Another offseason sees another scramble for quarterbacks in the NFL.

Last year, Tom Brady was among those on the move and he ended the 2020 season with his first Super Bowl title in Tampa Bay and seventh in total.

Already in 2021 there have been significant deals at the position again, including the Los Angeles Rams' big play for Matthew Stafford, deeming him a significant upgrade on the expensive, underperforming Jared Goff.

There are big names remaining on the board, though, and we take a look at the state of play.

 

DESHAUN WATSON

It is not every day a QB of Watson's quality becomes available – and the Houston Texans might still argue he is not. But the 25-year-old was bogged down by a poor team last year, finishing 4-12 despite leading the league in overall passing yards (4,823).

Watson wants out, and the Texans would be well advised to listen to any serious offers if the alternative is to let one of the league's top talents sit on a massive contract.

The asking price will surely be high. Stafford, 33, threw for 4,084 yards, 26 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 2020 – beaten by Watson across the board – and set a precedent when he went to the Rams for Goff, two first-round picks and a third.

What does that make Watson worth? Well, his desire to depart might bring the value down slightly, but Houston would surely expect picks as well as a QB prospect.

TUA TAGOVAILOA

Tagovailoa was the fifth pick just a year ago, but the Miami Dolphins might already be interested in moving on, especially if that means a trade for Watson.

Although there were signs of Tagovailoa's promise as he won his first three NFL starts, 2020 ended with his benching in a Week 16 comeback win and then three costly picks in a Week 17 defeat that saw the Dolphins miss the playoffs.

Miami might feel a move for Watson would make them contenders, while the Texans could use a talent like Tagovailoa in their rebuild.

There is a complication, however. The draft picks Houston would receive alongside Tagovailoa in return for Watson would be the same selections they spent themselves in a deal for offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil. In order to save face, an alternative package might appeal.

SAM DARNOLD

Such an offer may well materialise elsewhere in the AFC East. The New York Jets are likely to have an interest in Watson if they move on from Darnold and do not want to try again in the draft with the second pick.

That would have been the first selection had the Jets not inexplicably rallied to two wins, gifting Trevor Lawrence to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The signing of Watson would significantly soften that blow, but it would most likely mean the Texans taking on Darnold, who has played for two more years than Tagovailoa and is still to show he is really up to the task. A career tally of 45 TDs and 39 interceptions for a passer rating of 78.6 does not compare favourably.

His team even failed when apparently tanking. Houston would hope a Darnold-led rebuild would fare better.

JIMMY GAROPPOLO

This busy market might have piqued the interest of San Francisco 49ers fans looking for a more reliable option at QB, where Garoppolo has started only 30 games in four years. It could be time for him to move on.

The landing spot for the 29-year-old would seemingly be New England, a place he knows well having previously served as Brady's understudy on the Patriots.

Brady stuck around longer than expected, so Garoppolo moved to San Francisco and performed well in 2019, starting all 16 games for the only time in his career and throwing 27 TDs before making the Super Bowl.

That proved the peak, however, with defeat in the big game, although the Pats look to be interested again having failed to properly replace - yes – Brady.

CAM NEWTON

Newton was the man Bill Belichick initially turned to, agreeing a one-year deal with the former MVP that makes him a free agent again this year.

A return to New England cannot be entirely ruled out, although a team and coach used to Brady's brilliance never really adjusted to a QB who threw only eight TDs.

Newton might have other options. Washington head coach Ron Rivera knows the player well from their time together with the Carolina Panthers and could be more appreciative of his other talents, notably a running game that brought 592 yards and 12 TDs on 137 carries in 2020.

JAMEIS WINSTON

Winston, once a number one overall pick, is another man heading for free agency. He spent last season with the New Orleans Saints but found himself third choice, behind utility player Taysom Hill, and participated in only 51 plays.

It was a far cry from the previous year when Winston was Tampa Bay's starter and involved in just about everything, remarkably throwing 33 TDs and 30 interceptions.

That 2019 campaign encapsulated how chaotic the 27-year-old can be, but he would argue he deserves to at least be competing for a start somewhere. If not back to New Orleans, Winston could be headed for somewhere like Washington and a team looking to change things on the cheap.

RUSSELL WILSON

Wilson certainly would not come cheap. And it seems improbable he would come at all, regardless of the suitor.

But noises of unhappiness in Seattle, where the Seahawks failed to give their superstar quarterback the help he needed, were followed by Wilson's agent saying only moves to the Saints, Dallas Cowboys, Las Vegas Raiders or Chicago Bears would appeal.

Dak Prescott's new deal in Dallas closed that avenue, while the Saints and Bears are already set to be way over the cap. Any blockbuster move for Seattle's most prized asset could change the entire complexion of this offseason, though.

There were 124 years of All-Star experience at last weekend's showcase game between Team LeBron and Team Durant in Atlanta. 

The Chicago Bulls' Zach LaVine was responsible for one of those years. 

And of all the exceptional players at last weekend's event, the first-time All-Star from the Bulls is one of the more intriguing. 

While several All-Stars are future Hall of Famers – the Los Angeles Lakers' LeBron James, Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry and Phoenix Suns' Chris Paul just to name a few – and others are young and established stars – the Dallas Mavericks' Luka Doncic, Utah Jazz's Donovan Mitchell, Philadelphia 76ers' Ben Simmons – LaVine is a veteran who is suddenly developing into a superstar. 

In fact, over the past five weeks, no one is scoring more than LaVine, who is averaging a league-best 32.3 points since February 6, while making exactly half of his 104 three-point attempts. 

He's been so spectacular he's played himself into max contract talk, although other discussions have had his name in various trade rumours if the rebuilding Bulls do not plan to sign him to an extension before his contract expires in 2022. 

Now in his fourth season in Chicago after spending his first three with the Minnesota Timberwolves, LaVine has the Bulls in position to participate in the Play-In Tournament and possibly earn their first postseason berth since 2016-17. 

He has the Bulls on the cusp of the playoffs behind a breakout season in which he is averaging career highs in every major category – 28.7 points per game, 5.2 rebounds per game, 5.1 assists per game and 3.5 made three-pointers per game, while shooting 52.5 per cent on all field goals and 43.5 per cent on threes. 

If those numbers look impressive, that is because they have only been reached once before in a single season in NBA history. 

LaVine joins Stephen Curry from 2015-16 as the only players ever to average 25-plus points, five-plus rebounds, five-plus assists and three-plus made three-pointers per game, while shooting 50 per cent on field goals and 40 per cent on threes. Curry won his second MVP that season while leading the Warriors to a record 73 wins. 

While Curry was already an established star at that point after winning league MVP honours and an NBA title the season prior, LaVine is unexpectedly proving that he also belongs among the upper echelon of players in the league. 

He has transformed himself into one of the league's most dangerous scorers, capable of knocking down a three-pointer, pulling up and hitting a mid-range jumper or beating his man off the dribble and finishing at the rim. 

Coming out of the All-Star break, his 167 dunks and layups are seventh-most in the NBA – and the most by any guard. And while the six-foot-six LaVine was also among the league leaders in dunks and layups last season (11th with 287), he is finishing at higher rate. 

He is converting 64.2 per cent of his dunk and layup attempts this season after making 57.4 per cent of his attempts last season, and that increase in field goal percentage of 6.8 is the eighth largest by any player six-foot-six or shorter. 

While many of the leaders among dunks and layups are big men – New Orleans Pelicans power forward Zion Williamson, Milwaukee Bucks power forward Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jazz centre Rudy Gobert – who live in the paint, the dynamic LaVine is just as much of a threat to knock down a three-pointer. 

His 120 made three-pointers rank fifth in the league and he is the league's only player with more than 120 dunks and layups and 90 threes. 

