Chelsea's perfect Premier League record under Graham Potter came to an end in the goalless draw against Brentford on Wednesday, which increases the importance of Saturday's clash against Manchester United.

The Blues sit one point above Erik ten Hag's side heading into the weekend, with both eager for a win in the early stages of the battle for a top-four finish – particularly with Newcastle United and Liverpool gathering steam behind them.

On big occasions like this, Chelsea may look to their star players and marquee additions for an impact, which directs attention towards Raheem Sterling, although the England international has a surprisingly sorry record against United.

Sterling's clashes against the Red Devils have previously always been derby encounters, first with Liverpool and then Manchester City, and in terms of goalscoring he has not risen to the occasion in the past.

Sterling's United stutters

In his Premier League career, Sterling has faced United on 18 different occasions and has enjoyed victory in just a third of those fixtures – with a tally of six wins being the second lowest against an opponent he has played on more than 10 occasions (behind games against Liverpool – three wins in 13 games).

Nine defeats leaves Sterling with more losses against United than he has tasted against any other side, with that total including three losses in his last four appearances against the Red Devils – all of which were Manchester derbies with City.

Sterling's woes have not just been on the final outcome, however, as he has failed to score in the 1,357 minutes he has played against United, despite the fact they are the side he has played the fourth-most minutes against, behind Everton, Southampton and Tottenham.

To date, Sterling's direct impact in the final third against United stands at just two assists, and Chelsea's recent history does not look much better.

United's upper hand

Chelsea head into Saturday's clash against United without a win in the last nine Premier League meetings between the sides, with draws being a regular occurrence (6) and three losses for the Blues.

In fact, 11 of the past 23 clashes between the two sides in England's top flight have finished level, with United securing seven victories in that span compared to Chelsea's five.

Chelsea's last win against United in the Premier League came five years ago, in November 2017, when Alvaro Morata scored the decisive goal of the game.

If that long wait for three points is to end this weekend, the Blues will need to be firing on all cylinders against a United side who have found their rhythm with a five-game unbeaten streak since their drubbing at the hands of City at the start of the month.

Bruno Fernandes' spectacular finish helped Manchester United make a statement of their top-four credentials with a 2-0 win over Tottenham in the Premier League on Wednesday.

The Portugal midfielder volleyed into the top-right corner to add to Fred's opener, lifting the Red Devils to a deserved victory over Antonio Conte's men, who they now trail by just four points.

Elsewhere, Newcastle United continued their fine start to the season and Chelsea were held by Brentford, as West Ham paid the penalty in a narrow loss to Liverpool at Anfield.

Here, Stats Perform picks out the best Opta facts from an intriguing Wednesday in the Premier League.

Manchester United 2-0 Tottenham: Fernandes continues Spurs' Red Devils hoodoo

Wednesday's headline clash saw United claim an important win over third-placed Spurs, Erik ten Hag's second win in as many home Premier League games against top-three opponents (also 3-1 v Arsenal in September).

That is as many home wins against sides in the top three as predecessors Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ralf Rangnick managed between them in the competition.

Fernandes was the star of the show, creating nine chances – the most by a player in a Premier League match this season and most overall in the competition since Fernandes himself in September 2021 (10 v Aston Villa).

The hosts also kept Spurs' attackers quiet during a controlled display – Harry Kane has now failed to score in 13 of his 17 appearances against United in the Premier League, more than against any other opponent.

The victory is United's fourth in their last four Premier League meetings with Tottenham, the first time they have enjoyed such a run in the competition since April 2009-October 2010.

Liverpool 1-0 West Ham: Alisson and Nunez hand Reds hard-fought win

At Anfield, Liverpool built on Sunday's victory over Manchester City by clinching a 1-0 win over West Ham, extending their unbeaten run to 29 home league games (W22 D7).

Darwin Nunez headed home the only goal, which also represented Liverpool's 100th Premier League goal against West Ham – the fourth side they've reached a century against in the competition.

That goal was also the 800th West Ham have conceded in the Premier League – a tally only previously reached by Everton, Newcastle and Tottenham.

The Hammers were handed a chance to respond before the break, but Jarrod Bowen saw his penalty saved by Alisson. Since the start of the 2020-21 season, no team has missed more Premier League spot-kicks than West Ham's six.

Newcastle United 1-0 Everton: Solid Toon continue rise

Eddie Howe's Newcastle recorded a 1-0 win over Everton at St James' Park, posting their fifth clean sheet of the Premier League season – a tally only matched by Manchester City.

In truth, the Magpies' rearguard was never seriously tested: Everton's one shot in this match was their joint-worst tally in a Premier League game since data collection began in 2003-04 (also v Chelsea in November 2016).

Newcastle are sixth in the early-season standings after combining that solidity with an eye for the spectacular – only Leicester City (six) can better their tally of five Premier League goals from outside the penalty area this season. 

Match-winner Miguel Almiron, meanwhile, has netted five goals in 11 league appearances this term, matching his return from his previous 64 outings.

Brentford 0-0 Chelsea: Bees hold firm in West London Derby

Chelsea are yet to taste defeat under Graham Potter, but the Blues boss saw his team drop league points for the first time in his tenure at Brentford.

The Blues' familiar lack of creativity came to the fore as they hit the target with just five of their 14 shots (36 per cent), three of which came after the 85th minute.

Despite not starting the match, Mateo Kovacic was directly involved in seven of Chelsea's 14 shots, creating a game-high four chances as he outshone his team-mates.

However, the Croatian was unable to drive his side to a win, and Brentford have now kept consecutive clean sheets in the Premier League for just the second time – last doing so in their first two games in the competition in August 2021.

Belief is a powerful emotion.

Athletes from a variety of sports over the years have spoken about the power of self-belief that allowed them to overcome the odds and prevail.

In the world of fantasy football, where the stakes are substantially lower, it is easy to lose faith after a few bad weeks given the season is so short.

Still, even as the losses mount, it's important to not get discouraged, trust in your line-up decisions and, most importantly, remember that it's just a bit of fun.

Not everything is going to go right for all your players in every game, but with Week 7 on the horizon, Stats Perform has gone through the numbers and identified four offensive players and a defense deserving of your faith for the upcoming slate of games.


Quarterback: Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys @ Detroit Lions

Prescott is finally set to return to the lineup after Cooper Rush kept the Cowboys firmly in the mix during his absence with a fractured thumb.

There may some reticence to roll with Prescott in fantasy in his first game since the season opener. 

Against the Lions, there's little reason to have such concerns. Their defense is allowing 7.37 yards per pass play, the second most in the NFL, while only the Cleveland Browns have conceded more offensive touchdowns than Detroit's 18.

Game flow could work against Prescott putting up a huge fantasy performance if the Dallas defense allows the Cowboys to build a big lead, but there's no reason to expect him to struggle on his return.

Running Back: Kenneth Walker, Seattle Seahawks @ Los Angeles Chargers

Walker backed up his explosive performance against the New Orleans Saints in Week 5 with a strong showing in Week 6 as the Seahawks knocked off the Arizona Cardinals.

He racked up 97 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries versus Arizona and now gets to face a Charger run defense that has displayed no improvement despite heavy offseason investment.

Only the New York Giants (5.61) are allowing more yards per rush than the Chargers (5.56). Walker already has seven rushes of 10 yards or more this season and, if you have this exciting rookie on your roster, you can afford to believe he will deliver in a substantial way in LA.

Wide Receiver: Deebo Samuel, San Francisco 49ers vs. Kansas City Chiefs

Samuel was kept relatively quiet as the 49er offense endured a difficult day in Atlanta last week, failing to score in the second half of their 28-14 loss to the Falcons.

Even so, he still managed seven catches for 79 yards and his fantasy managers who may be worried about a drop-off from the San Francisco attack should stay calm.

The 49er run game sputtered in Atlanta, gaining just 50 yards, but it looked at its best on the two carries Samuel received out of the backfield. 

Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan last season turned to putting Samuel in the backfield to give his offense a spark and it produced stunning results. Don't be surprised to see him do the same here.

