It is finally official. Manchester City will be the new home of Erling Haaland next season after the announcement of an agreement with Borussia Dortmund for the superstar's capture.

Barring an unexpected issue with personal terms, the striker will arrive after two and a half years in the Bundesliga to bring even more firepower to the Premier League champions.

Having flirted with Tottenham's Harry Kane throughout last year's pre-season transfer window without landing their man, City have decided to go down the Haaland route to finally bring in the number nine they have sought since Sergio Aguero left.

Pep Guardiola has told anyone who will listen all season how incredible it is that his team has maintained the standards they have "without a striker", which can't have made Gabriel Jesus feel all that good about himself, let's be honest.

But can Haaland replace the significant impact of club legend Aguero? Stats Perform has taken a look at the numbers to determine the potential impact of the Norway sensation.

More than just "Agueroooo"

When you reel off a list of the greatest players to don a City shirt, Aguero's name is likely to feature prominently.

The Argentine striker played a huge role in taking the club from top-four contenders to the most dominant team in England, winning five Premier League titles, six EFL Cups and an FA Cup.

Aguero scored 260 goals in 390 games for City, averaging a goal every 107 minutes over his 10 years at the club.

He, of course, will also forever be synonymous with the famous stoppage time goal against QPR in 2012 that sealed City's first Premier League title, snatching it from the hands of Manchester United with almost the last kick of the season.

Despite his undoubted quality, there were some questions about how he would fare under Guardiola when the Catalan coach arrived in 2016.

While Guardiola had played with orthodox strikers before, arguably his crowning achievement was cultivating a Barcelona team that many still believe to this day is the greatest club side the game has ever seen – and that broadly played without a number nine, with Lionel Messi often used in a false nine role.

He did utilise Robert Lewandowski to good effect while at Bayern Munich, though, and while he did not exactly make Aguero his first name on the teamsheet every week, the overall development in quality of the team led to the striker actually improving his own numbers.

Under Guardiola, Aguero played 182 games, scoring 124 goals at a rate of 102 minutes per goal.

Unfortunately, injuries hindered Aguero in his final two seasons before he bade a tearful goodbye at the end of last season to join Barcelona. He was then forced to retire from the game altogether in December on health grounds, but the forward's significant impact at City will never be in question.

 

Step forward the second-generation sensation

It almost sounds like something out of the Football Manager computer game series. The son of former Leeds United and City player Alf-Inge Haaland goes on to become one of the best strikers in world football? Yeah, sure.

Well, it's true. Haaland burst onto the scene as he scored goals at rates rarely seen before at Salzburg, before making the move to Dortmund in the January transfer window of 2020, and he has not looked back since.

Haaland has bagged 85 goals in 88 games for BVB in all competitions, which works out at a goal every 84 minutes. Not bad for someone who only turns 22 in July.

But how does he compare to Aguero? It is difficult to make comparisons given the difference in style, experience and leagues, but to try to get a good idea, let's look at Haaland's two and a half years in the Bundesliga compared to Aguero's first three Premier League campaigns under Guardiola.

In Haaland's 66 league games for Dortmund – in which he has scored 61 goals, averaging 87 minutes per goal – he has attempted 3.5 shots per 90, with a shot conversion rate of 29.9 per cent, and he has scored 62.0 per cent of his 'big chances' (chances from which Opta would expect a player to score).

He has also averaged 3.3 shots from inside the penalty area per 90, notable with City spending so much time camped around opposition boxes.

Between 2016 and 2019, Aguero played 89 Premier League matches for City, scoring 62 goals at an average of one every 111 minutes.

The Argentinian averaged 4.6 shots per 90, with a shot conversion rate of 17.7 per cent, scoring from 53.9 per cent of his big chances, with an average of 3.6 shots from inside the penalty area.

It therefore appears that Haaland is actually the deadlier finisher, which is quite an achievement next to someone as good as Aguero, and one would assume Haaland's shot numbers will increase playing in a more dominant team like City, who always create plenty of chances.

 

It might be argued that goals in the Bundesliga do not always translate into goals in the Premier League. For example, Timo Werner scored 28 goals in 34 games in his last league campaign at RB Leipzig before joining Chelsea, where he has scored just 10 in 56 Premier League appearances.

However, even allowing for a period of adaption, it would take a brave person to bet against Haaland being a success in England based on his career to date.

Already outstanding in a single season without Aguero, City have seemingly identified the man to fill those big boots.

Manchester City edged closer to the Premier League title, while there was significant change at the bottom of the table on Sunday.

City were eliminated from the Champions League semi-finals in dramatic fashion by Real Madrid in midweek, but saw their domestic hopes boosted when Liverpool dropped points against Tottenham on Saturday.

Pep Guardiola's side subsequently breezed past Newcastle United to move three points clear of the Reds with three games remaining, while West Ham hit relegated Norwich City for four.

Elsewhere, Arsenal continued their charge for Champions League qualification with a narrow victory over 10-man Leeds United, who ended the day in the relegation zone after Everton triumphed at Leicester City.

Here, Stats Perform takes a look at the pick of the Opta data from the day's top-flight fixtures.

Manchester City 5-0 Newcastle United: Sterling provides as title charge continues 

Raheem Sterling was at the double as City strengthened their grasp on top spot with a 5-0 rout of Newcastle at the Etihad Stadium.

Sterling and Aymeric Laporte struck in the first half, with Joao Cancelo teeing up the England international's opener as the full-back became the fourth of Guardiola's players to reach 10 assists in all competitions this season (also Kevin de Bruyne with 13, Phil Foden and Gabriel Jesus - both 11).

City are the only team in Europe's big five leagues to have four or more different players reach 10 assists in all competitions this campaign, and Guardiola's men furthered their advantage after the interval.

Rodri then scored following a corner, as Laporte did in the first half, as City managed their 19th and 20th goals from set-piece situations this term in the league, excluding penalties. They have conceded just once from set-pieces themselves, with their plus-19 differential the best figure recorded in a single season in the Premier League since such records are available (2006-07 onwards).

Foden added a fourth before Sterling capped a fine victory with his 51st Premier League goal at the Etihad, becoming only the second player to pass 50 strikes for City at home in the competition after Sergio Aguero (106).

City have beaten Newcastle 28 times in the Premier League (D8 L8), more than they have any other side in the competition. In their league history, they have only beaten Everton (72 times) more often than the Magpies (68 times).

Meanwhile, Eddie Howe has lost all 12 of his Premier League meetings with City – 10 of those against Guardiola – the worst 100 per cent losing record a manager has against a single opponent or against another boss in the competition.

Arsenal 2-1 Leeds United: Ill-tempered Whites fall into relegation zone

An Eddie Nketiah double kept Arsenal on course for Champions League qualification as they triumphed 2-1 against 10-man Leeds, who dropped into the bottom three for the first time since October 30.

Nketiah fired the Gunners into a 2-0 lead as he became just the second Arsenal player to score twice in the opening 10 minutes of a Premier League game after Kanu (versus Sunderland in October 2002).

With Alexandre Lacazette out of favour, Nketiah has stepped up as Mikel Arteta's talisman, scoring four goals in his last four league games – just one fewer than he had managed in his first 52 top-flight appearances.

Luke Ayling was then dismissed for a mindless two-footed lunge on Gabriel Martinelli after 27 minutes, Leeds' earliest red card in the competition since April 1998 (when Lucas Radebe saw red after 17 minutes against Everton).

Tempers continued to flare before the interval as Leeds picked up their 95th and 96th yellow cards of the season, setting a new record for the most bookings for a club within a single Premier League campaign.

Diego Llorente offered Jesse Marsch's visitors brief hope as he poked home with Leeds' first shot on target, which marked the first home league goal Arsenal have conceded from a corner since February 2021 (also against Leeds).

However, Arsenal held on for victory to move four points clear of fifth-placed Tottenham, who they face on Thursday knowing victory will secure Champions League football next campaign.

