All posts by Daniel Feliciano

UFC 251: 3 Title Fights Announced – Early Predictions

The UFC dropped a bomb today as they announced the full main card for UFC 251, on Fight Island, with THREE huge title fights headlining.

Dana White took to Facebook Live to confirm the leaked location for Fight Island was in fact true and is located on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, where UFC 112 was located. White then confirmed the UFC had finalised bout agreements for 3 title fights to headline the card.

Kamaru Usman will defend his Welterweight title against team-mate Gilbert Burns, with the Brazilian fresh off a big win over former champ Tyron Woodley just two weekends ago. Alexander Volkanovski will fight Max Holloway in their rematch for the Featherweight title, with the New Zealander looking to do the double over ‘Blessed’. If that wasn’t enough, the anticipated bout between Petr Yan and Jose Aldo for the vacant Bantamweight title is also confirmed for this card. The rest of the card will comprise of two women’s fights, with Jessica Andrade and Rose Namajunas finally meeting in their long-awaited rematch while Paige van Zant will fight Amanda Ribas. The card will take place on July 11th 2020.

Burns is rewarded for his “willingness to fight”, having already competed twice since the Covid-19 pandemic took over the world. He fought and KO’d Demian Maia in the main event of UFC Fight Night Brasilia in March in the first behind closed doors event, before his win over Woodley earlier this month.

According to Ariel Helwani, the UFC tried again to get Usman and Jorge Masvidal made but when that collapsed again they moved on to Gilbert Burns.

Alexander Volkanovski has been expected to make his first defence against former champion Max Holloway for a while, but the date is finally confirmed. Volkanovski beat Holloway in a one-sided unanimous decision for the belt back in December but had acknowledged prior to that fight that if he won he’d grant Holloway an immediate rematch. Before that fight, ‘Blessed’ was on a 14-fight win streak at Featherweight, including 3 successful title defences.

Petr Yan will look to cash in on the hype he’s received recently when he runs into Jose Aldo on Fight Island. Yan is undefeated in the UFC defeating John Dodson, Jimmie Rivera and Urijah Faber in his last three bouts. Aldo on the other hand can count himself lucky to be in this fight. The Brazilian has lost 5 of his last 8 fights in the UFC, including his debut in the Bantamweight division to Marlon Moraes in December. Many people believed he won that fight, including Dana White, which is why he was considered for the bout to begin with – although Aljamain Sterling put his name into the hat even more-so with his big win at UFC 250.

My early thoughts on these fights are that you’re unlikely to see many surprises on this card. Usman and Burns are teammates and even share the same coaches in the Blackzillians camp. They’ll know each other better than any of their other opponents possibly could, which should make for an intriguing fight. Usman though is the bigger fighter and we’ve seen how dominant he can be when he implements a wrestling game and how dangerous he can be on his feet. Burns is a BJJ world champion and a crisp striker himself, but Usman’s size will prove too much for him and ‘The Nigerian Nightmare’ will emerge victorious.

Similarly, I expect Volkanovski to retain his belt too. In MMA, it’s very rare that a rematch in a title fight has a differing result the second time around. Alexander ‘The Great’ executed a picture perfect game-plan when these two fought for the first time, keeping the up with the pace of Holloway and landing heavy leg-kicks to slow down his opponent. Holloway landed strikes but nothing that looked even remotely troubling Volkanovski and I’d be surprised if this fight didn’t go in a very similar way to the first one.

The Bantamweight title fight is a clash of two different sides of momentum. Yan is on a hot-streak and Aldo is on the total opposite. Aldo looked good in his Bantamweight debut and still came short according to the judges, while Yan steamrolled through Urijah Faber with a KO win. ‘No Mercy’ will look to start quickly and overwhelm Aldo, who’s career is beginning to spiral. I’m going with a KO win for Yan inside three rounds.

Fedor Emelianenko vs Brock Lesnar

The consensus greatest heavyweight of all time Fedor Emelianenko will always be remembered as “the one who got away” for UFC fans.

The legendary heavyweight dominated the sport for over a decade reigning supreme as the PRIDE Heavyweight Champion, being the first and last WAMMA Heavyweight Champion as well as winning multiple Open-weight tournaments. He has wins against names such as Antonio ‘Big Nog’ Nogueira (twice), Mark Coleman (twice), Kevin Randleman, Gary Goodridge, Mirko Cro-Cop, Mark Hunt, Tim Sylvia, Frank Mir, Andrei Arlovski, Chael Sonnen and Rampage Jackson on his record too, solidifying his claim as one of the all-time greats. Due to contract disputes and collapsed negotiations, Fedor never competed under the UFC banner.

