When the Champions League last-16 draw took place in December, Paris Saint-Germain versus Manchester United looked set to be the headline fixture.

However, a technical fault resulted in a re-draw, dashing hopes – at least at this stage – of seeing Lionel Messi take on Cristiano Ronaldo.

Instead, we get to take in Messi vs Real Madrid. All in all, it's not a bad trade-off.

There are plenty of side stories to assess heading into Tuesday's first leg in Paris. Will Neymar be back fit in time? What will Sergio Ramos think if he has to sit out the game injured? How about Kylian Mbappe going up against the side for whom he seems destined to sign at the end of the season?

Messi, though, is used to making headlines against Madrid, of course, and the Barcelona great will surely be relishing the chance to renew these particular hostilities.

Clasico rivalry reignited 

It would be fair to say Messi has had something of a stuttering start to his PSG career, with the fearsome trio of the 34-year-old, Mbappe and Neymar having not quite clicked into full gear – indeed, the latter has missed a good chunk of the season through injury while Messi has had spells out and has also contracted COVID-19.

Messi netted 38 goals and contributed 12 assists in 47 games in his final season at Barcelona, striking every 110 minutes on average.

So far at PSG, he has only scored two Ligue 1 goals (one every 536 minutes), while his shot conversion rate is a measly 3.9 per cent from 51 attempts in total. His other five strikes have all come in the Champions League, at a rate of one every 90 minutes.

The Argentina star has provided seven assists from 44 chances created in the French top flight, with his creativity still evident even if he is playing in a slightly different role to that which he fulfilled in his final seasons at Barca.

But, what of Messi's record against Madrid?

He scored 672 goals in 778 matches across all competitions for the Blaugrana, and 26 (roughly four per cent) of those came in Clasicos. Of his 266 assists, 13 were provided against Madrid.

In total, Messi has played 45 times against Los Blancos, accumulating 3,940 minutes, directly contributing to a goal every 101 minutes.

Messi has celebrated victory on 19 occasions, tasted defeat 15 times and scored two hat-tricks. However, he failed to find the net in any of his final five Clasico appearances.

Magic moments

One of Messi's hat-tricks came in a thrilling Clasico in March 2014. With their title hopes on the line, Barca came from behind twice before finally prevailing 4-3 at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Messi, then 26, assisted Andres Iniesta's opener before scoring once from open play and twice from the penalty spot (indeed, Messi has converted all six of the penalties he has taken against Los Blancos) after Karim Benzema and Ronaldo had netted for Madrid.

His first hat-trick came in 2006-07 when, at the age of 19, he salvaged a 3-3 draw with an injury-time equaliser.

Other highlights include a stunning free-kick in the 2012 Supercopa de Espana, though it was ultimately fruitless as Madrid went on to claim victory. Later that year, Messi scored twice in a 2-2 draw, dispatching another wonderful free-kick, with Ronaldo grabbing both of Madrid's goals as that rivalry headed into its peak years.

In 2008-09, Messi scored twice and set up another in a 6-2 rout of Madrid, one of Pep Guardiola's finest moments as his Barca side stormed to six trophies in a year, while in 2010-11, Messi directly contributed to all five of the Blaugrana's goals across two legs in a Supercopa triumph.

He scored a supreme solo goal in a 2-0 Champions League victory in April 2011, with Barca going on to win the trophy that season and six years later, Messi netted twice in a 3-2 victory in LaLiga.

His second, a dramatic winner with the final kick of the game, was his 500th Barca goal and resulted in one of the most famous celebrations of all time, with Messi holding up his shirt to taunt Madrid's fans.

While the 2021-22 vintage of Messi has not yet hit – and indeed is unlikely ever to hit – the same heights of his Barca prime, Tuesday's fixture is another chance for him to haunt Madrid

.

Liverpool responded to Manchester City's thrashing of Norwich by recording a hard-fought 1-0 win at Burnley.

Fabinho struck the only goal in the first half, as the Reds continued their fine set-piece record on a day when set-plays proved decisive across the Premier League.

Elsewhere, Raul Jimenez starred as Wolves leapfrogged Tottenham with a shock 2-0 win, and Newcastle continued their revival with a 1-0 win over Aston Villa, thanks to Kieran Tripper's free-kick.

The final game of the day saw West Ham rescue a dramatic 2-2 draw at Leicester City, with Craig Dawson netting a stoppage-time equaliser.

Burnley 0-1 Liverpool: Reds reap rewards of set-piece focus

Liverpool did not produce a vintage performance, but Jurgen Klopp's men kept leaders Manchester City on their toes by earning a vital away win.

The Reds had to work hard for the three points against Burnley at Turf Moor. After managing 27 shots, nine attempts on target and 50 touches in Burnley's penalty area in the reverse fixture at Anfield last August, Liverpool had just over half as many touches in Burnley's 18-yard box this time (26), managing 12 shots in total and just four on target.

However, Klopp's men dug deep to find a winning goal, and did so courtesy of their fantastic set-piece record. Excluding penalties, 14 of Liverpool’s 61 Premier League goals this season have come via set-pieces, more than any other team and more than the tally they recorded in the top-flight last term (13).

