Winx: Unbelievable, Untouchable and at last, an Undisputed Champion

Arsenal’s Invincibles are, rightly, considered to have achieved a status of immortality having gone the 2003/04 season undefeated. Winx, likewise, rose into another realm of greatness after her 29th successive victory in the Cox Plate, a race she was winning for the fourth straight year. But why has it taken so long for her to be accepted as a sporting goddess?

It is difficult for any horse anywhere in the world to string together a run of successes at the top level. A glance at the form of some of the UK’s greats of recent years highlights that. Cracksman has so often looked imperious and yet even he has been beaten this year, behind Poet’s Word in the Prince of Wales’ Stakes. Enable is, to all intents and purpose, our Winx, an elegant but ruthless champion. Yet she has lost within the space of the last two seasons, far more recently than Australia’s equivalent.

So to end up with an unbeaten run stretching back over three-and-a-half years, encompassing 22 Group Ones, the last ten of which have been won in an unbroken sequence, is a feat unworthy of entertaining discussion. Yet, there has been one and one that continues to be hotly debated.

It is worth putting in context with the aforementioned Arsenal team’s achievements. They went 38 games unbeaten at the top level although their only genuine opposition that season were Manchester United, who they came within a width of a crossbar of losing to. Nevertheless, their feat is incredible and no experts deny this. However, in football, unlike in racing, going undefeated does not insist upon victory. To wit, Arsenal drew twelve of their thirty-eight games. Winx, of course, has relied purely upon passing the post in front. No ties, nothing comparable.

The most important thing about Winx’s run is that she has garnered a following that extends far beyond racing fans and experts. Enable is special but her charms do not yet include those of marketability that Winx possesses. Indeed, not since Frankel and Kauto Star passed into retirement in 2011-12, has there been a horse who has captured a significant part of the public’s imagination.

Whereas celebrations at Longchamp were for a champion, those at Moonee Valley yesterday were for an adopted daughter of the Australian nation. Their prodigy not only put on a show but proved a point to a number of her doubters, including a number of the English media. And if there’s anything Australians love more than anything else, its a sporting victory over the sceptical Poms.

The form, in my opinion, can no longer be crabbed either. True, in terms of ratings, European horses have been stronger than their Australian counterparts for the last few years and they have even started to dominate the Southern Hemisphere’s big prizes. But in beating Benbatl, a horse known to be a good traveller, with Group One victories in Germany, Dubai and in Caulfield’s Ladbrokes Stakes, she has defeated one of the UK’s globetrotting superstars.

Realistically, exporting Enable or Cracksman was never on the cards. That should not detract from the performances of the Gosden duo, nor the near excessive streak of Winx. They live at opposing poles and the excuse of travel would be all too easy a backboard for the trainer of whomever lost the battle.

I think Winx would win. In a match over 1m2f, I have seen nothing that would dissuade me from that opinion. It needn’t matter though. She is a great and whatever occurs from this day forward, she has nothing left to prove.

British Champions Day

John Gosden runs no fewer than four hotly fancied favourites on the final showpiece of the flat racing year. I preview all six races on the card with Gosden only responsible for two winners:

Long Distance Cup:

STRADIVARIUS has been close to unstoppable all season in trips beyond two miles. Crucially, however, he has a spot of class to go with his stamina and his mark of 120 does not do his ability justice. Flag Of Honour is rightfully considered a danger as he has improved markedly for stepping up in distance but the selection is a different animal to any he’s faced so far. Thomas Hobson’s victory in the Doncaster Cup should see him run on for minor honours.

  1. Stradivarius
  2. Flag Of Honour
  3. Thomas Hobson

Champions Sprint:

Victory in this last year ensures respect must be given to Librisa Breeze with the ground as soft as he’s received all season. Nevertehless, his form this season makes him too much of a gamble and based on his Sprint Cup success the sensible option is THE TIN MAN. He won this in 2016 and also put up a good account last year. Even if the ground were to remain soft, he won in good style on heavy at Haydock latest and he ticks more boxes than the rest. Harry Angel is probably the most talented but is 0/5 at Ascot and recent form is a big negative but Brando has regularly shown up well in Group One company for two seasons now and shouldn’t be far away. It is also worth keeping an eye on Limato who almost always avoids soft ground but remains in the race currently. If he goes at all well, a place is a possibility.

