Ole Gunnar Solskjaer vowed Manchester United will conduct their transfer business in "the right way" as he refused to discuss a possible move for Erling Haaland.

Borussia Dortmund striker Haaland is a player coveted by a host of European giants, with Barcelona, Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and Manchester City thought to have looked at the 20-year-old Norway international.

His father, former Leeds United and Manchester City player Alf-Inge Haaland, and agent Mino Raiola arrived in Spain on Thursday and reportedly headed for talks with new Barcelona president Joan Laporta.

There were also claims that Haaland senior and Raiola held discussions with senior Real Madrid officials on the same day. Dortmund director Michael Zorc said the Bundesliga club had "made our intentions very clear" to Raiola, which was generally taken to mean that Haaland will not be allowed to leave on the cheap this year, if at all.

Solskjaer would surely love to bring compatriot Haaland to United, having previously coached him at Molde, but he is not prepared to allow such club business to carry on in the public eye.

"There's only so many places that a player can go to and for us, we want to focus on the ones who are here," Solskjaer said. "I've worked with Erling, but it's not right for me to talk about him. I can talk about him as an ex-coach of his, but he will make his own mind up.

"Who we're in for and who we will go for, I'm not going to comment on that."

Since leaving Salzburg to join Dortmund in mid-season during the 2019-20 campaign, Haaland has scored 49 goals in 49 games across all competitions at club level, including 33 in 31 appearances this term.

Only Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski (67) and Juventus' Cristiano Ronaldo (55) have scored more club goals among players from Europe's top five leagues during the same 15-month period.

Among players with at least 25 goals in that time, only one has beaten Haaland's big chance conversion rate of 62.5 per cent.

Opta defines a big chance as "where a player should reasonably be expected to score", and the player who has bettered Haaland's rate is already at United, with Bruno Fernandes finishing 69.44 per cent of such opportunities.

Solskjaer hinted United could announce some surprise signings, given the way he prefers the club to operate.

He said: "I think the way the world works at the moment, you'd like to do all your business on the quiet. But there's platforms everywhere, the media makes that more difficult. But hopefully we can see soon with players that no one has written about. We conduct our recruitment business, scouting and the players we're interested in, we do it the right way."

United face Brighton and Hove Albion in the Premier League on Sunday, and Solskjaer's choice of goalkeeper will come under scrutiny, with Dean Henderson and David de Gea battling to be the established number one.

Given Henderson is now an England squad member, sitting on the bench is not ideal for the 24-year-old's development, yet De Gea has been a near fixture in the United team for a decade.

"I understand the question and the narrative in the media," Solskjaer said. "Where there can be potential tension or controversy, that's where everyone wants to hear a comment from me.

"What I can say is what I've said so many times, that I've got great options playing the two of them. Top keepers but of course both want to play as much as possible. That will be decided on merit. We'll have to see who we think is going to give us a win on any given day."

De Gea has seen more action for United this season, playing 2,565 minutes across all competitions to Henderson's 1,695 minutes. But it is Henderson who has clearly the better save percentage, with a 79.03 per cent success rate compared to 65.09 per cent achieved by De Gea.

"They both know we value them highly," Solskjaer said. "It's a difficult decision to leave one of them out."

Whether one of the goalkeepers leaves in the next transfer window is one of a number of matters for Solskjaer to consider.

The former Cardiff City manager, whose side sit second in the Premier League heading into the weekend, says United have a strong sense of how their ins and outs will transpire in the close season.

"Of course, we have a plan ahead. It's a plan that we think is going to happen," he said.

"There are obviously a couple of players where their future is not decided yet. Some without contracts, some with contracts and we do have a certain picture of how we think the squad is going to look in August."

The 2020 season is not one fans of the New England Patriots will remember fondly.

Not only did they lose Tom Brady after 20 years, but the star quarterback went on to win a famous seventh Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Pats, meanwhile, suffered with the tight salary cap left behind after years of pushing for postseason glory with Brady.

They went 7-9, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008, a season that saw Brady suffer a serious knee injury in Week 1.

While their record was by no means the league's worst, it was their first losing season since 2000.

Head coach Bill Belichick is not used to that and, with their cap situation looking much better, he has been aggressive in attempting to put things right with a free agency spending spree.

Here, we have used Stats Perform data to look at their disappointing 2020 season and some of the moves they have made to turn their fortunes around.

Offense

Cam Newton was a late addition ahead of the season on a bargain contract, but he was unable to recapture his Carolina Panthers peak as he returned from injury with a new offense.

His 82.9 passer rating was 28th out of 35 qualifying quarterbacks and he had just eight touchdown passes through the air, with 10 interceptions.

Still, Brady had not impressed in his last season either, with New England having one of the weakest supporting casts in the NFL.

Jakobi Meyers, who was undrafted in 2019, had a good year at wide receiver (59 catches for 729 yards), though no other player topped 400 yards receiving.

Julian Edelman was only healthy for six games, while the top tight end Ryan Izzo had just 199 receiving yards.

The Pats were 30th in the NFL with just 181 passing yards per game, 49 YPG below the league average.

New England had 38 passing plays of 20+ yards – only the New York Giants and Cincinnati Bengals faring worse in that category.

Newton attempted 22 passes of 21+ air yards – 30 NFL QBs threw more – highlighting the limitations of the offense.

