Swansea spoil Louis van Gaal's big day

19 August, 2014

Swansea City caused a major shock on the opening weekend of the Premier League, defeating Manchester United 2-1 at Old Trafford and ruining Louis van Gaal's first official match.

The new look Red Devils were hoping to kick the campaign off with a win but were stunned by a slick Swansea side which took the lead through Ki Sung-yeung after 28 minutes. United toiled against the well organised Welsh side but equalised in the second half through newly-installed captain Wayne Rooney.

While many would believe this would spark the 2012/13 champions into life, it was Swansea who grabbed the win through new signing Gylfi Sigurdsson with less than 20 minutes to go. The defeat marked the first time United had lost an opening day fixture since 1972 while for Swansea it was their first away win over the Red Devils since 1931.

As their cross-city rivals continued to struggle, Manchester City had no such trouble in dispatching Newcastle United. On what was an emotional day on Tyneside, as St James' Park remembered supporters Liam Sweeney and John Alder who were killed aboard Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17, City overcame a spirited Newcastle side 2-0 with goals coming from David Silva and substitute Sergio Aguero.

Chelsea also got their campaign underway in ominous fashion, overpowering newly promoted Burnley 3-1 at Turf Moor. The Clarets did give the visitors a scare when Scott Arfield gave them the lead on 14 minutes but a Cesc Fabregas-inspired Chelsea stormed back with goals from new boy Diego Costa, Andre Schurrle and Branislav Ivanovic sending the points back to London.

Arsenal and Liverpool both opened the season with wins, albeit with much more of a struggle. The Gunners needed an Aaron Ramsey stoppage time winner to dispatch of managerless Crystal Palace 2-1 while Liverpool were given a huge test against Southampton.

The south coast team, which saw no less than three players leave for Liverpool in the summer, came from a goal down but lost  2-1 when Daniel Sturridge poked home.

Elsewhere, summer signing Eric Dier scored in the final minute to give Tottenham Hotspur a 1-0 win at West Ham United, Leicester City and Everton shared an enthralling 2-2 draw while Hull City claimed a 1-0 win away at Queens Park Rangers.

A Lee Cattermole thunderbolt sent Sunderland on their way to a 2-2 draw with West Bromwich Albion while Andreas Weimann gave Aston Villa a single goal victory away at Stoke City.

The resurgence of Alastair Cook

18 August, 2014

They say a week in politics is a long time, well for England cricket captain Alastair Cook, a month must seem like a lifetime.

Flashback to June and the Essex opening batsman was facing calls for him to resign from his position after another demoralising Test defeat, this time to Sri Lanka. Shane Warne described the performance at Headingley as "the worst day of captaincy" he had seen at international level for 25 years, piling the pressure on Cook.

England were on a terrible winless streak without a victory since the Ashes against Australia, stretching back ten games. Cook himself had been in disappointing form against Sri Lanka scoring just 78 runs in four innings. He remained defiant heading into the five game Test series against India, stating that he not would resign from his position and vowed to "throw everything" he had at the role.

A poor start to the series did not help matters with a draw and a defeat once again heaping the pressure on Cook and his team. However, in recent weeks England have rallied and completed a 3-1 Test series victory over India thanks to a rampant performance during the fifth Test, wrapping the match up in just three days.

England completely outclassed the tourists, winning by an innings and 244 runs. James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Chris Jordan tore through the Indian batting order, bowling the hosts out for just 94 in 29.2 overs. The impressive bowling added towards to the outstanding batting performance from Joe Root who scored an unbeaten 149.

India had simply no response for England's 486 and it proved to be redemption for Cook after a summer of discontent. Following the victory over India, Cook paid tribute to his wife, Alice, who convinced to stay on as England captain. Cook admitted there were some dark times over the past few months and he even considered his position following the Sri Lanka loss at Headingley and the Indian defeat at Lord's.

