Lionel Messi equalled Barcelona's all-time LaLiga appearances record set by Xavi by starting Saturday's clash with Deportivo Alaves.

It was thought Ronald Koeman might opt to leave Messi out given the importance of Tuesday's Champions League round-of-16 first-leg game against Paris Saint-Germain.

However, given the depleted nature of the Barca squad at the moment, Koeman made the decision to include his captain from the start.

It was Messi's 505th LaLiga appearance for Barca, tying the haul managed by club great Xavi, and the Argentinian could surpass his former team-mate next week at home to Cadiz.

Ilkay Gundogan was integral once more as Manchester City emphatically beat Tottenham 3-0 to seal an 11th straight Premier League victory and move seven points clear at the top.

Pep Guardiola's team have not lost in any competition since a 2-0 defeat in the reverse meeting with Spurs in November, and the juggernaut never looked likely to stop on Saturday.

City scored with their first three attempts on target – Rodri converting a penalty that Gundogan won before the former Borussia Dortmund man stabbed in his 12th goal of 2020-21.

And three days on from their remarkable 5-4 FA Cup defeat to Everton, any lingering comeback hopes Spurs harboured were dashed when Gundogan fooled Davinson Sanchez to slot in his second, though a groin injury for City's talisman did present one cause for concern for Guardiola.

Against the run of play, City would have been behind had Harry Kane's superb free-kick not clattered Ederson's left-hand upright.

But having controlled 74.2 per cent possession in the opening 15 minutes, City were gifted the opportunity to lead when Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg clattered into Gundogan to concede a second penalty in as many games.

With Gundogan making a mess of City's spot-kick at Anfield last week, Rodri took responsibility, though he was fortunate Hugo Lloris failed to keep out a rather unconvincing finish.

Lloris atoned before half-time, denying Gundogan a 10th league goal of the season after Raheem Sterling had got the better of Ben Davies to tee up the Germany international.

Yet the Premier League's top scorer in 2021 did get his eighth goal since the turn of the year five minutes after half-time, prodding home at Lloris' near post after more terrific play from Sterling, though Spurs' goalkeeper should have done better.

While one goalkeeper floundered, the other then turned provider – Ederson's searching pass controlled exquisitely by Gundogan and, with Sanchez slipping and flailing wildly, he finished coolly to round off another supreme City performance.

What does it mean? City storming towards the title

Last week's stunning win at Anfield was what truly signified a shift in power from Liverpool back to the blue half of Manchester, and there seems to be little stopping City now, with Guardiola's team having won 16 games on the bounce in all competitions, since drawing with West Brom on December 15.

Even without the benched Ruben Dias, who has been suffering with illness this week, the hosts were in complete control throughout, and the problems keep mounting for Jose Mourinho, whose side have lost four of their last five league games and sit in eighth, 17 points behind City.

Gundogan in a league of his won

Gundogan has scored 11 Premier League goals this season – the only German players to score more in a single season in the competition are Jurgen Klinsmann (20) and Uwe Rosler (15), both in the 1994-95 campaign.

Indeed, in 2021, he has scored more goals than any other player in Europe's big five leagues, netting nine goals in nine Premier League games. However, he went off holding his groin shortly after making it 3-0, and Guardiola may now be without a player who has been crucial in Kevin De Bruyne's absence.

Lloris making a meal of it

Spurs captain Lloris was at fault for Everton's opener on Wednesday and could have done better for both of City's opening goals this time out, having got a hand to Rodri's penalty before allowing Gundogan's near-post finish to creep under him.

This is the first time a Mourinho-led side has conceded eight goals in a two-game period, and his goalkeeper – who did at least make a smart stop from Sterling late on – is far from blameless.

What's next?

City make the trip to Goodison Park on Wednesday, with Everton their opponents in a match rescheduled from December. Spurs, meanwhile, face Wolfsberger in the Europa League a day later.

Lorenzo Insigne scored his 100th goal for Napoli to earn his side a 1-0 win over Juventus in Saturday's Serie A clash, easing some of the growing pressure on boss Gennaro Gattuso.

