Sure, relying on Mohamed Salah every week is a decent fantasy football strategy, it's certainly good enough for most, but what happens when the Egyptian magician isn't in Premier League action?

With Liverpool in EFL Cup final duty against Chelsea, the Reds' fearsome front-line and creative full-backs are suddenly off limits to fantasy football managers across the land, while Arsenal and Chelsea are also out of league action.

However, courtesy of Opta-powered data, Stats Perform has managed to pick out some of gameweek 27's potential stars, featuring the England captain, an in-form Burnley new boy, and one of the Premier League's most lethal defenders.

HARRY KANE (Leeds United v Tottenham Hotspur)

Despite Antonio Conte's team lurching to a fourth loss in five Premier League games at Turf Moor in midweek, the England captain remains the perfect pick for managers who need a big-hitter in Salah's absence.

Kane has been involved in seven goals in his last 10 Premier League appearances, registering six goals and an assist in that time. Meanwhile, five of those contributions, including four goals, have come on the road.

If that isn't enough to make managers' minds up, Kane will be facing a Leeds team which has already shipped 56 league goals this term, and has scored 10 goals in his eight Premier League appearances in Yorkshire. 

DAVID DE GEA (Manchester United v Watford)

For those looking for an adequate replacement for the likes of Allison or Edouard Mendy between the sticks, Red Devils stopper De Gea looks to be the perfect choice, ahead of a kind home fixture with Watford.

When looking at Opta's Expected Goals on Target data, no Premier League goalkeeper has prevented more goals than the Spaniard this season, with De Gea conceding 32 Premier League goals from 39.09 xG on target faced.

Although De Gea did ship four times when Watford ended Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's Red Devils reign earlier this season, United have never lost a home league game against Watford, recording 11 wins and two draws against the Hornets at Old Trafford. They have not faced any other side in more home games during their league history without losing (also 13 unbeaten vs Hull City).

CRAIG DAWSON (West Ham United v Wolves)

The best fantasy football managers are those that find themselves looking for marginal gains, and what better way to do that than to pick one of the division's most lethal defenders?

Since the 2014-15 season, no Premier League defender can match Dawson's tally of 14 headed goals, and the big centre-back has now netted in successive games, against Leicester City and Newcastle United.

West Ham's next Premier League clash sees them take on Wolves at the London Stadium. For all their good form, the visitors are averaging under a goal per game this season, so Dawson could also be in with a chance of a clean sheet.

WOUT WEGHORST (Crystal Palace v Burnley, Burnley v Leicester City)

Finally, Burnley's towering Dutch striker Wout Weghorst stands out as an appealing under-the-radar selection, ahead of the Clarets facing two games in four days.

Since Weghorst made his move from Wolfsburg to Turf Moor, he has weighed in with a goal and two assists, meaning only Salah (three goals and one assist) has registered more goal involvements amongst Premier League players since his arrival.

Although Burnley's weekend opponents Crystal Palace have been buoyed by a 4-1 win over Watford, they then host a Leicester team which has conceded 40.61 expected goals this season, a tally worse than all but three Premier League teams, so another Weghorst contribution could be on the cards.

With another NBA All-Star weekend in the books, Thursday sees the league back in regular season action, with one of the more intriguing games taking place at Barclays Center when the Brooklyn Nets entertain the Boston Celtics.

They played in the same venue earlier this month, with Boston easing to a 126-91 victory, which the Nets will be eager to avenge this time.

Somewhat surprisingly given the strength of their respective rosters, Celtics star Jayson Tatum was the only player representing either team to play in the All-Star game, scoring eight points during his 20 minutes on court for Team Durant.

Kevin Durant missed the game in Cleveland with a knee injury and is likely to be out of this clash as well. 

Nets general manager Sean Marks recently said Durant and new arrival Ben Simmons could be ready to play in the coming weeks, but the visit of the Celtics is likely to come too soon for both.

Steve Nash's team currently sit eighth in the Eastern Conference on 31-28, having fallen away dramatically in the last month, losing 11 games in a row until beating the Sacramento Kings on Valentine's Day.

Injuries have played a big part in the dip in form, but back-to-back wins against the Kings and the New York Knicks suggested they could be about to turn things around, even with a defeat to the Washington Wizards in their last game before the All-Star break.

The Celtics, meanwhile, have been going in the other direction, winning nine games in a row before a loss to the Detroit Pistons ahead of the break, and they find themselves sixth in the East on 34-26.

Coach Ime Udoka has led his team to a five-game winning streak on the road and will be looking to make it six in Brooklyn.

He will be reliant on Tatum and Jaylen Brown to pick up where they left off. The Celtics' star duo combined for 57 points and 20 rebounds in the recent 135-87 thrashing of the Philadelphia 76ers.

The impact of guard Derrick White could also be crucial after his recent arrival from the San Antonio Spurs. He has made a respectable start to life with Boston, averaging 12.3 points per game in his four outings.

The restart of the league signals the beginning of what will no doubt be a tense run in a tightly contested Eastern Conference, and both these teams will be looking to get off to a perfect start on Thursday.

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Brooklyn Nets – Patty Mills

It's a home game, so Kyrie Irving (vaccination status) cannot play, and with James Harden gone and no Durant or Simmons yet, the pressure will once again fall on Mills to be his team's main man.

The Australian narrowly missed out on the three-point finals at All-Star weekend but is enjoying a career-best season for points (13.4 average per game) in Brooklyn after moving from San Antonio last year.

His three-point shooting is what has been letting him down in recent times, going five games in a row scoring single figures for points, before hitting 22 in the loss to Washington before the All-Star break, including five of seven from beyond the arc.

Boston Celtics – Jayson Tatum

Tatum has been his team's standout player this season, and the momentum from featuring in the All-Star game could see him raise that level even higher.

Only three players in the league have scored more than his 1,439 points this season (DeMar DeRozan - 1,547, Trae Young - 1,475, Giannis Antetokounmpo - 1,443), while only DeRozan (566) and Nikola Jokic (516) have hit more than his 500 field goals.

Interestingly, Tatum took more of a back seat when Boston beat Brooklyn earlier this month, with Brown and Marcus Smart (both 22) scoring more than his 19 points.

KEY BATTLES – Make a better start, Brooklyn

The recent game between these two saw the Celtics race out to a 35-16 lead after the first quarter. It was always a big ask for the Nets to do anything from there.

Where Brooklyn will likely look for success is in mid-range, where no team in the league has a higher percentage of field goals from (48.7). However, only four teams have a lower percentage of mid-range field goals allowed than Boston (39.9 per cent).

HEAD-TO-HEAD

Although the Celtics won at Barclays Center earlier this month, the Nets had won the previous four meetings between the two, including at TD Garden in November, and all three encounters last season.

The Champions League returns on Wednesday as the first legs of the round of 16 come to an end.

Manchester United travel to the Wanda Metropolitano to face Atletico Madrid, with the visitors aiming to become just the fourth team to 500 goals in the European Cup and Champions League combined.

Erik ten Hag's Ajax thrilled in the group stages with their high-scoring and free-flowing football, and they make the trip to the Estadio da Luz to face Benfica in the other first-leg meeting.

Here, Stats Perform unpacks the pick of the Opta data behind the pair of knockout fixtures in Europe's premier club competition.

Atletico Madrid v Manchester United

United and Atletico have somehow only faced each other in the same European campaign once previously, when the Spanish side were 4-1 victors on aggregate in the last 16 of the 1991-92 Cup Winners' Cup.

The Red Devils, on their only previous visit to Atletico, lost the first leg of that tie 3-0 at the old Vicente Calderon stadium against Luis Aragones' team.

Ralf Rangnick's away side will be hoping for happier returns on their next visit to Spain, where they have won just one of their last seven trips in the knockout stages of the Champions League (D4 L2).

But Diego Simeone's team have also tasted defeat in each of their last four matches against English teams in the competition, double the number of losses they suffered across their first 12 such matches (W4 D6 L2).

