From the Miracle at Medinah to the Battle of Brookline and the War on the Shore at Kiawah Island, there is something uniquely special about the Ryder Cup on American soil.

The hoopla and the hollering, the fanfare and the ferocity. At times it felt like the cries of "U-S-A, U-S-A" were interrupted only at Hazeltine five years ago by the "I believe that we will win" chant, a nadir for the sporting songbook.

Let's go round again, then, this time at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin, where the show gets under way on Friday, three days of sporting theatre set to play out in front of a global audience.

Postponed from last year, there will be crowds lining the course in a full-blown face-off between the United States and Europe, led off by the foursomes and fourballs before Sunday's singles provide a tantalising climax.

It is hard not to love the Ryder Cup, whether a year-round golf fan or not, and here are five reasons we have taken it to our hearts.


1. THE AGGRO

Team golf changes the sport from top to bottom. This individual pursuit, the every-man-for-himself nature of tour golf, goes out of the window as players compete for the collective good. Players streamed in and out of news conferences on Tuesday, each declaring their commitment to fight for their locker-room chums. Many of the world's elite have assembled this week, but there will be no champion golfer, only a team triumph come Sunday evening.

Golf crowds might irritate players at times during the regular season, but by and large they are a respectful bunch. Yet at the Ryder Cup, frenzies break out as team allegiances change the perspective of spectators. The partisanship reflects that of a football game, boorishness breaks out and is frowned on, and then it breaks out again, and again, until it is part of the fabric of a Ryder Cup weekend. Telling a Ryder Cup crowd to dial down the aggro and the noise would likely only serve to ramp it up. The crowd feels a part of the event, players can be inspired and some will cower, and of course this happens on each side of the Atlantic. Don't expect anything different this weekend, besides the fact the crowd will be overwhelmingly American, given travel limitations.

"I think that the Ryder Cup epitomises everything that's great in the game of golf," Europe's Rory McIlroy said this week. "It's competitive, but there's also a lot of sportsmanship shown. And obviously there's partisan crowds and all of that, but that's part of being in a team environment. You're going to have a majority of the crowd rooting for one team or the other.

"I think the most animated I've been in my career has been at Ryder Cups. It just brings something out of you that you don't get playing individually. There's something more there when you're playing as part of a team, and everything you do doesn't just affect yourself but affects the other 11 players, the captain, the vice captains, all the support team."


2. THERE'S A STAR MAN

Although this is a team game, somebody has to be the hero. Three years ago, Italian Francesco Molinari won all five of his matches, the first European to ever do so, and in previous editions there have been unforeseen defining performances from the likes of Boo Weekley and Christy O'Connor Jnr.

There was a certain romance about the all-Spanish partnership between Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal, master and apprentice, who won 12 points from their 15 matches together, and latterly their compatriot Sergio Garcia has gone on to amass the most points in a Ryder Cup career: 25.5 and counting.

The beauty is that the star man rarely happens to be the leading man. Tiger Woods, now a 15-time major champion, was 0-4 at the last Ryder Cup and has won just 13 of his 37 matches in the event.

This is a competition where Colin Montgomerie and Ian Poulter at least match, and arguably outrank Jack Nicklaus, despite neither European having a major to their name.


3. TENSION OFF THE COURSE

Nick Faldo was a wonderful Ryder Cup player but flopped as a captain at Valhalla in 2008, delivering a string of pairing puzzlers and a clanging confection of press-room and team-room missteps. Three years later, Graeme McDowell said: "What was missing for us? We didn't have that extra spark in the team room, didn't have that X-factor in terms of someone to get up and rally the troops. Jose Maria [Olazabal] gave a great speech on the Saturday evening when the singles line-up came out. But that was the first really emotional speech we'd had all week."

Captains know victory is everything, and their selection calls can define Ryder Cups as much as the players on the course perform. Find the right combinations and a captain can sit back and reap the benefits.

Few expect Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau to partner each other at this Ryder Cup, amid a spat most assume is ongoing. DeChambeau looked to calm the chatter about his relationship with Koepka on Tuesday, saying much of the talk had been "driven by a lot of external factors, not necessarily us two".

"We had some great conversations in Tour Championship week when we had dinner, and then this week, as well," DeChambeau said. "I sat down and had dinner with him last night, and it was fine."

Steve Stricker, you suspect, would be wise to keep them apart in competition, but eliminating any sense of rivalry or enmity within a team can go a long way towards bringing success.


4. THE KITS CAN BE BAD

This year's outfits have a touch of class about them, understated elegance on both teams, which is always disappointing.

The Ryder Cup has delivered some shockers over the years, with a prime example being the USA's waterproofs that let in water during the 2010 match at Celtic Manor, forcing team chiefs to splash out on more reliable kit from on-site merch suppliers. Already garish, with large-lettered player names on the back of the shellsuit-like jackets, they were also considered not fit for purpose by several players as the rain came down in Wales.

In 1999, the USA committed a fashion faux pas with a shirt that featured scores of framed photographs of Ryder Cups gone by. It belonged on the bargain rails, but turned out to be the outfit in which the Americans sealed their win at Brookline, the images of their triumph enshrined in folklore, but surely never to feature on the shirts of any future cup team.

Europe have typically been more demure about their outfit selections, perhaps wary of being frowned on in the clubhouse or by history.


5. THE COMEBACKS

This is a sporting contest par excellence, and Europe's 17.5-10.5 annihilation of Tiger Woods and co three years ago in France means the hosts are craving delicious revenge.

USA wildcard Jordan Spieth is likely to be a major factor, given his strong season, and the three-time major winner describes the feeling of competing as like being in the thick of a title chase at a major championship.

"Maybe it takes two or three years if you're playing really well to have four or five times you're in contention in a major, but you get to do it three, four, five times this week," Spieth said.

On the final day, that sense is amplified, and a team's overnight lead is far from any guarantee of success. At Medinah in 2012, the US team led 10-4 at one stage on the Saturday, before Europe won the final two matches to narrow the gap, Poulter pulling out all the stops with a string of birdies as he and McIlroy took down Zach Johnson and Jason Dufner.

Still, Europe were up against it going into Sunday, but Justin Rose provided a highlight amid a rush of blue on the scoreboard as he scored a stunning win over Phil Mickelson in the singles, with the likes of Lee Westwood and Garcia also coming good before Martin Kaymer ensured Europe would retain the trophy and Molinari halved his clash with Woods to win the cup outfight by a 14.5-13.5 margin.

The USA roared back from 10-6 at Brookline to also win 14.5 to 13.5, with near riotous scenes at the end as players and spectators overstepped the mark by invading the green, interrupting Olazabal's mission to keep Europe in it.

Whether Whistling Straits sees a comparable comeback, one team waltzing away to win, or a close-fought battle, remains to be seen. Samuel Ryder's notion, back in the 1920s, that a team golf event between teams from either side of the Atlantic should make for a sporting spectacle, has proven to be one of sports great prophecies.

The United States are favourites to make home advantage count and regain the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits this weekend.

An emphatic 17.5-10.5 victory at Le Golf National in September 2018 saw Europe regain the trophy under Thomas Bjorn, as the likes of Francesco Molinari, Tommy Fleetwood, Sergio Garcia and Ian Poulter played starring roles.

Yet while Europe have won six successive home Ryder Cups, their recent record on American soil has been mixed.

We take a look at the last five editions of the event in the USA.

 

2016 - Hazeltine

Result: United States 17 - 11 Europe

Europe had won three Ryder Cups in a row ahead of the 2016 event, but they were in for a shock at Hazeltine.

Darren Clarke's hopes of masterminding victory suffered a hammer blow on the first morning as the United States, captained by Davis Love III, pulled off a clean sweep of the Friday foursomes.

Rookies Thomas Pieters and Rafael Cabrera-Bello impressed as Europe narrowed their deficit, but the USA regained control in the second fourball session and went on to triumph by a six-point margin, the talismanic Patrick Reed defeating Rory McIlroy in a dramatic opening singles match to set the tone for the hosts.

2012 - Medinah

Result: United States 13.5 - 14.5 Europe

Is it really nine years since the 'Miracle of Medinah'?

In the first Ryder Cup since the death of European icon Seve Ballesteros, the Spaniard's close friend Jose Maria Olazabal oversaw the most remarkable of comebacks to ensure Europe retained the trophy they had claimed at Celtic Manor two years earlier.

The USA were 10-4 up on Saturday afternoon, having won five of the day's first six contests.