Fabinho's winning goal also means he has scored more goals in his last seven matches (five) than he managed in his first 142 appearances for Liverpool in all competitions (four).

Meanwhile, the Anfield outfit also maintained their record of having won each of their games in which the Brazilian has netted for the club, with that run now reaching eight matches.

Tottenham 0-2 Wolves: Jimenez proves decisive at Spurs once again

It was Wolves, rather than Tottenham, who asserted their top-four credentials by recording a huge win in north London, with Jimenez and Leander Dendoncker firing the visitors to a 2-0 win.

Mexican striker Jimenez has now scored in each of his last three Premier League appearances away at Spurs (three goals), with Wolves winning each of those contests.

Indeed, Jimenez has now scored four times in six appearances against Tottenham, and has only scored more Premier League goals against Southampton and Everton (five).

For Antonio Conte's Spurs, the defeat was their third Premier League reverse in succession, and they also lost three consecutive league games under Nuno Espirito Santo in September 2021. This marks the first time they have had multiple three-match losing games in a Premier League campaign since 2004-05 (also two).

Newcastle 1-0 Aston Villa: Another free-kick continues Toon revival

Newcastle's clash with Aston Villa was not exactly one for the purists, featuring the third-lowest expected goals tally of the entire Premier League season so far, but Tripper ensured that it was a memorable day for the Magpies.

Trippier's 35th-minute free-kick was enough to see off Steven Gerrard's men in a contest where both teams created just 0.5 xG apiece.

Remarkably, Newcastle have now scored a direct free-kick goal in each of their last three Premier League games (Jonjo Shelvey at Leeds, followed by Trippier against Everton and Aston Villa), becoming the first side to do so since Liverpool in December 2013.

In a game of fine margins, the England right-back showed the quality that he brings to the Magpies' relegation fight, and he is now the first Newcastle player to score direct free-kick goals in consecutive Premier League games since Hugo Viana did so in May 2003.

Manchester United's inability to take their chances came back to bite them once more as they were held to a 1-1 draw by Southampton on Saturday.

Che Adams struck early in the second half to cancel out Jadon Sancho's opener at Old Trafford.

In the 3pm GMT kick-offs, Everton ended a six-match winless streak in the Premier League as Frank Lampard oversaw a vital 3-0 win over Leeds United at Goodison Park, while Watford were beaten by Brighton and Hove Albion and Brentford drew 0-0 with Crystal Palace.

Later, league leaders Manchester City moved 12 points clear at the top with a 4-0 thrashing of strugglers Norwich City at Carrow Road.

Manchester United 1-1 Southampton: Rangnick's right, but that won't get the Red Devils points

Ralf Rangnick may have risked the wrath of some pundits after bringing up expected goals in his post-match comments, but the interim manager is correct – his side are creating plenty of chances without putting them away.

United finished the game with 12 shots to Southampton's 13, but an xG of 2.6 to the visitors' 0.9.

 

Nevertheless, for only the second time in their Premier League history, United have failed to win back-to-back matches despite being ahead at half-time in both, having last done so in December 1998.

Across their 10 top-flight games under Rangnick, meanwhile, they have averaged fewer goals per game than they have under any other manager in Premier League history (1.4).

United are at least unbeaten in their last 12 Premier League games against Southampton (W5 D7) since a 1-0 home loss in January 2016, while having only scored two goals in his first 23 appearances for the club in all competitions, Sancho has since netted two in his last three.

Brentford 0-0 Crystal Palace: Bees stop the rot

Brentford ended a run of five straight Premier League defeats and registered a clean sheet for the first time in 12 top-flight games (since a 1-0 win over Everton on November 28), as they drew with Palace.

It was a match of few clear chances (there were only 15 shots in total), though Wilfried Zaha was convinced he should have been awarded a late penalty.

Zaha was making his 250th Premier League appearance for Crystal Palace, just the third African player to hit that milestone for a single club in the competition, after Shola Ameobi (294 for Newcastle) and Didier Drogba (254 for Chelsea).

Everton 3-0 Leeds United: Lampard up and running

Lampard claimed his first league win as Everton manager in style, as the Toffees snapped a four-match losing streak in the competition with an emphatic 3-0 win over Leeds.

Everton went 2-0 up before half-time through Seamus Coleman's first league goal in 69 games, since May 2019, and Michael Keane's 10th goal in the top flight for the club.

 

Both of those were headers and no team have now scored more headed Premier League goals than Everton, who are level with United on 336.

It was the first time Everton scored twice before half-time in 40 Premier League games, last doing so one year and nine days earlier against, coincidentally, Leeds at Elland Road.

Anthony Gordon diverted in Richarlison's shot to seal Everton's biggest Premier League win since a 5-2 victory over West Brom in September 2020.

Watford 0-2 Brighton and Hove Albion: No home comforts for the Hornets

Watford have now lost six consecutive home league games for the first time since August to October 1990, a run which also included a defeat to Brighton.

Neal Maupay and Adam Webster got the goals for Brighton, who have lost just one of their past 12 away games in the Premier League, all coming in 2021-22 (W4 D7) – no side has lost fewer away games in the top flight this term than the Seagulls.