Atletico have won just four of their last 14 in the Champions League. Additionally, they have lost more times in their last four home games (three) than they did in across their previous 37 (two) in the competition.

The LaLiga outfit will have to contend with an old foe Cristiano Ronaldo, who has scored 25 goals in 35 matches against them, only managing more versus Sevilla during his entire career.

Indeed, four of the forward's club hat-tricks have come against the Spanish side, two of which have been netted in this competition – no other player has recorded more against a single opponent in Europe's top club tournament.

Benfica v Ajax

Benfica may have won the first European meeting with Ajax, a 3-1 win in the first leg of the 1968-69 European Cup quarter-finals, but they are winless in their six games against them since.

Ajax are unbeaten in their previous three away games at Benfica in the European Cup and Champions League (W1 D2), with the most recent of these coming under Ten Hag’s stewardship, a 1-1 draw in November 2018.

The reigning Eredivisie champions are unbeaten in their four meetings with Portuguese sides in the competition (W3 D1), while Benfica have won just two of their last 11 clashes with Dutch opponents across the European Cup and Champions League (D4 L5).

To reach this stage, Ten Hag's men recorded six wins from six, which is the longest winning streak by a Dutch team in the European Cup and Champions League.

Should they manage victory in Portugal, Ajax's seven-game winning run would be the longest in the history of the two competitions by a team outside of the current big five European leagues (England, France, Germany, Italy, Spain).

Sebastian Haller fired his side into the knockout stages with 10 goals in six European outings, the most by any player in his opening six matches in the competition.

Playmaker Dusan Tadic has also created more chances from open play than any other player in the competition (77) since his debut in September 2018, but Benfica will not just roll over given they have recorded clean sheets in five of their last seven Champions League games.

Manchester United have not faced Atletico Madrid in European competition since the 1991-92 Cup Winners' Cup last 16, a tie the Spanish side won 4-1 on aggregate as Luis Aragones got the better of Alex Ferguson.

That was a meeting of two teams on the up: United were a year away from their first of 13 league titles under Ferguson, while Atleti would go on to win consecutive Copas del Rey, with a LaLiga triumph coming in 1996. Twenty years on, Atleti and United meet again in the last 16 of the Champions League, a competition neither is expected to win but one that represents the only means of salvaging their respectively rotten seasons.

It's a difficult one to call. United have become more resolute and less porous under Ralf Rangnick, losing just once over 90 minutes since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was sacked in late November, but in their 15 games under their interim manager, they have not been tested by elite opposition. Atleti, champions last season, are 15 points off the pace set by Real Madrid in 2021-22 and, in the time Rangnick has been at Old Trafford, they have won six and lost eight of 15 matches in all competitions.

These are well-matched, dispirited teams, who occasionally thrill in attack but always unnerve in defence. Neither looks favourite to win, and neither can afford to lose.

It has, therefore, become a big-pressure situation for the goalkeepers – and that's where form starts to differ wildly.

This will be David de Gea's first competitive meeting with Atleti since he left for United in 2011. He probably didn't imagine he would win fewer league titles than his old club in the decade to follow, but that's another story.

De Gea can at least step onto the pitch at the Wanda Metropolitano on Wednesday knowing he can claim to be one of the best in the business again based on form – a claim that opposite number Jan Oblak certainly can't make.

We know United have been extremely vulnerable this season. In all competitions, they have faced 465 shots, the fifth-highest tally among teams in Europe's top five leagues; 168 of those attempts have been on target, the third-highest number a team has faced. What is particularly worrying is that 21 of their opponents' shots have come directly from United mistakes, the highest number on the continent behind Sevilla (23).

Looking at expected goals on target – a way of measuring not just the quality of a chance (xG) but the quality of the attempt itself – United's figure against stands at 51.1 in all competitions, the third-worst among Europe's top five leagues. And yet, they have conceded 44 goals – far more than pretenders to trophies should be letting in, but around seven fewer than the numbers suggest they should. Much of that is down to De Gea.

In the Premier League alone, De Gea has made 96 saves from 128 shots on target faced, giving him a save percentage of 73.44. No other keeper has made as many stops and only Leeds United's Illan Meslier has faced more attempts, yet Meslier has conceded 50 goals to De Gea's 34. Using that same xGOT model and subtracting goals conceded (excluding own goals), we can work out a value for how many goals a keeper has prevented through saves. For De Gea, that figure is 7.1, the best in the league.

If you include all competitions, De Gea has faced the most shots on target (157) among top-five-league teams apart from Leicester City's Kasper Schmeichel (158), again showing just how fragile United can be without the ball. Looking at that 'goals prevented' metric again, De Gea is at 7.86 – in other words, he's prevented roughly eight goals through the quality of his shot-stopping. Across the continent, only two keepers to play at least 15 times this season can do better.

Preventing goals and high save percentages have traditionally been where Oblak thrives. Since his Atleti debut in September 2014, he has the most clean sheets (167) in Europe's top five leagues and a save percentage of 76.5, the third-highest. According to the data, Oblak has prevented just over 51 goals in that time, at least four more than any other keeper and nearly 20 more than De Gea. It makes his form this season all the more troubling.

Oblak has faced 50 fewer shots on target this season than De Gea – implying Atleti's defence is still stronger than United's, even accounting for their dip in standards – yet he has conceded five goals more than the Spain international. Oblak has saved 61, or 57 per cent, of the shots he has faced this season, which is an alarming drop from his career average of 76.52 per cent in Atleti colours.

Using that same 'goals prevented' calculation, Oblak is at -7.05, meaning he has conceded at least seven goals more than should reasonably be expected. Among Europe's top leagues, only seven keepers come off worse this season, and only four by a significant degree.

There is of course more to a keeper's value than the number of times the ball goes in his net, but these numbers give us a good indication of which ones are performing well when it comes to rudimentary shot-stopping. A 15-goal swing between De Gea and Oblak this season tells you everything you need to know about their recent standards, and why Atleti will have more cause for concern than United in this hugely important knockout tie.

Champions League holders Chelsea get their knockout campaign started on Tuesday as the defence of their crown enters an altogether more challenging stage.

Thomas Tuchel's men may feel they have dodged a bullet or two by getting this draw, with their next opponents Lille struggling to match the highs of their Ligue 1 title victory from last season in 2021-22.

Tuesday's other encounter sees Juventus travel to Villarreal, with Massimiliano Allegri looking to improve on the knockout exploits of Maurizio Sarri and Andrea Pirlo before him.

Here, Stats Perform delves into the Opta data to pick out the key statistical narratives and subplots ahead of Tuesday's games.

Chelsea v Lille

Much of the attention at Stamford Bridge will be on Romelu Lukaku, whether the Belgian plays or not.

The big-money signing's struggles this season have been well-publicised, but he hit a new low on Saturday as he touched the ball just seven times in the win over Crystal Palace – that is the fewest by any player to feature for 90 minutes in a single Premier League game since at least 2003-04.

On the other side of the contest is a striker aiming to emulate Lionel Messi. Jonathan David may not have scored a Ligue 1 goal since December but the talented Canadian impressed in the second half of the group stage.

He scored one goal in each of his last three appearances in the competitions, meaning if he scores on Tuesday he will be the second-youngest (22 years, 39 days) non-European to score in four successive Champions League games after Messi (21y, 155d in November 2008).

That is not to say Lille are a high-scoring side. Many will be wondering who let Les Dogues out of Group G, given their haul of seven makes them the lowest-scoring group winners since Leicester City and Atletico Madrid (seven each) in 2016-17. In fact, no team from that section scored more than eight.

The omens are, perhaps unsurprisingly, overwhelmingly in Chelsea's favour here. Only Manchester City (15) and Bayern Munich (14) have won more Champions League games than the holders since the start of last season, while Lille are appearing at this stage for just the second time ever.

