Jose Mourinho has quickly returned to work following his Tottenham departure last month.

Roma confirmed on Tuesday the 'Special One' would be taking over as their coach from the start of next season, replacing Paulo Fonseca.

For Mourinho, it means a return to a familiar league and some familiar faces – both within the Giallorossi dressing room and among the opposition.

Using Opta data, we take a look at what the Eternal City might be able to expect from Mourinho.

Mourinho may suit Smalling

Mourinho is likely to be more warmly welcomed by one former Manchester United man than another in the Roma team.

Centre-back Chris Smalling was a regular when fit under the Portuguese at Old Trafford.

Despite dealing with a number of issues during Mourinho's tenure, only David de Gea (113) and Paul Pogba (100) made more starts than Smalling's 91 in all competitions.

The former England defender led all United players in blocks (91), clearances (546) and aerial duels won (346) over this time.

United kept clean sheets in 36 of Smalling's 100 outings and he has continued this form in Italy to establish himself as Roma's main man at the back and someone Mourinho will surely rely on.

On the other hand, Henrikh Mkhitaryan was one of Mourinho's first signings in Manchester but struggled to convince the manager.

Although the midfielder contributed 13 goals, 10 assists and 96 key passes across 63 matches, he was used as a makeweight in the ill-fated Alexis Sanchez transfer in January 2018.

He will hope to get a second chance having joined Roma following a similarly unsuccessful stint with Arsenal.

War with San Siro successor

This is Mourinho's second job in Serie A after a hugely successful stretch at Inter where he won the treble. Only last weekend did the Nerazzurri claim the Scudetto for the first time since that triumph.

Mourinho's old rival Antonio Conte was the man to oversee this latest success, however, and there could well be fireworks when they go head to head again next season.

Conte was the next full-time Chelsea coach after Mourinho's second Stamford Bridge stay ended with a feeble title defence in 2015-16.

There was a rivalry then between the pair in the Premier League, the highlights including Mourinho describing Conte as "a clown on the touchline" before the current Inter boss returned fire: "I consider him a little man, I consider him a man with a very low profile."

Conte, a champion again with Inter, will be confident he can get the better of the Roma coach in 2021-22, though.

Mourinho has beaten Conte sides only twice in seven attempts, losing four times – including in their most recent meeting, an FA Cup final win for the Italian in 2018.

Jose back to his best?

That Inter stretch is widely remembered as Mourinho's peak – or at least his second peak.

He won as many titles in two seasons (two) as he has in 11 years since, while 2009-10 also brought his second and most recent Champions League crown.

Mourinho's win rate of 62.0 per cent was actually down on his prior two roles at Porto (69.6) and Chelsea (66.9) and his subsequent posting at Real Madrid (71.9).

But those lofty San Siro standards are some way clear of the level Mourinho has been operating at in recent seasons.

He won only 51.2 per cent of his matches at Tottenham and left without lifting a single trophy, albeit he was sacked just days before the EFL Cup final.

If Mourinho is to improve on that return with Roma, who are seventh in Serie A at present, he will have some work to do.

But the former Inter favourite has previously proven himself up to the task in Italy.

Old rivals Antonio Conte and Jose Mourinho will come face-to-face once more next season.

Mourinho did not stay out of the spotlight for long after his sacking by Tottenham and has been confirmed as the new Roma head coach.

He will join the club ahead of the 2021-22 season on a three-year deal to compete in a league where Conte and his former club Inter have just ended a historic run of Juventus domestic dominance.

A bitter war of words erupted between the high-profile bosses when they were at Manchester United and Chelsea respectively in the Premier League.

Tensions had simmered between the pair since Conte's appointment as Mourinho's long-term successor at Stamford Bridge in 2016.

The Portuguese's proximity as a direct rival at United was never likely to encourage detente.

Mourinho and Conte have met seven times before as managers.

After their first meeting was a draw in 2010 as Inter took on Atalanta, Conte has taken four victories from the six meetings to take place since 2016, with just two wins going to the new Roma boss.

Here we have a look back what both men said during their rivalry at Chelsea and United, reviewing how the row rapidly escalated.
 

Prelude - Defensive teams and Mourinho seasons

Initially, as Chelsea marched to the Premier League title and United collected the EFL Cup and Europa League to compensate for a sixth-place finish in the top flight, the jibes between the two amounted to a sparring session, as opposed to an all-out verbal scrap.

The seeds were sown when Mourinho complained to Conte about his animated celebrations on the touchine – more on those later – as Chelsea thrashed United 4-0 at Stamford Bridge in October 2016.

Mourinho's favoured method of damning with faint praise was to the fore in February 2017, when he labelled the Premier League's leading side "a very good defensive team", while Conte warned Chelsea to avoid "the Mourinho season" – a handy shorthand for the perils of a dreadful title defence, such as the one endured at Stamford Bridge in 2015-16.

In addition, Mourinho suggested Conte was one of his rivals who, "they cry, they cry, they cry when a player is injured". In the Italian's opinion, the United boss was overly concerned with matters at his former club. The stage was set.

"I don't behave as a clown on the touchline"

While offering assurances over his United future in January 2018, having appeared increasingly morose around matches, Mourinho identified an aspect of his behaviour he believes sets him apart from his colleagues.

"Because I don't behave as a clown on the touchline it means I lost my passion?" he said. "I prefer to behave the way I am doing it, much more mature, better for my team and myself.

"You don't have to behave like a crazy guy on the touchline to have that passion."

Mourinho could arguably have been referencing Conte, Pep Guardiola or Jurgen Klopp. All three men were asked about his comments at the time; only one took the bait.

"Demenza Senile"

Speaking a day later, Conte was quick to accuse Mourinho of hypocrisy in a rather eye-catching manner.

"I think that he has to see himself in the past, maybe he was speaking about himself in the past, yeah?" he said.

"Maybe sometimes, I think that someone forgets his behaviour and sometimes I think there is, I don't know the name, 'demenza senile' when you are a bit... when you forget what you do in the past."

Despite the literal translation being "senile dementia", Chelsea were forced to clarify Conte had been searching for the Italian word for "amnesia".

Either way, this was now an argument in the gutter. Mourinho seemed happy with that state of affairs and was determined to hit Conte where it hurt most.

"I will never be suspended for match-fixing"

Responding after United's 2-0 FA Cup win over Derby later that day, Mourinho set Conte up with faux-sympathy and empathy – this is all the media's fault, you see – before concluding with a non-veiled dig

 "Look, I don't blame him. Honestly, I don't blame him," he began.

"I think the press should apologise to me and to him because the question that comes to him is completely wrong and because of that he had that out-of-control reaction. But I don't blame him at all."

There followed apparent contrition for past indiscretions. It was all an elaborate set-up.

"The only thing I want to say to end the story is that yes, I made mistakes in the past on the touchline," Mourinho added.

"Yes, I will make less, but I think I will still make a few. What never happened to me and will never happen is to be suspended for match-fixing. That never happened to me and will never happen."

Conte was implicated in a 2011 scandal while in charge of Siena and later served a four-month ban, but always denied any wrongdoing and was acquitted by an Italian judge in May 2016. 

"A little man with a very low profile"

Conte had spoken previously about his personal ordeal throughout the match-fixing affair. Following a 0-0 FA Cup draw for Chelsea at Norwich City, he was understandably in a barely concealed fury.

"I consider him a little man, I consider him a man with a very low profile," Conte said of Mourinho, before airing a recently learned word.

"You have to know the story very well before hurting another person. In the last period, he's suffering a bit of amnesia."

Conte went on to lambast Mourinho for his criticism of Claudio Ranieri before last season seeking to show solidarity with the deposed Leicester City boss.

"I remember for example, a stupid example with Ranieri, when he offended Ranieri for [the standard of] his English," Conte seethed.

"Then when Ranieri was sacked he put on a shirt for Ranieri. You are a fake.

"If you want to fight a person, you try to kill the person, and then after two years you try to help this person, because maybe it's good for you, your profile."

Contempt and no regrets

In the days following that year's FA Cup third-round weekend, Conte underlined that he had "no regrets" over the episode. "He said serious words and used serious words. I won't forget this," he said.

Mourinho then told reporters in no uncertain terms that he had "contempt" for Conte, as a dubious means to draw a line under the issue.

All eyes were on the dugout, then, when the foes met at Old Trafford – a prospect Conte was already eyeing as he glowered at Carrow Road.

"Me and him, face to face," he said of the Premier League match at the Theatre of Dreams. "I'm ready. I don't know if he is ready."

United came from behind to win 2-1, with Romelu Lukaku and Jesse Lingard getting the goals.

The two managers were heavily scrutinised - Mourinho was the first to emerge from the tunnel and the pair did shake hands even after a wait for Conte to make his appearance.

Mourinho and Conte again shook hands after the match and the mood seemed conciliatory.

A truce?

In the months after the match and shortly before the FA Cup final between United and Chelsea in 2018, Mourinho revealed a truce had broken out between the pair.

"He [Conte] stretched out, I stretched, we got bored [arguing]," Mourinho said to Record.

"After the game here in Manchester, I invited him to come to my office. We talked, nothing is wrong."