  1. The Tin Man
  2. Brando
  3. Librisa Breeze

Fillies and Mares:

Lah Ti Dar’s previous two starts have been incredibly impressive. Second in the St Leger when under pressure early, she battled on boldly to be beaten only by a good horse in Kew Gardens and she’d won by ten lengths in Listed company prior to that. However, the forgotten piece of form might be CORONET’s second to Sea Of Class in the Yorkshire Oaks. She was making strong late headway on William Haggas’ filly after a modestly run contest which, had the pace been stronger, might have allowed her to get nearer to the winner. Sea Of Class’ subsequent effort in the Arc shows that to be top form. Magical was tenth in the Arc but given that was her first try at 1m4f in such stellar company, she could go a lot better here.

  1. Coronet
  2. Lah Ti Dar
  3. Magical

Queen Elizabeth II:

After three successive Group One triumphs over 1m2f the only reason I can think of that Roaring Lion has been dropped in trip is because stablemate Cracksman must run in the Champion Stakes. The Gosden grey has been this season’s most impressive improver and a strongly run mile could suit but the ground and trip remain a worry. It may pay to side instead with ADDEYBB. He was only eighth on ground much too quick in the Lockinge but had romped home in the Lincoln and a Group Two at Ascot on his favoured soft ground before that. his Lincoln success came after a layoff so the gap between today and his last run in May should prove no issue. Lord Glitters is another to consider as he’s also sound enough on soft and has been knocking on the door all season while both Laurens and Century Dream look good each-way prospects.

  1. Addeybb
  2. Lord Glitters
  3. Roaring Lion

Champion Stakes:

Cracksman deserves to go out with a bang as he’s been a fine horse but though he won this with the freedom of Berkshire last year, he’s unlikely to dominate as he did that day. Similarly, on the form of his previous two starts, his status at odds-on must be questioned and one of CRYSTAL OCEAN and Capri can capitalise with a slight preference for the former. He was giving Enable eight pounds when brushed aside at Kempton but that’s never going to equate to bad form and his second to Poet’s Word at King George was one of the standout races of the season. He won’t by ideally suited by the drop back to 1m2f but the ground will help make this more of a staying challenge than it appears. Capri must also be considered as his Arc fifth is another quality piece of form and he has similar credentials to the selection. However, his Longchamp exploits came less than two weeks ago and that may tell. The rest should be watching on.

  1. Crystal Ocean
  2. Capri
  3. Cracksman

Balmoral Handicap:

It is fitting that the day ends with a competitive betting heat and this is where my second Gosden horse comes home in the shape of ARGENTELLO. His latest win came only four days ago but he was authoritative without seemingly having to engage top gear and a 6lb penalty can be dealt with as he looks a horse to improve sufficiently. Via Via was third in the Cambridgeshire, an excellent performance, and can go close again. Kynren and Sharja Bridge have promised a big run all season and Raising Sand has an excellent record at Ascot so many have solid claims.

  1. Argentello
  2. Via Via
  3. Kynren

National Hunt 2018/19: An ante-post look at the Cheltenham Festival

Until the introduction of Champions’ Day, the Cesarewitch was the conventional season-ender of the Summer’s flat racing festivities. For me therefore, it is a perfect opportunity to look ahead to the jumps. Predictions this fsr in the future are wrought with danger and so here I pick three horses for each of the Cheltenham Festival’s four championship races: the likely winner (injuries aside), the intriguing challenger and the dark horse.

Champion Hurdle:

Winner: Buveur D’Air

The only reason I can think of for his narrow margin of defeating Melon this year was that he’d not been forced to engage top gear prior to Prestbury Park. Having defended his title, however, and with novice chasing plans shelved until his crown comes under serious threat, Buveur D’Air is still the horse to beat. He is blessed with a turn of foot but I don’t remember seeing a slicker hurdler of timber. He gains lengths at each obstacle and if Nicky Henderson were to find some more demanding targets, if that is possible, of course, the seven-year-old looks set to dominate the market for Tuesday’s spectacle yet again.

