From a false nine to a true nine, Manchester City will roll out Erling Haaland as last season's Premier League champions show off their marquee addition.

City won the 2021-22 Premier League with 93 points despite lacking a target man, pipping Liverpool on the final day of the campaign.

Liverpool, unlucky to come home second on 92 points, have made a big investment in buying Darwin Nunez from Benfica, a penalty-box predator like Haaland.

The 90-point mark is widely seen as a benchmark for a team's greatness, but managers always see room for improvement.

Here, Stats Perform looks at how 90-point-plus teams from seasons past have bolstered their ranks, and how they got on afterwards.

100 POINTS

Manchester City are the only team in Premier League history to hit the 100-point mark, doing so in 2017-18, and they offloaded former kingpins Joe Hart and Yaya Toure at the end of that campaign, making just one big investment by signing Riyad Mahrez (£60million) from Leicester City.

Already a Premier League title winner with the Foxes, the Algerian winger has added three more league medals in Manchester, including one in his first season.

99 POINTS

Liverpool denied City a hat-trick of consecutive titles by triumphing in the coronavirus-interrupted 2019-20 championship, finishing 18 points clear of Pep Guardiola's team. The Reds then spent the thick end of £75million to acquire Thiago Alcantara from Bayern Munich, Diogo Jota from Wolves and Kostas Tsimikas from Olympiacos.

They recouped around half of that by selling Dejan Lovren, Ki-Jana Hoever and Rhian Brewster, before finishing with 30 fewer points in the following campaign.

98 POINTS

City's encore to their ton-up season was made remarkable by the fact Liverpool were hot on their heels, finishing just one point back. This 2018-19 title-winning effort by City was followed by captain Vincent Kompany taking flight for Anderlecht, while Danilo, Eliaquim Mangala, Fabian Delph and Douglas Luiz also said goodbye.

Guardiola invested wisely as Rodri (£62.8m from Atletico Madrid) and Joao Cancelo (£60million from Juventus) arrived. Both became staple members of the City side, but their first season on Premier League duty, as Liverpool romped to glory in front of empty stadiums, was probably best forgotten.

97 POINTS

Liverpool must have wondered what it would take to topple City after the seismic 2018-19 campaign, although the Reds' Champions League win showed they were firmly on the right track. This 97-point haul is the highest total any Premier League runner-up has secured.

Jurgen Klopp decided no big adjustments were required, investing in Takumi Minamino from Salzburg (£7.25m) and Harvey Elliott from Fulham (£1.5m, rising to £4.3m). He had done his serious spending the previous year, securing Naby Keita, Fabinho and Alisson.

95 POINTS

When big-spending Chelsea landed a then-record 95 points in the 2004-05 campaign, the response from the Blues, in the headiest phase of the Roman Abramovich era, was to splash more cash.

Shaun Wright-Phillips (£21m) and Michael Essien (£24.4m) were newcomers as Jose Mourinho evicted Mikael Forssell, Scott Parker, Mateja Kezman and Tiago. The result of that trading? A second consecutive title as the Premier League points mercury rose up into the 90s again.

93 POINTS

Two teams have had 93-point seasons: Chelsea in 2016-17 and Manchester City in 2021-22. Chelsea's post-season dealings were especially notable for captain John Terry moving on to Aston Villa. The club cashed in as Juan Cuadrado went to Juventus, Nathan Ake and Asmir Begovic left for Bournemouth and Nemanja Matic joined Manchester United. They acquired Antonio Rudiger (£31m), Tiemoue Bakayoko (£40m), Alvaro Morata (£60m), Davide Zappacosta (£23m) and Danny Drinkwater (£35m). The spree didn't help much, though. Chelsea trailed in fifth in 2017-18, Antonio Conte sacked despite an FA Cup win.

City made Haaland their priority this year but also added England midfielder Kalvin Phillips (£42m) and goalkeeper Stefan Ortega (free), while Julian Alvarez (£14m) arrived after being signed in January. Fernandinho, Gabriel Jesus, Oleksandr Zinchenko and Raheem Sterling left.

92 POINTS

Manchester United were the first Premier League side to top 90 points, in 1993-94, albeit in a 42-game competition. After that title, United's second in succession, Bryan Robson left to become player-boss at Middlesbrough and David May (£1.4m) was bought from Blackburn Rovers. United went chasing a hat-trick of titles in the subsequent season but found big-spending Blackburn too strong. The record £7million arrival of Andy Cole midway through the campaign could not rescue Alex Ferguson's side, who tallied 88 points, one fewer than the champions.

Liverpool's 92-point season came last time out. It remains to be seen how Nunez (£64m) copes with the Premier League spotlight. Among a string of departures was Sadio Mane, who left for Bayern Munich. Mane scored 90 goals in 196 Premier League games with Liverpool.

91 POINTS

Manchester United followed their treble campaign with a 91-point haul in 1999-2000, before signing up France goalkeeper Fabien Barthez (£7.8m). They tallied 80 points in 2000-01, enough to finish 10 clear of second-placed Arsenal.

With Wright-Phillips and Essien on board, Chelsea notched 91 points in 2005-06. At the end of that season, the Blues swooped for Michael Ballack (free), Andriy Shevchenko (£30m), Arsenal's Ashley Cole (£5m, plus William Gallas) and John Obi Mikel (£16m). They were second best to Manchester United in the following season's Premier League, but enjoyed FA Cup and EFL Cup wins.

90 POINTS

Two teams have scraped the 90-point mark, Arsenal doing so in their 'Invincibles' season of 2003-04, with 26 wins and 12 draws. They signed young Dutchman Robin van Persie (£2.75m) towards the end of that campaign and he arrived in the summer. Newcomer Mourinho led Chelsea to the following year's title, with Arsenal runners-up.

Manchester United got to 90 in 2008-09 – Cristiano Ronaldo's last season before his £80million Real Madrid switch. Manager Ferguson then brought in Antonio Valencia (£16m), Michael Owen (free), Gabriel Obertan (£3m) and Mame Biram Diouf (£4million), with Valencia the only one to become a regular. With Ronaldo gone, Chelsea edged out United by a point for the following year's title.

It does not feel like it has been away for long, but the Premier League is back.

Just shy of the competition's 30th anniversary, the action gets underway a week earlier than usual as club football attempts to adjust to the upcoming mid-season World Cup in Qatar.

Narratives galore have emerged over the pre-season, but in terms of opening-weekend curiosity, it is fair to suggest Old Trafford will attract more than its fair share of intrigued glances.

Another new era begins at Manchester United on Sunday as Erik ten Hag takes charge of his first competitive match at the club.

There's a long list of managers who have failed to bring sustained success to United since Alex Ferguson's retirement nine years ago – Ten Hag will hope he can buck the trend, and he begins with the visit of Brighton and Hove Albion.

New beginnings

Ten Hag's April appointment came amid gloomy days at Old Trafford. Ralf Rangnick's spell as interim manager was proving tumultuous, with the German as familiar to criticising the club's structure as he was presiding over underwhelming performances.

United had been dumped out of the Champions League by an unimpressive Atletico Madrid side, and that began something of a downward spiral, with hopes of a top-four finish quickly diminishing.

Now, Ten Hag will be the eighth manager – including caretaker/interim bosses – to take charge of United since Ferguson left.

At least the short-term omens are good: of the previous seven managers, only Ten Hag's compatriot Louis van Gaal failed to win his opening match, losing 2-1 to Swansea City.

It will take a lot more than one win over Brighton to bring the good times back to Old Trafford, however.

Ronaldo: A point to prove and a milestone within reach…

Of course, one of the major sideshows for United in pre-season has been Cristiano Ronaldo.

Reports claimed he wanted to leave for a Champions League club and he did not join United on their pre-season tour of Australia and Thailand. This was put down to personal reasons.

But no such move away has so far materialised, and so he was welcomed back into the fold before playing 45 minutes against Rayo Vallecano last weekend. Cue more controversy, as he and several other United players left early, which Ten Hag later called "unacceptable".

Given the circus around Ronaldo in recent times, at any other club you would expect him to be dropped for this game – yet, with Anthony Martial out injured, Ronaldo looks likely to start, and few would put it past him making the occasion about himself again.

After all, he's only three away from his 500th career league goal. He couldn't, could he?

A score to settle

Brighton and United played each other quite recently. Well, recently in competitive action terms, anyway.

