Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger have led the tributes to Philip Rivers after the Indianapolis Colts quarterback announced his NFL retirement.

Rivers, 39, spent the first 16 years of his career with the Chargers, initially in San Diego and later in Los Angeles, before joining the Colts for the 2020 season.

He led the Colts back to the playoffs with an 11-5 record and the team narrowly lost to the Buffalo Bills in the Wildcard Round in what proved to be his final game.

Rivers finishes his 17-year career ranked fifth all-time for both passing yards (63,440) and touchdown passes (421).

While Manning and Roethlisberger – the two other prominent quarterbacks drafted in 2004 – won two Super Bowls apiece, Rivers never made it to the big game.

But they insist it does not detract from his magnificent accomplishments.

Former New York Giants QB Manning wrote on Twitter: "Congrats to Philip on an outstanding career. 

"It was fun to watch my fellow Qb from 2004 draft class compete these past 17 years. Enjoy the next phase."

Pittsburgh Steelers QB Roethlisberger, whose own future is uncertain, added: "Philip, what a career! 

"An amazing competitor, winner and family man. It has been fun to compete against you and watch you do your thing for so many years. 

"I know countless kids have been inspired by you and will benefit from your coaching and football knowledge in the future. God bless!"

Colts head coach Frank Reich had previously said he believed Rivers had more left in the tank.

"Philip is one of the fiercest competitors and most loyal teammates that our game has ever seen," he said after Rivers' announcement. 

"His unwavering conviction as a leader and elite intelligence contributed to his Hall of Fame football career. 

"Philip made our game better and the National Football League was fortunate to have him.

"I wish Philip, Tiffany and the entire Rivers family the best and thank them for their contributions to our organization and community. 

"I am anxious to see Philip trade his helmet for the headset and do what he's always done best – bring his passion to the game of football and make others better."

Two of Rivers' prominent former Chargers pass catchers, Keenan Allen and Hunter Henry, were also quick to send him their gratitude on social media.

Allen wrote: "Husband, Father, Friend, Role Model, Professional, Warrior, Leader!

"Glad that I was blessed to be apart of your career. Showed up everyday like it was your last and never took any moment for granted!"

While Henry added: "Congrats stud. Insane career. 

"Thankful for everything you have done for me in my career. You were a true inspiration. Enjoy retirement stud!"

Houston Texans icon JJ Watt called Rivers "one of the smartest I’ve ever played against and a hell of a competitor".

Minnesota Vikings QB Kirk Cousins, meanwhile, said Rivers' career was worthy of a place in the Hall of Fame, labelling him "an example to follow as a QB, a team leader, a Dad, and a man of faith".

Former Manchester United captain Bryan Robson would like to see Jack Grealish make a move to Old Trafford.

Aston Villa star Grealish has been linked with the Red Devils in the past 18 months but there has yet to be a concerted effort to sign him.

However, with the future of Paul Pogba unclear beyond this season, talk has again emerged that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could look to Grealish as a possible replacement for the France star.

The England international has created a competition-high 55 goalscoring chances in the Premier League in 2020-21 from only 15 appearances.

The 25-year-old has become integral to Villa's improved performances this term, making 11 per cent of all of their passes and drawing 73 fouls, the most of any player in the division.

Former skipper Robson, twice a league champion with United, thinks Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would be making a smart move if he added Grealish to his squad.

"It was a good decision giving [Jack Grealish] the [Aston Villa] captaincy," he told Stats Perform. "I think it's made him a bit more mature.

"He's a powerful player. He's quite a strong boy and he's quick and the way he can sort of go either way past people, he's always going to be a danger and that's why he gets so many free-kicks. Him and Villa have been terrific this season.

"He's been linked with us but those decisions, thank goodness, are with Ole and the board of directors. I wouldn't mind seeing Jack Grealish in a Manchester United shirt. I don't know whether the staff at Old Trafford fancy him, much as you'd like to see him play for your club."

United face Fulham on Wednesday looking for a win that would take them back to the top of the Premier League.

Grealish and Villa are in action away to in-form Manchester City.

Jurgen Klopp is adamant Liverpool's recent woes in attack are simply down to poor decision-making in the final third rather than teams getting wise to their style of play.

The Reds head into Thursday's Premier League clash with Burnley having failed to score in any of their previous three top-flight games.

