, as we’ve seen before this season, not least in the last three grands prix when Hamilton has followed up a difficult Friday by claiming pole position, appearances can be deceptive and the Mercedes driver struck a surprisingly upbeat tone on Friday night when he addressed reporters.
“The car felt good,” Hamilton told Sky Sports News.
“The Red Bull looks quick, but generally our car felt good so I’ll have to sit and try to understand where we can go quicker because generally I felt I was right on the limit everywhere and the car felt well balanced.
So whether we have too much wing, we will have to wait and see.” Hamilton later tweeted to his followers: “Car feels good here today at Monza.
Bit of work to do tonight but we are feeling confident and competitive.” The 28-year-old is third in the Drivers’ Championship, 58 points behind Vettel.
Shane Victorino hits a single to drive in the go-ahead run against the New York Yankees.
Photograph: Ray Stubblebine/Reuters Shane Victorino hit a go-ahead single in the 10th inning that gave the Boston Red Sox a 9-8 win at the New York Yankees on Thursday, shoring up their playoff position while dealing a blow to the postseason hopes of their arch rivals.
Boston’s win, combined with Tampa Bay’s loss to the Angels, moved the Red Sox to a comfortable 6-1/2 game lead atop the American League East divison, while the Yankees remained stuck 2-1/2 games behind the Rays for the second wild-card spot and with games fast running out.
Boston’s Stephen Drew hit a tying single off Mariano Rivera with two outs in the ninth inning to force extra innings.
With one out in the 10th, Jacoby Ellsbury singled with off Joba Chamberlain (2-1) and stole second base.
Victorino having received the benefit of an umpire’s call on whether he swung through on a ball outside the strike zone then lined a single that scored Ellsbury.
New York had erased a 7-2 deficit with six runs in the seventh but could not quite close out the opening game of a key four-game series.
The Tampa Bay Rays ‘ chances of mounting a late challenge to Boston for the AL East title faded further with a 6-2 loss at the Los Angeles Angels .
Collin Cowgill hit a three-run double, one of 11 hits Los Angeles had against reigning AL Cy Young winner David Price through his first 2 1-3 innings.
Price (8-7) was charged with six runs while striking out six.
He has lost consecutive starts for the first time since 2011.
Angels’ starter Jerome Williams (6-10) ended a run of eight-straight losing decisions.
He allowed two runs over 6 1-3 innings and struck out seven.
He was winless in his previous 13 starts.
Todd Frazier hit two homers, including the first of the Cincinnati Reds ‘ three off Lance Lynn, as the Reds beat the St Louis Cardinals 6-2.
Cincinnati won three of four in the series to further tighten the NL Central scenario.
Pittsburgh leads the division by 1-1/2 games from the Cardinals, who in turn have the same margin over the Reds.
Lynn (13-10) lasted five innings and gave up three homers for only the second time in his career.
St Louis had won the previous seven series between the two teams.
Cincinnati’s lone loss in this set was 5-4 in 16 innings on Wednesday.
Mike Moustakas homered to lead off the bottom of the 13th inning and give the Kansas City Royals a 7-6 win over the Seattle Mariners .
Paul Goldschmidt broke out of a slump with two hits and two RBIs, while Martin Prado and Aaron Hill also drove in runs to help the Arizona Diamondbacks beat the San Francisco Giants 4-2.
Miguel Gonzalez allowed one run over seven innings, steering the Baltimore Orioles to a 3-1 win over the Chicago White Sox .
The Oakland Athletics dropped out of a share of top spot in the AL West after a 3-2 loss at home against the lowly Houston Astros .
Ryan Moore riding Garswood (red) wins the Lennox Stakes at Goodwood in July This weekend there is top-class racing on both sides of the Irish Sea with the Sprint Cup at Haydock and the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown.
I’m going to kick off this week’s blog, though, with a word about the Sky Sports News racehorse, On Demand .
We were delighted with her debut run at Salisbury on Thursday and it looked very encouraging for the future.
“It’s Garswood for me in the Sprint Cup as he will handle conditions and his trainer continues in good form; Gordon Lord Byron is his main danger.” Alex Hammond As I pointed out last week she would benefit for the experience and the ground was a touch too quick for her.
Despite that she showed plenty of speed and looks to have a good attitude.
It’s always a nervous time when a two-year-old makes its debut because they can get overwhelmed by the occasion.
That proved to be the case for one of the runners who unshipped her jockey in the paddock beforehand and had to be withdrawn.
However, our filly behaved perfectly, loaded into the stalls without fuss, stood quietly and jumped out well.
She was forced to race handily from her good draw and just tied up a bit in the last couple of furlongs with jockey David Probert saying she got a bit tired.
Trainer Andrew Balding was pleased with her and thinks seven furlongs is ideal for now and is looking forward to seeing her on more autumnal ground.
She will have learned plenty for the experience too and I’d be very hopeful she could win next time out.
Probert said the race rode like a decent contest and I think she is a nice filly.
Well done to all the team at Balding’s Park House Stables who did us proud.
Sky Bet have some racing specials for her including 5/1 for her to win on her second racecourse appearance and 2/1 to win any race before the end of the turf season.
Haydock, Group 1 Sprint Cup Onto Haydock now then and, although we got a marvellous day at Salisbury, the weather has since broken and you can expect rain softened ground this weekend.
The Group 1 Sprint Cup has attracted a field of 16 runners headed by the Clive Cox-trained Lethal Force .
Cox is concerned about the ground, though, and is hoping there isn’t as much rain in the North West as forecast.
If there is, and it looks that way at the moment, then it opens the race up considerably.
Lethal Force has had a great season so far winning two group 1 races, the Diamond Jubilee and July Cup, and then running well behind Moonlight Cloud in Deauville last time out.
Although he has form on easier ground, he prefers it fast and at the time of writing it had changed to good with more rain forecast.
Cox was also due to run Reckless Abandon but he has been declared a non-runner as he’s lame.
Gordon Lord Byron and Garswood, on the other hand, will relish the conditions and have shortened in the market due to the change in conditions.
The former was second in this race last year and should go well again.
Garswood is fancied by trainer and fellow columnist Richard Fahey who must have been doing a rain dance this week.
This horse is capable of winning given some luck and judgement.
He has only run eight times and won the Lennox over 7f at Goodwood last time out under Ryan Moore, who rides again.
He is a progressive three-year-old and is hard to ignore.
Slade Power is becoming a regular fixture in these races and he will enjoy conditions too.
He didn’t run particularly well in the Nunthorpe last time out and got quite edgy beforehand.
There are several familiar names in the line-up too including Stewards Cup winner Rex Imperator who ran well on soft ground at York last time out and has claims.
The ground may have gone against Swiss Spirit , though, who was staying on much too late in the Nunthorpe.
