It may not have been the electrifying classic some might have anticipated given the pre-match hysteria, but Eintracht Frankfurt won't care even a little.

Forty-two years after their last success on the European stage, Die Adler are Europa League champions; defeating Rangers on penalties in Seville after a 1-1 draw that saw both teams show a degree of desperation not to lose, rather than to win.

It's easy to understand that mentality as well. Eintracht's decades of underachievement may not have crippled them, but there was a sense it was playing on their minds.

Yet, ultimately it was they who held their nerve in the crucial penalty shootout – Aaron Ramsey's missed spot-kick prolonging Rangers' own European trophy dry spell.

In that regard, it didn't really matter which way the contest went – either way, one club was going to enjoy one of the all-time great nights in their history.

Neither had won a European trophy since Eintracht were victorious in the old UEFA Cup in 1980. Eight years before that, Rangers won the Cup Winners' Cup.

The Europa League may be looked down upon by some, but such barren runs and the generally surprising fact either team made it so far was what helped this contest resonate with so many.

And the Europa League's ability to inspire dreams of European success in fans who without it would likely never enjoy such a continental triumph is the true ethos of the competition.

Local police estimated 150,000 supporters were in Seville for the game, which was seemingly dubbed the 'fans' final'.

It was undoubtedly an apt moniker given the unequivocal impact the two sets of supporters have had on the teams' respective routes to Seville. Rangers had the 'Ibrox factor'; Eintracht turned the Camp Nou into a sea of white.

At times during the early stages on Wednesday, it felt as if Rangers were trying to stay afloat in a similar expanse of whiteness, such was the greater composure of Eintracht almost all over the pitch.

Eintracht were more effective with clever steals of possession and appeared to have considerably greater confidence receiving the ball under pressure, allowing quick transitions through the lines.

Chances flowed at first. Daichi Kamada danced through the Rangers defence and forced a point-blank save from Allan McGregor; Djibril Sow brought a stop from 20 yards on the rebound; and Ansgar Knauff looked destined to score after driving into the box.

But as Rafael Borre struggled to impose himself physically up top against what coach Oliver Glasner on Tuesday described as a "robust" Rangers, Eintracht's bizarre persistence to smash the ball long to him started to work against them.

This perhaps went some way to explaining how Frankfurt completed just seven passes to their opponents' 54 in the attacking half between the 22nd and 43rd minutes.

The Scots' confidence visibly grew as their grip on the contest improved.

Joe Aribo curled just wide. Ryan Jack drilled just over. Clear-cut chances they may not have been, but they were notable evidence of having settled after a shaky start.

An Eintracht flurry just after the interval promised greater entertainment, but the Bundesliga side showed no desire to heed the warnings of their only major area of concern, and it proved their undoing.

Borre was once again comfortably beaten in the air as Kevin Trapp hoofed the ball aimlessly up the pitch. Calvin Bassey's header was flicked on by Sow and Aribo took full advantage of Tuta pulling up injured to slide beyond the goalkeeper.

It's unclear if Eintracht reverted to type – by focusing on wing play – as a result of the shock of conceding, but it worked, with Borre finally allowed to showcase his best attribute: movement.

Filip Kostic played 140 more corners/crosses (519) than any other player from the top five European leagues this season before Wednesday, but this was arguably the sweetest.

Played low into the 'corridor of uncertainty', the Rangers defence didn't know what to do and Borre nipped in front of his marker to prod home.

As early as that point in the 69th minute, penalties appeared the most-likely outcome in the sweltering – even at 23:00 local time – conditions, though Rangers certainly did their best to ensure that wasn't the case, with Ryan Kent and James Tavernier almost nicking the win right near the end of extra-time.

From there, it came down to composure. Perhaps, given the way they eased into the game itself a little better, we shouldn't be surprised Eintracht prevailed even in the face of thousands of Rangers fans, with each one of their five penalties brilliantly precise.

Ramsey looked to the floor as Eintracht players, staff and officials swarmed onto the pitch in the wake of Borre's decisive kick.

Rangers' tale of rebirth has already been an extraordinary one. Ten years after finding themselves back at the bottom of the pile in Scottish football, they were in a second European final of the century.

But for a club deemed the third-biggest in Germany by virtue of support, it was high time a European trophy made its way back to Frankfurt.

In a pre-match news conference lacking much talk of the opposition, there was one question that stood out in that regard ahead of Rangers' Europa League final clash with Eintracht Frankfurt.

Gers captain James Tavernier was pointedly asked for his opinion on Eintracht wing-back Filip Kostic, given the pair are likely to see a lot of each other on the flank they'll share.

"Obviously I respect how he's been playing, he's a top player," Tavernier said. "But, I've just got to bring the best version of myself when the game starts and try to cause him all the problems, try to make him deal with me for the majority of the game. That's all I can really do."

Tavernier's response didn't offer any particularly great insight, but his mentality of wanting to cause Kostic as many problems was at least another identifier of how their duel could be such a key battle.

Of course, it's worth pointing out that Tavernier, a right-back, remarkably heads into Wednesday's game as the Europa League's top scorer on seven goals, and realistically – or, unrealistically – only a hat-trick from Eintracht's Daichi Kamada can prevent the Englishman from at least ending the season with a share of the competition's golden boot.

Further to that, he netted 19 times over the course of the 2020-21 season and could yet match that figure this term – he also has an impressive assists haul of 17.

If it needs reiterating, he's a huge contributor for Rangers in the final third.

So, given he's technically a right-back, there's obviously an element of Tavernier needing to be solid defensively on Wednesday, but some might suggest it's even more essential he's as sharp as ever going forward as that would not only give Rangers a credible threat on the right, but it would potentially keep Kostic occupied in a deeper position.

Granted, Eintracht's set-up with a back three should always ensure they have an extra man to cover for Kostic's runs forward, while the two attacking midfielders supporting Rafael Borre up top often occupy narrow, deeper berths in order to maximise the space out wide for their biggest threat.

Yet there's always the possibility of an overload in behind Kostic if the conditions are right, such is his attacking influence.

 

After all, the frequency at which Kostic delivers into the box is frankly astonishing. This season, he has been the executor of 519 crosses and corners, 140 more than any other player in the top five leagues – Trent Alexander-Arnold is second with 379.

Kostic's 78 successful crosses from open play is also a season-high. Of course, you would expect him to lead the way given he's attempted so many more than anyone else, but his 26.8 per cent accuracy (crosses/corners) is right in line with the average (among players with at least 100 attempted). That in itself is impressive given his greater frequency.

Another way of looking at it is, he is producing one accurate open-play cross every 45.4 minutes. While that may not sound incredible on the face of it, his 12.4 expected assists (xA) is the 10th highest among players in the top five leagues, highlighting just how much of a weapon he is in terms of his creative quality.

So, while he may be classed as a wing-back in terms of his position on a team line-up graphic, the Serbian is there for his attacking tendencies.

A cursory glance at his map of open-play chances created proves that point.

 

But Rangers must also be aware of the danger posed on the opposite flank.

Ansgar Knauff has been one of the stars of Eintracht's journey to the final, with the 20-year-old becoming something of a revelation in the past few months.

As recently as mid-January he was turning out for Borussia Dortmund's second team in the third tier. Then he joined Eintracht on loan and has since scored important Europa League goals against Barcelona and West Ham.

His impact on the road to Seville has been significant, with his brilliant athleticism, bravery and confidence on the ball making him a real asset on the right-hand side.

Before Knauff's arrival, Eintracht were rather lopsided, with their other options on the right far from convincing. Sure, Kostic remains their main outlet, but Knauff's emergence has provided them with another – albeit stylistically different – threat on the other side, giving them greater balance.

 

Across all competitions since his Eintracht debut in early February, only Kostic (5.6) and Jesper Lindstrom (2.6) have amassed better xA records than Knauff, who is also fifth to those two, Borre and Kamada in terms of xA and xG (expected goals) combined.

He may not be their deadliest weapon, but he's proven he can offer them a lot, and his team-high 61 dribble attempts in that period proves he's happy to make his markers work for their money.

Oliver Glasner's team is full of neat, technical players and is also blessed with fine work ethic, as it would need to be to play their high-pressing football.

But their width and desire to attack from the flanks is fundamental to how they play – while it may be easier said than done, limiting their effectiveness out wide would go a long way to ending Rangers' 50-year European trophy drought.

While quarterback-needy teams grappled with the decision over whether to bet on a member of an underwhelming 2022 draft class at the position, those teams who were astute enough to select a signal-caller from the loaded 2021 class spent their offseasons attempting to stack the deck around the player they handpicked as the future of the franchise.

