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Kelechi Iheanacho is Leicester’s key man as club targets historic FA Cup final

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Kelechi Iheanacho is Leicester's key man as club targets historic FA Cup final

Kelechi Iheanacho is possibly looking forward to Sunday’s FA Cup semifinal against Southampton even more than his Leicester City teammates.

Usually, the FA Cup provides some level of distraction for wobbling sides who tend to welcome the interruption to their league malaise, but this is not just any game for the Foxes.

MORE: How to watch FA Cup in USA

Ask any local fan and you’re likely to hear the same thing: the supporters being delighted at the prospect of making it to their first final at the sport’s oldest cup competition in a couple of generations.

Having failed to play in the last four since 1982, Iheanacho’s heroics in the last stage against Manchester United meant Brendan Rodgers got more joy at this round after suffering defeat at the hands of Chelsea last year.

The Nigeria front man netted twice and set up another in the Foxes’ deserved 3-1 victory over a pitiful Red Devils side, carrying the 2016 Premier League champions into the final four.

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Their last appearance in a final was in 1969, and the gap of 52 years is truly staggering.

They are the only PL champions to never win the FA Cup, and Iheanacho’s form means Leicester is now two wins away from glory. While nothing will ever beat their 2016 league success, supporters will cherish victory in the competition and the club’s return to Wembley this year has to elicit excitement in the fan base.

While it leaves no room for complacency, the Foxes were probably pleased by their semifinal draw which pits them with a Southampton side that hasn’t been itself since the turn of the year. Compared to Manchester or Chelsea, this was the last-four encounter Leicester would have have desired after beating United . . . and the same could be said for Saints.

“[Southampton] are a strong side; they have quality individual players and they play as a team as well,” Iheanacho told LCFC TV in the build-up to Sunday’s match. “We need to do more than them, we need to fight and hurt them first in the first half, so we don’t need to go behind.

“We always have that hunger and desire to win trophies, of course, other teams are preparing as well. We need to sacrifice so many things and give our best shot.

“That’s what we need to do. In training and on the game, we need to do what we can, work extra and give extra than what we do, I think we are getting ready to do that.”

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Given the dramatic decline of Jamie Vardy since the turn of the year, a counterargument is unlikely to be presented if anyone earmarks the West African as the Foxes’ key man going into the game.

It was the ex-Man City player who thrived against West Ham United last time out when the Englishman toiled without success at the London Stadium as Rodgers’ men rallied late on but lost 3-2 to put next year’s Champions League participation in jeopardy.

Frankly, it’s been that way for a few months now with Leicester’s top striker a shadow of his usual self in the attacking third, scoring only once and assisting three in 16 games in 2021. In his opening 17 appearances in all competitions this term, Vardy was involved in 17 goals. The drop-off since January is jarring.

Even though CL qualification is still in the club’s hand, this weekend isn’t for worrying over its place among Europe’s elite in 2021-22. Rather, the East Midlands club ought to be focused on being back at the Home of Football, featuring in its first FA Cup semi in 39 years and looking to take part in its first final in a half-century.

Iheanacho’s three goals in the competition this season makes him Leicester’s top scorer and the in-form front man who overtook Chelsea’s Didier Drogba for FA Cup goals after his quarterfinal brace wasn’t keen to dwell on supplanting the Blues legend’s 12 strikes.

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“Personally, I’m proud of it but I don’t want to think about it, I don’t want to lose my focus on the game,” the Nigerian stated. “After the season, I will start thinking about it because we have big weeks in the FA Cup and the Premier League. We need that concentration and determination to win games and get to where we want.

“I’m in a good place at the moment, I just need to keep helping my team. I need to put in the hard work every day, the form is coming now and I just need to keep going.”

Drogba, who by and large made Wembley his playground, was the West London side’s man for the big occasions, a responsibility which made him feared in the competition’s closing stages. Usurping the Ivory Coast icon is no mean feat, but the job is far from done.

Despite making history and ending nearly four decades of pain for Leicester fans, Iheanacho now has to carry the can to take Rodgers’ side into their first FA Cup decider in over 50 years. Given his current form, you wouldn’t bet against him.  

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Why did the Rangers fire John Davidson and Jeff Gorton? Production may be reason behind shocking move

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Why did the Rangers fire John Davidson and Jeff Gorton? Production may be reason behind shocking move

Ladies and gentlemen: JD and the Straight Fired. 

The Rangers have fired general manager Jeff Gorton and team president John Davidson, per reports, in a shocking move that no one in the NHL saw coming.

Gorton had been employed by the Rangers since 2015, acting as the team’s GM in that span. During that time, the team acquired Artemi Panarin and navigated a rebuild on the fly, developing a core of young, talented players in the process.

MORE: NHL seeding scenarios, breakdown for final 2021 playoff spots

Davidson, though, is the more surprising firing: The long-time Ranger fan favorite and front-office exec got the ax, as well, despite being in the role for less than two years. He was hired on May 17, 2019.

Chris Drury, former Ranger, gets the nod to assume both GM and president roles:

The Rangers are coming off a disappointing 26-21-6 season, missing out on the Stanley Cup playoffs again under head coach David Quinn.

Here’s why both Gorton and Davidson got the ax.

Why did the Rangers fire Jeff Gorton and John Davidson?

There are conflicting reports on the exact reason why both front office executives are heading to the unemployment line.

The predominant reports indicate that team owner James Dolan was simply unhappy with the team’s production in 2020-21, missing out on the Stanley Cup playoffs with just three games left.

Others say that Davidson and Gorton distancing themselves from the Rangers’ controversial statement on Tuesday, calling for the head of NHL Player Safety George Parros’ resignation, ultimately led to the firing.

