A Classique by name but certainly not by nature, Paris Saint-Germain took a step closer to the inevitable eighth Ligue 1 title of the QSI era thanks to goals from Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.

Predictably, Lionel Messi's name did not feature on the scoresheet. Predictably, Neymar's name found its way into the referee's book after a foul followed by a tantrum.

These games are not always predictable of course. Few saw the five stoppage-time red cards coming when these teams last met at the Parc des Princes in Ligue 1, back in September 2020.

All hell broke loose on that occasion when the game's simmering tension reached boiling point. Accusations were flung this way and that, with the red-carded Neymar at the centre of many of them. Marseille won that game 1-0, doling out another painful blow to a PSG side who had lost the Champions League final to Bayern Munich just three weeks earlier.

PSG ridiculously failed to win Ligue 1 last season, an embarrassment considering the riches of their talent pool, but the trophy – L'Hexagoal – is heading back to the capital, and Sunday's 2-1 win over Marseille put the Parisian club 15 points clear with six rounds of games to play.

They could wrap up the title in midweek, but what would it really mean? Will it save Mauricio Pochettino's job? Probably not. Will it be the determining factor in whether Mbappe signs a new deal or heads to Madrid? Probably not. Will the PSG fans celebrate it with any great gusto? No, probably not, given many are apparently pig-sick of the club's leadership.

The Ligue 1 title has been reduced to a matter of interest only when PSG do not win it, given it should be a formality each season. And so on they plod, this gaggle of megastars and their various chums.

 

It is not quite the 'Zidanes and Pavons' policy of Real Madrid's Galacticos late period, but PSG are similarly top-heavy. While that Madrid side struggled at times in the league, they could put it together in the Champions League, the competition that remains out of reach for this PSG incarnation.

Was this Pochettino's final Classique? There are no assurances forthcoming over his future. If it is, he has nudged PSG ahead of Marseille on the all-time record between the teams in Ligue 1. This was a 33rd victory in the series, with Marseille having won 32 times and 20 of the league games having been drawn.

So one-sided has this rivalry become, however, that PSG have only lost one of the last 20 such league tussles between the sides (W15 D4).

That's a rivalry, only in the sense that Serena Williams versus Maria Sharapova was a rivalry on the tennis court. Williams lost two of their first three matches, then won the next 19 before Sharapova retired, barring one walk-over.

Sunday's encounter was certainly not a walk-over for PSG, as Marseille made a match of this Classique at times, recovering from Neymar's early strike to draw level through Duje Caleta-Car, with Gianluigi Donnarumma adding to his bloopers file as he failed to gather Dimitri Payet's corner. 

Neymar had a free-kick well saved by Pau Lopez, Messi had a couple of goals ruled out for offside calls, Mbappe smashed home a penalty after Neymar's shot was handled. William Saliba was denied a late Marseille equaliser after a VAR review showed he was narrowly offside. PSG actually finished this game having seen just 42 per cent of the ball, their lowest total in a Ligue 1 game since February 2013, also against Marseille.

And of course Neymar flapped indignantly after being booked for fouling Matteo Guendouzi. Just for a moment the combustible Brazilian looked to be risking a second yellow with his protests.

PSG can be fun to watch when they lose the plot, or when they attempt defending, but the joy that should be gleaned from seeing Neymar, Messi and Mbappe together is tempered by the sense of formality about all of this.

 

Almost 30 years have passed since it was Marseille's ownership that had critics up in arms, during the scandal-hit Bernard Tapie era, when it was OM who had the biggest stars.

In 1993, the year Marseille won the Champions League, Alen Boksic, Rudi Voller and Abedi Pele complemented a rich French contingent that included Basile Boli, Fabien Barthez, Marcel Desailly and Didier Deschamps.

The PSG of that era had stars too – David Ginola, George Weah and Valdo among them – and the great rivalry was ostensibly born, but the modern-day Marseille are no competition on a man-for-man basis with the current Parisian legion of luminaries.

Tycoon Tapie's substantial wealth and Marseille's financial clout had nothing on the Qatar Sports Investments money muscle behind PSG, though.

French football has been dealt the derogatory tag of a "farmer's league", a title bestowed due to a perceived lack of competition. And when the joie de vivre has been sucked out of even Le Classique, where does the game go from here?

With Manchester City and Liverpool facing off in the FA Cup on Saturday, the Premier League's attention turned to the race for a top-four spot.

Cristiano Ronaldo scored a hat-trick as Manchester United beat Norwich City 3-2, with the Red Devils taking full advantage of 1-0 defeats for Tottenham and Arsenal against Brighton and Hove Albion and Southampton respectively.

Elsewhere, Watford's slim survival hopes were dealt a blow as they suffered a 2-1 defeat to Brentford.  

Stats Perform takes a look at some key Opta facts from the day's games.

Manchester United 3-2 Norwich City: Ronaldo racks up yet another treble

Ralf Rangnick's side delivered another disjointed performance at Old Trafford, yet they did enough to secure a 13th win in their past 16 Premier League games against the Canaries.

Ronaldo was the star of the show, the Portuguese superstar plundering the 60th hat-trick of his professional career for club and country.

The 37-year-old has now scored 20 or more goals across all competitions in each of his past 16 seasons at club level – a run that started in the 2006-07 campaign during his first spell at United.

His first goal was teed up by Anthony Elanga, who is 17 years and 81 days younger than Ronaldo. It is the greatest age gap between a United goalscorer and the player who assisted him in Premier League history.

Teemu Pukki had given Norwich hope of a memorable result when he pulled the visitors level at 2-2 from 2-0 down, the Finland international becoming the first Canaries player to score 10 or more goals in two different Premier League campaigns (11 in 2019-20 and 10 in 2021-22).

As is so often the way, though, Ronaldo had the last word.

Tottenham 0-1 Brighton and Hove Albion: Seagulls leave it late to edge out blunt hosts

Spurs missed the chance to strengthen their grip on fourth position as they suffered a third home defeat in their past six home Premier League games – as many as in their previous 14 on home soil.

Despite starting with the in-from trio of Harry Kane, Son Heung-min and Dejan Kulusevski in attack, Spurs did not manage a single shot on target. It was the first time they had failed to do so in 21 Premier League games, since November last year against Everton.

Brighton's winner came in the 90th minute through Leandro Trossard, who has now scored six goals in the top flight this season – his best-ever season return in the competition.

Graham Potter's side have now won consecutive away league games for the first time since September 2021 and are unbeaten in three Premier League games, winning the last two, after losing each of the six before that.

Southampton 1-0 Arsenal: Wasteful Gunners punished by Saints

Arsenal missed the chance to pull level on points with Tottenham after a third consecutive Premier League defeat, having lost just two of their previous 13.

The Gunners dominated at St Mary's, taking 23 shots and enjoying 76 per cent possession. There have been 11 instances of a team failing to score having taken 20 or more shots in a Premier League match this season, with Arsenal responsible for three of those.

They were undone by Jan Bednarek's goal on the stroke of half-time, the first they have conceded from a corner situation in the top flight this season.

Bednarek has now scored four goals in 27 Premier League games this season, which is one more than he scored in his previous four campaigns combined (three in 100 appearances).

Watford 1-2 Brentford: Hornets' miserable home run continues

Pontus Jansson's 95th-minute winner for Brentford meant Watford became only the third team to lose 10 consecutive top-flight home games in a row, after Birmingham City in February 1986 and Sunderland in August 2005.

Alongside Birmingham, they are only the second to do so within a single season.

That run means Hornets boss Roy Hodgson is the first manager to lose his first five home Premier League games in charge of a club since Chris Ramsey with QPR in 2015.

Brentford, meanwhile, have won five of their last six Premier League games (L1) and have won three top-flight games in a row for the first time since September 1946.

Sevilla and Real Madrid were title rivals when they last met in LaLiga back in November.

Then, as is the case now, Madrid led the table, but Sevilla were just two points back in third having played the same number of games. Optimism was growing for a genuine title fight.

But the team the capital from behind to win 2-1 through a late Vinicius Junior goal and have since opened a significant gap to Sevilla.

Including the three earned at the Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid have collected 10 more points than Sevilla in the intervening period.

Now, as the sides prepare to face off again at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, Carlo Ancelotti's men – fresh from reaching the Champions League semi-finals – look to be coasting towards a 35th championship.

