You would surely have got good odds on Barcelona being the first club to splash the cash in the January transfer window, what with them reportedly not having any.

However, Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola confirmed at a news conference on Thursday that Ferran Torres is on the verge of leaving the Etihad Stadium for Camp Nou, with the deal worth up to a reported £55million.

It may seem curious for Barca to be spending such amounts of money given the financial issues that meant they struggled to register new players at the start of the season until they had eased the wage bill, even leading to Lionel Messi having to leave for Paris Saint-Germain.

A recent bank loan has apparently enabled the deal, and Torres appears like the kind of forward-thinking signing the club should have been making in recent years instead of some of the more ill-thought-out moves that have been made.

New Barca boss Xavi is aiming to spearhead a new era with a club that has lost its way of late, with the nadir arguably being the humbling Champions League exit at the group stage.

With all that being said, is this actually a deal that would make sense for all parties? Stats Perform takes a closer look at what appears to be the first big deal of the upcoming January transfer window.

Why Barcelona want the player

When he joined City from his hometown club Valencia in August last year, Torres was considered to be one of the more promising youngsters to come out of Spain as a pacey wide forward.

Although it was a slow start in England for the then 20-year-old, a hat-trick for Spain in the 6-0 Nations League demolition of Germany was soon followed by his first Premier League goal in a 5-0 win against Burnley, before Torres went on to score a further six in the league last season, including an impressive treble in a 4-3 win at Newcastle.

It may well be his form for the Spanish national side that caught the eye of the power brokers at Camp Nou, though, with that hat-trick against Germany contributing to the 12 goals he has bagged for La Roja, including two at the re-arranged Euro 2020 tournament against Slovakia and Croatia.

A brace in the 2-1 Nations League win against Italy in October illustrated his quality, but a foot injury has kept Torres from playing since the final defeat to France in that competition.

Meanwhile, Barca headed into the winter break in seventh place in LaLiga, just two points off the top four but a whopping 18 behind leaders Real Madrid, albeit with a game in hand.

Despite their struggles without Messi, the Blaugrana are joint-third for goals scored (29), behind only Madrid (41) and Real Betis (32).

However, only Memphis Depay (eight) has scored more than three league goals, with second top scorer Ansu Fati managing to play just five games so far.

The loss of Messi was a huge blow, but it could be argued that Barca have actually missed Luis Suarez more since the Uruguayan was inexplicably allowed to move to Atletico Madrid after the 2019-20 season.

Martin Braithwaite was never likely to replace Suarez's goals, scoring 10 in 56 appearances (22 starts) since signing from Leganes in February 2020, and Luuk de Jong has managed just one in 12 appearances (six starts) since arriving on loan from Sevilla in September, with the Dutchman appearing to be heading out the door soon in any case.

Although he started life as a wide player, Torres seems to have been permanently reinvented as a central striker, which could be exactly what Xavi is after given his best attackers in Depay, Fati and Ousmane Dembele all prefer playing out wide.

Torres has bagged 16 goals in all competitions for Manchester City, as well as 12 for his country in less than 18 months.

It might not quite be the old 'MSN' attack of Messi, Suarez and Neymar, but if Xavi has Torres along with Dembele, Fati and Depay to call on, he will still boast one of the strongest looking forward lines in Spain.

Why Manchester City are happy to let the player go

It feels like a similar situation to the one that saw Leroy Sane move back to Germany with Bayern Munich last year.

Firstly, it seems clear that the move is happening because the player wants it rather than the selling club, but City will still be happy with the eventual deal should it go through.

"If he wants to leave, absolutely no disappointment," Guardiola said on Thursday.

"It's his desire. I'm happy for him. If you want to leave because you're not happy here, you believe you'll be happy in another place, you have to go. The career is short."

Torres has looked impressive for most of his short City career, but more than doubling their approximate £21million outlay on the player in less than 18 months represents a good deal in anyone's book.

He ended last season looking like he was about to become a breakout star at the Etihad, but with the arrival of Jack Grealish and return to form of Bernardo Silva and Raheem Sterling, it is difficult to see where Torres would get regular games away from the centre forward position, where he began this campaign.

City's failed efforts to sign Harry Kane in the summer suggested that Pep wanted more from his ultimate replacement for Sergio Aguero.

Torres boasts the best goals per 90 minutes record of any City player since he arrived in August 2020 (0.55), but his chances created total (29) was only marginally better than defensive midfielder Fernandinho (26), and well behind all other main attacking players.

It seems like the player is now more of a goal getter than a goal provider, but Guardiola probably feels he can still bring in a super elite player like Kane or Erling Haaland in the next couple of windows to fulfil that role, which would further leave Torres as a fringe player.

 

Why Torres wants the move

On the face of it, one can assume it is a simple desire to return to his home country. Torres joined City as a 20-year-old, and it would be no surprise, particularly given the way of the world since then, if he is feeling a tad homesick.

However, from a football perspective, it looks like a curious one. He will be leaving the champions of England, top of the league again and one of the favourites for the Champions League, to join a Barca side who now reside in the Europa League and who might struggle to even finish in the top four in LaLiga.

As well as returning to more familiar surroundings and much nicer weather, perhaps Torres is intrigued by the idea of leading the next era of Barcelona, obviously still a club with a huge history and reputation, now under the leadership of the legendary Xavi.

At City, Torres has been one of many, more than playing his part but ultimately not being someone Guardiola has relied on in the biggest games. He was an unused substitute in last season's Champions League final defeat to Chelsea.

Torres made 36 appearances in all competitions last term, and started the first six games of this campaign, but due to injury and simply not being selected, has not played in the Premier League since the 1-0 win at Leicester City on September 11.

The prospect of potentially becoming one of the faces of the resurrection of Barcelona will no doubt be a tempting one, even if it is certainly far easier said than done.

As with Sane and Bayern, it seems a simple case of a very talented player being wanted and needed more by the buying club than the selling one, and the deal itself does seem to leave everyone with a reason to be cheerful.

With so much going for it, this might even be one that Barcelona's accountants can stomach.

A magical man with a big beard bringing joy to people on Christmas Day? Yes, James Harden is back from COVID-19 protocols as the Brooklyn Nets travel to the Los Angeles Lakers for a festive fixture.

Nets coach Steve Nash confirmed the news on Thursday, while Paul Millsap and Jevon Carter are also newly available, but Brooklyn still have 10 players in protocols.

Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Day'Ron Sharpe, LaMarcus Aldridge, DeAndre' Bembry, Bruce Brown and James Johnson have been joined by rookies Kessler Edwards, David Duke Jr. and Cameron Thomas.

The Nets have not played since a 100-93 defeat to the Orlando Magic on Saturday at Barclays Center. Their three games leading up to Christmas – at home against the Denver Nuggets and Washington Wizards, then a trip to Portland – were all postponed.

Nonetheless, Nash's team sit top of the Eastern Conference on a 21-9 record, and have not lost back-to-back games this season, though that could be put to the test with a team likely to still be extremely shorthanded in California.

Durant will be a big miss, with the 33-year-old leading the league in points per game (29.7), as will Aldridge, who sits 11th in the league for field-goal percentage (.573).

The home team have been missing players of late too, with head coach Frank Vogel and five of his men being absent as a result of being under the NBA's health and safety protocols in the chastening 138-110 defeat to the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday.

 

The Lakers sit on a surprisingly poor record under .500 (16-17) having lost four on the spin – at Minnesota and Chicago, followed by home defeats to Phoenix and the Spurs.

Despite having LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard, Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and Rajon Rondo on the roster, Vogel has been unable to get a consistent tune out of his all-star line-up.

With the Nets shorthanded to an even greater degree, the opportunity to produce what would have to go down as a slight upset should the Lakers win, given their respective form and records, will surely never be higher.

Davis remains sidelined by an MCL sprain, but the Lakers should still be able to put out a team that looks as strong as any other on paper.

Whether it is the Lakers putting an end to their losing streak or the Nets pulling out a win with barely enough players to call on, someone may just be claiming the occurrence of a festive miracle in the first encounter at the newly-named Crypto.com Arena.

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Los Angeles Lakers – LeBron James

Despite his team being thoroughly outplayed, James managed to score 36 points with nine rebounds, six assists and two blocks in Thursday's defeat to the Spurs, and he will need to pull out a similar effort if the Lakers are to end their losing streak.

The four-time NBA champion has put early-season injury issues behind him to play the last 10 games in a row, scoring 30 or more points in nine of his last 13 outings.

James has also improved his rebound numbers of late, getting double figures in five of his last 10 games, having only done so once in his previous 11.

Brooklyn Nets - James Harden

With Durant, Irving and Aldridge unavailable, all eyes will be on Harden to finally show the form that won him the 2018 NBA MVP award in Houston.

The 32-year-old is averaging just 20.8 points per game this season, his lowest since the 2011-12 season with the Oklahoma City Thunder. His 40.4 per cent success rate from the field is also the lowest since his rookie year.

However, Harden has proven in the past that he can rise to the occasion when he's the main man, and sitting just 20 career assists away from 6,000, he may just roll back the years and pull the strings in the arena now formerly known as the Staples Center.

KEY BATTLE – Can the Nets be as deadly in mid-range?

Brooklyn currently sit top of the table for mid-range points this season, averaging 49.1, well ahead of the Utah Jazz in second (45.3).

