Is Maurizio Sarri getting the most out of Lazio? To help answer that, we arguably have to look to his coaching predecessor - Simone Inzaghi.

After five seasons of trying under Inzaghi's stewardship, the Biancocelesti finally qualified for the Champions League. There were seasons where they came agonisingly close too - particularly in 2017-18, where Inter beat them at the Stadio Olimpico on the final day of the Serie A season, to claim fourth place and the final spot in Europe's premier competition.

When they finally did qualify, last season’s 6-2 defeat on aggregate to Bayern Munich in the last-16 – and Inzaghi’s ensuing departure for Inter – was microcosmic of an overall sense the 45-year-old extracted the maximum out of the players he had at his disposal, within his system.

With Sunday's Rome derby in mind, despite the fact Lazio are currently fifth and again perceivably in the running for that last Champions League place, that's the arguable framework for how we must interpret Sarri's first season in the Italian capital.

It's not only pertinent to ask whether the 63-year-old is extracting the maximum out of this Lazio squad within his own system. Ultimately, are the players Sarri has at his disposal even compatible to that system?

One of the stronger case studies in this discussion is Luis Alberto. The Spaniard is arguably not only one of Serie A's most transformative midfielders, but in European football.

Since joining Lazio in 2016, within the framework of Inzaghi’s 3-5-2, the 29-year-old blossomed into an elite ball progressor and shot creator from a statistical standpoint. He holds five of the 10 highest ratings for passes into the penalty area per 90 minutes in Lazio's history - since Stats Perform's first recordings of the data in 2005-06.

 

Just as important as Luis Alberto's ability to create with the ball is his ability to act as a positional reference point, in order to create for others without it. His ability to drive and distribute is underpinned by an intelligent and assertive positional sense, which also compliments the likes of Ciro Immobile and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic - and the latter’s particular penchant for late entry into the penalty area.

Yet along with cramping him of the half-space to move into when Lazio are in possession, Sarri's 4-3-3 setup asks more of the Spaniard defensively - exacerbating his notoriously suspect ground coverage. The more energetic Toma Basic's August transfer from Bordeaux and initial scope under the new coach, in Luis Alberto's place, was conspicuous in this respect.

This all matters because under Sarri, only Napoli have kept the ball more than them in Serie A this season. Lazio rank 12th in Europe's top-five leagues combined for touches per 90, but 60th for shots in the penalty area per 90. It would take a sizeable increase in shot quality upon previous years to make that disparity more sustainable, weighing up qualitative and quantitative aspects. That increase hasn't eventuated.

Lazio's ability to function in possession ultimately relies on Luis Alberto's skillset, and one statistic stands out - even this season, the team has averaged 9.27 shots in open play per 90 minutes with him on the pitch, and 5.97 without. In addition, his impact on Immobile is profound.

 

 

Immobile's xG per open play shot (0.14 on/0.2 off) actually increases when Luis Alberto is off the pitch, but his quantity of open-play shots also goes down (3.15 on/2.27 off). Meanwhile, playing in Sarri's 4-3-3 requires more from him as a collaborative player with his back to goal, a relatively weak area of his play that contributed to respective struggles at Sevilla, Borussia Dortmund and the Italian national team.

In Inzaghi's 3-5-2, Immobile wasn't cramped for space and could still receive the ball between the lines, but in positions where he's able to face goal and go at defenders with momentum. This season, the 32-year-old striker has completed (0.6) and attempted (1.38) fewer dribbles than in any of his six seasons at Lazio.

On top of that, despite this season being his second highest so far for touches per 90 (42.67), Immobile is also creating less chances in open play per 90 (0.78) than in any of his six seasons at the Olimpico. Six penalties for the season brings his higher xG but lower xA per 90 into context, exposing a question of net gain.

 

 

This all provides the backdrop for Lazio's sizeable xG overperformance this season. It is ultimately propelling their contention for a Champions League place and obscuring just how volatile they have been defensively – exposing Francesco Acerbi's ability to play in a four-man defence as opposed to a three-man defence.

So far this season in Serie A, Lazio have scored the second-highest amount of goals with 58 and rank eighth for xG with 42.1, but aside from Hellas Verona (14.3), are a distant first (15.9) in differential between the two statistical categories.

With this all in context, the reality that Sarri will remain faithful to this 4-3-3 will arguably be to the detriment of Lazio's most important players under Inzaghi. Whether they stay or go, as long as Sarri stays, will determine how dramatic the eventual regression to the mean will be.

Following an eventful, dramatic and – dare we say it – the best Formula One season to date, the 2022 campaign has plenty to live up to.

Lewis Hamilton is going in search of a record eighth world title at the second time of asking after missing out to Max Verstappen on the final lap of the final race in 2021.

Reigning champion Verstappen is himself seeking some personal history this coming campaign, which begins with the Bahrain Grand Prix this weekend.

Ahead of what will hopefully be an equally as gripping season this time around, Stats Perform picks out some of the key numbers.

 

Hamilton narrowly missed out on surpassing Michael Schumacher as F1's most successful driver, though he has not missed out on top spot in successive years since joining Mercedes in 2013.

Should he match his achievement from last year, Red Bull's Verstappen (25 years, two months) would surpass Fernandes Alonso (25y, 2m, 23 days) as the second-youngest multiple world champion, behind only Sebastian Vettel (24y, 3m).

Mercedes may have suffered disappointment last time out, but they still finished top of the constructors' standings for a record-extending eighth time in a row. They are one short of equalling Williams as the second-most successful team, though Ferrari (16) are still well out in front.

In terms of other team milestones, Bahrain will be the 250th GP Mercedes have competed in, while they are six fastest laps away from setting 100. McLaren, meanwhile, are seven podiums from reaching 500 in F1.

Joining Hamilton at Mercedes this season is compatriot George Russell, who along with McLaren's Lando Norris is aiming to become the first Briton other than Hamilton to win a race since Jenson Button in 2012.

Bottas is now at Alfa Romeo and is joined by Guanyu Zhou, who will be China's first ever representative on the grid, making them the 39th country to appear in F1. Indeed, it is the first time three Asian countries will be represented, with Alex Albon (Thailand) and Yuki Tsunoda (Japan) also featuring.

 

Now 14 years on from their most recent constructors' title, Ferrari will equal their worst-such streak – 15 years between 1984 and 1998 – if they again miss out this term.

Carlos Sainz is Ferrari's big hope and he has either matched or bettered his performance from the previous season – both in terms of points and position – over the past six years when racing for just one team.

While his title chances are slim at best, Fernando Alonso has the opportunity to become the driver with the biggest margin between F1 titles of all time, 16 years on from his most recent success. 

Twenty-two events are currently locked in the F1 calendar for this year, with Miami set to become the 77th different circuit used when it hosts its maiden GP in May. It will be the 11th different track used in the United States, which is the most of any country.

All eyes will be on the Stade de France on Saturday as the 2022 Six Nations comes to a conclusion when leaders France take on England.

While the visitors can finish no higher than third place, Eddie Jones' men will revel in being the ultimate party poopers in Paris.

Victory for France in 'Le Crunch' will seal a first Grand Slam since 2010, though Les Blues could still finish top and land a first title since then should Ireland fail to beat Scotland.

Saturday's other fixture sees Wales take on pointless Italy in Cardiff and, while there may be little riding on that game, it will be a milestone occasion for a couple of players.

Ahead of the final round of fixtures, Stats Perform previews each match with help from Opta.


FRANCE V ENGLAND

FORM

The omens are good for France as two of their previous three Six Nations Grand Slams have been completed with victory over England in the final round, in 2004 and again six years later, while just one of the past nine games between these sides in the competition has been won by the visitors – England prevailing 31-21 in 2016.