It is one thing to have made a lot of threes but another to actually be an efficient shooter – the Sacramento Kings' Buddy Hield has made 20 more three-pointers than LaVine but has hoisted up 94 more attempts – and LaVine has refined his shooting touch and is deadly from beyond the arc. 

He is hitting 43.8 per cent of his three-point attempts from the wing and his 53.8 per cent shooting from the corner ranks sixth in the league among the 103 players with at least 30 attempts.   

Overall, LaVine is shooting 43.5 per cent on three-pointers, an increase of 0.55 per cent from the perimeter from last season – the eighth-largest improvement in the NBA among players with at least 150 three-point attempts this season and last. 

The mid-range shot is somewhat of a lost art in the current game with the added weight given to a shot from a few feet further back beyond the arc, but it still has a place and if a shooter can connect from mid-range with regularity he becomes all the more threatening to score. 

LaVine has found his touch from mid-range, making 44.6 per cent of those shots this season after hitting at a 31.9 per cent clip last season. That increase of 12.7 per cent is the sixth-largest in the NBA among 73 shooters who have attempted at least 50 mid-range shots this season and last. 

Shooters shoot, and LaVine is thriving. His effective field goal percentage of 61.5 ranks second in the NBA among all guards. 

His all-round offensive game is one of the most complete in the league, and opposing defences are tasked with game planning against him, giving him similar treatment as they would give Curry or James, as he is a threat to score from anywhere on the court. 

Curry and James, however, have won multiple MVPs and titles. LaVine is certainly putting up MVP-type numbers, but the Bulls are not in the championship conversation. 

At the moment, at least. 

Chicago are only two games back of the Boston Celtics for the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference and are viewed as a team on the rise under first-year Bulls coach Billy Donovan. Instead of trading LaVine as was being speculated weeks ago, it is possible Chicago will be buyers at the March 25 trade deadline in their pursuit of a playoff berth. 

And if LaVine continues to excel and Chicago continue to improve over the next few seasons, MVP awards and NBA titles might not be out of the question for LaVine and the Bulls. 

Another year, another early Champions League exit for Barcelona.

Despite Lionel Messi's sparkling intransigence, there was to be no second 'remontada' against Paris Saint-Germain. After Roma, Liverpool and Bayern Munich in the past three years, 2021 saw Barca dance their last tango in Paris, a sixth season in a row of knockout failure. The opponents change, but the story stays the same.

Or does it?

This was not Rome, nor Anfield, nor Lisbon, the scene of last year's 8-2 annihilation by Bayern. This was not Barca collapsing under pressure, wilting before foreign crowds or just plain giving up. Their 5-2 aggregate loss to PSG was born of a wretched first-leg performance, but they are not the team they were just three weeks ago. At Parc des Princes, they showed that. Messi showed that.

Since that 4-1 loss at Camp Nou, Barca have won four games and drawn two, conceding just two goals, a penalty here and against Cadiz. They have closed back to within six points of LaLiga leaders Atletico Madrid, breathing life into a title challenge that had looked over in the autumn.

In a Copa del Rey comeback against Sevilla, they played with verve and passion seldom seen in the recent years of squad mismanagement and boardroom chaos. And while they didn't beat PSG, they were the dominant side and thwarted mostly by man-of-the-match Keylor Navas, their performance in a different stratosphere to that sad clown act against Bayern a year ago.

We're into a new era now, of course. Joan Laporta, the man who appointed Pep Guardiola, who oversaw Messi's introduction to the world stage and counts the club captain as a friend, was voted in as president again on Sunday. He assured members he was their best chance of seeing Messi sign a new contract; what he saw on Wednesday as he watched from the stands will not have dissolved that belief.

What Messi wants, what he has always wanted, is a winning project. His protracted and ultimately futile efforts to leave last year were fuelled not just by the ugliness of Josep Maria Bartomeu's final months as president, but by the fear that winning the biggest trophies on offer – this trophy, to be precise – had slipped away. He wants a coach with a plan, a team with panache, and a collective drive to knit it together.

If he had none of that in the first leg, he certainly did in Paris.

Without first-choice centre-backs in Gerard Pique and Ronald Araujo, Ronald Koeman dropped Frenkie de Jong into a back three with Clement Lenglet and Oscar Mingueza. It meant attacking full-backs, Pedri and Sergio Busquets could all be accommodated behind Messi, Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembele. At an average age of 26 years and 166 days old, it was also Barcelona's youngest starting XI in a Champions League knockout tie since they beat Stuttgart 4-0 in March 2010 under Guardiola.

It was a bold set-up, and the players embraced it. They had 73 per cent of the ball in the first half, attempting 10 shots in the first 26 minutes, just two short of their total from the first leg. Dembele could have scored twice but for Navas; Mingueza narrowly missed contact with a clear header. Barca ended the half with 16 attempts, the most in the first 45 minutes of a game since January 2019 against Levante, and the most by far faced by PSG in a first half at home all season.

Kylian Mbappe perhaps thought the tie was dead when he swept home from the spot against the run of play, Lenglet punished by VAR for an entirely accidental trip on Mauro Icardi, but Messi had other ideas. His equaliser was a sensational, swerving strike that had Navas grasping at thin air. He should have made it 2-1 before the break, but Navas' leg and the underside of the crossbar combined to keep out his penalty. An inch or two either way, and they really would have believed.

That was the key difference to those awful European nights experienced by Messi since he last won this trophy six years ago. Where before came embarrassment, anger and inquests, here there was disappointment – but reason to hope. They outplayed last season's beaten finalists on their own patch in a way that looked impossible a month ago.

Barca are not where they want to be – far from it – and this season will still be remembered for failure in Europe. But they are, as a club, at last moving in the right direction. Whether Messi chooses to be part of that progress next season is, even now, difficult to predict. And if this was the last time we saw him in this tournament in a Barca shirt, at least it was a more fitting farewell.

The NBA is back in action after the All-Star break, with an enticing Western Conference matchup on deck on Thursday.

While the Golden State Warriors are far from being the force they were at the peak of their dynasty, an incredible season from Stephen Curry is keeping them firmly in the playoff hunt.

Curry's remarkable scoring talents and his stunning shooting from three-point range can be an equaliser in any game and means the Los Angeles Clippers, despite their superior place in the standings, can take little for granted at Staples Center.

The Clippers go into this clash on a four-game losing streak and will need Kawhi Leonard – enjoying his best shooting season since 2013-14 by converting on 51.1 per cent of his attempts from the field – and Paul George to be at their best to avoid that run being extended.

TOP PERFORMERS

Golden State Warriors - Stephen Curry

It may be predictable to identify Curry as the key man for the Warriors but, if they are to make the playoffs, it is going to be a case of him against the world.

Curry is coming off a spectacular performance at the All-Star Game, where he won the three-point contest for a second time before playing a starring role in Team LeBron's victory.

He has an average of 24.7 points per game for his career against the Clippers and put up 38 in the previous meeting between the two.

Curry will be out for a repeat performance in his first game versus the Clippers in LA since January 2019.

Los Angeles Clippers - Paul George

George was also on the winning team at the All-Star game in Atlanta, having played a pivotal role alongside Leonard for the Clippers.

For Los Angeles, George is the player whose presence on the court appears to have the biggest impact, given he leads the team with a plus-minus rating of 8.6

He is also the player best suited to help the Clippers keep pace if Curry begins a deluge from beyond the arc. George leads the Clippers in three-point attempts (7.8 per game) and is shooting 45 per cent from deep.

His effective field goal percentage of 60.4 is also a team-high and ranks above that of Curry (59.5).

KEY BATTLE - WARRIORS MUST LIMIT SECOND CHANCES

The weakness of the Warriors continues to be on the boards. Golden State is second last in total defensive rebounds this season with 1,381.

