Just two months after his announcement that he would retire from the NFL after 22 seasons, Tom Brady has decided to return for next season.

It means Brady's final game in the sport will not be the dramatic Divisional Round loss to the Los Angeles Rams, in which he had led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a remarkable late comeback.

That display, at the end of a season in which Brady led the league in passing yards (5,316) and touchdown passes (43), had elements of everything that made him the greatest of all time.

Brady's decision to return also means there is even less prospect of any other QB coming close in the near future, however, as Stats Perform examines the stunning numbers behind his record-breaking career.

THE BREES BATTLE

Brady's seven Super Bowls counted for more than any other statistic ever could, but there was still intrigue around his battle with Drew Brees for a number of all-time passing marks.

Brees was drafted by the San Diego Chargers the year after Brady was selected by the New England Patriots, forever pitting the pair against one another.

But the long-time New Orleans Saints QB did not quite have Brady's longevity, retiring a year earlier, and allowed the gap between the two men's achievements to widen in 2021.

Brady leads the NFL with 84,520 passing yards, ahead of the second-placed Brees and his 80,358.

In terms of touchdown passes, it is a similar story. Brady's 624 top the charts, with Brees his nearest challenger on 571.

Brees also ranks second for seasons with 20 touchdown passes (17) and team points per game among quarterbacks with at least 100 starts (27.4). Brady (19 and 28.3) is the main man in both categories.

WINS, WINS, WINS

There is an enduring debate over whether wins are a quarterback statistic, but one would have a hard time arguing otherwise in Brady's case. Even after benefiting from Bill Belichick's coaching for 20 years, the veteran headed to Tampa and won right away.

Brady finished with 243 QB wins, meaning an incredible margin to second-placed pair Peyton Manning and Brett Favre on 186.

In fact, Brady has 69 wins in the month of December alone. In terms of a single month, Favre is next, with 52 wins also in December.

It should come as no surprise then that Brady has the best record among QBs with at least 100 starts, his .769 again comfortably ahead of the next-best performance, Roger Staubach's .746.

Of course, Brady has kept winning as each season has extended into the postseason.

He has 35 playoff wins, too many to compare to one rival QB alone. Among all NFL teams excluding Brady's Pats and Bucs, the Baltimore Ravens have won the most playoff games since 2000. They are on 16.

STILL GOING STRONG

Brady's 2021 performance made his decision to quit something of a shock. Even in his mid-40s, there had been no signs of slowing.

Last season was Brady's 19th different season with 3,000 passing yards – clear of Favre's 18 – and his fifth 4,000-yard season just since he turned 40.

Hall of Famers Troy Aikman, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana, Joe Namath, Ken Stabler, Staubach and Steve Young combined for three seasons with 4,000 passing yards for their careers.

Just two months after his announcement that he would retire from the NFL after 22 seasons, Tom Brady has decided to return for next season.

It means Brady's final game in the sport will not be the dramatic Divisional Round loss to the Los Angeles Rams, in which he had led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a remarkable late comeback.

That display, at the end of a season in which Brady led the league in passing yards (5,316) and touchdown passes (43), had elements of everything that made him the greatest of all time.

Brady's decision to return also means there is even less prospect of any other QB coming close in the near future, however, as Stats Perform examines the stunning numbers behind his record-breaking career.

THE BREES BATTLE

Brady's seven Super Bowls counted for more than any other statistic ever could, but there was still intrigue around his battle with Drew Brees for a number of all-time passing marks.

Brees was drafted by the San Diego Chargers the year after Brady was selected by the New England Patriots, forever pitting the pair against one another.

But the long-time New Orleans Saints QB did not quite have Brady's longevity, retiring a year earlier, and allowed the gap between the two men's achievements to widen in 2021.

Brady leads the NFL with 84,520 passing yards, ahead of the second-placed Brees and his 80,358.

In terms of touchdown passes, it is a similar story. Brady's 624 top the charts, with Brees his nearest challenger on 571.

Brees also ranks second for seasons with 20 touchdown passes (17) and team points per game among quarterbacks with at least 100 starts (27.4). Brady (19 and 28.3) is the main man in both categories.

WINS, WINS, WINS

There is an enduring debate over whether wins are a quarterback statistic, but one would have a hard time arguing otherwise in Brady's case. Even after benefiting from Bill Belichick's coaching for 20 years, the veteran headed to Tampa and won right away.

Brady finished with 243 QB wins, meaning an incredible margin to second-placed pair Peyton Manning and Brett Favre on 186.

In fact, Brady has 69 wins in the month of December alone. In terms of a single month, Favre is next, with 52 wins also in December.

It should come as no surprise then that Brady has the best record among QBs with at least 100 starts, his .769 again comfortably ahead of the next-best performance, Roger Staubach's .746.

Of course, Brady has kept winning as each season has extended into the postseason.

He has 35 playoff wins, too many to compare to one rival QB alone. Among all NFL teams excluding Brady's Pats and Bucs, the Baltimore Ravens have won the most playoff games since 2000. They are on 16.

STILL GOING STRONG

Brady's 2021 performance made his decision to quit something of a shock. Even in his mid-40s, there had been no signs of slowing.

Last season was Brady's 19th different season with 3,000 passing yards – clear of Favre's 18 – and his fifth 4,000-yard season just since he turned 40.

Hall of Famers Troy Aikman, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana, Joe Namath, Ken Stabler, Staubach and Steve Young combined for three seasons with 4,000 passing yards for their careers.

A supremely busy Premier League Sunday may not have included either of the top two, but there was certainly no shortage of talking points.

There was particular focus towards the bottom of the table, with Norwich City and Everton losing yet again, while in the top-four race, Arsenal took another step towards sealing the final Champions League spot.

Chaos continues to engulf Chelsea, but they carry on winning, claiming a dramatic 1-0 win over Newcastle United, who were reminded again what it is like to lose following an impressive unbeaten run.

Without any further ado, Stats Perform looks at the key Opta facts from some of the day's games…

Chelsea 1-0 Newcastle United: Havertz decisive again

It was a particularly strange day at Stamford Bridge, with much of the pre-match noise focused on the two clubs' owners and fans.

But once the game started it was quickly remembered that this was going to give the clearest indication of the true extent of Newcastle's recent improvement.

As it happened, Chelsea clinched a late winner through Kai Havertz, who appeared to channel Dennis Bergkamp as he brought down Jorginho's pass and prodded home almost in one action.

That was the German's sixth goal involvement in five league games and saw him net in three successive top-flight matches for the club, with the former Bayer Leverkusen talent well and truly establishing himself as one of the competition's standout attackers.

It brought Newcastle's nine-match unbeaten run in the league to an end, with it also the first time since December that the Magpies have failed to score in the competition, though it was another encouraging performance from Eddie Howe's team.

Arsenal 2-0 Leicester City: Gunners finding their groove

Everything's looking rather rosy right now at Arsenal, with the Gunners making a pretty convincing case for the top four – this victory puts them a point clear of Manchester United, with Mikel Arteta's men crucially having three games in hand.

Leicester never looked like interrupting Arsenal's flow here, with the hosts in fine shape and playing eye-catching football.

This was their fifth successive league win, with Arsenal the only team outside of the top three to achieve that feat this season.

Their home form has proven a major help. They have lost just once at the Emirates Stadium since losing to Chelsea in their season opener, winning 10 of those 13 games.

