It appears there is still life in Arsenal, as Mikel Arteta oversaw a potentially season-changing 3-1 win over Chelsea on Boxing Day.

The Gunners had been on a dreadful run, but with the odds against them they produced their most complete performance in a while, with some of the youngsters playing important roles.

Leicester City and Manchester United began the day's action with an entertaining draw that doubled as a microcosm for the Red Devils' season.

Using Opta data, we have looked at the pick of the action on a busy Saturday.

Leicester City 2-2 Manchester United: Red Devils clicking in attack but let down by defence

Manchester United's unbeaten run away from home continued in Saturday's early kick-off, as their draw at Leicester City saw them go 14 without defeat on the road in the Premier League, their longest such streak since January 2011 (16).

They were all business in attack, with Marcus Rashford, Bruno Fernandes and substitute Edinson Cavani all effective.

Rashford opened the scoring to become the third-youngest United player to reach 50 Premier League goals (23 years, 56 days) behind only Wayne Rooney (22y, 157d) and Cristiano Ronaldo (22y, 341d).

Fernandes set him up and then got United's second, taking his goal involvement tally to 31 since joining the club – that's more than 50 percent of the club's 60 goals in that time.

Cavani's clever run and throughball released Fernandes, with the Uruguayan reaching five goal involvements from the bench in the league this term, two more than any other player.

But a late Axel Tuanzebe own goal – brought about by Jamie Vardy's shot – saw United pegged back.

It was the 11th successive away league game in which they have conceded at least twice, the worst such run since the Red Devils went 13 matches in 1959.

Arsenal 3-1 Chelsea: Young Gunners reinvigorate Mikel Arteta's men

Mikel Arteta was in an unenviable position before kick-off – he had lost three important senior players (Willian, David Luiz and Gabriel) at short notice, while Pablo Mari, Emile Smith Rowe and Gabriel Martinelli earned their first starts of the season.

As such, there was an unfamiliar and inexperienced look to the Arsenal starting XI, which for the first time since January 2013 did not include a player over the age of 30.

Nevertheless, two of their more experienced players did find the net – Granit Xhaka's free-kick was the seventh time he has scored from outside the area, amounting to 79 per cent of nine goals. That's the highest ratio of Gunners players to have scored at least five times in the division.

Alexandre Lacazette's penalty was his 39th at the Emirates Stadium, 72 per cent of his club total, while it also made him Arsenal's top scorer this term with six across all competitions.

But it was a day to forget for Chelsea, and particularly Timo Werner. The German was withdrawn at half-time, thus extending his goal drought to 10 matches on all fronts, his worst goalless run since 12 games between March and September 2016.

Aston Villa 3-0 Crystal Palace: Resolute Villans make light of numerical disadvantage

When Tyrone Mings was sent off just before half-time with Villa 1-0 up, one expected the worst for the hosts in the second period.

But if anything, that red – a record-setting fourth for the club on Boxing Day – seemed to spur Villa on, Dean Smith's side going on to score twice more and claim an eighth clean sheet of the season, more than any other side in the league.

Palace could only wish for such defensive solidity – they are without a shutout in their past 14 Premier League matches, their longest such streak since November 2017.

Bertrand Traore got the ball rolling early on, netting in successive matches after only managing two in his previous 19 league outings.

Kortney Hause made it 2-0 before Anwar El Ghazi finished Palace off in style with his fourth goal in as many Premier League appearances – a fine accomplishment for a player who, only a few weeks ago, was being targeted for criticism from some supporters on social media.

Jack Grealish may not have been on the scoresheet, but he was yet again crucial for Villa – Palace's only answer was to foul him. The England international's fouls won per game since the start of last season was boosted to 4.7, which is by far the most of any player to have played more than 100 minutes in that time.

Manchester City 2-0 Newcastle United: Defence provides solid platform again for Guardiola

Pep Guardiola has received his fair share of criticism this season, but if there's one area in which City are excelling, it's at the back.

Saturday's routine victory over Steve Bruce's lacklustre Magpies was their 13th clean sheet of the season across all competitions, more than any other team in Europe's top five leagues.

The omens weren't great for Newcastle coming into the game, and this was their 15th Premier League defeat on Boxing Day – a record – and their sixth in succession on this day.

On top of that, it's now 12 straight home wins over Newcastle for City, who've scored 41 times and conceded just seven in that run.

Raheem Sterling reached a milestone when he set up Ilkay Gundogan's opener, as it was his 150th goal involvement (96 goals, 54 assists) in all competitions since Pep Guardiola became coach, more than anyone else. Sergio Aguero has 146 (120 goals, 26 assists).

Ferran Torres got City's second, as the pre-season signing from Valencia continued his very promising debut campaign, this time leading the line in place of the injured Gabriel Jesus with Aguero only fit enough for a place on the bench.

Torres' goal was his seventh for City, and all seven games in which he has scored for the club have ended in victories, with five of them coming at the Etihad Stadium.

The Christmas Day quintuple-header is the NBA showcase that brims with compelling matchups between powerhouse teams and the league's biggest and brightest stars.

Even for casual fans, Friday's slate is enticing with five games spaced throughout the day and night featuring 26 All-Stars, including four MVP winners.

While Christmas is a time to celebrate and be merry, playing on December 25 hasn't been full of cheer for one of the game's premier players of the last decade.

The Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry is a future Hall of Famer and will go down as one of the greatest shooters in NBA history, but you would have a hard time convincing that to the casual fan who tunes in at Christmas.

In seven career Christmas games, Curry is averaging 9.6 points on 29.3 per cent shooting and 20.5 per cent shooting from three-point range.

Not exactly numbers that scream two-time league MVP.

In fact, since the three-point line was adopted in 1979-80, no player has shot less than 30 per cent and averaged more than 6.0 points per game over the course of a career - the kind of numbers Curry puts up on Christmas.

While many count down the days until Christmas, you'll have to forgive Curry if he's not one of them considering December 25 has been his worst shooting day of the season.

Of the dates when he has played a minimum three games, December 15 has been his second worst on the calendar, with 33.3 per cent shooting over four games.

Christmas Day has also been one of Curry's most dismal days for three-point shooting, making just 20.5 per cent of his attempts. Of the dates when he has played at least three games, his three-point record has only been worse on April 21 (12.5 per cent) and December 16 (17.6 per cent).

Given his shooting woes on Christmas it should be no big surprise he's never had a 20-point game on December 25. It marks just one of three calendar dates where he's played at least three games and not reached the 20-point mark. On the other two dates of February 15 and April 19, he's only played three games apiece on those days - four fewer opportunities than his appearances on Christmas.

Not only has December 25 been one of Curry's most dreadful days of the season for making shots, his struggles with shooting on that particular day go down among the worst for anyone who has played on Christmas in more than 35 years.

Since 1983-84, of players who have taken a minimum 50 attempts, Curry has the lowest Christmas Day shooting success percentage, worse than Ron Harper and Michael Finley (both 32.7 per cent), Derek Fisher (33.8 per cent) and Paul Pierce (35 per cent).

Part of Curry's struggles on Christmas could have something to do with the fact his Warriors are typically facing stiff competition in either a Finals rematch or potential playoff preview, so he's matching up against the best of the best.

However, he's faced the same teams he's gone up against on Christmas at other times in the same season and his numbers in those matchups are more in line with his career averages of 23.5 points per game on 47.6 per cent shooting and 43.5 per cent from three-point range.

Curry's points per game perk up from 9.6 to an average of 18.9 when he faces Christmas Day opponents on other occasions in the same season, with his field goal percentage soaring to 47.1 per cent and three-point shooting jumping from to 47.2 per cent.

So maybe late December is when Curry typically goes through a cold spell. However, taking a look at the games he's played immediately before his Christmas contests and immediately after, his shooting stats are again more of what you would expect from him on any given night.

When he has played in a game immediately prior to Christmas, Curry averages 23.2 points on 45.5 per cent overall shooting and 37.3 per cent three-point success, while in the first post-Christmas game he has scored 22.4 points on average (44.2 per cent overall shooting, 43.1 per cent from three-point range).

This will be the eighth straight year the Warriors are playing on December 25 and many eyes will be on Curry given the six-time All-Star will be playing for just the third time since October 2019, after missing much of last season with a broken left hand.

He looked like his old self in the preseason and played well in spurts in Tuesday's opener before sitting out the fourth quarter when the outcome was in little doubt with Golden State on the wrong end of a blowout loss to the Brooklyn Nets.

So maybe after all these years he'll finally be able to put together a memorable Christmas performance. At least he doesn't again have to face a Los Angeles Lakers team that's given him problems in the past and gets - gulp, the Milwaukee Bucks.