Challenger: Samcro

Now.

We do not know yet whether Jesus on hooves is being aimed at a novice chasing campaign or a tilt at the Champion Hurdle. Michael O’Leary and Gordon Elliott are keeping their cards firmly pressed against their chests but I would suggest it is more than likely that Samcro will be given at least another season over hurdles. The Gold Cup is the long term aim but I was very taken by his Neptune win in March given he lost a shoe and didn’t really stay. He has so much raw ability and looked in control in the Champion Hurdle at Punchestown until coming down late in the day. His reputation still proceeds him in spite of some already commendable achievements but he looks a superstar and can serve it up to the favourite, if he isn’t that himself, in this discipline.

Dark Horse: We Have A Dream

Five-year-olds don’t have a great record in the Champion Hurdle (Katchit was the last winner of that age in 2008). However, this Henderson juvenile was outstanding all season. Like Buveur D’Air, he hurdles so sharply and his opening two victories at Doncaster displayed immense promise. He followed that with two victories in unfavourable soft ground before hacking up in a Grade One at Aintree in April. He missed the Triumph Hurdle, which I’m sure he’d have won, and though caution must be taken after Defi Du Seuil’s disappointments of last season, We Have A Dream is a horse to follow in the coming months. A decent preparation could set him up for a big run next Spring.

Champion Chase:

Winner: Altior

It is impossible not to tip Altior for the Champion Chase. He is unbeaten over obstacles, never seriously being threatened in the process and is simply quicker than any other horse currently in training. His jumping is sound at worst, electric at best and though this division is comfortably the strongest, he would still take all the beating. He was unable to run until February last season and was still firmly on top come the festival and so who knows what a peak fitness Altior with a full season’s racing may do.

Challenger: Douvan

Two years ago, Douvan had the equine world at his mercy, seemingly unstoppable. Since then, he has broken down when 1/4 for the Queen Mother in 2017, fallen when leading in the same contest earlier this year and been run ragged by stablemate Un De Sceaux at Punchestown. Rich Ricci and Willie Mullins are still confident that Douvan’s full potential has not been realised and based on the pre-Altior days, he could still be a phenomenal champion. It may even help that he now has something to prove and he will be the stable’s no.1 when the time comes for battle. Altior vs Douvan is still the most mouthwatering clash imaginable and I pray both make it to Cheltenham in top condition.

Dark horse: Great Field

Like Altior, Great Field is unbeaten over fences though he is yet to set foot outside of Ireland. Indeed, he has only ever raced five times over the larger obstacles although he has improved with every start, culminating in an astonishing success over Doctor Phoenix in which he was over twenty lengths clear on the bridle racing into the straight. The winning margin was a length and a half after he was all but eased down before the final fence so his potential remains completely untapped. Injury hindered his previous campaign but there is no doubt that if he avoids harm at home, Great Field will be aimed at the highest level.

Stayers Hurdle:

Winner: Faugheen

I, along with many others, was calling for the Machine’s retirement after he finished down the field in the Champion Hurdle. Yet back he bounced, storming away with the Punchestown Stayers, retaining all the old force and style. It is easy to forget that Faugheen won the Neptune at the Festival as a novice and so the stamina was always there. Now he is ten, it is only being fully realised. The age is both a positive and a negative for he must remain enthusiastic to be competitive at the top but he was so far clear at Punchestown that the title is there for the taking, especially without a superstar in this field.

Challenger: Identity Thief

It appeared that Henry De Bromhead’s charge had lost interest in the sport after failing to shine over fences. Three below par runs preceded an encouraging runner-up spot in a Group Three prior to Cheltenham. Neverthless, nobody expected him to finish fourth in a Champion hurdle, nor follow that up with a flying success in the Liverpool Stayers from Wholestone. The extra distance brought out the old Identity Thief and then some and he can be forgiven his performance behind Faugheen at Punchestown given it came just twelve days after Aintree. He is now a dual Grade One winner and a campaign in the stayers division may continue to bring the best out of him. Long may it continue and I hope he serves it up to Faugheen in March.

