Back to square one

It was the right time for NFL jerseys Blue Jays CEO Paul Beeston to make the move and relieve general manager J.P. Ricciardi of his duties. With two games left in the 2009 season and one day after the story broke that manager Cito Gaston had lost the clubhouse, it needed to happen.
The best season under his watch was 2006 when they finished in second with an 87-75 mark, the worst being 2004 when they finished in the basement with a horrible 69-94 mark. And in the eight seasons, four different field managers worked under Ricciardi, half hand-picked, the other half forced upon him.
Now, for those of you expecting some kind of personal attack on Ricciardi, you won't get it from me. I only had a handful of personal conversations with the man over the years, usually about something that I wrote that he didn't agree with which was his perogative. And I never got the feeling that he liked any of us on the TV side, hearing from third parties that he wished that we were more like NESN (the New England Sports Network that carries his hometown Red Sox). That would have happened if the organization actually wanted to have a relationship with us, something that none of us ever felt.
With public opinion at an all-time low, and the franchise teetering on laughing-stock status, drastic measures were needed; and taken. The epitaph on the Ricciardi era in Toronto will read as so: Almost eight full seasons, a 642-651 record (.497), combined to finish 150 games behind the leaders of the ultra-competitive American League East where the top two teams usually play into October.
There were lots of things that went down during his tenure that I didn't agree with, but the only ones that really stuck in my craw was the treatment that long-time Blue Jays Buck Martinez and Ernie Whitt received when they were shown the door as manager and coach, respectively. The treatment those two gentlemen faced when they were fired, who gave the majority of their professional lives to the Blue Jays and the city of Toronto, will never sit well with me. Both men were kicked to the curb like they were Jim Fregosi or Tim Johnson, and that was plain wrong.
In the end, I like to look at the body of work as a whole, about draft picks missed and players traded that went on to bigger and better things. Yes, I know that Aaron Hill and Adam Lind, closing out two of the best seasons in franchise history, were drafted under Ricciardi's watch. That won't be denied. Ricky Romero, Marc Rzepczynski and Brett Cecil may also have very bright futures with the Jays. But missed during other drafts were the likes of Cole Hamels, Nick Swisher, Scott Kazmir, Matt Cain, Phil Hughes, Huston Street, Dustin Pedroia, Troy Tulowitzki, Jacoby Ellsbury and Matt Garza, true, what I like to call 'difference-makers'.
The familiar refrain that his team couldn't compete with the seemingly unlimited budgets of the Yankees and Red Sox started to ring hollow after eight seasons of sitting on the same branch as the Orioles. Why a team who play in a large market yet do not have a large market budget are questions to be asked to people higher up on the food chain.
Under Ricciardi the Toronto Blue Jays just weren't good enough. As a statistician I just look through the numbers and they aren't pretty; no matter what light you put them under. In the end, professional sports are a bottom-line business, both in the win-loss column and in the accounting ledgers (and all of this was having a terrible effect on the profit-loss margin).
Eight years of spinning wheels was enough for fans of the team and, most importantly, those who buy tickets. The beginning of the rebuild of the Blue Jays brand, once gold in Toronto, started when the Ricciardi news broke.
Then you have those players that got away like Orlando Hudson, Jayson Werth, Chris Carpenter or Cesar Izturis; all of whom went on to star in other cities. Every GM makes mistakes, but Ricciardi was sold to the public as some sort of player development wizard from his days with the Oakland Athletics, something that never manifested itself in Toronto. I know the old adage about hindsight and how it is always easy to cite what could have been, but the body of work after 2,879 days as the key decision maker for the Toronto Blue Jays prompted the change in direction. It was finally deemed to be over and it's time to move in a very different direction and, if need be, take the team back down to the wood and start over again.


