Manchester United's 2-1 defeat at home to rock-bottom Sheffield United provided a stark warning to any Red Devils players who were potentially starting to believe the hype, but Saturday offers the chance to bounce back against an old rival and make club history.

In years gone by, United against Arsenal was arguably the most anticipated fixture in the Premier League calendar – two teams stacked with talent and fierce competitors, and led by two managerial greats.

While the outlook is perhaps a little different now to what it was at the height of the Arsene Wenger-Alex Ferguson rivalry, United head to Emirates Stadium aiming to break a record set by 'Fergie's' greatest team.

Earlier this month, United's 2-1 win at Fulham extended their unbeaten Premier League away run to 17, levelling a club record.

While the 2-1 loss to the Blades at Old Trafford might have dented the confidence of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men, the data doesn't lie – they are at home on the road, so to speak, and another point will prove momentous.

EMULATING THE TREBLE WINNERS

Ferguson's famous treble-winning side is the United team that set the club record of 17 away Premier League games unbeaten.

United's run started on December 5 and lasted until the following September, therefore playing a major role in the Red Devils securing the Premier League title ahead of Arsenal, pipping Wenger's men to the crown by a point.

They scored 34 goals and claimed nine wins in those 17 games, conceding 16.

Statistically United's existing run is already an improvement on that of the 1998-99 team, as the current crop have scored 38, conceded just 14 and won 13 before going to Arsenal.

But even if they ultimately fall at the final hurdle this weekend, they can perhaps take solace in the fact no other post-Ferguson United side registers in the top seven for the club's all-time top-flight unbeaten away streaks.

Whether or not this run would have occurred if fans were in the stadiums is another matter, but it's unquestionable that progress is being made at Old Trafford – or, you know, away from Old Trafford...

RESILIENT REDS

A key factor in United's impressive run has been the character and resilience shown by them.

They have rescued 21 points from losing positions on the road in 2020-21, which is already a record for a single Premier League season, bettering the 17 accumulated by Aston Villa (1993-94) and Newcastle United (2001-02). The previous best posted by United was 16 in 2002-03.

Certainly, the pick of United's away comebacks this season was the 3-2 win at Southampton on November 29, as they fell 2-0 down before Edinson Cavani inspired a brilliant turnaround with two goals and an assist off the bench.

To give an idea of just how anomalous United's record is this term, Liverpool have recovered the second most amount of points from losing positions – 10, but that accounts for home and away.

Solskjaer's side are yet to win a point from behind at Old Trafford in 2020-21.

A WAYS TO GO

As laudable as United's away form is, they are still some way off matching the Premier League's all-time record, however.

Arsenal's 'Invincibles' hold that honour, having gone 27 matches unbeaten away from home in the top flight.

That stretched from April 2003 to September 2004, spanning well over a full season as they comfortably beat the 23-game record they themselves set between August 2001 and September 2002.

The closest any team has got to either streak is Liverpool, who between January 2019 and February 2020 went 21 away games without defeat before they suffered a shock 3-0 loss at Watford.

The Los Angeles Lakers will aim to rebound from back-to-back defeats when they face the Boston Celtics in the latest chapter of a storied NBA rivalry.  

A narrow 107-106 defeat to the Philadelphia 76ers was followed by a surprise 107-92 setback against the Detroit Pistons on Thursday, so the Lakers – who lost consecutive games for the first time this season – will need to improve to walk away from TD Garden with a W in the sixth of seven straight road games.  

No teams have faced off in the Finals more than the 12 contested by the Lakers and the Celtics, who are tied for the most NBA championships of all time with 17 apiece.  

The Celtics are now 10-7 in a season that has been affected by COVID-19 issues after going down 110-106 to the San Antonio Spurs in their previous outing.

KEY PERFORMERS

Jaylen Brown

Much of the scoring burden for the Celtics this season is landing on Brown, whose 27.1 points per game ranks him inside the top 10 in the league.  

That average bumps up to 29.7 for games played at the Garden this season and he will certainly aim to make the most of home-court advantage against LeBron James and a star-studded Lakers cast.  

No one on the Celtics roster has a better three-point percentage (44.1) than Brown, plus you can add in averages of 5.6 rebounds and 3.5 assists during an impressive campaign so far for the 24-year-old.

LeBron James

Most players by the age of 36 are thinking about winding down in the twilight of their careers, yet James has proven throughout his distinguished playing days he is no ordinary individual. 

He leads the Lakers for both points (25.5) and assists (7.5), while he is shooting at 41.7 per cent from beyond the arc – well above his career average of 34.6 per cent. 

With Anthony Davis potentially missing again due to a right quad injury, the Lakers will need their talisman firing on all cylinders.

KEY BATTLE: CAN TATUM GO TOE-TO-TOE WITH LEBRON?

The last time these teams went head-to-head was back in February 2020, the Lakers coming out narrow 114-112 victors on that occasion. 

Following the game, James took to Instagram to give a huge endorsement to Jayson Tatum, writing: "That boi to the left of me is an ABSOLUTE PROBLEM!! Keep going #YoungKing." 

Tatum had put up 41 points, five rebounds, two assists and two blocks in a mammoth outing, though James' enduring quality was on display with a brilliant fadeaway in the closing minutes putting the Lakers into a lead they would not relinquish (James had 29 points, nine assists and eight rebounds). 

An offensive foul on what would have been a match-winning three from Tatum ended a fierce battle and the prospect of these two going head-to-head again is an exciting one.

HEAD TO HEAD

A rivalry that dates all the way back to 1948, the Celtics lead the regular season head-to-head between these heavyweights by 161-131. 

When you throw in playoff clashes, the Celtics lead the way at 204-162, while they also edge the past 10 encounters between the teams at 6-4. 

J.T. Realmuto is getting paid.

Arguably the best all-round catcher in MLB, Realmuto has signed a lucrative five-year contract to remain with the Philadelphia Phillies.

Realmuto's new deal is reportedly worth $115.5million, which sets a record average annual value for a catcher at $23.1m per season – eclipsing Joe Mauer's $23m per season for the Minnesota Twins (2011-18).

The 29-year-old – just the third catcher in league history to sign a contract in excess of $100m – is also the first catcher to sign a deal worth more than $100m in free agency after being acquired from the Miami Marlins in a four-player trade two years ago.

The Phillies, who also boast former National League (NL) MVP Bryce Harper, have locked up a two-time All-Star, Silver Slugger and Gold Glove winner as their future becomes clearer.

We take a look at the numbers behind Realmuto using Stats Perform data as the playoff-chasing Phillies eye an upturn in fortunes in 2021.

 

One of MLB's finest

While big-hitting Harper dominates the headlines, Realmuto is arguably Philadelphia's most important player.

Over the last two seasons, the Phillies have won 52.8 per cent (94-84) of their games with Realmuto in the line-up, while they are just 34.1 per cent (15-29) in his absence.

The Phillies average 5.22 runs per game when Realmuto takes to the field compared to 3.43 if he has been rested or sidelined.

Since joining the Phillies in 2019, Realmuto ranks first in a number of categories among catchers – RBI (115), slugging percentage (.492), hits (194), runs (125), doubles (42) and stolen bases (13), while he is equal second for home runs (36).

Realmuto found a home in Philadelphia's number four spot last season. His 11 home runs out of the fourth position ranked second only to the Cincinnati Reds' Eugenio Suarez (13) among clean-up hitters, while his 31 RBIs were third.

Behind the plate, Realmuto has thrown out 41 runners trying to steal over the past two seasons – 14 more than any other catcher.

As a percentage, he has thrown out 39.0 percent of runners attempting to steal since joining the Phillies, second best among those with at least 100 games caught since 2019 (Roberto Perez, 45.0 percent).

