Left field

The Reuters global sports blog

English plight in Europe is no fluke

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Anyone who might have assumed the deteriorating form of English clubs in Europe since Manchester United won the 2008 Champions League resulted from a convergence of misfortunate circumstances such as tough draws or mounting injuries to key players has been emphatically refuted.

Come Thursday, the Premier League might be left without a single club to represent it in either the Champions League or the less fancied Europa League, where Manchester rivals City and United were not just beaten but also played off the park last week by rivals many of their fans will have considered second-class opposition.

Especially unimpressive were Manchester United, who can consider themselves lucky to be taking only a 3-2 deficit to their return leg clash at Spanish side Athletic Bilbao, whose fans did all the singing at Old Trafford as the Basque outfit outplayed the English champions on their own turf like no other team in recent history.

“We were well beaten and they were the better team,” said United manager Alex Ferguson after their Spanish goalkeeper David de Gea produced a stellar performance to give his team a glimmer of hope they can overturn the tie in the cauldron of Bilbao’s San Mames stadium.

Bad boy coming of age as Bendtner buries Liverpool

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By Phil O’Connor

A contract running out, in trouble over drunken behaviour and a country qualified for Euro 2012 – whatever one thinks of Sunderland’s on-loan Danish striker Nicklas Bendtner, his life is far from boring.

With the clock ticking down on an Arsenal deal that is highly unlikely to be renewed, Bendtner hit the headlines this weekend as he struck his second goal in two games to all but end Liverpool’s hopes of a shot at next year’s Champions League.

Would Mourinho face a predicament at Chelsea?

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If the coaching merry-go-round puts Jose Mourinho back in the Chelsea hotseat after the 49-year old Portuguese left Stamford Bridge in 2007, it will be a testament to the old saying that nothing is impossible in football.

There seemed to be no way back for the self-acclaimed “Special One” after his acrimonious split with Chelsea’s Russian owner Roman Abramovich, but their contrasting fortunes since have seemingly opened the door to what would be a spectacular return to English football for Mourinho.

Dravid hit the high notes despite playing second fiddle

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By Sudipto Ganguly

Rahul Dravid will go down in the annals of Indian cricket as a champion batsman who had no qualms about playing second fiddle during an illustrious 15-year career built upon the soundest of techniques.

A purist’s delight, Dravid will be fondly remembered as someone whose batting was as perfect as a coaching manual and the numerous rescue acts he performed would secure him a place on the wish-list of any international captain.

Is Van Persie the Premier League’s best ever ‘volleyer’?

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By James Illingworth

Robin Van Persie’s stoppage-time winner at Anfield on Saturday was not the most spectacular goal of the Dutchman’s career but it could go some way to confirm his status as the best volleyer the Premier League has seen.

The Arsenal hit-man notched his 31st goal of the season when he latched onto Alex Song’s lofted through-ball to guide a side-footed volley past Jose Reina at the Liverpool stopper’s near post.

Who next for Chelsea hot seat?

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Arguably the hottest of hot seats in soccer is vacant yet again after Chelsea’s ruthless Russian owner Roman Abramovich removed Andre Villas-Boas on Sunday.

The callow Portuguese lasted just 256 days at Stamford Bridge before “the project”, as he usually referred to the task of revitalising the west London club’s ageing squad, was aborted.

McIlroy top of the world, Woods firing…Florida serves up a classic

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Rory McIlroy became the second youngest number one golfer on Sunday after Tiger Woods when the Northern Irishman survived a final-round special from the 14-times major winner at the Honda Classic in Florida.

Golf is in fine fettle. 22-year-old McIlroy can do no wrong, Woods is showing signs of a resurgence and the pair will meet again at next week’s WGC-Cadillac Championship in nearby Doral for another elite-field event.

Arsenal finally tackling their problems

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By Phil O’Connor

Perhaps stung by criticism from the likes of Patrick Viera and Emmanuel Petit, Arsenal’s stunning 5-2 win over Tottenham Hotspur was built not just on pretty passing but on solid tackling too.

Viera and Petit provided the steel in midfield for Wenger’s first great Arsenal side, and both have recently been critical of their slide towards mid-table mediocrity.

Drugs no help in surfing, says world champ

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World surfing champion Kelly Slater is happy to abide by new doping regulations being implemented in his sport but he doubts whether performance-enhancing drugs would make anyone surf better.

Surfing’s image has always been clouded by images of wild lifestyles, of cashed-up athletes treading a fine line between partying and performing.

from Mark Meadows:

Montpellier need belief not Santa Claus to win Ligue 1

Put a beard on avuncular and rotund Montpellier president Louis Nicollin and he could easily be mistaken for Father Christmas.

Sadly for supporters of the high-flying Ligue 1 club, Nicollin is not a fan of miracles.

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