Big spikes to fill

And while his removal from the NBA Jerseys rotation has left a massive void -- both physically and mentally -- in the Blue Jays 2010 pitching picture, it will allow several young arms to get primetime innings. With Shaun Marcum and Dustin McGowan still question marks after surgeries kept them on the sidelines for the entire 2009 season, sophomore lefty Ricky Romero is the ace by default for the time being. The 25-year old had a "glass half-full" rookie campaign last season, making 29 starts -- winning 13 against 9 losses -- while pitching 178 innings, the most he had ever thrown in the pro ranks since the Jays selected him sixth overall in the 2005 June draft.
Yet while Romero clearly had a solid rookie season, which had him in Rookie of the Year debates around the all-star break, Romero ran out of gas once the "dog days" of the long season set in. Not a big guy to start with, improving his stamina is paramount if he’s to take his fledgling career to the next level.
I’m still finding it hard to watch Roy Halladay frolic around with his new Phillies buddies in a red jersey with No. 34 on the back.
Not that I have any ill feelings towards "Doc," arguably the greatest pitcher ever born and raised by the Blue Jays franchise. He had done about all that he could in Toronto, never shying away from his turn in the rotation and was well within his right to request a deal out of town once it became apparent that "Blue Jays" and "contender" wouldn’t be spoken in the same sentence for quite some time.
Brandon Morrow, acquired in the off-season from the Mariners for erratic power-reliever Brandon League, is slotted in the three-hole and will be a pitcher to watch as the spring rolls towards Opening Day. Drafted fifth overall in 2006, Morrow found himself in the majors less than a year later.
But the Mariners never seemed to give him a defined role and he bounced between the bullpen and the rotation while the team seemingly ran out of patience with the 25-year-old power right-hander. One hundred thirty-one games (15 of them starts) into his evolving career, Morrow’s 3.96 career ERA gives reason for optimism along with the fact that he has been told by Jays’ general manager Alex Anthopoulos that he will be a starter in Toronto, which will allow him to build up for, hopefully, 30-plus starts and close to 200 innings. That will help fill some of the void left by Halladay’s departure.
Marcum is slotted in as the No. 2 man having shown, before his elbow gave out after 25 starts in 2008, that he is a solid major-league starter. You may remember that before the injury, he was among the AL leaders with a miniscule .222 opponent’s batting average. Marcum won 20 times while making 50 starts from 2007-08 and if he can return to his past form -- always a big question following Tommy John surgery -- then that will make the front office and bench staff breathe a little easier.
It’s at the bottom of the rotation where most of the spring intrigue will take place. At present, young lefties Marc Rzepczynski and Brett Cecil will compete with veteran swingman Brian Tallet and former first-rounder David Purcey for the final two spots in the rotation.
Injuries forced Rzepczynski and Cecil to arrive ahead of schedule last season. Both showed flashes of brilliance and now must adjust to the adjustments that the opposition throws at them this season. Tallet is valuable in the swing role and will likely be called upon to make spot starts throughout the year, as we’ve painfully witnessed in the past when the injury bug starts biting.
Then there’s McGowan, who hasn’t pitched in the majors since July 2008 when his throwing shoulder seized up on him leading to surgery. As we’ve seen in his brief past -– a one-hitter against the Colorado Rockies in June 2007 comes to mind -– McGowan has the stuff to be a top-of-the-rotation starter. But the arm injury, coupled with a knee injury that he suffered while rehabbing, has slowed his development. If he can return close to where he was before, then that will also help fill the Halladay void.
And before they get shipped out to their minor-league assignments in early March, all eyes will be on a couple of young right-handers acquired via trade. Twenty-two-year-old Kyle Drabek, the centrepiece of the Halladay deal, and 23-year-old Zach Stewart, the key to the trade-deadline deal with the Reds for Scott Rolen, will be monitored closely as the Blue Jays’ rebuild begins taking shape.
So while things look bleak for the 2010 season, especially with, perhaps, the best starting pitcher in the game now in Philadelphia, there is reason to be optimistic about who they will fill the hole left by Halladay’s departure.
Here’s hoping that the changes in the front office have finally exorcized the bad karma that has surrounded this team for close to a decade. Maybe that alone, fingers crossed, would shoo away those pesky injury bugs that have held this franchise back for too many years to count.
Purcey is clearly approaching the crossroads of his career. From appearance to appearance, inning to inning, heck, even pitch to pitch, he can look equal parts great and horrible. When throwing strikes, Purcey can almost be unhittable. Twice in just 21 career starts he’s struck out 10-plus hitters, but he’s also walked an average of 4.7 hitters per nine innings, far too high a number to stick in a major-league rotation. At six-foot-five, he has the size and fastball to pitch at baseball’s top level. Whether or not he can finally put it all together for an extended period is the bigger question.