Realmuto is one of three Phillies catchers to win a Gold Glove (2019), along with Bob Boone (1978 and 1979) and Mike Lieberthal (1999).

He has 95 home runs and 44 stolen bases in his 732 career games. The only other catcher in MLB history to have at least 90 homers and 40 steals within his first 750 career games was Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk.

Realmuto has proven his durability and defensive skills since his first full season in 2015. He ranks second in MLB with 5615.1 innings caught (behind Yadier Molina) and also ranks second in runners thrown out stealing with 113 (behind Jonathan Lucroy).

 

Playoffs overdue for Realmuto and Phillies

For all of Realmuto's impressive numbers, there is one glaring absence.

Realmuto has never played in the postseason; his 732 career games are the most by any active catcher who has never featured in the playoffs.

It comes as two-time World Series winners the Phillies try to emerge from the postseason wilderness.

The Phillies reigned supreme in 1980 and 2008, but Philadelphia have not made the playoffs or finished a season with a winning record since going 102-60 in 2011 – Joe Girardi's men ended the coronavirus-shortened 2020 campaign 28-32.

Winners of seven NL pennants, Philadelphia have gone nine consecutive seasons without a playoff berth – only second to the Seattle Mariners (19) for the longest active drought in MLB.

Philadelphia, meanwhile, have the most successive campaigns finishing .500 or worse, a run of nine putting them ahead of the Kansas City Royals and Los Angeles Angels (both five).

There was huge adversity in the early stages of Yeferson Soteldo's career.

He grew up in the underprivileged neighbourhood of El Muertico in the city of Acarigua, where he claims an early grave was the likely alternative to a career in professional football, and although he gained a spot in the academy of Caracas – Venezuela's most successful club – he was thrown out aged 14 for "indiscipline".

Furthermore, there were huge question marks over his physical capability to make it as a pro – now 23, he only stands at five feet and two inches tall.

But Venezuela's most-decorated coach Noel Sanvicente gave him a second chance at Zamora and put him on the path to Saturday's Copa Libertadores final between Santos and Palmeiras at the iconic Maracana in Rio de Janeiro.  

In Messi's footsteps

Six-time Ballon d'Or winner Lionel Messi is an obvious inspiration for a number of players, but Soteldo felt a stronger connection than most to the Barcelona superstar as he worked his way through spells with Zamora, Huachipato and Universidad de Chile before ending up at Santos in 2019.

"Everyone was talking about my height, that I was not going to be able to play football because of my size, because I was very small. Now I'm here, I got over it," Soteldo told the official Libertadores website.

"That's for the young ones who are little too. They can see Soteldo and say, 'I can too.' I did that with Messi. I saw he was small, that he made it and I can too."

Since his arrival in the Campeonato Brasileiro, it is not just his short stature and bleached blond hair that have made him stand out on the pitch.

Soteldo has established himself as one of the league's most potent wingers, his low centre of gravity, incredible pace and quick feet making him a serious threat when in possession out wide.

It is no surprise he has attempted more dribbles (308) than anyone else since the start of the 2019 Brasileiro, but it is what he does in those moments that makes him dangerous.

Soteldo averages a carry with a shot every other game (0.6) in Brazil's top flight and creates a chance following a carry at least once per 90 minutes (1.1) – a league-leading amount among players to have featured for at least 1,800 minutes over the past two seasons.

That ability has seen him directly set up five goals and score three following a carry, accounting for over one third of his 22 goal involvements (13 scored, nine assisted) in the competition.

It is tough for defenders to stop him and he is unrelenting. Per 90 minutes, he averages 5.3 carries of at least 10 metres and 3.8 carries with a take on – the latter being the most among active players in the division.

Stepping up

He has managed to translate that form to the Libertadores this season, with only Carlos Tevez (30) and Nicolas de la Cruz (31) supplying more key passes than Soteldo (28) in the competition.

However, Soteldo has played one game fewer and averages three chances created per game, so would be expected to move level with De la Cruz after the final.

Carries have again formed a key part of the Venezuelan's output, with 11 of his key passes coming after a carry – three more than any other player – though only one has resulted in an assist.

This does not mean Soteldo is consistently involved, though. In this season's Libertadores he has 22 direct chance involvements, where his only contribution in those open play sequences was to create the chance. No player in the competition has more direct chance involvements and it shows the 23-year-old is always capable of popping up with a killer ball.

The next step

Life at the Vila Belmiro has not been a walk in the park for Soteldo.

Santos accepted a transfer bid from Saudi Arabia's Al Hilal last October but Soteldo opted against the move because of his desire to play in Europe.

The Brazilian side were only keen to sell to avoid a punishment from FIFA over fees owed to Huachipato following his arrival at the club, with a financial crisis making his future look increasingly uncertain.

In South America's biggest club game, at one of the continent's most famous stadiums, Soteldo can have a huge say in what happens next for him.

His journey to this point proves he will not let anything stand in his way.   

"Please, Mr Matic, get out to the ball," said an anguished Rio Ferdinand as BT Sport replayed Oliver Burke's winning goal for Sheffield United at Old Trafford.

It came after a passage of lacklustre Manchester United play that Ferdinand insisted would not have been allowed in "yesteryear", in which players ambled back, stood stock still or pointed in vain before Burke fired in a shot via Axel Tuanzebe's knee.

He took his shot just in time – there was one Manchester United player sprinting back to challenge in a desperate attempt to lift his ailing side. No prizes for guessing who that was.

Bruno Fernandes will celebrate one year as a United player on Saturday. His transfer from Sporting CP for an initial fee of £47million in January 2020 came after a similar abject home defeat for United, on that occasion against Burnley.

That 2-0 loss was a shock only in historical terms given the 20-time champions of England were on a dismal run at the time, the latest setback making it four defeats in seven. Things were different on Wednesday, when Sheffield United ended their hosts' 13-match Premier League unbeaten streak and prevented the Red Devils from returning to the top of the table.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side had reached the halfway stage of this campaign 12 points better off than in 2019-20, and 23 points closer to the leaders. There has been undeniable progress in the past 12 months, inspired by Fernandes. Across all competitions, he has been involved in 45 goals – more than any other player for a Premier League club. Only Harry Maguire (53) has made more competitive appearances for United than the Portuguese (52), but the former Sporting star has scored the most goals (28), assisted his team-mates the most often (17) and created the most goalscoring chances (136).

Fernandes has been a transformative signing, in the mould of Eric Cantona and Robin van Persie – but, crucially, without the trophies. When it comes to the league title, he has made United believe again. But as doubts return over his team's credentials, is belief alone enough?

IT WAS A VERY GOOD YEAR

Fernandes ended 2020 winning his fourth Premier League Player of the Month award, becoming the first to get that many in a calendar year. For that award, he has already matched the tallies of United greats Paul Scholes and Cristiano Ronaldo and is just one behind Wayne Rooney and Van Persie.

He's been directly involved in 33 goals in his first 34 appearances (19 goals, 14 assists), a figure bettered only by Andrew Cole (41) in the history of the Premier League – all this despite not being involved in a goal in any of his most recent four appearances in the competition.

From his debut on February 1, 2020 until January 28 this year, he has had the most direct goal involvements in the competition (33); only Kevin De Bruyne had more assists (15 > 14) and only Mohamed Salah more goals (20 > 19). In fact, the impact of the attacking midfielder has been so great that United have won more points in the Premier League than any other side since his arrival (72) – one ahead of rivals City (71).

