Following Manchester City's 3-1 victory at Swansea City in the FA Cup last Wednesday, Pep Guardiola's side won their 15th successive match.

In doing so, they set a new record for an English top-flight club in all competitions, overtaking the 14-game winning runs of Arsenal and Preston North End in 1987 and 1892, respectively.

They have since extended this streak to 17 after great wins over both Tottenham and Everton in the Premier League.

Back in 2017, it was claimed by some that City had secured 20 wins on the trot, between August 26 and December 3 until they eventually lost 2-1 away at Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League on December 6.

The bone of contention stemmed from the 12th game in this run; a 0-0 draw against Wolves in the EFL Cup, which saw City progress 4-1 in a penalty shootout.

Here at Stats Perform, we have worked on the basis that a penalty shootout is a method to find a winner of a tie or to decide a tournament/trophy winner, rather than to decide who won an individual match.

The official Laws of the Game, which are the responsibility of the International Football Association Board (IFAB) could be interpreted in other ways, but we have always held the belief that they explain the situation as we understood it.

A high-profile example of why the winner of a penalty shootout cannot be considered the winner of a match is that of the 2011-12 Champions League semi-final tie between Real Madrid and Bayern Munich.

The two sides drew 3-3 on aggregate and it was in the second leg – which Real Madrid won 2-1 on the night – that Bayern Munich progressed to the final with a 3-1 penalty shootout victory.

Based on the assumption that the team to win the shootout wins the match, you would have two winners in a single game; Madrid won 2-1 but also lost because of a 3-1 shootout reverse to Bayern, who lost as well due to suffering a 2-1 defeat in the actual game.

City have been involved in an occasion similar to this in recent times. They won 2-0 at home to Danish club Aalborg in the first leg of their 2008-09 UEFA Cup round of 16 tie, before losing 2-0 away a week later.

City progressed 4-3 following a penalty shootout on the night but lost the actual game 2-0.

Following City's current phenomenal run of form, the IFAB's technical director David Elleray spoke to Stats Perform and put the matter to bed, once and for all. He referred to Law 10.2 in the 2020-21 Laws of the Game.

Elleray told Stats Perform: "Law 10 makes it clear that a match is drawn, won or lost according to the number of goals both teams score in 'normal' time or in 'normal' time plus extra-time.

"'Away goals' and 'kicks from the penalty mark' (KFPM) [penalty shootouts] are not part of the match itself and are only used to determine a 'winning team' where one is required. For KFPM, this is made clear in the next section of Law 10."

"Thus KFPM (as with 'away goals') do not change the result of the match itself as they occur after the match has ended," added Elleray.

Clearly, we're not the overlords of the statistics world.

Clubs, competitions and statisticians may choose to deem 'penalty shootout' wins as match victories – we can't change that. What's important is that terminologies need to be tightened up by those that choose this way of thinking, as there is an important technical difference between a match that's won in 'normal' time (or after extra-time) and one that's drawn and then 'won' as a result of kicks from the penalty mark (penalty shootout).

For example, the latter might constitute part of a 'winning' run (general term) but, for some, not necessarily part of a 'match-winning' run.

We'd like to thank David Elleray for his time and willingness for his statements to be put on record for publication, hopefully clearing up any confusion about this subject.

It further highlights just what an incredible run of form City are currently enjoying.

Staples Center will stage a clash of heavyweights on Thursday as the Los Angeles Lakers host the Brooklyn Nets, though it might not be quite the spectacle once hoped for.

Of course, most sporting contests are not quite what they used to be, owing to the lack of spectators allowed in the arenas.  

But the absence of Lakers star Anthony Davis with a calf injury, along with Kevin Durant's hamstring problem, which may keep the Nets forward out of a third straight game, further depletes a matchup that could be repeated in the NBA Finals.  

Yet LeBron James is still performing at the peak of his powers and the Nets' guard combination of James Harden and Kyrie Irving is firing on all cylinders, with the former dropping 38 points in a comeback from a 24-point deficit against the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday.  

Therefore, there will still be plenty to intrigue in this marquee showdown, even if the first meeting of LeBron and KD since Christmas Day 2018 is further delayed.  

TOP PERFORMERS

LeBron James - Los Angeles Lakers

James is the MVP frontrunner and he has maintained his remarkable levels of excellence this month, in which he has a pair of triple-doubles. 

He has successive double-doubles in his last two games, tallying at least 30 points for the fifth time this season in the win over the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves last time out. 

With Davis on the sidelines, LeBron will have to carry the bulk of the burden again if the Lakers are to claim their 23rd win.

Kyrie Irving - Brooklyn Nets

Despite sitting out Brooklyn's astonishing fightback against the Suns because of a sore back, no member of the Nets has been more prolific in the month of February than Irving.  

The man who helped LeBron deliver a title to the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016 is averaging a team-high 29.8 points per game this month. Harden is next with an average of 24.4.  

He is shooting 55.5 per cent from the field and 48.8 per cent from three-point range, while his season-long average of 28.3 points a game is a career-high.  

Irving will, however, be hoping for a better performance than the one he produced in his sole game against the Lakers last year, when he went seven of 17 from the field in a 15-point loss.

KEY BATTLE - WHICH 'OTHERS' WILL STEP UP?

Though the Nets will still have the best backcourt in the league at their disposal, the injury issues surrounding Durant and Davis increases the spotlight on the lesser-heralded members of the two supporting casts.  

The Lakers will be looking for more of the same from Dennis Schroder, the guard rising to the challenge in Davis' absence against the Timberwolves and scoring 24 points.  

For the Nets, the onus may be more on Joe Harris, who has impressive numbers in terms of field goal percentage (57.5) and three-point shooting (51.1 per cent) for the month of February.  

