Bleacher Report - Front Page
Benfica goalkeeper Ederson will reportedly have a medical at Manchester City on Monday ahead of a proposed transfer costing more than £35 million.
The Mirror's David Anderson reported on Monday morning the Brazilian's medical will take place "in the next 24 hours," and his fee is expected to exceed the current world record for a goalkeeper, standing at £32.6 million.
City have released the out-of-contract Willy Caballero, while Claudio Bravo endured a dismal first season in English football and did little to convince that he's worthy of the No. 1 spot.
Per football journalist Goncalo Lopes, the 23-year-old admitted he was likely to be leaving this summer after helping Benfica win the Taca de Portugal on Sunday:
Goal's Sam Lee believes the move is inevitable at this point, though he expects the announcement to be made on Tuesday at the earliest:
The Brazilian is known for his excellent distribution—particularly from goal-kicks, though his technique with the ball at his feet is also befitting of a Pep Guardiola transfer target—and he's quick off his line to snuff out danger.
After witnessing Bravo's struggles, many City fans may be more concerned with his shot-stopping ability, and they will be relieved to know he kept 24 clean sheets in 40 matches this season.
His performance against Borussia Dortmund in the UEFA Champions League as Benfica won 1-0 is a particular testament to his quality, though as Sport Witness' Jan Hagen noted, he isn't immune to the occasional mistake:
Nevertheless, provided he avoids the kind of disastrous start to his City career that befell Bravo—who had looked excellent at Barcelona—he could well be a strong acquisition who makes them more robust at the back.
Meanwhile, City winger Nolito said he is open to leaving the Etihad Stadium this summer. Per the MailOnline's John Downes, he told Tiempo de Juego:
"We will see what happens, I would like to go back to Spain, honestly, but it depends on City. I have a contract for two years and we will see what happens. Let's see. If three more wide players come and they offer me the chance to leave...I am like crazy to leave."
The 30-year-old made a bright start to his City career but quickly became the forgotten man, finishing the season with six goals and five assists in 1,349 minutes of play.
Nolito already had to compete with Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling for game time in City's forward line, and he slipped even further down the pecking order after Gabriel Jesus arrived in January.
With the Sky Blues having now added Bernardo Silva to their ranks, the Spaniard's chances of playing any significant minutes next year are almost non-existent, so his departure seems likely.
Chelsea are the Premier League champions, and boss Antonio Conte has the task of making his squad even stronger in order to retain the trophy next season while also playing in the Champions League.
The added pressure of European football will mean a summer spending spree at Stamford Bridge. Conte knows this batch needs more strength in depth if the Blues are to maintain their form from his first season in charge.
The priority is that a new striker, midfielder and central defender are brought on board for the next step of his west London plan.
Romelu Lukaku, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Virgil van Dijk are the three players he dreams of getting on board.
Here is a closer look at Conte's summer transfer strategy.
Speaking to Sky Sports (via Stonehouse), Courtois said he's yet to engage in contract talks with his club but fully expects to stay in west London: "Contract talks haven't opened, but I am happy at Chelsea. I hope they reward me with a good contract. Then there will be no doubt I will sign it."
The Belgian previously spent time in the Spanish capital on loan at Atletico Madrid and has repeatedly professed his love for the city. That has led to plenty of speculation, but it seems Courtois has no intention of leaving the Blues.
The 25-year-old played a big role in Chelsea's successful Premier League campaign, as he proved the perfect anchor for their vaunted defence. Per Goal, he put up some amazing stats:
While he and De Gea enjoyed fine campaigns in 2016-17, Navas regressed tremendously for Real. The Costa Rican flew under the radar for years and impressed after his move to Los Blancos in 2014, but this past season wasn't pretty.
As you can see in the video below, he committed one blunder after the other:
Real tend to add at least one big name every season, and there is little doubt they'll target upgrading the goalkeeper position this summer. Finding a team willing to part with their star stopper could be tricky, however.
De Gea will likely be linked with a return to Spain the most, especially following these latest comments from Courtois.
AC Milan's Gianluigi Donnarumma will also be one to keep an eye on as long as his contract saga carries on. Speaking to Mediaset Premium (h/t Football Italia), Rossoneri director Marco Fassone recently said a transfer is a possibility.
United will be looking to add more firepower to their side after finishing just sixth in the Premier League and scoring 54 goals, 23 fewer than closest rivals Arsenal—not to mention they will be looking to advance as far as possible in the UEFA Champions League.
The winger enjoyed a strong campaign with Inter this year, per Squawka Football:
Perisic's biggest assets are perhaps his versatility—he can play on both flanks, in a supporting role or as a No. 10—and intelligence, but he's also got plenty of pace, which makes him a real handful for defences alongside his impressive dribbling skills.
BeIN Sports' Matteo Bonetti believes he would be an excellent signing for the Red Devils, as does Tancredi Palmeri of the same outlet:
Perisic perhaps isn't as consistently reliable as Palmeri makes out—he can often be quite the opposite—so manager Jose Mourinho may need to take special care to get the best out of him every week.
The 28-year-old is still a good player overall and capable of some truly excellent performances when playing to his potential, but at the reported price, there are younger and more consistent options in Serie A alone.
Meanwhile, Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Blaise Matuidi has admitted his future is up in the air despite the club reportedly offering him a new deal.
Per The Mirror, he said:
"I don’t know yet. I am feeling good in Paris. It’s hard as you don’t know the real position of the club. PSG made a proposition to me. They are open to everything when it comes to me. There is no decision taken so far. Honestly, I don’t want to lie, I don’t know yet."
ESPN FC's Jonathan Johnson and Football Whispers' Andrew Gibney also commented on his quotes to Le Parisien:
Despite lacking the same star power as some of his more illustrious team-mates, Matuidi has been a key fixture in PSG's midfield for six seasons thanks to his tireless work rate, powerful running and outstanding distribution.
According to Squawka, the Frenchman won 40 tackles and 37 headed duels in Ligue 1 last season, as well as making 31 interceptions while maintaining a passing accuracy of 91 per cent.
While he's known more for his defensive contributions, he also scored four goals and assisted as many, creating a total of 27 chances.
If the experienced 30-year-old were to join United's midfield alongside Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba, their engine room would be brimming with enterprise, energy and creativity.
His exit from the club this summer appears to be likely, and United could be on hand to capitalise in what would be a cut-price deal, as he has just one year left on his current contract.
Manchester United midfielder Ander Herrera continues to be linked with a move to Barcelona, despite the Red Devils' reported insistence the former Athletic Bilbao man isn't going anywhere.
According to Spanish daily AS (h/t Daily Star's Joel Watson), incoming Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde is determined to add Herrera to his squad in an attempt to introduce some steel to his midfield.
While Valverde's appointment hasn't been made official yet, he's widely expected to be announced as the club's next manager soon, and possibly as early as Monday.
The former Athletic tactician worked with Herrera at the San Mames Stadium and is expected to add several new pieces to the Catalan outfit after a relatively disappointing season.
According to Samuel Lovett of The Independent, United will block any move for the 27-year-old, who made a giant leap forward in the 2016-17 campaign to emerge as one of the club's top options in midfield.
While he was mostly known for his distribution during his time in Spain, Herrera has become a more rounded player in England.
Per Squawka Football, his defensive contributions stood out during the UEFA Europa League final:
Those defensive abilities, coupled with his passing range and technique, are likely what intrigue Valverde. Barcelona's midfield is filled with great technicians who can pass the ball, but they were overrun by more physical units throughout the season.
In La Liga, Real Madrid had the upper hand, while Juventus cruised to a win over two legs in the UEFA Champions League to knock the Blaugrana out of the tournament. The Bianconeri in particular embarrassed Barcelona's midfielders with a superior work rate and defensive contributions.
Adding a player such as Herrera would fix plenty of problems without compromising the ethos of the club, which is built around possession and technical ability. The Spaniard appears keen to stay in England for now, however:
AS' report indicates that United's qualification for the Champions League gives the Red Devils a major advantage in keeping their midfield ace, and the Catalans have other options, with Paris Saint-Germain's Marco Verratti―another great passer known for his defensive tenacity―also linked.
Lionel Messi has won his fourth Golden Shoe after Edin Dzeko was, unsurprisingly, unable to score 10 goals in Serie A's final weekend, but the AS Roma forward did find the net to win the Italian top flight's capocannoniere ahead of Dries Mertens and Andrea Belotti.
Messi ended Barca's league campaign with 37 goals and 74 Golden Shoe points to his name, and with Serie A the only major league in Europe yet to finish before the weekend and none of its top scorers close to his tally, his victory was all but sealed and is now confirmed.
Dzeko, Napoli forward Mertens and Torino striker Belotti sat on 28, 27 and 25 goals, respectively, and each netted in the final game of the season to maintain the status quo and hand the former the title of Serie A's top scorer.
Here are the final standings:
1. Lionel Messi, Barcelona. 37 goals x 2.0 difficulty factor = 74.0 points
2. Bas Dost, Sporting CP. 34 x 2.0 = 68.0 points
3. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Borussia Dortmund. 31 x 2.0 = 62.0 points
4. Robert Lewandowski, Bayern Munich. 30 x 2.0 = 60.0 points
T5. Edin Dzeko, AS Roma. 29 x 2.0 = 58.0 points
T5. Luis Suarez, Barcelona. 29 x 2.0 = 58.0 points
T5. Harry Kane, Tottenham Hotspur. 29 x 2.0 = 58.0 points
8. Dries Mertens, Napoli. 28 x 2.0 = 56.0 points
9. Edinson Cavani, Paris Saint-Germain. 35 x 1.5 = 52.5 points
10. Andrea Belotti, Torini. 26 x 2.0 = 52.0 points
Rules: Every European league is assigned a difficulty rating by UEFA between one and two, which is multiplied by a player's goal tally to calculate their points total.