Harden is third in the league for most points per game created via assists (21.8), behind only Chris Paul (23.0) and Trae Young (21.9), while Harden (24.4 per cent) and fellow Nets star Patty Mills (29.7 per cent) claim the top two spots for highest percentage of assists for mid-range field goals made.

However, the Lakers have the fourth-best record in the league for lowest field goal percentage allowed from mid-range (38.0), and so it is an area to keep an eye out for, especially with Aldridge and Durant out, both sitting in the top 10 for highest field-goal percentage from mid-range.

HEAD-TO-HEAD

The Lakers prevailed 126-101 when these two last met in April, and the teams have enjoyed five wins each from their last 10 encounters.

It's the most wonderful time of the year… To many that means Christmas, to some it means a packed festive football schedule!

While the relentless flow of Premier League matches at this time of year might seem like overkill for the players, it's a somewhat bizarre British tradition that shows no sign of stopping.

The swift turnaround between matchdays barely gives players a moment to catch their breath, and fantasy football managers (don't say we're not thinking about the big issues…!) have to react quickly as well if they're to make the most of the action.

But if you're one of those players who's liable to forget to make changes around this time of year because you slept through the deadline after eating too much leftover Christmas dinner, Stats Perform has some player tips that might just come in handy for each of the next two matchdays…
 

EDERSON (Manchester City v Leicester City, and Brentford v Manchester City)

Sure, Leicester may have impressed against Liverpool in midweek, but Man City have been impressively resolute at the back again this season.

Unsurprisingly, Ederson leads the way with 10 clean sheets in 2021-22, making him virtually a must-select if you're worried about potentially forgetting to change your goalkeeper between matchdays.

No on else in the division has reached double figures for clean sheets yet this term, and City will fancy their chances of getting a shutout at Brentford in their second game post-Christmas.

EMILE SMITH ROWE (Norwich City v Arsenal, and Arsenal v Wolves)

Christmas time, Emile Smith Rowe and wine…

Forgive us the bad pun, but like mistletoe, Smith Rowe is a solid choice for some festive joy, particularly given Arsenal have two very winnable matches on the horizon.

Ahead of their Boxing Day trip to Norfolk, Smith Rowe is the joint-second highest-scoring Englishman in the Premier League this term with seven goals, highlighting just how much of a threat he's been in 2021-22.

Three of those have come in his last three games as well – hopefully he's the gift that keeps giving.

MARCUS RASHFORD (Newcastle United v Manchester United, and Manchester United v Burnley)

Remember Manchester United? It feels like it's been about two months since they last played, so they'll surely be raring to go when they face Newcastle at St James' Park on Monday.

Myrrhcus (sorry) Rashford will presumably be even more excited than the rest of the team, such is his record against the Magpies.

The England star has seven goal involvements in as many meetings with Newcastle (four goals, three assists), making them his favourite opposition.

Additionally, Newcastle have won just once all season, so there's every chance it won't just be the Christmas turkey getting stuffed.

HARRY KANE (Tottenham v Crystal Palace, and Southampton v Tottenham)

Spurs star Harry Kane loves Boxing Day, so much so that these days he's arguably more synonymous with Christmas than his namesake, Candy.

He'll be hopeful of stocking up again this year as he is just one behind Robbie Fowler's record of nine Boxing Day goals – it's worth saying he looked sharp against Liverpool at the weekend, so who's to say he won't sleigh Crystal Palace?

A trip to Southampton awaits after that, and Saints haven't exactly been watertight at the back recently, conceding 12 goals in their past five Premier League games.

Only three weeks remain in a fascinating 2021 NFL season that continues to prove extremely tough to call.

That unpredictability has extended to the fantasy season and has been exacerbated by a string of coronavirus outbreaks that have impacted several teams and forced changes to the Week 15 schedule.

So, with most fantasy leagues either at the semi-final or final stage, which players can be relied on in Week 16?

Stats Perform has identified four offensive players and a defense who are deserving of trust at this pivotal stage of the campaign.

Quarterback: Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Carolina Panthers

Brady was visibly angry as he and the Buccaneers were shut out by the New Orleans Saints in primetime last week, but the odds of the Panthers doing the same appear extremely slim.

In two games against Carolina last season, Brady completed nearly 69 per cent of his passes for 558 yards, four touchdowns and an interception, averaging 7.54 yards per pass attempt.

With the Panthers limping towards the finish line, Brady looks a certainty for a bounce-back effort here, even with wide receiver Chris Godwin ruled out for the season amid a spate of injuries to the Bucs' offense.

Running Back: Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns @ Green Bay Packers

The Packers are in the driver's seat for the number one seed in the NFC but, though they are one of the NFL's most well-rounded teams, a weakness in run defense has become apparent of late.

Indeed, the last two games have seen Green Bay give up 280 yards on the ground and for the season the Packers are allowing a yards per carry average of 4.53, the eighth-highest in the NFL.

Cleveland may be approaching the last-chance saloon in terms of playoff hopes, yet the Browns possess a ground game capable of exploiting the Packers' deficiencies against the run. The Browns' average of 4.9 yards per rush is the third-highest in the NFL while star running back Nick Chubb leads all players at his position with 17.4 per cent of his carries going for 10 yards or more.

Wide Receiver: Keenan Allen, Los Angeles Chargers @ Houston Texans

A recipient of double-digit targets in six of his last seven games, the heavy workload Allen has received is a recipe for a huge day in Week 16.

The Texans are surrendering the seventh-most yards per pass play in the NFL, while the Chargers - for all their controversial fourth-down issues last week against the Kansas City Chiefs -- are 10th in yards per play through the air with Justin Herbert leading an explosive offense.

Simply put, Allen is a no-brainer start in fantasy.

Tight End: Mark Andrews, Baltimore Ravens @ Cincinnati Bengals

Regardless of whether it is Lamar Jackson or Tyler Huntley at quarterback, Andrews is likely to be the top target for the Ravens' passing attack in a critical AFC North showdown.

Over the last two games, he has 21 receptions for 251 yards and three touchdowns, a bright spot in successive defeats for Baltimore.

Only five teams have produced more plays of 10 yards or more than the Ravens (193) and Andrews is the lead contender to be on the end of the majority they draw up against a stingy Bengals defense.

Defense: Philadelphia Eagles vs. New York Giants

The Eagles' Christmas present comes in the form of getting to face either Mike Glennon or Jake Fromm as they look to take another step towards securing a Wild Card berth.

Philadelphia's defense has given up fewer than 300 total yards in each of their last three games. Glennon has seven interceptions in his four games this year while Fromm would be making his first career start. Whichever Giants backup the Eagles go up against, their defense is set up for another strong week.

There were celebrations in the Atlanta Falcons' draft war room back in April when the team picking before them, the San Francisco 49ers, made Trey Lance their quarterback of the future.

Atlanta's delight was not related to any unfavourable opinions on Lance. The Falcons' jubilation was because the Niners' decision allowed them to enact their plan to select tight end Kyle Pitts the fourth overall selection, turning him into the highest-drafted player at his position in NFL history.

Yet the Falcons' Week 15 performance only served to raise further questions concerning whether those celebrations were misguided as they were crushed 31-13 on the road by the surging and right now seemingly playoff-bound 49ers.

There has been plenty of discourse about the merits of San Francisco selecting Lance and then having him sit for a year behind an often-volatile veteran in Jimmy Garoppolo. 

Whether that approach pays dividends in the long term remains to be seen, yet San Francisco's dominant success in a crucial matchup in the playoff race should intensify the scrutiny on a Falcons team whose vision for the future appears conspicuous by its absence.

The Pitts problem

It was easy to see why the Falcons were so enamoured with Pitts. A monstrous athlete blessed with wide receiver speed and a near 6ft 6in and 245-pound frame, Pitts was viewed as perhaps the finest tight end prospect to enter any draft because of his ability to separate from coverage, dominate at the catch point and make things happen with the ball in his hands.

With 847 receiving yards to his name, Pitts is on course for a 1,000-yard season but has just one touchdown, the superiority he was expected to show in the red zone as yet failing to materialise.

The separation has also not been as consistent as perhaps anticipated. Pitts has registered a burn, which is when a receiver wins his matchup with a defender on a play where he is targeted, 62.8 per cent of the time. That is above the average of 60.2 per cent but only 31st among tight ends with at least 10 targets in 2021.

Pitts is above average in terms of burn yards per target (11.3) and burn yards per route (2.8), while he is producing a big play on 34.4 per cent of his targets, putting him seventh among tight ends with at least 25 targets.

Tight end is a position where rookies typically tend to struggle, so in that context, Pitts' numbers are impressive. Still, his impact to this point can hardly be considered worthy of his draft slot.

Pitts is not to blame for failing to live up to expectations that were always likely to be too high, the former Florida Gator put in a difficult position by a franchise unsure of its direction.

Playoff contention a pipe dream

The acquisition of Pitts suggested the Falcons believed they were in a position to contend in the NFC with 2016 MVP Matt Ryan at quarterback and a talented offensive mind in Arthur Smith hired as their head coach.

But his selection was followed by a move that flew in the face of any such belief as the Falcons traded future Hall of Fame receiver Julio Jones to the Tennessee Titans.

That deal was in part motivated by the Falcons being pressed up against the salary cap limit, as well a desire from Jones for a change of scenery and his increasingly troubling injury history.

Though the trade was justifiable, it extinguished any notion of Atlanta wanting to build around Ryan and contend, and the Falcons' inconsistent and underwhelming 2021 campaign has delivered a reminder that the idea of them competing at the sharp end of the NFC was always ambitious.

