One of the NFL's most prolific quarterback and wide receiver duos saw their time together come to an end on Thursday as Davante Adams was traded by the Green Bay Packers to the Las Vegas Raiders.

Adams' departure ends his association with MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the apparent telepathy between that duo helping keep the Packers at the forefront of the NFC over the past three seasons.

Since Adams was drafted in 2014, Rodgers had found him for 68 receiving touchdowns. Since 1991, when Stats Perform started collecting data, they are seventh in that category among quarterback and receiver duos.

Arguably the league's premier wide receiver, Adams' impact will be near-impossible to replace, but the Packers do have avenues via which they can attempt to fill the void, especially in a draft where the Packers now have picks 22 and 28 in the first round.

Here, Stats Perform looks at some of the potential additions the Packers could make to minimise the pain of Adams' exit.

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Jarvis Landry

Released by the Cleveland Browns having previously been given permission to seek a trade, Landry is coming off a season in which he played only 12 games and produced career lows in receiving yards (570) and touchdowns (two).

However, the advanced numbers suggest he still has plenty in the tank as a wideout who can operate on the outside and in the slot.

According to Stats Perform data, Landry finished the 2021 season with an open percentage of 40, well above the league average of 32.58. His combined open percentage against man and zone coverage was 38.3.

Odell Beckham Jr.

The most high-profile receiver still on the free-agent market is the one the Packers were reportedly interested in before he signed with the Los Angeles Rams following his release from the Browns.

Beckham appeared to voice his displeasure on social media after news of Adams' historic contract with the Raiders emerged, the former New York Giant having also seen the Rams agree to a contract with Allen Robinson in free agency.

His torn ACL suffered in the Rams' Super Bowl win over the Cincinnati Bengals may be complicating matters for the defending champions, and there could be an opportunity for the Packers to take advantage and lure him to Lambeau Field.

With five touchdowns in his final seven regular-season games in 2021 and two in the Rams' triumphant postseason, Beckham showed plenty to suggest he can still be an elite NFL wide receiver; his open percentage against man of 46.97 was 10th among receivers with at least 100 matchups.

Will Fuller

Staying on the field has been a career-long battle for Fuller, who featured in just two games in his lone season with the Miami Dolphins last year.

Yet he could prove an affordable option and give the Packers a speedy downfield weapon if they do not re-sign Marquez Valdes-Scantling.

Among wideouts with at least 50 targets, Fuller was fifth in burn rate – which measures how often a receiver wins his matchup on a play where he is targeted – in 2020, recording a burn on 73.3 per cent of his targets.

He was also fifth in burn yards per target (14.08) and tied 10th in big-play rate (39 per cent).

DRAFT

Chris Olave – Ohio State

There isn't a Davante Adams in this year's draft, but it's still an extremely deep receiver class, in which Olave is near the top.

Possessing an extremely intriguing blend of speed and refined route-running ability, Olave is frequently linked with the Packers in mock drafts.

A big-play threat who can be a significant weapon in the red zone, only DeVonta Smith (37) scored more receiving touchdowns in the FBS than Olave (32) between 2019 and 2021.

Treylon Burks – Arkansas

At 6ft 3in and 225 pounds, Burks would bring significant size to the receiver position for the Packers, as well as plenty of versatility.

Burks was not used in a conventional sense for a receiver of his frame by the Razorbacks, frequently receiving the ball on screens and carries out of the backfield.

Just 169 of his 1,104 receiving yards came at the catch point in 2021, illustrating his prowess after the catch in the open field. Despite not being used as regularly downfield as some might expect, he was still second in the SEC to Jameson Williams (24) with 20 receiving plays of 20 yards or more.

With his experience operating out of the backfield and the potential to use him as a 'power slot' given his size, Burks could add an intriguing different dimension to the Green Bay passing game.

Jameson Williams – Alabama

Speaking of Williams, it will be fascinating to see how far he falls in the draft after his season ended with him suffering a torn ACL in the National Championship Game loss to Georgia in January.

The Packers should at least give thought to using their second pick in the first round on the former Crimson Tide burner, whose devastating combination of track star speed, foot quickness and route-running savvy made him a nightmare for defenders across college football.