For example, goals in the Premier League or La Liga are worth two points each, while in Ligue 1 they are worth just 1.5 because of its lower difficulty rating.
Dzeko Wins Serie A Capocannoniere
While Dzeko was never going to find the goals needed to equal or overtake Messi, he nevertheless finished off the season with a majestic performance, having a hand in all three of Roma's goals as they beat Genoa 3-2.
He found the net after 10 minutes to cancel out Pietro Pellegri's third-minute opener, and he then teed up Daniele De Rossi to put them ahead.
After Genoa equalised through Darko Lazovic to put the Giallorossi's UEFA Champions League group stage place under threat, Dzeko popped up in the 90th minute to provide a headed assist for Diego Perotti's winner.
Squawka Football hailed Dzeko's phenomenal achievement:
As WhoScored.com noted, he could have scored a lot more:
Nevertheless, the former Manchester City man still enjoyed a tremendous season—the most prolific of his career—and while Roma may have ultimately been unable to pip Juventus to the title, he played a huge part in them running the Bianconeri so close.
Napoli were perhaps not quite as reliant on Mertens thanks to the excellent form of Lorenzo Insigne, Jose Callejon and Marek Hamsik—who scored 44 Serie A goals between them this year—but the Belgian was in stellar form throughout the year and finished it with his 28th league goal.
All four players scored as Napoli beat Sampdoria 4-2, with Mertens opening the scoring courtesy of a looping long-range finish.
Belgian football journalist Kristof Terreur hailed his outstanding campaign:
Like Dzeko, Belotti also finished the season with one of his best performances, as he bagged a goal and two assists for Torino as they beat Sassuolo 5-3.
He picked out Daniele Baselli in space for Torino's second and miskicked the ball to Iago Falque for their fourth, before a fine solo effort rounded out his season.
The Italy international has scored all manner of goals this year, and his ability in the air has also set him apart, per Squawka Football:
If he stays at Torino he could well be set to battle it out for the capocannoniere next season.
Mertens has signed a new deal with Napoli to stay at the club for three more years, while Dzeko is fairly unlikely to be in high demand at 31 despite his outstanding form, but 23-year-old Belotti will have caught the eyes of many this year—he could be competing for the Golden Shoe elsewhere.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger half turned his back with his interrogator's words still forming in the close Wembley air. He knew what was coming.
Like an overly officious lawyer who asks a bride and groom en route to their first dance whether they have a prenup in place, the BBC's Dan Walker gave the present a cursory pat before moving on to the future.
The question was posed over whether he would be at Arsenal next season.
Walker wouldn't be a journalist if he didn't ask it; Wenger wouldn't be human if he didn't show a flicker of irritation in pleading: "Let me enjoy the night."
By God! He deserved to. An epoch-making seventh FA Cup win, secured via a 2-1 victory over Chelsea in a game as magnificent as the day was muggy, makes him the most successful manager in the competition's 146-year history. Wenger has as many winners' medals as Liverpool and Chelsea do in their respective histories. Now he comes to mention it, a lack of respect does seem a little churlish.
Aaron Ramsey's stooping header, just 129 seconds after Diego Costa had cancelled out Alexis Sanchez's opener, was enough to win a game that fully tested Arsenal's propensity to shoot themselves in the foot like few others.
As a neutral, at full-time, it was hard not to be pleased as the camera panned to Wenger in a moment of solitude. For a split second a double fist-pump was his only company, as he stood silently dignified with his back as straight as a ruler despite his 67 years. Physically and in terms of acuity, he's probably half the age of many of those who label him over the hill.
A remarkable man in many ways, he looked resplendent in a crisp white shirt, as though he had just stepped off an ironing board. Quite the feat considering he had spent much of the preceding hour and a half in his favourite squat position as if trying to gauge the tide. It tends to turn quickly in north London.
After a campaign that has at times felt like the long goodbye, even Raymond Chandler would accept the strange case of Wenger's future at Arsenal will not be solved until after Tuesday's board meeting. Not so supporters, journalists, pundits and all points in between, amateur sleuths to a man.
The zeitgeist for binge-watching box sets is not so different with football, to the point that having to wait for news seems less a slight inconvenience than a denial of a basic human right. Like with Netflix, 15 seconds seems a reasonable period to pause before moving on to the next episode.
The Arsenal Fan TV boys, who had featured in the BBC's buildup (the national deficit may never recover from a likely shortfall in TV licences paid next year), were probably already on the Wembley Stadium concourse demanding to know the truth about Wenger's future when Per Mertesacker was lifting a third FA Cup for Arsenal in four years. Life is nothing if not testing.
Those of the belief ennui is no different to slow death may cite the always prophetic writer J.G. Ballard in defence of the incandescent fury brimming at Arsenal for the best part of a decade: "It seems to me that what most of us have to fear for the future is not that something terrible is going to happen, but rather that nothing is going to happen. ... I could sum up the future in one word, and that word is boring. The future is going to be boring."
Usually, Wenger gives his medals away. A little later, when facing the press in Wembley's holding cells below ground level, he told them he would keep this one for himself: "For once I have taken my medal, so that means it's a special night for me."
It was the type of comment that will be pored over and forensically tested for clues before carefully being sealed back into an evidence bag. Both Wenger and Arsenal's board have denounced short-termism. Whatever happened on Saturday was always going to be circumstantial, it was said.
"I don't feel that winning the Cup will necessarily change anything, said Wenger, per Paul Wilson of the Guardian. "It would be a bit ridiculous were 20 years of service to be decided by the result of one game, and neither should the future of the club depend on a single game."
New beginnings need a starting point, though. Where better than here? Arsenal were as good with the ball as they were without it, as steely as they were stylish. This was not a mirage; Arsenal could easily have been 3-0 up at half-time.
Wenger's eyes of late have betrayed the hurt he has felt at being so openly criticized. On Saturday, for the first time in a long time, they sparkled as bright as any diamond in Tiffany & Co. In a candid interview with the BBC that was shown before the game, he had spoken of being "treated in a way in that human beings don't deserve to be treated." He added: "The lack of respect from some has been a disgrace, and I will never accept that. I will never forget it."
It was Wenger's compatriot Marcel Proust who said: "The only real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes."
There was plenty about Arsenal's performance, for which Wenger must be credited with outwitting Chelsea counterpart Antonio Conte, to suggest he may still have enough fresh ideas to reassure those who claim an exhausted imagination is mirrored by his side. The Frenchman is regularly accused of being antiquated in his tactical outlook, but since switching to three at the back, Arsenal have won nine of 10 matches.
Kudos should also be given for how decisive he was in making a switch pretty much immediately after Chelsea equalised. Danny Welbeck's withdrawal would surely have drawn criticism had Arsenal failed to win. His replacement, Olivier Giroud, needed just 38 seconds to lay on Ramsey's winner with a deft clipped cross after he had outdone a weary Gary Cahill with a smart run down the left flank.
Wenger's argument that he can reinvent himself is, in part, about his attempt to broker a deal that allows him the same autonomy he has enjoyed for over 20 years, but this felt like something seismic.
Although it was a cup final imbued with sadness in light of the Manchester bombing, with a minute's silence impeccably observed before kick-off, it proved the perfect curtain call for the season. As a contest, it was as absorbing as any played this term. It was the type of game that makes even the most jaded fan a little wistful, forcing a re-evaluation of whether it is the game that has changed or them. Just maybe it is still as beguiling as it always was.
Notwithstanding Victor Moses' ignominy for being the first player to be sent off in an FA Cup final for an act of simulation, for which he was awarded a second booking, there was a pureness to the final that somehow made it feel like it belonged to another age.
Petr Cech putting aside obvious disappointment at being left out to charge on to the field at full-time and head straight for David Ospina would have melted Theresa May's even the coldest heart. Like a yellowed photograph curled up at the edges, the game felt lived-in, an instant classic. Some 34 shots in 90 minutes takes some beating.
If necessity is the mother of invention, then Wenger owes it a debt. The call to start Ospina was his, but injuries and suspension meant he had no real option other than to field a back three that had never previously played together. It included Mertesacker, making his first start in 392 days (and the first time ever in a back three despite a career that includes some 104 caps for Germany), the relative rookie Rob Holding and left-back-turned-left-centre-half Nacho Monreal.
Chelsea's pre-match meal came accompanied with a side serving of mint sauce.
All three were magnificent. Arsenal's BFG looked as though he must have been doped up on George's (Graham) Marvellous (Defensive) Medicine. Astronaut food may turn quicker than the German, but his reading of the game is borderline clairvoyant.
Post-match footage in which he dead-eyes Martin Keown in the tunnel after the pundit had predicted a difficult afternoon for him was cringingly majestic. "They're calling it the Mertesacker final," Keown creeped. "Don't write me off, man," was Mertesacker's pitch-perfect retort.
In the stands, Labour leader and dyed-in-the-wool Arsenal supporter Jeremy Corbyn was sending out a similar message of defiance via social media. It's unconfirmed whether May sent Amber Rudd to be her representative at Wembley.
Remarkably, it was only the second-best thing Keown was involved in on the day. Before the game, the BBC man gave an analysis of the Wenger situation that was possibly the greatest broadcast in the history of television. John Logie Baird's life's work has not been in vain.
"Old people die," he exclaimed on Football Focus, in a revelation that will have had corporation bigwigs pondering whether Professor Robert Winston's programmes could be freshened up by a new co-presenter. "That's how serious it is for him. His life is dependent on staying in management."
There was a key moment defensively that seemed to define the whole game just after Sanchez had scored his contentious opener.
Costa's legs took on the properties of a pair of jelly scissors in "accidentally" nearly taking Holding's head off in a tangle between them on the floor. Arsenal's 21-year-old defender got up grinning, tapping his head and seemingly mouthing "mental" in the direction of his opponent. Costa's team-mates did well to keep him on the Bruce Banner side of the Incredible Sulk. For once, it looked as though Arsenal would not be bullied.