Atlanta entered Week 15 still firmly in the mix for the playoffs at 6-7 but with a point differential of minus 108. After their blowout loss to the Niners, that has dropped to minus 126, the fourth-worst in the NFL.

The Falcons rank 21st in yards per play on offense and 25th in yards per play allowed on defense, with their struggles on both sides of the ball linked to sub-par play in the trenches.

Prior to the 49ers game, the Falcons ranked 28th in Stats Perform's pass protection win rate and last in pass rush win rate. Against San Francisco, they allowed 19 quarterback pressures and registered just four.

This is a bottom-half team that has been masquerading as a playoff challenger. Such a season would have been more acceptable had they used their premium pick on a quarterback in a class seen as an excellent one at the position. Having opted not to do so, the Falcons are mired in NFL no man's land.

No moving on from Matt... for now

The Falcons could theoretically get out of Ryan's contract this offseason but a dead cap charge of over $40million means they would only save a little over $8m against the salary cap.

A parting of the ways is more plausible in 2023 when the Falcons would save $28million by moving on from a quarterback who would then be entering his age-38 season.

Ryan is not the problem for the Falcons, but he is also not the answer.

He is delivering an accurate, well-thrown ball on 81.2 per cent of his attempts, the eighth-best rate among quarterbacks with at least 100 passes, and is doing so despite losing Jones and Calvin Ridley, who has taken a break from the game to focus on his mental health, from his supporting cast.

At the same time, Ryan is averaging 7.16 air yards per attempt, the sixth-fewest in the NFL (min. 100 attempts). Ryan may be limited by those around him, but he is also not performing at a level to elevate that group.

That mix has the Falcons in quarterback purgatory, and their path to exiting that unenviable position is not clear. The 2022 quarterback class is, at least on the surface, well short of the standard of the 2021 vintage, and Ryan – while no longer a member of the league's elite – still has the requisite talent to win enough games to ensure the Falcons will not be in a position to draft a top signal-caller in 2023.

In Pitts, the Falcons have a weapon widely viewed as a possible generational talent, but the decision to select him means they are now stuck with a quarterback not good enough to help them contend but too good for Atlanta to be able to tank to land his successor. Hindsight is always 20-20, but the Falcons' short-sighted choice not to draft Ryan's heir apparent makes a route to the top hard to foresee.

Jurgen Klopp might consider the Christmas and New Year programme an "impossible" task for his stricken Liverpool team, but the Premier League has challenged its clubs to get games on over the coming fortnight.

These games can throw up season-shaping drama, with the packed calendar meaning the stakes are high and stress levels higher, and any manager that chooses to rotate his squad does so at his own risk.

Nobody wants to offer up gifts, despite Santa delivering three goals for Blackburn Rovers in 2007 – Roque Santa Cruz scoring twice in a 2-2 draw with Manchester City on December 27, and adding another in a 2-1 win over Derby County three days later.

Manchester City lead the way in the English top flight this season, ahead of Liverpool and Chelsea.

The 12 days of Christmas are traditionally considered to run from December 25 to January 5, and Stats Perform has looked at that period, assessing prospects for some of this year's games, along with a lesson or two from history.

You're top of the tree, but what makes you think you'll stay there?

In the first 10 seasons of the Premier League, from its launch in 1992-93, the eventual champions were only top at Christmas on three occasions – Manchester United in 1993-94, Blackburn Rovers in 1994-95 and United again in 2000-01.

Norwich City were the leaders on Christmas Day in that inaugural campaign, but Mike Walker's classy Canaries finished in third place in May as champions Manchester United and Aston Villa swept past the Canaries. Norwich had lost to United and derby rivals Ipswich Town in their two games leading up to the Christmas run, and back-to-back goalless draws with Tottenham on December 26 and Leeds United two days later further stifled their progress. The winless run ultimately extended to six matches, with the high-flying Canaries having their wings clipped just as the title began to look possible.

Kevin Keegan's Newcastle United famously led by 10 points on Christmas Day in 1995 and looked for all the world like runaway champions-in-waiting. Yet a 2-0 defeat at Manchester United on December 27 was an omen of what was to come as the Magpies were barged off top spot by the Red Devils come the end of the season.

Aston Villa were top at Christmas in 1998 but fell away to finish sixth, the lowest final position by any team to have sat top of the Premier League tree on December 25. They lost 2-1 at Blackburn on Boxing Day in that year, Tim Sherwood scoring a late winner, and although Gareth Southgate and Ugo Ehiogu netted to earn a 2-1 victory over Sheffield Wednesday two days later, Villa's form was far from championship-winning from that point on.

As the Premier League has evolved and an elite crop of teams has developed, it has been a safer bet that the pace-setters by December 25 will go on to capture the trophy. In fact, over the past 10 seasons, the future champions have held top spot on that date on seven occasions, with Liverpool the only team to fall away from the summit in that time, dropping to second place in 2013-14 and 2018-19, and to third in 2020-21.

They climbed the mountain as snowflakes fell

Manchester United were fifth at Christmas in 1996-97, seven points behind leaders Liverpool, but Fergie's fledglings went on to win the league, and their results in late December were a big factor. They had beaten Sunderland 5-0 on December 21 and followed that with a 4-0 win at Nottingham Forest on December 26 (goals from David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Andy Cole), before sinking Leeds United two days later at Old Trafford thanks to an Eric Cantona penalty. A New Year's Day goalless home draw with Aston Villa followed, but United had a verve about them again and swept past Liverpool's 'Spice Boys' in the closing weeks.

Arsenal were sixth at Christmas in 1997-98 and 13 points behind United, but it was the Gunners who pulled off a startling comeback in this season. They launched an 18-game unbeaten run as they beat Leicester City 2-1 on December 26 and followed that by coming from behind for a 1-1 draw at Tottenham two days later. Arsene Wenger's team did not lose again in the league until their final two games of the campaign in May, to Liverpool and Villa, by which time the title had been secured. That remains the biggest Christmas Day deficit to be overhauled by a team that went on to be champions.

Manchester City were eighth on December 25 last year and still won the league, but Pep Guardiola's team were only eight points behind leaders Liverpool with a game in hand at that stage, with no team having played more than 14 games due to a delayed start to the season. City were 2-0 winners at home to Newcastle on December 26 and followed up with a 3-1 victory at Chelsea on January 3, their charge to glory gathering pace.

Merry Christmas? It's no guarantee of a happy new year

This year, there are three rounds of Premier League games spread across the 12 days of Christmas. In the past there have been as many as four, and there have been 13 occasions when teams have snaffled 10 points or more during this period.

Liverpool were the first to win all four of their games in this hectic spell, as they saw off Leicester, Manchester City, Leeds and Norwich by a combined 10-1 aggregate in 1994, only to trail home fourth in May. Jose Mourinho's Chelsea then achieved 12 days of Christmas clean sweeps in their title-winning 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons.

All the other teams to rake in double-figure points hauls from their four festive period games managed 10 points from three wins and a draw.

Only one of those 10 sides went on to capture the title: Manchester United in the 2010-11 season. United also had a 10-point tally from 2004-05, and two other sides have hit that mark twice: Arsenal (1993-94 and 2004-05) and Sheffield Wednesday (1993-94 and 1994-95). Tottenham, Wimbledon, Liverpool and Manchester City are the other teams to have done so.

They delivered the goods

Manchester United have the best per-game record at this time of year, pulling in 2.19 points on average in the Premier League era. Of teams to have spent more than one season in the top flight, Arsenal are next (1.99), followed by Liverpool (1.96) and, surprisingly, Blackburn (1.88). United's legendary former manager Alex Ferguson reeled in a league-leading 135 points from 61 games during the 12-day run, with a hearty plus-74 goal difference, while his great rival at Arsenal, Arsene Wenger, earned 132 points from 62 matches.

Ferguson and Jose Mourinho lead the way with an average of 2.21 points per game over the 12 days, among managers with more than 20 such games behind them.

Befitting his status as the Premier League's all-time top scorer, Alan Shearer is ahead of all the rest in the goals stakes, having hit 23 during this period, five clear of next in line Robbie Fowler.

A bad Christmas? It doesn't mean your goose is cooked

A diabolical 12 days of Christmas can be a retrievable mid-season mishap.

There have been 49 instances of teams losing all of their games over this period in a season. Among those, Everton in 1993-94 and West Brom in 2010-11 have played the most games in the 12 days – four games each for a zero-point return. The snowballing run of defeats almost proved hideously costly for Everton, who needed a famous 3-2 win over Wimbledon on the final weekend of the season to survive, but West Brom finished in the relative comfort of 11th place after their bleak midwinter, albeit following a February change of boss as Roy Hodgson replaced Roberto Di Matteo.

The bottom three from Christmas Days past have gone on to be relegated three times, with Derby County, Leicester City and Ipswich Town suffering that fate in 2001-02, Wigan Athletic, QPR and Reading sliding into the Championship after the 2012-13 campaign, and last season’s turkeys – Fulham, West Brom and Sheffield United – also sinking into the second tier.

The good news for Norwich, Newcastle and Burnley – the current top three – is that clearly this rarely happens. Bottom side Norwich have history to wrestle with, given only three of 26 last-placed teams on December 25 in the 20-team era (since 1995-96) have avoided the drop.

There have been 37 instances of teams being in the Premier League relegation zone on Christmas Day but finding a way to survive.

