Kyle Shanahan needs to get the San Francisco 49ers winning again if their playoff potential is to be fulfilled, and this Sunday looks like a major opportunity.

To snap a three-game losing streak, the Niners (2-3) must get the better of an Indianapolis Colts side who, much like San Francisco themselves, have made an inconsistent start to the season.

By contrast, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are riding a three-game run of wins and have started 5-1 for just the fifth time in the history of the franchise, heading into a tussle with the Chicago Bears (3-3). Tom Brady has been a driving force so far as the Super Bowl winners carry on where they left off last season.

Patrick Mahomes has been hit and miss for the slow-starting Kansas City Chiefs, who will hope the NFL's highest-paid player can cut out throwing interceptions as they face the Tennessee Titans.


Indianapolis Colts @ San Francisco 49ers

If coach Shanahan's 49ers are to turn around their season, then facing a Colts side who have begun 2-4 seems like a pretty good place to start. Yet the Colts have dominated this series of late, winning on their last four meetings, albeit most recently in 2017 when they snatched a 26-23 overtime success. It would not be stepping out of line to predict this could be tight, given the 49ers have played nine consecutive games that have been decided by eight or fewer points, going back to last season.

That is the longest active streak of such close games in the NFL and the longest streak in team history, and the Niners do not have the best recent return when games go close, posting a 3-6 record in this sequence.

San Francisco fell 17-10 to the Cardinals in their most recent game, two weeks ago, while the Colts hot-footed their way to a 31-3 trouncing of Houston last Sunday. That came despite Indianapolis earning just 15 first downs for the entire game. It was the first time the Colts had won by 28 or more points while only having 15 or fewer first downs since 1972 against New England.

In his 21st career game, Colts running back Jonathan Taylor rushed for 145 yards and two touchdowns, meaning he surpassed 1,500 rushing yards, 500 receiving yards and chalked up his 15th rushing touchdown in the NFL. Only four running backs in NFL history have hit all three of those milestones in fewer games than Taylor, with two of those doing so with the Colts – Edgerrin James and Marshall Faulk.

San Francisco will hope to be recharged after a bye week. Deebo Samuel scored the fourth rushing touchdown of his career against the Cardinals, with Jerry Rice (10) the only wide receiver with more rushing touchdowns in 49ers history.

Chicago Bears @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers

After a dispiriting loss to the Green Bay Packers last time out, the Chicago Bears encounter a Tampa Bay team in sparkling recent form. Tampa Bay have started the season 5-1, doing so for the fifth time in franchise history, and on each of the previous occasions (2005, 2002, 1997 and 1979) they backed it up by reaching the playoffs. History could be made on Sunday, given the Buccaneers have never started a season with six wins through their first seven games.

Yet this is a game in which the Bears have traditionally, and recently, had the upper hand. Chicago have stacked up 40 wins in 60 all-time meetings against Tampa Bay, which is the most wins by any team against the Bucs. The Bears have also won the last two in the series, scoring victories in 2018 and 2020.

Tampa Bay can seemingly do no wrong when Brady is pulling the strings so masterfully. Brady leads the NFL with 2,064 passing yards, the second-highest total he has ever had through six games of a season – beaten only by his 2,163 passing yards at this stage in 2011. Prior to this year, no Tampa Bay quarterback had ever thrown for more than 1,800 yards through six games.

What have the Bears got to offer? Chicago are averaging 246.2 net yards per game, which is more than 20 yards per game less than any other team. The 1,477 yards is the fewest Chicago has had through six games since the 1993 season. Rookie quarterback Justin Fields needs to make something happen, but others must step up too. In his first career start, Khalil Herbert ran for 97 yards and a touchdown against Green Bay last time out.

Kansas City Chiefs @ Tennessee Titans

"He's trying to make things happen," said Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, explaining away the two interceptions thrown by Patrick Mahomes in Week 6 against Washington. For Mahomes, that was a second straight game with at least two interceptions. He is tied with Jacksonville's Trevor Lawrence in second position on the list of the most interceptions thrown this season, with his tally of eight so far only topped by Zach Wilson of the Jets.

This is only the second run that Mahomes has endured of throwing two or more interceptions in consecutive games, the previous dating back to Week 5 and 6 of the 2018 season, and Reid will hope his radar is better set for the clash with the Titans. Mahomes is still doing an awful lot right in 2021, but the fact remains he threw just six interceptions last season.

The Chiefs' unsteady 3-3 opening is their worst of the Mahomes era, and it was 2015 when they got off to a slower start. On that occasion they followed a 1-5 opening with 10 consecutive wins, a single-season record for Kansas City that was matched last season.

Tennessee's bright start has featured some notable performances. The Titans ran for 146 yards and scored four rushing touchdowns in the 34-31 win over Buffalo on Monday night, taking them to 985 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns for the season. It is the first time in franchise history that the Bills have 10 or more rushing touchdowns and at least 975 rushing yards through six games.

Running back Derrick Henry has 10 rushing touchdowns so far, beating his career best of seven through six weeks in 2020. It puts him tied for the fourth most rushing touchdowns of all time through six weeks (Jim Brown 14, Shaun Alexander 12, Emmitt Smith 11).

Elsewhere...

The Detroit Lions face a tall order on the road against the Los Angeles Rams (5-1). Detroit are 0-6 for the first time since their 0-16 season in 2008 and have not scored more than 17 points in any of their last five games. Former Rams quarterback Jared Goff, now with Detroit, has thrown zero touchdown passes and an interception in each of his last two games.

The 5-1 Baltimore Ravens have recent history on their side ahead of a clash with the Cincinnati Bengals, having won five successive games in their head-to-head series, including the last three by a brutal average of 31.7 points.

