Should you want proof that golf is a game for life, played in different venues and for all ages, digest what was going on in various corners of the world 15 summers ago.

In the Dallas area, an 11-year-old named Scott Scheffler was crushing the competition on the North Texas PGA Junior Tour. There were victories at Shady Valley, The Links at Water Chase, Lantana GC, and by eight strokes over Vince Whaley at Twin Creeks GC.

Down in Bayou country, another 11-year-old named Sam Burns was shooting 84 in the annual Shreveport (Louisiana) City Amateur. He finished top five.

In Scotland, an 18-year-old mop-haired kid from Northern Ireland, Rory McIlroy, was low amateur in the Open Championship at Carnoustie. Rounds of 68-76-73-72 served notice that this kid might be pretty good.

With rounds of 72-70, a 14-year-old from Kentucky named Justin Thomas finished second in his age group, third overall, at the Evian Masters Junior Cup in France. One perk for winning was that he got to play alongside Juli Inkster in a pro-am before the Evian Masters.

And on the other side of the world, in Hawaii, a 15-year-old Japanese player named Hideki Matsuyama dominated his match against Henry Park, 6 and 5, to help the visitors post a 24.5 to 19.5 win in the Hawaii/Japan Junior Cup.

Those were the stages, of course, played in the shadows. On the stage that mattered, a guy much older, the 31-year-old Tiger Woods, was collecting a fourth US PGA Championship at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Ho-hum as that might have been, given it was his 14th major, what surely resonated was Woods' achievement at the end of that summer. With an overwhelming performance in the inaugural FedEx Cup on the PGA Tour, Woods earned a cool $10million.

What stands out about that 2007 Tour Championship that nailed down the first FedEx Cup were the suffocating numbers. Woods won the season finale by eight strokes, it was his 61st career win and seventh of the season, and he finished the Tour Championship at 23-under 257.

"It has been a phenomenal week," Woods said, then very much at his understated best. He had, after all, also pocketed a cheque for $1.26million for winning the Tour Championship.

"I enjoyed being on a scoring streak, hitting good shot after good shot, and I felt very comfortable with my game. It felt good."

That was then and this is now, and what feels remarkable is how quickly time has passed and how surreal it is to know this: just 15 years after they were playing golf on mostly unheralded stages as kids, the 26-year-old Scheffler (he's Scottie now, unlike in 2007), Burns, 26; McIlroy, 33; Thomas, 29; and Matsuyama, 30, were numbers 1-2-3-4-5 in the FedEx Cup standings when the calendar flipped to July.

The flip side of Woods now being 46 is the fact the game is getting younger and, oh, how the current FedEx Cup standings reflect that. After Scheffler, Burns, McIlroy, Thomas, and Matsuyama, we have Patrick Cantlay, Cameron Smith, Xander Schauffele, Will Zalatoris, and Max Homa.

Average age of those 10 players: 28.5.

That is more than four years younger than the average age in 2007, the first FedEx Cup when seven of the top 10 were 31 or older. This time around, eight of the current top 10 are 30 or younger.

But if this youth parade has many marchers, the warmest spotlight must be shining on the leader, the same kid who 15 years ago was dominating the competition on the North Texas Junior PGA.

All Scheffler has done in this, his third full season on the PGA Tour, is win four times and roar into the penthouse of the Official World Golf Rankings.

Not bad, this number one designation. But some might argue that Burns is number 1A, because all he has done is win three times before, and if you go back to the middle of the 2020-21 season, Burns secured victories in four of his last 29 tournaments.

The screeching noise you heard is the arrival of the Scheffler-Burns express; they are two young men who are great friends and as if to punctuate their new-found grip on the PGA Tour, they had an exclamation point of a Sunday back in May.

Locked in a play-off at the Charles Schwab Challenge, Burns poured in a long-range birdie on the first extra hole to beat his Texas friend.

Even Scheffler flashed a wide smile that day, nodding his approval to Burns, knowing there will be many more opportunities to return the favour. Perhaps even as soon as the upcoming FedEx Cup play-offs. These are the dates that matter: August 11-14 at the FedEx St Jude Classic in Memphis; August 18-21 at the BMW Championship in Wilmington, Delaware; and August 25-28 at the Tour Championship in Atlanta, Georgia.

They are tournaments that showcase the best of the elite, and whereas you might have understandably expected them to put Scheffler in awe as a 24-year-old rookie in August of 2020, it didn't work out that way. In his second round in the play-offs, Scheffler shot 59 at TPC Boston.

He didn't win that week, but a tie for fourth set in motion a nice play-off run – tied 20th at the BMW, fifth at the Tour Championship. The three who finished immediately ahead of him in the FedEx Cup standings in 2020 – Schauffele, Thomas and Jon Rahm – are key contenders for the 2021-22 FedEx Cup as a dynamic era of young and talented performers continues into the 16th edition of this season-long race.

It is amazing, the furious speed with which these kids have progressed from junior golf to the spotlight of a FedEx Cup. Then again, perhaps there are those who saw this coming. Joel Edwards, for instance.

A veteran PGA Tour performer, Edwards was in the twilight of his career when he used to practise at Royal Oaks at Dallas where Scheffler was the brightest of a stable of talented junior players.

Precocious and supremely talented, Scheffler would challenge Edwards and another PGA Tour veteran, Harrison Frazar, to random contests. Frazar confirms he lost sleeves of golf balls to a fourth-grader; Edwards concedes that "he cost me a fortune; I used to carry a bunch of quarters because I knew I'd get my butt beat [in a bid to hit practice-range poles with wedge shots]."

And if there was one thing that stood out about Scheffler back then, even beyond his uncanny golf skills, it was his appearance.

"He always wore pants. He looked like a Tour player at 10," said Edwards.

And at 11, while mowing down the local competition, perhaps Scheffler knew this brand-new FedEx Cup was someday going to be in his future.

England fans have been singing about football "coming home" since 1996, when the country hosted the men's European Championship.

Terry Venables' team were ultimately eliminated in the semi-finals at Wembley Stadium by Germany in heartbreaking fashion on penalties. Gareth Southgate, who until now had come close than any other manager to ending England's long wait for glory, missed the crucial spot-kick.

More than 26 years on, Sarina Wiegman's women's team had a chance to finally bring it "home", and it came against Germany, naturally.

This time, they had that extra gear to overcome a setback, and ended 66 years of hurt with a 2-1 success.

England's men reached the final of Euro 2020 last year, losing on penalties to Italy, but that day had been marred by crowd issues before the match at Wembley.

There was no sign of such issues on Sunday. The only clouds hanging over Wembley before this game were in the sky.

Wiegman has secured back-to-back European Championships, having also won with the Netherlands in 2017, and rubber-stamped the immense improvement she has brought to the Lionesses since replacing Phil Neville.

That this win came a day after Neville's Inter Miami had surrendered a 3-2 lead in the last 10 mins to draw 4-4 in a Major League Soccer match felt appropriate. England are a far superior machine to the one Neville led, and one with a better depth of quality, with both goals coming from substitutes.

Both teams were set to go in unchanged until Germany suffered a blow when captain Alexandra Popp sustained a muscle injury in the warm-up.

It was agonising for Popp, who went into the game as joint-top scorer in the tournament with six goals, but needed to net more than Beth Mead (also six) to take the Golden Boot due to the England star's superior assist record.

Popp's absence seemed to have an impact as Martina Voss-Tecklenburg's side struggled to threaten, though Mead did not have much impact on the game herself, rarely seeing any of the ball close to the German goal before coming off with a knock just after the hour.

Ellen White again started over Alessia Russo, despite the latter having scored twice as many (four to two) from the bench during the tournament, but White's work rate and harrying was on show in a first half of few chances.

Germany's best opportunity came courtesy of a chaotic goalmouth scramble in 25th minute that also resulted in a rejected VAR check for a penalty, while White blazed over from England's most dangerous attack.

Lina Magull dragged wide as Germany clicked into gear after the restart, and the biggest roar of the day by that point came when Ella Toone and Russo were introduced for Fran Kirby and White.

The greater cheer had been for Russo, whose four goals from the bench during the tournament was the most a player has scored at a single edition of a Women's Euros, but it was Toone who upped those decibel levels though as she ran onto a ball over the top from Keira Walsh before expertly lifting over Merle Frohms.

Toone became the first opposition player to score against Germany at the tournament, though DFB-Frauen almost hit straight back when Magull hit the woodwork.

Magull did have her goal with 11 minutes remaining though. Neat work on the right side saw the ball slid across by Tabea Wassmuth for the German number 20, who lifted her shot into the roof of the net to dampen England spirits and force extra-time in a Women's Euros final for the first time since 2001. On that occasion, Germany beat Sweden 1-0.

A familiar feeling for England. Extra-time... penalties... valiant defeat. But this team is different.

Chloe Kelly – who had replaced Mead – was the hero, prodding home at the second attempt after Germany failed to clear their lines. A brief wait to make sure the flag had not gone up was followed by uproarious celebrations. Football was through the gate, coming up the garden path...

Kelly's goal was England's 22nd of the tournament, a record by a team at any European Championship (men's and women's), and this time the hosts could see it out, the players either falling to their knees or running around the pitch as the magnitude of their achievement hit.

The first senior England team to win a major tournament since 1966, the first to ever win a European Championship, and the first to beat Germany in a Women's Euros final.

The 87,192 inside Wembley – a new attendance record for the Euros, men or women – immediately broke out into a rendition of Three Lions, informing those in any doubt that football was finally "home".

England have the trophy, but it is safe to say that during this historic tournament, women's football has most certainly been the winner. It came home for everyone.

The Arizona Cardinals are one of the most curious teams in the NFL. Defined in recent seasons by first-half surges followed by stretch-run slumps, a series of bemusing offseason roster moves have left many wondering as to the nature of the Cardinals'' plan of attack in an extremely difficult NFC West. What was always likely, however, was that plan including Kyler Murray.

Despite negotiations over an extension at times appearing tumultuous, a scenario in which Murray was not a part of the Cardinals' future always seemed far-fetched.

So it proved last week when the Cardinals signed Murray to a five-year, $230.5 million extension, which sees him become the second-highest paid quarterback in the league with an average annual salary of $46.1 million.

Murray trails only Aaron Rodgers ($50.2 million) in that regard and becomes the latest quarterback to surpass $40 million a year in salary.