Newcastle face Manchester United, Everton and Southampton in their festive games this year, and it may be a concern that manager Eddie Howe has a career points average of just 0.87 in games played from December 25 to January 5 (W2, D7, L6).

Burnley boss Sean Dyche can better that, taking an average of 1.12 points per game (W5, D4, L8) into assignments against Everton, Manchester United and Leeds.

Norwich will hope Dean Smith can summon his Aston Villa festive form, having achieved 1.67 per game at this time of year while in his former job (W3, D1, L2). Arsenal, Crystal Palace and Leicester await Smith's men this year.

Canaries knocked off their perch

A morsel from Norwich's Premier League past might serve as a salutary tale for mid-table clubs that feel secure about their Premier League status by now.

Norwich were seventh on Christmas Day in 1994, far from trouble, but their season imploded and they finished 20th, suffering relegation from the then 22-team league.

They had a crummy 12 days of Christmas, losing 2-0 at home to Tottenham and 1-0 at Nottingham Forest on successive days – December 26 and 27 – before undoing some of that damage with a 2-1 home win over Newcastle on New Year's Eve, only to be thumped 4-0 at Liverpool on January 2. They would not win another Premier League game until they beat Ipswich 3-0 on March 20.

Nightmares can occur after Christmas, as well as before.

Manchester City made history by putting Newcastle United to the sword and Arsenal also set a Premier League record in their thrashing of fragile Leeds United.

Rampant City ran riot at St James' Park on Sunday, hammering the relegation-threatened Magpies 4-0 to ensure they will be top of the table at Christmas.

Pep Guardiola's side took their tally of top-flight victories in 2021 to 34, bettering a record they had shared with Liverpool.

Depleted Leeds handed out far too many gifts in the season of goodwill, dishing out a 4-1 drubbing as Marcelo Bielsa's side were blown away in the first half at Elland Road on Saturday.

Second-placed Liverpool had to settle for a 2-2 draw at Tottenham in an eventful game for Andy Robertson on Sunday.

The fixture list was hard hit due to COVID-19 outbreaks, but there was no shortage of quirky Opta facts from the matches that went ahead.

 

No presents from Pep for struggling Howe

City can celebrate Christmas at the top of the tree for the first time since 2018, with Liverpool having been at the summit in the last three seasons.

It has been another memorable year for the champions, who not only set a record for number of top-flight wins but have also scored the most goals in a year by a Premier League team.

Not forgetting that football was indeed played before 1992, City's total of 106 goals in the top flight in 2021 sees them match a figure last set by Liverpool back in 1982. Aston Villa, however, hold the all-time top-flight record with a staggering 120 in 1930.

It has been a very different story for Newcastle, who conceded 79 times in the league this year, matching an unwanted record Ipswich Town set in 1994.

Eddie Howe will be glad to see the back of City, as the Newcastle head coach has lost all 11 matches against them – the worst 100 per cent losing record by any boss against one club in the history of the competition.

Ruthless Arsenal make Leeds suffer 

Leeds were thumped 7-0 by City in midweek and they gift-wrapped Arsenal three points with a naive display, even if injuries must be taken into account (all nine of Bielsa's substitutes were aged 21 or under, with 15-year-old Archie Gray among them).

The Gunners extended their winning run to three matches after dominating the first half, Gabriel Martinelli scoring twice and Bukayo Saka putting them 3-0 up at the break.

It could have been worse for the Whites, as Arsenal had 11 shots on target in the first half – the most on record (since 2003-04) by any side in the opening 45 minutes in a Premier League match.

With Emile Smith Rowe also on target, it was the first time Arsenal have had three players aged 21 or younger on the scoresheet in a Premier League game (excluding own goals).

Kalvin Phillips was once again sorely missed by Leeds. The Yorkshire club have lost 12 of their 15 Premier League games when the England midfielder has been absent.

Robertson turns from hero to villain

Liverpool are three points behind City after they were held by Spurs, having come from behind to lead 2-1 in the capital.

It was an eventful match for Robertson, who was unable to complete the 90 minutes after being shown a red card for a tackle on Emerson Royal.

The Scotland captain was given his marching orders eight minutes after putting the Reds in front and he also set up Diogo Jota's equaliser. Since Jota's Liverpool debut in 2020, only Christian Benteke (a former Red) has scored more headed Premier League goals than the Portugal forward (six).

Robertson became the first player to score, provide an assist and be sent off in a Premier League game since Aleksandar Mitrovic for Newcastle in May 2016, also against Spurs.

Harry Kane got the opener in an enthralling encounter, netting just his second league goal of the season and his first one at home since May.

That means Kane's last three home league goals for Spurs have all come under different managers – Jose Mourinho, Ryan Mason and Antonio Conte.

Marcelo Bielsa was typically honest as he faced questions about his future. After all, they were inevitable after the 7-0 battering by Manchester City earlier this week.

While Leeds fans might try to convince you it was a less frustrating match than their late 3-2 defeat to Chelsea at the weekend, from the outside it looked as bleak as it gets.

"Do you think that after suffering a 7-0 defeat I can discard the instability?" Bielsa asked on Thursday. "Do you think there's a coach that can't be sacked, who is unsackable? Do you think I'm so vain that I think I can't be sacked?"

Given everything Bielsa's done for Leeds in his four years, it might be fair enough to ponder whether he was untouchable or not, but Tuesday was grim.

It was Leeds' joint-heaviest defeat ever in the Football League/Premier League and the first time Bielsa conceded seven goals in one match over his entire management career – that equates to 568 matches.

While it was only the first time Leeds have suffered back-to-back league losses this term, defeat to City was the continuation of an unequivocally bad start to the season.

Great expectations

In all competitions, Leeds have won just four matches in 90 minutes and only one of those has come since the start of November.

Things don't look much more encouraging this weekend either as they face Arsenal. A third defeat in a row could potentially leave them just two points above the bottom three at Christmas.

Injuries aren't helping their cause, with as many as seven players set to miss out this weekend and Junior Firpo is suspended. Among the absentees is Patrick Bamford, the scorer of 17 Premier League goals last season.

He's already missed a chunk of the season, featuring just six times in the Premier League, perhaps going some way to explaining some of Leeds' issues.

Their injuries, form and proximity to the bottom three are all putting extra expectation on one player.

Raphinha wasn't exactly an unknown when he joined Leeds – Rennes and Ligue 1 are hardly 'obscurity', but he's undoubtedly seen his reputation grow exponentially during his 14 months in England.

His debut season was very promising as Raphinha managed to combine the work rate demanded in a Bielsa team with on-the-ball flair and an eye for the spectacular.

Feisty, flamboyant and forceful – Leeds fans could barely believe they'd managed to retain him when the most recent transfer window shut.

Among the league's most-crucial players

It's fair to say he picked up where he left off, having already surpassed last season's goals total when his penalty against Chelsea took him to seven in 15 games.

Though, with Bamford missing, Raphinha is having to operate slightly differently due to there being the need to pick up the slack caused by absences.

Given Bamford's injury problems, it's unsurprising to see Raphinha's shot frequency has increased from 2.6 to 3.1 every 90 minutes and that's probably had a knock-on effect to his creativity.

His two chances created on a per-90-minute basis is down slightly from 2.4 – similarly, his expected assists (xA) has also decreased fractionally to 0.22 from 0.26. Of course, he probably would have been aided in this area had Leeds' best striker been available all season – rather, Raphinha's the one having to lead from the front and be a creative spark.

An increase in touches per game (59.9 to 63) suggests greater general influence, and while that's not translated to more key passes or assists, Raphinha's importance is further highlighted by his involvement Leeds' build-up play.

He's been involved in 592 open play passing sequences this term, a figure only four players designated as strikers or wingers can better. Among the same group, only eight have played a part in more sequences that ended in a shot than the Brazilian (74) and six of those represent members of the so-called 'big six'.

Raphinha's explosive talents and ball carrying skills make him a great asset when Leeds are trying to relieve pressure and get back up the pitch, but we can also see that his team-mates recognise his usefulness when they're trying to retain the ball.

There's a case to be had that, relative to their respective teams, Raphinha is among the most crucial players in the Premier League – after all, since his first start in November 2020, only five players have had a hand in more non-penalty goals than him (21).

While Arsenal may not be the force they once were, beating the Gunners would be a significant feat for Leeds when you consider their current form.

Raphinha was quiet in the mauling by City, failing to register a single shot or key pass, a performance he'll surely be eager to prove was a one-off.

And if anyone can get Leeds out of their slump by terrorising an Arsenal side often accused of lacking personality, it's Raphinha.

If Kyogo Furuhashi is any indication, Celtic should be looking to Japan for more players, right?

Former Yokohama F.Marinos boss Ange Postecoglou used his J1 League insight to lure the previously unheralded Kyogo to Parkhead and what a signing it has proven to be – the Japan international has taken Glasgow by storm with 14 goals in all competitions.

Now, Celtic manager Postecoglou is reportedly preparing another raid on Japan's top flight, including his former club, to help bolster his title-chasing side in the January transfer window.

F.Marinos star and joint Golden Boot winner Daizen Maeda, Kawasaki Frontale utility Reo Hatate and Gamba Osaka's Yosuke Ideguchi are believed to be all closing in on moves to Celtic as the Bhoys' Japanese contingent grows.

With speculation mounting, Stats Perform looks at the numbers behind the trio, using Opta data.