Hawkeyethenoo , who hasn’t won since last year’s Stewards Cup, and Kingsgate Native , who steps back up to 6f for the first time in a couple of years, might just appreciate it but the ground is a worry.
It’s Garswood for me as he will handle conditions and his trainer continues in good form; Gordon Lord Byron is his main danger.
Haydock, Old Borough Cup Staying at Haydock and the Old Borough Cup is a competitive handicap over 1m 6f.
Joint-top weight Pallasator will be popular for Sir Mark Prescott after the recent rain.
He bypassed the Ebor due to a combination of reasons, a bad scope and forecast fast ground.
This will be just his fifth start; he’s won his last three races.
It’s encouraging that he won over this course and distance last time out on heavy ground and he looks a typical Prescott horse and the bookies will be running scared! Although he won’t be a massive price, which can look a bit stingy in a race of this nature, I’d be happy enough to back a 4/1 winner so I hope he runs well.
He is in the Cezarewitch and also holds a group entry on Champions Day at Ascot.
Luca Cumani excels in these types of contests too and he runs Semeen , Richard Hughes rides.
He has had a similarly successful season but this will be his first try at the mile-and-three-quarter trip and he wouldn’t want cut in the ground as he prefers it fast.
The Ralph Beckett-trained Poyle Thomas is another improving type who has also won three of his five starts.
He didn’t run until this year and as he is a four-year-old that was a late start.
He needs to keep improving, but that looks likely and he’s also in the Cezarewitch.
Tropical Beat was only beaten a head in this race last year when in the care of John Gosden, he is now with David O’Meara and made an encouraging return to action at Musselburgh last month.
He is 5lbs higher, but is unexposed at this trip.
O’Meara also runs Blue Bajan , who can’t be written off either.
Platinum has had a much busier season and has won on three occasions.
He will like the rain softened ground and has no problems with stamina for trainer Philip Kirby.
Cousin Khee is another who should be considered for Hughie Morrison and Ryan Moore and he ran well on the all-weather last time out.
It’s clearly a competitive handicap and several can be considered.
I think Pallasator looks like a ‘group horse in a handicap’ and I hope he can win this.
Ascot, Ladbrokes Mobile Handicap There’s an equally competitive handicap at Ascot, the Ladbrokes Mobile Handicap for three-year-olds only over a mile and a half.
Caf Society and Special Meaning are both vying for favouritism.
Caf Society caught the eye last time out over this course and distance.
He was staying on strongly and looked an unlucky loser and he should go well if getting more luck on Saturday.
He’s a horse held in high regard by David Simcock and will improve with time.
Special Meaning is a typically tough Mark Johnston-trained handicapper.
She has won her last four starts and shouldn’t need as much luck as her main rival as she happily made all at Hamilton last time out.
She has a superb pedigree and is a half-sister to 1000 Guineas winner Speciosa amongst many other winners, so may be able to progress beyond handicap company.
She has been given a good draw in stall four and can bounce out and hopefully make all again.
Elhaame is another in-form runner having won his last two for Luca Cumani and he steps up to this trip for the first time having won two over a mile-and-a-quarter.
He’s progressive and is versatile regards the ground.
Pether’s Moon has top weight for Richard Hannon; Jimmy Fortune rides as Richard Hughes is up at Haydock.
This horse is a decent staying prospect who won at Goodwood last time out.
His trainer feels he could be a cup horse in time, so top weight in this handicap shouldn’t be too much of a burden.
I’m going with Special Meaning as she’s on a roll and keep improving.
Leopardstown, Irish Champion Stakes In Ireland the Champion Stakes is the feature.
Roger Charlton will be hoping that Al Kazeem can bounce back on his favoured softer surface after a disappointing effort to finish third behind another of his rivals Declaration of War in the Juddmonte International (on fast ground) last time out.
The question is what will the ground be like by race time? At the moment it’s still on the quick side, but there is rain forecast Friday and overnight which could alter things.
Officials seem a bit uncertain about how much rain could fall, if any, so Charlton will hope the journey isn’t a wasted one.
So, ifs, buts and maybes which makes life tough when trying to analyse the race.
So, if it does rain then Al Kazeem has a great chance providing his disappointing York effort was purely down to the ground.
If it doesn’t rain The Fugue and Declaration of War are obvious selections, although I don’t think soft ground will be a massive disadvantage to the latter.
I really like Aidan O’Brien’s colt and was kicking myself when I let him go un-backed at York last time out.
I’d made a good case for him, but got swept along by the hype with the favourite.
He’s effective over 1m-10f but wouldn’t probably want to go further than that.
Fast ground is pretty important to The Fugue as she proved in the Yorkshire Oaks last time out.
She is of the highest class, but I wouldn’t fancy her if they get lots of rain.
Decent good ground isn’t an inconvenience, but she doesn’t want it any worse than that.
Irish Derby winner Trading Leather was second in the International at York which was probably his best effort to date.
Aidan O’Brien also saddles Kingsbarns , who is a fascinating runner.
He is unbeaten in two starts, but they were both at two and he is yet to run this season.
Those two wins came in a Navan Maiden and the Group 1 Racing Post Trophy, both on soft ground.
He needs some give, so is another that you will need to be on weather watch for if you want to back him.
I may be chasing my tail here, but I’m going with Declaration of War.
Although he is more exposed than some of these, he’s a tough and genuine horse who has every chance once again.
If it rains his stablemate is a real danger.
Leopardstown, The Matron Stakes The Matron Stakes (1 mile) is the other group 1 on the card.
French raider Kenhope is an interesting runner for trainer Henri-Alex Pantall.
She seems versatile ground-wise and has run well on her last couple of starts despite not winning.
She was second to Sky Lantern in the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot before finishing third behind Elusive Kate and Duntle in the Prix Rothschild at Deauville last time out (two older fillies).
Aidan O’Brien runs Say , who drops back from nine furlongs having won the Dance Design at the Curragh last weekend.
She hasn’t had the best season but this sort of trip suits and if that race hasn’t taken its toll she should acquit herself well again.
Fiesolana won a seven furlong Group 3 at Tipperary last time for trainer Willie McCreery.
She is uncomplicated and effective over this trip and should be right in amongst them once again.
With Seamie Heffernen on Say, Joseph O’Brien rides Just Pretending , who you therefore presume is the pick of the Ballydoyle trio (he also runs Magical Dream).
Just Pretending hasn’t won since May, but was only beaten by 4 lengths in the Nassau last time out but isn’t an easy filly and drops back to a mile here.
Lady Jane Cecil sends Chigun over for the contest.
She hasn’t had a busy season and the mile trip suits well.
She’s been a bit disappointing on her last two starts but has claims if reproducing her spring form.
