BLEACHERS BREW EST. MAY 2006

Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

4 sports shows to watch in this time of lockdown



4 sports shows to watch in this time of lockdown
By Rick Olivares

With Covid-19 putting sporting events around the world to stop, the action – at least online – hasn’t stopped heating up.

Here are four worthwhile and hilarious sports shows, documentaries, or even videos to watch in this time of covid-19.

The 2018 FIFA World Cup Film (YouTube)
This was previously only available on Amazon Prime, but on March 21, FIFA uploaded this onto YouTube. This 80-minute film – expertly narrated by British actor Damian Lewis – takes you back to the FIFA World Cup in Russia from two years back.

What I have loved about the FIFA World Cup films since I began watching them over a decade ago is they use footage from their own cameras and not the television cameras on hand. So what you get a more intimate, close up, and behind-the-scenes shots using high definition cameras. You miss out on the expansive shots of the goals such as France’s Benjamin Pavard’s wicked rifle of a shot that was one of the tournament’s best.  But having said that, there are other venues to watch those.

The FIFA films are minimalist in its script writing. Lewis keeps an even keep and very coolly describes the action. And for the most part, he allows the footage to say it all. The footage is a joy to watch.

Lewis, who came to international fame for his role in the HBO series Band of Brothers has been in demand for documentary narration. You might want to view his documentaries such as Hang Tough, that tells of the monument to Dick Winters, who the former portrayed in Band of Brothers, as a statue of his is unveiled in Normandy, France, and Keep On Running: 50 Years of Island Records. 

F1 Drive to Survive Season 2 (Netflix)
As a fan of Formula 1 racing, this series (including Season One) is a Godsend. It brings to life the competition as it tells all the intoxicating subplots of the various drivers, managers, and teams and their owners of an entire racing season in 10 episodes (for each season). I’ve watched F1 from the stands in Singapore and that’s from a distance. This brings you up close and you understand a lot more. 

Season 2 finds Mercedes and Ferrari finally allowing the Netflix cameras inside their headquarters, paddocks, and more (they must have seen the effect on the other teams in Season One). To finally have the world’s best driver in Lewis Hamilton and Sebastien Vettel in the spotlight is a huge treat for race fans. 

Even behind the scenes, nothing slows down in F1 Drive to Survive.

The English Game (Netflix)
This six-part series tells the story of Scottish footballer Fergus Suter who moves to England. Created by Downton Abbey’s Julian Fellowes, he mixes reality with plots perhaps created to push the story forward and make it more interesting. While I am not particularly crazy about these, I understand. Otherwise, it would have been a little boring because not everyone’s life is eventful. 

So take it like you did with Escape to Victory (that 1980s football film starring Sylvester Stallone, Max Von Sydow, Michael Caine, and Pele as well as professional footballers Bobby Moore, Osvaldo Ardilles, Mike Summerbee, Werner Roth, and others. It’s set in a real time, but kind of fictional.  

Icarus (Netflix)
One of the most powerful sports films ever. This film helped bring about the suspension of Russian athletes for their doping program. How Russia was able to participate in the last Olympics – short-handed though – I have no idea. It is sad to see the world’s sports authorities bow down to Russia (and they even haven’t touched China yet). 

But cyclist and filmmaker Bryan Fogel starts out what seems to be cycling’s version of Super-Size me when he becomes friends with Russian Grigory Rodchenkov who is the director of Moscow’s anti-doping center. Rodchenkov teaches him all the tricks of doping which is a surprise. But even more telling is that he goes on record to say that many Russian athletes cheat. After the World Anti-Doping Association comes out with a report on state-sponsored cheating, Rodchenkov departs for the USA where all of a sudden, his simple project with Fogel becomes a gold mine investigative reporting. 

You simply cannot make up these things. It’s riveting. 

Monday, March 9, 2020

Looking at Ateneo’s PCCL triumph over San Beda



Looking at Ateneo’s PCCL triumph over San Beda
By Rick Olivares

Tested, defended for the first 32 minutes, the Ateneo Blue Eagles stamped its class over former NCAA rival San Beda for a 57-46 win for the 2020 Philippine Collegiate Champions League at the Filoil Centre in San Juan.

