Israel Adesanya and Paulo Costa will put their 100 per cent records on the line and fight for the UFC middleweight title in Abu Dhabi on Sunday.

Middleweight champion Adesanya had spoken of chasing big-money fights with Jon Jones and even Conor McGregor.

But for now the Nigeria-born New Zealander has a score to settle with Costa and fight fans are undoubtedly relishing the pair mixing it in the Octagon at UFC 253.


WHY THE HYPE?

Because these guys have been on a collision course for some time and only a biceps injury sustained by Costa made the wait so long.

Jibes have been thrown back and forth, with Costa accusing Adesanya of ducking the challenge of former light-heavyweight king Jones.

Adesanya has something to prove after an underwhelming win via unanimous decision against Yoel Romero back in March, and his kick-boxing brilliance and Costa's pressure fighting make this a bout of real intrigue.


GREATEST ACHIEVEMENTS

Adesanya became the UFC's interim middleweight champion with a unanimous decision victory over Kelvin Gastelum in a classic in April 2019. He then defeated the legendary Robert Whittaker in October with a stunning knockout to unify the division.

Each of Costa's first four wins in a UFC ring came via way of KO/TKO and in August 2019 he defeated Romero via unanimous decision.


WHAT'S THEIR MMA RECORD (W-L-D)?

Adesanya: 19-0-0

Costa: 13-0-0


TALE OF THE TAPE

Adesanya:

Age: 31
Height: 6'4" (193cm)
Weight: 185lbs (84kg)
Reach: 80"
Leg reach: 44.5"

Costa:

Age: 29
Height: 6'1" (185cm)
Weight: 185lbs (84kg)
Reach: 72"
Leg reach: 39.5"


WHAT THEY'VE SAID

Adesanya referred to Costa as an "inflated balloon animal" back in June and during his media activities ahead of UFC 253 made a figure out of balloons to impersonate Costa, saying: "Hey guys, my name is Paulo Costa. I'm the Eraser and I'm going to be the champion. Israel, I will erase you." Adesanya then twisted the balloons until they popped…

In controversial comments to Submission Radio in August, Costa said: "I have just one question. Adesanya, why are you freezing when you face Romero? You're not a real champion, man. You don't deserve. I will kill you."


FIGHT STATS IN UFC

Adesanya:

- Adesanya has connected with 503 of his 1,032 attempted significant strikes, a success rate of 49 per cent.

- Of his successful strikes, 88 per cent have come from a standing position.

- On the defensive side, Adesanya has guarded against 87 per cent of takedown attempts.

- He has also seen off 66 per cent of strikes against him.

Costa:

- Costa has landed 307 of his 531 attempted significant strikes, giving him a success rate of 58 per cent.

- As with Adesanya, Costa tends to strike from a standing position - with 82 per cent coming via that method.

- He has successfully blocked 80 per cent of takedown attempts against him.

- Costa has also thwarted 54 per cent of strikes from his opponents.

Roger Federer was once a habitual racket smasher but give him a chance and he'll duck this argument.

Rafael Nadal possesses just about the meanest snarl in tennis but he could let this argument drop happily too.

Even Novak Djokovic, no stranger to an argument, is averse to causing a rumpus in this case.

Yet the question of which of the Big Three is the greatest men's tennis player of all time can provoke boisterous debate beyond the locker room, sparking hostility even among the sport's Prosecco and prawn sandwich brigade. Never underestimate the ferocity of a tennis stan.

There may never be a satisfactory answer, given that in all likelihood, Federer, Nadal and Djokovic will each end their careers on or around the 20 grand slam titles mark.

Considering Pete Sampras was once portrayed as super-human for reaching 14 slams, the achievements by the three titans of the modern game beggar belief.

Each man has taken tennis to new levels, in his own way, and as a new generation begins to rise, we have reached an apposite moment to examine the numbers that show how they have moved the sport forward.

Men's tennis has three G.O.A.T.s and at this stage to pick one above another would be churlish.

FEDERER: ELDER STATESMAN, STILL LEADING THE RACE

From his Roland Garros debut in 1999 to a semi-final run at the Australian Open this year, the longevity of Federer has been almost as astonishing as some of his easy-on-the-eye tennis.

The list of records he has racked up is bewildering, beginning with his unmatched 20 men's slam singles titles. The Swiss was the first man to go beyond Sampras, and in the men's game he is the only player to win three slams in the same season three times (2004, 2006, 2007), make 10 successful title defences, and win more than 100 matches at two different grand slams - Wimbledon and the Australian Open.

He has reached an unsurpassed 31 slam singles finals (Nadal - 27, Djokovic - 26), and a mind-boggling 46 semi-finals at the four majors. Between the 2004 French Open, where he lost in the first round, and the 2010 edition at Roland Garros, where he fell in the quarters, Federer marched to the semi-final or further at 23 successive majors, winning 14 titles in that time.

Reaching seven or more finals in any grand slam is a superlative feat, but Federer has achieved that in three of the four majors (Wimbledon - 12, US Open - 7, Australian Open - 7), and twice won five consecutive titles at individual majors (Wimbledon 2003-07, US Open 2004-08).

And that is just scratching the surface.

He has spent the most weeks at world number one (310) and the most consecutively so (237), and sits third on the ATP list for the most aces in a career (11,344), behind only the towering duo of one-trick wonders Ivo Karlovic and John Isner.

NADAL: ONCE THE YOUNG UPSTART, FOR WHOM TWENTY WON'T BE PLENTY

Nadal can almost claim to have equalled Federer's 10 successful title defences, after retaining his crown nine times at Roland Garros, while winning Wimbledon in 2008 and 2010, having had to miss the 2009 tournament through injury.

There are plenty of records the remarkable Spaniard can call his own though, beginning with his 12 French Open triumphs, the most titles won by a player in any of the four grand slam tournaments.

From 2005 to 2014, Nadal won at least one slam every season, the 10-year streak setting him apart from Federer and Djokovic who have never managed such consistency.

By securing Olympic singles gold in Beijing in 2008 and doubles at Rio in 2016, Nadal became the first man to claim the Games double on top of the career singles Grand Slam at all four majors.

The Mallorca native's win-loss percentage on tour is the highest in men's tennis, with 992 wins and 201 defeats amounting to an 83.2 per cent hit rate (Djokovic - 83.1, Bjorn Borg - 82.4, Federer - 82.1).

His 19 grand slams is not a record, of course, but another in Paris over the coming fortnight would take Nadal level with Federer.

DJOKOVIC: THE INTERLOPER WHO COULD OUTLAST THE DIAMOND DUO

Like Federer, Djokovic has reached eight or more semi-finals at each of the four majors, on his way to 17 slam titles. He was firm favourite for the US Open and an 18th slam earlier this month until being disqualified for carelessly hitting a ball that struck a linesperson.

Many expect Djokovic to pass both Nadal and Federer and nudge to 21, 22 slams, maybe higher still, yet the 33-year-old may find that a tall order as the likes of Dominic Thiem break through.

On and off the court, there have been moments to regret this year for Djokovic, but his career stands up to the best, and in many aspects he leaves Federer and Nadal standing.

The Serbian is the only player in tennis to have won all four majors, the end-of-year ATP Finals and each of the nine highly-prized Masters 1000 tournaments.

