Having only just finished an exciting batch of midweek games, the Premier League returns with the potential for more drama, goals, and perhaps some fantasy points to boot.

Everton boss Rafael Benitez will be hoping to arrest his team's downturn in form when Arsenal come to Merseyside, but despite defeat at Manchester United on Thursday, the Gunners have a couple of form players to keep an eye on.

Antonio Conte will be looking to continue a promising start at Tottenham as they host Norwich City, and it will be no surprise to anyone if one of his wing-backs ends up having a decisive impact again.

Another electric wing-back has returned for Brighton and Hove Albion in recent weeks; Manchester City boast one of the form players in Europe; and the bottom, two teams look to their star strikers for much-needed points.

Plenty of fantasy teams are just as desperate for points, so here are Stats Perform's suggestions for possible picks ahead of the weekend, powered by Opta data.

AARON RAMSDALE (Everton v Arsenal)

Aaron Ramsdale has been rather busy since his arrival from Sheffield United, and he faced another ten shots on target from United on Thursday.

However, he has broadly impressed in Mikel Arteta's side, and ranks third in the Premier League this season for goals prevented (2.57).

He is also set to face an Everton side fresh off a chastening Merseyside derby defeat, and who have scored only four times over their past six league games, the joint-fewest of any side in the division with Wolves.

 

SERGIO REGUILON (Tottenham v Norwich City)

Conte's new Tottenham side are unbeaten in their opening three league games, the Italian head coach utilising a three-man defence again after successes with Chelsea and Inter.

Sergio Reguilon has been the main beneficiary of the change in system, with the left wing-back directly involved in a Spurs goal in each of his last two league games, scoring against Leeds United before assisting against Brentford last time out.

The Spaniard next faces strugglers Norwich, who have scored the fewest goals of any side in the Premier League this season (eight), while conceding the second-most (28).

 

TARIQ LAMPTEY (Southampton v Brighton and Hove Albion)

Tariq Lamptey played an integral part in Brighton snatching a late equaliser against West Ham as he crossed in for Neal Maupay's acrobatic brilliance in the closing minutes.

The Englishman was brought on with 20 minutes to go and, as an impact sub, did exactly what he was asked to ensure Graham Potter's men did not return south empty-handed.

The right wing-back ranks fourth for chances created per 90 minutes among defenders in the English top flight this season, creating 2.4 opportunities on average as he prepares to face Southampton.

BERNARDO SILVA (Watford v Manchester City)

Pep Guardiola hailed Bernardo Silva as the best player in the league after the Portugal international nailed an expert first-time volley in the 2-1 win over Aston Villa.

The 27-year-old, who reportedly wanted a move away in the previous transfer window, has scored four goals in his last seven league games for City, as many as he had in his previous 55 in the competition.

With the reigning champions perhaps a striker short still, Silva will continue being of central importance for City's attacking returns as they travel to Watford.

 

EMILE SMITH ROWE (Everton v Arsenal)

Emile Smith Rowe may have converted in bizarre circumstances at Old Trafford, but as many fantasy players will tell you: they all count!

The England international has had a hand in eight goals in his previous 11 appearances in all competitions for Arsenal (six goals, two assists), with only Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang bettering that total this season (nine).

He heads to Benitez's Everton, who have conceded more goals than any other team in the league over their last six games (15).

 

TEEMU PUKKI (Tottenham v Norwich City)

There is one man for the job of keeping Dean Smith's Norwich away from the Championship and that is Teemu Pukki, a budget fantasy favourite for the Canaries.

The Finland goal poacher has managed three goals in his last four top-flight outings, as many as he had in his previous 24 appearances.

Indeed, if Norwich can breach Tottenham's resurgent defence, it is likely to be Pukki, who has scored five of his side's eight goals this term.

 

CALLUM WILSON (Newcastle United v Burnley)

In similar fashion to Pukki, Newcastle United's attacking hopes largely rest on the shoulders of Callum Wilson, who converted from the penalty spot in his last game against Norwich.

Another cheaper option compared to the likes of Harry Kane and Cristiano Ronaldo, the former Bournemouth man has scored 17 Premier League goals for the Magpies.

That is more than twice as many as any other player for Newcastle since he joined the club at the start of last season, and Eddie Howe will be hoping his main man can deliver once more.

Thomas Muller said it was "definitely a disappointment". Jurgen Klopp was left confused. Lothar Matthaus "doesn't understand the world any more". Even Lionel Messi used his victory speech to suggest France Football issue a retrospective 2020 award.

Whatever your views on the Ballon d'Or this year, chances are you saw Messi beating Robert Lewandowski to the prize and thought it was at least worthy of discussion. Robbed of the chance to claim it last year when France Football cancelled it – hence Messi's magnanimous suggestion to the organisers – Lewandowski suited up for this year's gala having scored 53 goals in all competitions in 2021, at least 15 more than anyone else, with a new single-season Bundesliga scoring record in his pocket and yet another league title with Bayern Munich. And all after winning the treble the season before. And it was only good enough for second place.

Now isn't the time for Lewandowski to dwell on disappointment, though. There's the small matter of the Klassiker on Saturday: Bayern are only a point above Borussia Dortmund at the top of the table, suggesting that maybe, just maybe, a real title race is on the cards again. Plus, Dortmund have fit-again Erling Haaland back among the goals – and ready to give chase to Lewandowski's goalscoring benchmark.

After the Ballon d'Or disappointment, and with Dortmund and Haaland breathing down his neck, this would be a good time for Lewandowski to start laying a claim for the 2022 prize...

 

Meisters at work

There are some great rivalries in the Bundesliga, but this game is truly a German institution.

Dortmund and Bayern have met each other 129 times – it's the most frequently played match in German professional football history. Bayern have lost more often to Dortmund than any other side (32 times); likewise, nobody has beaten BVB as often as Bayern (63 times).

Recent history has been firmly on Bayern's side (even ignoring their nine consecutive league titles since Dortmund's last one in 2012). The champions have won each of the past six Klassikers, and all of the previous three on Dortmund's home turf. BVB have only lost four in a row at home to the same team on two occasions: against Hamburg from 1982-84, and against Juventus from 1993-2015.

 

Perhaps things will be different this time. After all, Dortmund have won seven home games in a row at the start of this season, something they have never achieved before. Beating Bayern would see them equal their club record of 12 consecutive home league victories, and few would argue it's impossible: with 30 points from 13 games, this is their third-best start to a season in the era of three points for a win.

With just a point separating them in the table, former Bayern defender Patrik Andersson certainly sees it being a close encounter. "First of all, when you see that Bayern lost against Augsburg, now it's only one point... I think it will be a decider, for the moment," he told Stats Perform.

"And also, for Bayern, a really important game before the big clash against Barcelona. And now Dortmund, having no chance in the Champions League, it is also a really important game for them. So, yeah, always a big clash."

Consider, too, Julian Nagelsmann's record against Dortmund. The Bayern boss has only managed one win in 11 Bundesliga meetings with Dortmund, his points-per-game average of 0.64 the lowest he has against any opposition. And while Bayern are enjoying their best Bundesliga season for six years (31 points in 13 games), scoring 42 times in that run – the second-best return in their history – they have managed precisely zero clean sheets in nine away league games. The last time that happened was in a 12-game run in 2010-11, during which Louis van Gaal was sacked as coach.

And that's before we come to Haaland, and the man in whose wake he treads – a pair who scored five of the six goals in the previous league meeting of these sides.

 

Tor-mentors in chief

Since the start of last season, Lewandowski has scored 73 goals in 60 games in all competitions, more than anyone else in Europe's top five leagues. His nearest rival, with 55 goals in 50 games, is Haaland.

Lewandowski's tally comes from a figure of 61.43 expected goals, meaning he is outperforming his expected output by 11.57, the biggest such differential in those top European leagues. Behind him come Karim Benzema on 9.33, Son Heung-min on 9.26, and Haaland on 9.11.

Among players to score at least 20 times since the start of 2020-21, Lewandowski boasts the second-best shot conversion rate (28.7 per cent). Top of that list is Haaland, the only man with a figure of more than 30 per cent (30.4).

By all meaningful measures, these two are the best goalscoring number nines in Europe, and have been for some time.

 

Haaland, of course, missed around a month of this season through injury and only returned against Wolfsburg last week. Naturally, he scored, becoming the youngest player in Bundesliga history to reach 50 goals and the only man to hit that milestone in as few as 50 games. Take away his league goals in 2021-22, and Dortmund would have six points fewer.

Lewandowski has already plundered 25 in just 20 games this term, 14 of which have come in the league. Without those, Bayern would be five points worse off, and we'd be talking about Bayer Leverkusen's chances of a first Bundesliga title.

Dortmund need no reminders about their old striker's prowess, of course. Lewandowski has scored 24 times against his former club, making them his favourite opposition alongside Wolfsburg. Should he score this weekend at Signal Iduna Park, he would match Klaus Fischer's record of 117 away goals scored in Bundesliga history – and in 83 fewer appearances.

 

For Lewandowski, this match represents a quick opportunity to remind everyone not only why he should have won this year's Ballon d'Or, but why he should be favourite for next year's, too. Firing Bayern to victory would also bolster their chances of a remarkable 10th league title in a row, and put in his place the young pretender to his throne as football's greatest marksman.

And make no mistake: Haaland is coming for that title, and more besides.

The NBA season is heating up nicely.

