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Champions League: Lionel Messi missing PSG’s Leipzig trip highlights why building chemistry can be so hard

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Champions League: Lionel Messi missing PSG’s Leipzig trip highlights why building chemistry can be so hard

Paris Saint-Germain are away at RB Leipzig in UEFA Champions League Group A on Wednesday on Paramount+ and will once again boast a star-studded attack in Germany with Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Angel Di Maria all available to head coach Mauricio Pochettino.

However, there is a fairly important name missing from that list — Lionel Messi is out with a hamstring and knee complaint. He’s not alone either, with the influential Marco Verratti also sidelined which means that the French giants are once again unable to field what could be considered their strongest starting XI. 

In fact, Pochettino’s strongest possible PSG starting XI remains shrouded in mystery given how infrequently the former Tottenham Hotspur manager has had free rein to select from his lavish menu of options, which is further complicated by just how little time this deep roster of talented players has spent together — something Messi hinted at in his recent interview with SPORT.

It’s a sentiment some of his teammates share. “I have to get to know everyone,” said summer signing Gini Wijnaldum pre-match as he also struggles to bed in. “They are all new to me. I have not even played with everyone yet. We are adapting to a new coach and style of play. The coach wants us to rotate in our positions. I need to get used to that. For five years (with Liverpool), it was a bit easier.”

Di Maria’s return from his ban means that he is available for the first time this Champions League edition having sat out Club Brugge away and then Manchester City as well as Leipzig at home, and while it is an undoubted boost for Pochettino to have the Argentina international available on the pitch again, that optimism is tempered by his compatriot’s absence and Verratti’s. 

At some point, the 49-year-old will probably need the option to pick the starting XI he wants in order get the most out of this team — not just rely on whichever 11 players can be considered healthiest.

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Pochettino has only been able to align Messi, Neymar and Mbappe in Di Marias’ absence against Brugge and City and although the latter fixture was a 2-0 home win with the legendary Argentine finally getting off the mark in Rouge et Bleu, the attack has been far from convincing thus far.

“As a coach, you want to improve,” said the Argentine tactician ahead of the game. “That is a phase we are currently in. Gini spoke about time to adapt to new teammates and staff. We are in the middle of that and satisfied with results. We have a project with ideas. We know how to develop them. I do not want to dwell further on how to build a team. We are working on it. The philosophy is clear, though.”

In fact, Messi is actually the most prolific PSG attacker in Europe pre-Leipzig with three goals to his name while Mbappe has just the one with an assist — the same as Ander Herrera and Idrissa Gueye — while Neymar is yet to get off the mark on the continental stage and missed the last meeting with RBL.

The same types of issues are plaguing Pochettino when it comes to constructing his midfield. It is no coincidence that Verratti was present for the wins over City and Leipzig which means that Les Parisiens could find it difficult in Germany, as it was in Brugge to link with the attack even though Mbappe and Neymar are no strangers to playing alongside Di Maria.

Pochettino is also quick to praise the players he does have available, notably his returning countryman: “Angel brings technique and experience on the pitch,” he said of Di Maria. “He brings balance to the game. This balance leads to good collective performances.”

And indeed, it was El Fideo who was key in last Friday’s 2-1 fightback win over Lille OSC at Parc des Princes in Ligue 1 which saw Di Maria and Neymar combine sublimely late on to conjure up a winning goal out of nothing and Pochettino will be hoping for more of the same here against a side which caused them plenty of problems last time out.

PSG were pushed hard in a 3-2 win in Paris a fortnight ago while they lost 2-1 at Red Bull Arena almost exactly one year ago with Gueye and Presnel Kimpembe both dismissed in one of Thomas Tuchel’s final European outings with the team. Many members of the current squad will need no reminder of how difficult this game could get.

Add in the fact that it is pretty much kill or be killed for Jesse Marsch and his Leipzig troops as they struggle to even stay in touch with Brugge in the race for at least a UEFA Europa League berth and the combination of further tinkering on a tricky away day against motivated hosts is far from ideal.

