Rather fittingly given the underwhelming nature of Paris Saint-Germain's season, their record-equalling 10th Ligue 1 triumph was sealed with a draw at home to Lens.

So much was expected of PSG, fairly so, given their astonishing off-season recruitment, that ending 2021-22 with just one major trophy, and failing to reach the latter stages of either the Coupe de France or the Champions League, cannot be portrayed as anything but a disappointment.

One of those superstar recruits – Lionel Messi – got the goal for PSG on Saturday, though it was cancelled out by Corentin Jean late on as 10-man Lens fought back to draw 1-1.

It was just a fourth Ligue 1 goal for Messi, whose move from Barcelona has, really, not lived up to expectations, albeit the 34-year-old has provided 13 assists. The same can be said for Sergio Ramos – the former Real Madrid defender has made just five league starts in a season derailed by injury – while Gianluigi Donnarumma has had some shaky moments. Indeed, he did not play as PSG sealed the title and his 75 per cent save percentage, while impressive, does not better that of Keylor Navas (78.4).

Neymar took most of the season to get up to speed and if not for Kylian Mbappe, the title race may have been much closer. PSG might not have the France star to rely on for much longer, and doubt remains over Mauricio Pochettino's future.

Nevertheless, PSG do have a title to celebrate, one that makes them the joint-most successful team in Ligue 1 history, alongside Saint-Etienne, and an eighth of the QSI era.

Stats Perform, using Opta data, looks at the key numbers behind the success, and some records that might still be in PSG's sights.

 

Leaving it late (or later than usual)

It has always seemed like a procession to the title for PSG this season but, actually, this is the latest they have left it to get the crown secured since the 2014-15 season.

Back then, PSG were not champions until matchday 37. They got the job done on matchday 34 this time around, though that is still later than in 2018-19 (33), 2017-18 (33) and 2015-16 (30). That is not counting 2019-20, when PSG were handed the title by default due to the coronavirus pandemic.

PSG have averaged 2.29 points per game so far in 2021-22, which is their lowest total when winning the title since 2014-15 (2.18).

They are, however, the first team to be crowned French champions eight times in the space of 10 seasons (Saint-Etienne and Lyon did so on seven occasions).

PSG have collected 78 points to date. Should they win their remaining four matches, they will set the fifth-highest points total in Ligue 1 history (90).

Verratti sets Ligue 1 record

Marco Verratti starred in Italy's Euro 2020 success and the mercurial midfielder has continued that form into this season.

He has played a part in all eight of PSG's title triumphs during the QSI era, making him the first player to win Ligue 1 eight times.

Team-mate Marquinhos is joint-second on the list with seven titles to his name.

Pochettino gets his first title

This marks Pochettino's first league success as a coach, after PSG lost out to Lille last season.

The former Tottenham boss has won 39 of his 55 Ligue 1 matches in charge, with the other 16 games split equally between draws and defeats.

His win rate of 71 per cent ranks him some way behind his two predecessors, however – Thomas Tuchel (76) and Unai Emery (74).

Pochettino's PSG have scored 2.2 goals per game and collected 2.3 points per match on average, conceding 0.9 goals per game.

He is the sixth Argentine coach to win a title across Europe's big five leagues, joining Diego Simeone, Luis Carniglia, Alfredo di Stefano, Jorge Valdano and Helenio Herrera (though the latter became a French national). Carniglia, with Nice, is the only other Argentine boss to win Ligue 1.

Topping the stats

As would be expected, PSG dominate the statistics so far in Ligue 1. They have had more possession (62.9), played more passes per game (663), scored more goals per match (2.2) and had more sequences of 10+ passes (21.5 per match).

PSG have only dropped two points from winning positions all season – one of those coming on Saturday – while they have gained 21 from losing positions, more than any other team. Their 18 different goalscorers is also a league high.

The excitement around Paris Saint-Germain ahead of the 2021-22 season was palpable.

In scenes reminiscent of the 'Galactico' era at Real Madrid, PSG appeared to be attempting to build their very own version of the Harlem Globetrotters.

The signing of right-back Achraf Hakimi from Inter early in the transfer window not only filled a problem position, but also brought in one the world's leading young defenders.

Nuno Mendes, albeit on loan, followed to fill the left-back slot later in the window, but between those signings, PSG made three sensational free transfers.

Gianluigi Donnarumma, Sergio Ramos and, to top it all off, Lionel Messi joined. Their joint presentation at the Parc des Princes was the main event ahead of a match against Strasbourg in August.

Funnily enough, Kylian Mbappe's name was booed as it was read out ahead of that match, amid speculation he could be joining Real Madrid.

That might well have been the case, but PSG turned down multiple Madrid advances. For all the glitter and glamour of their new signings, Mbappe was still seen as the key to their dream: the Champions League.

But that dream of conquering all in Europe was dashed in March. Ironically enough, by Madrid. It was Mbappe who put PSG 2-0 up in the tie before a Karim Benzema-inspired comeback sent Los Blancos into the quarter-finals.

Since then, PSG's monotonous stroll to another Ligue 1 title – albeit their first since 2020 – has continued and, inevitably, they claimed it on Saturday when they drew 1-1 with Lens.

Their fearsome front three has produced some special moments, yet last week's 2-1 Classique victory over Marseille, their nearest rivals – for lack of a better term – for the title, was played in front of a crowd lacking its most vociferous supporters, who had chosen to boycott the match in order to protest against the way the club has been run.

And though an eighth league title in 11 years of Qatar Sports Investment (QSI) ownership cannot be scoffed at, it is the least PSG should expect given the grandiose nature of their expensively assembled squad of superstars.

So, what next?

Mbappe Madrid-bound?

Mbappe is the first player to score more than 20 goals in the competition in three separate seasons before his 24th birthday since Herve Revelli, who managed it on four occasions between 1967 and 1970.

Before the Lens game, Mbappe's tally of 33 goals in all competitions was bettered by only Karim Benzema and Robert Lewandowski among players across Europe's top five leagues, with the France star having also outperformed his expected goals (29.5).

If this is to be his PSG swansong, then Mbappe is going out in style, if not on the biggest stage. From being jeered by his own supporters back in August, the tables turned when Mbappe was applauded in the wake of PSG's Champions League exit, with the boos reserved for Messi and Neymar instead.

PSG seem intent on trying to keep their talisman, but it really does appear to be to little avail, and it looks certain Mbappe will be lighting up LaLiga next season.

Messi to move on?

Yes, you did read that right. Messi – arguably the greatest player of all time – was booed by PSG supporters. Such is the fickle nature of football fandom, they were cheering his name by the time the next game came around, but at 34, does the Barcelona great really need to risk any damage to his reputation?

The goals have not come freely for Messi at PSG, managing only nine so far. However, he has contributed creatively with 13 assists, even if his expected assists (xA) of 9.86 suggests he has benefited from some above-standard finishing (which may be expected when you're supplying Mbappe, and Neymar too).

One has to wonder if he'll be sticking around to help the bid for an 11th league title in PSG's history next season.

 

Time up for Poch?

It is not just the future of star players up for debate. Mauricio Pochettino replaced Thomas Tuchel because the latter had failed to win the Champions League, only for Tuchel to go and win the tournament with Chelsea. Pochettino, meanwhile, saw his team lose in the semi-finals to Manchester City last season and then go down to Madrid in the last 16 this time around.

His record in Ligue 1 shows 39 wins from 55 matches, with the Argentine coach having overseen eight defeats and eight draws to register a win percentage of 70.9. Pochettino's team have scored 123 goals and conceded way less than half that amount (49).

Pochettino's 2.27 points per game ranks below his three predecessors, however; Tuchel took 2.37, as did Unai Emery, and Laurent Blanc recorded 2.35. Carlo Ancelotti (2.14) was the last PSG coach to have taken fewer points per game.

The former Tottenham boss might have been expecting a call from Manchester United, yet they have chosen Ajax's Erik ten Hag. Given the Champions League is the be-all and end-all for PSG, will Pochettino get another shot?

More, more, more?

Regardless of what happens with Mbappe, Pochettino or Messi, one thing is certain: PSG will be linked with the biggest stars on the market again.

Should Mbappe decide to pledge more of his career to PSG, will they go out and look to further bolster their chances of Champions League glory? If he leaves, how do they replace his goals?

Backing Messi and Neymar to come up with the difference should not be out of the question, yet it seems unlikely QSI would want a star player to leave and not replace him.

