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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EDOUARD MENDY

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

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

LUKE SHAW

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

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

CESAR AZPILICUETA

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

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

RIYAD MAHREZ

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

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

SADIO MANE

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

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

HARRY KANE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The team from the Mile High City is rising again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until now. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Bavuma takes centre stage

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

Babar Lord's it over Proteas

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

Key series facts

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

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

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

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

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

Manchester United have been let down by "sloppy results" this season but are constantly improving under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, according to midfielder Scott McTominay.

Solskjaer's side were eliminated from the FA Cup by Leicester City in the last match before the two-week international break – their first domestic away loss in 30 matches.

United were also knocked out of the EFL Cup by Manchester City at the semi-final stage and exited the Champions League in the group phase earlier in the campaign.

However, the Red Devils have advanced past Real Sociedad and Milan to reach the last eight of the Europa League, where Granada await, while they sit second in the Premier League.

United may be 14 points adrift of leaders Manchester City, albeit with a game in hand, but McTominay believes they are heading in the right direction.

"We've got a good group of players with top, top quality," he told ESPN.

"People are quite quick to forget how well we've done at times. It's the sloppy results that have let us down. This team is evolving. It's not a time to panic."

McTominay has appeared 39 times for United in all competitions this season, which is the most times he has featured for his boyhood club since making his debut in 2016-17.

He ranks particularly highly among United midfielders in the Premier League this term for duels won, his average of 6.54 per 90 minutes behind only Paul Pogba (8.08).

The Scotland international's game has also improved in other areas since last season.

McTominay's average of 46.54 successful passes per game in the top flight is an increase on 41.59 from last season, while his passing accuracy has gone from 80.91 per cent in 2019-20 to 87.58 this term.

Meanwhile, his tally of four goals puts him behind only Bruno Fernandes (16) in regards to United's highest-scoring midfielders.
 
"'I'm not perfect every game and I know that," McTominay said as he looked ahead to the future. "I've got a lot to improve on but there's also things I do well so I'm just trying to improve and kickstart my game to another level. 

"I just want to do my best. It's about consistency and playing well over the course of a season."

United return to action on Sunday with a Premier League meeting with Brighton and Hove Albion at Old Trafford, where they will be aiming to make it six wins in a row against the Seagulls in all competitions, netting exactly three times in the last four.

North Carolina head coach Roy Williams is retiring from college basketball, the university announced on Thursday.

Williams is a legendary figure in college basketball following spells with Kansas and North Carolina; he has coached 52 players who have gone on to play in the NBA.

Inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007, he retires with a career record of 903–264, winning the NCAA title on three occasions with the Tar Heels, in 2005, 2009 and 2017.

Williams holds two records in the NCAA: he became the fastest to reach 900 victories and is the only head coach to record over 400 wins with two different schools.

His teams have won 18 regular-season conference championships, while he bows out with an impressive 77.4 win percentage.

The 70-year-old's 33rd and final season as a head coach came to an end when North Carolina lost to Wisconsin in the first round of this year's NCAA tournament.

Sergio Ramos is a major fitness doubt for Real Madrid's crucial fixtures against Liverpool and Barcelona due to a muscle injury in his left calf.

Doubts over the fitness of Los Blancos' talismanic captain, who has recently been contending with a knee issue, were raised after he was an unused substitute in Spain's 2-1 World Cup qualifying win over Georgia and only played the final few minutes of the follow up 3-1 triumph against Kosovo on Wednesday.

Ramos was at Madrid's Valdebebas training complex on Thursday but was restricted to doing work in the gym and not out on the pitches.

As usual, Madrid did not provide a timescale for his recovery but a short statement read: "Following the tests carried out today on our captain, Sergio Ramos, by the Real Madrid medical department, he has been diagnosed with a muscular injury to the internal calf in his left leg. His recovery will be monitored."

The timing could hardly be worse for Madrid, who host Eibar in LaLiga on Saturday before facing off against Liverpool in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final tie.

Barca travel to the capital a week on Saturday for a Clasico that could go a long way to deciding which side are better placed to challenge LaLiga leaders Atletico Madrid, while the return tie against the Reds takes place on April 14.

