Premier League leaders Manchester City collected a routine victory over Brentford to further their advantage at the top.

That victory saw Pep Guardiola's side extend their lead at the summit to 12 points, with second-placed Liverpool due to host Leicester City on Thursday.

Tottenham fell to a late defeat against Southampton as Antonio Conte suffered his first home league loss as Spurs boss, while Aston Villa shared the spoils in a six-goal thriller with Leeds United.

And strugglers Norwich City picked up a valuable draw at home to Crystal Palace, with Dean Smith's side now a point behind 17th-placed Newcastle United as the relegation battle continues.

Here, Stats Perform unpacks the pick of the Opta data from the day's top-flight action.

Manchester City 2-0 Brentford: Citizens cruise to league double over Bees

Strikes either side of the interval from Kevin De Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez helped City to a 2-0 win over Brentford as the Citizens completed the league double over the Bees for the first time since 1936-37.

Mahrez opened the scoring as he netted in his seventh consecutive game across all competitions for City – only Lionel Messi (twice) and Sergio Aguero have previously achieved that feat under Pep Guardiola.

De Bruyne doubled the hosts' lead in the second half, the midfielder recording his 85th goal involvement (35G 50A) in his 96th top-flight appearance at the Etihad Stadium, where he has found the net five times in his last four games.

Brentford rarely troubled Ederson's goal and were caught offside 10 times in the match, the most by a Premier League team since January 2018 as City recorded their 100th clean sheet under Guardiola in the competition.

The Bees have now lost five consecutive league matches for the first time since December 2007, under Terry Butcher in League Two, and for the first time in the top flight since April 1947 (seven in a row).

Tottenham 2-3 Southampton: No home comforts for Conte

Southampton twice rallied from behind to earn a late 3-2 victory at Tottenham to end Conte's unbeaten start at home in the league as Spurs boss.

Jan Bednarek poked into his own net to give Spurs the lead, the centre-back now on a Premier League-high three own goals since the start of 2019-20. Similarly, Tottenham have benefited from the most own goals in the competition this season (three).

But Armando Broja soon levelled up. That was the Albania striker's sixth top-flight goal this term – only Kevin Davies (nine in 1997-98) managed more in the Premier League for Southampton while aged 20 or under.

Son Heung-min restored his side's advantage with his 12th strike against Southampton across all competitions, five more than he has registered against any other team for Spurs.

Saints fought back again, Mohamed Elyounoussi equalising before Che Adams sealed victory. Both finishes were set up by James Ward-Prowse, who assisted two goals in a single Premier League match for only the second time in 290 appearances.

Having equalised in the 79th minute, Southampton's victory was the latest they had been behind in a Premier League match that they would go on to win since March 2016 against Liverpool (equalised in 83rd minute).

Aston Villa 3-3 Leeds United: Whites continue away scoring run in Villa Park classic

Aston Villa, who had Ezri Konsa dismissed late on, shared the points with Leeds in a 3-3 thriller as Dan James, Jacob Ramsey and Philippe Coutinho dominated proceedings.

James scored his third and fourth Premier League goals this term, his best-ever tally in a season, though Marcelo Bielsa found his side 3-2 down at half-time.

Coutinho initially cancelled out James' opener as he became the sixth Villa player to score in each of his first two Premier League appearances at Villa Park, and the first since Carlton Cole in August 2004.

The Brazil international then teed up a Ramsey double as the midfielder became the youngest player to score more than one goal in a Premier League game for Villa (20y 257d) since Luka Moore got a hat-trick in February 2006 (19y 356d).

Diego Llorente restored parity in the second half as Leeds recorded three goals in consecutive Premier League away games for just the second time, and for the first time since March 1995, to earn a valuable point.

Norwich City 1-1 Crystal Palace: Zaha's penalty falter costs poor travelling Eagles

Norwich City raced out the blocks at Carrow Road but ultimately had to settle for a point after a 1-1 draw with Crystal Palace.

Teemu Pukki – who has scored 43 per cent of Norwich's top-flight this season (6/14), the highest such share of any player in the competition – netted the fastest goal in the Premier League this season as he finished after just 38 seconds. 

Wilfried Zaha pegged Smith's team back with his 80th goal involvement in England's top division (53G 27A), 79 of which have been for the Eagles.

Michael Olise teed up the Ivory Coast international's second-half equaliser, his seventh goal involvement (3G 4A) across all competitions in 2022 – the most by any Premier League player.

Palace should have secured all three points but Zaha failed from the penalty spot for the first time, on his fifth attempt, meaning the Eagles have won just one of their last 13 away games in the league.

There was no shortage of stars on show on Tuesday as the defending NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks overcame the Lakers on the road. A clash of such magnitude, pitting Giannis Antetokounmpo against LeBron James and Anthony Davis would normally be the highlight of a Los Angeles sports week, but this is no ordinary Los Angeles sports week.

Indeed, Giannis, LeBron and Co. were in the position of warm-up act as Los Angeles plays host to Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium on Sunday. In a city they and the Los Angeles Dodgers have long since dominated, the Lakers must reconcile themselves with playing second fiddle as the Rams attempt to win their first Super Bowl for the city of Los Angeles.

That the Rams are part of the headline act is not especially surprising given their level of elite talent and the blockbuster trade for quarterback Matthew Stafford made with this end goal in mind. What is more eyebrow-raising is that any fallout from the latest Lakers defeat will quickly be buried for hype surrounding a title game involving the team that arrived at LAX prior to tip-off at Crypto.com Arena.

Cincinnati's is a true tale of the underdog. From 4-11 last year with their number one overall pick Joe Burrow tearing his knee ligaments in 2020, to a 10-7 campaign and consistent Houdini acts under pressure from Burrow in postseason wins over the Las Vegas Raiders, top-seeded Tennessee Titans and three-time defending AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs. The Bengals are the team nobody saw coming.

And, going into Sunday's meeting with the Rams, they are the team few expect to pull off a shock again despite their evident proclivity for upsetting the odds.

Antetokounmpo's sublime 44-point effort, in which he silenced a Lakers crowd trying to will a largely uninspiring team to a comeback that only briefly seemed possible, was almost routine. If Burrow and this team from the Midwest thwart a stacked Rams squad built to deliver immediate Super Bowl glory, the response will be anything but.

There is no expectation on the shoulders of the Bengals, whose young quarterback appears completely undaunted by the prospect of playing on the grandest stage in American sport for a team that prior to this season had not won a playoff game this century.

"At the end of the day, your mindset stays the same. When I played in the state championship in high school, it feels the same as playing in the Super Bowl does now," Burrow said in Tuesday's media conference. "At that moment in my life that was the biggest game I had ever played in, so everything kind of feels the same, I've just had more reps in those situations so I'm probably even a little calmer.

"Honestly we've never even spoken about the playoff drought once this whole season. We have a really young team that doesn't really understand the historical significance of what we're doing. We're just out there playing football and getting better while we're doing it."

Burrow is not feeling the weight of history, but he is appreciative of the significance of getting a Bengals franchise that has too often been a laughingstock to the cusp of a first Lombardi Trophy.

He added: "Being from Ohio and being the quarterback of the Bengals is something that I'm really proud of. Growing up there really weren't a lot of Bengals fans in high school and in the middle school, it was all Steelers and Browns and there were a few Bengals fans here and there that kind of got made fun of a little bit, so I think as a team we're excited to put a product on the field that the fans are proud of and kind of gives them bragging rights they haven't had that in a little while, so I'm excited to give that to them."

Free of expectation and free of pressure, the Bengals' position as underdogs could well be to their advantage. Regardless of whether they complete a remarkable run with the ultimate triumph on Sunday, with Burrow under center the Bengals look destined to compete for headline billing for years to come.

Injuries, playing games on back-to-back nights and COVID protocols are part of the landscape of the NBA all teams are forced to navigate through in today’s world.

The Toronto Raptors were dealt significant blows to their roster over the season’s first two months, but now close to full strength, they’re climbing the Eastern Conference standings and will likely be looking to make a move before Thursday’s trade deadline.

Through the end of November, only four teams used more starting lineups than Toronto’s eight, as Nick Nurse was forced to constantly shuffle his rotation. The low point came Boxing Day, when the Raptors had 10 players in the NBA’s health and safety protocols and found out just hours before their scheduled tip-off against the Cleveland Cavaliers they would in fact play. With a patchwork eight-player roster featuring four hardship signees, they were promptly obliterated by 45 points.