Watford have not kept a clean sheet in any of their past 17 home Premier League matches, equalling the competition's record run without a home shut-out.

Roy Hodgson has taken on a big job, and Watford will want a favour from Aston Villa against Newcastle United on Sunday to remain within three points of safety.

Norwich City 0-4 Manchester City: Perfect Sterling hat-trick sees leaders storm on

City lost on their previous league trip to Carrow Road, but there appeared little danger of a shock this time around as Raheem Sterling's perfect hat-trick helped them to a 4-0 win.

Sterling became the third City player to score a perfect hat-trick in the Premier League, after Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero (twice). Meanwhile, no player has scored more away hat-tricks for the club in the competition than Sterling, with each of his last three coming on the road.

 

The ex-Liverpool attacker became the sixth City player to score as many as 10 headed goals in the Premier League, with only Aguero (19) and Niall Quinn (13) netting more.

City scored at least four goals in a Premier League away game for the 21st time under Pep Guardiola, at least eight more than any other side since the Catalan coach joined the club.

Norwich, meanwhile, have conceded 50 goals in their 24 Premier League games this season – only in 1938-39 (21) and 1946-47 (19) have they shipped 50 in fewer games in a single league campaign.

France and Ireland face off at the Stade de France on Saturday in a contest that may well determine exactly where the Six Nations title ends up next month.

Pre-tournament favourites France kicked off their campaign with a routine victory over Italy, while a much-fancied Ireland proved far too strong for reigning champions Wales.

Both sides picked up bonus points to lead the way at the top, setting up a mouth-watering encounter in the French capital as Ireland aim to stretch their nine-match winning run.

Wales have a chance to respond to last week's disappointment when they host a Scotland side who should be full of confidence following their Calcutta Cup win over England last time out.

The final match of the weekend takes place in Rome as perennial whipping boys Italy take on England with the aim of ending their long-running losing streak in the competition.

Ahead of the second round of fixtures, Stats Perform previews each match with help from Opta.

WALES v SCOTLAND

FORM

Wales have lost just two of their 11 home matches against Scotland in the Six Nations, though one of those losses did come in the last such meeting two years ago at Parc y Scarlets in Llanelli.

The last three encounters between the sides in the competition have been decided by a margin of seven points or fewer. Indeed, four of the last six clashes have seen the side losing at half-time come back to win the match.

Scotland are on their longest away winning streak in the championship, having won four on the spin – not since between 1925 and 1927 have they won five in a row on their travels. However, Wales have won nine of their last 11 Six Nations home matches.

ONES TO WATCH

Taine Basham was a rare shining light for Wales in their heavy loss to Ireland, the tournament debutant crossing over late on to prevent his side from losing to nil on a day to forget in Dublin. Basham also made 22 tackles, which is the most of any player on the opening weekend, missing none in the process.

A number of Scotland players impressed in the late win over England, not least Darcy Graham. The diminutive wing set up Ben White for the opening try, won the crucial turnover in injury time and beat six defenders – the most of any player in round one.

 


FRANCE v IRELAND

FORM

France and Ireland have played each other 100 times previously, with France victorious on 58 occasions, Ireland prevailing 35 times and seven games drawn. In the Six Nations, Les Blues edge the win record 11 to nine from their 22 previous encounters, the other two matches finishing level.

Ireland have lost their last two meetings with France in the competition, having been beaten in just one of the previous eight. Ireland's win rate of 41 per cent against Les Blues in the Six Nations is their lowest against any side.

After recovering to see off Italy last week, France are aiming to win their opening two Six Nations games for the third year in a row, this after managing it just twice in their previous eight campaigns.


ONES TO WATCH

France head coach Fabien Galthie, back involved after missing the Italy match with coronavirus, has put his faith in youth by handing Yoram Moefana his first Six Nations start. The 21-year-old impressed in his cameo role against Italy by playing a part in his side's last two tries.

Ireland will have to make do without injured skipper Johnny Sexton, who passed the 500-point mark in the Six Nations last week, so all eyes will be on Joey Carbery – the only change from the Wales game – at fly-half. The Munster number 10 is tasked with pulling the strings on his first tournament start.

 

ITALY v ENGLAND

FORM

England are the only side Italy have never managed to beat in the Six Nations, losing all 22 of their previous showdowns. England's 80-23 win in this fixture 21 years ago remains the most points scored and biggest winning margin in any fixture in the competition's history.

Italy have lost their last 33 matches in the competition – the longest losing streak by any team in the Five or Six Nations – in an unwanted run that stretches back to a win over Scotland in 2015.

Eddie Jones' visitors have lost their last two Six Nations matches, but only once over the last 15 editions have they lost three in a row, while not since 2005 have they lost their opening two games to a campaign.


ONES TO WATCH

Italy's Michele Lamaro (21 tackles) was one of just three players to make 20 or more tackles during the opening weekend, along with Basham (22) and Nick Tompkins (21). However, he also missed four tackles, which was the joint-most of any player, level with Dan Biggar.

