It's nearly four years since Didier Deschamps became only the third man to win the World Cup as a player and coach, as he guided France to their second success on football's grandest stage.

The target now for Les Bleus is to become the first nation since Brazil in 1962 to retain their crown, and that journey begins on Friday with the draw for the group stage of Qatar 2022.

Four years is a long time to wait for anything, but the draw for the World Cup is always a milestone event that sees the anticipation taken up a notch.

The eyes of the football world will be on the Doha Exhibition and Convention Center, where the eight groups will be drawn and potential routes to December's finale can start being plotted.

But there is a little more to the draw than that…

 

How will the draw work?

Most of us have seen a draw and understand the general premise, but there's a lot of detail to consider before we end up with our completed group stage.

For starters, Friday's draw (19:00 local time) will only include 29 qualified teams, with the other three spots to consist of a couple of intercontinental play-off slot placeholders and one UEFA play-off slot placeholder, with those nations to be determined later in the year.

The qualified teams will be sorted into four pots of eight, with their FIFA world ranking determining which they enter – joining Qatar in pot one will be the top seven teams, while the nations ranked eight-15 will be in pot 2, and so on. The three play-off slot placeholders will be drawn from pot four.

There will also be eight pots representing the groups, A to H. Each group pot contains four balls with position numbers, ranging from one to four, which correspond to the teams' respective starting position in the tables and subsequently impact their fixture schedule.

Team pot one will be the first to empty, with Qatar automatically drawn into slot A1. The other sides from pot one will go straight into position one of the remaining groups.

From then on, a ball is drawn from a team pot and followed by one from a group pot, determining that team's position – for example, the second nation drawn into Group A could be placed in slot A4. The process continues until each team pot is emptied, with pot four the last to be drawn.

Where possible, no group will contain more than one team from the same qualification zone, with the exception of Europe – so anyone hoping for an encounter like Brazil v Uruguay will have to wait for the knockout stage.

Thursday's release of the latest world rankings confirmed the make-up of the respective pots, so, without any further ado, let's take a look through them…

The Pots

Pot One:

Qatar (hosts)
Brazil
Belgium
France
Argentina
England
Spain
Portugal

 

Pot Two:

Denmark
Netherlands
Germany
Mexico 
USA
Switzerland
Croatia
Uruguay

Pot Three:

Senegal
Iran
Japan
Morocco
Serbia
Poland
South Korea
Tunisia

 

Pot Four:

Cameroon
Canada
Ecuador
Saudi Arabia
Ghana
Intercontinental play-off placeholder 1 
Intercontinental play-off placeholder 2
UEFA play-off placeholder

Luck of the draw!

It goes without saying that, theoretically, being in pot one means you would be favourites to win your group. But that's the beauty of football; practically anything can happen once you're on the pitch.

If we look back to the last World Cup four years ago, defending champions Germany were top of the FIFA rankings and in pot one, but then failed to get through the group stage for the first time ever.

 

But just as being in a higher pot is no guarantee of going deep into the tournament, who's to say how eventual 2018 champions France would have fared had they been in pot two?

Les Bleus were ranked seventh at the time so squeezed into pot one ahead of Spain. While that arguably gave them a trickier route to the final in the knockout phase, perhaps the tests posed by Argentina, Uruguay and Belgium were what kept them sharp all the way to the end?

This time around, Spain do appear in pot one. Portugal do as well, with Fernando Santos' men benefiting in that regard from European champions Italy's shock absence.

Nevertheless, there are some powerful teams in pot two. The Netherlands and Germany are undoubtedly the pick of the bunch there, both of whom will provide a stern test for any of the teams in pot one. Brazil v Die Mannschaft in the group stage, anyone?

There's a chance we could even see a repeat of the 2018 final in the group stage, with Croatia (pot two) able to come up against France in the opening round, while an England v United States showdown would surely capture the imagination of fans on both sides of 'the pond'.

We can expect to see plenty of quality in pot three as well, especially with Serbia, Robert Lewandowski's Poland and African champions Senegal present.

Among those in pot four are Canada. They may only be competing in their second World Cup and first since 1986, but John Herdman's team have won plenty of admirers en route to winning the CONCACAF qualifying section and reaching a record high of 33rd in the rankings.

 

Excitement, expectations and exoduses as Ronaldo and Messi look likely to bow out

Whether watching football on TV or from the stands, it can often be easy to forget that our heroes are just ordinary people as well. They are individuals who in all likelihood had the same hopes and dreams as many of us as children.

The glitz and glamour surrounding professional football can lead us to put footballers on a pedestal, but behind the sport's shiny facade, our teams are made up of – and coached by – people who are just as obsessed with the idea of the World Cup as anyone else.

England manager Gareth Southgate encapsulated the excitement earlier this week, as he said: "[The World Cup evokes] a different sort of feeling, but it's still a tournament we all watched as kids, we all filled our wallcharts out, we all hoped and followed when England were there that we would do well. And it's a unique chance to make history, so that of course is massively exciting."

Of course, that innocent excitement harbours expectation and hope for many, for others there will be a feeling of responsibility to amend the wrongs of the past.

This time around, that's arguably truest when looking at Germany, with Manuel Neuer fully appreciating he may not get another opportunity to put things right.

"I know that I will probably not get to play many more World Cups, so after crashing out in 2018 in Russia and our exit against England [at Euro 2020], it's important that we show a new version of ourselves and visualise success," the experienced goalkeeper said.

That finality Neuer alluded to is another key aspect of the World Cup. Given the four-year cycle of the tournament, every time we bid a fond farewell to a few greats of the game who opt to take advantage of the cyclical nature and end their international careers.

 

This time it looks as though Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo – who for so long battled out their own personal 'Greatest of All-Time' rivalry – may be among those appearing on the World Cup stage for the last time.

"Goal achieved, we're at the Qatar World Cup. We're in our rightful place!" Ronaldo's Instagram post after Portugal's play-off success focused on the positive, but at 37, Qatar 2022 will surely be his final appearance at the tournament.

As for Messi, he said last week: "I don't know, the truth is I don't know. Let's hope [Argentina's preparations] go the best way possible. But for sure after the World Cup many things will change."

Exoduses after major international tournaments are common as teams reset or rebuild, but given what Messi and Ronaldo have represented on the pitch and the fact they've appeared at each of the previous four World Cups, their appearances at Qatar 2022 need to be savoured.

It all begins with Friday's draw, when narratives and talking points that'll live longer than any of us will start to take shape with the unscrewing of a few shiny plastic balls.

It's almost taken for granted that the best players in football appear at the biggest tournament of them all, the World Cup.

But look a little closer, and we can see that is just not the case. Every four years there are a handful of big names who miss out, usually those born to countries without the same footballing pedigree as the likes of Brazil, Argentina and Spain.

There are even countless greats who, down the years, have failed to register a single appearance at a World Cup finals. Either they've been something of an anomaly in terms of the quality available to their country at a given time, injury has struck, or the coach simply hasn't picked them. Alfredo di Stefano, Ryan Giggs, George Best, Eric Cantona all enjoyed illustrious careers without playing in a World Cup.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Robert Lewandowski have at least all appeared at previous editions of the tournament, so this week's qualifying climax in Europe isn't exactly the only opportunity they have to ensure they represent their respective countries on the grandest stage.

But, given their ages, it has to be considered likely that Qatar 2022 will be the last World Cup at which any of them appear.

Waiting to make their mark

Ibrahimovic and Lewandowski have, obviously, enjoyed incredible careers. At club and international level, both have titles and records practically coming out of their ears.

Lewandowski already has more caps (128) and goals (74) for Poland than anyone else ever, while Ibrahimovic is Sweden's all-time top scorer (62).

Historically, both strikers are their respective nations' most-recognisable footballers, and surely the most talented they've ever produced.

Yet, one cannot say either of them has ever caused much of a stir at a World Cup.

Of course, neither Ibrahimovic nor Lewandowski has ever played in a senior international team that would be considered a challenger for major honours – in fact, each of them has only ever featured at one World Cup.