Conte would go on to have the last laugh in their final meeting in England, beating Mourinho and United 1-0 to lift the FA Cup in his last match in charge of Chelsea before a bitter exit from Stamford Bridge.

Will the truce last? We'll find out next season and potentially for many years to come in Italy.

Old rivals Antonio Conte and Jose Mourinho will come face-to-face once more next season.

Mourinho did not stay out of the spotlight for long after his sacking by Tottenham and has been confirmed as the new Roma head coach.

He will join the club ahead of the 2021-22 season on a three-year deal to compete in a league where Conte and his former club Inter have just ended a historic run of Juventus domestic dominance.

A bitter war of words erupted between the high-profile bosses when they were at Manchester United and Chelsea respectively in the Premier League.

Tensions had simmered between the pair since Conte's appointment as Mourinho's long-term successor at Stamford Bridge in 2016.

The Portuguese's proximity as a direct rival at United was never likely to encourage detente.

Mourinho and Conte have met seven times before as managers.

After their first meeting was a draw in 2010 as Inter took on Atalanta, Conte has taken four victories from the six meetings to take place since 2016, with just two wins going to the new Roma boss.

Here we have a look back what both men said during their rivalry at Chelsea and United, reviewing how the row rapidly escalated.
 

Prelude - Defensive teams and Mourinho seasons

Initially, as Chelsea marched to the Premier League title and United collected the EFL Cup and Europa League to compensate for a sixth-place finish in the top flight, the jibes between the two amounted to a sparring session, as opposed to an all-out verbal scrap.

The seeds were sown when Mourinho complained to Conte about his animated celebrations on the touchine – more on those later – as Chelsea thrashed United 4-0 at Stamford Bridge in October 2016.

Mourinho's favoured method of damning with faint praise was to the fore in February 2017, when he labelled the Premier League's leading side "a very good defensive team", while Conte warned Chelsea to avoid "the Mourinho season" – a handy shorthand for the perils of a dreadful title defence, such as the one endured at Stamford Bridge in 2015-16.

In addition, Mourinho suggested Conte was one of his rivals who, "they cry, they cry, they cry when a player is injured". In the Italian's opinion, the United boss was overly concerned with matters at his former club. The stage was set.

"I don't behave as a clown on the touchline"

While offering assurances over his United future in January 2018, having appeared increasingly morose around matches, Mourinho identified an aspect of his behaviour he believes sets him apart from his colleagues.

"Because I don't behave as a clown on the touchline it means I lost my passion?" he said. "I prefer to behave the way I am doing it, much more mature, better for my team and myself.

"You don't have to behave like a crazy guy on the touchline to have that passion."

Mourinho could arguably have been referencing Conte, Pep Guardiola or Jurgen Klopp. All three men were asked about his comments at the time; only one took the bait.

"Demenza Senile"

Speaking a day later, Conte was quick to accuse Mourinho of hypocrisy in a rather eye-catching manner.

"I think that he has to see himself in the past, maybe he was speaking about himself in the past, yeah?" he said.

"Maybe sometimes, I think that someone forgets his behaviour and sometimes I think there is, I don't know the name, 'demenza senile' when you are a bit... when you forget what you do in the past."

Despite the literal translation being "senile dementia", Chelsea were forced to clarify Conte had been searching for the Italian word for "amnesia".

Either way, this was now an argument in the gutter. Mourinho seemed happy with that state of affairs and was determined to hit Conte where it hurt most.

"I will never be suspended for match-fixing"

Responding after United's 2-0 FA Cup win over Derby later that day, Mourinho set Conte up with faux-sympathy and empathy – this is all the media's fault, you see – before concluding with a non-veiled dig

 "Look, I don't blame him. Honestly, I don't blame him," he began.

"I think the press should apologise to me and to him because the question that comes to him is completely wrong and because of that he had that out-of-control reaction. But I don't blame him at all."

There followed apparent contrition for past indiscretions. It was all an elaborate set-up.

"The only thing I want to say to end the story is that yes, I made mistakes in the past on the touchline," Mourinho added.

"Yes, I will make less, but I think I will still make a few. What never happened to me and will never happen is to be suspended for match-fixing. That never happened to me and will never happen."

Conte was implicated in a 2011 scandal while in charge of Siena and later served a four-month ban, but always denied any wrongdoing and was acquitted by an Italian judge in May 2016. 

"A little man with a very low profile"

Conte had spoken previously about his personal ordeal throughout the match-fixing affair. Following a 0-0 FA Cup draw for Chelsea at Norwich City, he was understandably in a barely concealed fury.

"I consider him a little man, I consider him a man with a very low profile," Conte said of Mourinho, before airing a recently learned word.

"You have to know the story very well before hurting another person. In the last period, he's suffering a bit of amnesia."

Conte went on to lambast Mourinho for his criticism of Claudio Ranieri before last season seeking to show solidarity with the deposed Leicester City boss.

"I remember for example, a stupid example with Ranieri, when he offended Ranieri for [the standard of] his English," Conte seethed.

"Then when Ranieri was sacked he put on a shirt for Ranieri. You are a fake.

"If you want to fight a person, you try to kill the person, and then after two years you try to help this person, because maybe it's good for you, your profile."

Contempt and no regrets

In the days following that year's FA Cup third-round weekend, Conte underlined that he had "no regrets" over the episode. "He said serious words and used serious words. I won't forget this," he said.

Mourinho then told reporters in no uncertain terms that he had "contempt" for Conte, as a dubious means to draw a line under the issue.

All eyes were on the dugout, then, when the foes met at Old Trafford – a prospect Conte was already eyeing as he glowered at Carrow Road.

"Me and him, face to face," he said of the Premier League match at the Theatre of Dreams. "I'm ready. I don't know if he is ready."

United came from behind to win 2-1, with Romelu Lukaku and Jesse Lingard getting the goals.

The two managers were heavily scrutinised - Mourinho was the first to emerge from the tunnel and the pair did shake hands even after a wait for Conte to make his appearance.

Mourinho and Conte again shook hands after the match and the mood seemed conciliatory.

A truce?

In the months after the match and shortly before the FA Cup final between United and Chelsea in 2018, Mourinho revealed a truce had broken out between the pair.

"He [Conte] stretched out, I stretched, we got bored [arguing]," Mourinho said to Record.

"After the game here in Manchester, I invited him to come to my office. We talked, nothing is wrong."

Conte would go on to have the last laugh in their final meeting in England, beating Mourinho and United 1-0 to lift the FA Cup in his last match in charge of Chelsea before a bitter exit from Stamford Bridge.

Will the truce last? We'll find out next season and potentially for many years to come in Italy.

In December 2018, Manchester United fans were adamant that Jose Mourinho's sacking meant he was finished at the "top" in club football.

A drab style of play, a similarly joyless demeanour in news conferences and seemingly incessant desire to belittle his own players marred his time in Manchester.

Disagreements with Luke Shaw, Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial were hardly private, while his relationship with Marcus Rashford appeared uneasy at times as well.

Tottenham paid no mind to the issues – whether that was down to Daniel Levy being convinced Mourinho wasn't finished yet or if he just wanted an entertaining figurehead for his Amazon documentary, who knows. Suffice to say, it ended prematurely on April 19 when Spurs announced his dismissal.

That was two successive high-profile jobs in club management that have, at the end of the day, yielded little – even if Mourinho insists finishing second with Manchester United was one of his greatest achievements.

It left many pondering what might be next. Given the damage to his reputation and the managerial stability of most of the biggest clubs in Europe, international management with Portugal after the Euros seemed the likeliest destination.

Yet here we are: just a few weeks on from being dismissed, he's got himself a new job lined up for next season when he will replace compatriot Paulo Fonseca at Roma. Mourinho's going back to Italy, the setting of arguably his greatest achievement in football: Inter's 2009-10 treble.

But football has changed a lot in the 11 years since then – on the evidence of his time at Tottenham and Manchester United, Mourinho hasn't.

A look at his data in the Premier League since last winning it in 2015 with Chelsea shows real decline.

A failure to evolve

Let's not forget, during Mourinho's first spell as Chelsea boss he was regarded as the best coach in the world at times. Even initially in his second period at Stamford Bridge he did well, taking them to the 2014-15 Premier League trophy.

But things quickly unravelled in 2015, and it's difficult to claim he's been on anything other than a downward spiral ever since.

He was sacked by Chelsea after winning just four games from 16 at the start of the 2015-16 season, and although he did preside over United's best season – points wise – since Ferguson's retirement, he didn't leave much of a legacy at Old Trafford.

Mourinho was then tasked with ending Spurs' 11-year trophy drought. That has since stretched to 13 years, and he left Tottenham having won just 46.6 per cent of his league games in charge.

His record in the English top flight before 2015-16 saw him boast a success rate of 69.4 per cent – since then it is just 48.5 per cent.

But why?

There are numerous theories about Mourinho's demise, but arguably chief among them is the idea he has failed to evolve with modern football, focusing on negating the threats of opponents rather than using the attacking talents available to him to take the initiative.

This fear was reportedly one reason for Spurs players apparently growing frustrated with Mourinho, and the data backs up the idea Mourinho is less forward thinking than earlier in his career, with his teams averaging 1.6 goals per game since 2014-15 finished, as opposed to 1.8 beforehand.