The Cardinals are in part paying for what they believe Murray can do in the future, now having seen him produce three seasons of play suggesting he has a chance to become one of the finest dual-threat quarterback in league history and lead Arizona to a long-awaited Super Bowl title.

But do his performances to this point, which have yet to deliver a playoff win, make him worthy of receiving more per year than all but the back-to-back defending MVP?

It is a question that grew more pointed with the news of an eyebrow-raising clause in Murray's contract requiring him to complete at least four hours of "independent study" of material provided to him to prepare for a game. After the PR nightmare it caused, that clause was subsequently removed.

Still, that stipulation suggests Murray is not preparing at the level expected of a player receiving his salary. It's difficult for anyone outside the Cardinals' organisation to know if that is the case, but Stats Perform has analysed the data from his three seasons in the NFL to see how his on-field performance compares to that of his contemporaries in the $40m club.

Playing catch-up in basic metrics

Seven other quarterbacks have recently signed contracts paying an average of at least $40m: Rodgers, Deshaun Watson, Dak Prescott, Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Derek Carr and Matthew Stafford.

Oversimplifying things, the first difference that stands out between Murray and this group is that all but one of the remaining quarterbacks on the list have won a playoff game – Derek Carr being the exception.

But a host of factors – including situation, injuries, and luck – go into determining such achievements. Wins are not a quarterback stat, but Murray is also in the bottom half of this group in most of the classic stats for players at the most important position.

Since entering the NFL as the first overall pick in 2019, Murray has racked up 11,480 passing yards. That tally puts him fifth among the $40m club, with Mahomes, Carr, Rodgers and Allen the four quarterbacks to have amassed more in that period.

His completion percentage of 66.9 in that time also puts him fifth for that group of players, and he occupies the same spot in explosive passing plays of 25 yards or more (89).

Murray's 70 passing touchdowns are fewer than all the $40m quarterbacks other than Watson, who missed the entirety of last season. Allen (7.17) is the only one to have averaged fewer yards per attempt than Murray;s 7.26 and Stafford (2.3) is the sole quarterback of the group with an interception rate inferior to the Cardinals signal-caller's 2.2 per cent.

However, the days when such stats were the primary barometer by which quarterback performance was measured are gone, and Murray fares significantly better in metrics that gauge accuracy and efficiency.

Delivering deep, and when it matters

Murray made strides in delivering the ball accurately in 2021, as his performance in well-thrown rate illustrates. In 2020, Murray delivered an accurate, well-thrown ball on 76 per cent of his passes, below the average of 78 for quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts. Last season, his well-thrown rate improved to 78.5 per cent, though that still trailed Carr, Mahomes and Prescott.

Yet offense in the modern NFL is largely about generating explosive plays, and Murray thrives in an area that plays a critical role in a team's success in doing so – deep accuracy.

The ability to throw downfield with pinpoint accuracy has long since been one of Murray's calling cards, and last season his 62.5 well-thrown percentage on throws of 20 air yards or more was tied for seventh among quarterbacks with 20 such throws. He was tied with both Mahomes and Prescott and above every other quarterback in the $40m club.

Explosive plays create efficiency, and the statistical impact of Murray's deep-ball precision emphasises that point.

Of the NFL's highest-paid quarterbacks, only Carr and Stafford averaged more 20-yard passes per game than Murray (3.5) in 2021, while no quarterback in the NFL was more efficient in expected passing situations.

Murray ranked first in quarterback efficiency vs. expected. In expected passing situations, he averaged over a yard above expectation. No other quarterback in the league achieved that feat, with Rodgers (0.974) his nearest challenger:

That unmatched efficiency in the most important situations in an NFL game is worth the outlay the Cardinals have committed to Murray, and that's before his running ability is even considered.

A skill set still to be properly harnessed

Murray's dual-threat upside was a critical factor in his selection with the top overall pick three years ago. His is a skill set that meshes perfectly with the direction of modern NFL offenses, and his speed and elusiveness as a ball carrier in the open field has unsurprisingly translated to the highest level.

Since 2019, Lamar Jackson (6.36) is the sole player in the NFL to average more yards per carry than Murray's 5.69. No other quarterback earning $40m-plus per year averaged 5.5 yards per rush in that time, with Mahomes (5.30) and Allen (5.09) coming closest.

Allen (23) has scored more rushing touchdowns than Murray (20) over the last three seasons, and only Jackson has produced more explosive rushes of 20 yards or more across the same timeframe – the Baltimore Ravens superstar racking up 26 such runs compared to 15 for Murray.

That discrepancy is in part down to injury problems that forced Murray to miss three games last season and clearly affected him down the stretch of the 2020 campaign.

Durability is undoubtedly a concern that arguably makes handing such a contract to Murray a risk, while there is also a case to be made he is overly reliant on All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. With Hopkins in the lineup last season, the Cardinals racked up 7.81 yards per pass play. In the seven games he missed, they averaged 5.86.

Yet those struggles were as much about head coach Kliff Kingsbury's use of personnel as they were about Murray. Kingsbury insisted on using Hopkins almost exclusively as an outside receiver – where he played 475 of his 537 snaps in 2021 – and the Cardinals had nobody to fill the void on downfield routes from that spot when he was injured. Arizona averaged 6.84 air yards per completion with Hopkins and just 4.35 when he was sidelined.

While the bizarre clause that was in Murray's contract indicates he needs to do more during the week to realise his potential, Kingsbury must also make significant improvements.

Arizona's offense has been too focused around Hopkins and Murray's success in improvisation – as their league-leading 1.72 yards over expected on runs in expected passing situations points to – and the onus is on Kingsbury to develop a more diverse gameplan to make the most of the incredible quarterback talent he has at his disposal.

Murray's resume may not yet compare to several of the highly paid contemporaries whose salaries he has now surpassed. However, he is a quarterback who has improved year on year in more rudimentary metrics such as completion percentage, touchdown percentage and passing yards per game, with his increased accuracy and deep-ball prowess that only Mahomes and Prescott can match helping Murray become the league's most efficient quarterback in high-pressure obvious passing situations.

The baseball prospect turned football star confounds defenses by excelling when they know what to expect and delivering the unexpected with remarkable consistency.

Few players can replicate his ability to do both with such regularity. If properly harnessed by the Cardinals, Murray has the chance to reach a ceiling at the very top of the NFL and individually compare much more favourably with a group of quarterbacks who in some cases have already enjoyed the success to which he aspires.

It is a major tournament held in England where the hosts are looking to end a long wait without silverware, but Germany stand in their way.

This feels awfully familiar.

Sarina Wiegman's Lionesses have captured the hearts of a nation, with fans flocking to watch them reach their first major tournament final since 2009 where they lost to *checks notes* Germany.

Meanwhile, Martina Voss-Tecklenburg's side have advanced to the final comparatively under the radar, with Die Nationalelf picking up impressive scalps of their own along the way.

It promises to be a fascinating contest at Wembley Stadium in front of what is expected to be a record crowd for any European Championship game - men's or women's - on Sunday.

A huge 90 minutes, maybe more, awaits the two teams, but where will it be won and lost? Stats Perform takes a look at the finer details ahead of the Euro 2022 final.

Raise a glass to Mead and Popp and drink it in

While teams win tournaments, we always look to those individuals who we will remember in years to come for their performances.

Undoubtedly two of the standout players in England during the last three weeks have been Beth Mead and Alexandra Popp, current joint-top scorers with six goals each.

The Lionesses have not found it difficult to score goals, finding the net 20 times in five games in the tournament so far. In fact, only Germany in 2009 have ever scored more at a Women's Euros (21).

Mead's goal in the opening 1-0 win against Austria at Old Trafford was vital for getting their campaign rolling, before she grabbed a hat-trick in the 8-0 thrashing of Norway, another in the 5-0 win against Northern Ireland, and the opener in the 4-0 semi-final humbling of Sweden.

While Germany have not been quite as proficient – still scoring a respectable 13 goals – Popp's contributions had initially come when adding to leads, with the captain's goals against Denmark, Spain, Finland and Austria all arriving when her team were already ahead.

However, she came into her own in the last-four clash with France, scoring both goals in the 2-1 win, including a dominant header to win it with 14 minutes remaining.

Having scored in all five of Germany's games so far, a goal at Wembley would see Popp become just the second player to score in every match from the group stages to the final at a single edition of a European Championship (men's and women's), after Michel Platini for France in 1984.

Whichever one raises their game for the final could ultimately provide the deciding factor. In the case of Popp, it could well be that she has to score herself to make a difference, as she has not yet recorded an assist in the tournament, whereas Mead has four assists to her name, more than anyone else.

The strongest spine could be the key

They say a good attack wins games while a good defence wins trophies. So far, both of these teams have been effective at each end of the pitch.

England's only goal conceded in five games came when they went 1-0 down to Spain in the quarter-finals, before coming back to win 2-1 in extra time, while Germany's one against was an own goal in their semi-final against France.

An opposition player is yet to find a way past Germany, and it is not hard to see why. Kathrin-Julia Hendrich and Marina Hegering have been a steely combination at the back for Voss-Tecklenburg's team, with Hegering making 41 ball recoveries in her five games, the joint seventh most among outfield players in the tournament.

Germany youngster Lena Oberdorf has had an outstanding tournament in midfield and has 44 ball recoveries to her name.

That is the same number as England captain Leah Williamson, a player who leads by example at centre-back alongside Millie Bright, who has managed a team-high 21 clearances.

Both centre-back pairings have had plenty of help in front of them, with 20-year-old Oberdorf attempting more tackles (19) than any other player from the two finalists, while England's Keira Walsh has recovered the ball 36 times and has the best passing accuracy of any player to have attempted at least 250 passes (89.56 per cent).

Midfield could be a key area for England, who as a team have attempted 2,597 passes overall with an accuracy of 83.4 per cent, both ranked second across the tournament, while Germany have attempted 2,222 passes (ranked fourth) with an accuracy of 77 per cent (ranked seventh).

England's Germany hoodoo

It is not exclusive to the women's game, but England have an unflattering record against Germany, especially in major tournaments.

The Lionesses have won just two of their 27 meetings with Germany in all competitions, and have lost more often against them than any other opponent (D4 L21), though they did win their last meeting 3-1 in February.

Germany have won all four of their matches against England at Women's Euros by an aggregate score of 15-4. This will be the first meeting between the sides at the tournament since the 2009 final, which Germany won 6-2.