Undermanned again two nights later, they suffered another defeat at hands of the Philadelphia 76ers. But as the regulars returned to the Raptors’ roster, the wins have been piling up.

With Monday’s 116-101 victory over the Charlotte Hornets, Toronto extended their winning streak to six games and improved to 15-6 since New Year’s Eve – only the 76ers have a better record at 13-5 among East clubs. This surge has vaulted the Raptors into sixth place in the conference after sitting in 11th on December 30.

Much of the recent success is because Nurse can count on writing in Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, Gart Trent Jr. and Scottie Barnes into his starting lineup.

The Raptors are 11-4 when starting VanVleet, Siakam, Anunoby, Trent and Barnes, averaging 114.3 points while shooting 45.9 per cent and making an average of 13.9 3-pointers in those games. When those five don’t start together, Toronto is 18-19, averaging 106 points on 43.4 per cent shooting with an average of 11.9 made 3s per game.

It shouldn't come as a huge surprise that Toronto’s success is tied to the starting combination of VanVleet, Siakam, Anunoby, Trent and Barnes given how heavily the Raptors rely on their starting five.

Toronto’s starters account for 79.2 per cent of their scoring – the largest percentage in the NBA – with an average of 85.8 points per game – also a league best. The Raptors’ bench, meanwhile, is averaging a mere 22.6 points – the fewest by any group of reserves since the 2012-13 Portland Trail Blazers bench averaged 18.5 points. The difference of 63.2 points between Toronto’s starting five and reserves is the largest by a team in a season since 2004-05, when the Phoenix Suns had a difference of 73.2 points (91.8 starting average, 18.6 bench average).

Over the last few seasons, Nurse regularly asked VanVleet and Siakam to play serious minutes, but with a lack of a bench, Anunoby, Barnes and Trent are also spending more time on the court.

VanVleet averages a league-leading 38.6 minutes, followed by Siakam at 37.9 and Anunoby at 37.2. No team has ever had players finish a season 1-2-3 in minutes played per game since minutes began being tracked in 1951-52.

Barnes then checks in at No. 6 in the NBA with an average of 36.1 minutes. That’s right, four of the top six players in average minutes all play for the Raptors. Trent is no slouch, either, averaging 34.8 minutes – good for 16th in the NBA.

With depth being a considerable issue, Goran Dragic is likely to be shipped out. Acquired as part of the sign-and-trade that sent Kyle Lowry to the Miami Heat, Dragic has appeared in just five games for the Raptors – and none since November 13 – as he’s been away from the team due to a personal issue. A handful of teams have reportedly shown interest in Dragic, and the Raptors would love to move the veteran point guard so they could shed his hefty salary and fill his roster spot with someone who will actually play.

Following the offseason departure of Lowry, the 27-year-old VanVleet has emerged as the team leader, averaging career highs in points (21.6), assists (7.1) rebounds (4.7) and made 3s (3.9). In 19 games since clearing the league’s health and safety protocols, the recently named first-time All-Star leads the NBA with 90 made 3-pointers since New Year’s Eve.

VanVleet, who is slated to participate in the 3-point contest during All-Star weekend, has been putting up eye-popping numbers over his last 21 games, averaging 24.3 points, 8 assists and 4.9 3-pointers. Only two other players have ever averaged 24+ points, 8+ assists and 4.5+ 3-pointers over a 21-game span in a single season and that’s James Harden and Damian Lillard.

During this incredible run, VanVleet has regularly been feeding Siakam, who has found his shooting touch on jumpers close to the basket.

Since December 14, VanVleet’s 46 assists to Siakam are tied for sixth most from one player to a teammate. His assists to Siakam are nearly double those of his next-closest teammate with 28 going to Anunoby, and 26 going to each Barnes and Trent.

Siakam is averaging 24 points, 11 rebounds and 5.5 assists during Toronto’s winning streak – and no other Raptor has ever averaged those numbers over a six-game span in a single season. He had 24 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists Monday – the second time he’s reached those numbers in a game in his career. There have been only four other instances a Toronto player reached those numbers in a game in franchise history.

In 23 games since December 14, Siakam is averaging 23.3 points after averaging 18.8 points in his first 16 games, and part of the reason for that scoring boost stems from his 55.6 per cent shooting on jump shots attempted within 8 feet of the rim – fourth-highest rate in the league among those with at least 35 attempts. Prior to this stretch, he was shooting just 38.5 per cent on jump shots up to 8 feet from the hoop.

Trent, meanwhile, is shooting 56.7 per cent from the baseline – eighth in the NBA among those with at least 20 attempts – but it's the perimeter where he's suddenly gotten hot.

Since returning from a six-game absence with an injured left ankle, Trent is shooting 48 per cent from 3-point range – the best mark in the league among the 49 players with at least 50 3-point attempts since January 21. Most impressive about this stretch is he’s also attempted more 3-pointers than anyone else since January 21 with 100. So, in these last 10 contests he’s averaging 14.4 points off 3-pointers after previously averaging 8.1 points off 3-pointers while shooting 36.8 per cent from deep.

While he’s suddenly emerged as a dangerous 3-point threat, Trent has spurred Toronto’s swarming defence, which is forcing a turnover on 14.7 per cent of its opponents’ possessions – the highest rate in the NBA.

Trent's average of 1.84 steals per game is the fourth-highest rate in the league, while Anunoby ranks seventh at 1.68 per game and VanVleet is eighth at 1.66. Since steals first began being tracked in 1973-74, only one team has had at least three players finish in the top 10 in steals per game and that was the 2009-10 Golden State Warriors with Monta Ellis, Stephen Curry and Stephen Jackson.

Barnes has also made an immediate impact on the defensive end. Selected fourth overall in the 2021 draft, Barnes was projected to be a disrupter on defence and he’s excelling, ranking fourth among rookies with 1.8 defensive stops per game.

His average of 2.6 offensive rebounds per game is the best among first-year players and has fuelled Toronto’s offensive attack. The Raptors’ average of 16.2 second-chance points per game trails only the Memphis Grizzlies’ average of 18.0 for the best in the league, and they’re an NBA-best 15-3 when scoring 18 or more second-chance points in a game.

With 15 points and eight rebounds on Monday, Barnes notched his fourth straight game with at least eight boards – the first Toronto rookie to accomplish that since Jonas Valanciunas in 2012-13. No Raptor first-year player has had a longer streak of consecutive games with eight or more rebounds since Jamario Moon had six in a row in 2007-08.

Barnes has been selected to participate in the 2022 Rising Stars event during All-Star weekend, along with second-year teammate Precious Achiuwa, who is averaging 7.8 points on 52.8 per cent shooting and 5.3 rebounds during Toronto’s winning streak.

The Raptors are one victory away from notching their first seven-game winning streak since the 2019-20 season, and have a couple of favourable matchups next on their schedule with games Wednesday and Thursday against a pair of last-place teams in the Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets. (The schedule over the next three weeks actually looks quite advantageous, as the Raptors’ opponent winning percentage of .417 from Wednesday-March 4 is the third lowest among all teams.)

While playing on consecutive nights would seem to present greater problems for the Raptors, given how many minutes their starters play, it hasn’t been much of an issue for Nurse’s club. Toronto is 7-3 on games on zero days’ rest – tied with the Boston Celtics for the league’s second-best mark.

Toronto, though, may have a different look when it takes the court Thursday, or Wednesday for that matter, if the front office decides to make a move before the trade deadline to bolster the lineup.

History was made in several events at the Winter Olympics on Monday.

Ireen Wust became the first person to win an individual gold medal at five different Olympics, while young figure skater Kamila Valieva put her name into the record books.

Johan Clarey only claimed silver in the men's alpine skiing, but nevertheless set a record in the process.

Stats Perform has assessed some of the best data points from across the action in Beijing.

– Wust, who is retiring next month, secured her sixth gold medal and 12th medal overall at the Olympics as she retained her 1500m title. She is the first person to win an individual gold at five separate Games, while her time of one minute and 58.52 seconds also represents a new Olympic record.

15  – Valieva, who is representing the Russian Olympic Committee, is just 15. However, she became the first female figure skater to land a quadruple jump at an Olympic Games. 

– Italy will win a medal in curling for the first time, after Stefania Constantini and Amos Mosaner defeated Sweden 8-1 in their mixed doubles semi-final. They will go up against Norway in the final.

41  – Frenchman Clarey claimed silver in alpine skiing, finishing behind Switzerland's Beat Feuz. In the process, 41-year-old Clarey became the oldest Olympic medallist in the event.