However, Europe crucially won the last two fourball contests, with Poulter the architect of an astonishing turnaround in the anchor match.

Poulter and his team-mates then overhauled a four-point deficit in the singles, something that had only happened once before in Ryder Cup history, with Martin Kaymer sinking the winning putt to spark emotional scenes of celebration from the visiting team.

2008 - Valhalla

Result: United States 16.5 - 11.5 Europe

No European golfer in the professional era has claimed more major titles than Nick Faldo's six and the Englishman was also the most prolific points scorer in Ryder Cup history before Garcia moved past his tally of 25 at Le Golf National.

However, Faldo was nowhere near as successful in a miserable stint as Europe's captain, which yielded a heavy defeat to Paul Azinger's United States team at Valhalla.

The infamous 'sandwich-gate' incident - in which Faldo was photographed holding an apparent list of pairings only to then claim, somewhat unfeasibly, it was a list of lunch requests - was not the only gaffe made by the former world number one before the event had even begun.

Europe were then handsomely beaten when the action did get under way, trailing throughout on their way to a 16.5-11.5 loss.

Hunter Mahan was the leading points-scorer for the USA, who prevailed in seven of the 12 Sunday singles contests, but the likes of Anthony Kim, Boo Weekley, Justin Leonard and J.B. Holmes were among others to play starring roles.

 

2004 - Oakland Hills

Result: United States 9.5 - 18.5 Europe

In contrast to Faldo, the meticulous Bernhard Langer did not put a foot wrong in 2004 as Europe stormed to victory by a record margin at Oakland Hills.

Every member of Langer's team contributed at least a point, with wildcard selections Colin Montgomerie and Luke Donald among those to excel in a stunningly one-sided match.

In contrast, a USA team led by Hal Sutton and featuring three of the world's top 10 failed to deliver, with Chris DiMarco the only player to score more than two points for the hosts.

Montgomerie, in his penultimate Ryder Cup appearance as a player, famously holed the winning putt and went on to say: "That singles win over David Toms, in fact that whole week, rejuvenated me and my career."

 

1999 - Brookline

Result: United States 14.5 - 13.5 Europe

Prior to Europe's fightback at Medinah in 2012, the only previous instance of a team coming from four points behind in the singles came at Brookline, in distinctly fractious circumstances.

Mark James was Europe's skipper for an event sadly overshadowed by boorish abuse of visiting players by a partisan crowd and raucous scenes on the 17th hole on Sunday.

A mammoth putt from Leonard prompted an invasion of the green from the US team, even though Olazabal still had a putt of his own to come.

Ben Crenshaw's USA ultimately triumphed 14.5-13.5, but the 'Battle of Brookline' would be remembered for the wrong reasons.

In a subsequent autobiography, Sam Torrance - a vice-captain for Europe that week - described the final day of the 1999 event as: "the most disgraceful and disgusting day in the history of professional golf."

As Europe and the United States go through the motions, the ceremonies and the practice rounds that precede the serious business at Whistling Straits, spare a thought for those Ryder Cup heroes that might have been.

This will be officially the 2020 Ryder Cup, but the pandemic impact has not been merely to delay the showpiece by 12 months. The teams have taken a hefty shake-up too, since last season was so unexpectedly interrupted.

There are players that looked destined to play a big part on the Straits Course last year that will instead be far from Wisconsin, their hopes of starring having been scotched by the postponement.

Qualifying criteria were necessarily changed, to ensure it will be in-form players who line up for each team, and both the US and European teams would likely have looked radically different in September 2020.

Here is a look at some of the winners and losers of the team-picking puzzle from each side of the Atlantic.

EUROPE

Winners: Englishman Paul Casey had made a sketchy start to his bid to qualify for the team, with little to shout about before the COVID-19 crisis struck. He had time to make up ground, certainly, but Casey needed results quickly. He has since had them in abundance, with a tied-second finish at the US PGA Championship last year a reminder to Padraig Harrington that he wanted in on the action. Ten top-10 performances in 2021 catapulted the 44-year-old to automatic selection and a fifth appearance on the team.

Norway's Viktor Hovland was not in the conversation 18 months ago, when the tours ground to a mid-season halt, although a win at the Puerto Rico Open in February 2020 saw him leap from 100th to number 60 on the world rankings. The Oklahoma State University alum's form since golf resumed has been nothing short of spectacular, with 24-year-old Hovland climbing to a career-high ranking of 10th in August. Since the turn of the year, he has had seven top-five finishes, including a win at the BMW International Open, and his hot form could mean the heavy metal fan cranks up the dial for Europe.

Losers: Danny Willett and Victor Perez were firmly in the picture when the tours halted in March 2020, but neither will be making an appearance. Englishman Willett, the former Masters champion, has slumped from inside the world's top 40 golfers to outside the leading 150 on the rankings after a wretched run of results that meant he stood no hope of a wildcard.

Perez's form dipped at an inopportune moment, after he previously stayed firmly in the mix. Across his last five tournaments, Perez has endured five missed cuts – at The Memorial and all four of the majors – and no top-10 finishes, meaning the Frenchman could also not realistically be thought of as deserving of a call from Harrington.

Perez wrote on Twitter: "I am, of course, disappointed to not be selected to the team. However, this is an opportunity for me to evaluate, become stronger and apply new lessons to all parts of my career, and for that I am grateful."

UNITED STATES

Winners : The US were planning on picking four wildcards but switched that to six amid the COVID-19 uncertainty, meaning the automatic selections also shrank from eight to six, and their line-up for Whistling Straits looks markedly different to how it surely would have turned out a year ago.

On the fringes of the world's top 50 and emerging as a bright talent, in March 2020 Collin Morikawa still needed to get a move on to come into captain Steve Stricker's thinking. The 24-year-old is now a two-time major winner, ranked the number three best golfer on the planet, and he led the final US points list, reflecting his dramatic surge. Bryson DeChambeau would likely have found the results to make the team, given he was coming into form after a rocky spell; now he is a U.S. Open champion and has the big personality to take the Ryder Cup by storm. Patrick Cantlay also eventually qualified by right, winning the Tour Championship and consequently the $15million FedEx Cup, earning a debut.

Losers : All-time great Tiger Woods was still in the picture when global sport called a hiatus, yet the last time the 15-time major winner was seen in public he was struggling by on crutches after the February car crash that police said he was lucky to survive. Three-time Ryder Cup man Patrick Reed – 'Captain America' – was in the frame for an automatic pick, too, along with Gary Woodland and Webb Simpson, until the world changed.

Eighteen months down the line and those four have been usurped, with Stricker taking the players ranked seven to 10 on the points list (Xander Schauffele, Tony Finau, Jordan Spieth, Harris English) as wildcard picks but deciding against choosing 11th-placed Reed or 13th-placed Simpson. He also selected the players in 12th and 14th (Daniel Berger and Scottie Scheffler).

Reed, having been troubled by pneumonia and an ankle injury lately, took his omission "like a true champion", Stricker said. Six rookies feature for the US, Stricker looking to the future but backing his team to succeed in the present.

There isn't much time for patience in the NFL, and the ownership of the Arizona Cardinals would have been forgiven for running out of it after an opportunity to end their postseason drought in 2020 was passed up. 

Year two of the Kliff Kingsbury-Kyler Murray experience was a rollercoaster, with explosive offensive performances and last-gasp Hail Mary plays giving way to an uneven and uninspiring stretch run that raised questions about Kingsbury's ability to get the best out of the 2019 first overall pick, as well as piling pressure on a general manager in Steve Keim who had been given the rare luxury of selecting a first-round quarterback in successive years. 

Two weeks into the 2021 season, the Cardinals have reason to believe the partnership of Air Raid disciple Kingsbury and their diminutive dual-threat quarterback is one that can yield the dominant offensive season many have expected and, in the process, propel them to the playoffs. 

Playing in the hyper-competitive NFC West, which would still be undefeated as a division if not for the Seattle Seahawks' bizarre home collapse against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday, the Cards should not get too far ahead of themselves, particularly with memories of last season's 6-3 start that ultimately proved a false dawn still fresh. 

Sunday's captivating 34-33 triumph over the Minnesota Vikings was far from perfect and owed to Greg Joseph shanking a last-second field goal that would have condemned Arizona to defeat. 

However, it served as a scintillating showcase of what the Cardinals' offense can do when firing on all cylinders and a vindication of the offseason moves made with an eye on elevating Murray, with his diverse skill set perfectly suited to the modern NFL, to another level. 