Paul Pogba is set to be available on a free, and it is not difficult to imagine the France star strutting his stuff in the blue of PSG. Georginio Wijnaldum's move has not been a success and the Dutchman's former club Newcastle United – now cash-rich of course – have been linked.

What of Keylor Navas? Donnarumma, despite some rash mistakes, seems to be the number one pick as goalkeeper now. Surely the Costa Rican will want to be a first choice elsewhere? Ramos has hardly been able to keep fit and PSG do lack a world-class partner for Marquinhos.

PSG may have to take a step back to finally move forward and become a dominant force in Europe, not just France. Perhaps sticking with Pochettino is the correct route, and they should forget about star signings for now and let the coach build something as he did in north London, using younger players and adding in the stardust with the talent that he already has at his disposal.

Based on the last decade, however, that does not seem likely.

Thomas Muller and Manuel Neuer are 10-in-a-row heroes for Bayern Munich, the lone mainstays of a decade of Bundesliga dominance.

Saturday's win against Borussia Dortmund means Bayern are German champions again, and veterans Muller and Neuer have been instrumental in the latest success.

Muller now has 11 Bundesliga titles in all, having also been a part of the triumphant 2009-10 team, and that stands as an all-time record.

There have been times in recent seasons when both Muller and Neuer have come under scrutiny, their places in the Bayern side being called into question.

Stats Perform has looked at how these two pivotal figures for Die Roten have bounced back in magnificent style.


The reinvention of Thomas Muller

Muller was integral to the title-clinching 3-1 win against Dortmund on Saturday, with the 2010 World Cup Golden Boot winner setting up Robert Lewandowski to make it 2-0 just before half-time.

Such contributions are expected of him nowadays, but the 32-year-old has reconfigured his game to reach this halcyon period in his career.

Muller went from scoring a career-high 20 Bundesliga goals in Pep Guardiola's final season at Bayern (2015-16) to just five in the following campaign under Carlo Ancelotti.

That drastic drop-off naturally caused many to wonder what was going on, even though Muller, handed his debut by Jurgen Klinsmann in 2008, had built up plenty of credit in the bank.

Muller's goal involvements (goals and assists) had dipped below 20 for the first time since 2011-12 during Ancelotti's only full season at the helm, as he added 12 assists to those five goals. Before this conspicuous 2016-17 season, Muller's goal hauls had always at least matched, but often comfortably beaten, his tally of assists.

In every season since, he has finished with more Bundesliga assists than goals.

Eight goals and 14 assists arrived in 2017-18, a campaign that saw Jupp Heynckes replace Ancelotti in early autumn, and that suggested Muller was back on track, only for another dip to follow during Niko Kovac's reign. Six goals and nine assists from Muller in 2018-19 saw him dip back under that 20 involvements mark, and as his 30th birthday approached there were concerns his best days were in the past.

How wrong Muller's critics were. As well as being a goal threat, Muller is now the most menacing creative force in German football. The departure of Kovac brought Hansi Flick to the Bayern top job in November 2019, and Muller finished that campaign with eight goals and 21 assists – the most assists in a Bundesliga season since such detailed data collection began in 2004-05.

 

He matched that career-best 29 goal involvements in 2020-21 (11 goals, 18 assists) and is well on the way to a similar haul this time (7 goals, 17 assists).

Muller has had nine seasons in which he has managed at least 20 goal involvements in the Bundesliga, not bad for a player that Ralf Rangnick almost pinched away from Bayern during Klinsmann's reign. Bayern academy boss Hermann Gerland is said to have told the club to reject the offer from Rangnick's Hoffenheim, and they owe him eternal gratitude.

Muller averaged 1.08 goal involvements per game under Flick, his best under any permanent Bayern boss, and has managed 0.89 during the first year of Julian Nagelsmann's reign, a sliver under the 0.93 he achieved in Guardiola's time at the club. He averaged a career-high 67.27 touches per 90 minutes in the Bundesliga under Flick, dipping to 64.34 under Nagelsmann.

Under Louis van Gaal, Ancelotti, Guardiola and Heynckes, he averaged in the 50s when it came to touches per 90 minutes, so his role today is more involved. Bayern can only hope it will stay that way.

When Bayern have had Muller in their starting XI since the start of the 2009-10 season, the campaign where he made his first big impact, they have won 74.7 per cent of games; without him, they have won 68.4 per cent (54 of 79). That has meant an average of 2.4 points per game when he has made the starting XI, to 2.2 when he has not started.


Neuer saves Bayern time and again

Like with Muller, there is a marginal gain to be observed from having goalkeeper Neuer in the Bayern side. Neuer joined from Schalke in 2011 and has made such an impact he is now the Bayern captain.

When he has started in the Bundesliga (307 games), Bayern have won 77.5 per cent of those games and picked up an average of 2.4 points, but when Neuer has been absent (64 games) those figures drop to a 71.9 per cent win rate and 2.3 points. The goals-against figure rises from 0.7 goals to 0.9 on average, too.

Now 36, Neuer has so far fended off a challenge from Alexander Nubel, who has been loaned out to Monaco this season to guarantee first-team action.

Nubel was also acquired from Schalke, joining Bayern in June 2020, but the 25-year-old has barely had a sniff of a first-team opportunity, and that is down to Neuer's form.

From 2012-13 to 2016-17, Neuer enjoyed five seasons where his impressive save percentage for each Bundesliga campaign fluctuated only slightly, between 78.57 per cent and 79.78 per cent per campaign.

Major doubts over his long-term future surfaced when he twice suffered broken metatarsal bones in 2017, forcing him to miss almost all the 2017-18 season.

There have been shaky times since his lay-off too, most notably when Neuer's save percentage was a distinctly low 59.65 per cent in 2018-19, the lowest mark of all Bundesliga goalkeepers with at least 20 appearances that season.

Yet a corner was soon turned, and this term the save percentage stands at 73.75 per cent, his best effort since that five-season hot streak in the mid-2010s. From seeking a succession plan, Bayern have shifted the emphasis to hoping that Neuer has years still to come at this level.

There was a surprise guest at the wedding of Real Betis star Joaquin in July 2005 – surprise because this particular appearance hinged on the outcome of a football match five weeks earlier.

As Joaquin and his new wife stood at the front of the church in his hometown of Puerto de Santa Maria, Cadiz, something else couldn't help but hog attention.

The Copa del Rey trophy, draped in green and white ribbons stood tall – literally, because it's huge – and proud.

That's right, the Copa del Rey was an especially notable guest at Joaquin's wedding, as the winger – then 23 years old – had only recently helped Betis to just their second success in the competition and first since 1977.

Joaquin has always been regarded as something of a practical joker, with that not-so-subtle wedding decoration very much from his wheelhouse.

Fast-forward 17 years and Joaquin is readying himself for another tilt at the crown with his beloved Betis, who themselves haven't reached the final since that momentous 2-1 extra-time win over Osasuna at the Vicente Calderon.

 

Fittingly, Betis' opponents on Saturday will be the other club most people would associate with Joaquin: Valencia, with whom he won the only other trophy of his career in 2008 – also the Copa – during a five-year spell.

That triumph spawned another curious – but no less Joaquin – photo of the winger with the trophy, as he was snapped stark naked squatting next to the cup in Valencia's dressing room.

Hopefully social media won't see a repeat of that one on Saturday…

Joaquin didn't feature for Valencia in that final, however, and therefore his 2005 success will gratefully remain the focus for most.

While Joaquin is by no means the Betis regular he was 17 years ago when he was an exciting fleet-footed winger, this occasion will still be all about him in the build-up, with there also a degree of aptness around the fact Saturday's game is taking place in Seville, at La Cartuja.

This campaign is expected to be Joaquin's last as a player. Now 40, his contract expires at the end of the season and in November he hinted retirement was likely in 2022. Betis coach Manuel Pellegrini quickly looked to sweep that under the rug, adamant such decisions will wait until 2021-22 is finished, and there's been very little public discussion of the subject from he or Joaquin since.

It's easy to understand why many aren't predicting another year of Joaquin in LaLiga, though. Even if you ignore the fairly important point of his age, his time on the pitch has reduced significantly this term.

In LaLiga he has made only two starts this season and in total featured for just 395 minutes. Of course, he's been used across multiple competitions in 2021-22 and was named in the starting XI eight times in the Europa League.