Such were his talismanic efforts on the pitch during 2019-20, Fernandes was crowned the club's Player of the Year, becoming the second Portuguese player to win the award after Cristiano Ronaldo. Since its inception in 1987-88, no player has won the award having played as few games in a season as Fernandes' 22 in all competitions in 2019-20.

So integral has he been to Solskjaer's plans that he has missed just two games in 2020-21 – domestic cup wins over Brighton and Hove Albion, and Watford – and, when he was finally given a rest against Liverpool in the FA Cup last weekend, he promptly came off the bench to score the winning free-kick.

UNITED'S HEART AND SOUL

Beyond the goals and assists output, Fernandes, as the odd defensive sprint highlights, is a player who likes to be involved. Examine shot-ending sequence involvements in the Premier League from his debut to January 28 this year – that's a measure of how players contribute to the creation of shots in open play – and only De Bruyne (220) is above Fernandes (212).

For such sequences ending in goals, Fernandes is top of the pile on 33, five above anyone else. Similarly, if you look at multi chance involvements (the number of unique shot-ending sequences in open play, where the player in question created the chance and was involved in the build-up), Fernandes (21) is second only to Jack Grealish (24) – the heartbeat of an exciting Aston Villa.

Former United captain Bryan Robson sees someone else in Fernandes, telling Stats Perform: "After the first six games, I couldn't give him any bigger compliment than say he's the closest to Paul Scholes I've seen," he told Stats Perform. "The way he turns with his back to play, the vision he's got, the touch on the ball, the great goals he scores…

"Every time he gets on the ball, his first thought is to look forward and try and put somebody in. He's so quick on little one-twos in and around the last third. He's a bit like De Bruyne. He doesn't lazily pass it backwards; he's always looking to try and hurt the opposition.

"I like that he demands from his team-mates around. It's okay demanding, but if they can see the work and effort you are putting in, then you get a good response."

NOT JUST 'PENANDES'

Many Fernandes detractors will argue that his goal tally is inflated due to the propensity that United are awarded penalties.

He has scored nine times in the Premier League from the penalty spot since his debut, but he's still scored 10 league goals when excluding spot-kicks. He's posted a non-penalty expected goals/90 average of 0.24, which is just below that of De Bruyne (0.26) over that period. To put this simply, even if you take away penalties, he's getting in positions to score a goal every four games from open play – a decent return for a midfielder.

Fernandes has added a new dimension to United's attacking play and they have certainly found a player that can unpick opposition defences with the regularity that they have so often missed in recent years.

He has an expected assists total of 6.5 from open play since his Premier League debut – only Grealish (6.8) and De Bruyne (7.5) can boast a higher level of creative input for their teams since February 1, 2020.

In the 12 months before Fernandes' arrival at the club, United's best creative player from open play was Marcus Rashford with an open-play expected assists tally of 3.9 – nearly half that of Fernandes' total in his first year at the Red Devils.

After that shock defeat to bottom club Sheffield United, United find themselves a point off City with their rivals still having a game in hand. With their next four league games coming against tricky opposition all placed between fifth and 11th, this period could make or break their title challenge.

Fernandes has spent a year making United better, but Solskjaer's men still rely on him to lead by example to get results. He has dragged the Red Devils back into a title battle, but he cannot win it alone.

Manchester City are threatening to run away from the rest of the Premier League and their success has been in a large part down to the previously unsung Ilkay Gundogan.

As they prepare to face Sheffield United, who surprisingly may be relishing a second trip to Manchester in four days, we look at who else is making City tick.

A trio of Pep Guardiola's players feature among our Opta-fuelled fantasy picks, along with high performers from Chelsea, Leicester City, West Ham and Crystal Palace.

EDOUARD MENDY

One thing is for certain: Chelsea's new boss Thomas Tuchel will know all about Mendy. Tuchel's old Paris Saint-Germain side faced Mendy twice in Ligue 1 during the goalkeeper's Reims days, scoring four the first time but just once second time around in a shock defeat. Last season saw Mendy help Rennes finish third in the French top flight.

The goalkeeper conceded just three times in his first eight Premier League games for Chelsea but has shipped 11 in eight matches since that bright start.

Clean sheets in two of his past three league games, however, suggest Mendy and the Chelsea defence are getting their act together.

Ahead of a home clash with Burnley, only one goalkeeper - City's Ederson (61 per cent) - has kept a higher share of clean sheets in the Premier League this season than Tuchel's new number one, with Mendy avoiding conceding in eight of his 16 appearances.

JOAO CANCELO

Move over Andy Robertson, there's a new defensive assist king in town. City's Cancelo has created more chances from open play than any defender in the Premier League this season after setting up 30 opportunities.

Admittedly, Robertson is second on that list after making 27 chances for Liverpool team-mates, but Cancelo has played four fewer games than the Scot.

With City facing the Blades at the Etihad Stadium this weekend, the flying full-back will doubtless be eyeing up more forward missions.

RUBEN DIAS

If City are to succeed where neighbours Manchester United failed, by keeping out the Blades, then Dias may have a big role to play.

The Portuguese centre-back has achieved more clean sheets than any other Premier League defender this season, playing in 10 games where City have had shutouts.

He is yet to score but has an xG value of 1.4, suggesting he is getting into positions from where he might soon be due a goal.

Only James Tarkowski (1.62) and Adam Webster (1.66) have a higher xG value without scoring among Premier League defenders this season.

HARVEY BARNES

Leicester winger Barnes is enjoying a purple patch after scoring three times and claiming two assists in his past six Premier League games.

Perhaps back him while he's hot as Leicester host Leeds United on Sunday.

Barnes has six goals and three assists in the top flight this season, while he also scored six and assisted eight goals across the previous Premier League campaign.

ILKAY GUNDOGAN

It seemed unlikely that Gundogan would be the man to step up and be City's top scorer in the absence of Sergio Aguero this season.

Despite Aguero having been rarely available, the name of Gundogan at the top of City's list of Premier League top scorers might mystify many.

But his seven goals have come from some exhilarating performances, and all have come in his past eight league games. This weekend he could become the first German player to score in four consecutive Premier League appearances.

WILFRIED ZAHA

Where would Palace be without Zaha? The Championship seems a likely answer to that, as again his goals and attacking drive are propping up their campaign.

Palace are suffering at the moment, though, having won just one of their past nine league matches, so Saturday's home game with Wolves would be a good moment for Zaha to fire.

He has nine goals in 17 Premier League appearances this season – only in 2018-19, when he netted 10 times, has he managed more in a single campaign in the competition.

MICHAIL ANTONIO

West Ham are challenging for Champions League football. Those eight words are a lot to take in, but Antonio has had a big say in their success this season.

He has five goals in 12 games in the Premier League and two goals and an assist in his past three outings ahead of a home clash with Liverpool, who sit just behind the Hammers.

Antonio enjoys facing Liverpool, having scored more goals against the Reds than any other West Ham player in the Premier League era. His four goals in six appearances against the reigning champions shows Antonio should not be overawed by Sunday's London Stadium occasion.

Could he rub salt into Liverpool's wounds as Jurgen Klopp's side, and their vulnerable defence, wonder where their title challenge has gone to?

"I'm not only a good-weather coach," said Jurgen Klopp ahead of Liverpool's trip to Tottenham. How prophetic.

In the pouring north-London rain on Thursday, the Reds manager took a patched-up defence and misfiring attack to Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and put on a show, one that will have the Manchester clubs feeling a touch of nerves.

Liverpool's 3-1 victory was their sixth in a row against Spurs and Klopp's fifth in nine league games against Jose Mourinho, but this was still something of a surprise. The Reds had won once in seven games in all competitions, lost their last two at home to Burnley and away to Manchester United, and struggled their way through 482 minutes and 93 shots without scoring in the league.