While not a massive difference, that change is exacerbated by the fact Mourinho no longer appears to be the shrewd pragmatic innovator he was once regarded, with his teams in the past few years rather porous.

Again, since 2015-16 started, Mourinho's teams have been conceding at a rate of 1.1 per game, whereas previously they conceded just 0.6 goals every 90 minutes.

Mourinho's teams were once tireless competitors built on a solid foundation – that no longer appears to be the case.

Spurs letting it slip

Perhaps it was expected Mourinho would at least get until the end of the season with Spurs, but with Champions League qualification looking increasingly unlikely, maybe we shouldn't be surprised that Levy acted when he did.

In terms of the reasoning for his sacking, there's probably not much more to it – but if we delve a little further into the numbers, unsettling trends appear.

Granted, the 95 points won by Spurs during Mourinho's time at the club was the fourth highest in the Premier League. However, that was 21 fewer than Manchester United – Liverpool had 117 and Manchester City were out in front on 130.

Mourinho's teams are supposed to be hard to beat, that had essentially been his unique selling point for years, yet Spurs lost 13 times in 2020-21 under him – it's the worst season he's ever had in that regard and he didn't even see it all the way through.

Similarly, the 10 Premier League losses Spurs suffered is a career worst for Mourinho in a single season.

The frequency of defeats led to questions being routinely asked of Spurs' mentality throughout Mourinho's time there, with the 27 points they dropped from winning positions in the Premier League since his initial appointment being behind only Southampton (30) and Brighton and Hove Albion (31) before he was dismissed.

But it makes for even grimmer viewing when looking at this season alone as the 20 points they threw away was the joint-worst in the division at the time of his sacking.

Spurs were particularly concerning when it came to closing games out, losing 11 points to goals conceded after the 80th minute. It's no wonder their collective mental strength had been called into question so often.

While the fact he didn't collect more points per game than Tim Sherwood (1.91) might attract ridicule on social media, the latter's record is actually the best of any Spurs boss to preside over more than 10 Premier League games at the club.

More importantly, Mourinho's 1.64 points per game was a significant drop-off on Pochettino's (1.89), and therein lies a key issue.

Roma have been struggling to meet the expectations of a demanding fanbase for years, a situation not too disimiliar to Spurs.

He couldn't do the business in London – Roma will hope Mourinho's pragmatism can still stake a claim for relevance in Serie A.

In December 2018, Manchester United fans were adamant that Jose Mourinho's sacking meant he was finished at the "top" in club football.

A drab style of play, a similarly joyless demeanour in news conferences and seemingly incessant desire to belittle his own players marred his time in Manchester.

Disagreements with Luke Shaw, Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial were hardly private, while his relationship with Marcus Rashford appeared uneasy at times as well.

Tottenham paid no mind to the issues – whether that was down to Daniel Levy being convinced Mourinho wasn't finished yet or if he just wanted an entertaining figurehead for his Amazon documentary, who knows. Suffice to say, it ended prematurely on April 19 when Spurs announced his dismissal.

That was two successive high-profile jobs in club management that have, at the end of the day, yielded little – even if Mourinho insists finishing second with Manchester United was one of his greatest achievements.

It left many pondering what might be next. Given the damage to his reputation and the managerial stability of most of the biggest clubs in Europe, international management with Portugal after the Euros seemed the likeliest destination.

Yet here we are: just a few weeks on from being dismissed, he's got himself a new job lined up for next season when he will replace compatriot Paulo Fonseca at Roma. Mourinho's going back to Italy, the setting of arguably his greatest achievement in football: Inter's 2009-10 treble.

But football has changed a lot in the 11 years since then – on the evidence of his time at Tottenham and Manchester United, Mourinho hasn't.

A look at his data in the Premier League since last winning it in 2015 with Chelsea shows real decline.

A failure to evolve

Let's not forget, during Mourinho's first spell as Chelsea boss he was regarded as the best coach in the world at times. Even initially in his second period at Stamford Bridge he did well, taking them to the 2014-15 Premier League trophy.

But things quickly unravelled in 2015, and it's difficult to claim he's been on anything other than a downward spiral ever since.

He was sacked by Chelsea after winning just four games from 16 at the start of the 2015-16 season, and although he did preside over United's best season – points wise – since Ferguson's retirement, he didn't leave much of a legacy at Old Trafford.

Mourinho was then tasked with ending Spurs' 11-year trophy drought. That has since stretched to 13 years, and he left Tottenham having won just 46.6 per cent of his league games in charge.

His record in the English top flight before 2015-16 saw him boast a success rate of 69.4 per cent – since then it is just 48.5 per cent.

But why?

There are numerous theories about Mourinho's demise, but arguably chief among them is the idea he has failed to evolve with modern football, focusing on negating the threats of opponents rather than using the attacking talents available to him to take the initiative.

This fear was reportedly one reason for Spurs players apparently growing frustrated with Mourinho, and the data backs up the idea Mourinho is less forward thinking than earlier in his career, with his teams averaging 1.6 goals per game since 2014-15 finished, as opposed to 1.8 beforehand.

While not a massive difference, that change is exacerbated by the fact Mourinho no longer appears to be the shrewd pragmatic innovator he was once regarded, with his teams in the past few years rather porous.

Again, since 2015-16 started, Mourinho's teams have been conceding at a rate of 1.1 per game, whereas previously they conceded just 0.6 goals every 90 minutes.

Mourinho's teams were once tireless competitors built on a solid foundation – that no longer appears to be the case.

Spurs letting it slip

Perhaps it was expected Mourinho would at least get until the end of the season with Spurs, but with Champions League qualification looking increasingly unlikely, maybe we shouldn't be surprised that Levy acted when he did.

In terms of the reasoning for his sacking, there's probably not much more to it – but if we delve a little further into the numbers, unsettling trends appear.

Granted, the 95 points won by Spurs during Mourinho's time at the club was the fourth highest in the Premier League. However, that was 21 fewer than Manchester United – Liverpool had 117 and Manchester City were out in front on 130.

Mourinho's teams are supposed to be hard to beat, that had essentially been his unique selling point for years, yet Spurs lost 13 times in 2020-21 under him – it's the worst season he's ever had in that regard and he didn't even see it all the way through.

Similarly, the 10 Premier League losses Spurs suffered is a career worst for Mourinho in a single season.

The frequency of defeats led to questions being routinely asked of Spurs' mentality throughout Mourinho's time there, with the 27 points they dropped from winning positions in the Premier League since his initial appointment being behind only Southampton (30) and Brighton and Hove Albion (31) before he was dismissed.

But it makes for even grimmer viewing when looking at this season alone as the 20 points they threw away was the joint-worst in the division at the time of his sacking.

Spurs were particularly concerning when it came to closing games out, losing 11 points to goals conceded after the 80th minute. It's no wonder their collective mental strength had been called into question so often.

While the fact he didn't collect more points per game than Tim Sherwood (1.91) might attract ridicule on social media, the latter's record is actually the best of any Spurs boss to preside over more than 10 Premier League games at the club.

More importantly, Mourinho's 1.64 points per game was a significant drop-off on Pochettino's (1.89), and therein lies a key issue.

Roma have been struggling to meet the expectations of a demanding fanbase for years, a situation not too disimiliar to Spurs.

He couldn't do the business in London – Roma will hope Mourinho's pragmatism can still stake a claim for relevance in Serie A.

With free agency in the rear-view mirror and the 2021 draft all wrapped up, NFL teams can now draw breath and start to reflect on what has unfolded during the offseason.

Ideally, all teams will hope they sit in a better position to challenge than they did a few months back, but the reality is some are just starting from further back than others.

When it comes to Super Bowl challengers, undoubtedly the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs remain strong favourites to get back to the big game. The Bucs have got the band back together after hoisting aloft the Vince Lombardi Trophy on home turf, while the Chiefs have responded to a harrowing loss by rebuilding the offensive line in front of Patrick Mahomes.

But what about the chasing pack? Stats Perform picks out some of the leading contenders for glory while reflecting on what has happened since they last played.

Buffalo Bills

An appearance in the AFC Championship Game inspired by the improved play of quarterback Josh Allen left Buffalo rightly believing they needed minor tweaks, rather than dramatic alterations, to challenge once again in 2021. They kept the offensive line together, then added depth at a key area in the draft when selecting Spencer Brown in round three.

However, the Bills – who ranked 15th in opponent yards per play allowed (5.5) last term but were a lowly 26th versus the run (4.62) – used first and second-round selections to help their defense, with Greg Rousseau and Carlos Basham Jr firming up a pass rush that tied 15th for sacks. Add in Emmanuel Sanders to the receiving group and Buffalo appears to be in rude health as they aim to go one better than last season.

Los Angeles Rams

The Rams are swinging for the fences as they bid to get back to the Super Bowl. Jared Goff was the starter when they lost to the New England Patriots in February 2019, but his time with the franchise is over. The blockbuster deal to get Matthew Stafford from Detroit has ramped up the pressure to get results on the field – and not just in the regular season either.

Leonard Floyd remained thanks to a bumper contract, but John Johnson and Troy Hill are gone from the secondary. They will continue to lean heavily on Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey to lead a defense that allowed the fewest passing yards per play (5.08) and the third-least rushing yards per play (3.76). While trades have seen the Rams become accustomed to watching on as teams are on the clock in round one, it was notable they added three wide receivers with their picks as they aim for a fifth successive winning season under head coach Sean McVay.