But while his 31 appearances is actually one more than in 2020-21, his minutes-per-game average of 36 (1,117 total) is 12.4 minutes fewer than last term, highlighting how he's become even more of a peripheral figure.

But that's not to say his influence has waned. Pellegrini stood aside before the first leg of their Copa semi-final defeat of Rayo Vallecano to let Joaquin deliver a speech.

He said: "Look each other in the eyes. We are here because of ourselves. I don't know if I should talk to you as a team-mate, friend or captain, but I will do it as a Betico, because I know what many of them must be feeling here today.

"They are going to be there until the death. The Beticos, and this club, have suffered for a long time. Sacrifice and effort lead to glory. That's the reward.

"I had an uncle who used to say, and he taught me this, that there's nothing more beautiful than making other people happy – today we have that chance. We're going to go out there and show we want to be in that final."

Betis fell behind early on in that game in Vallecas but went on to win the game 2-1. They then looked to be heading for extra time when Bebe spectacularly put Rayo ahead with 80 minutes played of the second leg in Seville, but a moment of inspiration from Joaquin right at the end opened the Rayo defence up.

He brought down a cross-field pass, glided away from Bebe and slipped a perfectly weighted pass in behind the defence for Sergio Canales, whose prodded pass was deflected towards goal and tapped in by Borja Iglesias.

The entire Betis bench and staff mobbed Joaquin at full-time, fully aware of what their achievement meant to him – but it was also a show of appreciation, with the veteran's cameo showing he remains a very useful option.

On a per-90-minute basis across all competitions this season, Joaquin tops Betis' charts for assists (0.32), expected assists (0.29) and chances created (2.9), while his 4.3 dribbles attempted is bettered by only three players.

 

Of course, his sample size is much smaller than the likes of Nabil Fekir and Canales – the point isn't that he's better than them, simply that he's packing a lot of quality into his relatively brief appearances.

Don't expect to see his name in Betis' line-up on Saturday, but do not be surprised if he comes on and makes a telling impact – given the legendary status he holds not only at Betis but also in LaLiga, there'll be many willing him to enjoy a successful end to a fine career.

Let's not forget, his 595 LaLiga appearances is a record for an outfield player, while only one man in Spanish top-flight history has appeared in more seasons (Miguel Soler, 20) than his 19.

Assuming he does in fact play some part on Saturday, it will be his 106th Copa del Rey appearance, extending another record among non-goalkeepers.

A 17th wedding anniversary might not be a big milestone for most, but you can count on Joaquin bringing the Copa along for the celebrations if Betis succeed this weekend.

If the battle for supremacy in your fantasy leagues is anything like as tight as the Premier League title race, there is no room for error.

That might encourage some managers to play it safe and stick with what they know, but the very best know how rewarding a risk can be.

So, should you wish to gamble and shuffle the pack, why not be guided by Stats Perform's Opta-powered picks?

Four players for the coming matchweek are highlighted below for your consideration...

MARTIN DUBRAVKA (Norwich City v Newcastle United)

It is probably safe to assume that at least until the turn of the year, few fantasy managers were relying on a Newcastle goalkeeper. Not only did the Magpies give three different keepers a run between the posts, but they conceded a Premier League record 80 goals in the calendar year of 2021.

However, it is all change in 2022. In fact, only Alisson (nine) and Ederson (seven) have kept more clean sheets than Dubravka (five) this year, with the Newcastle man now on six for the season.

He has conceded 13 goals over this spell (12 excluding own goals), but five of those came in a single match at Tottenham – and it is tough to imagine struggling Norwich similarly picking apart a now resolute Newcastle defence.

ALEX TELLES (Arsenal v Manchester United)

There may be plenty of movement of United players out of XIs this week, with none of those involved in Tuesday's 4-0 defeat at Liverpool emerging with any credit. However, Telles played no part from the bench.

Given how hapless that new-look United back line looked, it is hard to see how Telles will not come into the side four days later – and he has earned his place both in Rangnick's team and your fantasy selections.

No United player can better the left-back's three assists in 2022, with only Bruno Fernandes (35) and Jadon Sancho (21) creating more than his 13 chances.

MASON MOUNT (Chelsea v West Ham)

Chelsea will also be looking to make amends in a big game after their own shocking midweek defeat, but Mount at least continued his fine form against Arsenal, adding an assist after scoring two and creating another in his previous league outing at Southampton.

The England midfielder now has 10 goals and nine assists in the top flight this term, meaning he could soon become the first Chelsea player to reach double-figures in both categories since Eden Hazard in 2018-19 (16 goals and 15 assists). He would also be the youngest Blues man to achieve the feat at 23, with Juan Mata 24 in 2012-13 (10 goals and 10 assists).

Whether Mount gets the assist to reach that mark this weekend or not, only Mohamed Salah (34), Son Heung-min (23) and Harry Kane (20) have more than his 19 goal involvements this season, so expect him to plunder fantasy points one way or another.

IVAN TONEY (Brentford v Tottenham)

Tottenham may head into the weekend in fourth, but few will confidently back against Brentford. Spurs have lost their past five away London derbies, while only Chelsea have won more points in clashes between capital clubs this season than the Bees (14).

And if Brentford are to add to landmark victories over Arsenal and Chelsea with another against Tottenham, Toney is highly likely to have a key role to play, having scored eight goals and created another two in 2022.

Only Son (nine) – an opponent on Saturday – has netted more in this calendar year, although Kane (15) beats both for goal involvements.

The overarching narrative surrounding the 2022 NFL Draft class is well established. It's not a star-studded class, but it's a deep class.

And nowhere is this draft deeper than at edge rusher.

NFL teams place a premium on players who can get after the quarterback, but this year they may not have to spend a premium pick to land such a prospect who can make an immediate difference at the highest level.

Like quarterbacks, top pass rushers get pushed up the board, but some teams may be content to wait until day two of this year's draft to boost their front seven, safe in the knowledge that there will still be a host of talented edge players available.

By its very nature, the draft is a subjective exercise, but a look at the pressure numbers for the top edge rushers in this class provides an idea of how they should be stacked as opening night in Las Vegas draws ever closer.

The sure thing

He may not end up as the first overall pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars, but Michigan's Aidan Hutchinson has the most compelling case as the most complete and the most 'pro-ready' edge rusher in the draft.

Hutchinson has the flexibility to bend around the edge but can also win with his bull rush and has the quickness to successfully attack the inside shoulder of opposing offensive tackles.

Boasting a well-refined repertoire off pass rush moves, including the cross-chop, two-hand swipe, rip, club and swim, Hutchinson's pressure rate of 30.8 per cent in 2021 was topped only by UAB sleeper Alex Wright (31.3 per cent). Similarly, Wright (18.7 per cent) was the sole player to top Hutchinson's run disruption rate of 17.9 per cent.

Yet while Wright recorded 11.5 sacks in three seasons at a Group of Five school, Hutchinson had 14 in the 2021 campaign alone as he helped Michigan come within touching distance of the mountaintop – the Wolverines losing in the College Football Playoff semi-finals.

He also demonstrated considerable prowess against the run, registering double-digit tackles for loss in 2019 (10) and 2021 (16.5).

Beating a man on 72 of his 85 pressures in 2021, Hutchinson has an array of tools by which to defeat pass protection and will enter the league as a high-floor, day-one contributor.

Should the Jags choose to go in a different direction, the team that land him may be sending thank you cards to Jacksonville for years to come.

Debate club

At the start of last season, it would have been tough to find much debate around Oregon star Kayvon Thibodeaux, a prospect almost universally seen as a future top-five pick.

Now there are questions over whether he will even go in the top 10.

Any potential fall down the board will not be down to his ability to generate pressure, which he did on 24.5 per cent of his pass-rush snaps in 2021, beating a pass protector on 44 of his 49 pressures.

Instead, doubts around Thibodeaux seem to be tied to a perceived lack of effort and concerns over his love of the game, a reflection of the archaic way in which the league often views prospects who have the temerity to have outside interests away from the field.

Any such worries over his other interests should certainly not overshadow Thibodeaux's consistently outstanding performances, which have seen him create pressure through his excellent first step and ability to translate speed to power.

Indeed, Thibodeaux can generate an exceptional bull rush but can also bend around the edge and has the quickness to win to create disruption up the middle, his tremendous physical traits supplemented by a well-stocked repertoire of pass-rush moves.

