April 2018 Rugby Ramble

April 2018 Rugby Ramble

Costly actions

The farce surrounding Spain’s loss to Belgium – and Romania’s subsequent qualification for the World Cup – continued this month as it was announced that 5 players were receiving bans totalling over 2 years! Brothers Sebastien and Guillaume Rouet received 43 and 36 week bans respectively, while teammates Pierre Barthere, Lucas Guillaume and Mathieu Bélie each received bans of 14 weeks.

I’ve seen the footage of the incident and it does not make easy watching. The behaviour of some of the Spanish players was deplorable and they certainly deserve to be punished for their actions. What rankles me is that the chance of an incident was allowed to happen in the first place. For such an important match where World Cup qualification was on the line, the officials should be completely neutral. Yes the Romanian officials were neutral to judge it by an individual match, but considering Romania stood to qualify if Spain lost there is no way Romanian officials should have been allowed. Granted the officials were appointed before the tournament, but on the same weekend a South African official was removed from the England v Ireland match late in the day as he had been with England during the week, Rugby Europe – who have a Romanian as President – in my opinion have no legitimate reason as to why they could not change the officials. Maybe the match would have gone the same, but at least the calls of bias would have been unfounded.

World Rugby were investigating this and also the suggestion that Spain, Belgium and Romania all fielded ineligible players during the tournament but everything has gone quiet on that front other than the announcement of the bans. Too often it appears that World Rugby are hesitant to change the status quo and with usual competitors Romania now set to feature in Japan, if fear that the investigation and findings will be swept under the rug in a similar way to France’s abuse of Head Injury Protocols over recent seasons. I really hope World Rugby prove me wrong…


Sinner

One player who did escape punishment this month was Israel Folau. Folau caused outrage following his comment on Instagram that God’s plan for gay people was “HELL… Unless they repent of their sins and turn to God”, yet he escaped punishment from the ARU after explaining his views and religious beliefs to them.

Now I have no problem with freedom of speech and also with religious beliefs – though I would not consider myself especially religious. My issue is that Folau is not just some random member of the public, he is one of Australia’s star players and as such he is meant to be a role model to others. Folau has a responsibility to be careful what he says on social media as it will get around to millions of people in no time. Further to this he is making a conscious choice to use passages from the bible that are against homosexuality, but conveniently doesn’t appear to follow the Bible fully as it is stated in Leviticus that ”You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you: I am the Lord.” If you can ignore your religious beliefs to get a bit more ink, don’t use them as an excuse to get out of being a homophobe.

folauThe ARU have panicked and avoided punishing him because he is out of contract soon and they are afraid he will walk away from the sport. That Denny Solomona can be banned for likely using a homophobic slur, Folau commenting on social media that gay people can go to Hell definitely deserves a ban. I wonder how the ARU would have acted if the question was about people of a different religion rather than a different sexuality.

Following his comments, it was great to see both Brad Weber and TJ Perenara come out against his remarks. I’d love to hear David Pocock’s views on Folau’s comments considering how supportive he was of legalising gay marriage in Australia. That next training camp with the national team could be a little tense…


Over too soon

It’s that time of year where the lists of players hanging up their boots at the end of the season start to come out. As always, there are so many quality players leaving the game that have become such a big part of our viewing over the years. One name that people would not have been expecting to see on those lists though is that of Northampton and Australia back Rob Horne.

At 28 years old, the former Waratah would have been looking forward to a successful couple of years with the Saints and it was suggested that he could be a potential captain next season. Unfortunately, in his first match as Northampton captain, he lasted just 13 seconds of their derby against Leicester Tigers before going off injured. Sione Kalamafoni jumped to catch the kickoff and as he came down, Horne appeared to catch him awkwardly. He went down immediately and did not look good trying to get up. Watching at the time, I assumed that he had got a stinger and possibly caught his head awkwardly. However, later that week it was announced that he had suffered nerve damage severe enough to bring an end to his career.

It is a sobering reminder of just how easy it is to pick up an injury and of how fragile our bodies really are despite us putting them on the line and making them take a beating for 80 minutes a week. I wish the best to Rob in his retirement and hope that he will get the support he needs both in his recover and his earlier-than-expected transition to life after rugby.

The King of the Geeks & the Classy Contender

The King of the Geeks & the Classy Contender

With 2 matches a week (on average) in the Schmoedown, some weeks are there to further storylines, some to introduce new faces and some are all about the road to the belts. This last week was all about the belts! Tuesday saw the Lion’s Den’s newest cub Mark “The Enforcer” Donica try to wrest the Innergeekdom belt from Jason “Justice” Inman, only to be TKO’d by the champ. On Friday, the Fyffe Club’s decision to pick Mike “K.O.” Kalinowski as “Classy” Clarke Wolfe’s opponent for her Number 1 Contender match as he took her to Sudden Death, only for Clarke to emerge victorious and set up a title shot against Samm Levine.

inmanwinJason “Justice” Inman 19 – 16 Mark “The Enforcer” Donica

Jason Inman is going to be hard to beat! The Champ proved his title credentials with a strong display against Mark Donica, who performed well but could just not keep up. Inman only missed one question in Round 1 to take an early 9-7 lead and despite being part of Team Trek, he still managed to get 8 out of a possible 10 points in Round 2 after spinning Star Wars, matching the score Donica had amassed on MCU. Things stayed even through Round 3 as both failed to identify what animal the battering ram Grond was styled on, but both had bet 2 points on the question. While Inman may have already been ahead following Round 1, it was Round 4 where Inman all-but confirmed his victory by dominating the speed round, taking the first 4 questions often before Donica could even seem to react. Donica got the final point of Round 4 and also had success with his 2-point question in Round 5, but he could not pull the right answers for his 3 and 5-point questions to hand Inman a TKO victory and his first title defence.

