Paris Saint-Germain are no longer champions of France after Lille completed their stunning march to Ligue 1 glory on Sunday.

PSG headed into the final matchday with some hope remaining and upheld their end of the bargain, sweeping aside struggling Brest 2-0 – Kylian Mbappe on target after Neymar missed a penalty.

But Lille and their talisman Burak Yilmaz saw off Angers 2-1 to prevail by a point.

Considering the meagre victory margin, it is hard not to conclude that PSG's fate was sealed by a dreadful record against Lille, Monaco and Lyon, their fellow top-four incumbents this season.

In a mini-league made up of all the games played between those clubs, PSG came bottom in 2020-21 due to a mere four points from six matches.

Here, we take a closer look at how the Parisians let their domestic dominance slip.

Monaco 3-2 PSG (November 20)

PSG looked set for a routine win as Kylian Mbappe tore through to open the scoring against his former club before making it 2-0 from the penalty spot.

But Kevin Volland poached a brace and Cesc Fabregas, whose introduction at the interval proved key, converted a penalty six minutes from time. Abdou Diallo was sent off for bringing down the former Arsenal man.

It was the first time PSG had lost a Ligue 1 game after leading by at least two goals since going down 4-2 to Bastia in January 2015.

 

PSG 0-1 Lyon (December 13)

The defending champions had seen Lille replace them at the top of the standings before kick-off and were unable to respond in a lacklustre performance when they only managed one shot on target.

As such, Tino Kadewere's 35th-minute finish after PSG carelessly gave away possession was enough for Lille to leave the capital with three points.

 

Lille 0-0 PSG (December 20)

Pressure was mounting on Thomas Tuchel after that defeat and PSG were similarly listless at Lille a week later.

Again, their all-star attack only hit the target once as Lille goalkeeper Mike Maignan bolstered his eventual collection of 21 top-flight clean sheets – the best in Europe's big five leagues this season.

PSG got back on track with a 4-0 win over Strasbourg but, on Christmas Eve, Tuchel was sacked.

PSG 0-2 Monaco (February 21)

PSG were starting to look like a team reborn under Mauricio Pochettino heading into their return fixture with Monaco fixture having thrashed Barcelona 4-1 in the Champions League.

They were brought back down to earth by Niko Kovac's Monaco, as Sofiane Diop headed them into an early lead and Guillermo Maripan slotted home in the 51st minute.

Once more, PSG were shot-shy on the big occasion and Monaco became the first team to complete the Ligue 1 double over them since Nancy in 2011-12.

 

Lyon 2-4 PSG (March 21)

Following another home slip-up against Nantes, PSG belatedly started to show their teeth domestically, dispatching Lille 3-0 in the Coupe de France.

On the back of that triumph, they travelled to Lyon and were in rampant form. Mbappe gave PSG a 15th-minute lead and Danilo Pereira slammed home when the hosts failed to clear a corner.

Angel Di Maria's wicked free-kick delivery from the right went straight in shortly after half-time before Mbappe charged on to Marco Verratti's long ball and become the youngest player to reach 100 Ligue 1 goals. Islam Slimani and Maxwell Cornet restored a touch for pride for Lyon.

 

PSG 0-1 Lille (April 3)

A week on from that victory, PSG erred decisively as Lille claimed their first win at Parc des Princes since 1996.

Jonathan David's deflected 20th-minute effort from Jonathan Ikone's cutback was enough to be decisive on the day and in the final reckoning, considering Les Dogues ended up as champions by such a fine margin.

Neymar was sent off after a late clash with Tiago Djalo as the match and, ultimately, the title slipped away from Paris.

Lille secured their first Ligue 1 title in 10 years on Sunday, ending Paris Saint-Germain's dominance of France's top tier. 

It has been an incredible season for Christophe Galtier's team, who finished fourth in the shortened 2019-20 campaign.

But a talented squad full of vibrant, youthful attackers – albeit spearheaded by veteran campaigner Burak Yilmaz – has clinched Ligue 1 title number four for the club, with their success confirmed when they beat Angers 2-1 on the final day of the campaign.

Eden Hazard was among the stars to propel Lille to their last title, in 2011, with Les Douges also triumphing in 1946 and 1954.

PSG finished top in the previous three seasons, since Monaco's Kylian Mbappe-inspired win in 2016-17. Indeed, it is only the second time since 2012-13 that the capital club has not won the title.

Using Opta data, we take a look at the numbers behind Lille's sensational season.

 

STACKING UP THE POINTS

With 79 points after 36 games, Lille already set their best tally in a Ligue 1 season in their history (based on three points for a win) ahead of the penultimate meeting of 2020-21 with Saint-Etienne.

A win against Claude Puel's team last week eluded Lille, though, with a point keeping PSG – who beat Reims – firmly in the running heading into the last round of fixtures.

Yet they came up with the vital three points against mid-table Angers.

Galtier's side have lost only three league fixtures this term (W24, D11) – those defeats coming in November, January and March against Brest (2-3), Angers (1-2) and Nimes (1-2) respectively. 

It is Galtier's first Ligue 1 crown as a coach. Since his appointment at Lille in December 2017, only George Barry, between 1944 and 1946, has managed a better win rate in the club's history (55.9 per cent).

 

MAGNIFICENT MAIGNAN MARSHALLS MISERLY DEFENCE

According to multiple reports, Mike Maignan may have played his final game for Lille, with Serie A giants Milan rumoured to have lined the goalkeeper up as their replacement for Gianluigi Donnarumma, who is out of contract next month.

Maignan joined Lille in 2015, and the 25-year-old has developed into one of the best goalkeepers in Europe.

He has kept 21 clean sheets in Ligue 1 this season, more than any other goalkeeper across the continent's top five leagues, while before Sunday's game, only PSG's Keylor Navas (79.3) and Atletico Madrid's Jan Oblak (80.2) had a better shot-stopping rate than Maignan (79.1) of 'keepers to have played at least 15 games.

Ahead of Maignan, Lille's defence have also performed admirably, with the experienced Jose Fonte partnering Dutch youngster Sven Botman, who has been linked to Liverpool.

Lille have let in just seven goals in the second half of Ligue 1 matches in 2020-21 and conceded only 22 times in total. 

 

TURKISH DELIGHT AS YILMAZ ENJOYS LATE BLOOM

Eyebrows may have been raised when Lille brought in Yilmaz, the former Galatasaray, Trabzonspor and Besiktas striker.

However, the 35-year-old has more than proved any doubters wrong, scoring 16 times in his maiden Ligue 1 season, while also providing five assists.

His 21 direct goal involvements put him six ahead of any other Lille player, and his experience has profited a front line which includes Jonathan Bamba, Jonathan David, Yusuf Yazici and Jonathan Ikone, who have combined for 30 league goals.

Yilmaz is the first player to score at least 15 goals in his first season with Lille in Ligue 1 since Moussa Sow in 2010-11 (25), while his penalty at Angers beat the record for the most goals netted by a Turkish player in a single campaign in the competition, set by Mevlut Erdinc in 2009-10.

The striker has also shown an eye for the spectacular and Lille's 12 goals from outside the box were more than any other team Ligue 1 team. 

The Premier League race is run. A season that has seemingly been a never-ending story finally concluded on Sunday with the focus centred on the top four.

Chelsea lost but still ended up securing Champions League qualification, Liverpool won to astonishingly end an eventful campaign in third and poor Leicester City missed out after a crazy game at home to Tottenham as Harry Kane clinched the Golden Boot.

West Ham finish above Spurs in sixth to make the Europa League, while Manchester United ruined Nuno Espirito Santo's last game in charge of Wolves. There was yet another goal for Joe Willock, while David McGoldrick made sure he will no doubt be the subject of a pub quiz question in years to come.

Manchester City had clinched the title long ago, but a home game with Everton offered a chance for their returning fans to say farewell to a club legend.


Aston Villa 2-1 Chelsea: Tuchel slips up on the road as Blues lose

Thomas Tuchel's side held on to their top-four spot thanks to the result at the King Power Stadium, with the German coach able to celebrate despite suffering his first away defeat in the league since taking charge at Stamford Bridge.