San Francisco 49ers

Yes, a team who finished the 2020 regular season with a 6-10 record should be considered as genuine contenders. The 49ers went so close to Super Bowl glory 15 months ago, while a roster ravaged by injuries last season will hope for better fortune when it comes to keeping key personnel healthy. Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh has jetted off to New York, but Nick Bosa should be back.

In truth, it will be the offense that defines San Francisco's chances. Jimmy Garoppolo failed to inspire in his limited appearances, throwing seven touchdowns to five interceptions, so getting a quarterback in the draft – even if trading up to number three came at a high cost – made sense. Trey Lance was their choice, a high-upside selection who showed plenty of promise in 19 games for North Dakota State. The run game remains pivotal, though, which explains why they splashed out to make sure Trent Williams and Kyle Juszczyk stuck around.

Cleveland Browns

Having made the playoffs for the first time since 2002, the Browns knocked out divisional rivals Pittsburgh and then came close to upsetting Kansas City on the road. The defense was bolstered up front with the signings of Jadeveon Clowney and Malik Jackson. However, having given up 31 passing touchdowns, the secondary has rightly been the focus. After snapping up former Rams duo Johnson and Hill, Cleveland selected cornerback Greg Newsome II and linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah in the first two rounds of the draft.

Coach of the Year Kevin Stefanski built the offense around the rushing tandem of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt – the team averaged 4.8 yards per rush – easing the pressure on Baker Mayfield to move the sticks. Still, he ranked sixth in passer rating (118.4) on throws of 21 air yards or more among quarterbacks with at least 25 such attempts, showing teams cannot fill the box and focus solely on stopping the run. If they can get out of a highly competitive AFC North again, the Browns will believe they can build on a Divisional Round appearance.

Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens' hopes will once again rest with Lamar Jackson, their dual-threat quarterback who is on course for a significant pay rise when an agreement is reached over a long-term extension. His ability to run helped Baltimore finish first in rushing yards per play with 5.53, while the passing game has a little extra help now after receiver Rashod Bateman was taken with the 27th pick. Still, there was no flashy free-agency signing at the position, despite links with JuJu Smith-Schuster and T.Y. Hilton. Kevin Zeitler did pen a deal, securing an experienced guard to bolster the offensive line.

Defensively, Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue have moved on to the Patriots and Raiders respectively, though the Ravens have a reputation for building a pass rush no matter who is on the roster. Tyus Bowser can expect an increased role, plus outside linebacker Odafe Oweh was chosen with the late first-round pick acquired in the trade that sent offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr to the Chiefs.

Honourable mentions

The Green Bay Packers would have made the list were it not for the uncertainty surrounding the future of reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers. For all their quarterback's undoubted qualities on the field, they have not made a Super Bowl in 11 years. And what is going on in Seattle too? Rumours relating to Russell Wilson's future have dominated the offseason for the Seahawks.

The Indianapolis Colts will hope they can get the best out of signal-caller Carson Wentz and the Pittsburgh Steelers seem set for one last ride with Ben Roethlisberger. As for a trendy pick who missed out on the playoffs last season, look no further than the Los Angeles Chargers, complete with a revamped offensive line to help keep QB Justin Herbert safe.

It was another Premier League weekend where off-the-pitch (well, sort of) matters dominated the headlines, with Manchester United's home game against Liverpool postponed as a result of anti-Glazer protests.

That also meant Pep Guardiola had to put the Cava back on ice for another week, with Manchester City's title celebrations on hold.

Nevertheless, there was still plenty to keep us occupied, with Mike Dean adding another to his red card haul for the campaign and Gareth Bale proving he can cut it against the best with a hat-trick against *checks notes* relegated Sheffield United.

Using Opta data, we look at some of the quirky facts from the latest Premier League matches…

 

Crystal Palace 0-2 Manchester City: Guardiola's men unrivalled going forward

City and Guardiola being rather good is nothing new, but in terms of how effective they are going forward, you may not know how much better than everyone else they really are.

During Saturday's 2-0 win at Crystal Palace, which put them within one win of the title, City reached 700 goals under Guardiola across all competitions.

To put that into context, over the same period Liverpool have scored the second most among English clubs – 543. Then it's Tottenham (532) and – perhaps surprisingly so – Arsenal (522).

The only club among Europe's top five leagues to have outscored City over this time is Paris Saint-Germain (712), a club that spent roughly €400million on just two forwards back in 2017 and have – for the most part – dominated Ligue 1.

Of the 700, Sergio Aguero – who scored against Palace – has the most with 122, followed by Raheem Sterling (102) and Gabriel Jesus (81).

 

Chelsea 2-0 Fulham: Tuchel has Blues switched on at the back

Ever since Thomas Tuchel replaced Frank Lampard in January, Chelsea have been better almost across the board.

Arguably their greatest improvement has been at the back, where suddenly the Blues look incredibly strong despite Tuchel having the same pool of players to pick from as Lampard.

Under the former England international they had conceded 23 goals in 19 Premier League games this term, but they've let in just eight in 15 with Tuchel at the helm.

People might be keen to suggest it's just luck, but the fact the Blues' xGA (expected goals against) is 7.8 shows their eight concessions is bang on.

Granted, Lampard's xGA figure of 18.4 was a fair bit lower than the 23 let in, so they were perhaps conceding to particularly remarkable finishing.

Nevertheless, the xGA per game of the two coaches are significantly different: Tuchel's 0.5 is exactly half Lampard's 1.0, but why? What's changed?

One potential explanation is that Tuchel has Chelsea pressing more intensely from the front, as shown by PPDA data. PPDA is the number of opposition passes allowed outside of the pressing team's own defensive third, divided by the number of defensive actions by the pressing team outside of their own defensive third.

Under Lampard they had a PPDA of 11, whereas it's 9.4 under Tuchel, the lowest in the Premier League over that time. Chelsea are now facing fewer shots (7.4 per 90 minutes, compared to 10.1), and this could be down to the greater off-the-ball intensity implemented by the German.

 

Newcastle United 0-2 Arsenal: Mike Dean loves a red

Few referees in the modern game have fascinated and infuriated fans quite like Mike Dean, who is – for want of a better phrase – absolutely box office.

From his self-assured facial expressions and body language, to his frankly baffling mannerisms and showmanship: when Dean is in charge of a match, you're virtually guaranteed a talking point of some description.

But above all, it's his eagerness to pull out that red card that is the most noteworthy aspect of his officiating.

He was the man in the middle as Arsenal beat Newcastle 2-0 on Sunday and had his say right at the end as he showed Fabian Schar the red card for a nasty lunge on Gabriel Martinelli.

It stretched his record as by far the most red-card-happy referee in Premier League history. It was his 112th, 45 more than any other official.

Remarkably, it was the eighth he's shown this season alone, which is at least double the next strictest referee in the Premier League, with Graham Scott and Peter Bankes next on the list with four each.

 

Tottenham 4-0 Sheffield United: Bale makes a statement

Bale was in inspiring form on Sunday as Tottenham smashed Sheffield United 4-0, with the Wales international scoring a hat-trick – his first in a league competition since January 2016 when he put Deportivo La Coruna to the sword.

Granted, netting a treble against the Blades might not be quite as impressive as doing so against… well, any other Premier League side for that matter.

However, his overall performance coupled with his "I play well when I'm happy" comments at full-time seemed almost directed at former Spurs boss Jose Mourinho, who had Bale in and out of the team for much of the season.

Those three goals took him to 11 goal involvements (nine scored and two assisted) in 16 Premier League games this term, an average of one every 66 minutes.

That is the best such record in the league this term. The next best (among players with more than two involvements) is his team-mate Harry Kane (34 involvements, one every 80 minutes).

Bale's future is uncertain for the time being, but such a record must have club officials contemplating keeping him around for another year.

There are just two weeks of the NBA regular season remaining and the race for the playoffs is really hotting up.

The top teams in the East are jostling for the first seed, while the Washington Wizards' form has taken them into a play-in place.

The West is even more open, with the top seven in flux and defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers falling into the play-in game as things stand.

Lakers superstar LeBron James even suggested the individual responsible for this format "needs to be fired".

There is still time for James and Co, but players with momentum – identified by our NBA Heat Check, powered by Stats Perform data – will be key.
 

RUNNING HOT...

Jayson Tatum

The Boston Celtics are down in seventh in the East, meaning they are set to go through the play-in, but their 1.0-game deficit to the teams above them would undoubtedly be greater if not for Tatum.

Although the team went 2-2 last week, one of their wins – against the San Antonio Spurs – was particularly memorable.

Tatum put up 60 points in the overtime win, where the Celtics trailed by 32 at one stage. That performance matched Larry Bird's single-game Boston scoring record and ensured he averaged 42.7 over the three games he featured in, up from his prior seasonal mark of 25.7 for the biggest increase of the week.

Aaron Nesmith

Tatum also had some help from the bench as rookie Nesmith found his feet at this level. Last year's first-round pick averaged 3.4 points per game through April 25 and continued this unimpressive form with two points as Tatum sat out against the Orlando Magic. Then he hit form.

