NBA First Half Awards
With the season just over halfway done, let's look at the major awards. Feel free to disagree but it's James Hardens world right now and we're just living in it.
Gameweek 22 in the Premier League will end today with Arsenal hosting Chelsea, which promises to be a cracker with the likelihood of one manager moaning about the referee very high, but there are already plenty of talking points from previous games.
1. Brighton and Bournemouth start 2018 off with a bang
2018 kicked off in the Premier League with what looked like a really unattractive fixture - Brighton hosted Bournemouth. The two teams had combined for just 35 goals between them in the previous games and all in all, your New Year's hangover was set to get worse instead of better while watching the match. But it turned out to be the opposite.
You could say that on the first day of the year, the two already played out one of the best Premier League matches of the whole year. At least one of the best of the 2017/18 season. They ended up combining 42 shot attempts, which is most in a single game this Premier League season.
Brighton, who's averaging only 9.1 shots per game this season, ended up with 15 and Bournemouth recorded over twice as many shots they are averaging (11.7). Not for the first time in recent weeks.
There was also an interesting league record set in the match. Callum Wilson, who scored a late 2-2 equalizer, is now the man with most Premier League goals to his name without any assists. It was his 16th goal in the league. He previously shared the record (15 goals) with former Derby County striker Branko Strupar.
I guess as long as Wilson is getting vital goals, his teammates won't care one bit about the lack of assists. Or maybe they are all just poor finishers?
2. Klavan rescues Liverpool, makes history
Liverpool is quietly going through its best spell during Jürgen Klopp's time at the club. The Reds have gone 13 matches without a defeat in the league and overall, have a 16-game unbeaten run across all competitions. They made it four wins in last five by beating Burnley in dramatic fashion 2-1.
A Sadio Mane wonder strike seemed to have set Liverpool on its way to three points, but Johann Berg Gudmundsson managed to equalize in the 87th minute and Klopp's men looked to be on their way to losing another couple of points. But there was still time for a winner and that came in the 94th minute by Ragnar Klavan.
It was Klavan's first ever Premier League goal and that made Estonia the 97th different nation to have a player score in the league. Overall, he's the second ever Estonian in the Premier League after goalkeeper Mart Poom, who played for Derby, Sunderland and Arsenal a decade ago.
It also has to be noted that on the first day Virgil van Dijk was officially a Liverpool player, two central defenders who are under pressure following his arrival, ended up providing the team with vital three points.
Liverpool's next league game is against Manchester City. Will Klopp dare to leave out his big signing and reward the heroes from the last game?
3. Stephen Ireland is still alive
Stoke hosted Newcastle on Monday and it ended with a poor result as Ayoze Perez scored a 1-0 winner for the visitors, but there was a reason to feel joy before kick-off. After a 604-day absence, Stephen Ireland was back in the matchday squad.
Ireland last played in the Premier League on 7 May 2016. The former Republic of Ireland international ended up breaking his leg during a routine training session just a few days after the match. At first, he was set to spend nine months on the sidelines, but the recovery ended up being really slow.
It's a big test of character for the 31-year-old, being out so long. It will be interesting to see how the layoff has affected his abilities. The attacking midfielder won't play a big part at Stoke, but he was given a new contract last summer, which shows that he might still be used by the team.
Ireland could make his comeback already this week as the Premier League clubs start their FA Cup campaigns in the third round and Stoke, who's slipped into the relegation battle, certainly seems set to use fringe players when they visit Coventry on Saturday.
4. Mark Hughes feeling (and cracking under) the pressure
The match at the Ricoh Arena could be Mark Hughes' last game in charge of the Potters. As previously noted, the team's play has stagnated during his time at the club. There have been seven losses in last ten games and following the drop of form the side is clinging on to its Premier League life.
The 51-year-old has a lot of Premier League experience both as player and manager, and he's said that he still feels like he's the right person to take the club forward, but there are signs that he might not be given the chance.
By the looks of it, it seems that Hughes is feeling, and cracking as well, under the pressure as he stormed out of the press conference following the Newcastle game.
The bet365 Stadium has been full of “Hughes Out” banners as well lately.
Even if Hughes survives the Coventry match, he still can't feel safe as a trip to Old Trafford follows and a negative result there could leave Stoke in the relegation zone. They have never been in this situation this late in a season. It's their 10th season in the Premier League and thus far the worst place finish is 14th.
5. Shane Long ended a lengthy goal drought
What did you do last year on 11 February? Southampton striker Shane Long probably remembered the day very well as he scored his last goal before a lengthy dry spell. The 30-year-old went 35 consecutive club and country games without a goal since then. He finally found the back of the net again this Tuesday. It's his first Premier League goal in 1320 minutes of action.
Sadly for Southampton and Long, the rare goal didn't help the team to three points. Crystal Palace turned the game around, scoring twice in the final 20 minutes to win 2-1. The result leaves the Saints sitting just above the relegation zone.
Long has never been a prolific goalscorer in the Premier League, but he is a guy you would expect to bag at least five goals over one season. He even had a 10-goal season as recently as 2015/16. With his movement and the uncanny ability of winning headers, Long rarely goes unnoticed in games, and that makes his recent struggles bizarre.
Alongside the 34-game drought, Long also recently had a 23-game run without a goal at the end of 2016. He broke it on 31 December. One wonders if the goal against Palace simply marks the start of another goalless spell for him.