UFC 200 - Weigh-in : News Photo
Photo Credit: Getty Images

Brock Lesnar is another “what if” for UFC fans, though in a different way. Lesnar didn’t start training MMA until 2006 and had his first professional fight in 2007. He then signed with the UFC later that year and within three fights he was the organisation’s Heavyweight Champion, defeating the legendary Randy Couture via TKO in the 2nd round. He defended the title twice successfully, beating Frank Mir in a rematch and then overcoming big trouble in the first round against Shane Carwin to defeat him via submission in the 2nd.

Lesnar’s dominance in the heavyweight division was short lived as he lost his next two fights to Cain Velasquez and Alistair Overeem after a battle with ulcerative colitis, before retiring. But many fans and experts alike would love to know what would’ve happened if Lesnar had trained for MMA from a young age.

His explosive power and speed for a guy who had to cut weight to make the 265lbs weight limit was staggering and his wrestling credentials stand up with the best the sport has seen. With more time to work on his striking game, which improved as he fought more, could have seen the most complete heavyweight since… Fedor Emelianenko.

The Russian was a clinical striker but had one of the most complete skillsets in MMA history. A multiple time World Champion in Combat Sambo, his grappling was a big part of the reason he was able to get so many knockouts. People didn’t want to go to ground with him and would rather take the chance of landing a big shot to put his lights out. Of his 39 wins, he got 15 KO’s and 15 submissions proving just how well rounded he was.

If the two fought each other during Lesnar’s peak (Fedor’s prime was arguably before Lesnar even started training), it would be a phenomenal battle that would shake the world. A must-see fight where you’re not really sure how it will go.

Pride Grand Prix 2005 - Final Round - Match - August 28, 2005 : News Photo
Photo Credit: Getty Images

Lesnar’s wrestling was so dominant and his fighting style quite one-dimensional. If he couldn’t get the takedown on Fedor, it would be over pretty quickly on the feet. But if he did? Lesnar’s sheer size and strength would likely be enough to subdue Fedor and he could work him from top position. Fedor would be comfortable on his back and likely look for submissions, but the reality is Lesnar would simply be too good in this position.

As the saying goes however, every fight starts on the feet and that’s why I give the edge to Emelianenko. His striking game was so crisp and his power so lethal, from what we’ve seen of Brock’s chin I’m not so sure he’d hold up. Fedor was a brutal finisher so if Brock got hurt it wouldn’t go on much longer than that either.

I’m giving the W to Fedor in this, via TKO by strikes, but it’s a real shame that we never got to see a fight that likely would have taken the sport up several levels globally long before Conor McGregor ever came around.

Why are Manchester United Interested in Donny Van de Beek?

Rumours are swirling right now on the Twitterverse that Manchester United are about to hijack Real Madrid’s move for Donny Van de Beek.

The Ajax midfielder was lined up by the Spanish giants, ironically, as an alternative to Paul Pogba and was expected to complete a €50m move to Madrid this summer. However, with the Covid-19 pandemic affecting finances globally, Real have reportedly backed out of the deal.

With Ajax and the player now frustrated that a deal that has reportedly been agreed for months could fall through, Manchester United may be about to save the day.

According to reports in Holland and England, the Red Devils have reignited their interest in the Dutch international and could look to secure his signature quickly. A bid of around €40m is expected to be lodged imminently, although it’s unclear whether that will be enough to close the deal. United are said to be using their contacts wisely here, profiting from the relationship between the club and Ajax CEO – former goalkeeper Edwin Van der Sar.

But why are they looking at Van de Beek? Their current midfield options include Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba, Fred, Nemanja Matic and Scott McTominay. Even in a slightly more advanced role United have Jesse Lingard and Andreas Pereira too. Solskjær has also spoken very highly of young academy talents Angel Gomes, James Garner and Dylan Levitt. So where does Van de Beek fit in?

Well for starters, three of those are expected to be leaving once this season is completed. Jesse Lingard is reportedly weighing up a move to Serie A, with AC Milan interested. Andreas Pereira has reportedly not done enough to impress Solskjær and will look to be sold, while Angel Gomes has a big decision to make on his future with his contract about to expire.

So that leaves the rest. Paul Pogba now looks almost certain to stay at the club, with United also holding the option to extend his contract for an extra 12 months if they so please. Bruno Fernandes has just arrived but has been so good he is almost a lock for any line-ups Solskjær is considering. Fred has improved tenfold since Ole took over and become incredibly important to the balance of the side. Then you have Matic who has just signed a new contract and McTominay, who is constantly praised by the manager.

Van de Beek has more quality than the latter 3 and has a skillset that could help him. It’s undeniable that he is at his best going forward, as he showed when he scored vs Tottenham in last season’s Champions League semi-finals. However his defensive work is overlooked.

In comparison to Fred and Matic, you can see from the images below that he’s not far off statistically in tackles and interceptions per/90 mins. VDB also makes less fouls, although that is likely because he does tend to play slightly further forward than the others.

