Premier League ‘Big Six’ see Newcastle as a real threat now, says Eddie Howe

Premier League ‘Big Six’ see Newcastle as a real threat now, says Eddie Howe
Newcastle United's English head coach Eddie Howe (L) anbd his deputy Jason Tindall (R) react during the English League Cup semi final football match between Newcastle United and Southampton. (AFP)
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Updated 04 February 2023

Premier League ‘Big Six’ see Newcastle as a real threat now, says Eddie Howe

Premier League ‘Big Six’ see Newcastle as a real threat now, says Eddie Howe
  • Magpies boss has two new signings available for visit of West Ham, but Bruno Guimaraes starts three-match suspension

NEWCASTLE: Eddie Howe believes Newcastle United are now being viewed by the Premier League “Big Six” as a clear and present danger — and the recent transfer window proves it.

The Magpies tried in vain to nab loan deals from the likes of Chelsea in the closing hours of the window, but were hit with a brick wall from the Champions League-chasing, high-spending Blues.

And Howe thinks that’s the biggest evidence yet that those in the traditional positions of power are intimidated by the presence of the ambitious, Saudi-embellished Magpies.

“That’s your words not mine, but yeah, I think you’re on the right lines,” said Howe when asked if the top six now see United as direct rivals.

“I think it is potentially difficult for us. It depends on the player and it depends on the club but I think we’re probably aware we are seen differently this season to how we were last season.

“We are viewed differently probably by some clubs now and that is something we will have to adjust to.”

Tuesday saw the winter transfer window slam to a close with Newcastle still looking for a player to replace exited Jonjo Shelvey. The midfielder spent seven years at the club but left for Nottingham Forest with his current deal set to end in the summer.

It was a departure Howe did not welcome, especially with star man Bruno Guimaraes having to sit out the next three games due to a suspension picked up in the Carabao Cup win against Southampton.

Ahead of the visit of West Ham United to Tyneside in the Premier League, Howe said: “We’re going to miss him massively, he’s a huge player and done ever so well for us.

“Whenever you lose one player, you have to readjust. There will an opportunity now for the team to regroup and find another way.

“But certainly the timing is really difficult. We’ve had a really intense period of games and now we don’t and Bruno seems to miss a long period of time away. The good thing for Bruno is he’ll be available for the final.”

On Shelvey, Howe continued: “Losing Jonjo has been a concern for us.

“We have had a lot of discussions internally. We were active in the market but we didn’t manage to get a midfielder over the line.”

“In some senses, that gives opportunities to other players,” the coach said. “We really believe in Elliot Anderson and this could be a moment in his career where we see the very best of him. A local lad who gets a chance in the team. There are others who can play in that position. Bruno’s suspension came at the worst time in the worst position possible. Sometimes, these things happen.”

While concerns about absentees remains at the forefront of Howe’s thinking, he will have two new boys available for selection against the Hammers, one of which was a deadline-day capture from the East London outfit.

Anthony Gordon, ineligible in the Carabao Cup, and Harrison Ashby, nabbed from West Ham, are both likely to take their place on the bench on Saturday.

“Both players will be available, yes,” said Howe.

“They’ve trained well. They’ve done a couple of individual training sessions around the game because they weren’t eligible to play. Trained with the group yesterday, although it was a small group, so they haven’t actually trained fully with team but both are fit and fine.”

Having been taken off in a precautionary measure on Tuesday night, Alexander Isak remains a doubt after suffering a head knock.

“Alex actually made a vital contribution in that moment. James Ward-Prowse’s free-kick, naturally we discussed those situations a lot in the build up to both games and knowing how good he is, he (Isak) blocked the free-kick and took a blow to the side of the head,” Howe said.

“He had very slight signs of concussion. We’ve followed all the protocols. Whether he’ll be available or not, we’re not sure.”

“He’s been around, and he’s looked fine,” Howe added. “I don’t think he’s got any ill-effects. I don’t think he had any ill-effects the next day. Every day he’s felt better. He’s fine, no problems.”

