The Masters: Xander's time? Bryson back-to-back? – The experts' picks

By Sports Desk November 11, 2020

The enforced rescheduling of the 2020 Masters promises to make this year's tournament at Augusta National even more unpredictable than it always is.

Augusta's beauty is not borne just from its colourful, blooming azaleas (albeit they will have a far more Autumnal look this year). No, it is the way year after year it can chew up and spit out the greatest golf has to offer, providing drama at every turn.

With the coronavirus crisis meaning the battle for the green jacket was postponed from its traditional spot of April to November, it is more difficult than ever to try and pick a winner.

But six of Stats Perform News' finest have had a go at doing so ahead of the action getting underway, without fans, on Thursday.

THE TIME HAS COME FOR XANDER – Dan Lewis

After ending as runner-up last year and finishing in the top five in half of his major appearances, the time has come for Xander Schauffele to land his first big title. He was one of six players to have the lead at some point during the final round in 2019 and, with a year's more experience under his belt, he enters this tournament in good stead.

HATTON CAN COMPLETE JOURNEY FROM WANNABE TO SUPERSTAR – Jon Fisher

Winner of the European Tour's flagship event at Wentworth in October, Tyrrell Hatton appears in great shape to do the same on the other side of the pond. He doesn't possess the greatest record at Augusta with a finish of 44th his best in three attempts but an accurate long game and deft touch around the greens make him well-placed to crown a breakthrough 2020. Don't be surprised to see him donning the Green Jacket on Sunday to complete his transformation from petulant wannabe to global superstar.

THIS IS DUSTIN'S YEAR AT AUGUSTA – Chris Myson

World number one Dustin Johnson is yet to win the Masters but has placed in the top 10 in each of his last four Augusta appearances, including his tie for second last year, while he was cruelly denied in 2017 when he fell down a staircase ahead of the event. This could finally be his year, with Johnson in fine form: six straight top-10s included winning the Northern Trust and impressive showings at the other two majors.

DECHAMBEAU PRIMED TO GO BACK-TO-BACK – Peter Hanson

It was always likely to be a case of when not if Bryson DeChambeau became a major winner and now the man dubbed 'The Mad Scientist' has overcome that mental hurdle by dominating at the U.S. Open, there is no reason to suggest he cannot go back-to-back in the majors. A bulkier DeChambeau averaged the longest driving distance off the tee in the 2020 PGA Tour season (322.1 yards) and already leads the statistics in the 2021 campaign (344.4), albeit having only played eight rounds. Augusta is not exactly a course you can just blitz – you need touch around the green, solid putting and the ability to scramble – but it is certainly going to do his chances no harm.

WINGED FOOT WAS A BLIP, RAHM WILL CONTEND AT AUGUSTA – Joe Wright

He might have had a disappointing time at the U.S. Open in September, but there's little reason to discount Rahm from challenging for a maiden major this week. The Spaniard triumphed at the Memorial Tournament and the BMW Championship following the PGA Tour's return, making 2020 the most successful year of his career. While finishing 23rd at Winged Foot was frustrating, Rahm was just a stroke behind winner Patrick Cantlay at the Zozo Championship last month, hitting 11 of 13 fairways and 14 of 18 greens in regulation in an impressive final round.

BEING UNDER THE RADAR MIGHT SUIT MCILROY – Timothy Abraham

Rory McIlroy heads into his 12th Masters a little out of sorts. The Northern Irishman has slipped down the rankings, from first to fifth, since golf restarted after lockdown. He finished 21st at the CJ Cup and 17th at the Zozo Championship last month, results that do not exactly bode particularly well form wise. But without any of the usual pre-Masters hype, the pressure will firmly be off the 31-year-old heading to Augusta. McIlroy's last win at a major came with a second PGA title in 2014, but that elusive green jacket might just come out of the blue.

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  • Is Thiago Alcantara ill-suited to Liverpool's style of play? Is Thiago Alcantara ill-suited to Liverpool's style of play?

    Thiago Alcantara is a rather unique breed of footballer, the type of player who will be almost universally enjoyed such are his breath-taking technical attributes.

    It's like he rolls the passing talents of Juan Roman Riquelme and first touch of Ronaldinho into a single player and saunters around the pitch ensuring the game is played at a pace dictated by him.