Donica performed admirably in this match but I think a lack of experience in the longer format cost him a chance of victory here, very similar to when Samm Levine was able to beat Rachel Cushing in the last Singles title match and I plan to write more on this in the near future. That said, Jason performed so well and seems to have very few weaknesses, being especially strong in categories like Star Trek where many competitors appear to struggle. With his title match experience and his wide range of knowledge, I think it’s going to take something special for a competitor to dethrone him any time soon. Donica will certainly come back stronger and this title shot will have given him an idea of what he needs to work on to take the next step. He clearly has good subject knowledge and understands the game and the rules as shown by his usage of the JTE Rule and the Challenge Rule – though I fully agree with the judge’s decision to stick with the original ruling of an incorrect answer. Kristian Harloff has already announced that there will be 5 Innergeekdom 1v1 matches in the near future, with the winners of these matches facing off in a Fatal Fiveway to determine the next Number 1 Contender. If Donica can come through both these matches and earn another title shot then I would say he has as good a chance as anyone of beating Inman.

buzzer
The buzzer round increased Inman’s lead from 2 to 5 points

But looking ahead to the future, who will Donica be facing first? Well if his post-match comments are anything to go by, we will be seeing him face off against the leader of the Viper Squad, Jay Washington! I always enjoy a match between 2 rival heels as you never know what they’re going to do next. Jay is hilarious on the mic and any change we can take to see him and Dagnino squaring off should be taken. I would expect Donica to win this game but Jay Washington can never be counted out and will want to make up for his loss in the Manager Bowl.

As for Inman, he still appears to be getting no offers to join a faction, which in my mind is absolutely crazy. The Fyffe Club seemed more interested in Donica despite the way he had already been looking comfortable with the Lion’s Den and I would not be surprised to see at least 2 of Cushing, Fyffe and Andreyko appear in the 5 Innergeekdom matches, while I still expect the Horsemen to make an advance sometime soon. I’m starting to wonder though if Inman will choose to create his own faction. Trek teammate Scott Mantz would surely jump at the chance to join the faction and Yodi’s appearance walking out with Inman makes me wonder if he would join as a manger given his experience in both Singles and Teams to help this become another faction to help cut the heels down to size.

clarkewins“Classy” Clarke Wolfe 21 – 20 Mike “K.O.” Kalinowski

A match awarded to Clarke following Emma Fyffe’s victory at the Manager Bowl, Kalinowski or Stacy Howard appeared the obvious choices for her opponent given the strength of the top 10. Kalinowski has been on a poor run of form since the end of the 2017 Ultimate Schmoedown tournaments, but Friday’s match saw him return to the form that earned him a place in the Number 1 Contender Triple Threat match against Rachel Cushing and JTE.

Things were looking good for K.O. as he came out of Round 1 with a 6-5 lead and followed things up by scoring 6 out of a possible 8 points having spun Spielberg in Round 2. Clarke may have an up-and-down history with the wheel, but it was certainly on her side this time as she spun arguably her biggest strength, Horror, and took maximum points for the first time in her singles career to go 13-12 up. Round 3 was another incredibly close affair with Clarke hitting her 2 and 5-pointers and K.O. his 3 and 5-pointers to take the match to Sudden Death, where Clarke won on the first question to seal her place in the next title match against Samm Levine.

It was great to see Kalinowski competitive in the Schmoedown again and but for a moment in Round 1 he would have had the victory. Having initially written an answer for the sixth question, Kalinowski changed his mind at the last moment and used his second JTE rule to give him the time to change his answer. Unfortunately for K.O. his initial answer was the right one. Had he stuck with his gut or been a second later calling for the JTE rule, the extra point would have seen him take the victory inside 3 rounds.

Looking ahead, it will be interesting to see how the title match goes and while I would lean towards Samm Levine due to his extra experience of title matches – though Clarke has featured in title matches previously against Dan Murrell and The Patriots – Clarke actually has a 1-0 singles record against Samm after beating him in 2016 to set up her title match against Murrell. Samm has clearly improved since then but if the questions go her way, Clarke certainly has the ability to pull off the win and become the first female to hold a belt.

fyffesangels
The contrast between the Fyffe Club and the League’s support in this match can be clearly seen in 1 picture

As for Kalinowski, his future is perhaps even more interesting right now. As I have already mentioned this month, K.O. is yet to be seen in the company of The League, and in his post-match interview he mentioned how when he looked out into the audience he didn’t see any of his faction there to support him. His next comment though was very interesting:

“I saw one person out in that audience – and I’m not gonna say who it is right now – but they were there and they had my back, someone that I would never have thought and someone that’s not… we’re never in the same thing… but made me think during the match”

I’ve been suggesting for a while now that Kalinowski joining Rocha’s stable as a member of the new 4 Horsemen makes sense and sure enough, if you go back to Round 1 and the question where Kalinowski second-guesses himself, you can see a moment of frustration from K.O. then hear Rocha shout out from the audience “Trust yourself”, words that appear to snap K.O. back into the moment and he repeats these words to himself a couple of times to focus himself for the next question. I honestly think it’s just a matter of time now until he becomes the newest Horseman. Perhaps during Rocha’s match against Jeff Sneider…?

 

What were your thoughts on the matches? Do you think Clarke will beat Samm? What factions do you see Inman and Kalinowski representing? Who do you want to see in the 5 Innergeekdom matches? Let me know in the comments, lets get the discussion going.

Premier League Ramble – The Elongated Week

Premier League Ramble – The Elongated Week

It’s been an odd week of Premier League action. With just a few teams still involved in the FA Cup, teams have been playing league matches throughout the week, leaving just over half the league still with a game in hand. Champions Manchester City were welcomed onto the Etihad pitch by a guard of honour by Swansea and thanked the Welsh side by putting 5 goals past them. Stoke and Southampton drew their matches, moving them closer to the Championship, while West Brom followed up their win over Manchester United by coming back from 2 goals down to draw at home to Liverpool, who still had something to cheer this weekend as Mo Salah was named PFA Player of the Year.

Possibly more important than the football this week was the announcement that this season will be Arsene Wenger’s last in charge at Arsenal.


End of an era

Though results over the last 2 seasons have suggested change was coming and despite me even predicting as much, it was still a shock when the news broke on Friday that Arsene Wenger will be stepping down as manager of Arsenal at the end of the season. Having taken over at Arsenal on 1st October 1996, he has been the Arsenal manager through the entire time I have been watching football! I doubt the Premier League will ever see another manager have such a long tenure with a single club.