They beat Crystal Palace 7-0 just over a month ago but have since won just three points in the league, scoring once and seeing Manchester United rise to the summit. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men can return to the top with a win over Fulham on Wednesday.

Much of the focus on Liverpool's attacking issues has somewhat unsurprisingly been centred on Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane, all of whom were disappointing in the 0-0 draw with United.

But Klopp seemed irritated when it was suggested a factor could be that other teams have learnt how to play against them.

"You can make of it what you want, it's football, it's not a new game, we didn't invent it new and then surprise the teams last year and they were like, 'oh my god, so that's how they attack'," Klopp said in his news conference.

"No team is to defend for a whole game, well, maybe a whole game but not then the next one. Other teams know what we're doing, last year they knew what we were doing, but we were still difficult to defend.

"Most of the good chances - we didn't miss them because they defended them, we missed because we didn't use them, so that is a massive difference. There are chances where we just have to finish them off better. That's the reason.

"Teams defend against us with all they have, that's not new. So, at the moment we have an 'offensive crisis', next headline will be everyone knows how to play against us.


"You smile as you ask the question but you know exactly what this kind of headline creates and what people are thinking, but it's normal. It's the situation we are in.

"I think I heard somewhere I have to rebuild this team? The world is a crazy place, not only because of the pandemic. It's because no one has time anymore, in football we know that.

"I've been in football long enough to know you never get time, you only get time if you make steps forward.

"After last season we haven't made steps forward, we know that, but we only make steps forward by playing not talking."

Of his first-choice attacking trio, Firmino seems to be the one receiving most of the criticism – after all, the Brazilian has only scored five times in the Premier League this season.

His goals (0.26) and assists (0.15) per 90 minutes this term across all competitions are the worst he has posted at Liverpool under Klopp, while his chance creation frequency is also at a low of 1.2 every 90 minutes.

It was put to Klopp that Liverpool have been less effective with regards to pressing this term, though Klopp dismissed the importance of that.

When asked how Firmino can get back on track, Klopp said: "By training, let's start with that, that's how it is.

"We didn't score a lot of goals in these games, it doesn't mean Roberto's performance dropped or whatever the counter press stats say – in this game it was not the case because a player wasn't there or we didn't do it well enough, we had a lot of great counter-pressing in this game, in other games before we press they may play a long ball, that's how it is.

"It's not always about your game, it's about the other team's approach as well, but we know we're not exactly where we want to be, there are some reasons but that’s not important, it's that we have to fight and we do."

Veteran Indianapolis Colts quarterback Philip Rivers has announced his retirement after 17 seasons in the NFL.

Rivers spent the first 16 years with the Chargers, initially in San Diego and later in Los Angeles, before joining the Colts for the 2021 season.

During his solitary campaign in Indianapolis, Rivers led the team back to the playoffs with an 11-5 record, throwing for 4,169 yards and 24 touchdown passes.

He finishes his career ranked fifth overall for completed yards at 63,440 and touchdown passes with 421.

The 39-year-old played in 244 NFL games in total including 240 straight starts, which remains the second-longest streak for a quarterback behind the legendary Brett Favre (297).

Announcing his decision to the San Diego Union-Tribune, Rivers said: "It's just time. It's just right.

"It [his career] was awesome. A young kid from northern Alabama who grew up wanting to play pro ball. I got to do it.

"This is the first year I felt like the ending was real. We talked about it other years, but we knew we weren't doing it. This year felt different. It just seemed right."

Rivers is now set to embark on a new chapter in his life in Alabama, where he is to become the head football coach at St. Michael High in Fairhope.

"I can sit here and say, 'I can still throw it. I love to play.' But that's always going to be there. I'm excited to go coach high school football," he added.

"What has helped me come to this [decision] is the growing desire to coach high school football. That's what I've always wanted to do. It's been growing. I can't wait."

Sokratis Papastathopoulos has left Arsenal after agreeing to terminate his contract with the club.

The defender has not made a Premier League appearance since March 7 last year and has not featured in a matchday squad in any competition in 2020-21.

The 32-year-old is now free to speak to other clubs, with Sevilla, Real Betis and Genoa among those said to be interested.

In a statement posted on Twitter, Sokratis said: "One of the most enjoyable times in my career ended today.

