Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola: ‘I have no issue with Joe Hart’

first_imgManchester City manager Pep Guardiola says he has no issue with goalkeeper Joe Hart despite excluding him from his first Premier League starting XI.Argentina’s Willy Caballero played in goal for City in Saturday’s 2-1 win over Sunderland with Hart on the bench.Asked how England international Hart, 29, took the news of his omission, Guardiola said: “He reacted well.”I have a lot of respect for Joe. I know how good a goalkeeper he is, but I decided for Willy.”The Spaniard, who took over from Manuel Pellegrini in the summer, said: “In the end I have a squad and I decide what I see.”I have to create a team spirit. It’s not about tactics, it’s not about anything, and I decided today for this line-up.” Match of the Day pundit Ian Wright believes Hart is the superior keeper but said he has work to do to impress Guardiola.”It leaves Hart with a lot to think about,” said the former Arsenal striker. “Coming off the Euros and some high-profile mistakes, he has to suck it up, be professional and get himself going again.”I don’t think Caballero is a better keeper than Joe.”Guardiola also left fully fit midfielder Yaya Toure and defender Eliaquim Mangala out of his squad. Midfielder Samir Nasri is still not match fit.He said: “I have no complaints about these names. Yaya trained really good, Samir arrived a little bit overweight but in the last one or two weeks he has been training amazing. I am really impressed with his quality. Mangala, you know better than me how professional he is.” Argentina striker Sergio Aguero opened the scoring against the Black Cats from the penalty spot before Jermain Defoe equalised in the 71st minute.Paddy McNair, who recently signed for Sunderland, inadvertently headed into his own net in the 87th minute to give City victory.Guardiola praised winger Raheem Sterling for his performance. The England winger won the early penalty when he was brought down in the area by Patrick van Aanholt.”Sterling was amazing. That is what we need. People to play wide and have the quality to go one on one, on the outside, inside, right, left. That is important. He is a fighter,” said Guardiola.City’s next match is on Tuesday when they play Steaua Bucharest in the first leg of their Champions League qualifier.last_img read more

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Fixing conference championships could solidify College Football Playoff for good

first_imgThe College Football Playoff era doesn’t mesh well with the Power 5 conference championship model, and that’s on display now more than ever heading into the final weekend before this year’s pairings are announced.No. 1 Alabama takes on No. 4 Georgia in the marquee matchup in the SEC championship game, but the Crimson Tide are 13-point favorites and still could end up in the Playoff if they lose. The rest of the Power 5 conference championships leave little room for drama. MORE: Week 14 bowl projectionsNo. 2 Clemson is a 27.5-point favorite against five-loss Pitt in the ACC championship game. No. 6 Ohio State is a 14-point favorite against four-loss Northwestern in the Big Ten championship game. No. 5 Oklahoma meets No. 9 Texas in a rematch from the regular season in the Big 12 championship, but the Sooners are the only team in that matchup who can make the Playoff. No. 10 Washington and No. 15 Utah play in a Pac-12 championship game that has no impact on the Playoff.That’s the landscape of the Power 5.MatchupSpreadNo. 2 Clemson (12-0) vs. Pittsburgh (7-5)27.5No. 6 Ohio State (11-1) vs. No. 21 Northwestern (8-4)14No. 1 Alabama (12-0) vs. No. 4 Georgia (11-1)13No. 5 Oklahoma (11-1) vs. No. 9 Texas (9-3)8No. 10 Washington (9-3) vs. No. 17 Utah (9-3)5The biggest problem? In the Playoff era, only three Power 5 conference championship games guaranteed the winner would reach the College Football Playoff. That was Michigan State-Iowa in 2015 and Auburn-Georgia and Miami-Clemson in 2017. North Carolina could have created an interesting discussion if it had beaten Clemson in the 2015 ACC championship, but one-loss Ohio State could just as easily sneaked in ahead of the Tar Heels.This year, however, only one game has such stakes: Georgia vs. Alabama.”The playing field is not level for all teams relative to conference championship games,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said on the SEC championship game teleconference Sunday. “They have them. They don’t have them. Who they play; who they don’t play. It is what it is, and it’s the challenge we have before us. I don’t really have an opinion right now on expanding playoffs and eliminating championship games and all that. I really just never, ever thought about it.”Almost everybody else has thought about it and has opinions on the subject. Alabama doesn’t have to think about it as much, especially after reaching the Playoff without winning the SEC championship last season. The call to expand the Playoff and/or eliminate conference championships exists for a reason, and it’s because of that disconnected relationship between the two.Will that disconnect need to be fixed down the line?  “There are two ways you can go about it,” Fox analyst Joel Klatt told Sporting News. “You can either fix the conference championships and, in turn, make a small tweak to the Playoff, or you can blow the Playoff up and the conference championship game weekend and try to build something that is an eight-team model. I don’t know what the appetite is.”Oh, that appetite is out there, especially when there are alternatives worth exploring for conference championship weekend.