David Warner returned to form with a blistering half-century after Adam Zampa put Sri Lanka in a spin as Australia cruised to a seven-wicket T20 World Cup win.

Warner's place in the side had been called into question due to a lack of runs, but the opener silenced his critics a day after his 35th birthday as Australia made it two wins out two in the Super 12 stage.

Sri Lanka posted 154-6 after Aaron Finch won the toss and opted to field at Dubai International Stadium on Thursday, Kusal Perera and Charith Asalanka making 35 apiece before Bhanuka Rajapaksa added an unbeaten 33.

Spinner Zampa flummoxed the Sri Lanka batters, taking 2-12 from his four overs, while Mitchell Starc (2-27) and Pat Cummins (2-34) also did damage.

Josh Hazlewood played a big part with the ball once again without reward and Australia made light work of chasing down their target.

Warner was dropped on 18 but made 65 from 42 balls, and he and captain Finch (37 from 23) laid the platform with an explosive opening stand of 70 from only 6.5 overs.

Wanindu Hasaranga took 2-22, but Australia eased to their target with three overs to spare to join leaders England on four points in Group 1, Steve Smith making 28 not out and Marcus Stoinis unbeaten on 16.

 Zampa bamboozles Sri Lanka after promising start

Sri Lanka were going along nicely at 53-1 at the end of the powerplay, but they lost their way after the excellent Zampa had Asalanka caught on the sweep by Smith.

The guile of Zampa also saw the back of Avishka Fernando after Starc cleaned up Kusal with a searing yorker, as Sri Lanka lost four wickets for 16 runs.

Rajapaksa added some much-needed late runs, with Stoinis expensive, but Australia were left with a smaller chase than they might have been expecting.

 

Warner grateful for late Kusal gift

Warner had been dropped by Sunrisers Hyderabad in the Indian Premier League and came into this game having scored only 17 runs in his previous five innings.

His frustrating spell would have continued if Kusal had not put down a simple catch behind the stumps and the powerful left-hander made him pay, hitting 10 fours to set his side well on their way to victory.

Finch was also due some runs and looked in ominous touch – bad news for Australia's rivals – as he cleared the rope twice before playing on to Hasaranga.

Antonio Conte drew the best out of Romelu Lukaku at Inter after showing him support that felt lacking at Manchester United, the striker's agent has claimed.

As Conte emerges as a possible candidate to become the next United manager, should Ole Gunnar Solskjaer continue to struggle, his credentials as a coach who helps players to achieve their potential have been underlined by remarks from Lukaku's representative Federico Pastorello.

When Lukaku joined Inter from United in August 2019, it was on the back of a disappointing second year at Old Trafford in which he scored 15 goals in 45 games – 32 were starts – at a rate of one every 201 minutes.

That was the fewest goals he had managed in a full season since establishing himself in the Premier League during a loan spell at West Brom in 2012-13. Lukaku was owned by Chelsea during his time with the Baggies. He saw little action for the Blues first time around, but his Premier League career has come full circle this year after he returned to Stamford Bridge following two prolific years with Inter in Italy.

Four strong seasons at Everton were followed by a 27-goal first campaign with United, before the team's fortunes nosedived in the final months of Jose Mourinho's tenure, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer taking over midway through the 2018-19 campaign.

His goals under Mourinho in that season came at one every 273 minutes, improving to one every 151 minutes once Solskjaer took the reins for the Red Devils.

But Pastorello said Lukaku still needed the assurance he was central to a manager's plans, and he found that at San Siro under Conte, a former Chelsea boss who wanted to sign the striker during his stint in west London.

"Two years of work with Mr Conte helped him. He can score left, right, head. He has completed himself as a striker working with Mr Conte. He also had the opportunity to improve himself personally," Pastorello told Sky Sports News.

"He felt wanted. This is what he was not able to feel at Man United. That happens."

 

Across two years in Italy, Lukaku hit 64 goals in 95 games, at one every 121 minutes. He bettered his expected goals tally of 57.73 and created 133 chances, having carved out just 82 in 96 games for United.

According to Pastorello, Thomas Tuchel showed a compelling desire to make Lukaku a prize asset at Chelsea, making "a fantastic speech" that convinced the Belgian striker a second spell at Stamford Bridge was the right switch.

"He gave him the feeling that he really wanted him, that he was the perfect last piece in the puzzle," Pastorello said, recalling Tuchel's words to Lukaku before the reported £97.5million transfer. "It's very crucial for a player to decide to go in a team with a coach that really wants him."

After making a fast start at Chelsea, with four goals in his first four games across all competitions, Lukaku finds himself on a seven-goal barren run, with Tuchel saying the striker is mentally fatigued. He is also currently injured, with no clear indication yet of when he might return.

Despite the brouhaha surrounding his early impressive performances, Lukaku's goals in this spell for Chelsea have now come at an average of one every 208 minutes, albeit these are just the early stages of the campaign. The fact Chelsea sit top of the Premier League has eased the pressure on Lukaku to hit another scoring streak.