Further to that, Tuchel boasts a fine record in Champions League knockout ties, having progressed from/won (including finals) eight of his previous 11 (73 per cent), a success rate bettered by only three managers (minimum 10 knockout ties): Vicente del Bosque (80 per cent - 8/10), Jupp Heynckes (86 per cent - 12/14) and Zinedine Zidane (88 per cent - 14/16).

Villarreal v Juventus

Sarri and then Pirlo were both tasked with establishing a new era at Juventus, but when Allegri returned after a two-year break in pre-season, he picked up the pieces of a side that had regressed significantly.

There remain plenty who feel Allegri never should have been re-hired, but this tie at least gives him an opportunity to point to a degree of progress – at least in the context of the Champions League.

After all, neither Sarri nor Pirlo got beyond the last 16. Allegri, on the other hand, was only eliminated at this stage once in five seasons, and that was to Pep Guardiola's excellent Bayern side.

His counterpart on Tuesday, Unai Emery, has something of a point to prove as well, but his has more to do with his own personal record.

While something of a specialist at Europa League level, having won the competition four times including last season, he has won only one of six knockout games in the Champions League.

Much of Emery's hope will be pinned on Arnaut Danjuma.

The Dutchman – who recently returned from two months out and scored a hat-trick at the weekend – had a hand in five goals in the group stage, which is already a joint-club record for the club in the competition.

By no means are the Yellow Submarine a one-man team, however. Young winger Yeremi Pino caught the eye in the group and is plotting to become only the fourth Spanish teenager to score in the knockout stages of the Champions League after Bojan, Cesc Fabregas and Raul.

Saturday was quite a day in the Premier League, with shock results impacting both ends of the table, and the middle.

Liverpool appear to live challengers again in the title race after their 3-1 victory against Norwich City was followed by Tottenham's dramatic 3-2 win away to leaders Manchester City.

Mohamed Salah scored his 150th goal for Liverpool and Luis Diaz bagged his first in English football, while former City target Harry Kane insisted on shoving narrative into everyone's faces with a sensational performance for Spurs at the Etihad Stadium.

Elsewhere, a late Hakim Ziyech goal secured Chelsea a win at Crystal Palace, Arsenal's youngsters earned them a 2-1 win against Brentford, while West Ham were held to a 1-1 draw by Newcastle in the early game.

Burnley produced a surprising performance to win 3-0 at Brighton, with Wout Weghorst getting off the mark for his new club, while Watford also threw a spanner in the works of the relegation fight with a 1-0 win at Aston Villa.

The other game of a busy day in England's top flight saw Southampton beat Frank Lampard's Everton 2-0 at St Mary's thanks to goals from Stuart Armstrong and Shane Long.

Manchester City 2-3 Tottenham: City Kane-d by ruthless Spurs

Pep Guardiola's City team had looked imperious since losing at home to Crystal Palace in October, until today.

City were dominant but wasteful against Spurs, finding the target with only four of their 21 shots, while the visitors made Ederson work with five of their six efforts, beating him three times to take the points.

Kane’s winner, timed at 94:25, was the latest winning goal scored against City in the Premier League since Michael Owen for Manchester United in September 2009 (95:27).

Tottenham duo Kane and Son Heung-min have now assisted one another for 36 Premier League goals, the joint-most of any pairing in the competition's history, moving level with Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard.

Son has been directly involved in 10 goals in 15 appearances against City (seven goals, three assists); only against Southampton (15) and West Ham (11) has he had a hand in more goals for Spurs.

Meanwhile, Guardiola has lost twice to Tottenham this season, and has only lost more games to Chelsea (eight) than Spurs (six) in his entire managerial career.

Liverpool 3-1 Norwich: Reds come back thanks to usual suspects, and a new one

Early in the second half at Anfield, it did not look like Liverpool would be cutting Manchester City's lead on Saturday, finding themselves 1-0 down to the Canaries after Milot Rashica's first Premier League goal.

However, a marvellous overhead kick from Sadio Mane was soon followed by a historic moment for Salah, who scored his 150th goal for Liverpool in just his 233rd appearance. Only Roger Hunt (226) has reached that total faster in the club's history.

Luis Díaz became the 16th different Colombian player to score a Premier League goal, producing a nice finish after a Jordan Henderson throughball. He was also Liverpool’s 16th different goalscorer in the competition this season (excluding own goals), the joint-most of any side in 2021-22 (Chelsea and City both also 16).

Henderson was a standout performer on the day as well, drastically improving from his showing at Burnley last weekend.

He completed just 50 per cent of passes (18 out of 36) in the 1-0 win at Turf Moor, but on Saturday produced his second-best pass success rate in the Premier League for Liverpool in a game where he made at least 100 passes, with 97.2 per cent (104 of 107), only bettering that against Hull City in 2016-17 (97.3 per cent, 108 of 111).

Crystal Palace 0-1 Chelsea: Late Ziyech strike saves Blues

Chelsea returned to Premier League action after winning the FIFA Club World Cup last week to eventually secure three points against Palace thanks to an 89th-minute Ziyech strike. The Moroccan has scored in three consecutive league matches for the first time since September 2019 in the Eredivisie with Ajax.

The Blues have now won back-to-back league games for the first time since October, when they won four in a row, and could also be looking up the table after City's wobble.

It was another clean sheet for Chelsea, who have kept 37 in 70 matches in all competitions under Thomas Tuchel, more than any other Premier League side since the German’s first match in charge in January last year.

It was not all good from Tuchel's men though, with struggling striker Romelu Lukaku managing just seven touches, one of which was at the kick-off, the fewest in a single top-flight game for a player to feature for at least 90 minutes since Opta started collecting the data in 2003-04.

Arsenal 2-1 Brentford: Young guns fire Arteta's side to victory

Goals from Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka earned Arsenal a hard-fought win against Brentford, despite Christian Norgaard's late strike for the Bees.

Smith Rowe bagged his ninth league goal this season; the only player to score more in a single campaign for Arsenal when aged 21 or younger was Nicolas Anelka in 1998-99 (17).

Saka registered his 11th goal involvement in the Premier League this season (seven goals, four assists), the most of any under-21 player and a haul bettered only by Jarrod Bowen (16), Mason Mount (13) and Trent Alexander-Arnold (12) among English players.

The Gunners netted their 600th (and 601st) Premier League goals at the Emirates Stadium, reaching the milestone in their 297th game there, with only United at Old Trafford (283) and City at the Etihad (290) doing so at a single stadium in fewer games in the competition.

Brentford are winless in their last seven league games, last having a longer run between September and October 2018 (eight games). Thomas Frank's side have also lost their last five away league games, their longest such run since February 2011 (also five).

West Ham 1-1 Newcastle: Magpies continue to rise under Howe

Eddie Howe's 500th league game as a manager (410 with Bournemouth, 77 with Burnley and 13 with Newcastle) ended with a well-earned point from the London Stadium in the day's early kick-off.

Craig Dawson gave West Ham the lead before Joe Willock's equaliser came just before half-time.

Newcastle have now taken 12 points from their last six Premier League games, two more than they managed in their previous 18 this season (10 points).

Dawson's goal was the 11th scored from a set-piece by the Hammers in the league this season (not including penalties), a figure only Liverpool (14) and City (12) can better.

Brighton and Hove Albion 0-3 Burnley: Weghorst gets off the mark in big Clarets win

A quite remarkable performance from Sean Dyche's side in his 250th Premier League game in charge of Burnley saw them ease to a 3-0 win at the Amex Stadium, with Weghorst, Josh Brownhill and Aaron Lennon all finding the net.

Brighton suffered the heaviest defeat by a team hosting the English top flight's bottom side since Crystal Palace lost 4-0 at home to Sunderland in February 2017.

This was Burnley's first away win in the league since May 2021 (v Fulham), ending a run of 12 games without a win on the road. They also scored more goals in this game than they had in their previous five Premier League away games combined (two).

Weghorst scored his first goal for Burnley, becoming the first Dutchman to score for the Clarets in the competition. This ended a run of seven league games without scoring for Weghorst, with his previous goal coming in December for previous club Wolfsburg against Cologne.

