Cristiano Ronaldo is heading back to Old Trafford.

Going into Friday, it seemed as though Manchester City would be signing one of United's all-time greats.

On Friday morning, the deal appeared to be edging closer – Ronaldo was pictured leaving Juventus' training ground before coach Massimiliano Allegri confirmed the 36-year-old was departing the club altogether.

Yet in the time it took for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Pep Guardiola to complete their pre-match news conferences, the deal had turned on its head.

By early afternoon in the United Kingdom, City had pulled out to leave United as clear front-runners and, just before 17:00 BST, Ronaldo's sensational return to Old Trafford had been confirmed.

United reached an agreement with Juve for the attacker, who scored 81 goals in 98 Serie A matches after joining from Real Madrid in 2018, nine years after his first spell in the Premier League ended.

The €23million (£19.7m) deal is subject to the completion of personal terms, a medical and the acquisition of a visa, but none of those are expected to cause issues.

So, with Ronaldo set to be back in the fold, Stats Perform assesses how United are likely to line up.

4-2-3-1: David de Gea; Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Raphael Varane, Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw; Scott McTominay, Paul Pogba; Jadon Sancho, Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford; Cristiano Ronaldo.

GK: David de Gea

While he's probably no longer regarded among the world's very best goalkeepers, De Gea still edges out Dean Henderson for a place in this team at the moment, though he is sure to be pushed hard once the England international returns from injury. De Gea played 26 times in the league last season and conceded 32 goals from an expected goals against (xGA) value of 28.1, meaning he was culpable for the concession of nearly four goals over the course of the campaign. Henderson, on the other hand, outperformed his xGA figure of 13.8 by only conceding 12 goals in the 13 appearances he made, giving him a 'goals prevented' record of 1.8 – this suggests he was the more dependable of the two goalkeepers, and his save percentage of 76.5 was significantly better than De Gea's (65.2) as well.

RB: Aaron Wan-Bissaka

Wan-Bissaka made 34 league appearances last term. Of all defenders in the top flight, only Leeds United's Luke Ayling (61) registered more successful tackles than the former Crystal Palace full-back (54), though his success rate of 61.4 per cent was better than the former's (56.5 per cent). Wan-Bissaka also improved his contributions to United's attack with six goal involvements, a figure bettered by only six defenders, while just four kept more than the 13 clean sheets he recorded.

CB: Raphael Varane

Ronaldo will be joining up with one of his former Madrid team-mates, with World Cup-winner Varane having previously arrived to bolster United's defence. Out of LaLiga defenders to contest 20 or more aerial battles last term, Varane led the way with a 76 per cent success rate, which vastly improves on Victor Lindelof's 59.4 per cent aerial success rate from last season.

CB: Harry Maguire

Alongside Varane, Maguire adds leadership and Premier League experience. The England man won 63.8 per cent of his duels last season, while his aerial prowess should help United dominate in both boxes. His ability with the ball often gets overlooked, and expect to see plenty of long diagonals from left to right, where Jadon Sancho or Mason Greenwood will no doubt be waiting.

LB: Luke Shaw

Shaw does have Alex Telles as quality competition but there is no doubting the 26-year-old's place in this XI. Of Premier League defenders, only Trent Alexander-Arnold (77) created more chances than Shaw (72) last term, while the left-back created an average of 2.4 opportunities per 90 minutes, the most in the league among defenders.

CM: Scott McTominay

Ronaldo's signing does mean one thing; Solskjaer has to be bold with his team selections. With so much attacking quality at his disposal, the Norwegian must, outside of the biggest games, dispense with a midfield duo of McTominay and Fred, and it is the Scotland international – who is currently out injured – who should get the nod.

CM: Paul Pogba

A long-standing issue with Solskjaer's preferred 4-2-3-1 is whether or not it gets the best out of Pogba, who starred for France at Euro 2020 in a midfield three. That has not been much of an issue so far this season as he's been filling in brilliantly on the left in Marcus Rashford's absence, with Pogba already registering five assists, becoming the first player in Premier League history to manage that tally across the opening two games of a campaign.

RW: Jadon Sancho

If Ronaldo is one for the here and now, then Sancho is a player for United's future, though the ex-Borussia Dortmund flyer is of course a star in his own right. He seems likely to alternate with Greenwood for a role on the right. He scored 38 goals and provided 45 assists in 104 Bundesliga appearances for Dortmund; since his debut in October 2017, only Thomas Muller (91) and Robert Lewandowski (137) managed more direct goal involvements prior to the start of 2021-22.

AM: Bruno Fernandes

Ronaldo will not be the only Portugal star on show at Old Trafford. Solskjaer's team has been built around Fernandes, who created a league-high 95 shooting chances last season, assisting 12 goals and scoring a further 18. His hat-trick against Leeds on the opening day of 2021-22 also has him joint-top of the scoring charts after two games.

LW: Marcus Rashford

Rashford is currently recovering from surgery on a shoulder injury that plagued his 2020-21 campaign, with Pogba, Anthony Martial, Sancho, Greenwood and Daniel James – if he stays put – likely to battle it out for a place on the left in the meantime. Ronaldo, of course, can also play from the left, though it seems he will be much better utilised as the focal point in United's attack.

ST: Cristiano Ronaldo

United have Edinson Cavani, but there can surely be no doubt who will start in the majority of matches. Ronaldo is a bona fide superstar who has – alongside Lionel Messi – sustained his success at the highest level for almost 20 years. Ronaldo is the only United player to score 30+ goals in a season in Premier League history (31 in 2007-08), and while that record may seem out of reach, his arrival could have transformed the Red Devils into genuine title contenders.

Cristiano Ronaldo is set to be playing back at Old Trafford again in 2021-22 after Manchester United confirmed they have reached an agreement with Juventus for the transfer of the Portugal great.

While personal terms, a medical and visa are still to be sorted out for Ronaldo, it would take something remarkable to stop him from joining now after a deal reportedly worth up to €23million (£19.7m) was agreed with Juve on Friday.

For a short while it looked as though Ronaldo – who had asked to leave the Bianconeri – was heading to Manchester City after they missed out on the signing of Harry Kane.

But apparent interventions from Ronaldo's former United manager Alex Ferguson and old team-mate Rio Ferdinand may have swung the race in the Red Devils' favour.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer seemed to open the door to Ronaldo during his news conference on Friday, and just a few hours later United confirmed a deal had been struck with Juventus.

Following confirmation of the deal, Stats Perform takes a look at greats who went back to their spiritual home, starting with the Portugal captain…

Cristiano Ronaldo – Manchester United

Ronaldo spent six years at Old Trafford during his last spell, arriving as a lanky teenager who probably averaged four stepovers per minute before leaving as a Ballon d'Or winner and an ice-cold finisher. His then-world record move to Real Madrid had been a long time coming and he spent nine years at the Santiago Bernabeu, becoming the club's all-time top scorer as he continued his transition from winger to out-and-out 'number nine'. There he won four Champions League titles before moving on to Juve, for whom he plundered 81 goals in 98 Serie A matches and picked up two Scudetti. But now he is all set for a return to England – whether he can match the standards he set last time remains to be seen, with his 31-goal haul of 2007-08 only bettered once in a 38-match season, though United fans will be convinced he can fire them to a first league title since Ferguson left.

 

Arjen Robben – Groningen

Robben's first retirement lasted just a single season, having announced last year he would be returning to his boyhood club Groningen for the 2020-21 campaign. Robben, now 37, initially brought an illustrious playing career to an end in July 2019 shortly after his 10-year spell with Bayern Munich finished. Although at the time he was linked with a potential return to the team that gave him his professional debut, Robben – who suffered with numerous injury problems throughout his career – opted to retire. He then caused something of a shock as he finally went back to the place where it all began, but once again injuries blighted his availability, restricting him to just seven Eredivisie appearances in 2020-21. Club director Mark-Jan Fledderus wanted him to stay on for another year, but when Robben said at the end of the season that he was going to have a long think about his future, the writing was seemingly on the wall. Another U-turn appears unlikely.

Juan Roman Riquelme – Argentinos Juniors

Perhaps more synonymous with Boca Juniors, where he made his professional debut and also spent most of his final years, Riquelme also had a strong affinity with Argentinos Juniors. He came through the club's academy in the early-to-mid 1990s, before then finishing his immense career at Estadio Diego Maradona in 2014, having also played for Barcelona, Villarreal and Argentina. Although the iconic attacking midfielder appeared close to joining Paraguay's Cerro Porteno the following year, the move never materialised.

Dirk Kuyt – Quick Boys

Kuyt briefly came out of retirement three years ago to help Quick Boys, with whom he spent 13 years as a youth. Playing in the Derde Divisie Saturday league, Kuyt was already working as assistant at the time, but made himself available for selection during a striker shortage and he made three appearances. The former Netherlands and Liverpool forward had retired the year before following a second spell with Feyenoord, where he had made his initial breakthrough in the mid-2000s, his form at the time earning a move to Anfield.

Rafael Marquez – Atlas

One of Mexico's greatest players, Marquez's longevity at such a high level was nothing short of incredible, as he accumulated 147 international caps. After breaking into the Atlas team as a teenager having come through their academy, the elegant centre-back enjoyed a sparkling career in Europe, winning 14 titles across spells with Monaco and Barcelona. Time with New York Red Bulls, Leon and Hellas Verona followed, before a final two-year stint back at the Jalisco ended in 2018. Although plagued by off-field allegations towards the end of his career, Marquez went on to become the club's sporting president, before standing down last in 2019 to focus on other areas of the sport. He was expected to be taking up a youth coaching role at Barca this season, but the deal ultimately fell through.

