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Massimiliano Allegri revealed Juventus will be without their South American contingent, including Paulo Dybala, and the injured Federico Chiesa as they prepare to face Napoli on Saturday.
Dybala, who has been involved in four goals in his last four league games, heads the absentee list, which also includes Rodrigo Bentancur, Danilo, Juan Cuadrado and Alex Sandro.
Juve have managed just one point from their opening two Serie A games, only once in their history – Allegri’s first spell in 2015-16 – have they failed to win any of their opening three matches.
And matters have worsened for the Old Lady as Allegri confirmed on Friday that the visitors will be without their South American players after their late returns from international duty.
“I decided to leave the South Americans at home because they will return too late,” Allegri told Friday’s pre-match news conference.
“[Juan] Cuadrado was the only one who could have joined the team, but he suffered stomach flu. He hasn’t even returned to Italy. He is in still Colombia to undergo some medical examinations.
“This is the situation, I’ve never complained about the fixture list. Some players finished their international games at 3am last night and would return to Turin at 11am tomorrow morning.
“We don’t want to run the risk they pick up injuries, so they will remain in Turin to work, it makes more sense.”
Allegri confirmed Chiesa, too, will not be available for selection after the forward suffered a muscular issue with Italy during the international break.
The 54-year-old is without a win in his last seven league games with his new side, with only three Juve managers ever suffering longer winless streaks in Serie A, but asked for patience as his team look to kick-start their season after two poor showings against Udinese and Empoli.
“Napoli are among the candidates to win the title along with another seven or eight clubs, the season is still long and we need to remain balanced,” he continued.
“There are many games, the first two matches didn’t go as we expected, but this is football, we must keep things simple and start the season because we haven’t started yet.”
New Zealand turned on the style to ruthlessly dispatch Argentina 39-0 to make it three wins from three in the Rugby Championship.
Rieko Ioane, Sevu Reece and Dalton Papalii all touched down in a dominant first-half showing from the All Blacks at the CBUS Super Stadium in Queensland.
Luke Jacobson then scored twice in the second period to complete the most routine of wins for Ian Foster’s side.
Ioane went over in scrappy fashion after 10 minutes when he reacted fastest to Bautista Delguy knocking a Beauden Barrett offload to ground.
Despite dominating ball and territory it took until three minutes before half-time for Reece to crash over, with Papalii following suit with time in the red following a drive from a line-out with Pablo Matera sent to the bin for the Pumas in the build-up due to persistent team infringements.
Jacobson had his first following a stunning offload from Barrett early in the second half and, after New Zealand were denied on three occasions by the TMO, he had a second with a strong run from the back of a scrum.
A late Jordie Barrett three-pointer added further gloss for a New Zealand side that was never troubled by a limp Argentina for who Nicolas Sanchez made a record 90th appearance.
Ioane a menace
Argentina were camped in their own 22 for the majority of the first half in no short part down to the work of Ioane.
The bulldozing centre, who prior to this game was the leader for metres gained in the Championship, consistently broke the lines and it was his quick reactions that got the All Blacks rolling.
Barrett bros almost combine for stunner
Shortly after Ioane’s opener there was a moment of genius when Beauden Barrett’s high kick was caught by brother Jordie deep into the try area and dotted down.
It was a sensational catch and ground by the full-back, who had absolutely no right to make the grab, but sadly his placing of the ball appeared to be just over the line.
Mikel Arteta hinted Aaron Ramsdale may retain his place in Arsenal’s starting XI over Bernd Leno after keeping a clean sheet on his Premier League debut for the Gunners.
Arsenal shelled out for a deal that could reach a reported £30million to prise goalkeeper Ramsdale from relegated Sheffield United during the last transfer window.
Leno had the jersey for the opening three league matches of the season, which saw Arsenal beaten by Brentford, Chelsea and Manchester City without scoring a goal.
Ramsdale came into the fold for Saturday’s 1-0 win over Norwich City and put in an assured display, albeit he was rarely tested by a Canaries side that managed a solitary shot on target.