The 2022 season will be a significant one for Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, Justin Fields and Mac Jones, with questions sure to be asked of the five first-round picks if they do not show signs of vindicating their respective franchises for selecting them last year.

Jones arguably already proved himself as the most pro-ready QB of the quintet in an impressive rookie campaign, but 2022 may well reveal how high the ceiling is for the least physically gifted of the bunch. The rest are all aiming to prove they have the skill sets to join the league's expanding and increasingly youthful elite at the NFL's most important position. 

Indeed, the first four quarterbacks off the board in 2021 were all regarded as players with the potential to elevate those around them and take their offenses to new heights. But a quarterback, regardless of his athletic and mental gifts, cannot do it all himself. So who among the 2021 first-rounders has the best supporting cast to help them excel?

To help us answer that question, we at Stats Perform have gone back to look at our post-free agency positional unit baselines that inform our team rankings.

The baselines were produced for seven different units: quarterback, pass blocking, run blocking, route runners/pass catchers, pass rush, run defense and pass defense. The units are comprised of projected playing time for players on the roster combined with the player baselines linked to each of those units.

An individual player has a year-over-year baseline for a unit input (i.e. pass blocking for a team's projected left tackle). His baseline is combined with those of his team-mates and then adjusted for the importance of the position to that unit to produce an overall unit baseline.

The six non-quarterback baselines, plus a look at some of the moves made in the draft by each quarterback's respective team, provide a picture that reveals which of the second-year signal-callers have the talent around them to thrive.

5. Justin Fields, Chicago Bears

Even though the numbers are not impressive, there were clear flashes of promise in Fields' rookie season with the Bears.

While he only finished with a 70.9 well-thrown percentage – seven percentage points below the average for quarterbacks with at least 50 throws – and had a pickable pass rate of 5.36 per cent that was the eighth-worst among that group, Fields did display the upside that led the Bears to trade up for him.

Only two quarterbacks averaged more air yards per attempt than Fields' 10.02 and his three passing plays of 50 yards or more were the most of all rookie quarterbacks and as many as Josh Allen and Justin Herbert managed all season.

You would think, therefore, that the Bears' focus this offseason would be on giving Fields the weapons to produce further explosive plays in 2022. Not so, the Bears waited until the third round to add a wide receiver in the draft – 25-year-old return specialist Velus Jones Jr.

The Bears' reluctance to add to a group of pass-catchers that prior to the draft had the sixth-lowest unit baseline in the NFL hardly suggests at a sophomore surge for Fields in 2022.

And with Chicago's offensive line among the worst in the league for pass protection and run-blocking baseline and its defense in the bottom six for pass defense and bottom three for pass rush, it appears likely to be another year when Fields is swimming against a tide engineered by his own franchise.

4. Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars

Simply having an adult in the room with experience of winning at the NFL level should help Lawrence's cause, with Doug Pederson a substantial improvement on Urban Meyer as head coach.

As is the case with Fields in Chicago, Pederson will hope Lwrence can build on last season's flashes of the talent that led some to label him as the best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck in 2012. Lawrence's well-thrown percentage of 76.3 was significantly better than that of Fields, but his 26 pickable passes were the fourth-most in the league.

Unlike the Bears, the Jags invested heavily in getting Lawrence receiving help, doing so in a bemusing manner as they threw eye-watering amounts of money at players who fit best as secondary targets rather than as the leading receiver for a player dubbed a 'generational' quarterback prospect.

Indeed, the lucrative deals handed out to the likes of Christian Kirk and Zay Jones only put them 20th in pass-catching unit baseline prior to the draft. The hope will be that Kirk, who was seventh among receivers with at least 100 targets with a big-play rate of 35.6 per cent last year, can help Lawrence generate more explosives in year two.

And while much of the Jags' roster still reeks of mediocrity, an offensive line that ranked fourth in pass-block win rate in 2021 may give him the time to help justify the Jags' belief in Kirk and Lawrence's other new weapons.

3. Zach Wilson, New York Jets

The Jets received almost universal praise for their draft, acquiring cornerback Sauce Gardner, wide receiver Garrett Wilson and edge rusher Jermaine Johnson II in the first round before then adding the consensus top running back in the class – Iowa State's Breece Hall – in the second.

Their roster looks in significantly better shape than it did at the end of the 2021 campaign, but the Jets were working from a pretty low starting point.

Coming out of free agency, only six teams had a lower unit baseline among their pass-catchers than the Jets, whose offensive line was in the bottom half of the league in pass protection baseline and in the run-blocking baseline.

Johnson's arrival and the return of fellow edge rusher Carl Lawson from injury should provide a clear boost to a pass rush that was fourth in unit baseline last year while a secondary that exited free agency just outside the top 10 in pass defense baseline appears much better equipped to provide support to Wilson and the offense.

However, Wilson had the worst well-thrown percentage (66.6) of any rookie quarterback last season, with Fields (5.36) and fellow rookie Davis Mills (5.56) the only two quarterbacks with at least 200 attempts to have a higher pickable pass rate than Wilson's 5.21 per cent.

The Jets are relying on Mekhi Becton to get healthy and play a full season at left tackle and, though they have some more established options at tight end and receiver, are also putting a lot on a rookie receiver in likely leaning heavily on Garrett Wilson to elevate his second-year quarterback.

It has been a successful offseason for the Jets, but a lot needs to happen for their hopes of a second-year leap for team and quarterback to come to fruition.

2. Mac Jones, New England Patriots

Were it not for the outstanding season enjoyed by Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase, Jones may well have won NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

The outstanding accuracy Jones demonstrated at Alabama translated to the pros, Jones producing a well-thrown ball on 80.1 per cent of attempts. He achieved that feat while averaging more air yards per attempt (8.11) than both Lawrence and Wilson, yet there is reason for trepidation around thoughts of him progressing significantly in his second year.

Jones' passer rating on throws of 21 or more air yards was 65.4 – 31st among the 41 quarterbacks to attempt at least 10, illustrating the limited ceiling of a quarterback whose arm is not on the level of his fellow 2021 first-rounders.

Yet Jones does have the benefit of one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. After free agency, the Patriots' O-Line was tied for sixth in pass protection unit baseline and fifth in run blocking baseline.

They replaced guard Shaq Mason, who was surprisingly traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, by making the similarly eyebrow-raising move of selecting Chattanooga guard Cole Strange in the first round of the draft. Strange's arrival should solidify the interior of the line and allow the Patriots to stick to a formula of leaning on the run game to take the pressure off Jones.

New England's receiving corps is at best uninspiring and the Patriots' failure to address a depleted secondary may prohibit playoff aspirations, but the strength in the trenches means Jones is in a better position to achieve short-term success than most of his second-year contemporaries.

1. Trey Lance, San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers are set to step into the unknown in 2021, with all signs pointing to Lance playing his first full season since his lone campaign as the starting quarterback at North Dakota State in 2019 despite Jimmy Garoppolo's continued presence on the roster.

Handing the keys to an offense that was in the NFC championship Game over to a quarterback with only two career starts to his name represents a substantial risk, but it is a risk the Niners are in an excellent position to take.

While there remains no sign of the impasse between San Francisco and All-Pro wide receiver Deebo Samuel coming to an end, the Niners left free agency with a group of pass-catchers ranked sixth in the league in unit baseline. They added to that group in the draft by selecting SMU speedster Danny Gray in the third round.

San Francisco's pass defense was also in the top half of the league in that regard going into the draft, while its pass rush was third in unit baseline and could have an even higher ceiling in 2022 if Drake Jackson adapts quickly to the pros. The Niners' second-round pick registered a pressure rate of 24.2 that was the fifth-best among edge rushers in this draft class in 2021.

The Niners ranked in the top 10 in pass block win rate and seventh in run block win rate last season, yet their biggest issue may be maintaining that standard after losing left guard Laken Tomlinson to the Jets amid doubts over whether center Alex Mack would retire.

Lance could, therefore, be playing behind a largely inexperienced O-Line this coming season. However, the data from his small sample size last year hinted at him having what it takes to elevate those around him. He averaged 10.10 air yards per attempt – the second-most in the NFL – and no player to average at least 9.0 air yards had a better well-thrown percentage than Lance's 77.1.

His challenge will be to maintain that combination of aggression and accuracy over the course of a full season.

If the Niners can come to an understanding with Samuel, Lance will have one of the most versatile weapons in the NFL to help him build on those encouraging flashes. He'll also benefit from the support of a stout defense built on the strength of its front and a diverse running game that will likely grow even more varied with him under center.

