Following Manchester City's 3-1 victory at Swansea City in the FA Cup last Wednesday, Pep Guardiola's side won their 15th successive match.

In doing so, they set a new record for an English top-flight club in all competitions, overtaking the 14-game winning runs of Arsenal and Preston North End in 1987 and 1892, respectively.

They have since extended this streak to 17 after great wins over both Tottenham and Everton in the Premier League.

Back in 2017, it was claimed by some that City had secured 20 wins on the trot, between August 26 and December 3 until they eventually lost 2-1 away at Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League on December 6.

The bone of contention stemmed from the 12th game in this run; a 0-0 draw against Wolves in the EFL Cup, which saw City progress 4-1 in a penalty shootout.

Here at Stats Perform, we have worked on the basis that a penalty shootout is a method to find a winner of a tie or to decide a tournament/trophy winner, rather than to decide who won an individual match.

The official Laws of the Game, which are the responsibility of the International Football Association Board (IFAB) could be interpreted in other ways, but we have always held the belief that they explain the situation as we understood it.

A high-profile example of why the winner of a penalty shootout cannot be considered the winner of a match is that of the 2011-12 Champions League semi-final tie between Real Madrid and Bayern Munich.

The two sides drew 3-3 on aggregate and it was in the second leg – which Real Madrid won 2-1 on the night – that Bayern Munich progressed to the final with a 3-1 penalty shootout victory.

Based on the assumption that the team to win the shootout wins the match, you would have two winners in a single game; Madrid won 2-1 but also lost because of a 3-1 shootout reverse to Bayern, who lost as well due to suffering a 2-1 defeat in the actual game.

City have been involved in an occasion similar to this in recent times. They won 2-0 at home to Danish club Aalborg in the first leg of their 2008-09 UEFA Cup round of 16 tie, before losing 2-0 away a week later.

City progressed 4-3 following a penalty shootout on the night but lost the actual game 2-0.

Following City's current phenomenal run of form, the IFAB's technical director David Elleray spoke to Stats Perform and put the matter to bed, once and for all. He referred to Law 10.2 in the 2020-21 Laws of the Game.

Elleray told Stats Perform: "Law 10 makes it clear that a match is drawn, won or lost according to the number of goals both teams score in 'normal' time or in 'normal' time plus extra-time.

"'Away goals' and 'kicks from the penalty mark' (KFPM) [penalty shootouts] are not part of the match itself and are only used to determine a 'winning team' where one is required. For KFPM, this is made clear in the next section of Law 10."

"Thus KFPM (as with 'away goals') do not change the result of the match itself as they occur after the match has ended," added Elleray.

Clearly, we're not the overlords of the statistics world.

Clubs, competitions and statisticians may choose to deem 'penalty shootout' wins as match victories – we can't change that. What's important is that terminologies need to be tightened up by those that choose this way of thinking, as there is an important technical difference between a match that's won in 'normal' time (or after extra-time) and one that's drawn and then 'won' as a result of kicks from the penalty mark (penalty shootout).

For example, the latter might constitute part of a 'winning' run (general term) but, for some, not necessarily part of a 'match-winning' run.

We'd like to thank David Elleray for his time and willingness for his statements to be put on record for publication, hopefully clearing up any confusion about this subject.

It further highlights just what an incredible run of form City are currently enjoying.

Staples Center will stage a clash of heavyweights on Thursday as the Los Angeles Lakers host the Brooklyn Nets, though it might not be quite the spectacle once hoped for.

Of course, most sporting contests are not quite what they used to be, owing to the lack of spectators allowed in the arenas.  

But the absence of Lakers star Anthony Davis with a calf injury, along with Kevin Durant's hamstring problem, which may keep the Nets forward out of a third straight game, further depletes a matchup that could be repeated in the NBA Finals.  

Yet LeBron James is still performing at the peak of his powers and the Nets' guard combination of James Harden and Kyrie Irving is firing on all cylinders, with the former dropping 38 points in a comeback from a 24-point deficit against the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday.  

Therefore, there will still be plenty to intrigue in this marquee showdown, even if the first meeting of LeBron and KD since Christmas Day 2018 is further delayed.  

TOP PERFORMERS

LeBron James - Los Angeles Lakers

James is the MVP frontrunner and he has maintained his remarkable levels of excellence this month, in which he has a pair of triple-doubles. 

He has successive double-doubles in his last two games, tallying at least 30 points for the fifth time this season in the win over the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves last time out. 

With Davis on the sidelines, LeBron will have to carry the bulk of the burden again if the Lakers are to claim their 23rd win.

Kyrie Irving - Brooklyn Nets

Despite sitting out Brooklyn's astonishing fightback against the Suns because of a sore back, no member of the Nets has been more prolific in the month of February than Irving.  

The man who helped LeBron deliver a title to the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016 is averaging a team-high 29.8 points per game this month. Harden is next with an average of 24.4.  

He is shooting 55.5 per cent from the field and 48.8 per cent from three-point range, while his season-long average of 28.3 points a game is a career-high.  

Irving will, however, be hoping for a better performance than the one he produced in his sole game against the Lakers last year, when he went seven of 17 from the field in a 15-point loss.

KEY BATTLE - WHICH 'OTHERS' WILL STEP UP?

Though the Nets will still have the best backcourt in the league at their disposal, the injury issues surrounding Durant and Davis increases the spotlight on the lesser-heralded members of the two supporting casts.  

The Lakers will be looking for more of the same from Dennis Schroder, the guard rising to the challenge in Davis' absence against the Timberwolves and scoring 24 points.  

For the Nets, the onus may be more on Joe Harris, who has impressive numbers in terms of field goal percentage (57.5) and three-point shooting (51.1 per cent) for the month of February.  

This potential Finals preview could well be decided by which team's 'others' can best fill the void if Durant joins Davis in playing the role of spectator.

HEAD TO HEAD

It's the first meeting this season between the Lakers and Nets, though recent history suggests Brooklyn can afford to be confident even if they are without Durant. 

The two teams split the season series last term, but the Nets have won three of the last four games having swept the season series in 2018-19. 

All three of those victories came by a single-digit margin.

Kylian Mbappe refused to confirm his future lies at Paris Saint-Germain after his stunning hat-trick decimated Barcelona in the Champions League last 16 first leg.

Mbappe took his career Champions League tally to 24 goals with a devastating treble in PSG's 4-1 rout after Ronald Koeman's side had taken the lead at Camp Nou.

The 22-year-old lashed in an equaliser five minutes after Lionel Messi's penalty put Barca in front and added a pair of clinical second-half strikes either side of Moise Kean's goal.