Ibrahimovic was a part of the Sweden team that got to the last 16 of the 2006 edition, while Lewandowski made his World Cup bow four years ago in Russia.

Sweden coach Janne Andersson opted against offering Ibrahimovic a way out of international retirement ahead of the 2018 World Cup, but he did eventually return in March last year. He will be 41 by the time Qatar 2022 comes around in November.

Lewandowski will be 34, so it's by no means outside the realm of possibility that he'll make an appearance in 2026, particularly if we look at Ibrahimovic's longevity.

But there won't be room for both of them in Qatar. Tuesday's play-off final in Chorzow pits Poland and Sweden against each other for the right to secure passage to the finals and what could be a last World Cup appearance for one of these two all-time greats.

No one will be expecting Sweden or Poland to go deep into the tournament, given neither has been beyond the last eight since 1994. But it would seem a travesty if players as good as Lewandowski and Ibrahimovic never managed to score at a World Cup.

Primed for World Cup number five, unless…

While Ibrahimovic and Lewandowski are still waiting to make a memorable impact at a World Cup, Ronaldo will be featuring at a fifth assuming he and Portugal qualify.

Ronaldo first appeared at the 2006 World Cup, something few England fans will forget given his role in Wayne Rooney's sending-off during their quarter-final tussle. Portugal went on to win 3-1 on penalties after a 0-0 draw, with Ronaldo netting the decisive spot-kick.

They finished fourth that year, but in the three tournaments since, Portugal haven't got beyond the last 16.

While Portugal's success at Euro 2016 means Ronaldo should never have his international legacy questioned in future, that World Cup record must be something he is keen to improve.

Additionally, Qatar 2022 looks likely to be the last time a certain rivalry can dominate headlines in a major tournament.

Lionel Messi has already helped Argentina secure a place and, given their 30-match unbeaten run and the fact they head to Qatar as South American champions, there's every reason to expect La Albiceleste will be an entirely different proposition compared to the team at Russia 2018.

While Messi and Ronaldo have shown signs of decline this term at club level, they remain fundamental for their respective national teams – but this surely won't be the case in 2026.

Qatar 2022 should offer Ronaldo the chance to boost his World Cup goals record of seven in 17 games. While by no means poor, a player of such self-belief will surely be aiming for more.

 

Those leading the way appear out of reach, barring an utterly freak showing from Ronaldo. Miroslav Klose (16) holds the record for most World Cup goals, while the 'other/original/Brazilian' Ronaldo is just behind on 15. Then there are other greats Gerd Muller (14), Just Fontaine (13) and Pele (12).

Reaching double figures would seem a realistic target and at least put him in great company, with only 13 players reaching 10 World Cup goals in the tournament's history.

Similarly, that would also make him Portugal's most-prolific World Cup player, with Eusebio currently holding that record thanks to his nine strikes, all of which came in 1966.

Of course, it's by no means a given that Ronaldo or Portugal will make it. Up next for them on Tuesday in their play-off final are North Macedonia.

Fernando Santos' side will undoubtedly favour themselves, but North Macedonia have already shocked European champions Italy – who's to say they can't stun Portugal as well?

The new Formula One season is only a single race old, but Charles Leclerc has already matched the achievement of one title-winning former Ferrari star.

Now, ahead of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Leclerc is out to try to repeat a Michael Schumacher feat and set a championship charge in motion.

The Monegasque driver led a Ferrari one-two in Bahrain last week, holding off Max Verstappen before the defending champion's mechanical woes ensured Carlos Sainz joined his team-mate on the top two steps of the podium.

It was the Scuderia's first race win since the 2019 Singapore GP, another one-two when Leclerc finished second to Sebastian Vettel.

The Leclerc-Sainz one-two was Ferrari's 85th in F1 – a record – and signalled a return to form, coming at the end of a weekend they had dominated, with the race winner also qualifying fastest to start from pole position.

Heading into the rest of the season, that should certainly provide Leclerc with encouragement, given the last Scuderia driver to start the season with a win from pole was Kimi Raikkonen in 2007. That was the most recent season in which a Ferrari driver won the title.

Indeed, should Leclerc convert pole again in Saudi Arabia, he would become the first Ferrari man to do so in the first two races of a campaign since Schumacher in his final title-winning season in 2004.

Leclerc and Sainz each discussed their title ambitions following Bahrain, so last week's runner-up will hope to go with his colleague again.

Ferrari have never had a one-two in each of the first two grands prix of a season, while Raikkonen and Felipe Massa in 2008 were their last duo to achieve such a result in consecutive races at any stage of the year.

Meanwhile, if Leclerc hopes to follow in Schumacher's footsteps, Mercedes rival George Russell does not.

Schumacher in 2010, then in the twilight of his legendary career after coming out of retirement, was the only Silver Arrows driver to this point fail to make the podium in his first three races with the team.

A pit-stop error and a puncture saw Russell finish his Mercedes debut in ninth when deputising for Lewis Hamilton at the 2020 Sakhir GP, while he was fourth behind his new team-mate last week.

The Red Bull woe that boosted Ferrari also rescued that three-four result for Mercedes, but team principal Toto Wolff said: "It's too early to look at the championship as it stands. If you look at the pecking order today, it seems a long shot to even be in contention for any of the championships.

"If I look at [Bahrain] as a single race weekend, we probably scored the maximum of points that we could have. And we need to take it from there.

"Every weekend counts and, at the moment, it's singular events because, realistically, when you're third on the road, you can't think about winning it."

Derek Carr has spent his entire career trying to convince the Raiders, and indeed the wider NFL universe that he is good enough.

Few quarterbacks to have been as consistent as Carr have inspired such little confidence, his name rarely mentioned among the top players at the NFL's most important position despite him compiling some impressive numbers since arriving in the league.

Drafted in the second round in 2014, Carr has thrown for 31,700 yards in his career, the fourth-most in the league in that span. His 247 passing plays of 25 yards or more is a tally bettered by only four quarterbacks over the same timeframe.

Yet there are plenty of quarterbacks who excel at compiling stats and, for as tedious as the debate around whether wins should be considered a quarterback stat (they shouldn't) is, part of the reason for Carr's lack of recognition comparative to his contemporaries is that he has not been able to elevate the Raiders, either in Oakland or now Las Vegas, to a playoff win.

In efforts to end that wait, there have been reported dalliances with other quarterbacks by the Raiders, most notably with Tom Brady before he signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020.

Las Vegas has also previously been seen as a destination for Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson but, while the Raiders will get to see new Denver Broncos quarterback Wilson up close twice a season, they are firmly tied to Carr, and have this offseason done an excellent job of setting him up for success.

In Josh McDaniels, they have paired him with one of the league's premier offensive minds and, by spectacularly acquiring college team-mate Davante Adams in a blockbuster trade with the Green Bay Packers last week, the Raiders have given Carr the wide receiver many consider to be the class of the league.

With Adams added to an already exciting cast of offensive weapons, Carr has all the tools to definitively prove that, for the Raiders, he has always been the best man for the job.

Carr reaching peak performance

The timing of Carr's reunion with his former Fresno State team-mate Adams could hardly be better, as he is coming off arguably the finest season of his career.

Among quarterbacks with at least 200 pass attempts, Carr finished third in well-thrown percentage. Trailing only Joe Burrow and Ryan Tannehill, he delivered an accurate, well-thrown ball on 81.6 per cent of his passes.

None of the eight quarterbacks to average more air yards per attempt than Carr's 8.29 had a superior well-thrown percentage, his ability to blend ball placement and downfield upside further illustrated by his 67 completions of 20 yards or more in 2021. Brady (75) was the sole quarterback to end the season with more.

Carr achieved those feats despite tight end Darren Waller missing six games of the season and the Raiders losing wide receiver Henry Ruggs III after his November arrest.

He deserves great credit for continuing to thrive in a campaign that saw head coach Jon Gruden resign in disgrace, the Raiders playing the majority of the season under the interim leadership of Rich Bisaccia.