Bertrand Traore scored the opener for Villa, in the process becoming the 25th different player to manage a Premier League goal against Chelsea having previously been at the Blues. Anwar El Ghazi doubled the lead with the 100th penalty scored in the competition this season, the first time a campaign has reached triple figures.

On the subject of penalties, Jorginho finished with the most goals for Chelsea in the league with seven – all from the spot. It is the lowest number for the club’s leading scorer in a top-flight season since 1974-75, when Ian Hutchinson also managed seven.

Liverpool 2-0 Crystal Palace: Mane helps Reds prosper at Anfield

Jurgen Klopp has now finished in the top four at the end of the five full seasons he has had in charge of the Reds, who handed their former boss Roy Hodgson a 2-0 defeat in his Palace swansong.

Sadio Mane got both goals, the second with the aid of a huge deflection. He has scored 10 or more in all seven of his Premier League campaigns, including his two with Southampton before moving to Anfield in June 2016.

Liverpool won their meetings with Palace by a combined 9-0 score; only against Ipswich in 2001-02 (11-0) have they enjoyed a bigger aggregate margin across two Premier League games in the same season. While he had no need to conjure up another last-gasp goal this time, Alisson Becker did manage to keep a clean sheet on his 100th league outing for Klopp's side.

Leicester City 2-4 Tottenham: Foxes run into trouble against Bale and Kane

Leicester spent 242 days in the Premier League's top four this term, only to end the final one sitting in fifth place. For a second successive year, a late loss of form has cost them a Champions League place.

A sixth defeat in 13 matches did not appear on the cards when they twice led against Spurs thanks to Jamie Vardy, who scored two penalties in a match for a third time this season. However, a Kasper Schmeichel own goal – his second in the top tier – levelled matters, with the visitors then moving clear in a frantic finish.

Gareth Bale scored twice late on in potentially his final game for Tottenham, but will Kane still be there when the transfer window shuts? The striker's 41st-minute effort lifted him to 23 for this term as he became only the third player to win the Golden Boot award as many as three times, following in the footsteps of Thierry Henry (four) and Alan Shearer (also three).

Aguero at the double, Willock matches Shearer (yes, really)

In scoring twice after coming on as a substitute, Aguero ended his City career as he had started it – with a brace off the bench (he had done just the same on debut against Swansea City, way back in August 2011). His double takes his final tally to 184 Premier League goals, in the process surpassing Wayne Rooney (183) for the most by a player for a single club.

As for Manchester United, a 2-1 triumph at Wolves sees them become just the fourth side to remain unbeaten away across an entire top-tier season, a feat most recently achieved by Arsenal in 2003-04. The current-day Gunners beat Brighton and Hove Albion 2-0, though still finished eighth for a second year in a row.

At Fulham, Willock was on target once more in a 2-0 win for Newcastle United. It means the on-loan Arsenal midfielder becomes only the second Newcastle player to score in seven consecutive Premier League appearances, after hall-of-famer Shearer in 1996.

West Ham secured a top-six finish for only the second time in the Premier League era thanks to a 3-0 win over a Southampton team who do not prosper on their travels – they ended up losing 10 of their 11 away fixtures in 2021, during which they leaked 33 goals and scored just seven times.

There was a win for Leeds United at home to West Brom, taking them up to 59 points – the most by a promoted club since Ipswich Town (66) in 2000-01. Sheffield United finished bottom, but at least signed off on a winning note. Striker McGoldrick grabbed the only goal against Burnley to earn his own place in history: it was the 1,000th scored in the Premier League during the 2020-21 season.

The Ligue 1 title tussle between Paris Saint-Germain and Lille is going to the wire, and it is Les Dogues who hold a slender advantage heading into the final day.

Lille could have won the title – their first since 2010-11 – last week had they beaten Saint-Etienne and PSG dropped points against Reims.

Neither of those outcomes came to fruition, however, and Lille are just one point ahead with one game left to play. It is the smallest gap between a leader and the second-placed team at this stage in a Ligue 1 campaign since 2001-02.

Christophe Galtier's team need only to beat Angers to guarantee their triumph, but the mid-table team are one of the only three sides Lille have lost to this season in Ligue 1, while PSG face Brest.

Just below the title battle, Monaco – who have a slim chance of taking top billing – and Lyon are vying for the final Champions League spot. 

Monaco could yet end up at the summit, but Niko Kovac's team would finish fourth if they fail to beat Lens and Lyon defeat Nice.

At the other end of the table, there is potential for drama, with six teams between 18th-placed Nantes and 13th-placed Reims involved in a relegation scrap.

It has been a tightly fought contest throughout the season at the top of the table, but all will be decided on Sunday.

How does the predictor work?

First of all, here's how we got the data...

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. The points total is based on an average of the predicted points from the simulations of the league outcome.

Let's see how the model now predicts the final league table will look...

 

Lille likely to pip PSG to the post

Our model suggests that it will be Lille who hold firm to triumph this season, and claim their fourth Ligue 1 crown in the process, giving Les Dogues a 57.9 per cent chance of finishing top.

Lille did lose to Angers earlier this season, but they had won the previous three matches against them.

Angers, though, have only failed to score in two of their 18 Ligue 1 home games against Lille, doing so in their first such meeting in September 1957 (0-0) and in their most recent in February 2020 (0-2).

However, Lille's away form is superb – they have won 11 of their last 12 Ligue 1 games on the road.

Opta's AI predicts a 34 per cent chance of Lille finishing second, and an 8.9 per cent of them finishing third. The latter outcome would require Lille to lose, PSG to avoid defeat, Monaco to win, and there to be at least a six-goal swing in goal difference in the principality club's favour.

For PSG, the model offers them a 45.7 per chance of finishing second. If they drop points at all, then Lille will only need to draw to win the title, while a defeat – combined with a Monaco victory – would see Mauricio Pochettino's team finish third. Opta predict there is a 10.9 per cent chance of this happening.

There is very slim potential (3.1 per cent) for PSG to finish outside of the Champions League places and in fourth, but the goal difference swing required (17) would be bordering on the realms of impossibility.

PSG have a 40.3 per cent chance of finishing top, with Monaco not technically out of the running – they have a 2.6 per cent chance.

Monaco would need both Lille and PSG to slip up for that to occur. However, their main focus is to secure Champions League football.

Opta suggests this may be tough, with Lyon – led by the in-form Memphis Depay – given a 43.2 per cent chance of snatching third place, with Monaco destined for fourth. This is due in part to their poor record away at Lens in Ligue 1, where they have won just one of their last 14 top-flight games.

Bad luck for Brest

In the relegation scrap, Opta predict that Nantes, who currently occupy 18th place or Brest are the most likely teams to have to play-off against Toulouse or Grenoble Foot for a place in next season's Ligue 1.

Brest of course face PSG, and they have lost their last three Ligue 1 home games against the capital club, giving them a 50 per cent chance of finishing 18th.

Nantes are in action against Montpellier, and the model suggests their most likely finishing position is also in the bottom three (35.8 per cent), though only one unwanted place is up for grabs.

Reims, who sit in 13th, are not mathematically safe, with only two points between them and Nantes, but they are predicted to secure their top-flight status for next season.

Lorient, Bordeaux and Strasbourg could also be dragged into the relegation/promotion play-off place.

There is no title race to be run or relegation battle to be won, but the Premier League always seems to deliver on its final day.

Indeed, the Opta data bears it out.

In 23 of the 28 Premier League campaigns prior to 2020-21, the average number of goals per game was higher on the final matchday than across the rest of the season.

Indeed, the highest-scoring date in the history of the competition (May 8, 1993) was part of the final matchweek of the Premier League's debut campaign.

There were 47 goals from just nine matches, with 53 across the 11 total games that weekend – or a staggering 4.8 per game.

Once the prizes are largely secured, the pressure's off, the sun's out (sometimes...) and the holidays – or major tournament flights – are booked, the goals tend to flow.

So, with scope for another final-day epic in 2020-21, as Leicester City host Tottenham and Everton go to Manchester City, we look back on the four highest-scoring last hurrahs – unfortunately discounting 1992-93, when not all top-flight teams played at the same time on the same date.
 