Even victory for Sevilla would only close the deficit to nine points with six games to play – and such a result feels highly unlikely based on recent history.

One-sided recent rivalry

Perhaps discussion of a tussle at the top earlier in the season was premature given Madrid's dominance of this fixture in the past few seasons.

Defeat at the Bernabeu was Sevilla's fifth in six league matches against Madrid, with their other encounter in that run a draw.

Indeed, this is their worst winless run against Madrid since a sequence of 15 games between May 1993 and April 2003 – 13 of which were losses. That was Sevilla's longest such streak against Madrid in LaLiga history.

 

Away day success in Andalusia 

This miserable stretch for Sevilla has included consecutive home defeats to Madrid, who are now bidding to win three in a row away from home in this fixture for the first time since a run of four ended in November 1996.

Those past two Madrid victories have been by 1-0 scorelines, meaning they could become only the third team in LaLiga history to win three in a row at Sevilla without conceding after Barcelona in March 1961 (three matches) and Celta Vigo in November 2003 (four).

Madrid have enjoyed recent trips to Andalusia as a whole, winning on their past seven visits. This is their best ever such run in LaLiga.

Los Blancos have scored in 31 of their past 32 league matches in the region (W24 D2 L6) for 78 goals in total at a rate of 2.44 goals per game.

Can ex-flop Lop stop the rot?

The match in November was Sevilla coach Julen Lopetegui's 100th in LaLiga, but it should have come as no surprise that it did not come to plan. His career rarely has when Lopetegui has become entwined with Madrid.

His Spain tenure was ended prematurely when he agreed to join Madrid as coach on the eve of the 2018 World Cup – a decision that panned out for nobody.

Lopetegui oversaw just six wins in 14 matches in all competitions before he was sacked after a 5-1 defeat to rivals Barcelona. His win rate of 42.9 per cent was the second-lowest among all Madrid coaches to oversee multiple games.

As evidenced by the result in November, things have scarcely improved for Lopetegui where Madrid are concerned since his dismissal.

He has overseen five of the six matches in Sevilla's winless run in this fixture, with the four defeats tied for his most against any team in LaLiga – along with Barca, of course.

On the other hand, opposite number Ancelotti has won six of his seven games against Sevilla as a coach, including two victories in finals, winning the UEFA Super Cup with Milan in 2007 and Madrid in 2014.

Benz at his best while Martial flounders

It was hoped the January signing of Anthony Martial would boost Sevilla's title hopes, yet his only goal in their colours so far came in the Europa League against Dinamo Zagreb.

There has been just a single assist in LaLiga, too, meaning Martial is still waiting for his 100th goal involvement in Europe's top five leagues two months on from his 99th – that tee-up for Rafa Mir against Elche.

 

This underwhelming form stands in stark contrast to that of compatriot Karim Benzema, who has 38 goals in 38 games in all competitions this season, with only Robert Lewandowski matching his 51 goal involvements among players in Europe's top five leagues.

Benzema has eight goals in 21 LaLiga games against Sevilla, although he has scored just once in 10 visits to the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan. Only at Camp Nou (one goal in 13 games) has he played as many games while scoring so few goals.

Of all the seasons to improve that return, though, this is surely the one.

Manchester City and Liverpool are going from one blockbuster meeting to another, and an FA Cup semi-final awaits on Saturday for Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp.

It would be easy to assume this is almost customary when teams are as dominant as City and Liverpool have been domestically of late, but it is not strictly the case.

Their Wembley showdown will be just the third FA Cup semi-final clash of the Premier League era between teams who have begun the day in the top two of the latter competition.

Considering this is the 30th season of the Premier League, it goes to show such showdowns cannot be taken for granted.

It has been even more rare for the eventual top two in the Premier League to contest an FA Cup final, with Chelsea denying Manchester United a double in 2006-07 in the only example of that game coming to fruition.

Here, Stats Perform looks back at the two previous FA Cup semi-finals to feature the then current Premier League top two. Could City and Liverpool, packed with attacking talent, produce drama to match these thrillers?


1999: Manchester United 2-1 Arsenal (replay, after 0-0 in first game), Villa Park

Memorable moment: David Beckham scored from 30 yards, and Peter Schmeichel saved a Dennis Bergkamp penalty, but the replay in front of a smattering over 30,000 fans at Villa Park will be remembered almost exclusively for Ryan Giggs' chest hair. Sorry... goal. Yes, definitely for his goal.

Injury limited Giggs to just 24 league appearances that season, and he managed just five goal involvements across those games (3 goals, 2 assists), the fewest he would have in a Premier League campaign until 2012-13 and 2013-14, his twilight final years as a player.

After Beckham's fine first-half opener, Arsenal drew level in the 69th minute when Bergkamp scored from similarly long range with the help of a deflection, and United were in trouble when Roy Keane was sent off five minutes later. Schmeichel came to the rescue with a spot-kick save after Phil Neville tripped Ray Parlour at the death in normal time, and then it was over to Giggs. Vintage Giggs.

Early in the second half of extra time, a stray pass from Patrick Vieira was intercepted 15 yards inside United's half by Giggs in left midfield. From there he snaked through a weary Arsenal rearguard, showing remarkable close control of a bobbling ball on a pitch that was cutting up, before smashing a shot past David Seaman at his near post. Off came his shirt, Giggs celebrating wildly, United on their way to the final.

What came next: United had been a point ahead of Arsenal and third-placed Chelsea in the Premier League title race, and it remained close all the way, with victory over Tottenham on the final day making sure Alex Ferguson's side won that title. They carried off the FA Cup too, goals from Teddy Sheringham and Paul Scholes earning a 2-0 win over Newcastle United, and the most special moment came at Camp Nou, where Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer struck late to give the Red Devils a famous 2-1 success over Bayern Munich in the Champions League final, and the first and only such treble by an English club. City might match that this season, while Liverpool could even top it, having already won the EFL Cup, with the FA Cup, Champions League and Premier League still in their sights.

2017: Chelsea 4-2 Tottenham, Wembley

Memorable moment: Nemanja Matic sealed the spoils for Chelsea with a remarkable 30-yard drive into the top corner, as the Premier League's then London elite met at Wembley.

Chelsea were four points ahead of Mauricio Pochettino's Tottenham at the top of the table, with Antonio Conte looking good to mark his first season in England with silverware. They had a double in their sights too, and although Tottenham twice came from behind to cancel out two goals from Willian in this semi-final, thanks to Harry Kane and Dele Alli, it was Chelsea who prevailed thanks to substitute Eden Hazard's sizzling low strike and a remarkable finish from Matic 10 minutes from time.

Fed a short pass by Hazard, Matic lashed an unstoppable left-footed drive into the top-right corner, thudding in off the underside of the crossbar.

What came next: Chelsea duly wrapped up the league title with two games to spare as Tottenham reluctantly settled for second, seven points off the pace in the final reckoning. But for all their domestic dominance up to that point, a savage twist arrived in the FA Cup final, where Arsenal awaited them. Arsene Wenger's Gunners finished only fifth in the Premier League, but they had kept something in reserve for Wembley as goals from Alexis Sanchez and Aaron Ramsey gave the Gunners the trophy.

Conte got his hands on the FA Cup a year later but was sacked before the new season began; after returning to football with Inter, and landing a Scudetto in Milan, Conte could not resist a return to London when Tottenham came calling last November.

The NFL Draft is rarely dominated by teams in contention to lift the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the upcoming season.

Though trades regularly shuffle the pack, more often than not the draft headlines are made by teams who finished at the wrong end of the regular-season standings in the previous campaign, such is the nature of league's annual selection meeting.

While those franchises with rosters capable of contending to go all the way to the Super Bowl may not be as reliant on the draft as those rebuilding their teams, the selections they make can be critical in providing the potential final piece of what they hope will be a championship-winning puzzle.

Inevitably, not every team expected to contend in April will do so once the season gets under way in September.

Yet we can make educated guesses as to which teams will be in the mix to go deep into the postseason in each conference.

Here Stats Perform has identified four such teams from each conference, with the Cleveland Browns omitted from the list due to the threat of a possible suspension for new starting quarterback Deshaun Watson.