"Rom's brain and his mind is very focused with Chelsea," Pastorello said. "He will rest a little bit, but he'll be back with more will to win trophies."

Lukaku has missed Chelsea's last two games due to a minor injury sustained in last week's Champions League win over Malmo.

Pedri has thanked Ronald Koeman for giving him his breakthrough at Camp Nou and says he "will always be grateful" to the former Barcelona head coach.

Barca confirmed the departure of Koeman on Wednesday shortly after a 1-0 loss to Rayo Vallecano that leaves them ninth in LaLiga with 10 games played.

The Dutchman lasted just 14 months in the job after replacing Quique Setien in August 2020, during which time he won just 58.21 per cent of his 67 games in charge. 

Koeman had more success when it came to nurturing young players into the first-team fold, though, with Ronald Araujo, Oscar Mingueza and Pedri breaking through last season.

And with Barca's financial issues well-documented, Koeman made further use of the academy this term by giving Alejandro Balde, Gavi, Nico Gonzalez and Yusuf Demir chances.

None of those players have had as big an impact as Pedri, who made the fourth-most appearances under Koeman (56 games), despite this season's injury issues.

Pedri's form last season saw him rewarded with a call-up to the Spain squad ahead of Euro 2020, where he started all six of his country's matches in their run to the semi-finals.

After a memorable 12 months for club and country, the 18-year-old has personally thanked Koeman for giving him a chance to shine.

"I'm sorry things didn't turn out the way we wanted, mister," he posted on his personal Instagram account on Thursday. 

"I will always be grateful to him for everything he has done for me: for giving me his trust from the first moment and for the opportunity to fulfil my dream at Barcelona.

"I wish you the best both personally and professionally."

 

Sergio Busquets was the most used played during Koeman's tenure, featuring 63 times in total – one more than Frenkie de Jong – with 56 of those being starts.

The experienced midfielder also paid tribute to his departing boss on social media on Thursday, posting: "Thanks for everything, mister. Good luck in the future."

Koeman's win percentage is the lowest of all coaches to have taken charge of Barca since Pep Guardiola left in 2012, the next lowest being Setien (64 per cent).

The 58-year-old is also the only Barca boss to average fewer than two points per game in LaLiga (1.96 PPG), again comfortably behind the next worst in Setien (2.21 PPG).

Barca announced on Thursday that Sergi Barjuan will take interim charge while a permanent successor for Koeman – expected to be club great Xavi – is found.

Alun Wyn Jones will surpass Richie McCaw's record tally of 148 caps for his country when Wales face New Zealand in a mouthwatering Autumn Nations Series clash on Saturday.

Wales captain Jones matched legendary former All Blacks captain McCaw's astonishing number of Test appearances when he faced Scotland last year.

The British and Irish Lions skipper will set a new record for games played for a country at Principality Stadium this weekend.

Jones, who has played in 12 Lions Tests, will lead out a Wales side that has a blend of experience and youth.

 

Taine Basham made his first start at international level in the back row and Gareth Anscombe makes his return at fly-half against his country of birth over two years after his last Test appearance.

Anscombe has impressed after spending such a long spell on the sidelines with a knee injury.

Ken Owens was initially selected at hooker, but has since been replaced by Ryan Elias due to a back injury, with Kirby Myhill named on the bench.

Hooker Elliot Dee has been released from the Six Nations champions' squad due to a neck injury.

Wales head coach Wayne Pivac said: "To win a World Cup you have to play against teams like New Zealand at some stage in the tournament and you have to win those games.

"It’s going to be a great experience for those guys who haven't played a lot of test rugby and they'll certainly know they’ve been in a match afterwards."

Wales have won only three of 35 Tests against the All Blacks ahead of the showdown in Cardiff.

 

Wales: Johnny McNicholl, Owen Lane, Jonathan Davies, Johnny Williams, Josh Adams, Gareth Anscombe, Tomos Williams; Wyn Jones, Ryan Elias, Tomas Francis, Adam Beard, Alun Wyn Jones (captain), Ross Moriarty, Taine Basham, Aaron Wainwright.

Replacements: Kirby Myhill, Rhys Carre, Dillon Lewis, Will Rowlands, Seb Davies, Gareth Davies, Rhys Priestland, Ben Thomas.

Kylian Mbappe has been ruled out of Paris Saint-Germain's Ligue 1 clash with Lille through illness, while Lionel Messi is doubtful due to a minor injury.

Ligue 1 leaders PSG welcome reigning champions Lille to the Parc des Princes on Friday aiming to return to winning ways after last week's goalless draw with rivals Marseille.

Mauricio Pochettino's side will do so without Mbappe, who played a full part in Le Classique but has since been struck down by an ear, nose and throat infection.

Mbappe was not the only superstar forward missing from training on Thursday, with Messi also absent due to what Pochettino described as "muscle discomfort".