Leicester City 1-2 Everton: Toffees move out of bottom three

Mason Holgate's second-half header proved the difference as Everton climbed out of the relegation zone with a battling 2-1 victory at Leicester.

Before this game, Leicester had won eight of their last nine top-flight matches against sides starting the day inside the relegation zone (D1), but the Foxes were caught cold by Vitalii Mykolenko's early volley.

That made Mykolenko the first Ukrainian to score a Premier League goal for Everton, the 39th different nationality to find the net in the competition for the Toffees, the sixth most of all clubs.

Patson Daka restored parity five minutes later, with all five of the striker's Premier League goals coming at the King Power Stadium – only Jamie Vardy (6) has netted more often at home for the club in the top-flight in 2021-22.

Holgate delivered the decisive finish in the 30th minute with his second league goal in his last five matches, one more than he had managed across his previous 109 top-flight appearances beforehand (one).

Brendan Rodgers will be left frustrated by the nature of Holgate's goal, given it was the 15th Premier League strike Leicester have conceded from a corner this campaign – the most by a side in a single campaign since Brighton and Hove Albion in 2017-18 (16).

Victory marked the first away league win in 15 games for Everton, ending a seven-game losing streak on the road as Frank Lampard's side moved a point clear of Leeds and Burnley having played one game fewer.

Norwich City 0-4 West Ham: Bowen and Benrahma on song to down Canaries

Said Benrahma scored twice as West Ham responded to Thursday's Europa League semi-final heartbreak by cruising past relegated Norwich 4-0 at Carrow Road.

Benrahma struck after 12 minutes before Michail Antonio ended his joint-longest goal drought in the top-flight with his fifth Premier League strike against the Canaries, only against Tottenham (six) has he scored more in the competition. 

Algeria international Benrahma doubled his tally before the interval, taking him to 21 direct goal contributions in the competition (nine goals, 12 assists). Since his debut in 2020, Jarrod Bowen (30) and Antonio (28) are the only other Hammers to register 20+ top-flight goal involvements.

Bowen assisted both of Benrahma's strikes as the former Hull City man became just the second player for West Ham to register at least 10 goals and 10 assists in a Premier League season, and the first since Paolo Di Canio in 1999-00 (16 goals, 13 assists).

Indeed, only Harry Kane (32) has been involved in more goals among English Premier League players in all competitions than Bowen this season (27 – 16 goals, 11 assists).

Manuel Lanzini's second-half penalty rounded off the victory as West Ham won a Premier League away game by at least a four-goal margin for just the third time, while it was the first time the Hammers have put at least four goals past a side in consecutive league visits since doing so against Tottenham in November 1966.

Meanwhile, Norwich have failed to score in 20 different league games this season, becoming the first side to do so in at least 20 matches in three different Premier League campaigns (also in 1994-95 and 2019-20).

Amid the furore of Real Madrid's quite astonishing great escape in the Champions League – well, their latest – it's easy to forget they only won the Spanish title last weekend.

Of course, it had been long foreseen, but Madrid's 35th LaLiga crown was secured with their 4-0 win over Espanyol at the Santiago Bernabeu, leading to a party that had Marcelo climbing statues, Carlo Ancelotti smoking a cigar and David Alaba getting his chair out again.

With a record-extending 17th Champions League final appearance wrapped up, Madrid can turn their attention back to LaLiga knowing they still have a reason to keep themselves sharp, and they could yet equal their best points tally (93) since reaching 100 in 2011-12.

Fittingly, their first league match as champions comes against the team they ousted, with bitter rivals Atletico Madrid playing host to Los Blancos at the Wanda Metropolitano on Sunday.

While that match has taken a back seat over the past few days, in Spain there has been a debate centred on the derby rumbling in the background for some time now.

As champions, Madrid might feel entitled to a pasillo, or 'guard of honour' – but they won't get one.

'A public toll'

While the guard of honour is a tradition with deep roots in sport, there's little doubt that it's a polarising gesture.

A mark of respect, perhaps, but more and more it is seen as a tool of humiliation, particularly when expected in such contests between major rivals.

The decision was down to Atletico's decision makers rather than the players, though captain Jan Oblak made his feelings perfectly clear after their defeat to Athletic Bilbao last weekend.

He said: "As captain, I'm one of those who doesn't like to give or receive the guard of honour, but the club will decide and we'll do whatever is necessary."

Atletico subsequently released a statement on Monday confirming they'll not participate, with their strong response claiming the recent debate was stirred purely to stoke anger between fanbases.

They said: "Some want to turn what was born as a gesture of recognition for the champion into a public toll that their rivals must pay, also impregnated with the aroma of humiliation. Under no concept are Atletico Madrid going to collaborate in this attempt at derision in which the true values ​​of sport are completely forgotten and tension and confrontation between the fans is encouraged."

Additionally, Atletico suggested there was no such debate around Celta Vigo's decision not to give them a guard of honour at the start of this season, with the controversy around the upcoming derby "exaggerated and artificial".

Some might feel Atletico's disdain for the tradition is disrespectful, but there is refreshing sentiment behind their stance as well: not every mark of respect needs to be accompanied by a performative gesture.

In this age of obsessing over social media engagement, there seems a need to turn normal behaviour into a song and dance, the classic example being the tidy changing room photo. "That's class" or "respect [clapping emoji]" litter the replies on Twitter – it's not, it's just common courtesy.

If Atletico players, officials, coaches or fans wish to congratulate Madrid, it doesn't require a forced gesture.

Madrid's refusal

This is by no means the first time Madrid have been involved in guard of honour controversy. Four years ago, the debate around the pasillo was arguably at its zenith.

Barcelona had won the title prior to facing Madrid in El Clasico, meaning there were those in the Blaugrana ranks expecting a show of respect at Camp Nou.

But Madrid refused. Zinedine Zidane, coach at the time, pointed the finger. He suggested they might have reciprocated had Barca given them a guard of honour a few months earlier when Los Blancos won the Club World Cup.

Barca's justification then was that they didn't play in the Club World Cup so didn't need to acknowledge Madrid's success – not that Zidane was buying the excuse.

"It's a lie," he said. "You have to win the Champions League to play in the Club World Cup. I am not the one to decide that we don't want to do the pasillo. They didn't do it, we respect that; we'll not do it because they didn't do it."

Gerard Pique, true to form, found a novel way to get around the issue while simultaneously highlighting Madrid's refusal – he arranged for Barca's coaching staff to give the players a pasillo instead at full-time.

Had Sergio Ramos still been at Madrid, one might have been expecting a similar arrangement for Sunday.

'Party of the champions'

The only other time this century that the pasillo has been such a contentious subject was in 2008, when Madrid did receive one in El Clasico.

The 2007-08 season was a dire one for Barca. Not only did Madrid win the title comfortably with 18 points more than their great rivals, but Frank Rijkaard's men also finished 10 points adrift of second-placed Villarreal.

 

Although Barca crushed Valencia 6-0 leading up to the Clasico clash on May 7, 2008, they were unable to prevent Madrid claiming the title, setting things up perfectly for the ultimate humiliation.

"The party of the champions", read the front page of Madrid-based daily newspaper AS on the morning of the game. Notoriously pro-Madrid Marca went with "Barca is here", accompanying a picture showing where the visitors were due to form their guard of honour. And Catalan publication Sport highlighted the other side of things, saying, "the pasillo that suffers alone", and adding, "Barca fans do not deserve to have to see the pasillo".

Despite the shameless nose-rubbing of the Madrid press and the intense humiliation that was about to befall them, Barca gritted their teeth. "Although it hurts, we will do it," Rijkaard said.

Club captain Carles Puyol sang from a similar hymn sheet: "As an athlete you have to recognise the champion, and we will do that. They have won it on the pitch. Real Madrid have been fair champions."