He did, however, add 592 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground, offering a new dimension the Pats' offense.

That at least helped the Pats, with a strong offensive line, to a fourth-ranked rushing attack (147 YPG), though only two of their 20 rushing TDs were runs of 10+ yards

Newton went a solid but unspectacular 7-8, missing one game due to coronavirus, which he said had a lingering effect on his performance even after he had returned. 

On the whole, it was an offense that was tough to watch and while Newton may have underwhelmed, it was a very difficult situation in which to succeed.

Defense

The Patriots' defense was hit hard by COVID-19 opt outs, but the talent that remained combined with Belichick's coaching meant it was still a top-10 unit that was usually tough to move the ball against.

New England were seventh in points allowed (22.1) and while they were 15th in yardage (354 YPG), that ranking improved to eighth against the pass (222 YPG).

Stephon Gilmore was a Pro Bowl selection at cornerback for a unit that allowed seven TDs of 20+ yards, a figure bettered by just six teams.

The run defense struggled (26th in NFL at 131 YPG), forcing only 26 rushing plays to go for negative yardage – with only the Denver Broncos, Los Angeles Rams and Kansas City Chiefs faring worse.

New England had 22 takeaways, close to the league average (21), though 24 sacks was way below the par score recorded by the rest of the NFL (35).

Chase Winovich led the team in sacks (5.5) as well as in combined QB knockdowns and hurries (44), but the Patriots did not have anyone in the top 40 in either category, making pass rush an area of need.

Offseason

Armed with a strong cap situation and a point to prove, Belichick embarked on a spending spree that went against the team's usual philosophy.

Whereas previously the second wave of free agency would have been targeted along with bargain veterans desperate to secure a ring, New England were aggressive in chasing some of the top names on the market.

Their tight end situation has been among the league's worst since the departure of Rob Gronkowski, but they doubled down at the position to land Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith.

Henry ranks sixth among tight ends with 1,265 yards since the start of the 2019 season, while only four TEs have more than the 11 TDs grabbed by the athletic Smith over that period.

Wide receiver Nelson Agholor arrived after a career year (896 yards) for the Las Vegas Raiders as the pass-catching options were significantly boosted, albeit amid some concerns over the size of the contracts handed out.

It is hoped Matt Judon (four years, $56m) can help bolster the pass rush. He is 25th in the NFL with 30.5 sacks since 2017 for the Baltimore Ravens, while linebacker Kyle Van Noy returned from the Miami Dolphins.

The biggest loss was guard and two-time Super Bowl winner Joe Thuney, who signed a huge five-year, $80m deal with the Chiefs after playing last season on the franchise tag, though a former Patriot offensive lineman - Trent Brown - was brought back in a trade with the Raiders.

Newton, meanwhile, returned on another team-friendly deal worth an initial $5m with incentives that could reach $13m, though that contract will not preclude the Patriots from making other moves at QB.

The talent on the roster has undoubtedly improved, giving the Pats some flexibility when they pick at number 15 in the draft.

A move to further strengthen at wide receiver would make sense, as would a cornerback to add to a group including Gilmore and J.C. Jackson, with the latter set to hit free agency in 2022.

But Belichick may have one more move up his sleeve at QB. With the top five options all in the mix to go in the top 10, he may have to move up the board, or perhaps a trade to bring Jimmy Garoppolo back appeals after the San Francisco 49ers jumped up the draft order themselves.

Life after Brady continues to be fascinating for the Pats.

While many NFL fans relished their 2020 downfall, followers of New England will settle for a solitary 7-9 season if that proves to be the worst of their struggles and a turnaround begins in 2021. 

Pep Guardiola says Manchester City may not be able to afford a replacement for striker Sergio Aguero.

City confirmed on Monday their all-time leading goalscorer will bring down the curtain on a trophy-laden decade-long spell at the Etihad Stadium when his contract expires in June.

Aguero has won four Premier League titles, one FA Cup and five EFL Cups, a tally he can add to before departing as City are on course for a quadruple this season, including a first Champions League triumph.

City have been tipped to spend big on a new striker at the end of the season, with Erling Haaland, Kylian Mbappe and Harry Kane rumoured to be on their radar.

However, Guardiola insists the Premier League leaders are not in a position to complete such a signing due to the financial effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

"With these prices we are not going to buy any striker. It is impossible, we cannot afford it," the Catalan coach said during a news conference on Friday. 

"All clubs struggle financially, we are not an exception. We have Gabriel [Jesus], Ferran [Torres], young academy players, false nines. I don't know what will happen. 

"Today there is more of a big chance we won't sign a new striker for next season."

Aguero has scored 257 goals in 384 appearances for City since arriving from Atletico Madrid in 2011, seeing him surpass Eric Brook as the club's all-time record goalscorer.

Guardiola accepts the Argentina international will be a huge loss but is confident he already has the personnel to help fill the void.

"We know how important he is in the present and past. These decisions are never easy," Guardiola said.

"I want to be clear: Maybe we'll find a new player to replace Sergio. In terms of numbers he might be replaced, but in terms of what he means to the club it is impossible.

"We have enough players in the first team, interesting players in the academy. But with the economy the way it is we're not going to sign a new striker this summer."

Aguero is in contention to start Saturday's clash with third-placed Leicester City, who have in-form ex-Manchester City striker Kelechi Iheanacho leading their line.