The Red Devils' penultimate game of last season was at the Amex Stadium, and Seagulls fans will remember it fondly as they ran out crushing 4-0 winners.

That was Brighton's biggest top-flight win ever in their 356th match at that level, while it inflicted a fifth successive away defeat for United, their worst such run since 1981.

Winning at Old Trafford is another matter entirely, though – Brighton have never won there. If United do lose, they will have suffered three consecutive Premier League defeats for the first time in seven years.

Good habits

While that May encounter was a game to forget for United and Bruno Fernandes, the playmaker does have a good track record against Sunday's opponents.

In five league meetings with Brighton, Fernandes has been involved in six goals (four goals, two assists), which make the Seagulls  his second-favourite opposition, behind Leeds United (eight goal involvements).

Similarly, Brighton's Pascal Gross has done well against United in the past.

His four goals versus United is more than he has managed against any other team, and Gross has netted in all three of Brighton's Premier League victories over the Red Devils, getting the winning goal on two occasions.

South Africa are favourites to inflict a third consecutive defeat on New Zealand for the first time since 1998 when they meet in a huge Rugby Championship battle on Saturday.

All Blacks head coach Ian Foster is under pressure after New Zealand lost a home series to Ireland for the first time last month.

A trip to face the world champions twice at the start of the Rugby Championship would appear to be make or break for Foster, who needs his side to step up in the first game of the tournament at Mbombela Stadium.

New Zealand won the title last year, but have lost their way just 13 months before the Rugby World Cup starts in France.

Meanwhile, Argentina do battle with Australia at Estadio Malvinas Argentinas on the opening day, with the Wallabies having been so short of success away from home as Michael Cheika looks to mastermind a victory over his former team.

Stats Perform preview the Tests in Nelspruit and Mendoza with the use of Opta facts.

SOUTH AFRICA V NEW ZEALAND

FORM

South Africa start the Rugby Championship on the back of a 2-1 series win over Wales and have been victorious in six of their past seven Tests on home soil, conceding 20 points or more in just one of those matches.

It is just one win in five Tests for the out-of-sorts All Blacks, who last lost three in a row 24 years ago. They were beaten in five consecutive matches from July to August 1998, with the Springboks winning two of those contests.

New Zealand have a strong record in South Africa, though, having won their past four away Tests against the Springboks

ONES TO WATCH

Damian Willemse caught the eye against Wales, ranking in the top five for both metres gained (190m – third) and line breaks (three – joint-fourth) among players from Tier One nations in the July Tests. The All Blacks will have to prevent the in-form full-back from doing further damage.

Number eight Ardie Savea is among the senior figures who Foster will be counting on to have a big influence. Savea was the only player to score three tries versus a Tier One nation last month, striving in vain to prevent Ireland from making history.

 

​ARGENTINA V AUSTRALIA

FORM

Argentina have a spring in their step after a 2-1 series victory over Scotland and have their sights on back-to-back wins for the first time since November 2020 as Cheika finds himself in the strange position of plotting Australia's downfall.

The Wallabies are smarting from a series loss to England on home soil and have won only one of their past nine Tests outside of Australia – versus Japan last October.

Australia have become accustomed to getting the better of the Pumas, though, winning four and drawing two of the previous six encounters. Six of the past seven Tests between the two nations in Argentina have gone the way of the touring side.

ONES TO WATCH

Argentina's dramatic series win over Scotland came courtesy of a last-gasp try from Emiliano Boffelli, who also scored 14 points with the boot and provided an assist.

Quade Cooper returns from injury to start at fly-half for Australia. Wallabies head coach Dave Rennie will expect the number 10 and scrum-half Nic White to dictate the tempo.

Chelsea's rather scatter-gun approach to the transfer window since their takeover went through has been one of the talking points of pre-season.

New owner Todd Boehly has been a busy man but missed out on a host of players who were apparently key targets.

Jules Kounde, Raphinha and Matthijs de Ligt all went to other clubs; Ousmane Dembele opted to sign a new contract with Barcelona; and the Blues were unsuccessful in reported pursuits of Presnel Kimpembe and Nathan Ake. On top of that, Chelsea saw Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen leave on free transfers.

Sky Sports pundit and former Manchester United defender Gary Neville has likened Boehly's activity to someone playing on the computer game Football Manager.

But for all their failed dealings, Chelsea have brought in Raheem Sterling, Kalidou Koulibaly and now Marc Cucurella.

The deal for the latter, however, certainly hasn't been completed without criticism. First of all, Chelsea could end up paying £62million to Brighton and Hove Albion for the Spaniard, which would be a world-record fee for a left-back.

Manchester City were apparently unwilling to pay more than £30m for him, so why are Chelsea so convinced by him?


MAKING HIS MARC OUTSIDE OF SPAIN

A graduate of Barcelona's La Masia academy, Cucurella has always looked extremely promising.

As such, it was a surprise Barca ever let him go on loan to Eibar with a purchase option in the first place four years ago. It was even more bizarre 12 months later when the Blaugrana exercised their buy-back clause just 16 days after officially selling him, only to loan him again to Getafe with a €6million option – and reportedly 40 per cent of any future transfer fee – about 48 hours later.

His form at Eibar and Getafe regularly suggested Barca were being short-sighted, although neither club nor Brighton would be considered especially fashionable, which is perhaps why he's still only played once for Spain.

One might even say Cucurella's only season at Brighton went under the radar until City's interest surfaced a few weeks ago – but make no mistake, he took to the Premier League impressively, his development in the physically intense teams of Jose Luis Mendilibar and Jose Bordalas clearly coming in useful.

The 24-year-old was used predominantly in his favoured left-back position last term, while also filling in as a left wing-back and as a left-sided centre-back at a time of need for Brighton, despite previous doubts over his ability to defend.

"There were people who said I couldn't play as a full-back because I couldn't defend, but now I'm proving I can even play as a centre-back in a back three," Cucurella told Spanish outlet Marca earlier this year.

"What I was looking for was to play as a full-back, which is what I have done all my life. I had never played left centre-back before, but [Brighton head coach Graham Potter] has given me the confidence to feel very comfortable there."

Thrown in at the deep end as Brighton dealt with an injury crisis midway through the 2021-22 season – his first outside his native Spain – Cucurella more than passed the test and added further strings to his bow.

CUCURELLA THE ALL-ROUNDER

Whether operating at full-back, wing-back or centre-back, Cucurella helped Brighton keep 11 clean sheets in the Premier League last season, a tally that only six other clubs could better.

Far from being someone who is unable to defend, he led the way among players who played predominantly as full-backs in the English top flight last season in terms of winning back possession, doing so 247 times.

He also ranked behind only Tyrick Mitchell for tackles – 93 compared to the Crystal Palace youngster's 104 – showing he is happy to get stuck in when required.

The one-cap Spain international also proved he is capable of attacking, with his 40 open-play chances created placing him behind only new team-mate Reece James (42) and Trent Alexander-Arnold (51), who many would consider to be two of the finest attacking full-backs around.

Granted, those key passes only translated to one assist – for context, James recorded nine last season – but some of that can be put down to the finishing of Brighton's attacking players, rather than Cucurella alone failing to deliver from wide.

Indeed, his expected assists (xA) return of 2.8 last term was still the 14th-highest of any full-back. While that may not sound outstanding, it's worth bearing in mind the only players to exceed 4.0 xA were James (4.7), Andrew Robertson (5.5), Joao Cancelo (6.6) and Alexander Arnold (13), all of whom obviously play at clubs who dominate most of their games.

Furthermore, given his near decade spent in the Barca youth set-up and then on the fringes of the first team, it comes as no surprise to see Cucurella is very comfortable with the ball at his feet.

The 1,558 passes he completed last season were bettered – again among those who can be considered full-backs by trade – by only Robertson (1,642), Alexander-Arnold (1,684) and Cancelo (2,516).

Cucurella is clearly a feisty competitor who can also play, a combination that in itself is an asset.

A GAMBLE WORTH TAKING?

On the basis of those numbers and the importance Thomas Tuchel places on his wing-backs, bringing in Cucurella in this window does make some sense for Chelsea. But one problem, of course, is the mammoth transfer fee.

Of course, as Graham Potter said on Friday, Brighton didn't need to sell, and Cucurella still had four years left to run on his contract, so the Seagulls were in a position of absolute strength.

From Chelsea's perspective, that leads us to a key question: was Cucurella a necessity? Right now, arguably not, and the fee does look remarkable given he only cost Brighton £16m a year ago.