Now with McDaniels at the helm, Carr has a head coach to maximise his skill set and, with Adams joining Waller and Co. on offense, undoubtedly the most talented supporting cast of his career. 

A stacked receiver room

It is extremely difficult to overstate the importance of Adams' acquisition.

Over the past three seasons, only one player has racked up more receiving yards than Adams' 3,924. The man who represents his competition for the title of best receiver in the NFL, Cooper Kupp (4,082).

Adams' 34 receiving touchdowns in that span are second to Mike Evans (35), while no player has averaged more receiving yards per game than his 93.4 since 2019.

Producing a burn, which is when a receiver wins his matchup with a defender on a play where he is targeted, on 65.6 per cent of his targets, Adams was comfortably above the league average for receivers with at least 100 targets of 62. While his position as the NFL's top wideout may be up for debate, his status as one of its elite separators is not in question.

Only four receivers (min. 100 targets), one of which was Kupp (4), averaged more burn yards per route than Adams (3.5) in 2021.

Second (3.4) and first (3.9) in the same metric in 2019 and 2020, Adams' consistency in creating separation from coverage is unmatched, and he should benefit from playing in an offense stacked with bonafide weapons worthy of defensive attention.

Despite missing time, Waller still ended the 2021 season fifth among tight ends (min. 50 targets) in burn yards per target (11.91) and fourth in burn yards per route (3), his size, athleticism and ability to line up at every receiving position on the field making him a mismatch nightmare for defenses when at his best. Only two tight ends, Travis Kelce and Mark Andrews, have more receiving plays of 20 yards or more since 2019 than Waller (43).

Carr also has an excellent rapport with Hunter Renfrow. They combined for nine touchdowns in 2021, with three of those scores for the diminutive wideout coming on third down.

Yet the nickname 'Third and Renfrow' may have been inappropriately applied. Not because Renfrow isn't great on third down (18 of his 33 third-down targets last year went for first downs), but because team-mate Bryan Edwards might be even better.

Targeted just eight times on third down, six of those throws from Edwards to Carr were completed for a first down. Overall, Edwards had 76.5 per cent of his catches result in a first down last season, the second-best ratio in the NFL.

At 6ft 3in and 215 pounds, Edwards is a still under-utilised physically imposing ball-winner. Between Adams, Waller, Renfrow and Edwards, Carr now has a receiving corps to stack up with any other in the NFL.

Throw in a running back in Josh Jacobs who displayed his ability to overcome substandard blocking by averaging 3.38 yards per carry on runs where there was a disruption by a defender, the sixth-most in the NFL, in 2021, and Carr appears to have everything at his disposal to helm an explosive and dominant offense in 2022. That is presuming, of course, that Carr can re-establish his college connection with Adams.

But there is a risk any potential offensive surge could be cancelled out by the improvements made by the Raiders' rivals in what now looks a hellish AFC West.

Carr’s 'prove-it' year

The trade for Adams was just the latest move in a series of blockbusters from AFC West teams. In respective offseason efforts to end the divisional superiority of the Kansas City Chiefs, the Denver Broncos and Los Angeles Chargers each made significant additions to their rosters.

Denver hugely upgraded the quarterback position with a stunning trade for nine-time Pro Bowler Wilson, and the Chargers bolstered their defense with a deal to acquire edge rusher Khalil Mack while also signing cornerback J.C. Jackson and run-stuffing defensive lineman Sebastian Joseph-Day. 

In essence, the Raiders now have to compete with three elite quarterbacks in Patrick Mahomes, Wilson, and Justin Herbert, all of whom have seen their teams stack the deck around them.

Carr has previously gone blow for blow with both Mahomes and Herbert and won, most famously in Week 18 last season in the epic overtime game that almost ended in a tie that would have sent both the Raiders and Chargers to the playoffs.

However, with the Chargers pairing Mack with another fearsome pass rusher, Joey Bosa, and the Chiefs retaining Frank Clark on a defensive line that also features Chris Jones, Carr's hopes of getting the best of each of those signal-callers could be compromised by the play of his offensive line.

The Raiders' O-Line ranked 21st in pass block win rate last year, with Carr pressured 285 times, the third-most in the league behind Matt Ryan (319) and Josh Allen (312), and yet that area of the team has gone largely neglected in the offseason.

Great quarterbacks can overcome shortcomings at other positions and Carr did so last year in leading the Raiders to the playoffs. Though he may have improved help from a defense that looks better prepared to deal with the threat of opposing offenses after the hire of Patrick Graham as coordinator and the additions of veteran edge rusher Chandler Jones and cornerback Rock Ya-Sin, the reality is Carr will likely have to raise his game again if the Raiders are to enjoy postseason success.

The Raiders may look to use what draft capital they have left to improve on the offensive side of the trenches yet, regardless of any further moves to come, the onus is firmly on Carr. His is a career that has been spent trying to prove he belongs in the conversation as a top-tier quarterback. He built a compelling case last season but, flanked by offensive talent ready-made to help him keep pace with Mahomes, Herbert and Wilson, 2022 is the year in which he must definitively win the argument.

Following an eventful, dramatic and – dare we say it – the best Formula One season to date, the 2022 campaign has plenty to live up to.

Lewis Hamilton is going in search of a record eighth world title at the second time of asking after missing out to Max Verstappen on the final lap of the final race in 2021.

Reigning champion Verstappen is himself seeking some personal history this coming campaign, which begins with the Bahrain Grand Prix this weekend.

Ahead of what will hopefully be an equally as gripping season this time around, Stats Perform picks out some of the key numbers.

 

Hamilton narrowly missed out on surpassing Michael Schumacher as F1's most successful driver, though he has not missed out on top spot in successive years since joining Mercedes in 2013.

Should he match his achievement from last year, Red Bull's Verstappen (25 years, two months) would surpass Fernandes Alonso (25y, 2m, 23 days) as the second-youngest multiple world champion, behind only Sebastian Vettel (24y, 3m).

Mercedes may have suffered disappointment last time out, but they still finished top of the constructors' standings for a record-extending eighth time in a row. They are one short of equalling Williams as the second-most successful team, though Ferrari (16) are still well out in front.

In terms of other team milestones, Bahrain will be the 250th GP Mercedes have competed in, while they are six fastest laps away from setting 100. McLaren, meanwhile, are seven podiums from reaching 500 in F1.

Joining Hamilton at Mercedes this season is compatriot George Russell, who along with McLaren's Lando Norris is aiming to become the first Briton other than Hamilton to win a race since Jenson Button in 2012.

Bottas is now at Alfa Romeo and is joined by Guanyu Zhou, who will be China's first ever representative on the grid, making them the 39th country to appear in F1. Indeed, it is the first time three Asian countries will be represented, with Alex Albon (Thailand) and Yuki Tsunoda (Japan) also featuring.

 

Now 14 years on from their most recent constructors' title, Ferrari will equal their worst-such streak – 15 years between 1984 and 1998 – if they again miss out this term.

Carlos Sainz is Ferrari's big hope and he has either matched or bettered his performance from the previous season – both in terms of points and position – over the past six years when racing for just one team.

While his title chances are slim at best, Fernando Alonso has the opportunity to become the driver with the biggest margin between F1 titles of all time, 16 years on from his most recent success. 

Twenty-two events are currently locked in the F1 calendar for this year, with Miami set to become the 77th different circuit used when it hosts its maiden GP in May. It will be the 11th different track used in the United States, which is the most of any country.

All eyes will be on the Stade de France on Saturday as the 2022 Six Nations comes to a conclusion when leaders France take on England.

While the visitors can finish no higher than third place, Eddie Jones' men will revel in being the ultimate party poopers in Paris.

Victory for France in 'Le Crunch' will seal a first Grand Slam since 2010, though Les Blues could still finish top and land a first title since then should Ireland fail to beat Scotland.