It’s a classy contest and the French raider is of obvious interest.
I like the straightforward nature of Fiesolana though and she gets my vote.
Finally, I’m also looking forward to seeing Free Eagle in action on the Leopardstown card in the 1m Group 3.
Dermot Weld’s charge was hugely impressive on his debut over the same course and distance.
He is currently Sky Bet’s 8/1 favourite for next year’s Derby and this is the next step towards next year’s classics.
Selections Garswood in the Sprint Cup @ 13/2 with Sky Bet Pallasator in the Old Borough Cup @ 4/1 with Sky Bet Special Meaning in the Ladbrokes Mobile Handicap @ 5/1 with Sky Bet Declaration of War in the Irish Champion Stakes @ 5/2 with Sky Bet Fiesolana in the Matron Stakes @ 13/2 with Sky Bet On Demand to win next time out @ 5/1 with Sky Bet
If you lived here, you’d be home by now…
Yes, it’s week 28 of the MLS season, and as NBC’s Steve Davis revealed this week, the league recently had preliminary discussions about cutting the league season to 28 games from the current four to ease congestion around international weeks etc.
Weeks like this one for example, where World Cup qualifying has taken several key MLS players away from their clubs.
Add in the injured and suspended at this stage of the season and a lot of lineups are looking a little threadbare this weekend.
By the way, on the subject of Steve, he’ll be joining me to ponder the five things we learned this weekend on Monday morning.
Before that the weekend kicks off with the USA’s qualifier in Costa Rica tonight.
We’ll be covering that one live.
So join us on the site from just before 10pm ET tonight.
The only “eastern” kick off on Saturday sees Sporting KC hosting the post-Warzycha Columbus , who still harbor faint playoff hopes after beating Houston in midweek.
Sporting lost Kei Kamara to Middlesbrough on transfer deadline day, but will see this as a game they should be winning if they’re serious about defending their Eastern conference regular season title.
Meanwhile over in Dallas , the hosts are trying to reignite their stalled challenge against a Vancouver team who have stuck around the playoff places while struggling to keep a run going themselves recently.
Later that evening, Chicago try to bounce back from conceding that late Adam Moffat goal last week, but it won’t be easy when they go to a Seattle side who are suddenly on a roll.
The Sounders aren’t scoring a lot at the moment, but thy aren’t conceding any either, and with RSL not playing they could close the gap at the top of the West.
LA may have something to say about that when they host Colorado , and so too might Portland though they have to address the fact that they’ve finished the wrong side of a few recent scorelines during a tough run against the best of their peers.
This week they face Toronto , and with due respect to Ryan Nelsen’s men, Portland won’t have a better chance of steadying the ship.
On Sunday we get back under way with an afternoon kick off in Houston , where the hosts return home after a mixed-fortunes road trip East, to face the on-again off-again New York , who’ve lost current talisman Tim Cahill to injury (so they might be off-again).
The Dynamo need a win with Chicago and New England on their heels for the last playoff spot.
Not that the latter will have it easy hosting Montreal , even if the Impact’s road form is a little indifferent.
They dropped two points at Philadelphia last week.
The Union are on the road themselves this week, where they’ve been decent this season.
They’re at San Jose on Sunday night, right after Chivas and DC do battle down in Carson.
Chivas have had a couple of decent results of late, but went down to Seattle in midweek.
They’re still persisting with their mission to act as “spoilers” according to keeper Dan Kennedy though.
Always happy to act as spoilers, our regular cast of fan reps and writers representing each of this weekend’s competing teams.
See what they have to say below, add your own thoughts, join us tonight for Costa Rica vs USA , join us again on Monday to find out what we learned this weekend, touch your toes and recite the alphabet backwards.
Only another six or so rounds of this to go before the playoffs…
All game times are listed as ET Sat 8.30pm, FC Dallas Stadium Gina Zippilli , The Inferno, Dallas: First of all, I just wanted to note that today (Thursday) is two years to the day since Bobby Rhine passed away and so it’s a sad day for us, remembering him.
Other than that, there are a couple of stories coming off the bye weekend the first being that the club has finally revealed that a stadium sponsor has been found, though they’re no officially announcing who it is until September 10th.
It’s some welcome money coming in.
The second is that once again we’re short of forwards going into this weekend’s home game against Vancouver.
Kenny Cooper is suspended and Blas Parez is suspended.
You’d think now would be a good time for the coach to throw in Jonathan Top up front, but Hyndman has been making comments to the effect of how hard it is to break into the 18 let alone the starting 11, and the belief is he’ll start with Hassli up front which none of us are happy about it.
Hassli has had plenty of chances to prove himself at the start of the season, and just hasn’t produced.
Most fans gave up on him when we were short of forwards in June and he only managed seven minutes of the game against Portland when surely he could have played through.
But that’s the thing with him the coach has mentioned that he doesn’t really watch what he eats and frankly for the amount of money we’ve spent on him, looking after himself seems like a basic requirement.
He’s done nothing.
So while we’re looking forward to resuming a series that fostered some decent rivalry between the two sets of fans over the home and home series in May, it’s rather overshadowed by wondering who’s going to put the ball in the net because it’s not going to be Hassli.
And who’s going to come n for him, because he’s not going to last 90 minutes.
Brenton Walters , @CapsOffside: The Whitecaps this week are a team that almost feels like its in a tailspin.
One point from six against both LA teams simply isn’t good enough for a team that is struggling to finish in a play-off spot.
Regardless of their minor resurgence, Chivas are still a horrible team that we should beat, especially at home.
The key to our play-off run-in was (still is?) continuing our home form.
Dropping points in two straight games puts intense pressure on the team to make up those points on the road, a Herculean task for a team that has averaged less than a point per game away from home this year.
Rumblings about Martin Rennie’s future at the club have started to get louder, and for good reason: regardless of how many points we finish with, if we miss the play-offs we will have regressed in Rennie’s second year in charge.
While Rennie hasn’t done anything explicitly deserving of getting fired, missing the play-offs would be a serious blow to club’s aspirations, especially given how much Portland has improved and how successful Seattle have been after a horrible start to the season.
Can the Caps and Rennie find some redemption in Dallas, San Jose and Montreal? Can we win on the road AND at home? It’s unlikely.
One of the knocks against Rennie is that his teams don’t perform well in big games.
He’s got plenty of opportunity to remedy this, with just eight games left and every game important.
Sat 8.30pm, Sporting Park Mike Kuhn , Editor, Down the Byline, Sporting Kansas City: The main storyline for Kansas City this weekend is the number of absences that the team will have when they take on the Columbus Crew on Saturday.
Sporting will be missing four players who have been called up for their national teams.