With help from some advanced metrics, we look at what each of these eight teams need to add in the draft to maximise their hopes of standing underneath the confetti in Arizona next February.

NFC

Los Angeles Rams

Identifying draft needs for the Rams is a difficult task not because they don't have any, but because they so often fill their holes by trading away their picks to land superstars.

This year, the Rams don't pick until 104 overall in the third round, not that the Super Bowl champions will mind skipping the first two rounds.

When it finally comes to their turn, the interior of the offensive line stands out as an area of weakness, while the Rams might also be eyeing an edge rusher to help fill the void left by Von Miller, whose stunt-adjusted pass rush win percentage of 43.4 was fifth among edge rushers with at least 100 one-on-one matchups last year.

San Francisco 49ers

The Niners are in a similar position to the Rams in that they don't have a lot of needs, though the urgency is greater for a team that let a fourth-quarter lead slip against Los Angeles in the NFC Championship Game.

Right guard has been a long-standing issue for San Francisco, and the Niners will also need to find a developmental center to replace Alex Mack when he eventually retires. Nebraska's Cam Jurgens is a name to watch there.

San Francisco do not pick until 61st overall in the second round, having traded this year's first-rounder in the package that landed Trey Lance. A defense that ranked first in pass rush win rate could be stacked further by another edge rusher to pair with Nick Bosa, and there is a clear need next to Jimmie Ward at safety.

Of course, what would really make it a successful draft for the Niners would be finally trading Jimmy Garoppolo to secure more picks.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

There's a theme here, and the theme is that trying to find needs for NFC contenders is tough, especially in the case of the Bucs, who brought back Tom Brady after he quickly got bored with retirement and re-signed a host of free agents many expected to depart.

With Todd Bowles assuming the head coaching reins from Bruce Arians, it's fair to anticipate a focus on the defense from the Bucs, who own the 27th pick in the first round as well as two other top-100 selections.

More beef on the interior of the defensive line is required with Ndamukong Suh as yet not re-signed and, though Logan Ryan and Keanu Neal have signed as safety help to atone for Jordan Whitehead's departure, a rookie who can make a difference down in the box and in coverage would be a welcome addition to the defense.

Green Bay Packers

Now this is more like it. The Packers have one glaring, obvious need and there's no way they can fail to address it, right?

Brian Gutekunst may have a history of eschewing first-round wide receivers but, after trading Davante Adams to the Las Vegas Raiders, it would be an extremely bemusing move to risk Aaron Rodgers' wrath and do so again.

Chris Olave, Jameson Williams, Treylon Burks, Jahan Dotson... they all must be in the mix here and, with two selections in the first round, the Packers could even double up at the position.

There are other holes. The secondary could use some more quality depth, and an offensive line that ranked 28th in run-block win rate could also be improved, but the Packers' hopes of getting over the hump in 2022 likely rest on their ability to give Rodgers weapons that mitigate the impact of Adams' stunning departure.

AFC

Kansas City Chiefs

After Patrick Mahomes faced the most pressures in a Super Bowl since 2006 in consecutive years (28 in SB LIV, 34 in SB LV), the Chiefs overhauled their offensive line heading into 2021 and were confident they were on course for the title game once again – only for Mahomes' own stunning playoff collapse to end both the team's season and the career of Tyreek Hill in Kansas City.

Hill's departure in a trade to the Miami Dolphins leaves a gaping hole.

New signing Marquez Valdes-Scantling at least offers a downfield option, but that was his sole responsibility with the Packers in 2021, recording a league-high average depth of target of 17.6 yards but making just 26 catches. Valdes-Scantling and fellow recruit JuJu Smith-Schuster, who's coming off shoulder surgery, have just one 1,000-yard season between them; Hill has four.

Thankfully, the Hill deal means the Chiefs have plenty of draft picks – two in each of the first three rounds – and plenty of options at wide receiver, but safety Tyrann Mathieu and cornerback Charvarius Ward must also be replaced just to get Kansas City back to where they started.

Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals are a year behind the Chiefs, beaten in the Super Bowl after leaving their quarterback horribly exposed. Joe Burrow faced 23 pressures against the Rams, tied for third-most since 2006.

Like the Chiefs, they quickly set about bolstering their O line in free agency, though there remains a pressing need at left guard. Ted Karras played there for the New England Patriots last year, but is set to move back into center after Trey Hopkins was cut.

That versatility at least gives the Bengals options at either position depending on how the draft plays out, with their first pick not until the end of the first round (31). In fact, given competition at cornerback, edge and/or tight end could also be sought, the Bengals may be flexible throughout.

Buffalo Bills

The Bills are the Super Bowl favourites, and with good reason. They were a coin flip away from beating the Chiefs and would have backed themselves against the Bengals, which might have quelled some of the optimism in Cincinnati channelled above. Buffalo have also added Super Bowl champion Miller to a defense that gave up a league-low 4.57 yards per play.

That's not to say there don't remain areas for improvement, with cornerback an obvious place to start. Tre'Davious White is returning from an ACL tear, and the Bills need a new man opposite him, given the loss of Levi Wallace.

The Bills might also be advised to ease the burden on all-action quarterback Josh Allen with the addition of a reliable running back. Allen ranked third among QBs for rushing yards in 2021 (763) but accounted for 34.5 per cent of his team's total – far and away the greatest share at his position.

Second on the list was former MVP Lamar Jackson (767 yards, 30.9 per cent), who's already showing signs of wear and tear having been tasked with running the Baltimore Ravens' offense.

Los Angeles Chargers

Outside the Packers, the Chargers perhaps have the most obvious positional need of any contender at right tackle – despite their own strong signings so far.

Left tackle Rashawn Slater was their first-round pick in 2021 and earned Pro Bowl recognition in his rookie season. Among offensive tackles with 200 or more pass protection snaps, Slater's stunt-adjusted win percentage of 90.5 ranked third. However, that stood in complete contrast to right tackle Storm Norton, whose 63.0 per cent ranked third-last.

Norton was brought in to play 15 games after a back injury put Bryan Bulaga on injured reserve. Bulaga has now been cut, and the Chargers surely cannot run it back with Norton.

The very best OTs in the draft are unlikely to still be available when the Chargers get to work in the middle of the first round, but it's no surprise to see them widely linked with Northern Iowa's Trevor Penning.

Chelsea clawed their way back into an exhilarating Champions League quarter-final tie with Real Madrid through some unlikely sources, but there was nothing surprising about the identity of the players that eventually booked Los Blancos' place in the last four.

Backed up against the wall after a meek 3-1 defeat to a Karim Benzema-inspired Madrid in the first leg at Stamford Bridge, the defending champions were brilliant for much of a captivating return fixture, quieting the Santiago Bernabeu by showing control and composure that belied their plight.

Unlike in west London, where Madrid were afforded far too much possession and space, Chelsea commanded the midfield for long periods, the metronomic Mateo Kovacic - who completed 96 per cent of his passes and 98.5 per cent in the opposition half - playing a key role in what for a while appeared to be the undoing of his former club.

It was a midfielder who put Chelsea ahead on the night in the 15th minute, Mason Mount producing an unerring finish to beat the outstretched arm of former Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois after neat build-up play that saw him eventually teed up by Timo Werner - more on him shortly.

Madrid kept hold of the aggregate lead until the 51st minute when, after Luka Modric was incorrectly adjudged to have deflected a Reece James shot behind, Antonio Rudiger rose to steer a superb header from Mount's set-piece delivery into the bottom-right corner.

The hosts were then the beneficiaries of controversy when Marcos Alonso had a goal ruled out for a seemingly unintentional handball, an incident that will surely have set in motion further heated debate about the current interpretation of that rule across living rooms and bars in both the English and Spanish capitals.

Carlo Ancelotti's men never learned their lesson and were the antithesis of defensive solidity throughout a breathless contest, and they were punished by Werner 15 minutes from the end of normal time.

Madrid lost possession inside their own half, Kovacic played Werner down the left side of the box and the often-derided former RB Leipzig star jinked his way past three challenges before sending a calm, albeit deflected, close-range finish beyond Courtois.

It took Werner's tally to just 17 goals in 70 games in all competitions since his big-money move from the Bundesliga and looked as if it would be the defining moment - at least in goalscoring terms - of his Chelsea career so far.

