Justin Fields will have heard all the noise; it’s hard for a prospect in his position, as one of the top quarterbacks in the 2021 NFL Draft, to ignore the cacophony.

The chatter has been as bemusing as it has been loud, with wildly off-base critiques levelled at a quarterback who has delivered on college football's biggest stages in successive seasons.

Of those criticisms, the most prominent has surrounded Fields' ability to process quickly, with many viewing him as a quarterback who needs significant work reading the field and too often gets stuck on his first progression.

Yet, as those who espouse Fields' merits have been quick to point out, any unwillingness to come off his first read is likely the symptom of an Ohio State offense highly reliant on long-developing downfield routes.

It appears, though, that both the New York Jets and San Francisco 49ers are among his doubters. Picking second overall, the Jets are expected to take BYU's Zach Wilson, while the 49ers, following their massive trade up from 12 to three, are reportedly deciding between North Dakota State's Trey Lance and Mac Jones of Alabama.

Fields' apparent slide from the second-best quarterback in the draft to one that may not even go in the top five is a truly befuddling development in this year's edition of an event partially defined by head-scratching decisions.

The team who benefit from the questionable evaluations of Fields by those above them in the draft order will land a player ideally gifted to thrive in the NFL having outperformed his contemporaries in this draft class in several key areas.

Through the lens of Stats Perform data, we look at why perhaps the most underappreciated quarterback in the class is primed to silence his critics.

Busting the narratives

The narratives around Fields have always seemed flimsily constructed, and they are not reflected by the numbers.

Critiqued by some for holding on to the ball too long while waiting for his reads to come open, Fields had an average snap-to-release time of 2.81 seconds in 2020.

While that is considerably slower than Trevor Lawrence (2.36) and a fair way behind Jones (2.55), it is slightly faster than Wilson (2.82).

Why is that significant? Because Wilson is a prospect who has received regular praise for his ability to get the ball out quickly and accurately during his time at BYU.

The reality is that Fields was on par with Wilson in that regard.

Beyond the time it took to get rid of the ball, the biggest debate around Fields pertains to how he works through his progressions to find the open man.

Yet if Fields had just been staring down his first read, it stands to reason defenders would have had frequent success jumping routes and gaining opportunities for interceptions.

His interceptions did double from three in 2019 to six last year, but Fields only threw eight 'pickable passes' in 217 attempts, his pickable pass percentage of 3.69 was the worst of the first-round quarterbacks to have played in the Power 5 but was not miles behind Lawrence (3.38).

Over the course of the past two seasons, Fields threw 16 pickable passes in 556 attempts for a percentage of 2.88. In essence, he was not a quarterback who regularly provided defenders with opportunities for takeaways, and he only got more accurate and more careful with the ball on the more difficult throws.

Downfield success

In 2020, Fields recorded a well-thrown percentage – which measures how often throws are an accurate, well-thrown ball – of 80.18 per cent.

That number was inferior to Lawrence, who led the Power 5 with 84.31 per cent, and Jones (83.21). However, of quarterbacks with at least 200 pass attempts who averaged 10 or more air yards per attempt last season, it was second only to Sam Howell of North Carolina (81.31).

Only Wilson (10.29 air yards per attempt) was more aggressive in pushing the ball downfield than Fields (10.10), with Lawrence (8.67) and Jones (8.52) lagging behind.

And when it came to making those deep throws that can flip the script in an instant, it was Fields who stood out ahead of his contemporaries last year.

Indeed, on throws well past the sticks of 15 or more air yards, Fields led the way in well-thrown percentage by a wide margin.

Of Fields' throws of that distance, 76.47 per cent were accurate, well-thrown balls, compared to 71.43 for Lawrence, 69.41 for Wilson and 67.39 for Jones.

Wilson (3.53) was the sole quarterback of the other three to post a better pickable pass percentage on those attempts than Fields' 7.84.

When he attacked downfield, Fields was superior to the man who is a lock to be the first overall pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Fields beat Lawrence in the College Football Playoff semi-final last season and outplayed him in the eyes of many in their meeting at the same stage a year earlier.

Looking at their respective career numbers, there is plenty to suggest they enter the NFL on equal footing.

On a par with Lawrence

Further illustrating the gap between the two when it comes to deep passing, Fields had an air yards per attempt average of 11.0 during his college career, putting him fifth among quarterbacks with at least 500 attempts since 2018, 42 spots ahead of Lawrence (8.87).

Fields' completion percentage on balls thrown 20 or more air yards in that same span of 47.9 was good enough for sixth on the list of quarterbacks with a minimum of 100 attempts, with Lawrence (42.1) coming in seven spots lower.

The former Buckeye had a clear edge on play-action throws, which are a staple of most NFL offenses, especially those that utilise the scheme run by Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan, as the Jets will do in 2021.

Fields completed 67.2 per cent of his play-action throws compared to 64.6 for Lawrence and was similarly superior in a situation where games are often won and lost – on third down.

While Lawrence could only connect on 56.8 per cent of his third-down attempts, Fields completed 65.5, though the script was flipped when it came to making the most of red-zone opportunities.

At Clemson, Lawrence was at his best inside the 20, hitting on 68.5 per cent of his throws, second among quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts and comfortably ahead of Fields (sixth with 63.7).

But Fields and Lawrence performed almost identically when pressure was sent, the latter having a negligible edge facing the blitz, completing 63.8 per cent of passes to Fields' 63.6.

In looking solely at the numbers, they are difficult to separate and, when he and Lawrence squared off, Fields had the upper hand in at least one matchup.

And yet he is seemingly set to slide from being a quarterback some touted as having the potential to displace Lawrence as number one to not hearing his name called until well after the top overall pick is done with his initial plethora of media commitments.

It is a baffling state of affairs that neither the tape nor the stats can explain.

Blessed with the elusiveness to evade free rushers in the pocket, the ability to escape and make sensational off-platform throws on the move and speed in the open field that saw him rush for 1,539 yards and 19 touchdowns in college, Fields has the ideal athletic profile for the modern NFL.

Jones and Wilson outperformed him in some areas in their breakout 2020 campaigns but no quarterback in the class other than Lawrence can claim to have enjoyed Fields' level of success over the course of more than one season among college football's elite.

More consistent than Lawrence when going deep and with the same release time as Wilson, the data should be enough to dispel the lazy narratives around Fields.

