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Arians: Bucs have reached out to CB Sherman

Published in Breaking News
Monday, 20 September 2021 12:43

TAMPA, Fla. -- One week after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers placed starting cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting on injured reserve, coach Bruce Arians said that general manager Jason Licht has reached out to veteran cornerback Richard Sherman to gauge his interest.

"Jason's reached out. We got to see," Arians said Monday, one day after his team defeated the Atlanta Falcons 48-25 to improve to 2-0. "He's got other things going on, too. Just a matter of, 'I coach the ones that we got and let him handle the rest of that.' We'll kick the tires on some other guys, too. But it's just a matter of, 'No, we'll talk and see, and if it's the right fit, it's the right fit and we'll move on it."

The Bucs will be without Murphy-Bunting, who also serves as their nickelback, for an indefinite time after he suffered a dislocated right elbow in Week 1 against the Dallas Cowboys. He's required to miss at least three games on IR, but Arians did not have a timetable on his return -- only that it's looking as though he won't need surgery.

Their other starter, Carlton Davis, suffered a mild hamstring strain on Friday but played against Atlanta without issue (he did leave the game briefly after having the wind knocked out of him), and their third cornerback, Jamel Dean, who lines up on the outside in nickel situations, has struggled.

Sherman, 33, would provide valuable experience to one of the league's youngest defensive backfields, and he's a sure tackler, which has been an issue for the Bucs' defense through two games this year. Schematically, though, he's an outside corner, so the team would continue to use Ross Cockrell in nickelback situations, as well as safety Mike Edwards, who played 19 snaps at nickel Sunday, one of which led to a pick-six.

Sherman has legal issues he's still sorting through. He was arrested in July in connection to an incident at the home of his wife's parents in Redmond, Washington, and was charged with five misdemeanors, including two counts of domestic violence -- criminal trespass in the second degree and malicious mischief in the third degree -- as well as resisting arrest, driving while under the influence and reckless endangerment of roadway workers.

Sherman pleaded not guilty to all five charges, and said in a statement on Twitter said he was "deeply remorseful" for his actions and "behaved in a manner I'm not proud of."

In February, King County prosecutors and the sheriff also obtained an "extreme risk protection order'' for Sherman, barring him from having guns after a judge determined he posed a danger to himself and others. Details of the case were sealed.

In the past, the Bucs have signed players who have had legal and character concerns. They signed wide receiver Antonio Brown last year on the tail end of his eight-game suspension and re-signed him to another one-year contract this past offseason.

Flores: Tua day-to-day; Fuller back with Fins

Published in Breaking News
Monday, 20 September 2021 12:43

MIAMI -- Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is considered "day-to-day" with a rib injury, head coach Brian Flores said Monday.

Tagovailoa was knocked out of Miami's 35-0 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday after taking a hit from Bills defensive end AJ Epenesa on the Dolphins' second drive of the game. He was carted into the locker room shortly after and did not return. Jacoby Brissett threw for 169 yards and an interception in his stead.

Flores said Tagovailoa is still in a "good deal of pain" Monday and undergoing further tests. Follow-up X-rays on Tagovailoa's rib were negative, a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter.

Flores also complimented Tagovailoa's toughness, dating back to the dislocated hip he suffered during his final year at Alabama in 2019. He did not say whether the quarterback would play this coming Sunday against the Las Vegas Raiders but suggested that Tagovailoa's game status would be a matter of pain tolerance.

"Tua is very tough. It's not a question with him," Flores said. "He's a tough kid, for sure ... If Tua can go, he's gonna go. That's just the type of kid he is."

Flores said Tagovailoa tried to return to Sunday's game against the Bills and that he hopes he can practice Wednesday -- and even mentioned a flak jacket as a possibility for the second-year quarterback in order to mitigate the impact from the hits he may take.

Another player Miami expects to be at practice Wednesday is wide receiver Will Fuller, who missed practice Thursday and Friday as well as Sunday's game for personal reasons. Flores said Fuller was at the facility Monday and the team expects him to remain with them throughout the week.

On Friday, Flores didn't get into specifics on Fuller's personal issue but said it came as a surprise. Fuller was set to make his debut with the Dolphins after serving a one-game suspension to start the season. He signed with Miami in March after spending the first five seasons of his career with the Houston Texans.

Roundtable: What we learned from Week 3

Published in Breaking News
Monday, 20 September 2021 11:04

The White Out Game in Happy Valley reminded us that fans make a difference, demonstrated the depth of the Big Ten and showed how problematic officiating can be.