Aston Villa 0-1 Watford: Dennis a menace to Villa

Another relegation-threatened side stepped up to secure an impressive away win as Roy Hodgson earned his first victory in charge of Watford thanks to a goal from Emmanuel Dennis.

This was the Hornets' first Premier League away win since October (5-2 v Everton), and their first away win in the competition while also keeping a clean sheet since January 2020 (3-0 v Bournemouth).

After winning two of their first three home games under Steven Gerrard (L1), Villa are now winless in their last four games at Villa Park (D2 L2). This was the first Premier League home game they have failed to score in since May 2021 (v Everton), ending a run of 12 in a row in which they had found the net.

Watford have now kept as many clean sheets in four Premier League games under Hodgson (two) as they had in their previous 36 games in the competition.

Southampton 2-0 Everton: Another free-kick continues Toon revival

The revival of Everton under Lampard was nowhere to be seen at St Mary's as Ralph Hasenhuttl's side continued their good run of form.

Southampton have now won four of their last eight Premier League games (D3 L1), as many victories as they managed in their previous 20 games in the competition (D8 L8).

Everton's total of 22 points from their first 23 games in the league this season is their worst at this stage of a top-flight campaign since 1950-51 (three points for a win), when they also had 22 and were relegated at the end of the season.

Long's goal was his first in the league since February 2020 (v Aston Villa), ending a run of 799 minutes without the Irishman scoring in the league.

Ever since Manchester City gave up on signing Harry Kane, it had looked like a decision where only the reigning Premier League champions came out better off.

They have become relatively comfortable at the top of the league, easing through the Champions League with the minimum of fuss and scoring plenty of goals along the way.

Meanwhile, Kane and Tottenham have had an under-par campaign, with the England striker managing just five Premier League goals in 21 games, until Saturday.

City were made to face every single doubt they would have had about missing out on Kane as Spurs put a dent in their title aspirations with a 3-2 win at the Etihad Stadium.

Despite largely dominating the game, City looked like a team without a natural goalscorer, and without a focal point.

For all of their play around the Spurs box, they rarely looked like carving out a clear chance against a resilient backline.

Meanwhile, Kane was biding his time, before making a significant difference on the rare occasions his team had the ball.

His pass for Son Heung-min in the build-up to the fourth-minute opener was sublime. With his weaker foot he hit a first-time pass into the path of his partner in crime, who found Dejan Kulusevski to finish.

Kane was dropping deep and spraying passes, showing the sort of ability that drew Pep Guardiola to him in the first place. The 28-year-old is a world-class striker but has developed his game to be more involved in setting up attacks.

In all honesty, that would not be all that necessary at City such is their array of creative talent. Had Kane done the same in a sky blue shirt on this occasion, he would merely have been doing as others were, playing balls into the box for Spurs to tidy up.

However, in the second half, Kane went back to what he knows and became everything City were missing.

His run and calm first-time finish from Son's ball to restore Tottenham's lead was vintage Kane, and his movement to work an opening to nearly score again minutes later, only to be denied by an excellent Ederson save, was a hint of more to come.

It almost felt like a direct comment from him to put his first shot of the day in the back of the net after seeing City be so wasteful in front of goal.

Another deadly finish appeared to have made it 3-1, only for VAR to rule it out for offside, but Kane would be the man to have the final word after Riyad Mahrez's late penalty seemed to save City. With a deft header, Kane sensationally won the game for the team he seemingly hoped to swap for City last year.

Unusually lacklustre from City

After the departure of Sergio Aguero at the end of last season, the narrative seemed to be that City absolutely needed a top-class striker or else they'd struggle.

That has very much not been the case after missing out on Kane. They have still won 20 of 26 league games this season, and only Liverpool (64) have scored more goals than their 63.

They have also scored 23 goals in seven Champions League games, including five in the week against Sporting from just six shots on target.

Guardiola's men have divided up their scoring among their attackers this season, with Mahrez (18), Raheem Sterling (13), Bernardo Silva (10) and Phil Foden (nine) all contributing.

The kind of ruthlessness they showed in Lisbon was not on show here, though. Despite having the vast majority of possession (71.5 per cent) and 21 shots to Tottenham's six, they had fewer shots on target (four to five).

It is a rare occasion that we see City fall behind, as they did here, three times.

In the 53 games in which they have trailed at any point in the Premier League under Pep, they have been beaten on 30 occasions (W12 D11), and they have now lost 21 of 44 games in which they have conceded first in the league in that time.

It would be silly for City and Guardiola to panic after this game, but they have to be wary of this becoming a template to beat them.

Then again, most opposition teams won't have Kane playing for them.

Conte's new boys come to the fore

While Guardiola will be scratching his head as to how his team lost, Antonio Conte will probably still be running round his living room cheering into the small hours of the morning.

This was a proper Conte performance, staying organised and respecting the threat of the opponent, while showing guts in possession, even late in the game when they looked to be holding on.

The Italian stirred the pot this week with comments about the January transfer window, lamenting that Spurs let go of four players he viewed as "important" while signing only two new ones, who would be perhaps more for the future than the present.

No one told Kulusevski that it seemed as the Swedish winger flourished as part of the visiting attack, grabbing a goal and an assist.

He was also unlucky to be judged offside for Kane's chalked-off goal in the second half.

Rodrigo Bentancur, who, like Kulusevski, joined from Juventus in January, had a quieter game in midfield, but still managed to make three tackles (only Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg made more for Spurs – four) and regained possession five times.

Perhaps the manager's words were meant for both chairman Daniel Levy and for the players, with Kulusevski showing he can be one for now as well as the future.

This game was all about one man though: Kane.

He received deserved words of praise from two other great England strikers, with Gary Lineker tweeting to say: "Superb from Kane. Not just the goal but his overall display. Brilliant."

Alan Shearer was similarly effusive, also saying on Twitter: "A centre forward masterclass from Kane."

If Tottenham are to finish in the top four, they will need more performances like this from their talisman.

Should Kane return to his best on a regular basis, we could come full circle at the end of the campaign with City reigniting their interest in him.

Especially so, if it turns out that the day he came back to haunt them triggered a significant tide turn in the Premier League title race.

Since Ralf Rangnick took charge at Manchester United, much of the focus on them has revolved around – unsurprisingly – how they press, or don't, for that matter.

Of course, the overriding narrative when he was appointed fixated on how he was the supposed 'godfather of gegenpressing' and would definitely have United pressing more effectively than Liverpool in a matter of weeks…

Okay, there probably weren't many making such grand claims, but the point remains: United's off-the-ball work became the focus.

That meant their rather underwhelming attacking displays went a little unnoticed until Rangnick started talking about their expected goals (xG) after their 1-1 draw with Southampton.

As it turns out, since Rangnick's arrival, United have underperformed their non-penalty xG by 5.5 across all competitions, the worst of any Premier League team in that time. When you do consider spot-kicks, that gap increases to 6.1. Brentford are the second-worst in both metrics (4.31 and 3.67, respectively).

United simply aren't scoring as many goals as they should given the quality of the chances they're creating, but you can spin that into a positive.

Assuming they continue to craft opportunities at a similar rate, they should – in theory – level out with respect to xG. Considering recent meetings with Leeds United and their own woes, could Marcelo Bielsa's men be the tonic they need?

LEEDS LATE TO RIVALRY PARTY

Matches against Man Utd are, in all likelihood, the first games your average Leeds fan will look for when the fixture list is released ahead of the season. While the rivalry may not be as fierce competitively on the pitch as it once was, the two sets of supporters still despise each other.

These rivalry clashes haven't been especially kind to Leeds since their long-awaited return to the Premier League, though.

Over the three games, Leeds haven't won once and trail 11-3 on aggregate, with United demolishing them 6-2 at Old Trafford last season and 5-1 there in August. The 0-0 draw at Elland Road in April last season is as good as it's got – that's also the last time the Red Devils failed to score on the road.