Instead, Fields will need to do so in the NFL and it is unclear with whom he will get the chance. Regardless of where he lands, Fields' skill set and track record point to the doubters being drowned out by the jubilation he has the talent to inspire at the highest level.

Pep Guardiola refused to recognise the Champions League as a greater priority for his Manchester City side as they also close on the Premier League title.

City have never won Europe's premier club competition and are playing in the semi-finals for just the second time.

They face Paris Saint-Germain in France on Wednesday and then host the Ligue 1 giants, last year's beaten finalists, next Tuesday.

Between those two matches, City could win the Premier League. If they defeat Crystal Palace and defending champions Liverpool win at Manchester United, Guardiola's men will reclaim that crown.

While acknowledging his club have been building towards a Champions League challenge over the past decade, Guardiola was keen to talk up City's continued domestic success.

They claimed silverware in the EFL Cup final on Sunday, a competition they have won in four consecutive campaigns.

"It's the second time we are there [in the Champions League semis]; of course we are not the elite in this competition, that's for sure, but we want to be there," said Guardiola, reaching this stage for a record-equalling eighth time.

"When the owners took over a decade ago they took steps to improve in England first of all, in the Premier League, in the cups, then this.

"The owners and managers and staff got this position right now. Every time we play this competition and we are lucky to live right now where we are.

"Right now I'm incredibly happy to travel with this club to Paris to be ourselves and play this semi-final with the target to win the game.

"And after, go to Crystal Palace to win one of the two games to win the Premier League, the most important competition. The Champions League is the nicest one but the most important is the Premier League.

"After, next Tuesday in Manchester, we play Paris to try to reach the final."

City are looking for a 10th Champions League win of the season, a mark never previously reached by an English club in the competition's current format.

Only Real Madrid in 2011-12 have previously had 10 victories in a campaign without lifting the title.

Guardiola will not get complacent and expects a tough test against PSG, who are bidding to become the ninth European Cup/Champions League team to reach back-to-back finals, but he is also determined City will enjoy the experience.

"We know we will suffer. I know the weapons they have up front," he said. "Everyone who loves football knows the quality they have.

"But we're in the Champions League semi-finals, what can you expect? PSG is not just two players, they are many situations. We have to know them and try to attack them.

"I will not play 90 minutes thinking how good this player is, just how to beat them. I learned from Johan Cruyff: you have to enjoy the game, enjoy the responsibility.

"Top players enjoy situations because they enjoy responsibility - that's why the greatest players win this competition, because they play it like a friendly game.

"The mythical sentence [from Cruyff] before the final in 1992 in Wembley was to go out and enjoy.

"I will not tell the players that - I'm no Cruyff - but enjoy the travel, the coffee in their airport, the hotel, watching the other game tonight, the walk, the training.

"We're privileged to be one of the best four teams in Europe this season. It's what I want to see in my players. That's why Cruyff had this idea.

"Once we arrive in the final, it's not to be worried or concerned in case we lose. If we lose, we try again next season.

"Once you arrive in these stages, you're nervous because you think of the consequences, not the pleasure of trying to beat them.

"This is the mindset of the greatest players in all the sports: we did it already, we try to do it the next one."

Winger Riyad Mahrez was speaking alongside Guardiola and described last season's quarter-final defeat to Lyon as "the biggest disappointment in my career".

But he and his City team-mates are not content simply making the last four.

Paris-born Mahrez said: "You have to show that you deserve to be here and deserve to be in the final. That's what we have to try to do tomorrow."

He added: "The Champions League is the thing we're missing. I don't think anyone in our team has won it before. In Europe, it's the best thing you can play for and win.

"If we can try to first go in the final, then we will see. The most important thing is tomorrow. Tomorrow we have to make a good game and try to go through."

Pep Guardiola says the task of trying to stop Paris Saint-Germain star Neymar is enough to keep him awake at night.

Manchester City are away to PSG in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final tie on Wednesday, neither side having won the famous trophy before.

Guardiola had left Barcelona by the time Neymar arrived at Camp Nou in 2013, the forward eventually forming a historic front three with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.

Such is the quality of Neymar, the City boss feels his former club would have won many more Champions League crowns had the Brazil talisman not moved to PSG in 2017.

Guardiola feels there is only so much that can be done against world-class opponents like Neymar and Kylian Mbappe and wants City to impose themselves on the game rather than set out just to stop PSG.

"Always unbelievable, the quality of these players they have," Guardiola said. "Defensive strategies [to stop them] don’t work. They are too good.

"I try to sleep well last night and I slept when I was not thinking about their players like that!

"They are incredible players, the quality they have, the way they play. We will try and stop them by defending together as a team and playing well as a team.

"We are going to concede counter-attacks, they have a lot of weapons.

"We will have to adjust something of course when you play against these players like we did against Tottenham, like we will against Wilfried Zaha [of Crystal Palace] in the next game.

"But at the same time, it wouldn't make any sense to not be who we are when we are arriving on this stage for just the second time in our history.

"I am pretty sure we will try to be ourselves and get the result we will need for the second leg. The best balance is to have the ball. If you have the ball all the time, the balance is there.

"We will concede counter-attacks, it's impossible [not to]. If you defend so deep, Neymar, Mbappe, Angel Di Maria, Marco Verratti, Marquinhos, they have a lot of weapons.

"They are used to playing teams who defend 90 minutes and they find a way. That is not the best way to defend against the team who have everything, it's best to impose your game like we have for five years."

Neymar has either scored (three) or assisted (one) in each of his previous three Champions League semi-final appearances.

The forward has also had a direct hand in nine goals in his 12 matches against English sides in the competition (five goals, four assists).

Guardiola was in awe of Neymar from the first time he saw him playing for Santos.

The former Barca and Bayern Munich boss added: "I remember when I showed clips of Santos, I remember I said, 'This is the king of Santos', and the players' mouths were open saying, 'Oh my god, what a player'.

"He's a joy to watch as a spectator, the personality, he has Brazil on his shoulders.

"I'm sure if Neymar had a longer stay in Barcelona they would win two or three Champions Leagues more. Those three were unstoppable, the best three I saw up front in my life.

"He decided to go to Paris, not a bad decision, a nice city and nice club. I want him to have stability, no injuries. I'm a big admirer because he helped to make football better. It's a pleasure to play a semi final against PSG."

Asked about Mbappe, Guardiola replied: "A young player, he will have the world of football ahead of him.