With the Chiefs level with the Lions with 18 offensive scores allowed, a varied role for Samuel on Sunday could spell a highly productive effort on an offense that may benefit from the return of All-Pro left tackle Trent Williams.

Tight End: Robert Tonyan, Green Bay Packers @ Washington Commanders

The Green Bay offense is in dreadful shape, with some questioning whether it is broken beyond repair following a dismal defeat to the New York Jets at Lambeau Field.

Aaron Rodgers has called for the Packers to simplify their attack in the wake of that loss. Any huge schematic changes seem unlikely but what is probable is that Rodgers will focus on the few targets he trusts.

One such target is Tonyan, who was last week targeted 12 times, catching 10 passes for 90 yards.

With Randall Cobb on the sideline through injury, Allen Lazard and Tonyan will likely be Rodgers' favoured weapons in the passing game. Whether he can engineer an upturn in Green Bay's fortunes is open for debate, but Tonyan's place in the pass-catching hierarchy for the Packers gives him plenty of fantasy value against a Commanders defense that has allowed 12 passing touchdowns, the second-most in the league.

Defense/Special Teams: New Orleans Saints at Arizona Cardinals

Is your faith in the New Orleans defense shaken by the Cincinnati Bengals' comeback against the Saints? Well here come the Cardinals to make everything all better.

The Cardinals managed nine points against a Seahawks team that has allowed 163 this season. Only the Lions have given up more.

On a per-play basis, the Steelers are the sole team to put up fewer yards (4.77) than the Cardinals (4.81).

The Saints' defense is not as fearsome as in days gone by, but it has the benefit of facing an utterly anaemic offense in Week 7 and is worthy of some belief as a result.

"Remember the name... Wayne Rooney!"

Broadcaster Clive Tyldesley commentated on plenty of famous moments down the years, and his excitement in this instance was justified.

Five days short of his 17th birthday, Wayne Rooney came on as a late substitute for Everton at Goodison Park. The Toffees were drawing 1-1 with Arsenal, the reigning Premier League champions.

Everton had only beaten Arsenal once in their previous 12 meetings, but on October 19, 2002, Rooney stepped up to deliver a sensational stoppage-time winner and kick-start a career that saw him rise to the very top.

Talk of the terraces

October 19, 2002 might have been the day Rooney cemented himself at the forefront of English football, but the boy wonder from the Liverpool suburb of Croxteth had been the talk of the Blue side of the city for some time.

"The first time I ever played with Wayne, he was 14 years old," recalled Kevin Campbell, speaking on Everton fan channel The Blue Room in 2021, after Rooney had announced his retirement at the age of 35.

"He's had a remarkable career, he’s been a fantastic footballer for England, broken records. He's made his mark. I'm pleased, and I'm proud that I played with him and captained him."

Nobody perhaps quite foresaw what a success Rooney would go on to become, of course. He is, after all, Manchester United and England's record goalscorer – albeit Harry Kane could well surpass Rooney's 53 international strikes at the upcoming World Cup. However, there was a definite buzz around Rooney as he came through the ranks of Everton's academy.

"We knew where he was destined for," said Campbell. "We heard that there's a young lad coming through who's good, Wayne Rooney.

"When I ended up playing with him [in the reserves], and someone said 'this is Wayne Rooney', I was like 'the kit's too big for him!' But wow, he left an impression on me, and this was two years prior. I went back to the lads and said 'there's this kid Rooney coming up, he should be with us now'. As soon as he finished school, he came in, one training session and the lads were... jaws on the floor. Incredible talent."

Rooney had made the bench towards the end of the 2001-02 season, and while it is his strike against Arsenal that sticks in the mind, he first scored earlier in October, in a 3-0 defeat of Wrexham in the League Cup, netting twice.

Eighteen days later, his time on the big stage arrived.

A bolt from the blue

Rooney's full debut in the Premier League (then known as the Premiership, of course) actually came on the opening day of the 2002-03 season, David Moyes having named him in the side to face Tottenham at Goodison Park. The match ended 2-2, with Rooney assisting one of Everton's goals.

Further league starts followed against Birmingham City and Aston Villa before his crowning moment as the competition's youngest goalscorer came.

Freddie Ljungberg had put Arsenal ahead early on, but Tomasz Radzinski lashed in an equaliser 14 minutes later.

David Seaman – days after conceding to Macedonia's Artim Sakiri direct from a corner in his final England appearance – twice denied Thomas Gravesen while Everton rode their luck at the other end.

It was Gravesen's prod forward in the closing moments that was then brought down effortlessly by Rooney.

With deft control beyond his years, Rooney stopped the looping ball dead over his shoulder, cushioning it with his right foot to twist away from two backpedalling Arsenal defenders.

Rooney's first touch elicited a sense of audible awe from the home faithful. His second allowed him to assess his options. By the time he took his third – this one slightly heavier to give him a run-up – his mind had been made up as he prepared to swing his right boot from 25 yards out, just to the left of centre.

Moments later, Seaman was on his knees, the back of the net was rippling, and the ball was bouncing back down to earth, having clipped in off the underside of the crossbar on its way in. Rooney was wheeling away, and commentator Tyldesley was about to say those famous words.

Goodison Park was in delirium, shaking to the wooden rafters. The Grand Old Lady rocking for English football's new favourite son.

Remember the goal, not just the name

Of course, Rooney scored so many goals, it is hard to pick his very best – one from inside his own half for United against West Ham (he also scored a similar goal against the Hammers in his second spell at Everton) comes to mind, as does a sublime solo goal against Leeds United not long after his winner against Arsenal, his outrageous volley against Newcastle United after an angry tirade at the referee and that stunning bicycle kick in a 2011 Manchester derby.

But does his first Premier League goal get the recognition it deserves?

The poise, vision and control Rooney displayed with his first two touches were a showcase of the natural talent he possessed. Not long out of school, Rooney's skill wouldn't have looked out of place had he been playing in the opposite colours that day for a team who would go on to become 'The Invincibles' the following season.

There is also the arrogance and confidence to look up and, with Arsenal's formidable defence – made up of Lauren, Sol Campbell, Pascal Cygan and Ashley Cole in front of England's number one goalkeeper of 15 years – ahead of him, choose to go for goal.

The odds were clearly stacked against Rooney. The expected goals data is not available for this goal, but you would hazard a guess it would be of low value.

Shortly afterwards, with Everton looking to see the game out, Rooney actually very nearly bettered his breakthrough goal, chipping Seaman from close to 30 yards, again showing the exuberance of youth mixed with world-class quality.

The Toffees used that victory as a springboard, the first in a sequence of six straight wins – all by a one-goal margin, with Rooney netting that sole strike at Leeds. The teenager did not start another top-flight game until December, however, as Moyes attempted to manage expectations and keep the pressure off a boy, as Campbell said, destined for greatness.

Rooney's name will be remembered among the very best, he made sure of that. But the goal that started it all deserves to be remembered as one of his best, too.

Alexia Putellas pipped Beth Mead to the Ballon d'Or, and now the Women's Champions League is set to begin in earnest as the group stage gets under way.

This has already been a spectacular year for the women's game in Europe, with Euro 2022 a roaring success, but the club game is going from strength to strength, too.

The continent's biggest clubs are throwing their support behind women's teams, and although this means some early adopters are being squeezed out, the Champions League is growing in quality and professionalism year by year. This is the second year that has featured a group stage, another sign of progress.

Here, Stats Perform looks at the 2022-23 tournament and its rich promise, with 16 teams vying to reach the final at Philips Stadion in Eindhoven in June.

Before the rise of the Lionesses, there was Lyon... and they are the UWCL queens

French club Lyon have set a high bar with their support and investment in women's football, led by owner Jean-Michel Aulas.

Their first Champions League title came in 2010-11, and last season they landed the trophy for an eighth time with a 3-1 triumph against Barcelona in Turin.

Barcelona headed into that May showpiece in imperious form, but Lyon led 3-0 inside 33 minutes. Putellas pulled one goal back, but it was not to be her day, or Barcelona's.