The trump card for Lance is head coach Kyle Shanahan, who is arguably the pre-eminent offensive mind of the modern NFL. Between the talent on both sides of the ball and Shanahan's ability to draw up a running game and put receivers in space, the Niners are a high-floor, high ceiling team.

There may be doubts about Lance, but there should be no doubt he is the quarterback in the best situation to silence those concerns.

Wednesday's Europa League final is set to attract over 150,000 Eintracht Frankfurt and Rangers fans to Seville, despite well under a third of that total having tickets.

With neither club having won a continental trophy since Eintracht lifted the UEFA Cup in 1980, this final has truly captured the imagination of supporters who certainly wouldn't have had grand expectations of getting this far.

But for Rangers especially, there's an air of destiny about their journey to the final – or, more specifically, host city Seville.

While perhaps not obvious, Scottish football can claim several football links to Andalusia's capital.

Perhaps Rangers' passage – and potential victory – were meant to be…

Sevilla's Scottish roots

These links go back as far as 1890, when a group of British men in Seville celebrated Burns Night by founding Club de Football de Sevilla.

Edward Farguharson Johnston of Elgin and Hugh MacColl, from Glasgow, were among the club's founders, with the latter appointed as Sevilla's first ever captain.

Sevilla's founding and debut match were first described in The Dundee Courier six weeks after that fateful Burns Night, with Recreativo Huelva their opponents in the first official match ever played in Spain on March 8, 1890. Sevilla won 2-0.

While Recreativo were Spain's first sports club, the match against Sevilla makes Los Nervionenses – whose Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan stadium provides the setting for Wednesday's final – the oldest club dedicated solely to football in the country.

And it's partly thanks to a Glaswegian.

Betis' homage to Celtic

A Spanish man named Manuel Asensio Ramos studied in Scotland as a young adult, taking on Celtic as his adopted club while he was there.

He later returned home to Spain and became one of the founding members of Real Betis, who subsequently donned green and white stripes as a tribute to Celtic from 1911.

Celtic had changed to their famous hoops eight years earlier, but the link was set in history.

Five years ago, Betis briefly switched to hoops for a match against Malaga to celebrate Andalusia Day, with Celtic communicating their delight at the club choosing "to wear the hoops for their special day".

The Bhoys from Seville

Of course, 2022 isn't the first time one of the Glasgow giants has been in Seville for a European final.

Nineteen years ago, Celtic reached the UEFA Cup final, facing Jose Mourinho's Porto at the Estadio La Cartuja on the outskirts of the city – that is also the location of Rangers' 'fan zone' this week.

'The Bhoys from Seville' was the nickname bestowed upon Celtic for the trip, with the tag a pun on their 'the Boys from Brazil' moniker.

Celtic ultimately lost 3-2 via the silver goal rule in extra time, but the occasion is still widely remembered fondly by the club and supporters, 80,000 of whom were said to be in Seville for the festivities.

Fans of the club were widely commended for their behaviour in the city, with UEFA and FIFA later awarding them Fair Play Awards.

Glasgow returns the favour

Four years after Seville played host to Celtic, Glasgow welcome Sevilla and Espanyol for the 2007 UEFA Cup final.

Hampden Park was the location of Sevilla's second successive triumph in the competition, beating their LaLiga rivals 3-1 on penalties after a gripping 2-2 draw over 120 minutes.

Despite Celtic's links to Betis, it was widely felt by Sevilla fans in attendance that Bhoys supporters were cheering on Los Nervionenses, while Rangers aficionados adopted Espanyol as their team.

Dani Alves was the only Sevilla player to miss his penalty, while Andres Palop in the Andalusians' net made three vital saves.

James Tavernier's first Europa League run appeared likely to be his last.

The right-back finally got his chance at Newcastle United in 2012-13 as Alan Pardew's first-team squad was stretched to breaking point.

However, Tavernier's chance equated to just eight appearances and five starts in all competitions, utilised right across the defence. He played 301 minutes in Europe (including qualifiers) but looked a little out of his depth.

By the time Newcastle reached the quarter-finals of the competition, Tavernier had played his last game for the club.

The following season brought the fifth and sixth loan moves of his career – all to League One or below. A permanent transfer to Wigan Athletic followed, but Tavernier was soon back out on loan again – to League One again.

This underwhelming sequence of temporary moves to the third tier for a player once seen as a potential Premier League starter was interrupted then by Rangers. Heading to the Scottish Championship, it would have taken incredible foresight to even imagine how Tavernier's career might be transformed.

Newcastle may not have had another European campaign in the past nine years, but Tavernier has enjoyed five – and now, in Seville, a final.

The right-back goal machine

Rangers hoped for goals when they struck a deal with Wigan to bring Martyn Waghorn and Tavernier to Ibrox in 2015. Waghorn delivered in the club's promotion campaign, scoring 28 times in all competitions, but Rangers surely could not have anticipated Tavernier would also chip in with 15.

While Waghorn is long gone, having not performed at quite the same level on Rangers' return to the top tier, Tavernier has since maintained his staggering standard. In 345 Rangers appearances, the defender has scored 83 goals.

This season, Tavernier has scored 18 goals and assisted a further 16 for 34 goal involvements.

Having either scored or assisted every 147 minutes on average in 2021-22, Tavernier is operating in the same sort of range as Rafael Leao (141), Dejan Kulusevski (144), Luis Suarez (153) and, incredibly, Sadio Mane (157).

Nahuel Molina, the highest-scoring defender in Europe's top five leagues, has scored just eight times, while even Trent Alexander-Arnold's leading goal involvements tally of 20 is dwarfed by the man playing north of the border.

Tavernier's status as Rangers' penalty taker boosts his numbers, of course, but he still has six goals and 22 goal involvements discounting his dozen efforts from 12 yards.

The standard of the competition in Scotland might also be counted against Tavernier, yet his 16 European appearances alone have yielded seven goals (three non-penalty goals), three assists and 10 goal involvements – again at a rate of one every 147 minutes.

Top marksman with Morelos missing

Tavernier's first goal involvement of this European campaign saw the Rangers captain lift a pass in behind the Alashkert defence for Alfredo Morelos to score what proved to be the decisive goal of their Europa League play-off, getting the then Scottish champions back on track after Champions League qualifying heartbreak.

Wednesday's final against Eintracht Frankfurt would not have been possible without that August example of this most effective assister-scorer combination.

Unfortunately, Rangers will not be able to rely on that link-up again this week, with Morelos ruled out for the season when he underwent thigh surgery last month, seemingly dealing a sizeable blow to his side's hopes of European glory.

Morelos, with 29 goals, is Rangers' all-time leading European marksman, while he this season also became their top scorer discounting qualifiers as he brought his total to 15.

"It is a big blow to us, because he is our striker and we now don't have him any more this season, so we are disappointed," manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst said.

"But we know what the problem is, how long he's out, and we have to move on. That's the only thing we have to do now."

Tavernier has since ensured the talismanic forward has not been missed. His seven goals are the most ever by a Rangers player in a European campaign (excluding qualifiers) – Morelos in 2019-20 had a share of the previous record of six – and remarkably make him the leading scorer in this season's Europa League.

The man for the big occasion, each of Tavernier's goals have come in the knockout stage, including opening the scoring in each of Rangers' four home legs.

When Kemar Roofe joined Morelos on the sidelines against RB Leipzig in the semi-finals, it was Tavernier who appeared in the centre-forward position to level the tie in Glasgow with his 15th European goal (10 excluding qualifiers).

Trent of the Europa League

The first of Tavernier's European goals came back in July 2018, by which point Alexander-Arnold had already played in a Champions League final for Liverpool.

Alexander-Arnold might be seven years Tavernier's junior, but he has been a source of inspiration in recent seasons for the Rangers skipper, who named him alongside Liverpool team-mate Andy Robertson and Brazil greats Dani Alves, Marcelo and Cafu in October 2020 as a standard-bearer in the full-back role.

And comparisons between the pair, both of whom are preparing for European finals, come easily.

Alexander-Arnold has created 19 chances in the Champions League this season, just behind Tavernier's 20 in the Europa League, with the pair each highly influential both in open play and from set-pieces.

Tavernier makes a long list of English right-backs who remain uncapped at international level due to the incredible competition in Gareth Southgate's Three Lions squad, and former Rangers captain Lorenzo Amoruso tells Stats Perform: "I showcased him in Italy, but nobody cared because, of course, it happened to me, too: the best player in Scotland, thanks to some unbelievable performances, but never a call for the national team.

"I think I deserved it – at least as a reward or out of curiosity. This Amoruso, as a defender, becomes the best player in Scotland... it is not something that happens every day. The same applies to Tavernier."