"It has been an honour to wear the Arsenal shirt and I want to thank all the coaches, team-mates, staff and fans around the world for the love and respect they have given me.

"I gave everything for Arsenal and Arsenal also gave me a lot. I wish you all the best health and success always. Thank you."

Arsenal technical director Edu said: "On behalf of Mikel [Arteta], our coaches, players and everyone at the club, I would like to thank Papa for his contribution to the club.

"He has been an important part of our group and has been a model professional throughout. The negotiations to end his contract have been collaborative and we wish Papa and his family well for the future."

Sokratis, whose deal had been due to expire at the end of the season, joined Arsenal from Borussia Dortmund in July 2018.

He made 69 appearances in all competitions for the Gunners, reaching the Europa League final in 2019 and winning the FA Cup last year.

In his time at the club, Sokratis won 57 tackles, 158 aerial duels and 314 duels, as well as making 248 clearances. Only Shkodran Mustafi ranks higher among Gunners defenders in that time.

Estudiantes winger Dario Sarmiento is reportedly destined for Manchester City and the Argentine club's chairman Juan Sebastian Veron believes he offers abilities that are not common in the modern game.

Sarmiento has made just 14 league appearances for Estudiantes since being handed his debut as a 16-year-old by former Barcelona defender Gabriel Milito in October 2019.

Although he is yet to score or provide an assist in Argentina's top flight, City are reportedly willing to part with £17million to bring him to the Premier League.

His evident ability running with the ball at his feet and the fact he stands at just five feet and five inches has inevitably led to comparisons to six-time Ballon d'Or winner and Argentina captain Lionel Messi.

Veron has no doubt Sarmiento has the talent to enjoy a successful career but warned plenty of work in the right environment is needed for him to reach his potential.

"He has incredible improvement margins. To me, he has quality," Veron told Stats Perform News.

"Now a lot of clubs look for this kind of player, who runs on the flank. It is so easy for him to dribble his marker – not something so easy to see these days.

"He is fast, agile, nice left foot and great at dribbling, but he is still a project of a player.

"Will he become a great player? It depends a lot on him and on what team he will join to carry on his development. A lot of it is up to him."

A dribbling specialist

Argentina has long provided a hotbed of young talent that has been poached by the financial might of European clubs and Sarmiento looks set to move across the Atlantic Ocean in the near future.

Looking at players born after the turn of the millennium to have played at least 450 minutes in the Liga Profesional Argentina since the start of 2019-20 gives a good indication of how this burgeoning talent compares to his contemporaries.

It is his dribbling ability that has marked him out as a potential star - only Thiago Almada (20) of Velez Sarsfield has more carries with a chance created than Sarmiento (nine).

However, when looked at on a per-90-minutes basis, Sarmiento comes out on top with a league-leading rate of 1.4 compared to Almada's 1.1.

He has averaged 2.6 carries with a take on per 90 minutes, the fourth-best behind Pedro de la Vega (3.0), Alan Velasco (4.1) and Gaston Gonzalez (4.8).

Going at defenders

It is clear that Sarmiento is certainly not afraid to take people on.

He has averaged 5.4 attempted take ons per 90 minutes over the past two Liga Profesional Argentina seasons – enough to rank fifth – and has a success rate of 58 per cent. Among players fitting the aforementioned criteria that have attempted at least 20 take ons in total, that puts him eighth in the league.

Perhaps Sarmiento's success rate is affected by the fact he also looks to beat his man in dangerous areas. He has attempted 0.9 take ons in the box per 90 minutes, well clear of Franco Orozoco (0.6) who registers second in that metric. Furthermore, his 0.5 take ons with a shot per game is another league-leading mark.

It is clear there is plenty of substance to Sarmiento's play and he could become a potent force if, as Veron suggests, his talent is fostered astutely.

Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar are three of the superstars who have been voted into UEFA's Men's Team of the Year by fans, with Virgil van Dijk also included despite missing a chunk of 2020 through injury.

Fans had from November 30 to January 6 to cast their votes, and a host of predictable names made the cut, though Champions League winners Bayern Munich dominate.

There are five players from Bayern's treble-winning 2019-20 in the team, including Robert Lewandowski – winner of The Best FIFA Men's Player of the Year award – and Thiago Alcantara, who has since joined Liverpool.