Iheanacho spent one season playing under Guardiola before joining Leicester in August 2017 and has scored 15 goals in 87 Premier League appearances for the Foxes.

That does not tell the whole story, however, as the Nigeria international has scored five goals in his last three league games, making this his best goalscoring season since his maiden campaign with Manchester City.

Guardiola has been impressed by Iheanacho's recent form, which also includes two goals against Manchester United in the FA Cup quarter-finals two weeks ago, and expects a tough match against Brendan Rodgers' high-flying side.

"He's been incredible. The quality was always there as a young player," Guardiola said. "We had Gabriel and Sergio so there we not much space in the squad. 

"He's a fantastic person. We had a good relationship together. I'm delighted he's playing well. He links well with others, he is fast and is also very clear in front of goal."

He added: "I have to admit, since Brendan took over they've been incredible. I remember he took over and after a week, 10 days, wow, he changed them completely from the previous manager. 

"They had an incredible chance to qualifying for the Champions League last season, didn't do it, but they are there again this season. The last 5-10 years they have worked really well on scouting and are a contender every season. 

"They have a top manager, top players. It is a big challenge for us tomorrow."

Guardiola is still unsure on the availability of up to eight of his international players for Saturday's match due to coronavirus restrictions delaying their return to training.

The former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss has heavily rotated his side between games of late and intends to continue doing so, with a Champions League quarter-final tie against Borussia Dortmund to come on Tuesday.

"We rotate well because we work well when we do that," he said. "When I rotate and we lose you tell me it's disastrous - why rotate? In the modern day, no player can sustain mentally or physically playing every three days. 

"Tomorrow I'll select a team to win that game. I'm sure Man United and Leicester can win a lot of games. Everything in football can happen. 

"We need four victories to be champions and tomorrow is our first chance to win another game. Then when on the coach after the game I'll think about Dortmund."

The leaders have alternated between defeat (two) and victory (two) in their last four Premier League away games against Leicester, winning this fixture 1-0 last season.

Guardiola's side were beaten 5-2 in September's reverse match and Leicester are looking to complete their first league double over Manchester City since the 1986-87 season.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer says Paul Pogba can help Manchester United get their spark back as the midfielder prepares to make his Premier League return.

Pogba is set to play his first top-flight game in almost two months since suffering a thigh injury against Everton on February 6.

Following his return from injury he scored in the Europa League against Milan and featured against Leicester City in the FA Cup prior to the international break, when he played three times for France to continue building up his fitness.

United have only scored more than one goal in one of their last eight games across all competitions.

But Solskjaer hopes a refreshed Pogba can help to reverse that trend, starting with Sunday's home Premier League clash against Brighton and Hove Albion.

"It is a massive boost," Solskjaer said about the return of Pogba. "He has come back bright and is ready to go. 

"We know how important he will be for us and how important he has been. 

"To have players of his quality out for longer periods shows the quality of the others, that we have done so well. 

"But towards the end of this season having Paul back fit and getting our forwards firing again, hopefully we can get that spark back and score more goals again."

Forwards Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood are in contention to play if they emerge unscathed from training on Friday and Saturday.

Edinson Cavani is also poised to continue his comeback after a frustrating run of injuries.

But fellow attacker Anthony Martial and defender Victor Lindelof missed the first of those two training sessions.

Brighton have won consecutive matches against Southampton and Newcastle United going into the clash with the Red Devils.

Solskjaer added: "Since I came we have played them quite a few times and we have always had some hard-fought games, difficult games. 

"When you prepare for a game against Brighton you can see all our players with bright eyes because they respect the way they play and the quality they have had against us. 

"We know we have to be on our best to earn the right to play. You have to work really hard to get the ball off them."

Brighton have never won away against Manchester United in 12 previous visits, losing on each of their last six trips to Old Trafford.

United are looking to keep five consecutive Premier League clean sheets for the first time since August 2017, when they were managed by Jose Mourinho.

But if Brighton are able to win a third straight top-flight game, it will be the first time they have achieved the feat since October 2018.

They would also become the first team in over a decade to win away at both Liverpool and United in the same Premier League season.

Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel said landing the Premier League's Manager of the Month award for the first time proves he made a shrewd move in joining the Blues.

The former Paris Saint-Germain and Borussia Dortmund head coach took the reins at Stamford Bridge in January.

With no equivalent honours available in France or Germany, Tuchel was slightly taken aback by the personal recognition of his efforts.

Chelsea are unbeaten in 10 Premier League games since he succeeded Frank Lampard, and Tuchel's award came for the team's results in March.

The London club beat Liverpool 1-0 and Everton 2-0 before they were held to a goalless draw by Leeds United.

"It's very unusual for us to have this reward," said Tuchel, whose team play West Brom on Saturday. "It's not an award you can achieve in France or Germany. It's very nice.

"I don't believe in individual awards in football, so when I receive one I am a representative for everyone here at Cobham.

"I am grateful to receive an award like this and it means I am at the right club. I see it as a team award. It feels good. It's not the end of the road. We still compete in April and May and we want to produce."

In all competitions, Chelsea are unbeaten in 14 games under their new head coach, having battled through to the quarter-finals of the Champions League and the semi-finals of the FA Cup under the German's stewardship.

That is the longest unbeaten start by any Chelsea boss and another record could soon come their way.

Ahead of the West Brom game at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea are yet to concede a single goal in their five Premier League home games under Tuchel.

