Tottenham coach Nuno Espirito Santo insists he has the backing of his players despite mounting scrutiny over their recent form.

Spurs made an excellent start to life under their new head coach, winning four of their first five games in all competitions while conceding just one goal.

Their recent form has taken a dramatic turn for the worse, however. Consecutive 3-0 Premier League defeats to Crystal Palace and Chelsea came as they also drew 2-2 with Rennes and Wolves in the Europa Conference League and EFL Cup.

Last weekend, Tottenham suffered a humbling 3-1 loss to north London rivals Arsenal, a result made all the more eye-catching given it came just under a month after top-flight history was made when Spurs ended the day top of the table while the Gunners were at the bottom.

Such has been the reversal of their fortunes – only Everton in 1993-94 have ever won their opening three Premier League games of a season only to lose the next three – that doubts are already being cast over Nuno's future.

However, the former Wolves boss says the players believe in his methods and that criticism does not concern him.

Speaking ahead of Thursday's game against Mura, he said: "Yeah, [they] totally believe. There are no doubts about that because we work together every day, we prepare together and these moments we need to stick together and the belief is the first step to do things, and we have it.

 

"You have to realise sometimes it's not possible. Sometimes opponents are better than you, and you have to be humble to give credit, and sometimes you don't perform. Sometimes the plan is no good. The belief in all of us is here.

"I'm not worried about the judgements. What I'm worried about is how we can play better. The judgement and the criticism and the opinion and all of that is all part of it. And we have to deal with that.

"That doesn't interfere with the way we work, it can only distract us. I'm very simple, telling you: my focus is how can we improve, how can we improve. In terms of the fans, now is not the moment to ask them. Of course, we need their support, because the players and the team need the support of the fans. But it's not the moment to ask them, it's the moment to deliver.

"We don't panic because we know that this is football. It's how you react to the bad moments. It's something that you cannot avoid. Every team goes through a moment like this. History shows that. Sticking together is the only way to do it."

Nuno believes Spurs' three consecutive wins at the start of the season disguised the fact he is still getting used to working with his squad.

"Since day one, we are knowing each other better, we are realising our strengths and weaknesses, so we can improve. The moment that we were winning was only disguising to the outside," he said.

"Inside, we knew we still had things to improve. Now it's obvious that we have things to improve. In terms of what I'm seeing, I'm seeing players that want to achieve, that work hard to achieve it, but we are not able to be consistent to do it.

"We are still having problems when we concede a goal. We lose our focus. We lose our solidity and how compact we are and that we must avoid. So, a lot of analysis is going on. A lot, but with the tools and the belief that we have a talented team with quality players to get out of this situation and play much better football."

Toni Kroos is hopeful Real Madrid will finally land Kylian Mbappe next year after a failed attempt to sign the Paris Saint-Germain in the most recent transfer window.

Madrid are reported to have had three bids turned down for the France international in July and August, the last one said to be worth up to €200million.

However, Mbappe is due to become a free agent at the end of the season and can therefore secure a pre-contract agreement with Madrid – or any other foreign club – from the start of January.

Kroos has previously talked up the prospect of his side bringing in Mbappe and remains eager to link up with the 22-year-old in 2022.

"In the summer, I already said that I would like a player like him to come, but if he doesn't, we have a good team," he told Goal.

"Let's see what happens in the future. It is difficult for me to say, because I am not the one who decides. 

"His quality has not changed – he is a good player and what we know is that Madrid wanted to sign him but in the end they didn't succeed. Everything continues, also without Mbappe here.

"I think we are doing well and for the future my opinion has not changed: the best players have to be at Madrid, and he is sure to be one of them."

Mbappe has four goals and five assists in 10 games this term – only international team-mates Karim Benzema and Paul Pogba (both seven) have set up more goals in all competitions among players from Europe's top five leagues.

The PSG star has gone five matches without finding the net himself, however, after failing to add a goal to his assist for Lionel Messi in Tuesday's 2-0 Champions League win over Manchester City.

While PSG were claiming a deserved victory over fellow heavyweights City, Madrid slumped to one of the biggest shocks in the competition's history as they fell 2-1 to Sheriff.

That was just Los Blancos' second defeat in 32 group-stage games at the Santiago Bernabeu, having previously lost to CSKA Moscow in December 2018.