Heading into a home game against the Houston Texans (1-5), the Arizona Cardinals are on a 6-0 roll. This has only happened twice before in franchise history, but never before in Arizona. The St Louis Cardinals in 1974 and Chicago Cardinals in 1922 are the teams who both started their seasons 6-0 as well.

Philadelphia QB Jalen Hurts could match an NFL record as the Eagles (2-4) tackle the Las Vegas Raiders. Hurts has rushed for two touchdowns in each of his last two games. Billy Kilmer, for San Francisco in 1961, is the only quarterback to achieve the feat in three straight games.

The Green Bay Packers last lost at home to Washington in 1988, winning five in a row since with home-field advantage, and they put a 5-1 season record to the test when the teams meet again. Washington (2-4) are yielding an NFL-worst 31.0 points per game in 2021, matching the team's worst mark through six games of a season in the Super Bowl era (1998).

Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti thinks Barcelona are rediscovering their identity as they make a comeback from a slow start to the new season.

Barca sit seventh in LaLiga, five places – but just two points – behind Ancelotti's Real Madrid as the pair prepare for a Clasico showdown on Sunday.

Ronald Koeman, who seemed on the brink of an exit earlier in October, has been under pressure after a mixed start to the LaLiga term while losing consecutive Champions League group games for the first time since 2000-01.

However, an improvement in recent weeks has, at least temporarily, kept Joan Laporta from dismissing Koeman, and Ancelotti – who has never won an away game against Barca in five attempts – insists the Blaugrana are on their way back.

"It is a team [Barca] that is coming back in the sense that it has had many problems, but little by little it is finding its identity and is improving," Ancelotti told Madrid's media.

"It is not important how a team gets to this type of game but what kind of game it can get.

"It does not matter how it gets there if not what is done on the field. All these games are like this."

 

Despite Ancelotti's poor away record, Madrid may travel to Camp Nou as favourites, given Barca have failed to win any of their last four games against Los Blancos.

Indeed, Koeman has lost his first two LaLiga Clasico fixtures – only Patrick O'Connell between 1935 and 1940 was defeated in all his opening three matches of the famous fixture as Barca manager.

As Madrid look for their fourth consecutive win against Barca in all competitions, only winning more in a row in 1965 (seven), Ancelotti hinted his defence will be key against Koeman's side, who have scored in 34 of their last 35 top-flight home games.

"For our team the most important thing is always to defend well, both with a low, medium and very high block," he continued.

"Defending well is the key to everything. All the games in which we have finished with a clean sheet we have won.

"The problem for this team is not scoring goals, but not conceding. Therefore, most of the time I try to focus on this."

Erling Haaland is the name on everyone's lips as Europe's elite try to get their hands on the Borussia Dortmund and Norway sensation.

Haaland is already on the cusp of half a century of Bundesliga goals, having scored 49 in 49 league appearances since swapping Salzburg for Dortmund in January 2020.

It is a remarkable return – the 21-year-old has 70 goals in 69 games for the German club overall, only Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski (89 goals in 74 games) has a better return among players from Europe's top-five leagues.

Haaland has always been a goalscorer.

Born in Leeds in 2000, where his father Alf-Inge played for Leeds United in the Premier League at the time, Erling relocated to Bryne by the age of three – the hometown of his parents in Norway.

It is there where Erling Haaland took his first steps in football.

Alf Ingve Berntsen spent more than eight years coaching Haaland, including several matches for Byrne's first team in 2016 following the sudden departure of Gaute Larsen.

"He was the best from the first day. Scoring a lot, smiling a lot, training a lot," Berntsen told Stats Perform as he recalled Haaland's time at Byrne, where the pair worked together between the ages of eight to 16.

 

Haaland was part of a group of 40 talented youngsters coached by Berntsen at Bryne.

But Haaland – even playing with older kids – always stood out in a city with a population of just over 12,200 people on the southern shores of the lake Froylandsvatnet.

"A player of that level, you can spot the class from the first day… the first day you spot something special like Erling, one way or another. You can see it from the beginning," Berntsen said.

"In Norway we have a few big clubs who have academies and select best ones from a region. But most of the clubs, they have a big grassroots path. Our club is like that – part of is like a top club but a big part is grassroots. Often we try to hold them together.

"Erling was one of 40 players who trained together, in fact until they were 15. That was the first year we separated them. Erling was one year younger than the others because he was too good for his age group. He was 14. Twenty of them wanted to train four times a week and 20 wanted to train twice a week. Even then we kept them together. In that group, Erling was quite a normal guy. Funny and a desire to train and win. He was the best from the first day. Scoring a lot, smiling a lot, training a lot. He was quite similar to how he is today."

"He was quite average size but because he trained with older boys, he lacked a bit in his height. He wasn't small in size but he was skinny, very skinny," Berntsen said. "He had his growth spurt when he was 14-15. Until then, he was normal height. From 14 he started to grow very quick. He kept growing until we went to Molde. When you stop growing, it's time to develop your muscles. It's not always wise to do much building your muscles when you're growing. We knew this would happen because his family, his older brother, he is fast and strong, we knew when he was 11-12 that we had to wait some years, this was something special in the making."

After a brief period with Byrne's senior team, Haaland was lured to Molde in 2017 and after 20 goals in 50 appearances overall, the Norwegian was eventually lured to Salzburg two years later.

Haaland dazzled with Austrian giants Salzburg, scoring an absurd 29 goals in only 27 games across all competitions – he joined Alessandro del Piero, Sergei Rebrov, Neymar, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lewandowski as the only players to score in the first five matches of a Champions League group stage, while becoming the first teenager to achieve the feat.

