Green Bay Packers' Davante Adams is convinced he is the best wide receiver in the NFL following another strong showing at the San Francisco 49ers on Thursday.

The Packers claimed a 34-17 victory in the Bay Area that takes them 6-2 at the halfway stage of the season, and Adams more than played his part.

Adams, a three-time Pro Bowler, recorded 10 catches for 173 yards and also got an NFL-leading eighth touchdown receipt for 2020, with the depleted 49ers unable to keep up.

The home side were without a host of key men due to injuries and COVID-19, with Jimmy Garoppolo, George Kittle, Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman and Deebo Samuel among those absent.

But Adams did not think anything less of his performance – far from it.

When asked if his exploits make him the NFL's best receiver, he said: "I think that's fair to say.

"I think that's not being conceited. That's just being confident. I think, obviously, what I've done and what I'm going to continue to do is going to prove that to anybody who isn't on board with that.

"I truly believe that, just based off the work that I've put in [and] the connection I have between my quarterback.

"It's not just about me just running a route. If the line isn't protecting or if the quarterback doesn't look your way or if the other receivers don't do their part to pull defenders away, none of what I do can happen.

"So, at the end of the day, I'll tell you, yes, absolutely, I think I'm the best wide receiver in the game, but there's a lot of things that go into me being able to make that statement."

His aforementioned QB, Aaron Rodgers, has successfully found the WR with 76 per cent of his targets, while Adams has been the recipient of more completions (53) and touchdowns (eight) than the rest of the Packers' receivers put together.

Rodgers subsequently explained Adams' importance, lending credence to his self-proclamation as the best in the business.

"He's such a great player," Rodgers said. "He's tough on matchups, he's able to create so much space with his release pattern, and he's got enough speed to get on top, so you can't necessarily play low and expect certain routes.

"We hit him with a lot of different things tonight. Hit him on the first possession with a go ball that he made a nice adjustment on. On the last possession, we were in on an inside go route.

"He's so talented. He can do it all, handles himself the right way. Just a joy to play with. A special guy."

Jadon Sancho remained at Borussia Dortmund for this season, but things are not quite going to plan for the England man.

This year's blockbuster 'will he, won't he' transfer saga saw Manchester United repeatedly linked with a €120million swoop for the winger, only for no such move to materialise.

Instead, Sancho was expected to star again in the Bundesliga ahead of more speculation in the coming windows.

But while Dortmund have started well in 2020-21 and are level on points with leaders Bayern Munich ahead of this week's Klassiker, Sancho has not been so impressive.

He has played five of BVB's six league games but is yet to score and has supplied just two assists in a disappointing early return.

We assess the Opta data in a bid to find out just what has happened to the 20-year-old.
 

WHAT'S CHANGED?

Clearly, Sancho is less productive than in seasons past. He had 17 goals and 16 assists in the Bundesliga last term, registering a goal involvement every 69 minutes and creating 69 chances in total (2.7 per 90 minutes)

This term, he scores or assists once every 192 minutes and has played only nine key passes (2.1 per 90), although four of these have created a big chance. Only Thomas Muller (six) has set up more in the Bundesliga.

Sancho is averaging more touches (82.5) and touches in the opposition box (5.6) per 90 in the new season but is now less involved in the key moments of the match. He has been involved in only two sequences leading to a goal, having played a part in 41 in 2019-20 - behind only Robert Lewandowski (45).

By some measures, however, it appears Sancho has actually improved in 2020-21, he is still attempting 6.1 dribbles per 90 but now completing 69 per cent of these runs - up from 50 per cent.

The former Manchester City prospect is also now attempting a shot 2.6 times per 90 (11 in total), an increase from 2.0, but that is a cause for concern given his failure to find the net.
 

HEAD TURNED? OR GETTING GREEDY?

Dortmund coach Lucien Favre floated one explanation for Sancho's downturn in form last week as he suggested the links to United had been unhelpful.

"Every player has slow periods," Favre said. "There was a lot of talk about Jadon in the summer, something like that can also have an impact."

In terms of the numbers, though, it is that shooting statistic that might worry Favre.

Only three of his 11 shots have hit the target, with six blocked, and their combined Expected Goals (xG) is a meagre 0.8, suggesting Sancho is looking for goals from positions where a pass might be the better option, further explaining the decrease in his creativity.

Muller has also had 11 attempts yet has netted four times.
 

COMPARED WITH BAYERN'S BEST

It is not just record-breaker Muller who Sancho is struggling to match up to so far this term. Bayern have two very different styles of starting winger in Serge Gnabry and Leroy Sane, yet both are outperforming Sancho.