Madrid have otherwise made a positive start to Carlo Ancelotti's second spell in charge, and Kroos, who made his first appearance of the season as a second-half substitute against Sheriff, believes the Italian's methods have changed over time, having been signed during his previous stint.

"Yes, there is a difference, but our relationship still remains very good," he said. 

"I had a good relationship with him in 2014. I haven't played many games so far [this season], so I can't say exactly what has changed because I haven't had many talks with him."

Arsenal have revealed midfielder Granit Xhaka has been ruled out for around three months after sustaining knee ligament damage against Tottenham last weekend.

The Switzerland international returned to Arsenal's starting line-up for the north London derby after serving a three-match ban but was forced off in the 82nd minute.

Xhaka was accidentally caught by Lucas Moura in the Gunners' 3-1 win at Emirates Stadium after the Brazil international had initially been challenged by Thomas Partey.

Speaking after Sunday's victory, Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta admitted he was "pretty worried" about a potential injury lay-off for the 29-year-old.

Arsenal have now confirmed that, while Xhaka does not require surgery, the injury is serious enough to potentially keep him out of action for the rest of 2021.

"Further to injuring his right knee during Sunday's match against Tottenham, assessments and scans have confirmed Granit Xhaka suffered a significant injury to his medial knee ligament," a club statement read on Wednesday.

"A specialist consultation took place in London on Tuesday evening, which has determined that Granit does not require surgery. 

"Granit's recovery and rehabilitation programme will start immediately, and we are aiming for him to be back in action in approximately three months.

"Everyone at the club will now be supporting and working hard with Granit to get him back on the pitch as soon as possible."

Xhaka will therefore miss November's meetings with Liverpool and Manchester United and may be doubtful to face Manchester City on New Year's Day. Arsenal visit Spurs two weeks later.

He will also play no further part in Switzerland's World Cup qualifying group-stage campaign.

Despite only Bukayo Saka making more appearances (46) for Arsenal last season in all competitions, Xhaka was heavily tipped to join Roma during the most recent transfer window.

The former Borussia Monchengladbach man instead agreed a contract extension with Arsenal and started four of their opening six Premier League games this term.

Xhaka ranks second to Albert Sambi Lokonga for tackles won among Arsenal players in the Premier League in 2021-22 – seven compared to nine, having played a game fewer than his team-mate – while only Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has won more duels (25) than Xhaka's 22.

It is about time Ole Gunnar Solskjaer delivered trophies for Manchester United despite the progress he has already made since taking charge of the club.

That is the view of the United manager's former treble-winning team-mate Teddy Sheringham ahead of the Red Devils' key Champions League clash with Villarreal on Wednesday.

Although they have made the latter stages of multiple competitions and finished as high as second in the Premier League, United have not won a trophy for four seasons.

An impressive transfer window that saw the Old Trafford club sign World Cup winner Raphael Varane, long-term target Jadon Sancho and returning hero Cristiano Ronaldo raised expectations for them in 2021-22.

But after a bright start, the past fortnight has seen United lose to Young Boys in their Group F opener, crash out of the EFL Cup at the hands of West Ham and suffer their first league defeat of the season to Aston Villa.

Sheringham believes Solskjaer will deliver much-needed silverware but thinks the Norwegian can have few complaints about the expectations.

Asked if it was time for Solskjaer to step up as a manager, Sheringham told Stats Perform: "Without a doubt. 

"You only have to look at the signings that Manchester United have made this season.

"Looking at Varane, Sancho and then Ronaldo becoming available, and then they got him as well – it was just unbelievable. 

"But that increases the pressure for Ole, and he knows that. He's in charge of the biggest football club in Europe, maybe even the world, and he knows he has to win things. 

"The pressure is there for them to win things, and I'm sure they will this year as it's about time.

"There's been steady progression for the club over the last two or three seasons, but it's about time they won something."

United need a positive result against Villarreal to get their campaign on track in the Champions League. 

The four previous Champions League clashes between United and Villarreal have all finished 0-0, making it the most played fixture in the history of the competition to see no goals scored.

United also suffered a painful Europa League final defeat to the Spanish side on penalties last season.

Despite being one of the biggest clubs who typically qualify for the Champions League, United have not got past the quarter-finals in Europe's elite club competition for a decade.

"It's tough," added Sheringham. "When you look at Sir Alex Ferguson and his record in the Champions League, it didn't happen overnight.

"It was again a steady progression. They got to the quarter-finals, got knocked out, got to the quarter-finals, then they got to the semi-finals, and then they won it. 