May 21, 2017: Spurs hit seven to complete stunning week (37 goals)

Had Tottenham played out a goalless draw at Hull City, in a match with nothing on the line, the final day of the 2016-17 season would have been only marginally above the campaign's average of 2.8 goals per game.

As it was, a 7-1 Spurs win made this the highest-scoring last day in the competition's history.

That result is unsurprisingly the biggest ever away win on a final day – although City's 5-0 demolition of Watford on the same afternoon ranks second – and Tottenham's most convincing victory on the road in the Premier League.

Remarkably, that club record had stood for only three days, with Mauricio Pochettino's men 6-1 winners at Leicester earlier in the same week.

Harry Kane scored four against the Foxes and three at Hull, becoming the first player since Wayne Rooney in 2011 to bag hat-tricks in consecutive Premier League games as he clinched the Golden Boot.

The England captain has seven final-day goals in the competition, including another two the following year in a 5-4 win... against Leicester – Sunday's opponents.

May 19, 2013: Fergie farewell finishes with five apiece (36 goals)

Tottenham's nine-goal thriller against Leicester in 2018 is merely joint-second among final-day fixtures for the most goals in a game. The top spot belongs to a ludicrous 2013 draw.

West Brom 5-5 Manchester United is the highest-scoring draw in Premier League history, the sole such example of two sides evenly sharing 10 goals.

And it was a fitting end to an Alex Ferguson tenure at United that was rarely dull, with his side – champions for the 13th time in his premiership – leading 3-0 and then 5-2.

Future Red Devil Romelu Lukaku hit a hat-trick, though, and West Brom incredibly claimed a point.

Although Kane's against Hull in 2017 was the most recent example of a final-day treble, Lukaku had company in 2013 as Kevin Nolan also scored three in a 4-2 West Ham win over Reading.

Meanwhile, this was the 11th of 13 occasions on which a player has scored a hat-trick in a draw in the Premier League. The 10th had also come courtesy of a West Brom player on a final day, as Somen Tchoyi stunned Newcastle United in 2011.

May 12, 2019: City take title again but avoid frantic finish (36 goals)

Already champions this term, City know a thing or two about last-day title triumphs and the Premier League will do well to ever see a victory as dramatic as that of 2011-12.

However, one scenario that might come close would see the team starting the day in second go away with the silverware. For all the customary entertainment on the season's closing weekend, that has never happened in the Premier League.

In fact, there have only been eight examples of a team falling into the relegation zone right at the last – and none since 2011 – and a single occurrence of the team in fifth breaching the top four. That was Arsenal leapfrogging Tottenham in 2006, although Leicester will hope to join them on Sunday.

Therefore it should have come as little surprise in 2019 that City protected their narrow advantage over Liverpool at the top, even though the leaders briefly trailed at Brighton and Hove Albion.

A 4-1 comeback win sealed Pep Guardiola's second success and he boasts a 100 per cent record on the final day.

The only other manager never to have dropped a point on the last matchweek while overseeing four or more such games is Chris Coleman, all from his time as Fulham boss.

May 11, 2008: City smashed and Reading rout unrewarded (34 goals)

Crucially, Guardiola has never had to face Middlesbrough on the final day as City manager. Boro have a bizarre hold over the Etihad Stadium outfit at this time of year.

In 2004-05, as David James appeared in attack, Robbie Fowler's failure to score from the spot in stoppage time took Boro into Europe at City's expense. Three years later, it was even worse.

Although City still qualified for the UEFA Cup through the UEFA Fair Play ranking, their season ended with a humiliating 8-1 defeat at the Riverside – at the time the biggest loss on a final day and still City's heaviest in the Premier League, all while rivals United won the title.

Yet the real drama was at the foot of the table, as Fulham's triumph meant Reading and Birmingham City were relegated, at least, much like Buzz Lightyear, falling with style thanks to respective 4-0 and 4-1 victories over Derby County and Blackburn Rovers.

Five other teams have won on the day they have been relegated from the Premier League, but never two in the same season, let alone the same day, and never as emphatically as Reading.

The Royals were at least by then used to scoring four times and going away disappointed. This was the third occasion on which they had done so in 2007-08 and, remarkably, they had lost the prior two matches – 7-4 at Portsmouth and 6-4 at Tottenham.

Manchester City are champions, Manchester United will come second, and Sheffield United, West Brom and Fulham will be relegated. We know that.

And yet, there is so much to play for on the Premier League's final day.

Chelsea's win over Leicester City has put them in the driving seat to come third, while Liverpool's late-season resurgence means they are back in a Champions League spot, something that seemed implausible just weeks ago.

However, with Leicester behind only on goal difference and just a point separating third from fifth, it could all change depending on Sunday's results.

While they cannot now break into the top five, West Ham, Tottenham, Everton, Arsenal and Leeds United are also vying to finish as high as they can – and clinch a place in next season's Europa League or Europa Conference League.

With so much at stake, it's difficult to predict exactly how things will play out, but that's exactly what the AI team at Stats Perform has done.

 

HOW IT WORKS

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.

So, who will be celebrating on Sunday?

LIVERPOOL HOLD FIRM AS FOXES FALTER

Our model predicts the Premier League season will finish with a top four of Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool.

Thomas Tuchel's Chelsea side are given a strong chance – 55 per cent – of finishing in third place. They need to match the result of Liverpool and Leicester to be certain, and they face an Aston Villa side who are guaranteed to finish 11th.

Liverpool are also set to have a reason to celebrate at the end of a troubled season. The Reds are given a 48.6 per cent chance of finishing fourth, which they will almost certainly do if they defeat Crystal Palace at Anfield. They could still snatch third, of course, if Chelsea do not win, and are given a 40.3 per cent chance of doing that.

Leicester City are given just a 20.4 per cent chance of taking back a top-four spot and only a 4.7 per cent hope of coming third. In fact, our model gives them a 74.9 per cent chance of finishing in fifth place. Assuming there is no shock on Merseyside, Leicester must beat Tottenham handsomely to leapfrog Liverpool, as they trail by four goals in goal difference.

 

WILL SPURS OR ARSENAL FINISH HIGHER?

West Ham have an 88.1 per cent chance of sealing sixth place to sign off an impressive season. They need only avoid defeat at home to Southampton to make sure.

As for bragging rights in north London, things are a little tighter.

Tottenham, whose chances of pipping the Hammers to sixth are rated lower than one in 10, have a 36.4 per cent chance of finishing seventh. However, they face the tough task of going to Leicester and taking all three points to be certain.

Arsenal, who are on a four-game winning run, are given a 38.6 per cent chance of clambering above Spurs on the final day, with Mikel Arteta's men hosting Brighton and Hove Albion knowing a win could lift them up two places in the table, given Everton must go to Manchester City.

The Toffees and Leeds United are poised to round out the top 10.

Atletico Madrid are champions of Spain again after holding off heavyweight pair Real Madrid and Barcelona in the closing stages to win their second LaLiga crown in eight seasons.

Atleti beat Real Valladolid 2-1 on Saturday to finish two points above Madrid – the only side that could catch them heading into the final round of games after Barca lost ground.

Diego Simeone's men moved into top spot with a 4-0 win over Cadiz on November 7 and, despite some inconsistency over the past two months, they have stayed there ever since.

With the help of Opta, we took a look at the numbers behind Los Colchoneros' latest triumph.

ATLETI BREAK MADRID-BARCA STRONGHOLD

Atleti have now been crowned champions of Spain 11 times – three of those in the last 43 years – which is third only to perennial winners Real Madrid (34 titles) and Barcelona (26).

Athletic Bilbao are next on the list with eight titles to their name, while Valencia have come out on top on six occasions.

Indeed, Simeone's charges are the only side other than Madrid or Barca to finish at the summit of Spain's top flight in the past 16 years, doing so this season and in 2013-14.

Atletico have now claimed the title in at least one season in eight of the last 10 decades – only in the 1920s and 1980s did they fail to do so.