Yet even Alexander-Arnold has only turned out 16 times for England, clearly behind Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier and now Reece James in the pecking order.

The explanations for Alexander-Arnold's limited opportunities often focus on his defensive shortcomings – the same attributes for which Tavernier has come under scrutiny.

However, neither have committed an error leading to a shot, let alone a goal, in the Champions League or Europa League this season, and Tavernier actually measures favourably next to Alexander-Arnold by several defensive metrics.

Alexander-Arnold has made 1.9 tackles and 0.9 interceptions per 90 minutes to Tavernier's 1.6 tackles and 1.2 interceptions, but the Liverpool man has been dribbled past every 54 minutes on average and won only 48.2 per cent of his duels. Tavernier has been dribbled past every 150 minutes and won 56.3 per cent of his duels.

Those numbers will perhaps regress a little next season if Tavernier is playing in the Champions League, but he has to get there first by beating Frankfurt. And Rangers will likely be more concerned by their right-back's attacking output on Wednesday than his work going the other way.

The season's second major gets under way on Thursday, as the US PGA Championship starts at Southern Hills Country Club.

Despite being included in the field for the tournament in Tulsa, Oklahoma, reigning champion Phil Mickelson will not be on hand to defend his title.

Mickelson, who became the oldest player to win a major when he triumphed at the US PGA in South Carolina last year, is continuing his break from golf, which came after criticism over his comments regarding the Saudi Arabia-backed breakaway Golf Super League.

While the GSL cloud hangs over the heads of certain players who have requested releases from the PGA Tour, the focus this week will be on claiming the huge prize of a major title.

Tiger Woods is back, after his remarkable Masters return, while world number one Scottie Scheffler is on the hunt for another major title following his success at Augusta.

Stats Perform's experts have taken a look at some of the likely candidates.

No stopping Scottie – Ben Spratt

Only three men have won both the Masters and the US PGA in the same year, with Jack Nicklaus the last to do so in 1975. That is the esteemed company Augusta champion Scheffler hopes to be keeping – and you would be bold to back against him this season. Scheffler ended 2021 ranked 12th in the world and still waiting on his first PGA Tour victory. He has since won four times, including at the Masters, to become world number one and the clear man to beat. The 25-year-old has two top-10 finishes in both entries at this tournament and played a practice round at Southern Hills earlier this month to prepare himself for another tilt.

Rahm makes timely return to form – Patric Ridge

World number two Jon Rahm will tee off in Oklahoma on Thursday on the back of winning the Mexico Open last time out. Rahm has finished in the top 15 in six of the 11 competitions he has featured in this season. Prior to his win in Mexico, the Spaniard's putting had been letting him down, but the rest of his game has been top-notch. Rahm's strokes gained off the tee is a PGA Tour-leading 1.311, while his strokes gained tee to green also ranks first (1.808). The 27-year-old finished T8 in this major last year and his best result was T4 back in 2018 – he could be celebrating back-to-back wins on Sunday.

First major to get Burns treatment – John Skilbeck

Sam Burns missed the cut at the AT&T Byron Nelson, but we should forget that; one bad round cost him and there have been very few of those this season from the 25-year-old. Besides, he followed that 73 with a gutsy 67. Admittedly, Burns also missed the cut at the Masters, but he has titles at the Sanderson Farms Championship and the Valspar Championship in the current campaign, successfully defending his title at the latter after a breakthrough win last year. He has achieved six top-10 finishes in the 2021-22 season, has banked almost $4.5million, and sits second in the FedEx Cup standings. The PGA Championship can throw up funky winners and Burns might just be ready to join the list. He has yet to challenge in a major but that surely must change soon.

Rory can end major drought – David Segar

It is eight years since Rory McIlroy won the last of his four majors at the PGA Championship, but the Northern Irishman can end that drought this week. He produced a late surge to finish second in The Masters, with a stunning Sunday 64. McIlroy is third on the PGA Tour for shots gained off the tee. His two scores of 68 over the weekend earned fifth place at the recent Wells Fargo Championship, setting him up nicely for another major challenge.

Spieth slam? Oh, it's on… – Pete Hanson

Is this the week Jordan Spieth completes the Grand Slam? A tie for 71st and 30th in his last couple of attempts don't make for particularly good omens but Spieth is a player reborn. Having slipped as low as 92nd in the Official World Golf Rankings after last year's Farmers Insurance Open, Spieth has gone about climbing back into the world's top 10 and was back among the winners' circle at the RBC Heritage last month. A missed cut at the Masters was not the start he envisaged to major season but Spieth is at his best with his back against the wall and can firmly be in contention to lift the Wanamaker Trophy come Sunday.

Pep Guardiola saw Manchester City squander a glorious chance to all but make sure of the Premier League title, and their quest could go to the final day.

City rallied from two goals down to draw 2-2 at West Ham, but Riyad Mahrez's late penalty miss might yet be a telling moment in the race for silverware.

Tottenham piled pressure on Arsenal in the battle for fourth after a narrow win over a Burnley side who would have been devastated by Leeds United's late leveller against Brighton and Hove Albion, shaking up the relegation battle.

Everton might have seen the visit of Brentford as a chance to banish their own worries about dropping into the second tier, but a home defeat keeps the Toffees on unsteady ground, as Opta data tells the story of the day.

West Ham 2-2 Manchester City: Bowen's bullseye strikes and Mahrez's miss keep title race alive

Jarrod Bowen's double carried West Ham into a 2-0 interval lead, but Jack Grealish and Vladimir Coufal's own goal hauled City level.

This match almost produced a Premier League first for City; however, Mahrez's spot-kick was saved by Lukasz Fabianski in the closing stages to mean they could not complete the turnaround.

This was only the second time City had avoided defeat from two or more down at half-time (D2 L51), but that probably felt like scant consolation, given Liverpool are back in the hunt, providing the FA Cup winners collect three points at Southampton on Tuesday.

Mahrez has missed two penalties in all competitions for City – his first was against Liverpool in October 2018. Between that and the miss at the London Stadium, the Algerian had converted nine consecutive penalties.

Bowen has scored 12 times and provided 10 assists in the Premier League this season, with his 22 goal involvements the third most in a single campaign in the competition by a West Ham player, after Paolo Di Canio (29 in 1999-00) and John Hartson (23 in 1997-98).

Fabianski, the toast of east London and large parts of Liverpool, saved a penalty for the 10th time in the Premier League. Only David James (13) and Thomas Sorensen (12) have saved more in the competition.

Leeds United 1-1 Brighton and Hove Albion: Late Struijk lifts Marsch men

Pascal Struijk headed a last-gasp leveller to negate the impact of Danny Welbeck's opener as Leeds gave themselves a relegation lifeline, climbing above Burnley to reach 17th place.

This felt significant, with Leeds avoiding defeat in a Premier League home game after conceding the opening goal for the first time since October (1-1 v Wolves), having lost each of their last seven such games.

Former Manchester United man Welbeck was looking like delivering three points for Brighton, and his first-half goal means the ex-England international has scored in both of his two Premier League appearances against Leeds. Indeed, they are the only opponent he has scored in his first two Premier League games against.

The Leeds late show has become a habit. Only Manchester City (9) have scored more goals in the 90th minute or stoppage time than Leeds (7) in the Premier League this season, with all seven of their goals in this period being scored by different players (Luke Ayling, Patrick Bamford, Joe Gelhardt, Daniel James, Raphinha, Rodrigo and Struijk).

Tottenham 1-0 Burnley: Cool-eye Kane keeps Spurs in hunt for fourth

When Harry Kane stepped up for a penalty that would have ramifications at each end of the table, the outcome was entirely predictable. Of course Kane scored, just as he now has with each of the last 21 penalties he has taken in all competitions for Tottenham, excluding shoot-outs, and each of his last 15 in the Premier League.

That match-winning spot-kick for Tottenham, after 52 minutes and 36 seconds of play, was the second-latest first-half goal scored in a Premier League game since Opta has exact times available (from 2006-07), behind only Trincao’s strike for Wolves against Leeds in March this year (55mins 11secs).

Kane has scored more Premier League goals against Burnley than any other player, with his ninth strike against the Clarets seeing him overtake Mahrez and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (both eight). Burnley are the fourth side that Kane is the outright top Premier League goalscorer against, along with Arsenal (13 goals), Leicester (17) and West Brom (nine).

Burnley, who have games against Aston Villa and Newcastle United to come, need to find at least one point to stand hope of survival. Points at Tottenham have been hard to come by for Burnley, so this defeat came as little surprise. They have lost nine of their last 10 away league games at Spurs (D1).