Yet Werner's hopes of being Chelsea's saviour were thwarted by three men who have so often played that role for Madrid.

Five minutes after Werner silenced the home fans, Modric had them roaring in adulation, his sublime cross-field pass with the outside of his boot finding Rodrygo, who provided the finish the delivery deserved as his first-time volley left Edouard Mendy with no chance and forced extra time.

That was Modric's 17th Champions League assist and his fourth this season, a tally only one of his team-mates, Vinicius Junior, has bettered. 

It was Vinicius' creativity that ultimately ensured Madrid had the final say.

Chelsea surrendered possession all too easily in midfield and Eduardo Camavinga sent Vinicius tearing down the same flank that brought Werner's goal.

Vinicius' delicate right-footed cross was greeted gratefully and emphatically by first-leg hat-trick hero Benzema, who once again added the final gloss to a Champions League masterpiece with an unstoppable header that brought up his 38th goal of a remarkable campaign and the Brazilian architect's sixth assist in the competition this term, tied with Leroy Sane for the most in the tournament.

As a pairing, Vinicius and Benzema have now combined for 15 goals in all competitions in a season that could yet come to a close with Madrid crowned as both Spanish and European champions.

Chelsea had plenty of opportunities during the remainder of the additional half hour to make it 4-2 on the night and at least force penalties, racking up 28 shots to Madrid's 10 but with just seven of those hitting the target.

Hakim Ziyech, Kai Havertz and Jorginho will all rue chances they missed in a frantic finale as Chelsea's reign as holders came to an end in an epic tale that, for Madrid, ended in pleasingly familiar fashion. 

Speed is a highly valued asset in the NFL and if you needed any reminder of the premium the league places on wide receivers who can create separation with raw acceleration, it arrived during perhaps the wildest offseason in history.

A frenzy of blockbuster trades was capped off last month by the Miami Dolphins parting with first and second-round picks in this year's draft, two fourth-round selections and a 2023 sixth-rounder to acquire Tyreek Hill from the Kansas City Chiefs.

Miami subsequently made Hill the highest-paid wide receiver in the NFL by signing him to a four-year, $120million contract extension, including $72.2m guaranteed.

The price teams are prepared to pay for speed receivers of Hill's calibre is an extremely promising harbinger for wideouts in this month's draft who share his ability to take the top off of a defense. 

Among another uber-talented class of players at the receiver position, one man stands above the rest in possessing that specific trait, Alabama's Jameson Williams.

His hopes of going in the first round took a huge hit when Williams tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the National Championship Game in January, ending a sparkling sole season with the Crimson Tide after he transferred from Ohio State.

Yet between the significant advancements in ACL recovery - giving Williams a chance of making an impact in his rookie year - and how desperate NFL teams are for big-play receivers who can flip the field in an instant, it still appears likely he will hear his name called on night one in Las Vegas.

A first-round draft status would be the least Williams deserves, with the advanced metrics and his Alabama tape combining to paint a picture of a receiver who is not only the top deep threat in the draft, but also has an extremely compelling argument for being considered the best all-round receiver in this deep class.

Belated big-play impact

His injury meant Williams was unable to take part in any pre-draft athletic testing but, while teams have not had the chance to put a 40-yard dash time next to his name, the impact of his speed was obvious during a brief but ultra-productive stay with Alabama.

Having made only 15 catches in two seasons at Ohio State, where he played behind two receivers expected to go in the first round in Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave, Williams took full advantage of his opportunity to shine down in Tuscaloosa.

Williams racked up 79 catches for a team-high 1,572 yards, with his 15 touchdown catches tied for third in the FBS.

Nine of Williams' 15 touchdown catches were for 40 or more yards, while no player in the FBS produced more than his nine receptions of at least 50 yards, four more than the wideout who stepped into his third receiver role at Ohio State, Jaxon Smith-Njigba.

Landing with college football's modern-day juggernaut undoubtedly helped his cause, but the 2021 season was one in which Williams' established himself as the premier downfield weapon in the FBS by separating more consistently and more dramatically than any of his peers near the top of this year's receiver draft board.

Feel the burn

Blending elite speed with lower-body flexibility that enables him to be a substantial threat on double moves, Williams thrived running post-corner and corner-post routes downfield during his time with Alabama, with his proficiency in creating substantial separation going deep reflected by his burn rate.

Burn rate measures how often a receiver wins his matchup with a defender on a play where he is targeted. Williams did so on 74.6 per cent of his targets in 2021.

Williams' burn rate was superior to that of Wilson (71.6 per cent), Olave (69.9), USC's Drake London (71.3) and Arkansas star Treylon Burks (64.8).

He comfortably led the way in burn yards per target, his average of 19.34 nearly five full yards better than that of his nearest challenger, Cincinnati's Alec Pierce (14.74), and was also the cream of the crop in burn yards per route (4.9).

In other words, none of the other receivers anticipated to be in the first-round conversation came close to generating as much separation as Williams, who was the class of this field when it came to defeating his defender's coverage.

Yet in the endless quest for mismatches that is the NFL in 2022, it is not just Williams' success in separating that makes him such an intriguing prospect, it is the varied nature of a skill set ideally suited to where modern passing games are going.

Slot machine

There has arguably never been a better time to enter the NFL as a receiver who can win because of that extra gear at their disposal.

Hill coalesced perfectly with Patrick Mahomes during their time together in Kansas City and, as quarterbacks blessed with Mahomes' extraordinary arm talent become the archetype in the league, there figures to be an increasing demand for receivers who can get behind the secondary along with wideouts with the size and catch radius to mitigate inaccurate throws.

Williams may not have an intimidating frame at 6ft 2in and 189 pounds, but he does possess outstanding ball tracking ability and the body control to turn off-target throws into completions.

Elite receivers of all moulds - from route-running aficionados Cooper Kupp and Davante Adams to yards after catch monsters like Deebo Samuel and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' physically imposing duo of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin - are spending an increasing amount of time playing, and thriving, from the slot.

Winning inside and out is a prerequisite for top-tier wideouts at the NFL level, and that is a box Williams checks emphatically.

Able to win with patient and intelligent footwork at the start of his route and through varying his route speeds, Williams' physical gifts have seen him develop into a substantial threat to pick up yardage after the catch on underneath routes that can be run from the slot, with his advanced metrics when lined up inside nothing short of astonishing.

Williams ran 132 routes from the slot in 2021 and was targeted 40 times. His burn rate from the slot was 77.5 per cent compared to 73 per cent when he lined up as an outside receiver.

He averaged 26.53 burn yards per target and 8.04 burn yards per route from the slot, while he produced a big play on 59.7 per cent of slot targets.

Those numbers dwarf his still impressive statistics as an outside receiver - 15.46 burn yards per target, 3.62 burn yards per route and a big play rate of 41.7 per cent - though that disparity is largely a product of Williams running a lot of his deeper routes from the slot.

Indeed, Williams' average depth of target from the slot was 19.3 yards, compared to 11.5 yards from the outside.

Such a gulf is unlikely to exist in the pros. In a league so heavily influenced by Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay and their offensive system, Williams should expect to see his speed utilised to stretch the field horizontally as much as vertically at the next level. The Dolphins' aggressiveness in trading for Hill despite Tua Tagovailoa's arm paling in comparison to that of Mahomes perhaps foreshadowed that teams whose quarterbacks cannot so easily access downfield throws may still be interested in pursuing a burner of Williams' talents.

But, with the Green Bay Packers - who traded Adams to the Las Vegas Raiders and lost their deep threat, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, to Kansas City - and the Chiefs both possessing two picks in the second half of the first round, Williams could yet find himself catching passes from either Aaron Rodgers or Mahomes and executing the best-laid gameplans of Matt LaFleur or Andy Reid. 

The college football world only got a fleeting glimpse of what Williams could do when given a featured role for a dominant program. More prolonged pain for NFL defenses will come if he ends up landing with a team that can claim to have one of the NFL's best arms and a sharp offensive mind in their employ.

The final matchday of the Champions League quarter-finals has arrived, with Liverpool and Manchester City in touching distance of the last four.

The Premier League pair played out a thrilling 2-2 draw in what many billed as the title decider on Sunday, but their attention now turns back to Europe as they hunt yet more silverware.

