Is the Premier League already a two-horse race?

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It look like the title will be a fight between City and Chelsea this season, even though there is over half a season still to go. (AFP)
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Updated 06 December 2018
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Is the Premier League already a two-horse race?

  • City and Liverpool look like the sides to beat.
  • Wheels come off Sarri's Chelsea after two defeats in 10 days.

After a full pre-festive fixture list in the Premier League, we thought it a good time to step back and see what is happening in the world’s most popular league before the hectic winter schedule.

IS THE TITLE ALREADY A TWO-HORSE RACE?

The Premier League is often accused of being too predictable. That, bar the did-that-really-happen, still-cannot-believe-it shock of Leicester City winning the trophy in 2016, the champions will only come from an ever more detached group of moneybags teams. This season could be the most predictable yet. It's not even Christmas and we are already calling this season’s title race a two-horse affair. Liverpool, in second, are already six points ahead of Tottenham in third and Manchester City, the current leaders, are another two points in front of them.
It is not just the gap, though, that suggests the other teams are playing for Champions League spots — the Reds and City look a class apart.
While the top two were easily — with a healthy mix of fight and flair — picking up three points at tricky away ties at Burnley and Watford, their rivals for the title were looking shaky rather than solid.
Spurs, for all their brilliance in attack, looked brittle at the back against a Southampton team that has won just once this season. Arsenal could not beat the most lackluster Manchester United side we can remember (see below) and Chelsea lost to newly promoted Wolves, their second defeat in the space of 10 days. It may not be what you want to hear, but make no mistake about it, the race for the title is already a two-horse one and we are not even near the back straight.



MANCHESTER UNITED LIFELESS UNDER MOURINHO

It is hard to put into words just how bad Manchester United have become under Jose Mourinho.
The reaction to the 2-2 draw at home to Arsenal said it all. Apparently, having looked devoid of fight during their 2-2 draw at Southampton on Saturday, the fact that United showed some intensity against the Gunners was a sign of progression and of things going the right way. In that one sentence you have proof that under the Portuguese the Old Trafford club have become B-list. Fight and intensity are the very least you expect from a club with the biggest wage bill in the Premier League. But under Mourinho the talk and tone has changed. From being perennial title favorites, the coach now talks in terms of finishing in the top four as a success.
Under Sir Alex Ferguson, United won titles and trophies galore. Under Mourinho — brought over two years ago to bring back the glory days — the fans now are served up dull, defensive football, without hope of silverware. United are eighth, eight points off a Champions League spot, 18 points behind City, and behind Bournemouth.
Mourinho has spent his career sucking the life out of football, and now it seems he is slowly sucking the life out of United.



CHELSEA RUN OUT OF STEAM

Maurizio Sarri enjoyed a great start to life as coach of the Blues. He broke the shackles of Antonio Conte’s regime and brought in a more attacking philosophy. Eden Hazard was playing some of the football of his career, they were unbeaten in their first 12 matches and looking good for a title challenge.
Over the past 10 days the idea that the chain-smoking Italian could turn the Blues from a fifth-placed side to potential champions has been dealt a knee-high tackle.
It took Pep Guardiola a year to impose his will and system on City and it seems the same length of time is needed, at the very least, for Sarri to do the same at Stamford Bridge. Being outclassed by Spurs two weeks ago and outfought at Wolves highlighted the need for N’Golo Kante to play in his favored position as defensive midfielder, but those defeats also laid bare the extent of the job the likeable Sarri has on his hands.
They head into tomorrow’s home clash against City 10-points adrift of the league leaders and it is likely to get worse before it gets better.

 


Uruguay’s Indian cricketers searching for a permanent home

Updated 10 min 20 sec ago
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Uruguay’s Indian cricketers searching for a permanent home

  • Descendants of Indian immigrants carry banner for Uruguay in the cricket field

MONTEVIDEO: Every Sunday, close to a statue of Indian independence hero Mahatma Gandhi, a group of Indian ex-pats take over a patch of land in Uruguay’s capital Montevideo for a game of cricket.
Tucked in between the Rio de la Plata estuary and the long promenade known as the “rambla” that stretches from one side of Montevideo to the other, Avijit Mukherjee prepares to bat, watched eagerly by his Uruguayan girlfriend.
“I played in my country but with a lot more infrastructure,” said the 28-year-old Mukherjee, whose girlfriend Veronica is the main reason he has stayed in Uruguay.
“There are stadiums and many places to play in India, whereas here we only have one.”
Although cricket was first played in Montevideo by British expat workers even before the foundation of the independent republic in 1828, its practice died out in the 1980s.
But following an influx of Indian immigrants to Uruguay at the turn of the century, cricket steadily returned to Montevideo.
First there were one-off matches. Then, the players organized their own league and even set up a Uruguayan national team.
At the end of last year, Uruguay, whose team was made up almost entirely of Indian expats, finished second in the South American championships in Colombia.
While the cricketers are now established on their little patch of land, their initial appearance was not entirely welcomed by local footballers playing on an adjacent pitch.
“We came like spiders and rebuked them,” recalls Daniel Mosco, a local resident who has been playing football in that field for 30 years.
The issue was quickly resolved, though, and the cricketers agreed to start playing only once the football matches had finished.
With no fixed cricket markings, players use flour to draw white lines.
Now, bat can be heard crashing against ball until sunset.
Even though they’ve been here for years, the shouts of “howzat!” and “wait on” still elicit glances from locals making their way along the rambla.
They make a curious spectacle for people little accustomed with either cricket or India.
Mosco, for one, was surprised that the players speak to each other in English.
And there’s another surprise in the form of 29-year-old doctor Saied Muhammad Asif Raza: he’s from Pakistan.
“Between the governments and in (professional) cricket there are always problems, but the people get on really well and within the team the are no problems whatsoever,” said Asif.
He left his home town of Multan, 10 hours from Islamabad, at 19 and moved to Cuba thanks to a Fidel Castro scholarship.
After returning home, he found he couldn’t readapt to his own culture.
“I didn’t come here to find a better life economically, I had a better life in my country because in my family we didn’t lack for anything,” said Asif.
“The thing is that when you live many years away, nowhere is home, and cricket brings me close to it.”
Although now at home on their small patch, finding something more permanent is crucial to Montevideo’s cricketers.
“We’re looking for a permanent ground,” Beerbal Maniyattukudy, the Uruguayan cricket association’s secretary, told AFP.
“We have 120 players this year. On top of that we’re starting some women’s teams and for now we have 20 people interested. We also have plans for an under-15s league.”
The solution may lie with Uruguay’s most popular football team: Penarol.
Penarol started life as the Central Uruguay Railway Cricket Club (CURCC), founded by British railway workers in 1891.
It was a multisport club — but just over 20 years later, its football section broke off and was absorbed by a newly created team, Penarol.
The original club’s cricket section disappeared as football became the main focus — but it was relaunched a week ago.
And crucially, Penarol are planning to build a cricket pitch an hour outside Montevideo.
“When we raised the idea of cricket, there wasn’t much to sort out; everyone was aware of what it meant to the history of the club, we just needed to work out how to make it happen,” said Leonardo Vinas, who is heading up the project.
While many club members signed up to be involved, very few have ever played cricket.
Vinas says the project will take time, not just to spread interest in the sport, but also for the club’s staff to get their heads around the rules of the game.
“Even now, we’re still not clear about certain rules.”