What's not wrong in Ottawa

NEW YORK - I woke up in Manhattan with NBA jerseys an awful feeling in the pit of my stomach this morning.
Perhaps it had something to do with the ill-advised street meat that I consumed outside MSG at 11 p.m. last night.

But more than likely, this queasy feeling is a direct result of watching the Ottawa Senators lose five consecutive games. Suddenly I'm covering Canada's worst NHL team. Wasn't this supposed to be David Bastl's gig?

Last season, everyone pointed to internal friction and team chemistry for the Senators' second-half downfall. As a result, Bryan Murray got rid of the so-called "bad apples" from the dressing room.

Yet so far this season, the Sens have looked as disorganized and flat as they did when they had a certain Hummer-driving, flight-missing tattooed netminder. Are we still going to blame locker-room friction? Pointing to team chemistry and friction as the source of all problems is a card that is played too often by the media. And most of the time, it is completely overblown - unless you are covering the Dallas Stars.

For once, the Sens can't pin their problems on the man between the pipes. Alex Auld has been nothing short of spectacular on most nights. Right now, they could have Patrick Roy or a sumo wrestler in there and it wouldn't make a difference in the win-loss column. I am officially the first media person in modern Sens history to write the following sentence: Goaltending is the least of Ottawa's concerns.

I know there have been whispers that perhaps Craig Hartsburg's system is at fault for the team's slow start. But this group has now had three coaches in this calendar year and none of them have turned this ship around. You could have Scotty Bowman or a sumo wrestler behind the bench and you probably would have the same result. (That second sumo wrestler reference is just to see if you are paying attention). Hartsburg and his coaching staff aren't the problem here.
So if you can't pin this on the coach, logic dictates you have to blame the captain, right? But if anyone thinks Daniel Alfredsson is at fault for the team's current malaise, they are out to lunch and dinner. (And they might even go out for some ill-advised street meat after that.)

Alfredsson has been this team's most consistent forward this season in the one area that matters most - work ethic. He just went through a stretch of 10 games without scoring a goal, yet I didn't hear a single complaint about his play from the coaches, media or fans. This is the guy who missed only one game after he had knee surgery in October. Nick Lidstrom proved last season that mild-mannered, Swedish captains can win the Stanley Cup. It's just that he had a little more help around him.

So there you have it. For a change, you can't blame chemistry, goaltending or Alfredsson for the Senators struggles. And come to think of it, we can't blame Wade Redden and Andrej Meszaros either.

We need to come up with a fresh list of what is wrong in Ottawa. But I'm afraid that blog might take me a couple of weeks to write.

Now, I've read all the theories as to why this team has fallen so far in such a short period of time.
I've covered this team as closely as anyone over the past few seasons and I still have no clue what is wrong with this team.

So I figured it would be easier (and quicker) to write about the things that AREN'T the cause for the Senators early season struggles. Here are four things we used to always blame for Ottawa's problems that are no


Judging the Heatley deal

On the surface, it would appear that the Senators have lost this trade. NHL Jerseys

After all, Michalek has scored just six goals since January 1st and Cheechoo has been playing in the AHL for the past six weeks. Kovalev, meantime, has produced just one goal in 16 games since the Olympic break.

Heatley is putting up his usual Heatley numbers, collecting 80 points on one of the most dangerous lines in the NHL.

Advantage San Jose, right?

Not so fast.

The Senators actually acquired one other forward in the Dany Heatley trade: A brand new Jason Spezza.
With one week left in the regular season, it's a fitting time to analyze who won the big trade between San Jose and Ottawa back in September.

The Senators were supposed to replace Dany Heatley's missing offense with a collection of three forwards they picked up in his place.

MIlan Michalek and Jonathan Cheechoo, whom they acquired in the trade from San Jose, and Alexei Kovalev, who was signed as a free agent when it became clear that Heatley was not going to return for another season.