NEOM McLaren Extreme E Team looking to build on Season 3 opener

NEOM McLaren Extreme E Team looking to build on Season 3 opener
Updated 24 March 2023

NEOM McLaren Extreme E Team looking to build on Season 3 opener

NEOM McLaren Extreme E Team looking to build on Season 3 opener
  • Emma Gilmour, Tanner Foust finished Saudi Desert X Prix with 14 points in 7th place

RIYADH: As the championship’s 10 teams got behind the wheel at the Season 3 opener, NEOM McLaren Extreme E looked to pick up where they left off with a podium finish at the Season 2 finale in Uruguay.

The 3.4-kilometer course of the 2023 Desert X Prix in NEOM provided the first of the challenges in what promises to be the most tightly fought season to date.

A hectic Qualifying 1 on Saturday saw McLaren’s Emma Gilmour and Tanner Foust experience a frustrating start to their Season 3 campaign. Albeit running in P3 in Qualifying 1, the driver pairing ultimately finished fifth in the first session, suffering a Switch Zone penalty as they also adjusted to the course.

Bouncing back with a stronger performance in qualifying, the NEOM McLaren Extreme E Team finished their heat in third place. It was not enough to escape the Redemption Race, however, as the team finished sixth in the overall qualifying standings – one spot short of a place in the grand final.

Having won the Crazy Race in spectacular fashion at last year’s Desert X Prix, Foust and Gilmour were no strangers to battling it out against the best of the rest in NEOM.

Foust enjoyed a great start to the series’ first ever Redemption Race, but multiple incidents including Nasser Al-Attiyah’s ABT CUPRA XE car rolling over the top of Foust’s ODYSSEY 21, saw the race red flagged.

In the chaos, Heikki Kovalainen had taken the lead for JBXE, but as the race resumed Gilmour used her ENOWA Hyperdrive to close the gap on Hedda Hosas and overtake the JBXE driver as NEOM McLaren Extreme E Team won the Redemption Race and secured valuable championship points.

Foust said: “We certainly didn’t disappoint on the extreme side. We started off with some pretty aggressive set-up changes due to the lack of track time we have in this series. We unfortunately lost a bit of time in the process in Qualifying 1, but then showed good pace for the rest of the day.

“The team were fantastic, repairing the car, enabling us to improve, and we won the Redemption Race making us the best of the rest.”

Round 2 offered a chance to use the momentum from that race win for a better qualifying stint, with plenty of racing and points opportunities still on the table in NEOM.

Sunday was another challenging day for the NEOM McLaren Extreme E Team, with fourth and third-place finishes in their respective qualifying heats meaning the team narrowly missed out on Round 2’s grand final.

Running in second and fighting for points once again in the Redemption Race, Foust and Gilmour nearly gained an all-important two championship points from the Continental Traction Challenge as they pushed hard for another Redemption Race win.

Closing out their weekend with second place in Round 2’s Redemption Race saw the NEOM McLaren Extreme E Team come away from Saudi Arabia having accrued a total of 14 points and in seventh place in the championship standings.

Gilmour said: “It was a slightly frustrating day and it’s a shame that we have not come away from this Desert X Prix with more points.

“In motorsport though, you can always have worse weekends. Considering where we were at the start of the weekend, and the progress we had to make, I think we did well.”

The Neom McLaren Extreme E Team will be looking to hit the ground running at the next Extreme E round in Scotland on May 13 and 14.

Ronaldo’s words of praise sprinkle stardust on ‘competitive’ Saudi Pro League

Ronaldo’s words of praise sprinkle stardust on ‘competitive’ Saudi Pro League
Updated 24 March 2023

Ronaldo’s words of praise sprinkle stardust on ‘competitive’ Saudi Pro League

Ronaldo’s words of praise sprinkle stardust on ‘competitive’ Saudi Pro League
  • Back in Portugal for first time since Riyadh move, Al-Nassr player lauds standard of football in Saudi Arabia

RIYADH: It is a sign that a league is a significant one that when foreign players go back to their home countries for international duty, comments to their native media about the leagues where they play football and the clubs they are at make headlines around the world.