There remains the likely scenario that Marcos Alonso leaves the club, in which case Cucurella and Ben Chilwell will be left to fight over that spot on the left flank, but again, does a club need two players of such expense for one position?

Sure, Cucurella's greater versatility means the pair could potentially play together, although clearly one or the other would be playing at least slightly out of their natural position in such a scenario.

It's difficult to escape the feeling Chelsea might've been better served signing another natural centre-back or perhaps a striker.

But in fairness to Cucurella, the noise around his transfer has nothing to do with him. All he can do is concentrate on the obstacles in front of him, and he's done a pretty good job of adapting to his surroundings at each of his past three clubs.

As a player with Barcelona pedigree, who has proved himself in numerous roles during his short time in England and is still young enough to further improve, don't bet against Cucurella being a hit at Stamford Bridge, even if his signing has left plenty puzzled.

Just 11 weeks have passed since Manchester City lifted the Premier League title to bring down the curtain on the 2021-22 Premier League campaign, yet plenty has changed ahead of the start of the new season.

City have undergone a facelift of sorts, with Erling Haaland their marquee arrival of the window, while last term's runners-up Liverpool have replaced the ever-reliable Sadio Mane with Darwin Nunez in attack.

The chasing pack have also been busy as they desperately attempt to keep pace with City and Liverpool, but the exciting signings of the close season to date have not been solely reserved by those competing in the upper echelons.

With the 2022-23 season getting underway on Friday, Stats Perform picks out 10 players we are most looking forward to seeing in action in the Premier League for the very first time.

 

Erling Haaland (Manchester City)

Arguably the highest-profile signing of the transfer window, Haaland arrives at City with a reputation of being one of Europe's most ruthless goalscorers at the age of just 22.

Haaland was prolific during his short time at Salzburg and scored 86 goals in 89 appearances in all competitions for Borussia Dortmund.

That is a tally bettered by only Robert Lewandowski (122) and Kylian Mbappe (89) across the same period, both of whom played 19 games more.

Darwin Nunez (Liverpool)

Liverpool will also have a new frontman this campaign after spending an initial £64million (€75m) to bring in Nunez from Benfica.

While not a direct like-for-like replacement for Mane, the Uruguay international will have to both score goals on a regular basis and also help to get the best out of his fellow attackers, such as Mohamed Salah. 

The figures suggest Nunez should be well up to the task, with his conversion rate of 27.2 per cent being the highest of all players with 55 or more non-penalty shots in Europe's top-six leagues last season.

Ivan Perisic (Tottenham)

Tottenham were successful in getting the majority of their transfer business out the way early on, giving Antonio Conte a chance to integrate the likes of Clement Lenglet, Djed Spence, Richarlison and Yves Bissouma into his squad.

Each of those will add something different, but it is Perisic who is the most intriguing signing of the lot. Regularly linked with a switch to the Premier League, the former Dortmund, Inter and Bayern winger finally gets a chance to test himself in England's top flight. 

Among many other qualities, Perisic created the most chances following ball carries – defined as any instance when a player moves five-or-more metres with the ball – of any player in Serie A in 2021-22 (26), showing he can still be a menace out wide even at the age of 33.

Lisandro Martinez (Manchester United)

New head coach Erik ten Hag has largely stuck to what he knows when it comes to Manchester United's transfer activity in his first window in charge. Christian Eriksen, Tyrell Malacia and Martinez have all either worked under Ten Hag or have strong connections with the Eredivisie.

Eriksen is already an established name in English football, whereas Malacia and Martinez are gearing up for their first taste of the Premier League. While Malacia is expected to be used as a squad player, Martinez will surely be a regular in the heart of defence if his £48m (€57m) price tag is anything to go by.

Despite concerns being raised over his lack of height, Martinez boasted an aerial duel success rate of 70.2 per cent in the Eredivisie last season, which was fourth-best return of any player.

Kalidou Koulibaly (Chelsea)

Another perennially linked Premier League player, Koulibaly has joined Chelsea after eight years as a Napoli player. Following the departures of centre-backs Andreas Christensen and Antonio Rudiger after the expiration of their contracts, Koulibaly will have to hit the ground running at Stamford Bridge.

If his time with Napoli is anything to go by, Chelsea will have a solid and reliable player in the heart of their defence for the next few years. Across his time in Naples, no defender in Serie A won more tackles (344) or made more successful passes (14,528) than the Senegal international.

Fabio Vieira (Arsenal)

Arsenal mean serious business ahead of Mikel Arteta's third full season in charge. The Spaniard has used his Man City links to recruit Oleksandr Zinchenko and Gabriel Jesus, having already added Vieira to the squad earlier in the window.

Central midfield was not exactly an area Arsenal were light, yet Arteta felt the need to strengthen and in Vieira he has a player with experience of winning a couple of league titles with Porto prior to turning 22.

In contrast to legendary Arsenal namesake Patrick, the Portugal Under-21 international is more accustomed to playing high up the field and recorded the most assists (14) of any Porto player in the league last season, while also chipping in with six goals of his own. 

Tyler Adams (Leeds United)

Leeds escaped relegation by the skin of their teeth last season – now they must do so again without their most important player following Kalvin Phillips' move to Man City. 

Plenty of eyes will be on Adams in the holding midfield position, the United States international having arrived at Elland Road on the back of three years with New York Red Bulls, followed by three more years with sister club RB Leipzig.

Adams recovered possession an average of 5.69 times per 90 minutes across his 24 Bundesliga appearances last season, which is nearly half the number Phillips (10.2) managed in the Premier League – the best return of any player with 900+ minutes in the competition.

Boubacar Kamara (Aston Villa)

Aston Villa boss Steven Gerrard has quietly gone about his transfer business ahead of his first full season in Premier League management. The signing of Kamara, a defensive midfielder by trade, went somewhat under the radar given it was announced just a day after the previous season finished.

Kamara was a big part of Marseille's strong 2021-22 campaign, which saw them finish second in Ligue 1 and reach the semi-finals of the Europa Conference League.

Of midfielders in the French top division in last season, only Johan Gastien and Jordan Ferri made more than Kamara's 2,383 passes, while of those who made over 1,000 passes, only five players had better accuracy than his 90.68 per cent.

Gianluca Scamacca (West Ham)

It says an awful lot about the work carried out by David Moyes at West Ham over the past two seasons that finishing seventh last time out – a drop from sixth the year before – was considered a disappointment.

If Moyes' men are to once again challenge on multiple fronts this coming season, bringing in a player who knows how to find the net was always going to be imperative. In Scamacca, West Ham appear to have exactly that.

The Italy international scored 16 goals in 36 Serie A appearances for mid-table Sassuolo last season and converted 70.59 per cent of his big chances, a figure only bettered by Gianluca Caprari (83.33) and Dusan Vlahovic (73.91) among players to hit double figures.

Aaron Hickey (Brentford)

Brentford have broken their transfer record multiple times this window to help build on an impressive first ever campaign in the Premier League. Christian Eriksen may have departed, but other areas have been strengthened, including in defence.

The £14m (€16.6m) signing of Hickey from Bologna arguably strengthens Brentford in both full-back departments, given the Scotland international's versatility with both feet. 

He also has an eye for goal, having netted five times in the Italian top flight and assisted another last season. Among Serie A defenders in the 2021-22 season, only Genoa's Domenico Criscito (six) and Nahuel Molina (seven) of Udinese scored more goals.

Cristiano Ronaldo faces an uncertain Manchester United future, but he stands to pass a string of landmarks if he stays and plays for Erik ten Hag this season.

Tottenham's Harry Kane, set to captain England at the World Cup later in the year, is chasing a significant club landmark.

And guess who will join Mohamed Salah in bidding to set an opening-day career goals record.

Of course, it's......  Jamie Vardy.

As the new season gets under way on Friday, Stats Perform looks at the records and milestones coming into view.

KANE, RONALDO, HAALAND: TARGETS IN THE CROSSHAIRS OF THE BIG GUNS

What role Ronaldo has to play remains in the balance, given he appears keen to leave United for a second time.

But if the 37-year-old features for the Red Devils, he can begin to chase down landmarks. For starters, he is just four victories short of having had a hand in 150 United wins in the Premier League, having drawn 43 times and lost 37 while a member of the team across his two Old Trafford spells.