Since coming back from an injury in mid-January, Spezza has been dominant. He's collected 36 points in 28 games (17 goals, 19 assists) - stats that are worthy of his $7 million salary.

More importantly, he's not playing like a one-dimensional player, who is always looking to set up his sniper. This new Jason Spezza shoots the puck more. He moves his feet better in the neutral zone. He carries the puck with more confidence. He backchecks with more intensity. He plays in the final minute of a game with the Senators protecting a one-goal lead.

Yes, he still turns the puck over, but not with the same frequency that we've seen in the past.
Probably not. They are still entering the post-season with the same questions they faced 12 months ago.

Trades are all about making your team better from the previous year. Which is why - to this point - the Senators have won the Dany Heatley trade.

For the first quarter of the season, Spezza looked lost, as he tried to battle through a back injury and play without his longtime sidekick. Now, he looks comfortable, confident and dominant and he's been as productive as any other NHL centre in the past three months.

The fear in Ottawa was that Spezza needed Heatley to survive; that maybe he was a modern-day incarnation of Craig Janney - an offensively-talented centre, who could only thrive with a sniper on his wing.

But it turns out that Spezza doesn't need Heatley as much as we thought - and neither do the Senators.

And all things considered, the Senators are a better team today than they were a year ago when they had Heatley. Can we say the same thing about San Jose - are they better than they were a year ago?


Ovechkin reaches 50 goals, Caps beat Thrashers 5-2

Ovechkin set up Nicklas Backstrom's goal in the first period, then scored himself in the second and third. With one regular-season game left, Ovechkin leads Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby by one goal, and Vancouver's Henrik Sedin by one point. Neither the Penguins nor the Canucks played Friday.
Not much else of consequence was at stake in this game. League-best Washington already was assured of home-ice advantage throughout the postseason; Atlanta already knew it will miss the playoffs.

WASHINGTON (AP) - Bidding for a third consecutive MVP award, Alex Ovechkin took over the NHL lead in goals and points Friday night, scoring twice to reach 50 goals and adding an assist in the Washington Capitals' 5-2 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers.
Ovechkin joined Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy _ pretty heady company _ as the only players to score at least 50 goals in four of their first five NHL seasons. The Russian left wing's career-high total was 65 in 2007-08.
This season's No. 50 broke a 2-2 tie and came at the 9:49 mark of the third period. Ovechkin took a pass from Alexander Semin and, while moving to his right, snapped a wrist shot past goalie Ondrej Pavelec.
Ovechkin raised his fists, then slammed back-first into the glass and was mobbed by teammates while fans began chanting "M-V-P!" Skating over to the bench, Ovechkin paused to glance up and watch a replay of his goal on the overhead videoboard.
Moments later, when that screen showed the Russian left wing sitting on the bench, he waved to the crowd, and most of the spectators gave him a standing ovation.
Backstrom wound up with two goals and an assist on the night, too, to reach 100 points in a season for the first time, while Semin finished with three assists.
The Capitals trailed 2-1 before Ovechkin tied it at 16:04 of the second, taking a pass from Semin and winding up for a big slap shot from the top of the left circle. As the puck snapped past Pavelec, Ovechkin raised his arms overhead, his stick in his right glove.
There was plenty of pregame pomp and circumstance, with NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly presenting the Capitals with the Presidents' Trophy, given to the team with the most points. Washington clinched that last weekend, and kept adding to its lead: Friday's victory was the team's fifth in a row and allowed the Capitals to tie a franchise mark with 30 home wins in a season.
During the ceremony, Ovechkin never actually touched the silver-and-glass piece signifying the best regular-season record. Indeed, it appeared that Ovechkin did not even look at the trophy.
The Capitals, after all, have their sights set on a more significant accolade: a Stanley Cup championship.
NOTES: Capitals G Jose Theodore earned his 30th win of the season. ... Evgeny Artyukhin and Clarke MacArthur scored for Atlanta. ... Before the game, Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau made the case for Mike Green to win his first Norris Trophy as the league's top defenseman. "He's had the best year as a defenseman in the NHL _ overall, defensively, offensively. And he plays on the team that is No. 1, and he's the No. 1 catalyst from the defense that we have. We have the No. 1 power play in the league. He's on it all the time." ... Washington's healthy scratches: D Tom Poti, D John Erskine, C David Steckel, RW Mike Knuble, RW Matt Bradley. ... Capitals forwards Boyd Gordon and Morr`ison and Boyd Gordon both played after being sidelined by MLB jerseys injuries.


