Haaland targets historic goal as Salzburg aim to deny Liverpool - Champions League in Opta numbers

By Sports Desk December 10, 2019

Champions League holders Liverpool need at least a point against Salzburg to secure their progression from Group E, though they will come up against an Erling Haaland in sensational form.

Salzburg's youngster has found the net in all of their group games so far this season and will become the first player to convert in his first six Champions League appearances should he score for Salzburg against the Reds.

Barcelona have top spot in Group F secured but Inter still have it all to play for on Tuesday as they look to edge out Borussia Dortmund, and Antonio Conte's side have no Lionel Messi to worry about, with Ernesto Valverde resting Barca's talisman.

Chelsea will look to end a five-match winless run at home in the Champions League to ensure their place in the last 16, while Dortmund are aiming to reach the second round in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2015.

Salzburg v Liverpool 

8 - Salzburg's Haaland has scored eight goals from five appearances in this season's Champions League. No player has ever scored in their first six matches in the competition.

11 - Since the start of the 2017-18 campaign, the two players with the most Champions League assists are Liverpool duo Roberto Firmino and James Milner, with 11 each.

16 - Only Tottenham (17) and Bayern Munich (21) have scored more goals than Salzburg's 16 in this season's competition.

2 - Liverpool have only won two of their 11 most recent Champions League away group stage games, losing four of the past five. The Reds last won consecutive group matches on the road in the competition back in September 2008.

Napoli v Genk

6 - Carlo Ancelotti appears to be under pressure at Napoli, though his side are unbeaten in their past six home matches in the Champions League.

14 - Dries Mertens, who wears number 14 for Napoli, has been involved in 14 goals in his past 14 Champions League starts, scoring 10 times and providing four assists.

Inter v Barcelona

0 - Inter have never lost a home game against Spanish teams in the Champions League or European Cup.

5 - Lautaro Martinez is aiming to become the first Inter player to score in five successive Champions League/European Cup appearances.

0 - Barca have failed to score in two Champions League matches this season. Never before in the competition have they fired blanks in three group games in a single campaign.

Borussia Dortmund v Slavia Prague

13 - Dortmund are unbeaten in 13 of their past 15 Champions League group stage matches at Signal Iduna Park, winning eight times.

3 - Julian Brandt already has three assists for Dortmund in Group F. The playmaker failed to assist a single Champions League goal for Bayer Leverkusen in 21 appearances between 2014 and 2017.

22 - Slavia have failed to score with each of their 22 most recent shots from open play in the Champions League, with their goal in a 3-1 defeat to Inter on matchday coming via a penalty by Tomas Soucek.

Benfica v Zenit

1 - Victory for Zenit would see the Russian side reach the knockout stages in successive appearances in the Champions League for the first time.

29 - Both teams have scored 29 per cent of their Champions League goals from outside of the box so far this season.

Lyon v RB Leipzig

88 - Leipzig have scored 88 per cent of their Champions League goals this season in the second half of matches, while their only goal in the first half came in added time against Zenit.

80 - Dayot Upamecano has made 80 progressive ball carries upfield this season in the UEFA Champions League - more than any other player.

Chelsea v Lille

5 - Chelsea are winless in their past five Champions League games at Stamford Bridge. It is their longest run without a home win in the competition.

10 - Willian has netted 10 goals for Chelsea in the tournament. If he scores against Lille, it would make him their outright fourth-highest scorer in the competition, behind Didier Drogba (36), current coach Frank Lampard (23) and Nicolas Anelka (12).

1 - Lille have taken just one point in the Champions League this season. Under the current group stage format, the only French side with fewer in a single campaign in the competition was Marseille in 2013-14 (0).

Ajax v Valencia

9 - Since the start of last season, only three teams have managed more wins in the Champions League than Ajax, who have nine victories under their belts in that time.

52 - Excluding own goals, Hakim Ziyech has either scored or assisted 52 per cent of Ajax's goals in the Champions League in 2019.

143 - Quincy Promes averages a goal every 143 minutes in the Champions League, placing him behind only Ruud van Nistelrooy (109) in terms of Dutch players in the competition.

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  • Player loyalty of no concern to Liverpool boss Klopp Player loyalty of no concern to Liverpool boss Klopp

    Jurgen Klopp insists he has no doubts over the loyalty of his players, but said if a member of his Liverpool squad wants to leave, then they will be shown the door.