Matt Besler and Graham Zusi are away representing the United States as they look to clinch a spot in the 2014 World Cup with games against Costa Rica and Mexico.
KC will also be without Mechack Jerome and Peterson Joseph, who are in South Korea with the Haitian national team as they play a friendly against Korea.
Along with those four, the team will be without forward Dom Dwyer.
Dywer has been loaned back to Orlando City ahead of their USL-Pro Championship game against the Charlotte Eagles.
The merits and sportsmanship towards Charlotte that this brings up are certainly topics of discussion for Orlando and Charlotte fans, especially if Dwyer plays a major role and Orlando wins.
All this without yet mentioning Sporting Kansas City selling forward and second leading scorer, Kei Kamara to Middlesbrough on deadline day Monday.
The biggest absence will be in that right forward slot in KC’s 4-3-3, Zusi and Kamara have occupied that spot lately for KC but with both gone, it looks like that job will fall to either CJ Sapong or Jacob Peterson come Saturday.
With Benny Feilhaber picking up his play and Paulo Nagamura returning from injury it’s lessened the blow in midfield from Zusi playing on the wing up top.
Neither Sapong or Peterson will be expected to provide the same style Kamara does but they’ll need to step up and contribute more.
Ian Fraser , Crew Union, Columbus Crew: A change of direction was needed for the club in general but this season in itself needed a jolt.
Firing the coach always stirs the pot as the reality of a disappointing season becomes clear and guys see firsthand that people will be held accountable.
A new coach brings new life, a new attitude and philosophy to the team but also a clean slate for everyone in the locker room.
Guys who were buried in the doghouse or weren’t favored now have a chance to show that they can help this team.
We saw this first hand in Wednesday’s victory.
Tony Tchani, Ethan Finlay, Tyson Wahl and Eric Gehrig were all given a chance after seeing very little or dwindling minutes under Warzycha.
Goals came from Justin Meram and Ryan Finley, guys who have been played by Warzycha lately but were not able to produce for him.
In Graham Parker’s article earlier this week, I had mentioned that there is blame to go around on the players as well.
In his postgame interview, Meram made a point to say that Bliss had come in and brought clarity on the expectations of each player/position on the field.
One of the biggest critiques of Warzycha seemed to be around communication, so maybe Bliss’ communication can help relieve some pressure on these guys and they execute better.
Hope has been given to a season headed down the drain under a lame duck manager.
Making the playoffs will be a task but at least this team should go out fighting now.
Sat 10pm, CenturyLink Field(NBCSN) Stephen Piggott , Hot Time in Old Town, Whiskey Brothers Aught Five, Chicago: The main story for the Fire this week is, can the team win on turf for the first time since June 2010? The Men in Red needlessly dropped two points last week and now have to go to the Pacific Northwest, a place where they have never won.
That’s right, never won.
With that being said, I think the team has a great chance of breaking those ducks on Saturday night.
Seattle will be missing some major pieces due to international call-ups and even though the Sounders have won 6 of their last 7 there are some some obvious flaws with the teams play.
The most notable is the Sounder’s failure to defend properly on set pieces.
In the team’s last three matches, this has been painfully clear.
Watching Seattle’s last match against Chivas, especially the second half, gave me hope that the Fire can get something out of this game.
Chivas could’ve easily scored more that one goal from slack defending on free kicks and with a player like Mike Magee putting balls in and possessing players with aerial ability such as Berry and Larentowicz, I think the Fire can take full advantage.
The East is wide open at the moment, with everyone taking points off of one another and a positive result on Saturday night would put the team in a great position with 8 games to play.
Sat 10.30pm, StubHub Center Josh Guesman , founder, The Section 108 blog, co-host of Corner of the Galaxy podcast, LA: The LA Galaxy have started their late season push to the playoffs.
Winners of their last three league games, LA is finally looking the part.
Outscoring their opponents 8-2 in those games, all fingers point toward the perfect pairing of Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane.
It’s no surprise that the two of them make such a huge impact on a team that craves star power.
But, with international duty taking such a huge chunk of their possible appearances it’s no wonder they are just now starting to click.
But MLS doesn’t seem to want the Galaxy to play with their dynamic duo against Colorado.
The first two meetings of the three games against the Rapids have all fallen under a FIFA international window.
So is anyone really surprised that the 3rd and final game of this series will be played during an International window? Throw out the recent goal scoring by Landon and Robbie, and throw out the defensive efforts by Omar Gonzalez and Panamanian goalkeeper Jaime Penedo.
Between the United States, Ireland, and Panama those four guys won’t be found on the StubHub Center pitch come Saturday.
But remember when we talked about getting the younger players early playing time in hopes it would payoff in the future? That time is now.
Expect Jose Villarreal, Jack McBean, Gyasi Zardes, and Brian Rowe to man the vacant positions and possibly cement their future with the Galaxy.
For LA, it’s about carrying momentum through this FIFA date/ Colorado game, and into the road game with DC United.
Todd Haggerty , Centennial 38 Supporters, Colorado Rapids: The Rapids summer of love started with a bang and went out with a disappointing “meh”.
The team overachieved in June and July only to put forth mediocre performances in August.
The Rapids now find themselves in a playoff battle and can ill afford to drop points.
Fortunately the schedule makers have looked fondly on ‘Pids as they face the Galaxy during an international break for the second time this season.
The Galaxy will be short numerous players who could do damage to the Rapids still fragile back line; while the ‘Pids will only be missing Gabby Torres–who is yet to gel with the team.
September makes or breaks your season and with three points begging on the the road the Rapids better seize the initiative.
Sat 11pm, JELD-WEN Field Roger Anthony , Timbers Army, Portland: Maybe that split season used by Liga MX isn’t such a bad idea after all.
The Portland Timbers are perched on the brink of history, but it’s history you wouldn’t want to make.
As the Clausura segment of the MLS regular season closed, Portland was coming to the conclusion of a 15-game unbeaten streak one of the six longest streaks in MLS history.
Of the previous five teams with unbeaten streaks of 15 games or more, only one missed the playoffs, and that requires an asterisk: Columbus carried an 18-game streak into 2005, won its opening match, and then sank from playoff contention for three years.
Now, in the rugged Western Conference, it’s the 2013 Timbers who find themselves sinking fast.
Since the start of July, the Timbers have been a meek 2-3-5 in league and Open Cup play.
Fans scanning the remaining schedule see low-hanging fruit in a pair of matches with Chivas, and this weekend’s clash with Toronto.
While Saturday’s match isn’t quite a “must-win,” it’s at least a “better-win.” The Reds are now missing five players, not to mention a president and general manager.
Portland can top that, though: Between injuries, suspensions and national team call-ups, the battle-scarred Timbers could list just 14 players as ready and available by midweek.