As a result of their inability to dominate on the glass, only one team – the Brooklyn Nets (556) – have given up more second-chance points than the Warriors (526).

The Clippers have racked up 485 second-chance points this term, 10th in the NBA, and with the consistency with which Leonard and George are shooting the ball, the game could get away from the Warriors in a hurry if they allow Los Angeles to dictate on the boards.

HEAD TO HEAD

The two teams split the first pair of games in San Francisco this season, the Warriors bouncing back with a 115-105 win two days after suffering a 108-101 defeat.

That victory ended a run of four successive losses to the Clippers that stretched back to October 2019.

Only two of the last seven games between the Warriors and Clippers have been decided by single digits, indicating a close encounter may not be in the offing.

For the teams that have to watch the confetti fall on their opponent at the end of an arduous season, the Super Bowl hangover is no myth.

Ask any number of teams to have come up short on the biggest stage and then gone on to endure a nightmare subsequent campaign, they will confirm its legitimacy.

The 2020 San Francisco 49ers experienced perhaps the most severe hangover of any Super Bowl runner-up in the modern era, and little of it was their own doing.

San Francisco suffered from an utterly remarkable injury crisis. In a year where every team in the league was impacted by the coronavirus, the Niners had to deal with the core of one of the most talented rosters in the league being decimated.

Having seen three opt out before the start of the season, the Niners had 40 players placed on either the injured reserve, physically unable to perform, or reserve/COVID-19 list over the course of the year.

The scale of the injury crisis left head coach Kyle Shanahan and those on his roster who stayed healthy fighting an uphill battle to reach the postseason.

It was a fight they ultimately lost despite a very admirable effort, finishing 6-10, leaving San Francisco with significant questions to answer this offseason.

Using Stats Perform data, we look back on a season defined by misfortune and look ahead to what the 49ers must do in free agency and the draft to ensure they are back in the postseason in 2021.

Offense

Keeping your starting quarterback healthy is imperative to success on offense, but the 49ers rarely had their top option, Jimmy Garoppolo, available at 100 per cent in 2020.

Garoppolo suffered a high ankle sprain in a fateful Week 2 win over the New York Jets and never truly recovered.

He featured in only six games and did not build a convincing case that he deserves to remain the starter long term.

The former New England Patriot completed 94 of his 140 passes for 1,096 yards, seven touchdowns and five interceptions. Garoppolo's interception percentage of 3.6 was the third-highest among players to have attempted at least 100 throws.

One of the two players above him on that list was his backup, Nick Mullens (3.7), whose turnovers helped end San Francisco's hopes of qualifying for the playoffs.

Mullens committed 16 giveaways, 12 of those coming on interceptions, with no team conceding more takeaway points than the Niners' 124.

Those turnovers tilted contests in which the undermanned Niners were generally competitive in their opponents' favour and limited the upside of an offense that still finished in the top half in yards per play (5.66) and passing yards per play (6.62) despite the absences of Garoppolo, All-Pro tight end George Kittle and wide receiver Deebo Samuel for much of the season.

Yet the fact Mullens still managed to finish the season 15th among qualifying quarterbacks in yards per pass attempt (7.48) is illustrative of the ceiling of Shanahan's offense.

Samuel (12.09) led the league in yards after catch per reception among receivers with at least 10 catches, while no rookie caught more red-zone touchdowns than Brandon Aiyuk (5).

When it is healthy, the Niners' offense can still be one of the most dynamic in football.

However, it requires a durable quarterback who takes care of the ball and, in 2021, will need more of a boost from a running game that was minus NFC Championship Game hero Raheem Mostert for most of the year, San Francisco finishing 16th in yards per rush (4.32) having been ninth in 2019.

Ensuring the 49ers possess those offensive necessities in 2021 will be paramount given the amount of turnover their top-10 defense looks set to experience.

Defense

Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh earned a head coaching job with the Jets on the back of the efforts of his depleted defense in 2020.

Minus 2019 Defensive Rookie of the Year Nick Bosa, who tore his ACL against the Jets, Saleh kept a defense that saw its cast of characters consistently rotate due to injuries and Covid issues in the top 10.

The 49ers ranked fifth in opponent yards per play allowed (5.05), with San Francisco extremely stingy against the run, giving up an average of 3.96 yards per carry that only five teams bettered.

Though the offense's tendency to turn the ball over consistently put the defense in bad positions, the 49ers were the fourth-best team in the league at keeping opposing offenses out of the endzone.

San Francisco gave up touchdowns on 37 of the 183 offensive drives faced in a season where the Niners' opponents had the eighth-best average starting field position in the NFL.

The 49ers' secondary consistently rose to the task when challenged by opposing passing attacks, with the 44 passing plays of 20 or more yards San Francisco gave up tied for the sixth-fewest in the league.

Their efforts in keeping opposing passing attacks in check were helped by the performances of unheralded edge rusher Kerry Hyder, who compensated somewhat for Bosa's absence with 8.5 sacks and a combined total of 53.5 knockdowns and hurries, tied for 20th in the league.

However, that was some way short of the 81.5 Bosa had a year ago, and the fact the Niners were still one of the better pass defenses in the NFL despite finishing 22nd in sacks (30), 28th in hurries (144) and 27th in knockdowns (68) speaks to the high level of performance from the secondary.

Yet the odds of keeping that secondary together in a pivotal offseason look slim.

Offseason

The 49ers have been publicly supportive of Garoppolo despite his struggles in staying on the field, but there is still significant doubt as to whether Shanahan and general manager John Lynch will double down on that backing and stick with him as their signal-caller in 2021.

Having said to have been interested in Matthew Stafford before he was traded to NFC West rivals the Los Angeles Rams, the 49ers are also reported to have called about the availability of Carolina Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

Frequently mentioned as a possible destination for disgruntled Houston Texans star Deshaun Watson and Sam Darnold of the Jets, the Niners at the very least appear to be open to the possibility of putting a fresh face at quarterback, and they would have significant financial motivation for moving on from Garoppolo.

The Niners are in a better position than most when it comes to the salary cap. They are scheduled to be over $26million under the $182.5m salary cap, but parting ways with Garoppolo would free up just shy of $24m in extra room and give San Francisco additional flexibility with which to keep hold of a plethora of free agents.

Thirty-one members of the 2020 roster are scheduled for free agency, including every cornerback who took a defensive snap last season.

Re-signing All-Pro left tackle Trent Williams is the priority for San Francisco, with corner Jason Verrett likely to be next on the list following a superb comeback season after years of injury frustration.

Richard Sherman is not expected to be back and the futures of key contributors like Kyle Juszczyk and Jaquiski Tartt are more clouded.

San Francisco's list of needs in the draft could therefore be long but the upside of their hangover is that it landed them the 12th overall pick.

That puts the Niners potentially in the conversation for one of the top quarterbacks in the class should they indeed want an alternative to Garoppolo, and they are in an excellent spot to land a premium player at a number of positions, with corner, edge rusher and interior offensive line all areas in need of reinforcement.

Getting Bosa back and hopefully avoiding an astronomical level of injuries will go a long way to putting the Niners back in playoff contention.

Yet with several departures likely on defense and first-time coordinator DeMeco Ryans taking over for Saleh, the 49ers may not be able to rely on that side of the ball to do the heavy lifting as it has often done over the past two years.

That means the 49ers can ill-afford more uncertainty at quarterback and puts the wisdom of keeping a signal-caller who has missed 23 games with the team due to injury into serious question. Garoppolo's durability concerns have held back what should be one of the most consistently devastating offenses in the NFL.

With clear avenues to make a change at the most important position, how far the Niners go in 2021 hinges largely on their level of belief in a quarterback who had them seven minutes from Super Bowl LIV glory.

