This Week in Sport: 28th December 2020 - 3rd January 2021

This is the week that we finally turn our backs on 2020, and there are seven other great reasons to celebrate. On Monday, Australia and India’s titanic 2nd Test clash reaches its third day, with the action playing out at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. 

Attentions will turn to the Premier League on Tuesday as Manchester United prepare to host Wolverhampton Wanderers. The LA Clippers will look to return to winning ways as they welcome the Portland Trail Blazers to the Staples Center. Expect fireworks at the San Mamés Stadium on New Year’s Eve, as Athletic Bilbao entertain Real Sociedad in an end-of-year La Liga showdown. 

Either Clemson or Ohio State will be celebrating on Friday as the two teams meet in the Sugar Bowl. The weekend brings us an unmissable Premiership Rugby offering in the shape of Wasps versus Exeter Chiefs, before the World Darts Championship Final plays out the following day.

Monday 28th December 11:30PM GMT (Sunday 27th)  – Cricket: Australia v India, 2nd Test - Day 3

Day 3 of the 2nd Test between Australia and India will be contested at MCG, with play starting at 11:30PM GMT on Sunday 27th December.

An epic battle is unfolding down under, with India looking to restore parity in this unpredictable Test series. After two days of competition in the 2nd Test, it is the visitors who look most likely to claim victory in Melbourne, thanks in no small part to some Ajinkya Rahane heroics on Day 2. The stand-in captain has filled Virat Kohli’s shoes in some style, as Rahane recorded an unbeaten 104 runs off of 200 deliveries to propel his side into the driving seat ahead of Day 3’s play.

Meanwhile, Australia will be left ruing a couple of missed opportunities to take the wicket of Rahane, which would have undoubtedly swung the momentum back in the hosts’ favour. Their best chances of dismissal presented themselves in the slips, with a positioning error in the field and some slow Steve Smith reactions ultimately costing the Baggy Greens the most important wicket of the match. Australia will regroup ahead of Monday’s play with hopes they can rediscover their early innings form which saw Pat Cummins dismiss both overnight batsmen in just eight overs with the ball in his control.

India are eyeing a third-straight Test series win over their age-old adversaries, and a second-straight on Australian soil, but can they finish the job in this 2nd Test to set up a tantalising third and fourth in the new year?

Tuesday 29th December 8:00PM GMT – Football: Manchester United v Wolverhampton Wanderers

Manchester United will look to record just their third Premier League win at Old Trafford this term as they host Wolves on Tuesday night with kick-off at 8:00PM GMT.

There is a vast disparity between Man United’s home and away form this season, with the Red Devils picking up 70% of their 27 Premier League points away from home. Whilst they sit top of the form table when playing on the road, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men have produced the seventh-worst home record in the top flight, registering just two wins in seven outings. However, the Norwegian will be grateful to play host to a side who haven’t won at Old Trafford in over 40 years in the shape of tWolverhampton Wanderers.

The West Midlands’ based outfit have a dismal record when playing at the ‘Theatre of Dreams’, having last won a competitive game of football there way back in 1980. In six attempts, Wolves have never beaten United away from Molineux in a Premier League fixture, but their recent record against the Red Devils suggests the omens aren’t all bad for Nuno Espirito Santo. Since Wolves were promoted to the top flight for the third time in 2018, they remain unbeaten against Manchester United in league football, drawing three and winning one of their Premier League meetings. However, Nuno’s men have struggled for form across the festive period, winning just one of their five outings in the month of December so far. Can they pick up their second win of the month on Tuesday, or will United stifle Nuno’s men at Old Trafford once again?

Wednesday 30th December 3:00AM GMT (Thursday 31st) – Basketball: Los Angeles Clippers v Portland Trail Blazers

Two juggernauts of the Western Conference lock horns in a mid-week NBA showdown at  the Staples Center on Wednesday. 

The hosts made the perfect start to the new campaign in their curtain-raiser against the Lakers, but have gone on to lose one and win one of their subsequent two outings. That loss came in a humiliating home clash with the Dallas Mavericks at the weekend, as LA lost to the tune of 51 points, their largest ever deficit. However, one Paul George has been responsible in no small part for all that has been good about the Clippers so far, as the 6x NBA All Star sets about banishing his demons from last year’s forgettable playoff run. ‘PG’ is averaging just under 24 points per game this year and looks to be making a steady return back to his irresistible best.

Meanwhile, Portland have also endured mixed fortunes in their early-season exchanges, having won one and lost one of their opening two matches. After a crushing opening-night defeat to the Utah Jazz, Portland bounced back in some style against Conference rivals, the Houston Rockets, to pick up their first ‘W’ of the campaign. Whilst much of the scoring responsibilities will continue to be shouldered by Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum has eased the pressure on his team mate by averaging 33.5 points per game this year. McCollum enjoyed one of the best nights of his career last time out in that narrow win over the Rockets as he dropped 44 points in 44 minutes, as well as scoring the game-winning three-pointer in overtime. 