Martin Odegaard in particular seems to have found another level lately, and he was excellent again, creating six chances. Five of those came in the first 45, making it the most by an Arsenal player in the first half of a game since October 2017 (Mesut Ozil, six).

Leeds United 2-1 Norwich City: Marsch madness twist leaves Canaries looking doomed

Leeds fans were devoted to Marcelo Bielsa. His replacement, Jesse Marsch, has been received well, but the jury is out on him.

A first win will surely aid his hopes of inspiring a bit of Marsch madness in the fanbase, and it came in dramatic circumstances too.

Joe Gelhardt scored a 90th-minute winner, making him the youngest player (19 years 313 days) to score a last-minute decider in the Premier League since February 2017 (Gabriel Jesus, 19y 308d) – the drama appeared to floor Marsch, who went tumbling to the ground amid the jubilant celebrations.

The joy on the Leeds bench was juxtaposed by the despair among the Norwich players and staff.

That was the Canaries' 20th Premier League defeat of the season in 29 games – never before in a league campaign have they reached 20 losses in fewer games.

Everton 0-1 Wolves: Lage's men continue exceptional 2022 form

What a season this is turning out to be for Wolves. When Nuno Espirito Santo left, there were certainly those who feared for the club's Premier League status given the stability that had served them well for several years was about to be truly tested.

Yet, they needn't have worried. Here we are in March and Wolves are challenging for European football and are one of the two form teams in the league in 2022.

This was their seventh Premier League win of the calendar year, secured by Conor Coady's goal, and leaves them with 21 points since January 1 – only Liverpool (eight wins, 25 points) have a better record than Wolves in 2022.

The reality is rather grimmer for Everton, however. Defeat here leaves them on 22 points from 26 matches, the lowest tally they have ever recorded at this stage of any league campaign (assuming a win equals three points).

This latest disappointment will likely bring fresh questions of manager Frank Lampard given only Norwich (one) have accumulated fewer points than Everton (three) since the former Chelsea boss' first game in charge.

Cristiano Ronaldo has spent so much of his career rewriting the history books that a hat-trick against Tottenham on Saturday was just another reminder of his "genius".

Genius was the word used by Roy Keane after Saturday evening's treble at Old Trafford secured a 3-2 win that could yet be a major lift for a United side who still face a tall order to finish in the Premier League top four.

Arsenal, two points behind fourth-placed United with four games in hand, remain favourites for that slot, but Ronaldo's performance against Spurs was a signal the Red Devils could still force their way into those positions at the season's end.

Keane said on Sky Sports after the final whistle: "Scoring goals is the hardest part of the game. To score that many goals at the highest level - international goals, big games in the Champions League... today obviously it was Spurs. What more can you say? The guy's a genius."

There is a theory that Ronaldo is now the world's all-time record goalscorer, overtaking Josef Bican, an Austrian-Czech striker who was prolific in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s.

Official records from that time can be difficult to ratify, and Czech FA experts have previously put Bican's figure at 821 goals rather than the often-stated figure of 805.

Nevertheless, there is much that can be stated with conviction, and Opta data outlines just what a performance this was from Ronaldo.

– He has now scored a hat-trick in each of his last 13 seasons, and this was his 49th club career hat-trick.

– Having spent nine years at Real Madrid, and then three with Juventus, Ronaldo has reacquainted himself with the English game this season. It had been 14 years and 59 days since he scored what was his only previous Premier League hat-trick, against Newcastle United, making it the longest such gap in the competition's history.

– Teddy Sheringham is the only player to have scored a Premier League treble later in life. Sheringham was 37 years and 146 days old when he scored three for Portsmouth against Bolton Wanderers in August 2003. Ronaldo was 37 years and 35 days, so to break Sheringham's record he will have to remain in the Premier League next season.

– Tottenham boss Antonio Conte was quick to praise Ronaldo after the final whistle, and it was little wonder; Ronaldo became only the second player to score a top-flight hat-trick against a team managed by the Italian, following in the footsteps of Giuseppe Rossi in October 2013 for Fiorentina against Juventus. Rossi, coincidentally, was a United player for a large part of Ronaldo's previous spell at Old Trafford.

– Ronaldo has scored in each of his last seven appearances against Tottenham in all competitions. Indeed, he has netted more goals against Spurs than he has against any other English side in his career (14).

– At 2-2, there was a threat to United's astonishing run of 301 Premier League games without defeat when they have held a half-time lead at Old Trafford. Ronaldo's intervention staved that off emphatically.

– United have now won exactly 400 Premier League home games, becoming the first team to reach that milestone. Some 23 of those wins have been against Tottenham, which is more than any side has beaten another at home in the Premier League.

– Ronaldo is now the joint-second top scorer in the Premier League this season with 12 goals, albeit he is a distant eight behind runaway leader Mohamed Salah of Liverpool.

There really isn't much to split Manchester United and Tottenham right now.

Ahead of Saturday's game at Old Trafford, the Red Devils are two points better off in the Premier League table but having played two matches more. Just a single goal separates them in the goal difference column, too.

They have each won three of their past seven league games, they are heavily reliant on two players scoring the vast majority of their goals, and even their managers, although on very different contracts, are facing uncertain futures. If you stood between the dressing rooms prior to kick-off, you wouldn't be surprised to hear "Lads, it's Tottenham" and "Lads, it's United" bellowed simultaneously behind the closed doors.

Of course, this could be a hugely important fixture beyond deciding which team is playing slightly less mediocre stuff. The top-four race in the Premier League looks likely to run into the deciding matchdays in May, and a win this weekend for either side would give them a huge boost.

It could also offer some clues as to which of Ralf Rangnick and Antonio Conte has so far done a better job, because that, too, is a very difficult question to answer.

Since Rangnick replaced Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as interim manager in late November, United have played 14 in the Premier League, won seven, drawn five and lost two, giving them an average of 1.86 points per game. They have scored 21 goals and conceded 14.

Their victories have come against Brentford, Brighton and Hove Albion, Burnley, Crystal Palace, Leeds United, Norwich City and West Ham. Just two of these teams are currently in the top 10 in the table.

Roughly a month earlier, Conte stepped in for the sacked Nuno Espirito Santo, who lost his job after Spurs were beaten 3-1 at home to United. 

In 16 games under the Italian, Spurs have won nine, drawn three and lost four, averaging 1.88 points per game. They have scored 31 times and conceded 16.

Their wins have come against Leeds United, Brentford, Palace, Everton, Leicester City, Manchester City, Norwich and Watford. Just two of these teams are currently in the top 10 in the table.

We told you it was difficult.

Such distinctly average form has not helped to paint a clear picture of either manager's efforts. Spurs will go into this game in a better mood, of course, given they just thrashed an awful Everton side 5-0, while United were humiliated in a 4-1 loss to Manchester City. Still, it's only been a couple of weeks since Conte suggested he might have to resign as he just couldn't handle the thought of more defeats, while United had just scored six across consecutive wins over Brighton and Leeds. Inconsistency is the only constant where United and Spurs are concerned.

There have been definite improvements, though. For one thing, despite Raphael Varane's injury troubles and the overbearing scrutiny on Harry Maguire every time he draws breath, United's defence has got better since the shambolic final weeks under Solskjaer.