Less than 24 hours earlier, reports in Spain suggested an unsettled Mbappe would not force an exit from PSG but would not sign and extension to his contract that expires in June 2022.

"It would be stupid to decide my future on a single match," Mbappe told RMC.

"The truth is that it is about reflecting for the long term.

"I have always said that I am happy here. This sort of match makes me even happier."

The French World Cup winner has netted 21 goals in 29 games during his fourth season playing for his hometown club, as PSG sit second in Ligue 1, one point behind leaders Lille.

Mbappe and his side were on the losing end in last year's Champions League final and the 39-cap international insists he is happy to focus on the club's battles to lift trophies.

"We are very happy. It was a very important game for us. We wanted to come here and win. We did it with style," Mbappe said.

"Now we have an important game on Sunday in the league. Tonight is beautiful but we won nothing.

"I am happy. I always wanted to give the best of myself. There has not always been success. But never in my life will I hide. Today I am paid for the hard work."

Mauricio Pochettino's team now turn their attentions back to the league and a match against Mbappe's former club, fourth-placed Monaco, at the Parc des Princes on Sunday.

Returning from knee ligament damage two months ahead of schedule having not played since November, Gerard Pique probably wanted to ease his way into proceedings.

Inside the first minute, Paris Saint-Germain's masterful playmaker Marco Verratti floated a ball over the top of the Barcelona backline and Kylian Mbappe already had Pique in his rear-view mirror.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen tore out of his penalty area and ultimately averted the danger by careering in to make a wild, sliced clearance.

Welcome back to the Champions League, Gerard.  All the best.

As a high-octane first half unfolded in the plum Champions League last-16 tie, Ronald Koeman's gamble in wheeling out his most experienced centre-back began to make sense. Maybe delaying the inevitable in a 4-1 shellacking was the best he could hope for.

PSG racked up six corners before the interval. As the players in the box awaited each delivery, Pique's voice was typically heard above all other, booming around a cavernous Camp Nou.

Generally, he was in the right place to deal with them. Four clearances were more than any of his Barca team-mates at the halfway stage.

Doubts over his overall mobility did not prevent an ever-smooth footballer completing all 71 of his passes on the night, while fellow old timer Sergio Busquets found the target with 45 of 48. The final analysis showed this sorry Barcelona need much more than lingering competence.

Barca fall flat with the band back together

Koeman's tenure has come to feel like one of transition, with Pedri making a wonderful first-team breakthrough and Frenkie de Jong and Antoine Griezmann becoming more prominent figures.

But here were Pique, Busquets and Lionel Messi - three of the most decorated players in football history - pressed into action together in a match where Barca had to be content with hanging on to PSG's coattails, even if they threatened sporadically to disrobe their well-heeled opponents.

Pique and Clement Lenglet shifted the hosts' backline a touch deeper after their early scare and Barcelona initially had a counter-attacking threat to match that pragmatism.

Before the half hour, they led. Layvin Kurzawa got caught under Pedri's raking pass and accidentally tripped De Jong. Bjorn Kuipers pointed to the spot and Messi rifled unerringly into the top-right corner.

Kurzawa was keen to make amends and found assistance in Ousmane Dembele's laissez-faire approach to tracking back. The full-back arrowed a ball into the Barca box, where a majestic, silken touch from Verratti picked the lock.

Pique would sooner have seen Mbappe at close quarters than in the wide-open spaces, but Verratti's pass combined with the forward's supreme awareness and fast-twitch capabilities meant there was enough room to lash beyond Ter Stegen.

Griezmann collected a Messi pass and almost converted at the end of a wonderful solo run to restore the lead but those moments of defiance became increasingly fleeting.

PSG, with Verratti and Leandro Paredes pulling the strings, were the bosses at the ground where they suffered an unparalleled humiliation in 2017.

Messi's devastating new normal

Recent history shows that incredible 6-1 win was the exception for Barca towards the end of an imperial period that has unquestionably passed. The 4-0 defeat they needed to overturn four years ago is the norm.

Juventus 3-0, Roma 3-0, Liverpool 4-0, Bayern Munich 8-2. Knockout ties where they are comprehensively outplayed by high-class opponents. Here was another.

Mbappe had never played Barcelona before Tuesday. He will barely be able to contain himself waiting for the return after a hat-trick of the highest order. Neymar might even be fit by the time his bedraggled former employers arrive in Paris.

Pique was scampering around on the goal line just in case when Moise Kean's deflected effort was kept out by Ter Stegen. Barca might well have been in Bayern territory again but for their keeper's four impressive saves.

The experienced defender was unable to jam another finger it the dam when he half-cleared Alessandro Florenzi's cross - Paredes' pass to release the full-back was sumptuous - and crumped into a net rippled by a thumping Mbappe finish.

Kean headed in a Paredes free-kick to make it three and Pique and Busquets had been substituted by the time Mbappe whipped an effervescent strike into the top corner to claim the matchball.

Messi trudged sad and alone, as he so often has through these all-too-frequent humiliations. End-of-era defeats are supposed to be one-off events but his Barcelona have a catalogue of them. It really is over this time.

Defenders in blue and red chased shadows as Mbappe fired himself and his team-mates into the stratosphere. If they look far enough back into the past, Messi, Pique and Busquets will see a time when they were the future. They'll have to squint hard, but that is preferable to lingering too long on their sorry present.

For Naby Keita, Liverpool's Champions League tie with RB Leipzig could have offered a chance to show his old club what they are missing.

Travel restrictions put in place amid the coronavirus pandemic have blocked the first leg from taking place in Germany, so Budapest will instead stage the opening match of the last-16 showdown on Tuesday. Keita, however, will not be there.

Rather than head to the Hungarian capital with the rest of the squad, the Guinea international has remained back on Merseyside to continue his recovery from the latest injury setback in a Liverpool career that has flattered to deceive so far. 

There have been bright moments, occasional performances where he has demonstrated his class, but too often those high points have been followed by a prolonged spell on the sidelines.  

Keita made 43 league appearances in his first two years in England, but only 25 of them were starts. This season, there have been just seven outings, the last of them on December 19 in the 7-0 thrashing of Crystal Palace, back when everything looked far rosier in Liverpool's garden.

Jurgen Klopp provided a positive fitness update on the midfielder ahead of the Leipzig game, revealing: "Naby is no longer injured but he's not fit yet".  A reunion with his former employers could still come at Anfield in the return fixture, albeit the German manager is not known for being sentimental when it comes to team selection.

Liverpool were patient in the first place just to get him; having failed to agree terms for his immediate transfer, they instead struck a deal with Leipzig to have him join 12 months later for, at the time, a club-record fee.