Flyers top Devils for 3-1 series lead

The Devils haven't won three straight games since they won five straight from Dec. 12 to 21.
The MLB jerseys Flyers have won 17 of 19 playoff series when they hold a 3-1 lead. One of those blown leads came in 2000 in goalie Brian Boucher's rookie season. Ten years later and in his third stint with the organization, Boucher has them on the brink of advancing to the conference semifinal.
Martin Brodeur stopped 24 shots and made one of the great saves of his postseason career. He just didn't have enough help to beat a Flyers team that had the arena rocking all night long.
It took two stars to spark them.
Carter and Briere were held without a point in the first three games after combining for 114 this season. Carter led the Flyers in goals and Briere was third.
Without their production, the Flyers relied on clutch on goals from Chris Pronger and Carcillo to win Games 1 and 3. They will need goals from everyone to win games _ but they will need their top guys to stay hot to win series.
Carter went first, firing a wrister on the power play past a stunned Brodeur on the glove side to tie the game at 1 in the second period. Briere set him up with the assist, then gave the Flyers the lead they wouldn't relinquish.
Briere took a perfect pass from Braydon Coburn and scored from right above the circle for a 2-1 lead. He did it on a 4-on-4 and scored his most meaningful goal since he had one in the dramatic shootout season finale against the Rangers to put them in the playoffs.
Simon Gagne is still without a goal _ but not from lack of effort.
Brodeur was out of position and extended head-to-toe on his left side along the crease. Gagne fired from perfect position in the slot, but his shot was snared by Brodeur's outstretched glove for the highlight-reel save of the series.
Even the Philly fans had to appreciate that one.
Gagne left the game in the third period with a lower-body injury and did not return.
That was about the only downer for the Flyers.
PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Jeff Carter scored two goals and Danny Briere had one to end their playoff scoring droughts and lead the Philadelphia Flyers to a 4-1 win over the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night and a commanding 3-1 lead in their Eastern Conference playoff series.
Unlikely postseason star Daniel Carcillo scored his second goal in two games for the Flyers.
Game 5 is Thursday in New Jersey.
Boucher made 30 saves. His lone mistake came in the first period when Ilya Kovachuk scored for a 1-0 lead. That was all he allowed.
The Flyers needed all 82 games just to make the playoffs. They can advance in the postseason in only five.
NOTES: The Flyers will show Game 5 live Thursday night at the Wachovia Center. Parking and admission are free. ... The Flyers needed this win. While they are 17-2 when holding a 3-1 series lead, they are only 13-6 when tied 2-2.

The Flyers put the victory away against the NHL's career wins leader in the third period. Carcillo, the brawler who scored the overtime winner in Game 3, stripped Colin White behind the net, whirled and scored to make it 3-1.
Carcillo had the crowd going wild and has become an instant playoff hero in Philadelphia. He hasn't totally strayed from his fighting roots _ he was hit with a 10-minute misconduct late in the game.
Briere knocked in a rebound midway through the third for a 4-1 lead. Brodeur lost his helmet and spit his gum onto the ice as the derisive chants of "Mar-ty! Mar-ty! Mar-ty!" only grew louder.