Saturday's other fixture sees Wales take on pointless Italy in Cardiff and, while there may be little riding on that game, it will be a milestone occasion for a couple of players.

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


FRANCE V ENGLAND

FORM

The omens are good for France as two of their previous three Six Nations Grand Slams have been completed with victory over England in the final round, in 2004 and again six years later, while just one of the past nine games between these sides in the competition has been won by the visitors – England prevailing 31-21 in 2016.

Fabien Galthie's charges have lost just one of their past eight home games in the competition, with that solitary defeat coming at the hands of Scotland last year as they chased a big winning margin to pip Wales to the title.

England are aiming to avoid losing three matches in a single edition of the Six Nations for the third time in seven years playing under Eddie Jones, having also done so in 2018 and 2021, and for a fifth time overall. 


ONES TO WATCH

Damian Penaud, who has a joint-high three tries in this year's tournament, is back in France's starting XV after recovering from coronavirus, replacing the injured Yoram Moefana. France have scored seven tries from counter-attacks this year, which is at least three more than any other team, so pacey Penaud could cause some damage this weekend.

England will need to work incredibly hard if they are to stop arguably the world's top side right now and hope that their key players turn up. In Marcus Smith they boast a player who leads the way for points in 2022 with 63, 19 more than next-best Melvyn Jaminet.

 

IRELAND V SCOTLAND

FORM

Ireland must beat Scotland earlier on Saturday if they are to remain in title contention and they have a great recent record in this fixture, winning seven of their last eight Six Nations meetings.

That record is even better on home soil, meanwhile, having been victorious in 10 of the last 11 encounters in the competition, including each of the last five in a row. Scotland's only win in that run came at Croke Park in 2010.

Fourth-placed Scotland have won five of their last six away games in the tournament, however, which is as many as they had managed in their previous 43.


ONES TO WATCH

Ireland were made to work hard for their victory against an England side that played almost the entire 80 minutes with 14 men last week, but they did ultimately get the job done. Jamison Gibson-Park led the way for passes in that match with 59 – more than double any opposition player – and he has a joint-high three assists in this edition.

Finn Russell is level with Gibson-Park on three assists, but he has been surprisingly omitted from Scotland's squad for the match at the Aviva Stadium due to his growing indiscipline and poor form. Ali Price is next for Scotland on the assists list with two, and there will now be more focus on him on what is his 51st cap.



WALES V ITALY

FORM

Wales are aiming to climb two places and finish third and will be confident of fulfilling their half of the bargain by claiming a bonus-point win against bottom side Italy. The Dragons have won each of their last 14 in this fixture, last tasting defeat in 2007.

After losing at home to France in their most recent home match, Wales are aiming to avoid successive losses at the Principality Stadium in the competition for the first time in 15 years, when losing their final such game in 2006 and first in 2007.

Italy will claim the Wooden Spoon once again having lost all five games this year, stretching their record losing run in the tournament to 36 matches. The Azzurri's most recent win away from home came against Scotland in 2015.

ONES TO WATCH

This will be a special occasion for Dan Biggar, who is in line for his 100th cap, and Alun Wyn Jones, who returns for the first time since suffering a shoulder injury against New Zealand in October for his 150th appearance. That makes the Wales skipper the first player to win 150 or more caps for a single nation in history.

Ange Capuozzo has been handed a first Test start after making a big impression in an otherwise disappointing campaign for Italy. The Grenoble full-back has scored two tries in this year's Six Nations, accounting for half of Italy's total, with both of those coming in a 34-minute appearance against Scotland in round four.

Thomas Tuchel will expect Chelsea to mark his 50th Champions League game as a boss with a win at Lille and Juve will be favourites to knock Villarreal out on Wednesday.

There is huge uncertainty at Stamford Bridge after Roman Abramovich put the club up for sale before having his assets frozen by the United Kingdom government, but the London club have won four consecutive games.

The holders travel to Lille for the second leg of the round-of-16 tie with a 2-0 lead courtesy of goals from the in-form Kai Havertz and Christian Pulisic.

Juve and Villarreal will start their showdown at the Allianz Stadium locked at 1-1 after Dani Parejo equalised following Dusan Vlahovic's early strike.

Stats Perform picks out the standout Opta data ahead of the two games.

 

Lille v Chelsea

Havertz has become the Blues' main man, scoring four goals in his past three matches and six in seven.

Chelsea head coach Tuchel has won 31 of his 49 matches and can set a record for the most victories in his first 50 games as a boss in the competition with another success in Lille, as he is currently level with Zinedine Zidane's tally.

Lille's chances of forcing their way back into the tie appear to be slim, as not only do they trail by two goals, they have lost their past three Champions League games against the Premier League club.

They have also been eliminated from each of their three previous European knockout ties after losing the first leg.

The last side to progress against Champions League holders after failing to score in the opening leg was Arsenal versus Milan in 2007-08, with the first leg a goalless draw.

Each of Chelsea's past 11 wins in the Champions League have come with a clean sheet, 10 of which have come under Tuchel in just 14 matches.

Juventus v Villarreal

January signing Vlahovic set a record for the quickest goal by a Champions League debutant when he was on target after only 32 seconds of the first leg.

Juve are without a win in each of their past seven first-leg games in the Champions League (D3 L4), going on to be eliminated from four of their previous five knockout ties in the competition. 

Villarreal have won their past two away games in the Champions League, the same number of victories as they managed across the 15 such matches beforehand.

Juve have only lost three of their previous 23 Champions League matches at home to Spanish sides in this competition, winning 12 and drawing eight.

This will be Villarreal’s first visit to Juventus in any competition as they scent a place in the quarter-finals.

Juan Cuadrado is in line to make his 50th appearance for Bianconeri in the Champions League. He has provided 11 assists for the Serie A giants in the competition, which is the most by any player in the period since he first joined the club in 2015.

They say you should never judge a player on one good international tournament.

In fairness, when Bayern Munich splashed out a reported €35million on an 18-year-old Renato Sanches in 2016, he had already impressed at Benfica, but it was his showings at Euro 2016 for eventual winners Portugal that sped up the hype train.

Just over a year later, he was struggling to get game time during a loan move at Swansea City.

Sanches' star had fallen almost as quickly as it had risen, and after being unable to establish himself at Bayern, the midfielder made the move to Lille in 2019.

At the French side he finally settled and became a crucial part of Christophe Galtier's underdogs, who impressively beat Paris Saint-Germain to the 2020-21 Ligue 1 title.

Sanches followed up his championship medal with another comeback, standing out as one of the best players again at Euro 2020.

As football never seems to learn its lessons, hype rebuilt around Sanches following his performances for Portugal in last year's rescheduled tournament, and the 24-year-old has been linked with a transfer to one of Europe's elite pretty much ever since.

Clubs including Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool, Juventus, Barcelona and Real Madrid have all been mooted as possible destinations, but recent reports suggest that Milan could be where Sanches takes the next step of his journey, and potentially where he could finally fulfil that much-discussed potential.

Although Lille have failed to come close to defending their title this season, Sanches has continued to impress when available.

He has played 25 games in all competitions (21 starts), registering one goal and five assists, three more than any other Lille midfielder.

Sanches has completed 57 dribbles, with Jonathan Ikone – more of a forward player and who moved to Fiorentina in January – completing the next most at the club this season (38), and he has created as many big chances (eight) as Ikone having played the same number of games. A big chance is defined by Opta as a situation where a player should reasonably be expected to score.

Comparing the same numbers to Milan's midfield, he has created twice as many big chances as the Rossoneri's most creative players (Sandro Tonali and Alexis Saelemaekers – four), and only Saelemaekers has completed more dribbles (58), albeit from more appearances. Sanches averages more completed dribbles than the Belgian per 90 minutes (3.01 to 2.51).

One assumption would be that Sanches has been earmarked to replace Franck Kessie, who appears likely to be leaving San Siro when his contract expires at the end of the season, though the two are not all that similar as players.

