NBA

Davis upbeat over ankle injury as Lakers close in on NBA Finals

By Sports Desk September 25, 2020

Anthony Davis provided a positive assessment over the ankle injury he suffered in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals, declaring: "I'll be fine."

Davis rolled his ankle in the fourth quarter of the Los Angeles Lakers' 114-108 triumph over the Denver Nuggets on Thursday, putting them 3-1 up in the best-of-seven series and on the brink of a place in the NBA Finals.

Despite the setback, the 27-year-old still led the Lakers in terms of scoring, contributing 34 points as he played 41 minutes.

Game 5 takes place on Saturday, with Davis confident of being fit for action as Los Angeles aim to close out the Nuggets and progress to the NBA Finals.

"Ankle feels fine," the seven-time All-Star told the media. "Got tonight, tomorrow before the game to get it back to, I don't want to say back to where it was, but good enough to play.

"Rolled it pretty bad but not too bad. I'll be fine."

While the Lakers are clearly firmly in control, they will be wary of allowing the Nuggets to climb off the canvas following their heroics in the previous two rounds.

Denver battled back from 3-1 deficits to see off the Utah Jazz and the Los Angeles Clippers, leading Davis to speak out about the dangers of taking anything for granted.

"You know, like I said last game, we've got to put them away," he said. 

"They are going to continue to fight, no matter what the score is, no matter what the situation is, we just have to make sure we counter everything they do."

The Lakers have not reached the NBA Finals since 2010, which was also the last time they were crowned champions.

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  • El Clasico: How previous Barcelona bosses fared facing Real Madrid for the first time El Clasico: How previous Barcelona bosses fared facing Real Madrid for the first time

    Ronald Koeman gets his first taste of El Clasico from the dugout on Saturday, when Barcelona host Real Madrid.

    A favourite of Johan Cruyff's mighty 'Dream Team' of the early 1990s, the pressure is on Koeman the coach to get Barca back to winning trophies at home and in Europe after last season's miserable ending.

    He will have a chance to earn some sizeable brownie points against a Madrid side who are reeling from back-to-back defeats to Cadiz and Shakhtar Donetsk, results that have placed much of the pre-game scrutiny on Koeman's opposite number, Zinedine Zidane.

    As the former Netherlands boss looks to end a two-game winless run for Barca in Spain's grandest fixture, we look at how his predecessors fared in their first Clasicos in LaLiga...

     

    PEP GUARDIOLA. BARCELONA 2-0 REAL MADRID. DECEMBER 13, 2008.

    Both dugouts featured coaches taking charge of teams in a Clasico for the first time and it was Guardiola who got the better of Madrid's Juande Ramos.

    Late goals from Samuel Eto'o and Lionel Messi earned Barcelona the victory as they moved 12 points clear of Madrid in the table too.

    That victory occurred during a 10-game winning streak in LaLiga and it was no surprise that Barca, who beat Madrid 6-2 later in the season, went on to win the title.

    TITO VILANOVA. BARCELONA 2-2 REAL MADRID. OCTOBER 7, 2012.

    The two clubs had already met in the Supercopa de Espana at the start of the season, Madrid winning on away goals after both teams had won a leg apiece.

    Their first league meeting of 2012-13 was all about Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi as both men scored twice in a 2-2 draw.

    Ronaldo scored for a record sixth successive Clasico to put Madrid ahead and, after Messi had netted a brace, Los Blancos' Portuguese star took his tally to 160 goals in 155 games since his 2009 move from Manchester United with an equaliser.

     

    GERARDO MARTINO. BARCELONA 2-1 REAL MADRID. OCTOBER 23, 2013.

    All eyes were on new recruits Neymar and Gareth Bale and it was the former who scored first to set Barca on their way.

    Alexis Sanchez would double that lead and though Jese Rodriguez pulled one back, Madrid fell to a defeat that left them six points behind Barcelona after just 10 league games.

    Both teams would finish the campaign on 87 points, a total not good enough to win the league as Atletico Madrid claimed 90 to be crowned champions.

    LUIS ENRIQUE. REAL MADRID 3-1 BARCELONA. OCTOBER 25, 2014.

    The Blaugrana had claimed 22 points from the first 24 available but they suffered defeat at Santiago Bernabeu in October 2014.

    Barca debutant Luis Suarez, back after a four-month ban for biting, set up Neymar for a fourth-minute opener but the home side stormed back.

