Posts Tagged ‘Champions League’

Weekly Photoshop – Xavi

08/03/2011

Barcelona’s midfield maestro (well one of them anyway) is this week’s theme. A master of keeping possession, it turns out Xavi’s pass, pass, pass approach doesn’t always work (admittedly his chosen specialist subject was something of a surprise!).

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'And at the end of that round, you've scored no points and 63 passes...'

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More here (this week’s winner had the same idea).

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T.

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Archive.

The Six Pointer – Wounded Challenges, Slippery Slides & more…

07/03/2011

1. Liverpool convincingly dealt with Man Utd yesterday and Dirk Kuyt will never, ever score an easier hat-trick. It was very surprising to see Fergie start with Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick in central midfield – recent history has normally seen him go with three in the middle in big matches in an attempt to gain control and stop the opposition playing.

Neither Scholes nor Carrick are particularly energetic or mobile in the way Darren Fletcher is, but with the Scotsman left on the bench after his shift against Chelsea (he can only do one big game a week)  it meant United were unable to gain a foothold on the game.

As you can see in the Chalkboards below, between them they won only one tackle and the likes of Meireles would consistently run or pass around them.

Only one interception between them too.

The decision to give Carrick a new contract during the week was greeted with some derision but at the same time I don’t think Ferguson considers him a first choice player. He’s not bad against weaker sides and he has long been found out against the best – playing him yesterday was more out of necessity than want.

Still, with his continued mediocrity, Scholes’ potential retirement, Fletcher’s one game a week effectiveness and Hargreaves and Anderson’s consistent injury problems, Man Utd’s midfield will certainly need some work in the summer.

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2. Yesterday’s match could have easily seen two red cards, and probably should have. Carragher went in high on Nani and created quite the wound (see below) while Rafael was similarly lucky to stay on the pitch following his wild lunge on Lucas. There is something to be said for a referee to take into account the situation and the context, but really Phil Dowd made errors in giving both players just a yellow.

Red drawn, yellow given.

Interestingly, Rafael is developing quite a reputation as someone who may not have the temperament (or indeed the positional sense) to go with his natural talent.

A red card would have meant his third in under a year, while he was nowhere near where he should have been when Suarez tip-toed through the United defence for the opener.

Recently Ferguson has seemed to prefer someone more dependable in tough matches, with Rafael being omitted against Man City, Chelsea and Marseilles. It will intriguing to see when the Brazilian next plays again, I imagine he might find himself out of the team for a few weeks.

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3. In the context of yesterday’s result, it is difficult to say whether Arsenal’s draw against Sunderland is a point gained or more likely two points dropped.

Wenger’s team have struggled in recent seasons against Sunderland having won only one of the last six games, so it was always going to be tricky without out several players and against one of the best defences outside the top five.

Wenger had a similar problem to Fergie in that first choice midfielders weren’t available so he was forced to play Denilson and Diaby alongside Wilshere. They can usually get away with one of those in the team but having to play both meant it was one of those days where the team struggled to get going, Wilshere unable to do all the tempo setting himself.

The weight of the other two on his shoulders...

Sunderland were lucky to get away with Bramble clearly fouling Arshavin in the box and a goal incorrectly ruled out for offside but having said that they also had their moments and drew a couple of very smart stops out of Szczesny.

I would think that once Aaron Ramsey has a bit more fitness under his belt, he will swiftly move ahead of Denilson and Diaby in the pecking order. He might not have the same experience but he makes things happen, and in a game like Saturday’s and indeed for the run in, that could be priceless.

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4. Momentum at this stage of the season is key so it’s fascinating to see who is making a move at the bottom end of the table.

Just nine points separate ninth place Newcastle from bottom placed Wigan but realistically it’s looking like everyone from Blackburn downwards are the ones who should be worried.

Things are swiftly grouping together for a climatic last few games and as the old cliché goes, a couple of wins and “you’re right back in the mix” (© every pundit going).

