By Ayyaz Malik

Football

In what was their last match before they head to Qatar for the Club World Cup, Liverpool strengthened their grip at the top of the table, with a hard-fought 2-0 win over bottom side Watford.

The Hornets, who have gone through two managers already this season, appointed former Leicester City manager Nigel Pearson until at least the end of the season. The former Foxes manager, couldn’t have been given a tougher start to life as boss of last season’s FA Cup finalists.

Many, due to their struggles were expecting a rout of the Premier League’s bottom side, but to their credit, Watford showed some battling qualities. Ultimately the goalscoring of Mohammed Salah were too much for the visitors to handle and ended up going down 2-0.

With Liverpool winning in the early kick-off, that meant that nearest rivals Leicester City had to win against visitors Norwich, who are second-bottom before this round of fixtures. As for hosts Leicester, they knew that only a win would suffice due to league leaders Liverpool winning earlier in the day.

From the perspective of the home side Leicester, sadly they weren’t able to win to keep the pressure on Liverpool, they crucially ended up drawing the game. The 1-1 draw puts a dent in The Foxes’ quest to repeat the shock Premier League glory of 2016.

The shock result at The King Power Stadium allowed two-time defending champions Manchester City to capitalise on this slip-up as they quite simply out-classed Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium 3-0.

Two stunning goals from Kevin DeBruyne and yet another Raheem Sterling goal means that Arsenal haven’t won eight of their last nine games, worrying times indeed for Freddie Ljungberg’s men.

It could have been more for visitors City who looked in the mood, after a recent set-back against neighbours United. A Bernd Leno stop, a quite sensational finger-tip save on to the post, only further proved how far behind The Gunners are from the Premier League’s elite.

A good end to the week for City, who also won comprehensively in the Champions League in midweek, but they’re still four points behind second-placed Leicester City. Other matches in the Premier League saw Manchester United draw 1-1 with Everton and Wolves beaten by Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham 2-1.

Sheffield United’s 2-0 win over Aston Villa did take them fifth, but they’ve dropped down two places to seventh after Spurs’ hard-fought win over Wolves.

In the matches played during the week, Liverpool, Chelsea (all be it in nerve-wracking fashion), Tottenham and Manchester City all qualified for the knock out stages of the meaning the four English side qualified for the Champions League round of 16 for the second season in a row.

It was also good news in the Europa League with Manchester United, Arsenal, Rangers and Celtic all safely through to the round of 32 stages.

Cricket

We start off the pitch here, with a massive congratulations going to Durham and England all-rounder Ben Stokes being named BBC Sports Personality of the year 2019. The Rajasthan Royals player played starring roles in helping his side win the World Cup in a man of the match performance in the final.

The 28-year old Stokes also almost single-handedly helping his side win a test match by scoring a breathtaking 135 not-out, it was a game that England looked almost certain to lose, which made his innings all the more remarkable.

F1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton finished second after the Brit won his sixth world title and sprinter Dina Asher-Smith who won the world 200m title, was third.

Back to matters on the cricket pitch and for Pakistan’s cricketers who were in celebratory before their test match with Sri Lanka started, were disappointed due to the rain of Rawalpindi washing out a lot of overs of cricket.

Not to dampen their spirits (excuse the pun), there was time for Babar Azam and Abid Ali to score centuries on home soil. Ali’s century, saw the 32-year old join an exclusive club of one (himself) in being the only man to score a hundred on their test and ODI debuts.

Sri Lanka’s Dhananjaya de Silva too was able to score a hundred of his own, but the weather would have the final say when the captains shook hands with hosts Pakistan on 252-2.

The series between the two sides is part of the World Test Championship series, where hosts Pakistan have yet to register a single point in the competition. The second test and final test, which starts which is in Karachi starts on Thursday.

Neighbours India, after winning their T20 series against World Champions West Indies, got their ODI series off to a losing start after they were well beaten by eight wickets. After being put in to bat by visiting captain Keiron Pollard, hosts India were only able to muster 287-8 in their 50 overs.