He also scored nine times for Norway's Under-20 team in a 12-0 rout of Honduras at the 2019 U20 World Cup. Haaland did not see out a season at Salzburg, prised to Dortmund in January last year and he has not looked back.

In this season's Bundesliga, Haaland surpassed his expected goal (xG)-value by 2.9 (nine goals, 6.1 xG) – only Bayer Leverkusen sensation Florian Wirtz eclipsed his value (3.0), per Opta.

Since Haaland joined Dortmund, he exceeded his xG-value (38.7) in the Bundesliga by 10.3. It is the highest value of a player in Europe's top-five leagues in this time.

"He is very similar to now to when he was 11-12. He scores a lot. In that group, if there were 40 players, many of them were of good quality. Ten of the players with Erling, nine other players played in the region team. Four of them later came into the Under-18 national team. Erling had to conquer each training session, to win. He didn't have it always easy," Berntsen said.

"The personality and quality you see is quite similar. When he played with two defenders, they played for Norway U18 - they are strong and powerful. If he had to score in the training session, he had to be smart in his movement. Quite early he developed the smartness, the tactical ability. The whole of the group trained much outside the main session - in the indoor hall, hour after hour having fun. He gained very good technical skills.

"His mental skills were strong early. He was always more willing to win. The technical and mental part were very good. He lacked a bit physically. We knew to wait some years and this might explode. The personality, desire and passion is just what it was earlier."

 

"When he moved up to us, because of the quality of the group, he didn't have to be too high on his self because it wasn't too easy," Berntsen continued on Haaland's attitude and character. "We didn't know if we were going to lose or win in training.

"This is a small place where 12,000 live. everyone knows each other. He had to develop with no media around. It was a good place for him. No big attention. He had to train and develop without any disturbance because if you are in a big city and club, you can have a lot of attention and it isn't so easy. But here he could train with his friends and develop steady. His father had played in the Premier League, so in this area everyone knew who he was."

Since Haaland's arrival in Dortmund, he has scored 13 Bundesliga goals after carries – in Europe's top-five leagues, it is only bettered by six-time Ballon d'Or winner Lionel Messi (15).

In the 2021-22 league campaign, Haaland is one of four players who has been involved on 10 open-play sequences which ended in a goal – together with Hoffenheim's Andrej Kramaric, Bayern veteran Thomas Muller and Wirtz.

While Berntsen predicted a great career, not even he could have envisaged the speed of Haaland's rise to the top amid links with the likes of Real Madrid, Manchester United, Barcelona, Bayern, Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus.

"I didn't see that at this age that he would become top scorer in the Champions League like he did or score in each match at this level. But we're not surprised that he is doing well," Berntsen said.

"When he got the first possibility to play in the regions team, he was picked then the national team, you can play from 15, and he was picked and scored. He always kept scoring at a new level. At a time when he lacked a bit physically. We knew he would become strong and fast. Of course we didn't see that level at that early age. But many of us, we were quite sure he was going to have a good international career, from 12 years old."

He added: "When you're 21, the body isn't fully grown yet. It can develop in all aspects of the game but it's not too easy now because the level he is on is high already. But when you're trying on a daily basis, you train to get better. If you do that, you'll have a small percentage of growth.

"He is one of the new rising stars that can do a lot of different - high pressure, low pressure, he can run, smart in the box, quite good in offence and defence. The next generation of players will have that variety - not just one type on top. He can be a front man or in counter-attacks. That might be common in the future. You have quite good variants in quality. There are still things for him to develop."

Prior to matchday-three fixtures in the Champions League, only Lewandowski had scored more goals and a higher xG-value across all competitions in the top-five leagues this season than Haaland.

Dating back to his switch from Salzburg in 2020, Haaland eclipsed his xG-value in his Champions league performances by 4.1 – the highest value of a player in the Champions League in this time prior to the club's 4-0 rout at the hands of Ajax.

While only Lewandowski has been involved in more Champions League open-play sequences that ended in a goal than Haaland since the latter's transfer to Germany (before Dortmund and Bayern's fixtures this week).

When asked where Haaland – who has a return of 12 goals in 15 international appearances for Norway – would be best suited if he were to leave Dortmund, Berntsen replied: "There's not so many possibilities now. There may be a few clubs who can afford him. It's not for everyone.

"Erling and his family, they've done a brilliant job to select the next level. If he stays in Dortmund, if he was to end his career there, still he had a brilliant career because he's a funny guy from a little town. 

"Erling is down to earth. If you have a job and have big defenders knocking you down, you have to make a statement and prove yourself. He is a loveable guy and we are proud of him. Humble. If you asked me a year ago, I'd say maybe Spain or England but Spain or France now."

Replacing Romelu Lukaku was never going to be easy, though, in Edin Dzeko, Inter may have gone some way to doing just that.

The 2021-22 campaign may still be in its infancy, but 35-year-old Dzeko has made a fantastic start as Inter look to defend the Serie A title that Lukaku's goals propelled them towards last season.

Dzeko took his tally for the season to seven with a sublime volley against Sheriff in the Champions League on Tuesday. Inter were pegged back, but the former Roma man turned from scorer to provider to tee up Arturo Vidal and swing the match back in the Nerazzurri's favour.

Heading into the first Derby d'Italia of the season, Simone Inzaghi's Inter sit three points above Juventus, who themselves have had to contend with the loss of a superstar forward.

Cristiano Ronaldo beat Lukaku in the Serie A scoring charts in 2020-21, yet while Inter, spearheaded by Dzeko and Lautaro Martinez, lead the way for goals scored so far this season with 23, Juve are lagging some 11 behind.