PSG will make a late decision on Messi's fitness and Pochettino has suggested he may field the Argentina captain through the middle, should he be fit.

"Messi missed training as a precaution," Pochettino said at his pre-match news conference. "He did an individual session instead. We will see tomorrow if he can play.

"Kylian is of course important to us. As he is absent, there are several other possibilities over who plays through the middle.

"Messi can play there, but there are other alternatives. We'll have to see what the final decision is. As Pep Guardiola says, Messi can play anywhere."

 

Since arriving at PSG from Barcelona on a shock free transfer in August, Messi has played either on the right of a 4-3-3 or behind the striker in a 4-2-3-1.

Messi is still finding his feet in the French capital, the six-time Ballon d'Or winner having scored three goals in his first seven appearances in all competitions - each of those coming in the Champions League.

He is yet to score in Ligue 1, making this the first time he has failed to score in his first four league appearances of a league season since 2005-06 with Barcelona.

And with PSG failing to find the net in two of their last three league games, Pochettino was pressed on whether it is time to use Messi as the focal point of the attack.

"The tactical disposition of the team provides us with a base that can vary," he said. "We have a reference for offensive and defensive systems.

"Each player has, in principle, certain responsibilities depending on his position and that of others. Leo is a player who can play on the right, the centre or in the number 10.

"He is a player who can play anywhere. He is the best player in the world, who positions himself where the game demands it, according to the needs of the team."

PSG are also without the suspended Achraf Hakimi for the visit of Lille, while Marco Verratti will be absent for the next month and Sergio Ramos is still not ready for his debut.

However, Neymar is available after recovering from an abductor injury to play a part against Marseille.

Neymar has just one goal and two assists in eight games this season and Pochettino admits he is after more from the Brazil international.

"The circumstances are always different. The comparisons are not fair," he said when asked if Neymar is regressing from previous seasons. 

"For me, Neymar is a player with enormous talent, one of the best players in the world. 

"When we arrived at PSG, we tried to give him everything he needed. He needs to be at his best. I'm happy with him. For me, he's a player with enormous talent. 

"We always hope that he will continue to improve. But this is not enough, because we know that we must continue to do better."

Asked if it was possible Neymar could be benched, Pochettino said: "All the players can be on the bench, or on the field. There are 33 players who think they are playing. 

"If they are not playing, they are not happy. It is not only at PSG, but in the the whole football world. I couldn't give a clearer answer."

PSG have lost their last two games against 10th-place Lille in all competitions and could lose three in a row in this fixture for the first time since a run of four between March 1987 and September 1988.

Seven weeks of hard evidence suggest that the Green Bay Packers' Thursday Night Football clash with the Arizona Cardinals should be one of the games of the year.

The 6-1 Packers travel to face the 7-0 Cardinals for a meeting of two teams to have emerged as clear frontrunners for the top seed in the NFC playoffs and who boast a combined winning percentage of 92.9.

That is the best combined winning percentage for a game in Week 8 or later played on a Thursday since the 11-0 Chicago Bears played at the 10-1 Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day, 1934. 

Yet recent history and misfortune on the side of the Packers may see what many hoped would be a fascinating spectacle fail to live up to its billing.

Including the playoffs, the Cardinals have won each of their last three games against Green Bay, and the contrast in the talent the two offenses will have available means the most likely outcome is that streak continuing in the desert.

 

Packers lacking firepower

The Packers are set to be without their top offensive weapon on Thursday after Davante Adams was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

Adams needed to provide two negative tests, 24 hours apart, and be asymptomatic for 48 hours to be permitted to play against Arizona. He has reportedly not travelled with Green Bay and is not expected to play, leaving the Packers minus arguably the most complete receiver in the NFL, one who is maintaining the remarkable All-Pro standard he produced last season.

Adams is third in the NFL in receiving yards with 744. He has registered a burn, which is when a receiver wins his matchup with a defender on a play where he is targeted, on 65.8 per cent of his targets. That is not too far above the average of 60.9 per cent, however, Adams leads receivers with at least 25 targets in burn yards per route with 5.1.

In other words, when Adams does win his matchup, he makes the most of it and creates significant separation, reflecting his reputation as one of the NFL's elite route-runners.

His absence will leave a massive void, one that will be more apparent because of the loss of the lead candidate to fill it.

Allen Lazard was placed on the COVID-19 list on Wednesday as a close contact of a person to have tested positive.

Unvaccinated, Lazard is out for five days, robbing the Packers of a receiver with a 71.4 burn percentage who has produced a big play on 44.3 per cent of his targets.

Without Adams and Lazard, the Packers are light on receiving threats to legitimately scare a Cardinals defense ranked second in yards per pass play allowed.

Running back Aaron Jones is Green Bay's second most prolific pass-catcher behind Davante Adams with 26 receptions. He may need to take on more of the receiving workload this week, though the Packers are hoping Marquez Valdes-Scantling can return from a hamstring injury and provide a spark with his downfield speed.