With 35.5 tackles for loss and 19 sacks in three seasons, Thibodeaux has the production, the athleticism and the tape of a sure-fire top-five prospect. More bemusing than talk of him falling down the draft is the hype around the player who could well go number one overall.

Georgia's Travon Walker has the God-given athletic gifts over which teams salivate, running the 40 at the Combine in 4.51 seconds at 272 pounds, yet he does not have the production to back it up, with his tape from an extremely successful collegiate career with the Bulldogs leaving more questions than answers.

Deployed primarily as a run defender and often asked on passing downs to either drop into coverage or open up rushing lanes for blitzing linebackers, Walker had only 9.5 sacks in college. 

That six of those came in 2021 could be seen as a sign of progress. However, with Walker posting a pressure rate of just 12 per cent and beating his man on only 16 of his 31 pressures, he clearly still has a long way to go as a pass rusher.

Between his obvious explosiveness and the power he has in his hands, Walker is, in essence, an exciting project for the right defensive line coach to mould. However, the presence of more proven higher-floor pass rushers at the top of the draft makes the prospect of the Jaguars putting the burden of rapidly developing him on their staff a needless risk for Jacksonville.

Destined for day one

If the Jags are determined to hitch their wagon to a former Georgia star with only one season of college production, they would be better served by choosing Jermaine Johnson II to be that player.

Johnson transferred from Georgia to Florida State and thrived on a poor Seminoles team in 2021, racking up 11.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss. 

A force against the run in his lone season in Tallahassee, Johnson's pressure rate of 16.8 does not paint the picture of an elite edge prospect.

However, only Hutchinson had more adjusted sacks (18) than Johnson's 17, a two-hand swipe move and a spin move helping him beat a pass protector on 40 of his 50 pressures. If he can become more consistent in pairing his explosiveness with leverage and use his flexibility to turn the corner more regularly, Johnson has a chance to emerge as the cream of this year's edge rush crop.

Penn State's Arnold Ebiketie is another transfer who made the most of his change of scenery, excelling in his single year with the Nittany Lions after switching from Temple, using his long arms to superb effect as he posted a pressure rate of 21.1 per cent, his success in getting into the pads of opposing pass protectors allowing him to record 9.5 sacks and 18 tackles for loss.

Ebiketie is still building his pass rush weaponry but blends leverage, speed and power to win with his bull rush. Able to win to the inside and around the edge, the arrow is pointing up for Ebiketie and there will be no shortage of teams ready to try to keep him on that trajectory in the pros.

Explosiveness and power are the calling cards of Purdue's George Karlaftis, who, after playing only two games in 2020, had a pressure rate of 21.9 per cent last season.

Only Hutchinson and Wright beat a pass protector more often than Karlaftis (47), and the former Boilermaker figures to soon be testing the anchor of tackles around the league after consistently putting Big Ten competition on skates.

Each of that trio are likely to come off the board on night one. That same honour probably won't be afforded to South Carolina's Kingsley Enagbare or Drake Jackson of USC, though both had top-five pressure rates in 2021.

Enagbare (24.6) has an array of moves to rival Hutchinson and a bull rush akin to that of Karlaftis when he puts it all together, but a lack of speed and flexibility to turn the corner may force him to wait until day two. Jackson (24.2) was third in adjusted sack rate (6.7 per cent) and flashed dominance with his first step and dip to get around the edge, but a failure to truly take over games at the Pac-12 level will likely mean his celebrations will have to wait until the Friday of draft week.

The injury gamble

Hutchinson's former Michigan team-mate David Ojabo would almost certainly be in the first-round mix had he not suffered an Achilles injury during his pro day.

Due to that piece of misfortune, teams must now decide whether they are willing to take a risk on a player who may not be healthy enough to contribute significantly as a rookie.

Agreeing to that gamble will mean putting faith in Ojabo's long-term potential, which is undoubted.

Nigerian-born Ojabo moved to the United States from Scotland in 2017 and originally played basketball before turning his attention to American football.

Still relatively inexperienced, Ojabo has enticing room to grow but at the same time demonstrated impressive polish as he broke out in 2021 with 11 sacks and 12 tackles for loss.

With a pressure rate of 21.3 per cent and the highest adjusted sack rate in the class at 7.6 per cent, Ojabo can get the better of pass blockers through a number of avenues.

He has the speed to get around the edge, has developed an excellent spin move and possesses a rip move with which he has also found success.

For a player who came to the sport late, Ojabo has also demonstrated impressive awareness of the importance of playing half a man when rushing the passer.

Encouragingly refined but still boasting untapped potential, there is obvious risk in taking Ojabo, but depending on the progress of his recovery, he could quickly make an impact as a designated pass rusher on third down.

Erik ten Hag has been charged with the task of trying to make Manchester United a force again, and he faces a significant rebuilding job.

The Dutchman will leave Ajax at the end of the season to take charge of the Red Devils after agreeing a deal until June 2025, with the option of a further year.

It is not just shaping a squad that has struggled to coalesce this season that will be on his to-do list.

Ten Hag's in-tray will be piled high as he sets about making a short-term impact, while implementing the "long-term vision" that impressed United's hierarchy. 

Stats Perform looks at the pressing issues for the 52-year-old to address.

Change the mentality

A 3-2 win over Norwich City last weekend aside, United have been in poor form and are in danger of ending the season with a whimper.

It was men against boys as the Red Devils were thumped 4-0 at Liverpool on Tuesday and there have been far too many inept displays this season from a side lacking fight and quality.

Interim boss Ralf Rangnick has been unable to get a tune out of an underperforming group of players since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was sacked last November, and a huge shake-up is needed.

Add some steel

United must build solid foundations in a new era under Ten Hag, as they have been far too fragile in another hugely disappointing season.

Ten Hag needs a strong spine in his team, and if he was watching the way Liverpool blew them away at Anfield, he will know United have anything but that at the moment.

United fans will demand winners who will put their body on the line in the heat of battle and there is a real shortage of them in the current squad.

Recruit wisely

Cristiano Ronaldo has scored 21 goals after sensationally rejoining United from Juventus last September, but his signing was surely only ever going to be a short-term fix at best.

Solskjaer certainly appeared to struggle to build a team around the Portugal captain, and it would be no great surprise if the 37-year-old is on the move again.

Regardless of whether Ronaldo stays, Ten Hag will need to be backed in the transfer market and there must be a big overhaul, with Paul Pogba among those expected to depart.

Bring back silverware

There is no plainer objective for the new boss – he will be marked as a success or a failure by the trophies he wins during his time at the helm.

Solskjaer left the club with the third-best win rate in United's history, but he paid the price for a lack of silverware.

United have only been top of the Premier League at the end of a calendar month twice since Alex Ferguson left – in September 2015 and August 2017. It will surely take Ten Hag time to get them challenging for the title again, so he must ensure they make their presence felt in cup competitions.

Consider the captaincy

It has been a season to forget for United captain Harry Maguire.

The Red Devils skipper's talents are clear, as he has shown for club and country, but the centre-back has lost his way at Old Trafford.

The responsibility of leading a struggling side appears to have affected the England defender, and Ten Hag may decide to start his reign by appointing a new captain.

After months of speculation, Manchester United have confirmed Erik ten Hag will take over as the club's new manager at the end of another frustrating season at Old Trafford.

The 52-year-old will have a huge job on his hands when he arrives this summer, with the Red Devils looking unlikely to qualify for the Champions League after struggling under both Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ralf Rangnick this term.

High up on Ten Hag's to-do list will be deciding who amongst the current squad will be suited to playing his high-pressing, possession-based style of football.

Here, Stats Perform uses Opta-powered data to give an insight into three players who could impress under the Dutchman, and three who may find their days numbered after his arrival…

Who might star under Ten Hag?

Donny Van de Beek

An easy choice. Van de Beek emerged as a star under Ten Hag's tutelage at Ajax, and was a driving force being the Amsterdam giants' terrific run to the Champions League semi-finals in 2018-19. Installed as a creative midfielder alongside Frenkie de Jong, Van de Beek scored three goals and provided two assists during that famous run, with only Dusan Tadic (six) outscoring him for Ajax in the competition.

Having played a paltry 381 minutes for United across 14 appearances this season before being sent on loan to Everton in January, the 25-year-old looks the most obvious player to benefit from the arrival of his former coach

Jadon Sancho

Another player likely to thrive under Ten Hag is England winger Jadon Sancho, who has registered five goals and three assists in 37 appearances in all competitions for the Red Devils since moving from Borussia Dortmund last summer.

