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Who will triumph at Super Bowl XLIX?

Who will triumph at Super Bowl XLIX?

After a Championship Weekend that started with a bang, yet ended with a whimper, we are once again primed for a fascinating finale to an enthralling NFL season, but as the Seahawks look to defend their crown, will they overcome the Patriots, or can Brady and Belichick combine for a fourth Lombardi Trophy?

Amazing recovery
Seattle head to the desert having completed an historic comeback over the Packers, but after New England’s comprehensive dismantling of the Colts, it looks as though the game will remain too close to call, and with the line opening at a pick, we could be set for the first Super Bowl without a favourite.
The Seahawks boast one of the most fearsome defences in recent memory, with a unit that could define a generation, and after a dominant Super Bowl performance a year ago, Pete Carroll will once again look to defensive co-ordinator Dan Quinn to dial up a range of packages that will ensure Brady faces a tougher time than he did against Andrew Luck this past weekend.
However, a sprained elbow to star CB Richard Sherman could put a pin in some of those plans, and despite the fact he is due to be ready for the game, there must be some worries in the back of Seahawk fans’ minds. Yet, Sherman may not prove the key to unlocking the Patriots offense.
Earl Thomas is the perhaps one of the more underrated players in the NFL, in that he perhaps represents one of the best four or five defensive backs in the league, but is often overshadowed by Sherman or other, louder, teammates. His dominance in the defensive backfield will be crucial to the Seattle gameplan, and is a prime candidate to earn Super Bowl MVP honours, and, will be able to provide assistance to those covering the best TE in the NFL, Rob Gronkowski.
Gronk, easily the biggest offensive weapon the Patriots possess outside of Brady, dropped a crucial pass the last time New England made it to the dance, and will no doubt be eager to put those memories to bed and earn a much-heralded ring.
Tougher opposition
Whilst New England’s D may not stack up to their opposite numbers, they are a much improved group, led by rising star Jamie Collins, veteran lineman Vince Wilfork, and perhaps the most impressive player from their AFC Championship victory, Rob Ninkovich.
With a pair of evenly matched offensive lines, it may come down to the respective defensive fronts to make the biggest difference, and with Ninkovich lining up across from Chandler Jones, Russell Wilson is likely to need to make the most of his well-known scrambling ability.
Having suffered through a nightmarish first half in the NFC Championship, Wilson, who threw four interceptions, regained his composure in the second half to throw a miraculous two-point conversion before tossing the game-winning 35 yard touchdown to Jermaine Kearse in overtime. The third year QB returns to the Super Bowl on the back of another impressive season, but will certainly be relying on the raw power of Marshawn Lynch in the backfield.
Lynch, who has, at times, single-handedly carried the Seahawks’ offense on his back this season, is the one Seattle skill player that could turn this game on its head, and will be looking to make a quick impact, given the Seahawks’ predilection of leaving it late.
Having dominated nearly every fourth quarter in which they have played this season, they have often faltered earlier, and should they come close to making similar mistakes to those from their narrow NFC Championship win, the Patriots will, as defined by the Belichick era, make the most of any chances handed to them.
In 1982, the San Francisco 49ers won their first Super Bowl in franchise history having entered the game as only one point favourites. 32 years later, we are on the brink of an even tighter affair, which can only serve for the most exciting clash, and one that could define this era in the sport for years to come

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5 Turkish players to tempt the big European clubs

5 Turkish players to tempt the big European clubs

Looking for a late signing as the transfer window draws to a close? With this type of talent available, the top European scouts may well be heading to Turkey this month.

Enes Unal
He won’t turn 18 until May but the hype around Enes Unal continues to grow significantly. His incredible pedigree at youth level saw the striker manage 182 goals in 110 appearances, and it set off scouts from some of Europe’s biggest clubs to pay close attention. Last season he featured for Bursaspor’s first team and became the youngest scorer ever in the Super Lig.
Now, Bayern Munich and Chelsea are the teams said to be monitoring the player closest. Unal is a classic poacher in the penalty area, making intelligent movement across defences and proving clinical in front of goal. Many regard him as the most exciting striker to emerge from Turkey since Hakan Sukur brought his talents to Europe.

Ahmet Yilmaz Calik
Calik has only gone from strength to strength since making his debut for Gençlerbirliği and he now appears to coming to the fore as one of Super Lig’s top defenders. At 1.84m he is by no means an imposing presence but with his athleticism, commanding in the air is by no means an issue.
Calik’s excellent when it comes to sitting in deep with his defence and clearing danger, taking no risks and instead going for the simple option - a quality vastly underrated. His anticipation too, is impressive for someone so young; the defender is just 20, and this shows all the signs he could be a leader in the future.

Burak Yilmaz
He’s 29-years-old now so the feeling for most is Burak Yilmaz might’ve missed his big move to Europe, but the in the business of goals you never know. Yilmaz has 63 goals in 106 appearances since joining Galatasaray in 2012, and already this season he’s managed 11 in 16 Super Lig appearances.
It has made him one of the most well-known, and efficient, strikers in the game. He famously topped Cristiano Ronaldo in the Champions League group stage goalscoring charts by firing in 6 goals across 501 minutes. The Portuguese meanwhile scored the same in 540. The Turkish striker knows how to work the penalty area well, and can score with his feet and head, while also being adept with the ball at his feet. He’s by no means slow, and can explode in an instant to turn over a defence.