The omens are not particularly promising for Madrid against Liverpool considering Los Blancos have been beaten in seven of the past 10 games in the Champions League when Ramos has been unavailable.

In those games, they have conceded 19 goals – an average of 1.9 per match. Since last winning the competition in 2018, Madrid have won 10 of the 14 games Ramos has featured in – conceding only 13, an average of 0.9 per game.

The decision to bring Ramos on in those closing stages against Kosovo is sure to be a bone of contention for Madrid, with the skipper posting about his setback on Instagram.

"Yesterday, after the game, I was training on the pitch and noticed a puncture in the left calf. Today I have had the tests and it has been confirmed that I have a muscle injury," he wrote.

"If there is one thing that hurts me it is not being able to help the team in these games of the highest demand in which we play the season and also not be able to give back on the pitch the love and energy that you transmit to me.

"I can do nothing but speak frankly, work hard and encourage the team with the soul."

Ramos' future beyond the end of the season has been the subject of much debate in recent weeks, with the veteran centre-back linked with moves to MLS, the Premier League and Ligue 1.

Addressing the speculation after Spain's win over Kosovo, Ramos told TVE: "With my future I was very clear, there is no news and now I have nothing to say.

"When there is news, I will be the first to say it.

"We decide the season in two weeks, in LaLiga against Eibar and Barcelona, and in the Champions League against Liverpool, and hopefully we can play at a good level." 

The times they are a-changin' in the AFC North, and the Pittsburgh Steelers will have to spend one more season led by a veteran quarterback ill-equipped to help them stem the tide.

Pittsburgh made no secret of a desire to move on from Ben Roethlisberger this offseason, but the best the Steelers could do was to restructure his contract, with his new deal voiding after 2021, making him a free agent and likely ending a glittering career next year.

But that means they will have to go into the new season with a 39-year-old signal-caller coming off one of the most inefficient seasons of his time in the league, in which the Steelers started 11-0 only to fade badly down the stretch and suffer a humiliating playoff loss to long-time AFC North whipping boys the Cleveland Browns.

Cleveland and the Baltimore Ravens look well-placed to contend again, and the Steelers are in a position where the team around Roethlisberger must elevate him to levels that now appear beyond the two-time Super Bowl winner to ensure they can compete.

How should Pittsburgh go about achieving that goal? We attempt to find the answers by using Stats Perform data to analyse their 2020 campaign and their offseason moves so far.

Offense

Whenever he decides to bring his career to an end, Roethlisberger is a near-certainty to reach the Hall of Fame.

However, in 2020 he was at the helm of one of the least dynamic offenses in football, with Pittsburgh's struggles illustrated by a yards per play average of 5.13 that ranked a lowly 26th in the NFL.

The lack of a consistent downfield element to the passing game was a significant contributor to the Steelers' problems on offense.

Roethlisberger's yards per attempt average of 6.3 was the lowest of his career across seasons in which he has played double-digit games - it was 5.7 in his two appearances in 2019.

He had 43 pass plays that went for 20 yards or more, tied for 17th, though yards after catch was clearly a massive contributor to those plays. Pittsburgh ranked eighth with 50.4 per cent of the Steelers' gross passing yardage made up by yards after the catch.

His passer rating of 81.0 on throws of at least 21 air yards was 18th among quarterbacks with 25 such attempts and he completed only 30.2 per cent of those attempts (22nd of 28 QBs with a minimum of 25 attempts).

There were still bright spots on the passing offense even in a down year, the most prominent of which was rookie wide receiver Chase Claypool.

Claypool led all rookies with nine receiving touchdowns. Five of those were of a distance of at least 20 yards, with only Tyreek Hill (nine) and Nelson Agholor (six) recording more such touchdown receptions

Beyond Roethlisberger's issues pushing the ball downfield, the running game was a source of major frustration for Pittsburgh.

The Steelers were last with a yards per carry average of 3.62, their 32 runs of 10 yards or more were also the fewest in the league and only three teams had fewer rushing touchdowns than their 12.

If the Steelers want to maximise Roethlisberger's hopes of a bounce-back year, they must give him more support from the ground game.