Leeds suffered those two Old Trafford nightmares having previously only conceded five or more goals away to United in all competitions twice in their previous 50 visits.

Further to that, the 6-2 was the first time a Bielsa team had conceded six times in a competition match since he was in charge of Newell's Old Boys in February 1992.

It was also the first occasion United had scored at least six goals since "I'd 8-2 be an Arsenal fan" happened, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men having netted just three times in their previous six home league games.

Of course, last season's clash at Elland Road was the opposite of a goal fest. The main difference this time is that the game won't be behind closed doors, though Leeds weren't quite this defensively feeble then.

LEAKS UNITED

It is worth mentioning that, indeed, Leeds were not as leaky last season, as has been said. But even when they were in good shape, few would consider them among the tightest teams at the back.

Their 54 concessions in 2020-21 may not have been alarming in itself, with six teams letting in more, but at a rate of 1.4 goals conceded every game they were always likely to find themselves in a little danger if, A) they stopped scoring as often, or B) they didn't improve the defence.

Sure enough, injuries have played a massive part in Leeds' struggles this season, with most of their key players spending at least a short period on the sidelines.

That's been especially felt at the back. While Leeds' goals scored per game remains at a similar – albeit slightly lower – rate (1.5 down from 1.6), their concessions have rocketed from 1.4 every match to 2.0.

Only Norwich City (50) have conceded more Premier League goals than Leeds this season (46), and 26 of those have come in the nine matches since their last clean sheet in November. It's a diabolical run.

Granted, it would appear they have been somewhat unfortunate. Their expected goals against (xGA) (40.4) is 4.6 lower than their goals conceded (excluding own goals) record, suggesting they have on occasion been punished by particularly impressive finishing.

But their xGA remains the third-poorest in the league and, as the graphic above suggests, they've been conceding higher-value chances than they've been creating on average practically all season. That -0.74 differential on their rolling average between non-penalty (np) xG for and xGA heading into the weekend highlights just how much worse they are defensively than they are good going forward at the moment.

THAT ONE'S A KEEPER

An interesting underlying narrative ahead of this clash is the form of the respective goalkeepers.

David de Gea is arguably back to his very best, the Spaniard enjoying a wonderful season after falling out of favour in 2020-21 – it's as though Dean Henderson's emergence as a viable replacement spooked him into pulling his finger out.

Whereas Illan Meslier is – according to the numbers at least – having a very difficult season.

That's not necessarily to say Meslier is entirely to blame. In fact, he's not made any Opta-defined errors leading to shots this term, whereas De Gea has made two. Similarly, as Leeds' xGA shows, they give away a lot of chances and there's only so much a goalkeeper – and a young one at that – can do.

Indeed, Meslier was considered one of few positives from Leeds' recent 3-0 battering by Everton, yet the numbers don't make for such kind reading.

According to Opta's 'goals prevented' metric, Meslier should have stopped as many as 7.3 of the goals he has conceded this season, by far the worst record in the league (Vicente Guaita: 5.1). De Gea, on the other hand, has apparently been the most decisive keeper, actively preventing 6.9 goals and making a division-high 92 saves.

Meslier is ranked second for saves (80), but it would also seem he has let in several goals the average keeper might've been expected to keep out.

Intriguingly, United's rolling average in terms of np-xG for and xGA has their current differential as the exact inverse of that of Leeds, with Rangnick's side enjoying a positive 0.74 difference in favour of xG for, meaning they are creating better chances than they concede and are seemingly at their most cohesive in attack all season.

It's by far the biggest rolling average gap United have seen this term – at least in favour of xG for – and the 2-0 win over Brighton and Hove Albion in midweek looked like another step towards being a more ruthless attacking unit.

Creating chances hasn't really been a problem in recent weeks, the issue has been finishing them off. While rivalry meetings can be unpredictable, and a full house at Elland Road should at least ensure the hosts have a vocal backing, it wouldn't be in the least bit surprising if Leeds are proven to be the cannon fodder United need.

As Liverpool continue their quest to put pressure on Manchester City (well, try to), Norwich City travel to Anfield hoping to boost survival chances.

But history isn't on the side of Dean Smith's men, who must be fearing the worst against a side they never seem to cope well with.

Expectations for Norwich are surely lower against Liverpool than versus any other team.

Here's why…

Red-faced Canaries

Norwich City really, really don't like playing Liverpool. Liverpool really, really enjoy playing Norwich City.

The Reds have handed out some absolute batterings to Norwich down the years, with the Luis Suarez era particularly profitable for the Reds.

Granted, a historically good team racking up goals against sides who traditionally finish near the bottom isn't anything new, but Liverpool's domination of Norwich does take things a bit further.

They average 2.8 goals per game against the Canaries in the Premier League – that's 53 in 19 matches. Among all the teams the Reds have played at least five times, that is their highest rate.

Liverpool have already beaten Norwich twice this season, winning 3-0 in the Premier League and 3-0 in the EFL Cup.

If they beat them by three or more goals again, it'll be only the ninth occasion of an English top-flight side completing such a hat-trick in a single season, and the first since Arsenal against Aston Villa in 2014-15.

Fortress Anfield

Anfield is a tough place to go at the best of times – from Norwich's perspective, this certainly isn't "the best of times".

As Liverpool continue to badger away near the top of the table, hoping to capitalise on any Manchester City slip-up, they have put together a strong run at home.

They are unbeaten in their previous 15 home league games and have won the most recent six by an aggregate score of 17-1.

Norwich do at least make the long trip to Liverpool – presumably made even longer by Storm Eunice – having won their last away game.

Having said that, away to Liverpool is a slightly different proposition than going to Watford, with all due respect.

Similarly, Norwich haven't won back-to-back away games in the top flight since January 2012 and managed to win just one of their last 25 league meetings with a top-three side – that was on the final day of 2012-13.

Polar opposites

Apart from the fact they've conceded the most (50) and scored the fewest (14) in the Premier League, Norwich aren't doing too badly…

Okay, that sounds disingenuous but they have managed to climb to 18th in the table and a win here – however unlikely that may be – could see them end the weekend one point from safety.

The problem, though, is the contrasting quantities of their goals record with Liverpool, who have scored the joint-most (61) and conceded the third-fewest (19).

On top of that, Liverpool have scored more than twice as many goals in both the first (31) and second half (30) of games as Norwich have in total this term.

It certainly won't look like there's much hope if Norwich need goals in the second half. Six of their strikes this term have been after the break, though half of those came one game (away to Watford).

Salah eyes assists double-double achievement

It won't be remotely surprising to learn Salah has a good record against Norwich. He's been involved in five goals (two scored, three assisted) in three Premier League matches against them.

With that in mind, he'll surely be confident of adding to that haul and reaching a landmark.

With 16 goals and nine assists already this term, Salah is agonisingly close to reaching double figures in both for the third time in a Premier League season, having also managed this in 2017-18 and 2019-20.

Only three players in Premier League history have managed it three times or more, with Eric Cantona leading the way (four) and Didier Drogba the sole individual on three.

It's surely only a matter of time, and his track record against Norwich would have few betting against it occurring on Saturday.

It took just two games of the 2021-22 season for Manchester City's failed pursuit of Harry Kane to become a big problem for Pep Guardiola.

After losing the Community Shield to Leicester City, they promptly went to Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and lost 1-0 again, even with Kane absent and City boasting Premier League record signing Jack Grealish.

The narrative arc was glaring: City would fall short without a recognised number nine, while Spurs were neither dependent on Kane nor foolhardy to snub the chance of a huge transfer fee. Perhaps he could realise his dream of big trophies in north London after all.

Six months on, and the world has come to its senses. Since losing to Spurs, City have won 20 and lost just one of their Premier League matches and look to be marching imperiously towards the title again. Spurs have changed manager, swapping one the fans never really wanted for one who gives a good impression he would rather be anywhere else, and are enduring a three-game losing run that has put their Champions League hopes in jeopardy.

And nobody is really talking about Kane, except to wonder what's going wrong.