However, Valdes-Scantling's burn percentage of 43.8 from 16 targets so far this season indicates he may find it tough to lift a depleted group. Yet, regardless of whether it comes from Valdes-Scantling, Jones or tight ends Robert Tonyan and Marcedes Lewis, Green Bay will likely require a significant contribution from an unlikely source to keep pace with a passing attack that is loaded by comparison.

Deck stacked for MVP contender Murray

Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray is firmly in the MVP race and, while that is in large part down to his own remarkable accuracy – 83.3 per cent of his attempts have been well thrown, the best ratio among quarterbacks with at least 50 attempts – and playmaking ability, a lot of credit has to be attributed to the stellar performances of several receivers.

Three-time first-team All-Pro DeAndre Hopkins has unsurprisingly hit the ground running in 2021, posting a burn percentage of 80, the highest ratio among receivers with a minimum of 25 targets, and producing a big play on 45.7 per cent of his targets.

Christian Kirk, with a burn percentage of 75 and a big play rate of 38.8 per cent, is not far behind while veteran A.J. Green (35.6 per cent big play rate) has been unexpectedly rejuvenated after trading Cincinnati for Arizona.

The X-factor, however, is rookie Rondale Moore, whose speed out of the backfield has added another dimension to Kliff Kingsbury's offense.

Moore's average depth of target is just 2.3 yards, the lowest in the NFL (min. 10 targets), yet Moore is averaging 3.3 burn yards per route, above the average of 2.5, illustrating his effectiveness in the quick game with his ability to beat defenders with both speed and elusiveness.

His presence has allowed Kingsbury to get more creative in the deployment of his offensive personnel, using the threat of Murray and Moore as runners to his significant advantage.

That particular string is not one the Packers have in their bow and, despite an impressive performance against the Washington Football Team in Week 7, their defense appears ill-equipped to deal with an offense that also saw tight end Zach Ertz score on his debut last week.

No case for Green Bay’s defense

The numbers for the Packers on the defensive side of the ball are impressive in terms of limiting the efficiency of their opponents.

Indeed, Green Bay's defense is 10th in the NFL in opponent yards per play allowed (5.38), while the Packers have given up only 19 plays of 20 yards or more, the third-fewest in the league.

But the Packers' defensive absences are such that it will be a tough ask for them to slow down a potent Cardinals attack.

Jaire Alexander remains out with a shoulder injury, leaving the Packers bereft of his versatility to play as a starting outside corner and at the 'star' position on the inside.

Rookie Eric Stokes has not been a liability in coverage, however, he is allowing 2.04 burn yards per snap (the league average for corners is 2.01) and, minus Alexander's services, the Packers do not have a cornerback capable of consistently locking down his opposing receiver.

Only six interior defensive linemen have defeated a blocker on a pressure more often than Kenny Clark (22), but the Packers' defensive tackle is lacking support off the edge, with Za'Darius Smith a long-term absentee following back surgery and Preston Smith questionable for Thursday due to an oblique issue.

Of quarterbacks with 25 attempts under pressure, Murray's well-thrown percentage in those scenarios of 81 is second only to Mac Jones (81.2).

The Packers do not have the resources up front to make his performance under duress drastically worse nor do they have the resources in the defensive backfield to keep all the Cardinals' weapons under wraps.

With their own offensive arsenal severely reduced, it may take a vintage Rodgers performance of the highest order for the Packers to avoid enduring another frightful experience in Arizona.

Ronald Koeman's 14-month spell in charge of Barcelona came to an end on Wednesday following another humbling defeat.

Barca fell 1-0 at Rayo Vallecano, fresh on the back of losing to fierce rivals Real Madrid, and find themselves ninth in LaLiga with 10 games played. 

The Dutchman departs Camp Nou with a win percentage of 58.21 across a 67-game tenure that provided more negatives than positives.

Here, Stats Perform picks out a few of the highs and lows from Koeman's reign, which coincided with the most difficult off-field period in the club's history.

MESSI'S DEPARTURE

When looking backing on Koeman's time at Barcelona in years to come, it will be best remembered as the period in which the Blaugrana were having to adapt to life without all-time leading goalscorer Lionel Messi.

Years of financial mismanagement predating Koeman's arrival in August 2020 meant Barca were unable to tie Messi down to a new deal and he left for Paris Saint-Germain shortly before the start of the 2021-22 campaign.

Sergio Aguero arrived but it was always going to take considerable time to replace a player that had scored 672 goals and provided 265 assists across 778 games. So it proved, with Barca's goalscoring problems laid bare this term.

CLASSICO WOES

While the loss to Rayo proved to be the final straw for Koeman, there had been growing talk that he would be on his way out regardless following Sunday's 2-1 Clasico defeat to Madrid.

Barca simply failed to turn up against their biggest rivals – and not for the first time given it was their fourth successive loss to Madrid in all competitions, making it their worst such run in the fixture since 1965.