The Phoenix Suns are on fire, the Golden State Warriors are hanging on their coattails, while defending champions the Milwaukee Bucks are fighting back after a slow start to their season.

Meanwhile, the Detroit Pistons and Oklahoma City Thunder cannot buy a win.

Those are the teams, but which players have been impressing, and which are struggling to make an impact? Stats Perform delves into the numbers with the latest edition of NBA Heat Check.

RUNNING HOT...

Luguentz Dort

It is a team game, which Luguentz Dort knows only too well as his increasingly impressive individual numbers are doing little to turn around the fortunes of the Thunder.

The shooting guard failed to score more than 17 points in any of October's games, but came back from missing the defeat to the LA Clippers on the first day of November determined to do something about his team's form.

Dort set about trying to help the Thunder recover from a slow start and managed seven games of over 20 points, including 34 in the win against the Houston Rockets. Unfortunately for him and his teammates, there have been no wins in seven since then, despite the Canadian's best efforts.

His increased total points per game of 11.7 in October to 19.2 in November is the most in the league, while he was fourth for increase in three-pointers made per game (1.2 to 2.8).

Without that leap in form from the 22-year-old, you wonder how much worse Oklahoma City's record would be right now.

Jarrett Allen

The Cleveland Cavaliers have been a streaky team so far this season, but in Allen they have someone who is showing himself to be a real difference maker.

Allen's numbers have increased almost identically to Dort's, with an average of points scored per game going up from 11.7 to 19.0 from October to November.

The 23-year-old also tops the charts for largest increase in total rebounds per game, going from 9.0 in October to 12.8 in November.

The Cavs won six of their first seven games in November, only to then lose their next five, the first three of which against the Celtics, the Nets and the Warriors they were without Allen through illness.

His return has eventually seen form turn back around, with wins against the Magic and the Mavericks followed up by another at the Heat to kick off December.

Jordan Poole

Three-pointers are an increasingly important part of the modern game, and there is little more satisfying than seeing the ball sunk all the way from downtown.

Golden State Warriors fans may be the only ones getting a little bored of them given how many they see these days, with Steph Curry still the king of three-points, but Poole has been more than holding his own with his 51 total this season seeing him only behind Curry (77), Buddy Hield (61) and Lonzo Ball (52) in the standings.

It is Poole's improvement that gets him onto this list, though, having averaged just 1.5 successful three-point attempts per game in October, he upped that to 3.4 in November, the joint-highest league increase with Luka Doncic.

He was also fifth most improved for points scored, going from 14.0 per game in October to 20.3 in November.

This has helped the Warriors to a strong 18-3 record so far, but he even managed to stand out in the recent defeat to the Phoenix Suns, sinking six three-point attempts in a total contribution of 28 points on the night.

GOING COLD...

Kemba Walker

It was all set up to be a feel-good story before the season began as Walker, born in the Bronx, returned to New York to play for the Knicks after years of success with the Charlotte Hornets and Boston Celtics.

The four-time All-Star got off to a promising start, with eight defensive rebounds against his former Celtics in a debut win, and scoring double figures in all six of his October games.

However, November was not so kind to the 31-year-old, with his average of 3.7 three-pointers per game going down to just 1.3, the largest decrease in the league, and only managing double figures in four of his 12 outings.

Walker has never averaged less than his current 11.7 points per game across a season, with a career average of 19.7.

Such has been the drop in form for Walker, Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau took the difficult decision to remove him from rotation ahead of the game at the Nets at the end of the month. 

Spencer Dinwiddie

The Washington Wizards point guard started the season with some impressive outings after his arrival from the Brooklyn Nets, including contributing 34 points in his second game against the Indiana Pacers, and scoring 20 or more in three of his five games in October. 

During November, Dinwiddie managed to score 20 or more just twice in 13 games, including failing to add anything to the scoreboard in defeat at the Charlotte Hornets.

His has been the largest decrease in points scored per game across the two months, going from an average of 19.8 in October to 12.8 in November.

The Wizards have not been too inconvenienced by this downturn in form from Dinwiddie, sitting second in the Eastern Conference on 14-8, but coach Wes Unseld Jr would surely love to see the 28-year-old return to his early season showings before too long.

Bam Adebayo

The Miami Heat center is averaging a career-best 18.7 points, along with 10.2 rebounds per game.

However, that number of rebounds has decreased from an average of 14.0 per game in October to 8.7 in November. Still respectable but the second-highest decrease of the month in the league behind only Gorgui Dieng (7.2 to 1.8). 

After registering double figures for rebounds in four of his five October performances, Adebayo only managed to do so in five of his 13 games in November, and unfortunately for him is set to miss the entirety of December after picking up a thumb injury.

The Heat won six of their first seven games, and Adebayo's electric form was a large part of that strong start, but having taken just two victories from their last six outings, will be hoping that when the Olympic gold medallist returns in the New Year, he can rediscover those elite levels.

The Everton fans who had bravely bothered to stick around until full-time of Wednesday's derby-day surrender to Liverpool made their voices heard in no uncertain times.

"Sack the board" was the chant aimed in the direction of the directors' boxes, with chairman Bill Kenwright and director of football Marcel Brands bearing the brunt of the ire from the disgruntled Toffees faithful.

Conversely, there were plenty of songs of support for Everton boss Rafa Benitez – the only issue being they were songs of joy from a buoyant Liverpool away end keen to serenade their legendary former manager as his present employers were ruthlessly dismantled 4-1 at Goodison Park.

The exodus of home fans began from 20 minutes, by which time Reds captain Jordan Henderson and Mohamed Salah had put Liverpool 2-0 in front – the latter and Joel Matip having already passed up golden opportunities.

Those who stayed were offered brief hope of a recovery when Demarai Gray halved the deficit before the break, but Salah and the brilliant Diogo Jota offered a brutal reminder of the chasm that exists between Merseyside's heavyweights.

Cliche lovers never fail to remind us that the form book goes out the window in derby matches. But that fabled window was slammed shut for an Everton side now winless in eight top-flight matches, with six of those ending in defeat.

What is so maddening for the Blue half of the city is the predictability of it all. Everton's present predicament is the result of muddied thinking, a raft of managerial changes, and a baffling approach in the transfer market that has resulted in a disjointed and dispirited squad.

Benitez has to take his share of the blame, of course. Attempting a 4-4-2 against Liverpool's attacking juggernaut, allowing Salah and the rest of the Reds' devasting cast the freedom of Goodison Park, is a decision that ranks among the very worst of his illustrious career.

But the Spaniard's hands have been tied to an extent. Limited funds in the transfer market, the loss of star striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin to injury, and colossally dense thinking in the boardroom have all played a part in the Toffees' increasingly sticky situation.

Benitez's appointment was met with widespread despair given his association to the Reds, which included leading Liverpool to that famous Champions League comeback in Istanbul in 2005.

What will rankle even more for a despairing fanbase is the fact Everton's worryingly rapid fall is coinciding with a time where everything at Liverpool from boardroom to dugout is so frighteningly in sync.

Picking a title winner from Chelsea, Manchester City or Liverpool right now is a tricky task, and for the neutral long may this thrilling race continue.

But make no mistake about it, Jurgen Klopp and his marauding troops look bang up for the battle of regaining a trophy wrested back in style by Pep Guardiola's City last term.

In Salah they have a player who many would agree is the best in the world on current form and he has now been directly involved in at least one goal in each of his last 12 Premier League appearances (11 goals, seven assists) – the third player to achieve that feat after Stan Collymore (12) and Jamie Vardy (15).

The Egyptian's sensational form is in keeping with Liverpool's relentless assaults on their opponents. In this game, the Reds broke the all-time record for consecutive games of scoring two or more goals (18), and the 25 away goals they have scored in their first seven on the road has only been bettered twice (Sunderland, 27 in 1892-93, Manchester United, 26 in 1907-08).

Moreover, the 43 goals in 14 games they have scored is not only their most at this stage of a league season since 1895-96 (48 goals), it is 10 more than anyone else has managed so far (Chelsea - 33). It is also the first time Liverpool have scored four at Goodison since the famous 4-4 in 1991, Kenny Dalglish's last game of his first spell in charge, and the first time in the league since Ian Rush scored four in a 5-0 win in November 1982.

It was just over 13 months ago that Liverpool departed Goodison Park with a 2-2 draw and the loss of influential centre-back Virgil van Dijk to a serious knee injury after being clattered by Jordan Pickford.

It began a raft of injuries, particularly in defence, that ultimately derailed their title defence. But Van Dijk and his team-mates were all smiles on a night when the gulf between the Reds and the Blues, both on and off the pitch, was laid bare in such a devastating manner in front of the watching world.

The Milwaukee Bucks looked out of sorts as they limped into November having lost three in a row with two of the defending champions' top scorers sidelined.

Thirty days later at the season's quarter-mark, they are healthier and look capable of repeating as champs as they enter December riding an impressive seven-game winning streak.

A mere 91 days after winning the franchise's first NBA title since 1971, Milwaukee raised its championship banner and then emphatically beat a Brooklyn Nets team expected to contend for this season's title by 23 points. In that convincing win, the starting five of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday, Grayson Allen and Brook Lopez combined for 82 points.

That has still been the only game this season coach Mike Budenholzer has been able to use that starting five, as Holiday, Middleton and Lopez have all missed significant time.

With Lopez still sidelined since the season opener with a sore back, the Bucks signed veteran big man DeMarcus Cousins on Tuesday to provide frontcourt depth.