2 – Slovenia won their first gold medal thanks to Ursa Bogataj on Saturday, while her compatriot Nika Kriznar claimed bronze. The duo became the first two female ski jumpers to have won two medals at a single Games on Monday after winning gold in the mixed team event.

18 – At the age of 18 years and 31 days, Alexandria Loutitt is the youngest female athlete to pick up an Olympic medal in ski jumping.

14 – After Loutitt's success, Canada have equalled the United States' record haul of winning a medal in 14 sports at the Games.

33 – Denise Herrmann is now the oldest female biathlete representing Germany to win Olympic gold, set by Uschi Disl, who won gold in the women's relay in 2002 at age 31.

3 – Ren Ziwei became the third male athlete representing China to win individual gold at the Games, after freestyle skier Han Xiaopeng in 2006 and short track skater Wu Dajing.

The Ben Simmons saga has stretched on for more than a year but might finally be reaching its conclusion.

Simmons was the subject of trade rumours last January when the Philadelphia 76ers pursued James Harden from the Houston Rockets.

Harden instead headed for the Brooklyn Nets, and Simmons saw out the season in Philly, only for speculation to ramp up again after a deeply dissatisfying playoff exit.

Joel Embiid and Doc Rivers appeared to blame the former first overall pick for a Game 7 loss to the Atlanta Hawks in which his reluctance to take shots in big moments came to the fore. That was in June. Simmons has not played since.

Both the player and the team have pushed for a move this season without success, but Thursday's looming trade should focus minds. The 76ers, led by MVP frontrunner Embiid, remain in title contention despite having a three-time All-Star on the sideline, yet a deal this week could significantly improve their chances.

Stats Perform looks at four potential landing spots for Simmons that might also suit his current employers...

Brooklyn Nets

Contrasting reports this week have considered the possibility of a belated Simmons-Harden trade, with the Australian sent to Brooklyn rather than Houston. The Nets move has not quite worked for Harden, who has struggled for form and fitness on a team too often missing one or more of their 'Big Three'.

The Sixers' former Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey would appear to remain interested in reuniting with Harden in Philly, although whether the Nets are quite so keen on Simmons remains up for debate. Publicly, they say otherwise.

The possibility of Seth Curry also moving to Brooklyn has been raised in some reports, presumably to replace the shooting Harden offers but Simmons does not. Curry is a regular for the Sixers, but Harden would represent a clear upgrade – although he has a player option at the end of this season – while Simmons' elite defensive play would not be missed given he is not playing at all right now.

Washington Wizards

Harden appeals given Morey's desire to get an elite player back in return for Simmons. For the same reason, Bradley Beal – beaten to the scoring title by Stephen Curry last year – is an attractive option.

Beal has been less impressive this year, particularly of late, and is now out with a sprained wrist. However, a move to a contender may well motivate a player who has spent his entire career to date with the Wizards, featuring in a grand total of 11 playoff games in the past five years.

The Wizards, like the Nets, might want a second player or at least a second asset to join Simmons in the trade – moving on from Beal would surely mean a complete rebuild – so the 76ers' response as time starts to run out will be intriguing. Again, Beal has a player option for next year.

Portland Trail Blazers

For a long time, it seemed Damian Lillard was the superstar the 76ers really wanted if they were to deal Simmons. At various stages, that possibility has appeared more or less likely.

When the speculation was at its most intense back at the start of the season, Simmons was unwanted in Philly while Lillard was one of the best players in the NBA. Now, Portland are struggling horribly, Lillard has not played since December and Simmons might seem quite an attractive option for the Blazers, who look to be using the final days before the deadline to drastically alter their roster.

It would still seem unlikely Lillard would depart, rather than remaining as the centrepiece of the team for next season and beyond, and the Blazers do not quite have another asset capable of turning the 76ers into title favourites. CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic may both leave, but Morey would surely want more for Simmons.

Sacramento Kings

The Kings would have to perform a significant U-turn for Simmons to end up in Sacramento, having decided late last month they were not interested in paying the sort of price Morey was looking for. The 76ers presumably would have wanted multiple players back, with the Kings lacking a Harden, Beal or Lillard.

Of course, Simmons has not played since those talks broke down, so there is little reason to believe the Kings would suddenly consider him worth the asking price, but as one of the NBA's most forgettable teams – out of the playoffs since 2006 – they surely have to take a risk at some stage.

Whether that risk is giving up multiple useful players for an out-of-favour superstar who does not score is another matter, yet the Kings really need to be active before Thursday, so it is not beyond the realms of possibility they could re-enter the Simmons conversation.

The past two NBA champions meet on Tuesday, but they head into the game amid contrasting seasons to this point.

Defending champs the Milwaukee Bucks took a little time to get going but are now just half a game back in third in the highly competitive Eastern Conference.

The Los Angeles Lakers, whose title Milwaukee took, also took a little time to get going, yet they remain firmly in that rut.

A team led by LeBron James and Anthony Davis are always likely to be a threat if they can make it to the playoffs – ninth place is still good enough for a play-in – but the Lakers' remote title credentials should be given a firm examination at Crypto.com Arena.

For while the Bucks have kept together their championship-winning team, albeit Brook Lopez is out with injury, the Lakers are unrecognisable from their 2020 run.

In a bid to extend James' title window, LA's promising young players have been traded away for veterans in a series of moves that simply have not worked – Russell Westbrook's expensive arrival from the Washington Wizards chief among their missteps.

With little room for further movement ahead of Thursday's trade deadline and with the Bucks visiting having so far made light work of a tough west coast road trip, the Lakers really have their work cut out.

Los Angeles Lakers – LeBron James

James is likely to be the main man on every team he plays for until he retires, but that is particularly true of this Lakers team in this season.

The Lakers are 26-28 but 20-17 with James involved. Injuries have limited the four-time MVP's involvement, yet he is dazzling when on the floor, with 29.1 points, 7.8 rebounds, 6.4 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.1 blocks per game.

After missing five straight games with knee swelling, James returned last time out against the New York Knicks and put up a triple-double in an overtime win.

That included 29 points in a 19th straight game of scoring at least 25. Only Joel Embiid (20 games, also active) has had a better such run this season, while just once in James' whole career – 21 games with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2008 – has he enjoyed a longer sequence. Reminder: LeBron is 37 years old.

The Bucks may be able to beat the Lakers, but the notion of any team stopping James right now feels a little far-fetched.

Milwaukee Bucks – Giannis Antetokounmpo

Tied on a live 19-game streak of 25 or more points, Antetokounmpo is performing on a par with James but without the repeated injury lay-offs. For that reason, he is among the MVP favourites once again, looking for his third award in four seasons.

For all the hype around Luka Doncic, Zion Williamson or Ja Morant, Antetokounmpo – still only 27 – remains the man most likely to take the mantle from James as the face of the NBA.

The 'Greek Freak' is averaging 28.9 points, 11.2 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 1.4 blocks and will surely relish the opportunity to come up against LeBron.

When James was missing back in November, Antetokounmpo scored 47 points (a season high) to lead the Bucks to victory. Do not rule out a repeat, even with his veteran opponent also in top form.

KEY BATTLE – AD and Portis to fight at the five?

Davis continues to switch positions on an almost nightly basis, but he is likely to line up as a center against the Bucks, who have Bobby Portis – another power forward standing at six feet, 10 inches – playing the five.

But the Lakers superstar is set to have his work cut out in what has been a tricky season so far. While he has recovered some form over the past week, so has Portis.

The Bucks man had a season-high 30 points at the Portland Trail Blazers to start this road trip and added 24 against the Los Angeles Clippers, shooting 19 for 25 across those games.

"Bobby's found a good rhythm," Mike Budenholzer said after the Clippers game. "The past two nights he's shooting it so good. He's getting some baskets around the paint, too, and doing lots of different things, the rebounding."

Whether Portis can continue to be effective on the glass, where he averages 9.1 rebounds per game to Davis' 10.2, could be vital.

HEAD TO HEAD

The Lakers have an 83-53 lead in the all-time regular season series, but Milwaukee have made a significant dent in that deficit in recent seasons.

Since the Lakers won six straight between January 2008 and November 2010, the Bucks are 15-6, most recently winning the only meeting of this season so far 109-102 in November.

Newcastle United versus Everton may have been ringed on the calendar back in August, but not for the same reasons it is now the source of such intrigue.