Only Bruno Fernandes (98) has created more open-play chances for United this term than Sancho (47), and he definitely stands to benefit from the arrival of a coach whose teams play with genuine width.

Each of Tadic (15), Antony (12), and Steven Berghuis (11) have reached double figures for Eredivisie goals for Ajax this term, so their former coach could be the man to get the best of the England man.

Luke Shaw

Ten Hag's Ajax team deployed their full-backs as a key attacking threat, with Argentine left-back Nicolas Tagliafico netting three goals during 2018-19's Champions League run.

Amongst Premier League defenders, only Trent Alexander-Arnold created more than the 72 chances crafted by Red Devils left-back Shaw during the 2020-21 season, and the England man could rediscover that form if unleashed by United's new boss.

Who might see their position threatened?

Harry Maguire 

The United skipper has faced much criticism for his role in another poor campaign for the Red Devils, and could be the first big-name casualty of Ten Hag's attempts to install a more progressive style of play.

No United defender has made as many errors leading to shots as Maguire in the Premier League this term (three), while his passing accuracy of 86.37 per cent is marginally lower than those of fellow defenders Raphael Varane (87.47) and Victor Lindelof (86.63), potentially marking out the England man as ripe for a replacement.

David De Gea

When another possession-hungry coach arrived in Manchester back in 2016, one of his first moves involved finding a goalkeeper he could trust to participate as his team tried to build from the back.

That man, of course, was Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola, and Ten Hag could look to replicate his acquisition of Ederson by replacing De Gea. The Spaniard has recorded a pass accuracy of just 68.81 per cent in the Premier League this season, way short of elite rivals Ederson (88.35) and Allison (85.22).

Cristiano Ronaldo

Hear us out on this one. The legendary striker's goalscoring prowess remains unrivalled, and his 21 goals in all competitions since returning to Old Trafford last summer put him a long way clear of his nearest team-mate (Bruno Fernandes with nine).

However, the height of Ten Hag's success at Ajax came with Tadic used as a false nine in 2018-19, recording 10 goal involvements (six goals, four assists) during their thrilling European run. 

Besides, with Ronaldo's 140 strikes placing him at the top of the Champions League's all-time top goalscoring charts, can the 37-year-old really be expected to forgo playing in European football's premier competition if United fail to qualify? If not, a potentially tough decision regarding his future could be taken out of Ten Hag's hands.

After months of speculation, Manchester United have confirmed Erik ten Hag will take over as the club's new manager at the end of another frustrating season at Old Trafford.

The 52-year-old will have a huge job on his hands when he arrives this summer, with the Red Devils looking unlikely to qualify for the Champions League after struggling under both Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ralf Rangnick this term.

High up on Ten Hag's to-do list will be deciding who amongst the current squad will be suited to playing his high-pressing, possession-based style of football.

Here, Stats Perform uses Opta-powered data to give an insight into three players who could impress under the Dutchman, and three who may find their days numbered after his arrival…

Who might star under Ten Hag?

Donny Van de Beek

An easy choice. Van de Beek emerged as a star under Ten Hag's tutelage at Ajax, and was a driving force being the Amsterdam giants' terrific run to the Champions League semi-finals in 2018-19. Installed as a creative midfielder alongside Frenkie de Jong, Van de Beek scored three goals and provided two assists during that famous run, with only Dusan Tadic (six) outscoring him for Ajax in the competition.

Having played a paltry 381 minutes for United across 14 appearances this season before being sent on loan to Everton in January, the 25-year-old looks the most obvious player to benefit from the arrival of his former coach

Jadon Sancho

Another player likely to thrive under Ten Hag is England winger Jadon Sancho, who has registered five goals and three assists in 37 appearances in all competitions for the Red Devils since moving from Borussia Dortmund last summer.

Only Bruno Fernandes (98) has created more open-play chances for United this term than Sancho (47), and he definitely stands to benefit from the arrival of a coach whose teams play with genuine width.

Each of Tadic (15), Antony (12), and Steven Berghuis (11) have reached double figures for Eredivisie goals for Ajax this term, so their former coach could be the man to get the best of the England man.

Luke Shaw

Ten Hag's Ajax team deployed their full-backs as a key attacking threat, with Argentine left-back Nicolas Tagliafico netting three goals during 2018-19's Champions League run.

Amongst Premier League defenders, only Trent Alexander-Arnold created more than the 72 chances crafted by Red Devils left-back Shaw during the 2020-21 season, and the England man could rediscover that form if unleashed by United's new boss.

Who might see their position threatened?

Harry Maguire 

The United skipper has faced much criticism for his role in another poor campaign for the Red Devils, and could be the first big-name casualty of Ten Hag's attempts to install a more progressive style of play.

No United defender has made as many errors leading to shots as Maguire in the Premier League this term (three), while his passing accuracy of 86.37 per cent is marginally lower than those of fellow defenders Raphael Varane (87.47) and Victor Lindelof (86.63), potentially marking out the England man as ripe for a replacement.

David De Gea

When another possession-hungry coach arrived in Manchester back in 2016, one of his first moves involved finding a goalkeeper he could trust to participate as his team tried to build from the back.

That man, of course, was Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola, and Ten Hag could look to replicate his acquisition of Ederson by replacing De Gea. The Spaniard has recorded a pass accuracy of just 68.81 per cent in the Premier League this season, way short of elite rivals Ederson (88.35) and Allison (85.22).

Cristiano Ronaldo

Hear us out on this one. The legendary striker's goalscoring prowess remains unrivalled, and his 21 goals in all competitions since returning to Old Trafford last summer put him a long way clear of his nearest team-mate (Bruno Fernandes with nine).

However, the height of Ten Hag's success at Ajax came with Tadic used as a false nine in 2018-19, recording 10 goal involvements (six goals, four assists) during their thrilling European run. 

Besides, with Ronaldo's 140 strikes placing him at the top of the Champions League's all-time top goalscoring charts, can the 37-year-old really be expected to forgo playing in European football's premier competition if United fail to qualify? If not, a potentially tough decision regarding his future could be taken out of Ten Hag's hands.

Plenty of bad teams have needs at wide receiver, but that is hardly unique to this 2022 NFL Draft.

The Houston Texans and the Atlanta Falcons, for instance, just need good players at any position.

Elsewhere, the Jacksonville Jaguars, the New York Jets and the Chicago Bears are attempting to build around young quarterbacks, perhaps optimistically hoping to follow the example of the Cincinnati Bengals – who took Joe Burrow and the 2021 WR1 Ja'Marr Chase all the way to the Super Bowl.

The upcoming draft is a little different, though, in that at least two teams with far more realistic title ambitions will be targeting the brightest and best receivers another deep class has to offer.

Both the Green Bay Packers and the Kansas City Chiefs have two first-round picks; particularly in the case of the Packers, they badly need them.

Aaron Rodgers is back for another year, but Davante Adams is not. Adams – who was stunningly traded to the Las Vegas Raiders, where he was given a lucrative contract – accounted for 30.6 per cent of the Packers' catches and 34.3 per cent of their receiving yards last season. He leaves a huge hole.

Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb are returning and will have big roles to play, but Marquez Valdes-Scantling – the Packers' deep-ball option, with the greatest average depth of target in the NFL in consecutive seasons – is also gone.

The Packers are only too aware of what can happen when quarterback Rodgers is not backed in the first round of the draft, so it would be no great surprise to see two leading wideouts head to Green Bay.

The Chiefs are in a similar position, having also traded their dominant receiver and allowed another team – the Miami Dolphins – to pay Tyreek Hill. Only Adams (47) has caught more touchdown passes than Hill (43) since Patrick Mahomes' debut on New Year's Eve 2017.

Although Mahomes does have a leading tight end to fall back on in Travis Kelce, the Chiefs' work so far in this offseason – including bringing in Valdes-Scantling – does not quite look to have restored their offense to its former glories. Especially in the highly competitive AFC West that Adams now occupies.

Finding a player of the ilk of Adams or Hill is a tall order, but the Chiefs, like the Packers, have to try. So, who are the pass catchers under consideration in the first round?

Jameson Williams

On pure talent, Williams – who had 79 catches for 1,572 yards and 15 TDs in 2021 – should be gone long before the Packers or the Chiefs are on the clock. But an ACL tear in January might see him fall just a little further.

