Three matchdays remain in Serie A, and yet there is plenty still to be decided at both ends of the table – not least which side will be crowned champions.

Milan occupy top spot in their quest for a first Scudetto since 2011, but fierce rivals Inter are just two points behind and arguably have an easier set of fixtures to conclude the campaign.

Napoli and Juventus are not officially out of the title race just yet, though they are seven and eight points off first place respectively, therefore requiring a remarkable set of results.

Both Napoli and Juventus are already assured of a top-four finish, but there are several other teams still battling it out for the three remaining European spots.

Venezia appear doomed at the opposite end of the table after losing to fellow strugglers Salernitana on Thursday, with the latter's victory lifting them out of the bottom three – in all, six teams remain in trouble.

But just how will the remaining two and a half weeks of the season unfold? Using the Stats Perform League Prediction Model, we can try to forecast the final standings.

Created by Stats Perform AI using Opta data, the model has analysed the division to assign percentages to potential outcomes for each club.

The model estimates the probability of each match outcome (win, draw or loss) based on teams' attacking and defensive qualities, which considers four years' worth of results.

Weighting is based on recency and the quality of opposition, with the rest of the matches then simulated 10,000 times to calculate the likelihood of each outcome.

Let's take a look...

 

MILAN TO SEE THE JOB THROUGH

Milan still have Hellas Verona (ninth), Atalanta (eighth) and Sassuolo (11th) to face, whereas Inter's final fixtures are against Empoli (14th), Cagliari (18th) and Sampdoria (15th).

However, it is worth noting that if they finish level on points, Milan would be crowned champions by virtue of a superior head-to-read record against their rivals this term.

With that in mind, while Inter are only two points behind, they essentially need to take three more points than Milan over the final three matchdays.

And our model suggests the Rossoneri have a 62 per cent chance of retaining top spot, compared to a 37.7 per cent chance of defending champions Inter overtaking them.

Just to highlight how unlikely it is either Napoli or Juventus will pip the current top two to the summit, they have a 0.2 and 0.1 per cent chance of winning the title respectively.

A ROME ONE-TWO FOR EUROPA LEAGUE?

The Champions League places may now officially be wrapped up, but five teams are still battling it out for the three remaining European berths.

The sides that finish in fifth and sixth, currently occupied by Roma and Lazio, will qualify for the Europa League group stage.

Roma, according to the model, have a 59.1 per cent chance of nailing down fifth place – though if they were to drop to seventh, the Europa Conference League finalists could get into the Europa League by winning UEFA's third-tier competition.

Lazio would take great enjoyment from finishing above their neighbours and have a 36.9 per cent chance of doing so.

The first priority for Maurizio Sarri will be locking down sixth, though, and there is a 46.7 per cent likelihood of achieving that with Fiorentina three points further back.

ATALANTA TO PIP FIORENTINA

While the top six are forecast to remain where they are, our model predicts seventh-placed Fiorentina will miss out to Atalanta in the Europa Conference League play-off position.

After losing three games in a row, La Viola now have a 31.2 per cent chance of staying seventh, compared to 47.6 for Atalanta, whom they are currently level with on 56 points.

Verona are four points further back and that appears to be too big a gap to bridge, with the Gialloblu seemingly certain to remain in eighth.

Indeed, the 80.8 per cent likelihood of Verona finishing in that position is bettered only by the chances of Empoli staying 14th (90.2 per cent) and Venezia remaining bottom (87.4 per cent) given the points margin either side.

VENEZIA AND TWO OTHERS TO DESCEND

Thursday's 2-1 defeat away to Salernitana looks to have spelled the end for Venezia's brief stint back in the top flight as it leaves them seven points from safety. Their chances of escaping the drop sit at 0.1 per cent.

Salernitana still have a 36.2 per cent chance of dropping into the bottom three, but given they face the team directly below them – Cagliari – and Empoli in their next two games, they will surely like those odds.

Another win for Salernitana on Sunday would be massive at the bottom, as such a result will relegate Venezia and potentially Genoa, whom the model gives only a 1.2 per cent likelihood of climbing up to 17th.

Spezia and Sampdoria aren't quite out of the woods yet, but their five-point cushions should be enough to keep them in Serie A. Everything points to Sunday's contest being almost a straight relegation play-off between Salernitana and Cagliari.

The model suggests with a 63.3 per cent probability that Cagliari will go down, but their fate is in their own hands.

We are in the home stretch in the Premier League, which means everything is at stake – in the fantasy leagues, that is.

It is that time of the year when fantasy managers start to go over which games matter at opposite ends of the table to maximise points hauls.

Stats Perform has you covered with some Opta-powered recommendations below, so here are our suggestions for a new goalkeeper, defender, midfielder and striker.

EDERSON (Manchester City v Newcastle United)

Following their dramatic Champions League exit at the hands of Real Madrid, there is a possibility Manchester City players might actually breathe fire on Sunday against Newcastle United.

It will likely mean sporadic and low-quality opportunities for the Toon and, ultimately, light work for Ederson in City's goal.

Another clean sheet for the Brazil international will see him record at least 20 in a Premier League season for the second time, the last being in 2018-19. The next best to Ederson's 90 clean sheets since 2017-18 is Liverpool's Alisson, with 64.

GABRIEL MAGALHAES (Arsenal v Leeds United)

Arsenal's Champions League hopes could hinge on this weekend, with nearest rivals Tottenham coming up against Liverpool. The Gunners need points against favourable opponents.

Only Chelsea's Reece James (five) has scored more Premier League goals for defenders this season than Gabriel's four for Arsenal, with all of them coming from corner situations.

With that in mind, Leeds are one of the five sides in the Premier League this season to have conceded at least 10 goals from corners.

DEJAN KULUSEVSKI (Liverpool v Tottenham)

However, Arsenal's need to pick up points against Leeds does not mean Tottenham players are off-limits, and Antonio Conte's side on the counter-attack are a tough proposition for any club in Europe.

Dejan Kulusevski has come to life at Spurs after a middling spell at Juventus, with no player in Europe's top five leagues providing more assists since his first start in the Premier League. 

On top of Kulusevski's eight assists, only Son Heung-min (15) and Harry Kane (14) have been involved in more Premier League goals than him (11) over the same period.

RICHARLISON (Leicester City v Everton)

Leicester's struggles in possession once again came to the fore on Thursday against Roma, and on Sunday they will have to back up against one of the Premier League's most dynamic players in transition.

Richarlison has almost single-handedly propelled Everton's push for Premier League survival, with six involvements in their last eight goals.

At this rate (12 goal involvements), the Brazil international is on track to match his tally of 16 from the 2019-20 season.

On the back of becoming the first manager to win a clean sweep of trophies in Europe's top five leagues, Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti suggested his coaching career – at club level, at least – is nearing its end.

"After Real, yes, I'll probably stop," he told Amazon Prime in an interview released on Monday. "I'd like to be with my grandchildren, go on vacation with my wife – there are so many things to do that I have left out that I would like to do. The day I quit, I'll have all these things to do."

That did come with a caveat, though. "If the club keeps me here for 10 years, I'll train for 10 years," Ancelotti added, before leaving the door open for a move into international management ahead of the 2026 World Cup.

One month shy of his 63rd birthday, making him the oldest manager to win LaLiga, Ancelotti can be forgiven for thinking of retirement and life beyond football. He has won everything there is to win, after all, including a record-equalling three European Cups.