It is not clear when Williams would be ready to start building a rapport with Rodgers, but there is no doubt over how potent they could be together.

Williams averaged 19.9 yards per reception last year, while no player in the FBS had more than his nine catches of at least 50 yards, making him a likely ideal match for one of the best deep ball throwers in the NFL.

Barcelona travel to the Spanish capital to take on Real Madrid in El Clasico on Sunday, and for the first time in a long time, they do so with somewhat justified optimism.

As Bob Dylan said, "the times, they are-a-changin'".

That will perhaps be one of the many songs we will hear blaring out at Camp Nou after Barcelona signed a deal with music streaming giant Spotify for naming rights to the iconic stadium from next season.

This is a club that until 2006 thought it uncouth to even have a shirt sponsor, and when they eventually did, it was a philanthropic deal with UNICEF.

Eventually, the increasing need for vast sums of money in order to stay relevant at football's top table led to the Blaugrana signing a deal with Qatar Airways, though their financial situation has famously worsened in recent years.

That, of course, has been largely down to poor decisions in terms of contract negotiations and recruitment, with their transfer strategy on shuffle in the past five years.

On and off the field, it seemed like Barca were getting further and further away from their roots, though they tried to turn that around by bringing in former European Cup-winning defender Ronald Koeman.

The Dutchman replaced Quique Setien in August 2020 and led Barca to Copa del Rey success in his first season, but they finished third in LaLiga and suffered a Champions League last-16 exit, as well as losing the Supercopa de Espana final to Athletic Bilbao.

A shock 1-0 defeat at Rayo Vallecano in late October 2021 spelled the end for Koeman, but the decision to replace him with Xavi felt like it could have been a different colour of the same thinking, that you need someone who 'gets the club' rather than simply an elite coach.

Pep Guardiola had no affiliation with Manchester City before going to the Etihad Stadium, as with Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool or Thomas Tuchel at Chelsea.

However, while Koeman was a former player and European Cup winner, Xavi was a figure from the club's real golden generation, an era the club and their fans are eager to return to.

Barca felt at their lowest ebb after losing Lionel Messi to Paris Saint-Germain due to financial constraints at the end of last season. They were out of the LaLiga title race early on after winning just four of their first 12 games (D5 L3), before arguably the ultimate humiliation of Champions League elimination in the group stage for the first time in 21 years.

Xavi's first game in charge was somewhat appropriately a derby against Espanyol. It was nervy, it was uncertain, but it was at least a 1-0 win.

Ahead of the home game with Elche in December, the 42-year-old suggested part of the problem was some of his players' inability to grasp "juego de posicion" – "the position game" – a structured approach to play with and without the ball in which the great Barca sides thrived.

In a video for The Coaches' Voice while still manager of Al Sadd, Xavi outlined his philosophy, saying: "The most important, the most beautiful and the most precious thing in football is to have the ball, and to attack and dominate the game with the ball.

"It's clear to me that my team has to control the ball. I suffer when I don't have it. It happened to me when I was a footballer and now even more so on the bench.

"How do I set up the team? Regardless of the system, in the end, the most important thing is this philosophy that we talked about. Total control of the ball – it matters a lot to me. I'm obsessed with possession, and not just to have the ball for the sake of having it, but to attack and create chances and hurt the opposition."

Since Xavi's arrival, Barca have taken 34 points from 15 games in LaLiga (W10 D4 L1), a record only bettered by Real Madrid in that time (39 points – W12 D3 L1).

 

They have also not lost any of their nine away league games since the legendary midfielder was appointed (W5 D4), and should they avoid defeat at the Santiago Bernabeu, Xavi would become only the second Barca coach to be unbeaten in his first 10 away games in the competition after Ernesto Valverde.

Results have clearly improved, but what changes has Xavi actually made to the underachieving side he inherited?

Comparing his 24 games in charge so far with the 13 overseen by Koeman at the start of the season – it would be unfair to look at the Dutchman's entire record at the club given he had statistic monster Messi at his disposal last season – the improvements have been slight yet significant.

Interestingly, their average possession has only risen slightly, from 63.8 per cent to 64.5, while the average number of passes per game has gone from 604.4 to 625.8.