The results and standings may not have been to the level Arsenal – and Wenger – would have hoped over the last couple of seasons, but at a time like this it is important to look back at his achievements with the Gunners. These last 2 seasons are the only times Arsenal have not finished in the top 4 of the Premier League under Wenger, with the Gunners always finishing in the top 2 until 2005/06, while he has won 3 league titles (1997/98, 2001/02 and 2003/4), 7 FA Cups (1997/98, 2001/02, 2002/03, 2004/05, 2013/14, 2014/15 and 2016/17) and 7 Community Shields (1998, 1999, 2002, 2004, 2014, 2015 and 2017). “The Invincibles” of 2003/04 remain the only team to go an entire 38-match Premier League campaign without losing a single match. Individually, Wenger has been named Premier League Manager of the Season in 1998, 2002 and 2004 and was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2006. He has always sought to create teams who play attractive football and has maintained a high level of success throughout the years with only a handful of big-money signings, while also seeing the club through their move from Highbury to the Emirates in 2006.

wengUnfortunately for Wenger, his long tenure has perhaps harmed Arsenal in recent years as they have been unable to adapt to the football played by some teams, with organised, physical defences often denying them points they should not be dropping and expensive attacking teams exposing an inconsistent defence. For this reason, I do not think we will see managers getting anywhere near Wenger’s 22 years with a single club moving forward as managers will be changed to freshen things up once a team does not adapt. It is a credit to Arsenal that in such a cut-throat business they have stuck by Arsene Wenger despite the lack of silverware between 2005 and 2014. I can’t imagine any of the other classic “Big 4” teams would go more than a couple of seasons without silverware before changing manager. There has been a lot of fan hostility towards him in recent seasons, but I sincerely hope that they continue to use these final games as a way to thank Wenger for his service to the club over the year.

This summer, the focus turns to who will replace him… I don’t envy that manager at all!


The king has been crowned

It will come as no surprise to anyone that Mohammed Salah has won the PFA Player of the Year award for 2017/18. The Egyptian has been in fine form this season and looked a completely different player to the one who struggled for minutes at Chelsea.

He may not have had the best of performances at the weekend against West Brom, but he still managed to score another goal, leaving him with 31 goals from 33 Premier League games, level with Shearer, Ronaldo and Suarez for the most in a 38-game league season. I can’t imagine many people would bet against him breaking that record against Stoke. In fact at £34m he has already been worth less than £1m for each goal he has scored in all competitions, good value for money in the modern game!

When Philippe Coutinho was sold to Barcelona many fans may have been worried, but Salah has more than picked up the slack and has been a big part in one of the most destructive attacks in the league this season, providing 9 assists to go along with those goals. Liverpool’s 80 goals scored leaves them comfortably second in the league rankings, and Salah has been directly involved (scored/assisted) half of them! I can’t even begin to imagine how many others involved him playing a big part in the build-up.

The question now will become what happens going forward? Will he have a sophomore slump in 2018/19 or will he be able to keep up the performances, even if the numbers drop slightly (I can’t imagine anyone being able to keep scoring so regularly over 2 seasons)? More than that, how long until Real Madrid or Barcelona inevitably come calling? And how long can Liverpool keep hold of him when they do?


A long-awaited goal

931 days. That’s how long Danny Ings went without scoring ahead of his 4th minute opener against West Brom. He’s had 2 serious knee injuries since moving from Burnley to Liverpool and as such was making only his second start under Jurgen Klopp. As well as his goal, he also had another great chance and should have also had a penalty when he was impeded by Craig Dawson trying to reach a ball through.

Ings remains a quality player and at 25 years old he can still be a star in the league if given the chance to play regularly, but despite Klopp backing him to start scoring I can’t see him getting the minutes he deserves with Roberto Firmino ahead of him in the pecking order and the front 3 being so effective as a group. There are very few top class English strikers so regular football could easily see Ings pushing for a spot in the England squad. I really think that Ings would benefit from a move away this summer to get his career back on track. But where could he go?

Spurs could do with another reliable goal scorer to back up Harry Kane, but that leaves Ings in the same situation as he is in now. The rest of the Big 6 are sorted up front or will be looking for more expensive options. In my opinion, the best spots for him would be the teams currently occupying 7th to 10th: Burnley, Leicester, Everton and Newcastle. All of these teams will be looking to compete for the spots outside the top 6 and a striker who can score 15-20 goals a season would be a huge benefit. Of those, I would see Burnley and Everton as the most attractive options. Burnley are Ings’ former club so he is used to the environment and 0Sean Dyche’s style of management, while I’m sure the fans would love to have back a player who was their top scorer in the 2013/14 and 2014/15 seasons. Everton on paper probably have the strongest of the squads and Ings would certainly benefit from the calibre of players providing him with the ball.

Personally, I’d suggest he pick Everton, they have had a poor season but I would expect them to be more competitive next year, whereas Burnley’s smaller squad could struggle to repeat their heroics of this season. That said, if Burnley do manage to make it into the Europa League, the chance of European football would be a huge draw and really help his aspirations. A return to his former club to help them in Europe would be a wonderful story heading into next season.


Round 36 predictions:

Liverpool v Stoke City – Liverpool win

Burnley v Brighton & Hove Albion – Burnley win

Crystal Palace v Leicester City – Draw

Huddersfield Town v Everton – Everton win

Newcastle United v West Bromwich Albion – Draw

Southampton v AFC Bournemouth – Draw

Swansea City v Chelsea – Chelsea win

West Ham United v Manchester City – City win

Manchester United v Arsenal – United win

Tottenham Hotspur v Watford – Spurs win

Free 4 All II and Beyond…

Free 4 All II and Beyond…

The Schmoedown had its first PPV-style event of the 2018 season recently and the world went nuts. Fans arranged gatherings from Arizona to London and everyone came together for the joy of watching 48 competitors battle it to win Free 4 All II and earn a title shot. Last year, “The Inglorious One” Samm Levine came out late in the event and after clearing the table won a 1v1 against Tom Dagnino to earn a title shot that he cashed in at Collider Collision against Dan Murrell. This year, as well as the main prize, there was also a prize announced for the competitor who lasted the most rounds: a Number 1 Contender match.

There was so much to take in from the 2 videos I would be here forever if I tried to discuss everything, so I have decided to stick to the points that have stuck with me most. Obviously it goes without saying, there will be spoilers for the Free 4 All and also references to scenes in Scream Queens v Gardenhosers and Marc Andreyko v Ben Bateman as some storylines have been continued in these matches.

And your winner…!