Ronaldo is a mere six goals away from becoming the first player to amass 500 goals in Europe's top five leagues. His record 494 goals to date have come from 616 league matches. On his heels, however, is perennial rival Lionel Messi, once of Barcelona and now at Paris Saint-Germain (480 goals in 546 league games).

Kane is 17 away from hitting the 200-goal mark in the Premier League, a total only ever achieved by Alan Shearer (260) and Wayne Rooney (208). Sergio Aguero (184) and Andy Cole (187), third and fourth on the Premier League era list, are poised to be knocked down a peg as Kane continues his assault on the league record.

Both Leicester City's Vardy and Liverpool's Salah will be looking to equal or break the Premier League matchday one goals record, which is currently held jointly by Shearer, Frank Lampard and Rooney (eight goals). Vardy and Salah have seven each, like the retired Teddy Sheringham and Aguero.

Manchester City new boy Erling Haaland has caused a sensation with his goalscoring wherever he has played, dazzling for Molde, Salzburg, Borussia Dortmund and Norway. He could become the seventh Norwegian to score on his Premier League debut, and the third to do so in the opening game of a season, after Tore Andre Flo for Chelsea in 1997-98 and Adama Diomande in 2016-17 with Hull City.

DESERVES A LONG SERVICE MEDAL

Liverpool's James Milner, fresh from signing a new one-year contract, is 12 short of reaching 600 Premier League games. Only three players have reached that mark to date: Gareth Barry (653), Ryan Giggs (632) and Lampard (609).

Milner made his Premier League debut for Leeds United as a 16-year-old in November 2002, so a 20-year anniversary is approaching for the former England midfielder.

David Moyes was already a Premier League manager by the time Milner made his first appearance. At Everton then, he has done the rounds since and is a mere two games away from completing 1,000 matches in all competitions as a manager in English football.

Now at West Ham, Moyes looks to be at the opposite end of his touchline career to Mikel Arteta, the Arsenal manager who is one away from bringing up his first 50 wins as a Premier League boss.

STICK AROUND LONG ENOUGH...

Only six teams have been constant members of the Premier League since its first year in 1992-93. Completing the first 30 seasons without suffering the indignity of relegation have been Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham, Everton and Arsenal. Sooner or later, all sorts of landmarks arrive for these league lynchpins.

Arsenal have lost 249 Premier League games and headed into Friday night's season opener against Crystal Palace under threat of becoming the 13th side to lose 250. They would have had the longest wait to lose 250, however, having already played four games more than Chelsea, who took the longest (1,148 games) of those to have reached the not-so-desirable milestone.

Tottenham, another of those stalwart sides, are just five away from becoming the fifth team to score 1,000 goals at home in the competition (Manchester United 1,214, Liverpool 1,156, Arsenal 1,154, Chelsea 1,121).

Chelsea are 27 shy of 2,000 goals, home or away, having plundered 1,973 in their 1,152 games to date.

Aston Villa and Newcastle United are both 12 short of losing 400 Premier League games. Only West Ham (408) and Everton (414) have lost more games than those sides, who will hope to avoid spilling over that barrier this season.

West Ham are four away from reaching 1,000 Premier League games, while promoted Nottingham Forest are two away from 200.

MAKING UP THE NUMBERS

Liverpool left-back Andy Robertson needs one assist to become only the second defender to register 50 Premier League assists, after Leighton Baines (Wigan, Everton). Robertson has 49, with Baines managing 53 across his career.

Aston Villa veteran Ashley Young and Tottenham new arrival Richarlison are two shy of reaching 50 Premier League goals, while Newcastle's former Burnley goalkeeper Nick Pope is four away from 50 clean sheets in the competition.

Brighton and Hove Albion are two away from 50 wins, with Aston Villa four short of 300 draws, a tally that only Everton (320) have reached.

Southampton need four victories to reach 100 away wins, and Aston Villa want four three-pointers on the road to reach their 150 wins. Leicester, on the other hand, are four away from 150 Premier League away defeats. Brendan Rodgers will hope to fend off that landmark until well into the new campaign.

When Jack Grealish charged into the penalty area in the 87th minute at the Santiago Bernabeu late last season and saw his shot cleared off the line by Ferland Mendy, there seemed no way Manchester City would not be in the Champions League final.

They were 1-0 up in the semi-final second leg, 5-3 ahead on aggregate. Real Madrid had three minutes plus stoppage time to turn things around – even for a side who produced some memorable comebacks en route to the semi-finals, turning this tie around looked impossible.

Yet the tale unfolded in a matter of minutes, with City's Champions League aspirations dissolving for another season.

Over the course of the two legs, City were comfortably the better team and yet failed to advance to the final in Paris, where Madrid went on to beat Liverpool 1-0.

City's failure served to highlight a key deficiency in their squad.

Whether that's fair or not is up for debate, because they subsequently went on to win a fourth Premier League title in five years, and no one would have questioned the legitimacy of them seeing off Madrid, but when the victor is led by the type of figure the loser is lacking, it's an easy conclusion to jump to.

Karim Benzema may not have been at his unplayable best in that second leg, but he won and converted the ultimately decisive penalty, and the effectiveness with which he led the line in the first game ensured Madrid were still in with a shout upon the return to Spain.

City will now hope they have such a goalscoring talisman in Erling Haaland.

After a slightly unconvincing City debut in the Community Shield last week, failing to score against Liverpool from his game-high 1.04 expected goals (xG), Haaland will make his Premier League bow as the new season begins this weekend, with attention sure to soon turn to European action.

City apparently paid £51.3million (€60m) to Borussia Dortmund for his transfer. Even when you consider the apparently significant agents' fees, it is difficult to see this as anything other than a bargain for City.

The dust may now have settled on City's 2021-22 collapse in the Spanish capital, but it's hard not to look at the deal through the prism of Champions League failure because of what will now be expected – rather than hoped for – with a player like Haaland in the team.

When trying to understand what has specifically gone wrong for City in the Champions League since Pep Guardiola was hired, most observers seem to have different opinions. Some might point to an apparent lack of on-field leaders, others highlight wastefulness at crucial moments, and of course there are many who have bemoaned Pep's dreaded "overthinking".

The idea of there being a lack of on-field leaders has always seemed wide of the mark, while no one can accuse Guardiola of overcomplicating his selections against Madrid. Even if one were to try to claim that, City were on course for the final until the 90th minute of the second leg.

Similarly, wastefulness is something most clubs can be accused of at one time or another, and, in fact, across all the Champions League ties from which City have been eliminated under Guardiola, they have scored 17 times from 16.99 xG. Granted, there were occasions where they didn't score as often as they should have, but over time it evens itself out.

Yet perhaps this is where Haaland can make the difference. Sure, City's xG has evened out over the unsuccessful ties in question, but with a striker as freakishly deadly as the Norwegian – last Saturday at the King Power Stadium excepted – there becomes a greater opportunity to finish chances that maybe you wouldn't generally expect to.

Following his Bundesliga debut on January 18, 2020, Haaland scored 86 goals in 89 games for Dortmund in all competitions, averaging a goal every 84 minutes.

Only Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski (123 goals in 108 games) boasted a better scoring rate over that period among players from Europe's top five leagues.

Despite struggling with injuries in the 2021-22 season, Haaland still managed 29 goals in 30 games for BVB, including a strike in his final game. Twenty-one of those goals were scored via his favoured left foot, three came via his right and the other five were headers.

One thing you cannot accuse City of is being ineffective when it comes to controlling football matches and creating chances – they wouldn't have enjoyed the success they have in the Premier League, under intense pressure from an incredible Liverpool side, if not.

But in knockout ties when there is such a limited amount of time to respond to setbacks or make amends for certain mistakes, whether defensive or in front of goal, the value of the greatest strikers can shine through even more: Benzema showed that against City.

While there remain stylistic compatibility questions to be asked regarding City and Haaland – there were occasions last week when dangerous runs were not quite met by passes, as City adjust to playing with an out-and-out striker – they suddenly have arguably the finest finisher of his generation in their arsenal.

If Haaland isn't the final piece of the puzzle in City's quest for a maiden Champions League crown, Guardiola might as well give up.

The Premier League is approaching a landmark age: on August 15, the competition will be 30 years old, with that date ultimately ushering in a golden era for English football.

Although we may be 10 days away from that particular milestone, Friday sees the latest edition of the Premier League kick off with Crystal Palace and Arsenal contesting the opening game of the 2022-23 campaign at Selhurst Park.