"So, if Ole can gain the experience, the players that he's got there, if they gain the experience along the way, then hopefully everybody's ready to win it. 

"Then you need to get a little bit of luck when you need it, and you come out on top."

While he hopes United will get there, Sheringham is more confident that the other English clubs could dominate the competition this season after Manchester City and Chelsea contested in an all-English final last year.

He added: "I think they [English clubs] will [dominate again].

"I expect probably three of those four English teams to get into the semi-finals – that is how dominant English teams are at the moment.

"We were talking about the chances of Manchester United and I don't really think they are one of the best teams in England at the moment. 

"You have to say that Manchester City [have a chance], Chelsea without a doubt, and Liverpool will also feature as well very high." 

Marcus Rashford is "raring to go" as he closes on a return to action with Manchester United, according to manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Rashford had surgery on a long-standing shoulder injury in July and so has not played for club or country since missing a penalty against Italy for England in the Euro 2020 final.

The striker may be back in the fold after the coming international break, though, when United visit Leicester City.

Amad Diallo has also been out with a thigh issue, which put paid to a planned loan move to Feyenoord.

"[Rashford and Amad] are still a few weeks away, so hopefully after the international break they could be available," Solskjaer told United's official website.

United have played eight games without Rashford so far this term ahead of Wednesday's meeting with Villarreal, where Aaron Wan-Bissaka will miss the first of two matches through suspension – his punishment increased due to "rough play" as he was sent off against Young Boys.

Rashford missed just four United games in the whole of last season as he scored 21 goals and assisted a further 12 in 57 appearances in all competitions.

Among outfield players in Europe's top five leagues, the England man's 4,153 minutes ranked 16th in 2020-21. Wan-Bissaka (4,707) led that list.

Going back further, across his five full seasons as a senior United star, Rashford played 253 times, behind only Manchester City's Bernardo Silva (255) in that period.

This sort of lay-off is unfamiliar to the forward, then, and he is not lacking motivation.

Solskjaer continued: "They're working hard, both of them positive, and it's been a long, long time for Marcus, of course – probably the longest he's been out, but he's needed it.

"He looks raring to go, happy, and he knows he's missed out on pre-season, but he's done loads of good conditioning work and should be ready soon."

Palmeiras coach Abel Ferreira took inspiration from Jose Mourinho's early-career Champions League success as he masterminded an away-goals win against Atletico Mineiro in the Copa Libertadores semi-finals.

The reigning South American champions returned to the Libertadores final with a 1-1 draw at Atletico on Tuesday, having played out a goalless first leg at home.

Eduardo Vargas' header had put the home side in front, but Dudu equalised 22 minutes from time to crucially extend Palmeiras' record-breaking unbeaten away run in the competition to 15 matches.

Abel never doubted that leveller was coming, revealing Palmeiras had planned simply to score once in order to advance.

The coach referred to Mourinho's 1-1 draw at Manchester United with Porto in 2004, in which the visitors netted in the 90th minute through Costinha to knock Alex Ferguson's men out 3-2 on aggregate. Porto went on to win the Champions League.

"I'm Portuguese with great pride, I'm European with great pride," Abel said.

"We have the best coaches in the world, like Mourinho; we have the best referees in the world, like Pedro Proenca; we have in Portugal the president with the most titles in the world [Pinto da Costa]; and we have one of the best players in the world, [Cristiano] Ronaldo.

"When you look at Ronaldo, you see great mental strength, an insatiable work discipline, wanting to win and wanting to do more and better, and that is the Portuguese mentality and the European mentality.

"This I will never abdicate. And that calm and that intelligence inspired me.

"I talked about the game between Manchester United and Porto in which Mourinho in the last second at Old Trafford made it 1-1 and [went through]. It was in this game that I was inspired.

"That's what I told our players: we have to come here to score a goal, and we're going to do it because we have had an impeccable Libertadores.

"What is sometimes lacking here in Brazil is rigour and discipline in work and daily dedication to sacrifice. They know what it means, that to win you pay a price to be in the final, and these players were willing to pay that price to be in the final."

Palmeiras had just 36.7 per cent of the possession but blocked seven of their opponents' 17 shots.

Veteran captain Felipe Melo contributed one of those and led by example as he made nine clearances, three tackles and three interceptions.