However, Cook told BBC Test Match Special that his wife manage to convince to stay on and see out the series.

Cook said: "Without my wife, I don't think I'd be standing here as captain. You don't often say things like that - I don't know why I just have - but it's the way I feel. You can bare your soul quite often to Alice and she's very good at getting me back on the straight and narrow."

Who will win the 2014/15 Premier League?

15 August, 2014

The wait is almost over.

The 2014/15 Premier League season kicks off on Saturday (August 16th) starting up ten months of highs and lows. This season welcomes back Burnley, Queens Park Rangers and Leicester City following their promotion from the Championship while a host of new faces will be battling it out for the first time.

With a new season, comes new hope and the likes of Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Southampton, Crystal Palace and West Bromwich Albion will be starting with a new manager. Come May, however, who will be lifting the Premier League trophy?

Here are the runners and riders competing for the title.

Manchester City

The reigning champions go into the new season attempting to win back-to-back titles. Only two teams in the history of the Premier League have managed to retain a championship and City will once again face stiff competition.

The Sky Blues have been busy in the transfer market bringing in Eliaquim Mangala, Fernando, Willy Caballero and Bacary Sagna along with the interesting loan of Frank Lampard. A big plus for manager Manuel Pellegrini is tying down Vincent Kompany, Sergio Aguero, Samir Nasri and David Silva to long-term deals.

Keeping these players at the club, as well as keeping Yaya Toure, could be key to City's season.

Chelsea

Jose Mourinho constantly played down Chelsea's title aspirations last season stating that they were a "work in progress". However, that all changes this season. The Blues have bought well during pre-season with the addition of Cesc Fabregas, Diego Costa, Filipe Luis and the returning Didier Drogba.

Despite his disappointing World Cup, the signing of Costa could prove a masterstroke by Mourinho. The Spaniard was in scintillating form for Atletico Madrid last season scoring 27 goals as they won the La Liga title.

Mourinho's tactical prowess will no doubt be in full effect this season and it could see the Premier League title return to West London.

Manchester United

Following the disaster of David Moyes, Manchester United have gone with experience and brought in Louis van Gaal as manager. The no-nonsense Dutchman has given Old Trafford a significant lift following the hugely disappointing, by their standards, seventh placed finish last time out.

United have added Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera to their ranks but are still in the market for more additions. Defence is a key focus of the club's recruitment with stalwarts Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra all leaving over the summer.

The Red Devils are expected to bounce back this year but it could be a year too early for a title challenge.

Liverpool

Liverpool went mightily close to winning the Premier League last season but fell dramatically towards the end with a defeat to Chelsea and the infamous 3-3 draw at Crystal Palace. Talisman Luis Suarez has gone to Barcelona and the task for manager Brendan Rodgers is replacing the Uruguayan's goals.

The Reds have raided Southampton over the summer with Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren arriving from the south coast. Other additions such as Lazar Markovic and Emre Can will be crucial if Liverpool want to the challenge for the title once again.

Rodgers is in the market for another striker who can replace that large Suarez-shaped hole at Anfield.

Arsenal

Manager Arsene Wenger surprised many Arsenal fans this summer by going out and actually spending some money. The Gunners scored a major coup luring Chilean forward Alexis Sanchez from Barcelona to the Emirates while Southampton's Calum Chambers and Newcastle's Mathieu Debuchy have all arrived.

With the trophy drought finally banished in May with the winning of the FA Cup, Arsenal need to push further than just the standard fourth place finish. Big things will be expected of World Cup winner Mesut Ozil, who faded towards the end of last season, while striker Olivier Giroud will be expected to have a better goal return this campaign.

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15 August, 2014

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Formula One 2014: The story so far

14 August, 2014

The 2014 Formula One season has all been about the battle between Mercedes duo of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton.