    Liverpool's dismal form continued on Thursday, as they went down 1-0 at home to Chelsea – a fifth successive defeat at Anfield, a club record.

    The Reds have not won a home game in the Premier League since December 16, while they sit four points off the Champions League places with 12 games remaining.

    Sunday's home game against Fulham does at least offer Liverpool a good chance – on paper – to get back on track, though they could only manage a 1-1 draw at Craven Cottage earlier in the campaign.

    Liverpool have never lost a home Premier League match against a promoted side under Klopp (P15 W14 D1), while Fulham have won just two of their 26 away league games against reigning top-flight champions (D3 L21), beating Ipswich Town 1-0 in March 1963 and Manchester United 3-1 in October 2003.

    With the title well out of reach, Klopp has already acknowledged the only goal is to achieve a top-four finish, though the competition is stiff, with West Ham, Everton, Chelsea, Leicester City and Manchester United all ahead of Liverpool, while Tottenham, Aston Villa and Arsenal could also fancy their chances of catching the Reds.

    Asked if he was concerned missing out on the Champions League could result in his star players asking to leave, a bullish Klopp told a news conference: "That's nothing we have to worry about.

    "I know that we have loyalty. I know them well enough. If a player wants to leave because we don't play in the Champions League, I don't want him. It's nothing I worry about.

    "We all expect more. We are realistic about the things we do. I don't feel like the team leaves me alone in the fire, it's just how it is.

    "Nobody else speaks in the club, nobody above me speaks. In Germany, it's typical that the CEO faces the questions. The situation here is different. The owners want me to sort the situation."

    Should the worst-case scenario come to pass, however, Klopp is confident it would only be a temporary blip.

    "This club will not be a regular out of the Champions League," he added. "The potential and the power. The team, the squad – if they are not all injured. We are ready to battle.

    "This club is in a really good position in difficult times, better than others I would say. Nobody has to worry about the future, it's in good hands. That is the best basis for a good future."

    Klopp also stressed that the injuries to key players – mainly in his defence, with stand-ins Jordan Henderson and Fabinho then suffering problems – were the primary cause of Liverpool's loss of form.

    "I cannot really tell people what they should think. If you want to doubt me, I think that is possible because of the team," Klopp said when asked if he understood any doubts over his ability to turn the situation around.

    "If you judge the situation right, it's a difficult year where unity can be shown in a more special way. The boys did not change, the situation changed.

    "The reason is the injuries, but last night we had a really good team but faced a really good team. You can always lose this game. If somebody wants to doubt us, I cannot change that."

  • Denver Broncos: Stay locked on Drew or hand keys to a rookie QB? Denver Broncos: Stay locked on Drew or hand keys to a rookie QB?

    The Denver Broncos enter the offseason surely casting envious glances at the rest of the AFC West.

    Still searching for the solution at quarterback, an uneven season for Drew Lock did not provide satisfactory answers about their second-round pick from 2019.

    Denver endured a 5-11 season with Lock in and out of the line-up as Patrick Mahomes led the Kansas City Chiefs to another Super Bowl appearance, Justin Herbert surged to Offensive Rookie of the Year honours with the Los Angeles Chargers and Derek Carr made strides for the Las Vegas Raiders.

    This offseason will therefore be defined by what the Broncos decide to do at quarterback, with the heat set to turn up on head coach Vic Fangio as he heads into year three after two successive seasons without a playoff berth.

    Using Stats Perform data we look back at another year of disappointment in Denver and assess what they can do this offseason to ensure a five-season exile from the postseason comes to an end in 2021.

    Offense

    A switch at offensive coordinator from Rich Scangarello to Pat Shurmur did not yield the desired results for the Broncos, who ran one of the least efficient offenses in football.

    Denver averaged 5.21 yards per play, putting the Broncos 25th in the NFL. The Broncos' paltry 5.87 yards per pass play illustrated the lack of progress made by Lock, who missed three games last season, with Denver also ranking 25th in that metric.

    For a player who came out of college with a reputation for having an elite arm, Lock's tally of 38 completions of 20 yards or more was disappointing. He ranked 19th in that regard but his average distance on such completions of 32.9 yards was ninth among quarterbacks to have completed at least 10.