Juve had won their last three top-flight games by the same 2-0 scoreline but their title prospects took another dent with defeat to a spirited Napoli side at Estadio Diego Armando Maradona.

Giorgio Chiellini marked his landmark 400th Serie A appearance by giving away a penalty that was put away by Insigne for what proved to be the only goal of the contest.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Alvaro Morata went close to equalising but the visitors, who beat Napoli 2-0 in last month's Supercoppa Italiana, could not find a way through.

Napoli were already without a number of key men and lost first-choice goalkeeper David Ospina to injury in the warm-up, meaning a late call-up to the side for Alex Meret.

The hosts were fortunate to see Federico Bernardeschi balloon a promising chance into the stands but they took the lead 31 minutes in through Insigne's powerful penalty.

Chiellini jumped with his arm and caught Amir Rrahmani in the face, which VAR adjudged was worthy of a spot-kick, and Insigne did not waste the chance to bring up his century.

Juve, who had not conceded in their previous three Serie A games, should have been level early in the second half but Ronaldo fired straight at Meret from close range.

Meret was also equal to Federico Chiesa's drive and Morata had a goal ruled out following another Chiellini foul on Rrahmani in the build-up as Juve continued to press.

A final chance fell Morata's way late on but he could not get the better of inspired Napoli keeper Meret, who produced a fine save with his legs to help his side to a huge win.
 

Louis Rees-Zammit's excellent second try gave Wales a narrow 25-24 bonus-point victory over 14-man Scotland in the Six Nations.

After claiming a first win at Twickenham in 38 years by beating England 11-6 on the opening weekend, Scotland stormed ahead with tries from Darcy Graham and Stuart Hogg on Saturday.

Rees-Zammit went over before half-time and set up Liam Williams to haul Wales back into the game, and they took the lead when Wyn Jones touched down after Zander Fagerson saw red.

Hogg put Scotland back in front despite their numerical disadvantage but a stunning solo effort from Rees-Zammit saw Wales follow up their win over 14-man Ireland last week with another success.

Scotland only conceded six penalties against England but had half that amount inside six minutes, with Leigh Halfpenny splitting the posts after the third.

Finn Russell restored parity and added the extras after Ali Price chipped the ball over the Wales defence for Darcy Graham to dot down in the 18th minute.

The hosts increased their advantage when Halfpenny spilled Hogg's kick over the top and the Scotland full-back took it over the line, but Rees-Zammit reduced the arrears before half-time.

Halfpenny sat out the second half due to a failed HIA and, after Gary Graham had a try ruled out for obstruction, Williams went over in the left corner.

Scotland were reduced to 14 men when Fagerson was dismissed for catching Jones on the head at the breakdown, and the Wales prop made them pay by scoring a third try.

The hosts responded with a sustained spell of pressure in front of the posts that culminated in Hogg evading Owen Watkin and Nick Tompkins to cross.

However, Rees-Zammit showed incredible pace to chase down his own kick and score the decisive points with 10 minutes remaining.

Diego Simeone praised the development of Marcos Llorente after the midfielder helped Atletico Madrid secure a 2-1 victory over Granada. 

Atleti extended their lead at the top of LaLiga to eight points thanks to Angel Correa's deflected winner on Saturday. 

Llorente provided the assist for Correa having opened the scoring himself with a neat finish in the 63rd minute, taking his tally of league goals for the season to seven. 

The 26-year-old – signed primarily to play as a defensive midfielder in 2019 from rivals Real Madrid – scored his first goal for Atleti in a 2-2 draw with Valencia on February 14 last year. 

He has now netted 13 times in all competitions in total for the club, while his tally of 10 league goals since getting off the mark puts him behind only Luis Suarez (16) for Simeone's squad. 

Llorente has averaged a goal every 237 minutes in LaLiga over the last 12 months, as well as providing 10 assists and creating 35 chances. Only Koke, who moved level with Tomas Renones for second place on the list for appearances in all competitions for Atletico, has created more (41).

With his opener against Granada, Llorente became the midfielder in LaLiga with the most direct goal involvements so far this season, so it was hardly surprising when Simeone spoke glowingly of the Spain international's desire to transform himself into an all-round attacking threat. 