Dark Horse: The World’s End

In 2017, The World’s End cruised into contention, looking all over the winner, in the Albert Bartlett novices, eventually won by this year’s Stayers Hurdle winner Penhill. He came down three out before gaining some compensation at Aintree. Thereafter, in his first full season in open company, he proved disappointing for Tom George, failing to place in five attempts and finishing only seventh behind Penhill in the aforementioned Stayers. However, he raced on ground unfavourably softer than good on each occasion last season and if a bit of luck arrived regards the ground, we may see a much improved specimen. There is no doubt the ability is there and prizes could soon follow.

Gold Cup:

Winner: Might Bite

Presenting Percy looks a real danger after his stellar novice performances last term but Might Bite continues to ooze more class than his current counterparts. His second to Native River was arguably his most impressive run last season as the ground was too soft for him to swagger up the hill. He still won the King George despite the cut though and was still able to waltz away with the Aintree Bowl despite it coming just four weeks after Cheltenham. If the rain stays away, he will be the marker by which the best are measured. I suspect few have the ability to surpass him.

Challenger: Sizing John

I’m not deliberately avoiding Presenting Percy but he’s too obvious a challenger and the forgotten horse, without being a “dark horse,” is the 2017 Gold Cup hero. He was not himself when walking home a distance behind Road To Respect in the Christmas Chase last season and with injury ruling him out of the remainder, Sizing John has both a crown to reclaim and fitness to regain. He’d previously proved the toughest nut to crack, having been unbeaten over further than 2m4f before his Christmas aberration and 14/1 may look great value if he returns to peak form.

Dark Horse: Terrefort

Another Henderson inmate but this French import is the reverse of Might Bite in terms of ground insofar as he much prefers the heavens to open. He’d previously appeared an unlikely stayer when second to Shattered Love in the JLT at this year’s Festival but he subsequently won impressively at Aintree when defeating the admirable Ms Parfois. He stayed every yard that day and so the extra furlong plus the daunting hill of the Gold Cup would now seem less of an issue for the grey. Terrefort has disappeared even from below the radar of many with other novices stealing more spotlight but ignoring him is a risky business.

There we have it. I’m hugely excited for the days ahead, when National Hunt replaces the flat on our TV screens. Bring on Cheltenham and may all my predictions prove worthless as long as the races are as thrilling as ever.

Here’s a thought: Arsenal – Premier League Champions 2018/19

Bear with me.

Liverpool and Manchester City may appear streets ahead of everyone else in the Premier League but in their 0-0 draw at Anfield yesterday there was a lack of cutting edge and verve. They cancelled each other out, Liverpool with a much sterner defensive line than last season and City with mistakes having been learned from the defeats suffered at the hands of the Reds in the first half of this year.

The same could not be said of Arsenal and maybe, whisper it quietly, they may have found a system to genuinely compete not just for the top four but the title itself.

It is early days and two months ago they’d suffered back-to-back defeats to start the season, against City first and Chelsea second. In both they were second best but at that time, Unai Emery was still finding his feet and the team sheets were experimental. Not so now.

Against Fulham and particularly after Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was introduced for Danny Welbeck and Aaron Ramsey for Alex Iwobi, they were irresistible, scoring the team goal of the season so far, finisded off by Ramsey. Two more followed for Aubameyang as they drubbed the Cottagers 5-1.

Fulham have the worst defensive record in the league to date and getting too carried away would be fruitless. They’ve won nine on the bounce, a fine run, but their toughest assignment in that period was a home game against Watford, who have since slipped to mid-table.

There is no reason that run may not continue until November. League games against Leicester and Crystal Palace precede a home tie with Liverpool, by which time they may be the ones with greater momentum.

The biggest worry remains their defence. Mustafi and Holding will not be a championship-winning pairing but get a marquee signing in January as a statement of intent, and keep Lacazette and Aubameyang firing, and there could be something formidable rising from the North Londoners’ ashes.