A four-time All-Star, Cousins isn't the same player he was in 2015 and 2016 when he earned second-team all-NBA honours, but the 31-year-old should be able to step in and provide size off the bench.

Milwaukee got Holiday back in early November after he sat out one game with a right heel contusion and another five with a sprained left ankle, but by the time he returned Middleton was already out with COVID-19.

The Bucks finished up October with a 3-4 record and were 4-6 on November 7, scoring fewer than 100 points in exactly half of their 10 games – this after failing to reach triple digits in just four regular-season games all last season.

In 11 games since then, they've only dipped below the century mark once and their current win streak has coincided with the return of Middleton from his eight-game absence.

It should be noted, though, that a 12-11 Los Angeles Lakers team playing without LeBron James is the only team the Bucks beat in their last seven games currently holding a winning record and the collective .325 winning percentage by their opponents from November 17-30 was the worst in the league for any team's opponents in that time span.

With that said, they still have thoroughly annihilated some overmatched opponents, holding leads of 20, 29, 51, 24, 20 and 22 in their last six games and now stand within a half-game of the Chicago Bulls for the Central Division lead.

Antetokounmpo posted a plus-38 plus-minus rating in Milwaukee's 123-92 beatdown of the Orlando Magic last Monday, a game in which the Bucks had a 77-36 advantage at the half for the largest half-time lead in franchise history, while Holiday had a plus-37 rating – kicking off a historic stretch for the veteran point guard.

In the last four games, Holiday has compiled a plus-117 rating – the highest for any player over a single-season four-game stretch since Stats Perform began tracking plus-minus rating in 2002-03. In that time, only two other players have registered a rating of plus-115 or better and that was Stephen Curry with a plus-115 in his 2015-16 MVP season and Mike Conley with a plus-116 last season.

Holiday is averaging 19.8 points on 55.7 per cent shooting with a 61.5 eFG percentage in the last four contests following a three-game stretch in which he averaged 9.7 points on 30.6 per cent shooting with a 36.1 eFG percentage. In the four games since November 22, he's connecting on 69.2 per cent of 39 2-point tries and has made 8-of-9 jump shots from 10-15 feet.

Holiday still hasn't found his touch from the perimeter, shooting 25.5 per cent on 51 3-point attempts in the last nine games, but that hasn't been much of a deterrent for Milwaukee as the team is getting outside help from an unlikely source.

Bobby Portis has drained 19-of-32 shots from 3-point range (59.4 per cent) in the last six games, twice going 6-for-7 from beyond the arc. This is after he made 13-of-40 3-point tries (32.5 per cent) in his first 10 contests, only making more than one 3-pointer in a game on two occasions.

Since his tear began on November 19, Portis and the Charlotte Hornets' LaMelo Ball are the only players in the league with 100-plus points, 60-plus rebounds and 15-plus 3-pointers made – and Ball has played one more game and made the same number of 3-pointers on 19 more tries.

While Holiday and Portis have been putting up gaudy MVP-type number over the last week, the actual two-time league MVP continues to be his same outstanding self in the season's early going.

Antetokounmpo has recorded 12 double-doubles in 20 games played and has a pair of 40-point games – only Curry has more with four. He leads all players with 127 field goals made in the restricted area, but defences simply can’t converge on him because he's adept at kicking the ball out to a teammate to knock down a 3-ponter – his 73 assists on made 3s are the most in the NBA.

The trio of Antetokounmpo, Holiday and Middleton together on the court has always been a boon for Milwaukee but lately it's been utterly dominant. The Bucks averaged a stellar 113.9 points per 100 possessions with Antetokounmpo, Holiday and Middleton together on the court in their first 17 games before averaging 133.0 points per 100 possessions with that threesome in the last four.

No big surprise, with all the Bucks' opening-night starters back with the exception of Lopez, the offence has found its rhythm. Since its win streak begin on November 17, Milwaukee's starters are averaging a league-leading 84.9 points. The starters averaged 77.6 points in their first 14 games.

While Milwaukee's offence is rolling, the defence has keyed the team's turnaround – setting the tone from the get-go.

During their 2020-21 championship season, the Bucks jumped out on their opponents, leading by an average of 2.6 points after one quarter – the fourth-largest margin in the league. Through the first month of this season, though, they often found themselves trailing early.

Aside from leading the Nets by 12 points after 12 minutes in the opener with the starting five intact, the Bucks only had four other leads after one quarter in the first 15 games, recording a minus-0.9 scoring differential through one period in those contests. It's been a completely different story lately, as they’ve been putting away teams early, outscoring opponents by an average of 9.8 in the first quarter in the last six games.

The offence has been slightly better in the last six – averaging 31.8 first-quarter points after averaging 29.0 in the first 15 – but the biggest improvement has been on the defensive end.

Facing their opponents' starting five, Milwaukee is holding teams to 37.4 per cet shooting – including 32.8 per cent from beyond the arc – in the first quarter in the last six games after opponents shot 50.4 per cent from the field and 44.1 per cent from 3-point range in the first quarter in the first 15.

Overall since November 17, the Bucks lead the league in opponent field goal percentage at 39.1 and only the Warriors are allowing fewer points than Milwaukee’s 99.0 per game at 98.3. This comes after the Bucks allowed an average of 109.8 points on 45.1 per cent shooting in their first 14 games.

The Bucks have yet to lose this season with Antetokounmpo, Holiday and Middleton in the lineup, and while they won't have the luxury of playing teams like the Magic, Oklahoma City Thunder and Detroit Pistons every night, they will play each of those three teams again over the next four and a half weeks.

Beginning with the Hornets and running through a date with the Pistons on January 3, Milwaukee's opponents' winning percentage of .400 is the worst in the league. It's probably a lot to ask for the Bucks to continue to play at their current pace over this next stretch, but the opportunity is there for them to build a lead atop the Central come the new year.

Liverpool have two reunions with fan favourites coming up in the space of 10 days.

While Steven Gerrard will bring his Aston Villa team to Anfield on December 11, Liverpool first make the short trip to Goodison Park to face the manager under which they enjoyed their best spell of the 21st century prior to Jurgen Klopp's arrival.

Rafael Benitez was a contentious appointment, to say the least, when he replaced Carlo Ancelotti at Everton.

After a strong start to his tenure at Goodison Park, a combination of injuries to key players and questionable tactical decisions have left Benitez under pressure.

Everton are on a seven-match winless run in the league, their worst run since 2016, and a streak of just one victory in 10 matches across all competition. 

It does not look pretty, the mood around each club could hardly be more different, and the last thing Benitez needs is a reunion with a fanbase that once idolised him and may well be singing his name again on Wednesday.

Where did it all go wrong?

Benitez has inherited a mess and Everton's director of football Marcel Brands and majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri must face scrutiny. The Spaniard, however, must ultimately shoulder part of the blame for the current malaise.

Of Everton's Premier League managers, only Howard Kendall (in his ill-fated third spell at the club) and Walter Smith took fewer points than Benitez's tally of 15 across their first 13 league games.

Everton went unbeaten in their three league derbies under Ancelotti, albeit they did suffer a 1-0 loss to very much a second-string Liverpool side in the FA Cup in January 2020.

However, Ancelotti oversaw Everton's first derby victory since October 2010 when the Toffees beat Liverpool 2-0 at Anfield in February, ending a winless run at that ground stretching back to September 1999.

That win at an empty Anfield inflicted a fourth successive home league defeat on Liverpool for the first time since 1923 and left the Merseyside rivals level in the race for Champions League qualification.

Since then, Everton have won just nine of their 27 Premier League outings, losing 11, with Liverpool winning 17 of 26, only suffering three defeats. The Reds have scored 62 goals, 36 more than their city rivals, while only Chelsea's defence is stingier of sides to have been in the top tier for the entirety of that timeframe.

If Evertonians hoped a corner had been turned in February, Klopp's team have proved they are still worlds apart.

Similar derby records... differing approaches

Speaking of Klopp, he has won seven Merseyside derbies since joining Liverpool in 2015, drawing five and suffering that solitary defeat. 

Benitez will be the sixth Everton boss Klopp has faced, and the German holds an impressive record over his Liverpool predecessor, winning four of seven meetings, losing just once, when Napoli beat Borussia Dortmund 2-1 in the 2013-14 Champions League group stage.

Liverpool also won their last three league games against Benitez's Newcastle by an aggregate score of 9-2. 

This game will take Klopp onto the same amount of Merseyside derbies that Benitez managed as Liverpool boss. The former Real Madrid coach oversaw 14 meetings with David Moyes' Everton, winning eight and losing only three times. The Toffees' failures in this fixture have not been limited to the past decade.

Across the last seven matches, Benitez's team rank 17th for possession (39.5 per cent), joint-18th for shots on target (21) and joint-20th for goals (four), albeit they have underperformed their expected goals (xG) value (7.58) – the absence of Dominic Calvert-Lewin has not helped this.

Liverpool, on the other hand, have scored a league-leading 24 times in that time. Their xG of 16.4 also tops the competition, though it does suggest their finishing is above the standard that would be expected based on the quality of the chances.

Their high press has been back at its best, with no team producing more high turnovers (sequences that start in open play and begin 40 metres or less from the opponent's goal) than the Reds' 145. Everton's 78 ranks above only Watford (74) and Tottenham (72).

Another concern for Benitez will be Everton's tally of 101 high turnovers against. This ranks 11th in the league, but an issue for the Toffees all season has been an inability to keep the ball for sustained spells, even if it has been their aim to counter-attack. Their number of sequences of 10+ passes stands at 63 (16th). Liverpool's total is 220, placing them behind only Manchester City (283).