Defensive statistic comparison between Van de Beek, Fred and Matic
Stats: WhoScored.com

Realistically, Solskjær is doing the right thing in trying to add some quality depth to an area that has been United’s weakness for far too long. The season began with fans screaming that a single injury to Pogba would curtail their season and while that wasn’t quite accurate, Fernandes’ arrival in January while Pogba missed most of the campaign with an ankle complaint has shown just how much they missed him. Van de Beek’s potential arrival will mean that the drop in quality if either of the aforementioned are unavailable is lessened, while his versatility could prove key in a title race.

At 23 years old, Van de Beek has his best years ahead of him and it could even be a case of planning ahead for the departure of Pogba. United have been linked with Jack Grealish for his versatility and ability, but if Van de Beek is available for around the €40-50m mark it would be criminal to pursue a deal for the Aston Villa captain who would almost certainly demand a fee almost double that.

It’s an interesting development in what will no doubt prove to be a very different transfer window this year. It would be sensible business though and that’s something Manchester United fans haven’t been able to talk about for a long while.

Top 10 P4P Fighters Ever

Conor McGregor, pre his third retirement in four years, started up a very interesting debate recently.

The Notorious one headed to Twitter to vocalise his thoughts on the ‘GOAT’ arguments that have been taking over social media recently. Conor, the first ever simultaneous two-weight World Champion in UFC history, ranked himself as “2nd if not joint first” behind the legendary Anderson Silva and ahead of the likes of Jon Jones and Georges St-Pierre.

Many laughed at the notion of McGregor being so high up on his own list, myself included. So I, inspired by the tweets and my friends at 8 Sides Podcast decided to do a Top 10 and see where I actually ranked him.

#10 Jose Aldo (28-6*)

UFC 245: Moraes v Aldo : News Photo
Photo Credit: Getty Images

Jose Aldo until recently was regarded as the greatest Featherweight that ever lived. The Brazilian native was handed the inaugural belt in the UFC after the organisation’s purchase of WEC and defended it an unprecedented 7 times in 4 years before his devastating KO loss to Conor McGregor.

Wins against guys like Chad Mendes (twice), Frankie Edgar (twice), Kenny Florian, Urijah Faber, Ricardo Lamas, Korean Zombie and Jeremy Stephens mean his CV holds up against anyone else on this list. That said, the loss to Conor came as he entered his prime years in the game and have seen him go on somewhat of a downward spiral since. Defeats to Max Holloway (twice), Alex Volkanovski and Marlon Moraes (135lbs) have seen him go 3-5 in his last 8.

Despite this, Dana White has said recently that the UFC is looking to have Aldo compete for the newly-vacant 135lbs belt soon so a win in that fight could see him stake a claim for a higher place on this list.

#9 Conor McGregor (22-4)

Conor Mcgregor Stock Pictures, Royalty-free Photos & Images ...
Photo Credit: Getty Images

Well, that was quick. The former Featherweight and Lightweight World champion, as well as two victories at 170lbs, McGregor is most definitely worthy of being on this list. A phenomenal record that includes wins over fighter like Jose Aldo, Chad Mendes, Dustin Poirier, Max Holloway, Nate Diaz, Eddie Alvarez and Cowboy Cerrone, McGregor constantly backs up his trash talk with big performances inside the Octagon.

The reason he’s so low down is that despite both of those title wins coming in emphatic fashion, he never actually defended those belts. After KO’ing Jose Aldo in 13 seconds, McGregor went on a voyage through the divisions. He was originally scheduled to fight Rafael Dos Anjos for the lightweight title immediately after, but RDA withdrew injured. That led to Nate Diaz stepping in on late notice and we all know what happened after that. By the time he’d defeated Alvarez to become a duel-weight champion, the Featherweight division was held up. The UFC stripped him of the belt and awarded it back to Aldo. McGregor then transitioned to boxing to fight Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather. He didn’t fight in the UFC following the Alvarez fight until his return to fight Khabib Nurmagomedov over three years later. The UFC moved on.

McGregor’s CV is undeniable but with all the gaps and questions left unanswered about his career, it’s hard to rank him any higher.

#8 Demetrious Johnson (30-3*)

Demetrious Johnson Fighter Stock Pictures, Royalty-free Photos ...
Photo Credit: Getty Images

Arguably the most complete fighter in Flyweight history, DJ’s record speaks volumes about his ability. Wins over Joseph Benavidez (twice), Henry Cejudo, John Dodson (twice), Ray Borg, Wilson Reis, Kyoji Horiguchi, Ian McCall and others saw ‘Mighty Mouse’ go on a 13-fight win streak including 11 successful title defences.

