Olivier Giroud scores goals, and this is what he has done across his career.

On Sunday, Giroud proved his timeless finishing qualities again when he overtook the great Thierry Henry to become France's all-time record goalscorer.

His first-half strike against Poland made it 52 goals in the shirt of Les Bleus, writing himself into the history books as France continued their defence of the World Cup in Qatar.

It is not something that many would have predicted years ago, with Giroud respected to a point, but never really being mentioned in the same breath as some of France's other attacking talent.

Kylian Mbappe, Karim Benzema and even Antoine Griezmann often steal the headlines where the national team is concerned.

Giroud is considered to be a less glamorous name, which is quite the dichotomy considering there is a strong argument the Milan striker has the most impressive hair in world football.

The numbers do not lie, though, and the 36-year-old now stands alone atop the scoring charts for the world champions. Above Henry, Platini, Griezmann, Trezeguet, and so on.

After making a name for himself when leading Montpellier in their shock Ligue 1 title win in 2011-12, scoring 21 goals in 36 games, he made the move to Arsenal.

Giroud's time in the Premier League had ups and downs, but he still notched 105 goals for the Gunners in his five and a half seasons there, before moving across London to Chelsea and scoring another 39 in three and a half years at Stamford Bridge.

After heading to Serie A and Milan, there were still those left unconvinced by Giroud, though he has continued to score in Italy as he hit 11 in 29 league games in his debut season, helping the Rossoneri to win their first Scudetto since 2010-11.

He has another nine in 19 games in all competitions at club level this season, and has carried that form into the World Cup.

When the injured Benzema was confirmed to be out of Qatar 2022, there was panic among France fans as this year's Ballon d'Or winner would not be there to help them defend their title from Russia 2018.

However, Benzema also wasn't there in Russia. Giroud was.

 

His presence up front may not have brought Giroud any goals in that tournament, or even any shots on target – somewhat remarkably from 546 minutes on the pitch – but he more than played his part.

Giroud was a perfect foil for the teenage Mbappe, who thrived working off the big man's hold-up play, as did Griezmann as France went on to lift the World Cup for the second time, with Giroud creating seven chances from open play and recording one assist.

This time, though, Giroud seems more focused on being the main man in front of goal, and he is already putting himself in the discussion for the Golden Boot, with the record-breaking strike being his third in Qatar.

He may never be in the running for the Ballon d'Or, and is unlikely to be on many people's lists when selecting the all-time best French players.

But with the 52nd goal coming in his 117th game at international level, there is no denying that Giroud scores goals, and as of now, more than anyone else in France's history.

This is the kind of week you dream of as an NFL fan.

Week 13 is set to serve up a plethora of compelling matchups that will have big implications on how the playoff picture takes shape.

The NFC favourites the Philadelphia Eagles face a real test of their credentials as they take on the Tennessee Titans.

Last season's AFC Super Bowl representative, the Cincinnati Bengals, host the Kansas City Chiefs in a rematch of the AFC Championship Game they stunningly won in Kansas City, and there's a highly anticipated reunion of former colleagues at Levi's Stadium, where the San Francisco 49ers welcome the Miami Dolphins.

Not all of those aforementioned games are seen as the best by SmartRatings.

SmartRatings is an AI-based platform that provides excitement ratings for sporting events, teams and players. The excitement scale, ranging from 0-100, is powered by complex algorithms that are predicated upon six primary variables: pace, parity, novelty, momentum, context and social buzz.

The weight of each variable is dynamic and adapts as a season progresses. The excitement scale translates to the following general sub-ranges: 0-39 (Dull Game), 40-64 (OK Game), 65-84 (Good Game) and 85-100 (Great Game).

Here, Stats Perform picks out three games from the top five with the most significant playoff implications and looks at the battles that could decide them.

New Orleans Saints (4-8) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-6), Monday, 8:15 p.m. ET

SmartRating : 60
Win Probability : Buccaneers 68.6%
Key Matchup : Marcus Davenport vs. Josh Wells

The Buccaneers suffered a massive blow when right tackle Tristan Wirfs sustained a high ankle sprain in their loss to the Cleveland Browns last week.

Wirfs is expected to be out three to four weeks, meaning he will miss a critical stretch for Tampa Bay as the Bucs seek to win an extremely underwhelming NFC South.

That stretch starts with a rivalry game against the Saints on Monday Night Football, with New Orleans still only a game back in the win column of the Bucs despite their 4-8 record.

New Orleans' defense has not been the force of years past but the return of Cameron Jordan and Marcus Davenport saw the Saints perform extremely well on that side of the ball in their 13-0 loss to the 49ers in Week 12.

When he has been healthy, Davenport has been extremely impressive. He has a pass-rush win rate of 49.03 per cent and a 66.67 per cent win rate on run defense. His aggregate of 48.03 per cent is the fourth-highest among edge rushers. 

Now he gets to go against Wirfs' backup in the form of Josh Wells. If Wells cannot find a way to slow him down, Tom Brady and the Bucs may struggle to move the ball on offense and give hope to a Saints attack needing life after being shutout by San Francisco.

Miami Dolphins (8-3) at San Francisco 49ers (7-4) Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET

SmartRating : 62
Win Probability : 49ers 53.5%
Key Matchup : Mike McDaniel vs. DeMeco Ryans

It's arguably the NFL's most distinguished offensive play-calling professor against his star pupil as Kyle Shanahan's 49ers host Mike McDaniel's Miami Dolphins in a mouth-watering contest teeming with narratives.

McDaniel has spent much of his coaching career at the hip of Shanahan, following him to almost all of his NFL stops, including San Francisco, where he was run-game coordinator and then offensive coordinator last season before departing for Miami.

Yet McDaniel, who has turned the Dolphins' offense into one of the most explosive in the NFL and the most efficient in the league by yards per play, will not be focusing on outcoaching his former boss, but instead outwitting San Francisco's defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans.

Ryans will likely become a head coach in the coming offseason, having so far overseen another dominant season from the 49er defense.

San Francisco's defense has allowed the fewest plays of 10+ yards (106) in the NFL and is also the top unit by yards per play allowed (4.69) and success rate (34.5%).

The Miami offense leads the league in big plays of at least 10 yards with 174 and has a receiver in Tyreek Hill who has an open percentage of 68.18 against man coverage, that figure trailing only Stefon Diggs (68.57) as of Week 12, and a combined open percentage across man and zone of 51.67.

The 49ers will hope to use the edge they have up front against a banged-up Miami offensive line to their advantage and boast the edge rusher with the highest aggregate win rate (52.42%) across pass rush and run defense for his position in the league in Nick Bosa.

It is a true strength-on-strength matchup, and the clash between McDaniel's varied and high-powered attack against Ryans' versatile and ferocious defense figures to be fascinating to watch.