Defense

The Steelers succeeded despite the travails of their offense in large part because their defense was again one of the best in the league.

Pittsburgh finished the year with the third-best mark in terms of yards per play allowed, giving up an average of 4.91.

Conceding 55 scores (touchdowns or field goals) from 188 opponent drives, the Steelers were second in opponent scoring efficiency behind the Los Angeles Rams.

Their stingy performance on defense was fuelled by a ferocious pass rush, which led the league in sacks (56) and knockdowns (129) while finishing fourth in hurries (180).

T.J. Watt was the leader of that potent front seven, the 2017 first-round pick missing out on Defensive Player of the Year despite leading the league with 15.0 sacks.

He lost out to Aaron Donald, who had the edge in terms of combined knockdowns and hurries, posting 94.5 to Watt's 83.

The efforts of Watt and Bud Dupree, who had 8.0 sacks before tearing his ACL in Week 12, helped the Steelers finish second with 27 takeaways.

Five of those takeaways were produced by Minkah Fitzpatrick (four interceptions and one fumble recovery) in another stellar campaign for the All-Pro safety.

While this was a second successive year in which the Steelers were a top-five defense in yards per play, elite play is typically tougher for defenses to maintain than offenses.

Performing to that standard for a third straight year will be a substantial challenge, and one that may prove beyond them if they cannot find a replacement for the departed Dupree.

Offseason

While there are elite talents at running back that should be within the Steelers' reach in the first round of the draft, the priorities should be two positions at which they now have holes.

The Steelers may hope Alex Highsmith can step up and fill the void left by Dupree - five of his six quarterback hits as a rookie came after he took over the starting role from the now Tennessee Titans pass rusher - but they will have much better odds of effectively replacing him by adding a draft prospect into the mix.

Of more pressing concern, however, is likely to be the left tackle position. The Steelers did not make an effort to bring back veteran Alejandro Villanueva, a move likely motivated by the depth of this year's tackle class in the draft.

If the Steelers can land a rookie tackle who can step in and can maintain solid protection for Roethlisberger while improving the line's ability to open holes for the backs, he will do more for an offense that badly stuttered down the stretch than any of the top runners in the draft.

Assuming they succeed in doing so, Roethlisberger will have an excellent support system around him once more, with Juju Smith-Schuster surprisingly returning to keep an excellent receiving corps intact.

Yet, after a dismal end to 2020, Roethlisberger's ability to make the most of that support system is firmly in doubt. As such, it would be no surprise to see the Steelers spend a day-two pick on a rookie passer who can provide better competition for a quarterback who is certainly not their long-term future and may not even be a short-term solution.

Sergio Aguero has been one of the "three main faces" at Manchester City, according to Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta, who did not rule out a move for the striker.

Aguero's City career will come to an end at the culmination of the 2020-21 campaign, halting a 10-year stay at the club.

In that time, Aguero has helped City to four Premier League titles – scoring the goal which secured their first in the most dramatic of circumstances in 2011-12 – along with one FA Cup, five EFL Cups and two Community Shield triumphs.

The 32-year-old has struggled with injuries and COVID-19 this term, however, making just 14 appearances across all competitions, scoring three goals.

Arteta, Pep Guardiola's former assistant, worked with Aguero for over three years between 2016 and 2019, and has hailed the Argentinian's impact at City.

"Anybody that's been close to him would say the same thing, he's been the main face or one of three main faces to lift that project [at City]," Arteta told a news conference ahead of Arsenal's clash with Liverpool on Saturday.

"You need quality to create moments to build a project and his is the biggest face.

"Not only the way he plays, but his charisma and character. It's sad for him to leave but I think what he's done he will be their history."

Though denying he had called Aguero to discuss a potential switch to the Gunners, Arteta did not dismiss the suggestions of a move to bring the forward to north London.

"No, we will see what happens to him in the future," Arteta said.

"Sergio has a unique quality to see spaces that nobody sees and score goals in an easy way so I'm sure he will find the right next chapter."

One striker who has been linked with a move away from Emirates Stadium is Alexandre Lacazette, with the Frenchman's contract up in 2022.