Everton had just 22.7 per cent of the ball in their recent 3-0 defeat to Manchester City, allowing 17 shots. It is hard to imagine Wednesday's statistics turning out much differently.

Injuries giving Toffees the blues

Mohamed Salah came seventh in the Ballon d'Or voting but if he continues his current form into 2022 then he could be a shoo-in for next year's award. He has been sensational, scoring 17 times in 18 appearances across all competitions, and also leads the league in assists (eight). 

Salah scores every 92 minutes, on average, while Sadio Mane has bounced back from his struggles last season with seven league goals.

Mane has played in 14 derbies, contributing to seven goals, scoring five himself, while Salah has netted twice across five appearances against Everton.

While Liverpool's talismanic duo head into Wednesday's fixture in fine fettle, Everton are in the midst of an injury crisis that has exposed their weak squad.

Richarlison should return from suspension and Abdoulaye Doucoure played at Brentford, but Calvert-Lewin and Yerry Mina remain out.

Calvert-Lewin has been a huge miss but the influence of Doucoure and Mina should not be understated.

With the pair playing, Everton have won three of six league games, averaging 1.8 goals for and 1.3 goals against, picking up 1.8 points per game. Without at least one of them, Everton have won just one of seven and averaged 1.7 goals against and 0.7 goals for. Their points per game drops to 0.6.

Liverpool's last league win over Everton came on December 4, 2019, a 5-2 thrashing at Anfield marking the end of Marco Silva's tenure.

Eight of Liverpool's last nine top-tier trips to Goodison have finished level but, unless Benitez can pull off an unexpected result, his fate may be similar. 

For many, Ralf Rangnick's arrival at Old Trafford has come eight years too late.

Manchester United have struggled since Alex Ferguson delivered a 20th league title in his final season in 2012-13.

David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer have come and gone – the latter relieved of his duties following humiliating losses to Liverpool, Manchester City and lowly Watford at the end of a trophyless tenure dating back to December 2018.

There have been Europa League, FA Cup and EFL Cup successes and a couple of runner-up finishes in the Premier League since Ferguson left, but United have never looked close to competing for the title.

A lack of direction and vision from the top at United has seen the Red Devils slip behind their rivals – the absence of a clear footballing philosophy leaving the English powerhouse stuck in the past.

But Rangnick's appointment on an interim basis until the end of the season suggests United are ready to come to the party and adapt to modern football – the most telling aspect of the former RB Leipzig boss' arrival being the two-year consultancy role he will take up following the 2021-22 campaign.

Rangnick – seen as an innovator who is known for his high-pressing philosophy and influence on some of German football's brightest minds, including Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel – could potentially be set to oversee a long-term transformation of United after leaving his role as head of sports and development at Russian side Lokomotiv Moscow.

"The question is always what vision and philosophy do they want," former Australia international David Zdrilic – previously a player and colleague of Rangnick – told Stats Perform, with United eighth in the table and 12 points off the pace. "If they want that type of football, then he's definitely the guy that can implement that on all levels, not just the first team. He can produce that right through the club and give it a real identity. That's if they want that identity. So that's the only question really.

"But when they say, 'Yes, this is the type of football we want to play,' and it seems like it's going in that direction, then clearly you can see [that identity] with all the clubs that he's worked at. Hoffenheim is a club that he brought from scratch and now they have that clear identity. Leipzig's another one. This [United] is different because this is a big, traditional club and they already have an identity of their own. I think the football they play is very similar to that style."

Rangnick will have his work cut out with a United side well adrift in terms of pressed sequences (12th, 164), passes allowed per defensive action (14th, 14.6), high turnovers (11th, 98), kilometres covered per game (17th, 104.6), defensive actions (17th, 296) and pressures in the attacking third (15th, 589).

"When you think of the old Manchester United days under Ferguson, it was always very attacking, very exciting type of football," Zdrilic said. "So, this certainly has its similarities. So that's going to be exciting to see how that develops."

 

Zdrilic knows Rangnick better than most – the pair's relationship dating back to 1998.

A 30-time international, Zdrilic was signed by Rangnick during his time as head coach of 2.Bundelsiga outfit SSV Ulm, who had just stepped up from the third tier of German football. The 63-year-old left for Stuttgart before the end of the season, though the club went on to gain promotion to the top flight.

They reunited at Leipzig, where Rangnick brought Zdrilic to the emerging Bundesliga outfit as a youth-team coach over three years.

Recalling life under Rangnick at Ulm, Zdrilic said: "It was not only the football, but just the way he approached his philosophy. Basically, his philosophy was just at the forefront for him from day one, and that was something I wasn't used to. We were playing football, but we weren't really talking about tactics in that degree back then. But he was very, very convinced in his philosophy.

"When I joined, they had just come up from third division to second division. I had one year in Switzerland and then he signed me for Ulm. When we were there, I just remember one conversation I had with him and we were talking about, because we started the season really well and by the halfway point in that year we were first and he was getting a lot of attention because of the way we were playing. The German public were looking at it, going, this is a new way of playing this pressing style with a back four. Everybody was playing a sweeper back then. A conversation I had with him was about, you know, how this season's going to go. In my head, you don't go from third division to second division, then straight to first division. So, I joined in second and I sort of said something to that effect, like, 'Yeah, but you know, it's not really realistic that we're going to go straight up to the Bundesliga.' The way he looked at me was incredible, it was like, 'Why not?' But not, 'Oh, why not?' It was like looking at me like I'm stupid, 'Why not?' Then sure enough, third division, second division, Bundesliga. He did it with Hoffenheim, third division, second division, Bundesliga, and then obviously with Leipzig, he took them from the fifth division all the way to Champions League and to one the best clubs in Europe now.

"It's just incredible that he has no doubts that that's possible, whereas most people would say you can't do that. He just knows 100 per cent that this is possible and he brought that from day one. That's something I saw and it stuck with me, not only in my playing days, but then as a coach was exactly the same thing about how we approach coaching, developing players and coaches. Everything is just like he knows 100 per cent what he wants and how to do it and that conviction is why he's so successful."

At Leipzig, after spells with the likes of Hoffenheim, Hannover and Schalke, Rangnick took charge of the team in two different spells, having initially joined parent company Red Bull as director of football in 2012.

Under Rangnick's leadership, Leipzig had gone from the regional league to Champions League qualification by 2017.

Rangnick – who will become only the sixth German to manage in the Premier League – was promoted to the head of sport and development for Red Bull in 2019, before eventually joining Lokomotiv earlier this year.

Indeed, Rangnick has only faced United twice in his managerial career when in charge of Schalke, who were outclassed over two legs in the Champions League semi-final in 2011 as Ferguson's side made their third final in four years.

"His network that he's built and his ability to find talent and produce talent," Zdrilic said of Rangnick's biggest strength. "You just have to go through all the names that he's found and produced. Now just recently you've got [Dayot] Upamecano going to Bayern Munich and he was at Leipzig. [Ibrahima] Konate's gone to Liverpool. Jurgen Klopp takes a lot of the players that he's developed because it's the same principle behind the philosophy. So [Sadio] Mane is over there with him as well, [Naby] Keita he took from Leipzig. All of these guys, so many talented players and he really has a strength in finding those players and developing them and obviously selling them on to big clubs. They are huge talents.

"I think the thing about him is he has the whole package. He can step in and coach like when he did at Leipzig two times when he wanted to get up to the Bundesliga the first time. He stepped in in the 2.Bundesliga and took them straight up. Then he stepped aside and gave [Ralph] Hasenhuttl the job. Then he did it again when they needed a coach after Hasenhuttl to step in before he got [Julian] Nagelsmann. So, it's just incredible his eye for what is needed and how to correct things. Not everybody sees that at the beginning. They see the results at the end, and that's probably why he obviously controls a lot of things and a lot of aspects. So, it's going to be interesting to see how it goes, not only as the head coach, but then what happens after that in terms of his role in developing Man Utd."

Rangnick has never managed outside of his native Germany, taking charge of five different teams in the German Bundesliga in his career. The last side he managed was Leipzig, winning promotion with them from 2.Bundesliga in 2015-16 before returning to the club for the 2018-19 top-flight season and leading them to third place.

Across 294 Bundesliga matches, Rangnick has a winning percentage of 41. He first took charge in the top flight in May 1999 at Stuttgart, losing 2-0 to Bayern Munich, while his last game in charge in the competition came 20 years later in May 2019 at Leipzig, a 2-1 defeat to Werder Bremen.

His best win ratio in the competition came during his first spell at Schalke (55.4 per cent), whom he led to second place and into the Champions League.

 

In Europe's elite competition, Rangnick took charge of 10 games with Schalke across the 2005-06 and 2010-11 seasons – his last match in the Champions League was against Ferguson's United in May 2011 in the second leg of that season's semi-final, losing 4-1 at Old Trafford and 6-1 on aggregate. His 10 games in charge have seen 38 goals scored (20 for, 18 against, 3.8 per game), the third-highest ratio of any manager to take charge of at least10 games in the competition as the Red Devils prepare for the knockout rounds this term.

His best top-flight finish as a coach is second, achieved in 2004-05 with Schalke, a side he took over mid-season and led to a runners-up position and also to the final of that season's DFB-Pokal, ultimately losing 2-1 to Bayern.