Congratulations to “Miss Movies” Brianne Chandler on her victory. Coming out at number 44 is always going to give you a good shot but with William Bibbiani and Ethan Erwin at the table it will still take something special to win. In the 4 rounds she competed in, she averaged 4.75/5, the highest average of any competitor at the event. We have always known Brianne was a strong competitor and she proved it in this event.

f4awinHaving taken a step back from competing following her loss to Mike Kalinowski in the 2017 Ultimate Schmoedown, it was great to see Brianne back at the table (and coming in with another great entrance), even if it was just for an exhibition match and not regular competition. She has been doing a great job looking after the Schmoedown’s Patreon and doing the interviews for the Patreon matches, so I am hoping this will lead to more time back in front of the camera. Even if she isn’t ready to compete regularly get her on the desk!

Now thoughts turn to what Brianne will do with the title shot. I would love to see her go for it if she feels comfortable, as I think she really could challenge for the Singles title. Or, following her split from the Missfits, she could create a new team (Kalinowski, anyone?) and go for the Teams title, though I don’t know if they would be able to take down The Patriots. Another option open to her would be to give the title shot to someone else. Ahead of Scream Queens v Gardenhosers, we saw Kalinowski suggesting using it for him to get a shot at the Innergeekdom belt. We’ve since seen Ken Napzok trying to convince Brianne to give him the title shot as insurance if he fails to win his live match against Joseph Scrimshaw and Alex Damon and regain the title he (wrongly) feels he was cheated out of. Perhaps these are the start of a series of competitors pushing their cases and trying to join up with Brianne to start a new faction or get her to join theirs. Who else will we see trying to get Brianne to pick them over the next couple of weeks? Top 10? Team Action? Drew McWeeny? I’ll be interested to see what happens with this title shot.

Beasting it

William “The Beast” Bibbiani has had an up-and-down ride in the Schmoedown. He is clearly a knowledgeable competitor but has had some awful luck in Rounds 2 & 3, leaving him with a 3-4 singles record. Since leaving the 4 Horsemen to create the Growling Commandos, he has joined up with Witney “The Beauty” Seibold to compete in the team league as Critically Acclaimed, however their results have also been mixed as they beat Only Stupid Answers on their debut but lost in the first round of the 2017 Ultimate Schmoedown to Late to the Party (2017’s Upset of the Year) to leave them with a 1-1 record. If anyone needed a good showing in the Free 4 All it was Bibbs, and boy did he have a good showing!

beast
Growl Growl!

Coming in at number 20 was always going to make it hard for the Beast to win the event, but he put in an MVP performance that will be difficult to beat in future events. His 21 rounds competed in smashed Dan Murrell’s record from 2017 and he wasn’t just scraping through these rounds. His average score per round of 4.14 was bettered by only Marc Andreyko (4.40 from 5 rounds) and the winner Brianne Chandler (4.75 from 4 rounds), while his tally of 9 perfect rounds smashed Andreyko and Murrell’s joint record of 3 in 2017. Speaking on the Schmoedown Rundown, Bibbs discussed how for his Baby Driver-themed entrance he picked up a pair of non-prescription sunglasses which made it difficult to see the audience or the score, so he was just focusing on the questions. That, compared with a format more reminiscent of Round 1 (where Bibbs generally has more fortune) definitely seemed to benefit The Beast and I think he should have a word with Commissioner Thadd Williams about making his future matches into Iron Man matches.

And now to the future: by lasting the most rounds of any competitor, Bibbiani has earned a Number 1 Contender match. I’m not quite sure of the full conditions (whether he gets to choose his opponent) but he can decide which league he uses it in. So will he go singles or teams? Witney had a good showing in the Free 4 All but is still relatively inexperienced in the Schmoedown, so a Number 1 Contender’s match may be too early for Critically Acclaimed. A 3-4 record leaves The Beast a long way from a naturally earning a chance to compete for the singles title so I can see him cashing in for a chance to make it to a singles title match. Would he win? If he finally gets some luck in Rounds 2&3, he could certainly find himself with a belt around his waist.

While on the subject of Bibbiani, I just want to state how much I am enjoying him this season. Though he is clearly competitive, it was his lightheartedness that initially stood out to me when watching the match (until I realised just how long he was lasting). I have also really enjoyed his interviews with the Schmoedown Rundown and his appearances on the announcer desk, while his Patreon newsletter talking about how he plans his entrances was a great read – almost as good as his actual entrances! Coming into the Schmoedown midway through the 2017 season I was not a real fan of him, but his appearances this year have left me wanting more.

finstock“Poof!”

Looks like things are about to get interesting in the Schmoedown. After last year coming out as the final competitor in the 2017 Free 4 All, Tom Dagnino was not so lucky this year. The manager of the Lion’s Den was the second competitor out and, though he lasted longer than expected, he was still out relatively quickly in the event. That wasn’t it for Tricky Tom though as competitor number 39 was revealed to be his alter-ego Finstock, ironically coming out right after his former Mega Powers teammate Josh Macuga. Again, he didn’t last long at the table, but the possibilities of what Dagnino and his multiple personalities will get up to moving forward – Finstock stated that he is not part of the Lion’s Den – is frightening!

But that wasn’t all for the Dagnino news at the Free 4 All as Brianne was seen to trick Thadd into signing a contract with a clause stating that at 2100 patrons, Dagnino will be named Commissioner for a week. With it only being a week I can’t imagine that he will be able to get up to much trouble in that time, but it will certainly be an interesting shakeup to the league. One of the benefits of the delay to posting this is that I have seen Kristian tweet a screenshot of a text from Dagnino:

“You better hope these numbskulls don’t make me commissioner for that week cos I’m looking to start a civil war. At 2500 patrons, you’re playing ya buddy Ellis. Deal with it.”

I can hear the masses signing up already…

Though I am very much aligned against the Lion’s Den, I can’t help but agree that Dagnino makes things interesting. I look forward to seeing what happens with Dagnino and Finstock over the coming months.

Prison does strange things to you

“And their next opponent…” I wonder who’s next, there’s so many veterans we haven’t seen yet. *Jaws music begins* No way! “Representing… Screen Junkies…” YES! “Ladies and gentlemen… “Dangerous” Dan Murrell!” OH MY GOD!! *Andrew Ghai walks out* Oh for **** sake!