"Already a French champion, World Cup. Quite similar to Erling Haaland in terms of, 'Wow', how many goals, pace.

"Looks like a nice guy. Benjamin Mendy is his friend, says he's a nice guy. We're going to try to beat them, all of them."

Guardiola was visibly enthused on the pitch on Sunday after leading City to a fourth consecutive EFL Cup triumph with a 1-0 win in the final against Tottenham.

"Every time you get older you realise it's difficult to win titles," he explained.

"If you start the next season telling me I have to win one title, it doesn't matter which one, I say it's so difficult to do.

"The Carabao isn't the most important one but it is so nice to win it."

PSG, who were managed by Thomas Tuchel when they lost last year's Champions League final to Bayern Munich, are winless in their previous three matches with City in European competition (D2 L1).

City are playing in only the fourth semi-final in their European history after the Cup Winners' Cup in 1969-70 and 1970-71, and the 2015-16 Champions League.

Ahead of the tie, PSG boss Mauricio Pochettino described City as "one of the greatest teams in the world" and said he believes they are led by the best coach in the game in Guardiola.

Neymar, meanwhile, insists he feels "much better" at PSG than he did previously and has hit back at critics who accused him of lacking professionalism.

PSG are looking to become the the ninth side to reach back-to-back finals, but Guardiola has beaten Pochettino in 10 of their previous 18 meetings, with five draws and only three defeats.

An early goal from Bobo was enough to give Sydney FC a 1-0 home win over Melbourne Victory that put them second in the A-League on Tuesday.

Bobo headed in a cross from Luke Brattan after six minutes as Sydney ended a run of three consecutive draws to move one point behind leaders Melbourne City, though they have played two games more.

Victory remain second-bottom despite a battling performance without suspended quartet Callum McManaman, Robbie Kruse, Jake Brimmer and Adama Traore.

Sydney forward Kosta Barbarouses had three efforts kept out by Matt Acton, who ended the match with an impressive nine saves that kept the contest close.

The hosts were worthy winners, finishing with 10 shots on target to Victory's three, Alex Baumjohann creating five chances in a lively showing.

But Ben Folami squandered a headed opportunity for Victory while Lleyton Brooks hit the post in the second half with an aerial effort of his own as Sydney almost paid the price for not putting the result beyond doubt.

Neymar insists he feels "much better" at Paris Saint-Germain than he did previously and has hit back at critics who accused him of lacking professionalism.

The Brazil star moved to PSG from Barcelona in 2017 for a fee of €222million, shattering the previous world transfer record.

He struggled to settle in the French capital and was persistently linked with a move back to Spain to either Barca or arch-rivals Real Madrid.

Injury problems at key moments and questions over his level of commitment towards the club added to an air of negativity around Neymar, but that has been largely dispelled in the past 18 months.

The 29-year-old was a star performer as PSG reached the Champions League final last August for the first time, where they lost to Bayern Munich, and he was similarly influential as they knocked out those same opponents in this season's quarter-finals.

It is now more widely expected that Neymar will sign an extension to his PSG contract, which expires next year, as he looks to build something of a legacy at Parc des Princes.

Although he would not discuss a possible new deal, Neymar did state on Tuesday that many things have changed for the better since his arrival four years ago.

"I spoke about this after the last game as well. I don't think I need to say more," he said when asked about his renewal.

"I have got time left on my contract here at PSG. We want to do what is best for everyone. I have already said that I am happy here and I feel much better than in the previous seasons.

"Since I arrived here, the club has improved. The club is more respected. When people talk about PSG now, they know it is among the four, five or six best teams across all the leagues.

"PSG are now getting the respect they deserve. It is our second consecutive year in the Champions Leagues semi-finals and last year, we were runners-up. This year, we are going to do everything to get our hands on the trophy.

"When I joined PSG, I said that our priority was always the Champions League and winning it and being amongst the best. We managed to reach the final last year for the first time in the club's history. Now, we are in the semi-finals.

"That means we have been improving and that is down to the people, the coaching staff and I think we have everything it takes to be champions. We are on the right path. The atmosphere is fantastic here.

"There are certainly aspects where I have improved during my time at PSG. I have also had some difficult moments in terms of settling in, and things that people know about. I think I have improved and things started to get better and better.

"I have always been very hard-working. I have always trained hard and been professional. I have never done anything not professional.

"Despite many people saying otherwise, I have always worked hard and stayed focused and I have been showing that on the pitch. When I am out there, I try to show what I am capable of and help my team."

PSG face Manchester City in the semi-final first leg on Wednesday, a team they have not beaten in their three previous meetings and who have won nine and drawn one of their 10 Champions League matches this season.

"It will certainly be a tough game," said Neymar. "It is the Champions League semi-final and there are no easy tams at this stage. Man City are a top team with real quality, just as Bayern were in the previous round. We are ready for this game and we will do everything to try to get through."

Neymar was a Champions League winner with Barca in 2015, scoring in the final against Juventus, and it was suggested that leading PSG to continental glory could see him stake a serious claim to win the Ballon d'Or this year.

However, Neymar responded: "That is not something I think about. I am focusing on the Champions League because that will make a big difference to my life and my career. If I look back and see that I have three or four Champions Leagues, that would be the most important thing."

Mauricio Pochettino described Manchester City as "one of the greatest teams in the world" led by the best coach in the game ahead of Wednesday's Champions League showdown with Paris Saint-Germain.

The two meet in Paris for the first leg of a mouthwatering semi-final that pits together two clubs who are yet to win the competition, with PSG beaten by Bayern Munich in last season's final.

PSG are winless in three previous matches against City, who are featuring in only their fourth European semi-final.

Asked if the size of the challenge against Guardiola's side was greater than when they gained revenge on Bayern in the quarters, former Tottenham boss Pochettino said: "I think Manchester City are one of the greatest teams in the world, with, for me, the best coach.

"Is it going to be tougher than Bayern? We don't know. There are always a lot of theories, but the most important is the 180 minutes.

"We are calm and we know we need to fight a lot to beat a really great team like Manchester City.

"It is going to be tough, but it is not important to play first at home or away, but you need to perform in the best way. From my experience in the Champions League it doesn't change too much.

"It is not a personal battle, it is Paris St Germain against Manchester City. Pep is one of the best, if not the best, coach in the world. I admire not only his titles but the legacy that he is building in football."