With his run of triumphs from Wimbledon in 2015 to the French Open in 2016, Djokovic became the first man to hold all four grand slam singles titles at the same time since Rod Laver in 1969 achieved a calendar clean sweep.

Nobody has won as many Masters 1000 titles in a career (Djokovic - 36, Nadal - 35, Federer - 28), or reached as many ATP finals in a season as Djokovic's 15 in 2015, when he won 11 tournaments.

Again, scratching the surface. Djokovic's records run to page after page, his place in the pantheon assured.

To think, he was once the interloper on the celebrated Nadal-Federer rivalry. Now he has a chance to outstrip both in the numbers game.

TOGETHER: DOMINANCE LIKE TENNIS HAS NEVER KNOWN BEFORE

Federer won his first major at Wimbledon in 2003, and taking in that and the grand slams that have come since, the combination of Basel's favourite son, Spanish superstar Nadal and Belgrade favourite Djokovic have scooped 56 of 68 singles titles.

Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka, with three titles each, are the only two other men to win more than one slam during that 17-year span. Barely anyone else had a look-in.

Such dominance is without equal in tennis.

To take previous eras as comparison points, Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors won all their grand slams between the 1974 Australian Open and the 1984 US Open, collectively gathering 26 titles across those 44 tournaments. Sensational, and it remains important to make that point, but the haul has been blown out of the water by the modern-day Big Three.

Ivan Lendl, Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg were the next generation and scooped 20 slams (Lendl - 8, Becker - 6, Edberg - 6) from a 48-tournament stretch beginning at the 1984 French Open and running through to the 1996 Australian Open.

The mighty American triumvirate of Sampras, Andre Agassi and Jim Courier together earned 26 majors (Sampras - 14, Agassi - 8, Courier - 4) from the 1990 US Open through to the 2003 Australian Open - a 50-slam span.

Agassi won in Australia in 2003, and Spaniard Juan Carlos Ferrero took the French Open title in the spring. Come the English summer, it was Federer's turn at the wheel for the first time, that first Wimbledon title signalling the dawning of a new era.

LEGACY: THESE RECORDS COULD STAND THE TEST OF TIME

As the sun begins to slowly descend, with Federer now 39 years old and Nadal and Djokovic well into their mid-thirties, the famous wins in Melbourne, Paris, London and New York will become fewer, and soon they will belong to memory.

Another great generation will rise; perhaps not for some years to come, but doubtless they will rise.

Yet asking them to scale the winning heights of the Federer-Nadal-Djokovic triad might be another matter entirely.

He might not have buried the hatchet, but Lionel Messi has promised Barcelona he will give his all in the coming season.

His attempt to leave the club, played out in public long before he spoke openly about his plans, ended with him accepting he will spend at least one more year at Camp Nou.

Messi is still angry with president Josep Maria Bartomeu, still upset with the way the team has declined since 2015's treble, but he was smiling again when he played in the 3-1 friendly win over Gimnastic, a grin that gladdened the hearts of Barca fans across the world.

So, with exit talks on ice, the focus is once more on how Messi can carry this team to domestic and European success while the impact of that 8-2 battering by Bayern Munich last month still lingers.

He managed 31 goals and 25 assists last season, the latter number his highest such tally in five years, the former the lowest. He completed more dribbles per game than ever (5.91) but recorded his lowest shots-per-game tally in at least five years (4.57).

The freescoring sensation of his earlier years is past; he is now creator-in-chief, a deeper-lying attacking menace, on whom the pressure is arguably greater than ever after years of mismanagement of the playing squad from those above.

So, what can we expect from 2020-21, the season that may come to be known as Lionel Messi's "Last Dance"?

 

THE RECORDS HE HOLDS

This is just a handful, of course.

Messi is the all-time leading goalscorer in LaLiga with 444. In Europe's top-five leagues, only long-time adversary Cristiano Ronaldo has more (447).

In all competitions for Barca, Messi has scored 634 goals and provided 254 assists in 731 appearances. That puts him on 888 goal involvements for the club - a tally nobody even comes close to matching.

Messi has scored at least 30 goals in each of the last 12 seasons and is the only player to score at least 10 in 14 consecutive LaLiga campaigns. He holds the record for the most in a single season, too: he scored 50 in 2011-12.

And, of course, he is the only man to win the Ballon d'Or six times.

 

THE RECORDS THAT BECKON

If Messi features in 31 of Barca's 38 LaLiga matches, he will eclipse Xavi's record of 505 appearances for the club in Spain's top flight. He will also surpass Xavi for games in all competitions for the Catalans (767) if he plays 37 times overall.

Messi will close on the LaLiga record held by Manolo Sanchis for the most appearances at a single club in the division, but he will need more than one season for that - Messi is on 485, while ex-Real Madrid man Sanchis played 523 times.

Of course, Messi will be desperate for trophies this season after a barren 2019-20, and winning two will see him draw level with Ryan Giggs when it comes to titles won with the same club. Giggs won 36 with Manchester United.

But how about this for a feat: if Messi gets 10 goals this season - and let's face it, there's a good chance - he will set a new record for goals scored for the same club in official competitions. The current best is 643, set by a former Santos forward known as Pele.

 

THE PROBLEMS HE FACES

After the friendly win over Gimnastic, Koeman made it clear he plans to deviate from Barca's traditional 4-3-3 to a 4-2-3-1 that will, hopefully, get the best out of their midfielders. Such a system would presumably see Messi stationed as the number 10, behind a central striker.

Perhaps that's no bad thing: Messi, as a false nine under Pep Guardiola, played the most games (219) and scored the most goals (211) of his career in all competitions. His role under successor Tito Vilanova was similar and yielded 60 goals in 50 games, giving him a career-best average of 1.2 goals per game.

His most prolific season - 2011-12, the last under Guardiola - saw Messi record an astonishing 73 goals and 29 assists, leading to his calendar-year record of 79 goals in 2012. Again, that was from a central position in the attack, albeit one in a team filled with exceptional players. A shift back to the middle could suit him.

The trouble is that Messi is increasingly having to do all this himself. The supporting cast has dwindled in quality since 2015 and his most productive relationships are behind him.

Luis Suarez (47) has the most assists for Messi at Barca and completed his switch to Atletico Madrid this week. To continue a recent theme, his great friend expressed displeasure with the board over the matter. The top five Messi assisters after Suarez have all long left the club: Dani Alves (42), Andres Iniesta (37), Xavi (31), Pedro (25) and Neymar (22). The next on the list is Jordi Alba (21), whose own spot in Koeman's team is not entirely certain.

He has never looked entirely compatible with Antoine Griezmann, Ansu Fati is still a raw talent in many respects, and the squad will take time to adjust to any new formation, not to mention new arrivals in Miralem Pjanic and, perhaps, Memphis Depay. What's more, the embarrassment of last season's final few weeks will be fresh in the players' minds and the unrest from the boardroom downwards will never be far from the headlines.

When it comes to carrying this team, Messi has rarely looked so alone.

Pep Guardiola seems desperate to reinforce his centre-back options before the transfer deadline early next month, and it appears his primary targets are Ruben Dias of Benfica and Sevilla's Jules Kounde.

Media reports on Friday suggested that City have offered approximately €55million, plus Nicolas Otamendi, for Dias having apparently had a similar offer turned down for Kounde last week.