And there's the big festive plot twist. Curry averages just 19.9 points against the Bucks across his career - his lowest scoring average against any team.

After eight years and almost 300 appearances for Espanyol, Victor Sanchez is embarking on his first journey outside of Europe.

Sanchez now calls Australia's Western United home following Espanyol's relegation from LaLiga in 2019-20, having spent 14 years in Spain and a brief stint with Neuchatel Xamax.

The versatile 33-year-old had not envisaged packing up and relocating his family 16,816km away to Melbourne, but the coronavirus pandemic changed his plans as Western United came calling.

"It is a league that wasn't in my plans and I hadn't thought about it because it is a very far country as well," Sanchez, who ranks fourth for most Espanyol appearances behind Raul Tamudo, Mauricio Pochettino and Javi Lopez, told Stats Perform News.

"But when I had the chance, looking a little to everything and this league's level, because it is very well organised league, serious league and serious country also regarding coronavirus, I thought it was a great opportunity for me and the family as well."

Sanchez is among the growing number of Spaniards moving to Australia after former Espanyol team-mate Lopez also joined Adelaide United.

Former Athletic Bilbao pair Markel Susaeta and Benat have reunited at Macarthur FC for their inaugural season, while ex-Getafe attacker Diego Castro continues to star with Perth Glory.

"I didn't know much about the A-League," Sanchez said. "When I had the chance to come here I started looking at it and I also spoke with people that had played here: with Juande that was in Perth, with Markel Susaeta that was in Melbourne City last year, [former Western Sydney Wanderers striker] Oriol Riera and [former Melbourne Victory midfielder] Raul Baena.

"Footballers that have played here and everyone was telling me the same thing, that it is a spectacular experience, a great, great experience and life level, family level, and then because it is a league that, even though doesn't have the level of the Spanish league, is still a league physically strong and above all very well organised. Very serious league and I believe that at my age, with my career, I don't want surprises and I wanted to come to a league where things were properly done."

Sanchez brings a wealth of experience to Mark Rudan's Western United, who reached the A-League semi-finals in their first season in the competition.

The Catalonia-born midfielder – also adaptable in all defensive positions – emerged from Barcelona's youth system in 2005 and eventually made his debut for the first team in 2008.

Under the leadership of Pep Guardiola, Sanchez was part of the star-studded Barca squad that won the Champions League, LaLiga and Copa del Rey in 2008-09 – playing alongside the likes of Lionel Messi, Thierry Henry, Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Yaya Toure, Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique and Samuel Eto'o.

"My relationship with him was very good," Sanchez said as he discussed working with Guardiola at Camp Nou. "I was with him in the second team, Barca B, and were promoted from the third division to the Second B Division, from the fourth league to the third league in Spain and it was truly a beautiful year, the first one of him as a coach.

"He then moved to the first team and he promoted Sergio Busquets and me to the first team as well, even though we still belonged to the youth team, but to be within the first team dynamic. That year was truly incredible, the season 2008-09 when we won Liga, Copa and Champions League, a fantasy year. Afterwards I have kept relation with him when I have played against him and we have talked quite a lot.

"Now I haven't talked to him for a long time, but he is very innovative in everything he does. He is a genius, there isn't many like him. I was lucky enough to share a locker room with Guardiola."

Sanchez made seven LaLiga appearances in 2008-09, and 12 across all competitions, before being loaned out to Xerex and Getafe in 2009-10 and 2010-11. A six-month stint in Switzerland followed, but after 16 games the Barcelona native returned home.

However, this time, Sanchez – among a select few to play for both clubs – crossed the divide to link up with neighbours Espanyol in 2012.

"It's different to play for Barcelona than to play for Espanyol. The rivalry of the derbies. I think it is lived differently from Barcelona than from Espanyol," Sanchez said. "From the Barcelona perspective, rivalry exists, but nothing compares from the Espanyol perspective towards Barca.

"At Espanyol, for you it's like a final or a title to be able to win against Barcelona. Nowadays the economic differences are huge, so it is very difficult to win a match against Barcelona playing for Espanyol. I was there like nine years and was lucky to win one derby, in the Copa del Rey, in the first leg. When that happens it's when you realise how difficult it is. You also notice how they want to win too even though they see the rivalry differently."

Sanchez joined forces with Pochettino as the Argentine coach made a name for himself at Espanyol before moving on to Southampton and Tottenham.

"He is a great coach," Sanchez, who backed the former Spurs boss to make the move to Real Madrid, added. "I was with him a short time. I arrived at Espanyol when he was there and it can be said that he bought me for the club. You could already see that he had what it takes to be a great coach with his ideas, how he worked with the team, he was very demanding.

"I think it was clear he would reach the top. I had a very good relationship with him. I was like six or eight months with him and it was a great coach in my career."

While Pochettino eventually departed for Premier League side Southampton less than a year later, Sanchez continued to help fly the flag for Espanyol.

Sanchez went to battle in the Derbi Barceloni – a derby dominated by Barca – renewing acquaintances with ex-Blaugrana team-mates Messi and Pique in heated showdowns – the rivalry coming to a head in a fiercely contested 1-1 draw at RCDE Stadium in February 2018.

Espanyol's Sanchez went head-to-head with six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi in wet conditions, and he added: "Messi is a very special player, different than the rest. I think he particularly likes to play against Espanyol.

"It is true that we played a very hot derby that ended up in a tie with Pique's goal around minute 80. It was raining, a hard match, beautiful, sentimental. Messi is the best player of the world, above the rest. To win against him, to steal the ball off him or make things difficult for him is a personal triumph. Because as I said, he is very above from the rest."

Fast forward to December 2020 and Sanchez is determined to taste success with Western United after experiencing Espanyol's painful relegation to the second tier of Spanish football for the first time since 1993.

"I want to win, be on the top and make the team to be as high as possible. The A-League is economically very equal between teams, a bit similar to MLS where budget is close," said Sanchez, who had a passing accuracy of 80.5 per cent in 25 LaLiga appearances last season.

"If you make a good team, a good year and if you have confidence, you can fight for anything. Hopefully we will be lucky enough to come back to the play-offs and this time be able to be in semi-finals or the final and can be champions."

Sanchez, who registered 116 recoveries and 27 interceptions, while he won possession on 116 occasions in 2019-20, added: "I have signed for two years but my plan is to stay more and hopefully that will be possible. After my experience in Spain having played quite a lot of matches, a long career, I was looking for a change. It will be also positive for us to learn the language. My English is basic at the moment.

"After 13 or 14 years playing in LaLiga it was a bit exhausting."

Philadelphia Eagles coach Doug Pederson said in the wake of their dramatic loss to the Arizona Cardinals that he would wait until Monday to name a starting quarterback for Week 16. 

The delay in doing so could hardly seem more pointless after Jalen Hurts gave a previously moribund offense a spark for the third successive week, helping them push a playoff contender to the wire in an absorbing encounter. 

He hasn't even played two and a half games yet, but this was another contest that gave rise to the notion that Hurts, despite the huge contract handed to Carson Wentz in June of last year, is the future at the quarterback position in Philadelphia. 

His back-and-forth duel with dual-threat superstar and fellow former Oklahoma Sooner Kyler Murray also served as further compelling evidence of the ever-expanding merits of investing in athleticism at quarterback. 

Murray, who has dipped in and out of the MVP conversation this season, may have prevailed - a last-gasp heave into the endzone from Hurts falling incomplete - but the Eagles' second-round pick emerged with his reputation significantly enhanced. 

Hurts finished the 33-26 loss with 338 yards passing, three touchdowns and zero interceptions, and ran for 63 yards and another score on the ground.

Posting a passer rating of 102.3, Hurts is the first rookie quarterback in the Super Bowl era to throw at least three touchdown passes and rush for a touchdown in his first road start. 

After putting up 106 rushing yards against the New Orleans Saints in Week 14, he also joins Randall Cunningham (1985) and Lamar Jackson (2018) as the only first-year quarterbacks with at least 50 yards on the ground in their first two starts. 

Following in the footsteps of fellow 2020 draft picks Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert, Hurts is now one of just three rookie quarterbacks to record at least 300 passing yards, three touchdown throws and a rushing score in a single game since 1970. 

His efforts on the ground are in stark contrast to those of Wentz, who has five rushing touchdowns this season but just one game of over 50 yards. While Hurts has yet to throw an interception in two starts - though he did commit one in Week 13 against the Green Bay Packers - Wentz leads the league with 15 picks. 

