Raul Ruidiaz netted a brace and Joao Paulo scored a stunning goal as Seattle Sounders started their 2021 MLS season with a 4-0 drubbing of Minnesota United.

Ruidiaz scored twice in the second half after Joao Paulo's memorable opener to give last season's runners-up Seattle the perfect start on opening day.

The Sounders – beaten by Columbus Crew in the 2020 MLS Cup final – hit the front four minutes into the second half, Joao Paulo cushioning a cleared cross with one touch before rifling a thunderous volley into the top corner on Friday.

Ruidiaz entered the new season on the back of 12 MLS goals last term. According to Stats Perform, his 0.76 goals per 90 minutes led the league in 2020. When the Peruvian star was on the field, the Sounders scored two goals per 90 – besting their average of 1.5 goals per 90 when he was not last year.

A dominant force in the Western Conference since Brian Schmetzer succeeded legendary former boss Sigi Schmid in 2016, the Sounders doubled the lead with 20 minutes remaining when Will Bruin teed up Ruidiaz.

Ruidiaz made it 3-0 three minutes later after Cristian Roldan turned provider before Fredy Montero completed the rout four minutes from time at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, where the Sounders had an expected goals (xG) difference of 20.9 last season, well clear of next-best team Los Angeles FC (12.0)

In the only other match on Friday, Houston Dynamo edged San Jose Earthquakes 2-1.

Houston built a two-goal buffer by the 55th minute thanks to Memo Rodriguez and Maximiliano Urruti.

A stunning 74th-minute strike from San Jose substitute Paul Marie set up a tense finish, but the Dynamo held on for maximum points.

Los Angeles Dodgers star Cody Bellinger has been diagnosed with a hairline fracture in his left fibula.

World Series champions the Dodgers have been without 2019 National League (NL) MVP Bellinger since April 5 with what was initially described as a bruised calf.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts provided an update on two-time All-Star Bellinger before Friday's blockbuster against NL rivals the San Diego Padres.

"At least we know what Cody is dealing with," Roberts told reporters.

"Certain players heal differently, so I just don't know where Cody is going to be at.

"But I can say comfortably that it's not a day-to-day thing, and we can just put it on the back burner, let Cody do his rehab and join us hopefully soon."

Bellinger is hitting .211 (four-for-19) with two RBIs in four games this season.

The high-flying Dodgers are 6-1 since Bellinger went down with the injury.

Roberts added: "Now, it's just more of getting that thing healed up, and when he's ready to go, he'll be back with us.

"He's just rehabbing and doing everything he can to join us as soon as possible."

The Dodgers' 11-2 record is the best in the majors and tied for the best in team history through 13 games in a season (four other times, most recently 2005).

Roberts' Dodgers won the season series with San Diego last season, 6-4 – their 10th consecutive year doing so.

Their .659 winning percentage against the Padres since 2011 (118-61) is the best by any team against a current divisional opponent over that span, per Stats Perform.

Stewart Cink made history after moving five shots clear in his pursuit of a third RBC Heritage title.

Two-time champion Cink carded a second successive 63 to set the 36-hole record at Harbour Town on Friday.

Cink sits at 16-under 126, five strokes ahead of Corey Conners – eclipsing the previous best midway score of 129 set by Phil Mickelson (2002) and Jack Nicklaus (1975).

The 47-year-old Cink also became the oldest player to hole the 36-hole lead at the RBC Heritage – his last 36-hole lead on the PGA Tour was at the 2008 Travelers Championship.

Cink has catapulted himself to the top of the leaderboard alongside his son and caddie, Reagan.

"He's not just my son caddying, he's a professional caddie doing an excellent job," he said. "He could caddie for any player in the world right now."

Canadian Conners posted a seven-under-par 64 to be outright second, a stroke ahead of Emiliano Grillo (64) heading into the weekend, while overnight leader Cameron Smith (71) fell seven shots behind.

"I think the golfing gods got a few back on me today," Australian Smith said.

Masters runner-up Will Zalatoris shot a four-under-par 67 to be tied for 11th position, nine strokes adrift of Cink.

World number one Dustin Johnson climbed 27th spots following a second-round 67 as he sits 11 shots back.

Defending champion Webb Simpson, meanwhile, is three under at the half-way stage after his 68.

San Diego Padres star Fernando Tatis Jr. has been cleared to face World Series champions the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Tatis had been on the injured list with a subluxation of his left shoulder suffered on April 5, but the Padres activated the shortstop for Friday's blockbuster opener against the Dodgers.

