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Deebo Samuel and the evolution of the wide back

By Sports Desk January 18, 2022

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  • Champions League final: Familiar it might be, but Liverpool and Real Madrid's desire remains the same Champions League final: Familiar it might be, but Liverpool and Real Madrid's desire remains the same

    Saturday's Champions League final may have a sense of familiarity to it, but for Liverpool and Real Madrid the desire to continue winning trophies is as strong as ever.

    These sides have been involved in five of the past seven finals between them, while Paris is hosting the showpiece event for a sixth time – only London (seven) has done so more.

    The French city hosted the first European Cup final back in 1956, with Madrid winning their first of a record 13 trophies after seeing off Reims at the Parc des Princes.

    Indeed, come kick-off, no two teams will have faced off more times in a European Cup or Champions League final than Liverpool and Madrid (three).

    And yet while it may all feel similar – Liverpool making it to a third Champions League final since 2018, Carlo Ancelotti back on the brink of European glory – it is difficult to remember a similar type of hype surrounding a major club showpiece in recent years.

    That has been clear in Paris in the build-up to the match, with the Eiffel Tower and surrounding fan parks a sea of white and red, colours synonymous with this great competition.

    France certainly knows how to host a major event, explaining why UEFA switched this year's final to the Stade de France with just three months' notice.

    The final had been scheduled for Saint Petersburg, but was shifted to Paris – or Saint-Dennis, more specifically – after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which of course hosted the most recent meeting between these sides; the 2018 final, settled in Madrid's favour by Gareth Bale's heroics and Loris Karius' errors.

    Yet the organisers can only do so much. The onus is now on Liverpool and Madrid to put on a show for the 80,000 inside the ground and the millions watching around the world.

    For Liverpool, there's a shot at a cup treble after winning the EFL Cup and FA Cup with penalty shoot-out victories over Chelsea (both times) at Wembley.

    For Madrid, an opportunity to add their favourite trophy to a LaLiga title sealed with four games to go in a rather serene stroll in Spain's top flight.

    Whereas Los Blancos have been given the opportunity to rotate in the weeks leading up to this match, since their incredible comeback against Manchester City, Liverpool have had to play to their maximum right to the final day.

    This will be game 63 of a gruelling campaign for the Reds – not since Manchester United in 2016-17 has a side from Europe's top five leagues played more in a season (64).

    As Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold were eager to point out in Friday's pre-match news conference, though, fatigue will not play a part against Madrid.

    Nor will the disappointment of missing out on a quadruple last weekend, with City pipping them to the Premier League title by a point.

    "They've obviously had a bit more relaxed preparation and wrapped up their league two or three weeks ago," Robertson said.

    "They've maybe not played as many games and at a high tempo. We knew how hard our run was going to be on our bodies, but we're in the best possible shape.

    "We've come through a lot and yes we've had injuries and problems, but the lads are fully fit. It's important we take the competitive nature of a tough season into the last game."

    Intentional or otherwise, however, the tempo of Liverpool's final training run-out at the Stade de France on the eve of the match was far lower than that of Madrid.

    Jurgen Klopp was happy for his players to pass the ball around on the sun-soaked surface, which has been freshly laid for this game – a big topic ahead of the contest.

    Madrid's players were equally as relaxed – understandable given the experience in their ranks – as they split into two full-size teams for a mini-match.

    As they made their way down the tunnel area, there was still a chance for the likes of Marcelo and Toni Kroos to glance around at the vast venue. Maybe even two of the most decorated players in the modern game can still be awestruck every now and then, and it goes to show that, while we are now used to seeing these same players battle it out at the top, the experience is different each time.

    The pain of losing hurts no less; the joy of winning all the sweeter as a player or a coach enhances their legacy.

    Klopp, for example, is aiming for his second major European title in what is his fourth appearance in a final. Ancelotti, on the other hand, is hunting a record-breaking fourth Champions League crown.

    As for the supporters who could be heard chanting late into the night on Friday, an "I was there" moment awaits as two behemoths go at it again.

    Familiar it may be, but enjoy it while it lasts. 

  • Browns reach agreement with Njoku on four-year extension Browns reach agreement with Njoku on four-year extension

    The Cleveland Browns have reached an agreement with tight end David Njoku on a four-year contract extension.

    Cleveland placed the franchise tag on Njoku in March and have now come to terms with a player they hope will be pivotal to their offensive success.

    According to NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, the Browns and Njoku have agreed a deal in principle worth $56.75million.

    He will receive $28million guaranteed, according to the report, with an average annual salary of $14.18million making him the fifth-highest paid tight end in the league.

    The Browns are betting on Njoku's upside, with the 2017 first-round pick yet to live up to expectations since Cleveland took him with the 29th overall selection five years ago.

    His best season in terms of receiving yards came back in 2018 when he finished with 56 catches for 639 yards, but Njoku has since struggled with injuries.

    He played in only four games in 2019 and 13 in 2020 as the Browns reached the Divisional Round of the playoffs.

    Njoku started 11 of his 16 games in 2021 and finished with 475 yards and four touchdowns in a campaign that saw a disappointing Browns team fail to qualify for the postseason, though his average of 13.2 yards per reception ranked fourth among all qualifying tight ends.

  • 'Find something else to talk about' - Lamar Jackson dismisses OTAs criticism 'Find something else to talk about' - Lamar Jackson dismisses OTAs criticism

    Lamar Jackson hit back at criticism of his absence from Baltimore Ravens' OTAs as he enters the final year of his rookie contract.

    The 2019 NFL MVP has shown no willingness to engage in discussions with the Ravens over a contract extension.

    He has insisted he has no desire to part company with Baltimore, but Jackson has not been present as the Ravens have started early on-field preparations for the 2022 campaign with the OTAs – organised team activities.

    Jackson was criticised by former NFL quarterback Chris Simms, who referenced previous comments from the Ravens star, who previously said he wanted to be the Tom Brady of his era.

    Simms said on PFT Live: "Brady wouldn't be missing OTAs in year four of his career. ... Brady didn't miss an OTA until he had played in four Super Bowls."

    Responding to those comments quoting a tweet featuring a clip of Simms' remarks, Jackson wrote: "Lamar wants to be Lamar Chris.

    "This part of OTAs is voluntary my guy I will be there, just not on your watch. It's probably other QBs not attending voluntary OTAs either but since it's Lamar it's a huge deal. Find something else to talk about."

    Simms responded, saying: "That’s all good my man. You be you. I am rooting for you. Yes I would like to see you at OTAs. But you got to do what’s best for you. Not singling you out.

    "We have discussed all QBs who have not attended OTAs. You are Lamar freaking Jackson!! Of course we r gonna talk bout you."

    Jackson won the MVP award in his second season after throwing for 3,127 yards and 36 touchdowns with just six interceptions. He also ran for 1,206 yards and seven scores.

    However, the Ravens suffered a shock Divisional Round loss to the Tennessee Titans to end that season, and were eliminated at the same stage of the 2020 campaign by the Buffalo Bills.

    Jackson endured an injury-hindered 2021 season, throwing 16 touchdowns to 13 interceptions and adding a career-low two touchdowns on the ground as the Ravens missed the playoffs with an 8-9 record.

    No player in the NFL has a higher yards-per-carry average over the course of the last three seasons than Jackson's 6.36.

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