In the end, though, regardless of opponent, it all comes down to chemistry: “We played together for five years,” said Wijnaldum of the differences between UCL hopefuls PSG and former winners Liverpool. “It took us a long time to win it. Here, it looks a lot like my first season with Liverpool. It is hard to compare as we had been playing together for years there and we barely know each other here.”

What has been left unsaid is that time is something that this team might not have. Mbappe’s contract is still expiring next summer and well-publicized interest from Real Madrid is not going away so, should it stretch to a second season, that threatens the bedding in process for Messi, Wijnadum and the others. 

And with the knives already out for Pochettino back in France as he continues to struggle to stamp his mark on this squad almost 12 months on from his appointment as Tuchel’s replacement, the fact that this team’s top players have played precious little time together will not serve as a valid excuse forever — even if there is truth to it.

A win for PSG in Leipzig would not only go a long way towards putting the team into the knockout phase, but it would also further alleviate the pressure on Pochettino and his players. Even if they do walk away from Germany with three points, though, it is still yet another match where the team’s superstars will not all be on the field together. 

At some point in the future, this super team experiment risks falling flat and not because it has been proven that these players cannot play together, but simply because they have not had enough chances to do so.

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Kentucky Derby 2022 predictions, bets: Expert picks unveiled for win, place, show, trifecta, superfecta

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Kentucky Derby 2022 predictions, bets: Expert picks unveiled for win, place, show, trifecta, superfecta

You should consider pedigree, connections, results and track conditions before placing your 2022 Kentucky Derby bets. Time is running out ahead of Saturday’s 6:57 p.m. ET post time, when Churchill Downs will host the 148th Run for the Roses. Trainer Steve Asmussen has more wins than anyone in the history of North American horse racing, but he’s 0-for-23 in his career at he Kentucky Derby. Asmussen trains Epicenter, one of the 2022 Kentucky Derby favorites at 7-2 in the 2022 Kentucky Derby odds. Zandon built momentum with an impressive win at the Blue Grass Stakes on a rainy day and is the 3-1 favorite with a potentially wet track in store at Churchill Downs after rain on Friday. With so much to consider while making your 2022 Kentucky Derby picks, a little expert help can go a long way.

The first Kentucky Derby was run in 1875 at Churchill Downs and Aristides won, besting a field of 14 other horses in the 1 1/2-mile race. The race was shortened to 1 1/4 miles in 1896, when Ben Brush won with a winning time of 2:07.75. Secretariat broke the two-minute mark with a record-setting time of 1:59.40 in 1973, while only one other horse (Monarchos in 2001) has ever run the race in under two minutes. Todd Pletcher, Doug O’Neill and D. Wayne Lukas are the only three 2022 Kentucky Derby trainers with multiple Derby wins. Pletcher won with Super Saver and Always Dreaming, while Lukas won with Winning Colors, Thunder Gulch, Grindstone and Charismatic. O’Neill won running I’ll Have Another and Nyquist.

Given all the history, there’s a method to picking which horses to focus on for exacta, trifecta and superfecta bets in a Kentucky Derby like this, and SportsLine expert Jody Demling knows what it is. He can help you make the best 2022 Kentucky Derby picks possible.

A fixture in the horse racing world who has been writing about, talking about and betting on races for years, Demling has been on-point with his horse racing bets. He hit the exacta in the Wood Memorial in April. Last year, he hit the exacta, trifecta and superfecta in the Belmont Stakes. This is the same handicapper who hit the Derby-Oaks double at Churchill Downs nine times in the last 13 years. That means he held a ticket with the winners of both the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby all but four times in his last 13 tries.

In addition, at one point in 2020, he picked the winners of six straight races: the Saudi Cup, Gotham Stakes, Rebel Stakes, Louisiana Derby, Florida Derby and Belmont Stakes. On Friday, he nailed the exacta in the 2022 Kentucky Oaks. Anyone who has followed him on these races is way up. Now, he’s sharing all of his 2022 Kentucky Derby bets here.