In their opening 14 league games this season, United conceded 22 goals – the fifth-most in the division – and kept only two clean sheets. Under Rangnick, they have let in 16 goals – four of those coming at City last weekend – and kept five clean sheets (we are excluding own goals here). They are facing a similar number of shots, roughly 13 per game, but their expected goals against figure has improved from 21.43 to 18.35, suggesting that, under Rangnick, they have limited opponents to more speculative attempts. They have also cut down a deeply worrying number of mistakes: before Rangnick, they committed a league-high 12 errors leading to shots, which has fallen to just three since the German took charge.

Defensive improvement has not been quite as clear under Conte. Although they have conceded as many goals (16) in Conte's 16 matches in charge as they did in 10 under Nuno, Spurs' xGA figure has increased from 15.48 to 19.01, indicating that their seven clean sheets have owed something to Hugo Lloris and a little luck (again, that figure ignores own goals). And while United's error count has dropped, Spurs have committed 11 leading to shots, the second-worst figure in the Premier League since Conte's return. It would be enough to make the former Chelsea boss tear his hair out, if... no, we won't go there.

What about at the other end? A much-discussed issue under Rangnick, and the reason behind all those draws, has been United's inability to take chances. Cristiano Ronaldo, for instance, has only scored one goal in 2022. The numbers highlight an obvious problem: in the league under Solskjaer, United exceeded their expected total this season by just over four (excluding own goals); under Rangnick, they have underperformed by 4.4.

Yet their problems in attack are not for the want of opportunities. Since Rangnick's arrival, only Man City and Liverpool have created more chances and attempted more shots in the Premier League, and only Man City and Spurs have generated more 'big' chances. The problem is that only 68 of United's 208 most recent shots have been on target, and only Liverpool have attempted more from outside the box in that time. When the going gets tough, the shooting gets desperate.

Over the same period, they are fourth for xG and expected goals on target, which measures the quality of an attempt itself. However, the difference between the two is nearly 4.0, and 3.03 if you exclude penalties. Only relegation battlers Burnley (3.53) have had a worse such difference during Rangnick's time in England, which tells you a lot about the standard of United's recent finishing even before you take the opposition goalkeeper's performance into account. They can at least make the argument that, should they keep creating chances at this rate, their luck should begin to turn... eventually.

Spurs' attacking fortunes have felt a bit mixed under Conte. In their past five matches, they have scored three at Man City, four at Leeds and five at home to Everton but drawn blanks away to Burnley and Middlesbrough.

Excluding own goals, they have scored 28 times in the league under Conte from 30.4 xG, giving them pretty similar figures to those under Nuno (eight goals from 10 xG). The average xG value of their shots has increased a touch, though, so they can argue their attacking play is sharpening up.

That's a good sign given Spurs are chasing a couple of milestones at Old Trafford: they could score at least four goals for the third league game in a row for the first time since February 2004, while Harry Kane needs only one away goal to match Wayne Rooney's competition record of 94.

It would be quite the result if Spurs could beat both Manchester clubs away in the same season, and it would give their Champions League hopes a significant shot in the arm. As for which side is showing the best progress... well, perhaps we should let this top-four chase run its course first.

The 2021 Formula One title race was one for the ages.

Fortunately, the release of season four of Netflix's 'Drive to Survive' series is landing on Friday, giving fans the opportunity to relive the drama and whetting appetites for the forthcoming 2022 campaign.

Few will forget how last season ended, with Max Verstappen pipping Lewis Hamilton in scarcely believable circumstances on the final lap of the final race.

But there had been controversy throughout the year even before that point, making the latest edition of one of sport's great documentaries a must-watch.

Fans will be desperate to learn how 2021 played out behind the scenes, but what should they be looking for? Stats Perform picks out five flashpoints.

Silverstone contact sets the tone

A back-and-forth title tussle between Verstappen and Hamilton was already nine races old by the time the teams arrived at Silverstone – at which point the 'Drive to Survive' producers must have thought they had hit the jackpot.

Hamilton ended a five-race barren run for Mercedes with victory in his home race, but only after sending Verstappen into the barriers at Copse Corner on lap one – a 10-second penalty of little consolation to Red Bull, whose team principal Christian Horner slammed the 2020 champion's "dirty driving".

Seeing the reaction on the pit wall would be of interest to any fan, although this clash merely teed up the drama to come.

Mixed fortunes for furious Lewis in the wet

Two races last year descended into chaos due to the weather, with Verstappen winning in Belgium while Hamilton triumphed in Russia, benefiting from Lando Norris' spin in the rain for his 100th victory. That Sochi result cancelled out events at Spa, where Hamilton had been far from impressed.

Viewers will likely learn more about developments at the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix from 'Drive to Survive' than from live coverage at the time, as the race lasted just two laps under a safety car following Sunday rain.

That was enough to declare a result with half points, with Verstappen rewarded for pipping breakout star George Russell to pole. In public, Hamilton fumed it was "all a money scenario", and it is unlikely he was any calmer in private.

McLaren one-two after halo saves Hamilton

Between Belgium and Russia was the Italian GP at Monza, with perhaps the scariest moment of the season. Verstappen's battle with Hamilton went a little too far as he rode over the Briton's car, with the Mercedes halo required to keep the driver from serious harm.

"I am so grateful I am still here," said Hamilton after being forced to retire, with Verstappen later following him back into the garage.

The documentary cameras surely could not miss this key moment in the title race, but 'Drive to Survive' has been hugely successful in picking out narratives right down the grid – and this was a notable weekend in the midfield, as McLaren profited with a one-two courtesy of Daniel Ricciardo and Norris.

Hamilton heroics at special Sao Paulo GP

Verstappen arrived in Brazil 19 points clear of Hamilton with four races remaining, and the odds were increasingly stacked against his rival over the course of the weekend at the Sao Paulo GP.

Hamilton served a five-place grid penalty when his qualifying time – the fastest on the grid – was struck off for a DRS infringement, meaning he had to start from 10th even after recovering from 20th to fifth in the sprint race. Verstappen escaped punishment when he forced the Mercedes man wide in the main race, too.

Remarkably, Hamilton still won, with Toto Wolff claiming the various setbacks had "woke up the lion". There would have been no final-day spectacle if not for the Briton's late-season charge, which started in Brazil.

Two weeks of epic drama decide title

The final episode of the season will surely focus on the decider in Abu Dhabi, where race director Michael Masi's application of the rules infuriated Mercedes as Hamilton was denied a record-breaking eighth championship in fairly ridiculous fashion.

Footage from that race should entertain even F1 sceptics, with Wolff likely to play a prominent role having pleaded with Masi not to make the contentious call that cost Hamilton and crowned Verstappen.

But the stakes were only such because the pair had entered that race all square in the standings – only the second time this had ever happened – after a similarly eventful Saudi Arabian GP.

Verstappen could have wrapped up the title with time to spare but lost out to Hamilton after a qualifying crash, two red flags and a succession of safety cars, hinting at the level of incident that was to come the following week.

As soon as the December draw for the Champions League round-of-16 threw out Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain, all eyes were on a certain French striker.

And for a long time Kylian Mbappe looked set to be the difference-maker between two European giants who are also in a tug-of-war for the forward's future.

His excellent goal in the first leg at the Parc des Princes was decisive then, and he terrorised Los Blancos further in Madrid.

But almost out of nowhere the tie was turned on its head, with Karim Benzema once again proving his master status with a truly exceptional display of ruthlessness as Madrid won 3-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu to secure their passage to the quarter-finals 3-2 on aggregate.

This was anything but predictable. After all, the tie was all set up perfectly for 'The Narrative' to settle things in this clash of titans.

