A 103-101 loss to the Toronto Raptors on a buzzer-beating three-pointer just over a month ago on April 5 seemed to encompass the Washington Wizards' season perfectly.

Washington blew a 19-point, third-quarter lead en route to dropping to 0-11 when failing to score more than 102 points. It was a fourth straight loss for a team playing their fifth game in a row without 2020 scoring leader Bradley Beal, and the defeat dropped the Wizards to 17-32 – the third-worst record in the Eastern Conference and 3.5 games out of 10th place for the final spot in the play-in tournament.

The Russell Westbrook experiment was looking like a disaster and very little suggested a playoff push was possible over the season's final five and a half weeks given the team's struggles over the season's first three months when Beal was healthy.

Surprisingly, however, the Wizards didn't fold.

They showed some reserve two nights later with Beal back in the lineup, finishing strong in a 131-116 victory over the Orlando Magic after nearly blowing all of a 21-point, third-quarter lead, then escaped with a 110-107 road win over the Golden State Warriors on April 9 with Beal scoring six points in the final 6.1 seconds.

The win streak ended the next night but that was no big surprise as they were on the road against a Phoenix Suns team that is currently battling for the best record in the league, not to mention Beal sat out the second half of a back-to-back.

Since then, though, Washington has compiled the league's second-best record at 11-3, racking up 115 points or more in all 14 of those games. The only other team in the past 30 years to have a streak like this was a 20-game run by the 2018-19 Oklahoma City Thunder – a team also quarterbacked by Westbrook.

Since April 12, the Wizards are averaging an eye-popping 126.0 points per game to lead the NBA, and while Westbrook and Beal have played a big role in the scoring explosion, the offense is getting a boost from some unlikely sources thanks to a somewhat unconventional approach.

In this age of players regularly hoisting up three-point shots, the Wizards are instead focusing on pushing the ball inside.

Washington are attempting 7.1 fewer three-point attempts in their most recent 14 games compared to their first 52 contests, with their 23.4 three-point attempts since April 12 ranking fewest in the league – 3.7 attempts fewer than the next-closest team (San Antonio Spurs) and 20.1(!) fewer than the club with the most tries (Utah Jazz).

The results? An offense that ranks fourth in efficiency since April 12 at 115.4 points per 100 possessions after ranking 23rd at 106.7 through games played on April 11.

The backcourt tandem of Westbrook and Beal, the league's No. 2 scoring duo with 3,068 points – 29 behind the New Orleans Pelicans' Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram – have been the driving force of Washington's recent surge, which should obviously come as no surprise.

Prior to April 12, the Wizards averaged 99.8 points per 100 possessions when neither Westbrook nor Beal were on the court, and 109.9 points when they were playing together. Since April 12, Washington's efficiency without Westbrook and Beal dipped a smidge – 98.9 points per 100 possessions – while its production with both of them on the court has jumped significantly – 117.9 points per 100 possessions.

The offense is running smoother in part because Westbrook is taking smarter shots.

For all the great things the nine-time All-Star and 2016-17 MVP does on the court, shooting three-pointers isn't one of them. Of the 125 players with at least 225 3-point attempts, Westbrook's 31.2 per cent shooting ranks 121st.

Attempting fewer shots from beyond the perimeter would seem to behove Westbrook and the Wizards, and he's complying. After averaging 4.3 three-point attempts in his first 45 games, he's attempting an average of 2.8 three-pointers in the previous 14.

He's done some of his most damage recently from the elbow, where he's shooting 47.9 per cent and has made 35 field goals – second only to Ingram's 41 since April 12.

He made six shots from the elbow in Wednesday's 135-134 road loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, when he finished with 29 points, 17 assists and 12 rebounds for his 19th triple-double in his past 23 games. With 179 triple-doubles in his career, he is now within two of Oscar Robertson's all-time record.

Beal has also cut down a bit on his three-point tries in the past 14 games – 6.4 to 5.5 – but the biggest change to his game in the last three and a half weeks has been he's driving even more to the basket.

Since April 12, his 10.0 field goal attempts on dunks and layups trails only Williamson's 15.1 per game for the league lead. The six-foot-three Beal is making 6.0 of these attempts after making 4.3 and attempting an average of 7.0 dunk and layups through April 11.

While Westbrook and Beal are considered two of the league's top guards, Robin Lopez's name usually isn't mentioned when discussing the NBA's top big men. Heck, he isn't even considered to be the best seven-footer in his own family, but he's been automatic from close range recently.

Among the 173 players with at least 30 shots from within five feet of the basket since April 12, Lopez's 78.4 per cent shooting (29 of 37) ranks sixth in the league. Prior to this stretch, Lopez was shooting 66.5 per cent on all shots within five feet of the hoop – just a tick behind brother Brook at 67.5 per cent.

Lopez isn't the only big man that has stepped up off the bench recently for Washington.

The three-team trade that sent Daniel Gafford from the Chicago Bulls to the Wizards didn't really move the needle on the day of the trade deadline, but it's one that has helped Washington turn their season around.

Of the 199 players with at least 75 field goal attempts since April 12, Gafford ranks fourth in the NBA in eFG per cent at 69.2, just behind Brooklyn Nets superstar Kevin Durant, whose third on the list at 69.7 per cent.

Gafford has also become one of Westbrook's favourite targets, as Westbrook has fed him on 31 made baskets since April 12. That's the most by any guard to a centre and third by any player to a team-mate behind Westbrook to Beal at 39 and the Warriors' Draymond Green to Stephen Curry at 46.

The recent surge in the standings has Washington on the verge of making the playoffs for the first time since 2018, as they sit in 10th place in the East, one-half game back of the ninth-place Indiana Pacers and a comfortable three games ahead of the Toronto Raptors.

Not only are the playoffs within their grasp, with the way Westbrook, Beal and company are playing, the high-octane Wizards have a look of a team nobody would like to face in the postseason.

Christian Pulisic admitted to being "very frustrated" at being left out of Chelsea's starting line-up for Wednesday's Champions League semi-final second leg with Real Madrid.

The United States international scored a crucial away goal for the Blues in last week's first leg but was named among the substitutes for the return fixture at Stamford Bridge.

He again made his impact known, however, by setting up a goal for Mason Mount 18 minutes after being introduced from the bench in the 2-0 win, which saw Chelsea through 3-1 on aggregate.

"I'm very frustrated," Pulisic, who has struggled with injuries this term, told CBS Sports. "There's not much else to say. I wanted to play from the beginning, as I always do.

"I've had to continue to prove myself over and over again. But, as always I reach out to God and he gives me strength. With that behind me, nothing can stop me really."

A look at the Opta stats shows Pulisic has a right to be frustrated, having now scored and assisted a combined four goals in the Champions League in nine appearances this term.

Only Olivier Giroud and Timo Werner have been directly involved in more (both six) - in eight and 11 games respectively.

For comparison, Mount - who has been superb for Chelsea this season - has three direct goal involvements in 10 Champions League games, while Kai Havertz has two from 11 respectively.

Focusing on the Premier League, meanwhile, Pulisic has four goals and one assist in 23 appearances this term, just 14 of those being starts.

Pulisic's average of a 0.26 goals per 90 minutes is slightly better than Havertz's return of 0.25 and behind only Giroud (0.5) and Tammy Abraham (0.52) among Chelsea's attackers. Werner, for context, averages 0.23.

The 22-year-old also performs better when it comes to chances created per 90 minutes in the English top flight when compared to Havertz - 1.37 to the German's 1.07.

But Pulisic still ranks some way below Hakim Ziyech, who has created 2.54 chances per 90 minutes this season and will also perhaps feel that he should be starting more often.

Mount (2.68) and Callum Hudson-Odoi (2.71) lead that particular metric, incidentally, which only highlights just how many options Thomas Tuchel has available in that zone.

One area Pulisic struggles in comparison to his attacking rivals is passing accuracy in the opposition half - 80.95, which is lower than Havertz's 84.3, Mount's 85.45 and Hudson-Odoi's 85.65. ​

The American's win rate when starting games also does not make for good reading.

The Blues have won 13 and lost just two of the 20 league games Pulisic has not featured from the beginning this term, compared to four wins and five losses in the 14 games he has been included in the XI.

Chelsea average 1.8 league goals with Pulisic in their starting line-up, as opposed to 1.3 without, while their average goals against rises from 0.6 to 1.4 when he starts.

Tuchel ultimately knows best when it comes to his team selection - and he is backed up by the possibility of a Champions League and FA Cup double - so Pulisic will simply have to keep proving himself if he is to hold down a regular starting spot.

Judging draft picks in the immediate aftermath of their selection can be a foolhardy endeavour, as the success of rookies that enter the league depends on several factors including situation, opportunity and luck.