And yet, for all his success, which includes 20 major trophies across a 26-year managerial career spanning five countries, laid-back Ancelotti is arguably looked down upon when compared to fellow heavyweights such as Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola.

The latter in particular has built a reputation – rightly – for being a philosophy-driven coach who is obsessed with the finer details. Sometimes a little too obsessed when it comes to Champions League football, some might say.

Ancelotti, on the other hand, is old-fashioned in a sense, a coach who learned his trade in the days that managers would regularly be seen puffing away on cigarettes in the dugout, rather than analysing opposition tactics on a tablet.

It was a cigar Ancelotti was seen enjoying last weekend as Madrid toasted LaLiga title glory in his first campaign back, showing there is more than one way to skin a cat when it comes to coaching philosophy.

The Serie A, Premier League, Ligue 1, Bundesliga and LaLiga-winning coach may yet add a record fourth Champions League to his glittering CV come the end of the month, though for that to happen Madrid must first overturn a 4-3 deficit in Wednesday's semi-final second leg with Guardiola's Manchester City.

The opening 90 minutes in Manchester last week produced the joint-highest scoring semi-final first leg in the competition's history, alongside Liverpool's 5-2 win over Roma four years ago, and also provided a snapshot into the two styles of not just Madrid and City but also their respective coaches.

City enjoyed 60 per cent of possession and completed 541 passes to Madrid's 336 – and an extra 248 in the opposition half – which is reflective of how both sides have played this season. 

The Citizens, much like Barcelona during Guardiola's trophy-laden four-year spell in charge, have become perfectly shaped to fit to the Catalan's own style. They have completed 31,385 passes across their 53 games this season, which is more than any other side from Europe's top five leagues.

Madrid also feature high on that list, down in fifth behind Chelsea, Liverpool and Paris Saint-Germain. They also rank fifth among European clubs for goals scored this season with 108. Yet, when you think of an Ancelotti side, you might struggle to immediately describe the default style of play.

Resilient, perhaps? The resilience to score three goals in the space of 17 minutes en route to eliminating PSG with a 3-2 comeback win in the last 16; the resilience to pick themselves up when trailing Chelsea 4-3 on aggregate late on in the quarter-finals, only to advance 5-4.

Ancelotti's football may not have been revolutionary in the same way that Guardiola helped to transform Barcelona, Bayern Munich and City, yet the Italian has succeeded most places he has gone, not least this season with Madrid on course for their joint-highest LaLiga points haul since tallying 100 in 2011-12.

With a few simple tweaks, not least getting Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior working in tandem, Ancelotti has improved Madrid both in an attacking sense and defensively – even if they did ship four goals against City last week.

And so, while he may not be a perceived as a football 'philosopher' or someone who enjoys antagonising his counterparts, Ancelotti – in his 178th Champions League game in charge – has the chance to further prove he has stood the test of time when Guardiola's double-chasing City travel to the Spanish capital.

Should Los Blancos pull off another memorable comeback and go on and lift the trophy in Paris later this month, there would be no better way for Madrid's quiet leader to bring down the curtain on a legendary coaching career.

Liverpool fans are a creative bunch, particularly when it comes to making up songs for their idols.

The latest favourite of the Kop is a little ditty about Jurgen Klopp to the tune of 'I feel fine' by The Beatles, though it has also been re-worked to be about the Reds' manager's wife Ulla after her husband revealed the part she played in convincing him to sign a new deal at Anfield.

While Klopp appreciates the sentiment, he has always said he prefers to hear songs about his players, and there are plenty of those too.

You have to be quite a special player to get your song before you have even signed for the club, though, and it was testament to the excitement around the arrival of Thiago Alcantara from Bayern Munich in 2020 that not only did he already have a song by the time he was signed, but he even whistled it in his own announcement video.

It is a fairly simple number, as most of the best football songs are, where fans just sing "Thiago, Thiago Alcantara!" to the tune of 'Cuba' by the Gibson Brothers.

Arguably the best part about it, though, was the accompanying video that found its way onto social media, which showed Thiago's head superimposed over a woman walking by, while three men, made up to be Klopp, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, danced in the background.

Reds fans certainly feel like dancing right now, seeing their team still in the hunt for an unprecedented quadruple in early May, with the EFL Cup already in the bag, and Thiago is very much at the centre of the march on the remaining three fronts in the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup.

The 31-year-old had a tricky first season in England, having to contest with playing in stadiums with no fans, then picking up an injury that kept him out for several months, before returning to a team whose season had fallen apart after practically the entire defence had also been wiped out by injury.

Thiago showed his class by the end of the campaign to help Liverpool qualify for the Champions League, and although some still cast doubt on his suitability for Klopp's team, he has certainly proven his importance this year as the Merseysiders look to cement their legacy as one of the best teams of all time.

He has continued to suffer from injury issues, and has so far only managed to start in 15 of Liverpool's 34 Premier League games, but it is clear to see the difference he makes when he is available.

In those 15 games, Liverpool have won 14 (93 per cent) and drawn one, which was the recent 2-2 at title rivals Manchester City. When Thiago has not been in the starting XI, the Reds have won 11 of those 19 outings (58 per cent), drawing six and losing two.

They have conceded just four times in the 15 games he has started, compared to 18 in the games without, while averaging 2.9 goals for per game when he starts opposed to 2.3 when he does not.

It is only really of late that the player has been getting recognition for his impact, which is not entirely surprising as he has certainly stepped things up in recent games.

It is not the first time he has done so towards the business end. In 2019-20, his final season at Bayern, he came through to play a crucial role in the German giants' run to the Champions League final, starring in the 1-0 win against Paris Saint-Germain in Lisbon as the Bavarians went on to win a Bundesliga, DFB-Pokal and Champions League treble.

Thiago has finally been able to put a run of games together at Liverpool without being interrupted by injury, and Klopp's team are very much reaping the benefits.

He is not a player you particularly want to measure by numbers alone, such is the beauty with which he plays the game when in top form, but it is equally hard to ignore the increase in his figures of late.

Having not even attempted 100 passes in a game this season beforehand, in his last three starts, Thiago attempted 113 against Manchester United, completing 108, attempted 121 against Everton, completing 119, and attempted 103 against Villarreal, completing 99, as Liverpool went on to win all three with relative ease, not conceding any goals.

Speaking of which, it is not just his passing that makes him one of the best midfielders in the game. He has also shown the best of his defensive ability, particularly in the Champions League.

Of midfielders to have attempted at least 10 tackles in the competition this season, only Villarreal's Giovani Lo Celso (86.67) and Thiago's Liverpool team-mate Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (83.33) have better tackle success percentage than his 81.82.

As well as increasing his already impressive medal haul, one other inspiration for producing such fine form could be Thiago wanting to give Spain boss Luis Enrique something to think about ahead of the World Cup later this year.

La Roja will be among the favourites in Qatar, though such are the riches in midfield they can boast, Thiago has found himself largely out of the squad since last year's rescheduled Euro 2020 tournament, where he only played 66 minutes as Spain reached the semi-finals.

During the tournament when questions were raised as to why the former Bayern and Barcelona man was not featuring more, Luis Enrique said: "Thiago is a very good player. You know and everybody knows about his quality, but we are a strong team and I try to give them minutes.

"He's helping the squad a lot because he's an experienced player and we are very happy to have him in the squad.