The Red Lions held Ateneo to five points in the third period as the NCAA runners-up overhauled their own nine-point deficit at the half for a 41-39 lead going into the final canto.

Right before the seven-minute mark, the starters – Angelo Kouame, William Navarro, and SJ Belangel returned to turn the tables on the Red Lions as they launched an 18-5 finishing kick to win back-to-back PCCL titles; their fifth overall. Furthermore, Ateneo won their 11th trophy in 11 consecutive domestic tournaments they have participated in since 2017. This 2019-20 season, they are 21-0 including their 16-game sweep of UAAP Season 82.

Quipped Ateneo head coach Tab Baldwin, “I hope we can go 12-12.”

What can we say about this win?

Tis might sound like a boast, but the Blue Eagles once more won it with a depleted crew.
In last year’s PCCL UAAP-NCAA Showdown, they defeated San Beda literally short-handed in three-matches. During their round robin for the second match, they only had six players. By half-time, they had eight. Ditto for Game Three. In the finals, they crushed the University of Visayas’ Green Lancers, 95-71, that was Rey Suerte’s last before transferring to the University of the East.

This year, they once more pummeled UV – in the semi-finals, 95-63, by an even bigger margin!

This year, starting forward Dwight Ramos was not available with his right arm in a sling as were Pat and Edward Maagdenberg.BJ Andrade is out with a season-ending knee injury. So, Jason Credo slipped into the starting unit. Although he didn’t score, he grabbed five rebounds, had two steals, and an assist. But perhaps more tellingly, he stopped Red Lions star swingman James Kwekuteye wo shot a miserable 1-12 from the field and finished with four points.

Troy Mallillin is about to be unleashed. His freakish athleticism and confident demeanor have seen him play a bigger role on the team. He can score, play defense, and work that basket. At one point, with a highly unconventional unit on the floor, he was the man who could score. But I like that he is willing to subvert himself to the system which is why it led to a passing error instead of taking the shot. But he knows better and he is playing better. Watch out!

Aside from Troy playing well in the crunch, others also stood up and showed their championship pedigree. 

San Beda played great defense in the third quarter as they limited Ateneo to five points. The Blue Eagles returned the favor and held the Red Lions to five points in the final quarter as SJ Belangel came alive scoring all 10 of his points including that conventional three-point play and that dagger of a triple that broke San Beda’s backs.

Some say that this is now Belangel’s team. Maybe. He will definitely hit a lot of big shots. But they have some studs who will get that ball in the crunch. Dwight Ramos is possible one. As is Kouame. And the way Mallillin is playing, he will be huge for Ateneo’s campaign come Season 83 of the UAAP.

William Navarro shut down San Beda’s PBA-ready player, Calvin Oftana and scored on a huge drive.

Angelo Kouame, hounded by a triple-team almost all game long scored huge buckets off tip ins. And at one point, even pilfered the ball from San Beda’s Prince Etrata and drove in for a dunk. Like when he did exactly the same to the University of Visayas’ court general George Cometa in the semi-finals. When you have a seven-footer taking away from a player much smaller than him then you know you are in trouble.

In the crunch, Ateneo closed down SBU’s Ralph Penuela, Oftana, Kwekutye, Peter Alfaro, and Kemark Cariño who played well in this game. 

This was a most impressive win against its fabled foe. It is Ateneo’s fifth PCCL crown, they are 11-for-11 in their last tournaments (the PCCL has a unique format with the UAAP-NCAA Showdown with the winner receiving a trophy that also advances them to the national finals where another trophy is at stake), and have a 21-match win streak dating back to this UAAP season and 24 over-all counting last year’s PCCL.  


Opinion: San Beda remains formidable



Opinion: San Beda remains formidable 
By Rick Olivares

Any talk that the San Beda Red Lions will no longer be a power in NCAA basketball are premature if not downright silly.

No Donald Tankoua. No Clint Doliguez. No AC Soberano. No Evan Nelle. They still crushed NCAA champions Letran (who were missing their own set of players but that isn’t the point here), 76-53 during the UAAP-NCAA Showdown. Then they took down a strong UST team with reigning UAAP Most Valuable Player Soulemane Chabi Yo, 77-68.