Seventies from Shreyas Iyer (70) and Rishabh Pant (71), helped Virat Kohli’s men to get to 287, which ultimately proved short, despite the Heroics of the Delhi Capital’s pair. Centuries from Shai Hope (102 not out) and Shemron Hetmyer (139), helped the T20 World Champions win at a canter almost by eight wickets.

In the last of our round-up of matches, saw Australia taking on neighbours New Zealand. The Aussies who thrashed Pakistan in the series previous series 2-0, were in just as rampant mood here as they thrashed The Kiwi’s by 296 in the first day and night match to be held at Perth.

Tourists New Zealand, chasing 175 to win against their old rivals, were never really able to come close in the run chase. BJ Wattling (40) and Colin de Grandhomme (33) were the only two batsmen to offer any form of resistance.

Sadly for New Zealand, no one else was able to make a score of significance as Mitchell Starc (4-45) and Nathan Lyon (4-63) both took four wickets, which dispelled any chances of an unlikely New Zealand win.

The two sides recommence in battle on Christmas day at the famous Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG).

The week ahead

With league leaders Liverpool in Club World Cup duty, the chasing pack will have a chance to make inroads into their lead at the top of the Premier League. Surprise package Leicester who are second, go to champions Manchester City who are third and four points behind The Foxes.

This game, especially with how the title race is starting to shape up, is must-win for both sides. Whatever the result at City’s Etihad stadium, a game which is arguably the pick of the weekend’s games will no doubt see the weekend’s winners be Liverpool.

The Reds wouldn’t have kicked a Premier League football in anger due to their involvement in Qatar. We see a closely fought game for sure between Man City and Leicester, but we think Pep’s City side will just edge it here. Our prediction Manchester City 2-1 Leicester.

Before the weekend’s action, however, there is the matter of a domestic cup quarter-final as the Carbarao Cup reaches its latter stages. UEFA Champions League winners Liverpool start the quarter-final ties with a tricky trip to Aston Villa. 

Wednesday’s games, 24 hours later see the other three matches being played. Everton host Leicester, Oxford City of League One, welcome Premier League champions and EFL Cup holders Manchester City and City’s rivals United host Colchester United. 

With the draw of the Champions League round of 16 being on Monday 16th December, we wanted to share with you the draw for this week’s round-up today. After seeing the draw, you will see now see why!

Tottenham, managed by Jose Mourinho face Leipzig, Champions League holders Liverpool face a tough tie against Atletico Madrid. Arguably the tie of the round sees Manchester City face 11-time Champions League winners Real Madrid. 

Chelsea, the last of the English sides that we mentioned, face the daunting prospect of Bayern Munich, and to be more exact Bayern’s star striker Robert Lewandowski. Here is the full draw of the Champions League round of 16 matches: 

Chelsea vs Bayern Munich

Atalanta vs Valencia

Atletico Madrid vs Liverpool 

Napoli vs Barcelona

Tottenham vs RB Leipzig

Real Madrid vs Manchester City

Borussia Dortmund vs Paris Saint Germain

In the cricket, Tuesday 17th December sees the start of this edition of Australian Big Bash League (Australia’s domestic T20 Cup competition). Although no Chris Gayle in the BBL, Australia’s limited-overs premier domestic competition promises to be one of the best in recent memory. 

After suffering so many near misses, last season’s tournament was won by the Melbourne Renegades, captained by Australia’s limited-overs captain Aaron Finch. The Renegades will no doubt be the team to beat, but in Perth Scorchers (the most successful team in tournament history) and former champions Adelaide Strikers, the Melbourne side won’t have things all their own way. 

We here at Asian Sunday will bring you all the best bits of the tournament over the coming weeks. 

Internationally, India and West Indies, who continue their ODI series play in their second ODI match on Wednesday at ACA-VDCA Stadium in Visakhapatnam. That’s all for this week, but be sure to stop by and have a look at our sporting round-up next week!