ATP Tour Finals Contenders Confirmed

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The field for the season-ending ATP Tour Finals at London 02 Arena has been confirmed, following results from the Masters event in Paris.

With Djokovic, Federer, Wawrinka and Cilic having qualified prior to the tournament this meant that 4 spots were still to be decided, following Rafael Nadal’s withdrawal.

This lead to a very close, exciting final race which included Britain’s Andy Murray.

There were 6 players all vying for the final 4 spots with Spaniard David Ferrer the main threat for the players currently occupying the final spots.

Murray confirmed his place in the competition following a straight set’s victory in the 3rd round over Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov, who was also battling for a place.

This result left 3 spots still up for grabs which were taken by Czech Republic’s Tomas Berdych and Japanese star Kei Nishikori, both reaching the Semi-Finals with the last place going to Canadian Milos Raonic who finished Runner-up to Novak Djokovic. Raonic and Nishikori qualifying for the first time in their tennis careers.

It will also be a Tour Finals debut for US Open champion Marin Cilic who’s had an excellent end to the season after winning his first grand slam title.

The Final Contenders:

1. Novak Djokovic

2. Roger Federer

3. Stanislas Wawrinka

4. Kei Nishikori

5. Andy Murray

6. Tomas Berdych

7. Milos Raonic

8. Marin Cilic

Tonight’s Champions League Preview

Chelsea & Manchester City will be looking to get their first wins in the second match of their Champions League group stage fixtures tonight.

Chelsea had a disappointing draw last time out against struggling Bundesliga side FC Shalke 04. While Manchester City lost in an agonising climax against Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena.

Chelsea travel to Portugal to face Sporting Lisbon with on-loan Manchester United winger Nani being the main threat, having scored last time out against Maribor.

Chelsea are set to start in-form front man Diego Costa who is currently unable to play two matches in a week with a slight hamstring injury. With Chelsea playing potential Premier League title rivals Arsenal at the weekend this decision could be a huge risk.

On paper this looks like it should be Mourinho’s men taking all three points but in Champions League football anything can happen on the night.

Premier League champions Manchester City are hosting Italian giants AS Roma in a crucial match in Group E. City lost 1-0 last time out against Bayern Munich conceding a 90th minute winner from Jerome Boateng.

AS Roma however will be travelling to the Etihad full of confidence after beating Russian side CSKA Moscow 5-1 last time out. Former Chelsea full back Ashley Cole could feature with Former Arsenal forward Gervinho also a threat.

Manuel Pellegrini’s side cannot afford to lose this one as they may find themselves with a real up hill battle to advance to the knockout phase. City will have England number one Joe Hart back in goal after being on the bench in City’s win over Hull City in the league.

There’s a further boost for the Manchester club as they have Stevan Jovetic back having recovered from a hamstring injury. The Montenegro international will be looking to find his goal scoring form he showed at the start of the season.

Elswhere, PSG & Barcelona will go head-to-head at the Parc de Princes with Zlatan Ibrahimovic unfit to face the Catalan giants. Barcelona are in fantastic form coming into the game off the back of a 6-0 win against Granada last weekend.

Pick Of The Champions League Group Stage Matches (16th/17th Sept)


Liverpool     2 - 1     Ludogorets Razgrad

            Balotelli 82'         Abalo Paulos 90'
        Gerrard(pen)90'+3

Tuesday 16th September

Anfield


A Steven Gerrard stoppage-time penalty rescued all three points for Liverpool in their first Champions League match after a 5 year absence.

Bulgarian champions Ludogorets Razgrad were the visitors to Anfield as Liverpool got their long awaited Champions League campaign of a winning start. It was a tough encounter however as Ludogorets held their own for large periods in the match frustrating Liverpool into a few chances.

Mario Balotelli seemed to have repaid some of his £16million move from AC Milan in the summer with what looked to be the winning goal in the 82nd minute as he used his strength to power his effort passed the Ludogrets keeper.