DESERVED TITLE WINNERS

Atletico have spent 30 matchdays on top of the table, despite only stringing together successive wins on a couple of occasions since the end of January.

They won 26, drew eight and lost four of their 38 matches to end the season with 86 points – their longest winning run being the eight strung together between December 19 and January 31.

It is the 10th time Atleti's fate has gone down to the final day of the season, most dramatically of all in 2014 when drawing away at Barca to hold off their title rivals.

That season, incidentally, Simeone's side spent 11 matchdays alone at the top of the table.

THE CHANGING FACE OF ATELTICO

Another interesting aspect of Atletico's title success is that this is the first season they have averaged more than 50 per cent possession in the league under Simeone.

They have averaged 52.02 per cent possession in LaLiga in 2020-21, which compares to 48.75 per cent in the season they last finished top, and is an increase on the 47.86 per cent they managed last season when finishing 17 points off top spot.

Increased possession has led to a better balance, too, with Atletico scoring 67 goals this season, which is the joint-third most they have mustered in Simeone's nine seasons at the helm, alongside 2014-15 and behind 2013-14 (77) and 2016-17 (70).

The 25 goals they have conceded, meanwhile, is their fourth-best return over that time, their best season in that regard being the 18 goals shipped in 2015-16.

OBLAK, SUAREZ AND LLORENTE KEY TO SUCCESS

As Simeone has himself repeatedly pointed out, this has once again been a collective effort from Atletico.

However, there is no doubt that this latest title triumph would not have been possible if not for certain individuals – none more so than Luis Suarez, who joined from Barcelona at the start of the season for a small fee.

The Uruguay international scored comeback-clinching goals for Atletico in their final two games of the season and won 21 points for his side in total – more than any other player in the division – with his 21 goals.

Indeed, only Radamel Falcao in 2011-12 (24 goals) and Antoine Griezmann in 2014-15 (22) have scored more goals in their first season at the club in the 21st century.

At the opposite end, goalkeeper Jan Oblak made 103 saves from the 125 shots faced in LaLiga this season – an 80 per cent save rate, the best percentage of any keeper in Europe's top five leagues among those to have played at least three times.

Marcos Llorente is another deserving of special recognition, having played a direct part in 23 LaLiga goals – 12 of his own and a further 11 assists – a tally that is bettered by just Manchester United's Bruno Fernandes (30) among midfielders in Europe's top leagues.

His 12 goals came from an expected goals (xG) return of 3.4 – a difference of 8.6 – which is the biggest differential between xG and actual goals of any player in the big five leagues bar Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski (41 goals from an xG of 32.3).

 

We should have known Diego Simeone would do it differently.

The customary celebrations were all there: the cheers, the hugs, the hoisting of the coach high into the air by jubilant, exhausted players.

Yet the most poignant moment of Saturday's post-match scenes at the Jose Zorrilla, where Atletico Madrid became LaLiga champions for the 11th time, was one of quiet reflection. Simeone, wiping his eyes, went to console dejected Real Valladolid players whose relegation was confirmed by that 2-1 defeat. His own emotions running their highest, he was still attuned to theirs.

Simeone has always seemed fuelled by the raw emotive power of a football match, more than any other coach among Europe's elite clubs. When he reels off platitudes in dour pre-game press talks, it's like he's frightened of wasting an ounce of energy; once the whistle sounds, he explodes into a 90-minute sideline supernova, frantic, impassioned, inspirational.

It was like that this season perhaps more than any other. This was his second league title with Atleti and eighth trophy – a record among those to have coached the club – in 10 years overall, but it feels like this one belongs to him most of all. This was the crowning of true Cholismo champions: a triumph built on the power of belief.

Atleti have defied expectations at almost every turn in 2020-21. Even on the final day, when they just needed a win against a team they had beaten 10 times in 11 games, it almost slipped away.

Oscar Plano, a former Real Madrid player, opened the scoring to give his old club hope only for Villarreal to take the lead in the capital, where Madrid knew only a victory would be enough to defend their crown. Angel Correa's dancing feet and inspired toe-poke levelled the scores with just Atleti's second shot on target of the match; nearly 200 kilometres away, Karim Benzema saw an equaliser disallowed by VAR. When Luis Suarez swept home his 21st goal of the season from the best throughball of the contest – an errant hoof by Valladolid substitute Michel – it felt like fate was overplaying her hand.

So it has been throughout nine months of hectic schedules and empty stadia. Exhausted Atleti players missed the succour of roaring fans like the rest, but the difference was their firebrand coach. Simeone demands the utmost, but he gives his players the conviction that they can deliver it, no matter what the outside world expects. It's brutal, unquenchable defiance. It's Cholismo.

Atletico have outperformed expectations so much this season they almost had little right to be champions. They have scored 67 goals from just 53.07 expected goals (xG) in LaLiga and conceded 25 from expected goals against (xGA) of 37.8. Add those differentials together and you get 26.73, the highest such figure in Europe's top-five leagues, and nearly 27 reasons why they should not have finished top.

Suarez, cast out of Barcelona as an expensive has-been, has outscored his xG by 4.85, a bigger number than in his final three seasons at Camp Nou. His 21 goals have delivered as many points, more than any other player in the competition.

Marcos Llorente, a defensive midfielder warming the Madrid bench before his move two years ago, is the first Atletico player to reach double figures for goals and assists in a single season since Diego Forlan in 2008-09. The only other 'double-double' in all of LaLiga this season was achieved by Celta Vigo forward Iago Aspas.

On February 1, Stats Perform AI gave Atleti a 79.9 per cent chance of winning the title thanks to their 10-point lead, yet they managed to allow the race to come down to the final day – and still win it by a whisker after falling behind.

That's what Simeone gives you. In a modern game supposed to be won by controlled variables and tiny percentages, Atleti just reminded us all what a little faith can do.

Atletico Madrid are Spanish champions again, Saturday's tense 2-1 win at Real Valladolid sealing the title seven years on from their only previous championship success under Diego Simeone.

Much like on that occasion, Atletico had to wait until the final day of the season to make absolutely sure of their triumph, something few would have predicted of their campaign not too long ago.

Simeone's men have been top for much of the season, granted, but in recent months their position at the summit became precarious.

It's fair to say they have ridden their luck over the past few weeks, including on Saturday as they had to come from behind at Valladolid, but their supporters will be fine with that after they eventually brought it home.

Following their title-clinching victory, we look back on the other matches that have been crucial in their success.

Atletico Madrid 6-1 Granada, September 27

Okay, maybe it's a little over the top to suggest Atletico's very first game of the season had much bearing on winning the title, but the manner of it was seriously impressive and set the tone for the rest of the campaign – even if they did draw their next two matches.

It was a particularly memorable outing for Luis Suarez, who, cast aside by Barcelona, netted a brace as he became the first player this century to score and assist on his Atletico debut.

Atletico romped to what was their biggest opening-day win under Simeone, and they've hardly looked back.

 

Atletico 1-0 Barcelona, November 21

Barca were in turmoil at times in the first half of the season and that gave Atletico the perfect opportunity to gain a psychological edge. With Suarez missing against his former club, the visitors might have fancied their chances, but Atletico prevailed to claim their first league win over the Blaugrana in more than 10 years.

Yannick Carrasco got the all-important goal as Atletico set a club record of 24 LaLiga games unbeaten, while Barca were left with just 11 points from their first eight league matches, their worst start to a season since 1991-92.

Eibar 1-2 Atletico Madrid, January 21

One aspect of Atletico's trip to Ipurua in January will be recounted time and time again by statisticians, and it's not that they came from behind to win. No, the most fascinating element of this game was that it was Marko Dmitrovic who broke the deadlock from the spot, becoming the first goalkeeper to score in LaLiga since Dani Aranzubia in February 2011. The last stopper to net a penalty was nine years before that.

 

But it was Atletico who had the last laugh. Suarez scored both of their goals, including a last-gasp penalty, to spare Los Colchoneros' blushes.

While a win away to Eibar – who've since been relegated – may not look like much, who's to say that having someone as reliable as Suarez to convert a late penalty under pressure wasn't the decisive moment in their title quest?