But there was more than just one game in Week 3. Here is what our reporters took away from this week in college football.

Ohio State's problems persist

Ohio State made some changes on defense in its 41-20 win against Tulsa, which included taking defensive playcalling duties from coordinator Kerry Coombs and giving them to secondary coach Matt Barnes. Ryan Day said he was encouraged by the changes they made and saw some adjustments in the game, but there were still persistent issues.

The defense, despite the changes, still allowed 428 yards through the air in what ended up being a closer game than it should have been. The Buckeyes had only a seven-point lead at the half and a seven-point lead late in the fourth quarter. Quarterback C.J. Stroud had 185 passing yards with one touchdown and one interception. The run game helped him out, but Stroud didn't have his best game and made some poor decisions and throws. -- Tom VanHaaren

The Big Ten doesn't need Ohio State to be great

Not when Penn State looked as good as it did against Auburn, or when Iowa has a road win against a top-10 rival, Iowa State. Michigan and Michigan State are both 3-0. Wisconsin can still win the West and gets a shot at Notre Dame. The Big Ten's path to the playoff doesn't always have to run through Columbus.

While the jury is still out on football in the state of Michigan, the Nittany Lions looked capable of carrying the banner for the Big Ten this fall. There has been plenty of parity in the sport through the first three weeks, but Penn State looked the part. Can't say that about Clemson, or Oklahoma, or the Buckeyes. Strength of schedule matters in the selection committee meeting room, but so does the so-called eye test, and Penn State could wind up with both.

Sean Clifford transformed into version 2.0 of himself on Saturday night. The secondary was spectacular, and Jahan Dotson put on a highlight show. While Ohio State works out its kinks, there are plenty of other teams in the league with potential to emerge from its shadow -- and Penn State took the first step. -- Heather Dinich

Staying on campus

Already, we've had some terrific games in college football this season, and Penn State's 28-20 win over Auburn on Saturday night was right there at the top. There's nothing quite like a White Out in Happy Valley, the kind of environment that defines the sport and all of its pageantry. Here's another plea coming out of that thriller: Let's play all of these nonconference games on campus, at least most of them.

College football is supposed to be celebrated on campus, where generations of family members gather to watch their teams and alma maters take on teams from other parts of the country and then return the trip in coming years. It's heartening to see an increasing number of home-and-home series scheduled for future years. Among them: Alabama-Ohio State in 2027 and 2028, Alabama-Notre Dame in 2029 and 2030, Georgia-Oklahoma in 2023 and 2031, Michigan State-Washington in 2022 and 2023, Michigan-Texas in 2024 and 2027, Clemson-LSU in 2025 and 2026 and Florida-Utah in 2022 and 2023. Let's keep them coming. -- Chris Low

Does anyone want to win the ACC?

Through three games, it is obvious Clemson is not the same team that has run roughshod through the ACC over the past six seasons on the offensive side of the ball. The Tigers have scored two offensive touchdowns in two games against Power 5 opponents. Quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei has struggled, completing less than 60% of his passes with one touchdown and two interceptions in three games. The highly anticipated return of Justyn Ross has not helped Clemson open up its passing game, either. But perhaps most distressing of all is their inability to run and major issues across the offensive line, which has resulted in a completely disjointed effort across the board.

During its six-year dominance in the ACC, Clemson always had an excellent combination of quarterback-running back strength -- whether Deshaun Watson and Wayne Gallman or Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne Jr. But without a difference-maker at running back, much more has been put on Uiagalelei, and without a go-to game-breaker at receiver, the results so far have looked decidedly un-Clemson-like.

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0:40

Finebaum: Clemson has no offense

Paul Finebaum picks Clemson as the most disappointing team this season.

Clemson has not looked this vulnerable on offense since 2014, which should make the ACC more wide open than ever for another team to step in and fill the void. ESPN FPI bears that out -- Clemson has dipped to having a 57.8% chance to win the ACC again. But the rest of the league has had a fairly miserable start to the season, too, and there is no clear front-runner to snatch that crown. Currently, Virginia Tech has the next highest odds among the rest of the league to win the ACC at 13.4%, and the Hokies did not exactly help the overall league with a tough loss at West Virginia on Saturday.