* * * *The intent of conference championship games is to be a de facto quarterfinal round for the College Football Playoff. That’s how Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, who has the Tigers in the ACC championship game for the fourth consecutive year, chooses to look at it. “It is a Playoff,” Swinney said on the ACC teleconference Sunday. “Just go lose the game, you’ll find out. There’s no question. I think every game is a Playoff game, to be honest with you. Those games in September matter. Those games in October matter. That’s what to me is great about college football.”That’s where Swinney is right. Clemson is 3-0 in ACC championship games since the Playoff era and would be in an uncomfortable position if it lost to Pitt on Saturday.Where is he wrong? If there’s an upset — and that isn’t happening. Of the 17 Power 5 conference championship games played since 2014, the higher-ranked team is 13-4, and the average margin of victory in those games is 23.5 points per game. Of the four upsets, Michigan State (2015) and Georgia (2017) were the teams that made the Playoff. Penn State (2016) and Ohio State (2017) did not.MORE: Ohio State or Oklahoma more deserving of Playoff?The challenge for coaches like Ohio State’s Urban Meyer is to maintain the focus on the conference championship, even if the debate between the Buckeyes and Sooners for the final Playoff spot is already out in full force.”I don’t believe other than kids staring at their phones that there will be a lot of conversation about it,” Meyer said about the Playoff. “You get a ring when you win this (Big Ten) championship. That’s the conversation always around here.”Perceptions can change with the help of a conference championship performance, which the Buckeyes know well from a 59-0 victory over Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game in 2014. That helped vault the Buckeyes over TCU in the rankings and spur them on to the first championship of the Playoff era.On the flip side, Ohio State could be the third consecutive Big Ten champion to be left out of the Playoff, even if it does beat Northwestern, which heads into Indianapolis looking to play spoiler. Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald knows the disparity, but he also points to the player safety issues that come with adding more games.”I haven’t seen anybody articulate how you add more than what we have right now and still keep every game significant,” Fitzgerald said. “It has to protect the bowl season, which rewards teams for having a successful season.”Give us two chances to try, coach.  * * * *Klatt offers two possible solutions for conference championship weekend. The first involves a few tweaks to the current four-team model.  “You get rid of divisions and let the top two teams play in the conference championship with a more round-robin style of schedule so you would get rid of inequities with cross-division schedules in every conference,” Klatt said. “In the five autonomous conferences, that would give you 10 of the top 12 or 13 teams in the country, in theory. That would be a de facto quarterfinal, with the other tweak being you have to win your conference in order to go (to the Playoff).”How would that look this year if you eliminated divisions within the Power 5 conferences?No. 2 Clemson vs. Pitt No. 5 Oklahoma vs. No. 9 TexasNo. 6 Ohio State vs. No. 8 Michigan
No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Georgia
No. 10 Washington vs. No. 12 Washington StateThe flaw here would be rematches with Washington-Washington State and Ohio State-Michigan, and that would devalue the regular-season rivalry matchups. The Big 12, however, has a no-division formula that creates an intriguing rematch with Oklahoma and Texas. It goes both ways.  Klatt offers the more popular alternative, which is an expansion to eight teams.”You can say we’re all going to get rid of our championship game and go to eight and we’re going to play on site on championship game weekend for the round of the quarterfinals, and will (have) 1-8, 2-7 and so on,” Klatt said.  MORE: One reason to watch every conference title gameIn other words, ditch conference championship weekend, put the top eight teams in the Playoff at the end of the regular season and put those first-round games on campus.Here’s what that would look like using the latest set of College Football Rankings:No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 8 UCFNo. 4 Georgia vs. No. 5 OklahomaNo. 2 Clemson vs. No. 7 Michigan
No. 3 Notre Dame vs. No. 6 Ohio StateImagine Oklahoma at Georgia and Ohio State at Notre Dame in the first weekend of December. That’s pretty good, and it would end the Playoff expansion debate at the best possible spot.What’s the biggest drawback to that plan? It wouldn’t look like this every year, and in this scenario the Pac-12 champion still isn’t in. We’d still be arguing over No. 8. “If you go that route, a lot of these games become irrelevant,” Swinney said. “People start resting their players, not playing people just like you see in all the other leagues because they already know they got their spot in the playoffs locked up.”Klatt still sees the fervor for the second one building with each season, even if he prefers the slight tweaks to the first scenario.”There is more of an appetite for the second scenario laid out,” Klatt said.The conference championship has a different meaning for different programs. For Fitzgerald, it’s a chance for Northwestern to win its way into a larger conversation, even if it isn’t the College Football Playoff.”Division I does not have the expanded