There’s a chance, then, that two 21-year-olds could be making their first MLS starts forward Jose Valencia and homegrown midfielder Steven Evans.
Duncan Fletcher , Waking the Red, Toronto: It had been a quiet week or two for Toronto FC.
Almost too quiet.
This was almost going to be about the points lost last week to a poor refereeing decision, or how TFC might adapt to losing 3 starting players to international duty.
But it’s never dull for too long with our beloved Reds, and so here we are.
Reports came out on Wednesday, it was confirmed at a media conference call on Thursday.
Tim Leiweke, CEO of owners MLSE had decided to fire Kevin Payne, President of TFC.
Who’d been in the job roughly nine months.
Differences in opinion over just what direction TFC needed to be going in was cited as the reason.
Some are happy to see Payne go, few are absolutely outraged about it, but many are bewildered that there’s yet another change to go through.
Hopefully this time, having the main man in charge pick his own man will lead to a good thing, but whoever is brought in as the new GM apparently won’t have that chance.
Leiweke was quite forceful in saying the new guy is going to have to work with Ryan Nelsen as coach, hopefully that’s just talk that he doesn’t really mean if he hopes to bring in anyone good.
Oh, also in the same press conference Leiweke mused very openly about TFC perhaps sharing their stadium with the CFL’s Toronto’s Argos in the future.
It’s been an interesting couple of days.
Sun 5pm, BBVA Compass Stadium (UniMas) Stephen Eastepp , Dynamo Theory, Houston: Questions about the ability of the 2013 Houston Dynamo squad are in full swing as they picked up a single point in two road matches in the extremely tight Eastern Conference this week.
Fan frustration is at an all-time high with the team’s lack of finishing and inability to get results when they’ve needed them most.
Over the weekend, Adam Moffat saved the day with a last minute goal to draw even with the Chicago Fire, but on Wednesday night Houston couldn’t handle the Columbus Crew and were held scoreless in a 2-0 loss.
The issue has become a joke Houston just can’t get the ball in the net.
Will Bruin, who scored a club record 16 goals last year, missed three (yes I said three) chances early in the match and the game went to the half scoreless.
It didn’t take long for the “road Dynamo” to show up and the Crew jumped on top just minutes into the second half.
Tally Hall saved a penalty a couple minutes after the first goal, but the Crew doubled their lead and kept their playoff chances alive with the win.
That’s exactly what Houston has been unable to do this year win when necessary.
The schedule gets tougher for Houston who at this point many are counting out.
I wouldn’t go that far just yet, but this game against New York on Sunday could very well define the Dynamo season.
Dan Ryazansky , editor, Metrofanatic, New York: Every week, the time seems to turn in Metro-land.
After last week’s debacle at Chivas, NY rebounded strong with a win over DC.
Oh, the victory wasn’t easy and didn’t come without controversy, but we’re used to that at this point…
“Coach’s decision.” Those two words sent Titi Henry to the bench after a spat with Mike Petke two days earlier.
The French ubermensch sat next to his supposedly lesser teammates, staring onto the field as David Carney and Bradley Wright-Philipps made their first starts.
Carney was burned on DC’s lone goal; Wright-Phillips was a welcome addition to the attacking line.
His ability to play with his back to the net should be welcome once Henry returns to the fold.
NY goals came from Lloyd Sam, on a possible chip that DC goalkeeper Bill Hamid failed to handle, and by Tim Cahill, on yet another header.
Prior to Sam’s goal, DC’s Dejan Jakovic flattened Cahill in the penalty area, tearing his ankle ligaments.
No foul was called, but once again Cahill somehow managed to score in a game after suffering an injury.
NY survived despite a rather borderline penalty call, when DC’s Dwayne De Rosario made Ibrahim Sekagya obstruct him.
The foul also earned Sekagya a red card.
Thankfully, Luis Robles saved De Rosario’s penalty kick, and NY escaped with a much-needed victory.
They now go on the road with a tough match-up against Houston.
Cahill is not available, but Henry should be…
Pending another “coach’s decision”.
Sun 7.30pm, Gillette Stadium Julie Kumor , Midnight Riders: I generally don’t pay attention to the transfer window closing, but this year I was being selfish.
I didn’t want Stoke to succeed in getting their last minute transfer of Juan Agudelo.
The Revs need him more than he needs us.
In the weeks after his new contract was announced he seemed content to wait until January, assured us he was going to play his best and help us get to the playoffs, then suddenly last week he starts re-tweeting stories of MLS rejecting bids from Stoke to bring him over now.
So, was he going to stop playing hard for us? Sure he didn’t want to get injured prior to January.
Then on Friday he went down in the box, and I admit I thought this is a ploy to get off the field, to go to Stoke and part of me didn’t want him on our team.
He was being more selfish than me.
Then stories over the weekend trickled out that Sporting KC had sold Kei Kamara, a player just as important to them as Juan is to us and I felt bad for Juan.
Why did KC get to sell Kei, while MLS rejects Juan’s bid? Also I notice the difference, when the player is sold, the team did it, when it is rejected it is the league.
I also remember how many bids the league has rejected on behalf of Rev players in the past (Shalrie, Twellman) and I think no matter how selfish I am or Juan is, the Revs’ front office is a pretty selfish bunch.
Sofiane Benzaza , Mount Royal Soccer, Montreal: Winning on the road is always hard and the Montreal Impact is no exception to the rule.
So getting a point at PPL Park against the Philadelphia Union is good news for Les Bleus.
Even though it was not its best performance last weekend, Montreal is generally never impressive on the road.
The Impact was lucky enough not to lose against the Union thanks to a perfect Troy Perkins and an inefficient Union team.
Though there was some bad news for the club as it made official that Hernan Bernardello is out for up to 6 weeks with a left ankle sprain.
Picking up the injury against Philadelphia, Bernardello’s loss will be felt as Marco Schallibaum’s tactical schema has drastically altered since the Argentinean’s arrival.
Now the club’s depth on the field is only deep in numbers and not quality, at least not enough quality.
Schallibaum has another puzzle to solve and one might say that it’s his job to adapt to suspensions, injuries etc.
But how good can your team be, when your Plan A is almost your only Plan.
Not that Collen Warner and Davy Arnaud cannot pinch in and contribute positively, but Bernardello was brought in for a good reason.
Between MLS games and the CONCACAF Champions League in September, choices need to be made on which competition to focus on (hint, it should not be the CCL),or at least which one to focus on with your best starting XI.
Sun 9pm, StubHub Center Matt Hoffman , The Goat Parade, Chivas: On Sunday, up 2-0 at Vancouver, it was the first time this season Chivas scored multiple goals on the road.
But in reality, a draw or worse seemed inevitable.
No team has scored more second half goals Whitecaps.