While it is tough to dole out grades for players who have not even hit the practice field for their new teams, it is possible to assess the totality of a franchise's moves in a draft and determine who has been impacted, positively and negatively, by those player selections.

In a draft dominated by a historic level of talent at the position, it is the classes of teams that made changes at quarterback that will likely have the most significant influence on the league.

After five quarterbacks went in the first round, we use Stats Perform data to determine the winners and losers from a draft that should go on to be remembered as one of the most important in NFL history.


Winners

Chicago Bears fans

Who knows whether the Justin Fields-era in Chicago will be a success? The weight of history surrounding Bears quarterbacks suggests it has a very good chance of being a failure.

But by trading up to land the Ohio State quarterback instead of committing to a year of purgatory with Andy Dalton, the Bears ensured they should be significantly more watchable in 2021, assuming post-draft talk about wanting to sit Fields behind Dalton proves false.

Fields is an exciting downfield thrower who averaged 10.10 air yards per attempt in the 2020 college season. It is an imperfect comparison given the difference in the level of competition but the two Bears starters in 2019, Mitchell Trubisky (7.94) and Nick Foles (7.92), each averaged under eight air yards per attempt.

And Fields was accurate when he pushed the ball downfield. On throws of 15 air yards or more, 76.47 per cent were well thrown, compared to 71.43 for Lawrence, 69.41 for Wilson and 67.39 for 15th overall pick Mac Jones.

His aggressive style should mesh well with number one receiver Allen Robinson, who was fifth in the NFL with 908 of his receiving yards coming at the point of reception.

Fields will also have the benefit of improved protection from a nasty offensive tackle in the form of second-round pick Teven Jenkins.

Jenkins allowed a pressure rate of 2.9 per cent in 2020, third among tackles with at least 100 pass protection snaps. The top tackle in that regard was Larry Borom of Missouri (1.8%), whom Chicago drafted in the fifth round.

Chicago also further helped Fields' cause by drafting Virginia Tech running back Khalil Herbert, who was second in the Power 5 in yards per carry (7.63) among running backs with at least 100 carries and Dazz Newsome, the North Carolina wideout who was 11th in burn percentage (71) among receivers with at least 25 slot targets. 

The Bears have been a chore to watch in recent years. It isn't clear whether the move up for Fields will work and it is debatable whether general manager Ryan Pace should have been allowed to make it given his track record, but there is finally reason for a passionate fanbase to be genuinely excited about their team.

Zach Wilson

Wilson going second overall to the Jets was no secret, but New York did an excellent job of taking steps to ensure concerns over his one season of elite production against non-Power 5 opposition do not prove prescient by surrounding him with talent.

A trade up for guard Alijah Vera-Tucker raised eyebrows but his pressure rate allowed of 1.3 per cent when playing left guard for USC in 2019 was the best in the Power 5 and suggests he can lock down that spot for the next decade for the Jets.

Wide receiver Elijah Moore brings inside-out versatility and should have gone in the first round. Instead, the Ole Miss star went 34th overall to the Jets, adding a wideout who led the FBS in receiving yards per game (149.1) last season to an intriguing group that includes Denzel Mims, Corey Davis and Jamison Crowder.

Third-round running back Michael Carter will give offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur a versatile skill set to utilise.

The North Carolina back led Power 5 runners with 100 carries or more in yards per carry (7.98) and yards before contact per rush (5.36) in 2020.

As a receiver, Carter was eighth among those Power 5 backs, who also had a minimum of 10 targets, in burn yards per target (10.86).

Carter should, therefore, be able to have a substantial impact in the zone-running scheme the Jets will employ in 2021 and influence the passing game significantly.

Growing pains are to be expected in Wilson's rookie season in New York but this was a draft in which the Jets went to great lengths to make his adaptation to the pros as smooth as possible.

Lamar Jackson

Every year, the Baltimore Ravens do an excellent job of letting the draft board come to them and reaping the rewards.

In 2020, they stole linebacker Patrick Queen in the back end of the first round. This year they grabbed arguably the most well-refined receiver in the draft, Minnesota's Rashod Bateman, with the 27th overall pick.

A truncated 2020 season in which he played just five games following a bout of coronavirus may not have helped Bateman's stock, but his 2019 tape showed a receiver who can develop into a number one target for Lamar Jackson.

Bateman can excel at all levels of the field and his downfield upside shone through in 2019, when he was open on 70.8 per cent of his targets in 2019 with an average depth of target of 16.2 yards.

His burn yards per target average of 16.15 was sixth among all Power 5 receivers with at least 50 targets two seasons ago, with Henry Ruggs III and Chris Olave the only players in the same group to produce a superior big-play percentage to Bateman's 50.4.

Big plays in the passing game have not been consistent for the Ravens. Jackson (25) had fewer passing plays of 25 yards or more than Teddy Bridgewater (27) and Drew Lock (28) in 2020.

Bateman has the talent to greatly increase that tally of explosive plays while the addition of Tylan Wallace, who was eighth among Power 5 receivers with a minimum of 50 targets last season with a burn yards per route average of 4.33, should further boost Jackson's hopes of bouncing back as a passer in 2021.

Having also addressed the interior of the offensive line by drafting Ben Cleveland, whose pressure rate allowed of 2.7 per cent was seventh among Power 5 guards last season, in the third round, Jackson goes into 2021 in an excellent position to take the passing game to levels that escaped the 2019 MVP in 2020.

In the coming season, Jackson will have much better weapons and should have improved protection. If the Ravens' offense falls short again in the playoffs in 2021, he won't have much room for excuses.

Losers

Ben Roethlisberger

Pittsburgh lost left tackle Alejandro Villanueva and the versatile Matt Feiler in free agency but did nothing to fill either of the voids left by that duo until the third round when they picked up athletic Illinois guard Kendrick Green. Tackle Dan Moore was picked in the fourth round.

Instead, they spent their first two picks on a running back and a tight end in Alabama's Najee Harris and Pat Freiermuth of Penn State, stacking the offense with further weapons for Ben Roethlisberger in what will likely be his last season in the NFL.

But, beyond running back, weapons were not the need for the Steelers. Harris is an upgrade in the backfield but he averaged only 2.14 yards after contact per rush last season, below the Power 5 average of 2.21, and typically the offensive line has just as much of an impact on running game production as the back.

A failure to prioritise the trenches could result in Harris struggling to evade defenders that the O-Line has allowed into the backfield. More worryingly for Roethlisberger, the lack of a dependable replacement at left tackle could leave a quarterback who missed 14 games as recently as 2019 open to punishment from opposing pass rushers.

Roethlisberger completed 50.7 per cent of his passes when under pressure in 2020, the fifth-worst number of all quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts. If this is to be his swansong, the Steelers are not setting him up for a successful one.

Trevor Lawrence

Ok, so Trevor Lawrence is a winner. He's the number one overall pick and is set to be paid millions to take his talents to the highest level.

But, in terms of the situation he is going into in Jacksonville, the Jaguars did little to help him.

With the 25th pick, they passed up the chance to boost their pass-catching options in favour of drafting his Clemson team-mate, running back Travis Etienne, following a 2020 season in which undrafted rookie James Robinson finished the year sixth in yards after contact per attempt (2.34). 

Simply put, Etienne was the definition of an unnecessary luxury pick.

Tyson Campbell was a decent value pick at 33rd overall in the second round but Jaguars general manager Trent Baalke, who developed a reputation during his time running the San Francisco 49ers for taking ill-advised risks on players with bad injury histories, picked a safety in Andre Cisco who tore his ACL in September and offensive tackle Walker Little, who has not played a game since 2019, when he featured in just one before suffering a knee injury.

The only pass-catching additions came in the form of a 29-year-old tight end, Luke Farrell, in the fifth round and wide receiver Jalen Camp in the sixth. 

Between D.J. Chark, Marvin Jones and Laviska Shenault, Lawrence does have reasonable weapons, but the Jags did not do much to add to his arsenal.

NFC West run defenses

Teams trying to stop the 49ers' ground game have had a hard time since Kyle Shanahan became head coach in 2017.

Their 224 rushes of 10 yards or more are tied sixth in the NFL in that time, and that tally looks set to increase after San Francisco drafted a franchise quarterback in Trey Lance who boasts a devastating mix of speed and power in the open field.

Lance's 14 touchdowns in 2019 were bettered by just four quarterbacks across the FBS and FCS, his rushing average of 6.5 yards fifth among signal-callers with at least 100 rushes.

San Francisco then added further to their ground game by picking Trey Sermon in the third round and Elijah Mitchell in the sixth.

In the Power 5 and Group of Five, just four running backs with a minimum of 100 attempts had a better yards per carry average than Sermon's 7.50 last season.

Burst to the second level is a key trait for Sermon, who was fourth in average yards before contact per attempt with 4.85.