He would win fights in all ways too, with his iconic flying armbar against Ray Borg a particular highlight. Only 5 TKO/KO wins to his name is surprising considering how crisp his striking was throughout his tenure. Often dismissed by UFC management for his lack of draw, it didn’t help that Johnson literally cleaned out his entire division. He was so dominant, there was talk of a super-fight between he and TJ Dillashaw to spice the division up. That fell apart however when he suffered a controversial defeat to Henry Cejudo and lost the belt.

He left shortly the UFC shortly after that in a trade for Ben Askren to ONE Championship, but his skillset often has people wishing he was bigger physically so he could have fought more top level fighters in different divisions.

#7 Henry Cejudo (16-2)

Henry Cejudo Stock Pictures, Royalty-free Photos & Images - Getty ...
Photo Credit: Getty Images

An Olympic Gold medalist in freestyle wrestling, Cejudo’s legacy extends far beyond the sport of MMA. His legacy in this sport stands up with the best ever though. He has wins over Demetrious Johnson, TJ Dillashaw, Marlon Moraes, Dominick Cruz, Sergio Pettis, Wilson Reis and Jussier Formiga across two weight divisions and held both the Flyweight and Bantamweight titles simultaneously.

After losing to Mighty Mouse by KO and then to Joseph Benavidez by decision in 2016, ‘The Chosen One’ never lost again. He avenged his defeat to Johnson in a controversial decision win, before KO’ing TJ Dillashaw in a champion vs champion bout in just 32 seconds. At that point he moved up to Dillashaw’s Bantamweight division and took his belt, beating Marlon Moraes by KO for the vacant title following Dillashaw’s suspension. To top it off, he defeated the consensus greatest Bantamweight of all-time in Dominick Cruz via second-round knockout in May, handing Cruz only his 3rd defeat ever.

Cejudo retired following that win and vacated his belts, meaning he retired from the sport having held two titles in two different weight classes and having beaten the consensus G.O.A.T in both those divisions too. Not bad for the ‘King of Cringe’, eh?

#6 Khabib Nurmagomedov (28-0*)

Khabib Nurmagomedov Stock Pictures, Royalty-free Photos & Images ...
Photo Credit: Getty Images

Undefeated, untroubled and unchallenged. Khabib Nurmagomedov is the greatest lightweight of all time and has defeated all comers, including Conor McGregor, Dustin Poirier, Al Iaquinta, Edson Barboza, Rafael Dos Anjos and Michael Johnson.

An unblemished record at this level of MMA is an unheard of accomplishment, so when Khabib continues to take on all challengers without complaint and beats them (usually convincingly) it’s hard not to have him high up on this list. His style of completely overwhelming an opponent to the point where they just completely lose hope is a sight that fans enjoy watching despite it’s dominance. ‘The Eagle’ is also a massive draw commercially, having been a part of the biggest PPV in UFC history when he main-evented UFC 229 with Conor McGregor, while he was also the headline attraction for the organisation’s first card in Abu Dhabi against Dustin Poirier.

He’s expected to defend the title against Justin Gaethje later this year, while other challengers like Tony Ferguson still wait in the wings. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that he beats both Gaethje and ‘El Cucoy’ and then retires with an unflappable 30-0 record as the undisputed best lightweight of all time.

#5 Daniel Cormier (22-2*)

UFC 230: Cormier v Lewis : News Photo
Photo Credit: Getty Images

The baddest man on the planet for a long time, but also one of the greatest minds in MMA. Cormier was the reigning champion in both the Light Heavyweight and Heavyweight divisions, defending both belts successfully. He has wins over Stipe Miocic, Derrick Lewis, Anthony ‘Rumble’ Johnson, Alexander Gustafsson, Anderson Silva, Dan Henderson, Roy Nelson, Frank Mir and Volkan Oezdemir during his career, proving he knows how to come out on top on the big occasion.

Cormier, a teammate of Khabib, ranks at No.5 mainly due to the double title wins. He held both belts simultaneously after moving up from 205lbs to defeat Stipe Miocic by 1st round KO, before the UFC forced him to vacate the Light Heavyweight belt. He defended that belt too before losing to Stipe, and a rubber match is slated for this year before he retires.

DC’s only fault is that he could never beat Jon Jones. He lost a decision to Jones in their first bout before being head-kick KO’d in their second (later overturned to a NC). Other than those results, Cormier would without be the greatest big-man the sport has ever seen, having dominated the Light Heavyweight division in Jones’ absence while also only ever losing once at heavyweight.

#4 Amanda Nunes (20-4*)

UFC 250: Nunes v Spencer : News Photo
Photo Credit: Getty Images

The undisputed, greatest female fighter of all-time. The Lioness extended her winning record at UFC250 with a win over Felicia Spencer, adding another former champion to her resumé. Nunes has beaten Germaine De Randamie (twice), Valentina Shevchenko (twice), Miesha Tate, Holly Holm, Raquel Pennington, Cris Cyborg and Ronda Rousey in her career, with the latter two taking her just a combined 1:39 to KO.