In the semi-finals, of the PCCL, they averted a disaster when they escaped a late University of the Philippines surge, 65-63, to enter the finals where they unfortunately, lost to Ateneo, 57-46.

Following their PCCL loss to Ateneo, the Red Lions players were so downcast. Almost as tough as when they lost to Letran in the last NCAA finals. Other teams might treat this as, “Ah, this is just the PCCL.” Not San Beda. Whether you admire that attitude or not, this will definitely serve as fuel, as motivation when the next season starts.

As it is, they will have some very good players in key positions. Calvin Oftana. For old-time Red Lions fans and followers, he plays like former star Elmer Reyes – that long rainbow of a shot, the ability to get the rim with the ball in the palm of his hands and he gently lays it in. Except, Oftana is taller, leaner, and more athletic. The man has PBA written all over him.

James Kwekuteye can play the one, two, and three spots. But he is more effective at the two. If he formed that exciting one-two punch with Nelle in the previous year, this time, it will be Oftana and himself. 

Ralph Penuela has returned after a year’s absence and the Red Lions felt his loss in last year’s campaign. He will be filling that spot vacated by Nelle. The problem is they did not anticipate Nelle bolting for La Salle. Now they have a depth problem at the one-spot where Prince Etrata is too small and at times overmatched. That doesn’t mean though that he cannot play it. He will need to improve with his speed and shooting.

Peter Alfaro is showing signs of why he was moved up from the Red Cubs’ ranks. In high school, he would spot up and shoot. Now, he is taking his game inside and is surprisingly a good rebounder.

They have JB Bahio is who underrated at the three and four and Franz Abuda who though known as a defensive stopper, can rebound, and even hit timely threes.

Kemark Cariño will play that center slot with help from Damie Cuntapay and Alex Visser.

They will have some help when Justine Sanchez, Yukien Adrada, and Rhayyan Amsali move up to the seniors ranks. 

While it isn’t as fearsome a five as San Beda has deployed for over a decade, these Red Lions will have to dig deep if they want to keep their spot as an elite team in the NCAA. They will win as a team with others playing key roles whether they fill in for a few minutes or two. They will win it by playing heads up defense.

Too often, the Red Lions do not get props for their work on the defensive end as they bristle with a lot of firepower. They are a very sound defensive team. As such, they remain the hunted. Every team will gun for them in what they think is an even playing field. Well, that remains to be seen.

But one thing they have going for them is many of their top NCAA foes have depleted line-ups – College of St. Benilde, San Sebastian, Lyceum of the Philippines, and Letran.

Furthermore, there is that championship pride. That hard-won experience of having played in countless finals gives them an edge; it might not be much, but it is an edge.

Their coaching staff knows they are in for a fight so they will need to address their line-up by the summer heading into the new NCAA season. Speaking of their coaching staff… that is a plus. The crew behind the team has been in place for a while. One might think that there is a sense of complacency. I assure you there is none. They have some top backroom people who know what they do and how to get the job done. There is nothing like knowing that a team is well-coached, well-prepared, and supported. That consistency in my book, makes for a huge advantage. 

Make no mistake though… the San Beda Red Lions… will be in the thick of the fight.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

My fave Drive to Survive Season 2 moments



My fave Drive to Survive Season 2 moments
By Rick Olivares

No sooner than Formula 1 Drive to Survive Season 2 was on Netflix, I binge watched it.

I have been a fan of Formula 1 racing sine I was a kid. It started out when my father took me to this car event in Makati back in the 1970s. A large stretch of Ayala Avenue was closed down for this car show/race and stunts (I cannot remember the name of the event for the life of me, but I do remember being transfixed by this yellow car that its rear raised and was doing stunts. 

I’ve been to a couple of F1 events and that’s in nearby Singapore (am thinking of going to the inaugural Vietnam Grand Prix in Hanoi this April but the Corona virus has me thinking several times over). I have followed the careers of Michael Schumacher, Mario Andretti, and Sebastian Vettel, and several years ago became a fan of Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo. 

Standing next to Ricciardo’s Formula 1 car on display prior during a European tour is such a fond memory. I saw both Vettel and Ricciardo race in that car!