Unsurprisingly, it helps when that foreign player is Cristiano Ronaldo. The five-time Ballon d’Or winner signed for Al-Nassr at the end of December and looks to have enjoyed his time in Saudi Arabia so far, scoring nine goals in eight league games for the title-chasing club.

For the first time since arriving in Riyadh, the 38-year-old is back in Europe and preparing with Portugal for two 2024 European Championship qualifiers against Liechtenstein and Luxembourg. Given that Ronaldo moving to Mrsool Park was a huge deal, it is natural that local journalists have been asking the former Real Madrid, Manchester United, and Juventus star what the Roshn Saudi League is like.

He said: “I think you should look at the (Saudi Pro League) in a different way. I’m not going to say that the league is a Premier League, that would be a lie.

“But it’s a very competitive league that I’m positively surprised by, a very balanced league and good teams. I am sure that in the coming years the league will be ... the fourth, fifth, or sixth most competitive league in the world,” the attacker added.

It has made headlines around the world. Some newspapers and websites said that the claim was “bold,” while others talked of it being “astonishing.”

There may have been some eyebrows raised but here was one of the best players ever and currently the most famous (he has 564 million followers on Instagram, more than any other person in the world) talking in positive terms about football in Saudi Arabia. Only the biggest leagues in the world can dream of such exposure.

Cynics would say that it is in the interests of players to be complimentary of football in the country in which they play and the club that pays their salary but there is a long history of the opposite happening.

There have been many times when stars have gone home to play World Cup qualifiers and have said something negative about club coaches, team-mates, or food back in the place where they are employed.

When it upsets people back at their clubs then the time-honored excuse is that the player was misquoted or the comments were taken out of context.

Kim Min-jae, now with Napoli, once had to back track quickly when he appeared to question the level of defending among his Beijing team-mates when back home in Korea.

Obviously, the reverse is much more pleasant for coaches, team-mates, and fans to hear. Praise always goes down well. The first part of Ronaldo’s comments were clear for all to see and hard to dispute. The league is competitive.

Just look at Al-Hilal. The Blues are the most successful team in Saudi Arabian and Asian history and in February defeated the champions of Africa and South America to book a FIFA Club World Cup final with Real Madrid. The 5-3 defeat against the European giants was an exciting spectacle for fans and won respect for the losers from those watching on every continent.

Just a few days later, the Riyadh giants were booking a place in the Asian Champions League final in February with a 7-0 thrashing of Al-Duhail of Qatar in the semi-final. Al-Hilal are currently in fourth and desperately trying to stay in touch with the top three.

Al-Shabab in third, Al-Nassr in second, and Al-Ittihad, currently in pole position, are three of the top teams in Asia and there is strength going all the way down the league. Indeed, Al-Faisaly in the second tier, reached the knockout stage of the 2022 Champions League.

Whether the league could become one of the top six in the world will be seen in the future. For now, it is a matter of debate, but it is a debate that league officials would love to see happen in Europe and elsewhere. This is one of the benefits of signing famous foreign players.

There are plenty of top foreign players in Saudi Arabia who play for international teams. In the next few days, there could be four facing each other in the same game. Al-Wehda’s Abderrazak Hamdallah and Mounir Al-Mohammadi of 2022 World Cup semi-finalists Morocco will take on Brazil in a friendly on Saturday and the following Tuesday, the Atlas Lions take on Peru with Andre Carrillo of Al-Hilal and Christopher Gonzalez from Al-Adalah.

The likes of Ahmed Hegazi and Tarek Hamad of Al-Ittihad are regulars for Egypt, Al-Shabab goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu is South Korea’s No. 1, and there is also Grzegorz Krychowiak who was with Poland at the World Cup.