The drivers are locked in a tussle at the top of Drivers' World Championship and have shared a fair few bad words over the opening rounds as they head into the second half of the campaign. On a personal note, it has been a much stronger showing from Hamilton after a number of disappointing seasons. The Brit has failed to land anything higher than fourth place since his 2008 victory and has been determined to reclaim the title.

It has been back and forth between Rosberg and Hamilton since day one with the German winning the opening Australian Grand Prix only for Hamilton to storm back claiming wins in Malaysia, Bahrain, China and Spain. Only Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo has been able to split up the Mercedes dominance with the Australian winning both the Canadian and Hungarian Grand Prix.

There has been delight along the way for Hamilton after he claimed the checkered flag on his home race at Silverstone, however Rosberg responded in earnest by winning his own home country race in Hockenheim. Following the Hungarian Grand Prix, where the Mercedes drivers claimed third and fourth position, Rosberg edged into an 11 point lead over his teammate.

A prominent feature of the 2014 season has been the rivalry between Hamilton and Rosberg and only heightened in Hungary. Hamilton said he was "very, very shocked" after he received team instructions to let Rosberg by with just over 20 laps left. The Brit refused the orders of Mercedes and managed to hold off the German to claim a third place finish and close the gap at the top of the leaderboard.

It was another twist in the fractious relationship between the two drivers, however, with the Belgian Grand Prix a matter of days away the team is keen to ensure that it is still manageable. Mercedes F1 co-team boss Toto Wolff dismissed suggestions that the rivalry between Rosberg and Hamilton will become too much handle for the team.

Speaking to formula1.com, Wolff said: "They push each other to new levels, to new heights, in a way that is not detrimental to the team. Yes, potentially it is going to get more heated."

"But, if we carry on in performing as we do now, I am still carefully optimistic that it is only up to the two of them in fighting for the World Championship."

Elsewhere, it has been a disappointing campaign for the four-time championship winner Sebastian Vettel. Despite having dominated the sport for the past four years, the German lies in sixth place after a number of hugely frustrating races.

NFL preview - Who will be heading to Super Bowl XLIX?

13 August, 2014

The NFL returns next month with the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks kicking off the new season on September 4th. But who will be heading to University of Phoenix Stadium on February 1st to compete for Super Bowl XLIX?

There are already a tonne of questions waiting to be answered. Will the Seahawks become the first side to retain the Vince Lombardi Trophy since the New England Patriots won back-to-back Super Bowls in 2004 and 2005?

Will the Denver Broncos put their embarrassing final defeat to the Seahawks behind them and come back stronger? Will the Arizona Cardinals, led by the NFL's highest paid cornerback Patrick Peterson, become the first team to play a Super Bowl in their own stadium? And can the Dallas Cowboys return to the dominant force they were in the '90s?

Here is a guide to the front runners for this year's Super Bowl.

Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks surprised a lot of people in the manner they took apart the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVII. While a lot of focus was on the stuttering performance of Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, the Seahawks dominated their Colorado opponents. However, the 2014/15 campaign will prove another challenge.

Head coach Pete Carroll has lost the likes of Brandon Browner, Chris Clemons and Golden Tate and a lot will depend on the performance of wide receiver Percy Harvin. Picked up in the 2013 season, Harvin has had a torrid time with injuries but is fit to start the NFC West season.

The Seahawks will be up against it early on with tough matches against San Francisco 49ers, the Arizona Cardinals and St Louis Rams.

New England Patriots

After completing back-to-back Super Bowls in 2005, the Patriots have endured a barren spell, losing the showpiece match in 2012. Last campaign ended with a defeat in the AFC Championship Game and Tom Brady saw his completion rate drop to 60.5 per cent, his lowest since 2003.

However, there is optimism in the shape of linebacker Jamie Collins who has been developing well in the past season. The likes of Tommy Kelly, Sebastian Vollmer and Vince Wilfork will also be back in contention for the start of the season. Keeping this five fit will be a priority for the Patriots.

