It was something only Kobe Bryant could have done.

At the end of an illustrious 20-year career that included five NBA championship wins, 18 All-Star selections and All-NBA First Team honours on 11 occasions, Bryant said farewell to the Los Angeles Lakers with a Hollywood ending.

He produced one of the most memorable final appearances the league has seen against the Utah Jazz on April 13, 2016.

On the anniversary of his death alongside 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others in a helicopter crash, we look back at one of the finest moments of his career.

POINTING THE WAY

After Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea's bizarre rendition of the United States' national anthem, the 18,997 fans inside Staples Center were treated to something far more familiar.

Bryant racked up 60 points against the Jazz, which was the most scored by a player in a single game in the NBA that season. However, it was the first time he had gone past 50 since 2009, when he poured in 61 against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

Bryant was 6-of-21 from three-point range and had plenty of joy in the paint, where he accumulated 22 points. He scored a total of 16 unassisted points, with his final seven baskets coming via his own work.

SHOOT YOUR SHOT

If you don't shoot you don't score, and Bryant did his utmost to get points on the board. His 50 field goal attempts eclipsed the record of 49 set by the great Michael Jordan against the Orlando Magic in 1993. The 2008 MVP took 15 more shots than the rest of his team-mates combined.

Bryant nailed 18 of 40 shots with a defender within 3.5 feet against the Jazz and despite his record-breaking number of attempts he still took care of the ball, committing just two turnovers.

SLOW START, STRONG FINISH

It was not immediately clear the game was going to go so well for Bryant. He missed his first five shots and did not have a make until after the first six minutes of the game.

However, he eventually found his rhythm and was flying by the time the fourth quarter came around, scoring 13 unanswered points after the Jazz moved 96-86 ahead with two minutes and 35 seconds remaining.

His final act was a length-of-the-floor pass to Jordan Clarkson – his fourth assist of the game – for a dunk to seal an iconic 101-96 victory that underlined his legacy as an all-time great.

Jose Mourinho feels Chelsea's decision to sack Frank Lampard highlights the "brutality" of football.

The Blues ended Lampard's reign after just 18 months on Monday, with former Paris Saint-Germain boss Thomas Tuchel poised to replace him.

Mourinho has had two spells as Chelsea manager, both of which ended mid-season, and is well aware of the pressures at Stamford Bridge.

The Tottenham boss regrets any managerial sackings but felt particularly sad for his former player Lampard.

"I don't think Frank wants to speak to me or with anyone apart from his close circle of family and friends," Mourinho, who turned 58 on Tuesday, told reporters.

"But I am always sad when a colleague loses his job.

"And Frank is not just a colleague - he is an important person in my career - so I feel sorry he did [get sacked].

"But it is the brutality of football, especially modern football so when you become a manager you know that sooner or later it is going to happen to you."

Mourinho was speaking after a late surge gave Tottenham a 4-1 away win over Wycombe Wanderers in the FA Cup.

Spurs are fifth in the Premier League, four points and four places ahead of rivals Chelsea, who have only won eight of their first 19 top-flight games this season.

In a statement after his sacking, Lampard said he was disappointed at being prevented from taking Chelsea to the next level.

But the former Derby County boss expressed pride at the emergence of several academy players during his tenure.

LeBron James had a homecoming to remember and his inspirations in a 46-point showing against the Cleveland Cavaliers were Tom Brady, his mom's cooking and an over-excited executive.

Superstar James guided the Western Conference-leading Los Angeles Lakers to a 115-108 win on the road on what was his first return to Cleveland in two years.

James really turned it on in the fourth quarter, making nine of 10 shots including an outstanding 34-foot three-point effort that put the Lakers five points in front.

His last-quarter heroics followed James taking exception to an unidentified member of the Cavs' front office reacting a little too heartily to a missed shot towards the end of the third.

"It's someone I know for sure, I felt like he was just a little too excited about seeing me miss. That's what happened," James said. 