Outside of teams in the top six of the Premier League and Arsenal have win every game this season. That will be Unai Emery’s acid test, points against the big sides. It is where Arsenal, in the second half of Arsene Wenger’s tenure, so often came up short.

Unlike at Tottenham and even Manchester United to an extent, trophies will not be the measure of Emery. Arsenal have won a few of those in recent years but have not sustained an assault on the summit for thirty-eight games since the Invincibles stunned the world in 2004. That’s fourteen years, fifteen if they have four points to make up come the second week in May.

Based on this weekend’s performances, there is actually a chance it may happen. City cannot possibly be as good as last year and Liverpool are not as ruthless up front, if better defensively.

Based on recent history, the Gunners will lose at home to Leicester next time out. Yet, it cannot be denied that Arsenal were more impressive than any Premier League side yesterday. Maybe now is the time. Far stranger things have happened.

 

The Prix de L’Arc Preview

Europe’s crowning contest returns to Longchamp for the first time since 2015 as the continent’s champion middle distance runners go head-to-head. For the second year in succession there is no Derby winner and yet the sparkle remains with John Gosden’s Enable out to prove she’s the best once again. Here are the proposed runners:

  1. Defoe: Early season promise has failed to continue and he has come up short in all three previous Group Ones including when a supposed warm order the last twice. His second to Best Solution is not bad form and this is an open each-way betting contest but this is the strongest field he’s ever face by some margin and he looks up against it especially from stall 18. 2/5
  2. Salouen: Even though everything went right at Epsom, his second to Cracksman in the Coronation Cup is still good form and he’s made the frame in all bar one of his five starts this season. He hasn’t won for nearly two years but he enjoys the big occasion and with a favourable enough draw, its not beyond reason to suggest he could place again. Lively each-way at 66. 3/5
  3. Capri: Last year’s Irish Derby and St Leger form has worked out wonderfully and he was likely turned out again too quickly when second last in this twelve months ago. he’ll be fitter than his latest start but even an improvement back to his best leaves him something to overturn with Waldgeist. Jockey bookings have him as Ballydoyle’s number two and there’s no doubts about his staying power. Still unlikely to be good enough.
  4. Way To Paris: Gerald Mosse is an inspired booking after a great season and though Antonio Maricalis’ horse has been within three lengths of Waldgeist every time they’ve met this season, there has been little to suggest he can overturn that form regardless of conditions. Not unworthy of lining up but unlikely to break the top half. 2/5
  5. Waldgeist: Fulfilled previous promise this season with four straight wins. Hadn’t beaten a lot before victory in the Prix Foy last time out in which he beat a number of rivals today going away but the draw hasn’t been overly kind. He is on a roll but stamina will be truly tested in what will surely be a strongly run contest. Others preferred at better prices. 3/5
  6. Cloth Of Stars: Not at his best this season and would like soft to appear in the ground description at least partially. That said he’s been on the periphery of a big run and is highly consistent. The Fabre team may well have been preparing him for this race after his excellent second in this last season and his stamina will probably be seen to full effect. Would be no surprise whatsoever to see him bounce back to his best and outrun his odds here. 4/5
  7. Talismanic: Another Fabre/Godolphin inmate with a performance in him. Won the Breeders Cup Turf last season and has two wins this season but there is a chance that America is the aim once again. His preparation for this won’t have been taken lightly but form with Waldgeist looks less likely to be overturned than by stablemate Cloth Of Stars. Not discounted but no surprise if this wasn’t taken overly seriously. 3/5
  8. Tiberian: Beat Talismanic twice last season and William Buick riding is a plus but little else to get excited about. Has never shown in Group One company and his form this season is a long way below what’s required. 1/5
  9. Clincher: Japan will send a conqueror to win this race one day but Yutaka Take’s mount will not be the one. Entitled to improve for his first run in Europe when last of six in the Prix Foy but he’d have to have sprouted wings in the meantime to land this. Plum draw enables him some respect but may need the others to fall. 1/5