I’m willing to condemn Wigan already to be honest, they’re tough to beat but they don’t win many either. As I’ve written here many times before, draws can be rather useless at times and a team like Blackpool who either win or lose has a far better shot and getting the points needed to stay up.

Almost good enough, but not quite.

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5. Of the teams not in that bottom group, Stoke are looking a little vulnerable. They’ve won just one of their last seven and still have to play four of the top five. They seem to have a slightly resigned air about them at the moment – certainly away from home where they’ve lost their last six (and not even scored in the last five).

The earlier point about momentum is key – they face Newcastle, Spurs and Chelsea next. Fail to win the first one and you could be looking at mid-April before they are favourites in a match, by which time they could be in a much more serious position.

I do think they should be ok, given the cushion they have, but it wouldn’t at all be surprising to see them need something against Wigan on the last day.

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6. Jermain Defoe has only just scored his first league goals in a year. If he fulfils Harry Redknapp’s wish and gets to ten by the end of the season, then it will go a long way to ensuring Spurs finish in the top four again. As it is, the lack of a striker in double figures for 2010/11 may be what costs them. Van der Vaart’s ten goals should complement not lead.

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T.

Season Previews 2010/11 – Manchester United

12/08/2010

Man Utd

Last Season: 2nd + Carling Cup Winners

New Signings: Smalling, Hernandez, Bébé

Key Player: Wayne Rooney

One To Watch: Javier Hernandez

Needs  A Big Year: Rio Ferdinand

Would Quite Like: To keep City in their place while winning title 19 to overtake Liverpool’s record. Two birds, one stone.

Prediction: 1st

Thoughts: Alex Ferguson came mighty close to another league title last season but ultimately fell a point short of Chelsea, which was impressive given they’d lost both league matches against the Blues. Wayne Rooney carried them with his best ever season but the injury he suffered in March meant the Red Devils stuttered to the line somewhat and were pipped at the post.

Not too much has changed at Old Trafford with just three players joining in the shape of Chris Smalling (who was bought in January), Javier Hernandez and unknown striker Bébé for whom Ferguson has paid £7m or so on the back of a Carlos Queiroz recommendation. This last signing is really out of the blue, and considering how Nani and Anderson have turned out, it might be another case of overpaying.

In terms of the other two, Smalling is clearly being groomed as an eventual successor to Rio Ferdinand, though he wasn’t impressive when he played for Fulham last season. Hernandez or ‘Chicarito’ as he likes to be known is the interesting one. He looked very lively in the World Cup and has had a good pre-season. Double figures in goals could well be possible in his first season.

Bebe Man Utd

The last two Queiroz recommendations (Anderson and Nani) haven't exactly been rip roaring successes.

Elsewhere, there appears to be another crop of good youngsters pushing through, which is probably why Fergie hasn’t spent too much this summer. The likes of Tom Cleverley have been impressive in pre-season and should feature regularly as the season progresses.

The defence is solid if a little injury prone with van der Sar, Rio and Vidic all susceptible to niggles. Evans is a capable deputy at centre back however. Evra was one of the team’s best players last season but a question does remain over right back, where you have the same scenario as last season with O’Shea, Neville and Rafael battling it out.

It might be this for England.

Further forward, there are a huge range of options in midfield and attack. Fergie hasn’t named the same side in well over a 100 games and the likes of Valencia, Anderson, Nani, Park, Berbatov, Owen, Carrick, Scholes and Giggs all provide different options at different times.

Nani especially looked to finally be living up to some of his potential last season and Fergie will hope that he can be consistent over a whole season.

But it's more like this for Man Utd.

Really though it all depends on Rooney. The team is built around him now and he responded with his best ever season last year. After a dreadful World Cup (due to lack of fitness more than anything) he will want to bounce back – he looked half decent in the Charity Shield before being a bit rubbish in the Hungary friendly but I suspect the home comforts of Manchester will see another good season.