Everton 2-3 Brentford: Red, red, whine

Everton had Jarrad Branthwaite and Salomon Rondon sent off in this one, with boss Frank Lampard complaining afterwards: "The reality is we're on the bad end of a lot of decisions this season."

Nineteen-year-old Branthwaite became the first teenager to receive a red card in a Premier League game for Everton since a 17-year-old Wayne Rooney in December 2002 against Birmingham City. Indeed, Everton have been shown more red cards than any other side in Premier League history (104).

There are more unwanted statistics starting to emerge in Everton's dismal season. They have conceded 59 goals now, their joint-most in a 38-game Premier League campaign alongside 2000-01.

Seamus Coleman, who put the ball into his own net for a first-half Brentford equaliser, has scored more Premier League own goals (5) than any other Everton player, while the Toffees have put through their own net the most often in Premier League history (58).

Brentford, who twice trailed after Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison scored either side of Coleman's own goal, have gained the most points from losing positions in the Premier League this term (15).

This was just the fourth match in Premier League history to see a first-half red card (Branthwaite), own goal (Coleman) and penalty (Richarlison), after Coventry v Wimbledon (November 1995), Charlton v Aston Villa (April 2001) and Tottenham v Fulham (February 2003).

Of course it was penalties. It was never not going to be penalties.

Thomas Tuchel chose not to bathe the game in narrative and left Kepa Arrizabalaga on the bench this time, but it was another substitute who stepped up to deal Chelsea their second shoot-out agony against Liverpool this season.

The unlikely hero was Kostas Tsimikas, who stepped up to slot home the winning penalty and give the Reds their second trophy of 2021-22.

It meant that Jurgen Klopp became only the second manager to win the Premier League, Champions League, FA Cup and EFL Cup all with one English club, after Alex Ferguson.

He is also the first German to win the FA Cup and just the second Liverpool manager to take charge of the club in the final of four major domestic/European competitions (EFL Cup, Europa League, Champions League and FA Cup), after the great Bob Paisley. This is another golden era for the Merseysiders, no doubt about it.

As the sun shone down on Wembley Stadium, awash in a sea of blue and red and with a noise that could make the arch quiver, Chelsea and Liverpool played out their latest edition of "No, my German coach is better!"

Both teams had already contested three stunningly close encounters this season, drawing in both league games and with the EFL Cup final having to be decided by the 22nd penalty of a shoot-out.

Why did we ever think this meeting would be different?

The FA Cup final is one of the most traditional days in the football calendar, with 'Abide with Me', the national anthem and a royal presence on show.

 

Tradition was missing from the touchline though as both Tuchel and Klopp arrived dressed in tracksuits and baseball caps, while Chelsea for some reason decided to play in their changed kit of all yellow, perhaps trying to evoke memories for Liverpool of their first-half scare in the recent Champions League semi-final against Villarreal.

The attire may have been casual, but the start from Liverpool was anything but.

It was a case of sun's out, guns out for the Reds as they set about attacking Chelsea from the off, showing more of the intense counter-pressing that saw them through their semi-final with Manchester City a few weeks ago.

As in the EFL Cup final, Luis Diaz was a nuisance on the left, putting two balls into the box that very nearly found team-mates, before the Colombian was denied by Edouard Mendy when put through one-on-one by a sumptuous Trent Alexander-Arnold pass.

But Chelsea had good chances of their own, with Christian Pulisic putting an effort wide while Marcos Alonso was thwarted by Alisson.

It was difficult for much momentum to be gained with four lengthy stoppages for injuries, including Mohamed Salah reliving his experience from the 2018 Champions League final and having to come off in the first half.

Salah's replacement Diogo Jota fired over from an Andrew Robertson cross, while Romelu Lukaku did the same as he tried to outmuscle Virgil van Dijk. Liverpool managed nine shots to Chelsea's three in the opening 45 minutes, with 42 final third entries to their opponents' 18.

Despite that, a well-organised defence from the Blues saw the score remain level, and you wondered just what would it take to separate these two seemingly inseparable entities?

It was Chelsea's turn to start brightly after the break – Alonso and Pulisic going close again. More chances spurned.

As was the case with Liverpool, that initial burst died down, allowing the Reds to have a couple of shots narrowly miss the target through Diaz and Jota.

The woodwork was struck three times in the second half as both teams continued to try, and continued to fail. 

Van Dijk going off, and he was later seen to be hobbling, presented another injury concern for Liverpool heading into extra-time and Chelsea attempted to give Joel Matip a blistering welcome. Yet Liverpool stood firm.

Diaz received a standing ovation as he left the field, his second excellent performance in a Wembley final for the club, and he only joined on the last day of January.

The former Porto man was the first player to have six shots in an FA Cup final since Anthony Martial for Manchester United in 2016, who also did not score.

 

A big rendition of You'll Never Walk Alone went up from the Liverpool end at half-time in extra time while Chelsea fans waved their flags, one last effort to give their teams the slimmest of edges. But this one was destined for spot-kicks.

An early miss from Cesar Azpilicueta meant it looked like an extra-time substitute was going to yet again be his team's downfall, only for the Spaniard to be given a reprieve when Sadio Mane drilled at compatriot Mendy. Sudden death.

But Alisson had a save in his locker, too, getting down to his left to keep out Mason Mount's timid effort, setting the stage for Tsimikas, who had replaced Andrew Robertson, to send Mendy the wrong way and spark celebrations and smoke bombs aplenty in the Liverpool end.

It was yet more domestic cup heartbreak for Chelsea, who having appeared in five of the last six FA Cup finals, have only won one of them.

Liverpool's recent FA Cup record, however, was significantly worse. Klopp had only made it as far as the fifth round on one occasion in six attempts, going out in the fourth round four times and the third round once.

In fairness to Chelsea, much like the EFL Cup final, this one could have gone either way, and it must be remembered that having been in charge of Chelsea for just one year and 108 days, Tuchel has already overseen four major finals, matching Jose Mourinho.

As it was in February, this was Liverpool's day, finding those fine margins and getting over the line to do the EFL Cup and FA Cup double. Not bad for a team that supposedly didn't care about the cups.

A quadruple might now look unlikely given City's league form, but another final, a chance for a third trophy this term, awaits on May 28 in Paris – Real Madrid the opponents.

You'd not bet against that one going to penalties, either.

Liverpool may have lost ground in the Premier League title race to Manchester City, but they could claim a second trophy of the campaign when they face Chelsea in the FA Cup final on Saturday.

A Wembley Stadium meeting between the Blues and the Reds is, of course, nothing new, with Thomas Tuchel paying the penalty – literally – for his ill-fated introduction of Kepa Arrizabalaga in February's EFL Cup final loss.

Revenge will certainly be on Chelsea's minds after substitute Kepa missed the decisive spot-kick in the shoot-out at the end of that goalless draw, and they will be desperate to avoid becoming the first team to lose both domestic English cup finals in the same season since Middlesbrough in 1996-97.

For Liverpool, meanwhile, their pursuit of the quadruple, and with it, footballing immortality, hinges on their ability to see off the Blues.

Who will be crowned the latest winners of football's oldest national competition? Stats Perform takes a look at the key Opta numbers ahead of these two rivals' fourth meeting of the season.

Wembley regulars hunting cup success

Chelsea and Liverpool have met in the final of the FA Cup on just one previous occasion, with Ramires and Didier Drogba firing the London club – then managed by Roberto Di Matteo – to victory just over a decade ago on May 5, 2012.

Both sides have significant pedigree in the competition, with Chelsea making their 16th final appearance and Liverpool featuring in their 15th – only Arsenal (21) and Manchester United (20) have made more such appearances than the duo.

However, neither side have had it all their own way when making it this far, with Chelsea losing each of the last two finals.

The Blues are the first team to qualify for three consecutive finals since Arsenal between 2000-01 and 2002-03, but another defeat would make them the first team since Newcastle United in 1998-99 to lose on their last three final appearances (1973-74, 1997-98, and 1998-99).

Liverpool, however, have lifted the trophy on just 50 per cent of their previous final appearances (7/14). Only two teams have a worse success rate having reached 10 or more finals (Everton, 5/13, and Newcastle, 6/13).

 

Fourth time lucky as deadlocked rivals meet again?

Having both made their names coaching Bundesliga sides Mainz and Borussia Dortmund, Tuchel and Klopp are no strangers to one another, and have become accustomed to head-to-head meetings this season.

Chelsea and Liverpool have already met three times this campaign, twice in the Premier League and once in the EFL Cup final, with each of those games ending level.

Having clung on with 10-men to earn a 1-1 draw at Anfield in August, Chelsea fought back from two goals down in a 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge in January before enduring penalty heartache at Wembley the following month.