Using Opta data, Stats Perform assesses how the two giants of Italian football have adapted – and are still adapting – to the attackers at their disposal, and if that could prove the difference on Sunday.

Replacing Rom

Chelsea broke their transfer record to re-sign Lukaku in August for a whopping £97.5million (€115m). The cash was needed by Inter, who had already sold Achraf Hakimi to Paris Saint-Germain and lost their title-winning coach Antonio Conte as well. Lukaku had initially been happy to stay on under Inzaghi, but the pull of a return to Stamford Bridge ultimately proved too strong to turn down.

Across his two seasons with Inter, Lukaku scored 64 goals in 95 games across all competitions. Last season he scored 24 goals and set up a further 11, putting the suggestion he was merely a penalty box poacher firmly to bed. Indeed, Lukaku's tally of seven secondary assists (the pass before the assist) ranked joint-highest in Italy's top flight.

Lukaku refined his game and has returned to the Premier League a better player, leaving Inter with a huge void to fill. Dzeko represented a prudent option.

Having spent the last six seasons at Roma, Dzeko needed no adaptation to the league. He scored 85 Serie A goals during his spell in the capital, having previously played a huge role in Manchester City's Premier League title successes in 2012 and 2014.

Since his move to Wolfsburg in 2007, Dzeko has only scored under 10 goals in all competitions in three seasons, while he missed only 22 league matches during his stint with Roma. Reliable, experienced and a proven goalscorer. With Inter's financial restraints, it was a no-brainer.

Joaquin Correa, capable of playing anywhere across the frontline, has also come in to boost Inter's ranks, though the start Dzeko has made may have even exceeded the club's expectations. 

Dzeko is averaging just under a goal per game in Serie A, having netted six times across eight appearances, with an impressive shot conversion rate of 35.29 per cent and scoring five of the six big chances that have come his way.

He has also picked up where Lukaku left off in terms of creativity, crafting 15 chances so far across his 11 appearances in all competitions, registering two assists.

 

Partners in crime

Lukaku's departure also left Inter needing to find a suitable partner for Martinez. The duo combined for eight Serie A goals last season, more than any other pairing, albeit the first of those did not arrive until matchday eight in November.

In total, Lukaku found Martinez on 68 occasions in Serie A last term (at an average of 1.9 per game), with 16 of those being key passes, and five resulting in assists.

A brilliant example of their stellar combination in action came in a pivotal 3-1 win over Lazio in February; Lukaku – on a hat-trick at the time – charging clear of a desperate defender before coolly sliding it across for the waiting Martinez to tap in.

Martinez picked out Lukaku 52 times, providing three assists and creating a total of 13 chances for his strike partner. They played 36 league matches together, accumulating 2,069 minutes.

Dzeko too, however, has been able to link up well with Martinez. On average over the seven matches they have played in, he passes to his team-mate 1.7 times per game, with the Bosnia-Herzegovina forward creating two chances for his Argentine counterpart.

Across the 357 minutes played together, the duo have found each other 22 times, though Martinez is yet to craft a chance from those passes.

Inter, who have scored 78 goals across 32 Serie A games in 2021 (only Bayern Munich have managed more across the big five European leagues), would be extremely fortunate if this partnership proves as profitable as the Lukaku-Martinez axis did, though there are certainly bright signs.

 

Replacing Ron

Inter might have struck gold with Dzeko, but Juve have struggled in attack early in Massimiliano Allegri's second spell in charge.

With Ronaldo gone, the onus is on Paulo Dybala. He scored against Udinese in the opening game of 2021-22 and found the net against Sampdoria last month, only to succumb to an injury that has since kept him out.

Only four players across Europe's top five leagues managed more goals in all competitions than Ronaldo did last season (36), while Alvaro Morata (20) and Federico Chiesa (14) were the only other Juve players to get into double figures.

Dybala's injury issues have derailed his last few campaigns, leaving Morata as Juve's main goal threat.

The Spain international enjoyed an impressive partnership with Ronaldo, providing four assists and creating 15 chances in 2020-21, though the favour was not returned – Morata only receiving four key passes from Ronaldo in 27 league matches.

 

Yet if Juve can keep Dybala fit, there may be something for Allegri to build on, with Morata playing more passes to the Argentina forward than he has done to any other team-mate so far this season (12), albeit that has only resulted in one goalscoring opportunity.

Sunday's showdown at San Siro comes too early in the season to be truly decisive, though a second successive home win over Juve would be a huge boost.

In Dzeko and Martinez, Inzaghi has a functioning strike force that has already contributed 12 goals to Inter's cause. Allegri's two central forwards, meanwhile, have only managed six between them. 

Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts labelled Chris Taylor "remarkable" and in an "elite class" after his three home-run display in their National League Championship Series (NLCS) Game 5 win over the Atlanta Braves.

Taylor joined Enrique Hernandez as the only Dodgers player ever to have a three-homer postseason game as they won 11-2 over the Braves to avoid elimination.

The victory sees the World Series champions pull the NLCS back to 3-2 but Taylor's hitting was all the talk as he became only the fifth player with a three-or-more homer and four-or-more hit postseason game.

"He's in an elite class of very few. When you're talking about Gil Hodges and Duke Snider who didn’t do it, it's pretty remarkable," Roberts said during a news conference after the win.

"He's one of the best I've seen at just being in the moment. When his career is over, he can look back and appreciate that.

"For me being a Chris Taylor fan and seeing he's a part of history now, it's pretty remarkable. He just does things the right way."

Taylor received a curtain call from the fans at Dodgers Stadium, as they turned around an early 2-0 deficit, piling on 11 unanswered runs.

A.J. Pollock also hit two home runs but was overshadowed by Taylor who finished the game with four hits from five at-bats and six RBIs.