Gnabry does not have a single assist and has created just nine chances, like Sancho, but he has scored four goals.

The ex-Arsenal man is less concerned about dribbles, attempting nine and completing just two, and instead prefers to take up goalscoring positions far more effectively than the BVB wide man. Seven of Gnabry's 13 shots have hit the target, while he has already had 40 touches in the opposition box - way beyond Sancho's 24.

On the other hand, Sane, who tries 5.1 dribbles per 90, perhaps provides a greater direct comparison with Sancho, but he has two goals and two assists, despite playing just four games, and creates 3.1 chances per 90.

Bayern's new signing has been involved in a goal every 58 minutes, ranking fourth in the league among those to play 100 minutes or more.

Indeed, while so off colour, Sancho is not even Dortmund's leading man.

Gio Reyna played in the one league game his team-mate missed - BVB's 4-0 win over Freiburg, their biggest of the season - and supplied a hat-trick of assists, while the teenager is also off the mark in terms of goals.

Losing Thiago Alcantara would be a crushing blow to most teams in the world, but Bayern Munich are not like most teams.

While the Spain star – having helped to inspire last season's treble triumph – is adjusting to Premier League life with Liverpool, his former employers have set about defending their three trophies with such authority that they scarcely seem to feel his absence.

Aside from the aberration of that 4-1 loss to Hoffenheim, which came only a month after the Champions League final win over Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern have won every match this season. That run of 11 wins in 12 games includes an 8-0 Bundesliga destruction of Schalke, victories in the UEFA Super Cup and DFL-Supercup and 12 goals scored in three Champions League matches.

Their most recent, a 6-2 win at Salzburg, saw Joshua Kimmich reach seven assists in his past six appearances in the competition. The previous match, a 2-1 victory over Lokomotiv Moscow, was secured by goals from Kimmich and Leon Goretzka.

These results are not only snapshots of the midfield duo's importance to Hansi Flick in these post-Thiago years; they also highlight how each player is taking his game to new heights to keep Bayern at cruising altitude.

 

ON THE GOAL TRAIL

In the Bundesliga last season, Kimmich (four goals and seven assists) and Goretzka (six goals and five assists) easily outperformed Thiago (three goals and zero assists) in terms of goal involvements. That said, Thiago had an Expected Assists rating of 2.3, while Kimmich's was way up at 11.3, suggesting even an attack led by Robert Lewandowski will miss its fair share of chances.

Of course, for the Bayern midfield axis, goal involvement is a bonus rather than an expectation. Exponents of this position are required to win back and recycle possession and, in 2019-20, neither Kimmich nor Goretzka could better Thiago for passing accuracy (91 per cent), tackle success (58 per cent) or duel success (59 per cent). He also averaged more touches per 90 minutes (109).

This season, however, we see both players rising to the challenge of filling that Thiago void. Kimmich's passing success (90 per cent) is the same, but his tackle and duel success rates have risen slightly to 60 per cent. Goretzka, too, has had very similar levels of increase. More pertinently, each player is having more shots and more touches per 90 minutes on average and they are already on the goal trail: they've scored one each, while Goretzka has assisted one and Kimmich four.

Kimmich, in fact, is the solitary Bundesliga central midfielder to be involved in five goals this season, and only Thomas Muller and Jonas Hofmann can match his four assists. He is on track to match his assist tally of seven from last season before we have even reached the winter break. 

AXIS OF POWER

This attacking output from Kimmich in particular has been a tactic Bayern have been building on since last season, when, despite the occasional return to his old right-back haunt, his role was almost always at the heart of the midfield.

After his winning goal in the Supercup win over Borussia Dortmund, Flick described how Kimmich was "well on his way to being one of the players that shape this club". He certainly shapes their approach.

In 2019-20, Kimmich was involved in 202 open-play sequences that ended in a shot, and 27 ended with a goal. They are far superior figures to those of Thiago (141 and 17) and Goretzka (103 and 15). In the Bundesliga overall, only Timo Werner (214) was involved in more sequences ending in a shot last term.

Similarly, Kimmich registered 21 goal build-up involvements, more than Thiago (14) and Goretzka (four) put together, although admittedly Goretzka is more likely to be the one putting the ball in the net at the end of these moves.

This season, though, Goretzka has stepped up: he has been involved in 24 open-play sequences leading to a shot, just eight down on Kimmich, and each player boasts four goal build-up involvements, a tally nobody in the Bundesliga can better.