Ben Youngs, who made the most kicks in play of any player in round one (17), is one of six players to make way for England. Should the experienced scrum-half make it off the bench, he will become England's joint-most capped player of all time alongside Jason Leonard with 114.

It took a 74th-minute goal from Marco Asensio for Real Madrid to see off Granada on Sunday, as Carlo Ancelotti's side capitalised on Sevilla's slip-up against Osasuna.

A 0-0 draw in Pamplona meant Madrid's victory saw them move six points clear of their nearest rivals in the title race. Both Los Blancos and Sevilla have played 23 games.

Ancelotti's team remain favourites to clinch the crown, though last week's defeat to Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey, and a previous 2-2 draw at home to Elche, showed they are far from infallible.

The former Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain boss made six changes for the Granada match (the most for Madrid from one game to another this season), which came hot on the heels of the defeat to Athletic, but by and large he has chosen to rely on a core group of players so far this term. 

However, with the return of the Champions League this month and LaLiga matches set to come thick and fast between now and May, might fatigue catch up with Madrid as the run-in approaches? 

The key performers

In total, 13 players have started 10 or more of Madrid's league matches. Of the teams placed second to fifth in LaLiga, Atletico Madrid (15) and Real Betis (14) have had more players start at least 10 games, while Barcelona and Sevilla have both used fewer (11) from the off.

Thibaut Courtois, unsurprisingly, has played in every top-flight game. He has kept eight clean sheets (five goalkeepers in LaLiga have kept more) and recorded a save percentage of 74.4 – among goalkeepers with at least 16 saves, only two have a better record than the Belgian.

 

He has played 2,070 minutes, conceding 20 times from 78 shots on target faced, while his expected goals on target (xGOT) conceded figure of 20.9 suggests he has not overly exceeded expectations when it comes to shot-stopping. Essentially, Courtois has conceded as many goals as would be expected given the quality of efforts he has faced.

Eder Militao has played (and started) 22 times, with David Alaba featuring on 21 occasions (also all starts). The defenders have accumulated 3,863 minutes between them in the league, and have contributed to the attack too, with seven direct goal involvements combined.

Karim Benzema has scored 17 goals from his 21 LaLiga appearances, while Vinicius Junior has been a real success story of Ancelotti's second spell so far. The Brazil winger has directly contributed to 17 goals in 1,694 minutes, averaging a goal or an assist every 99 minutes.

Fringe players to step up?

Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, Ferland Mendy, Asensio, Lucas Vazquez, Federico Valverde and Dani Carvajal have also reached double figures for league starts, while back-up options Rodrygo, Nacho Fernandez, Eden Hazard, Eduardo Camavinga, Isco and Luka Jovic have at least featured in a minimum of 10 games.

Hazard's time at Madrid has been plagued by injuries, but when called upon he has proved useful, creating 3.3 chances per 90 minutes played, which ranks highest out of the players to have played at least 25 minutes.

 

Isco's troubles from last season have continued but the playmaker still has guile and craft, with 2.4 chances created per 90 minutes suggesting he too can make an impact in the run-in. Gareth Bale, though, has made only three appearances in LaLiga, scoring just once, and it does not seem like he will be a man Ancelotti calls on too often even when fit.

With Vinicius suspended on Sunday, Ancelotti handed Rodrygo a chance to shine on the left flank. The youngster had three shots – second only to Asensio (eight) – but crafted just one goalscoring opportunity. Indeed, across his 18 LaLiga games this season, he is yet to score and has provided a solitary assist.

Jovic, meanwhile, has never hit the heights he previously did at Eintracht Frankfurt, though the Serbia forward does of course play second-fiddle to the evergreen Benzema. He has scored just one league goal from 12 substitute appearances this term.

Only Benzema and Vinicius have reached double figures for LaLiga goals so far in 2021-22, while the same pair are also the only Madrid players with five or more assists. Given the lack of end-product from his back-up brigade, it is no surprise Ancelotti wants to stick with the tried and tested.

But, has there been any drop-off?

Let's take a look at Madrid's most-used attackers in LaLiga this term, starting with Benzema.

The 34-year-old has kept scoring consistently through the season. However, despite being Madrid's top assister (seven), all of those came before the end of September.

There's an argument that his game time should have been managed better as well. Prior to the start of November, he completed the full 90 minutes of eight of Madrid's 10 league games – he clocked up 80 and 88 minutes in the other two.

Since that period, although he has technically only played a full league game four times, on two other occasions he played 89 minutes – it's worth noting that he was apparently suffering with his current muscular injury as far back as December and now appears a doubt for their upcoming Champions League clash with Paris Saint-Germain.

 

Vinicius, on the other hand, has been a consistent creator of chances, if not always providing assists. His last appearance, against Elche, saw him have 97 touches (his highest tally this season), craft four opportunities (his second-best effort of 2021-22) and engage in 25 duels, another season-high. He has registered over 1.0 xG twice in his last six games and against Elche attempted 13 dribbles, one shy of his season-best from August, showing his attacking output is not suffering as the season goes on.

