Salute to Naomi
Written by The Final Ball on 15/09/2020
Welcome to The Final Ball Blog! This is where we’ll have weekly a weekly detailed insight into the last week of sport for those of you who just couldn’t live by only listening to us for an hour a week!
Disclaimer: As mentioned above, this was written last week but as I felt that there’s were things that needed to be put out there, please enjoy it regardless and I will look to put out another blog later in the week!
And what a week it has been. As usual, BLM continues to be at the forefront of discussions across all sports. Naomi Osaka & Lewis Hamilton have persevered in using their high-quality performances in white-dominated sports as a platform to keep the conversations flowing and agitate those that need the education the most. And where the WNBA & NBA will continue to pioneer in speaking out for the desire of change; all eyes were on the opening weekend of the NFL, as multiple franchises attempted to back their recent U-turns on the movement. And to be fair, most player & coaches did kneel with no major objections highlighted in the media (a few boos from the fans, but it wasn’t BGT levels). A positive start, but the wool hasn’t been pulled over Colin Kaepernick’s eyes. He sees straight through the “propaganda” and questions how Eric Reid (the teammate that kneeled with him back in 2016) is still without a club. Time will tell us if this is the start of something new in the US’s most popular sport, or simply a way of diffusing the volatile situation currently in America.
And staying in the US, what a performance by Naomi Osaka. There’s a lot to be said for a 22 year old multi-cultural woman who is still developing her skills to become one of the greatest in the game, to take this opportunity to do what she did. To show the world that she stands with all the protestors, risking all the scrutiny & potential sponsorship deals, she has shown herself to have a mature head on her shoulders. And let’s not forget that she PERFORMED at the level required to win her 2nd US Open. She could have easily pulled out like others amidst covid-19 fears. She could have even hid behind her Japanese heritage and stayed silent. Instead, she saw an opportunity to represent and took it with her strong, aggressive forehand. Then to even hold up the trophy in her native attire, put a little bit of ‘hot sauce’ on the occasion. This is a queen that we must stan.
Same country, different sport, let’s talk NBA. As we head to the conference finals, are we starting to see the Lakers emerge as the favourites? A comprehensive game 5 victory against the Rockets with big performances from AD & LeBron seem to have them chomping at the bit, and due to the ‘never say die’ attitude that the Nuggets showed to Pandemic P & the Clippers, The Lakers have been warranted a few days rest, which they will surely use to their advantage. Taking Utah & LAC to game 7 consecutively will take its toll on them. Find a way to restrict Jokic’s influence and it will go a long way to winning the series. Meanwhile on the other side, Miami Heat showed the Bucks that they simply had ‘more strings to their bow’ in terms of the variety of shots that they manage to produce on the paint. Sinking 3’s has been the theme of the play-offs and the inability to do that in combination with being extremely sloppy in possession at key moments can be seen as key factors as to why Giannis & the boys couldn’t take Milwaukee any further. It sets up for an interesting match-up between Heat and the Celtics, after their scrap (might as well have been) with the Raptors although somewhat entertaining, they may have concerns about fatigue starting to kick in at the key moment. Expect the power of Bam Adebayo & the clutch of Jimmy Butler to cause them plenty of problems.
And finally, we can speak about the new season of the Premier League. The first weekend has been completed (not everyone has played yet), but with the games expected ‘thick & fast’ and a further 3 more weeks of transfer activity, what can we really takeaway from what we’ve seen so far? Well, there’s a couple of teams that have been given reasons to be optimistic; Arsenal are seeing their new signings settle in quickly (I mean all Willian had to do was change the “work” address on his Google Maps) and their talisman is signing a new deal (once he’s driven every fan on social media mad by teasing them). Newcastle can also say with their new signings, that relegation might not be on their mind by the new year. Their opponents however, should be increasingly worried. Every few seasons, there’s always a team that has such a meltdown behind the scenes (Chelsea, Arsenal, United, Spurs, Newcastle, West Ham etc) that it is clear to see the impact that it has on the pitch. West Ham might have picked the ‘Baton of Carnage’ again. It’s one thing to sell a young prodigious talent, but when he goes to a team that you’re potentially fighting relegation for, it can come back to bite you. Add to that, the attempted signature of Benhrama (a player of a similar position that played to a similar level in the same league last season), then questions will be asked. And questions were asked. But rather than in the professional fashion of a quiet word with the powers that be, senior players have taken to social media, which is a recipe for disaster for all those involved. And based on the behaviours of the West Ham owners in the past, the response is unlikely to diffuse the situation. Captain against board public disputes never end amicably (just ask Messi), and there is a serious risk of this leading to mutiny amongst several players. With their next few fixtures are against teams that all deem themselves worthy of European football, maybe their fans should just stay at home until Moyes get sacked around Christmas.
On a lighter note, Liverpool vs Leeds gave us the game of the weekend. The highly anticipated return of Leeds United well & truly came with a bang. But as you watched how it all unfolded, there’s still a worry about Leeds that the ‘Biesla brigade’ keeps trying to brush under the carpet. Firstly, they started and ended the game giving away two penalties. They need to remember that VAR is out to get you and Bruno Fernandes is ready to receive all gifts provided in this unforgiving league. Then the other two goals were also from set pieces, meaning that some teams (Burnley, Sheffield United) won’t have to work that hard to score goals against them. The last thing will bring both worry and pleasure in equal measure, their style of play. Kalvin Phillips sits in his own half like a QB while the 5 players ahead of him are almost in line with the opponents defence. The goals they scored showed how beautiful this system can be. But similar to Jorginho under Sarri, teams will start to focus on stopping him. ‘George’ (as some Chelsea fans like to call him), had Kante to run around like a kid with fizzy drinks in his system. At times Phillips was the only white shirt with 40 yards of space ahead of him. There’s also the issue of burnout, a regular theme under Biesla teams. Last season had an enforced 3 month break whereas this season has commenced with a month less than usual. At least it won’t be dull up in Leeds. And their opponents, the champions. Anything worth reading into? I think the main takeaway is that despite being thrown a new challenge in this unique style of football, they still found a way through it. Although the masses have predicted that they may not retain their crown, it’s safe to say that they will most definitely fight for it.
by Yemi Adio