The electric Mitchell, meanwhile, averaged the third-most yards after contact per attempt, putting up 3.23 per rush, a rate beaten by Javonte Williams (4.59) and Jaret Patterson (3.25).

Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr. are each free agents in 2022 but, by drafting Lance, Sermon and Mitchell, the Niners ensured their run game is about to get more diverse and potentially more destructive.

For the three NFC West teams that face them twice a year, that is simply terrible news.

In December 2018, Manchester United fans were adamant that Jose Mourinho's sacking meant he was finished at the "top" in club football.

A drab style of play, a similarly joyless demeanour in news conferences and seemingly incessant desire to belittle his own players marred his time in Manchester.

Disagreements with Luke Shaw, Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial were hardly private, while his relationship with Marcus Rashford appeared uneasy at times as well.

Tottenham paid no mind to the issues – whether that was down to Daniel Levy being convinced Mourinho wasn't finished yet or if he just wanted an entertaining figurehead for his Amazon documentary, who knows. Suffice to say, it ended prematurely on April 19 when Spurs announced his dismissal.

That was two successive high-profile jobs in club management that have, at the end of the day, yielded little – even if Mourinho insists finishing second with Manchester United was one of his greatest achievements.

It left many pondering what might be next. Given the damage to his reputation and the managerial stability of most of the biggest clubs in Europe, international management with Portugal after the Euros seemed the likeliest destination.

Yet here we are: just a few weeks on from being dismissed, he's got himself a new job lined up for next season when he will replace compatriot Paulo Fonseca at Roma. Mourinho's going back to Italy, the setting of arguably his greatest achievement in football: Inter's 2009-10 treble.

But football has changed a lot in the 11 years since then – on the evidence of his time at Tottenham and Manchester United, Mourinho hasn't.

A look at his data in the Premier League since last winning it in 2015 with Chelsea shows real decline.

A failure to evolve

Let's not forget, during Mourinho's first spell as Chelsea boss he was regarded as the best coach in the world at times. Even initially in his second period at Stamford Bridge he did well, taking them to the 2014-15 Premier League trophy.

But things quickly unravelled in 2015, and it's difficult to claim he's been on anything other than a downward spiral ever since.

He was sacked by Chelsea after winning just four games from 16 at the start of the 2015-16 season, and although he did preside over United's best season – points wise – since Ferguson's retirement, he didn't leave much of a legacy at Old Trafford.

Mourinho was then tasked with ending Spurs' 11-year trophy drought. That has since stretched to 13 years, and he left Tottenham having won just 46.6 per cent of his league games in charge.

His record in the English top flight before 2015-16 saw him boast a success rate of 69.4 per cent – since then it is just 48.5 per cent.

But why?

There are numerous theories about Mourinho's demise, but arguably chief among them is the idea he has failed to evolve with modern football, focusing on negating the threats of opponents rather than using the attacking talents available to him to take the initiative.

This fear was reportedly one reason for Spurs players apparently growing frustrated with Mourinho, and the data backs up the idea Mourinho is less forward thinking than earlier in his career, with his teams averaging 1.6 goals per game since 2014-15 finished, as opposed to 1.8 beforehand.

While not a massive difference, that change is exacerbated by the fact Mourinho no longer appears to be the shrewd pragmatic innovator he was once regarded, with his teams in the past few years rather porous.

Again, since 2015-16 started, Mourinho's teams have been conceding at a rate of 1.1 per game, whereas previously they conceded just 0.6 goals every 90 minutes.

Mourinho's teams were once tireless competitors built on a solid foundation – that no longer appears to be the case.

Spurs letting it slip

Perhaps it was expected Mourinho would at least get until the end of the season with Spurs, but with Champions League qualification looking increasingly unlikely, maybe we shouldn't be surprised that Levy acted when he did.

In terms of the reasoning for his sacking, there's probably not much more to it – but if we delve a little further into the numbers, unsettling trends appear.

Granted, the 95 points won by Spurs during Mourinho's time at the club was the fourth highest in the Premier League. However, that was 21 fewer than Manchester United – Liverpool had 117 and Manchester City were out in front on 130.

Mourinho's teams are supposed to be hard to beat, that had essentially been his unique selling point for years, yet Spurs lost 13 times in 2020-21 under him – it's the worst season he's ever had in that regard and he didn't even see it all the way through.

Similarly, the 10 Premier League losses Spurs suffered is a career worst for Mourinho in a single season.

The frequency of defeats led to questions being routinely asked of Spurs' mentality throughout Mourinho's time there, with the 27 points they dropped from winning positions in the Premier League since his initial appointment being behind only Southampton (30) and Brighton and Hove Albion (31) before he was dismissed.

But it makes for even grimmer viewing when looking at this season alone as the 20 points they threw away was the joint-worst in the division at the time of his sacking.

Spurs were particularly concerning when it came to closing games out, losing 11 points to goals conceded after the 80th minute. It's no wonder their collective mental strength had been called into question so often.

While the fact he didn't collect more points per game than Tim Sherwood (1.91) might attract ridicule on social media, the latter's record is actually the best of any Spurs boss to preside over more than 10 Premier League games at the club.

More importantly, Mourinho's 1.64 points per game was a significant drop-off on Pochettino's (1.89), and therein lies a key issue.

Roma have been struggling to meet the expectations of a demanding fanbase for years, a situation not too disimiliar to Spurs.

He couldn't do the business in London – Roma will hope Mourinho's pragmatism can still stake a claim for relevance in Serie A.

In December 2018, Manchester United fans were adamant that Jose Mourinho's sacking meant he was finished at the "top" in club football.

A drab style of play, a similarly joyless demeanour in news conferences and seemingly incessant desire to belittle his own players marred his time in Manchester.

Disagreements with Luke Shaw, Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial were hardly private, while his relationship with Marcus Rashford appeared uneasy at times as well.

Tottenham paid no mind to the issues – whether that was down to Daniel Levy being convinced Mourinho wasn't finished yet or if he just wanted an entertaining figurehead for his Amazon documentary, who knows. Suffice to say, it ended prematurely on April 19 when Spurs announced his dismissal.

That was two successive high-profile jobs in club management that have, at the end of the day, yielded little – even if Mourinho insists finishing second with Manchester United was one of his greatest achievements.

It left many pondering what might be next. Given the damage to his reputation and the managerial stability of most of the biggest clubs in Europe, international management with Portugal after the Euros seemed the likeliest destination.

Yet here we are: just a few weeks on from being dismissed, he's got himself a new job lined up for next season when he will replace compatriot Paulo Fonseca at Roma. Mourinho's going back to Italy, the setting of arguably his greatest achievement in football: Inter's 2009-10 treble.

But football has changed a lot in the 11 years since then – on the evidence of his time at Tottenham and Manchester United, Mourinho hasn't.

A look at his data in the Premier League since last winning it in 2015 with Chelsea shows real decline.

A failure to evolve

Let's not forget, during Mourinho's first spell as Chelsea boss he was regarded as the best coach in the world at times. Even initially in his second period at Stamford Bridge he did well, taking them to the 2014-15 Premier League trophy.

But things quickly unravelled in 2015, and it's difficult to claim he's been on anything other than a downward spiral ever since.

He was sacked by Chelsea after winning just four games from 16 at the start of the 2015-16 season, and although he did preside over United's best season – points wise – since Ferguson's retirement, he didn't leave much of a legacy at Old Trafford.

Mourinho was then tasked with ending Spurs' 11-year trophy drought. That has since stretched to 13 years, and he left Tottenham having won just 46.6 per cent of his league games in charge.

His record in the English top flight before 2015-16 saw him boast a success rate of 69.4 per cent – since then it is just 48.5 per cent.

But why?

There are numerous theories about Mourinho's demise, but arguably chief among them is the idea he has failed to evolve with modern football, focusing on negating the threats of opponents rather than using the attacking talents available to him to take the initiative.

This fear was reportedly one reason for Spurs players apparently growing frustrated with Mourinho, and the data backs up the idea Mourinho is less forward thinking than earlier in his career, with his teams averaging 1.6 goals per game since 2014-15 finished, as opposed to 1.8 beforehand.

While not a massive difference, that change is exacerbated by the fact Mourinho no longer appears to be the shrewd pragmatic innovator he was once regarded, with his teams in the past few years rather porous.

Again, since 2015-16 started, Mourinho's teams have been conceding at a rate of 1.1 per game, whereas previously they conceded just 0.6 goals every 90 minutes.

Mourinho's teams were once tireless competitors built on a solid foundation – that no longer appears to be the case.

Spurs letting it slip

Perhaps it was expected Mourinho would at least get until the end of the season with Spurs, but with Champions League qualification looking increasingly unlikely, maybe we shouldn't be surprised that Levy acted when he did.