Instead, Lyon were celebrating, and perhaps nobody more so than Ada Hegerberg, their star Norwegian striker. Battling her way back to full fitness after a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament kept her sidelined for over 18 months, Hegerberg had a goal and an assist in the final.

"I couldn't imagine winning the Champions League a year ago," Hegerberg said that night. "Coming back from injury and getting back to this level is extremely inspiring and I am very grateful."

Now Putellas faces a similar journey. The Barcelona and Spain star, recognised as the world's best player, sustained a major ACL injury on the eve of Euro 2022, and if she plays again this season it will not be until the closing weeks.

Contenders queueing up

Expect Lyon to be strong again of course, but they start with a major test against Arsenal, who have Euro 2022 Golden Ball winner and Ballon d'Or runner-up Beth Mead in their ranks.

Arsenal, of course, have a power couple on and off the pitch in Mead and the brilliant Vivianne Miedema, so Jonas Eidevall's side could push Lyon for top spot in Group C, which also includes Juventus and Zurich.

Of course, such star players may see this competition as a chance to stake a claim for next year's Ballon d'Or.

Barcelona are much changed from last season, with the likes of Jenni Hermoso, Lieke Martens and Melanie Serrano no longer a part of their team. Hermoso and Martens moved on, to Pachuca and Paris Saint-Germain respectively, while Serrano retired at the age of 32, having been a first-team regular since her late teens.

Brazil striker Geyse has joined from Madrid CFF, while Euro 2022 winners Lucy Bronze and Keira Walsh arrived from Manchester City. The loss of Putellas is a big blow, and how Barcelona cope without her against Europe's elite will be a key narrative of the coming months. Bayern Munich, Rosenborg and Benfica are their Group D rivals.

Chelsea were runners-up in 2020-21 but last season saw Emma Hayes' team eliminated on goal difference at the group stage, after they and top two Wolfsburg and Juventus finished tied on 11 points. Hayes is taking time away after undergoing an emergency hysterectomy. The Blues, who have Sam Kerr, Fran Kirby, Millie Bright and Pernille Harder among a star-packed squad, face Real Madrid, PSG and Vllaznia in Group A.

Wolfsburg are hardy perennials of the Women's Champions League and won the trophy back to back in 2012-13 and 2013-14, also finishing runners-up three times. They face Slavia Prague, St Polten and Roma in Group B. With Alexandra Popp fighting fit after the injury that prevented her facing England in the Euro 2022 final, and Lena Oberdorf patrolling midfield, Wolfsburg may not be far away again this season.

Story so far

Manchester City and Real Madrid went head-to-head early in the qualifying stage, and it was City that were squeezed out, losing 1-0 thanks to a goal from Caroline Weir, a player who left the English club to move to the Spanish capital just weeks earlier.

Hopes of a Dutch team reaching the Eindhoven final have already been dashed, with Ajax and Twente eliminated in the preliminaries. Arsenal edged out Ajax 3-2 on aggregate, with Miedema getting the deciding goal, while Twente were ousted by Benfica.

The make-up of this competition has changed immensely over the course of the last 20 years, reflecting the rise of teams being backed by traditionally strong men's clubs.

In 2002-03, the quarter-final line-up consisted of Umea, Toulouse, HJK, Frankfurt, SK Trondheims-Orn, Fortuna Hjorring, CSK VVS Samara and Arsenal.

Swedish side Umea crushed Fortuna Hjorring 7-1 on aggregate in a two-leg final of what was then known as the UEFA Women's Cup.

In name and character, it emphatically belongs to the Champions League family of competitions now, many of the teams that defined its early days no longer a factor. Women's football has gone big-time, and this season's competition should underline that message.

Provisional World Cup squads are expected this week, and Gareth Southgate – despite a few late injury headaches – is likely to have already nailed down the majority of his England group.

There do remain some question marks, however, and perhaps none are more prominent than in attack, where Harry Kane is the established starter but the role of back-up has been shared among an ever-changing cast.

Since Russia 2018, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Ollie Watkins, Callum Wilson and Danny Ings have all played and scored for England. But either form or fitness has deserted each of them.

That would appear to leave three contenders in Tammy Abraham, whose Roma place is no longer assured, Ivan Toney, the recent call-up yet to make his international debut, and Marcus Rashford.

Abraham and Toney were each included in Southgate's latest England squad, although neither featured in games against Italy and Germany where the Three Lions needed goals. Meanwhile, injury robbed Rashford of the opportunity to re-establish himself in the group.

At one stage, Rashford was assured of his place in every international squad, if not necessarily every team.

The Manchester United man has earned 46 caps for England, and all but three of those have come since Southgate's September 2016 appointment.

However, for all those accusations of Southgate defying club form to pick his 'favourites', Rashford has been punished for below-par displays for United, having scored a measly five goals in 32 games last season.

Rashford's last action for England was his missed penalty in the Euro 2020 final against Italy after appearing as a substitute for the final minute of extra time at Wembley. He has not started for his country since before that tournament.

But the 24-year-old has rediscovered something approaching his best form this season, netting five goals and assisting three in 11 matches for United. Rashford is far outperforming Abraham (two goals and one assist in 13 matches) in that regard, although he still trails flavour-of-the-month Toney (eight goals and three assists in 11 matches).

Toney's case is clear then – except Southgate is not looking for a forward to come in and lead the line against Iran on November 21.

Only Jordan Pickford (14 starts, 1,380 minutes) and John Stones (14 starts, 1,324 minutes) have started more matches or played more minutes for Southgate at major tournaments than Kane (13 starts, 1,222 minutes).

Assuming no injury to Kane that would alter the entire conversation, Rashford is auditioning for the position of primary attacking reinforcement – one he has filled twice for Southgate in the past.

Across the 2018 World Cup and Euro 2020, no England player made more appearances (10) or played more minutes (205) as a substitute than Rashford.

In 63 minutes from the bench for United this season, Rashford has scored two goals and assisted another. Abraham has yet to contribute to a goal in 91 such minutes for Roma, while Toney has a sole assist in 18 minutes.

As illness reduced Rashford to a substitute role against Newcastle United on Sunday, he showed how dangerous his hard running can prove late in matches.

Both he and Fred passed up huge chances, but only Casemiro (0.45 – 0.01 xG, 0.44 xA) produced more combined expected goals and expected assists in the whole match than Rashford (0.43 – 0.31 xG, 0.12 xA) did in an 18-minute cameo against the Premier League's meanest defence.

On that occasion, Rashford was appearing, as he would in place of Kane, as a centre-forward after being brought on for Cristiano Ronaldo. But his versatility is a key attribute Toney does not possess.

For United this season, five of Rashford's nine starts have come as a lone striker, with the other four as a left-sided winger.

Longer term, his starts through the middle have been far less regular. Rashford's 21 England starts have included 10 from the left, three from the right and eight as a central striker. Of those eight, seven have been as part of a forward pair.

His sole appearance in a Three Lions line-up in the sort of role Kane is used to was in a 3-1 Nations League Finals defeat to the Netherlands, in which Rashford was replaced by Kane at half-time after opening the scoring.

If England are in need of a spark in Qatar – whether from the start or as a substitute – Southgate is likely to turn to a player who can complement Kane rather than replace him, perhaps explaining the watching briefs for Abraham and Toney in September.

Importantly, Rashford has previously supported Kane to good effect, most notably in a 3-2 win against Spain in October 2018, when Kane teed up Rashford for the second goal and the pair each provided a further assist for Raheem Sterling, who is also set to start again at the World Cup.

As Kane and Tottenham visit Old Trafford on Wednesday for the pick of the midweek Premier League action, Rashford will no doubt hope to be restored to the United XI ahead of Ronaldo.

But were he to instead play from the left or come on for the veteran forward later in the match, the England hopeful might provide Southgate a more accurate representation of what he could expect if selected next month.