Zdrilic added: "He's very charismatic. He can be very firm, but with the players, I remember back then he knew how to approach the individuals. With me he was very clear, but it was just always the right type of conversation.

"There was a period when I had a little bit of an injury and I wanted to get back quickly and my head wasn't focused and he knew just to put his arm around and just get me back on track. The conversation just brought me right back to where I needed to be. You hear a lot of reports about players and that kind of connection that he has with the players. But at the same time, in terms of the business dealings and what he needs to do, he's very, very direct and he gets what he wants. He is very clear about that. So he's got all sides of that character, which is again, why he's done so well."

As soon as news of Rangnick's imminent appointment broke, attention swiftly turned to Cristiano Ronaldo and whether the five-time Ballon d'Or winner can fit into the high-pressing system.

Rangnick demands hard graft from every player, so can he accommodate a 36-year-old superstar not known for his pressing from the front?

Zdrilic pointed to Rangnick's time with Real Madrid and Spain great Raul at Schalke, saying: "Now you wouldn't think of Raul as being the typical pressing player, but he played a lot under Rangnick and [scored] a lot of goals. He was able to adapt to account for players that maybe aren't going to press as much as others. I don't see that being an issue.

"It's always a challenge anyway for any manager generally, but he's certainly equipped to do that. Back in my time, right at the start, I was the guy running and doing the pressing, and I had a striker with me who was a bit older. His name was Dragan Trkulja and he scored a lot of goals. He didn't do the same amount of pressing that I did, but basically still profited from that and was very clever in that system and we were a pressing side. So I have no doubts that he's able to put all the pieces together and find a way to make this team function with his philosophy and with Ronaldo."

It took the man in the waistcoat to turn the tanker.

In a year's time, England will be at the Qatar 2022 World Cup with serious aspirations of bringing back the trophy. And while there are a number of key figures who have made that prospect realistic, nobody stands out quite like Gareth Southgate, who on Tuesday celebrated a five-year anniversary as manager.

Greg Dyke was a newly appointed chairman of the English Football Association (FA) when he declared in a famous 2013 speech: "English football is a tanker that needs turning."

He spoke that day of wishing to create an England team that could be successful on the world stage.

"The two targets I have for the England team are – one, to at least reach the semi-finals of Euro 2020 and two, win the World Cup in 2022," Dyke said. Many duly scoffed.

Nine years on, England have ticked one box, with Southgate's team finishing runners-up to Italy at the delayed Euros; now, a nation expects as his squad bid to match Alf Ramsey's 1966 heroes.

 

A questionable choice?

It was not Dyke who selected Southgate after Roy Hodgson's four-year reign ended and successor Sam Allardyce lasted just one game, an ill-fated choice.

Indeed, as Dyke left his post at FA HQ in the summer of 2016, he questioned the appeal of the England manager's job, specifically asking "why anybody would want it".

Southgate was unsure initially too, albeit for a different reason, saying the role "wasn't something I think I've got the experience for". But his tune soon changed, with Allardyce's reign ending abruptly after a newspaper investigation within weeks of his appointment and the FA needing a steady hand on the tiller.

Southgate made 426 Premier League appearances in his playing career – more than anyone else with zero appearances off the bench. He was therefore not used to being deployed as a substitute, but on this occasion he accepted the chance to step in as a replacement.

His credibility for the England post had been questioned, with former Tottenham and West Ham boss Harry Redknapp dismissive of the notion that Southgate would know all about the English system.

"Knows what system? The losing system? He knows the losing formula? I like Gareth Southgate, he's a great lad," Redknapp told BBC Radio 5 Live, "but what's he done?"

Egyptian striker Mido, who played under Southgate at Middlesbrough, tweeted: "I can't believe that in England they are talking about @GarethSouthgate to become the new Manager!! I hope he learned since the @Boro days!!"

Even former Three Lions midfielder Jermaine Jenas balked at the prospect of Southgate's three years as England Under-21 manager being a suitable pathway to the senior role, instead throwing his support behind Glenn Hoddle.

In a column for Yahoo, Jenas said of Hoddle: "I know he has been out of the managerial game for a long time, but I certainly think he would be a better option than Southgate."

 

From scaredy cats to roaring lions

Dyke said Roy Hodgson's England were "just scared" as they lost to Iceland at the Euro 2016 last-16 stage, heading home humiliated by relative minnows. Hodgson promptly resigned.

"It's the same in all sport," Dyke said. "Really talented sportsmen can just freeze. That's what happens."

After the Allardyce interlude came Southgate's appointment as a caretaker coach, and British bookmakers swiftly rated him favourite to keep the job on a permanent basis, ranking Steve Bruce, Alan Pardew, Eddie Howe and Hoddle as next in line on the list of likely candidates.

As well as having managed the England Under-21 team, Southgate also previously held the role of head of elite development at the FA. Jenas might not have liked it, but getting not only a foot in the door, but both feet and an office to call his own, and the respect of a young generation of rising stars, made Southgate an obviously worthy candidate.

Wins over Malta and Scotland, and draws with Slovenia and Spain, earned Southgate an interview for the permanent post, and he impressed a selection panel that featured FA chief executive Martin Glenn, technical director Dan Ashworth and chairman Greg Clarke – Dyke's successor – to the point he was handed the job permanently on November 30, 2016.

Southgate has been a revelation: England reached the 2018 World Cup semi-finals, losing out to Croatia, before surging through to the Euro 2020 title match, a first major final since Bobby Moore led the team to World Cup glory.

Along the way, the man who was a scapegoat for England's Euro 96 exit, when he missed a crucial semi-final shoot-out penalty against Germany, has become a national treasure.

"Southgate, you're the one" sing England fans nowadays, while his uptake of a waistcoat on the touchline became a symbol of stylistic significance at the World Cup in Russia, sparking a rush of high street sales and analysis by the fashion media.

The England boss told the BBC: "If you had said to the players when I started at Crystal Palace that I was going to be upheld as the sartorial model for the country, you'd have been hooted out of the training ground."

 

How has he developed a new England?

Once Southgate was handed the job permanently, he was able to outline his manifesto. "When I played, particularly in 1996, there were captains through the team that were captains of their club," he said.

The England starting XI for the fateful Iceland game in 2016 contained one club captain: Manchester United's Wayne Rooney. For the team's most recent game, the 10-0 drubbing of San Marino, Southgate named a defensive unit consisting of three club skippers: Aston Villa's Tyrone Mings, Wolves' Conor Coady and Manchester United's Harry Maguire.

Harry Kane captains England but not his club, Tottenham. Southgate rates him as a leader par excellence. Jordan Henderson has built up years of experience in skippering Liverpool and is another England regular and vice-captain of the team.

In terms of leadership, England have no shortage of on-field generals, the ideal complement to their burgeoning crop of talented, freewheeling youngsters. This is entirely deliberate.

Southgate also declared he wanted a team "that excites the public, that the supporters like watching and are proud of".

A competitive record of 44 wins, 14 draws and 10 defeats in 68 games gives him a winning record of 64.7 per cent. Of England managers with more than one game in charge, that is second only to Fabio Capello's 66.7 per cent (42 games, 28 wins, eight draws, six defeats). World Cup winner Ramsey achieved a 61.1 per cent win record from 113 games.

Southgate has explored his options and given debuts to 50 players, the most since Bobby Robson, who handed first caps to 64 players during his eight-year tenure.

Of the debutants under Southgate, Jordan Pickford has played the most games (42), followed by Maguire (41), Kieran Trippier (35) and Jesse Lingard (32). There have been 14 players who have won just one cap to date in the Southgate era, but among those are a number of players who might realistically expect to win plenty more, such as Harvey Barnes, Nathaniel Chalobah, Conor Gallagher, Mason Greenwood, Dean Henderson, James Maddison and Aaron Ramsdale.

Others seem likelier to go down as one-cap wonders, such as Dominic Solanke, Nathan Redmond, Jack Cork and Lewis Cook. But Southgate has rewarded players in form, cultivating an open-door policy within the England camp that can only be healthy.

Twenty of the debutants have been aged 21 or under, with the youngest being Borussia Dortmund livewire Jude Bellingham, who was 17 years and 136 days old when he featured against the Republic of Ireland in November 2020.

In total, Southgate has capped 83 players to date. There should be many more to come, with the manager recently signing a contract extension through to 2024

Kane, who made his debut under Hodgson, has made more appearances than any other player (50) and scored the most goals (43) during the Southgate era.

 

"Can we not knock it?"

That was the famous remark caught by documentary film-makers as Graham Taylor spluttered in frustration in the dugout at an England attack breaking down all too easily.

The game was a World Cup qualifier in 1993 against Poland, with David Bardsley lifting a long pass hopefully towards Teddy Sheringham, who could not nod the ball down into the path of Carlton Palmer. Taylor could not contain himself.

England's tactics were all too obvious then, subtlety not their strength, with overseas influences yet to seriously permeate the domestic leagues.

There has been progress in the years since, but even when Southgate came in, he felt England were too narrow-minded in some respects, saying he needed "to broaden the horizons" of his players.

"Because the lads see one league... they think we're the centre of the Earth and we're not," Southgate said. "That's what hit me. Other countries are quite happy to say nice things to us and then they pack us off home at a certain stage [of a tournament] and think, 'Good, we've got rid of them'. That's how it feels to me and I don't like it."

England perhaps still have some catching up to do, but Southgate is shifting the culture significantly.