This potential Finals preview could well be decided by which team's 'others' can best fill the void if Durant joins Davis in playing the role of spectator.

HEAD TO HEAD

It's the first meeting this season between the Lakers and Nets, though recent history suggests Brooklyn can afford to be confident even if they are without Durant. 

The two teams split the season series last term, but the Nets have won three of the last four games having swept the season series in 2018-19. 

All three of those victories came by a single-digit margin.

Juventus forward Cristiano Ronaldo will look to inflict more Champions League pain on Porto and Borussia Dortmund travel to Sevilla for the first leg in the round of 16 on Wednesday.

Juve advanced from Group G at a canter, winning five of their six games to finish level on points with Barcelona.

The Serie A champions will be expected to knock Porto out, but Andrea Pirlo will be braced for a stern test in the first leg at Estadio do Dragao.

Sevilla do battle with Dortmund at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan a couple of days after it was announced that Borussia Monchengladbach head coach Marco Rose will take over at the Bundesliga club at the end of the season.

We take a look at the best stats on the two ties courtesy of Opta.

For Naby Keita, Liverpool's Champions League tie with RB Leipzig could have offered a chance to show his old club what they are missing.

Travel restrictions put in place amid the coronavirus pandemic have blocked the first leg from taking place in Germany, so Budapest will instead stage the opening match of the last-16 showdown on Tuesday. Keita, however, will not be there.

Rather than head to the Hungarian capital with the rest of the squad, the Guinea international has remained back on Merseyside to continue his recovery from the latest injury setback in a Liverpool career that has flattered to deceive so far. 

There have been bright moments, occasional performances where he has demonstrated his class, but too often those high points have been followed by a prolonged spell on the sidelines.  

Keita made 43 league appearances in his first two years in England, but only 25 of them were starts. This season, there have been just seven outings, the last of them on December 19 in the 7-0 thrashing of Crystal Palace, back when everything looked far rosier in Liverpool's garden.

Jurgen Klopp provided a positive fitness update on the midfielder ahead of the Leipzig game, revealing: "Naby is no longer injured but he's not fit yet".  A reunion with his former employers could still come at Anfield in the return fixture, albeit the German manager is not known for being sentimental when it comes to team selection.

Liverpool were patient in the first place just to get him; having failed to agree terms for his immediate transfer, they instead struck a deal with Leipzig to have him join 12 months later for, at the time, a club-record fee.

"Until I join my new club, next summer, I will remain an interested supporter from a distance," Keita said when the impending transfer was confirmed. Sadly, too often he has been stuck watching on since. There have been hamstring, thigh, groin and knee issues, plus a spell out after contracting COVID-19. It has felt like one step forward, two back.

Still, his two seasons at Leipzig – during which he contributed 14 goals and 12 assists in 58 Bundesliga games – demonstrated why Klopp was willing to wait. Comfortable with the ball at his feet and capable of playing the killer pass when working in crowded spaces, he was seen as the ideal attacking threat that could lift the team to the next level. 

The Reds have duly raised their standards, but Keita has been a peripheral figure. He was ruled out of the Champions League final against Tottenham in July 2019 and, while he played – and scored – the night Liverpool lifted the Premier League trophy just over 12 months later, it was one of only 14 starts in all competitions. 

His only other league goal during that title-winning campaign came at Bournemouth in the previous December, when he picked up possession in a pocket of space in front of the opposition defence, played a clever one-two with Mohamed Salah and then toe-poked the ball in.

Such moments of quality served to underline why he was identified and, eventually, signed. Liverpool have rarely made big-money mistakes in the transfer market, but Keita has yet to live up to the hefty fee, which covered his £48million release clause plus an undisclosed premium that sealed the deal. 

While seven goals and four assists in 45 starts is so far a disappointing return on that sizeable investment, exploring Keita's contributions in greater depth shows what he can produce when healthy.

No player who had over 20 dribble attempts for Liverpool in the 2019-20 league season had a better success rate than his 82.14 per cent, while his figure for big chances created per 90 minutes (0.55) was the best of the lot, too. Add in an average of 10.95 passes into the final third per 90 and you see the type of numbers that suggest he could have made a difference this term, particularly in games where Klopp's side have struggled so badly to break down opposing line-ups stuck in a low block.

There is still time to have a greater impact, of course, but rather than taking centre stage when Liverpool take on Leipzig, Keita is stuck as a spectator once again, a footnote to the storyline as the knockout stages of the competition begin.

Tuesday sees the return of the Champions League as the first two last-16 ties get started, including arguably the pick of the bunch; Barcelona v Paris Saint-Germain.

While we have been robbed of the Messi v Neymar narrative after the Brazilian was ruled out for four weeks with an adductor injury last week, there should still be plenty of talent on display.

Messi can still expect to be the focus, given the strong transfer links to PSG, while the Parisians will be hoping for a hint of revenge for the famous 'Remontada' of 2016-17.

Also in action on Tuesday are Liverpool and RB Leipzig, with the Germans' home leg taking place in Budapest due to coronavirus-related travel restrictions imposed in Germany.

Ahead of the two tantalising fixtures, here are the key stats for both games…

Barcelona v PSG

4 – Barca and PSG last met at this same stage in 2016-17, when the Catalans became the only team to ever qualify for the next round in the Champions League after losing by at least four goals in the first leg. They won the second leg 6-1 in Camp Nou.

14 – Barca are hoping to reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League for the a record 14th consecutive campaign. They were last eliminated at this stage in 2006-07 by Liverpool.

10 – While PSG have only one away win against Spanish opposition (Valencia) in the Champions League knockout phase, Barca have never lost at home to a French side in 10 such games in this competition.