In terms of the reasoning for his sacking, there's probably not much more to it – but if we delve a little further into the numbers, unsettling trends appear.

Granted, the 95 points won by Spurs during Mourinho's time at the club was the fourth highest in the Premier League. However, that was 21 fewer than Manchester United – Liverpool had 117 and Manchester City were out in front on 130.

Mourinho's teams are supposed to be hard to beat, that had essentially been his unique selling point for years, yet Spurs lost 13 times in 2020-21 under him – it's the worst season he's ever had in that regard and he didn't even see it all the way through.

Similarly, the 10 Premier League losses Spurs suffered is a career worst for Mourinho in a single season.

The frequency of defeats led to questions being routinely asked of Spurs' mentality throughout Mourinho's time there, with the 27 points they dropped from winning positions in the Premier League since his initial appointment being behind only Southampton (30) and Brighton and Hove Albion (31) before he was dismissed.

But it makes for even grimmer viewing when looking at this season alone as the 20 points they threw away was the joint-worst in the division at the time of his sacking.

Spurs were particularly concerning when it came to closing games out, losing 11 points to goals conceded after the 80th minute. It's no wonder their collective mental strength had been called into question so often.

While the fact he didn't collect more points per game than Tim Sherwood (1.91) might attract ridicule on social media, the latter's record is actually the best of any Spurs boss to preside over more than 10 Premier League games at the club.

More importantly, Mourinho's 1.64 points per game was a significant drop-off on Pochettino's (1.89), and therein lies a key issue.

Roma have been struggling to meet the expectations of a demanding fanbase for years, a situation not too disimiliar to Spurs.

He couldn't do the business in London – Roma will hope Mourinho's pragmatism can still stake a claim for relevance in Serie A.

An all-English Champions League final could be in the offing as Manchester City and Chelsea look to progress from the last four.

The two Premier League sides each have the edge going into the second leg of their respective semi-final ties with Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid.

And history is in their favour as they set their sights on the final in Istanbul on May 29.

Here we preview the two second legs using Opta numbers.

Manchester City v Paris-Saint Germain: Guardiola's men eye European history

It is advantage City after a dramatic first leg at the Parc des Princes, a second-half fightback and 2-1 win meaning PSG will have to score at least twice to progress.

Should Pep Guardiola's men knock out last season's finalists, they will reach their first UEFA European final for 51 years, since winning the 1970 Cup Winners' Cup final against Gornik Zabrze.

This would break the record for the longest gap between appearances in UEFA European finals, held by Sporting CP (41 years between 1964 Cup Winners' Cup final and 2005 UEFA Cup final).

City have won their previous six Champions League matches and another win at the Etihad Stadium would also see them break the record for the longest winning run by an English team in European Cup/Champions League history. Three other sides have won six in a row: Manchester United (1965-66), Leeds United (1969-70) and Arsenal (2005).

They will be the favourites having gone unbeaten in each of their four previous meetings with PSG (W2, D2), with the Ligue 1 club only facing Milan more often in the Champions League (four times) without winning than City (three times).

There have been 47 previous instances in the European Cup/Champions League of an English side winning the first leg of a two-legged knockout tie away from home, and on all 47 occasions the English team has progressed.

Recent history suggests City should be wary of a PSG turnaround, though, Les Parisiens having completed a comeback the last time they lost the first leg of a Champions League tie 2-1, beating Borussia Dortmund in the round of 16 last season.

Yet they have never progressed from a European tie after losing the first leg at home, meaning Guardiola could have plenty to celebrate as he breaks Carlo Ancelotti's record for most Champions League knockout games coached by taking charge of his 63rd.

Chelsea v Real Madrid: Omens point to Blues ending Zidane streak

Chelsea have a slight edge going into the return leg after a 1-1 draw in Spain, Christian Pulisic having scored a superb away goal.

The Blues were frustrated not to add to that opener and were pegged back by Karim Benzema, who could overtake Raul and become the outright fourth top scorer in the Champions League if he nets his 72nd at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday.

But Chelsea are unbeaten in their four previous matches in European competition against Madrid, who are winless in their past four away games against English sides in the Champions League (D2 L2), scoring only two goals across the four games.

And the Blues have progressed from five of their last seven knockout ties in the Champions League when avoiding defeat away from home in the first leg, meaning the omens are against Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane emulating three managerial greats.

Zidane is looking to secure his fourth progression in four Champions League semi-final ties, which would equal the record for most semi-final tie progressions by a coach in competition history (four - along with Alex Ferguson, Carlo Ancelotti and Marcello Lippi).

In his way is a coach who has proven formidable in home games in this tournament.

Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel, who guided PSG to last year's final, has only lost four of his 18 home games as a manager in the Champions League (W12 D2), with his sides scoring 48 goals across these fixtures - an average of 2.7 per game.

If Madrid are to defeat the odds that are seemingly stacked against them, then midfielder Toni Kroos is likely to play a key role.

Kroos has been involved in 59 shot-ending sequences in the Champions League this season; the most of any midfielder in the competition, and second only to PSG's Kylian Mbappe (60) among players for teams remaining in the competition.

It was another Premier League weekend where off-the-pitch (well, sort of) matters dominated the headlines, with Manchester United's home game against Liverpool postponed as a result of anti-Glazer protests.

That also meant Pep Guardiola had to put the Cava back on ice for another week, with Manchester City's title celebrations on hold.

Nevertheless, there was still plenty to keep us occupied, with Mike Dean adding another to his red card haul for the campaign and Gareth Bale proving he can cut it against the best with a hat-trick against *checks notes* relegated Sheffield United.

Using Opta data, we look at some of the quirky facts from the latest Premier League matches…

 

Crystal Palace 0-2 Manchester City: Guardiola's men unrivalled going forward

City and Guardiola being rather good is nothing new, but in terms of how effective they are going forward, you may not know how much better than everyone else they really are.

During Saturday's 2-0 win at Crystal Palace, which put them within one win of the title, City reached 700 goals under Guardiola across all competitions.

To put that into context, over the same period Liverpool have scored the second most among English clubs – 543. Then it's Tottenham (532) and – perhaps surprisingly so – Arsenal (522).

The only club among Europe's top five leagues to have outscored City over this time is Paris Saint-Germain (712), a club that spent roughly €400million on just two forwards back in 2017 and have – for the most part – dominated Ligue 1.

Of the 700, Sergio Aguero – who scored against Palace – has the most with 122, followed by Raheem Sterling (102) and Gabriel Jesus (81).

 

Chelsea 2-0 Fulham: Tuchel has Blues switched on at the back

Ever since Thomas Tuchel replaced Frank Lampard in January, Chelsea have been better almost across the board.

Arguably their greatest improvement has been at the back, where suddenly the Blues look incredibly strong despite Tuchel having the same pool of players to pick from as Lampard.

Under the former England international they had conceded 23 goals in 19 Premier League games this term, but they've let in just eight in 15 with Tuchel at the helm.

People might be keen to suggest it's just luck, but the fact the Blues' xGA (expected goals against) is 7.8 shows their eight concessions is bang on.

Granted, Lampard's xGA figure of 18.4 was a fair bit lower than the 23 let in, so they were perhaps conceding to particularly remarkable finishing.

Nevertheless, the xGA per game of the two coaches are significantly different: Tuchel's 0.5 is exactly half Lampard's 1.0, but why? What's changed?

One potential explanation is that Tuchel has Chelsea pressing more intensely from the front, as shown by PPDA data. PPDA is the number of opposition passes allowed outside of the pressing team's own defensive third, divided by the number of defensive actions by the pressing team outside of their own defensive third.

Under Lampard they had a PPDA of 11, whereas it's 9.4 under Tuchel, the lowest in the Premier League over that time. Chelsea are now facing fewer shots (7.4 per 90 minutes, compared to 10.1), and this could be down to the greater off-the-ball intensity implemented by the German.

 

Newcastle United 0-2 Arsenal: Mike Dean loves a red

Few referees in the modern game have fascinated and infuriated fans quite like Mike Dean, who is – for want of a better phrase – absolutely box office.

From his self-assured facial expressions and body language, to his frankly baffling mannerisms and showmanship: when Dean is in charge of a match, you're virtually guaranteed a talking point of some description.

But above all, it's his eagerness to pull out that red card that is the most noteworthy aspect of his officiating.

He was the man in the middle as Arsenal beat Newcastle 2-0 on Sunday and had his say right at the end as he showed Fabian Schar the red card for a nasty lunge on Gabriel Martinelli.

It stretched his record as by far the most red-card-happy referee in Premier League history. It was his 112th, 45 more than any other official.

Remarkably, it was the eighth he's shown this season alone, which is at least double the next strictest referee in the Premier League, with Graham Scott and Peter Bankes next on the list with four each.