Later, the Spain international would exact revenge when holding off the young defender to chest down substitute Willian's cute chip and fire past a somewhat limp Ospina to score an equaliser for 10-man Chelsea. It was a goal so Arsenal-like in its predictability it will surely in time be donated to the club's museum. By full-time, however, Holding could be forgiven for joining in chants from the Arsenal end that compared him favourably to Fabio Cannavaro. His win rate is remarkable, with Arsenal having won the past 15 games he has started.
Wenger seemed to have borrowed his tactics from Manchester United's 2-0 victory over Chelsea in mid-April. Arsenal pressed high and aggressively from the off, with Welbeck both magnificent and key to their victory.
Just like Chelsea did not feel comfortable playing with a high line against United because of Marcus Rashford's pace, here it was Welbeck putting the frighteners on them. Twice he went as close as it gets to scoring without doing so, as he first crashed the far post with a header from a set piece before Cahill cleared the ball off the line for a second time, having earlier done the same to Mesut Ozil.
With the game stretched from back to front, Ozil and Sanchez were able to persistently find space between the lines. Everything thrown up to Welbeck stuck, with the only thing bouncing off him being Chelsea defenders. At various points in the first half alone, Welbeck's smart movement and hard running drew each of Chelsea's back three hopelessly out of position. None of them could live with him.
Ahead of them, the usually indefatigable N'Golo Kante played as though his legs were on strike, sunning it up by a pool while he borrowed someone else's. Possibly a Chelsea Pensioner's. The double footballer of the year was at least partly responsible for Sanchez's goal, as his left foot lost communication with his right to allow Arsenal to nick the ball back after Thibaut Courtois had bowled it out to him.
David Luiz looked to have headed the danger away when Sanchez, with his arm, blocked Kante's attempt to hook the ball further clear. The Chilean chased after it, as he did everything all afternoon, and with Chelsea's players appealing for both the handball and Ramsey's offside stationing, the ball was volleyed past Courtois. It was Sanchez's seventh goal in five starts at Wembley. He's such a big-game hunter he has banning orders from zoos nationwide.
Referee Anthony Taylor consulted his linesman Gary Beswick, who had flagged for offside, before giving the goal. It was a remarkably bad decision that, in so many ways, made for a great final. Rare is it you can say a goal was coming after 240 seconds, but Chelsea were on the ropes.
It was a 30th goal of the season for Sanchez, on top of 15 assists. Whether swansong, open audition or simply taking responsibility, it was a remarkable shift. Surliness was conspicuous only in absence, with the only thing he shook on the day being equally pugnacious performances out of his team-mates. He even made Granit Xhaka look like a £30 million player.
Around the 20-minute mark, Sanchez won the ball off Kante in the left-back position for Arsenal. It was symptomatic of his afternoon's work. You can imagine him growling as he made the challenge.
It seems an odd thing to say about two players so disparate, but there was something Kante-like about Sanchez's omnipresence. He was popping passes all over pitch with a right foot so attuned to its surrounds it could knock a pigeon off a telegraph pole on hearing it coo. Whether it is through successful contract negotiations or kidnap, Sanchez must not be allowed off the premises over the summer.
All game, he somehow butted together a mix of savagery and subtlety. He was like a superhero made of granite wearing silk pajamas. Chelsea were shell-shocked, punch drunk to the point it wouldn't have been impertinent to ask whether they were sozzled. Ozil may have been sporting the Andrew Ridgeley highlights, but it was Chelsea's lot who played as though they had spent the previous fortnight holed up in Club Tropicana, where drinks are almost certainly still free.
Playing an FA Cup final a couple of weeks after winning the title is long enough for legs to grow weary and heads a bit blurry. Chelsea were better after the break than before it, with Conte's post-match words, when he conceded there was much work to be done over the summer in the transfer market, perhaps also having been given an airing at half-time.
Before the game, BBC host Gary Lineker had pondered whether Ozil was a "flat-track bully," with Frank Lampard adding: "For me, he's a bit of a luxury." That's the thing with luxury. We've sold ourselves the idea that it is something we wouldn't want to have too much of, as opposed to being something we can't afford.
Generally, it's a healthy line to take; it stops us craving what others have got. When we're talking about football and luxury, however, no one should feel bad about enjoying teams filled with little geniuses on billionaires' dimes. That's one of the few luxuries we can all afford.
In the The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote: "The genuine realist, if he is an unbeliever, will always find strength and ability to disbelieve in the miraculous, and if he is confronted with a miracle as an irrefutable fact, he would rather disbelieve his own senses than admit the miraculous also."
If only the Russian were still around to show any unbelievers video footage of an act so miraculous it can only be a matter of time before Donald Trump labels it fake news. In the 42nd minute of Saturday's final, Ozil sprinted back to make a slide tackle. Run the video:
Ozil probably should have scored when his deft dink didn't have enough purchase to beat Cahill on the line. A dropped shoulder that preceded his rattling the base of Chelsea's post at the death was a prime example of when video technology should be introduced to award goals for sheer chutzpah.
On that point, his dummy on the touchline in added time, when he allowed the ball to run through his legs and buy valuable seconds when his team-mates were seemingly competing in a competition to hit the moon, brought to mind the Ezra Pound line: "Genius is the capacity to see 10 things where the ordinary man sees one."
There was nothing ordinary about this Arsenal performance, and neither is there anything ordinary about Wenger. Whether this proves a perfect end he insists does not exist or the start of something new, or even a continuation of same old Arsenal, it can wait a while.
For now, the final word belongs to the Frenchman.
"Let's enjoy the win, not worry about the future and live in the present.
"It is one of my proudest moments because nobody gave us a chance, and we responded with attitude and class."
According to Neil Fissler of the Sunday Express, Lukaku has told the Toffees he will not sign a new contract at the club amid interest from Antonio Conte and Jose Mourinho, managers of the Blues and Red Devils, respectively.
With two years left on his current deal, Everton are expected to cash in on the former Chelsea star, making the most out of the situation.
Per the report, Real Madrid's Alvaro Morata was previously a target for both Chelsea and United, and with the Spaniard now likely to end up at AC Milan, the market for top attacking options is already thinning before summer has even begun.
Lukaku will be a popular target due to his Premier League experience―despite being just 24 years old, he has starred in England's top division for some time and bagged a tremendous amount of goals. This past season, he finished with 25 in the league, more than any Chelsea or United striker.
Diego Costa was the Blues' star man in front of goal this season, and even he would welcome the Everton man with open arms, per Kristof Terreur of HLN:
Fissler reported the Spain international could be sold to help raise funds, although his report leans on a move to China―something the former Atletico Madrid man has already ruled out, per DirectTVSports:
Chelsea's other main attacking option is Michy Batshuayi, who didn't play much in his first season in west London but made the most of his opportunities. Conte is expected to give the former Marseille man an extended look during the summer.
United's plans will hinge on Zlatan Ibrahimovic and his return from injury, although the Swede could opt to leave the club instead. Either way, the Red Devils will have to consider their long-term plans, and a striker of Lukaku's calibre would be welcome at Old Trafford.
Marcus Rashford remains a special talent, but he still lacks the raw scoring potential to lead the attack on a permanent basis. It's not a bad idea to bring someone along to take care of the scoring while the 19-year-old develops at his own pace.
England play Costa Rica, France meet Italy and hosts South Korea take on Portugal in the best of the round-of-16 ties in the 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup, beginning on Tuesday, May 30, and concluding on Thursday, June 1.
England and Uruguay to Progress on Wednesday
England and Uruguay are two squads oozing quality at this tournament, and both should be expected to progress to the last eight with wins over Costa Rica and Saudi Arabia, respectively, on Wednesday. Uruguay topped Group D ahead of Italy thanks to a mix of defensive solidity and midfield artistry.
The latter quality is best exemplified by precocious schemer Rodrigo Bentancur. He's bound for Juventus this summer, and fans of the Bianconeri should be encouraged by the 19-year-old's classy displays in South Korea.
Bentancur has been likened to Manchester United's Paul Pogba by Boca Juniors boss Guillermo Barros Schelotto. He lauded Bentancur's versatility during an interview with Italian publication Tuttosport (h/t FourFourTwo): "He is a young guy, but he is very talented. He is a midfielder with excellent technique, good runs and someone who is very intelligent. He is physically strong and good in the air. His characteristics are very much like those of Pogba."
Bentancur has been delivering on his promise at this tournament. In particular, he received high marks during Uruguay's last group match, a 0-0 draw with South Africa, per Scouted Football:
Expect Bentancur to run the show again and help Uruguay overpower Saudi Arabia to put arguably the most talented squad at the tournament into the quarter-final.
Like Uruguay, England's strength also flows through midfield. Everton's Kieran Dowell has turned some heads with his performances, specifically when scoring the winner to beat hosts South Korea and help the junior Three Lions top Group A.
However, England lost Arsenal midfield gem Ainsley Maitland-Niles with a ankle injury during the win, per James Walker-Roberts of Sky Sports. They are sure to miss the 19-year-old's versatility against a capable Costa Rica squad.
Where England can make the difference is by relying on their talent up top, with Chelsea forward Dominic Solanke and Everton's Dominic Calvert-Lewin two obvious gems. Expect England to have too much potency in attack for Costa Rica to hold out for 90 minutes.
Wednesday's games will conclude with surprise package Zambia, who won Group C, taking on Germany. Based on the form, Zambia should have the quality to get through, with Germany yet to truly show their talent in South Korea.
France Will Win Heavyweight Clash on Thursday
France can get past Italy in the marquee match on Thursday. Both teams boast exceptional players in attack, with AS Monaco winger Allan Saint-Maximin a particularly exciting talent for the former.
The 20-year-old scored two terrific individual goals to help Les Bleus beat New Zealand 2-0 in their final group game on Sunday.