Pochettino enjoyed a victory over City in the last eight of this competition when he was in charge of Spurs, but he insists that will have no bearing over this encounter. 

"There is not really anything I can take from that game," he said. "Different teams, different players, different situations. Manchester City are a different team compared to when I was at Tottenham. So are PSG."

Guardiola will be taking charge of a joint-record eighth Champions League semi-final, which puts him level with Jose Mourinho.

Ominously for Pochettino, Guardiola boats a far superior record in their head-to-head tally, with the Spaniard taking 10 wins and five draws from 18 meetings.

Mike Trout, Ronald Acuna Jr., J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts, Justin Turner, Bryce Harper and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Some of the biggest names in baseball, but MLB's elite hitters have taken a backseat to Yermin Mercedes.

Unheralded Chicago White Sox rookie Mercedes is the batting leader through 19 games – his .414 average setting the tone.

It is a case of perseverance and determination when it comes to the big-hitting 28-year-old from the Dominican Republic.

Involved in professional baseball for a decade, Mercedes is taking the majors by storm following his long road to the top, but can he sustain it?

 

Started from the bottom, now we're here

If you look at the career of Mercedes, few could have anticipated the red-hot start to his first season.

Signed by the Washington Nationals as an 18-year-old international free agent in 2011, Mercedes bounced between the Nats, Baltimore Orioles, Dominican league and independent league before the White Sox took him in the 2017 minor league Rule 5 draft.

A hitting machine in the minors, Mercedes combined to hit 23 homers across two teams at Triple-A level in 2019, including 17 home runs for Charlotte with a 1.033 on-base slugging percentage (OPS).

Those exploits earned an invitation to the White Sox's alternate site last season as Mercedes made his MLB debut with an at-bat during the coronavirus-shortened 2020 campaign in August.

Mercedes could have easily given up on his dream, but he has not looked back since he was a late addition to the White Sox's 26-man Opening Day roster – a team with eyes on their first World Series ring since 2005.

According to Stats Perform, Mercedes joined Washington's Cecil Travis (1933) as the only MLB players in the modern era to have five hits in their first career start.

With patience continuing to pay off, he also became the first player since at least 1900 to begin a season with eight straight hits.

Mercedes also tops the leaderboard for longest home run of the season – his crushing 485-foot bomb against the Kansas City Royals the franchise's longest regular-season homer in the Statcast era (since 2015). Overall, it was the second longest blast since 2015, behind only Luis Robert's monster 487-foot in last season's playoffs.

New York Yankees slugger Giancarlo Stanton is next best at 471 feet.

"I just want to cry every time when I see I'm in the majors right now. I just want to cry because it's a long time," Mercedes said. "I've got a big history.

"It's about time, but it's hard for me because just looking around, I'm like, 'It's real. I'm here'. I know when it was a couple years ago, I said, 'What am I going to do? What's going to happen with me?' I just said, 'God, when am I going to be in the majors? What do I need to do?' Because all the time, all my years, I put up my numbers, do the best of myself."

 

History-making rookie on the right path

There is no stopping Mercedes, whose meteoric rise through the first month of the season netted him his own burger – 'The Yerminator' at Fabulous Freddies, where they honoured the designated hitter on their menu.

The last rookie to win his league's batting title (American League or National League) was Seattle Mariners great Ichiro Suzuki (.350) in 2001. Only two rookies have done that in the live-ball era (since 1920), Tony Oliva (.323 with the Minnesota Twins in 1964) being the other. Mercedes – through 19 games in 2021 – is above that mark at the moment. Whether he maintains that figure is another story.

When it comes to hits, Mercedes has tallied 29 in 70 at-bats this season. The last rookie to lead his league (AL or NL) in hits in a season was also Ichiro, who topped the American League with 242 hits in 2001.

Mercedes is only the second player to have a .400-plus batting average and 15-plus RBI over his first 20 career games since RBI became an official stat in 1920, along with Atlanta's Jeff Francoeur in 2005. Francoeur recorded a .406 avg and 19 RBI for the Braves in that 20-game span.

Francoeur was in the NL, so Mercedes is the first AL player to ever do that.

Mercedes made his debut aged 27 – only Ichiro managed more hits through 20 career games in the expansion era (since 1961). Coco Laboy, like Mercedes, also registered 29 hits for the Montreal Expos in 1969.

"A couple months ago, I wouldn't have believed that I would be at this point right now," said Mercedes. "I'm surprised. So I'm so excited for that. I never imagined I would be here. Now we're here, keep going. Don't put the head down. Just keep doing what I'm doing every day to keep it at that point.

"That's great for me, I'm feeling great, feeling nice because I'm with my people, with my fans and with everybody. So I'm excited for that."

While the season is still young, it feels like this is just the tip of the iceberg for Mercedes, who is seizing his opportunity after years battling away outside the majors. Enjoy the ride.

Shohei Ohtani could not ignore his "terrible" first inning during an historic game for the Los Angeles Angels against the Texas Rangers.

Two-way star Ohtani became the first player for nearly 100 years to start a game on the mound while also entering the day leading MLB in home runs.

The last to do so was New York Yankees great and Hall of Famer Babe Ruth back in 1921.

Ohtani, who picked up his first win since May 2018, went two-for-three with two RBIs and three runs scored in Monday's 9-4 victory in Arlington.

He also became the first player to have at least two hits and three runs scored plus nine strikeouts since Luis Tiant for the Cleveland Indians back in 1961.

However, a difficult opening inning, in which he gave up four runs and a homer to Nate Lowe, was foremost in Ohtani's mind after the win.

"I'm happy for the team victory and my team-mates gave me a lot of run support, which led to confidence," he said.

"But personally, that first inning was terrible, so I can't be fully satisfied. I think it's mechanics, more than anything. And I felt like my mechanics were better from the second inning on.

"I try to separate pitching and hitting while I'm doing both, but putting those runs on the board does lead to confidence. But that first inning I had, I need to not repeat that again, and I need to adjust and work on that before my next outing."

Ohtani was pulled after 75 pitches amid concerns about a blister on his right middle finger, but the Japanese star does not think it a major problem.

"I'm not worried at all," Ohtani said. "It's different from my last one and was barely starting to form. I felt like I could've gone another inning."

When FIFA announced last year they were set to introduce limits on the number of players teams could send out on loan, unsurprisingly many people's first thoughts turned to Chelsea.