As it stands, the ACC has a losing record against Power 5 nonconference opponents, and it also has multiple losses to MAC teams and a loss to an FCS program. Florida State is off to its worst start since 1976; Miami got drubbed at home; Pittsburgh had a letdown loss to Western Michigan after a big road win against Tennessee. North Carolina, a preseason top-10 team, has rebounded after an opening loss to Virginia Tech, but the Tar Heels will need some help to even get to Charlotte.

Clemson has been the standard bearer in the ACC, propping up the rest of the league as its lone playoff representative since 2015. With Clemson and nearly everyone else in the league struggling, this could end up being a season the ACC would like to forget. -- Andrea Adelson

Is the Pac-12 the new ACC?

For several years, Clemson has kept the ACC relevant while the rest of the conference floundered in mediocrity or worse. Meanwhile, the Pac-12 hasn't had a high-end team capable of buoying the conference in the same way Clemson did. What the Pac-12 had was a lot of good teams in what we'll call Tiers II and III that beat up on one another, dragging down the conference's national relevance as a result.

That's not the case this year. Heading into the full slate of conference play, Oregon is the only undefeated Pac-12 team with a bunch of also-rans. The Ducks are essentially auditioning for the role Clemson has owned. It's obviously a welcomed development for the Ducks, but from a conference perspective, it puts a lot of pressure on them to stay undefeated. Because if the Ducks don't reach the playoff and the rest of the league is down, it's a worst-case scenario. -- Kyle Bonagura

Don't forget about Florida

There are no moral victories in the SEC. There are only wins and losses, and at the end of the day, Florida lost to Alabama. But how the Gators lost should tell us a lot about their chances moving forward. Despite a terrible start and despite not having one of its best offensive weapons, Florida was only a two-point conversion away from taking the No. 1 team in the country to overtime. The defense, which last season was so terrible, wasn't that bad, especially in the second half. If the Gators can cut down on pass interference penalties and make more than the occasional open-field tackle, they could be pretty good, in fact.

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2:38

Young's early TDs enough to hold off UF in The Swamp

No. 1 Alabama QB Bryce Young's three first-quarter TDs are enough to hold off the comeback attempt from No. 11 Florida and secure a 31-29 victory.

But it's the offense that showed the most promise. The line, despite injuries, was terrific. Emory Jones had all day to throw the football, and when he settled down after a rocky first quarter, he was fairly accurate. His ability as a runner, combined with a loaded backfield of Dameon Pierce, Malik Davis and Nay'Quan Wright, gives coach Dan Mullen a lot to work with. When quarterback Anthony Richardson comes back from his hamstring injury, that's even more firepower to call upon.

While Florida wasn't perfect against Alabama -- far from it at times -- and a loss is a loss, Mullen and the Gators appeared to find something that could challenge Georgia in the East and pave a way to a possible rematch with Alabama in the SEC title game. -- Alex Scarborough

Ole Miss gives the SEC another CFP contender

Lane Kiffin's first season at Ole Miss featured plenty of points and fun, but his team never looked like it could challenge for anything meaningful in the SEC. Kiffin's second Rebels squad is poised for greater goals. Not only has quarterback Matt Corral improved to lead an explosive offense, but the Ole Miss defense has held its first three opponents to 24 points or fewer. Corral already has nearly 1,000 passing yards with nine touchdowns and no interceptions, leading a balanced offense that averages 52.3 points and 635.3 yards per game. Sam Williams (four sacks) has sparked the defense early on.

The competition will get much tougher for Ole Miss, but it's possible the Rebels are the SEC's third-best CFP contender, behind Alabama and Georgia. Texas A&M has a case here, too, but the Aggies lost quarterback Haynes King to injury and don't boast a playmaker like Corral. Although Texas A&M's defense is better than Ole Miss', the combination of elite offense and decent-enough defense has helped recent playoff participants. Kiffin stocked up on rat poison for the next two weeks before Ole Miss visits Alabama, but the Rebels get Arkansas, LSU and Texas A&M all in Oxford later this fall. -- Adam Rittenberg

Tradition matters

Eleven years after they last met and 50 years after playing perhaps the sport's most perfect game, the Nebraska Cornhuskers traveled to Norman, Oklahoma, on Saturday for a nonconference game during the 50th anniversary season of the 1971 Game of the Century. There weren't big stakes on the line other than for No. 3 Oklahoma, for whom every game is a playoff referendum. The two teams won or shared conference titles in 44 of the 48 years of the Big Seven/Big Eight era between 1948-95. They were in a conference together for 90 years and played annually for 70 of those years. In 62 of the 72 matchups between them in the AP poll era (since 1936) one has been ranked, including 45 of their past 46 games. Prior to the game, Barry Switzer made an appearance on the video board and said, "The best part of this rivalry? WINNING. CHAMPIONSHIPS."