As a team, Madrid have made seven, 12 and eight high turnovers across their last three league games respectively, up from a slight drop-off (five and three) in their previous two outings. Indeed, that figure of 12, achieved against Elche, is their highest of the campaign, suggesting any fatigue is not impacting Madrid's ability to press just yet.

If anything, Madrid are pressing more efficiently as the season has gone on. Their passes allowed per defensive action (PPDA – a metric that can quantify the extent and aggression of high presses) has dropped from an average of 19.6 in a six-game span between November 6 and December 12, to a median of 11.6 across the six fixtures since.

This is reflected by their high turnover total improving from 31 to 46. Madrid rank joint-10th in LaLiga for high turnovers (147), but no team has had more shots from such situations (37) and only two teams (Getafe and Celta Vigo, both on six) have scored more goals than Los Blancos (four) from these scenarios.

Ancelotti is not renowned for employing a high press, but when his team do hunt the ball in their opponent's territory, they continue to be highly efficient, a scary thought for their rivals.

Even if Madrid have relied on a select group of players more than others, they are not showing many signs of dropping off the pace.

 

You wait nearly three weeks for a Premier League matchday and then two arrive at once…

Reigning champions and leaders Manchester City head to strugglers Norwich City, while Liverpool visit the lowly Burnley after the Clarets earned a valuable point against Manchester United in midweek.

Ralf Rangnick's Red Devils face Southampton, who impressed with a comeback victory over Tottenham on Wednesday. Antonio Conte's side will hope to bounce back at home to Wolves.

Ahead of the action, Stats Perform uses Opta data to aid your fantasy football selection dilemmas.

JOSE SA (Tottenham v Wolves)

Wolves have become specialists in securing slender wins to propel them towards an unlikely qualification for European football.

Jose Sa has been central to the success of Bruno Lage's backline, saving 69 of the 86 shots on target he has faced – the best save percentage (80 per cent) in the Premier League of any goalkeeper to play at least five games.

While he will be tasked with keeping Son Heung-min and Harry Kane out, the Portugal goalkeeper could be good shout for some important save bonus points.

ANDREW ROBERTSON (Burnley v Liverpool)

Robertson is hardly a new phenomenon for the veteran fantasy football players, but the Scotland international has been sensational on the road for Liverpool.

The left-back has provided five assists in his last four top-flight away games and has six overall for the Reds on the road this season – the last player to assist more away from Anfield in the league was Danny Murphy (seven) in 2002-03.

With Burnley struggling at the top end of the pitch as well, the former Hull City man could be a likely source of clean-sheet points as well.

PHILIPPE COUTINHO (Newcastle United v Aston Villa)

Philippe Coutinho has starred under Steven Gerrard in his limited time as a loanee at Aston Villa, registering a goal and two assists against Leeds United on Wednesday.

That took the Brazil international's tally to four goal involvements (two goals, two assists) in his opening three league games for Villa, averaging a goal or an assist every 44 minutes.

Eddie Howe's Newcastle United are down in the relegation mix, so Coutinho remains a smart pick with many expecting goals galore at St. James' Park.

PATSON DAKA (Leicester City v West Ham)

Leicester City have endured a tough period under Brendan Rodgers, but Patson Daka has still been a standout performer for the Foxes.

The Zambian striker has found the net in four of his five home top-flight appearances and is providing previous fantasy favourite Jamie Vardy with some stiff competition.

Daka has scored on all three of his home league starts and could be the seventh Premier League player in history to do so in his first four if he can breach the West Ham defence on Sunday.

Australia were only crowned T20 World Cup champions in November, but their home series against Sri Lanka is the start of their preparations for a title defence.

The holders will host the next World Cup, which is to take place in October and November this year.

Meanwhile, a three-match T20 series against New Zealand planned for next month had to be scrapped due to COVID-19 concerns, but the immediate focus is on hosting Sri Lanka.

There has, of course, been plenty of off-field upheaval in the last week with coach Justin Langer resigning, but there is no better way for Australia to put that recent disturbance behind them and begin a new era than by consolidating their place at the pinnacle of the shortest format with a convincing series victory.

The series takes in five matches, starting in Sydney on Friday and also visiting Canberra and Melbourne.

Aaron Finch will be unable to call on two of his key performers from last year's World Cup run, with David Warner and Mitchell Marsh rested after their Ashes exploits.

That means that Ben McDermott has earned a recall, and Josh Inglis comes into the line-up at number three for a debut.

"The first series after the World Cup win, so it's really exciting to have a lot of new guys around the side as well and I guess quite a bit of pressure on after winning the World Cup," Finch told reporters.

"It does raise expectation. But we feel as though we've played some really good T20 cricket recently, so we're excited about that."

History on Australia's side

Australia have won their last five men's T20I matches against Sri Lanka, their longest active winning streak against any Test-playing nation in this format. 

Finch's team have also tasted victory in their last four T20Is. They last won more matches in a row in this format between February 2019 and February 2020, a streak of eight wins that included beating Sri Lanka on three occasions.

The series starts at the Sydney Cricket Ground, where Australia have won five of their eight men's T20I matches (L3).