    An in-form Ronaldo levelled from the spot with his 21st goal of the season before Pepe and Karim Benzema scored in the second half.

     

    ERNESTO VALVERDE. REAL MADRID 0-3 BARCELONA. DECEMBER 23, 2017.

    Los Blancos' awful start to the 2017-18 campaign continued as Barcelona moved 14 points clear of the defending champions with a comfortable win at the Bernabeu.

    Suarez, Messi and Arturo Vidal all scored while Madrid, who had beaten Barca in both Supercopa de Espana legs at the beginning of the campaign, had Dani Carvajal dismissed for handball.

    It was the first time Barcelona had won three successive league matches at the Bernabeu in Clasico history, and they went into the last match in our list with four straight victories at the ground.

     

    QUIQUE SETIEN, REAL MADRID 2-0 BARCELONA, MARCH 1, 2020.

    Setien, who took over from Valverde in January this year, had Barca on a four-game winning streak in LaLiga ahead of their trip to the capital.

    What followed was a miserable outing for the Catalans, as second-half goals from Vinicius Junior and Mariano Diaz – in his first league appearance of the season – secured the win for the hosts.

    The result lifted Madrid to the top of the table and set them on course to win the title after the coronavirus-enforced break to the season. Setien was sacked in August, his final game in charge that humiliating 8-2 Champions League loss to Bayern Munich.

  • El Clasico: Barcelona treading new ground with Koeman's 4-2-3-1 El Clasico: Barcelona treading new ground with Koeman's 4-2-3-1

    Ronald Koeman will get his first taste of El Clasico from a dugout when Barcelona host Real Madrid on Saturday.

    The LaLiga champions head to Camp Nou after a pretty rotten week in which back-to-back home defeats to Cadiz and Shakhtar Donetsk have left fans and pundits alike thoroughly disillusioned with Zinedine Zidane's current approach.

    Barca also lost 1-0 in their previous league game, away to Getafe, but a 5-1 thumping of Ferencvaros in the Champions League was a tonic and, in truth, that defeat at Coliseum Alfonso Perez felt more like an aberration during what has mostly been an encouraging start under Koeman.

    The Clasico is always the acid test, though – and Barca, barring a dramatic change in system, will line up for this one in a 4-2-3-1 formation, something they have not done for at least the previous 46 meetings.

    BREAKING THE WHEEL

    Nobody need tell Koeman about Barca's traditional adherence to 4-3-3. He had enough experience as a player for the Netherlands and the Blaugrana to know such a system like the back of his hand, even if Johan Cruyff's peak 'Dream Team' – such as the one that won the 1992 European Cup final through a Koeman extra-time goal – thrived instead in a 3-4-3.

    The fact is, though, that Barca have doubled down on 4-3-3 since Frank Rijkaard took charge in 2003. He, Pep Guardiola, Tito Vilanova, Gerardo Martino, Luis Enrique, Ernesto Valverde and, eventually, Quique Setien – all have either stuck religiously to the system or at least made good use of it.

    That rings true in the Clasico, too. Since the 2005-06 season, there have been 46 matches between Barca and Madrid in all competitions, and Barca have started in a 4-3-3 in 39 of them. Four games have seen them set up in a 4-4-2, and one each in 3-4-3, 3-5-2 and 4-3-1-2.

    It's yielded mixed success, as you might expect. Barca won 17 of those 39 games in 4-3-3 – a 43.6 per cent winning rate – and lost 12. They scored 71 goals and conceded 53.

    In 4-4-2, they won twice, drew once and lost once, scoring eight goals and conceding four. The 3-4-3 was, fittingly, a 3-3 LaLiga draw in October 2007; the 4-3-1-2 was that famous 3-2 win for Barca at the Santiago Bernabeu under Luis Enrique in 2017, when Lionel Messi scored his 500th club goal; and the 3-5-2 was used by Valverde when they lost 2-0 in the Supercopa de Espana second leg in the capital three years ago.

    Koeman's set-up, then, is a big departure from the norm. But will it work against Madrid?

    FATI AND FRENKIE ON FIRE

    Koeman explained this month that 4-2-3-1 was preferable because of Barca's lack of wingers. "Looking at the quality that we have, this formation is perfect for the team," he told Barca TV.

    Fans may not have warmed to the idea at first, but Koeman's approach makes sense – and there are certain players thriving in this formation.