There is not a statistic that reflects poorly on Williams, although he is of interest primarily due to the remarkable speed that makes him an elite separator, much like Hill. At Alabama, the transfer from Ohio State had a burn rate of 74.6 per cent, winning his matchup with a defender on almost three-quarters of his targets and recording 19.3 burn yards per target – both well clear of his fellow first-round candidates, as he was in getting open on 86.0 per cent of targets.

Hill (70.8 per cent) ranked fourth in the NFL last year for burn rate and was open on 82.7 per cent of targets.

Crucially, heading into the NFL, Williams showed himself to be capable of operating either out wide or in the slot. The 21-year-old's burn rate playing inside was 77.5 per cent, actually up on his 73.0 per cent playing as an outside receiver.

Garrett Wilson

Williams left Ohio State having found himself behind two receivers who may go in the first round this year – including Wilson, who is rivalling Williams for WR1 in a number of mock drafts.

Wilson had 70 catches for 1,058 yards and 12 TDs last year and also does not lack for speed, running a 4.38 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. His calling cards, however, are the lower-body flexibility, foot quickness, and route-running savvy that propelled him to 15.1 yards per reception and allowed him to register a burn on 71.6 per cent of his targets.

Of the two Ohio State receivers on this list – we'll come on to the other – Wilson was less of a deep-ball threat, with his average depth of target 11.3 yards.

That is far from an issue for a team looking for a primary option, however, instead showing the variety that was asked of Adams (9.4 yards) and Hill (10.3 yards) in 2021.

Chris Olave

Completing the trio who were Buckeye team-mates for two seasons is Olave, who also shared touches with Wilson last year, even if they were tasked with different roles.

Olave was targeted on just 26.9 per cent of his routes, compared to 30.6 per cent for Wilson, but that was because he often provided the deep threat.

His average depth of target was 14.3 yards in 2021 and had been a huge 18.9 yards in his previous full season in 2019, third-most among Power 5 receivers. Perhaps he makes more sense for the Packers, who have just lost Valdes-Scantling, than for the Chiefs, who have just signed him.

Either way, this is a role Olave relishes, catching 13 TD passes last season to boost him to 35 across a four-year college career, the most in Ohio State history. A smooth and, like Wilson, detailed route-runner who tracks the ball extremely well, Wilson would surely thrive immediately if paired with Rodgers. 

Treylon Burks

If Olave does not fit the bill for either the Packers or the Chiefs, Burks might, for his game is completely different to the man from Ohio State.

Burks' average depth of target last year was just 9.4 yards as he was regularly deployed out of the backfield by Arkansas, who consistently got the ball in his hands through screen passes and designed hand-offs. 

Part of their reason for doing so was the threat Burks poses in the open field. He averaged 9.27 yards after the catch in 2021 – more than Williams' 9.16.

Burks far outperformed his 7.96 expected yards per target and recorded 14.08 burn yards per target, making excellent use of his combination of physicality and play speed that was not reflected by his 4.55 40-yard dash. 

Able to win downfield by relying on his frame and his route-running ability, Burks may possess the most varied skill set of any receiver in the draft, having registered 38 carries across three seasons with the Razorbacks and drawing comparisons to San Francisco 49ers 'wide back' Deebo Samuel.

If he can be that sort of player in the NFL, Burks works for the Packers, the Chiefs or just about anybody.

Jahan Dotson

While some on this list are worth considering for their physical attributes alone, it is Dotson's ball skills that make him stand out.

His catch rating – measured between 0 and 1 based on how well a receiver successfully catches throws that are considered catchable – was an outstanding 0.978 in 2021. He dropped only a single pass.

Reflecting on an incredible one-handed catch against Ohio State in 2020, the Penn State star said: "I approach that [ball] as a million dollars. It's a million dollars in the air. If you want it, you go get it." Dotson will make plenty of money in the NFL if he continues to rein in similar passes.

Dotson was not outstanding at beating defenders (63.8 per cent) or getting open (76.6 per cent) last season but still caught 12 TD passes on a Penn State team that struggled amid sub-par quarterback play in 2021.

Drake London

Now, the Packers and the Chiefs will not be looking at London as a like-for-like replacement for Adams or Hill.

Finding a comparison for London is not an easy task, as few players are blessed with his blend of size and fluidity as a route-runner. 

London is 6ft 4in but just 213lbs and initially played basketball as well as football at USC.

A broken ankle meant he did not run a 40-yard dash at either the NFL Combine or his pro day, but his speed is not considered to be anything special – not that it matters.

Despite getting open on just 67.2 per cent of his targets in 2021, he beat his defender in 71.3 per cent of matchups, speaking to the ease with which he can change direction. 

"I really don't have to blow by guys to catch the ball," he said. "I can, but I don't have to."

There were five drops, but London faced a huge number of contested catches and usually came out on top thanks to long arms and considerable wingspan.

He will need a quarterback who will trust him to come away with the ball even if he is not open, as was the case last season when he was targeted on a mammoth 42.4 per cent of his routes.

Charles Leclerc will always receive huge support in Italy as long as he turns out in the red of Ferrari, but this week at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix might just be extra special.

Leclerc leads the Formula One drivers' championship after a stunning start to the new season, winning in Bahrain and Australia either side of a second-placed finish in Saudi Arabia.

The Monegasque is a massive 34 points clear of nearest challenger George Russell, but there are added points on offer this weekend with the return of the sprint race.

Leclerc should not be daunted, though, for this is a potentially record-breaking start to the year.

Having recorded the fastest lap at each of the first three grands prix, Leclerc could become the first ever driver to achieve four in a row from the start of an F1 season.

Kimi Raikkonen in 2008, then of Ferrari, was the last driver to set four fastest laps in four races at any stage of the year.

On this form, perhaps Leclerc will simply see the sprint race as something else he can conquer. Australia saw his first career Grand Slam, following up pole position with the fastest lap and a victory while leading from start to finish. Each of his four wins to date have come from pole.

Ferrari will be looking to move ahead of Williams for wins at Imola, with their joint-record eight so far contributing to a team-high 27 in Italy.

If Leclerc does not take the top step of the podium, the Scuderia will hope Carlos Sainz can get back on track, having retired in Melbourne following a team-record 24 consecutive finishes to start his Ferrari career.

Hamilton's time to shine?

At odds with Leclerc's joy, this has been a year to forget so far for perennial contender Lewis Hamilton, back in fifth with a single podium and no wins to his name.

But the sprint race is where he comes to life, having last year made up six places across the three Saturday events – level with Esteban Ocon for the most of any driver.

And even with Mercedes badly lacking the pace that put them on pole in the past two races at Imola, Hamilton has continued to show his class behind the wheel this year.

Only Yuki Tsunoda (six) has made up more places over the first laps of races this season than Hamilton's four.

Should he somehow manage to get a fastest lap out of his ailing Silver Arrow, Hamilton would become the first driver to have three in a row at Imola since Michael Schumacher between 2003 and 2005.

Frustration for Max

Defending champion Max Verstappen won at Imola in 2021 but could be forgiven for arriving in Italy in a downbeat mood having failed to finish two of three races so far this year, retiring in Australia.

With Sergio Perez also failing to finish once, Red Bull have had three such disappointing performances through three grands prix, having only had six cars fail to see the checkered flag in 22 races last season.

Should they finally get their act together, Red Bull could also make history with a fastest lap. They remain tied with Lotus on 76 for the most ever in F1.

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

Drivers

1. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 71
2. George Russell (Mercedes) 37
3. Carlo Sainz (Ferrari) 33
4. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) 30
5. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 28

Constructors

1. Ferrari 104
2. Mercedes 65
3. Red Bull 55
4. McLaren 24
5. Alpine 22

Good luck Erik ten Hag.

When Manchester United announce – as expected – the Ajax boss as their next permanent manager, social media will be flooded with suggestions of what he needs to do or fix to get the club challenging for titles again, and it's going to be a long list.

On the evidence of United's performances against Liverpool – who will surely be one of the two teams to beat again in 2022-23 – this term, the chasm between the Old Trafford club and the best is at its widest in a generation.

Liverpool crushed them 5-0 at Old Trafford in November, though Tuesday's 4-0 loss at Anfield was arguably worse and probably even had interim manager Ralf Rangnick considering his own future.

The most ardent of Man Utd fans would've been feeling glum pre-match about their chances here, though there would always be a hint of 'what if'.