Kansas City Chiefs (9-2) at Cincinnati Bengals (7-4)

SmartRating : 68
Win Probability : Chiefs 66.4%
Key Matchup : Ja'Marr Chase vs. Chiefs' pass defense

The Cincinnati passing game saw its hot streak tempered a little by the Tennessee defense in the Bengals' narrow win over the Titans last week, but a meeting with the Chiefs represents a favourable matchup for Zac Taylor's offense.

Cincinnati's offense has averaged 293.3 net passing yards per game in the NFL since Week 6, the third-most in the NFL, and has done much of that damage without top wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase.

Chase is due to return from a hip injury on Sunday, having recorded three 100-yard games in his first seven appearances of the season.

He gets the opportunity to add to that against a Kansas City defense that ranks 21st in open percentage allowed to opposing receivers.

That suggests he should have no difficulty returning to top form right off the bat in this conference title game rematch against a defense that is ninth-worst in the NFL by success rate against the pass.

Though the Bengals had joy shackling Patrick Mahomes and Co. in the second half of that championship game, it is more likely the duel between he and Joe Burrow quickly becomes a shootout.

How successful Chase is in taking advantage of a very vulnerable Chiefs secondary may dictate whether the Bengals can keep up and pull off the upset once more.

Lionel Messi will walk out the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium tunnel on Saturday with the expectations of millions on his shoulders when Argentina face Australia in the last 16 of Qatar 2022.

That is nothing new, of course, for this will be the 1,000th match of a remarkable career that may yet to have peaked – though that will depend on whether Messi can inspire his country past Australia and all the way to World Cup glory.

Now aged 35, Messi has already accepted this will be his final chance to lift the most famous trophy of them all, a little over a year on from helping La Albiceleste end their 28-year wait for a major title with Copa America success.

Ahead of the seven-time Ballon d'Or winner's milestone match, Stats Perform looks at the numbers behind his previous 999 appearances for club and country – and why the next two weeks could yet define his career.

Barca Breakthrough

October 16, 2004. It would not be hyperbolic to suggest this was a day that football as we know it changed, with a 17-year-old Messi replacing Deco from the substitutes' bench in Barcelona's 1-0 win over city rivals Espanyol.

In a sign of the mini maestro's longevity, he has since played alongside two players born after his Barcelona debut – Warren Zaire-Emery and El Chadaille Bitshiabu, born in March 2006 and May 2005 respectively.

Both teenagers are on Paris Saint-Germain's books, where Messi is now plying his trade after ending his two-decade association with Barcelona in emotional circumstances in August 2021.

Unsurprisingly, the majority of Messi's career appearances came during his 17 seasons at Camp Nou. He featured 778 times for Barca, scoring a staggering 672 goals and assisting 265, which amounts to 937 direct-goal involvements.

He made more appearances against Real Madrid than any other opponent, playing 47 times against Barca's fiercest rivals.

 

Good times under Guardiola

Barcelona's inability to offer Messi a new contract due to their dire financial situation allowed PSG to pounce. After an underwhelming first campaign in Paris, the superstar forward has found his form this term.

Messi has featured 53 times for the Parisians to date and has scored (23) and assisted (28) a combined 51 goals – just short of one goal involvement every match on average.

He has already had two different managers at the Parc des Princes, with Christophe Galtier having replaced Mauricio Pochettino in the hot seat. That takes the number of head coaches Messi has worked under to 19.

It was under Pep Guardiola at Barcelona, between 2008 and 2012, that Messi played his most games as he featured on 219 occasions under the Catalan and scored 211 times.

Luis Enrique is next on that list (158 games), followed by Ernesto Valverde (124) and Frank Rijkaard (110), the man who gave him his debut against Espanyol.


1,000 not out

Some 18 years and 48 days on from that first appearance comes match number 1,000 for club and country – and what a truly huge occasion it is for Messi and Argentina, who recovered from a slow start in the group phase to advance.

Messi has featured in 22 previous World Cup matches – one more than Diego Maradona as the most ever for an Argentina player – scoring eight times and assisting six more. 

Incredibly for a player of his game-changing quality, Messi has yet to score in the knockout stages of the World Cup – 23 efforts, zero goals. Interestingly, the same is also true of archenemy Cristiano Ronaldo (25 shots without a goal).

 

The aim for Messi will be to put that right against Australia on what will be his 169th senior cap, 17 years on from his senior international bow against Hungary, which came just 10 games into his career for club and country.

And while it will be a special occasion for Messi, the man many consider to be the greatest of all time will hope to make it to 1,003 matches before Argentina's Qatar campaign concludes.

Should that be the case and Argentina go on to lift the World Cup for the first time since 1986, a centre-stage Messi will have the defining moment of a truly special career that still has some way to go yet.

With just six weeks left of the regular season schedule, the drama in the NFL continues to ramp up.

The playoff picture is wide open and Week 13 action presents clashes between a number of sides who each boast a winning record this season.

Victories this week would provide a considerable boost for those teams' hopes of continuing beyond the regular campaign.

A huge divisional rivalry between the Washington Commanders and New York Giants is the pick of the action, while there is also a rematch from last season's AFC Championship game with the Kansas City Chiefs seeking redemption against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Stats Perform has delved into the numbers for those matchups along with some of Sunday's other big games.

New York Jets (7-4) @ Minnesota Vikings (9-2)

The Jets head to Minnesota with an 8-3 record against the Vikings, though have lost the last two meetings – including a 37-17 loss in the last meeting in 2018, which marked the most ever points scored by the Vikings in this series.

Defensive strength has been key for the Jets this season, with last week's 31-10 victory over the Chicago Bears being the fourth time this year where they have held their opponents to 10 or fewer points – the last time they had such a sequence was five games in 2010, which was also their last season with a trip to the playoffs.

The Jets defense will be tested against the Vikings' aerial threat, however, with Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen each catching touchdown passes in the Thanksgiving win over the New England Patriots – the ninth time each player has had a receiving TD in the same game, which marks the most of any NFL teammates since Jefferson's 2020 debut.

A win against the Jets would see head coach Kevin O'Connell join Jim Caldwell and Jim Harbaugh as the only men this century to earn 10 wins in 12 or fewer games to start their career as an NFL head coach.

Washington Commanders (7-5) @ New York Giants (7-4)

A series sweep for Washington last season was the franchise's first against the Giants since 2011, leaving the Commanders looking for their first win streak of at least three games against New York since a four-game streak that ended in 2000.

Four consecutive wins on the road have seen Washington hold their opponents to 54 points total in those contests, marking the first time they have won four straight road games while allowing fewer than 60 points since 2001.

The Giants head into the contest having lost their last five against divisional opponents, standing just 1-7 in that regard over the past two seasons. That makes them just one of two teams without multiple wins in divisional games over that span (also Denver Broncos, 1-8).

Saquon Barkley remains the biggest threat for the Giants and sits just eight rushing yards short of his third 1000-yard season, where he would join Tiki Barber (6), Rodney Hampton (5) and Joe Morris (3) as the only Giants with at least three such seasons for the team.