  10. Enable: Looking to become the second filly this decade to go back-to-back in this race and only the eighth to ever win it twice. Prep run was outstanding after so long off and though this will be her first experience of turf in over a year and her Longchamp debut to boot, she still looks to be a class apart. Kinder draw than her three nearest challengers in the market and difficult to see her being beaten. 5/5
  11. Neufbosc: Disappointed in the Prix Niel last time which is why he can be found at 50/1. Not beaten far by Kew Gardens in the Grand Prix de Paris but that form is dubious for a Group One and Aidan O’Brien’s inmate looks to have improved beyond that. Could give a good account but one of the least likely winners. 2/5
  12. Patascoy: Understandably a popular each-way call, his second to Study Of Man in the French Derby, form which could well be overturned due to the draw, alongside lines in his pedigree, suggests that this trip should be little to worry about. Only beaten by a rejuvenated Knight To Behold on his most recent run, he looks a reasonable enough price to be chanced especially with Olivier Peslier onboard. May want it a touch softer but in the mix. 3/5
  13. Kew Gardens: Capri combed in this when coming off the back of St Leger success last season but Kew gardens has had an extra week’s recuperation and was arguably rewarded with a kinder race than expected when victorious at Doncaster. Already a Group One winner over this trip in France, he may prove the biggest danger as though the draw has done him few favours, he’ll be dropped out the back. Has a stablemate to ensure a strong pace and ground conditions ideal. Highly respected. 4/5
  14. Study Of Man: May as well start from the Louvre such is the horror of drawing stall 19 of 19 in the Arc and though he is a French Derby hero, his two runs since have dulled the previous sparkle. The trip is questionable for Pascal Bary’s colt too and very difficult to see him involved barring a huge career best. 2/5
  15. Louis D’Or: Monstrous run when third in the French Derby but that’s as good as it gets. Never won on turf, one win in thirteen starts. Surprise if he’s not in the bottom three. 1/5
  16. Hunting Horn: Taking his best form into account, he seems the most likely to cause the upset. Ran away with the Hampton Court at Royal Ascot and nosed off by Brundtland in the Prix Niel, in which Neufbosc was behind. He battled tenaciously that day so doubts about the trip should be eased and he’s not disgraced himself in any of his globetrotting appearances. Still has a fair bit to find but if his name is in the mix under two furlongs out, it would be no surprise. 3/5
  17. Nelson: If he weren’t a pacemaker, he may well prove classy enough to place mid-division. Seventh despite front-running duties and late trouble in the St Leger but almost certainly here to set it up for Kew Gardens. 1/5
  18. Magical: By Galileo, so a chance this trip could yet suit but this couldn’t be any tougher for her first venture beyond 1m1f. Has had the class to be involved over a mile on most of her starts this season even though she strikes me as a mile-and-a-quarter filly so she could be a surprise package but it would require trust beyond which I’m willing to grant her. 2/5
  19. Sea Of Class: Proved she was out of the top drawer when storming clear in the Yorkshire Oaks, won last year by Enable before heading to Longchamp, but this is a further step up. The draw has been unkind and her first experience of a big field still gives her a lot to prove. Her famous sire won this nine years ago and it is in her blood but she may be better placed tin twelve months time. 3/5

Its not a betting race if you’re looking for a winner as ENABLE is not value at odds-on. Nevertheless, she’s still the winner in my eyes. Cloth Of Stars and Kew Gardens look like the most dangerous opposition while at big prices, Patascoy and Hunting Horn could also go very well.

  1. Enable
  2. Cloth Of Stars
  3. Kew Gardens

Superheroes vs Superegos: The tale of the 2018 Ryder Cup

On paper, Le Golf National was to be a grand triumph for the invading Americans, suavely showing up in their Aviator shades and smooth navy blazers. They played host to a Tiger Woods back to his peak, Brooks Koepka, a dual major winner, the world number one Dustin Johnson and reigning Masters champion and Captain America Patrick Reed. Throw in Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau, Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth from elsewhere in the OWGR top 10 and this was a side brimming with not just talent but swagger as well.