At the time, the Blues had a remarkable 28 players at other clubs, though this was by no means a recent trend; in 2018-19, that figure was 41.

The 'hoarding' of talent might be a solid ploy when looking to stunt the growth of a rival team or generate long-term revenue on Football Manager, but in the real world it was a practice that had long attracted criticism.

While by no means the only club in the world to have lots of young players out on loan, Chelsea have – rightly or wrongly – arguably been the most synonymous with it.

Some feel this has directly contributed to the club's struggles in developing homegrown talent because they have so many players, whereas others point out it offers more players the chance to play first-team football at a higher level than the Under-23s.

Putting aside some of the moral issues, Mason Mount falls into the latter category and proves there is a route to the first team through the fog of war for Chelsea's loan army.

By his own admission Mount needed an extra kick when he was in Chelsea's Under-23s as an 18-year-old, and that led to his temporary switch to the Eredivisie with Vitesse, where he won the club's Player of the Year award.

But it's unlikely even he realised how important his next move would be as he linked up with Chelsea great Frank Lampard.

In at the deep end

Mount made 44 appearances across all competitions for Derby County in 2018-19 as they missed out on promotion in the play-off final, but regardless of that ultimate disappointment it proved a massive year for both he and Lampard.

With Maurizio Sarri departing Stamford Bridge to join Juventus following Europa League success, Lampard was brought back to the club as head coach. Given his status and the trust he placed in young players – and, more pertinently, young players owned by Chelsea – at Derby, Lampard was seen as the ideal candidate to guide the team through a transfer embargo by bringing through homegrown talent.

Whether or not Lampard was a success as Chelsea coach is a discussion for another time, but his faith in Mount was unquestionable, chucking him straight into the team on the first day of the 2019-20 season.

The Blues suffered a rather harsh 4-0 defeat at Manchester United, but Mount didn't look out of his depth in the Premier League.

He clearly earnt the trust of his manager, with Lampard using the midfielder in 37 league matches over the course of the season, more than any other player. Across all competitions, the young Englishman made a whopping 53 appearances, missing just two games all year.

Mount finished his debut season with 12 goal involvements (seven scored, five set up), a figure bettered by only Tammy Abraham (18), Willian (16) and Christian Pulisic (13) in the Chelsea squad.

But that doesn't quite tell the whole story. To say he was consistent throughout the season would be a lie, as after the turn of the year there was a growing sense of frustration regarding his form. Between the start of November and the final day of the season, his three assists amounted to a couple of corner deliveries for Antonio Rudiger to head home, and a free-kick against Arsenal that Bernd Leno made a mess of. Mount's one open-play assist of 2019-20 came on the final day of the season against Wolves.

Some felt Mount was being overworked by Lampard, others put his issues down to being used in a variety of roles.

The 'teacher's pet' tag began to raise its head, with Lampard's almost incessant use of Mount leading to suggestions of preferential treatment.

Getting past this was going to be Mount's Everest.

A star of his own merit

When Thomas Tuchel was hired as Lampard's replacement in January, there wouldn't have been too many particularly worried for Mount's future given he had been a fixture in the team, his 2,130 minutes played across all competitions the most of anyone in the Blues' squad.

But when Mount was dropped for the German's first game in charge, Tuchel's decision certainly made people sit up and take note.

While he explained it away as opting to go with experience, dropping Mount suggested he had to earn his place again.

And it would be fair to say he's risen to the challenge.

"I understood and wanted to get back into the team, so that motivation and that fire that I have inside me came out," Mount said at a news conference last month. "I really tried to push to get back into the team. It's been brilliant."

Since then, he's become more productive almost across the board in the final third under Tuchel than he had been for Lampard in 2020-21.

Seemingly one of the main contributing factors is his role. While Lampard used Mount in numerous positions, Tuchel has largely deployed him further up the pitch in an attempt to get him closer to the opposition's penalty area.

Touch maps show a significant change between the two coaches' usage of the 21-year-old. While Mount's touches per 90 are almost identical under the two managers, Lampard deployed Mount deeper than his German successor, while Tuchel has shown a clear desire to get him on the ball in more advanced areas.

So much of the positive work that Mount does with the ball is not captured in goals and assists, the baseline figures that many would deem the primary indicator of an attacking midfielder's contribution. His link play and overall involvement in Chelsea’s attack can be highlighted by sequences framework.

In the 14 games since Tuchel's arrival, only Bruno Fernandes (91) has been involved in more open play sequences (or 'passages of play') that have resulted in a shot than Mount's 86. This figure translates to 7.6 sequences per 90 minutes, which is a big increase on the 5.6 per 90 he was involved in during Lampard's 18 top-flight games this term.

Not only is Mount involved more heavily in Chelsea's attacking play under Tuchel, but his involvement is generating better quality chances. The expected goals value from these sequences has increased from 0.43 per 90 minutes under Lampard to 0.7 under Tuchel. Simply put, Chelsea are creating greater quality chances with Mount further up the pitch.

Similarly, the England international's six goal-ending sequences in the same period are more than any of his team-mates have contributed to.

Even though he's still without a single open-play assist in 2020-21, it's clear to see that Mount's strong associative talents and ability to play tidily in busier areas of the pitch make him a real asset to Tuchel, who has acted quickly to shift him into a position that seemingly suits him better. He's also proving more decisive, with four of his six Premier League goals coming since January 25 – that's more than any of his team-mates in that period.

In general, though, scoring has been a bit of an issue for Chelsea. The likes of Timo Werner and Kai Havertz haven't properly hit their stride yet, and this has undoubtedly impacted Mount's baseline assist numbers, as his expected assists total from open play is 4.1. With more clinical finishing he wouldn't still be sat on zero.

Mount's form lately suggests that once Chelsea begin to click in front of goal, he'll be key to much of their build-up if he's not the one finishing the chances.

Another string to Mount's bow is that he is a genuine set-piece specialist. His corner deliveries are consistently dangerous, and he's created more chances from set plays (38) in 2020-21 than any other player. That's six more than James Ward-Prowse and 16 more than Trent Alexander-Arnold, both of whom have received acclaim for their set-piece prowess over the years.

When thinking of players you might consider to be particularly good at dead-ball situations, Mount may not be the first that comes to mind among non-Chelsea fans, but maybe he should be.

An unsung hero

Mount's improvements certainly don't begin and end with his creativity in the final third, however. Tuchel's preference to play him more centrally is also leading to greater off-the-ball productivity.