2 – Antoine Griezmann has more yellow cards (two) than he has Champions League goal involvements (one assist) for Barca at Camp Nou in seven appearances.

1 – Kylian Mbappe has scored only one goal in his nine Champions League knockout games with PSG. He had found the net six times in six knockout games with Monaco.

RB Leipzig v Liverpool

0 – RB Leipzig have played 22 matches in the Champions League – none have ended goalless.

8.9 – While Liverpool are known for their effective pressing, Leipzig are even more aggressive. The German have allowed their opponents just 8.9 passes on average before intervening defensively in the competition this season, the lowest figure of any side in 2020-21.

1 – Roberto Firmino has scored only one goal in his previous 16 Champions League games. That came in last season's last-16 second leg against Atletico Madrid.

6 – Leipzig wing-back Angelino has contributed three goals and three assists in the Champions League this term – Alvaro Morata (six goals, one assist) is the sole Spaniard with more goal involvements in 2020-21.

45 – Liverpool were the only team not to concede a single goal in the first 45 minutes of matches in the group stage.

Premier League action coincided with Valentine's Day this weekend and Southampton ended a long drought of a particular kind on the most romantic day of the year.

There was also an impressive scoring feat for an Arsenal striker to enjoy on February 14, as the Gunners sent the White Roses of Leeds United back to Yorkshire with their tails between their legs.

A Valentine's Day chocolate variety set was the only box Harry Kane got near this weekend after a tricky time of it against Pep Guardiola's Manchester City, as Ilkay Gundogan continued his remarkable run.

All the above feature in our quirky facts from the weekend's top-flight action!

SAINTS' VALENTINE'S CARD AND AUBA'S RETURN TO FORM

It's usually nice to receive a card or two on Valentine's Day – the only exceptions are if they're tokens of sympathy from your mother, or handed out to you by a referee.

Until this year, Southampton were the only Premier League side to play a match on Valentine's Day and not receive a card, but that changed when Graham Scott booked Oriol Romeu in Saints' 2-1 defeat to Wolves. Coincidentally, that was the Spaniard's 51st Premier League yellow card since the start of 2015-16, 11 more than any player.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had a rather more enjoyable Valentine's Day, however, as the Arsenal man scored his first Premier League hat-trick in their 4-2 defeat of Leeds United.

He joined Michael Owen and Matt Le Kissier, sorry, Le Tissier as the only players to net trebles in the Premier league on Valentine's Day.

GUNDOGAN GUNNING FOR GOALS

To say anyone predicted Ilkay Gundogan establishing himself as one of the Premier League's deadliest marksman would be a heinous lie… Yet, here we are – he is.

In fact, the German's form isn't bettered by anyone else across Europe's top five leagues in 2021, as his brace against Tottenham took him to nine goals since the turn of the year.

Andre Silva of Eintracht Frankfurt is the only player to match that haul across the same period, but his conversion rate is nothing compared to Gundogan's.

The City star, who has been playing a more advanced role lately, has converted 47.4 per cent of his shots since January 1 – among players to have scored at least five times this year, that is the fifth highest. It is a better record than those of Robert Lewandowski, Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi.

Given the rate he's going at, Gundogan may now have an eye on the all-time record for German players in a single Premier League season – Jurgen Klinsmann (20) and Uwe Rosler (15, both in 1994-95) are the only ones to score more than 11.

KANE FORCED TO THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX

It was another miserable outing for Tottenham at the weekend as their 3-0 loss at City consigned them to a fourth defeat in five Premier League games, as many as they had suffered in their previous 28.

Harry Kane endured a particularly frustrating day, as he was starved of service and found himself roaming as a result, hardly conducive to getting opportunities in the danger area.

In fact, he failed to touch the ball once inside the penalty area, which is practically unheard of for Kane.

It was only the fourth occasion of Kane failing to touch the ball in the box in a league game he started.

SAKA'S TEENAGE KICKS

Bukayo Saka has been a standout performer for Arsenal for quite a while, not just this season. However, in 2020-21 he has arguably taken his influence up a level.

He was a livewire against Leeds at the weekend, winning Arsenal's first-half penalty shortly after he was perhaps cruelly denied another by the VAR.

His performance further highlighted how much influence he has despite not turning 20 for more than six months – he is the youngest player in the Premier League this term to score five goals, be involved in at least seven goals, create 25 chances and complete 30 dribbles.

There has been plenty of talk recently about whether he will get himself into the England squad for the delayed Euro 2020 later this year – at the moment, you'd have to say he'd be unlucky to miss out.

Dayot Upamecano will be a Bayern Munich player in 2021-22, meaning Liverpool and Chelsea must go back to the drawing board.

The Premier League rivals had each been linked with a move for the RB Leipzig centre-back as they look to add to their options at heart of defence.

Now they each must look to different targets come the end of the season, with injuries and poor play at the back having derailed the Reds' hopes of winning a second successive league title.

But which centre-backs could be part of Liverpool and Chelsea's plans to pose a more serious challenge to Manchester City next season?

Here we look at four players who could be playing their football at Liverpool or Stamford Bridge next season.

Bremer

The Torino defender is reported to be Liverpool's top close-season target after an impressive season in Serie A.

His 75 clearances are the second-most in the Italian top flight among defenders, while Bremer has also excelled at making recoveries.

Indeed, he has tallied 114, putting him 11th among defenders to have played at least 10 league games. Only four defenders have won more aerial duels than Bremer's 47.

David Alaba

Chelsea have been linked with the man Upamecano is seemingly set to replace, though Alaba’s wage structure may reportedly be a sticking point for the Blues.

Alaba's versatility to play across the back four and in midfield would certainly appeal to Chelsea and former Borussia Dortmund coach Thomas Tuchel.