The 22-year-old – who signed an eye-popping 14-year, $340million contract extension with the Padres before the start of the season – will start second in the line-up, behind lead-off team-mate Trent Grisham as the National League (NL) West rivals go head-to-head.

"He's a game-changing player, as I'm sure you all know," Grisham said. "We're excited to have him back.

"He's very dynamic, and he's very excited to get back. We're pumped to have him in the line-up."

Tatis won a Silver Slugger award last season, having hit .277 with 17 home runs and 45 RBIs in the coronavirus-shortened 2020 campaign.

He is the first player in MLB history to have at least 35 home runs and 25 stolen bases within the first 150 games of his career.

Tatis packs a punch with the bat – he led the majors in average exit velocity (95.9 mph), hard hit percentage (62.2), and balls hit 95-plus MPH (102) last season.

The Padres (9-5) are third in the NL West, behind red-hot leaders the Dodgers (11-2) – who have won six straight games.

Thomas Tuchel hopes Chelsea will benefit from a rare opportunity to bond in Seville after the squad stayed overnight following their Champions League clash with Porto.

Chelsea lost the second leg of the quarter-final tie following a stoppage-time winner for their Portuguese opponents on Tuesday, though still progressed 2-1 on aggregate.

Rather than fly home immediately after the game in the Spanish city – both fixtures were staged there due to the ongoing travel restrictions in place during the coronavirus pandemic – Tuchel and his Chelsea players had the chance to get together and relax.

Chelsea head coach Tuchel allowed his Premier League players to have a glass of wine or a beer as they discussed matters away from football before returning to England the next day, a move he hopes has allowed the group to grow even closer as they prepare for a busy run-in to the season.

Chelsea are still fighting for a top-four finish in the Premier League, but the immediate focus is on an FA Cup semi-final showdown against Manchester City, with the two heavyweight rivals clashing at Wembley on Saturday.

"We are aware that it is necessary to recover mentally," Tuchel told the media on the eve of the City game. 

"For example, we decided to stay overnight in Seville because we knew the hotel. It was very nice, in a nice setting - we had the chance to sit outside because the weather was very warm.

"It was a calming circumstance to enjoy each other's company. We had a good sleep and we had a chance to stay together after the match because we created a bubble there.

"It was a good chance because the players have not been able to go out, go to restaurants. For almost a year now, we cannot share a dressing room. So we created this just to feel some time together, have talks outside of tactics and line-ups to just bond, let the players bond, enjoy an evening after a game.

"They could have a glass of wine or sip of beer if they want. It was important to have this environment and organise it like this. It was part of the mental recovery.

"We are aware that we have many meetings after games and training sessions. We want to have sessions where there isn't too much explanation or talking, just to find exercises on the pitch that bring a lot of fun and joy and sweat out the tension.

"Things like this are very important to help the seriousness of how we prepare and play in games."

Tuchel will hope the time spent in Spain has refreshed Chelsea prior to taking on the runaway league leaders; City have won six of the past nine meetings in all competitions, including a 3-1 triumph at Stamford Bridge earlier in this campaign.

Frank Lampard was in charge for that game and while Tuchel has lost just twice since taking charge, he has yet to beat Pep Guardiola in his managerial career. All of their previous five head-to-head battles came while both were working in the Bundesliga.

Jose Mourinho is trying to be "optimistic" about the injury Harry Kane suffered towards the end of Tottenham's 2-2 draw with Everton on Friday but accepts it is too early to know its severity.

Kane was in lethal form for Spurs at Goodison Park, as he has been for much of the season, as he scored both goals for Mourinho's side.

The England captain's first effort saw him reach 20 Premier League goals in a season for the fifth time, a record bettered by only Alan Shearer (seven) and Sergio Aguero (six).

His second – the goal that secured Spurs a point – was his 12th in as many games against Everton in all competitions and it moved him above Robbie Fowler into seventh in the Premier League's all-time top scorers' list with 164.

But he was unable to finish the match, as Richarlison fell on Kane's ankle in second-half stoppage time and the collision forced him off.

With just nine days to go until Spurs are in EFL Cup final action against Manchester City, it is a nightmare scenario for Tottenham and Mourinho.

After the match, Mourinho tried to put on a brave face but could not offer much certainty.

When it was put to him by Sky Sports that Spurs fans would be anxious, Mourinho said: "Me too but I think it's too early to say something.

"For him to leave the pitch at 2-2 with only a few minutes to go, it's obviously because he felt something, but let me be optimistic and believe that he has time to recover.

"Let me be optimistic and believe it's nothing serious. It's obvious he's a very important player for us, but I cannot say much or speculate."