Tennessee Titans (7-4) @ Philadelphia Eagles (10-1)

Philadelphia host the Titans on the back of a six-game winning run against AFC opponents dating back to last season, matching the Eagles' longest such streak in franchise history.

Last time out against the Green Bay Packers, the Eagles scored a touchdown in four of their five trips to the red zone – with Philadelphia leading the NFL in touchdown efficiency in the red zone this season, scoring in 29 of 40 trips (72.5 per cent).

Tennessee, meanwhile, have rushed for fewer than 100 yards in each of their last three games, matching their longest streak since Mike Vrabel became head coach in 2018.

In the 20-16 loss to the Bengals last time out, Derrick Henry fumbled but was it was recovered. Of the 39 players with at least 200 offensive touches since the beginning of last season, Henry, Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey are the only three to have not lost a fumble.

Kansas City Chiefs (9-2) @ Cincinnati Bengals (7-4)

Two meetings last season saw the Bengals win by three points in both contests, including in the AFC Championship game in Kansas City, with the Chiefs' last road win against the Bengals coming in 1984 – losing six straight since.

A 26-10 home victory against the Los Angeles Rams last week saw Travis Kelce catch his 12th touchdown pass of the season, with no other tight end having more than five this term. The largest all-time gap between a league leader and second place stands at six (Rob Gronkowski in 2011 and Antonio Gates in 2004).

The Bengals overcame the Titans 20-16 on the road last week, giving Cincinnati their first three-game winning streak of the season. Since 2018, they stand 3-34 when scoring 20 or fewer points in a game, but two of those wins have come against Tennessee.

Cincinnati have converted 78.1 per cent (25-for-32) of their third downs this season when needing fewer than four yards, the best mark in the league. However, they've also allowed opponents to convert such third downs at a 76.5 per cent rate (26-for-34), the worst record in the league.

Elsewhere…

The Miami Dolphins head to San Francisco with a 4-3 record on the road against the 49ers, the second-best such record by any team behind the Carolina Panthers (7-4).

The Los Angeles Rams host the Seattle Seahawks having won eight of the last 10 clashes between the two divisional rivals, with Seattle's last victory on the road in this matchup coming in Week 5, 2017.

An overtime victory over the Seahawks last week was the second in a row for the Las Vegas Raiders, having beaten the Denver Broncos in OT in Week 11. No NFL team has ever won three consecutive games in overtime going into the Raiders' latest battle with the Los Angeles Chargers.

The Dallas Cowboys host the Indianapolis Colts on the back of a four-game spell with at least 400 net yards, with only one longer streak in team history – running eight games in that regard in 2016.

The Golden State Warriors (11-11) have a golden opportunity to climb back above .500 when they host the 9-12 Chicago Bulls on Thursday.

Both teams entered the season with lofty expectations, but have sputtered out of the gates, struggling in areas they are meant to excel in.

With four championships since 2015, the Warriors have been widely regarded as the greatest shooting team the game has ever seen, but the underlying factor of their greatest years has always been their defense.

Boasting the league's best defensive efficiency in their 2014-15 championship season, second-best for their 2016-17 title, and 11th for their 2017-18 crown – the Warriors rediscovered their dominance on that end of the floor this past season to finish as the second-best defense en route to another ring.

That has cratered this campaign, with Golden State currently allowing 113.4 points per 100 possessions for the 21st-ranked defense.

What that means is that some of the Warriors' point totals from their eighth-ranked offense are going to waste, having scored over 110 points in seven of their 11 losses so far.

Meanwhile, the Bulls have committed to offensively-minded scorers DeMar DeRozan, Nikola Vucevic and Zach Lavine as their core trio, but currently own the 22nd-best offense.

In a clash between two sides struggling to establish an identity, the result could simply come down to which side's X-factor shows up – or more specifically, which one shoots the lights out.

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Golden State Warriors - Klay Thompson

Klay Thompson is a Warriors legend, a future Hall-of-Famer and one of the greatest shooters in the history of the NBA – but he has never been less efficient than he is right now.

However, when Thompson is feeling it this season, the Warriors win. Shooting 35.5 per cent from the field and 32.5 per cent from deep in losses, Thompson's numbers skyrocket to 43.7 per cent from the field and 44.7 per cent on three-pointers in the 10 wins he has played in.

Only the Boston Celtics score a higher percentage of their points from three-pointers (41.7 per cent) than the Warriors (41.2 per cent), so it makes sense that when their secondary sharpshooter catches fire, good things happen.

Chicago Bulls - Zach Lavine

While the Warriors rely on a heavy dose of three-pointers to put up their points, the Bulls are the opposite, leading the league in their percentage of points that come from the mid-range (14.6 per cent).

This is primarily due to DeRozan's affinity for the mid-range, and in turn, it leaves them 28th in the percentage of points that come from the three-point line (27.4 per cent).

To outgun the Warriors, you need to score big, and the Bulls' best bet to get hot from deep is Zach Lavine.

Making 2.8 threes per game, he is the only Bulls player averaging more than Coby White's 1.5, and his win/loss splits are eerily similar to Thompson's.

He is hitting 3.6 threes at 43.9 per cent in wins, and 2.1 threes at 26.4 per cent in losses, indicating his outsized importance and responsibility for the interior-heavy Bulls offense.

KEY BATTLE - Can the Bulls slow down the Warriors' ball movement?

While the Bulls' offense has been disappointing, their defense has actually been a pleasant surprise, climbing from the 23rd-ranked unit last season up to the 11th-best this time around.

Golden State's porous defense and second-highest pace in the league could provide a perfect environment for the Bulls to put up a big score, so it may come down to if they can force Stephen Curry to beat them by himself.

While Curry has been spectacular, averaging 31.4 points, the Warriors lead the league in assists per game at 29.7, so if the Bulls can figure out how to force the Warriors into isolations and restrict their quick passing, they can force the reigning champions to play the game out of their comfort zone.

 

HEAD-TO-HEAD

This will be the first meeting between the Warriors and Bulls this campaign after two fixtures in the 2021-22 season – resulting in two convincing Golden State wins.

The champions-in-waiting hammered the Bulls 119-93 last November, before following it up with a 138-96 thrashing in January, making it 10 consecutive victories against Chicago dating back to 2017.

It's officially Tony Finau's world. The rest of us are just living in it.

The 33-year-old continued his winning ways last month at the Cadence Bank Houston Open, steam rolling the competition en-route to a four-shot victory. It was his third PGA Tour victory over his last 30 starts after the Utah native won just once in his first 185 tournaments.

"This is definitely the most all parts of my game have been clicking, but I would say I've played a lot of good golf for a while," Finau said afterward. "I didn't have a lot of wins to show for it, but I've pieced together a game and that's what you have to do out here.

"I feel like I've been a very solid player for a long time, but it's exciting for me that I'm getting better and that's all I can ask of myself is try and get better in the areas that I really need to.