New Orleans Saints

Losing to eventual Super Bowl winners Seattle, the Saints enjoyed a 11-5 in the 2013 regular season and will be looking to build on that strong performance. Head coach Sean Payton welcomes Jairus Byrd, Champ Bailey and Jonathan Goodwin to the roster and will be once again looking to quarterback Drew Brees to drive the Saints forward.

Brees has been in scintillating form in recent years, recording 30 touchdown passes over the past six seasons. A lot is also hoped of safety Kenny Vaccaro who claimed the Defensive Rookie of the Year title in 2013.

Indianapolis Colts

2014 could prove to be a pivotal year for the Colts. Losing in the AFC Divisional Round last year, they boast the best squad in the AFC South divisions and will be looking to breeze through to the latter stages. Arthur Jones and Hakeem Nicks have been brought in while quarterback Andrew Luck is hoped to continue his fine form.

Another note for optimism is the performance of receivers T.Y. Hilton and Nicks who are tipped to drive the Colts on in 2014.

Denver Broncos

Still smarting from the defeat to the Seahawks at Super Bowl XLVIII, the Broncos will be looking to go one step further this year. There are question marks surrounding quarterback Peyton Manning, however. Following a stinker of a game against Seattle, how much really is left in the tank of the five-time league MVP?

There is also the issue of how to replace Eric Decker and it is something that head coach John Fox will need to address. However, in Manning, despite reservations, the Broncos have one of the best quarterbacks in NFL and they will once again be a force to be reckoned with.

The Premier League sack race

12 August, 2014

The Premier League season is only a matter of days away and supporters all over the country will be praying for a good start for their team.

It is a time of year full of optimism with fans eager to see how their side performs following pre-season. For many it is the first chance to see their club's new signings and if they can cope with the challenges of the Premier League and, who knows, maybe this could be the year where it all goes right.

For managers, it is a time for all the hard pre-season work to show dividends however there will be a few bosses nervously looking over their shoulder as the dreaded sack may not be far away. So here are the 2014/15 early candidates that may be leaving their position sooner than they thought.

Sam Allardyce (West Ham United)

Big Sam is already under a huge amount of pressure following West Ham's 13th placed finish during the past campaign. A season which saw fans calling for his head as they languished in the bottom three until a resurgence dragged them to a respectable finish. Supporters want a much more attractive brand of football and Allardyce has been forced to make amendments.

He will have to do without striker Andy Carroll who is for another four months with an ankle injury so much will depend on the success of summer signings Enner Valencia and Mauro Zarate to fire the Hammers up the table.

Alan Irvine (West Bromwich Albion)

West Brom managed to slip the appointment of Alan Irvine under the carpet, announcing during England's World Cup campaign. The former Everton assistant's appointment has not been greeted with fanfare from the Baggies' fans who are expecting another challenging season.

Albion finished 17th in 2013/14 season with one win in six and a lot of hope has been pinned on record signing Brown Ideye. The Nigerian striker is an unknown quantity - even Irvine who admitted he had not seen play prior to his signing - so a lot of pressure riding on him. His success, or failure, could impact heavily on Irvine's future at The Hawthorns.

Paul Lambert (Aston Villa)

Villa Park has not been a happy place of late. Owner Randy Lerner has been trying, and failing, to sell the club and performances on the pitch have been declining at an alarming rate. Last season's 15th place finish has heaped pressure on manager Paul Lambert. Villa's transfer business has hardly captured the imagination either with the likes of Philippe Senderos and Joe Cole signing for free while Kieran Richardson and Aly Cissokho have come in from Fulham and Liverpool respectively.

The appointment of Roy Keane as assistant manager is an intriguing decision and while Keane has maintained he is "here to help" Lambert, has Lerner simply installed a ready made replacement should results go awry again?

Garry Monk (Swansea City)

Despite being made permanent manager after taking temporary charge following the departure of Michael Laudrup, question marks still remain over Garry Monk. A club legend, he guided the Swans to a 12th place finish and has made good strides in the transfer market with the capture of Gylfi Sigurdsson, Bafetimbi Gomis and Jefferson Montero.