They welcomed back Joel Matip and captain Jordan Henderson but lost Fabinho to a muscle problem, and Matip himself only lasted the first half. This was a patched-up, pockmarked line-up tasked with stopping Harry Kane and Son Heung-min, who have scored and assisted 41 times between them this season.

They had to ride their luck early on, the remarkably ruthless Son slotting past Alisson with his first chance only to be penalised for an offside heel. There was an element of fortune about Liverpool's opener, too: Sadio Mane's scuffed cross reached Roberto Firmino for a tap-in only because Eric Dier and Hugo Lloris chose to let it bobble between them.

But it was a goal, and a win, that Klopp's men wholly deserved.

Mourinho seemed to sense it, too. If he was furious with Firmino's goal, he was apoplectic when Trent Alexander-Arnold, another whose form has been questioned, rifled in a second just after half-time after Lloris parried the ball right to his boot. Pierre-Emile Hojgbjerg blasted in a stunning reply but it never felt as though Liverpool's lead was under threat, even after Mohamed Salah's goal was disallowed for a distant Firmino handball.

Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg made sure of it when he let Alexander-Arnold's deep cross reach Mane, who blasted home. It's now 21 goal involvements in the league for the right-back since the start of last season, the most of any defender in the competition. That patchwork defence then made certain Alisson did not have another save to make, even with Son, Erik Lamela, Steven Bergwijn and Gareth Bale on the pitch, the injured Kane having exited at half-time.

This was not 'vintage' Liverpool, if there can be such a thing. There were poor misses and errant backheels apiece from Salah and Mane, and Thiago Alcantara was ineffective even before suffering a cut head. They were also given a huge helping hand by some abject Spurs defending. But for a team who haven't won a league game for over a month, this was pretty emphatic.

Klopp's men are now back to within three points of United and four of leaders Manchester City. They meet Pep Guardiola's men at Anfield on February 7 – a match they will now likely go into with a far sunnier outlook.

Manchester United were stunned by bottom club Sheffield United in a seismic result for both ends of the Premier League table.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side were expected to regain top spot and end Manchester City's stay at the summit after 24 hours, although Chris Wilder's basement boys had other ideas.

Former City youth product Kean Bryan gave the visitors the lead at Old Trafford but normal service looked to have been resumed when former Blade Harry Maguire headed home.

But Oliver Burke had the final word in the 74th minute, giving Sheffield United a 2-1 triumph – only their second win of the Premier League season.

Brighton and Hove Albion and Fulham could not add to their pair of wins after a goalless draw at the Amex Stadium and sit 10 and five points better off than Wilder's men respectively.

It was the same scoreline at Stamford Bridge as Thomas Tuchel's reign got off to an underwhelming start against Wolves, while Everton against Leicester City also ended all square and there was a thrilling win for Burnley over Aston Villa.

Here are the pick of the Opta facts from some results that might look crucial in the final reckoning.

Manchester United 1-2 Sheffield United: Bryan and Burke land title-race body blow

It was a case of familiar frailties returning to haunt United's title bid as Bryan headed home John Fleck's corner.

Since the start of last season, no team has shipped more goals from corners than the 14 let in by Manchester United, Brighton and Chelsea.

Maguire also made the most of slack set-piece marking to net his sixth league goal for the club and his first at home.

But the hosts' defending from open play left a similar amount to be desired as Burke settled matters via a deflection off Axel Tuanzebe.

Bryan and Burke are the first players to net their maiden Premier League goals in the same match against United since Esteban Cambiasso and Jamie Vardy did likewise for Leicester in 2014.

Four defeats in 10 home matches means the Red Devils have amassed their highest number of league losses at Old Trafford since going down in seven in 2013-14.

Sheffield United became the first team from Yorkshire to win a Premier League game at Manchester United and only the third side in the Premier League era, following Leeds United in January 2010 (FA Cup) and York City in September 1996 (League Cup).

Chelsea 0-0 Wolves: Possession without penetration for Tuchel's Blues

A day after being installed as Frank Lampard's successor, Tuchel saw his swiftly remodelled Chelsea dominate but fail to find the net against Wolves.

Struggles against Nuno Espirito Santo's side are nothing new, no matter who is in charge. This is the second time in three seasons that Wolves have gone unbeaten versus Chelsea, having also won at Molineux and drawn at Stamford Bridge in 2018-19.

The visitors certainly had to work to keep their opponents at bay as the Blues hogged 78.9 per cent of possession and racked up 820 passes. Since Opta began collecting this data in 2003-04, both are the highest totals by a team in their coach's first match in charge.

Tuchel is on a run of four consecutive league clean sheets after Paris Saint-Germain completed shutouts in his final three Ligue 1 matches.

Before this season, Thiago Silva was a key part of his backline in the French capital. Reunited in London, the Brazil veteran is now unbeaten in 25 home league appearances under Tuchel (W22 D3).

Wolves have not been so assured defensively of late and this was their first league clean sheet since a 2-0 win over Crystal Palace on October 30, ending a run of 12 straight games without one.

Burnley 3-2 Aston Villa: Wood heads for the heights to lift Clarets

Chris Wood netted a 79th-minute winner as Burnley twice came from behind at Turf Moor to beat Aston Villa and move nine points clear of the relegation zone.

Wood rose to nod home a cross from winger Dwight McNeil for something of a trademark goal. Since his top-flight debut for Burnley in August 2017, no player has scored more headed goals than the New Zealand striker, who is level with Harry Kane on 15.

McNeil pulled Sean Dyche's side level after Jack Grealish netted his sixth league goal of the campaign. Combined with his eight assists, the England star has 14 goal involvements in 18 Premier League matches – the same number he managed last season (eight goals, six assists).

Ollie Watkins matched Grealish's goals mark from 2019-20 when he opened the scoring, making it eight Premier League goals in 18 outings.

Ashley Westwood got the assist for Ben Mee's initial equaliser, meaning he has 16 assists for Burnley in the competition. Only Johann Gudmundsson (17) has more.

Everton 1-1 Leicester City: Long-range lone ranger James shines again

James Rodriguez continued his fine form for Everton with a spectacular strike to put Carlo Ancelotti's men in front.

The Colombia international has scored 19 goals from outside the box in Europe's top five leagues – three for Monaco, 11 for Real Madrid, three for Bayern Munich and now two for Everton.

This was his first with his right foot and added to an impressive personal haul of four goals and three assists. Only Dominic Calvert-Lewin (11) has been directly involved in more Premier League goals for Everton this season.

However, another specialist made sure the points were shared. All five of Youri Tielemans' goals for Leicester in the league this season have come away from home.

The Belgium international has netted the most away goals of any player yet to score at home this term.

Everton might well have a further say in the title battle to come. They are unbeaten in the three league games they have played against opponents starting the day above them in the table this season – a 1-0 win over Chelsea and 2-0 defeat of Leicester last December.

Brighton and Hove Albion 0-0 Fulham: All square in tense basement battle

High stakes did nothing for the entertainment value in this relegation six-pointer, completing a pair of 0-0 draws between Brighton and Fulham this season.

Perhaps it was not for the want of trying – with 26 shots combined (16 for Brighton and 10 for Fulham), only Aston Villa v Burnley (33) last month and Leeds United v Arsenal (34) in November have produced more shots without a goal being scored in 2020-21.

It was the first time Fulham have played out two goalless draws against the same opponent in a single season since a pair of 2001-02 stalemates with Leicester.

Brighton have become bore-draw specialists, playing out 14 0-0s since their promotion to the top-flight in 2017-18, which is more than any other side in that period.

As their positions in 17th and 18th illustrate, both teams are finding victories hard to come by.