THE LONG GAME

Thiago's array of passing set him apart for Bayern. The fact he so often played the right ball at the right time left opponents uncertain whether to revert to low blocks or high pressing, something which will undoubtedly give Liverpool a tactical boost.

Last season, Thiago completed 91 per cent of 1,797 attempted passes in the Bundesliga, averaging 91.3 per 90 minutes. A quarter of all of those passes went forwards and 20 led to goalscoring chances. He also completed 78 per cent of his attempted long passes – so much for forcing him back into his own half.

Goretzka completed 86 per cent of 909 attempted passes last term, the majority of which went sideways (27 per cent left, 30 per cent right). His long passes found their mark just less than three times in every four attempts. Now, while he still favours sideways distribution, he is averaging 2.5 more passes per 90 minutes, the success rate is up to 89 per cent and his long-pass accuracy has jumped to 85 per cent.

Kimmich was already a passing maestro last season, although he completed fewer than Thiago per 90 minutes (81.3). His success rate stood at 90 per cent from 2,548 attempts and he created 75 goalscoring chances.

But things have evolved. Whereas 10 per cent of his passes in 2019-20 went long, 16 per cent of them have in 2020-21, and yet his passing-per-90 figure is practically unchanged. His long-pass success rate is also up significantly to 87 per cent, while the number of backwards passes has dropped by four per cent, and he already has four assists from 12 key passes in total. In essence, he has maintained his short-passing game while taking on some of Thiago's old defence-splitting duties, and is performing them with aplomb.

Jose Mourinho once said the "phenomenal" Kimmich was "a top right-back, left-back, centre-back, number six, number eight, number 10". Scarily, alongside Goretzka, the 25-year-old seems to be all those things at once – and getting even better.

There is one more weekend of Premier League action to go before the final international break of the year and some mouthwatering fixtures lie ahead.

Faltering Everton look to get their season back on track at home to lowly Manchester United on Saturday, while the previous two champions Manchester City and Liverpool do battle on Sunday.

But who can you trust to deliver fantasy points in these mammoth clashes? Use our Opta-powered weekly guide to find out.


HUGO LLORIS

The brilliance of Harry Kane, Son Heung-min and Gareth Bale has prompted title talk at Tottenham, but keeping goals out is just as important. For that, they – and you – can rely on Lloris.

Of Premier League goalkeepers to have played at least 500 minutes since the start of last season, the Spurs captain has the best save percentage at 75.8.

Lloris ranks second in that time, behind Dean Henderson, for goals prevented. He has conceded just 28 (excluding own goals) from shots worth 40.6 xG, a difference of 12.6.

CONOR COADY

When selecting players for a fantasy team, the first guarantee you might look for is that they will indeed play. There are no concerns in that regard when it comes to Coady.

The Wolves skipper is one of just four outfielders in the Premier League to play every minute of every match since the start of last season.

This helps Coady regularly collect points for clean sheets, too, managing more (17) than any other outfielder over the same stretch.

KURT ZOUMA

Chelsea's vastly improved recent defensive form makes a Blues defender an obvious selection, so why not opt for a man who also does the business at the other end?

Zouma has three Premier League goals already this season, the best return of any defender.

And that makes this already the Frenchman's most prolific campaign in the competition, trumping his two in 2018-19 – although he also weighed in with a pair of assists that season.

MOHAMED SALAH

Sometimes it's worth just going for the obvious option.

Diogo Jota might be Liverpool's man of the moment, but Salah has also netted in each of the Reds' past three games and has proven he can sustain this form over an extended period.

Indeed, since moving to Anfield in 2017, Salah has a competition-high 80 Premier League goals in 115 games, nine clear of next best Harry Kane over the same period.

BRUNO FERNANDES

Consistency is another key component in fantasy football, allowing you to transfer a player in and not have to worry about moving him out again the following week.

In this regard, Fernandes is surely king. The Manchester United midfielder has been involved in 12 goals (scored eight, assisted four) in his nine away games so far in the Premier League.

In only one of those nine matches – the 2-0 win at Crystal Palace in July – has Fernandes failed to register either a goal or an assist.

TIMO WERNER

Interest in Werner might have dimmed after he failed to record a goal or assist in his first four Premier League games, but the Chelsea man is now showing he was worth sticking with.

Werner has three goals and an assist over his past three games, suddenly finding his feet in England.

After netting a brace from the spot in Chelsea's midweek Champions League game, the German also looks to now be the Blues' penalty taker, ensuring more fantasy points.