That was the last time England reached a Women's Euros final, having also lost to Sweden in 1984, while this will be Germany's ninth appearance in a final, meaning they have appeared in 69 per cent of Women's Euros title matches. They have triumphed on all eight of their previous appearances in finals so far.

You could therefore be forgiven for thinking that too much history is on the Germans' side for England to stand a chance, but the tournament hosts have a not-so-secret weapon.

Wiegman will be the first manager to have led two different nations in Women's Euros finals, having won the 2017 tournament with the Netherlands, and her overall record in the competition shows 11 wins from 11 games, with her teams having scored 33 goals and conceded just four.

Whatever happens on Sunday, it is sure to be quite a spectacle. Will football finally come "home", or will Germany repeat history and add to their own outstanding legacy?

This weekend's Community Shield sees the new English domestic season begin as the last one ended, with Manchester City and Liverpool doing battle.

City pipped Liverpool to the Premier League title, but the Reds got the better of Pep Guardiola's men in their FA Cup semi-final, going on to beat Chelsea in the decider and book their place in Saturday's curtain-raiser.

These two are expected to lead the way once again in 2022-23, yet plenty has changed in their ranks since they were last in action – particularly in attack.

At the Etihad Stadium, Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling have departed to be replaced by Erling Haaland and Julian Alvarez.

With Haaland's arrival perhaps the most notable in the Premier League during this close-season, Liverpool responded with their own big-money big man up front; Darwin Nunez was signed from Benfica to be flanked by the returning Mohamed Salah, but Sadio Mane is gone.

After several years of success at the forefront of English football, Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp appear set to reshape their teams around their latest buys.

Both managers lined up last season primarily without a traditional number nine.

Jesus may return to that role after joining Arsenal, but City's sole centre-forward often played from the right in 2021-22, taking only 16.0 per cent of his Premier League touches in the penalty area.

Haaland, by contrast, took 20.7 per cent of his Bundesliga touches in the box for Borussia Dortmund last term, which explains how a staggering 96.3 per cent of his shots were taken from inside the area – by far a higher share than that of any forward who played for City or Liverpool.

That mark comfortably tops Nunez's (74.1 per cent of shots in the box), too, but the 23-year-old also brings something new to a Reds outfit who have often deployed a false nine through the middle.

Roberto Firmino was that man for a long time and took only 9.5 per cent of his touches in the area last season. Nunez took a mammoth 24.5 per cent of his Primeira Liga touches within 18 yards of goal.

Staying in such positions so regularly helped to boost the shot conversion rates of Haaland (27.5 per cent) and Nunez (30.6 per cent), although both still impressively outperformed their expected goals (xG) totals; Haaland scored 22 from an xG of 18.5, while Nunez netted 26 from an xG of 18.4.

In fact, the numbers suggest Divock Origi was the only player across the best two squads in the Premier League who performed in a manner akin to that which might now be expected of the superstar duo.

Origi, who has left Liverpool for Milan, took 21.7 per cent of his touches in the box, and his shoot-on-sight policy saw an attempt at goal for every 6.9 touches (9.3 for Haaland, 9.8 for Nunez).

Yet this perhaps spoke as much to Origi's role as Liverpool's specialist rescue act as anything else; he made only seven appearances, all from the bench for a combined 126 minutes, yet scored three goals, converting 30.0 per cent of his shots.

Over the course of his time under Klopp, when he was occasionally asked to play wide, Origi's statistics were more in line with those of his former team-mates. Only 13.3 per cent of his touches came in the box, just 68.9 per cent of his shots were from within the same range, and those attempts arrived every 16.4 touches on average.

Maybe Klopp will also ask Nunez to push wide and stretch the play, maintaining the fluid forward line that saw winger Mane increasingly used through the centre in big games.

That should not necessarily hamper Nunez's hopes of scoring regularly; Salah could afford to marginally underperform his xG (23.8) and still strike 23 times in the league last season, playing from the right but taking 19.6 per cent of his touches in the box and needing only 12.4 on average to attempt a shot.

Prior to last season, Guardiola had at least been able to incorporate at City the sort of penalty-box striker he has signed in Haaland.

Sergio Aguero averaged a shot every 10.0 touches under Pep, with 17.8 per cent of his touches across five seasons coming inside the area.

And Haaland brings more to his game, too, if only due to his sheer size. The 1.94-metre ex-Dortmund man won 57.6 per cent of his aerial duels in 2021-22 – no City or Liverpool forward won more than half, with Nunez also lagging on 40.6 per cent.

But perhaps the former Guardiola player whose profile most resembles Haaland's is Zlatan Ibrahimovic – and his Barcelona career was not Pep's biggest success story.

Just as City will have to adapt to Haaland – perhaps by allowing him to compete aerially from a few of their trademark cutback crosses – so will he to them. The forward completed just 71.3 per cent of his passes in the league last season; that lax level of link-up is unlikely to wash in a Guardiola side, as Jesus (84.8 per cent), Sterling (85.4 per cent) and Riyad Mahrez (90.0 per cent) will attest.

Nunez completed 67.1 per cent of his league passes, which would similarly rank him last among Liverpool forwards, but he should at least be familiar with the high-pressing approach enforced by Klopp.

Liverpool led the Premier League in high turnovers (443 or 11.7 per game), average starting position (45.5m upfield) and opposition passes per defensive action (9.9 PPDA), while Benfica (9.0 high turnovers per game, 44.4m starting position and 8.7 PPDA) unsurprisingly ranked in the Primeira Liga's top three in each category.

So, there is plenty to be excited about both in Manchester and in Liverpool and yet great scope for potential teething problems.

The forthcoming title tussle could well be decided by how successfully Haaland and Nunez fit into these ruthless, relentless winning machines, and Saturday provides an early opportunity to assess that process.

Here we go again. Some 69 days on from taking their latest Premier League title battle down to the final minutes of the final day of the last campaign, Manchester City and Liverpool prepare to face off in the 2022-23 curtain-raiser.

Liverpool not only missed out to City on the title but also tasted defeat to Real Madrid in the Champions League final the following week, although the 2021-22 season was not all bad as they lifted both the EFL Cup and FA Cup.

It has been a busy window for both clubs in terms of incoming and outgoing activity, but England's two dominant forces appear certain to battle it out for a share of the major honours once again this time around.

The first of the trophies up for grabs is the Community Shield this weekend, contested between the winners of the previous season's Premier League and FA Cup. 

While some question just how competitive the fixture exactly is – especially this campaign, with the match being held away from Wembley – it provides both sides with an opportunity to lay down an early marker for what is to come over the next 10 months. 


Community Shield with a difference

If Jose Mourinho was so eager to count it as a major honour, then who are we to argue against the Portuguese, who lifted the shield with both Chelsea and Manchester United.

This year's game is a little different in more ways than one, though, as for the first time since 1958 – when Bolton Wanderers beat Wolves 4-1 in the month of October – the showpiece will be held outside of August, a knock-on effect of the World Cup being staged midway through the campaign.

It is also the earliest in the calendar year the match has taken place since 1922 when Liverpool were beaten by Huddersfield Town in May.

Not only is the traditional date of the fixture different, so too is the venue. With Wembley being used for the Women's Euro 2022 final on Sunday, the contest will be held away from England's national stadium for the first time in a decade, since City beat Chelsea at Villa Park.

The game is instead being hosted by the King Power Stadium, and that could be bad news for Jurgen Klopp, who has lost more games at this venue (five) than he has at any other ground as Liverpool boss, excluding Anfield.

 

Reds' losing streak

There are plenty of familiarities this weekend, however, not least the fact that it will be City and Liverpool facing off for a trophy – albeit with this only their second encounter in the Community Shield, following City's penalty shoot-out success three years ago.

Liverpool are aiming to lift the trophy for a 16th time, which would move them level with Arsenal and behind only Manchester United (21), including occasions when the shield was shared. City are sixth on the list of all-time winners, seeking their seventh triumph this time around.

City may not have had as much success in the curtain-raising fixture down the years as Liverpool, but they have triumphed in three of their past five appearances – in 2012, 2018 and 2019.

The Reds' record is far less impressive in recent times, having lost four of their past six Community Shield matches, including each of the past two against City in 2019 and Arsenal in 2020.

 

Goals galore in Leicester?

If recent encounters between these sides have taught us anything, it is that we can expect to be entertained at the King Power Stadium on Saturday. 

Both teams have scored in eight of the past nine meetings between City and Liverpool in all competitions, including each of the past five in a row. Across those most recent nine matches, 33 goals have been netted in total – an average of 3.7 per game.

Last season alone saw both sides score at least twice in their three meetings in all competitions, which finished in a couple of four-goal draws in the league and a 3-2 win for Liverpool in the FA Cup semi-finals.

 

All eyes on Salah

Both sides will look slightly different following a busy period of transfers, and seeing how the likes of Erling Haaland, Kalvin Phillips, Darwin Nunez and Fabio Carvalho perform – if indeed used – will be one of the most exciting aspects.

There will be plenty of familiar faces on show, too, including Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah, who has been involved in 11 goals in 14 games against City for the Reds, making them his second-favourite opponent behind West Ham (12 goal involvements).

Pep Guardiola will also hope to get some minutes out of Phil Foden, who has yet to feature in pre-season due to visa issues that prevented him travelling to the United States.

The England international enjoys playing against Liverpool, scoring and assisting a combined five goals against them in five starts, although he has failed to do so in his past two outings in this fixture.

England are looking to avoid losing a fourth consecutive major tournament semi-final when they take on familiar foes Sweden at Bramall Lane on Tuesday.

The Lionesses cruised through the group stage, scoring a record 14 goals in the process, before surviving a scare to overcome Spain 2-1 after extra time in the quarter-finals.

Reaching this stage is nothing new for England, having also made it to the final four of the 2015 and 2019 World Cups, either side of their run to the semis at Euro 2017.

However, they suffered defeat on all three of those occasions, going down to Japan, the United States and the Netherlands respectively.

Fran Kirby played in each of those losses and is extra motivated to go at least one step further this time around on home soil.

"I don't want to be another player that loses in another semi-final and doesn't get to a final of a major tournament with England," she said.

"We spoke about the semi-finals we have lost previously and it takes a long time to recover from losing a semi-final like that. 

"I don't want to experience having to take a month to get over not getting to a final. It would mean everything to reach a final with this England team."

Ahead of the showdown in Sheffield, Stats Perform picks out some of the key Opta facts.

SEMI-FINAL PEDIGREE

Not only are England competing in a third straight major semi-final, this will also be their sixth appearance at this stage of the Euros (also 1984, 1987, 1995, 2009 and 2017).