 

Tottenham 4-0 Sheffield United: Bale makes a statement

Bale was in inspiring form on Sunday as Tottenham smashed Sheffield United 4-0, with the Wales international scoring a hat-trick – his first in a league competition since January 2016 when he put Deportivo La Coruna to the sword.

Granted, netting a treble against the Blades might not be quite as impressive as doing so against… well, any other Premier League side for that matter.

However, his overall performance coupled with his "I play well when I'm happy" comments at full-time seemed almost directed at former Spurs boss Jose Mourinho, who had Bale in and out of the team for much of the season.

Those three goals took him to 11 goal involvements (nine scored and two assisted) in 16 Premier League games this term, an average of one every 66 minutes.

That is the best such record in the league this term. The next best (among players with more than two involvements) is his team-mate Harry Kane (34 involvements, one every 80 minutes).

Bale's future is uncertain for the time being, but such a record must have club officials contemplating keeping him around for another year.

There are just two weeks of the NBA regular season remaining and the race for the playoffs is really hotting up.

The top teams in the East are jostling for the first seed, while the Washington Wizards' form has taken them into a play-in place.

The West is even more open, with the top seven in flux and defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers falling into the play-in game as things stand.

Lakers superstar LeBron James even suggested the individual responsible for this format "needs to be fired".

There is still time for James and Co, but players with momentum – identified by our NBA Heat Check, powered by Stats Perform data – will be key.
 

RUNNING HOT...

Jayson Tatum

The Boston Celtics are down in seventh in the East, meaning they are set to go through the play-in, but their 1.0-game deficit to the teams above them would undoubtedly be greater if not for Tatum.

Although the team went 2-2 last week, one of their wins – against the San Antonio Spurs – was particularly memorable.

Tatum put up 60 points in the overtime win, where the Celtics trailed by 32 at one stage. That performance matched Larry Bird's single-game Boston scoring record and ensured he averaged 42.7 over the three games he featured in, up from his prior seasonal mark of 25.7 for the biggest increase of the week.

Aaron Nesmith

Tatum also had some help from the bench as rookie Nesmith found his feet at this level. Last year's first-round pick averaged 3.4 points per game through April 25 and continued this unimpressive form with two points as Tatum sat out against the Orlando Magic. Then he hit form.

Displays of 15, 16 and 16 points meant an average of 8.9 for the week, including 85.7 per cent shooting against the Portland Trail Blazers, making all four attempts from beyond the arc.

It was a timely improvement as fellow wing Evan Fournier, dealing with long-term COVID-19 effects, scored just 10.5 points per game, down from 17.5 for the league's eighth-largest decline last week.

Michael Porter Jr

Nikola Jokic will win the NBA MVP award, but injuries to Jamal Murray and Will Barton appeared to have hit his hopes of team success with the Denver Nuggets until they won four straight last week.

Porter is the Nuggets' third-best scorer but looked better than that as he led the team in points in two of those victories.

Enjoying his first year as a regular starter, Porter had boosted his average to 18.2 points per game with a career-high 39 in the final game of the previous week yet raised those standards even further with 26.8 over four outings.
 

GOING COLD...

Joel Embiid

Jokic's impending individual recognition is in part due to the failure of his MVP rivals to stay fit. Joel Embiid was the frontrunner until he missed 10 games in a row.

The Philadelphia 76ers center might still have returned in time to wrestle back the top honour, but limited minutes last week – even in four Sixers wins – look to have put paid to those hopes.

Only appearing for more than 25 minutes when he contributed 34 points against the Spurs, Embiid averaged 22.5ppg, a significant decrease on his prior 30.0 for 2020-21.

James in LA, another early contender, certainly will not trouble Jokic after he returned for two games, scored 35 points in total and then went down again.

Malcolm Brogdon

The 76ers can afford to give Embiid a light schedule as they focus on an NBA title, but the Indiana Pacers would be happy simply making the playoffs from ninth in the East.

Their hopes were hit by a tough week for Brogdon, who played only 12 minutes in their second game against the Brooklyn Nets before succumbing to a hamstring issue that kept him out of a trip to Oklahoma City.

Brogdon, previously scoring 21.6 points for the year, could only partially be excused by injury, though, having shot five-of-14 against Portland then none-of-five in a brief Brooklyn outing.

Rudy Gobert

The Utah Jazz are wobbling at the top of the West, where they have been joined on 46-18 by the Phoenix Suns following a 2-2 week that included a defeat to their rivals for the first seed.

Phoenix and Deandre Ayton continue to prove tricky opponents for presumed Defensive Player of the Year Gobert, who could not carry the load in Donovan Mitchell's absence.

With 10 rebounds against the Suns – relatively poor by his dominant standards – Gobert averaged 10.3 for the week, down from 13.6, and Utah have now lost four straight against their co-leaders. That is a worry heading into the postseason.

Five years have passed since Leicester City stunned the football world and sealed their astonishing first Premier League triumph.

The Foxes had faced relegation the previous season before rallying late in the year but then stormed clear at the summit in 2015-16.

Leicester are now regular Champions League challengers, yet the story of that campaign remains remarkable.

With Opta data, we tell the tale of their title success through their three key performers.
 

VARDY'S GOALS

Jamie Vardy's rags to riches football fairytale story is well documented, but by this point in his career it is fair to say he had not yet made the grade in the Premier League. 

Having scored 16 times in their 2013-14 promotion campaign, Vardy scored one, created two more and won a pair of penalties for the further goals in a delirious 5-3 defeat of Manchester United in September 2014, then did not net again until March 2015.

Team-mate David Nugent provided an obvious, easy comparison, the player too good for the second tier but not good enough for the top flight.

Nugent's 20 goals in 46 games in 2013-14 improved his Championship tally to 90 in 254. He had found the net only nine times across 64 Premier League appearances, though, and would add just five more from 29 matches for Leicester.

But where Nugent's 2014-15 season followed a familiar, underwhelming theme, Vardy improved drastically over the course of a relentless run-in.

Playing a vital role as seven wins from nine games lifted Leicester from the foot of the table, Vardy ended the season with five goals and eight assists. Three of his five strikes came from fast breaks, having been involved in 11 counter-attacks – the fifth-most of any Premier League player – as the Foxes found an effective way of playing.

Leicester had fewer fast breaks in 2015-16 (21) than the previous year (34) but still led the league in this regard and scored from six such counters. Four of those goals came from Vardy among a breakout 24 for the season.

Freed by a quick, direct set-up, Vardy ranked fourth in the league for shots (115), second for shots on target (53) and third for touches in the opposition box (221). The ultimate confidence player, Vardy scored in a record-breaking 11 consecutive matches.

The tireless forward maintained his nuisance factor, too, winning possession in the final third 33 times and earning seven penalties – both league highs.

The Leicester number nine took 20.87 per cent of his chances but only marginally outperformed his expected goals (xG) total, his 19 non-penalty goals coming from shots worth a top-ranked 18.34 xG.

Vardy has since become more clinical – peaking with 28.17 per cent shot conversion in 2017-18 – but has never again been so busy in the area.

MAHREZ'S GUILE

Anthony Knockaert also fell into that Nugent group, lasting a mere nine games at Leicester in the top flight having created 2.6 chances per 90 minutes in the first of his three Championship promotion campaigns.

Riyad Mahrez, signed in January 2014, was the Foxes' other star winger and also struggled in his debut Premier League season. Having been involved in seven goals in 19 Championship outings, he could only match that tally again across an entire year in the top division.

As with Vardy, though, Leicester's late-season resurgence allowed the Algeria international to carry momentum into the new campaign; he started the final four matches of 2014-15 and netted both goals in a win over Southampton.

And the improvement in Mahrez's play was even more pronounced.

There were two more goals against Sunderland on the opening day, among 13 by Christmas alongside seven assists. That pace slowed – he finished with 17 goals and 11 assists – but Mahrez trailed only Vardy for goal involvements.

Despite this, Mahrez was far from the most prolific creator. His 68 key passes ranked eighth but made up less than half of leader Mesut Ozil's output (146). Mahrez crafted high-quality openings, however, second only to Ozil (28) in creating 20 'big chances' – situations where Opta would reasonably expect a player to score.

This was all the more impressive as Mahrez was also required to provide an outlet for a side with the third-lowest average possession (42.4 per cent) in the division. Only Wilfried Zaha (274 to 255) attempted more dribbles, while nobody completed more (131).

Mahrez has never once attempted 100 dribbles in a season since joining Manchester City, but the close control and spellbinding skill that is merely another option at the Etihad Stadium then attracted defenders and opened space for sprinters Vardy, Marc Albrighton and Jeffrey Schlupp.

KANTE'S GRAFT

Gokhan Inler was presumed to be the replacement for Esteban Cambiasso, who had led Leicester's rescue act from midfield with five goals – as many as Vardy – at the age of 34.