She’s a two-weight World Champion, holding both the Bantamweight and Featherweight titles at the same time. She has beaten every single woman to have held a title in the UFC in her two weight divisions, all while improving and growing as an all-round mixed martial artist in the process. She is the hardest hitting female in history, and yet ironically won her first belt by tapping-out Miesha Tate via RNC. She’s currently on a 11-fight win streak, having not tasted defeat since 2014.

While nobody is truly sure what’s next for Nunes, her legacy is cemented as the first fighter (male or female) to defend two titles in two weight divisions successfully while simultaneously holding both belts. A true GOAT.

#3 Anderson Silva (34-10*)

UFC 126: Silva vs. Belfort : News Photo
Photo Credit: Getty Images

The Spider is one of the most charismatic and dominant champions in UFC history. A legendary figure among MMA fighters and fans, Silva has wins over Chris Leben, Rich Franklin, Dan Henderson, Forest Griffin, Demian Maia, Chael Sonnen (twice), Vitor Belfort, Yushin Okami and Stephan Bonnar on his CV.

The Brazilian dominated the middleweight division in his prime, defending the Middleweight title 10 times after unifying the division with the Pride title. He fought in both middleweight and light-heavyweight divisions throughout his career and until his career began to wind down he was unbeaten in both. His first loss in middleweight came after he was mocking Chris Weidman and got KO’d with a grazing right hand, before breaking his leg famously in the rematch. The leg break was a defining moment in his career that he never really recovered from. He lost at light-heavyweight to champion Daniel Cormier at UFC 200 as a late replacement. He’s suffered with several positive drug tests since USADA came in which has somewhat damaged his reputation too.

Since his broken leg Silva’s record reads 1-5-1NC, showing just how much it really affected him. He continues to fight even at 45 years old. Despite the recent damage his record has taken, his legacy remains untouched and he will go down as one of the greatest fighters of all-time.

#2 Georges St-Pierre (26-2)

UFC 217: Bisping v St-Pierre : News Photo
Photo Credit: Getty Images

The consensus greatest welterweight of all time, and it’s hard to argue. GSP’s record is phenomenal, having lost just twice in his entire career across two weight divisions. At welterweight, ‘Rush’ has wins over legends such as Frank Trigg, Matt Serra, BJ Penn (twice), Matt Hughes (twice), Dan Hardy, Jon Fitch, Josh Koshcheck, Jake Shields, Carlos Condit, Nick Diaz and Johny Hendricks, while he won the middleweight title by submitting Michael Bisping following a four-year hiatus from the sport.

At his peak, GSP was one of the most complete fights around. Of his 26 wins, he has 8 KO/TKO’s, 6 submissions and 12 decisions proving he can beat you in a variety of ways and was always dangerous. He improved his wrestling skills following defeat to Matt Hughes and never looked back. His two defeats were avenged and he went on a hot streak of 12 successive wins. That 12th win however came against Johny Hendricks, who many believe won the fight. Dana White famously said in the post-fight press conference, “I’m blown away that Georges St-Pierre won that fight.” He retired from the sport immediately following that fight before returning to beat Bisping and retire again.

Had it not been for the several year hiatus plus the controversy surrounding his win over Hendricks, he might well have been top of this list.

#1 Jon Jones (26-1*)

UFC 232: Jones v Gustafsson 2 : News Photo
Photo Credit: Getty Images

The consensus greatest of all time, Jonny ‘Bones’ Jones comes in at No.1 of this list too. The reigning Light Heavyweight champion’s only blemish on an incredible record is a dodgy disqualification he suffered against Matt Hamill for 12-6 elbows. With wins over Daniel Cormier, Shogun Rua, Rashad Evans, Lyoto Machida, Vitor Belfort, Chael Sonnen, Rampage Jackson, Glover Teixeira, Alexander Gustafsson (twice) and Ryan Bader he has beaten 6 former UFC champions.

A career littered with controversy, including failed drugs tests and run-ins with the law, Jones has never let any of it affect his in-cage performances. He’s dominated everyone he’s stepped in a cage with and has rarely looked troubled. His most recent fight against Dominick Reyes was the first time people had seen a fight look like it may get away from him.

Despite missing several years through suspensions, Jones is still only 32 years old. He is the youngest champion in UFC history after winning the Light Heavyweight title for the first time in 2011 and has never lost the belt (although Cormier held the title while Jones was suspended and stripped of the belt). He has knockouts and submissions. Wrestling, striking and grappling are all trademarks of his style and he’s publicly stated that he trains in his opponents style “to beat them at their own game”. He is the best ever and if he ever loses it will be a monumental moment in the history of sport, not just MMA.