Although this was not to be the  end of the action as Abalo Paulos was played through to slot his shot passed the rushing Simon Mignolet to snatch what appeared to be a draw away from home.

But the Anfield faithful urging their team to on were rewarded as a poor touch from the Ludogorets keeper lead to him bringing down Liverpool full-back Javier Manquillo to hand Liverpool the perfect opportunity to snatch all three points.

The perfect man for the job, Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard, coolly stepped up to slot his spot-kick into the bottom right corner to send Anfield delirious.


                             Borussia Dortmund     2 - 0     Arsenal

                  Immobile 45'     
                Aubameyang 48'

Tuesday 16th September

Signal Iduna Park


Out of sorts Arsenal were brushed aside in their opening Champions League group stage match away to 2013 finalists Borussia Dortmund.

Goals either side of half-time from Ciro Immobile and Emerick Aubameyang condemned Arsenal to a poor start to their Champions League campaign.

With Mathieu Debuchy, Nacho Monreal and Calum Chambers missing this meant Arsenal only had three fit first-team defenders available for the game. This meant 19 year old full-back Hector Bellerin made his first Champions League start for the gunners.

After surviving a host of chances in the first-half by the home side, the Gunners were unable to stop Ciro Immobile’s run as he slotted his effort brilliantly passed Szczesny.

Prior to Immobile’s opener Arsenal summer signing Danny Welbeck wasted a crucial chance as he dragged his shot wide after Aaron Ramsey slotted him through with just the keeper to beat.

The Gunners were hit with a sucker punch just three minutes into the second-half as Dortmund forward Emerick Aubameyang rounded Szczesny before finding the net to put his side two goals to the good.

With a further effort from Aubameyang hitting the bar and an even greater chance squandered by Mkhitaryan which would have inflicted further insult to injury.

The match finished 2-0 to the German side leaving Arsenal at the bottom of the group.


Real Madrid     5 - 1     FC Basel 

                   Suchy 14'(og)         Gonzalez 38'
                        Bale 30'
                     Ronaldo 31'
                   Rodriguez 36'
                     Benzema 79'

Tuesday 16th September

Santiago Bernabeu


Defending champions Real Madrid picked up where they left off against Swiss side FC Basel at the Santiago Bernabeu.

A stroke of good fortune provided the first goal of the game as a clever back-heel from James Rodriguez allowed Madrid defender Nacho into box which saw his attempted cross deflected off defender Marek Suchy passed the Basel keeper.

Brilliant play from Luka Modric lead to the second goal as his sublime pass put Gareth Bale through which he finished off superbly lobbing the keeper before volleying into the net.

Bale then provided Ronaldo with a chance he could not miss just one minute later and Rodriquez made it three shortly after tapping home after Benzema’s effort was parried. Basel hit back before half-time with a superb finish from Derlis Gonzalez to stop the rot.

The second-half only provided one goal with Benzema finishing off after brilliant link up play with Ronaldo as he drilled a left-footed drive in off the crossbar.

With Madrid adding to their squad over the summer they could once again be the team to beat.


Bayern Munich     1 - 0     Manchester City 

                   Boateng 90'

Wednesday 17th September

Allianz Arena


In the most anticipated opening match of the Champions League group stages, Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich hosted Premier League champions Manchester City at the Allianz Arena.

Jerome Boateng’s 90th minute winner stole all three points in the tie after a superb display from City keeper Joe Hart.

Bayern had a brilliant opportunity to open the scoring just 45 seconds into the fixture as World Cup winner Thomas Muller rounded Joe Hart though his off-balance effort went wide.

Further efforts from Mario Gotze, Muller again and Alaba, all forced brilliant saves from the England number one Joe Hart.

However after keeping his side level and what was looking to be a great point away from home, Hart couldn’t keep out Jerome Boateng’s effort which took a deflection on its way into the top right corner.

City had a great chance to snatch a point at the death as Sergio Aguero poked his effort under the Bayern keeper Manuel Neuer but saw his effort roll agonisingly wide.