In English top-flight history, the only team to keep a clean sheet in their first six home games under a specific manager are Manchester City under Ron Saunders in 1973-74.

Real Madrid head coach Zinedine Zidane is tired of discussing a possible move for Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Haaland and says he is only thinking about the players in his squad.

Madrid are one of a number of elite clubs to have been linked with the Norway international following a goal-laden 15 months at Dortmund, where he has scored 49 goals in the same number of appearances.

Talk of a transfer to the Santiago Bernabeu at the end of the season intensified on Thursday as Haaland's agent Mino Raiola and father Alf-Inge were spotted in the Spanish capital, hours after footage emerged of the pair in Barcelona.

It was reported that Raiola and Alf-Inge were on their way to hold talks with Los Blancos president Florentino Perez over a deal for Haaland, whose reported €75million release clause is not said to come into effect until 2022.

However, Zidane was unwilling to discuss Madrid's apparent interest in the 20-year-old at Friday's news conference previewing a game against Eibar.

"I'm going to be very clear here. I'm very tired of saying the same thing over and over again," he said. "Everything that happens outside of my power, I'm not going to say it's good or bad. 

"I'm not going to give an opinion on this. What matters to me is my players and tomorrow's game. I'm getting tired of saying this, but if you and your colleagues keep asking this about other players, I'm going to keep saying the same thing. 

"I say all of this because, in the end, it's true; my job, my work is what I do with my players, how I work with my players in the day by day, and focusing on every game that comes in our path. Apart from all of that, I don't know.

"I only think about tomorrow's game. After that... again, you ask this and I say the same thing. We just focus on tomorrow."

Haaland has 21 goals in as many Bundesliga games this term, adding another 10 from six matches in the Champions League, a competition in which he tops the scoring charts.

The January 2020 signing from Salzburg netted twice in BVB's most recent outing, a 2-2 draw at Cologne, to take him to 14 away goals in the German top flight in 2020-21.

That is more than Werder Bremen (13), Hertha Berlin (13), Mainz (11), Arminia Bielefeld (10) and Schalke (eight) have scored as a team at home this season.

Asked for his opinion on Perez meeting with potential transfer targets, Zidane said: "Everyone can do what they want here. I don't have any feelings about this. 

"They can do whatever is at their convenience. I repeat again: my job is preparing my players, my staff around me here, everyone at this club around me, for this game, and that is all."

Zidane will be looking to maintain his unbeaten LaLiga record against Eibar on Saturday, winning eight and drawing one of their previous meetings.

Zinedine Zidane insists "no one has the blame" for Sergio Ramos returning from Spain duty with a calf injury that has "hurt" Real Madrid for a key stretch of the season.

Ramos returned from a knee issue ahead of the international break and scored for Madrid as they knocked Atalanta out of the Champions League.

However, he then played just 50 minutes across two appearances for Spain in World Cup qualifying and complained of a calf problem after a short cameo at home to Kosovo.

Madrid have not confirmed the anticipated length of Ramos' lay-off, but a return in time to face Liverpool in the Champions League quarter-finals and Barcelona in LaLiga appears unlikely.

Los Blancos host Liverpool on April 6, with a second leg eight days later sandwiching a critical home Clasico.

Given Ramos has appeared just 20 times for Madrid in all competitions this season, questions might be asked of his involvement for Spain.

But Zidane told a news conference on Friday: "No one has the blame here - not Spain, not Real Madrid. This is just football.

"Unfortunately, these things happen; it's happened before, not just to us but to a lot of other teams as well.

"It's true that, this part of football, we don't like it, of course, but these things happen. We have to accept this, but no one is to blame here.

"What we want for Sergio is that he recovers as quickly as possible. We know the player and captain he is. We know that he always wants to be available and playing.

"This has hurt us a little bit and we hope he recovers quickly."

Ramos' absence for the two legs against Liverpool would appear particularly costly as Madrid have lost seven of the 10 Champions League games he has missed since the end of the 2017-18, the season in which they were last crowned European champions and talisman Cristiano Ronaldo departed.

The centre-back has made 14 European appearances in that time and contributed to 10 wins, losing only once, while Los Blancos concede only 0.9 goals per game with him in the side - down from 1.9 without him.

But Zidane was not looking as far ahead as an intriguing last-eight tie, as Madrid first face Eibar on Saturday, playing before Atletico Madrid and Barca and able to cut the gap at the top to three points.

"You talk about Liverpool and Barcelona - we have a game tomorrow to play," Zidane said.

"We want Sergio back, we want him to be with us at all times, but right now we just focus on tomorrow's game.

"This is going to mark the path for the rest of the season. We just focus on tomorrow and that's it. Tomorrow at 4.15 [CET], we have a game and we have to all be ready, all of us."

Ramos is not Madrid's only injury absentee, either, with Eden Hazard prevented from going away with Belgium and Toni Kroos returning ealry from Germany duty.

Kroos has been a key man this season, playing 35 games and providing nine assists from 83 chances created, and he is "doing better", Zidane said.

The coach added Madrid are "not going to be silly" with the midfielder but he trained on Friday.

Hazard, on the other hand, has repeatedly suffered with fitness issues, restricted to only nine starts in 2020-21 and having a meagre four goal involvements.

"Once again, we don't have a plan with Eden," Zidane said. "It's a day-to-day thing, like everything.