Given Xavi's insistence that possession must also lead to chances that "hurt the opposition", it is a slight surprise to see that Koeman actually saw marginally more big chances created (2.23 per game to 2.21), but Barca now have more shots on goal (15.0 per game, up from 11.2) and are averaging a goal every 47 minutes, drastically up from one every 73 under Koeman.

One thing that may cause some surprise is the apparent willingness to go long more often under Xavi, hitting 52.1 long passes per game compared to 43.6 under Koeman. This does not mean they are becoming a long ball team, rather that they appear to be more willing to play riskier balls to try to turn the opposition around with one pass rather than the possession for the sake of possession Xavi spoke of.

 

This could also be a result of the additions the coach has made to the squad, despite obvious limitations in terms of budget.

The former Premier League trio of Ferran Torres, Adama Traore and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang might all be used to playing more direct styles and have impressed since arriving from England.

The return of Dani Alves may have raised eyebrows, but the 38-year-old – while understandably not quite the Alves of old – has restored a certain energy and spirit, even contributing four goal involvements in his eight appearances so far (one goal, three assists).

Xavi no doubt also sees the benefits of having such an experienced head around young stars like Pedri and Gavi, who have both established themselves as vital components of the team being put together.

Another interesting sub-plot to Xavi's brief tenure has been Ousmane Dembele, who still looks like he will be leaving Camp Nou at the end of the campaign once his contract expires.

The club were desperate to move the France international on in January but unable to do so, and it seemed Dembele may just sit in the stands to see out the final months of his deal.

However, Xavi has decided to bring the enigmatic attacker back into the fold, and that call seems to be paying off, with Dembele putting in some star performances in recent weeks, registering five assists in his past four LaLiga appearances, as many as he managed in his previous 45 league games for the club.

The improvement seen at Camp Nou will be put to the test in the Clasico, with Madrid the team to beat in Spain for now.

Xavi will be seeking to change that fact in the coming seasons but first must ensure he continues to get a tune out of his players before the reported €280m Spotify deal kicks in – starting on Sunday.

The NFL offseason is as exciting as it has ever been in 2022 – and several of the biggest moves have centred on the AFC West.

This was already one of the deepest divisions in football, headlined by Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs but also featuring the 2021 fifth seed Las Vegas Raiders and gunslinging Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert in its supporting cast.

But the lineup for next season promises to be even more enticing.

The Raiders have worked to make sure they have not been left behind by the big-spending Chargers, while the Denver Broncos have also made a significant move to climb into contention.

In fact, over the past two weeks, the Chiefs have perhaps been among the big losers – watching on while the rest of their division have been getting busy...

March 8: Russell Wilson (Seahawks to Broncos)

The NFC West was previously the standard-bearer for hugely competitive divisions, but the power shifted as its fourth-placed Seattle Seahawks traded superstar quarterback Wilson to the AFC West's fourth-placed Broncos. With Aaron Rodgers staying with the Green Bay Packers, when a move to Denver had been mooted, a big play for Wilson was vital if the Broncos were to make up a significant gap. The Super Bowl XLVIII champion has ranked fourth for both pass yards per attempt (7.83) and touchdown percentage (6.2) across his NFL career – a significant upgrade on the Broncos' 2021 QBs Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock.

March 10: Khalil Mack (Bears to Chargers)

With Herbert running the offense, the Chargers have moved to improve the other side of the ball – first by trading for edge rusher Mack. A second-round pick in this year's draft was the primary compensation for a six-time Pro Bowler, immediately boosting a unit that ranked 23rd in total defense (360.1 yards per game) and 30th in run defense (138.9) last year. Mack struggled with injuries in his final year with the Chicago Bears but comes in opposite Joey Bosa, who ranks third in the NFL for QB pressures (389) and sixth for sacks (58) since his 2016 debut; Mack is fourth (388) and seventh (57.5) over that same period.

March 14: J.C. Jackson (free agent to Chargers)

As well as draft collateral, the Chargers had salary cap to work with and sent a large chunk of it to cornerback Jackson, allowed to leave by the New England Patriots. Jackson had certainly earned his pay day, leading the NFL in interceptions (25) since debuting in New England in 2018. This playmaking ability was also illustrated by the 26-year-old giving up big plays on only 18.9 per cent of his targets last season, the eighth-best rate among corners with at least 50 targets.

