Italy serious contenders for Euros title

Roberto Mancini’s Italy have proven themselves to be legitimate contenders for the upcoming Euros.

Undefeated in 28 matches, they’ve been exceptionally hard to beat, as Mancini has formed a balanced, disciplined and spirited team. Having been in charge for 33 games, the fact Mancini’s men have only conceded 14 goals while scoring 82 goals illustrates their quality.

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Breezing through qualifying for the tournament by winning all 10 of their matches, plus beating Turkey comprehensively in their Euro opener 3-0, they have proved what a force they are to be reckoned with.

Placed in a challenging group that contains Switzerland, Wales and Turkey for the Euros, they’ll be wary not to underestimate their foes even though they should comfortably progress.

Considering all their matches are on home soil at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico, this should work in their favour and further enhances their chances of not only progressing but also topping their group.

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Littered with a nice blend of youth and experience, Mancini’s 4-3-3 has class in all areas of the pitch, which sees them operate well both defensively and offensively. In goal Gianluigi Donnarumma will be the starter, as he’ll be ably supported by Alessandro Florenzi, Leonardo Spinazzola, Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci.

Then, in midfield, their starting three is nothing short of exceptional, as Jorginho, Nicolo Barella and Marco Verratti give them plenty of control, balance and the ability to carve open defensive units.

Federico Chiesa, Ciro Immobile and Lorenzo Insigne will form an exciting front three, as they provide plenty of dynamism, skill and goal threat in the final third.

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Their squad importantly has depth all over too, with the likes of Giacomo Raspadori, Domenico Berardi, Andrea Belotti, Bryan Cristante and Alessandro Bastoni ensuring they’re stocked in all areas.

Priced at $12 to become European champions, the bookies give them a reasonable shout of winning. But with the likes of France, England, Belgium, Germany, Spain and Portugal also right up there, the Azzurri will need to be at their best to be victorious.

In blistering form and with a tremendous collective spirit, Italy have earned their place as one of the favourites for the Euros.

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Harry Kane tipped to be top scorer at the Euros

With some of the world’s elite forwards raring to propel their countries to great things at the Euros, the Golden Boot race will be a fascinating one.

Harry Kane leads the list as the favourite among the bookies at $7, where the Englishman will be hoping to transfer his brilliant season at club level into his efforts with the national team.

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Finishing as the Premier League’s top scorer on 23 and with the most assists with 14, Kane was undoubtedly the finest marksman in the division. Proving he’s able to score a wide variety of goals from all over, the Tottenham Hotspur powerhouse will be a tough man to beat.

Excellent at dropping deep, running in behind and exploiting free space inside the area, his instinctive movement complements his clinical finishing masterfully.

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Always confident to unleash shots when given even the slightest sniff of goal, he doesn’t hesitate to back himself, which enhances his threat.

Such a nightmare for defenders to deal with due to his size, strength and athleticism, Kane looks set to terrorise his opponents in the group stage, where he’ll look to hit the ground running against Croatia, Scotland and the Czech Republic.

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Ahead of some other star attackers such as Kylian Mbappe, Romelu Lukaku, Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Memphis Depay, Robert Lewandowski, Ciro Immobile and Antoine Greizmann, Kane is justifiably at the top of the talented list.

As an integral component of Gareth Southgate’s England squad, Kane’s goals will be crucial in England’s quest for glory. And if they can go far in the tournament, expect Kane to be the man banging in the goals and leading the scoring charts at this summer’s Euros.

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Bucks surging in the NBA Playoffs

The Milwaukee Bucks showed precisely why they’re one of the most dangerous teams in the NBA by comprehensively defeating the Miami Heat 4-0 in the first round of the finals.

Sweeping the Heat to love, they flexed their muscles emphatically to brush aside their adversaries. Led by their Greek superstar, Giannis Antetokpunmpo, who was immense going forward and excellent on the defensive end keeping Jimmy Butler pretty quiet, the Bucks were too much to handle.

Playing with tremendous collective spirit and a real togetherness, this was crucial towards them dominating on both sides of the ball.

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It was also impressive how the Bucks offense produced against a solid Heat defence with their game plan that allowed Giannis to shine and get the shooters open. Getting some fine contributors alongside Giannis, the likes of Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday, Brook Lopez, Pat Connaughton and Bryn Forbes were vital in their win.