"We're not going to force anything because the most important thing is that he's well, that he's recovered. For us, it's bit by bit.

"I'm not going to tell you we'll re-evaluate in a week, a few days, nothing. If it's in a few days, that's good for us; 10 days, okay. We're just going to take it day by day.

"He is with the team now and that's what we want. When he plays, we'll see."

Liverpool will welcome Roberto Firmino back from injury for Saturday's key Premier League match against Arsenal.

Firmino has been out of action for a month due to a knee injury, last playing in the home defeat against Chelsea on March 3.

The champions sit seventh going into the away clash with Arsenal, five points adrift of the top four, though they hope a win at Wolves prior to the international break will prove a turning point after a miserable run of results.

"Bobby [Firmino] is back," Klopp said at his pre-match news conference on Friday, when he was also asked about other injured players such as Jordan Henderson and Virgil van Dijk.

"All the others not and I have no idea about the Euros. Nothing has changed.

"They are all in the place they should be at the moment. I don’t have bad news or brilliant news. If they are ready then they are ready. They are in rehab process.

"Jordan is not here at the moment, he cannot train. He will train in the next days or weeks, for sure."

In the absence of Firmino, Diogo Jota recovered from his own injury to score against Wolves and help the Reds to secure Champions League progression against RB Leipzig.

He followed up that form with three goals in two caps for Portugal.

"Diogo is in a good moment," said Klopp. "It's good. These are the real benefits of an international break. 

"Shaq [Xherdan Shaqiri] played well for Switzerland. Thiago played a good role in the Spanish games.

"So there are benefits, but not a lot. Scotland played well, Wales surprise three points - a lot of things were going on. 

"I will speak to [Curtis Jones after his red card for England Under-21s].

"You don't want to see these things after a game but we all know in a moment when you lose a game, and it meant a lot to Curtis, who played really good game - if the other team didn't do anything there would be no reaction.

"We have a tough programme, it is always a challenge coming back from international break. You have one session to bring it all together. There is no guarantee that it always works. 

"We were here, they are back, train again and go again."

Arsenal won this fixture 2-1 last season and are looking to beat Liverpool in consecutive home league games for the first time since April 2015.

The Reds have won just two of their last 20 Premier League away games against Arsenal (D9 L9), while the Gunners have lost only one of their last eight home Premier League encounters.

Arsenal, though, have gone eight top-flight matches without a clean sheet and have conceded the first goal in four of their last five league games.

Unusually, Liverpool have fared better on their travels than at Anfield for much of this season, with their last five league victories all coming on the road.

Klopp added: "Let’s go for it and have a look at the end. We don’t have a lot of points to waste any more. We will not hesitate and we will just go for it.

"We are not living in dreamland, but if you ask me what do I wish for, let's go with all we have.

"Whoever plays away at Arsenal should never expect the points, but whatever we want, we only get if we win football games.

"Arsenal is a quality side, they have a lot of potential, quality, experience, youth, really exciting team. 

"The Premier League is a tough league. If you are not at the top level, you get punished. 

"It’s a tough one, but should be tough for Arsenal as well. Our only intention is to be exactly the opponent Arsenal doesn't want."

Dave Roberts refused to blame either Cody Bellinger or Justin Turner for the bizarre mix-up that cost the Los Angeles Dodgers in their Opening Day defeat to the Colorado Rockies.

World Series champions the Dodgers outhit the Rockies 15-11, had eight runners on base via walk and 20 total bases, but they scored only five runs.

While an 8-5 defeat ultimately was not decided by one play, the first run of the game summed up a day on which manager Roberts said "all the way around, we didn't play well".

Bellinger hit a home run at the top of the third, with Turner already at first base.

But rather than a two-run homer, Bellinger ended up being given out and had to settle for a one-run RBI.

His hit slipped through the glove of left fielder Raimel Tapia before clearing the park and Turner thought the ball had been caught, meaning he hared back to first and passed the advancing Bellinger in the process.

"I don't think there's blame to be placed," Roberts said.

"I think Cody was coming out of the box hard, which he should have, and he's looking at where the ball was at, going hard.

"Justin was just past second base and when he saw the ball in Tapia's glove, he retreated and put his head down to try to get back to potentially be doubled up.

"And then at that point in time, they just kind of crossed between first and second."

The Dodgers finished with a 43-17 record last season and went 7-3 against the Rockies, with their results against the rest of the NL West a slightly more modest 20-10.

They will hope there are few further mishaps in 2021, although Roberts was also reluctant to criticise the umpire.

"From what I understand, he didn't give the out call, so he was just trying to see it," Roberts said. "And once he did see the ball go over, he gave the home run call.

"At that point in time, Justin had already retreated.

"It's just one of those funky plays that I don't think is going to happen again this year."

Three of first baseman Bellinger's 12 homers last season came against the Rockies and he will get the opportunity to atone for Thursday's error on Friday.

Macarthur's debut A-League season continues to go from strength to strength after Matt Derbyshire's brace secured a 2-0 win over Perth Glory.

The Bulls, who made their bow in December, climbed to second thanks to a comfortable home victory on Good Friday.

The new boys have now won three in a row in the competition for the first time and sit only three points behind leaders Central Coast Mariners.

Macarthur's first meeting with Glory went entirely to plan as in-form Derbyshire broke the deadlock after 10 minutes.