As much as a fan I am, only twice in my life have I bought an F1 magazine. Seeing Drive to Survive on Netflix last year and the new Season 2 this year (detailing the 2019 season) has been a huge treat for F1 fans. Now, you get an insider’s look at what goes on behind each team and I have to admit that it’s even more riveting.

What I liked about Formula 1 Drive to Survive Season 2:

1.    Finally, Mercedes and Ferrari gave us an insider’s look. After not participating in Season 1, the top two constructors of the last several seasons have seen how this can really be a boon for their teams so they finally opened their paddocks, headquarters, and even homes up to Netflix.

Seriously. How can you not feature the best F1 driver of recent years and perhaps of all time in Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel?

It was nice to see what F1 great Niki Lauda meant to Mercedes, its principal owner Toto Wolff and Hamilton himself. 

2.    Redemption for Pierre Gasly. The Frenchman started out as the second driver for Red Bull Racing behind Max Verstappen who became the lead driver when Ricciardo bolted for Renault. Gasly was unable to perform and he was released in favor of young Thai-Briton, Alex Albon, who gave a very good account of himself. All this while losing his best friend, Frenchman Anthoine Hubert who was killed during a car crash during F2 racing at the Belgian Grand Prix.

Gasly returned to his former team, Toro Rosso, where he finished ninth in the driver’s rankings and second in the Brazilian Grand Prix.  

3.    More Guenther Steiner. The Italian motorsport engineer and manager for Hass racing was the unlikely star of Season 1 for his quick and acerbic wit and screen presence. And once more, underperforming driver Romain Grosjean is the target of his barbs; funny and all.
4.     
Best line? “We’re (Renault) not bankrupt. Well, not yet. It depends on how many cars you destroy this year.”

5.    Alex Albon’s call up. The man is so humble and likeable. Here’s a rising star who still lives with his mom and siblings.  

6.    Nico Hulkenberg’s trials. The driver with the longest tenure in F1 without a podium finish misses his one last chance for glory and is subsequently dropped for Esteban Ocon. Nico knows his shortcomings and handles it well in spite of being grilled by American kids prior to the American Grand Prix in Austin, Texas. By season’s end, he poses one last time with his Renault team that brings out Hulkenberg wigs for the photo op. It’s a nice touch. But bittersweet for the German.

7.    The podium celebration of Carlos Sainz. Gasly wasn’t the only one to get a podium finish in the final race of the year. Spaniard Sainz had a very good season and had several fourth place finishes. 

In Brazil, he finished fourth but was advanced to third when Lewis Hamilton was penalized for clumsily taking out Albon’s car. 

What makes this special was how the Netflix team captured Sainz’s nervousness waiting for the decision, the discussion of his manager with McLaren personnel about going to the podium that the latter deemed an act of desperation and celebrating with the whole team when the announcement was made that he is declared the third place finisher.

8.    Williams Racing at a crossroads. They were once on top of the F1 world, but have really but hard times. They have been terrible delivering substandard cars in spite of having good drivers. It was painful to see this team struggle as they missed two days of testing at Barcelona. And during the season, the car kept giving up on its drivers, the rising British driver George Russell and veteran Robert Kubica. This 2020 season is surely intriguing.

I’d say that this Netflix series is one of the best. Am looking forward to Season 3.



Monday, February 24, 2020

The Best Matches of PWR Love at First Fight



The Best Matches of PWR Love at First Fight
By Rick Olivares

Philippine Wrestling Revolution: Love at First Fight was another epic night in the local professional wrestling circuit’s history.

The promotion held at the Power Mac Center at the circuit Makati last Sunday, February 23 had the roaring crowd on the edge of their seats as challengers sought to take away championship belts while new chapters opened while others began to percolate to a boil

Here are our choices for the best fights of the matinee production.

Match of the Night: Quatro vs Jan Evander
Jan Evander, the Doctor of Professional Wrestling made it clear – and rightly so – that this was going to be a non-title fight. Should Quatro defeat him, then he would get a shot at the All-Out War title belt.

Boy, the doctor got more than he bargained for as Quatro matched him in athleticism and technique, countermoves, and then some. The challenger looked like he was going to get that shot he desired when Jake de Leon’s entrance music began playing. Distracted, Evander flattened Quatro for the win.

