This Week in Sport: 5th – 11th April 2021

From the glory hunters to the most hardened sports fans, this trophy-laden week in sport offers excitement for all from start to finish! We won’t tell anyone if you missed some of the madness of the month, but don’t miss out on the NCAA national championship game which will be contested on Monday between Gonzaga and Baylor. We are edging ever closer towards the business end of this Champions League campaign – Real Madrid face Liverpool in a glossy Quarter-final matchup. First plays second in the NBA Western Conference on Wednesday night as the Utah Jazz travel to face the Phoenix Suns. The most prestigious golf tournament of them all begins on Thursday as the Masters gets underway at Augusta National. 

Cricket’s richest league is reignited for another season from Friday, with the Mumbai Indians and the Royal Challengers Bangalore sharing the honour of playing out the opening act. If you are to watch only one horse race this year, make it this one – the Grand National takes place at Aintree on Saturday afternoon. The week wraps up with some thrilling European Rugby.  

Monday 5th April 1:20AM GMT (Tuesday 6th) – Basketball: NCAA National Championship 

Gonzaga take on Baylor in the NCAA national championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis – who you got?

In and amongst all the hysteria of this sporting carnival, order has seemingly been restored as the undisputed top two teams in the country have emerged to battle it out for the biggest prize of all. 

In the NCAA Tournament era, only seven teams have finished the season with an undefeated record with a national championship, with the last being Indiana in 1975-76. Now, Gonzaga have the opportunity to become just the eighth team to record the historic feat, as they head into Monday’s showdown with a pristine 31-0 record on the season. As supporters often attempt to pre-empt the unpredictability of this tournament, many bracket-makers might have been reluctant to place Gonzaga in the showpiece game. However, it has been a largely drama-free month for the Washington-based school who, until the Final Four game, won every match by at least 16 points. The Zags earned their spot in the championship game courtesy of a buzzer-beating three-pointer from Jalen Suggs, in what was one of the most memorable games in NCAA tournament history, to break UCLA hearts and keep Zags’ hopes of a perfect season alive. 

Whilst Gonzaga couldn’t begin their celebrations until the very last second, the Baylor party planning committee had a little more notice, as the Bears cruised past Houston in their Final Four matchup to reach their first national title game since 1948. The 73-year gap between their last two national championship appearances is the second-longest in D1 basketball history, but Baylor have the chance to round off their best ever season with a maiden NCAA championship. 

There is little question that the best two teams from the past two seasons are rightfully battling it out in the title game, but who will come out on top?

Tuesday 6th April 7:00PM GMT – Football: Real Madrid v Liverpool 

Two European heavyweights cross swords on Tuesday night with a spot in the Champions League Semifinals on the line. 

These two stalwarts of European football share 19 Champions League titles between them, but only one can progress to this year’s Semifinals.

It’s been far from vintage Real Madrid in the Champions League this term, with Los Blancos having found themselves in the unfamiliar position of needing a win in the final group game to progress. However, Zinedine Zidane’s men were far more convincing in the Round of 16, when they breezed past Atalanta to book their spot in this year’s Quarterfinals. Progression past the Italian side ensured Madrid secured their best return from a Champions League campaign in three seasons, having been eliminated in the Round of 16 in the previous two editions. Whilst their recent performances at Europe’s top table have left the Bernabeu faithful wholly underwhelmed, their pedigree in the continent’s grandest club competition remains intact, with the Spanish giants having notched 13 titles in all. 

Meanwhile, Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool have suffered somewhat of a fall from grace this term, after cruising to their first ever Premier League title last year. However, having reached two of the last three Champions League Finals, the Reds’ presence in the latter stages of this competition will provide the Kop with some hope they could yet make a success of this campaign. Having made light work of RB Leipzig in the Round of 16, Klopp will be preparing his squad for a much sterner examination as they travel to Madrid in search of another magical European night. 

Liverpool last toppled Real Madrid all the way back in 2009, losing the subsequent four meetings, with the most recent matchup coming in the 2018 Champions League Final. 

Wednesday 7th April 2:00AM GMT (Thursday 8th) – Basketball: Phoenix Suns v Utah Jazz 

The Western Conference’s top two meet in a pivotal NBA showdown – tip-off comes at 2:00AM GMT Thursday. 

