Editors' Picks: The Return of Rafa the standout story as 2023 becomes 2024


Editors' Picks: The Return of Rafa the standout story as 2023 becomes 2024

Rafael Nadal is finally back
Rafael Nadal is finally back AFP, Flashscore
Sure, partying the night away on New Year's Eve can be fun, but there's enough going on in the world of sport over the weekend to ensure that you can have just as much fun seeing in the new year from your sofa.

Here are the sporting events our editors will be ending 2023 and starting 2024 with.

Friday, December 29th

The Turkish Super Cup - 18:45 CET

The highly anticipated Istanbul derby that took place on Christmas Eve proved to be something of a damp squib, ending 0-0 after a cagey 90 minutes, but there's reason to believe this one will be far better.

That's mainly because it's the Super Cup rather than a league clash, meaning that it has to produce a winner - even if Galatasaray and Fenerbahce both play risk-free football for the entirety as they did last time, we'll be treated to the fun of a penalty shootout at the end of it. 

With settling for a draw not a possibility for either side though, we should see both play with more intent and ambition, allowing the wealth of attacking talent on display - Hakim Ziyech, Dusan Tadic, Mauro Icardi, Eden Dzeko and Dries Mertens, to name a few - to show what they can do. 

The atmosphere admittedly won't be anywhere near what it usually is for such a clash given the match is controversially taking place in Saudi Arabia rather than the Turkish capital against the wishes of both clubs, but you can expect things to be as fiery as ever on the pitch with the first trophy of the season up for grabs. 

Saturday, December 30th

Juventus vs Roma - 20:45 CET

There aren't any heavyweight clashes taking place in the Premier League or Serie A during the day on Saturday, but the final match of the day should more than make up for that. 

Both Juventus and Roma are currently falling just short of achieving their goals for the season, with the former trailing Inter Milan by four points at the top of the table and the latter three behind Bologna in the battle for fourth. As a result, both will be giving all they've got to end 2023 on a high. 

Juventus head into the clash as slight favourites. They've looked the better of the two sides over the course of the season thus far and boast an excellent home record, winning six and drawing two of their eight matches to take place at the Allianz Stadium. 

It's not a foregone conclusion by any means though. Roma showed what they can do last time out with a 2-0 victory against Napoli and Jose Mourinho has a strong record against Max Allegri, winning five and drawing three of their 12 clashes, getting one win and one draw last season. 

The two have fallen out a fair few times over the years as have plenty of the players, so you can expect some fireworks in addition to the flares the supporters will most likely be letting off for their final match of the year. 

Sunday, December 31st 

Kansas City Chiefs vs Cincinnati Bengals - 22:25 CET

Last year, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Cincinnati Bengals met in the AFC Championship game - a tussle that saw the Chiefs advance to the Super Bowl with a 23-21 victory.

The pair meet again on Sunday in the penultimate regular season weekend and their seasons have been contrasting. The Chiefs, led by quarterback Patrick Mahomes, have almost wrapped up the AFC West title and secured their spot in the play-offs. A win against the Bengals would certainly guarantee that. However their form of late has been poor with just one win in their last four encounters.

For their opponents this weekend, it's been a harder slog. Sitting with eight wins and seven losses from their 15 games this season, they sit bottom of the AFC North, but they still have a chance of making the postseason - NFL.com have them with a 24% chance.

Their chances have improved of late with three wins from four, two of which came needing overtime.

It is set to be a pulsating clash that could decide who will make their way to the promised lands of the play-offs.

The Brisbane International - 23:30 CET

Beginning at the very end of the weekend and very end of 2023 for those of you in Europe is the first Brisbane International since 2019, and it's far more than just a warm-up event for the Australian Open this time around, serving as the stage for the long-awaited return of one of the greats of the game. 

Due to injury problems, Rafael Nadal hasn't played competitive tennis for almost a year now, but the 37-year-old isn't returning for what he expects to be the final season of his career just to make up the numbers. 

The Spaniard has looked impressive in the videos of him training that have been going around the internet in recent weeks, moving and hitting well, so much so that his rivals have already begun to big up his chances of competing for Grand Slams in 2024. 

If he could do so and add to his tally, it would undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest sporting stories ever, and whether such a story is a pipe dream or a genuine possibility may well become clear in Brisbane, where he could face the likes of Holger Rune, Grigor Dimitrov and Andy Murray. If he can compete well against players of that level, we can start to get excited. 

Add in the fact that four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka is also making a long-awaited return on the women's side, and the Brisbane International becomes a tournament that you won't want to miss. 

Monday, January 1st

Liverpool vs Newcastle - 21:00 CET

It's fair to say that 2024 is starting in style in the Premier League, with a crucial clash at Anfield between two of England's biggest clubs kicking things off. 

For Liverpool, anything but a win would be a disappointment. They've gotten themselves into the title fight with a strong first half of the season, but will be well aware that they could quickly drop out of that fight with a few slip-ups given the quality of the Arsenal and Manchester City sides they're up against. The chances of such slip-ups will increase considerably once Mohamed Salah leaves for the African Cup of Nations, so they need to ensure they take all three points from their last match with him for around a month. 

Newcastle meanwhile are in need of a boost as much as anyone. Back-to-back defeats to Luton and Nottingham Forest have dealt their chances of Champions League football a huge blow, and they've now picked up fewer points in their last five league games than everyone except Crystal Palace, losing four of them. While a defeat to Liverpool would be expected, a heavy one would see manager Eddie Howe begin to come under pressure. 

Remarkably, the Magpies haven't beaten the Merseyside side since 2015, drawing four and losing 10 of the matches between the two since then, including the last five. They're a much better side now than they were for most of those though, with this now a proper heavyweight clash again. 

It should be a highly entertaining affair, and how it pans out will tell us a huge amount about how the battles for the title and the top four could unfold in 2024.


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