Palmeiras' reward was a second consecutive Libertadores final, becoming the fourth club to achieve that feat in the 21st century – after Boca Juniors in both 2000 and 2001 and 2003 and 2004, Sao Paulo in 2005 and 2006 and River Plate in 2018 and 2019.

They will face Flamengo or Barcelona in the showpiece, with their Brazilian rivals 2-0 up after the first leg.

Gianluigi Donnarumma has laughed off "nonsense" claims he is unhappy at Paris Saint-Germain and seeking a swift return to Serie A.

The 22-year-old only joined PSG in July after reaching the end of his Milan contract and failing to agree fresh terms with his boyhood club.

However, according to reports from Italy this week, Donnarumma is already eyeing up a move to Juventus in January as he is not happy about having to challenge Keylor Navas for a starting spot.

Donnarumma was given an extended break after playing a huge part in Italy's Euro 2020 success and had to wait until six games into the campaign to make his debut in a 4-0 Ligue 1 win over Clermont.

He has played a further two games since – the 2-1 league win over Lyon and 2-0 victory over Manchester City in the Champions League on Tuesday – compared to eight appearances for Navas in all competitions.

But after being given the nod to start the big game with City, Donnarumma dismissed reports he is unwilling to share goalkeeping duties with Navas 

"I laugh at it," he told Sky Sport when asked about the recent speculation. "Every time I open the phone, I read a lot of it. 

"I know my strength, I know who I am and there is no problem whatsoever. I am here, and I am happy to be here. 

"I have a club that always supports me, and I just laugh when I read all this nonsense. I'm fine, and I'm going to continue."

Donnarumma impressed on his Champions League debut for PSG by making seven saves at the Parc des Princes, as goals from Idrissa Gueye and Lionel Messi earned the hosts a deserved win.

"I dreamed of a night in the Champions League like this," Donnarumma said. "It was a great match and gives me immense joy. 

"I thank all the people who have been close to me, from my parents to my girlfriend. It hasn't been an easy time, but I have an incredible family. I knew this moment would come.

"Playing with these champions is fantastic, they help you a lot and make you grow. Congratulations to Leo as well for his first goal. He is a phenomenon – there's nothing more to say."

Mauricio Pochettino must now decide whether to stick with Donnarumma in goal for Sunday's league trip to Rennes or instead turn to Navas.

Navas has conceded eight goals in his eight appearances for PSG this campaign, compared to one goal shipped in three outings for Donnarumma, who also boasts a better save percentage (92.86 compared to 75.76).

Donnarumma's save percentage of 92.86 is the best of any player from Europe's top five leagues to have played at least three times across all competitions, with Arsenal's Aaron Ramsdale (91.67) and Chelsea's Edouard Mendy (88.89) next on the list.

Brooklyn Nets guard James Harden says he has never felt better heading into the new NBA season after enduring an injury-ravaged 2020-21 season.

Harden missed 23 games in the 2020-21 season due to a hamstring injury, which he aggravated during the Nets' playoffs campaign.

The 32-year-old, who had joined the Nets in January, played through pain as Brooklyn bowed out of the postseason in the Eastern Conference semifinals to eventual champions the Milwaukee Bucks.

Harden's teammate Kyrie Irving also had injury problems derail the Nets in the playoffs, leaving plenty on the shoulders Kevin Durant, the final member of 'the big three'.

"I've had two and a half months to recover, and I feel very, very good," Harden told ESPN. "I get an entire year, training camp included, with the guys."

He added: "I've tried to get my mind and my body right. That's all I've tried to focus on this summer. I've come back even better, bigger, stronger and quicker. I feel better than I probably have ever felt before.

"[I'm] just more confident knowing we have a legit chance to be the last team standing."

Harden, who won the 2018 NBA MVP award, also offered an update on his contract status with title favourites Brooklyn, having not yet extended his deal, which has a player option for $47million at the end of the coming season and expires the following year.

"Over the course of my career, I've never been a free agent before," Harden said.

"I've always been loyal, signing contract extensions and being there, being there, being there. I want to take my time with it.

"It's going to be very difficult to leave here or leave Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. I want this season to focus on winning the championship. Everything else will work itself out."

Harden played 36 times for the Nets during the 2020-21 season, averaging 24.6 points, 8.5 rebounds and 10.9 assists per game.

His 24.6 points per game for the year, including eight games with the Houston Rockets, represented his lowest average since his final season with the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2011-12, when he started just twice.