The Endgame rushed the stage and began to inflict more hurt on a fallen Quatro when 
The cavalry arrived in the form of JDL and PWOG partner, Ken Warren. After driving off the Endgame, JDL tried to explain to Quatro that he had nothing to do with the distraction that caused the latter his opportunity. Quatro would have none of it though.

Runner-Up: Chino Guinto vs. Mike Madrigal vs. Evan Carleaux
Now, this triple threat match got Love at First Fight going with the victor earning a title shot at the PWR title. Three dudes with the chops, cojones, and the following. Eventual winner Evan Carleaux might not have the stage magnetism that Chino and Mike have but he can get there when he gets his confidence going. And what a win. It looked like Guinto was on his way to a win when he matched up with Carleaux one-on-one with Madrigal out of the ring with the wind clearly knocked out of him. But Carleaux pulled the rug from under Guinto for the win.

And how cool was that for Guinto and Madrigal to lift Carleaux’s arms in triumph and recognition of his feat? Evan is getting a firm push.

Performance of the Night: Robbie Eagles versus PWR champion Chris Panzer
Was the Main Event between Robbie Eagles and Chris Panzer lacking? Not at all. This one had huge rallies, fabulous audience engagement, high-flying theatrics, and a dash of deviousness. Hell, the whole locker room emptied to watch this. 

Make no mistake, Panzer retained his title by the slimmest of margins (and with the help of Mr. Sy who always seems to be at the right place at the right time).  Panzer had the smack down laid on him by Fil-Australian Robbie Eagles who like TJ Perkins in PWR Homecoming showed his incredible technique, athleticism, smart, and power. Robbie must have felt like he was in his hometown of Australia. And why not? His family was in the audience. 

And it was pretty much a Robbie Eagles highlight reel all the way to the “Robbie Robbie Robbie… Oi! Oi! Oi!”

Most Entertaining Match: PWOGS vs The Naughty Boys
The PWOGs duo of Jake de Leon and Ken Warren supplied the power while the dysfunctional dup of Jhemherlhynn and Cali Nueva added a lot of spice to this bout. JML had the stuffing beaten out of her as the PWOGs didn’t go easy on her, but she gave as good as she got. Cali Nueva has always been one of the most entertaining in PWR’s locker room and there is obvious chemistry between him and JML even if they do not act like it. 

Lots of twists and turns and how JML survived those power bombs is anyone’s guess. 

When it looked like the PWOGs were going to wrap this up, Quatro made his most inopportune re-entrance. The distraction likewise cost PWOGS the match.

You think Quatro and JDL are even? This isn’t over. 

Runner-up: KakaiBros vs. MSG
The tag teams battled in a street match. It looked like it was going to be a long night for the KakaiBros -- Mh4rckie and Kh3ndrick – as they entered the house of pain of Sandata and Main Maxx. They got whipped by a belt, hammered by computer keyboards, and whacked by kendo sticks. They turned the tide when they managed to get ahold of those trays. But MSG aren’t tag team champs for nothing. They took control – but not before Main Maxx was suplexed on top of Lego toys – and they got Kh3ndrick to tap out. 

While all MSG champions retained their titles, they cannot say they haven’t been in a fight.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Fil-Aussie Robbie Eagles looks to take title from PWR champ Chris Panzer



Fil-Aussie Robbie Eagles looks to take title from PWR champ Chris Panzer
By Rick Olivares

When Filipino-Australian professional wrestler Robbie Eagles departs Manila after a few days in country, he hopes to pack in his bags the best pasalubong for his relatives Down Under – the Philippine Wrestling Revolution championship belt.

“When I take a trip away from Australia, I want to be able to bring something back,” boldly proclaimed Eagles. “A trophy I can put on my mantle piece. That’s what Feb 23rd is all about.”

All roads on February 23rd, 2020 will lead to the Power Mac Center at the Circuit, Makati for PWR: Love at First Fight where Chris Panzer defends his newly won title against the ambitious  Fil-Aussie. 

Panzer took the title belt from Quatro and visiting Filipino-American Jeff Cobb in a riveting three-way match at PWR Homecoming last October 2019.