Fabien Galthie's charges have lost just one of their past eight home games in the competition, with that solitary defeat coming at the hands of Scotland last year as they chased a big winning margin to pip Wales to the title.

England are aiming to avoid losing three matches in a single edition of the Six Nations for the third time in seven years playing under Eddie Jones, having also done so in 2018 and 2021, and for a fifth time overall. 


ONES TO WATCH

Damian Penaud, who has a joint-high three tries in this year's tournament, is back in France's starting XV after recovering from coronavirus, replacing the injured Yoram Moefana. France have scored seven tries from counter-attacks this year, which is at least three more than any other team, so pacey Penaud could cause some damage this weekend.

England will need to work incredibly hard if they are to stop arguably the world's top side right now and hope that their key players turn up. In Marcus Smith they boast a player who leads the way for points in 2022 with 63, 19 more than next-best Melvyn Jaminet.

 

IRELAND V SCOTLAND

FORM

Ireland must beat Scotland earlier on Saturday if they are to remain in title contention and they have a great recent record in this fixture, winning seven of their last eight Six Nations meetings.

That record is even better on home soil, meanwhile, having been victorious in 10 of the last 11 encounters in the competition, including each of the last five in a row. Scotland's only win in that run came at Croke Park in 2010.

Fourth-placed Scotland have won five of their last six away games in the tournament, however, which is as many as they had managed in their previous 43.


ONES TO WATCH

Ireland were made to work hard for their victory against an England side that played almost the entire 80 minutes with 14 men last week, but they did ultimately get the job done. Jamison Gibson-Park led the way for passes in that match with 59 – more than double any opposition player – and he has a joint-high three assists in this edition.

Finn Russell is level with Gibson-Park on three assists, but he has been surprisingly omitted from Scotland's squad for the match at the Aviva Stadium due to his growing indiscipline and poor form. Ali Price is next for Scotland on the assists list with two, and there will now be more focus on him on what is his 51st cap.



WALES V ITALY

FORM

Wales are aiming to climb two places and finish third and will be confident of fulfilling their half of the bargain by claiming a bonus-point win against bottom side Italy. The Dragons have won each of their last 14 in this fixture, last tasting defeat in 2007.

After losing at home to France in their most recent home match, Wales are aiming to avoid successive losses at the Principality Stadium in the competition for the first time in 15 years, when losing their final such game in 2006 and first in 2007.

Italy will claim the Wooden Spoon once again having lost all five games this year, stretching their record losing run in the tournament to 36 matches. The Azzurri's most recent win away from home came against Scotland in 2015.

ONES TO WATCH

This will be a special occasion for Dan Biggar, who is in line for his 100th cap, and Alun Wyn Jones, who returns for the first time since suffering a shoulder injury against New Zealand in October for his 150th appearance. That makes the Wales skipper the first player to win 150 or more caps for a single nation in history.

Ange Capuozzo has been handed a first Test start after making a big impression in an otherwise disappointing campaign for Italy. The Grenoble full-back has scored two tries in this year's Six Nations, accounting for half of Italy's total, with both of those coming in a 34-minute appearance against Scotland in round four.

Tuesday sees two very finely poised games in the Champions League round of 16 as Manchester United host Atletico Madrid and Benfica travel to Amsterdam to face Ajax.

A 1-1 draw at the Wanda Metropolitano three weeks ago felt harsh on Atletico, and Diego Simeone will not have been too pleased to see Cristiano Ronaldo roar back into form at the weekend with a hat-trick in United's 3-2 win against Tottenham.

An exciting first leg in Lisbon saw Benfica and Ajax play out a 2-2 draw, with the Dutch side's star striker Sebastien Haller finding the net at both ends.

The removal of the away goals rule means there is not a single thing separating these sides heading into the second legs, so here are some Opta facts to help you decide who you think will come out on top on Tuesday.

Manchester United v Atletico Madrid

Ronaldo was back to his effervescent best on Saturday, and has scored in both of his Champions League home games for Ralf Rangnick's men this season. If he does so again, it would be only the second time he has managed three in a row for the club (previously between November 2007 and March 2008).

He has netted 13 goals in his last 15 home games against Atletico across all competitions, including two hat-tricks in his most recent four (for Real Madrid in May 2017 and Juventus in March 2019, both in this competition).

United have been eliminated from their last three Champions League knockout stage games when drawing the first leg, doing so against Real Madrid (2012-13 last 16), Bayern Munich (2013-14 quarter-final) and Sevilla (2017-18 last 16).

However, when failing to win the first leg of a Champions League knockout tie at home, Atletico have been eliminated three out of four times. The only exception was a 3-1 win at Chelsea in the 2013-14 semi-final, following a 0-0 draw in the home leg.

 

Before this season, 69 per cent of teams to draw the first leg of a Champions League knockout stage tie at home have been eliminated (59/85). That being said, six of the last 10 such teams to progress have done so against English sides.

Atletico have lost their last two away trips to face English sides in the Champions League, losing at Chelsea in 2020-21 and Liverpool this season without scoring a goal in either. In addition, they have not kept a clean sheet in any of their eight total away games against English teams in the competition, conceding 14 goals overall.

The Red Devils have only won two of their last eight Champions League home games when hosting Spanish opposition (D3 L3), although the most recent of those did come earlier in the competition this season, beating Villarreal 2-1 with a stoppage-time winner from Ronaldo.

Despite the reputation of Simeone's side for being tight at the back, they have not kept a clean sheet in any of their last six Champions League matches – only between September 2009 and October 2013 (seven games) have they had a longer such run in the competition.

Ajax v Benfica

Ajax lost their first ever home game against a Portuguese opponent in the European Cup/UEFA Champions League (3-1 in February 1969 v Benfica) but have since gone unbeaten in five matches since (W4 D1). They have won all three encounters that have taken place in the Champions League era, including one earlier this season (4-2 win v Sporting CP in the group stage).

Including qualifiers, Benfica have only won one of their last 10 away games against Dutch sides in European competition – 1-0 v AZ in the Europa League in 2013-14. Six of the other nine games have ended in draws (L3), including one earlier this season against PSV in Champions League qualifying (0-0).

Ajax have won all three of their home games in the Champions League this season. They will be looking to win four in a row on home soil in the competition for the first time since March 1996, when they won seven in succession under Louis van Gaal.

Benfica are looking to progress beyond the last 16 of the Champions League for the first time since 2015-16, when they beat Zenit. It would be just the fourth time they have reached the quarter-finals of the competition in the 21st century, after doing so in 2005-06, 2011-12 and 2015-16.

 

Goal enthusiasts Ajax have scored at least twice in all seven of their Champions League games this season, netting 22 times in total. That is the most by team from outside of the big five European leagues through their first seven games of a campaign since Ajax themselves, who scored 30 in 1979-80.

Benfica have only won one of their last 14 away games in the Champions League (D4 L9), which was against AEK Athens in October 2018. In the knockout stages of the competition, Nelson Verissimo's side have lost five of their last six away games (W1).

Ajax have four different players in double figures for chances created from open play in the Champions League this season – Dusan Tadic (16), Haller (13), Steven Berghuis (12) and Antony (10). Only Manchester City have had as many different players do so (also four).

Haller has been directly involved in five goals in three home appearances in the Champions League this season (three goals, two assists), and could become just the fourth player in the competition's history to score in each of his first four home appearances, after Oscar (2013), Frederic Kanoute (2008) and Alessandro Del Piero (1996).

The outstanding coaching career of Gregg Popovich reached new heights with the San Antonio Spurs' victory over the Utah Jazz.

San Antonio's 104-102 triumph on Friday marked career win number 1,336 for Popovich, taking him past Don Nelson for the most by a coach in NBA history.