The other Reds player in the side is Van Dijk even though the Dutch centre-back has only played five Premier League games this season due to a serious knee injury.

However, earlier in the year he inspired Liverpool to their first league title since 1990.

Ronaldo was named in the side for a 15th time after helping Juventus to another Scudetto.

Messi earned his 12th inclusion despite failing to help Barcelona to LaLiga success in what was a largely difficult year for the Blaugrana and their captain.

UEFA confirmed the final selection for the women's team as well, with six players from Lyon's Women's Champions League-winning squad in the side.

 

Men's Team of the Year:

Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich and Germany); Joshua Kimmich (Bayern Munich and Germany), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid and Spain), Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool and Netherlands), Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich and Canada); Thiago Alcantara (Bayern Munich/Liverpool and Spain), Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City and Belgium); Lionel Messi (Barcelona and Argentina), Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus and Portugal), Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich and Poland), Neymar (Paris Saint-Germain and Brazil).

Women's Team of the Year:

Sarah Bouhaddi (Lyon and France); Lucy Bronze (Lyon/Manchester City and England), Kadeisha Buchanan (Lyon and Canada), Wendie Renard (Lyon and France), Magdalena Eriksson (Chelsea and Sweden); Kheira Hamraoui (Barcelona and France), Amandine Henry (Lyon and France), Delphine Cascarino (Lyon and France), Sara Bjork Gunnarsdottir (Wolfsburg/Lyon and Iceland); Danielle van de Donk (Arsenal and Netherlands), Pernille Harder (Wolfsburg/Chelsea and Denmark).

Edinson Cavani has urged Manchester United to not let arrogance creep into their game as they look to mount their first title challenge since Alex Ferguson's departure.

United retained their place at the top of the Premier League table with Sunday's 0-0 draw at Liverpool, with this the furthest into the season that they have been at the summit since winning the title in 2012-13.

Leicester City's win over Chelsea on Tuesday momentarily put the Foxes in first place, but United know they will go straight back above them with a victory at struggling Fulham on Wednesday.

United are on a remarkable run away from home in the Premier League – avoiding defeat on Wednesday will see them equal a club-record 17 games unbeaten on the road in the top flight, equalling the feat achieved by Ferguson's treble-winning side in 1998-99.

But while the odds will be stacked against Fulham, who are 18th in the table, Cavani had a few words of caution for United ahead of the trip to Craven Cottage.

"I believe that one of the most important things that we need to be aware of whenever we go into any game is that we are Manchester United, and, irrespective of whether we are top of the league or in any other position, every other team that plays against Manchester United tries to do their absolute best to try to beat them," he told United Review.

"It was also a similar situation for me when I was at PSG. Teams try to do the impossible to get a victory against one of the most legendary and best teams in the world. So ensuring we are focused and concentrated on this should give us the energy to want to fight for this badge and be top of the league, fighting to stay right where we are.

"For all that, we need to be ready and mentally prepared to compete. Like I always say, the important thing isn't just winning a couple of games, it's having that consistency of always competing; competing in every game and for every ball, and concentrating to the absolute maximum for every situation that comes up in the game. And that's what, in the end, allows you to achieve your ultimate goal.

"Fulham will know very well that they have Manchester United coming up next, and they'll be going all out to try to beat us, like they have done in the past and just like what we've seen with other teams like Burnley, who always give their utmost.

"So we need to be aware that it's going to be a tough game and that we have to be 100 per cent focused in order to take care of all the details so we can try to win the game in order to [return to the top of the table]." 

Manchester City and Aston Villa would have faced each other on the opening weekend of this Premier League campaign had Pep Guardiola's side not reached the final stages of the Champions League in Lisbon and earned an extra week to recuperate.

Plenty of what's happened since then - for both of these clubs and throughout the division - would have been impossible to predict, with a strange season springing surprises at every turn.

However, had City and Villa played one another in September, most observers would have confidently looked towards Kevin De Bruyne and Jack Grealish to supply the creative inspiration for their respective teams.

It is safe to say each star midfielder has lived up to his billing over the first half of the campaign.

Mutual respect

Grealish earned a long-awaited England debut earlier this season and was a bright spark when England suffered a 2-0 Nations League defeat in Belgium.