However, these three losses have been suffered in their last five matches at this venue, and this will be the first time they take on Sri Lanka at the SCG.

But Sri Lanka have only one win from their previous four T20Is played away from home. They had won all four of their matches prior to this run in this format, though.   

Hazlewood and Zampa out to do the damage

Adam Zampa was a star of the World Cup and he has fine form against Sri Lanka, with no player having taken more wickets in this fixture than the spinner's 16. Indeed, he has more wickets in this format against Sri Lanka than any other team.

Pathum Nissanka and Charith Asalanka are two exciting batsmen for the tourists, but they will be up against a formidable bowling attack spearheaded by Test captain Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood. 

No player has more wickets during a powerplay in T20Is since the beginning of 2021 than Hazlewood, who has 14 dismissals to his name during this period.

Wanindu Hasaranga took 2-22 against Australia in Dubai and could be a dangerman, but Sri Lanka's fielding let them down last year. Indeed, since the start of 2021, they have a catch success rate of just 75 per cent in T20Is, the poorest of all the Test-playing nations.

Looking to take advantage of any sloppiness will be Finch. The Australia skipper has topped the scorecard 18 times in T20Is since the beginning of 2015, seven more occasions than any of his team-mates. In fact, only three players have a better record for their respective countries among Test-playing nations in the shortest format (Rohit Sharma – 23, Paul Stirling – 19 and Virat Kohli – 19).  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tottenham 2-3 Southampton: No home comforts for Conte

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is something about a homegrown player succeeding, especially at the top level.

Liverpool have had their fair share of local lads come through at Anfield in the last 30 years, such as Robbie Fowler, Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard.

It is one thing to force your way into the first team, but another altogether to do so and leave no doubt that you belong there for more than just your childhood postcode.

Since his debut in 2016, Trent Alexander-Arnold has established himself in a Liverpool team that has been enjoying as much success as any other in the last three decades.

It hasn't all been plain sailing though, and as recently as a year ago, he was the subject of fierce wider debate regarding whether he even deserved a place in the England squad.

Although not his first team debut, it was an unlikely start against Manchester United at Old Trafford in January 2017 that was the real beginning of his journey. The skinny teenager managed relatively well in the 1-1 draw under the circumstances.

It was just a taste, but in the following season he forced his way past the dependable Nathaniel Clyne to become the Reds' first choice right-back.

Clyne had many admirers at Anfield, but Jurgen Klopp wanted more from his full-backs and he knew Alexander-Arnold's mouldable talent and potential was worth persevering with.

He has since emerged as one of the finest right-backs of his generation, which is quite an achievement given he played in midfield at youth level, only being moved to his current position in order to find an easier route into the first team.

Alexander-Arnold was starting a Champions League final at the age of 19, before lifting Europe's greatest prize a year later, and winning the Premier League a year after that.

His corner taken quickly to Divock Origi in the 4-0 win against Barcelona in the Champions League and his goals against Chelsea and Leicester City in Liverpool's march to the title the following year showed he was far from an also-ran in arguably Europe's best team.

At the age of 21, the Merseyside maestro had a medal haul that would make most retired players jealous.

His ability to be a prominent part of Liverpool's attack under Klopp from right-back has mostly been unquestioned, with his delivery from dead balls and in open play often compared to former England captain David Beckham.

However, it was Alexander-Arnold's international career, or lack thereof, that began the debate about his true level.

England are blessed with a solid selection of right-backs, with Kieran Trippier and Kyle Walker often preferred by Three Lions boss Gareth Southgate, and Reece James and Tariq Lamptey threatening to be further future competition.

While the 23-year-old is not always the most resolute of defenders, it does sometimes feel as though his mistakes are viewed with more scrutiny given how strong Liverpool's defence was between 2018 and 2020, particularly following the arrivals of Alisson and Virgil van Dijk.

The Reds conceded 38 goals in the league in 2017-18, followed by just 22 in 2018-19. They let in 33 the season after, though it must be noted 12 of those came after they had won the league and appeared to be in cruise control.

They were back up to 42 conceded in the league last season and their form had dropped off a cliff by the time Alexander-Arnold's performances were in the spotlight.

It was no ordinary campaign for Liverpool, though, who actually topped the league at Christmas only for injuries to centre-backs to catch up with them.

Van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip had all been sidelined for the remainder of the season, which meant midfield duo Fabinho and Jordan Henderson having to fill in. This was of course not only a step down for the defence, but also significantly weakened the midfield.

Temporary solutions were sought but results did not turn around until Klopp abandoned his usual tactics and resorted to putting two very inexperienced but large figures back there in Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams.

The knock-on effect for Alexander-Arnold as well as the rest of the team was that the usually well-oiled unit were thrown completely off course. The full-backs could not enjoy their usual freedom because the stand-in centre-backs either needed more support or were sat so deep that it would have ruined the shape to play as high as usual.

Liverpool were able to claw their way into the top four by the season's end, but Alexander-Arnold's output had been affected.

In 2018-19 in all competitions, he registered 15 assists and created 70 chances in 40 games, before getting the same number of assists and creating 109 chances in 49 games the next year.