"Until I join my new club, next summer, I will remain an interested supporter from a distance," Keita said when the impending transfer was confirmed. Sadly, too often he has been stuck watching on since. There have been hamstring, thigh, groin and knee issues, plus a spell out after contracting COVID-19. It has felt like one step forward, two back.

Still, his two seasons at Leipzig – during which he contributed 14 goals and 12 assists in 58 Bundesliga games – demonstrated why Klopp was willing to wait. Comfortable with the ball at his feet and capable of playing the killer pass when working in crowded spaces, he was seen as the ideal attacking threat that could lift the team to the next level. 

The Reds have duly raised their standards, but Keita has been a peripheral figure. He was ruled out of the Champions League final against Tottenham in July 2019 and, while he played – and scored – the night Liverpool lifted the Premier League trophy just over 12 months later, it was one of only 14 starts in all competitions. 

His only other league goal during that title-winning campaign came at Bournemouth in the previous December, when he picked up possession in a pocket of space in front of the opposition defence, played a clever one-two with Mohamed Salah and then toe-poked the ball in.

Such moments of quality served to underline why he was identified and, eventually, signed. Liverpool have rarely made big-money mistakes in the transfer market, but Keita has yet to live up to the hefty fee, which covered his £48million release clause plus an undisclosed premium that sealed the deal. 

While seven goals and four assists in 45 starts is so far a disappointing return on that sizeable investment, exploring Keita's contributions in greater depth shows what he can produce when healthy.

No player who had over 20 dribble attempts for Liverpool in the 2019-20 league season had a better success rate than his 82.14 per cent, while his figure for big chances created per 90 minutes (0.55) was the best of the lot, too. Add in an average of 10.95 passes into the final third per 90 and you see the type of numbers that suggest he could have made a difference this term, particularly in games where Klopp's side have struggled so badly to break down opposing line-ups stuck in a low block.

There is still time to have a greater impact, of course, but rather than taking centre stage when Liverpool take on Leipzig, Keita is stuck as a spectator once again, a footnote to the storyline as the knockout stages of the competition begin.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang hit a personal milestone as his first Premier League hat-trick saw Arsenal past Leeds United on Sunday.

Aubameyang and Hector Bellerin put Arsenal 4-0 up by the 47th minute at Emirates Stadium, though Leeds did strike back twice to make things a little more uncomfortable for Mikel Arteta's side.

That match followed on from Wolves beating Southampton in the day's early kick-off, and West Brom holding Manchester United to a 1-1 draw – Bruno Fernandes' stunner earning the Red Devils a point.

In the late game, lowly Fulham picked up a much-needed win by seeing off a lacklustre Everton 2-0 at Goodison Park.

ARSENAL 4-2 LEEDS UNITED: DOUBLE CENTURY UP FOR AUBA

On his first league start since January 18, Aubameyang was in sparkling form against Leeds.

Having opened the scoring after 13 minutes, Aubameyang netted from the penalty spot shortly before half-time, bringing up his 200th goal across Europe's "top five" leagues.

It was the 31-year-old's 369th appearance across spells at Lille (two goals), Monaco (two), Saint-Etienne (37), Borussia Dortmund (98) and Arsenal (62).

Since his Ligue 1 debut in 2009, he is one of just nine players to score 200 or more goals across the continent's five leading divisions.

Arsenal scored four (or more) goals at the Emirates for the first time in the Premier League this season, having last done so in a 4-0 win over Norwich City in July of last year.

Leeds, meanwhile, have won just one of their last 24 away league games in London (D6 L17), losing all four such matches this season by an aggregate 14-4 score, and the Whites remain without a win in nine meetings with Arsenal in all competitions (D2 L7).

Aubameyang was also the third player in Premier League history to score a hat-trick on Valentine's Day, after Matt Le Tissier vs Liverpool in 1994 and Michael Owen vs Sheffield Wednesday in 1998.

WEST BROM 1-1 MANCHESTER UNITED: MORE BRUNO BRILLIANCE SAVES LACKLUSTRE RED DEVILS

The Red Devils' only win from their previous five top-flight matches was the 9-0 hammering of Southampton at Old Trafford (D3 L1), while the Baggies have just one win in 11 under Sam Allardyce and have conceded nine more goals than any other team since his first game at the helm.

The ever-reliable Fernandes scored United's leveller just before half-time at the Hawthorns, with the Red Devils now recovering 22 points from losing positions this term – 10 more than any other team.

The Portuguese playmaker has 38 goal involvements in as many games for United – the only player with more in their opening 38 in Premier League history is Andrew Cole (46 in 1993-94 for Newcastle United).

West Brom's goal was scored after just 83 seconds by Mbaye Diagne – the earliest conceded by United in a Premier League game since Christian Eriksen's 11-second strike for Spurs in January 2018. He is the 12th different Senegalese player to score under Allardyce.

United full-back Luke Shaw has five league assists for the season, the most he has managed in a single campaign – he only had seven in total prior to the start of this season.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side are unbeaten in all 12 away Premier League matches this season (W8 D4), only the fourth time a team has avoided defeat in their first 12 away Premier League games of a season: Arsenal in 2001-02 and 2003-04, and Liverpool in 2019-20, all of whom went on to win the title.

SOUTHAMPTON 1-2 WOLVES: SAINTS MARCH INTO CLUB-RECORD WORST RUN

It has been a miserable time for Southampton recently with Sunday's defeat to Wolves at St Mary's settled by second-half goals from Ruben Neves and Pedro Neto, which cancelled out Danny Ings' 25th-minute opener.

The Saints have now lost six consecutive league matches for the first time in their history, while they have led in each of their last four top-flight matches against Wolves without winning any of them (D2 L2), resulting in 10 points lost – the most points one side have dropped against another since the start of last season.

Only Liverpool (14) and Manchester United (12) have won more Premier League matches after going behind than Wolves' 10 since the start of 2018-19.

Meanwhile, winger Neto has been directly involved in nine Premier League goals this season (five goals and four assists), which represents the most of any under-21 player in the competition this campaign.

On the opposition side, Ings is one of only four players to score 30 Premier League goals since the start of last season, along with Mohamed Salah (36), Jamie Vardy (35) and Harry Kane (31).

EVERTON 0-2 FULHAM: MAJA MAGIC BOOSTS COTTAGERS

It was a first Premier League start to remember for Josh Maja, who is the second-youngest player to score on his full debut for Fulham in the competition, after Collins John versus Blackburn Rovers in April 2004 (18y 178d).

Maja is also the first Nigerian to mark his first Premier League start with a brace since Efan Ekoku for Norwich City back in May 1993 (v Middlesbrough).