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When speaking after the series, Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer cut a delighted figure, but urged his team to remain focused. “We have a long way to go. It’s the first round of the playoffs. And I think there’s gotta be a humility, a humbleness, an attitude or a mindset to get better. We’ve advanced in the first round. Whoever we play next, we got to have a similar focus, a similar edge, willingness to play with each other, play together, all the things that we just did. It means nothing if we don’t keep doing it going forward.”

Set to face the star studded Brooklyn Nets next, they’ll be filled with confidence they can come out victors in this duel too.

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Interestingly, the bookies have them rated third favourites at $5.50 behind the Nets ($2.75) and Utah Jazz ($4.50), which makes them a solid value bet for the punters.

Although they’ll face many challenges ahead in their quest to win the Championship, if they can keep their sparkling form up then there’s every chance they can turn their title dreams into a reality.

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Euros will offer a stern test for France

Having been placed in the group of death containing Germany, Portugal and Hungary for the Euros, France will have their work cut out progressing.

But the current World Cup holders and losing finalists at the last Euro will back themselves to get the job done. Expertly coached by Didier Deschamps, who’s been in charge since 2012, and boasting an incredibly talented squad, France are justifiably still the favourites to win the tournament at $5.

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Rated ahead of some superb teams in the form of England, Germany, Spain, Belgium, Portugal, Italy, Holland and Croatia, this is a testament by the bookies towards their credentials.

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Possessing an exceptional set of attacking options, which is headlined by Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann, and is only made stronger by Real Madrid star man Karim Benzema’s return, they’ll be an offensive force to be reckoned with. In addition, the likes of Olivier Giroud, Wissam Ben Yedder, Ousmane Dembele and Kingsley Coman further illustrates their wealth of talent in this area. The fact they have three men in the top 10 in the Golden Boot betting duly punctuates their firepower.

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Then, in midfield, the likes of Manchester United superstar Paul Pogba, Chelsea’s Champions League winning maestro N’Golo Kante and Juventus’ Adrien Rabiot ensure they’re strong in this area.

Full of class defensively, Raphael Varane, Jules Kounde, Clement Lenglet, Lucas Hernandez, Presnel Kimpembe and Benjamin Pavard ensure they’re not short of quality of depth here either.

Hugo Lloris in goal then rounds the team out, as he’s ably supported by Mike Maignan and Steve Mandanda.

As they’ve shown in the past, they’re always a tough team to beat due to the immense talent and depth of their squad. Moreover, seeing as the players are so familiar and settled with Deschamps’ game plan, this only increases their chances of success.

Favourites and reigning world champions, France will still need to be on top of their game from the off just to get out of their challenging group. If they can do that, this will give them immense confidence they can go on and charge through the tournament.

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The race is on for Spurs to appoint a new manager

Tottenham Hotspur are racing to appoint a new manager ahead of next season, as they’re hoping to pick the right man in order to propel them to great things after Jose Mourinho’s challenging stint.

With a host of names mentioned, the hunt is an intriguing one, for there’s a quality array of options to choose from.

To start with, the most headline grabbing news so far is that former coach Mauricio Pochettino might be keen to return. Even though he won the Coupe de France, the Trophee des Champions and steered Paris Saint-Germain into the Champions League semis, he’s already reportedly unhappy with things in Paris despite being in charge for only six months. Priced at 1.83, the Argentine is the favourite to return, which would be a fine piece of business by the club, as he’d be able to hit the ground running.

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Another one of the favourites is Antonio Conte, who’s just won Serie A with Inter Milan, but spectacularly left his post due to the financial situation at the club. Conte would be a tremendous piece of business too, for he’s a proven winner and even won the Premier League with Chelsea recently. The bookies have him at $8 for the job, which could be a good value bet on the superstar coach even though he’s also been linked with the Real Madrid job.

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Other big names linked to Spurs have been Ajax’s Erik ten Hag ($6), Belgium national manager Roberto Martinez ($8), Brighton and Hove Albion’s Graham Potter ($14) and Leicester City’s FA Cup winning coach Brendan Rodgers ($16).

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If rumours are to be believed, Pochettino is looking like the man in pole position to take over at Spurs, with the odds getting shorter by the day.

If these reports come true, his appointment would be remarkable considering his departure from Spurs was less than two years ago and that he’s only been at the helm of PSG since the turn of the year.

