This Week in Sport: 11th – 17th January 2021

In amongst all the insanity of 2021’s opening salvo, the sporting world trudges on defiantly to bring us seven more reminders that we are gradually edging ever closer to normality. There has been nothing normal about this College Football season, but it will end in a typically ceremonious fashion as the National Championship is contested between Alabama and Ohio State. Wolverhampton Wanderers will welcome Carlo Ancelotti’s Everton to Molineux on Tuesday for a Premier League showdown. 

The highly anticipated new NHL season will be ushered in with five unmissable matchups including the Colorado Avalanche versus the St. Louis Blues, which headlines Wednesday’s schedule. England will be in Test action for the first time in almost six months as they travel to take on Sri Lanka in the 1st Test. Two playoff-chasers meet in the NBA on Friday night as the Phoenix Suns play host to the Golden State Warriors. 

The Buffalo Bills face the Baltimore Ravens in the NFL Divisional Round this weekend, but which side will progress to the AFC Championship Game? Football fans will be treated to the small matter of Liverpool versus Manchester United before the week is out, as one of the Premier League’s fiercest rivalries is renewed. 

Monday 11th January 1:00AM GMT (Tuesday 12th) – American Football: Alabama v Ohio State

It is the game they all want to win, but only one will create history – the College Football Playoff National Championship game begins at 1:00AM GMT on Tuesday. 

This most unique of College Football seasons will finally draw to a close on Monday, when either Alabama Crimson Tide or the Ohio State Buckeyes will be crowned National Champions at Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium.

After their one-year absence, Alabama have returned to the pinnacle of College Football for a record fifth time, as they eye their third title since 2015. The Crimson Tide unquestionably find themselves here on merit, having won every single regular-season game by at least 15 points. 

Despite playing five games fewer than Alabama this term, Ohio State proved they also belong in the big time after making light work of two-time National Champs Clemson in the Semifinals. With Justin Fields throwing for six touchdowns and Trey Sermon rushing for 193 yards in that win over the Tigers, Buckeyes’ most potent offensive weapons appear to be hitting their stride just at the right time.

Though these two sides have never met in a National Championship game, they have previously done battle in the 2014 Sugar Bowl Semi-final, when No. 4 Ohio State sprang an upset to run out 42-35 winners against No.1 ranked Alabama. Will the Buckeyes dethrone the No.1 ranked school once more on the grandest stage this week? Predict the outcome of this one at your peril, but you can be sure of an electrifying final act to this unprecedented season. 

Tuesday 12th January 8:15PM GMT – Football: Wolverhampton Wanderers v Everton

A busy week of Premier League action starts in the Black Country, where three more Premier League points will be on offer – kick-off at Molineux comes at 8:15PM GMT.

After both teams enjoyed success from their respective FA Cup exploits at the weekend, Wolves and Everton will turn their attentions to Premier League matters once more. After a string of poor results in recent outings, Wolves go into Tuesday’s matchup in 13th place, seven points behind’s this week’s opponents. Nuno Espirito Santo’s men haven’t won any of their last four top-flight games, representing their longest winless streak since going six games without success at the beginning of the last campaign. Should other results go against them and Wolves fail to win at Molineux on Tuesday, they could drop down as low as 15th before the weekend’s festivities. 

Meanwhile, Everton saw their four-game winning steak come to an end last time out against West Ham, but Carlo Ancelotti’s men remain in a strong position in their quest to be involved in European football next term. The Toffees currently sit just four points behind league-leaders Liverpool, with a game in hand over their local rivals. Only Manchester United and Leicester City have picked up more points on the road than Everton this season, with five of the Toffees’ nine league wins coming away from home. However, Molineux has been far from a happy hunting ground for the Merseyside outfit in recent times, who have won just one of their last seven games at Molineux. 

These two sides have met 12 times in Premier League fixtures, with a draw the most popular result. Will it end honours even on Tuesday, or will either Carlo Ancelotti or Nuno Espirito Santo manage to tip the scales in their side’s favour to take three crucial points? 