Last season, the Buffalo Bills looked to have cracked the code of how to topple the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Bills beat the Chiefs 38-20 in Arrowhead Stadium in Week 5 of 2021, averaging 8.1 yards per play to Kansas City's 5.0, frustrating Patrick Mahomes and intercepting him twice in a display that suggested the balance of power in the AFC was about to shift.

Yet it proved a false dawn, with the Bills unable to contain Mahomes in the Divisional Round of the playoffs and famously failing to prevent him leading the Chiefs down the field in 13 seconds for a game-tying field goal that forced overtime in arguably the finest playoff game in NFL history.

While that game confirmed Josh Allen as existing on Mahomes' level among the NFL elite at quarterback, throwing for 329 yards and four touchdowns, it also was an irritating illustration of the Bills' lack of closers on defense.

The Bills pressured Mahomes 23 times but managed to sack him just twice, a dreadful conversion rate that prompted Buffalo to hand a six-year, $133million contract to 33-year-old edge rusher Von Miller.

Though Buffalo can get out of the contract much earlier, the length of the deal handed to Miller raised eyebrows, with the Bills making a substantial bet on the veteran who played a critical role in the Los Angeles Rams' Super Bowl run following his mid-season trade from the Denver Broncos maintaining the level that helped him claim a second ring.

Few are likely to be questioning his deal in the wake of his performance on Sunday, however, as 371 days on from their win at Arrowhead last season, Miller helped the Bills repeat the feat, recording two sacks in a Buffalo performance that will substantially boost hope they have a formula to defeat Kansas City in the postseason.

On offense, the Bills leaned on one of the most devastating quarterback-wide receiver connections in the NFL. 

Allen targeted Stefon Diggs 13 times in the Bills' 24-20 win, hooking up with the former Minnesota Viking on 10 occasions as Diggs finished with 148 receiving yards and a touchdown.

Though not all of his targets resulted in a completion, Diggs delivered reinforcement, not that it was needed, of his status as one the game's top separation artists. He registered a burn, which is when a receiver wins his matchup on a play where he is targeted, on 12 of those 13 targets. Only the two receivers who posted 100 per cent burn rates, Tyler Boyd (six targets) and Juju Smith-Schuster (five) fared better than Diggs in that sense in Week 6 (min. five targets).

The volume Diggs receives as Allen's top target and the consistency he shows in creating separation makes for a frightening combination for defenses, and he proved too much for the Chiefs on the Bills' go-ahead drive, Allen finding Diggs for two first-down receptions, including one that set Buffalo up at the Kansas City 28-yard line.

With the Chiefs running a two-high safety zone coverage, Diggs displayed his route-running acumen by attacking the leverage of cornerback Jaylen Watson at the top of his downfield route to buy himself critical extra cushion as he settled in the soft spot in the zone before making a superb adjustment at the catch point.

Allen created extra time for himself by subtly shuffling to his left as Carlos Dunlap pushed the pocket, hanging in there and delivering a high-velocity ball that was further in front of Diggs than intended due to the interior rush from Chris Jones reducing his throwing platform. Diggs put his body on the line by laying out for the ball and survived the contact from Watson and safety Juan Thornhill.

Three plays later, after Allen had remarkably hurdled a defender on a 16-yard rush, he found Dawson Knox on a superbly accurate throw to the endzone to put the Bills ahead for good, the tight end deserving of great credit for the manner in which he worked his way back to the ball at the end of his corner route.

That drive came after Miller had forced the Chiefs off the field with a third-down sack of Mahomes, showcasing his still impressive physical flexibility and his motor to work his way around the corner and past right tackle Andrew Wylie to bring down the quarterback.

And Miller played a critical role in the game-clinching interception that followed on the subsequent drive.

Given Mahomes' exploits in last year's playoff matchup, 64 seconds appeared to be plenty of time for him to drive the Chiefs down the field for a game-winning touchdown following Knox's score. 

Miller, though, provided the finishing touch the Bills lacked in the postseason, winning inside with his lateral quickness to get pressure through the B gap, forcing Mahomes into a late throw to Skyy Moore on a crossing route that corner Taron Johnson read all the way, breaking down from his position in the Bills' zone coverage to intercept the pass and end the game.

While the Bills only improved their sack total from the Divisional Round shoot-out by one, Miller's ability to frequently dominate his pass rush matchups at this point in his career had a direct influence on Buffalo knocking off their biggest challenger for the one seed in the AFC and the team most expect them to meet again in the conference title game.

The rapport between Allen and Diggs and the big-play production of Gabe Davis – who followed up his stunning two touchdown-effort against the Pittsburgh Steelers with a 34-yard touchdown reception and leads the league in burn yards per target among receivers with at least 20 targets (16.98) – should ensure the Bills will continue to boast an explosive passing game few in the NFL can rival.

If Miller can supplement that by serving as the closer on a defense that has Pro Bowl talent at every level, the Bills may finally have the recipe to land the knockout blow against the Chiefs when it matters most.

Siuuuu, it's come to this. The sidekick takes centre stage. The man who carried water for Cristiano Ronaldo gets his champagne moment.

Karim Benzema has gone from jeers to cheers at Real Madrid, with his 13-year odyssey in Spain having been a tale of survival at times.

How many times was he touted for a move to Arsenal during the Arsene Wenger era?

Wenger's consistent message that he did not need Benzema because Arsenal already had plenty of quality forwards has not aged particularly well.

Today, we need to talk about Karim, because it would be hard to think of a worthier Ballon d'Or winner.

His 44 goals in 46 games last season came in a double-winning cause, with Real Madrid carrying off the Champions League and LaLiga trophies. Make it a treble if you're counting the Supercopa, where the final saw Benzema score from the spot against Athletic Bilbao.

He has spent much of the year skippering Los Blancos, given club captain Marcelo was just a fringe figure in Carlo Ancelotti's team before leaving at the end of last season.

You might ask yourself: is this the same Karim Benzema as the player heckled from the Santiago Bernabeu stands five years ago? The player whose five goals in 32 LaLiga games in 2017-18 had some supporters ready to wave him off?

What use was a 30-year-old five-goal striker?

 

Benzema backed himself then as he backs himself today, and with Zinedine Zidane and Ancelotti similarly convinced, the Frenchman has gradually moved into the spotlight, the last survivor of the BBC combination that rivalled Barcelona's MSN.

Just like Messi-Suarez-Neymar, the Bale-Benzema-Cristiano all-star trio was compelling, but there was often a sense it was two thoroughbreds and a workhorse, the latter constrained by the dutiful role he was asked to fulfil.

Benzema knew better than to be a neigh-sayer, swallowed the sugarcoated reassurances, and proved himself a champion stallion after all.

When Ronaldo trotted off to Juventus in 2018, and as Bale's contributions waned, for the first time Benzema found himself the talisman.

He had been overshadowed all the way back to his first week at the club, when his presentation followed three days on from Ronaldo's own first big welcome at the Bernabeu.

Ronaldo's unveiling came on July 6, 2009, in front of an 80,000 crowd. Some of those returned for Benzema's own bow, but most had other things on.

Benzema was signed for €35million from Lyon amid an extraordinary spree, one that saw Florentino Perez's second term as president begin with not only Ronaldo and Benzema coming in, but Kaka, Xabi Alonso, Alvaro Negredo and Alvaro Arbeloa too.

An arduous first season (nine goals in 33 games) followed for Benzema, but in each of the next six campaigns he managed at least 20. Even in the Jose Mourinho era when he and Gonzalo Higuain would typically be fighting for one place.

Never mind that Ronaldo broke the 50-goal barrier in each of those seasons, Benzema was the magician's most trustworthy assistant.

In 2015, not long after losing his job at Madrid, Ancelotti told AS: "To me, Karim is the best player in the world in his position and not just as a goalscorer. Talking about whether he should score 30 goals is a false debate. He has great qualities; he is a complete player."

Ancelotti's short-lived successor, Rafael Benitez, made similar claims but also questioned Benzema's finishing and began to substitute him regularly, saying: "He is a phenomenon. Let him get mad. Next day, make sure you score twice instead of once."