"I know who he is, he's part of the front office group. He was really excited about me missing that shot, a little bit more extra than I would have liked. He's gotta root for his team obviously, he showcased that. I knew I had another quarter and the fourth quarter is my favourite.

"The good thing for him is I only come here once. It's all good. He didn't say a word, he was just a little too excited about me missing a shot. There's a million cameras in these arenas, y'all just gotta find a shot of how excited he was. I didn't take it well."

But James, who was 73.1 per cent from the field and 63.6 per cent from the three-point range, also drew inspiration from seeing veteran quarterback Tom Brady lead the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the Super Bowl, while enjoying some home comforts courtesy of his mother.

"Home cooking, the opportunity to see my mom and get a home-cooked meal," he replied when asked what inspired him against the Cavs.

"I saw my uncle too, it just felt good to be back in my haven, my rest haven, just being home.

"Also, you can be inspired watching the greatest play, watching Brady, that team, that inspired me too. It felt good from beginning."

Anthony Davis chalked up 17 points and 10 rebounds but was happy to just enjoy the LeBron show.

"When he's playing like that it's fun to watch, amazing to see the shots he makes and shots he takes. He's a hell of a player," Davis said.

"It was one of those nights for him, getting to the basket, hitting the three. He wasn't missing. From the first quarter I knew it was going to be a good night for him."

Head coach Frank Vogel described James' performance as "one of those nights for the ages for him" and added: "It was pretty awesome, just to see he can still turn it up like that.

"Obviously he wanted to win against his former team here, he came out the gates really strong."

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang being absent for a prolonged period would be a problem for Arsenal but Mikel Arteta is expecting big things from Gabriel Martinelli.

Arsenal were without Aubameyang for their 1-0 FA Cup defeat to Southampton on Saturday after the Gabon international left the squad to attend to a personal matter.

Arteta was unsure how long the striker would be unavailable for, making him a doubt for the second straight game at St Mary's Stadium – this time a Premier League meeting on Tuesday.

Aubameyang has struggled for form this season, scoring eight goals – three of which have come in his past three appearances – and supplying one assist in 20 outings in all competitions

"Of course, it would be a problem [if he was out long term] because he's our top striker and the one who has scored the most goals," Arteta told a news conference.

"He's our captain and an important player in the team. We have to respect the time. Let's see. I don't have enough information right now to see how things are evolving and hopefully things will go in the right direction."

Martinelli made his first start in three and a half weeks against Saints after overcoming an ankle injury and was replaced just before the hour mark.

Arteta confirmed Martinelli had not suffered a setback and he expected the 19-year-old to really start producing for the team.

"He was fine, it was a tactical decision. He's missed a few training sessions from the last injury, but I expect big things from Gabi," said Arteta.

"He's been really helpful since he joined again after such a long period, so I'm really positive about him."

Arteta was impressed by Southampton's pressing in their FA Cup meeting and expects a similar challenge in their next meeting.

Ralph Hasenhuttl's team have the third-lowest opposition passes allowed per defensive action (PPDA) value in the Premier League this season at 10.9, indicating that only Liverpool (10.1) and Leeds United (8.9) press higher than them.

Furthermore, the average distance from their own goal that Saints' open play sequences start is 42.9 metres, with only Liverpool (44.4m) and Manchester City (45.4m) commencing sequences further up the pitch.

Arsenal, meanwhile, rank joint-11th in PPDA (13.8) and joint-sixth in average start distance (41.8m).

"We know they are one of the most effective teams in that [pressing] like we are," said Arteta.

"It was an intense game and we were expecting that for sure, and we are expecting that on Tuesday because they don't really change.

"They are a really great team, really good manager, they know exactly what they're doing and they've been doing it for years now, and they are good at it so we expect a similar game on Tuesday."

James Harden has completed a blockbuster trade from the Houston Rockets to the Brooklyn Nets, it has been confirmed.

Widespread reports on Wednesday revealed Harden's eight-and-a-half-year stay in Houston was set to end, with the Nets agreeing a monster deal.