Kessie has six goals this season, two from the penalty spot, but just one assist, and has only created two big chances. Sanches also makes far more dribbles, attempting 91 compared to 38 from Kessie.

Sanches has made almost as many recoveries as the Ivory Coast international (146 to 158) but has attempted fewer tackles than all of Milan's midfielders (20), with the lowest tackle success rate (45 per cent).

His pass success percentage is also worse than Kessie's (81.77 to 88.73). You might think that could be down to the intent of those passes, but Kessie is even more comfortably ahead when it comes to pass success percentage in the opposition half (75.53 to 85.53).

Sanches, of course, plays in a different league, and so how do his numbers compare in this season's Champions League?

While it must be noted that Lille had an easier time of things in the group stages than Milan, who went up against Liverpool, Atletico Madrid and Porto, Sanches did seem to shine on the big stage more than Stefano Pioli's current crop.

Only Ismael Bennacer (39) made more recoveries than Sanches' 38, having played a game more, while no-one at the Serie A side attempted as many as his 209 passes, and none won possession in the opposition's final third more than him (four).

Milan suffered elimination in their group, while Lille won theirs and put up a respectable fight against Chelsea in the first leg of their round-of-16 clash at Stamford Bridge.

Sanches in particular looked good again, though he was unable to prevent the Premier League side taking a 2-0 lead over with them to the Stade Pierre-Mauroy on Wednesday, where Sanches sadly will not play after picking up a muscle injury in the 0-0 draw with Saint-Etienne on Friday.

"Renato Sanches underwent tests this morning following the injury contracted on Friday during the match between LOSC and AS Saint-Etienne," read a statement from Lille. "The midfielder has suffered an injury to the biceps femoris muscle in his left thigh.

"His unavailability is estimated at three weeks, depending on the clinical evolution of his injury."

And this is arguably the thing that has held Sanches back more than anything, his injury record.

For context, at the age of just 24, he already has two pages of injuries listed on his injury history on Transfermarkt, the vast majority of which have been muscle issues that just do not seem to go away.

In terms of what he has shown on the field in the past couple of years, Sanches seems more than ready for another shot at an elite club.

Whether he can stay fit long enough to do so is another matter.

Tuesday sees two very finely poised games in the Champions League round of 16 as Manchester United host Atletico Madrid and Benfica travel to Amsterdam to face Ajax.

A 1-1 draw at the Wanda Metropolitano three weeks ago felt harsh on Atletico, and Diego Simeone will not have been too pleased to see Cristiano Ronaldo roar back into form at the weekend with a hat-trick in United's 3-2 win against Tottenham.

An exciting first leg in Lisbon saw Benfica and Ajax play out a 2-2 draw, with the Dutch side's star striker Sebastien Haller finding the net at both ends.

The removal of the away goals rule means there is not a single thing separating these sides heading into the second legs, so here are some Opta facts to help you decide who you think will come out on top on Tuesday.

Manchester United v Atletico Madrid

Ronaldo was back to his effervescent best on Saturday, and has scored in both of his Champions League home games for Ralf Rangnick's men this season. If he does so again, it would be only the second time he has managed three in a row for the club (previously between November 2007 and March 2008).

He has netted 13 goals in his last 15 home games against Atletico across all competitions, including two hat-tricks in his most recent four (for Real Madrid in May 2017 and Juventus in March 2019, both in this competition).

United have been eliminated from their last three Champions League knockout stage games when drawing the first leg, doing so against Real Madrid (2012-13 last 16), Bayern Munich (2013-14 quarter-final) and Sevilla (2017-18 last 16).

However, when failing to win the first leg of a Champions League knockout tie at home, Atletico have been eliminated three out of four times. The only exception was a 3-1 win at Chelsea in the 2013-14 semi-final, following a 0-0 draw in the home leg.

 

Before this season, 69 per cent of teams to draw the first leg of a Champions League knockout stage tie at home have been eliminated (59/85). That being said, six of the last 10 such teams to progress have done so against English sides.

Atletico have lost their last two away trips to face English sides in the Champions League, losing at Chelsea in 2020-21 and Liverpool this season without scoring a goal in either. In addition, they have not kept a clean sheet in any of their eight total away games against English teams in the competition, conceding 14 goals overall.

The Red Devils have only won two of their last eight Champions League home games when hosting Spanish opposition (D3 L3), although the most recent of those did come earlier in the competition this season, beating Villarreal 2-1 with a stoppage-time winner from Ronaldo.

Despite the reputation of Simeone's side for being tight at the back, they have not kept a clean sheet in any of their last six Champions League matches – only between September 2009 and October 2013 (seven games) have they had a longer such run in the competition.

Ajax v Benfica

Ajax lost their first ever home game against a Portuguese opponent in the European Cup/UEFA Champions League (3-1 in February 1969 v Benfica) but have since gone unbeaten in five matches since (W4 D1). They have won all three encounters that have taken place in the Champions League era, including one earlier this season (4-2 win v Sporting CP in the group stage).

Including qualifiers, Benfica have only won one of their last 10 away games against Dutch sides in European competition – 1-0 v AZ in the Europa League in 2013-14. Six of the other nine games have ended in draws (L3), including one earlier this season against PSV in Champions League qualifying (0-0).

Ajax have won all three of their home games in the Champions League this season. They will be looking to win four in a row on home soil in the competition for the first time since March 1996, when they won seven in succession under Louis van Gaal.

Benfica are looking to progress beyond the last 16 of the Champions League for the first time since 2015-16, when they beat Zenit. It would be just the fourth time they have reached the quarter-finals of the competition in the 21st century, after doing so in 2005-06, 2011-12 and 2015-16.

 

Goal enthusiasts Ajax have scored at least twice in all seven of their Champions League games this season, netting 22 times in total. That is the most by team from outside of the big five European leagues through their first seven games of a campaign since Ajax themselves, who scored 30 in 1979-80.

Benfica have only won one of their last 14 away games in the Champions League (D4 L9), which was against AEK Athens in October 2018. In the knockout stages of the competition, Nelson Verissimo's side have lost five of their last six away games (W1).

Ajax have four different players in double figures for chances created from open play in the Champions League this season – Dusan Tadic (16), Haller (13), Steven Berghuis (12) and Antony (10). Only Manchester City have had as many different players do so (also four).

Haller has been directly involved in five goals in three home appearances in the Champions League this season (three goals, two assists), and could become just the fourth player in the competition's history to score in each of his first four home appearances, after Oscar (2013), Frederic Kanoute (2008) and Alessandro Del Piero (1996).

Ralf Rangnick's tenure as Manchester United interim manager has not been a resounding success.

While United have climbed from seventh in the Premier League when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was sacked to fifth, closing the gap to the top four from six points to one, fourth-placed Arsenal have three games in hand and should expect to qualify for the Champions League.

United's hopes of returning to Europe's elite club competition next year – by which time Rangnick will likely have moved upstairs – might instead rest on success in this year's tournament.

Atletico Madrid visit Old Trafford on Wednesday with their last-16 tie level at 1-1, apparently finely balanced – although the first leg was anything but. United were hugely fortunate to escape with a draw after lacking any real fluency in Spain.

Real Madrid great Cristiano Ronaldo will still no doubt be eagerly anticipating this match following his Tottenham hat-trick, but repeating those heroics represents a tall order. He will need help – and the manager's job is to provide that.

Although Rangnick has so far failed to deliver a coherent side able to produce consistent performances, that is not to say there have not been success stories of his reign.

And perhaps Jadon Sancho, who is definitely one of those, can be the man to lift United and their talisman this week.

Sancho is now finding form after a tough start to life at Old Trafford that was somewhat overshadowed by the various other issues United have faced this season, both before and since Solskjaer's sacking.

At another club, Sancho's struggles would have been front and centre, as he remarkably failed to contribute either a goal or an assist in 14 appearances for Solskjaer in all competitions.

That was certainly not what United envisaged when they paid £73million for an England winger whose 107 goal involvements (50 goals, 57 assists) for Borussia Dortmund arrived every 93 minutes on average.