Since Leno joined Arsenal ahead of the 2018-19 campaign, the German has a slightly better save percentage than Ramsdale (70.87 to 68.59) and, as you would probably expect, has more clean sheets with 24 to 11.
Leno has made more errors leading to goals (eight to three), while per 90 minutes he makes fewer saves (3.17 to 3.64) – although again given Ramsdale was previously representing Bournemouth and the Blades this is perhaps to be expected.
Bigger tests lie in wait for Ramsdale than a shot-shy Norwich but Arsenal boss Arteta appeared to suggest the spot is his to lose.
“He was terrific, not only what he did on the technical side but what he transmits, his chemistry with the back line, his body language. It was top,’ said Arteta.
“We have two fantastic keepers, I had to make a decision and it was the right one.
“I want to see how they perform, we need performances. Whoever is more reliable is going to play.”
On Sunday, four of the five quarterbacks selected in the first round of this year’s NFL Draft will take the field for their debuts.
A quintet of franchises capitalised on what many considered to be an historic class at the position to select the prospects they hope will prove to be the long-term future of their respective teams.
However, so much of a quarterback’s success is dependent on situation and it is likely the quarterback from this crop of rookies that initially stands out will be the one with the best supporting cast around them.
The consensus is that Trey Lance, the third overall pick of the San Francisco 49ers, is in the best spot. For now, he will have to play second fiddle to Jimmy Garoppolo and settle for only sporadic action as the Niners look to make use of his running threat.
When Lance does take over full-time, he will be playing the most important position on a roster that was seven minutes from Super Bowl glory two seasons ago.
While he may have landed in the most favourable scenario, 11th overall pick Justin Fields appears to have been dealt the worst hand, with the Chicago Bears unwilling to risk putting him out there in Week 1 with a talent-poor offense against the Los Angeles Rams despite a strong preseason.
Do the numbers back up the statements that Lance is in the best situation with Fields in the worst? And where do Trevor Lawrence, first overall pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets rookie Zach Wilson and New England Patriots starter Mac Jones stack up in terms of supporting cast?
Stats Perform analysed its advanced metrics to find out.
1. Patriots 2. 49ers 3. Jaguars 4. Jets 5. Bears
The running game can be an excellent safety net that takes the pressure off a quarterback’s shoulders.
Rushing the ball effectively is contingent on an offensive line that can open the holes and a back that can not only take advantage of those lanes but also create for himself.
In terms of run blocking, the Patriots are the standouts among the teams to select a signal-caller. Second in Stats Perform’s projected offensive line rankings, put together using combined run blocking and pass protection data over the past three seasons, only two offensive lines league begin the season better prepared to provide the foundation for a successful ground game than that of New England.
Led by center David Andrews – whose run disruption rate allowed of 5.3 per cent was the best in the NFL at his position – and right guard Shaq Mason (6.3%), the Patriots’ O-Line is one that should continue to excel at creating running lanes.
Damien Harris showed his ability to take advantage of those lanes last season when he averaged 3.11 yards before contact from a defender, 10th in the NFL, while making things happen for himself with 3.15 yards per carry on attempts where there was a run disruption from a defender.
When Jones makes his first start against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, he should have full confidence in being able to lean on Harris and the line to make his life easier.
The 49ers, whose starting running back Raheem Mostert averaged 3.28 yards before contact last season, might have a strong case for having the top running game should Lance’s dual-threat ability take their ground attack to the next level.
Third-round pick Trey Sermon (4.85 yards before contact, 2.77 yards after contact for Ohio State in 2020) could prove an astute selection, though an offensive line 18th in run blocking in Stats Perform’s rankings will need to take a step forward.
Still, their position is significantly more favourable than that of the Bears, who rank last in run blocking, making David Montgomery’s 1,000-yard 2020 season all the more surprising.
Yet Montgomery was below the league average in yards before contact (2.54 per attempt) and after contact (1.84), hardly inspiring confidence that he can lighten the load on Fields when the Bears finally commit to him as the starter.
1. 49ers 2. Patriots 3. Jets 4. Bears 5. Jaguars
There isn’t much use investing in a potential franchise quarterback if you cannot put weapons around him upon whom he can rely.