LaLiga leaders Atletico Madrid are among the teams previously mooted to hold an interest in the 29-year-old, who has netted 13 goals in all competitions this season, scoring on each of his last three Premier League starts.

It seems likely Lacazette will lead the line again on Saturday, given he has scored in each of Arsenal's two most recent league games against Liverpool – the last Gunners player to score in three consecutive top-fllight games against the Reds was Robert Pires between 2003 and 2004 – and Arteta says the club will hold talks over a new deal at the end of the season.

|I'm always happy when people talk about our players and speculate – that means they're doing well and getting attention from other clubs," Arteta said.

"The situation with Laca we will address in the summer and speak to him and just propose the future that we want, and that's it.

"Up to now I just want players focused and only focused on performing and getting the best out of them for the team."

 

AGUERO OR LACAZETTE?

Should Arsenal decide to make a move for Aguero, then it may well be Lacazette who makes way, but would that be a wise move?

Lacazette is almost three years younger than Aguero, who has been besieged by injuries in recent seasons.

Since joining Arsenal at the start of 2017-18, Lacazette has made 122 Premier League appearances – 32 more than Aguero in the same timeframe.

The former Lyon forward has played a total of 8,219 minutes, compared to a figure of 6,214 for Aguero, who has started 75 games, 19 fewer than Lacazette (94).

However, Aguero has still scored more league goals, tallying 59 in contrast to Lacazette's 48, though it must be noted City's team of 2017 through to 2019 is widely considered as one of the finest attacking units of the Premier League era.

Lacazette has proved to be more creative, crafting 111 chances – 15 more than Aguero – though the duo are practically neck-and-neck for assists, registering 18 and 17 respectively.

Aguero's big chance conversion rate is better than Lacazette. The Argentina international has scored 42 goals from 78 opportunities from which Opta would have expected him to find the net (53.85 per cent); Lacazette, in comparison, has scored 30 from 70 (42.86 per cent).

Mikel Arteta believes Liverpool remain one of the top two teams in England as he prepares Arsenal for a crunch clash on Saturday.

The drastic dip in results from Jurgen Klopp's team since the turn of the year has seen last season's champions fall out of the top four in the Premier League.

They and Arsenal still have time to jump up the table, with Liverpool sitting seventh and Arsenal ninth heading into the weekend.

Liverpool's five most recent Premier League wins have all come away from Anfield, and another at Emirates Stadium this weekend would be a huge lift for Klopp and his players.

Arteta senses Liverpool are performing better in many respects than their results indicate, and suggested they are only outranked by one team - who would inevitably be Manchester City - in a range of key data performance metrics.

"I'm not the one to analyse what's gone wrong for them. I can talk about what they've done and what they are still producing," Arteta said in a news conference.

"I've seen a lot of games and the stats will support that. They are, if not the best, the second team in almost every department that we as coaches have to analyse.

"But then this is football and the ball has to be in the net - the final action has to provide a moment to win a football match.

"Then you have some individuals that dictate as well the quality of your team. Sometimes you cannot predict those things, so I think it's a lot of things."

Discounting penalties and own goals, Liverpool have netted 39 times in the league this season, yet their expected goals (xG) total is 44.3.

City's xG is slightly higher at 49.2, but Arteta's former club have far outperformed that mark with 58 non-penalty goals.

The trip to face Arsenal in north London has rarely been a successful mission for Liverpool in recent times. The Merseyside giants have won just two of their past 20 Premier League away games against Arsenal (D9 L9), a 2-0 success in August 2011 and a 4-3 victory in August 2016.

Arteta would relish another win to add to Arsenal's haul, knowing it would nudge them to just a point behind Liverpool, but he said his team would be "punished for every error".

Although the first leg of a Europa League quarter-final against Slavia Prague is coming up next week, manager Arteta says all the focus from his players should be on this weekend.

"For me, the priority is Liverpool," Arteta said. "We know if we want to climb up the table and have the chance to be in Europe next season through the Premier League, we need some consistency now in the last nine games.

"We need to get a run of winning matches, and the only way to do it is to start against Liverpool. We don't have any margin and we have to win the game."

