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Zidane’s greatest strength shines through as unlikely heroes guide Real Madrid past Liverpool

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Zidane's greatest strength shines through as unlikely heroes guide Real Madrid past Liverpool

Match statistics: Liverpool 0-0 Real Madrid

Real Madrid may have spent the night at the Titanic hotel upon their arrival on Merseyside, but it was Liverpool who sank on Wednesday, with Zinedine Zidane’s patched-up side sailing through to the Champions League semi-finals.

On the 109th anniversary of the maritime disaster, Madrid dropped anchor at Anfield and would not let Jurgen Klopp’s heavy-pressing side be the iceberg they proved for rivals Barcelona two seasons ago.

Like the Catalans, Madrid took a lead to Merseyside, a 3-1 first-leg advantage. But the Blancos only had one of their first-choice defenders available in Ferland Mendy.

With Dani Carvajal and Lucas Vazquez injured, and Alvaro Odriozola regarded a menace to his own side by Madrid coach Zidane, Fede Valverde started as a makeshift right-back.

Without injured captain Sergio Ramos and the imperial Raphael Varane, Madrid paired Nacho and Eder Militao together again and hoped for the best.

Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois had to produce two top-drawer saves in the opening stages, as Liverpool tried to take advantage of Uruguay midfielder Valverde’s inexperience in defence.

The Belgian reacted well to deny Mohamed Salah after he was set up by Sadio Mane, and then clawed away a James Milner curler which was ducking into his top corner.

After weathering the initial storm, Madrid found balance slowly but surely, and Karim Benzema rattled the post to warn the hosts, while first leg man-of-the-match Vinicius Junior burst into life now and then on the counter.

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In a deliberately grey and stern performance from Los Blancos, he was the one Madrid player to offer bright moments of flair. For everybody else, it was just business.

Zidane looked on approvingly as Casemiro scythed Milner down to the ground, showing Madrid were not going to cower in the wake of Liverpool’s impressive first-half energy.

Reds’ supporters will argue they were down to the bare bones too in defence, but Nacho and Militao’s superb defending helped keep their attacking trident at bay.

Salah, Mane and Firmino, while not at their best in 2021, are still one of the world’s most dangerous frontlines and, with the superb Casemiro as a shield, Madrid’s defence was able to hold them off.

Valverde produced a crucial block from Firmino in the second half to maintain Madrid’s two-goal advantage and stop any wobbles before Courtois denied Salah again in stoppage time to kill Liverpool’s last hopes.

The ex-Chelsea goalkeeper has never lost at Anfield and he was not about to start now. His reward – a confrontation with his former employers from west London.

On paper, the hosts should have been able to breach Madrid’s defence, but Zidane’s superb management has galvanised the team’s back-ups.

One of the greatest man-managers in the game, he has geed up even those players who have spent the season on the fringes – Odriozola aside.

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Like after the restart last season, Madrid have reached the run-in ready to grind their way towards glory. Without Eden Hazard, they have no great creator to supply Benzema, so Zidane is sticking to what he knows works.

And it did at Anfield, with a dour, professional second half just what the doctor ordered for the record 13-time champions.

Nacho and Militao were impressive enough to make Ramos sweat over his contract demands, while Valverde passed his personal test.

With Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Casemiro immovable in midfield, Valverde will take game-time where he can get it, as long as he can play a part in Madrid’s charge towards a potential double.

And after the perfect week, that quest remains firmly on course.

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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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