Arsenal Invincibles vs 19/20 Liverpool

Up until Watford spoiled the Kop party by handing Liverpool their first loss of the season in February, many people believed Arsenal were about to receive company in the Invincibles club.

Liverpool had won 26 of their 27 league fixtures before that night at Vicarage Road, only dropping points in a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford against Manchester United. They sat 22 points clear at the top of the Premier League with just 10 games to go following the defeat, meaning they were still almost certainly going to be crowned champions for the first time in 30 years.

The fact they had gone so close to going unbeaten brought about obvious comparisons to Arsene Wenger’s legendary Arsenal side.

In 2003/04, Arsenal went the entire league campaign unbeaten winning 26 and drawing 12 of their 38 league games. They won the league pipping Manchester United and Chelsea. Thierry Henry won the golden boot with 30 league goals to his name as Arsenal outscored every team in the league (GS 73) and had the best defensive record to boot (GC 26). Liverpool at the time of the season being suspended had 27 league wins and had scored 66 goals in their 29 games, conceding 21.

Arsenal’s Invincibles XI
Credit: footballuser.com

With goalscoring wingers and playmaking forwards a big feature of both sides, as well as attacking full-backs and legs in midfield both sides follow a similar mould. Liverpool focus a lot more on pressing and fast transitions, while Arsenal famously focused on possession and passing the ball quickly (something that was dubbed ‘Wengerball’ by the media).

So who would win in a fantasy battle between these two teams in a one-off game?

Wenger’s traditional possession football would play right into the hands of Klopp’s side. The high intensity press, often led by False 9 Roberto Firmino, would look to catch Arsenal out high up the field and the two demons on either wing Mane or Salah would look to profit.

The problem for Liverpool however, is just how good Arsenal were at keeping the ball. Everyone was comfortable on the ball. All comfortable in tight spaces, most capable of beating a man in a tight space to gain an extra yard. They trusted each other and had believed completely in their manager’s philosophy.

Thierry Henry was arguably the best striker in the world at this point in his career, so any slip up from Liverpool would likely see them fall behind through him while Virgil Van Dijk would be up against the toughest task of his career to date.

Liverpool’s regular XI in 19/20
Credit: footballuser.com

Arsenal’s wingers would tuck in and swap constantly, while Liverpool’s full-backs would push so high up that the vintage Arsenal counter attack would be another problem for them to deal with. Formations in this one could play a big part though.

Arsenal played a 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 formation, while Liverpool play a 4-3-3 formation almost exclusively. That extra man in midfield could be enough to suffocate Arsenal into surrendering the ball. Bergkamp, while still a top player, was past his prime at this point and him dropping deeper to help the midfield would be ill advised. While Patrick Vieira and Gilberto Silva are quite clearly the superior footballers of all the central midfielders on the park, Liverpool’s system is such that individual quality is often rendered useless against the unit of Anfield Road.

I’m quite confident that Ashley Cole, for me the best left-back of all-time, would be able to deal with the threat of Mo Salah on that flank however I’m less confident of Lauren dealing with Sadio Mane. The Senegal international has skyrocketed to the top of many people’s list of wingers in the world game with multiple seasons at the top level over the last few years. His movement, pace, skill and intelligence would have him giving Lauren a very tough time and I think he’d come out on top in that battle.

Robert Pires would have a field day against Trent Alexander-Arnold with the space the youngster leaves behind him, but the energy and tenacity of Jordan Henderson would mean Pires would often find himself double-teamed and could struggle to influence the game as much as he usually would.

All in all, I think the Liverpool system would end up being the difference. While man-for-man Arsenal have the better team in my opinion, stylistically Liverpool would be able to implement their philosophy better and I think they would come out on top thanks to Sadio Mane’s brilliance.

Angel Gomes’ Big Decision

Are Manchester United on the verge of another ‘Paul Pogba’ moment?

Angel Gomes is a 5ft 3′ attacking midfielder who’s reputation has preceded him since the ripe old age of 14 years old. A Portuguese/Englishman, he is related to ex-Reds winger Nani and a photo of him alongside side both Nani and Cristiano Ronaldo has become iconic to Gomes’ standing with Manchester United fans.

He made his Premier League debut at the tender age of 16 under Jose Mourinho, replacing then club captain Wayne Rooney in the final game of the 2016/17 season against Crystal Palace just days before United won the Europa League in Stockholm against Ajax.

He was expected to remain in the first-team picture and progress through the ranks to become a mainstay of United’s side for the foreseeable future. That hasn’t happened though.

Since that debut game in May 2017, Gomes has gone on to make just 9 more appearances for the first team and only four more in the Premier League. He hasn’t gone out on loan at all and has quite clearly become too good for the reserves league. He’s in a state of limbo in his career right now.