Fulham are winless in nine, with six draws and three losses, since beating Leicester 2-1 in November, while Brighton's 2-1 triumph against Arsenal in June is their only win in the past 19 matches at the Amex Stadium. Since then they have lost and drawn seven apiece on home turf.

No one at Liverpool will ever rush to take comfort from any defeat to Manchester United.

But, amid the rubble of Sunday's 3-2 loss at Old Trafford in the fourth round of the FA Cup, there were signs the Premier League's most-celebrated frontline of recent times were clicking back into gear.

Mohamed Salah scored both Liverpool goals and will hope to end a top-flight drought stretching back to December's 7-0 shellacking of Crystal Palace when Tottenham host the defending champions on Thursday.

Perhaps more significantly, each of Salah's strikes were laid on by Roberto Firmino.

Aside from trying to work out who on earth will play at centre-back on any given week, it feels like Jurgen Klopp has spent more time on public defences of the Brazil centre-forward than anything else this season.

The Reds boss claimed he would be "embarrassed" to list all of Firmino's qualities and said "I can't help these people, sorry" when asked to explain the player's worth to the doubters.

Later in November he labelled Firmino "a complete footballer", not to mention a pretty impressive musician, who "plays something like 12 instruments in our orchestra".

However, since the symphonic grandeur of their display at Palace, Liverpool have not been able to move for bum notes in front of goal.

Firmino has not found the net in any competitive game since that trip to Selhurst Park, and former Anfield favourite Jamie Carragher singled him out after the 0-0 top-flight draw against United earlier this month.

"I'm still confident Sadio Mane and Salah will start scoring goals again," he said on Sky Sports' Monday Night Football. "I must say I am worried for Firmino."

Again, Klopp went in to bat for the former Hoffenheim man. But is it fair for the 29-year-old to repeatedly receive such scrutiny? Conversely, is Klopp motivated by anything more than loyalty to a diligent servant by this point?

Bobby's strike rate not dazzling

Firmino's five Premier League goals this season have come from 46 shots with an expected goals (xG) value of 6.9. He is yet to score in the Champions League.

Under-performing his xG is not exactly new territory for him. When widely hailed as a key member of a dominant title-winning team last season, his nine league goals from 99 shots came in well below an xG of 14.

When Spurs and Liverpool met at Anfield last month, Firmino netted a 90th-minute winner to snatch a 2-1 victory. These are the sort of "heavy goals" that will endear a player to a manager.

Since the start of the 2017-18 season, when the Salah-Mane-Firmino trident first came together, 16 of Firmino's 41 Premier League goals have been winners, or 39 per cent.

Mane (56) and Salah (86) have scored more often and netted more winners (17 and 26 respectively) but their percentage of decisive goals is slightly lower at 30.

Salah heads into Thursday's game as the Premier League's top scorer with 13 goals – one ahead of Spurs duo Harry Kane and Son Heung-min on 12 apiece – and 19 in all competitions.

Given goalscoring has never been hailed as Firmino's forte, perhaps it is Mane's drop off inside the penalty area that should be a greater cause for concern.

The Senegal international's six Premier League goals have arrived from 52 attempts with an xG value of 7.4. Amid a career-best run of form on the way to the title, Mane's 18 top-flight goals comfortably outstripped an xG of 13.7.

Diogo Jota's perceived importance to Liverpool has skyrocketed during his injury absence and the former Wolves man's nine goals across the Premier League and Champions League from an xG of 4.9 give him a solid argument to be picked ahead of either Mane or Firmino when fitness allows.

Old Trafford sea change?

As mentioned above, Firmino showcased a key facet of his game at the weekend by laying on both Salah strikes and creating four chances overall – his most in a game this season.

He now has five assists in all competitions this term, set against four for Salah and three from Mane.

However, he has created notably fewer chances – 28 compared to Salah's 41 and Mane's 40.

Indeed, using Opta's expected assists (xA) metric, we can see that in the Premier League and Champions League combined, Firmino has created a lower quality of chances cumulatively.

The trio have three open play assists apiece in those competitions, although Salah's open play xA is four, with Mane's 2.9 and Firmino's 2.3.

Heavy metal football for the multi-instrumentalists 

Outside of their goal involvements, the collective work rate of the Liverpool front three, their willingness to do the dirty work and set the tone for Klopp's gegenpressing machine has become a trademark.

Firmino is particularly celebrated in this regard. Per 90 minutes, his tackles (1.24 > 1.06), interceptions (0.3 > 0.24) and instances of winning possession in the final third (1.08 > 0.82) are all down on last season. With 1.52 tackles per 90 and 0.4 interceptions, he is being outperformed by Mane in these aspects.

However, in the context of a condensed Premier League schedule placing extra strain on players, this is not an especially alarming drop.

Liverpool's high turnovers per game are down to 8.9 from 10.7 last season, meaning they have swapped positions with Manchester City at the top of those rankings.

They remain second to City in terms of shot-ending high turnovers. Pep Guardiola's team have managed to maintain their level in this regard, averaging 2.2 high turnovers per game compared to 2.1 in 2019-20. Liverpool's per 90 drop is from 1.7 to 1.3.

Regarding pressed sequences per game, Klopp's men are holding steady as the best team in the league – 17.5 compared to 18.1 from the season gone.

They are also allowing slightly fewer passes per defensive action (PPDA) in the Premier League, with 10.1 in 2020-21 compared to 10.3. On this metric, possibly due to poor early-season form and some atypically cautious performances that followed, City have dropped from 10.1 to 11.4.

Creating and hustling

Of course, the Liverpool front three's work off the ball would not be so notable without them doing the business once it's at their feet.

Looking a little deeper than goals and assists data, Salah and Mane ranked in the Premier League's top 10 when it comes to involvement in open play sequences ending in a shot before the start of this midweek round.

Firmino came in 11th with 89 involvements, behind Mane on 100 (sixth) and Salah with 102 (fifth). Of those sequences to yield goals, Salah has featured in 12, compared to nine and six for Mane and Firmino respectively.

The Brazilian has suffered from some poor finishing at the end of his involvements. The cumulative xG for the sequences he played a part in is 12.3, slightly better than Mane (11.6) and Salah (10.8).

An Opta metric where Firmino certainly lives up to his reputation is the seven times he has started a period of possession that ended in a shot this term. That puts him joint seventh in the Premier League overall as the highest ranked striker in a category where Rodri, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and N'Golo Kante are among the high flyers – defensive midfielders whose primary role is winning the ball back to get their teams on the front foot.

The pain of Kane - the perfect hybrid

The temptation before Thursday might be to point towards Kane as the centre-forward Liverpool would love Firmino to be. The England captain's incredible alliance with Son demonstrates being a scorer or a provider is not an either/or equation.

Kane has 12 Premier League goals and has laid on 11 more. Firmino's best assist tally over the course of an entire top-flight season was eight en route to glory last time around.

Unflattering comparisons are easy to reach for but, as the numbers above demonstrate, Firmino and Liverpool's front three as a collective have not fallen too dramatically from the performance levels that made them the most feared attack in Europe.

Virgil van Dijk's injury, influential midfielders being deployed in defence in his absence and the knock-on in terms of both midfield balance and the effectiveness of attacking full-backs Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson look like more plausible explanations for Liverpool's malaise.

Even so, a fifth goal against Tottenham and a third consecutive winner in this fixture would be the best way to stop Klopp making another weary argument in Firmino's favour.

Martin Odegaard's Real Madrid career was being set up to fail right from the start, when he joined the club just over a month after his 16th birthday back in January 2015.