Therein lies the rub. Entering the NFL in 2016, Wentz had athletic upside. However, he has since been limited by a devastating 2017 knee injury that ruined an MVP-calibre season. With the additional speed Hurts - the second-fastest quarterback at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine – offers, the Eagles can utilise a new dimension on offense that they did not have with an increasingly statuesque former first-round pick under center. 

Defenses must pay significant respect to the threat of a quarterback run on zone-read plays, while Hurts' ability to scramble decreases the odds of him staying in a muddied pocket and risking a turnover by taking a sack or forcing a throw into a non-existent window. 

It also raises the potential for the spectacular, which arrived in spades on Sunday, most notably on the failed game-tying drive as Hurts fumbled the ball only to regather it, roll to his right and deliver a first-down pass to Dallas Goedert.

 

The composure Hurts showed on that completion is illustrative of a player quickly settling into life at the pro level, and his late-season emergence comes on the heels of an MVP year for Jackson in a campaign during which his dual-threat contemporaries further demonstrated that, with the right coaching, the time needed for young, mobile quarterbacks to adapt to the league is getting shorter. 

Herbert, who is being allowed to use his legs much more than he did at Oregon, is in the midst of one of the best rookie quarterback seasons ever. Josh Allen's third-year transition from athletically gifted wild card to a versatile and supremely accurate field general has the Buffalo Bills at the sharp end of the AFC playoff race, while Murray keeps writing his name in the record books as the Cardinals push towards the postseason. 

Murray had 406 yards passing with three touchdowns and an interception on Sunday, while he too found the endzone on the ground, marking his ninth game with both a passing touchdown and rushing score this season, the most by a quarterback in a single campaign in NFL history. 

He is the fourth quarterback, alongside Allen (10), Steve Grogan (10) and Cam Newton (14), with 10 such games in his first two seasons. Only he and Newton (2015) can claim to have thrown for 25 touchdowns and rushed for 10 in a single season, Murray replicating the feat of Newton's MVP year by taking his passing tally to 26 and his rushing mark to 11.

The rapid rise of Murray, Allen, Herbert and now seemingly Hurts should give confidence to quarterback-needy teams that the 2021 crop of dual-threat signal-callers can start early and be successful. 

Presumptive number one pick Trevor Lawrence, Ohio State's Justin Fields, North Dakota State's Trey Lance and Zach Wilson of BYU all possess the skills to do significant damage through the air and also with their legs. 

Murray and Hurts' bewitching battle encapsulated the impact a quarterback with such diversity to their game can have on the modern NFL when they land in the right environment. 

There is still a place for the traditional drop-back quarterback, of course, but they are increasingly being shunned in favour of more unpredictable and seemingly more influential counterparts. 

At least four more possible success stories are on the horizon in the next draft and franchises requiring change under center need to heed one of the many lessons of a year where nothing has been normal. It is past time to cast aside previous convention. Get a quarterback who can do both, and get them on the field.

Mats Hummels let out a laugh of indignation as Stuttgart scored their fifth and final goal in Saturday's 5-1 trouncing of Borussia Dortmund, the defender left at a loss as the visitors claimed a remarkable victory.

But there was no such reaction from Lucien Favre, as Dortmund's coach half-heartedly greeted a couple of his players and coaching staff before disappearing down the tunnel in sheepish fashion, wearing an almost gaunt expression.

Perhaps he knew what was coming – at the very least he will have had a suspicion given he called the loss a "disaster" in his post-match news conference.

It proved to be Favre's final match in charge as a run of three successive Bundesliga home defeats proved the final straw for the club's hierarchy, who dismissed the Swiss manager on Sunday after two and a half years in charge.

But while Favre's spell ends on a sour note, he helped build a team with great potential, one that his former assistant Edin Terzic – appointed as interim head coach until the end of the season – will feel he can mould into a real force with time.

With Favre at the helm, Dortmund signed or brought through an impressive array of youth stars, as we have explored…

Erling Haaland, 20

The current holder of the Golden Boy award, Haaland has established himself as one of the world's most lethal strikers over the past 18 months, first impressing with Salzburg before joining up with Dortmund late last December.

He has scored 23 goals in as many Bundesliga appearances this year, just five strikes fewer than the favourite for the Best FIFA Men's Player award, Robert Lewandowski. Haaland's 46 per cent conversion rate (excluding blocks) is significantly better than the Pole's 35 per cent, however, while he also last month became the quickest to reach 15 Champions League goals in the competition's history.

It remains to be seen how long Dortmund can keep hold of him, but there's no doubt he flourished under Favre and will be key for Terzic once he returns from injury in the New Year.

 

Jadon Sancho, 20

Sancho was signed by Dortmund pre-Favre and enjoyed his initial breakthrough under Peter Stoger, but it was in 2018-19 – under the club's new Swiss coach – when he truly announced himself, winning his first Bundesliga Player of the Month award in the October thanks to a haul of three goals and an assist in three games.

In February this year, when still only 19, Sancho became the first teenager to reach 25 Bundesliga goals, while he made 29 open-play assists in the competition during Favre's reign.

As with Haaland, it seems unlikely Sancho will be with Dortmund in the long term, but in the right conditions, they could be a pair capable of inspiring teams to European success.

For now, though, Terzic will be focused on getting the best out of the England international – he's not scored once in nine Bundesliga outings this term.

 

Giovanni Reyna, 18

A real gem – anyone who has watched Reyna in action will surely be filled with excitement. The 18-year-old attacking midfielder has a playing style and demeanour that resembles Brazil and Milan great Kaka, and he is already having an impact at first-team level having been given his debut by Favre in January.

The American then became the first 17-year-old to record three assists in a single Bundesliga match since records began in 1992 during Dortmund's 4-0 victory over Freiburg in October – two were well-weighted throughballs for Erling Haaland, the other a pinpoint set-piece delivery.

Reyna signed a new five-year deal recently and looks set to torment Bundesliga defences for many seasons to come.

Jude Bellingham, 17

A classy attack-minded midfielder, Bellingham was a sizeable investment in pre-season, arriving from Birmingham City where he had become a key player despite his age. Some still expected him to initially move into Dortmund's second team, but Favre's belief in the teenager was made clear.

He has already featured nine times in the Bundesliga and became Dortmund's youngest ever goalscorer (17 years, 77 days) when netting a fine debut effort against Duisburg in the DFB-Pokal earlier this season.

Already an England international, Bellingham is another talent who appears capable of defining an era at Dortmund if they can keep hold of him.

Youssoufa Moukoko, 16

The jewel in the crown? Perhaps it's too early to make such judgements, but it's fair to say Favre had been excited about Moukoko long before making him the Bundesliga's youngest ever player a day after his 16th birthday in November. He then broke the same record in the Champions League.

A Germany youth international, Moukoko smashed all sorts of records in Dortmund's youth teams, such as netting 34 times in 20 games in the Bundesliga's youth division and scoring in the UEFA Youth League when he was just 14.

Moukoko has looked lively in his four Bundesliga cameos this season and might even be entrusted with a first start by Terzic in the absence of Haaland.

Given the ease he took to every other level he has played at, few would bet against Moukoko continuing that trend in the top tier.

Borussia Dortmund dismissed head coach Lucien Favre on Sunday, with unheralded assistant Edin Terzic promoted to take charge until the end of the campaign.

Favre's sacking came on the back of a humiliating 5-1 loss to Stuttgart on Saturday - BVB suffering a third straight home loss in the Bundesliga for the first time since 2013-14, and their heaviest at the Westfalenstadion in over a decade.

Rather than turn to a big-name replacement, Dortmund followed the blueprint of title rivals Bayern Munich in promoting from within by placing Terzic in charge of first-team affairs.

Following the treble-winning success of Hansi Flick at Bayern upon replacing Niko Kovac in November 2019, Dortmund will now be hoping for a positive outcome themselves over the coming months.

But exactly who is Terzic and what are his strong ties to another Champions League winning boss in Jurgen Klopp?

Getting the breaks

Terzic represented four different clubs across a seven-year playing career, none of those teams plying their trade higher than the fourth tier of German football at the time.

His coaching breakthrough came during a three-year spell at Dortmund from 2010 when working as assistant for several of the youth sides up to under-19s level.

He also spent time working as a scout during Klopp's time in charge, a similar position to the one previously held by David Wagner, most recently in charge of Schalke.

Terzic later said of Klopp, when his appointment was announced by Liverpool: "He is very intelligent, he is funny and he is very successful."

The 38-year-old Terzic, looking to advance his own career, took the decision to work abroad and spent four years outside Germany, first at Super Lig side Besiktas and then with West Ham in the Premier League.