The emotions of the two coaches that night could not have been more different. Rijkaard slowly ambled out and took his position, hands together behind his back, before the Barca players jogged out and formed two columns either side of the halfway line, the cameras of the Bernabeu crowd incessantly flashing with glee.

Meanwhile, Bernd Schuster watched on as his Madrid side triumphantly walked through that red-and-blue-walled corridor, twenty years after he was a part of the last guard of honour Barca performed in El Clasico, wearing a Blaugrana jersey.

Some, such as Pepe, Fernando Gago and Wesley Sneijder walked straight down the middle, seemingly preserving the thoughts of a true rivalry by refusing to thank their counterparts for the degrading act of a Clasico pasillo, but looking back, that was the least embarrassing part of the whole night for Barca.

What started with a pasillo ended in a pasting, with Barca flattered by a 4-1 defeat in which Madrid were utterly dominant.

Atletico will at least avoid one form of humiliation, but considering the contrasting fortunes of the two teams on the pitch this term, it's hardly a given that Diego Simeone's side will prevent a mauling.

Football in May really can be all or nothing. Some teams have nothing left to play for beyond pride, while others have everything on the line in the closing weeks of the season.

It is safe to say that Liverpool's clash with Tottenham at Anfield on Saturday is in the latter category.

Liverpool remain in the hunt for an astonishing quadruple having already won the EFL Cup and booked their place in both the FA Cup and Champions League finals, while sitting just a point behind Manchester City in the Premier League title race.

Tottenham, meanwhile, are still in with a chance of securing Champions League football for next season with a top-four finish. They are currently in fifth place, two points behind north London rivals Arsenal.

Such is the precarious position of both teams as they chase glory, any slip-up will in all likelihood spell the end for their hopes and dreams in the league, which sets up their Anfield battle nicely.

Who will end the night with their season still on track, and who will end it wondering if there is any chance of recovering? Stats Perform takes a look at the Opta numbers heading into what should be a fascinating contest.

Reds capable of blunting Spurs

With Liverpool's home record over the years, it feels like most games at Anfield start with people explaining how few wins the visitors have in recent history.

Indeed, the same is the case with Tottenham, as Liverpool have lost only one of their last 27 Premier League home games against them, and are unbeaten in their last 10 since a 2-0 loss in May 2011.

Spurs have become a dangerous opponent for anyone in recent times, which Manchester City will attest to having been beaten 3-2 at the Etihad Stadium in February, allowing Jurgen Klopp's Reds to close the gap at the top in the first place.

However, despite having won four of their five Premier League meetings with Liverpool between November 2010 and November 2012, Spurs have won just one of their last 18 against them.

Will someone pay the penalty?

This time last year, you would have been called a fool for predicting Liverpool would be anywhere near the title race now, let alone being so while potentially winning every other trophy possible as well.

The Reds had a turbulent campaign in 2020-21, which included an unthinkable six home defeats in a row at one point, with no fans or centre-backs, leaving them flailing in their own quest for Champions League qualification, though a late run of wins saw them ultimately finish third.

Since the last of those six home defeats, the Reds are unbeaten in 21 Premier League home games, scoring 52 goals and conceding just nine. They have won each of their last 12 at Anfield, including the last five while keeping a clean sheet – only once have they had a longer run of home wins without conceding in the Premier League (eight between October 2005 and January 2006).

Ensuring another shutout will be easier said than done, though, as Liverpool against Tottenham is the second highest-scoring fixture in Premier League history (170 goals in 59 meetings), while it has seen more penalties awarded than any other match-up in the competition (23).

Kane v Mane

It was a slow start to the season for Tottenham striker Harry Kane, only managing one goal in his first 13 league games, though the England captain has bagged 12 goals in 20 games since.

He also has a good record against Saturday's opponents, having been involved in nine goals in 13 Premier League appearances against Liverpool (seven goals, two assists), with five of these goal involvements coming in seven games at Anfield (four goals, one assist).

Spurs will have to be wary of Liverpool's forward threat too, with Sadio Mane on such a run of form that he is in the early conversation for this year's Ballon d'Or.

Mane also has an impeccable record at Anfield, having scored in 49 different Premier League games at the stadium (one for Southampton and 48 for Liverpool) avoiding defeat in all 49 of those matches (W44 D5) – the most games a player has scored in at a single ground in the competition's history without ever losing.

Conte can dampen Reds title hopes

Having started the season with Nuno Espirito Santo in the dugout after Antonio Conte was among a series of coaches to turn the club down, very few Spurs fans would have been expecting to see the Italian leading their charge for a top-four spot just a few months later.

Conte has unsurprisingly been a success at Tottenham since arriving in November, with 14 wins, four draws and six defeats in his 24 Premier League games so far.

Both of former Chelsea boss Conte's Premier League visits to Liverpool have finished in 1-1 draws – only four managers have avoided defeat in each of their first three away games at Anfield in the competition: Martin O'Neill, Peter Reid, Roy Hodgson and Paul Lambert.

Arguably the most impressive player so far under Conte, Son Heung-min, has scored 19 Premier League goals this season, with none of them coming from the penalty spot. The South Korea international could become just the second Spurs player to score 20 in a Premier League campaign without any of them being penalties, after Gareth Bale in 2012-13.

Three matchdays remain in Serie A, and yet there is plenty still to be decided at both ends of the table – not least which side will be crowned champions.

Milan occupy top spot in their quest for a first Scudetto since 2011, but fierce rivals Inter are just two points behind and arguably have an easier set of fixtures to conclude the campaign.

Napoli and Juventus are not officially out of the title race just yet, though they are seven and eight points off first place respectively, therefore requiring a remarkable set of results.

Both Napoli and Juventus are already assured of a top-four finish, but there are several other teams still battling it out for the three remaining European spots.

Venezia appear doomed at the opposite end of the table after losing to fellow strugglers Salernitana on Thursday, with the latter's victory lifting them out of the bottom three – in all, six teams remain in trouble.

But just how will the remaining two and a half weeks of the season unfold? Using the Stats Perform League Prediction Model, we can try to forecast the final standings.

Created by Stats Perform AI using Opta data, the model has analysed the division to assign percentages to potential outcomes for each club.

The model estimates the probability of each match outcome (win, draw or loss) based on teams' attacking and defensive qualities, which considers four years' worth of results.

Weighting is based on recency and the quality of opposition, with the rest of the matches then simulated 10,000 times to calculate the likelihood of each outcome.

Let's take a look...

 

MILAN TO SEE THE JOB THROUGH

Milan still have Hellas Verona (ninth), Atalanta (eighth) and Sassuolo (11th) to face, whereas Inter's final fixtures are against Empoli (14th), Cagliari (18th) and Sampdoria (15th).

However, it is worth noting that if they finish level on points, Milan would be crowned champions by virtue of a superior head-to-read record against their rivals this term.

With that in mind, while Inter are only two points behind, they essentially need to take three more points than Milan over the final three matchdays.

And our model suggests the Rossoneri have a 62 per cent chance of retaining top spot, compared to a 37.7 per cent chance of defending champions Inter overtaking them.

Just to highlight how unlikely it is either Napoli or Juventus will pip the current top two to the summit, they have a 0.2 and 0.1 per cent chance of winning the title respectively.

A ROME ONE-TWO FOR EUROPA LEAGUE?

The Champions League places may now officially be wrapped up, but five teams are still battling it out for the three remaining European berths.

The sides that finish in fifth and sixth, currently occupied by Roma and Lazio, will qualify for the Europa League group stage.

Roma, according to the model, have a 59.1 per cent chance of nailing down fifth place – though if they were to drop to seventh, the Europa Conference League finalists could get into the Europa League by winning UEFA's third-tier competition.

Lazio would take great enjoyment from finishing above their neighbours and have a 36.9 per cent chance of doing so.

The first priority for Maurizio Sarri will be locking down sixth, though, and there is a 46.7 per cent likelihood of achieving that with Fiorentina three points further back.