"And then remember why you are where you are. I think I don't go too far away from the DNA of my game and how I see the game and I think I'm kind of bearing the fruits of how I see the game now and I'm able to hit the shots that I can see, which is pretty cool."

The DNA of Finau's game has been easy to identify – putting and driving. Simple enough, right?

At the Houston Open, Finau finished with a 75 percent driving accuracy for the week, the fourth time in his five TOUR wins he's accomplished that feat.

Amazingly, it was the worst percentage among all his recent victories – he finished with a 76.8 percent accuracy at this year's 3M Open, a 78.6 percent accuracy at the 2021 FedEx St. Jude Championship, and a career-best 82.1 percent accuracy at the Rocket Mortgage Classic earlier this summer.

"Probably the best driving week I've had in my career, at least that's how I felt,” Finau said. "For the first time in my career I hit all 13 fairways, 100 percent of fairways in regulation. I've never done that in my career, so definitely drove the ball.

The schedule in Week 13 of the NFL season is undoubtedly one of the best of the campaign so far.

It features a host of compelling games between teams likely to be in the mix to go deep into the playoffs at the end of the year.

That also makes it one of the toughest weeks to predict, but there are several players in action who look to be locks for strong fantasy football performances.

Here Stats Perform dives into the data to pick out four offensive players and a defense in line to come up big this week.

Quarterback: Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars @ Detroit Lions

Lawrence looks to have officially arrived after leading a sensational comeback against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 11.

Since Week 9, Lawrence leads the NFL with a completion percentage of 76.9 and this week faces a Lions defense allowing 7.15 yards per pass play, the third-most in the league. Need we say more?

Running Back: Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers @ Chicago Bears

With Aaron Rodgers banged up, though still seemingly likely to play, the Packers have all the more reason to lean on the run game in Chicago.

Jones is the Packers' best offensive weapon, with his 198 touches the 11th-most in the NFL, with 43 coming as a receiver. Going against a Bears defense shorn of its top talent and allowing the fourth-most yards per play in the league (5.92), Jones is a near-lock for fantasy success.

Wide Receiver: Ja'Marr Chase, Cincinnati Bengals vs. Kansas City Chiefs

Chase is finally set to return from a hip injury in this rematch of last season's AFC Championship Game, and all the signs point to a high-scoring game.

The two meetings they had in the previous campaign in the regular season and the postseason produced a combined 116 points, and the Bengals' offense is firing on all cylinders once again.

Since Week 6, the Bengals are averaging 293.3 net passing yards per game, trailing only the Chiefs and the Miami Dolphins. Given the rapport Chase enjoys with quarterback Joe Burrow, he figures to play an integral role in another explosive display in this matchup between AFC heavyweights.

Tight End: George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers vs. Miami Dolphins

Kittle may not be the primary weapon in the 49er passing game these days, but this week is one in which he looks primed to have a big say in a fascinating encounter between Super Bowl contenders. 

With Elijah Mitchell out with a sprained MCL and Christian McCaffrey dealing with knee irritation, San Francisco may have lean more on the pass game than the rushing attack. 

That should not be a problem for an offense that is third in pass yards per play (7.08) and the Niners should find joy targeting Kittle against a defense that has had difficulties containing tight ends. Kittle has four touchdowns in his last five games and that tally appears likely to increase in a battle between two efficient offenses.

Defense/Special Teams: Cleveland Browns @ Houston Texans

All the attention around this matchup surrounds Deshaun Watson's controversial debut against his former team, but a much-maligned defense might be able to decide this game on its own.

The Browns are extremely vulnerable to the run, but limited Tom Brady and the Buccaneers to 17 points last week in a hugely impressive overtime win. The Texans' offense is averaging the fourth-fewest yards per play in the league and has allowed the fifth-most sacks for negative yardage (33). This matchup is an enticing one for Myles Garrett and Co. and fantasy owners in need of defensive help shouldn't hesitate to rely on what has been a largely unreliable unit in 2022.

No journey to the Super Bowl is ever linear. Ever since the Miami Dolphins achieved football perfection in 1972, every team that has climbed the mountain has had to experience some kind of bump in the road, and any team that harbours ambitions of adding their name to the list must show an ability to win in different ways and prevail when one side of the ball misfires.

The 2022 San Francisco 49ers have hit several bumps in the road. From a Week 1 loss to the Chicago Bears in a monsoon, to losing the anointed quarterback of the future, Trey Lance, to a season-ending ankle injury in Week 2 and suffering back-to-back losses to the Atlanta Falcons and the Kansas City Chiefs, the latter of which saw them ship 44 points, there have been plenty of points this season where belief in the 49ers as the Super Bowl contenders has been tested.

But San Francisco's response to the blowout Week 7 loss to the Chiefs has been emphatic and has reaffirmed the 49ers' status as a heavyweight in the NFC.

The 49ers have reeled off four successive victories to surge to 7-4 and, if the season ended today, would win the NFC West and enter the playoffs as an extremely dangerous third seed.

Two of those four wins have been blowouts, San Francisco marrying devastating offense from a group overflowing with playmakers following the October trade for Christian McCaffrey with tremendous defensive fortitude to destroy a pair of NFC West rivals in the Los Angeles Rams and Arizona Cardinals on the road.

Even with the level of star talent they have at their disposal, the 49ers' offense has not been consistent. A continuing theme of their recent dominance has been DeMeco Ryans' defense, which reached its 2022 zenith to this point on Sunday with a shutout 13-0 win over the New Orleans Saints.

It was a performance that served as an encapsulation of why Ryans is likely to be the premier head coaching candidate this offseason and one that should serve to raise the question of whether his defense is one that could be among the select few that carries its team to Super Bowl glory.

The numbers point heavily to the 49er defense being of that standard.

San Francisco's shutout was the Niners' first since they beat Washington 9-0 in the 2019 season, and it was the first suffered by the Saints since Week 17 of the 2001 season. The 49ers were the team to dole out the shutout on that occasion in a 38-0 win.

While it was a 20-year low point for the Saints on offense, for the 49ers it was a continuation of an eye-opening run of defensive obduracy. The Niners have now pitched four consecutive shutouts in the second half, also keeping the Rams, Los Angeles Chargers and Cardinals off the board in the final two quarters. Achieving the feat for four quarters against the Saints, they have now not conceded a point in over 94 minutes of game action.

The 49ers' refusal to let the Saints avoid drawing a blank was made more amazing by the fact New Orleans had six plays from inside San Francisco's five-yard line, and the season-long defensive numbers for the Niners paint the picture of the defiance shown by Ryans' group that could well come to define their season.

San Francisco's defense ranks first in points per game allowed, yards per game allowed, rush yards per game allowed, yards per rush allowed, first downs per game allowed and passing touchdowns allowed.

Simply put, this is a defense that can shut down anything an opposing offense does well, and it has multiple means by which it can do so.