CALLUM WILSON

Reliable Southampton scorer Danny Ings might be out injured, but Friday's opponents Newcastle United have another man steadily supplying the goals.

Wilson struggled as Bournemouth were relegated last season but has already proven invaluable to the Magpies and a host of fantasy managers.

With six strikes in seven league games this term, the forward has netted more than he managed in his final 30 Bournemouth matches (five), while his goals have been worth six points to Newcastle.

Erling Haaland is reportedly being lined up as a target for Real Madrid in 2022, while Manchester United are eyeing Mauricio Pochettino.

Haaland, 20, is widely regarded as one of the best forwards in Europe as he continues to star for Borussia Dortmund.

Madrid have plans for the Norway international.

 

TOP STORY – REAL MADRID EYE HAALAND IN 2022

Real Madrid are convinced Dortmund star Haaland is their man in 2022, according to AS.

Haaland has scored 10 goals in 10 games in all competitions for Dortmund this season.

The former Salzburg talent, Mino Raiola - his agent - and Dortmund reportedly have an agreement that a transfer away from BVB will be facilitated in 2022, though there is not thought to be a specific fee in mind yet.

Haaland has begun 2020-21 in fine form having netted five goals in as many Bundesliga games, picking up where he left off last term as he scored 13 in 15 league matches for Dortmund.

While early in the campaign, Haaland's shot conversion rate – excluding blocks – in the league this season (31.3 per cent) is lower than last term (52), but his big chance conversion is slightly higher (from 62.5 per cent to 66.7).

Seemingly flowing with confidence from last season, Haaland is averaging more shots in 2020-21 as well. Per 90 minutes, the striker is attempting 3.7 attempts from inside the box (including blocks) compared to 2.8 in 2019-20.

 

ROUND-UP

- With Ole Gunnar Solskjaer under pressure, Manchester United have approached former Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino to potentially become manager, according to the Manchester Evening News. United are 15th in the Premier League ahead of visiting Everton on Saturday.

- In good news for Barcelona, Sport reports goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen is completely committed to the Spanish giants amid links to Bayern Munich. Mundo Deportivo, meanwhile, says Barca could sign Manchester City defender Eric Garcia and Lyon star Memphis Depay for free next year, allowing them to potentially negotiate lower fees in January.

- Amid expectations he will leave Bayern Munich, David Alaba has been offered to Real Madrid, according to Marca. The defender is out of contract at season's end.

- Staying with Madrid – full-back Dani Carvajal is close to agreeing to a new contract until 2024, according to Marca.

- While he is contracted at Liverpool until 2023, Fabinho could be set for a renewal. Fabrizio Romano reports the midfielder is in talks to extend his deal through to 2025.

Friday marks the 34th anniversary of Alex Ferguson's appointment at Manchester United, as another Old Trafford manager struggles to match up to the standards set by the club's greatest ever boss.

Ferguson oversaw 1,500 games and won 38 trophies in almost 27 years at the helm, establishing United at the forefront of world football.

David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer have each since failed to deliver the same success, but even the Scot found the going tough at times as Red Devils manager.

Indeed, as Solskjaer languishes 15th in the Premier League, reeling from back-to-back defeats, his early record still stacks up against how Ferguson fared at the same stage in his tenure.

We look at the Opta data and study how Ferguson recovered from a rocky stretch to become a United legend.
 

FERGIE'S FIRST STEPS

Ferguson arrived at United on November 6, 1986, already with 12 years' experience and 645 games as a manager to his name. Eight years at Aberdeen brought a host of honours as he won an impressive 59.3 per cent of 459 matches.

United had not won the top flight since 1967 and, despite a title challenge the previous campaign as they eventually finished fourth, Ferguson replaced Ron Atkinson with the team battling relegation.

There was initial cause for optimism - not unlike that prompted by Solskjaer - as the new manager guided United to safety and then finished second the following season.

But the Red Devils were back in mid-table in his second full season and, although starting from a lower base, Ferguson's early statistics do not compare favourably with a number of modern bosses who have been deemed failures.

Ferguson won 48 of his first 100 games in all competitions, with Van Gaal (52 wins), Mourinho (62) and Solskjaer (55) each getting better returns from their first century of matches.

No coach has yet been able to match early 1900s boss Ernest Mangnall's club-record start of 64 wins in 100.
 

PIVOTAL WIN AT FOREST

By January 1990, it appeared the second-placed finish in 1987-88 would prove Ferguson's peak, with the manager still trophyless and the team falling back into the bottom half of the table.