Before the match, the 25-year-old revealed he spent his final preparations casting an admiring eye over a certain member of the opposition.

"For the past 24 hours, I've been watching little clips of my favourite players like I do before every game," he told Sky Sports.

"I watch loads of clips. I watch clips of De Bruyne, I watch clips of [Philippe] Coutinho, just players that are in my position, really.

"That's what I've done since I was a little kid and I still do it to this day - I have no shame in saying that and that's what gets me going for football matches."

After the match, De Bruyne conceded Grealish had also captured his attention.

"I rate him very highly," he said. "He's somebody I mentioned before, talking to the team-mates at City, in a random conversation.

"In England they talked about creative problems in midfield, but he brings that to a team. He deserves a shot."

Those warm words from De Bruyne seemed to carry a little more weight when a move for Grealish was rumoured to be one of the topics of discussion during Guardiola's successful contract extension negotiations in November.

Given the City boss already must try to accommodate the playmaking talents of Phil Foden and Bernardo Silva around De Bruyne, it is questionable whether he needs such a reinforcement in his creative department.

However, Opta data from this season shows Grealish is doing plenty to match the reigning PFA Players' Player of the Year.

King creators

Both De Bruyne and Grealish have started 15 Premier League games apiece this season, with the latter playing one more minute overall.

In that time, the Villa man has created 55 chances to De Bruyne's 51, although City's number 17 has 10 assists to Grealish's seven following an outrageous outside-of-the-boot cross for John Stones to open the scoring in Sunday's 4-0 thrashing of Crystal Palace.

Overall, they are second and third in the Premier League's assists table, Harry Kane's fruitful relationship with Son Heung-min helping the England captain to amass 11 for Tottenham.

Manchester United talisman Bruno Fernandes separates them at the top when it comes to chances created, having crafted 54 for his Old Trafford colleagues.

Those numbers continue to look incredibly strong when projected across Europe's top five leagues.

Hakan Calhanoglu has created 59 chances for Serie A leaders Milan, although only six of those have been converted, while the continental top five is rounded out by Lyon's Memphis Depay being level with De Bruyne on 51.

In terms of assists, Kane and De Bruyne are again one and two from Bayern Munich's Thomas Muller (nine) and Roma's Henrikh Mkhitaryan (eight).

Goals, guile and grubby work

De Bruyne has fired off 57 shots this season (17 on target) to Grealish's 40 (14 on target).

However, City's designated penalty taker has only scored three, with his first Premier League goal from open play this season coming earlier in January at Chelsea.

Grealish has weighed in with five for Dean Smith's men, including a double in their logic-defying 7-2 evisceration of champions Liverpool.

Grealish has 81.2 per cent accuracy for passes ending in the final third, outstripping De Bruyne's 73.5 per cent, although the City favourite attempting 105 crosses and corners to the younger man's 51 goes some way to explaining this discrepancy.

In terms of dribble success rate, they are neck and neck again, with Grealish returning 63.8 per cent and De Bruyne 63.

Grealish has attempted 69 dribbles to his idol's 46, which does a little to explain the frequency with which he draws free-kicks.

His 73 fouls won is comfortably the highest in the division, with Palace's Wilfred Zaha (51), Liverpool's Sadio Mane (43) and Kane (40) up next.

A key reason for this could be how integral Grealish is to so much of Villa's attacking play. As per Opta, he is responsible for 11 per cent of his team's passes. By contrast, Zaha and Kane make five per cent and Mane four.

As players who cherish the ball so much, De Bruyne and his counterpart do plenty to get it back.

The UEFA midfielder of the year has made 74 recoveries, 27 tackles and seven interceptions in the Premier League this season, compared to 79 recoveries, 23 tackles and eight interceptions for Grealish.

It seems implausible that these two midfield maestros will stray too far from the thick of the action at the Etihad Stadium, which should make for a very watchable encounter.

Whether or not it amounts to a live audition for Grealish, only time will tell.

Nikola Jokic has become a more aggressive scorer because he was beaten with a pillowcase full of soda cans by Mike Malone, the Denver Nuggets coach joked.

Nuggets center Jokic had 27 points, 12 rebounds and six assists in three quarters as Denver cruised to a 119-101 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder at Pepsi Center on Tuesday.