It helped Fulham pick up their first-ever away win at Everton in league competition, on what was their 28th attempt. Coming into the game, they had lost each of their last 22 away league games against the Toffees.

The Cottagers consequently have a first Premier League victory since November, ending a run of 12 games without a win in the competition.

Everton have now lost three of their last four Premier League games at Goodison Park (D1), as many defeats as they suffered in Carlo Ancelotti's first 17 home games in charge in the competition (W8 D6).

Huge roars echoed around the Aviva Stadium as the ball sailed into an empty stand to end France's 10-year wait for a win in Ireland.

Time and again Les Bleus have suffered the agony of defeat in Dublin, but they showed a combination of style and substance to make it two Six Nations victories out of two.

Booming bellows of celebration and relief could be heard loud and clear on a wet Sunday as France held on to win an almighty battle 15-13.

Les Bleus have not won a Six Nations title for 11 years, consistently proving to be great entertainers but falling short with defensive fragility, indiscipline and a lack of clear thinking.

This is a different France in the Fabien Galthie era, though, with defence coach Shaun Edwards having worked wonders in a relatively short space of time to make them such a tough nut to crack.

Englishman Edwards has given France a strong backbone and that was essential as they frustrated a wounded Ireland, who were missing captain Johnny Sexton, James Ryan and Conor Murray due to injury.

A try in each half from inspirational captain Charles Ollivon and Damian Penaud proved to be decisive, with France providing the cutting edge that Ireland lacked.

Ireland had 59 per cent possession but were only able to break through a brick wall of a French defensive once, when Ronan Kelleher nipped in to set up a tense finale.

France made 180 tackles to 122 from Ireland, who will head into a rest weekend with two defeats from two, while their conquerors lead the way with Wales on nine points after making a big statement.

Billy Burns made a confident start as he set about trying to make up for his costly last-gasp kick in the loss to Wales and although he was off target with a poor first penalty, the fly-half made no mistake soon after to put Ireland in front.

The men in green were dominant and had an extra man when Bernard Le Roux was sin-binned 23 minutes in for tripping Keith Earls.

France were under the pump but stood firm, the excellent Brice Dulin grabbing slippery high balls as Ireland continued to knock at the door, missing out on an opening try when the TMO spotted James Lowe's foot touched the line as he was tackled in the corner.

Les Bleus were relishing the battle and showed their class with ball in hand to hit the front in style after 28 minutes.

The mercurial Antoine Dupont and Matthieu Jalibert featuring in a showreel of offloads before Gael Fickou tossed a clever pass over Jamison Gibson-Park, setting up captain Ollivon for a brilliant score.

Jalibert booted France into a 10-3 lead at the break and Ireland's luck was out again when Cian Healy and stand-in captain Iain Henderson went off with blood pouring from their heads following an unfortunate collision.

Penaud extended France's lead with another clinical try following a strong carry from the powerful Fickou and a fine Jalibert pass, but Kelleher scooped a loose ball from a lineout to score his first Ireland try with 56 minutes on the clock.

The nerves were jangling when Jalibert hit a post from the tee and a mammoth Ross Byrne penalty reduced the deficit to two points with 16 minutes to play.

Yet France defended for their lives to get the job done, showing fight and finesse to avoid more Dublin doom and gloom.

Dayot Upamecano will be a Bayern Munich player in 2021-22, meaning Liverpool and Chelsea must go back to the drawing board.

The Premier League rivals had each been linked with a move for the RB Leipzig centre-back as they look to add to their options at heart of defence.

Now they each must look to different targets come the end of the season, with injuries and poor play at the back having derailed the Reds' hopes of winning a second successive league title.

But which centre-backs could be part of Liverpool and Chelsea's plans to pose a more serious challenge to Manchester City next season?

Here we look at four players who could be playing their football at Liverpool or Stamford Bridge next season.

Bremer

The Torino defender is reported to be Liverpool's top close-season target after an impressive season in Serie A.

His 75 clearances are the second-most in the Italian top flight among defenders, while Bremer has also excelled at making recoveries.

Indeed, he has tallied 114, putting him 11th among defenders to have played at least 10 league games. Only four defenders have won more aerial duels than Bremer's 47.

David Alaba

Chelsea have been linked with the man Upamecano is seemingly set to replace, though Alaba’s wage structure may reportedly be a sticking point for the Blues.

Alaba's versatility to play across the back four and in midfield would certainly appeal to Chelsea and former Borussia Dortmund coach Thomas Tuchel.

The Austria international has consistently demonstrated his prowess in attack as well as at the back.

He has created at least 17 chances in every season since 2010-11 and has crafted 10 in 19 league appearances this season.

Ibrahima Konate

Could Leipzig be raided again? Both Chelsea and Liverpool have been linked with Konate, the France Under-21 international signed from Sochaux in 2017.

Injuries have been a problem for Konate, who has played only 15 league games since the start of last season.

However, when he has played extensively, he has shown his quality. 

Konate featured 28 times in the Bundesliga in 2018-19 and was sixth in the league with 100 aerial duels won, contributing to 12 clean sheets, a tally only bettered by two players – his Leipzig team-mates Marcel Halstenberg (15) and Willi Orban (13).

Jules Kounde

Liverpool are thought to be keen on Kounde, but they will likely face competition from across Europe for the Sevilla defender's services.

Kounde has emerged as one of the finest young defenders in European football is again excelling this season.

With 106 recoveries in 2020-21, Kounde – who has also previously been linked with Barcelona and Manchester City – has proven a reliable presence in the heart of defence, while he can also start attacks.

His 136 successful passes into the final third are more than Barca's Clement Lenglet (132) and Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos (128).

Ramos (84.77) and Lenglet (80.49) have a higher accuracy percentage on those passes than Kounde's 76.84, but at just 22 he has the time and the talent to develop into one of the world's top centre-backs.

If a week is a long time in football, what of 12 weeks?

When Manchester City visited Tottenham on November 21 and lost 2-0, they fell to 11th in the Premier League, already eight points behind their opponents after eight matches.

Victory took Spurs to the summit, as they ended the day there for the first time in six years.

Jose Mourinho was the coach downplaying title talk. "We are just fighting to win every match," he said. "But we are going to lose matches, we are going to draw matches."

He was not wrong.

Their latest loss, at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday, meant Tottenham have just one win in six in all competitions and now harbour only outside ambitions of the top four, let alone top spot.

There were certainly similarities – in the first half, at least – between November's 2-0 Spurs triumph and Saturday's 3-0 City success, similarities that may reasonably irritate both coaches.

Mourinho could rue Harry Kane's early free-kick, which bounced away off the post when it might have instead teed up another evening of frustration for City.