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Ash Barty gunning for French Open crown

Ahead of the 2021 French Open, Australia’s world number one Ash Barty interestingly heads into the prestigious grand slam as the second favourite behind Iga Swiatek.

With Barty suffering an arm injury two weeks ago at the Italian Open, it’s understandable why last year’s champion in Swiatek is rated the frontrunner at $3.75 ahead of Barty at $6. Although this injury has undoubtedly hindered Barty’s preparations for Roland Garros, she’s confident she’ll be ready for action. “It’s disappointing no doubt but it was important that I listened to my body and gave it time to rest and recover and make sure that in a couple of weeks time I’m 100% fit for Roland Garros,” Barty explained.

“It became worse while we were playing. The challenging thing is to make the decision to stop. It’s the thing that I hate the most, not being able to finish a tennis match. It’s not in my makeup, not what I like to do. But the pain was becoming too severe, so it was important to try and do the right thing.”

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Considering she boasts the best record on the women’s circuit this year, winning 27 of her 32 matches, including four titles, she’s certainly not to be underestimated. Indeed, the 2019 French Open winner will be determined to prove her doubters wrong once the action gets underway, for she’s got the talent to defeat anyone on her day.

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So consistent and on top of her game, Barty, who went on an incredible 16 match winning streak, will be doing everything in her power to ensure she’s fully fit for the French Open.

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Set to be a fascinating tournament, backing Barty represents good value, for she’s more than capable of taking out top honours in France, with the only caveat being if she’s fit enough to do so.

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Manchester United favourites for Europa League glory

Although Manchester United’s form has tailed off in the last few matches, as they’ve suffered league defeats to Leicester City and Liverpool, plus drawn to relegated Fulham, they still head into the Europa League final as favourites.

Priced at $1.80 to become champions ahead of Villarreal, who are at $4.50, the Red Devils are certainly favoured by the bookies.

Possessing a tremendously talented team, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men will be especially hard to stop going forward, for they have such a fine array of options. With the likes of Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford, Edinson Cavani, Paul Pogba, Mason Greenwood, Anthony Martial, Juan Mata, Donny van de Beek and Daniel James to choose from, they’ll certainly be a force to be reckoned with.

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Then, in midfield, they have some good options in Fred, Scott McTominay, Nemanja Matic and Pogba if needed.

While they have two excellent keepers to choose from in David de Gea and Dean Henderson, their defensive line will be unsettled again as star stopper Harry Maguire looks set to miss the final through injury.

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The fact Fred, Mctominay and Martial are all doubtful of recovering in time certainly gives Solskjaer some unwanted additional headaches.

Considering the quality Unai Emery’s team have in attacking areas in the form of skillful winger Samuel Chukwueze, brilliant forward Gerard Moreno, crafty striker Paco Alcacer and veteran sharpshooter Carlos Bacca off the bench, United will want all their best out there.

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Some other players to keep an eye out for from the Yellow Submarines are young defender Pau Torres, tidy midfielder Manu Trigueros, experienced defender Raul Albiol, speedy Alfonso Pedraza and classy midfielder Dani Parejo. Many English football fans will also be familiar with Francis Coquelin and Etienne Capoue, who previously plied their trade in the Premier League.

Set to be a cracking final between two excellent teams with great coaches, the Europa League final will be decided by fine margins, as both teams will be desperately vying to end their season with some silverware.

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Manchester City have the upper hand in Champions League final

Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City have been in sensational form this season, with them already winning the Premier League and the Carabao Cup.

After years of missing out on glory in the Champions League under the Spanish mastermind, they now turn their attention towards securing Europe’s most coveted trophy. Facing off against Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea, their task won’t be easy, however, especially considering how tough Chelsea are to break down.

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Manchester City have been a formidable force defensively too, as they’ve only conceded four goals in their 12 Champions League matches so far. With Ederson a colossus in goal, Ruben Dias and John Stones starring in central defence and Joao Cancelo and Kyle Walker as elite fullbacks, City have been nothing short of excellent at the back.

Blessed with so much quality going forward too, City will be confident their fluid, dynamic attack will be able to breach the Blues’ rearguard. Guardiola’s meticulously coached offensive mechanics, which features plenty of rotation and players strategically positioned to enhance their threat, will give Chelsea plenty of headaches.