It is yet another remarkable achievement by one of the finest coaches to ever grace the NBA sideline.

In celebration of Popovich's latest accomplishment, here Stats Perform looks at five of the greatest feats of his career.

The first title

It might not have been the hardest Finals success of Popovich's career, but the first title in franchise history is always a memorable one, and he delivered that for the Spurs in 1999.

San Antonio earned the one seed in the Western Conference and the Spurs subsequently blitzed their way through the playoffs, losing only one game en route to the Finals.

And the fairytale New York Knicks, who had reached the Finals as the eighth seed in the East, proved no match for David Robinson, Tim Duncan and the Spurs.

Indeed, without the injured Patrick Ewing, the Knicks were overpowered and Avery Johnson's game-winning shot with 47 seconds left in Game 5 clinched a 4-1 series triumph for the Spurs, with Popovich able to celebrate his first title at the Mecca of basketball.

Kawhi holds off LeBron

Having tasted defeat to the Miami Heat in seven games a year earlier, Popovich and the Spurs pulled off the most impressive of their five NBA title wins in 2014 by getting revenge on Erik Spoelstra's star-studded team.

In what proved to be the final series of LeBron James' career with the Heat, the superior roster depth of the Spurs proved the difference against Miami's big three as they prevailed 4-1 over LeBron, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Co.

Having split the first two games in San Antonio, the Spurs swept their two games in South Florida and then wrapped things up as Kawhi Leonard's double-double inspired a 104-87 win in Game 5.

In large part for his defensive effort against James, Leonard was named Finals MVP. His field goal percentage of 61.2 was the highest by a Finals MVP until Giannis Antetokoumpo surpassed it in 2021 with 61.8 per cent.

Those 18 consecutive 50-win seasons

As his record-setting number of wins indicates, consistent success has defined Popovich's career with the Spurs, who comfortably hold the NBA record for most successive 50-win seasons.

From 1999-2000 to 2016-17, the Spurs won at least 50 games for 18 consecutive campaigns, the final year in that run among one of the most impressive as San Antonio racked up 61 victories while playing in a Western Conference featuring a Golden State Warriors team playing their first season with Kevin Durant.

The Spurs were swept by the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, though Game 1 suggested it would have been a much different series had Leonard not suffered an injury that ended his season.

San Antonio's 18-season run will take some beating, as the Los Angeles Lakers are next on the list with a 12-season run between 1979-80 and 1990-91.

Olympic gold

Popovich took over from Mike Krzyzewski as head coach of Team USA and met expectations by delivering the gold amid the strange backdrop of a pandemic Olympics at the delayed Tokyo 2020.

The USA recovered from an opening defeat to France to once again take the gold, avenging the loss to Les Bleus with an 87-82 win over the same opposition in the final.

After a build-up to the Games in which many questions were raised about the strength in depth of the USA team and a poor start to the competition, the hard-fought triumph added further gloss to the CV of a coach many consider to be the greatest of all time.

The record win

The 2021-22 season has not been one to remember for the Spurs, but a surprise defeat of the Jazz at least gave Popovich a memorable moment in a trying campaign.

San Antonio trailed 74-64 going into the final quarter, but the Spurs racked up 40 across the final frame to improve their record to 26-41 and, more importantly, secure history for their coach, Dejounte Murray the star of the show with 27 for the game.

"Basketball is a team sport," Popovich said afterwards. "All of us share in this record. It's not mine. It's ours."

With Popovich's NBA career showing no signs of imminently coming to an end, he should have plenty of opportunities to extend his lead at the top of the all-time standings and make his record extremely difficult to beat.

France are rolling towards a possible Grand Slam as they arrive in Cardiff for game four in their Six Nations mission, but Fabien Galthie's team must not switch off now.

The championship may yet see a France versus England title decider at the Stade de France next weekend, but whether 'Le Crunch' proves crucial will hinge on results this time around.

A mighty Welsh effort in Cardiff could knock the French juggernaut off course, while Ireland will believe they can achieve a result at Twickenham.

Scotland and Italy, meanwhile, tussle in Rome. That was once typically a Wooden Spoon decider; this time, the Scots are heavy favourites.

Ahead of the fourth round of fixtures, Stats Perform previews each match with help from Opta.

WALES V FRANCE

FORM

Wales have lost each of their last two meetings with France in the Six Nations, after winning seven of their previous eight clashes in the championship. France's 27-23 win at the Principality Stadium two years ago was their first success in Cardiff in the competition since 2010, and France have not won back-to-back away games against Wales since reeling off four in a row from 2000 to 2006.

Wayne Pivac's Wales won at home against Scotland last month but have lost on the road to Ireland and England. The Welsh have pulled off 10 wins from their last 11 matches in Cardiff in the Six Nations, with France the only side to beat them during that sequence.

This France team are living up to their billing as pre-tournament favourites and have won their last six Test matches, their best run since also winning six on the bounce in 2006. They have not won more consecutive internationals since a run of eight in 2004, which included a victory in Cardiff.

ONES TO WATCH

Among players to hit 20 or more attacking rucks in this season's Six Nations, Wales' Ross Moriarty has the best ruck effectiveness rate, cleaning out the opposition or securing possession at 96 per cent of the attacking rucks he has hit (27 of 28). Moriarty is not a starter this week, as Pivac rings the changes, but will surely have a role to play off the bench.

France's Damian Penaud would have been a strong contender here, having beaten 10 defenders in this year's Six Nations, the joint most of any player alongside Scotland's Darcy Graham, with Penaud also achieving a championship-best tackle evasion rate of 77 per cent. Penaud is ruled out by a COVID-19 positive test, so can his fellow wings Yoram Moefana and Gabin Villiere prove as elusive?

 

ITALY V SCOTLAND

FORM

There was a time when Scotland dreaded facing Italy, but those days appear long gone. The Scots have won their last six matches against the Azzurri in the Six Nations, last losing at Murrayfield in 2015. Prior to this dominant era, Scotland had won nine and Italy had won seven of their first 16 clashes in the championship. The Scots have won their last four away games against Italy.

Italy's losing run in the competition has now reached a dismal 35 games, and that Murrayfield victory seven years ago was their last success. Kieran Crowley's team have failed to score a try in their last two Six Nations games, the first time this has happened for Italy since they went on a run of three games without a try in the 2009 championship.

Ali Price is set to win his 50th cap for Scotland. The Glasgow Warriors scrum-half has scored just one try in his seven appearances against Italy, although he has four try assists across his last two Tests against the Azzurri.

ONES TO WATCH

Michele Lamaro has made 59 tackles in this year's Six Nations, at least 13 more than any other player. That is the upside. The downside is that he has also missed the most tackles of any player (13); however, only one of those missed tackles led to a break, with the other 12 seeing the opposition player tackled by a team-mate.

By contrast, Scotland's Hamish Watson has made 31 tackles without missing one so far in this year's competition. Only Ireland's Caelan Doris has made more without missing (36/36). Watson has now made 180 tackles in the championship since his last miss, which came back in 2019 against England.

 

ENGLAND V IRELAND

FORM

England have tended to like this fixture of late, having won four of their last five home games against Ireland in the Six Nations. A 24-15 defeat in 2018 was the exception in this run which started in 2012. England have also won 22 of their last 25 home matches – taking all opponents into account – in the Six Nations (D1, L2).

Yet Ireland are the only side that England have a losing record against in the Six Nations era, winning just 45 per cent of their meetings in the championship (W10, L12).

Whoever leads at half-time seems nailed on for the win. None of the previous 22 Six Nations matches between England and Ireland have seen an interval deficit overturned to bring about a victory for the trailing team.