They have progressed from just two of the previous five, though, and were heavily beaten 3-0 by the Dutch five years ago.

Sweden are into their ninth semi-final in this competition. After advancing from three of the first four, they have since lost three of the past four, most recently in 2013.

WE MEET AGAIN

England and Sweden are meeting in the Women's Euros for a seventh time, making it the third most played fixture behind Germany against Norway and Germany versus Italy.

The Lionesses have won only one of those past six encounters, with that solitary victory coming in the second leg of the 1984 final, which they went on to lose on penalties.

History is not only on Sweden's side when these sides meet in this competition, but also in overall meetings with England down the years.

Indeed, only against Germany (21) have England lost more times against an opponent than they have Sweden (15), with those defeats coming across 29 matches.

FORM SIDES COLLIDE

That past is the past, though, and England find themselves in superb form. With their comeback win against Spain, they have won 10 matches in a row – their best-ever streak.

Georgia Stanway's extra-time winner in that game was the 100th goal scored under head coach Sarina Wiegman in 18 matches, meaning they have averaged 5.6 goals per game.

That makes for a tantalising contest in Sheffield as Sweden are the highest-placed contender on the FIFA rankings list, sitting second behind the United States.

Bidding for a first trophy since the 1984 Euros, Sweden are undefeated since March 2020 and a staggering 34 matches in total.

Something has to give in this latest clash between the heavyweights, however, with a showdown against either Germany or France awaiting in Sunday's final.

Pep Guardiola is undergoing the biggest facelift of his Manchester City tenure in a bid to freshen up the squad in pursuit of a fifth Premier League title in six years and that elusive first Champions League crown for the Citizens.

Of the 27 players who made a first-team appearance in Guardiola's first season in charge at the Etihad Stadium in 2016-17, just four – Ederson, Ilkay Gundogan, John Stones and Kevin De Bruyne – remain in place.

It is very much a case of out with the old and in with the new in the blue half of Manchester this window, with Gabriel Jesus, Raheem Sterling, Oleksandr Zinchenko and long-serving Fernandinho all making way.

The arrivals of Erling Haaland and Kalvin Phillips will arguably make City stronger than they were, while Stefan Ortega should be an improvement on Zack Steffen as back-up to Ederson, but Zinchenko's exit has left Guardiola light at left-back.

City have been strongly linked with Brighton and Hove Albion's Marc Cucurella, though the Seagulls' reported £50million asking price – £20m higher than the English champions are apparently willing to pay – has led to a standoff.

However, with a little over a month of the transfer window to run, there is still plenty of time for the clubs to negotiate a fee, or for City to instead switch focus elsewhere to other targets – if indeed they have any.

With that in mind, Stats Perform looks at exactly why the links with Cucurella are so strong, and the alternatives mentioned by Guardiola to provide competition to Joao Cancelo on the left side of defence this season.


MAKING HIS MARC OUTSIDE OF SPAIN

Zinchenko was far from a regular for City last season, starting just 18 of their 54 matches, but he was used a further 10 times from the substitutes' bench and provided an option both at left-back and in central midfield.

Versatility is a key component if a player is to thrive under Guardiola, and in Cucurella, the Catalan coach has a player also available to switch it up and play in a few different positions. 

The 24-year-old was used predominantly in his favoured left-back position last term, while also filling in as a left wing-back and as a left-sided centre-back at a time of need for Brighton, despite previous doubts over his ability to defend.

"There were people who said I couldn't play as a full-back because I couldn't defend, but now I'm proving I can even play as a centre-back in a back three," Cucurella told Spanish outlet Marca earlier this year.

"What I was looking for was to play as a full-back, which is what I have done all my life. I had never played left centre-back before, but [Brighton manager Graham Potter] has given me the confidence to feel very comfortable there."

Thrown in at the deep end as Brighton dealt with an injury crisis midway through the 2021-22 season – his first outside his native Spain – Cucurella more than passed the test and added further strings to his bow.

 

CUCURELLA THE ALL-ROUNDER

Whether operating at full-back, wing-back or centre-back, Cucurella helped Brighton keep 11 clean sheets in the Premier League last season, a tally that only six other clubs could better.

Far from being someone who is unable to defend, he led the way among players who played predominantly as full-backs in the English top flight last season in terms of winning back possession, doing so 247 times.

He also ranked behind only Tyrick Mitchell for tackles – 93 compared to the Crystal Palace youngster's 104 – showing he is happy to get stuck in when required.

The one cap Spain international also proved he is capable of attacking, with his 40 open-play chances placing him behind only Reece James (42) and Trent Alexander-Arnold (51), who are two of the finest full-backs around.

That translated to just one assist – Cancelo had seven last season, for context – but some of that can be put down to the finishing of Brighton's attacking players, rather than Cucurella alone failing to deliver from wide.

Indeed, his expected assists (xA) return of 2.82 last season, while maybe still looking low on the face of it, was still the 14th highest of any full-back.

Given his near decade spent in the Barcelona youth set-up and then on the fringes of the first team, it comes as no surprise to see Cucurella is very comfortable with the ball at his feet.

The 1,558 passes he completed last season was bettered – again among those who can be considered full-backs by trade – by only Andy Robertson (1,642), Alexander-Arnold (1,684) and Cancelo (2,516).

 

A GAMBLE WORTH TAKING?

On the basis of those numbers, and Guardiola's ability to further mould players in his own way, bringing in Cucurella this window really would make sense for City. The problem, of course, is Brighton's mammoth valuation.

In a window that has seen bit-part player Zinchenko join Arsenal for £32m, and given Cucurella has four more years to run on the deal signed last season, Albion see no reason to sell their reigning Fans and Players' Player of the Year.

Guardiola appears to be in no immediate rush to strengthen in that position and has suggested he is happy to stick with what he has if an agreement cannot be reached with Brighton.

"We are in negotiations. If it doesn't happen, we've alternatives," the Catalan said earlier this week. "Cancelo, Josh Wilson-Esbrand is a young talent, [Nathan] Ake can play there..."

While City do already boast one of – same would say the – best left-backs in world football on the basis of last season, going into the new campaign without any true cover in that position would be a risk.

Assuming reports of Brighton's £50m valuation are correct, City would be paying almost £20m more than they received from Arsenal for Zinchenko, and would take their net spend for the window to around £20m.

But when Guardiola truly wants a player, he tends to get him. Indeed, City have already splashed out £50m or more on Kyle Walker, Benjamin Mendy and Cancelo in the full-back department during Pep's time in charge.

As a player with Barcelona pedigree, who has proved himself in numerous positions in his short time in England and is still young enough to further adapt and improve, do not bet against Cucurella completing City's vast overhaul.

Jonas Vingegaard went into the final weekend of the Tour de France with his yellow jersey all but assured.

It is the mountain stages that so typically settle the general classification in Grand Tours, and this edition of Le Tour proved no different.

A dominant ride on stage 18 saw Vingegaard, with admirable support from Sepp Kuss and Wout van Aert, drop two-time defending champion Tadej Pogacar on the final ascent in the Pyrenees.

Vingegaard powered away on that last climb, leaving Pogacar in his wake, and well over three minutes behind overall in the hunt for the yellow jersey, as the Dane collected just a second Grand Tour stage win of his career, the first having come on July 13 to put him in command of the race.

That left Vingegaard merely needing to safely negotiate the final three stages – two sprint finishes and a time trial – and he did just that, parading into Paris on Sunday with his grip on the yellow jersey firmly intact. Now he is the champion, a remarkable feat considering where he has come from.

Pogacar's Slovenian compatriot Primoz Roglic has previously been Jumbo-Visma's main hope, but an exceptional team ride has also represented a passing of the baton to Vingegaard, the 25-year-old who four years ago was working at a fish factory to supplement his income. Vingegaard was recruited by the team based on a remarkable time up a daunting climb in Spain, which was subsequently posted to the popular training application Strava.

Jumbo-Visma have turned in a team performance for the ages. Their plan, and subsequent execution, has been near-perfect. Even the loss of Roglic, whose attention will now turn to winning yet another Vuelta a Espana title, could not derail this powerhouse unit heading into the final week.

 

Vingegaard's first win, on stage 11 up the Col du Granon, came as a result of Jumbo-Visma attacking early, luring Pogacar into responding, and draining the Slovenian's energy as the 23-year-old was proven to be a mere mortal after all.

Even when stacked up against the days of when Team Sky (now INEOS Grenadiers) dominated Le Tour, Jumbo-Visma's performance this time around has been something special. As a result, they are the first team to win the yellow, polka dot (Vingegaard) and green (Van Aert) jerseys at the same edition of the race since Faema managed the feat in 1969, thanks to the great Eddy Merckx.

Vingegaard is the second Dane to win the Tour de France after Bjarne Riis in 1996, and it is the first time since 1992 that the winner of the race has been a native of the country where it started, with the first three stages of this Tour having taken place across Denmark.

Not since 2006 (Michael Rasmussen) has a Dane won the polka jot jersey, though it is the third successive edition of Le Tour that the GC leader has also claimed the King of the Mountains classification, with Pogacar having done so in 2020 and 2021. Before 2020, it had happened only three times across the previous 50 races – Merckx in 1970, Carlos Sastre in 2008 and Chris Froome in 2015.

Van Aert, meanwhile, is another star. The 27-year-old finished in second place in the opening three stages before finally claiming victory at the fourth time of asking, and his decisive attack on Hautacam gave Vingegaard the platform he needed to end Pogacar's hopes.

A sprinter by trade but a brilliant climber to boot, Van Aert never looked likely to relinquish the green jersey, easily fending off Jasper Philipsen and Pogacar for that prize. He is the first Belgian rider to win the points classification of the Tour de France since Tom Boonen in 2007.

As for Pogacar, three in a row proved one triumph too many, but when you contrast the talents of UAE Team Emirates with Jumbo-Visma, his achievements so far must be considered even more remarkable.

The white jersey, which Pogacar won in each of the last two years for the best young rider, was retained. He has been leading the youth classification over each of the last 51 racedays in the Tour de France (from stage 13 in 2020 to stage 21 in 2022), which is the longest run of consecutive racedays in the first place of a specific classification.

 

Pogacar will surely be back out to regain his crown in 2023 and along with Vingegaard could dominate for years to come, though do not count out Tom Pidcock from one day contesting for a jersey.