 

The last fixture between two English top-fight teams to see more draws in the same campaign was Arsenal v Chelsea in 2017-18 (four).

Fans of a penalty shoot-out, then, could be in for more entertainment on Saturday. 

The Mane for the big occasion

The electrifying form of January arrival Luis Diaz means Klopp's Reds have never had such attacking depth available, but could one of his longest-serving attackers make the difference here?

Since arriving at Anfield in 2016, Sadio Mane has scored six times against Chelsea, with no other player scoring more often against the Blues in that time.

Mane made an important contribution to Liverpool's 3-2 semi-final win over Manchester City, becoming the first player to score a Wembley brace for the club since Steve McManaman in the 1995 League Cup final against Bolton Wanderers.

Should Mane again find the net against one of his favourite opponents, he would become the first Liverpool player to score in consecutive Wembley appearances (when used as a neutral venue) since Phillipe Coutinho in April 2015 and February 2016.

 

Can Werner haunt his former suitors? 

Chelsea forward Timo Werner made headlines on Friday after claiming to have chosen Stamford Bridge over Anfield when he left RB Leipzig in 2020.

And the Germany international will hope to continue his excellent FA Cup campaign if he is chosen to lead the line at Wembley.

No player has made more goal contributions in the competition than Werner this season, with the 26-year-old recording two goals and three assists in the Blues' cup run.

While that tally is more than any Liverpool player has managed in the competition this term, it's also the most any Chelsea player has registered in a single FA Cup campaign since Pedro (six) and Willian (seven) both impressed in 2016-17.

However, Chelsea ended that season by falling to a 2-1 final defeat to Arsene Wenger's Arsenal, so Werner will be hoping any contribution he can make will prove more decisive.

 

We are at the penultimate gameweek of the Premier League fantasy football season and a slab of fixtures means double matches for Aston Villa, Leicester City, Crystal Palace, Burnley and Everton.

Balancing between premium players and those who can provide particular value could be the difference at this time of the season, whether you need to consolidate or make up ground.

Stats Perform has you covered with some Opta-powered recommendations below, so here are our suggestions for this week's picks.

ROBERT SANCHEZ (Leeds United v Brighton and Hove Albion)

While only one of these teams will have something significant to play for, Brighton come to Elland Road in good form, winning four of their past six Premier League matches.

Brighton shot-stopper Sanchez has claimed more clean sheets this season (11) than over the previous term (10), with shutouts achieved in Brighton's past two matches.

The 24-year-old has been a big contributor in that regard, with a save rate of 68.4 per cent from shots in the penalty area, trailing only Alisson, Jose Sa and David Raya.

TRENT ALEXANDER-ARNOLD (Southampton v Liverpool)

Setting aside Saturday's FA Cup final on Saturday, Liverpool need to win to keep their Premier League hopes alive, and they will likely have the majority of the ball against Southampton on Tuesday. Expect crosses and dead balls.

Alexander-Arnold has been involved in more goals among defenders than any other in the Premier League this season, with 12 assists among 14 goal involvements.

While the Reds right-back trails Reece James (1.92) from chances created in open play per 90 minutes (1.53) this term, among defenders he leads the competition for chances created per 90 overall with 2.74.

SON HEUNG-MIN (Tottenham v Burnley)

Seeking to back up Thursday's critical win over arch rivals Arsenal, there can be no let-up from Tottenham in the race for the final Champions League spot.

Spurs have leaned on Son for goals this season and he has obliged, already beating his best tally for goal involvements in a single Premier League season of 27, with 28 for the term so far. 

The 29-year-old has 21 goals, only trailing Mohamed Salah's 22. Among players with 10 or more goals, Son leads the competition for shot conversion at 27.3 per cent. His seven assists have also come in handy.

DANNY INGS (Aston Villa v Crystal Palace, Burnley)

Aston Villa's next two opponents are Crystal Palace and Burnley, against whom Ings has scored a combined nine goals.

With five goal involvements (goals and assists) against both clubs respectively, Ings has only had more goal involvements against Everton (eight) and Norwich City (six) in the Premier League.

The 29-year-old has the most goal involvements for Villa this season, with seven goals and six assists.

A little over two minutes before the moment that will forever define his career, Manchester City hero Sergio Aguero showed sharpness in the QPR goalmouth that would not have been out of place at Old Trafford.

Old Trafford cricket ground that is, just down the road from City's bitter rivals Manchester United and their home of the same name.

As Edin Dzeko's equaliser from David Silva's right-wing corner bounced back off the netting, Aguero pounced, snaffling it like a short-leg fielder and darting back to the centre circle for City's final tilt at the improbable. It was 2-2, the Premier League title could still be won.

There was certainly nothing wrong with striker Aguero's movement after Joey Barton brazenly tried to dead leg him – one of many surreal and key incidents that fed into a frenzied and famous race against the clock on May 13, 2012.

Ten years on, as a statue of Aguero is revealed, this is a reminder of the special moment that brought City their first top-flight league title in 44 years.

The whole story is now as well-worn as any in football history.

On the cusp of a first top-flight title for 44 years, Robert Mancini's Manchester City faced relegation-threatened QPR on the final day of the season. In their previous 18 Premier League home matches that season, they had won 17 and drawn the other – the most recent of those being a 1-0 win over United that tipped a titanic Mancunian tussle back towards the blue side of town.

City simply needed to match United's result at Sunderland and led 1-0 at the interval thanks to Pablo Zabaleta, only for second-half goals from Djibril Cisse and Jamie Mackie to turn the contest on its head.

It remained 2-1 heading into stoppage time despite QPR operating with 10 men. City youth product Barton was dismissed for tussling with Carlos Tevez and responded to Mike Dean's red card by thumping his knee into Aguero's thigh before aiming a headbutt at Vincent Kompany. Fireworks enthusiast Mario Balotelli poured some petrol on this particular bonfire by confronting the combustible Barton as he stomped towards the tunnel.

Aside from that significant blemish, QPR's discipline was impeccable. Despite ceding 81.3 possession overall and 84.1 per cent during the second half, they only made seven fouls. Stoppages were infrequent as City thrashed and flailed with increasing desperation and diminishing artistry around the opposition penalty area.

Without Barton's meltdown, there is little chance five minutes of stoppage time - or the three minutes and 20 seconds they ultimately required - would have been signalled. It was time City desperately needed and time they could put to good use with their top scorer's fast-twitch fibres bristling.

Barton was not the only QPR man with City connections. His team-mates Shaun Wright-Phillips and Nedum Onuoha had also graduated through Jim Cassell's Platt Lane youth system, while Rangers boss Mark Hughes was Mancini's immediate predecessor, having been axed shortly before Christmas in 2009.

Hughes, of course, also played for United with distinction across two spells, and those loyalties struck a chord as news came through Bolton Wanderers had failed to beat Stoke City, meaning the Londoners were safe irrespective of the outcome at the Etihad Stadium.

"[City] got back on level terms and I always remember, at that point, I knew we were safe because the other result came in," Hughes told the Coaches Voice in 2020.

"I'm thinking, 'I wouldn't mind United winning, if I'm honest'. It's 2-2 and Jay Bothroyd looked over, asking what we wanted them to do [from the restart]. The players understood the [Bolton] game was over and we'd stayed up. We just said kick it as far as you can, right in the corner and the game's over."

Hughes' recollections from that point credit City with a poise they absolutely lacked. Rarely can a team have scored twice in this space of two minutes and – save for a crucial few seconds – played so shambolically.

Bothroyd's hoof found touch and scampering Joe Hart ran out of his goal to take the throw-in. The England goalkeeper almost missed the pitch.

Gael Clichy carried the ball down the flank, only for his attempted cross to turn into a block tackle with Mackie. Samir Nasri's aimless, floated effort that followed did little more than give Clint Hill a ninth successful clearance of the afternoon.

Nasri then excelled himself by shepherding the ball out for a QPR throw-in. Just 40 seconds before that explosion of ecstasy there was fury and anguish in the stands. Aguero watched it all from roughly the QPR penalty spot. Apparently he'd seen quite enough.

Aguero honed his lethal skills playing against bigger boys in Buenos Aires on the neighbourhood potrero – the hard gravel and mud neighbourhood pitches that football purists in Argentina bemoan are a diminishing presence.

"When you play you have to think fast. Who to take on, who not," Aguero said when recalling those days in a 2018 documentary for City's in-house television channel. "You know who is going to play dirty, who isn't.

"You start to realise what you can do on the pitch and what you can't."

Reflecting further in the 2019 book 'Pep's City' by Pol Ballus and Lu Martin, he further explained the proving ground that readied him for Barton and others.