Angel Gomes Stock Pictures, Royalty-free Photos & Images - Getty ...
Gomes, aged 16, replaces Rooney for his debut in 2017
Credit: Getty Images

His contract is due to expire at the end of the current campaign and reports suggest he is being tracked by the likes of Chelsea and Barcelona. But Manchester United do want to re-sign him. According to reports, the club have offered him £30,000 p/w to stay which is a sum far above what his career achievements so far should have him earning. It speaks volumes that the Old Trafford side are willing to pay him that much despite having barely used him.

When Ole Gunnar Solskjær took over, he promised a pathway to the first team from the academy and for young players. He has delivered somewhat on that so far, with Brandon Williams, Mason Greenwood, Axel Tuanzebe and Tahith Chong becoming regulars in the senior side. However while Gomes is deemed as part of that squad, he has received much less playing time than all of them. His position on the pitch has often been filled with players performing poorly. The club then signed Bruno Fernandes to add quality rather than giving him a chance and now are continuing to be linked with other attack-minded midfield players. So why would he stay?

The club haven’t given him a sniff so far ahead of players like Jesse Lingard and Andreas Pereira, both who are likely to leave Old Trafford this summer due to their lacklustre performances. So why should Gomes believe he’ll get a chance ahead of players the club are spending big-money on like Fernandes or potential signings Jadon Sancho and Donny Van de Beek?

His size is definitely a factor in his lack of playing-time, with Solskjær previously mentioning his diminutive stature potentially being a hinderance to him in a physical league. So Gomes could look to try his hand abroad. He’s watched many England youth-level teammates go to Germany and do well. He could potentially seek a move in the Bundesliga. One option could be for him to go to Dortmund as a replacement for Jadon Sancho. Another option with a similar outcome could be for him to re-sign at Manchester United and then go out on loan.

Much like Real Madrid with Achraf Hakimi, they realised they had a supreme talent on their hands. They signed him to a new contract and sent him to Dortmund on a two-year loan deal so that he could continue to develop at the top level, while they still had Dani Carvajal at his peak. Hakimi is now regarded as one of the top full-backs in world football and is due to return to the Bernabeu this summer.

If Gomes decides that he needs to leave to blossom and develop, United will be facing a Paul Pogba 2.0 scenario. If he goes on to explode elsewhere, which could be very likely, United would likely have to pay a very big sum to bring him back.

Ultimately the decision lies with Gomes and how badly he wants to make it at Old Trafford. If he wants United, he’ll re-sign. If he just wants to develop and become the best he can be, and nobody should begrudge him that, then he’ll leave. It’s a tough decision but a career defining moment for a player not even out of his teens yet.

UFC 250 Fallout – What’s Next For Nunes?

Another UFC PPV is done and into the history books as UFC 250 lived up to it’s billing with a highlight filled card.

Double champion Amanda Nunes retained her featherweight belt with a dominant performance over Felicia Spencer, where the two 50-44 scorecards were deeemed generous in Spencer’s favour. A striking masterclass from the Brazilian, who’s now on an 11-fight win streak stretching back to 2014, saw ‘The Lioness’ become the first fighter in history to defend two belts, in two different weight classes, while holding both belts simultaneously.

It means she continues her streak of cleaning out her divisions and it begs the question “who’s next?”

UFC commentators Jon Anik, Daniel Cormier and Joe Rogan began discussing this during the fifth round of her bout, such was her dominance against Spencer. Dana White said in the post-fight presser that “there is always someone next” and that he had “no interest” in making a trilogy super-fight with 125lbs champ Valentina Shevchenko because Nunes is 2-0 up. So who is really available?

When you go down the rankings of the 135lbs division, there are no stand-out challengers. #1 Germaine De Randamie and #2 Holly Holm have already been beaten recently and convincingly by Nunes. #3 is Aspen Ladd, who has won four from five of her UFC bouts. Three of those were KO/TKO victories, but the first time she stepped up to top level competition she was KO’d in 16 seconds by Germaine De Randamie. With a 9-1 record she’s best placed for a title fight but the expectation would once again be that Nunes storms to victory.

Beyond Ladd, Juliana Pena and Irene Aldana are hovering in the rankings at #4 and #5 but again neither of their CV’s stand up as a firm competitor for Nunes’ belt.

With Amanda Nunes’ revelation that she’s likely to take the rest of the year off to heal up and prepare for parenthood (her partner Nina Ansaroff is due to give birth in September), it may give the UFC a chance to build a new challenger for her.

A mini tournament between Ladd, Pena, Aldana and Ketlen Vieira could be the way forward. Aldana and Vieira fought most recently in December 2019, with Aldana earning a KO victory. Mixing the matches of the tournament up may be a way to bring new eyes to the division too with new matchmaking.