ONES TO WATCH

England's Marcus Smith is the leading points scorer so far in this year's championship. He has 48 points, meaning Smith is two shy of becoming the fifth different England player to notch up 50 points in an edition of the Six Nations (Jonny Wilkinson 7 times, Toby Flood once, Owen Farrell 6 times, George Ford once).

Ireland's Doris has been a 'nuisance' (slowing the opposition ball) at more rucks (7) than any other player in this year's tournament, Opta data shows.

World champion Max Verstappen has extended his contract with Red Bull until the end of 2028.

The new deal, confirmed on Thursday, was hailed as a "real statement of intent" by team principal Christian Horner.

Verstappen now has the longest contract of any driver on the Formula One grid and will spend what should be his peak years with Red Bull.

On the back of claiming his maiden world title in the most dramatic of circumstances last season, the 24-year-old is out to make more history in the 2022 campaign.

With the aid of Opta, Stats Perform takes a look at the numbers behind Verstappen's impressive career.

 

- At the age of 24 years, two months and 12 days at the time of the eventful 2021 season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in December, Verstappen became the fourth-youngest driver to win an F1 world title, behind only Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel.

- Should he hold off Mercedes' Hamilton – and indeed any other contenders – by coming out on top again this year, the Dutchman would become the second-youngest driver to win multiple world titles after Vettel (24y, 3m, 6d).

- The 10 race victories recorded by Verstappen in 2021 were as many as he managed in his previous seven seasons combined – five years with Red Bull and two with Toro Rosso – with his three victories in 2019 a previous season's best prior to last year.

- On top of his 20 victories across eight years with Red Bull and Toro Rosso, spanning some 141 grands prix, Verstappen has finished on the podium 60 times – 18 of those coming last season alone. That set a new F1 record as he went past the previous mark of 17 podiums, jointly held by Michael Schumacher, Hamilton and Vettel, albeit Verstappen benefited from having more races than in previous seasons.

- The six fastest laps recorded by Verstappen in 2021 was another career high, double his previous best from 2019 and 2020 when finishing third in the drivers' standings on both occasions. 

- Verstappen is the first Dutchman to hold claim to being F1 world champion, making the Netherlands the 15th different nationality for a winning driver. He is Red Bull's second world champion, meanwhile, following Vettel's four-year reign on top between 2010 and 2013.

What do Dusan Vlahovic, Dodi Lukebakio and Gaetan Laborde all have in common?

As of this moment, not much – aside from having been touted as the next Newcastle United signing. But if Vlahovic gets a goal for Juventus against Fiorentina on Wednesday, he will join Wolfsburg's Lukebakio (who joined on loan from Hertha Berlin) and Rennes' Laborde (who signed from Montpellier) as the only players in Europe's top five leagues to score for and against the same team this season.

Vlahovic said his feelings were "a bit mixed" as he contemplated facing the Viola at the Artemio Franchi, where he spent four years after joining as an 18-year-old from Partizan. "It's a bit strange," he told DAZN, to prepare for a game against the team for whom he scored 33 times in Serie A in 2021, equalling the competition's calendar-year record set by Cristiano Ronaldo – the man he was bought to replace in Turin.

The sentiment among Fiorentina's faithful will be a bit more, well, partisan. Vlahovic's January transfer, completed on his 22nd birthday for an initial fee of €70million, sparked levels of fury among the fan base arguably not seen since the Roberto Baggio riots of the early 1990s. Fiorentina ultras vented their anger not just at the player, but at the club itself, lambasting president Rocco Commisso for doing deals with "the ultimate evil" after previously promising never to sell their best players to the hated Bianconeri.

Meanwhile, Vlahovic has got on with the day job of scoring goals, and with three in his past two games, Juve are beginning to hope of a surprise late challenge for the Champions League and Serie A titles. Before then comes the small matter of a Coppa Italia semi-final in Florence, and the chance for Vlahovic to take a step closer to a first trophy outside Serbia by knocking out his old employers.

And he wouldn't be the first Juve player to return to haunt Fiorentina...

Roberto Baggio

Baggio isn't the sole reason Fiorentina don't like Juventus, but ask someone to explain the rivalry and his name will likely come up pretty quickly.

The pony-tailed posterboy of Italian football developed into a star in his five years in Tuscany even before his rise to global fame at the 1990 World Cup on home soil. It was in that same year that Juve signed him from Fiorentina for an approximate fee of £8million, smashing the world transfer record and sparking furious Fiorentina fans to take to the streets in protest.

Baggio claimed he never really wanted to leave and, when he returned to face them in Bianconeri colours on April 7, he refused to take a penalty ostensibly out of concern that goalkeeper Gianmatteo Mareggini would know where he would put it. Luigi Di Biagio stepped up instead, missed, and Juve lost. Picking up a Fiorentina scarf didn't help Baggio to endear himself to the Juve faithful, either.

Still, over the next five years, Baggio would fire them to Serie A, Coppa Italia and UEFA Cup glory and become the first Italian since Paolo Rossi in 1982 to win the Ballon d'Or (it would be 13 more years before another, Fabio Cannavaro, did the same).

Giorgio Chiellini

If Baggio's transfer sparked a riot, Giorgio Chiellini's permanent move to Juve in 2005 prompted more of a quiet grumble. He spent 2004-05 with the Viola after they and Juve reached a co-ownership deal, so it was always anticipated the suits in Turin might stump up the full amount for his registration rights.

Of course, watching Chiellini win nine Scudetti, five Coppa Italia crowns and Euro 2020 as part of a glittering Azzurri career has left plenty of Fiorentina fans with an unshakeable sense of 'what if'.

In December 2005, Chiellini started against Fiorentina in a frankly unfair back four that also featured Lillian Thuram, Fabio Cannavaro and Gianluca Zambrotta, with Juve claiming a 2-1 win thanks to Mauro Camoranesi's 88th-minute goal. 

He's since gone on to face Fiorentina 17 times in Serie A, losing just twice. But, more importantly, Chiellini has become a Juve great – he is just two games away from putting himself third behind Alessandro Del Piero and Gianluigi Buffon on the club's all-time appearances list.

Federico Bernardeschi

Bernardeschi may have moved out of season, but that didn't stop Fiorentina fans venting their anger in response to his €40m switch. They hung a banner outside the stadium that made their displeasure fairly clear. It read: "Who wouldn't like to spit in your face… you s***** hunchback".

His move to the Old Lady came after a something of a breakthrough season as he scored 11 times in Serie A – that was an improvement of nine from the two he'd got the previous campaign.

Unsurprisingly he was jeered and targeted by banners on his first return to Florence in February 2018, though Bernardeschi had the last laugh, curling a free-kick in as Juve won 2-0. It's fair to say he didn't abstain from celebrating, letting out a huge scream.

"I celebrated when I scored because I believe a professional should respect the fans. I've always been grateful to Fiorentina, and always will, for the way they looked after me and helped me develop, but I made a career choice and now I play for another team," he told Sky Sport Italia at the time.

But Bernardeschi's struggled to have the same kind of importance to Juve, rather being used as more of a utility and back-up player, which is reflected by the fact he's scored just eight league goals for the club.

Federico Chiesa

If Fiorentina fans are upset on Wednesday, just wait until next season when Federico Chiesa is fit again and lining up alongside Vlahovic. The pair appeared together 41 times for the Viola before Chiesa's October 2020 departure for Turin.

Chiesa, who is out for the rest of the season following damage to his anterior cruciate ligament, will be a permanent Juve player in 2022-23. For now, remarkably, he is merely on loan from Fiorentina.

Such deals that appear to favour the buying club are not uncommon in Serie A, but Fiorentina supporters could be forgiven for being furious as their club again accommodated the transfer of a star player to their bitter rivals.