England manager Gareth Southgate was also in attendance and will surely monitor Kane's situation closely with the delayed Euro 2020 less than two months away.

The draw on Merseyside leaves Spurs five points adrift of fourth-placed West Ham, who play their game in hand against struggling Newcastle United on Saturday.

The New York Jets are once again starting over following a 2020 season that provided no end of reasons for GM Joe Douglas to break things off with both head coach and quarterback.

Their marriage with Adam Gase was one that always appeared doomed from the start, and the overdue end came after a 2-14 campaign.

A more difficult split for Jets fans might have been the end of Sam Darnold's time as starting quarterback, which came with his trade to the Carolina Panthers ahead of the NFL Draft.

Yet last year provided plenty of evidence as to why it was past time for the Jets to accept it was never going to work with the 2018 third overall pick.

The Jets, who own the second overall pick, can look forward to a potentially brighter future with a rookie quarterback – widely expected to be Zach Wilson – and an exciting new head coach in former San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.

Saleh and former Niners passing game coordinator Mike LaFleur will hope to inspire significant improvement on both sides of the ball in 2021.

Using Stats Perform data, we reflect on the final year of an era Jets fans will want to quickly forget, as well as look ahead to the start of Saleh's tenure in New York.

Offense

No offense was less efficient than the one belonging to the Jets in 2020.

They finished last in yards per play with an average of 4.72, ranking 31st in yards per pass play (5.16) and 24th in rush average (4.15).

New York was 28th in pass plays that went for 20 yards or more with 39, their struggles in moving the ball owing to a lack of consistently competent play at quarterback.

Darnold again did not play the full season, featuring in 12 games, and posted the third-lowest completion percentage in the league (59.6).

He threw nine touchdowns to 11 interceptions, the fourth-worst TD-INT ratio in the NFL and completed only eight of his 33 pass attempts of 21 air yards or more.

A bright spot in the passing game came from Jamison Crowder, the slot receiver who led the team with 699 receiving yards in 12 games.

Crowder caught 59 of his 89 targets, committing only two drops, with 14 of the incompletions aimed in his direction coming as a result of poor throws.

The running game provided little in the way of dynamism; future Hall of Fame running back Frank Gore had the most rushing yards on the team (653) but did so at a rate of only 3.49 yards per carry.

Excluding kneeldowns, the Jets had 26 rushes for negative yardage, plus only four teams had fewer than their 37 runs of 10 yards or more.

By nearly every measure, New York's offense was one of the worst in football. With LaFleur calling the plays in 2021, the only way should be up, and the influence of Saleh on a defense with some foundational pieces in place should see them receive decent support from their team-mates on the other side of the ball.

Defense

Though the season endured by the Jets' defense was defined by a bizarre blitz call by former coordinator Gregg Williams that cost them a win against the Las Vegas Raiders, they were far from the worst in the league on that side of the ball.

New York finished the season 21st in yards per play allowed, giving up an average of 5.74 in 2020. The Jets were especially strong against the run, ranking seventh in the NFL as they conceded just 4.03 yards per rush.

It was the pass defense that let the Jets down. Only six teams gave up more yards per pass play than New York's 6.93, with the Jets ranking 28th in the NFL in passing first downs allowed with 235.

Yet they can afford to have hope of an upturn in fortunes on defense with Saleh calling the shots, having overseen an elite defense during his time with the Niners.

San Francisco finished the season fifth in yards per play allowed despite a plethora of injuries, including losing pass rusher Nick Bosa to a torn ACL against the Jets.

Their performance was illustrative of the influence of Saleh's coaching, and he will hope to have the same impact on a Jets roster not lacking for talent.

New York placed the franchise tag on Marcus Maye, who led the way in the secondary following Jamal Adams' trade to the Seattle Seahawks.

Maye's 11 pass deflections were tied for the fourth-most among safeties. Up front, Quinnen Williams blossomed following an underwhelming rookie year in 2019.

Williams' seven sacks were the fifth-most among defensive tackles in 2020, while he stuffed 6.0 runs for negative yardage, a tally bettered by only two players (Ed Oliver and Zach Sieler, both 6.5).

The Jets brought in edge rusher Carl Lawson, whose 65.5 combined knockdowns and hurries were tied for the ninth-most in the NFL, in free agency.

Between Williams and Lawson, the Jets could have a duo to turn their pass rush, which ranked sixth in hurries (177) but tied 20th in sacks (31) into a potent force that may elevate their defense into the upper echelon that Saleh is used to occupying.

Offseason

The Jets were in the advantageous position of having a plethora of salary cap space to use in a year when many teams had to make savings, rather than go out and spend.