"That was my first one [curtain call]," Taylor said. "Anytime you do something cool, when you do it at Dodgers Stadium it makes it that much sweeter.

"This is a special place. These fans are awesome. For that to happen for the first time on this stage in front of this crowd was a special moment.

"Mechanically I'm in a good place. Once you get a couple of hits and the confidence is there, that's when everything comes together."

The Dodgers become the third team in postseason history to have two players with a multi-home run game in the same postseason encounter. They also set a new franchise record for hits in a postseason game with 17, tying their postseason home-run record of five.

In bad news for the Dodgers, Roberts revealed starting pitcher Joe Kelly would likely not return this season after sustaining a biceps injury in the first inning.

"It's a bicep strain and we're going to continue to evaluate but the way it reads right now, that'll be it for the rest of the season for him," Roberts said.

Chris Taylor made history by homering three times to keep the Los Angeles Dodgers alive in the National League Championship Series (NLCS) with an 11-2 win over the Atlanta Braves on Thursday.

Facing elimination at 3-1 down in the NLCS, the World Series champions trailed 2-0 early before 11 unanswered runs headlined by Taylor's trio of home runs, going four-from-five for the game with six RBIs.

Taylor joined Enrique Hernandez as the only Dodgers player to ever have a three-homer postseason game. The 31-year-old moves to an equal-postseason high 12 RBIs, along with four home runs and 12 hits. All four of Taylor's home runs have come in games when the Dodgers were facing elimination.

A.J. Pollock also finished the game with two home runs, including an eighth-inning three-run blast, going three-from-five.

The Dodgers become the third team in postseason history to have two players with a multi-home run game in the same postseason game. They also set a new franchise record for hits in a postseason game with 17, tying their postseason home-run record of five.

The Braves threatened to run away with the series after Freddie Freeman's first-inning two-run blast with Dodgers starting pitcher Joe Kelly withdrawn soon after.

But LA responded with home runs from Pollock and Taylor in the third inning from Max Fried to claim the lead.

Taylor extended the Dodgers lead with a two-run home run in the sixth inning, adding a third homer in the seventh inning to open up a 7-2 lead.

Pollock put the icing on the cake in the eighth inning, before Kenley Jansen closed it out.

The Dodgers had trailed the Braves 3-1 in last season's NLCS, before triumphing in the next three games and ultimately winning the World Series.

 

Red Sox at Astros

The Houston Astros can secure their spot in the World Series for the third time in five years when they host the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series leading 3-2.

The Cleveland Browns have snapped their two-game skid without Baker Mayfield with a 17-14 victory over the Denver Broncos in Thursday Night Football.

Browns running back D'Ernest Johnson stole the show in his first career start, scoring the first touchdown after only five plays and finishing the game with 22 carries for 146 yards.

Case Keenum, making his first Browns start in place of the injured Mayfield, completed 21 from 33 attempts for 199 yards including one touchdown pass.

The result improves Cleveland to 4-3, while it means the Broncos have lost four in a row, sliding to a 3-4 record.

The Browns led 10-0 at half-time after Chase McLaughlin's 52-yard attempt, before the Broncos rallied with Melvin Gordon diving in at the corner from Teddy Bridgewater's touchdown pass to narrow the deficit.

Keenum found Johnny Stanton with a short touchdown pass to restore Cleveland's 10-point lead in the third quarter.

The Broncos scored late from a 17-play drive as Bridgewater, who completed 23 from 33 attempts for 187 yards but had one interception, found Javonte Williams for his second touchdown pass of the game.

Andres Iniesta arrived at Vissel Kobe amid plenty of fanfare in May 2018.

One of the most successful players in Barcelona's history, having won LaLiga nine times and four Champions League crowns among his haul of 35 trophies, Iniesta was brought to Vissel to deliver silverware.

Up until his arrival three years ago, Vissel had never won a trophy but during the Spain great's time in Kobe, the ambitious Rakuten-backed outfit have won the Emperor's Cup (2019) and Japanese Super Cup (2020).

Vissel also qualified for the AFC Champions League for the first time in their 55-year history in 2020, reaching the semi-finals.

Iniesta and Vissel are on track to feature in the Champions League again – Atsuhiro Miura's men are third in the J1 League this season and on course for their best finish in the top flight, three points clear of Nagoya Grampus in the race for the final qualification spot ahead of Sunday's showdown – as they seek to become kings of Asia.

"The team have been saying we want to become the number one team in Asia so the first big goal is to win the Asian Champions League," Vissel defender Leo Osaki told Stats Perform about the project in Japan.

"Of course we have to win the J1 League, we can't just be focused on the Champions League. But the biggest goal right now is to win the Champions League. We just have to finish third and hope we can play for the Champions League next season."

 

When Iniesta swapped Camp Nou to join captain Lukas Podolski at Kobe Wing Stadium, it brought more eyes onto the club and attracted a host of stars the following year.

Spain's all-time leading scorer David Villa, former Arsenal and Barcelona defender Thomas Vermaelen and Sergi Samper all followed Iniesta to Kobe.

Vissel's investment in Iniesta paid off in 2019 after conquering Kashima Antlers for their first ever piece of silverware before overcoming 2019 J1 League champions Yokohama F.Marinos on penalties in the Japanese Super Cup in 2020.

Since his debut, Iniesta has showed no signs of slowing down, with the 37-year-old maestro boasting 175 completed dribbles (second in the J1 League) and a 64 per cent success rate (third among at least 100 attempts) to go with 164 created chances (fifth) in 81 league appearances.

In total, captain Iniesta has scored 17 goals and supplied 17 assists to spearhead Vissel's cause under the ownership of Rakuten, who continue to dream big after buying the team from the Crimson Group in 2014.