Pep Guardiola oversaw dominant displays on each occasion – 60.9 per cent of possession and 15 attempts this time – but can still point to three points inexplicably dropped in the reverse fixture, even if they appear highly unlikely to cost his side.

For City are now the side in the ascendancy, seven points clear of Leicester City with a game in hand to play and finally enjoying the rub of the green against Tottenham.

In six prior meetings between the sides going back to 2019, City had three times been exasperated by damaging VAR decisions and twice missed penalties, winning on two occasions but exiting the Champions League with one of those victories on an epic night at the Etihad.

Tottenham took their turn to appeal in vain after 21 minutes when the ball evaded Ilkay Gundogan in the area but Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg's clumsy challenge did not, allowing Rodri to step up for a spot-kick that crept beyond Hugo Lloris.

The goalkeeper has saved three City penalties in a Spurs shirt and should have done better with this one, just as he should Gundogan's tame second-half toe-poke, bringing a miserable end to a week the World Cup winner – also at fault at Everton in the FA Cup – would surely rather forget.

At the other end of the scale from the lacklustre Lloris, Rodri and Joao Cancelo, rampant again, have transformed their City careers since struggling away at Tottenham, while two-goal Gundogan is Europe's form player; no-one in the 'top five' leagues can match his nine strikes in 2021.

Indeed, an apparent groin injury shortly after Gundogan netted his second should concern City, but this latest great Guardiola team do not appear to miss their stars.

Ruben Dias, whose only defeat in English football came in the game at Spurs, was kept on the bench by a fever. Record goalscorer Sergio Aguero returned to the matchday squad for the first time in over a month. Kevin De Bruyne, the best of the lot, remains out.

On this evidence, the next man up will see City safe in their pursuit of another title and then perhaps an unprecedented quadruple.

This is a season defined by injuries and absences, where Liverpool are lost without Virgil van Dijk and "the Harry Kane team" returned no goals and no points from the two matches which their talisman sat out.

Without PFA Players' Player of the Year De Bruyne in the XI this term, City have taken 19 points from a possible 21, scoring 2.4 goals per game (up from 1.8) and conceding 0.3 (down from 0.8). They have collectively improved to fill the void, extending their record-breaking winning run to 16 matches.

Under pressure in November, Guardiola now has a breadth of options, a brilliant side and is even beating Tottenham. It is his league to lose.

Bruno Fernandes has urged Manchester United's emerging stars to seize their moment as they seek to make an impression at Old Trafford.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer confirmed ahead of Sunday's trip to West Brom that teenage trio Shola Shoretire, Hannibal Mejbr and Amad Diallo would all be involved with the senior side.

Fernandes has been a leading light for United this season, helping to propel the Red Devils into possible Premier League title contention.

The Portuguese playmaker hopes the injection of youth into the United first-team fold will provide a boost, though he urged those making the step up to work hard and stay humble.

"They have to keep their heads clean, because it's easy to come in to the first team and your head goes a little bit, and it's also hard when you have to go back and train and play with the other teams again," he told the club's official website.

"I was in that position some years ago and I know it's hard, but if you work and are humble and you understand that every time you play is a chance, no matter where you are playing, every time is a chance to show you are ready or that you want to make that next step.

"For us as a team, it’s important that when they come [to train with us] that they come to help us and learn from everyone and also give the qualities they have to the team.

"If they come to the first team it's because they have something good and that is something that can help us."

We took a closer look at two of United's most promising prospects, in Mejbri and Shoretire.

 

HANNIBAL MEJBRI, 18 – ATTACKING MIDFIELDER

Many will have had an eye on Mejbri's development ever since he joined the club from Monaco in August 2019 in a deal that could potentially cost €10million (£8.75m).

A France youth international, Mejbri quickly progressed to United's Under-23s last term despite only being 17 and has become a regular.

A technically gifted attack-minded midfielder, Mejbri has impressed not only with his ability on the ball, but his knack of crafting opportunities for team-mates.

In Premier League 2 Division One, his 42 chances created in 13 games is more than any other player, while his six assists is a joint-best for the league.

He has combined his creativity and comfort in possession to good effect as well, as evidenced by the fact seven of his carries (a movement of more than five metres with the ball) have led to chances created, a figured bettered by only five.

Mejbri has also attempted 49 dribbles, the fourth-most in the division, and won a remarkable 94 fouls – almost three times as many as anyone else – two of which secured penalties in the recent 6-3 win over Liverpool's Under-23s.

In fact, Wood recently urged referees to do more to protect him from such rough treatment, concerned Mejbri will suffer a serious injury if it continues.

He can expect similar attention if he does get minutes in the top flight, though Wood is adamant Mejbri does not let it get to him, saying: "I think he's the type that he wants the ball all the time, he's not going to shy away from it and that's what we want, you don't want your top players being worried, he just needs a bit of protection or it could result in him being badly injured."

SHOLA SHORETIRE, 17 – FORWARD

Shoretire joined the United academy in 2014 having previously played for Newcastle United, and for several years now he has looked like one of the next high-potential kids to come off the Old Trafford production line.

He made his debut for the club's Under-18s in 2018, in doing so becoming the youngest player to ever feature in UEFA's Youth League at 14 years and 314 days.

Shoretire – whose name is pronounced 'Shor-ay-ti-reh' – is most-often used as a winger (on either flank) for the Under-23s, but given his excellent dribbling, vision and finishing abilities, he could potentially have a future as a more central striker.

He signed his first professional contract on Monday, just three days after netting a hat-trick against Blackburn Rovers' Under-23s.

That took him to five goals in 13 appearances this term, while he also has four assists from 22 chances created.

Where he comes out particularly well is with regards to goal-ending passing sequences, of which he has been involved in 13 – only Mejbri (14) has a better record here.

Like Mejbri, Shoretire also has a penchant for taking the game to his opponents, as showcased by the fact he has created eight chances at the end of ball carries, the fifth-most in the league.

Given United's packed schedule over the next few weeks, with their European campaign set to resume, it wouldn't be a surprise to see these two make their first-team bows.

Even if they don't this season, it is surely only a matter of time.

Manchester United's FA Cup win over West Ham wasn't the easiest watch for the neutral, but the average armchair fan likely had a better time than Donny van de Beek.

The Netherlands midfielder was granted the chance to impress in the number 10 role in just his 12th start for the Red Devils. With Bruno Fernandes resting on the bench and Paul Pogba out injured, this was Van de Beek's latest opportunity to show his creative mettle.

After 73 lacklustre minutes, he headed ruefully back to the bench. He had completed 28 passes and touched the ball 46 times, the lowest numbers of any starting outfield player for United. Fernandes, on as his replacement, surpassed both those figures in normal and extra time, with fellow sub Scott McTominay scoring the winning goal.