It's beginning to look like City dodged a nine-figure bullet by not pursuing their interest. Kane has just five goals and two assists in 21 league games this season, his minutes-per-goal rate of 358.4 more than twice as bad as at any other time in his career, while his expected goals tally of 8.99 is the lowest since he played just 10 times in 2013-14.

Part of that problem can be attributed to Kane's role under Nuno Espirito Santo and now Antonio Conte. His link-up play is still effective: he is creating on average one chance per 90 minutes, slightly down on his career average in the Premier League, but averaging more passes played into the box (3.1) than he ever has.

Similarly, he is top among Spurs players for involvements in open-play sequences ending in a shot (98) – even when you remove the 52 where Kane's only contribution was the shot, he still ranks as high as fifth (46). In other words, he remains key to both getting them on the front foot and testing the opposition's goalkeeper.

Yet ultimately, Kane will be judged on goal involvements, which makes this season a distinct disappointment. Whether he was affected by City's failed pursuit, or a hangover from England's Euro 2020 final defeat – or a combination of both – it's hard to make a case for this Kane to be the missing link for Guardiola's City. And that's especially true when you consider just what Guardiola wants in his forwards: the ability to play in any position across the attack, rather than become pinioned in the number-nine role. It's why he saw fit to spend £100million on Grealish, why Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Robert Lewandowski and Sergio Aguero have each faced battles to keep their places in his teams, and why any move for Erling Haaland is no guarantee.

It also makes you wonder why City did not turn their attentions to the man who scored the winner in that game at Spurs last August, and who has six goals in eight matches against them.

Son Heung-min would appear, on the face of it, an ideal Guardiola player. He has proved himself adept out wide, as a number 10 and as a central striker for Spurs, hitting double figures for goals and assists for two league seasons running – don't rule out him repeating the feat again.

With nine goals and three assists, Son leads the way for direct goal involvements for Spurs in this season's difficult Premier League campaign. He has also created the most chances (36), playing 144 passes into the box, which is almost double the number of any team-mate (this includes set-pieces, of course). Son also boasts the best shot conversion rate (18.8) among players with more than one goal, while Kane's is down at just seven per cent.

The South Korea star is second only to Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg when it comes to involvements in Spurs' build-up play in the top flight this season, 35 of which have ended in a shot on goal. And when he doesn't have the ball, Son remains adept at winning it back: he has won possession the most among Spurs attackers (89), with 11 of those gains occurring in the opposition's defensive third.

Adaptable, hard-working and clinical are words that could be ascribed to any of City's forwards, and Son fits right in that same group. Should Spurs fail to qualify for the Champions League again, they may be forced to make some concessions in the transfer market, especially if they want to satisfy Conte's demands while keeping costs down. Son has just over three years on his contract and does not appear likely to agitate for a move, but, ahead of his 30th birthday in July, the next window could represent his final opportunity for a major transfer.

If anyone in a Spurs shirt is likely to impress City officials on Saturday, it's Son.

By now, you probably all get it: Trent Alexander-Arnold, Kevin De Bruyne and Mohamed Salah are pretty good at kicking a football.

So, for this week's fantasy picks, Stats Perform has looked at the Opta numbers behind some players who may not offer quite the same points guarantee as the superstars, but are cheaper and nowhere near as popular.

If everyone picks the exact same players, fantasy football managers will pick up similar points – why not take a punt on some of these?

NICK POPE (Brighton and Hove Albion v Burnley)

Burnley may be mired in a relegation battle, but goalkeeper Nick Pope has looked sharp so far in 2022.

The England international has kept two clean sheets, bettered only by Alisson and Ederson, and prevented more goals than anyone else (3.6).

He may represent something of a risk, but his form suggests Pope could be a shrewd buy.

RICARDO PEREIRA (Wolves v Leicester City)

Granted, Pereira has only scored in consecutive games once before, way back in September 2019. However, his strike against West Ham was a timely reminder of his talents following injury troubles.

Up next is a trip to Wolves. While Bruno Lage's men are solid, they do not scored masses, and Pereira has done damage to them before.

With two assists, he has only claimed more goal involvements against Everton (three) and West Ham (four) in his Premier League career.

JACOB RAMSEY (Aston Villa v Watford)

Ramsey has been a standout breakthrough youngster in the Premier League this term, with his form in recent weeks in particular causing people to sit up and take note.

The 20-year-old has six goal involvements this season, a figure only Bukayo Saka (10) can better among under-21 players.

Five of Ramsey's have been in his past seven matches, and this weekend sees Villa host struggling Watford – he might just fancy his chances of adding to his tally, and he is still a fairly cheap option.

MICHAEL OLISE (Crystal Palace v Chelsea)

Olise is another young player having a solid season – he has also tallied six Premier League goal involvements this term.

Those have come in just 568 minutes on the pitch, meaning he is involved in 0.95 goals per 90 minutes.

Only Mohamed Salah (1.19), Patson Daka (1.05), Riyad Mahrez (1.0) and Paul Pogba (0.98) boast a better record than Olise among players with at least 500 minutes played.

Again, he remains a low-cost option.

When watching games from pretty much any league in the world, there is a reasonable chance one of the players featured will be described as "on loan from Chelsea".

Such is the volume of players the recent FIFA Club World Cup winners send out on loan each season, they have even had their own WhatsApp group to keep in touch, as revealed a few years ago by Patrick Bamford.

The Leeds striker, who was on loan at Crystal Palace from Chelsea at the time, said: "The loan department set it up and allowed people in. Sometimes it drains your battery when everyone is messaging each other."

It had been seen as a ploy for the London club to hoard players for several years before selling them on for a profit once they had established themselves, but in recent times, especially with youngsters who came through the youth ranks at Cobham, it seems the chance of a first-team appearance isn't as fanciful as it once was.

The likes of Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount and Reece James went on to become regular first-teamers after successful loan spells elsewhere.

Conor Gallagher has been loaned out by Chelsea four times and is currently turning out for Palace, earning valuable Premier League minutes, just as he did last season at West Brom.

The 22-year-old is yet to make his first-team debut for the Blues, but in light of his performances for the Eagles, his long wait could potentially be over next season.

Ahead of Chelsea's trip to Selhurst Park to face Palace on Saturday, where Gallagher will be ineligible to play against his parent club, Stats Perform takes a look at whether he could indeed have a future at Stamford Bridge.

Little by little, Gallagher impresses Tuchel

Speaking in December, Blues boss Thomas Tuchel said: "We love Conor. We are convinced about him.

"We took the decision for Conor because when we looked at the midfield - Mateo Kovacic, Jorginho, N'Golo Kante - he was considered number four in the group.

"Conor knew this all the way. An opportunity came up where he could clearly see more minutes and more responsibility."

Tuchel ended up signing Saul Niguez on loan from Atletico Madrid, but the Spaniard has failed to make an impact during his time in England.

Gallagher, meanwhile, has scored seven goals in 21 Premier League appearances this season, including braces against Everton and West Ham, as well as a goal and an assist in Palace's shock 2-0 win at Manchester City in October.

It has been a lengthy journey already for the player, though, having been loaned to Charlton Athletic in 2019.

He impressed so much that Chelsea cut his loan short in the January window as, despite Gallagher's performances, Charlton were struggling in the Championship and he was instead sent to Swansea City, who were challenging for promotion.

Although he failed to score during his time in Wales, he still impressed then Swans manager Steve Cooper – who had managed England's U17s to World Cup glory in 2017 – as he grabbed five assists in his first nine games at the Liberty Stadium.

The next logical move was the Premier League, and Gallagher was loaned to West Brom for the 2020-21 campaign, where he made 32 appearances in all competitions, before heading to Selhurst Park for another season of top-flight football.

Although he performed well at West Brom, Gallagher has undoubtedly stepped up a gear under the tutelage of Palace's Patrick Vieira, and even earned his first senior England cap when he came on as a substitute in the 10-0 thrashing of San Marino in November.