Aspen Ladd vs Irene Aldana would be an interesting battle of striking. Ladd would have to fight down the rankings which could be an issue for the likes of Sean Shelby to convince her, however the promise of a title shot with two back-to-back wins should be enough to do it.

The winner of that fight would then face the winner of Juliana Pena vs Ketlen Vieira in what could become an interesting grappling match. Pena has the advantage on the feet between the two but with Vieira’s priority to take the fight down to the ground it may not matter too much.

The winners fight each other and the UFC bill the “tournament finale” as a big deal, maybe even a co-main event slot on a PPV card to give it more eyes. While the skillset of each fighter won’t change in two fights, the reputation could grow massively. Two back-to-back performances against high level competition also makes them seem like a much more dangerous threat towards Nunes’ crown.

The Lioness right now is overseeing her kingdom with little threat of a real challenge coming her way any time soon. The UFC need to build for the post-Nunes era and this may be the only solution.

Timo Werner to Chelsea – Enough for a Title Push?

News broke earlier this week that long-time Liverpool target Timo Werner was on his way to the Premier League this summer – but he’ll be wearing Chelsea blue!

The German forward has been linked with Jurgen Klopp’s men for the best part of a year, with his release clause seen as the perfect way for Liverpool to upgrade their forward line without breaking the bank. However, due to the current Covid-19 pandemic sweeping the world, the Anfield side have decided to take a step back from transfer negotiations this summer.

According to Bleacher Report, this meant that Werner was due to stay at RB Leipzig for another year in order to wait for his dream move – until Chelsea stepped in.

The Blues swept in with an offer to trigger the 24 year-old’s release clause and after the club agreed to pay him circa £200k p/w plus a conversation with Frank Lampard, Werner agreed to move to Stamford Bridge instead. With Hakim Ziyech already signed up for the new season too, Chelsea have a brand new frontline to compete for the Premier League title.

How will they all fit in though? Lampard has seemingly preferred a 4-2-3-1 formation this season, with Willian, Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham featuring alongside one of Christian Pulisic, Ross Barkley, Callum Hudson-Odoi or Pedro.

Willian is expected to leave on a free transfer at the end of the current campaign, while Pedro is expected to move to Roma when his contract expires. Ross Barkley has been hit and miss, while Pulisic and Hudson-Odoi have both struggled for consistent performances under Lampard. Ziyech seems like a lock for his traditional right-wing position, as a direct replacement for Willian. Mount has performed relatively well as the #10 too, chipping in with 6 goals and 4 assists in the league.

Lampard put all his faith in Tammy Abraham at the start of the season, handing the academy graduate the No.9 shirt. The Camberwell-born front man has repaid that faith, with 13 goals in 25 appearances in the Premier League including goals away at Arsenal and a hat-trick at Wolves.

That begs the question, does Super Frank stick or twist?

Twitter respond to criticism after Chelsea striker Tammy Abraham ...
With Euro 2020 coming next summer, will Abraham play enough to get into the England squad? Image Credit: Independent

Werner’s record in Germany is second only to Robert Lewandowski in the last two seasons, while Ziyech also poses a fantastic goal threat.

Chelsea do have a way of getting all three into the team. Timo Werner has spent plenty of time playing out on the left wing, cutting in onto his right foot and looking to find the far corner. By playing him on the left, Chelsea would have their three premier goal threats in the XI together.

Another option is to make the big call and drop someone. Lampard was quoted after the 2-2 draw with Bournemouth that “poor finishing” was a big reason that Chelsea are in a battle for fourth. Bringing in a shiny new centre-forward could be his way of rectifying that problem by replacing Abraham directly. This would allow Hudson-Odoi or Pulisic to continue competing for the winger role and have two goal scorers competing with each other with only one position available.

They could also balance the side out more by switching to a 4-3-3, something Lampard has done a few times.

Lots of Chelsea fans would rather Mount played as a central midfielder with the freedom to roam forward rather than starting in a more advanced area. It would also mean that fit-again Ruben Loftus-Cheek would have his best position available for him to compete for. With N’Golo Kante beginning to suffer from more and more injuries, while Jorginho is reportedly not the indispensable member of the squad he once was, there is more freedom for Chelsea to play around with.

Mateo Kovacic is surely a lock with many believing him to be Chelsea’s player of the year this season. With Kante, Jorginho, Barkley, Mount, Loftus-Cheek and newly promoted Billy Gilmour all competing for the final two spots in Chelsea’s midfield the likelihood of one of them being allowed to leave is high.

It may be that once we see who leaves, the ideas become clearer for all to see. One thing is for sure though, Chelsea’s bench will be filled with more quality than last year and their starting team will be looking to close the gap between Liverpool and the rest of the division.