    More worrying for Denver were Lock's numbers on throws of at least 21 air yards. He completed 15 of 63 such attempts for 597 yards, three touchdowns and five interceptions for a passer rating of 49.4 that ranked second last among quarterbacks with at least 25 attempts of 21 air yards or more.

    Lock did not provide the downfield upside some expected of him when he was drafted in 2019 and a tendency to commit turnovers that was all too evident in college has remained in the NFL. His 15 interceptions in 2020 were tied for the most in the NFL.

    The absence of Courtland Sutton, who suffered a torn ACL in Week 1, did not help Lock's cause, with first-round rookie Jerry Jeudy committing the second-most drops (nine) in the NFL.

    However, 23 incomplete targets thrown Jeudy's way were deemed poor throws - only three receivers were on the end of more - that number pointing to below-par play under center as the primary reason for Denver's passing game struggles.

    Denver's running game fared slightly better, finishing the year tied-14th for rushes of 10 yards or more with 51. The Broncos were tied for sixth with 13 runs of at least 20 yards.

    Melvin Gordon proved a useful addition as he contributed 26 rushes of at least 10 yards. Philip Lindsay had 13, with six of those going for 20 yards or more.

    Defense

    The Broncos' talent on defense paired with Fangio's acumen on that side of the ball should have theoretically produced a strong season on defense.

    However, Denver finished the year a disappointing 20th in the NFL with 5.64 yards per play allowed.

    They were 13th against the pass (6.25) but 29th against the run (4.79), with their efforts in stopping opposing attacks not helped by Lock's propensity for turnovers.

    A freak injury to Von Miller before the season robbed Denver of one of the most dominant pass rushers of his generation, but the Broncos still finished tied-10th in sacks (39) and 10th in total negative pass plays forced (50).

    By contrast, they only forced 83 negative run plays, that total putting them 23rd in the NFL.

    The pressure the Broncos created last season did not translate to takeaways, with just three teams producing fewer than Denver's 16.

    A lack of a settled line-up at cornerback was a significant reason for their struggles stopping the pass and taking away the football.

    Kareem Jackson and Michael Ojemudia were the only Broncos cornerbacks to play in all 16 games, with the latter enduring a difficult rookie year.

    Ojemudia had a burn percentage of 63 in 2020. A burn occurs when the receiver is open for a number of yards that take up a certain percentage of yards to go for a first down, depending on the down, with the defender credited with giving up burn yardage regardless of whether the ball is caught.

    No Denver cornerback allowed more yards per burn than Ojemudia's 18.1, with corner featuring prominently on a long list of offseason issues the Broncos must fix.

    Offseason

    New general manager George Paton has a lot of significant decisions to make to try to inspire a turnaround in fortunes.

    The Broncos' future at quarterback casts a large shadow over their plans for the rest of the roster. Picking ninth in the draft, they are in a decent spot to land one of Justin Fields, Zach Wilson or Trey Lance, the three quarterbacks seen as the cream of the crop after presumptive number one overall pick Trevor Lawrence.

    Denver must decide whether to stick with Lock or cut him loose in favour of one of that trio, with a possible trade for Deshaun Watson appearing unlikely at this point.

    There is a similarly significant decision to make concerning Miller, who will be 32 come the 2021 season and has a contract option the Broncos could decline, eschewing a salary cap hit of $22.25million and making him a free agent.

    The Broncos are projected to have $48m in cap space, assuming a cap of $185m, even with Miller on the roster, and a large portion of that may go towards re-signing Pro Bowl free safety Justin Simmons, who played on the franchise tag in 2020.

    If they can keep hold of Simmons and find dependable reinforcements at corner, the Broncos defense will be well-placed to make a return to the top half of the league in 2021.

    Yet the fate of next season's Broncos likely rests on Paton's ability to succeed where predecessor John Elway consistently failed, and come to a definitive and correct answer under center.

  • Atlanta Falcons: Quarterback decision looms but defense the real issue Atlanta Falcons: Quarterback decision looms but defense the real issue

    There's a new era in Atlanta and, following the hiring of Arthur Smith as head coach, there is plenty of cause for Falcons fans to be hopeful of better days ahead. 

    Things can hardly get much worse than in 2020, when the Falcons slumped to a 4-12 record, with head coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff fired after an 0-5 start. 