For months, maybe years, Madrid have flirted with the idea of bringing Mbappe to the Spanish capital, even going as far as submitting huge bids for him last August.

Carlo Ancelotti is asked about him at pretty much every pre-match news conference, such is the obsession in the Spanish press, but PSG's resolve in August seemed to be paying dividends just over six months later, with Mbappe crucial last time and in the mood here.

Ahead of the trip to Madrid, PSG communicated how the Frenchman was a doubt due to a training knock. Whether that was the truth or subterfuge can only be confirmed by Mauricio Pochettino, but one thing's for certain, Mbappe looked as sharp as ever.

The warning signs were there – twice – inside the first 13 minutes. On both occasions, Mbappe managed to get in behind Madrid's riskily high defence, but he let the hosts off the hook each time.

Despite worrying signs for Madrid, at no point did you expect a tactical change from Ancelotti given Madrid's desperate need to get at least one goal.

As such, the Mbappe 'cheatcode' was seemingly always going to be a possibility for PSG as long as the other 10 remained focused. For all the obsession over tactics, Pochettino's approach seemed to resemble that of millions of FIFA video game players from down the years: kick the ball beyond the defence for the really, really fast chap.

And that was exactly how the breakthrough came. PSG defended a corner and Neymar picked up possession deep inside his own half. Mbappe was already on the charge and the Brazilian clipped a first-time ball over Dani Carvajal.

Mbappe surged forward, shaped to curl his shot around Eder Militao and then picked out the near corner instead, usurping Zlatan Ibrahimovic as PSG's all-time leading scorer in the process.

The offside flag then cruelly, but crucially correctly, denied Mbappe what would have gone down as a classic Champions League goal early in the second, latching on to a throughball and beating Thibaut Courtois with an exquisite stepover before he'd even touched the ball and slotting into an empty net.

And almost instantly PSG's performance went stunningly awry.

Gianluigi Donnarumma's dawdling on the ball gifted Madrid an equaliser as Benzema charged down his clearance and then stabbed in from Vinicius Junior's cut-back.

Suddenly Madrid were like a pack of rabid wolves. Donnarumma's hesitancy and indecision began to overcome the rest of his back four, with PSG almost in a flash going from in control to utterly terrified.

Just 15 minutes later, 1-1 turned into 2-1, with Luka Modric doing brilliantly in midfield to pick out Vinicius, who had the presence of mind to patiently wait for the Croatian to appear on the edge of the box, and he slotted the ball through to Benzema to steer home.

Then, within seconds of PSG restarting the game, Marquinhos panicked in his own area, flicking the ball into the path of Benzema who unleashed an impossibly cool finish into the bottom-right corner, picking it out with the outside of his foot without breaking stride.

It sparked bedlam in the stands of the Santiago Bernabeu as it quickly dawned on the Madrid faithful and players that the tie was theirs. While PSG had the best part of 15 minutes to fight back, their mystifying lack of composure since the hour mark had already sapped them of belief.

Mbappe looked on, having gone from unstoppable to helpless in the space of just a few second-half minutes.

Of course, a key difference between the goalscorers was their respective supporting casts. While Lionel Messi, Marco Verratti and Neymar looked impressive in the first half, they were nowhere to be seen after half-time.

Madrid, on the other hand, had already looked a threat with Vinicius up top alongside Benzema. The Brazilian excelled where his compatriot Neymar could not – the young winger was relentless, working exceptionally hard throughout to ensure Benzema didn't have to do it alone, even if the headlines will suggest it was all him.

There is a school of thought that this tie will ultimately determine where Mbappe ends up next season. On the evidence of this, a front three of him, Benzema and Vinicius will be mouthwatering.

Mbappe has so far been very calm and unequivocal when asked about his future, but Madrid have given him a glimpse of what awaits.

In the build-up to Liverpool's clash with Inter at Anfield, Jurgen Klopp went to great lengths to spell out the fact that he and his team were taking nothing for granted.

Leading 2-0 from the first leg in Milan, the Reds were the clear favourites for progression in the Champions League last 16.

But, at his pre-match press conference, their manager warned: "The danger everybody knows about. It's 2-0, the lead I think which got turned over most often in the history of football."

And he struck a similar chord in his programme notes, telling supporters: "If anyone has even a tiny percentage of complacency or entitlement, please stay away."

Of course, Klopp would have loved nothing more than for Liverpool to have produced a vintage performance that made his cautious tone seem unnecessary.

Instead, he was proven completely right about the threat posed by Simone Inzaghi's side, who had in truth been rather unfortunate to suffer a two-goal defeat in the first leg.

It is not that Inter came out all guns blazing on Merseyside, of course; this is the Italian champions in European competition we are talking about.

But their ability to play through Liverpool lines was eye-catching from the off, with the impressive Hakan Calhanoglu key to that.

And the calm manner in which the visitors' back three dealt with the likes of Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane also bred confidence, with Milan Skriniar's game-high nine clearances marking him out.

As such, while Inter's best opportunity of an evenly matched first half saw Calhanoglu test Alisson from a free-kick, they had shown enough to suggest that something special could be in the offing in the second period.

You could clearly see those hopes growing close to the hour mark as Lautaro Martinez struck just wide after a beautiful back-to-front move had played him in on goal.

And so it was no surprise the Argentine made no mistake in firing home a beauty from the edge of the box moments later to bring the tie to life and put the fear into Liverpool.

 

It was at this point, however, that events brought to mind the popular expression which states it is better to be lucky than good when it comes to sport.

Yes, you could argue that Alexis Sanchez was fortunate to still be on the pitch having clearly caught Thiago Alcantara with a studs-up challenge in the opening 45 minutes.

But he probably did not deserve to see a second yellow for a light nick on Fabinho after winning the ball, under two minutes having passed since the Chile forward had set up Martinez's strike.

Coming so shortly after the opening goal, that blow sucked all momentum out of Inzaghi's men, effectively handing Liverpool passage into the quarter-finals on a platter, with Inter not registering another attempt on goal from that point on.

Still, even if the circumstances were somewhat fortuitous, it is hardly likely to have taken the shine off the result for Klopp, whose team have now reached the Champions League last eight in four of the last five seasons.

He would no doubt have preferred to have witnessed a more convincing performance that struck fear into Liverpool's rivals for European glory this season.

But perhaps what he got was in some ways better: another reminder that this team can see off even elite teams when not at their best. 

As this manager and players are all too aware, you need a combination of quality, mentality and luck to go all in the way in the Champions League, and Liverpool called on all three at various stages of what was a fascinating tie.

Much has changed in European football in the past five years – and few clubs illustrate that greater than fallen giants Barcelona.

On this day in 2017, Barca were thrashing Paris Saint-Germain 6-1 in the most remarkable Champions League turnaround ever, becoming the only side in the competition's history to overturn a four-goal first-leg deficit.

Now, Neymar and Lionel Messi – the two stars of that Blaugrana side – are preparing to play Real Madrid as PSG players.

Meanwhile, Barca are not even in the Champions League knockout stages, instead facing Galatasaray in the Europa League last 16 while battling to return to UEFA's flagship competition next season.

Indeed, Barca's recent European past has found them on the wrong end of epic Champions League comebacks, but that PSG classic still ranks among the tournament's greatest two-legged recoveries – remembered by Stats Perform here...

2019: Liverpool 4-0 Barcelona (4-3 on aggregate)

One of a couple of examples Barca fans will not remember so fondly, Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool had been well beaten at Camp Nou, with the 3-0 scoreline flattering the Catalans but making them clear favourites to complete their semi-final task at Anfield.