However, his perceived lack of experience, the loss of key players such as Ben Davies, Michel Vorm and Chico Flores, not to mention the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the future of Wilfried Bony, could mean an early exit for Monk.

Alan Pardew (Newcastle United)

It's getting harder and harder to predict what will come next from St James' Park. In the past season alone, they sold their best player, banned the local newspaper and Alan Pardew headbutted an opposing player.

While owner Mike Ashley has bankrolled a summer spending spree which has seen the likes of Siem De Jong, Remy Cabella and Daryl Janmaat all arrive, the focus will now firmly be on Pardew.

Newcastle ended last season having only won four games in 2014 sparking protests against Pardew and Ashley. A similar start will no doubt banish all the good work in pre-season and put the pressure on Pardew.

Unstoppable Rory McIlroy continues year to remember

11 August, 2014

"Not in my wildest dreams I would have a summer like this".

The words of Rory McIlroy after winning the US PGA Championship on Sunday (August 10th) at Valhalla. It has been a truly remarkable year for the Northern Irishman who has broken a host of records to cement his spot as the world's best golfer. The US title makes McIlroy the first UK player to win back-to-back majors and puts him on course to claim a Grand Slam of wins, with just the Masters eluding him.

However, McIlroy could complete this extraordinary run of wins when he heads to Augusta in April. It would put him among the golfing greats of Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods and would top off a truly sensational run for the Northern Irishman. The PGA title signifies McIlroy's fourth major and comes just weeks after he took home the Claret Jug from the The Open at Hoylake in July.

Following his win at Royal Liverpool, McIlroy spoke of his hopes to "dominate" golf for years to come. He cited both Nicklaus and Woods as two players that he would love to emulate in his own career. Regular major wins are on the agenda for the hugely confident 25-year-old from County Down and it would be hard to bet against with him the form he is in.

McIlroy was pushed hard at both The Open and the PGA Championship and had to be on the top of his game to win at Hoylake and Valhalla respectively. He had to hold his nerve on the final round of both the competitions with Sergio and Rickie Fowler pushing all the way at Royal Liverpool while it was Phil Mickelson and even the weather which stood in the way in Kentucky.

It came down to the final hole at the PGA after strong winds and torrential rain had caused a two hour delay. With officials frantically attempting to get the greens fixed, McIlroy dug in and managed to hold off the challenge of Mickelson, Fowler and Henrik Stenson to finish the day on three-under giving him a one shot advantage over his rivals, lifting the cup with a 16 under.

McIlroy now plans to celebrate by showcasing the Claret Jug at Manchester United's first home game against Swansea City on Saturday (August 16th). A United fan himself, McIlroy was already looking forward to the thrill to walk out at the home of the former Premier League champions.

Speaking to BBC Sport, McIlroy said: "I've got a week off now and I'm going to enjoy it. I don't know if I can parade both the Claret Jug and the Wanamaker Trophy at Old Trafford on Saturday. I'll try!"

McIlroy will be looking forward to a rest before heading back out to claim a Grand Slam and make history.

Celtic reinstated to Champions League

8 August, 2014

Celtic have been given a European reprieve by being reinstated to the Champions League after Legia Warsaw were found to have fielded an ineligible player.

The Polish side brushed Celtic aside 6-1 over the two legs of their third qualifying round tie but brought on substitute Bartosz Bereszynski in the second match at Murrayfield. Bereszynski was supposed to be suspended for the game after being sent off against Apollon Limassol in a Europa League last season and not being registered for the second qualifying game against St Patrick's Athletic.

As a result Uefa handed Celtic a 3-0 'walkover' win for the second leg, sending them through on away goals. Legia claimed that the mix-up was a "misunderstanding" but it has not been enough to avoid them being dumped out of the Champions League.