This can be examined through the prism of World Cup qualifiers – Southgate's first campaign leading up to the 2018 tournament, and his latest, which saw England ease into the hat for next year's finals. In both campaigns, England played 10 games, winning eight times and drawing twice.

England are steadily learning to keep the ball and be patient, moving from 195 sequences of 10-plus passes in the 2018 qualifying campaign to 268 for the 2022 preliminaries, putting them second only to Germany among European teams, albeit Spain (253) in third place played just eight games.

They are achieving more high turnovers too, going from 82 in 2018 World Cup qualifying to 111 in their quest to reach Qatar 2022. In that aspect, England have jumped from ninth to third in Europe.

Hodgson's Euro 2016 squad contained players plucked exclusively from the Premier League, with his 23-man group including stars from 11 clubs.

Southgate's 26-strong Euro 2020 party contained representatives of 16 teams, including Trippier from Atletico Madrid and Bellingham and Jadon Sancho of Borussia Dortmund. Gone, for now, are the days of England squads being dominated by players from a small group of clubs.

 

Making Dyke's vision a reality

The acid test comes at major tournament level, and to date Southgate's England are showing up on the big stage – at least until it comes to the crunch. They stood widely accused in both the Croatia semi-final and the Italy final of retreating into their shell, having taken the lead early in each game and then failed to build on the strong start.

That is something Southgate must address and surely will. This is a technically gifted England now, with a coach who has brought more sophistication to the role than many expected.

All that being said, there are still aspects of England's play that perhaps hark back to bygone days. They played 391 long passes at Euro 2020, more than any other side, although this should not be a serious concern given that was only marginally more than champions Italy (363), and semi-finalists Denmark (340) and Spain (339) were not lagging far behind.

Old habits die hard though and England remain the kings of the 'launch' – defined by Opta as "a long high ball into space or into an area for players to chase or challenge for the ball".

They hit 125 of these in the Euros, with the Czech Republic next on the list with 96. Just 27 of England's launches were judged to be successful, and Southgate may reflect on the fact Italy played just 52 such hit-and-hopes on their way to the title.

There is always learning to be done, advances to be achieved. Such data will be monitored by England, with a view to sculpting a winning tactical model in time for next November.

"I like Gareth Southgate, he's a great lad, but what's he done?" was Harry Redknapp's question five years ago.

Turns out, rather a lot in a short space of time. The tanker has turned.

It is very early in the season to describe any game as being akin to a playoff matchup but Tuesday's meeting between the Golden State Warriors and Phoenix Suns has an extremely compelling case for receiving such a label.

The Warriors have been the class of the NBA to this point, their record of 18-2 the best in the league.

However, their title credentials will be sternly tested in Phoenix, where they will face a 17-3 Suns team looking excellently placed to go one better in 2021-22 after losing in the NBA Finals to the Milwaukee Bucks last season.

The matchup between the two Pacific Division rivals will mark the first time in NBA history that two teams with a winning percentage of 85 or higher after a minimum of 20 games have faced each other.

In that sense, it is big as stages get in late November in the NBA, and the Warriors boast a player born to dominate such arenas in Stephen Curry.

 

Curry is enjoying another remarkable year, compiling a superb MVP resume after finishing third in the voting last term.

He is tied for the league lead in points per game (28.6) with former team-mate Kevin Durant, while his season-long plus-minus of 283 is comfortably the best in the NBA. Reigning Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo is a distant second on 197.

Curry's 105 made three-pointers are 20 more than nearest challenger Buddy Hield of the Sacramento Kings, seven of those coming on Sunday in another spectacular showing to propel the Warriors past the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center.

He will be the lead protagonist in what is likely to be a fascinating encounter between two excellent backcourts. With Klay Thompson still yet to return after two seasons lost to injury, Curry has received magnificent support from the emerging Jordan Poole, who has averaged 19.8 points per game this month and is one of five Warriors in the top 10 in plus-minus for November, illustrating the depth at their disposal.

Three Suns also reside in the top 10 of that list, including their two guards Chris Paul and Devin Booker.

Eleven-time All-Star Paul continues to defy Father Time and is again the Suns' chief creative force after helping them come within two wins of an NBA title.

Meanwhile, shooting guard Booker is hitting a career-high 41 per cent of his three-point attempts, perhaps setting things up for an absorbing back and forth between him and the man most regard as the greatest shooter of all time.

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Golden State Warriors - Draymond Green

With the vast majority of the attention on the enduring brilliance of MVP favourite Curry, it would be easy to overlook the contribution of Green, who has served as chief facilitator for the Warriors' talisman.

Green has 106 assists to his name in the month of November. No other non-point guard has registered more.

Shooting a career-high 55.5 per cent from the field this season, Green is once again proving he can be a critical part of a potential championship team, and the Warriors will need him at his best on both ends of the floor to maximise their hopes of seeing off Phoenix.

Phoenix Suns - Chris Paul

From his time with the Clippers, through his prominent role in engrossing playoff battles between the Houston Rockets and the Warriors to his increasingly impressive spell with the Suns, matchups that see Paul go against Curry have long since been must-watch affairs.

The 'point God' has consistently been overshadowed by the shooting magic of Curry but, among your more conventional point guards, there is still arguably nobody better.

Paul leads the league with 10.1 assists per game this season, justifying the Suns' decision to bring him back on a lucrative contract after their Finals agony of the previous campaign.

He must ensure the Suns' offense outshines Curry and the Warriors this time around if Phoenix is to send an early message by knocking off Golden State.

KEY BATTLE - Can Warriors beat Ayton on the boards?

The Warriors have been among the best rebounding teams in the NBA this season.

Golden State have registered 47.1 rebounds per game, good for fifth in the league.

Meanwhile, the Suns rank 15th in the same category with 45.7, but do possess one of the top rebounders in the league in Deandre Ayton.

The Suns center is averaging 11.4 boards per game, the sixth-most in the NBA.

If the Warriors are to have the advantage on the glass in this one, they will need to find a way to mitigate Ayton's impact.

HEAD-TO-HEAD

The Warriors prevailed 122-116 in the last meeting between the two teams, however, Golden State have won only one of their last four games against the Suns in Phoenix.

Ralf Rangnick has been confirmed as interim manager of Manchester United, meaning that thoughts can now turn to more important matters.

Yes, transfers.

While the 63-year-old is only set to be in the dugout until the end of the season, his deal includes a further two years in a "consultancy" role, meaning he will presumably have a say on comings and goings at Old Trafford for the foreseeable future.

As well as showing his qualities as a coach and tactician during his career, Rangnick has also shown himself to be adept at identifying and recruiting talent, scouting the likes of Joshua Kimmich, Sadio Mane and Erling Haaland over the years.

While funds have been readily spent by United in recent times, it seems clear that the current squad needs more adding to it if they are to trouble their rivals for Premier League and Champions League glory any time soon.

Using Opta data, Stats Perform has taken a look at five players who may be near the top of Rangnick's wish-list over the next few transfer windows.

 

Gleison Bremer (Torino)

The Brazilian centre back has predominantly been linked with other clubs, including Liverpool, but his ability to win the ball high up the field as well as make interceptions regularly could make him an attractive prospect for Rangnick's pressing style.

Bremer has the most interceptions for a defender in the top five European leagues this season (51), and since the start of last season has made 121, which is almost twice as many as Harry Maguire (68) from just one more game played.

The 24-year-old has also won possession in the middle-third of the pitch (127) more often than any of United's current centre back options (Maguire 85, Victor Lindelof 78, Raphael Varane 62), which is something the new boss will likely be demanding of his players.

 

Aurelien Tchouameni (Monaco)

Despite their pre-season spending, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was unable to cross a defensive midfielder off his shopping list, with poor Scott McTominay and Fred continuing to be castigated by fans and pundits for not being Declan Rice.

Someone else who isn't Declan Rice is Tchouameni. The Monaco midfielder has been linked with a move to the Premier League for a couple of years now, and this could be the ideal club at the ideal time.

Of players to have played at least 40 games, only three midfielders in the top five European leagues have won possession in the middle third more often since the start of last season, while only five have made more interceptions, and only Frenkie de Jong (64.36) has a higher duel success percentage than his 62.06.

During his time recruiting for Red Bull Salzburg and Leipzig, Rangnick primarily focused on young players who can grow in the immediate term. Tchouameni turns 22 in January, and with Monaco missing out on Champions League football after losing in qualifying in August, they may be tempted to cash in on their star sooner rather than later.

 

Amadou Haidara (RB Leipzig)

it was always inevitable that United would be linked with Leipzig players, so here's the first of two.

The new United boss will no doubt be familiar with Haidara, with the midfielder making his way through the Red Bull route of FC Liefering and Salzburg before Leipzig.

The Mali international arrived at the Red Bull Arena when Rangnick was in charge in the 2018-19 season, but due to a cruciate ligament injury, was only able to make nine Bundesliga appearances under the German.

Comparing him to McTominay and Fred, this season he has more chances created (9), more successful passes in the opposition half (317), more passes into the final third (95) and more dribbles completed (16).

It should be noted though that he has played two games more than McTominay and measures closely to the Scot in the first and last metric, with worse passing accuracy percentage in the opposition half (78.86) and tackle success percentage than both (38.46).

 

Dani Olmo (RB Leipzig)

Olmo has unfortunately missed most of the current season with a muscle injury, but combined with last term, there is a certain number that may interest the Red Devils boss.