The Austria international has consistently demonstrated his prowess in attack as well as at the back.

He has created at least 17 chances in every season since 2010-11 and has crafted 10 in 19 league appearances this season.

Ibrahima Konate

Could Leipzig be raided again? Both Chelsea and Liverpool have been linked with Konate, the France Under-21 international signed from Sochaux in 2017.

Injuries have been a problem for Konate, who has played only 15 league games since the start of last season.

However, when he has played extensively, he has shown his quality. 

Konate featured 28 times in the Bundesliga in 2018-19 and was sixth in the league with 100 aerial duels won, contributing to 12 clean sheets, a tally only bettered by two players – his Leipzig team-mates Marcel Halstenberg (15) and Willi Orban (13).

Jules Kounde

Liverpool are thought to be keen on Kounde, but they will likely face competition from across Europe for the Sevilla defender's services.

Kounde has emerged as one of the finest young defenders in European football is again excelling this season.

With 106 recoveries in 2020-21, Kounde – who has also previously been linked with Barcelona and Manchester City – has proven a reliable presence in the heart of defence, while he can also start attacks.

His 136 successful passes into the final third are more than Barca's Clement Lenglet (132) and Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos (128).

Ramos (84.77) and Lenglet (80.49) have a higher accuracy percentage on those passes than Kounde's 76.84, but at just 22 he has the time and the talent to develop into one of the world's top centre-backs.

Roses are red, violets are blue, have we got the perfect Valentine's Day content for you!

Questionable rhymes aside (okay, very questionable), love is in the air as long-standing couples and newly formed relationships celebrate the day of romance on Sunday.

The world of football is certainly no stranger to the language of love, so before you crack open a bottle of red and exchange cheap knock-off gifts with your significant other why not get some inspiration for love with our Valentine's Day facts with some help from Cupid!

(Well not Cupid, Opta – but the team at Opta are full of love!)

MATT LE KISS-IER LOVES TO SCORE ON VALENTINE'S DAY

Valentine's Day is of course a day for love (and overpaying for those last-minute flowers and cards you forgot to buy…).

Two players have been particularly good at spreading the joy on February 14th with Southampton legend Matt Le Tissier and ex-Liverpool striker Michael Owen each scoring three times in the Premier League on this date – the most of all players.

Here's something even more interesting about that stat, though – each man's tally is a result of scoring a Valentine's Day hat-trick.

Le Tissier registered three against the Reds back in 1994, while Owen took home the match ball with a treble versus Sheffield Wednesday four years later.

Owen's three goals are part of 12 Liverpool have tallied on the day of love – comfortably the most by a team. Arsenal follow on seven, with Aston Villa and Southampton on four.

A ROSE FOR THE LADY?

Flowers are synonymous with Valentine's Day but none more so than the rose.

Two players named Rose have plied their trade in the Premier League – Danny (194 appearances) and Matthew (five appearances). The former, of course, is an England international who with his marauding runs from full-back has often been a, ahem, thorn in the side of opponents…

There are other love-themed names to have featured in the top flight. Valentino Lazaro played 13 times in the Premier League for Newcastle United on loan last term, while Valentin Roberge made 10 appearances for north east rivals Sunderland.

The Black Cats also had Donald Love on their books, the defender having previously represented Manchester United once in the top flight.

FOXES RACK UP THE CARDS

Whether from a partner or a secret admirer, it's always nice to receive a card or two on Valentine's Day.

Unless of course you're playing in the Premier League, in which case you want to see the referee keep their cards in their pockets.

In this regard, Leicester City have not been overly successful – the seven yellow cards representing the most received by a team on Valentine's Day. Arsenal follow closely behind with six, with Manchester City on four.

The Foxes also fare badly when it comes to red cards, having picked up two on February 14th – Danny Simpson and Hamza Choudhury account for those dismissals. The only other player to have been sent off on Valentine's Day is Everton hero Duncan Ferguson ... no, we weren't shocked either.

THE BEST BROMANCES

It goes without saying that we don't need to confine our love sharing to one manufactured day of the year…

No, we should be spreading the joy in our hearts all year round and these strike partnerships certainly succeed in that category.

Going back to the start of the 2015-16 season, no two players have combined for more goals than Spurs duo Harry Kane and Son Heung-min (33).

In fact, Kane features three times in the top-five – also ranking third with Christian Eriksen (19), and sharing 18 with Dele Alli.

Manchester City pairing Sergio Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne are second with 20, while Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez (18), who fired Leicester to shock title glory in 2015-16, also feature.

Liverpool lost a third successive top-flight game under Jurgen Klopp for the first time and Manchester City extended their record winning run in Saturday's Premier League action.

The Reds conceded three goals in a seven-minute spell as they went down 3-1 to Leicester City - managed by their former boss Brendan Rodgers - at the King Power Stadium.

Klopp's men are now 13 points adrift of City, who brushed aside Tottenham 3-0 at the Etihad Stadium later in the day for their 16th win in a row in all competitions.

Burnley also scored three unanswered goals at Crystal Palace to move further clear of the relegation zone, while Brighton and Hove Albion and Aston Villa played out a 0-0 draw.

Leicester City 3-1 Liverpool: No Vardy party for Klopp after latest setback

Liverpool's trip to Leicester marked Klopp's 300th game in charge of the club, though the German had little to celebrate come full-time after his side capitulated late on.

Klopp became the ninth manager to reach that landmark figure for the Reds and the day initially got off to a good start for his side.

Mohamed Salah gave the visitors the lead with his 10th away league goal of the season - the first player in the division to reach that mark - but then came a Leicester onslaught.

James Maddison made it eight goal involvements in his last nine league outings, before Jamie Vardy put Rodgers' side ahead.