Nowhere near a title race and out of the League Cup, the FA Cup represented a final chance for Ferguson to save the campaign and his United career.

It is widely accepted the boss would have been sacked had United lost their third-round tie at Nottingham Forest, and his record at the midway point of that season would justify such a call.

Going into that game, Ferguson's overall win rate as United manager was 43.7 per cent, but it stood at just 29.2 per cent so far in 1989-90, losing 10 and winning just seven of 24 matches in all competitions.

However, Mark Robins' second-half winner at the City Ground booked United's place in round four and turned the tide.

United saw off fourth-tier Hereford United, followed by a trio of second-division opponents in Newcastle United, Sheffield United and Oldham Athletic, requiring a replay against the latter, to reach the final against Crystal Palace.

Palace also took Ferguson's men to a replay, but a goal from Lee Martin in the second match ended the manager's wait for silverware and completed a much-improved second half of the season, United winning 52 per cent of their 25 matches from the Forest game onwards.
 

THE UNITED GLORY YEARS

Qualifying for the Cup Winners' Cup courtesy of their FA Cup success, United won that competition, too, and would collect a trophy in all but two seasons - 2001-02 and 2004-05 - throughout the rest of Ferguson's reign.

There was still the small matter of ending the title drought, but success in 1992-93 opened the floodgates and Ferguson claimed a record 13 championships - seven clear of next-best pair George Ramsay and Bob Paisley - never again finishing lower than third.

The 1990 FA Cup was the first of five, trailing only rival Arsene Wenger and Ramsay in that regard, while the Scot also secured a joint-high four League Cups.

If 1989-90 was a pivotal season, 1998-99 would be Ferguson's defining term. United won the treble - with a little help from a certain Norwegian - and ended the campaign on a 33-match unbeaten run, not losing a single game after Christmas.

By the time Ferguson bowed out a champion once again in 2013, he had overseen more games (1,500) and victories (895) than any other United coach at a win rate of 59.7 per cent.

Solskjaer might now be wondering where his next home league win is coming from, but his old boss provided evidence enough that one piece of silverware can change everything.

Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams guided the Green Bay Packers to a 34-17 win over the injury-hit San Francisco 49ers on Thursday.

Rodgers threw four touchdown passes and completed 25 of 31 for 305 yards at Levi's Stadium, where the NFC North-leading Packers improved to 6-2.

The Packers star threw one of those TDs to Adams, who finished with 173 yards on 10 receptions in a dominant performance against the depleted 49ers (4-5).

Adams became the first player in NFL history to have at least 50 receptions, 600 receiving yards and eight TD catches through his first six games of a season.

Both teams were impacted by positive coronavirus tests in the lead-up, while the 49ers saw quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (ankle) and tight end George Kittle (foot) hurt last week.

Starting for the 49ers, Nick Mullens completed 22 of 35 for 291 yards, a TD and an interception, while Richie James had 184 receiving yards.

The Packers did not need long to edge ahead, Rodgers connecting with Adams on a 36-yard touchdown pass.

It was Adams' eighth receiving TD of the season, which is the most in the NFL.

An 11-play, 76-yard drive by the 49ers was only able to yield a Robbie Gould field goal after San Francisco thought they had a TD, but River Cracraft's catch from Mullens in the endzone was reversed.

Green Bay's response came in the form of 24 unanswered points through the second and third quarters.

Rodgers found a wide open Marcedes Lewis and connected with Marquez Valdes-Scantling with a 52-yarder to finish the half.

For the third time this season – the most in the NFL – Rodgers had three TDs and no interceptions in the first half of a game.

A nine-play, 80-yard drive ended with Rodgers and Valdes-Scantling connecting again to make it 28-3.

After two Mason Crosby field goals for the Packers, Mullens found James with a 41-yard pass for a TD and Jerick McKinnon rushed in late to reduce the margin as the 49ers fell to defeat.

Didier Deschamps believes Dayot Upamecano is going through a "difficult moment" after the defender was left out of the France squad.

Upamecano, 22, was overlooked for a friendly against Finland and Nations League matches against Portugal and Sweden later this month.

Deschamps said RB Leipzig star Upamecano, a three-time France international, would get his chances in the future.

"There is a lot of competition in this position. He was with us before. He's going through a more difficult moment," the France coach told a news conference.

"He knows he can do better. He was quite emotional during his first call up in September, and in October as well. He's a young player and he has the potential. He's playing many games.