Terzic worked as assistant to Slaven Bilic in both of those jobs, having previously been approached to join the Croatian at Lokomotiv Moscow.

Hammer blow leads to new opportunities

Bilic's sacking as West Ham boss in November 2017 subsequently left Terzic without a job but he used the time wisely, completing the English FA's highest coaching qualification badge the following year.

Among others to graduate from the 18-month course that year were Nicky Butt, Nigel Clough, David James, Graham Potter and Nemanja Vidic.

Terzic was back at Dortmund in 2018, this time as assistant first-team coach to Favre, the man he would go on to succeed in a caretaker basis two and a half years later.

Tuesday's trip to Werder Bremen will not be the German's first match as BVB head coach, having stood in for a game in February 2019 alongside fellow assists Michael Stefes after Favre fell ill. Dortmund squandered a three-goal lead to draw 3-3.

There remains uncertainty over a schedule for the 2020-21 NHL season but it will definitely end with no action having taken place this year.

The league is attempting to navigate the coronavirus pandemic for a second time and is expected to push the start of the campaign back to mid-January. 

A regular 82-game NHL season usually begins in early October but that was never an option after the Tampa Bay Lightning won the 2020 Stanley Cup in the playoff bubble late in September

The NHL does not want to extend play into late summer again, which would then affect the 2021-22 campaign. It is increasingly likely that this season will either be 52 or 56 games, bringing back memories of a lockout-shortened 2012-13 season that was reduced to 48 matches. 

So, the question becomes is a 52 or 56-game regular season better than an 82-game season? 

A season with 82 games offers far more hockey, which would certainly appeal to fans. More games also brings in more money for owners, leading to teams hopefully spending more on players and facilities.

But aside from finances, is the hockey better when there are less games in the regular season? And which teams and players would benefit most from a shorter season?

Conventional wisdom would suggest that yes, fewer games in the regular season leads to better and more exciting hockey. With each game carrying more weight in the standings, players should increase their intensity and fight even harder for every point. 

A shortened season, however, is unlikely to lead to an increase in goalscoring. At least not if the 2012-13 season is any indication, with that campaign seeing 2.65 goals per game scored – less than in any of season since 2011-12.

There is also an unknown with the schedule in a reduced season. Sure, there is less travel and less games, but does that translate into more off days for teams, and if so, it would suggest that teams with older rosters would benefit.

The Detroit Red Wings currently have the oldest roster (28 years 253 days) in the league but after finishing with a league-low 39 points last season, it is difficult to see them experiencing much improvement. 

Fewer cross-country flights and less games could help a team like the Bruins, who have the fifth-oldest roster (27 years, 294 days). There would be less wear and tear on Patrice Bergeron (35 years old), David Krejci (34), Tuukka Rask (33), Brad Marchand (32) and if he re-signs, Zdeno Chara (44 in March), when the playoffs roll around. 

A condensed schedule, while less playing time, means even less opportunity to recover from the previous game. That should give teams with deeper lineups an advantage and increase the value of backup goaltenders. For example, the Capitals' signing of Henrik Lundqvist (39 in March) could turn out to be a key addition. 

It is unlikely that Lundqvist will perform at the level he used to, but he could be the perfect goalie to pair with young Ilya Samsonov. Lundqvist played 30 games last season for the Rangers but may only be asked to play half that amount next season.

Marquee players like Alex Ovechkin (35) and Sidney Crosby (33) may not mind a shorter regular season as they chase the Stanley Cup, but it is not going to help them reach milestones.

After hitting the 700-goal mark last season, Ovechkin has a legitimate shot at catching Wayne Gretzky’s career goals record (894), but fewer games will not help. 

With 706 goals, the Russian superstar ranks eighth on the all-time list, 188 behind the Great One.

Ovechkin was headed for his ninth 50-goal season after scoring 48 in 68 games last season and shows no signs of slowing down.

His average of 0.61 goals per game is more than any other player, among those who have featured in a minimum of 250 matches, since the 2013-14 season and has scored 335 times in that period.

If Ovechkin scored 30 goals next season and then 45 in each of the next three, he would be at 871 goals and 24 away from passing Gretzky before turning 40. Given his durability and love of the game, it is hard not to see Ovechkin playing that long and remaining effective.

Crosby has 462 goals and is going to get to the magical 500 mark eventually but will not get there in a shortened 2021 season. The most goals he ever scored through Pittsburgh's first 56 games was 34 back in 2009-10.

Another season of fewer than 82 games is also changing the way a player's career can be judged. 

Edmonton Oilers superstar Connor McDavid was three points away from his fourth consecutive 100-point season when the 2019-20 regular season was stopped due to the virus. As remarkable a player as he is, nobody will be getting to 100 points in 52 or 56 games.  

With three points last season, and another 100-point campaign in a normal campaign McDavid could have become the first player since Steve Yzerman (1987-88 to 1992-93) with five straight 100-point seasons. 

As far as team success goes, getting off to a fast start takes on added meaning in a shortened season. The 2012-13 Chicago Blackhawks took this to a new level when they opened 21-0-3 and finished with a league-best 77 points in 48 games. They defeated Minnesota, Detroit and Los Angeles in the playoffs before beating Philadelphia for the Stanley Cup.

Every year there is a team that starts slow and turns it on in the second half but that will not be an option this season. A poor stretch in January or February could be all that it takes to keep a team out of the playoffs.

Manchester United's quest to return to greatness suffered another humbling setback on Tuesday as they crashed out of the Champions League group stage for the first time since 2015-16 with a 3-2 defeat to RB Leipzig.

While the scoreline suggests a close, hard-fought encounter, in truth the one-goal deficit flattered Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side greatly as the visitors had fallen 3-0 behind in Germany.

It was yet another stark reminder that this once great club is now a faded power, lacking direction in the boardroom and from the sidelines.

Julian Nagelsmann learned from his errors in the 5-0 Old Trafford defeat earlier this season, while Solskjaer seemingly sent his team out to rely on a defence that has conceded fewer goals than just seven teams in the Premier League this season.

Up next? The small matter of the Manchester derby.

POOR COACHING OR PLAYER INTELLIGENCE TO BLAME?

United were 2-0 down inside 13 minutes against Leipzig as Solskjaer's decision to name a defensive starting XI and altered system of a back three backfired spectacularly. It was the quickest they had fallen two goals behind in a Champions League game since the semi-final against Juventus in 1999 – they were unable to repeat the comeback they managed on that occasion.

Leipzig overran the visitors, their midfield playing so high that Nemanja Matic, Scott McTominay and United's centre-backs were suffocated.

While the same setup worked well against Paris Saint-Germain in the Parc des Princes back in October, Solskjaer was let down by individual mistakes in defence – Aaron Wan-Bissaka's common sense deserted him as he routinely tucked inside despite being deployed as a wing-back, thus failing to close down Angelino for the first two goals.

The second, scored by Amadou Haidara, might have been prevented had Luke Shaw not inexplicably moved out of his centre-back berth to press – unsuccessfully – Leipzig's midfield, the goal ultimately scored in the gap he vacated.

Harry Maguire and David de Gea then shied away from the ball as Justin Kluivert made it 3-0 in the second half, making it the first time since 2003 that United conceded a trio of goals in consecutive Champions League games.

A controversial penalty and an own goal gave United hope but deservedly they fell short, meaning Solskjaer has suffered more defeats (six) in his first 10 Champions League matches than any other manager in charge of an English club. 

 

AND SOLSKJAER'S DONE?

It would be entirely in keeping with Solskjaer's topsy-turvy reign if United were to follow that loss up with what many might deem to be a job-saving derby win over Manchester City at the weekend.

After all, among all managers to have faced Pep Guardiola at least four times, Solskjaer does boast the best win percentage (60 per cent). Similarly, it's in such games where the 'Baby-faced Assassin' has shown a better understanding of his team's strengths – essentially relinquishing possession and counterattacking at speed.

In United's four Manchester derbies last season, only once did Solskjaer's men see more than 40 per cent of the ball (43.4 per cent being the most). Indeed, their two lowest figures (27.7 per cent and 28.1 per cent) came from games the Red Devils actually won.

Added to that, the occasion when United had 43.4 per cent, they were taken apart in a 3-1 EFL Cup defeat as Pep Guardiola countered his opponents' approach by crowding the midfield instead of deploying a striker – City had 15 shots in total, three times the amount mustered by their rivals.

 

But the issue with a more counter-based approach for United this term, as previously highlighted, is that it relies on a defensive solidity they've shown precious little evidence of possessing. While they still have pace and flair going forward, too often they are giving teams a head start.