March 15: Randy Gregory (free agent to Broncos)

The Chargers' edge-rushing duo will take some beating, but the Broncos upgraded in that position, too, by giving up to $70million to Gregory, who had been set to re-sign with the Dallas Cowboys. Gregory, who missed almost three full seasons due to violations of the NFL's substance abuse policy, had finally established himself as a starter in 2021 with career highs in sacks (six) and QB hits (17) playing opposite DeMarcus Lawrence. The 29-year-old linebacker will now be paired with Bradley Chubb, despite a return to Denver for Von Miller being floated earlier in the month.

March 16: Chandler Jones (free agent to Raiders)

Having seen their division rivals make big moves, the Raiders responded with a $51m offer to Jones, while trading Yannick Ngakoue to the Indianapolis Colts for corner Rock Ya-Sin. Ngakoue had 10 sacks and forced two fumbles in his sole season in Las Vegas, but Jones (10.5 and six) topped both figures for the Arizona Cardinals in 2021. In fact, since Jones came into the league with the Patriots in 2012, he leads both categories, with 107.5 sacks and 33 fumbles forced. Although now 32, he shows few signs of slowing.

March 17: Davante Adams (Packers to Raiders)

The most stunning move of the lot followed on Thursday, when Adams' refusal to play for the Packers on the franchise tag led to his trade to the Raiders for a first and a second-round pick in 2022 (22 and 53 overall). The deal suddenly gives Raiders QB Derek Carr arguably the best offensive weapon in the NFL – and one he can go to time and time again, given Adams was targeted on a league-leading 35.4 per cent of his routes in 2021, which yielded career highs in catches (123) and receiving yards (1,553). Fellow wideout Hunter Renfrow may now see less of the ball than in his first 1,000-yard season (1,038), but he should also benefit from the attention Adams inevitably draws. The Raiders already ranked sixth in passing offense (268.6 yards per game).

How does Formula One go about following up the epic 2021 season?

Well, until that stunning campaign stole the show, this year was long seen as the one to look forward to with the introduction of new regulations to encourage competitive racing right down the grid.

Lewis Hamilton might have expected a genuine challenge in 2022; instead, in the form of Max Verstappen, it arrived 12 months early.

Excitement for the coming campaign is therefore at an all-time high, with pre-season testing adding to the theory fans should expect the unexpected.

Forecasting the year ahead is tricky, but Stats Perform seeks to identify the key narratives to follow this season ahead of Sunday's 2022 opener in Bahrain.

Max vs Lewis again

For now at least, Verstappen and Hamilton will expect to be the title frontrunners, which should mean another classic campaign.

Verstappen had never even led the standings until winning last year's Monaco Grand Prix, the first of five consecutive Red Bull wins – including four for the Dutchman.

That sequence ended at Silverstone, where contact with Hamilton sent Verstappen into the wall and set the tone for the rest of a frantic season, in which the pair repeatedly went at one another, crashing at Monza.

A titanic back-and-forth deserved a better ending than to be decided by a contentious call from race director Michael Masi in Abu Dhabi.

Now, defending champion Verstappen can attempt to prove he is better than Hamilton regardless of that decision, while the Mercedes man seeks to show his class once again as he pursues a record eighth title.

The midfield challenge

The game-changing 2022 regulations sought to enforce "closer racing", meaning both Verstappen and Hamilton could come under threat rather than simply blowing away the competition.

Early signs are encouraging on that front, with the two title rivals name-checking Ferrari's superb pre-season showing in the past week.

A resurgent Scuderia represent an obvious danger to those two, but so too do McLaren, Ferrari's midfield neighbours in recent seasons.

Lando Norris had four podiums last season before tailing off to finish sixth in the drivers' championship – still two places ahead of team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, who endured a tough first year with the team despite a famous win at Monza.

Having been aided by changes to the car for 2022, it is up to Ferrari and McLaren to close the gap considerably to Red Bull and Mercedes.

George a genuine threat?

Of course, Verstappen and Hamilton might typically expect their biggest challenges to come from those in the same cars.