Yet Saint-Maximin isn't the only forward player Italy must be wary of. There's also Paris Saint-Germain's 19-year-old striker Jean-Kevin Augustin.
A true powerhouse, Augustin is among the top scorers at the tournament, per Scouted Football:
Of course, the Azzurri also boast their own quality in attack, particularly in the form of prolific duo Riccardo Orsolini and Giuseppe Panico. However, the French haven't just built their success on being free-scoring. They are also yet to concede a goal at the tournament, per FIFA.com.
Expect a well-rounded France to have too much in every area for Italy to handle.
Thursday's games will also see Mexico take on Senegal, while USA meet New Zealand. Expect wins for both the U.S. and El Tri.
Meanwhile, Portugal will need to be at their best to beat the hosts on Tuesday, and a classy Venezuela side led by precocious Watford midfielder Adalberto Penaranda are likely to beat Japan to start the round of 16.
However, Venezuela will need to control winger Ritsu Doan, who has shown star potential during the group stage, according to Squawka's Jake Entwistle:
Overall, the first knockout phase is where the best teams at this World Cup will begin to assert themselves. The likes of France, Uruguay and England are among the most talented squads, so they should be favoured to make their respective ability count.
One of the biggest rivalries in rugby begins anew on Wednesday as the Queensland Maroons prepare to face New South Wales Blues in the opening match of this year's State of Origin series.
The first of three fixtures between the two powerhouses of rugby league promises to be a barnburner—as is always the case in this series—and Queensland are chasing a third consecutive title in 2017.
This year's head-to-head kicks off at Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium before a three-week respite until Game 2 at ANZ Stadium in Sydney on June 21, with the final meeting scheduled to take place back in Brisbane on July 12.
Two of the last three State of Origin series have been decided after the first two matches, however, and both teams will be jostling to get that all-important tilt towards victory in Game 1 on Wednesday.
Here, we provide a look at all the essential match details to ensure you don't miss out on the action, complete with live-stream information and a preview of the midweek opener in Brisbane.
Date: Wednesday, May 31
Time: 11 a.m. BST/8 p.m. AEST/6 a.m. ET
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
One of the biggest discussion points leading into this year's three-parter was the news that 10-time State Of Origin winner Johnathan Thurston would play no part in the first match of the series due to a shoulder injury.
The official Queensland Rugby League website confirmed Thurston's absence on Thursday, and Dominique Loudon of 9 News Gold Coast provided a shot of the statement with quotes from the Maroons talisman:
This will be the first time in his career that Thurston will fail to feature in all three games of an Origin series—provided he recovers for Games 2 and 3—giving New South Wales hope in their efforts to breaks the Maroons' current streak.
Meanwhile, Blues coach Laurie Daley named his squad for the 2017 blockbuster on May 22, per Fox Sports:
Second row Boyd Cordner will captain the New South Wales team in place of National Rugby League icon Paul Gallen after the 35-year-old announced his retirement from Origin play.
One notable absence from Daley's lineup is Parramatta Eels star Michael Jennings, although the centre responded with humility after learning of his omission from the Game 1 squad, via 7 News Sydney:
There's no overstating just how dramatic Thurston's absence could be for Queensland as 22-year-old debutant Anthony Milford prepares to take his place at five-eighth.
However, Brisbane Broncos centre Justin Hodges expects his club team-mate to stand up well to the pressure, per Phil Lutton of the Sydney Morning Herald:
"It's going to be tough for him. Until you are out there, until you are in the battle and especially in those tight games, it's like you are going to hell and back.
"They are going to throw bodies at him, put him under the pump defensively, throw shape at him. He has to stay composed and he's there for a reason—because he's very, very good.
"There is a lot of pressure ... they are massive shoes and you can never replace a guy like Johnno, even for one game. He is going to have to put his body through things he never thought he could. But it will only make him a better player."
Only on Wednesday will we know the impact it has on the Maroons to see their evergreen star on the sidelines with a rookie taking his spot, even if Samoa international Milford is regarded as one of the brightest prospects on the circuit.
That said, no one individual decides a State of Origin fixture, and while some may say the series has lost some of its feud in recent years, a monstrous tug of war awaits in Wednesday's curtain-raiser.
LaVar Ball took the time to reference his own critics when addressing his Big Ballers AAU team following a Sunday victory.
"You got people calling me names and acting crazy on me," he said when talking to a player who committed a retaliatory foul, per Josh Peter of USA Today. "I could easily snap and choke the hell out of them. But I don't, because I know what comes with that. You know what I'm saying?"
Peter passed along Ball's comments after his team beat the Bluechip Nation of Arizona, 88-85:
In this instance, Ball knows where he is coming from considering he certainly has plenty of critics after his outspoken tour de force since entering the limelight.
There are the outlandish things he has said to apparently get attention when he receives talking platforms, such as the notion he could have beaten Michael Jordan in one-on-one or his son Lonzo is already better than Stephen Curry.
Then there are other, less innocuous things, such as when he ripped into his team during halftime of a 109-57 loss to the Compton Magic (NSFW language):
He was notably wearing a shirt reading "Stay in Yo Lane" in reference to his cringe-worthy exchange with The Herd with Colin Cowherd co-host Kristine Leahy where he said his Big Baller Brand is not a "women's company," via Fox Sports Radio's Deb Carson.
He also told her to "stay in your lane," via Kyle Koster of The Big Lead, which led to the shirt.
Given his comments Sunday, critics should just count their lucky stars Ball hasn't snapped and choked the hell out of them.
It's not easy being a major college football coach. The pressure to win—and win big—fueled by huge television contracts and overbearing fans and boosters can shorten the tenures of even the most talented coach and give them serious stress on the side.
The best coaches are paid exceedingly well, but they earn it. Those who succeed at the highest level deserve their spots at the top of the game's hierarchy.
Who are the best of the best, though? Here, we take an extended look at college football's top coaches since 2000. Factors considered included national championships and games won, number of 10-win seasons and league championships.
These are our top 10 college football coaches since 2000.
Austin Dillon only led for two laps but held off Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. to win the Coca-Cola 600 Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Dillon refused to pit with the majority of drivers down the stretch, but the No. 3 car had enough fuel to make it the rest of the way. When Jimmie Johnson ran out of gas in the final few laps, the opportunity opened up for the underdog.
Despite an almost two-hour delay in the middle of the race, Dillon came through with his first career Monster Energy Series win.
Fox NASCAR captured the winning finish:
Here are the final results from Sunday's race:
1. Austin Dillon (3)
2. Kyle Busch (18)
3. Martin Truex Jr. (78)
4. Matt Kenseth (20)
5. Denny Hamlin (11)
6. Kurt Busch (41)
7. Erik Jones (77)
8. Kevin Harvick (4)
9. Ryan Newman (31)
10. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (88)
Truex was undoubtedly the best in the field throughout the race, leading for 233 laps. Dillon and Johnson knew the only chance was to avoid a pit stop at lap 368 to make up the difference.
Johnson ran out of fuel on lap 399, but Dillon just made it, as Bob Pockrass of ESPN noted:
Busch and Truex finished in second and third, respectively, only about a second behind the eventual winner.
The NASCAR account provided the celebration in Victory Lane:
Truex and Busch were battling throughout the day, starting from Stage 1. This move by Busch on Lap 90 helped him get the first victory of the day:
Truex ended up in second place in the first stage, followed by pole-sitter Kevin Harvick.
Unfortunately, this was the last action for a long time, as rain and lightning caused a delay that lasted an hour and 40 minutes. Considering the length of the race to begin with, this made quite an impact.
Nick DeGroot of Motorsport.com put the break in context:
The restart worked out well for Truex, who avoided a few challengers to remain in front and come away with a win in Stage 2 ahead of Johnson and Matt Kenseth. It was Truex's sixth stage win of the year, most in the Monster Energy series.
Although Truex continued to lead the majority of laps, as he has for three straight years at this event, a late caution changed the order just before the end of the third stage.
Denny Hamlin ended up with the Stage 3 win ahead of Busch and Kenseth, thanks mostly to his crew with a fast pit stop.
Truex regained the lead on a restart, but the big story as the race came to an end was the collection of drivers refusing to pit down the stretch.
It ended up working out well for Dillon to earn the first win for the No. 3 car at the Coca-Cola 600 since Dale Earnhardt Sr.
Two of the favorites coming into the race failed to even finish 20 laps due to a bad early crash. Brad Keselowski and Chase Elliott were done for the day after this collision:
Jeffrey Earnhardt was also forced into the garage after his debris helped contribute to the accident.
Kyle Larson finished early as well, although his incident came much later in the night. He hit the wall just before the third stage ended and it led to sparks flying:
The point leader coming into the day ended his night after 292 laps.
Although this wasn't the best night for everyone, the drivers can now get back to preparing for shorter races with nothing longer than 400 miles for the next couple of months. The AAA 400 Drive for Autism is next up on Sunday, June 4, from Dover International Speedway.
Kenseth is the defending champion at this event, but fans should expect plenty of drama at the Monster Mile.
To put it kindly, the New York Jets have not enjoyed great luck with their second-round picks in recent years.
Ohio State receiver Devin Smith, taken in the second round of the 2015 draft, has played in just 14 games through his first two seasons, and was given a waived/injured designation in May after suffering a torn ACL in April that will cost him the entire 2017 season.
Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro, selected in the second round the year before, had a nice rookie season with 38 receptions for 345 yards and two touchdowns, but missed the entire 2015 season with a shoulder injury and didn’t make final cuts in 2016. He signed with the Tennessee Titans, for whom he caught three passes for 59 yards in three games.
In 2013, there was Geno Smith, the alleged quarterback of the future who never panned out and is now with the Giants. Stephen Hill came in 2012. The Georgia Tech speed receiver couldn’t get past injuries and off-field issues, and lasted two seasons.