"After that, I have to decide and my decision speaks much better than me."

It could be that the Spain head coach is trying to leave space for young prospects such as Pedri and Gavi to come through, but at a major tournament like the World Cup, you would imagine those two and others could only prosper from sharing a squad with someone like Thiago.

The player's club boss certainly thinks so, with Klopp telling reporters at a news conference ahead of Liverpool's Champions League semi-final second leg in Villarreal: "When Thiago is in the shape he's in now, he would play for any team in the world and that is Spain as well.

"They are an incredibly talented team but the shape he's in, he'd play for every national team. Thiago needs to be fit and gain rhythm and he can show his best form."

Thiago will take to the field in Spain on Tuesday to try and guide himself and his team to another Champions League final, with Liverpool leading the Yellow Submarine 2-0 from the first leg.

As he has proven in recent weeks, Thiago's best form is quite a thing to witness, and whether it is in the red of Liverpool or the red of Spain, it is well worth singing about.

Real Madrid and Villarreal have it all to do when they host Manchester City and Liverpool respectively in the second legs of their Champions League semi-final ties in midweek.

Fresh off the back of winning a second LaLiga title in three seasons, Madrid are aiming to overturn a 4-3 deficit against City following last week's thrilling first leg in Manchester.

That was the joint-highest scoring semi-final first leg in the competition's history, along with Liverpool 5-2 Roma in 2017-18, and more drama awaits in the Spanish capital.

Villarreal face an even bigger task, meanwhile, as they trail Liverpool 2-0 through an unfortunate Pervis Estupinan own goal and a Sadio Mane strike at Anfield.

However, only once before have the Reds won both legs of a knockout stage tie against Spanish opposition in the Champions League or its former guise as the European Cup.

So will it be an all-English final in Paris on May 28, or can the LaLiga pair turn things around on home turf?

Ahead of the second legs, Stats Perform digs into some of the best Opta numbers around the two semi-final ties.


Villarreal v Liverpool

To put the size of Villarreal's task into some perspective, only once before – Liverpool versus Barcelona in 2019 – has a team overturned a two-goal first-leg deficit at this stage of the Champions League.

Villarreal are unbeaten at home in Champions League knockout ties, albeit having won just two of their seven such games. The bad news, though, is that across those seven matches, neither side has managed to score more than once on any occasion.

If they are to have any hope of advancing then Unai Emery's men need to display far more attacking impetus than was on show last week, having attempted only one shot and failed to hit the target at Anfield. The last team to fail to record a shot on target across two legs of a Champions League semi-final was Deportivo de La Coruna in 2003-04, against Jose Mourinho's Porto.

Should Liverpool see the job through, they will become only the fourth side to reach the final of the European Cup/ Champions League on 10 or more occasions after Real Madrid (16), Bayern Munich and Milan (both 11), with their current tally of nine the most of any English side.

Jurgen Klopp's side have been formidable on the road in Europe this season, scoring 15 goals and conceding five across their five away Champions League matches, all of which have ended in victory. Should they win on Tuesday, they will boast the longest 100 per cent away record by any team in a single European Cup or Champions League campaign.

After netting in the first leg it is likely that Mane will again be selected in Liverpool's star-studded front three. The Senegal international has scored 14 knockout-stage goals for the Reds in the Champions League, leaving him one short of Chelsea legend Frank Lampard's record for the most for an English club.

 


Real Madrid v Manchester City

The omens are good for City as they have progressed from nine of their previous 10 knockout ties in the Champions League after winning the first leg, the only exception being against Monaco at the last-16 stage in 2016-17 after squandering a 5-3 advantage to lose 6-6 on away goals.

Madrid have been eliminated from all five previous Champions League semi-finals in which they have lost the first leg, meanwhile, though they have advanced from two of their past three knockout ties when losing the first leg – against Wolfsburg in the 2015-16 quarter-finals and versus Paris Saint-Germain in this season's last 16.

Los Blancos, the competition's most successful side, have lost their past two Champions League games, though only once before have they lost three on the spin. Head coach Carlo Ancelotti, incidentally, has never lost three in a row with this his 178th match.

A draw would be enough to see City through, but they have won their last three matches against Madrid in the Champions League and could become the third side to win four in a row against them in UEFA's showpiece competition, the only previous sides to have done so being Ajax (between 1973 and 1995) and Bayern Munich (between 2000 and 2002).

City boss Pep Guardiola has had his fair share of battles with Madrid down the years, not least in the Champions League. The Catalan coach has won four matches against Los Blancos in the competition – only Ottmar Hitzfeld (seven) has won more – with half of those wins coming at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Karim Benzema has rescued Madrid a number of times in Europe this season, the Frenchman having netted nine times in the knockout stage alone. Only former team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo (10) has ever scored more in a single season, while Benzema could become the fourth player to score in both legs of the quarter-finals and semi-finals in a single season after Fernando Morientes (2003-04), Neymar (2014-15) and Edin Dzeko (2017-18). 

While Benzema has rightly received plenty of plaudits, strike partner Vinicius Junior has himself played a huge part in Madrid's charge for a record-extending 14th European Cup. The 28 open-play chances created by the Brazil international is the most of any player in the Champions League since Dusan Tadic (36) in 2018-19.

The Premier League witnessed drama at both ends of the table on an absorbing Saturday, as Manchester City and Liverpool continued to trade blows in the title race.

Jurgen Klopp's men downed in-form Newcastle United thanks to Naby Keita's first-half strike, before City responded by cruising to a 4-0 thrashing of Leeds United at Elland Road.

At the other end of the table, Norwich City were condemned to a record sixth Premier League relegation at Aston Villa, and Watford look destined to join them after Burnley continued their incredible upturn in form at Vicarage Road.

After another frantic day of action, Stats Perform looks at some of the key Opta facts from Saturday's contests.

Newcastle United 0-1 Liverpool: Keita continues Reds' run

Liverpool's bid for a remarkable quadruple faced a tough test when they travelled to Eddie Howe's in-form Newcastle in the first clash of the day.

However, Naby Keita's 19th-minute goal proved the difference in a competitive encounter, and was Liverpool's earliest winning goal in a 1-0 Premier League victory since December 2016, when Georginio Wijnaldum netted after eight minutes against Manchester City.

Klopp's side had chances to extend their lead, with home goalkeeper Martin Dubravka making nine saves, his highest tally in a single Premier League match. Since 2003-04, when Opta data began, the only Newcastle goalkeepers to make more saves in a Premier League game are Tim Krul (14 against Tottenham in November 2013) and Karl Darlow (11 against Tottenham in September 2020).

However, a 21st clean sheet of Liverpool's league campaign was enough to move them to the top of the table - only in 2005-06 (22) have the Reds kept more shutouts in a single Premier League campaign.

Liverpool have now picked up 40 points from the last 42 on offer in the competition, and the win turned up the pressure on City ahead of their trip to Leeds later on Saturday.

Leeds United 0-4 Manchester City: Visitors draw on set-peice prowess to reclaim top spot

The Reds were not top of the table for long, however, as City claimed a 4-0 win over relegation-threatened Leeds at Elland Road. Goals from Rodri and Nathan Ake both came from set pieces, meaning City have now scored 18 set-piece goals (excluding penalties) this season, their most in a Premier League campaign since 2013-14 (22).

Pep Guardiola's men have also kept five consecutive away league clean sheets, the best such sequence in the club's history.