I’m sure my mind wasn’t the only one with similar thoughts as we witnessed the biggest shock of the 2018 Free 4 All. I do enjoy watching Team Action on the Schmoedown even though I would consider myself more of a Top 10 fan, but this entrance from Andrew Ghai on his return to the league following his ban for The Tackle was immense. In his absence, we have heard his teammate Ben “The Boss” Bateman saying that he’s been in prison, something Ghai confirmed in the post-match interviews when discussing his early exit:

“There’s no movies in jail, OK, so I couldn’t study. I just drank and shanked people”

Whether it was his time in jail or losing to his ‘dad’ John Rocha before that, something in Ghai’s mind has snapped. Coming out at the Free 4 All, Ghai claimed that he had killed Dan Murrell and hidden the body 6 feet under. Since then, we have seen him have a number of shirts released, including “I’m the Ghai that beat the GOAT” – a claim Ghai has been making loudly since the Free All – and a mockery of the new Murrell order nMo design. We’ve also seen him drinking heavily and being even louder and more foul-mouthed than usual, as well as using Bateman’s post-match interview as a chance to invite Clarke Wolfe out for something that sounded nothing like a match.

ghai4wolfeRight now, Ghai is the biggest heel in the league by a mile and it will be very interesting to see where things go from here. Will his antics get too much for “The Boss” as he starts pushing for a singles belt, forming a rift within the team? Will his claims of beating Murrell bring the GOAT out of his retirement, even for just a one-off match to put him back in place? Or will he just get himself banned and thrown back in jail again?

As an aside: going back to Ghai’s entrance and it is interesting that Thadd appeared to go behind Kristian’s back and pull a fast one on him by putting Murrell’s name in the order rather than Ghai’s. Team Action have certainly had some help from the Commissioner and I wonder if he is trying to get them onside for a possible power battle with Kristian Harloff.

What’s up with K.O.?

Mike Kalinowski currently seems to be at a crossroads as to his future in the Schmoedown. He has not been seen with The League this season following a disappointing loss for DC Movie News against Top That at the end of last season. We haven’t seen much of K.O. this season – his only match so far was the Triple Threat Number 1 Contender match where he was thoroughly outplayed by JTE and Rachel Cushing – but when we have, it has generally been on his own. It looked like his time with The League was over and his future was down one of 3 paths:

thornbush
If The League does disband, it looks like Roxy has her next faction

I was shocked then to see Kalinowski introduced as representing The League at the Free 4 All. Is he sticking with the guys who supported him during his rise up the rankings last season? I get the feeling we’ll get some answers following his match with Wolfe.

If he does walk away from The League, what is next for his old faction? Other than Kalinowski, they have not been that active in the competition. Jonny Loquasto is a great mouthpiece, but his competitive debut at the Free 4 All resulted in 3 points over 2 rounds, though it must be remembered that he came to the table during a period where we were seeing some of the strongest tables of the entire event. The only other member of The League to compete has been K.O.’s DC Movie News teammate Adam Gertler, who has so far stuck to the teams league. Losing Kalinowski could see the end of The League as a faction.

New faces and welcome returns

It is a real measure of the growth of the Schmoedown that the Free 4 All was able to expand from 35 competitors in 2017 to 48 in 2018. Not only were we treated to the regular contenders, but we also had a couple of players making their debut (such as Wendy Lee Szany), plenty of competitors who have debuted this season and so far made just a couple of appearances (ranging from Dale the Dude and Taylor Robinson to Ethan Erwin). Looking at the more established names, we had a number of competitors making only their first or second appearance of the season, but were also treated to a number of players who were making grand returns to the Schmoedown table after extended absences, like Brianne and Mark “Yodi” Reilly, which made Ghai’s Murrell tease even more believable. It was great seeing them competing again, even if it was just for an exhibition match.

Yodi back
Yodi’s return to the table was one of the best surprises in the match

What really shows the strength of the Schmoedown in the list of players who did not feature at this year’s event. Current Champions Jeff Sneider, Jason Inman and Sam Witwer, former Champions Matt Knost and Hector Navarro and other veterans like Clarke Wolfe and Scott Mantz were all absent from the competition, while former Commissioner Kristian Harloff was at the desk and current Commissioner Thadd Williams appeared only in the scenes before and after the event.

With so many competitors, it allows such a great variety of matches. With the live shows and the Patreon, we are already seeing more matches that will have no bearing on the title picture this year and it is making the league even more enjoyable.

And while we’re on the subject of new faces, how good was it to finally see Jenn Sterger announcing a match?! Fans have been begging for it for so long and she proved us right by doing a great job. The Schmoedown is doing a great job of rotating the announcers this season, hopefully this will mean we are not left waiting too long before we see Jenn at the desk again.

 

What were your thoughts on Free 4 All II? Who impressed you the most? Who was your favourite competitor? What are you looking forward to moving forward? Did you attend one of the viewing parties? Let me know in the comments.

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 34

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 34

Congratulations to Manchester City whose 1-3 win at Wembley, combined with United’s shock defeat at home to West Brom, won them their third Premier League title, proving my early season prediction wrong in the process. Despite the win at Old Trafford, West Brom’s chances of survival are still slim (at best) as they are at least 9 points behind Swansea – who have a game in hand – with an inferior goal difference. Andy Carroll’s late equaliser may have doomed Stoke to life in the Championship, while Southampton’s 2-0 start against Chelsea was ruined by 3 goals in 9 minutes and leaves Mark Hughes close to his first ever relegation as a player or a manager.

Congratulations also to Wolves, who are now guaranteed a place in the Premier League next season!


What’s next for the best?

City’s run to the title has been dominant this season! In 33 matches, they have only failed to take maximum points 5 times (2 losses and 3 draws) and they currently have a goal difference of +68, 25 higher than the next best goal difference (Liverpool). Pep Guardiola will have very little competition for Manager of the Season – I would argue only Sean Dyche can potentially beat him to this award – as he has made this team almost unbeatable in the toughest of the top domestic leagues. He has clearly worked hard on developing his players and it is helping players like Raheem Sterling begin to live up to their potential.