ATALANTA TO PIP FIORENTINA

While the top six are forecast to remain where they are, our model predicts seventh-placed Fiorentina will miss out to Atalanta in the Europa Conference League play-off position.

After losing three games in a row, La Viola now have a 31.2 per cent chance of staying seventh, compared to 47.6 for Atalanta, whom they are currently level with on 56 points.

Verona are four points further back and that appears to be too big a gap to bridge, with the Gialloblu seemingly certain to remain in eighth.

Indeed, the 80.8 per cent likelihood of Verona finishing in that position is bettered only by the chances of Empoli staying 14th (90.2 per cent) and Venezia remaining bottom (87.4 per cent) given the points margin either side.

VENEZIA AND TWO OTHERS TO DESCEND

Thursday's 2-1 defeat away to Salernitana looks to have spelled the end for Venezia's brief stint back in the top flight as it leaves them seven points from safety. Their chances of escaping the drop sit at 0.1 per cent.

Salernitana still have a 36.2 per cent chance of dropping into the bottom three, but given they face the team directly below them – Cagliari – and Empoli in their next two games, they will surely like those odds.

Another win for Salernitana on Sunday would be massive at the bottom, as such a result will relegate Venezia and potentially Genoa, whom the model gives only a 1.2 per cent likelihood of climbing up to 17th.

Spezia and Sampdoria aren't quite out of the woods yet, but their five-point cushions should be enough to keep them in Serie A. Everything points to Sunday's contest being almost a straight relegation play-off between Salernitana and Cagliari.

The model suggests with a 63.3 per cent probability that Cagliari will go down, but their fate is in their own hands.

Sensational comebacks are increasingly a staple of the modern Champions League, and this season they have belonged almost exclusively to Real Madrid.

Los Blancos trailed Manchester City 1-0 heading into the 90th minute at the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday, with Pep Guardiola's team leading 5-3 on aggregate.

Yet two goals in the space of 91 seconds from Rodrygo forced extra-time, and Carlo Ancelotti's team set up a meeting with Liverpool in Paris when Karim Benzema converted a penalty to claim a 3-1 win (6-5 on aggregate).

It was the third stunning turnaround Madrid have enjoyed in the knockout stages this campaign, following Benzema's hat-trick against Paris Saint-Germain in the last 16 and Rodrygo's goal against Chelsea to secure an aggregate win in the quarters last month.

Here's a few other incredible comebacks to jog your memory.

Real Madrid 3-1 PSG (3-2 agg), 2022

Madrid have done it the hard way this season, as they target a 14th European title. 

Not many fancied them to get through against PSG, especially when Kylian Mbappe, who had scored a stunning goal in the first leg in Paris in February, put Mauricio Pochettino's team ahead at the Santiago Bernabeu with a crisp finish.

Yet Gianluigi Donnarumma's slack play enabled Benzema to pounce and pull one back, with the striker then scoring twice in two minutes to turn the tie on its head and set Madrid en route to the final.

Barcelona 6-1 PSG (6-5 agg), 2017

Barcelona remain the perpetrators of the most remarkable of all Champions League comebacks, at least in terms of deficit overhauled.

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

However, two quick Neymar goals – the second a highly controversial penalty after an apparent Suarez dive – levelled the tie at 5-5.

Then, in the fifth minute of stoppage time, Sergi Roberto struck to create a slice of Champions League history – no side had ever turned around a four-goal first-leg deficit before.

Roma 3-0 Barcelona (4-4 agg, Roma won on away goals), 2018

The boot was on the other foot when Barcelona were dethroned in the Italian capital last year as Roma completed one of the most unlikely turnarounds in quarter-final history.

Eusebio Di Francesco's side came back from a 4-1 first-leg deficit to progress to the last eight on away goals 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 completely fell to pieces.

Liverpool 4 Barcelona 0 (4-3 agg), 2019

Fresh from netting a late winner at Newcastle United the weekend before, Divock Origi allowed the Liverpool faithful to dream by poaching his maiden Champions League goal in the seventh minute.

Jurgen Klopp needed Alisson to be on form as he saved from Messi and Suarez, before another unlikely hero emerged.

Andrew Robertson's injury forced James Milner to left-back and Georginio Wijnaldum into the fray at half-time. By the hour, the Dutch midfielder had Liverpool level thanks to two goals in 122 delirious seconds.

Origi had the final word thanks to Trent Alexander-Arnold's quick thinking from a 79th-minute corner, leaving Barcelona and Messi crestfallen once more. The Reds went on to beat Tottenham in an all-English final.

Real Madrid 1-4 Ajax (5-3 agg), 2019

Despite their impressive display in their 2-1 first-leg defeat, nobody really seemed to think Ajax could turn things around at the Santiago Bernabeu. Sergio Ramos certainly did not – he earned a booking to avoid the risk of a quarter-final ban, earning an extra-game suspension from UEFA in the process.

In the absence of their captain, Madrid completely capitulated amid a fearless and thrilling Ajax – the type of which Liverpool might yet be faced with in the final.

Hakim Ziyech and David Neres put the visitors 2-0 up after only 18 minutes and it was 3-0 just after the hour mark thanks to the inspired Dusan Tadic.

Marco Asensio got a goal back, but Lasse Schone's free-kick beat Thibaut Courtois and sent Madrid crashing out. It was the first time they had ever been knocked out after winning the first leg of a Champions League tie.

PSG 1-3 Manchester United (3-3 agg, United won on away goals), 2019

It really had been quite the season for upsets in Europe's premier competition. A day on from Ajax's thrashing of Madrid, United made history at Parc des Princes.

No side had ever won a knockout tie after trailing 2-0 from a first leg at home, and with 10 senior players missing, including the banned Paul Pogba, United's chances looked slim.

Romelu Lukaku scored just two minutes in, though, and despite Juan Bernat's equaliser on the night, Lukaku struck again after a Gianluigi Buffon error to make it 2-1.

As the game crept towards second-half injury time, Diogo Dalot's shot struck Presnel Kimpembe's arm and the referee awarded a penalty after a lengthy VAR review. Marcus Rashford scored it, United progressed, and the clamour for Solskjaer to be given the permanent manager's job grew louder.

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

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 AC Milan, they stunned the Italians at home.

Walter Pandiani, Juan Carlos Valeron and Albert Luque had Depor ahead on away goals before half-time, with Fran Gonzalez – who played for them in the second division in the late 80s and is still their record appearance holder – fittingly scored 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.

Liverpool 3-3 AC Milan (AET, 3-2 on pens), 2005

That famous night in Istanbul. Liverpool found themselves on the end of a hiding at half-time in the 2005 Champions League final, as Paolo Maldini and a Hernan Crespo brace had the Serie A side 3-0 up.

But the second half proved to be one of the most iconic 45 minutes in Liverpool's history, with goals from Steven Gerrard, Vladimir Smicer and Xabi Alonso levelling the match up by the hour mark.

Milan then failed to hold their nerve in the penalty shootout, as Jerzy Dudek's leggy antics in the Liverpool goal helped the Pole outsmart both Andrea Pirlo and Andriy Shevchenko after Serginho blazed the first kick over, resulting in the Premier League side lifting their fifth European title.

Manchester United 2-1 Bayern Munich, 1999

Possibly the two most dramatic minutes in the history of European club football.

United were trailing 1-0 to Bayern Munich in the 1999 final at Camp Nou, with Mario Basler's skidding free-kick into the bottom-right corner looking set to be enough for the Bavarian giants to end a 23-year wait for glory in the continent's top-tier competition.

However, the United of Alex Ferguson's era could never be discounted until the final whistle, and substitute Teddy Sheringham swept Ryan Giggs' shot into the bottom corner to bring the scores level in the 91st minute.

Solskjaer, another late substitute and now the man in the United dug-out, avoided the need for extra time by stabbing Sheringham's header from a David Beckham corner into the roof of the net as United completed an historic treble in astonishing fashion.