As ever, United have a pretty good team and if you come above them, you stand a very good chance of winning the title. I do feel Chelsea won’t be quite as good while Arsenal are still a decent keeper away from being true contenders. Ferguson has seen it all before and still has the same determination to win as he did twenty years ago. I think they’ll come top

T.

Season Previews 2010/11 – Chelsea

12/08/2010

Chelsea

Last Season: 1st + FA Cup Winners

New Signings: Ramires, Benayoun, Kalas, Delac

Key Player: Didier Drogba

One To Watch: Gael Kakuta

Needs  A Big Year: Nicolas Anelka

Would Quite Like: Champions League glory. Preferably over the Special One in the final.

Prediction: 3rd

Thoughts: Chelsea are one of the most difficult teams to preview this season in my opinion. Clearly the strongest team last season, the double winners have by their standards undertaken quite an overhaul. Out go Joe Cole, Michael Ballack, Deco, Ricky Carvalho and youngster Miroslav Stoch to be replaced so far by just Ramires and Yossi Benayoun in terms of players who will contribute immediately.

There is obviously a determination to reduce the age of the squad and introduce some fresh blood to a team who has won everything but the Champions League in the last five years. Benayoun is a less injured and more consistent version of Cole while Ramires gives them a valid option on the right hand side of midfield. Ballack and Deco won’t be missed but the sale of Carvalho is an interesting one.

He certainly wanted to leave, stating he would even swim to Madrid to join Jose but I’m intrigued as to whether Chelsea will replace him or promote Bruma to 4th choice and play Alex alongside Terry. Carvalho was the best pure defender at Chelsea in my opinion, knowing all the tricks of the trade. However I guess Chelsea considered £6m+ for an often injured 32-year-old who played 30+ league games just once in his six year stay as good business.

Carvalho doing what he does best.

The main reason I’m a bit down on Chelsea this season is I just can’t see Lampard, Drogba and Malouda all having as good a year as last season, where they scored 63 goals put together. Terry looks ever more lumbering at the back while at full back you have Ashley Cole’s off-field issues clearly affecting him and Bosingwa still without a comeback date. Their rivals will be stronger too and it’s unclear whether the young players coming through at Stamford Bridge will be effective.

In terms of positives, everyone in the Chelsea squad has been there and done that – the team is full of proven winners. Drogba, Lampard et al may all be another year older but they’re still better than most. Plus the biggest bonus will be the return of Michael Essien, who is the best box to box midfielder in the league. His return to fitness should see 433 being played again with Lampard and Ramires joining him in a fearsome midfield. I sense that we may yet see a creative superstar come in to play alongside Malouda and Drogba in the forward line. Mesut Ozil perhaps?

Super good.

Chelsea will be there or thereabouts and even though I have them 3rd I could quite easily see them finishing anywhere from 1st through to 4th. I just feel that it may be the last shot at the Champions League for this generation and all eyes will be on that particular trophy.

T.

Season Previews 2010/11 – Aston Villa

11/08/2010

Aston Villa

Last Season: 6th

New Signings: Hmm, none to report as yet.

Key Player: Ashley Young

One To Watch: Marc Albrighton

Needs  A Big Year: The new manager

Would Quite Like: Continued dominance over Birmingham whilst pushing onto the Champions League places.

Prediction: 9th

Thoughts: This was all written up and then Martin O’Neill resigned which changed things somewhat. Much of it still applies though. Aston Villa appear to have reached a bit of a glass ceiling at the moment. Sixth place for three seasons running but unable to make to the breakthrough whilst other teams such as Spurs and Man City overtake them.

Despite them fading every spring I think Villa’s problem is not so much one of squad depth but more of quality. Martin O’Neill tended to play the same starting XI for 95% of the season so to push on they need one or two top quality players who will cost £10m+ and replace someone currently in the side.