It's football. There could always be a freak goal, a comical own goal, one moment of individual brilliance. Throughout the history of the sport there have been countless examples of teams absorbing pressure for 90 minutes and stealing a winner.

As bad as United have been at times this season, and as good as Liverpool are in general, fixtures like this bring a sense of unpredictability – or at least they're supposed to.

As arguably the most recognised and historic rivalry in English football, the minimum one would've expected from United was a bit of desire to get one over the Reds, maybe dent their quadruple hopes. But there was no sign of such spirit until it was already too late.

Frankly, United's first-half performance was a joke. Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville, a former Red Devils captain, said before the game that this was their worst team in "30-40 years", and it was difficult to disagree with him come half-time.

Of course, it should be said that this wasn't just about United being poor: Liverpool were excellent for much of the game. Thiago Alcantara was a joy to watch in midfield as he almost single-handedly pulled Rangnick's defence and midfield this way and that. Even the Spain international's inaccurate passes were satisfying to see because you saw the invention and vision behind them.

But it was the speed, directness and ruthlessness that typifies this Liverpool team that brought the fifth-minute opener, as they cleverly worked space on the right in their own half before Sadio Mane released Trent Alexander-Arnold, who subsequently picked out Luis Diaz for a tap-in.

Their second goal was even better as they retained possession and sliced through United with a one-touch passing move that culminated in an outrageous Mane reverse pass over the defence for Mohamed Salah to collect before slotting home.

But the lack of character their visitors showed was astonishing. Liverpool seemed to have the freedom of the pitch, they passed through midfield as if Nemanja Matic, Jesse Lingard and Bruno Fernandes weren't there. Players were walking.

United reached half-time without a single shot, a first in the league since April 2018. Granted, they went on to beat Manchester City 3-2 on that occasion... But even the suggestion that something similar might've been on the cards here would've drawn laughter.

Similarly galling was the fact United only committed two fouls in the first 45. Without wanting to sound like Roy Keane ("you know what I might do, I might smash into somebody, just to make me feel better!"), when being played off the park a degree of petulance is almost to be expected, but they couldn't even muster that level of frustration.

Things did change briefly after the interval. Rangnick ditched his back three and introduced Jadon Sancho, and suddenly United looked... functional. Players were running, they were hounding their counterparts. They had a shot, then a second. A whole two shots!

Jurgen Klopp stood aghast on the touchline in the 65th minute, his mouth gaping for a full 10 seconds after Alisson had to make two saves in quick succession – they didn't count technically in the stats because an offside was erroneously given, but the Brazilian undoubtedly denied a goal that would have been given by VAR had they scored.

But United's brief improvement said more about Liverpool's post-break drop-off, and they soon snapped out of it – three minutes later it was game over, if it wasn't already. Andrew Robertson made an interception ahead of Anthony Elanga, then Diaz's pinpoint cross was expertly turned in by Mane.

Salah completed the scoring late on with a deft finish that was helped by a slight deflection. While there was a hint of fortune, it ensured the scoreline greater reflected the Reds' dominance.

The nine goals United have conceded to Liverpool this season is the most they've ever shipped against one team in a single campaign. Their 9-0 aggregate loss to the Reds over 2021-22 is their worst to one opponent in the league since 1892-93. Yes, that's 1892, not a typo of 1992.

Much of the build-up to this was dominated by talk of club structures, recruitment and 'synergy', but honestly, fans will just hope Ten Hag can instil a bit of fight, assuming he's not run for the hills already.

A lot of talk in recent weeks has centred around the burgeoning "rivalry" between Manchester City and Liverpool, with English football's two current leading lights doing battle on multiple fronts.

Liverpool got the better of City in the weekend's FA Cup semi-final, but they remain in a tussle for the Premier League title and could yet meet in a Champions League showdown – there's much to play for.

But while that rivalry has been borne out of competitiveness, the Liverpool matches that most – fans and neutrals alike – will continue to look out for are those with Manchester United.

Despite their historic successes and status as English football's most-successful teams, rarely in the modern era have they been competitive rivals like Liverpool are with City now – in fact, only once in the Premier League have the Reds and United finished as the top two. Invariably, if things are going well for one, the opposite is true for the other.

Ahead of Tuesday's clash at Anfield, the gulf is 19 points in the Premier League. Since Alex Ferguson's retirement, only once has there been a larger gap between the two ahead of their second meeting of the season.

After their 5-0 rout at Old Trafford in October, Liverpool are looking to complete the league double over United for the first time since 2013-14, while the Red Devils are winless in their last five league games at Anfield, netting just one goal in these matches. They last had a longer run without an away league win against their north west rivals between September 1970 and December 1979.

What makes the situation even worse for Ralf Rangnick's side is that it's difficult to escape from the idea that Liverpool are the club – in terms of how they're run and the success they're enjoying – that most United fans wish they were.

The template

Change is coming at Old Trafford. Whether it is for the better remains to be seen, but it would appear Erik ten Hag is set to be confirmed as United's next permanent manager in the coming weeks.

As highly rated as the Dutchman is, there is not masses of evidence to suggest anything will be better with him in charge. After all, under each of the four managers appointed in full-term roles since Ferguson, there are arguments to be made that they were not the biggest issue – rather, the club's hierarchy and decision-makers were.

Regardless of whether you agree with the decision or rate him as a coach, Rangnick's arrival as interim manager in November at least suggested United were attempting a cultural reset. Here was a "football man" with a track record of establishing certain processes and tactical setups at clubs coming in to potentially lay the groundwork for a rebuild.

But a lot of Rangnick's public advice to United has looked eerily like him pointing blatantly at Liverpool and saying: "Them, look at them. That's how you run a football club."

Klopp's arrival in 2015 was undoubtedly momentous. Liverpool had already shown promising signs in terms of their forward-thinking approach when initially hiring his predecessor Brendan Rodgers, as all the names reported to be on their shortlist when the current Leicester City boss got the job were coaches who had similar tactical outlooks, were young and spoke of the importance of "philosophies" or "projects".

A two-time Bundesliga-winning Klopp was, of course, a coach of an altogether different calibre. Their choice at the time was apparently between him and Carlo Ancelotti, but the fact they went for the German was by no means surprising. For one, the brand of football he was going to implement was hardly going to be a polar opposite of that employed by Rodgers, while he always appeared a far greater fit culturally than the Italian.

Klopp's arrival was seen as a coup. Let's not forget, in October 2015 Liverpool weren't exactly considered among the "elite". Historically, sure, but not competitively at that moment.

They went on to finish eighth in the Premier League, averaging 1.6 points per game – over Klopp's entire Premier League career, he's collected 2.1 per game, highlighting just how much of an improvement he's presided over.

While difficult to pinpoint one key factor, Rangnick was unequivocal in his surmising of his compatriot's situation on Monday, saying: "The same happened at other clubs. When he came to Borussia Dortmund or when he started his coaching career at Mainz, he developed all of those clubs, he raised the whole team and club to a different kind of level. This is what modern management is all about. He's one of the best, if not the best coach, not only now but in the past couple of years.

"If this should be a role model, I don't know. It's definitely no coincidence what's happened there in the last six years. In his first year, when he came during the season after eight or nine games and they finished eighth, and thereafter they just made the necessary adaptations. They brought in the right players, they got rid of the right players, they just built, they really built a squad and that's why they are where they are."

Patience is a virtue

Klopp's success at Liverpool isn't something that United can copy and paste. Even if the Reds' club setup is married to the coach's managerial style, the man in charge still needs to be very, very good at his job.

Ten Hag has done well at Ajax. He's taken them to a Champions League semi-final, played attractive football and looks likely to win a second Eredivisie title – but they have a club-wide 'philosophy' that the head coach must work within, rather than establish himself. United do not, as highlighted by the hotch-potch of tactical styles embraced with David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and even Rangnick.

As such, the current squad has been assembled by Ferguson and his four successors, which hardly screams cohesion. Granted, one coach building a squad in its entirety is rare given how quickly clubs are to chop and change these days, but of Liverpool's first-choice XI, only Jordan Henderson was not brought to the club – or nurtured through the academy – during Klopp's reign.

United's appointment of John Murtough as football director and Darren Fletcher as technical director at least hinted at the club being brought out of the dark ages in terms of its structure, while many in the fanbase will have seen Ed Woodward's departure at the end of 2021 as a positive step.