But the Sky Blues cannot rest on their laurels and will need to work hard to defend their title next year, especially if they plan to progress further in the Champions League.So what do they need to look at ahead of next season:

  • Plan B – As dangerous as City have been in attack this season, they will eventually come up against teams who set up well enough to stop the Sky Blues’ current tactics. For that reason I feel they need to look at finding another striker. Jesus and Aguero (if he stays) are both fantastic strikers but they have similar playing styles, I would argue that Guardiola needs to find a taller and more physical striker to give their attack an extra dimension and a more direct option. Imagine the fun De Bruyne and Sané would have crossing the ball in to a target man. The quality of the supporting players is such that it will not require a top name to fill this spot, as they will get the chances and just need to be able to finish them – just look at how Kelechi Iheanacho has struggled since leaving the Etihad. If they could get him, a player like Fernando Llorente would probably have more success in this team than he has had at Spurs this season.
  • Increased depth – If City want to defend their league title and win the Champions League next season then they need to improve their depth. They were heavilylinked with Riyad Mahrez in January and I think that he would be a great addition for them as he, Sané and Starling will give Guardiola great selection headaches and allow for greater rotation, while Phil Foden should also continue to get more minutes as he develops. Fernandinho is probably one of the most underrated players in the squad and I would recommend Guardiola try to find a capable understudy to ensure City do not struggle if he picks up a long-term injury, while the team could also do with improving their depth at fullback, as we saw this year that the quality wasn’t quite there behind Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy, who missed so much of the season he will almost feel like a new signing next season.
  • Settled defence – 
    26535165526_452185cb2b_o
    Is Pep set for the Manager of the Season award? – Image from Flickr – Pedro Haas

    Last week when discussing the importance of David de Gea to United’s season, I compared some of his key stats to the main keepers in the other Top 6 clubs. Despite playing the same number of games and Ederson having to make only half as many saves, United had still managed to keep more clean sheets in the league so far this season. City have a number of quality centre backs (Stones, Kompany, Laporte and Otamendi) yet they still concede more goals than they should. Injuries have not helped, but the form of these players has been up and down like a yo-yo. It will be difficult for City to keep scoring at such an impressive rate next season, so they need to make things safer at the back. They have the players, now they just need to perform.


Crime and punishment

2 challenges this weekend, both awful, but different punishments. Ben Davies put in a horrible high challenge on Vincent Kompany with his studs catching him not far below the knee. How he did not receive a red card I don’t know, I can only assume the officials had a bad angle as he only received a yellow. Even more ridiculous was the lack of punishment from Mike Dean when Marcos Alonso planted his studs in the top of Shane Long’s calf right under the referee’s nose. It was an unnecessary and horrible challenge, but luckily as Dean missed it Alonso will receive a retroactive punishment, unfortunately Davies will not receive any further punishment as the referee clearly saw the incident and acted on it during the match. To me, this is ridiculous.

This isn’t the first time this season that I have suggested introducing an idea from rugby, but I think that football could benefit from a citing system. In rugby, a player can be cited for an on-pitch incident regardless of whether the referee has seen and acted on the incident. This means that if an independent panel finds that the referee’s punishment has been too lenient – as with the yellow card to Davies – the player can still receive a fitting punishment for his actions. For such a professional sport, there is far too much of an opportunity for a poor refereeing decision to impact the league, not just that week but for the next couple of weeks! I can see already the arguments that football has managed fine without this for years and that it is taking away the authority of the referee, but nobody treats the referee with any respect or authority as it is (just look at the hordes of players around him every time he blows his whistle) and surely as fans of the sport we would rather see the right decisions being made and players receiving the punishments they deserve. Just imagine if Davies nets the winner against Brighton…


The race for Europe

Who would have thought all those months ago when Burnley started the season well that they would still be in with a shot of qualifying for the Europa League with just 5 games remaining. They had a poor spell towards the middle of the season but have recovered well and are back to winning ways, just 2 points behind Arsenal. Regardless of whether they do qualify, for a team with the smallest playing budget in the league, to be pushing for such a high league position – despite having lost Robbie Brady and Tom Heaton to injury early in the season –  is fantastic and I would argue Sean Dyche is the only person who can realistically compete with Guardiola for Manager of the Season honours.

They have been solid at the back all season and players like James Tarkowski and Nick Pope have deservedly received England call-ups during the season, but earlier in the season they did not necessarily look overly dangerous up front. Recently though, the decision to pair Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes has made them look much more dangerous up front. It reminds me of Stoke’s progression in the past from a defensively organised team under Tony Pulis to a team that could also attack well under Mark Hughes, but this has been done over the space of a season and with the same manager, which is very impressive.

The high league position will be huge for the Burnley budget and with such an impressive manager I think players will be interested in coming to Turf Moor next season. However I have faith that Dyche will be smart with his signings and continue to bring in players that complement the team. Could a return for Danny Ings or Charlie Austin be on the cards this summer? I wouldn’t bet against it.


17/4/18 – 23/4/18 predictions:

So the next week of football will be interesting for the table as some teams try to make up their game in hand while other teams end up playing twice. I have no idea how soon I will be able to write about any of these games (it will most likely not be until after the weekend), so rather than class it as a specific round of matches, I have decided to group all these matches together for my next set of predictions. Typical cup football getting in the way of league schedules, eh?

Brighton & Hove Albion v Tottenham Hotspur – Spurs win

AFC Bournemouth v Manchester United – United win

Burnley v Chelsea – Draw

Leicester City v Southampton – Leicester win

West Bromwich Albion v Liverpool – Liverpool win

Watford v Crystal Palace – Draw

Arsenal v West Ham United – Arsenal win

Stoke City v Burnley – Burnley win

Manchester City v Swansea City – Man City win

Everton v Newcastle United – Draw

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 33

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 33

Manchester City were denied the opportunity to celebrate winning the title against their fierce rivals Manchester United following a United comeback at the Etihad that saw them go from 2-0 down to 3-2 up. While City will still win the league (though maybe not away at Spurs on Saturday), it will have felt good for United and their fans to escape the title celebrations that would have been at their expense. Despite resting a number of regulars in attack, Arsenal’s 3-2 win over Southampton brings them closer to Chelsea – who could only draw 1-1 at home to West Ham – while the Saints’ loss leaves them 3 points away from safety, but with a game in hand over Crystal Palace.