"Getting kicked black and blue was all part of the game," he said. "You held on to the ball any way you could.

"Running with the ball was a whole different concept for us. I'd be up against big, tough boys and I was always the smallest. But I learned how to survive."

Aguero remembered those matches were played for the prize of a peso, which would garner one of his favourite sweet treats, an alfajor or dulce de leche.

As United's players took in full-time and three points at the Stadium of Light, and Nigel de Jong brought the ball forward in Manchester to the soundtrack of QPR celebrations – their fans aware of Bolton's fate – the stakes were somewhat higher.

Vacating his spot in a penalty area already crowded by substitutes Dzeko and Balotelli, along with a marauding Kompany, Aguero took possession from De Jong 30 yards from goal.

He faced up to a compact QPR back four, with the visitors' four midfielders all in his immediate vicinity.

A shuffling touch to his left engineered space outside Shaun Derry, but Aguero needed help. Ideally from someone reliable, given the complete lack of any margin for error.

Balotelli was on the pitch in a Manchester City shirt for the first time in over a month.

Mancini had not trusted his wayward protege since a red card in a 1-0 Easter Sunday defeat at Arsenal left City eight points behind United with six games to play. Tevez represented a far more dependable option.

But with nowhere left to turn, Aguero dared and prayed for Mario to be super.

Introduced in the 76th minute, Balotelli gave the impression he had not just been banished from Premier League arenas, but football pitches altogether since his previous game.

The Italy striker managed to run through seven goal attempts – two on target, five blocked – during a frenzied cameo. It was probably as well Aguero found him with his back to goal, inside the D and grappling with Anton Ferdinand.

"I tried to control the ball and I had a contact from the defender and the ball went a little bit far from my foot," Balotelli told City TV five years on. "I thought in that half second there is maybe going to be a little bit of space for Sergio."

If Balotelli had stayed upright, the likelihood is QPR would have seen through their final piece of dogged tireless defending. In being forced on to his backside for the only assist of his Premier League career, he created opportunity and chaos.

Facing his own goal, Derry had to hurdle a prone Balotelli, while Wright-Phillips' route back to defend was also compromised. With his centre-back partner grounded, Hill held his position square on, while Kompany's haring towards the six-yard box dragged left-back Taye Taiwo with him.

A pocket of space opened up. A spot of turf Balotelli was able to locate from his sedentary position. As limbs flailed around him and a tight defence scattered, Aguero was thinking fast.

Argentina's tradition of tough, uncompromising neighbourhood football goes hand in hand with the mystique and mythology that cloaks the country's national sport.

A playing style grounded in skill and improvisation – La Nuestra, which translates as "our way" – was locked into the collective consciousness during the first half of the 20th century. The pre-eminent football magazine El Grafico, served to deepen this romantic attachment, with depictions of the pibe – literally a kid or urchin, whose rough and ready footballing technique combined street smarts and skill and was something of an archetype. Typically they would dribble in the gambeta style, a description that implies close control, cunning and deceit of opponents.

The idea that the likes of Diego Maradona, Ariel Ortega, Lionel Messi and all those other squat, explosive and technically brilliant attackers from Argentina immersed themselves in the yellowed pages of El Grafico archive is far-fetched, but the style is unquestionably embedded. Think of the amount of barrelling, dribbling goals such players have produced – close control, small pauses and faints as thighs piston their way through defences.

As the walls were closing in on City's title bid, Aguero showed himself to be a proud product of this lineage. When Balotelli began his battle against gravity, he deftly checked his run behind and around Wright-Phillips to open up a path to the penalty area.

Letting the pass roll, he shaped to shoot, drawing a scampering Taiwo, who left his Kompany decoy a little too late to remain in control. Aguero did not actually touch Balotelli's return pass until his body position persuaded a rash slide tackle that he nudged beyond with the outside of his right boot.

With Taiwo suitably gambeta'd, there came one last stroke of fortune.

"I touched it again and saw I was close to the goal, so I said 'I'll shoot'. The worst thing was that I wanted to shoot hard across goal and it went to the near post, I don't know what happened," Aguero told TyC Sports – the latter sentiment at least aligning him with every soul inside the Etihad Stadium that day.

"After watching it back, I realised that if I had shot across goal a defender could have blocked it. I celebrated the goal and told everybody, 'I hit it so well!'."

Goal 23 of a personal Premier League tally that reached 184, one of 130 with Aguero's ferocious right boot, understandably left an indelible impression on the suddenly defeated Hughes.

"Of all the games I've been involved in, that noise at that moment when that goal went in is different to anything I've ever heard before or since," Hughes said.

"It was just unbelievable sound – different sound to a football crowd. It was a mixture of screaming and noise. It was just an unbelievable moment."

That racket has since been replayed thousands of times across the world. A goal on a tightrope that altered the course of English football, which began with gifting the opposition a 92nd-minute throw-in and ended thanks to a miscue after the main protagonist's strike partner fell over.

It is the Premier League's most famous goal – a moment as synonymous with Manchester as cotton mills and the Hacienda, and yet Argentinian to its very bones.

Whether 10 years on, 20 years on, or 50 years on, expect to see it replayed another few thousand times. On the blue side of Manchester, it stands as an immortal moment.

Mikel Arteta and Arsenal now face a thorough examination of their mentality and focus after Thursday's morale-sapping 3-0 north London derby defeat blew the race for fourth wide open.

While the importance of Champions League qualification might feel exaggerated to some given the financial muscle of practically every Premier League club, regardless of finishing in the top four or not, the end of 2021-22 will undoubtedly have significant implications for both clubs.

A top-four finish would be Arsenal's best Premier League season in six years and simultaneously the first time since the same season that they'd finished above their bitter rivals.

Champions League qualification would also be vindication of the faith placed in Arteta and a clear sign of genuine progress since he replaced Unai Emery.

For Spurs, on the other hand, it's difficult to look at these final 10 days of the season being anything other than a sliding-doors moment.

Failure to return to European football's top table would plausibly see Antonio Conte call it quits, whereas the possibilities could be endless under him with the extra cash, exposure and lure provided by the Champions League, particularly when you consider the transformational effect he's already had in north London and elsewhere previously.

With those points in mind, it was no surprise to see Thursday's contest – the first with fans present at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium – labelled the most important north London derby in Premier League history, and it's fair to say the hosts handled the occasion far better than the Gunners.

Perhaps that wasn't actually as shocking as it initially felt during the match.

The turning point came with just 33 minutes on the clock. While Tottenham were already ahead thanks to a Harry Kane penalty, it was just past the half-hour mark when Rob Holding's pushed his luck once too often.

Having already been booked – frankly, he could have been carded several times by this point – Holding cynically blocked off the relentless Son Heung-min with a combination of shoulder and elbow, deservedly earning himself a second yellow and subsequent red card.

It had been coming. Holding's early duels with Son had the South Korean showing signs of frustration – not because he couldn't get the better of his opponent, but because he was getting the better of him. He just kept getting fouled by the Arsenal defender.

Holding's wry smile when walking away from an angry Son after a tangle that wouldn't have looked out of place on a Judo mat belied a degree of arrogance and misplaced confidence.

It was ill-judged to say the least.

But of course, this is by no means the first time indiscipline's been seen as the scourge of Arsenal. Since Arteta's appointment, the Gunners have been shown five more red cards (13 in total) in the Premier League than any other team.

Granted, they are the youngest team in the Premier League, so perhaps a hint of indiscipline is to be expected as a consequence of inexperience – but that argument can't really be applied to 26-year-old Holding.

Arsenal had actually started the match quite well. Their pressing intensity was excellent, so much so that a Spurs passage of play consisting exclusively of passes between the defence and Hugo Lloris drew significant jeers of derision and frustration from the home crowd.

But Spurs identified they could find joy by playing direct, which was exactly how the opener arrived, with Cedric Soares – no, not Holding this time! – the one guilty of barging Son over at the back post as he looked to reach a deep delivery.

Just four minutes after Holding's red card, Kane – who had endured a career-worst derby drought of two matches prior to Thursday – exploited Eddie Nketiah's lack of awareness to stoop in at the back post to head home his second goal of the game, extending his all-time record as this fixture's top scorer.

Conte was a figure of calm after the first goal, but this time he wore his near-trademark terrifying jubilation with pride, presumably aware only a miracle would save Arsenal now.

The sparkling Son made sure any Arsenal hopes were thoroughly extinguished less than two minutes after the restart, pouncing on a loose ball in the area before steering beyond Aaron Ramsdale with the kind of expertise we've come to expect from a player only outscored by Mohamed Salah in the Premier League this season.

