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Coronavirus: The day Liverpool should have won the title – Red Sox, Drake & other sporting curses

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Liverpool might understandably wonder if they are cursed as they still wait on a Premier League title. Others have had similar suspicions.

Luckless Liverpool are in limbo as they bid to become champions of England for the first time in 30 years.

The Reds are 25 points clear at the top of the Premier League, needing only two more wins to clinch the title, yet the season has been suspended amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Jurgen Klopp’s dominant side should have been sealing silverware on Saturday in their match against Crystal Palace but now instead must wait to see if the campaign can be completed at all.

Liverpool supporters might well feel they are cursed, and former goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar agreed last year as he splashed urine on the Anfield goalposts in an attempt to lift an apparent hex.

Such hoodoos are relatively commonplace in sport, though. We take a look at some notable examples.

LIVERPOOL (1990-present)

It seemed inconceivable when Liverpool won their 18th title in 1990 – an 11th in 18 seasons – that number 19 would not swiftly follow. But when Reds supporters mocked rivals Manchester United after their eighth success in 1993, with a banner that read, ‘Come back when you’ve won 18’, they were made to eat their words.

The Old Trafford club had 20 championships by the time manager Alex Ferguson departed, a 2009 United banner teasing: ‘You told us to come back when we’ve won 18 – we are back’.

Indeed, Liverpool were runners-up to United in 2008-09, as Rafael Benitez infamously went public with criticism of Ferguson. Even when the Scot retired and United slumped in 2013-14, Liverpool collapsed on the home straight and were pipped by Manchester City, who denied them again last season.

This is surely now their year – as long as the campaign does indeed resume.

BOSTON RED SOX (1918-2004)

Liverpool might find some comfort in the knowledge their owner has experience in ending curses for sporting giants.

John W Henry took over the Boston Red Sox in 2002 with the aim of finally ending the Curse of the Bambino, which stemmed from the team’s sale of star player Babe Ruth to rivals the New York Yankees some 83 years earlier.

Ruth had featured in three of Boston’s five World Series triumphs and went on to win four more with the Yankees. Meanwhile, the Red Sox remarkably did not claim baseball’s greatest prize again until 2004.

That miserable run was finally ended under Henry, though, after Boston had overturned a 3-0 deficit against the Yankees in the American League Championship Series.

ATLANTA, GEORGIA (1995-2018)

The city of Boston could at least be comforted by titles for the Patriots, the Celtics or the Bruins. Atlanta’s distress crossed several sports in increasingly spectacular fashion.

The Atlanta Braves won the World Series just once in 1995 within a stretch that returned 15 straight division titles. Meanwhile, the Atlanta Falcons lost two Super Bowls, including a record-breaking collapse against Tom Brady’s New England Patriots after leading 28-3. Even the University of Georgia ceded a big advantage to lose the College Football Playoff National Championship.

Atlanta United finally provided some respite with MLS Cup glory in 2018, and president Darren Eales told Stats Perform: “It was great to break the curse.

“It’s been a long time since 1995 when the Braves won a championship. I’d heard so much in the week up to the game about Atlanta’s curse in sport. I didn’t get too excited until the referee blew his whistle.”

DRAKE (2013-2019)

One of the more bizarre apparent curses of recent years related not to a team or a city but to a sole individual: Drake.

The Canadian rapper found an awful knack for backing athletes before big defeats. Serena Williams suffered a huge upset against Roberta Vinci at the US Open, where she had his support, while Anthony Joshua was pictured with Drake prior to his shock loss to Andy Ruiz Jr.

The Toronto Raptors fan came up with a solution for the 2019 NBA playoffs, however. Drake turned out in Philadelphia 76ers shorts as they dramatically lost to the Raptors, seemingly reversing the curse, before Toronto went on to beat the Golden State Warriors in the Finals.

BENFICA (1962-present)

Liverpool’s is not the only ongoing ‘curse’ – and Benfica’s is not set to end for another 42 years!

Head coach Bela Guttmann led the Portuguese giants to back-to-back European Cup successes in 1961 and 1962 but then left the club after reportedly asking for a pay rise. It is alleged he declared “not in a hundred years from now will Benfica ever be European champion”.

So it has proven, as Benfica lost European Cup finals in 1963, 1965, 1968, 1988 and 1990 and then came up short in successive Europa League finals in 2013 and 2014.

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Rashford edging closer to full fitness: I feel 10 times better now

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He has been out since mid-January but Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford says he is edging closer to a return to training.

Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford is in a “much better place” than a month ago as he nears a return to full fitness.

Rashford has been out since mid-January due to a back injury, with United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer saying earlier this month the club would not rush his comeback.

The England international is making good progress, though, and suggests he will be ready to resume training once the squad are cleared to go back to work after the coronavirus pandemic.

“I feel much better,” Rashford told Sky Sports News. “I have a scan in another couple of days and that should solidify it, but I feel much better compared to two or three weeks ago.