The 49ers have the sixth-highest sack rate in the NFL at 7.9 per cent but have a blitz rate of 28.7 per cent that is below the league average of 30.8 per cent, those numbers speaking to San Francisco's long-established ability to get home by only sending four pass rushers from their exceptionally deep defensive line.

Nick Bosa, the star of that front, recorded the fourth-down sack that essentially ensured the Saints would not score in Week 12, taking his tally for the year to 11.5.

Bosa is the fifth player since 2000 to record at least one sack in nine of his first 10 games of a season, joining Hugh Douglas (2000), Everson Griffen (2017), Robert Mathis (2005) and Demarcus Ware (2008).

Yet the Niners have also made a habit of sending successful blitzes at the right time, with linebacker Fred Warner and safety Talanoa Hufanga – who each forced fumbles on Sunday – proving adept at generating pressure when rushing from the second level of the defense.

Hufanga's physicality jarred a fumble from Alvin Kamara at the one-yard line in the first of two fourth-quarter red zone stops against New Orleans, the former fifth-round pick emerging as a star in a secondary that has duplicity to frustrate teams with precise and disciplined zone coverage and facilitate blitzes by succeeding when it pivots to man coverage, with cornerback Charvarius Ward, the 49ers' headline free agency acquisition, excelling in both areas.

As with many defenses around the NFL, the 49ers rely heavily on two-high safety zone coverages; however, they have used Cover 1 man on 13.35 per cent of defensive snaps, well above the league average of 10.64 per cent. When using that coverage, they have given up 5.22 yards per play, over a yard fewer than the league average of 6.58.

In essence, the personnel Ryans has at his disposal allows him to easily switch between the staple of a four-man rush with zone coverage behind it and a more aggressive approach at any point and still have complete confidence his defense will deliver.

Though blitzes are not an overly common feature of the game plan, San Francisco's underpinning defensive philosophy is all about aggression, which is evident throughout when Ryans' players are on the field, their relentless pursuit of the football critical to the 49ers' incredible success against the run – opponents have gained only 3.1 yards per play on the ground versus San Francisco – and game-sealing turnovers such as Kamara's goal-line fumble.

That defensive violence ensured San Francisco did not follow the 49ers' offensive fireshow against the Cardinals in Mexico City with a letdown even as that attack sputtered in comparison to its efforts at Estadio Azteca.

Fast, physical, disciplined and diverse with the players at every level to consistently dominate, the 2022 49ers defense has all the ingredients of a championship unit and proved it can carry the load in ensuring San Francisco won in a very different way in Week 12 following the blowout of Week 11.

With Jimmy Garoppolo playing some of the best football of his career, after sticking around to back up Lance in a prescient move by both player and franchise, and blessed with a skill-position group that features McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle, the hope will be the defense will not have to shoulder the burden on a regular basis. But this four-game stretch has proven unequivocally that it can do so, and that is an excellent insurance policy for the 49ers as they plot a path to a second Super Bowl appearance in four seasons.

For all the scrutiny on Tom Brady in what could be his final season in the NFL, the championship hopes of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers may hinge heavily on a running back playing in his first.

Brady and the Buccaneers looked to finally be finding their groove on offense prior to their Week 11 bye, finishing with 419 net yards of offense as they knocked off the Seattle Seahawks in Munich in Week 10 to improve to 5-5.

Though Brady delivered arguably his best performance of the season throwing the ball, a critical development for the Bucs at Allianz Arena was the emergence of rookie running back Rachaad White, who thrived as the lead runner for Tampa Bay after Leonard Fournette suffered a hip injury.

White had 22 carries for 105 yards against Seattle having previously not topped eight carries or 27 yards in any of his first nine games. He became the first rookie running back to rush for 100 yards for Tampa Bay since Mike James in Week 9, 2013.

With Fournette doubtful to face the Cleveland Browns in Week 12, White will likely get the lion's share of the work in the Tampa Bay backfield again. After a breakout performance in Germany, can he blossom into an offensive weapon who can help propel the Bucs to a deep playoff run?

His season-long average of 3.7 yards per carry is not a point in his favour, however, White has demonstrated an encouraging ability to create yardage for himself.

Indeed, White is averaging 2.17 yards after contact per attempt in his first season after being selected in the third round out of Arizona State, that tally above the league-wide average of 2.07 for backs with at least 50 carries this season.

He bounced off defenders consistently in the defeat of Seattle, in which he racked up 2.71 yards after contact per attempt in a performance that was punctuated by his brutal stiff arm on Seahawks safety Quandre Diggs.

Among backs who had at least 10 carries in Week 10, only five backs averaged more yards after contact.

White's value is not just limited to his efforts on the ground, however. He offers significant upside as a receiving threat out of the backfield, as his burn rate, which measures how often a receiver wins his matchup on a play where he is targeted, illustrates.

For running backs with at least 25 targets in the passing game this season, White's burn rate of 64 per cent is the third best in the NFL. Though his tally of 135 receiving yards may not be overly impressive, his success in creating separation when he is utilised as a pass-catcher suggests that number would inflate considerably with more playing time.

White has the skill set to be a dynamic runner for the Buccaneers and serve as an outlet for Brady in the passing game, giving the 45-year-old an easy button when his connection with the likes of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin sputters as it has often done in 2022.

Against the Browns, however, it is the former capacity where White will look to enjoy the most significant influence.

The Browns have allowed a run success rate of 42.6 per cent this season, the fourth-worst in the NFL behind the Kansas City Chiefs (42.9%), Los Angeles Chargers (42.7%) and Detroit Lions (42.7%).

In addition, Cleveland's run defense has given up six rushing touchdowns of at least 10 yards, tied with the lowly Houston Texans for the most in the league.

While Fournette was injured against the Seahawks, White appeared to offer the Tampa Bay running game much more explosiveness when he took the mantle as the Buccaneers' primary tailback, suggesting he could be a better safety net who can alleviate some of the pressure on the arm of Brady by producing as a runner and a receiver in critical moments down the stretch and in the postseason.

That hypothesis will be tested in what should be an extremely favourable matchup for White and the Bucs' ground attack. If White takes advantage of this latest opportunity, Fournette may find himself operating in a supplementary role when he returns from injury.

Cristiano Ronaldo has become the first ever player to score in five different World Cups after finding the net for Portugal against Ghana on Thursday.

The 37-year-old, who is currently without a club after mutually parting ways with Manchester United on Tuesday, converted a second-half penalty to give Portugal the lead.

That was Ronaldo's eighth World Cup goal, each of those coming in the group stage – the most of any player yet to score in the knockout stages. 

Pele, Uwe Seeler and Miroslav Klose have all netted at four World Cups, but Ronaldo is now out in front in that regard after scoring at a fifth finals.

Here, Stats Perform looks at each of Ronaldo's previous seven goals on the biggest stage of them all, three of which came in one game.