Two of the stand-out teams of this NBA season lock horns for the second time this term, as the Phoenix Suns and the Utah Jazz continue to tussle for position in the highly competitive Western Conference. 

The initial meeting between these two championship candidates came on New Year’s Eve, when it was Phoenix who came out on top. Since then, however, the Jazz have propelled themselves to the summit of the Western standings, as they close in on a first place finish for the first time since the 1997/98 season. No team in the league find themselves in a richer vein of form at this stage in the season than Utah who head into this week on the back of a nine-game winning streak. With Phoenix now 3.5 games behind Utah, the pace-setters can install some breathing room between themselves and the chasing pack with a win on Wednesday, but can they avenge their earlier defeat to the Suns?

Meanwhile, Phoenix’s own winning run is nothing to be sniffed at either, with the Arizona-based outfit enjoying a five-game win streak of their own. After a ten-year absence from the NBA playoffs, Phoenix now look a shoo-in to break that unwanted run, and return to the zenith of the NBA, and a win over Utah would go some way to rubber stamping their postseason credentials. When studying the stat books, it comes as little surprise that the Suns are currently operating in the upper echelons of the Western Conference. Only the Brooklyn Nets can boast a more efficient field goal percentage and, when you pair a deadly offence with a top five ranked defence, Phoenix have all the ingredients to become championship contenders this term. In one of the games of the season, which side will come out on top? 

Thursday 8th April 12:00PM GMT – Golf: The Masters Day 1 

The best of the best in the world of golf come together for the sports most prestigious competition. The Masters Tournament begins at the Augusta National Golf Course on Thursday 8th April 2021 at 12:00PM GMT.

Such is the unprecedented nature of this past year, the 2021 Masters tournament comes less than six months after Dustin Johnson sunk the 2020 tournament-winning putt back in November. In what could be the shortest reign as Masters champion in PGA history, can DJ return to the apex of Men’s golf? 

Whilst the world number one will be favourite to reign supreme once more, there will be a star-studded chasing pack on his tail looking to dethrone the 2020 champ. Amongst them is the mercurial Bryson DeChambeau, who will head to Augusta in search of a second major championship of his career. The heavy-hitting American has already submitted some excellent performances this season, and enjoyed a particularly fruitful March. DeChambeau followed up his victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational with a T3 finish at the Players, making him one of the form horses heading into the biggest weekend in the PGA Tour calendar. However, after finishing T34 at last year’s edition, Bryson will have a point to prove this time round as he looks to unleash his unique brand of golf on the hallowed turf of Augusta.

Another man who will be looking to leave his mark on Augusta National is Jordan Spieth, who has seemingly found a return to form in recent months. After bursting onto the scene with two major wins in 2015 as a fresh-faced 21-year-old, Spieth has only added one more major title since, and is now looking to end a four-year drought since last claiming one of the sport’s top prizes. Will 2021 be the year the amiable American finally adds to his three-major haul?

Friday 9th April 2:00PM GMT – Cricket: Mumbai Indians v Royal Challengers Bangalore 

It’s opening day in the new IPL season – the opening act pits the Indians against the Royal Challengers!

It is one of the sport’s grandest spectacles, attracting millions of viewers across the globe, as the biggest and best talents in cricket congregate for two months of intense competition. The Mumbai Indians will headline opening day, as the back-to-back champs seek the perfect start to their title defence against Bangalore. 

Since the tournament’s inception in 2008, no team has won the title in three consecutive seasons, but that is the task now facing Rohit Sharma and his Mumbai Indians, who have managed to retain their superstars for another campaign. Much of Mumbai’s success last term was built upon a devastating bowling brigade, led by the one-two punch of Jasprit Bumrah and Trent Boult. With 52 wickets between them, Bumrah and Boult were intrinsic to the Indians’ title charge and they will be looking to make a similar impact this time around. Bumrah particularly enjoyed great success against RCB last term, posting bowling figures of 14-3 in their meeting back in October. 

Meanwhile, having finished fourth in the league standings last term, Royal Challengers Bangalore will be hoping to pose a greater threat to the table-toppers this time around, as they seek a first ever IPL title. Despite reaching three Finals, with the most recent of those coming in 2016, Bangalore remain one of just two teams to have appeared in all 13 seasons without winning a title. Captained by the inimitable Virat Kohli, Bangalore can be one of the league’s most exciting teams to watch, but often flatter to deceive at the big moments. Can they get off to the perfect start against this year’s team to beat?