Barcelona's Champions League campaign feels all but over as they head to Paris Saint-Germain nursing a 4-1 last-16 deficit.

Kylian Mbappe made merry at Camp Nou last month, netting a brilliant hat-trick after Lionel Messi gave the hosts a first-half lead.

The fact the defeat came on their own patch makes Barca's hopes even more remote, but they've been on both sides of incredible recent Champions League comebacks – most famously in this very fixture.

Here, we look at some of the nights in Europe's top competition where logic left town.

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

Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool had been well beaten at Camp Nou, with the 3-0 scoreline flattering Barcelona but making the Catalans clear favourites to complete their semi-final task on Merseyside.

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

They were Origi's first goals in the competition, while only 122 seconds separated Wijnaldum's pair in a pivotal period that left Anfield rocking.

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

It meant a Barcelona side boasting Messi – who was involved in all of Barca's eight attempts on goal with five shots and three key passes - and former Liverpool stars Philippe Coutinho and Luis Suarez were left devastated, while Klopp's men celebrated reaching the Madrid final.

2019: Real Madrid 1-4 Ajax (5-3 on aggregate)

Despite an impressive display in their 2-1 first-leg defeat, few thought Ajax could turn things around at the Santiago Bernabeu. Madrid's Sergio Ramos certainly did not - he earned a first-leg booking to avoid the risk of a quarter-final ban, receiving an extra-game suspension from UEFA in the process.

In the absence of their captain, Madrid capitulated against a fearless and thrilling Ajax. Hakim Ziyech and David Neres put the visitors 2-0 up after only 18 minutes and it was 3-0 just after the hour thanks to the inspired Dusan Tadic.

Marco Asensio got a goal back, but Lasse Schone's free-kick beat Thibaut Courtois and sent Madrid crashing out on the back of their heaviest margin of defeat in a European knockout game. It was the first time Madrid had ever been knocked out after winning the first leg of a Champions League tie, while Ajax would themselves be stung by a comeback in the semi-finals.

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

Ajax looked certain finalists when they extended their 1-0 first-leg lead to 3-0 on aggregate in Amsterdam, thanks to first-half goals from Matthijs de Ligt and Ziyech.

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

The Brazilian winger was thrust into a central attacking role and scored an improbable hat-trick – just the fifth time the feat had been accomplished in a Champions League semi-final - in the second half, the vital third goal coming deep into stoppage time, as Spurs won on away goals.

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

Barcelona were stunned in the Italian capital as Roma completed one of the most unlikely quarter-final turnarounds.

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

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

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

Before being humbled by Roma and Liverpool, Barcelona pulled off an astonishing Champions League comeback of their own - the greatest so far in terms of the deficit overhauled and one that PSG fans will still shudder to be reminded of this week

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

However, two quickfire Neymar goals against his future club – the second a highly controversial penalty after Suarez took a tumble – levelled the tie at 5-5.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another time Barcelona overturned the odds.

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

Tore Andre Flo's 60th-minute goal was sending Chelsea through despite Rivaldo and Luis Figo scoring before the break, but Dani Garcia headed home in the 83rd-minute to force extra time.

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

The Los Angeles Rams have never been afraid to take big swings, and they will be hoping the one they took back in late January will get them over the hump.

Los Angeles handed the keys to an offense that can be one of the most explosive in football to Matthew Stafford, parting ways with Jared Goff and some significant draft capital to acquire him from the Detroit Lions.

Stafford joins a team that was two wins away from the Super Bowl last season, the Rams undone by league MVP Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.

The Rams are gambling that Stafford's arrival gets them back to the sport's grandest stage.

However, the financial pressures facing Los Angeles mean the Rams' roster is likely to look very different in 2021.

What will their remodelled group need to do to realise their ambitions next season?

Here we try to answer that question by looking back at the Rams' 2020 campaign using Stats Perform data.

Offense

It is not difficult to see why Sean McVay lost patience with Goff, the number one overall pick of the Rams in the 2016 draft.

The Rams finished the season 18th in yards per play with 5.54, their second successive year outside the top 10 in that regard having been second in 2018 (6.36) when they reached the Super Bowl.

Goff's inability to hang on to the football played a contributing role in their struggles to move the ball more efficiently.

His 17 giveaways were tied for the fourth-most in the NFL while 73 of his 182 incompletions were down to poor throws. Only nine quarterbacks delivered more poor throws in 2020.

Just 14 of Goff's incompletions were drops, tied for 20th among quarterbacks with at least 50 attempts, indicating his receivers were relatively reliable.

Goff had decent success going downfield. His passer rating of 103.4 on throws of 21 or more air yards ranked 10th among quarterbacks to have attempted 25 such throws.

Stafford, however, ranked fifth with a rating of 118.5 and attempted 57 such passes to Goff's 36 at a better completion percentage (35.1 to 33.3), illustrating his greater willingness to push the ball deep and his superior prowess as a downfield thrower.

The Rams will want to give Stafford more support than Goff received from the running game, which averaged 4.27 yards per attempt last year, putting them 17th in the NFL.

Cam Akers' progress could be key in that regard. The 2020 second-round pick came on strong down the stretch and proved himself a big-play threat.

He had four rushes of at least 20 yards with his average distance of 41.8 yards on those carries the most among rookie running backs to have more than one such attempt.

But any progress the offense makes may be cancelled out if the defense takes a step back from its position among the league's elite.

Defense

By many measures, the Rams had the best defense in football last season.

Los Angeles ranked first in opponent yards per play allowed (4.56) in 2020, with their dominance encompassing both the passing game and the run game.

Indeed, the Rams allowed the least passing yards per play (5.08) and the third-least rushing yards per play (3.76).

Just 46.8 per cent of offensive plays run against them were successful, with only three defenses performing better by that measure. The Rams were the third-best team in the league at stopping teams on the critical third and fourth downs, allowing a success rate of 35.9 per cent.

Their numbers in terms of takeaways were not quite as impressive, the Rams finishing with 22, seven shy of the league-high 29 set by the Miami Dolphins.

Though the Rams perhaps did not take the ball away as much as they would have liked, Los Angeles still excelled at preventing opponents from scoring.

Los Angeles finished the year first in opponent scoring efficiency, allowing scores on 51 of 183 opponent drives.

The Rams' defense was led by another Defensive Player of Year effort from star defensive lineman Aaron Donald.

Donald's sack total of 13.5 was a low number by his lofty standards, but he was the clear leader in knockdowns and hurries, his combined total of 94.5 comfortably outstripping the man he beat to the DPOY award, T.J. Watt (83).

There is little to suggest Donald will not continue to dominate but, for the Rams to remain the league's best on defense, they will need to adapt to the loss of coordinator Brandon Staley - who was replaced by Raheem Morris - and the likely departures of several key pieces.

Offseason

The Rams' move to land Stafford came at a high price, leaving them with a distinct lack of capital with which to furnish the roster around him.

Los Angeles traded a third-round pick this year along with first-rounders in 2022 and 2023 to acquire Stafford, leaving them without a first-round selection until 2024.

With Donald and Jalen Ramsey in place for the long term, the defense looks in pretty good hands, but it may be a little top-heavy given the talent the Rams look likely to lose on that side of the ball.

Safety John Jonson, cornerbacks Darious Williams and Troy Hill, and edge rusher Leonard Floyd are all set to hit the market in a year where the Rams are projected to be nearly $30million over an assumed salary cap of $185m.

Replenishing those positions, and sourcing a replacement for unrestricted free agent guard Austin Blythe, will be priorities for the Rams, along with finding a deep threat who can help them harness the most of Stafford's upside throwing the deep ball.