History-maker Murray

After throwing four touchdown passes and running for another score in the Cardinals' blowout win over the Titans in Week 1, Murray tossed three touchdowns and registered another on the ground against Minnesota. In doing so, he became the first player with at least three passing touchdowns and one rushing touchdown in each of his team's first two games of the season in NFL history. 

He now has 12 career games with both a passing and rushing touchdown, the fourth-most by a quarterback in his first three seasons, behind only Cam Newton (20), Josh Allen (16) and Dak Prescott (13). 

Those new entries into the record books were a product of what defenses have come to expect from Murray, who frustrated the Vikings by making magic happen with his legs on a 15-yard touchdown throw to DeAndre Hopkins and a 77-yard bomb to a wide-open Rondale Moore, and also demonstrated his still underrated ability to stand in the pocket and deliver with unerring accuracy. 

Through two weeks, Murray has produced an accurate, well-thrown ball on 88.7 per cent of his passes, according to Stats Perform data, putting him fourth among quarterbacks to attempt at least 10 passes. For quarterbacks with an air yards per attempt average of at least eight yards, Murray's well-thrown percentage is second only to Jalen Hurts (89.1%). 

Murray's accuracy shone through on a pinpoint completion to Christian Kirk between two defenders on 3rd and 16 in the second quarter. The same receiver was on the end on a perfectly lofted fourth-down pass to set up what proved the game-winning field goal, Murray putting the ball in the ideal spot despite having to deliver off his back foot with two defenders in his face. 

Yet the Cardinals' approach was not simply one where they relied on Murray to pull rabbit after rabbit out of his hat. There was a clear effort from Kingsbury to make Murray's life easier, much of which centred around rookie receiver Moore. 

Moore help

Arizona selected Moore in the second round this year despite doubts over an extremely spotty injury history, and his explosiveness has weaponised the Cardinals' short passing game. Kingsbury has regularly utilised screens and pop passes to Moore - and they will remain staples of Arizona's passing attack in 2021 so long as the former Purdue star continues to maximise their upside, as he has done in the first two weeks. 

Registering a burn, which is when a receiver wins his matchup with a defender on plays where he is targeted, on 69.2% of targets, Moore's average depth of target is just 4.3 yards, the joint-seventh lowest in the NFL. However, he leads the league in burn yards per route with 16.5. 

The Cardinals have managed to get similar efficiency out of receivers with more experience in the offense. Kirk (15) and Hopkins (14.6) are each in the top 15 for wide receivers in burn yards per target and are above the league average of 4.7 for burn yards per route with 7.5 and 5.7 respectively. Ninth in the NFL with an average depth of target of 17.7, Kirk is producing at a level that suggests he could blossom into a premier deep threat in his fourth year. 

The numbers are not as pretty for veteran free-agent addition A.J. Green (8.38 burn yards per target), but a touchdown on a screen pass in the third quarter and a 29-yard completion that saw him get a step on Bashaud Breeland downfield, selling an inside move before drifting back outside, offer hope he could enjoy an unexpected late-career renaissance. 

Imperfect vision

That is not to say there are no concerns, though. Murray's pickable pass percentage of 4.84 is above the league average of 3.44 and each of his interceptions against Minnesota hinted at issues seeing the field. 

His pick-six saw him fail to spot linebacker Nick Vigil lurking underneath as he attempted to find Kirk in the soft spot in the zone, while his second interception was a poor decision on which he tried to force the ball downfield against a two-deep safety look. 

Those valleys are ones Kingsbury can live with, however, when the peaks Murray frequently delivers belie a stature that had plenty questioning whether he could make it at the highest level. Murray will need more than two remarkable showings against defenses each ranked in the bottom 10 in the league in yards per play allowed to make a convincing argument that the Cardinals are ready to contend and he is worthy of MVP consideration. 

Still, the evidence to this point has been pretty compelling. The Cardinals' offense boasts the explosive element that was present in the first half of last season but, with the addition of Moore and to a lesser extent Green, has also grown more diverse.

The menu of options available to Murray has expanded and while tougher tests lie in wait, the early signs are that Arizona's burgeoning offensive arsenal can finally satisfy the appetite for playoff football.

Liverpool ran out 3-0 winners over Crystal Palace on Saturday, to take their place at the top of the Premier League.

Title rivals Manchester City could only draw at home to Southampton, but Manchester United and Chelsea subsequently joined Liverpool on 13 points.

Here are some of the more curious facts from across the Premier League weekend.


Premier League first for Reds trio

Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Naby Keita scored Liverpool's goals in their win over Palace at Anfield.

It is the first time in the Premier League that a game has ended 3-0, with all three goals being scored by African players.

Mane opened the scoring with his 100th goal for Liverpool. The Senegal forward has now scored in each of his last nine league appearances against Palace, making him the first player in Premier League history to score in nine straight matches against a single side.

All three of Liverpool's goals came from corners. Not since City beat West Brom in March 2015 has a top-flight game ended 3-0 with all the goals coming from corners.

Dave saves... finally

There was late drama aplenty at London Stadium on Sunday as United joined Liverpool at the top of the table thanks to a 2-1 win over West Ham.

After Cristiano Ronaldo continued his fantastic start to his second United stint to drag the Red Devils level, Jesse Lingard came on to break West Ham hearts late in the game.

London Stadium is the 66th different stadium that Ronaldo has scored at in matches played in Europe's big five leagues, and he has scored at more unique venues than any other player since his United debut in 2003-04, ahead of Zlatan Ibrahimovic (64).

Lingard, meanwhile, became the 47th player to score for and against West Ham in the Premier League. Excluding own goals, West Ham have had more players score for and against them than any other side in the league's history.

But it was David de Gea who proved to be United's hero, as he saved a last-gasp penalty from Mark Noble, who was brought on specifically by David Moyes to take the spot-kick.

De Gea's save ended a drought stretching back to April 23, 2016 of 40 spot-kicks faced without making a save for both club and country, in the process helping United claim a dramatic win at London Stadium. 

Of those penalties, 11 were scored by Villarreal players in May's Europa League final, with De Gea ultimately missing the decisive kick in the Red Devils' shoot-out defeat. 

The 30-year-old did keep out a Jordan Ayew penalty in last September's league meeting with Palace, but that was retaken and scored by Wilfried Zaha after De Gea was deemed to be off his line. 

Veteran Silva helps give Spurs the blues

Aged 36 years and 362 days, Thiago Silva became the second-oldest Chelsea player to score in the Premier League behind only Didier Drogba, who scored against Leicester City aged 37 years and 49 days in April 2015, when the Brazilian headed Thomas Tuchel's side ahead at Tottenham.

N'Golo Kante's deflected effort made it 2-0. The midfielder scored for the first time in 49 league appearances, having last found the net against Man City in November 2019. Three of his last four top-flight strikes have come from outside of the box.

Antonio Rudiger condemned Spurs to a second successive 3-0 defeat; they have lost consecutive Premier League matches by a 3+ goal margin for the first time since their opening two games of the 2011-12 campaign.

Harry Kane, meanwhile, cut a forlorn figure up top for Nuno Espirito Santo's side. He has failed to score in his first four Premier League appearances of a season for the first time since 2015-16, attempting just four shots so far.

Super-sub Bailey bursts Benitez's bubble

Everton's unbeaten start under Rafael Benitez came crashing to a halt as Leon Bailey starred with a blistering cameo in Aston Villa's 3-0 win.

Bailey came on from the bench and had an instant impact. With Matty Cash's first Premier League goal having put Villa ahead, the Jamaica forward whipped in a corner that Lucas Digne turned into his own net.

Digne has now scored three own goals in the Premier League, level with Younes Kaboul for the French player to have done so on the most occasions.

Villa were not finished there, however, and Bailey burst clear to lash home his first Premier League goal. Moments later, he went off with an apparent thigh injury, becoming only the second Villa player to come as a substitute, score, and then be substituted in a Premier League match, after Julian Joachim against Derby in September 2000.

Farke's losing streak rolls on, Toney at the top

Ivan Toney scored and assisted another as Brentford defeated Wolves 2-0 on Saturday.

Since the start of last season, Toney is the outright leading goalscorer in the top four tiers of English football (excluding play-off matches), with 33 strikes to his name.

Another promoted club, Norwich City, suffered their fifth defeat of the campaign. In total, the Canaries have now lost each of their last 15 Premier League games, meaning Daniel Farke is the manager with the longest losing run in top-flight history.

Mick McCarthy (14) was the last manager to go close to almost as long as Farke without a top-tier win, though that was back in 2005.