For example, United have had to come from behind in five of their 11 wins across all competitions this season. In the Premier League, those victories equate to 15 points, but relying on such an approach against City would be a huge risk. After all, it never looked like working against Leipzig – allowing City similar freedom may well result in a hiding.

Even if United were to beat City, it's difficult to escape the feeling that it would just be the same old cycle restarting – get a good result against an elite side and then, knowing their erratic nature, they will probably end up being the first team Sheffield United have beaten this season the following week.

Not only does Solskjaer appear incapable of getting the best out of this United team consistently, two years on from landing the job he seems completely unaware of what system works best for him, constantly flip-flopping between 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1 and the use of a diamond.

 

BAILED OUT BY BRILLIANCE

Another key aspect of Solskjaer's United that simply isn't sustainable is their reliance on moments of individual inspiration – or penalties.

Time and time again, United have been bailed out by shows of brilliance chiefly on the part of Bruno Fernandes, who since February 1 has 10 more goals (23) and double the amount of assists (14) than any of his team-mates.

On top of that, his 110 chances created is in a different galaxy – the next most frequent creators are Marcus Rashford and Juan Mata with 38.

Fernandes' 35 key passes in the Premier League is the second highest across Europe's top five league this term, one shy of Hakan Calhanoglu. Were the Portugal international to require a spell on the sidelines, the impact on the United team could be crippling.

While this clearly highlights just how good Fernandes is – and, to Solskjaer's credit, he knows how to get the best out of him – such a dependency on a single player isn't healthy for United.

The term 'philosophy' gets bandied about a lot in football, but Solskjaer's former team-mates Rio Ferdinand and Paul Scholes suggested in their roles as TV pundits on Tuesday that it was the missing link for United – they need tactical consistency to truly secure the collective comfort that's absent.

It's hard to imagine, say, Mauricio Pochettino being plagued by such indecisiveness for so long, and in the eyes of many, Solskjaer's latest failure should be one too many.

Thursday was a day to savour for Gareth Bale, as he scored his 200th career goal, 57 of which have come for Tottenham.

It was his first goal in Europe for Spurs since March 2013 against Inter and his first away from home (excluding qualifiers) since that famous hat-trick against the Nerazzurri back in October 2010.

Performances like that led Bale on the path to becoming the first €100million player, but despite his goal in the 3-3 draw with LASK, today's Bale is a very different animal.

He returned to north London on loan after being consigned to the role of wearied Real Madrid substitute under Zinedine Zidane, but his second spell in the Premier League has barely caused a ripple.

In fact, as in-form Spurs prepare for Sunday's derby with Arsenal, Bale has once more settled into the role of expensive bench-warmer, an impact player who is yet to make any discernible impact upon Jose Mourinho's plans.

LASK-LUSTRE

Bale would surely relish the chance to be unleashed against Arsenal – after all, he has scored five goals in 10 league appearances against the Gunners, and there are concerns about the fitness of Harry Kane.

However, given Mourinho's comments about his players lacking "enthusiasm" for this week's Europa League match, some of the starting XI in Austria could be fighting a losing battle to keep their places.

Bale converted Spurs' first penalty of the match to get on the scoresheet for the second time in his second stint at the club, but his was not a display to capture the imagination. While he attempted more shots than anyone else (four), his penalty was the only one to hit the target. Moreover, he created no chances for his team-mates and only completed 14 passes in his 82 minutes on the pitch, fewer than any other starting Spurs player apart from Tanguy Ndombele (12) and Lucas Moura (nine) – and they were both substituted 17 minutes earlier.

Bale has started once in the Premier League and five times in the Europa League this season and been taken off every time. While fitness was perhaps an excuse in the first few weeks after his arrival in September, surely now he should be expected to play in, and influence, a full game.

NOT-SO-SPLENDID ISOLATION

Bale always seemed like an opportune gamble rather than a signing to suit a Mourinho system, and so it has proved.

Compared with his team-mates in the Premier League, the 31-year-old has done little to justify more game time, even including his winning goal against Brighton and Hove Albion on November 1.

Bale averages close to five shots per 90 minutes, which is actually the most of any Spurs player this term, but his conversion rate of 16.7 per cent is only fifth best. Kane (18 per cent) and Son Heung-min in particular (45 per cent) are significantly more threatening from shooting positions.

His link-up play is of greater concern. In his three league games, Bale has created only two chances from open play, half as many as Giovani Lo Celso and way down on Son (11) and Kane (19). Overall, he has completed 20 passes, the fewest of any Spurs player to make a league appearance with the exception of Carlos Vinicius, who has played 12 minutes.

Bale does at least attempt three dribbles on average per 90 minutes, more than all but two of his team-mates, but he has yet to attempt a single cross from open play. If these runs with the ball do not end in a hopeful shot, they appear to yield nothing.

His level of disconnect from the rest of his team is even greater than it was at Madrid last season. In 16 LaLiga games, Bale attempted 45 open-play crosses, averaging nearly four per 90 minutes. He also attempted roughly three dribbles and nearly 36 passes per appearance.

 

SHOULD SPURS HAVE SEEN THIS COMING?

Mourinho, then, has little reason to thrust Bale into the starting line-up of a Spurs side presently looking one of the best in England's top flight and on a six-game unbeaten run in home league clashes with Arsenal. Recent history would also suggest the Wales star will not seize a more regular role heading towards 2021, either.

Only once since the 2015-16 season has Bale started more than half of all matches across all competitions (he was in the line-up 51 per cent of the time in 2018-19). That season, he made 42 appearances for Madrid; in 2019-20, that number dropped by more than half (20), while he only started 14 times, or 27.5 per cent of all games.

This term, prior to Thursday's Europa League match he started 27.8 per cent of matches and had been involved in 39 per cent overall (seven appearances), effectively the same portion as he managed last season. However, in the league, he has only played in 30 per cent of Spurs' games (three) and started just once. Even in 2019-20, as rumours of discontent with Zidane grew and images of Bale yawning among the substitutes spread, he still managed to play in 42 per cent of Madrid's league matches (16) and started 12 times (31.6 per cent).

Bale's best recent season for league games was in 2014-15, when he started 30 times (79 per cent) and made a further appearance as a substitute. He has scarcely got close to that level of involvement since. And although injury problems and issues with Zidane have been partly to blame, a fully fit Bale should realistically walk into Tottenham's team if he had the form to back up the expectations. Mourinho, at least, appears unconvinced.

A goal against Arsenal would certainly boost his prospects, but, right now, Bale looks little more than a luxury (and dispensable) accessory to a well-oiled Spurs machine.

Empty stadiums, Barcelona in the midst of an institutional crisis exacerbated by Lionel Messi's wanderlust, and Real Madrid a world away from the glamour and ruthlessness we often associate with Los Blancos – 2020-21 always looked set to be an intriguing one for LaLiga.

Sunday will see the season's first meaningful clash between two teams vying at the top of the table, as leaders Real Sociedad go to third-place Villarreal.

By no means is this a fixture steeped in the tradition of title tussles or anything of the sort – after all, La Real's two LaLiga crowns came in the early 1980s and their most recent top-two finish was 17 years ago, while Villarreal have never won the league.

But in this peculiar time for football, few have adapted better and they are laying the foundations for potential tilts at glory.

Building on a foundation

La Real earned acclaim and attracted many neutral eyes last season as they came close to qualifying for the Champions League for the first time since 2003.

Ultimately their form tailed off late in the season, coinciding with losing key man Martin Odegaard to injury, but despite eventual disappointment they showed they were laying the foundations for something potentially special.

Many felt that seeing Odegaard return to Real Madrid would have a major impact on La Real, that they had no hope of bettering themselves without a player of his calibre – but it's so far, so good in 2020-21.

This is a club and setup that's already got a strong base. Throughout their ranks they coach a particular brand of football, and there is an onus on progression, both for players and management.

Imanol Alguacil has been at the club in various capacities since 2011, managing the youth team, the B team and then the senior side, of whom he was appointed coach in 2018. Their strong core of homegrown players only benefits them and aids cohesion in the long run.

Arguably La Real's biggest strength is their pressing intensity – only two teams in LaLiga have averaged more high turnovers in possession than their 5.3 per game, with 1.3 of those in every match leading to a shot.

Yet, this relentlessness isn't – as it can be – implemented to account for a shortfall in technical ability. They boast an impressive array of gifted players, as evidenced by the fact they've scored more goals (21) than they would otherwise be expected to (18 xG) and seen eight different individuals claim at least one assist – Atletico Madrid is the sole club to match this.