In terms of players he can target and trust, Lance has the edge over his fellow rookies, though no team to take a quarterback in the first round landed in the top half of Stats Perform’s rankings by collective open percentage.
The Niners landed 18th on that list but conventional wisdom says they will be much higher should tight end George Kittle and top wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk stay healthy.
All three endured injury-hindered 2020 seasons, though Kittle still led all tight ends in adjusted open percentage (45.03%). He was first among tight ends with 3.9 burn yards per route (a burn is a target where the receiver wins his matchup with a defender).
Samuel’s burn yards per route rate of 3.0 was particularly eye-catching because his average depth of target of 2.3 was the lowest in the NFL, the former second-round pick showing his skills with ball in hand with 12.1 yards after the catch per reception, best in the NFL.
Aiyuk, meanwhile, produced a big play on 33.1 per cent of his targets, third among rookie receivers with at least 50 targets, a breakout year appears on the horizon for the second-year wideout.
With an elite tight end and two promising wideouts, the Niners’ situation is substantially better than Jacksonville’s. The Jaguars’ pass-catchers ranked last by collective open percentage.
Late free-agent addition Tyron Johnson is the sole wide receiver on the Jaguars’ roster to have posted a burn percentage above the average of 62.5 per cent last year.
Johnson did so on 69.2 per cent of his targets and was first in burn yards per target (19.89) and second in burn yards per route (3.6) with an average depth of target of 20 yards.
This evidently skilled deep separator will be tasked with stretching opposing defenses while D.J. Chark (30.33% adjusted open) and Laviska Shenault (27.44%) must do a better job of beating coverage and taking advantage of the stress Johnson can put on opponents to lift this group from the cellar and give Lawrence more to work with.
1. Patriots 2. Jets 3. Jaguars 4. 49ers 5. Bears
Though most accept Fields is the most exciting quarterback on the Bears’ roster, Matt Nagy’s decision to not start him and protect him from an offensive line that can hardly protect anyone may be an astute one with Chicago facing Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald and the Rams Week 1.
Eventually, Fields will have to take his lumps. There are good defensive players across the NFL by which he will one day be confronted, but a reticence to put him out there behind a line ranked 30th in pass protection by Stats Perform is understandable.
Starting left tackle Jason Peters is 39 and allowed a pressure rate of 12.4 per cent last term, the 10th-worst in the league. The interior of the line is also a substantial concern.
Right guard James Daniels is coming off a year where he gave up a pressure on 11.3 per cent of pass protection snaps. Cody Whitehair is at left guard having played center in 2020, when only three players at his former position allowed a higher adjusted sack rate than his 1.9 per cent. One of those players was this year’s starting center Sam Mustipher (2.3%).
While Fields would have the NFL equivalent of a turnstile in front of him. Jones will head on the Gillette Stadium field with an O-Line that is the definition of solidity.
Though not quite the brick wall he had the benefit of at Alabama, the Patriots’ line should provide Jones with excellent protection, ranking fifth in pass blocking.
Mike Onwenu ranked as the best pass-protecting left guard in the NFL and in Trent Brown, credited with one adjusted sack allowed on 162 pass-block snaps in his final season with the Las Vegas Raiders, and Isaiah Wynn, the Patriots have a solid pair of tackles to give Jones the time to prove his pre-draft doubters wrong.
The left side of the Jets’ line could rival that of the Patriots. Mekhi Becton’s pressure rate allowed of 5.5 per cent was ninth among left tackles in 2020. On his inside shoulder, rookie left guard Alijah Vera-Tucker conceded only five pressures on 387 pass protection snaps the last time he played that spot for USC in 2019. Wilson can afford to have great faith in that duo.
1. 49ers 2. Bears 3. Patriots 4. Jets 5. Jaguars
Defense is often neglected when it comes to talking about a quarterback’s supporting cast but, if a team has one that can stifle opposing attacks, it leaves more wiggle room for a young quarterback to endure the ‘rookie mistakes’ and not sink his team’s chances of competing.