The fact he remains their player six years on is testament to the Norwegian's talent, persistence and level-headed attitude, as his first couple of years at the club seemingly had people willing him to fade into obscurity.

From unnecessary speculation relating to his wages and exaggerated suggestions that his presence threatened the future of Madrid's academy, to murmurings that his arrival upset the harmony of Real Madrid Castilla's squad – life wasn't made easy for him early on.

For the most part he has managed to keep his career on track and has shown why he was so highly rated as a 15-year-old bursting on to the scene at Stromsgodset, impressing in a series of loan spells, but Odegaard now has another challenge in front of him.

He joins Arsenal on loan for the rest of the season in a move that will surely shape the next major step he takes in his career, whether that is kicking on at Real Madrid or moving elsewhere permanently.

While first-team football has been difficult to come by at Madrid this term, it's easy to see why Arsenal made their move for the attacking midfielder.

A REAL GEM

If there are any Arsenal fans questioning why they have moved for a player who has made just three starts for a – let's be frank – unspectacular Madrid side this season, it's worth recalling the amount of talent Zinedine Zidane has struggled to incorporate and subsequently discarded in recent years.

Marcos Llorente, Achraf Hakimi, Sergio Reguilon, Theo Hernandez, James Rodriguez – you could potentially even add Isco to that list in the not-too-distant future. All are fine players generally thriving elsewhere, but Zidane was seemingly unconvinced by them.

Injuries haven't helped Odegaard's cause this term, but his form with Real Sociedad on loan last season demonstrated just how impressive he is when given consistent opportunities – and it was revealed in July that he had been suffering with a chronic knee issue for most of 2019-20.

The 22-year-old created 62 chances in LaLiga last term, a tally only beaten by five other players, one of which was predictably Lionel Messi. 

 

That gave him a key pass frequency just under 0.5 every 90 minutes, which again ranked very highly among players with more than 30 chances created – six had better records, though his 6.8 xA (expected assists) rating was third only to Messi and Jesus Navas.

He also offers a great threat from set-pieces, with 27 of his key passes coming from dead-ball situations. This is an area Arsenal have struggled, as their 20 chances created from set plays is the fourth-fewest in the Premier League this term.

Odegaard was a major catalyst for La Real's largely impressive campaign, as they reached the Copa del Rey final – which is still due to be contested later this year – and finished sixth in LaLiga.

Arsenal fans will hope he can have a similar impact in the second half of the 2020-21 season, particularly given their lack of creativity at times this term.

WHERE WILL HE STRENGTHEN ARSENAL?

At La Real, Odegaard was often deployed from the right side of the attack in a 4-3-3, but given he is most comfortable on his left foot, he would routinely cut inside and wreak havoc in the middle.

 

While he spent more time on the right flank, with 38.3 per cent of his touches occurring in the right third of the pitch between the halfway line and the edge of the opposing area, much of his best work was carried out more centrally.

Indeed, 31.1 per cent of his key passes and assists came from the middle third of the pitch just outside the box.

 

Arsenal have been much less active centrally and on the right flank, with just under 12 per cent of their assists and chances created stemming from play in the middle of the attacking half. They aren't much more effective on the right, which will likely not come as a surprise to Gunners fans given the largely underwhelming form of Willian and Nicolas Pepe.

 

Odegaard's display in the September 2019 defeat at Sevilla was something of a microcosm of much of what he was good at last season, with his late assist for Portu seeing him come in off the right and play a disguised pass into the right side of the box for his team-mate to finish. Earlier on, he had taken up possession in a central area and sliced open the Sevilla backline only for Willian Jose to skew wide.

In both situations he showed great poise, a trait he has combined with his wonderful ability on the ball, as demonstrated by the fact he played 19 key passes after ball carries – Messi (30) had the most and was one of only five players to better the Norwegian in this area.

 

THE RISK OF SHORT-TERM LOANS

The addition of Odegaard will add some welcome creativity to Mikel Arteta's squad, the Gunners having managed 23 goals from 230 attempts (excluding penalties) - slightly below their 25.2 xG - so far in what has been a topsy-turvy 2020-21 season. 

Arsenal players have collectively created 26 Opta-defined "big chances", well adrift of the league-high 43 recorded by Manchester City in 2020-21. While this only includes shots that have been specifically assisted by a pass, it does highlight a creative deficiency.

 

Emile Smith Rowe has impressed of late, contributing three assists in open play, but no individual has created more chances for them in the Premier League than Bukayo Saka, his total of 23 putting him one above Kieran Tierney. It is clear they need greater threat in central areas, and Odegaard should offer that.

But, while he is undoubtedly a fine talent, Arsenal fans should be wary and patient – Odegaard hasn't featured regularly this season so cannot be expected to be sharp, and this move is another instance of upheaval in a fairly short period of time after leaving La Real for a return to Madrid. It would unfair to assume he will find his stride immediately.

Short-term loans in the second half of a season are often risky and Odegaard will likely take a little while to get up to speed. If he adapts quickly, his arrival could be a masterstroke – but if he doesn't it could be a wasted few months for both parties.

Arsenal will hope he's not another Denis Suarez.

A day after club great Frank Lampard was shown the door by Chelsea, Thomas Tuchel has been confirmed as the new head coach at Stamford Bridge.

Having departed Paris Saint-Germain in late December, the highly regarded tactician will now continue his coaching career in England.  

Former Borussia Dortmund boss Tuchel won two straight Ligue 1 titles and steered PSG to the Champions League final last season, yet ownership decided the time was right for a change in the French capital.

Mauricio Pochettino's status as a free agent arguably persuaded PSG to act fast and the boot is now on the other foot for Tuchel, whose availability has allowed him to step straight in at Stamford Bridge.

FROM PARIS TO LONDON

There was little Christmas cheer for Tuchel, who left PSG with a record similar to his predecessor in the job - Unai Emery. Both recorded an average of 2.37 points per game in Ligue 1 - tied for the best in club history.  

The German tops the list when it comes to top-flight win rate at 75.6 per cent (62 wins from 82 games), though that number dips slightly when taking into consideration all competitions, albeit only down to 74.8 per cent (Emery's was higher, at 76.3 per cent).

Like Lampard, Tuchel lost his job on the back of a convincing home win. PSG thrashed Strasbourg 4-0 in his final game and, while that result on December 23 left them third in the table, they were sitting just a point behind leaders Lyon. 

Only Laurent Blanc (173 games) was in the PSG post for longer than Tuchel in the time since Qatar Sports Investments purchased the French club. 

Tuchel averaged 2.67 goals per game in Ligue 1.

It helps to have a squad that contains stars such as Kylian Mbappe and Neymar, of course, though he was the first PSG boss to make it beyond the quarter-final stage of the Champions League, the one trophy that has so far eluded the owners.

An unconvincing start this term was enough to lead to change. Tuchel became the first PSG head coach to be fired during a season despite sitting in the top three of Ligue 1 since Antoine Kombouare, who lost his job during the 2011-12 campaign.


FAMILIARITY, PLUS A CASE FOR THE DEFENCE

Roman Abramovich made clear he has the "utmost respect" for Lampard in the statement released to confirm his departure. Still, there was no doubt left over the reason for making the change. 

"We are grateful to Frank for what he has achieved in his time as head coach of the club," the statement read from Chelsea.

"However, recent results and performances have not met the club's expectations, leaving the club mid-table without any clear path to sustained improvement." 

Chelsea have a home game against Wolves on Wednesday and Tuchel will get up and running by taking training on the eve of the match. He takes over a team in ninth place, though just five points off fourth in what is a congested league table. 

It will be hoped the new man can get the best out of compatriots Kai Havertz and Timo Werner, two of Chelsea's big-money recruits in the previous window who have yet to fire. 