It was the former England international's eighth Premier League goal against Liverpool - only against Arsenal (11 goals) has he found the net more times.

Harvey Barnes then rounded off the scoring with his eighth Premier League goal of the season, making him the highest-scoring English midfielder in the division this term.

The last time Liverpool lost three league games in a row was in November 2014 under Rodgers, who is the first ex-Reds manager to beat his former side since Roy Hodgson did so with West Brom in April 2012.

Manchester City 3-0 Tottenham: Goal-crazy Gundogan shines again for Guardiola's juggernaut

After setting a record for the number of successive wins for an English top-flight club in all competitions with their midweek FA Cup win at Swansea City, the Citizens picked up from where they left off in a straightforward victory against Tottenham.

City have now won 16 games in a row and are unbeaten in 23 in all competitions since losing 2-0 to Spurs in November's reverse fixture, conceding just six goals during that record-breaking run.

Incredibly, Pep Guardiola's men have not trailed for a single minute in any of their 15 league games since that loss at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium - only Arsenal, 19 games between December 1998 and May 1999, have embarked on a longer run.

Ilkay Gundogan has been City's star performer across their perfect streak, with his brace here taking him to nine Premier League goals in 2021 - the most of any player across Europe's top five major leagues since the turn of the year.

Rodrigo had earlier given the home side the lead from the penalty spot after getting the nod over goalkeeper Ederson, who may not have got on the scoresheet but did at least register an assist - the third goal he has set up for City in all competitions.

On the back of their 5-4 extra-time loss to Everton in the FA Cup last 16, Spurs have now shipped eight goals in their last two games - the most a Jose Mourinho-managed side has conceded in a two-game period in all competitions.

Crystal Palace 0-3 Burnley: Zaha-less Eagles fail to fly

The result at Selhurst Park had a sense of inevitability about it before a ball was even kicked due to Wilfried Zaha being ruled out with a hamstring injury.

Palace have now lost 18 of their last 20 Premier League games in which star man Zaha has been absent, failing to score in 16 of those 18 defeats.

What was surprising, though, is the fact Burnley netted three times, matching their tally from their previous 10 away league matches combined.

Johann Berg Gudmundsson opened the scoring after five minutes - the first time he has netted in back-to-back Premier League appearances in what was his 108th game in the competition.

Jay Rodriguez's fifth league goal against Palace - only against Nottingham Forest (six) has he bagged more - had Burnley two up and Matt Lowton rounded off the scoring.

It was the right-back's first top-flight strike since April 2013, a run spanning some seven years and 313 days.

Brighton and Hove Albion 0-0 Aston Villa: Martinez repels Seagulls in stalemate

Brighton were held to a goalless draw by Villa but it was not for the want of trying as they attempted 26 shots, which is the most they have ever managed in a Premier League game.

Villa keeper Emiliano Martinez had another inspired game with nine saves in total on his way to keeping a seventh away clean sheet in the Premier League this season - only Brad Friedel in 2009-10 (eight) has kept more in a single campaign for the club.

Brighton continued to push for a goal right until the end and were helped in their pursuit of an opener by substitute Adam Lallana, whose four chances created was the highest of any player on the pitch, despite only playing 28 minutes.

A point for Brighton does at least extend their unbeaten run to six top-flight matches, something they last achieved in November 1981 with a run of eight.

This is perhaps a fixture the neutrals should steer clear of in future, given that the last seven league games in which Brighton have hosted Villa have seen just eight goals scored, with neither team netting more than once in a match.

Bruno Fernandes has urged Manchester United's emerging stars to seize their moment as they seek to make an impression at Old Trafford.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer confirmed ahead of Sunday's trip to West Brom that teenage trio Shola Shoretire, Hannibal Mejbr and Amad Diallo would all be involved with the senior side.

Fernandes has been a leading light for United this season, helping to propel the Red Devils into possible Premier League title contention.

The Portuguese playmaker hopes the injection of youth into the United first-team fold will provide a boost, though he urged those making the step up to work hard and stay humble.

"They have to keep their heads clean, because it's easy to come in to the first team and your head goes a little bit, and it's also hard when you have to go back and train and play with the other teams again," he told the club's official website.

"I was in that position some years ago and I know it's hard, but if you work and are humble and you understand that every time you play is a chance, no matter where you are playing, every time is a chance to show you are ready or that you want to make that next step.

"For us as a team, it’s important that when they come [to train with us] that they come to help us and learn from everyone and also give the qualities they have to the team.

"If they come to the first team it's because they have something good and that is something that can help us."

We took a closer look at two of United's most promising prospects, in Mejbri and Shoretire.

 

HANNIBAL MEJBRI, 18 – ATTACKING MIDFIELDER

Many will have had an eye on Mejbri's development ever since he joined the club from Monaco in August 2019 in a deal that could potentially cost €10million (£8.75m).

A France youth international, Mejbri quickly progressed to United's Under-23s last term despite only being 17 and has become a regular.

A technically gifted attack-minded midfielder, Mejbri has impressed not only with his ability on the ball, but his knack of crafting opportunities for team-mates.

In Premier League 2 Division One, his 42 chances created in 13 games is more than any other player, while his six assists is a joint-best for the league.

He has combined his creativity and comfort in possession to good effect as well, as evidenced by the fact seven of his carries (a movement of more than five metres with the ball) have led to chances created, a figured bettered by only five.

Mejbri has also attempted 49 dribbles, the fourth-most in the division, and won a remarkable 94 fouls – almost three times as many as anyone else – two of which secured penalties in the recent 6-3 win over Liverpool's Under-23s.

In fact, Wood recently urged referees to do more to protect him from such rough treatment, concerned Mejbri will suffer a serious injury if it continues.