The 43rd edition of the Ryder Cup is almost upon us. A year later than initially planned, the finest golfers Europe and the United States have to offer will do battle at Whistling Straits.

Padraig Harrington's team will be looking to defend the title Europe clinched in Paris three years ago, while Steve Stricker's men will hope to make home advantage count as the USA look to win the tournament for only the third time since the turn of the century.

Ahead of the action in Wisconsin, Stats Perform looks back at some of the most memorable moments from tournaments gone by.

 

Miracle at Medinah, 2012

Where else to start other than a moment that is widely considered to be one of sport's greatest ever fightbacks. The "Miracle at Medinah" took place in Illinois nine years ago, with the Chicago crowd witnessing a remarkable European recovery, inspired by Ian Poulter – who will be playing again this weekend.

Europe were 4-10 down heading into the final day, with the USA needing just 4.5 points to win. Yet Poulter, who won all of his matches, got the ball rolling for the visiting team, who took 8.5 points from a possible 12 on the Sunday. Dustin Johnson, Zach Johnson and Jason Dufner offered the hosts hope, but Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer won their matches to leave Tiger Woods needing to beat Francesco Molinari to secure a tie. The round was halved, ane Europe triumphed 14.5 to 13.5.

 

Battle of Brookline, 1999

Thirteen years prior to the Miracle at Medinah, the USA forged an incredible comeback of their own at Brookline, Massachusetts. Europe held a 10-6 lead heading into the final round, yet were pegged back as the USA, buoyed on by a vociferous crowd that riled some of the European players, with Colin Montgomerie coming in for particularly strong treatment, won the first six matches of Sunday's play.

Yet the decisive moment came when Jose Maria Olazabal – who would go on to lead Europe to victory at Medinah - lost three successive holes to Justin Leonard when he had been four up with seven to play. The match was tied on the 15th when the American holed a 40-foot putt, and on the 17th, Leonard struck a brilliant birdie, with the US team and fans storming onto the green in celebration as the half-point required to complete the comeback was secured. Olazabal still had a 25-foot putt to make to send the match to the 18th, only for the Spaniard's effort to trickle wide.

Torrance ends US dominance, 1985

The Belfry is entrenched in Ryder Cup history and, in 1985, Europe earned their first win in what was the fourth attempt since the team had spread to include the continent and not just players from Great Britain and Ireland.

Seve Ballesteros was in exceptional form, but it was left to captain Sam Torrance to sink a 22-foot putt, inflicting the United States' first defeat since 1957.

Clarke leads emotional European victory, 2006

Having taken a three-month break from golf following the loss of his wife, Heather, to cancer, Darren Clarke was named as a wildcard pick by Europe captain Ian Woosnam for the 2006 Ryder Cup, hosted in Clarke's native Northern Ireland at the K Club.

Clarke produced a performance for the ages, winning both of his pairs matches and going on to defeat Zach Johnson in his singles game. "I doubt there was a dry eye in the house," said Clarke afterwards, as Europe went on to secure an 18.5-9.5 win.

 

Langer fluffs his lines, 1991

Possibly the tightest Ryder Cup contest in history came at Kiawah Island, South Carolina, with the US taking a slim lead into the final day. However, by the time the final match rolled around, they needed half a point to reclaim the title.

It came down to the final hole, too. Bernard Langer required to hole a six-foot putt to tie his match with Hale Irwin, and Europe would keep their hands on the trophy. Yet he failed to do so, the ball rolling off the lip and away, with the US triumphing for the first time since 1983.

The concession, 1969

The Ryder Cup had been dominated by the United States from the end of World War II, with Great Britain (as the team was then) winning only one, in 1957.

However, the first tie in the Ryder Cup was recorded at Royal Birkdale in 1969, when American great Jack Nicklaus conceded a three-foot putt to Tony Jacklin at the 18th hole – the moment going down as one of the most famous gestures of sportsmanship. 

It's a funny old game, but it might take gallows humour to raise much of a smile around north London this season. 

Tottenham's season-opening streak of three straight 1-0 wins bought Nuno Espirito Santo substantial early goodwill as the Portuguese began his reign as head coach, yet there was plenty that did not sit right. 

Spurs were riding their luck, out-shot 25-8 by Wolves at Molineux and beaten on the expected goals count there too. Similar applied to the fantasy start to the season when they edged out champions Manchester City. 

But Wilfried Zaha and Crystal Palace were ruthless interlopers to Nuno's honeymoon in early September with their 3-0 Selhurst Park demolition, and now Chelsea have repeated the trick, scoring freely in the second half at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. 

Chelsea also won 3-0 but might easily have had five or six. Sixty years have passed since Tottenham Hotspur were English champions. It might be a matter of months before Chelsea can describe themselves as such again. 

It was glaringly obvious this was not the game in which to put on a show, much as Tottenham wanted to pay homage to Jimmy Greaves, whose "funny old game" catchphrase has become part of the immemorially cliched lexicon of the English game. 

Greaves netted 220 league goals for Spurs and is their all-time record scorer, but he also plundered 124 in the old First Division for Chelsea, and his allegiances for this game would have been split. 

On the day his death at the age of 81 was announced, and a host of Spurs greats turned out to pay tribute, it was Greaves' first club who showed they are light-years ahead in London. 

As Tottenham and Arsenal prepare to confect a battle perhaps for fifth or sixth place this season, Chelsea have the title in their sights and the second-half exhibition in this space-age stadium was one that Greaves would have surely quietly admired. 

Thomas Tuchel watched his team fail to hit the target in the first half, but he struck bullseye with a substitution at the break, hauling off Mason Mount and introducing N'Golo Kante. 

The game changed absolutely from that point on, Chelsea finishing 10-2 ahead in the shots-on-target stakes, at times queueing up to score against a lamentably dire Spurs. 

As Chelsea's game took off, Spurs flatlined. Harry Kane, who said last month he would be "100 per cent focused on helping the team achieve success" this season, must be wondering what form that success might take. He and Son Heung-min were deadly in the early stages of last season; here, they played almost like strangers, the intuitive chemistry that defined their partnership woefully absent. 

Kane had two shots, a free-kick into the wall and a 22-yard grass-cutter that Kepa Arrizabalaga clutched fuss-free. Of course he will score again for Spurs, and add to his 166 Premier League goals, but Greaves' club record should be safe for a good while on this evidence. He has scored just once in his last nine league games against Chelsea now. 

Spurs won 65.4 per cent of the first-half duels and Tuchel, whether he had that exact data or not, realised what was wrong. 

"We lacked energy and we lacked being more relentless in duels, to decide 50-50 balls for us," Tuchel told Sky Sports. "I had the feeling we wanted to impress by pure skills." 

He told his players they would get reward by showing aggression and getting on top of those 50-50s. 

"We spoke clearly about it at half-time," Tuchel added. 

Thiago Silva was "outstanding" for Chelsea, Tuchel noted, and the Brazilian's header in the 49th minute gave Chelsea the breakthrough. 

Kante's 25-yard strike bounced off the left shin of Eric Dier and left Hugo Lloris flat-footed as Chelsea moved 2-0 in front, before the team in royal blue got the third they deserved as Antonio Rudiger scored in stoppage time. 

Spurs are a work in progress, of course they are. But this was ultimately a heavy loss against a Chelsea side who won handsomely despite Romelu Lukaku performing in a low gear throughout. 

Steve Perryman, Martin Chivers, Glenn Hoddle. They all watched on as Spurs were humbled. 

'Greavsie' joined Spurs shortly after they won that last league title all those years ago, and it might be decades more before they seriously challenge again. Kane said Spurs would "hopefully put in a great performance in his honour", but perhaps that tribute will have to wait seven days. 

It's the derby against Arsenal next Sunday as the two north London giants, both lurching somewhere between transition and turmoil, duke it out. 

Perhaps parochial bragging rights will be the zenith of their achievements this season, as this excellent Chelsea side go after the prizes that matter. 

The Los Angeles Chargers made a winning start to the new NFL season in Week 1 but now face the challenge of having to adapt to a major loss on their offensive line.

It was announced on Friday that right tackle Bryan Bulaga had been placed on injured reserve due to back and groin problems.

That robs quarterback Justin Herbert of a veteran presence up front for at least three games as he looks to guide the Chargers to the playoffs following a superb Offensive Rookie of the Year campaign in 2020.

However, the numbers suggest it should be a survivable loss for the Chargers despite Bulaga's considerable pedigree as a player in his 11th NFL season.

