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Salah’s Liverpool face Arsenal, Man City tests in race for title

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Mohamed Salah

Mohamed Salah


Halfway towards ending a 29-year wait to win the Premier League, the next seven days will test Liverpool’s title credentials to the fullest, starting with Arsenal’s visit to Anfield on Saturday.

Then on January 3, they visit Manchester City for another crunch match, that has the makings of a title decider.

Liverpool, however, have an advantage, as they have margin for error with a six-point lead at the top of the table.

Tottenham are Liverpool’s closest challengers with City slipping down to third and seven points adrift after three defeats in their last four league games.

That is more than the six points Liverpool have dropped all season so far as Jurgen Klopp’s men remain unbeaten.

“What we said as well is that we want to create our own history. We are the first Liverpool team in the Premier League to be unbeaten in 19 matches –- a little history and a nice step,” said Klopp after a 4-0 thrashing of Newcastle on Boxing Day.

Much more significant history awaits, particularly if Liverpool are still unbeaten come the end of a frantic festive period.

“We have to win our games, we have to be focused, we need to be really in the mood with having tunnel vision,” added Klopp. “That’s really important and then we will see where it leads us.”

Arsenal are one of three sides to have held the league leaders in a 1-1 draw in November and contain the attacking potential in the Premier League’s top-scorer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette to trouble a Liverpool side that has conceded just seven goals this season.

“There are two tough games now: Arsenal and Man City. We need to keep this momentum,” said defender Dejan Lovren.

“We have big character in the squad. If you want to be at the top, you need to have the winning mentality and the calmness.”

City will he hoping for Liverpool to finally cede some ground unless the champions will find themselves 10 points off the top when they kick off at a revitalised Southampton under Ralph Hasenhuettl on Sunday.

“The less important issue is Liverpool, we have to think about Southampton,” insisted Pep Guardiola after defeat at Leicester.

“I don’t forget who we are, how good a team we are, how exceptional these lads I have in the locker room are.

“The reality is we have lost three in four games and the last two. If you want to be real contenders you have to win again. If you don’t, it will not be possible.”

However, Guardiola did send a warning to Liverpool that is much harder to cope with the tag of title favourites as City did last season and until their recent slump this campaign.

“From January, February last season people said, ‘The Premier League is over’. To live with that is not easy,” added the Catalan.

Tottenham have largely managed to escape the focus of attention as title contenders, but can no longer be ignored after smashing 11 goals in their last two games to thrash Everton 6-2 and Bournemouth 5-0.

“The season is fantastic where from the beginning, no one believed much in us,” said Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino, whose side host Wolves on Saturday.

“We need to prepare not only physically but also our minds to be strong because it’s going to be tough to compete in the second half of the season.”

Manchester United have a great chance to continue their revival under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer when a Bournemouth side that have lost eight of their last 10 games visit Old Trafford.

Fresh from scoring eight goals in victories over Cardiff and Huddersfield, United’s attacking options could be further boosted by the returns of Alexis Sanchez, Romelu Lukaku and Anthony Martial from injury and illness.

Fixtures (1500 GMT unless stated)

Saturday

Brighton v Everton, Fulham v Huddersfield, Leicester v Cardiff, Tottenham v Wolves, Liverpool v Arsenal (1730)

Sunday

Crystal Palace v Chelsea (1200), Southampton v Manchester City, Burnley v West Ham (both 1415), Manchester United v Bournemouth (1630)

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Ronaldo accepts prison sentence and €18.8m fine for tax fraud

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Cristiano Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo has accepted a 23-month prison sentence and an €18.8million fine for tax fraud.

The Juventus star attended a court in Madrid on Tuesday to ratify an agreement already reached with Spanish prosecutors.

The 33-year-old was accused of committing four crimes against the Spanish treasury between 2011 and 2014 while he was playing for Real Madrid.

Ronaldo is alleged to have concealed income earned through image rights by using offshore companies.

The Portugal international told reporters that “everything is perfect” after his short appearance in court, during which he accepted the charges as part of a plea deal with the prosecution.

Under Spanish law, he will not be required to spend any time in jail as it is a first-time offence.

Ronaldo was pictured smiling outside court, accompanied by girlfriend Georgina Rodriguez, having given a thumbs-up to waiting reporters upon arriving before signing some autographs for fans.

The forward, who left Madrid last year to join Juventus in a €112m deal, missed a penalty in his side’s 3-0 Serie A win over Chievo on Monday.

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2019 Access Lagos Marathon Expo begins

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Access Bank Marathon

Access Bank Marathon

Hundreds of runners from all walks of life including important personalities from within and outside the sports industry on Tuesday thronged the Molade Okoya Thomas Hall at the Teslim Balogun Stadium as the 2019 Access Bank Lagos City Marathon Expo got underway.

Marathon Expos are an integral part of big marathon races worldwide with major marathons like New York, Dubai, London, Boston, Chicago, Tokyo, Berlin drawing a lot of vendors and exhibitors annually.

The Expo has also been a regular feature at the Access Bank Lagos City Marathon since debuting four years ago.

At this year’s edition, a lot of companies are participating as they are showcasing their products and services to intending runners at the Lagos Marathon as well as the general public.

Some of the dignitaries at the opening day of the Marathon Expo include the Vice President of the Nigeria Olympic Committee, NOC Chief Solomon Ogba as well the Executive Chairman of the Lagos State Sports Commission Dr Kweku Tandoh.

Honourable Bukola Olopade was also present alongside other celebrities.

According to a statement issued by Olukayode Thomas, Head Communications and Media for the Lagos Marathon, a lot of VIP runners were also present on the opening day of the Marathon Expo.

The Access Bank Lagos City Marathon Expo will be running for the next 10 days.

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Battling Nishikori faces big test against Djokovic

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Kei Nishikori

Kei Nishikori

Kei Nishikori’s fighting spirit could face the ultimate test at the Australian Open on Wednesday when he takes on world number one Novak Djokovic in the quarter-finals.

Nishikori overcame Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta in his third five-setter in four rounds on Monday and has spent nearly 14 hours on court at Melbourne, more than any other player.

Djokovic is aware of Nishikori’s battling qualities having lost twice to the Japanese in 17 career meetings, including a defeat in the 2014 U.S. Open semi-finals.

“He’s a talented player. One of the quickest players on the tour, hard worker… I expect a tough one,” Djokovic, who beat Daniil Medvedev in four sets to reach the last eight, said.

“I have lots of respect for him. Every year is different, so every match that you play against each other is different… I expect him obviously to come out, to try something new.”

Djokovic, who took a tumble during his match with Medvedev, was also hampered by a back strain towards the end but shrugged off the problem.

“It was not particularly the fall. It was just a little bit of fatigue, a little bit of back. Nothing major. But there are a couple of things that have surfaced after a match like this,” Djokovic added.

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