Meanwhile, no team has conceded more second half goals than Chivas USA.
With an irresistible force facing an eminently movable object, Vancouver equalized in the dying minutes.
Why is Chivas such a poor second half team? Coach Jose Luis Real’s system of heavy pressing and tight marking is a culprit.
The constant running and pressuring opponents is simply not sustainable over the course of a 90 minute match, despite the relative youth of the team.
To illustrate this point, against the Whitecaps, Chivas had 13 tackles, 11 interceptions, and 41 recoveries in the first half.
At the end of the game, they totaled 19 tackles, 12 interceptions, and 57 recoveries.
Real used the same starting eleven from Sunday’s match for a midweek fixture against Seattle.
The team appeared sluggish, accomplishing very little out of the gate.
Until Seattle scored in the 24th minute, Chivas was losing the possession battle 24% to 76%.
I’m expecting the same lineup as Chivas welcomes fellow bottom dweller D.C.
United to the StubHub Center this Sunday.
If Chivas can mount the furious, swarming pressure in keeping the visitors off balance, they stand a very good chance of collecting three points, so long as Real can alter play and use his substitutions judiciously.
Kim Kolb , Screaming Eagles: United lost at New York this week, falling behind 1-0, then battled back to tie the game on Nick DeLeon’s first league goal of the season only to immediately give up the lead again.
United continued to battle, but couldn’t find the equalizer.
The game goes (as yet) another loss in the books, but the key is that the team kept the proper spirit and fought to the end to try and even the match.
Gone this week is the ENTIRE United Canadian contingent (DeRosario, Porter, and Jakovic), and they’ll miss this weekend’s match against Chivas USA.
But news from United is that Chris Pontius (remember him?) has returned to full practices as has rookie Taylor Kemp.
Also available for United is the contingent that has featured for the Richmond Kickers as their season has ended.
Sun 11pm, Buck Shaw Stadium (ESPN2) Nerdy Gales , Center Line Soccer, San Jose: The San Jose Earthquakes are finally back at home after a very tough three match road trip road wins remained elusive with questionable calls in Dallas, shiny matted Guatemalan AstroTurf and questionable decision making in LA.
Last week’s thrashing by the Galaxy was disheartening from the San Jose perspective.
The Quakes played their best players out of position rather than the best player available for that position, in a 4-1-4-1 formation that put the club’s top scorers Wondolowski and Gordon behind Lenhart.
Fans were perplexed when defender Clarence Goodson was forward for a free kick when both Gordon and Lenhart were on the field inevitably LA scored on the counter-attack.
It also seemed utterly pointless to substitute Jahn for Lenhart with a 3-0 deficit, but by that point in the match the Quakes fans playoff aspirations had lost the will to live.
Talking of Lenny, next up is Steven Lenhart Chia Pet night I kid you not.
The relevance of this week’s opponent, the Philadelphia Union, almost falls into insignificance for the gardeners among the Quakes fans as the club’s marketing team cultivates Lenny’s internet moniker.
The Union looks to continue their effectiveness on the west coast this year, while the Earthquakes valuable home record might nip their hopes in the bud.
Lenny delivered on his eponymous wig giveaway last season, so perhaps Lenhart will blossom into the Union-killer of old.
Local commentators still refuse to believe that the Quakes will fail to make the playoffs, but even the most optimistic of fans are resigned to an early off-season, nurturing and coiffing their new Chia Pets.
Adam Cann , Philly Soccer Page, Philadelphia: Veteran forward Conor Casey keeps saying his strike partner, Jack McInerney, just needs an easy tap-in to get back to his scintillating early season form.
Last week, McInerney cut inside his man and leaped to touch his head to a Fabinho cross from six yards out.
Moments later, head coach John Hackworth replaced McInerney and the Union played out a disappointing tie with the first place Montreal Impact.
This week the Union travel west to a deceptively tough matchup with the San Jose Earthquakes.
Though the Quakes are near the bottom of the Western Conference, they haven’t lost at home since opening night against Real Salt Lake.
Once again, Philly will be without Amobi Okugo in back.
Sheanon Williams will deputize again in the middle with Ray Gaddis stepping into the right back role.
Both players were extremely impressive against Montreal last week, though Okugo is in no danger of losing his spot in the first eleven.
Since the beginning of July, Philadelphia has scored five goals against DC United and Chivas USA, and five goals against everyone else.
For comparison, a team of soccer writers could score five goals on DC and Chivas.
If the Union lose, they could be pushed below the playoff cutoff for the first time since April.
While this seems like a minor psychological issue, it is one John Hackworth will hope his young team does not have to deal with.
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Amazing Maria: Fillies’ Mile target Amazing Maria is likely to bid for Group One glory in the Shadwell Fillies’ Mile at Newmarket on September 27 granted suitable ground conditions.
The Total Prix Marcel Boussac at Longchamp on October 6 is the alternative race for the Ed Dunlop-trained filly, who showed she deserved the chance at the top level when making all the running to land the Group Three Prestige Stakes at Goodwood.
“She’s come out of the race well.
Ed’s pleased with her and the plan is to go for the Shadwell Fillies’ Mile or the Prix Marcel Boussac,” said Barry Simpson, racing manager to owner Sir Robert Ogden.
“The ground will be a factor in the decision.
I don’t think we’d want to run her on soft ground again, although she coped with it well enough at Goodwood.
“She wants good, fast ground, if at all possible.
We would hope we’d be going to either race with a chance.
She deserves that opportunity.
“I would think the Shadwell Fillies’ Mile would be the favourite rather than the other one, but if the ground came up very soft at Newmarket for instance, then we might look at the Boussac.”
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Al Kazeem: On his way to Ireland Roger Charlton is praying the forecast rain at Leopardstown materialises after Al Kazeem set off on the journey to Ireland for Saturday’s Red Mills Irish Champion Stakes.
The five-year-old has enjoyed an outstanding season so far, completing a Group One hat-trick with victories in the Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh, the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot and the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown.
He suffered his first defeat of the campaign when third in a fast-ground Juddmonte International at York and was declared a “doubtful” starter in this weekend’s Group One highlight earlier in the week, when similar conditions seemed likely.
However, the weather has since taken a turn for the worse and Leopardstown could be hit by as much as 20 millimetres of rain in the next 24 hours, but Charlton is taking nothing for granted.
“Al Kazeem left Beckhampton at 8am this morning (Friday) to start his long journey to Ireland in the hope that there will be some rain at Leopardstown before racing tomorrow evening,” the trainer said.
“The weather forecast seems to change by the hour and there is a wide range of opinions as to how much they will get.
“The gun is loaded so fingers crossed yet again.” In complete contrast, John Gosden’s brilliant filly The Fugue relishes a fast surface, as she showed when running out a scintillating winner of last month’s Yorkshire Oaks.