Bulaga's replacement is Storm Norton, a former undrafted free agent who played 36 snaps in last week's win over the Washington Football Team. 

Last year, Norton played in six games, starting three and, while there is a considerable difference in their experience, there is evidence that points to him outperforming Bulaga in 2020.

Indeed, Norton allowed a pressure rate of 9.0 per cent on 134 pass protection snaps last year compared to 9.7 per cent on 175 for Bulaga.

Bulaga's adjusted sack rate allowed of 1.1 per cent was superior to that of Norton (1.5 per cent), but the Chargers can afford to have hope that there should not be much of a drop-off on the right side of the line in the former Green Bay Packer's absence.

What should give them further reason for confidence is the performance of Herbert when under pressure in Los Angeles' opening win.

Of quarterbacks to be pressured at least five times in Week 1, Herbert had the fourth-best well-thrown percentage under duress, delivering an accurate ball 81.8 per cent of the time.

Replicating that performance may not even be a necessity in the next two games for Herbert, who in Week 2 goes against a Dallas Cowboys defense without pass rusher Demarcus Lawrence that pressured Tom Brady only 13 times in their opening loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Week 3 sees the Chargers face the Kansas City Chiefs, who managed 12 pressures against the Cleveland Browns.

For context, the San Francisco 49ers racked up a league-high 30 pressures in Week 1 and, though Week 4 opponents the Las Vegas Raiders had success in pressuring Lamar Jackson 19 times in Week 1, the early numbers indicate Herbert might not face enough consistent pressure for Bulaga's injury to develop into a significant issue.

Norton was not a liability when called into action last season. He is set to enter the fray against opponents who will pose serious challenges to the Chargers but not ones who are known for having fearsome pass rushes. The loss of Bulaga is a blow but, given the success of his deputy in a small sample size and Herbert's proficiency against pressure, it is not one that should lead them to approach the coming weeks with any fear.

After 2020, in which injuries and poor defensive play doomed Dallas to another season without playoff football, the Cowboys are already dealing with significant losses on both sides of the ball in 2021. 

Wide receiver Michael Gallup is on injured reserve and out until at least October because of a calf issue, but a more impactful injury came in practice this week as defensive end Demarcus Lawrence suffered a broken foot. 

Lawrence has since had surgery and will be sidelined for six to eight weeks, robbing the Cowboys of one of the more versatile defensive ends in the NFL. 

Last season, Lawrence was the only edge defender in the NFL with a pressure rate of at least 20 per cent to cross that same threshold in terms of run disruptions. Lawrence's pressure rate was 20.1 per cent in 2020, when he disrupted a run 22.7 per cent of the time. 

His absence leaves a massive void for a defense that gave up the 10th-most yards per play (5.87) last year and conceded 6.73 per play to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their thrilling Week 1 loss. 

The NFL is an offensive league and the evidence from Week 1, which saw Dallas rack up 451 net yards on Dak Prescott's return, indicates the Cowboys have the firepower to compete in the NFC. 

But without Lawrence making a huge impact against both the run and the pass, can the defense do enough to make sure that impressive offensive production is not wasted, as was the case when Prescott was healthy? 

Lawrence's potential replacements

With Randy Gregory on the reserve/COVID-19 list, the options immediately behind Lawrence on the depth chart are not particularly intriguing ones. 

Former Indianapolis Colts third-round pick Tarell Basham has just 7.5 sacks in his career and his pressure rate of 14.9 per cent for the New York Jets last season was below the average for edge rushers (16 per cent). 

Should the Cowboys stick to their depth chart, he will likely split time with Bradlee Anae, who played in only three games in his rookie year before featuring on 10 snaps against the Buccaneers. 

Though not the most impressive athlete for the position, Anae did produce during his time in college with Utah, his 2019 pressure rate of 21.4 per cent third among edge rushers with at least 100 snaps in the Pac-12. 

But for a player of such limited experience to step into Lawrence's shoes is a tall ask, and the Cowboys may need to shuffle the personnel to be effective without arguably their premier defensive player. 

The Parsons project

First-round pick Micah Parsons is already drawing significant praise one game into his NFL career, already looking like the player best placed to challenge Lawrence for the title of Dallas' top defensive star. 

Yet the Cowboys have depth at linebacker with Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith also in the mix at the spot, leaving some to question whether Parsons could be deployed more frequently on the edge in Lawrence's absence. 

Dallas experimented with Parsons in a designated pass rusher role in the offseason and he had the chance to soak up some knowledge from Lawrence during his preparations for his rookie year. 

"Last week we were watching film of pass rush and D-Law came up to me and was like, 'You pass rush like that, rook?'" Parsons said back in June. 

"I was like, 'Yeah, I used to be a defensive end.' He was like, 'All right, tap in with me.' Me and him have been getting closer." 

And the Cowboys may be very tempted to use Parsons off the edge, the ex-Nittany Lion having prospered in that role across a small sample size in 2019. 

In 33 edge snaps for Penn State two seasons ago, he registered a pressure rate of 24 per cent and a run disruption rate of 23.5 per cent, comfortably above the averages of 14.6 per cent and 8 per cent for those respective metrics for Power 5 players with at least 50 edge snaps. 

To make the decision to ask Parsons to deliver similar production in the pros on a more consistent basis is a risky move, one that could backfire in two different areas if the rookie cannot rise to the challenge and Vander Esch and Smith prove ineffective at linebacker. 

However, given the depth of talent the Cowboys have on offense, it is a gamble they may have the wiggle room to take. 

Maintaining offensive pace

The Cowboys' offensive performance in Week 1 was a spectacular continuation of what Dallas had going for the opening four weeks on that side of the ball in 2020 before Prescott was lost for the season. 

Dallas put up 509.5 net yards per game between Weeks 1 and 4 last year and their efforts against Tampa hinted they can again operate at a similar pace. 

Their hopes of doing so will be aided by their upcoming schedule. Having hung over 400 net yards on a defense that was sixth best in the NFL in yards per play allowed (5.12) in the opener, the Cowboys should be confident of doing similar to the opponents on the horizon. 

Using the most optimistic timescale, Lawrence could be back to face the Denver Broncos on November 7. 

Of the six defenses the Cowboys will face before that game, only the New York Giants (9th) finished in the top 10 in yards per play allowed. The Giants gave up 30 points to Taylor Heinicke and the Washington Football Team on Thursday. 

History suggests the Cowboys should succeed moving the ball and scoring points consistently in the coming weeks, meaning the defense is unlikely to be in a position where it has to put the team on its back. 

Prescott and the offense producing at early 2020 levels can help the Cowboys as they look to remain in a position to emerge from the NFC East without Lawrence at their disposal on defense. 

And, when Gregory returns, if defensive coordinator Dan Quinn can harness the best out of him as well as Basham and Anae while intelligently using Parsons' pass-rushing prowess to an extent that does not have a detrimental impact on the play at linebacker, then the Cowboys may be able to welcome Lawrence back while sitting in an excellent position to push for a first postseason berth since 2018. 

For so long, Juventus dominated Serie A and Milan. 

Juve won nine successive Scudetti before being dethroned by Inter last season. Gianluigi Buffon was involved in eight of them. 

But it's a period of change in Turin, where Wojciech Szczesny is well and truly under the microscope after an error-riddled start to the 2021-22 season. 

As Juve struggle defensively, form could hardly be more contrasting heading into Sunday's blockbuster showdown in the northwest of Italy. 

Milan have continued to be a solid defensive outfit, winning their opening three league fixtures, and the resurgent Rossoneri could strike an early dagger to the heart of the Old Lady.

 

Woeful Woj as Allegri tries to avoid unwanted record 

"I think Juventus will regret not signing Donnarumma for a long time." 

That was Mino Raiola – the agent of Paris Saint-Germain goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma – speaking to Rai Sport on Friday. Based on what has transpired so far, he is right. 

The star Italy goalkeeper had been tipped to swap Milan for Juve in the off-season before moving to the French capital on a free transfer. Juve must be shaking their heads after watching Szczesny's torrid start to the season under Massimiliano Allegri. 

Allegri has had his hands full since returning to Allianz Stadium after two seasons away, replacing Andrea Pirlo. The title-winning boss is trying to navigate the exit of superstar Cristiano Ronaldo. If the departure of the almost-irreplaceable Ronaldo was not hard enough, Szczesny has made life even more difficult. 