It has not just been a case of him looking good among his team-mates at Palace. Gallagher actually stacks up well against most Premier League midfielders.

Only Arsenal's Emile Smith-Rowe and Bruno Fernandes of Manchester United (eight) have scored more this season than Gallagher's seven, while only Manchester City's Ilkay Gundogan has a higher expected goals rate (6.22) than Gallagher's 5.47, which is based on the quality of the chances for a player.

Like Mason, can Gallagher mount a challenge at Chelsea?

It is hard to ignore the fact that Gallagher's improvement this season has come under a manager who was one of the best midfielders in the world during his playing days in Vieira, much like Mount grew significantly while working under Frank Lampard both at Derby County and Chelsea.

Mount's is clearly the path that Gallagher should aim to tread. From being a promising youngster out on loan, he became an integral part of a European and world championship winning side.

Gallagher can take heart from the fact that Tuchel has already expressed his admiration, and the German has been happy to continue to give young players chances where he can, but it remains a place that Gallagher will have to earn.

Compared to Chelsea midfielders who have played more than five games this season, Gallagher measures well on chance creation, with only Mount (2.13) creating more per 90 minutes than his 1.61.

In terms of profile, Gallagher is certainly more in the mould of a Mount than any other of Chelsea's current midfielders. Both look to get forward whenever possible, and have more touches in the opposition box per 90 than any of the Blues' other options (Mount = 5.21, Gallagher = 3.07).

They also both have significantly more penalty box entries per 90 than any other Chelsea midfielder with over five Premier League appearances this term (Mount = 7.78, Gallagher = 5.22), with the next highest being Kante with 2.72, and a higher xG excluding penalties per 90 (Mount = 0.24, Gallagher = 0.27), with the next highest being Loftus-Cheek with 0.14.

The issue with Gallagher being so similar to Mount is that he'd likely find himself being in an either/or situation. Tuchel prefers to have two controlling players in his midfield three, usually two of Jorginho, Kante and Kovacic, so it seems unlikely he'd start Mount and Gallagher together very often.

It therefore seems like, should Tuchel indeed look to utilise him at Stamford Bridge next year, it will be Ross Barkley's place in the squad that Gallagher slots into, and the former Everton man has only made four starts in all competitions this season, two of which came in the EFL Cup.

The question then becomes one of whether Gallagher is happy with that role after two seasons of regular football in the Premier League and with an England spot to fight for ahead of the World Cup in November.

For the time being, it is not something that the player needs to focus on too much. He can simply enjoy the game time he is getting in south London and try to perform to the sort of levels that will give Tuchel a decision to make when planning for next season.

Four more teams begin their Champions League knockout-stage campaigns on Wednesday when Inter host Liverpool and Bayern Munich travel to Salzburg for the first leg of their last-16 ties.

The clash between European heavyweights Inter and Liverpool at San Siro could potentially be a landmark one for Reds boss Jurgen Klopp, who is one short of becoming the eighth coach – and the first German – to reach 50 wins in the competition.

Salzburg's meeting with Bayern will be a special occasion regardless as the Austrian Bundesliga champions are competing at this stage of the competition for the first time ever.

Bayern are unbeaten in their last 21 away games in the Champions League since September 2017 – the longest-such run in European Cup history – and they beat Salzburg by a combined 9-3 scoreline in last term's group-stage meetings.

With the help of Opta, Stats Perform picks out some of the best of the numbers ahead of Wednesday's pair of last-16 ties.

Inter v Liverpool

Each of the four previous encounters between Inter and Liverpool have come in the knockout rounds of the European Cup and Champions League. Inter advanced over two legs in the 1964-65 semi-finals en route to being crowned the kings of Europe, while Liverpool emerged victorious at this very stage in 2007-08.

Liverpool have won their last two away games against Italian opposition in European competition – just one win fewer than they managed in their previous 14 such encounters – after beating Atalanta in 2020-21 and Milan earlier this season 

Inter have been eliminated from two of their three two-legged knockout ties against English opponents since the Champions League changed format in 2003-04, losing to Liverpool in 2007-08 and Manchester United in 2008-09, before eliminating Chelsea in 2009-10.

The Nerazzurri have won their last two Champions League home matches, which is one more than they managed in their previous nine between November 2018 and September 2021. However, not since between December 2009 and November 2010 – a run of seven victories – have they won three in a row in San Siro in the competition.

Mohamed Salah is in line to make his 50th Champions League appearance for Liverpool. The Egypt international has scored 32 goals in 49 games to date – only Cristiano Ronaldo (51 for Real Madrid) and Robert Lewandowski (36 for Bayern Munich) have ever netted more as of their 50th game for a single club.

Inter will hope Edin Dzeko can continue his good record against Liverpool, having netted in each of his past three meetings with them, scoring once for Manchester City in 2015 and twice for Roma in the semi-finals of this competition in 2017-18. 

Salzburg v Bayern Munich

Bayern are facing Austrian opposition in the knockout stages of a European competition for the fourth time. The German giants have advanced on each of the previous three occasions – against Rapid Vienna in the 1966-67 Cup Winners' Cup and Austria Vienna in successive European Cup campaigns in 1985-86 and 1986-87.

That does not bode well for Salzburg, who have won only one of their last six games against German teams in European competition, conceding 18 goals at an average of three per match. However, that solitary win did come in their most-recent home match – a 3-1 win over Wolfsburg in the group stage.

Julian Nagelsmann's side are one of only three teams with a 100 per cent record in the Champions League this term, along with Liverpool and Ajax. Only three sides prior to this campaign have ever won their first seven games of a Champions League campaign, with Bayern the most recent to do so three seasons ago.

Salzburg will be hoping to follow Atalanta, RB Leipzig (both in 2019-20) and Wolfsburg (2015-16) as only the fourth team to win their first game in the knockout stage of the Champions League.

Robert Lewandowski is set to make his 50th away appearance in UEFA's showpiece competition. The Bayern striker has scored 37 goals to date in those games, which is already the most of any player to have reached that landmark, three more than next-best Lionel Messi.

Lewandowski's 11 direct goal involvements in the group stage were the second-most of any player, behind Ajax's Sebastien Haller (12). Next on the list is team-mate Leroy Sane, who scored five and assisted four more in six appearances.

It's November 25, 2020. A young German winger stands on the touchline anxiously waiting to step on to the Allianz Arena pitch for his Champions League debut in his hometown.

But as he waits to be allowed on, there are people watching both on television and in the largely empty stands who know this isn't how it should've been.

Rather than wearing the all-red of Bayern Munich, Karim Adeyemi jogs on in the all-black of Salzburg with the Austrian champions 3-0 down.

A technically gifted and rapid forward, Adeyemi has long been considered one of Germany's most promising young players, having cost Salzburg a reported €3million when he was 16.

Adeyemi had left Bayern six years earlier. It's a detail that has dominated much of his early professional career, with questions about why he left never far away.

Now 20, Adeyemi has previously spoken at length about his attitude as a kid, how learning wasn't much to his liking and distraction was a regular nuisance to him. These factors certainly didn't help at Bayern.

Neither, Adeyemi alleged in the past, did the club, who he said showed little support to players who strayed from "the plan". The collective, rather than individualistic talents, was prioritised.

He and Bayern were simply not a good match at the time. He left Die Roten and, while such a disappointment might've been enough to derail other ordinary kids, Adeyemi has since proven he is rather extraordinary.

A move to a smaller local club, Unterhaching, soon followed. It was there that, according to youth coach Marc Unterberger, Adeyemi was able to develop with a greater degree of individual emphasis and that eventually translated into him becoming a better asset for the team as a whole.

"He had his own thoughts on how to deal with things," Unterberger told Stats Perform in 2021. "We never wanted to change him completely, and I think we succeeded quite well. Karim is a really great guy and a great person.

"Until the time Karim came to us, we had never had such an exceptional player in our youth division.

"Of course, as a young person, you benefit from being accepted for who you are, but I would like to make it very clear that there was no situation within the team in which Karim behaved in such a way that we as a club were forced to act.