With Roma next up for City this will be no easy group for them to progress to the knockout stages.


Chelsea     1 - 1     FC Shalke 04 

                Fabregas 11'         Huntelaar 62'

Wednesday 17th September

Stamford Bridge


Mourinho spoke before the game how he would love to secure a Champions League trophy with a third club, but his Chelsea side made a slow start to their campaign.

FC Shalke 04 were the visitors to the Bridge struggling for form as they have failed to win any of their first three Bundesliga fixtures of the season.

It was a perfect start for Mourinho’s side without in-form front man Diego Costa who wasn’t fit enough to make the starting line up. However he watched on from the bench as summer signing Cesc Fabregas scored his first goal in Chelsea colours as he slotted his effort home after Hazard’s clever lay off.

Fabregas missed a perfect opportunity to make it 2-0 but he side-footed his effort over the crossbar following Ivanovic’s cross.

Didier Drogba making his first start of the season replacing Costa for the game was unable to find the net as his effort went inches wide with just the keeper to beat.

Drogba and Chelsea would live to rue this missed opportunity as Fabregas was dispossessed which lead to a bursting run from young prospect Julian Draxler who played in Dutchman Klaas-Jan Huntelaar who cut inside before firing past Thibaut Courtois.

Eden Hazard had an excellent opportunity to snatch the win but his volleyed effort sailed just over the bar.

The points were shared on the night with both sides favourites to progress from the group.


          

United Cruise to 20th League Title

United Players Celebrate the Clubs 20th League Title

Manchester United secured a 20th League title following a convincing 3-0 victory over relegation candidates Aston Villa. Dutchman Robin Van Persie sealed the title with a sublime hat-trick to top off a wonderful season for the red half of Manchester. With 4 games still to play the title is back at Old Trafford.

The scene was set at the start of the game with just 1 more win needed in their 5 remaining games as Manchester City failed to beat Tottenham at White Hart Lane. It was always going to be a challenge for Villa to come and get a result at Old Trafford one of the toughest places in world football. Also with the added hunger of the United players chasing that 20th league title which for players like Robin Van Persie and Kagawa it’ll be their 1st taste of glory.

United couldn’t have asked for a better start to the match with an over hit cross by full back Rafael which was met at the back post by veteran Ryan Giggs ,chasing yet another title in his glittering career, who put the ball on a plate for the illustrious Van Persie to tap in after just 2 minutes.

Wayne Rooney playing in a more deep position picked out the Dutchman with a pin point pass which the United frontman couldn’t have met any better as he wrapped his foot around the ball on the volley as it flew past the helpless Brad Guzan into the Villa net, Unstoppable. At 2-0 with only 13 minutes played United looked to have the title in their grasp after heartbreak on the last day of last season.

Van Persie who signed for United at the start of the season for £24 million from Arsenal sealed the title with his 3rd of the game and 24th in the league as he swept the ball past the Villa defence, standing on the line, into the top corner. After 33 minutes on the clock the United fans started the party early as it look inevitable that a remarkable 20th league title will be complete.

With United on the front for most of the second half it was that man again Robin Van Persie although this time showing his defensive qualities as he headed a Villa attempt off the line to help seal a clean sheet for his team. Villa worked hard for the whole 90 minutes trying to create something but couldn’t break down this hardworking, resilient United outfit.

Yet another talking point over Wayne Rooney’s future as he was brought off once again on the 75 minute not looking too pleased, will he be at United next season?

However the celebrations after the game involving the manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who’s still going strong, conveyed pure relief from the likes of Van Persie who managed to get a taste of what it’s like to win a Premier League title. With 4 games still to play it is more of a victory parade for United who will be playing with no pressure after sealing the title.