The former Arsenal keeper has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons, his two howlers against Udinese and Napoli the catalyst for Juve's winless start to the campaign. 

The Bianconeri could go without a victory in their first four Serie A seasonal matches for the fourth time in their history, after 1961-62, 1955-56 and 1942-43. In those campaigns, Juve did not go on to win the title. They have never lost three of the first four Serie A games in a season. 

They have conceded five goals in three matches and are yet to keep a clean sheet domestically, shipping goals in each of their past 17 league games – only twice have Juve conceded in more consecutive Serie A fixtures (19 in 2010 and 21 in 1955). That 17-game run is the worst of its kind across the top-five European leagues since March. 

 

Szczesny's numbers do not make for pretty reading.

Since 2018-19, the Poland international has conceded 90 goals in 90 Serie A appearances with expected goals against (xGA) of 99.88, suggesting he should have let in nearly 10 goals more. For some comparison, Buffon's xGA-goals conceded difference – goals he prevented, in other words –was 2.62 from 17 matches, so Szczesny holds his own there.

The numbers do not get much better, though. A maligned figure from his days at Arsenal, Szczesny has shipped 99 goals in 107 Serie A games for Juve. Since 1994-95, his average of 0.93 goals conceded is worse than ex-Juve goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar (0.70 from 46 goals conceded in 66 games), Buffon (0.76 from 373 conceded in 489 matches), Michelangelo Rampulla (0.85 from 33 conceded in 39 fixtures) and Angelo Peruzzi (0.85 from 120 conceded in 141 appearances).

Szczesny – with a save percentage of 72 and an average of 2.49 stops per 90 minutes – has committed three errors leading to goals during his time with Juve in Serie A. Since 2004-05, only Buffon managed more (13), albeit in 391 games.

This season, Szczesny's expected goals against is 5.86 through three matches. Milan counterpart Mike Maignan's figure stands at 2.33.

When Milan refused to meet Donnarumma's demands, they wasted little time turning to Maignan, who had just led Lille to a shock Ligue 1 title after upstaging PSG.

Maignan has been a steady presence in Milan with a joint-league-high two clean sheets, while the France international tops the list in save percentage (90), well ahead of Szczesny (66.67).

 

Kjaer spearheading Milan back to summit

While Juve duo Leonardo Bonucci and Matthijs de Ligt lick their wounds, Simon Kjaer and Fikayo Tomori continue to flex their muscles at San Siro.

In the era of three points per win, Milan have won each of their first four Serie A seasonal games only twice: in 1995-96 under Fabio Capello and last season with Stefano Pioli at the helm. The Rossoneri won the title in 1996, while they finished second to Inter in 2020-21.

High-flying Milan are on the cusp of matching that feat thanks to the help of Kjaer and Tomori and perhaps even more than that as the resurgent powerhouse dream of a first Scudetto since 2011.

Kjaer and Tomori have formed an unlikely but rock-solid partnership at the heart of Milan's defence. Pioli's side have only conceded one goal to start the Serie A season. Since last May, Milan have the most clean sheets in the big five European leagues (seven in eight matches).

The pair's form has left captain Alessio Romagnoli sidelined and considering his future – not something you would have anticipated when Kjaer arrived following a brief spell at Atalanta, initially on loan in 2020.

Kjaer has come into his own in Milan, establishing himself as a key member on and off the pitch under Pioli, tallying 178 clearances in the league since January 2020 – a number only behind Torino's Bremer (219), Omar Colley of Sampdoria (214), Fiorentina star Nikola Milenkovic (205), ex-Viola centre-back German Pezzella (191) and Lazio's Francesco Acerbi (190) among defenders.

 

The 32-year-old Denmark international has also provided security in the air, with his 93 headed clearances the fourth most among defenders since January 2020, after Milenkovic (122), Bremer (119) and Colley (103).

"It happens a lot with defenders that they kind of find their own style later on. That has happened with Simon," former Denmark international Jesper Olsen told Stats Perform.

"You're playing at a top team and expected to do really well. We know your last game played doesn't count anymore, it's the next one. He just seems very settled."

Tomori, who completed a permanent switch from Champions League holders Chelsea in July after impressing on loan, scored the last time these two teams met – a 3-0 victory in Turin in May.

Milan have won two of their most recent three Serie A matches against Juventus, as many as in their previous 17 (D1 L14).

Week 1 of the 2021 NFL season threw up more questions than answers, but there remains no doubting Patrick Mahomes' outstanding talent.

In one of the highlights of the opening round of games, Mahomes threw for 337 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Kansas City Chiefs to a comeback win over the Cleveland Browns.

All eyes will be on Mahomes again in Week 2, and the Chiefs have an intriguing matchup against fellow quarterback Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens.

This battle between two of the past three MVPs has been one-sided in the past, though, as Stats Perform discovers in the most interesting facts from Sunday's biggest games.

Kansas City Chiefs @ Baltimore Ravens

The Chiefs will have few concerns about going on the road, boasting a 5-1 record against the Ravens in Baltimore all-time. They have also won each of the teams' past four meetings.

This dominance is reflected in Mahomes' record against Jackson, winning all three head-to-heads and averaging 378.7 passing yards per game to his opponent's 170.3.

Of course, Jackson is a greater threat across the ground than through the air, leading the Ravens in rushing yards against the Las Vegas Raiders last week for the 21st game of his career (including the postseason). In that time, no other QB has led his team in rushing in more than 12 games.

But even if Jackson can guide the Ravens into a lead, that brings no guarantee of victory. They gave up a 14-point lead for the first time in 99 games against the Raiders, while the Chiefs recovered from 12 points down at home to the Browns and actually have a 10-8 record after trailing by double digits since the start of 2018.

Dallas Cowboys @ Los Angeles Chargers

Another clash between two top QBs on Sunday sees Dak Prescott take the Cowboys to the Chargers having last week continued his impressive run even in defeat to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Due to injury, Prescott has only actually played six games since the start of last year, but he has passed for at least 400 yards in four of them – no other player has more than two such games in that span.

However, Dallas have lost a league-high three games while posting 450-plus total net yards since the beginning of 2020.

The Chargers have their own prolific passer, too, in Justin Herbert, who threw for 337 yards in a win against the Washington Football Team in Week 1, meaning he now has 4,673 passing yards through 16 career games – a tally only topped by Mahomes' 5,100 in his first 16 games.

Buffalo Bills @ Miami Dolphins

Josh Allen is another elite passer who would hope to be in MVP contention at the end of the year, but he was less impressive in the Bills' opening defeat to the Pittsburgh Steelers, completing only 30 of 51 passes.

While that was a career high for pass attempts, NFL teams are 4-20 when having a QB throw 50 or more since the start of last season.

Allen at least has fond memories of facing Miami. In the first of the sides' two meetings last year, he threw for career bests in yards (415) and TD passes (four), while the second clash saw the Bills score 56 points – a tally they have only ever topped once, also against the Dolphins in 1966.

Buffalo have five straight wins against Miami, although the Dolphins are in form with 10 wins in 13 games after 10 victories in their prior 33.

Elsewhere...

New Los Angeles Rams QB Matthew Stafford will fancy his chances against the Indianapolis Colts. His passer rating of 156.1 in Week 1 led the league, but Russell Wilson, against the Colts, was second with 152.3. Stafford threw three TD passes, including two of more than 50 yards – a feat only previously achieved once by a player in their first game with the team in the Super Bowl era (John Stofa for the Cincinnati Bengals in 1968).

Jameis Winston took a slightly less spectacular route to his five TD passes last time out, with 148 passing yards the fewest from a QB to throw five for five scores.

Meanwhile, first overall pick Trevor Lawrence threw for 332 yards, the most by a player on his debut since Cam Newton's 422 yards in 2011, but he also had three interceptions – something he never did in his 40 games at Clemson.

Each of the first-round rookie QBs will be aiming to build on feats of some manner, with 21-year-old Trey Lance the youngest player in the Super Bowl era to throw a touchdown on his first NFL pass.

Mac Jones, who this week faces Zach Wilson, threw for 281 yards – the most by a New England Patriots rookie on debut.

Jadon Sancho's arrival at Manchester United was initially heralded as something of a game changer for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, their right-wing problems set to be a thing of the past with the England international seemingly guaranteeing goals and creativity. 

But, as it did with most other stories in football, Cristiano Ronaldo's signing took the spotlight away and it seems everyone has been focused on the Portugal talisman. 

That might actually be a helpful thing for Sancho, given his start to life at United has been about as explosive as a candle. He is there, in the background, but unless you look at him it is very easy to forget his existence. 