The four-year-old looked set to get her conditions at the start of the week, but the prospect of heavy rain is clearly a worry for her connections.
Gosden said: “She’s very well, but obviously we are watching very carefully what happens (with the weather).
“Obviously we would be very concerned (if there is excessive rainfall) but things are changing all the time.” Speaking earlier in the week, jockey William Buick appeared confident about The Fugue’s chances.
He told At The Races: “It was great to see her back to her best (at York).
It was a great performance from her and I was very pleased for the filly and all her connections.
“It’s going to be a tough race, taking on the colts, but hopefully the ground will be in her favour and I can’t see the track being a problem either.
“When they turn in at Leopardstown, you have to have that bit of speed and she has that.
“Her entries in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes and the Eclipse – I don’t think she was there to make up the numbers.
“It’s a hard task, but she goes there in good form.
“She’s held in high regard by everybody.
Let’s hope we can get lucky.”
Watch your Premier League new signings: Where Ozil, Eriksen, Fellaini and Lukaku will be on international duty
0 View comments The international break doesn’t necessarily mean a lack of football.
The last week of the transfer window brought up a fair few familiar faces and even more unknown entities, so wake up from your pit of despair and get to know your new men before anyone else.
Most are involved in their country’s World Cup qualifiers or friendlies, and you can either catch some highlights on the slow Saturday, or even watch some of the new signings in action live on Friday night.
Here’s Sportsmail ‘s guide to what to expect from your club’s new signings over the weekend.
In action: Arsenal and Spurs fans can see Mesut Ozil (left) and Christian Eriksen (right) in action this weekend Mesut Ozil (Arsenal & Germany) – Germany v Austria, Friday 7.45pm (TV: BT Sport 2) The biggest move on deadline day was greeted by delight in (half of) North London, and Gunners fans can whet their appetite even more as the Germans take on Austria.
With Germany at home, expect Ozil to be involved in a similar way to how Wenger will slot him in to Arsenal’s midfield.
The 42.5million move has been met by some dismay in Spain, and Ozil will be out to show the world why Real Madrid will miss him.
Star: Ozil has been the name on everyone’s lips after moving for a club-record fee to Arsenal on Monday Christian Eriksen (Tottenham & Denmark) – Malta v Denmark, Friday 7pm His performances for Denmark in Euro 2012 sparked interest from several Premier League clubs, and Eriksen is one of the most exciting players to come out of Morten Olsen’s side in years.
Having been manager since 2000, Olsen has worked out how to play the 21-year-old in the best possible way, with Eriksen having gained 37 caps already.
He’ll be Denmark’s main man in midfield against a weak Malta side.
Expect goals, and for Eriksen to be at the centre of the action.
All smiles: Eriksen in training for Denmark ahead of the Malta clash Vlad Chiriches (Tottenham & Romania) – Romania v Hungary, Friday 7pm The 23-year-old has been somewhat snuck in amongst Spurs’ mammoth signings this year, but at 8.5million, a few in North London will be interested to know what this defender is all about.
Having arrived from the obscurity of the Romanian league from Steaua Bucharest, he is somewhat an unknown entity.
Eager Spurs fans can check him out in the comfort of his own comfort against Hungary on Friday night.
New man: Chiriches, at 8.5million, is another expensive signing from Spurs Libor Kozak (Aston Villa & Czech Republic) – Czech Republic v Armenia, Friday 5pm He’s most likely to be a substitute for the Czech’s, but that will be a familiar sight for Villa fans.
With Kozak set to be Christian Benteke’s deputy, Villa fans will get to see what the big forward can do from the bench against Armenia, and we suspect the home side will be running riot at that point…
Addition: Kozak joins Villa for 7million from Serie A side Lazio Marko Arnautovic (Stoke City & Austria) – Germany v Austria, Friday 7.45pm (TV: BT Sport 2) The bad boy of German football got his move to the Premier League on deadline day, and the 24-year-old will add to his 27 Austria caps with a tough trip to Germany.
He’s been described by some as Stoke’s very own Mario Balotelli, and has been kicked out of the Austria squad on several occassions.
Is this his new start? Bad boy: Arnautovic (right) has been banned from the national team several times Elsad Zverotic (Fulham & Montenegro) – Poland v Montenegro, Friday, 7.45pm An unknown entity to many Fulham fans after joining from Young Boys, with some even unsure what position suits the Montenegrin best.
What we do know, however is that he has 34 caps for his country, and at 26 will bring solidity to Fulham’s backline.
The club even released a statment on deadline day to describe the player, describing his versatitlity in defence and midfield.
Poland v Montenegro is not the most glamorous clash on Friday night, but a few Fulham fans may want to keep an eye on what is to come.
Versatile: Zverotic is an unknown entity to many Fulham fans Christian Atsu (Chelsea & Ghana) Ghana v Zambia, Friday 5pm Chelsea’s new signing was shipped off to Vitesse Arnem straight after signing, but he’ll give a good indication of what he can do at Stamford Bridge in future against Zambia.
He can have a chat with Michael Essien while he’s at it, too.
The Chelsea veteran is also in the Ghana squad, and a few Jose Mourinho anecdotes might prepare the young midfielder for what is in store for him.
Wing wizard: Ghana international Christian Atsu And a few we’re already familiar with…
Maroaune Fellaini (Manchester United & Belgium) – Scotland v Belgium, Friday 8pm (TV: Sky Sports 3) Manchester United’s new recruit will no doubt be as everyone’s favourite second team Belgium travel to Hampden Park.
He’ll be surrounded by Premier League stars and will want to prove that David Moyes’ 27.5million hit was worthwhile.
If he can’t do it against Scotland…
Punt: Fellaini will get a chance to prove his 27.5million price tag against Scotland James McCarthy (Everton & Republic of Ireland) – Republic of Republic of Ireland v Sweden, Friday 7.45pm (TV: Sky Sports 2) We all saw it in the Premier League last year, and Everton fans can get an idea of how a step up from the Championship has improved the midfielder’s mood.
Everton spent 13million on the 22-year-old, over the odds to some, so McCarthy is another player eager to show he is worth the money straight from the off.
Long-term target: Everton have signed midfielder James McCarthy for 13m Romelu Lukaku (Everton & Belgium) – Scotland v Belgium, Friday 8pm (TV: Sky Sports 3) He tore up Premier League defences last season, but has had a slow start to this one having not started a game for Chelsea.
He will be Everton’s main man this season, but will have to battle it out with Villa’s Christian Benteke for a starting place in Glasgow.
Nevertheless, the Belgian needs to get off and running, and Hampden Park in front of the cameras is the place to do it.