Liverpool, if uncomfortable at times, managed a 3-1 victory at the Estadio da Luz, while City hold a slender 1-0 advantage heading to the Wanda Metropolitano against Atletico Madrid.

Here, Stats Perform unpacks the pick of the data from a decisive Wednesday in UEFA's flagship club competition.

Atletico Madrid v Manchester City: Simeone's side must end home hoodoo

City make their first ever trip to Atletico in European competition having won just three of their last 11 away games against Spanish side – though Pep Guardiola's team won their most recent visit to Real Madrid (2-1 in February 2020).

The Premier League leaders do so with a narrow 1-0 first-leg lead, thanks to Kevin De Bruyne, after Atletico lost the first away leg of a Champions League knockout tie for a fourth time.

Simeone's side, though, may take confidence from the fact they have progressed on two of the three previous occasions they have lost the first leg away from home.

But the reigning LaLiga champions will have to turn around their torrid home form in the competition if they are to do so, given they are winless in their last seven home games in Europe.

The compact setup that many branded as negative will also have to make way for Atletico to compete, after they failed to record a single shot in the first meeting at the Etihad Stadium.

The fewest attempts across two-leg Champions League knockout ties is four (Shakhtar Donetsk v Bayern Munich in 2014-15), since Opta began recording in 2003-04, while the only team to have failed to record a shot on target across two legs in this period was Deportivo La Coruna in the 2003-04 semi-finals against Porto.

Simeone will look to Antoine Griezmann to make the difference, with the forward one goal away from overtaking David Trezeguet (29) for the fourth-most strikes by a Frenchman in the competition.

Meanwhile, City will reach the landmark of 100 games in the Champions League, having won 55 of their first 99 – only Real Madrid have triumphed more in their first 100 matches (57).

Liverpool v Benfica: Formidable Reds lucky Portuguese omen

The omens will be good if Liverpool can progress past Benfica here, given they have gone on to win the competition on the last two occasions they have won both legs in a European Cup or Champions League knockout tie against the Portuguese side, doing so in 1977-78 and 1983-84.

The Reds have won each of their last five games against Portuguese sides in Europe's premier club competition, scoring 16 goals and only conceding three times. 

Indeed, they are unbeaten in nine games against teams from Portugal in the competition since Benfica won at Anfield in March 2006 (W7 D2), as they eye a third Champions League semi-final under Jurgen Klopp.

That is as many times as the Reds had managed to do so prior to Klopp taking charge (2004-05, 2006-07 and 2007-08, all under Rafa Benitez), with the German somewhat of a knockout specialist.

There is no denying Liverpool are heavy favourites; they have progressed from each of their last 12 ties in the Champions League knockout stages after winning the first leg, since a 2001-02 quarter-final loss to Bayer Leverkusen, who lost 1-0 in the first leg before winning 4-2 in the return meeting.

Central to Klopp's plan will be the seemingly out of form Mohamed Salah, whose next home goal will see him overtake Steven Gerrard (14) for the most goals by a Liverpool player at Anfield across the European Cup and Champions League.

While only two teams have ever won by more than one goal away to Liverpool in the latter stages of the competition, one of those occasions was Benfica in a 2-0 victory in the last-16 in 2005-06.

Darwin Nunes will be the key, with the forward scoring five times in nine European appearances this season – no player has ever netted more in a single Champions League campaign for the Primeira Liga side.

Manchester City and Liverpool produced a pulsating top-of-the-table clash on another enthralling day of Premier League action on Sunday.

The top two played out a hugely entertaining 2-2 draw at the Etihad Stadium to ensure the title race remains delicately poised with seven games remaining, City's one-point lead intact for now.

Elsewhere, Brentford beat London rivals West Ham, while there were wins for Leicester City and Norwich City over Crystal Palace and Burnley respectively.

Stats Perform takes a look at some key Opta facts from the day's games.
 

Manchester City 2-2 Liverpool: Guardiola's men miss chance to pull clear of rivals

The hosts started at a breathless pace and went ahead early on thanks to Kevin De Bruyne's 11th Premier League goal of the season. The Belgium international has only once scored more in a single top-flight campaign (13 in 2019-20).

Diogo Jota pulled Liverpool level before Gabriel Jesus restored City's advantage, and both players maintained their records of never losing in a Premier League game when they have scored. Jota is unbeaten in 33 matches (W27 D6) and Jesus in 45 (W42 D3), with only James Milner (54 games) and Darius Vassell (46) scoring in more without losing in Premier League history.

Sadio Mane scored just 46 seconds into the second half to secure a point for the Reds. It was the first time they had scored in the opening minute of the second half in a league game since January 2019 (Mohamed Salah vs Crystal Palace) and the first time City had conceded in the 46th minute in a Premier League game since November 2004 vs Norwich City.

The result means Liverpool are now winless in their last five Premier League matches against City (D3 L2), their joint-longest run without a victory against them along with a five-game run between November 2011 and December 2013.

Brentford 2-0 West Ham: Hammers stung by Bees

This win means Brentford have recorded a league double over West Ham for only the second time, last doing so in 1953-54 when both sides were in the second tier.

Bryan Mbeumo opened the scoring and the forward has now found the net in both Premier League games against West Ham this season. He is only the second Brentford player ever to score both home and away against the Hammers in the same league campaign, after Jack Holliday in 1933-34.

Ivan Toney added a second to take his tally to eight goals from 32 shots in the Premier League in 2022, after netting just four times from 36 attempts prior to the new year. Indeed, only Son Heung-min (nine) has scored more top-flight goals since the turn of the new year than the Brentford striker.

West Ham, meanwhile, have lost seven of their last 11 away Premier League games (W2 D2), which is one more away defeat than they suffered last season.

The Hammers have suffered three consecutive away defeats for the first time since a seven-game run between December 2019 and June 2020.

Leicester City 2-1 Crystal Palace: Foxes too strong for Vieira's men

Leicester remain unbeaten in their last six Premier League games against Palace (W4 D2), having lost four on the bounce against the Eagles in the top-flight before this run.

Ademola Lookman got them on their way with his fifth league goal of the season, equalling his best tally in a domestic campaign for a side in Europe's big five leagues (also five in 2017-18 with RB Leipzig).

Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall then doubled their advantage with a superb strike after being teed up by James Maddison.

England international Maddison, who has been involved in more Premier League goals than any other Leicester player this season (eight goals, five assists), became just the fourth player to register 20-plus goals and 20-plus assists for the Foxes in the Premier League, after Muzzy Izzet, Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy.

Patrick Vieira's Palace got one back through Wilfried Zaha, who has scored more Premier League goals against Leicester than he has versus any other side in the competition (seven), yet they were unable to find an equaliser.

Norwich City 2-0 Burnley: Canaries boost survival hopes

Norwich injected life into their Premier League survival bid with a comfortable win over fellow strugglers Burnley.

Pierre Lees-Melou opened the scoring with his first Premier League goal for the Canaries in his 26th appearance in the competition, becoming the first French player to score for the club in the English top flight.

Teemu Pukki made sure of the three points with his 20th Premier League goal, moving him ahead of Mark Robins (19) as the club's third top scorer in the competition after Chris Sutton (33) and Grant Holt (23).

The result meant Dean Smith's side have gone unbeaten home and away against a Premier League opponent for just the second time this season (D1 W1).

Burnley, meanwhile, are winless in their last four Premier League games against teams starting the day bottom of the table (D1 L3).

Pep Guardiola proudly declared Manchester City and Liverpool have "raised the bar" in the Premier League, and on Sunday the north-west giants collide in a game that could have a telling impact on the destiny of the trophy.

It falls inconveniently between high-stakes Champions League quarter-final games, although the fact both City and Liverpool are ahead after the first legs of their ties somewhat mitigates that pressure.

Given City hold just a one-point lead over Liverpool with eight rounds of games remaining, a win for either at the Etihad Stadium would be a huge leap nearer to the title.

The prospect of Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp directing in their animated manner from the touchline, as their star-packed teams pull no punches on the pitch, makes this an unmissable game.

Ahead of kick-off in the biggest club game in Europe this weekend, Stats Perform has taken a look at some key pointers.

City start as favourites for a reason

English bookmakers have City as the team most likely to come away from this one with three points, and there is good reason for Guardiola's men to go in with confidence.