Sevilla sporting director Monchi confirmed the club had received an offer for the talented Frenchman, though he did not reveal the club that bid – which was rejected – came from.

City had previously seemed focused on Napoli's Kalidou Koulibaly, while Kounde's partner at Sevilla, Diego Carlos, was also said to have been considered.

But with no progress on those deals, City have identified younger options, with Dias 23 years old and Kounde not due to turn 22 for another two months.

With Dias and Kounde looking the likeliest to bolster Guardiola's defensive ranks, we used Opta data to compare the two players.

Adapting to City's style

Given he is a year-and-a-half older than Kounde, it's fair to suggest Dias is slightly further ahead in his development than Kounde, while he is also playing for one of the top teams in a less competitive league than LaLiga.

But there is a lot to like about the Portugal international's game and he does look well-suited to City's possession-based style of play.

He completed 1,934 of his 2,184 passes last term, and though that statistic in isolation doesn't prove a huge amount – many will have been simple and under no pressure – it does show he is used to seeing a lot of the ball.

Of those, 927 were in the opposing half and 81 per cent found a team-mate, whereas Kounde attempted 491 in the attacking half and completed 76.6 per cent.

It's a similar story with regards to passes ending in the final third, where play is likely to be more congested. Dias made 364 passes into such an area and was accurate 68.4 per cent of the time, while Kounde found a team-mate in the attacking third with 66.3 per cent accuracy from 160 passes.

As a base for comparison, City's current centre-backs are reflected much better by the data in this area – Otamendi's passing accuracy in the opposing half is 87.9 per cent, Aymeric Laporte's is 90 per cent, while in the final third their respective figures are 76.8 per cent and 84.6 per cent.

With respect to Kounde, it is worth bearing in mind that Sevilla play far more direct than either of the other two teams in question. They played 2,594 long balls in the league last term, while City registered 1,978 and Benfica attempted 1,581.

Where Kounde does come out on top, however, thus proving his ability on the ball and ease at bringing it out from the back, is the fact he attempted 22 dribbles and completed 81.2 per cent of them – of the defenders (that's centre-backs and full-backs) in LaLiga to try 20 or more dribbles, only one had a better success rate.

Dependable defenders?

As possession-oriented as City are, even a team like that has to do a bit of defending now and again – and although they only conceded two more goals than Liverpool in 2019-20, it was widely felt the centre of defence was their biggest issue.

Otamendi proved unreliable, Fernandinho isn't a natural centre-back, John Stones was unconvincing when fit and Laporte – undoubtedly their best option – missed a chunk of the season with an ACL injury.

The hole left by Laporte and Vincent Kompany's departure to Anderlecht was gaping and resulted in City looking flimsy, particularly when put under pressure – seven of their nine defeats were away from home.

Dependable, hard-working centre-backs capable of playing with the ball at their feet are seemingly what Guardiola is after, and both Dias and Kounde proved to be just that for their respective teams.

Kounde was a standout performer as recently as Thursday for Sevilla, impressing in spite of a 2-1 UEFA Super Cup defeat to Bayern Munich. He made three tackles and nine clearances, also winning each of his six aerial duels.

In a straight comparison between Dias and Kounde with regards to standard defensive metrics, the former does generally come out on top, as he won possession back more times (175 to 108) than the Frenchman, and bested him in terms of interceptions (30 to 23), overall clearances (101 to 88), tackles (44 to 23) and duels (254 to 229).

But Kounde, though less of a domineering physical specimen than Dias in appearance, does tend to be more effective aerially, suggesting his stats against Bayern were no fluke.

Despite playing four fewer matches than Dias, he made more headed clearances (56 to 50), engaged in a greater number of aerial duels (149 to 141) and won more as well (94 to 86).

The verdict

Both players fit the general mould of centre-backs that Guardiola likes, but to suggest either is the finished article or a world-class player yet would be premature.

Kounde did very well in his first season in LaLiga, but he only truly found consistency in his performances at the start of 2020 – a talent, certainly, with his ceiling seemingly very high, but prising him away could cost City well over £60m.

Dias appears the easier to sign given he will likely be slightly cheaper than Kounde, while in most cases in this statistical comparison, he has the edge.

But, with Victor Lindelof impressing for Benfica but struggling to convince with Manchester United, City may want to take note of a warning from across town.

Phil Foden has put off-field issues behind him to make a superb start to what could come to be seen as a definitive season for the Manchester City youngster.

The attacking midfielder was used with increased frequency by during the 2019-20 campaign by manager Pep Guardiola, who handed him his debut as a 17-year-old in 2017.

Foden was named man of the match as City won a third consecutive EFL Cup with a 2-1 win over Aston Villa at Wembley on March 1 and, after lockdown, he took on a more prominent place in the first team.

Injury and illness problems have complicated the early days of this season at the Etihad Stadium, with Guardiola claiming he only expects to have 13 fit senior players for the visit of Leicester City on Saturday.

The former Barcelona boss can therefore be thankful he has Foden in prime form.

The 20-year-old crowned a sweeping team move during Monday's 3-1 win over Wolves before scoring decisively in Thursday's 2-1 win at home to Bournemouth, where Foden also laid on the opener for City's latest bright young thing, Liam Delap.

MORE THAN A CUP SPECIALIST

The perfectly weighted pass for centre-forward Delap meant Foden had assisted in each of his past three starts in the EFL Cup, with no player creating more chances from open play in the competition since the start of last season than the England international's 14.

Against Bournemouth alone, Foden carved out five openings for his team-mates.

His adeptness in both the main aspects of attacking football is underlined by the fact that among all Premier League players since the beginning of 2019-20, only Kevin De Bruyne (eight matches) and Mohamed Salah (six matches) have scored and assisted in the same game more often than Foden, who has done so on four occasions.

Overall, Foden has been involved in 24 goals in his 34 starts for City in all competitions. Those 13 goals and 11 assists are not simply a matter of him "padding" against inferior opponents - just look at a crucial winner against Tottenham during the 2018-19 title run-in and his strikes as City claimed convincing wins over Arsenal and Liverpool earlier this year.

ENGLAND'S CREATIVE HOPE

Of course, given Foden made headlines at the start of the month for breaching coronavirus self-isolation protocols in the aftermath of his England debut in Iceland, it is worth pondering whether Gareth Southgate will decide a player he sent home in disgrace alongside Manchester United's Mason Greenwood is worth the hassle.

After his alleged antics in Reykjavik, the City favourite might have to make a compelling case when considering the other creative midfielders jockeying for position ahead of next year's European Championship.

In terms of goals and assists since the start of 2019-20, Foden is comfortably ahead of his contemporaries. Across 40 appearances, his 10 goals and 10 assists give him one more goal involvement combined than Jack Grealish.

The Aston Villa captain, who made his long awaited bow against Denmark in Foden's absence this month, has one more goal and two fewer assists over the same period, but has played 3,730 minutes to reach those figures, compared to the City man's 1,921.

The high-quality of team-mates Foden benefit from here are obviously a factor, but he is also considerably more efficient than Mason Mount and James Maddison, who starred with Chelsea and Leicester City in the upper echelons of the Premier League last term.

Mount has played 56 games - compared to Foden's 40 - and 4,008 minutes across all competitions and accrued eight goals and six assists.