"Of course, if it's not him, it's another, it's about the competition. Kurt Zouma in that case, who's doing very well, he's a starter at Chelsea and he knows the French team as well.

"The door is not closed. I make that choice today because it's logical to me. Will it be the same in March and June? It's the same thing for all of the players who were not called but can hope to be in the national team."

While early in the Bundesliga season, Upamecano's duel success rate of 48.9 per cent is lower than he has managed in any campaign since he arrived from Salzburg in 2017.

He is also going at just 1.2 tackles per 90 minutes, which is also his lowest.

Another player still out of the France squad is Barcelona forward Ousmane Dembele, who last played for his nation in 2018.

"Ousmane is coming back from a big injury, he's playing again, 60 minutes, one half, 30 minutes, 20 minutes... You need to give him time," Deschamps said.

"I know what he can do because he was with us two years ago. He had injuries, it's up to him go back to his full form. It's not the case and it's normal."

Mikel Arteta still wants greater consistency from Nicolas Pepe after the forward scored in a 4-1 Europa League win over Molde.

Pepe scored and provided an assist as Arsenal moved onto nine points in Group B on Thursday.

The Ivory Coast international, the club's record £72million signing last year, has two goals and two assists in the Europa League this season, but has made just one Premier League start.

Arsenal manager Arteta wants more from Pepe – and the rest of his team, who host Aston Villa on Sunday.

"Consistency throughout the game, throughout 90 minutes, in every game, in the final third, the final product has to be better not just from him," he told a news conference.

"We have to put higher demands at the moment. He scored a great goal and another assist and he can do more so he's on the right path.

"In general consistency wise in the final third we have to finish more things better and we can improve a lot. That goes to every single player.

"Nico scored three goals and he could score 10. Willy [Joe Willock] the same, three assists, he needs 10. If we don't have that mindset we can't become the team we want to be."

Arsenal fell behind to a Martin Ellingsen goal, but own goals from Kristoffer Haugen and Sheriff Sinyan came before strikes from Pepe and Willock.

Pepe had a game-high four key passes and no player had more shots (four) or shots on target (two) in the win over Molde.

Brandt Snedeker carded a five-under 65 to take a two-stroke lead as the first round of the Houston Open was suspended on Thursday.

The American has struggled for form in 2020, but made a fine start at Memorial Park Municipal Golf Course in Texas.

Snedeker, who has just one top-10 finish in 17 events this year, mixed six birdies with a bogey in the opening round.

He holds a two-shot lead over Cameron Davis, Michael Thompson, Scottie Scheffler, Harold Varner III, Carlos Ortiz and Jason Day, who all opened with 67s.

The last time Snedeker held the 18-hole lead or co-lead on the PGA Tour was after his 59 at the 2018 Wyndham Championship, which he won.

Only nine players were yet to complete their rounds when it was suspended due to darkness.

On what is a congested leaderboard chasing Snedeker, Adam Long, Kevin Streelman, Sam Burns, Talor Gooch, Sepp Straka, Scott Piercy, 2007 champion Adam Scott and Greg Chalmers all opened with 68s.

In action for the first time since the U.S. Open after recovering from coronavirus, Dustin Johnson battled to a two-over 72.

Johnson is back in a tie for 63rd, and he is joined in that group by Brooks Koepka and defending champion Lanto Griffin.

Jordan Spieth's struggles continued as he opened with a three-over 73.

With just two top-10 finishes in 18 events this year, Spieth was three under through 12 holes, only to make two double bogeys and two bogeys.

Martin Laird (72) delivered one of the day's highlights with a hole-in-one at the second hole.

James Maddison has admitted to feeling disappointed by his latest omission from the England squad, but vowed to keep pushing for an international return.

Gareth Southgate confirmed his selection for games against the Republic of Ireland, Belgium and Iceland but did not include the 23-year-old on Thursday.

Maddison has now not been involved in the Three Lions senior squad since being handed his first and thus far only cap against Montenegro in November of last year.

Asked if he felt aggrieved by this latest snub, Maddison told BT Sport: "Yeah, if I'm being honest. 

"I want to be in the England squad, that's what I dreamt of as a little boy. I've had a taste of it and I want more. 

"I'm back fit now, I'm firing, getting the minutes in the legs. I had a long injury last year, I've had a couple of knocks this year so I haven't had consecutive run of games. 

"I can't control whether I'm in the England squad or not, I don't pick the team. I can only concentrate on what I'm doing at Leicester and [we're] second in the Premier League, top in the Europa League so [if I] keep my form good for Leicester then the rest will take care of itself."