Barcelona 0-0 Atletico, May 8

At the halfway point of their season, Atletico were seven points clear at the summit with two games in hand on Real Madrid in second. They had been devastatingly effective in the first half of the season as they collected 50 points, but in the 18 matches since, that haul has plummeted to 33.

Atletico have been far more erratic since the turn and their trip to Camp Nou looked especially uncomfortable, as a defeat would have seen Barca go above them in the table, while any result other than a win will have given Real Madrid the initiative.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen impressed for Barca in the first half, making six saves, though clear-cut chances weren't exactly a regular occurrence, neither side even managing to reach 1.0 xG (expected goals) over the course of the game. Atletico faced a nervous wait to see if their neighbours would capitalise…

 

Real Madrid 2-2 Sevilla, May 9

The second part to a title-race double-header across May 8 and 9, Madrid and Sevilla both still fancied their chances of sealing the crown at this point, and what an occasion it was in Valdebebas.

Madrid looked to be heading to a remarkable defeat when they had a late penalty overturned because Eder Militao was controversially deemed to have handled in his own area at the start of the attack, with Ivan Rakitic converting the spot-kick to put Sevilla in front for the second time.

Toni Kroos saw a long-range shot deflect in off Eden Hazard deep into stoppage time but it was not enough – winning the title was no longer in their own hands.

 

Atletico 2-1 Osasuna, May 16

The title looked to be slipping from Atletico's grasp again last weekend, as Ante Budimir's 75th-minute header put Osasuna in front shortly after Madrid had gone 1-0 up at Athletic Bilbao – at this juncture Los Blancos were top by a point.

Renan Lodi levelled for Atletico with 82 minutes on the clock but that wasn't going to be enough, as they would still sit behind Madrid due to their inferior head-to-head record. They needed another.

 

With two minutes left, Suarez ended something of a mini-drought to clinch victory, his 20th goal of the season, a haul that had secured Atletico 19 points at that point – only Sevilla's Youssef En-Nesyri could match that at the time.

The goal sparked joyous celebrations on the pitch, Atletico's bench and in the stadium's car park where a group of supporters gathered.

It left them with the two-point advantage over Madrid that was required heading into the final day, with Simeone's men subsequently refusing to throw it all away against Valladolid, despite falling behind once again.

 

Oscar Plano put Valladolid in front in the first half, but Atletico rallied after the interval as Angel Correa netted a brilliant equaliser and Suarez sealed the win 23 minutes from time, Madrid's own turnaround against Villarreal elsewhere ultimately an irrelevence.

Atletico are the champions.

Things aren't always as they seem.

A tired old cliche it may be, but for Marcos Llorente such a notion is one that ultimately he believes "literally changed my life".

The date was March 11, 2020, back at a time when the world was changing, or about to change, for everyone due to the coronavirus pandemic. For Llorente things changed because of a Diego Simeone masterstroke.

Atletico Madrid were losing 1-0 to Liverpool at Anfield in the Champions League last-16 second leg, which left the teams locked at 1-1 on aggregate.

With 56 minutes gone, Llorente entered the fray for Diego Costa. To most observers this was Simeone trying to close the door, put on a defensive-minded midfielder, head to extra time, maybe sneak a goal on the counter or win on penalties.

But it was almost a butterfly-effect moment. Yes, the match did enter additional time, but Llorente – employed in a more attack-minded role – scored twice after Roberto Firmino put Liverpool in front. Alvaro Morata's late third secured Atleti's progression.

"The match at Anfield was a great turning point for my career, indeed it literally changed my life," Llorente said back in November.

"I always say, however, that in football you have to confirm yourself every day. I know that I had a good performance against Liverpool, but the important thing is to maintain this continuity of performance over time. I am succeeding and I am very happy with what I am doing."

Since that night, the forgotten man of Real Madrid has become one of the most important cogs in Simeone's tactical machine – one that stands a single victory away from being crowned champions of LaLiga for the first time since 2013-14, and for only the second since 1996.

A PLAYER TRANSFORMED

This season alone has highlighted Llorente's transformation. Among midfielders in LaLiga, only Jose Luis Morales (13) has managed more goals than Llorente (12). His 11 assists, the most of any LaLiga midfielder, puts him on 23 direct goal involvements in 2020-21 – again, the best return in the division in his position.

In creating chances from open play, Llorente (42) is behind only Lucas Vazquez (44) and Frenkie de Jong (48). Additionally, he is joint-fifth for total shots (47) and third for shots on target (22).

For a direct comparison, over the course of Llorente's final season at Real Madrid in 2018-19, he had two goals, zero assists, six chances created from open play, seven shots and four on target.

Llorente's passing success rate in the final third during that campaign at the Santiago Bernabeu is down from 86.17 per cent to 77.83. But he has had 351 successful passes in the opposition third this term compared to 40 in the whole of his last at Madrid – showing he is contributing much more frequently further up the pitch, where play is more congested. It's only natural for his pass completion to have suffered a little.

What truly sets Llorente apart is the fact his attacking output is surpassing expectations. This season, his 12 league goals have come from an expected goals (xG) of just 3.34, giving him a differential of 8.66. Across Europe's top-five leagues, only Robert Lewandowski – who has scored a record-equalling 40 Bundesliga goals in a single season with one game to go – has a better xG differential (9.83).

It's a similar story in setting up goals. Llorente's 11 LaLiga assists come from an expected assists (xA) of 5.34; his differential of 5.66 is the highest of any player in Spain's top flight this term.

Numbers such as these are not necessarily sustainable in the long term, but they do highlight Llorente's impact in the final third – and how important he has been in this title race.

THE INFLUENCER

A deeper dive into the numbers shows just how influential Llorente has become as an attacking force to Atleti.

His 132 involvements in a sequence ending in a shot is 10th in LaLiga among midfielders but the highest of any Atleti player, with Luis Suarez the nearest to him on 125. When looking at involvements in a sequence ending in a goal, Llorente's 29 is the third-best in the division, behind only Karim Benzema (33) and Lionel Messi (39).

Llorente has started 25 of those shot-ending sequences, the ninth-most among LaLiga midfielders and level with Luka Modric. He has started six sequences that have resulted in a goal for his team, a figure behind only Toni Kroos (seven) and Casemiro (eight).

Llorente has also created 16 goalscoring chances from carries, instances where a player moves the ball five metres or more. No midfielder has managed more in LaLiga this season. Added to that, three of his carries have led to him scoring – again, the joint-highest among midfielders.

Atleti head into Saturday with everything in their own hands: beat Real Valladolid, and the title is theirs.

It's the chance for Simeone to become just the third Atleti head coach to win two titles, after Ricardo Zamora (1940 and 1941) and the great Helenio Herrera (1950 and 1951).

And for Llorente, it is an opportunity to underline his evolution since that fateful night at Anfield.

It wasn't too long ago that the idea of Mason Greenwood getting into Gareth Southgate's England squad was farfetched.

After a stunning breakthrough campaign in 2019-20 that saw him score 10 times in the Premier League, 2020-21 got off to a difficult start for the teenager.

It took him until December to score his first league goal of the season, and it took him a little over four months to net again.

Although he was in England contention at the start of the season, such form had seemingly seen him fall well out of the reckoning. When he was unsurprisingly absent from the March selection, few eyebrows were raised.

After all, it was back in September when Greenwood – having just won his first senior cap against Iceland – was involved in controversy involving two local girls being brought to the team hotel. He and Phil Foden were subsequently sent home and left out of the next squad.

But Foden was swiftly recalled in November having impressed early on, and he looks set to take on a key role at the Euros such has been his influence at Premier League champions Manchester City.

It's a slightly different scenario for the similarly talented Greenwood, and the reality is he will probably miss out, but his return form has at least given him a chance.

Perseverance and focus

As previously mentioned, Greenwood's form really suffered in the first part of the season, and that seemed to linger well into this year.

When considering what went wrong, it's of course natural to look at his performances and on-pitch habits.

For example, shot map data earlier in the season suggested he has potentially been found out by defenders. He wreaked havoc in 2019-20 when cutting inside on to his left foot and shooting, but it looked as though opponents had become wise to this, forcing him outside more often.