Maddison has three goals and nine assists in 41 appearances (3,206 minutes).

UNDER-21 KING

Looking beyond his position, since his City debut in 2017, Foden has outperformed all English players under 21 in terms of goals and assists.

Including his contributions when featuring as a substitute, he has scored 17 times and set up 13 more. Counting matches up until he turned 21 last October, Liverpool right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold is next on this list with 22 goals involvements - bolstered by a phenomenal 19 assists.

Foden's partner in escapades Greenwood is next with 18 goals and four assists, while Callum Hudson-Odoi has laid on 11 and scored eight despite his injury woes for Chelsea.

Greenwood (2,767) and Hudson-Odoi (2,817) have played fewer minutes than Foden (3,258) over the period in question, as has Arsenal's Bukayo Saka (four goals and 13 assists in 3,085 minutes). Burnley's Dwight McNeil is the sixth on this list of Englishmen with bright futures, having scored five goals and set up 12 more in 5,592 minutes spanning 69 appearances.

The past week suggests Foden is back on track after a very public fall from grace, with the wider numbers suggesting the sky is the limit for club and country, as far as the 'Stockport Iniesta' is concerned. He might even get a better nickname soon.

Novak Djokovic is putting together a stellar year in a year like no other.

The world number one heads into the French Open on the back of another title – at the Internazionali d'Italia – and carrying a 31-1 win-loss record in 2020.

That '1' is also one he would prefer to forget, after being defaulted for hitting a linesperson with a ball in his fourth-round clash with Pablo Carreno Busta at the US Open.

But his own brain fades aside – the organisation of the ill-fated Adria Tour amid the COVID-19 pandemic included – Djokovic has been unstoppable this year, before and after the coronavirus-enforced break.

While Roger Federer is sidelined, Rafael Nadal is back and the 'King of Clay' will take some stopping at Roland Garros.

The rescheduling of the major – from a May start to September – has given Djokovic an additional boost in his bid for a second French Open title amid questions over how the different weather could affect Nadal.

In his current form, Djokovic will also be hard to stop. We take a look at his 2020 in numbers.

Complete and utter dominance

When you consider the manner of Djokovic's only loss in 2020, it has thus far been a year of complete dominance.

The Serbian has won 72 of the 82 completed sets he has played, and none of those were dropped in his meetings with Nadal (ATP Cup) and Federer (Australian Open) this year.

While Federer will miss the rest of 2020 after knee surgery, Nadal returned to action in Rome, where he lost to Diego Schwartzman in the quarter-finals. That was the Spanish great's first tournament since the ATP Tour season, suspended in March, resumed.

The world's top 20 men have not been a problem for Djokovic so far this year. He is 12-0 against players ranked in the top 20, including 7-0 when playing top-10 players. Djokovic's last meeting with a top-10 opponent came in his final win over Stefanos Tsitsipas in Dubai in February.

Djokovic – who has four ATP Tour titles in 2020 and also helped Serbia win the ATP Cup – has made his best start since an extraordinary 2011.

It is just the second time in his illustrious career that he has won at least 31 of his first 32 matches in a year, having made an incredible 41-0 start nine years ago.

Given Nadal's inferior record at Melbourne Park, it is no surprise the Spaniard has never managed such a start, while Federer got away strongly in 2005 and 2006, also going 31-1 before extending those runs to 35-1 and 33-1 respectively prior to his next losses.

But after being defaulted at the US Open and with Wimbledon not held due to COVID-19, Djokovic will want another grand slam win at Roland Garros to truly make his form in 2020 count. If he can, it will mark his sixth year with at least two major victories, joining Federer in achieving that feat and moving clear of Nadal and Roy Emerson.

And another piece of history could await. Djokovic is aiming to become the first man in the Open Era to win every grand slam twice, and just the third in history after Emerson and Rod Laver.

The 41-0 start in 2011

Nine years ago, Djokovic put together an extraordinary year on the back of a staggering start.

He won his first 41 matches of 2011 before the run was ended by Federer in the French Open semi-finals.

Djokovic won the Australian Open and titles in Dubai, Indian Wells, Miami, Belgrade, Madrid and Rome heading into Roland Garros.

The streak included four wins over Nadal, three against Federer and two defeats of Andy Murray, and Djokovic would finish the incredible year with three grand slam titles.

After a difficult ending to the campaign, he ended up with a 70-6 win-loss record, achieving a win percentage (92.1) he has only bettered once since – when he went 82-6 (93.2) in 2015.

Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson will do battle on Monday Night Football in Week 3 as the Kansas City Chiefs face the Baltimore Ravens.

Mahomes, the Super Bowl LIV MVP and 2018 season NFL MVP, and fellow quarterback Jackson, the 2019 season's NFL MVP, will hope to get the W that moves their team to 3-0.

That clash, one of a number of enticing Week 3 matchups, will provide an early indication of which franchise might be in the best shape to be the AFC's Super Bowl LV representative too.

Here, using Stats Perform data, we break down that game and the other top Week 3 showdowns.

 

FEATURE GAME

Chiefs at Ravens - Monday, 8.15pm (All times Eastern)

- There have been 13 games featuring the reigning and previous NFL MVPs starting against each other at the quarterback position (including playoffs). The reigning MVP has led his team to victory in eight of the last 10 such matchups, and is 8-5 overall.

- Mahomes hooked up with Tyreek Hill for a 54-yard touchdown in the win over the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 2. That was Mahomes' 11th career touchdown pass of 50-plus yards (most in the NFL since 2018). The Ravens as a team have only had nine such touchdowns since 2015, four coming from the arm of Jackson.

- The Chiefs are 6-3 against the Ravens, including wins in each of the three most recent matchups and they have a 4-1 record in Baltimore.

OTHER KEY GAMES

Texans at Steelers - Sunday, 1pm

- The Steelers are 2-0 for the seventh time since 2000. They made the playoffs in each of the previous six seasons, reaching three Super Bowls and winning two titles. Pittsburgh's last 3-0 start was in 2010, when the Steelers made their last trip to the Super Bowl.

Raiders at Patriots - Sunday, 1pm

- New England are tied for ninth in the NFL in rushing yards per game (142.0) and are eighth in passing offense (268.5 yards per game). They are one of three teams in the league's top 10 in both categories, joining the Green Bay Packers and Los Angeles Rams. In Sunday's loss at the Seattle Seahawks, Cam Newton passed for 397 yards, including 312 in the second half.

Rams at Bills - Sunday, 1pm

- Buffalo are attempting to start 3-0 for a second straight season, a feat they have accomplished only twice previously in franchise history (1964-65, 1991-92). The Bills have won 10 straight games since December 2018 when scoring 20 or more points, the longest active streak in the NFL. 

Cowboys at Seahawks - Sunday, 4.15pm 

- Dak Prescott enters this weekend with 99 career touchdown passes in 66 career games. With another touchdown pass on Sunday, Prescott would be the fastest Cowboy to reach 100 TD passes – Tony Romo currently holds the record at 79 games.

Packers at Saints - Sunday, 8.20pm

- Since 2018, Davante Adams - who could miss this game through injury - has accounted for 27.8 per cent of Green Bay's receiving yards, the fifth-highest mark in the NFL. The player with the highest percentage during this span is Saints star Michael Thomas (34.5 per cent), who is out this week with an ankle injury.