Chiesa – the son of former Fiorentina forward Enrico – dazzled in his final full season in Florence, with 11 goals and six assists, and has done likewise for Juve following a slightly tricky start. At the time of his injury – before Vlahovic's arrival – he was the Bianconeri's standout performer.

The third major final meeting between Chelsea and Liverpool proved to be a classic.

It was the Reds who triumphed at Wembley, where the crowd were treated to a tale of bad misses and, ultimately, a tale of two goalkeepers.

Caoimhin Kelleher, Liverpool's 23-year-old number two, was their hero, scoring what turned out to be the shoot-out winner as Kepa Arrizabalaga, brought on at the end of extra time by Thomas Tuchel specifically for penalties, blazed his effort high over the bar.

Kepa had proved Chelsea's hero in the Super Cup in August when he replaced Edouard Mendy for that shoot-out, yet history did not repeat itself. Nothing on Sunday went to plan for the Spain international, who had seemed all set to start, given he has been the Blues' regular cup keeper this season.

His strike may well not have been on target if two goals had been stacked on top of each other, and it meant Jurgen Klopp's side won 11-10 on penalties.

It was the highest-scoring penalty shoot-out between two English top-flight teams in history, and brought up a record ninth EFL Cup title for Liverpool, who have collected a fourth major trophy under Klopp, though their first domestic cup of his tenure.

Yet it could all have been very different. Kepa wouldn't have needed to be the butt of all jokes had his team-mates finished some glorious chances, while Liverpool passed up a fair share of their own in what was one of the most thrilling 0-0 draws you are likely to see.

Here are the biggest moments from a memorable showdown...

Pulisic, 6 (xG 0.52)

The first huge moment came within six minutes. Kai Havertz, who would go on to have a superb game, exploited space in midfield and slid a pass out to Cesar Azpilicueta. His low cross found Christian Pulisic in space but the forward clipped a first-time effort straight at Kelleher.

Mane, 30 (xG 0.58)

Having headed wide from an earlier, albeit more difficult, opportunity, Sadio Mane was left bewildered not to be celebrating a goal when Mendy justified Tuchel's selection, making a wonderful save to deny his compatriot from point-blank range.

Mount, 45 (xG 0.6)

Chelsea bookended the first half with another remarkable miss. This time it was Mason Mount who got on the end of Kai Havertz's centre, yet he volleyed wide when it seemed easier to score. Indeed, based on Opta's xG model, this was the best opportunity of a game packed full of golden chances.

Mount, 49 (xG 0.33)

While the xG for this opportunity would suggest Mount only had a 33 per cent chance of scoring, he really should have done better. Put through by a delicately lofted throughball, the England international set himself before sliding a low effort to Kelleher's right, only for the ball to clip away agonisingly off the foot of the post. 

 

Salah, 64 (xG 0.58)

Mendy was almost the master of Chelsea's downfall when he thumped an overhit pass straight out into midfield. Salah capitalised and raced through, lobbing the onrushing goalkeeper, yet there was not enough power on the chip, which may well have been heading wide anyway, and it was cleared.

Matip disallowed goal, 67-69 (xG n/a)

The deadlock seemed to have been broken when Joel Matip headed in from Mane's nod back across goal, only for the VAR to disallow Liverpool's goal due to Virgil van Dijk, who appeared to block Reece James, having been offside in the build-up.

Havertz disallowed goal, 78 (xG n/a)

Chelsea got a taste of the VAR medicine as Havertz's celebrations were cut short after he headed in from Timo Werner's cross, with the creator having strayed offside.

Van Dijk, 90+1 (xG 0.04)

Andrew Robertson and Luis Diaz went close in a scramble, but it was Van Dijk who almost won it for Liverpool in normal time. It was a brilliant header from the towering defender, but Mendy got down low to his left to parry it away.

Lukaku, 90+5 (xG 0.19)

Chelsea had a big moment of their own in stoppage time, but Kelleher – the youngest goalkeeper to start in an EFL Cup final since 2011 – reacted sharply to keep out Lukaku's clever flick at the front post.

 

Lukaku disallowed goal, 98 (xG n/a)

Lukaku showed flashes of his Inter form as he raced through, isolated a defender and slotted home at the near post early in extra time, only for the offside flag to go up again. The VAR checked the decision, but by the finest of margins the forward was indeed offside.

Havertz disallowed goal, 109 (xG n/a)

Havertz finished superbly across Kelleher in the second half of extra time, yet the Germany international was also stood in an offside position when he received Lukaku's pass.

Kepa's howler, penalties

In remarkable scenes, the shoot-out went all the way to 22 kicks, and it was the goalkeepers who had to step up. But having been brought on to save spot-kicks, Kepa did not seem ready to take one, and he lashed his effort way, way over the crossbar, sealing a Liverpool win in a classic final that, somehow, finished 0-0.

Will they? Won't they?

Real Madrid's own stuttering form over the past few weeks has at least helped to retain a hint of unpredictability at LaLiga's summit, but it's difficult to not think Sevilla keep blowing their opportunities.

It's not likely to get any easier on Sunday, either. They headed into this matchday six points behind Madrid, which in itself certainly isn't insurmountable.

But then Madrid beat Rayo Vallecano, and Sevilla's visitors are local rivals Real Betis, who are absolutely flying and chasing a victory that would lift them to within just two points of their neighbours.

Prior to Sevilla's slender – and ultimately irrelevant – 1-0 defeat to Dinamo Zagreb on Thursday in the Europa League, the only side to have beaten them this year is Betis, who were 2-1 victors in the Copa del Rey in mid-January.

Since then injuries have played a significant role for Sevilla and they could conceivably be without Gonzalo Montiel, Diego Carlos, Jules Kounde, Lucas Ocampos, Erik Lamela, Suso, Anthony Martial and Karim Rekik on Sunday.

Several of those have been absent for other games in the last few weeks, and in the cases of Lamela and Suso, for much of the season. As such, since that defeat to Betis, Sevilla have won only two of seven games in all competitions.

But to many, a potential obstacle for Sevilla in their quest for an unlikely title triumph had long been identifiable, and it will only be made even more obvious against Betis.

Replacing the irreplaceable?

In 2020, Sevilla saw Ever Banega bring his second spell at the club to an end. Across his total six years at the club, either side of a single season with Inter, the Argentinian playmaker had been a fundamental part of the team.

A feisty competitor, excellent dribbler and possessor of wonderful vision and passing abilities, Banega's presence meant Sevilla always had a viable creative option in the middle of the pitch, even if using the flanks was a key concept for both Unai Emery and Julen Lopetegui.

Since Banega departed for Saudi Arabia's Al Shabab, Sevilla simply haven't replaced him adequately. Ivan Rakitic, while still capable, isn't the same kind of player; Papu Gomez hasn't had consistency in any one position; and Oliver Torres has been unable to step into his former team-mate's shoes.

 

That creative role in midfield would be considered by most Sevilla fans as the final piece of the puzzle. The other two central positions are filled ably by Joan Jordan, an effective facilitator, and Fernando, who sits deeper to sweep up and help out with Diego Carlos and Kounde, something he's done to great success since joining.

But from a creative standpoint, Sevilla need only glance across town to see what they are missing in that area of the pitch.

Now, of course, the make-up of a midfield can have a major impact on other parts of the team, so were Sevilla to have a more penetrative central trio, there's every reason to suggest they'd not be as solid at the back.

But with Sergio Canales and Nabil Fekir strutting their stuff for Betis, it's difficult to not at least wonder where Sevilla might be with a more positive outlook in midfield.