As more international players and coaches come to Saudi Arabia, more of them can see a thriving and competitive league with talented local players, who showed what they are made of at the World Cup, and can then go home and spread the word.

Banchero’s late-game scoring lifts Magic over Knicks 111-106

Banchero’s late-game scoring lifts Magic over Knicks 111-106
Updated 24 March 2023

Banchero’s late-game scoring lifts Magic over Knicks 111-106

Banchero’s late-game scoring lifts Magic over Knicks 111-106
  • Isaac Okoro hit a 3-pointer from the corner with 0.7 seconds remaining and finished with 11 points as Cleveland sent Brooklyn to their fifth straight loss

ORLANDO, Florida: Paolo Banchero scored 21 points, included a 3-pointer with 1:26 remaining and two free throws in the final seconds, to help the Orlando Magic beat the New York Knicks 111-106 on Thursday night.

Cole Anthony added 18 points for Orlando and Wendell Carter Jr. had 16 points and eight rebounds. Franz Wagner scored 16 points before leaving in the fourth quarter with ankle injury.

Quentin Grimes and Immanuel Quickley each scored 25 points for the Knicks, who lost their third straight. Julius Randle finished with 23 points and nine rebounds.

With Jalen Brunson out with an injury and Randle on the bench, the Knicks went almost 5 1/2 minutes without scoring in the second quarter and fell behind by 19 points.


In Los Angeles, Kawhi Leonard scored 32 points, making 13 of 15 field goals, and Los Angeles defeated Oklahoma City in the Clippers’ first game since losing Paul George to a knee injury.

George sprained his right knee in the closing minutes of a 101-100 loss to the Thunder two nights earlier. He’ll be re-evaluated in two to three weeks.

Los Angeles shot 49 percent from 3-point range, with Nicolas Batum and Bones Hyland making four each. Russell Westbrook added 24 points and seven assists for the Clippers.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the Thunder with 30 points. Josh Giddey added 18 and Jalen Williams had 16.


In New York, Isaac Okoro hit a 3-pointer from the corner with 0.7 seconds remaining and finished with 11 points as Cleveland sent Brooklyn to their fifth straight loss.

Donovan Mitchell scored 31 points, Evan Mobley had 26 points and 16 rebounds and Jarrett Allen finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds against his former team. Cleveland won for the eighth time in 10 games.

Mikal Bridges scored 32 points, Spencer Dinwiddie had 25 points and 12 assists and Joe Harris hit five 3-pointers and finished with 15 points as the Nets lost their fifth straight game.

Cleveland trailed 112-104 with 2:13 left before closing the game on a 12-2 run. Trailing by one, Mitchell missed the a second free throw that would’ve tied the game. But the ball bounced to Okoro in the corner, who drained the 3-pointer to give Cleveland the lead. A heave from half court by Bridges at the buzzer fell short.


In New Orleans, Brandon Ingram had 30 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists for the first triple-double of his seven-year NBA career, leading New Orleans over short-handed Charlotte.

Jonas Valanciunas scored 20 points and grabbed 19 rebounds for his 38th double-double of the season to help the Pelicans win their third in a row. C.J. McCollum added 20 points, Trey Murphy 19 and Naji Marshall had 16 off the bench.

P.J. Washington scored 18 points, including 16 in the first half for Charlotte. Svi Mykhailiuk had 15 points and Gordon Hayward 12 points.

Rybakina overcomes determined Kalinskaya, Americans progress

Rybakina overcomes determined Kalinskaya, Americans progress
Updated 24 March 2023

Rybakina overcomes determined Kalinskaya, Americans progress

Rybakina overcomes determined Kalinskaya, Americans progress
  • Three-times Miami Open winner Victoria Azarenka beat Italy’s Camila Giorgi 6-3, 6-1 to book her place in the third round

MIAMI GARDENS: Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina survived a spirited comeback from Russian Anna Kalinskaya at the Miami Open on Thursday, progressing to the third round with a 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 win.

Americans Jessica Pegula and Coco Gauff advanced with less complication enjoying straight sets wins at Hard Rock Stadium.

