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.

 


Petra Kvitova positive ahead of Dubai final against Belinda Bencic

Updated 40 min 51 sec ago
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Petra Kvitova positive ahead of Dubai final against Belinda Bencic

  • World No. 4 wins third three-setter of the week beat Hsieh Su-wei and claim place in the final.
  • Swiss star Bencic deals a forehand smash to Svitolina's chances of unprecedented hat-trick.

LONDON: If Petra Kvitova does get her hands on the Dubai trophy against Belinda Bencic on Saturday, she will be quick to admit she did it the hard way.
The two-time Wimbledon champion was once again made to toil at the Aviation Club as she finally overcame Hsieh Su-Wei 3-6, 6-2, 6-4. It was her third three-setter in four days and came about as much through sheer grit and determination as any superior groundstrokes or serves.
“Yeah, it was (tough),” the Czech said.
“It was a tough one, for sure. She really didn’t give me anything for free.
“It was a tough first set. I’m glad that I was able to came back in the second. Anyway I didn’t play great at the end of the first.”
Coming into the event the world No. 4 admitted she was undercooked and in need of some game time. While, in hindsight, the three-setters against Katerina Siniakova and Jennifer Brady in the first two rounds probably did her some good, another match that went the distance was probably not in the ideal script for the 2013 Dubai champion.
But Hsieh is a tricky opponent and she proved it once again on Centre Court. The world No. 31 hits two-handed shots off both sides and was trying to beat her fourth top-10 seed of the week. That included wins over Angelique Kerber in the third round and Karolina Pliskova in the quarterfinals.

Bencic will try to upset Kvitova in Saturday's final at the Aviation Club (AFP) 


She started off in much the same vein as she had finished against Kerber and Pliskova, hurrying Kvitova around the court and making life as uncomfortable as possible under the hot Dubai sun.
“She’s very tricky,” Kvitova said about Hsieh, who grabbed five games in a row to take the opening set and go up 1-0 in the second.
“I didn’t really play the best at the end of the first set. But I calmed down afterwards a little bit,” Kvitova said.
“With Hsieh, I need to be a little bit patient. ... It’s not really that easy to make those winners against her.”
While she has 
not consistently displayed her A-game this week it should come as no shock that Kvitova has made today’s final. It was the second seed’s 17th victory of 2019 — a feat bettered by no one — and it will be her third final of the season and 35th of her career. She revealed that her presence in the showdown is thanks to her mental toughness and she admitted that after a long week she will have to draw on that a lot today.
“I think I’m pleased with my kind of mental focus after losing the first set, that I was more calmer when I came back and played from the beginning of the second set,” Kvitova said.
“I still kind of felt that I can do that somehow — it was something weird.
“I’m a bit tired right now, to be honest. I have a final, so I don’t know how I going to recover. Hopefully I have a few hours to do something with me.”
Of her sparkling form so far this year she said: “It’s a bit weird, to be honest. I didn’t really expect anything like that. Well, to be honest, I didn’t expect anything, which I already achieved this year. For me, everything is just bonus.
“As I mentioned, the tennis, it’s a bit like escape this week. This is unbelievable to be in the final when I’m escaping from something. Yeah, very interesting.”
In the other semifinal Bencic once again upset the odds to overcome world No. 6 Elina Svitolina 6-2, 6-3, 7-6. The Swiss went into the clash as the underdog, but from the off the world No. 45 was aggressive and deservedly won.
In doing so she ended Svitolina’s 12-match winning streak in Dubai and ended the two-time defending champion’s hopes of becoming the first woman to win three Dubai titles in a row.