He can expect similar attention if he does get minutes in the top flight, though Wood is adamant Mejbri does not let it get to him, saying: "I think he's the type that he wants the ball all the time, he's not going to shy away from it and that's what we want, you don't want your top players being worried, he just needs a bit of protection or it could result in him being badly injured."

SHOLA SHORETIRE, 17 – FORWARD

Shoretire joined the United academy in 2014 having previously played for Newcastle United, and for several years now he has looked like one of the next high-potential kids to come off the Old Trafford production line.

He made his debut for the club's Under-18s in 2018, in doing so becoming the youngest player to ever feature in UEFA's Youth League at 14 years and 314 days.

Shoretire – whose name is pronounced 'Shor-ay-ti-reh' – is most-often used as a winger (on either flank) for the Under-23s, but given his excellent dribbling, vision and finishing abilities, he could potentially have a future as a more central striker.

He signed his first professional contract on Monday, just three days after netting a hat-trick against Blackburn Rovers' Under-23s.

That took him to five goals in 13 appearances this term, while he also has four assists from 22 chances created.

Where he comes out particularly well is with regards to goal-ending passing sequences, of which he has been involved in 13 – only Mejbri (14) has a better record here.

Like Mejbri, Shoretire also has a penchant for taking the game to his opponents, as showcased by the fact he has created eight chances at the end of ball carries, the fifth-most in the league.

Given United's packed schedule over the next few weeks, with their European campaign set to resume, it wouldn't be a surprise to see these two make their first-team bows.

Even if they don't this season, it is surely only a matter of time.

Kevin Durant will make a long-awaited return to the Bay Area on Saturday as the Brooklyn Nets visit the Golden State Warriors in a mouth-watering NBA clash at Chase Center.

It is a game that pits the league's newest 'big three' (Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden) against a Warriors team led by Stephen Curry, whose incredible performances this season merit MVP votes.

But more significantly it is Durant's first road game against the Warriors since leaving them to join the Nets after the 2018-19 season that ended with Golden State losing the NBA Finals to the Toronto Raptors in a series that saw the 2014 MVP suffer an Achilles injury.

Having missed the last three games because of coronavirus contact tracing protocols, Durant has been cleared and will face the team with whom he won two NBA titles and two Finals MVPs, though Curry does not expect his former team-mate to treat the contest any differently.

Reflecting on Durant's time with the Warriors, Curry told a media conference: "Two championships, an unfortunate ending with injuries and not getting it done in the 2019 Finals, but it was some of the best basketball the world has ever seen.

"The ability to put that much talent and experience together and make it work, there was no guarantee it was going to work, and we figured it out and it was an amazing run."

Asked about the emotions of his return, Curry added: "Honestly, I don't know how special it'll be because it's not at Oracle [Arena] and there's no fans, so it's kind of weird that whole vibe.

"We've got a tribute video which he deserves, and hopefully it'll be a moment that he'll appreciate. But outside of that it is kind of weird to be honest, in terms of all the things that have changed since 18-19.

"If you ask him how he feels he'll probably say it's another game and I'm sure that's how it will be once the ball drops on Saturday."

TOP PERFORMERS

Stephen Curry - Golden State Warriors

Curry has bounced back from a 2019-20 season lost to injury in utterly remarkable form.

He is averaging 30 points a game, the only other season in which he has done so was in 2015-16, when he was named the league MVP in a unanimous vote.

Curry is shooting 43.5 per cent from beyond the arc, having made 10 threes in Thursday's win over the Orlando Magic, which he finished with 40 points.

That his tally against the Magic was not close to his season-high is indicative of the level at which he is playing.

The six-time All-Star has a 62-point game and a 57-point game this season, and has topped 30 points on 10 other occasions. Curry is back, and he's back to his best.

James Harden - Brooklyn Nets

Harden may not be scoring at the same level as Curry but his impact this season is undoubted.

The former Houston Rockets star is sixth in the NBA in PAR (Points + Assists + Rebounds) per game with 41.8, so far justifying the Nets' blockbuster trade for his services.

He started the month with his fourth triple-double of the season against the Los Angeles Clippers and has four successive double-doubles since.

Whether it's as a scorer, facilitator or rebounder, the Warriors will have to do all they can to limit Harden's influence.

KEY BATTLE: CAN DRAYMOND STOP DURANT?

With the Warriors still without rookie center James Wiseman because of a wrist injury and DeAndre Jordan out for the Nets, Durant may have to matchup with Draymond Green at center.

In the absence of Wiseman, the Warriors have had to turn to small ball and play Green at the five, and his clash with Durant promises to be a feisty one, given they weren't afraid to get in each other's faces as team-mates.

One of Green's tasks will be to stop Durant from getting into the paint consistently. That is no easy feat, but the Warriors have had success stopping teams in that regard this season.

Their 43.5 points in the paint allowed per game are the sixth-fewest in the NBA. If Green and the Warriors can limit Durant's opportunities to get to the hoop, they will have a much better shot of pulling off the upset.

HEAD TO HEAD

Durant and Irving inspired the Nets to a blowout win over the Warriors to start the new season.

The Nets emerged 125-99 victors, Durant scoring 22 points and leading Brooklyn with a plus-minus rating of plus 26.

That game was illustrative of the massive changes both teams have undergone. It was Brooklyn's second successive win over the Warriors but they had lost their previous eight meetings with one of most dominant teams in NBA history.

Manchester United's FA Cup win over West Ham wasn't the easiest watch for the neutral, but the average armchair fan likely had a better time than Donny van de Beek.

The Netherlands midfielder was granted the chance to impress in the number 10 role in just his 12th start for the Red Devils. With Bruno Fernandes resting on the bench and Paul Pogba out injured, this was Van de Beek's latest opportunity to show his creative mettle.