Henrik Larsson – Hogaborgs

While the Swedish club most may associate with Larsson is Helsingborgs, he actually made the breakthrough at a smaller side – Hogaborgs. It was here where he trained from the age of six, before eventually becoming a regular in the senior side and earning a move away. A trophy laden career followed, taking him to Feyenoord, Celtic, Barcelona and Manchester United. Although he retired in 2009, he returned to the pitch for Raa in the Swedish third tier three years later, before then finding himself back in the team at Hogaborgs in 2013, helping out due to an injury crisis despite him only previously being registered to a casual team for 'seniors'. This gave him the chance to play alongside his son, Jordan.

Carlos Tevez – Boca Juniors

The Tevez-Boca love affair has dominated most of the striker's successful and complex career. After coming through their youth ranks, the feisty forward was seen as the heir to Maradona. A brief stint in Brazil with Corinthians followed, but Europe had long since beckoned, even if West Ham was by no means the expected destination. He went on to play for Man Utd and City, increasing tension between the clubs, before then going to Juventus, but throughout this time Tevez seemed to long for a return to Boca. He went back to La Bombonera in 2015, his homecoming interrupted by a brief spell with Shanghai Shenhua in 2017 in the Chinese Super League, though even Tevez acknowledged he saw his time in China as a "holiday". "He filled Santa's sack with dollars and now he has returned to Boca," was Maradona's assessment upon 'El Apache's' return from the CSL. His third spell with Boca ended in June 2021 and it remains to be seen if he ever plays for another club.

Gianluigi Buffon – Parma

Buffon likes a comeback. Having returned for a second spell at Juventus in 2019, the goalkeeping great departed the club for a second time at the end of 2020-21. The Italy legend suggested he had not finished playing yet and Parma quickly emerged as a potential destination despite their recent relegation to Serie B. After a few weeks of contemplation, it was confirmed that Buffon was heading back to the club where he made his name. Now 43, the iconic stopper is wearing Gialloblu for the first time in 20 years, and he is set to remain with them until he turns 45, given he signed a two-year contract. What happens after that is anyone's guess but calling it a day with his first club could be a satisfyingly romantic conclusion to a remarkable career – that or he ends up at Juve again!

He is back where he belongs.
He is back home. #SupermanReturns @gianluigibuffon @Kyle_J_Krause @ParmaCalcio_en pic.twitter.com/bh2FO6P8YX

— Parma Calcio 1913 (@1913parmacalcio) June 17, 2021

Virgil van Dijk versus Romelu Lukaku reminds us of the irresistible force paradox: the immovable object in Liverpool's defence meeting the unstoppable might of Chelsea's centre forward.

It makes Saturday's clash at Anfield an unmissable prospect for fans of conflict between tall men from the Low Lands.

Van Dijk was sorely missed as he sat out almost all of Liverpool's title defence season last term, when a series of shattering injury blows to the Reds backline left Jurgen Klopp severely hamstrung.

The Dutch powerhouse has recovered from knee surgery and is back at the heart of manager Klopp's defence, striving for full match fitness, while Lukaku has returned to the Premier League after two years at Inter.

Their much-anticipated tussle this weekend could tell us a lot about the Premier League title prospects of Liverpool and Chelsea this term.


Is Van Dijk physically ready?

Lukaku seized on weakness in the Arsenal defence last weekend to get off the goalscoring mark in his Chelsea career, a decade on from making his debut in a short-lived first spell at Stamford Bridge.

He hit the crossbar with a header too, as the Gunners failed to contain his threat, the Belgian's intelligent movement and physical prowess proving more than Arsenal could contain. He had eight goal attempts, a single-match total that has only been beaten six times in the two years and two weeks between his move to Inter and his Premier League comeback.

It adds up to trouble for Liverpool if Van Dijk is short of his best, and if facing Burnley last week in his second Premier League game was a gauge of where he is at, then there might be questions to ask.

Van Dijk was involved in 12 aerial duels and won just five of those, or 41.7 per cent. That is way down on his league average of 74.3 per cent since the beginning of the 2018-19 season, his first full campaign at Liverpool, Van Dijk winning 393 of 529 such battles in the air.

His passing accuracy of 80.77 per cent was also significantly below par, with Van Dijk only ever having dipped below that 11 times in the league since joining Liverpool in the January 2018 transfer window. Curiously it had happened twice previously against Burnley, perhaps pointing to a certain discomfort when facing the Clarets.


How has United misfit become a hotshot?

Lukaku scored 16 Premier League goals for Manchester United in 2017-18 from an expected goals (xG) tally of 13.43, and 12 from an xG of 10.67 in the following season. He then took his trade to Italy and netted 23 times in Serie A from an xG of 18.85 in 2019-20 before striking 24 times (xG 23.75) in Inter's Scudetto-winning 2020-21 campaign.

His shot conversion rate has climbed incrementally from 18.5 per cent in 2017-18 to 25 per cent last season, and he is a player whose confidence is soaring.

A big chance conversion rate of 39.29 per cent across all competitions in his final season at United was Lukaku's worst since the 2012-13 campaign (37.5 per cent). By improving to 46.51 per cent and then 51.02 per cent in his two years at Inter he was not tucking away those big chances – defined by Opta as situations 'where a player should reasonably be expected to score' – at an outlandish rate, but those are healthy enough numbers.

To take the example of his final season at Everton, the 2016-17 campaign, Lukaku had a big chance conversion rate of 73.08 per cent. That is his capability, which few can hope to match.

Lukaku certainly believes he has returned to England an improved player, and his 11 assists in Serie A last season reflect well in that aspect. In 2018-19 at United, he had no assists, although in the previous campaign he managed seven.


Dribble trouble for Van Dijk?

Lukaku has found his dribbling boots again too, and that has to be bad news for Premier League defences. In his three dazzling seasons at Everton, Lukaku chalked up 105, 87 and 104 attempted dribbles while on Premier League duty, but his totals fell away to 63 and then 41 while at United. Stymied either by the role he was being asked to play, or by his waning spirits, an important part of Lukaku's game went AWOL.

He attempted just 45 dribbles in his first Serie A campaign too, but that shot up to 103 in 2020-21, and the sight of an eager Lukaku with the ball at his feet is a worry for any defender, even one Van Dijk's pedigree.

Famously, Van Dijk is rarely dribbled past by opponents. Since his Liverpool debut in January 2018, he has only been beaten in such a way eight times in the Premier League, the fewest of all defenders with at least 50 games behind them over that time.


Still the full package?

"The package of Virgil van Dijk is really helpful," said Klopp after Liverpool battled to their 2-0 win over Burnley.

Unmistakably true, and the centre-back belongs to the calibre of player that can raise their game to another level when presented with a major challenge. It is why Liverpool spent £75million to bring him in from Southampton. When many thought they were paying over the odds, Liverpool were certain he would take them up a level, and duly he has.

The character and presence of the 2019 Ballon d'Or runner-up can influence those around him, even when the data suggests he is performing, act for act, below his peak levels.

There is no doubt Van Dijk will relish the challenge presented by Lukaku, despite having played on a losing team against Chelsea's new number nine before, notably when United edged Liverpool 2-1 at Old Trafford in March 2018, as Marcus Rashford's double made the difference.

Saturday's tussle is one between elite-tier Premier League stars, and immovable versus unstoppable is an absurdity that adds up to stalemate.

That may be how Lukaku versus Van Dijk plays out, the match won or lost elsewhere while they scrap out their own spectacular sideshow, two colossi on whom so much will depend over the next nine months.

This weekend is the final round of Premier League action before the international break – who wouldn't want to go into the pause top of their fantasy football league?

Well, hopefully that's where Stats Perform's Opta-powered Fantasy Picks can come in handy and give you the edge over your mates.

You've all presumably already got Bruno Fernandes and Mohamed Salah, so don't expect any more oh-so-obvious tips.

Without any further ado, here are the picks that could hand you the advantage ahead of matchday three of the 2021-22 season…

 

EMILIANO MARTINEZ (Aston Villa v Brentford)

Argentina goalkeeper Martinez was one of the buys of the season in 2020-21 and has established himself as one of the Premier League's best in that time.

Since the start of last term, his tally of 16 clean sheets has been bettered by only Ederson and Edouard Mendy. Those equate to 40 per cent of his Premier League appearances for Villa, a club record among goalkeepers to make at least 10 starts for them.

While Saturday's opponents Brentford enjoyed a strong start against Arsenal, it is fair to say Villa will be more confident of keeping promoted opposition at bay than certain other opponents.

MATT RITCHIE (Newcastle United v Southampton)

Admittedly, picking a Newcastle defender any weekend could be something of a risk given only Leeds United (seven) and Norwich City (eight) have conceded more goals than the Magpies (six)

But Ritchie has enjoyed a bright start to the season as a creative source for Steve Bruce's men, creating nine goalscoring opportunities – only Trent Alexander-Arnold can better that.

While Ritchie may have been a midfielder in past years, he's classed as a defender this time around, and his early-season craftiness could lead to some assist points, which are always something of a bonus among backline options.

JAMES TARKOWSKI (Burnley v Leeds United)

Maximising points from your defenders can be key in fantasy football, particularly considering they're among the least likely to score, but one way to potentially give yourself the edge in that respect is, of course, by picking centre-backs who carry a threat at the other end.

Tarkowski has had more touches in the opposition's box (73) than any other centre-back since the start of last season, while his 4.2 expected goals is the highest xG over the same period among all defenders.

Granted, the fact he's only scored twice from those chances suggests a degree of wastefulness, but who's to say he won't improve in that regard this season? He got one against Brighton and Hove Albion, after all.