Liverpool were without injured forwards Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino for the second leg, yet two goals each from Divock Origi and Georginio Wijnaldum saw the hosts defy the odds in sensational style.

Origi had the final word thanks to Trent Alexander-Arnold's quick thinking from a 79th-minute corner.

It meant a Barca side boasting Messi and former Liverpool stars Philippe Coutinho and Luis Suarez were left devastated, while Klopp's men celebrated reaching the final, where they would win a sixth title.

2019: Ajax 2-3 Tottenham (3-3 agg)

The night after Liverpool's win, Ajax looked certain to join the Reds in the final when they extended their 1-0 first-leg lead to 3-0 in Amsterdam with first-half goals from Matthijs de Ligt and Ziyech.

Mauricio Pochettino's Tottenham took inspiration from Liverpool's stunning fightback 24 hours earlier, though, and Lucas Moura stepped up to emerge as their hero.

The Brazilian forward scored an improbable hat-trick in the second half, the vital third goal coming deep into stoppage time, as Spurs won on away goals.

2018: Roma 3-0 Barcelona (4-4 agg)

Barcelona were stunned in the Italian capital as Roma completed one of the most unlikely quarter-final turnarounds – another that benefited from an away goals rule that has since been scrapped.

Eusebio Di Francesco's side came back from a 4-1 first-leg deficit to progress to the last four after a thrilling 3-0 win in front of their home fans.

Edin Dzeko, Daniele De Rossi and Kostas Manolas secured the 4-4 aggregate draw and sent the Stadio Olimpico into raptures, as Barca fell to pieces.

2017: Barcelona 6-1 Paris Saint-Germain (6-5 agg)

Those humblings at the hands of Roma and Liverpool make for painful memories for those of a Blaugrana persuasion, but this remains the ultimate 'Remontada'.

Trailing 4-0 from the first leg of their last-16 tie with PSG, Suarez and Messi scored either side of a Layvin Kurzawa own goal, only for Edinson Cavani to grab what was expected to be the decisive away goal for the visitors.

However, two quickfire Neymar goals – the second a highly controversial penalty after an apparent Suarez dive – brought it back to 5-5, meaning Barca needed just one more.

Then, in the fifth minute of stoppage time, Sergi Roberto struck from Neymar's cross to create Champions League history.

2004: Deportivo La Coruna 4-0 Milan (5-4 agg)

Deportivo were among Spain's major forces just after the turn of the century and one of their finest moments in Europe came in April 2004 when, despite being 4-1 down from the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final with Milan, they stunned the Rossoneri at the Riazor.

Walter Pandiani, Juan Carlos Valeron and Albert Luque had Depor ahead on away goals before half-time, with veteran Fran Gonzalez scoring the fourth to make sure of their passage.

Depor were eliminated by eventual winners Porto in the semi-finals, but this comeback stood as arguably the very best in Champions League history until Barca went one better.

2000: Barcelona 5-1 Chelsea (aet, 6-4 agg)

Barca already had a history of Champions League fightbacks.

A 3-1 first-leg loss at Stamford Bridge – having trailed 3-0 – had the Blaugrana in danger of being on the wrong end of a major Champions League upset prior to Chelsea's Roman Abramovich era, but in the return match the Catalan giants showed their true class.

Tore Andre Flo's 60th-minute goal was sending Chelsea through despite Rivaldo and Luis Figo scoring before the break, but Dani Garcia headed home seven minutes from the end of regulation to force extra time.

Rivaldo atoned for an earlier missed penalty by converting from the spot after Celestine Babayaro was sent off, and Patrick Kluivert finished the game off, crushing Chelsea's dreams.

In many ways, patience isn't a virtue we can truthfully say is embraced in modern football, whether that's with respect to managers or players.

When someone's level dips, people – or specifically social media trolls – are quick to brandish them "frauds" or "finished" like rabid animals sated by black-or-white so-called "hot takes".

If there's one player on the planet who deserves that patience, it's surely Lionel Messi. But so accustomed has the world become to his usually incomparable excellence that any opportunity to humanise him with blinkered criticism was going to be gobbled up by those who are – bizarrely – so eager for him to fail.

While that's not to say Messi is above criticism, and there have certainly been times this season when questions were fairly asked of his performances, we have to keep in mind a host of extenuating circumstances.

For one, a 34-year-old not being quite as good as he was at 30 is perfectly normal. Then you have to consider he had no pre-season, had major upheaval in his life with the move from Barcelona and then struggled with fitness in the early weeks of the season.

But ahead of a Champions League last-16 second-leg trip to his old nemeses, Real Madrid, Messi appears in fine shape and will no doubt be eager to end his 695-minute goalless run against Los Blancos.

So, if he has been effective lately, what does the criticism of him relate to? And is Messi truly on a downward spiral?

The elephant in the room

Let's get this out of the way nice and early. Yes, it's unequivocal that Messi's output in front of goal is not what we're used to seeing from him.

He has scored just twice in Ligue 1 this season, which admittedly is absurd when you consider he's not failed to reach double figures for league goals since 2005-06 when he netted six times in 17 games.

But let's not forget, for the majority of his Barcelona career, their teams were built around him and, perhaps most importantly, many of those sides were exceptional. Are PSG?

Messi is unquestionably proving wasteful in front of goal, with this the first season since Opta began collecting expected goals (xG) data (2010-11) that he has underperformed in relation to that metric.

So far across all competitions in 2021-22, Messi averages 0.44 non-penalty (np) xG every 90 minutes, but his actual np goals output is 0.23.

There's no argument here – Messi should be scoring more than he has based on the quality of the chances that have fallen his way, but by no means does that mean he's been a liability.

Still creator in chief

While Messi may not be posting the kind of figures in front of goal that we are used to seeing from him, it's worth highlighting how he remains a key contributor on the creative side for PSG.

In fact, if he maintains his 2.65 chances created every 90 minutes (all competitions) for the remainder of the season, it will be his third-most productive campaign ever in that regard.

There is plenty of value in the chances he's creating as well. On a per-90 basis, Messi's expected assists (xA) is 0.38 this season, only a slight reduction on the past two seasons (0.43 and 0.42) when, let's remember, he was playing in a Barca team built entirely around him.

As such, his haul of 10 assists in Ligue 1 has him level at the top of the chart with Kylian Mbappe despite playing 698 fewer minutes than his team-mate.

Further to that, he continues to play an influential role in PSG's build-up play as well and has been particularly effective in recent weeks.

Since February 1, Messi (7.7) comes second to Mbappe (9.2) for the most shot-ending sequence involvements in Ligue 1 (minimum 180 minutes played). But when you only consider passages where they have not had the shot, Messi (6.4) is only behind Marco Verratti (7.0), demonstrating just how involved he is in their general build-up play.

Working in Mbappe's shadow

Mbappe has, of course, been at the fore of PSG's Ligue 1 title surge and progress in the Champions League. With 38 goals involvements, at a rate of one every 74.5 minutes, it's fair to say he has been the one consistently lethal weapon in their star-studded attacking arsenal.

Neymar has been in and out of the team this season due to injury, while Messi's issues we have already gone over. Clearly, if PSG are successful at home – seemingly a certainty – and in Europe, Mbappe, the scorer of their excellent winner in the first leg against Madrid, will have been the catalyst.