Displays of 15, 16 and 16 points meant an average of 8.9 for the week, including 85.7 per cent shooting against the Portland Trail Blazers, making all four attempts from beyond the arc.

It was a timely improvement as fellow wing Evan Fournier, dealing with long-term COVID-19 effects, scored just 10.5 points per game, down from 17.5 for the league's eighth-largest decline last week.

Michael Porter Jr

Nikola Jokic will win the NBA MVP award, but injuries to Jamal Murray and Will Barton appeared to have hit his hopes of team success with the Denver Nuggets until they won four straight last week.

Porter is the Nuggets' third-best scorer but looked better than that as he led the team in points in two of those victories.

Enjoying his first year as a regular starter, Porter had boosted his average to 18.2 points per game with a career-high 39 in the final game of the previous week yet raised those standards even further with 26.8 over four outings.
 

GOING COLD...

Joel Embiid

Jokic's impending individual recognition is in part due to the failure of his MVP rivals to stay fit. Joel Embiid was the frontrunner until he missed 10 games in a row.

The Philadelphia 76ers center might still have returned in time to wrestle back the top honour, but limited minutes last week – even in four Sixers wins – look to have put paid to those hopes.

Only appearing for more than 25 minutes when he contributed 34 points against the Spurs, Embiid averaged 22.5ppg, a significant decrease on his prior 30.0 for 2020-21.

James in LA, another early contender, certainly will not trouble Jokic after he returned for two games, scored 35 points in total and then went down again.

Malcolm Brogdon

The 76ers can afford to give Embiid a light schedule as they focus on an NBA title, but the Indiana Pacers would be happy simply making the playoffs from ninth in the East.

Their hopes were hit by a tough week for Brogdon, who played only 12 minutes in their second game against the Brooklyn Nets before succumbing to a hamstring issue that kept him out of a trip to Oklahoma City.

Brogdon, previously scoring 21.6 points for the year, could only partially be excused by injury, though, having shot five-of-14 against Portland then none-of-five in a brief Brooklyn outing.

Rudy Gobert

The Utah Jazz are wobbling at the top of the West, where they have been joined on 46-18 by the Phoenix Suns following a 2-2 week that included a defeat to their rivals for the first seed.

Phoenix and Deandre Ayton continue to prove tricky opponents for presumed Defensive Player of the Year Gobert, who could not carry the load in Donovan Mitchell's absence.

With 10 rebounds against the Suns – relatively poor by his dominant standards – Gobert averaged 10.3 for the week, down from 13.6, and Utah have now lost four straight against their co-leaders. That is a worry heading into the postseason.

Inter reached the pinnacle in 2009-10 – Jose Mourinho delivering an unprecedented Serie A, Champions League and Coppa Italia treble.

Still to this day, Inter remain the only Italian club to achieve the feat, having claimed the Champions League for the first time in 45 years.

Not since 2010 had Inter got their hands on the Scudetto, while up until 2020, the Nerazzurri had gone eight consecutive Serie A seasons without a top-two finish – ending a campaign as low as ninth in 2012-13.

Step forward Antonio Conte.

Criticism was directed at Inter when former Juventus chief executive Giuseppe Marotta turned to a Bianconeri great and rival to restore the club's fortunes in Milan.

After instant improvement in 2019-20 – a runners-up finish in Serie A to go with a run to the Europa League final and Coppa Italia semis – Conte delivered, breaking Juve's stranglehold on Italian football this season.

Inter's triumph ended a run of nine successive Scudetti for Juve, three of which were won by Conte when he was in charge of the Turin giants from 2011 to 2014.

"Those who played with Inter or have been a coach at Inter realise it's a complicated situation," Conte told Sky Sport Italia amid the celebrations. "You have to understand the various dynamics, at times play along, but never lose your identity and I never lost my identity.

"I think that was appreciated by those who at first had turned their noses up at me because of my past. I was brought to Inter in order to bring it back to victory within three years and I did that."

While there are four rounds remaining, Inter will be starting to plan for 2021-22 and as a sea of blue and black shirts flood the Milan streets, what is next for Conte and his team?


Convince Conte about Inter's future

Conte earned his fourth Serie A title this season – only five other coaches in league history have managed at least four.

The former Italy boss is only the second coach in Serie A history to win a Scudetto with both Inter and Juve, joining Giovanni Trapattoni, though his greatest achievement might just be the transformation of Christian Eriksen from flop headed for an exit to the face of Inter's XI.

Conte ended Inter's 11-year drought and while many involved with the Nerazzurri hope it is the start of a winning cycle, his future at San Siro remains uncertain.

The 51-year-old has spoken out against the club's hierarchy previously, particularly at the end of last season amid serious concerns he would be resign or be sacked.

His position is once again in the spotlight as he reportedly plans to meet with Inter president Steven Zhang.

Suning Holdings Group owns Inter after the Chinese company acquired a majority stake in the club in June 2016, but rumours persist that a sale could happen due to the economic fallout caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Contracted until the end of next season, Conte – never one to shy away from his opinions – is believed to want clarity over Suning's position and whether he will be able to strengthen his squad in the transfer window.

"We certainly focused on the present, as this was too important to get it done and bring Inter back to winning the Scudetto after so many years out," Conte, who was also criticised for his style of football, told Sky Sport Italia on Sunday.

"The president has arrived now, there are four games left. As I have more experience, I now also want to enjoy this moment, because in the past I got myself caught up in other problems and didn't really enjoy it enough.

"There will be time to talk together, to understand the situation, try to organise ourselves and see what comes out of it. However, at the moment, I want to enjoy this with the players, the club, the fans and everyone, because we all earned this. I don't want anyone to disturb what we achieved."

While Marotta is hopeful over Conte's future, it remains to be seen whether he will be back to defend Inter's crown.


Hold onto Lukaku

Inter's precarious financial position could have an impact on Conte's trusted talisman – Lukaku.

Like Conte, Lukaku arrived at Inter amid criticism and doubts over his ability to spearhead the club's title charge. Forking out a club-record fee to prise the Belgian star from Manchester United in 2019 did little to alleviate expectations.

Lukaku scored 34 goals in his debut season at San Siro, 23 of those coming in Serie A. The 27-year-old has well and truly silenced his critics again this term with 21 goals and 10 assists in the league thus far.

Not since his final season at Everton has Lukaku attempted or completed more dribbles (97 and 52 in 2020-21), meaning he is back facing the goal again, involved in 13 counter-attacks – his most since 2014-15. He also has 10 assists for the first time.

Yet Lukaku is still taking the largest share of his touches in the box to date (18.3 per cent), leading to a career-high 35 big chances.

From such positions, he can afford to squander 17 big chances and net only 16 non-penalty goals from efforts worth 16.8 xG, another new benchmark.

Lukaku is now scoring with a staggering 23.6 per cent of his shots – making him the first Serie A player since 2004-05 to tally 20 goals and 10 assists in the same season.

His exploits reportedly have Real Madrid, Barcelona, Chelsea and Manchester City queuing up to exploit Inter's economic situation and sign their prized asset.

Refusing to cash in on Lukaku could go a long way in convincing Conte and shaping Inter's future for years to come.

 

Make a splash in Champions League

Inter have built a strong side under Conte – Lukaku, Achraf Hakimi, Nicolo Barella, Alexis Sanchez, Arturo Vidal, Stefano Sensi, Ashley Young, Aleksandar Kolarov and Matteo Darmian all joining the quest for silverware.

But for all of Inter's success this season, their Champions League campaign left a sour taste.

Inter – Europa League finalists in 2019-20 – looked on track to reach the Champions League last 16 in a group featuring Madrid, Borussia Monchengladbach and Shakhtar Donetsk. Instead the 2009-10 winners finished bottom. Conte's Inter also failed to make it out of the group last season, taking a backseat to Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League.

While Inter's early Champions League exit aided their Scudetto charge this term, the club and their fans are craving European delight.

Only twice since Mourinho's treble-winning campaign – before a six-season Champions League absence – have Inter made it out of the group stage of Europe's elite club competition.

Inter legend Walter Zenga – regarded as one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time having amassed 473 appearances for the Italian powerhouse – recently told Stats Perform News: "In Europe you play different. In the Champions League you play totally different, in the Champions League it looks like no tactics, only who is stronger.

"We are thinking about tactics all the time [in Italy] and this is our mentality. If you see the game of the Italian league, it is a very strong game, if you think that is boring, in the stands it is not boring because if you are involved, you have to take an aspirin after the game because it's so strong. If you see the Spanish league, it looks like they play slow, but when you play against the Spanish teams, [sometimes] you don't touch the ball because you don't know where they are. 

"In Germany or in France, it is less interesting the season, then when you play against them in in Champions League, you have to make a big effort because you're thinking, 'Oh in Germany there are only two teams, Bayern and Borussia Dortmund, it is not competitive championship' and then when you play against them, you see it is so strong.

"So it's a question about the mentality and everything. To win in Europe in my opinion, you have to play to win. And probably you find either the clubs like Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City, like this team that if you read the line-up specially at the top… the talent and the quality, class is the difference in Europe. I don't know what is in the mind of Conte or of the management of Inter, but in Europe, I think that you need the world-class players."


Time to farewell Handanovic?