Ducks' Wisniewski suspended for 8 games

TORONTO (AP) - Anaheim Ducks defenseman James Wisniewski was suspended for eight games without pay Thursday for knocking Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook out of soccer jerseys a game at Anaheim.
The incident occurred at 2:22 of the second period during the Blackhawks' 4-2 loss on Wednesday. Seabrook's head struck the glass with such force that it left him with a dazed expression a couple of seconds before he fell to the ice. Wisniewski received a minor penalty for charging.
Neither coach Joel Quenneville nor general manager Stan Bowman would elaborate on the severity of Seabrook's condition, or what tests he has undergone to check for a possible concussion.
The Blackhawks face the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday night.
"He's got an upper-body injury right now. We'll say day to day right now, but we don't know more than that," Quenneville said Thursday. "It was a very dangerous hit. I think that's the worst kind of hit in the game _ when you hit a guy without the puck. Guys are defenseless."
Wednesday was the second game in a row that the Blackhawks lost a valuable member of their defense to a big hit.
On Sunday against Washington, three-time All-Star defenseman Brian Campbell was driven into the end boards from behind by NHL scoring leader and two-time MVP Alex Ovechkin.
Campbell will miss seven to eight weeks because of the fractured collar bone and broken rib he sustained. Ovechkin received a two-game suspension for the play.
"I'm not comparing the two and the quantity of games. That's not for me to decide," Quenneville said. "I'm not so worried about that. I'm worried about Seebs. That's what I'm worried about. We don't have him tonight."
Bowman also had little to say about the length of Wisniewski's suspension compared to Ovechkin's, saying: "The league's job is to weigh all the factors, and they have a lot more experience in that stuff than I do. So you have to assume they did their homework and they came to that decision for the right reason.
"The league obviously looked at it and they think that's the right number. But we're just going to move forward. We're not going to focus on that anymore. We're more worried about Seabrook than Wisniewski."
Wisniewski, who began his career with the Blackhawks before getting traded to the Ducks in March 2009, also was suspended for two games Oct. 31, 2009, and is considered a repeat offender under the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. He will forfeit $268,292 in salary.
"Mr. Wisniewski delivered a retaliatory hit to the head of an opponent who never had possession of the puck," said Colin Campbell, NHL Senior Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations. "The fact that Mr. Wisniewski is a repeat offender also entered into this decision."
Wisniewski will be eligible to return April 3 at Los Angeles.
"I am truly sorry that my friend Brent Seabrook was hurt on the play. I certainly wish him the best," he said in a statement. "I am, however, very disappointed in the length of the suspension. Eight games is incredibly hard to swallow, especially in comparison to other recent hits that have resulted in lesser punishment."
Commissioner Gary Bettman explained the reason for the suspension on his weekly radio show.
Speaking on the "NHL Hour With Gary Bettman," the commissioner said Wisniewski's hit on Seabrook during Wednesday night's game was "completely different" from the one delivered by Pittsburgh forward Matt Cooke earlier this month that left Boston forward Marc Savard with a Grade 2 concussion.
"In that case, unlike some of these others, there was no puck possession, the hitting involved rising up to make contact with the head, and so the circumstances gave rise to being able to punish what we have previously defined _ long before this season _ as illegal acts on the ice," Bettman said.
"And that's why the eight-game suspension."
No matter how the league handles these incidents, Bowman said that the players have to police themselves so that they don't occur with as much frequency as they have this season.
"There's been a lot of talk about what the league going to do about it, but I think we have to start talking a little bit about the players," Bowman said. "It would be one thing if the things that happened were legal plays. But as you see, these guys are getting suspended because they're illegal plays.
"I mean, it seems like there's been a lack of respect for each other. And that's probably the bigger thing," Bowman added. "Ultimately, the players are the ones who control these events. The league is here to deal with them once they happen. But in terms of stopping it, I think we've got to get a little bit of respect back in the game from player to player."


Wings beat Predators in 11-round shootout

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Niklas Kronwall, in his first career shootout try, scored the winning goal in the 11th round to give the Detroit Red Wings a 1-0 victory over the Nashville Predators on Saturday night.
Jimmy Howard stopped nine of Nashville's 10 shootout attempts to make Kronwall's goal stand up as the winner. soccer jerseys
Detroit has won five straight and eight of nine to move into a more solid playoff position. The Red Wings jumped out of eighth place in the tightly packed Western Conference race.
Nashville lost for just the second time in nine games. The fifth-place Predators are only one point ahead of the surging Red Wings. Both teams were helped earlier Saturday when ninth-place Calgary lost at Boston.
Predators goalie Pekka Rinne denied eight of Detroit's first 10 shootout chances, but couldn't stop Kronwall's backhander that slipped between his pads.
After Kronwall's goal, Howard stopped Francis Bouillon to seal the win. Both goalies were credited with shutouts. Rinne made 38 traditional saves to earn his fourth shutout in March. Howard stopped 33 shots through overtime.
The Red Wings have beaten Nashville in four of five matchups. The teams will conclude the season series next Saturday in Detroit.
NOTES: Detroit RW Patrick Eaves played in his 300th NHL game. ... Detroit is 7-4-1 in the second game of back-to-back sets. ... The Red Wings are 5-9 in shootouts. Nashville is 7-4. ... Howard is 3-0 against the Predators this season.