Some reports have said that the firing is purely coincidental. 

Still, the Rangers seem to be ahead of the timeline they set for themselves a few years ago, when a letter to fans addressed the team’s intentions to undergo a rebuild. 

Since then, the team has drafted Kaapo Kakko, Alexis Lafreniere, Filip Chytil and K’Andre Miller, who have made their marks as members of the core. They’ve also acquired Adam Fox, Jacob Trouba and Artemi Panerin either via trade or free agency.

Chris Drury will assume GM and president duties. 

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Raiders declined trade-down offer in NFL Draft to avoid losing Alex Leatherwood

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Raiders declined trade-down offer in NFL Draft to avoid losing Alex Leatherwood

No team has been more criticized for its 2021 NFL Draft haul than the Raiders. And none of the Raiders’ picks was more scrutinized than their top overall pick: Alabama offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood at No. 17 overall.

Most mock drafts, including Sporting News’, considered Leatherwood a Day 2 selection. That Raiders GM Mike Mayock and coach Jon Gruden took him in the first round was considered a massive reach, especially when most assumed that he would be available in the second. That they took him over several, more highly rated offensive tackles — SN rated six available tackles higher, including four with first-round grades — only added to the controversy of the pick.

But Mayock has defended the choice, saying he, Gruden, offensive line coach Tom Cable and Raiders scouts all highly valued Leatherwood. Las Vegas was so enamored with the big-name tackle that it even declined an offer to trade down in the 2021 NFL Draft for risk of losing him.

MORE: Worst value picks in the 2021 NFL Draft

“Just when we got on the clock a team did call us and inquired about moving up, but they gave us a very poor trade offer and it was a team that needed a tackle,” Mayock said (via ESPN). “So the combination of the poor offer and their need kind of pushed us away from that.

“There’s a risk/reward scenario and, in this case, we didn’t feel that it was worth it.”

Ultimately, the Vikings were the only other team to draft a tackle in the first round, selecting Virginia Tech tackle Christian Darrisaw with the 23rd overall pick. Only two more offensive tackles went in Round 2 before the Raiders drafted again at 43: Oklahoma State’s Teven Jenkens to Chicago, at 39, and Notre Dame’s Liam Eichenberg to Miami, at 42.

This isn’t the first time Mayock’s draft choices have been scrutinized. His previous drafts have included an inordinate number of players from big-name schools, especially in the early rounds. Those include Clemson’s Clelin Ferrell, Alabama’s Josh Jacobs and Henry Ruggs III, Ohio State’s Damon Arnette and more.

That said, It’s a virtual certainty that NFL teams’ draft boards aren’t the same as outlets’ mock drafts. And if the Raiders saw something they liked in Leatherwood — enough to warrant their first-round pick — then that’s their prerogative.

Only time will tell whether he was worth the high selection.

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Aaron Rodgers’ attempt to throw insults at Packers GM Brian Gutekunst is mostly bull

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Packers-Aaron Rodgers divide grows, and 2021 NFL Draft won't narrow it

Of the 13 seasons Aaron Rodgers has spent as a starting quarterback in the NFL, nine ended in the Pro Bowl and three with him named the league’s Most Valuable Player. He’s so good that you could call him the “Michael Jordan of quarterbacks,” if you wished, and not be far off in your assessment.

Not far at all, it turns out.

Bob McGinn, a veteran journalist who has covered the Packers for four decades, reported in The Athletic that Rodgers’ relationship with general manager Brian Gutekunst has become so fractured that Rodgers referred to the GM as “Jerry Krause” in group chats with his teammates.

MORE: Where are Packers in SN’s latest NFL Power Rankings?

Rodgers is angry with Gutekunst about several personnel moves over the past few seasons, enough so that McGinn’s reporting confirmed the player’s intent not to return to the Packers as long as Gutekunst remains in charge of personnel.

Among Rodgers’ gripes is the obvious: the decision to trade for an earlier selection in the 2020 NFL Draft that was used to select a quarterback who presumably will be the successor at that position. Rodgers was embarrassed by the team’s decision to cut receiver Jake Kumerow — the day after Rodgers had said during a show he hosts on Sirius XM Radio that he thought Kumerow was a valuable member of the team.

If it seems petty for Rodgers to be so aggravated by his organization over a receiver who has caught 21 passes — combined — in three NFL seasons, well, that’s where the Jordan/Rodgers comparison truly coalesces.

Jordan spent much of his later years with the Bulls degrading himself with public insults aimed at Krause’s weight and stature, even though Krause, at the time, was earning a position in the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame with his shrewd drafting, trading, hiring and management of the Bulls’ rosters that won six NBA championships in the 1990s.

Jordan was the centerpiece of those teams, and he was drafted before Krause was hired as Bulls GM, but every other essential member of the teams that won from 1991 to 1993 and from 1996 to 1998 was added by Krause, including Hall of Famers Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman and head coach Phil Jackson.

Gutekunst has done little to warrant the comparison to Krause.

He has been GM since 2018, and the Packers delivered 13-3 records in his second and third seasons but fell short of the Super Bowl each time. Their defenses allowed an average of 34 points in the 2019 and 2020 NFC Championship games.

Rodgers almost certainly drew his inspiration for the use of Krause as a front-office insult from “The Last Dance,” the ESPN documentary that chose to portray him as a villain despite that he’d built the championship team whose impending dissolution Jordan was lamenting. Rodgers should study basketball history better; there surely are GMs who would serve as a fitting standard of ineptitude.

Krause is not the guy. He won six championship rings in his position as Bulls GM.

Rodgers still has just the one, earned 11 seasons ago.

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