Tuesday's fixture could have seen Rafael Benitez return to St James' Park for the first time since quitting as Newcastle manager back in 2019.

However, Benitez is out at Everton – as, at Newcastle, is Steve Bruce, his successor on Tyneside.

Instead, Frank Lampard heads north for his Premier League bow as Everton boss, set to take on Eddie Howe's Magpies in a match neither can afford to lose.

Newcastle remain in the bottom three yet can close to within a point of their opponents with a win that would surely drag Lampard's men into the relegation battle.

Ahead of a mammoth encounter, Stats Perform's Ben Spratt and Patric Ridge examine the issues that have brought the two teams to this point and consider how they can each hope to kick clear of the danger – starting at Gallowgate.

Why Newcastle are in trouble – BS

This has felt like a relegation campaign right from the outset, with Newcastle's positive performances going unrewarded and their poorer displays being ruthlessly punished.

Newcastle led within five minutes at home to West Ham on the opening day, as Bruce attempted to deliver a more exciting, attacking brand of football. He succeeded only in leaving a hapless defence hopelessly exposed.

They lost 4-2 to the Hammers, the first three of 21 points dropped from winning positions, the first four of 43 goals conceded – 10 of which have been a result of errors leading to goals (four), penalty goals (five) or own goals (one).

Those mistakes have continued under Howe, who has also quickly grown tired of a consistent trend of contentious refereeing decisions going against his side at both ends of the pitch.

The assumption from those not watching this luckless outfit on a weekly basis has been that January spending would lift Newcastle to safety. That theory is about to be put to the test, however, with the neutral perhaps anticipating more ambitious targets than Chris Wood and Dan Burn.

Why Everton are in trouble – PR

Benitez was never the right choice at Goodison Park – but not only due to his Liverpool connections. While his disciplined, organised Newcastle side appeared to play to a clear plan, his Everton team were, largely, shocking.

After a 1-1 draw with Manchester United in October, Everton had 14 points from their seven Premier League games – their best start since 2004-05 (16 points), when they finished fourth – but the underlying level of performances always suggested that if injuries hit, which they did, the Toffees may struggle. And struggle they have.

Benitez – who cannot be blamed for all of Everton's issues, it has to be stressed – wanted to play on the counter-attack, yet his team could not defend. Across 19 league games in charge, they shipped 34 goals – including 11 from set-pieces, a problem that persists.

But Everton's issues have not been restricted to one area of the pitch.

From a 1-0 defeat to West Ham on October 17 to Benitez's final match in charge against Norwich City on January 15, Everton ranked 18th for goals (11), 16th for shots on target (46/139) and 12th for touches in the opposition box (259), as well as having the third-worst defence (27 goals conceded), with 20.6 expected goals against the fourth-worst in the division. Their position is in no way false.

Why Newcastle can survive – BS

Newcastle's £90million January outlay – the largest in world football – may not have brought a host of superstars to Tyneside, immediately guaranteeing survival, but their five signings could yet transform the way Howe's side play.

Kieran Trippier, Burn, Matt Targett and Bruno Guimaraes have all been recruited from teams who are used to having the ball – which cannot be said for Newcastle, despite their coach's footballing philosophy. No team in the Premier League have had a lower average share of possession (37.8 per cent), with just Burnley, who have two games in hand, completing fewer passes (4,962).

If Newcastle are now able to move the ball out from the back with greater confidence, their costly mistakes in possession should start to subside.

This has, after all, been a season of such fine margins. The Magpies have not lost to any of the other eight teams in the bottom nine; crucially, however, they have only beaten two of them. A new style of play, operating further away from their own goal (only Wolves have a deeper average starting position than Newcastle), should mean more opportunities created in attack and fewer conceded in defence.

Newcastle have been working towards this Everton game for more than two weeks, although only Trippier of the new faces went on the "team bonding" trip to Saudi Arabia. How quickly and effectively the rest of the signings have settled should be evident in Newcastle's approach – and, perhaps, the result.

Why Everton can survive – PR

Had they carried on with Benitez for much longer, or perhaps even left Duncan Ferguson in caretaker charge, Everton's survival chances may have been slim.

Yet that should change under Lampard – and seemingly already has. A clip of the new Toffees manager instructing his players to "enjoy the ball" during a training session last week came as a breath of fresh air to supporters who, under a succession of managers, have become accustomed to their team surrendering possession far too easily.

Evidence of Lampard's impact was there to see in the 4-1 FA Cup win over Brentford on Saturday. Even though Dele Alli and Donny van de Beek were cup-tied and Dominic Calvert-Lewin was out injured, Everton scored four goals in a game for the first time since Carlo Ancelotti oversaw a 5-4 win over Tottenham last February.

Everton had 55.8 per cent of the possession, a share they were only twice able to better under Benitez (both in defeats), with Lampard placing more of an emphasis on his defenders playing into midfield. A duel success rate of 63.1 per cent (53/84) was their best in any game across all competitions this season, as the Toffees noticeably looked to engage higher up the pitch.

Given Newcastle preferred to invest in their defence, Everton – between Calvert-Lewin, Richarlison and Demarai Gray – should have the strongest attack of those in relegation trouble. With Alli and Van de Beek also to come into the midfield and Abdoulaye Doucoure to return from injury, Lampard's more attacking, intense approach should suit the Toffees moving forward.

October 17, 2020. Zlatan Ibrahimovic's double proved enough for Milan to claim a derby day victory over their great rivals, with Romelu Lukaku's goal not enough to inspire a comeback.

Much has changed in the intervening period between then and now.

Inter recovered from that defeat by going on to win the Serie A title for the first time since 2010. Yet coach Antonio Conte and talisman Lukaku have both departed for pastures new – London, to be precise, with Tottenham and Chelsea respectively.

Milan, meanwhile, finished second, 12 points behind their neighbours, but they have had a relatively settled period under Stefano Pioli. And on Saturday, the Rossoneri truly ignited the 2021-22 title race by ending Inter's domestic unbeaten streak at San Siro – a run that stretched to 28 matches in total, since that day in October 2020.

There was no Ibrahimovic for Pioli to call on this time, but another veteran forward stepped up in the form of Olivier Giroud, whose quickfire double did the damage.

Having been on the verge of going seven points clear, the incredible turnaround leaves Inter just one point above Milan, as the title battle between the two northern powerhouses looks set to go down to the wire.

Giroud brings the Z factor

Ibrahimovic is a big miss in any game, but in particular, a derby with title hopes resting on it.

The 40-year-old has scored eight Serie A goals in Milan Derbies (six for AC Milan, two for Inter) – only Giuseppe Meazza (12), Gunnar Nordahl (11) and Stefano Nyers (11) have scored more times in this fixture in the history of the competition.

For much of Saturday's clash – 75 minutes, in fact – the void in Milan's attack was evident, the Rossoneri having managed just one attempt on target, from Sandro Tonali in the first half.

But Giroud turned that on its head, first showing his poacher's instinct to prod in from Brahim Diaz's shot-cross, before holding off his marker and drilling in a low strike on the turn three minutes later.

Samir Handanovic should have done better to prevent Milan's winner, mind. Perhaps the Inter goalkeeper had been caught unawares, given his lack of action prior to the late red-and-black charge.

"Playing with him is something I see as a challenge, something that pushes me every day," Giroud said of Ibrahimovic in a recent interview.

"It's an opportunity to have him as my partner, to learn something more. He's an example for many strikers and when I was young I loved him, both on the pitch and for his strong character, and for the fact that he's demanding every day.  It's a healthy competition between us."

Giroud proved an old dog can still learn new tricks (from an older dog, that is) with his match-winning turn. The former Chelsea forward converted both of his two attempts, which came from two of his four touches in the penalty area, and a combined expected goals (xG) value of 0.8, as he became the first French player to score twice against Inter in a Serie A match.

All seven of Giroud's Serie A goals this season have come at San Siro, with those strikes coming only when he has started games (eight starts in total).

 

Inter's charge hits its first hurdle?

There has been a pretty seamless transition for Inter since Simone Inzaghi replaced Antonio Conte.

Edin Dzeko has come in for Lukaku, and Lautaro Martinez is still brilliant. Indeed, Inter are scoring at a similar rate to last season, netting on average every 38 minutes in the league.

Yet they more than met their match in the form of Milan, who earned a thrilling 1-1 draw in the reverse fixture in November.

Inter had less possession (46 per cent) and won fewer duels (42 compared to 57), yet still created more chances (nine to seven) and had more attempts (11 to 10). They were unable to make the most of going ahead, though.