It was tough love from Benitez, who was replaced in mid-season by Zidane. Benzema finished the season with 28 goals in 36 games across all competitions, scoring at a rate of one every 92.75 minutes.

In 2016-17, as the goals began to dry up, Zidane kept faith.

A poll conducted by sports daily AS showed that 88 per cent of Madrid fans preferred Benzema to start games as a substitute, but Zidane said: "We're not concerned, he's having a great season.

"We know what Karim can offer the side but the fans always want more from their players and that's something we must accept. He has the right character, he can accept the fans' point of view. He won't hide and he will always have my support."

In April 2018, Benzema spoke out in that great football bible, Vanity Fair, as he struggled to put the ball in the back of the net. All the while, Zidane had his back, and crucially another Champions League title was on the way that season.

"What I don't like is when people attack me when I play well, even if I don't score," Benzema said. "I play for the people who value what I do on the pitch.

"Those that come to the stadium to whistle, let them whistle. I'm not going to change their opinion."

In that season's LaLiga campaign, Benzema's five goals put him in a tie for fifth among the team's top scorers, alongside Casemiro and Toni Kroos. Ahead of him were Ronaldo (26 goals in 27 games), Bale (16 goals), Isco (7) and Marco Asensio (6).

Benzema was way behind his expected goals total of 13.22, which reflects the quality of his chances and likelihood of scoring.

When Ronaldo left, something clicked. In LaLiga alone, Benzema had not had consecutive 20-goal seasons while Ronaldo was at Madrid, but four followed in succession: 21, 21, 23, and last season's 27-goal league haul.

He was thriving not merely on responsibility, for that had always been there, but on prominence. Previously a glorified gofer, he has become the go-to man.

And now, with Ronaldo and Bale withering in Manchester and Los Angeles respectively, Benzema is flowering as his 35th birthday approaches.

He is club captain, and although Zidane has departed, it would have heartened Benzema to see Ancelotti recalled to Madrid last year, his old advocate returning.

By now five times a Champions League winner and four times a LaLiga champion, the individual accolades have been flowing for Benzema since Ronaldo headed over the horizon.

He was UEFA men's player of the year and Champions League player of the season for 2021-22, having finished as top scorer in Madrid's glory run. He took the Pichichi prize as LaLiga's leading goal-getter last term, too.

Despite intense lobbying from Madridistas, Benzema finished just fourth in Ballon d'Or voting last year, as Lionel Messi took the award for a seventh time.

There was ample reason for Benzema to be a strong contender in 2021, but his case has become utterly compelling since. In a sense this is a lifetime achievement award and a single-season accolade rolled up into one.

Everything has led to this moment. The wait has been overwhelmingly worth it.

The new NBA season is about to get underway, with narrative everywhere across the league.

The defending champions in Golden State are many people's favourites to go again, but the Warriors have not exactly prepared perfectly after two of their stars recently came to blows during the preseason.

The Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving saga seems to have ended with hope that the pair can fire the Brooklyn Nets to glory, especially if the team's third star in the form of Ben Simmons can finally join them on the court.

Will back-to-back MVP Nikola Jokic lead the Denver Nuggets to glory? Or can Luka Doncic do the same for the Dallas Mavericks? Might Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks get back to the top again?

Stats Perform's experts give their predictions on who could thrive in the regular season, who might take the MVP crown and who will go all the way and lift the Larry O'Brien Trophy in June 2023.

 

Liam Phillips

East first seed: Milwaukee Bucks

West first seed: Denver Nuggets

MVP: Joel Embiid

Champions: Denver Nuggets

Simply put, the Nuggets will have a terrific regular season record as long as Jokic is healthy, and he is one of the most durable superstars of his era.

Jokic has played at least 73 games in six of his seven years, and the other season he played 72 out of 72 in the shortened 2020-21 season.

The Nuggets went 48-34 this past season with their second and third-best scorers being Aaron Gordon (15.0 points per game) and Will Barton (14.7).

With ascending talents Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. returning from long-term injuries to assume those roles and give the Nuggets three elite scoring options, they could ride the best offense in the league all the way through the Finals.

Ben Spratt

East first seed: Milwaukee Bucks

West first seed: Denver Nuggets

MVP: Luka Doncic

Champions: Milwaukee Bucks

There are no shortage of potential contenders in the West, with each of the Nuggets, the Warriors and the Los Angeles Clippers looking strong candidates depending on injuries or – in the case of Golden State – off-court (or, rather, practice court) issues.

In the East, however, a fit Bucks team would appear to be clear of the rest, particularly given the Boston Celtics' tumultuous offseason.

The Bucks were a disappointing 13-13 in the regular season and playoffs last year when missing Khris Middleton, who did not play the final 10 games of the postseason as the Bucks narrowly lost to the Celtics.

With his return and the omnipresent threat of Antetokounmpo, it might be difficult to bet against the 2021 champions.

Nicholas McGee

East first seed: Philadelphia 76ers

West first seed: Golden State Warriors

MVP: Giannis Antetokounmpo

Champions: Golden State Warriors

Preseason fights, Klay Thompson being restricted to limited action in the exhibition schedule, key bench players leaving in free agency. Will any of it matter? No.

The Warriors have navigated discord before during title defences and will do so again in 2022-23. Even with the likes of Gary Payton II and Otto Porter Jr. departing, the Warriors have excellent depth with several emerging talents complementing a core that reaffirmed their championship pedigree by beating the Celtics in six games last season.

Golden State will bank on Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody taking the next step in their second seasons, while Jordan Poole has the chance to ascend to stardom once the fallout from him being punched by Draymond Green dies down.

Everything revolves around Stephen Curry, though, and there is no sign of him slowing down or his game-tilting range reducing at 34 years old.

This is a team with an insatiable appetite for proving themselves all over again, and they have all the resources to do so once more. If James Wiseman stays healthy and blossoms into an impactful starting center, it will be difficult to envisage anyone stopping them.

David Segar

East first seed: Milwaukee Bucks

West first seed: Memphis Grizzlies

MVP: Giannis Antetokounmpo

Champions: Milwaukee Bucks

As Ben said, it is difficult to see a stronger contender in the East than Milwaukee, presuming their stars can stay fit.

With Ja Morant getting better all the time and the Phoenix Suns looking like they might fall away slightly, it would not be a huge surprise to see an ever-improving Grizzlies team top the West and perhaps even make it to the NBA Finals this time.

However, it feels like Giannis is ready for another big campaign and, in a team that includes the likes of Middleton, Jrue Holiday and new arrival Joe Ingles, he should have plenty of capable support.

Only Embiid (30.6) and LeBron James (30.3) averaged more points per game than Antetokounmpo's 29.9 last year, a career high for the Greek.

Anything can happen in the NBA, but of all the big teams who could threaten, Milwaukee feel like the one with the fewest issues heading into the season, and they will want to make up for their early playoff elimination at the hands of the Celtics last time out.

 

Erling Haaland has quickly become the darling of the Premier League, with his record-breaking start to the season swiftly elevating him to a status of being probably the most-feared player in the division.

At the same time, Mohamed Salah has largely endured an underwhelming start to the campaign. But after a Champions League treble in midweek, the forward made the difference as Liverpool beat reigning champions Manchester City 1-0 at Anfield on Sunday.

Salah's winning goal was just the tip of the iceberg. His performance showed he's truly back, and Liverpool's fighting spirit proved they are still – despite what the table says – one of England's two best teams.

The wider context of the game was nothing like what we've come to expect of this fixture, which in recent years has become the Premier League's biggest event and even decided the eventual destination of the title.

Jurgen Klopp conceded on Friday that while this may well be a title-deciding match again in some respects, it wasn't going to be Liverpool's trophy hopes on the line – realistically, such a challenge is surely already beyond them even after winning.

With Liverpool going into the game 12th in the table, it was their pride at stake. Much has changed since the Reds had too much for City in the Community Shield a week before the start of the season; the perception of Haaland, first and foremost.

Back then, most would've been predicting another straight shoot-out between City and Liverpool for the title, though the relative lack of jeopardy at Anfield on Sunday didn't take anything away from a riveting, fiery contest.