    For one thing, it gets Ansu Fati involved closer to goal. In four league games, the young Spain star has attempted 15 dribbles, created three chances and scored three goals. The freedom to cut inside from the left has also liberated Jordi Alba and Sergino Dest at left-back, each of whom have also created three goalscoring chances. Given Madrid presently have no fully fit right-backs, that should worry Zidane.

    Another to benefit is Frenkie de Jong, a player who admitted to underwhelming in his first season after joining from Ajax for an initial €75million. He has performed positively in a central axis, usually alongside Sergio Busquets, asserting himself in games far more even though Barca's average possession figure has dropped to 59.2 per cent, lower than in any of the past 11 seasons.

    He, too, has created three goalscoring chances and has a remarkable 100 per cent success rate from 11 attempted dribbles. He has also completed 216 passes, behind only the more possession-focused Gerard Pique (255) and Busquets (261). He is a player with renewed confidence in breaking lines in transition and getting the ball into threatening areas, and Madrid's midfield three will have a real test on their hands to cover the space of Barca's four forwards while keeping De Jong quiet.

    And Messi? Koeman said before the Ferencvaros game that his captain's form "could be better", and he had a point – one goal (a penalty) and zero assists from four league games is an unusually modest return. He is also averaging 3.9 shots per game, his lowest rate since 2007-08.

    Still, Messi has created more chances (six), attempted more dribbles (19) and more shots (15) than any other Barca player in the league this season, and he may be about to face a Madrid defence without Sergio Ramos.

  • Ex-Man Utd players don't know what they're talking about – Solskjaer defends 'fantastic' Greenwood Ex-Man Utd players don't know what they're talking about – Solskjaer defends 'fantastic' Greenwood

    Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has denied reports that young forward Mason Greenwood has been overlooked for selection recently after repeatedly turning up late for training.

    Greenwood was not part of the squad for United's victories over Newcastle United and Paris Saint-Germain, owing to what Solskjaer put down to a "niggle".

    The 19-year-old was sent home from England duty last month for breaching coronavirus protocols and subsequently dropped by Gareth Southgate for this month's triple-header.

    Reports suggested Solskjaer had grown frustrated with the teenage academy product and warned the youngster about his punctuality.

    However, speaking ahead of Saturday's clash with Chelsea, the United boss dismissed those claims and took aim at the media.

    "I'm not concerned at all with Mason making a target for himself," Solskjaer said. "He came in, played fantastic, played in the league for the first time against Tottenham and was brilliant. 

    "He kicked on and he makes a mistake for England and suddenly the English press go after him. He's never ever late for training. I've seen some ex-United players talking about him and they don't know what they're talking about. 

    "He's got a good family behind him and he's a good trainer. I cannot believe all these stories about him not being professional. That's something we have to deal with many players, many other players at United have had that."

    Greenwood has made 37 Premier League appearances for United since his debut in March 2019, scoring 10 times, assisting one and laying on 10 chances for his team-mates.

    Solskjaer confirmed the youngster is back in contention to face Chelsea this weekend, while new signing Edinson Cavani is in line to make his debut and Harry Maguire is also fit again after missing the trip to PSG.

    "I hope and expect all three of them to be available," he said. "We've got a training session this morning which is the last chance of preparation. They've all got a chance.

    "Edinson needs to tick all the boxes that he's gone through in his programme to be ready and make an impact. I'll have a discussion with him, Mason and Harry today."

    United are playing at Old Trafford for the first time since losing 6-1 to Tottenham three weeks ago – their joint heaviest defeat in the Premier League.

    They have since beaten Newcastle and PSG in back-to-back away games, but Solskjaer admitted nothing will exorcise the demons from the humiliating loss to Spurs.

    "I don't think anything will erase that memory – it'll always be in the history books and we have always got to live with having that result," he said. 

    "You can look back at different reasons why we had that result but we have got to move forward.

    "It's happened so many times at this club that you have results out of the blue or setbacks, so far we have bounced back well.

    "It's very important for players that if you lose games you're determined to win, to bounce back, and I saw that focus at Newcastle and PSG.

    "It gives you more belief and confidence, two good performances and results but the next game is what we're focused on."

    United are unbeaten in their last seven league meetings with Chelsea and won this corresponding fixture 4-0 on the opening weekend of last season, but Solskjaer is anticipating a difficult game.

    "We know it’s gonna be tough against Chelsea – two teams that know each other really well," Solskjaer said.

    "Addressing our home form is key. The whole lockdown period has made us do things differently at home so we may need to find a different way to beat them."

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