Lance’s performances during the preseason, while exciting, indicated he is a quarterback who could be a little turnover-prone as he adapts to reading defenses at the NFL level.
San Francisco’s is a defense that is strong up front and better than given credit for in the secondary. The 49ers ranked eighth in pass coverage grade, which was produced by multiplying each player’s coverage baseline by a projected target share for 2021 with the results then aggregated at the team level.
On the front, Stats Perform projected the average Niners defender to produce a pressure on 11.5 per cent of pass rush attempts, putting them fourth in the NFL.
Though there is great depth on the defensive line, much of that projection is built on Nick Bosa, getting back to his Defensive Rookie of the Year levels of 2019, when he had a pressure rate of 28.3 per cent, after suffering a torn ACL in Week 2 last year. With Bosa healthy and Fred Warner the premier all-round linebacker in the NFL, the Niners have a defense that could help them contend amid bumps in the road for Lance.
The Bears don’t have many areas where they can be considered to be the best in the NFL, yet their front seven has a strong claim. The average Chicago pass rusher is projected to produce a pressure on 11.4% of pass rush attempts and the average run defender is forecast to cause a run disruption 10.2% of the time.
While Chicago’s front may be well-rounded, their secondary looks extremely shaky, as illustrated by the Bears’ ranking of 22nd in pass coverage grade. Jaylon Johnson enjoyed an encouraging rookie season at corner yet, with Kindle Vildor set to start across from him having only started one game in his brief career, there is clear a potential weakness for opponents to target.
The Patriots have no such problems on the back end, at least when the absent Stephon Gilmore is on the field. New England are seventh in coverage grade, and with linebacker D’Onta Hightower returning and the addition of edge rusher Matthew Judon, they will hope their front seven can dramatically outperform the projection of a pressure from a defender on just 9.51% of attempts.
New York’s pass rush suffered a substantial blow when free agent signing Carl Lawson, who had a pressure rate of 22.3% that was seventh in the NFL last season, was lost for the year due to a ruptured Achilles. Without him, the average Jets defender is predicted to cause pressure 10.34% of the time, and there is an even greater onus on defensive tackle Quinnen Williams to carry his 2020 emergence into this year.
The Jets’ hopes of the defense offering support to Wilson may be dashed should the front prove unable to lift a secondary bereft of talent beyond safety Marcus Maye, New York entering the season 23rd in pass coverage grade.
A lack of pass-rushing options beyond Josh Allen, who took a step back in an injury-affected 2020, contributed to the Jaguars’ mediocre projected pressure rate of 10.18% and, with Jacksonville just above the Jets and Bears in 21st in coverage grade, they need cornerback Shaquill Griffin to live up to his lucrative free agency pricetag to elevate the play in the defensive backfield and ensure Lawrence is not tasked with coming through a shootout every week.
1. Patriots 2. 49ers 3. Jets 4. Bears 5. Jaguars
Aided by an offensive line that excels in both facets, a running back seemingly primed for a breakout year and a defense restocked with players returning from opt-outs and quality free agents, Jones will head into his NFL debut with the top supporting cast of any of the rookies.
The most important thing in Jones’ favour, though, is his head coach, as he will benefit from playing for the greatest coach of all-time in Bill Belichick, whose incredible expertise on the defensive side of the ball should prove a significant help to the former Alabama star as he adapts to different looks from opponents.
Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan’s play-calling acumen will give Lance an advantage most quarterbacks in the league do not enjoy when he hits the field, with the weapons they boast on both sides of the ball meaning he will likely take over a team headed for the playoffs when he eventually displaces Garoppolo.
Wilson has the luxury of playing for two Shanahan disciples in head coach Robert Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur. The early signs have been promising in terms of him settling into LaFleur’s offense but Saleh will need to do a particularly impressive coaching job on defense to turn them into a unit capable of making Wilson’s life easier.
Fields may get help in that respect from the defensive front and will have one of the most underrated wide receivers in the NFL in Allen Robinson. He and Lawrence were deemed by many to be the best quarterbacks in the 2021 class, however, due to the holes on both sides of their respective rosters, it is they who have the most obstacles to immediate success in front of them.
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