He's always been a hard worker and certainly couldn't be accused of neglecting the less glamorous side of the game, yet his role for Tuchel seems to be harnessing his attitude and tirelessness even more effectively.

Mount is averaging 2.2 attempted tackles per 90 minutes under Tuchel, up from 1.7 across Lampard's time at the club. While he may be winning tackles at an almost identical rate (0.95 per 90 mins, up from 0.93), the increase in challenge attempts suggests Mount's work rate makes him a good fit for Tuchel's intense pressing system.

Since the German's first game in charge, Chelsea have the lowest PPDA (9.2) in the Premier League, proof that they press higher than anyone else. PPDA is the number of opposition passes allowed outside of the pressing team's own defensive third, divided by the number of defensive actions by the pressing team outside of their own defensive third. A lower figure indicates a higher level of pressing.

Mount leads Tuchel's press from the front. The midfielder has won possession in the final third 17 times in 19 games for Tuchel. Over the same period, İlkay Gundogan (20), Mohamed Salah (20) and Kevin De Bruyne (23) are the only Premier League players to have a better record than the Chelsea star across all competitions.

A homegrown beacon of hope

Throughout Roman Abramovich's time as Chelsea owner, the club has often found itself in a sort of purgatory. While they've undoubtedly wanted success and a first team full of homegrown talents, it's difficult to say they've truly struck a balance between the two.

After all, since the start of the century, Chelsea products reaching 100 Premier League appearances for the club have been a rarity.

John Terry, of course, leads the way, but beyond him it becomes a bit murky. John Obi Mikel and Nemanja Matic perhaps come closest to fitting the bill, though both did play senior football elsewhere before joining the club as teenagers.

Granted, Mount remains a little way off yet as well having played 69 times in the top-flight for Chelsea, but he's quickly making up ground.

Not too far behind him are Tammy Abraham (57), Callum Hudson-Odoi (55) and Ruben Loftus-Cheek (54), while Andreas Christensen – at Chelsea since 2013 – has featured 72 times.

What's in store for their long-term futures at Chelsea remains to be seen – they are far less certain than Mount.

But Mount especially shows that where there wasn't much hope for young talent coming through at Chelsea in the past, now there is for arguably the first time in the Abramovich era.

The accusations of Mount being a 'teacher's pet' have faded. Tuchel has no ulterior motive to keep picking Mount other than the fact he wants to pick the best side to win games. And with just two defeats in his first 21 games for Chelsea in all competitions, the German is certainly doing just that.

Shohei Ohtani made more MLB history as the Los Angeles Angels beat the Texas Rangers 9-4.

Angels two-way star Ohtani became the first player in almost 100 years to start a game on the mound while also entering the day leading the majors in home runs.

New York Yankees great and Hall of Famer Babe Ruth was the last to do so in 1921.

Ohtani, who picked up his first win since May 2018, went two-for-three with two RBIs and three runs scored against the Rangers, striking out nine over five innings on Monday.

He became the first American League (AL) player to reach those numbers in a game since Luis Tiant in 1967, according to Stats Perform.

"A pretty complete game of baseball," Angels manager Joe Maddon said. "If you weren't entertained by watching him tonight, you can't be entertained watching the game of baseball."

Angels star Mike Trout also made his return from an elbow injury, going four-for-five at the plate.

 

Posey and Giants show no mercy

Buster Posey had a two-run homer among his four hits as the San Francisco Giants crushed the Colorado Rockies 12-0. Posey also caught Anthony DeSclafani's three-hit shutout. It is the eighth time Posey has caught a shutout while having more hits himself than the entire opposing team – the most such games by any catcher in the modern era, per Stats Perform.

The Philadelphia Phillies edged the St Louis Cardinals 2-1. Zach Wheeler became the first Phillies pitcher to go eight-plus innings pitched with one hit or fewer since Cole Hamels in 2015. Wheeler gave up one hit and one run while striking out nine.

 

Yankees continue to struggle

The Yankees are not getting hits at the moment. The storied franchise managed just four in a 4-2 loss to AL East rivals the Baltimore Orioles. Between All-Star sluggers Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge, the pair only managed two hits. The Yankees are bottom of the AL East. Baltimore have finished above the Yankees just three times in the AL East since MLB went to six divisions in 1994, doing so in 1997, 2014 and 2016.

World series champions the Los Angeles Dodgers have now suffered back-to-back defeats, upstaged 5-3 by the Cincinnati Reds after 10 innings.

 

Bryant slam!

Kris Bryant hit the sixth grand slam of his career – a shot off Charlie Morton in the third inning which tied the game. The Chicago Cubs still lost 8-7 to the Atlanta Braves.

 

Monday's results

Cincinnati Reds 5-3 Los Angeles Dodgers
Kansas City Royals 3-2 Detroit Tigers
Cleveland Indians 5-3 Minnesota Twins
Atlanta Braves 8-7 Chicago Cubs
Baltimore Orioles 4-2 New York Yankees
Oakland Athletics 2-1 Tampa Bay Rays
Miami Marlins 8-0 Milwaukee Brewers
Philadelphia Phillies 2-1 St Louis Cardinals
Los Angeles Angels 9-4 Texas Rangers
Houston Astros 5-2 Seattle Mariners
San Francisco Giants 12-0 Colorado Rockies

 

Tigers at White Sox

The Chicago White Sox (12-9) – riding a four-game winning streak – will host the Detroit Tigers (7-16) in Tuesday's series opener at Guaranteed Rate Field. Lucas Giolito is set to start for the White Sox as the Tigers counter with Jose Urena.

It is business time in the Champions League as the 2020-21 semi-finals get under way with the first legs this week.

Chelsea visit Real Madrid, who have seen pre-match questions focus on their continued pursuit of the controversial European Super League.

In the other tie, Paris Saint-Germain are the only remaining outfit not to have signed up for the competition prior to its collapse, gaining favour with UEFA.

They have a tough ask against Manchester City, however, after Pep Guardiola's men collected their first piece of silverware this season in the EFL Cup final.

Using Opta data, we break down the two matches...

Real Madrid v Chelsea: Los Blancos yet to beat Blues or Tuchel

When English football fans consider their country's most-consistent representatives in the Champions League, Chelsea will not be the team that immediately springs to mind for most.

