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WEEKEND PREVIEW: The BIG 7

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Sevilla and Atlético Madrid: a tale of two underdogs battling for recognition

Sevilla are having a roll, enjoying their best league season since the incredible run in 2006/07 with Frédéric Kanouté, Luís Fabiano, Dani Alves, Antonio Puerta, et al and Juande Ramos guided the team to a UEFA Cup triumph having fallen slightly behind Real Madrid and Barcelona in the league.

That season, Atlético Madrid finished a distant sixth, 16 points behind winners Real Madrid and 11 behind Sevilla. But not since Diego Simeone took charge in the winter of 2011 has Atlético finished outside the top four. It’s not the same for Sevilla though, who is only enjoying a rare run at the title since the appointment of Pablo Manchín last summer.

Sevilla’s last taste of relative success either in the league or on the continent where they have a stranglehold of the now renamed UEFA Europa League, largely disappeared with the departure of Unai Emery. However, Manchín returned with revival.

The crowd believing in the impossible, and why not. It’s only 17 weeks, but asides Barça, Sevilla has spent the most number of weeks at the summit of the Primera division; this alone is cause for optimism.

And it has come at a time when Sevilla lost their Sporting director to AS Roma, failed to sign Mariano Díaz from Lyon, and only had to settle for Andre Silva on deadline day.

This is a battle between second and third. A battle between the league’s best defence and the league’s second-best attack. Atletico will be disappointed with the season they have had so far but Sevilla will simply enjoy the ride. And having already thrashed Real Madrod 3-0 at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán this season, the crowd will hope for a historic double.

Real Madrid stumble again

It’s a new year, but the same problems. Real Madrid can’t convert the chances they create and they cannot see off games either, so the same old problems that bedevilled the team in the first half of the season persists and not even the club World Cup win did enough to alter that.

Real Sociedad have a horrendous away record at the Santiago Bernabeu, so anything short of a Real Madrid win will be a surprise.

Real Madrid have some catching up to do, and having passed on the opportunity with Thursday’s disappointing 2-2 draw to Villarreal at El Madrigal, only a win will suffice this weekend with a chance to overtake Sevilla lurking. And should Sevilla win, Real Madrid will be closer to the top three. A win-win scenario, should Real Madrid win.

English FA Cup resumes

It’s that stage of the English FA Cup season where the big guns join the party. We love football’s oldest club competition because of its unpredictability.

Resurgent Manchester United, unbeaten in four since the appointment of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will face Championship side Reading. One more relatively easy tie before Tottenham Hotspur presents the Norwegian manager with his first real test at the helm.

Chelsea and Manchester City will take on Championship sides Nottingham Forest and Rotherham respectively while Arsenal will face League One side, Blackpool.

Liverpool’s draw is a tricky Monday night fixture against Premier League side Wolverhampton. It ends a tough run of games for Liverpool who just played Arsenal and Manchester City and will be visiting the Molineux for the second time in 14 days.

With Liverpool’s league unbeaten streak gone, and thee odd stat of conceding two goals in a game for the first time all season to an English side, I am keen to see how Klopp will react.

Wolverhampton Wanderers are the perfect opponent; the only team to have scored a Premier League goal against every team in the top six – excluding Liverpool – including scoring unlikely wins over Chelsea and Tottenham and a draw against Arsenal, there is no better test.

Brisbane International sets Tennis season in full swing.

The most remarkable feat for me is the steady progress of Naomi Osaka, whose scheduled semi-final clash against unseeded Lesia Tsurenko marks her fourth semi-final appearance in five tournaments since defying the odds to beat Serena Williams at the final of the US Open last September. The Japanese player hasn’t looked back since then.

Noami will probably beat Tsurenko and go on to win the title. I’m keen to see how far she can ride this wave. It’s still early in her career, she’s only 21, but not many have stayed consistent in the game long enough. The sport can do with a new challenger and Naomi looks ripe for it.

On the other hand, Kei Nishikori dispatched No.2 seed and 2017 champion Grigor Dimitrov at the Brisbane International on Thursday night to set up a Semi-final showdown with unseeded Jeremy Chardy after the Frenchman’s early victory over Nishikori’s countryman, Yasutaka Uchiyama.

Jo Wilfred Tsonga will take on Australia’s top seed, De Minaur in the other semi-final clash. But I’d like a final between Nishikori, who is chasing a first title in three years, and Tsonga. Let’s see what the court brings me.

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