Arteta can console himself with the fact Arsenal remain fourth heading into their final two games of the season. Had you given him the option of being in that situation back in August, he'd have snapped your hand off.

But Thursday's ultimately crushing defeat once again raised questions of the Gunners' mentality and discipline, and their squad is becoming more depleted by the game. It's hardly an ideal combination when the pressure is on – and boy is it on now.

Tottenham – whose kind run-in sees them face Norwich City and Burnley – still need either Newcastle United or Everton to do them a favour at the very least.

But Thursday was evidence of Spurs keeping their cool when it matters. Arsenal didn't, and there's nothing to suggest they're too good to capitulate.

When you think about the most iconic fixtures in English football, the north London derby is surely right up there.

Arsenal and Tottenham have played out some classic contests down the years, many of which have been goalfests.

But Thursday's clash at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium is arguably among the most important derbies between Spurs and the Gunners in the Premier League era.

With three matches remaining, four points separate the two teams in the table – Arsenal occupy fourth, the final Champions League spot, while Spurs remain set on pushing them all the way.

Of course, Spurs will need Arsenal to drop points in one of their two remaining matches as well to have any hope of usurping them, but victory for Antonio Conte's men on Thursday will at least test the nerve of Mikel Arteta's young and inexperienced squad.

Ahead of that game, Stats Perform looks back on some previous Premier League classics between the two giants.

Tottenham 2-2 Arsenal - April 25, 2004

What could be more perfect than winning the title without losing a game? The answer is simple: winning the title without losing a game while clinching the championship at the home of your bitter rivals.

That is precisely what Arsenal did in 2004 – though the game initially looked as it would be more routine than it proved. Patrick Vieira finished off a fine counter-attack just three minutes in, before another incisive move allowed Robert Pires to make it 2-0. Spurs fought back, with Jamie Redknapp and a late Robbie Keane penalty denying the Gunners the three points, but still Arsene Wenger's men danced away on the White Hart Lane turf at full-time.

Tottenham 4-5 Arsenal - November 13, 2004

The scoreline says it all, really. There have only ever been six Premier League matches with more goals scored than this 2004 classic. Remarkably, only two of the nine goals here were netted in the first half, with Noureddine Naybet's volley cancelled out by Thierry Henry.

Spurs were constantly playing catch-up thereafter, with Jermain Defoe pulling one back after Lauren and Vieira increased the Gunners' lead. Freddie Ljungberg and Pires just about put the game beyond the hosts, though Fredi Kanoute capitalised on a Henry error two minutes from time to force a tense finale.

Arsenal 4-4 Tottenham - October 29, 2008

David Bentley's stunning early opener was a sign of things to come in what ended up being another Premier League classic. Arsenal ultimately found themselves 3-1 up in the second half thanks to goals from Mikael Silvestre, William Gallas and Emmanuel Adebayor, and just a few moments after Darren Bent seemingly got the visitors back in the contest, Robin van Persie smashed in to make it 4-2.

But back came Spurs. Jermaine Jenas' 89th-minute curler breathed life into their fightback and, deep into stoppage time, Aaron Lennon buried a rebound after Luka Modric's effort was deflected onto the post.

Arsenal 2-3 Tottenham - November 20, 2010

This was a momentous day for Spurs, who ended 17 years of frustration and torment by clinching their first win at Arsenal since 1993 – not that an away win always looked plausible.

Arsenal were seemingly on course to go top of the Premier League when Samir Nasri and Marouane Chamakh had them two up, but Gareth Bale's excellent strike halved the deficit and Rafael van der Vaart levelled from the spot following a blatant handball by Cesc Fabregas. Younes Kaboul was the unlikely hero, glancing home a late header from a Van der Vaart free-kick.

Tottenham 3-3 Arsenal - April 20, 2011

That's right, 2010-11 served up two courses of north London derby drama as Spurs dealt Arsenal's dwindling title hopes a near-fatal blow. The Gunners, just as they did at home a few months earlier, squandered a two-goal lead and were left facing the likelihood of another trophyless campaign.

Theo Walcott and then Van der Vaart struck in the first seven minutes, before Nasri and Van Persie ensured Arsenal were 3-1 to the good by the 40th minute, but Tom Huddlestone's typically thumping finish on the stroke of half-time had Spurs back in the hunt. Van der Vaart then sealed Spurs a deserved point from the spot in the second half.

A disappointing season to the season followed for the Gunners as their title aspirations ultimately faded, with fourth the best they could muster.

How times change – it's fair to say they'd have snapped your hand off at the start of the season if offered fourth this term, and Thursday's derby will likely be decisive in determining which of the two clubs takes it.

In the context of a generally disappointing season for Juventus, securing one last trophy for a club great before he begins a new chapter would've at least provided one reason to look back on 2021-22 with a degree of positivity.

It remains to be seen exactly what happens next for Giorgio Chiellini. After all, he suggested on Tuesday that he might not have even been playing football at all this season were it not for Italy's Euro 2020 success.

But remaining at Juventus has become increasingly unlikely over the past few weeks, with a move to MLS – rather than retirement – strongly mooted despite him being contracted to Juve until next June.

In Tuesday's pre-match news conference ahead of the Coppa Italia final, Chiellini – perhaps as you'd expect – at least attempted to deflect the focus from himself, seemingly adamant he didn't want to be the big story ahead of the game.

Yet, regardless of his obvious deflection the day before, it will have been tricky for many to not look at Wednesday's showpiece as the last meaningful match of Chiellini's storied career for the Bianconeri, with little riding on Juve's final Serie A matches of the campaign.

Twenty trophies, 559 appearances – third only to Gianluigi Buffon and Alessandro Del Piero – and countless head injuries, Chiellini's laid everything on the line and dedicated the majority of his career to Juve, even when the likes of Manchester City and Real Madrid apparently came calling

But that one last trophy was a dream too far, with Inter ending their 11-year wait for a Coppa Italia triumph by emerging 4-2 victors after extra time.

As far as small mercies go, Chiellini could at least take solace in the fact he at no point looked out of place on the big stage.

Nevertheless, as good a defender as he's been down the years, there wasn't much Juve's captain could've done to prevent his side falling behind in a frantic first half at the Stadio Olimpico.

Nicolo Barella received the short corner and the run of Ivan Perisic created space for him to unleash a sumptuous curling effort into the top-far corner, the ball floating well out of the reach of Chiellini's not insignificant head.

But Inter became strangely negative after getting themselves in front, with Juve crafting several presentable chances as they became the controlling force – Chiellini found himself involved further up as a result as well, a comical fish-out-of-water-like run into the final third leading to a foul by Edin Dzeko.

Juve's superiority told early in the second half as a period of concerted pressure led to the ball dropping kindly for Alex Sandro, whose first-time strike found its way in via a deflection off Alvaro Morata.

Inter barely had enough time to look at the scoreboard before they found themselves trailing, as Juve sprung a brilliant counter and Dusan Vlahovic found the net at the second time of asking.

The game soon entered the realm of Chiellini, whose seven clearances at the end of the 90 minutes was a match high.

Within moments of Juve's second goal, the 37-year-old crucially blocked a cross that Dzeko was primed to tap home – true to form as a full-blooded centre-back, he celebrated his clearance as if he'd scored.

Soon after he was on hand again with a vital header, but like with the opener, he could only watch on as Inter levelled in the 80th minute. Chiellini's centre-back partners Matthijs de Ligt and Leonardo Bonucci tangled with Lautaro Martinez, who appeared to invite contact and then hook his foot around the latter's leg before tumbling.

It was as ingenious as the ultimate VAR-confirmed penalty decision was farcical, but Hakan Calhanoglu converted the spot-kick and Chiellini's night was soon over.

Soon after an important interception/clearance ahead of the lurking Martinez, Chiellini made way, perhaps owing to the knock received in that collision with the Inter striker.

Even at that point there was almost a sense of foreboding. While perhaps not a decisive presence at the other end, Juve were suddenly without their most experienced player and leader – the personality in the side dropped considerably in that one change.

It was fitting that De Ligt – a player who has flattered to deceive since essentially being brought in as Chiellini's long-term successor – proved to be the one to gift Inter the lead in extra-time, clumsily tripping Stefan de Vrij and allowing Ivan Perisic to rifle home the penalty, with the Croatian's spectacular second soon after signalling Juve fans to head for the exits.

As Inter players joyously made their way to the Nerazzurri end of the stadium at full-time, a dignified Chiellini trudged onto the pitch and shared a speechless embrace with Massimiliano Allegri.

While Chiellini helped Juve to more success than most players enjoy in a lifetime, when it came to giving him a fitting send-off, the Bianconeri failed him.

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