As such, it only seems right to jump the gun a little and look back on the first 30 years of what many believe has become the greatest league in world football.

So, buckle up as Stats Perform takes you on a trip down memory lane…

Managing expectations

This is classic 'pub quiz' territory: which manager has presided over the most Premier League games?

You know it's either Alex Ferguson or Arsene Wenger, don't you? You probably end up going for the Manchester United icon because of his sheer longevity.

Alas, you'd be wrong.

Wenger took charge of 18 more Premier League games (828) than 'Fergie' before he brought his long Arsenal career to a close.

Nevertheless, Ferguson's 13 titles look unlikely to ever be matched. His closest rival in that respect is Pep Guardiola (four), with Wenger joined on three by Jose Mourinho.

Play on, player

Over the first 30 seasons of the Premier League, 4,488 players have appeared in the competition at an average of 149.6 debutants per campaign.

If we ignore the inaugural season for obvious reasons, the campaign with the most debutants was 2015-16 when 162 players made their Premier League bows.

Of the nearly 4,500 individuals to feature in the competition, Gareth Barry sits clear with the most appearances (653), the last of which came during the 2017-18 season with West Brom.

It's a record that will take some beating, but if anyone's got a chance of toppling him, it's his former Manchester City team-mate James Milner.

The 36-year-old, now of Liverpool, is fourth on the all-time list with 588 outings.

Forever young

Everyone loves a 'wonderkid'. The Premier League has seen more than its fair share over the years, and some got started very, very young.

Mark Platts was the first 16-year-old to ever play in the Premier League when he made his Sheffield Wednesday debut in February 1996.

When Matthew Briggs came along 11 years later and featured for Fulham at 16 years and 68 days old, you'd have been forgiven for thinking his record would stand the test of time.

It lasted 12 years until another Fulham player shaved 38 days off Briggs' record – that player was Harvey Elliott. Now at Liverpool, the young midfielder looks set for a glittering career.

The name of the game

Alan Shearer, Thierry Henry, Cristiano Ronaldo, Mohamed Salah, Wayne Rooney – when you think of Premier League goalscorers, these are probably the names that immediately spring to mind.

Well, you're wrong. You should be thinking about Andrew Johnson, Glen Johnson, Tommy Johnson, Bradley Johnson, Roger Johnson et al.

Why? Because there are more players with the surname Johnson to have scored in the Premier League than any other surname.

There have been 21 of them to be exact, two more than the Williams clan.

Synonymous.

Get to the points

It's been a frustrating few (nine?) years for Man United fans, but don't worry, folks, if you just look at the big (massive) picture, it'll definitely all feel much better.

United still sit top of the overall Premier League table with 2,366 points, giving them a healthy 225-point cushion over second-placed Arsenal.

Manchester City may have won four of the past five league titles, a feat only United had achieved before them in the Premier League, but the real story is that they're way back on 1,629 Premier League points.

Yo-yo with the flow

To be fair, almost every single one of you knows what's coming here.

You guessed it, Norwich City's relegation from the last season makes them the yo-yoingest (yes, we've just made that up) club in Premier League history.

That was their sixth relegation to go with their five promotions to the top flight since 1992, taking them one clear of West Brom, who have the same number of ascensions but only five demotions to their name.

I love goals, goals, goals, goals

Of course, Shearer remains the Premier's League all-time leading scorer with 260, 52 more than Wayne Rooney in second.

But Harry Kane looks to be in with a chance of usurping both England greats – in fact, another solid season could take him beyond 200 as he begins the 2022-23 campaign on 183.

Kane also appears among the very best goalscoring combinations in the competition's history as he and Son Heung-min have linked up for 41 goals – that's five more than Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard as the next-best.

As for high-scoring matches, there have been three Premier League games that have finished with a nine-goal margin – two were achieved by Man United (9-0 v Southampton in February 2021, and v Ipswich Town in March 1995) and Leicester City managed it in October 2019, also crushing Saints 9-0.

Do call it a comeback

Your team's trailing 2-0, you're despondent and bereft of hope. But then, out of nowhere, you've got a goal back. Then the equaliser. And then, just when you'd convinced yourself "this draw feels like a win", a third goes in, and it's pandemonium.

There are few more satisfying situations in football than when you team produces such a turnaround – the despair you were feeling earlier only makes your full-time jubilation that bit more intense.

The biggest such turnarounds that led to wins all involved teams coming back from three goals down. Leeds United, Wimbledon and Wolves have all managed it in 4-3 victories, while Man United beat Spurs 5-3 from 3-0 down.

No team have done so since Wolves in October 2003, although Newcastle United certainly deserve a special mention – they are the only team to find themselves 4-0 down and avoid defeat. Their 4-4 draw with Arsenal in February 2011 remains a Premier League classic.

Stop the clock!

Here's another for the pub quiz enthusiasts: who scored the quickest goal in Premier League history?

Netting just 7.69 seconds into an April 2019 game between Southampton and Watford, Shane Long opened the scoring to break a 19-year record that had been set by Spurs defender Ledley King.

To put that into context, it'd take you longer to read that sentence. It was also quicker than Usain Bolt's world-record time in the 100 metres (9.58 seconds).

The latest goal ever is maybe a less notable record, but it nonetheless belongs to Bruno Fernandes, who in September 2020 scored a penalty after 99 minutes and 45 seconds to seal United a dramatic 3-2 win over Brighton and Hove Albion – yes, that's the game when the Seagulls hit the woodwork a record five times.

As for the quickest hat-trick, that was scored by Sadio Mane for Southampton against Aston Villa in May 2015, with his first and third goals separated by just two minutes and 56 seconds.

Newcastle United had not played a game under their new ownership group last October when Amanda Staveley confirmed a desire to win the Premier League on Tyneside.

"We have the same ambitions as PSG and Manchester City in terms of trophies," the co-owner added.

Newcastle were winless and in the bottom three, where they would remain until February, so this seemed an optimistic target, even given the wealth of Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund.

The Magpies are highly unlikely to challenge City for their title this season either, but they are at least looking up now.

From the date of the takeover until the end of the season, Newcastle earned the sixth-most points in the division (46); in 2022, they have earned the fourth-most (38); in points-per-game terms, Eddie Howe's men are third for the calendar year (2.0).

Howe – appointed a month after Staveley arrived at St James' Park – has since had the benefit of a pre-season, while Newcastle have again invested in the transfer market following January's world-leading £90million outlay.

So, how far can Newcastle go in 2022-23? And which of the established big boys might be under threat?

'Europe is definitely a goal'

Staveley's aims appeared quite modest by the time Bruno Guimaraes took to the podium in his introductory news conference following a £35m switch from Lyon.

"We want more, we want to win the Champions League," the Brazil midfielder announced.

Let alone winning the Champions League, Newcastle have not played in the competition since 2003; their last appearance in any European tournament came back in 2013.

But the Magpies now have a squad determined to end the club's absence from continental action after 10 years.

"I believe we can challenge for European football this season," Joelinton told FourFourTwo. "It might be hard to qualify for the Champions League just yet, but why not? We want to at least compete for a Europa League spot."

Sven Botman, a new signing from Lille, added to Mail Online: "Europe is definitely a goal this season. I believe we can achieve that."

If Newcastle can maintain their form to date under Howe, Europa League qualification should be comfortably within their reach.

But the coach, perhaps understandably, is a little more guarded than his ambitious stars, offering only: "As long as expectations are controlled, then we'll be fine.

"This season is about progression, improvement. We want to evolve into the team we want to be in the future."

Better even before buying

Newcastle's evolution to this point has primarily centred around their defence – understandably, given they shipped 80 goals in 2021, a Premier League record for a calendar year.

It was this sort of worrying statistic that prompted doubts about Howe's suitability as the man to turn the Magpies around, with his stint as Bournemouth boss seeing at least 60 conceded in each Premier League season.

Yet in 2022, just four sides have let in fewer than Newcastle (20); only three have kept more clean sheets (seven).

Three of the five players signed in January were defenders, while Botman and goalkeeper Nick Pope have since followed, and the pre-season focus on maintaining possession should ease the pressure on that back line considerably.

It is now at the other end of the pitch where there are slight concerns.

Howe has openly discussed the need for offensive recruits, with the week before Saturday's opener at Nottingham Forest bringing reports of two failed bids for Leicester City playmaker James Maddison.

