EPL

Golden Boot, Golden Glove and De Bruyne's assist record bid - What's up for grabs on the Premier League's last day

By Sports Desk July 26, 2020

The Premier League season concludes on Sunday, with Liverpool completing their victory lap at Newcastle United.

A dominant campaign from Jurgen Klopp's men means the destination of the big prize has long been decided, although there are still the matters of Champions League qualification and relegation to address.

The remaining top-four berths will go to two of Chelsea, Leicester City and Manchester United – with the latter two playing each other at the King Power Stadium in Sunday's standout clash.

At the other end of the table, two of Aston Villa, Watford and Bournemouth will be joining Norwich City in the Championship next season.

However, as we examine below, there are individual awards and achievements still up for grabs.

 

Vardy leads the way in Golden Boot race

A goal from Jamie Vardy against United could represent a huge step towards Europe's elite competition for Leicester City, while it will almost certainly mean the Golden Boot for the former England striker.

Vardy is on 23 goals, in a landmark campaign that saw him being up 100 in the Premier League. Of the 29 players to have reached a century in the competition, only Ian Wright (28 years, 286 days) made his debut at an older age than Vardy (27 years, 232).

The main competition comes from Danny Ings, whose 21 goal makes him the third Southampton player to score 20 or more in a Premier League season, following Matt Le Tissier (25) in 1993-94 and James Beattie (23) in 2002-03.

Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang is next in line on 20. The Gabon international has also enjoyed a landmark campaign, becoming the sixth fastest player to 50 Premier League goals in history as he did so on his 79th top-flight outing for Arsenal.

Liverpool superstar Mohamed Salah and Raheem Sterling are the outsiders on 19 apiece. If Sterling nets against Norwich, he will become the first Englishman to score 20 times in a top-division season for Manchester City since Brian Kidd – now a member of Pep Guardiola's backroom staff – did so in 1976-77.

 

De Bryune hunting Henry's assist record

One man in particular will be keen on Sterling adding to his haul – provided it comes from one of his passes!

Kevin De Bruyne has 19 assists in the Premier League this season, placing him one shy of Thierry Henry's competition record.

Arsenal's Mesut Ozil also assisted 19 times during 2015-16.

De Bruyne has been directly involved in 30 league goals this term, scoring 11 alongside his creative exploits. This is the most for a central midfield since Frank Lampard scored 22 and supplied 14 assists for Chelsea in 2009-10.

The efforts of Sterling and De Bruyne have gone a long way to placing City close to an impressive collective feat. If Guardiola's side score three times against Norwich, they will reach 100 goals for a third consecutive Premier League season.

 

Ederson and Pope battle it out for Golden Glove

Another City player looking after number one on Sunday is their number one. Ederson is on 15 clean sheets, putting him level in the Golden Glove standings with Burnley's Nick Pope.

The Clarets end another excellent season at home to Brighton and Hove Albion and if Ederson and Pope cannot be separated at full-time the award will be shared.

Both men have a similar save percentage, with Pope stopping 70.7 per cent of efforts sent his way compared to Ederson's 69.6, but the Englishman has been far busier.

Pope has made 118 saves from 164 shots faced, compared to Ederson's 64 from 92.

Although impressive, neither man has been flawless, with Ederson committing three errors leading to goals and Pope culpable for two.

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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.

  • Messi named LaLiga's Player of the Month for February Messi named LaLiga's Player of the Month for February

    Lionel Messi's inspirational form through February has seen the Barcelona captain collect his first Player of the Month award of the season.

    February was Messi's most fruitful month of the 2020-21 campaign to date as he scored seven goals, two more than he managed in January.

    No player scored more than him, while Real Sociedad's Alexander Isak was the only other individual to net more than four times in the month.

    Messi's goalscoring habits helped Barca win four of their five games in the qualifying period, all of which saw him score at least once.

    As such, Barca have improved their chances of potentially sparking a genuine title scrap in the final months of the season, with the Blaugrana only five points adrift of the leaders Atletico Madrid.

     

    While Diego Simeone's men do still have a game in hand, Los Colchoneros also have the tricky test of a derby clash with Real Madrid to look forward to this weekend.

    Messi's commitment to the cause was questioned earlier in the campaign after he rocked the club in pre-season with his transfer request.

    He had only scored four times heading into December, when he added a further three – he already has 12 in 2021 and sits atop the 'Pichichi' standings with 19, three clear of nearest rival and friend Luis Suarez.

    Messi is only the second Barcelona player to win the award this term, with Ansu Fati – who has missed much of 2020-21 through injury – claiming it for September.

    Ronald Koeman's captain saw off competition from Isak, Yassine Bounou, Thibaut Courtois, Alex Berenguer, Nabil Fekir and Jose Luis Morales to win the prize.

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