The Philadelphia 76ers had also been mooted as potential suitors, but Brooklyn's offer saw the Rockets receive Caris LeVert, Rodions Kurucs, three first-round draft picks (2022, 2024 and 2026) and four first-round pick swaps (2021, 2023, 2025 and 2027).

In a three-way move, Jarrett Allen and Taurean Prince were sent to the Cleveland, who put in Dante Exum and a further first-round draft pick (2022 via Milwaukee) for Houston as well as a second-round draft pick (2024) for the Nets.

The Rockets are expected to swiftly move LeVert and a second-round pick on to the Indiana Pacers for Victor Oladipo, although that switch was not initially confirmed alongside the Harden deal on Thursday.

Harden had been keen on a move prior to the start of the 2020-21 season and has now got his wish, linking up with Kevin Durant - his former Oklahoma City Thunder team-mate - and Kyrie Irving.

Brooklyn general manager Sean Marks said: "Adding an All-NBA player such as James to our roster better positions our team to compete against the league's best.

"James is one of the most prolific scorers and playmakers in our game, and we are thrilled to bring his special talents to Brooklyn.

"While we are excited to welcome James and his family to the Nets, we also want to thank the players who are departing.

"Caris, Jarrett, Rodions and Taurean were instrumental to the team's success and have made an enormous impact on our organisation.

"It has been a pleasure watching them grow both as players and as people and they will always be part of our Nets family. We wish each of them and their families all the best in the future."

Although trade talks were said to be ongoing for some time, speculation ramped up in the hours after Houston's defeat to the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday.

An out-of-sorts Harden put up just 16 points in 31 minutes in the 117-100 defeat and later stormed out of a post-game news conference after saying: "I literally have done everything that I can."

Those comments prompted a backlash from team-mates John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins, who both signed in the offseason as Houston once again rebuilt.

The Rockets failed to win a championship during Harden's time despite reaching the Western Conference Finals in both 2014-15 and 2017-18, with their star guard the league's MVP in the latter season.

Harden averaged 29.6 points per game in the regular season during his time with Houston, although that dropped slightly to 28.4 in the playoffs.

His return of 24.8 points through eight games this year was his worst average over a season for the Rockets.

The James Harden saga is set to end.

Harden will reportedly swap the Houston Rockets for the Brooklyn Nets in a mega trade, reuniting with Kevin Durant and teaming up with Kyrie Irving.

The Philadelphia 76ers were reportedly frontrunners to prise the former NBA MVP to the 'City of Brotherly Love', but Daryl Morey refused to part with franchise pillar Ben Simmons and others.

Instead, the Nets reportedly sent Caris LeVert – later traded to the Indiana Pacers as Victor Oladipo was dealt to the Rockets – and four first-round draft picks, plus four pick swaps, to Houston, in a deal also involving the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Nets also gave up Taurean Prince and talented center Jarrett Allen, who were sent to the Cavaliers, and Rockets-bound forward Rodions Kurucs.

It puts an end to a messy divorce between Harden and Rockets, after the disgruntled eight-time All-Star made no secret of his desire to depart as his frustrations boiled over post-game on Tuesday – sparking criticism from team-mates John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins.

Attention now turns to Brooklyn's new super team and how Harden fits alongside Durant and Irving – if and when he returns from his personal absence – in first-year head coach Steve Nash's quest to deliver a championship to the Nets.

Harden, who is eyeing a maiden NBA title, had called Houston home since 2012, guiding the Rockets to two Western Conference Finals and three semi-final appearances after his acquisition from the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The 31-year-old sharpshooter – team-mates with Durant at the Thunder between 2009 and 2012 – brings a high volume of three-point and free-throw attempts to Brooklyn, not to mention a dominant scorer, which the Nets have rarely had.

Harden attempted the most three-pointers in 2019-20 with 843, and he also topped the free-throw attempts category at 800. 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 heading into the 2020-21 campaign, Harden had earned the NBA scoring title. Durant 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 brings a resume with a lot of wins and postseason experience, as did Irving and Durant as former NBA champions with the Cavaliers and Golden State 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 is 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.

