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Commentary: What is behind the EPLs record goals haul this season?

SINGAPORE: On Sep 21, Brazilian forward Gabriel Jesus scored against Wolverhampton Wanderers, a goal..

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SINGAPORE: On Sep 21, Brazilian forward Gabriel Jesus scored against Wolverhampton Wanderers, a goal that not only gave Manchester City a 3-1 win but also made history in the English Premier League (EPL). It was the 44th goal of the round, the highest number ever scored since the number of teams were reduced from 22 to 20 in 1995.

After three rounds of the 2020 to 2021 season so far, there have been 103 goals scored in 28 games – two did not take place in the opening weekend. If it is sustained, that 3.68 goals a game average would be by some distance the highest average in the leagues history, beating the 2.82 set over the 2018 to 2019 season.

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One may think the higher number of goals is the result of the EPL now having more talented attacking players than before.

READ: Commentary: Klopp will lead Liverpool to EPL glory again

It has become common place since the beginning of the EPL for the top teams such as Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspurs to boast of world-class attackers.

But now, most of the other 20 teams have also over the years added to their attacking prowess – like Jamie Vardy at Leicester, Danny Ings at Southampton, Jack Grealish at Aston Villa, Crystal Palace have Wilfred Zaha, Raul Jimenez at Wolverhampton Wanderers as well as Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison at Everton.

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Jamie Vardy (right) scored a hat-trick against Manchester City in a 5-2 win. (Photo: AFP/Catherine Ivill)

The list goes on and probably explains why the smaller clubs in the league have also become more difficult to beat than before.

However, this trend has been observed for a few seasons now already – the players mentioned above have been firing goals for their clubs for a while and are not new additions.

With the COVID-19 pandemic depleting clubs financial reserves, only a handful of teams outside the “favourites” group have added new attacking talent – Colombian playmaker James Rodriguez joining Everton the most notable. So doubtfully the presence of more attacking players could have made the difference in this season being more prolific than previous ones.

READ: Commentary: EPL clubs can't always count on expensive foreign players for success

There is more to it. In a traditionally low-scoring sport such as football, more goals usually means more entertainment, more action and more drama. Despite that, there are a number of concerns being expressed by some prominent voices in England, paradoxically, in terms of “football being ruined”.

|The current debate is focused on the number of penalties being given so far. Last season, there were an average of 0.24 spot-kicks per game. So far this time, it is 0.71, a ratio almost three times higher. In the first 30 games of last season, eight penalties were awarded. In the first 28 games played this time around, 20 were given by referees.

Sign of the times: Everton's winner at Crystal Palace came from a controversial penalty awarded for handball AFP/Bradley Collyer

Six of those have been given for handball. So far this season, there has been a penalty for handball given every 0.21 games. Last season, it was 0.05. Many people in the game are angry about this trend.

HANDBALL

Why is this happening? Starting June, there was a change in how the handball rule would be interpreted this season with any handball that takes place above shoulder height regarded as a penalty, irrespective of intent, position or distance from the ball when it was struck.

Under this interpretation, a player will be always penalised if the arm or hand is away from the body or in the air, or if the player is leaning into the balls path even if he does so unintentionally.

READ: Commentary: Spanish domination of European football is nearing its end

Previously, referees had to use their judgement to determine if a handball foul was intentional or not, and if happened in the penalty box then it if it was a penalty.

The EPL referees have been following the new interpretation strictly. The justification for the change was to bring in more consistency, to make decisions more objective and reduce the pressure on officials who had been trying to understand the intent of players who committed handball and whether they had done so on purpose or accident.

The efforts have not been received well, especially in last weekends matches. Three games were decided by controversial penalties that were given because of handball. The decisions caused Brighton and Hove Albion and Crystal Palace to lose and cost Tottenham Hotspur two points.

Callum Wilson (right) scored Newcastle's controversial late penalty to salvage a 1-1 draw at Tottenham AFP/ANDREW BOYERS

The handball by Tottenham defender Eric Dier against Newcastle United on Sunday was especially interesting as he could not see the ball when it hit his hand. He did however have his hands above his shoulder and wide in the air.

CRITICISM

Leading pundit and former England and Liverpool star Jamie Carragher was scathing about the Dier decision.

“Eric Dier jumps for the ball, has no control of where his arms are going to be, it was a header half a yard away from him, hits him on the back of his arm, he has no idea whats going on. This is a joke.”