Yet the Europeans did not just beat them but banished them from Paris with tails firmly between legs, exposing the previously invisible cracks in their glistening armour. Since their defeat, Reed has criticised his teammates and captain Jim Furyk, Woods has admitted to not showing up (not for the first time at a Ryder Cup) and an inquest be demanded by a fiercely expectant American media.

So where do the problems lie exactly? It cannot be the ability of the personnel but attitude certainly seemed to be an issue. Was it Jim Furyk’s captaincy? Or were Europe just too darn good?

The latter should be addressed first. Thomas Bjorn got things spot on from the afternoon session of day one. All twelve members of his playing staff got an opportunity and he was rewarded with an exceptional display in the foursomes. Pairing Francesco Molinari, a player with a sketchy record in past Ryder Cups, and Tommy Fleetwood, a rookie having his first taste of the team event, was bold but paid off with aplomb. They won all four matches together, sparking a love-in for the duo on social media. In turn, Molinari won his singles match to be the first European ever to win all five matches. He hadn’t won any of his first six.

Bjorn’s captain’s picks worked wonders too. Sergio Garcia has had a wretched season but became Europe’s all-time leading points scorer with victory over Fowler in the singles. Henrik Stenson won all three of the matches he played, Paul Casey managed a highly impressive half with player of the year Koepka on the Sunday and Ian Poulter lived up to his perennial role of postman by defeating the best player in the world in Johnson.

Compare that to the American picks. Only Tony Finau managed any points at all. He was brilliant throughout and annihilated the undefeated Fleetwood in the singles. Woods, Phil Mickelson and DeChambeau, however, did not bring home a single point between them. Every member of the European team, meanwhile, secured at least a point.

This is not necessarily Jim Furyk’s fault. There’d have been outrage if he’d ignored a seemingly rejuvenated Tiger and DeChambeau cemented a deserved place after back-to-back victories in the FedEx Cup playoffs. Mickelson was a risk at 47 years of age, having slipped well below his usual standards recently but with ten editions of the Ryder Cup under his belt, it would have been equally as bold to have left him at home.

There are only two errors that I can pin to Furyk. The first came when he switched up the groups on the Friday afternoon having been close to a whitewash in the morning. Instead of keeping the victorious Koepka and Finau he brought in the truly disastrous combo of Mickelson and DeChambeau who went seven down by the turn in their game. Similarly, it is apparent with hindsight that dropping Woods and Reed, who had done battle with the dream team of Molinari and Fleetwood and lost narrowly, may have dented the confidence of both. Webb Simpson and Bubba Watson failed to fire when called upon as replacements.

I would say that Furyk got it spot on in the singles. For most of the final day the US were projected to lose by a much smaller margin than the 17 1/2- 10 1/2 they succumbed to. Thomas, Finau and Simpson beat arguably Europe’s strongest trio in Rory Mcilroy, Fleetwood and Justin Rose. As soon as it became apparent that Europe were doing enough in the later matches, however, the US completely lost their way.

Unusually for such a patriotic nation, they appeared to lose their pride. Instead of forging on tenaciously in defeat, the likes of DeChambeau, Fowler and Watson let their standards slip far below the usual. DeChambeau was in control of his match against Alex Noren for the majority of the afternoon yet fell to defeat on the final hole. Fowler could easily have prevented defeat against an ailing Garcia but went in the water at both the 15th and 16th holes.

That is the second issue with Furyk’s leadership. He didn’t unite the egos. The likes of Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth and Fowler are exempted from this as they are reliable types and unlikely to have fallen out with members of their own team. However, Reed and DeChambeau are fiery and Woods may have reached the summit again at the wrong time.

While Ian Poulter, Rory Mcilroy and Paul Casey are outspoken in their own time, they never fail to unite when Europe calls them. On the contrary, other than Thomas and Finau, no American can go back with his head held high.

The entire European team became superheroes in the eyes of those who had the privilege to spectate. The same cannot be said of the US.

Their group of superegos was miles ahead on paper but as far behind in reality.

Sarriball, Montpellier and Chelsea’s rule of two: The enigma of Stamford Bridge

I had the misfortune of watching West Ham and Chelsea draw in the least memorable stalemate so far this season. It was, however, thought provoking and led me to question Chelsea as a concept as much as a club.