However, they did not simply go for the splash signing - as previous regimes in New York have done – but instead made astute additions to raise the talent level of the roster.

Lawson was the headliner, arriving on a three-year, $45million deal, after recording a pressure rate of 22.3 per cent (seventh among all edge rushers) last season.

Saleh will also attempt to get the best out of a former first-rounder in defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, whose career has been hindered by injuries since an excellent 2018.

Linebacker Jarrad Davis and safety Lamarcus Joyner represent low-risk deals after signing on one-year contracts to bolster the defensive depth.

On offense, LaFleur will hope to maximise the upside of wide receiver Corey Davis after he inked a three-year deal worth $37.5m following a career year with the Tennessee Titans.

Davis produced a 'big play' - defined as a burn for a catch of 20 yards or more, or a burn for a touchdown - on 38.3 per cent of his targets in 2020. That ratio was 12th among receivers with at least 50 targets.

New York also took a one-year flier on wideout Keelan Cole, who was open on 81.3 percent of his targets in 2020, but the quarterback selection with the second overall pick must be right for those pass-catching talents to fully blossom after Darnold was dealt to the Panthers.

All the signs point to Wilson being his successor.

He would represent a significant gamble having had just one season of elite production at BYU, where he faced a schedule lacking top-tier opposition in 2020, and endured shoulder issues. Wilson had shoulder surgery in 2019.

However, Wilson's numbers from 2020 point to a quarterback who should excel running LaFleur's offense. Wilson completed 73.4 per cent of his play-action attempts, tied-fifth among FBS quarterbacks with at least 50 such passes.

Play-action is a staple of the Kyle Shanahan scheme LaFleur will run in New York, while the Jets can also be encouraged by his completion percentage on third down (79.7 - first among FBS quarterbacks with a minimum of 40 throws) and on throws travelling 20 yards or more in the air (63.6 - first among FBS quarterbacks with at least 30 such passes).

The challenge will be that kind of production translating to the NFL. There are no guarantees in that regard but, with a new head coach, an incoming new quarterback and a crop of free-agent signings with the ability to have an instant impact, this latest reboot brings reason for optimism among Gang Green fans.

Harry Kane twice punished hapless Everton defending as Tottenham salvaged a 2-2 draw at Goodison Park on Friday, though it does little good for their dwindling top-four hopes.

Jose Mourinho's side were looking to bounce back from a deflating 3-1 defeat to Manchester United, yet they were underwhelming once again and arguably fortunate to leave Merseyside with a point.

Kane punished a Michael Keane error to reach 20 Premier League goals in a season for the fifth time, a record bettered by only Alan Shearer (seven) and Sergio Aguero (six), though their lead did not last long as Gylfi Sigurdsson equalised from the spot for an Everton side being orchestrated by the excellent James Rodriguez.

Sigurdsson doubled his tally in the second half as Everton threatened to move above Spurs in the table, but another defensive mix-up involving Keane was punished by Kane as he spared the visitors from a defeat that would have left them six points behind fourth-placed West Ham.

The match's spell of monotony was broken in the 22nd minute as James parted Toby Alderweireld and Joe Rodon with a disguised pass, only for Hugo Lloris to save Richarlison's subsequent strike.

Kane was more clinical a few moments later, however, lashing past Jordan Pickford after Tanguy Ndombele's cross had been flicked out of Mason Holgate's reach by Keane.

But Everton quickly levelled, Sigurdsson coolly converting a penalty after Sergio Reguilon was adjudged to have fouled James, who then forced Lloris into a vital stop following a clever interchange with the Iceland international in the 38th minute.

Son Heung-min should have done better early in the second half as he hit a tame effort into the side-netting after gliding past Keane.

Everton made Spurs pay just past the hour, too. Seamus Coleman, introduced for the anonymous Alex Iwobi less than a minute earlier, played a one-two with Richarlison on the right and whipped in a teasing cross that Sigurdsson met with an emphatic volley to beat Lloris.

But in an incident not too dissimilar to the one that gifted Spurs the lead, Keane headed a cross on to Holgate and Kane was on hand to hammer home before hobbling off late on, a concern for his club and also England manager Gareth Southgate, who was in attendance.

Harry Kane has two iconic Premier League strikers in his sights after he plundered his 20th top-flight goal of the season in Tottenham's clash with Everton on Friday.

The England international's clinical half-volley in the 27th minute at Goodison Park took him to 20 Premier League goals in a campaign for the fifth time in his career.