The 25-year-old has had at least a double-double in each of his 14 games this season and is averaging a triple-double of 25.1 points, 11.4 rebounds and 10 assists – all of which represent career highs.

Jokic's best scoring season was 2018-19 when he averaged 20.1 points per game, and Malone gave a light-hearted response when asked what has motivated the Serbian to become more prolific.

He replied: "I locked him in my office one day and I beat him with a pillowcase full of soda cans and I said: 'You've got to score more!'"

In a far more serious tone, Malone continued: "You know how he is, he's a great player, he's playing at an MVP level. You go back to tonight, 27, 12 and six, only one turnover.

"Early on they were playing him one-on-one, and sometimes I get frustrated because I don't think we give him the ball enough, especially when he's being guarded one-on-one.

"Nikola has seen every possible double-team, and so have we as a team. We space the floor correctly and he is so willing to find the open man, and we had great possessions against the double-team.

"He's always going to take what the defense gives him but he is being more aggressive, which is what we need from him."

The Nuggets are 10-2 against the Thunder since 2017-18, their best record against any Western Conference opponent in that span.

Denver's latest victory saw them improve to 7-7 on the season, but they are yet to hold a winning record this season after never being .500 or worse after their first game in the previous campaign.

Under-pressure Chelsea head coach Frank Lampard accepts the Blues are "not ready to compete" for the Premier League title following another defeat.

Chelsea lost 2-0 at Leicester City on Tuesday, meaning their only win in their previous five Premier League games was against a Fulham side languishing in the relegation zone.

Victory for Leicester put Brendan Rodgers' side top of the table at least until Manchester United go to Fulham on Wednesday, while Chelsea will be 11 points adrift of the summit if the Red Devils win.

It was not so long ago that Chelsea were being dubbed favourites for the Premier League title by Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, with Lampard's side top of the pile as recently as early December.

Since beating Leeds United to go top on December 5, Chelsea have taken just seven points from a possible 24 and Tuesday's defeat meant only Newcastle United (52) have conceded more away goals in the Premier League than them (50) since the start of last season.

Reports began to emerge a few weeks ago about Lampard's position being in doubt, and it is unlikely he has done himself any favours by essentially conceding defeat in the title race.

"I don't think this is the first time I've been asked this, been asked this a few times in the last few weeks – after 16 unbeaten we lost two on the bounce and I was starting to be asked these questions, and I understand it," Lampard told reporters.

"It's the expectations of this club. Whether I think it's right or wrong… As I said pre-match, we are not in the position of a Chelsea that we were in periods when we were winning leagues.

"I took this job knowing that there will be difficult times because it's not a club ready to compete. We had a transfer ban, we had young players. Now we have new players and we can see that the new players, the younger players are striving for form, to be settled into this team.

"While everything was rosy in early-to-mid December, it's not so rosy now. We're not the only team to suffer that situation and I'm not the only manager to be put under this sort of pressure.

"The lucky thing for me is I'm good at handling the pressure. I don't like it, I want to win games, I want everyone to be talking about how we are moving towards the top of the table like we were a month ago, but the reality is, for me, I could sense these periods were coming and that's all I have to concern myself with, how to deal with them and get us out of it."

Zion Williamson needs to "get in shape" if he is to fulfil his potential in the NBA, according to Hall of Famer Karl Malone.

New Orleans selected Williamson with the first overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft but a meniscus tear in preseason and a season shortened by the coronavirus pandemic meant he played just 24 games in his rookie campaign.

The Duke product is up to 36 games – still less than half the standard season – but former power forward Malone, a two-time MVP who had All-NBA First Team honours on 11 occasions, thinks he need to improve his physique if he is to maximise his abilities.

Williamson is listed at six foot, seven inches and 284 pounds, with Malone pointing to Glen 'Big Baby' Davis as an example of someone who did not live up to their billing due to their size – Davis was 6ft 9in and played at 289 pounds.

"I love Zion Williamson. Zion needs to get into shape. If he doesn't get in shape, we might not ever know his full potential," Malone said on The Players' Tribune's Knuckleheads podcast.

"There's a young man that played at LSU, 'Big Baby' Davis. Big Baby made a comment about eight months ago, he did an ESPN show … he came on that show and he said, 'Look guys, I'm about to get into trouble now with what I'm about to say. I know everybody loves Zion and I love him too. But Zion has the same body type that I had.'