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

A 3-1 first-leg loss at Stamford Bridge – having trailed 3-0 – had Barca in danger of being on the wrong end of a major 1999-00 Champions League upset prior to the Roman Abramovich era, but in the return match the Catalans 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 scored seven minutes from the end of regulation to force extra time.

Rivaldo then converted a penalty after Celestine Babayaro was sent off and Patrick Kluivert wrapped things up, crushing Chelsea's dreams.

Jack Grealish strode clear with Dani Carvajal in his dust in the 87th minute. The England star sauntered past Thibaut Courtois with a clever shimmy before passing the ball towards the empty Real Madrid goal.

Manchester City were going 2-0 up at the Santiago Bernabeu, 6-3 up on aggregate. They were going to Paris and a second successive Champions League final, with their season-defining rivalry with Liverpool heading into another engrossing chapter.

Only, that's not quite how it turned out.

Grealish didn't get his goal. Ferland Mendy's desperate lunge into his own net blocked the ball on the line – his clearance even failed to go in off the lurking Phil Foden, who was well-positioned to nudge home.

Of course, City were still going through with their lead on the night at 1-0, but Carlo Ancelotti's Real Madrid are like the White Walkers from Game of Thrones. You might think they're dead, but they just keep coming back.

For so long it looked as though Pep Guardiola had produced something of a masterclass.

Had you shown an unassuming observer the first halves of these two semi-final clashes, the idea that it was the same teams involved simply wouldn't have entered their mind.

Last week's first leg in Manchester went down as an instant Champions League classic, with City taking a 2-1 lead in the break – it was a thrill ride almost from start to finish thanks to attacking ingenuity and defensive mishaps.

It took a little while to get to that stage on Wednesday – in fact, for most of the evening it didn't look like were going to get there at all.

While the onus was undoubtedly on Madrid, there was more than a hint of tension in their performance as they struggled to retain possession and pass through City, who themselves appeared far more willing to play patiently.

And that was perhaps why Madrid simply couldn't find their rhythm. City attacked with purpose and pace last week, leaving spaces for Los Blancos to exploit on the break, but Guardiola didn't need his team to be quite so cavalier so long as they retained their aggregate lead.

A dreadful Vinicius miss just after the restart suggested Madrid's luck was out, though the greater directness that spawned the chance saw them ditch their first-half attempts of intricacy, which never worked against an intensely well-organised City.

That didn't quite usher in a period of Madrid domination, though. Riyad Mahrez slammed into the top-right corner to put City 5-3 up on aggregate with 73 minutes played, and that point City fans will have been loading up Sky Scanner, scouring for flights to Paris. The job was surely done.

Grealish then stepped up late on. Few would've worried that his inability to get that shot past Mendy was a precursor to more mayhem, but three minutes later – after Courtois had denied City's record signing with a long leg – Madrid had themselves a lifeline.

Rodrygo, who has enjoyed something of a coming-of-age tale at Madrid recently, brilliantly got in front of his marker and glanced Karim Benzema's pass beyond Ederson with the flick of his right foot.

Madrid's remarkable ability to turn defeats into victories has characterised a fine campaign for the Spanish champions. Both at home and in Europe, Ancelotti's team have defied the odds to dig themselves out of trouble on an incredibly routine basis.

Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea, and to an extent City in the first leg of the semi-final, have all seen Madrid's character up close and personal, but surely this was going to be one uphill battle too far?

It wasn't. Ninety-one seconds after providing a little belief, Rodrygo produced a wonderful header that secured one of the unlikeliest of extra-time periods you're ever likely to see, and from there you felt destiny was only taking this one way.

As quiet as Benzema was – by his usual standards, anyway – he still managed to have the final say, stepping in front of Ruben Dias to win a penalty early on in extra-time. He didn't attempt another 'Panenka', but he was no less accurate.

Benzema has now scored 10 goals in the Champions League knockout stages for Madrid this season, the joint-most by a player in a single campaign along with Cristiano Ronaldo in 2016-17 (also for Los Blancos).

It was only fitting that the 43-goal man who has been so crucial to virtually every major win of Madrid's this season was there to have the decisive say once again... And decisive it was. City's desperate late attacks fell flat against Los Blancos' flat-back 10.

When Grealish raced clear with three minutes of regulation time left, a Liverpool v Real Madrid final was inconceivable. City had qualification in the palm of their hands.

But Madrid make the inconceivable routine. Now they'll look to seal their 14th European title on May 28.

Guardiola, meanwhile, has now suffered elimination from six Champions League semi-finals (as many as Jose Mourinho) and has to rally his troops for a Premier League title race that is set to go to the wire.

Formula One's ever-expanding presence in the United States will come to the fore as it returns to Florida for the first time in over 60 years with the Miami Grand Prix this weekend.

Bruce McLaren claimed the first of four Grand Prix wins at Sebring in 1959, before the United States GP moved to Riverside for 1960 and then Watkins Glen until 1980.

Last time out at Imola, Ferrari suffered their first bad weekend of the season, with Red Bull's one-two compounding Carlos Sainz crashing out on the opening lap and Charles Leclerc spinning after going over a sausage kerb, before finishing in sixth.

With DNFs in Imola and Melbourne, Sainz had not retired in his previous 24 races and will be looking to recover at a track that could suit this year's Ferrari package.

Even after Imola though, Ferrari still lead in both the driver's and constructor's championships, with respective 27 and 11-point leads.

Following his wins in Bahrain and Australia, Charles Leclerc could equal Ferrari's win tally in the previous seasons combined, with all three coming in 2019.

Though the Monegasque driver converted his pole position into a win at Albert Park, only four of his 11 career wins have come from pole position.

Reigning world champion Max Verstappen has been much more clinical in that regard, converting his 14 pole positions into 10 race victories.

Verstappen was the last winner in the United States, taking the top step at COTA last year in Austin.

Mercedes bring upgrades

Although George Russell sits fourth in the driver's championship, Ferrari and Red Bull have had the two best packages on the grid so far this season.

Mercedes have struggled to match them for pace and performance as they come to terms with the car's particularly aggressive porpoising coming into braking zones.

They are hoping upgrades could revive Lewis Hamilton's season and the USA has traditionally been a happy hunting ground, with six of his 18 wins in North America coming there.

Can Red Bull consolidate?

Defending champion Max Verstappen won at Imola in what was an assured drive, reminding the paddock that Red Bull are capable of coming up with a strong package this season.

Sergio Perez has also been in solid form to open the season, securing back-to-back second-place finishes for the first time in his career in Melbourne and Imola.

Anything less than another strong performance will undo the progress they made, however.

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

Drivers

1. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 86
2. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 59
3. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) 54
4. George Russell (Mercedes) 49 
5. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) 38

Constructors

1. Ferrari 124
2. Red Bull 113
3. Mercedes 77
4. McLaren 46
5. Alfa Romeo 25

Given the stakes involved, Champions League semi-finals don't tend to be fertile ground for managers to learn lessons about their teams.

But for Jurgen Klopp, Tuesday's win over Villarreal provided more than just a ticket to the showpiece fixture of Europe's premier cup competition in Paris later this month.

It also handed the German several important insights into his squad that may prove key to a quadruple bid that was extended by victory in Spain.

Klopp probably did not appreciate the start of that learning process – an unexpectedly poor first-half performance he would prefer to forget.

In possession of 'the most dangerous lead in football', it was key that the visitors did not concede an early goal that would boost the home crowd's belief. 

And yet they conspired to do exactly that, twice failing to prevent crosses before Boulaye Dia poked home to ignite El Madrigal.

That early goal set the tone for a first half that saw Liverpool harried (65.5 per cent passing accuracy) and bullied (45.6 per cent duels won) out of the game for large periods.