Koeman is only the second manager in LaLiga history to lose his first three Clasicos, after Patrick O'Connell between 1935 and 1940, and that latest loss was not taken well by Barca supporters. The former Netherlands boss had his car mobbed by a crowd of disgruntled fans as he attempted to depart Camp Nou.

EUROPEAN HUMBLINGS

Barca's on-field struggles were not limited to LaLiga, either, as they made a historically bad start to this season's Champions League campaign with 3-0 defeats to Bayern Munich and Benfica.

Never before had they lost their opening two games in the competition and, while they did just about recover with a 1-0 win over Dynamo Kiev last time out, whoever succeeds Koeman still has plenty of work on their hands to advance from the group.

Indeed, before that win over Dynamo, Barca had lost four and drawn one of their last five games in the Champions League, having also lost to Juventus in the final game of their group campaign last term before losing to PSG over two legs in the last 16.

COPA TRIUMPH EASES PAIN 

Exiting the Champions League in the first knockout round last season was one of a number of disappointments for Barca in their only full season under Koeman.

Barca finished the LaLiga season in third, seven points behind champions Atletico Madrid, and also lost to Athletic Bilbao in the Supercopa de Espana in dramatic circumstances.

But Koeman did win one trophy at Camp Nou thanks to success in the 2020-21 Copa del Rey. After overturning a two-goal first-leg deficit against Sevilla in the semi-finals, Barca exacted revenge on Bilbao in the final with a 4-0 win.

That made ex-Valencia head coach Koeman the second manager after Luis Enrique to win his first two Copa del Rey finals this century.

 

A NEW DAWN

Koeman will rightly point out that he had to operate with one hand tied behind his back due to Barca's financial difficulties, with Antoine Griezmann following Messi out of the door in the most recent transfer window.

Barcelona's squad became substantially weaker as a result, though it did at least present a chance to bring in some new blood. Koeman has brought the average age of the side down to 25.5, ranking Barca as the third-youngest team in LaLiga this season.

Ansu Fati's development may have been stunted by knee injury issues, which again kept him out of the Rayo loss, but the club's new number 10 has been given a firm footing to potentially succeed all-time great Messi as the face of Barca going forward.

Pedri and Gavi have also made a big impact under Koeman, the latter overtaking his team-mate to become the youngest player to start an El Clasico this century last weekend at the age of 17 years and 80 days. 

It will be those players, and not Koeman, who will attempt to return the club to former glories.

Ronald Koeman has been sacked as head coach of Barcelona following a poor start to the season. 

A 1-0 loss at Rayo Vallecano on Wednesday proved too much for the Camp Nou hierarchy, who pulled the trigger on Koeman's time with the club.

The Dutchman was brought in to replace Quique Setien in August 2020 and led Barca to Copa del Rey success in his first season, although they finished third in LaLiga and suffered a Champions League last-16 exit, as well as losing the Supercopa de Espana final to Athletic Bilbao. 

The hope was that Koeman could steady the ship in the face of the various financial challenges that were affecting incomings and outgoings at Barca, but after winning just 39 of his 67 games in charge, the former Southampton, Everton and Netherlands boss was relieved of his duties.

A total of 12 draws and 16 defeats during Koeman’s 14-months at the club, with 138 goals for and 75 against, was ultimately not good enough, but was it all bad? Stats Perform takes a closer look at the numbers behind his reign.

 

Worst record post-Pep

Of all the coaches to take charge at the club since the departure of Pep Guardiola in 2012, Koeman had the lowest win percentage (58.2 per cent), with the next lowest being his predecessor Setien (64 per cent), who himself only lasted 25 games in the hot seat.

Koeman is also the only Barca boss to average fewer than two points per game in LaLiga (1.96 PPG), again comfortably behind the next worst in Setien (2.21 PPG).

There was also an undoubted, yet somewhat understandable over-reliance on Lionel Messi. The club's greatest ever player shocked the world when he left for Paris Saint Germain in the summer, but it was no shock to discover that prior to his departure, he had been holding the team up almost single-handedly.

Despite leaving in the summer, Messi has still scored almost twice as many goals as any other Barca player during Koeman’s time as boss (38), has created more chances than anyone else (117), has taken more than twice as many shots as anyone else (271) and is still joint-second in assists (12), behind only Jordi Alba (15).

This season, Barcelona have begun a LaLiga campaign without a win in their first four away games for the first time since 1991-92 – when Johan Cruyff was in charge. They have also failed to score in three consecutive league away games for the first time since February 2003.

They were unable to hit the target in the first half against Real Madrid or Rayo Vallecano, which is just the second time in the last 19 LaLiga seasons they have done so in consecutive games.

During Koeman's reign, Barca dropped 12 points from winning position in LaLiga – only Frank Rijkaard (29) and Ernesto Valverde (26) had poorer records in that regard.