Only Newcastle United legend Alan Shearer (seven) and Manchester City forward Sergio Aguero (six) have achieved the feat more often in the history of the competition.

The clinical strike also saw him overtake Jermain Defoe to move joint-seventh with Robbie Fowler on the all-time list of Premier League scorers, the pair sitting on 163.

Everton have suffered more than most when up against Kane, with the 27-year-old one of only three players to score 10 Premier League goals against the Toffees, after Les Ferdinand and Shearer (16 each).

Meanwhile, only Jimmy Greaves (seven) has scored 20 or more goals in a top-flight season for Spurs more times than Kane, who had failed to reach that number in both 2018-19 and 2019-20.

Deepak Chahar produced career-best Indian Premier League figures to inspire Chennai Super Kings to a dominant victory over Punjab Kings.

Making his 50th appearance in the competition, Chahar helped ensure Punjab's innings never got going as they were restricted to 106-8.

He finished with 4-13 from four overs, including one maiden, Punjab never getting to grips with a challenging surface in Mumbai.

Faf du Plessis (36 not out) and Moeen Ali (46) combined for 66 to help CSK ease to their target with 26 balls to spare, winning by six wickets.

Mayank Agarwal went for a two-ball duck to Chahar in the opening over, misjudging a wondrous delivery that pinged the top off-stump.

A direct hit from Ravindra Jadeja saw KL Rahul run out before the West Indian pair of Chris Gayle (10) and Nicholas Pooran (0) each fell to Chahar before the end of the powerplay.

Deepak Hooda tamely chipped to mid-off for Chahar's fourth wicket, leaving Punjab on 26-5 in the seventh over.

Shahrukh Khan's 36-ball 47, which included two sixes, at least made sure Punjab had something to defend, but a lack of support from the lower order meant the target was always one well within CSK's grasp.

Moeen and Du Plessis extinguished any hopes of Punjab claiming an unlikely win, their second-wicket stand allowing the Super Kings to coast to victory despite a 15th-over blitz from Mohammed Shami that saw Suresh Raina and Ambati Rayudu dismissed.

Chahar makes mark on landmark appearance

Chahar let out a huge roar when he castled Agarwal and he had every right to do so after producing a delivery that nipped away from middle stump to deceive the opener.

The subsequent dismissals owed more to a fine catch from Jadeja to get rid of Gayle and batting errors from Pooran and Hooda, but nothing should be taken away from Chahar after he tilted the game firmly in CSK's favour.

Moeen gets things moving

Moeen and Du Plessis showed Punjab how to bat on the surface with an excellent partnership, the England all-rounder's 46 coming off 31 deliveries, his strike rate of 148.38 the best in the contest.

He recorded seven fours and one maximum, with Du Plessis' sole six coming off a scoop shot in the fourth over. The South African was still in at the end when Sam Curran wrapped things up after a brief wobble.

Pakistan sealed a 3-1 triumph over South Africa in their Twenty20 series despite almost matching a wretched batting collapse by the hosts in the Centurion finale.

The Proteas slumped from 109-2 to 144 all out amid a display of artless batsmanship to set Pakistan just a modest victory target, yet the chasing side almost threw away the match with an implosion of their own.

Eventually they won by three wickets with one ball to spare, Fakhar Zaman smashing 60 from 34 balls and Mohammad Nawaz clinching victory with a six when just two runs were required.

Babar Azam's century had spurred Pakistan to a nine-wicket win in the third game of this four-match series, but where that contest, also at Centurion, was a run-fest, with both teams topping 200, this time South Africa were masters of their own downfall.

Aiden Markram came into the match behind three successive T20 fifties, attempting to be only the third player, after Brendon McCullum and Chris Gayle, to make four in a row.

He was the first batsman to be dismissed, however, lbw to Nawaz, and although Janneman Malan (33) and Rassie van der Dussen (52) then put on 57 for the second wicket, there was little other resistance to be found among the South Africa batsmen.

Faheem Ashraf tormented the top order for figures of 3-17 in four overs, while Hasan Ali rebounded well from being carted for 29 in his opening two overs, finishing with 3-40.

In Pakistan's reply, Fakhar came to the crease after Mohammad Rizwan slumped to a first-over stumping, and the left-hander soon set about the home attack, crunching five fours and four sixes before being caught as a wild swipe at Lizaad Williams sent the ball skywards.

His departure triggered the second heavy flurry of wickets in the match, Pakistan sliding from 92-1 to 129-7, needing someone to find some composure.

Nawaz was that man, first punishing Sisanda Magala for delivering two consecutive no-balls in the penultimate over, flogging his second free hit over the ropes. In a nervy final over, Nawaz (25 not out) picked off Williams from the fifth ball, pulling square over the boundary for the winning runs.