 

Ivan Perisic's goal – his 50th for the club – had the Nerazzurri in front by half-time but Inter have now failed to win three of their last four derby clashes, while Milan came from behind to beat them in Serie A for the first time since February 2004.

This result can hardly be considered as putting Inter into anything resembling a crisis. They have lost just two of their last 12 Serie A derbies and are still top, with a game in hand on their title rivals, though the manner of the defeat may take some coming back from.

Since the turn of the year, Inter have taken seven of the 12 points on offer and, in a title race with such fine margins (Napoli are only four points back in third), that has enabled the challengers to gain ground.

One positive for Inter, however, was a late red card for Theo Hernandez, who will face a suspension after lunging in recklessly on Denzel Dumfries.

Hernandez is one of Milan's best players, and his absence may just mean that, even though Inter lost the battle, they could go on to win the war provided they bounce back quickly.

After almost four tumultuous years, Justin Langer's tenure as Australia head coach has come to an end.

Langer's resignation was confirmed on Saturday just a day on from a lengthy board meeting with Cricket Australia.

The news comes despite Langer having led Australia to T20 World Cup glory and an emphatic home Ashes series triumph in recent months, with the now former coach's intensity away from the pitch a seeming point of contention among the playing squad.

With Langer's time at an end, here is a look at some of his highs and lows in charge of Australia.

Lows:

White-ball whitewash to England

Just a month on from replacing Darren Lehmann in the aftermath of the Newlands ball-tampering scandal, Langer endured a desperately disappointing white-ball tour of England. Australia were whitewashed 5-0 in the ODI series and lost by 28 runs in the solitary T20I as life without suspended duo Steve Smith and David Warner began in inauspicious fashion.

No home comforts against India

In January 2019, Langer and his team made unwanted history as Australia were subjected to a home Test series defeat to a side from Asia for the first time as India secured a 2-1 victory. Wins in the first and third Tests for the tourists had sandwiched a 146-run drubbing in the second, but when the fourth contest ended in a draw Virat Kohli and his team could celebrate a famous triumph.

More India woe

Two years on, Australia were in a stronger position against the same opposition with Smith and Warner having long-since returned from their international suspensions. Things started well when India were knocked over for a measly 36 in the second innings of the first Test en route to victory in Adelaide. But India levelled things up in the second match and, after a drawn third Test, were triumphant in the Brisbane decider as murmurs of discontent over Langer's leadership began.

Highs

Plenty of heart in England

Australia were pretty much ever presents in enemy territory during the English summer of 2019 and Langer's team showed signs of encouragement. A year on from the white-ball drubbings inflicted by England, Australia – buoyed by the return of Warner of and Smith – enjoyed a valiant run to the semi-finals of the Cricket World Cup where they were beaten by the hosts. Soon after it was time for five-day cricket, and Australia retained the Ashes after a 2-2 drawn series. It was the first time they had avoided defeat in England since 2001.

Back on top of the world

By May 2020, Australia were well and truly back in their groove. Series wins on home soil against Pakistan and New Zealand saw them return to the number-one ranked team in Test cricket, while they also ascended to the top of the T20 rankings for the first time in their history.

World Cup glory

Australia were crowned T20 World Cup champions for the first time in the United Arab Emirates in November 2021, enjoying a dominant win over New Zealand – the same team they had defeated in the 2015 ODI World Cup showpiece – in the final. However, Langer himself admitted he had taken more of a backseat role for the tournament and the victory was said to have stemmed from a player-driven environment.

Ashes dominance

It has been less than a month since the end of a home Ashes series, which Australia completely dominated against a woeful England. The Aussies retained the urn in record-breaking time and only some valiant English defence in the fourth Test in Sydney denied the hosts a 5-0 whitewash. The build-up had not gone exactly to plan with captain Tim Paine having stood down amid an illicit-texting scandal, while new skipper Pat Cummins did not endorse Langer for a new contract during the series.

Perhaps there is something special to February 5. Or at least there is when it comes to world-class footballers.

On this day in 1985, Cristiano Ronaldo was born on the island of Madeira. Seven years later, Neymar came into the world in Mogi das Cruzes, in the Brazilian state of Sao Paulo.

Two of modern football's greats being born on the same day is quite the quirk, but while Ronaldo has gone on to cement himself as one of the best ever, it's hard to shake the feeling Neymar has never quite lived up to his extraordinary potential.

He emerged at Santos as Brazil's golden boy, a bona fide superstar in the making. By the time he left for Barcelona in 2013 at the age of 21, he was already been talked up as a shoo-in for a Ballon d'Or success.

Yet, as the forward hits 30, no Ballon d'Or has arrived. Indeed, he finished 16th in the voting for the 2021 award, and his move to Paris Saint-Germain has not seen him scale new individual heights.

Instead, he has been somewhat overshadowed by Kylian Mbappe, one of the new kids on the block, and it was his team-mate and close friend Lionel Messi who claimed a record-extending seventh Ballon d'Or last year.

Ronaldo, meanwhile, turns 37 back at the club where he became a global star.

Manchester United may not be the force they were under Alex Ferguson in Ronaldo's first stint, but his shock return to Old Trafford was a sensational story, and he continues to provide match-winning moments even if the comeback hasn't quite transformed the Red Devils into title contenders.

Using Opta data, Stats Perform looks back at what Neymar has achieved so far in his career, and how that stacks up against Ronaldo's feats by the time his twenties were over.

The trophies

Ronaldo was at Real Madrid when he turned 30 in 2015, a year after collecting his third Ballon d'Or, and a year prior to receiving his fourth. He went on to claim what was at the time a record-equalling fifth in 2017.

By the time he hit 30, Ronaldo had won four league titles (three Premier League wins, one in LaLiga), five domestic cup trophies and had enjoyed two Champions League triumphs. He had two Club World Cup successes to his name, and the UEFA Super Cup.

He played a pivotal role in Ferguson's dominant United team of the 2000s, combining with the likes of Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez in a thrilling attack to win three successive Premier League titles between 2007 and 2009, before his departure to Madrid in a then world-record transfer. His maiden Champions League success came in 2007-08, and he left United after losing to Barcelona in the 2009 final.

Indeed, Barca were the dominant force upon Ronaldo's arrival at the Santiago Bernabeu, and for much of the time before he turned 30.

In total, Ronaldo had won 16 major trophies by the time his twenties ended. Neymar, on the other hand, had already won six titles by the time he left Santos.

He added a further two league crowns to his name in Spain and won the Copa del Rey on three occasions, as well as the Champions League, Club World Cup and the Supercopa de Espana once each.

The Champions League has evaded Neymar so far at PSG, though he nevertheless has a trophy count of 10 and counting from his time in France, while unlike Ronaldo, he can count an Olympic gold – earned in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 – among his honours.

Neymar has won 28 titles, with 21 of those coming in Europe and one with the Selecao (Confederations Cup 2013). However, Neymar missed Brazil's triumphant 2019 Copa America campaign through injury.

The rivalries

Ronaldo was 28 when Barca signed Neymar for €86.2m. The days of the Guardiola-Jose Mourinho Clasico rivalry were over, though the clash was still littered with superstars on each side.

Prior to his 30th birthday, Ronaldo featured in 22 Clasico matches, starting 21 times. He scored 14 goals and provided one assist across 1,928 minutes of action. 

Neymar played against Ronaldo's Madrid in four of these games, scoring twice, including on his Clasico debut when he opened the scoring and teed up Alexis Sanchez's sublime winner in a 2-1 Barca victory.

Barca won two of the four Clasico games in which Neymar played while Ronaldo was in his 20s, with Madrid taking the bragging rights in the other games.

Neymar's overall Clasico record stands at three goals and as many assists from eight appearances.

The goals

Neymar has scored 195 goals in European club football since arriving at Barca in 2013. 

It is hardly a total to be scoffed at, yet it pales in comparison to the 411 Ronaldo had managed across his spells with Sporting CP, United and Madrid by his 30th birthday.

Indeed, by February 5, 2015, Ronaldo had already netted 36 goals in all competitions in 2014-15. He finished that campaign with an incredible 61 goals, the highest single-season total of his career.

That 61-goal haul came towards the tail-end of a run in which Ronaldo netted at least 50 times in six straight seasons. Neymar's best tally in a single campaign stands at 39 (2014-15), while his totals at PSG have dropped year-on-year, with his total for 2021-22 standing at three in all competitions, compared to Ronaldo's 14.