On his Grand Tour debut, the 22-year-old Briton has mightily impressed. His triumph on the famous Alpe d'Huez will go down in the record books. He not only broke the 100km/h mark on a descent, but became the youngest stage winner on the mountain in Le Tour history, breaking a 38-year record held by Lucho Herrera.

Pidcock, who won gold on the mountain bike at the Tokyo Olympics, is the 15th British rider to win a Tour de France stage, but just the second to do so on the Alpe d'Huez after Geraint Thomas, who at 36 has battled to a brilliant third-place finish overall.

It might well be the 2018 champion's swan song at Le Tour, while another veteran campaigner, Nairo Quintana, came in sixth in the general classification. That is Quintana's first top-10 Grand Tour finish since the 2019 Vuelta a Espana, and his best performance in this race since 2016.

Forecasting which players will break out in a given NFL season is a difficult exercise.

New stars can come from anywhere. Highly drafted rookies can swiftly justify their selection, while others who have endured a less linear path to the highest level often emerge from the wilderness to become well-known names.

But, for those players who have already had the benefit of experience in the league, Stats Perform can look at the data to judge who is in a spot to potentially make the jump to stardom.

Such ascents are regularly a product of situation. Here we look at three offensive players and three defenders who find themselves in spots conducive to a possible breakout year in 2022.

Jalen Hurts - Philadelphia Eagles

Hurts making the leap in his third season in the league is largely contingent on how his skill set is utilised by the Eagles.

Playing behind an excellent offensive line that ranked fifth in pass-block win rate last season and with a host of playmakers now including A.J. Brown, Hurts looks set up for success in 2022.

But for that success to be realised, the Eagles must tailor their offense to what he does well. In 2021, where Hurts clearly excelled was in the play-action game. Hurts produced a well-thrown ball on 80.4 per cent of play-action pass attempts, averaging 16.78 air yards on those throws.

Though they averaged 9.2 yards per play when they ran play-action, the Eagles did so on only 13.07% of their passing plays. By contrast, they ran straight dropback pass plays on 39.21% of snaps but averaged just 7.35 yards per play. Philadelphia went to the quick game on 21.57% of snaps with an average of 5.31 yards per play.

Having acquired Brown, who thrived playing in a heavy play-action offense with the Tennessee Titans, the Eagles must lean more into the play-action looks to give Hurts the best chance of improving on a quietly efficient 2022.

It would not be a seismic shift in their offensive approach, but with the talent level on their roster, it is one that could propel the Eagles to a deep playoff run and allow Hurts to end questions about his legitimacy as the long-term starter.

Brandon Aiyuk - San Francisco 49ers

Drafted from the star-studded receiver class of 2020, Aiyuk has not produced at the same level of Justin Jefferson, CeeDee Lamb and Tee Higgins.

That is partly a product of the many mouths there are to feed in the San Francisco offense and partly a result of him falling out of favour with head coach Kyle Shanahan early last season.

However, Aiyuk worked his way back to being a focal point of the Niners offense down the stretch in 2021, producing a string of key plays during their surge into the postseason.

Aiyuk produced a big play on 40.8% of his 98 targets last season – fourth among wide receivers with at least 50 targets in 2021. Delivering a burn, which is when a receiver wins his matchup with a defender on a play where he is targeted, on 65.3% of his targets, his 16 receptions of 20 yards or more were tied for 12th in the NFL.

His numbers in that regard appear likely to improve as the 49ers transition from Jimmy Garoppolo to Trey Lance at quarterback. Only one quarterback with a minimum of 50 attempts last season – Drew Lock (10.20) – averaged more air yards per attempt than Lance (10.10). Garoppolo’s 7.38 per attempt was below the league average of 7.99.

Aiyuk is an excellent route runner who brings yards-after-the-catch upside and has already shown signs of building a rapport with Lance, catching four passes for 94 yards in the 2021 third overall pick’s second start against the Houston Texans. 

If that rapport is furthered with a quarterback who should greatly improve the downfield threat posed by the San Francisco passing attack, 2022 could be the season in which Aiyuk establishes himself as another gem from a receiver class that has already emphatically lived up to its billing.

David Njoku - Cleveland Browns

The Browns have been waiting for an Njoku breakout since drafting him in the first round in 2017, and they are seemingly banking on it coming in the near future.

Cleveland signed Njoku to a four-year, $56.75 million extension this offseason having initially placed the franchise tag on the former Miami Hurricanes tight end. Those moves were made despite Njoku having a career-high in receiving yards of 639, which was in 2018.

Njoku has struggled with injuries – never starting more than 14 games in a season – but there’s evidence to suggest this will be the year he puts it all together. Last season, Njoku had a mediocre burn rate of 57.7%, but Rob Gronkowski (12.87) and Dallas Goedert (12.39) were the only tight ends with at least 25 targets to average more burn yards per target.

He was tied for 10th in burn yards per route (2.3) and 14th in big play rate (29.9%) and, assuming he stays healthy, will likely be the number two target behind Amari Cooper for the Browns in 2022.

The Browns' offense has recently been built around the running ability of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, but Deshaun Watson (if and when he is allowed to play) offers the passing game a significantly higher ceiling.

With the Browns’ wide receiver options beyond Cooper lacking in experience, Njoku stands to benefit greatly from that additional upside through an increased target share and the efficiency numbers from 2021 paint the picture of a player who will take advantage of his extra opportunities.

Christian Barmore - New England Patriots

New England suffered a self-inflicted talent drain in the secondary, but the impact of the loss of J.C. Jackson and Co. may be minimised if the Patriots can get more from the defensive front.

The Patriots were seventh in pass-rush win rate last year, so it is fair to question how much more of a jump they can make in that regard. But Barmore is the one who may fuel such a leap.

New England's second-round pick from 2021 had just 1.5 sacks last season. However, he ranked eighth among defensive tackles with at least 100 one-on-one pass rush matchups with a stunt-adjusted win rate of 38.34%.

He achieved a top-10 finish in that metric despite being double-team blocked 127 times. Only seven defenders were double teamed more often. 

Converting those pass-rush wins into sacks will be the aim in 2022 and, if he continues to dominate his matchups in his second year and the Patriots get the consistency from edge rushers Matthew Judon and Josh Uche to reduce the number of double teams, Barmore's production should see a significant improvement.

Pete Werner - New Orleans Saints

Off-ball linebackers might not move the needle like they once did, but Werner is set to step into a starting role alongside Demario Davis on a Saints defense that is still expected to be among the best in the NFL.

Werner allowed a burn on 13 of his 27 targets in coverage, and his ratio of 48.1% was above the league average for linebackers with at least 25 targets (50.8).

His burn yards per target allowed average of 8.08 yards was 18th for the players at his position to meet that threshold. Werner allowed a big play on 17.4% of his targets, also putting him comfortably on the right side of the ledger for that metric (the average was 19.8%).

On top of that, his run disruption rate of 12.1% was eighth for all linebackers with a minimum of 50 run defense snaps.

In a hugely encouraging rookie year, Werner proved he is ready to step up to the starting role.

Playing on a defense stacked with talent on the front and in the secondary, he is in a situation to make a massive impact for a unit that may have to carry the load if the Saints are to return to the playoffs in 2022.

Rashad Fenton - Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs suffered an underrated loss in free agency as cornerback Charvarius Ward departed for San Francisco. Ward allowed a burn on just 39.8% of targets in 2021 – the fourth-best rate among corners with at least 50 targets.

His departure will likely see Fenton and L'Jarius Sneed start at corner this season, though the Chiefs did add Trent McDuffie to their secondary in the draft.

The numbers indicate Fenton will rise to the challenge. He was second in burn yards per target (7.71) and third in burn yards per snap (1.22) allowed last year (min. 50 targets).

He gave up a big play on just 15.2% of targets – the third-best ratio in the league for the position. Fenton's consistency in producing tight coverage should fuel optimism he can ensure Ward's exit is not one that will cause the secondary to struggle.

Fenton has only two interceptions and 18 pass breakups to his name in three seasons. Another year of stingy coverage combined with more on-ball production for a Chiefs team likely to go deep into January again would raise the profile of an under-the-radar but very talented corner.

When England came off the pitch at the Amex Stadium against Norway nine days ago, they had just wiped the floor with their Group A opponents, dispatching them 8-0.

Suffice to say the return to Brighton to face Spain in the last eight was a more difficult encounter for Sarina Wiegman's side, but they showed true grit and determination to advance to the semi-finals at the Women’s European Championships.

Spain had been the last team to stop England from winning, with their 0-0 draw in February being the final result before the Lionesses went on a nine-game winning streak (now 10). They were also the only side that England had failed to score against in their first 17 games under Wiegman.

However, a hard-working performance from the hosts saw them come from behind to secure a 2-1 extra-time victory, eliminating one of the other pre-tournament favourites.

Prior to the game, La Roja boss Jorge Vilda appeared to be playing mind games, aiming to put pressure on his opponents.

"If I imagine Spain playing a quarter-final against England, in a home Euros they had organised, a Spain team playing in a big Spanish stadium, I imagine this would weigh on us. I think this could take away more than it gives," he said at his pre-match news conference.

He appeared to be correct as England struggled to find anything like the fluency they enjoyed in recent games for much of normal time, whether it was nerves or a well-executed Spain gameplan.

It was a tentative start on the English south coast, clear immediately that Spain would be a tougher proposition than Norway. They had lost only one game (v Germany in the group stage) in their previous 26 international matches (W21 D4), so were always going to be a hard nut for England to crack.

Mariona Caldentey was causing problems for Lucy Bronze down the Spain left and had the first shot on target after 16 mins as the visitors started to impose their possession game, giving England a problem they were yet to face in the tournament so far.

Olga Carmona was tasked with keeping tournament top scorer Beth Mead quiet and achieved just that as the England star was unable to exert any authority on the game.

Despite being largely on the back foot, the hosts thought they had taken the lead in the 37th minute when a free-kick was headed down into the path of Ellen White, who fired home, only for an offside flag to correctly go up, with White denied the chance to equal Wayne Rooney's England record of 53 goals.

Ballon d'Or winner Alexia Putellas was an obvious miss for Vilda's side. The Barcelona captain finished as the Champions League's top goalscorer with 11 goals last season and ended her domestic campaign with 18.

Spain's most capped player (100), who also won the FIFA Best Women's Player award in 2021, will miss the next 10-12 months with an ACL injury, and would have likely been a key factor in this one as La Roja dominated the ball for large spells but struggled to find their way through Wiegman's team.