The problem is that the Rams, as it stands, only have three picks in the 2021 NFL Draft with which to add to their group.

That number will go up when compensatory selections are factored into the equation, but the reality is that the Rams will not be as deep as in previous years.

Los Angeles will need to get creative to bolster the roster this offseason, yet the fate of the Rams' 2021 campaign rests predominantly on the success of their bet on Stafford to be a significant upgrade on the quarterback they were so eager to ship out.

As was the case a year earlier, Derrick Henry's tremendous performances on the ground could only take the 2020 Tennessee Titans so far in the playoffs.

Running back Henry was once again the star as the Titans returned to the postseason with an 11-5 record, their best since 2008 – also the last time they had won the AFC South.

But having come up short against eventual champions the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2019 AFC Championship Game, Tennessee fell at the first hurdle this time.

The Baltimore Ravens, still hurting from their shock defeat against Henry and Co the previous season, prevailed 20-13 in the Wild Card round.

So the Titans must regroup again ahead of the 2021 campaign, surely again looking to Henry to provide their spark while negotiating a challenging offseason.

The league's Offensive Player of the Year will certainly need some help, as our study with Stats Perform data shows.

Offense

It came as no surprise that the Titans ranked as high as second in rushing yards last season (168.1 per game) given Henry's incredible consistency.

There was not a rushing metric in which Henry did not lead the NFL, attempting 378 rushes, at 23.6 per game, for 2,027 yards (126.7 per game) and 17 touchdowns – league-high marks across the board.

Tennessee rushed on 50.5 per cent of plays – ranking third – and Henry carried the load almost single-handedly. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill was next for total yardage with 266.

But the flaws in this approach were laid bare by the Ravens, who got to grips with Henry.

He was restricted to 18 attempts for just 40 yards. Only once in his NFL career – in a Week 17 win over Jacksonville in 2017 – had Henry previously averaged less than 2.2 yards with 18 rushes or more.

This reliance on Henry in their biggest games ultimately proved damaging, even as the rest of the offense also largely performed well.

Tannehill finished the year with a passer rating of 106.5 – fifth in the NFL – but he threw fewer passes (481) than any other QB to start 16 games, while the Titans were 23rd in net passing yards (228.3 per game).

Wide receivers A.J. Brown (70 receptions for 1,075 yards and 11 TDs) and Corey Davis (65 receptions for 984 yards and five TDs) each put up impressive career-best numbers, yet they ranked joint-32nd and joint-38th respectively for catches.

With the focus on Henry, their season stopped when he was slowed.

Defense

Even with Baltimore impressively handling Henry, a rare bad game might have been less of an issue had the defense been able to hold up.

Across the regular season, the Titans ranked 28th for opponent yards per game (398.3), including 277.4 net passing yards per game, 29th best in the league.

The franchise paid the price for some big free agency misses in the form of edge rushers Vic Beasley Jr. and Jadeveon Clowney, who signed one-year contracts worth a combined $22.2million and failed to contribute a single sack between them.

Clowney played eight games before he was placed on injured reserve due to a knee injury, while Beasley showed up late to training camp and played just five times before he was released.

A defensive unit that shared a locker room with the best running back in the sport was at least slightly better at disrupting their opponents' ground game, but they still allowed 120.8 rushing yards per game (19th in the league).

As a result, too often Tennessee could not get their opponents off the field and put the ball in Henry's hands.

Opponents spent 31 minutes and 32 seconds in possession on average (27th in the league), while the Titans recorded only 19 sacks, ranking 30th.

Even on the rare occasions they did successfully put teams under pressure, the Titans were dead last in third-down stops. A massive 51.9 per cent of third downs against them were converted, including 42.6 per cent of attempts of six yards or more and 37.7 per cent of 10 yards or more.

Offseason

There is lots to do before the new season starts if the Titans are to be competitive again. Indeed, the scale of the task might well mean a Super Bowl run is beyond them in 2021, even with Henry a force once more.

Offensive coordinator Arthur Smith's departure to Atlanta, where he will be the Falcons' head coach, prompted the promotion of Todd Downing to a role he has served in for only one year previously, with the Raiders in 2017.

And he will have his work cut out if the Titans are to come close to maintaining last season's standard.

The team declined Davis' fifth-year option prior to his career-best year, making him an unrestricted free agent, while tight ends Jonnu Smith (eight TDs in 2020) and Anthony Firkser are also leaving. Slot receiver Adam Humphries, injured and expensive last year, will be less of a miss.

It means Brown is the only remaining Titan to have posted more than 200 receiving yards for the team in 2020.

On defense, meanwhile, the short-lived failures of Clowney and Beasley mean there is again a gaping hole at the edge position.

Tennessee have just $10.6m of cap room to work with and, although they at least still have their draft picks, some tough weeks and months lie ahead.

A month on from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' triumph in Super Bowl LV, teams across the NFL are preparing to make moves they hope will propel them towards glory.

This year's free agency period is unlikely to see a move as decisive as Tom Brady's decision to swap the New England Patriots for the Buccaneers.

However, with franchises dealing with a likely declining salary cap because of the impact of playing a season largely without fans, the chaos of the league's open market should still be fascinating to watch.

But which teams will be the most active when the NFL opens the window for teams to begin negotiating with free agents next Monday?

Here we look at those likeliest to be busy and the signings they could make.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Cap Space: $85.7million

From having the number one pick in the draft, which they will almost certainly use on Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, to having the most salary cap space in the league, the Jaguars are the franchise that holds the keys to the offseason.

New general manager Trent Baalke and first-time NFL head coach Urban Meyer have no shortage of needs to address following a one-win 2020 season.

Lawrence will require much-improved pass protection if he is to thrive and lead Jacksonville to contention. With that in mind, they should be in on the sweepstakes for All-Pro left tackle Trent Williams, who cannot be franchise-tagged by the San Francisco 49ers and is likely to command over $20m a year.

Given the money at their disposal, the Jags will be among the leading candidates to lure edge rusher Shaquil Barrett from the Buccaneers. He could form a formidable tandem with Jacksonville's 2019 first-round pick Josh Allen.

New York Jets

Cap Space: $72.4million

The Jets' offseason will be defined by whether they stick with Sam Darnold at quarterback or use their second overall pick to select one of the top four signal-callers in the draft class.

But beyond that pivotal decision, Jets GM Joe Douglas and Robert Saleh have an arduous task of turning one of the worst rosters in football into one primed to contend in the AFC.

Saleh may look to his old team, the 49ers, for whom he was defensive coordinator from 2017 to 2020, to build up his secondary in New York.

Richard Sherman could be tempted cross country to stay with Saleh, while slot cornerback K'Waun Williams is a New Jersey native who could offer the Jets a dependable presence familiar with the defense.

New England Patriots

Cap Space: $72.6million

Bill Belichick has rarely been one to spend big in his storied tenure as head coach and de-facto GM of the Patriots.

However, possessing a talent-poor roster and in danger of being left behind in the AFC East, this could be the year where he changes course, and Belichick has already made a significant move, bringing back offensive tackle Trent Brown in a trade with the Las Vegas Raiders.

New England must make a decision at quarterback after an unconvincing season from Cam Newton as Tom Brady's successor.

Regardless of who is under center, the Patriots will not compete if their quarterback does not have dynamic weapons among their pass-catchers.

Belichick has typically had a blindspot for wide receivers in the draft, so more experienced options with playmaking upside like Corey Davis and Marvin Jones could find a home in New England. Hunter Henry may also be a target if the Los Angeles Chargers decide not to pay the tight end who was franchise-tagged last year.

Indianapolis Colts

Cap Space: $50.5million

The Colts have the man they hope will be the answer at quarterback following Philip Rivers' retirement, backing Carson Wentz to rehabilitate his career under Frank Reich and acquiring him from the Philadelphia Eagles.