But with the Huskers coming off four straight losing seasons and the Sooners in the top 5, the matchup didn't seem the same. The energy around the game didn't indicate that. On Friday night, packs of fans roamed Campus Corner shouting "Go Big Red!" while sporting the block N on their shirts or hats or Johnny Rodgers jerseys. A packed house of 84,659 roared in anticipation of kickoff. And the game proved tighter than expected, with the Huskers holding the Sooners to their fewest points since 2016. "Both teams rose to the occasion," Lincoln Riley said after the game. "It was a tough game that meant a lot to both schools and both fan bases." As the sport continues to pull apart at the seams, these are the kind of games and rivalries worth preserving. -- Dave Wilson

Officiating debacle at Penn State merits further scrutiny

Officiating college games is a tough gig. Calls are missed every week, and most fan/coach conspiracy theories about the men and women in stripes are completely baseless. Fans also should know that many nonconference games are officiated by crews from the league of the visiting team.

Still, there's no excuse for what happened at Penn State on Saturday night. How is it possible for a veteran SEC crew -- plus a replay official -- to lose track of the downs during a Penn State possession early in the second quarter? Nittany Lions coach James Franklin tried to alert the crew of the error, but after multiple consultations, everyone still got the down wrong, forcing a premature Penn State punt. Imagine if Penn State had lost. Franklin would have had a hard time remaining as diplomatic as he did after the game.

Officials are held accountable for their performances, although most of it comes in reduced game assignments. The best crews should get the best assignments on the biggest stages. But the SEC needs to take an especially close look at what transpired Saturday, especially from a veteran crew, and ensure an error with counting downs doesn't happen again. -- Adam Rittenberg

Blake Anderson is working miracles at Utah State

Of the 34 remaining unbeaten FBS teams, there are plenty of unexpected names -- Rutgers, Texas Tech, Arkansas -- but one deserving of some real spotlight is Utah State.

A year ago, the Aggies were a complete mess. They finished 1-5, with all five losses by at least 19 points. The offense topped 16 points just once. Gary Andersen was fired just 16 games into his second stint with the program.

At Arkansas State, Anderson was ready for a change, too, after his first losing season with the Red Wolves. He took the Utah State job in December, brought QB Logan Bonner with him and set about rebuilding a program in marked decline.

The results so far have been remarkable. Utah State came from behind in Week 1 to beat Washington State. The Aggies thumped North Dakota a week later. Saturday, the Aggies once again erased an early deficit to topple undefeated Air Force 49-45. They've scored more points in their past two games (97) than they did all of last season (93). WR Deven Thompkins leads the nation in receiving yards with 454 -- 55 more than anyone else.

Whether Utah State emerges as a real force in a crowded Mountain West remains to be seen, but the early returns for Anderson have been better than anyone could've rightly expected. -- David M. Hale

Zajac retires after signing 1-day deal with Devils

Published in Hockey
Monday, 20 September 2021 09:13

Center Travis Zajac ended his 15-year NHL career where it started, signing a one-day contract Monday in order to retire with the New Jersey Devils.

Zajac, 36, played all but 13 of his 1,037 games with the Devils, who traded him to the New York Islanders last season. He had 203 goals and 349 assists in his career, and was considered an asset at both ends of the ice for New Jersey, who drafted him 20th overall in 2004.

"As I stand here nearing the end of 2021, I can only be grateful to sign one last time, and retire as a New Jersey Devil," said Zajac in a statement. "As a kid playing hockey on the outdoor rinks in Winnipeg, I dreamt about playing in the NHL. Growing up the oldest of four boys, it was the perfect hockey environment. Thanks to my parents' unwavering support in our lives, that dream became a reality. Then, I got to live that childhood goal for 15 years with the Devils."

Zajac will remain with the Devils in an on/off-ice player development and consulting role, while also working to grow the club's youth hockey initiatives.

"His training, discipline and focus rubbed off on every player who walked into that locker room over his 15-year career," said Tom Fitzgerald, the team's general manager. "I look forward to Travis working with our organization, on his terms and his timeline, in a manner that influences future Devils in the same manner when he played. We are ecstatic to know we will see the Zajac family around the Prudential Center rinks for years to come."