"As coaches, titles are wonderful, because they fill you with excitement and glory," Simeone told a news conference. 

"But when you work with a footballer and see his growth reflected, you feel more joy and more enthusiasm to continue advancing in this profession.  

"When we see a footballer with the ability to do different things than what he had been doing in his career, we jump into it. It happened to us with Griezmann, with Saul, with Juanfran. 

"Why is it happening? I would like to look for the images of Marcos training when he was not even playing, when in practice he scored a lot of goals, we joked that he was going to have to play higher [up the pitch]. 

"We put him up front and now I think in the middle is where feels more at ease." 

While Llorente delivered the goods on Saturday, LaLiga's leading scorer Suarez had an off day in front of goal, landing only one of his four attempts on target, though he was unfortunate to hit the crossbar in the second half. 

"We always ask all the boys who have played as strikers in our team for collaboration and effort for the team," Simeone said. 

"Luis, beyond what he generates with his goals, has a lot of intelligence. He knows where to apply pressure, where to bother the rival, generate doubts and we need everyone."

Paris Saint-Germain moved to the Ligue 1 summit as Moise Kean's late goal sealed a 2-1 win over Nice at the Parc des Princes on Saturday. 

Mauricio Pochettino was without the services of Neymar, who is out for a month after suffering an adductor injury in the Coupe de France win over Caen in midweek, but the champions had just enough to seal a sixth consecutive top-flight home win. 

Rony Lopes cancelled out Draxler's 22nd-minute opener early in the second half, but Kean – who scored the winner against Caen – secured maximum points 14 minutes from time. 

The result meant PSG – who visit Barcelona for the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie on Tuesday – leapfrogged Lille at the top of Ligue 1 courtesy of a superior goal difference, although Christophe Galtier's side can reclaim top spot with a point against Brest on Sunday.

The hosts deservedly went ahead midway through the first half when Draxler prodded home his third goal of the season from eight yards after Mauro Icardi's close-range effort had cannoned back off the post. 

Kylian Mbappe should have doubled PSG's advantage shortly before the interval, the France international failing to make contact with Icardi's cross from six yards, while Amine Gouiri thundered over a presentable opportunity at the other end.

Nice pulled level five minutes after the break when Marquinhos' attempted clearance went as far as Lopes, who drove into the penalty area and unleashed a powerful drive that gave Keylor Navas no chance. 

Mbappe fizzed a strike just wide soon after following a swift counter-attacking move, while Gouiri crashed against the crossbar from close range as Nice threatened to pull ahead. 

Kean stretched PSG's unbeaten run at home to Nice to 10 games in the 76th minute, though, heading in from four yards after Icardi had steered Mbappe's cross into his path.

 

Jurgen Klopp admits Liverpool cannot hope to retain their Premier League crown after a late collapse condemned them to a 3-1 defeat at Leicester City.  

Mohamed Salah opened the scoring at the King Power Stadium on Saturday, but the Reds conceded three times in the space of seven crazy minutes. 

The result means Liverpool have lost three in a row in the league for the first time since November 2014 – when current Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers was in charge –and face a real fight to finish in the top four.  

Klopp was not happy with the VAR decision to award the home side’s equaliser, with the direct free-kick from James Maddison initially ruled out for offside, as he acknowledged any title challenge is now over. 

"I don't think we can close that gap this year, to be honest," Klopp – who reached the personal milestone of 300 games in charge of Liverpool - told the media.  

"We have to win football games and big parts of our football was today again really, really good. We have to do it consistently. We have to avoid mistakes; we have to avoid misunderstandings.   

"We cannot avoid mistakes of VAR or stuff like this, but all the rest that is in our hands we have to avoid. Today, in two situations, we didn't do that and that's why they could score two goals. The rest of the football game is really good.   

"Yes, if you win football games maybe you could score today more goals, but that's the steps you have to make. First, you have to perform again; the result is always massively related to the performance.

"We were good enough to win for a long, long period in the game, but not until the end because of a couple of things." 

Asked to confirm he was conceding the title, he replied: "Yes, I can't believe [the question], but yes."