Should Maddison be in the England squad?

Jack Grealish, Mason Mount and Phil Foden are the three out-and-out attacking midfielders named in Southgate's latest squad.

Grealish's tally of goals and assists (four apiece), touches in the opposition box (61), and chances created from open play (15) make him comfortably the most productive of that trio in the Premier League so far this season.

Mount and Foden also have posted more goal involvements in the English top-flight than Maddison this term.

Foden has scored twice for Manchester City, while Mount has scored one and laid on an assist. Maddison, meanwhile, has just one goal to his name.

However, as the Leicester man alluded to, injuries are to blame for his reduced return, his campaign comprising just 198 minutes on the pitch to Foden's 387 and Mount's 450.

Maddison's passing accuracy in the opposition half (90.14) is superior to both players, as is a dribble success rate of 75 per cent.

He is also converting shots – excluding blocks – at the same rate as Foden (25) and more regularly than Mount (11.11).

So, should he continue to play regularly, there is every chance his overall output will eventually outstrip his rivals for an England spot.

Stefano Pioli believes Milan created their own problems as they slipped to a 3-0 home defeat against Lille in the Europa League.

Yusuf Yazici scored a hat-trick – the first time any visiting player has netted three goals against Milan since Rivaldo for Barcelona in October 2000 – as Lille ended the Rossoneri's 24-match unbeaten run.

The French outfit became the first side to beat Milan since Genoa in March, prior to the coronavirus-enforced shutdown.

Their success also marked the first time Milan have lost by a three-goal margin at home in European competition.

Yazici opened the scoring from the penalty spot following Alessio Romagnoli's foul, before two goals in the space of three second-half minutes from the Turkey international sealed the points for Lille.

The 23-year-old became the first player in the history of UEFA's European club competitions to net two away hat-tricks in the same season, having also grabbed a treble against Sparta Prague in October.

Pioli pinned the defeat on Milan's mistakes but insisted he would not go overboard with criticism after suffering a first defeat of the campaign.

"We were up against a strong team and we made life difficult for ourselves," Pioli told Sky Sport Italia.

"We hadn't started badly, but I thought we'd be more dangerous in attack and we weren't able to create enough chances.

"With such a strong counter-attacking side, once we went behind, inevitably it opened up spaces and that played into their hands.

"We evaluate the positives and negatives, as always. For the first time in a long while, we have more negatives than positives to look at.

"We weren't ourselves and made mistakes in the wrong game, because Lille are a team who will take advantage of those errors.

"I am very happy here, there is a united atmosphere, a club that supports us and we have everything in place to do our work as well as possible."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic's eight goals in all competitions have inspired Serie A leaders Milan this term, though he was taken off after 62 minutes despite the Rossoneri needing a goal.

The 39-year-old had two of Milan's four shots on target, though neither of his attempts truly tested Lille goalkeeper Mike Maignan.

Pioli left Rafael Leao and Ante Rebic out of his starting side, with both coming on – the latter replacing Ibrahimovic – though Milan's coach believes he made the right call with the initial XI.

"I thought this was the best starting XI for the circumstances, it was balanced and competitive," Pioli added.

"Aside from the penalty, I felt we actually did well in the first half, but our movements and finishing in the final third weren't at the usual level.

"Obviously, as time went on and we conceded two goals in quick succession with our opponents making the most of those spaces opening up, we were punished constantly."

Tottenham boss Jose Mourinho criticised Giovani Lo Celso's work without the ball in Thursday's Europa League win over Ludogorets and says the Argentine is well short of match fitness. 

Lo Celso, who sustained a hamstring injury in October that ruled him out of two Premier League games, scored Spurs' final goal in a 3-1 win in Bulgaria before being replaced with 18 minutes remaining. 

He impressed in attack, taking three shots and making three key passes as Spurs bounced back from last week's shock 1-0 defeat to Royal Antwerp in Group J, while the former Paris Saint-Germain midfielder also proved he can help out defensively by winning all of his three duels and making two interceptions – a joint team-high.

However, Lo Celso lost possession 14 times, and Mourinho says the 24-year-old must show more intensity if he is to replicate the kind of form he showed during his maiden campaign in England last season.

"He was good with the ball and not very good without the ball," Mourinho told a media conference. "His physical condition is not good. He didn't have a pre-season.

"During the lockdown in the previous season he had problems. He didn't train in that period when other guys were training so he has been up and down in his preparation. 