By Jack Evans

RAFA Returns In Style

Nadal returns, winning the ATP 1000 title in Indian Wells

Rafa Nadal returned to the ATP circuit with a well fought victory in Indian Wells, California. This ATP 1000 event was the first time since Wimbledon that the so called ‘wonder four’ was all present in the draw once again. This was to be a tough test on paper for the Spaniard returning from a lengthy absence but has seen some recent form on clay prior to the event. It seemed Nadal entered for progression and didn’t imagine winning the event with the likes of Murray and Djokovic in red hot form.

Nadal received a bye in the first round before his first match against young American Ryan Harrison in the second round, his first competitive match on a hard court since his injury. Nadal obviously feeling some rustiness being out for a long time fought through the opening set in a tie break before dispatching the American 6-2 in the second set to progress in straight sets.

The next round Nadal was due to face Leonardo Mayer who progressed through against Mikhail Youzhny but Mayer pulled out with a suspected injury. Nadal progressing through to the next round with a walkover. Gulbis was next up for Rafa who was in good form so it was going to be another tough match for Nadal. In-form Gulbis took the first set 7-5 and was looking good for a possible victory. However Nadal showing his experience managed to find a way back into the game and took the next two sets more comfortable 6-3, 6-4 to set up a mouth-watering encounter with Roger Federer in the quarter-final.

The match all tennis fans wanted to see Nadal and Federer battling for victory on court once again. Federer one of the world greatest players didn’t show up on the day and was comfortable rolled over by the Spaniard in straight sets. Federer nursing a back injury caused in the earlier rounds couldn’t live with the pace of Nadal who took the match 6-4, 6-2.

The semi-finals saw Nadal and Czech Tomas Berdych battle for a place in the final of the event against either Juan Martin Del Potro or world number 1 Novak Djokovic. Nadal showed touches of his old self as he displayed great power and accuracy which was too much for Berdych who hasn’t beaten Nadal in 11 consecutive matches. Nadal winning in straight sets once again 6-4, 7-5 to secure a place into the final.

Nadal ready to unleash a forehand

The final saw the improving Nadal face up against the giant Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro who produced one of the wins of his career as he beat world number 1 Novak Djokovic who was favourite for the title. Del Potro continued his good form in this competition taking the first set 6-4 displaying a mix of power and neat touches. Del Potro then broke Nadal in the second set and led 3-1, queue the Rafa fight back. Nadal managed to put some shots together and bounced back in the match to take the second set 6-3 winning 5 straight games. The final set was also a hard fought one which went to the Spaniard 6-4 to take his first major title back since his return. 

The title also means that Nadal moves back up to fourth in the world and will be setting his sights on a return to world number 1. If Nadal can continue to improve and get back to his best then that could be a real possibility.

By Jack Evans

Uncertainty of Footballing Officials

We all know that officials are at football matches in order to make the match fair and flowing freely. However at present footballing officials are very inconsistent with the decision they give. In some circumstances ruining the game for the people who follow and have paid a large fee to attend certain matches. For example Manchester United against Real Madrid at Old Trafford, a big second leg in the Champions League against two giants of the game. The stadium packed with budding fans paying big money to attend. United leading 1-0 in the tie receive a ,what some could debate, harsh decision as Nani is sent off for a high foot. Nani was looking at the ball the whole time and was looking to bring it down, Arbeloa was on the wrong end of that boot but Nani had no intension of making contact with him. United go onto lose this game which is some what ruined by the harsh decision. Now the referee may state this is dangerous play, doesnt that mean any high foot in a football match in this day an age is deemed dangerous play?

Nani cannot believe it as he is sent off

Now just this weekend Newcastle played Wigan at the DW Stadium in an important Premier League clash. Wigan forward Callum Mcmanaman tackles Newcastle’s Massadio Haidara completely above the ball and makes contact with the studs to his knee. Haidara feeling the full force of the tackle had to go off with a suspected severe injury from that horrific tackle. The tackle however received absolutely no punishment, it wasn’t even deemed a foul by the referee. This is where the officials need to be more consistent if Nani’s tackle is deemed a red card surely this is too.