Inler started only three games but for good reason. Fellow new signing N'Golo Kante was perhaps the biggest game-changer for the Foxes. Opponents might have dominated possession but they could never rest.

Kante, at Caen, had led Ligue 1 midfielders in tackles (178), tackles won (146) and interceptions (110) and ranked second for recoveries (369) in 2014-15.

The transition to the Premier League was seamless. He was first again for tackles (175), tackles won (125) and interceptions (156), although he fell to third in terms of recoveries (326). The man in second was Leicester team-mate Danny Drinkwater.

What the Foxes lacked without the experience of Cambiasso, Kante's bite more than made up for.

The midfielder became more careful in possession following his move, too, losing the ball with just 18.1 per cent of his touches, the lowest rate of any Leicester player with 1,000 touches or more and an improvement on his 23.4 per cent with Caen.

Even then, it was not as straightforward as a single signing fixing every issue. Idrissa Gueye, another Ligue 1 recruit, ranked second in tackles, tackles won and interceptions and first in recoveries yet was relegated with Aston Villa.

But Kante's infectious tenacity set the standard at the King Power Stadium and only Tottenham blocked a greater share of their opponents' shots (32.7 per cent) than Leicester (30.6), contributing to a conversion rate of just 6.9 per cent.

When Kante then left for Chelsea at the end of 2015-16, struggling Leicester waited only until January before signing another tough tackler in Wilfred Ndidi, one of just two players – the other being Gueye – to have since registered 130 or more tackles in a single Premier League season (each doing so twice).

In that time, nobody has been able to match Kante's title-winning mark.

Away-day specialists Manchester City saw off Crystal Palace 2-0 to close in on another Premier League title and equal a top-flight record in the process.

Chelsea beat Fulham by the same scoreline elsewhere in Saturday's Premier League action, thanks to a couple of goals from Kai Havertz.

A two-goal success was also the outcome when Brighton and Hove Albion welcomed Leeds United to the Amex Stadium, the Seagulls all but securing their top-flight status for another season.

In the late match, Aston Villa edged out Everton 2-1 to boost their chances of a top-half finish and derail their opponents' European prospects.

We use Opta data to take a look at the best facts from Saturday's games.

 

Crystal Palace 0-2 Manchester City: Patient Citizens win again on their travels

Goals from Sergio Aguero and Ferran Torres in the space of 83 seconds proved enough for City to pick up a victory that leaves them on the brink of another piece of silverware.

Those strikes came from the Citizens' first two shots on target and saw them reach the 700-goal mark under Pep Guardiola in all competitions.

City's 57-minute wait for their first on-target attempt of the match was their longest in a Premier League game since November 2019 against Southampton.

Torres added to Aguero's opener moments later with a good finish from 20 yards - the 11th league goal Palace have conceded from outside the box this term, which is the joint-most of any Premier League team alongside Sheffield United.

The victory was City's 11th in a row away from home in the Premier League, equalling the all-time English top-flight record held by Chelsea (April-December 2008) and City themselves (May-December 2017).

Brighton and Hove Albion 2-0 Leeds United: Whites lose again on south coast

Brighton moved within touching distance of securing a fifth successive season of Premier League football thanks to a well-earned victory at home to Leeds.

Pascal Gross found the bottom corner from a 14th-minute penalty and Danny Welbeck added to that with his fifth Premier League goal of the season in his 21st outing - the forward's best top-flight return since 2017-18.

It was an all-too-familiar tale for Leeds, who have now lost five successive away league meetings against Brighton without scoring - the first time that has happened in their history against a single opponent.

In fact, Brighton have won eight of their last nine league meetings with Leeds home and away, which is more than they managed in their previous 28 against them.

Leeds managed just two attempts on target as Graham Potter's Brighton claimed a seventh home clean sheet of the season, a tally bettered only by Manchester City and Chelsea (nine each) in the Premier League this season.

 

Chelsea 2-0 Fulham: Havertz inflicts more derby misery on Cottagers

Kai Havertz doubled his Premier League goals tally with a brace in Chelsea's routine victory over Championship-bound Fulham.

All eight of the Germany international's goals for Chelsea in all competitions have now been scored in London, seven of those at Stamford Bridge and one at Selhurst Park.

His second goal in this game involved some nice link-up play with Timo Werner, who with that assist became the first Chelsea player to reach double figures for both goals (11) and assists (10) in his debut season for the club since Eden Hazard in 2012-13.

Werner's combined 21 goals and assists is the most of any Chelsea player this term, and he is one of five Premier League players to reach double figures for both metrics across all competitions alongside Harry Kane, Bruno Fernandes, Son Heung-min and Marcus Rashford.

Fulham have now gone 19 away games without a win at neighbours Chelsea in all competitions - only versus Everton (31), Hull City (23) and Middlesbrough (21) are the Blues currently enjoying a longer unbeaten run against an opponent on home soil.

The Cottagers are also now winless in 24 Premier League London derbies since beating West Ham in January 2014 - only Palace have endured a longer such run in English top-flight history, going 31 London derbies without a win between August 1969 and March 1973.

Fulham missed some good chances as Chelsea kept an 11th Premier League clean sheet under Thomas Tuchel - the most shutouts for any manager in their first 15 games in the competition, one more than ex-Blues bosses Jose Mourinho and Luiz Felipe Scolari.

Everton 1-2 Aston Villa: Toffees' poor Goodison run continues against familiar opponents

Villa dented Everton's European hopes with victory at Goodison Park in what was the 205th top-flight meeting between the clubs - the most played fixture in England's top division.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Villans have won more games (20) and scored more goals (73) in the Premier League era against Everton than they have against any other side in the competition.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin scored his 20th goal in all competitions this season to open the scoring in Saturday's late kick-off - with that haul including a Premier League leading seven headers - to cancel out Ollie Watkins' opener.

But Anwar El Ghazi snatched all three points for the Villans 10 minutes from time with his eighth goal in 23 Premier League games this season, doubling his tally from 34 appearances in the competition last time out.

Everton have now won just one of their last 10 home league matches and have tasted defeat at Goodison Park eight times this season - only in 1993-94 have they lost on more occasions (nine) in a single Premier League campaign.

Liverpool's trip to Manchester United on Sunday will likely be the most watched and fiercely debated match of the weekend in the Premier League, but in a sense there is feeling of it being something of a damp squib.

Perhaps it would be different were fans allowed into Old Trafford, but for the time being they remain absent.

Make no mistake, both teams still have particular ambitions to achieve this season. It's not quite a dead rubber.

But regardless of achieving their respective current targets – reach the top four for Liverpool, and United securing second place in the assumption Manchester City won't suddenly capitulate – there will still be a sense of unfulfillment.

United want more, Liverpool expected more.

Realistically the best Liverpool can hope for now is fourth, and even then that looks a tough ask, while United will seemingly have to settle for second. Although by no means a poor season for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men, the Red Devils' fans will surely never be entirely happy with second, especially when it's their neighbours finishing above them.

City have, for the majority of the season anyway, been considerably better than the rest. So what can United and Liverpool do to potentially bridge the gap next season?

MAN UNITED

Seek more from the right side of the defence

In recent years, when United have had issues with their team they have perhaps been too willing to chuck a load of money at the issue – maybe that's the solution here, or maybe there are young talents coming through who are ready for the next level, only Solskjaer really knows that.

Nevertheless, an area where United can improve is the two right-hand berths of their defence.

While Aaron Wan-Bissaka has proven himself a very capable defender, it's fair to say he's still lagging behind in the attacking department. His 26 chances created isn't horrendous, but there's undoubtedly a lot of room for improvement.

For example, Wan-Bissaka's 78.7 touches per 90 minutes this term is only slightly fewer than Luke Shaw's 82.2, but the left-back has played 130 (196 compared to 66) more passes into the penalty area. He's far more forward-thinking and at the moment that gives United a certain predictability in the final third.

No one would say Wan-Bissaka is a lost cause, but currently he has no competition. Shaw's improvement since having Alex Telles to put pressure on him has been considerable – perhaps such encouragement would work for the right-back as well?

Wan-Bissaka's lack of effectiveness in attack is certainly not their only issue in defence, however – Victor Lindelof appears to have hit a ceiling.

Although stylistically he seems a decent fit for Solskjaer's system as he is comfortable in possession – as evidenced by his 13 goal-ending open-play sequences being bettered by only Maguire among Premier League centre-backs – teams tend to target him because he's far less domineering.

Not since 2016-17 has Maguire averaged fewer than three aerial wins per game: Lindelof's never even reached three, while there have also been concerns about the Swede's positioning.

That's highlighted by the fact he averages considerably fewer interceptions per 90 minutes compared to Maguire (0.9/1.8).