Tottenham coach Jose Mourinho was understandably unhappy about his team conceding a goal and losing two points in the last minute of an important game but even opposite number Steve Bruce, whose Newcastle team benefitted from the decision, was critical.

READ: Commentary: Messi and Ronaldo are the best ever. We will not see any more like them

“The handball (rule) has been around for a hundred years,” said Bruce. “If it is deliberate, no problem, but it has to be clear and obvious. We have lost the plot with it and it loses the spectacle of it.”

And then there was former England coach Roy Hodgson, now in charge of Crystal Palace, saying that the handball rule had become unfit for purpose.

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football – Premier League – Crystal Palace v Chelsea – Selhurst Park, London, Britain – July 7, 2020 Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson, as play resumes behind closed doors following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) REUTERS / Peter Cziborra / Pool

Hodgson said that penalties should be given for deliberate handballs and not for accidental infractions. It sounds reasonable but does, however, take referees back to the situation of trying to decide if players intentionally handled the ball.

“I just don't understand how we've allowed it [the handball] to happen,” Hodgson said. “I think the rule is a nonsense. I think it's a noRead More – Source

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Ukraine nursing home fire: Four arrested after Kharkiv blaze leaves 15 dead

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Ukrainian authorities have arrested four people in connection with a deadly fire at a retirement home in Kharkiv.

15 people were killed after a blaze ripped through the nursing home on Thursday afternoon in the eastern Ukrainian city, according to emergency services.

Nine others were rescued, five of whom have been taken to hospital for treatment.

Pictures from the scene showed blackened rooms and barred windows on the upper floor of the two-storey building, which had been converted into a home for the elderly. 50 firefighters attended the incident to extinguish the flames.

In a statement on Facebook, the country’s attorney general, Iryna Venediktova, said four people have been arrested.

The suspects include those who owned and rented the building, as well as the manager of the retirement home. Authorities say they are investigating if the fire was started by arson or the short circuit of an electrical appliance.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky visited the centre in Kharkiv and has announced a national day of mourning for Saturday.

In an earlier tweet, the President called on local authorities to do “everything possible” to help victims and relatives who had lost loved ones.

 

Read from source: https://www.euronews.com/2021/01/21/ukraine-nursing-home-fire-15-dead-and-five-hospitalised-after-blaze-in-kharkiv

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Europe’s space leaders seek to boost sector in light of Brexit, COVID and international competition

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The European Space Conference in Brussels takes place this week, so Euronews spoke to European Space Agency Director General Jan Wörner about the challenges the sector faces in 2021.

Brexit troubles Europe’s space sector

Brexit is a headache for the European space sector, as the UK is a permanent and committed member of ESA, but is now outside the EU. Leaving the EU has made everything more complicated: under the terms of the agreement signed in December 2020 the UK can continue to be part of the Copernicus Earth observation programme at least until 2028, as both the EU and ESA contribute funding to it. However, it loses access to high-quality positioning from the EU’s Galileo satellites, and is now out of EGNOS. The British stop being a full member of the European space debris tracking system, but still have access to it as a non-EU partner.

There are outstanding questions over the role of British companies in building spacecraft for EU-related projects. ESA DG Jan Wörner told Euronews he believes ‘it is possible to have a solution’, given that non-EU countries like Switzerland and Norway are able to take part in the construction of satellites under Brussels contracts. However, the sheer size of the UK space sector is an issue. “Some fear in Brussels that if a big member state is doing something different, then this could be a magnet for other countries to do the same,” admits Wörner.

EU project to beam internet to all

A hot topic around the virtual and real water coolers at the Brussels Space Conference will be the Commission’s new plans to create a network of low-Earth orbiting internet satellites, which should offer broadband, 5G and more to rural communities across the bloc.

The initiative is being spearheaded by Commissioner for Internal Market, Thierry Breton, with a broad consortium of space industry players comprising Airbus, SES, Arianespace, Eutelsat, OHB, Orange, Telespazio and Thales Alenia Space.

The vision is similar to the Starlink and OneWeb systems, both of which have already launched satellites aimed at offering a new kind of holy grail in communications, a low-flying communications network from orbit which allows everyone, at least in theory, to enjoy high-speed connectivity.

The European version would be a public-private partnership, and initial work will begin this year.