Jakob Chychrun knows his fashion. At the NHL player media tour in Chicago, he wore Gucci loafers with a roaring tiger and a pair of stark white Valentino sneakers with an "Arizona red" streak on them. "Fashion is something I definitely enjoy. You can show a little different side of you sometimes," the Arizona Coyotes defenseman said.

It's said that clothes make the man, and Chychrun hopes they can also remake a franchise. His team is embarking on what it is calling a "complete rebrand and business transformation" this season. That starts with the Coyotes' logo and uniforms, as the team is making the popular Kachina coyote its primary logo and bringing back its white Kachina jerseys for the first time since 2003.

"I think it's awesome. Those were my favorite jerseys in all the NHL. A lot of great players have worn that jersey," said Chychrun, who is entering his sixth season with Arizona.

The team last rebranded in the 2003-04 season, making red its primary color and a howling coyote head its logo. The black Kachina sweater was brought back in 2018-19 as an alternate jersey and is now the team's primary home jersey -- save for eight games this season when Arizona will wear its red sweaters.

"They still resonate with fans here too. We didn't want to get rid of it completely," Coyotes president and CEO Xavier A. Gutierrez told ESPN last week.

The Kachina logo was introduced when the team relocated from Winnipeg in 1996. It was based on the ancestral spirits of the Pueblo people and depicted a hockey-stick-wielding coyote with a patchwork of colors associated with the Southwest, including green, brick red, sand and purple. The crescent moon on its chest creates a "C" for Coyotes; the position of the Kachina is meant to evoke an "A" for Arizona.

The logo was voted the greatest in Arizona sports history in a poll by the Arizona Republic, defeating Arizona State University's "Sparky" logo. (Some would say the Tucson Gila Monsters were obviously robbed.)

Gutierrez calls the logo "iconic" but also sees it as a symbol of what the Coyotes aspire to become. "It was the right brand for what we want to stand for as an organization: impact and leveraging the power of sports to make that impact in the community," he said.

To Gutierrez, the Kachina logo represents inclusion, and the ideal of bringing diverse voices together and embracing the entire community, not just current fans.

"It represents a point of pride. It's something that says, 'I may not be what you think is the traditional sports fan, but this speaks to me. I can identify in it,'" he said. "We not only want to focus on our fans, but also our fans in waiting. In our research, we found that the logo resonates with people who aren't hardcore Coyotes fans or hardcore hockey fans. That includes families and young females. It includes diverse communities, like Latina, African American and Asian communities."

Gutierrez tells a story about someone the team recently hired in its social media communications department. "He moved from Brooklyn, and before he left he took a picture of a guy at a barber shop wearing a Kachina logo hat," he said. "There's something about the logo that people outside of hockey really gravitate to. It's colorful and unique."

Coyotes fans have clamored for the Kachina's return, with team blog Five For Howling calling for it to become the permanent logo in 2020.

"Since I've been here, the most dominant question from the fans has been when we're bringing back the Kachina full time," Gutierrez said. "Well, besides, 'Are you leaving Arizona?'"

The rebrand comes as a franchise best known for its off-ice uncertainty is once again facing questions about its future in the desert. Last month, the city of Glendale broke off negotiations on a multiyear lease extension at the Gila River Arena and declared that the 2021-22 season will be the team's last in the building.

Suddenly, a team that has been dogged by relocation speculation for the past decade was facing those questions again.

"It's disappointing. We were seeking something that was beneficial for the city, its citizens and taxpayers," Gutierrez said. "We're hopeful that perhaps the city will reconsider. We don't think it's the correct decision, and we remain very open to having that conversation.

"We've been exploring new arena options for several months, and we do think there are options here. But I want to be very clear: We're committed to Arizona. We want to be here."

The Coyotes also hope to find new audiences that want them to stick around, and the rebrand is an aggressive attempt to cultivate them. Beyond the Kachina jerseys, the Coyotes are planning a comprehensive marketing push in the community. A campaign to promote the Coyotes' rebrand through billboard, TV, radio, digital and print advertising will run throughout the season.

Chychrun, the Coyotes' resident fashionista, wonders if an upgrade in jerseys means a brighter future on the ice. Arizona missed the playoffs last season with a 24-26-6 record.

"They're better looking [uniforms]. And maybe it brings out something better in the guys, too," he said.

Dallas fires Luchi, Ferruzzi named interim boss

Published in Soccer
Monday, 20 September 2021 09:33

FC Dallas fired coach Luchi Gonzalez on Sunday and replaced him on an interim basis with Marco Ferruzzi, the club's director of soccer operations.