Ronaldo is also now of course the outright leading goalscorer in the history of international football, having overtaken Iran great Ali Daei.

The Portugal captain has netted 115 times for his country, with 52 of those coming in his twenties.

Interestingly, Neymar wins out by 18 goals in this regard, totalling 70 across 11 years of playing for Brazil. 

He still has some way to go to catch Ronaldo, who is of course still going strong for Portugal, though that is one target that may well be in Neymar's sights should he match Ronaldo's longevity.

That being said, Neymar's injury record would suggest that, unlike Ronaldo and Messi, his chances of going down as one of the all-time greats appear slim heading into his thirties.

The Six Nations is upon us for 2022, as Wales bid to defend their crown.

Wales won in 2021 without completing the Grand Slam, just the second time they have tasted victory without beating all five opponents, as their success came at the expense of France, who were frustrated by Scotland at the last.

Wayne Pivac's men are by no means favourites this time, however. They come into this Championship without Alun Wyn Jones, their captain and a great of the game, while George North leads a glut of star names also absent through injury.

Should Wales triumph, they would match a feat previously achieved only by England, while France are looking to end a long drought of success in the tournament.

Using Opta data, Stats Perform digs into some of the most intriguing facts ahead of the Six Nations.

Wales set England's record in their sights

The past 11 editions of the Six Nations have been won by either England, Ireland or Wales.

England and Wales have won the Championship four times each during that period.

If Wales defend their title successively, they would become the second team, after England, to win the competition seven times since the turn of the century, when it became the Six Nations.

But Pivac has some big names missing – none more so than Jones. Saturday's match against Ireland will be first time since 2006 that Wales have played in the Six Nations without him, while only Sergio Parisse (also 15) has appeared in as many editions of the Championship as Jones.

Can France finally strike gold?

In total, 86 tries were scored in the 2021 edition, the most in a single edition of the tournament. However, despite the free-scoring nature of the games, eight matches were decided by margins of five points or fewer, more than in any other previous Championship.

 

France were on the wrong end of one such fine margin, as they saw their hopes of winning the tournament for the first time since 2010 dashed in a postponed meeting with Scotland, which was played after the rest of the schedule had been completed.

Les Bleus' 11-year wait to win the Six Nations is the longest such stretch in their history, having joined the tournament in 1947.

France's squad is stacked full of talent, though. After recovering from COVID-19, Antoine Dupont is in line to play against Italy this weekend – only Wales' Louis Rees-Zammit (nine) made more clean breaks than the scrum-half last year (eight), with three other French players in the top 12 by that metric.

Dupont beat a defender on 13 occasions and topped the charts for offloads (nine) and try assists (five), ranking second for kicks in play (41) after Scotland's Finn Russell (47).

Romain Ntamack missed much of last year's tournament due to a jaw injury but is also set to feature.

Time for Scotland to step out of the shadows?

Scotland have never won the Six Nations, but they impressed in 2021. They enjoyed more possession (58 per cent) and territory (55 per cent) than any other side, as well as managing the best tackle success rate (91 per cent), and their tally of 9.8 entries into the opposition 22 per game was also the highest.

Duhan van der Merwe beat 31 defenders, surpassing Brian O'Driscoll's record for the most in a single edition of the Six Nations (30 in 2000) – it was also the first time that a Scotland player has ended a campaign as the outright top try scorer (five tries; excluding years with joint top-scorers).

 

Van der Merwe also tallied both the most metres carried (482) and the most post-contact metres (208) of any player. Hamish Watson, meanwhile, has now completed 149 tackles in a row in the Six Nations, having not missed one since 2019. Only Lionel Nallet (154) has made more consecutive tackles without missing in the history of the tournament.

England and Ireland out to prove their quality

England have won three of the six editions of the Six Nations since Eddie Jones took charge at the beginning of 2016, with only Bernard Laporte (four) having coached his team to more Championship wins this century.

Jones' team had the best lineout success rate (95 per cent) in the 2021 tournament, losing just three of 58 throws. Luke Cowan-Dickie landed 32 of 32 throws, the most ever by a player in an edition of the tournament not to miss a throw.

Yet that proficiency in the lineout was not enough to propel England to success, as they won only twice to finish a disappointing fifth. 

Ireland finished third, on the other hand, despite losing their first two games.

Andy Farrell's team converted 94 per cent of their kicks last year, the best rate of any nation, missing just one penalty goal attempt and one conversion (29 of 31). In fact, it was the best ever success rate by a team to attempt 25 or more kicks at goal in an edition of the tournament, with captain Johnny Sexton the top points scorer (65).

 

Italy just making up the numbers?

Italy lost all five games again last year, picking up a 16th wooden spoon. They have lost 32 successive Tests in the competition, the longest run in Five/Six Nations history.

The wooden spoon has been theirs in each of the past six years, this after finishing bottom of the Championship just once in the four campaigns before that.

Friday sees the official beginning of the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, as the best of the best in cold-weather sports converge on Beijing.

Around 90 National Olympic Committees will participate, with approximately 2,900 athletes taking part in the 109 events at 13 different venues.

Some of the world's finest athletes will take to the snow or ice, though you may not necessarily know who in particular to look out for if you aren't a regular follower of winter sports.

Stats Perform has you covered, profiling seven of the most notable figures to keep an eye out for in Beijing…

Eileen Gu – Freestyle skiing

Nicknamed the "Snow Princess" in China, Gu will be one of the most intriguing athletes competing in these Games. The freestyle skier won two gold medals at both the Winter X Games 2021 and the FIS Freestyle World Ski Championships.

Aside from being very good at her sport, Gu is also signed to a modelling agency and has appeared in local editions of Elle, Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue.

The 18-year-old is very much a medal hopeful, which is why it delighted China when the Californian decided to represent the country of her mother's birth instead of the United States.

Francesco Friedrich – Bobsleigh

Germans are good at bobsledding, winning gold in every bobsleigh event at PyeongChang 2018, and driver Friedrich might just be the best of the bunch.

The 31-year-old won a shared gold medal in the two-man bobsled in PyeongChang (with Canada), and an outright gold in the four-man event.

Friedrich also led the squad that comfortably won gold at the 2021 IBSF World Championships in a time almost a full second faster than runners-up Latvia, and recently won the World Cup title despite the German four-man bobsleigh suffering its first defeat of the Olympic season in the final race before Beijing 2022, coming second to Latvia.

Mikaela Shiffrin – Alpine skiing

A two-time Olympic gold medallist, Shiffrin also won four medals at the 2021 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships, including gold in the Alpine combined.

Other notable achievements include being the youngest slalom champion in Olympic Alpine skiing history, she has won the most world cup slalom races in history (45) and became the first Alpine skier to win the world championship in the same discipline (slalom) at four championships in a row.

Suzanne Schulting – Short track speed skating

The dominant Dutch athlete won gold in every event at the Speed Skating World Championships in March last year, becoming only the second female to do so.

Schulting won gold in 2018 in the 1000-metre race and will be hoping to win multiple short track events in Beijing.

In November, the 24-year-old gave an interview to the official Olympics website, saying: "I'm super motivated to train again and to do my best and become even better than last year. I want to go for gold at Beijing and of course to work for the upcoming World Cups."

Mikael Kingsbury – Freestyle skiing

Kingsbury might be the main one to watch early on in Beijing as he has already qualified for the freestyle skiing final, which takes place on Saturday.

The Canadian has won the most medals at the Freestyle World Championships of any male skier in history and is the reigning Olympic and world champion in the moguls.

Kingsbury started his Olympics on Thursday with a flawless run in qualifying to book an automatic spot in the final, finishing with a score of 81.15 at the Genting Snow Park.

Chloe Kim – Snowboarding

Snowboarding has become one of the most popular events at the Winter Olympics since it was first introduced in 1998.

One of the main snowboarders to keep an eye on in Beijing is Kim, who made history at PyeongChang 2018 when she won gold in the women's snowboard halfpipe at the age of just 17, becoming the youngest female competitor to win an Olympic snowboarding gold.

The American is also the current world, Olympic and X Games champion in the halfpipe and was the first to win all three titles.

Yuzuru Hanyu – Figure skating

The Japanese sensation has broken figure skating world records a staggering 19 times and has seven world championship medals and four Grand Prix titles to his name.