But we shouldn't gloss over what Messi has contributed.

His record of 0.82 expected goal involvements per 90 minutes (all comps) is only marginally lower than Mbappe's (0.87). For the latter, this looks like to be his finest individual campaign to date – yet Messi, criticised by some for a perceived lack of output, is operating at a similar level of effectiveness.

Of course, the difference is that Mbappe is proving far more clinical in those goalscoring opportunities, but don't forget it was only last season that Messi scored 38 times in a fading Barca side. That ability doesn't vanish overnight.

It would be far fairer to judge him next season when he will presumably have a proper pre-season under his belt.

Patience. If anyone should be afforded the benefit of the doubt during a settling-in period, it's Messi.

It was deemed a pivotal match in the title race. Liverpool would have been able to go top of the Premier League table – or at least within a point of it – with a win in their game in hand if Manchester City slipped up in the Manchester derby.

But upon its conclusion at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday, it was difficult to imagine Liverpool players doing anything but lifting their jaws off the floor after City blew Manchester United away in stunning fashion, beating Ralf Rangnick's side 4-1.

Not that it always looked likely to be so one-sided. A Cristiano Ronaldo-less United certainly made things interesting at the start, and the absence of the Portuguese forward – due to a hip injury – gave them an enigmatic aura, to some degree.

It emerged on Saturday night that Ronaldo was a doubt when reports began to suggest the Portugal captain had not been present with the rest of the squad at their team hotel.

City would surely have been preparing to face Ronaldo all week, and so United's set-up will have come as something of a shock – even more so when in the early exchanges it looked like the visitors were attempting to go punch-for-punch with the champions, something few teams survive.

In fact, early on there were signs of role reversal. United had spells of possession, City were playing for counters. Under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, counter-attacking became something of a staple for the Red Devils in these fixtures.

But in the absence of Ronaldo, it was as if United were finally playing with a full complement of players, such has been his lack of influence outside the penalty area – you could potentially include inside the area as well given his recent wastefulness.

With Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba supporting wide forwards Jadon Sancho and Anthony Elanga, United looked fluid, intricate and generally dangerous in attack, almost mimicking City's striker-less style for 2021-22, the hosts' fifth-minute opener from Kevin De Bruyne not appearing to upset the away side's flow a great deal.

Jadon Sancho's excellent equaliser showed precisely what United were capable of, as they cut through City and the England international exhibited great composure by skipping around Rodri and curling into the bottom-right corner.

Though by that point, in the 22nd minute, City had already started to get to grips with United's slightly surprising set-up, as Rangnick's men started to show cracks.

In the first 15 minutes, the share of possession was almost 50/50 – over the course of a derby during Pep Guardiola's time in Manchester, United haven't had more than 40 per cent at the Etihad Stadium. But over the following third of the first half, City's share increased to 72.5 per cent, and it was unsurprising to see them regain the lead through De Bruyne just six minutes after Sancho's leveller.

If United were trying to mimic City, the latter were proving themselves to be the real deal.

Pep Guardiola seemingly targeted Aaron Wan-Bissaka – or United's right flank in general – as the weak link, with the right-back struggling to cope as Joao Cancelo, Jack Grealish and Bernardo Silva – even Phil Foden too at times – ganged up on him. City's first two goals originated from that area of the pitch and, in truth, even more could have.

United reached the break just one goal behind, and given their promising start and the open nature of the first period, there was reason to believe a way back wasn't out of the question.

But City were on a different planet after half-time.

Their control of the ball found another level, as did their cohesion when pressing, with United having immense difficulty passing through the City midfield.

Pogba faded into anonymity, Fernandes and Sancho too, while Grealish galloped with joy and De Bruyne ran the show, out-crafting and out-muscling his counterparts at almost every opportunity.

Adding to his brace, the Belgian also played the inch-perfect corner delivery that led to Riyad Mahrez's gorgeous half-volleyed third, which most would have accepted was game over for United. Though fans would have hoped the players weren't of the same opinion.

Yet the response to that 68th-minute goal was non-existent. City had 87 per cent of the ball between the 76th minute and full-time as United just seemed to throw in the towel – the concession of a late fourth to Mahrez was a just punishment for their reaction.

City's performance was a timely and fitting reminder that their superiority cannot be simply copied and pasted.

Rangnick said on Friday that City are an example because every decision in the club revolves around certain ideals and a joint-up philosophical approach to football – the second half on Sunday embodied that as they played United off the park playing the ferocious football they are known for.

Before this weekend, United had been reduced to the role of prospective party-poopers – it's a damning indictment of where they are now that even this was evidently way beyond their capacity.

Liverpool closed the gap on leaders Manchester City with victory over West Ham, while Chelsea tightened their grip on third place in Saturday's Premier League action.

The Blues saw off Burnley 4-0 at Turf Moor, a scoreline that was matched by Aston Villa in their statement victory against Southampton.

Newcastle United, Crystal Palace and Brentford also picked up wins, but it was a bad start to life under new management for Leeds in their early kick-off against Leicester City.

Following another eventful day of Premier League action, Stats Perform delves into the key Opta facts from each of the games.

Leeds United 0-1 Leicester City: New manager, same Leeds

Jesse Marsch's first game as Leeds boss ended in defeat to Leicester as United fell to a fifth successive league loss for the first time since April 2015, when they were in the Championship.

Leeds have failed to score in three straight league matches for the first time in a year, this despite registering 19 shots in their latest blank against Leicester.

United's expected goals (xG) return of 1.95 is their highest without scoring in a league game since June 2020, and the familiar failings were also on show at the other end.

Harvey Barnes' second-half winner means Leeds have gone 13 league games without a clean sheet, their longest-such run since 14 without a shutout ending in August 2016.

This was the fifth straight league game Barnes has scored against Leeds – four of those while playing for Leicester and one for West Brom, making them his favourite opponent.

 

Aston Villa 4-0 Southampton: Coutinho's home comforts

Villa are firmly back on track after registering back-to-back victories under Steven Gerrard for the first time since his opening two games in charge in November.

The Villans put four unanswered goals past Southampton at Villa Park for their biggest Premier League win since thrashing Liverpool 7-2 in October 2020.

Barcelona loanee Philippe Coutinho once again played a big part in the victory by scoring one and assisting another for Douglas Luiz.

Coutinho has now been directly involved in six goals in his first four home league games for Villa, scoring three of his own and setting up as many.

Ollie Watkins had earlier opened the scoring with his 21st Premier League strike since the start of the 2020-21 season, while Danny Ings added to his two assists with Villa's fourth goal.

 

Newcastle United 2-1 Brighton and Hove Albion: Fraser helps end Magpies' duck against Seagulls

For a while things looked incredibly bleak for Newcastle, even after their big-money takeover, but they now find themselves seven points above the relegation zone.

The Magpies held off Brighton to make it eight Premier League games without defeat – no team is on a better such run – with five of those matches ending in victory.

Ryan Fraser opened the scoring to make it two goals in five Premier League outings, matching his tally from his previous 70 appearances, before setting up Fabian Schar.

That was the earliest United have scored twice in a Premier League home game since January 2007 and, despite Lewis Dunk's header, Eddie Howe's side saw out the win.

It marks the first time Newcastle have defeated Brighton in the Premier League in their 10th such encounter, having previously failed to so much as score against them at home.

 

Norwich City 1-3 Brentford: Bees buzzing thanks to Toney treble

After a run of eight Premier League games without a win, Brentford bolstered their survival ambitions with a well-earned victory away at bottom side Norwich.