"He didn't come here to finish his career. He came to win and you can see it in the training and locker room," Osaki said, with Vissel's 2021 squad including Vermaelen, Bojan Krkic and Samper. "I think bringing him into the team opened the path for other world-class players to come in and it attracted a lot of people to watch the J1 League and Vissel Kobe. In that point of view, it gave the team a positive reaction.

"For him playing with us, since the first day he came, there was a positive reaction. Watching him from behind, it's a dream come true because most of us were just watching him on TV.

"Playing wise, he demands a lot from everybody, not just players next to him but behind him, goalkeeper and strikers. In our bad times, he tries to talk to players and motivate them so the team doesn't fall apart.

"Winning that title changed everything in a good way," Osaki added. "Since it was the first title in the club's history, that boosted the confidence for everyone. Also the expectations got higher. Winning those two titles changed a lot."

"I think we haven't accomplished anything, so the job isn't finished. We have to play in the Champions League and become the number one team in Asia. We've made progress in terms of getting two titles. The team had never won any titles, so that was big progress," the 30-year-old said.

"Playing in the Champions League gave us experience and confidence, which has helped us this season. In the Champions League, we didn't end up winning but I think that experience gave us confidence and that's why we are in this position now."

 

Since Iniesta's arrival, Vissel have ranked third in the J1 League in possession (57.2 per cent), passing accuracy (85.5 per cent) and shooting accuracy (47.3 per cent), while they have outperformed their expected goals (xG) value of 171.4 by scoring 183 goals – the fourth most in that span.

"Bringing in Andres and all those world-class players always gives a positive reaction to the team but at the same time, fans are like 'you have these players, so you have to win'. But football isn't that easy," he added.

"Of course we have quality players and we play with 11 players, but it's a team sport. It takes time. Fans can't wait, they want results instantly. We struggled in the beginning and we were focused on possession and everything but now we are probably 50 per cent counter-attack and 50 per cent possession - and we started getting results."

He added: "I think sometimes we focus on the project too much in the past. Of course, we want to play out from the back, press the ball and dominate the game but sometimes we focus on that too much. At times we had 60-70 per cent possession but we couldn't get results or win. We're still working on that actually, playing out of the back. We kind of added a different kind of style, just go forward at times.

"Now, we're focused more on the result. At times we play good and at times we don't, but still focusing on the result is keeping us in this position now."

West Ham manager David Moyes is refusing to get carried away with his side's perfect start to the Europa League and insists his goal remains qualifying for the knockout stages.

The Hammers made it three wins from three games in Group H after defeating Belgian club Genk 3-0 at home on Thursday, following victories over Dinamo Zagreb and Rapid Vienna.

West Ham are only the second English side to win each of their first three group games in a single Europa League campaign without conceding a goal, alongside Tottenham in 2013-14.

The last team from any nation to achieve this was Sevilla who eventually won the competition in 2019-20 but Moyes would not be drawn on any comparisons.

"I'm keeping relatively calm because we've got to go to Genk away and Vienna away," Moyes during his post-game news conference. "I'm not going to take anything for granted.

"I said I want to be in Europe after Christmas. That's my plan for this year. We need another couple of points to qualify, not to win the group but if we can get that it would be a great start.

"The players have done a brilliant job. They really have. We've not won any of them easily. They've all been tough. The games have been close, even though we've been the better team in all three of the games. We've got to keep working to get those extra points to make sure we qualify."

West Ham's first two goals against Genk came from set pieces, with Craig Dawson and Issa Diop heading home from Aaron Cresswell's free-kicks.

Cresswell has assisted eight goals from dead-ball situations in all competitions since the start of the season, more than any other Premier League player.

Dawson has netted five goals in all club competitions this calendar year, which is equal best for any Premier League defender along with Manchester City's John Stones.

Angelo Ogbonna nodded in the winner from a Jarrod Bowen set-piece in Sunday's Premier League win over Everton too.

"It may be more effective in European football," Moyes said when asked about his side's set-piece threat. "The Premier League has got a lot of strong defences, and attackers who can defend set-pieces.

"Up until Everton, I’m not sure we had scored this season from a set-piece, so it is not as if we have been doing it every game but thankfully we got the winning goal at Everton and tonight as well.

"Craig Dawson is excellent at it, Issa Diop gets a goal tonight from it as well. Our centre-halves are the players on top scoring goals at the moment so I am happy with that and long may that continue."

Former World Series champion Jorge Soler has been cleared to return for the Atlanta Braves ahead of Game 5 of the National League Championship Series (NLCS) against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Thursday.

The Braves opened up a 3-1 NLCS lead with Wednesday's 9-2 victory, leaving the World Series champions needing to win three elimination games to progress.

Soler has been absent for the Braves after testing positive to COVID-19 during their National League Division Series against the Milwaukee Brewers.

The 2019 American League run leader hit .269 with 14 home runs and 33 RBIs across 55 games for Atlanta after his trade deadline deal from the Kansas City Royals.

"He's been working out on his own," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "I think he's good to go. That's a great weapon off the bench right there."

The Dodgers have lost third baseman Justin Turner to a hamstring injury, with Andy Burns added to their roster to replace him.

Turner hit .278 with 27 home runs, 87 RBIs and 148 hits across the regular season.

West Ham are making light work of Europa League Group H as they made it three wins from as many matches with Thursday's 3-0 defeat of Genk.

The Belgians travelled to London having lost four of their previous five matches across all competitions and West Ham piled on the misery to go six points clear at the top of the group.

Genk looked bright during the early exchanges but West Ham grew into the occasion and went ahead on the stroke of half-time, Craig Dawson's looping header finding the net.