And so they could have no complaints over going in at half-time level on aggregate fearing that Villarreal would become only the second team to overcome a two-goal deficit in a Champions League semi-final.

Liverpool were, of course, the ones who pulled off that previous comeback, overturning Barcelona's three-goal advantage en route to winning the 2018-19 edition of the competition.

Yet, with their first-half attempts to prevent history repeating itself having failed, it seemed inevitable that changes were coming at the break.

Perhaps the only surprise was that Klopp limited himself to just one alteration, introducing Luis Diaz in place of Diogo Jota but leaving his starting midfield trio alone.

However, it was hard to argue with the results of that minor tweak: a consummate second-half performance that turned a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 win.

That outcome is good news for Diaz, whose match-high four shots and well-taken goal underlined the brilliance of another sparkling outing.

But it might not be for Jota, who won just two of six duels and completed six of nine passes before getting the half-time hook.

There were also contrasting fortunes in midfield, where Naby Keita provided the most notable recovery from a midfield three that looked lost in the opening 45 minutes.

With Jordan Henderson going through a vigorous warm-up just after half-time, it did not look like the Guinean would last much longer.

But, as was the case with his colleagues in the engine room, he went up a level en route to posting 21 passes in the opposition half, three tackles, and 11 possession regains (more than any other player on the pitch) by full-time.

With the big games coming thick and fast in the weeks ahead, the consequences of these performances are likely to stretch beyond simply securing Liverpool's third Champions League final appearance under Klopp.

As he guides an unlikely quadruple bid towards a dramatic conclusion, the manager now has an even clearer idea of which players he can rely on to deliver on the biggest of stages.

 

Real Madrid and Villarreal have it all to do when they host Manchester City and Liverpool respectively in the second legs of their Champions League semi-final ties in midweek.

Fresh off the back of winning a second LaLiga title in three seasons, Madrid are aiming to overturn a 4-3 deficit against City following last week's thrilling first leg in Manchester.

That was the joint-highest scoring semi-final first leg in the competition's history, along with Liverpool 5-2 Roma in 2017-18, and more drama awaits in the Spanish capital.

Villarreal face an even bigger task, meanwhile, as they trail Liverpool 2-0 through an unfortunate Pervis Estupinan own goal and a Sadio Mane strike at Anfield.

However, only once before have the Reds won both legs of a knockout stage tie against Spanish opposition in the Champions League or its former guise as the European Cup.

So will it be an all-English final in Paris on May 28, or can the LaLiga pair turn things around on home turf?

Ahead of the second legs, Stats Perform digs into some of the best Opta numbers around the two semi-final ties.


Villarreal v Liverpool

To put the size of Villarreal's task into some perspective, only once before – Liverpool versus Barcelona in 2019 – has a team overturned a two-goal first-leg deficit at this stage of the Champions League.

Villarreal are unbeaten at home in Champions League knockout ties, albeit having won just two of their seven such games. The bad news, though, is that across those seven matches, neither side has managed to score more than once on any occasion.

If they are to have any hope of advancing then Unai Emery's men need to display far more attacking impetus than was on show last week, having attempted only one shot and failed to hit the target at Anfield. The last team to fail to record a shot on target across two legs of a Champions League semi-final was Deportivo de La Coruna in 2003-04, against Jose Mourinho's Porto.

Should Liverpool see the job through, they will become only the fourth side to reach the final of the European Cup/ Champions League on 10 or more occasions after Real Madrid (16), Bayern Munich and Milan (both 11), with their current tally of nine the most of any English side.

Jurgen Klopp's side have been formidable on the road in Europe this season, scoring 15 goals and conceding five across their five away Champions League matches, all of which have ended in victory. Should they win on Tuesday, they will boast the longest 100 per cent away record by any team in a single European Cup or Champions League campaign.

After netting in the first leg it is likely that Mane will again be selected in Liverpool's star-studded front three. The Senegal international has scored 14 knockout-stage goals for the Reds in the Champions League, leaving him one short of Chelsea legend Frank Lampard's record for the most for an English club.

 


Real Madrid v Manchester City

The omens are good for City as they have progressed from nine of their previous 10 knockout ties in the Champions League after winning the first leg, the only exception being against Monaco at the last-16 stage in 2016-17 after squandering a 5-3 advantage to lose 6-6 on away goals.

Madrid have been eliminated from all five previous Champions League semi-finals in which they have lost the first leg, meanwhile, though they have advanced from two of their past three knockout ties when losing the first leg – against Wolfsburg in the 2015-16 quarter-finals and versus Paris Saint-Germain in this season's last 16.

Los Blancos, the competition's most successful side, have lost their past two Champions League games, though only once before have they lost three on the spin. Head coach Carlo Ancelotti, incidentally, has never lost three in a row with this his 178th match.

A draw would be enough to see City through, but they have won their last three matches against Madrid in the Champions League and could become the third side to win four in a row against them in UEFA's showpiece competition, the only previous sides to have done so being Ajax (between 1973 and 1995) and Bayern Munich (between 2000 and 2002).

City boss Pep Guardiola has had his fair share of battles with Madrid down the years, not least in the Champions League. The Catalan coach has won four matches against Los Blancos in the competition – only Ottmar Hitzfeld (seven) has won more – with half of those wins coming at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Karim Benzema has rescued Madrid a number of times in Europe this season, the Frenchman having netted nine times in the knockout stage alone. Only former team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo (10) has ever scored more in a single season, while Benzema could become the fourth player to score in both legs of the quarter-finals and semi-finals in a single season after Fernando Morientes (2003-04), Neymar (2014-15) and Edin Dzeko (2017-18). 

While Benzema has rightly received plenty of plaudits, strike partner Vinicius Junior has himself played a huge part in Madrid's charge for a record-extending 14th European Cup. The 28 open-play chances created by the Brazil international is the most of any player in the Champions League since Dusan Tadic (36) in 2018-19.

If you can make it in New York, the theory goes that you can make it anywhere, so the path from Broadway to Sheffield's Crucible Theatre should hold no fear for Ahmed Aly Elsayed.

Aly is a new face to many on snooker’s expanding veterans' circuit, as the sport builds on the prosperity of its golden age by rolling out stars of yesteryear on its most famous stage.

As well as undisputed legends Jimmy White, Stephen Hendry and Ken Doherty, regional title winners from all corners of the globe are rocking up in Sheffield for the World Seniors Championship, an annual jamboree that begins on Wednesday. Aly will become the first American to compete at the Crucible.

Life will replicate art when Egypt-born Brooklynite Aly competes, after he acted out two snooker player parts in the 2018 Broadway production The Nap, one of which was that of a finalist at the World Championship.

Aly's day job is that of billiard room manager at the New York Athletic Club, a renowned 24-story pile at 180 Central Park South.

"He's a very good player," Cliff Thorburn, the 1980 world champion, tells Stats Perform. "One of his functions at the New York Athletic Club is looking after the billiard room. They've got possibly the nicest snooker room in the world. It overlooks Central Park and I would highly recommend having a Sunday brunch there in the fall, as the leaves are changing.

"The park's right there and you look down on it. With your breakfast you get a Bloody Mary for starters, and it's just a fabulous place."

Thorburn, a Canadian with a 'Magnum PI' moustache, remembers Aly looking "rough around the edges" when he first set eyes on his cue action.

"But when I saw him in Toronto he had gained a polish to his game," said Thorburn. "He wears a suit very well, like Ronnie O'Sullivan or Judd Trump.

"Ahmed polished his game, and he's taken it to a new level, but you're only as good as the players around you unless you've got that special thing about you. He does, he's very sharp, and I expect something good from him, but this is the deep end. That's pressure, isn’t it!”

Performing shots to order on a table in front of Broadway audiences is one thing, but facing gritty rivals at the theatre venue in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, that has hosted the main tour's World Championship since 1977, will be a whole new test of Aly's stage presence.