England, who were 6-0 up at half-time when they played Norway, managed just the one shot in the opening 45 minutes here, and that did not arrive until the 40th minute, with Spain having six.

The Lionesses started the second half brightly, though, noticeably pressing higher up the pitch and with more fervour.

However, it was half-time Spain substitute, Athenea del Castillo, who produced a bit of magic to open the scoring, jinking inside Rachel Daly from the right before cutting back to Esther Gonzalez, who turned and finished well past Mary Earps in the 54th minute.

Wiegman responded by making her own substitutions, surprisingly removing Mead and White for Alessia Russo and Chloe Kelly.

It almost made a difference straight away as Russo flicked a ball on for Lauren Hemp, who was brought down in the penalty area, but referee Stephanie Frappart waved away the claims much to the annoyance of the vocal home fans.

It appeared England had given all they had, until another substitute made the difference as Ella Toone ran onto a Russo knockdown to prod the ball past Sandra Panos and equalise with six minutes remaining.

That forced extra-time and momentum swung in England's favour as Georgia Stanway went on a run through the middle before unleashing a ferocious strike past Panos from 25 yards to send the home fans into raptures.

Stanway's effort was the 100th goal England have scored under Wiegman in just her 18th game in charge, and the 11th from outside the penalty area.

It was now Spain who looked like they had run out of ideas, and despite a couple of minor scares, England held on to seal their place in the final four and show they may not always need to dominate games to get the job done.

A great roar went up from the 28,994 in attendance in Brighton, enough to frighten the local seagulls, as England celebrated a hard-fought victory.

If the thrashing of Norway had shown what England were capable of when at full flow, this win displayed another weapon in the arsenal that the hosts will likely have to call on again if they are to go all the way.

"England have won the World Cup – by the barest of margins. By the barest of all margins. Absolute ecstasy for England. Agony, agony for New Zealand!"

Those were the words from commentator Ian Smith that stick long in the memory from the dramatic 2019 World Cup final, England winning the 50-over competition after a culmination of four years of planning.

But Smith's dramatic exclamation, the spectacle, and the complete chaos at Lord's would not have been possible without Christchurch-born Ben Stokes.

England were reeling at 86-4 chasing 242 in tricky conditions against an unrelenting New Zealand attack, before Stokes – aided by a fortuitous dive – struck an unbeaten 84 to take the final to a Super Over.

Not satisfied with his fifth half-century of the tournament, and arguably the greatest white-ball innings of all time, Stokes added eight runs in the subsequent Super Over as England were crowned world champions on the bizarre boundary countback ruling.

The all-rounder's crowning moment in white-ball cricket came just three years after conceding four consecutive sixes in the last over of the T20 World Cup final as Carlos Braithwaite powered West Indies to victory.

That response typified the gritty character of Stokes, whose decision on Monday came to prolong his Test captaincy and career with England.

Here, Stats Perform looks back at the data underpinning a remarkable ODI career, which came to an end after Stokes' last outing against South Africa at home ground Durham on Tuesday.

Australian dominance

Stokes will further haunt Australian cricket after his Headingley heroics, though he laid the platform for years of torment in ODI cricket.

The 31-year-old posted his maiden ODI fifty against Australia in Perth in 2014 and recorded his best career figures in the format against England's fierce rivals, taking 5-61 in 2013 at Southampton.

He also managed his highest score in 50-over internationals against Australia, finishing unbeaten on 102 in the Champions Trophy in 2017 at Edgbaston in a one-sided victory for England.

Despite playing his most ODIs against India (20), Stokes accumulated his most runs against a single country when playing Australia (652 in 17 matches).

While enjoying various clashes with Australia, Stokes' ODI career ended with somewhat of a whimper, managing just 48 runs in three innings against India before scoring only five in his final match at Durham.

Though failing to deliver in the closing stages of a glittering 50-over international career that spanned 11 years, Stokes retired having scored 2,924 runs at an average of 38.98.

That included three centuries, 21 fifties and just six ducks, having bludgeoned 238 fours and 88 maximums. His strike rate of 95.26 is the sixth-highest among England batters to have played over 50 innings.

With the ball, Stokes bowled 518.2 overs – 3,110 deliveries – and claimed 74 dismissals at an average of 42.39, going at just over a run-a-ball six runs per over throughout his career.

The complete cricketer

"No way! No, no way! You cannot do that, Ben Stokes," Nasser Hussain exclaimed on Sky Sports as Stokes produced a remarkable leap and one-handed catch over his head to dismiss Andile Phehlukwayo in England's World Cup opening 104-run win over South Africa in 2019.

Stokes will take rightful plaudits for his batting and bowling achievements, but credit must also be granted for his fielding ability – a star in all three facets of the game.

Only seven players have taken more catches for England in ODI cricket than the 49 of Stokes.

He is also part of an exclusive club of players to take three catches in a single ODI innings for England, with Chris Woakes (four against Pakistan in 2019) the only player to take more in one match.

Employed in the hot zones where the ball is expected to go, whether that be deep-midwicket, long-on or extra cover, Jos Buttler's side will sorely miss Stokes' athleticism and gun fielding.

Leaving a Lord's legacy

Cometh the hour, cometh the man. The inevitability of Stokes' Lord's heroics was undeniable, though none could expect victory to come about in the fashion it did.

He scored five fifties and averaged 66.4 across 10 innings in the World Cup that ended with the defining innings of a game viewed by many as the greatest of all time.

Yet without a contentious umpiring decision in a moment of carnage and a Trent Boult overstep on the boundary, Stokes would never had the opportunity to be the hero for England.

Stokes, requiring nine off three to win the final, produced a despairing dive and saw his outstretched bat deflect the ball to the boundary for four overthrows and six runs in total – a clear umpiring mistake.

But with two needed off the final ball, Stokes opted to nudge a full toss into the leg side, appreciating a one would keep England in the game as opposed to taking the risk of being caught, such was his calculated thinking amid the chaos in Lord's sun.

More heroics were to follow in the Super Over, smashing eight off just three balls to take England to 15 before Buttler and Jason Roy's run-out of Martin Guptill sealed a memorable triumph.

Fittingly, Stokes finished with five fours and two sixes in his match-defining 84 off 98 deliveries, the most times a player found the rope in the final that was decided by boundary countback.

If his ODI legacy is defined by one game, it should be the one in which he held his nerve while chaos ensued all around him.

England tackle Spain in a heavyweight quarter-final as the knockout stages of Euro 2022 get under way on Wednesday, with records already tumbling and data quirks around every corner.

The tournament has just passed its halfway stage in terms of the total number of games, with 16 of 31 having been played, and already more spectators have seen the finals in England than have attended any previous Women's Euros.

UEFA said 369,314 tickets were sold for group-stage games, with the soaring popularity of the women's game meaning the tournament attendance record of 240,055, set in the Netherlands five years ago, has been obliterated.

Sarina Wiegman's free-scoring England Lionesses have played an instrumental part in the tournament's success to date, with the host nation rallying around a team who scored a record 14 goals in the group stage, with Beth Mead's personal haul of five goals so far also a new all-time best for the group round.

Now the knockout stages await and the stakes are raised. Stats Perform, assisted by data from Opta, has looked at the tournament so far, plus each last-eight game, to see where the title might be won and lost.


The story so far

England have been the deadliest finishers, scoring 14 goals with a conversion rate of 24.6 per cent. Sweden sit next on that list, putting away 23.5 per cent of chances to net eight goals, five of which came in their final group game against Portugal.

France have scored all eight of their goals in the first half of their games, while England have hit nine before the interval and added five afterwards. The Netherlands have only scored twice prior to half-time in their games but have netted six second-half strikes, the most of all teams.

Switzerland exited after losing in painfully familiar fashion, with a second-half capitulation in going down 4-1 to the Dutch. The Swiss kept three first-half clean sheets in Group C but were pushovers after the interval, conceding eight times. In sharp contrast, all three of the goals Spain have shipped have come in the opening 45 minutes.

Spain have played the most passes overall, excluding crosses. Their total of 2,052 passes has come with an 86.0 per cent accuracy rate, while England have attempted the second highest number of passes (1,674) with a competition-leading 86.5 per cent precision.

The Spanish national team are famed for their possession-based, attractive football, teasing their way through defences with clever passes. Yet four of Spain's five goals have been headers, compared to three of 14 for England.

Mead sits top of the goal involvements list with seven (five goals, two assists), which puts her comfortably ahead of England team-mate Fran Kirby and Sweden's Kosovare Asllani, both of whom have scored once and set up three goals for a total of four involvements each.

Spain have the top five on the list of players with the most passes in the opposition half, led by defender Mapi Leon who has played 176 passes with a success rate of 90.3 per cent. For passes into the final third, Leon's accuracy dips to 83 per cent.


Best is still to come...

QUARTER-FINAL 1: Spain v England – July 20, Brighton

England have a record of played two, won two in previous Women's Euros quarter-finals, beating Finland 3-2 in 2009 and then edging France 1-0 five years ago in the Netherlands. Meanwhile, Spain have lost both of their previous games at this stage, going down 3-1 to Norway in 2013 and suffering a penalty shoot-out defeat to Austria in 2017, following a goalless draw.

Four of England's starters from the 2017 win over France have played in every game so far at these finals: Lucy Bronze, Mille Bright, Kirby and Ellen White.

England have never lost on home soil against Spain (P7 W4 D3), with the teams battling out a 0-0 draw when they last met in February. However, Spain have beaten England three times before when taking all 15 previous encounters into account, losing six and drawing six.

Including a 20-0 win over Latvia last November, England have scored 98 goals in their 17 games under head coach Sarina Wiegman, scoring an average of 5.8 goals per game and only conceding three times.

Mead's haul of five goals so far matches Jodie Taylor's Lionesses record haul from the last Euros, which won her the Golden Boot. Spain have scored five goals in total during this tournament, with five different scorers.

QF2: Germany v Austria – July 21, Brentford

Germany are one of two teams, along with England, who have yet to concede a goal. That does not bode well for Austria, who are making their second appearance at this stage after beating Norway in the last round of group games.

The Austrians will start as big underdogs against the eight-time champions (winners once as West Germany, seven times as Germany), with Germany having won 15 of their most recent 16 games when going beyond the group stages. That had been a 15-game winning run until Denmark halted it in the 2017 quarter-finals, scoring a surprise 2-1 win.