Defining ESA-EU relations

The EU’s enthusiasm for space is clear: just before Christmas the European Commission and Parliament approved a 14.8 billion euro budget for EU space activity. The funding for the period 2021 to 2027 includes 9 billion for Galileo and 5.4 billion for Copernicus.

It’s part of a continued and rising commitment to developing Europe’s space sector, but it does beg the question of just how close ESA and the EC would like to become? For Wörner, moving further in the EU’s direction is a ‘political decision’ but not one that necessarily fits with ESA’s principals on return on investment, which see agency member states receiving reciprocal industrial contracts which are very close in size to their level of investment in a given programme. “The link between what ESA is doing and what states want to happen is very close, and a really big advantage,” he says.

The current director of Earth Observation at ESA, Josef Aschbacher, has said that defining the relationship between the two organisations is one of his main objectives when he replaces Wörner in July 2021.

Competition from US and China

A key focus of the Brussels Space Conference is the desire for Europe to develop a vibrant and independent private space sector. So far, major initiatives like Galileo and Copernicus have spawned a large number of small and specialist space startups selling value-added services based on the free data from these two projects. However, the old continent has so far struggled to create the kind of attention-grabbing commercial space firms like SpaceX and Planet Labs that NASA has helped foster in the US.

Then, there’s the speedy growth and unbridled ambition of the Chinese to take into account. When Jan Wörner first came to his job in 2015 he made a media splash with his dreams of creating a ‘village on the Moon’. In late 2020, however, he could only watch in awe as the Chinese sent a robotic mission to fetch samples from the Moon. It’s something only the Soviet Union and the United States have achieved before.

“My first thought was congratulations, of course,” he says, “but I quickly thought ‘ah, they are fast, and we should be faster'”. He told Euronews he hopes the joint ESA-NASA Mars Sample Return mission will be even more inspiring and impressive and give Europe’s exploration programme a much-needed boost in publicity.

There are areas where ESA is a leader, particularly in Earth observation thanks to the Sentinel fleet. Catching space debris and working out how to deflect an asteroid on a collision course with Earth are another two of the growth areas for public and private initiatives in Europe. ESA is also pushing ahead with its Space Rider vehicle, an un-crewed flying machine which resembles a mini-Shuttle, and could offer commercial and institutional clients a relatively low-cost means of reaching orbit, and returning home afterwards.

However, the new Ariane 6 rocket continues to face delays. Much vaunted as a flexible new vehicle to compete in this highly-competitive market, the replacement for the heavy-lift Ariane 5 is now only due to launch in the second quarter of 2022. Arianespace has called on European governments to step up their commitment to launchers to better compete with SpaceX, which has grown rapidly on the basis of lucrative American government launch contracts.

Read from source: https://www.euronews.com/2021/01/11/europe-s-space-leaders-seek-to-boost-sector-in-light-of-brexit-covid-and-international-com

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Queen Elizabeth and Duke of Edinburgh receive Covid-19 vaccine

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Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh have received their Covid-19 vaccinations, a Buckingham Palace spokesperson said Saturday.

The inoculations were administered by a household doctor at Windsor Castle, a royal source said.
To prevent inaccuracies and further speculation, Her Majesty, who 94, decided that she would let it be known that she has had the vaccination, the source added. Her husband is 99 years old.
The couple’s son, Prince Charles, tested positive for coronavirus and went into isolation in March. The 72-year-old later said he was lucky to only experience mild symptoms, adding he’d “got away with it quite lightly.”
Meanwhile, their grandson Prince William, second-in-line to the British throne, also tested positive for coronavirus earlier this year, UK media reported, though exactly when he contracted the virus is unclear.
The UK has recorded more than 3 million cases of Covid-19 and more than 80,000 deaths, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University on Saturday.
The UK reported 1,325 coronavirus-related fatalities on Friday — its highest ever daily increase in deaths.
Health officials face a deadly start to 2021 as a new coronavirus variant, first detected in the UK, sweeps the nation.
In the capital, London’s mayor declared a “major incident” on Friday, warning that hospitals in the city were close to being overrun.
“The situation in London is now critical with the spread of the virus out of control,” Mayor Sadiq Khan said in a statement.
“The number of cases in London has increased rapidly with more than a third more patients being treated in our hospitals now compared to the peak of the pandemic last April.
“We are declaring a major incident because the threat this virus poses to our city is at crisis point,” Khan added. “If we do not take immediate action now, our [National Health Service] could be overwhelmed and more people will die.”

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