Wednesday 13th January 3:30AM GMT (Thursday 14th) – Ice Hockey: Colorado Avalanche v St. Louis Blues

The NHL season kicks off tonight, with two preseason favourites in the Colorado Avalanche and St. Louis Blues going head to head at the Ball Arena in Denver on Thursday 14th January 2021 at 3:30AM GMT.

Just over three months ago, the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Dallas Stars 2-0 to lift the Stanley Cup for the second time. On Wednesday night, the NHL’s 31 teams will start from scratch, as they all set about getting their hands on the grandest prize in Ice Hockey.

Two teams involved in the season’s opening gambit are the Colorado Avalanche and the St. Louis Blues, who both secured playoff berths last campaign. Colorado flattered to deceive, however, losing out in the Second Round to eventual runners-up Dallas. After that disappointing run, Avalanche went out and bolstered their ranks in the off-season, acquiring the likes of Devon Toews and Brandon Saad, who could prove to be the missing parts of the puzzle, as Colorado go in search of their first Stanley Cup since 2001.

After going all the way to Stanley Cup glory in the 2018-19 season, there was great expectation surrounding the Blues heading into the subsequent campaign. However, despite finishing first in the Western Conference, St. Louis faltered to a First Round defeat at the hands of the Vancouver Canucks, representing their worst return from a playoff campaign since 2015. Get your early-season predictions in – it is all to play for!

Thursday 14th January 4:30AM GMT – Cricket: Sri Lanka v England (Day 1, 1st Test)

Sri Lanka and England meet for the first time since 2018 as they begin their first Test at Galle International Stadium in Galle, Sri Lanka on Thursday 14th January 2021 at 4:30AM GMT.

Whenever England come to town, proceedings are always shrouded in great excitement and anticipation. With England having last participated in a Test series almost six months ago, that anticipation has been heightened this time round, with many commentators intrigued as to how an out of practice England side will fair in the testing tropical climes of South Asia. Due to several contributing factors, Coronavirus not being the least of these, England haven’t been involved in a Test series since August last year. However, one Jonny Bairstow has had even less exposure to Test conditions than his teammates, with the Yorkshire batsman last featuring in this format over a year ago. With three key absences in the shape of Rory Burns, Ben Stokes and Ollie Pope leaving England with a potential selection headache, Bairstow could prove a key component in their tour of Sri Lanka this week. With his last Test century coming in a 3-0 win over Sri Lanka back in 2018, will we see Bairstow back to his best in Galle?

When it comes to competing in the Test format, Sri Lanka should theoretically be in finer fettle, having played out a two-match series against South Africa just last week. However, that series ended in disastrous fashion, as South Africa ran out 3-0 winners over ‘The Lions’, who will be eyeing an instant response after that chastening defeat, as they prepare to host England. 

Friday 15th January 2:00AM GMT – Basketball: Phoenix Suns v Golden State Warriors 

**THIS GAME HAS BEEN POSTPONED DUE TO COVID 19**

The Phoenix Suns and Golden State Warriors continue their promising NBA seasons at the Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix on Saturday 16th January 2021 at 2:00AM GMT.

Golden State Warriors will take their business to Talking Stick Resort Arena late on in the week, as they look to re-establish position in the Western standings. The Warriors have very much been a one-man-band so far this term, relying heavily on the irresistible talents of one Steph Curry, who has already posted some astronomical numbers just several weeks into the new season. The 3x NBA Champion leads his team in average points scored with 28.6 after ten games – the next most productive Warrior is Andrew Wiggins, who is averaging just over 17 points per game. Whilst many have already written the Warriors off as playoff contenders, we have certainly seen this movie before, when a certain LeBron James carried his Cavaliers team to the Finals almost single-handedly. Can Curry and the Warriors pull off a similar minor miracle this term to reach and make some noise in the postseason? 