“I feel 10 times better now. For me, now it’s just about getting ready to build back up to training and then playing games for the team.

“I’m in a much better place. I’m much happier than I was about a month ago, so things are looking positive.”

 

Rashford says his recent rehabilitation has been carried out at home due to the restrictions put in place to control the impact of COVID-19.

“Everyone is just dealing with the circumstances as well as they can,” he added.

“I’ve just been in my house doing my gym work and recovery, reading books, watching Netflix and just doing what I can do to make the time pass further.

“There’s not really anything you can do that comes close to being in the changing room and being in the team, so I’m not trying to chase that high.

“I had to have time off anyway because of my injury, but I’m fortunate enough to have a bike in the gym downstairs. Not much in that sense has actually changed for me because I can still do my daily routine that I was doing.”

Rashford is also heading up a campaign for the FareShare charity, which aims to raise £100,000 to help supply food to children who usually have free school meals but are currently unable to access them.

“I didn’t know how high the numbers were of kids not eating at home other than school meals. That number kind of shocked me,” Rashford said.

“And then I remember speaking to a friend who was saying there was an opportunity where we can help these people and FareShare allowed us to make it work.

“I don’t think I’ve actually ever done something at such short notice before. I thought let’s try and get to £100,000 and right now we’re on £97,000.”

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Coronavirus: Brady admits Liverpool all but own title, reveals West Ham have eight in isolation

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Karren Brady has revealed West Ham have eight players showing mild symptoms of COVID-19 – and has made a U-turn over the 2019-20 season.

West Ham vice-chairman Karren Brady has gone back on her previous claim that the season should be voided, saying the title is “all but owned by Liverpool” as the the Premier League aims to return to action.

Brady was criticised earlier this month for suggesting in a newspaper column that the top-flight campaign in England should be declared null and void due to the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

She was accused of putting her own club’s interests first, with the Hammers only outside the Premier League relegation zone by virtue of goal difference.

Her suggestion riled Liverpool supporters in particular, given the expectation they will claim their first league title in 30 years should the season be completed.

She defended her initial comments, saying she was merely thinking of players and fans amid the coronavirus pandemic, but has now said the Premier League plan to “get going as soon as possible” still stands.

“It is a paradox that at a time football would be a great comfort to millions, it must not be played because, rightly, people’s health is our priority,” Brady wrote in The Sun.

 

“What is going on in our country and the world is unprecedented and the game is not a necessity – like food or healthcare.

“But to millions upon millions of us, football’s disappearance from life is very relevant indeed. So, we all want it back in a hurry.

“There’s the Premier League to be decided although, obviously, not the title – which is all but owned by Liverpool.

“But neither the Premier League nor the EFL have finished this season’s games. Plus, there is the FA Cup, continental leagues, European competitions, European Championship and almost everything in between.

“The next Premier League meeting is on Friday and the main topic of conversation will be when games can restart. When we – all Premier League clubs – last spoke, we agreed to get going again as soon as possible. And that games will run into July, if req­uired, to get this campaign finished.

“This is the plan. This is what we want to deliver.”

Brady also revealed eight West Ham players went into self-isolation after showing mild symptoms of the virus.

“Players are currently not in training and housebound to comply with social distancing rules currently in place until April 13, when we expect training to restart,” she added.

“And following further Government guidelines, we have eight West Ham players in isolation. Although I am relieved to say they are all showing mild symptoms and, along with their families, seem to be well.”

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Liverpool v Atletico going ahead was a ‘criminal act’

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Carlo Ancelotti has revealed Jurgen Klopp had concerns over the decision for Liverpool v Atletico Madrid to go ahead at a full Anfield.

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp felt staging the Champions League match against Atletico Madrid at Anfield without restrictions earlier this month was a “criminal act”, according to Carlo Ancelotti.

Everton head coach Ancelotti has spoken with Klopp amid the coronavirus pandemic and said the German had concerns over his side’s continental fixture going ahead in front of a full stadium on March 11.

Liverpool went out of the Champions League after the second leg of their last-16 tie ended in a 4-2 aggregate defeat, their last match before top-level football was widely halted due to the outbreak.

Ancelotti told Corriere dello Sport: “I heard from Klopp the other day, he told me that going ahead with the game in those conditions was a criminal act. I think he was right.”

Former Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Chelsea and Milan boss Ancelotti predicts there will be an economic “downsizing” after the virus has passed, with football feeling the effects of that.

“We are all living a life that we were not used to and that will change us profoundly,” he said. “I’m sure we will all have to downsize, starting with football.

“Today, the priority is health, limiting the contagion. When you start again, when you finish, the dates – believe me, I don’t care. At the moment, that’s the last thing on my mind.

“I hear talk about cutting salaries, suspension of payments. They seem like inopportune solutions.

“Soon the economy will change, and that’s at all levels: The TV rights will be less, players and coaches will earn less, tickets will cost less because people will have less money.

“I repeat, what matters now is to fight the virus effectively. Then, of course, if it will be possible to continue the season… otherwise, amen.”

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