After Gabriel Jesus had made the points safe, Fernandinho stuck a superb fourth goal late on, becoming the club's oldest ever Premier League goalscorer at 36 years and 361 days old, overtaking Frank Lampard in 2015 (36 years and 338 days old).

Leeds, meanwhile, are looking over their shoulders after another heavy defeat. They have conceded a remarkable 20 league goals against the two Manchester clubs this season (11 against City, nine against Manchester United) – a new top-flight record for goals conceded against the duo in a single season.

Watford 1-2 Burnley: Clarets' revival continues after Cork ends barren run

Elsewhere, Burnley continued their incredible revival by coming from behind to defeat Watford, making Mike Jackson the first Clarets boss to win three of his first four league games in charge since Jimmy Mullen won his first four in 1991.

After James Tarkowski's own-goal put Watford ahead, Jack Cork ended his run of 84 Premier League games without a goal with his first strike since December 2018 (against Liverpool), before Josh Brownhill scored a late winner.

The Clarets are now five points above the bottom three after winning three consecutive Premier League games for the first time since April 2019, having won just three of their previous 21 games.

Roy Hodgson's Watford, meanwhile, look destined for relegation after becoming the first side in English top-flight history to lose 11 consecutive home league matches.

Aston Villa 2-0 Norwich City: Canaries suffer another relegation at Villa Park

Burnley's win had other ramifications, contributing to Norwich suffering their sixth relegation from the Premier League – the most of any club in the competition's history – after the Canaries were beaten at Villa Park.

Remarkably, Norwich have been relegated in each of their last four Premier League seasons (2013-14, 2015-16, 2019-20 and 2021-22). They are only the second side in English league history to suffer relegation in four consecutive campaigns in the top-flight, after Crystal Palace (1992-93, 1994-95, 1997-98 and 2004-05).

 

Dean Smith's men saw their fate sealed after becoming the first team to concede 70 Premier League goals this season after just 34 games, representing the earliest point in any league campaign they have reached 70 concessions since 1956-57 (in their 34th game in the old Third Division South).

Ollie Watkins set the tone for Villa's win with his first-half strike, and he has now scored at least 11 more goals than any other Villa player since his September 2020 debut (25 goals in all competitions).

Despite wrapping up their 35th LaLiga title and retaining a chance of winning the Champions League this term, Real Madrid find themselves at something of a crossroads.

The individual brilliance of Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior may have fired Los Blancos to a dominant triumph in LaLiga, but attention will soon turn to Madrid's attempts to defend the title for the first time since 2007-08.

With the potential arrival of a true global superstar and one of the Premier League's best defenders, as well as the matter of refreshing a brilliant but ageing midfield, it promises to be an interesting few months at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Here, Stats Perform analyses what Carlo Ancelotti's men could do to fend off the potential challenge of an improved Barcelona next season.

 

The Mbappe conundrum: How would the superstar fit in?

For months, if not years, Real Madrid's plans for 2022 seem to have revolved around one name: Kylian Mbappe.

While recent reports have suggested the 23-year-old could yet remain at the Parc des Princes, a move for the talismanic attacker – who will be a free agent in June – cannot yet be ruled out.

Having scored 35 goals and provided 19 assists in 43 appearances in all competitions for Paris Saint-Germain, Mbappe would clearly be an asset to any team in European football, but the question remains as to how Mbappe will complement another free-scoring Frenchman in the Spanish capital.

Benzema has become just the fifth Madrid player in history to score 40+ goals in a single season for the club (after Cristiano Ronaldo, Ferenc Puskas, Alfredo Di Stefano and Hugo Sanchez), and is being touted for the Ballon d'Or after driving Madrid's Champions League run. Benzema has scored 14 goals in 10 European appearances this term, averaging a goal every 65.1 minutes in a stunning campaign.

Mbappe and Benzema are no strangers to playing together, but the PSG forward failed to score and only provided one assist when doing so during France's disappointing Euro 2020 campaign. The Madrid man, meanwhile, finished just one goal short of the golden boot after netting four times.

Matters are complicated further when taking into account the form of Vinicius, who has formed a lethal partnership with Benzema this season, registering 33 goal involvements of his own in all competitions (18 goals, 15 assists), and Mbappe's preference to play from the left could infringe on Vinicius. 

However, Mbappe's development into a more well-rounded attacking talent should ensure he at least provides a threat, whichever flank he starts from. 

As well as improving on his 11 assists from last season, Mbappe has completed more dribbles (138) at a higher success rate (50.74 per cent) than Vinicius this term (130, 41.4 per cent), and could join him in playing a more creative role supporting Benzema.

Upgrading in defence: The arrival of Antonio Rudiger

Having announced his intention to leave Chelsea at the end of his contract, Antonio Rudiger is another player strongly linked with a move to the Bernabeu ahead of next season.

The German defender has been one of the Blues' outstanding players under Thomas Tuchel, starring in their Champions League triumph last year and enjoying another fine campaign this season.

Rudiger has been a key component in the Premier League's third-best defence this season, with Chelsea keeping 15 clean sheets and conceding just 28 goals despite falling out of title contention after a promising start.

The 29-year-old appears to be an upgrade on Madrid's current defensive options after last year's departures of Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane, offering more physicality than David Alaba and greater defensive steel than Eder Militao, a partnership that was frequently exposed by Manchester City recently.

Rudiger would also offer a threat at the other end of the pitch, with his three league goals this season bettered by just one other Premier League centre-back (Jan Bednarek, four), and his ability to step out of defence was on display when he scored a 39-yard stunner against Brentford in early April – Chelsea's longest-range Premier League goal since January 2007

However, Rudiger has been accustomed to playing in a back three at Chelsea and would be most likely to play as a right-sided centre-back in a back four for Madrid, unless Ancelotti opts to shift Alaba to left-back.

Rudiger would likely have to curb his attacking enthusiasm if paired with the naturally forward-thinking Alaba, but he appears a smart choice to further solidify a defence that has been the second-strongest in LaLiga this term (only Sevilla have conceded fewer goals).

The case for Camavinga: Time to look to the future?

The midfield trio of Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric will go down in Madrid history: they started together in three consecutive Champions League final wins between 2016 and 2018, with the Croatian also starring in 2014's victory.

Nobody can question their quality or longevity. All three have made at least 35 starts this season, while Modric in particular has produced several sumptuous contributions in big games that have helped him to an assist haul of nine, six more than any other Madrid midfielder.

 

However, given they occasionally appear to lack a certain dynamism when out of possession, could Madrid benefit from some extra mobility in the engine room?

The signing of Eduardo Camavinga, who has made 35 appearances this term, was clearly made with such a move in mind, but the French youngster has only started 14 times in all competitions and would benefit from more playing time next season as he looks to improve his all-round game.

However, neither Camavinga nor Federico Valverde possess the kind of metronomic abilities of Modric or Kroos, and the younger pair also average fewer passes into the final third per 90 minutes than their more experienced peers (6.25 and 6.1, respectively).

As such, with the rumoured arrivals of Mbappe and Rudiger involving no transfer fees, Madrid could yet benefit from dipping into the market to acquire another young, progressive midfielder in a move that might also help to prolong the excellence of Modric and Kroos.

Real Madrid are LaLiga champions for the second time in three seasons – and a 35th time overall – after beating Espanyol 4-0 on Saturday to clinch top spot.