City have lost just one of their last 12 Premier League home games against Liverpool (W7 D4), going down 4-1 in Jurgen Klopp’s first visit in the competition in November 2015.

Liverpool had a 2-1 Champions League win at City in April 2018, but their recent successes in the league in this rivalry have been largely limited to games at Anfield. Indeed, Liverpool are winless in their last four Premier League games against City (D2 L2), regardless of the venue.

Only once in the competition have Liverpool had a longer run without a win against City, going five games without getting the better of the boys in blue between November 2011 and December 2013.

Keep it clean, lads

Liverpool have not kept a clean sheet in any of their last 11 Premier League away games against City, since a 0-0 draw in February 2010, and with Guardiola's formidable attacking resources it would surely be a surprise if this becomes the game where the Reds halt that sequence.

So goes one theory. Another way of looking at the game is to consider that Liverpool are in a stunning vein of form, and if they are ever going to halt the leakage of goals to City, it will be this weekend.

Liverpool have won each of their last 10 Premier League games, keeping eight clean sheets in doing so. It is their fifth run of 10 or more consecutive Premier League wins, Opta said.

Both Liverpool and City have achieved 18 clean sheets in 30 games this season, so could they even blunt out each other's threat?

When first and second collide

This is the 30th season of the Premier League, and Sunday's game marks the 50th time the top two sides in the division will have met.

Of the previous 49 such league clashes, the leaders have won on 20 occasions but lost 18 times, with 11 games drawn. City and Liverpool have met as the top two twice before, with a goalless draw at Anfield in October 2018 coming when City were at the summit, before Guardiola's men scored a 4-0 thrashing against Liverpool in July 2020.

The latter game came a week after Liverpool wrapped up the Premier League title, and was an ominous sign of a pendulum swing for the following season.

Liverpool can jump to first place for the first time since October 1, and they might bear in mind that battles between first and second towards the end of the season have tended to go the way of the chaser in recent times.

In fact, of the last eight Premier League clashes between the top two during the final 10 games of the season, the team in second have won seven times (L1), including each of the last five in a row.

There is just a sliver between these sides, reflected in the fact City have taken a league-high 516 points since Guardiola's arrival for the start of the 2016-17 season, and Liverpool are close behind with 488 points. Chelsea are a distant third on that list with 427 points.

The players who could make the difference

Phil Foden came off the bench to slide the pass that allowed Kevin De Bruyne to smash past Jan Oblak on Tuesday and give City a 1-0 first-leg lead over Atletico Madrid. Foden looks a sure-fire starter this weekend and has flourished in the Liverpool fixture, having scored in all three of his Premier League outings against Klopp's team, while also claiming two assists.

The 21-year-old could become just the second player to score in four successive Premier League appearances against the Reds, after Leicester City's Jamie Vardy, who found the back of the net in five straight games between 2016 and 2017.

Liverpool will know the threat could come from all angles, with Foden, ex-Liverpool man Raheem Sterling, De Bruyne, Riyad Mahrez, Bernardo Silva, Jack Grealish and Gabriel Jesus all likely menaces.

Perhaps the danger coming from Liverpool themselves is more obvious, but that does not necessarily make it easier to deflect.

Mohamed Salah has scored in four of his last five Premier League games against City, including each of his last three. The last player to score in four consecutive Premier League appearances against City was Chelsea's Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, who netted in five successive meetings between December 2000 and October 2003.

Salah is the Premier League's top scorer and might be the chief threat, but Diogo Jota, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Luis Diaz will have to be guarded carefully, should they feature.

It is a guessing game as to which three Klopp will perm from his five-man pool of star forwards. The occasion itself is a guessing game too, as Klopp and Guardiola attempt to outwit one another once again.

The Premier League will reach a new milestone on Sunday when Manchester City face Liverpool in a titanic title tussle.

This will be the 50th match between the top two teams in the division in the competition's history, with City boasting a one-point advantage over Liverpool heading into this encounter.

Victory would move Jurgen Klopp's men top for the first time since October, having trailed by as many as 14 points back in January.

Of the 49 previous top-two meetings, the leaders have come out on top in 20, 11 have been drawn and 18 won by the second-placed team – including one of only two previous examples when City and Liverpool have been the sides at the summit. City thrashed newly crowned champions Liverpool 4-0 in July 2020.

The title race may already have been run on that occasion, but the hunters have consistently fared better than the hunted in such clashes across recent seasons.

The top team have beaten their nearest rivals in only one of the past eight matches to take place in the final 10 games of a season.

Consensus has it that victory for Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium – following that theme – would be followed by a successful title charge for the Reds.

But it has not always been so straightforward, as Stats Perform analyses a history of Premier League title deciders.

United rewarded for holding their nerve (1992-97)

Manchester United won four of the first five Premier League titles after three times holding their nerve against fellow contenders during the run-in.

Norwich City may now prop up the table, but they led the way at the start of April in the inaugural 1992-93 campaign, while United were back in third.

Although that is not the latest eventual champions have emerged from outside the top two – City were third at the start of May in 2013-14 – United had to do it the hard way by heading to Carrow Road in their next match.

Their performance there set the standard for two decades of dominance, as a scintillating first-half display saw three stunning breakaway goals in a 3-1 win. Five days later, Steve Bruce scored a pair of famous late goals against Sheffield Wednesday and United were top.

Alex Ferguson's side retained their title despite losing late in the next campaign to Blackburn Rovers, who were themselves champions the following season, but one of the most notable deciders went United's way in 1995-96. The Red Devils had trailed Newcastle United by 12 points in January but knew a win at St James' Park would trim the deficit to a single point.

That was exactly how it played out, too, as Eric Cantona – who created the first and netted the third at Norwich in 1993 – hit a winner against the run of play.

That was the start of a career-best run of six games in a row in which Cantona scored and the first of five consecutive United goals that came courtesy of their talisman – a feat since repeated only three times (Ruud van Nistelrooy in 2003, Cristiano Ronaldo in 2007 and Robin van Persie in 2013). Four of the six games ended 1-0.

Newcastle would also end 1996-97 as United's closest challengers, but it was the turn of Liverpool – who finished fourth – to blow a big lead.

The gap to United was 10 points in December, when Ferguson's side were sixth, yet Liverpool were two points behind by the time they welcomed their rivals to Anfield in mid-April. A pair of David James errors gave the visitors a precious victory en route to another title triumph.

Double delight for Arsenal at Old Trafford (1997-2004)

From the 1997-98 season onwards, United had consistent title rivals in Arsenal. And although United finished top in four of the next seven seasons to Arsenal's three, there were a pair of painful defeats for Ferguson.

While Newcastle's collapse from 12 points in front is most widely remembered – chiefly because the Magpies are still to win the Premier League – the competition record belongs to United's class of 1997-98, who allowed Arsenal to make up a 13-point deficit in the first season after Cantona's retirement.

There were still nine points between the sides before they met at Old Trafford in mid-March, but Arsenal had three games in hand and won 1-0 courtesy of a Marc Overmars goal – their first away to United in the Premier League – that capped a dazzling individual display. They led the table a month later.

That season ended with a double for Arsenal, and so too did the 2001-02 campaign, in which they again claimed a 1-0 victory at United. The Sylvain Wiltord-inspired success, days after winning the FA Cup, came in the penultimate game of the season and made Arsenal champions.

It was the first of only two occasions on which the title has been won in a match between two teams who were still in the running, while the top two in the Premier League have never met later in a campaign.

Chelsea take challenge to United (2004-2011)

Chelsea replaced Arsenal as perennial threats to United and their second consecutive title in 2005-06 was sealed with a 3-0 win over Ferguson's men, although the championship was essentially a formality at that point.

Meetings in subsequent years were more keenly contested. There was precious little between the two teams in 2007-08, when the Champions League final was decided on penalties, and a late-season Chelsea win at Stamford Bridge moved the teams level on points. However, the Blues' inferior goal difference and final-day draw with Bolton Wanderers allowed United to take the title regardless.

It was a different story in 2009-10, though. There was just a point separating leaders United from chasing Chelsea this time, and an away win at Old Trafford through goals from Joe Cole and Didier Drogba put the Blues in command, able to themselves seal the deal on the final day.