Arteta said young midfielder Emile Smith Rowe had been troubled by "some discomfort in his hip" while away with the England Under-21 squad.

"We will speak with the doctors and the physios and see if he's available for training tomorrow," Arteta said.

Similar applies to Bukayo Saka, who pulled out of the senior England squad due to a hamstring problem but could come into contention for the weekend.

Liverpool versus Arsenal has thrown up some scintillating games in the past, and no fixture in Premier League history has seen more goals scored than the 166 they have shared in those battles.

Liverpool have scored 94 times in the Premier League rivalry, the most goals the Gunners have shipped against a single opponent in the competition.

Andre Drummond struggled to describe a gruesome toenail injury without laughing after the Los Angeles Lakers lost another star player.

LeBron James (ankle) and Anthony Davis (calf) both remain on the sidelines, meaning the signing of Drummond - bought out by the Cleveland Cavaliers - came as a big boost to the defending NBA champions.

But the center, playing for the first time since February 12, lasted just 14 minutes in a 112-97 debut defeat to the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday.

Drummond was stepped on by Brook Lopez in the first quarter, he later revealed, and eventually succumbed to the injury in the second half after taking his sock off to assess the damage.

"In the first quarter when I came out, Brook stepped on my foot and I didn't really think anything of it," the two-time All-Star said.

"I came back in the second quarter and it was hurting a little bit more. After halftime, I finally took my sock off to look and my whole toenail was gone. It was all bad from there. I couldn't walk or run so I told coach to take me out."

X-rays returned negative results, meaning Drummond should avoid a lengthy lay-off, but the player was not entirely sure how to manage the injury.

He said: "What do you do for a toe? I don't know. I'm not really sure what to do. I'm just going to talk to the training staff and find out what's the best thing to do to get back as quick as possible.

"I've lost a toenail before, but this one was very painful.

"You see me looking down at it because I can't even put shoes on. I have flip-flops on right now. It's very, very painful."

Despite his limited minutes, Drummond showed what the Lakers might be able to expect when he can return to the court.

The 27-year-old had four points, two assists, a rebound and a block.

He also missed two free throws - Drummond's career percentage of 46.6 per cent is the worst of all players to attempt 1,000 or more - but felt he had a positive impact overall.

"If you saw the first couple of minutes of the game that I was out there, just the energy defensively that I brought, it kind of boosted everybody on both ends of the court," Drummond said, although his plus/minus was negative eight.

"It's just unfortunate to have this happen to me in my first game. It was a little deflating for me.

"But my head is high, I'm going to take it day by day and come back better than ever."

Coach Frank Vogel, eager not to mull on more fitness problems as the Lakers fell to 30-18, added: "We've got a 'next man up' mentality with this group.

"Obviously we were all excited to see Dre in a Lakers uniform and it didn't play out as long as we wanted."

The Brooklyn Nets are well and truly stacked for a championship run.

If superstars James Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving were not enough, the Nets turned to the buyout market and acquired former All-Stars Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge.

The Nets now boast a combined 41 All-Star appearances on their roster – Durant (11), Harden (nine), Aldridge (seven), Irving (seven), Griffin (six) and DeAndre Jordan (one). On the all-time list, only the Boston Celtics have managed more, across three different teams in 1977-78 (42), 2011-12 (43) and 2010-11 (56).

Jason Collins was part of the franchise, then known as the New Jersey Nets, that reached back-to-back NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003, and he told Stats Perform News: "I know KD and James have played together in the past [with the Oklahoma City Thunder]. Kyrie, at this point, realises this team is something special, especially when you're adding Blake and LaMarcus, and already have DeAndre Jordan.

"All of these guys recognise they are playing for a championship. They might only get one shot, these newer guys who haven't already won. This team reminds of me of the Houston Rockets from a few years ago when they had Chris Paul, who was clicking on all cylinders, and Harden. Then Chris got injured. They had a shot to beat the Golden [State] Warriors that season.

"Now, you see with the Nets – you have these tremendous playmakers. If one goes down or has an off night, oh by the way, you have two other guys who can make plays and for team-mates who are former All-Stars. They have a squad right now. I know Space Jam is coming out soon, maybe we're getting a glimpse at the Monstars."