However, Tuchel will also need to tighten things up at the back, particularly on the road. At PSG, his teams conceded 0.81 goals per game, while it should be noted they leaked just six in Champions League action in 2019-20.

Since the start of the previous season, only Newcastle (54) have conceded more away goals in the Premier League than Chelsea (50).

They kept a clean sheet in just 17 per cent of their away games under Lampard; among those to have taken charge of 10 or more such fixtures in the competition, this is the lowest percentage of any Chelsea boss. 

Tuchel will, of course, be able to call upon his old PSG captain Thiago Silva in trying to mastermind a defensive revival.

There will also be an expectancy to improve the team's fortunes against their major rivals, too. 

Since August 2019, Chelsea have won just 15 points against fellow 'big six' sides, a joint-low tally alongside Arsenal. During that run, they have scored 17 goals and conceded 28 times. 

At least Tuchel understands the demands of working for owners with lofty expectations. There is still time to turn this season around but, like his most recent Stamford Bridge predecessors, he will be expected to produce instant results.

In an offseason that has already seen the NFL Scouting Combine cancelled as the league continues to adjust to life amid the coronavirus pandemic, the 2021 Senior Bowl takes on added importance.

This week's practices and Saturday's game in Mobile, Alabama will be the only chance NFL front office personnel get to see a host of the NFL Draft's better prospects on the field at the same time.

Plenty of members of the draft's elite are missing, but there will still be a large number of intriguing prospects hoping to impress the scouts in the stands with a strong week. 

Here we look at five such players and dive into some of the numbers that have made them worthy of close attention during proceedings in Alabama.

Mac Jones, QB, Alabama

The Heisman Trophy finalist surpassed all expectations in his lone season as the Crimson Tide's starting quarterback, stepping into the shoes of Tua Tagovailoa and leading Alabama to the National Championship, which they clinched with a stunning rout of Ohio State.

Jones demonstrated hugely impressive accuracy on downfield throws, a trait reflected in his yards per attempt average of 11.19, which led college football. Decisive and astute in reading the field and making decisions, Jones threw 41 touchdowns to just four interceptions, his TD-INT ratio of 10.25 second in college football behind Zach Wilson of BYU, a likely top-five pick in this draft. 

The challenge for Jones in Mobile will be to demonstrate to those in attendance that his success was not simply a product of the extraordinary amount of talent around him at Alabama and boost his hopes of going in the first round.

Najee Harris, RB, Alabama

Among the talent Jones had at his disposal in 2020 was monstrous running back Harris, who used his extraordinary physical gifts to put together a dominant campaign.

At 6ft 2in and 230 pounds, Harris possesses a remarkable blend of size, speed agility and power, which allowed him to rack up 30 total touchdowns this past season.

Showing a freakish ability to hurdle defenders in the open field, Harris was seventh in the country with 145.5 scrimmage yards per game.

Teams should not need much more evidence as to Harris' strengths, but with an impressive week at the Senior Bowl on the field and the interview room, he can make sure he comes off the board either late on day one or early on day two.

Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida

Florida quarterback Kyle Trask will not feature in Mobile because of an ankle injury but one of his top targets will be on show.

A versatile receiver who excels as a pass-catcher and as a runner out of the backfield, Toney has proven himself a dynamic weapon in the open field.

He averaged 6.9 yards after catch per reception in 2020. Among wide receivers with at least 50 catches, that put him 13th in the FBS and fifth in the SEC.

His 485 YAC saw him ranked seventh in the FBS and fourth in the SEC among receivers, with his skills after the catch a key reason why he is regarded by some as first-round talent.

Sage Surratt, WR, Wake Forest

Surratt is unlikely to be taken as early as Toney having opted out of the 2020 season, but he should receive plenty of attention from teams looking for a big-play threat.

In 2019, Surratt led the ACC with 100.1 receiving yards per game, while he also caught 11 touchdowns.

Following a year out of the limelight, Surratt will aim to prove his talents as a downfield weapon can translate to the highest level.

Shaka Toney, EDGE, Penn State

You can never have too many pass rushers and Toney is among those who will be out to catch the eye of teams looking to bolster their reserves on the edge.

He recorded 20 sacks in four seasons with Penn State and did an excellent job pressuring opposing Big Ten quarterbacks in 2020.

Toney had 16.5 hurries, tied for third in the Big Ten, while his 21.5 total pressures were fifth in the conference.

Having put up those numbers for a poor Penn State team, the next test for Toney is to win his one-on-one battles with offensive linemen during Senior Bowl week.

Ever the man for the big occasion, Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be eyeing a looming landmark heading into Tuesday's Coppa Italia Derby della Madonnina.

Ibrahimovic enters the latest crunch clash between Inter and his Milan just two goals shy of 500 in club football.

The former Sweden striker drew a blank against Atalanta on Saturday, ending a run of scoring in nine consecutive Serie A starts, but will be determined to bounce back in this mammoth fixture.

"We have to redeem ourselves after this defeat," Ibrahimovic said after the 3-0 loss to Atalanta. "We have the chance to do it in a few days against Inter. That will be a good match."

A MILAN MAN

Enjoying a fine second spell with Milan now at the age of 39, Ibrahimovic's goals have fired Stefano Pioli's side back into title contention - despite the Atalanta setback.

The Rossoneri have not won the Scudetto since 2011 - in Ibrahimovic's first stint at the club - and are without any silverware since the 2016 Supercoppa Italiana.

Inter's own trophy drought spans back to 2011, making this season - with the Milan clubs first and second in the table - and this quarter-final encounter huge.

Ibrahimovic has 13 goals in all competitions this term, including 12 in the league, swelling his Milan total to 80.

That far surpasses the 66 he scored in his time with Inter, while his total number of appearances for the Rossoneri has also nudged past his Nerazzurri tally, 119 to 117 after the Atalanta reverse.

Ibrahimovic will hope to be able to celebrate a 69th victory in Milan colours when they face their neighbours.

DERBY DELIGHTS

Derbies tend to be enjoyable occasions for Ibrahimovic, who has scored seven times for Milan against Inter - including a strike in his only prior such match outside of Serie A, inspiring a turnaround in the 2011 Supercoppa.

A goal and an assist in the first meeting with Inter following his return to Milan last year were in vain as the Nerazzurri won 4-2, but his brace this season secured a 2-1 win for the Serie A leaders.

Only once, in a 1-0 defeat in 2012, has Ibrahimovic failed to score for Milan against Inter, while he also netted twice in four matches for Juventus in the Derby d'Italia.

Yet the striker's Milan derby history goes back to before his arrival at the Rossoneri due to his previous allegiance to Inter.

He scored in his first two Inter appearances against Milan, meaning he has nine strikes in this famous rivalry - trailing only Andriy Shevchenko (14), Giuseppe Meazza (13), Gunnar Nordahl, Istvan Nyers (both 11) and Enrico Candiani (10).

Ibrahimovic has won six and lost four of his 10 Serie A derbies, also triumphing in that Supercoppa clash.

Inter beat Juventus. Juventus beat Milan. Milan beat Inter. For once it has been tough to predict the title race in Serie A.

Winning the Scudetto was not enough for Maurizio Sarri to keep his job at Juve last season, meaning Andrea Pirlo is under significant pressure as the Bianconeri chase a 10th straight league crown.

However, they have struggled to convince under the former midfield metronome and sit seven points adrift of leaders Milan in fourth, although they hold a game in hand.

There has seemingly never been a better chance for Inter, who are two points off top in second, and Milan to end Scudetto droughts that date back to 2009-10 and 2010-11 respectively.