With four games remaining, Inter – 13 points clear atop the table – have matched their points (82) and clean sheets (14) totals for the whole of last season, when they finished a point behind Juventus.

Inter have the stingiest defence in the league, having only conceded 29 goals in 34 matches so far.

Samir Handanovic – a loyal Inter servant – has contributed greatly with 14 clean sheets but the long-serving goalkeeper appears on the decline.

Errors have crept into Handanovic's game during the backend of this season. The 36-year-old, who joined from Udinese in 2012, has three errors leading to goals, compared to just one last term.

Among the goalkeepers for the top seven clubs in the league in 2020-21, only Roma's Pau Lopez recorded more (four). For comparison, Milan star Gianluigi Donnarumma (two) and Juventus' Wojciech Szczesny (one) are next on the list – Napoli's David Ospina, Lazio shot-stopper Pepe Reina, Atalanta's Pierluigi Gollini and reported Inter target Juan Musso of Udinese have none to their name.

Among that same list, Handanovic has conceded the highest number of goals outside of the penalty area (five), while his three dropped shots are only exceeded by Donnarumma and Reina (both four). In 2019-20, Handanovic finished with only three goals conceded outside the box and three drops.

Musso has emerged as a strong option for Inter and if they want to take the next step in Europe while fending off a domestic challenge, it may be time to move on from Handanovic.

The 2018-19 season was not one Manchester United fans would remember particularly fondly, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's appointment provided cause for optimism.

United finished sixth in the Premier League but reached a Champions League quarter-final and gathered momentum in the second half of the campaign with Solskjaer at the helm.

Supporters could hope a number of the players at Old Trafford would be able to form the basis of a title-winning side in the coming years.

And so it proved this week as Romelu Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez, Ashley Young and Matteo Darmian got their hands on domestic silverware – in Inter colours.

That quartet played a combined 88 Premier League games for United in 2018-19 but this term turned out together for Inter, accounting for 107 Serie A appearances.

While Sanchez, Young and Darmian have each played their part, it might be Lukaku's success in Italy that causes United the most distress.

They made their money back on the £75million signing, but he is now a champion while Solskjaer's side, as when Lukaku left, trail rivals Manchester City.

Rom rewarded by Ron role

United had not been the only club willing to part with such a sum to sign Lukaku in 2017, as former club Chelsea, coached by current Inter boss Antonio Conte, sought to bring back the forward they had sold to Everton for around a third of the price three years earlier.

Despite 15 league goals – arriving every 170.8 minutes across 31 matches – on loan at Goodison Park as a 20-year-old in 2013-14, Chelsea and Jose Mourinho turned instead to Diego Costa to lead their successful title charge.

"[Lukaku] wanted to play for Chelsea but wanted to be the first-choice striker," Mourinho said. "That's very difficult to promise."

Delighted Everton manager Roberto Martinez's described Lukaku's "potential" as "quite unique", but criticism of the striker's finishing would find its root in his first season as a full-time Toffee.

Although there were 20 strikes in all competitions, just 10 came in the Premier League as chances worth 11.3 expected goals (xG) brought eight non-penalty goals.

Lukaku's conversion rate dipped to 9.5 per cent as he passed up 12 big chances – situations from which Opta would reasonably expect a player to score.

However, 11th-placed Everton's issues extended beyond a young player's slight regression.

In turn, Martinez moved away from the fast-breaking attack that brought 1.4 counters per game – none of which ended in Lukaku goals – in 2014-15 and opted instead to station his striker in front of goal. It provoked 220 touches in the box and 18 goals from Lukaku, yet could not rescue the manager.

Incoming coach Ronald Koeman may now be more familiar with making the most of the diminutive talents of Barcelona's attack, but he certainly knew how to get the best out of Lukaku.

The new Everton manager's solution was simple: build everything around Big Rom.

Heading away from the direction Martinez had taken the team and their talisman, Lukaku took just 12.5 per cent of his touches in the penalty area, as he instead had clear career highs in duels (588), aerial duels (322) and successful dribbles (63).

The forward scored 25 times in the league – taking 22.7 per cent of his chances to outstrip his xG by 9.5 – and had 31 goal involvements. He looked the complete package.

More Mou's man than Ole's

The complete package is certainly what United would expect for a £75m outlay. What they got was a steady debut season.

Ten goals in Lukaku's first nine matches for the club in all competitions hinted at a continuation of his 2016-17 Everton form, but the rest of the campaign had more in keeping with his earlier outings on Merseyside.

There were 16 league strikes, still ahead of his xG of 12.6, but also 11 big chances missed. No longer required to carry the load alone, Lukaku's total shots fell from 110 to 86 and his conversion rate dwindled to 18.6 per cent.

Still, Mourinho stood by his man.

Having started all but five of United's league games in 2017-18, Lukaku was again included in the XI in 12 of their first 17 matches the following season.

But when Mourinho was sacked shortly before Christmas, Solskjaer had no such loyalty to a striker who had failed to kick on, contributing just six goals.

Lukaku completed the full 90 minutes on seven occasions under Solskjaer, who turned instead to Marcus Rashford as his main striking option.

Rashford only scored one more goal than Lukaku over this period and missed two more big chances, but criticism hurt the Belgium international and a hamstring injury in April 2019 brought a premature end to his season – and his United career.

"A lot of people don't think I can be part of that team," Lukaku later told NBA star Josh Hart's LightHarted Podcast. "If it's like that, we can go our separate ways.

"You guys can find someone who really fits the bill and I can go."

Counted on by Conte

Lukaku certainly fitted the bill at Inter. New Nerazzurri coach Conte needed a replacement striker as Mauro Icardi's love-hate affair with San Siro's Curva Sud finally reached its conclusion.

Having failed to recruit Lukaku at Stamford Bridge in a move that might have suited all parties better than the United switch, Conte added the striker to a squad intent on ending Inter's wait for the Scudetto.

Not since 2009-10, with Samuel Eto'o and Diego Milito paired in attack, had Inter reigned, but they now had another forward partnership to enjoy.

On paper, Lautaro Martinez might have been considered the 'little man' to Lukaku's 'big man', yet Conte has increasingly resisted the urge to use his talented giant as a battering ram.

Although Lukaku remains capable of bullying defenders – only in two Premier League seasons did he win more aerial duels than 2019-20's 93 – Conte has followed Koeman's example and made sure to involve his number nine in everything Inter do.

Not since his final season at Everton has Lukaku attempted or completed more dribbles (97 and 52 in 2020-21), meaning he is back facing the goal again, involved in 13 counter-attacks – his most since 2014-15. He also has 10 assists for the first time.

Yet Lukaku is still taking the largest share of his touches in the box to date (18.3 per cent), leading to a career-high 35 big chances.

From such positions, he can afford to squander 17 big chances and net only 16 non-penalty goals from efforts worth 16.8 xG, another new benchmark.

"Lukaku has made exceptional improvements but can make even more," Conte says.

Martinez, now his coach at international level, feels the development is clear for all to see. He told La Gazzetta dello Sport: "Romelu became a complete player, obviously thanks to Conte."

Lukaku is now scoring with a staggering 23.6 per cent of his shots – making him the first Serie A player since 2004-05 to tally 20 goals and 10 assists in the same season – and Inter are champions.

United and those critics have long since disappeared into the rear-view mirror.

Five years have passed since Leicester City stunned the football world and sealed their astonishing first Premier League triumph.

The Foxes had faced relegation the previous season before rallying late in the year but then stormed clear at the summit in 2015-16.

Leicester are now regular Champions League challengers, yet the story of that campaign remains remarkable.

With Opta data, we tell the tale of their title success through their three key performers.
 

VARDY'S GOALS

Jamie Vardy's rags to riches football fairytale story is well documented, but by this point in his career it is fair to say he had not yet made the grade in the Premier League. 

Having scored 16 times in their 2013-14 promotion campaign, Vardy scored one, created two more and won a pair of penalties for the further goals in a delirious 5-3 defeat of Manchester United in September 2014, then did not net again until March 2015.

Team-mate David Nugent provided an obvious, easy comparison, the player too good for the second tier but not good enough for the top flight.

Nugent's 20 goals in 46 games in 2013-14 improved his Championship tally to 90 in 254. He had found the net only nine times across 64 Premier League appearances, though, and would add just five more from 29 matches for Leicester.

But where Nugent's 2014-15 season followed a familiar, underwhelming theme, Vardy improved drastically over the course of a relentless run-in.

Playing a vital role as seven wins from nine games lifted Leicester from the foot of the table, Vardy ended the season with five goals and eight assists. Three of his five strikes came from fast breaks, having been involved in 11 counter-attacks – the fifth-most of any Premier League player – as the Foxes found an effective way of playing.

Leicester had fewer fast breaks in 2015-16 (21) than the previous year (34) but still led the league in this regard and scored from six such counters. Four of those goals came from Vardy among a breakout 24 for the season.

Freed by a quick, direct set-up, Vardy ranked fourth in the league for shots (115), second for shots on target (53) and third for touches in the opposition box (221). The ultimate confidence player, Vardy scored in a record-breaking 11 consecutive matches.

The tireless forward maintained his nuisance factor, too, winning possession in the final third 33 times and earning seven penalties – both league highs.