Liverpool have now conceded 32 goals in 24 league games during a turbulent campaign, just one fewer than the entire 2019-20 championship-winning season. 

Next up is a trip to Budapest for the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie against RB Leipzig, followed by the small matter of a Merseyside derby against Everton at Anfield. 

"In the moment it's tough, it's tough, and I know the only way out of the situation is to play good football, to fight, to work hard on these kinds of things," the former Borussia Dortmund boss said. 

"We are still able to do that, and we will keep doing that, we have to do that. Then we will get the results and we will see where we end up.  

"The situation is not easy, that's clear, but it's our situation and how it always is with your own situation, you have to sort it yourself and that's what we will do."

Andy Robertson bemoaned Liverpool's capitulation in their 3-1 loss at Leicester City and acknowledged his side cannot let their alarming slide continue any longer.

The reigning Premier League champions conceded three times in the space of seven minutes late on in Saturday's clash at the King Power Stadium after Mohamed Salah had opened the scoring.

James Maddison equalised for Leicester with a free-kick and Jamie Vardy profited from Alisson's latest howler to put Leicester in front before Harvey Barnes added a third.

Liverpool's third Premier League loss in a row – the first time that has happened since November 2014 under Brendan Rodgers – leaves them hanging on to fourth place.

And left-back Robertson, who started all three of those defeats, admitted his side need to quickly resolve their problems if they are to salvage their season.

"It's a huge blow, you can say that," he told BT Sport. "For large parts of the game we were dominant and then that's not us out there. 

"One setback – we've been so good at bouncing back and staying in the game but we were opened up and we played into their hands. 

"We were 2-1 down with 15 minutes to go but we opened completely up. When that happens against a really good Leicester team you will get punished.

"We played with a lot of confidence for large parts of the game – played the ball really well. Then I don't know what happened in the last 10-15 minutes.

"It can't happen in a game like this. We really need to look at that. Every game is massive for us now. We need to put an end to it."

Liverpool lost 4-1 against Manchester City last weekend, with Alisson at fault for two of the goals, and have now conceded seven times in their last two Premier League games – as many as in their previous 10.

Indeed, Jurgen Klopp's men have now shipped 32 goals in 24 top-flight matches this term, which is just one fewer than they let in throughout the whole of their title-winning 2019-20 campaign.

The defeat came in Klopp's 300th game in charge for Liverpool in all competitions, making him the ninth Reds boss to reach that milestone figure.

England belatedly got their 2021 Six Nations campaign up and running with a routine 41-18 bonus-point win against Italy at Twickenham.

The reigning champions suffered an opening defeat at home to Scotland last week and initially continued their slow start when Monty Ioane broke the deadlock for Italy after just two minutes and 23 seconds.

But Eddie Jones' side recovered over the course of the first half, scoring three times, including through Jonny May's 32nd Test try.

Anthony Watson's second of the match put the result beyond doubt, before Jack Willis touched down on his Six Nations debut, only to later depart with an apparently serious knee injury that put a dampener on the day.

England are the only Six Nations side never to have lost to Italy but were briefly threatened as a smart move from right to left saw Jacopo Trulla send Ioane through to score for the first time for the Azzurri.

Owen Farrell's penalty cut the deficit, however, and England led in the 14th minute when Jonny Hill forced the ball over from close range for his own maiden international try.

The hosts did not immediately pull out of sight and Paolo Garbisi's kick levelled the match, although Watson soon sauntered through a misshapen Italy defence and a spectacular May effort, leaping over Luca Sperandio's tackle and riding the left-sided corner flag, added to England's advantage.

Italy scored first again after the break through Garbisi's penalty, but Watson picked off a slack pass to race away for another try, awarded despite the TMO's interest in a prior Farrell challenge.

The scoring continued when Willis bundled over after a weaving Dan Robson run shortly before he was injured in a ruck, then the sides traded tries as Tomasso Allan ran through the middle for Italy but England responded with Elliot Daly in the clear on the left.

Atletico Madrid got their LaLiga title tilt back on track as Angel Correa's fortunate goal secured a hard-fought 2-1 win over Granada.