Why is it, that they cannot settle on a long-term manager despite sustained success? How can they go from runaway champions one season to missing out on the Champions League the year after? Perhaps, more pressingly, how do they expect to win a league title with Olivier Giroud leading the line?

Alvaro Morata has not fired on all cylinders since his arrival from Juventus and Giroud does have a moment of brilliance in him every twenty games or so. However, barring Montpellier’s astonishing title victory in France in 2012, a club side featuring the big Frenchman has not mounted a damaging assault on the top.

His way of playing as a centre-forward is not conducive to thirty-eight game football. It can work wonders in the odd game and he links up play significantly better than many players of his type. It even suits Chelsea’s new obsession with Sarriball and passmaster Jorginho. Yet, ultimately, he relies on consistent service, an old fashioned striking bully who silently demands more goals than his teammates.

France managed to avoid this problem by fielding so many alternatives that they virtually bypassed Giroud entirely. I must make it clear that I do not dislike Giroud this fervently as a footballer. It does strike me though, that Chelsea have enough options either side to replicate France if they were bold enough.

Against West Ham, Chelsea played so centrally, trying to intricately work their way through the lines before inevitably losing out to a bruising Hammers tackle on the edge of the box. Only in the last ten minutes did Willian receive some amount of freedom to express down the wings and this was when Chelsea were at their most effective all game. In the first half, when Giroud was on, any time the ball went wide it either went immediately back whence it came or aimlessly into the middle hoping that Giroud would outmuscle his man without support.

He succeeded on some occasions but not regularly enough nor effectively enough and West Ham quickly came up with a plan to shield goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski without too much alteration to their strategy . This, in turn, highlights a problem with the fabled “Sarriball.”

It is almost too similar to tiki-taka to be distinguished. There is a midfield fulcrum, Jorginho, who is allowed as many touches as the opposition combined and can play a ten yard pass with his eyes closed. There are wingers who can carry the ball at will and full-backs and other assorted playmakers who can be called upon when required. Even N’Golo Kante now darts into the box without restraint.

It sounds a lot like Manchester City, right? The difference? Every City player looks like they want to score, all the time. Chelsea’s XI still seem a little tentative or would prefer to simply create than to poach. They don’t possess the intensity of thirst that the likes of Sterling, Sane and the Silvas perform upon. Theirs is quenched merely by helping and playing a part. There is no I in team but every team relies on selfish individuals now and again.

Against West Ham, Chelsea toiled tirelessly but lacked the willingness to sacrifice positional organisation for greater chances to score. Indeed, Sunday’s game at the Olympic Stadium was not the only one in which Chelsea failed to switch through the gears. It took them until the final twenty minutes to break down Bournemouth and they were 1-0 down at home to Cardiff with just ten minutes left of the first period.

Their lack of raw, uninhibited ruthlessness is likely why Chelsea have become the top 6’s yoyo club. One season, they’re brilliant, a new manager able to unleash the best out of his players once the confidence starts to roll. As soon as the honeymoon period finishes, however, it seems the playing staff lose the will to extend the success, content in the knowledge that a league title delivered is job done. That false sense of accomplishment led to Chelsea finishing a combined 14 places off the top in the two seasons following their Premier League titles.

Like Mourinho and Conte before him, Sarri has taken the reins, admittedly with fewer days in which to get things organised, and got Chelsea’s mojo back. But it isn’t as simple as replenishing the evaporated swagger of old. Sarriball, while flowery and easy on the eye, is not a system of itself, certainly not something to be relied on to deliver a consistent stream of trophies. He needs to create another Stamford Bridge identity, like Mourinho’s punishing counter attacks or Conte’s three-at-the-back.

The Blues’ blues have been replaced by a spot of Sarri sunshine for now though caution is best heeded. Even if Chelsea go on to win their third consecutive alternate-year, odd-numbered title, that would be just the beginning for the chainsmoking Italian and his staff. To quote Alex Turner, “Don’t believe the hype.”

Believe in success, sustainability and Sarri.