Many would have considered it a quiet weekend on the sporting front, however, in spite of the lack of front-page live action to enjoy, there was plenty of behind-the-scenes drama to get our teeth into.
1. On the block
The writing had been on the wall for some time, Antonio Conte is gone, but few could have pictured it ending like this.
After overhauling Arsenal to finish fourth last season, this campaign has descended into an uncanny sort of groundhog day for Spurs, who parted company with Jose Mourinho under a similar cloud just two years ago.
Where do Tottenham go next? Events in Germany might just have a part to play with the recently unemployed Julian Nagelsman on the wanted list at White Hart Lane. But in the more immediate future, with Champions League football on the line, can Spurs galvanise themselves once again for a top four finish?
Tottenham to finish in the top four @ 2/1
2. Ending the drought
Just as it appeared racing had produced a peerless superstar in Constitution Hill – a peer has emerged.
The manner in which Equinox obliterated his rivals in the Dubai Sheema Classic without coming off the bridle was truly breath-taking.
Japan has another big win on the international stage and racing has another superstar. Compatriot Sharyar was unable to back up Sheema glory in the Arc last season, but surely Equinox, having so boldly announced himself to the racing world, can be counted upon to step forward end the Japanese drought at Longchamp.
For odds on Equinox to win the Arc call our private office on 020 7851 5407 or 07492 882213
3. High hopes
Although the Flat season on British shores does not get underway until the Lincoln meeting this weekend, over the Irish Sea Flat racing was back at the Curragh this weekend and a contingent of Ballydoyle three year olds took to the track for a racecourse gallop with Aidan O’Brien providing some Classic clues.
There was plenty of evidence to suggest that last season’s two-year-olds would train on into their Classic campaigns. But the winter months threw another curveball the way of Aiden O’Brien with the unfortunate loss of Blackbeard to a career-ending injury. Having been the jewel in the Ballydoyle two-year-old crown last year – for most trainers the loss of a horse of that calibre would be a body blow.
But not Aiden O’Brien. The latest potential star on the production line is Auguste Rodin. He won the Vertem Futurity in classy style back in October and, at an open morning ahead of the new season, O’Brien told the assembled press: “If we have a horse capable of doing the Triple Crown, Auguste Rodin is the one.”
He leads the market for the Guineas along with his stablemate, and fellow juvenile star, Little Big Bear and is as short as 11/4 for this year’s Derby, while also leading the market for the Leger. He couldn’t, could he?
Auguste Rodin/Little Big Bear to win the Guineas @ 4/1
4. More Masters heartbreak?
It was far from perfect preparation for Rory McIlroy to lose in such dramatic circumstances at the Match Play on Sunday. The manner of his collapse, having been two up with three to go, does not bode well for his bid to end a nine-year major drought in search of that elusive fifth title.
Yet, statistically speaking the North-Irishman is playing the best golf of his career, with last year’s Masters second and third at The Open the two best performances he has ever put up without converting into wins at (4.22 and 3.98 SG respectively). But, as we all know, golf hinges on the mental game. So, the question is thus begged, does McIlroy have the mentality to end the drought?
Rory McIlroy to win the Masters @ 15/2
5. Walking wounded
Man City had settled into a nice rhythm before the international break, with the indomitable Erling Haaland notching back to back hat tricks and Phil Foden re-finding his spark after a difficult season so far.
But the Citizens could be without both key men for the visit of Liverpool on Saturday lunchtime. Foden is a confirmed absentee after surgery for appendicitis, while doubts surround the availability of Haaland after he withdrew from the Norwegian squad with a thigh injury.
This is less than ideal preparation for City ahead of a fixture which could prove instrumental in deciding the destination of the Premier League trophy – but perhaps not in the way that pundits and fans alike might have expected before the season.
Much has been made of Liverpool’s struggles this term, but despite their difficulties, they maintain a good record against this season’s top six: played eight, won six, drawn one, lost one. They beat Man City at Anfield earlier in the season and their brutal demolition of Man Utd should not be discounted. Can they provide a title race twist on Saturday?
Liverpool to beat Man City @ 9/2