Top 2022 Kentucky Derby expert picks

Here’s a refresher on these types of bets from SportsLine’s Jody Demling:

Kentucky Derby Exacta: Pick the first- and second-place finishers in the correct order. A $2 exacta returned $503 at the 2021 Kentucky Derby with Medina Spirit and Mandaloun.

Kentucky Derby Trifecta: Pick the first-, second- and third-place finishers in the correct order. A $1 trifecta returned $1,696.90 at the 2021 Kentucky Derby with Medina Spirit, Mandaloun, and Hot Rod Charlie.

Kentucky Derby Superfecta: Pick the first-, second-, third- and fourth-place finishers in the correct order. A $1 superfecta returned a colossal $9,456.40 at the 2021 Kentucky Derby with Medina Spirit, Mandaloun, Hot Rod Charlie, and Essential Quality.

While Demling has no quibbles with the favorite status of Zandon (3-1), he plans to hold tickets with Messier (8-1), Epicenter (7-2), as well as four double-digit underdogs who could really spice up the payouts. You can see his picks here.

How to make 2022 Kentucky Derby bets

Demling has specific recommendations for exacta, trifecta and superfecta wagers so you can cover all your bases at the Kentucky Derby 2022. He’s sharing them over at SportsLine.

So which horses do you take? And in what combinations? Visit SportsLine to get Demling’s picks for exacta, trifecta and superfecta bets for the 2022 Kentucky Derby.

2022 Kentucky Derby odds, field, contenders

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Kentucky Derby 2022 predictions, bets: Expert picks released for win, place, exacta, trifecta, superfecta

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Kentucky Derby 2022 predictions, bets: Expert picks released for win, place, exacta, trifecta, superfecta

The 2022 Kentucky Derby will feature a capacity crowd at Churchill Downs for the first time since 2019. COVID-19 caused the 2020 event to move to September, while last year’s race was held in front of limited attendance. Zandon is the 3-1 favorite in the latest 2022 Kentucky Derby odds after drawing the No. 10 post position, but should he be one of your 2022 Kentucky Derby picks? Epicenter is also expected to be one of the top 2022 Kentucky Derby contenders and is 7-2. Who are the other 2022 Kentucky Derby horses that you should consider for Saturday’s race? With so much to consider while making your 2022 Kentucky Derby picks, a little expert help can go a long way.

The record for attendance at the Kentucky Derby is a crowd of 170,513, which was set in 2015 when American Pharoah started his Triple Crown campaign. Churchill Downs Inc. CEO Bill Carstanjen said, “We expect to deliver record Derby results” on Saturday after there were only 23,000 fans permitted to attend last year’s race. Churchill Downs has conducted thoroughbred racing since 1875, making it one of the world’s most legendary racetracks. The Kentucky Derby is a top rank, Grade 1 stakes race for three-year-old horses and has been continuously-held for nearly 15 decades.

Given all the history, there’s a method to picking which horses to focus on for exacta, trifecta and superfecta bets in a Kentucky Derby like this, and SportsLine expert Jody Demling knows what it is. He can help you make the best 2022 Kentucky Derby picks possible.

A fixture in the horse racing world who has been writing about, talking about and betting on races for years, Demling has been on-point with his horse racing bets. He hit the exacta in the Wood Memorial in April. Last year, he hit the exacta, trifecta and superfecta in the Belmont Stakes. This is the same handicapper who hit the Derby-Oaks double at Churchill Downs nine times in the last 13 years. That means he held a ticket with the winners of both the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby all but four times in his last 13 tries.

In addition, at one point in 2020, he picked the winners of six straight races: the Saudi Cup, Gotham Stakes, Rebel Stakes, Louisiana Derby, Florida Derby and Belmont Stakes. Anyone who has followed him on these races is way up. Now, he’s sharing all of his 2022 Kentucky Derby bets here.