Diego Simeone's team saw an eight-match winning streak in the league come to an end when they were pegged back by Celta Vigo on Monday.

Real Madrid and Barcelona looked to be getting another favour when Granada substitute Yangel Herrera cancelled out Marcos Llorente's 63rd-minute opener on Saturday.

The unusually profligate Luis Suarez had gone close to breaking the deadlock numerous times, hitting the crossbar and finding Rui Silva in fine form, but a fifth successive away win seemed set to evade Atleti.

However, a huge slice of luck went Atleti's way when Correa's strike deflected in off Jesus Vallejo to settle the contest and move the visitors eight points clear.

Correa let Granada off the hook when he poked a one-v-one straight at Silva, before German Sanchez headed Granada's first opportunity wide.

Geoffrey Kondogbia's surging run resulted in an opening for Suarez three minutes later, but LaLiga's leading scorer could not generate enough curl to pick out the far corner.

Kondogbia and Suarez combined again 30 minutes in, yet Silva was equal to the latter's powerful effort, with Granada's goalkeeper denying Atleti's number nine again soon after.

Suarez went closer after the restart – a half-volley clipping away off the bar.

Another opportunity fell Suarez's way before the hour, but the former Barca star could not take the ball under control in the six-yard box.

Llorente finally found the opener when he drilled in from the edge of the box for his seventh league goal of 2020-21, but despite creating little of note, Granada snatched a swift equaliser three minutes later as Atleti failed to clear a corner and Herrera's effort deflected beyond Jan Oblak.

Yet Atleti had a deflection go in their favour 16 minutes from time, Silva helpless to prevent Correa's shot from looping in after Vallejo's attempted block.

Zinedine Zidane says coaching France remains a career goal of his but remains confident Real Madrid can achieve "great things" this season.

The Madrid boss has seen his position come under scrutiny this season after some high-profile defeats, but he thinks success in LaLiga and the Champions League remains possible.

Zidane has regularly been linked with managing his native France, with incumbent head coach Didier Deschamps recently tipping him to succeed him in the role.

French Football Federation president Noel Le Graet, meanwhile, has said Zidane would be the first person he would call should he ever need to replace Deschamps.

Ahead of Madrid's home match with Valencia on Sunday, Zidane was open about his aspirations.

"I am passionate about football and you never know about the future," he said.

"My relationship with Mr Le Graet is long, since 1998.

"The national team is a goal, like I said when I started coaching 10 years ago, but now I'm here.

"We will see. My mind is here. I am at Madrid and I enjoy every day."

Zidane added: "We know the pressure that comes with representing Real Madrid. We do our own thing, what we can control.

"We know we can achieve great things and we are going to put all our energy into these two [remaining] competitions."

Madrid are eyeing a fourth win in five matches when they host mid-table Valencia.

But after winning the reverse fixture 4-1, Valencia are looking to complete a league double over Madrid for the first time since 1967-68 season.

To do that, they will need to end a long streak.

Madrid have avoided defeat in their past 12 home LaLiga games against Valencia (seven wins and five draws) since a 3-2 loss in March 2008, and they have scored at least two goals in nine of them.

Rohit Sharma hit a brilliant 161 to help India overcome a difficult start to the second Test against England, the hosts eventually ending the opening day on 300-6 in Chennai. 

Opener Rohit combined with vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane (67) to put on a crucial 162-run partnership for the fourth wicket on a pitch offering considerable help for the spinners from the outset.  

Having so impressively won the opener in the four-match series at the MA Chidambaram Stadium, England seized early control at the same venue when reducing their opponents to 86-3.  

Moeen Ali marked his recall to the XI with the prized wicket of Virat Kohli – who was bowled for a duck – as a much-changed attack prospered in the first session after losing the toss. 

Olly Stone struck with just his third delivery, Shubman Gill paying for his decision not to offer a stroke as he was dismissed lbw, stunning those India fans inside the ground as part of a reduced crowd allowed to attend amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

Cheteshwar Pujara made 21 before steering Jack Leach (2-78) to Ben Stokes at slip, while Kohli was left stunned in the next over when Moeen turned one prodigiously through between bat and pad to bowl the India skipper before he had a run to his name.