 


Portugal 2-0 Iran (Frankfurt, 2006)

Ronaldo scored from the penalty spot for the first of his World Cup goals against Iran in 2006, making him Portugal's youngest ever scorer in the competition at 21 years and 132 days, a record that stands to this day. Despite Portugal finishing third that year, a teenage Ronaldo did not add to his goals tally.

Portugal 7-0 North Korea (Cape Town, 2010)

The Selecao put seven goals past North Korea, with Ronaldo scoring the sixth of those to end a two-year wait for an international goal. Portugal failed to find the net in any of their other three matches in South Africa and were eliminated by Spain in the last 16.

Portugal 2-1 Ghana (Brasilia, 2014)

Ronaldo scored a late winner in Portugal's final group match against Ghana – a simple finish following some poor defending – but it was not enough to prevent his side from exiting Brazil 2014 in the first round behind the United States and tournament winners Germany.

Portugal 3-3 Spain (Sochi, 2018)

Entering the tournament as the world's best player, Ronaldo lived up to his billing by scoring a hat-trick in what will go down as one of the all-time great individual World Cup performances. After opening the scoring from the penalty spot, the superstar forward beat David de Gea with a shot from outside the box and then scored a late free-kick to rescue a point in a topsy-turvy thriller.

Portugal 1-0 Morocco (Moscow, 2018)

Ronaldo was not finished there, either, as he made it four goals for the tournament with an unstoppable header inside four minutes against Morocco, with that proving to be the winner. However, his goalscoring touch eluded him in the knockout rounds as he fired a blank in the 2-1 loss to Uruguay in the last 16.

This Thursday marks Thanksgiving in the United States.

That means several things. Food, family and lots and lots of football, with the traditional three games on the schedule for the holiday.

With the Buffalo Bills, Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings all playing, there will be plenty of fantasy relevant players in action, meaning there's no time to waste in terms of getting a winning line-up set.

Thanksgiving is, as the name makes obvious, a time to say what you're grateful for, and Stats Perform hopes you will be appreciative of the fantasy help we're here to provide with our picks of four offensive players and a defense for Week 12.
 

Quarterback: Justin Herbert, Los Angeles Chargers @ Arizona Cardinals

The Chargers may not be feeling too grateful after having their heart broken again by Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.

But they must be appreciative of getting to face the Cardinals' defense in Week 12, especially with Herbert's top receiver, Keenan Allen, back in the fold.

The Cardinals have allowed 118 pass plays of 10 yards or more, the fourth-most in the NFL. Coming off a game in which he averaged 9.3 yards per attempt, Herbert is well-positioned to get the Chargers' playoff push back on track against opposition that should facilitate one of his best performances of the season.

Running Back: Jeff Wilson Jr, Miami Dolphins vs. Houston Texans

When Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel sits down to eat his turkey on Thursday, he may express thanks for the trade with his former employers, the San Francisco 49ers, that landed Wilson's services for Miami.

Wilson has quickly established himself as the top runner in a Dolphins backfield that was not firing on all cylinders prior to his arrival.

He averaged seven yards per carry against the Cleveland Browns' dreadful run defense last time out and now gets to face a Houston defense that has allowed 57 runs of at least 10 yards, which is 12 more than anyone else in the league.

Wide Receiver: Amon-Ra St. Brown, Detroit Lions vs. Buffalo Bills

Detroit's leading receiver may not be happy to go against the Buffalo defense in Week 12, but Jameson Williams' debut is likely to bring a smile to his face.

Williams, Detroit's second first-round pick in 2022, is practising after recovering from a torn ACL he suffered in his final college game, and will give the Lions a tremendous deep threat who can stretch the field and open underneath areas for St. Brown to exploit.

In a game where the chances of the Lions falling behind and being forced to throw the ball consistently are high, that is a recipe for St. Brown racking up completions and yardage in the Thanksgiving opener.

Tight End: T.J. Hockenson, Minnesota Vikings vs. New England Patriots

There is likely to be gratitude in Vikings circles that they get the chance to quickly wash the stink off from their blowout loss to the Dallas Cowboys in Week 11.

Having been shellacked by the Cowboy defense, the Minnesota offense will face a different challenge in the form of the Patriots, who consistently drop eight players into coverage.

New England will almost certainly look to take Justin Jefferson away with double teams, meaning quarterback Kirk Cousins will likely have to frequently look to Hockenson over the middle of the field.

Targeted 28 times in three games since his arrival in a trade with Detroit, Hockenson appears primed for massive fantasy performance in the Thanksgiving nightcap, especially in points per reception leagues.

Defense/Special Teams: San Francisco 49ers vs. New Orleans Saints

The Saints' coaching staff may have a stressful Thanksgiving game planning for the 49ers, who appear to be rounding into form on both sides of the ball.

San Francisco's defense has not allowed a second-half point in any of the Niners' last three games and is giving up just 4.67 yards per play this season, the second-fewest in the NFL.

Facing a Saints offense that has committed the most giveaways (19) in the NFL, the San Francisco defense should dominate once more and deliver a crucial contribution for its fantasy owners.

Pep Guardiola arrived at Manchester City in July 2016 with the aim of "winning games to make the fans happy and proud".

Six and a half years on from his appointment, it is fair to say the Catalan has achieved what he set out to do in that regard.

While a lack of Champions League success continues to blight his CV, Guardiola has otherwise conquered English football.

With four Premier League titles, four EFL Cups and one FA Cup, Guardiola has won at least five major trophies more than any other City manager.

After signing a new deal on Wednesday that will keep him at the club until the end of the 2024-25 campaign, Stats Perform looks at the numbers behind Pep's reign.

DOMESTIC DOMINANCE

Guardiola has managed 374 matches as City manager, winning 271 of those, drawing 49 and losing 54 for a win rate of 72.5 per cent.

Most of those games (242) have come in the Premier League, followed by the Champions League (70, inc. qualifying), FA Cup (30), EFL Cup (28) and Community Shield (4).

The 605 Premier League goals scored by City under Guardiola averages out at 2.5 per game, with less than one a game conceded over the same period.

It is in the EFL Cup that Guardiola boasts his highest win percentage (75 per cent), having won 21 of the 28 matches he has managed in that competition, losing just twice.

 

PEP OUTDOING FERGIE

Unsurprisingly given City have won the title in four of his six seasons, no manager – not even Manchester United great Alex Ferguson – can better Guardiola's win rate.

The former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss has won 74 per cent of his games in the competition, with Ferguson, who managed 810 matches, next best on 65.2 per cent.

Among those to have taken charge of at least 20 games, Antonio Conte (65.7 per cent), Jurgen Klopp (63.2) and ex-City boss Roberto Mancini (61.7) make up the top five.

With four English top-flight titles, Guardiola needs one more to overtake Kenny Dalglish, though he has a long way to go to catch up with Ferguson, who won 13-such crowns.


PREM'S TOP DOGS

Guardiola is one of 119 managers to have taken charge of at least 50 Premier League matches, and he leads the way in a number of the top metrics.