3 - Barcelona are winless in their last four away trips in LaLiga (D2 L2), failing to score in the last three - they have failed to score in three league away games for the first time since since February 2003 (3). Run. pic.twitter.com/cd1Q8QWz7f

— OptaJose (@OptaJose) October 27, 2021

 

Did anything go right?

Well, his team did gain 24 points from losing positions in LaLiga – only Valverde (48) and Rijkaard (43) won more.

While reliance on Messi last season was clear, Barca actually coped well on the rare occasions they were without their talismanic figure. 

In the 45 games with the Argentine in all competitions, they had a win percentage of 60 per cent (27), averaged 2.2 goals for, and 1.2 goals against per game. In the nine games without the superstar, their win percentage was 77.80 per cent (seven), with an average of 2.4 goals for and 0.7 goals against.

While his hand may have been forced, Koeman has also given plenty of chances to promising stars of Barcelona's future, in particular overseeing the emergence of Pedri.

The 18-year-old wonderkid was the fourth most used player in Koeman's tenure, playing 56 games, behind only Sergio Busquets (63), Frenkie De Jong (62) and Jordi Alba (57). The former Las Palmas midfielder has clearly benefited from such faith, now starring for both club and country.

Ansu Fati has played significantly fewer games under Koeman (16) but this is mostly due to injury, and would no doubt have featured more otherwise, while Gavi looks to be following in Pedri's footsteps after being given 11 opportunities by Koeman, already earning his first caps for Spain as a result. He is the youngest player to play for the country, and became the youngest Clasico starter since the turn of the century when he was named in the Barca XI on Sunday, for a 2-1 defeat to Real Madrid.

There have certainly been promising signs, but whoever comes in next at the Camp Nou will be hoping that the numbers will all start going in the right direction, and soon.

Thomas Muller has apologised to Bayern Munich supporters following his side's "catastrophic" 5-0 thrashing at the hands of Borussia Monchengladbach on Wednesday.

Bundesliga champions Bayern were three goals down inside 21 minutes and conceded twice more before the hour mark in the DFB-Pokal second-round tie.

The heavy defeat at Borussia-Park marks the first time Bayern have lost a game by at least five goals since December 1978 in a Bundesliga clash with Fortuna Dusseldorf.

Muller played a full part in the Bavarian giants' heaviest loss in 43 years and was taken aback by the manner of his side's performance, which came despite a strong line-up being fielded.

"We never got to the point where our Bayern engine kicked in," he said. "We can only apologise to the fans and apologise to Gladbach. 

"With the exception of [Manuel] Neuer, it was a catastrophic performance from us.

"I haven't experienced anything like that before. It's difficult to wrap your head round. We have to put it behind us now, because we've got a game on Saturday."

 

Bayern had scored in their previous 83 competitive matches in a run spanning back to February 2020, which includes 60 goals in 15 games in all competitions this season – at least 17 more than any other side in Europe's top five leagues,

The visitors were pulled apart at the back, with Ramy Bensebaini and Breel Embolo helping themselves to a couple of goals each after Kouadio Kone's early opener.

Bayern's loss came in the absence of head coach Julian Nagelsmann, who is continuing to isolate at home after testing positive for coronavirus.

Stand-in boss Dino Toppmoller oversaw Bayern's biggest ever cup defeat and is aware of the importance of hitting back with victory at Union Berlin in Saturday's Bundesliga clash.

"It was an absolutely bad day. I'm sorry that we disappointed our fans today," he said at his post-match news conference.

"We were in constant contact with Julian. We prepared the game plan together and discussed the lineup via FaceTime. 

"I don't think it was a system problem – it was just a dark day and we were late to every ball. It's difficult to accept now but we've to show a reaction."

Bayern have now failed to reach the last 16 of the DFB-Pokal in back-to-back seasons for the first time since between 1994 and 1996, having suffered a shock loss to Holstein Kiel at the same stage last year.

Russell Westbrook has vowed to make amends after accepting the blame for the Los Angeles Lakers' surprise defeat to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Lakers, without LeBron James for a second game running due to an ankle injury, failed to protect a 26-point first-half lead as they fell 123-115 against a previously winless Thunder team.

Westbrook got his first triple-double for the Lakers in Wednesday's contest, but he also had 10 turnovers and was ejected late on for a second technical foul.

Nine-time NBA All-Star Westbrook took issue with Darius Bazley for scoring on a breakaway dunk, rather than dribble out the clock, with 1.5 seconds left in a feisty conclusion.

But while standing by his actions that led to that dismissal, the 32-year-old concedes that he could have done more to prevent his side from falling to a third defeat in five games.

"How I play the game, I'm more old-school," he said when asked about his confrontation with Bazley. "When s*** like that happens, I don't let it slide. 

"In the game of basketball, there's certain things you just don't do. Like in baseball, you don't flip the bat. 

"There's certain things you don't do in sports when the game's already over. And I didn't like it. Simple as that."

Westbrook, who ended the contest with 20 points, 14 rebounds and 13 assists, added: "I got to take care of the ball. There were too many mishaps allowed. 