This was the latest unspectacular outing for a player who caught the eye of the world's biggest clubs at Ajax. An initial fee of £34.7million that looked a bargain at first is beginning to seem a bit of a waste as a player so in tune with that wonderful Ajax harmony looks increasingly disconnected in a United shirt.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has certainly not given up on Van de Beek just 25 games into his United career and has repeatedly called for patience as he beds the 23-year-old into his plans. But as Europa League football returns and fixtures pile up again, and with Pogba sidelined at least for a few weeks, Van de Beek is under mounting pressure to prove his worth.

 

BEEN THERE, DON THAT

During his final three seasons in the Netherlands, in which time he had established himself as first choice at the Johan Cruijff ArenA, Van de Beek registered 39 goals and 29 assists in 132 games in all competitions. No Eredivisie midfielder scored more in that time, and only former team-mate Hakim Ziyech had more assists (54).

Ziyech is an interesting comparison. From 2017-18 to 2019-20, the playmaker, now with Chelsea, was consistently the only Eredivisie midfielder with superior attacking numbers to Van de Beek. They were top two in that time for chances created from open play (275 for Ziyech, 192 for Van de Beek); top two for shots (543 and 242); and top two for efforts on target (180 and 101).

Van de Beek was also third for passes ending in the final third on 1,938, while only two midfielders (Ziyech and AZ's Fredrik Midtsjo) started more sequences to end in a shot, underlining his importance when it came to synchronising the Ajax attack. The fact he did all this from a deeper starting position than Ziyech is notable: the majority of his touches came in the left-centre of the pitch, an area that served as a springboard for forays forward that yielded 28 chance-creating carries in the Eredivisie alone.

 

ILL-FITTING

There is a notion that Van de Beek was an opportunistic signing by Solskjaer, who had no guarantees over Pogba's future or the chances of bringing in top target Jadon Sancho.

You can understand his desire to cover that base. Over those same three seasons (2017-18 to 2019-20), Pogba was the United midfielder with the most touches (7,909), the most goals (23), most assists (26), most chances created from open play (163), most passes ending in the final third (2,358) and most shots (180). And, like Van de Beek, Pogba mostly thrived to the centre-left of midfield in that time – nearly 20 per cent of his total touches all came in that general area of the pitch.

Yet a key difference lies in their possession play: during that same time frame, Pogba averaged roughly 20 more completed passes and 32 more touches in each game than Van de Beek, who was happier to let others have the ball as he took up threatening positions. Once it became clear he was spending another season at United, this gave Pogba a distinct advantage in Solskjaer's system.

The arrival of Bruno Fernandes last January more or less prompted the United boss to give up on a 4-3-3 and use a predominant 4-2-3-1, in which the attacking players are afforded relative free reign to produce match-winning moments in front of a stable base. This has often meant Pogba dropping deeper into a position that, while not his favourite, is one in which those ball-playing numbers make him a distinctly valuable asset, just as they did in France's World Cup win three years ago. Van de Beek has proven less adaptable.

 

MAKE OR BEEK

Solskjaer tends to have two versions of deep central midfielders. Playmakers like Pogba and Nemanja Matic are generally used in matches where more penetrative passing is needed to unlock low blocks who are happy to give up the ball. When facing stronger, more possession-hungry sides, the United manager has found comfort – and success – in a double pivot of Fred and McTominay, who bring far greater dynamism without the ball.

Van de Beek has, so far, failed to convince as either.

Among United midfielders to play more than three games this season, Van de Beek has produced just one goal and one assist, with only Fred and Matic yet to have a direct goal involvement. Per 90 minutes, he averages roughly three passes into the final third and just 0.3 shots, comfortably the lowest, while only substitute winger Dan James averages fewer touches (60.95).

He appears little better suited to the disruptive role, either. Per 90 minutes this season, Van de Beek averages less than one tackle, half the number of interceptions as McTominay and fewer successful duels than any midfield team-mates except James and Juan Mata. Pogba is top of that particular chart with eight.

Right now, Van de Beek appears suited neither to the recycling service of United's deep midfield nor to the attacking quartet where spontaneity is king. He must adapt soon if his Old Trafford career is going to take off.

Pep Guardiola has long known the lot of the holding midfielder.

During his playing days, Guardiola operated at the base of Barcelona's engine room as the likes of Michael Laudrup, Romario, Hristo Stoichkov, Luis Figo, Luis Enrique and Ronaldo took the plaudits higher up the field.

In his Manchester City side, who claimed a 15th successive win across all competitions this week to set a new record in English top-flight history, the attacking stars also trip off the tongue.

Ilkay Gundogan is enjoying the most prolific season of his career from midfield and was named Premier League Player of the Month on Friday, while Phil Foden's rapid rise is firing enthusiasm over England's Euro 2020 prospects.

City's all-time leading scorer Sergio Aguero and star playmaker Kevin De Bruyne are still to return to the mix after spells on the sidelines, but another less-glamorous player has been there throughout the dominant run.

No one in Guardiola's squad has made more than Rodri's 21 appearances, the Spain international having made the anchor role his own.

"The best holding midfielders never appear in the newspapers, in the front pages," the City manager said ahead of Saturday's game against Tottenham.

"They hide behind the team but when [the team] plays good it is because they are playing outstanding."

Since a 2-0 defeat to Spurs last November, City are undefeated in 22 matches - something that reflects very well indeed on Rodri in Guardiola's eyes.

 

A £62.8million signing from Atletico Madrid in July 2019, the 24-year-old's first season in English football proved a struggle at times.

Without Aymeric Laporte through injury for large chunks of the season, the defence Rodri was charged with protecting often looked vulnerable.

Fernandinho being pressed into action at centre-back meant the new man was left to learn on the job as Guardiola sought and struggled for midfield balance.

But Rodri has started to thrive in the months since City last tasted defeat, with Ruben Dias at the heart of defence and an attacking line ahead of him displaying its fluidity of old.

"He adapted quickly, immediately. He's still young and there are some issues that he still has to learn but he will learn them," Guardiola said. "He's a really important player for us."

No Premier League player has attempted more than Rodri's 1,723 passes this season and he retains an impressive 90.3 per cent accuracy across that volume of work.

The quality of possession Rodri plays a part in and often launches is notable.

According to Opta, he has initiated 36 open play sequences leading to a shot and five resulting in goals - both league-best returns.

Similarly, Rodri is out on his own with 81 involvements in open play build-ups concluding with a shot, while weekend opponent Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg is the only man who can match the Spaniard's 11 involvements in build-ups preceding a goal.