SON HEUNG-MIN (Tottenham v Watford)

Spurs have enjoyed an encouraging start to the season under Nuno Espirito Santo in spite of Harry Kane's situation. Now he is seemingly staying put, a return to the starting XI may be on the cards, and that could play into Son's hands.

The two are known for their strong relationship on the pitch, and Son boasts a fine record against Sunday's visitors Watford, having scored five times against them – that makes the Hornets his second favourite Premier League opposition after Southampton (nine goals).

Son has looked sharp without being spectacular so far this term. Perhaps this weekend is when he really finds his groove...

RAPHINHA (Burnley v Leeds United )

Raphinha has been a revelation at Leeds since joining from Rennes last year, with his form over the past 12 months recently seeing him called up to the Brazil squad for the first time.

He poses something of a double threat in terms of goals and assists, though it is the latter where his strengths lie. Only Bruno Fernandes (7.7) and Alexander-Arnold (7.6) have a better expected assists record than Raphinha (6.9) since he made his first start in November 2020.

However, no one can better his nine assists, which is level with Fernandes and Kevin De Bruyne, and he'll fancy his chances of doing some damage at Burnley this weekend.

MICHAIL ANTONIO (West Ham v Crystal Palace)

After being used as something of a utility man for years, Antonio has seemingly nailed down a spot in West Ham's attack and it's paying dividends.

In his past nine Premier League outings, he's been involved in 10 goals (six scored, four assisted) and the forward has started 2021-22 in irresistible form.

He has already got three goals and two assists this term, with his brace against Leicester City last time out seeing him surpass Paolo Di Canio (47) as West Ham's record goalscorer in the Premier League and leaving him one away from 50.

Given his form, Antonio could be a good bet for the captain selection this weekend.

RICHARLISON (Brighton and Hove Albion v Everton )

He may frustrate on occasion, but few would try to downplay the impact Richarlison has had on Everton since joining from Watford in 2018 and he looks set for a big 2021-22.

No one has as many goal involvements as him (42 – 34 goals, eight assists) during his time at the club and he was a real livewire last time out against Leeds, with his five shots and three key passes the most among Everton players.

Brighton have impressed early on this season, but Richarlison has the ability and confidence to be a real problem.

It is 30 years since the great Michael Schumacher's first race in an incredible Formula One career.

The legendary German driver made his debut at the 1991 Belgian Grand Prix at Spa, a track where his son will showcase his talents this weekend.

Schumacher went on to claim his maiden F1 victory at the same circuit in 1992 and retired with a staggering 91 victories to his name, having claimed seven world titles.

To mark the anniversary of his bow in Belgium, Stats Perform picks out some of the standout numbers Schumacher racked up in an astonishing 19 F1 seasons. 

 

JORDAN'S LOSS IS BENETTON'S GAIN

Schumacher stepped in for his first F1 race for Jordan and impressively qualified in seventh before retiring on the first lap due to clutch problems.

He spent the rest of the season driving for Benetton, picking up four points from six races.

Schumacher won once in each of the next two seasons, then won back-to-back titles in 1994 and 1995 before making a lucrative move to Ferrari.

 

UNPRECEDENTED DOMINANCE

Schumacher established himself as one of the all-time greats during his decade with Ferrari, claiming his third world title in 2000.

That was the start of an unprecedented period of dominance, as he claimed a record five consecutive world titles.

Schumacher broke Juan Manuel Fangio's all-time record of being crowned world champion five times as he went from strength to strength before Fernando Alonso dethroned him in 2005.

 

 

SCALING NEW HEIGHTS TO SEVENTH HEAVEN

The 2004 season was Schumacher's most dominant as he won 13 of 18 races and was on the podium 15 times.

No driver has bettered that tally of victories for a season, but Lewis Hamilton last year matched Schumacher's haul of seven world titles.

Schumacher amassed an incredible 148 points in 2004 and that was the last time he won the championship.

 

RACKING UP THE RECORDS

Schumacher broke the record for F1 victories and finished with 91, a total Mercedes great Hamilton has gone on to surpass.

The 77 fastest laps set by Schumacher is a record, as is his 15 seasons with a victory and his 17 podium finishes in a season, set in 2002.

His 19 consecutive top-three finishes has never been bettered and nor has his 15 top-two finishes in a row, along with the most hat-tricks (pole, win and fastest lap) achieved by a driver with 22.

Schumacher's 181 races with Ferrari is the record for driving with the same constructor.

 

 

THRIVING IN FRANCE

The French Grand Prix was the race where Schumacher had the most victories, taking the top step of the podium eight times – another record.

He won at Magny-Cours for the first time in 1994 and his final win at the circuit came 12 years later.

Schumacher also holds the record for most poles at the same race with eight in Japan.

Liverpool fans enjoyed their return to Anfield for Saturday's 2-0 win over Burnley, and Jurgen Klopp's subsequent comments ensured the focus remained on the Reds.

Discussing Burnley's approach, Klopp said: "Watch wrestling if you like that kind of thing."

Indeed, the Clarets' physicality is "too dangerous", according to the Liverpool manager.

Some of the most intriguing Opta facts from the Premier League weekend emerged from that feisty encounter, while there were predictable developments as Manchester United visited Southampton...

No reds against Reds despite 'wrestling' claims

The clash at Anfield was not quite WWE, but there was also limited football on display. The ball was in play for just 49 minutes and 47 seconds.

That was the second-shortest such length of time for a Liverpool league game under Klopp, longer only than the 48 minutes and 46 seconds against Watford in 2015.

The Hornets won that game 3-0, so it can be an effective stifling tactic, but it did not work on this occasion as Liverpool scored in either half through Diogo Jota and Sadio Mane.

Klopp's men have now won seven consecutive Premier League games while scoring in both halves in each of them. Liverpool's own run of 11 victories with goals before and after half-time in 2014 was the last longer streak.

Burnley are on their own impressive run, though – one at odds with Klopp's frustrations.

Sean Dyche's side are now 95 Premier League matches without a red card since Robbie Brady's late dismissal against Huddersfield Town in January 2019, surpassing the previous competition record that saw Ipswich Town go 94 games without having a player sent off prior to December 1994.

Home comforts at last for City star Laporte

In Manchester City's 5-0 demolition of Norwich City, Aymeric Laporte scored his ninth goal for the club but first at the Etihad Stadium.

Laporte had turned out at City's home stadium 44 times previously without hitting the net, with each of his eight prior strikes coming at different grounds.

The Spain centre-back had goals at the AMEX, Emirates Stadium, Goodison Park, Groupama Stadium, Metalist Stadium, Molineux, Wembley and Vicarage Road before finally celebrating in front of the Etihad supporters.

Another Villa pen makes for Premier League first

Danny Ings' outrageous overhead kick lit up a tight affair between Aston Villa and Newcastle United, but it was a controversial second from the penalty spot that put the game beyond the Magpies.

Ings had scored from 12 yards on his debut against Watford – his volley against Newcastle making him the fourth Villa player to net in each of their first two Premier League games for the club – and so was expected to step up again when Jamaal Lascelles was adjudged to have handled.

Instead, Anwar El Ghazi grabbed Villa's second, maintaining his perfect penalty record in the competition with six from six.

Ings was overlooked despite missing just one of his nine attempts, meaning Villa became the first side in Premier League history to have two different players score spot-kicks in the first two games of a season.

There had been previous examples of two team-mates converting penalties in the same game – Fulham's Louis Saha and Steve Marlet on the opening day in 2002-03, and Southampton pair Dusan Tadic and Charlie Austin on matchday two in 2017-18 – but never in different matches at the start of a campaign.

Dom spot on at Leeds as Gray makes amends

There was a personal penalty first at Elland Road, as Dominic Calvert-Lewin kickstarted Everton's 2-2 draw with Leeds United. It was the England striker's 55th Toffees goal but his first from the spot.

Demarai Gray had Everton in front for a second time in the second half with his maiden strike for the club. Having netted in a 2-0 Leicester City win in 2017, he became the 34th player to score for and against Everton in the Premier League.

That puts Everton fourth in that regard, behind West Ham (46), Aston Villa (42) and Liverpool (39). Villa's Ings and Liverpool's Mane are both included.

Saints brush off Fred the Red's helping hand

It is a fixture best known for a famous grey-clad Manchester United loss, but Southampton's slip-up against a Red Devils side unmistakably dressed in blue and yellow went entirely to script.

Saints led through a Fred own goal, the fourth time United have netted for Southampton in the competition. Only against Newcastle (five) have United scored more own goals.

But Mason Greenwood's equaliser ensured Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side are now unbeaten in a record-equalling 27 away league fixtures.

For Southampton, this was nowhere near as bad as last season's clash when they collapsed from 2-0 up to lose 3-2 – or, of course, the 9-0 Old Trafford humiliation – but it was still painfully familiar. They have now dropped 42 points from winning positions against United in the Premier League, fewer only than Tottenham's 45 against Arsenal.

Since the start of last season, Saints top the charts for squandering leads, giving up 28 points – three ahead of second-placed Brighton and Hove Albion.

Liverpool went top of the Premier League after a Sadio Mane landmark goal helped the Reds sink Burnley.

The Senegal forward struck for the 50th time at Anfield in the competition, becoming just the fifth Reds star to do so in the Premier League era, as Liverpool swept to a 2-0 win.

Danny Ings joined notable company as he scored a stunning goal in Aston Villa's victory over Newcastle United, while Manchester City hit five goals in a game, which is becoming almost routine for Pep Guardiola's champions.