Get an actual right winger

Again, it remains to be seen whether United's move here would be to buy or trust youth – after all, they did spend a small fortune on Amad Diallo last year, though his influence has been minimal at most since linking up with United in January.

Mason Greenwood seems their best option on the right at the moment and his form has picked up significantly of late after an underwhelming first two-thirds of the season. His ineffectiveness at times this term paved the way for Daniel James to get back into the side, and few United fans would consider the Welshman to be anywhere good enough as a long-term, first-choice option.

While Greenwood has certainly been an effective presence out on the right at times, he's not exactly been an effective creator – nine players (to have featured at least 10 times) in the United squad can better his chance creation frequency of 0.8 per 90 mins.

Now, perhaps that's partly skewed by his early season form, yet only Bruno Fernandes (3.3) averages more shots than Greenwood (3.2) each game.

With Edinson Cavani reportedly set to stick around for another season, United might opt to begin moulding Greenwood to become his replacement, thus freeing up the right-wing slot for someone else.

Facilitate a Pogba and Fernandes partnership

You'd think this would be simple, and recent evidence has strongly suggested they can coexist – after all, both were excellent against Roma on Thursday.

But since Fernandes joined, United have only won 55.2 per cent of games across all competitions in which they've both featured, as opposed to 72.2 per cent when one or the other has been missing.

Few would disagree that they are United's two most talented players, but occasionally squeezing them both into the side has resulted in Pogba being shunted out wide. While still functional there, that's clearly not the best use of his talents.

Developing their partnership may require Solskjaer to loosen the strings of pragmatism a little. He likes to play Fred and Scott McTominay together in the midfield when some feel they might be better off with just one of them.

Now, whether that's because he doesn't truly trust Pogba and Fernandes off the ball, or if he's actually not convinced enough by Fred nor McTominay defensively, only he knows.

But allowing Pogba and Fernandes to consistently thrive in the same team would surely work wonders for United in the final third.

LIVERPOOL

Provide better cover for Alexander-Arnold

If there's one Liverpool player who's shouldered the most criticism in this underwhelming title defence it's arguably Trent Alexander-Arnold.

But some of the flak has been a little harsh, whether it's been focused on his attacking productivity or defensive positioning.

Granted, his chance creation is down from 2.5 to two per 90 minutes and that's understandably been reflected in an assists decrease from 13 to five.

But the flipside to that is in 2019-20 he massively over-performed his xG value of 9.7, whereas this term there's only a 0.8 difference (five assists, 5.8 xG). This suggests that, where he was benefiting from his team-mates' brilliant finishing last term, in 2020-21 that's not been the case.

As for his defensive output, there's little evidence to suggest he's doing worse. On the contrary in fact, he's actually averaging more tackles, tackles won and interceptions than in 2019-20, while only one perceived error by Alexander-Arnold has led to a shot this season. He was guilty of three in the title-winning campaign.

The key thing we have to consider when analysing Alexander-Arnold's season, however, is the extent of Liverpool's defensive injuries.

It would be fair to assume that he's not been quite as much of an attacking threat because he's been playing in an often-makeshift defence, holding back a little because the threat of an opposing attack is greater without the likes of Virgil van Dijk.

Presuming Van Dijk and Joe Gomez stay fit next season, that in itself is a much more solid base. That may, in theory, provide Alexander-Arnold with the necessary assurances that encourage greater attacking impetus.

Get more from Thiago

Another Liverpool player whose ability has been called into question a lot this season is, remarkably, Thiago Alcantara. A key cog of Bayern Munich's all-conquering 2019-20 side, but on Merseyside he's had to contend with plenty of doubters.

While he was initially seen as the final missing weapon to Klopp's arsenal, the kind of player who could provide greater creativity in a midfield that beforehand was more functional that fun, many have since gone full revisionist.

Many of the concerns have related to suggestions he's not the right fit for Liverpool's intense style of play, particularly how high up the pitch they press.

But there is very little evidence to back such claims up. PPDA data suggest it's actually nonsense. PPDA is the number of opposition passes allowed outside of the pressing team's own defensive third divided by the number of defensive actions by the pressing team outside of their own defensive third.  

Liverpool's this season is 10.6 whereas Bayern's last season was 9.8, indicating that Die Roten actually press slightly higher than the Reds.

No, the far likelier cause of Thiago's underwhelming season is probably the human side of football. It can be easy to forget sometimes that footballers are people too. Having your first season at a club mired by injury problems, which also affected you, and contracting coronavirus cannot be the ideal situation.

We'll surely only get a better grasp of Thiago's suitability at Liverpool next season.

Refresh the frontline

As Mohamed Salah continues to thrive, his excellence not only highlights himself, but also casts a shadow of doubt over Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino.

While critics have been unconvinced by Firmino for some time, despite clearly offering a lot to the Reds when at the peak of his powers, questions over Mane are a rather newer phenomenon.

In 2019-20 he had a hand in 25 Premier League goals (18 scored, seven set up), but he's on less than half of that at the moment (eight goals, five assists).

Having outperformed his xG by 4.4 last season, he's now 3.9 under his xG value of 11.9 for 2020-21. Firmino's under-performance in 2019-20 was five, this term it's 4.4.

For Mane, this means that where he was proving to be remarkably deadly in 2019-20, he's now wasteful – Firmino is spurning more opportunities than he should, again.

Nevertheless, Mane's form over the previous two seasons probably has him quite a lot of credit in the bank – if anyone's at threat, it's Firmino.

Diogo Jota has proven a versatile and dependable alternative to all of the front three, but Klopp might prefer more of a focal point at the tip of the attack in the long run.

If there's anywhere in the team attack where the Reds might feel that can get someone better, it's probably in the place of Firmino.

If LaLiga's title race wasn't tantalising enough already, Barcelona's shock defeat to Granada on Thursday really threw a spanner in the works.

It looks set to be the most gripping end to any of the top five European leagues this term, and almost certainly the least predictable finish to LaLiga 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.

For the first time since then, Sevilla are again in with a shout of upsetting established order, though on this occasion Atletico Madrid are in the mix as well.

In fact, with just three points separating first from fourth with five games left, it's the closest title race LaLiga has ever seen in a 20-team campaign (1987-1995, 1997-present).

Diego Simeone's side looked certainties for the title not too long ago: at the start of February, they were 11 points clear, but they've won only six of their 14 league games since, including a defeat to Sevilla in early April.

Yet, remarkably, it's still in Atletico's hands thanks to Barca's surprise loss at home to Granada on Thursday.

 

What made that defeat even more incredible was the fact Granada had just 18 per cent of the ball and scored twice from an xG (expected goals) value of just 0.69. This means they netted more than two times as many as they should have, which speaks to how stunningly clinical they were.

Interestingly – or, infuriatingly, if you're a fan – it was Barcelona's second-highest share of the ball in a league game this season, behind only 82.1 per cent against Cadiz. They lost both games.

It's all shaping up for potentially decisive blows to be struck across May 8 and 9, when the top four all play each other – Barca host Atletico on the Saturday, with Sevilla going to Madrid the next day.

But what does our prediction model say about the most likely outcome in the title race?

How does the predictor work?

The data model estimates the probability of each match outcome – either a win, draw or loss – based on each team's attacking and defensive quality. Those ratings are allocated based on four years' worth of comprehensive historic data points and results, with more weighting given to recent matches to account for improvements or declines in form and performance trends.

The AI simulation takes into account the quality of the opposition that a team scores or concedes goals against and rewards them accordingly. All that data is used to simulate upcoming matches using goal predictions from the Poisson distribution – a detailed mathematical model – with the two teams' attacking and defending ratings used as inputs.

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

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

 

Atletico take the crown

There we have it… The AI predictor still sees Atletico as the likely champions, with a 38 per cent probability.

It essentially looks like it will come down to their showdown with Barca next Saturday. Atletico hold a slight advantage having beaten Barcelona 1-0 in Madrid earlier this season, and our predictor seemingly doesn't expect Ronald Koeman's men to overturn that at Camp Nou, as the model sees Atletico winning the title by virtue of their head-to-head record.

Nevertheless, Barcelona's outlook is almost identical to just a few weeks ago when the data suggested they had a 32.8 per cent chance, that now dropping ever so slightly to 32.6 – but you can't help but wonder what it would have been had they beaten Granada.

Madrid have drawn two of their previous three games 0-0, and so their chances have dropped from 34.4 per cent to a 26.6 per cent likelihood of winning the title.

Sevilla, perhaps unsurprisingly, remain the outsiders and our prediction model still only gives them a 2.8 per cent probability of winning their first league title since 1946.

However, that's 28 times more likely than just 18 days ago when the data gave them a 0.1 per cent chance of finishing top.

Everything seemingly hinges on next weekend…

The Premier League elite are playing for prizes, along with Champions League and Europa League places, and at the foot of the table there may still be dreams of a great escape.