Saturday 10th April 4:15PM GMT – Horse Racing: The Grand National 

One of the biggest races in jump racing is back as The Grand National returns for 2021. The race starts on Saturday 10th April 2021 at 4:15PM GMT.

After last year’s National fell foul to the pandemic, Aintree’s doors will fling open once again this week to welcome the good and the great of the Jump Racing game to contest the sport’s grandest prize on the biggest day of the UK horse racing calendar. With a mouth-watering top prize of £1 million up for grabs, the Grand National is Europe’s most valuable jump racing event, but who are the most likely runners and riders to reign supreme on Saturday? 

Outright favourite is Cloth Cap, trained by Jonjo O’Neill who is looking to secure a second Grand National win of his career. Having won his last two races, Cloth Cap will head to Aintree as one of the race’s form horses, with one of those wins coming in the prestigious Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury. The heavily-backed nine-year-old will be ridden by Tom Scudamore, who will be eyeing a maiden Aintree Grand National victory this weekend himself. However, since the turn of the millennium, only four favourite/joint favourites have lived up to their tag and won this most revered race – can Cloth Cap become the latest to etch its name into Aintree history? 

Among the other contenders is Willie Mullins’ Burrows Saint, who has vast big race experience, having already notched the Irish National title back in 2019. For a trainer whose horses never seem to be too far from the favourites list, it may be surprising to learn that Mullins has only one Grand National win on his celebrated CV, coming back in 2005 with the combination of ‘Hedgehunter’ and Ruby Walsh. However, with 8-year-old Burrows Saint, set to be ridden by Mullins’ top jockey Paul Townend, coming into the prime of his racing life, many punters expect this horse to make a splash at Aintree and secure a second Grand National win for the legendary trainer. 

Sunday 11th April 2:00PM GMT – Rugby Union: Clermont Auvergne v Toulouse 

It’s an all-French affair in this Champions Cup Quarter-final – kick-off at Parc des Sports Marcel Michelin comes at 2:00PM GMT. 

Two title candidates will go to battle in this Champions Cup Quarter-final, but which side’s title hopes will be kept alive after the weekend’s affairs? 

French sides dominate this year’s Quarterfinals draw, with five of the eight teams remaining representing the tricolour. Clermont are one such team looking to advance to the Semifinals this week, but their recent history in this competition makes for grim reading for the club’s followers. It has been a case of always the bridesmaid and never the bride for ‘Les Jaunards’ in recent years as, despite reaching three Champions Cup Finals in the last decade, Clermont have failed to break their duck in this prestigious competition. However, after a stoppage-time try was enough to see of Wasps in the last round, Clermont will be hopeful of progressing to the Semis later this month. 

Meanwhile, if Clermont have been the bridesmaid, then Toulouse are the both the bride and groom, as they have enjoyed immense success in this competition throughout the club’s illustrious history. Only Leinster can rival Toulouse’s title tally of four, but no other team has reached more Champions Cup Finals than the French outfit. However, with their most recent appearance coming in their cup-winning season of 2009/10, Toulouse are long overdue a trip to the tournament’s showpiece game. Despite losing on their most recent matchup with Clermont, that was the only loss suffered by Toulouse in their last five meetings with their French counterparts, but can they pull off another win on the big stage on Sunday? 

Other sporting highlights from around the globe

Honourable mentions around the globe first go to the NBA where another jam-packed week of action lies in wait. We raise the curtain on the new week in Dallas, where the Mavericks will play host to the in-form Utah Jazz. The Los Angeles Clippers continue their nine-game home stand on Tuesday as they welcome the Portland Trail Blazers to the Staples Center. Western Conference matters continue to dominate the schedule this week as the Denver Nuggets take on the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday and Friday. Four ties headline Thursday’s NBA schedule as: the Clippers face the Suns, the Heat meet the Lakers, the Mavericks take on the Bucks and the Jazz entertain the Trail Blazers. Two teams tussling for position in the East lock horns on Friday as the Milwaukee Bucks face off with the Charlotte Hornets. There is a Saturday cross-Conference affair to look forward to this week which will see the Brooklyn Nets entertain the LA Lakers. 