Using Opta data, we take a look at the key statistics from across four of Saturday's standout fixtures.

Liverpool 2-0 Burnley: Mane joins Salah in Anfield 50-goal club

Mane's clincher against Burnley was his 50th Premier League goal at home for Liverpool. The only players to have achieved that feat previously have been Robbie Fowler (85 goals), Steven Gerrard (69), Michael Owen (63) and Mane's team-mate Mohamed Salah (56).

Given their strong finish last term, Jurgen Klopp's team have won each of their past seven Premier League games now. That is as many victories as they enjoyed in their previous 20 games in the competition (D5 L8) and their longest winning streak in the league since a run of 18 ending in February 2020. Their run of fourth clean sheets in the league is their longest since a run of seven between December 2019 and January 2020.

Trent Alexander-Arnold's assist for Mane was the ninth time he has teed up a goal for the former Southampton man, four more than he has for any other Liverpool player.

Virgil van Dijk made his 48th home Premier League appearance with Liverpool and has lost none of those games (W43 D5), with the team's dip last season coming in his injury-enforced absence. Only Lee Sharpe has played more home games for one club in the competition without losing any of them (59 with Manchester United).

As Liverpool celebrated, Burnley were left to lick their wounds after losing five games in a row in the Premier League for the first time, last doing so in any division in the 2008-09 Championship campaign. The Clarets have lost 11 of their 15 Premier League matches against Liverpool (W2 D2), more defeats than they have suffered against any other side in the competition (losing 10 against Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City).

Manchester City 5-0 Norwich City: A first for City, but a familiar outcome

For the first time in Manchester City's 25 Premier League campaigns, their opening goal of the season was an own goal, Tim Krul the unlucky man.

But if that was irregular, the final outcome surely surprised very few as the champions put the promoted Canaries to the sword.

Since Pep Guardiola joined Manchester City ahead of the 2016-17 season, there have been 49 Premier League games won by a margin of five or more goals, and the Catalan's team have been responsible for 23 of these (47 per cent).

City have now won their past four home league games against Norwich by an aggregate score of 19-1 since a 3-2 reverse in May 2013.

Jack Grealish became the first English player to score on his home Premier League debut for City since Frank Lampard netted against Chelsea in September 2014, while there was a collector's item from Aymeric Laporte. The defender scored his ninth goal for City in all competitions, but it was his first to come at the Etihad Stadium.

Norwich have had a brutal start, with a 3-0 home loss to Liverpool followed by the torture of City away. In Premier League history, only Leicester City in 2001-02 (-9) and Wigan Athletic in 2010-11 (-10) have ever had a worse goal difference from their opening two games of a season than Norwich's current -8.

Given their awful finish to the 2019-20 season, Norwich have now lost 12 consecutive Premier League games, the outright second-longest losing streak in the competition’s history, behind only Sunderland’s run of 20 from 2003 to 2005.


Aston Villa 2-0 Newcastle United: Diamond Ings shows his class

Former Southampton frontman Ings is looking like a smart signing by Villa already, and his bicycle kick that stunned Newcastle was a special goal.

Going back to last season with Saints, it means he has been directly involved in seven goals in his past eight Premier League starts, scoring six and assisting one. Ings also became just the fourth player to score in his first two Premier League appearances for Villa, after Dalian Atkinson in 1992, Dion Dublin in 1998 and Ross Barkley in 2020.

Villa have not lost in seven top-flight games in a row against Newcastle (W3 D4), doing so for the first time since a run of seven victories between 1955 and 1958.

The Magpies are having a tough time of it again, having lost their first two games of a league campaign for the fourth time in the past six seasons, after winning or drawing at least one of their first two fixtures in each of the 16 campaigns before that.

Their slow starts in the Premier League are becoming habitual and problematic, with Newcastle having won just two of their past 19 Premier League games in August (D6 L11), beating West Ham at home in 2017 and Tottenham away in 2019.

Leeds United 2-2 Everton: Toffees extend Premier League scoreline record

This was Everton's 70th 2-2 draw in Premier League history, and they have contested at least 15 more matches with that outcome than any other side in the competition.

If that was an all too familiar outcome, there was a first occurrence of note for the Toffees, too. Dominic Calvert-Lewin's opener was his 55th goal in all competitions for Everton, but his first scored from the penalty spot for the team who are now bossed by Rafael Benitez.

Demarai Gray scored his first Premier League goal for Everton, becoming the 34th different player to score both for and against the Toffees in the competition. Only West Ham (46), Aston Villa (42) and Liverpool (39) have had more players score for and against them in the competition.

Mateusz Klich and Raphinha earned a point for Leeds. Klich has now scored two goals in his past three Premier League games for Leeds, more than he had in his previous 32 (one). Klich has now scored five Premier League goals in total, as many as all other Polish players in the competition combined.

Since the start of last season, only Patrick Bamford (17 goals, eight assists) has been directly involved in more Premier League goals for Leeds United than Raphinha (seven goals, nine assists).

The 2021-22 Serie A campaign commences on Saturday following a busy close season that saw more than half of the 20 teams change head coach.

Antonio Conte departed Inter after guiding the club to their first Scudetto in more than a decade, with Simone Inzaghi being plucked from Lazio, who in turn turned to Maurizio Sarri.

Sarri's former club Juventus decided to end the Andrea Pirlo experiment after just a year and opted for a familiar face in six-time title winner Massimiliano Allegri as his replacement.

Luciano Spalletti is back in Serie A with Napoli, meanwhile, and Jose Mourinho has returned to Italy with Roma some 11 years on from his hugely successful stint with Inter.

There will be just as much focus on the dugouts as the field when the new season gets up and running this weekend, then, and some coaches are facing a tougher challenge than others.

Stats Perform looks at what the managerial changes could mean for some of Serie A's biggest clubs.


Inter 

In: Simone Inzaghi

Out: Antonio Conte

Conte will go down in Inter folklore as the man who ended the club's 11-year wait to return to the top of Italian football.

In an ideal world, one in which the Nerazzurri were not in a position whereby they had to sell star players to balance the books, Conte would still be in charge at San Siro.

As it is, though, Inzaghi will be at the helm this coming season and is in a rather unenviable position of having to pick up where Conte left off, minus the goals of Romelu Lukaku.

Inzaghi has his own vision but does not differ too much from Conte in terms of tactics, both coaches favouring a 3-5-2 formation of sorts throughout their careers.

Moving the ball forward quickly will be the aim, with Milan (90) the only side in Serie A last term to register more direct attacks than Inzaghi's former side Lazio (89). By comparison, Inter were third on that list with 80.

While the structure will remain largely the same, losing Lukaku and influential wing-back Achraf Hakimi – albeit with Edin Dzeko and Denzel Dumfries arriving – means Inzaghi will need to get more out of others if Inter are to retain their crown.

 

Lazio

In: Maurizio Sarri

Out: Simone Inzaghi

The man tasked with replacing Inzaghi at Lazio is Sarri, who endured mixed fortunes during his most recent two stints in Serie A with Napoli and Juventus.

Having come so close to ending Juve's stranglehold on the title in 2017-18 while at Napoli, the 62-year-old won the Europa League in his solitary season at Chelsea and was then given just 14 months at the Allianz Stadium.

His stint in Turin came to an early end despite leading Juve to top spot, his style of play – coined 'Sarriball' – deemed too distant from what Juventus typically expect from a head coach (more on that later!).

At the Stadio Olimpico, Sarri will have more freedom to put his spin on things as he looks to build or improve upon last season's sixth-placed finish. A back four, rather than the three-man defence Inzaghi favoured, can be expected.

Sarri teams are known for their verticality, meaning they like to move the ball forwards. Lazio, as already touched upon, are a good fit in that regard.

They ranked lowest in the top eight last season for build-up attacks (83), which is defined as the number of open play sequences that contain 10 or more passes and either ends in a shot or has at least one touch in the opposition box.

The big question, though, is whether Sarri has the personnel to turn Lazio into top-four regulars in the same way he did at Napoli. With Immobile taking on the Gonzalo Higuain role up top, it might just be a possibility.

Juventus

In: Massimiliano Allegri

Out: Andrea Pirlo

While a lot of clubs mentioned are entering the unknown with their managerial appointments, Juve know exactly what they are getting in Allegri.

The 54-year-old guided Juve to five straight Serie A titles and two Champions League finals between 2014 and 2019, having also previously lifted the Scudetto at Milan.

Only one coach in the Bianconeri's history, Giovanni Trapattoni, has overseen more league games than Allegri's 190, while Juve's two highest-scoring seasons dating back as far as 1930 have both come under the stewardship of the returning favourite.

This Juve side has changed since Allegri's first stint, though, and it may take him time to make this team his own again following the aforementioned reigns of Sarri and Pirlo.

Whereas Sarri and Pirlo were a little complex with their tactics and what they expected from players, Allegri will take a different approach. That is not to say Juve will not be able to chop and change things under Allegri, as they did in his previous spell.

One aspect that will surely differ from last season is the number of goals Juve score. They found the net an underwhelming 56 times from open play last season from an expected goals return (xG) of 54.3.

By comparison, champions Inter scored 65 open play goals from a near identical xG as Juve of 54.6. With the prolific Cristiano Ronaldo set to stay at the club for at least one more season, there is hope of reclaiming the title this time around.

 

Roma

In: Jose Mourinho

Out: Paulo Fonseca

The highest-profile of the incoming coaches in Serie A this season, Mourinho arrives with his 'Special One' status still intact in Italy thanks to his success at Inter a little over a decade ago.