 

Daizen Maeda, Yokohama F.Marinos

Postecoglou leaned on his experiences as a rival coach to prise Kyogo from Andres Iniesta's Vissel Kobe at the start of the season, but it is a completely different matter regarding Maeda, who was signed by the Australian coach, initially on loan in 2020.

Following a difficult loan spell in Portugal via Maritimo, Postecoglou turned to Maeda after leading F.Marinos to their drought-ending J1 League title the season prior. The 24-year-old has not looked back, taking his game to a new level with the runners-up in 2021.

The two-time Japan international shared the Golden Boot with Frontale talisman Leandro Damiao after the pair both scored 23 goals, while he was named in the league's Best XI.

With pace to burn and the ability to play on the flank or through the middle, Maeda fits Postecoglou's high-octane brand of football and pressing philosophy to a tee – he tallied the most sprints across the league (1,457), well ahead of Consadole Sapporo's Tsuyoshi Ogashiwa (869).

Maeda, who likes to cut inside from the left, also led J1 League in shots on target (51), shooting accuracy (63 per cent), big chance total (33), big chance scored (18), expected goals (21.3) and touches in the opposition box (190). He was second for total shots (92) and shot conversion rate (23.9).

 

"I never imagined I would end the season as top scorer in the league. I feel I have been able to prove I was a good signing here," Maeda, who could provide another dynamic to Celtic's attack having scored a joint-league-high six headed goals, said at the end of the season. "As always it was great to score, but I would have liked to have ended the season with a win.

"I've had a great season although I am disappointed we never managed to win the title, but on a personal level, I am very proud I was able to finish as top scorer. I always want more goals. You can never score enough.

"I believe this team can go on and have a great season next year too. Whatever happens, Marinos are a great club. I've never hidden my ambition to play in Europe. When I tried before in Portugal, Covid ruined it for me. This season has changed everything for me. Goals and a call-up for my country. For me, it's just the start."

 

Reo Hatate, Kawasaki Frontale

If Celtic want a man that can cover a number of positions, Hatate is their guy.

A defender, midfielder or forward, Hatate is coming off his second successive top-flight crown with the league's dominant force Frontale, who have won the title in four of the last five years.

Hatate has played a key role in helping maintain Frontale's dominance since making his debut in 2018.

The versatile 24-year-old – who has not played abroad, unlike Maeda or Ideguchi – is fresh off a stellar season that saw him named in J1 League's Best XI.

Like 2020, Hatate scored five goals in 30 appearances, while he supplied two assists in the league as he often played in the middle of the pitch, though he can also be deployed at left-back.

Comfortable on the ball and secure in possession, Hatate boasted a passing accuracy of 82.1 per cent in 2021. As for his creativity, he created 33 chances, highlighting his vision. He ranked in the top five for shots on target (third, 22), total shots (fourth, 59) and passes in opposition half (five, 1,297) among all defenders and midfielders.

Covering plenty of ground, Hatate also demonstrated his defensively capabilities throughout the campaign with 45 interceptions and 159 duels won, with a 53.4 success rate.

 

 

Yosuke Ideguchi, Gamba Osaka

Of the three players targeted by Celtic, the 25-year-old is somewhat the most surprising.

Labelled "wonderful" previously by former Manchester United playmaker Shinji Kagawa, Ideguchi endured a forgettable time in Europe – he joined then-Championship outfit Leeds United on a four-and-a-half-year contract in 2018 but never made an appearance for the club.

Ideguchi then bounced around on loan at Cultural Leonesa in Spain and Greuther Furth in Germany before returning to boyhood club Gamba Osaka, where he has excelled across two spells.

A player with a lot of potential upside, Ideguchi is more of a holding midfielder and is capable of finding the back of the net.

Ideguchi – part of the Gamba team that tasted domestic success via the J1 League (2014), Emperor's Cup (2014 and 2015), J.League Cup (2014) and Japanese Super Cup (2015) prior to his Leeds departure – is coming off a 29-game season, his most since the 2017 campaign.

While he did not score or register an assist, unlike the season prior when he scored four times and teed up three goals, Ideguchi's work rate and tenacity was invaluable for Gamba.

In 2021, the 15-time Japan international won 55.5 per cent of his tackles with 36 interceptions and 78 duels won. Since 2019, Ideguchi is a top-10 midfielder in tackles (fifth, 145), tackles won (fifth, 85) and interceptions (10th, 109).

 

As one of only two NBA teams that have never won a division title, the Memphis Grizzlies are in prime position to cut that number in half this season.

Since joining the NBA as the Vancouver Grizzlies in 1995-96, Memphis have finished second five times but have never captured a division crown. The Charlotte Hornets are the only other franchise never to win a division title, though they did finish in a three-way tie for first place in the Southeast in 2015-16 but lost the title to the Miami Heat on a tie-breaker.

Roughly two months into this season and Memphis sit atop a weak Southwest Division with the franchise's first division title a distinct possibility.

No division has a worse composite record than the Southwest with Memphis (17-11), the Dallas Mavericks (14-13), San Antonio Spurs (10-16), Houston Rockets (9-18) and New Orleans Pelicans (8-21) combining for a 58-79 record (42.3). Weaker division opponents certainly will not hurt the Grizzlies' cause, but they appear more than capable of beating just about any team, evidenced by their 13-6 record against the Western Conference.

While Ja Morant has established himself as one of the game's young superstars in his third season, what is most impressive about the Grizzlies is how they have performed without him.

Morant has not played since November 26 due to a sprained left knee and he then entered the NBA's health and safety protocols after testing positive for COVID-19 on December 8.

Somehow, Memphis have been even better with their leading scorer on the shelf, going an inspired 8-1. Prior to this stretch, Memphis were 6-9 in Morant's career when he missed a game.

It has been a dominant run for the Grizzlies, who have outscored opponents by 176 points in those nine games. Since November 28 in their first game without Morant, the Grizzlies rank fifth in the NBA in points per game (113.7), ninth in three-pointers made (112) and lead the league in total rebounds (449) and total steals (108).

Clearly, Memphis are much more than just Morant.

During a five-game winning streak – all without Morant – the Grizzlies led every game from wire-to-wire before the run ended with a 104-96 loss to visiting Dallas on December 8. Included in that five-game surge was a stunning 152-79 thrashing of the Oklahoma City Thunder for the largest margin of victory in league history.

Memphis only rank 20th this season in opponent points per game (109.2) but something has clicked with the defence allowing a league-best 94.1 points during this 8-1 stretch. In the first 19 games this season, Memphis held foes to 101 points or fewer just twice but have done that seven times in the past nine contests.

Memphis are 13-1 (92.9) this season when holding opponents under 110 points. Only the Phoenix Suns (18-0), Charlotte (7-0) and Brooklyn Nets (15-1) have a better winning percentage in such games.

Maybe it was Morant's absence that forced the rest of the team to turn up the defensive pressure, but whatever the reason Taylor Jenkins' team now know they can win either with offense as they rank sixth in the league in scoring (111.0) as well as at the opposite end of the court.

Perhaps no victory was more indicative of what the Grizzlies can do than last Thursday's 108-95 win over the Los Angeles Lakers. Despite missing Morant and starting guard Dillon Brooks (health and safety protocols), Memphis set a franchise record with nine steals in the second quarter en route to a season-high 18 and became just the second team in the past 13 games to hold star-laden Los Angeles under 100 points.

Several players have stepped up to fill the void left by Morant and none bigger than second-year guard Desmond Bane. A serious contender for the Most Improved Player award, Bane has taken a huge step forward in his sophomore season to become much more than a shooter with his usage rate going from 16.1 to 22.3 per cent.

In the nine games without Morant, Bane has averaged 17.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and shot 44.8 per cent from three-point range (26 for 58). He averaged 15.5 points and 3.8 rebounds while connecting on 37.4 per cent (46 for 123) from deep in the season's first 19 games. His points per game average has risen from 9.2 in 2020-21 to 16.0 this season – his plus-6.8 improvement only bettered by Reggie Jackson (+6.9), Miles Bridges (+7.1) and Tyrese Maxey (+8.7) among players to have played in 70 per cent of team games in both campaigns.

When a team's leading scorer misses time, the second-leading scorer is asked to pick up most of the slack and Jaren Jackson Jr. has answered that call.

During the 8-1 stretch, Jackson is scoring 21.1 per game on 50.4 per cent shooting, including 38.5 per cent (20 for 52) from beyond the arc. In 19 games played with Morant this term, Jackson averaged 14.8 points on 39.7 per cent from the field and 33.7 per cent from long range.

Jackson has scored 25 points or more in four of his last seven games after having only one such game through his first 20 this season.

With 25 points and five blocks in a win over the Toronto Raptors late last month, Jackson became just the third Grizzlies player to reach both those totals in a game since the team moved to Memphis. Pau Gasol (six games) and Marc Gasol (four games) are the only others.

Memphis' defensive improvement is clearly a team-wide concept, but Dillon Brooks may be the player most responsible. Brooks did not make his season debut until November 10 due to a broken left hand and the team clearly missed his intensity and leadership.

In 14 games this season with Brooks in the line-up, Memphis have surrendered 103.6 points per game and held opponents to 44.0 per cent shooting. In the 14 games he has missed, the Grizzlies have given up 114.9 points with opponents making 48.3 per cent of their shots.

Taking over at the point in Morant's place has been Tyus Jones, who had the best assist-to-turnover ratio in the league each of the last three seasons and is on his way to doing it again with 119 assists to 21 turnovers (5.67).