That's one theory – another worth considering is the human side of football. Let's not forget, Greenwood – a teenager – went through a lot last year.

There was the death of a close friend, the controversy on England duty and subsequent vilification of him from certain sections of the British media. All of that would be difficult for anyone to contend with, let alone a kid of 18 or 19 years.

Perhaps then it was just a matter of time, patience and perseverance for him to get back to his best, which he appears to be on the evidence of the past six weeks or so.

The fact we are even talking about his chances of going to the Euros is a triumph for Greenwood in itself.

From drought to downpour

Greenwood went on a run of 15 appearances without a single goal from late January, but he ended that barren spell against Leicester City on March 21.

Life has been rather different for him since then, finding himself back among the goals in the Premier League on April 4, netting the late winner as United defeated Brighton and Hove Albion 2-1 with a diving header.

That's one of six league goals in a run of eight matches, more than any other English forward in that time, netting at a rate of once every 88 minutes – by comparison, Harry Kane's recent form has him scoring every 125.8 minutes in the league.

Greenwood is once again showing the kind of killer-instinct in front of goal that made him so feared in 2019-20, when he scored 17 goals across all competitions.

Ten of those came in the league from an expected goals (xG) value of just 2.9, meaning he scored 7.1 goals more than expected. No player in the division could match that xG overperformance.

This would generally indicate elite-level finishing or a player getting lucky. Greenwood's form earlier this season suggested it was the latter, but since April 4 his xG overperformance in the league is 2.6 – the next best in this regard is Danny Ings (1.9 overperformance).

However, the caveat is that Greenwood's expected goals on target (xGOT) of 2.7 is lower than his xG of 3.4, suggesting that he's actually been a little fortunate, benefiting from goalkeeping errors, for instance.

For example, against Burnley his goal took a deflection en route to goal, while his effort against Aston Villa went in off the hand of Emiliano Martinez.

In terms of the difference between his xG and xGOT, Greenwood actually ranks poorly when compared to his rivals for a place in the England squad since April 4, with Ollie Watkins' 3.95 xGOT better than his 3.0 xG, which suggests his four goals have come about via good finishing because he has outperformed the underlying quality of his chances.

Ings, Kane and Marcus Rashford have also done better than Greenwood in this area of late, however the counter-argument would be that the teenager perhaps creates his own luck with unpredictable play on the ball and his comfort with either foot.

Southgate will make his decision regarding the squad on Tuesday, and Greenwood is likely still seen as an outsider, but there's no question he has given the manager food for thought.

One round remaining, two teams involved, and just two points separate them.

LaLiga's title race has been at its most gripping in years this term, arguably capturing the imagination more than any since 2006-07.

Back then, there were three teams in with a chance of taking home the title on the final day of the season: Real Madrid and Barcelona, of course, plus Juande Ramos' Sevilla.

As it was, Madrid and Barca won on the last day whereas Sevilla – who needed a win and for the other two to lose – lost at home to Villarreal.

Madrid finished top by virtue of a better head-to-head record over Barca, who were essentially denied the title by their local rivals Espanyol, slumping to a 2-2 draw with them on the penultimate day to hand Los Blancos the initiative.

This time there are only two teams left in the hunt on the final day, with Sevilla and Barcelona bowing out of what was, for a while, a four-way tussle at the summit.

Now it's between Atletico and Madrid, the two city rivals hoping to leave the other wallowing in misery.

Diego Simeone's side looked certainties for the title not too long ago: at the start of February, they were 11 points clear, but their form in the second half of the season has been a little underwhelming.

Having accumulated 50 points in their first 19 league matches, that haul has plummeted to 33 in the 18 matches since, hence why as many as three other teams have threatened to overtake them.

There have been thrills and spills, particularly in the past few weeks, with Atletico securing a dramatic 2-1 win over Osasuna last weekend despite falling behind in the 75th minute. Any result other than a win would have allowed Madrid to go into the final weekend top.

Yet, remarkably, the title is still in Atletico's hands thanks to Luis Suarez's 88th-minute winner on that occasion, meaning they hold the advantage heading into the final weekend.

Atletico go to relegation-threatened Real Valladolid, while Madrid host Villarreal. Who will prevail?

 

How does the predictor work?

First of all, here's how we got the data...

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.

Let's see how the model now predicts the final league table will look...

 

Atletico take the crown

All signs point to Atletico sealing the title, their second league crown under the guidance of Simeone and first since 2014, when they also clinched it on the final day.

Our model gives Atletico a 73.9 per cent chance of finishing top – after all, they have won 89 per cent (8/9) of their league meetings with Pucela under Simeone, a record they can only better against Elche, Las Palmas (both 100 per cent) and Osasuna (91 per cent).

Our predictor does expect Madrid to beat Villarreal, as its most likely outcome sees Los Blancos finishing with 83 points, but Atletico know their rivals' result will be irrelevant if they go to Valladolid and win.

Nevertheless, Madrid do still have a 26.1 per cent chance of successfully defending their crown, no doubt helped by the fact they boast a better head-to-head record against Atletico.

If they are ultimately successful, it will be Madrid's 35th league title and their first successive LaLiga crowns since 2006-07 and 2007-08, while Zinedine Zidane would be the first Blancos coach since Leo Beenhakker (three – 1987, 1988 and 1989) to win consecutive titles.

The omens are good for Madrid in terms of them fulfilling their end of the bargain, as Yellow Submarine coach Unai Emery has lost eight of his nine LaLiga matches away to them.

Atletico's result will also help finalise matters near the bottom of the table as well, as Valladolid need to win to avoid the drop, though even that may not be enough to save them.

The predicted table has Valladolid and Huesca – due to their inferior head-to-head record against Elche – following Eibar into La Segunda.

Paris Saint-Germain have won seven of the past eight Ligue 1 titles. This weekend, they might make it eight out of nine.

But this time, the odds are against them.

In the Qatari Sports Investment era, PSG have turned Ligue 1 into their own personal playground, away from the heartache that Champions League tilts tend the bring.

In 2016-17, they missed out to Monaco, whose lavishly gifted young squad came together at the perfect time.

Kylian Mbappe's supernova emergence inconvenienced PSG so much they decided they had to sign him once the campaign ended, but the France sensation had quite the supporting cast.

Bernardo Silva, Thomas Lemar, Fabinho, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Benjamin Mendy all went on to rake in hundreds of millions of euros collectively as Europe's elite embarked upon a feeding frenzy.

Monaco's triumph spoke of the improbability of PSG being unseated again any time soon, given the extent to which numerous stars would have to align at just the right moment and for long enough before being ripped apart.

However, something feels different as leaders Lille head into Sunday's final matchday needing to match PSG's result at Brest when they travel to face Angers.

Once again, a vibrant youthful core are seeking to take down the kings of France, but if Christophe Galtier's fearless insurgents pull off their heist, it is unlikely their star attacker will have Parisian eyelashes fluttered in his direction.

That is because he is a 35-year-old veteran Turkey striker who, before this season, had never played anywhere outside his home country in Europe.

A free transfer to replace the €70m man

If there was a parallel to Burak Yilmaz in that shimmering Monaco team, it was Radamel Falcao, whose goalscoring nous and experience proved invaluable to Leonardo Jardim's side.

But the Colombia international was enjoying a resurgence, having established himself as one of the most lethal strikers in the world at Atletico Madrid before falling on hard times, initially at Monaco and then during fruitless loan stints at Manchester United and Chelsea.

Yilmaz's CV provides a who's who of Turkish football, counting Besiktas, Fenerbahce, Trabzonspor and Galatasaray among his former employers. While Monaco were getting to work in 2016-17, he enjoyed a hop aboard the fleeting Chinese Super League gravy train at Beijing Guoan.

He arrived at Stade Pierre-Mauroy on a free transfer last August with 224 league goals to his name over the course of a career impressive in its consistency. Nevertheless, it was impossible for the man brought in following Victor Osimhen's €70million departure to Napoli not to feel like an underwhelming replacement.

