It’s that time of the year when the Premier League clubs cry out loud for a breather as the fixture congestion during the festive season overburdens the week. A mere 10 days are left in 2020 and the English teams are still due to play two league games. But that certainly isn’t it. Those who progressed in the EFL Cup will find another game stacked in the midst, meaning that as many as six Premier League teams will play three games between Wednesday, December 23 to December 31. This will be followed by the gameweek 17, which resumes on January 2.
On the cricketing front, the Boxing Day Test between India and Australia at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), starting December 26, remains the highlight fixture. On the very same day, the likes of Pakistan and Sri Lanka will play their first of the two-match Test series against New Zealand and South Africa respectively.
So many games to look forward to, but one rightly needs to keep a keen eye on these two fixtures:
Everton vs Manchester United - EFL Cup
Manchester United travel to Goodison Park on Wednesday, December 23 (Thursday, December 24 as per IST) to take on Everton in the quarter-final of the EFL Cup. The two teams have already locked horns once this season, with United emerging 3-1 victorious thanks to a Bruno Fernandes masterclass. The Red Devils have been on a roll ever since their victory over the Toffees. The team has gone on to score two or more goals in six of their last nine outings, which include as many as three comeback wins.
Manchester United vs Everton head-to-head record may favour the Red Devils (W89, L45, D70), but their recent outings at the Goodison haven’t really been fruitful, to say the least. Barring the recent 3-1 win, United’s last victory at the venue dates back to January 2018. Since then, the Toffees have scored five goals against Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side in just two outings.
Safe to say Manchester United taking on Everton has always been a tricky fixture in recent times, with the former managing just two victories in their last five meetings; drawing two and losing one.
Watch out for:
Bruno Fernandes: It was against Everton that Bruno Fernandes scored his first Manchester United goal from open play last season. In the two games against the Toffees in his career so far, the Portuguese international has netted three times and has assisted one, meaning that he has been a part of all of the goals United have scored against their Wednesday’s opponents since his arrival. Needless to say that Everton will have to be on their toes if they are to keep him quiet.
Australia vs India 2nd Test - Border-Gavaskar Trophy
After a humiliating defeat in the first Test of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, a Virat Kohli-less Indian cricket team will take the field to take on Australia in the second Test of the four-match series from December 26. As history suggests, one can rightly expect a fascinating contest during India vs Australia 2nd Test, but the absence of Virat Kohli and Mohammed Shami means the team management will be forced to make several changes in the starting XI.
Image courtesy: AFP / William West
India and Australia have played 13 Test matches at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, and the former has managed a mere three victories at the venue. Australia, on the other hand, have registered eight wins. Make no mistake though as Australia’s last win over India at the venue dates back to December 2011. Since then, the teams have played two Tests at MCG, and the visitors have won one and drawn the other.
Watch out for:
Ajinkya Rahane: The absence of Virat Kohli means the onus will be on Ajinkya Rahane, who will lead India for the remainder of the Test series, to motivate his side against Australia Down Under. After failing to do so in the first Test, Rahane will look to better his record at MCG as he is India’s second-highest run-scorer (from active players) at the venue, having accumulated 230 runs in four innings at an average of 57.5. The Indian middle-order batsman also has a century to his name at the venue.
Rahane, so far, has captained India’s Test team twice and has won both the games. The fact, however, remains that he has never led the team outside India in the format.
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Feature image courtesy: AFP / Paul Ellis