The biggest improvement in Jones' game has been his three-point shooting, making 40 percent of his first 65 attempts after he hit on just 32.1 per cent last season.

One area where Memphis have excelled all season is on the boards.

The Grizzlies rank third in the NBA in total rebounds (1,323) and tied for second in offensive rebounding (358). Steven Adams leads the way with 8.6 per game but gets plenty of help as Memphis are tied for second in the league with seven players averaging at least four boards per contest.

Those rebounds play a role in helping Memphis top the NBA in both second-chance points (479) and points in the paint (1,504).

With Phoenix and the Golden State Warriors looking like world beaters right now and the Utah Jazz not far behind, Memphis have been able to fly under the radar in the Western Conference.

While there is no telling how Morant's return will affect the Grizzlies, the team have done all the little things in his absence and that can only help them in their quest to finally hang a division championship banner at FedEx Forum.

The carnage of the Premier League festive schedule is well and truly upon us.

Arsenal, who stripped Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of his captaincy on Tuesday, snatched West Ham's Champions League spot with a comfortable victory in Wednesday's headline clash.

Just 11 miles away in London, Crystal Palace hosted Southampton following a 3-1 defeat of Everton but they could only muster a draw against Ralph Hasenhuttl's side.

Brighton and Hove Albion succumbed to yet another defeat against Wolves in the other clash of the day, after Watford's visit to Burnley was postponed due to COVID-19 cases within the Hornets' squad.

Here, Stats Perform unpacks the pick of Opta data from the top-flight action.

Arsenal 2-0 West Ham: Youth shines again for Arteta's top-four chasers

West Ham have a woeful record at Emirates Stadium and extended that poor run as they lost their 11th league match in 12 games at Arsenal's ground, trading fourth spot with Mikel Arteta's side, who were inspired by two of their young stars.

Gabriel Martinelli broke the deadlock in the second half with his seventh Premier League strike, Gabriel Jesus (16) the only Brazilian with more goals in the competition before their 21st birthday.

Vladimir Coufal then became the 15th Czech Republic player to receive his marching orders in the Premier League when he received a contentious second caution for bringing down Alexandre Lacazette, who saw his penalty saved by Lukasz Fabianski.

Lacazette's miss may have been Arsenal's third consecutive failed penalty in the league – doing so for the first time since 1992 – but substitute Emile Smith Rowe sealed the victory with the Gunners' 10th goal scored by an under-21 in the competition this season, which is more than any other side.

David Moyes, who became the fourth manager to 600 games in the Premier League, has never won at Arsenal in 18 top-flight attempts, extending the record for the most times a manager has played away against a side in the competition without winning.

Brighton and Hove Albion 0-1 Wolves: Saiss scores as Seagulls grounded once more 

Wolves headed to the South Coast without a win or a goal in four top-flight games, facing five consecutive blanks for the first time since 2003, but held on in a marathon slog against Graham Potter's timid Brighton.

Roman Saiss nodded in what proved to be the winner for Bruno Lage's side on the stroke of half-time, as Wolves scored their first top-flight goal before the interval in seven matches – dating back to when they netted twice in the first half against Everton in early November.

The Morocco international now has five league goals to his name since the start of last season – only Raul Jimenez (nine) and Ruben Neves (six) have managed more for Wolves in that period.

Wolves, though, had to wait for their win as they battled for 106 minutes and 29 seconds of action in total in the longest English top-flight game since Manchester City and Liverpool in September 2017 (108 minutes and 35 seconds).

In contrasting fortunes, struggling Brighton are still without a win in all competitions since beating Swansea in the EFL Cup in September, while the Seagulls have not tasted top-flight victory in a club record 11 games.

Crystal Palace 2-2 Southampton: Broja form continues as Ayew breaks duck

The Premier League's most fragile away defence in 2021 travelled to Selhurst Park having conceded 50 times on the road, but were unlucky to not walk away with all three points against Patrick Vieira's side.

Wilfried Zaha struck first after just 119 seconds as he fired another away goal past Ralph Hasenhuttl's team, with what was Palace's fastest Premier League goal since May, which also came against Southampton.

However, James Ward-Prowse restored parity with his 11th direct free-kick goal in the league – only David Beckham (18), Thierry Henry and Gianfranco Zola (both 12) have scored more in the competition.

Armando Broja deservedly nudged the visitors ahead with his fourth finish in six league starts, with Mason Greenwood (also four) the only played aged 20 or younger to have scored as many times in the competition this season.

Jordan Ayew then ensured the sides shared the spoils with his first goal in 43 Premier League games, his last coming against Leeds United in November 2020, while the Saints claimed an unwanted record as the first top-flight side to ship more than 50 away goals in a single year since West Brom in 1985 (52).

Sergio Aguero has decided to retire.

The Barcelona forward announced his decision in a statement on Wednesday that was delivered at an event featuring president Joan Laporta and the club's first-team players.

Aguero, who starred for Atletico Madrid before becoming a Manchester City great, suffered chest pain in the draw with Deportivo Alaves on October 30, which the club confirmed was down to a heart arrhythmia.

After consultations with specialists, the Argentina international has been told it is too much of a risk to continue playing.

Barcelona were the last club Aguero played and scored for in a storied career, but it'll be his exploits for Manchester City that will be remembered most fondly in the football world.

He left the club earlier this year after a decade in Manchester that cemented his status as one of City's greatest ever players – he made an immediate impact upon joining from Atletico Madrid in 2011, plundering 23 top-flight goals in his first season, including the dramatic stoppage-time winner against QPR on the final day of the campaign to seal their first-ever Premier League title. 

Using Opta data, Stats Perform looks at the legacy of Aguero's exceptional career as a matchwinner and goalscorer. 

Aguero untouchable as City's leading marksman

No City player comes close to Aguero's simply outstanding scoring record.

He left City having scored 184 times in the Premier League at a rate of one every 108 minutes, the best frequency of any player to net at least 20 in the competition's history.

The City player closest to that ratio (min. 20 goals) is Edin Dzeko, who scored a goal every 141.6 minutes for City in the English top flight. 

City's second-highest scorer in the Premier League is Raheem Sterling, though he is 102 goals adrift of Aguero on 82.

Behind Sterling is Yaya Toure (62), followed by David Silva (60), Carlos Tevez (58) and Dzeko (50).

Even when you extend it to all competitions throughout City's history, no one gets within 80 goals of Aguero, with his 260 well clear of Eric Brook (177).

In esteemed Premier League company

Sadly, the final season of Aguero's Premier League stint was blighted by injuries, restricting him to just 12 appearances and four goals.

Nevertheless, he departed England as an all-time great such was his consistent excellence in front of goal.

Indeed, only three players have scored more than his 184 in the competition: Alan Shearer (260), Wayne Rooney (208) and Andrew Cole (187). 

All three, however, required significantly more minutes to score each goal, with Aguero's rate (one every 108 mins) comfortably better than Shearer's 146.86, Rooney's 182.78 and Cole's 169.14. 

Thierry Henry is the only player to have gotten close to a similar standard in the Premier League, with the Frenchman netting every 122 minutes on average – Mohamed Salah might fancy his chances of rivalling Aguero, however. His 111 goals have been scored at a rate of one every 127 minutes.

One-club man… sort of

Aguero's goal frequency was just one of several areas where he stands out in front, though.

Of course, he was never able to topple Alan Shearer's overall record for Premier League goals (260), but Aguero has scored more goals than anyone else for a single club.

His final goal for City, a header in a 5-0 demolition of Everton back in May, saw him overtake Wayne Rooney's haul of 183 for one club (Manchester United).

Remarkably, Aguero needed 118 fewer matches to reach the landmark than Rooney, which is saying something.

Harry Kane (167) may yet surpass Aguero – though if he ultimately ends up being the Argentinian's 'heir' at City, that record may stand for quite a while.

A box of hat-tricks

It's arguable the Premier League has never seen a more insatiable striker.

Some might be tempted to kick back once they have one or two goals – sure, a hat-trick would be nice, but their job is already done…

That certainly wasn't the case with Aguero, who was utterly relentless.

His 12 Premier League hat-tricks is a record and will likely remain the benchmark for years given only Shearer (11) has reached double figures for trebles in the competition.

It wasn't a case of Aguero filling his boots against the same lowly opposition all the time either. He only got more than one hat-trick against two teams (two each versus Newcastle United and Chelsea).

One of those hat-tricks against Newcastle came in a remarkable five-goal haul back in October 2015, helping City to a 6-1 victory. Granted, four players had managed such a feat before, though Aguero did his damage in just 66 minutes on the pitch – the previous quartet all played for 90 minutes.

Among Europe's elite finishers

Rightly or not, Aguero was probably too much of a pure finisher to ever really be considered in the same standing as players like Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, who generally scored and contributed more in general.

But there's little doubt the Independiente youth product was one of the finest forwards of his generation.

Since January 1, 2000, only five players – Cristiano Ronaldo (483), Lionel Messi (475), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (300), Robert Lewandowski (295) and Edinson Cavani (261) – have scored more goals in Europe's 'big five' leagues than Aguero (259) across his spells with Atleti, City and Barca.

His minutes-per-goal rate jumps slightly to one every 128 minutes when factoring in his time in LaLiga, which puts him 10th among players to have scored at least 150 goals in the major European leagues, but let's not forget that includes his days as a teenager as well as last season when he was having to battle fitness issues.

Sadly, we never got to see Aguero return to the heights he scaled during his peak at City, with injuries restricting him to only five appearances for Barcelona.