In terms of a support system, Wentz is heading into a team with a strong one in place, yet it could still be improved and the Colts have the wiggle room to be aggressive.

They may be an attractive destination for the aforementioned Williams, who would be an upgrade on the retired Anthony Castonzo at left tackle.

Veteran wide receiver T.Y. Hilton could leave in free agency and it would not be wise for the Colts to rely too heavily on Michael Pittman Jr at wideout despite a strong end to his rookie season.

As they look to maximise Wentz's chances of being successful, a move for a high-profile receiver like Allen Robinson could make a great deal of sense for a team looking to challenge the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Cap Space: $18.1million

The outlier here in terms of cap space but, having blown out the Chiefs in Super Bowl LV, the Buccaneers will surely not be short of players wanting to join them on short-term deals to link up with Brady and make another push for a Lombardi Trophy.

Tampa will be busy enough trying to hold on to as many in-house free agents as possible, but the Bucs will find intriguing potential temporary options in areas of need on the open market.

Reinforcements may well be required on the defensive line given the possibility of Barrett going elsewhere.

The Bucs have seen one veteran, Jason Pierre-Paul, thrive on the edge. Perhaps Justin Houston, who has 19 sacks over his last two seasons with the Colts, could be tempted by the chance to chase a ring in Tampa.

On the interior, the Buccaneers have a monstrous presence in Vita Vea, and their strength in that area could allow them to take a swing on a former first-rounder in Sheldon Rankins, who has seen his career with the New Orleans Saints stall because of injuries but had eight sacks back in 2018.

It is time for the Jacksonville Jaguars to turn this thing around.

Losing suited the Jags last season as their miserable 1-15 record, combined with the New York Jets' inexplicable late rally to 2-14, secured the first overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Jacksonville are expected to take quarterback Trevor Lawrence to join new head coach Urban Meyer and general manager Trent Baalke. Then they must find a way of competing once more after a year of accepting defeat.

Yet this was not merely a 12-month slump; the Jags have had a winning record just once since 2007, losing the AFC Championship Game to the New England Patriots in 2017.

There is lots of work to do, but Lawrence - tipped as a generational talent - gives them a fantastic platform to build from at the most important position.

We use Stats Perform data to review the 2020 season and identify how Lawrence might be able to lead this team to success.

Offense

It is not quite as simple as Lawrence alone re-energising an offense that scored just 306 points last year, ranking 30th in the league.

The Jaguars need not have been quite as bad under center as that statistic suggests, having benched Gardner Minshew II, their best QB, after seven weeks.

He had led the team to their sole Week 1 win over the Indianapolis Colts, throwing three touchdowns, and was a relatively solid performer in a poor team. Minshew averaged 251 yards per game.

But Lawrence will be expected to find wide receivers Laviska Shenault Jr. and D.J. Chark Jr. on a more regular basis. Along with Keelan Cole Sr., they led Jacksonville with five receiving TDs but Shenault's 58 catches represented a very low team high.

The new QB will want better protection as he aims to improve the team's passing offense, with the Jags' 2020 passers collectively sacked on 44 occasions, tied for just the 25th best rate in the NFL.

There will certainly be pressure on Lawrence, who threw for 3,153 yards in 10 games for Clemson in 2020, to deliver the goods through the air, with no team in the league turning to their running game less often than Jacksonville.

A meagre 33.8 per cent of their plays went on the ground, where they found an impressive rookie in running back James Robinson (240 rushes for 1,070 yards and three TDs) but not much else.

Defense

If Lawrence provides a big boost on offense, what is the fix on defense?

Because no amount of talent at QB can drag the Jaguars into contention if they continue to perform so poorly out of possession.

While Jacksonville were reluctant to run the ball on offense, they faced rushes on defense more often than any other team (on 48.4 per cent of plays).

In truth, though, their opponents' play selection mattered little as they found a route through regardless. The Jags gave up 417.7 total yards per game, fewer only than the Detroit Lions.

There was a clear lack of talent on defense in 2020, and even Dawuane Smoot, their sack leader with 5.5, could now be on the way out in free agency.

Cornerback C.J. Henderson will at least be back after injury cut short a rookie season in which he showed signs of promise, recording 27 tackles, an interception and a forced fumble across eight games.

But new defensive coordinator Joe Cullen needs help if he is to recreate the aggressive approach used by the Baltimore Ravens, where he was defensive line coach for the past four years.

Offseason

The roster that ended the 2020 season provided little cause for optimism. Fortunately for the Jaguars, they now have the number one pick and a huge amount of cap space to work with.

Assuming a $185million cap, Jacksonville still have around $86m to spend. They will need it, even if Lawrence, in the draft, provides the most straightforward first fix.

Offensive depth is required to assist the exciting new QB, with slot receiver Cole set for free agency while the tight end unit scored a combined two TDs last season – both supplied by 31-year-old Tyler Eifert – and still needs a blocking option.

In Shenault, Chark and Robinson, they at least have starters secured at WR and RB, especially given there are greater priorities elsewhere.

Investment at offensive tackle to protect Lawrence would boost the rookie, but those priorities lie mainly on defense.

They will need more than Henderson alone at corner and major improvement at safety is a must, as is finding a way to somehow slow their opponents' running offense.

The Jags have some exciting opportunities this offseason, but they are starting from a low base and Lawrence should only be the first of many talented new faces as the team eye a quick turnaround.

The search is on for a successor to Joachim Low after Germany's long-serving national team boss announced he would step down after Euro 2020.

Low will complete a 15-year tour of duty as head coach when he leads Die Mannschaft into this year's tournament, delayed a year by the COVID-19 crisis.

His contract had been due to run until after Germany's Qatar 2022 World Cup campaign, but 61-year-old Low has decided the time will be right to step aside before then.

That means the Germany Football Association (DFB) must spring into action and find the right coach to take over from Low, a World Cup winner in 2014.

DFB president Fritz Keller said: "The fact that he informed us about his decision at an early stage is very decent. He gives the DFB consequently the necessary time, calm and a sense of proportion to name his successor."

Germany is enjoying a golden era of producing world-class coaches, and here are five the DFB may consider.

Hansi Flick: Brilliant as Bayern boss, and Low's former right-hand man

Bayern have flourished under Flick's leadership over the past 18 months, having promoted him to the top job when Niko Kovac struggled to get the best from a talented group.

Club CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge has noisily shot down the prospect of Flick leaving to become Germany boss, saying the coach will remain at Bayern for next season.

However, Rummenigge himself will step down from his position at Bayern at the turn of the year as Oliver Kahn replaces him, and Flick may see the Germany job as offering greater long-term security.

He served as assistant to Low from 2006 to 2014 so knows the job as well as any contender.

Jurgen Klopp: Could Liverpool adventure be coming to an end?

Liverpool's steep decline in 2021 has led to the first rumblings about Klopp's Anfield future among supporters of the club.

At board level, there has been no indication Liverpool would be happy to lose the man who has led them to Champions League and Premier League title success.

It seems the former Mainz and Borussia Dortmund boss has enough goodwill in the bank to be trusted to turn around the team's fortunes, so if Klopp is to be a contender for the Germany job it would be on him to make a major career decision.

At the age of 53, could he take the methods that have served him so well in the club game onto the international stage?

Stefan Kuntz: Ready to step up?

As coach of the Germany Under-21 team, former national team midfielder Kuntz is already working in the DFB system.

To appoint him would seem an easy option, which is not to suggest it would be the wrong option.

Kuntz's young Germany team won the UEFA Under-21 Championship in 2017 and were runners-up two years later, with the likes of Thilo Kehrer, Luca Waldschmidt and Serge Gnabry all enjoying early international experience under his leadership.