After sweeping the Trail Blazers in their regular season series last year, the Clippers will look to extend their three-game winning run in this particular fixture. This midweek showdown will showcase some of the NBA’s most explosive talents, so make sure you don’t miss a minute!

Thursday 31st December 1:00PM GMT – Football: Athletic Bilbao v Real Sociedad

Towards the top of La Liga, Athletic Bilbao takes on a high-flying Real Sociedad in a New Year’s Eve spectacle at the San Mamés Stadium in Bilbao on Thursday 31st December 2020 at 1:00PM GMT.

Athletic Bilbao have made themselves well acquainted with the upper echelons of La Liga throughout the club’s history, and operated there for much of the last decade. However, their recent fortunes have seen the famous club plummet towards the bottom of Spain’s top tier, with Bilbao having slumped to two bottom-half finishes in the last three campaigns. So far, there is little to suggest they will be making a return to the summit of La Liga any time soon, having won just one of their last six games.

Meanwhile, after Real Sociedad’s impressive early-season form propelled them to top spot in La Liga, their recent struggles have seen Erreala slip to third spot behind the two Madrid-based powerhouses. After winning six-straight league games a couple of months ago, Sociedad have failed to win any of their subsequent nine outings in all competitions, leaving them six points behind league-leading Atletico, having played three games more.

Though both teams are enduring a rough run of form, Sociedad can boast the superior head-to-head record in this fixture from recent meetings, having lost just once in their last seven ties with Bilbao. This matchup was meant to be the final of the Copa del Rey, which will be played in April 2021 as a long-delayed match. Which team will put an end to their ropey run of form?

Friday 1st January 1:00AM GMT (Saturday 2nd) – American Football: Clemson Tigers v Ohio State Buckeyes

The New Year opens with one of the biggest games in NCAA college football as the Sugar Bowl is played out between the Clemson Tigers and Ohio State Buckeyes at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium Superdome in Louisiana on Friday 1st January.

Number two ranked Clemson Tigers will thrash it out with number three ranked Ohio State Buckeyes in the College Football Playoffs Semifinals. As can be expected, experts have dubbed this game a battle of the Quarterbacks, with Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence going toe-to-toe with Ohio State’s Justin Fields. Both are expected to be first-round picks in the upcoming NFL draft, but which QB will stand out in one of the biggest games in College Football?

This game is a rematch of last year’s Fiesta Bowl, where Clemson outlasted the Buckeyes 29-23, picking off Ohio State QB Justin Fields in the endzone as he attempted a game-winning drive. That loss puts Ohio State at 0-4 v Clemson coming into this match.

The form books would suggest Lawrence and the Tigers hold the advantage ahead of Friday’s clash, after Lawrence threw for 259 yards, rushing for 107 more to boot, scoring three touchdowns in all when the South Carolina based side won the 2019 fixture.

Although Ohio State can boast a perfect 6-0 record this season, their defence has been far from impervious, having given up 358 yards per game. In the Clemson Tigers, Ohio State are facing one of the country’s most potent offenses... can their defence withstand the pressure?

If the New Year’s firework displays across the globe leave you wanting more, then look no further than the Sugar Bowl on Friday. With two of the league’s most explosive offences taking to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome field, you can expect a real war of attrition in this fiery showdown.

Saturday 2nd January 2:00PM GMT – Rugby Union: Wasps v Exeter Chiefs

In a rematch of the 2020 Premiership Rugby Grand Final, Wasps face Exeter Chiefs in the league at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry on Saturday 2nd January at 2:00PM GMT.

These two titans of Premiership Rugby can boast eight titles between them, with Wasps responsible for six of those, but there has been a major power shift in recent years. Since making their Premiership bow in the 2010/11 season, Chiefs have finished above their Coventry-based adversaries in eight of the subsequent ten campaigns. Furthermore, Exeter’s two Final successes in 2017 and 2020 have come at the cost of Wasps, but can the latter fight back in the Premiership this time round?

Well, their current record would suggest not. After four games, Wasps have a split record of two wins and two losses which is only enough to earn sixth spot ahead of Saturday’s showdown. However, with Wasps at risk of losing their third-straight league at the weekend, they submitted an impressive performance against Sale Sharks to return to winning ways, and they will be desperate to build some momentum from one of the biggest games in their schedule this weekend.

Meanwhile, Exeter have made the perfect start to proceedings, and enter Week 5 with a perfect record of four wins and no losses. Having scored the most tries, most points and recorded the most carries, Chiefs are really starting to flex their muscles as they eye back-to-back Premiership titles with Saracens spending this season in the Championship. England’s Sam Simmons has been one of the many shining lights within Exeter’s star-studded ranks this term, with the Back-row powerhouse leading the league in tries scored (8). Simmonds has scored in each of Chiefs’ first four matches, but can he extend that streak on Saturday afternoon to help his side to a fifth-straight victory?

Sunday 3rd January 7:30PM GMT – Darts: William Hill World Darts Championship Final

The first major title on the PDC Tour will be won and lost on Sunday evening – but which player will claim the Sid Waddell Trophy? Find out from 7:30PM GMT.