It appears that at the moment the money doesn’t exist to do that which would reflect in the attempts to get rid of the likes of Luke Young, Steve Sidwell and Habib Beye. Also, in losing arguably their best players two summers in a row (Barry and now probably Milner) it means they’re always trying to catch up to where they were rather then move forward.

Laters, I'm off.

Assuming Milner does leave I would suggest buying a replacement in midfield (though if they get Ireland in part exchange then it’s a great deal) as well as a striker and left-back. For all of Carew and Agbonlahor’s qualities, neither can be relied on to score 20 goals. With Milner gone, the onus falls on Ashley Young to live up to his undoubted potential.

O’Neill had been experimenting with him in a floating central role in pre-season and perhaps this change in tactic is needed to offer some variety in Villa’s play. I think as usual they’ll be tough to beat and will gain a victory or three over the sides above them but the reality is that they’ll find it difficult to maintain their current level and may find they drop a place or two this season. O’Neill’s motivational skills will be greatly missed.

Villa’s prospects really depend on who comes in to replace O’Neill. Some of the names mentioned so far aren’t very inspiring but I think they’ll go for someone up and coming rather than a big name. I don’t see a new manager getting any greater sum to spend, but I suppose there will be some Milner money to make a few improvements. Either way it’ll now be mid-table.

T.

Season Previews 2010/11 – Tottenham

11/08/2010

Tottenham

Last Season: 4th

New Signings: Sandro

Key Player: Luka Modric

One To Watch: Tom Huddlestone. Hard to miss him really.

Needs A Big Year: Peter Crouch

Would Quite Like: Some glory European nights and finally coming ahead of their bigger, better neighbours from N5. Perhaps a trophy too.

Harry counts the number of signings on one finger.

Prediction: 6th

Thoughts: After many years of trying and many years of spending, Spurs finally reached their holy grail and came 4th last season to have a shot at the Big Cup. Assuming they overcome Young Boys (responsible for one of the best ever headlines), Spurs will suddenly be welcoming the top sides to White Hart Lane every few weeks. I get the feeling may struggle to cope with demands of the Champions League and Premier League football.

Certainly their squad is big but I’m yet to be convinced that there is enough quality in it to do well in both. Surprisingly there’s been just the one signing so far, Sandro coming in to provide a much needed second defensive midfielder. It’s clear Redknapp is after a striker a who can play the lone front man role as none of his current ones can (save perhaps Pavlyuchenko).

The ability to adequately play 451 away from home (and in Europe) may go some way to improving their woeful record of no away wins against the top four in about fifteen years. Creatively they look fine with Modric, Kranjcar, Lennon Bale and Bentley all capable of laying chances on a plate. Defensive cover is probably an issue, certainly at right back at least. Corluka is a bit slow and none of the others are fully established. The last time all four central defenders were fit at the same time was quite a while ago too.

It’s clear Spurs are a good side but perhaps they peaked last season. I just don’t see how they’re going to as motivated this year for an away trip to someone like Blackburn when there’s a home tie against say Inter round the corner. They’ll still be challenging the top four again but I personally think they may find that both Man City and Liverpool come ahead of them this season. 6th spot in the league but the knockout stages of Europe.

T.

Season Predictions 09/10 – How They Turned Out

31/05/2010

Apologies for the lack of posts recently. I’m still in two minds about whether to do season reviews for each club – to be honest I’m in World Cup mode now. Perhaps I’ll still get round to it though.

Back in August I played a mug’s game and tried to predict how everyone would finish. Here’s what actually happened:

'Expert' predictions...

Looking at the results showed I got just three clubs spot on: Man City in 5th and basement dwellers Hull and Pompey taking the bottom two places. In my defence I was only one place out with six other clubs but really this table looks like what it is, rubbish punditry.

I think if Gareth Southgate and Garth Crooks had a bastard lovechild it would look something like this predictions table (enjoy those nightmare thoughts kids).