Rybakina is aiming for the ‘Sunshine Double’ after defeating Aryna Sabalenka to win the Indian Wells final last week and she came into the match on the back of wins in each of the last eight games she has started.

Kalinskaya broke early in the first set but failed to hold serving for the set at 5-4 up and her Kazakh opponent broke again to turn the set around.

The Russian received medical attention between sets and started the second poorly but trailing 4-2 she produced a brilliant cross-court winner to break back.

She broke again with Rybakina going long and wrapped up the set with a magnificent shot down the line to force the match into a deciding set.

It was tight until Rybakina broke in the sixth game, Kalinskaya going for one deep effort too many but the Russian’s resilience was evident again as she responded with a break of her own.

But a tiring Kalinskaya was unable to hold her serve and Rybakina saw the match out to set up a meeting with Spain’s Paula Badosa.

World No. 3 Pegula got her campaign under way with a confident 6-3, 6-1 second round win over Canada’s Katherine Sebov.

With top-ranked Iga Swiatek having withdrawn, American Pegula is among the favorites to challenge for the title.

“I had to adjust my game plan a little bit in that first set and then was able to close it out pretty easily,” said Pegula, a semifinalist in Miami in 2022.

Pegula will face fellow American Danielle Collins in the second round after she beat Bulgarian Viktoriya Tomova 7-6 (7/3), 6-2.

Sixth-seed Gauff, beaten finalist in the French Open last year, saw off Canada’s Rebecca Marino 6-4, 6-3, converting five of her nine break points and twice coming back from a break down in the second set.

“It was an up-and-down match honestly. A lot of breaks. I mean, I did well in the returning part, considering she’s a big server,” said the 19-year-old.

Belgium’s Elize Mertens upset eighth seed Daria Kasatkina 4-6, 6-2, 6-2.

After letting a 3-0 advantage slip in the first set, Mertens dominated as Kasatkina struggled physically, needing a medical time-out in the second set.

Spain’s Badosa battled to a 7-6 (7/2), 4-6, 6-3 win over Germany’s Laura Siegemund while Russian Anastasia Potapova defeated Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk 6-1, 6-3.

Kostyuk, enjoying plenty of support on the small outer court from Ukrainian fans gathered behind national flags, was never able to put her opponent under pressure.

There was no handshake from the two players at the end of the game as they left the court without acknowledging each other. Potapova will face Gauff next.

Three-times Miami Open winner Victoria Azarenka beat Italy’s Camila Giorgi 6-3, 6-1 to book her place in the third round.

In first-round ATP action, big-hitting Czech Jiri Lehecka cruised to a 6-3, 6-4 win over Argentine Federico Coria.

Italy’s Lorenzo Sonego ended a run of six straight defeats at Masters 1000 level by defeating Austrian former world number three Dominic Thiem 7-6 (9/7), 6-2.

Sonego took a grip on the match by claiming the first four games of the second set taking advantage of a series of unforced errors.

“I wanted to be aggressive on the return and I was very aggressive overall. I’ve wanted to play closer to the baseline this year,” Sonego said. “I like to play in Miami because the conditions are really fast.”

Chile’s Cristian Garin beat American Marcos Giron 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 and will face Argentine Sebastian Baez next.

France’s Richard Gasquet beat Australian lucky loser Christopher O’Connell 6-4, 3-6, 6-1 to set-up a meeting with second-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece.

World No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz starts his campaign on Friday against Argentine Facundo Bagnis.

Big-driving McIlroy, Scheffler, Rahm notch victories at WGC Match Play

Big-driving McIlroy, Scheffler, Rahm notch victories at WGC Match Play
Updated 24 March 2023

Big-driving McIlroy, Scheffler, Rahm notch victories at WGC Match Play

Big-driving McIlroy, Scheffler, Rahm notch victories at WGC Match Play
  • Scheffler and McIlroy remained unbeaten while Rahm bounced back from an opening loss

WASHINGTON: An amazing tee shot by Rory McIlroy led the world No. 3 to join top-ranked defending champion Scottie Scheffler and second-ranked Jon Rahm in capturing clutch victories from Thursday’s second group matches at the WGC Match Play Championship.