In 2019-20, points scored by Harden and points scored off his assists averaged 52.4 per game. It followed 53.9 in 2018-19, 51.3 in 2017-18 and 56 the season previous.

That marked four successive seasons with 50-plus points per game created, tying Oscar Robertson (1963-64 to 1966-67) for the longest streak in NBA history.

Harden averaged 34.3 points, 7.5 assists and 6.6 rebounds per regular-season game for the Rockets, who lost in the Western Conference semi-finals at Walt Disney World Resort, in 2019-20.

Barcelona head coach Ronald Koeman is unsure if Lionel Messi will be available for Sunday's Supercopa de Espana final.

Messi missed Wednesday's penalty shoot-out victory over Real Sociedad due to some "discomfort".

Marc-Andre ter Stegen made two saves in the shoot-out as Barca overcame Sociedad 3-2 on penalties after a 1-1 draw, sending them into the final against either Real Madrid or Athletic Bilbao.

Koeman said he was still unsure if Messi would be available for the decider.

"First, I am very proud of this team, because if you count all the missing players we have in this moment, I think it is important to have people behind who can help. I think today we fulfilled in every way," Koeman told a news conference.

"I know Real [Sociedad] had their chances like us. We just managed to win after the penalties.

"Regarding Leo, we must wait the next days to know whether he is able to play."

Frenkie de Jong had put Barca ahead against Sociedad before Mikel Oyarzabal levelled from the spot in the second half.

Ter Stegen made six saves prior to the shoot-out, equalling his best tally in a single game for Barcelona this season.

"Of course to win on the penalties you must have a great goalkeeper, because Marc has stopped the first three penalties of Real and it is an important step regarding our possibilities to win," Koeman said.

"Also, I think Riqui [Puig] has the personality to take the responsibility to shoot the fifth [penalty]. It was important to score and reach the final."

Dayana Yastremska says she is "astonished" after the world number 29 was provisionally suspended for failing an out-of-competition doping test.

The International Tennis Federation (ITF) on Thursday revealed Yastremska was charged on December 22, having tested positive for mesterolone metabolite in a sample taken on November 24.

Ukrainian Yastremska, who reached a career-high 21st in the rankings 12 months ago, says she is not guilty of any wrongdoing and will do all in her powers to clear her name.

The 20-year-old posted on Twitter: "I firmly state that I have never used any performance-enhancing drugs or any prohibited substances.

"I am astonished and under shock, particularly given that two weeks prior to this test - on 9 November 2020 - I tested negative at the WTA event in Linz. After this last tournament of the year, I stopped practising to rest prior to the start of the new season.

"Only a very low concentration of mesterolone metabolite was detected in my urine. Given that low concentration and given my negative test two weeks earlier, I have received scientific advice that the result is consistent with some form of contamination event.

"Besides, I have been informed that this substance is meant for use as medication by men and that women are advised not to use it due to the adverse effects it causes."

Yastremska said she was "resolutely determined to do everything to clear my name".

Rising star Yastremska has three WTA singles titles to her name.

Russell Westbrook, Doc Rivers and Billie Jean King reacted with revulsion to the assault on the US Capitol by supporters of outgoing president Donald Trump, united in the view there would have been a deadlier outcome had the rioters been black people.

On a dark day for the United States, thousands of Trump backers descended on Washington for a protest rally, refusing to accept the result of November's election that saw Joe Biden sweep to power.

Two weeks out from Biden's inauguration, many violent protesters breached security and accessed the Capitol, causing carnage and destruction as they appeared to go largely unchallenged.

There were a number of casualties, with four dead including a woman who was shot, while reports said a number of explosive devices were discovered.

Washington Wizards star Westbrook said: "It's very unfortunate to see. If those roles were reversed, if those were African-Americans, black people, it would be totally different."

He said the chaos was "just crazy, almost like a movie", and team-mate Bradley Beal agreed it was hard to stomach the scenes, given his view that police took a far less lenient approach to protesters during last year's Black Lives Matter demonstrations.