Yet this will be the Blues' eighth semi-final appearance at this stage of the competition, a record among Premier League sides, and they have every reason to feel positive about the Blues' chances here.

They have only lost the first leg in one of their previous seven Champions League semis and head into the tie in good shape domestically, with Thomas Tuchel inspiring a significant improvement in their fortunes since taking over in January.

The German was in charge of PSG as they lost in last season's final to Bayern Munich but boasts a strong record against Madrid, having faced them more often without losing in this competition than any other side (W1 D3). The only other coach to take them on as many times in the Champions League and not lose is Gerard Houllier (P4 W2 D2).

Further to that, Madrid's record against Chelsea is poor, as they've not won any of their three previous meetings. Los Blancos haven't faced any other side more often without winning in their entire history.

A key factor in Chelsea's run to the semis has been their solidity at the back, and Edouard Mendy has more than played his part.

The Frenchman has let in just two goals in his first nine Champions League matches; if he keeps a clean sheet on Tuesday, he will match the record set by ex-Madrid man Keylor Navas for fewest conceded in a goalkeeper's first 10 games.

Paris Saint-Germain v Manchester City: Pep back in the big time

If Madrid and Chelsea are vastly experienced at this level, the same is not exactly true of PSG and City. The Ligue 1 club are playing their third Champions League semi-final, while this is City's second.

Indeed, City have only progressed through one of their prior three semis in all European competitions, winning the Cup Winners' Cup on that occasion in 1970.

PSG are finally getting to grips with UEFA's premier club tournament, however, becoming only the third French team to reach the last four in consecutive seasons - after Saint-Etienne 1975-76 and Marseille 1990-91 in the European Cup - and bidding to be the ninth side to play back-to-back finals.

They will require a first win over City to get there, though, drawing two and losing the other of their previous three meetings. Only against Juventus (eight), Arsenal and Milan (both four) have PSG played more games without winning in their history.

And Guardiola, having finally returned to this stage, has the know-how his players might lack. This a record-equalling eighth Champions League semis appearance, level with Jose Mourinho.

Mauricio Pochettino, then Tottenham manager, eliminated Guardiola in their only past European clash two seasons ago at the quarter-final stage, although the Catalan coach has 10 career wins against the PSG boss.

Pochettino will rely heavily on Neymar, who has either scored (three) or assisted (one) in each of his previous three Champions League last-four outings, while Guardiola can turn to Kevin De Bruyne, with four goals and four assists across his past seven knockout appearances.

De Bruyne scored in both legs when City beat PSG in the 2015-16 quarter-finals and could join Neymar (four), Lionel Messi and Marcus Rashford (both three) in netting against the Parisians in three consecutive Champions League games.

The NBA-leading Utah Jazz were upstaged by the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves for the second time in three nights, beaten 105-104 on Monday.

Utah, who lost 101-96 to the Timberwolves on Saturday, led 104-103 with 6.4 seconds remaining on the road in Minneapolis.

But the Timberwolves rallied, Ricky Rubio finding D'Angelo Russell for the layup before Jazz All-Star Mike Conley (26 points) lost the ball in a scramble on the final possession as time expired.

With the win, the Timberwolves claimed a series sweep of the Jazz – going 3-0 this season. It is the first time in NBA history a team with a win percentage below .300 swept a series of at least three games against a team with a win percentage of at least .700.

Russell posted 27 points behind a season-high seven three-pointers, star team-mate Karl-Anthony Towns finished with 21 points and 11 rebounds, while Anthony Edwards added 14 points for the Timberwolves (18-44) – who have the joint-second fewest victories this season.

The Jazz (44-17) are now only one game clear of the red-hot Phoenix Suns (43-18) in the Western Conference.

Phoenix closed in on Utah after snapping the New York Knicks' nine-game winning streak via a 118-110 victory.

Devin Booker fuelled the Suns by scoring 33 points, while Chris Paul (20) and Mikal Bridges (21) contributed on the road.

 

Spurs survive shoot-out as Westbrook closes in on record

DeMar DeRozan's 37 points and 10 assists helped the San Antonio Spurs to a 146-143 overtime win at the Washington Wizards, who lost for the first time in eight games. Not even Bradley Beal's game-high 45 points nor Russell Westbrook's league-leading 29th triple-double (22 points, 13 rebounds and 14 assists) could extend Washington's streak. Westbrook now has 175 career triple-doubles, seven away from breaking Oscar Robertson's record for the most in history.

Zion Williamson showcased his efficiency as the New Orleans Pelicans upset the Los Angeles Clippers 120-103. Williamson had 23 points on eight-of-11 shooting, including a three-pointer and five assists.

The Philadelphia 76ers snapped a four-game skid thanks to their 121-90 rout of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Philadelphia had an NBA-season high 22 steals at home to the struggling Thunder, who suffered a franchise-worst tying 14th consecutive defeat. The 76ers went 0-4 in Ben Simmons' absence but the All-Star returned to have 12 points on six-of-eight shooting, four assists, three rebounds, three steals and two blocks.

Double-doubles from Dennis Schroder (21 points and 10 assists) and Andre Drummond (3 points and 11 rebounds) guided defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers past the Orlando Magic 114-103. Anthony Davis had 18 points, eight rebounds, three assists and two blocks for the Lakers.

Michael Porter Jr. put up 31 points as the short-handed Denver Nuggets defeated the Memphis Grizzlies 120-96. MVP candidate Nikola Jokic tallied his league-leading 53rd double-double of 24 points and 15 rebounds.

 

Hawks struggle from beyond the arc

It was a forgettable outing for the Atlanta Hawks, who were beaten 100-86 by the lowly Detroit Pistons. Atlanta were particularly awful from three-point range, where they shot just 14.8 per cent after making only four of their 27 attempts.

The Toronto Raptors topped the Cleveland Cavaliers 112-96, but it was not the best of games from star Fred VanVleet. In 32 minutes, VanVleet was just three-of-10 shooting, making only one of five three-point attempts for eight points.

On a miserable night for the Clippers, Paul George headlined their woes. The All-Star was three-for-11 shooting, while making just one of his six three-point attempts for nine points.

 

Bol Bol with authority!

One of the tallest players in the NBA, Nuggets big man Bol Bol showcased his quick hands and feet en route to the basket as he finished emphatically against the Grizzlies.