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So in tune with the system and possessing many brilliant players in their own right, the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Phil Foden, Bernardo Silva, Riyad Mahrez, Gabriel Jesus, Sergio Aguero and Ferran Torres will be raring to seize on any opportunities.

Having beaten Borussia Monchengladbach, Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea is their last challenge in their quest for Champions League glory. Priced at $1.90 to take home the title ahead of Chelsea at $4.00, the bookies are backing Man City to get the job done.

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“We fought together and we’re in the final of the Champions League, and those are nice words. People believe it’s easy to get to the final of the Champions League. Getting to the final now makes sense of what we have done in the past four or five years. Every day these guys have been consistent and this is remarkable,” Guardiola explained.

Ser to be an amazing final, it’ll be fascinating to see if the highly fancied City can claim their first ever Champions League trophy which has been a long time in the making.

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NBA: Why Nikola Jokic would be a deserved MVP winner

Nikola Jokic’s amazing form this season has seen him emerge as a legitimate contender for the NBA’s prestigious MVP award.

Unquestionably one of the elite players in the league this campaign, he’s powered the Denver Nuggets towards the playoffs with his fantastic all-round play.

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While the towering centre’s game isn’t as dynamic and full of athleticism like many of the others in contention for MVP, there’s no doubting what an outstanding player he is. And that his unique skill sets him apart in his own way.

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Reliable, ultra consistent and durable, Jokic has incredibly played the second most minutes in the league, in a season where his quality has shone through brightly. Although he’s an unglamorous pick and many believe his lack of highlight reel plays counts against him, his sheer effectiveness can’t be overlooked.

Having notched up 13 games where he’s scored 30 plus points and 10 plus rebounds, plus 56 double-doubles, these numbers show his class. The fact he leads the Nuggets in scoring (26.4 points per game), assists (8.4 pg) and rebounds (10.9 pg) further illustrates his dominance.

The Athletic’s John Hollinger summed up the NBA’s best passer aptly, saying: “He (Jokic) combines size, shooting touch and ball skills to slowly, steadily carve up opponents.

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Good on the dribble, a demon in the paint and so hard to match up against, the 211cm powerhouse appears destined to become the first centre in 21 years to be crowned MVP, a feat Shaquille O’Neal achieved.

Priced as a $1.10 favourite ahead of Joel Embiid at $11, the bookies are pretty certain he’s got the coveted award in the bag.

Propelling his team to great things courtesy of his exceptional performances, no one could begrudge the Serbian star being awarded MVP, for he’d undoubtedly be a deserved winner.

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Atletico Madrid primed for La Liga glory

Having just beaten an excellent Real Sociedad outfit 2-1 to cement their position at the top of La Liga with just two games left, Atletico Madrid’s destiny is in their hands.

Playing Osasuna and Real Valladolid in their last two games, matches they should confidently win on paper, manager Diego Simeone will be wary of preventing his team from losing focus, for any slip ups could prove costly.

That Sociedad win was especially vital, for Atletico’s form of late has certainly been unsatisfactory, for they’ve only won five of their last 11 matches, which was in stark contrast to their impeccable early season form.

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Speaking after the win over Sociedad, the fiery Argentine manager was just delighted to get the win, stating: “We knew we had to win against an opponent who away from home does things very well.

“We had a great first half and second half as well, but in this tight end of the season their goal made us really suffer in those last few minutes. We need to rest. It’s been a very tough season and it’s going to be tough until the end. It started too fast and it’s something that’s affected all teams, we’re not the exception. We continue, game-by-game, knowing Sunday will be another important and difficult game”

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Possessing the league’s best defence, which has seen them concede only 23 goals in their 36 games so far, this has been the cornerstone behind their success. So well drilled and organised to stifle opponents and protect central areas, Simeone deserves immense credit for their prowess here.

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Meanwhile, going forward, they’ve looked dangerous, as they boast many weapons to hurt opponents. With the likes of Luis Suarez, Marcos Llorente, Joao Felix, Angel Correa and Yannick Ferreira Carrasco all contributing with goals and assists, they’ve been a challenge for opponents to contain.

Priced at $1.22, the bookies are backing Atletico to get the job done, with Real Madrid placed behind them at $4.

Just needing to get two wins from their last two matches, which will be easier said than done, Atletico Madrid should have what it takes to finish the season in style to record their first La Liga title in seven years.

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