playoffs that some other (college) divisions or maybe the NFL has, but we really have to think hard if we’re going to change and add more teams,” Fitzgerald said.MORE: Week 13 rankings: Michigan, Washington State fallThe problem is the two scenarios Klatt outlined aren’t perfect either. Some fans want eight teams, perhaps with automatic bids for each of the Power 5 conference champions; others like the current four-team model. Still others preferred the old BCS computer model. It still meshes with the regular season and bowl system — for now.”I love the bowl system,” Swinney said. “I think we got a great mix the way it is. I love the fact that tons of teams get an opportunity to develop and end their season with a win. I think that makes college football unique, but yet also still has an opportunity to settle who the national champion is instead of somebody voting on it.”The conference championships and four-team Playoff have achieved that, but a committee still decides the four teams. No coach knows that more than Meyer. The Buckeyes leapfrogged TCU in 2014 with a conference championship, stayed ahead of Penn State to get in without a conference championship in 2016 and missed the Playoff with a conference championship in 2017. Now, the Buckeyes are in a similar debate with Oklahoma heading into conference championship weekend.”We’ve been involved in the conversation every year and I really don’t believe that has any impact at all on this week of practice,” Meyer said. “It makes for a pretty intense Sunday of watching.”That much is true, but it would be better for the sport if conference championship Saturday was just as intense before the Playoff pairings are announced. That mesh point does not fit like it used to. After Saturday, it will be interesting to see how much more it can take before it truly does need to expand.last_img read more

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Breaking down the two divisional mess TJ Dillashaw’s failed drug test created

first_imgView this post on Instagram Wednesday morning began with the news that UFC bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw was relinquishing his title after being informed by USADA and the New York State Athletic Commission (NYSAC) of an “adverse finding” from a drug test taken around his flyweight championship fight against Henry Cejudo in Brooklyn back in January.Join DAZN and watch more than 100 fight nights a year​ Regardless of how this case plays out, Dillashaw has now been classified as a cheater by many — or proven to be a cheater if you believe the accusations levied against him by Garbrandt and others over the years — and that stain is difficult to remove. Additionally, this news creates a cloud of suspicion and doubt over his career accomplishments, prompting many to call into question his two bantamweight title wins and overall success in the Octagon.Even if he is cleared of any and all wrongdoing in this matter and serves his time, there will be some who never look at Dillashaw the same way and others still would be hesitant to believe in him in the future.Considering he started the year with the opportunity to claim a second UFC title and talking about establishing himself as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters, this is a pretty sharp and painful fall for the 33-year-old to endure.Continue to follow Sporting News here and on social media at @SN_Fights for more on this story as it develops A post shared by tjdillashaw (@tjdillashaw) on Mar 20, 2019 at 5:07am PDT Soon after, the NYSAC announced that Dillashaw has been fined $10,000 and suspended for one year, retroactive to January 19. USADA also issued the following statement: Just released statement from USADA on TJ Dillashaw: pic.twitter.com/gFZkVOFAXw— Ariel Helwani (@arielhelwani) March 20, 2019 Reactions from within the MMA community were varied, as expected, with Dillashaw’s long-time rival and former teammate Cody Garbrandt opting for the emoji version of the Kermit the Frog, “But that’s none of my business” meme and numerous others voicing their lack of surprise, while some members of the 135-pound weight class used the news as an opportunity to immediately start lobbying for the opportunity to fight for the now-vacant title. Mr. Faber himself told me in person once that his former team mate abuses from substances and of course other members that we know as well.— Raphael Assuncao (@RaphaAssuncao) March 20, 2019  If UFC will ask me to fight for the vacated title tomorrow I will agree without a doubt in my mind and I don’t care who will be my opponent. I want that belt!— Petr “No Mercy” Yan (@PetrYanUFC) March 20, 2019 While there is never a good time for a reigning champion — or any fighter, honestly — to be flagged for an “adverse finding” or any type of anti-doping violation, the new vacancy atop the bantamweight ranks presents a unique opportunity for the UFC, one that could go in any number of directions.Prior to Wednesday’s news, the consensus opinion was that Dillashaw would rematch Cejudo later this year, with the flyweight champion moving up to challenge for the bantamweight title. Given the way Cejudo dominated Dillashaw in January, running it back with the bantamweight title hanging in the balance seemed like an easy sell for the UFC and delivered another “Champion vs. Champion” clash the company could heavily market and position atop a future pay-per-view.Going that direction meant that contenders like Marlon Moraes, Pedro Munhoz and Aljamain Sterling — a trio of talents who have each registered massive victories in 2019 — would have to sit tight for things to