After 73 lacklustre minutes, he headed ruefully back to the bench. He had completed 28 passes and touched the ball 46 times, the lowest numbers of any starting outfield player for United. Fernandes, on as his replacement, surpassed both those figures in normal and extra time, with fellow sub Scott McTominay scoring the winning goal.

This was the latest unspectacular outing for a player who caught the eye of the world's biggest clubs at Ajax. An initial fee of £34.7million that looked a bargain at first is beginning to seem a bit of a waste as a player so in tune with that wonderful Ajax harmony looks increasingly disconnected in a United shirt.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has certainly not given up on Van de Beek just 25 games into his United career and has repeatedly called for patience as he beds the 23-year-old into his plans. But as Europa League football returns and fixtures pile up again, and with Pogba sidelined at least for a few weeks, Van de Beek is under mounting pressure to prove his worth.

 

BEEN THERE, DON THAT

During his final three seasons in the Netherlands, in which time he had established himself as first choice at the Johan Cruijff ArenA, Van de Beek registered 39 goals and 29 assists in 132 games in all competitions. No Eredivisie midfielder scored more in that time, and only former team-mate Hakim Ziyech had more assists (54).

Ziyech is an interesting comparison. From 2017-18 to 2019-20, the playmaker, now with Chelsea, was consistently the only Eredivisie midfielder with superior attacking numbers to Van de Beek. They were top two in that time for chances created from open play (275 for Ziyech, 192 for Van de Beek); top two for shots (543 and 242); and top two for efforts on target (180 and 101).

Van de Beek was also third for passes ending in the final third on 1,938, while only two midfielders (Ziyech and AZ's Fredrik Midtsjo) started more sequences to end in a shot, underlining his importance when it came to synchronising the Ajax attack. The fact he did all this from a deeper starting position than Ziyech is notable: the majority of his touches came in the left-centre of the pitch, an area that served as a springboard for forays forward that yielded 28 chance-creating carries in the Eredivisie alone.

 

ILL-FITTING

There is a notion that Van de Beek was an opportunistic signing by Solskjaer, who had no guarantees over Pogba's future or the chances of bringing in top target Jadon Sancho.

You can understand his desire to cover that base. Over those same three seasons (2017-18 to 2019-20), Pogba was the United midfielder with the most touches (7,909), the most goals (23), most assists (26), most chances created from open play (163), most passes ending in the final third (2,358) and most shots (180). And, like Van de Beek, Pogba mostly thrived to the centre-left of midfield in that time – nearly 20 per cent of his total touches all came in that general area of the pitch.

Yet a key difference lies in their possession play: during that same time frame, Pogba averaged roughly 20 more completed passes and 32 more touches in each game than Van de Beek, who was happier to let others have the ball as he took up threatening positions. Once it became clear he was spending another season at United, this gave Pogba a distinct advantage in Solskjaer's system.

The arrival of Bruno Fernandes last January more or less prompted the United boss to give up on a 4-3-3 and use a predominant 4-2-3-1, in which the attacking players are afforded relative free reign to produce match-winning moments in front of a stable base. This has often meant Pogba dropping deeper into a position that, while not his favourite, is one in which those ball-playing numbers make him a distinctly valuable asset, just as they did in France's World Cup win three years ago. Van de Beek has proven less adaptable.

 

MAKE OR BEEK

Solskjaer tends to have two versions of deep central midfielders. Playmakers like Pogba and Nemanja Matic are generally used in matches where more penetrative passing is needed to unlock low blocks who are happy to give up the ball. When facing stronger, more possession-hungry sides, the United manager has found comfort – and success – in a double pivot of Fred and McTominay, who bring far greater dynamism without the ball.

Van de Beek has, so far, failed to convince as either.

Among United midfielders to play more than three games this season, Van de Beek has produced just one goal and one assist, with only Fred and Matic yet to have a direct goal involvement. Per 90 minutes, he averages roughly three passes into the final third and just 0.3 shots, comfortably the lowest, while only substitute winger Dan James averages fewer touches (60.95).

He appears little better suited to the disruptive role, either. Per 90 minutes this season, Van de Beek averages less than one tackle, half the number of interceptions as McTominay and fewer successful duels than any midfield team-mates except James and Juan Mata. Pogba is top of that particular chart with eight.

Right now, Van de Beek appears suited neither to the recycling service of United's deep midfield nor to the attacking quartet where spontaneity is king. He must adapt soon if his Old Trafford career is going to take off.

Pep Guardiola has long known the lot of the holding midfielder.

During his playing days, Guardiola operated at the base of Barcelona's engine room as the likes of Michael Laudrup, Romario, Hristo Stoichkov, Luis Figo, Luis Enrique and Ronaldo took the plaudits higher up the field.

In his Manchester City side, who claimed a 15th successive win across all competitions this week to set a new record in English top-flight history, the attacking stars also trip off the tongue.

Ilkay Gundogan is enjoying the most prolific season of his career from midfield and was named Premier League Player of the Month on Friday, while Phil Foden's rapid rise is firing enthusiasm over England's Euro 2020 prospects.

City's all-time leading scorer Sergio Aguero and star playmaker Kevin De Bruyne are still to return to the mix after spells on the sidelines, but another less-glamorous player has been there throughout the dominant run.

No one in Guardiola's squad has made more than Rodri's 21 appearances, the Spain international having made the anchor role his own.

"The best holding midfielders never appear in the newspapers, in the front pages," the City manager said ahead of Saturday's game against Tottenham.

"They hide behind the team but when [the team] plays good it is because they are playing outstanding."