Sevilla's glaring weakness is Betis' biggest weapon

It cannot be overstated just how good a job Manuel Pellegrini is doing at Betis. Since the end of 2019-20, they have paid a transfer fee for just one player at €3.8million – in the same period, they've lost roughly €60m of talent, yet here they are, looking certainties for a Champions League spot.

Undoubtedly essential to Betis are Canales and Fekir, both of whom were exceptional and scored in the January Copa defeat of Sevilla.

Their influence makes Betis a real danger through the middle of the pitch, an area they are heavily reliant on.

We managed to isolate their key passes that have been played from the central column of the attacking third, and the outcome is impressive.

 

Betis are hugely active in this area, with as many as 36.7 per cent of their key passes being made from the zone in question. Only Real Mallorca (40.2 per cent) are busier here than Betis.

Sevilla, on the other hand, create just 25.2 per cent of their chances from the middle third, which is the lowest proportion of all 20 teams in LaLiga.

In fact, no Sevilla player has managed more than seven key passes in this section of the pitch – four Betis players have more than 10, with Fekir (14), Canales (21) and holding midfielder William Carvalho (12) accounting for 47 between them. That's only 11 fewer than Sevilla's entire squad.

 

Of course, a key element of Sevilla's setup is that they attack from the flanks, but it should be pointed out that Betis' proportion of touches out wide in the attacking half is only 2.2 per cent less, so they cannot be accused of neglecting the wings.

The difference is Sevilla are massively (too?) reliant on attacking from wide positions because they don't possess players with the kind of incisiveness that Betis do in midfield, both in terms of passing and ability on the ball.

 

It all comes back to an inability to replace Banega.

Failure to win at the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan on Sunday will surely end Sevilla's title hopes as they would be left nine points adrift of Madrid.

While injuries have many fans pessimistic anyway, few would be surprised if it's in midfield where Sevilla's dreams are crushed.

It was another frustrating day for Manchester United against Watford on Saturday, while their rivals – and next opponents – Manchester City left it late at Everton.

Watford were, of course, the team that inflicted the defeat that cost Ole Gunnar Solskjaer his job at United in November, and Ralf Rangnick will have been similarly frustrated, even if he is safe in the knowledge that he will not be getting the sack.

The same cannot be said for Marcelo Bielsa, however, who looks destined to see his stay at Leeds United brought to an end after a crushing defeat to Tottenham.

Following Saturday's Premier League action, Stats Perform delves into the key Opta facts from some of the day's games.

Manchester United 0-0 Watford: Red Devils revert to type

Man Utd's 4-2 win at Leeds United last week was a little more tense than Ralf Rangnick would have liked, at least for a while, but it was also a rare example of them getting a big goals haul.

It seemed to say more about Leeds than it did United, however, as Rangnick saw his side struggle in front of goal once again despite dominating visitors Watford.

 

Chances weren't an issue: they had 22 shots, but only three were on target. Their opportunities amounted to 2.7 expected goals (xG), just no actual goals.

That was the highest xG accumulated by any side who failed to score in a Premier League game this term, and the biggest negative differential between goals and xG recorded in 2021-22.

It was the fifth time United have failed to score in 14 Premier League home games this season, their worst record since 2013-14 (six).

Up next? The Manchester derby.

 

Everton 0-1 Manchester City: Champions breathe sigh of relief as Toffees' points tally makes grim viewing

Phil Foden rescued City at Goodison Park on Saturday, scoring eight minutes from time to seal a 1-0 win over Everton.

That goal ensured Liverpool can only cut the gap behind City to three points if they win their game in hand, with Pep Guardiola undoubtedly relieved.

He surely always had faith, however, as Guardiola had won each of his previous nine games against Everton – this victory took him to 10 on the bounce, making it his joint-longest winning run against a single opponent in his managerial career.

Everton's outlook is rather bleaker.

Defeat leaves them with just 22 points from 24 Premier League games this term. It is their lowest tally at this stage of a league campaign (if we assume three points have been awarded throughout history) since 1929-30 (also 22), when they were relegated from the top tier.

Frank Lampard's men certainly showed enough spirit at times in this game to suggest their fate will not be the same, but their nine points since the start of October is the fewest of every team in the Premier League.

Leeds United 0-4 Tottenham: Defensive woes leave Bielsa on the brink

It would seem Marcelo Bielsa could well be on his way out at Leeds after another grim defeat, this time at the hands of Spurs.

This loss took Leeds to 20 goal concessions in February, which is the most any Premier League team has ever let in during a single calendar month and worst since any top-flight side since April 1986 (Newcastle United – 21).

As such, they became only the second side in Premier League history to three or more goals in five successive games – four of those have been defeats, making it their worst such run in the top tier since December 2003-February 2004.

For Spurs it was a welcome change of pace after losing to Burnley in midweek, a defeat that led to an emotional outburst from Antonio Conte that made it seem the Italian's days at the club were numbered.

A major highlight for them saw Harry Kane and Son Heung-min combine for the 37th time in the Premier League, overtaking Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard as the duo with most goal combinations in the competition's history.

 

Brentford 0-2 Newcastle United: Bees' woes continue but Eriksen return puts struggles into perspective

The form of Brentford and Newcastle could not be much more different.

Brentford are now winless in eight Premier League games, seven of which have been defeats – Newcastle are unbeaten in seven, their best such run since 2011 (14 games).

Josh Dasilva's red card certainly did not help matters for the home side, with his 11th-minute dismissal the second-earliest in a Premier League game this term after Newcastle's Ciaran Clark (ninth minute against Norwich City in November).

But the match did give all fans and neutrals a reason to smile as Christian Eriksen made his return to the football pitch.

The playmaker suffered a cardiac arrest while playing for Denmark at Euro 2020, and he came on in the second half for his first competitive appearance since his medical emergency.

It was also marked his return to the Premier League, having last appeared in the competition 766 days earlier for Tottenham.

Scotland denied France glory in last year's Six Nations, with their dramatic victory in Paris meaning Les Bleus missed out on the title.

Now, France will be out for vengeance as they head to Edinburgh at the top of the standings with two victories from their opening two matches.

England, meanwhile, bounced back from their defeat to Scotland in round one with a hammering of Italy, and Eddie Jones' second-placed team host Wales at Twickenham. 

Wales lost convincingly to Ireland in their first game, yet defeated Scotland 20-17 last time out, though the defending champions are down in fifth place as it stands.

The final match of the weekend sees Ireland take on Italy in Dublin. The Azzurri are staring down the barrel of a 100th Six Nations defeat.

Ahead of the third round of fixtures, Stats Perform previews each match with help from Opta.

SCOTLAND V FRANCE

FORM

Scotland have won four of their last six games against France in the Championship, including the last two in a row and a first win in Paris since 1999. They have not won three in a row against Les Bleus in the tournament since 1956-1958.

This will be the 99th meeting between Scotland and France in all competitions, with Les Bleus leading the head to head with 56 wins (L39, D3). However, honours are even across the last 10 clashes, with both sides picking up five wins each.

France opened their campaign with a pair of wins, something they also managed in 2021. The only time since 2011 when they have won their opening three games was in 2020, when they missed out on the title and a Grand Slam after a fourth-round defeat to Scotland at Murrayfield.

 

ONES TO WATCH

Darcy Graham has beaten a Championship-high nine defenders so far. He is just ahead of French duo Gabin Villiere, Damian Penaud, and Marcus Smith.

France's Gregory Alldritt has made more carries (30) than any other player, while he has also gained 83 post-contact metres, the most of any forward and fourth most of any player, after Ireland's Mack Hansen (107), Scotland's Graham (86) and team-mate Penaud (84), as well as hitting 10 more defensive rucks (36) than anyone else.