ELSEWHERE...

Titans at Vikings - Sunday, 1pm

- Ryan Tannehill threw for four touchdowns and no interceptions in the win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, extending his streak of regular season games with multiple touchdown passes to a franchise-record nine games. Tannehill has a 118.1 passer rating since joining Tennessee in 2019, the best mark in the NFL over that span (minimum 250 attempts).

Buccaneers at Broncos - Sunday, 4.25pm

- Melvin Gordon has tallied 148 rushing yards on 34 attempts this season, 124 more than the Broncos' next-leading rusher (Phillip Lindsay, 24). Gordon also has five receptions and has accounted for 41.9 per cent of the Broncos' touches this season, fifth highest in the NFL.

With all 20 Premier League teams now back in action, fantasy football managers around the world are tinkering and tweaking as they look to find that perfect balance of solid but deadly.

It's fair to say that we've already had a few surprises (for the fantasy football world, at least) this season, with Manchester United players barely making a splash at home to Crystal Palace (looking at you, Bruno Fernandes), Liverpool shipping three to promoted Leeds United on day one and Dominic Calvert-Lewin leading the scoring chart.

Everything's been all over the place – you need as much help as you can get, and hopefully that's where we can help.

Using Opta data, here are a few tips that might enable you get back on track, or even – for those of you lucky enough – build on an emphatic start…

RUI PATRICIO

Despite the disappointing 3-1 defeat to Manchester City, Wolves appear set for another encouraging season, having seemingly recruited well and retained most of their key players.

Among those is Rui Patricio, who is second only to Ederson (0.45) in terms of goals conceded per game (0.82) since the Premier League resumed in June, while the Portugal international's six clean sheets in that time is also the second best in the division.

Up next for Wolves is a trip to West Ham, who have lost both of their first two games of the season, scoring just one goal in the process.

MICHAEL KEANE

Goal-scoring perhaps isn't a key factor for many when considering which defenders to choose in their fantasy team, but picking one who has a habit of finding the net can give you the edge.

Michael Keane heads into the weekend having scored twice since the June resumption, a record beaten by no other defender, while he also boasts the best shot conversion rate (40 per cent) among defenders to have attempted at least five in that time period.

Everton are looking impressive at the moment, and with quality deliveries from James Rodriguez and Lucas Digne floating in regularly, who's to say Keane won't find the net again at Crystal Palace?

SADIO MANE

This one's quite simple – Sadio Mane loves playing against Arsenal.

In 12 matches against the Gunners, he has scored six times. He has only managed more in meetings with Palace (nine in 11), and he goes into the game on the back of a match-winning brace at Chelsea last time out.

Matches between two of the big guns can prove a little risky in terms of captain selection, and Mane's certainly not cheap – but few have his record in such games.

MATHEUS PEREIRA

It's been a difficult readjustment to the Premier League for West Brom, who host Chelsea next having conceded eight times in two matches and scored just twice.

But those two goals should pique the interest of fantasy fans, given Matheus Pereira was involved in both (one goal, one assist) and won't break the bank.

The Brazilian will surely be key if the Baggies are to avoid the drop this term, having had a hand in 11 more goals (nine scored, 17 set up) than any other player for the club since the start of 2019-20.

RAUL JIMENEZ

Two games, two goals – Jimenez has picked up right where he left off last season, the Mexican continuing to be the go-to man in attack for Wolves.

There's every chance that will continue at West Ham as well, given his penchant for scoring against the Hammers.

Jimenez has three goals in his past three Premier League clashes with West Ham, including a brace in January.

He also has four in six domestically, though a word of caution – Jimenez hasn't netted in three successive games since November last year.

GABRIEL JESUS

With Sergio Aguero out for the time being, Gabriel Jesus has the chance to find some form and enjoy a run of regular starts – he'll likely be encouraged by what's to come as well.

Leicester City are the visitors to the Etihad Stadium on Sunday, and in five previous league outings against the Foxes, Jesus has four goals.

Only against Everton (seven) has Jesus netted more frequently, and given City's impressive season-starting 3-1 win at Wolves, they will be favourites when Brendan Rodgers' table-toppers (on goal difference) come to town.

On the face of it, Jesus looks a strong choice for the captaincy this week.

 

DANNY INGS

Under Ralph Hasenhuttl, Danny Ings really is in the form of his life.

Since the start of last season, his haul of 24 goals is second only to Jamie Vardy in the Premier League, while he has scored 45 per cent of Saints' league goals in that time.

Up next is former club Burnley, and although notoriously difficult to play against, they conceded four to Leicester last time out.

Margaret Court's record is still in play, but Serena Williams' era of dominance on the WTA Tour looks to be winding down as another grand slam approaches.

Williams has won none of the past 13 majors, dating back to her most recent success at the 2017 Australian Open, though she missed the first four of those having given birth.

This is the 23-time champion's longest stretch without a grand slam win since she made her Melbourne bow in 1998.

Williams has reached at least the semi-finals in five of her past eight major appearances, yet she has not recorded a win in that time and, having not made the Roland Garros quarter-finals since 2016, an end to that miserable run appears unlikely in the coming weeks.

So could the future of the women's game be present in Paris? Well, finding Serena's heir is proving rather difficult.

While she is one of seven female players to have claimed 10 or more major titles, Serena is the only member of that elite group to have won a championship in the 21st century.

Justine Henin and Serena's sister Venus have each had seven wins, yet other genuine rivals have been a rarity over the past 20 years.

Roland Garros results have illustrated this trend as well as any championship. Only Serena, Henin and Maria Sharapova have won multiple French Open titles since the start of the 2000 season, with Henin's 2005-2007 run the last time a woman celebrated consecutive triumphs on the red clay.

That drought will continue for at least another year, too, due to Ash Barty's absence.

Another name missing from this year's draw is perhaps the most likely candidate to emulate Williams' success. US Open champion Naomi Osaka is still just 22 but has won three of the past seven majors she has contested. That also amounts to just three victories in three seasons, but time is on her side as she looks to shape her own legacy.

Williams is Osaka's idol, as was so painfully evident when the Japanese shed tears following a grand slam breakthrough that came during Serena's 2018 US Open meltdown. The pair watched one another at Flushing Meadows earlier this month, although Serena's last-four defeat prevented a highly anticipated final rematch.

"I feel like she's such an intense player that is really exciting to watch," Williams said of Osaka, who looks to have adopted her role model's single-minded drive.

Discussing her impressive grand slam record prior to this month's victory over Victoria Azarenka, Osaka revealed her approach: "No-one remembers anyone but the winner."

Yet Osaka has work to do if she is going to be a winner on all surfaces like Williams, one of just two players - along with Sharapova - to win a career Grand Slam since the turn of the century. Angelique Kerber could join that club in the coming weeks, yet French Open success seems increasingly unlikely for the two-time quarter-finalist and world number 22. Osaka has not been past the third round at Roland Garros or Wimbledon, reserving her success for the hard courts.

Meanwhile, although victory at the Australian Open in 2019 quickly added to Osaka's first triumph, that second title has proved tricky for a number of other hopefuls.

Since Serena's 23rd major honour, six women have become one-off grand slam winners - including Sofia Kenin, 21, and Bianca Andreescu, 20. The pair are younger than several other champions, yet neither have even reached a quarter-final outside of their sole successes.

