By Ayyaz Malik
After a difficult week off the pitch, on the pitch England’s footballers qualified for Euro 2020, with a game to spare, with a 7-0 win against Montenegro. Before the game at Wembley, manager Gareth Southgate felt he had to drop key player Raheem Sterling from his line up after an alleged training ground altercation with Liverpool’s Joe Gomez prior to the game.
The reason for this alleged bust-up seems to be as a direct result of Sterling’s club side Man City, losing to Gomez’s Liverpool 3-1, some 24 hours prior. Manager Southgate, who throughout his tenure, has been very keen to eradicate club “cliques” if you like (meaning controlling players who play for rival sides taking take their rivalry to the international stage).
Southgate decided he had no other option but to take the action he did and drop Man City’s Sterling for the game against the Montenegro side, who was seen as the aggressor in the altercation. To his credit, the Manchester City forward did come out and clarify this on Twitter after Joe Gomez received abuse after coming on as a late substitute.
As for the game itself, a hat-trick from skipper Harry Kane; goals from Tammy Abraham (his first at senior level), Marcus Rashford, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and a Montenegro own-goal, meant England are through to Europe’s international showpiece next summer.
After 10 years in the International wilderness, Pakistan are celebrating after they have been cleared to play their home matches on home soil again. The 1992 World Champions, were forced to play their matches in Abu Dhabi after the tragic attacks on the Sri Lankan team bus in 2009, which lead to many staff being injured, and some tragically killed.
Fittingly, it’s Sri Lanka who will be the first team to play against Pakistan. It must be stated that the T20 final of Pakistan’s domestic T20 tournament was held in Pakistan after the other stages of the tournament were held in Qatar.
Zimbabwe have also played International cricket in Pakistan too, but they were matches only in Lahore and Karachi. This development will hopefully propel the Pakistan team to a competitive level, especially with the talent they have at their disposal. The first Test against Sri Lanka will be in Rawalpindi from 11-15 December, while the second will be in Karachi from 19-23 December.
In other cricket news, Jos Buttler scored a century for England in their warm-up match against a New Zealand A side, before they face the full New Zealand side in the two-match test series which starts Wednesday 20th November.
The first test itself will be contested at Bay Oval, Tauranga.
Lewis Hamilton wasn’t able to get the win he no doubt would have wanted, but managed to finish third in the Brazilian Grand Prix, the season finale of the F1 calendar . The race was won by Red Bull’s Verstappen who has impressed in F1 this season, which would make it difficult for him to remain at Red Bull next year.
Despite Mercedes not having things all their own way this race weekend, the race itself did provide excitement, with a surprising podium of Verstappen of Red Bull, Gasly of Torro Rosso and world champion Hamilton of Mercedes.
Sadly for Mercedes rival, Ferrari they finished way back in the grid, to cap off a very disappointing season for the Italian giants and in particular their four-time champion Vettel.
The new season starts with testing in December, and just like it has been in the last six seasons, the rest of the field will be looking to get the better of six-time champion Hamilton.
The Week Ahead
After a week of International fixtures and Euro 2020 qualifiers, normal service resumes in the domestic leagues. The Premier League next week promises to be an exciting one with Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City facing Frank Lampard’s Chelsea, who have been one of the success stories of the season.
The Blues, who have had a transfer embargo placed on them, haven’t been deterred by this and in fact, have impressed many with their exciting brand of football. What’s attracted the plaudits for Lampard’s side, is that players like Tammy Abraham, Fikoyo Timori and Mason Mount (three key players this season all in their early 20’s).
They will be up against Guardiola’s Manchester City, who are the two-time defending Premier League champions. Whereas the last two-seasons, Pep’s City side have been playing football from a different Universe of the past two seasons, this season has been a bit more humbling with three defeats already at this stage of the season. We think The Citizens, will just come out on top, in this one but it promises to be a classic. Our prediction Manchester City 2-1 Chelsea.
League leaders Liverpool who now have a nine-point lead over title rivals City, after their 3-1 win, face Crystal Palace, a team who have given Liverpool sleepless nights over the years. The way The Reds have been this year, we don’t see a slip up here, but it’s going to be a hard game for Klopp’s men, our prediction; Crystal Palace 1-2 Liverpool.
Second-placed Leicester (one of the surprise packages), travel to Brighton. Our prediction Brighton 0-2 Leicester.
In Sunday’s game, Manchester United are up against Sheffield United. This one, won’t be easy for Ole’s men who have won five of their last six games. It’s even harder with United, being away from home; Our Prediction Sheffield United 1-1 Manchester United.
Away from football, England’s cricketers look to get their winter tests underway with their first of two tests against New Zealand starting on Wednesday. Test captain Joe Root will welcome back the likes of Joffra Archer, who was amongst the players rested in the T20 series.
After a difficult summer in tests, where Root’s men didn’t win back The Ashes urn against Australia, England will be looking to take that frustration out on Kane Williamson’s New Zealand, who are by no means easy opposition.
England do possess match-winning bowlers, but it’s their batting where there seems to be the weakness. Trent Boult and co will be looking forward to facing England’s arguably fragile top order batting line up. This series promises to be evenly fought, our prediction for the series; New Zealand 1-1 England
New Zealand’s arch-rivals Australia, start their series against Pakistan at home. The hosts won’t have bowler James Pattinson available after the 29-year old was disciplined for using abusive language at an opponent in an Australian domestic league game.
Pattinson’s admission from the squad is a blow for the hosts in this two-match series, but The Baggy Green, do rotate their bowlers in tests and do have a conveyor belt of fast bowling talent at their disposal.
With world-class batsmen, Steve Smith and David Warner in their ranks, arguably Australia go into this series as overwhelming favourites. It’s hard to argue a case for visitors Pakistan, who have an abysmal record Down Under, but they do have two-players who are not far from being put into the world-class bracket.
Messers, Shadab Khan and Babar Azam, are young and have shown a lot of ability on the International stage. Although Australia, will win this series comfortably we feel, Pakistan won’t fully embarrass themselves. Our series prediction Australia 2-0 Pakistan.