However, playing alongside Durant and Irving, Harden's usage rate fell to 29.0 per cent, having been as high as 40.5 per cent in 2018-19.

The St Louis Cardinals extended their remarkable streak to 17 consecutive victories and clinched the second National League Wild Card spot with a 6-2 win over the Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday.

The triumph seals a postseason spot for the Cardinals for the third consecutive year after a franchise-record run.

The Cardinals become the third team in the expansion era to win 17 straight within a season, behind only the 2017 Cleveland Indians (22) and the 2002 Oakland Athletics (20).

St Louis were forced to come back from a multi-run deficit for the sixth time during their streak after Luis Urias' two-run blast in the fourth inning.

The Cards responded immediately, with Adam Wainwright's bunt helping Harrison Bader tag to level it up.

Avisail Garcia's error from Tyler O'Neill's base hit allowed Paul Goldschmidt home, before home runs from Jose Rondon and Nolan Arenado sealed the win and another postseason berth.

Morton fires Braves past Phillies

Charlie Morton had 10 strikeouts as the Atlanta Braves beat the Philadelphia Phillies 2-1 to edge a step closer to the clinching a fourth consecutive NL East title.

The result means the Braves (84-72) are 3.5 games ahead of the Phillies (81-76).

In the battle for the NL West title, the San Francisco Giants (103-54) produced a four-run sixth-inning rally to win 6-4 over the Arizona Diamondbacks, while the Los Angeles Dodgers (101-56) survived a late scare to win 2-1 against the San Diego Padres.

The Seattle Mariners kept alive their hopes of reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2001 with a 4-2 win over the Oakland Athletics, with Mitch Haniger hitting his 100th career homer.

The Houston Astros stayed 4.5 games ahead of the Mariners with a 4-3 walk-off win over the Tampa Bay Rays, where J.T. Chargois walked the last two runs.

Salvador Perez claimed the outright lead for home runs in the majors with his 47th for the season in the Kansas City Royals' 6-4 over the Cleveland Indians.

Wind out of Red Sox's sails

The Boston Red Sox fluffed a 2-0 lead in a must-win game in the AL Wild Card race, going down 4-2 to the lowly Baltimore Orioles. Chris Sale had six strikeouts and none earned through five innings before the Orioles flipped the game on its head, leaving the Red Sox unstable at 88-69, marginally ahead of the Mariners (88-70) and the Toronto Blue Jays (87-70).

Stanton's hot streak continues

Giancarlo Stanton crushed an improbable 421-foot three-run home run as the New York Yankees secured a critical 7-2 win over the Blue Jays in the AL Wild Card hunt. In-form Stanton now has 13 RBI in his past four games, with his seventh-inning homer opening up a four-run lead for the Yankees in a crucial game. Stanton has also homered in four straight games.

Tuesday's results

New York Mets 5-2 Miami Marlins
Pittsburgh Pirates 8-6 Chicago Cubs
Baltimore Orioles 4-2 Boston Red Sox
New York Yankees 7-2 Toronto Blue Jays
Atlanta Braves 2-1 Philadelphia Phillies
New York Mets 2-1 Miami Marlins
Minnesota Twins 3-2 Detroit Tigers
St Louis Cardinals 6-2 Milwaukee Brewers
Texas Rangers 5-2 Los Angeles Angels
Kansas City Royals 6-4 Cleveland Indians
Houston Astros 4-3 Tampa Bay Rays
Chicago White Sox 7-1 Cincinnati Reds
Colorado Rockies 3-1 Washington Nationals
San Francisco Giants 6-4 Arizona Diamondbacks
Los Angeles Dodgers 2-1 San Diego Padres
Seattle Mariners 4-2 Oakland Athletics

Phillies at Braves

The Phillies get another chance to keep alive the race to win the NL East division when they face the Braves in the second game of their three-game series on Wednesday.

Manchester United need points to get their Champions League campaign going, and doing so by getting revenge for their Europa League final shoot-out loss to Villarreal would be a moment to enjoy for the Old Trafford fans.

When it comes to established elite needing results, United are not alone. Barcelona head to Benfica looking to banish thoughts of that humbling home loss to Bayern Munich on matchday one, while Massimiliano Allegri could use a strong performance against strong opposition when Chelsea visit Juventus.

Bayern themselves host Dynamo Kiev, as Mircea Lucescu looks to fare a little better than the last time he took a team to the Allianz Arena.

Read on for more as Stats Perform looks at the key Opta facts ahead of Wednesday's Champions League action.