    His Liverpool career feels a lot shorter than it actually has been because of his absence through injury, and he'll be hoping his recent return is the catalyst to kick-starting what is resembling a fairly meek title defence.

    But while Thiago has shown flashes of his immense ability in his fledgling Liverpool career, it appears not all are entirely convinced.

    Former Reds midfielder Dietmar Hamann expressed his reservations in an interview with talkSPORT on Tuesday, suggesting Thiago is detrimental to a key part of Liverpool's play; utilising a quick tempo with hard-working midfielders who look to get the ball forward to the front three as soon as possible.

    Hamann urged Liverpool to be cautious about how much influence they let Thiago have, questioning his effectiveness when not in possession and suitability to the Reds' system, concerns that won't have been eased by Thursday's shock defeat to Burnley.

    But does this give a fair reflection of Thiago?

    An unnecessary luxury?

    First of all, there are only so many conclusions you can make regarding Thiago and his time at Liverpool because he has not featured particularly often, as previously highlighted.

    But the fact is, Liverpool's record in Premier League games he has featured in is quite poor, with only one of those six ending in a victory.

    That win came in his Premier League debut, a 2-0 victory at Chelsea back in September – that's right, it was the game where he completed 75 passes despite only coming on at half-time, a record since Opta began recording such data in 2003-04 among players to play a maximum of 45 minutes.

    The hype after that match was stratospheric – the champions had seemingly added the final string to their bow and they were seemingly set to overwhelm everyone, but it's worth bearing in mind that was a Chelsea side reduced to 10 men before Thiago had even come on.

    Liverpool average just one point per game with Thiago, that more than doubles to 2.2 when he hasn't played – additionally, their win percentage rockets from 16.7 to 61.5 in games the Spaniard hasn't featured in.

    Of course, it's a relatively small sample size, so perhaps take the facts with a pinch of salt – but there are metrics that can shine more light on Thiago's influence.

    One of Hamann's major reservations related to Thiago's desire to dictate play and how he might, in the long run, negatively impact Liverpool's effectiveness off the ball.

    "Liverpool were always good when they weren't in possession, won it and played quickly forward. He's not that type of player, so it will be very interesting when he does play more often now how it's going to change the dynamics of the team," Hamann said.

    It's true, Liverpool do have more of the ball (65.7 per cent compared to 64.7) with Thiago in the side, but the difference is negligible and certainly cannot be pointed to as a cause for worry.

    The supply line

    Then there's the concerns relating to Thiago's style of play potentially impacting supply to the frontline. Well, the Reds average 18.7 shots per game when he plays (up from 14.9 without him).

    There is also no damning evidence to suggest Thiago isn't looking to feed the forwards either, after all, he passed to Mohamed Salah 11 times (a joint high) against Manchester United last weekend.

    He has picked out Salah 36 times in their 365 minutes on the pitch together – so, once every 10.1 minutes. Although that's less frequent than he passes to Trent Alexander-Arnold (once per every 8.2 minutes) and Andy Robertson (8.8 minutes), it shows he is supplying the Reds' most-threatening forward regularly.

    And while the two full-backs had off days against Burnley, can you really blame Thiago for passing to them often? Since the start of last season, they are Liverpool's leading providers of shooting opportunities.

    Additionally, his 14.9 passes into final third of the pitch per 90 minutes is second only to Jordan Henderson (16.2) among Liverpool players this term – Thiago beats him, and every other Red, in terms of successful passes in the attacking third every game, however (25.8, compared to Henderson's 20.5).

    "He's not that type of player"

    It's fair to say Thiago probably isn't best known for what he brings to teams off the ball, but despite some seemingly questioning him in this department, he appears to be at least pulling his weight.

    In fact, he's averaging marginally more tackles per 90 minutes than Henderson (1.5 over 1.4), while no one in the Liverpool team is intercepting opposition passes as frequently as the Barcelona product (2.8 per 90 mins).

    On top of that, he's ranked third in the squad for duel involvements (14.7 per 90 mins) – while not necessarily an indicator of excellence on its own, that should at the very least dispel any questions regarding his work rate.

    On an individual level when you look at the data, Thiago doesn't appear to be out of place stylistically. While he may occasionally spend more time on the ball than some of his midfield contemporaries, he possesses the kind of technical wizardry that arguably no other Liverpool player has and that is surely a positive rather than a negative.