Hanyu is also a two-time Olympic champion and there is a tradition after each skate where his fans throw Winnie the Pooh cuddly toys onto the ice. But given the 2018 film was banned in China following social media comparisons between the cartoon bear and Chinese president Xi Jinping, it is perhaps for the best that only local spectators will be in attendance in Beijing.

The 27-year-old is aiming for a third consecutive title in the men's singles competition, which has not been achieved since 1928.

Eleven months on from playing the roles of party poopers against the same opponents, France will this weekend set out on a journey that Fabien Galthie and his men will hope ends with the Six Nations trophy being held aloft at the Stade de France on March 19.

Les Blues denied Wales Grand Slam glory with an enthralling 32-30 victory in Paris in the Dragons' final match of an otherwise perfect 2021 campaign, snatching the win through an injury-time Brice Dulin try, but they ultimately fell short by finishing four points adrift in second.

Now on their longest run without winning the championship since joining the Five Nations in 1947, with their most recent triumph coming in 2010, France will consider anything other than first place this time around a real disappointment.

But if that is to happen, then Galthie's side have a number of obstacles to navigate, not least beating defending champions Wales – now one shy of England's record of seven Six Nations crowns – in Cardiff in the fourth round of fixtures.

Wales have been Six Nations champions four times in the last 10 years, yet few are giving them much of a chance this time around after failing to push on in the second half of 2021.

Wayne Pivac's side are without inspirational skipper Alun Wyn Jones and do not exactly have history on their side, having won back-to-back championships just once – doing so in 2012 and 2013 – but the Dragons do at least play three of their five matches on home soil.

 

A fast start is imperative but a first-round trip to in-form Ireland presents the reigning champions with arguably their toughest assignment of the tournament. Champions in 2018, four barren years would feel like a lifetime should Ireland miss out again.

Andy Farrell's charges are certainly not lacking momentum thanks to a strong end to the last campaign. Eight wins in a row, including a famous triumph over New Zealand in November – only their third win in that fixture in 33 meetings – has them riding the crest of a wave.

A lack of playing time at club level for certain players could hamper Ireland in their opener, however, setting up an intriguing game to kick things off on Saturday at the Aviva Stadium.

While it is clear what can be expected from France, Ireland and Wales, fellow heavyweights England enter this latest edition as something of an unknown quantity due to injury absentees, skipper Owen Farrell among them.

Tom Curry will have to step up and lead an inexperienced England side that contains seven players with 10 caps or fewer in their starting XV to face Scotland. It will make for a challenging six weeks from Eddie Jones' perspective, but one he will be relishing in his seventh Six Nations with the Red Rose.

 

England are one of two sides, along with Ireland, yet to collect the Wooden Spoon. That cannot be said of Italy, who have propped up the table in each of the last six years, that after finishing bottom only once in the previous four campaigns.

Another disappointing 2021 saw Italy lose all five matches as their losing run in the tournament stretched to 32 games, the longest such streak in either Five or Six Nations history.

Italy's place in future competitions continues to be debated, with a possible promotion and relegation system being touted by some, but for now the Azzurri will simply be focused on proving their doubters wrong by ending a long-running losing streak that stretches back to 2015.

While there are some promising signs at age-group level, it is hard to see past Italy claiming an unwanted 17th Wooden Spoon this time around, particularly with trips to Paris, Dublin and Cardiff to prepare for.

Exactly who Italy will battle it out for to avoid bottom spot is a tougher question to answer than predicting an overall winner, with Scotland one of those whose campaign could go either way.

Experienced but too inconsistent, Gregor Townsend's perennial dark horses need to find a way to string together a run of victories to remain in contention right until the end. 

The hallmarks of a great team were there 12 months ago when enjoying more possession (58 per cent) and territory (55 per cent) than any other side, as well as managing the best tackle success rate (91 per cent), but there are still a number of issues that need to be ironed out.

That is a running theme throughout, though, and all adds to the unpredictability and excitement.

With fans back inside grounds, scores to be settled and no shortage of subplots, it is easy to see why this year's Six Nations is the most anticipated in several years.

As the NBA All-Star break approaches, three players look to have established themselves as this season's MVP frontrunners – and they all happen to be big men born outside the United States.

That is surprising with the league trending towards teams hoisting up insane amounts of three-pointers and the idea of the big man in the middle becoming almost obsolete.

While this race will undoubtedly come down to the 11th hour, these three players have clearly separated themselves from the pack by playing some otherworldly basketball this season. 

JOEL EMBIID, Philadelphia 76ers

Embiid is the only one of the top three who has never won an MVP and that could end up working in his favour. The Philadelphia center was the runner-up to winner Nikola Jokic last season, and some wondered whether that was his best chance to win the award, but he has been better in nearly every area of the game while single-handedly carrying the 76ers to the upper reaches of the Eastern Conference.

Embiid's points (29.1), rebounds (10.8) and assists (4.4) have all ticked up slightly this season, though his field goal percentage has dropped. Maybe the most important stat that puts a fine point on just how valuable Embiid has been is Philadelphia's 27-12 record when he plays and 4-8 mark when he doesn't.

Embiid has had issues with durability throughout his career, never playing more than 64 games in any season. He has mostly put those issues to rest this season and played in 21 straight games before he had a scheduled maintenance day and missed Monday's win over Memphis. 

Because he hasn't had Ben Simmons playing alongside him this season, Embiid has taken on an even bigger role in the team's offense. He's maintained his scoring rate and his assists have jumped from 2.8 to 4.4 as he has assumed greater playmaking responsibility in both the half-court and transition, all while lowering his turnovers. 

Embiid's defence hasn't suffered even with his increased burden on the opposite end. His blocks have increased (1.35 to 1.44) and he is the biggest reason the 76ers have improved their scoring defence from last season (108.1 to 105.5).

Since Christmas, Embiid leads the league in scoring (33.8) while pulling down 10.9 rebounds per game. His stretch of eight consecutive games with at least 30 points from December 26 to January 12 is the longest in the NBA this season and is tied for the longest by any 76ers player (Allen Iverson, Wilt Chamberlain) since at least 1963-64. 

Philadelphia have won 15 of 19 during that span for a .789 winning percentage that ranks behind only the Grizzlies, moving the Sixers up to third in the Eastern Conference.

With 50.8 points, 16.1 rebounds and 7.6 assists per 48 minutes in January, Embiid became the first player in league history to average 50-15-5 per 48 in a calendar month. 

Embiid also isn't shrinking in the big moments, topping the league in points (127), field goals (40) and blocks (nine) in clutch situations.

All the ingredients necessary for an MVP are in place for Embiid, who has the production, the team success and even the narrative that he has put the team on his back in the absence of a fellow star player. Winning the top seed in the conference would certainly help Embiid's cause, and his play has that well within reach for the 76ers.

GIANNIS ANTETOKOUNMPO, Milwaukee Bucks

In the same that way that Embiid could be helped by having never won an MVP, Antetokounmpo could be hindered by having won back-to-back awards before Jokic took home the hardware last season. Only eight players have won three or more MVPs, with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar leading the way with six and LeBron James the only active player with more than two (four). 

The Greek Freak has overcome a slow start following a short offseason and is putting up remarkably similar numbers to his last few campaigns, so there is no denying that he is having another MVP-worthy season. As impressive as Antetokounmpo's numbers are, he may not be getting the attention he deserves because this level of production has become the norm for a player who is arguably an all-time great at just 27 years old. 

Antetokounmpo is the only player who had almost as good a January as Embiid, averaging 31.7 points, 10.9 points and 6.3 assists. His nine 30-point games in the month trailed only Embiid (12).

Milwaukee are jockeying with Cleveland and Chicago for the Central Division lead despite dealing with a revolving door of availability from their roster all season. Just like Embiid's chances at the MVP are boosted with a top seed, team success can only help Antetokounmpo's case. The Bucks were the number one seed in the East in both of his MVP seasons. 

Antetokounmpo's ability to affect a game in a myriad of ways was on display in a win over Golden State on January 13, when he had 30 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists and three blocks. All that production came in under 30 minutes of play and made him the first player with multiple 30-point triple-doubles in 30 minutes or less in the last 40 seasons. His other such outing came October 24, 2019, at Houston.

The Bucks superstar is one of only two players (also Jokic) currently averaging at least 25 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. 

If Milwaukee finish with the best record in the East and Antetokounmpo averages near 30 points per game, 11 rebounds and six assists, it might be difficult to deny him a third MVP award. 