Sancho thus far appears to have largely escaped full-scale criticism, with Ronaldo's goalscoring return and then United's embarrassing loss to Young Boys somewhat eclipsing the winger's muted introduction. 

That is not to say his ineffectiveness has gone unnoticed, certainly not by supporters. But should they be concerned even this early in his United career? 

'Every player has slow periods'

Digging into Sancho's form after just four Premier League appearances probably seems a little premature. Maybe it is, but his slow start is certainly a talking point from United's perspective. 

There could be any number of reasons for Sancho taking a little longer to get up to speed than hoped, such as a shortened pre-season after Euro 2020, adapting to a new system and team-mates, or even a loss of confidence following his spot-kick woes in the European Championship final. 

But it is worth pointing out Sancho had a similarly tricky start to 2020-21, something his Borussia Dortmund coach at the time partly put down to United's interest. 

"Every player has slow periods. There was a lot of talk about Jadon during the summer – something like that can be a factor," Lucien Favre said in October last year. "No player is consistently in top form for an entire year, that's impossible. You have to accept that." 

Sancho's patchy form continued all the way up to Germany's mid-season break – at that point, he had not scored in 11 Bundesliga games and only laid on three assists. It was a far cry from his breakout season the previous campaign when he netted 17 and set up another 16 – that was the standard he set. 

Though that in itself should have been seen as unmatchable given how much he outperformed his expected goals (xG) and expected assists (xA). In total, he was involved in 14.9 more goals than the average player would have ordinarily expected given the quality of the chances, which was the most across the top five European leagues (Ciro Immobile was second with 13.5). 

It was surely unsustainable form and that was what his struggles in the first half of 2020-21 lent further credence to. But how does his form back then compare to his first steps in the Premier League? 

Lacking cohesion in new surroundings

It must be highlighted again that Sancho's first four Premier League matches represent a small sample size, so you obviously have to be a little cautious when it comes to drawing conclusions – after all, he could potentially score a hat-trick against West Ham and his record of three goals from five games would look pretty handy. 

Nevertheless, Sancho's early-season numbers certainly reflect the idea he is not offering a great deal to United. In fact, in terms of productivity, he's significantly down even on that difficult first few months of 2020-21. 

For starters, he has managed just two shots in 184 minutes on the pitch, which is obviously poor for someone brought in to be an attacking threat, particularly given he averaged 2.4 every 90 minutes pre-Christmas last season. Though there is a positive spin – some players may take hopeful snapshots in an attempt to dig themselves out of a rut, but Sancho at least is not panicking in that sense. 

His stunted productivity does extend to creativity, however. Creating one chance from open play every 90 minutes, he's down on both the pre- (1.6) and post-Christmas (2.5) periods from 2020-21, and the combined quality of the openings he has crafted have not been especially threatening with an average xA of 0.11 per 90 minutes. 

Even when deemed to be struggling last season, Sancho's xA value per key pass was almost three times as high (0.32). Of course, Sancho was in surroundings that were familiar to him and linking with players whose habits and characteristics he was more comfortable with, and there's a lot to be said for the value of cohesion, especially when things aren't going your way. 

That is presumably something Sancho will have to work on even harder at United, given he has limited experience of playing with his new team-mates. 

Lacking confidence, playing it safe

Building a natural familiarity can only be even more of a challenge when you appear devoid of confidence. We can only speculate as to why that may be the case, but it is a reasonable assumption to make that he is lacking in self-belief. 

His ordeal at Euro 2020 – when he played just 96 minutes before being specifically sent on in the last seconds of extra time in the final and missed his spot-kick – and the subsequent racist abuse he suffered on social media must have had an impact on his mental state. It would be shocking if it had not, though who is to say if that is the sole cause? 

What we can say is that Sancho's apparent dip in confidence seems to have manifested in a greater reluctance to take players on. He almost looks sheepish when faced up by defenders – it should be the other way round – and as such he is attempting significantly fewer dribbles. 

He tried to beat his man 5.7 times per 90 minutes in the first part of 2020-21, and that rose to 6.9 after the mid-season break – he is attempting 3.9 dribbles and completing 1.5 each game in the Premier League for United. 

He is touching the ball far less often (64.1 touches per 90 minutes compared to 84.8 in the first half of last season), though 64 touches hardly suggests he is being ignored by team-mates. 

But there is always a chance that United players may end up looking to others if Sancho is not deemed enough of a threat – after all, his average of 4.9 shot-ending sequence involvements per game is 1.6 fewer than he managed across all of last season. 

This in itself is interesting because it suggests that, although Sancho was not as much of a creator or finisher in the first part of 2020-21, his influence in the build-up remained constant over the two periods of the campaign. 

Linked to that is the frequency with which he played passes (including crosses) into the box, averaging 9.4 each game pre-Christmas and 9.5 after the mid-season break. But during these early weeks with United, he is producing just 3.4 such passes every 90 minutes. 

Obviously, Sancho's reasoning for this could quite possibly be that he has not seen team-mates in enough space, given most teams United face will have fairly packed defences. But fans would argue he is the sort of player who should be unlocking deep backlines either through his creativity or ability on the ball, and so far he has largely been unable to. 

Nevertheless, it is still far too early for anyone to start suggesting Sancho is enduring something of a crisis. He should be afforded patience and time to build meaningful on-pitch relationships with others in the United squad. 

But when it comes to attaining some confidence, Sancho might just need to take the odd leap of faith – he is playing it safe and that is not what United bought him for. 

Slow starts are nothing new to Harry Kane. Not until 2018 did the England captain score a Premier League goal in the month of August, by which point he had twice won the Golden Boot.

But there is added focus on Kane this year in the aftermath of his failed move from Tottenham to Manchester City.

And through three appearances – including two starts – in the opening four games of the 2021-22 campaign, the striker has attempted just two shots without scoring.

The last time Kane had two or fewer attempts across a three-match span in the Premier League was back in October 2014, but he did not start any of those outings against Sunderland, Southampton and Newcastle United, which produced a sole effort combined.

Since establishing himself as one of Europe's elite forwards, Kane has not endured such a lean league spell.

Chelsea, against whom Kane has scored just once in his past eight Premier League encounters, are up next, with a more effective display clearly required from Tottenham's talisman.

Nuno not helping

Nuno Espirito Santo oversaw three straight wins to start the league season, but Kane is not alone in suffering from the new coach's safety-first approach.

Spurs are averaging 9.5 shots per game this term, their lowest rate in a season since at least 2003-04, while only Watford (2.3) and Leicester City (3.4) have a lower expected goals total (3.7).

Tottenham also now have the sixth-lowest average possession in the division at 43.1 per cent.

Although this more conservative set-up has been in place for a little while now – Spurs last season started their sequences 39.7 metres from their own goal and have this term jumped slightly forward to 41.4m – it has only become more entrenched under Nuno.

A far cry from Mauricio Pochettino's pressing team, in which Kane thrived, Tottenham have had just 41 pressed sequences (fourth fewest) and 24 high turnovers (joint-fifth fewest) in 2021-22 so far and prefer instead to play on the counter, moving the ball 1.72 metres upfield per second (joint-third fastest).

This suits speedy fellow forwards Steven Bergwijn, Son Heung-min and Lucas Moura far better than it does Kane, who is neither notably quick nor regularly carrying the ball – 7.3 carries per 90 minutes this season rank him ninth among the 11 Spurs outfielders to feature in 100 or more minutes.

With Tottenham relying on these rapid attacks, rather than patiently playing through the thirds and allowing Kane to get into dangerous positions, the 28-year-old has made only eight touches in the opposition box.

Deeper and deeper

Of course, as shown previously for Spurs and England, Kane can be effective in dropping deeper and picking out the runs of those faster team-mates.

And it's not as if Kane has not still been involved in Tottenham's play, having a role in 31.4 open play sequences per 90 – just shy of last year's rate of 31.8, which had leapt up from 25.7.

But just 3.2 of these sequences per 90 are ending in a shot, while Kane has not been involved in any open play sequences leading to a goal this term – a metric he unsurprisingly led (36) in 2020-21 when he topped the charts for Premier League goals and assists.

Kane is still creating chances – his four so far this season arriving every 49.5 minutes or every 22.8 touches – but Spurs would surely sooner have their main man on the end of such opportunities.

Having peaked with a shot every 16.8 minutes or every 6.9 touches in 2017-18, Kane's early-season form has seen an attempt every 99 minutes or every 45.5 touches.