ENGLAND V WALES

FORM

The last four Six Nations matches between these sides have been won by the home side on the day. Indeed, England have won their last four home games against Wales in the Championship, only once since 1930 have they enjoyed a longer such streak, a nine-game run between 1990 and 2006.

England have lost just two of their last 24 home games in the Six Nations (W21, D1), defeats to Ireland in 2018 and Scotland in 2021. Wales' last win at Twickenham in the Championship was in 2012. Since the start of the 2016 tournament, Wales have picked up just one away victory outside of Scotland or Italy, a 24-19 win in Paris in 2019.

England (49) and Wales (34) have made more maul metres than any other sides so far in this edition of the Six Nations.

ONES TO WATCH

Jones has named Ben Youngs on England's bench. If he comes on, Youngs will win his 115th Test cap, overtaking Jason Leonard as the country's most capped men's player. The scrum-half has been involved in five tries in his last six starts against Wales (three tries, two assists).

Alex Cuthbert is set to play for Wales for a 50th time.  He is looking to score his first try in the Six Nations since crossing against Italy in 2014.

 

IRELAND V ITALY

FORM

Ireland have won 21 of their 22 previous Six Nations matches against Italy, their sole defeat coming in 2013 (15-22), in what was the Azzurri's last home victory in the Championship.

Italy's next defeat will be their 100th in the Championship, they are currently on a record 34 match losing run, almost seven years since last claiming a victory (22-19 v Scotland, 28 Feb 2015).

Ireland hold a 100 per cent win rate against Italy at home in the Six Nations (W11), with the Azzurri the only side that has never won at the Aviva Stadium or Croke Park. Indeed, Ireland have scored 50 or more points in each of their last three home games against the tournament's whipping boys.

ONES TO WATCH

Hansen, Jamison Gibson-Park and Bundee Aki are three of just six players to both score and assist a try, the trio all scoring once and assisting one try after two rounds.

Italy's Federico Ruzza has won more lineouts (16) than any other player, including one steal, and team-mate Michele Lamaro has made the most tackles (41) in the tournament.

With another NBA All-Star weekend in the books, Thursday sees the league back in regular season action, with one of the more intriguing games taking place at Barclays Center when the Brooklyn Nets entertain the Boston Celtics.

They played in the same venue earlier this month, with Boston easing to a 126-91 victory, which the Nets will be eager to avenge this time.

Somewhat surprisingly given the strength of their respective rosters, Celtics star Jayson Tatum was the only player representing either team to play in the All-Star game, scoring eight points during his 20 minutes on court for Team Durant.

Kevin Durant missed the game in Cleveland with a knee injury and is likely to be out of this clash as well. 

Nets general manager Sean Marks recently said Durant and new arrival Ben Simmons could be ready to play in the coming weeks, but the visit of the Celtics is likely to come too soon for both.

Steve Nash's team currently sit eighth in the Eastern Conference on 31-28, having fallen away dramatically in the last month, losing 11 games in a row until beating the Sacramento Kings on Valentine's Day.

Injuries have played a big part in the dip in form, but back-to-back wins against the Kings and the New York Knicks suggested they could be about to turn things around, even with a defeat to the Washington Wizards in their last game before the All-Star break.

The Celtics, meanwhile, have been going in the other direction, winning nine games in a row before a loss to the Detroit Pistons ahead of the break, and they find themselves sixth in the East on 34-26.

Coach Ime Udoka has led his team to a five-game winning streak on the road and will be looking to make it six in Brooklyn.

He will be reliant on Tatum and Jaylen Brown to pick up where they left off. The Celtics' star duo combined for 57 points and 20 rebounds in the recent 135-87 thrashing of the Philadelphia 76ers.

The impact of guard Derrick White could also be crucial after his recent arrival from the San Antonio Spurs. He has made a respectable start to life with Boston, averaging 12.3 points per game in his four outings.

The restart of the league signals the beginning of what will no doubt be a tense run in a tightly contested Eastern Conference, and both these teams will be looking to get off to a perfect start on Thursday.

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Brooklyn Nets – Patty Mills

It's a home game, so Kyrie Irving (vaccination status) cannot play, and with James Harden gone and no Durant or Simmons yet, the pressure will once again fall on Mills to be his team's main man.

The Australian narrowly missed out on the three-point finals at All-Star weekend but is enjoying a career-best season for points (13.4 average per game) in Brooklyn after moving from San Antonio last year.

His three-point shooting is what has been letting him down in recent times, going five games in a row scoring single figures for points, before hitting 22 in the loss to Washington before the All-Star break, including five of seven from beyond the arc.

Boston Celtics – Jayson Tatum

Tatum has been his team's standout player this season, and the momentum from featuring in the All-Star game could see him raise that level even higher.

Only three players in the league have scored more than his 1,439 points this season (DeMar DeRozan - 1,547, Trae Young - 1,475, Giannis Antetokounmpo - 1,443), while only DeRozan (566) and Nikola Jokic (516) have hit more than his 500 field goals.

Interestingly, Tatum took more of a back seat when Boston beat Brooklyn earlier this month, with Brown and Marcus Smart (both 22) scoring more than his 19 points.

KEY BATTLES – Make a better start, Brooklyn

The recent game between these two saw the Celtics race out to a 35-16 lead after the first quarter. It was always a big ask for the Nets to do anything from there.

Where Brooklyn will likely look for success is in mid-range, where no team in the league has a higher percentage of field goals from (48.7). However, only four teams have a lower percentage of mid-range field goals allowed than Boston (39.9 per cent).

HEAD-TO-HEAD

Although the Celtics won at Barclays Center earlier this month, the Nets had won the previous four meetings between the two, including at TD Garden in November, and all three encounters last season.

It's November 25, 2020. A young German winger stands on the touchline anxiously waiting to step on to the Allianz Arena pitch for his Champions League debut in his hometown.

But as he waits to be allowed on, there are people watching both on television and in the largely empty stands who know this isn't how it should've been.

Rather than wearing the all-red of Bayern Munich, Karim Adeyemi jogs on in the all-black of Salzburg with the Austrian champions 3-0 down.

A technically gifted and rapid forward, Adeyemi has long been considered one of Germany's most promising young players, having cost Salzburg a reported €3million when he was 16.

Adeyemi had left Bayern six years earlier. It's a detail that has dominated much of his early professional career, with questions about why he left never far away.

Now 20, Adeyemi has previously spoken at length about his attitude as a kid, how learning wasn't much to his liking and distraction was a regular nuisance to him. These factors certainly didn't help at Bayern.

Neither, Adeyemi alleged in the past, did the club, who he said showed little support to players who strayed from "the plan". The collective, rather than individualistic talents, was prioritised.

He and Bayern were simply not a good match at the time. He left Die Roten and, while such a disappointment might've been enough to derail other ordinary kids, Adeyemi has since proven he is rather extraordinary.

A move to a smaller local club, Unterhaching, soon followed. It was there that, according to youth coach Marc Unterberger, Adeyemi was able to develop with a greater degree of individual emphasis and that eventually translated into him becoming a better asset for the team as a whole.

"He had his own thoughts on how to deal with things," Unterberger told Stats Perform in 2021. "We never wanted to change him completely, and I think we succeeded quite well. Karim is a really great guy and a great person.

"Until the time Karim came to us, we had never had such an exceptional player in our youth division.

"Of course, as a young person, you benefit from being accepted for who you are, but I would like to make it very clear that there was no situation within the team in which Karim behaved in such a way that we as a club were forced to act.

"On the contrary, over time he developed more and more towards putting himself at the service of the team. He was easily distracted, that's right, but let's be honest, something like this is normal when young people develop."

Unterberger arguably knows Adeyemi better than any other coach, given he was there for the youngster's entire six-year stay at Unterhaching.