Ivan Toney was the hero for the Bees with three goals, two of those from the penalty spot, making Brentford the 40th different team to boast a hat-trick scorer.

The Brentford striker now has nine Premier League goals for the season, each of those coming via his right foot.

Teemu Pukki scored a consolation but it was another miserable day for Norwich, whose goal difference of -42 is the worst at this stage since Derby County in 2007-08 (-44).

Not that it will matter a great deal in the grand scheme of things, but Brentford are the first team Pukki has scored home and away against in a single Premier League season.

 

Wolves 0-2 Crystal Palace: Shaky Wanderers lose again

Wolves' European hopes suffered another blow as they fell to a third successive Premier League defeat, as many as they lost in their previous 13.

Bruno Lage's out-of-form side have now conceded six goals in their last four league games, after shipping just five in 12 before that.

Jean-Philippe Mateta came up with the breakthrough from close range for his fourth goal in eight Premier League starts, and Wilfried Zaha doubled Palace's lead from the penalty spot.

Ivory Coast international Zaha has now been directly involved in 83 goals in the competition, the joint-ninth best total for an African player, level with Nwankwo Kanu.

With this latest loss, it is the first time Wolves have lost three games in a row against Palace in their entire league history.

 

Burnley 0-4 Chelsea: Blues cruise at Turf Moor

It was business as usual for Chelsea as they won for a third Premier League game running without conceding in what proved to be a straightforward victory at lowly Burnley.

The Blues scored all four of their goals in the second half as they enjoyed their biggest away league win since October 2018 when also beating Burnley by the same scoreline.

This was the biggest margin of victory for an away side in a game that was goalless at half-time since Tottenham beat Aston Villa 4-0 in December 2012.

Reece James started the scoring and in the process became the first defender from Europe's top five leagues to both score and assist five goals this term in all competitions.

Kai Havertz also netted twice before Christian Pulisic added some gloss to the scoreline – his fourth goal at Turf Moor, matching a record for an away player set by Tottenham's Harry Kane.

 

Liverpool 1-0 West Ham: Reds roll on thanks to Mane

Sadio Mane's first-half goal made it seven wins in a row for Liverpool in the Premier League, their best such streak since a run of 18 when they claimed the title two years ago.

That close-range finish was Mane's 12th of the season in the league, nine of those coming at Anfield – no player has scored more home goals in the division this season.

Trent Alexander-Arnold played the ball into the box for Mane's goal for his 16th assist in all competitions this term, more than he has ever registered in a single campaign.

Liverpool were not at their best and that was particularly true of Mohamed Salah, who failed to score from six shots – only against Stoke in April 2018 (seven) has he fared worse.

Incredibly, Virgil van Dijk has never been on the losing side for Liverpool in 60 Premier League home games at Anfield, setting a new record in that regard.

 

Shane Warne, one of the greatest cricketers of all time, has passed away at the age of 52.

Warne's death has left the sporting world in shock. He was a genius with the ball, taking 708 Test wickets across a 15-year career for Australia, and his place among the all-time sporting greats is secure.

He enjoyed a wonderful rivalry with Australia's old enemies, England.

As first impressions go, Warne's in Ashes cricket was about as eye-catching as you could possibly get.  

It was June 4, 1993 and the second day of the series opener between England and Australia at Old Trafford. Having taken five wickets for 45 runs in the morning session to dismiss their rivals for 289, the home side's reply was progressing steadily enough at 80-1. 

However, Warne's introduction into the attack produced one of cricket's most memorable moments and changed the dynamic of the rivalry for over the next decade.

Mike Gatting will certainly never forget it, as the leg-spinner unfurled a delivery that flummoxed the England batsman.

"We understood he was a very talented sportsperson. He liked his surfing, he was a typical sort of Aussie larrikin, as they called them, who could spin the cricket ball," Gatting told BBC 5 Live on Friday, following the confirmation of Warne's passing.

"We didn't know much more about him than that, and in the match before they told him to just bowl his leg-breaks and he didn't bowl his flippers, and topples [top-spinners], and googlies, but when he got down the other end there, I was just trying to watch the ball.

"I knew it was a leg-break and I knew it was going to spin, you could hear it coming through the air from down the other end, and then just at the last yard or so, as a good leg-spinner does, it just drifted in, and it drifted just outside leg stump and just turned out of nowhere, a long, long way.

"I'm quite a wide chap and it got past me as well as everything else and just clipped the off bail, and I was just as dumbfounded as I am now to hear that he's died."

'The Ball of the Century', as it became known, was poetry in slow (bowling) motion. The initial drift appeared to make it look innocuous enough as it veered to pitch outside the line of the right-handed Gatting's leg stump, only to dip, rip and zip beyond his defensive prod, beating the outside edge of the bat before going on to hit off stump. 

It was a stunning opening statement. As if he had cast a spell that day, Warne would go on to dominate against England for the rest of his career. 

Gatting will famously be remembered as the first but plenty more would be mesmerised by Warne, who ended his international career with 708 Test wickets at 25.41. Only Muttiah Muralitharan (800), Sri Lanka's own spin king, has ever managed more. 

The variations – the wrong'uns, flippers, sliders and shooters, or whatever other name Warne came up with for the latest addition to his bowling repertoire – all helped add to his aura. So many batsmen were often done in the mind before he had even released the ball from his right hand.

England suffered more than any other nation. Warne claimed 195 wickets against Australia's greatest rivals at an average of 23.3. 

More than half of that tally came on English soil too (129 at 21.9 in 22 matches), with his numbers against them in Australia impacted by missing the majority of the 1998-99 series due to a right shoulder injury, as well as a further two Tests in 2002-03. In terms of wickets abroad, South Africa sit second on his hit list, Warne picking up 61 there in 12 Tests. 

The young, bright-blond bowler in 1993 went on to finish with 34 scalps during the six-match Ashes, though a strike-rate of a wicket every 77.6 balls was comfortably the highest for any of his four series on English soil.

He picked up four in each innings in Manchester – albeit none with such dramatic effect as the delivery that did for Gatting – then repeated the trick at Lord's in the next Test. While the returns dipped for the remainder of the trip, including just one wicket at Headingley, Australia eased to a 4-1 triumph to retain the urn. 


From that away success towards the end of Allan Border's reign through the captaincy eras of Mark Taylor, Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting, the Australians would maintain their grip on the most famous prize in cricket until 2005, when Michael Vaughan's side worked out that attack was the best form of defence.

The competitive nature of that series – after a lop-sided opener at Lord’s that the tourists won, every other fixture provided sporting drama of the highest quality – seemingly inspired Warne to reach a personal Ashes peak.

No cause was lost when he had the ball that summer, as demonstrated when so nearly rescuing situations in eventual defeats at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge, when his side's batting failures left them playing catch-up. In the end, though, his 40 wickets at 19.9 were not enough to spare Australia from slipping to a 2-1 defeat.  

Still, he became just the eighth bowler to take 40 wickets in a series – and the first since 1989 – while striking on average every 37.9 balls. England had managed to win the war despite coming out second best in their battles with Warne. 

His hugely successful English summer helped towards an overall haul of 96 wickets in 2005, comfortably the best return during a Test career that saw him take 70 or more in a calendar year on four occasions.