There would have been relief then when Sancho was the star of Michael Carrick's short stint as caretaker, following his first United goal at Villarreal with a second at Chelsea.

Yet more than two months passed before Sancho scored again, kickstarting a vastly improved spell under Rangnick – a coach belatedly having the transformative effect on the 21-year-old many had forecast.

Rangnick's preference for a pressing game was expected to suit Sancho, whose Dortmund in the Bundesliga last season allowed the fifth-fewest opposition passes per defensive action (PPDA – 11.0) and won the fourth-most high turnovers (329).

Under Solskjaer, United ranked a passive 14th in PPDA (14.4), yet that statistic has not altered as drastically as one might have imagined; since Rangnick's appointment, United are 12th (13.3).

Others who have flourished under Rangnick have still done so by leading the press – Fred (51.8) and Anthony Elanga (51.2) rank first and second for Premier League pressures per 90 by United players since the interim boss came in – whereas the speed of United's attacking once they win possession has suited Sancho.

Opta defines a direct attack as "an open play sequence that starts just inside the team's own half and has at least 50 per cent of movement towards the opposition's goal, and ends in a shot or a touch in the opposition box".

Since the start of February, United have scored four league goals from such attacks – twice as many as any other side. Sancho has been involved in all four, striking on the break against both Southampton and Manchester City while laying on assists for Bruno Fernandes and Fred at Leeds United.

The goal at City may have counted for little on a dark day for United, but Sancho has been flying since scoring on his return to the team against Middlesbrough in the FA Cup on February 4, having been granted a period of leave following a death in his family.

"Jadon Sancho is now getting closer to the Jadon Sancho I've known from Germany," Rangnick said at the weekend. "In the end it's all about confidence. Game time, confidence. Confidence, game time. He was performing at a very high level."

He added: "This is what he should be. The club paid quite a few pounds for him in order to lure him away from Borussia Dortmund, and if you pay that amount of money in a transfer fee for a player, he should perform on this kind of level."

Rangnick was speaking after the win against Tottenham, where there was finally a goal courtesy of his combination play with Ronaldo.

It was suggested earlier in the season the pair could not work together – and the woes of both Sancho and United might agree with that argument – but the rapid run in behind and pinpoint square pass for the second of Ronaldo's three goals were evidence of how this attack can succeed.

Ronaldo can continue to thrive with that sort of service, while Sancho only looks better for having a focal point to play off in the mould of former Dortmund team-mate Erling Haaland.

Now, with 13 goals in his past 15 home games against Atletico, including two hat-tricks in the last four, do not bet against Ronaldo proving the difference again on Tuesday. Also, do not bet against Sancho being the man to supply him.

Free agency was supposed to be the headline act of March in the NFL calendar.

But then a blockbuster Russell Wilson trade, the end (for now) of the Aaron Rodgers saga and the small matter of the unretirement of Tom Brady happened in a whirlwind week for the league.

As such, many of the moves that are reported when the NFL's negotiating window opens may seem insignificant compared to the events of the last seven days.

However, the right acquisition on the open market can have a substantial impact for teams looking to contend for the Lombardi Trophy.

Just look at the Cincinnati Bengals, who were in touching distance of winning the title for the first time thanks in part to the defensive efforts of two free agent signings in edge rusher Trey Hendrickson and cornerback Chidobe Awuzie.

With the salary cap increasing to $208.2million, the first time in league history it has been over $200m, plenty of teams will be ready to loosen the purse strings.

Yet free agency is often not about making the big splash move, it is more a matter of finding the right fit between player and team.

Using advanced metrics, Stats Perform looks at six of the best potential fits for this year's free agency cycle.

J.C. Jackson to New York Jets

Jackson is in for a monster payday after the New England Patriots elected not to place the franchise tag on a cornerback coming off a second-team All-Pro season.

Though they are clearly not ready to contend in 2022, the Jets present the perfect marriage of positional need and cap space, of which they have the second-most in the NFL.

Only four teams allowed more yards per pass play than the Jets (7.11) last season, with the secondary a long-standing problem for New York.

Over the past three seasons, no player in the NFL has record more interceptions than Jackson's 22. His closest challenger is Xavien Howard (16).

Jackson finished 2021 having allowed a big play on 18.9 per cent of his targets, the eighth-best rate among corners with at least 50 targets.

Pairing him with a corner in Bryce Hall who had the best combined open percentage (14.61) across man and zone coverage of any player at his position in the NFL last season (min. 100 coverage matchups) would go a long way to shoring up the Jets' defensive backfield.

Terron Armstead to Cincinnati Bengals

It almost makes too much sense. The Bengals are in obvious need of help on the offensive line and will have the seventh-most cap space of any team in the NFL with which to acquire it, making Armstead an obvious fit.

Though injuries limited him to eight games for the Saints last season, Armstead remains one of the premier left tackles in the NFL.

Armstead's stunt-adjusted pass block win rate of 91.93 per cent was third among tackles with at least 100 pass protection one-on-ones in 2021.

That is exactly the kind of excellence in protection the Bengals need to ensure Joe Burrow can keep them in contention for Super Bowl titles in the coming years.

Tyrann Mathieu to Los Angeles Chargers

The Chargers have been mentioned as a potential destination for several free agents, which is unsurprising given they are in the top half of the league in terms of cap space and have a premier quarterback on a rookie deal in Justin Herbert.

They have already shown a desire to be aggressive in striking a trade to pair edge rusher Khalil Mack with Joey Bosa on the defensive line, yet there is no doubt the secondary would also benefit from an infusion of experience and added quality.

Mathieu would bring just that if the Chargers were able to lure him from the division rival Kansas City Chiefs. With free safety Nasir Adderley having so far struggled to live up to his status as a second-round pick, Mathieu's arrival would allow the Chargers to rotate him and former first-round pick Derwin James, who each possess the versatility to play free and strong safety and one on one with wide receivers and tight ends in man coverage.

Last year, Mathieu finished ninth among defensive backs with at least 100 coverage matchups across man and zone with a combined open percentage allowed of 20.3.

With another three interceptions added to a career tally that now stands at 26, there is no doubt Mathieu still has the playmaking ability and coverage skills to be an asset to any defense.

Von Miller to Denver Broncos

Everybody loves a reunion, and this would be a quick one after the Broncos dealt Miller to the Los Angeles Rams last season, with the veteran edge rusher going on to win his second Super Bowl title.

And after the Broncos struck a stunning trade to acquire Wilson from the Seattle Seahawks, bringing back Miller to boost a defense that will be run by former Rams secondary coach Ejiro Evero would be an ideal next move to make for a team clearly eyeing an immediate run at a Lombardi.

Miller ranked fifth among edge rushers with a stunt-adjusted pass rush win rate of 43.4 per cent in 2021, with that ability to generate pressure highly valuable to a defense that was a disappointing 30th in win percentage last year.

The Broncos are set up to contend, and a return to Denver would potentially give Miller the chance to compete for further titles while ending his career where it started.

Cordarrelle Patterson to San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers have a host of more important needs than a wide receiver-turned-running back, and given San Francisco possesses the gold standard in that regard in 'wide back' Deebo Samuel, signing Patterson would be a luxury move rather than a necessity.

Yet the thought of head coach Kyle Shanahan having both Samuel and Patterson to work with is an extremely enticing one.

Among running backs with at least 150 carries in the regular season, only James Conner (22.7) produced a higher percentage of big plays on targets in the passing game than Patterson (22.6).

Putting him with the play-caller who arguably does the best job of getting offensive players in space would be a match made in heaven.

Christian Kirk to Indianapolis Colts

It's not clear who will be playing quarterback for the Colts in 2022 following the Carson Wentz trade to the Washington Commanders, but that signal-caller will need receiving help beyond 2020 second-round pick Michael Pittman Jr.

With T.Y. Hilton on the downswing of his career and injuries preventing Parris Campbell from making any sort of discernible impact, the Colts are light on legitimate pass-catching weapons.