"It's very disheartening in a lot of ways - a lack of sense of urgency to respond to what was going on, versus protesters at Black Lives Matter over the summer," Beal said.

"The people who were invading our Capitol, that's unheard of and it's disheartening this is where we're at as a country."

Veteran Philadelphia 76ers coach Rivers called the insurgency "pretty disturbing" but vowed that "democracy will prevail".

"It shows a lot, though," Rivers said. "When you saw the [Black Lives Matter] protests in the summer, you saw the riots or more the police and the national guard and the army. And then you see this and you saw nothing.

"It basically proves the point about a privileged life in a lot of ways. I'll say it because I don’t think a lot of people want to: could you imagine today if those were all black people storming the Capitol and what would have happened?

"So that to me is a picture that’s worth a thousand words for all of us to see and probably something for us to reckon with again."

Tennis great King, a long-time activist for equality in sport and society, added on Twitter: "If the rioters storming the Capitol building today were Black and Brown people, the police response would be much different."

Footballer Megan Rapinoe became embroiled in a war of words with Trump during USA's triumph at the 2019 Women's World Cup.

Looking at footage of how seemingly easily the protesters were able to break into the Capitol, Rapinoe offered her opinion, writing: "This is crazy, how did they even get through the..... ohhhhh it was opened for them."

Trump had addressed the crowds earlier in the day, forcefully standing by his view that he was fraudulently robbed of an election win.

In the hours after the Capitol was cleared, Congress confirmed Biden's victory.

Richard Sherman, the San Francisco 49ers cornerback, described the rioters as "terrorists".

He wrote on Twitter: "Never thought Americans would let terrorists into the capital without a fight....sad day. There are certain things my brain could never imagine.... and one of them is black ppl storming a government building and taking things without deadly consequences. But that’s just my brain."

It was not just Sherman's brain thinking along those lines, though. Far from it.

Los Angeles Clippers star Kawhi Leonard took the same stance, saying: "You just see the privilege, the privilege in America. "It's sad to see, because if any of us was out there, I think we would've been tear-gassed, Maced, probably gunshots, you know?"

And American track and field legend Michael Johnson said the scenes were only to be expected, given the nature of the Trump presidency.

"The alarms were sounded for four years. Republicans ignored them. Many in the media ignored them and normalized dangerous behavior," Johnson wrote on Twitter.

"Sadly, today it all came to be. Shameful! This president and his supporters. Shame on you! And take responsibility!

"People on Twitter (of course) literally equating BLM protesters fighting for justice and equality to White Supremacist Trump supporters (supposed Patriots) gleefully and violently desecrating America's oldest and greatest institutions of democracy. Sadly, this is typical America."

Atletico Madrid boss Diego Simeone welcomed Kieran Trippier back to training after his 10-week suspension for betting offences was put on hold by FIFA.

The 30-year-old defender was issued with the ban and a fine of £70,000 on December 23 after the Football Association (FA) found him guilty of four of seven alleged breaches of rule E8(1)(b).

Atletico appealed against the punishment to FIFA, and world football's governing body has cleared Trippier to play while its appeal committee considers the matter.

In the written reasons explaining its independent regulatory commission's decision, which the FA published on Tuesday, it was revealed Trippier told a friend, "Lump on if you want mate" in one of a series messages on a WhatsApp group discussing the progress of his €22million transfer to Atleti in July 2019.

Trippier's claim that the messages were "banter" did not pass muster with the commission and it was discovered one of his friends, Oliver Hawley, placed 10 separate bets between £20 and £65 on the right-back joining Atletico.

Matthew Brady, who asked Trippier, "Shall I lump on you going there?" and two other friends placed further bets ranging from £20 and £300.

"It [the ban] is on hold. We have Trippier back with us," Simeone said.

"I gave him a hug and they will tell me more in the coming days."

However, the former Tottenham player might have to wait for his return to action and will not feature in Wednesday's Copa del Rey tie at Cornella.

"He is training away from the group. Tomorrow, he will not take part in the game," Simeone confirmed.