Smoothness on the ball is a pre-requisite for any Guardiola player, especially one operating in the Catalan's old position, but Rodri has also shown an aptitude for the dirty work required to keep City's pristine machine on the road.

None of his team-mates can boast more than his 174 recoveries this term - 10th in the Premier League overall. Rodri also leads the way at City for tackles (40) and duels won (128), while winning 52 of 70 aerials contested – that is unmatched in the top-flight leaders' squad as well.

"A good holding midfielder plays for the other ones and not for himself. These are the best holding midfielders," Guardiola said.

"They think what's happening, what they have to do to correct the mistakes of the other ones and don't play for the highlights."

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer confirmed on Friday that teenagers Shola Shoretire and Hannibal Mejbri will be promoted to Manchester United's senior squad.

The young attackers have been playing for United's Under-23s this season and blossomed in Neil Wood's free-scoring team.

Still just 17 and 18, respectively, Shoretire and Mejbri are seemingly now considered a level above that which United's second team play, with both looking destined for big futures.

Shoretire was spotted training with the United first-team squad last week and Mejbri is set to join him, with Solskjaer confirming it is his plan to integrate both into the senior group.

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Solskjaer said: "Yeah, we've moved Shola up with us, Hannibal will probably join us, and we'll keep them with us for a while.

"Of course, it's a decision we have to make – are they going to train with us and travel by themselves and not be a part of the Under-23s group?

"We felt, with Shola, it was time for him to train with us. In the Under-23s games, he's just got to travel by himself; he can't be in the dressing room, but we felt it was the right thing to do for him.

"I think it's the next step in their development and we've just got to take the hit on them when they play in the Under-23s – that they've got to travel by themselves, because they're in our [first-team] bubble."

Shoretire and Mejbri have long been considered among the best prospects in United's academy, but what can they offer?

 

HANNIBAL MEJBRI, 18 – ATTACKING MIDFIELDER

Many will have had an eye on Mejbri's development ever since he joined the club from Monaco in August 2019 in a deal that could potentially cost €10million (£8.75m).

A France youth international, Mejbri quickly progressed to United's Under-23s last term despite only being 17 and has become a regular.

A technically gifted attack-minded midfielder, Mejbri has impressed not only with his ability on the ball, but his knack of crafting opportunities for team-mates.

In Premier League 2 Division One, his 42 chances created in 13 games is more than any other player, while his six assists is a joint-best for the league.

He has combined his creativity and comfort in possession to good effect as well, as evidenced by the fact seven of his carries (a movement of more than five metres with the ball) have led to chances created, a figured bettered by only five.

Mejbri has also attempted 49 dribbles, the fourth-most in the division, and won a remarkable 94 fouls – almost three times as many as anyone else – two of which secured penalties in the recent 6-3 win over Liverpool's Under-23s.

In fact, Wood recently urged referees to do more to protect him from such rough treatment, concerned Mejbri will suffer a serious injury if it continues.

He can expect similar attention if he does get minutes in the top flight, though Wood is adamant Mejbri does not let it get to him, saying: "I think he's the type that he wants the ball all the time, he's not going to shy away from it and that's what we want, you don't want your top players being worried, he just needs a bit of protection or it could result in him being badly injured."

SHOLA SHORETIRE, 17 – FORWARD

Shoretire joined the United academy in 2014 having previously played for Newcastle United, and for several years now he has looked like one of the next high-potential kids to come off the Old Trafford production line.

He made his debut for the club's Under-18s in 2018, in doing so becoming the youngest player to ever feature in UEFA's Youth League at 14 years and 314 days.

Shoretire – whose name is pronounced 'Shor-ay-ti-reh' – is most-often used as a winger (on either flank) for the Under-23s, but given his excellent dribbling, vision and finishing abilities, he could potentially have a future as a more central striker.

He signed his first professional contract on Monday, just three days after netting a hat-trick against Blackburn Rovers' Under-23s.

That took him to five goals in 13 appearances this term, while he also has four assists from 22 chances created.

Where he comes out particularly well is with regards to goal-ending passing sequences, of which he has been involved in 13 – only Mejbri (14) has a better record here.

Like Mejbri, Shoretire also has a penchant for taking the game to his opponents, as showcased by the fact he has created eight chances at the end of ball carries, the fifth-most in the league.

Given United's packed schedule over the next few weeks, with their European campaign set to resume, it wouldn't be a surprise to see these two make their first-team bows.

Even if they don't this season, it is surely only a matter of time.

Three weeks ago, it appeared this season was shaping up to be like each of the previous 14 for the Sacramento Kings.

A 115-96 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on January 20 marked the sixth defeat in seven games for the Kings and dropped their record to 5-10 – third worst in the Western Conference.

A month into the season and it was already looking like Sacramento would match the Clippers' dubious record of 15 consecutive seasons without a playoff berth from 1976-77 to 1990-91 for the longest playoff drought in NBA history.

Now one-third of the way into their season, however, the Kings have pulled within a half-game of the eighth-placed Golden State Warriors in the West on the heels of a 7-2 stretch. on Friday night, they take on the Orlando Magic.

The turnaround began two nights after the blowout loss to the Clippers with a 103-94 victory over the New York Knicks. The Kings' performance that night was emblematic of how they've managed to climb back into the playoff picture, but is their formula for winning sustainable?

Against the Knicks, the Kings found themselves up 89-87 with just under four minutes remaining after New York went on an 8-0 run. Sacramento then went on a 7-0 run of their own, punctuated by a Tyrese Haliburton three-pointer with 2:35 to play to put the game away.

The Kings ended up scoring 14 of the game's final 21 points, and over the next few weeks displayed a proficiency for closing out tight games.

Prior to January 22, the Kings had the NBA's third-worst fourth-quarter point differential at minus-2.8 while ranking 23rd in fourth-quarter scoring with an average of 25.5 points. Since then, they are averaging 28.1 points over the final 12 minutes of games.

It's been in the game's final moments, however, that the Kings have really excelled. Their 10.0-scoring average in the final three minutes since January 22 is the best in the NBA.

The Kings are finding ways to grind out victories and have a league-high eight wins this season by five points or less, but this typically is not a blueprint for success in the NBA.

The Kings' 5.9-point differential in their wins is the lowest in the NBA, and no team have finished a season with a point differential of less than 6.0 in their victories since 2005-06, when the Portland Trail Blazers were at 5.6 and the Atlanta Hawks were at 5.8. Sacramento, however, do not want to be too closely linked to those teams, as Portland were a league-worst 21-61 while Atlanta were not much better at 26-56.