Kirk could stock the cupboard in that regard, giving Indianapolis a legitimate deep threat who fell 18 yards shy of 1,000 receiving last season and has 11 touchdowns over the past two campaigns.

He registered a burn, which is when a receiver wins his matchup with a defender on a play where he is targeted, on 66.4 per cent of targets (the average for receivers with at least 100 targets was 62).

Among receivers to meet that target threshold, Kirk was fourth in the NFL in 2021 with a burn yards per target average of 13.2, with his ability to separate much needed by an offense that heads into the offseason in questionable shape.

Tom Brady had seemingly played his last Super Bowl.

The quarterback extraordinaire confirmed on February 1 that he had decided to retire after completing a second year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

But less than six weeks later he has made a stunning U-turn, announcing in a tweet that the 44-year-old is coming back for a 23rd season in the NFL.

It means he could yet go on to extend his record for the most Super Bowls to eight, with the NFL great apparently unwilling to declare on seven.

Brady could have walked away after capturing a sixth Lombardi Trophy with the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII three years ago with his legacy as the greatest of all time secured.

But whether it was down to a desire to outstrip Michael Jordan's six NBA titles, win a Super Bowl without Bill Belichick or simply because of his love of competing and winning, Brady felt the need to keep going further into his 40s in search of a seventh.

That came in emphatic fashion in his first season since leaving Belichick and the Patriots, as the Buccaneers routed the Kansas City Chiefs 31-9 at Raymond James Stadium 12 months ago.

The man who entered the NFL as a skinny sixth-round pick in 2000 proved yet again that it is foolish to doubt him, and now he has gone about surprising everyone yet again by deciding that, actually, his time isn't up.

With Brady back for more, Stats Perform ranks his seven wins on the grandest stage.

7. Super Bowl LIII

Brady's last triumph with the Patriots was probably his least impressive, at least in the vacuum of the game itself.

An uninspiring defensive struggle with the Los Angeles Rams unsurprisingly fell in Belichick's favour as he outcoached Sean McVay in a 13-3 win. Brady did, however, connect with Rob Gronkowski for the telling blow, a 29-yard pass that set up Sony Michel for the game's only touchdown. 

Boosting Brady here is the fact he led the Patriots to victory over Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game, but that's not enough to move it off the bottom of the list.

6. Super Bowl XXXIX

The 2021 Super Bowl was the second in which Brady dealt a defeat to Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, but the 39th edition of the Greatest Show on Earth was a much tighter affair as Brady guided the Patriots to back-to-back Lombardi trophies.

However, Reid, who in this February 2005 game was coaching the Philadelphia Eagles, perhaps bore as much responsibility for the Patriots' victory as Brady. Reid was significantly criticised in the aftermath of the Eagles' 24-21 loss for a lack of time management, their final scoring drive taking up nearly four minutes and making New England's task in closing out the game much easier.

Reid's shortcomings in that regard do not take away from Brady's performance or the achievement in winning successive Super Bowls, one that has not since been repeated. But, in terms of memorable performances, this is not one that ranks highly.

5. Super Bowl XXXVIII

Brady's second Super Bowl win is one that deserves more recognition than it gets as the Patriots held off an underdog Carolina Panthers team that refused to lie down. 

After the Panthers overturned a 21-10 deficit to lead in the fourth quarter, Brady led an 11-play drive to restore the Patriots' advantage and, after Carolina responded in kind, orchestrated a game-winning field goal in the final 58 seconds of regulation to secure a 32-29 triumph.

It was a perfect encapsulation of Brady's ability to deliver when the moment is the biggest, one which he has demonstrated time and again with all the marbles on the line.

4. Super Bowl LV

Brady's first Super Bowl win outside of New England may have been one of the most unexpected, but it doesn't quite crack the top three.

There is so much Brady deserves credit for. From taking the chance to leave his familiar surroundings and successfully adapting to a new offense to the manner in which he dissected the Chiefs defense in the first half.

But the Buccaneers' victory was a team performance built as much on a swarming defense that continually had Mahomes running for his life as it was on Brady's prowess leading the offense.

Brady was a deserved winner of the Super Bowl MVP but, without the Bucs' pass rush, this would have been a very different game, one in which the Chiefs' offense may have been able to change the outcome.

3. Super Bowl XXXVI

Brady was not close to being the quarterback he would become, and that is what makes his first Super Bowl still so incredible.

In his second season in the NFL, Brady came in and successfully filled the void after starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe suffered a chest injury in Week 2 of the 2001 season and led them to an 11-5 record, but he was not expected to go blow for blow with the vaunted St. Louis Rams offense.

As it happened, he received significant help from an excellent defensive display by New England, but the defining moment came in the final 90 seconds, with legendary commentator John Madden calling for the Patriots to play for overtime. Belichick had the faith in Brady to go the opposite route.

He promptly delivered a nine-play, 53-yard drive that began the legend, setting up Adam Vinatieri for a 48-yard field goal that clinched a 20-17 win for the Patriots and their first title. For a player of his relative inexperience to deliver in a situation of that magnitude, it remains one of Brady's most remarkable achievements.

2. Super Bowl XLIX

It gets lost with the fact that Brady and the Patriots would have lost this game to the Seattle Seahawks if not for Malcolm Butler's goal-line interception, but his fourth quarter in a 28-24 classic was one of the finest periods produced by any quarterback in the Super Bowl.

The Patriots trailed by 10 points midway through the fourth quarter, but Brady fearlessly and precisely led them on two touchdown drives against one of the best defenses in NFL history to turn the tide in their favour.

Of course, this game will always be remembered for the Seahawks' inexplicable decision to attempt a pass on the one-yard line with victory in their grasp, but the game never gets to that point without what was at the time Brady's greatest comeback effort in the Super Bowl.

1. Super Bowl LI

It was always unlikely Brady would ever top this performance, his Super Bowl piece de resistance.

All seemed lost for Brady when the Patriots trailed 28-3 to the Atlanta Falcons in the third quarter, but what followed was an accumulation of all the clutch moments he has produced in his unparalleled career.

The Falcons were reduced to near helpless spectators as Brady masterfully instigated the biggest fightback in Super Bowl history.

When the Patriots won the coin toss to start overtime, their 34-28 triumph was inevitable. Everyone knew what was about to happen, with the Falcons as powerless to stop it as the Chiefs were last year.

It was a revival that added immeasurably to Brady's aura, his desire to collect Super Bowl rings unsurpassed in the sport's history.

Could another be on the way?

A supremely busy Premier League Sunday may not have included either of the top two, but there was certainly no shortage of talking points.

There was particular focus towards the bottom of the table, with Norwich City and Everton losing yet again, while in the top-four race, Arsenal took another step towards sealing the final Champions League spot.

Chaos continues to engulf Chelsea, but they carry on winning, claiming a dramatic 1-0 win over Newcastle United, who were reminded again what it is like to lose following an impressive unbeaten run.

Without any further ado, Stats Perform looks at the key Opta facts from some of the day's games…

Chelsea 1-0 Newcastle United: Havertz decisive again

It was a particularly strange day at Stamford Bridge, with much of the pre-match noise focused on the two clubs' owners and fans.

But once the game started it was quickly remembered that this was going to give the clearest indication of the true extent of Newcastle's recent improvement.

As it happened, Chelsea clinched a late winner through Kai Havertz, who appeared to channel Dennis Bergkamp as he brought down Jorginho's pass and prodded home almost in one action.

That was the German's sixth goal involvement in five league games and saw him net in three successive top-flight matches for the club, with the former Bayer Leverkusen talent well and truly establishing himself as one of the competition's standout attackers.

It brought Newcastle's nine-match unbeaten run in the league to an end, with it also the first time since December that the Magpies have failed to score in the competition, though it was another encouraging performance from Eddie Howe's team.

Arsenal 2-0 Leicester City: Gunners finding their groove

Everything's looking rather rosy right now at Arsenal, with the Gunners making a pretty convincing case for the top four – this victory puts them a point clear of Manchester United, with Mikel Arteta's men crucially having three games in hand.