The Leicester number nine took 20.87 per cent of his chances but only marginally outperformed his expected goals (xG) total, his 19 non-penalty goals coming from shots worth a top-ranked 18.34 xG.

Vardy has since become more clinical – peaking with 28.17 per cent shot conversion in 2017-18 – but has never again been so busy in the area.

MAHREZ'S GUILE

Anthony Knockaert also fell into that Nugent group, lasting a mere nine games at Leicester in the top flight having created 2.6 chances per 90 minutes in the first of his three Championship promotion campaigns.

Riyad Mahrez, signed in January 2014, was the Foxes' other star winger and also struggled in his debut Premier League season. Having been involved in seven goals in 19 Championship outings, he could only match that tally again across an entire year in the top division.

As with Vardy, though, Leicester's late-season resurgence allowed the Algeria international to carry momentum into the new campaign; he started the final four matches of 2014-15 and netted both goals in a win over Southampton.

And the improvement in Mahrez's play was even more pronounced.

There were two more goals against Sunderland on the opening day, among 13 by Christmas alongside seven assists. That pace slowed – he finished with 17 goals and 11 assists – but Mahrez trailed only Vardy for goal involvements.

Despite this, Mahrez was far from the most prolific creator. His 68 key passes ranked eighth but made up less than half of leader Mesut Ozil's output (146). Mahrez crafted high-quality openings, however, second only to Ozil (28) in creating 20 'big chances' – situations where Opta would reasonably expect a player to score.

This was all the more impressive as Mahrez was also required to provide an outlet for a side with the third-lowest average possession (42.4 per cent) in the division. Only Wilfried Zaha (274 to 255) attempted more dribbles, while nobody completed more (131).

Mahrez has never once attempted 100 dribbles in a season since joining Manchester City, but the close control and spellbinding skill that is merely another option at the Etihad Stadium then attracted defenders and opened space for sprinters Vardy, Marc Albrighton and Jeffrey Schlupp.

KANTE'S GRAFT

Gokhan Inler was presumed to be the replacement for Esteban Cambiasso, who had led Leicester's rescue act from midfield with five goals – as many as Vardy – at the age of 34.

Inler started only three games but for good reason. Fellow new signing N'Golo Kante was perhaps the biggest game-changer for the Foxes. Opponents might have dominated possession but they could never rest.

Kante, at Caen, had led Ligue 1 midfielders in tackles (178), tackles won (146) and interceptions (110) and ranked second for recoveries (369) in 2014-15.

The transition to the Premier League was seamless. He was first again for tackles (175), tackles won (125) and interceptions (156), although he fell to third in terms of recoveries (326). The man in second was Leicester team-mate Danny Drinkwater.

What the Foxes lacked without the experience of Cambiasso, Kante's bite more than made up for.

The midfielder became more careful in possession following his move, too, losing the ball with just 18.1 per cent of his touches, the lowest rate of any Leicester player with 1,000 touches or more and an improvement on his 23.4 per cent with Caen.

Even then, it was not as straightforward as a single signing fixing every issue. Idrissa Gueye, another Ligue 1 recruit, ranked second in tackles, tackles won and interceptions and first in recoveries yet was relegated with Aston Villa.

But Kante's infectious tenacity set the standard at the King Power Stadium and only Tottenham blocked a greater share of their opponents' shots (32.7 per cent) than Leicester (30.6), contributing to a conversion rate of just 6.9 per cent.

When Kante then left for Chelsea at the end of 2015-16, struggling Leicester waited only until January before signing another tough tackler in Wilfred Ndidi, one of just two players – the other being Gueye – to have since registered 130 or more tackles in a single Premier League season (each doing so twice).

In that time, nobody has been able to match Kante's title-winning mark.

Away-day specialists Manchester City saw off Crystal Palace 2-0 to close in on another Premier League title and equal a top-flight record in the process.

Chelsea beat Fulham by the same scoreline elsewhere in Saturday's Premier League action, thanks to a couple of goals from Kai Havertz.

A two-goal success was also the outcome when Brighton and Hove Albion welcomed Leeds United to the Amex Stadium, the Seagulls all but securing their top-flight status for another season.

In the late match, Aston Villa edged out Everton 2-1 to boost their chances of a top-half finish and derail their opponents' European prospects.

We use Opta data to take a look at the best facts from Saturday's games.

 

Crystal Palace 0-2 Manchester City: Patient Citizens win again on their travels

Goals from Sergio Aguero and Ferran Torres in the space of 83 seconds proved enough for City to pick up a victory that leaves them on the brink of another piece of silverware.

Those strikes came from the Citizens' first two shots on target and saw them reach the 700-goal mark under Pep Guardiola in all competitions.

City's 57-minute wait for their first on-target attempt of the match was their longest in a Premier League game since November 2019 against Southampton.

Torres added to Aguero's opener moments later with a good finish from 20 yards - the 11th league goal Palace have conceded from outside the box this term, which is the joint-most of any Premier League team alongside Sheffield United.

The victory was City's 11th in a row away from home in the Premier League, equalling the all-time English top-flight record held by Chelsea (April-December 2008) and City themselves (May-December 2017).

Brighton and Hove Albion 2-0 Leeds United: Whites lose again on south coast

Brighton moved within touching distance of securing a fifth successive season of Premier League football thanks to a well-earned victory at home to Leeds.

Pascal Gross found the bottom corner from a 14th-minute penalty and Danny Welbeck added to that with his fifth Premier League goal of the season in his 21st outing - the forward's best top-flight return since 2017-18.

It was an all-too-familiar tale for Leeds, who have now lost five successive away league meetings against Brighton without scoring - the first time that has happened in their history against a single opponent.

In fact, Brighton have won eight of their last nine league meetings with Leeds home and away, which is more than they managed in their previous 28 against them.

Leeds managed just two attempts on target as Graham Potter's Brighton claimed a seventh home clean sheet of the season, a tally bettered only by Manchester City and Chelsea (nine each) in the Premier League this season.

 

Chelsea 2-0 Fulham: Havertz inflicts more derby misery on Cottagers

Kai Havertz doubled his Premier League goals tally with a brace in Chelsea's routine victory over Championship-bound Fulham.

All eight of the Germany international's goals for Chelsea in all competitions have now been scored in London, seven of those at Stamford Bridge and one at Selhurst Park.

His second goal in this game involved some nice link-up play with Timo Werner, who with that assist became the first Chelsea player to reach double figures for both goals (11) and assists (10) in his debut season for the club since Eden Hazard in 2012-13.

Werner's combined 21 goals and assists is the most of any Chelsea player this term, and he is one of five Premier League players to reach double figures for both metrics across all competitions alongside Harry Kane, Bruno Fernandes, Son Heung-min and Marcus Rashford.

Fulham have now gone 19 away games without a win at neighbours Chelsea in all competitions - only versus Everton (31), Hull City (23) and Middlesbrough (21) are the Blues currently enjoying a longer unbeaten run against an opponent on home soil.

The Cottagers are also now winless in 24 Premier League London derbies since beating West Ham in January 2014 - only Palace have endured a longer such run in English top-flight history, going 31 London derbies without a win between August 1969 and March 1973.

Fulham missed some good chances as Chelsea kept an 11th Premier League clean sheet under Thomas Tuchel - the most shutouts for any manager in their first 15 games in the competition, one more than ex-Blues bosses Jose Mourinho and Luiz Felipe Scolari.

Everton 1-2 Aston Villa: Toffees' poor Goodison run continues against familiar opponents

Villa dented Everton's European hopes with victory at Goodison Park in what was the 205th top-flight meeting between the clubs - the most played fixture in England's top division.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Villans have won more games (20) and scored more goals (73) in the Premier League era against Everton than they have against any other side in the competition.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin scored his 20th goal in all competitions this season to open the scoring in Saturday's late kick-off - with that haul including a Premier League leading seven headers - to cancel out Ollie Watkins' opener.

But Anwar El Ghazi snatched all three points for the Villans 10 minutes from time with his eighth goal in 23 Premier League games this season, doubling his tally from 34 appearances in the competition last time out.

Everton have now won just one of their last 10 home league matches and have tasted defeat at Goodison Park eight times this season - only in 1993-94 have they lost on more occasions (nine) in a single Premier League campaign.

A fine week could yet get better for Manchester City, who may clinch the Premier League title this weekend.

But any celebrations will take place in their living rooms, rather than on the pitch.

If City win at Crystal Palace on Saturday, they will be keenly watching on Sunday as Liverpool travel to Manchester United.

A peculiar development could see reigning champions Liverpool beat their bitter rivals to hand their own crown to City.

It would be the sixth time the Premier League title has been settled at Old Trafford, the most of any stadium, while City's 2017-18 success was also confirmed by a United home defeat – to West Brom on that occasion.

This could be the 11th occasion in the competition's history the championship has been secured with the victors watching from elsewhere.

Using Opta data, we run through four of the most memorable examples.

Arsenal 0-3 Middlesbrough: Gunners giftwrap United's title

It was a case of when not if United would win the title in 2000-01, but rivals Arsenal might still have preferred to put up more of a fight.

A quite remarkable defeat to Middlesbrough saw the Gunners score two of their opponents' three goals for them. It is one of just two occasions in Premier League history Arsenal have scored two own goals in the same game (also v Blackburn in 2011).