Andreescu has seen her 2020 season completely wrecked by injury and withdrew from Roland Garros this week. In her stead, others will look to join her as a champion. Qatar Open winner Aryna Sabalenka, Elena Rybakina and last year's French Open finalist Marketa Vondrousova are each younger than Osaka and hold a place in the WTA's top 20.

Then, of course, there is Coco Gauff, ranked 51st.

The 16-year-old beat Venus at both the 2019 US Open and the 2020 Australian Open, also eliminating defending champion Osaka at the latter. At each tournament, she lost only to the eventual winner.

"She clearly wants it, works very hard, is extremely mature for her age," Venus said. "I think the sky's the limit for her."

But a first-round exit at the US Open represented a reality check for Gauff. With no Barty and no Osaka, might she seize the opportunity and bounce back in stunning style at Roland Garros?

Or is this Serena's time? Number 24 at last. It is up to the next generation to ensure she cannot afford to keep passing up such chances.

Cathy Freeman bent down to tie her lace and the flash of silver that appeared in Rick MacDonald's binoculars confirmed the rumours: Australia's great hope was wearing the suit for the race that would define the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

MacDonald relayed the message to those who had worked on the near three-year long Nike Swift Suit project and were next to him among the 112,000 spectators at the Olympic Stadium. Then he sounded a note of caution. "What if she doesn't win?"

"I hadn't even thought about that," suit designer Edward Harber told Stats Perform News 20 years on.

"She's in this crazy suit; what if she doesn't win?"

They need not have worried. Freeman, the face of those Games and an athlete of Aboriginal descent who became Australia's symbol of unity, stormed to 400 metres gold to delight the Sydney crowd on September 25, 2000.

"It was just this moment in the stadium of this absolute wall of sound," Harber recalled. 

"During the race, you almost felt like she couldn't not win because of the sound."

Just like Michael Johnson and his gold shoes in Atlanta, and Mo Farah's 'Mobot' on London 2012's Super Saturday, Freeman's victory provided one of the most iconic moments in Olympic history, and not just because it was a home gold.

The image of Freeman, donned in a unique green, silver and yellow all-in-one suit complete with hood, remains vivid two decades on.

---

Harber was designing clothing for the United States and British military in the late 1990s when he was hired by Nike to find a way of improving an athlete's performance in order for them to run at maximum velocity.

He and MacDonald identified aerodynamics and the reduction of drag as the key element so they, along with Len Brownlie and Chester Kyle - two experts in the field - set about designing a suit that was composed of different fabrics for different parts of the body.

"The reason every part of her body was covered up was to reduce drag," Harber explained.

"The hood was key. You would never see a speed skater skating without a hood. If you've got hair, you're slowing yourself down. You see runners with big hair and you're like, 'What are you doing?'

"You would never see a cyclist do that or a skater but it was a challenge for athletics, for running, because running has a look, it has a history, a heritage.

"What we were doing with that suit was challenging that heritage with science and saying, 'This is about winning, speed. This is what these athletes do in these sports. We're going to apply some of that thinking and engineering to running'."

Fabrics were tested on hand-sized, torso-sized, arm-sized and leg-sized cylinders in wind tunnels to determine which was most effective. Then, once Nike had sealed a deal to kit out the Australian team at the Olympics, came the possibility of Freeman wearing the suit.

"With Cathy, it was really about getting her comfortable with the suit, getting her to be at a point where she felt it was something she could consider," Harber added. "There was never a pressure for her to wear it, it was always going to be up to her."

---

It was not just the speed skaters at the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics who provided Harber and his team with inspiration for their suit. Freeman's attire in that 400m final looks like something that might have been lifted from a Marvel comic.

And the reasoning for that was twofold.

"The superhero thing was obviously on my mind," Harber confirmed.

"During the project we would talk about the double advantage. We would say there's an advantage in having the science but there's also an advantage in the athlete understanding the science and having the psychological power of knowing that they're in this thing that no one else has got.

"The commentator on TV said that it looks like she was shrouding herself in this hood because the pressure was famously incredible, massive. I felt like when she put that hood up, she was definitely in somewhat of a bubble."

Freeman, who reported being able to hear air whistle past her ear during testing, wore the suit in the build-up to Sydney - on a rainy day in Gateshead - but did not have it on for either the heats or the semi-finals of the 400m at the Olympics.

But that famous night in September 2000, the suit went on, the hood went up and Freeman ran into the history books.

---

Given Freeman's glory and sport's obsession with marginal gains, it is somewhat surprising that her outfit did not spark a movement that saw the Swift Suit become widely adopted by athletes.

Freeman was the only athlete in Sydney to race in the suit with the hood up - meaning it was impossible to put an actual figure on its impact in terms of time saved - and she remains the only person to wear one at a Games.

The science behind the suit has been used in outfits for speed skaters, cyclists and swimmers since, while sprinters have also benefitted from the technology with things such as arm sleeves that feature vortex generators.

But the full suit with a hood? Athletes do not seem interested.

"The power of culture is so massive," argued Harber, who suggested arm sleeves were more popular due to their usage among NBA players.

"I think that's the main reason it hasn't been adopted is it's just not the look that athletics has. It's not something that people wear. 

"I know that the benefit is real. I know it's something that is quantifiable. I believe it's something that is never going to go away and I think inevitably it's going to be around forever and I think athletes will always be thinking about it.

"Maybe we were just ahead of our time."

And the reason athletes will always be thinking about it is surely due to Cathy Freeman and are her indelible evening in Sydney on September 25, 2000.

Chelsea made Kepa Arrizabalaga the world's most expensive goalkeeper when they shelled out £71.6million to sign him in August 2018.

Club director Marina Granovskaia said upon the announcement of his arrival: "Kepa is a talent we have admired for a long time and we are extremely excited about his arrival.

"He has already demonstrated fantastic quality and consistency and will be a big part of any success Chelsea have in the coming years. His long-term contract reflects the belief we have in him and we look ahead to the coming seasons with an enormous sense of optimism."

Just over two years later, though, and Kepa's long-term future at the club is far from certain, with the Blues having paid £22m to bring in Edouard Mendy from Rennes.

Chelsea said Mendy had joined to "complement our existing group" of keepers, but he will be expected to swiftly make the starting spot his own after Kepa committed two errors leading to goals across the opening two games of the Premier League season.

With the help of Opta, we look at what Chelsea can expect from Mendy and how he compares to Kepa.

Safe hands

Mendy (24) made nine fewer league appearances than Kepa (33) in 2019-20, with the coronavirus pandemic having curtailed the Ligue 1 season when most teams still had 10 more fixtures to fulfil.

He conceded 19 goals and kept nine clean sheets as Rennes qualified for the Champions League for the first time in their history, while Kepa let in 28 more and shut out the opposition one time less.

Mendy registered a far higher save percentage than the Blues keeper (76.3 per cent to 53.5 per cent) and blew him out of the water in terms of goals prevented.

According to expected goals on target data (xGoT), the shots on target faced by Mendy were enough to concede 21 goals. However, he only let in 18 (excluding own goals) and was therefore responsible for preventing three goals.

For Kepa, the numbers tell a far different story. An xGoT value of 34 compared to the 45 goals he let in (excluding own goals) means he conceded 11 more than expected.