The Manchester Derby

There was so much that took my attention during United’s 2-3 victory over City, but many of the points wouldn’t join into a coherent post of its own, so I have instead looked discuss my thoughts on the match in a quick-fire fashion:

  • Full credit to United for coming back from 2-0 down at half time and win 2-3. Against a team as good going forwards as City, going 2 goals down in the opening 30 should be terminal as teams would generally have to open themselves up so much to find the goals needed to draw level that they would leave gaps at the back for City to exploit and score more goals. Away from the tactical side of things, to go 2-0 down in 30 minutes away at your local rivals should hit the morale so bad, it is a measure of the quality of the United players that they held their heads high and kept pushing to get back in the game rather than capitulating under the occasion.
  • That said, how City did not get a penalty for Ashley Young’s challenge on Sergio Aguero is beyond me! The days of a challenge being legal as long as the player got the ball first are way back in the past, Young may have got the ball first but his foot then clearly came over the ball and caught Aguero high. There is no doubt in my mind that it was a penalty and in today’s climate I would have found it difficult to argue against a red card for the fullback.

    table
    A comparison of the keepers who have played 5+ games for clubs in the top 6 this season (stats from the league only)
  • Where would United be without David de Gea? The Spaniard’s distribution may not have been at its best in the build-up to Ilkay Gundogan’s goal, but he more than made up for it with a world-class save from Aguero late on. Only City (24) have conceded less goals than United (25) this season and de Gea’s 16 clean sheets puts him top of the league this season, but these stats do not show the full story. His 103 saves in the league this season is the 4th most of any keeper this season, but you need to go down to 12th in the list to find the next keeper currently playing for a top-6 team. Compared to his fellow top-6 keepers, de Gea is having to make too many saves! Data from Opta suggests that where de Gea has conceded 23 goals (excluding own goals) he would have been expected to concede 37 goals, the highest differential for a keeper in the league this year. This guy is saving United’s season! United need to look at upgrading their defence this summer as they cannot continue to rely on de Gea every season.
  • Following Young’s challenge on Aguero mentioned above, United broke on City but the attack was stopped by a foul on Jesse Lingard. While the foul was clearly stopping a chance to counter against the Sky Blues, Lingard’s decision to roll around on the floor 100 times (only a slight exaggeration) was absolutely pathetic! If the FA are serious about getting simulation out of the game and attempting to deceive an official by exaggerating the effect of a challenge then he has to be banned for this.

The Great Dane

It must be hard when in the same team as Harry Kane, but Christian Eriksen rarely seems to get the love he deserves in the Tottenham attack. Considering the quality of Kane and Alli and the improved form of Son Heung-Min it is understandable, but he is such an important part of the attack. In terms of goals scored he is on pace to have one of his best seasons ever – especially if the FA do award him the second goal against Stoke rather than switch it to Kane – and in recent weeks he has done a great job of keeping Spurs’ attack going while Harry Kane has been injured. His ability to play across the width of the pitch behind the striker allows him to move around and pick up the space that gives his team the best advantage, while he has a great range of passes and is lethal over a dead ball.

Spurs need to improve their depth throughout the squad, but I think they would struggle to adequately replace the Dane if he was out with an injury.


Double trouble

When you’re fighting against relegation, you should be trying to do everything you can to get all your best players on the pitch at the same time. To me, therefore, it is a shock that Javier Hernandez seems to start so rarely for West Ham. With 34 points, they are only 6 points outside the bottom 3 so every goal they can score is vital.

Marko Arnautović has been revitalised since moving from the wide position to the central striker role, but Chicharito is another proven goal scorer and has showed in the past that he is more effective with regular playing time rather than appearances off the bench. With relegation still a threat, I think David Moyes needs to find a way to fit both of these players into the starting XI as a strike partnership. I can’t imagine he’d be able to pick either player next season if West Ham get relegated…


Round 34 predictions:

Southampton v Chelsea – Chelsea win

Burnley v Leicester City – Draw

Crystal Palace v Brighton & Hove Albion – Palace win

Huddersfield Town v Watford – Watford win

Swansea City v Everton – Draw

Liverpool v AFC Bournemouth – Liverpool win

Tottenham Hotspur v Manchester City – Draw

Newcastle United v Arsenal – Arsenal win

Manchester United v West Bromwich Albion – United win

West Ham United v Stoke City – West Ham win

The New Horsemen?

The New Horsemen?

4return“You’re still vastly outnumbered right now by The Lion’s Den though.”

“That’s right I am. So, there’s only one way to solve… actually, there’s four ways to solve it. And I’m gonna tell you the four real soon.”

Since John Rocha teased the return of the Four Horsemen following his defeat of JTE at the Schmoedown Live event, everybody has been wondering at who will be joining The Outlaw’s new stable. The Schmoedown’s first faction, the original Four Horsemen comprised Rocha and his Top 10 teammate “Mighty” Matt Knost, William “The Beast” Bibbiani, who was being touted as a future singles champion follow his debut victory and the then-Innergeekdom Champion “The Captain” Robert Meyer Burnett. Though arguably still one of the fan-favourite factions, the Horsemen’s success did not last, with Rocha winning the Singles belt against Dan Murrell but losing in his first title defence against Mark Reilly, while Burnett also lost his first title defence to Hector Navarro. Bibbiani betrayed Rocha at Collider Collision to join new manager Ricky Hayberg and for the Growling Commandos, while Burnett’s betrayal was not far behind as he jumped ship to the Lion’s Den.

old4
The original Four Horsemen

Knost has always stuck by Rocha through his heel and face days and Top 10 have created a bitter rivalry with the Patriots, helped largely by their 3 team matches and the perceived injustices that have favoured the Patriots and the Den. However Rocha’s win over JTE appears to be part of a personal crusade against the Lion’s Den, and I can see the Den taking on the new-look Four Horsemen regularly throughout the season. Yet even if Rocha does find 2 competitors to join his stable, the Horsemen are still outnumbered. Mark Donica has just joined the Den after an impressive entry into this season’s Innergeekdom League, and while Grace Hancock’s not been present this season due to other commitments, there is nothing to suggest that the Lioness has parted ways with the Faction. While Rocha may choose quality over quantity, a recent interview with the Schmoedown Rundown suggested that Rocha may not limit his numbers and choose to bring more than 2 competitors into the faction. So who could be joining him and Knost?

justiceJason “Justice” Inman

The reigning Innergeekdom Champion is a friend of John Rocha’s and even walked out with him for his Ultimate Schmoedown match against Samm Levine. A player with experience in all 3 of the main leagues, it was a shock to see Emma Fyffe try to bring Donica into the club rather than Inman, especially considering Inman is very much a face persona whereas Donica appeared to embrace a heel persona right from the off. Inman could choose to create his own faction, but given Top 10’s rivalry with Team Action, he may be persuaded to join the Horsemen, giving the faction not just a bona fide Innergeekdom presence but also a Belt. With Donica joining the Den and earning a title shot against Inman, the title match would be the perfect moment for The Horsemen to unveil their latest recruit by accompanying him out for the match.