Brazilian pair Edu and Sylvinho were the guilty parties, meaning this remains the only occasion two non-British players from the same country have scored own goals for the same team in a Premier League match.

Arsenal 2-3 Leeds United: Highbury delight again for Fergie

United's run of three straight championships was ended in 2001-02 with defeat against Arsenal at Old Trafford, but the Gunners' own home was the setting again 12 months later when Alex Ferguson's side reclaimed their crown.

Ian Harte grabbed one of three Leeds goals, scoring direct from a free-kick at Highbury for the third season running. No other player in Premier League history has done so in three straight away games against an opponent.

United's triumph was sealed by Mark Viduka, though, his 88th-minute winner the latest from an away player at Highbury since Roy Keane's August 1999 effort for United. Arsenal did not concede a decisive goal as late again at home in the Premier League before their 2006 move to Emirates Stadium.

Chelsea 2-2 Tottenham: Spurs implode to prompt Vardy party

Sunday's match at Old Trafford comes five years to the day since the 'Battle of the Bridge', an epic affair that had Leicester City's players celebrating a stunning success from Jamie Vardy's house.

Tottenham needed to win to keep their hopes alive and raced into a two-goal lead at the home of Chelsea, champions a year earlier but awful in their title defence.

An extraordinary collapse followed. Spurs had nine players booked – one of them, Mousa Dembele, was later suspended for six games for an eye gouge – as the Blues battled back and Eden Hazard's first home league goal in a day shy of a year sealed Leicester's triumph.

Chelsea 2-1 Manchester City: Blues at it again at the Bridge

Stamford Bridge provided the scene again last season as Liverpool's first Premier League title win was confirmed. It meant three of the past six titles had been decided at Chelsea's home, including the Blues' own triumph against Crystal Palace in 2014-15 and the Tottenham game the following season.

With Chelsea also sealing the title with a win at West Brom in 2016-17, they have been involved in four of the past six clinching matches.

Willian's penalty secured the points after a Fernandinho red card, and Guardiola will be glad to this year avoid a late-season trip to SW6, where he has a joint-high four away defeats in his coaching career. City do still have to welcome Chelsea to Manchester, though, and each are well-placed in their respective Champions League semi-finals.

The Premier League elite are playing for prizes, along with Champions League and Europa League places, and at the foot of the table there may still be dreams of a great escape.

Reality brings its rewards and regrets, and managers across England, from Pep Guardiola to Big Sam Allardyce are hoping to end the season on a high note.

For fantasy football managers, the same applies. This is the run-in and the time when marginal gains could count for so much in your own rivalries and leagues come the season's end. One masterstroke signing could make a world of difference and earn those bragging rights.

With that in mind, here is a look at some potentially shrewd picks for the weekend ahead, powered by Opta data.

EDOUARD MENDY

Chelsea goalkeeper Mendy has a long way to go before he can be defined as a Premier League great, but the September arrival from Rennes is making a terrific impact in his debut season. Heading into Saturday's derby with Fulham, Mendy has managed 15 clean sheets from his 27 Premier League games so far, with only Manchester City's Ederson keeping more (17 from 32 games).

Of all goalkeepers to have started at least 25 games in Premier League history, Mendy is the only one to keep a clean sheet in more than half of them (56 per cent). Looking down the list, Ederson has an impressive 49 per cent from 141 games, while former Chelsea and Arsenal shot-stopper Petr Cech had a nifty 46 per cent clean sheet record from 443 appearances.

LUKE SHAW

Tough love did not particularly work for Luke Shaw during Jose Mourinho's reign, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has found a way to unlock the brilliance within Manchester United's left-back, who was a £30million buy as an 18-year-old almost seven years ago.

Shaw, who looks likely to face Liverpool at Old Trafford on Sunday, has been directly involved in six goals (1 goal, 5 assists) in the Premier League this season. That is as many as he managed between the start of the 2016-17 season and the end of the 2019-20 campaign (also 1 goal, 5 assists). He is impressing going forward as well as when defending, so could bring valuable points to your team.

RUBEN DIAS

No Premier League defender has more clean sheets than Ruben Dias this season. With 14 so far, he is level with Aston Villa's Matt Targett. Manchester City stifled Paris Saint-Germain's Neymar and Kylian Mbappe on Wednesday, but can they keep Crystal Palace's forwards at bay on Saturday?

The Premier League title is almost within City's grasp, and Dias could be a great signing this weekend, but do bear in mind that Guardiola could shuffle his team given the second leg with PSG is coming up on Tuesday.

City have a strong Premier League record against Palace, having won 13 of their last 17 matches (D2 L2) against the Eagles in the competition, earning 10 clean sheets across that run of games.

MATHEUS PEREIRA

Going down with the Baggies? Even if West Brom are relegated, which seems likely, there will surely be top-flight teams eyeing Matheus Pereira.

The Brazilian has been involved in six goals in his last four Premier League games (4 goals, 2 assists), and he enhanced his hero status among supporters when he scored twice - both penalties - in the derby against Wolves earlier this season.

West Brom won that one 3-2 and the teams meet again on Monday. Pereira is a player to keep an eye on in that game.

RAHEEM STERLING

Guardiola rhapsodised about Sterling after Manchester City's win against Tottenham in the EFL Cup final, despite erratic finishing meaning the winger again finished without a goal. He has not scored for City since February, but one could spark a flood, such is his established talent.

Facing Palace could be the ideal game for Sterling, should he be selected this weekend.

The England international has been involved in seven goals in his last seven starts against Palace in the Premier League (6 goals, 1 assist).

AYOZE PEREZ

Kelechi Iheanacho is the striker in form at Leicester City, but in horses for courses terms, Perez might be the man for Friday's clash with Southampton.

Perez has scored more Premier League goals against Southampton than he has against any other side in the competition (7). This includes two hat-tricks against Saints, including one in Leicester’s 9-0 win in this fixture last season.

HARRY KANE

Did Kane look off the pace in the EFL Cup final after his recent ankle knock? It was so hard to tell, given it felt he was constantly having to come looking for the ball, the service to him so inadequate.

If caretaker boss Ryan Mason considered him fit for that one, then it seems safe to expect the Tottenham talisman to face Sheffield United on Sunday, and surely he will find more opportunities against the blunted Blades than he enjoyed against City.

Kane has been involved in 34 goals in 30 Premier League games for Tottenham this season (21 goals, 13 assists), only registering more goal involvements in a single campaign in 2016-17 (36 – 29G 7A). The England striker has been involved in nine goals in his last six league games (7 goals, 2 assists), netting three braces in that run.

The race for top spot in the Western Conference is hotting up with only 10 games of the season remaining.

The Utah Jazz looked certain to secure the first seed earlier in the campaign, but damaging injuries and the form of the Phoenix Suns have closed the gap.

Utah could yet pull clear again but surely must win on Friday when they visit Phoenix.

The Suns are just a single game back and coming off a win over the Los Angeles Clippers that secured a playoff spot and should make second place the floor of their ambitions.

The Jazz also enjoyed a big victory on Wednesday, though, and are unlikely to go down without a fight.

 

TOP PERFORMERS

Jordan Clarkson – Utah Jazz

With 17.5 points over 58 games, but only one start, Clarkson is a shoo-in for Sixth Man of the Year.

When Donovan Mitchell, the team's leading scorer, went down injured this month, Clarkson was installed into the starting five in the next game. Although he played 46 minutes and tallied 27 points, the Jazz lost.

The 28-year-old point guard has since returned to the bench and, despite quiet nights in surprise consecutive defeats to the Minnesota Timberwolves, put up 23 points in a record-breaking midweek win at the Sacramento Kings.

The 154-105 victory made Utah the first road team to score as many as 154 points while winning by as many as 49.

With 988 bench points this year, Clarkson is set to pass 1,000 against the Suns – only Thurl Bailey, in three seasons, has previously reached that mark with the Jazz.

Chris Paul – Phoenix Suns

Veteran Paul, who turns 36 next week, will certainly be capable of handling the heat in high-stakes games such as these.

The 16-year point guard, averaging 16.2 for the year, scored 28 points in the win over the Clippers. Only five times this season has he topped that tally – most recently in the previous meeting with the Jazz earlier in April.

Of Paul's 29 points on that occasion, 11 came in the fourth quarter and five in overtime.

"Down the stretch, you might not find anybody better than Chris Paul," coach Monty Williams said that night.

Paul now ranks third for clutch points in 2020-21 with 133.

 

KEY BATTLE – GOBERT HAS A POINT TO PROVE

Along with Paul's heroics and 35 points from Devin Booker, the performance of Deandre Ayton drew particular praise the last time these teams met.

The big man had 18 points and 12 rebounds as Utah allowed 61 boards – still by far a season high among their opponents.

Ayton said afterwards he had brought his "A-game" in order to match up against presumed Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert.

Gobert will not want to be outfought again, and with Mitchell still out, he cannot afford to be.

 

HEAD TO HEAD

The Suns' overtime success was their second win against the Jazz this season and their third in a row, although they had lost 15 of the team's 16 matchups immediately prior to this run.

Phoenix's recent form in this series has given them a narrow 95-93 all-time lead.

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