"It's my fault. It's on me. But I'm going to take care of it. I know that. And keep the game simple. We need those possessions, especially in games like this."

Westbrook reached 7,000 career rebounds in the game, joining Oscar Robertson, Jason Kidd and James as the only players with at least 7,000 rebounds and 7,000 assists.

But it was not enough to prevent his side avoiding defeat as the Lakers allowed 115 points or more for the fifth game running this season – their longest ever such streak.

The Lakers may be going through a transitional phase with a number of new players on top of injuries to contend with, but Anthony Davis is not interested in excuses.

"This ain't no adjustment period at all," he said. "Not this game. That's just straight on us. 

"This isn't an adjustment game where I feel like it's, 'Oh, we're still learning each other'... Nah. Not this game."

The Lakers are ninth in the Western Conference ahead of their return to action on Friday against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Jose Altuve admits equalling Bernie Williams for career postseason home runs means a lot but says it only matters as long as the Houston Astros are winning.

Altuve brought up his 22nd career postseason home run in the seventh inning to cap the Astros' 7-2 win over the Atlanta Braves in Game 2 to level the World Series on Wednesday.

The 31-year-old drew level with Williams in equal second on the overall majors list for postseason homers, behind only Manny Ramirez on 29.

“To hit 22 homers in the playoffs and tie [Williams] – always every time that my name is mentioned, before it was Derek Jeter, now it's Bernie Williams – it means a lot to me," Altuve told reporters.

"It makes me keep going out there, hitting homers to help my team, to keep accomplishing things like this. As long as we win, everything's good.”

Altuve scored the opening run of Game 2, with Alex Bregman driving him home in the first inning, finishing the game with two hits, two runs and one RBI. He had gone zero-for-five in Game 1.

The second baseman is hitting at .200 with four home runs, eight RBIs and 10 hits this postseason but team success is the main objective.

"For me, stats in the playoffs don’t matter, as long as you're winning," Altuve said.

"You could be zero-for-20 but if you get the big hit, that's what playoffs are about. I went zero-for-five last night but I didn’t care, I show up, I tried to get good pitches to hit.

"I'm glad I helped my team win tonight."

Five right-handed Astros hitters had six hits, five RBIs and one home run between them on Wednesday.

Houston have scored five or more runs in 10 games this postseason, which is tied for the second most in a single postseason, trailing only the 2015 Kansas City Royals with 11.

The Houston Astros have levelled the World Series after a four-run second inning and another Jose Altuve postseason home run to win 7-2 over the Atlanta Braves in Game 2 on Wednesday.

The Braves had won Game 1 at Houston's Minute Maid Park 6-2 on Tuesday, but the Astros showed intent opening up a 5-1 lead after two innings.

Altuve's seventh-inning solo blast extended the lead to 7-2, taking him to 22 postseason homers, equalling Bernie Williams for second in majors history.

The Astros second baseman, who has four home runs this postseason, trails only Manny Ramirez for postseason homers with 29.

Astros starting pitcher Jose Urquidy played a strong role with seven strikeouts with two runs across five innings, outpitching Braves starter Max Fried who allowed seven hits and five earned runs.

Urquidy becomes the fourth Astros pitcher to have seven or more strikeouts and no walks in a World Series. Eddie Rosario, who came into the game with 20 hits this postseason, had an off-night with no hits.

Altuve scored the opening run from Alex Bregman's first-inning sacrifice fly, before Travis d'Arnaud's second-inning home run tied the game up.

Houston blew the game open at the bottom of the second inning, with Jose Siri's RBI single followed by Martin Maldonado's single allowing Yuli Gurriel and Siri to get home, the latter after an Eddie Rosario fielding error. Michael Brantley's base hit drove in Maldonado too.

The Astros had five hits in the second inning, which matched their most ever in an inning in a World Series game, having had five hits in the second inning in Game 3 in 2017.

Freddie Freeman's single got d'Arnaud in for his second run in the fifth inning, before Ozzie Albies mistake on second base allowed Yordan Alvarez to score in the sixth inning, before Altuve's homered to left field in the seventh inning.

 

Astros at Braves

Both sides will travel on Thursday as the series moves to Atlanta for Game 3 on Friday.

Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti says getting sacked is part of the job after his counterpart Ronald Koeman was dismissed by Barcelona on Wednesday.

Koeman was axed by the Blaugrana following their dismal start to the new season, capped by Wednesday's 1-0 loss to Rayo Vallecano, leaving them ninth in LaLiga.

Intense speculation and pressure had mounted about the Dutchman's future for the past month and former Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain boss Ancelotti weighed in.

"I've been sacked several times and I'm still here, alive and happy," Ancelotti told reporters after Madrid's 0-0 home draw with Osasuna.

"Getting sacked is part of the job and you have to give it everything you've got until the day you're sacked.

"You have to look forward while keeping a clear conscience. He’s giving everything he has to give."