The foundations were set last season, when Durant – recovering from an Achilles injury that meant he sat out the entire 2019-20 campaign – and Irving made the move to Brooklyn via the Golden State Warriors and Celtics respectively. But the Nets cemented 'superteam' status after trading for former MVP Harden in January.

There were question marks when first-year head coach Steve Nash and the Nets acquired Harden from the Rockets, with the three-time NBA scoring champion, Durant and Irving predominately ballhandlers.

Harden, Durant and Irving, however, have managed to make it work in the small time spent on court together – Durant has been absent since February due to a hamstring injury, having also sat out because of health and safety protocols, while Irving has also missed time this season.

Per 100 possessions, Harden – who has a franchise record-equalling 12 triple-doubles this season – has been averaging 21.1 points, 15.1 assists, 9.4 rebounds and 13.9 field-goal attempts when sharing the court with Durant and Irving.

Durant's numbers read 32.8, 3.5, 9.2 and 23.8, while Irving is averaging 31.3, 5.5, 6.7 and 21.3 at the same time.

Despite the continued absence of former MVP and two-time NBA champion Durant, the Nets have won 19 of their past 22 games to top the Eastern Conference.

Prior to Wednesday's win over the Houston Rockets, the Nets have been leading the NBA in points per game and field goal percentage this season – only the Stephen Curry-led Warriors (2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018) and the Nash-led Suns (2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010) have managed to do that in the last 30 years. As of March 30, the Nets were also leading the league in points.

In terms of effective field-goal percentage, the Nets (57.6 as of March 30) are on pace to set an NBA record, which would eclipse the 2017-18 Warriors (56.9).

"For all the injuries and the games that have been missed by one or all of those superstars, they have been doing great. Especially when you have new talent coming in, new pieces," said Collins, who spent his first seven years in the NBA with the Nets before leaving in 2008 and returning briefly in 2014. "It takes a while. Sometimes it can take half a season and in this shortened season, they're doing great. You have to tip your cap to the players, but the coaches, they are doing an excellent job making sure all the pieces are fitting.

"You're still adding the mix with LaMarcus and Blake. It seems he has found his ability to jump and dunk, it's glad to see his body is responding well. It's pretty obvious to see with this team that they're not necessarily playing for positioning in the regular season, this team is built for the postseason. That is why I think they're being so cautious with KD and his return. My hats off to Kyrie Irving for recognising that he needs to step away from time to time.

"With Harden, in his mind he is the MVP. A lot of people who follow the NBA are recognising the James Harden who started the season with the Houston Rockets, that guy is no longer in the building. The guy in the building in Brooklyn is the guy we have seen for the past several years, who is an MVP candidate."

Harden's 11.2 assists per game this season is on pace to be the most by a player averaging 25.0-plus points since Tiny Archibald averaged 11.4 in 1972-73 (as of March 30). He, Irving and Durant dominate the headlines, but the likes of Joe Harris, Nicolas Claxton, Bruce Brown and Landry Shamet have proved to be an effective support cast in a further sign of frightening depth.

"When you're going to go up against them [Durant, Harden and Irving], you're going to have to leave someone open and it's going to be those other guys. I think Shamet will be huge in the playoffs, Harris also," Collins, the 42-year-old former center, said.

"Just because of reputation, you're going to be hesitant to leave DeAndre Jordan, if you're the center, you know you can't let him get behind because you know it will be a dunk. So, you're afraid to step up and help. With those big three, you're not going to leave them either so it's going to be the others on the guard – a shooter or somebody who is going to get a lot of good looks."

Eyebrows were raised when the Nets appointed two-time MVP Nash to replace Kenny Atkinson ahead of the season, despite his lack of coaching experience.

The Nets were coming off a first-round playoff exit inside the Orlando bubble last season when they handed Hall of Famer Nash his first head coaching role.

But Nash – supported by veteran Mike D'Antoni in Brooklyn – has impressed from the outset, juggling a superstar trio, injuries and the coronavirus pandemic in the pursuit of NBA glory.