There clearly remains an over-reliance on Allan Saint-Maximin, who created 50 chances last season – two more than Maddison but also an alarming 21 more than his next team-mate (Joelinton).

Getting on the end of those passes, Newcastle also need Callum Wilson to stay healthy. He has scored 20 goals from just 84 shots over the past two seasons; of the Premier League players to tally 20 or more in that time, only Son Heung-min could better Wilson's conversion rate of 23.8 per cent.

That Wilson's fitness record was so poor last season actually suggests Newcastle could get better without significant reinforcement, though.

Not until the final two matches of the season, in wins over Arsenal and Burnley, did Guimaraes, Saint-Maximin and Wilson all start together.

'Big six' in Howe's sights

With all of the 'big six' pursuing a top-four finish, there are not enough Champions League places to go around even before considering the league's third-best team this year.

Newcastle will not catch City or Liverpool this season – even if Stats Perform's League Prediction model, calculated using betting market odds and Stats Perform's team rankings, counts the Magpies among seven potential title winners (albeit just a 0.03 per cent shot) – but the teams below the top two might all be within Howe's sights after warning shots were fired last term.

Chelsea ended a nine-game unbeaten run for Newcastle in controversial circumstances in March, snatching a 1-0 victory, while Tottenham capitalised on a rare off-day to win 5-1 the following month, but only after trailing to a Fabian Schar free-kick.

Arsenal were not so lucky, seeing their top-four hopes dashed on a brutal evening at St James' Park when Guimaraes, Saint-Maximin and Wilson teamed up from the start for the first time.

Manchester United are yet to play Newcastle in 2022 but were fortunate to escape with a draw from Tyneside in the final game of the previous calendar year.

Spurs and Arsenal are at least widely considered to have improved since the end of last season, spending well, but the same may not be true of Chelsea and United.

In the 2022 standings, Chelsea are sixth, and their transfer window has not panned out quite as they hoped. United have been frustrated, too, and they are a distant ninth since the turn of the year – nine points shy of Newcastle having played a game more.

If the team from Tyneside continue to go from strength to strength, two of English football's giants may have to improve merely to make the Europa League, let alone the Champions League.

Ian Foster will know there is more than just Rugby Championship points at stake when wounded New Zealand start their campaign against South Africa on Saturday.

Foster is under huge pressure after the All Blacks suffered a first home Test series defeat to Ireland last month.

New Zealand have come under fire following a 32-22 loss against Andy Farrell's inspired side in the decider in Wellington, with growing calls for Foster to be sacked.

Mark Robinson, the New Zealand Rugby chief executive, was unable to offer head coach Foster long-term backing before the squad boarded the plane for two Tests against the world champions.

Asked about Foster's future, he told Newstalk ZB: "He's certainly the person to lead the team to South Africa, and we're making sure they've got everything possible in the way of resourcing and support to make sure that's successful."

Robinson had stated that the 2-1 series defeat to Ireland was "not acceptable", and it would appear he will not tolerate further painful setbacks in South Africa.

Assistant coaches John Plumtree and Brad Mooar lost their jobs after Ireland's historic triumph, but Foster has vowed to fight on just 13 months before the Rugby World Cup starts in France.

Winning the Rugby Championship title last year must seem like a distant memory for Foster as his side prepared to start the defence of their crown at Mbombela Stadium.

Following years of dominance, New Zealand are fourth in the rankings, and this is something of a crisis by their standards.

Victory for the Springboks in Nelspruit this weekend would represent a third defeat in a row for New Zealand for the first time since they lost five consecutive Tests in July and August 1998, two of which came at the hands of South Africa.

Foster has made four changes to his team for the opening match of the tournament, bringing in lock Scott Barrett, hooker Samisoni Taukei'aho, tighthead prop Angus Ta'avao and wing Caleb Clarke.

South Africa have not beaten New Zealand at home since a 27-25 success in 2014, but Jacques Nienaber's men will be favourites to end that wait on Saturday.

The Springboks have won six of their past seven Tests on home soil, the last of which was a 30-14 defeat of Wales in Cape Town that sealed a 2-1 series victory.

A formidable, powerful force when at their brutal best, facing South Africa in their own backyard is an almighty challenge, and Foster will need warriors to step up with his job seemingly on the line.

Argentina and Australia get the tournament under way at Estadio Malvinas Argentinas on Saturday, with the Pumas on a high from securing a dramatic series win over Scotland.

They won the decider against Gregor Townsend's men 34-31 last month thanks to a last-gasp try from Emiliano Boffelli and will now attempt to end a six-Test winless streak against the Wallabies.

Australia have been licking their wounds since suffering a 2-1 Test series defeat at home to England, and they have won only one of their past nine Tests played away from home – that victory being over Japan last October. 

It may feel like it has only been away for a few weeks, but the Premier League is back on Friday, meaning time is running out for you to get your fantasy team into shape.

With all the transfers and new teams to keep track of, getting a fantasy team that you're happy with on the opening day can be a tricky task.

Has the new striker settled? Can the promoted defence remain solid in a higher division? That guy scored goals in another country, but can he translate that form to the Premier League?

There is lots to take into account, but Stats Perform have crunched the Opta numbers in the aim of giving you a hand, so here are four picks that might be worth considering…

JOSE SA (Leeds United v Wolves)

The likes of Alisson and Ederson might be more likely to get clean sheet points for you, but many fantasy football players see goalkeeper as an area to save a bit of cash.

Sa could be a solid option to consider if that sounds like you. The Portuguese keeper prevented more goals than any other goalkeeper in the Premier League last season (8.5), according to expected goals data – the next best was David de Gea with 2.8.

Similarly, only Alisson (76) had a better save percentage (75) than Sa (minimum 1,000 minutes played), highlighting just how dependable he was when called upon.

REECE JAMES (Everton v Chelsea)

Even though he missed a chunk of the season through injury, James was a standout performer when he was fit.

His 14 goal involvements (five goals, nine assists) was a joint-Premier League high among defenders alongside Trent Alexander-Arnold, though the latter played almost 1,000 minutes more.

That haul gave him an average of one goal involvement every 133 minutes. Of all the defenders to play at least 90 minutes, that was the best record. He might be pricey, but James could be a real asset.

DEJAN KULUSEVSKI (Tottenham v Southampton)

It is not easy to come into a team mid-season and impress almost instantly, but that's essentially what Kulusevski did last term, proving a hugely reliable player as Tottenham went on to clinch Champions League qualification.

The service he provided to his fellow attackers was invaluable as he recorded eight assists – between his debut on February 9 and the end of the season, no Premier League player set up more goals.

He also chipped in with five goals of his own, giving him a goal involvement total (13) that was only bettered by Karry Kane, Son Heung-min (both 19) and Kevin De Bruyne (15) over the same period.

If he can reach that level again, Kulusevski will be a fantasy favourite.

GABRIEL JESUS (Crystal Palace v Arsenal)

Most people will be making Erling Haaland their main choice in attack – you can't blame anyone for that, but he does have a certain cost.

Jesus may have only left Manchester City because of Haaland, but the early indications are the Brazil international and Arsenal could be a great marriage. He'll be cheaper than the man who has replaced him at the Etihad Stadium, too.

But also, we shouldn't overlook how good a player Jesus – who scored seven in five pre-season games – actually is. After all, only once before has he managed more goal involvements (16) than he did last season, and he was mostly playing from the right wing.

Additionally, his minutes per goal involvement ratio in the Premier League (minimum 1,000 minutes played) since his debut is the fifth best (107) – now he'll be a regular starter, and many expect him to blossom.

Death, taxes and Bayern Munich winning the Bundesliga title.

It is slightly paraphrasing the old idiom to say these are the only three things certain in life.

Such is the optimism of football fandom, though, the question always arises ahead of the new campaign whether this year will be the one where someone steps up and takes Bayern's throne.

The 2021-22 season saw the Bavarian giants claim their 10th Bundesliga title in a row, with Julian Nagelsmann leading Bayern to the championship by eight points in his first season at the Allianz Arena.

Since Jurgen Klopp's exciting Borussia Dortmund side of 2011-12, no team has been able to halt the relentless Bayern dominance of German football.

In fact, in the last decade, only the 2018-19 campaign saw anyone finish closer than the eight points Dortmund were behind last season, when BVB were just two points shy of their Der Klassiker rivals.