As part of its investigation, the FA took into account witness statements on Trippier's behalf from England manager Gareth Southgate and Three Lions captain Harry Kane.

So far this season, he has played 19 matches in all competitions for Atletico.

 

 

Jurgen Klopp was, predictably, none too pleased after Liverpool lost 1-0 at Southampton on Monday.

Not only did the Premier League champions see a 12-game unbeaten run end, but they also gifted Manchester United the chance to go top of the table if the Red Devils win their game in hand.

Liverpool only managed one shot on target against Ralph Hasenhuttl's Saints after conceding a Danny Ings goal in the second minute, when a free-kick eluded Trent Alexander-Arnold and gave the former Reds striker the chance to score a fine lob.

Klopp admitted they should have done better with that set-piece, but he was further irritated in the second half when two penalty appeals were turned down, first for a tangle between Sadio Mane and Kyle Walker-Peters and then for a Georginio Wijnaldum shot that struck the arm of Jack Stephens.

"[The handball] looked like a clear penalty," Klopp said. "I turned to the fourth official, he said: 'We checked already, no penalty.'

"What [referee] Andre Marriner did with Sadio Mane tonight, I'm not sure that's okay, to be honest.

"I hear now that Manchester United had more penalties in two years than I had in five and a half years. I've no idea if that's my fault, or how that can happen."

It's quite the claim – but is it true?

PEN STATE

Under Klopp, Liverpool have been awarded 46 penalties in all competitions, including 30 in the Premier League (they've scored 39 of them, for good measure). In that same time frame, and under three different managers, United have won 67 and scored 54 penalties in all competitions.

What about the past two years? Well, 42 of those United penalties have come since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer became manager in December 2018, with 27 in the league. Liverpool have had just 19 spot-kicks in that time. Klopp, then, has a point.

If you combine the past two Premier League seasons, no team has had as many penalties as the Red Devils, who have won 20 and scored 15 of them. Next on the list is Leicester City (17 won, 13 scored) and then Manchester City (14 won, eight scored). Liverpool have won 10 in that time and scored every one.

Having half the number of their bitter rivals will doubtless be a source of frustration, but they should consider the feelings of Everton fans. The Toffees have had just three penalties in the past two seasons, the lowest of any side to be in the division across both campaigns.

SPOT THE DIFFERENCE

In 2019-20 in the Premier League, United won more penalties than anyone else (14 – three above nearest rivals Man City). That number was a record for a single season in the Premier League era. Liverpool won five.

The balance actually seems to be shifting a little in 2020-21, though. United are joint-second for Premier League penalties (six, level with Brighton and Hove Albion), but four behind Leicester, who won 10 spot-kicks in their first 16 games, a competition record.

Liverpool, for their part, are only one behind United on five. Had the Southampton game taken place in the first few weeks of the season, they may well have caught up with them through the Stephens incident: the earlier implementation of the handball rule led to seven such penalties being awarded in the first five matchdays of 2020-21.

Only five have been given since, and none since December 13 – when Fulham's Aboubakar Kamara was penalised against Liverpool.

Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James became the first ever NBA player with 1,000 consecutive double-digit scoring games on Wednesday.

James celebrated his 36th birthday by extending his record streak in the NBA as defending champions the Lakers clashed with the San Antonio Spurs midweek.

The four-time champion, NBA Finals MVP and league MVP reached the milestone thanks to a hook shot with just over six minutes remaining in the second quarter.

James surpassed Michael Jordan's mark – which only accounts for regular-season games – of 866 in March 2018.

The last time James failed to score at least 10 points in a game was on January 5, 2007 after posting eight points, nine assists and five rebounds in the Cleveland Cavaliers' win over the Milwaukee Bucks.

James has just eight single-digit scoring games in his illustrious career – six of them coming during his rookie season in 2003-04.

 

Real Madrid head coach Zinedine Zidane said Eden Hazard needs time to return to his best and start games after making his return off the bench in Wednesday's draw with Elche.