Benat Etxebarria, the only man to attempt 1,000 passes in the A-League this season, spread a fine ball out to Ivan Franjic, whose header back across goal from the right was met by Derbyshire, first to react to prod in off the underside of the crossbar.

Macarthur might have added to their lead long before the second deservedly arrived on the stroke of half-time, albeit in contentious circumstances.

Markel Susaeta bought a cheap foul from Sebastian Langkamp in the area and Derbyshire coolly sent the resultant penalty straight down the middle for his 10th goal of the season - trailing only Jamie Maclaren (12) - to seal the points.

Gianluigi Buffon is "the best goalkeeper in the football history" but should have retired after leaving Paris Saint-Germain, according to Gianluca Pagliuca.

Italy great Buffon has appeared only five times in Serie A so far for Juventus this season.

Indeed, the 43-year-old has featured in just 25 matches in all competitions since returning to Turin in 2019, keeping 11 clean sheets and conceding a meagre 17 goals.

Buffon's save percentage of 80.5 per cent ranks second among goalkeepers in Europe's 'top five' leagues to start 25 games in the past two seasons, but he is very much playing second fiddle to Wojciech Szczesny (72.8 per cent), who has had 67 Juve outings over that time.

The legendary Buffon played on 25 occasions in a single season with PSG and ex-Italy goalkeeper Pagliuca feels he should have called time on his career following his spell in the French capital.

"If I was him, I have already retired," Pagliuca told Stats Perform News. "I would have retired after PSG.

"It was a good idea to go to Paris because it's a big club and he was playing regularly.

"Buffon on the bench? Happy to play only in Coppa Italia? It's not great.

"Someone with his career, it's better to retire when you are 41 and you are still playing than having a couple of years on the bench. He is still a really good goalkeeper.

"The best thing was to retire after PSG, considering his career. Maybe he still wants to compete.

"However, we have to think he's been the best goalkeeper in the football history."

Montpellier centre-back Hilton, also aged 43, is the only player older than Buffon to appear for a club in Europe's 'top five' leagues this season.

Premier League stars have returned to their clubs after international duty and now we enter perhaps the most intense stretch of the season.

Will your fantasy league players last the distance or are some showing signs of flagging already? Perhaps the World Cup qualifiers gave you an idea of which stars could deliver for their clubs in the race for those top-four places.

Can Timo Werner rally after his awful miss in Germany's defeat to North Macedonia, or should you look elsewhere for Chelsea players after the Blues' stunning start under Thomas Tuchel.

Our Opta-powered fantasy picks should provide some food for thought ahead of the 30th round of games this weekend.

EDOUARD MENDY

Chelsea, who play West Brom, have shipped just two goals in 10 Premier League games since former Paris Saint-Germain boss Tuchel arrived, with the German boss making the London side come good on the potential they showed fleetingly during Frank Lampard's reign.

Goalkeeper Mendy had already looked a shrewd addition and he owns the best save percentage (77.4 per cent) among Premier League goalkeepers in 2021. Only Manchester City's Ederson has conceded fewer goals per game this year among keepers with a minimum of 300 minutes of action. Mendy has conceded seven in 12 games at an average of 0.58, while Ederson has been beaten eight times in 15 matches for a 0.53 average since the turn of the year.

LUKE SHAW

Impressed by Luke Shaw's return to England favour? Wait until you hear what he's been achieving at club level. Shaw's Manchester United form has been a sensational second coming for the player who first caught the eye as a teenager with club and country, and he will look to impress against Brighton on Sunday.

The former Southampton left-back has been directly involved in more goals (one goal, four assists) in 2021 than any other Premier League defender, with his 36 chances created making Shaw a clear leader in that field too. Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold (24 chances created) sits a distant second on the list.

CESAR AZPILICUETA

Already emerging as a favourite of Tuchel, Azpilicueta has played his part in nine clean sheets with Chelsea in 12 Premier League appearances since the start of the year. That is more than any other defender has managed in the competition across that period of time.

The 31-year-old club captain is leading by example and West Brom's attackers will have their work cut out against the former Marseille defender this weekend. Team-mate Antonio Rudiger, who has played 11 league games in 2021, is one of four players in the top flight to have played a part in eight clean sheets this year.

RIYAD MAHREZ

Leicester City know all about Mahrez and his wily ways on the wing, but whether they can stop the Manchester City star on Saturday is perhaps another matter.

The Algerian, who was a Premier League winner with the Foxes, has been involved in 11 goals in his last 13 Premier League starts (eight goals, three assists). Across his last three league games against Leicester, he has managed two goals and two assists.

SADIO MANE

Could the international break prove to be just the interruption that last year's flagging champions Liverpool needed? Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and co will hope to resume on a positive note when Jurgen Klopp's men tackle Arsenal at Emirates Stadium on Saturday.

Five of Mane's seven Premier League goals for Liverpool this season have come away from home, with four of those coming in London – this is his only Premier League campaign so far where he has scored more goals away than at home. The Senegalese has also scored seven Premier League goals against Arsenal, only netting more against Crystal Palace (10). Two of those have come away at Arsenal, including one in a 2-1 defeat last July.

HARRY KANE

In need of a fix of guaranteed points? Tough, they don't exist. But Kane would be close to the top of any all-time list of the Premier League's most reliable scorers, and he already has 17 goals and 13 assists for Tottenham in the competition this season.