Massachusetts power lineman Vlad Ducasse was in 2010 and never played more than 331 snaps in a season for the Jets from 2010 through 2013. He has filtered through five teams in the last four years—New York, Minnesota, Chicago, Baltimore and now Buffalo.
When a team consistently spends high picks on players who turn out to be journeymen at best and cautionary injury tales at worst, it affects the roster to an extreme degree. It’s one of the reasons general manager Mike Maccagnan and head coach Todd Bowles are currently steering a roster that may be the NFL’s weakest overall.
In 2017, the Jets are desperately hoping that quarterback Christian Hackenberg can buck this disastrous second-round trend. It might be a curse at this point. In any event, with a quarterback depth chart that has veteran Josh McCown up top as a Band-Aid until a younger prospect can take over, Hackenberg, selected in the second round of the 2016 draft, would help by showing the potential the Jets saw in him during his collegiate career.
To date, that hasn’t happened. Despite a Ryan Fitzpatrick/Bryce Petty/Geno Smith quarterback trio that combined for a 56.5 completion percentage, 6.6 yards per attempt, 16 touchdowns and 25 interceptions last season, Hackenberg didn’t see a single snap—and this was after a preseason in which he completed just 17-of-46 passes for 160 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. His yards-per-attempt total (3.48) was just as bad as his quarterback rating (36.5).
One NFL scout who spoke off the record to ESPN.com’s Rich Cimini was aghast at how many off-target passes Hackenberg threw in warm-ups last season, and Maccagnan himself wasn’t exactly conclusive in January as to whether he had second thoughts about selecting a quarterback in the second round that the team never even put in a meaningless game.
"You make the best decision at the time," Maccagnan said, per Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News. "I’m not necessarily in the business of looking back. We’re focused on making sure Christian can develop into the player and fulfill the potential we think he has."
Things don’t look much better now as the Jets start their 2017 OTAs, where Hackenberg appears to be the third quarterback in drills, though new offensive coordinator John Morton has said that McCown, Petty and Hackenberg will get equal reps throughout the process.
If Hackenberg is going to make a serious leap forward in his second NFL season, especially in a West Coast offense like Morton’s, he’s going to have to transcend several glaring faults that go back to his college days.
To start, Hackenberg is not consistently accurate on passes in which he must hit his target with timing and rhythm. After watching every snap he took in the 2016 preseason, it was clear that the Jets just wanted him to get his confidence together. There were a ton of easy, short passes, and of his 46 attempts, only six went longer than 20 yards in the air, per Pro Football Focus. Hackenberg completed two of those for 53 yards. Both came against the Giants in the third preseason game, and both were fairly easy open reads.
This deep right-side fade to receiver Chandler Worthy with 11:16 left in the third quarter of the Jets’ preseason finale against the Eagles is a good example. This was a 35-yard positive play because Eagles defensive back Eric Rowe was penalized for pass interference, but Hackenberg forced Worthy to wait on the ball because he didn’t do what he was supposed to on such a throw: get enough air underneath the ball to put Worthy in a position to catch it in stride. With the appropriate arc and velocity, that happens. This is an example of what occurs when it doesn’t.
In the second screencap, you can see that Worthy has a bit of separation on Rowe, but a step later, in the third screencap, that separation is gone, and the ball isn’t even in Worthy’s vicinity yet. The incompletion was caused primarily by the fact that Worthy was given no advantage by his quarterback. Had Rowe turned his head around, there wouldn’t have been an interference penalty, and it would have been a simple incompletion—or, an interception.
Hackenberg’s second major problem is that he falters far too easily under pressure, and this is borne out by the stats. In his 2015 season for Penn State, he completed just 34.7 of his passes when under pressure—41 completions in 118 attempts for 642 yards, three touchdowns and five interceptions. Last preseason, the numbers were even worse: Just three completions in 16 attempts for 25 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. Whether in college or in the NFL, Hackenberg consistently fails to re-set himself to the target after he’s flushed out of the pocket, and he’s picked up a dangerous habit of throwing the ball wildly as he’s being sacked.
He did just that later in the third quarter against the Eagles. This is a really bad example of situational football. It was 2nd-and-4, and the Jets were down by one point deep in Eagles territory. There’s absolutely no reason for Hackenberg to go off-script after he’s pressured and nearly sacked, but that’s where he goes with it. Right tackle Ben Ijalana lost his center as left defensive end Bryan Braman hit him with an inside counter, and Braman rolled through the pocket unobstructed.
Hackenberg should have taken the sack there, but he threw the ball up at the last second in the general vicinity of receiver Robby Anderson, and the result was that Eagles safety Ed Reynolds enjoyed the easiest 90-yard interception return touchdown he’ll ever have as he took the low pass all the way back for the score.
Quarterbacks need to be cognizant of the situation at all times and act on what that situation tells them. Hackenberg was playing schoolyard ball in an instance where it was not warranted under any circumstances. The best thing that could be said of Hackenberg’s acumen on this play is that he did his best to keep up with Reynolds as he ran the errant throw to the opposite end zone.
Hackenberg’s best throw of the preseason probably came in the fourth quarter of the Week 4 game against the Giants. Here, Giants cornerback Trevin Wade (No. 31) switched coverage with safety Justin Currie (No. 36) pre-snap, leaving receiver Charone Peake (No. 17) open over the middle. Hackenberg benefited from a clean pocket, but still, this was a nice throw to Peake with good timing.
Hackenberg followed this up with a good out-route throw to Robby Anderson, and his lone NFL passing touchdown, a 10-yard fade to Anderson that was a bit high, but Anderson brought it in. None of these were tight-window throws with defenders converging, but he showed an sense of timing and placement on this drive.
And then, two drives later, Hackenberg regressed with the first interception of his NFL career, which stemmed from a deflection because Hackenberg failed to read a simple drop by a defensive lineman. With 2:43 left in the game, Hackenberg took the snap from his own 5-yard line, looking to throw an underneath pass on 3rd-and-7 just to get something going. What he missed completely was defensive tackle Davon Coleman (No. 62) backing out to the intermediate level on a drop in coverage. Hackenberg threw the ball right into Coleman’s area, Coleman deflected it and safety Andrew Adams came down with the interception.
Needless to say, if Hackenberg is ever going to play in the NFL at a credible level, he's going to have to adjust his reads and throws for elementary changes in defensive coverage.
Most of the hype surrounding Hackenberg came from his 2013 season when, as a true freshman, he threw for 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions under the tutelage of current Texans head coach Bill O’Brien. Hackenberg set a school record with 2,955 passing yards—a record he broke the next season with 2,977—but when O’Brien returned to the NFL before the 2014 season, Hackenberg’s regression was obvious. He threw 12 touchdowns and 15 interceptions in 2014, and though his 2015 season was a bit of a turnaround with 16 touchdowns and six picks, there is plenty of college tape which shows conclusively that he was not ready for prime time.
That the Jets selected him in the second round doesn’t make it any less true. It just puts more pressure on the franchise to try and validate what looks like another unfortunate second-round pick. Maybe if Hackenberg and O’Brien had reunited in Houston with a later pick, things would be different. Maybe that will happen in time.
This is not intended to crucify the player; more to detail and indicate just how far Hackenberg is right now from having the attributes required to be a successful starting quarterback in the NFL. Perhaps if he had been selected in the fifth or sixth round, which would have been commensurate with his talent, it wouldn’t be such a big deal. He’d be rightly tagged as a developmental quarterback and brought along as such. That appears to be how the Jets are handling this, but after watching the tape, the question looms larger.
Just how much is there to develop?
It takes more than mere greatness to be considered one of the most underrated players in pro football history.
It takes bad timing and bad luck. It takes years of playing the wrong position for the wrong team in the wrong league at the wrong time. To make our list, a player must contribute to a winning effort while putting up bad stats, misunderstood stats or no stats. He must either play for teams so good that they overshadow his accomplishments, or teams so bad that he had to do it all by himself.
"Underrated" is in the eye of the beholder, so let's establish some ground rules for these rankings:No Hall of Famers or recent Hall of Fame finalists. It's hard to be underrated when you've been immortalized. Active players who are Hall of Fame shoo-ins are also excluded. Even Joe Thomas. No Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks, running backs or wide receivers. Even the least heralded of them get plenty of recognition. No 1960s Packers, 1970s Steelers, 1980s 49ers, 1990s Cowboys or 2000s Patriots. Sorry, Jerry Kramer! Being part of an era-defining dynasty brings with it a base-level acclaim that the players on this list cannot match.
After that, players are ranked based how underappreciated they are, not how great they are. You will find some familiar Hall of Fame snubs on this list (like Jim Marshall, pictured above), but also plenty of players who were even snubbed from the Hall of Fame snubs, plus some current players who aren't getting their due.
And you're never going to guess who's No. 1.
The Chicago Cubs started the 2016 season with a sparkling 25-6 record before ultimately overcoming 108 years of frustration with a World Series title. This year's version has the 25 in the win column but an uglier 24 in the loss column.
Rogers noted Maddon was trying to emphasize there is no panic in the clubhouse even if the Chicago faithful are feeling uneasy after the team's three-game sweep at the hands of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Reigning National League MVP Kris Bryant didn't seem particularly concerned with the team's place in the standings on May 28, either, per Rogers:
"I don't see any reason to worry, especially given what we did last year. There is no need to worry. You're going to have your good years, you're going to have your bad years. Your good starts, your bad starts. This is an average start; it's not a terrible start. Sometimes it happens. We've spoiled ourselves with last year and that start. I guess it's a good thing to have those expectations because we do, too."
Chicago's starting pitching has been plenty disappointing, and even its most consistent starter, Jon Lester, was crushed Sunday for six earned runs in a 9-4 loss. What's more, 2015 National League Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta sports a 4.92 ERA, Kyle Hendricks 3.25 ERA isn't quite last year's league-leading 2.13 and John Lackey boasts an ugly 5.18 mark.