Kuntz is highly regarded as a coach by his fellow Euro 96 winner Oliver Bierhoff, who is Germany's national team director, and that could be a significant factor.

Julian Nagelsmann: Too much, too young?

Nagelsmann, who does not turn 34 until July, seems a long shot for this job.

He has greatly impressed as head coach of Hoffenheim and RB Leipzig and his next calling point is likely to be a bigger club job, perhaps in Spain or England.

Nagelsmann distanced himself from the Germany job within minutes of Low's departure being announced, so it would take a change of heart for him to come into the equation.

If the DFB makes a determined play for him, however, Nagelsmann would have to decide whether he could refuse to serve his country.

Ralf Rangnick: Tactical master could be perfect pick

Veteran Rangnick looked set to join Milan last year, until the surprise element of Stefano Pioli turning the Rossoneri into a winning machine knocked that on the head.

The 62-year-old has been cited as a major influence on the generation that followed him into coaching, with Stuttgart, Hoffenheim, Schalke and Leipzig among the teams he has led.

His tactics typically lean on a high-intensity pressing game, with swift counter-attacking, and Rangnick would surely relish the prospect of leading Germany into a World Cup.

Whether being out of coaching for two seasons might be a hindrance would be a matter for the DFB, with Rangnick currently employed by Red Bull's sporting division.

A new era begins in earnest for Barcelona, with Joan Laporta's second spell as president confirmed on Sunday following his victory in the election.

Regarded as arguably the most important political event at the club in a generation, much was said to be riding on the collective decision of the socios, or members, who voted.

Laporta, Toni Freixa and Victor Font had spent months outlining their plans in public, with La Masia, the club's crippling debt and the tumult caused by the previous administration among the main focuses.

But outsiders can be forgiven for thinking the election essentially boiled down to which candidate stood the best chance of convincing Lionel Messi to stay.

Laporta's first spell as president, from 2003 to 2010, coincided with Messi's rise from the youth ranks to global star, while he was also in charge when Pep Guardiola was promoted to the top job 2008.

While nostalgia may have played a strong part in Laporta's ascension, 54 per cent of voters feel he is the best man to navigate a challenging period – but what are the most important tasks facing him?

Messi – Should he stay, or should he go?

Laporta stopped short of insisting Messi will definitely stay put under his administration, which was probably wise given he only has a few months left on his contract. Fans would have surely seen through such a promise.

However, what he did throughout his campaign was emphasise his relationship with the six-time Ballon d'Or winner, while also pointing out Messi's lack of familiarity with his rivals.

"I am the only one who can ensure his continuity. If I don't win, I'm sure Leo won't continue at Barca," Laporta said at last week's debate. "He was not very happy with Freixa's time [Laporta's rival was an ally of the discredited Josep Maria Bartomeu], when they let him see that he was expendable."

Of course, Messi attempted to force an exit last year, but his refusal to drag the issue through the courts meant Barca managed to keep hold of their prized asset.

Since then he has insisted his future is tied to the competitiveness of Barca. Laporta's discussions with him will be key, but they could be undermined should Ronald Koeman's men collapse in the latter stages of the season.

Make La Masia a force again

For years Barcelona's La Masia academy was the jewel of the club, the inspiration behind many hugely successful teams and the school that developed some of the finest players to play the game.

Even though a significant portion of the current squad have come through the ranks, La Masia's standing isn't quite what it once was and the likes of Messi, Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba, Gerard Pique are all into their thirties.

But Laporta emphasised the importance of the academy during his campaign, adamant he would look to restore it to its former glory, previously saying: "It will be our pillar, the backbone of the club's values."

Nevertheless, with Ansu Fati emerging as a ready-made star and Ilaix Moriba recently establishing himself as one to watch, La Masia's reputation is already receiving a timely boost.

Sell high-earning fringe players

Eric Abidal's spell as sporting director was ill-fated, to say the least. A day after sacking Quique Setien in August, the Frenchman was unceremoniously dismissed as well, with his overseeing of transfers making him a contentious figure long before he was eventually shown the door.

Among his purchases were the likes of Kevin-Prince Boateng, Malcom, Jeison Murillo, Junior Firpo and Antoine Griezmann – it'd be difficult to consider any of those successes.

Granted, not all of his signings have been poor, with Pedri, Clement Lenglet and Frenkie de Jong brought in under his watch, but over the past few years the club has spent a significant amount of money on sub-standard players or underperforming so-called 'superstars'

As such, the Barca squad is bloated in terms of its wage expenditure and many of the back-up players are expected to be put up for sale, easing the financial strain and boosting revenues.

But before Barca can begin outlining transfer plans and a potentially revised recruitment strategy, Laporta needs to do something else…

Establish a new sporting department

Laporta is expected to bring his own people in to manage the club's sporting structure, and Jordi Cruyff – of course, the son of Barca icon Johan – is among the frontrunners for the sporting director post.

Cruyff is still thought to have significant influence and respect inside the club due to his family name, with the former Manchester United player recently affirming to Cadena Ser that he believes his father would have always backed Laporta in an election.

Mateu Alemany, former Valencia general manager, is also widely reported to be on his way in.

Alemany had played a major role Valencia's resurgence during the previous decade but left under something of a cloud in November 2019, with the Frenchman and club owner Peter Lim at odds.

Lim had dismissed popular head coach Marcelino Garcia Toral, of whom Alemany was a staunch backer, and that left the general manager's position looking untenable, particular after local reports claimed he wasn't even consulted about the subsequent appointment of Albert Celades.

Very little has gone right for Valencia since the exits of Marcelino and Alemany – their reputations, however, have remained firmly intact.

Strengthen the squad while managing debt

It's no secret that Barcelona's financial state is a mess – they have amassed €1.2billion in debt and that has unsurprisingly impacted their clout in the transfer market.

One of Laporta's main messages ahead of the election was that Barca needed a board and president with experience in such a tricky time, and that's certainly something he has in abundance.

In his first interview since being elected, Laporta stressed the need to make the club financially stable. He told Catalunya Radio: "The first thing will be to do an audit but first I will greet the workers. The club is in mismanagement and now we will finally be able to make the necessary decisions. We will do an audit and apply our shock plan so that Barca is economically sustainable."

Drastic changes could be on the cards, yet despite the financial state of the club, they will still need to work on improving the squad.

Juggling the two won't be straightforward, particularly when you add Messi's demand for competitiveness into the mix.

All good things must come to an end, and that proved the case for Manchester City on Sunday.

Their remarkable winning run of 21 games in all competitions came to an end with a 2-0 defeat to Manchester United in the derby.

City hold an 11-point lead over their neighbours at the top of the Premier League, however, and the real battle seems set to be for Champions League places.

Tottenham boosted their hopes with a 4-1 thrashing of Crystal Palace, with Harry Kane and Son Heung-min combining for a record-setting goal, while Liverpool's dismal form continued as they suffered a sixth successive home defeat. Fortress Anfield is well and truly a thing of the past.

At the bottom, West Brom and Newcastle United played out a goalless draw. We take a look at the best Opta facts from Sunday's games.

 

Manchester City 0-2 Manchester United: Winning streak grinds to a halt

If there was one team City did not want their incredible run of wins to come to an end against, it would have been United.

It was the first time City have lost since November, when they went down 2-0 at home to Spurs, ending a run of 28 games without a defeat across all competitions. Pep Guardiola's team had won their last 21 in total, including 15 in the league, though Ole Gunnar Solskjaer seems to have the better of his counterpart.

United have won three consecutive away games in all competitions at City for the first time since a run of four between November 1993 and November 2000, and among the managers Guardiola has faced more than three times across all competitions as a top-flight boss, Solskjaer is the only one to have beaten the Spaniard (four) more often than he has lost to him.