Los Blancos have led the way pretty much throughout a campaign that has seen erstwhile champions Atletico Madrid and a Lionel Messi-less Barcelona struggle for consistency.

Indeed, Sevilla proved Los Blancos' biggest threat for large parts of this season, but Carlo Ancelotti's men never truly looked in danger of relinquishing their grip on another title.

Madrid's latest triumph came in Ancelotti's first season back at the club, with the Italian becoming the first head coach to win each of Europe's top five leagues.

While Ancelotti deserves plenty of credit, the title stroll would not have been possible if not for Karim Benzema and Thibaut Courtois at opposite ends of the pitch.

Here, Stats Perform looks at the numbers behind Madrid's latest title romp, which they could still yet add to with the Champions League in the coming weeks.

 

Madrid masterclass

Not only have Madrid won more European Cups than any side, their 35th LaLiga crown sees them overtake Juventus for the most titles among the top five European leagues.

Their two titles in three seasons, with the other coming under Zinedine Zidane in 2019-10, is as many as they won in the previous 11 campaigns.

Ancelotti's men have done so in style, too, having clinched top spot with four matchdays left, surpassing 2007-08 (three matchdays) for their earliest title win this century.

 

Carlo completes the set

Ancelotti won five trophies during his previous spell in charge of Madrid but the LaLiga title eluded him.

However, the 62-year-old can now lay claim to having won the title in Italy, England, France, Germany and indeed Spain – the first head coach to have ever achieved a sweep.

He is also the oldest coach to have won the Spanish top flight, some two years more senior than Fabio Capello was when also tasting success with Madrid in 2006-07.

Incidentally, Ancelotti and Capello are the only two Italian coaches to have reigned in Spain, with the latter having done so twice.

 

Karim the Dream

Benzema has led the way for Madrid with this his fourth LaLiga conquest, adding to the titles won in 2012, 2017 and 2020.

The France international has scored 26 goals in 30 league games this season, making this his most prolific campaign across his 13 years in Spain's top flight.

Not only does Benzema lead the LaLiga scoring charts, his 11 assists are also level with Barcelona's Ousmane Dembele as the most in the division.

Just to further underline the striker's importance this season, with 37 direct goal involvements he has played a part in 51 per cent of Los Blancos' 73 league goals.

Courtois a calming presence

For all of Benzema's goals, Madrid have so often called upon goalkeeper Courtois to rescue them this campaign.

The former Chelsea stopper has conceded 29 goals across 34 matches, keeping 14 clean sheets in the process.

Real Sociedad's Alex Remiro (18) can hold claim to keeping more shutouts, but a separate metric shows just how good Courtois has been in 2021-22.

The 29 goals Courtois has conceded have come from 33.4 expected goals on target conceded, meaning he has prevented 4.4 goals based on the quality of his shot-stopping.

To put that in some perspective, no goalkeeper in LaLiga has prevented more goals this season, while only five others across Europe's top five leagues have prevented more.

Benzema and Vinicius Junior may get most of the plaudits, but Courtois' influence has undoubtedly been significant.

 

Narratives are being readied all over the place to make this season's NBA playoffs potentially one of the most exciting of recent times.

The first round may not have provided quite as much drama as hoped, with none of the eight clashes going to a Game 7, but looking at the contests in prospect in the Conference semi-finals, we should not be far away from some.

The top four seeds in both Conferences ultimately made it through, though that's not to say some were not given a bit of a fright, and the semis were set after the Memphis Grizzlies eventually put away the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday in Game 6.

There are stories to be written when it comes to the star players in the league, though, with some excelling as they look lead their team to glory, while others are struggling to stay on the court and off the injured list.

This leads us into some potentially fascinating encounters in the final eight, and Stats Perform has taken a look at what we can expect over the next two weeks.

Eastern Conference

Boston Celtics v Milwaukee Bucks

Frankly, these two should be perfectly fresh heading into this one.

The Celtics whitewashed the Brooklyn Nets in the first round, barely breaking a sweat in the process, while the Bucks dropped just one game in overcoming a depleted Chicago Bulls.

Jayson Tatum has unsurprisingly been the star so far for Boston in the postseason, averaging 29.5 points per game, including 39 in Game 3, as well as averaging 7.3 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game.

Equally unsurprisingly, Giannis Antetokounmpo has been leading the way for the defending NBA champions, averaging 28.6 points per game from five postseason outings so far for the Bucks, as well as 6.2 assists and 13.4 rebounds.

The continued absence of Khris Middleton will be a blow for Mike Budenholzer, with the swingman still recovering from a knee injury suffered in the first round, and reports suggesting he will miss the entirety of this round as well.

These two beat each other twice during the regular season, with the Bucks getting the final win just over three weeks ago at Fiserv Forum, so it promises to be a much tighter affair than either experienced in round one.

Miami Heat v Philadelphia 76ers

The number one seeds in the East were barely inconvenienced by the Atlanta Hawks in the first round, with the Heat winning 4-1.

Jimmy Butler is bringing it in the playoffs so far, averaging 30.5 points, with an additional 5.3 assists and 7.8 rebounds per game. He missed Game 5 against the Hawks with a knee inflammation, but it is hoped he will return for Game 1 against his former team.

Kyle Lowry's participation is more of a question mark, with the 36-year-old missing since suffering a hamstring injury in Game 3.

There is an arguably worse injury situation in Philadelphia, though, with Joel Embiid out "indefinitely" with a right orbital fracture and mild concussion. The Cameroonian was averaging 26.2 points across the 4-2 first round win over the Toronto Raptors.

Despite playing with an injured thumb, Embiid was dominant as the Sixers took out Game 6, putting up 33 points on 12-of-18 shooting from the floor and nine-of-10 from the free-throw line, as well as adding 10 rebounds and three blocks, but it is unclear when he will play a part in this round.

Tyrese Maxey, along with James Harden, will need to step up even more in the absence of Embiid if the Sixers are to dump out the top seeds.

Like the Celtics and the Bucks, these two traded two wins apiece in the regular-season meetings, with the Sixers winning 113-106 at Wells Fargo Center in March without Embiid, with Maxey top-scoring with 28 points.

 

Western Conference

Golden State Warriors v Memphis Grizzlies

Despite the best efforts of Nikola Jokic, the Warriors strolled past the Denver Nuggets 4-1 in the first round, but can expect a sterner test here from the Grizzlies.

Stephen Curry is on his game, averaging 28 points across those five outings, although only 3.8 three-pointers per game so far, being outshone in that metric by team-mate Klay Thompson, who has averaged 4.4.

Curry and Thompson combined to great effect in Game 5 against the Nuggets, scoring 33 and 32 points respectively.

Memphis probably struggled more than they thought they would against the Timberwolves, securing a 4-2 win in the end but being made to work for it.

Ja Morant recorded 30 points, 13 rebounds, nine assists and three steals in Game 5. Only five players in the last 35 seasons have recorded such a stat line in a playoff game, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Morant himself.

Morant has continued his great form, but Desmond Bane is also shining in the postseason, with the top average point score for the Grizzlies of 23.5, and 4.5 three-pointers made per game.

The Grizzlies could have a psychological edge in this contest, having won all of their last three meetings in the regular season, with the 28-point difference in the 123-95 win at FedExForum in late March the largest defeat of the Warriors' season.