Top 2022 Kentucky Derby expert picks

Here’s a refresher on these types of bets from SportsLine’s Jody Demling:

Kentucky Derby Exacta: Pick the first- and second-place finishers in the correct order. A $2 exacta returned $503 at the 2021 Kentucky Derby with Medina Spirit and Mandaloun.

Kentucky Derby Trifecta: Pick the first-, second- and third-place finishers in the correct order. A $1 trifecta returned $1,696.90 at the 2021 Kentucky Derby with Medina Spirit, Mandaloun, and Hot Rod Charlie.

Kentucky Derby Superfecta: Pick the first-, second-, third- and fourth-place finishers in the correct order. A $1 superfecta returned a colossal $9,456.40 at the 2021 Kentucky Derby with Medina Spirit, Mandaloun, Hot Rod Charlie, and Essential Quality.

While Demling has no quibbles with the favorite status of Zandon (3-1), he plans to hold tickets with Messier (8-1), Epicenter (7-2), as well as four double-digit underdogs who could really spice up the payouts. You can see his picks here.

How to make 2022 Kentucky Derby bets

Demling has specific recommendations for exacta, trifecta and superfecta wagers so you can cover all your bases at the Kentucky Derby 2022. He’s sharing them over at SportsLine.

So which horses do you take? And in what combinations? Visit SportsLine to get Demling’s picks for exacta, trifecta and superfecta bets for the 2022 Kentucky Derby.

2022 Kentucky Derby odds, field, contenders

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Verstappen voted Laureus World Sportsman of the Year

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Verstappen voted Laureus World Sportsman of the Year

Verstappen won the award following his 2021 F1 title triumph over former Laureus award winner Lewis Hamilton, who jointly won the 2020 edition of the awards with footballing great Lionel Messi.

The Dutchman beat American football icon Tom Brady, Bayern Munich and Poland striker Robert Lewandowski, marathon running legend Eliud Kipchoge, swimmer Caeleb Dressel – who won five gold medals at the Tokyo Olympics – and 20-time tennis Grand Slam winner Novak Djokovic.

The other winners of the Sportsman of the Year award in Formula 1 include Michael Schumacher, who won it twice in 2002 and 2004, and Sebastian Vettel in 2014.

“A big thank you to everyone voting for me from the Laureus Academy,” Verstappen said in his acceptance speech.

“A very special year, a very hectic year because the pressure was always on. I couldn’t do this without the team behind me, the people back at the factory. It was an incredible effort that we won the championship.

“I want to give a special mention also to my dad [Jos Verstappen]. Without him, I wouldn’t be standing here today and I appreciate every moment we share together in this success story and hopefully many more to come.

“I was very happy, of course, but it was a lot of hard work and years of preparation. I’m incredibly proud. Since I was a little kid I was dreaming of being on the top step and winning the championship.

“Afterwards, I said to my dad ‘We did it, this is what we worked for all these years and now we are here, the two of us, all the memories, all the years of travelling all over Europe, going for that one goal and we achieved it.'”

Six-time MotoGP title winner Marc Marquez was nominated for World Comeback of the Year, following his return to racing from a lengthy arm injury last year, but was beaten by skateboarder Sky Brown, who suffered a skull fracture and a broken left wrist and arm in training but recovered to win a bronze medal in the Tokyo Olympics.

Mercedes’ F1 team was also beaten to Team of the Year by the Italian men’s national football team, which beat England to Euro 2020 glory at Wembley – but has subsequently failed to qualify for this year’s World Cup in Qatar.

Valentino Rossi also won the Laureus Sporting Icon award following his retirement from motorbike racing at the end of 2021, ending a career that resulted in seven MotoGP titles.

“I have already taken two prizes from the Laureus Academy, so I have to thank everybody for this,” Rossi said in his speech upon accepting the award.

“This is great. I was lucky because I had a lot of great achievements in my career. The victories for sure are important, but I think the most important thing is that a lot of people know MotoGP and started to follow motor cycling because of me.

“This is the sport that I love and I’m very proud of this.”

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