Verona's Antonin Barak is the only midfielder to have won possession in the final third more often than Olmo's total of 44 in the top five leagues in Europe since the start of last season, made all the more impressive by the fact Olmo has played 12 fewer games.

The 23-year-old scored seven and assisted 12 last season for Leipzig in all competitions, and also impressed for Spain at Euro 2020, and having someone who so regularly wins the ball high up the field could be exactly the sort of thing Rangnick can build a new United team around.

 

Erling Haaland (Borussia Dortmund)

Arguably the name likeliest to be linked with the Red Devils given it was Rangnick who apparently spotted his talents and brought him to Salzburg, before he burst onto the scene and headed for the German Bundesliga.

Rangnick was working as Salzburg's director of football when he was able to secure the signing of Haaland from Molde.

Of course, United already have Cristiano Ronaldo and Edinson Cavani, but both are hardly long-term solutions, while Haaland's former team-mate Jadon Sancho already resides in the red half of Manchester.

The 21-year-old has scored 71 goals in 70 games since moving to Dortmund (January 2020), the same amount as Ronaldo but in 15 fewer games.

You would imagine Haaland, his agent and his father would need to see some fairly drastic improvements at Old Trafford before committing his future there, but with Rangnick on board, the Red Devils will be hoping that to be exactly what happens.

Manchester United have broken with modern tradition and made a footballing decision that everyone seems to think is a good one.

The appointment of Ralf Rangnick as interim manager until the end of the season was confirmed on Monday, a day after caretaker Michael Carrick managed a creditable 1-1 draw at Premier League leaders Chelsea.

While he hasn't been a coach for the best part of three years, Rangnick's legacy in the Bundesliga and his influence on some of Germany's finest minds makes him a shrewd appointment for United, not least because he will take up a two-year consultancy role after 2021-22.

This, then, is a decision taken by United with a view to long-term changes to their fortunes, not simply a quick fix to arrest poor results. Still, with more than half the season still to go, Rangnick could yet guide the Red Devils to some tangible on-pitch success over the coming months – provided that he gets to work quickly on some of their biggest problems.

Stats Perform looks at five things Rangnick must address as soon as possible...

 

Fix the defence

United conceded 21 goals in the first 12 games of the season; they have never previously let in more at the same stage in the competition's history. In November alone, they have faced 60 shots, the most of any side in the division.

That tells you something about the state of their defence.

Of course, Rangnick's gegenpressing system is likely to demand off-the-ball contributions from every player on the pitch (more on that shortly) but the rearguard is in need of some serious fine-tuning. In particular, captain Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw have seen their individual form fall off a cliff since they helped England to the final of Euro 2020; it was telling that a good defensive performance against Chelsea on Sunday came with both players sidelined.

Getting the best out of Shaw and Maguire, arresting Aaron Wan-Bissaka's decline and getting Raphael Varane fit and integrated into the side will be essential to Rangnick's aims.

Get Bruno firing again

So often United's star performer under Solskjaer, Bruno Fernandes is another who has endured a comparatively poor season.

He tallied his 50 direct goal involvement on his 58th appearance in October (30 goals, 20 assists), which is a tally only Andy Cole (43), Alan Shearer (54) and Eric Cantona (54) reached in fewer games, so it's not all bad. But the Portugal playmaker has scored just once in 19 appearances for club and country.

He looks a player in need of a lift and, so central is he to United's attack play, he could be Rangnick's first port of call at Carrington. Well, apart from...

Accommodate Ronaldo

Like a black hole devouring a gas cloud, all the noise surrounding United's performances seems to be drawn inexorably back to Cristiano Ronaldo.

It's a beguiling narrative: a five-time Ballon d'Or winner who has to start every game but who should not expect to start every game; a 36-year-old forward who no longer contributes enough to make up for any shortcomings, but one with six goals in five Champions League matches this season, two of them winners and one a last-gasp equaliser.

There are some writing off Ronaldo's chances of winning over a coach like Rangnick who demands hard graft from every member of his team, while others say the onus is on the incoming manager to construct a unit that brings the best out of the leading male international goalscorer in history. Time will tell what the future holds.

And just a note for the 'Ronaldo doesn't press' crowd: he made three more sprints and 21 more intensive runs against Chelsea than Jesse Lingard, who came on at the same time.

Tie down Pogba and tidy the squad

Some of Solskjaer's best work at United was putting together a strong squad, but that seemed to unravel in his final few months in charge.

Lingard returned rejuvenated from West Ham but, rather than cash in when there was a demand, Solskjaer kept the England international yet gave him just 63 minutes of league action. It's now likely he'll leave for nothing next June.

There were similarly strange decisions behind contract extensions for Eric Bailly and the seldom-seen Juan Mata, while Phil Jones is still at the club after two years of injury hell and Anthony Martial was retained despite falling way down the attacking pecking order. Goalkeeper Dean Henderson also appears unlikely now to dislodge David de Gea.

Then there is Paul Pogba, still yet to sign a new deal or announce plans to leave for free next year, whose agent wastes few opportunities to discuss potentially interested parties. The word is that Pogba is excited to work with Rangnick, but the France star is just one of several members of the United squad who needs clarity on their positions.

Give Donny a chance

It felt almost pre-ordained when Donny van de Beek scored the final goal of the Solskjaer era against Watford, having come on as a substitute to rapturous (and ironic) cheers from the visiting fans.

Van de Beek has spent most of his time at United being assured his chances would come, then left wondering when that would be. Having only started four league games in 14 months, the Netherlands international – who has lost his place in the national squad – would almost certainly have pushed to leave in January had Solskjaer stayed in the job.

Now, Van de Beek has the opportunity to prove himself to a new manager. Rangnick's methods might not be Cruyffian exactly, but they are certainly more closely aligned to the Ajax way than Solskjaer's focus on individual inspiration.

When Manchester United sacked Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and announced a caretaker manager would then be followed by an interim manager to be replaced by a third coach at the end of the season, confusion would have been written over the faces of many supporters.

It seemed an unnecessarily convoluted process to just appointing someone better than Solskjaer, but perceptions are already starting to change.

Michael Carrick had a pretty daunting introduction to life at the helm, with a crucial Champions League match followed by a trip to imperious Premier League leaders Chelsea.

Yet, after what was presumably his second and final game in charge, he's seen United take an entirely respectable four points – Ralf Rangnick waits in the wings, and there were even hallmarks of the German on display as Carrick presided over Sunday's 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge.

There could be no mistaking what was going through Carrick's mind before the game. While he shrugged off Cristiano Ronaldo's benching as just simple squad selection, one of the main focuses on the Portugal star this season has been a lack of work rate off the ball.

Given Rangnick's reputation and renown as the so-called 'Godfather of Gegenpressing', it can't have been a coincidence that Carrick opted to start a front three who would ordinarily be expected to get through a little more work when not in possession.

Getting in Chelsea faces appeared to be the objective, and to United's credit, there certainly seemed to be a greater desire to press with intensity during the early stages of the match.

While that may have been a sign of things to expect in future for United, it would also be fair to say they have much work to do as well – their urgency out of possession may have looked better, but it didn't seem to upset Chelsea massively.

The Blues still created a raft of opportunities, two of which were crafted inside the first three minutes and 10 seconds, with Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Victor Lindelof unconvincing on both occasions.

Those accounted for two of the four saves David de Gea was forced into before the break, the Spaniard also tipping a long-range Antonio Rudiger strike onto the crossbar.

Chelsea reached half-time with no goals from 0.86 expected goals (xG), showing United (0.02 xG) were benefiting from a mixture of wasteful finishing and De Gea's excellence – so while Carrick's set-up technically worked to a certain extent, keeping the hosts out in the first half, the Red Devils offered nothing in attack themselves.

Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford were sloppy, Bruno Fernandes – deployed as a 'false 9' – seemed to be playing by his own rules, going rogue as he often popped up in the full-back areas. Nobody was leading the line and therefore United had no out-ball.

As a result, they managed just two touches in the Chelsea box and 21 passes in the final third – Thomas Tuchel's men had 16 and 81, respectively. United's mid-game tweet of "leading from the front" accompanied by a photo of Fernandes almost seemed sarcastic when Sancho was their only player whose average position was in the attacking half during the first 45.

But early in the second half, the game changed in an instant. Fernandes leathered a bouncing ball up the pitch with the kind of kick that would be followed by a shout of "have it!" in your average Sunday League game.

Jorginho's first touch was similarly Sunday League, the ball squirming off his foot and right to Sancho, who charged forward with only Rashford for company. A little swivel of the hips, suggesting he'd square the ball, deceived Edouard Mendy and the forward slotted home his first Premier League goal.

Of course, it was hardly a goal indicative of some new-found philosophy – it was a Jorginho error. Yet, had United not been pressing in anticipation of a mistake, they wouldn't have scored.

United suddenly started to look a threat on the counter-attack with Sancho and Rashford, who was far livelier than he had been in the first half – though Carrick might have wanted to see his team use their countering as a weapon a little more often.

As it was, they soon fell back into their set-up from the first half for the most part, sitting back in their own area and inviting pressure. It brought their downfall, as Wan-Bissaka's rash penalty concession allowed Jorginho to atone for his error at the other end.

United were fortunate, with Rudiger's late volley going high and wide when he looked destined to score, though they at least showed the kind of urgency and spirit that was lacking in recent embarrassments at the hands of Liverpool and Manchester City.

Rangnick's main concerns will likely lie in the tactical mishmash he stands to inherit, and in some ways this game showcased it perfectly. One minute their priority was pressing, the next it wasn't. They began to set up for counter-attacking, then they weren't.