Leicester never looked like interrupting Arsenal's flow here, with the hosts in fine shape and playing eye-catching football.

This was their fifth successive league win, with Arsenal the only team outside of the top three to achieve that feat this season.

Their home form has proven a major help. They have lost just once at the Emirates Stadium since losing to Chelsea in their season opener, winning 10 of those 13 games.

Martin Odegaard in particular seems to have found another level lately, and he was excellent again, creating six chances. Five of those came in the first 45, making it the most by an Arsenal player in the first half of a game since October 2017 (Mesut Ozil, six).

Leeds United 2-1 Norwich City: Marsch madness twist leaves Canaries looking doomed

Leeds fans were devoted to Marcelo Bielsa. His replacement, Jesse Marsch, has been received well, but the jury is out on him.

A first win will surely aid his hopes of inspiring a bit of Marsch madness in the fanbase, and it came in dramatic circumstances too.

Joe Gelhardt scored a 90th-minute winner, making him the youngest player (19 years 313 days) to score a last-minute decider in the Premier League since February 2017 (Gabriel Jesus, 19y 308d) – the drama appeared to floor Marsch, who went tumbling to the ground amid the jubilant celebrations.

The joy on the Leeds bench was juxtaposed by the despair among the Norwich players and staff.

That was the Canaries' 20th Premier League defeat of the season in 29 games – never before in a league campaign have they reached 20 losses in fewer games.

Everton 0-1 Wolves: Lage's men continue exceptional 2022 form

What a season this is turning out to be for Wolves. When Nuno Espirito Santo left, there were certainly those who feared for the club's Premier League status given the stability that had served them well for several years was about to be truly tested.

Yet, they needn't have worried. Here we are in March and Wolves are challenging for European football and are one of the two form teams in the league in 2022.

This was their seventh Premier League win of the calendar year, secured by Conor Coady's goal, and leaves them with 21 points since January 1 – only Liverpool (eight wins, 25 points) have a better record than Wolves in 2022.

The reality is rather grimmer for Everton, however. Defeat here leaves them on 22 points from 26 matches, the lowest tally they have ever recorded at this stage of any league campaign (assuming a win equals three points).

This latest disappointment will likely bring fresh questions of manager Frank Lampard given only Norwich (one) have accumulated fewer points than Everton (three) since the former Chelsea boss' first game in charge.

There really isn't much to split Manchester United and Tottenham right now.

Ahead of Saturday's game at Old Trafford, the Red Devils are two points better off in the Premier League table but having played two matches more. Just a single goal separates them in the goal difference column, too.

They have each won three of their past seven league games, they are heavily reliant on two players scoring the vast majority of their goals, and even their managers, although on very different contracts, are facing uncertain futures. If you stood between the dressing rooms prior to kick-off, you wouldn't be surprised to hear "Lads, it's Tottenham" and "Lads, it's United" bellowed simultaneously behind the closed doors.

Of course, this could be a hugely important fixture beyond deciding which team is playing slightly less mediocre stuff. The top-four race in the Premier League looks likely to run into the deciding matchdays in May, and a win this weekend for either side would give them a huge boost.

It could also offer some clues as to which of Ralf Rangnick and Antonio Conte has so far done a better job, because that, too, is a very difficult question to answer.

Since Rangnick replaced Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as interim manager in late November, United have played 14 in the Premier League, won seven, drawn five and lost two, giving them an average of 1.86 points per game. They have scored 21 goals and conceded 14.

Their victories have come against Brentford, Brighton and Hove Albion, Burnley, Crystal Palace, Leeds United, Norwich City and West Ham. Just two of these teams are currently in the top 10 in the table.

Roughly a month earlier, Conte stepped in for the sacked Nuno Espirito Santo, who lost his job after Spurs were beaten 3-1 at home to United. 

In 16 games under the Italian, Spurs have won nine, drawn three and lost four, averaging 1.88 points per game. They have scored 31 times and conceded 16.

Their wins have come against Leeds United, Brentford, Palace, Everton, Leicester City, Manchester City, Norwich and Watford. Just two of these teams are currently in the top 10 in the table.

We told you it was difficult.

Such distinctly average form has not helped to paint a clear picture of either manager's efforts. Spurs will go into this game in a better mood, of course, given they just thrashed an awful Everton side 5-0, while United were humiliated in a 4-1 loss to Manchester City. Still, it's only been a couple of weeks since Conte suggested he might have to resign as he just couldn't handle the thought of more defeats, while United had just scored six across consecutive wins over Brighton and Leeds. Inconsistency is the only constant where United and Spurs are concerned.

There have been definite improvements, though. For one thing, despite Raphael Varane's injury troubles and the overbearing scrutiny on Harry Maguire every time he draws breath, United's defence has got better since the shambolic final weeks under Solskjaer.

In their opening 14 league games this season, United conceded 22 goals – the fifth-most in the division – and kept only two clean sheets. Under Rangnick, they have let in 16 goals – four of those coming at City last weekend – and kept five clean sheets (we are excluding own goals here). They are facing a similar number of shots, roughly 13 per game, but their expected goals against figure has improved from 21.43 to 18.35, suggesting that, under Rangnick, they have limited opponents to more speculative attempts. They have also cut down a deeply worrying number of mistakes: before Rangnick, they committed a league-high 12 errors leading to shots, which has fallen to just three since the German took charge.

Defensive improvement has not been quite as clear under Conte. Although they have conceded as many goals (16) in Conte's 16 matches in charge as they did in 10 under Nuno, Spurs' xGA figure has increased from 15.48 to 19.01, indicating that their seven clean sheets have owed something to Hugo Lloris and a little luck (again, that figure ignores own goals). And while United's error count has dropped, Spurs have committed 11 leading to shots, the second-worst figure in the Premier League since Conte's return. It would be enough to make the former Chelsea boss tear his hair out, if... no, we won't go there.

What about at the other end? A much-discussed issue under Rangnick, and the reason behind all those draws, has been United's inability to take chances. Cristiano Ronaldo, for instance, has only scored one goal in 2022. The numbers highlight an obvious problem: in the league under Solskjaer, United exceeded their expected total this season by just over four (excluding own goals); under Rangnick, they have underperformed by 4.4.

Yet their problems in attack are not for the want of opportunities. Since Rangnick's arrival, only Man City and Liverpool have created more chances and attempted more shots in the Premier League, and only Man City and Spurs have generated more 'big' chances. The problem is that only 68 of United's 208 most recent shots have been on target, and only Liverpool have attempted more from outside the box in that time. When the going gets tough, the shooting gets desperate.

Over the same period, they are fourth for xG and expected goals on target, which measures the quality of an attempt itself. However, the difference between the two is nearly 4.0, and 3.03 if you exclude penalties. Only relegation battlers Burnley (3.53) have had a worse such difference during Rangnick's time in England, which tells you a lot about the standard of United's recent finishing even before you take the opposition goalkeeper's performance into account. They can at least make the argument that, should they keep creating chances at this rate, their luck should begin to turn... eventually.

Spurs' attacking fortunes have felt a bit mixed under Conte. In their past five matches, they have scored three at Man City, four at Leeds and five at home to Everton but drawn blanks away to Burnley and Middlesbrough.

Excluding own goals, they have scored 28 times in the league under Conte from 30.4 xG, giving them pretty similar figures to those under Nuno (eight goals from 10 xG). The average xG value of their shots has increased a touch, though, so they can argue their attacking play is sharpening up.

That's a good sign given Spurs are chasing a couple of milestones at Old Trafford: they could score at least four goals for the third league game in a row for the first time since February 2004, while Harry Kane needs only one away goal to match Wayne Rooney's competition record of 94.

It would be quite the result if Spurs could beat both Manchester clubs away in the same season, and it would give their Champions League hopes a significant shot in the arm. As for which side is showing the best progress... well, perhaps we should let this top-four chase run its course first.

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