But given the circumstances surrounding his retirement, things could have been a lot worse. This farewell gives us the chance to happily reflect on what a privilege it was to watch Sergio 'Kun' Aguero.

For football enthusiasts, watching Ajax dazzle on the international stage soothes the soul.

At a time when the world game has been taken over by the mega rich, Ajax represent football's pure and glorious past.

Ajax's most famous name – Johan Cruyff – made the club what it is, imposing the style that would become so successful for years, helping the Dutch giants to win the Champions League in 1995.

That DNA continues to flow through the veins of players and staff – Cruyff's unforgettable legacy not lost on those in Amsterdam, where Erik ten Hag's history-makers have dazzled in the Eredivisie and Champions League in 2021-22.

Continuing to stay true to Cruyff's values five years after his death, Ajax have swept all before them in Europe this season.

Ajax became the first Dutch team to win all six of their games in a single Champions League group-stage campaign, while they also celebrated six successive victories in the European Cup/Champions League for the first time in their illustrious history.

"I think he would be proud of the level of football and type of football Erik ten Hag is playing with the team," Ajax CEO Edwin van der Sar – who was part of that triumphant 1995 team – told Stats Perform.

A world-renowned philosophy, the manner in which Ajax teams are built remains largely in the image of their favourite son. Cruyff's influence on the club's academy is still so ingrained.

After all these years, Ajax still seem so happily married to the romantic notions of how the game should be played thanks to Cruyff, but is there a need to adapt or modify when it comes to being faithful to his masterplan?

"Football adapts and evolves all the time," Van der Sar said. "I got a call from Johan Cruyff 10 years ago when I was still playing at Manchester United. He wanted to have players into the board of directors. He asked me the question if I was open to that. I had to think about it and speak to some guys like former United CEO David Gill – what it involves etc. I took up the job in 2012.

"Of course the philosophy of the club is quite similar. We changed some things in the youth setup and making sure to bring Ajax back to European level. Not buying players for big money and not delivering. We had to refocus on bringing our players into the team. Four or five years ago, we took a new step with the reserves we had, the scouting department. A lot of things are connected with Cruyff."

While not around to witness Ajax's reclamation, Cruyff would approve of Ten Hag and his men.

Possession and pressing have been paramount under Ten Hag's watchful eye since he moved to Amsterdam in 2017 and, heading into a Champions League last-16 date with Benfica, Ajax lead the way this term for shots after high turnover (16) and passes allowed per defensive action (PPDA – 7.9).

Title-holders Chelsea, meanwhile, are the only team to have managed more high turnovers and possession won in the final third than Dutch champions Ajax.

It is a similar story in the Eredivisie, with Ten Hag's men – a point behind leaders PSV – leading the way for high turnovers (210), possession won in the final third (126) and PPDA (8.9). De Godenzonen have scored a whopping 49 goals in 16 games, while conceding only four.

"It's always a challenge being a respectable, big club from a small country to make an impact in the football world," said former Ajax, Juventus, Manchester United and Netherlands goalkeeper Van der Sar said. "We've done that over several decades of football. To the level we're playing at the moment, in the Champions League playing six and winning six. It's great encouragement for the coach and compliment for the players and the way they're playing. It's fantastic to be the director of Ajax."

Ten Hag guided Ajax to a remarkable Champions League semi-final in 2018-19 before that team was dismantled – Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt were lured away by Barcelona and Juventus respectively. Hakim Ziyech made the move to Chelsea, while Donny van de Beek eventually joined United last year.

But the highly rated Dutchman and two-time Eredivisie winner is leading a new mini-era of success with a mix of youth and experience – spearheaded by the likes of Dusan Tadic, Daley Blind, Antony and Sebastien Haller, who this term became the quickest player to reach 10 goals in a Champions League career, eclipsing Erling Haaland.

Haller also became the first player to score in each of his opening six games in the competition, while the former West Ham forward is only the second Ajax player to score 10-plus goals in a single season of the premier club competition following Soren Lerby in 1979-80.

"It's fantastic if you say the 18-19 team – De Ligt or De Jong they left us after the year – and if you see now, we have Ryan Gravenberch in midfield and Jurrien Timber, both coming from our academy and slotting into those places that those two big-name players, replacing them and reaching a similar level," added Van der Sar. "Compared to the experience of Dusan Tadic, Daley Blind and Antony coming in as a young Brazilian striker. The team is gelling fantastically together but of course we know in the last 16, quarter-finals, there are massive teams coming up. We're confident."

Van der Sar also underlined the club's faith in the next generation.

He said: "Promoting youth is in our DNA. We will always do that. That combination – four or five years ago we changed the approach a little bit to make sure if we want to compete or be in the Champions League, you also have to have experienced players. The desire and mentality, so in that way we changed the approach a bit. We combine it with the young players here who are getting opportunities to make their first steps on the international podium. That approach works fantastically for us."

Ten Hag's exploits have not gone unnoticed amid growing links to Premier League giants United, who are on the hunt for a new long-term manager following the interim appointment of Ralf Rangnick until the end of the season.

Since Ten Hag was named coach four years ago, Ajax this term boast their best figures in terms of high turnovers (13.0) and possession won in final third (8.0) across all competitions, highlighting their continued improvement on the 51-year-old's watch.

"You see it also with players, sometimes they think they're finished at Ajax and want to take the next step," Van der Sar said when discussing Ten Hag's future and whether the environment was key to his next club. "I've seen it myself when I went from Ajax to Juventus – it wasn't a natural fit. The level of football, the family, the expectations, it can be difficult abroad.

"But someone with the quality of Erik and the way he lets Ajax play and tick for the last four years, it's obvious there's a lot of interest in him. He is named among the big clubs in Europe. Eventually he will take the next step, but we will try to delay it as long as possible but of course, at a certain point it's up to him. But we have to challenge him and make sure he maybe sees will there be a next level – can we be even better? That's what we're working hard for to make sure the players are staying, the scouting brings new talents and the structure around him are ready for a successful period."

Recalling Ten Hag's arrival, Van der Sar added: "I remember speaking with him at Marc Overmars' house. Marc lives in the east of Holland, not as big as Australia but for Holland, it's still a drive. Came very well prepared. Knew what to expect. Talked about philosophies and things that needed to change. Taking the next step, putting the bar even higher every time. The last four years, every year he has taken the bar higher and higher.

"You also need the organisation to come up with that and that's been provided – the scouting, youth set up, commercial guys and media guys. Not only on the pitch we want to play in the Champions League, also the office. I live in two worlds – the training ground and the office I'm looking to the stadium. In both worlds, we want to play Champions League football. Being at the highest level."

Rio Ferdinand has been vocal previously regarding player signings and managerial appointments at Old Trafford. So, has Van der Sar been approached by his former team-mate when it comes to Ten Hag?

"Rio is quite vocal on his own media channels and the DMs [direct messages]," said the 51-year-old. "He is a great character and fantastic player, and pundit and business also. I respect him a lot. I texted him stop hassling me about players, coaches and directors to come over to England [smiling]."

The return of club legends Van der Sar and Marc Overmars, as CEO and director football respectively, have been key in maintaining Ajax's legacy and position among Europe's elite, despite contrasting budgets.

Van der Sar won four Eredivisie titles, the Champions League, UEFA Cup and UEFA Super Cup among his 14 honours at Ajax in the 1990s before leaving in 1999, while former team-mate Overmars was also part of that conquering European outfit 26 years ago.

Now, the Dutch duo are embracing their Ajax roles off the pitch.

"We've had success and the money we've earned in our career, but it all started here at Ajax. We're happy to give something back to the club that gave us our first opportunity and a lot of things," Van der Sar said, having returned to the club in 2012 as marketing director before becoming CEO four years later.

The pair's work has not gone unnoticed. Overmars – who first became the director of football in 2012 – was sought after by Newcastle United before re-signing a week ago.

Van der Sar's future is now in the spotlight, linked with a return to Manchester United, where he enjoyed Premier League and Champions League success between 2005 and 2011.

However, Van der Sar is in no rush to leave his beloved Ajax.

"The last sentence was a good one – once your work at Ajax is done," Van der Sar replied when asked if he had a desire and interest to make his back way to United once his work with Ajax was done. "I think Marc and myself are enjoying it very much here at Ajax. The freedom and rewards, the level of the club is still growing. That brings joy to yourself and gives you a lot of confidence. We're easy in that way.

"For the moment I'm really happy in Amsterdam. I think we're not ready yet. We can make a step higher and that's something we're aiming for. To be really, really successful on the pitch. It's not easy, but we're going [to give it a] go."

Van der Sar and Overmars have established a successful structure at Ajax and it is something United are believed to be prepared to mirror by bringing in their former goalkeeper as Ed Woodward prepares to vacate his role as CEO.

Having not won the Premier League since 2013, United – up until this point – have been reluctant to appoint a director of football.

That reluctance and lack of a clear and unified vision in Manchester has seen the style of play and philosophy chop and change – David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer have come and gone, and with them, the need for the club to constantly tailor to the needs of the next manager.

Ajax on the other hand, their philosophy remains the same and it will continue to be the case with Ten Hag and beyond.

"That is one of the things we changed 10 years ago that the structure is good for the club," Van der Sar said. "There's experience and quality, there's a desire to perform at the highest level and then the coach or maybe with assistant coach, one-two persons must fit into our system at the club. That's completely different in England. If you get a new manager, seven, eight, nine, 10 people, video, scouting, data, physios, doctors and everything.