Eagles is nicknamed “the Sniper of the Skies” for his aerial game, but he dispels that it didn’t come easy. “I was always a smaller kid, and even once getting to the later stages of High School I was still shorter in stature than a lot of my class mates. Naturally I leaned more towards the high flying wrestlers on the TV wrestling I was watching, so it started with imitation. Even on trampolines in gymnastics classes I was emulating my favorite top rope moves. Eventually I was able to teach myself some basic tricking techniques like a simple back tuck and I realized this was something I could do. Throughout my career I’ve had to adapt my style, especially as I got older. “The Sniper of the Skies” embodies my current tactical style, where not only can I strike from the air, I’m very precise. Everything I do is accurate and aiming for pin-point precision to gain the victory.”

Although professional wrestling is on the huge upswing in Australia, Eagles has cast his gaze across the oceans in search of more challenges and glory. “Pro Wrestling in Australia is going through a very fun and exciting time,” said Eagles who counts Rey Mysterio and Sting as his inspirations for taking up the sport. “When I first began in 2008 it was a very different platform with not as many opportunity to perform on a regular basis. Flash forward to now, lots of wrestling events in the country are taking place in popular Live Entertainment venues renowned with worldly stars from music, to theatre and comedy etc. It is in a very strong growth stage but as it is all independent isn’t as big as I know it will be soon.”

“Since I had started my career, it was always a goal to go anywhere overseas. The main places are always the main countries synonymous with wrestling; Mexico, UK, USA, and Japan amongst others. Going to the USA for the first time I learned a lot as I was on my own, away from my coaches and peers I spent all my time with. So I had to keep up with the rest of the locker rooms and training spaces and make sure I soaked in as much knowledge as possible. My first trip to Japan was a 3 month stay I was lucky enough to win as part of a try-out process in Adelaide, South Australia. I was selected out of 5 people to go on this excursion, being put into the dojo of ZERO1 training almost every day as well as learning the Japanese style of Pro Wrestling. The biggest adjustment is starting from scratch. As much as my name became more well known in Australia, whenever I would compete anywhere else in the world, I was starting a new and had to show the audience who I was from the first ring of the bell to my last match in front of them. So you have to perform at your very best.”

And now, Eagles has a massive opportunity to make a splash in the ever-growing professional wrestling scene in Manila. However, more to that, it is also an opportunity to be in touch with his heritage. “I’ve always been aware of my heritage,” he related. “I was actually born in Australia but within my first year of existence went on a trip with my family to Manila to stay with family. I only really remember it from home movies and photos I still have. My mum is originally from Cebu. I’m still learning more and more about the Filipino culture, but from having relatives visit in Australia I’m familiar with a few things. I’m especially knowledgeable about food and I will not be trying balut! I have been paying attention to places like PWR for some time now, and I’ve seen reactions places like WWE have been given when touring the Philippines by the local fans. There definitely is a loyal and strong fan base for wrestling in the Philippines.”

And that fan base will be tested on February 23rd. Do they root for Panzer or the exciting high-flyer looking to steal a title belt?

Summed up Eagles, “Panzer is one of the guys particularly I’ve seen from the early days of PWR and I’ve kept my eye on. We actually crossed paths in New Jersey during April 2019 when he attended the Bullet Club Block Party which I was staring in. Not sure if Chris will want to get another photo with me after I beat him for his championship though!”


Monday, February 3, 2020

My Favorite NBA Player per Team

Okay…. finally wading in with this….

Name your favorite player of all-time from each NBA team 
Copy and repost for this challenge

1. Atlanta Hawks – Dominique Wilkins
2. Boston Celtics - Larry Bird
3. Brooklyn / New Jersey Nets – Jason Kidd
4. Charlotte Hornets - Glen Rice
5. Chicago Bulls - Michael Jordan 
6. Cleveland Cavaliers - LeBron James
7. Dallas Mavericks - Dirk Nowitzski
8. Denver Nuggets – Alex English
9. Detroit Pistons – Isiah Thomas
10. Golden State Warriors – Chris Mullin
11. Houston Rockets – Moses Malone
12. Indiana Pacers – Chuck Person
13. LA Clippers – Blake Griffin
14. LA Lakers – Kobe Bryant
15. Memphis Grizzlies – Pau Gasol
16. Miami Heat – Dwyane Wade
17. Milwaukee Bucks – Giannis Antetokounmpo
18. Minnesota Timberwolves - Kevin Garnett
19. New Orleans Pelicans – Anthony Davis
20. New York Knicks – John Starks
21. Oklahoma City Thunder – Russell Westbrook
22. Orlando Magic – Shaquille O’Neal
23. Philadelphia 76ers – Julius Erving
24. Phoenix Suns - Steve Nash
25. Portland Trail Blazers – Clyde Drexler
26. Sacramento Kings – Chris Webber
27. San Antonio Spurs - Manu Ginobili
28. Toronto Raptors - Vince Carter
29. Utah Jazz – John Stockton
30. Washington Wizards – John Wall