Shock tackle which isn’t even deemed a foul

Also this week we had the handball incident of Marouanne Fellaini as he clearly handled the ball in the box with the linesmen in clear view of the incident. This was a big moment in the match as Manchester City could have gone onto win the game against the 10-men of Everton thus keeping their title hopes alive. Again another decision which needs to be rectified to ensure the correct decision is made in the future.

Fellaini handball clearly inside the area, free-kick awarded

We see far too many decisions at present which are not justifiable ones. You could argue that the referee may not be able to make a clear decision in a split second but this is why we have extra officials such as linesmen to support him. A quick video replay on the incident and a correct decision could be made in seconds which is right and fair for the sport.

Champions League Round-Up (12th & 13th March)

Barcelona Too Good For Milan At The Nou Camp

Barcelona 4-2 (agg) AC Milan

Nou Camp, Tuesday 12th March 2013

Messi Too Good For Milan

Barcelona came from a 2-0 deficit to win convincingly 4-0 against AC Milan in the return leg at the Nou Camp. Barca were immediately 1-0 up after 5 minutes after a superb finish from Lionel Messi in to the top left hand corner with Abbiati stranded. Milan striker M’baye Niang nearly made the job harder for Barca as his effort struck the post. Straight down the other end it was the mercurial Messi who notched a second to level the tie as he once beat Abbiati into the bottom right corner.

The second half was a much tighter affair with a potential goal from Milan meaning Barca would need another 2 goals to win the tie. However this was not the case as the sheer dominance in possession told as Barca scored their third and fourth through the returning David Villa and Jordi Alba. Barca ran out victors 4-2 on aggregate and progress through to the next stage of the competition.  

Turkish Side Progress To Next Stage

Schalke 04  4-3 (agg) Galatasaray

Veltins Arena, Tuesday 12th March 2013

Galatasaray Celebrate Altintop Goal

Galatasaray were looking to book a long-awaited place into the next round of the competition as they faced tough German side Shalke 04.  The two sides went into the second leg level at 1-1 with all to play for. Schalke started the scoring with a goal from Roman Neustadter on 17 minutes which was cancelled out by Hamit Altintop and Burak Yilmaz for the Turkish side. Schalke once again replied through Brazilian wide-man Michel Bastos which gave Schalke a real chance which made the score 3-3. It was Galatasaray however who got the crucial winner through front man Umut Bulut.

Unlucky Gunners Crash Out Against German Giants Bayern

Bayern Munich 3-3 (agg) Arsenal (Bayern win on away goals)

Allianz Arena , Wednesday 13th March 2013

Arsenal Left Too Ponder As They Come Up Short

Arsenal were completely written off prior to the game with Bayern in superior form this season especially at the Allianz Arena. Bayern 20 points clear at the top of the Bundesliga looked likely to progress comfortably in this tie against a weakened Arsenal team. However the Gunners nearly pulled off the miracle as they were immediately ahead through Olivier Giroud before Laurent Koscielny put Arsenal only needing one goal to send the game to extra time and the possibility of penalties. However the Koscielny goal coming with only 5 minutes to go it was too late for Arsenal as Bayern just scraped through.

This was a strange performance from Bayern who had no real tempo in the game but take nothing away from the impressive display shown from the London side. Arsenal and Manchester United going out at this stage means that there will be no English representation in the competition apart from the final being hosted at Wembley.

Malaga Brilliance Knocks Porto Out

Malaga 2-1 (agg) Porto

La Rosaleda Stadium, Wednesday 13th March 2013

Isco Brilliance Overcomes Porto

Malaga went into the game 1 goal down against Portuguese giants FC Porto at the La Rosaleda Stadium. Malaga midfielder Isco taking the reins from fellow Spaniard Santi Cazorla led the charge as he netted a superb goal just before half-time to put his side in a great position to progress. On-loan Manchester City forward Roque Santa Cruz then popped up to score the winner with 15 minutes to play with his first touch. Malaga continued their impressive Champions League run as they progress into the next round of the competition.

By Jack Evans