Hazard was a substitute as LaLiga champions Madrid were held to a 1-1 draw at Elche midweek, having not featured for Los Blancos since injuring his thigh in November.

The Belgium international star, who was an unused substitute against Granada last week, was introduced with 13 minutes remaining and spurned a late chance for Madrid.

"[Eden Hazard] needs time, he needs game time as well and slowly but surely he'll be back in the starting 11," Zidane told reporters.

"I do think we should have scored a second goal in the first half because we played very well [against Elche] and we struggled more in the second half, but we have to keep working hard and moving forward in the same manner we have recently because there's still a lot to play for in LaLiga."

Madrid lost ground on city rivals and LaLiga leaders Atletico Madrid after their five-game winning streak in the league came to an end.

Luka Modric had opened the scoring in the 20th minute with his first header for Madrid after 364 games across all competitions, before Fidel's penalty seven minutes into the second half levelled proceedings.

Spanish giants Madrid have hit the woodwork 18 times across all competitions this season, more than any other club in the top five European leagues.

Madrid are two points adrift of Atletico – who have two matches in hand – and Zidane added: "If you base things on how we've been playing recently, that this draw is possibly not as good a result.

"I think we had more than enough chances to get the second goal which would have allowed us to be much more calm on the ball. Their equaliser made the game much more difficult for us. They then sat a bit deeper and we struggled in the second half. But that's football. I can't really say anything else.

"We have to keep working hard. When you look at how we played in the first half this is two points lost but we have to keep looking forward."

Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois made his 100th appearance for the club in all competitions, with 77 of those coming in LaLiga.

"It's three points that have slipped away from us, but we mustn't feel too down because we've been on a very good run and are performing well," said Courtois, who made a late save to deny Elche a dramatic win.

"It wasn't down to being over-confident. They equalised through a penalty, they play some good stuff and defend with two very compact lines close to their box, which makes it difficult to create any sort of danger. We managed to fashion two or three chances that Edgar did well to keep out."

Liverpool and Newcastle United produce goals.

Across 50 prior Premier League encounters ahead of Wednesday's meeting at St James' Park, the ball had found the net 159 times.

Indeed, in Premier League history, only four fixtures – Arsenal v Liverpool (166), Liverpool v Tottenham (162), Arsenal v Everton (162) and Arsenal v Tottenham (161) – have provided more goals.

With Liverpool – who claimed their biggest ever top-flight away win in their previous game on the road, thrashing Crystal Palace 7-0 – aiming to respond to a Sam Allardyce special at Anfield, and Newcastle having failed to keep a clean sheet in their past 11 home league matches, the stage seemed set for another goal-fest.

Yet on a snowy night on Tyneside, the champions were held for a second successive game, as Newcastle and Liverpool played out a goalless draw for the first time since February 1974.
 

FESTIVE WOE FOR MO

Mohamed Salah scored twice in Liverpool's rout of Palace, but the league's leading scorer has failed to carry that form into the subsequent two fixtures.

Salah – who did not get any of his three attempts on target against West Brom on Sunday – had been involved in nine goals in his past six away Premier League appearances heading into this trip.

The Egyptian had also netted in each of his previous four starts against Newcastle, but Salah was shorn of his shooting boots on Wednesday.

Having seen Karl Darlow brilliantly save a close-range attempt in the 34th minute, Salah looked all set to break the deadlock after the hour, only to drill wide when one-on-one again. It was his second, and last, attempt.

DARLOW STAKES HIS CLAIM DESPITE DUBRAVKA'S RETURN

Liverpool were denied by a fantastic stoppage-time save from Sam Johnstone last time out, and they found a goalkeeper in similarly fine form this time.

Darlow had four saves to make in total, but three were of the highest quality.

His stop from Salah in the first half showed outstanding reflexes, though it was arguably bettered in the 88th minute, with the former Nottingham Forest goalkeeper somehow keeping out Roberto Firmino's header.

Wedged between those stops was another Firmino header he palmed clear, although Darlow was grateful to have Fabian Schar on hand to clear as he and Sadio Mane scrapped for the ball in the second half.