Klopp highlighted the potential importance of a packed Anfield, and the stadium was certainly rocking. Even minor duel successes for the hosts were cheered like goals early on; it was fierce, with meaty tackles flying in all over the place, while on the touchline the two managers snarled and barked at poor decisions and questionable refereeing calls like rabid rottweilers – Klopp's late red card wasn't particularly surprising.

Of course, for City all eyes were on Haaland. It's fair to say he's more than proven his point since a pretty dreadful – by his standards – outing against Liverpool in the Community Shield. Though, for someone as ultra-competitive as the Norwegian, there was still probably a part of him desperate to be decisive because of that day.

City certainly seemed eager to give him that opportunity, and that was arguably to their detriment in the first half. The visitors almost seemed a little too intent on finding the big blonde behemoth, as if a victory would only count if Haaland played a crucial part.

One such incident saw an opening carved open for Phil Foden, but instead of a first-time shot after being fed by Haaland, he checked back, ran into danger and then the attack petered out.

Not that Haaland didn't have his chances. One lob attempt after being released behind Virgil van Dijk troubled Alisson, then he should have buried a header from Kevin De Bruyne's cross but put it straight at the goalkeeper.

On the other side of things, Salah looked eager to remind people he was the Premier League's top attacker. The Egyptian took the game to City and was electric in the first half. His movement, strength and dribbling all troubled the visitors' defence – the problem was opportunities weren't necessarily flowing.

That changed at the start of the second half. Salah spun Ruben Dias and latched on to a Thiago Alcantara pass into the City half, playing him through on goal. He seemed destined to spark bedlam in the Kop behind the goal he was charging towards, but a remarkable fingertip save from Ederson denied him.

Alisson soon produced a similarly vital stop to thwart Haaland at the other end, having only recently seen a Foden goal disallowed for a foul by the Norway striker in the build-up.

At this point, City were dominating more than ever, but Salah had looked a threat throughout on the break. Another opportunity was certain to arrive, and it was one such moment that brought Liverpool the breakthrough.

Alisson's long punt went straight to Salah, who used his body brilliantly to spin away from Joao Cancelo before racing towards goal. Ederson could not repeat his earlier heroics – Salah coolly converted.

City piled the pressure on in response. Both teams scrapped, Bernardo Silva and Salah scrapped with each other. Klopp was sent off. Diogo Jota ran himself into the ground and on to a stretcher. The imperious Van Dijk denied Haaland a certain goal.

Liverpool held on amid a gripping and tense finale, seeing out a victory that could transform their season. But beyond that, this fixture was a showcase of such quality.

Salah's moment of brilliance was befitting as the decisive action, though there were exceptional performances on both sides. Joe Gomez, Van Dijk, James Milner, Alisson, Ederson, Haaland, De Bruyne – the list goes on. All showed their varied qualities as we were once again reminded of why this fixture has become such an anticipated duel in recent years.

Forget the table. Liverpool are one of England's two best teams, and Salah remains one of the Premier League's two best forwards.

Karim Benzema should collect the Ballon d'Or trophy in Paris on Monday. The votes have been counted, and nobody seriously expects another outcome, even with football's propensity for surprise when it comes to a ballot.

But as if to emphasise his outstanding candidacy for France Football's coveted world player of the year award, Benzema scored and captained Real Madrid to victory over Barcelona in El Clasico, football's biggest domestic game.

One man does not make a team, but without Benzema it was a guileless Real Madrid that took a hideous 4-0 whacking by Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabeu in March.

It was back to normal service on Sunday, the skipper delivering the sort of accomplished centre-forward performance he has repeated time and again in recent seasons, playing a key role in a 3-1 win that sent Madrid three points clear of Xavi's upstart Barca at the top of LaLiga.

This is imperial phase Benzema, at the most revered and most productive stage of his career. Last season, he hit 44 goals in 46 games for Madrid, helping Carlo Ancelotti's team win not only the Spanish league but the Champions League.

Long gone are the days when he was a subordinate to the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and even perhaps Gareth Bale for a time. In his 14th season now at Madrid, Benzema is the great survivor, the man who rises to the big occasions.

He came off in the 88th minute of this game to a standing ovation, having got the better of rival number nine Robert Lewandowski, whose Clasico debut was one to forget.

 

Barcelona's thumping win at this stadium was a curio in Madrid's 2021-22 season and rightly treated as such. With Benzema ruled out by a leg injury, Carlo Ancelotti deployed Luka Modric in a false nine position to which he was spectacularly ill-suited, and Barcelona ran the hosts ragged, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scoring twice in the rout.

El Clasico has not been Benzema's most productive fixture, and it has been the Frenchman's longevity as much as anything that means only Lionel Messi has had more goal involvements in such matches during the 21st century. Messi had 40 (26 goals and 14 assists), and Benzema now has 21 (12 goals and nine assists).

In LaLiga, Benzema had played in 25 of these games before Sunday's encounter, winning only eight (D5 L12) and scoring just seven goals – including just one goal since April 2016.

Considering his overall record for Madrid showed Benzema hitting 327 goals in 614 games, this represented a disappointing tally.

LaLiga newcomer Lewandowski, meanwhile, could point to six goals in eight games on Champions League duty against Madrid, four of those coming for Borussia Dortmund in the first leg of the 2012-13 semi-final. Nobody has scored more against Madrid in the history of that competition.

Would this be a shoot-out between Benzema and Lewandowski? If so, first blood went to Benzema. Toni Kroos, being grappled with by Sergio Busquets, prodded the ball into space for Vinicius Junior down the left, and the Brazilian's acceleration took him clear of the Barcelona backline.

Four Barcelona defenders gave desperate chase, and when Ter Stegen palmed away the winger's shot, it ran only as far as the unattended Benzema.

He had skilfully held his run, and from 12 yards side-footed through that thicket of defenders, who had all but forgotten about him.

Benzema tore away towards the corner flag, kissing the badge on his shirt, arms open wide, a familiar pose in these parts.

Barcelona had conceded just once in their opening eight LaLiga games. Here they were up against it, yet they should have been level in the 25th minute when Raphinha's low ball across goal from the right was scooped over by a stretching Lewandowski at the far post.

It was quite some miss, particularly by the standards of the man who scored 50 goals for Bayern Munich last term.

Madrid's second goal came in the 35th minute and was rather splendid, Federico Valverde slamming into the bottom-left corner from 20 yards for his fourth goal of the season, the most he has managed in a single LaLiga campaign.

Barcelona had twice as many shots as Madrid in the first half (8-4) and 62.3 per cent of possession, but they trailed 3-2 in attempts on target – and by two clear goals.

All the passing accuracy in the world is no assurance of goals (Barca led this metric in the first half too – 91.8 per cent to Madrid's 84.4).

Benzema thought he had added a third for Madrid when he struck in style early in the second half, but he had strayed offside before receiving the ball.

Barcelona had plenty of chances (they finished the game 2.26 to 1.44 ahead on expected goals), and Lewandowski had a strong case for a penalty in the 74th minute when Dani Carvajal barged him over, but that did not even go to a VAR check.

 

Finally, Barca got a goal when Ferran Torres tucked in from close range in the 83rd minute, but hopes of a point were scotched in stoppage time when Rodrygo's penalty, after Eric Garcia trod on his toes, wrapped up the home win.

Benzema by then had a comfortable seat at pitchside, resting up before heading off for what should be a coronation at the Theatre du Chatelet in his home capital city.

Barcelona's unbeaten start in LaLiga is over, and they face likely Champions League elimination before the World Cup rolls around.

This is sweet music to Madrid ears, Benzema conducting the orchestra with aplomb once again.

Harry Kane was on target again as Tottenham's fine start to the Premier League season continued with a 2-0 win over Everton on Saturday.

Kane's penalty just before the hour mark at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium means he has scored in each of his last five Premier League appearances for Antonio Conte's side – his longest ever scoring run in the competition.