"I don't think that is the right approach. I want to make sure the heart of the club and the knowledge of the club is there, that we know about the young players coming through, they know the young players need to adjust, what kind of sessions and training they need and then they're ready to be in the first team. That's why the assistant coaches are the guys who have been at the club – Michael Reizeger, Winston Bogarde, Richard Witschge, John Heitinga being the coach of the second team. We need that experience to make sure and aware to the coach that these players are coming through. That we don't have to buy a player, give this guy a chance and he will perform for you."

While popular in the Netherlands, Germany and Italy, the director of football model is a topic that generates debate, particularly in England. Is it more helpful than obstructive for a coach in football?

"A coach is very important for the team," said 130-time Netherlands international Van der Sar. "He has a short-term future and for Marc and myself, we have to think long term about what's good for the club. But yeah, it can be difficult, difficult part of conversation with coach and director football.

"But I think at Ajax, we find an ideal solution at the moment. Marc and Erik have a fantastic working relationship together. Let's see what the future brings us for the club. First focus on the league and then look forward to the Champions League games in March. Hopefully a great team comes here to Amsterdam and hopefully we can entertain fans across the world."

One title race ended in controversial fashion this past weekend, but the Premier League's charge to the top is only just clicking into gear.

Lewis Hamilton will not be the only one left feeling harshly penalised after events over the last few days, after eight spot-kicks were awarded across the latest round of top-flight fixtures.

Chelsea were a major benefactor, as their win over Leeds United saw them keep pace with title rivals Manchester City and Liverpool.

Ralf Rangnick's Manchester United also scored from the spot in a win over Norwich City, while Conor Gallagher inspired Crystal Palace to a victory over Rafael Benitez's Everton.

Benitez's former club Newcastle United, meanwhile, suffered another damaging defeat in their quest to make it to the January transfer window with a fighting chance of staying up.

With all that and more, here are some of the weekend's quirky stats from the Premier League...

 

Penalties galore

The season of giving is approaching and it seems Premier League referees were more than willing to hand out goalscoring gifts.

Brentford beat Watford thanks to a last-gasp penalty on Friday, when the fun started. Bryan Mbeumo's resultant strike saw the Bees become the first team in Premier League history to have each of their first 10 home goals in the competition scored by different players.

Champions City then needed a spot-kick to defeat 10-man Wolves, with Raul Jimenez receiving his marching orders for blocking a free-kick from being taken, just 31 seconds after he had received his first booking. Raheem Sterling put it away, scoring his 100th goal in the Premier League. He is the 32nd player to reach that landmark in the top flight.

Chelsea's clash with Leeds really boosted the penalty numbers, with three awarded at Stamford Bridge. Antonio Rudiger became only the second Chelsea player to win two penalties in a single Premier League match, after Yuri Zhirkov against Aston Villa in March 2010. Jorginho put away both penalties to secure a 3-2 win, with Raphinha having put Leeds ahead from 12 yards.

Cristiano Ronaldo made no mistake at Carrow Road and Youri Tielemans was also on target for Leicester City in their demolition of Newcastle. Mohamed Salah converted a penalty he won in order for Liverpool to see off Aston Villa and club legend Steven Gerrard at Anfield.

Each penalty at Stamford Bridge resulted in a side taking the lead, a Premier League first, while Saturday was the first matchday to have three 1-0 wins all settled by spot-kicks.

Seven penalties awarded eitiher on Saturday and Sunday ranks second in Premier League history across a single weekend, after September 13-14 in 2003 (eight). Last season saw 125 spot-kicks given, the most ever in the competition, at a rate of 0.33 per game. The count for 2021-22 so far stands at 41.

Records set to go

Sterling's goal for City was the 499th scored in the Premier League under Pep Guardiola, in what was his 206th top-flight match in charge.

Guardiola is set be the Premier League manager to have seen his side score 500 goals in the fewest games, with Liverpool's Jurgen Klopp the current record-holder on 234.

Staying with City, they have already won 32 league games in 2021, one shy of Liverpool's top-tier record for a calendar year, set back in 1982. With four games remaining before the turn of the year, that is surely another record the champions are set to take.

Meanwhile, Liverpool are now on 1,999 top-flight victories, and will become the first team to reach the 2,000 milestone with their next success.

Benitez on thin ice?

It was always going to be a difficult task for Benitez to win over the Everton faithful. Given the chants directed his way by the travelling support at Palace on Sunday, he is as far away as he ever was from achieving that. A 3-1 defeat at Selhurst Park means Everton are on a run of one win in 10 league matches.

The wonderful Gallagher was their downfall, scoring twice either side of James Tomkins bundling home from a corner. The on-loan midfielder has now scored six goals and laid on three assists, contributing to nine of Palace's 22 league goals this season (41 per cent).

That ranks him eighth in the league when it comes to goal contributions for a side, and top among English players in the competition, and first for players aged 21 or under.

Everton have come from behind to claim 10 points this season, which already marks their best total since 2017-18 (14) and is the most in the competition this season, but based on the frustration directed Benitez's way, the former Liverpool boss might be in need of a Christmas miracle.

Howe's that defence staying up?

One place Benitez would certainly feel the love is St James' Park. Newcastle finally claimed their first win of the season by beating Burnley, but they were on the end of a 4-0 pasting at Leicester.

Newcastle's defence is the primary course for concern. They have already conceded 34 goals, the worst in the league. After 16 top-flight matches, they have conceded as many goals on eight other occasions, the last being in 1977-78.

Newcastle went down in that season, as they did in the 1960-61 campaign, but Eddie Howe might at least take some solace from the fact that the Magpies survived on the other six occasions.

The Premier League provided its usual drama on Saturday with decisive penalties awarded in all but one of the fixtures.

Chelsea left it late against Leeds United in a game that saw referee Chris Kavanagh award three penalties, while Manchester United earned a narrow win thanks to another Cristiano Ronaldo spot-kick.

Liverpool also profited from the penalty spot as Steven Gerrard made his return to Anfield with Aston Villa, and another conversion from 12 yards aided Manchester City at home to Wolves.

Elsewhere, Arsenal cruised past Southampton, who are yet to win at Emirates Stadium in 23 Premier League attempts – the longest winless run for one club away to another in the competition's history.

With tons of action to unpack, Stats Perform takes an in-depth look at the pick of Opta facts from Saturday's clashes.

Manchester City 1-0 Wolves: Jimenez moment of madness gifts Citizens win

Raheem Sterling reached a century of Premier League goals as City scraped by 10-man Wolves, who could not hold on after Raul Jimenez's bizarre red card for two yellows in a matter of seconds.

Jimenez became the first ever Mexican player to receive a red card in the Premier League, making Mexico the 76th nation to have a player dismissed in the competition.

Sterling then scored from the penalty spot after Joao Moutinho was adjudged to have handled, becoming the 32nd player to 100 Premier League goals and the eighth-youngest at 27 years and three days.

Pep Guardiola's side held on to that slender lead and have now won 32 of their 40 league games in 2021 (D2 L6) – only Liverpool in 1982 (33) have won more matches in a single calendar year in English top-flight history.

Chelsea 3-2 Leeds United: Spot-kick drama condemns Whites to another London loss

Leeds have a miserable record in London and that was extended to just two wins in their past 33 matches in all competitions in the capital despite Raphinha finding the net when a first penalty was awarded in the visitors' favour at Stamford Bridge.

Mason Mount cancelled out that opener, before Raphinha became the 13th player – and first Leeds star – to both score and concede a penalty in the same Premier League game when he brought down Antonio Rudiger, allowing Jorginho to score.

Although Joe Gelhardt netted Leeds' first top-flight goal by a teenager since James Milner versus Everton in April 2004 to level the match again, Rudiger won a second penalty – the first Chelsea player to earn two in a Premier League game since Yuri Zhirkov against Aston Villa in March 2010 – deep into stoppage time.

Jorginho settled the result with his second from 12 yards after 93 minutes and 11 seconds, the Blues' latest winning goal in the competition since Florent Malouda's strike against Stoke City in September 2009 (93:36).

Liverpool 1-0 Aston Villa: Salah downs shot-shy Villans

Returning hero Gerrard was greeted with a standing ovation back at Anfield, but the latest king of the Kop ensured his Villa side went away empty-handed. 

Mohamed Salah again made the difference, the Egypt international converting his 15th straight Premier League penalty – the second-longest ever such run in the competition after Matt Le Tissier (23 between 1994 and 2000).

Salah is also now just one game away from Jamie Vardy's record of either scoring or assisting in 15 straight Premier League matches between August and December 2015.

This was Liverpool's 100th 1-0 win in the competition and their second in a row for the first time since December 2015, requiring just the one goal as Villa failed to register a single shot on target in a league match for the first time since December 2019 against Sheffield United.

Norwich City 0-1 Manchester United: Another Ronaldo rescue act for Red Devils

Ralf Rangnick has pinpointed United's defensive issues as a key area to fix and there were more positive signs on that front – at least on the stats sheet.

Rangnick became just the second Manchester United manager to register a clean sheet in his first two league games after Ernest Mangnall in 1903.

United were far from convincing in either defence or attack, though, again relying on David de Gea and match-winner Ronaldo, who won and scored United's 50th successful away Premier League spot-kick – only Liverpool (60) have netted more such goals in the competition's history.

Ronaldo also became only the third player to score for three different United managers in a single season after James Hanson and Joe Spence both did so in 1926-27.

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