An NBA ring eluded Nash during his stellar playing career, but a championship in his first season as head coach would see him follow in the footsteps of Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse (2019), Los Angeles Clippers coach Tyronn Lue (Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016), Warriors counterpart Steve Kerr (2015), Pat Riley (Los Angeles Lakers in 1982) and Paul Westhead (Lakers in 1980) – who are the last five men since 1977 to achieve the feat.

"I think he was thrown into the deep end but as athletes and competitors, you kind of like being thrown into the deep end because that's what you work hard for," Collins said. "He isn't alone, he has great staff and players who have played at the highest level. It's definitely a group effort.

"I have to add, nothing would be possible without ownership. Ownership in the NBA is so important. Joe Lacob has done a phenomenal job with the Golden State Warriors. Also now Joseph Tsai with the Brooklyn Nets. He has told [general manager] Sean Marks, do what you need to do to create this culture and you'll have support. It's just great to see when an organisation, from ownership, to general manager, to team president, head coach, assistant coach and it all falls in line. You're setting yourself up for success."

The Nets have never won a championship since their first NBA season in 1976-77 – a run of 44 consecutive seasons. Byron Scott's team – featuring Jason Kidd, Kenyon Martin and Collins – came close in the early 2000s, but in two appearances in the Finals they were swept by the Lakers and beaten 4-2 by the San Antonio Spurs.

Among active streaks in the league, the Nets have the eighth-longest drought alongside the Denver Nuggets and Indiana Pacers, behind the Sacramento Kings (69). Their rivals, the New York Knicks, have been waiting 47 years.

"The elephant in the room that we're all dealing with [the pandemic]," Collins said. "I can't think of any other part of our country hit harder than New York City. To end this year in the pandemic, if they were to win a championship, it would give so much hope to a lot of people. I lost one of my uncles to COVID recently and he lives in New York. People are still being affected and dying. It would mean a lot just to see the Nets win a championship for the city of New York.

"I think it will be huge if the Nets are able to win. It's all set up because they now have the target on their back with all the All-Stars on their team. Even if they don't get the number one seed, even if they finish at number three or four, which I doubt they will, they will still have the target on their back because they have all those names.

"If they are playing at all cylinders, they have the best chance out of the east. I love what Doc Rivers is doing in Philadelphia and I love the season Joel Embiid was having before injury.

"I'm really looking forward to that Eastern Conference championship between the Nets and 76ers, no disrespect to the others. I think the Nets just have more horses than the other squads."

An emotional Igor Angelovski suggested a sensational win over Germany was comparable to European Championship success for his North Macedonia side.

In the biggest shock of the World Cup qualifying campaign so far, North Macedonia claimed a remarkable 2-1 victory in Duisberg on Wednesday.

North Macedonia are set to make their major tournament debut as an independent nation at Euro 2020 and have now also improbably boosted their Qatar 2022 hopes, sitting above Germany in Group J, three points behind early leaders Armenia.

Angelovski's men had just 30.5 per cent of possession against the 2014 World Cup winners but were clinical when their chances came.

Veteran forward Goran Pandev and midfielder Eljif Elmas scored as North Macedonia registered six goal attempts, of which three were on target.

Germany had 11 efforts but only twice found their aim, as Timo Werner incredibly missed from point-blank range after Ilkay Gundogan's penalty had pulled the hosts back level.

For triumphant head coach Angelovski, the victory was particularly precious as he reflected on a difficult time in his personal life.

"What can I tell you? I can't, out of emotion, out of happiness," he said. "We made the North Macedonians proud and happy. This is like winning the European Championship.

"I came here with these guys because they promised to celebrate. My wife was in the hospital, she had COVID-19 symptoms, luckily she's better now.

"The kids were giving me support. Thank you all. What more can I say? Just to cry."

Unsurprisingly, 37-year-old record goalscorer Pandev - once a Champions League winner with Inter - was picked out for special praise.

He scored with his only shot from his sole touch inside the Germany box but crucially provided an outlet, his average position the furthest forward of any North Macedonia player.

"Pandev is an amazing man, the leader of this team," Angelovski said. "They fought like lions to write the history of their state; I'm proud of these guys."

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