He boasts the most points per game on average (2.4), the highest win percentage (74), most goals per game (2.5) and the fewest goals conceded (0.8).

That is reflected in an accumulated Premier League table across his six and a half seasons at the helm, which has City on 568 points – 38 more than next-best Liverpool.

Chelsea and their various managers have accrued the next highest number of points since the start of the 2016-17 season with 463, followed by Tottenham on 455.


CHAMPIONS LEAGUE NEXT?

For all of Guardiola's undoubted success on the domestic stage, though, he has been unable to add to the two Champions League trophies lifted while managing Barcelona.

Guardiola has won 44 of his 68 games in the competition for a win rate of 65 per cent, a return only Hansi Flick can better (89 per cent) from his short spell at Bayern.

However, his side have repeatedly fallen short on the continent, with their run to the final in the 2020-21 season – when defeated by Chelsea – the best they have managed.

"I still have the feeling there is more we can achieve together and that is why I want to stay and continue fighting for trophies," Guardiola said upon signing his new contract.

On course for yet another Premier League triumph, albeit with a five-point gap to make up on Arsenal, conquering Europe again is now the undoubted main aim for Guardiola.

Pep Guardiola's new contract with Manchester City will see him remain at the Etihad Stadium until 2025, when he will mark nine years at the club.

The Catalan coach has already remained in the Premier League for longer than he has at his previous roles with Barcelona and Bayern Munich, finding a home within English football and establishing a dominant force with his City side.

Throughout his six and a half years in charge so far, Guardiola has been in charge of numerous superstars and club legends, with an all-time squad that would be of envy for any manager in world football.

But how exactly do you break that down into a full XI? Stats Perform has taken on the task and done exactly that.

Ederson

Guardiola made a bold choice upon his arrival in Manchester, swiftly making it clear England international Joe Hart, a two-time Premier League winner, would not fit into his plans moving forward. After a disappointing season with Claudio Bravo, Ederson arrived in 2017 and has been number one ever since.

All of Ederson's 260 appearances across all competitions have come as a starter, higher than any other player under Guardiola, while he sits fifth in the list for total appearances under the Catalan boss.

Kyle Walker

Signed from Tottenham Hotspur in 2017, Kyle Walker has been a mainstay in the City side that has dominated domestic football over the course of the past five years, ranking fifth for the most starts under Guardiola in all competitions (207).

Walker's versatility has been a key benefit for Guardiola and England, with his attacking play also fitting into City's style of play well. Since arriving at City, Walker has contributed 17 assists across all competitions, behind only Joao Cancelo (20) among defenders.

Aymeric Laporte

Among defenders during Guardiola's spell in charge, only John Stones and Walker have started more games than Laporte (155), with both players having joined the club in the seasons before Laporte's arrival from Athletic Bilbao in January 2018.

A total of 163 appearances across all competitions puts him narrowly ahead of Nicolas Otamendi (161) for most games under Guardiola.

John Stones

Snapped up in 2016 as one of Guardiola's first signings, Stones has had to contend with incredible competition for his spot at the heart of the defence, with the likes of Laporte, Ruben Dias and Nathan Ake all drafted in.

Despite that, Stones continues to be an important player for City and has made 175 starts under Guardiola and 206 appearances overall, ranking second in both among defenders behind only Walker.

Joao Cancelo

The versatile Portuguese full-back moved to City in 2019 from Juventus and has excelled for City, tallying 149 total appearances and 135 starts in all competitions since joining the club, and provides a huge boost in the attacking third.

A total of 20 assists puts him above any defender during Guardiola's spell in charge, even those who have been at the club far longer.

Kevin de Bruyne

Few players fit the Guardiola philosophy more than De Bruyne, who has hit new heights under the former Barcelona boss to stand among the finest players in world football – with a record in front of goal that many would envy.

De Bruyne has registered 117 assists under Guardiola, way ahead of second-place Raheem Sterling (66), while he has scored 73 goals – only behind Gabriel Jesus, Sterling and Sergio Aguero.

Ilkay Gundogan

With 205 starts under Guardiola, the midfielder has been an integral part of the City side since following the Catalan from Germany to Manchester, ranking only behind Walker, David Silva, Sterling, De Bruyne and Ederson in that regard.

Only six players have scored more goals under Guardiola than Gundogan (51), who ranks ninth for the most assists (33).

Fernandinho

The rock of City's midfield for years, Fernandinho started 200 games under Guardiola and made a total of 244 appearances, the latter seeing him rank behind only Ederson, Bernardo Silva, Gundogan, De Bruyne and Sterling.

A total of 12 goals and 16 assists in those matches represents a decent return for a player renowned more for his defensive strength.

Bernardo Silva

Slotting into the attack ahead of Phil Foden and David Silva, both of whom have a stellar record under Guardiola, Bernardo Silva narrowly gets the nod due to his own impressive numbers in the final third.

Silva has 104 direct goal contributions (50 goals, 54 assists) in 273 appearances, starting in 208 of those matches. Only Sterling and De Bruyne have more assists under Guardiola, while Silva is one of eight players to hit the half-century mark for goals.

Sergio Aguero

In the future, Aguero's spot in the team is likely to be under significant threat from Erling Haaland following his blistering start to life at City, but the Argentine superstar retains the edge for the time being.

Aguero scored 124 goals under Guardiola, more than any other player, with Sterling the only other to have broken the century mark. Those goals came in just 183 appearances with Guardiola in charge, displaying his deadly ability in front of the net.

Raheem Sterling

An unsung hero of the Guardiola era, Sterling played 292 times under the Catalan boss, more than anyone else, while only Aguero scored more goals than Sterling (120).

Sterling also contributed 66 assists under Guardiola, sitting behind only De Bruyne, and is the only player to have scored over 100 goals and added over 50 assists under the Catalan boss.

Pep Guardiola's wildly successful reign as Manchester City manager is set to continue until 2025 after he agreed a two-year contract extension at the Etihad Stadium.

Since swapping Bayern Munich for the Premier League in 2016, Guardiola has enjoyed incredible success, winning four league titles, as many EFL Cups and the FA Cup.

However, not everything has gone to plan for Guardiola in the past six years, and his desire to end a long wait for continental glory was likely a key factor in his decision to stay with the club.

Guardiola has undoubtedly enjoyed more highs than lows during his time with City, but there have been a few bumps in the road along the way.

Here, Stats Perform takes a look back at Guardiola's major triumphs with the Citizens, as well as some of his rare failures.

Low: An underwhelming start, 2016-17 

When Guardiola agreed to take the reigns at City in 2016, hopes were high that he would make an immediate impact – his three years at Bayern had seen him deliver three Bundesliga titles, posting two of the club's three highest points tallies in their history (90 in 2013-14, 88 in 2015-16). 

However, Guardiola's focus on instilling his possession-based style attracted criticism from some, particularly when he opted to replace two-time Premier League winner Joe Hart with the more cultured if erratic Claudio Bravo.