West Ham put the game beyond Genk with a quickfire double just before the hour, Issa Diop and then Jarrod Bowen scoring 72 seconds apart to leave David Moyes' men on the brink of qualification for the knockout phase.

West Ham briefly appeared to have fallen behind early on as Theo Bongonda's diving header found the net, but the hosts were let off the hook as Junya Ito strayed offside in the build-up.

Maarten Vandevoordt was alert to prevent Jhon Lucumi putting into his own goal from an Aaron Cresswell cross just before half-time, though the Hammers did get the breakthrough from the resulting corner.

Dawson beat two markers in the air to meet Cresswell's delivery and Bryan Heynen could not prevent the header finding the top-left corner.

Another Cresswell set-piece brought West Ham's second goal, Diop seeing his header go in off the crossbar in the 57th minute.

A little more than a minute later, the Premier League side wrapped up the win as Manuel Lanzini found Bowen, the winger ran at the heart of the Genk defence and his shot squirmed past Vandevoordt.

What does it mean? Hammers a cut above

Genk certainly had their moments here, with Paul Onuachu threatening in the first half, Ito generally looking lively and that early disallowed goal, but West Ham were clinical and far more authoritative in the final third.

It will take something remarkable from here to deny West Ham top spot in Group H, even if only one of their next three Europa League games is at home.

They are making light work of a group that could have been problematic.

Cresswell? More like cross well…

West Ham left-back Cresswell was really bright here. His deliveries were a regular source of danger and two of them led to goals. Of course, praise should be reserved for Diop and Dawson for making the most of those crosses, but Cresswell put them into the right areas and you cannot ask for much more than that.

Johnson fades into the background

To say he played the full game, had the third-most touches (84) of anyone on the pitch, Ben Johnson did not offer a huge amount. He did not manage to play any key passes, and it was not as if he worked tirelessly off the ball either, as he was only involved in four duels in his whole outing.

What's next?

These two meet again on the next Europa League matchday, as West Ham travel to Belgium on November 4.

Nuno Espirito Santo insisted his focus was on improving Tottenham's young players after his side suffered a 1-0 defeat at Vitesse in the Europa Conference League.

Maximilian Wittek's second-half strike was enough to see Thomas Letsch's dominant outfit past a sorry Spurs, who have won just two of their last eight away games in Europe.

The midfielder's left-footed half-volley also ended Tottenham's five-game unbeaten run in the Netherlands in the 21st century, while they remain winless in 2021-22 on the road across three games in European competition.

Head coach Nuno, who opted to rest Son Heung-min and Harry Kane for the trip to Arnhem, refused to lament his side's performance as he pointed towards a busy schedule requiring rotation of his squad.

"It was a tough match. I think we competed well. In terms of attack, I think we should finish the actions better. Some combinations were missing," the Spurs boss said.

"I knew that the game was going to be tough. I am not here to judge the players, I am here to try and improve them. The analysis and the judgement we do it behind closed doors, like you can understand."

Rennes sit top of Group G, five points clear of Spurs at the halfway point, while Vitesse sit in second on six points.

However, Nuno appeared calm as he suggested his team can bounce back with their next three games in the competition as they look to make the knockout stages.

"I think we have two games at home against Vitesse and Rennes, and then we have to play Mura. We can solve the situation of the group," Nuno said, before defending teenage forward Dane Scarlett who struggled against a three-man defence.

"Dane is 17 years old. It is tough for him, but many of our players who are under 17 are not involved in first-team football," Nuno said. "Experience comes when he competes against top professionals like he did against Vitesse today."

Maximilian Wittek's second-half strike condemned an insipid Tottenham to a 1-0 loss against Vitesse in the Europa Conference League.

Spurs had won just two of their last seven away games in European competition before Thursday and their struggles on the road showed in a timid opening 45-minute showing.

However, the visitors were unfortunate to not go ahead after the interval at the GelreDome as Bryan Gil rifled onto the woodwork in an otherwise uneventful first hour of football.

Nuno Espirito Santo's side, who rested Harry Kane entirely for the trip to Holland, were eventually made to pay for their lacklustre performance when Wittek drilled in from the edge of the area to end Spurs' unbeaten start in the competition and leave them third in Group G.

Pierluigi Gollini smothered the first chance of the game as he raced out to deny Nikolai Baden Frederiksen before Jacob Rasmussen flicked narrowly wide following Wittek's corner.

Nuno's side could not manage a shot on target in the first half but went in level at the break after Thomas Letsch's team failed to make the most of their control of proceedings.

Spurs duly returned after the interval with greater attacking impetus, Bryan rattling the crossbar with a left-footed curler just two minutes into the second half.

Eli Dasa then drove narrowly wide of the right-hand post before forcing another save from Gollini as Vitesse piled on the pressure just past the hour mark in a contest of limited opportunities.

The hosts had scored in each of their last eight games and made it nine when Wittek rifled a left-footed half-volley - via a deflection off Davinson Sanchez - into the bottom-right corner with 13 minutes remaining.

Spurs pressed on for a late equaliser that did not come, meaning their five-game unbeaten run in the Netherlands in the 21st century came to an end.

The Premier League table continues to take shape as we approach matchday nine, with Liverpool versus Manchester United the headline clash of the weekend.

Mohamed Salah, a fantasy football favourite, will look to further his nine-game scoring run as the Reds travel to Old Trafford, while Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be hoping the comeback win against Atalanta inspires his side.

Chelsea, whose defence continues to provide valuable clean-sheet points for many a fantasy line-up, face strugglers Norwich City and Manchester City – another clean-sheet machine – travel to Brighton and Hove Albion.