With the returning Martin Dubravka watching on from the bench, there was another nervy moment for Darlow when he flapped at a corner, yet Firmino was unable to make him pay.

WILSON PUTS IN THE WORK, BUT ALISSON HARDLY TESTED

At the other end of the pitch for Newcastle, Callum Wilson worked tirelessly to run Liverpool's line – after all, the Reds have conceded 20 Premier League goals in 16 matches this season.

Chasing his 50th Premier League goal, Wilson had two attempts – neither on target – and created one chance. He covered 10.28 kilometres and made 22 sprints, the most in the Newcastle team.

Newcastle's problem was a lack of support for their frontman, though Ciaran Clark did send a header too close to Alisson in closing stages.

In total, Steve Bruce's team had just three attempts fewer than Liverpool (11), the visitors limited to only four shots on target, and Newcastle are now unbeaten in their past five home Premier League games against reigning champions.

THAT'S A WRAP...

Though they bossed the possession (73.2 per cent), Liverpool were once again held by a side who sat deep and looked to play on the break.

Their frustration was evidenced late on when Andrew Robertson inexplicably lashed out at Federico Fernandez for clearing a loose ball.

Jurgen Klopp became even more animated when the board was raised to signal four minutes of added time – ultimately, it felt like a night on which Liverpool could have played on for another 90 minutes and not scored.

Against the five teams Liverpool have played this season that resided in the bottom six prior to Wednesday's match, the Reds have now taken just seven points of the 15 on offer.

While 2020 has been difficult, and unprecedented, it has been a superb year for Liverpool, who clinched their first Premier League title and currently sit top of the table heading into 2021, though only by three points.

However, two draws on the bounce to teams either in the bottom half will leave something of a sour taste for the Reds, who had previously won their final league game of the calendar year six times on the spin.

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said he cannot see the benefit of the Premier League temporarily halting action in a bid to stop the spread of coronavirus.

On Tuesday, the Premier League confirmed 18 new positive COVID-19 tests in the week commencing December 21 – the highest number of positive results in a single round of tests this season.

The news came just a day after Manchester City's game at Everton was postponed at four hours' notice due to a coronavirus outbreak at the Etihad Stadium, while Fulham's match against Tottenham on Wednesday is also in doubt.

Eighteen positive cases surpasses the previous high of 16 recorded in the week commencing November 9, and mirrors the wider situation in England, with more people now in hospital due to the virus than at the peak of the first wave in April.

West Brom head coach Sam Allardyce has called for a circuit break – a tight set of restrictions designed to reverse the tide of the pandemic – but Solskjaer is unsure what benefit that would bring. 

"As a club and as a group we've been really good at following the protocols," Solskjaer said after United's 1-0 win over Wolves on Tuesday.

"That's part of the job. I can't see the benefit in having a circuit break because when are we going to play the games?

"We all know this year is so difficult, but if you stop more games I don't think that's going to make a big change – it might be a longer one. When do we finish the season?"

Marcus Rashford's stoppage-time goal handed United all three points against Wolves at Old Trafford and moved the Red Devils up to second in the table, two points behind leaders Liverpool. 

The result stretched United's unbeaten run in the league to nine games, but Solskjaer said it is too early to start talking about a title challenge.

"There's no title race after 15 games," he added. "You can lose the chance of being in a race in the first 10 games. But play another 15, get to 30, and then maybe we can start talking about a title race."

Bruno Fernandes was once again instrumental in United's win, with his ball over the top leading to Rashford's late strike. 

Since his Premier League debut in February, the Portugal international has been directly involved in more goals in the Premier League than any other player (32 – 18 goals, 14 assists).

Solskjaer admitted it was not Fernandes' most stellar performance but he was pleased his perseverance paid off. 

"He didn't play his best game, definitely," he said. "He's played better games but he's always in and around creating chances.

"Maybe he made more for them than he did for us today! But he's got that knack of looking for that pass, and in the end it worked."

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