"He had to play certain shots on Broadway, and of course the stage is live," said Thorburn. "He looks like a prince, he's got that air about him: well groomed, a good guy, a gentleman, competitive, and he loves his snooker. I hope he gives himself a fair shot at it."

Aly, the 2021 Pan American senior champion, who picked up that title at the Corner Bank venue in Toronto, will play Bradford's Wayne Cooper for the right to tackle 1997 world champion Doherty at the last-16 stage.

Snooker's emergence as a viable senior spectacle has reflected a growth market in sports where it is feasible to remain competitive long after a sportsperson's usual shelf life.

Golf's PGA Champions Tour is sport's ultimate veterans' circuit, with over $62million in prize money due to be paid out this year. Germany's Bernhard Langer has earned over $30million on that tour, mind-boggling considering this is not sport at its highest level.

Snooker is not aiming to compete at that level, but its equivalent tour is soaring in popularity, with the World Seniors Championship being broadcast by the BBC and staged at snooker's most established venue. Crowds will flock, just as they have to the elite World Championship over the past fortnight.

"They're at the Crucible and rightfully so," said Thorburn. "I think it's the right place to have it, and there's a lot of memories that have come from these players that are going to be playing now."

Thorburn's great chum Bob Chaperon is returning to the Crucible stage, some 32 years since he became the last Canadian winner of an individual ranking title, beating Alex Higgins in the 1990 British Open final. Three weeks after that, Chaperon teamed up with Thorburn, who was recovering from a burst appendix, and Alain Robidoux to win snooker's World Cup for Canada.

Naturally, Thorburn is pulling for Chaperon, who faces Welshman Philip Williams first up.

"Bob was supposed to be here two years ago, but COVID stopped him," Thorburn says. "He’s playing Philip, who beat me here once before. So let me think, who do I want to win? Bob, yes Bob. I'm so glad I'm going to be here. Bob's got the chance to cause some damage."

The Premier League witnessed drama at both ends of the table on an absorbing Saturday, as Manchester City and Liverpool continued to trade blows in the title race.

Jurgen Klopp's men downed in-form Newcastle United thanks to Naby Keita's first-half strike, before City responded by cruising to a 4-0 thrashing of Leeds United at Elland Road.

At the other end of the table, Norwich City were condemned to a record sixth Premier League relegation at Aston Villa, and Watford look destined to join them after Burnley continued their incredible upturn in form at Vicarage Road.

After another frantic day of action, Stats Perform looks at some of the key Opta facts from Saturday's contests.

Newcastle United 0-1 Liverpool: Keita continues Reds' run

Liverpool's bid for a remarkable quadruple faced a tough test when they travelled to Eddie Howe's in-form Newcastle in the first clash of the day.

However, Naby Keita's 19th-minute goal proved the difference in a competitive encounter, and was Liverpool's earliest winning goal in a 1-0 Premier League victory since December 2016, when Georginio Wijnaldum netted after eight minutes against Manchester City.

Klopp's side had chances to extend their lead, with home goalkeeper Martin Dubravka making nine saves, his highest tally in a single Premier League match. Since 2003-04, when Opta data began, the only Newcastle goalkeepers to make more saves in a Premier League game are Tim Krul (14 against Tottenham in November 2013) and Karl Darlow (11 against Tottenham in September 2020).

However, a 21st clean sheet of Liverpool's league campaign was enough to move them to the top of the table - only in 2005-06 (22) have the Reds kept more shutouts in a single Premier League campaign.

Liverpool have now picked up 40 points from the last 42 on offer in the competition, and the win turned up the pressure on City ahead of their trip to Leeds later on Saturday.

Leeds United 0-4 Manchester City: Visitors draw on set-peice prowess to reclaim top spot

The Reds were not top of the table for long, however, as City claimed a 4-0 win over relegation-threatened Leeds at Elland Road. Goals from Rodri and Nathan Ake both came from set pieces, meaning City have now scored 18 set-piece goals (excluding penalties) this season, their most in a Premier League campaign since 2013-14 (22).

Pep Guardiola's men have also kept five consecutive away league clean sheets, the best such sequence in the club's history.

After Gabriel Jesus had made the points safe, Fernandinho stuck a superb fourth goal late on, becoming the club's oldest ever Premier League goalscorer at 36 years and 361 days old, overtaking Frank Lampard in 2015 (36 years and 338 days old).

Leeds, meanwhile, are looking over their shoulders after another heavy defeat. They have conceded a remarkable 20 league goals against the two Manchester clubs this season (11 against City, nine against Manchester United) – a new top-flight record for goals conceded against the duo in a single season.

Watford 1-2 Burnley: Clarets' revival continues after Cork ends barren run

Elsewhere, Burnley continued their incredible revival by coming from behind to defeat Watford, making Mike Jackson the first Clarets boss to win three of his first four league games in charge since Jimmy Mullen won his first four in 1991.

After James Tarkowski's own-goal put Watford ahead, Jack Cork ended his run of 84 Premier League games without a goal with his first strike since December 2018 (against Liverpool), before Josh Brownhill scored a late winner.

The Clarets are now five points above the bottom three after winning three consecutive Premier League games for the first time since April 2019, having won just three of their previous 21 games.

Roy Hodgson's Watford, meanwhile, look destined for relegation after becoming the first side in English top-flight history to lose 11 consecutive home league matches.

Aston Villa 2-0 Norwich City: Canaries suffer another relegation at Villa Park

Burnley's win had other ramifications, contributing to Norwich suffering their sixth relegation from the Premier League – the most of any club in the competition's history – after the Canaries were beaten at Villa Park.

Remarkably, Norwich have been relegated in each of their last four Premier League seasons (2013-14, 2015-16, 2019-20 and 2021-22). They are only the second side in English league history to suffer relegation in four consecutive campaigns in the top-flight, after Crystal Palace (1992-93, 1994-95, 1997-98 and 2004-05).

 

Dean Smith's men saw their fate sealed after becoming the first team to concede 70 Premier League goals this season after just 34 games, representing the earliest point in any league campaign they have reached 70 concessions since 1956-57 (in their 34th game in the old Third Division South).

Ollie Watkins set the tone for Villa's win with his first-half strike, and he has now scored at least 11 more goals than any other Villa player since his September 2020 debut (25 goals in all competitions).

Despite wrapping up their 35th LaLiga title and retaining a chance of winning the Champions League this term, Real Madrid find themselves at something of a crossroads.

The individual brilliance of Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior may have fired Los Blancos to a dominant triumph in LaLiga, but attention will soon turn to Madrid's attempts to defend the title for the first time since 2007-08.

With the potential arrival of a true global superstar and one of the Premier League's best defenders, as well as the matter of refreshing a brilliant but ageing midfield, it promises to be an interesting few months at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Here, Stats Perform analyses what Carlo Ancelotti's men could do to fend off the potential challenge of an improved Barcelona next season.

 

The Mbappe conundrum: How would the superstar fit in?

For months, if not years, Real Madrid's plans for 2022 seem to have revolved around one name: Kylian Mbappe.

While recent reports have suggested the 23-year-old could yet remain at the Parc des Princes, a move for the talismanic attacker – who will be a free agent in June – cannot yet be ruled out.

Having scored 35 goals and provided 19 assists in 43 appearances in all competitions for Paris Saint-Germain, Mbappe would clearly be an asset to any team in European football, but the question remains as to how Mbappe will complement another free-scoring Frenchman in the Spanish capital.

Benzema has become just the fifth Madrid player in history to score 40+ goals in a single season for the club (after Cristiano Ronaldo, Ferenc Puskas, Alfredo Di Stefano and Hugo Sanchez), and is being touted for the Ballon d'Or after driving Madrid's Champions League run. Benzema has scored 14 goals in 10 European appearances this term, averaging a goal every 65.1 minutes in a stunning campaign.

Mbappe and Benzema are no strangers to playing together, but the PSG forward failed to score and only provided one assist when doing so during France's disappointing Euro 2020 campaign. The Madrid man, meanwhile, finished just one goal short of the golden boot after netting four times.