Chaos reigns

A contest littered with chaotic cricket was perhaps best summed up by the first delivery of the ninth over in Pakistan's reply. Tabraiz Shamsi's delivery was short, sat up and called for severe punishment. Even so, Fakhar looked sure to miss out on a boundary as George Linde moved to sweep up inside the boundary. Yet Linde inexplicably failed to get his body in the way of the ball. Really rather poor all round.

Hasan heroic

While Faheem and Haris Rauf (2-18) kept it supremely tight throughout their spells, the same could not be said for Hasan, who came in for some brutal early treatment. It takes sporting courage and skill to rebound from two horror overs, and he demonstrated such attributes by taking three wickets in his next two sets of six, including that of Magala from his final delivery.

Marcus Rashford is a doubt for Manchester United's Premier League clash with Burnley on Sunday, boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has confirmed.

The England international did not make it off the substitutes' bench during United's 2-0 win over Granada on Thursday, a result which sealed a 4-0 aggregate victory to book a Europa League semi-final against Roma.

Rashford – who is suffering from an ongoing foot injury – took his tally to 20 for the season in the first leg, making him the first United player to hit double figures in consecutive campaigns since Wayne Rooney 11 years ago.

The 23-year-old has missed just three games for United this season and Solskajer said he will give Rashford as long as he needs to prove his fitness. 

"It's a big bonus that he didn't have to put any pressure on his foot [against Granada]," Solskjaer told a media conference. "I have got to hope he can be available and not make it worse. That is the decision I have got to make, so fingers crossed.

"He wasn't due to be on the bench really. He didn't train yesterday [Wednesday] but, just in case, he put his hand up and said 'if needed, I could do a job'. 

"So, it is a decision I have got to make on Sunday morning. But he is important for us. It is a difficult one. You have to go by how Marcus feels in a couple of days."

United host Burnley at Old Trafford looking to win five consecutive Premier League games for the first time since they won their first six under Solskjaer's leadership in January 2019. 

While another three points would take them another step closer to sealing a top-four finish, it is unlikely to help them rein in leaders Manchester City, who have an 11-point lead over their neighbours, having played a game more. 

Solskjaer is not prepared to write off United's title chances just yet, but he does concede it seems improbable that City will drop enough points to allow them back into the race. 

"Of course we'll never give up," he said. "Manchester United will never, ever give up. This club has had too many setbacks and too many great comebacks to have it in our DNA. 

"Is it realistic? No, probably not. When you have a team that is so consistent as Manchester City have been, you don't expect them to lose three games of the last six. 

"As long as we do our job, we want to finish the season strong and go one game at a time."

With a seven-point lead over Leicester City, United look well placed to improve on their third-placed finish last season. 

While Solskjaer is pleased with his side's progress this term, he will not be satisfied until they have won the Premier League title for the first time since Alex Ferguson's last season in charge in 2012-13. 

"You've got to make progress, step by step, that's the reality," he explained. "If we can manage second place and keep winning and get second, if Man City win all games and we win ours, you want to finish strongly. 

"Third last year, second this, close to a trophy. It's progress. It's not the end game; the end game is winning the league. But we are not in the era of Sir Alex and we've had a transformation period since he left.

"But it's progress, step by step, and if we do that well enough, that is when you get trophies and league titles which, of course, is our ambition."

Pep Guardiola shrugged off the suggestion Phil Foden's sensational form proves he was right to slowly ease the youngster into first-team action, insisting football is only about the present.

Manchester City prodigy Foden made his Premier League debut in 2017-18, playing five times in total. While his talent was obvious, Guardiola was cautious with his development, opting to drop the attacker in and out of games, sometimes causing ire in the media.

A total of 13 league appearances followed in 2018-19 before Foden truly began to establish himself last season, making 37 appearances across all competitions.

Guardiola's cautious approach has seemingly paid off, with Foden one of City's most impressive players this campaign.

The 20-year-old has played 41 times in total, including 29 starts. He is joint-second – alongside Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling – in City's scorers' list with 13 goals, behind Ilkay Gundogan (16); Foden's latest strike coming against Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday.

His tally of nine assists is bettered only by Kevin De Bruyne (16), with the Belgian (99) and Riyad Mahrez (75) the two City players to have created more chances than Foden (65).

But asked if he can take credit for Foden's development, Guardiola insisted the England international must continue to prove himself in every game.

"It's not about what we believed in the past, it's about what they show on the grass," Guardiola told a news conference ahead of City's FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea on Saturday.

