Extra Time: El Clsico Edition

Extra Time: El Clsico Edition

Often, sports are overrun with hyperbole. How many times can a game, a match or a fight be billed as the game, the match or the fight of the year, the decade or the century? Typically, we fall into the hyperbole trap when two rivals are set to square off. The bitter rivals narrative is easily understandable. Two people or teams compete to see which is best. There's a winner and a loser - only when there isn't and there's a tie, which is wholly unsatisfying. 
I preface this post with a warning on hyperbole and rivalry because what I am about to say is assuredly not hyperbole. This afternoon the two best soccer players on the planet will be on opposing sides as the two best soccer teams in the world face each other. Lionel Messi. Cristiano Ronaldo. Barcelona. Real Madrid. El Clásico.
In order to get you ready for today's Clásico I've rounded up a bunch of links covering everything from the sociopolitical implications that fuel this rivalry to a tactical breakdown of how the teams are likely to play. Vamanos...
First, beyond the rivalry this game is vitally important in the La Liga standings. Barcelona can pull to within one point of first place Madrid with a win. Each team has five league games yet to play.
Here's a nice primer on why these two clubs are such bitter rivals. The history between these two cities/regions makes our hatred of Dallas seem like child's play. There are very real social, political and economic reasons behind this rivalry.
Every great rivalry needs a villain. Enter Madrid's Pepe. Grantland's Chris Ryan writes about a player unafraid to dabble in the dark arts. Bonus, Ryan's piece includes a 4+ minute video of Pepe stepping on people, punching people and fouling people titled "Pepe - The Assassin". 

The tacticians over at Zonal Marking preview the approach, formation, team selection and tactics likely to be employed by Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola. 
Speaking of tactics, this piece dates back to Spain's triumph in the 2010 World Cup, but it's as good a read as you'll find on how Barca's 4-2-3-1 has permeated world futbol
Need a break from clicking on links and reading? Check this stunning animation from Barca's 5-0 thrashing of Madrid back in 2010...

Want even more of an artistic look at one of the main players in this match. The Classical has a fantastic hand-drawn "Focus On: Lionel 'Leo' Messi".
Continuing with a cartoonish theme, Grant Wahl has a fun interview with the colorful Ray Hudson, who along with Phil Schoen will call the game for GolTv today.
ESPN.com's Graham Hunter, who literally wrote a book on Barcelona, previews the match in light of both teams having played Champions League Semifinal fixtures midweek. 
Finally, if this game is not enough for you there's a very real chance these two teams will play each other in the Champions League finals, which Spain's national team manager contemplates here.
Artwork by Matthew Craven via The Classical

NFL Notes: Giants release kicker Josh Brown

NFL Notes: Giants release kicker Josh Brown

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants have released placekicker Josh Brown after police documents revealed Brown had admitted to repeatedly abusing his former wife while they were married.

The release came Tuesday shortly after the player issued a statement insisting that he never hit his wife during a six year period when he admits spousal abuse.

Giants President John Mara says the team was "misguided" in how it handled its relationship with Brown. He says the team hopes Brown will dedicate himself to rehabilitation and becoming a better person and father.

Brown was previously suspended for the opening game of the season for violating the league's personal conduct policy after the NFL investigated his arrest in May 2015 for spousal abuse against his now ex-wife, Molly. Brown was not charged by local authorities in the case in Washington state.

DOLPHINS: RB Foster abruptly retires
MIAMI -- Four-time Pro Bowler Arian Foster says he can no longer take the punishment an NFL running back endures, so he is retiring midway through an injury-plagued season with the Miami Dolphins.

Foster, 30, tried to come back from a torn Achilles tendon, but was slowed this season by groin and hamstring injuries. He announced his retirement Monday on the website Undefeated as the Dolphins began their bye week.

The team confirmed the decision, effective immediately.

"There comes a time in every athlete's career when their ambition and their body are no longer on the same page," Foster wrote. "I've reached that point. It's hard to write those words because this game has been everything to me ... my therapy, my joy, my solace and my enemy."