Fans and pundits will continue to have their say on who will sit top come the end of the season, and the Stats Perform AI team have also crunched the numbers to predict the champions for the 2020-21 campaign.

With the majority of the 20 teams having reached the halfway stage of the league campaign, they have simulated how the rest of the season may play out.

 

The data model estimates the probability of each match outcome – either a win, draw or loss – based on each team's attacking and defensive quality.

Those ratings are allocated based on four years' worth of comprehensive historic data points and results, with more weighting given to recent matches to account for improvements or declines in form and performance trends.

The AI simulation takes into account the quality of the opposition that a team scores or concedes goals against and rewards them accordingly.

All that data is used to simulate upcoming matches using goal predictions from the Poisson distribution – a detailed mathematical model – with the two teams' attacking and defending ratings used as inputs.

The outcome of the season is then simulated on 10,000 different occasions in order to generate the most accurate possible percentage chance of each team finishing in their ultimate league position.

Without further ado, let's have a good look at the results of the simulation with the predicted final league table.

 

INTER END JUVE'S REIGN

Although they sit second at the halfway stage, our model predicts Inter will end Juve's dominance of Serie A.

Inter have a 35.7 per cent chance of topping the table for the first time since their treble-winning campaign of 2009-10 and it is projected they will do so by a two-point advantage.

Not only do Milan surrender top spot to the Nerazzurri, they slip behind Juve into third with the top three separated by just three points. It would still represent their best finish since 2012-13.

Juve's chance of retaining the title is deemed to be 23.1 per cent, marginally better than Milan's 21.6 per cent.

ATALANTA RETURN TO CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

Gian Piero Gasperini steered Atalanta to Champions League qualification for the first time in their history in 2018-19 and made it back-to-back top-three finishes last season.

They are predicted to return to Europe's premier club competition by finishing fourth, edging out Napoli – they even have a 6.8 per cent chance of pulling off an unlikely title win.

Gennaro Gattuso's side have a 17 per cent probability of snatching the final Champions League qualification berth, with Atalanta's prospects narrowly superior at 17.4 per cent.

Roma are predicted to fall from their current position of third down to sixth but that is still good enough for them to deny arch-rivals Lazio qualification to the inaugural Europa Conference League.

The top six may need to beware of Sassuolo, Hellas Verona and Sampdoria, however. Sassuolo have a 0.3 per cent likelihood of finishing inside the top four, while Verona (0.6 per cent) and Sampdoria (0.3 per cent) also have an outside chance of stealing European qualification, though our predictor suggests Lazio will finish 12 points clear of Sassuolo in seventh.

 

GENOA AND TORINO ESCAPE DROP

At the turn of the year Torino were rock bottom with one win from their opening 14 games and Genoa were in the relegation zone with them.

However, Torino and Genoa have both moved out of the bottom three by claiming six points and eight points respectively over their past five games.

The two sides are predicted to maintain strong enough form to stay out of the drop zone, with Crotone (20th), Parma (19th) and Cagliari (18th) projected to suffer relegation to Serie B.

It is by no means a guarantee, though. Genoa are only 0.2 per cent more likely to come 17th than they are to suffer relegation by finishing 18th, while Torino's differential between 15th – where they are predicted to place – and third-bottom is 2.7 per cent.

An intriguing NBA season continued to take shape last week with more shock results in the East.

The Philadelphia 76ers are at the summit as the teams below them trade wins in a far more balanced conference than the Los Angeles-led West.

Therefore, the big increases and decreases in production across the NBA were centred on the East, including big displays from one Sixers star while another tailed off.

We take a look at the best and worst performers of the week with the help of Stats Perform data.

 

RUNNING HOT...

Joel Embiid

Knee and back issues, along with the Philadelphia 76ers' coronavirus crisis, have impacted Embiid's time on the floor already this season, but he is now moving through the gears. The center had scored 45 points against the Miami Heat on January 12, only to then contribute just nine against the same team two days later. But there since looks to be consistency to Embiid's play as he tallied 42, 38 and 33 points in three Sixers wins last week, recording a double-double on each occasion. This weekly average of 37.7 improved the 26-year-old's season scoring from 25.0 points per game to 27.7 and appeared to lift the big man into the early MVP conversation.

Gordon Hayward

Staying fit is always likely to be the key for Hayward, given his awful injury record. He has played in 15 of the Charlotte Hornets' 16 games so far, though, and is averaging a career-high 24.1 points for the season. That mark was boosted from 22.2 points per game over the past week as Hayward turned in a pair of big performances against the Chicago Bulls and the Orlando Magic. His 34 points in the first game were not enough for a win, but 39 points at Orlando, along with nine rebounds, helped lift the Hornets to a competitive 7-9. Hayward's big contract has been justified to this point.

Clint Capela

The Atlanta Hawks recovered to a .500 record last week and Capela had a huge impact on both ends of the floor. The former Houston Rockets center averaged 21.0 points across three Hawks wins before sitting out the defeat to the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday, but scoring is just one facet of his game; Capela also contributed 20.0 rebounds per game - the biggest increase on a seasonal average across the whole league. Perhaps most notable of all, though, was the 10-block triple-double that saw Atlanta past the Minnesota Timberwolves. His 2.3 blocks per game rank third in the NBA.

Kendrick Nunn

COVID-19 protocol kept Nunn on the sidelines for a stretch earlier this month, but the second-year point guard is back in the groove - even if the Miami Heat are still struggling to rediscover their playoff form from last season. Nunn started all 67 of his regular season appearances in 2019-20, only to lose his place in the starting five for the run to the NBA Finals. He is being utilised from the bench again this year but provided a huge scoring boost last week. The 25-year-old averaged 21.5 points across the Heat's four games, his increase of 16.0 from his prior mark of 5.5 per game the biggest such improvement in the league.

GOING COLD...

Terry Rozier

While Hayward stepped up in Charlotte, it was not a vintage week for team-mate Rozier. With 42-point and 35-point games to his name this season, the former Boston Celtics point guard was way off the pace in averaging 8.5 points across two games in which he played 38 minutes on both occasions. That knocked Rozier's season average down from 19.9 to 18.5, with a clear decline in his three-point shooting the obvious cause for concern. He shot 2-of-12 from beyond the arc, making 1.0 threes per game, down from 3.4.

Andre Drummond

The Cleveland Cavaliers stole the show last week with a sweep of the Brooklyn Nets in their double-header, but Drummond did not match the standard he had set previously in a monster game against the New York Knicks. Drummond had season-highs of 33 points and 23 rebounds as the Knicks visited Cleveland, yet he then fell short of a double-double for the first time all year in the first Nets game. Sunday's trip to the Celtics then saw Drummond play just 18 minutes, scoring a meagre 11 points, and he finished the week with 9.3 rebounds per game - solid enough but well down on his prior average of 15.8.

Tyrese Maxey

The Sixers' COVID-19 issues might have slowed the team's early momentum, but rookie Maxey was flying heading into last week. Outstanding with 39 points in a seven-man rotation against the Denver Nuggets on January 9, the 20-year-old kept his place and was averaging 11.4 points per game prior to Wednesday's meeting with Boston. But Maxey did not score a single point in that win and duly lost his place for the second Celtics matchup. He finished the week with just four points from three games, shooting 2-of-9 from the field.

LaMelo Ball

Rookie seasons tend to be rollercoaster affairs and Ball is certainly finding that. He is yet to start for the Hornets this season but was steadily contributing double-figures at the turn of the year, including an outstanding triple-double against Atlanta on January 9. Last week, Ball averaged just 9.0 points and 3.0 rebounds across Charlotte's two games, although he did contribute eight assists in the win over the Magic.

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