However, in 2020-21, Alexander-Arnold managed just nine assists and 96 chances created in 45 games.

Was this just a dip as a result of the rest of the team going through a tricky patch, or a sign of his previous numbers simply being too high to maintain?

Alexander-Arnold has shown so far this season that it was indeed just a blip, as he has thrived again in a more stable Reds team, already achieving 15 assists in all competitions in just 26 games, as well as creating 71 chances and 15 big chances (whereby a team-mate would be expected to score), just four shy of the amount he created in the whole of last season.

He leads the Premier League for assists (10), while he has also created the second most chances (58) behind Manchester United's Bruno Fernandes (64) having played two games fewer, and has also played the most successful long balls of any outfield player (128).

Will he ever work as well for England? He has more than enough talent to do so but given his best performances at club level involve being creative from deep and roaming into midfield, which is not exactly possible in Southgate's compact 3-4-3 set-up with two holding midfielders, it seems unlikely for now.

As a normal lad from Liverpool whose dreams have come true, it seems unlikely that Alexander-Arnold will look beyond achieving more success for his boyhood club.

With the Reds still in four competitions this season, and a Champions League last-16 with Inter on the horizon, the Kop will only care about seeing even more world-class performances arrive from the man they cheerfully remind us all is the Scouser in their team.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Newcastle are in trouble – BS

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

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

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

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

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

Why Everton are in trouble – PR

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

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

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

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

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

Why Newcastle can survive – BS

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

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

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

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

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

Why Everton can survive – PR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The trophies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The rivalries

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

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

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

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

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

The goals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Serie A returns this weekend, the standout fixture is the Milan derby. And this isn't just any Milan derby.

Champions Inter are setting the pace, with 16 wins and just one defeat in 22 games. They are the top scorers in the division, with 53; they have the most points, with 53. The league's second-best goalscorers are their city rivals, who are only four points behind, albeit having played a game more.

With Juventus having slipped from their perch, Milan and Inter have become Italy's trendsetters once more. They are the leading exponents of Serie A's modern trend: that of shunning catenaccio in favour of front-foot, attacking football. And, with all due respect to second-place Napoli, they are undoubtedly the favourites to occupy the top two places come the end of the season.

All this means Saturday's clash at San Siro should be one to savour...

 

'BORING, BORING SERIE A...'

Matchday 21 of Serie A saw 39 goals scored across only 10 matches. In Europe's top five leagues in 2021-22, only matchday 14 of the Bundesliga (41 goals) and matchday nine of the Premier League (40) produced more goals across a set of fixtures.

That was no aberration, either. Of the 10 highest-scoring matchdays in Europe's big five leagues this term, five have come from Italy. Indeed, Serie A has been averaging over three goals a game for the past three seasons, a rate last seen 70 years ago.

It follows that the two teams best embracing that trend are competing for the Scudetto. Not only have Inter (53) and Milan (47) scored the most Serie A goals in 2021-22, but they have embraced a style that lends itself to creating as many opportunities as possible.

Milan (eight) and Inter (seven) are the teams with the most goals after an open-play sequence of 10 or more passes. When it comes to open-play shots, the Nerazzurri are second (274) and the Rossoneri fourth (265) in the division.

Interestingly, while Inter are top for expected goals (excluding penalties) with 40.9, Milan are down in eighth on 31.3. That means Stefano Pioli's men are outperforming their non-penalty xG total by almost 11 goals (when own goals are included), a tally bettered only by Lazio (16.6). There's a ruthlessness about them this season that's keeping them on Inter's coattails.

 

RELEASE THE HAKAN

Speaking of ruthless... boy, would Zlatan love to be involved in this.

A Scudetto winner with each club, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has great history in this fixture, with eight goals in league derbies (six for Milan and two for Inter). In the history of the fixture, only Giuseppe Meazza (12), Gunnar Nordahl (11) and Stefano Nyers (11) have scored more.

The 40-year-old scored twice in Milan's 2-1 derby victory in October 2020, the only one of the past 11 in the league in which the Rossoneri have come out on top. Unfortunately for them, injury has denied Ibrahimovic the chance of dealing further damage to his old employers.

Instead, the sub-plot burden falls on Hakan Calhanoglu, who made an acrimonious free transfer to Inter from Milan at the end of last season. His 32 goals and 42 assists in 174 appearances for Milan – he was top of the charts for both in his time at the club – made his move particularly painful to bear for supporters.

It was Calhanoglu who scored Inter's goal in the 1-1 draw in the reverse fixture this season, meaning Milan could become the third side, after Chievo and Fiorentina, against whom the Turkey star has scored in his first two Serie A meetings.

Among Serie A midfielders this season, only Antonio Candreva (59) has created more chances than Calhanoglu (50), while his 13 direct goal involvements are second only to Sergej Milinkovic-Savic (15). Not that Milan needed any reminders about his threat.

 

DERBY DAZE

Inter have won more games (67) and scored more goals (247) against Milan than any other team in Serie A history. They are also enjoying a run of six wins and only one defeat in the past 11 derbies, in which time their rivals have kept just a single clean sheet.

