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La Liga 2021-22 season: Five things to watch as Barcelona move on from Lionel Messi, Real Madrid tweak defense

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La Liga 2021-22 season: Five things to watch as Barcelona move on from Lionel Messi, Real Madrid tweak defense

The 2021-22 La Liga season officially kicks off on Friday with Valencia facing Getafe, while title contenders Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Barcelona play this weekend in what’s expected to be another three-horse race for the title after a thrilling finish to last season. Atleti are the reigning champions and are back to win another, while Real and Barca have made some inexpensive moves as they look to return to the Spanish summit.

Ahead of action kicking off, here are five things to watch early on in the season:

1. Where do Barcelona go from here?

A promising 2021-22 season was derailed with the news this month that Barca could not re-sign their superstar Lionel Messi due to financial rules put in place by La Liga, resulting in the legendary player heading to Paris Saint-Germain. They went from La Liga contenders to potentially out of Europe just like that. Without their man, the player that has carried them time and time again, a lot will be asked of guys like Pedri, Sergio Busquets and more.  

The team did land Memphis Depay, the talented Dutch attacker, on a free transfer, giving Ronald Koeman some more depth going forward, but he’s hardly Messi. It will be interesting how things look early, but the expectation is a front three of Ousmane Dembele, Griezmann and Depay. 

While the defense has needed some help, the addition of Eric Garcia could be important, but all eyes will be on the attack and if it can return to its prolific ways without the best player in the world.

The pressure is on Ronald Koeman right away. 

2. Can Real defense cope without Ramos and Varane?

The new-look Real Madrid backline figures to feature Eder Militao and David Alaba. Those are two really good players that most teams would be thrilled to have, but the pressure is on them as they aim to replace the dynamic duo of Sergio Ramos (PSG) and Raphael Varane (Manchester United). And losing Ramos also puts pressure on the Real attack as he’s arguably the most prolific scoring defender in decades. He’s got over 100 career club goals to his name and had double digit goals in three of the last five seasons (he was hurt for a good chunk of last season). 

Militao or Alaba are not scoring machines, but the Brazilian can be a threat in the air, while Alaba could take over the attacking set-piece duties for Carlo Ancelotti. They’ll need to build their chemistry quickly, and if Real contend for anything, it will be because they’ve figured out how to fit into this new system as the expectation is for the attack to take a step forward after so many injuries last season.

3. Atleti looking to go back-to-back

Atleti are just never going to get the respect of legendary clubs like Barca and Real, but boy do they deserve it after an incredible run last season, while facing adversity late to hold on. They figure to be even better this season as they haven’t lost anything. In comes Copa America winner Rodrigo de Paul from Udinese who could add some creativity to the midfield, and they return everybody. If Luis Suarez can defeat father time and continue to score, and if Joao Felix can for once live up to his price tag, they can win multiple trophies. 

4. Villarreal looking to build off of first major trophy

Mr. Europa League Unai Emery did it again, winning the competition with Villarreal in what was the club’s first major trophy. A strong base of players, though some may be past their prime, this team is now in the UEFA Champions League thanks to winning the Europa League last season. They haven’t been forced to sell any key pieces and should battle Sevilla for fourth place this coming season. With Gerard Moreno leading the attack with his prolific scoring, they are a team to truly watch in Spain. 

Don’t be surprised if they get a tough group in UCL, finish third, go to the Europa League and win it again. 

5. Can Bordalas work his magic at Valencia? 

The glory years of Valencia feel like ages ago, but it was just a few years back where they were trending upwards with Marcelino, beating Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final. Then the team imploded, as it seems to do every other year, with Marcelino fired before the season two campaigns ago, the club being run into the ground by a careless owner in Peter Lim, and the future of the club was hanging in the balance. It’s unclear where things are headed, if a sale could happen, or what, but after toying with relegation, they finally did something right — hired a great manager. Jose Bordelas, the 57-year-old former Getafe manager, knows how to do more with less. He turned Getafe into a Europa League squad after getting them promoted from the second division. 

Now, as has been the case lately, the cash-strapped club hasn’t been able to bring in much of anything. But he still has a strong base of players and a ton of young talent to work with. Having guys like Jose Gaya, Carlos Soler, Maxi Gomez, Gonzalo Guedes, American Yunus Musah and more, there is serious potential. He’ll have a tough job pleasing a demanding fan base and a fragmented front office, but don’t be surprised if he has them pushing Europa League spots right away. 

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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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