By Ayyaz Malik
With games coming thick and fast over the festive period, teams dropping points in this week’s Premier League was going to be inevitable and so it proved. Due to the festive period, there have been two games this week and to be more precise, two games in two days for most clubs.
Messer’s Guardiola, Esposito Santo and Klopp are just some of the high profile managers to have spoken out about the gruelling schedules over the festive period. There has been talk at Premier League boardroom level to introduce the “winter break” sometime in early February maybe, but a definitive action plan and solution to protect players from a potential burnout is still forthcoming.
After this week’s round of games, which sees the Premier League reach it’s halfway point, the top and bottom of the league are starting to take shape. The age-old saying would say it isn’t over until the fat lady sings, but Liverpool, after their thumping 4-0 win over nearest rivals Leicester on Friday, went 13 points clear over The Foxes, with a game in hand at the top of the table.
With such a commanding lead, many feel that the title race is over, but Liverpool have suffered many near misses in the past, so they won’t take anything for granted.
Last year’s champions Manchester City, who are the two-time defending champions are a point behind Brendan Rodgers’ side in third, saw their grip of the title soften with a 3-2 defeat at Wolves.
The Midland side who beat City 2-0 at The Etihad, were facing 10 men after Man City keeper’s Ederson early red card, managed to produce a spirited fightback to take the spoils in this one.
After the game, this lead to Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola declaring that his side are in a straight fight with Leicester, (who 2-1 at West Ham on Saturday), for second place.
That result for The East Midlands side consigned The Hammers to a fourth straight home defeat, which two hours after the game saw the 66-year old Chilean lose his job. At time of writing it’s been confirmed former manager David Moyes is to be the man to take over at The London Stadium, the former Everton manager has signed an 18 month deal.
This appointment is arguably a backwards step with the greatest respect to the former Everton manager. With resurgent Watford winning again, this time 3-0 at home to relegation rivals Aston Villa, to make it two wins out of two.
Bottom club Norwich producing a spirited performance to draw 2-2 with Tottenham, one can see why the West Ham board opted to change the manager. One team that has benefitted from a managerial change has been Everton.
After sacking Marco Silva, club legend Duncan Ferguson was at the helm to oversee a win against Chelsea and a battling 1-1 draw against Manchester United at Old Trafford.
Talking of United and managers being under pressure, it was only at the start of November that Man United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was rumoured to be on the brink of getting sacked and being replaced by former Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino, but just one defeat in nine meant that The Red Devils closed to within four points of Chelsea in fourth.
The night before United did move just one point behind The Blues with an excellent away performance in a 2-0 away win at Burnley, but Chelsea re-established a four-point lead after they came back from a goal down to beat Arsenal 2-1.
That defeat for The Gunners means that the new boss Mikel Arteta is yet to win and since October, only temporary manager Freddie Ljungberg has tasted victory in the Arsenal hot seat. The North Londoners, remain in the bottom half of the table after this latest setback.
in the other games today, Liverpool although maybe not as fluent as they were against Leicester on Friday, again managed to win, this time against Manchester City’s conquerors of Friday, Wolves.
The club world champions won 1-0, thanks to a Sadio Mane goal. Visitors Wolves were victim to a debatable offside decision from VAR, which saw them have a goal disallowed. Vintage it wasn’t, but three points it was for Jurgen Klopp’s men who seem to be marching ever closer to this year’s Premier League title.
In the last game of this week’s action, Manchester City who lost to Wolves on Friday got back to winning ways with a 2-0 win over battling Sheffield United. The Yorkshire side who drew 3-3 with rivals United earlier in the season, were undone by goals from Sergio Aguero and a late Kevin De Bruyne goal, who continued his good goal scoring form in the process.
That win for The Citizens means that they’re still a massive 14 points behind Liverpool, but have played a game more.
England, who lost their series against New Zealand, came into the series against South Africa, looking to atone for a disappointing start to their winter tour, but they got their series off to the worst start after losing to the home side by a whopping 107 runs.
The Three Lions, after a few warm-up games, started the first test against the Proteas on Boxing day, with the belief that they could win this series no doubt.
Captain Faf Du Plessis, who was at the helm when South Africa disappointed in the last world cup, is still in charge but has been charged with overseeing this period of transition alongside new director of cricket Graham Smith, coach Mark Boucher and batting consultant Jacques Kallis.
The Proteas will be hoping that these three legends of the South African game, will help the team at the time where there will be a change of change guard in plenty of positions, including the retirement of Vernon Philander at the end of this series.
That all said South Africa for all the change in personnel on the cricket pitch and off it, were just too good for England as the tourists slipped to trail the four-match series 1-0.
Elsewhere in the world of cricket, Australia who came into their series with arch-rivals New Zealand having thrashed Pakistan ended up doing the same here too. The hosts in the first test were just too good for the Black Caps and won that test by 296 runs inside four days.
The world cup finalists would have looked, coming into this one for better fortunes this time around. From the New Zealand point of view, that sadly didn’t materialise as hosts Australia dismantled their visitors to win by 247 runs this time, a win which was also secured inside four days.
There were some positives, albeit not many for The Black Caps, New Zealand opener Tom Blundell did score a century in the second innings, which means Blundell has scored two hundred’s in just three tests.
With nothing to play for in the next game, New Zealand have a point to build from for future tests in the form of Tom Blundell.
The week ahead
With Premier League fixtures all to be played on New Year’s Day, this weekend in the English domestic football league calendar sees the return of this year’s FA Cup on the big screen.
The third-round matches, where several will be televised, sees a repeat of last year’s quarter-final where Wolves again host Manchester United in arguably a game that is the tie of the round.
United will be hoping to have the influential Paul Pogba back into contention as he is eased back to full fitness after a long injury lay off. Visitors United, who were well beaten here last year 2-0, we see having a similar fate here, purely due to how well Wolves play against the so-called Big Six at home. Our prediction: Wolves 2-1 Man United
Other games include Championship high-flyers Preston take on Premier League strugglers Norwich. Here we feel, there will be a shock on the cards, purely due to Norwich’s poor form this year. Our prediction: Preston 2-1 Norwich.
Before those round of games, (where we here at Asian Sunday will give you the round-up of), sees a full fixture list of Premier League action over the New Year period. There are some eye-catching games, such as Arsenal hosting resurgent Manchester United.
Despite their new managerial appointment, we feel Martial, Rashford and co will just have too much for Arsenal’s defence and will compound new boss Mikel Arteta to more misery. Our prediction Arsenal 0-2 Manchester United.
Another team who has seen a resurgence in the past two games has been Carlo Ancelotti’s Everton. The Toffee’s who under caretaker manager Duncan Ferguson, beat Chelsea and drew against Manchester United in recent weeks. The Merseysiders kept the recent momentum going with festive wins over Burnley and Newcastle respectively.
In the cricket, England who lost the first test against South Africa in Centurion will be hoping to bounce back when the two sides resume their series in the second test Newlands, Cape Town on Friday 3rd January.
Tourists England were dogged by a virus spreading to several team members before the start of the tour, which even lead to some being quarantined. The Three Lions will be hoping for no such issues in Friday’s second test.
England are however sweating over the fitness of Chris Woakes and Jos Buttler, who haven’t fully recovered from their illness.
The other test series also happening in the world of cricket, sees New Zealand hoping for a consolation win against neighbours Australia.
Any easing up from Tim Paine’s men doesn’t seem to be forthcoming, but New Zealand will live and hope. The third and final test between Australia and New Zealand starts on Thursday 2nd January.
That’s it for this week. The Asian Sunday sports desk, hopes you have a wonderful and prosperous New Year.