Phoenix Suns v Dallas Mavericks

Although ultimately through with a game to spare, it was surprising to see the Suns struggle as much as they did against the eighth-seed New Orleans Pelicans.

The outstanding Suns, who won 64 regular-season games, eventually prevailed 4-2 against the Pelicans, who by comparison won just 36 in the regular season, but that is what the playoffs bring, the threat of upsets.

Monty Williams and his team will have hardly been panicking, though, even when they were tied at 2-2 after Game 4, with a Chris Paul-inspired win in New Orleans in Game 6 sealing their passage through.

Having Devin Booker back is a big boost for West's number one seeds, with the 25-year-old returning from a hamstring injury for Game 6 that ruled him out of Games 3-5, having registered a combined 56 points in Games 1 and 2.

The Mavericks made it through the first round for the first time since they won the championship in 2011, seeing off the Utah Jazz 4-2, in a series that was also previously tied at 2-2.

It was made all the more impressive considering Luka Doncic could only play in three games, though still averaging 29.0 points in those he did, as well as 5.7 assists and 10.7 rebounds.

That meant someone else stepping up, and that someone else was Jalen Brunson, who scored 41 in Game 2 and a further 31 in Game 3, averaging 27.8 across the six games.

Dallas will need to do something about their record against Phoenix, though, having lost their last nine meetings with them, including three this season. The Mavs have not recorded a win against the Suns since November 2019.

As the 2021-22 Premier League season enters its final weeks, plenty remains for the taking – not least the thrilling title race between Liverpool and reigning champions Manchester City.

Both teams are in imperious form and, while City lead the way by a single point heading into the weekend, one slip might be all it takes.

Chelsea seem relatively secure in third place, but behind them the battle for the final Champions League spot is raging on. Just two points separate north London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham, who meet in a potentially decisive derby in mid-May. 

Manchester United have played two games more than those two sides and look like they will have to settle for sixth, assuming they can fend off West Ham.

At the bottom, Everton are in real danger of losing their Premier League status for the first time but will hold out hope in their dogfight against Burnley and Leeds United, though Watford and Norwich City appear destined for the drop.

But just how will it all unfold? Well, using the Stats Perform League Prediction Model, we can try and forecast the final standings.

Created by Stats Perform AI using Opta data, the model has analysed the division to assign percentages to potential outcomes for each club.

The model estimates the probability of each match outcome (win, draw or loss) based on teams' attacking and defensive qualities, which considers four years' worth of results, with weighting based on recency and the quality of opposition. The rest of the matches are then simulated 10,000 times to calculate the likelihood of each outcome.

Let's take a look...

PEP PIPS KLOPP TO THE POST... AGAIN

City won the Premier League title by a margin of just one point in the 2018-19 campaign. The gap has been much wider over the past two seasons, with Liverpool triumphing in 2020 and City winning last year.

But just like in 2019, the model suggests Liverpool will fall just short once again, with City predicted to stay on top. It gives Pep Guardiola's team a 66 per cent chance of winning their fourth title in five seasons, with the Reds given a 34 per cent chance.

Neither side are predicted to drop out of the top two – that seems a safe bet. Liverpool have a tough trip to in-form Newcastle United on Saturday, while City face Leeds United.

Newcastle will then have the chance to have another say in the title race when they visit City on May 8, with trips to Wolves and West Ham coming for the leaders before they round off their domestic season against Steven Gerrard's Aston Villa. 

Liverpool, who also face Villa along with Spurs, Southampton and Wolves, will be wanting a favour from their club great on the last day of the season if they are to prove the model wrong.

GUNNERS CLINCH CHAMPIONS LEAGUE PLACE

Chelsea, according to the model, have a 98.7 chance of staying in third place, and are certain to be playing in UEFA's elite competition next season.

Below them, it is predicted that Arsenal will just nip into the top four rather than Spurs. Mikel Arteta's team have a 75.2 per cent chance of qualifying for the Champions League, and just 24.8 of finishing in a Europa League place.

While Stats Perform AI only gives Arsenal a minuscule opportunity of taking third off Chelsea, they have a 73.9 per cent chance of securing fourth place and featuring in the Champions League for the first time since 2016-17.

It seems likely that much will be decided on May 12, when Spurs welcome Arsenal to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Antonio Conte's team are predicted to finish fifth (72.4 per cent), and only have a 24.7 per cent likelihood of clinching fourth.

United are forecast to finish sixth (65 per cent), albeit there is the possibility they could even end 2021-22 in seventh. That position, however, seems set to be filled by West Ham, who have to win against Eintracht Frankfurt next week to keep their hopes of a Europa League triumph alive – success in that competition would take them into the Champions League, regardless of where they finish domestically.

TOFFEES CHAMPIONSHIP-BOUND

It has been a dismal season for Everton, who head into Sunday's clash with Frank Lampard's former club Chelsea sitting in the bottom three for the first time since 2019 (when, ironically, they beat a Chelsea side managed by Lampard).

Lampard has taken 10 points from his 12 games in charge, and they are now predicted to finish in 18th place. The model gives them a 29.8 per cent chance of escaping the drop and finishing 17th and just a 17.4 per cent likelihood of coming 16th. Their run-in includes three away games, and Everton have the worst away record in the competition – 12 of their 19 defeats coming on the road and they have taken just six points on their travels all season.

Burnley sit two points clear of Everton in 17th after two successive victories and are given a 39.4 per cent chance of staying put, although the likelihood of the Clarets' finishing 18th is not dissimilar (36.5 per cent).

Leeds have tough fixtures against City, Arsenal and Chelsea coming up before they host Brighton and Hove Albion and visit Brentford, though Stats Perform AI gives them only a 12.9 per cent chance of relegation.

Watford are heavily predicted to stay put in 19th too, with Norwich given a 67.4 per cent probability of finishing bottom – the model reckons they have a 0.1 per cent chance of avoiding the drop.

We are approaching the home straight in the Premier League, which means the tension builds, the sweat pours, and the heart-rate increases...and that's just in our fantasy leagues.

Some matches mean more than others right now, but to fantasy managers, every game has the potential to get you those much-needed points to make a late run in your league.

If you want a bit of a helping hand with your decision-making this week, Stats Perform has you covered with some Opta-powered suggestions below.

Here are our suggestions for a new goalkeeper, defender, midfielder and striker for your consideration...

EMILIANO MARTINEZ (Aston Villa v Norwich City)

The Argentine goalkeeper has been impressive since making the move from Arsenal in 2020, establishing himself as number one for both Villa and his national team, winning the Copa America last year.

Martinez registered his 25th clean sheet for Villa last time out against Leicester City, and since the start of last season, only Ederson (37), Edouard Mendy and Alisson (both 29) have kept more than him.

With a home clash against bottom of the table and lowest scorers Norwich coming up on Saturday, it seems as likely a time as any for another game without picking the ball out of his net for Martinez.

MARC CUCURELLA (Wolves v Brighton and Hove Albion)

It is hard not to be impressed by Brighton, with Graham Potter getting a team with limited resources to play some of the best football on show in the Premier League, it's just a question of finding consistency.

With a trip to a stumbling Wolves side that has lost three of its last four games, Potter will look to produce the same magic that saw his team secure impressive recent away wins at Arsenal and Tottenham, with particular focus on one of his more potent performers at full-back.

Only Liverpool duo Trent Alexander-Arnold (47) and Andrew Robertson (36) have created more chances from open play among defenders this season than Cucurella, who has been one of the many success stories at the Amex Stadium since arriving from Getafe last year.