 

Benfica v Barcelona: Can Memphis Depay breathe life back into Catalans?

Barcelona's 3-0 loss to Bayern Munich on matchday one was the first time in at least 186 Champions League matches in which they did not attempt a single shot on target.

Memphis Depay did not manage a shot of any kind, something he had never before experienced when starting a game in this competition. However, with two goals in his previous two games against Benfica, he could be the man to get Barca firing in Lisbon.

Benfica have not beaten Barcelona since the European Cup final in 1961, but if they do manage to pile more pressure on Ronald Koeman with a victory, it will mark the first time the Blaugrana have lost their opening two games of the season in Europe since 1972-73, when they lost twice to Porto.

Bayern Munich v Dynamo Kiev: More unhappy memories beckon for Lucescu

The Allianz Arena was the scene of Lucescu's heaviest Champions League defeat: his Shakhtar Donetsk side lost 7-0 to Bayern Munich in March 2015.

Having failed to score in seven of their previous 11 games in this competition, it is hard to expect Dynamo to stop Bayern from claiming what would be a 33rd home win out of their most recent 35 in the group stages.

In fact, across the past three seasons, Bayern have won the most games (20) and scored the most goals (73) of any team in the tournament. In 14 of their 22 games in that time, they have netted at least three goals.

 

Juventus v Chelsea: Bianconeri out to keep up king-slayer tradition

Juventus have won seven matches against the holders in this competition's history, a figure only Real Madrid can beat (11 wins). They also beat Chelsea 3-0 in their previous meeting back in the 2012-13 group stage.

Still, Chelsea have only lost three of their past 32 group games and none of their most recent 12. Thomas Tuchel's 68 per cent win ratio is bettered by only two men among managers to take charge of 20 or more group games: Pep Guardiola (71 per cent) and Jupp Heynckes (73 per cent).

The last time Juve hosted an English team in the Champions League, Jose Mourinho's Manchester United snatched a 2-1 win in November 2018. Massimiliano Allegri's side have never lost consecutive home games to English opponents.

 

Manchester United v Villarreal: Goals at last in Europa League final repeat?

All five previous European meetings between Manchester United and Villarreal have ended in draws. The first four did not even see a goal scored – it's the most played Champions League match never to see a goal – while the Europa League final last season finished 1-1, with the LaLiga side winning 11-10 on penalties.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is the only manager to take charge of 10 or more Champions League matches at an English club and lose more than half of them (he's lost seven out of 11). Should they suffer defeat at Old Trafford, it will mark the first time in history they have ever lost their first two European games of a season.

If he plays, Cristiano Ronaldo will break Iker Casillas' record of 177 Champions League appearances. However, he has failed to score in four games against Villarreal in the competition – only against Lille and Benfica has he played as many times without finding the net.

Other fixtures:

Atalanta v Young Boys

30 – Atalanta's 30 Champions League goals have all been scored by non-Italians. They have netted more goals without any coming from a player of the nationality of the club he's representing in Champions League history. Young Boys have scored six times in the competition, but none has come from a Swiss player.

17 – David Wagner's side had 17 more shots than Manchester United in their opening-round win (19 vs 2). The last time a coach saw his team have that many more attempts than their opponents in his first game in charge was when Hansi Flick's Bayern Munich had 27 shots to Olympiacos' three in November 2019.

Zenit v Malmo

1 – Zenit have only taken one point from their previous eight group-stage matches and have lost four of their past seven home games in European competition.

8 – No team faced more shots on target than Malmo on matchday one of this campaign (eight against Juventus), while their xG against total of 3.5 was the most of any team in the opening round.

Salzburg v Lille

40 – This will be Lille's 40th Champions League match. They only won six of their first 39 - only Dinamo Zagreb (five) and FCSB (four) have ever won fewer than eight of their first 40 games in the competition.

35 – Although 10 of Salzburg's starting XI against Sevilla last time out were aged 24 or younger, they also included 35-year-old Andreas Ulmer, who was two years and 158 days older than his coach, Matthias Jaissle. It's the first time a player has been over two years older than their manager in a Champions League match since Naldo for Schalke in December 2018 under Domenico Tedesco (three years and two days older).

Wolfsburg v Sevilla

3.7 – Wolfsburg's previous six games against Spanish opponents in European competition have seen a total of 22 goals scored (11 for, 11 against), at an average of 3.7 per game.