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In terms of the thinking, I had found it really tricky to split the top three when writing pre-season predictions. My loyalties to Arsenal may have played a part in placing them second while I couldn’t bear to predict Chelsea as Champions even though deep down I knew they had retained the most strength over the summer.

A similar scenario led to placing Spurs 7th – I was hardly going to predict them a Champions League spot was I?! I underestimated Liverpool’s decline and overestimated Sunderland’s improvement.

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The biggest mistake was Birmingham, a full nine places out, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who had them down to struggle. Fair play to Alex McLeish (who I had as first sacking!), he brilliantly led them to a top half finish.

The bottom half was slightly better predicted clubs wise, if not positions wise. The dearth of quality is such that it’s pot luck as to where the likes of Bolton and Wigan finish. I got three of the bottom four right and on another day would have predicted Burnley to come in 18th not 17th.

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In terms of the cups and other stuff it went like this:

And I thought the league prediction was bad...

Oh dear. Only Bayern Munich correct and I suppose West Brom for promotion. If the Premier League table was the Southgate/Crooks lovechild then this is the resulting mess when said lovechild had a threesome with Alan Shearer and Jamie Redknapp. I literally couldn’t do any worse at being a pundit. Like I said at the beginning, it’s time for the World Cup…

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T.

Fantasy Premier League – Gameweek 38 Preview

07/05/2010

So another season reaches its conclusion and for most part the last weekend will be spent gambling on random captains, hoping for entertaining goalfests in meaningless games and hearing jokes about having hung parliaments. There are still a few things to decide, and the destination of the title itself. But given Chelsea are at home to Wigan, I don’t foresee too many surprises.

In my private league, Clint Dempsey and Adam Johnson ensured a slight increase in lead over Sportboy P. It now stands at 27 which should be fine assuming the same captain is gone for this week. We only have six different players of the 16, and they’re mainly on the cheaper side of things so there’s not too much room for differing scores.

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Gameweek 37 Top Gun (aka Tom Cruise Approves):

gomes spurs

Maverick approves of Gomes' recent displays.

bale spurs

Goose approves of ape-man's score. Less so of his big ape-man face.

assou-ekotto spurs

Iceman is too cool for school to mess around with such things like a thumbs up.

begovic stoke

Why the hell am I here?!

This is what happens when I do a silly gimmick to represent the highest weekly scorers and there’s a four way tie. All four of those players got 14 points as they all played twice. Any more and I’d be running out of Top Gun characters to use. I think Kelly McGillis would have been next. I’ll leave you to be frightened by Gareth Bale’s weird face.

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Three Captain Picks:

Not many games matter so it’s a bit pot luck this week but there are three options which are self explanatory.

1. Drogba/Chelsea - Need to beat Wigan at home to ensure the title. Somehow don’t see them slipping up. Drogba’s still chasing the golden boot and it’s rumoured he’ll be on penalty duty this weekend because of it.

2. Van Persie/Arsenal - The Gunners have faded so badly that they still need a point to ensure Spurs don’t come third. Fulham have nothing to play for and will field a reserve team ahead of the Europa League final. Arsenal will want to finish with a win – Van Persie’s the man to get it.

3 Rooney/Man Utd – Need to beat Stoke at home to have an outside chance of the title. Rooney fighting Drogba for the golden boot.

Told you they were obvious.

Wildcard choice - Arteta at home to Pompey or Darren Bent away at Wolves trying to overtake messrs Rooney and Drogba.

Didier Drogba Chelsea

Gets a Captain's tick.

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Transfers In:

It’s probably too little too late but for it’s worth you should be looking at the captain choices if you don’t have them as well as people like Nani, Nasri, Kalou, Malouda and Gerrard.

samir nasri arsenal

Might be worth a pick.

Transfers Out:

People not likely to play this weekend.

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End of season review at some point next week. Friday I’d imagine.