Monday is a red-letter day on the PDC Tour, with the dawn of the new Unibet Premier League. In its new condensed format, there will be five nights of action from Monday to Friday this week.

The latest event on the WTA World Tour begins in earnest on Monday, coming in the shape of the Volvo Car Open – it continues all week-long culminating in Sunday’s Final. Meanwhile, on the ATP World Tour, the Monte-Carlo Masters gets underway on Sunday and continues into next week. 

This week’s NHL offering initially takes us to the Xcel Energy Center in Minnesota where the Wild will entertain the Avalanche on Tuesday and Thursday. There is a Central Division matchup on Tuesday which will see the Carolina Hurricanes take on the Florida Panthers.

Football fans will be gearing up for another hectic week of action across Europe’s biggest and best club competitions. It all gets underway on Tuesday as the Champions League Quarterfinals pit Manchester City against Borussia Dortmund. There is a UCL double header on Wednesday featuring Bayern Munich’s clash with Paris Saint-Germain and FC Porto’s meeting with Chelsea. There is also a Serie A showdown to follow on Wednesday as Juventus entertain Napoli. The four first legs of the four Europa League Quarterfinals are scheduled for Thursday: Arsenal will play Slavia Prague, Granada do battle with Manchester United, Dinamo Zagreb entertain Villarreal and Ajax face off with Roma. Meanwhile, two Bundesliga high-flyers lock horns on Saturday as Eintracht Frankfurt meet Wolfsburg at the Commerzbank-Arena. One of the most eagerly anticipated fixtures in world football will play out on Saturday as Real Madrid host Barcelona in the latest El Clasico. Meanwhile, table-topping Atletico Madrid will continue their La Liga title charge with a trip to Real Betis. There will be plenty at stake in the top half of the Premier League table this weekend as Manchester City meet Leeds United and Liverpool take on Aston Villa. The race for the top four will come into sharper focus on Sunday, when West Ham United face Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur welcome Manchester United to north London. Two NWSL fixtures headline the schedule in the States as th season begins this week as the Houston Dash go up against the Chicago Red Stars and the North Carolina Courage face the Washington Spirit. 

The UCI World Tour continues through the week with the Itzulia Basque Country set to play out. 

New Zealand Women take on Australia Women in the 2nd T20I on Wednesday, before meeting in the third three days later. Meanwhile in the Men’s game, South Africa and Pakistan thrash out the 3rd ODI on Wednesday and the 1st T20I on Saturday. Thursday sees the start of the brand-new County Championship season, with Essex’s clash with Worcestershire one of the nine fixtures to start on opening day. Sunrisers Hyderabad will be seeking the perfect start to the new IPL season as they go up against the Kolkata Knight Riders on Sunday. 

With the new MLB season up and running, there are plenty of series to follow along with this week. Top of the bill is the Tampa Bay Rays’ tussle with the New York Yankees – they will meet three times this week. 

The AFL season continues with another scintillating tie in prospect as Port Adelaide entertain Richmond on Friday. 

This weekend’s Rugby Union action is headlined by the Challenge Cup and Champions Cup Quarterfinals. It’s an all-English affair in the Challenge Cup as Leicester Tigers take on Newcastle Falcons. Meanwhile, the stand-out tie in the Champions Cup sees Exeter do battle with Leinster at Sandy Park. The Highlanders and Chiefs will provide the entertainment on Saturday morning as the sides lock horns in a Super Rugby Aotearoa showdown, whilst the Reds and Brumbies do battle the same day in Super Rugby AU. The Women’s Six Nations continues with a mouth-watering clash between Wales and Ireland on Saturday. 

Panthers and Raiders will take the stage on Friday as they tussle for position in the NRL standings. 

British welterweight prospect Conor Benn will look to defend his perfect 17-0 record as he returns to the ring this weekend to take on Samuel Vargas at Wembley Arena. 

The Formula E season continues this weekend with the Rome E-Prix set to play out with two rounds of action. 

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

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Photos by Gonzaga Men's Basketball, Real Madrid C.F., Utah Jazz, Mumbai Indians, Aintree Racecourse, Stade Toulousain Rugby

Written and information correct on 4th April at 9pm GMT

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