On that basis alone, it is easy to see why Chelsea were keen to seek out an alternative.

On the deck

The move to Chelsea means Mendy may have to adapt to a different style of goalkeeping, though.

In the Premier League last season, 51 per cent of Kepa's 198 goal-kicks ended inside his own box.

 

However, Mendy sent far more of his long, with only 21 per cent of his 163 goal-kicks finding a recipient in his area.

Furthermore, over half of Mendy's passes (56.7 per cent) were classified as long balls, with Kepa's ratio down at 33.7 per cent. Despite that, though, his average of 20.1 successful passes per 90 minutes was just 2.6 fewer than the Spaniard.

Unless Chelsea specifically want greater emphasis on long-range distribution, Mendy could require some time to adjust to playing a shorter passing game.

But if he is able to adapt, Kepa may find his game time at Stamford Bridge severely limited.

It did not take long for Thiago Alcantara to show the Premier League exactly what he can do on his Liverpool debut.

The new Reds midfielder, signed just two days before the trip to Chelsea, came off the bench at half-time at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.

Champions Liverpool ran out 2-0 winners against the Blues' 10 men, with Thiago quickly finding his passing rhythm in the centre of the pitch.

Opta shared after the match that Thiago had completed 74 passes, more than any other Premier League star when playing a half or less since detailed passing data began in 2003-04.

But there was more to the former Bayern Munich man's bow than that one statistic, as Opta's advanced metrics allow us to explore...

STANDOUT STAT TOPS SCHOLES

The list of other players to have managed 60 or more passes in 45 minutes or fewer in the Premier League shows just how impressive Thiago's achievement was.

Andreas Christensen (66 passes) - for Chelsea against Sheffield United in July - is perhaps a slight surprise in second place, as is Jose Fonte (62) - for Southampton against Bournemouth in 2015 - in third. But the rest of the names in this elite group are far more predictable.

Paul Pogba is one of three players to have tallied 61 successful passes in such a cameo, doing so after replacing Scott McTominay in Manchester United's 4-1 win over Newcastle United on Boxing Day last year.

The other two stars to reach the number did so in quite staggering circumstances, meanwhile.

Yaya Toure and Paul Scholes each totalled 61 passes in significantly less than a half, the Manchester City man incredibly playing only the final 17 minutes of a 7-2 win at home to Stoke City in 2017.

United pass master Scholes was on the pitch for a little longer - 28 minutes - as he helped Alex Ferguson's side to clinch a record-breaking 19th title at Blackburn Rovers in 2011.

Coincidentally, as City stole that crown 12 months later, Toure played 60 passes in the first half against Queens Park Rangers despite battling a hamstring injury.

Thiago's feat, while perhaps not quite as impressive as Toure's or Scholes', puts him in esteemed company just 45 minutes into his Premier League career.

 

ALREADY LEADING LIVERPOOL

That final tally of 74 successful passes from 82 attempts was more than any Chelsea player managed in the entire 90 minutes on Sunday. But some of Thiago's numbers also led a dominant Liverpool team.

The Spain international attempted 63 passes in the opposition half and completed 56 - both numbers were the most of any individual at Stamford Bridge.

The contrast from the first half with captain Jordan Henderson was evident, as the man Thiago replaced attempted 24 passes in this regard and completed just 16 - albeit one failed effort prompted Christensen's red card.

Henderson and 86th-minute substitute Takumi Minamino were the only visiting players not to complete 20 passes in the Chelsea half, while Mateo Kovacic - 14 of 16 attempts successful in Liverpool's half - was some way short as the hosts' top performer.

No team-mate could rival Thiago, though.

NO GOALS, NO ASSISTS, NO PROBLEM

Despite his control of the game, Thiago's passes were unlikely to appear on highlight reels of the Liverpool victory. Yet Jurgen Klopp knew what he was getting.

"I liked it, I liked his game a lot," the manager told Sky Sports. "Defensively was tricky for him because we set it up differently, but offensively, with the ball, yeah, that's him. He wants to pass the ball."

Goals and assists are not really Thiago's game. He trailed Henderson in both regards in his final season in Germany.

But the midfielder is found at the heart of almost any move, having been involved in 141 sequences that led to a shot for Bayern last term.

Thiago played a part in the build-up to five open-play shots on Sunday, including the first goal as he traded passes with Sadio Mane and then pushed the ball on for Naby Keita to switch the attack to the right flank.

Indeed, no player made more forward passes in the opposition half than Thiago's 25, while the variety of his balls opened up the pitch as he completed a game-high 10 long passes.

Liverpool fans will now be relishing the opportunity to see what their new man is capable of over a full 90 minutes - potentially starting against Arsenal on Monday.

It is Monday September 28, 1992, and Sevilla's Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan is the location of a media circus rarely seen before or since in the stadium. Bavarian giants Bayern Munich are in town for a hastily arranged friendly.

Aside from the two teams' meeting in the UEFA Super Cup on Thursday and a Champions League quarter-final tie in 2018, this friendly 28 years ago is the only previous occasion in which Sevilla faced their illustrious German visitors.

Yet, Bayern were not the focus of the media attention. No, they were there for the first game of Diego Maradona's return to Spain.

The world's most renowned footballer - formerly of Barcelona - was barely given enough space to take part in the coin toss such was the scrum around him, with microphones and cameras shoved towards his face with little regard by voracious reporters.

 

STILL THE BEST

Maradona, wearing the captain's armband, was making his comeback from a 15-month ban for cocaine use which ultimately ended his love affair with Napoli.

From midfield, the 31-year-old dictated the tempo and stretched Bayern's defence with his imaginative passing. He, Diego Simeone and Rafa Paz combined excellently in the middle, while an understanding with a young Davor Suker showed evidence of promise.

Maradona forced goalkeeper Raimond Aumann into a smart early save before hitting the crossbar with an audacious free-kick from near the corner flag.

Out of shape, unfit and without competitive football in over a year, Maradona was still the best player on the pitch, setting up Suker before also playing a key role in one of Monchu's goals. Sevilla won 3-1.

His weight was mocked by a banner depicting a Maradona caricature whose belly could not be contained by his jersey, but, his "cosmic barrel" physique aside, this was the same player who had astonished with Napoli and Argentina.

 

REUNITED AND IT FEELS SO GOOD

His move to Andalusia meant a reunion with Argentina's 1986 World Cup-winning coach – and close friend – Carlos Bilardo.

Bilardo called the signing a "gift", while Maradona said his "happiness is complete" upon arrival at Seville's San Pablo airport in a striking cerise suit – "I looked a treat," he concluded about his fashion sense.

Having lost Ivan Zamorano to Real Madrid, Sevilla president Luis Cuervas and vice-president Jose Maria del Nido will have been looking on, certain they had pulled off a masterstroke by getting Maradona in as a replacement, reportedly boosting season ticket subscriptions from 26,000 to 40,000.

His performances continued to excite in competitive games and he enjoyed what many consider to be his best display in Spain during an ill-tempered 2-0 win over Real Madrid on December 19.

Madrid, complete with the likes of Manolo Sanchis, Fernando Hierro, Michel and Luis Enrique, simply had no answer as Maradona ran the show. Everything was going as well as it could have, until things – somewhat inevitably – turned ugly in the second half of the season.