Alguacil generally deploys a lone front man and wingers who operate more as inside forwards, which can create central overloads but offers the flexibility of being able to pump crosses into the box, as such they are averaging 13 shots per game and converting 16.3 per cent – both are significant upgrades on Villarreal, for example.

Mikel Oyarzabal has been their shining light, the club academy product having scored more goals (six) than anyone else in LaLiga this term. On top of that, his combination of chances created and total shots (43) is second to Lionel Messi (50), highlighting just how influential the wide attacker is.

But they aren't solely dependent on attacking prowess. La Real have been seriously shrewd at the back too despite losing Diego Llorente to Leeds United in pre-season, conceding only four goals – that's second to Atletico (two), who have played two games fewer.

Additionally, La Real face only seven shots per game on average, suggesting they aren't just relying on miracles from Alex Remiro in goal either.

Alguacil has presided over their joint-best start in LaLiga history. While the result on Sunday – whatever the outcome – won't decide any titles, it is the first opportunity for La Real to prove they should be taken seriously.

Restoring a reputation

Villarreal's situation is rather different to that of La Real – they are at the start of a new cycle having decided to up the ante when hiring a new coach in pre-season.

Unai Emery arrived and, while his reputation outside of Spain may have taken something of a knock with Arsenal and Paris Saint-Germain, at home he remains highly regarded for his early work with Valencia and then the Europa League three-peat at Sevilla.

It's fair to say Emery has adjusted well and Villarreal have responded in kind to him – his 4-1-4-1 formation, not too dissimilar to that of La Real, provides the right blend of discipline and flexibility, often morphing into a 4-3-3. A trio of technically proficient midfielders support an attack spearheaded by Paco Alcacer, who is flanked – usually – by Samuel Chukwueze and Gerard Moreno.

Attacking full-backs help complete their outlook, which certainly on the face of it has drawn comparisons with his Sevilla team.

But while they were strongest on the counter, Emery's Villarreal looks to control possession more rather than explode with quick transitions – after all, the Yellow Submarine average the fourth-most number of passes per game (553.3) in LaLiga and just over half take place in their own half.

This is a patient team. It's an approach that's arguably necessary when one considers most of their regular midfielders – the likes of Moi Gomez, Manu Trigueros, Dani Parejo and Vicente Iborra – are certainly not blessed with pace but all possess fine technical attributes.

That's not to say they lack intensity, either. In fact, they are one of the two teams to create more high turnovers per game (5.4) than La Real, while they also craft more shots (1.6) from those scenarios than their next opponents.

A 1-1 draw against Real Madrid last time out should put Villarreal in a good mindset for another high-profile encounter – they will hope their considered, possession-based approach is the ideal counter to La Real's more direct style in San Sebastian.

Pep Guardiola is convinced the floodgates are about to open for his Manchester City team and Saturday's opponents Burnley may already be fearing the worst.

On their last three visits to the Etihad Stadium, Burnley have lost 5-0 on each occasion, with a pair of Premier League thrashings coming either side of an FA Cup trouncing.

Speaking this week, Guardiola said he would need to "find a solution" to his City team's scoring problem, which has seen them net a modest 10 goals in their opening eight Premier League fixtures this season.

He mentioned the importance of fixing "little details", adding: "In one or two games, this kind of thing will get better. The season is still so young and I'm fully optimistic we're going to do a good season."

Given he recently signed a contract extension until the end of the 2022-23 season, City will hope Guardiola's hunch proves correct and the good times return for City.

 

Shots fired, but little damage done

Burnley must look back misty-eyed at the 1-1 draw they secured against City at Turf Moor in February 2018, given that is the most change they have got out of a Guardiola team.

Raheem Sterling missed a sitter in that game before Johann Berg Gudmundsson scored a late equaliser for Burnley, who were one of just six teams to take points off City in their 100-point season.

Since then, City have won by three or more goals in five of the six meetings between the sides, having to settle for a 1-0 victory in the game that was the odd one out.

Phil Foden and Riyad Mahrez both scored twice and David Silva was also on the mark in the most recent 5-0 trouncing, in June, and City's overall Premier League record against Burnley during the Guardiola era shows they have taken 22 points from a possible 24, scoring 23 goals and conceding just four.

City have taken 155 shots in those eight games against the Clarets, of which 57 were on target, while Burnley have returned fire with just 47 attempts, with only 13 of those not going astray.

The Eastlands outfit have taken 125 shots so far this term, which is more than early leaders Tottenham (115) have managed, but their quota of opportunities defined by Opta as 'big chances' is low compared to Jose Mourinho's side.

City have had just 15 big chances so far, to 29 for Tottenham and 33 for Liverpool, and exacerbating their problem at that end of the pitch has been their wastefulness.

Their record is chronically bad when it comes to putting away the big chances, with City converting just 26.67 per cent.

Stand that figure against Tottenham's 62.07 per cent, Liverpool's 48.48 per cent, Chelsea's 60 per cent and Leicester City's 63.64 per cent, and it is easy to see why City are some distance behind the top four.

Indeed, since the 2012-13 season, only three teams have finished a campaign with a lower big-chance conversion rate than City's current mark (Norwich City in 2013-14, Aston Villa in 2014-15, Brighton in 2019-20).

 

Banishing the 'big' problem is City's mission

City's dominance of the rivalry with Burnley does not mean it stands to be repeated in Saturday's game, but Guardiola may have justifiable cause to expect an upturn in the goals return.

It was a matter of months ago that City were polishing off a season in which they had 141 big chances in 38 games (3.7 per game, compared to 1.9 this season), and in which they put away a healthier 41.13 per cent of those opportunities.

That league campaign was considered by some a failure given Liverpool won the title by 18 points, but City's haul of 102 goals was 17 higher than the champions achieved, so scoring was not the area where they were falling down.

City have been without Sergio Aguero for much of the campaign so far due to knee trouble, and with the Argentine striker in their ranks many see them posing a greater goal threat.

What Opta data shows is that City's expected goals per game rises to 2.38 when Aguero plays, compared to 2.14 without him, based on Premier League matches since the start of the 2019-20 campaign.

They have 3.6 big chances per game when Aguero plays, and 3.1 when he does not, but the actual goals per game only inflates slightly, from 2.4 goals to 2.5, when the 32-year-old features.

Others must take responsibility for this malaise. City have missed their last seven big chances - spanning their last four Premier League games - and against Tottenham last time out they had 22 shots at goal.

Sooner or later, the dam will break and City goals will come all at a rush - or at least that is what Guardiola hopes, and must believe, will happen.

The trouble is, City cannot afford to be chasing Liverpool again, or Spurs, Chelsea or Leicester for that matter, in the title race.

If the dam holds against Burnley, and City cannot comfortably beat Sean Dyche's side, who have one win, five points, and a mere four goals this season, then there will be real cause for concern.

Another 5-0 or similar, however, could be the turning-point result that Guardiola senses is coming City's way.

Football has produced few more divisive figures than Diego Maradona.

The Argentina great died on Wednesday at the age of 60 following a cardiac arrest and, while opinions on his legacy may differ depending on where you live, his remarkable impression on the game is undoubted.

The abiding image of Maradona for most likely stems from the 1986 World Cup quarter-final between Argentina and England.

For so many in England, he will forever be remembered for arguably the most controversial goal in the history of football, which saw the diminutive Maradona somehow rise above the comparatively towering figure of Peter Shilton and divert a sliced clearance from Steve Hodge into the empty net with his hand.

But that act of what can at best be considered deceit did not take away from the majesty of his ultimately decisive second goal, dubbed the Goal of the Century, with the balletic grace with which he weaved past the helpless England defenders before rounding Shilton and slotting home the defining memory of Maradona for his adoring fans in his home country and scores of fans around the world.

That game perhaps encapsulated the man known as El Pibe de Oro (The Golden Boy). As England striker Gary Lineker, who scored the goal overshadowed by Maradona's brace at Estadio Azteca, said in a tweet paying tribute following news of his death, the Albiceleste legend led a "blessed but troubled life".

Raised in a poor family in Villa Fiorito, a shantytown on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Maradona's blessings were evident from an early age. At just eight years old, his promise was discovered by a scout, Francisco Cornejo, and he was signed to the youth team of Argentinos Juniors.

"He did things that I have never seen anyone else do," Cornejo, who died in 2008, later said of Maradona.

Maradona made his Argentinos debut 10 days before turning 16 and marked it in fitting fashion by nutmegging an opponent within minutes of entering the pitch.

One hundred and sixteen goals in 166 games for Argentinos followed and resulted in Maradona receiving a dream move to Boca Juniors, though his spell at La Bombonera yielded only one league title and was marked by a difficult relationship with coach Silvio Marzolini before he moved to Barcelona in a world-record transfer in 1982.