City racked up 78 points as they finished third in 2016-17, an improvement of one place and 12 points on Manuel Pellegrini's final campaign in charge, but more was expected from the former Barcelona coach.

In a sign of things to come, City saved their most disappointing display for the Champions League, exiting on away goals after a wild 6-6 aggregate draw with Monaco in the last 16.

High: City's centurions, 2017-18 

If Guardiola's first season with City was largely forgettable, his second campaign at the helm was memorable for all the right reasons.

Most points (100), most away points (50), most wins (32), most consecutive victories (18) and best goal difference (+76) were among the Premier League records City claimed during an incredible season.

Buoyed by the signings of future stalwarts Kyle Walker, Ederson, Bernardo Silva and Aymeric Laporte, City ultimately finished some 19 points clear of Jose Mourinho's Manchester United.

Guardiola did not even have to wait until May to get his hands on silverware, leading City to an EFL Cup final thrashing of Arsenal in February 2018.

Low: Champions League final heartache, 2021

The main criticism levelled at Guardiola throughout recent years has been his failure to win the Champions League since leaving Camp Nou in 2012.

City's nearest miss to date came in Porto in May 2021, as Thomas Tuchel's Chelsea produced a defensive masterclass to frustrate the Premier League champions en route to a 1-0 win. 

Kai Havertz's goal handed the Blues their second European crown at the Estadio do Dragao, but one of the defining images was that of Kevin De Bruyne leaving the field in tears following a heavy collision with Antonio Rudiger.

The defeat was Guardiola's first in a final with City, and just the second major final loss of his entire coaching career – after a 2011 Copa del Rey reverse to Real Madrid.

High: Domestic cup dominance, 2018-2022

While Guardiola's success is best measured in league titles, City have made several superb memories by dominating the cup competitions under his management.

Under Guardiola, City have captured the FA Cup once and the EFL Cup four times – for context, the club had only won the latter competition three times in their history before his arrival.

Guardiola's lone FA Cup triumph – sealed with a 6-0 final win over Watford in 2019 – made City the first English team to lift both domestic cups and the top-flight title in the same season.

Their rout of the Hornets also represented the biggest margin of victory in an FA Cup final since Bury beat Derby County 6-0 in 1903.

Low: Collapse at the Bernabeu, 2022

The final defeat in 2021 may be the closest Guardiola's City have come to European glory, but last season's collapse against Real Madrid was undoubtedly their most painful failure in the competition.

Holding a 5-3 aggregate lead over Madrid as the second leg entered stoppage time at the Santiago Bernabeu in May, it seemed impossible for City to fall short of a place in the final.

However, Rodrygo's incredible last-gasp brace was followed by an extra-time penalty from Karim Benzema, teeing Madrid up to claim their 14th European crown later that month.

The result handed Guardiola his sixth semi-final elimination from the Champions League – the joint-most of any coach, alongside Jose Mourinho.

High: Edging out Klopp's Reds, 2018-19 and 2021-22

All great teams need a great rival, and in Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool, Guardiola's City have certainly had one.

Since the start of the 2016-17 campaign, City have amassed an incredible tally of 568 Premier League points, putting them 38 clear of Liverpool's own impressive total.

The closest title battles between the duo came in the 2018-19 and 2021-22 seasons, with City edging out the Reds by just a single point on the final day of both campaigns.

Two of Guardiola's four league titles have thus come at the end of close-run races with Liverpool, helping him become the most decorated manager in City's history with nine major trophies.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have quietly built an elite championship profile with a top-five offense and a top-five defense, and they were too good for fellow Eastern Conference playoff contenders the Atlanta Hawks on Monday.

Against the Hawks, the Cavaliers rode the offensive brilliance of their two All-Star guards. Darius Garland, who the team drafted fifth overall back in 2019, had an efficient 26 points on nine-of-14 shooting, while their offseason trade acquisition Donovan Mitchell top-scored with 29 points on 11-of-22 shooting.

While having two terrific scorers in the backcourt is one thing, having two elite playmakers unlocks a whole new level of play.

Both Garland and Mitchell finished with nine assists each, with Mitchell averaging a career-high 5.8 assists since arriving from the Utah Jazz, while Garland's 7.7 assists per contest ties him for the sixth-most in the league.

When factoring in that they both play close to 40 minutes a night, coach J.B. Bickerstaff can stagger his rotation in a way where one of them is always on the floor, giving them 48 minutes of structured, competent offense, regardless of who the four surrounding players are.

While their dynamic duo are the heartbeat of their offensive success – producing the fifth-best offensive rating in the league at 114.8 points per 100 possessions – they have an equally impactful pairing in the frontcourt with seven-footers Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley.

Allen, along with Garland, was honoured last season as a first-time All-Star, while Mobley came into the league as one of the greatest defensive prospects in the history of college basketball.

It is the brilliance of that combination that has allowed the Cavaliers to concede the third-fewest points per 100 possessions (108.2) despite starting two small guards, making them the only team in the top-five of both offensive and defensive efficiency.

After Monday's win against the Hawks, Garland spoke about how their defense was able to deliver a 12-point win despite committing 20 turnovers as a team.

"We're just trying to cut the turnovers down, really – even though we had a lot tonight, we made it up on defense," he said.

"That's how we got easy buckets and got out in transition – got us a couple lay-ups, a couple lobs, and that's really what got us going.

"Our team is just unselfish – everybody sees it. We all love each other, we just want to win, we're just competitors."

Coach Bickerstaff expanded on what makes their defense so good during his postgame press conference, pointing to it as a driving force of their offense, as well.

"We've shown what we're capable of defensively," he said. "We know when we're at our best we can create stops, we can force turnovers, we can create easy opportunities for ourselves.

"In that fourth quarter, holding them to 17 points until that last three – that's how you win basketball games against good teams. You lock down defensively, and that helped our offense.

"When you're getting stops, you're playing in the flow and not against a set defense as much. All of our stuff works together – our offense helps our defense, and our defense helps our offense

"We need to be able to slow the game down and control the game. If you have to go against our half-court defense, you're going to be in for a tough time."

He went on to discuss how special the Allen and Mobley connection is, and why it is such a stark difference when Allen is out injured. The Cavaliers have a woeful defensive rating of 126.6 in the two games Allen has missed this season, and what would be a league-leading figure of 104.0 in the 15 games he has played.

"Jarrett is a Defensive Player of the Year-caliber player," he said. "When you take that away, it's obviously going to have an impact. 

"But when he's on the floor, we're a different team, and when our two big guys are on the floor together, and they're working as a pair, they're hard to score on.

"Evan [Mobley] is an All-Defensive player himself, we're extremely fortunate to have two guys who can defend the way they can defend. When they're working together, you're hard-pressed to find easy looks out there."

With the win, the Cavaliers are now 7-1 at home and 11-6 overall, occupying the third seed in the Eastern Conference – a position they will be aiming to maintain all season.

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