Barcelona's Seydou Keita Struck By Injury

Tuesday, November 10, 2009 -- FC Barcelona midfielder Seydou Keita has been sidelined for about ten days after straining knee ligaments, according to reports in the Spanish press.

Catalan sports daily Sport claims that Keita suffered strains on his left knee ligaments and scans have revealed that he suffered a swelling and will miss almost two weeks of footballing action.

The former Sevilla midfielder will be unable to feature for his nation Mali at the weekend but could play for World Cup Jerseys Barcelona the week after.


Barcelona vs. Inter Milan: CL Betting Preview

Nobody could have NHL jerseys predicted Champions League Group F would be so tight with just two matches left but all four sides are still very much in with a chance of qualifying for the last 16 and the clash at the Nou Camp on Tuesday is huge.

Inter Milan top the section and they could place Barcelona, the defending champions, in a world of trouble were they to triumph on Spanish soil. I’m sure Jose Mourinho, the Inter coach, would take a point but nerves are sure to be frayed and with Rubin Kazan entertaining Dymano Kiev earlier in the evening both will know exactly where they stand.

The pair met on Matchday 1 when playing out a fairly uneventful goalless draw at the San Siro and this group has featured just 18 goals to date. That’s a little over two per match and with so much at stake for this pair I predict the trend to continue.

The onus will be on the hosts on Tuesday, one point adrift of Inter, but they dare not lose and this could well be a game of few chances. The attacking talent on display is not in question but the two giants are far more resolute defensively than most give them credit for and I’m surprised to see under 2.50 goals available to back at 1.91 with a few firms.

Inter currently sit five points clear in Serie A, thanks to a 3-1 win at Bologna on the weekend, and while they are not facing the likes of Barcelona every week their ability is not in doubt. Every Jose Mourinho side is difficult to beat, Inter have lost just once domestically all season, and in Walter Samuel and Lucio the Portuguese has vast experience to call upon too.

That duo protect another South American in the shape of Julio Cesar in goal and while Samuel Eto'o’s return to Spain to face his former club will dominant much of the pre-match discussion, Inter have plenty more about them than just the Cameroon striker.

Eto’o is partnered in attack by Diego Milito but the duo are set to face one of the brightest young defenders in Europe in Gerard Pique and the Spain international is likely to be partnered by Carlos Puyol in defence.

Pep Guardiola’s men have slipped a point behind rivals Real Madrid in La Liga on the back of a 1-1 draw at Ahtletico Bilbao on the weekend but their defence is rarely breached in front of their own fans and it is likely to take something special to beat Victor Valdes in the home goal.

With an injury doubt still surrounding star playmaker Lionel Messi, Barcelona will look to Zlatan Ibrahimovic for inspiration but he’s been quiet in the past few weeks after an excellent start to his new career and Samuel, in particular, will know all about how to deal with the tall Swede.

This looks like a low-scoring encounter every way you look at it but I’ve no idea which way it will swing. Barca certainly look on the short side, at around the 1.80 mark, but at a bigger price it is the unders that gets the call.


Panathinaikos Sack Henk Ten Cate

Tuesday, December 8, 2009 -- Greek powerhouse Panathinaikos have sacked their head coach Henk ten Cate after a run of poor results.

Club chairman Nicolas Pateras has announced that ten Cate has been relieved of his duties with immediate effect. Panathinaikos were knocked out of the Champions League in the preliminary stage and have also stuttered in the Greek first division at times.