McIlroy made an epic drive with a stunning 375-yard blast at the 18th hole, landing the ball within four feet of the hole for a tap-in eagle that clinched a 2-up triumph over US 48th seed Denny McCarthy.

“It was good,” McIlroy said. “I didn’t think I could get it on the green.”

Scheffler and McIlroy remained unbeaten while Rahm bounced back from an opening loss at Austin (Texas) Country Club, where 16 winners from four-man groups will advance to weekend knockout rounds.

Four-time major winner McIlroy, the 2015 Match Play champion from Northern Ireland, did not lead McCarthy until the par-5 16th hole, when McIlroy had a tap-in birdie and the American missed a seven-foot birdie putt to put McIlroy 1 up.

Then came McIlroy’s clinching tee shot, which was airborne for 349 yards, nearly 70 yards longer than the average PGA Tour carry, before rolling up to the cup for a tap-in.

“I just played really well, played really solid,” McIlroy said. “Didn’t make a bogey and made some birdies when I needed to and thankfully was able to win.”

Also in McIlroy’s group, US 20th seed Keegan Bradley won his first WGC match in 11 years, ripping compatriot Scott Stallings 6 and 5.

McIlroy need only tie Bradley on Friday to advance.

Reigning Masters champion Scheffler, who won the Players Championship earlier this month, downed Swedish 38th seed Alex Noren 5 and 4 after only edging US 54th seed Davis Riley 1 up in a Wednesday opener.

“I just went out and played solid, no bogeys, and made some key putts,” said Scheffler, who lost the first hole but won six, seven and the first four holes on the back nine with birdies.

“I just kind of kept the pressure on him and hit really good shots.”

On Friday, Scheffler faces South Korean 17th seed Tom Kim, who lost 1 up to Riley.

“To be able to win my match and get through the group would be nice,” Scheffler said. “What I’ll be focused on tomorrow is getting off to a good start.”

Rahm, a three-time PGA winner this year, bounced back from an opening loss to Rickie Fowler by beating US 39th seed Keith Mitchell 4 and 3.

The Spaniard made five birdies and a 14-foot eagle putt at the par-5 12th while never trailing to keep his title hopes alive.

“Not many mistakes tee to green,” Rahm said. “Made a few birdie putts and got a comfortable lead.”

Rahm needs a Friday victory over 2021 WGC Match Play champion Billy Horschel to have a chance to advance.

“Not many pairings are going to have more electricity on the course than me and Billy,” Rahm said. “I’m going to have to get the win.”

Horschel beat Fowler 3 and 2 after an opening draw with Mitchell.

“Happy to be able to control my destiny tomorrow,” Horschel said.

US fourth seed Patrick Cantlay beat South Korea’s Lee Kyoung-hoon 4 and 2 and faces countryman Brian Harman on Friday for a last-16 berth while US fifth seed Max Homa reached 2-0 by beating 2019 Match Play champion and 2022 runner-up Kevin Kisner 3 and 2.

US seventh seed Will Zalatoris was eliminated with a 5 and 3 loss to US 37th seed Harris English and Norway’s eighth-seeded Viktor Hovland was ousted with a 4 and 3 loss to South Korean 34th seed Kim Si-woo.

Chris Kirk sank a nine-foot birdie putt to win 18 and tie 2013 Match Play winner Matt Kuchar, keeping the 44-year-old from matching the event record 36 match wins of Tiger Woods.

Australian 32nd seed Jason Day, the 2014 and 2016 Match Play champion, beat France’s Victor Perez 2 and 1 and will play US ninth seed Collin Morikawa for a last-16 berth.

“It feels like you’re playing Sunday every round,” Day said. “You know he’s going to be around all day... I’m excited for the challenge.”