7 – Sevilla are unbeaten in their past seven away games in this competition (W3 D4), their longest ever unbeaten run away from home in the European Cup/Champions League. They last suffered defeat on the road in October 2017, losing 5-1 away to Spartak Moscow.

World Series champions the Los Angeles Dodgers placed Albert Pujols on the COVID-19-related injured list while activating Cody Bellinger, it was announced on Tuesday.

Pujols – a future Hall of Famer who will celebrate his 42nd birthday in January – had a reaction from his second COVID-19 vaccination shot.

The Dodgers have not placed a timeframe on Pujols' return but the two-time World Series champion and three-time National League (NL) MVP was ruled out of Tuesday's game against the San Diego Padres.

"He didn't feel good as far as playing in a major league game," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "Just to give him a day and see where he's at tomorrow."

The Dodgers, though, activated 2019 NL MVP Bellinger from the IL after a left rib fracture sustained in an outfield collision with team-mate Gavin Lux on September 14.

Pujols is batting .255 with 12 home runs and 38 RBI in 82 games since arriving from MLB rivals the Los Angeles Angels in May while Bellinger – who also battled a shoulder injury earlier this season – is hitting .159 with nine homers and 34 RBI in 89 appearances.

The Dodgers (100-56) were second behind the San Francisco Giants (102-54) in the NL West division prior to Tuesday's games.

The Giants were dealt a blow with in-form Brandon Belt placed on their 10-day IL due to a left thumb fracture after being struck by a fastball against the Colorado Rockies on Sunday.

"It's not optimal, but I think we're going to be fine because our players are prepared for it," Giants manager Gabe Kapler said.

The Giants are yet to put a timeframe on Belt's injury but had said on Monday he will "continue to meet with doctors over the next couple of days to develop a recovery plan and timetable for his return."

Belt is batting .274 with a career-high 29 home runs, 59 RBI and 89 hits. The 33-year-old – a two-time World Series winner – leads the Giants for homers this season.

Copa Libertadores champions Palmeiras have the chance to claim back-to-back titles after edging Brazilian rivals Atletico Mineiro in the semi-finals.

Palmeiras advanced to the 2021 showpiece 1-1 on away goals following Tuesday's 1-1 draw away to Mineiro in Belo Horizonte.

After a scoreless first-leg draw, Palmeiras' Dudu struck in the 68th minute, cancelling out Eduardo Vargas' 52nd-minute opener.

Palmeiras will be the fourth consecutive team to play in two successive Libertadores finals since 2000, after Boca Juniors (2000 and 2001, 2003 and 2004), Sao Paulo (2005 and 2006) and River Plate (2018 and 2019) as they await either Flamengo or Barcelona in the decider.

In all six previous Libertadores semi-final ties since 1989 that the first leg ended in a goalless draw, the team who played the return leg at home had progressed to the final.

Mineiro looked on track to continue that streak when Chile international Vargas put the home side ahead with his third goal of the Libertadores campaign.

But some poor defending allowed Palmeiras back into the contest, Gabriel Veron dispossessing his opponent before squaring the ball to Dudu for a tap-in on the line.

It was Dudu's seventh goal for Palmeiras in the Libertadores, with the two-time South American champions – unbeaten in 15 away games in the competition, the longest undefeated run on the road in history, having won all seven games in which he has scored.

Russell Westbrook said LeBron James knows what it takes to win in the NBA as the Los Angeles Lakers recruit attempts to claim his first championship.

Westbrook and James will team up in Los Angeles after the former joined his hometown team following a trade from the Washington Wizards.

A nine-time All-Star and former MVP, Westbrook has a long list of honours in the NBA but the 32-year-old is still searching for his maiden ring.

Westbrook, though, is excited to join forces with four-time champion James at Staples Center, having tasted defeat in the 2012 NBA Finals when the Oklahoma City Thunder lost to the latter's Miami Heat.

"LeBron out of anybody else, he knows what it takes to win a championship," Westbrook told ESPN.

"My understanding of the commitment, understanding the sacrifices that we are both going to have to make, including myself and [Anthony Davis] as well for the betterment on the team, and finding ways to be able to win a championship.

"And that's the ultimate goal. So anything along the way we, we cannot get distracted, cannot get the deterred from our ultimate goal."

Westbrook averaged 22.2 points, 11.7 assists and 11.5 rebounds with the Wizards last season.