How can anyone seriously make the argument that their run will halt any time soon then? Well, let Stats Perform have a go as we take a look at some of the reasons why Bayern might struggle to maintain their stranglehold in 2022-23.

 

Loss of Lewy means new Bayern approach

Bayern's signing of Robert Lewandowski from Dortmund in 2014 was one of the catalysts for their concerted period of dominance.

However, after eight years of service and 238 goals in 253 Bundesliga games for Bayern, the Poland striker wanted to move on and eventually sealed a transfer to Barcelona.

His goals-per-game ratio in the German top flight of 0.94 bested even the great Gerd Muller (0.85), and his loss was certainly not one Bayern had planned for, with the club initially indicating they expected him to honour the final year of his contract, before finally relenting.

Despite being 33 years old, Lewandowski's impact had not waned at all, with him scoring 50 goals in all club competitions last season, making it seven consecutive seasons with at least 40 goals to his name.

Nagelsmann has insisted his team will evolve in Lewandowski's absence, though, and the signing of Sadio Mane appears to suggest that.

After Lewandowski's sale was confirmed, Nagelsmann told BR24: "I'm not worried right now, we are very well-equipped offensively and I'm still spoiled for choice. We have a possibility of building FC Bayern without a striker that can reliably score 40 goals."

With 120 goals in all competitions for Liverpool, Mane averaged a goal every 178.3 minutes for the Reds – a return of one in slightly under two matches. He also assisted 37 goals, meaning he was directly involved in a goal every 137 minutes.

In the Premier League, only Harry Kane (134), former team-mate Mohamed Salah (118) and Leicester City's Jamie Vardy (104) scored more goals than Mane (90) over the course of his Liverpool career.

His scoring rate has never been close to that of Lewandowski, though he has played a significant amount of his career on the left of a front three rather than through the middle, where he ended last season for Liverpool and is expected to mostly play at Bayern.

That means the likes of Serge Gnabry, Leroy Sane, Kingsley Coman, Jamal Musiala and Thomas Muller will need to step up and contribute more goals, while it will be interesting to see if 17-year-old striker Mathys Tel will feature much in his first season after signing from Rennes.

The club has also added Ryan Gravenberch and Noussair Mazraoui from Ajax, while former Ajax defender Matthijs de Ligt has arrived from Juventus to replace the outgoing Niklas Sule, who chose to swap Munich for Dortmund when his contract expired.

Will Dortmund finally solve flakiness issue?

Marco Rose looked to be a very astute appointment in 2021, but the former Borussia Monchengladbach boss just did not work out at Dortmund.

Rose has been replaced by Edin Terzic, who enjoyed a spell as caretaker boss in the second half of the 2020-21 campaign, winning the DFB-Pokal.

Terzic now has the reins permanently and has two big jobs on his hands.

The first is fixing a leaky defence, which conceded 52 goals in the Bundesliga last season, more than any other team to finish in the top eight, and only one goal fewer than relegated Arminia Bielefeld.

The club may have addressed the issue in the transfer market as they have essentially procured the German national team's central defence by adding Sule from Bayern on a free transfer and the highly rated Nico Schlotterbeck from Freiburg.

Schlotterbeck won 69 per cent of his duels in the Bundesliga last season, the joint-most of all players who contested at least 100 duels, while Sule was third with 68 per cent.

Another issue that needed addressing was similar to Bayern's Lewandowski issue, with Erling Haaland having departed for Manchester City.

The Norwegian scored 86 goals in 89 appearances at Dortmund, including 22 of their 85 league goals last season, though he was only able to feature in 24 games due to injury.

Sebastien Haller was signed to replace Haaland but will unfortunately miss the first few months of the campaign after undergoing surgery for a testicular tumour.

The addition of exciting young talent Karim Adeyemi from Salzburg will give them a dynamic in attack they have missed since selling Jadon Sancho to Manchester United, while in Haller's absence it will be interesting to see if Youssoufa Moukoko, still just 17-years-old, can add to the five Bundesliga goals he already has to his name.

Having also signed defensive midfielder Salih Ozcan from Cologne to provide some steel alongside Jude Bellingham, who it appears they will be keeping hold of for another season at least, the balance of a frequently wobbly side could be there for Terzic to build some momentum.

Best of the rest

Bayer Leverkusen enjoyed a strong campaign last season and have replaced Lucas Alario with promising Czech striker Adam Hlozek.

They also appear to have fought off interest in Moussa Diaby so it would not be a surprise to see them go well again, but with Champions League football to contend with, questions remain whether they have the depth of squad to excel on all fronts.

RB Leipzig will hope to provide a challenge and have also kept hold of their star player in Christopher Nkunku, though losing Tyler Adams and Nordi Mukiele will be a blow, while Eintracht Frankfurt will want to build on last season's Europa League success.

It would be churlish to write Bayern off, of course. They go into the season as heavy favourites and rightly so.

 

Mane might not have the same goalscoring output as Lewandowski, but football has proven time and again that having one player who scores lots of goals is not the only way to be successful.

The African Football Player of the Year has the chance to be the face of the new Bayern, where everyone will be expected to chip in and Nagelsmann can truly cement his ideas on the team.

However, while Bayern have been somewhat forced into a new era, Dortmund appear to have reached theirs more by design and if everything clicks early on for Terzic, an exciting title race could develop.

After all, the only thing that is certain about football is that nothing is certain.

The Premier League is back, with another fascinating season in store.

The 2021-22 title race went right to the wire, with Manchester City pipping Liverpool at the last, while the picture at the bottom was similarly dramatic as Leeds United survived.

The dominant top two have strengthened – including City pinching Leeds talisman Kalvin Phillips – and the league again looks so tough to call at both ends of the table.

Thankfully, Stats Perform AI is able to do that. It has predicted the outcome of the coming campaign, estimating the likelihood of teams finishing in each position informed by their expected results in each match.

These are calculated using betting odds and Stats Perform's team rankings – based on historical and recent team performances – and it has thrown up some interesting results, with some surprises at the summit.

LIVERPOOL SET TO LEAPFROG CITY

There was only a point between champions City and runners-up Liverpool last season, and Stats Perform AI expects the coming campaign to be similarly close.

But the Reds are the favourites for the title, with a 49.72 per cent chance of being crowned champions to City's 47.03 per cent.

Such is the gulf between the top two and the rest that Tottenham, backed as their nearest challengers, have only a 1.81 per shot at ending their 62-year wait under former Premier League winner Antonio Conte.

Chelsea, the club with whom Conte claimed the title, are given a 1.1 per cent hope.

Only seven teams are given any chance at all of celebrating come May – the fewest across all of Europe's top five leagues – with Manchester United (0.18 per cent) and Arsenal (0.13 per cent) joined by a resurgent Newcastle United (0.03 per cent).

Last champions in 1927, Newcastle are closing on a century-long drought, so even with their big spending, a one in 3,000 shot sounds about right.

UNITED AND ARSENAL FALL SHORT

Stats Perform AI does not only fancy Spurs and Chelsea as the top two's nearest contenders but also as their fellow Champions League qualifiers.

City (99.33 per cent) and Liverpool (99.28 per cent) are shoo-ins for top-four finishes, and Tottenham (70.07 per cent) and Chelsea (62.46 per cent) are also in strong positions to repeat last season's leading quartet.

That would mean Manchester United (25.56 per cent) and Arsenal (22.0 per cent) missing out once more, with Newcastle (5.03 per cent) again next.

However, despite West Ham being given no hope of a title tilt and longer odds of Champions League qualification, they are ranked to repeat their seventh-placed finish ahead of Newcastle.

Every team in the division at least has the opportunity to dream of a top-four finish, even if Bournemouth (0.07 per cent) might instead be better off preparing for the reality of a relegation scrap.

TALL ORDER FOR PROMOTED TRIO

Bournemouth are not the only promoted team set to find life tough. In fact, Stats Perform AI predicts all three will go straight back down.

This has only happened once previously in Premier League history – in 1997-98 – but the prediction model considers the trio clear favourites to be relegated.

Bournemouth (45.03 per cent) have scarcely improved their squad, while Nottingham Forest have done the opposite and invested heavily (44.47 per cent); neither approach is expected to succeed, nor are Fulham (43.83 per cent), promoted as champions.

It may not be as clear-cut as this suggests, however, with Southampton (34.23 per cent), Brentford (31.85) and Leeds (31.24) also forecast to endure testing seasons.