JAMES WARD-PROWSE (Southampton v Crystal Palace)

It would not be surprising in the slightest to see a suggestion at the next Premier League managers' meeting to extend VAR protocol to include free-kick decisions anywhere near the penalty area, but only for games involving Southampton.

When Ward-Prowse lines up a free-kick, it feels like watching Mohamed Salah taking a penalty, you just wonder which corner of the goal the ball will inevitably end up in.

After two strikes last time out against Brighton, one of course a free-kick, Ward-Prowse has now been involved in 13 goals (nine goals, four assists) in the Premier League this season, only ever managing more in 2020-21 (15 - eight goals, seven assists), with this his best season for goals. 

WOUT WEGHORST (Watford v Burnley)

Those of us who watch the Bundesliga and like to bring our hipster opinions to conversations were saying the same thing when Burnley signed Weghorst in January, that he was probably an improvement on the outgoing Chris Wood.

So of course, the big Dutchman managed just three goal involvements in his first 12 appearances for the Clarets (one goal, two assists) after arriving from Wolfsburg.

However, just as Burnley have turned their form around as they look to avoid relegation, Weghorst has stepped his game up too, having managed a goal and an assist in his last three games, and is about to come up against a very leaky Watford backline.

The 2021 NFL Draft was unreservedly the year of the quarterback. The 2022 draft is anything but.

A year on from quarterbacks going 1-2-3 in a first round that saw five taken in total, it is tough to make the case for any of the consensus best five from this year's uninspiring crop going in the top 10.

None of that quintet come without significant concerns that will make it hard for franchises to justify spending a premium pick to make them the quarterback of the future.

But there is a clear hierarchy among the group, with two players the standout choices for teams eyeing a potential day-one starter and one prospect standing alone as the home-run swing who brings as much risk as he does reward.

Quarterbacks inevitably get pushed up the board in the draft but, even with the top three members of this class, it may take some teams to get desperate for that to happen his year.

The pro-ready pair

Talk of Kenny Pickett going in the top 10, with the Carolina Panthers viewed as a landing spot due to his connections with head coach Matt Rhule, has raised plenty of eyebrows.

Yet for all the justifiable concerns about taking a quarterback whose ceiling at the highest level may be limited due to arm strength that can make deep throws outside the numbers a challenge for Pickett, the reality is that the former Pittsburgh quarterback is the most pro-ready player at the position in this class.

Last season, Pickett produced an accurate, well-thrown ball on 82.70 percent of his throws, the highest ratio of anyone in the draft. His pickable pass rate of 2.11 percent was also best in class.

Pickett excels at throwing with timing and anticipation, frequently hitting his receivers in stride to maximize their potential to create yards after the catch. He can make throws with pressure in his face and moves well in the pocket to escape pressure while also succeeding at breaking structure and creating with his legs.

Having displayed accuracy in throwing across his body on the run, Pickett will not enter the league with the "statue" concerns that Mac Jones faced last year.

And, though the ball does often die in the air when he goes deep, Pickett's completion percentage of 51.4 percent on 20-plus yard throws put him top of the class, while he was second in well-thrown percentage (68.06) on such attempts.

The upside of a top-10 selection may be absent from Pickett's game, but he should be the leading candidate if a team is looking for a rookie who can play right away, and the gap between him and Cincinnati's Desmond Ridder is perhaps larger than many would believe.

Ridder will go into the league having had the benefit of succeeding while being asked to operate in a manner that should help him acclimatise to the NFL quicker than most. He showed calm under pressure, negating it through intelligent pocket movement, and consistently worked through his progressions before finding his checkdown.

Another impressive timing thrower who is a better athlete than he is given credit for and boasts a stronger arm than Pickett, deep accuracy will be the main concern surrounding Ridder at the next level.

His overall well-thrown percentage of 75.66 was the third-worst in the class and Ridder was the second-worst by that same metric on downfield throws as just 58.57 percent of his deep attempts were accurate.

Ridder can offer a baseline of quarterback play because of what he was asked to do at Cincinnati, but teams must decide whether that is worth the cost of a late first or high second-round pick when there is the possibility to swing for the fences on a higher ceiling quarterback who may take significantly longer to blossom into a starting-calibre player.

Talkin' bout Willis

Unquestionably the most divisive quarterback of the 2022 class is Liberty's Malik Willis, who between his elite-level arm and his remarkable proficiency running the ball in the open field has the highest upside of any signal-caller in this year's crop.

With his 27 rushing touchdowns tied with Malik Cunningham for the most by an FBS quarterback over the last season, Willis demonstrated speed, vision, elusiveness and contact balance as a runner, making him a threat with the ball in his hands from anywhere in the field. Willis led all quarterbacks in this class with a yards per carry average of 6.64 on scrambles and was second with 7.42 on designed runs.

Adept at completing off-platform throws and displaying unerring accuracy throwing on the move, it is extremely exciting to think about Willis could become, his ability to blend touch and velocity when going deep allowing him to post the fourth-best well-thrown percentage (61.11) in the class on throws of 20 yards or more.

Willis fits the role of modern-day NFL quarterback better than any of his contemporaries in the draft but harnessing his obvious potential will take time.

So little was asked of him by Hugh Freeze at Liberty that there are question-marks over whether Willis will be ready to start in the NFL even after a year on the bench.

Though he can get through his progressions and perform full-field reads, Willis struggles significantly as a processor. He plays far too slow in working through his reads, leading to him holding the ball too long and failing to hit open receivers underneath.

Playing too slowly at the NFL level is a recipe for disaster. A team will fall in love with Willis' traits, but they must be prepared to be ultra-patient in waiting for the right moment to maximize them.

A Rebel with a cause... for optimism?

Willis has remained in the QB1 discussion despite struggling in his only 2021 game that saw him go up against one of his quarterback counterparts in this class.

Perhaps unsurprisingly given their respective supporting casts, Willis was outplayed when he and Liberty faced off with Ole Miss and their quarterback Matt Corral.

Yet Corral does not head into the draft in the first-round discussion even after a season in which he helped the Rebels to 10 wins and delivered a well thrown ball on 80.69 per cent of his pass attempts.

He displayed that accuracy while averaging the lowest air yards per attempt (8.20) of any of the top quarterbacks. A decisive thrower to the short and intermediate areas, Corral had the confidence to let it rip due to playing in an offense that relied predominantly on run-pass option plays that provided him with open looks.

When the throwing windows got tighter, Corral struggled to display the same accuracy and consistently risked turnovers on deep passing attempts. No quarterback in the 2021 class had a higher pickable pass rate on throws of 20-plus yards downfield than Corral's 9.80 per cent.

Corral, though, does have the arm to push the ball downfield with success, as reflected by his well-thrown percentage of 60.78 on deep attempts, which puts him less than a percentage point behind Willis.

Possessing the elusiveness in the pocket to evade pressure and the athleticism to be a viable threat on the ground, Corral ticks a lot of the boxes required for a quarterback to succeed in the modern NFL. However, after playing in such a simplified offense at Ole Miss, it would be a significant stretch to expect him to be able to helm an NFL attack early in his pro career.

The team that invests in Corral will likely initially view him as a high-end developmental backup and that is the role North Carolina's Sam Howell can also expect to fulfil for many of the same reasons.

