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

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.

 


Saudi desert gears up for first Dakar rally in Asia

Updated 51 min 59 sec ago

Saudi desert gears up for first Dakar rally in Asia

  • Taking place from January 5 to 17, the 7500-kilometer adventure will be hosted in Asia for the first time
  • The race will start in Jeddah and will end in Qiddiya, Riyadh

RIYADH: There are only three weeks to go until Dakar Saudi Arabia 2020 starts in Jeddah.

It will be the first time this adventurous race comes to Asia, where Saudi Arabia’s desert will play host to the 7,500-km-long rally over 13 days of action and 12 stages of challenging navigation.

Taking place from Jan. 5-17, the first edition of the rally will see more than 550 drivers from 62 nations explore the vast and formidable desert terrains of the Kingdom.

“We were really excited by the beautiful landscape. The deserts were exactly what we expected with their dunes, nice mountains and small canyons. We have some stages along the sea also, so it will be a mixed landscape, which is very interesting,” 13-time Dakar Rally winner Stéphane Peterhansel said.

FASTFACT

Taking place from Jan. 5-17, the first edition of the rally will see more than 550 drivers from 62 nations explore the vast and formidable desert terrains of the Kingdom.

More than 550 drivers from 62 countries will participate in the 12-stage race, which runs from Jan. 5-17. 

“Saudi Arabia is a big country, so there are a lot of possibilities. It has many deserts, which makes it the perfect place to organize Dakar,” the French driver added.

Dakar Saudi Arabia 2020 gets underway in Jeddah before drivers and crews navigate their way through the winding dunes for 752 km.

The challenge will continue up north along the coast for nearly 900 km through the Red Sea Project until the futuristic megacity of Neom, where the journey will reach its highest point at an altitude of 1,400 meters amid a series of canyons and mountains.

A combination of sandy stretches and gravel await Dakar’s thrill-seeking competitors as they cruise through the next 676 km from Neom to AlUla in Dakar’s fourth stage, before the sandy hills of Hail put the navigation skills of competitors to the test as they descend south onto Riyadh.

A rest day in the capital will be followed by Dakar Saudi Arabia’s longest stage — 741 km — as the route takes a turn west to the center of the Kingdom’s enormous desert.

The race will take place from January 5 to 17. (Supplied)

The course will then loop back toward Haradh in the eastern governorate of Al-Ahsa, marking the entrance to the Empty Quarter and building up to the grand finale in the future entertainment, sports and cultural destination of Qiddiya, where the winner will be crowned on the final podium.

“Saudi Arabia is a very big country, and you can find almost every type of terrain in it,” Saudi driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi said.

Spanish rally driver Carlos Sainz added: “I think everyone finds it very exciting. It seems to be really what Dakar needs, and we are hoping to enjoy it and have a good race.”

The Saudi Federation of Automobiles and Motorcycles officially confirmed route details of the rally at an international press conference in Paris. 

Dakar Saudi Arabia 2020 will see pilots drive specially modified vehicles, trucks, quads, SxS (four-wheel drive, off-road vehicles) and motorbikes, designed to handle the 12 stages of the varied, challenging terrains.