However, the stand between Rohit and Rahane put the tourists on the back foot. Even when the former eventually fell, sweeping Leach out to Moeen in the deep, India were already on course for a useful first-innings total, considering the conditions.  

Rahane departed soon after, bowled by Moeen when trying an ambitious sweep shot of his own, while England captain Joe Root claimed the wicket of Ravichandran Ashwin (13). 

Still, Rishabh Pant carried India to 300 in the final over and will resume on day two on 33 not out. He will have Axar Patel for company, the Test debutant reaching the close unbeaten on five.

Mixed fortunes for Moeen 

England made the tough call to drop Dom Bess despite the off-spinner taking 17 Test wickets in 2021 at an average of 22.20. Root explained the decision was down to a lack of consistency, having only bowled eight overs in India's second innings in the previous game. 

His replacement, however, was by no means more economical. Moeen reached an unwanted century as he finished Saturday's play with figures of 2-112 from his 26 overs, though he did of course dismiss Kohli.

Home comforts for Rohit

Rohit passed 150 for the fourth time in Test cricket, while all of his centuries in the format have come on home soil. This, however, was his first at Chennai.

On a slow, worn surface, the right-hander went along at an impressive scoring rate of 69.70 runs per 100 deliveries, hitting 18 fours and a pair of sixes. In the end, England needed help from the batsman to see the back of him.

James Harden has apologised for the "drama" surrounding his exit from the Houston Rockets and wishes his trade to the Brookyln Nets could have been a smoother process.

Former NBA MVP Harden was moved to the Nets one month ago after playing more than eight seasons with Houston.

He joined Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in a star-studded roster, having played eight games early in the season with the Rockets.

Harden's desire to seek a trade had been public knowledge since the offseason but a drawn-out process followed until the 31-year-old was traded after a 17-point loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.

After that game Harden called the situation "crazy" and "something that I don't think can be fixed".

Harden was happy the Rockets ultimately granted his wish to move to Brooklyn, but regrets the acrimonious nature of his departure.

"Apologise for how it went down, but I guess I had to do what I had to do in order to get to where I wanted to go," Harden said to ESPN.

"And credit to Houston, they didn't necessarily have to trade me to Brooklyn. They could have traded me anywhere, but those are some stand-up guys over there. 

"And it ended up the right way, but just didn't like how that month or two played out."

Harden insists the circumstances of the weeks leading up to his Rockets exit did not provide a fair reflection of his character.

He added: "I don't like it at all because that's not who I am. The drama, the extra whatever you want to call it, the negativity for me. 

"I don't really like negative energy. That's draining. So I don't like how it necessarily happened.

"The front office knew where I stood and what I wanted. I feel like it could have happened a lot smoother, a lot easier, but it is what it is."

The Nets are 15-12, third in the Eastern Conference, ahead of Saturday's big game at the Golden State Warriors (14-12).

Harden leads the league with 11.0 assists per game in 2020-21, though his scoring average sits at 23.9 points, lower than what he recorded in any of his full seasons with the Rockets.

Bruno Fernandes has urged Manchester United's emerging stars to seize their moment as they seek to make an impression at Old Trafford.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer confirmed ahead of Sunday's trip to West Brom that teenage trio Shola Shoretire, Hannibal Mejbr and Amad Diallo would all be involved with the senior side.

Fernandes has been a leading light for United this season, helping to propel the Red Devils into possible Premier League title contention.

The Portuguese playmaker hopes the injection of youth into the United first-team fold will provide a boost, though he urged those making the step up to work hard and stay humble.

"They have to keep their heads clean, because it's easy to come in to the first team and your head goes a little bit, and it's also hard when you have to go back and train and play with the other teams again," he told the club's official website.

"I was in that position some years ago and I know it's hard, but if you work and are humble and you understand that every time you play is a chance, no matter where you are playing, every time is a chance to show you are ready or that you want to make that next step.

"For us as a team, it’s important that when they come [to train with us] that they come to help us and learn from everyone and also give the qualities they have to the team.

"If they come to the first team it's because they have something good and that is something that can help us."