Out of Luk: The Belgian striker was expected to be part of Chelsea’s first team plans this season Victor Moses (Liverpool & Nigeria) – Nigeria v Malawi, Saturday 4pm Moses has been given a new start with a short-term deal at Anfield, but Moses will again be fighting for a place in the starting line up, most likely with Iago Aspas.
With Nigeria though, he is very much a star, and 90 minutes will give him the hunger he needs to force his way into Brendan Rodgers’ improving side.
Confirmed: Victor Moses has become Liverpool’s latest summer signing Barry Bannan (Crystal Palace and Scotland) – Scotland v Belgium, Friday 8pm (TV: Sky Sports 3) Bannan is a key player for Scotland despite being shunned out of Villa’s struggling team at the tail end of last year.
He could play a big part in Palace’s survival push, and with Scotland serious underdogs against Belgium, Bannan can get used to dealing with a physical midfield.
Old friends: Bannan will be reunited with Eagles boss Holloway after playing for him during Blackpool’s promotion in 2010
1 View comments Dean Richards returns to English rugby’s top table tonight, four years after his Bloodgate disgrace, in the first sub-plot of a new season which is sure to be full of intrigue and drama.
The former England No 8′s promoted Newcastle side will launch the Aviva Premiership bandwagon against Bath at Kingston Park.
It is good to see Richards back, and his team.
Personally and collectively, they will add weight to the top division.
As the game rumbles into life again, two months after Lions glory in Sydney, it will be fascinating to gauge how that tour impacts on the action to come.
Rampaging Lion: Alex Corbisiero will give Northampton added power To an extent, the knock-on effects for the Premiership will be limited, as most of the heroes were Celts, but those wondrous episodes Down Under should still create a general buzz of anticipation.
Furthermore, the arrival of Lions sensation George North at Northampton will add a welcome dose of glamour.
Back in the big time: Dean Richards returns to the Premiership with Newcastle The Wales wing is capable of putting bums on seats, which would be a timely intervention, as attendance figures have reached a plateau away from the blockbuster events at Twickenham and Wembley.
The Saints have made the most eye-catching forays into the transfer market, with another Lion, Alex Corbisiero, bringing scrummaging clout.
Less heralded but similarly influential is the Samoan conjuror, Kahn Fotuali i.
He can cover both half-back positions and is a free-spirited creative force capable of igniting matches with magical instinct.
These newcomers offer renewed impetus in Northampton’s quest to unseat East Midlands rivals Leicester.
But the title-holding Tigers remain the benchmark.
Richard Cockerill is serving a touchline ban, but his team have an ingrained unity, power and cussed streak which allows them to fight their way out of many tight corners, even when the huge Test contingent are otherwise engaged.
They have made shrewd signings and must be strongly fancied to reach a 10th successive final.
For many of the clubs involved, the Premiership will be the primary objective.
The top English sides will commit to Heineken Cup conflict but they cannot compete with the size and international calibre of squads in France, or the player- management support for the Irish provinces.
All the while, officials will continue to play a high-stakes game of brinkmanship over the future of European competition.
If a solution is not found, it will be tantamount to an act of sporting vandalism.
CHRIS FOY’s PREDICTIONS Champions: Leicester.
Relegated: London Irish.
Man of the season: Kahn Fotuali i (Northampton).
Away from the Midlands, Saracens are well placed to lead the London challenge.
Their recruitment of Billy Vunipola and James Johnston should provide gainline-busting dynamism.
The loss of Johnston the formidable Samoan prop is a setback for Harlequins, but they will remain in the mix, led with furious intent by a rested and driven Chris Robshaw.
Gloucester can emerge as play-off candidates, armed with the poaching prowess of Matt Kvesic to complement Ben Morgan’s marauding bursts.
Now they need the pack to maintain a rugged edge for months on end, and Freddie Burns to add an extra layer of composure under pressure.
Glamour signing: George North is the star signing at Northampton In the lower reaches of the table, the presence of Richards at Newcastle and Dean Ryan, back in the game at Worcester, will ensure a fierce battle for survival.
Sale may be dragged into the danger zone while London Irish appear vulnerable after an exodus of players.
There is also a new broadcaster, BT Sport, bringing innovations such as kicking-tee cam and half-time player interviews.
In truth, these are likely to be short-lived gimmicks, in a league founded on bloody and muddy toil rather than fluff and frills.
Strife of Brian Brian O’Driscoll has confirmed this will be his last season as a player and has relived his Lions ordeal.
He described being dropped for the decisive final Test as a kick in the guts and, referring to Warren Gatland, he said: Do I resent him? Yeah, there’s resentment of course.
Is he on the Christmas card list? Unlikely.
Disappointed: Brian O’Driscoll was unhappy at being dropped from the final Lions Test In an interview with Sky Sports Rugby Club, O Driscoll added: What should have been one of the greatest achievements in my career hasn t turned out to be.
I ll probably look on other things that I ve won with greater affection.
Prepare for an epic tale when Ireland face Gatland’s Wales in Dublin on February 8.
Pro12 a damp squib The after-glow from the Lions triumph ought to be felt in the RaboDirect Pro12 League, which begins on Friday night.
Sadly, that scenario is unlikely.
The Irish provinces are delaying the return of their Lions for several weeks, and many of Wales’s leading lights will be eased back into action gradually.
Missing out: Sam Warburton is not fit enough to start the season with Cardiff Blues Sam Warburton is injured while Jamie Roberts, Dan Lydiate, Mike Phillips and George North have left Wales.
WRU chief executive Roger Lewis has raised the prospect of Wales picking only home-based players but that is unrealistic as the talent pool is small.
Firm action was needed on this far earlier.
Down in the southern hemisphere, the Rugby Championship is in full swing, but let’s cut to the chase the outcome is already a foregone conclusion.
New Zealand will win the title again.
Steve Hansen’s vastly experienced team virtually runs itself, and the evidence of the latest Super 15 season shows that the production-line of quality Kiwi players continues to deliver.
At the next level down, the ITM Cup is awash with the sort of handling and finishing, running lines and support-play that would take the breath away in a Test match.
No wonder the All Blacks remain the standard-bearers.
Simply the best: Aaron Smith (left) and All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw at the captain’s run at Waikato The Last Word The countdown to the season has been dominated by a ruckus over alterations to the scrum.
The engage sequence has changed but the laws are not being overhauled so much as re-applied.
Instead of an outcry over the policing of a straight feed, there should have been uproar that it was overlooked for so long.
The notion of professional hookers having to hastily learn to hook is absurd.
The safety argument is a red herring.
There are ever greater forces involved in the scrum, but for the split-second a hooker’s foot is off the ground, it is up to seven men to resist a shove from eight similarly sized men, which was always the equation once upon a time.