Barca did not see Maradona at his best at the 1982 World Cup in Spain that preceded his debut for the Blaugrana, yet the impact he had on his cohorts at Camp Nou was stark.

"He had complete mastery of the ball," former team-mate Lobo Carrasco remarked. "When Maradona ran with the ball or dribbled through the defence, he seemed to have the ball tied to his boots."

His time in Catalonia delivered both brilliance and tumult in equal measure. Maradona became the first Barca player to receive a standing ovation from Real Madrid fans at the Santiago Bernabeu in 1983, but sustained a career-threatening ankle injury against Athletic Bilbao and was then involved in a brawl against the same opposition in the 1984 Copa del Rey final that hastened his exit from the club.

It was perhaps no surprise that the pinnacle of his international career coincided with that of his club career at Napoli, for whom Maradona will forever be an icon.

After being named player of the tournament at the '86 World Cup, Maradona inspired Napoli to their first Serie A title and triumph in the Coppa Italia. UEFA Cup glory followed in 1989 prior to a second league title a year later.

Napoli's Stadio San Paolo was the scene of glory for Argentina in a World Cup semi-final win over Italy, in which Maradona scored the ultimately decisive penalty in the shoot-out, though he could not ensure a successful title defence as West Germany prevailed in the final.

Italian football saw the best of Maradona, whom Franco Baresi described as his toughest opponent - "when he was on form, there was almost no way of stopping him," the Milan legend said.

Yet it also saw significant off-field struggles and he left Napoli after serving a 15-month ban for failing a drug test for cocaine, battling his addiction to the drug and alcohol until 2004.

He returned to Argentina by signing for Newell's Old Boys after a turbulent spell with Sevilla, with his international career ended in the wake of a positive test for ephedrine doping during the 1994 World Cup that resulted in him being sent home from the United States.

Retirement came on the back of a second two-year stint at Boca, but Maradona was rarely out of the spotlight even as he fought addiction and struggles with obesity, undergoing gastric bypass surgery in 2005.

His post-playing career also saw a string of brief coaching tenures, which included him leading Argentina to the quarter-finals of the 2010 World Cup, where they were thumped 4-0 by Germany. Maradona made sure his departure was fittingly acrimonious, levelling accusations of betrayal at the national team's hierarchy.

Maradona had seemingly found some stability in his coaching career at Gimnasia y Esgrima de la Plata when he was admitted to hospital this month having recently renewed his contract through the 2020-21 season.

"We live an unforgettable story," Gimnasia posted in a tribute on Twitter.

Blessed but troubled, tempestuous yet utterly bewitching to watch. Gimnasia's words struck the right chord.

His story was undeniably unforgettable and it is telling that, despite Lionel Messi's otherworldly exploits, it is Maradona who stands as the symbol of Argentinian football for so many.

As Messi wrote of Maradona on Instagram: "He leaves us but does not leave, because Diego is eternal."

Whether it's the Hand of God or the Goal of the Century, his presentation to hordes of Napoli fans or that goal celebration at the 94 World Cup. Maradona was the artist behind so many of the game's indelible images. Football is mourning the premature passing of an all-time great, but his legacy and impact will endure for decades to come.

Where will James Harden be playing in 2020-21?

The Houston Rockets superstar reportedly wants to be traded to Brooklyn Nets, where he would reunite with Kevin Durant and team up with Kyrie Irving.

Harden is also considering Eastern Conference contenders the Philadelphia 76ers, while there have been rumblings about the Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors.

As the Nets and 76ers reportedly vie for the 2018 MVP, we look at where Harden would be best suited and what he would bring, using Stats Perform data.

 

Brooklyn Nets

A super team featuring Harden, Durant and Irving at the disposal of first-year coach Steve Nash?

Harden has called Houston home since 2012 and signed a contract extension through to the 2022-23 season in 2017, but the sharpshooter reportedly turned down a new deal and wants to leave the Rockets in pursuit of a maiden championship.

The eight-time All-Star was team-mates with Durant at the Oklahoma City Thunder between 2009 and 2012.

Harden would bring a high volume of three-point and free-throw attempts to Brooklyn, not to mention a dominant scorer, which the Nets have rarely had.

He attempted the most three-pointers in 2019-20 with 843, and he also topped the free-throw attempts category at 800. Taurean Prince topped Brooklyn's 3PA list with 431, while Spencer Dinwiddie stepped to the line on 446 occasions.

In terms of individual seasons averaging 30.0-plus points, Harden boasts three seasons, while Durant has two. The Nets? 0. John Williamson's high of 29.5 points per game in 1977-78 (in just 33 games) is the closest.

In each of the past three seasons, Harden has earned the NBA scoring title. Durant – yet to play for Brooklyn following an Achilles injury – has claimed four honours, compared to the Nets' all-time haul of 0 after Keith Van Horn finished fifth in 1998-99. Harden and Durant have won seven of the past 11 scoring crowns.

Harden would also bring a resume with a lot of wins and postseason experience, as did Irving and Durant as former NBA champions with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Warriors respectively – the Nets have lost in the first round in back-to-back seasons, while not since 2003 have they featured in the Finals.

Harden boasts a team win percentage of 64.9 in regular-season games in which he has played, while he has amassed 128 playoff appearances.

The issue of Harden signing for the Nets would be centred on possession and distribution, given he, Durant and Irving are ball carriers.

Looking at the highest usage percentage – an estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while he was on the floor – since 2014-15 to get an idea of how the Nets could make it work with the trio, and Harden (second, 35.3 per cent), Durant (eighth, 29.6 per cent) and Irving (ninth, 29.4 per cent) rank in the top 10. The NBA average is 20.0 per cent.

 

Philadelphia 76ers

The 76ers-Harden link is obvious – Daryl Morey.

Morey spent 13 years as general manager in Houston, where he prised Harden from the Thunder, before joining head coach Doc Rivers and the 76ers as president of basketball operations in Philadelphia ahead of the 2020-21 season.

Despite a humiliating first-round series sweep at the hands of Eastern Conference rivals the Celtics, the 76ers remain committed to building around All-Star duo Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons – evident by the arrivals of Seth Curry, Danny Green and Dwight Howard.

Just like the Nets, it remains to be seen how the 76ers will facilitate a trade, but the championship hopefuls – without a title since 1983 – are believed to be still pursuing a deal.

It appears as though Morey and the 76ers are focused more on three-pointers, an area Philadelphia have struggled in since JJ Redick's exit in 2019. Last season, the 76ers ranked 22nd in the NBA with 31.6 three-point attempts per game, but they have acquired Curry and Green, and if they lure Harden to the city of Brotherly Love, that would give them yet another good long-range shooter.

Morey's teams were also known for getting to the free-throw line frequently, and that could be the case again if Harden swaps Houston for Philly. Harden (first, 7.6) and Embiid (fifth, 6.8) both rank in the top five for most career free throws made per game since the 1976-77 merger.

The last time an NBA team had two players average 6.0-plus free throws made per game apiece in the same season (minimum 70 per cent of team games played) was in 2010-11, when two duos did so – LeBron James and Dwyane Wade for the Miami Heat and Durant and Russell Westbrook for the Thunder.

Where this team could be different than in past Harden-led sides would be rebounding. In 2019-20, Brett Brown's 76ers were great at rebounding – ranked second in the NBA for average rebound margin with plus-3.6. Houston, on the other hand, were 26th in the league with minus-3.6, having turned to small ball.

Embiid would be arguably the best big man Harden has played with. In his NBA career, Harden has never played with a team-mate who averaged 20.0-plus points and 10.0-plus rebounds per game in a season.

It's Football Manager 2021 release day, which means partners of fans of the addictive simulation sensation may not see much of their significant others for the foreseeable future.

A game with roots dating back to the early 90s, Football Manager has become a phenomenon with players enamoured by the challenge of signing wonderkids from South America or leading a team from non-league to Champions League glory.

Yes, Football Manager has developed a cult following and a legion of devoted followers to a franchise that simply seems to grow year on year.

Indeed, many footballers have become famous in their own right not necessarily for their performances on the pitch but for their rise to prominence from boy wonder to global superstar in the world of Football Manager.

So, to help celebrate the full release of the latest instalment, we have taken a look at how some of the most iconic and infamous players of Football Manager fared in the real world…

 

CHERNO SAMBA

Had Cherno Samba managed to replicate the simulated predictions in real life, perhaps we would have been speaking about him in the same breath as Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo (hey, we said perhaps!). A prodigious 16-year-old on the books at Millwall on the Championship Manager 2001-02 game, Samba was the man to spearhead a plethora of gamers to global domination. Things didn't quite pan out the same in real life as the former England youth international took in spells in Spain, Greece, Finland and Norway before retiring in 2015. Samba scored on his English Football League debut for Plymouth Argyle against Coventry City in August 2006 but failed to net in any of his following 15 league appearances in England.