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Liverpool’s 2019-20 campaign in perspective

Liverpool’s campaign in perspective
By Rick Olivares

One of the biggest stories in sports these days is Liverpool Football Club’s pursuit of its first Premier League title, the trophies and records they are taking and smashing, and their undefeated run. That makes for plenty of copy and talk show fodder just about anywhere. 

Let me wade in.

I find it a bit surprising that lately -- week after week – football pundits talk about Liverpool not playing well and winning games by the skin of their teeth.

In my opinion, it is doubly harder for Liverpool because of the following: 
-       They are reigning UEFA Champions League, UEFA Super Cup, and FIFA Club World Cup champions and combined with their being title favorites, it all adds to the pressure. 
-       There is the burden of the keeping the streak going. Yes, they may not talk about it, but there is immense pride in keeping it going. 
-       And everyone wants to knock them off their perch even if to deny them a season of being invincible. Every team has circled those Liverpool dates in red; no pun intended. 

Let’s compare this Liverpool 2019-20 season to Arsenal’s 2003-04 season when they were undefeated and won the Premier League title.

Team
One Goal-wins from Aug-Jan.
Draws from Aug-Jan
Goals for Aug-Jan
Goals against Aug-Jan
Clean Sheets
Goals for last 20 mins by team Aug-Jan
Goals against in last 20 mins by opponent Aug-Jan
Arsenal
8
7
42
14
8
2
5
Liverpool
11
1
54
15
9
8
4

What can we infer from this data?

Thus far, Liverpool is better. They have more wins and fewer draws than Arsenal. The Reds also have more goals, more clean sheets, and more late goals. Liverpool has won two cups in this season – the UEFA Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup. They were runners-up in the FA Community Shield.

Arsenal scored more goals early but conceded slightly more in the last 20 minutes. At that point in time (January of 2004), Arsenal was in contention for the League Cup, FA Cup, and the UEFA Champions League. The Gunners reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup and the League Cup, were runners-up in the FA Community Shield.

Entering the 2003-04 season, Arsenal were the defending champions, but crucial losses late in the season to Blackburn and Leeds plus three draws saw Manchester United move past them for the title. They were five points off United in the final tally. So entering the 2003-04 season, they were still favorites. 

Liverpool on the other hand, even if they won the UEFA Champions League had lots of questions. They lost the Community Shield to Manchester City at the start of the season. In all the previous seasons when they finished second in the Premier League, they disappointed in the next.

This one has been much different. They have a 40-match unbeaten run dating back to the 2018-19 season. They need to cap the season with their first Premier League trophy.

An undefeated season is gravy. What they are after are more trophies. More silverware further validates what they are doing and will help in attracting more and better players to the club (not to mention more revenue).

However, going back to my initial premise, I think the reason why they are not at their free-flowing best is the opposing clubs have been trying to play them better. They are also a little more pragmatic on defense. During manager Jurgen Klopp’s early years with the club, they leaked a lot of goals because they committed more players forward. They are selective in their press now and have placed a premium on defense.

They have a 16-point lead against defending champions Manchester City and have a game in hand. This has been their best stretch of December and January matches in all the seasons where they challenged for the title. 

In those failed campaigns past, it is these months is where their dreams came crashing; where they coughed up leads. Some might point to the slip of former captain Steven Gerrard against Chelsea several years ago (and the loss to Crystal Palace) or the loss to Man City last year as what killed their chances, but in my opinion, it is the December chill and the January brain freeze that has let them down.

Now they are past that. A new set of challenges await them.


This remains an interesting season and I am not listening to those who say that, “It’s over!” I hear you Alberto Moreno.