That foursome was the backbone of last year's World Series team, making the struggles all the more stark.
However, it is unfair to pin all of the blame on the arms. Slugger Kyle Schwarber is hitting .177, shortstop Addison Russell is at .217 and even superstar Anthony Rizzo is hitting .239. Schwarber and Russell, in particular, look nothing like the World Series heroes they were a season ago.
Rogers also noted the Cubs are dead last in the National League in hitting with runners in scoring position, exacerbating their problems at the most inopportune times.
ESPN Stats & Info put the hitting concerns into perspective:
The silver lining for Chicago and the likely reason Maddon and Bryant weren't too concerned is the fact it is only May 28. There is still plenty of time to turn things around, and the Cubs are just 1.5 games behind the surprising first-place Milwaukee Brewers.
Chicago has the talent to change the narrative surrounding its 2017 season. Even if it doesn't, every single Cubs fan "freaking out" can still take solace in knowing they were a part of history a year ago.
The field for the 2017 NCAA men's golf championship trimmed to 15 teams Sunday following the third round at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Illinois.
The Vanderbilt Commodores lead the Oklahoma Sooners, UNLV Rebels and USC Trojans by a shot, while the Illinois Fighting Illini and Oklahoma State Cowboys remain in the hunt, sitting four and six strokes back, respectively.
Top 15 Teams
1. Vanderbilt (-18)
T2. Oklahoma (-17)
T2. UNLV (-17)
T2. USC (-17)
5. Illinois (-14)
6. Oklahoma State (-12)
T7. Baylor (-9)
T7. Virginia (-9)
9. Auburn (-8)
10. LSU (-6)
11. Texas (-5)
12. Florida State (-4)
13. Oregon (+1)
14. Pepperdine (+5)
15. UCF (+7)
Vanderbilt combined to tie for the lowest score of the third round, which helped the Commodores climb into first place. They were eight-under Sunday. Matthias Schwab, who's tied for third in the individual tournament, carded a two-under 70. Theo Humphrey and John Augenstein each finished three under as well.
The Commodores' official Twitter account noted how Humphrey closed with an excellent back nine:
Max McGreevy is a big reason Oklahoma finds itself in a three-way tie for second place.
Only two Sooners golfers finished under par for the round. McGreevy was one of the two, going four-under, and like Humphrey, he wrapped up his day with an eagle on No. 18. The Sooners shared a clip of the senior sinking his eagle putt:
With his strong performance Sunday, McGreevy at least remains in contention for the individual title.
At this point, though, that tournament is Scottie Scheffler's to lose. The Texas star holds a two-shot lead through 54 holes after going four-under for the third straight round.
Scheffler tasted victory at the 2013 U.S. Junior Amateur and was the Big 12 champion as a freshman in 2015. As a result, it's little surprise he isn't rattled by the big stage.
"Being afraid? I don't really think so," Scheffler said of golfing major events, per Golfweek's Brentley Romine. "There's nothing really to be afraid of. I'm not really in control of what happens in the end. All I can do is control what I can control."
Barring a complete collapse, the Longhorns junior will add another accolade to his already-impressive golf career.
For most members of Kent State and Stanford, the quest for individual honors ended Sunday. The Golden Flashes and Cardinal each finished 11 over for the round and tumbled down the leaderboard, well off the top-15 pace.
The two teams picked the worst time to have their worst collective rounds of the event.
Miami Heat president Pat Riley knows a little something about the greatest players in NBA history considering he coached Magic Johnson with the Los Angeles Lakers and helped bring LeBron James to Miami.
Riley said Saturday he was impressed with James' seventh straight trip to the NBA Finals but urged fans not to forget Johnson's Showtime Lakers made the trip nine times in 12 years, per TMZ Sports.
Riley and Johnson are close beyond just their connection as former player and coach. Johnson is the new Lakers president and said on ESPN Los Angeles he's talked to Riley as he moves into the front office (h/t Tom D'Angelo of the Palm Beach Post).
With the NBA Finals not starting until Thursday, there has been plenty of conversation comparing James to some of the all-time greats, most notably Michael Jordan since the King surpassed the North Carolina product in all-time playoff scoring during the Eastern Conference Finals.
Despite the Jordan comparisons, James may resemble Johnson even more as a player. Jordan enforced his will on games with unrelenting scoring, while James and Johnson are more versatile triple-double threats who can score or find teammates with precision passing.
James can add another line to his incredible resume if he beats the mighty Golden State Warriors in the Finals for the second consecutive year, but Riley doesn't want fans forgetting Johnson's greatness as James builds his own.
ESPN.com news services reported the story and noted Taillon struck out six for the Double-A Altoona Curve against the Erie SeaWolves.
Taillon released a heartfelt statement after the news of his diagnosis initially broke:
Taillon is just 25 years old with a bright future as the No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 amateur draft behind superstar Bryce Harper. Taillon has a 3.31 ERA and 1.33 WHIP in six starts this season and posted a 3.38 ERA in 18 starts as a rookie last year.
Sunday was an important step in his journey back to the major league level, and he impressed during his limited workload.
The field for the 2017 Women's College World Series will be set with the conclusion of the super regional round.
The Florida Gators, UCLA Bruins, Oregon Ducks and Oklahoma Sooners have already sealed passage to Oklahoma City. Another four will join them Sunday.
NCAA Softball shared a copy of the full tournament bracket before the event began:
The full schedule for the WCWS is also available on NCAA.com. World Series play will begin Thursday at 11 a.m. ET, with the final game scheduled for June 7.
Below are the scores from Sunday's four games and a recap of the results.
No. 13 LSU def. No. 4 Florida State, 6-4
No. 9 Texas A&M def. No. 8 Tennessee, 5-3
No. 15 Baylor def. No. 2 Arizona, 6-5
No. 11 Utah vs. No. 6 Washington, 10 p.m. ET
LSU 6, Florida State 4
Sahvanna Jaquish powered LSU to a 6-4 win over Florida State to advance to the Women's College World Series.
The senior catcher went 2-for-3 at the plate and drove home four runs. Her two-run double put the Tigers ahead 2-0 in the top of the third, and she plated two more runs in the fourth to make it a 5-1 game.
As a result of her efforts, Jaquish's teammates singled her out during the postgame celebration, per the Advocate's James Bewers:
Carley Hoover also deserves credit for entering the game in a difficult spot and shutting down the Seminoles offense.
The junior right-hander came on in relief of Allie Walljasper with two outs in the fourth inning, runners on first and second and LSU leading 5-3. A wild pitch from Hoover allowed the runners to move up a base, but she forced Alex Powers to pop up and end the inning.
Hoover also danced out of danger after Florida State loaded the bases with one out in the sixth.
"When the bases were loaded and [Jessie] Warren was up, that wasn't the best situation," she said after the game, per Bewers.
The Seminoles only managed to score one run in the inning, and Hoover maintained the Tigers' 5-4 lead before LSU added an insurance run in the seventh.
Texas A&M 5, Tennessee 3
A four-run third inning provided enough offense for Texas A&M to topple Tennessee, 5-3.
Things were going well for the Vols after they jumped ahead 3-0 after the second inning. Then the Aggies loaded the bases with one out. Ashley Walters brought home a run with a sacrifice fly, and Riley Sartain drilled a three-run home run to give A&M the lead.
NCAA Softball provided a replay of the homer:
Tori Vidales put another run on the board with a solo home run in the fifth.
The five runs were more than enough for Trinity Harrington, who struggled early on but found a comfort zone after Tennessee's early success at the plate. The Volunteers mustered one hit over the final five innings.
Harrington pitched a complete game, allowing six hits and three walks. ESPN's Holly Rowe tweeted how the junior right-hander's performance was even more impressive given the recent tragedy she experienced:
The Aggies are going to their first Women's College World Series in nearly a decade. They made back-to-back trips in 2007 and 2008.
Baylor 6, Arizona 5
With three runs in the final inning, Baylor will move on to Oklahoma City. The Lady Bears beat Arizona 6-5—the third game in a row between the two teams decided by two runs or fewer.
The Wildcats held a 5-3 lead going into the seventh inning. Taylor McQuillin was tasked with shutting the door on Baylor. Entering Sunday, the sophomore had a 1.76 ERA and struck out 158 batters in 119.1 innings.
Baylor jumped on McQuillin early as Ari Hawkins doubled to lead off the inning. McQuillin then intentionally walked Shelby Friudenberg to put runners on first and second. The decision to walk Friudenberg backfired, as Shelby McGlaun hit a go-ahead three-run home run.
NCAA Softball shared a replay of the game's decisive blow:
Gia Rodoni, who had entered the game in the sixth for starter Kelsee Selman, encountered a bit of self-inflicted drama when she walked Tamara Statman and Dejah Mulipola in the bottom half of the seventh. Selman returned and walked Reyna Carranco to put runners on first and second for the Wildcats with one out.
But Selman then got Ashleigh Hughes to fly out and Nancy Bowling to ground out and end the game.
Both clubs have made world-record bids for the 18-year-old, according to French source Telefoot (h/t Metro):
"The French media outlet are reporting that City have lodged an offer that would greatly eclipse the €110 million (£93.2 million) paid by Manchester United to land Paul Pogba, the current world-record fee."
City's bid has spurred Los Blancos into action:
"Monaco are yet to reply to the offer, but it has prompted Real Madrid to up their own bid for the teenager and match City's €130 million package."
Real's chances of beating City to the player's signature can be helped by one or two factors. Los Merengues centre-back Raphael Varane has indicated he'll try to persuade Mbappe to consider a move to the Spanish capital.
Speaking to Telefoot (h/t MailOnline's Jonathan Spencer), Varane said: "Mbappe is a very good youngster with a huge potential. It would be a pleasure to see him here. In addition to that he is French, so he would be welcome. We will surely get the chance to discuss this."