Across all competitions, Kane has been involved in 43 goals in 40 games this term (27 goals, 16 assists), and in terms of involvements that haul is just two short of his best ever season in his senior career (41 goals and four assists in 2017-18). Tottenham go to Newcastle on Sunday, with Kane looking to add to the three league goals he has previously bagged at St James' Park.

James Rodriguez has revealed he held talks with Atletico Madrid boss Diego Simeone last year, but Real Madrid blocked a transfer from going through.

The Colombia international joined Premier League side Everton from Real Madrid in September after struggling for playing time under Zinedine Zidane last season.

He was linked with a number of high-profile suitors before completing his eye-catching switch to Goodison Park for what later transpired to be a free deal.

Atletico were among the sides tipped to sign James at the time and the 29-year-old has revealed he was close to joining Real's city rivals.

"It was nearly a done deal to got to Atletico," he told ESPN. "I spoke with Simeone, he said I could be important, but Real didn't let me go. 

"[President] Florentino Perez knew that with Zidane there I wouldn't play much. It was a bad year and I wanted to come to Everton to play and show what I can do.

James has scored five goals and registered four assists in 18 Premier League appearances this season.

That puts him level with Richarlison for the second-most goal involvements of any Everton player in the league this term, behind only ​striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin (14 goals).

No Everton player has created more chances than his total of 31, meanwhile, with 23 of those from open play - another team high.

James has enjoyed a positive first campaign in English football, but he would not have considered joining Everton without the presence of three-time Champions League-winning coach Carlo Ancelotti.

"I'll say it with all sincerity that if Carlo wasn't here, I wouldn't have come," said James, who has not featured since February because of a thigh injury. "I'll say it with all my heart, he was one of the reasons for which I came.

"I have started to get to know the club, how they work, how they want to work, win things, play in Europe. The fact that Carlo is here was fundamental to come here, where I am learning every day.

"In these remaining [league] matches, I want to perform well. I had some physical problems for a month, but I have overcome them and it's my goal to get a European spot, hopefully in the Champions League."

Everton are eighth in the Premier League, five points behind fourth-placed Chelsea with a game in hand.

The team from the Mile High City is rising again.

The Denver Nuggets are starting to resemble the team that put forth a thrilling and historic run to last season's Western Conference finals, the first in NBA history to win two series in a postseason when faced with a 3-1 deficit. They are 12-3 since February 27, tied with the Phoenix Suns for the league's best record over that period, and are the only team with three players (Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr.) averaging better than 20 points per game during that time frame.

So, what has changed? How have the Nuggets elevated themselves back to a legitimate contender after spending the season's first two months mostly languishing in mediocrity?

It is no secret that offense is Denver's calling card, consistently ranking among the league's most efficient teams on that end even when hovering around .500 for nearly all of January and February. Defense is the true key to the Nuggets' success, however, and will ultimately be the determining factor to whether Mike Malone's crew wind up as serious title contenders or early playoff flameouts. 

Simply put, the Nuggets are awfully hard to stop when they are able to stop opponents at a passable level. Denver is 24-1 this season when holding foes to a field goal percentage of 47.5 per cent or below, with only the NBA-leading Jazz (32-1) owning a superior winning percentage when keeping teams under that number. The Nuggets are 19-1 when limiting opponents to 106 points or fewer, just slightly behind Utah's 20-1 mark for the best in the league when doing so. 

HIGHEST WIN PERCENTAGE WHEN OPPONENT FG PCT. UNDER .475:

Jazz 32-1 .970  
Nuggets 24-1 .960 
Bucks 25-4 .862 
76ers 26-7 .788
Nets 22-6 .786
Suns 22-6 .786 

The Nuggets were able to squeak by the Clippers in large part due to Jerami Grant's incessant hounding of Kawhi Leonard, who shot a combined 37 per cent in LA's four losses and finished with a 6-for-22 dud in the deciding Game 7. But Grant's free-agent departure to Detroit and the since-traded Gary Harris' inability to stay healthy has frequently left Denver without its top two defenders from last season, and a void Malone has often had difficulty trying to fill.

Need more proof? Well, just harken back to last year's playoff bubble. The Nuggets put on a defensive clinic at times in their conference semi-final series with the Clippers, holding them to 42 per cent shooting or below in all four victories. The Jazz shot a combined 51.6 per cent from the field while taking a 3-1 lead on Denver in that opening-round classic. In the final three games, they shot 44.4 per cent as the Nuggets stormed back to take the series.

Denver had no answer for the Lakers' interior game and abundance of size in the West finals, in which the eventual champions shot nearly 59 per cent from inside the 3-point line to win in five games. 

Until now. 

Aaron Gordon was not the biggest name to change uniforms at the trade deadline, but the former Orlando Magic forward could very well wind up being the most impactful of all the moves. What the Nuggets needed most of all was another Grant, someone with the size and athleticism to capably guard multiple positions, effectively get to the rim and offer at least a mild threat of perimeter scoring.

Gordon is not as good from the outside as Grant, but he is shooting a career-best 37.1 per cent from 3-point range and at just 25, there is still room to expand his game further. He is a superior rebounder and finisher, however, having shot a strong 65.1 percent at the rim for his career. And now playing alongside the premier passing big man of this generation in Jokic, there's reason to suggest that number can go up as well.