And yet the two dominant teams of this era were not done there. A May meeting back at Old Trafford the following season could have seen Chelsea snatch the championship away from United again, but Javier Hernandez scored inside a matter of seconds to set the Red Devils on course for a victory that crucially moved them six clear. That represents the last time the leaders beat the second-placed team during the run-in.

City serene since crucial Kompany winner (2011-2022)

United have won the title only once since 2010-11, while neighbours City have been crowned on five occasions in that time – and they have largely avoided the drama Ferguson's side made their benchmark.

Of course, their breakthrough triumph in 2011-12 was an exception to that, as City had to beat United even before Sergio Aguero's last-day heroics. Vincent Kompany's header moved the teams level on points, with goal difference vitally working in his side's favour.

Only four times since then have the top two faced off over the final 10 matches of the season, including Liverpool's 2013-14 defeat to Chelsea when neither team won the title and City's 2019-20 thrashing off the Reds when the league had already been settled.

City, in 2012-13, and United, in 2017-18, each claimed away derby wins that restored pride but could not prevent title processions. United's win at least denied City the delight of clinching the title against their neighbours.

The closest City and Liverpool have come to a true decider might be a January epic in 2018-19, but that should all change on Sunday.

There will be plenty to play for when the Boston Celtics arrive at Fiserv Forum to take on the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday.

Heading into the game, the Celtics (50-30) occupy the Eastern Conference two seed, while the Bucks (49-30) are a half-game back in third, holding the tie-breaker over the Philadelphia 76ers (49-30) in fourth.

Since the All-Star break, no team has a better winning percentage than the Celtics (16-4), while Milwaukee are fifth over that period (13-6); but while the reigning champion Bucks find their feet, Boston have gone to a new level.

For the season, the Celtics are number one in defensive efficiency, as new head coach Ime Udoka's switching system has maximised the physical gifts of defensive stalwarts Marcus Smart and Robert Williams III.

At this point, Boston's defense is a given, but post-All-Star break, they have also had the number one offense in the league, and are putting a gap on the rest of the field. Over that time period, the closest team to Boston's 122.2 points per 100 possessions have been the Minnesota Timberwolves, 2.7 points per 100 possessions behind at 119.5.

For context, that 2.7-point gap is greater than the 2.6-point margin between the Timberwolves and the 11th-placed 76ers (116.9) for the same period, and Boston's 12.9 net-rating since All-Star weekend is a number generally reserved for some of the greatest regular season teams in league history.

However, the team right behind the Timberwolves on the list, in third place, are the Bucks, and it is no hot streak as they boast the fifth-best offensive efficiency over the whole year.

These teams are both serious contenders to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals – but they go about it in very different ways.

Primarily, that has a lot to do with the Celtics' switching defensive system.

The Celtics 'switch' screens – meaning instead of fighting over or under the screening player to recover back to your assignment, the player guarding the screener takes on the assignment of guarding the ball-handler, while the ball-handler's defender takes responsibility for the screener and his next movements.

The Bucks, on the other hand, play 'drop coverage', which means their on-ball defender tries to force the ball-handler on a predictable path around the screen, while the screener's defender peels off into a help position, with the aim of forcing the ball-handler to pull up for a mid-range shot with their defender contesting from behind.

Both systems are formed on sound logic. In switching schemes, the idea is to eliminate as much dribble penetration as possible by keeping the ball-handler in front on the perimeter, while trusting the smaller guard to be able to deny the screener an easy catch in the paint.

Drop coverage, on the other hand, forces teams to consistently attempt mid-range jump shots, which are statistically the least valuable shot in the game.

In theory, Boston's switching defense should perform well against Giannis Antetokounmpo, as the Bucks' two-time MVP thrives at attacking the rim, while Milwaukee should be able to bait Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown into mid-range jump shots that can go cold for extended stretches.

But the numbers show it may not be that simple.

Boston allow the second-fewest amount of points in the paint per game, and while Antetokounmpo lives at the rim, the Bucks actually come in last in the league with their percentage of points scored in the paint.

While that may indicate that the Celtics' defense is playing right into how the Bucks like to play, Boston also allow the second-lowest three-point percentage in the league.

It poses an interesting question about Boston – is their defense truly so good that teams can not score inside the key or from long range, or is their defense the top-ranked in the league because their opponents just keep missing threes?

Opposing three-point percentage can be a messy stat due to general shooting luck, and Boston allow opponents to get up a league-average amount of attempts, so if they are due for some regression to the mean, it means they are due to be on the wrong end of some hot shooting nights.

Boston's defense also allows the lowest amount of opposition assists per game, but Milwaukee are third-last in assist percentage, so how much are the Bucks actually trying to do the things the Celtics are built to stop?

Milwaukee play at the fifth-highest pace in the league, while Boston play at the fifth-lowest – all signs point to the fact that something has to give, and whoever can play the game at their tempo may just hold the keys.

 

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Boston Celtics – Marcus Smart

Marcus Smart is not the best scorer on the Celtics, or the best ball-handler, but he excels in the areas that have made this Boston team great during the second half of this season.

He is the bookmakers' favourite to win Defensive Player of the Year due to his ability to switch off of point guards and bang bodies down low against the bigs, unlocking the true upside of a switching system as post players regularly fail to take advantage of their significant height advantage.

The Bucks are a big team, so for the Celtics defense to rise to the occasion once again against a true contender, Smart will need to hang with Jrue Holiday on the perimeter, as well as keep Antetokounmpo out of the lane.

 

Milwaukee Bucks – Brook Lopez

Antetokounmpo is Milwaukee's best and most valuable player. However, the centrepiece of the Bucks' drop coverage is Brook Lopez.

Lopez will be the biggest player, with the longest arms, for either team, and Milwaukee's entire defensive scheme will revolve around forcing players to take and make shots over his outstretched arms.

He also has the size, and the underrated post game, to make life miserable for whichever undersized guard gets caught in screening actions and needs to switch onto the seven-footer.

Smart will be able to hold up if he establishes good early position, but if the Bucks can get Derrick White or Payton Pritchard involved in the switch, it could be a long night inside for Boston's defense.

 

KEY BATTLES – Who can get the most 'easy' points?

In a game that will likely resemble a playoff atmosphere, the winning team may simply be the side who make life easiest on themselves.

Fast-break points and free throws limit the amount of possessions a team needs to grind their way through a set half-court defense, and provide the easiest avenues to uncontested points.

Milwaukee rank as the eighth-best team at getting to the free-throw line, and fourth-best at denying their opposition free throws, while Boston are 21st at getting to the line.

As mentioned, Boston like to play at a methodical pace, ranking 20th in fast-break points, while Milwaukee have the fifth-best transition defense in the league.

 

HEAD-TO-HEAD

These two sides have met three times this season – all before the All-Star break.

Boston won the first two home fixtures – including an overtime win where Dennis Schroeder scored a game-high 38 points, before being traded to the Houston Rockets – while Milwaukee won the last meeting, and the only one at Fiserv Forum, 117-113.

Peaking too soon is a problem for every golf season, for the Masters at Augusta – the first major of the year – is what the sport is all about.

The greatest names have embarked on Georgia in pursuit of a prized green jacket.

But to enjoy a successful Sunday this week, players must get to grips with perhaps the biggest star of them all: the iconic course itself.

Augusta is what makes the Masters the Masters, so Stats Perform breaks down where one of the most prestigious tournaments sport might be won and lost.

LONGEST HOLE

At 575 yards, the par-five second hole – Pink Dogwood – is the longest on the course, but that does not mean it is the toughest, instead offering some respite following the tricky first.

Historically, number two has been played in 4.78 strokes on average, making it the third-easiest hole at Augusta in relation to par. In fact, the lowest average on record came in 2020 (4.467) – and that was not a mere quirk of the strange conditions around the course in recent years without the usual crowds, given the highest average, in 1957, was 4.996. Yep, the second has never played at even par or worse.

SHORTEST HOLE

Skill rather than strength is required to negotiate Redbud, the 170-yard, par-three 16th. Considered too easy in the tournament's early days, the installation of a pond added some peril – and plenty of drama. With three bunkers around the green, too, the tee shot has to be pretty perfect or something spectacular will be required to come up with a birdie, as Tiger Woods will attest. "In your life, have you seen anything like that?"