Given he attempted 61.3 per cent of his shots last season from inside the box, despite renowned ability from long range, this primitive decline should come as no surprise.

Just 8.8 per cent of Kane's touches have been taken in the opposition box. That career-low mark continues a downward trend into a fifth straight season, but it may now have reached a point where it is harmful to his chances of scoring.

Since Yaya Toure's sublime 2013-14 season from midfield, every Premier League player to notch 20 goals in a season has taken at least 10 per cent of their touches in the opposition box.

Few would write off Kane's chances of a sixth career 20-goal campaign at this stage, but he should expect competition for his Golden Boot from Sunday's opponent Romelu Lukaku.

A picture of efficiency, Lukaku has scored three times from 12 shots for Chelsea this term, registering an attempt every 8.5 touches and a goal every 34 touches.

If Tottenham are to be successful this season, they need Kane to be hitting similar marks.

Whether that means a tweak to his role or a change in the entire system, something has to shift, for Lukaku could very easily show Nuno just what he is missing.

The Premier League table already looks to be taking shape, with a thrilling title race potentially in store.

And fantasy leagues are no different, with the best players quickly racking up early-season points to pull clear.

Want to avoid being left behind? Why not take a look at our Opta-powered picks for matchday five...

 

ALISSON (Liverpool v Crystal Palace)

Liverpool have started the season in fine form and Alisson has been central to their defensive solidarity, which has seen them keep three clean sheets in four games.

Since the start of last season, only Hugo Lloris (7.7) has prevented more goals than the Brazil goalkeeper (6.2) according to expected goals on target data, while only two can boast a better save percentage than his 74.2.

Crystal Palace may have cruised past Tottenham last time out but beating Alisson will provide a different challenge and the Liverpool man could be a guarantee for much-needed clean sheet points.

JAMES TARKOWSKI (Burnley v Arsenal)

Burnley are winless this term, but James Tarkowski remains a wonderful bargain option for your shaky backline.

While the Clarets may concede against Arsenal, Tarkowski offers returns at the other end of the pitch and boasts the highest xG (4.3) among Premier League defenders since the start of last term.

Only the more expensive Andrew Robertson, Joao Cancelo and Trent-Alexander Arnold have had more touches in the opposition box in that time period, too, meaning the centre-back could prove an alternate option on matchday five.

VIRGIL VAN DIJK (Liverpool v Crystal Palace)

From one end of the budget to the other, Virgil van Dijk may set you back but he has been the Premier League's most dangerous defender so far.

The centre-back has produced nine shots, with only Cancelo (13) and Alexander-Arnold (11) managing more opposition-box touches among defenders than Van Dijk's 11.

Given Liverpool look likely a good bet for a clean sheet as well – conceding only five goals in eight straight wins against Palace – Van Dijk could provide a perfect double threat despite the off-putting outlay for the Netherlands captain.

ABDOULAYE DOUCOURE (Aston Villa v  Everton)

Abdoulaye Doucoure may not be your typical fantasy midfielder in the ilk of Mohamed Salah, Bruno Fernandes or Paul Pogba.

However, the Everton midfielder is in fine form and provides a wonderful budget option, having been involved in four goals in his past four games in the competition for the Toffees.

Aston Villa have managed just two shutouts in their past 16, too, so Doucoure's box-to-box prowess could cause carnage once more at Villa Park.

PIERRE-EMERICK AUBAMEYANG (Burnley v  Arsenal)

Some fantasy players may have given up hope with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but he repaid the faith of those loyal to him with a goal against Norwich City last Saturday.

The Gabon forward, who many discounted after a poor last campaign, will be central to Mikel Arteta's revival and he has netted eight times in seven top-flight matches against Burnley.

Given Burnley have not kept a clean sheet in their past seven and Arsenal attempted 30 shots last time out, Aubameyang could provide more returns at Turf Moor.

SADIO MANE (Liverpool  v Crystal Palace)

Salah appears the obvious option as always for the visit of Crystal Palace; however, Sadio Mane offers an alternate differential at Anfield.

Liverpool have fired in 100 shots already this term – just the second side to register a century in their opening four Premier League games since 2003-04 – and Mane has accounted for 22 of those.

The Senegal star has also scored in each of his past eight against Palace, making him one of the best picks for matchday five.

DANNY INGS (Aston Villa v Everton)

Danny Ings has been a fantasy favourite from the start of the season but has not delivered as of yet with Aston Villa.

That could change against Everton, however, as the Toffees are his favourite opponent having scored five top-flight goals against them.

The omens are in Ings' favour, too, given he has managed to score against Everton with all three of his previous Premier League clubs – could he make it a fourth with Villa?

Week 1 can be strange. Not everything goes to plan and, for NFL coaches and fantasy owners alike, it's best not to overreact to the weekend just gone.

However, avoiding falling 0-2 is just as important as keeping your cool. In the high-pressure world of the NFL and amid the considerably lower stakes of fantasy football, nobody wants to fall into a hole early in the season.

And, in both cases, identifying the players who can be relied on to produce a big performance is the key to victory.

In this week's edition of Fantasy Picks, Stats Perform looks at the players who should be considered sure things to deliver the goods.

QB: Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks vs. Tennessee Titans

Wilson could hardly have been more impressive as the Seahawks swept aside the Indianapolis Colts on the road in Week 1.

Continuing his remarkable rapport with Tyler Lockett, who had two receiving scores, Wilson threw for 254 yards and four touchdowns as his marriage with new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron got off to a spectacular start.

Second in air yards per attempt (10.43) among quarterbacks with at least 10 attempts, Wilson carries substantial upside as one of the best deep-ball throwers in the NFL and should receive ample opportunity to demonstrate that prowess against an extremely vulnerable Titans defense shredded by the Arizona Cardinals for 280 net yards passing and four touchdowns through the air in their opener.

RB: Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers vs. Detroit Lions

Nothing went right for the Packers in their 38-3 loss to the New Orleans Saints, with Jones held to nine yards on five carries on a miserable day for the entire offense.

Yet a Week 2 clash with the Detroit Lions should prove the perfect tonic. Detroit gave up 131 yards on the ground to the San Francisco 49ers in the opener, with sixth-round rookie Elijah Mitchell gashing the Lions for 104 yards and a touchdown at a rate of 5.5 yards per carry.

The Packers operate a zone running game akin to that of the Niners, so Jones should be confident of finding room to rack up similar numbers. Jones has topped 100 yards in two of his past three games against the Lions, including a 168-yard, two-touchdown effort at Lambeau Field last year.

WR: Keenan Allen, Los Angeles Chargers vs. Dallas Cowboys

Justin Herbert's rapport with a receiver who has a case for being the premier route runner in the NFL continues to blossom, with the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year going to Allen time and again as the Chargers edged out the Washington Football Team in their opener.

Allen was targeted 13 times and caught nine passes for 100 yards in a 20-16 victory. He registered a burn, which is when a player wins his matchup with a defender on plays where he is targeted, on 12 of those 13 targets.

He did that against a Washington defense that allowed the second-fewest yards per pass play (5.33) in the NFL last season. Now he gets to face a Cowboys defense that ranked 21st in that same metric with 6.69 yards and gave up 7.58 per play in their opening loss to the Buccaneers. Book in Allen for another big day.

TE: George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers @ Philadelphia Eagles

Deebo Samuel overshadowed Kittle in the Niners' win in Detroit, but the top all-round tight end in football still produced with four catches for 78 yards and should be salivating at the prospect of facing the Eagles.

Last season, in a home loss to the Eagles, Kittle hauled in all 15 of his targets from Nick Mullens for 183 yards and a touchdown.

He might not see the same level of targets at Lincoln Financial Field this year but, with a healthy Jimmy Garoppolo under center, he should see enough of the ball to excel in a matchup with an Eagles defense that has consistently struggled to defend tight ends.

Defense: New England Patriots @ New York Jets

The Patriots may have come up short against the Miami Dolphins, but there was much to admire about their performance on defense.

With the likes of Matthew Judon and Josh Uche excelling at getting pressure on Tua Tagovailoa, New England's front is likely to have great success against the Jets' offensive line, which will be without left tackle Mekhi Becton.

Jets rookie quarterback Zach Wilson was sacked six times in their loss to the Carolina Panthers, which saw him throw an interceptable pass on 5.56 per cent of his attempts, according to Stats Perform data.

Expect New England's defense to create more interception opportunities and make it another long afternoon for Wilson and the Jets.

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