The last act was to help regain the urn at home in 2006-07, Andrew Flintoff becoming Warne's 195th Ashes scalp when stumped by Adam Gilchrist in Sydney.  The bowler who made the fading art of leg spin fashionable once again had bamboozled England for the final time.

Now, cricket mourns the loss of a rare talent and a true legend.

Manchester United have plenty of issues to solve ahead of next season, no matter where they end up in 2021-22.

It seems certain that Ralf Rangnick will not be in charge, with Mauricio Pochettino among the favourites to take over, though the former RB Leipzig boss is set to move into a consultancy role at Old Trafford, and certainly has an eye for picking a player.

United have requirements in central midfield, regardless of whether Paul Pogba stays or goes, but based on current evidence, they also need a striker.

Their problems up top have come back to bite them in recent games. In fact, against Watford last time out, United had 22 shots, finishing with an expected goals (xG) of 2.7, yet drew 0-0 at Old Trafford. Putting away chances has been a major area of concern.

 

Cristiano Ronaldo returned to the club at the end of the August transfer window, and while he has contributed 15 goals in all competitions, it could easily be argued that United's all-round play has taken a hit since the 37-year-old's homecoming.

Edinson Cavani has featured only sporadically this season and, like Ronaldo, is approaching the twilight of a glistening career. Both players may well not be at United heading into 2022-23.

Anthony Martial is out on loan at Sevilla, with his United future looking rather bleak. Marcus Rashford, meanwhile, seems to lack the clinical nature to lead a title-challenging line.

The last time United went out and signed a striker at their peak was the season in which they last won the Premier League – Robin van Persie proving the difference in Alex Ferguson's last campaign in charge.

On Sunday, United face rivals Manchester City. A team that has perfected playing without a recognised number nine.

That is testament to Pep Guardiola's genius, but it has proved that it can be done. So, looking further down the line, who is the forward that United need?

Here, Stats Perform assesses some standout options.

Harry Kane (Tottenham)

Kane has long been linked with a move to Manchester, to both sides of the red-blue divide. It appeared City would bring the England captain north last year, yet Tottenham refused to budge, and it would seem that particular ship has sailed – Kane turns 29 this year and, with Erling Haaland's reported €75million (£62.1m) release clause, City are reportedly prioritising the Borussia Dortmund star. 

That could that leave the door open for Kane to rock up at Old Trafford instead, especially if the option of linking up with Pochettino is on the table.

It has been a tough season for Kane by his lofty standards, though his brilliant performances against City and Leeds United in recent weeks showed the player that was at the top of his game last season is still there.

Alexander Isak (Real Sociedad)

Taking Kylian Mbappe and Haaland out of the equation, United might still look at the younger end of the spectrum. In that regard, Real Sociedad's Isak may fit the bill.

Isak scored 17 LaLiga goals last season and, while he has not reached quite the same heights in 2021-22, at 22 he is definitely one for the future. His tally of eight goals across all competitions is disappointing, though when looking at expected goals on target (xGOT) – a tool that can quantify the quality of a player's finishing – Isak is at 12.2 for the season, suggesting that the placement of his shots should have resulted in more goals.

Patrik Schick (Bayer Leverkusen)

While not among the elite, if United are looking for a goalscorer then they could do worse than Schick, who has carried over his fine form from Euro 2020 into this season, scoring 20 goals in 24 matches for Bayer Leverkusen, striking on average every 84 minutes, which is the third-best minutes per goal ratio of strikers in Europe's top five leagues to have already netted at least 20 goals in all competitions, after Haaland and Robert Lewandowski (more on him later).

 

Schick has already had something of a nomadic career but at 26 is about to enter his prime years. His shot conversion rate of 28.17 is superb, ranking fourth out of players from the Premier League, Bundesliga, Serie A, LaLiga and Ligue 1 to have scored at least 10 times.

The Czech's xGOT of 16.1, minus his xG of 14.4, gives him a shooting goals added (sga) figure of +1.7, meaning he is executing better quality shots than the quality of the chances he has attempted shots from. However, in contrast to Isak, he may also have benefited from goalkeepers failing to keep out attempts they would be expected to.

Lautaro Martinez (Inter)

One player who is among Europe's elite forwards is Inter's Martinez. The Argentine struck up a fearsome partnership with Romelu Lukaku in 2019-20 and 2020-21, and he has scored 12 goals already this season.

Martinez's aggression and pace could make him an ideal frontman for the Premier League, though his finishing can be erratic (he has had 102 attempts this season but has a conversion rate of just 11.76 per cent), while he has also underperformed his xG (17.1). The Argentine did only sign a new Inter contract last year, so he would be hard to prise away.

Robert Lewandowski (Bayern)

Before disregarding the option of Lewandowski as fantasy, take into account that he has not yet signed a new deal with Bayern Munich. The 33-year-old's contract expires in 2023.

Lewandowski is undoubtedly the best out-and-out striker in world football right now and, if Ronaldo and Cavani were to leave, United might prefer to go with experience. 

 

Not that experience is all Lewandowski would offer. He will go down as one of the best to grace the game and has 39 goals in 33 appearances this season, slightly overperforming his xG (37.6) in the process. He nets on average every 73 minutes and, like Van Persie a decade ago, would surely transform United into title contenders. That being said, the same was also said about Ronaldo.

Joao Felix (Atletico Madrid) 

Something of a wildcard option, Joao Felix is not the typical striker, but if United were to go down a Guardiola-inspired false nine route, then the former Benfica boy wonder might be the perfect fit.

It would be harsh to say Joao Felix has been a failure at Atletico Madrid, but it is fair to suggest he has not been a rip-roaring success under Diego Simeone either.

Yet the 22-year-old has shown flashes of brilliance. Indeed, he outshone compatriot Ronaldo in United's recent Champions League draw with Atleti and with the tactical nous he is sure to have got from Simeone, it would be intriguing to see him at Old Trafford.

Shane Warne, the Australia leg-spinner who was one of the greatest bowlers to ever grace a cricket field, has died aged 52 of a suspected heart attack.

The former Victoria and Hampshire player, widely regarded as one of the game's all-time greats, was found unresponsive at his villa in Thailand.

Across a 15-year Test career that stretched from 1992 to 2007, Warne cemented himself as the architect of a leg-spin revival.

His haul of 708 wickets across 145 Test matches is the second-highest number taken by any bowler and just one of several records set across his career. Here, Stats Perform looks at some of his finest feats.

708 - Only one bowler – Sri Lanka's Muttiah Muralitharan (800) – has ever taken more Test wickets than Warne, who amassed 708.

195 - Warne's haul of 195 Ashes victims means he holds the record for most Test wickets against England.

199 - The spinner had 199 Test innings at the crease as a batsman, hitting 3,154 runs overall at an average of 17.32.

14 - Alec Stewart was Warne's favourite opponent to bowl to in Tests, with the Englishman dismissed 14 times.

99 - Warne's highest score in Test cricket was 99 runs, while his best effort in one-day internationals was 55.

130 - After England, Warne took the most Test wickets against South Africa, with 130 in total.

96 - Warne's most successful year for bowling, numbers-wise, was in 2005 when he took 96 Test wickets, although an Ashes defeat took some shine off that haul. In ODIs, he took a career-high 62 wickets in 1999.

291 - He took 291 wickets for Australia across 193 ODI appearances.

319 - A hefty proportion of Warne's Test wickets came on home turf, with 319 coming his way while playing in Australia, including 15 five-wicket hauls.

129 - In 22 Tests in England, Warne took 129 wickets.

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