Friday Top 5: Bold predictions for 2021

Friday Top 5: Bold predictions for 2021

Evening all. As the first week of 2021 comes to an end, we haven’t exactly experienced the “bump” we had hoped for from the new year. In the US, Trump-supporting arseholes – many dressed in furry viking hats for some reason – stormed the Capitol in a violent, stupid and frankly embarrassing attempt to delay the transition of presidential power. Despite the encouraging rollout of vaccines, Covid cases are on the rise around the world and healthcare systems, at least in the UK, appear to be on the verge of collapse. Stay safe out there folks, it seems there’s a long road still ahead.

Anyway, the show must go on, so to speak. And so whilst very little is certain regarding the sporting calendar in 2021, I thought it might be fun to make some predictions for the coming year. Now, I’ve tried to stick here to what I would describe as “bold” prophecies. I don’t see much point in predicting that Lewis Hamilton will win his fourth successive world Formula 1 title, or that Liverpool win the Premier League. Most people fully expect those things to happen, so I’d argue it’s not particularly interesting.

Instead, I’ve gone for unlikely events – across five different sports – that I think have a decent chance of occurring, for reasons I shall go into. Right, let’s get into it.

Belgium win Euro 2021

It might not seem like a particularly bold statement to say that the world number one-ranked football team will win a tournament. But if you asked a smattering of football experts around the world for their Euro 2021 predictions, I’m not sure that Belgium would be at the top of many lists. Experience counts for everything, after all, and Belgium’s best previous result at a major international tournament was as a defeated finalist at Euro 1980. While France have probably got the best team on paper, I just feel that Belgium’s “golden generation” might get the job done. At 29-years-old, the inspirational Kevin de Bruyne has become one of the world’s best players and record goalscorer Romelu Lukaku has found a new lease of life at Inter Milan. Meanwhile, experienced international stalwarts like Thibault Courtois, Toby Alderweireld, Eden Hazard and Yannick Carrasco continue to perform at the top level. Entering his fifth year in the job, manager Roberto Martinez has settled and the team has lost just one match – away in England – in its past 18 fixtures.

Max Verstappen wins the F1 World Championship

What comes up must, eventually, come down. And this is what I predict might happen with the Mercedes F1 team this year. The Silver Arrows have absolutely dominated the sport recently, winning the drivers’ and constructors’ championship double every year since 2014. In Lewis Hamilton, they have the best and most-successful driver in history (his 2021 contract isn’t yet confirmed but the Brit is expected to renew). But while Hamilton cruised to his seventh title last year, I fancy Red Bull and in particular Max Verstappen to pip them this time out. Ever since he burst onto the scene as a teenager in 2015, Verstappen’s talent has never been in question. Now 23, he has erased the mistakes that dogged his early career and last year proved that he has the maturity and consistency to challenge Mercedes. Despite having a weaker car, he was always fighting for the win and this season, in Sergio Perez, he has a far stronger teammate to take points away from his rivals. Provided Red Bull can deliver a stronger car, Verstappen has the hunger and ability to go all the way in 2021.

Musetti storms into the world’s Top 50

Lorenzo Musetti was surely the break-out player on the ATP tour last year. The 18-year-old Italian, who plays with a swagger belying his years, has won just five matches on the tour but he appears destined to reach the pinnacle of the sport. At the Rome Masters he stunned three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka, taking the first set 6-0, before overcoming former world number four Kei Nishikori in the next round. He backed up that performance by winning his next tournament – the Forli challenger – and then made the semifinals in Sardinia to finish the year just outside the world’s top 100. Armed with a picture-perfect single-handed backhand, a brilliant drop-shot and a ferocious forehand, I’m backing Musetti to continue his development this year and challenge compatriot Jannick Sinner, 19, for the title as the sport’s brightest young star. Not many teenagers break into the world’s top 50, but I think Musetti will.

France secure Six Nations Grand Slam

Having narrowly missed out on Six Nations glory last year, finishing second to England thanks to an inferior points difference, I’m backing France to all the way – via a Grand Slam – in 2021. They have a tough draw, with trips to Twickenham and the Aviva Stadium to negotiate, but this young team have enough talent and desire to cope. Their back-line reads like the Harlem Globetrotters with the likes of Antoine Dupont, Romain Ntamack, Teddy Thomas and Gael Fickou providing an obscene amount of footballing ability. Meanwhile, up front captain Charles Ollivon, tireless no. 8 Gregory Aldritt and lock Paul Willemse allow them to compete with any of the strong Northern Hemisphere packs. France have had talented teams in the past, but former Wales defense coach Shaun Edwards has added an organizational discipline that was previously lacking. They are, to employ a painfully over-used phrase, the real deal and I think they’ll claim their first title since 2010.

Fury knocks out Joshua

OK, it’s not yet a done deal but all stars seem to point towards a heavyweight unification bout between Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury at some point in 2021 (probably December). The former knocked out Bulgarian Kubrat Pulev last month, while the latter defeated Deontay Wilder in a rematch of their WBC world title fight in February. Together, the two now hold all the belts and promoters Frank Warren and Eddie Hearn will surely find a way to agree on what would be the biggest night in British boxing history. My money would be on the undefeated Fury to win by knockout. The 32-year-old has the edge in both height and reach, and crucially he is also comfortably the more accomplished boxer. Joshua has frightening power, but then so too did Wilder and we all saw what happened to him. Fury, one of the most talented, charismatic and under-appreciated British sportsmen in recent memory, will crown his career by becoming the world’s first undisputed heavyweight champion since Lennox Lewis in front of a packed O2 Arena. Bring it on.

Right, that’s all from me today. Newsletter coming as usual tomorrow morning and I’ll be back here with more words for you on Monday. Till then.

—What do you think of my 2021 predictions? Let me know, and share some of your own, in the comments section below!—