Hakan Çalhanoğlu
Surely the most talked about Turkish player in Europe right now, the Bayer Leverkusen man has the world at his feet - at just 20 years old. He’s a regular in one of Europe’s strongest leagues, and a host of top clubs are tracking his astounding progress. Çalhanoğlu’s vision of play must be his biggest asset, as he views games akin to a South American midfielder, eyeing openings other players do not and possessing the ability to weight an inch perfect pass to a teammate. Comparisons have inevitably been made to Mesut Ozil due to his background, but it could be argued the Bayer 04 man is more developed than Ozil was at this age. Though he may not have the same flair, or skill, he does combine better with teammates and has rounded his midfield game to cover defensive and attacking aspects. Arda Turan might be the icon in Turkish football right now, but Çalhanoğlu will soon be the new king.

Ozan Tufan
If Hakan Çalhanoğlu is the next major Turkish star, then Ozan Tufan will likely not be too far behind - or even on par with him. Chelsea, Manchester United and - apparently on Arda Turan’s recommendation - Atletico Madrid, are all watching the gifted midfielder closely.
Tufan’s rise has been somewhat meteoric since scoring against Denmark for Turkey. He started out as a right back initially but has become competent in central, and wide right, midfield roles. The 20-year-old is a hard worker, unselfish and a great attitude towards the team game. Legendary coach Fatih Terim is said to be a huge fan, after giving the player his initial chance on the International stage.

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An early look ahead to the US Masters

An early look ahead to the US Masters

Only a few weeks of the new golfing year have passed but big name players are already talking about honing their games in order to peak for The Masters at Augusta in April.

Justin Rose spoke recently about April through to August being prime time on the golfing calendar and he already has his sights set on peaking for the year's first major championship, which remains one of the highlights of the sporting year.

Out of the blocks
Jimmy Walker is a big fancy of mine this year for the Masters and he's started the season faster than most. It was the same last season for Jimmy who amassed three victories in a short space of time. One of these was the Sony Open which he successfully defended the other week after a near miss at the Tournament Of Champions. The most impressive thing about the title defence was the way in which Jimmy bounced back after the disappointment of Kapalua and this mental toughness will be vital if he wants to start targeting the major championships. Rookies don't usually do well at the Masters but Jimmy recorded a top 10 on his Augusta debut in 2014.
Walker has the game and all the attributes required for the major championships and now under the guidance of Butch Harmon, he also has the back room team in place. Equipped with excellent driving ability, a power draw and a magnificent high ball flight are all in the armoury and arguably there isn't a better putter around at the moment. This is the perfect concoction for success at Augusta National and Jimmy Walker has been backed in across the board to take down the Masters, now trading at a general 40/1.

Number One
The man Walker will have to beat at Augusta is world number one Rory McIlroy who is the current 9/2 favourite. Despite a court case looming, Rory has also started the season fast. A narrow miss in Abu Dhabi added his fourth runner up spot there to the record books. The Northern Irish man will be looking to complete the major grand slam at the tender age of just 25 after winning the Open Championship at a canter in 2014 at Royal Liverpool. This added to the US Open win in 2011 and the PGA Championship victories in 2012 and 2014. Rory has a set of goals listed on a boarding pass this year and top of the lot is finally taming Augusta National.

Breakthrough season
Patrick Reed is another man earmarked for major success and again, Augusta may be the track most suited to his game. The confident Reed announced that he should be a top five player in the world and he's well on the way to being just that - officially - after a fourth PGA Tour victory in Hawaii. Reed was the man to pip Walker at the season opener in Kapalua and he's the type of player that will take the chance if it comes along. Again, equipped with that power draw and superb flat stick ability, Augusta may suit the feisty 24 year old Texan despite a missed cut on his debut last year. Unfortunately Reed couldn't join the likes of Jordan Spieth and Jonas Blixt - who both finished tied second - as rookies to break the mould and put in a strong challenge last year, but don't discount him at 50/1 in 2015.

Man in form
Bill Haas is the latest winner on the PGA Tour and he found his shooting boots at the Humana Challenge following a phone call to his wife in which he said he felt he wasn't going to be able to score. Haas' second child is due next month and two wins now have corresponded with the timing of the births of both children. This will add a lot of fuel to the fire of the "nappy factor" theory and indeed, for me it was Bill's previous win at the AT&T National which made me a believer. Haas is definitely a stronger player mentally for me now and that may give him an edge in the major events.
I witnessed a changed man close out for victory at Congressional in 2013 and later Bill talked about his new found perspective with the 'family man' life looking. This initiated credence to the Nappy Factor theory for me - a theory that suggests those players with a recent new born or one on the way play a more relaxed game brought on by a new found perspective. Again, at Humana, Haas seemed completely unfazed down the stretch, beating a packed leaderboard including playing partner Justin Thomas - a youngster with huge potential who may have big designs on Augusta himself this year.

 

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United to visit MK Dons in League Cup, Sunderland face Birmingham

13 August 2014 23:52

 

Manchester United’s first League Cup second-round tie for 19 years will be a visit to League One outfit MK Dons.

After missing out on European football with a seventh-placed finish in the Premier League last season, United entered Wednesday’s draw alongside the other 12 top-flight sides not involved in UEFA Champions...

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