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T.

Fantasy Premier League – Gameweek 37 Preview

30/04/2010

It all went a bit Pete Tong last week as I saw my league lead almost entirely wiped out based on one wrong transfer. I was still debating who to bring in on Saturday morning and was thinking that someone like Gerrard for Ashley Young would be a good move given the formers home game against Burnley. However I started to second guess myself given that a) Liverpool are super inconsistent and b) they were coming off the back of a European tie. It says a lot that I wasn’t 100% confident of them thrashing Burnley!

Anyway, that plan was put aside and I decided to get rid of Drogba as he was listed doubtful for the Stoke game. Rooney at home seemed like a good idea so in he came. Literally five minutes later the news broke that he was out injured. Transfer already made, one injured player in, one doubtful player out. As it turned out Drogba was fit and got nine points against Stoke while Gerrard got 15 against Burnley. 24 points missed out on and my lead is down to a measly 17. The title race between the two Sportboys is back on! Oh dear.

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Gameweek 36 Top Gun (aka Tom Cruise Approves):

salomon kalou chelsea

Maverick's alwasy surprised when someone nearly equals their season score in one week.

Chelsea went goal crazy against Stoke, eventually settling for a 7-0 victory. Chief beneficiary was squad player Kalou who notched a hat-trick of tap ins, as well as an assist and man of the match for a grand total of 24. He had only got 42 points all season prior to that and it’s certainly one of the highest scores this year. Following closely behind was Frank Lampard, who rewarded the many who chose him as captain with an 18 point performance.

Lampard really has been racking up the points and has ten goals and ten bonus in his last nine matches. Barring some heroics from Drogba or Rooney, he ends the season as highest points scorer – not for the first time either. Elsewhere it was a case of the midfielders with Gerrard on 15 and Giggs and Aquilani both on 14.

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Three Captain Picks:

Four teams play twice – Man City, Spurs and Fulham are the three you want to load up on.

1. Tevez/Man City – Two home games and about the only Man City player you can trust. Always performs in big games and Aston Villa and Spurs are big games.

2. Bale/Spurs - With Defoe out of form and none of the midfielders doing particularly well either, the Spurs pick has to be Gareth Bale. After last week’s messy performance at Old Trafford, Redknapp should hopefully switch him back to left-wing.

3. Fulham defenders or Dempsey – Fulham are always solid at home and have conceded just 12 goals at Craven Cottage this season, better than anyone else. West Ham and Stoke should bring at least one clean sheet. Meanwhile with Zamora injured, look to Dempsey to play upfront and hopefully bag a goal or two.

Carlos Tevez Man City

Gets a Captain's tick.

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Suggested Transfers In:

1. Lennon/Spurs – Fit again though I doubt he will play the whole 180 minutes available to him this week.

2. Fulop/Man City – Apparently nine professional goalkeepers isn’t enough so Man City have been allowed to sign Sunderland’s reserve keeper to try and keep Villa and Spurs at bay. He conceded seven on his last appearance…

3. Etherington/Stoke - If you must go for a Stoke player this week make it him.

Aaron Lennon Spurs

Might be worth a pick.

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Three Transfers Out:

1. Bendtner/Arsenal – Suffering now that Van Persie is back.

2. Sorensen/Stoke – Out for the season.

3. Given/Man City – Ditto.

Nicklas Bendtner Arsenal

Are you taking the mick?!

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T.

Weekly Photoshop – Jose Mourinho

23/02/2010

In case you hadn’t realised, this week some guy is facing Chelsea for the first time since being sacked leaving by mutual consent in September 2007. Yes the Special One is back and who else could be the theme for this week’s Guardian Photoshop gallery…

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Jose Mourinho Chelsea Inter Special One

The old media darling back in the country? At the same time as the new media darling?! There's only one way to settle this...

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Lots more here – he certainly is a rich source material.

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T.

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