    Smith's arrival will foster optimism the offense can scale new heights in 2021, the former Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator having played a pivotal role in revitalising Ryan Tannehill's career.  

    But he and new GM Terry Fontenot have some significant decisions to make in a challenging offseason if their partnership is to hit the ground running in 2021. 

    Using Stats Perform data, we reflect on the year that was for the Falcons and look at what they will need to do to improve on a rather forgettable campaign. 

    Offense 

    You will find few quarterbacks who experienced more frustrating seasons than Matt Ryan, who continued to serve as one of the most productive signal-callers in the NFL in 2020. 

    He was fourth in the NFL in passing yards with 4,581 and was tied seventh in big plays, delivering 32 completions of 25 yards or more. 

    The big-play element that was clearly present in the Falcons' offense contributed to them finishing the year ninth in scoring efficiency. 

    Despite Ryan's performances in leading a prolific group, the Falcons never threatened to contend. 

    On the offensive side of the ball, the running game should take a large portion of the blame for that failure.

    The Falcons were not a balanced offense, with Atlanta averaging just 3.75 yards per run play. The Pittsburgh Steelers (3.62) were the sole team to fare worse on the ground.

    Atlanta's 34 rushes of 10 yards or more were tied for 30th in the NFL, the production from running backs Todd Gurley and Brian Hill not living up to that of Calvin Ridley and Julio Jones in the passing game.

    Ridley was tied-fifth in the NFL in receiving yards with 1,374 while no pass-catcher had more than his 23 receptions of 20 yards or more.

    While the running game needs to improve, the primary reason for the stellar efforts of Ryan and Ridley being wasted was the dismal play of a porous defense.

    Defense

    Worryingly for a Falcons franchise that invested a great deal in the defense in last year's draft, opponents moved the ball and scored on Atlanta at will in 2020. 

    Atlanta ranked 23rd in offensive points allowed, giving up 414, with opposing passing games racking up 7.18 yards per play against the Falcons. 

    Just three teams - the Detroit Lions, Jacksonville Jaguars and Minnesota Vikings - were more susceptible to the pass by that measure. 

    The Falcons will hope for better out of last year's first-round pick A.J. Terrell, who was consistently exploited by quarterbacks and receivers in a trying rookie season. 

    Terrell was targeted 95 times, the fourth-most of any player in the league, and gave up the third-most receptions (64) and joint-most yards (848).

    In addition to the secondary struggling, the defensive front did not produce the desired pressure on opposing signal-callers, Atlanta finishing tied-23rd with 29 sacks.

    The run defense was a little more of a bright spot, the Falcons 14th in yards per rush allowed with 4.41.

    But the fact they still gave up 49 touchdown drives, the joint-eighth most in the league, despite their relative strength against the run, is indicative of the ground game's decreasing influence on offensive production and the issues in the secondary.

    Simply put, for the Falcons to have a chance of even challenging the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints in the NFC South, the pass defense must make significant strides. The problem, however, is that the Falcons do not have a great deal of resources with which to make sure it does that.

    Offseason

    There is increasing talk of the Falcons using the fourth overall pick in this year's draft to select Ryan's successor, with Ohio State's Justin Fields, a native of Georgia, a popular choice for them in mock drafts.

    Having the option to rid themselves of Ryan's contract, which will see him carry cap hits of over $40million in 2021 and 2022, and instead start a rookie on a significantly cheaper deal, is something that should appeal to the Falcons.

    But, regardless of the merits of Smith as a play-caller and the talent the Falcons have on offense, Fields or any other eventual replacement for Ryan will not be set up for success until the Falcons fix the defense.

    The issue in that regard is the Falcons are set to be over $12m above an assumed salary cap of $185m.

    That may prohibit them from keeping many of the 11 unrestricted free agents they have on defense, or aggressively pursuing potential signings on that side of the ball.

    Compensatory picks are still to be revealed, but the Falcons are at present set to have just six selections in the 2021 NFL Draft.

    If they do go with a quarterback in the first round, 2021 will likely be Ryan's last as a Falcon. And, should Atlanta prove unable to use their remaining capital to sufficiently improve the defense, the smart money will be on it being another of frustration for the quarterback who came agonisingly close to delivering the franchise its first Super Bowl crown.

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