"I can still remember it very well, the first time I saw him play in an Under-11 tournament," he recalled.

"Back then he was still playing for TSV Forstenried. My first thought was: 'We absolutely need this player'. Fortunately, it worked out later!"

That might be something of an understatement in reality. The €3m fee that Unterhaching received made him the most expensive Under-18 German player ever at the time, while 2019 saw him win the Fritz-Walter Gold Medal, an award handed out to Germany's best youth player. Previous winners include Timo Werner, Emre Can and Mario Gotze.

But most importantly, that move proved an unequivocal success for the player, as did his next.

Adeyemi confirmed to Stats Perform last year that he rejected the chance to join Chelsea from Unterhaching in his teens, instead opting to move just over the border to Salzburg. Had he gone to London, maybe he would've broken into their first-team – but it's probably just as likely that he'd have been lost among the Blues' army of loan players.

That's not to say loans can't work. Adeyemi's Salzburg career was carefully mapped out for him even before he joined, and that included an initial 18-month stint with Liefering, who essentially act as a B team. A haul of 15 goals and eight assists in the second tier provided strong evidence the teenager was ready for the step up in 2020.

His introduction to top-tier football wasn't quite so explosive, only having a hand in goals in six of his first 29 Austrian Bundesliga matches, but a key factor here was the need to remain patient – only nine of those 29 games were as a starter.

It wasn't until the final three months of 2020-21 that Adeyemi began to nail down a starting role, with seven of his 11 starts coming between mid-February and the end of May. This period also yielded six of his seven league goals.

This proved the final push he needed – with Patson Daka leaving for Leicester City, Adeyemi went from being the forwards' supporting act to the leading man in attack.

As you'd expect, this led to a bit of a change in his role, but there's no doubt he's thriving, securing his first senior international cap in September and finding himself linked heavily with Borussia Dortmund.

 

Sure, chance creation frequency is down (2.7 per 90, to 1.6), but the pay-off in terms of his effectiveness in front of goal is more than worth it.

His 14 goals is a league high, while only Kelvin Yeboah (11.2) – who has since joined Genoa – can better Adeyemi's 10.1 non-penalty expected goals (np-xG). Though on a per-90-minute basis, Adeyemi ranks first in the division with 0.72 np-xG (minimum 650 minutes played).

But it would be doing Adeyemi a huge disservice to give the impression he's 'just' some poacher. He's an immensely exciting player characterised by his explosive pace, low centre of gravity and silky ability on the ball. Yeboah (21) is the sole forward with more carries leading to shots and chances created than Adeyemi (21), though the Ghanaian's total comes from nearly 300 minutes more on the pitch.

It's a similar story in the Champions League. His carries led to a combined total of eight shots and chances created in the group stage – the only Opta-defined strikers to better that were Kylian Mbappe, Cristiano Ronaldo (both nine) and Arnaut Danjuma (14).

 

Even if it's reductive to just look at that metric, there's no doubt his performances have translated to European football's biggest stage – Sevilla's Diego Carlos will have been hoping to never see the youngster again after terrorising the Brazilian in the group.

Adeyemi's displays were a major factor in Salzburg reaching the knockouts of the Champions League for the first time in their history.

It would be a truly inspirational tale were it to be him, the young Bavarian cast-off, who plotted Bayern's downfall this time.

Manchester United's inability to take their chances came back to bite them once more as they were held to a 1-1 draw by Southampton on Saturday.

Che Adams struck early in the second half to cancel out Jadon Sancho's opener at Old Trafford.

In the 3pm GMT kick-offs, Everton ended a six-match winless streak in the Premier League as Frank Lampard oversaw a vital 3-0 win over Leeds United at Goodison Park, while Watford were beaten by Brighton and Hove Albion and Brentford drew 0-0 with Crystal Palace.

Later, league leaders Manchester City moved 12 points clear at the top with a 4-0 thrashing of strugglers Norwich City at Carrow Road.

Manchester United 1-1 Southampton: Rangnick's right, but that won't get the Red Devils points

Ralf Rangnick may have risked the wrath of some pundits after bringing up expected goals in his post-match comments, but the interim manager is correct – his side are creating plenty of chances without putting them away.

United finished the game with 12 shots to Southampton's 13, but an xG of 2.6 to the visitors' 0.9.

 

Nevertheless, for only the second time in their Premier League history, United have failed to win back-to-back matches despite being ahead at half-time in both, having last done so in December 1998.

Across their 10 top-flight games under Rangnick, meanwhile, they have averaged fewer goals per game than they have under any other manager in Premier League history (1.4).

United are at least unbeaten in their last 12 Premier League games against Southampton (W5 D7) since a 1-0 home loss in January 2016, while having only scored two goals in his first 23 appearances for the club in all competitions, Sancho has since netted two in his last three.

Brentford 0-0 Crystal Palace: Bees stop the rot

Brentford ended a run of five straight Premier League defeats and registered a clean sheet for the first time in 12 top-flight games (since a 1-0 win over Everton on November 28), as they drew with Palace.

It was a match of few clear chances (there were only 15 shots in total), though Wilfried Zaha was convinced he should have been awarded a late penalty.

Zaha was making his 250th Premier League appearance for Crystal Palace, just the third African player to hit that milestone for a single club in the competition, after Shola Ameobi (294 for Newcastle) and Didier Drogba (254 for Chelsea).

Everton 3-0 Leeds United: Lampard up and running

Lampard claimed his first league win as Everton manager in style, as the Toffees snapped a four-match losing streak in the competition with an emphatic 3-0 win over Leeds.

Everton went 2-0 up before half-time through Seamus Coleman's first league goal in 69 games, since May 2019, and Michael Keane's 10th goal in the top flight for the club.

 

Both of those were headers and no team have now scored more headed Premier League goals than Everton, who are level with United on 336.

It was the first time Everton scored twice before half-time in 40 Premier League games, last doing so one year and nine days earlier against, coincidentally, Leeds at Elland Road.

Anthony Gordon diverted in Richarlison's shot to seal Everton's biggest Premier League win since a 5-2 victory over West Brom in September 2020.

Watford 0-2 Brighton and Hove Albion: No home comforts for the Hornets

Watford have now lost six consecutive home league games for the first time since August to October 1990, a run which also included a defeat to Brighton.

Neal Maupay and Adam Webster got the goals for Brighton, who have lost just one of their past 12 away games in the Premier League, all coming in 2021-22 (W4 D7) – no side has lost fewer away games in the top flight this term than the Seagulls.

Watford have not kept a clean sheet in any of their past 17 home Premier League matches, equalling the competition's record run without a home shut-out.

Roy Hodgson has taken on a big job, and Watford will want a favour from Aston Villa against Newcastle United on Sunday to remain within three points of safety.

Norwich City 0-4 Manchester City: Perfect Sterling hat-trick sees leaders storm on

City lost on their previous league trip to Carrow Road, but there appeared little danger of a shock this time around as Raheem Sterling's perfect hat-trick helped them to a 4-0 win.

Sterling became the third City player to score a perfect hat-trick in the Premier League, after Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero (twice). Meanwhile, no player has scored more away hat-tricks for the club in the competition than Sterling, with each of his last three coming on the road.

 

The ex-Liverpool attacker became the sixth City player to score as many as 10 headed goals in the Premier League, with only Aguero (19) and Niall Quinn (13) netting more.

City scored at least four goals in a Premier League away game for the 21st time under Pep Guardiola, at least eight more than any other side since the Catalan coach joined the club.

Norwich, meanwhile, have conceded 50 goals in their 24 Premier League games this season – only in 1938-39 (21) and 1946-47 (19) have they shipped 50 in fewer games in a single league campaign.

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