Wolves edged past Nottingham Forest 1-0, while Fulham and Bournemouth drew 2-2 at Craven Cottage. Leicester City and Crystal Palace, meanwhile, drew 0-0 at the King Power Stadium.

Here, Stats Perform picks out the best facts from the day's Premier League action.

Tottenham 2-0 Everton: Lampard's men punished by Kane again

Tottenham got over the line against a dogged Everton side in the day's late game, meaning Conte's team have now taken 23 points from 10 league games. It is their highest points tally at this stage of a top-flight campaign since 1963-64 (24 points – considering three points for a win).

Kane's opener from the spot was his 14th Premier League goal against Everton, with Leicester the only team he has scored against more often (18).

The England captain has now scored 30 of the 34 penalties he has taken for Tottenham in the Premier League, becoming just the fourth player to score 30+ penalties for a single side in the competition after Frank Lampard (41 for Chelsea), Alan Shearer (37 for Newcastle) and Steven Gerrard (32 for Liverpool).

Everton, who conceded a late second to Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, have won just two of their 14 away Premier League games under Lampard (D3 L9), with two defeats at Tottenham (also 5-0 in March).

Wolves 1-0 Nottingham Forest: Hosts come out on top in penalty battle

It was a tale of two penalties at Molineux as Wolves edged out fellow strugglers Forest.

The hosts ended a run of 370 minutes without a Premier League goal thanks to Ruben Neves' second-half penalty kick – only Raul Jimenez (seven) has scored more goals from the penalty spot in English top-flight history than the Portuguese (six).

Brennan Johnson then squandered the chance to level from the spot, becoming the first Forest player to fail to score a penalty in the Premier League since Stuart Pearce against Coventry City in December 1994.

His attempt was saved by Jose Sa, who has now kept out each of the last two penalties he has faced in the Premier League, after conceding nine of the 10 previous spot-kicks he faced in the competition (one hit the post).

Fulham 2-2 Bournemouth: Mitrovic seals point for Cottagers

Fulham ended a run of 18 consecutive Premier League home defeats when conceding the first goal as they played out an entertaining draw against Bournemouth.

Dominic Solanke gave the visitors an early lead, taking his goal involvement to five goals (two goals, three assists) in his last five Premier League games. That already his best such tally for goal involvements in a single campaign in the competition.

Issa Diop pulled the hosts level, before Jefferson Lerma restored Bournemouth's advantage with a cool finish. However, Aleksandar Mitrovic the sealed a point for his side from the penalty spot.

The Serbia international has scored five of his seven Premier League goals this season in his five appearances at Craven Cottage – as many goals as he had scored in his previous 30 home games in the competition combined.

Leicester City 0-0 Crystal Palace: Bore draw keeps Foxes in trouble

A dismal goalless draw at the King Power Stadium means Leicester have only won five points from 10 games in the Premier League this season.

Accounting for three points per win all-time, only in 1983-84 have they had fewer points at this stage of a league campaign (two).

It was Palace's sixth goalless draw in the Premier League under Patrick Vieira. Indeed, they have played out more goalless draws than any other team in the competition since the start of last season.

It feels like a golden era for great players spread across the NBA.

So much talent, so many game winners, and an almost endless amount of possibilities as the stars prepare to get the new season under way.

Despite this, the MVP award has been sealed off by Nikola Jokic for the past two seasons, so the rest will have to step up and take it from the Serbian this time around.

We all have our favourites, and anything can happen in the NBA, but ahead of the new campaign, three members of the Stats Perform team have made their picks for who they think can challenge Jokic in 2022-23.

Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers - Liam Phillips

After finishing second in MVP voting two years in a row, Philadelphia 76ers big man Joel Embiid is in prime position to get over the hump this time around.

Embiid, 28, has been denied the past two awards due to historic seasons frotem Denver Nuggets talisman Jokic, where he established himself as arguably the greatest playmaking center in the history of the league.

Winning the MVP in back-to-back years is not as uncommon as one would think, with Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, LeBron James (twice), Steve Nash and Tim Duncan all achieving the feat this century.

However, Larry Bird is the only man to three in a row, from 1984 to 1986, since Wilt Chamberlain's three-peat between 1966-68.

Take into account that Jokic now has his two top team-mates returning to the line-up after Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr were sidelined for the entire season, and his numbers will almost have to take a dip to accommodate them.

With Jokic facing a big ask to land the gong again this upcoming season for those reasons, Embiid should be the favourite, as he just needs to emulate his performance from the past two seasons and voters will be clamouring to reward the seven-foot-two superstar.

His biggest opposition will likely come from the Mavericks' Luka Doncic, who finished sixth in 2021 and fifth in 2022, and is still only 23 years old.

A slightly better Mavericks team this season, combined with a small step forward in Doncic's shooting percentages, will have him right near the top of the voting by default.

But the difference is the 76ers could finish as the top team in the Eastern Conference, and the Mavericks have almost no chance of claiming the Western Conference one seed – and voters are suckers for a great record.

Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks - Ben Spratt

If voters rewarded Jokic for carrying the Nuggets, would they not do the same for Doncic? Already clearly the main man in Dallas, Jalen Brunson's departure will only give the Slovenian further opportunity to impress.

Doncic (28.4 points per game) was the Mavericks' leading scorer last season. With Brunson (16.3) following Kristaps Porzingis (19.2 before a trade to the Washington Wizards) through the exit door, they have lost numbers two and three on that list.

Rather than source a like-for-like replacement for Brunson, the Mavs will presumably just ask Doncic to do more. His usage rate was already the highest in the NBA.

Doncic is one of the few players in the league with the ability to beat teams on his own – Jokic obviously being one of the others.

 

In the absence of his injured team-mates, Jokic improved on an MVP season in terms of points and rebounds, even allowing for a small dip in assists without Murray to give the ball to, and was not punished by voters for a decrease in win percentage.

If Doncic takes the same path, he is looking at averaging a 30-point double-double for the season. That will be very difficult to ignore.

Not that Doncic is readily ignored. He heads into the season as the MVP favourite yet again, having seen previous campaigns derailed by early-season struggles.

After playing in the Olympics last year, Doncic acknowledged he "relaxed a little bit", "maybe too much", and needed "to do better", drawing criticism from Reggie Miller for "plodding up and down the court".

Now, though, Mavericks coach Jason Kidd says Doncic is "taking his body serious", returning in top physical condition for – surely – a genuine MVP charge.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks - David Segar

The man who was denied the chance to win three on the bounce by Jokic in 2020-21 has a big job on his talented hands to lead the Bucks this year.

The 2021 champions are among the favourites to mount a strong challenge for the title, but have had a fruitless preseason, losing all five warm-up games in the past few weeks.

However, in Antetokounmpo, they have a man who is capable of dragging any team to success, and despite no longer being considered the league's leading player as he was in 2018-19 and 2019-20, the Greek's output has not really subsided.

In the first season he was awarded MVP, Antetokounmpo averaged 27.7 points per game in the regular season, with 12.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists, before recording 29.5 points per game, 13.6 rebounds and 5.6 assists the following year.

Despite ultimately winning a championship, he was behind Jokic in the voting in 2020-21, though averaged 28.1 points per game, 11.0 rebounds and 5.9 assists.

Last season was the best of his career for average points from the 27-year-old, with his 29.9 per game only bettered by Embiid (30.6) and James (30.3), while he also averaged 11.6 rebounds and 5.8 assists.

It would be easy to argue that Antetokounmpo is a better player now than he was when he won his previous two MVPs, and like on those occasions, maybe he does not need to go all the way with the Bucks to reclaim his crown.

Though Greece were eliminated from EuroBasket by Germany at the quarter-final stage, Antetokounmpo still made the team of the tournament, and looks to be in good form heading into the season, even if his team-mates might need a little longer to get going.

It is a long campaign, though, which will give Antetokounmpo ample time to show that he has what it takes to become just the ninth player in history to win three MVP awards.

Fresh from winning the Champions League last season, Real Madrid stand unbeaten across all competitions in 2022-23, earning 11 wins from 13 matches.