FC Dallas has won only six of its 26 games this season and has nine draws. The coaching change came a day after a 3-2 loss to the Houston Dynamo, one of only two teams below Dallas in the Western Conference standings.

The club also relieved assistant coach Mikey Varas of his duties. After making the playoffs in each of its first two seasons under Gonzalez, FC Dallas is 11th in the 13-team Western Conference. Gonzalez had a 28-29-25 record in regular season games.

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"We made the tough decision to part ways with Luchi after a great deal of thought and deliberation. We believe a coaching change is in the best interest of the club at this time to help us achieve our goals,'' FC Dallas President Dan Hunt said in a statement. "I want to thank Luchi for everything he has done for this organization. We wish him all the best.''

Gonzalez took over as head coach of FC Dallas on Dec. 16, 2018. He had previously served as director of FC Dallas Academy. He had initially joined the academy as a coach in 2012.

There doesn't appear to be much wrong with Manchester City, but manager Pep Guardiola is wearing the expression of a man who fears that the roof is about to cave in at any moment. Last season's Premier League champions have started this campaign with 17 goals in six games across all competitions and they sit three points behind title rivals Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United with the race barely into its first lap.

A 6-3 win against RB Leipzig in the Champions League last week put City in control of Group A following Paris Saint-Germain's surprise 1-1 draw against Club Brugge. If City can win at Parc des Princes next week, five months after a 2-1 victory in Paris in last season's semifinal first leg, they will have one foot in the knockout stages before the autumn leaves have started to fall.

But Guardiola is not at ease with his team's situation right now, and perhaps that is because of the trio of crucial games that they must negotiate over the next 13 days. The consequences of City's failure to sign Harry Kane or Cristiano Ronaldo to replace Sergio Aguero as the focal point of their attack might be about to hit home.

After what should be the formality of a Carabao Cup third-round tie at home to League One side Wycombe on Tuesday (Stream LIVE on ESPN+ from 2.30 p.m. ET), City embark on three away games that could shape their season.

Saturday's Premier League trip to Chelsea is followed by that clash against PSG three days later. And then comes a visit to Liverpool on Oct. 3 for a renewal of the rivalry with Jurgen Klopp's in-form team at Anfield.

City are more than capable of winning all three of those games and banishing the negativity that has begun to creep in since Guardiola lit a fuse by highlighting the need for more supporters to get behind his team after 38,062 turned up for the Leipzig fixture. Saturday's 0-0 draw at home to Southampton was watched by 52,698 fans, but the final result, after City had managed only one attempt on target, merely added to Guardiola's frustration.

"Always when the game is not good I feel bad," Guardiola said after the game. "[The fans] come to see a show, to see a game. When it doesn't happen, I feel a bit guilty because we didn't play good."

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Publicly, Guardiola has insisted that missing out on Kane and Ronaldo has not affected his team's ability to score goals and win games, but most football managers are smart when it comes to picking their battles, and the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach is not naive enough to criticise City's owners for failing to deliver the centre-forward his team clearly needs.

Jose Mourinho is a rarity in that respect. He has regularly complained about unsatisfactory recruitment at previous clubs and the end result has usually always ended with him leaving the club fairly soon afterward. Others, such as Klopp or Sir Alex Ferguson during his time at United, focus their anger or annoyance on referees or opponents, knowing that targeting owners or players is often a recipe for bigger problems.

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1:53

Hislop: Man City are clearly missing a true goal scorer

Shaka Hislop speaks after Man City recorded just one shot on target in their 0-0 draw vs. Southampton.

By criticising City's fan base, Guardiola used a proxy to air his frustrations and maybe even his fears over what lies ahead. His team face an acid test of their credentials over the course of the next two weeks, and they are not ready.

City climbed from mid-table last season to win the title, ultimately topping the table with a 12-point margin, but the field is much stronger this time around, and Guardiola knows that his team cannot allow Chelsea, Liverpool and United to pull clear. A defeat at Stamford Bridge at the weekend would leave City six points behind Thomas Tuchel's team and intensify the pressure ahead of the trip to Anfield, but Guardiola has no obvious solution to his centre-forward problem.

Raheem Sterling, who started as a false No. 9 against Southampton, has scored just two goals in his past 22 appearances in all competitions, while Kevin De Bruyne has yet to score this season as he makes a tentative return to action from a troublesome ankle injury. Gabriel Jesus, the only recognised striker in the squad, has scored just twice in six appearances this season -- the same return as Ferran Torres, though Torres has been favoured in the No. 9 role more.