Uefa's decision lifts a little of the pressure on new Celtic boss Ronny Deila who had seen his side thoroughly outplayed by Legia both in Poland and in Edinburgh. The SPL champions will now face either Bulgaria's Ludogorets, Slovenia's Maribor, Slovan Bratislava, Malmo or Danish side AaB in the Champions League play-off draw, commencing today (August 8th) at 11:00 BST.

The Hoops were soundly beaten over two legs by Legia with the Polish side thrashing a 10-man Celtic 4-1 in Poland. The return leg at Murrayfield, Celtic's home while Celtic Park is being used for the Commonwealth Games, was the Scottish side's chance to right the wrongs seen in Warsaw but the home side crumbled under the pressure.

Michal Zyro put the Polish side into a 1-0 lead, a commanding 5-1 aggregate score, with Michal Kucharczyk completing the humiliation in the second half, nipping in ahead of Fraser Forster to make it 2-0. The tie was a disaster for Deila who has been looking to make the transition from former manager Neil Lennon as smooth as possible.

Not only did the result put the Norwegian boss under scrutiny but it would have represented a huge financial blow for Celtic. The team's past two Champions League campaigns have resulted in a windfall of £33 million alone and a failure to make it to the group stage could have significant implications for the club.

The elimination of Legia provides a lifeline for both Deila and Celtic. The club will no doubt want to recreate scenes from their impressive 2012/13 Champions League campaign which saw the Glasgow side qualify from a group of Barcelona, Benfica and Spartak Moscow. The group stage saw a famous win over the Spanish giants thanks to a goal from teenager Tony Watt.

Celtic's reinstatement gives the club one last chance to reach these heights once again.

Arsenal and Manchester City prepare for Community Shield

7 August, 2014

Arsenal and Manchester City are ready to fight it out for the first piece of silverware of the 2014/15 season as they head to Wembley for the Community Shield on Sunday (August 10th).

For the Gunners it is an opportunity to get back into the habit of winning trophies after going nine years without a cup or league title. That all ended when they beat Hull City 3-2 in the FA Cup final in May and manager Arsene Wenger will no doubt want to get the new campaign off to a good start with the addition of the Community Shield.

It will be the first time Arsenal have contested the trophy at the new Wembley after last appearing in 2005 at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, losing 2-1 to Chelsea. They have not won the trophy since 2004 when goals from Gilberto, Jose Antonio Reyes and a Mikael Silvestre own goal gave the Gunners a 3-1 win over Manchester United.

Manuel Pellegrini's Man City flexed their muscles once again during the 2013/14 campaign. City regained the Premier League title, overcoming a strong challenge from Liverpool, and lifted the Capital One Cup beating Sunderland in the final.

They will be looking to score back-to-back league titles this season for the first time in their history and Sunday represents a chance for them to reclaim the Community Shield they last won in 2012. Yaya Toure, Carlos Tevez and Samir Nasri gave City a 3-2 win over Chelsea at Villa Park.

Both sides have been active in the transfer market, with Arsenal scoring a coup with the capture of Chile international Alexis Sanchez from Barcelona for £30 million. Mathieu Debuchy and David Ospina have been acquired from Newcastle United and Nice respectively while Wenger has looked to invest in the future with the £12 million capture of Southampton's Calum Chambers.

However, the Arsenal boss admitted that defender Thomas Vermaelen is close to leaving the club with Manchester United reportedly interested. Should Vermaelen leave for Manchester he will follow in the footsteps of former teammate Bacary Sagna who moved to City earlier in the summer.

The Sky Blues themselves have been busy during the close season buying Fernando and goalkeeper Willy Caballero from Porto and Malaga respectively. Former Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard has also joined on a loan from New York City, a new club affiliated with City. They are also hopeful of bringing in Porto centre back Eliaquim Mangala in the next fews days for a reported fee of £31.8 million.

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