Howell understandably struggled to adapt after losing NFL draft picks Dyami Brown, Michael Carter and Javonte Williams following the 2020 season and there was little in last year's tape to build a compelling case for him as a first-round pick.

Blessed with the arm strength to make throws to every level, Howell averaged more air yards per attempt (11.45) than any quarterback in the class.

But only Willis had a lower well-thrown percentage than Howell's 75.60 and that declined to 50 per cent on throws of 20 or more yards.

Simply put, the consistency throwing the ball was not there for Howell in his final season, in which he was reliant on one-read RPO throws and scrambles or designed runs.

He frequently ran the ball if his first read was not open, showing impressive contact balance to stay on his feet through attempted tackles when he did so.

Howell's 8.42 yards per carry average on designed runs was the highest among quarterbacks in the class. The blend of huge arm and intriguing running ability is likely to entice a team into taking a bet on him as a day-two project, but the road to Howell being a viable NFL starter will be a long one.

As Jurgen Klopp sat in front of a tremendously busy media room when he was being presented as Liverpool's new manager in October 2015, he said his mission was to "turn doubters into believers."

He felt Reds fans were a little too used to coming so near yet so far, having not won a league title since 1990 at the time, and only winning one trophy - the 2012 League Cup - since 2006.

Early on in his reign, after his new team had fallen 2-1 behind to Crystal Palace at Anfield, he was aghast at fans leaving the ground with almost 10 minutes to go, saying he felt "pretty alone" in that moment.

Fast-forward to April 2022, and having won the Champions League, the Premier League, a UEFA Super Cup, a FIFA Club World Cup and an EFL Cup since, it is safe to say that the Liverpool fans are now believers as they sang Klopp's name at the top of their lungs during the 2-0 Champions League semi-final first leg victory against Villarreal.

The Reds are still in with a shout of winning an unprecedented quadruple this season having already won the EFL Cup, with an FA Cup final against Chelsea to come, a lead in their Champions League semi, and sitting just a point behind leaders Manchester City in the Premier League title race with five games left.

News that Klopp had signed a two-year extension to his Anfield deal on Thursday, meaning his contract now runs until 2026, came as a huge boost to fans ahead of what promises to be an exciting run-in, and Stats Perform has taken a look at some of the important steps that took those doubters and filled them with such belief.

Darkest before the dawn

There was a lot to clear up in the squad left behind by the outgoing Brendan Rodgers. If you look at the team Klopp chose for his first game in charge against Tottenham at White Hart Lane, you will see names on the bench such as Jerome Sinclair, Joao Teixeira and Conor Randall, names not too familiar to many now.

"There were many full-throttle moments in the game. We need to improve but after working with the players for three days I am completely satisfied," Klopp said after the 0-0 draw, but he knew he had his work cut out.

Although ultimately it was a disappointing league campaign in 2015-16 for Liverpool, finishing eighth with just 60 points, behind both Southampton and West Ham, Klopp did manage to reach two finals, in the EFL Cup and the Europa League.

He ended up losing both of them, on penalties to Man City and 3-1 to Sevilla respectively. The players were despondent, but as detailed earlier this week by Reds captain Jordan Henderson, Klopp insisted his players not mope, but celebrate what they had achieved, and what he was sure was still to come.

First step in the evolution

After adding Sadio Mane and Georginio Wijnaldum prior to his first full season in charge, many people were a bit underwhelmed, but those fears were soon allayed as Liverpool set about playing the sort of football they have since become synonymous with.

A 4-3 win at Arsenal on the opening day of the season set the tempo, albeit that was tempered by a 2-0 defeat at Burnley straight after in which Liverpool could do nothing with their 80 per cent possession at Turf Moor.

However, as the season progressed, Klopp was able to get a tune out of a potent front three of Mane, Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho, with Mane and Coutinho scoring 13 Premier League goals each, while Firmino added 11 more.

A 3-0 win against Middlesbrough at Anfield on the final day of the season sealed a Champions League spot, but the question was, could Liverpool stay competitive in the league while also navigating through a European campaign?

 

No player is bigger than the club

Liverpool had made an addition to their already potent attack by bringing in Mohamed Salah from Roma, but the 2017-18 season looked to be thrown into turmoil before it had begun, with Coutinho handing in a transfer request the day before the opener at Watford.

The Brazilian was forced to stay until the January transfer window before being allowed to move to Barcelona, but it did not exactly slow Klopp's men down, largely thanks to the revelation that was Salah.

The Egyptian plundered 4e goals in all competitions in his debut season with the Reds, and coupled with the addition of Virgil van Dijk in January, led to Liverpool making it all the way to the Champions League final in Kyiv.

They were ultimately beaten by Real Madrid thanks to some odd goalkeeping from Loris Karius and a stunner from Gareth Bale, but it felt like the start of something, rather than the end.

 

Righting wrongs

After adding Alisson and Fabinho to an already strong team, it seemed that Klopp had addressed his two biggest weak points, and so it proved as Liverpool became a near unstoppable force.

They went toe-to-toe with a rampant Man City in the title race, while also showing a determination to avenge their Champions League heartbreak.

They did just that after a remarkable 4-3 aggregate win against Coutinho and Barcelona in the semi-finals, before beating Tottenham 2-0 in Madrid to give Klopp his first trophy at the club, arguably the biggest one of all.

However, in some people's eyes, the biggest one was the Premier League, which they missed out on to City by a single point, despite amassing an incredible 97 themselves. Only City that year and when they achieved 100 the year prior had ever won more points in England's top flight, but it still didn't result in a league title.

Righting wrongs: Part two

Just as they had done in the Champions League, Liverpool had a sense of purpose to go one better in the league in 2019-20, and that led to the title race being over pretty much before it had begun.

A 3-1 win against City at Anfield in the November put the Reds nine points clear of Pep Guardiola's men, and they never looked back, until they were forced to stop their relentless pursuit.

After a break of several weeks following the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, Liverpool returned to finish the job and seal their first league title in 30 years after going two points better than the year previous, ending the campaign with 99 to their name.

 

The beginning of the end?

The pandemic meant every club had lost their fans, with no-one allowed in grounds. While the increasingly believing Kop was missed, it was not until Klopp started losing his defence that problems emerged in 2020-21.

By mid-November, he had lost Van Dijk and Joe Gomez to long-term injury, and Joel Matip completed the set in January, meaning Liverpool had to play a significant chunk of their campaign with either midfielders, or rookie defenders at centre back.

This led to a downturn in results that had people questioning if the ride was over. Had Klopp's relentless Reds finally run out of steam, and was this the inevitable consequence of shining so brightly?

Thanks to some very hard-earned wins, including a remarkable stoppage time winner from Alisson at West Brom, Liverpool scraped third place and a crucial Champions League spot. Had stories of their demise been greatly exaggerated?

 

The quadruple chasers

Yes, yes they had. With their defenders all back, and Ibrahima Konate added from RB Leipzig, Liverpool have, if anything, found new levels of excellence this season. They have gone right back to challenging City, and have proven themselves to be one of the teams to beat in Europe too.

They are currently the top scorers in the Premier League with 85 goals in 33 games, and have won 13 of their last 14 league games, with a 2-2 draw at City their only blemish in that time.

Can they go all the way and make history by winning a quadruple? It still seems unlikely, but whether they do or they don't, the news that Klopp's story with Liverpool has been extended by two more years can only be positive.

You better believe it.

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