Safe passage to the knockout stages of Europe's elite competition for Carlo Ancelotti's side comes alongside fine form in LaLiga, where Madrid sit second, only behind arch-rivals Barcelona on goal difference.

Neither have lost domestically this season, though Barcelona's endeavours in the Champions League have been somewhat less impressive, leaving the situation delicately poised ahead of Sunday's El Clasico at the Santiago Bernabeu.

The time of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi shining in the fixture has long since passed, so the stage is set for the headlines to be grabbed by a new star and Madrid will look to Vinicius Junior to provide the edge.

Leading the line

With Karim Benzema's injury issues this season, Vinicius has stepped up to score seven goals and register three assists in all competitions, with a total of 10 goal involvements being the highest of any member of the squad.

Firmly established as one of the first names in Ancelotti's line-up, Vinicius has started all but one of Madrid's games this season, coming off the bench in Tuesday's 1-1 draw against Shakhtar Donetsk, with a total of 1079 minutes ranking him highest in that regard – missing just 91 minutes of Los Blancos' entire season.

Reliability in the final third has also been key, with Vinicius boasting 68.8 per cent shooting accuracy, behind only Dani Ceballos, and a 17.1 per cent conversion rate – the highest of any Madrid player with at least 30 attempts, while also significantly higher than the team average of 9.1 per cent.

Vinicius is also above the average for players across Europe's top five leagues in all competitions for those with at least 30 attempts this season, which stands at 15.4 per cent, and is high above team-mate Benzema, who has a conversion rate of 9.1 per cent.

Threat lacking substance

With the ball, Vinicius consistently puts the opposition under threat. The 22-year-old boasts 45 dribbles completed this season, sitting way ahead of his team-mates in that regard, with compatriot Rodrygo ranking second (16).

Vinicius also lays claim to the highest number of take-on attempts across Europe's top five leagues this season (70) but a success rate of 36 per cent is the third-worst for players with at least 50 attempts so far this term.

Often, Vinicius' take-ons lack a decisive impact, with only one resulting in a goal and an expected assists (xA) of just 0.03 in that regard. Only twice has a take-on seen Vinicius drive into the box, showing that the areas where take-ons are completed are not generally in positions to influence the game.

Improving in that area would likely result in an increased total of goals and assists, which may propel his numbers to be comparable with the highest calibre of players in Europe.

Core involvement

While Vinicius still has areas to improve, the influence of the Brazilian upon the Madrid squad is telling. No member of the squad has been involved in more sequences resulting in goals than Vinicius (7, tied with Aurelien Tchouameni), and he is also involved in more attacking sequences than any other player (352).

That shows Vinicius is involved in most of Madrid's attacking moves this season and displays the influential role he has, with the capability to improve even further if he increases his output in front of goal.

The absence of Benzema does affect that, though, with Vinicius creating 20 chances this season, tied with Toni Kroos for the most among Madrid's squad, and two assists. On five occasions, Vinicius' passes into the box have led to a high expected assists value, though the subsequent chances have not been taken.

While the lack of a central striker to take those opportunities has not affected Ancelotti's side so far this season, it is in the bigger games, like against Barcelona, where it could have a negative impact upon the final result.

Vinicius has stepped up in Benzema's absence but cannot provide the same impact in front of goal from his wide-left position, needing a central player to fill those gaps. With Benzema set to be available against Barcelona, it could be bad news for Xavi's side.

Hosts Australia head into the T20 World Cup as defending champions, but no team has ever won back-to-back editions of this tournament.

The showpiece for international cricket's shortest format has provided some spectacular moments since South Africa staged the first edition 15 years ago.

West Indies are the only team to have carried off the trophy twice, and their long-time ring master Chris Gayle is absent this time, having not featured since the Caribbean side bowed out of the T20 World Cup last year.

With Gayle all but retired from internationals, and with others shuffling away, new stars will emerge over the coming weeks, and some established figures will be chasing records.

Here, Stats Perform looks at the T20 World Cup's top performers, and the spectacular feats from tournaments gone by that the class of 2022 will have in their sights.

Batters bid to go big in post-Gayle era

Sri Lanka great Mahela Jayawardene is the only batter to have topped 1,000 runs in the history of the T20 World Cup, reaching 1,016 from 31 innings, spanning 2007 to 2014. He went out on a sensational high, passing the 1,000-run barrier in the final as Sri Lanka won the 2014 title by beating India in Mirpur.

Windies great Gayle sits second on that list with 965 runs, and is the only batter to have made two centuries in T20 World Cups. Those were also the fastest two tons in T20 World Cup history (47 balls v England in 2016, 50 balls v South Africa in 2007).

There are a number of batters who could join Jayawardene in reaching 1,000 runs at the T20 World Cup, but principal among them are the India pair of Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli.

Rohit replaced Kohli as skipper at the end of last year, following India's failure to get past the Super 12 stage at the World Cup, and there could be a friendly rivalry emerging in the race for four figures.

Rohit enters the tournament for top-ranked India on 847 runs in past editions, while Kohli has 845. Strikingly, Rohit's runs have come from 30 innings at an average of 38.50, whereas Kohli has plundered his in just 19 innings, and the latter's average of 76.81 is by far and away the best among all batters with 500-plus runs in the competition.

It helps, of course, that Kohli has finished unbeaten in eight of those knocks. The next highest average among such players is former England batter Kevin Pietersen's 44.61 (580 runs from 15 innings, two unbeaten).

The highest score by any batter in a single innings at the T20 World Cup remains the 123 that Brendon McCullum, now England's Test head coach, plundered for New Zealand against Bangladesh in Pallekele at the 2012 tournament. That was McCullum's highest score across his entire T20I career.

David Warner is another who could make it to 1,000 runs, but the Australia opener will need a big tournament to make that happen. He goes in on 762 runs from 30 prior innings, Cricinfo statistics show.

Only one batter has reached 500 T20 World Cup runs without making a fifty, and that was former India captain MS Dhoni, who skippered the team to the 2007 title. His best score in 29 innings, from which he accumulated 529 runs, was a modest 45.

Pakistan's Babar Azam dazzled at the 2021 T20 World Cup, scoring a tournament-high 303 runs in six innings.

His four half-centuries matched the most by any player in an edition of the tournament, the ICC said, having been previously achieved in 2014 by Kohli and in 2007 by Matthew Hayden.

Shakib, Mendis and Campher set standards for bowling elite

Bangladesh's Shakib Al Hasan is something of a T20 World Cup superstar. As well as ranking eighth on the run-scoring list (698 from 31 innings), the all-rounder has taken more wickets than anyone, with 41 at an average of 17.29.

A haul of 11 at the 2021 tournament took him top of the list, and there is nobody threatening to get particularly close to the 35-year-old spinner.

Among players selected for this tournament, the player with the next highest wicket haul is India's Ravichandran Ashwin, with 26 from 18 matches.

When it comes to T20 cricket, unsurprisingly there have been precious few five-wicket hauls, given the bowlers each have just a four-over allocation.

Sri Lanka's Ajantha Mendis is the only bowler to have snagged six in an innings, taking princely figures of 6-8 against Zimbabwe in 2012, while eight others have taken five wickets in a match, headed by Rangana Herath's remarkable 5-3 against New Zealand at the 2014 tournament, when the Black Caps were skittled for 60.

That ranks as the fourth-lowest team score in a T20 World Cup, with Netherlands responsible for the two worst totals, both times folding against Sri Lanka when making 39 at Chattogram in 2014 and 44 in Sharjah last year.

The other side to post a sub-60 score were West Indies, routed for 55 by England in Dubai 12 months ago.

A hat-trick represents the holy grail for all bowlers, and there have been just four in T20 World Cups, with Brett Lee taking the first for Australia against Bangladesh at the inaugural 2007 tournament.

There were no more until the 2021 tournament, which incredibly featured three: Curtis Campher took four wickets in four balls for Ireland against Netherlands, before Wanindu Hasaranga (for Sri Lanka against South Africa) and Kagiso Rabada (for South Africa against England) both managed three in three.

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