Varane's charm offensive is one reason why Real may have the upper hand in any negotiations for Mbappe. The player himself is also thought to be a fan of Los Blancos based on some of his posts on social media, per Metro.
Earlier this month, Mbappe was said to have given his consent for a move to Real worth £85 million, according to Spanish source Marca (h/t MailOnline's Anthony Hay).
Any suitor ready to pursue Mbappe would also have been encouraged by the words of Monaco chairman Dmitry Rybolovlev, who recently told French publication L'Equipe (h/t beIN Sports' Matt Spiro), the club is ready to do business:
It's obvious why Mbappe commands such interest. After all, the teenage attacker turned heads and set records during a remarkable season, per Squawka Football:
Mbappe helped Monaco win the Ligue 1 title, but his arrival may hold even greater significance in Madrid, should Real be able to sign him. The Spanish giants have often been criticised for their policy of spending big on so-called galacticos, but they rarely sign stars as young as Mbappe.
However, the club did just agree a deal to sign 16-year-old Brazilian forward Vinicius Junior from Flamengo in a £38 million deal.
Mbappe is a budding talent, one who would safeguard the future of a Real forward line led by 32-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo and 29-year-old Karim Benzema.
Real Reject David De Gea Valuation
Real president Florentino Perez has baulked at Manchester United's asking price for goalkeeper David De Gea. Diario Gol (h/t James Walters of the Daily Star) reported United want £61 million for the Spain international.
However, Los Blancos president Florentino Perez will only pay a reduced fee for Spain's No. 1, per the report:
"Perez has told Jose Mourinho he will not pay any more than £44 million (€50 million) for De Gea. Diario Gol says the Real chief knows how much the stopper wants to move to the Bernabeu and is playing hardball with United."
The article also stated it will be left to De Gea to force his way out of Old Trafford this summer. It's something he may find difficult, with the Red Devils increasingly confident of keeping the gifted stopper, according to Samuel Luckhurst of the Manchester Evening News.
United winning the UEFA Europa League and qualifying for next season's UEFA Champions League is said to have improved the club's chances of convincing De Gea to stay, per Luckhurst.
However, it's tough to believe De Gea would ultimately turn his back on the chance to return to the Spanish capital. He became a star at Atletico Madrid before moving to Manchester, and the opportunity to play for 11-time European champions Real may be too good to pass up.
Signing De Gea would give Real a younger, standout presence between the sticks. Yet Real and Perez are in a position to play hardball over the fee for the 26-year-old, with a quality 'keeper already on the books in the form of Keylor Navas, 30.
In truth, Perez may have no choice but to undercut United's price for De Gea if he intends to push ahead with a record-breaking deal for Mbappe.
"We need to help our bench," per CSN's Chase Hughes (h/t Dan Feldman of NBC Sports). "Just to be honest, that was our downfall in each series that we had in the [Eastern Conference] semifinals, our bench got out played."
He also took issue with Kelly Oubre's playing time.
"I think Kelly Oubre could've played a little bit more. … But Coach [Scott Brooks] makes the decision, and we stick behind him 100 percent."
Wall and the Wizards lost to the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the second round after a six-game battle with the Atlanta Hawks in the first. Oubre averaged just 6.5 points per game against Boston but shot 51.6 percent from the field and reached double figures in three of the seven contests.
Wall finished Game 7 with a respectable 18 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds after he drilled the winning three in Game 6, but he appeared to run out of gas and missed his last 11 shots from the field.
Even though Feldman also pointed out Washington's starting lineup outscored opponents by 4.7 points per 100 possessions, other lineups featuring the bench got outscored by 15.5 points per 100 possessions, and the additional time on the court likely cost Wall his legs with the season on the line.
"I heard Marcus Smart say after the game that I had no legs," Wall said. "He's basically right. I don't make excuses. I'm going to play. If I miss shots or make shots, I'll live with it. I know people will say he finished 0-for-11, but I play—it took everything I had in me to keep fighting."
These comments come after Wall said "Forty-eight to five—our bench had five points," following the Game 7 defeat, per Jeff Goodman of ESPN.com.
Talent was not a question in Washington's starting lineup, and Beal even said "Cleveland didn't want to see us," via Hughes. Perhaps Washington would have given LeBron James and the Cavaliers a better test than the five games Boston did, but the bench struggles helped prevent that from happening.
Wall certainly noticed.
LSU is the 2017 SEC baseball champion.
Eric Walker pitched 7.2 innings of one-run baseball and Antoine Duplantis scored two runs to lift the Tigers to a 4-2 victory over fourth-seeded Arkansas in Sunday's conference championship game.
Walker struck out eight batters and allowed just five hits before ceding to the bullpen. The 6-foot righty's only run allowed came on a solo home run by Arkansas' Eric Cole, who briefly gave the Razorbacks a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the third inning.The SEC Network shared a replay of the homer:
LSU responded by scoring three of its four runs in the top of the fourth, with Nick Coomes, Josh Smith and Bryce Jordan driving in one apiece.
Coomes, who only got two actual at-bats on the afternoon as he was pitched around, also drove in a run in the sixth inning on a sacrifice fly.
Duplantis scored his second of two runs with a great slide to avoid the tag by Arkansas catcher Grant Koch. Glenn Guilbeau of Gannett Media complimented the slide:
Once the Tigers gave Walker a bit of breathing room, Arkansas never really had much of a chance to mount a comeback. Walker calmly mowed through the Razorbacks lineup with precision, rarely even working with runners on base. No Arkansas player had more than one hit against Walker.
The Razorbacks' best comeback chance came in the ninth inning when they got runners on first and second with one out against Hunter Newman. The LSU closer recorded an out on the first batter he faced but then proceeded to walk Koch and plunk Evan Lee to put runners on.
Cole drove in his second run of the game with two outs, and then Newman intentionally walked Chad Spanberger to load the bases. With pressure mounting, his command in a rut and the game-tying run on second, Newman got Luke Bonfield to ground into a fielder's choice to end the game.
Scott Rabalais of the Advocate commented on Newman's wild inning:
LSU, ranked seventh in last week's polls, will now await the NCAA selection committee's determination on where it'll stand heading into the tournament. The Tigers ranked only behind Florida among SEC teams coming into the conference tournament and may vault ahead of the Gators after the championship.
Arkansas will also have no trouble making the dance, sitting 13th in the polls coming into the weekend. The Razorbacks' seeding would have just been helped had they been able to get over the hump Sunday.
Kevin Kisner was off the green after two shots on the par-four 18th with a narrow one-stroke lead over Jon Rahm, who was set for a birdie putt.
It appeared as if the twosome was hurtling toward a tiebreak during Sunday's final round of the Dean & Deluca Invitational at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, but Kisner scrambled for the par and benefitted from Rahm's miss to end the tiebreak threat. After Webb Simpson's bogey on the same hole, Kisner clinched the title.
Here is a look at the top 10, as well as the prize-money payouts, per ESPN.com:Place Golfer Score Payout 1 Kevin Kisner -10 $1.242 million T2 Jordan Spieth -9 $515,200 T2 Sean O'Hair -9 $515,200 T2 Jon Rahm -9 $515,200 5 Webb Simpson -8 $276,000 6 Danny Lee -7 $248,400 T7 Steve Stricker -6 $215,050 T7 Brian Harman -6 $215,050 T7 Scott Piercy -6 $215,050
The full leaderboard can be found on the PGA Tour's official website.
Kisner maintained the lead and win with the pressure-packed scramble, but he won the tournament on the turn after Sunday's front nine. He followed up two birdies and a bogey on the front with birdies on Nos. 10, 11 and 12 before another on No. 15.
He started the streak with a beautiful putt:
Kisner's bogey on No. 16 opened the door for Rahm, who shook off an early bogey with birdies on Nos. 14 and 17 to put himself a single stroke behind entering the final hole. His wild approach shot on No. 17 put even more pressure on the leader:
However, his birdie putt on No. 18 went wide, ending his chances.
Rahm wasn't the only one applying pressure to Kisner. Jordan Spieth was in hot pursuit throughout Sunday's round and even temporarily seized the lead at times. He shot a blistering five-under par for the day and wasted little time leaping into contention with birdies on Nos. 1, 2 and 5.
He made a statement to the rest of the contenders he was here to challenge for a title, but he couldn't muster up enough birdies to capture the crown and instead settled for 13 pars.
While Kisner, Rahm and Spieth made plenty of noise Sunday, it was Simpson who held the lead entering the final round. However, two bogeys and just one birdie doomed him to a fifth-place finish, when all it would have taken was a two-under-par performance to win the tournament.
Mike McAllister of the PGA Tour's official website noted Simpson had just one top-10 in 16 starts this season before the tournament, so the 2012 U.S. Open winner can at least take solace knowing he played better than the majority of his campaign to this point.
Elsewhere, 50-year-old Steve Stricker turned back the clock with a seven-under 63 Sunday. He was an afterthought coming into the final round at one over par, but eight birdies and one bogey gave him a top-10 finish as well and what the PGA Tour called the "round of the day":
The shot of the day went to Brian Stuard, who tallied a hole-in-one on No. 16 as part of a head-turning back nine. He had four birdies and the eagle on those last nine holes, but three bogeys and a double-bogey throughout the round were too much to overcome even though he had four more birdies on the front.
While Stuard thrilled with his ace, Kisner seized momentum heading into the summer portion of the schedule with a steady performance in the face of a number of challengers.
Seattle Seahawks star Richard Sherman believes good grades are important, and he put his money where his mouth is for one student.
According to Wes McElroy of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the All-Pro cornerback promised to personally fund a scholarship for Hershai James of Varina High School in Virginia on the condition she became an honor roll student as a senior.
When James held up her end of the bargain, so did Sherman.
"It goes back to knowledge is power and if you have knowledge you’re going to be as powerful as you ever want to be," the Stanford graduate said.