But it is surprisingly that the former Barcelona number two has been sacked as Pana are just one point off the pace in the league and are on the brink of qualification to the knockout stage of the Europa League.

Adriano Mooting West Ham Move

Tuesday, December 8, 2009 -- Premier League club West Ham United are closing in on a deal to land the former Inter Milan striker Adriano in January, according to latest reports.

Adriano won the Brazilian championship with Flamengo a few days back and has been linked with a move back to Europe for quite some time. And now, according to The Sun, the Brazilian has been linked with a move to English side West Ham.

Adriano has been quoted as saying recently:

"I know that teams want me in Italy and England. I will take my time over a decision so I don't make any mistakes. It's not just about the NFL jerseys money – there are other things."

Portsmouth vs. Coventry: FA Cup Betting Preview

One of the highlights of the season in the NFL jerseys English calendar this weekend and Chelsea start the defence of their FA Cup with a seemingly straightforward tie at home to Watford on Sunday in the third round.

The Blues have struggled in recent weeks in the Premier League but they should have no trouble in dispatching the Championship outfit with ease and are priced, around the 1.15 mark, accordingly.

There are bound to be upsets elsewhere, however, and Fratton Park may just be the place.

The signs were encouraging for Portsmouth a few weeks back following a wretched start to the 2009/10 season in the top flight, losing their first seven matches, but the dismissal of Paul Hart, the former boss has since been replaced by Avram Grant, and fresh financial concerns have once again plunged Pompey into the mire.
Portsmouth are currently four points adrift of safety and while there was no disgrace in getting thumped 4-1 by Arsenal on Wednesday that came on the back of a defeat at relegation rivals West Ham and the FA Cup is surely well down the list of priorities.

Grant, who enjoyed such success in a limited period with Chelsea two seasons ago, will be eager for his men to receive a much needed confidence boost on Saturday but with a number of key men now on African Nations Cup duty his options are becoming increasingly limited.

The south coast club have won just four matches all season and with vital league points at stake in the coming weeks the Israeli boss could all but write-off any chance of an unwanted cup run by making wholesale changes to his starting line up.

Grant is without the services of the Angolan bound quartet of Nadir Belhadj, Hassan Yebda Nwankwo Kanu and Aruna Dindane and Saturday’s opponents Coventry City certainly won’t be fazed by what personnel they are likely to face.

Coventry, who put together a recent run of three consecutive victories over Peterborough, Doncaster and Plymouth to seemingly pull clear of the relegation zone, were not disgraced in defeat at high-flying Nottingham Forest last time out and Chris Coleman, their Welsh manger, will fancy his chances of causing an upset. They’ve faired OK on their travels this term and Fratton Park, unlike seasons past, is far from anything resembling a fortress these days.

One thing Coventry shouldn’t lack on the weekend is firepower and with Coleman able to call upon the likes of Clinton Morrison and Leon Best in attack I can certainly see the Sky Blues scoring. Winners of this competition in 1987, Coventry will be eyeing at least a replay and the odds compilers have surely got it wrong by installing a depleted Portsmouth as odds on favourites.

I’m very tempted by the 6.00 on offer about the visitors but with the safety net of a reply on home soil looming large the play has to be a lay of the Premier League side. Portsmouth can be opposed at 1.85 and this has to be one of the bets of the season to date


Random League: Turkish Super Lig

Arda Turan and Abdulkader Keita inspired leaders Galatasaray to a 4-1 win over Kasimpasa in Istanbul on Sunday, while their rivals Fenerbahce slipped off the pace with their second consecutive loss.

Bahce's 2-1 loss at Istanbul Buyuksehir was quite stunning, with Fener's gun Alex seeing red. The pressure is now on Fenerbahce's German boss Christoph Daum. Into second now is upstarts Bursaspor, who thrashed Sivasspor 3-0. Meanwhile champions Besiktas won 2-1 at 4th Kayserispor to stay in the hunt.

In the battle to avoid the drop, 17th Denizlispor claimed another 3 points with their Ankaraspor 3-point gift coming around to continue their revival. That's a worry for Diyarbakirspor who slip into the drop zone after losing to Manisaspor, while last season's runners-up Sivasspor continue to struggle.