Well, an apparent resurgence of the Phoenix Suns has certainly made that task a little bit more difficult, with the Arizona-based franchise firmly establishing themselves into the early-season playoff picture in the West. Before a ball was tipped this term, much was made about Phoenix’s offensive potency, with Suns fans salivating over the prospect of their newest acquisition, Chris Paul, combining with their very own franchise superstar, Devin Booker. However, it has been the Suns’ defence that has come to the fore to propel them into playoff contenders in the early knockings. Led by third-year Center Deandre Ayton, Phoenix currently boast the third most stingy defence in the league, having given up just 104.6 points per game. In Steph Curry, Suns’ dominant defence will face one of the toughest assignments in the league, but who will come out on top?

Saturday 16th January 1:15AM GMT (Sunday 17th) – American Football: Buffalo Bills v Baltimore Ravens 

The NFL playoffs roll on to the second week of action – kick-off from Bills Stadium comes at 1:15AM GMT on Sunday. 

As the old cliché goes, there are no easy games in the playoffs, but that rings particularly true in this titanic matchup. Buffalo Bills’ reward for winning their first playoff game since 1995 is a visit from Lamar Jackson and his Baltimore Ravens, with the winner advancing to the AFC Championship. With a revitalised Josh Allen at the helm, the Bills’ offence has been operating at an elite level all year long, with only the Kansas City Chiefs boasting a more productive offence in terms of yards per game. Allen elevated his game once more to quite extraordinary levels in last weekend’s gruelling win over the Colts, when he threw for 324 yards and two TDs, and also led his team in rushing yards. 

Meanwhile, last year’s MVP has suffered a turbulent year, with Lamar Jackson’s form generally dipping below the levels we are used to seeing. However, after recovering from a bout of Coronavirus, the former Pro Bowler has lit up his Baltimore offence, carrying them to six-straight victories. The last of those would have been of most importance to Jackson, who, before last Sunday, had never won a playoff match in his professional career. In that bruising win over the Titans, the Ravens star showed glimpses of his enchanting best, going for 136 rushing yards and 179 through the air to boot. 

These two sides last met back in 2019, when a cunning game plan almost saw Buffalo triumph over their AFC North adversaries. Though Ravens ran out 24-17 winners in the end, the most noteworthy storyline from that clash was Bills limiting Jackson to just 40 yards on the turf from 11 carries. Can Buffalo contain the Ravens QB once more to progress to their first AFC Championship Game since the 1993 season, or will Jackson’s spellbinding Ravens write another chapter in their postseason fairy tale? 

Sunday 17th January 4:30PM GMT – Football: Liverpool versus Manchester United 

The 57th Premier League edition of this deep-seated rivalry will unfold on Sunday afternoon – the main event at Anfield begins at 4:30PM GMT. 

What better distraction from the insanity of these times than the latest instalment of one of English football’s most eminent rivalries. Throughout history, these two clubs have combined to win 108 domestic honours between them. However, Liverpool’s most recent addition to that tally will be of some alarm to United fans, as the title win last term leaves Liverpool needing just one more to match United’s record of 20. With Liverpool not in action during the week, Jurgen Klopp will be left to watch on as United take on Burnley, hoping his side will retain top spot ahead of the weekend’s showdown.

Should United overcome the test of Sean Dyche’s men on Tuesday, they will sit three points clear of Liverpool atop the Premier League, a scenario which even the most intransigent United fan couldn’t have envisaged a few months ago. In a nightmarish opening stanza, United failed to win any of their first four top flight outings at Old Trafford this term – an unwanted feat that last happened 48 years ago. However, since their last home defeat at the hands of Arsenal back in November, the Red Devils have enjoyed a ten-game unbeaten streak which has propelled them into one of the most unpredictable title races in Premier League history.

United historically hold the edge over Liverpool when it comes to Premier League meetings, with the former having won 28 of the 56 matchups, compared to just 15 victories for Liverpool. However, Liverpool’s resurgence has been reflected in the head-to-head record between these sides, with United failing to win any of the last four meetings. 