"I feel that when he plays he's not the Gio that we know, not the Gio that we know can be an amazing player. But with the ball, of course, great and he knows what he's doing and understands the way we want to play. 

"But we need more intensity to be fitter and to be stronger in the transitions. Of course, he played more than an hour, and for that hour was a football match that we needed to win but it was also a training session to improve his match fitness."

Mourinho was so furious after last week's reverse to Antwerp that he said he would like to have substituted all 11 players at half-time. 

His team were far better against Ludogorets, registering 22 attempts and enjoying 56 per cent possession, but Mourinho warned Spurs' fringe players they need to maximise their opportunities. 

"We are speaking about top players, we are speaking about Tottenham players," he added. "I always expect the maximum from them, so I am quite demanding and I am never happy with little.

"There are a few things in this game that I expect much more from us, but I am happy with the initiative and the responsibility after we scored the first goal and I am happy we won the game quite comfortably.

"People who are not playing regularly must feel that every minute they are on the pitch is a minute to prove, is a minute to enjoy, is to give the maximum."

Tottenham travel to struggling West Brom on Sunday in the Premier League before the international break. 

Mikel Arteta assured Joe Willock his Premier League chance will come if the midfielder maintains the standard he set in Arsenal's 4-1 Europa League win over Molde.

Willock scored the Gunners' last goal and was the architect for one of two Molde own goals as they came from behind to maintain their perfect Group B record and go three points clear at the top.

The 21-year-old has not played in the Premier League yet this season, but staked his claim with an all-action display at Emirates Stadium on Thursday.

He had four shots, with two on target, was involved in 17 duels and only gave the ball away three times, playing a big part in getting Arsenal ticking after they fell behind to a long-range strike from Martin Ellingsen.

Arteta has plenty of options in midfield, but says Willock can feature more frequently if he continues to make such an impact.

The Arsenal boss told BT Sport: "Joe Willock could have scored more, he created a goal and a good performance. Keep doing what he is doing consistently and his chance will arrive [in the Premier League]."

Arteta was impressed by the way his side fought back after falling behind against a side that had won their opening two group matches.

He said: "It was really important for us to win tonight and go top of the group. We had a convincing victory and the boys tried to go for them from the first minute.

"We went a goal behind but it was about the reaction, we created lot of chances.

"If they did not score the own goals, we had players there for the tap in. We could sustain attacks and we did not want to let them run on the counter because they are a threat.

"I really like the approach that the younger players are having for each game, they want to make the difference, they are playing with a lot of personality."

Nicolas Pepe scored Arsenal's third goal after Kristoffer Haugen and Sheriff Sinyan found the back of their own net.

Lukas Julis scored a hat-trick as Sparta Prague earned a 4-1 win against Celtic that all but ends their opponents' hopes of qualifying from Europa League Group H.

Pressure was already on Neil Lennon following a run of one win in five games and his team were again below par against a Sparta side who were without a number of regulars due to coronavirus.

Julis opened his account in the 26th minute and doubled his tally on the brink of half-time with a curled finish, the goals coming either side of Mohamed Elyounoussi hitting the bar from a rare Celtic chance.

The hosts were given a route back into the game 25 minutes from time when substitute Leigh Griffiths made an instant impact, but Julis killed off the contest with his third and Ladislav Krejci added a late fourth to pile on the misery.

David Moberg Karlsson crashed an early shot against the woodwork and was denied with another effort by Scott Bain, who also kept out Julis with a brilliant reaction save.

However, Sparta's pressure told moments later as Julis lashed into the roof of the net after David Hancko's glanced header had come back off the frame of the goal.

Celtic orchestrated a chance 38 minutes in, Elyounoussi meeting Ryan Christie's pass and grazing the crossbar with his volley, but Sparta were soon two goals in front through Julis' fine finish into the bottom-right corner.

Michal Sacek was given space to fire a long-range shot against the post as Celtic came within inches of shipping a third, though that let-off acted as a turning point of sorts.

Florian Nita kept out Tom Rogic's shot but Griffiths was on hand to fire the rebound into an empty net against a Sparta side previously without a point to their name.

Just as Celtic had some momentum on their side, Karlsson got away from Shane Duffy and squared the ball for Julis to bundle in, condemning the hosts to a third successive home defeat in the competition for a first time.

Substitute Krejci then got on the end of a Borek Dockal cross in the 90th minute to further the pain of Celtic, who have lost three home games in a row in the competition for the first time and sit bottom of their group.

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