Ronaldo, meanwhile, has shown the true value of a goal scorer by netting three in two league games for United since rejecting City to return to Old Trafford from Juventus last month. And at Chelsea, Romelu Lukaku's three goals in four games are a big reason why the club sit on top of the Premier League right now. As for Liverpool, Mohamed Salah continues to show why he is arguably the most reliable and consistent scorer in the league with four in five games so far.

City don't have a Ronaldo, Lukaku or Salah. They have plenty of threat in attacking positions, of course, but all top teams need a player who will score at least 20 league goals in a season, and Guardiola knows he doesn't have one of those. However, rather than complain about it in public, he has chosen instead to let off steam by singling out the club's supporters.

Time will tell whether Guardiola's mood will change, but you can bet that the outcome of City's next three away games will play a big part in shaping his demeanour.

Warwickshire have been boosted by the news that Chris Woakes will be available for their must-win fixture against Somerset this week as they push for a first County Championship title since 2012.

Woakes, who is on an all-format England contract, pulled out of his IPL deal with Delhi Capitals last week to keep himself fresh ahead of the T20 World Cup and the Ashes this winter. He was initially due to play in only one of Warwickshire's final two Championship games after the postponement of the Old Trafford Test, but the ECB have released him to play for the second week in a row following discussions with the club.

"Chris is playing and is raring to go," Will Rhodes, Warwickshire's captain, said on Monday. "I think we had to push the ECB quite hard but Woakesy wanted to play. It's not often, for him especially, that you get to push your home county over the line in the Championship. You don't get that opportunity very often so he's desperate to play.

"From what I gather, I think he was [due to be] available for one of the two games, but once you win a game and you're sat second, a couple of points behind the leaders, it's a no-brainer for me.

"Obviously we're not going to bowl him into the ground and bowl him 100 overs in the game - that would be silly with the World Cup around the corner. He's got his best interests as well, winning a game for us but also it would be silly for him not to have one eye on the T20 World Cup because he could play a massive part for England in that. It's about managing him but also winning a game as well."

Warwickshire's title ambitions will rely in part on results elsewhere. They are second in the table heading into the final round of fixtures with 55 points, sandwiched between Hampshire (58.5) and Lancashire (54.5) who play each other at Liverpool, with Nottinghamshire (52) also in the race ahead of their game against Yorkshire.

Rhodes admitted he would keep "half an eye" on scores elsewhere throughout the week in order to know the precise permutations for Warwickshire's title bid. "You'd be silly not to," he said. "The people who say they won't be looking at the scores would be just lying. You always know what is going on - it's hard to avoid it. After every day's play it's all over social media, it will be on the ECB app and ESPNcricinfo - whatever you're looking at.

"We've got to concentrate and not let that hamper us too much. We need to win and win well, especially if Hampshire win as well. Somerset aren't going to come here and give us 24 points. We've played some very good cricket here at home but we lost our last game here. It's given us a lot of motivation.

"There's a lot of stuff about winning a Championship in front of your own fans, so first and foremost we have to win a game of cricket and let the games at Liverpool and Trent Bridge hopefully help us out. If other games go our way and we don't do our job, I think we'll be kicking ourselves."

Warwickshire will also welcome Rob Yates (self-isolation) and Danny Briggs (stiff neck) back into their squad after both players missed the win against Yorkshire at Headingley last week, while Rhodes said that Dom Sibley, dropped by England after a run of low scores this summer, would be "dying for the opportunity" to make a big score to put himself into contention for Ashes selection.

"He's been brilliant since he's come back," Rhodes said. "He's got that goal to get back in the England squad and when someone like Dom is hungry for success, they're always generally going to perform. His innings in the second innings at Yorkshire was magnificent - it was the old Sibley that we all know, 45 off a lot of balls [117].

"He looks like he's hitting the ball lovely in the nets as well and he's just ticking for that big score. Individuals win you games at this stage of the season and he'll be dying to get that opportunity. You always want your guys to go off and play for England. Knowing Dom and growing up with him, that's what he wants to achieve: he wants to play in the Ashes and quite rightly so, he's a fantastic player.

"He might not have had the year that he wanted but his hunger and desire are definitely there to get on that plane to Australia. If he can perform in this game and we get another fixture [the Bob Willis Trophy final] at Lord's, a couple of scores of 50+ or 100+ or even just the time that he takes to get his runs will show that he's back in form and it would be nice for him to do that on the big stage."