Reality brings its rewards and regrets, and managers across England, from Pep Guardiola to Big Sam Allardyce are hoping to end the season on a high note.

For fantasy football managers, the same applies. This is the run-in and the time when marginal gains could count for so much in your own rivalries and leagues come the season's end. One masterstroke signing could make a world of difference and earn those bragging rights.

With that in mind, here is a look at some potentially shrewd picks for the weekend ahead, powered by Opta data.

EDOUARD MENDY

Chelsea goalkeeper Mendy has a long way to go before he can be defined as a Premier League great, but the September arrival from Rennes is making a terrific impact in his debut season. Heading into Saturday's derby with Fulham, Mendy has managed 15 clean sheets from his 27 Premier League games so far, with only Manchester City's Ederson keeping more (17 from 32 games).

Of all goalkeepers to have started at least 25 games in Premier League history, Mendy is the only one to keep a clean sheet in more than half of them (56 per cent). Looking down the list, Ederson has an impressive 49 per cent from 141 games, while former Chelsea and Arsenal shot-stopper Petr Cech had a nifty 46 per cent clean sheet record from 443 appearances.

LUKE SHAW

Tough love did not particularly work for Luke Shaw during Jose Mourinho's reign, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has found a way to unlock the brilliance within Manchester United's left-back, who was a £30million buy as an 18-year-old almost seven years ago.

Shaw, who looks likely to face Liverpool at Old Trafford on Sunday, has been directly involved in six goals (1 goal, 5 assists) in the Premier League this season. That is as many as he managed between the start of the 2016-17 season and the end of the 2019-20 campaign (also 1 goal, 5 assists). He is impressing going forward as well as when defending, so could bring valuable points to your team.

RUBEN DIAS

No Premier League defender has more clean sheets than Ruben Dias this season. With 14 so far, he is level with Aston Villa's Matt Targett. Manchester City stifled Paris Saint-Germain's Neymar and Kylian Mbappe on Wednesday, but can they keep Crystal Palace's forwards at bay on Saturday?

The Premier League title is almost within City's grasp, and Dias could be a great signing this weekend, but do bear in mind that Guardiola could shuffle his team given the second leg with PSG is coming up on Tuesday.

City have a strong Premier League record against Palace, having won 13 of their last 17 matches (D2 L2) against the Eagles in the competition, earning 10 clean sheets across that run of games.

MATHEUS PEREIRA

Going down with the Baggies? Even if West Brom are relegated, which seems likely, there will surely be top-flight teams eyeing Matheus Pereira.

The Brazilian has been involved in six goals in his last four Premier League games (4 goals, 2 assists), and he enhanced his hero status among supporters when he scored twice - both penalties - in the derby against Wolves earlier this season.

West Brom won that one 3-2 and the teams meet again on Monday. Pereira is a player to keep an eye on in that game.

RAHEEM STERLING

Guardiola rhapsodised about Sterling after Manchester City's win against Tottenham in the EFL Cup final, despite erratic finishing meaning the winger again finished without a goal. He has not scored for City since February, but one could spark a flood, such is his established talent.

Facing Palace could be the ideal game for Sterling, should he be selected this weekend.

The England international has been involved in seven goals in his last seven starts against Palace in the Premier League (6 goals, 1 assist).

AYOZE PEREZ

Kelechi Iheanacho is the striker in form at Leicester City, but in horses for courses terms, Perez might be the man for Friday's clash with Southampton.

Perez has scored more Premier League goals against Southampton than he has against any other side in the competition (7). This includes two hat-tricks against Saints, including one in Leicester’s 9-0 win in this fixture last season.

HARRY KANE

Did Kane look off the pace in the EFL Cup final after his recent ankle knock? It was so hard to tell, given it felt he was constantly having to come looking for the ball, the service to him so inadequate.

If caretaker boss Ryan Mason considered him fit for that one, then it seems safe to expect the Tottenham talisman to face Sheffield United on Sunday, and surely he will find more opportunities against the blunted Blades than he enjoyed against City.

Kane has been involved in 34 goals in 30 Premier League games for Tottenham this season (21 goals, 13 assists), only registering more goal involvements in a single campaign in 2016-17 (36 – 29G 7A). The England striker has been involved in nine goals in his last six league games (7 goals, 2 assists), netting three braces in that run.

If there was one man Villarreal could rely on, it was him. If there was one man they wanted standing over that penalty, it was him. If there was one man in their squad born for such a situation, it was him.

It is April 25, 2006, the kind of night the Valencian city of Vila-Real has seen few of. It's playing host to a Champions League semi-final just eight years on from seeing its team, Villarreal, earn their first promotion to LaLiga.

Having lost the first leg of the semi 1-0 to Arsenal in London, they have so far failed to find a way to level the tie, despite laying siege to the Gunners' goal.

But with time almost up, they have the perfect opportunity to seize the initiative as a marginal call goes their way: Gael Clichy is deemed, somewhat harshly, to have fouled Jose Mari in the box.

Up steps Juan Roman Riquelme, their undisputed talisman and one of the finest midfielders of his generation. A player possessed with the kind of technical wizardry on the ball that few others are – there's surely only one outcome?

But Riquelme's spot-kick is a poor one, placed to his right and at the perfect height for Jens Lehmann in the Arsenal goal.

The German easily makes the save, and Arsenal – not little Villarreal – are going to their first Champions League final.

They met again in the quarter-finals three years later but the tie was rather more one-sided, Arsenal winning 4-1 on aggregate.

Twelve years on and the Gunners aren't quite the power they once were, and Villarreal are looking to settle a score when they meet in their Europa League semi-final first leg on Thursday.

So too is Unai Emery.

A hiding to nothing

Emery's time at Arsenal was probably doomed from the start. Succeeding Arsene Wenger, even with the lack of success towards the end of his tenure, was always going to be a tough ask.

In his second season at the helm, for a while it seemed only a matter of time before he went from Gunner to gonner. He was eventually dismissed on November 29, 2019, and the following month saw Mikel Arteta appointed as his successor.

Though, it's fair to say Arsenal have not seen much of an improvement under Arteta, whose 79 matches in charge is just one more than Emery managed.

Arteta's win percentage of 51 is shy of Emery's 55, while under the latter the Gunners scored 152 (compared to 127). The main difference in the current coach's favour is that they have conceded considerably fewer (80, down from 100), which perhaps is likely linked to the fact Arsenal are less of a threat in attack now.

Emery's Villarreal arguably come into this tie as favourites as well. They boast a better record almost across the board for this season, winning more often (53 per cent to 47), scoring more (87 to 82) and conceding fewer (47 to 54) than the Gunners, and their coach's record in this competition speaks for itself having won it three times with Sevilla, losing just six of 39 games.

If Villarreal can qualify for their first European final, Gerard Moreno will probably have had something to do with it one way or another.

The Spain international is enjoying the best season of his career and is something of a triple-threat.

The key to Emery's revenge plot

Moreno is a clever player. What makes his productivity in front of goal all the more impressive is the fact he's rarely deployed as an out-and-out central striker.

Instead, Moreno prefers to operate from the right, coming inside on to his left foot and occasionally floating around to also maximise his creative talents.

After all, not only is he Villarreal's top scorer with 20 goals this season in LaLiga, he's also laid on the most chances (38) in the Yellow Submarine's squad.

In fact, Lionel Messi (66) is one of only five forwards in LaLiga to play more key passes than the former Espanyol talent.

Moreno's unpredictability is aided by excellent dribbling skills as well, with Messi, Javi Galan and Nabil Fekir the three individuals to better his 62 completed dribbles this term.

Additionally, his success rate is 62.6 per cent – to put that into context, Messi's is 58.6.

Granted, his goalscoring record is slightly skewed by the fact he's scored nine penalties this term, but Messi (25) is the sole LaLiga player outscoring him and he looks set to claim the Zarra award (given to the top-scoring Spaniard) for a second successive season.

His haul of 20 is also an improvement of 2.5 on his expected goals (xG) value as well, evidence that he's putting away more chances than the average player would ordinarily expect.

Moreno has also carried that goalscoring form into the Europa League, where he stands joint second on the list of scorers with six.

The skillset possessed by Villarreal's talisman makes him the ideal player to carry out a number of different roles, but it also means Arsenal have to be alive to the numerous ways he can hurt them: in front of goal, creatively, or with the ball at his feet.

The 29-year-old could have a major role to play for Spain at Euro 2020 at the end of the season. Having a decisive impact for Villarreal in such a big tie may be vital in earning more of Luis Enrique's faith, with La Roja's coach initially taking a little while to warm to him.

But for the moment all the trust he needs is Emery's, and his form this term proves he has the tools to inspire Arsenal's downfall and grasp revenge for the Yellow Submarine and their pilot.

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