Austria might need Barbara Dunst's luck to change if they are to stand any chance. Dunst has had 11 shots and created eight chances for Austria so far in this tournament, but she has yet to score or have an assist. She had the most direct involvements in shots (19) without scoring or assisting of all players in the group stage.

QF3: Sweden v Belgium – July 22, Leigh

Sweden are the highest-placed team on the FIFA ranking list, sitting second, behind the United States. They are quietly going about their business in England, and it would be a major surprise for them not to reach the semi-finals from this tie.

Including penalties, Sweden scored more goals from set-pieces than any other side in the group stage (5). Belgium might be concerned by that, given two of the three goals they have conceded came from dead-ball scenarios.

Of the eight quarter-finalists, Belgium scored the joint-fewest goals (3) in the group stage, had the fewest shots (21), the fewest shots on target (11) and the lowest expected goals total (2.6). The Red Flames surely need to find more of a spark for this big game.

QF4: France v Netherlands – July 23, Rotherham

France will be playing a fourth consecutive match in Rotherham, a town which is twinned with the French city of Saint-Quentin.

This is also a fourth consecutive Women's Euros quarter-final for France, who have lost each time at this stage, including a penalty shoot-out defeat to the Netherlands in 2009. They were beaten on spot-kicks by Denmark in 2013, and then slumped 1-0 to England in 2017. France have lost star striker Marie-Antoinette Katoto to an ACL knee injury, so memories of fast-flowing football in their opening 5-1 win over Italy are becoming distant.

Defending their title this time, the Netherlands have lost Euro 2017 player of the tournament Lieke Martens to injury and star goalscorer Vivianne Miedema has been sidelined of late after a COVID-19 positive test.

Yet the Dutch have progressed on each of the two occasions they have reached the quarter-finals previously, with the win over France in 2009 followed in 2017 by a 2-0 victory over Sweden.

With the end of one transfer saga comes the start of another. 

Robert Lewandowski has secured a long-awaited move to Barcelona, fulfilling a "dream" in the process and leaving Bayern Munich in the market for a new striker to lead their line.

But just how do you go about finding a like-for-like replacement for the most prolific marksman anywhere in the world?

One suggestion is that Bayern will make do with what they have, with Sadio Mane – a wide forward rather than a striker – having already been recruited from Liverpool this window.

While that may work, there are other potential options out there for Bayern to consider ahead of their latest title defence as they aim to win the Bundesliga for an 11th time in a row.

Here, Stats Perform takes a closer look at exactly what the Bavarian giants are losing in Lewandowski, and where they could go next.


LEWY LEADS THE WAY

Labelling Lewandowski as the best striker in European football is not hyperbolic when assessing the cold hard facts. 

The Poland international is coming off the back of a campaign that saw him register 50 goals in 46 games in all competitions, which is six goals more than the next-best Karim Benzema among players from Europe's top five leagues.

 

It is not like Lewandowski's output levels were dropping, either. The 35 league goals he registered last season are second only to the record-breaking 41 netted in the 2020-21 campaign across his 12 seasons in the German top flight with Borussia Dortmund and then Bayern.

Indeed, he has finished as the league's top scorer in each of the past five seasons, scoring 161 goals across that period, with no other player managing such a long streak in the competition's history. 


BEST OF THE REST

Put simply, Bayern surely cannot match those numbers with one player alone. If it is a pure goalscorer the German champions are after to fill the void, the aforementioned Benzema would be their best bet, the Real Madrid striker having scored 44 goals in 46 games last time out.

Persuading Madrid to let go of their focal point in attack would be nigh-on impossible, of course, likewise with Kylian Mbappe – Europe's third most prolific player in the 2021-22 season (39 goals in 46 games) – at Paris Saint-Germain.

Next on that particular list is RB Leipzig's highly-rated talent Cristopher Nkunku, who scored 35 goals in 52 matches last season and also chipped in with 16 assists. When purely weighing up goal involvements, Nkunku was only five short of Lewandowski last season, in a team with far less quality.

 

Indeed, Nkunku's 35 strikes last season came from an expected goals (xG) value of 28.23, meaning that he found the net 6.77 times more than he should have judging by the quality of the chances. Only Benzema (9.9) can better than across Europe's top five leagues.

Nkunku is not strictly a number nine, though, and his arrival – even if Bayern could tempt Leipzig into selling – would mean Julian Nagelsmann having to adapt his system in the final third of the field.


FORGET KANE... GO FOR KALAJDZIC

The likes of Timo Werner, Patrick Schick and Harry Kane are other names to have been touted as possible replacements for Lewandowski. Kane in particular would suit Bayern's system, and Bayern CEO Oliver Kahn admitted last week it would be a "dream" signing – while at the same time completely dismissing a move for wantaway Manchester United forward Cristiano Ronaldo.

With another couple of years to run on Kane's contract, however, and Tottenham demanding a nine-figure sum from Manchester City this time last year, the Bavarians would have to spend big to bring in the England international.

For a club that has only once spent in excess of €40m on an attacking player – Leroy Sane from Manchester City two years ago – and having already splashed the cash to bring in Mane from Liverpool, that seems unlikely to happen.

 

There is more than goals alone to judging just how good a striker is, of course, and some players are certainly more attainable than others. Look no further than Sasa Kalajdzic, who boasts a number of qualities suited to Nagelsmann, not least his presence in the box.

At six foot and seven inches, Kalajdzic is one of the tallest players around and knows how to put that to good use, with exactly half of his 22 Bundesliga goals coming via his head.

Despite playing just 22 top-flight matches since his Stuttgart debut at the end of the 2019-20 season, those 11 headed goals are bettered only by Andre Silva (12) and – him again – Lewandowski (13), who have played 45 and 83 games in that period respectively.

Kalajdzic may have missed most of last season through injury, but six goals in 15 games for a side involved in a relegation scrap suggests he is a player with plenty of potential and, just as importantly, likely to be gettable, as Stuttgart director Sven Mislintat recently admitted given the 25-year-old is out of contract next year.

 

MANE AND GNABRY TO STEP UP?

Away from the dream options and outside picks to take over from Lewandowski, Kahn himself said last week that in Mane his side already have a ready-made replacement.

Position wise that is not technically true, of course, but there is no doubt that Mane's goals return across his six seasons with Liverpool was mightily impressive.

With 120 goals in all competitions for Liverpool, he averaged a goal every 189 minutes – exactly one every two matches. Mane also assisted 37 goals, meaning he was directly involved in a goal every 137 minutes. 

In the Premier League, only Kane (134), former team-mate Mohamed Salah (118) and Leicester City's Jamie Vardy (104) scored more goals than Mane (90) over the course of his Liverpool career.

 

Unlike with Liverpool's front three, Bayern have been used to having one focal point up top in Lewandowski.

Serge Gnabry, who recently signed a contract extension at the Allianz Arena, can also play through the middle if called upon, and has done so to good effect for the Germany national side.

If reports from the German media are to be believed, that is the route Nagelsmann will have to go down for the 2022-23 season until a big-name number nine can be recruited further down the line.

Whether it will work will be intriguing to see, with the only certainty in all this being that Bayern can no longer turn to go-to man Lewandowski in their time of need.

For years, there has been talk of the NFL entering an era of 'positionless' football and, looking back on the 2021 season, there is a case to be made that it's finally here.

With the league dominated by dual-threat quarterbacks and defenses increasingly reliant on secondary defenders who can move around the field, the phrase 'the more you can do' has never more definitively applied to the NFL – at least not since the bygone era of the two-way player.

Indeed, players who can excel in several positions and fulfil a multitude of different roles are more valuable than ever, with three of the teams that made last season's final four dependent on players who are among the league's most versatile.

Using advanced data, Stats Perform can break down the league's multi-faceted stars and look at some of the more versatile players who have flown somewhat under the radar.

The NFC West Unicorns

Aaron Donald - Los Angeles Rams

We would be remiss to mention the most versatile players in the league and not start it with Donald.

Donald is the NFL's pre-eminent defensive player and the most remarkable aspect of his dominance is that he maintains it irrespective of where he lines up on the defensive line.

His pressure rate of 28.1 per cent last year led all interior defensive linemen and it only dipped to 27.7 per cent when he moved out to the edge, though he did so for just 94 pass-rush snaps in 2021 compared to 448 from his defensive tackle position.

And 108 of his 127 pressures on the inside involved him beating a pass protector. That was the case for 23 of his 26 edge pressures, which illustrates his ability to confound offensive linemen regardless of whether he's working within tight confines or from wide-open space.

Jalen Ramsey - Los Angeles Rams

Donald is the engine of the Los Angeles defense, but a unit that has leaned on its top-end talent would not have remained among the league's elite if not for the presence of arguably the NFL's top secondary defender.

Ramsey still played the vast majority of his snaps as an outside corner in 2021, playing 784 in that position. However, as the 'star' player on the Los Angeles defense, Ramsey spends most of his time locked on an opponent's top receiver, which frequently means playing in the slot.

Indeed, Ramsey played 366 snaps in the slot and was outstanding when lined up there. Targeted 31 times from the slot, Ramsey allowed a burn, which is when a receiver wins a matchup on a play in which they're targeted, 38.7 per cent of the time. The league average for slot corners with at least 50 coverage snaps was 50.7 per cent.

Ramsey posted the ninth-lowest burn yards per target average (5.84) and was the seventh-best slot by big play rate. He gave up a big play on just 6.5 per cent of targets.

His numbers as an outside corner were less impressive. Ramsey gave up a burn 48 per cent of the time and surrendered 10.32 burn yards per target. However, his big-play rate allowed of 19.4 per cent was still better than the average of 26.1 per cent (min. 50 snaps) and amounted to him giving up 15 big plays on 75 targets across 398 coverage snaps.

In other words, Ramsey allowed a big play on under four per cent of his coverage snaps as an outside corner. The 'lockdown defender' tag applies to Ramsey wherever he is on the field.

Deebo Samuel - San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers have dug in their heels and refused to indulge Samuel's trade request, with their determination to hold on to the wide receiver unsurprising given his outsized value to San Francisco's offense.

Samuel is to the 49ers' offense what Donald is to the Rams' defense. Last season, he was the reason it worked and the reason the Niners came agonisingly close to completing three wins over the Rams and claiming the NFC championship.

In a career year for Samuel, he racked up 1,405 receiving yards, leading the league with 18.2 yards per reception while his 10.1 yards after catch average was also the best among wideouts.