Winning close games rarely leads to long-term success, seeing as only one team in the last 30 years have reached the playoffs while having a point differential of less than 8.0 in their wins – the 2007-08 Cleveland Cavaliers at 7.8.

In fact, in NBA history only two teams have reached the playoffs while outscoring their opponents by fewer than 7.0 points in their wins and those instances came well before man even walked on the Moon – the 1954-55 Rochester Royals at 6.6 and the 1948-49 St Louis Bombers at 6.8.

Grinding out wins over the long haul of a full season takes its toll and it may have caught up with the Kings in their last time on the court.

In Tuesday's 119-111 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, the Kings seemed to tire down the stretch, missing seven straight shots over a three-minute stretch in the fourth quarter as the Sixers went on a 10-0 run to turn a two-point deficit into an eight-point lead with just over four and a half minutes to play.

Sacramento were playing for the third time in four days, so they were playing on tired legs, but it's also possible fatigue was setting in because each of their previous three games went down to the wire and the minutes are piling up for their stars.

De'Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield each played the entire fourth quarter on Tuesday and have regularly been playing in crunch time.

Since January 22, the Kings have four players ranking in the top 20 in fourth-quarter minutes – Haliburton (1st, 10.7), Fox (11th, 9.9), Hield (12th, 9.7) and Harrison Barnes (18th, 9.4).

The Nets are the only other team to have more than two players ranking in the top 20 in fourth-quarter minutes in that period.

Sacramento have counted on Fox down the stretch, as his 11 field-goal attempts in late and close situations since January 22 trails only the Los Angeles Lakers' LeBron James (15) and the Phoenix Suns' Chris Paul (13) for the most in the NBA. Late and close situations here are defined as the last two minutes of the final quarter when the game is within four points.

Fox's shots, however, weren't falling on Tuesday.

Over a five-game stretch from January 30 to February 7, Fox led the league with an average of 13.2 fourth-quarter points (minimum three games) while shooting 57.8 per cent. He misfired on 10 of 13 shots, though, while scoring seven points in Tuesday’s fourth quarter.

Haliburton's fourth quarter – as well as his third quarter for that matter – was even more forgettable. His final points on Tuesday came on a three-pointer with 2:00 remaining before halftime.

It was a sub-par showing for someone who is shooting at a staggering clip when the game moves to the fourth quarter.

The 20-year-old rookie is making 60.6 per cent (40-of-66) on all fourth-quarter shots – tied for fourth in the NBA with the Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo among the 109 players with at least 50 shot attempts in the fourth – and has been connecting at an even higher percentage from beyond the arc.

Shooting an absurd 61.5 per cent on three-pointers (24-of-39) in the fourth quarter, Haliburton is on track to become the only player seeing regular minutes to shoot at least 60 per cent from deep in the final quarter in the last 15 seasons. Since 2005-06, Kyle Korver for the 2014-15 Atlanta Hawks has the highest fourth-quarter shooting percentage on three-pointers at 57.4, among players with at least 50 3-point attempts.

Haliburton has also made seven clutch three-pointers this season to trail only James (11), the Charlotte Hornets' Devonte’ Graham (eight) and the Brooklyn Nets' Kyrie Irving (eight) for most in the league. Here, clutch is defined as the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime when a game is within six points.

Considering Haliburton is knocking down 44.1 per cent of his shots in the game's first three quarters, his fourth-quarter shooting has been especially baffling. His increase in shooting of 16.5 per cent from the first three quarters to the fourth is the biggest in the NBA this season (minimum 125 field goal attempts in first three quarters and 50 in fourth).

His shooting has been exceptional but hitting a rookie wall could be a concern. Tuesday marked the 22nd game of the season for Haliburton – the exact same number of games he played all of last season collegiately at Iowa State.

The fourth-quarter exploits of Haliburton and Fox have played a big role in Sacramento's climb in the standings, but the climb is just beginning. The season is only a little more than seven weeks old and time will tell if the Kings have the strength to continue their playoff push.

Bayern Munich completed a year of dominance by collecting the Club World Cup on Thursday, beating Tigres UANL 1-0 in the final.

Victory in Qatar, courtesy of Benjamin Pavard's scrappy second-half goal, clinched a sixth trophy in under 12 months.

Bayern started a 23-match winning run in all competitions this time last year, winning the Bundesliga, DFB Pokal, Champions League and UEFA Super Cup in this time.

They added the DFL-Supercup immediately after seeing that streak ended in September, then completed the set by beating Tigres.

Hansi Flick's side went one better than Bayern's 2013 team, who collected five titles - losing to Borussia Dortmund in the domestic Supercup.

The Bavarian giants were dominant last season and have continued to collect results this term, led by a star-studded cast, as we can see with Opta data.
 

FLICK'S MEN ALMOST FLAWLESS

Going back 12 months to the start of that remarkable winning stretch, Bayern have played 53 matches in all competitions, winning 46 of them.

In fact, they lost games just twice in the last year, to Hoffenheim 4-1 and Borussia Monchengladbach 3-2, both in the Bundesliga, although there was also a penalty shootout defeat to Holstein Kiel that ensured they will not defend their Pokal crown this season.

While dominating, Bayern have mainly been a great watch, scoring 157 goals (2.96 per game) and conceding 51 (0.96 per game). Indeed, those 53 games yielded only 21 Bayern clean sheets.

The standout results were obvious, scoring eight in games against both Barcelona and Schalke, but they also netted six versus Hoffenheim and Salzburg, plus five in clashes with Eintracht Frankfurt (twice), Fortuna Dusseldorf and Mainz.
 

OLD GUARD THE STANDOUT STARS

Bayern have a wealth of exciting young talents, but they relied heavily on their experienced campaigners over this glorious stretch.

Thomas Muller (51), Manuel Neuer (50) and David Alaba (48) led Bayern in appearances over the past year. Neuer was named in the starting XI on the most occasions - every time he played.

Robert Lewandowski has been unsurprisingly the leading marksman with his 49 goals in 45 games, but Joshua Kimmich came to the fore in terms of assists, his 23 - along with nine goals - coming from 43 matches.

Kimmich had one more assist than Muller, despite the forward creating 141 chances to his team-mate's 108.

With Neuer playing all but three of the 53 matches, he accounted for 20 of Bayern's 21 clean sheets - Alexander Nubel earned the other - and made 139 saves.

Niklas Sule, at 91.9 per cent of 1,656, was the most accurate passer to start a game, although he trailed the team's most prominent passers by some distance; Alaba played 3,743 at 88.2 per cent accuracy.

Alaba (4,210) also led the way in terms of touches ahead of Kimmich (4,089), who was beaten in terms of tackles by the slightly surprising figure of Serge Gnabry (76).

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