"So, footballers have to show every single day. The journalists will talk a lot about the past, or the future. In football it's about the present.

"In the present it doesn't matter what we have done, it's what we do today. Everybody is involved, talking and talking. The players have to talk on the grass.

"It's the only way they can protect their position and win in the present and in the future. It's as simple as that.

"Phil in that case, everything we get right now is on the grass, not in any other situations. He's going to continue being there depending on his performance, not on what he has done so far at a young age. You have to every game win something to stay in the position and playing every day."

While Foden is thriving, one player whose form has been called into question in some quarters is Sterling, who only came on for a brief cameo towards the end against Dortmund.

Guardiola, however, disregarded the suggestion it had to be a choice between Foden or Sterling for a spot on the left.

"If you know a bit the trajectory of this team selection, then the answer is obvious," said Guardiola, who also confirmed Sergio Aguero will not be fit to feature at Wembley.

"Of course they can play together, they have played many times together. Phil can play in five positions, Sterling in three positions. Everyone can play in a few positions, so it depends on them."

Sterling has created fewer opportunities than Foden this season (45), though he has the same amount of assists, having crafted the same number of Opta-defined "big chances" (12) and both are over-performing their expected assists to a similar degree.

 

Foden has a slightly better shot conversion rate – 16.1 per cent compared to 15.7 – though has attempted two fewer (81 compared to 83) attempts than the former Liverpool winger.

Despite playing in a disappointingly empty new SoFi Stadium, few teams managed to electrify more than the Los Angeles Chargers last season.

Even the most ardent Chargers fan would admit that, prior to 2020, there hadn't been much appetite for the franchise in Los Angeles.

It will be interesting to see to what extent that has changed if fans are allowed in stadiums in 2021, following a record-setting rookie season from Justin Herbert.

Herbert silenced all the doubters who questioned the Chargers for taking him with the sixth overall pick, delivering a remarkable campaign that earned him the Offensive Rookie of the Year award.

It still was not enough to stop the Chargers from enduring a season defined by gaffes and late-game heartbreak, head coach Anthony Lynn paying with his job despite a four-game winning streak to end the year 7-9.

Fuelling further optimism is the appointment of Brandon Staley as Lynn's replacement.

Staley earned widespread plaudits for what he did as the defensive coordinator of the Los Angeles Rams in 2020, building a reputation as one of the most innovative defensive minds in the game.

He will hope to get the most of a defense stacked with blue-chip talent while offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi is tasked with helping Herbert to the next step in his development.

What can that duo learn from the Chargers' performances of last season? Using Stats Perform data we look back on a 2020 campaign that left Chargers fans excited about what this team could become.

Offense

Herbert went into his rookie season being seen as an inferior quarterback to Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa. As a rookie, he outperformed both, becoming the only quarterback in NFL history to throw for 4,000 yards in a season having not played the opener.

He came in for Tyrod Taylor after the Week 1 starter had his lung punctured by a team doctor who was administering a painkilling injection.

That error proved serendipitous for everyone but Taylor, who had to play the role of the onlooker as Herbert racked up the second-most passing yards by a rookie quarterback in NFL history. Herbert's 4,336 trailed only Andrew Luck, who racked up 4,374 with the Indianapolis Colts in 2012.

Herbert was also second all-time among rookies with his completion percentage of 66.6, falling shy of Dak Prescott who connected on 67.8 in 2016. Where Herbert did set rookie records was in completions (396), passing yards per game (289.1), passing touchdowns (31) and 300-yard games, of which he recorded eight.

Yet for all the remarkable exploits of the sixth overall pick, finishing drives and scoring points remained an issue for the Chargers.

They ranked 21st in red zone touchdown efficiency and in average red zone points, putting up 4.79 per trip inside the 20-yard line of their opponents.

Many will see the departure of Lynn, heavily criticised for his play-calling and game management in key situations, as a significant step towards the Chargers improving in that regard.

But Los Angeles will also look for more from the running game. An injury-affected season for Austin Ekeler hindered the ground attack, which was 30th in yards per rush (3.83) and tied 27th in touchdowns (12).

Too often Herbert led the Chargers into the red zone only to see the drive end in a field goal or a stop for the defense. While Ekeler being at full health would help, the onus will be on Lombardi to ensure their issues inside the 20 are less frequent in 2021.

Defense

As is so often the case with the Chargers, misfortune was a critical factor in their defense not realising its potential.

They lost Derwin James for the season before a ball had even been snapped, the All-Pro safety sidelined following torn meniscus surgery.