 

Monday's results

Detroit Pistons 100-86 Atlanta Hawks
Los Angeles Lakers 114-103 Orlando Magic
Philadelphia 76ers 121-90 Oklahoma City Thunder
San Antonio Spurs 146-143 Washington Wizards (OT)
Phoenix Suns 118-110 New York Knicks
Toronto Raptors 112-96 Cleveland Cavaliers
Chicago Bulls 110-102 Miami Heat
Minnesota Timberwolves 105-104 Utah Jazz
New Orleans Pelicans 120-103 Los Angeles Clippers
Denver Nuggets 120-96 Memphis Grizzlies
Sacramento Kings 113-106 Dallas Mavericks

 

Nets at Raptors

Kevin Durant and the Eastern Conference-leading Brooklyn Nets (41-20) are on the road against the Raptors (26-35) on Tuesday.

Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst said Aaron Rodgers is the team's quarterback for the "foreseeable future" as they work through the reigning NFL MVP's contract situation.

Rodgers claimed his third MVP award last season after leading the Packers to the NFC Championship Game, but his future has been up in the air after describing it as "uncertain" and a "beautiful mystery".

The 37-year-old star and Super Bowl champion is contracted through the 2023 season after signing a $134million extension in 2018.

While the Packers are yet to restructure or extend Rodgers' contract as they look to create cap space, Gutekunst insisted Green Bay remain committed to the nine-time Pro Bowler.

"That's kind of something we're working through," Gutekunst told reporters on Monday ahead of the NFL Draft, which starts Thursday.

"You know, it's something that we've talked about quite a bit as we've worked through this salary-cap situation, which is really kind of a two-year situation. We've looked at a lot of different things and that's one of them."

Rodgers amassed 48 touchdowns, five interceptions and a completion rate of 70.7 per cent for the Packers last season.

His quarterback rating of 121.5 puts him second on the all-time list among qualifiers, behind only his 2011 campaign (122.5).

In total, Rodgers completed 372 of 526 attempts for 4,299 yards as the Packers topped the NFC North with a 13-3 record to clinch home-field advantage and the top seed in the NFC playoffs for the first time since 2011.

Rodgers is now level with Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady, Packers great Brett Favre, Johnny Unitas and Jim Brown with three MVP honours – only Peyton Manning (five) has more in NFL history.

Gutekunst added: "Aaron's our guy; he's going to be our quarterback for the foreseeable future. We're excited about kind of the things we're going to try to accomplish here over the next couple years.

"So we certainly think with the contract that you're kind of talking about is something we'll work through. We're going to have to do probably a few things with different contracts as we head toward the season and then through the season to make sure that our salary cap situation, not only this year, but in 2022 is square.

"We're not done yet. We've done a lot to get here. We've kind of been doing things as we go and we will continue to do that as we go."

Paris Saint-Germain head coach Mauricio Pochettino said star Kylian Mbappe asks about England and Spain amid speculation over his future.

Mbappe has been heavily linked with LaLiga champions Real Madrid, as well as Premier League holders Liverpool previously.

The France international is out of contract in 2022 but Ligue 1 champions PSG remain hopeful of re-signing the 22-year-old forward.

Pochettino was asked about his relationship with Mbappe ahead of Wednesday's Champions League semi-final first leg against Manchester City.

"Kylian loves football, he loves to talk about football," Pochettino said. "He asks about England – how is the game, the mentality and the culture there? – and also Spain and Argentina. He will watch, every day, games from England, France, Italy, Germany.

"He's only 22 but very mature, confident in his talent and open. He can speak French, of course, but also perfect English and Spanish. I speak in English and Spanish with him – more English than Spanish.

"I said to him the other day: 'I need to practise my French with you, to improve', and he said: 'Sure, but it's better for me to talk in English'. He loves to practise different languages.

"Before the [Champions League last 16] first leg in Barcelona, I told him that I'd won there one time with Espanyol and he said, very seriously: 'OK, tomorrow will be the second time'. I said: 'Are you sure?' And he said: 'Yes, don't worry. We are going to win'. He was laughing after the game and he said to me on the pitch: 'I told you, I told you, I told you'."

Pochettino spoke glowingly of fellow PSG star Neymar, who has also been linked with a move away from the French capital – a return to Barcelona continually discussed after he left Camp Nou in a world-record deal in 2017.

Neymar, who appears set to extend his PSG contract, has either scored (three) or assisted (one) in each of his previous three Champions League semi-final appearances, while he has had a direct hand in nine goals in his 12 matches against English sides in the competition (five goals and four assists).

"It's so easy with Neymar because you don’t need to do too much," Pochettino added. "From day one, he's been very open to work. He's very humble, he listens and always accepts all the instructions in a very good way.

"Brazilian players have something special inside. They love to play football because it's like a dance. They play like they are dancing. Ronaldinho was my team-mate when I was a PSG player and now Neymar. They need to feel good, to feel happy to perform in the best way."

PSG are just the third French team to reach the semi-finals of the European Cup/Champions League in consecutive seasons, after Saint-Etienne in 1975 and 1976 and Marseille in 1990 and 1991.

Pochettino's PSG are also looking to reach their second consecutive Champions League final, following their defeat to Bayern Munich in last season's showpiece.

PSG would be just the ninth side to do so in back-to-back campaigns, while only Atletico Madrid and Valencia failed to lift the trophy in either of their first two final appearances.

"The target in the last 10 years has been to win the Champions League and the club is working really hard to try to be there and win," said Pochettino, who upstaged Pep Guardiola's City en route to Tottenham's Champions League final appearance in 2019.

"It is that last step, which is always the most difficult. If you remember at Tottenham, it was always about the last step being the most difficult thing. But Paris Saint-Germain is there and now it is about winning. I love to feel this. I love to feel that you need to win every single game."

Joaquin Correa scored twice as Lazio enhanced their chances of qualifying for the Champions League and left Milan out of the top four with a 3-0 win at fortress Stadio Olimpico.

Correa scored after only 77 seconds and struck again in the second half to seal a deserved victory for Lazio in head coach Simone Inzaghi's first game back on the touchline since recovering from coronavirus.

The prolific Ciro Immobile rubbed salt into the wounds with a late third as Milan were toothless in defeat to Stefano Pioli's former club and slipped to fifth in the Serie A table, level on points with Napoli and Juventus.

Lazio are five points adrift of the Rossoneri, after securing a 10th successive home victory in the top flight, and they have a game in hand in what is shaping up to be a tense battle for Champions League qualification. 

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