FREDDY ADU

Freddy Adu's is a genuine "what if?" story. The teenager was the man to sign on Championship Manager 4 and was tipped for superstardom after making his professional debut as a 14-year-old with DC United in April 2004, scoring his first professional goal later that month. Adu had a trial with Manchester United but unfortunately never lived up to such high billing, with spells at Benfica and Monaco among a host of clubs he turned out for. In October, Adu announced he had signed for third-tier Swedish side Osterlen - his 15th professional club - after a two-year break from the game.

KENNEDY BAKIRCIOGLU

A player whose talent forced a positional rethink for David Beckham at Manchester United and was enough to displace Ronaldinho from his favoured No.10 position…on his own Championship Manager saves! On the face of it, Kennedy Bakircioglu's stats were solid if unspectacular (18 for technique, though…) but the attacking midfielder – part of a generation of Swedish talent with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Kim Kallstrom – was unplayable at times in the simulated world. In reality, Bakircioglu failed to impress on trial with the Red Devils and he had a somewhat nomadic career with spells at the likes of Twente, Ajax and Racing Santander on his resume before retiring back in Sweden with Hammarby a couple of years back.

TONTON ZOLA MOUKOKO 

A man whose name even to this day is revered by fans of the game. A special attacking midfield talent available for a pittance from Derby County, Moukoko was regularly sought out by players. In real life, Milan were apparently interested in the teenager but sadly personal tragedy struck. Moukoko moved to Sweden with his brother as a child but the death of his sibling left him out of love with football at 18. Moukoko would return to Sweden and also had a spell in Finland.

KERLON

True disciples of the Football Manager series will know full well that South America is a hotbed of wonderkid talent. Cruzeiro's Kerlon was one such player on the 2005 game and life looked like imitating art when Serie A giants Inter brought the master of the famed 'seal dribble' to Italy. However, Kerlon's trademark trick – where he would flick the ball into the air and run with it bouncing on his head – never got an airing in the famous Nerazzurri jersey. He failed to make an appearance for Inter, and a host of loans – including one to Ajax where game time similarly didn't arrive – were unable to spark his career. Kerlon went on to play in Japan, the United States, Malta and Slovakia in a journeyman career before retiring in 2017.

IBRAHIMA BAKAYOKO

One for the real old guard here, Ibrahima Bakayoko's all-round attributes and clinical finishing meant he was a Championship Manager cert in 97-98 – although a tendency for injuries and a high fee (£5million, no less!!) were potential stumbling blocks. However, away from the simulated world, Bakayoko earned the very harsh nickname "Baka-joke-o" during a spell at Everton that returned just four goals in 23 games having signed from Montpellier. He was the first Ivorian to score a Premier League goal, doing so against Southampton in 1998, but the following season he was back in France playing for Marseille and he would represent 13 clubs in total.

ANTHONY VANDEN BORRE

If you played Football Manager in the middle-to-late noughties, then at some point or another you will have signed Anthony Vanden Borre, a wonderkid across several instalments who could be signed for a nominal fee from Anderlecht. Nowadays, of course, Vanden Borre is arguably best known for Chris Kamara's famous "has he?" gaffe on Sky Sports when informed by Jeff Stelling that the defender had been sent off while playing for Portsmouth in a game 'Kammy' was supposed to be watching. A decent career that has included 28 Belgium caps continued when his former team-mate Vincent Kompany took him back to Anderlecht for a third spell after three years without a team, though largely to work with the club's younger players.

CARLOS VELA

Still a wonderkid on Football Manager in 2009, two years on from being acclaimed as one of the most exciting teenagers in the world by World Soccer. The Mexico talent showed flashes of brilliance when he made the breakthrough at Arsenal, but consistency was lacking. After several loan spells away from the club, Vela finally found a permanent home at the last of those in Real Sociedad, where he spent a further six seasons. In 2018, Vela moved to MLS with Los Angeles FC. He has been involved in 77 goals in just 69 MLS appearances (54 goals, 23 assists).

YAYA SANOGO

Another player who Gunners fans will attest to the fact that his virtual prowess was not matched at the Emirates. His supposedly deadly finishing made him a must-buy on Football Manager 2011 but a move to Arsenal from Auxerre in 2013 brought little joy. In English football, he netted just two goals in 31 appearances in all competitions for Arsenal and Crystal Palace combined, only to score a hat-trick on his first ever start for Charlton Athletic (his third overall). However, these were the only goals he got for the Addicks. He is without a club after being released by Toulouse in July.

IGOR AKINFEEV

A debut at 16 and a treble with CSKA Moscow before the age of 20, it doesn't take a genius to work out why the statisticians at Football Manager had such high hopes for Akinfeev – one of the all-time simulation greats. A couple of serious injuries and a high-profile error for Russia against South Korea in the 2014 World Cup meant that Akinfeev never quite delivered on the early promise. Indeed, after keeping six clean sheets in his first 10 Champions League appearances, Akinfeev then conceded at least once in each of his following 43 games in the competition. Still, he is a legend at CSKA and has over 100 caps for Russia.

In an alternate universe unaffected by coronavirus, Atletico Madrid's hosting of Barcelona on Saturday would have been all about Luis Suarez – his first match against his former club and Lionel Messi, hoping to create further distance between the two sides in the table.

But with the Uruguayan's positive test for COVID-19 ruling him out of an early reunion, all eyes were to be on Joao Felix, the undisputed star of this Atletico team that once again appears capable of a title challenge.

Seemingly now accustomed to the pressure that accompanied his big-money move from Benfica, and excelling in a slightly altered role to that he often occupied last term, Joao Felix had been identified as the key man for Atletico heading into the fixture.

If Atletico were to walk away with a potentially vital win, Joao Felix would surely be at the fore.

But while the Portugal star was his usual tidy self in the slender 1-0 victory, it was someone a little less flashy, perhaps even usually unheralded, who gave Atletico their direction and purpose on an eerie evening at the Wanda Metropolitano.

Koke's role was arguably going to be more important than ever – Atletico were unable to call upon either Lucas Torreira or Hector Herrera, meaning that whatever central pairing the captain was going to be a part of was going to be lacking a little steel.

But the Spain international, whose recent form earned him a recall after a lengthy Roja absence, found the space he needed to orchestrate, while he did some of the dirty work as well.

In the first half, Atletico played the much more entertaining football, working it nicely between themselves in triangles around the Barca midfield – Koke was central to many of their finest moves, his link-up play with Joao Felix and Angel Correa in the final third routinely easy on the eye.

Koke appears to have rediscovered his best form again this term and his influence on Atleti was clear throughout here.

His 72 attempted passes were 14 more than anyone else in an Atletico jersey, while he completed 93 per cent of them.

Furthermore, his accuracy actually increased slightly when in the opposing half, where 45 of them were plotted.

There was substance to his distribution as well.

He laid on two key passes, bettered by only Correa (three) in the Atletico side, yet the creative burden would usually be expected to be on the likes of Joao Felix, Marcos Llorente, Yannick Carrasco and Saul Niguez ahead of him.

Koke's 88 touches were unrivalled by anyone else in Rojiblanco, evidence that so much went through him, while off the ball he contributed with a team-high two interceptions, one tackle, one clearance and six recoveries – Carrasco (seven), the scorer of the decisive goal, was the only Atletico player to gain possession more often.

In recent seasons, although he remained prominent in a general sense for Atletico, the wider football community's perception of Koke had suffered – he was even subjected to jeers from home fans a little over a year ago.

At that point, his career appeared to have stalled badly at Atletico. His performances were becoming increasingly ineffective and it was beginning to rub off on supporters.

Simeone remained a believer, putting such actions down to the reactionary nature of football fandom – after all, only six midfielders have had more touches and attempted passes than Koke in LaLiga this term.

This resurgence is coinciding with Atletico undergoing their biggest shift in many years, both in terms of their less pragmatic style of play and, now, key results as well.

Prior to Saturday, Atletico had failed to win their previous 20 LaLiga games against Barca, while Simeone had not ever beaten them in the league – that equates to 17 matches.

But with captain Koke plotting their route through such uncharted waters, leading with rediscovered vigour and panache, it seems unlikely that even a landmark win over Barca will be the high point of 2020-21 for a re-energised Atletico.

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.