Foster signed a $1.5 million, one-year contract with the Dolphins in July after spending his first seven NFL seasons with the Houston Texans. He holds the Texans' franchise record with 6,472 yards rushing.

This season he rushed for 55 yards on 22 carries, and he had 5 yards on three carries Sunday against the Buffalo Bills.

"My father always said, `You'll know when it's time to walk away,'" he wrote. "It has never been more clear than right now. I'm walking away with peace. I know it's not commonplace to do it midseason, but my body just can't take the punishment this game asks for any longer."

Foster was one of several Miami players this season to kneel during the pregame national anthem to protest social inequality. His playing time was curtailed with the emergence of Jay Ajayi, who tied an NFL record by surpassing 200 yards rushing in consecutive games (see full story).

JAGUARS: DT Miller out for year with torn Achillies
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars will be without defensive tackle Roy Miller for the rest of the season because of a torn right Achilles tendon.

The Jaguars (2-4) made the announcement Tuesday, two days after Miller left the game against Oakland and did not return.

A disruptive run-stopper whose 10 tackles this season don't show how important he is to Jacksonville's defense, Miller will be placed on injured reserve and undergo surgery later in the week.

Abry Jones is expected to replace Miller in the starting lineup when the Jaguars play at Tennessee (3-4) on Thursday night.

Miller has 244 tackles, eight sacks and a forced fumble in eight seasons. He has missed just six games in his previous seven years. 

Safety Malcolm Jenkins ready to man the slot with Ron Brooks out

Safety Malcolm Jenkins ready to man the slot with Ron Brooks out

With slot cornerback Ron Brooks out for the year, the Eagles have a big hole in their secondary.

And safety Malcolm Jenkins is happy to fill it.

Jenkins, the Eagles’ Pro Bowl safety, said he hopes to replace Brooks as the Eagles’ slot corner. Brooks went on injured reserve Monday after rupturing his quad during the win over the Vikings Sunday.

Jenkins spoke Monday evening on CSN's Quick Slants from his Malcolm Jenkins Foundation fundraiser at Union Trust.

“I played 60 percent of my snaps last year in the slot so it's a position that I'm very, very comfortable with and that I prefer as opposed to playing deep,” Jenkins said. “So I'm comfortable in that role.”

With Brooks out, the Eagles are thin at cornerback, with only Nolan Carroll, Leodis McKelvin and rookies Jalen Mills and recently activated C.J. Smith.

Carroll can play in the slot, but Doug Pederson indicated Monday that he’s leaning toward using Jenkins to cover the opposing slot receiver, like he did Sunday, after Brooks got hurt.

“Yeah, I would think that it would be very similar to what we've seen with Jalen on the outside and then Malcolm coming down inside and playing the nickel spot, and Jaylen Watkins being back there a little bit.

“And with Leo being healthy now, (it) gives you a little more depth. But we've got to continue to look at getting C.J. some more reps probably during the week to have a full complement of secondary help.”

Mills is a rookie seventh-round pick, and Smith is an undrafted rookie who spent the first seven weeks of the season on the practice squad.

McKelvin has missed three games this year but appears healthy now. Mills started Sunday but McKelvin played the bulk of the snaps.

Sunday will present a huge challenge for whoever mans the spot since Cowboys slot receiver Cole Beasley is so dangerous. He’s the Cowboys’ leading receiver with 33 catches for 390 yards and three touchdowns.

Beasley caught nine passes for a career-high 112 yards against the Eagles in the second meeting last year. He’s one of six receivers in the league this year with at least 50 yards in six games.

Jenkins said there are a number of ways the Eagles can defend the slot this weekend in Dallas.

“Now that we’ve got Leodis McKelvin back, it's another option,” he said. “We could put Jalen Mills in there. Just basically depends on matchups and what we want to do.

“I think the coaching staff right now is weighing those options and we'll see [Tuesday] or Wednesday what that package is really gonna look like.”

Brooks played 228 snaps in the Eagles’ first five games, or about 46 per game. That was fourth-most in the secondary before he got hurt.

“It's a tough loss,” Jenkins said. “But we've got so many guys that are interchangeable on our defense that it won't affect anything that we're doing.”