Since that loss to Milan in October 2020, Simone Inzaghi's side have gone 28 home league matches without defeat. This is their longest such run in the competition since a 46-match streak between April 2008 and November 2010, which was ended by a defeat in the derby courtesy of a goal from, yep, Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Form, as well as recent history, is on Inter's side. Since the beginning of last season, they have lost only four of 60 Serie A matches – fewer than half the number of any other team (Atalanta are next best, with nine). In a league table of that time frame, Inter would sit top on 144 points, 16 clear of Milan in second.

 

HALF-MEASURES

Each of these teams is averaging more than two goals per game this season, they have both scored in 21 different league matches and they have each won by two goals on six different occasions. Again, it's safe to expect some attacking football.

If you want specifics, we would suggest not going anywhere midway through the first half. The average times at which Inter and Milan have scored and conceded the first goal in a game this season are between the 27th and 38th minutes. Best wait until the break before grabbing that espresso.

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

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

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

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

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

Wales set England's record in their sights

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

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

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

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

Can France finally strike gold?

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Time for Scotland to step out of the shadows?

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

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

 

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

England and Ireland out to prove their quality

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

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

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

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

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

 

Italy just making up the numbers?

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

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

The 2022 Six Nations campaign begins with a mouth-watering contest between defending champions Wales and a well fancied Ireland side at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Saturday. 

Wales won the championship for a sixth time last March, narrowly missing out on a Grand Slam with defeat to France in their final game, but they enter this year's tournament as outsiders in the eyes of many.

Much like Ireland, France will be eyeing top spot after going 12 years since their most recent triumph – Les Bleus' longest-such run since joining the Five Nations in 1947 – with their campaign beginning at home to an Italy side without a win in 32 games in the competition.

A relatively inexperienced England side do battle with perennial dark horses Scotland at Murrayfield for the Calcutta Cup, meanwhile, with the hosts looking to record back-to-back wins in this fixture for the first time since 1984.

Ahead of the opening round, Stats Perform previews the upcoming matches with help from Opta.


IRELAND v WALES

FORM

Ireland have won four of their last five meetings with Wales, though their solitary defeat in that run came in the most recent match between the sides in last year's Six Nations when going down 21-16.

Wales have lost their last four away games against Ireland, their worst-such run since losing four in a row between 2002 and 2006, but never before have they lost five in a row away to Ireland.

Ireland have won 27 of their last 29 Tests at the Aviva Stadium, including their last six in a row, with their only defeats coming against England in 2019 and France in 2021 – both in the Six Nations.


ONES TO WATCH

Johnny Sexton will win his 102nd international cap for Ireland this weekend and remains a key player for his country. The 36-year-old recorded the best goal kicking success rate of any player (minimum of three kicks) in last year's Six Nations, finding the target from 25 out of 26 (96 per cent).

Wales are without a long list of players due to injury, most notably skipper Alun Wyn Jones. It's set to be the first Six Nations the Dragons have played without Jones since 2006, with fly-half Dan Biggar being left with big shoes to fill in his first game as captain.

 

SCOTLAND v ENGLAND

FORM

Scotland have won five of their last six Test matches, with their solitary defeat in that run coming against the world champions South Africa in November.

England have won 15 of their last 18 Tests, including their last five in a row, although their three defeats in that spell all came in last year's Six Nations – just the fourth time they had lost more than twice in an edition of the tournament since 2000 (also lost three in 2005, 2006 and 2018).

This will be the 140th Test between the rival nations in a fixture that dates back to the first ever rugby international back in 1871. Scotland have won on 44 occasions, compared to 76 victories for England, with the other 19 ending all square.


ONES TO WATCH

Scotland have named a near-identical XV to the one that ended last year's Six Nations, Duhan van der Merwe among them. The British and Irish Lions wing beat 31 defenders in the 2021 edition, surpassing Brian O'Driscoll's record for the most in a single Six Nations (30 in 2000).

In the absence of Owen Farrell and Courtney Lawes, Tom Curry will captain England at the age of just 23, making him the youngest player to do so since Will Carling in 1988.

 

FRANCE v ITALY

FORM

France and Italy have met on 45 occasions, with Les Bleus winning 42 of those matches. That 93 per cent win rate is their highest against any nation they have faced more than five times.

Italy have lost 23 of their last 24 away games with France in Test rugby, including their last 14 in a row. The Azzurri's only victory in France came in Grenoble in 1997.

France have won 12 of their last 13 Test matches at home, although their solitary defeat in that run came in their most recent Six Nations game against Scotland. They have not trailed at half-time in a home game since February 2018, going into the break ahead (17 times) or level (twice) in each of their last 19 such games.

ONES TO WATCH

Captain and recently crowned World Rugby Player of the Year Antoine Dupont will be looking to pick up from where he left off in 2021. He was directly involved in eight tries during the last Six Nations, more than any other player, scoring three and assisting a Championship-high five.

Sebastian Negri made 64 carries and 68 tackles during the 2021 tournament, his combined tally of 132 carries and tackles being the second most of any player in the Championship, behind only Taulupe Faletau (140). Italy could do with more of the same here to help avoid another loss.

 

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