Everton (15.06 per cent), like Brentford and Leeds, have lost key players, but the data is backing the Toffees to improve on last year's dismal campaign.

Around this time a year ago, the pervasive narrative surrounding Tony Finau was that of a PGA Tour star who just couldn't find a way to close. Time and again, the Utah native would charge up weekend leaderboards only to come up short at the end. 

"They say a winner is just a loser that just kept on trying, and that's me to a T," he said. "How many times do I lose?"

The answer? Well, let's put it this way: he hasn't been losing much these days.

After winning just once in his first 188 career starts, Finau now finds himself on the heels of back-to-back wins at the 3M Open and Rocket Mortgage Classic. Add in his breakthrough victory in last season's FedEx Cup opener, and the Salt Lake City resident has found the winner's circle three times in his last 25 starts.

Suffice to say, the narrative has changed.

"I put myself in situations to win before, haven't been able to do it, but I'm very optimistic," Finau said. "I've always been that way. I've always had hope and faith that things will turn out if I just keep working hard and putting myself there. 

"I challenge myself every week to just push past what I feel like I'm capable of; by that I mean just my emotions, those hurdles that you face during a tournament. I proved to myself these last couple weeks that I've done that and won some golf tournaments. I'm proud of the way that I fought through adversity through my career and now I'm a back-to-back champion. That's what happens."

At the 3M Open, he erased a five-shot deficit with 11 holes to play after overnight leader Scott Piercy tripled the 14th hole. It was much smoother a week later, as the 32-year-old cruised to a five-shot triumph and a tournament record 26-under 262 total. 

Finau hit a career-best 66 greens in regulation in that second victory, which also marked the third-most by a winner on the PGA Tour since 1980. Aaron Wise and Hale Irwin matched that feat at the 2018 Byron Nelson and 1981 Sony Open, respectively, while Peter Jacobsen holds the record with 69 greens in regulation at the 1995 Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Willie Wood hit 67 greens en route to the 1996 Sanderson Farms Championship.

His precision netted Finau a plus-4.65 stroke differential from the field average, his highest difference during an event on the PGA Tour. It barely edged out the career-best he set just a week prior at the 3M Open (plus-4.37) and safely beat his next-best marks of plus-3.70 (2021 St. Jude Championship) and plus-2.73, set at the 2016 Puerto Rico Open, site of his first Tour victory.

Xander does it, too 

But Finau wasn't the only player making significant moves in July. Though his triumphs didn't come in consecutive weeks, Xander Schauffele also managed to find the winner's circle in back-to-back appearances.

After winning the Travelers Championship in late June, the former gold medallist travelled across the pond and did it all over again in his next start at the Scottish Open. He became the third player to pick up at least three wins this season (Scottie Scheffler and Sam Burns are the others) and is one of three players to win this year in consecutive starts (Scheffler and Finau).

But how Schauffele did it may be the most impressive aspect. The San Diego native trailed by a whopping 11 strokes after the opening round, marking the largest 18-hole deficit overcome by a PGA Tour winner in a four-round event in the last 39 years. Seven other players rallied from 10-shot deficits – most recently Webb Simpson at the 2020 Phoenix Open – but no one overcame the odds that Schauffele did.

"Overall, I'm playing some of the best golf of my life and capitalising on playing really well," Schauffele said. "There's a lot of times [when] professionals play very well but don't get everything out of it, and I feel like I've been successful in getting the most out of my game."

Together, Schauffele and Finau became the fifth and six players to win back-to-back tournaments on Tour since the start of the 2016-17 season, joining Patrick Cantlay, Brendon Todd, Bryson DeChambeau and Justin Thomas.

Cam double-dips

Being able to call yourself The Players champion is one of the most prestigious honuors in golf. The biggest names in the sport have all done it, from Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods to Rory McIlroy.

But add in a victory at The Open Championship and you're in unprecedented territory.

That's exactly what Australian Cameron Smith did in July at golf's oldest championship, edging out McIlroy at St Andrews to win the Claret Jug. He became just the second player in history to win The Players and Open Championship in the same year, joining none other than Nicklaus. He, too, also won his major at the historic St Andrews after winning The Players earlier in 1978.

It wasn't Smith's only achievement that week. No winner had ever closed with a 64 at St Andrews before he did it, while his finishing score of 20-under 268 set a new Old Course record. It tied the lowest score to par in major championship history – Henrik Stenson shot 20 under at Royal Troon in 2016 – and his back-nine 30 was the lowest ever by an Open Championship winner.

"I got beaten by the better player this week," McIlroy said. "To go out and shoot 64 to win The Open Championship at St Andrews is a hell of a showing. Hats off to Cam."

Smith is the first Australian to win the Claret Jug since 1993 and the first to do it at St Andrews since Kel Nagle staved off Arnold Palmer in 1960.

"Those guys are great players. They weren't going to give it to me. I had to take it," Smith said. "It was a good thing that I was behind. My mindset would have been a touch different coming in, especially on that back nine, if I was ahead."

Another Bundesliga campaign kicks off on Friday after a frantic close-season saw Germany's top flight robbed of its two biggest stars.

Bayern Munich superstar Robert Lewandowski left for Barcelona, while fellow striking sensation Erling Haaland departed Borussia Dortmund as expected for Manchester City.

What do these moves do to shake up the Bundesliga, then? Perhaps not an awful lot...

Stats Perform AI has predicted the outcome of the coming campaign, estimating the likelihood of teams finishing in each position informed by their expected results in each match.

These are calculated using betting odds and Stats Perform's team rankings – based on historical and recent team performances – and have thrown up some interesting results, even if the title race is a little too predictable.

MANE TO MAINTAIN BAYERN DOMINANCE

Lewandowski's exit was offset by the arrival of Sadio Mane at Bayern, and Stats Perform AI expects Julian Nagelsmann's side to again charge clear at the top of the table.

Bayern have won 10 consecutive titles, so perhaps it is no surprise they are given an 84.93 per cent chance of taking the trophy home again in May.

That figure makes Bayern the most likely champions across all of Europe's top five leagues, with nearest contenders Dortmund only in with a 6.01 per cent shot.

RB Leipzig (4.64 per cent), Bayer Leverkusen (3.38 per cent) lead a group of 10 other clubs who are given at least a slim hope of winning the championship.

For six teams – including 2003-04 champions Werder Bremen and 2006-07 victors Stuttgart – their title tilt is over before a ball has even been kicked.

 

SCRAMBLE OUTSIDE THE TOP FOUR

Unfortunately, the top-four tussle appears as predictable as Bayern's coronation.

The champions will of course occupy one Champions League spot – their 99.53 per cent chance again the greatest across the top five leagues – while Dortmund (76.78 per cent), Leipzig (72.2 per cent) and Leverkusen (62.98 per cent) also look secure, forecast second, third and fourth respectively.

That means a return to Europe's elite competition for all of those who have qualified this year, even if Leipzig have leapfrogged Leverkusen.

Stats Perform AI suggests Union Berlin (4.66 per cent) and Freiburg (8.22 per cent) – one and three points outside the top four last term – have missed their shot, with Borussia Monchengladbach (22.94 per cent) and Eintracht Frankfurt (21.5 per cent) the most likely gatecrashers despite last season finishing 10th and 11th.

Eintracht are also in the Champions League this term after winning the Europa League, but they are considered the team most likely to return to the second-tier competition (13.32 per cent).

There could be a real scrap for those final European places, though. All but four teams have at least a 1.0 per cent likelihood of qualifying for the Europa Conference League, with title favourites Bayern one of those four.

 

SCHALKE AND WERDER FACE A FIGHT

Schalke and Werder – two of the great names of German football – have returned to the top flight following successful promotion campaigns in the 2. Bundesliga last season, but they face tricky first seasons back in the big time.

The ceiling for Schalke is a little higher, so Stats Perform AI has them finishing in the relegation play-off place in 16th.

This is despite two teams – Augsburg (14.02 per cent) and Werder (13.9 per cent) – being more likely to qualify for that play-off than Schalke (13.3 per cent).

Werder are ranked 17th, while the outlook for Augsburg is awful; 14th in the Bundesliga in 2021-22, they have a new coach in ex-Dortmund II boss Enrico Maassen and are considered a strong 38.19 per cent shot for relegation.

Bochum (30.84 per cent) are also in a little trouble, with Hertha Berlin (11.62 per cent) backed to pull away and finish 12th after their play-off scare last time out.

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