 

THE FALLOUT

A dispute over El Diego's juggling of international and club commitments saw the two parties at loggerheads, but things got out of control late in the campaign.

After being given painkilling injections against his will for a persistent injury caused by receiving a kick from an angry Venezuela fan in 1985, Maradona was withdrawn by Bilardo early in the second half of a 1-1 draw with Real Burgos and he blew his top.

"Bilardo, you m***********," he claimed to yell in his coach's direction, with the pair coming to blows a day later, as detailed in the troubled star's autobiography.

What made the situation worse for Maradona was Sevilla's chiefs revealed to him just a few days earlier their plan to offer him a player-coach role after ditching Bilardo. They received a stern refusal in reply, with El Diego not about to betray his friend, but he ultimately felt as though such loyalty was not reciprocated.

Everyone wanted out of the marriage, and Del Nido's public comments about Maradona's fitness proved the final straw.

"That's probably why that w***** Del Nido dared to say I wasn't even fit enough to play table tennis; to make me leave," Maradona wrote in his autobiography. "He knew I wouldn't put up with that kind of stuff. And that's how it happened, that was how my story with Sevilla ended. Badly."

Maradona then missed out on £625,000 worth of unpaid wages as Sevilla withheld payment because he had "not met obligations to the club", bringing a bitter close to a chapter which had promised so much on a thrilling evening against Bayern.

While the focus is on Barcelona, Atletico Madrid should be getting immediate improvement with the arrival of Luis Suarez.

After six trophy-laden seasons at Camp Nou, Suarez's €6million move from Barca to Atletico was confirmed on Wednesday.

As Ronald Koeman's rebuild continues at Barcelona, one of their former stars heads to Atletico.

And Diego Simeone's team should get an instant reward as we assess Suarez's move using Opta data.

Immediate improvement for Atletico?

Amid the links to Suarez, Atletico allowed Alvaro Morata to return to Juventus – initially on loan – and Diego Costa could also reportedly leave. There is little wonder Atletico chased Suarez when comparing his albeit declining output last season to the Los Rojiblancos' two forwards.

Suarez scored a LaLiga goal every 125.1 minutes in 2019-20, comfortably better than Morata (175.3) and Costa (270.2), finishing with 16 – almost as many as the Atletico duo (17) combined. Taking away penalties, Suarez scored 15 to their 13.

It came despite a knee injury that sidelined Suarez for five months at the start of the year, limiting him to 28 LaLiga appearances and 22 starts.

Still, Suarez had 63 shots, more than Morata (57) and Costa (32), who made 34 and 23 league appearances respectively, with Barca netting a LaLiga-high 86 times in 2019-20 as Atletico found the back of the net on just 51 occasions.

Suarez converted 10 of his 25 big chances, a better rate than Morata (10 of 28), but worse than Costa (five of 10). Unsurprisingly given Barca's approach, Suarez also had more assists (eight) than Morata and Costa combined (six).

And it could have been an even better campaign for Suarez, who hit the woodwork four times in LaLiga. Only Osasuna midfielder Roberto Torres (six) and Real Madrid star Karim Benzema (five) hit it more.

Suarez, who turns 34 in January, may be declining, but he shapes as a shrewd signing by Atletico. He is, of course, declining from a player who produced an incredible 2015-16 season, when he scored 40 goals and provided 16 assists in 35 LaLiga games to lead the formidable 'MSN' trident that included Lionel Messi and Neymar.

Finding form again in the Champions League

Atletico have fallen heartbreakingly short in two Champions League finals since 2014, and were knocked out at the same stage as Barcelona – the quarter-finals – last season.

Suarez had struggled in Europe's top club competition in two seasons before 2019-20, scoring just twice in 20 Champions League appearances.

In fact, Suarez was directly involved in just eight goals in those 20 games, but he improved on that last season, scoring five and assisting two in seven outings.

Morata, meanwhile, scored three times and had an assist in eight appearances, while Costa was goalless in seven. Suarez also converted four of his six big chances, while creating 11 chances – the same number as Real Madrid playmaker Eden Hazard and just two fewer than Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe.

Plenty would need to go right for Atletico to end their Champions League wait in 2020-21, but Suarez at least recaptured some better form in Europe last season.

When billionaire owner Steve Ballmer opened his cheque book to sign Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, the Los Angeles Clippers were immediately elevated into the championship picture.

Leonard was fresh off guiding the Toronto Raptors to a first NBA title, while six-time All-Star George finally landed in a big city after starring in Indiana and Oklahoma City.

The Clippers went all-in to build a super team to outshine LeBron James and iconic neighbours the Los Angeles Lakers, but time is already running out to win championships after sensationally capitulating against the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference semi-finals at Walt Disney World Resort.

As head coach Doc Rivers and the Clippers try to pinpoint what went wrong for the second seeds, we review the team's 2019-20 season using STATS data.

Postseason hurdle too great

The star-studded Clippers cannot translate their regular-season form to playoff success, having finished behind only the Lakers in the west.

This campaign was the ninth consecutive season they finished with a winning record (49-23) but failed to reach the Conference finals – the longest streak of its kind in NBA history.

The Clippers' postseason woes were compounded by a horrific series loss to the Nuggets, having led 3-1 and stood on the cusp of an all-Los Angeles Western Conference final.

One of three franchises that joined the NBA as an expansion team in the 1970-71 season, the Clippers – formerly known as the Buffalo Braves – have never won a championship or conference title.

 

George and Kawhi incompatible?

The Clippers gave up a lot to pair George with Leonard.

Los Angeles sent five first-round draft picks, plus Danilo Gallinari and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, to the Thunder in exchange for 2018-19 MVP finalist George.

But George – who averaged 21.5 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.9 assists in the regular season – struggled to produce when it mattered most and shot the ball much worse this season when he shared the court with two-time champion Leonard. The difference was even greater during the playoffs.

With Leonard on the court in the regular season, George's field-goal percentage was 41.1 compared to 48.2 without him. During the playoffs, George boasted a 53.8 shooting percentage while Leonard was sidelined, a significant improvement on the 36.8 per cent he managed together with the former Raptors superstar. 

Combined, George has a 48.8 percentage while Leonard is off the court, compared to 39.9 during the duo's time together.

Zubac over Harrell

The Clippers could well build their team around Ivica Zubac and not 2020 NBA Sixth Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell.

In the playoffs this season, the Clippers were great with Zubac on the court but not so good with fellow center Harrell, who is set to become a free agent.

Zubac (110) had the third-highest plus-minus in the postseason, behind Lakers pair Anthony Davis (131) and Danny Green (118). Harrell was among the lowest with -68 – only Tim Hardaway Jr. (-82), Monte Morris (-82), Tyler Johnson (-73) and Maxi Kleber (-72) were worse.

 

Ageing Clippers over-reliant on starters

One of the Clippers' biggest strengths is their bench, averaging over 50 points per game in each of the past two seasons – the only times any team have done that in the past 35 years.

But in the playoffs this season, the Clippers relied much more heavily on their starters as their bench averaged only 36.5 points per game in the postseason.

With the Clippers built to win now, their ageing roster also presents a problem. They are one of the oldest teams in the league, fourth and only behind the Houston Rockets (30 years, 179 days), Milwaukee Bucks (29 years, 321 days) and Lakers (29 years, 201 days) with an average of 28 years and 153 days.

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