NIKOLA JOKIC, Denver Nuggets

After winning the MVP last season, Jokic has replicated his numbers in 2021-22, if not exceeded many of them. He's done all that while leading the Nuggets to a 28-23 record despite the long-term absences of Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., Denver's second and third-leading scorers last season. 

His performance this season has only reinforced his place among the league's elite and proven for the last time that he is not dependent on any player for his success, instead driving it for himself and his team-mates.

Jokic's scoring is basically equal to last season (25.9 to 26.4 in 2020-21), but his rebounds have jumped from 10.8 to 13.8 to put him second in the league behind Utah's Rudy Gobert as he has picked up the slack with Porter sidelined since early November. 

Jokic's assists (7.8), blocks (0.73), steals (1.42) and shooting percentage (57.2) are similar to last season, and he's again racking up the triple-doubles with a league-best 13 in 45 games after he had 16 in 72 last season. In only his seventh season, he is already fourth all-time in triple-doubles (70).

While Jokic's scoring in January (26.6) wasn't as robust as Embiid and Antetokounmpo, he did lead the league in total rebounds (212), ranked second in assists (144) and third in field goals made (158). He had a stretch of four consecutive triple-doubles from January 15 to 21 where he averaged 29.3 points, 13.0 rebounds and 12.3 assists, astonishing totals from any player, let alone a seven-footer. 

With 49 points in a win over the Clippers on January 19, Jokic became just the third center (also Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1975 and Alvan Adams in 1977) since 1970-71 to record a triple-double with 45 points or more. 

While each player faces a separate set of circumstances from year to year, Jokic has been as good or better than his MVP season and has done so with much less around him. That itself won't guarantee him another MVP, but he's right there with the other candidates and has the rest of the season to prove himself worthy of becoming a back-to-back winner. 

Superstars of the winter sports world are lining up at Beijing 2022 to create more breathtaking Olympic memories.

This festival of fast-paced action and technical excellence, a bewilderingly brilliant show set on snow and ice, has delivered sporting legends since it was first staged 98 years ago.

The Winter Olympics has ballooned in scale since Chamonix 1924, but its foundations were set then, with bobsleigh, curling, ice hockey, skiing in its varying forms and both figure skating and speed skating on the original programme.

Here, Stats Perform looks at the achievements of the greatest athletes to strike gold.

BIATHLON: Ole Einar Bjorndalen

Stemming from the sport known in 1924 as military patrol, biathlon is that peculiar blend of cross-country skiing and rifle shooting. It might be archaic in origin, but so too is the 100 metres dash at the summer Olympics, and biathlon remains an integral part of the winter programme.

Norwegian master Bjorndalen has been its greatest exponent, winning five solo gold medals and three in relay events. He competed at each Games from Lillehammer 1994 through to Sochi 2014, first striking gold at Nagano 1998. Bjorndalen peaked at Salt Lake City in 2002, landing four golds.

His fame has never rivalled that of a Michael Phelps or Usain Bolt, even though biathlon commands huge television audiences in parts of mainland Europe. Yet the man whose hunger for devouring the competition earned him the nickname of 'The Cannibal' belongs in Olympic legend.

Four silvers and a bronze took him to 13 Olympic medals in all, the most successful male Winter Olympics athlete for the most successful nation in the history of the Games.

CROSS-COUNTRY SKIING: Marit Bjorgen and Bjorn Daehlie

Bjorgen is the most successful athlete in Winter Olympics history, with eight gold medals, four silver and three bronze, out-ranking even Bjorndalen in Norway's parade of great champions.

She scooped 18 World Championship golds too, had 114 wins among 184 top-three finishes at World Cup events, and ranks as the third most successful Olympian of all time in terms of medals won, after swimming great Phelps (28 medals, including 23 golds) and Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina (18 medals, nine golds).

Bjorgen made her Olympic debut in 2002 but had to wait until 2010 before landing a first gold at the Games, triumphing in the pursuit, the sprint and the 4×5km relay. Three more triumphs followed in Sochi, before Bjorgen, by now a mother, won twice again at Pyeongchang in 2018. Her career climaxed in a dazzling triumph by almost two minutes in the 30km race on the final day of competition, the gold vaulting Bjorgen above Bjorndalen on the all-time list in the process. She retired a matter of weeks later, a mission accomplished.

Oslo-based Bjorgen ranks only just ahead of compatriot and fellow cross-country superstar Daehlie in the grand totting up. Daehlie was the first Winter Olympics star to land eight gold medals, winning those from 1992 to 1998, including two in front of home crowds at Lillehammer in 1994.

He captured four silver medals across his Olympic career, too, and might have gone on to enjoy success in subsequent Games, only for injuries from a roller-skiing accident to force him into retirement in 2001, at the age of 33.

SPEED SKATING: Eric Heiden, Clas Thunberg and Viktor Ahn

Heiden's story is remarkable, with the American sweeping the board by winning five gold medals at his home Winter Olympics in 1980, taking the Games in Lake Placid by storm and instantly making himself an all-timer in speed skating. He snatched Olympic records across the board, and his feat would be remarkable enough if the story ended there, as the only winter athlete in history to win five gold medals in a Games, but Heiden had more up his sleeve.

He turned his focus to cycling and represented the United States on the track before switching to the road, winning a US national championship and competing at the 1985 Giro d'Italia and 1986 Tour de France, crashing out of the latter late on in the race. Later he became an orthopaedic surgeon, and to this day operates a medical centre in Park City, Utah.

Finland's Clas Thunberg also won five Olympic golds in speed skating, three at the inaugural Chamonix Games and two at St Moritz in 1928, before he went on to serve as a politician. Claudia Pechstein of Germany and Ireen Wust of the Netherlands have also both won five golds.

The only speed skaters to win more have been Lidiya Skoblikova, a six-time gold medallist for the Soviet Union in the 1960s, and Viktor Ahn, a more modern marvel.

Ahn, a short-track speed skater, won the first three medals of his set competing for South Korea as Ahn Hyun-soo in 2006 at Turin. He added three more after switching to race for Russia at the 2014 Sochi Games, a tough pill for Seoul to swallow, with Ahn having cited a lack of support from South Korean authorities as the reason for his sporting defection. South Korean president Park Geun-hye demanded answers.

Ahn was controversially not invited to compete for the Olympic Athletes from Russia team at the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. A state-sponsored doping scandal from Sochi saw the Russian Olympic Committee banned, with a makeshift team entering in their place. Ahn, who insists he has never cheated, said it was "outrageous" to exclude him.

FIGURE SKATING: Sonja Henie

Before she became a Hollywood movie star, and before Adolf Hitler became an admirer of her graceful routines, Norwegian Henie made her Winter Olympics debut as an 11-year-old in 1924. She was a raw talent at the time but in 1928 she landed the gold medal at St Moritz, before repeating the feat four years later at Lake Placid and completing a hat-trick in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in 1936. She had a fan in Hitler and warmly greeted the Nazi leader before the 1936 Games, which did not sit well with many, although she managed to set the controversy aside. Henie elected to turn professional after that triumph in Germany, ensuring she could monetise her talent, and American film studios soon beckoned.

Henie became an ever bigger star, appearing in a host of major box-office movies. Her Olympic gold medal success has never been beaten in figure skating, although Sweden's Gillis Grafstrom also won three consecutive titles in the men's event, with the first of those coming at the 1920 Summer Games in Antwerp, where figure skating was part of the programme.

ALPINE SKIING: Kjetil Andre Aamodt and Janica Kostelic

Alberto Tomba, Pirmin Zurbriggen and Marc Girardelli were bona fide superstars of the slopes in the 1980s and early 1990s, but none of them have an Olympic record to match that of Aamodt.

At the age of 20, Aamodt denied Girardelli the super-G gold at Val d'Isere in Albertville's 1992 Games, pulling off a shock victory that was an omen of things to come, although it was 10 years before he won a second Olympic gold. In Salt Lake City, Aamodt captured the super-G and combined titles, while four years later in Turin he edged out Hermann Maier to take a third super-G title, becoming the first male alpine skier to win four Olympic golds. That he did that after two injury-blighted years, at the age of 34, only enhanced the achievement.

Within minutes of Norwegian Aamodt reaching four, so too did Croatia's Janica Kostelic, the only woman to achieve such a haul. She had won three times in Salt Lake City in 2002, taking the slalom, giant slalom and combined titles, and in Turin, after a bout of sickness disrupted her preparation, Kostelic defended the combined.

Aamodt has eight Olympic medals in all (four gold, two silver, two bronze), while Kostelic has six (four gold, two silver).

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