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Weekend in sport: Manchester City secures crucial win in Liverpool chase; Crimson Tide to face Clemson again; Jon Jones retakes UFC belt

Manchester City plays catch up to swaggering Liverpool... Bama prepares to meet Clemson (again)... Bones...

Posted: Dec. 31, 2018 11:48 AM
Updated: Dec. 31, 2018 11:48 AM

Manchester City plays catch up to swaggering Liverpool... Bama prepares to meet Clemson (again)... Bones makes dream UFC comeback... Cameron Bancroft struggles in his return from the wilderness... Federer warms up for Australian Open with effortless Hopman Cup win. This is your weekend sporting roundup.

Man City secures crucial win to keep title hopes alive

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Manchester City downed Southampton 3-1 to break out of the slump that saw it lose two games in a row to unfancied opposition, a blip that gave Jürgen Klopp's Liverpool the Christmas gift of a seven-point lead.

We're just at the halfway point in the English Premier League -- which grinds on through the cold end-of-year weeks while most other leagues are taking a winter break -- but Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola says that, even at this stage, each game is crunch time.

Calling Liverpool one of the best teams in Europe, the Spaniard said that thanks to Klopp's side's swagger, "(if) we drop points, it's over, it's finished -- it would be almost impossible."

The top two face off at the Etihad Stadium Thursday in a match which looks key to the eventual destination of the title.

The imperious northeast side is setting a relentless pace, with Saturday's shuddering 5-1 win over Arsenal -- the fifth-best team in the league, according to the table -- just the latest sign that the momentum is with the Reds.

The stuttering North Londoners also need to start looking behind them, as Manchester United's new man Ole Gunnar Solskjær continued his perfect start to his stewardship with a 4-1 win over Bournemouth.

A joyous Paul Pogba, released from the negativity of a José Mourinho-managed dressing room, has found his scoring boots, and the Red Devils could easily make a late challenge for the top four -- at the Gunner's expense.

Crimson Tide downs Sooners to set up familiar final

Alabama put Oklahoma to the sword 45-34 in Saturday's Orange Bowl to set up its fourth meeting with (now) old rivals Clemson in the College Football Playoff National Championship.

Crimson Tide's star quarterback -- and Heisman Trophy winner-apparent for much of the season -- Tua Tagovailoa shook off worries over his ankle to complete 24 of 27 passes for 318 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions.

Given the intensity of their previous meetings, no one's taking anything for granted. "(Clemson coach Dabo Swinney) has done a great job there. I'm sure it will be a real challenge for us," Alabama coach Nick Saban said.

"I'm sure we'll need to play better then than we did today," he said, referencing an often spotty game against Oklahoma.

While there will be plenty of fans out there grumbling about seeing the most familiar matchup in college football at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California, on January 7 -- Sooners fans and Notre Dame aficionados (whose team Clemson routed 30-3 in the other semifinal Saturday) among them -- the two finalists, between them, produce some of the most electrifying football of the CFP era.

Jon Jones overcomes Alexander Gustafsson to regain UFC title

"This is a great feeling," Jon Jones said after his fight Saturday night.

It's a simple sentiment, but one that sums up Jones' return to UFC supremacy with a three-round TKO win over Alexander Gustafsson -- a rematch of their 2013 meeting and one that sees him regain the UFC light heavyweight title.

It's been a turbulent year and a bit on the sidelines for Bones, who was returning from a 16 month suspension. The belt was taken away from him following a failed drug test after his bout with heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier.

But he's back, seemingly better than ever -- the third-round stoppage at The Forum in Inglewood bettered his five-round beating of the Swedish fighter five years ago.

This time, the ref, Mike Beltran, called the fight early in the third minute of the round after Jones took the Swede's back and began raining down unanswered blows.

Jones' win takes him to 23-1 with 1 NC. The 31-year-old Gustafsson falls to 18-5.

Cameron Bancroft disappoints on return to crease

It was the scandal that rocked Australian cricket and sparked worldwide condemnation -- a ball-tampering episode involving Aussie captain Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft, which left reputations in tatters and angered and disappointed politicians, fans and former players alike.

Nine months later, Bancroft, a right-handed batsman, has returned to action, but it could've gone better.

Playing for Perth Scorchers in Australia's Twenty20 Big Bash League, he lasted just three balls in his return to professional cricket with his hometown team, seeing his side downed by runaway league leaders Hobart Hurricanes.

Former Aussie captain Ricky Ponting, commenting for CNN affiliate Channel Seven, said Bancroft would have either been "dreaming about this moment for nine months or having nightmares about it." It's evident, though, that it's his performance, on a day when the whole of Australian cricket was watching, that will have him waking up in a cold sweat.

Now it's up to the talented young Western Australian, largely forgiven for his transgressions in Cape Town by the cricket-watching public, to prove that his comeback flop was just a blip.

Swiss pair secures Hopman Cup victories over Britain

Swiss terminator Roger Federer began preparation for his Australian Open defense with an almost-flawless opening to his Hopman Cup campaign in Perth, Western Australia, dismantling world No.91 Cameron Norrie 6-1, 6-1 in just under an hour. Compatriot Belinda Bencic took apart fellow Brit Katie Boulter 6-2, 7-6.

"It was very good. I came out of the blocks quick. I wasn't missing any rhythm," Federer said following his men's singles match. "I'm happy in all aspects of my game that things were working."

The 20-time Grand Slam winner has won the Australian Open on the last two occasions, and, despite being in his 38th year, looks set to be the man to beat going into the first major of the season, which begins mid-January.

Before that, he'll face American Frances Tiafoe and Greece's Stefanos Tsitsipas in his remaining Hopman Cup singles matches, but it's the prospect of facing that other modern great, Serena Williams, in the mixed doubles that throws up the most mouthwatering tie.

It'll be the first time the two serial winners have faced each other on the court, and Federer says he's relishing the meet.

"It's very exciting for both of us," Federer said. "I hope a lot of tennis fans will tune in to watch the match, because it's going to be one time and probably never again in this kind of a competition."

The 23-time Slam winner, who was first featured in this tournament in 2003, is hoping to unseat the defending champion Swiss pair, alongside her current Hopman Cup partner Tiafoe.

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