Honourable mentions from around the globe

Honourable mentions around the globe go to the NBA, with nine blockbuster clashes headlining this week’s action. We first venture to the Sunshine State of Florida, where the Orlando Magic will play host to the Milwaukee Bucks, before we make the long journey up the East Coast to Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center, where the 76ers will take on the Miami Heat. Steph Curry takes his one-man show back home this week, as his Golden State Warriors welcome the Indiana Pacers to Chase Center on Tuesday. The New York Knicks will be doing battle with the Brooklyn Nets in a local grudge match on Wednesday. Two heavyweights of the Eastern Conference will lock horns once again on Thursday as the 76ers meet Miami again. Friday’s double helping of NBA action starts in Los Angeles, where the Lakers will thrash it out with the New Orleans Pelicans, meanwhile the Celtics will look to defend home court against the Magic. The final offering of the week pits the Los Angeles Clippers against the Indiana Pacers in a cross-Conference showdown.

Monday will see Day 2 of the Betfred Masters Snooker play out, before the rest of the tournament unfolds throughout the week. 

After the competition began last week, we will be treated to plenty more Sumo Wrestling from Monday, as the January Tournament continues. 

There are two events currently playing out on the ATP World Tour, with both the Delray Beach Open and Antalya Open heading into the second week of play. Meanwhile, in the Women’s game, the Abu Dhabi WTA Women’s Tennis Open is also heading into its second week of action. 

Golf fans will be treated to another stellar long weekend of action, as the Sony Open in Hawaii runs its course. 

After their mid-week season-opener, Colorado Avalanche and St. Louis Blues of the NHL will do battle once more in the early hours of Saturday morning. 

There is an unmissable offering from the world of Sailing this weekend, as the world-renowned Prada Cup gets underway in Auckland on Friday as the true build-up to the America’s cup begins.

Fans will have plenty of cricket to sink their teeth into this week, starting with Day 5 of Australia’s 3rd Test against India. The two powerhouses of international cricket will return to the field on Friday to contest the 4th and final Test. We divert our attentions to the Big Bash League in between those two showdowns, as the Sydney Thunder play local rivals the Sydney Sixers in a potential classic. England’s Test Match with Sri Lanka continues from Thursday.

The football from Europe’s biggest and best competitions continues to dominate the sporting agenda, and we start with the final FA Cup tie of the Third Round which pits Stockport County against West Ham United on Monday night. Meanwhile, Atletico Madrid will look to retain control at the summit of La Liga as they take on Sevilla on Tuesday night. There is plenty of action in the Premier League this week; Thursday’s top-flight offering is a capital affair, with Arsenal facing Crystal Palace. Two more London rivals will do battle on Saturday, as Fulham entertain Chelsea at Craven Cottage and Southampton will be eyeing their third straight win at the King Power Stadium, where they will meet tenants Leicester City. A thrilling title race is beginning to materialise in Italy’s Serie A, and two contenders are in action on Sunday as Inter Milan take on Juventus at the San Siro. Earlier in the week, fans will be treated to the latest instalment of the ‘Derby della Capitale’ which will see Lazio take on Roma. Another fiery derby will play out in Portugal this week, as FC Porto meet SL Benfica in a pivotal Primeira Liga showdown. We have identified two more key matchups playing out in Bundesliga this week, initially involving 1. FC Union Berlin and Bayer Leverkusen, who will meet on Friday, whilst Wolfsburg and RB Leipzig will do battle the following day.

We are now 31 days into the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, so continue to offer your support for all athletes and teams!

Three more mouth-watering matchups will feature in the NFL Divisional Round this weekend, starting with the LA Rams’ trip to Wisconsin to take on the Green Bay Packers. The first offering of Sunday’s double header sees the Kansas City Chiefs play host to the Cleveland Browns, before the New Orleans Saints take on Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

A world-class week of sport awaits. Whatever you’re watching, enjoy!

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Photos by Alabama Football, Wolves, Colorado Avalanche, England Cricket, Golden State Warriors, Baltimore Ravens, Liverpool Football Club

Written and information correct on 10th January at 9pm GMT

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