"He was talking about himself. And he said if he doesn't get into shape, we'll never know his full potential. And he did get heat from that."

Williamson had 32 points with five rebounds and three assists as the Pelicans suffered a 118-102 defeat to the Utah Jazz on Tuesday, New Orleans losing for the sixth time in seven games to slip to 5-8 for the season.

This season the 20-year-old is averaging 23.4 points and 8.0 rebounds in 32.6 minutes per game. That ranks him 44th in minutes per game, with his usage percentage of 29.1 enough for 39th in the league.

However, he leads in the league in contested three-points shots per game at 5.9.

Malone added: "I'm still waiting on him to play the whole damn season… and he needs to be averaging 40 minutes per game. Look here, you're a 21, 22-year-old kid. Your a** shouldn't get tired."

Manchester United's 0-0 draw away to Liverpool on Sunday left Ole Gunnar Solskjaer "disappointed", the Norwegian adamant they did enough to end the Reds' remarkable long-standing unbeaten home run.

But there were two silver linings; firstly, United remained top of the Premier League, and secondly, the point preserved their own exceptional streak without a defeat.

It ensured United's run without a loss away from home in the Premier League would surpass a full year, having last suffered a domestic defeat on the road at Anfield on January 19, 2020.

Liverpool's win on that occasion took them 30 points clear of United in the table, but the obvious gulf between the two last season has not carried into 2020-21.

United are away from home again on Wednesday as they go to Fulham, and avoiding defeat again will see them equal a club record.

EMULATING THE TREBLE WINNERS

The last United team to go 17 away games unbeaten in the Premier League was Alex Ferguson's famous treble-winning side in 1998-99.

United's run started on December 5 and lasted until the following September, therefore playing a major role in the Red Devils securing the Premier League title ahead of Arsenal, pipping Arsene Wenger's men to the crown by a point.

They scored 34 goals and claimed nine wins in those 17 games and conceded 16.

Should United avoid defeat to Fulham, statistically they appear set to improve of the 1998-99 team's run, as the current crop have already scored 36, conceded just 13 and won 12.

But even if they ultimately fall at the final hurdle at Craven Cottage, they are safe in the knowledge that no other post-Ferguson United side registers in the top seven for the club's all-time top-flight unbeaten away runs.

Whether or not this run would have occurred if fans were in the stadiums is another matter, but it's unquestionable that progress is being made at Old Trafford - or, you know, away from Old Trafford...

RESILIENT REDS

A key factor in United's impressive run has been the character and resilience shown by them.

They have rescued 18 points from losing positions on the road in 2020-21, which is already a record for a single Premier League season, bettering the 17 accumulating by Aston Villa (1993-94) and Newcastle United (2001-02). The previous best posted by United was 16 in 2002-03.

Certainly the pick of United's away comebacks this season was the 3-2 win at Southampton on November 29, as they fell 2-0 down before Edinson Cavani inspired a brilliant turnaround with two goals and an assist off the bench.

A WAYS TO GO

As laudable as United's current away form is, they are still some way off matching the Premier League's all-time record, however.

Arsenal's 'Invincibles' hold that honour, having gone 27 matches unbeaten away from home in the top flight.

That stretched from April 2003 to September 2004, spanning well over a full season as they comfortably beat the 23-game record they themselves set between August 2001 and September 2002.

The closest any team has got to either streak is Liverpool, who between January 2019 and February 2020 went 21 away games without defeat before they suffered a shock 3-0 loss at Watford.

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer insisted the Premier League giants only sign players that fit the club's long-term strategy amid ongoing transfer links.

With the January transfer window open, United have once again been linked to Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho, Bayern Munich's soon-to-be free agent David Alaba and Lens defender Facundo Medina among others.

During the previous window, United signed 33-year-old forward Edinson Cavani, Donny van de Beek, Alex Telles, Facundo Pellistri and teenage sensation Amad Diallo – who arrived from Atalanta this month.

As United eye their first Premier League title since 2012-13, Solskjaer discussed the club's transfer plans.

"Whenever you get the chance to speak to players or learn about their personalities, what you get through a chat when you've been put together, that is very important," Solskjaer said ahead of Wednesday's trip to Fulham.