Mourinho won as many league titles in two seasons at San Siro (two) as he has in the 11 years since (one), while also lifting the second of his Champions League crowns, the Coppa Italia and Supercoppa Italiana during that trophy-laden stay.

The Portuguese won 62 per cent of his matches at Inter but that win rate has steadily declined and he won just 51.2 per cent of his games with Tottenham, leaving the club in April after just 17 months in charge.

Mourinho's sides were so often hard to beat, but Spurs lost 13 times in 2020-21 under him, making it his worst ever season in that regard and he did not even see it all the way through.

But could his career take a turn in the right direction in Rome? Mourinho's tactics have remained largely consistent throughout his career, no matter the club or country he is coaching in.

The back three largely favoured by Paulo Fonseca will become a back four and there will be particular emphasis on Bryan Cristante, a typical Mourinho player in many ways, to shield the defence and get the ball forward.

The addition of Tammy Abraham from Chelsea is clearly a Mourinho signing, helping the fill the void left by Edin Dzeko, but Mou's pragmatic approach is surely a concern for a Roma side that looked better offensively than defensively last season. 

Finding the correct balance will be key, and that ultimately depends on whether Roma have hired the pre-2015 Mourinho or post.

Napoli

In: Luciano Spalletti

Out: Gennaro Gattuso

With spells at seven different Italian clubs under his belt, including two years at Inter, Spalletti certainly does not lack of experience. After two years out of the game, however, the 62-year-old has to quickly prove he is not yesterday's man.

Spalletti made clear when he took over from Gennaro Gattuso that he will look to operate with a 4-3-3, though on the basis of pre-season it may well be a more familiar 4-2-3-1 come the opening day.

He inherits a talented squad that includes the likes of Piotr Zielinski, Victor Osimhen, Dries Mertens, Hirving Lozano and Lorenzo Insigne – for now – in attack.

Napoli had no problems scoring goals last time out, with no team managing more shots from open play than their 493 and only Atalanta (77) and Inter (65) scoring more from non-set-piece situations than their 64.

Pressing is a big part of Spalletti's game and that makes Napoli a good fit as they ranked joint-second in Serie A last season for goals scored from high turnovers (nine), behind only Atalanta (10).

There are already a few rumblings of discontent behind the scenes with regards to transfer activity, but a kind fixture list ensures that Spalletti can hit the ground running in his quest to guide Napoli back into the Champions League.

Romelu Lukaku will look to inflict more pain on wounded Arsenal when he makes his second Chelsea debut on Sunday.

Lukaku is set to be unleashed on the Gunners for a Premier League return at the Emirates Stadium after completing a record £97.5million (€115m) move from Inter.

The Belgium striker played a massive part in Inter's Serie A triumph last season and is back at Stamford Bridge hunting more trophies.

While Chelsea started their Premier League season with an emphatic 3-0 win over Crystal Palace, the Gunners suffered a 2-0 derby defeat to newly promoted Brentford.

Using Opta data, Stats Perform previews the big showdown in North London, with the Blues out for revenge after Arsenal did the double over them last season.

 

LUKAKU CAN FIRE AGAINST GUNNERS DESPITE POOR RECORD

Lukaku is relishing the challenge of taking the Blues' supposedly cursed number nine shirt.

If his record against Arsenal is anything to go by, a debut goal may be unlikely for the prolific frontman.

The former Everton and Manchester United striker has scored only twice in 15 Premier League appearances versus with Gunners, although he returns to England seemingly at another level.

Lukaku terrorised defences in Serie A and has been consistently outstanding at international level, the Red Devils' all-time leading goalscorer netting four times in five Euro 2020 games

Brentford exposed Arsenal's defensive frailties in the first game of the season and Lukaku could cause them all sorts of problems.

 

WERNER COULD CASH IN

Timo Werner came in for plenty of criticism for poor finishing in his first season in England, although the Germany international's pace and intelligent movement still made him a real handful.

Thomas Tuchel said Lukaku's arrival is good news for Werner, whose 29 touches in the win over Palace was the fewest by any Chelsea outfield player.

The presence of the powerhouse Lukaku and his ability to hold the ball up can help Werner thrive this season if they are both given the nod from the start.

Werner scored only six Premier League goals last season and provided eight assists, missing 18 of what were deemed by Opta to be big chances and falling short of the 11.5 expected goals (xG) tally.

He should not be short of opportunities with Lukaku leading the line and can silence any critics in the 2021-21 campaign.

 

GUNNERS NEED A CUTTING EDGE

Arsenal have only been beaten in three of their past 14 meetings with Chelsea but they will have to show a marked improvement from a lacklustre display against the Bees.

Strike duo Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette were absent for that loss, with the club confirming on Thursday both players had tested positive for coronavirus.

Lacazette will not face the Blues and Aubameyang is to be assessed ahead of the game.

Mikel Arteta's side played 15 Premier League games without at least one of Aubameyang or Lacazette - both linked with moves ahead of the transfer deadline - last season, winning nine, drawing four and losing two.

With the pair both in action, they won nine of 23 matches, lost 11 and drew three.

Folarin Balogun failed to hit the target with his three shots in his first Premier League start at Brentford, with Nicolas Pepe only testing David Raya once with his four attempts.

Arsenal must show more of a cutting edge if they are to get one over on their London rivals again and Chelsea will be wary of Kieran Tierney, who created six chances against the Bees.

It has been another off-season of change in Italy, but Serie A returns this week and another intriguing campaign awaits.

Inter were champions last term, ending Juventus' run of nine straight Scudetti, but they have not been able to keep their title-winning side together.

Romelu Lukaku is gone, as is coach Antonio Conte, while Massimiliano Allegri has returned to Juve to tee up another tilt.

So, what does that all mean for the coming season? Stats Perform attempts to find out.

The Stats Perform League Prediction Model, created by Stats Perform AI using Opta data, has analysed the division ahead of the new season 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 season is then simulated 10,000 times to calculate the likelihood of each outcome.

Read on to see who can realistically compete with Inter and who should be looking over their shoulders...

THREE FIGHTING FOR TITLE

Inter might have lost some key men, but the model is backing a team that finished second and then first to lead the way again.

The Nerazzurri are given the best chance of taking the title (45.1 per cent), while they certainly should make the top four even without Lukaku and Conte, rated as a 94.2 per cent likelihood.

Unsurprisingly, Juve are the closest challengers to Inter's crown, with a 21.5 per cent shot.

It is not set to be a two-horse race, though, as Atalanta are the third and final team to be given a substantial chance at 19.6 per cent.

In fact, Atalanta's lowest probable finish of ninth is higher than Juve's 10th, with another exciting season expected for La Dea.

 

TOP FOUR SETTLED?

There is strength in depth in Serie A this season, but the model has identified a clear frontrunner for the fourth Champions League place.

Napoli, with a 9.4 per cent title chance, have a 68.6 per cent likelihood of making the top four, putting them well clear of the rest despite finishing fifth in 2020-21.

That means disappointment for big names like Milan, Lazio and Jose Mourinho's Roma.

Milan do have a 44.0 per cent shot at Champions League qualification, but that is a modest opportunity given they were second last term and led the league for half the season. A Scudetto triumph is rated at 3.6 per cent.

Lazio, under Maurizio Sarri, have a 14.9 per cent hope of a top-four place, while Mourinho clearly has work to do as rivals Roma are only given an 8.2 per cent likelihood.

Besides those sides, only Sassuolo – 1.1 per cent for the Champions League, 2.6 for the Europa League and 8.2 per cent for the Europa Conference League – are realistically also in the European picture.

STRAIGHT BACK DOWN AGAIN

The model does not make for pretty reading for the three promoted sides, who are all expected to spend only a single season in the top flight before returning to Serie B.

For Salernitana and Venezia, a particularly brutal campaign could be in store. They are highly likely to go down, rated at 95.9 per cent and 94.8 per cent respectively.

Empoli are given a slightly improved chance but are still expected to be relegated, at 79.3 per cent.

Torino's awful season, finishing 17th in 2020-21, should not be repeated, with merely a 4.3 per cent likelihood of demotion.

That still makes them sixth favourites for the drop, also behind Spezia (6.0 per cent) and Hellas Verona (5.4 per cent).

Is it time to ring the changes after a poor start or stick with the players who got you off to a flying start?

If you picked Bruno Fernandes for the opening round of Premier League fixtures, the Manchester United midfielder delivered with interest as he scored a stunning hat-trick against Leeds United.

Whether your team is sitting pretty or languishing in the lower reaches of the league, you have no doubt spent this week pondering potential selections.

Using Opta data, here are Stats Perform's Fantasy Picks that can rack up the points.

 

EDOUARD MENDY (Arsenal v Chelsea)

Edouard Mendy started the campaign with a clean sheet as Chelsea cruised to a 3-0 win over Crystal Palace.

The European champions face another London derby at Arsenal on Sunday and Mendy can ensure the Gunners fire a blank.

Since Thomas Tuchel replaced Frank Lampard in January, Mendy has kept more clean sheets than any other top-flight goalkeeper with 10. His clean sheet record of 53 per cent from 32 matches is the best in Premier League history for those who have played at least 10 games.

 

KIERAN TIERNEY (Arsenal v Chelsea)

Arsenal were beaten 2-0 by newly promoted Brentford in the first game of the campaign.

Mikel Arteta could have no complaints over Kieran Tierney's performance, with the marauding full-back creating six chances.

That was more than any other player in the opening round of fixtures and he can pose questions of the Chelsea defence in the London derby.

 

AARON CRESSWELL (West Ham v Leicester City)

West Ham defender Aaron Cresswell made a great start to the campaign and scored in a 4-2 victory at Newcastle United.