Solskjaer is also the first manager in United's history to win each of his first three away meetings in all competitions with City. Since the start of the 2019-20 season, three of City's five home defeats in all competitions have come against United.

The Norwegian is now the only manager to have won three away games against sides managed by Guardiola.

Bruno Fernandes scored the opener from the penalty spot inside two minutes. Since his Premier League debut in February 2020, he has scored 12 of the 13 penalties he has taken in the competition. 

After just 101 seconds, Fernandes' penalty was the earliest goal that City have ever conceded in a Premier League match at the Etihad Stadium, and the first they have conceded within two minutes at home in the competition since Steed Malbranque's strike for Fulham at Maine Road in January 2003.

Liverpool 0-1 Fulham: Reds' Merseyside misery rolls on

It is hard to believe that before their defeat to Burnley on January 21, Liverpool had not lost a league match at Anfield since April 2017. 

Liverpool have now lost six home games in a row, their longest ever such streak, while they are the first side to lose six in a row on home soil in the Premier League since Huddersfield Town in February 2019 (seven).

The Reds' six league defeats at Anfield this season is their most in a single campaign since 1953-54 (also six), when the Reds finished bottom of the top-flight, with Fulham the first promoted team to win away at Liverpool in the top flight since Blackpool Town in October 2010.

Jurgen Klopp's side are winless in their last eight league home matches, only embarking on a longer winless top-flight run at Anfield once before – 10 games between October 1951 and March 1952. They have won just one of their last seven matches in the competition.

Fulham, on the other hand, are unbeaten in their last eight Premier League away games (W2 D6) – their longest run without defeat on the road in their top-flight history – and are now level on 26 points with 17th-placed Brighton and Hove Albion.

Excluding penalties and own goals, Liverpool have failed to score with each of their last 115 shots at Anfield in the Premier League (including 16 against Fulham). This is the longest such scoreless run of shots on home soil by any side.

Tottenham 4-1 Crystal Palace: Bale and Kane rampant as Spurs boost top-four hopes

Only leaders City (35) have earned more points at home in this season's Premier League than Tottenham (24), and Jose Mourinho's men were in fine form against Palace.

Gareth Bale scored either side of Christian Benteke's equaliser – since the 2012-13 season, only Olivier Giroud (32) has more headed goals in the competition than the Belgian – with both of the Welshman's goals teed up by the brilliant Kane.

Bale has scored in each of his last three home appearances in all competitions, the first time he has done so since September 2018 for Real Madrid (four in a row), and first time for Spurs since May 2013.

Kane then curled in a sensational third goal, before he headed home a fourth from Son Heung-min's cushioned cutback.

Son and Kane have now assisted one another for 14 Premier League goals this season, breaking Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton's all-time competition record of 13 set in 1994-95 for Blackburn.

Kane's second goal was also Spurs' 100th strike in all competitions this season, seeing them become the second club in Europe's "top five" leagues to reach that tally in 2020-21, after Bayern Munich (106).

Spurs talisman Kane is the first Tottenham player since Jurgen Klinsmann in May 1998 to score twice and provide two assists in a Premier League match, while he has been directly involved in 40 goals in 36 games in all competitions this season (24 goals and 16 assists), the most of any player for a top-flight club.

West Brom 0-0 Newcastle United: Bore draw does little for survival hopes

There was not so much in the way of entertainment in the day's early kick-off, as strugglers West Brom and Newcastle shared the spoils.

West Brom are unbeaten in three home league games against Newcastle (W1 D2) for the first time since January 2005, while only Southampton (seven) have gained fewer Premier League points in 2021 than the Baggies (10) and Newcastle (nine).

Newcastle have won just one of their last nine Premier League away games (D1 L7), failing to score in six of those matches.

West Brom had 13 shots at goal in the match, their joint-most attempts without scoring in a Premier League game this season (also 13 v Burnley in October).

Anyone concerned that famous old fixtures like the Manchester derby are becoming devoid of emotion without supporters need only have looked at Gabriel Jesus' expression as Ederson just failed to keep out Bruno Fernandes' second-minute penalty.

Manchester City's Brazil forward netted a midweek brace in the 4-1 win over Wolves to persuade Pep Guardiola to keep him in the line-up on Sunday.

One of Jesus' big calling cards is his work rate, never one to shirk defensive duties that plenty of attackers dread.

Even so, haring back into his own area to clumsily foul Anthony Martial after mis-controlling a throw-in was taking that trait to unhelpful extremes.

Ederson got a firm hand to Fernandes' strike but could not prevent City from conceding their earliest ever Premier League goal at the Etihad Stadium. Jesus hit his head with his hands and howled in frustration.

At that moment it was easy to remember the eye-opening quotes the 23-year-old supplied during a goal drought last season

"Always I think, 'Wow I have to score' because I'm playing for a big club in big competitions with big players," he said.

"I think it happens with other players. I cannot talk about other players I can only talk about me when I'm not happy with me I want to shoot myself in the head because it's difficult for me."

If City's collective demeanour had been one of swaggering confidence fuelled by inevitable triumph during their 21-match winning run, it was never one Jesus could comfortably tap into.

He now has no goals in 10 derby appearances, but you won't need to tell him that. Sergio Aguero's expiring contract and the likelihood of City bringing in an elite forward replacement probably weighs heavily, too.

Nevertheless, Jesus led from the front as Guardiola's side sought to recover from a shambling start.

He was lurking when Harry Maguire cleared a dangerous Kevin De Bruyne cross – despite a patchy performance, City's midfield talisman created eight opportunities for team-mates – and a running battle before half-time saw the United centre-back booked for a foul on his opponent.

Jesus had two shots blocked and concluded a half he began clattering into Martial by clattering into the post in a vain attempt to convert Riyad Mahrez's cross-cum-shot.

In the opening stages of the second period, it was Jesus' lay-off that saw Rodri hit the crossbar. An equaliser felt close, but then the roof caved in on Guardiola's men.

Joao Cancelo has been a revelation in his hybrid full-back/midfielder role, but Martial and Marcus Rashford's tirelessly penetrative running offered a reminder he can still lack when it comes to purely defensive duties.

The Portugal international veered into no-mans land under Dean Henderson's throw, allowing the excellent Luke Shaw to start and finish a wonderful counter-attack.

For a spell in the middle of the second half, a defence breached only 19 times in the Premier League this season appeared to be wearing an 'all through traffic' sign. Cancelo was spared from himself as Kyle Walker entered the fray to shore up City's right-hand side before a dejected Jesus made way for Phil Foden.

The lead at the top of the Premier League is 11 points and this result – Solskjaer's third win in succession at the Etihad Stadium – should count for little beyond bragging rights. But Europe's elite will have taken note.

As City strained to get back into the match, ghosts of other Guardiola setbacks returned. Raheem Sterling, like Jesus still without a goal in this fixture, spurned glorious chances; players did not get shots away in a crowded penalty area; individual errors piled up and counter-attacking routes were left wide open.

A marque signing like Erling Haaland would solve some of Sunday's problems in the opposition penalty area, but little of what unfolded in other areas of the field.

Speaking at his pre-match news conference, Guardiola rejected any notion of a reality check perhaps being useful for his side. Such questionable logic is unlikely to feature in his forensic analysis of the game.

However, the last time United bloodied a City team bound for the title in April 2018, they did so after Liverpool had ransacked them in the Champions League quarter-finals. This lesson is at least more handily timed.

City's rock-solid look for large parts of this season was entirely absent and that will concern Guardiola, as it is their key point of difference from unsuccessful tilts at European glory.

Their collective loss of heads can only be partially explained by Jesus shooting himself in the foot.

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