Bringing in Inman could also lure in another experienced competitor in the form of his Team Trek teammate Scott Mantz. “The Mantzman” may have been Rocha’s first rival in the Schmoedown but time can be a healer and the chance to take down the heels with the Horsemen may be too big a lure to ignore. This would also help tie towards a father v son exhibition match between Rocha/Mantz and Andrew Ghai/Hal Rudnick, which I’ve seen a lot of people hoping for online.

KOprofileMike “KO” Kalinowski

Another competitor who the Outlaw would call a friend, Kalinowski’s future is at a crossroads. He had success in the Ultimate Schmoedown both on his own and as part of DC Movie News and was the posterboy for The League. However The League have been pretty quiet since DC Movie News were TKO’d by Top That and Kalinowski has more recently been seen with Miss Movies. He has only played once this season, where he was thoroughly outclassed by JTE and Rachel Cushing.

Joining the Horsemen would give him the chance to go up against the heels of the league, while also bringing in the option of a rivalry with Jay Washington’s Viper Squad. Like Inman, Kalinowski has experience in Singles, Teams and Innergeekdom, so could always pair with Rocha to create a new team to face The Patriots if their reign as Team Champions continues and Top 10 continue to be banned from challenging them for the title again.

However, the reveal that Kalinowski has been picked as Clarke Wolfe’s opponent in her Number 1 Contender match could be part of a plan to bring KO into the Fyffe Club, as this has given him a shot straight back into title contention without going through a number of other teams first. Again, this could further his feud with the Viper Squad as they appear to be targeting the Fyffe Club at the moment following Clarke and Rachel both turning down Jay Washington’s invitations last season. Or perhaps he and Brianne are in the process of creation their own faction…

Dale “The Dude” Gibbs

One of the competitors who may benefit most from an expanded stable is Dale the Dude. A reactor living in Arizona, Dale may not be able to feature as often as some of the more local competitors, but he has been a big part of Top 10’s recent appearances. A big fan of The Outlaw, after Top 10 saved him from Team Action when they accosted him in a corridoor, he came out with Top 10 at Schmoedown Spectacular II and got under Andrew Ghai’s skin when he ruffled his hair. The Dude was also one of the first over to Rocha following The Tackle and has continued to be closely linked to Rocha and Knost since. Dale was accompanied by Rocha when he came out for his debut against Ben Bateman and was quick to repay the favour by jumping a railing in the crowd to help Knost shepherd Sneider, Ken and Dagnino offstage at the Live Schmoedown when they crashed Rocha’s match with JTE. If Rocha is looking for competitors who have his back, look no further!

dtdrochaDale the Dude has already made clear that he is here to try to deal with the heels of the league. He has already faced up to Team Action and has continued to make clear that his endgame is defeating Dagnino, while Ken Napzok has also appeared to catch his eye following some disparaging comments when announcing matches. Even if Dale doesn’t become a Horseman, I expect him to continue featuring with the faction, which will be interesting once his idol Dan Murrell returns to the league.

 

While I feel these are the most likely competitors to join the Four Horseman as it stands, there are a couple of other competitors who could potentially join the faction, but for one reason or another I feel unlikely.

Above The Line: Samm “The Inglorious One” Levine & Drew “The Godfather” McWeeny

If Rocha is serious about creating a faction that holds all the belts and all the records, look no further than Above The Line. Samm Levine is certainly in contention to be called the GOAT as he looks like he could hold the Singles belt for a long time and has a great chance of becoming the first competitor to hold 2 belts at the same time when ATL take on the Patriots in their next title match. In my opinion bringing in ATL would give the Four Horsemen 2 of the top 5 teams and also 3 of the strongest singles competitors (sorry Knost).

However, I don’t see this happening for a couple of reasons. First of all is Samm and Rocha’s rivalry, which does not appear to be slowing down if his Jane Fonda joke against Modok is anything to go by. Also, Above the Line are so impressive it feels like they don’t need a faction to be successful!

codyvJTE“The Olympian” Cody Miller

I can’t imagine that this one would ever happen, but if Rocha ever wanted to get really under JTE’s skin, he would bring in Miller as an honorary member of the Horsemen. Back in October 2016, JTE challenged Olympic gold medallist Cody Miller to a match in the hopes of ending a horrible losing streak. Despite taking an early lead in Round 1 “Little Evil” fell apart in Round 3 and missed his 5 point question to hand Miller the win, much to the joy of the crowd.

JTE showed at the 2017 Awards that he was not happy with being named Comeback Player of the Year as it is just a reminder of how poor a run he had, bringing out Miller ahead of a match could be the perfect way to put JTE off his game and it would be great to see the crowd’s reaction.

Team Action: Ben “The Boss” Bateman & “Dastardly” Andrew Ghai

Team Action have said in the past that the old Rocha heel persona was their inspiration. While Rocha may not be turning back into a heel, he is looking much more like the old Outlaw that fought his way to the title, so could this lure Team Action to join the Horsemen? It could also be part of the reconciliation between father and son Rocha and Drew once he returns from his ban.

However, for me there is too much bad blood between Top 10 and Team Action as it stands and I think a reconciliation so soon after The Tackle would not feel right. Perhaps Ben and Drew could join the stable much further along the line, but I think that for the foreseeable future they will continue to antagonise the Horsemen at any chance they get and see where things go from there.

 

Regardless of who joins the faction, the big question is will they finally be able to wrest back control of the Schmoedown from Bobby Gucci and the rest of the Kitten Club? Sound off in the comments who you can see joining the Horsemen and how you see things going for the faction as they reform.