The Nuggets did not acquire Gordon for his offense, however. The Magic allowed 2.3 fewer points per 100 possessions this season with him on the court as opposed to him off it, and with a first-round matchup with either the Lakers or Clippers a real possibility, it was crucial that Denver added a player with the requisite size and skill to go head-to-head with Leonard or LeBron James.

It is an incredibly small sample size, but the returns have so far been smashingly successful. The Nuggets have opened the Gordon era with blowout wins over the Hawks and the admittedly depleted 76ers, and they are a plus-36 with their new acquisition on the floor over those two games.

With the defense seemingly upgraded and Porter's emergence as a legitimate third scoring option alongside the incomparable Jokic and the dynamic Murray, the Nuggets appear better equipped for an NBA Finals run after coming three wins short of getting there last season. 

Now, Gordon isn't the solution for all of Denver's issues. For all the great things Jokic does, rim protection will never be one of them. The Nuggets have allowed opponents to shoot 62.6 per cent at the rim, with only New Orleans having yielded a higher rate, and they were routinely manhandled inside by the Lakers' big lineups in the West finals. 

That looms as a potential problem again down the road, assuming the Lakers will have a healthy Anthony Davis for the playoffs, but one the Nuggets may have alleviated somewhat with the possibly under-the-radar deadline pickup of JaVale McGee. The veteran center provides the size and presence as an interior deterrent that Denver sorely lacked, though that benefit could come with a cost if it leads to Jokic playing less, or if he's alternatively moved to power forward, where his defensive limitations could be further exploited.

There are certainly worse problems to have, however, and there is little question the Nuggets got better at the deadline while many of their other chief competitors largely stood pat.

Buckle up, folks. The West's road to the NBA Finals just got a little more rocky.  

Temba Bavuma starts life as South Africa's new captain in white-ball cricket with an ODI series against Pakistan on home soil.

Bavuma has been handed the job through to the 2023 Cricket World Cup, replacing Quinton de Kock after the wicketkeeper-batsman had been leading the Proteas in all three formats on a temporary basis.

Twenty20 cricket may well be of greater importance for international teams right now in terms of planning - there is a World Cup in the shortest format to come later this year on Indian soil, plus another in Australia in 2022 - but the new reign begins with three 50-over fixtures.

Centurion hosts two of the one-dayers, including Friday's opener, with a fixture at the Wanderers in Johannesburg sandwiched in between.

South Africa lost in both the Test and T20 formats on their tour to Pakistan earlier this year, albeit they had an inexperienced squad on duty for the latter. Heinrich Klaasen was placed in charge as many of his compatriots departed to prepare to face Australia at home, only for those games to be cancelled.

The unexpected gap in the schedule has allowed South Africa to make changes with a focus on the long-term future – Dean Elgar is now the Test skipper – and there are some fresh faces in the one-day squad, with all-rounder Wihan Lubbe and fast bowler Lizaad Williams selected.

Aiden Markram and Wiaan Mulder have been recalled, while those players who will be involved in this year's Indian Premier League will be released early from international duty. With so many departing, opportunities will come for some of the less experienced individuals in the squad.

Pakistan sit just behind their hosts in sixth place in the International Cricket Council's team rankings, but go into the series having lost just one of their last nine ODI games, the solitary defeat coming in a Super Over against Zimbabwe in November 2020.

However, South Africa have won eight of their last 10 outings at Supersport Park - venue for the first and third games - and have a 4-2 record there when Pakistan are the visitors.

Both nations will be eager to pick up points in the World Cup Super League, particularly the Proteas as they prepare for ODI duty for the first time in over a year.

The uncapped Saud Shakeel was initially named in Pakistan's squad but has been ruled out with a leg injury, though fellow rookie Danish Aziz is expected to get a chance in the middle order after impressing in domestic action.


Bavuma takes centre stage

Bavuma will be the 16th captain for South Africa in one-day cricket; he has scored 335 runs and averages 55.8 in the format. However, this will be his first ODI appearance against Pakistan and, with players such as De Kock, David Miller, Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje among those bound for the IPL soon, the new skipper will hope to lead from the front.

Babar Lord's it over Proteas

Pakistan captain Babar Azam averages 65.7 in ODI action since the start of 2019, boasting a strike rate of 93.8 while scoring four centuries during that period. The right-handed batsman made 69 as his side won when the nations met during the 2019 Cricket World Cup at Lord's. However, neither made it beyond the round-robin stage of that tournament.

Key series facts

- South Africa and Pakistan have alternated between victory and loss in their last four ODI matches against each other; the last time they met was during the 2019 World Cup, when the Proteas lost by 49 runs.  

- South Africa have won their last three ODI matches (all against Australia); the last time the Proteas won more consecutive matches in the format was between January and March 2019 (six matches).

- Pakistan have a catch success rate of 72 per cent in ODIs since the start of 2019, the lowest share of any Test-playing nation in that time; they have dropped 40 of the 144 chances presented to them.

- South Africa have lost only one of the nine men's multi-game bilateral ODI series played against Pakistan (W8). However, the solitary defeat was at home when Pakistan toured in 2013.

- Fakhar Zaman (currently 47 innings) needs 40 to reach 2,000 runs in ODIs (1,960 runs); if he gets there in this game, he will be the third fastest to reach the milestone for Pakistan (Zaheer Abbas and Babar Azam).

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