On playing alongside James in LA, Westbrook – a dominant ballhandler – added: "It was going to work."

"When you get a chance to play against one of the greatest players of all time and consistently, it helps my game," Westbrook said.

"It helps my preparation, makes me focus more on the things I need to focus on to get to a point where I can sit down and say, 'I've accomplished everything I can accomplish in this league and now I'm lucky enough to be able to play alongside him.' So I'm looking forward to that, looking forward to the things we can accomplish here together this season."

Los Angeles Angels manager Joe Maddon said two-way star Shohei Ohtani did not mean he wants to leave the MLB franchise.

Ohtani will become a free agent after the 2023 season and he sparked question marks over his future, having insisted his top priority is winning following another losing campaign in Los Angeles.

An American League (AL) MVP frontrunner with 45 homers and a 3.18 ERA, Ohtani was unable to prevent the Angels from a sixth successive losing season and a seventh consecutive campaign without playoff baseball.

Maddon, however, played down the Japanese sensation's comments prior to Tuesday's clash with the Texas Rangers.

"We all feel the same way, we all want to win," Maddon told reporters.

"If anybody misconstrues that as though he wants to leave, that's trying to connect some dots that weren't necessarily what he, not at all what he said.

"He also mentioned how much he loves it here. The inner sanctum of the clubhouse, the guys, the coaching staff, everything about it. The area. The fans. He loves them all.

"We all want to get to the next level, and we see it as an absolute possibility it's going to happen here in the very near future."

Prior to Tuesday, Ohtani had just three home runs in 22 September games – his lowest in any month this season.

Ohtani's 45 home runs are tied for second-most by an Angel in a single season, two behind Troy Glaus' 47 in 2000.

"Don't forget all the platitudes that he mentioned regarding everything else because I think that overrides just saying that he wants to win and somehow connect that to he wants to leave," Maddon added.

 

Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James said he retains a "burning desire to win trophies" in an ominous sign ahead of the upcoming 2021-22 NBA season.

James is entering his 19th season aged 36 and following an underwhelming 2020-21 campaign, which saw the Lakers dethroned after bowing out of the playoffs in the opening round.

The four-time NBA champion and MVP missed 27 games last season due to injury and averaged the fewest minutes per game (33.4) of his illustrious career.

James averaged 25.0 points, 7.7 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game last term, while his field-goal (51.3) and three-point (36.5) percentages were his best since 2017-18.

Gearing up for another run, James insisted he is feeling great, having overcome injuries in his quest for a fifth championship ring.

"I still have a burning desire inside of me to want to continue win, hopefully I can bring some trophies at the end of the season," James told ESPN, with the season due to get underway next month.

"That's always been my goal. I love the process more than anything. Hopefully I can put myself in a position where I can do that at the end of the season.

He added: "I'm just a guy who is very determined, who is willing to do whatever it takes for his body to be in the best shape possible to dominate at a high level.

"I'm not afraid to get uncomfortable with anything to get in the best possible shape I can be in."

The Lakers' roster has vastly changed since last season, with Alex Caruso, Dennis Schroder, Andre Drummond, Markieff Morris, Montrezl Harrell, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Kuzma among those to exit.

Los Angeles have added NBA veterans Carmelo Anthony, Trevor Ariza, Dwight Howard and Rajon Rondo along with former MVP Russell Westbrook.

Nine-time All Star Westbrook, who turns 33 in November, led the NBA in assists last season and broke Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson's all-time triple-double record in May.

"Right away he ups our pace," James said. "He's always in the top five as far as pace, being able to get out on the break, able to get some early buckets before the defense is set.

"He's also a flat-out playmaker. A lot of people don’t talk about how unbelievable a passer he is. Everyone sees the rebounds and the scoring but how his passing makes other guys run and better doesn't get talked about a lot. We all look forward dot that as team-mates."

James (35,367) sits third on the NBA's all-time scoring charts, behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387) and Karl Malone (36,928) ahead of the new season.

The 17-time All-Star refused to get drawn into the current NBA debate around COVID-19 vaccinations, which has sparked with the likes of Brooklyn Nets point guard Kyrie Irving and Golden State Warriors small forward Andrew Wiggins set to miss home matches due to their refusal to get the vaccine under local state rules.

"I can only speak about myself, everyone has their own choice… I was very sceptical, but after doing my research I felt like it was best suited for myself, my family and my friends," he told reporters on Tuesday. "That's why I decided to do it."

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