Cresswell has played a big part in the Hammers' success under David Moyes and is definitely one to consider picking for their home clash with Leicester City.

Since the start of last season, Cresswell has provided more assists (eight) than any other defender in the competition. No player has been involved in more goals than his tally of nine.

 

JOE WILLOCK (Aston Villa v Newcastle United)

Newcastle fans were delighted when Joe Willock returned to the club from Arsenal on a permanent deal following a successful loan spell last season.

Willock was not involved in a home loss to the Hammers, but can hit the ground running at Aston Villa.

The midfielder could become only the fourth player to score in eight consecutive Premier League games after ending last season in sensational form.

 

KEVIN DE BRUYNE (Manchester City v Norwich City)

Midfield maestro Kevin De Bruyne was restricted to a late substitute appearance as champions Manchester City were beaten at Tottenham last weekend.

Norwich City will be hoping the Belgium playmaker plays a limited role again, as he can cause all sorts of trouble if Pep Guardiola unleashes him from the start.

De Bruyne has been involved in five goals in four games against the Canaries, scoring three and setting up two. He has scored four and assisted seven in his past eight appearances versus newly promoted teams.

KELECHI IHEANACHO (West Ham v Leicester City)

Striker Kelechi Iheanacho was another player who started the Premier League as a substitute but he can make a big impact at West Ham.

He has been involved in four goals in his past four appearances against the Hammers, netting three times and providing an assist.

Iheanacho has enjoyed capital gains, scoring in his last three appearances in London.

 

ROBERTO FIRMINO (Liverpool v Burnley)

Brazil striker Roberto Firmino was on target in Liverpool's comfortable opening-day win at Norwich.

He has fond memories of coming up against Burnley, scoring five times and setting up a goal in his past six appearances versus the Clarets.

Firmino opened the scoring in a 3-0 victory at Turf Moor when the two sides last met in May and can strike again at Anfield.

This should have been a season for Inter fans to enjoy, on the back of a title triumph and with European football returning to some semblance of normality.

Instead, they have lost coach Antonio Conte, top scorer Romelu Lukaku and standout wing-back Achraf Hakimi. Talk of a Tottenham move for Lautaro Martinez – seemingly linked to Harry Kane's future – has not been ruled out entirely.

It leaves the reigning Serie A champions picking up the pieces, with the club's dire financial situation dampening hopes of a successful title defence.

Although there have also been new arrivals, Simone Inzaghi and a 35-year-old Edin Dzeko clearly are not in the same class as Conte and Lukaku.

Inter will be slightly different this season and it is highly likely they will be slightly worse for it.

Downgrade to Dzeko

In Lukaku, Inter have sold a player in his prime coming off his best campaign to date. In Dzeko, the Nerazzurri have brought in a veteran whose Serie A career just plunged to new depths.

Lukaku netted 24 times en route to Inter's Scudetto, while Dzeko's final year with Roma brought only seven league goals.

The Bosnia-Herzegovina international did play a mere 1,825 minutes, but it was his poor form while on the pitch that saw him limited to 20 starts despite featuring in 31 matchday squads.

Dzeko's shot conversion rate of 10 per cent was higher than in two of his seasons in the capital and only margainally lower than 2017-18's 10.5 per cent when he scored 16 times. The decreasing frequency of his attempts was an issue, managing just 3.5 shots per 90 minutes, a trough to contrast to the 2016-17 peak of 5.3.

Inter's new forward fell some way short of his expected goals (xG) total of 13.3 – a failing only partially explained by the expertise of opposition goalkeepers, who prevented 3.6 Dzeko goals according to expected goals on target (xGOT) data, which analyses the quality of the shot rather than the quality of the chance.

Lukaku, on the other hand, outstripped his xG figure of 23.8, even if his attempts were only worth 22.9 xGOT.

It is not only as a scorer that Dzeko slips below Lukaku's standards either. Chelsea's latest record buy was a creative force last term, providing 11 assists. Dzeko had three.

 

Indeed, Lukaku crafted a team-high 52 chances – or 9.4 per cent of Inter's 552 shots across the campaign – while Dzeko laid on 29 (5.3 per cent of Roma's attempts). Dzeko was more involved in build-up play than Lukaku, averaging 49.7 open play sequences per 90 to his predecessor's 44.4, but he could not match Lukaku in terms of passing accuracy (68.8 per cent), passing accuracy in the opposition half (64.8) or passing accuracy in the final third (58.5).

Unsurprisingly, the former Giallorossi favourite also cannot play at the same pace as Lukaku. Dzeko was involved in only six fast breaks to Lukaku's league-leading 17, although he did score twice from such situations. Roma were second in the league in this regard – behind Inter.

But even if the Nerazzurri do slow slightly with Dzeko in the side, his work in moving the ball up the field is still comparable to Lukaku's. He had more carries (7.9) and progressive carries (4.5) than Lukaku last term, while operating in the same ballpark for carry distance (92.6 metres), attempted dribbles (2.9) and completed dribbles (1.3) – all numbers per 90.

The percentage of his touches Dzeko took in the opposition box (17.3) tallied closely (18.3 per cent for Lukaku), too, with the previously prolific attacker's game peculiarly now suited to work away from goal.

An aerial force

As part of his link-up play, Dzeko offers a clear focal point. His 60.4 per cent success rate in aerial duels ranked fourth among Serie A forwards with 100 or more such tussles. Lukaku won only 42.9 per cent in a category led by Zlatan Ibrahimovic (65.7 per cent). Dzeko's 52 flick-ons also put him fourth.

But Dzeko's heading ability does also give Inter a greater threat inside the penalty area. The striker was joint-third for headed attempts (20, excluding blocks), with his 1.0 per 90 double Lukaku's 0.5. As with his feet, Dzeko was wasteful in this regard, scoring only one header while new Inter colleague Martinez nodded in four goals, but a greater sample size shows the danger he can pose. Since his 2015 Serie A debut, Dzeko leads the way for headed attempts (203, excluding blocks) and his 16 goals – making up 18.8 per cent of his total of 85 – are tied for third.

Dzeko therefore looks a good fit in an Inter side who last season topped the charts in succeeding with 24.6 per cent of their open play crosses, leading to a joint-high 92 headed shots and 14 headed goals.

Whether that crossing quality is still at the club is another matter.

Inter's wings clipped

Only nine defenders in Serie A last term attempted 100 crosses, but Hakimi, marauding up the right, was one of them. Within that select group, his crossing accuracy of 23.9 per cent ranked third – just ahead of Leonardo Spinazzola, another exciting wing-back and Dzeko's former Roma team-mate (23.5 per cent).

Hakimi's departure for Paris Saint-Germain robs Inter of that quality and the 36 chances he created. There is pressure on Denzel Dumfries, a €12.5million recruit, to fill that void. He created 41 chances in the Eredivisie last season, yet only five of his 50 crosses were successful.

That ability to deliver from wide positions is merely one of Hakimi's array of attributes, too, with the €60m man carrying the ball 22.7 metres further per 90 than Dumfries while also contributing a goal or assist every 178.1 minutes, compared to the Netherlands international's 308.5 minutes.

 

Inter should at least have increased creativity from midfield, where free signing Hakan Calhanoglu offers an upgrade on the recuperating Christian Eriksen. Calhanoglu, playing for rivals Milan, had league highs in chances created (98) and chances created from set-pieces (50) in 2020-21. Milan led Serie A in goals from set-pieces (16, excluding penalties), but Inter ranked joint-fourth (16) and will surely now improve.

Trying to run it back

If mixed results are anticipated from direct replacements for Lukaku, Hakimi and Eriksen, those moves at least indicate some unlikely joined-up thinking in spite of the chaotic nature of this off-season. Inzaghi's appointment also suggests Inter plan to change little from last season, even with the numerous notable departures.

Like Conte and Inter, Inzaghi's Lazio consistently lined up with a 3-5-2 formation in 2020-21, with their approaches also not dissimilar.

Lazio's press was a little more aggressive, allowing 11.6 passes per defensive action to Inter's 12.8 and also engaging in more pressed sequences (543) despite having slightly more possession (52.9 per cent) than Inter (52.0 per cent). Lazio also scored eight goals from high turnovers.

However, between the replacement of a speedy Lukaku with a slower Dzeko and Inter's pre-existing preference for build-up attacks (119) over direct attacks (80), Inzaghi's playing style might have to be a little more patient this term, even if the new number nine's physical presence will give them an outlet.

These are minor tweaks, though, that should mean Inzaghi can adapt to Inter or Inter to Inzaghi.

Defending champions have rarely had it so tough when preparing for a new campaign, but Inter have done all they can to ensure a new-look side can continue to find success.

Manchester City saw their main rivals for the Premier League title get off to a flying start on Saturday before the champions stumbled at Tottenham on Sunday.

Son Heung-min continued his phenomenal recent record against City with the only goal, while Pep Guardiola's men drew a blank for a third consecutive game in all competitions. Perhaps there's someone in north London who could help them out with that?

Manchester United and European champions Chelsea revelled back in front of full houses and Liverpool gave newly-promoted Norwich City a reality check.

But those are the bare facts. Let's delve a little deeper to examine some of the quirkier happenings on the Premier League's opening weekend.

Stumbling start for City

Guardiola suggested his stars returning from Euro 2020 and Copa America duty might be undercooked and so it proved. The 1-0 loss at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium puts City in territory they are not used to.

You have to go back to 2008-09 and a 4-2 defeat at Aston Villa for the previous time City lost their opening Premier League fixture.