"And of course, we've been here, we know where we want to get to at Manchester United. Do you want to be part of bringing us back to the successful times - that's always been one of the topics that we've discussed.

"We're not here for a quick fix, we have players who have a long-term role to play. Even if it's, say Edinson [Cavani] coming in at the age of 33, he still has a part-long term by who he is, and how he comes in and what he does to the club and to the players."

United are second in the Premier League but can reclaim their two-point lead atop the table with victory at Fulham midweek.

Solskjaer's United are unbeaten in their last 16 Premier League away games. In their top-flight history, they have only once gone longer without defeat on the road – 17 matches between December 1998-September 1999.

Luke Shaw has played a key role for United following his man-of-the-match display in Sunday's 0-0 draw against defending champions Liverpool at Anfield.

Form and fitness have hampered Shaw since his big-money arrival from Southampton in 2014, but the 25-year-old full-back is returning to his consistent best.

"Luke has immense quality," Solskjaer said. "He has a very good technique, good quality. You see against Liverpool, he takes the ball and drives forward, that is something that I have pushed him more to do because we know he can do it.

"It is generally down to the boy himself, mentally he is very good at the moment, he has become a dad. He is physically very good, his fitness is so much better and he keeps beating his high-intensity stats and his total distance stats. He has been consistently up there with what a full-back should be doing.

"When you have the talent of Luke, when that fitness and the mental bit is sorted then you are always going to get good performances."

United are the only side without an away defeat in the Premier League this season (W7 D2), while the Red Devils have picked up the most points (23) and scored the most goals (22) on the road in the competition this term.

The Manchester team are unbeaten in their last eight Premier League games against promoted sides (W6 D2), scoring 25 goals in those games since a 2-0 loss to Cardiff City in May 2019.

Meanwhile, of all clubs to have played more than two Premier League games on Wednesdays, United have the highest win rate (62 per cent - 70/113).

Roma head coach Paulo Fonseca said the club will discuss the error made in the Coppa Italia upset against Spezia after the club used six substitutes.

Spezia shocked Roma 4-2 after extra time in the Italian capital, where Fonseca's side capitulated and sensationally made one substitution too many in the last 16 on Tuesday.

Roma would have been eliminated by default even if they won at home to Spezia after Fonseca introduced Ibanez for Pedro in extra time, having already made five changes to his line-up.

Fonseca's Roma believed they could use six substitutes – an additional change in extra time as seen in cup competitions – but that was not the case in the Coppa Italia.

Asked about the mistake at Stadio Olimpico, under-fire boss Fonseca – who oversaw a humiliating 3-0 derby loss to Lazio in Serie A on Friday – said post-match: "If there is an issue, we have time to discuss that internally. If there is."

Fonseca was looking to bolster his defence after centre-back Gianluca Mancini was shown a second yellow card in the 91st minute, and goalkeeper Pau Lopez saw red just seconds later.

With Roma down to nine men, Spezia capitalised on their numerical advantage as Riccardo Saponara and Daniele Verde struck in extra time.

Roma had rallied from 2-0 down inside 15 minutes to force extra time via Lorenzo Pellegrini's 43rd-minute penalty and Henrikh Mkhitaryan's fine finish with 17 minutes remaining.

Hosts Roma conceded two goals during the first 15 minutes of play, in all competitions, for the first time since January 2020 as they were eliminated in the Coppa Italia round of 16 for just the third time in the last 20 seasons – twice against Spezia.

It was also the first time since 2015-16 that Roma played extra time in the Coppa Italia.

"We had a bad start to the game; the penalty, and then another moment that's hard to really understand," Fonseca said. "But the team responded, they played well, they created chances and it could have been a different result.

"We missed so many chances and so then, with two men sent off, it all became much harder."

"It's a tough moment. We wanted to go further in the cup, but I can't say anything bad about the attitude of the players. We have to now focus on the next game," Fonseca continued.

Pressure is mounting on Fonseca, who was appointed in 2019, but the Portuguese tactician said: "My future has been up for discussion ever since I got here. I am encouraged by the position we have in the league right now – it's where we want to be – and I have confidence in my team. But when we don't win I am always being discussed. I have to stay focused on my job."

Roma – winless in three matches across all competitions having conceded nine goals – are fourth in Serie A, nine points behind leaders Milan through 18 games.

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