Yet it was the way in which the Niners utilised his ability in the open field to turn him into a de-facto running back in the second half of last season that weaponized the San Francisco offense.

When lined up in the backfield as a running back, Samuel averaged 6.58 yards per rush last season. He recorded 4.11 yards before contact per attempt, 2.67 yards after contact and averaged 4.77 yards per attempt on carries in which there was a run disruption by a defender. 

No running back could match his yards per carry average or top his performance on rushes disrupted by a defender. Rashaad Penny of the Seattle Seahawks and Dontrell Hilliard of the Tennessee Titans were the only players with over 50 carries at running back to average over 4.0 yards before contact per rush. Kareem Hunt (2.84) of the Cleveland Browns was the only player to average more yards after contact per attempt than Samuel.

With the option to hand the ball off to Samuel or flare him out and get him the ball on screens, lining Deebo up in the backfield allowed the Niners to limit Donald's impact for long periods and lessen Ramsey's effectiveness when he played the 'star' role by forcing him to follow Samuel into the box.

The duplicity Samuel brings in his hybrid receiver-running back role is critical to head coach Kyle Shanahan winning the play-calling chess match. Despite his trade demands, it's why the Niners will ensure he remains on their board.

Cooper Kupp - Los Angeles Rams

While Kupp may not do the damage Samuel does out of the backfield, it is impossible to leave the reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year off this list.

Kupp was the only receiver in the NFL last season to finish in the top five in burn yards per route as an outside receiver (fourth, 3.9) and from the slot (third, 4.0).

On top of that, he was fifth in big-play rate among outside receivers with at least 50 targets, registering an explosive on 39.7 per cent of targets. Only two wideouts, Christian Kirk (36.7) of the Arizona Cardinals and Cedrick Wilson (36.5) of the Dallas Cowboys produced a higher rate of big plays from the slot than Kupp's 36.4 per cent.

Lined up for 24 snaps as a running back, Kupp was also utilised as a safety net for Matthew Stafford out of the backfield on occasion. His proficiency in contributing to pass protection by blocking defenders before getting out into his route perfectly encapsulated just how well-rounded of a player he has become.

Queens on the Chessboard

Cordarrelle Patterson - Atlanta Falcons

Patterson was overdrafted by the Minnesota Vikings back in 2013, but he carved out a hybrid role last season in the Atlanta offense in which he, like Samuel, spent time in the backfield and lined up as a receiver.

Designated as a running back, Patterson averaged 4.07 yards per carry, racking up 2.0 yards after contact per attempt and 3.06 yards per attempt on rushes in which there was a disruption by a defender.

Among running backs who registered 100 carries and were targeted 50 times, Patterson's 22.6 per cent big-play rate on passing targets was the highest in the NFL. Alvin Kamara of the New Orleans Saints was second at 21.3.

With the Falcons transitioning to a new era at quarterback as Marcus Mariota and Desmond Ridder compete for the job, Patterson's ability to create yards after contact as a runner and explosive plays on routes out of the backfield will again be extremely valuable in 2022.

Between Patterson, Kyle Pitts and first-round pick Drake London, the Falcons have a trio of malleable playmakers who can ensure the offense is still explosive as they move away from the Matt Ryan era.

Travis Kelce - Kansas City Chiefs

In terms of value to his team, Kelce rivals Samuel with the multiple roles he plays for the Chiefs and the importance of him excelling from several spots will likely increase in 2022 following the Chiefs' trade of Tyreek Hill.

One of the league's most effective 'power slots' who uses his size and route running to his advantage when lined up as a de-facto slot receiver, Kelce played 333 snaps in that position in 2021.

He played 184 as an outside receiver and 136 from his traditional in-line tight end spot in an encapsulation of the evolution of a position that has grown ever more multi-faceted.

Kelce's burn rate from all three spots was over 70 per cent. He won his matchup with a defender on 79.1 per cent of targets as an in-line tight end. That ratio dipped to 76.3 per cent as an outside receiver and 74.4 per cent from the slot.

The majority of his big plays, however, came when he lined up outside. Kelce produced a big play on 34.8 per cent of his targets as an outside receiver and 32.3 per cent from the slot. He was not as explosive as an in-line tight end, a spot from where he delivered a big play 25.8 per cent of the time.

Though the numbers at each alignment may differ, they all paint the same picture: a playmaker who gets open regardless of where he is on the field. Combined with his underrated blocking, Kelce's remarkable versatility makes him one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in the NFL.

Elgton Jenkins - Green Bay Packers

Jenkins has played every position in the trenches apart from right guard during his three seasons in the NFL, and in that time he has established himself as one of the best young offensive linemen in the NFL and an integral part of the Packers' attack.

Last season, Jenkins played the entirety of his snaps at left tackle before injury curtailed his campaign after eight games. He allowed only 11 pressures on 163 pass protection snaps, with his pressure rate of 6.7 per cent superior to the average of 9.2 per cent among left tackles.

Prior to that in 2020, Jenkins played most of his snaps at left guard, but also filled in at center and made cameos at both tackle spots. His pressure rate of 4.7 per cent was fifth among left guards that year. At center, he gave up a pressure on just 2.1 per cent of snaps – the third-best rate among players at the position.

Essentially, Jenkins is a rare breed of offensive lineman who can hold up in pass protection at every position on the offensive front. He appears set to slot in at right tackle for 2022, but Jenkins will likely be the first person the Packers call upon if they have an injury at another spot up front.

Ambidextrous Defenders

Micah Parsons - Dallas Cowboys

Parsons claimed NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2021 thanks to an exceptional first-year campaign that saw him make an unexpectedly outsized impact as a pass rusher.

On 220 pass-rush snaps, Parsons generated 69 pressures for a pressure rate of 31.4 per cent that was tops among linebackers with at least 50 pass rushes.

Parsons spent 153 of those snaps on the edge but also proved extremely effective in coverage. Allowing a burn on 41.9 per cent of targets last season, Parsons gave up only 6.86 yards per target – the fourth-fewest among linebackers targeted at least 25 times.

Also second for his position with a run disruption rate of 16.4 per cent, Parsons swiftly proved his ability to influence every facet of the game and his multiplicity will make him somebody opposing play-callers will constantly have to think about when game planning for the Cowboys.

Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah - Cleveland Browns

Though Parsons was the standout defensive rookie in the league last season, he was not the best first-year linebacker in coverage. That distinction went to Owusu-Koramoah, who slid to the second round of the 2021 draft and went on to lead all linebackers with 5.83 burn yards per target allowed and give up a big-play rate of 4.5 per cent that was also the best for the position.

Owusu-Koramoah played most of his snaps (414) at inside linebacker but also spent time at outside linebacker, on the edge and in the slot on top of a handful of snaps at outside corner.

He did not pass rush often, logging just 27 snaps in that regard, but gained nine pressures for a pressure rate of 33.0 per cent. Against the run, he registered a disruption rate of 15.3 per cent.

Owusu-Koramoah is a player the Browns can trust to hold up in man and zone coverage and has the flexibility to operate in almost every position in the back seven. He can play the run extremely well and has produced encouraging flashes as a pass rusher to suggest he can grow in that area.

Any success the Browns enjoy on defense in 2022 will likely in part be a product of Owusu-Koramoah's malleability.

Chuck Clark - Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens added Kyle Hamilton and Marcus Williams to their safety room this offseason but have, to this point, kept hold of Clark.

On the surface, that may be something of a surprise. However, a deeper dive into the numbers illustrates the value he has to Baltimore's defense.

Though Clark operated at free safety for 526 snaps in 2021, he also played 108 at strong safety, 97 in the slot, 81 on the edge and over 100 at linebacker.

He defended double-digit targets from free safety, strong safety and in the slot. Only at free safety did he allow more 10 burn yards per target.

His average of 8.01 burn yards allowed per target when lined up as a deep safety was 12th in the NFL. In the slot, he gave up 9.25 per target – better than the average of 9.53 for slots with at least 50 snaps.

With Williams set to slide in at free safety, Hamilton and Clark will have the freedom to roam around the field in three-safety looks and their proficiency in playing the slot should offer the Ravens more answers in defending tight ends and the bigger wideouts that are spending an increasing amount of time on the inside.

Under the Radar Rovers

Kamren Curl - Washington Commanders

Sticking at the safety position and with teams that play their football in Maryland, Curl has quietly emerged as a stud who can fulfil a variety of roles in the defensive backfield.

Last season, Curl played 342 snaps as a free safety, 211 in the slot, 90 as a strong safety, 56 as an inside linebacker, 53 as an outside linebacker and 45 as an outside corner. To say the Commanders have confidence in him all over the field is putting it mildly.

Lined up as a deep safety, Curl allowed 6.02 burn yards per target – the best ratio in the NFL. He allowed a big play on 14.8 per cent of targets, which was the fourth-best rate among deep safeties.

In the slot, he surrendered only 6.15 burn yards per target and a big play on two of his 21 targets. Though Curl was not asked to do as much in coverage when he played closer to the line of scrimmage, he influenced the game with his play against the run. His run disruption rate of 10.0 per cent from the inside linebacker spot was equal to that of Derwin James of the Los Angeles Chargers.

Defensive centrepieces are rarely found in the seventh round, but the Commanders have clearly unearthed one who has the multiplicity to rival defenders of a much higher profile.

Elijah Moore - New York Jets

If former 49ers defensive coordinator and now Jets head coach Robert Saleh is hoping to develop his version of Deebo Samuel, then Moore may be his best candidate.

Moore thrived playing as both an outside receiver and in the slot in his rookie season after being picked in the second round last year. He was tied for 16th in burn yards per route (3.0) among receivers with at least 50 targets. Moore also finished 16th in that group in big-play rate, delivering a burn or a burn for a touchdown on 35.7 per cent of targets.

Though the explosive plays (25.7 per cent) dropped off when he was in the slot, Moore excelled at maximizing his separation as an inside receiver, finishing tied for 10th (min. 25 slot targets) with 3.1 burn yards per route.

Moore carried the ball only five times as a rookie, but he averaged over 10 yards per attempt, with one of those attempts going for a touchdown. Though it is an extremely small sample size, that's the kind of efficiency to suggest he should be given increased opportunities on designed touches out of the backfield in his second season.

Asking Moore to replicate Samuel would be ambitious. However, if he can succeed in a more varied role while continuing to produce from several receiver spots, it would be a substantial boost to Zach Wilson's hopes of a second-year leap.

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