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98

England withdraw from October tours to Pakistan

Published in Cricket
Monday, 20 September 2021 08:47

England's scheduled tour of Pakistan for two T20Is in mid-October has been cancelled, the ECB have announced.

England's men and women were due to play T20I double-headers in Rawalpindi on October 13 and 14, with the women's team staying on for a subsequent three-match ODI series.

But following New Zealand's last-minute withdrawal from their tour of the country due to a security threat, the fixtures have been scrapped. The ECB use the same security consultants - ESI Security - as NZC and despite Wasim Khan, the PCB's chief executive, insisting on Sunday that he expected the fixtures to go ahead as scheduled, they were immediately in doubt after New Zealand flew home.

The ECB released a statement on Monday afternoon confirming that its board had "reluctantly decided to withdraw both teams from the October trip", citing "increasing concerns about travelling to the region" and the prospect of adding "further pressure to a playing group who have already coped with a long period of operating in restricted Covid enivornments".

"The ECB has a longstanding commitment to tour Pakistan as part of the Men's Future Tours Programme in 2022," the statement said. "Earlier this year, we agreed to play two additional T20 World Cup warm-up games in Pakistan in October, adding a short women's tour with double headers alongside the men's games.

"The ECB Board convened this weekend to discuss these extra England Women's and Men's games in Pakistan and we can confirm that the Board has reluctantly decided to withdraw both teams from the October trip.

"The mental and physical well-being of our players and support staff remains our highest priority and this is even more critical given the times we are currently living in. We know there are increasing concerns about travelling to the region and believe that going ahead will add further pressure to a playing group who have already coped with a long period of operating in restricted Covid environments.

"There is the added complexity for our Men's T20 squad. We believe that touring under these conditions will not be ideal preparation for the ICC Men's T20 World Cup, where performing well remains a top priority for 2021.

"We understand that this decision will be a significant disappointment to the PCB, who have worked tirelessly to host the return of international cricket in their country. Their support of English and Welsh cricket over the last two summers has been a huge demonstration of friendship. We are sincerely sorry for the impact this will have on cricket in Pakistan and emphasise an ongoing commitment to our main touring plans there for 2022."

Clare Connor, the ECB's managing director of women's cricket, told ESPNcricinfo: "It's hugely sad. We've had lots of meetings over the last few days, with everything that has been going on in that part of the world, and it's desperately sad for Pakistan cricket and for the fans in that part of the world who are desperate to support their players and see live cricket in their country.

"It's very disappointing - our players were excited about the prospect of a historic tour for England women to Pakistan and to take international women's cricket to that part of the world would have been something they were very much looking forward to and would have been proud of, but it's not to be."

More to follow...

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Texans: Watson won't be active even if Taylor out

Published in Breaking News
Monday, 20 September 2021 09:37

HOUSTON -- Quarterback Deshaun Watson will not be active for the Houston Texans' game against the Carolina Panthers on Thursday night despite starter Tyrod Taylor's uncertain status, coach David Culley said Monday.

Taylor is getting an MRI on his left hamstring and is considered day-to-day, Culley said.

Taylor was replaced by rookie Davis Mills to start the second half of Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns. He injured his hamstring when he ran for a 15-yard touchdown midway through the second quarter. Taylor finished the second half.

"Something happened on the touchdown," Culley said. "It wasn't to the point where he felt he couldn't go. ... The way he is, he never said anything to anybody."

Culley said Monday that Taylor told him he was OK and wanted to go back in the game, but the head coach said he wanted to make sure the injury wouldn't get worse.

"I said, 'Look, we're going with Davis [Mills],'" Culley said. "I said, 'This is for the long haul, this is not for the short haul.'"

Mills finished 8-of-18 passing for 102 yards with a touchdown pass and an interception in the Texans' 31-21 loss, which dropped them to 1-1 this season. Mills was Houston's first draft pick -- a third-round selection -- in April.

Watson was not active for the Texans' first two games this season. He faces 22 active lawsuits with allegations of sexual assault and inappropriate behavior, but he has not been restricted from taking part in team activities by the NFL. The quarterback also requested a trade in January because he was not happy with the direction of the franchise and the process used to hire general manager Nick Caserio.

The Texans sought a package of six players and NFL draft picks from teams interested in trading for Watson this summer, league sources have told ESPN's Adam Schefter.

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