It was also another year in which edge rusher Joey Bosa did not play a full season. Had both of those stars been available for the entire year, the Chargers might not have ranked so poorly in opponent scoring efficiency.

The Chargers ranked 23rd in that respect and 21st in opponent touchdown efficiency, with an inability to create turnovers playing a role in their issues.

They generated 19 takeaways in 2020, putting the Chargers tied for 22nd in the NFL, though that number was only three fewer than Staley's Rams defense registered last season.

However, the Rams scored 15 more points off takeaways than the Chargers and were significantly better at creating negative plays for opposing offenses overall.

The Rams forced 88 negative plays for minus 441 yards, ranking seventh in the league, while the Chargers were 30th with 72 negative plays for minus 222 yards.

Yet Staley should be confident he can create a similar formula to what he had with the Rams, with Aaron Donald wreaking havoc up front and Jalen Ramsey an eraser in the secondary. Bosa and James are excellent candidates to fill those roles for the Chargers.

Los Angeles will need to add talent around that duo for this defense to realise its potential, but the Chargers do possess the resources with which to do that.

Offseason

The Chargers used what financial resources they had, in a year where the salary cap was reduced, to beef up the offensive line and ensure Herbert will have the benefit of better protection.

Corey Linsley was signed to a five-year, $62million deal that was more than justified after a 2020 season in which he was named first-team All-Pro, having allowed a pressure rate of 2.8 per cent last season (NFL average: 4.9).

The versatile and underrated right tackle Matt Feiler arrived on a three-year deal from the Pittsburgh Steelers while another tackle, Oday Aboushi, was brought in on a one-year contract.

Los Angeles will hope Jared Cook can help fill the void left by tight end Hunter Henry’s departure to New England. Cook produced a big play on 31.6 per cent of his targets in 2020. The league average for tight ends is 26.1 per cent.

Further help for Herbert, who suffered the ninth-most sacks in the NFL (32) last season, may come with pick 13 in the draft if the Chargers choose to spend it on a long-term solution at left tackle.

However, with Casey Hayward and Melvin Ingram still on the open market and Rayshawn Jenkins having left for Jacksonville, cornerback, edge rusher and safety are all areas Los Angeles could target.

After hiring a defensive mastermind at head coach, better support from that unit and cleaner pockets for their franchise quarterback will be the keys to the Chargers going from upstart to playoff team in Staley's first season.

Ibrahima Konate has cast fresh doubt on suggestions he will leave RB Leipzig to join Liverpool at the end of the season.

The 21-year-old French defender is said to have a €40million (£34.8m) release clause in his contract and reports have claimed the Reds may activate that.

However, Leipzig sporting director Markus Krosche last month told Stats Perform News the move was "not an option" for Konate to consider.

Now, Konate has spoken on the matter, telling German newspaper Bild: "I have a contract until 2023. And contracts are there to be fulfilled.

"There are often rumours in football and many believe them immediately. I or my agents did not get a call from Liverpool.

"I also have big goals with RB Leipzig: to get the best possible result in the Bundesliga, reach the cup final and the Under-21 European Championship with France."

Leipzig, sitting second in the Bundesliga, were facing a home assignment on Friday against Hoffenheim as they looked to put pressure on leaders Bayern Munich.

Unlike Liverpool, whose hopes hang in the balance, Leipzig appear certain to be in the Champions League next season.

Yet they will lose one star French defender when Dayot Upamecano defects to Bayern Munich at the end of the campaign, and to see another depart might be considered a body blow.

Konate is already thinking about life at Leipzig after Upamecano leaves, insisting he wants to be appraised on his own merits rather than compared to the future Bayern star.

"I don't want to be Dayot's successor. I'm me," said Konate. "We both came to Leipzig in 2017 and played well together here. Unfortunately, our paths are now parting. I'll let Dayot have his new job and continue doing my thing here."

Injuries have got in the way of Konate's progress and he has played in just 11 Bundesliga games this season, starting five times in the competition.

In that time he has achieved a duel success rate of 68.66 per cent, which is the third highest among defenders with more than 500 minutes on the pitch this season in Germany's top flight. Opta defines a duel as a '50-50 contest between two players of opposing sides'.

Konate has also won 23 of his 26 aerial challenges in the Bundesliga during the current campaign, and three of four tackles.

On the tackles front, Konate has good examples to follow in the Leipzig ranks of players with strong success rates. Among defenders with over 500 minutes of action in the Bundesliga this term, Lukas Klostermann ranks first in the league with a 92.31 per cent rate (12 of 13 tackles won), while Upamecano is fourth with 81.82 per cent (27 of 33 won).

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