    He's also clearly a hard-working player who offers plenty off the ball. So, while the Reds are going through a tricky patch at the moment, Thiago's abilities should be embraced rather than looked upon with suspicion.

  • Davis stars as Lakers win on the road again, Nets edge Heat Davis stars as Lakers win on the road again, Nets edge Heat

    The Los Angeles Lakers eased to a win in the NBA on Saturday, while the Brooklyn Nets overcame the Miami Heat.

    Anthony Davis posted 37 points in 28 minutes as the Lakers brushed past the Chicago Bulls 101-90 to improve to 9-0 on the road.

    LeBron James had a double-double of 17 points and 11 rebounds in the comfortable win.

    The Lakers (13-4) sit top of the Western Conference ahead of the red-hot Utah Jazz (12-4).

    The Nets returned to winning ways after back-to-back losses, overcoming the Heat 128-124.

    Kyrie Irving had 18 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter, while Kevin Durant (31 points), Joe Harris (23 points) and James Harden (12 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds) were also key contributors.

    Heat star Bam Adebayo was in impressive form with 41 points.

     

    Jazz win eighth straight, Embiid and Jokic star again

    The Jazz made it eight straight wins as Donovan Mitchell recorded 23 points, seven rebounds and six assists in a 127-108 victory over the Golden State Warriors.

    Warriors star Stephen Curry (24 points) passed Reggie Miller to move into second place for most three-pointers made in NBA history.

    The Philadelphia 76ers improved to 12-5 as Joel Embiid had a double-double of 33 points and 14 rebounds in a 114-110 win against the Detroit Pistons.

    Nikola Jokic's impressive season continued. The center had 29 points, 22 rebounds and six assists as the Denver Nuggets beat the Phoenix Suns 120-112 after overtime.

     

    Grant struggles

    Jerami Grant struggled from the field for the Pistons. He went three-of-19 for just 11 points in 35 minutes in the loss to the 76ers.

     

    Curry passes Miller

    Curry moved past Miller after making his 2,561st three-pointer in the NBA. Only Ray Allen (2,973) has made more.

    Saturday's results

    Minnesota Timberwolves 120-110 New Orleans Pelicans
    Philadelphia 76ers 114-110 Detroit Pistons
    Brooklyn Nets 128-124 Miami Heat
    Houston Rockets 133-108 Dallas Mavericks
    Utah Jazz 127-108 Golden State Warriors
    Los Angeles Lakers 101-90 Chicago Bulls
    Denver Nuggets 120-112 Phoenix Suns

     

    Hawks at Bucks

    The Milwaukee Bucks (9-6) have dropped back-to-back games ahead of hosting the Atlanta Hawks (8-7) on Sunday.

  • Real Madrid must be patient with Hazard – Bettoni Real Madrid must be patient with Hazard – Bettoni

    Real Madrid assistant coach David Bettoni urged patience with Eden Hazard after the playmaker showed signs of his best in a win over Deportivo Alaves.

    Hazard has struggled to find his best form since arriving at Madrid from Chelsea in 2019, but he scored once and set up another in Saturday's 4-1 LaLiga victory.

    The 30-year-old scored and assisted in a single game for Madrid for just the second time and first since October 2019 before coming off just after the hour-mark.

    Bettoni, who took charge for the game after Zinedine Zidane tested positive for coronavirus, said Hazard needed time.

    "I think Eden has had a tough season and a half with Real Madrid," he told a news conference.

    "We have to be patient with him, although obviously in football and especially at Real Madrid, we don't really have time to be that patient but with Eden I think we have to be.

    "He had a very good game, scoring a goal and getting an assist and I think we'll see the best of him eventually. We saw a little bit of that today."

    Casemiro and Karim Benzema scored before Hazard's strike, only for Joselu to pull a goal back for Alaves.

    But Benzema sealed Madrid's win after Hazard came off, the Frenchman reaching at least 15 goals in all competitions for the 10th time in the past 11 seasons with the LaLiga giants.

    Bettoni explained his decision to introduce Vinicius Junior in place of Hazard was a tactical choice.

    "It was a change because we wanted to bring on Vinicius to give us a bit more pace," he said.

    "I think Hazard had a very good hour on the pitch and it was basically just to change things, to add a bit more pace to the front three and nothing more than that."

    Madrid are second in LaLiga, four points behind Atletico Madrid, who have played two fewer games.

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