We took a closer look at two of United's most promising prospects, in Mejbri and Shoretire.

 

HANNIBAL MEJBRI, 18 – ATTACKING MIDFIELDER

Many will have had an eye on Mejbri's development ever since he joined the club from Monaco in August 2019 in a deal that could potentially cost €10million (£8.75m).

A France youth international, Mejbri quickly progressed to United's Under-23s last term despite only being 17 and has become a regular.

A technically gifted attack-minded midfielder, Mejbri has impressed not only with his ability on the ball, but his knack of crafting opportunities for team-mates.

In Premier League 2 Division One, his 42 chances created in 13 games is more than any other player, while his six assists is a joint-best for the league.

He has combined his creativity and comfort in possession to good effect as well, as evidenced by the fact seven of his carries (a movement of more than five metres with the ball) have led to chances created, a figured bettered by only five.

Mejbri has also attempted 49 dribbles, the fourth-most in the division, and won a remarkable 94 fouls – almost three times as many as anyone else – two of which secured penalties in the recent 6-3 win over Liverpool's Under-23s.

In fact, Wood recently urged referees to do more to protect him from such rough treatment, concerned Mejbri will suffer a serious injury if it continues.

He can expect similar attention if he does get minutes in the top flight, though Wood is adamant Mejbri does not let it get to him, saying: "I think he's the type that he wants the ball all the time, he's not going to shy away from it and that's what we want, you don't want your top players being worried, he just needs a bit of protection or it could result in him being badly injured."

SHOLA SHORETIRE, 17 – FORWARD

Shoretire joined the United academy in 2014 having previously played for Newcastle United, and for several years now he has looked like one of the next high-potential kids to come off the Old Trafford production line.

He made his debut for the club's Under-18s in 2018, in doing so becoming the youngest player to ever feature in UEFA's Youth League at 14 years and 314 days.

Shoretire – whose name is pronounced 'Shor-ay-ti-reh' – is most-often used as a winger (on either flank) for the Under-23s, but given his excellent dribbling, vision and finishing abilities, he could potentially have a future as a more central striker.

He signed his first professional contract on Monday, just three days after netting a hat-trick against Blackburn Rovers' Under-23s.

That took him to five goals in 13 appearances this term, while he also has four assists from 22 chances created.

Where he comes out particularly well is with regards to goal-ending passing sequences, of which he has been involved in 13 – only Mejbri (14) has a better record here.

Like Mejbri, Shoretire also has a penchant for taking the game to his opponents, as showcased by the fact he has created eight chances at the end of ball carries, the fifth-most in the league.

Given United's packed schedule over the next few weeks, with their European campaign set to resume, it wouldn't be a surprise to see these two make their first-team bows.

Even if they don't this season, it is surely only a matter of time.

Ash Barty battled back to win both sets against Ekaterina Alexandrova and book a place in the fourth round of the Australian Open. 

The world number one triumphed 6-2 6-4 after one hour and 21 minutes on court, though there was no crowd present to cheer on the home favourite due to the five-day lockdown in place in Victoria. 

Barty admitted that, with fans having been allowed into Melbourne Park earlier in the tournament, there was a different – if not completely unpleasant – atmosphere to proceedings in the evening session on Margaret Court Arena.

"It's very strange, it changes the sound of the court a little bit," the Australian – who played with her left thigh heavily strapped having pulled out of doubles duty on Friday – said during her on-court interview.

"I love the crowd, but I love the sound the ball makes. It feels a bit like practice."

Barty lost her opening service game as she quickly fell 2-0 behind at the start of the contest, though she hit back impressively to take the opener against the 29th seed.

The 2019 French Open champion claimed six successive games, hitting just five winners as the policy of keeping the ball in play paid off thanks to 16 unforced errors from her opponent. 

Alexandrova was more consistent in the second set, leading to a break of serve that she quickly consolidated to make the score 4-2. 

However, the Russian was unable to cling on to her advantage and, when serving to stay in the match, let slip two opportunities to extend proceedings. Barty will next face Shelby Rogers, who knocked out 21st seed Anett Kontaveit in straight sets.

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