James needed to earn a 3.0 grade point average to make honor roll and get the scholarship, and as she explained, Sherman's promise went a long way toward helping her achieve this milestone.
"When my senior year began, I definitely had the scholarship in my head as motivation," James said. "With being a senior, the year is really stressful. Having something to look forward to helped. It’s like saying my hard work and dedication had paid off."
She is set to attend Norfolk State in the fall.
Quarterback Cammon Cooper committed to the Washington State Cougars Sunday.
Cooper announced his decision on Twitter:
"From the first day, the coaches at Washington State told me I was the No. 1 guy they wanted," he said of his thought process behind selecting the Cougars, per Scout's Blair Angulo. "I felt like a high priority talking to other schools, too, but I just had the best feelings with Washington State."
Cooper is the No. 25 quarterback in the 2018 recruiting class, according to Scout.
The Lehi, Utah, native should feel right at home in Mike Leach's pass-happy offense. He threw for 4,059 yards, 38 touchdowns and 13 interceptions as a junior in 2016, per MaxPreps.
Cooper told Angulo he has already spoken with the Cougars' current starting quarterback, Luke Falk, on what it's like to play under Leach.
"Luke told me there's a transition period with coach Leach because everyone always sees him as a quirky guy," Cooper said. "But after that awkward period, your relationship takes off."
After redshirting his first year at Washington State, Falk replaced an injured Connor Halliday in 2014 and remained the team's starting QB for the next two years.
Cooper could be poised to play a big role in the Cougars offense in 2018 following Falk's graduation. Tyler Hilinski will be his biggest competition for the starting job. Hilinski went 24-of-30 for 245 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in three games as a redshirt freshman.
Even if Hilinski wins the QB battle in 2018, he'll only have two years of eligibility remaining, allowing Cooper plenty of time to leave his mark on the Cougars.
Oklahoma State completed its shocking run through the Big 12 tournament to win its first championship since 2004.
The Cowboys held on for a 6-5 victory over Texas in the conference title game Sunday, earning the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament in the process.
Cliff Brunt of the Associated Press captured the celebration following the win:
Thanks to earlier victories over Texas Tech and West Virginia, the squad also became the first-ever No. 8 seed to win this event.
It was a wild game that featured 24 combined hits and 14 total pitchers, but the Cowboys found a way to survive in Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City.
Aaron Fitt of D1 Baseball described the turnaround for the eventual winners:
Oklahoma State relied on its top-of-the-order stars to carry the load in this one, with Ryan Cash and Garrett McCain each making big plays at the plate throughout the day.
Cash finished 4-for-5 from the leadoff spot while McCain went 3-for-4, including three different run-scoring hits.
Bryce Fischer also added a 3-for-5 effort, including this home run in the seventh to build a three-run lead:
This ended up being the deciding run with the bullpen holding on for the win.
Neither starting pitcher lasted long in this game as it required a team effort to get through nine innings.
Oklahoma State starter C.J. Varela allowed two runs in the first on the back of three straight hits by the middle of the Texas lineup. The Longhorns eventually built a 3-1 lead for starter Morgan Cooper, who exited after allowing one run in three innings.
The Cowboys made their move from there, tying the game on a two-run single by Cash before McCain followed it up with an RBI single to give them a 4-3 lead after four. All three runs were charged to Connor Mayes, who got just one out on the mound.
Oklahoma State then utilized a handful of impressive defensive plays to stay in front:
Texas eventually fought back in the eighth inning with RBI singles from Zane Gurwitz and Ryan Reynolds to cut a 6-3 lead to 6-5.
However, Carson Teel navigated some trouble to close out the final two innings for Oklahoma State and secure the victory. Blake Battenfield was credited for the win as the first pitcher out of the bullpen.
The Longhorns showed a lot of resolve in the game, fighting back numerous times while finishing 8-for-16 in two-out at-bats (compared to 0-for-9 for the Cowboys). Unfortunately, David Hamilton couldn't come through with the game on the line in the final out, popping up with a runner on second.
Kacy Clemens and Bret Boswell each had three hits in the losing effort.
Despite the loss, Texas should still earn a bid to the NCAA tournament, although its position will come down to the committee. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State also grabbed a spot, and with plenty of momentum, this should be a formidable opponent for anyone in the draw.
Note: All statistics courtesy of the Big 12 official site.
Washington Nationals hurler Stephen Strasburg mowed down 15 San Diego Padres hitters via the strikeout over seven shutout innings Saturday. Two relievers—Matt Albers and Koda Glover—both added one of their own as the pitchers finished the night with 17 strikeouts in a 3-0 victory.
While the showing by the hurlers Saturday was impressive enough, the starters and relievers Thursday and Friday supplied an additional 13 and 14 whiffs for the collective group to finish the three-game stretch with 44 total strikeouts. The output tied the Milwaukee Brewers' three-game stretch in 2012 for the highest in National League history over a consecutive three-game span, per the Elias Sports Bureau (via ESPN.com).
The Nationals pitching staff started the season off slowly but has really come into its own of late. Over the past week (prior to Sunday) the club posted a league-best 2.03 ERA with 80 strikeouts to earn a 5-2 record. Part of the issue has been the team's bullpen, which struggled to convert save opportunities.
Given the club's current pitching staff and the offense backing it up, the Nationals figure to be one of the favorites to make a postseason run in 2017.
Thus far, the club has accumulated an NL East-best 30-18 record (prior to Sunday's result) and sits 8.5 clear of the Atlanta Braves. While there is still a long way to go, many of the teams in the East have numerous flaws, potentially allowing the Nationals to run away with the division this year. Once they make it there, the club's four-man playoff rotation should match up with anyone as it pursues the franchise's first-ever World Series appearance.
LeBron James is a defending champion and one of the greatest players in NBA history. It should come as no surprise then that he sees the Cleveland Cavaliers' chances against the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals as "very good."
James made the comments Sunday, saying, "I feel good about our chances," per Tom Withers of the Associated Press.
James and the Cavaliers will start their journey to defend the Larry O'Brien Trophy on Thursday in Oracle Arena in their third straight NBA Finals matchup against the Warriors. Even with James leading the way, Cleveland is facing a daunting task considering all Golden State did after winning an NBA-record 73 games last season was add Kevin Durant to the Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green mix.
A confluence of events occurred in last year's Finals to help Cleveland overcome a 3-1 deficit, including Green's Game 5 suspension, Andrew Bogut's knee injury and what appeared to be lingering physical effects for Curry.
Of course, one of those events was also James' entering another stratosphere and scoring 41 points in each of Games 5 and 6 before notching a triple-double on the road in Game 7. He has the power to do that again, which is likely the major reason he sees his team's chances as "very good."
The outside world may not agree with his assessment—Golden State is minus-240 to win the title on OddsShark, while Cleveland is plus-200—but James' mere presence gives Cleveland an opportunity to win any series.
A report from Italian source TransferMarketWeb.com (h/t Marc Williams of the Daily Star) says Klopp could see Gotze as Coutinho's ideal replacement. Williams also noted how the Germany international "was heavily linked with a move to Liverpool last summer."
The TMW report pointed out how Gotze is contracted to Dortmund until 2020. However, Klopp's history with the player could count in Liverpool's favour should any deal be negotiated this summer.
Gotze was once Klopp's star pupil during the latter's spell in charge at BVB. The pair won two Bundesliga titles as the former Bayern Munich man became a key member of a fluid and prolific attack.
Of course, signing Gotze would only become necessary should Brazil international Coutinho move to the Camp Nou. He's regularly been linked with Barca but recently downplayed the speculation to ESPN Brasil (h/t Metro's Tom Olver): "I have a long contract with Liverpool. Speculations are for journalists only."
Even so, Coutinho's national-team boss Tite believes the silky schemer would be a perfect fit at Barcelona, per Joaquim Piera of Sport:
"I don't want to be pretentious and give an opinion on Barça, but who wouldn't want a player like Coutinho? That magic, that capacity to invent and create something, that change of rhythm, the way he builds play..."
There is little doubt Coutinho would suit Barca, a club reliant on a philosophy of attractive, possession-based football. Yet Klopp is emphasising the same style at Liverpool. In fact, his adherence to high-pressing, rapid transitions and fluid combination play have brought out the best in Coutinho.
The Brazilian scored 13 goals and provided seven assists in the Premier League this term, per WhoScored.com. His performance inspired Liverpool to a top-four finish and qualification for next season's UEFA Champions League.
Gotze offers a similar level of flair and vision, but he's not as consistent as Coutinho.
If he was the Brazilian's replacement, Gotze would have to hope reuniting with Klopp would get him back to his best.
Liverpool Battling Rivals for Michael Keane
A report from the Daily Mail (h/t the Daily Mirror) noted how Mourinho is anxious for United to wrap up a deal for Keane quickly.
Liverpool retain an interest in the 24-year-old defender, who was once on the books at Old Trafford, per the Mirror: "Liverpool's top defensive target is Southampton's Virgil van Dijk, but Keane is also on the radar should he not want to go back to the club that cast him aside."
Klopp will know how much his squad needs defensive reinforcements after conceding 42 times in the Premier League this season. Specifically, the Merseyside club needs a steady presence alongside Dejan Lovren.
Keane proved highly dependable during a solid season with Burnley in which he helped the Lancashire side finish 16th and avoid relegation. Sky Sports' Monday Night Football pundits Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville responded to the England international's links to Liverpool earlier this month.
Both Carragher and Neville felt Keane is afforded a lot of protection by the Turf Moor side's pragmatic approach, protection he may not get in Klopp's free-flowing tactics.
Liverpool need top quality at the heart of the back four next season. Keane is a player who could yet reach that level, depending on if Klopp believes he's ready to make the step up to Champions League football.
Either way, being in Europe's premier club competition again means Liverpool will still need Coutinho in the ranks.