play out between Dillashaw and Cejudo.With the immediate rematch off the table and the belt up for grabs, there are now multiple directions the UFC could go to crown a new bantamweight champion and some of it hinges on what the promotion has planned for the flyweight division.As outlined earlier this week, the future of the 125-pound weight class remains in limbo following Cejudo’s successful title defense against Dillashaw in January and the assumed rematch between the two being targeted for bantamweight.Very few flyweights remain on the roster, yet there are tremendous bouts between those scant remaining elite competitors on the books, including a Top 5 pairing that is set to take place this weekend. With Cejudo’s hopes of a bantamweight title clash against Dillashaw dashed, the opening is there for the UFC to keep him at flyweight and have him defend the belt against the few remaining contenders who are available.Joseph Benavidez earned a second straight win the same night Cejudo starched Dillashaw and already holds a split decision victory over the champion, so he’s the obvious first choice to challenge for the flyweight title if such a fight comes together. The winner of this weekend’s All-Brazilian barnburner between Jussier Formiga and Deivison Figueiredo would be next in line, with whoever emerges from the April clash between Wilson Reis and Alexandre Pantoja hanging around the fringes.That would leave Moraes to battle one of the other established contenders at bantamweight for the vacant strap, with Munhoz standing as the frontrunner after finishing former champ Cody Garbrandt in the first round of their UFC 235 showdown earlier this month.But if the UFC wants to continue with allowing Cejudo to challenge for the bantamweight title, pitting the flyweight titleholder against Moraes is the only fight that makes sense, as the Brazilian has cemented his place as the No. 1 contender with consecutive first-round stoppage wins over Sterling, Jimmie Rivera and Raphael Assuncao in his last three fights.Heading down that road would effectively signal the end of the flyweight division, as going another six months to a year without Cejudo defending the belt against one of the established contenders while having little else for those remaining athletes to do would be callous and unnecessary.It would also maintain the logjam at the top of the 135-pound weight class, one that seemingly gets worse with each passing card.While having a wealth of talented, entertaining fighters working their way into contention is a good problem to have, it becomes less positive when those athletes start stacking up the way they are now at bantamweight.Moraes has said it’s “title or bust” for him at this point and that shouldn’t change. Munhoz has won three straight, just iced a former champion and is 7-1 over his last eight fights, while Sterling has also posted three straight wins, including earning a unanimous decision victory over Jimmie Rivera last time out.A second tier of contenders consisting of Garbrandt, Rivera and Assuncao is already in place and guys like John Lineker and Cody Stamann are not far behind, while Russian rising star Petr Yan picked up his fourth UFC victory in nine months by defeating John Dodson last month in Prague to push his way into the Top 10.There are others who aren’t too far behind Yan either, like Cory Sandhagen, Rob Font and Ricky Simon, followed by a host of talented young fighters who have already started making moves within the division like Nathaniel Wood, Sean O’Malley and Said Nurmagomedov.Forcing Cejudo into the bantamweight championship picture now that his obvious (albeit still somewhat forced) rematch with Dillashaw has disintegrated only adds to the congestion and requires guys like Munhoz and Sterling to win at least one more tough fight — perhaps against one another — in order to maintain their place the pecking order, which causes a ripple effect down throughout the rest of the division.If ever there was a time for the UFC to simply go back to having champions defend their titles against the next available contender in their respective division, it’s now.There are easy-to-make fights available at both bantamweight and flyweight that get things moving again in those two uncertain weight classes and gives the organization two championship fights to promote rather than eliminating one by moving Cejudo challenge for the belt in the 135-pound weight division.It will be interesting to see which tact the UFC opts to take, though early money has to be on having Cejudo face Moraes for the bantamweight title because shuttering the flyweight division still seems like an inevitability and the promotion is currently infatuated with the idea of having a champion from one division challenge for a second title, even though it historically does more harm than good.The other interesting wait-and-see in all this is what becomes of Dillashaw.As of this writing, all that is known for sure is that he won’t be fighting again before January 19, 2019, but as more information becomes available, that could certainly shift.No one currently knows what he tested positive for during the in-competition test that resulted in this “adverse finding,” nor what kind of punishment USADA will mete out for the violation. Dillashaw broke the news himself on Instagram, acknowledging that he would vacate the belt “out of fairness and respect for the rest of (his) division” while also stating he and his team are working to get to understand what has occurred and how to resolve the issue. last_img read more

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