In that same campaign, Guardiola's fledgling Barcelona tenure got off to an inauspicious start with a reverse against Numancia that indicated little of the treble win that was about to unfold. The Catalan had overseen 11 subsequent opening day wins since then.

Perhaps it was always going to be Spurs who halted his run, Guardiola has now lost more away games against Tottenham (five) in all competitions than any other opponent in his career.

It is also worth considering whether he is chasing the wrong Spurs forward. Only Jamie Vardy (nine) has more than Son's seven goals against City since Guardiola took charge in 2016.

It has arguably never been easier to be a pass-catcher in the NFL.

Living in a golden era of quarterback play with a host of phenomenal athletes entering the league and confounding defenses with what they can do with both their arms and legs, receivers and tight ends continually benefit from sharing the field with signal-callers who can extend the play and complete tight-window throws with outstanding ball placement almost at will.

But the best supporting casts can elevate those quarterbacks to even greater heights while those passers who lack elite talent around them at receiver and tight end can struggle to fulfil their potential as a result.

Which pass-catching groups should provide the most assistance to their quarterbacks in 2021? And which will leave the man under center poorly equipped to succeed?

Using Stats Perform's advanced data, every group of wideouts and tight ends in the NFL has been ranked by their collective open percentage from 2020, providing an insight into the best and worst pass-catching units in the league going into the new campaign.

The Elite

1. Green Bay Packers

Green Bay will have Aaron Rodgers under center at least for one more year, and the reigning MVP will have the benefit of the best supporting cast of pass-catchers in football, a group that combined to record an open percentage of 36 in 2020.

The player who did the most to inflate that number is undoubtedly Davante Adams. Arguably the best wide receiver in the NFL, Adams' adjusted open percentage – which looks at how often a player got open against a defender's coverage, adjusted for position – of 51.97 was second only to Julian Edelman (52.13 per cent).

Adams registered a burn, which is when a receiver wins his matchup on a play where he is targeted, regardless of whether the pass is catchable, on just over 70 per cent of his targets, and his burn yards per route average of 3.9 was the best among wideouts last season.

Though Adams did the heavy lifting, there were signs of improvement from the players behind him on the depth chart. Allen Lazard led all receivers with a burn percentage of 82.6 and was 10th in adjusted open percentage (46.55) in 2020.

Marquez Valdes-Scantling (23.32) was less impressive in the latter regard but was second in burn yards per target (18.96). Only one team, the Buffalo Bills, got a larger contribution to their collective open percentage from their wideouts, but the Packers were 12th in terms of tight end production, indicating room for improvement at that spot even after a year in which Robert Tonyan averaged 11.71 burn yards per target.

2. Buffalo Bills

The Bills finished below the Packers in the rankings with an open percentage of 34.54 because of the lack of the contribution from the tight end position, which was the eighth lowest in the league, with Dawson Knox still yet to truly harness the athletic upside that helped convince the Bills to draft him in 2019.

His adjusted open percentage of 27.86 was mediocre but there was encouragement in his burn yards per target average of 10.45 that was 11th among tight ends with at least 25 targets.

Though the Bills might not be convinced by what they have at tight end, few teams in the NFL can claim to have the same level of depth at wide receiver.

The Bills have three receivers on their depth chart who were in the top 25 in adjusted open percentage last year – Cole Beasley (48.30), Stefon Diggs (42.68) and Emmanuel Sanders (41.16) – while Gabriel Davis produced an extremely promising rookie year, finishing 17th in burn yards per target with 13.45, giving Josh Allen a plethora of options with which to try to sustain his year-three leap.

Diggs, who expediently built a tremendous rapport with Allen following last year's trade from the Minnesota Vikings, is the cream of the crop. He trailed only Adams in burn yards per route in 2020 with an average of 3.6.

With the benefit of a full offseason to further their understanding, that Allen to Diggs connection could yet be more devastating in 2021. And, when teams do succeed in keeping Diggs under wraps, chances are another of this group of skilled separators will be able to create the space to keep a high-powered passing game operating at a level that was critical to the Bills joining the AFC's elite.

3. Dallas Cowboys

When Dak Prescott was healthy last season, the Cowboys offense performed at a record-setting pace, which is perhaps no surprise given the wealth of options they have among their pass-catchers.

Through the first four weeks of the 2020 campaign before Prescott suffered his season-ending ankle injury, the Cowboys led the league with 407.8 net passing yards per game. The closest team to them, the Bills, averaged 316.3 across the same period.

Whether that pace would have been sustainable even with Prescott under center is debatable, yet there is no doubt he has the weapons for this attack to be extremely potent again in 2021.

The Cowboys' pass-catchers had a collective open percentage of 31.69 to rank third overall, with Amari Cooper a significant factor in their success, Dallas' top receiver fourth in the NFL in adjusted open percentage (49.61).

Cooper recorded a second successive 1,000-yard season but tallied 12.1 yards per reception having racked up 15.1 per catch in 2019. His burn yards per route rate of 2.3 fell from 3.0 in 2019 and was the average for wideouts last year. Though that may be reflective of the drop-off from Prescott to Andy Dalton, Cooper will surely want to do more with the separation he can create in 2021.

Encouragingly, last year's first-round pick CeeDee Lamb (2.5) outperformed Cooper in the latter regard despite Prescott's absence and there is reason to believe Michael Gallup can bounce back from a down season where his adjusted open percentage was still a highly respectable 33.53.

Only 12 teams got less of a contribution to their overall open percentage from the tight end position than the Cowboys, an injury to Blake Jarwin curtailing his hopes of a breakout 2020. If Jarwin can stay healthy and boost the production from a spot where the Cowboys have long since struggled and Lamb makes the leap many expect, Dallas' pass-catching corps could lay the foundation for a postseason return.

The Bottom

30. Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins are hopeful Tua Tagovailoa can put an uneven rookie year behind him, but questions must be asked as to whether they have put enough around him at the pass-catching positions to allow him to make the necessary strides.

Indeed, Miami's group of pass-catchers goes into the 2021 ranked as the third worst in the NFL with a collective open percentage of 25.17.

Will Fuller leads the way with an adjusted open percentage of 38.29, yet he will miss the first game of the season through suspension and his injury track record makes the Dolphins' bet on him a very risky one.

Fuller was eighth among receivers with at least 25 targets with 14.08 burn yards per target, but the Dolphins will obviously need more than an oft-injured burner for their passing game to succeed.

The Dolphins recognised that fact and made a move to address the situation in the draft by adding another speedster who boasts a rapport with Tagovailoa from his Alabama days, using the sixth overall pick on Jaylen Waddle.

A broken ankle limited him to 32 targets in 2020, but Waddle led the Power 5 with an average of 19.96 burn yards per target and was third in burn yards per route (5.60) among receivers with at least 25 targets.

The 2019 season saw Waddle finish seventh in burn yards per target (16.64) on 40 targets for the Crimson Tide, yet his arrival does not lessen the pressure on DeVante Parker.

Parker finished 2020 with only 793 yards having topped 1,200 in 2019 and posted an adjusted open percentage of only 27.14, his burn yards per target rate of 9.45 well below the average of 10.98.

The Dolphins are relying on a bounce-back year from Parker, an instant impact from Waddle and consistency from a player in Fuller whose injury history has kept him from producing it to this point in his career.

Beyond that, Miami could use a significantly greater contribution from their tight ends, with Mike Gesicki's adjusted open percentage of 23.71 in 2020 a big reason why only 10 teams ranked lower than the Dolphins in terms of contribution from the position.

That is a lot to ask of one group of players and the reality is the Dolphins might have to look to another position group to help them take the next step towards playoff contention.

31. Chicago Bears

The Bears seemingly won't be throwing Justin Fields straight into the firing line as a rookie, and part of that decision may be influenced by the lack of receiving talent around him, which is reflected by an overall open percentage of 25.08

Regardless of whether it is Fields or fellow new face Dalton throwing the ball, they will likely be farming most of their passes in the direction of two receivers.

Allen Robinson (34.29) is the sole Bears pass-catcher who had an adjusted open percentage of over 30 last year, though Darnell Mooney (27.75) was not far off achieving that feat and is backed by many to make the leap in 2021.

Robinson's 2.5 burn yards per route put him slightly above average but the Bears did not add the support to suggest he could join the elite in that category this season.

Damiere Byrd averaged 11.76 burn yards per target in his sole season in New England before signing with the Bears but is unlikely to strike fear into defenses and it is tough to envision a substantial impact from rookie sixth-round pick Dazz Newsome despite his open percentage of 87.1 in his final college season at North Carolina.

With the Bears 15th in the league in contribution from tight ends, the onus will be on 2020 second-round pick Cole Kmet to take more of the burden from 34-year-old Jimmy Graham.

Kmet can look to build on a rookie season where he ranked 12th among tight ends with a minimum of 25 targets with a burn percentage of 68.2. His ability to repay the faith of Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy may go some way to potentially saving their jobs.

32. Jacksonville Jaguars

Only one rookie quarterback has a worse situation than Fields in terms of supporting pass-catchers, and it is the man who heard his named called first in April's draft.

Trevor Lawrence will get to work with a group of pass-catchers with a combined open percentage of 24.65, with just two teams performing worse in terms of tight end contribution to that collective grade.

Collin Johnson (30.47) and D.J. Chark (30.33) are the only pass-catchers on the roster with adjusted open percentages of over 30 from last year, the former providing some reason for optimism courtesy of his above-average burn yards per target rate of 11.25.

Johnson built a decent argument for receiving more than the 31 targets thrown his way last season, yet he may still find himself near the bottom of the pecking order.