Unsurprisingly, though, given its length, the 16th is also the setting for the vast majority of the Masters' holes-in-one. Of the 33 in tournament history, 23 have come at Redbud, including the first from amateur Ross Somerville at the inaugural tournament in 1934 but also 16 since the turn of the century. The last came courtesy of Tommy Fleetwood in 2021.

HARDEST HOLE

Think of Augusta and you will likely quickly focus on Amen Corner, but the most daunting challenge of all lies at the hole immediately prior: the par-four number 10 Camellia. Statistically, with a stroke average of 4.3 (0.3 over par), this is as tough as it gets – albeit only fractionally ahead of the 11th.

With its lowest stroke average 4.082 in 2018, the 10th has never played at even par or better... unless your name is Jordan Spieth. The 2015 Masters champion has a real knack around Camellia, with four birdies in four rounds last year. Few others have been able to follow Spieth's example at what was originally the first hole.

EASIEST HOLE

With the hardest hole followed by the second-ranked 11th and fourth-ranked 12th, there might be a sense of relief at Azalea, the par-five number 13 with a 4.77 stroke average. But there is very much a risk-reward approach to this 510-yard hole, at which the player can go for the green in two but must beware the water to the left and the trees to the right.

This is another set-up that suits Spieth well, as it does the absent Phil Mickelson, even if his most memorable shot at Azalea was not exactly an exhibition in playing the hole. An error created the opportunity for Mickelson's six-iron from the pine straw on Sunday in 2010.

THE RECORDS

The course record belongs to Nick Price and Greg Norman, who both shot 63s, but perhaps it should come as no surprise Spieth has the best career average of all players to play 25 or more rounds at Augusta, with his 70.46 leading Woods' 70.87.

That mark will come under threat should Dustin Johnson (71.03) produce anything like his sensational record-breaking 2020 performance again, however. Helped by carding only four bogeys – a low among Masters champions – Johnson's 20-under total of 268 trimmed two off the previous week-long benchmark owned jointly by Woods and Spieth.

Still, with Cameron Smith and Im Sung-jae 'only' five back, Woods' record winning margin of 12 strokes to Tom Kite in 1997 remained.

LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers will be missing from the NBA playoffs.

Defeat to the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday combined with a win elsewhere for the San Antonio Spurs meant the Lakers can no longer reach even the play-in tournament.

It is less than two years since the Lakers won the title in the 'bubble', but that championship was followed by one mishap after another, leading to this painful season.

Stats Perform seeks to break down where it all went wrong.

Ageing LeBron limited

This could and perhaps should have been remembered as a great year for James, who has scored 30.3 points per game. At 37, he is on course to become the oldest player ever to win the scoring title – a mantle he will take from the great Michael Jordan.

However, for a second straight year, injuries have limited James' involvement.

Already with more than 63,000 minutes in his legs across the regular season and playoffs, James has continued to push himself to try to save the Lakers' season. He has played 37.2 minutes per game – his most in five years, the most of any Laker and the third-most in the entire league. Again, he is 37. Ultimately, unsurprisingly, this has meant more wear and tear, with James playing in just 56 games.

Although James has scored more than 35 points in each of his past five games – a streak bettered only by DeMar DeRozan (eight) this season – he has also missed five games in that span. The Lakers have lost all five.

AD also absent again

Given James' age, it was to be expected his body might start to let him down. That he needed to play so many minutes when he was available, though, was due to injury issues for Anthony Davis – eight years his junior.

Davis was outstanding in helping James to win a title in their first season together in 2019-20 but has played only 76 games since across two regular seasons. After an Achilles strain hampered his 2020-21 campaign, Davis has missed time this year with knee and foot injuries. He played on Tuesday but revealed his foot was "a little more sore than normal" and had "swollen up a bit".

Whether Davis can ever get back to playing a full 82-game season remains to be seen, for he has appeared more cumbersome than in years past even when he has been available, having bulked up coming into this year. That is evident in the numbers, too, with Davis shooting a career-high 73.5 per cent at the rim but just 18.6 per cent from three-point range.

Derailed by Russ trade

Of course, even with James and Davis kept on the sideline for periods of the 2020-21 season, the Lakers still made the play-in tournament and then the playoffs. However, the Lakers then allowed almost their entire supporting cast to leave.

Their four most-used players in terms of minutes in 2020-21 departed, including three of them in an ill-fated trade for Russell Westbrook. On his fourth team in four years, there was hope Westbrook could form a 'big three' with James and Davis – "our goal was to win a championship," Davis said on Tuesday – yet the trio have played just 21 games together.

And Westbrook has been far less effective than the men he replaced in carrying the team in the absence of the Lakers' superstar duo. LA are 6-17 when Westbrook plays but James does not.

Having averaged a triple-double in four of his prior five seasons, Westbrook is down to 18.5 points, 7.4 rebounds and 7.1 assists. One of 10 triples this year came in perhaps the worst individual performance of the campaign, in which Westbrook also had a league-high 10 turnovers and was ejected against former team the Oklahoma City Thunder.

What next?

"Who knows?" That was Davis' response after the Suns loss. The Lakers have very little room to manoeuvre in this coming offseason, even if James, Davis and Westbrook can each rediscover form and fitness – highly unlikely in itself.

As part of the deal with the New Orleans Pelicans for Davis, the Lakers traded away an unprotected first-round pick in 2022, a potential first-round pick swap in 2023 and either their 2024 or 2025 first-round pick. The 2022 pick is sure to be a big loss following this season, while the Lakers would have to turn their fortunes around dramatically for the subsequent picks not to also represent significant assets.

And yet the Lakers' cap situation is arguably even worse, headlined by Westbrook's player option for a staggering $47.1million in 2022-23. Only a league-low seven players are signed for next year, yet the team are already above the luxury tax threshold.

It is no secret James and Davis were hugely influential in constructing this roster, but whether the extortionate cost was worth it for a single title is up for debate. Another championship surely will not follow for some time.

Two races into the 2022 Formula One season, a new era of regulations and while it is evident to see that Ferrari and Red Bull have started the strongest, Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen seem to be relishing the duel.

It is currently one race apiece for Leclerc and Verstappen, but both the former's win in Bahrain and the latter's in Saudi Arabia have been characterised by hard but fair wheel-to-wheel racing.

Coming into this weekend's Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, Ferrari's strength this season can be seen in the fact they have opened up a healthy 40-point buffer in the constructors' championship after only two races.

Leclerc and Sainz are also first and second in the drivers' championship, with the Monegasque's respective first and second place finishes coupled with bonus points for the fastest lap in the opening two races.

Following a tightly contested race in Saudi Arabia, Leclerc and Verstappen were revelling in the opening battles for the championship.

"It wasn't enough today, but my God, I really enjoyed that race," Leclerc said. "Every race should be like this."

Especially in comparison to how sour the relationship became between him and Lewis Hamilton as they fought for the title in 2021, Verstappen is also enjoying the hard but fair racing.

"It was really tough, but a good race," the world champion said after his Saudi win. "We were both battling hard at the front. We just tried to play the long game."

 

Mercedes' lack of pace working against Hamilton  

Meanwhile, Mercedes have endured a difficult start to the 2022 season, claiming third and fourth thanks to Red Bull DNFs in Bahrain before a fifth and 10th place finish in Saudi Arabia, well off the pace at the front.

Their troubles with speed and managing downforce in relation to their heavy porpoising is difficult for any team, let alone one with expectations of drivers' and constructors' championships.

With that all in mind, Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton has taken eight pole positions at Albert Park, tied with two other drivers for the most ever in F1 at a single track – Michael Schumacher at Suzuka and Ayrton Senna at Imola are the other two, while Hamilton also holds eight at the Hungaroring.

 

No home race advantage for Aussies

McLaren's poor start to the season could only serve to compound matters for Daniel Ricciardo at his home race.

No Australian driver has ever won, taken pole position or reached the podium in 35 editions of the Australian GP.

Ricciardo (2016, 2018) and Mark Webber (2010) only managed to secure fastest laps and mere points finishes.

 

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

Drivers

1. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 45
2. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) 33
3. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 25
4. George Russell (Mercedes) 22
5. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 16

Constructors

1. Ferrari 78
2. Mercedes 38
3. Red Bull 37
4. Alpine 16
5. Haas 12

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