Since a 2-0 defeat to Spurs last November, City are undefeated in 22 matches - something that reflects very well indeed on Rodri in Guardiola's eyes.

 

A £62.8million signing from Atletico Madrid in July 2019, the 24-year-old's first season in English football proved a struggle at times.

Without Aymeric Laporte through injury for large chunks of the season, the defence Rodri was charged with protecting often looked vulnerable.

Fernandinho being pressed into action at centre-back meant the new man was left to learn on the job as Guardiola sought and struggled for midfield balance.

But Rodri has started to thrive in the months since City last tasted defeat, with Ruben Dias at the heart of defence and an attacking line ahead of him displaying its fluidity of old.

"He adapted quickly, immediately. He's still young and there are some issues that he still has to learn but he will learn them," Guardiola said. "He's a really important player for us."

No Premier League player has attempted more than Rodri's 1,723 passes this season and he retains an impressive 90.3 per cent accuracy across that volume of work.

The quality of possession Rodri plays a part in and often launches is notable.

According to Opta, he has initiated 36 open play sequences leading to a shot and five resulting in goals - both league-best returns.

Similarly, Rodri is out on his own with 81 involvements in open play build-ups concluding with a shot, while weekend opponent Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg is the only man who can match the Spaniard's 11 involvements in build-ups preceding a goal.

Smoothness on the ball is a pre-requisite for any Guardiola player, especially one operating in the Catalan's old position, but Rodri has also shown an aptitude for the dirty work required to keep City's pristine machine on the road.

None of his team-mates can boast more than his 174 recoveries this term - 10th in the Premier League overall. Rodri also leads the way at City for tackles (40) and duels won (128), while winning 52 of 70 aerials contested – that is unmatched in the top-flight leaders' squad as well.

"A good holding midfielder plays for the other ones and not for himself. These are the best holding midfielders," Guardiola said.

"They think what's happening, what they have to do to correct the mistakes of the other ones and don't play for the highlights."

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer confirmed on Friday that teenagers Shola Shoretire and Hannibal Mejbri will be promoted to Manchester United's senior squad.

The young attackers have been playing for United's Under-23s this season and blossomed in Neil Wood's free-scoring team.

Still just 17 and 18, respectively, Shoretire and Mejbri are seemingly now considered a level above that which United's second team play, with both looking destined for big futures.

Shoretire was spotted training with the United first-team squad last week and Mejbri is set to join him, with Solskjaer confirming it is his plan to integrate both into the senior group.

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Solskjaer said: "Yeah, we've moved Shola up with us, Hannibal will probably join us, and we'll keep them with us for a while.

"Of course, it's a decision we have to make – are they going to train with us and travel by themselves and not be a part of the Under-23s group?

"We felt, with Shola, it was time for him to train with us. In the Under-23s games, he's just got to travel by himself; he can't be in the dressing room, but we felt it was the right thing to do for him.

"I think it's the next step in their development and we've just got to take the hit on them when they play in the Under-23s – that they've got to travel by themselves, because they're in our [first-team] bubble."

Shoretire and Mejbri have long been considered among the best prospects in United's academy, but what can they offer?

 

HANNIBAL MEJBRI, 18 – ATTACKING MIDFIELDER

Many will have had an eye on Mejbri's development ever since he joined the club from Monaco in August 2019 in a deal that could potentially cost €10million (£8.75m).

A France youth international, Mejbri quickly progressed to United's Under-23s last term despite only being 17 and has become a regular.

A technically gifted attack-minded midfielder, Mejbri has impressed not only with his ability on the ball, but his knack of crafting opportunities for team-mates.

In Premier League 2 Division One, his 42 chances created in 13 games is more than any other player, while his six assists is a joint-best for the league.

He has combined his creativity and comfort in possession to good effect as well, as evidenced by the fact seven of his carries (a movement of more than five metres with the ball) have led to chances created, a figured bettered by only five.

Mejbri has also attempted 49 dribbles, the fourth-most in the division, and won a remarkable 94 fouls – almost three times as many as anyone else – two of which secured penalties in the recent 6-3 win over Liverpool's Under-23s.

In fact, Wood recently urged referees to do more to protect him from such rough treatment, concerned Mejbri will suffer a serious injury if it continues.

He can expect similar attention if he does get minutes in the top flight, though Wood is adamant Mejbri does not let it get to him, saying: "I think he's the type that he wants the ball all the time, he's not going to shy away from it and that's what we want, you don't want your top players being worried, he just needs a bit of protection or it could result in him being badly injured."

SHOLA SHORETIRE, 17 – FORWARD

Shoretire joined the United academy in 2014 having previously played for Newcastle United, and for several years now he has looked like one of the next high-potential kids to come off the Old Trafford production line.

He made his debut for the club's Under-18s in 2018, in doing so becoming the youngest player to ever feature in UEFA's Youth League at 14 years and 314 days.

Shoretire – whose name is pronounced 'Shor-ay-ti-reh' – is most-often used as a winger (on either flank) for the Under-23s, but given his excellent dribbling, vision and finishing abilities, he could potentially have a future as a more central striker.

He signed his first professional contract on Monday, just three days after netting a hat-trick against Blackburn Rovers' Under-23s.

That took him to five goals in 13 appearances this term, while he also has four assists from 22 chances created.

Where he comes out particularly well is with regards to goal-ending passing sequences, of which he has been involved in 13 – only Mejbri (14) has a better record here.

Like Mejbri, Shoretire also has a penchant for taking the game to his opponents, as showcased by the fact he has created eight chances at the end of ball carries, the fifth-most in the league.

Given United's packed schedule over the next few weeks, with their European campaign set to resume, it wouldn't be a surprise to see these two make their first-team bows.

Even if they don't this season, it is surely only a matter of time.

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