More will be expected from 2020 second-round pick Laviska Shenault after he produced a burn on only 53.2 percent of his targets despite an average of depth of target of 6.5 yards, but he and Johnson may be prevented from making strides if Marvin Jones earns an established role in the offense.

Though Jones fell 22 yards shy of a 1,000-yard season for the Lions last year, he posted an adjusted open percentage of 25.05 and averaged 2.2 burn yards per route. Is he a player who can help this group progress or, at this stage in his career, is the 31-year-old a progress stopper?

The hope will be that Jones' familiarity with offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell can help him provide a valuable veteran safety net for Lawrence, whose immediate success hinges on Urban Meyer's untested ability to develop a quarterback at the pro level and the rest of the Jags' pass-catchers making a jump that recent history indicates should not be expected.

On The Rise

Denver Broncos

So much in Denver hinges on who prevails in the quarterback competition between Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater. The early reports from training camp suggest the scales may be tipping in the latter's direction and Bridgewater will have one of the most exciting groups of pass-catchers in the league to work with should he indeed win the battle.

The Broncos' lowly position of 22nd in overall open percentage was likely in part a product of being robbed of Courtland Sutton for most of the 2020 campaign due to his torn ACL.

With Sutton on the sideline, Jerry Jeudy produced a rookie season to suggest he can be a star for the Broncos for years to come, leading the team with an adjusted open percentage of 38.21.

Renowned for his route-running ability, Jeudy averaged 2.6 burn yards per route and 11.44 burn yards per target with an average depth of target of 14.6, indicating he consistently won matchups on downfield routes, though he will hope to reduce the drops after letting eight passes slip through his fingers.

The return of Sutton should divert coverage away from Jeudy and the Broncos also have other options who can command the attention of defenses.

Tim Patrick (32.72) was second on the team behind Jeudy in adjusted open percentage but led Broncos receivers by producing a big play on 33.8 per cent of his targets. Noah Fant was ninth among tight ends with 50 or more targets in burn yards per target (9.92) and he and Albert Okwuegbunam have a convincing argument for being the league's most athletic duo at the position.

In a division containing Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert and Derek Carr, the Broncos look desperately short at quarterback. However, if Sutton is back to his best coming off the injury and the tight ends further capitalise on their physical gifts, the Broncos may end 2021 with the top pass-catching group in the AFC West.

Washington Football Team

Washington made the playoffs in 2020 despite a losing record, highlighting the lack of quality in the NFC East, and despite extremely pedestrian quarterback play throughout the season that limited the upside of a talented receiving corps.

Washington's pass-catchers go into the new season with only seven teams below them in collective open percentage (27.75) but there is reason to believe they should make significant progress this campaign.

In 2021, while Washington might get unpredictability at quarterback, there is likely to be little pedestrian about the passing game if free agent signing Ryan Fitzpatrick takes the reins under center. He produced a well-thrown ball on nearly 80 per cent of his passes in 2020 but his pickable pass percentage of 6.82 was the third highest in the NFL.

Steven Sims Jr. was Washington's best performer in terms of adjusted open percentage (41.4), though Terry McLaurin (37.20) is undoubtedly the premier receiving option. McLaurin's burn yards per route dropped from 3.4 in 2019 to 2.9 in 2020, but that still saw him outperform the likes of DK Metcalf (2.8) and Chris Godwin (2.7) in a year where he registered his first 1,000-yard campaign.

With improved if volatile quarterback play and more dynamic options around him, McLaurin will have expectations of performing at a more efficient level this season.

Curtis Samuel can stretch defenses horizontally with what he can do out of the backfield and in the motion game, while rookie Dyami Brown offers a substantial deep threat whose burn yards per target average of 17.30 was second behind Waddle among Power 5 receivers last season.

The presence of that duo will theoretically make life much easier for McLaurin and allow the pass-catchers to help this offense provide much better support to Washington's elite defense.

A greater impact from the tight end position would aid that cause. Logan Thomas, recently signed to an extension, finished 2020 with an adjusted open percentage of only 19.66, making Washington's presence in the bottom five in tight end contribution unsurprising.

San Francisco 49ers

As is the case for essentially the entirety of the Niners' roster, the performance of their pass-catchers in 2021 is a question of health. San Francisco may not have overly impressive depth at wideout or tight end but, when healthy, the 49ers arguably boast one of the most exciting receiving trios in the NFL.

The Niners' pass-catchers rank 16th in collective open percentage following their injury-derailed 6-10 campaign in 2020, yet the talent is there for them to experience a substantial step forward and move into the top 10.

Only one team got more from the tight end position in terms of influence on overall open percentage, with George Kittle still demonstrating his remarkable value to the 49ers last season despite missing half the season.

Kittle excels at using his athleticism and his route-running to separate from defenders, these qualities borne out by a 2020 adjusted open percentage of 45.09 that was first among tight ends and 12th overall. He also led all tight ends with 3.9 burn yards per route.

Deebo Samuel spent more than half the season playing the role of spectator, meaning he rarely had a chance to produce in the same manner as in 2019 – when he delivered a big play on 41.5 per cent of his targets – and recorded a disappointing adjusted open percentage of 23.85.

Samuel still managed 3.0 burn yards per route in a year where the limitations of the backup quarterbacks pressed into service meant he received passes almost exclusively in the backfield – his average depth target of 2.3 yards was the lowest among wide receivers.

With either Jimmy Garoppolo or third overall pick Trey Lance set to be under center in 2021, Samuel can afford to be confident of receiving more downfield targets this season and will look to benefit from getting to play alongside Brandon Aiyuk more often.

Aiyuk was second for the Niners in adjusted open percentage (30.57) and 33.1 per cent of his targets went for big plays.

Beyond that triumvirate, Richie James, though he has not impressed so far in preseason, appears worthy of an expanded role having ended 2020 sixth in burn yards per target for wideouts with an average of 16.30. Yet, for all the deserved attention on San Francisco's quarterback position, the success of the Kyle Shanahan offense this season will hinge largely on the ability of Kittle, Samuel and Aiyuk to stay healthy and make the most of their combined talents.

Bayern Munich and Germany great Gerd Muller has died at the age of 75, leaving a remarkable legacy.

Muller spent 15 years at Bayern as a player and remains the club's all-time leading scorer.

He also led West Germany to a European Championship triumph in 1972 and World Cup glory two years later.

Using Opta data, Stats Perform looks at the remarkable career of one of European football's true giants.

BAYERN LEGEND

Muller made 607 appearances in all competitions for Bayern, helping the Bavarian club to four league titles, four DFB-Pokal triumphs and three European Cup successes in the process.

Renowned for his close-range finishing, Muller scored 566 goals, making him Bayern's all-time leading goalscorer.

Indeed, Muller spent his entire Bundesliga stint with Bayern, having come through the ranks at 1861 Nordlingen before moving on to the United States to bookend his playing career with Fort Lauderdale Strikers.

His best scoring season for Bayern came in 1972-73, when he netted 66 times in 49 appearances in total, averaging 1.34 goals per game.

Following the news of his death, Bayern CEO Oliver Kahn said: "The news of Gerd Muller's death affects us all deeply. He is one of the greatest legends in the history of FC Bayern, his achievements are unmatched to this day and will forever be part of the great history of FC Bayern and all of German football.

"As a player and as a person, Gerd Muller stands like no other for FC Bayern and its development into one of the largest clubs in the world. Gerd will be in our hearts forever."

KING OF THE BUNDESLIGA

Muller's tally of 365 goals from 427 appearances still leads the way in the Bundesliga. Across his time in the German top flight, he finished as the top scorer in a record seven seasons, scoring over 30 times on at least five occasions.

Current Bayern star Robert Lewandowski, with 278 strikes in 351 games, is Muller's nearest rival in that regard.

Only in May was one of Muller's long-standing Bundesliga records broken, as Lewandowski scored 41 goals in 2020-21. Muller had set the record for the most in a single campaign (40 from 34 matches) in 1971-72.

Muller also helped himself to 32 hat-tricks in the Bundesliga, with no player having scored more in the history of the competition. In fact, no one else has more than 14.

Another record that remains unbroken is Muller's feat of scoring in 16 consecutive Bundesliga games, which he achieved in 1969-70.

DER BOMBER

Muller did not save all of his scoring exploits for Bayern, of course. He was also Germany's record goalscorer until 2014 with a haul of 68 from 62 caps.

His tally – one that has only been surpassed by Miroslav Klose (71), who played more than twice as many matches (137) – spanned an eight-year career with Die Mannschaft, with Muller making his West Germany debut in 1966 and retiring from international football in 1974.

It was Muller who scored the winner for West Germany in the 1974 World Cup final against the Netherlands at his home ground in Munich – his fourth goal at the tournament.

Two years earlier, 'Der Bomber' had become the first player to score four times in a single European Championship tournament as he led West Germany to Euros glory – the striker netting twice in the semi-final against Belgium before also getting a double in a 3-0 win over the Soviet Union in the final.

To this day, only two other players have scored twice in a Euro final – both of those have been German (Horst Hrubesch in 1980 and Oliver Bierhoff in 1996).

While he tasted success in 1972 and 1974, Muller's finest individual performance at an international tournament came at the 1970 World Cup, as he won the golden boot with an extraordinary 10 goals in six games. Only Just Fontaine (13 in 1958) and Sandor Kocsis (11 in 1954) have plundered more in a single World Cup.

West Germany only managed to claim third place, however, with the famous, Pele-inspired Brazil team of that era going on to triumph in Mexico.

Though the four goals he added in 1974 ensured Muller was the World Cup's record scorer (14) until he was surpassed by Ronaldo (15) in 2006 and then Klose (16) in 2014.

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