96 of the world’s greatest arrowsmiths scaled the famous Ally Pally hill dreaming of World Championship glory a fortnight ago, but only two will remain to toe the famous oche on Sunday. With plenty of darts left to be thrown before Sunday’s showdown, we won’t find out which two players will feature until the conclusion of the Semifinals on Saturday, leaving us to ruminate about the most likely runners and riders left in the competition.

One of this year’s dark horses is undoubtedly Dimitri Van den Burgh, who has carried the impressive form shown earlier this year over into the World’s. The reigning Matchplay champion is one of just two players to have already booked his place in the fourth-round having not lost a single set, with the other being Poland’s Krzysztof Ratajski. ‘Dancing’ Dimi has averaged over 100 at this year’s event and should he manage to maintain that lofty average, there is no reason the 26-year-old won’t be on stage come Sunday evening.

There will be no surprises that Michael van Gerwen, the world number one, remains one of the front-runners in this year’s edition. With the surprise elimination of Peter Wright, MvG’s stock has risen, and will be firm favourite to get his hands on the Sid Waddell trophy for the fourth time. Having dispatched Ryan Murray and Ricky Evans, early indications suggest that ‘Mighty Mike’ is returning to his dazzling best, but can anyone halt him on his imperious march to Sunday’s showdown?  

Other sporting highlights from around the globe

Honourable mentions around the globe go to the NBA, where an embarrassment of heavyweight tussles will play out this week. The Portland Trail Blazers will take to the Staples Center twice this week, facing the Lakers on Monday before their clash with the Clippers later in the week. Two of the East’s big boys will do battle in a two-game mini-series this week, as the Milwaukee Bucks face off with the Miami Heat on Tuesday and Wednesday. The high-flying Brooklyn Nets will test their title credentials against Russell Westbrook and the Washington Wizards.

The William Hill World Darts Championship will throw up titanic matchups all week long, with the Final scheduled for Sunday evening.

New Zealand and Pakistan will compete in their 1st Test, when South Africa and Sri Lanka will also meet in their 1st Test. New Zealand and Pakistan will then move to Christchurch on Sunday where the 2nd Test will get underway, whilst South Africa and Sri Lanka will relocate to Johannesburg on the same day to begin their 2nd Test. The Big Bash League takes us to Sydney on Tuesday, where the Sydney Sixers will entertain the Melbourne Stars. The Stars will be in action once more on Saturday when they will travel to face the Hobart Hurricanes, whilst Sixers’ clash with the Adelaide Strikers tops the bill the following day.

The Premier League’s festive fixture list continues to feature some colossal clashes, including Chelsea versus Aston Villa and Everton versus Manchester City, both of which will play out on Monday. West Ham will have the chance to move above Southampton when the two sides meet at St. Mary’s on Tuesday. The Hammers will be in action once more on New Year’s Day when they face off with Everton, whilst Manchester United will be looking to make the perfect start to 2021 in their clash with Aston Villa. Two of the Premier League’s most lauded managers will pit their wits against one another as Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham Hotspur entertain Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United. Sunday’s headline clash concerns two title-chasers in the shape of Chelsea and Manchester City, who will lock horns at Stamford Bridge. Sevilla and Villarreal will test their European credentials on Tuesday night in a pivotal La Liga showdown. The latest instalment of the Old Firm Derby will play out in the Scottish Premier League on Saturday afternoon as Rangers and Celtic meet at Ibrox. Fifth plays fourth in the Bundesliga on Sunday as Borussia Dortmund entertain Wolfsburg.

The Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge will enter its fourth week - please continue to show your support for Lat 35 and all of the teams involved!

Friday’s Premiership Rugby offering will pit Bristol Bears against Newcastle Falcons, with both teams operating near the top of the table.

One of the most explosive fighters in the lightweight division will look to defend his unbeaten record on New Year’s Day, as 20-0 Ryan Garcia enters the ring with England’s Luke Campbell.

There is plenty more NCAA College Football action scheduled this week, starting with Wednesday’s offering which will see Oklahoma take on Florida, whilst the highly anticipated Rose Bowl will be contested on Friday as Alabama lock horns with Notre Dame. American Football’s elite competition will then take over at the weekend, with six stand-out clashes each with playoff ramifications set to headline Sunday’s NFL schedule. The playoff-bound Green Bay Packers will go helmet-to-helmet with NFC North rivals, the Chicago Bears, whilst the Buffalo Bills and the Miami Dolphins meet in an AFC East showdown. Two playoff-chasers will do battle in the NFC East as the New York Giants entertain the Dallas Cowboys, whilst the Cleveland Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers meet in a second versus first clash in the AFC North. Meanwhile, bottom plays top in the NFC East as the Philadelphia Eagles welcome Washington to Lincoln Financial Field, also the Los Angeles Rams and the Arizona Cardinals take to the field, but which sides will clinch a playoff berth?

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

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Photos by Team India, Manchester United, LA Clippers, Athletic Club, Clemson Tigers, Wasps Rugby, Professional Darts Corporation.

Written and information correct on 27th December at 9pm GMT

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