The jury is still out on this new-look setup, though there is seemingly now something more closely resembling Liverpool's so-called "transfer committee". Indeed, that term is a bit of a blast from the past – it was once something you would regularly hear mentioned and sneered at during Rodgers' reign and early on in Klopp's spell, but Liverpool's undoubted success in terms of recruitment over the past six years speaks for itself.

Ten Hag will represent a gamble for United, but – assuming he does take the job – he will also be arguably the first up-and-coming manager to be appointed by the club since Ferguson. The Dutchman's is only two years Klopp's junior but is definitely on the rise reputationally.

No one knows if he'll be a success and, to be fair, he will need to justify patience to a degree. But time, trust and joint-up thinking have clearly been vital to Liverpool with Klopp – if United do truly value Rangnick's input, they would do well to heed his advice here.

A Classique by name but certainly not by nature, Paris Saint-Germain took a step closer to the inevitable eighth Ligue 1 title of the QSI era thanks to goals from Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.

Predictably, Lionel Messi's name did not feature on the scoresheet. Predictably, Neymar's name found its way into the referee's book after a foul followed by a tantrum.

These games are not always predictable of course. Few saw the five stoppage-time red cards coming when these teams last met at the Parc des Princes in Ligue 1, back in September 2020.

All hell broke loose on that occasion when the game's simmering tension reached boiling point. Accusations were flung this way and that, with the red-carded Neymar at the centre of many of them. Marseille won that game 1-0, doling out another painful blow to a PSG side who had lost the Champions League final to Bayern Munich just three weeks earlier.

PSG ridiculously failed to win Ligue 1 last season, an embarrassment considering the riches of their talent pool, but the trophy – L'Hexagoal – is heading back to the capital, and Sunday's 2-1 win over Marseille put the Parisian club 15 points clear with six rounds of games to play.

They could wrap up the title in midweek, but what would it really mean? Will it save Mauricio Pochettino's job? Probably not. Will it be the determining factor in whether Mbappe signs a new deal or heads to Madrid? Probably not. Will the PSG fans celebrate it with any great gusto? No, probably not, given many are apparently pig-sick of the club's leadership.

The Ligue 1 title has been reduced to a matter of interest only when PSG do not win it, given it should be a formality each season. And so on they plod, this gaggle of megastars and their various chums.

 

It is not quite the 'Zidanes and Pavons' policy of Real Madrid's Galacticos late period, but PSG are similarly top-heavy. While that Madrid side struggled at times in the league, they could put it together in the Champions League, the competition that remains out of reach for this PSG incarnation.

Was this Pochettino's final Classique? There are no assurances forthcoming over his future. If it is, he has nudged PSG ahead of Marseille on the all-time record between the teams in Ligue 1. This was a 33rd victory in the series, with Marseille having won 32 times and 20 of the league games having been drawn.

So one-sided has this rivalry become, however, that PSG have only lost one of the last 20 such league tussles between the sides (W15 D4).

That's a rivalry, only in the sense that Serena Williams versus Maria Sharapova was a rivalry on the tennis court. Williams lost two of their first three matches, then won the next 19 before Sharapova retired, barring one walk-over.

Sunday's encounter was certainly not a walk-over for PSG, as Marseille made a match of this Classique at times, recovering from Neymar's early strike to draw level through Duje Caleta-Car, with Gianluigi Donnarumma adding to his bloopers file as he failed to gather Dimitri Payet's corner. 

Neymar had a free-kick well saved by Pau Lopez, Messi had a couple of goals ruled out for offside calls, Mbappe smashed home a penalty after Neymar's shot was handled. William Saliba was denied a late Marseille equaliser after a VAR review showed he was narrowly offside. PSG actually finished this game having seen just 42 per cent of the ball, their lowest total in a Ligue 1 game since February 2013, also against Marseille.

And of course Neymar flapped indignantly after being booked for fouling Matteo Guendouzi. Just for a moment the combustible Brazilian looked to be risking a second yellow with his protests.

PSG can be fun to watch when they lose the plot, or when they attempt defending, but the joy that should be gleaned from seeing Neymar, Messi and Mbappe together is tempered by the sense of formality about all of this.

 

Almost 30 years have passed since it was Marseille's ownership that had critics up in arms, during the scandal-hit Bernard Tapie era, when it was OM who had the biggest stars.

In 1993, the year Marseille won the Champions League, Alen Boksic, Rudi Voller and Abedi Pele complemented a rich French contingent that included Basile Boli, Fabien Barthez, Marcel Desailly and Didier Deschamps.

The PSG of that era had stars too – David Ginola, George Weah and Valdo among them – and the great rivalry was ostensibly born, but the modern-day Marseille are no competition on a man-for-man basis with the current Parisian legion of luminaries.

Tycoon Tapie's substantial wealth and Marseille's financial clout had nothing on the Qatar Sports Investments money muscle behind PSG, though.

French football has been dealt the derogatory tag of a "farmer's league", a title bestowed due to a perceived lack of competition. And when the joie de vivre has been sucked out of even Le Classique, where does the game go from here?

With Manchester City and Liverpool facing off in the FA Cup on Saturday, the Premier League's attention turned to the race for a top-four spot.

Cristiano Ronaldo scored a hat-trick as Manchester United beat Norwich City 3-2, with the Red Devils taking full advantage of 1-0 defeats for Tottenham and Arsenal against Brighton and Hove Albion and Southampton respectively.

Elsewhere, Watford's slim survival hopes were dealt a blow as they suffered a 2-1 defeat to Brentford.  

Stats Perform takes a look at some key Opta facts from the day's games.

Manchester United 3-2 Norwich City: Ronaldo racks up yet another treble

Ralf Rangnick's side delivered another disjointed performance at Old Trafford, yet they did enough to secure a 13th win in their past 16 Premier League games against the Canaries.

Ronaldo was the star of the show, the Portuguese superstar plundering the 60th hat-trick of his professional career for club and country.

The 37-year-old has now scored 20 or more goals across all competitions in each of his past 16 seasons at club level – a run that started in the 2006-07 campaign during his first spell at United.

His first goal was teed up by Anthony Elanga, who is 17 years and 81 days younger than Ronaldo. It is the greatest age gap between a United goalscorer and the player who assisted him in Premier League history.

Teemu Pukki had given Norwich hope of a memorable result when he pulled the visitors level at 2-2 from 2-0 down, the Finland international becoming the first Canaries player to score 10 or more goals in two different Premier League campaigns (11 in 2019-20 and 10 in 2021-22).

As is so often the way, though, Ronaldo had the last word.

Tottenham 0-1 Brighton and Hove Albion: Seagulls leave it late to edge out blunt hosts

Spurs missed the chance to strengthen their grip on fourth position as they suffered a third home defeat in their past six home Premier League games – as many as in their previous 14 on home soil.

Despite starting with the in-from trio of Harry Kane, Son Heung-min and Dejan Kulusevski in attack, Spurs did not manage a single shot on target. It was the first time they had failed to do so in 21 Premier League games, since November last year against Everton.

Brighton's winner came in the 90th minute through Leandro Trossard, who has now scored six goals in the top flight this season – his best-ever season return in the competition.

Graham Potter's side have now won consecutive away league games for the first time since September 2021 and are unbeaten in three Premier League games, winning the last two, after losing each of the six before that.

Southampton 1-0 Arsenal: Wasteful Gunners punished by Saints

Arsenal missed the chance to pull level on points with Tottenham after a third consecutive Premier League defeat, having lost just two of their previous 13.

The Gunners dominated at St Mary's, taking 23 shots and enjoying 76 per cent possession. There have been 11 instances of a team failing to score having taken 20 or more shots in a Premier League match this season, with Arsenal responsible for three of those.

They were undone by Jan Bednarek's goal on the stroke of half-time, the first they have conceded from a corner situation in the top flight this season.

Bednarek has now scored four goals in 27 Premier League games this season, which is one more than he scored in his previous four campaigns combined (three in 100 appearances).

Watford 1-2 Brentford: Hornets' miserable home run continues

Pontus Jansson's 95th-minute winner for Brentford meant Watford became only the third team to lose 10 consecutive top-flight home games in a row, after Birmingham City in February 1986 and Sunderland in August 2005.

Alongside Birmingham, they are only the second to do so within a single season.

That run means Hornets boss Roy Hodgson is the first manager to lose his first five home Premier League games in charge of a club since Chris Ramsey with QPR in 2015.

Brentford, meanwhile, have won five of their last six Premier League games (L1) and have won three top-flight games in a row for the first time since September 1946.

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