Madrid's draw with Osasuna moved them into top spot in LaLiga but left them with only four points collected from their past four league games.

Ancelotti's side are also winless from their past three home games, including a 2-1 home defeat to Sheriff in the Champions League.

The stalemate with Osasuna follows a goalless draw with Villarreal in LaLiga, meaning Madrid have recorded back-to-back 0-0 draws in home games in the league for the fourth time, and first since November 1996 under Fabio Capello.

"Of the three games, we deserved to win two of them," Ancelotti said. "We have to understand that they are difficult games for this squad, because in this game we lacked presence in the box.

"But do you want the truth? You can call me crazy, but I liked the performance. Especially in the second half. My players have given everything and we have to keep going."

Ancelotti bemoaned a first-half incident where Los Blancos were denied a penalty after Vinicius Junior was stamped inside the box by Osasuna's Lucas Torro. The Madrid boss also felt aggrieved at a lack of stoppage time in the second half.

"The penalty is a complicated issue. All I saw, was Vinicius asking the referee to take a look at VAR and he didn't get why," Ancelotti said.

"Then I understood why, he stamps on him and I think it's a penalty. Why VAR did not intervene I don't know.

"I told the referee I felt he hadn't added enough injury time given how the game had gone. I asked him for an explanation but it wasn't very convincing."

Vinicius Junior was busy throughout, attempting 71 passes (64 completed), which was his highest in a single game for Madrid in all competitions.

J.J. Watt has been ruled out of the Arizona Cardinals' Thursday night game against NFC rivals the Green Bay Packers with a shoulder injury.

The 7-0 Cards face a significant test against the 6-1 Packers at State Farm Stadium and will be without their star defensive end.

Watt, who joined Arizona ahead of this season after securing his release from the Houston Texans, has started all seven games so far in 2021.

He has 10 tackles, including five for a loss, one sack and 10 quarterback hits, helping the Cardinals to tie their best start to a season.

But Watt did not participate in the team's only practice of this week before taking on Green Bay and will not be involved.

The Arizona defense is at least boosted by the return of Chandler Jones from the COVID list.

Jones ranks fifth for QB hits this year with 14; Watt is tied 14th on the same list.

In Watt's absence, Jones will aim to disrupt Aaron Rodgers, who is missing two top offensive weapons in Davante Adams (52 catches, 744 yards, three touchdowns) and Allen Lazard (15 catches, 184 yards, two TDs), both due to COVID.

Arizona do have their own issues in the receiver room, however. DeAndre Hopkins (33 catches, 420 yards, seven TDs) is listed as questionable.

Aurelio Andreazzoli claimed even his "four-year-old grandson could see that was a penalty" after he was left furious with the refereeing in Empoli's 2-0 defeat to Inter.

Danilo D'Ambrosio headed in the opener for Inter after 33 minutes but Empoli felt Nedim Bajrami had been fouled at the other end by the Nerazzurri centre-back.

Federico Dimarco subsequently added a second following Samuele Ricci's dismissal for a reckless challenge on Nicolo Barella, leaving Andreazzoli fuming over the standard of officiating in Wednesday's Serie A clash.

"I want to be very clear that I have never talked about referees, because I think they ought to be defended as a profession," Andreazzoli told Sky Sport Italia.

"However, I want to know what exactly Paolo Valeri was doing this evening at the VAR desk. Either he was distracted or he popped to the bathroom or something, because how is it possible that VAR does not help the referee when it has to?

"Let’s leave aside the Inter performance, just like the red card for Ricci, which I’ll admit was basically an orange card and I accept that. I always accept decisions.

"However, if VAR sees a clear and obvious error, I ask myself why do they not help the referee? That is what they are there for.

"Honestly, even my four-year-old grandson Tommaso could see that was a penalty. I saw it on a phone when I went back into the locker room at the final whistle and was shocked when I saw the replay.

"If we do not use these instruments and this technology, then we remove the objectivity of refereeing in games. The matches must be objective. The referee did a good job overall, but he didn’t see that incident, the VAR did, so help him make the right decisions."

Inter managed a seventh consecutive top-flight clean sheet on the road against Andreazzoli's team – their best run against a single opponent in the competition and tied for the best streak of any one side against another.

At the other end, Alexis Sanchez assisted D'Ambrosio's opener - his 21st goal involvement in 23 Serie A starts with the Nerazzurri in Serie A (nine goals, 12 assists) - and Inter's assistant manager Massimiliano Farris was quick to praise the Chile international.

"It’s true that his characteristics are fairly unique within the team, but Joaquin Correa could do something similar if called upon," Farris said post-match to Sky Sport Italia.

"Alexis has that creativity, that moment of magic, you just need to see the assist for D’Ambrosio’s goal.

"D’Ambrosio and Dimarco are added value to this squad and bring more than you’d expect.

"It’s a pity Lautaro Martinez didn’t score today, but he’s saving his goals for other games. We made a few changes, everyone showed they were ready when called upon, as everyone has to work together as a team."

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