"During my career, I played in big clubs with a lot of pressure," Yilmaz said during his presentation to the media at Lille.

"I realised that this pressure was an advantage, something positive for me. It continues here in another way, with other objectives. I want to write a new page with LOSC."

Even calling upon all that experience, all that title pedigree from his homeland, Yilmaz surely could not have imagined the fairy tale to which he now only needs to apply the final pieces of punctuation and a definitive full-stop on Sunday.

Bearing teeth for Les Dogues

He went without a goal in Lille's opening four games, but the solid foundation that has become the bedrock of their title change ensured Galtier's men went unbeaten and picked up eight points.

In their fifth match, a late Yilmaz penalty sealed a 2-0 win over Nantes and, next time out, he crowned a fluid team move by outmuscling his marker and sliding home in a supreme piece of centre-forward play. Strasbourg were beaten 3-0 and Lille's attacking fulcrum was off and running, not to look back.

He has 15 goals and five assists in Ligue 1 this season, more goal involvements than any of his team-mates. Jonathan David has two assists alongside his 12 goals and Jonathan Bamba has six goals having laid on nine others.

 

Yilmaz has equalled the most goals scored in France's top-flight in a single season by a Turkish player, level with Melvut Erdinc's haul for PSG in 2009-10.

In terms of goals alone, his is the best debut season for Lille in Ligue 1 since Moussa Sow fired 25 in 2010-11 – the club's previous title success.

Golden autumns and heavy goals

It feels like a good time to be an experienced hitman in Europe right now and Yilmaz is among the most prolific.

Only Cristiano Ronaldo, with 29 despite Juventus' Serie A woes, has more goals across the top five leagues among players aged 35 and over.

Yilmaz is level with Zlatan Ibrahimovic on 15, with Sampdoria's evergreen Fabio Quagliarella up next on 12.

Like Ibrahimovic, Yilmaz has been forced to spend some time on the sidelines since the turn of the year and it is tempting to wonder whether Lille might already have the title in the bag were it not for a calf injury that ruled their talisman out for two months.

Yilmaz was on a run of three in three games before being forced to watch on for nine Ligue 1 rounds. His team-mates ploughed on, winning seven and drawing two of those games and he returned as a man on a mission.

Lille were 2-0 down at Lyon when he thundered home a magnificent 25-yard free-kick. Yilmaz crossed for David to equalise with an hour played and he then charged through to dink in an 85th-minute winner.

 

That was a truly bravura performance, with the calmness under pressure he boldly highlighted eight months earlier proving unshakable. An astonishing 30-yarder as part of a brace in a 3-0 win at Lens was his 15th and best of the campaign, taking Lille to the brink of glory.

Lille's 12 strikes from outside the box are the most in Ligue 1 in 2020-21 and goals of such quality mean Yilmaz is performing well in excess of his expected goals (xG) figure of 9.2. A positive differential of 5.8 is the sixth-best in the elite divisions behind Robert Lewandowski, Marcos Llorente, Son Heung-min, Luis Muriel and Lionel Messi.

Don't look back in Angers

Yilmaz was unable to whip up another dose of magic last weekend, with a frustrating 0-0 draw at home to Saint-Etienne meaning Lille's advantage heading into Sunday's decisive fixtures is down to a point.

Their 80 points is already the club's record tally and is built as much on a watertight defence as it is on Yilmaz's attacking fireworks.

Only PSG in 2015-16 (19) have conceded fewer after 37 games than Les Dogues' 22. During the second half of the season, they have kept things improbably tight – letting in just six goals, eight fewer than any other team in the top five leagues over this time. Atletico Madrid, also on the verge of an unforgettable triumph this weekend, are up next with a typically miserly 14.

Lille's Mike Maignan closed out a 21st clean sheet of the campaign against Saint-Etienne, a continental best that puts him three clear of Atleti's Jan Oblak and Manchester City's Premier League Golden Glove winner Ederson.

 

Alongside his clean sheet percentage of 56.8, another leading mark in the elite competitions, he has saved 79.1 per cent of shots faced, which can only be bettered by Oblak (80.2) and Keylor Navas (79.3) of PSG.

Obviously, this makes Lille very hard to beat. They have only lost three Ligue 1 games, although one of those was against Angers in January.

That might set nerves jangling when it comes to the crunch this weekend, but they need only look towards Yilmaz and his air of a man who will not be denied.

It all comes down to this.

Whether you're flying high at the top of your local leagues, battling for the top 100 nationally or just desperate not to lose face with friends, matchday 38 of the Premier League is a decisive moment for fantasy football players the world over.

Amid last-minute transfers, wildcards and triple-captaincies, it can be difficult to find true value in selections that could give you the edge over your rivals.

That's where we come in.

Using Opta data, we have compiled a final selection of seven recommended players to draft in for this most dramatic of weekends...

 

MARTIN DUBRAVKA

If you were considering a Newcastle United goalkeeper but just didn't have the guts previously, now is the time to be bold.

Martin Dubravka kept his first clean sheet of the season last time out as the Magpies beat Sheffield United 1-0.

Next up, they face another relegated side in Fulham, who have scored a league-low nine goals at home in the whole of 2020-21 – and only one since February.

 

AARON CRESSWELL

West Ham's unlikely quest for Europe looks set to end in success, and Aaron Cresswell has played no small part.

The full-back has recorded eight assists this season, the most of any defender in the division. The last time a West Ham player assisted more was when Dimitri Payet set up 12 goals in 2015-16.

The Hammers conclude their campaign at home to Southampton, who haven't beaten David Moyes' side in their most recent six attempts.

STUART DALLAS

Only Patrick Bamford (16) has scored more league goals for Leeds United this season than Stuart Dallas (eight).

On Sunday, Marcelo Bielsa's men host West Brom, who have the leakiest defence in the whole of the division, conceding 73 times in 37 matches.

Leeds are also unbeaten in four against the Baggies, winning three of those games by 10-0 on aggregate, while they have not lost a league game at home to this weekend's visitors since January 2007.

JESSE LINGARD

Part of the reason Jesse Lingard found getting regular football tricky at Manchester United was the arrival of Bruno Fernandes, so it's fitting he should be chasing a record held by the Portugal star.

Last season, Fernandes set a Premier League best by registering 15 goal involvements (eight scored, seven assisted) despite not appearing in the competition until as late as February.

Lingard, who made his Hammers debut on February 3, has recorded nine goals and four assists for Moyes' men, a tally bettered only by Kelechi Iheanacho (12 goals, two assists) over the same time frame. Two more direct goal involvements against Southampton would see Lingard match Fernandes' exploits in 2020.

 

JOE WILLOCK

With his midweek winner for Newcastle against Sheffield United, Joe Willock became the youngest player to score in six consecutive Premier League appearances.

Remarkably, the Arsenal loanee – who is being tipped for a permanent move to the Magpies – has the best minutes-per-goal rate (127) of any Newcastle player in the league this season with at least three goals.

Should he net against Fulham, Willock will become only the second player for the club to score in seven Premier League games in a row, after Alan Shearer in 1996.

HARRY KANE

Whether he stays at Tottenham or not, Harry Kane will be eager to get on the scoresheet at Leicester and boost his chances of claiming the Golden Boot.

His record against the Foxes is promising. Kane has managed 14 goals in 11 Premier League meetings with the team now bossed by Brendan Rodgers, more than he has scored against any other opposition. Those goals have come at an average of one every 65 minutes.

He has hit seven of those at the King Power Stadium, including four in one game in May 2017.

 

CHRISTIAN BENTEKE

Could Liverpool's top-four hopes be dashed by a former Reds player?

Christian Benteke has scored 10 league goals this term, his first double-figure return since he got 15 in 2016-17.

That season's haul included a double away to Liverpool in April and, throughout his career, Benteke has enjoyed facing his old employers: only Andy Cole (eight) has scored more Premier League goals as a visiting player at Anfield than Benteke (five in four games).

As enjoyable and memorable as the NBA postseason can be, it rarely produces significant surprises.