"On the contrary, over time he developed more and more towards putting himself at the service of the team. He was easily distracted, that's right, but let's be honest, something like this is normal when young people develop."

Unterberger arguably knows Adeyemi better than any other coach, given he was there for the youngster's entire six-year stay at Unterhaching.

"I can still remember it very well, the first time I saw him play in an Under-11 tournament," he recalled.

"Back then he was still playing for TSV Forstenried. My first thought was: 'We absolutely need this player'. Fortunately, it worked out later!"

That might be something of an understatement in reality. The €3m fee that Unterhaching received made him the most expensive Under-18 German player ever at the time, while 2019 saw him win the Fritz-Walter Gold Medal, an award handed out to Germany's best youth player. Previous winners include Timo Werner, Emre Can and Mario Gotze.

But most importantly, that move proved an unequivocal success for the player, as did his next.

Adeyemi confirmed to Stats Perform last year that he rejected the chance to join Chelsea from Unterhaching in his teens, instead opting to move just over the border to Salzburg. Had he gone to London, maybe he would've broken into their first-team – but it's probably just as likely that he'd have been lost among the Blues' army of loan players.

That's not to say loans can't work. Adeyemi's Salzburg career was carefully mapped out for him even before he joined, and that included an initial 18-month stint with Liefering, who essentially act as a B team. A haul of 15 goals and eight assists in the second tier provided strong evidence the teenager was ready for the step up in 2020.

His introduction to top-tier football wasn't quite so explosive, only having a hand in goals in six of his first 29 Austrian Bundesliga matches, but a key factor here was the need to remain patient – only nine of those 29 games were as a starter.

It wasn't until the final three months of 2020-21 that Adeyemi began to nail down a starting role, with seven of his 11 starts coming between mid-February and the end of May. This period also yielded six of his seven league goals.

This proved the final push he needed – with Patson Daka leaving for Leicester City, Adeyemi went from being the forwards' supporting act to the leading man in attack.

As you'd expect, this led to a bit of a change in his role, but there's no doubt he's thriving, securing his first senior international cap in September and finding himself linked heavily with Borussia Dortmund.

 

Sure, chance creation frequency is down (2.7 per 90, to 1.6), but the pay-off in terms of his effectiveness in front of goal is more than worth it.

His 14 goals is a league high, while only Kelvin Yeboah (11.2) – who has since joined Genoa – can better Adeyemi's 10.1 non-penalty expected goals (np-xG). Though on a per-90-minute basis, Adeyemi ranks first in the division with 0.72 np-xG (minimum 650 minutes played).

But it would be doing Adeyemi a huge disservice to give the impression he's 'just' some poacher. He's an immensely exciting player characterised by his explosive pace, low centre of gravity and silky ability on the ball. Yeboah (21) is the sole forward with more carries leading to shots and chances created than Adeyemi (21), though the Ghanaian's total comes from nearly 300 minutes more on the pitch.

It's a similar story in the Champions League. His carries led to a combined total of eight shots and chances created in the group stage – the only Opta-defined strikers to better that were Kylian Mbappe, Cristiano Ronaldo (both nine) and Arnaut Danjuma (14).

 

Even if it's reductive to just look at that metric, there's no doubt his performances have translated to European football's biggest stage – Sevilla's Diego Carlos will have been hoping to never see the youngster again after terrorising the Brazilian in the group.

Adeyemi's displays were a major factor in Salzburg reaching the knockouts of the Champions League for the first time in their history.

It would be a truly inspirational tale were it to be him, the young Bavarian cast-off, who plotted Bayern's downfall this time.

In 2019 there were murmurings of fan frustration at Wolves after the club allowed a couple of young Portuguese players leave Molineux.

Joao Dias had not made much of an impression in the Midlands, and so his exit to Famalicao – who had just been promoted to the Portuguese Primeira Liga for the first time since the early 1990s – was not a huge shock, but the fact his compatriot Pedro Goncalves went as well did stir some modest disgruntlement.

Granted, Goncalves – who turned 21 just a few days earlier – had never even been on the senior team's bench for a league game, but many of those who watched the club's Under-23s felt there was sure to be a rotational role, at least, up for grabs.

A report by The Athletic last year claimed Wolves allowed Goncalves to depart for a combination of reasons.

For starters, they were apparently unconvinced – despite his obvious talent – there was a role available for the attacking midfielder, given Nuno Espirito Santo at the time played with a fairly set deep-lying midfield and two wingers.

Additionally, it was reportedly felt a loan might not be in Goncalves' best interests because the possibility of a recall offered him a safety net – instead, he was sold for a small initial figure that would be boosted by percentages of his next two transfers fees.

But ahead of Sporting CP's Champions League last-16 clash with Manchester City on Wednesday, it's difficult to not think Wolves dropped the ball with this one.

The move to Famalicao wasn't as random a destination as it might've looked, however. The club's rise from obscurity was influenced massively by 'super agent' Jorge Mendes, who also has an interest in Wolves and Valencia, where Goncalves – or, Pote – initially played youth football prior to his brief stint in England.

Nevertheless, Goncalves quickly established himself at the Primeira Liga newcomers, the talents that were perhaps undervalued at Wolves coming to the fore. He wasted little time before showing his array of skills, from close ball control and deft throughballs, to clever lurking and instinctive finishing – his very first goal against Pacos Ferreira was a fine example of the latter two traits, as he held his run to create space and that ensured the pressure on him was minimal as he buried a rebound from 12 yards.

This Famalicao side had an emphasis on young players, and that youthful vibrancy helped propel them to a sixth-placed finish – Goncalves more than played his part, scoring five times and setting up another five.

Sporting were on the hunt for a replacement for Bruno Fernandes at the end of 2019-20, having seen their talisman and captain depart for Manchester United a few months earlier. Little could they have known the remarkable – bordering on freakish – campaign Goncalves would go on to have after arriving for roughly €5million.

And more importantly than his individual numbers, Goncalves' efforts helped Sporting achieve something even Fernandes couldn't: becoming Portuguese champions. Their Primeira Liga title success last term was their first since 2001-02, finally ending the dominance of their bitter rivals Porto and Benfica, who had won the previous 18 championships between them.

There's little doubt Goncalves was vital in their conquest.

He led the league's scoring charts with 23, only two of those coming from the spot. But what makes that haul even more incredible is the fact his chances (excluding penalties) were only worth 9.98 expected goals (xG). Of course, such form is hardly sustainable over the long term (we'll come to that later), but Goncalves was lethal on an unrivalled scale.

That gave him an xG overperformance of 11.02 – the next best record in that respect in the Primeira Liga was Toni Martinez, who scored seven times from 2.99 xG.

In fact, no one in the top five leagues got near that kind of efficiency. Marcos Llorente boasted the best record over those competitions (8.59 xG overperformance). Of course, Goncalves was playing in a division regarded as being lower in quality, but it still highlights just how abnormal his season was.

Don't get the idea that Goncalves suddenly became a poacher, though. Only one player (Ivo Rodrigues, four) bettered his three goals from outside the area, and he also remained a creative presence.

Sure, his three assists was hardly gobsmacking, but only Jesus Corona (68) and Ryan Gauld (75) laid on more chances than Pote (51), while his 6.8 expected assists (xA) was also the third-highest – the differential between his assists and xA potentially down to poor finishing by team-mates.

His output of six league goals from 17 games this season effectively proves the unsustainability of his productivity last term, but that's not to say he's playing worse – in fact, in many areas he proving even more threatening.

His non-penalty xG per game is up to 0.43 from 0.33, he is laying on more chances (1.9 up from 1.7) and his xA is also up on a per-90-minute basis (0.27 from 0.22).

He missed the dramatic 2-2 draw with Porto at the weekend through injury but has been back in training since, a massive boost to coach Ruben Amorim.

While even he may not be enough to stop the juggernaut that is Manchester City, his presence will certainly make progression a little less implausible.

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