Matters are complicated further when taking into account the form of Vinicius, who has formed a lethal partnership with Benzema this season, registering 33 goal involvements of his own in all competitions (18 goals, 15 assists), and Mbappe's preference to play from the left could infringe on Vinicius. 

However, Mbappe's development into a more well-rounded attacking talent should ensure he at least provides a threat, whichever flank he starts from. 

As well as improving on his 11 assists from last season, Mbappe has completed more dribbles (138) at a higher success rate (50.74 per cent) than Vinicius this term (130, 41.4 per cent), and could join him in playing a more creative role supporting Benzema.

Upgrading in defence: The arrival of Antonio Rudiger

Having announced his intention to leave Chelsea at the end of his contract, Antonio Rudiger is another player strongly linked with a move to the Bernabeu ahead of next season.

The German defender has been one of the Blues' outstanding players under Thomas Tuchel, starring in their Champions League triumph last year and enjoying another fine campaign this season.

Rudiger has been a key component in the Premier League's third-best defence this season, with Chelsea keeping 15 clean sheets and conceding just 28 goals despite falling out of title contention after a promising start.

The 29-year-old appears to be an upgrade on Madrid's current defensive options after last year's departures of Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane, offering more physicality than David Alaba and greater defensive steel than Eder Militao, a partnership that was frequently exposed by Manchester City recently.

Rudiger would also offer a threat at the other end of the pitch, with his three league goals this season bettered by just one other Premier League centre-back (Jan Bednarek, four), and his ability to step out of defence was on display when he scored a 39-yard stunner against Brentford in early April – Chelsea's longest-range Premier League goal since January 2007

However, Rudiger has been accustomed to playing in a back three at Chelsea and would be most likely to play as a right-sided centre-back in a back four for Madrid, unless Ancelotti opts to shift Alaba to left-back.

Rudiger would likely have to curb his attacking enthusiasm if paired with the naturally forward-thinking Alaba, but he appears a smart choice to further solidify a defence that has been the second-strongest in LaLiga this term (only Sevilla have conceded fewer goals).

The case for Camavinga: Time to look to the future?

The midfield trio of Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric will go down in Madrid history: they started together in three consecutive Champions League final wins between 2016 and 2018, with the Croatian also starring in 2014's victory.

Nobody can question their quality or longevity. All three have made at least 35 starts this season, while Modric in particular has produced several sumptuous contributions in big games that have helped him to an assist haul of nine, six more than any other Madrid midfielder.

 

However, given they occasionally appear to lack a certain dynamism when out of possession, could Madrid benefit from some extra mobility in the engine room?

The signing of Eduardo Camavinga, who has made 35 appearances this term, was clearly made with such a move in mind, but the French youngster has only started 14 times in all competitions and would benefit from more playing time next season as he looks to improve his all-round game.

However, neither Camavinga nor Federico Valverde possess the kind of metronomic abilities of Modric or Kroos, and the younger pair also average fewer passes into the final third per 90 minutes than their more experienced peers (6.25 and 6.1, respectively).

As such, with the rumoured arrivals of Mbappe and Rudiger involving no transfer fees, Madrid could yet benefit from dipping into the market to acquire another young, progressive midfielder in a move that might also help to prolong the excellence of Modric and Kroos.

After a third successive Champions League title, Cristiano Ronaldo's departure for Juventus was meant to signal the end for a team that had scaled the heights of European football.

The annus horribilis of the 2018-19 season seemed to reaffirm such sentiment, but with Real Madrid now claiming a second LaLiga title and sitting another hair's breadth from the Champions League final since that departure, it seems even more irrational in hindsight.

How have Madrid been able to sustain their level among the best in European football and keep fighting for silverware on multiple fronts despite such a seemingly transformative absence? How have they won this season's LaLiga title with such ease?

Despite a severely weakened Barcelona and a supposed closing of the gap to the rest, Madrid can still reach 90 points this season.

 

In reality, their three successive Champions League triumphs during Zinedine Zidane's first spell in charge were largely due to the ideal balance of their midfield, comprising of Toni Kroos, Casemiro and Luka Modric.

To use but one example, bring into perspective how could they nullify Liverpool's ability to press in both the 2017-18 final and then again in the 2020-21 quarter-final over two legs, with Zidane in charge for a second time.

It bears repeating. Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp – a great pressing team that squeezes the opposition into submission, consistently forces errors and is tactically transforming football before our eyes – were eventually rendered inert on multiple occasions.

At Madrid's core though, the collective did and continues to flourish via the creative and incorporative link between Modric and Karim Benzema, both with and without the ball. In a burgeoning era of automation and systems, they are the system.

 

The thing that maximises the duo's technical proficiency is their ability to improvise and embrace risk in the exploitation of space. If automation was football's equivalent to the legend of developing a pen in space, the link between Modric and Benzema is the comparative pencil – just as effective, far more practical.

Granted, that reliance on them creates volatility. When the two are on the pitch, they give Los Blancos a distinct flexibility. When they're not together, the collective is without a reference point and their relationship between defence and attack is compromised – as it was in their thumping in El Clasico in March or even going back to the 2016-17 season and their Copa del Rey elimination in the quarter-final over two legs to Celta Vigo.

 

Viewing Madrid through this prism makes a lot of other aspects relating to them clearer – the ability to feasibly play Lucas Vazquez at right-back in Dani Carvajal's absence, the varying shifts in form from the likes of Vinicius Junior and Kroos this season, or the differing fates of Eduardo Camavinga and Martin Odegaard upon attempting to integrate them into the midfield.

On that latter point, within this context, Camavinga earning more scope at Kroos' expense instead of Modric does not become much of a surprise – because while Benzema has elite comparisons in the form of Robert Lewandowski and Harry Kane in terms of profile, Modric has always been one of a kind.

Midfielders as complete as Modric, possessing the effortless ability to blur the line between the elegant and the practical, simply did not exist before him – at least as a deep-lying player and not deployed higher up the pitch.

At the incomprehensible age of 36, the Croatia international is still unique, still elite. Ahead of Saturday's match, he led Madrid's midfielders in all competitions this season for chances created in open play per 90 minutes (1.1), expected assists (0.17) and trailed only Camavinga (1.5) for dribbles completed (1.4).

Only Kroos (12.5) bettered Modric (9.5) for passes into the final third per 90 in all competitions, but the German's passing represents an increasingly singular role in Madrid's midfield. He is a world-class distributor, but it is maximised as a result of the spaces that Benzema and Modric create.

No player is more relevant in this regard, however, than Vinicius. His own progression has also accelerated upon that basis. Benzema and Modric's ability to collapse opposition defences leaves the opposition full-back on Vinicius' side isolated, and the 21-year-old can be destructive when he has momentum to dribble.

This all matters because it creates a cumulative impact on how Madrid score their goals. In all competitions ahead of Saturday's game, Vinicius topped the team for dribbles completed per 90 (3.0), chances created from open play (2.3) and expected assists (0.23). 

This goes some way to explaining Benzema's dramatic increase in rate of goal scoring, especially comparing 25 goals in 29 league appearances heading into the weekend to his tally of five LaLiga goals in 2017-18.

Much like Modric, 34-year-old Benzema has the capacity to be flexible as that central striker, and to do what the game requires of him in any given moment. 

 

The reference point Benzema and Modric provide has been the primary dynamic in this season's title win – Carlo Ancelotti's first LaLiga success. They can win games in an instant but collectively, the consequent ability to manage games and keep applying pressure from either winning or losing positions, on the back of both territorial and positional superiority, has been critical.

Ultimately, intelligent footballers gravitate towards one another and it is one of most profound and beautiful aspects of the sport. While Madrid will eventually go on without Benzema and Modric, their interaction and how it has built a worthy title winner this season has only underlined that.

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