Whether it is the Blues' regimented defence or Jurgen Klopp's shot-hungry attack, Stats Perform uses Opta-powered data to pick out seven potential fantasy stars.

EDOUARD MENDY (Chelsea v Norwich City)

Edouard Mendy was, arguably, the primary reason Chelsea collected all three points at local rivals Brentford last time out.

The goalkeeper produced six second-half saves as he left the Bees in disbelief with his various acrobatics to secure his 20th clean sheet in just 38 top-flight games.

With that many shutouts to his name, he boasts a clean-sheet ratio of 53 per cent – the highest of all keepers with 10-plus starts in Premier League history.

BEN CHILWELL (Chelsea v Norwich City)

Marcos Alonso may have been an early pick but Thomas Tuchel's wing-back roulette now seems to be favouring Ben Chilwell, who is in fine goal-scoring form.

The England left-back not only offers defensive returns, but he has also managed to score in his last three Premier League matches – having registered just two gaols in his first 26 Blues appearances in the competition.

Partnered with Mendy and against a shot-shy Norwich outfit, Chilwell is almost a certainty to provide some much-needed contributions from your backline.

JOAO CANCELO (Brighton and Hove Albion v Manchester City)

Joao Cancelo is the only one of Pep Guardiola's defenders to start all eight top-flight fixtures this term, after fantasy favourite Ruben Dias was surprisingly benched against Burnley.

The versatile full-back is yet to score but boasts the highest expected goals of any defender this term (1.3), while enjoying the most touches in the opposition box among the same category (22).

Only Shane Duffy (14) has attempted more shots than Cancelo (13), and the full-back should also be a shoo-in for clean-sheet bonus points, given no defender has kept more than his six shutouts this season.

MOHAMED SALAH (Manchester United v Liverpool)

By this point, if Salah is not present in your team then questions may need to be asked following his solo 'Goal of the Season' competition he has seemingly created in the last couple of games.

Since the start of March, the Egypt forward has been directly involved in the most goals, with his 18 (12 goals, six assists) two more than Leicester's Kelechi Iheanacho.

A premium but must-buy option for every fantasy outfit, Salah could wreak havoc on Sunday against a somewhat timid Red Devils defence at Old Trafford.

SON HEUNG-MIN (West Ham v Tottenham)

With an unusually out of form Harry Kane failing to deliver for Tottenham, and the majority of fantasy owners, Son Heung-Min has stepped up for Nuno Espirito Santo's side.

The South Korea international has scored four times and assisted once – those contributions worth eight points to Spurs, more than any player in the competition this campaign.

Son, up against West Ham, could provide further joy on Sunday if he is to carry Spurs seemingly single-handedly to victory once more.

PIERRE-EMERICK AUBAMEYANG (Arsenal v Aston Villa)

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been integral to Arsenal's early-season revival, finding the net in each of his last three top-flight games at Emirates Stadium.

In total, he has managed 42 Premier League goals at the Gunners' home ground, with only Robin van Persie firing in more (46).

Against a wounded Aston Villa defence, who shipped three late goals against Wolves in their last game, can Aubameyang continue his fine scoring run?

RAHEEM STERLING (Brighton and Hove Albion v Manchester City)

Again, err on the side of caution with this pick, given Guardiola's preference to rotate his wealth of playmaking riches regularly.

However, should Raheem Sterling start against Brighton – he could be an unlikely differential to source vital attacking gains in gameweek nine.

The England international has netted four times in four starts against the Seagulls, scoring a hat-trick on his last visit to the South Coast in July 2020.

Ansu Fati dismissed suggestions that inheriting Lionel Messi's number 10 shirt at Barcelona has brought additional expectations after committing his long-term future to the Catalan club.

Fati signed a new six-year contract to keep him at the club until 2027, with a release clause of €1billion included - a week after Pedri had penned a similar extension with the Blaugrana.

The Spain international burst onto the scene after making his debut in August 2019, becoming the club's youngest ever LaLiga goalscorer at the age of 16 years and 304 days.

He is also the youngest scorer in Champions League history, after netting against Inter in December 2019 a minute after his introduction from the bench.

The 18-year-old inherited the number 10 shirt after the departure of Barca great Messi, who left on a free transfer for Paris Saint-Germain amid salary cap issues with LaLiga in August.

However, Fati insisted that no pressure comes with the famous shirt as he expressed his desire to succeed with his boyhood club after coming up through the La Masia academy.

"My dream has always been to succeed here and continue growing here, luckily I will continue to do so," Fati told reporters on Thursday.

"I'm going to work every day to improve as a person and as a player. I have not done anything yet, I must continue working, mark my path.

"I am very grateful to the club for having trusted me, along with the captains. It could have been worn by another player, but I'm grateful.

"I was ready because they are at Barca and at Barca you must be prepared for everything. Wearing the '10' is not a pressure, it is one more motivation, I will do the best I can."

 

An almost year-long injury lay-off could have stunted the youngster's development, but he has managed two goals in five appearances since returning in September.

He has registered 15 goals in 48 games for the LaLiga giants in total, a tally that is bettered only by Luis Suarez (21), Antoine Griezmann (35) and Messi (69) – none of whom are still at the club – since his senior debut.

But Fati explained his ambition to keep improving at Barca, who are preparing for a Clasico showdown against Real Madrid on Sunday.

"I have a lot of room for improvement, especially listening to people who can help you," he continued. "I would like to improve everything, I have not done anything yet, with work.

"Playing a Clasico is a motivation, Madrid is our great rival. I know that the team is going to give everything for the victory.

"I trust the team, it is true that we have to improve as always. We are going to go out and compete and play at home, which is a factor in our favour."

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