Let's not forget, this is a squad assembled by several different coaches all with hugely varying ideas – from Louis van Gaal's possession-based approach and Jose Mourinho's pragmatism, to Solskjaer's counter-attacking (not that he stuck with that throughout his time in charge) and now Rangnick's 'Gegenpressing'.

The draw at Chelsea certainly shows Rangnick will have a lot to work with. The off-the-ball performances of Fred and Scott McTominay would have been particularly encouraging. But it also highlighted he has a lot of work to do.

Liverpool were in typically ruthless form on Saturday as they brushed aside Southampton 4-0 at Anfield.

The result meant Jurgen Klopp's men became just the second English top-flight team to score two or more goals in 17 consecutive games in all competitions, after Sunderland in 1927.

Elsewhere, rock-bottom Newcastle United's winless start to the Premier League season continued as they were beaten 2-0 by Arsenal at Emirates Stadium.

Steven Gerrard secured his second consecutive win since taking over as Aston Villa boss, with his side sealing a 2-1 away win at Crystal Palace.

Brighton and Hove Albion and Leeds United played out a goalless draw at the Amex Stadium, as did Norwich City and Wolves at Carrow Road.

Here, Stats Perform looks through the pick of Saturday's Opta facts…


Liverpool 4-0 Southampton:Jota at the double for rampant Reds

Liverpool have now scored 39 goals in their 13 Premier League games this season – their highest total at this stage of a top-flight campaign.

Diogo Jota got them on the way with their earliest goal in the Premier League (one minute and 37 seconds) since Naby Keita netted against Huddersfield Town in April 2019 (15 seconds).

Another from Jota and a strike from Thiago Alcantara put Liverpool 3-0 up at the break, before Virgil van Dijk rounded off the scoring early in the second half.

Netherlands international Van Dijk's goal was created by Trent Alexander-Arnold, who earned his 40th Premier League assist. Only Wayne Rooney (22 years and 200 days) and Cesc Fabregas (21y 188d) have reached such an assists total in the competition at a younger age than the Liverpool right-back (23y 51d).

Salah reached 150 Premier League goal involvements by setting up Jota's second, reaching that total (108 goals, 42 assists) in just 171 games. Only Alan Shearer (148 games) and Thierry Henry (163) have got there in fewer games.

Southampton, meanwhile, have lost more away games (14) and conceded more away goals (47) than any other side in the Premier League side this calendar year.


 

Arsenal 2-0 Newcastle United: Gunners cruise against Howe's beleaguered men

The Gunners continued their fine home form under Mikel Arteta with a routine win against Eddie Howe's struggling side.

Since Arteta's first home game in charge in December 2019, only Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea have won more points at home in the Premier League than Arsenal (67).

Bukayo Saka got them on their way before Gabriel Martinelli added a second just 93 seconds after coming on as a substitute. It was just Martinelli's second Premier League goal at the Emirates Stadium and his first since January 2020 against Sheffield United.

The Magpies, meanwhile, became the sixth different team to fail to win any of their opening 13 games to a Premier League season, with four of the previous five sides suffering relegation (only Derby County in 2000-01 survived).

Crystal Palace 1-2 Aston Villa: Gerrard's winning start continues

This victory meant former Rangers boss Gerrard became only the second manager to win his first two Premier League games in charge of Villa, after John Gregory in February-March 1998.

Matt Targett scored the opener for Villa with his first Premier League goal in his last 75 appearances in the competition, the full-back having not netted since getting a late winner against Brighton in October 2019.

John McGinn then added a second, the Scotland international already equalling his best goal tally for a full Premier League season (three in both 2020-21 and 2019-20).

Marc Guehi pulled one back in stoppage time, but it was too late to prevent the Eagles suffering a first defeat in their last eight Premier League games (W2 D5), since a 3-0 away loss to Liverpool in September.

Norwich City 0-0 Wolves: Smith maintains unbeaten start

Dean Smith followed up a win in his first game in charge of the Canaries last weekend with a hard-fought point at home.

Norwich have now taken seven points from their last three Premier League games (W2 D1), more than they had in their previous 25 in the competition (W1 D3 L21).

The Canaries have also kept two clean sheets in their last four Premier League home games – as many as in their previous 26 at Carrow Road in the competition.

It is perhaps no surprise they could not find a way past Wolves, with only Chelsea (five) and Liverpool (four) keeping more away clean sheets in the Premier League this season than Bruno Lage's men (three).

Sequels rarely live up to the standard of the original. While Cam Newton's return to the Carolina Panthers stands as one of the most sentimentally fulfilling stories of the 2021 NFL season, the odds of him living up to his achievements during his spectacular first spell with the team are slim.

Yet through two appearances and one start, Newton's second act in Charlotte appears to be one worthy of the price of admission, if not one that will yield the honours that came during their initial nine-season association.

The Panthers lost in Week 11 with Newton starting at quarterback, a 27-21 defeat to the Washington Football Team and former Carolina coach Ron Rivera dealing a significant blow to hopes of securing a Wild Card berth in the NFC.

But the Panthers are a long way from being dead in the water and, while Newton is not the player he was when he won the MVP in 2015, his performance against Washington at least suggested his encouraging play in preseason for the New England Patriots was not a mirage.

At 5-6, Carolina can ill-afford too many more slip-ups if the Panthers are to return to the playoffs, raising the question: can Cam Newton save their season?

An upgrade over Darnold

It's a very small sample size, but the early evidence indicates Newton, the man head coach Matt Rhule and the Panthers let go after the 2019 season, represents an upgrade of his most recent batch of successors.

In the defeat to Washington, Newton delivered an accurate, well-thrown ball on 81.5 per cent of his passes, according to Stats Perform data, and did not throw a single interceptable pass.

Newton was brought back to replace the injured Sam Darnold, whom the Panthers traded for in the offseason. Darnold's well-thrown percentage of 80 for the season is still above the league average of 78.5, but his pickable pass rate of 4.21 per cent is inferior to the league-wide average of 3.62, Carolina's hopes of turning around his career after a dismal start with the New York Jets quickly fading.

The threat posed by Newton's athletic upside was also apparent last week. He averaged 5.86 yards per carry on designed runs, including a 24-yard rushing touchdown on a perfectly executed zone-read.

Prior to that score, Newton threw the Panthers' first touchdown of the game by faking a quarterback draw up the middle to draw up the two safeties and a middle linebacker guarding the endzone, giving him a much simpler throw to D.J. Moore on the slant route.

Darnold can himself make an impact with his legs, however, the combination of Newton's accuracy throwing the ball and his more pronounced threat on the ground led to an exciting albeit losing effort that gives optimism the Panthers' offense can be more potent as he digests Joe Brady's playbook.

Yet one element of his supporting cast may limit the ceiling of a Newton-led attack.

Protection issues a pressing concern

Newton is not short of elite talent around him. Christian McCaffrey delivered a reminder of his status as one of the game's top all-round running backs last Sunday. He demonstrated his burst by averaging 3.7 yards before contact per attempt and his ability to evade defenders in the backfield with an average of 5.5 yards per carry on rush attempts where there was a rush disruption.

Additionally, McCaffrey hauled in a 27-yard touchdown pass from Newton, one on which the quarterback showcased exquisite touch and placement to loft the ball over the outstretched arm of a linebacker and into the running back's grasp.

Top receiver Moore is producing a burn, which is when a receiver wins his matchup with a defender when he is targeted, 68 per cent of the time, with his burn yards per route average of 3.3 putting him tied for 11th among wideouts with at least 10 targets.

Newton and McCaffrey being on the field at the same time can put defenses in a significant bind when faced with the zone-read, as Newton's rushing score against Washington proved, with both substantial threats to gain major yardage on the ground.

Moore's continued ascension gives Newton a bonafide number one receiver, yet the impact of having two top-tier skill-position weapons will be mitigated if the Panthers cannot improve on the offensive line.

Indeed, the Panthers entered Week 12 ranked 30th in pass protection win percentage while only the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets have allowed more quarterback pressures than Carolina's 204.

Even in his 11th season, Newton boasts a skill set ideally suited to the modern game and has the weapons to succeed, yet his ability to do so will be restricted if he is under duress as much as Panthers signal-callers have been in 2021.

Home stretch filled with obstacles

The hope for Carolina this month comes in the form of that Dolphins offensive line, which a Panthers defense allowing the second-fewest yards per play (4.91) in the NFL faces in Week 12.

Yet beyond this week and games with the Atlanta Falcons and a seemingly crumbling New Orleans Saints team, the schedule offers little for the Panthers to get excited about.

They face defending Super Bowl champions the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and quarterback Tom Brady, unlikely to be daunted by the Carolina defense, twice before the end of the regular season, while a Buffalo Bills team whose defense is well-positioned to take advantage of poor pass protection and whose offense is tied for the league lead with 37 touchdowns host the Panthers in Week 15.

Carolina's remaining schedule is the eighth toughest in the NFL by winning percentage and, in a race for the Wild Card spots with three surging teams in the Minnesota Vikings, San Francisco 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles, the chances of the Panthers overcoming such a hurdle look small, particularly given the potentially fatal flaw they have up front.

Still, the combination of Newton, McCaffrey, Moore and one of the most efficient defenses in the league at least offers reason for hope. Can Newton save Carolina's season? Probably not, but he gives them a better shot than any other quarterback they have started this season.

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