Sure, an occasional first-round upset stands out – like MVP Dirk Nowitzki and the top-seeded Dallas Mavericks falling to the Golden State Warriors in 2007 – but almost never does an underdog hoist the Larry O'Brien Trophy as season's end.

Of course, that depends on your definition of an underdog.

In each of the last 25 seasons – and in 49 of the last 51 – the team that won the NBA Finals was a top three seed in their conference. The only exception to that rule since 1970 is the 1995 Houston Rockets, who finished sixth in the Western Conference despite being the reigning NBA champions.

The 2020-21 NBA season has already been an unprecedented one, with games played in empty arenas and players being held out of games due to league virus safety protocols. And why should the oddities end when the playoffs begin?

From 2015-18, the Warriors played the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Finals four straight seasons, making everything beforehand feel like a waste of time. The pattern was broken in 2019 because LeBron James switched conferences, but the Warriors represented the west for the fifth straight season. Last season, James played in the Finals for the ninth time in 10 campaigns, leading the Los Angeles Lakers to a title.

This season, however, is suspiciously devoid of a juggernaut. The top regular season teams are unproven in the playoffs, and the typical postseason performers must answer serious questions and navigate a difficult road to the Finals.

The Utah Jazz had the league's best record this season at 52-20, a .722 win percentage. That is the fifth-worst record by a league-leading team since the NBA-ABA merger and the worst in 20 years.

 

Lowest Win Pct by Team With NBA's Best Record in Season, Since 1976-77

SEASON     TEAM                      WL        PCT

1976-77    Los Angeles Lakers         53-29      .646

1978-79    Washington Bullets         54-28      .659

1977-78    Portland Trail Blazers     58-24      .707

2000-01    San Antonio Spurs          58-24      .707

2020-21    Utah Jazz                  52-20      .722

 

With just 10 wins separating the top-seeded Jazz and seventh-seeded Lakers, the west could deviate from seeding by quite a bit.

Even in the often-predictable east, the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics were considered preseason favorites in the conference, only to finish with the sixth and seventh seeds.

The fact is that whoever wins their conference to play in the NBA Finals – and ultimately raises the Larry O'Brien Trophy – will have a unique story about their road there. Whether it is a team who are a proven commodity that flipped the switch after a sub-par regular season or a high-seeded team that overcame past postseason failures, the 2021 NBA champions – like the 2020-21 regular season itself – will be unlike any other.

 

Honourable Mentions: West number one Dallas Mavericks, West number six Portland Trail Blazers

Both teams lack the depth to make a serious championship run but have enough star power in the backcourt to scare any opponent.

Dallas will face the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round and took two of three games this season against Los Angeles. Luka Doncic averaged 30.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and 11.0 assists in those games. In nine career games against the Clippers, Doncic is attempting 9.9 free throws per game, his most against any Western Conference opponent.

The Blazers will go exactly as far as Damian Lillard takes them. When Portland made their run to the Western Conference Finals in 2019, the Blazers were 7-0 when Lillard had a plus-minus above zero and were 1-8 when he had a negative plus-minus.

 

The 'Not Your Year' Tier: West number three Denver Nuggets

The season-ending knee injury to Nuggets star guard Jamal Murray was a devastating blow to Denver's title chances and takes some fun out of a special season by Nikola Jokic.

Although Murray's injury solidified Jokic as the MVP favourite – leading the Nuggets to a 13-5 record since the injury – it is hard to envision Denver making a deep run without their star guard.

The knock on Jokic has been that he would generally rather pass than score, and Denver are 5-8 in postseason games when Jokic attempts 20 or more shots.

With Jokic scoring a career-high 26.4 points per game this season and with the continued blossoming of Michael Porter Jr., however, the Nuggets remain dangerous in the playoffs.

 

The 'Prove It' Tier: West number four Los Angeles Clippers, East number one Philadelphia 76ers, West number one Utah Jazz, East number three Milwaukee Bucks, West number two Phoenix Suns

On paper, each of these teams appear to be solid championship contenders, complete with star power and coming off an impressive regular season.

But each of these teams need to prove they can take another step forward, either because of a limited postseason history or a checkered one.

At the start of last year's playoffs, the Clippers were considered by many to be the favourites but blowing a 3-1 series lead in the second round to the Nuggets was a humbling experience. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George have quietly had fantastic seasons, each averaging at least 23 points, six rebounds and five assists.

The 76ers and Bucks have been mainstays in the east playoffs for the past few seasons and are hoping that this year's vintage has the answers to take the next step.

Philadelphia, under new leadership with Doc Rivers and buoyed by the shooting of Danny Green and Seth Curry, have a scoring differential of plus-16.4 points per 100 possessions when Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are on the court together, the best mark in the history of the much-maligned duo.

Milwaukee won 11 of their last 15 games, including two wins each against Philadelphia and the Brooklyn Nets – the two teams seeded higher in the east.

A machine over the last few regular seasons, the Bucks have faltered in past playoff series as Giannis Antetokounmpo failed to score in the clutch and his team-mates shrank from the moment. The costly acquisition of Jrue Holiday should help take some of the pressure off, and Antetokounmpo is shooting 73.3 percent (11 of 15) this season in the last two minutes of a game within five points.

Utah and Phoenix are fascinating prospects after stellar regular seasons but the consensus regarding both teams is that they have already maxed out their talent before the postseason starts.

Rudy Gobert is an All-Defensive Team mainstay for good reason, but Utah have been forced to sit him in the playoffs against smaller teams or when his free-throw shooting becomes a problem.

The Jazz are expecting leading scorer Donovan Mitchell to return from a sprained right ankle, but Utah are better operating as a five-man offense than a one-man show. When Mitchell attempts 20 or fewer field goals this season, the Jazz are 27-2. When he shoots more than 20 times, the Jazz are 12-12.

The Suns are 59-21 over their last 80 games, including in last year's bubble, and have become one of the best stories in the league. Chris Paul turns every team he is on into a winner, and he has a case to receive MVP votes scoring a modest 16.4 points per game.

For all of his career accomplishments, however, Paul has famously only advanced past the second round once in his career, and he now leads a core group of Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges that lacks playoff experience.

 

The 'Sleeping Giant' Tier: East number six Miami Heat, West number seven Los Angeles Lakers

Last year's finalists have endured brutal regular seasons filled with disappointment, injuries and COVID-19 protocols.

Only Duncan Robinson played all 72 games this season for Miami, and while the Heat are healthier now than during their nightmare 11-17 start, serious questions remain about the health of veterans Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic, who both missed at least 20 games this season.

The Lakers remain the betting favourites coming out of the west, despite needing a 103-100 play-in win over the Golden State Warriors to clinch a playoff berth. LeBron James and Anthony Davis missed a combined 63 games this season, and the duo only played together in 27 games.

While the health of the Lakers' superstars remains a concern, Los Angeles were 19-8 when both James and Davis played. The defending champions had a scoring differential of plus-11.4 points per 100 possession when the duo were on the court together. For as long as James and Davis are playing, the Lakers remain a juggernaut.

 

The Favourites: East number two Brooklyn Nets

Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving.

The Nets are the first team to ever have three players average at least 24 points (minimum 35 games). Durant, Harden and Irving are the highest-scoring trio since the early 1960s, when Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor were producing some of the best seasons in league history.

What makes Brooklyn such a strong contender, however, is that the supporting cast around their dynamic trio is a real asset.

The Nets' reserves scored 35.9 points per game this season, better than the bench of fellow contenders like the Bucks, Trail Blazers, Heat and Nuggets.

First-year head coach Steve Nash has consistently been able to field a competitive squad during a tumultuous year. As evidence of the change and adversity the Nets faced this season, they have used 38 different starting line-ups – only the lowly Rockets used more.

With veteran big men like DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin, the Nets can counter size but are also versatile enough to play small, with Jeff Green defending opposing centers.

The high-profile names make Brooklyn feel like an inevitability, but there is still plenty of uncertainty with this newly constructed super-team.

Durant, Harden and Irving have only played 202 minutes together, less than six percent of Brooklyn's season. The trio appear to blend well, scoring a torrid 117.8 points per 100 possessions, but any group of stars will face challenges in their first playoff test.

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