However, Sergio Perez played the role of supporting Red Bull team-mate brilliantly in some key moments last year, while Valtteri Bottas continued to do his own thing without worrying Hamilton.

How a change in the Mercedes garage alters things remains to be seen. Bottas has been replaced by George Russell, who will hope to quickly make his mark.

Russell deputised for Hamilton for a single race the year before last and impressed, so it will be interesting to see if he now intends to push his legendary colleague all the way or will initially settle instead for helping his title bid.

Impact of refereeing reform

It is not only the cars that have had a makeover this year, with the officiating structure reorganised in the aftermath of the criticism aimed at Masi.

He is out as race director, with two men, Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas, taking his place, while other changes include the introduction of a "virtual race control room" to "assist the race director in the decision-making process".

Whether these changes suitably appease the team principals, who grew increasingly furious with each controversy last year, remains to be seen.

All parties would agree they would rather see the championship decided on the track – but it is not always as straightforward as that.

Lewis Hamilton was hurting after the remarkable conclusion to the 2021 season, but he has had time to reset and prepare for another tilt at a record-breaking eighth Formula One drivers' championship.

Hamilton was denied the title in dramatic fashion last year, when a highly contentious decision from then race director Michael Masi gave Max Verstappen the opportunity to pass him on the final lap of the season to be crowned champion for the first time.

Mercedes feared Hamilton would quit the sport as a result, but the man Toto Wolff described as a "lion" in last season's run-in is ready to fight again – starting at this week's Bahrain Grand Prix.

Not that Hamilton is expecting this season to be any more straightforward than the last.

Verstappen has proven he can match Hamilton over the course of a campaign, while George Russell will hope to prove more competitive than Valtteri Bottas in the second Mercedes seat. The new F1 regulations also mean a potential challenge from the midfield, with Ferrari fast in pre-season.

"We're certainly not at the top," a pessimistic Hamilton said last week, but Verstappen dismissed those comments while acknowledging Ferrari's pace.

The Red Bull superstar suggested Hamilton and Mercedes would quickly turn their fortunes around – and that certainly fits with the Briton's career to date.

"He's an exceptional driver," former Ferrari star Felipe Massa told Stats Perform, "one who is undoubtedly the main man in the sport today because of the records he holds in Formula One.

"No one ever imagined that he would even come close to beating [Michael] Schumacher's records. He overtook pretty much everyone else. One more title is missing to go ahead as a record holder."

That eighth title will remain the goal this year, but Hamilton could move ahead of Schumacher in another sense as soon as Sunday; he has won in 15 consecutive F1 seasons since 2007, meaning victory in a 16th would top the German (1992-2006).

 

Hamilton's happy hunting ground

In pursuit of that new benchmark, Hamilton will be happy to be back in Bahrain, where he has such an outstanding history.

Of the 17 editions of the Bahrain GP, Hamilton has won a record five races, including the past three. No other driver has won three in succession at this event – and that sequence could be extended to four this week.

Mercedes have recorded the most pole positions (six) and podiums (15) at the Bahrain Grand Prix, ranking one ahead of Ferrari in each category.

The Silver Arrows and the Scuderia are tied for Bahrain wins (six) and fastest laps (five) heading into the 2022 race.

We are in a special week for Mercedes, too, as this is the team's 250th grand prix. With 124 victories so far, they could mark the occasion by improving their win rate to an outstanding 50 per cent, the best such performance by any one team.

Red Bull set for reality check?

Verstappen's record at this track is not quite so impressive, even if he almost beat Hamilton last season having started from pole, forced to give his place back after exceeding track limits in passing his rival.

That was Verstappen's seventh Bahrain GP without victory – an eighth fruitless appearance would make this the grand prix he has entered most without winning.

He has retired three times at the Bahrain GP and, including the 2020 Sakhir GP, a career-high four times at this circuit.

The Dutchman at least has the benefit of the confidence of his championship triumph – and a "ridiculously fast" Red Bull, according to Hamilton – but first-time champions have not typically fared well in the first race of their title defence.

Only three of the past 14 first-time defending champions have won on the first weekend of the new season: Michael Schumacher in 1995, Fernando Alonso in 2006 and Sebastian Vettel in 2011.

At least securing pole would mean a positive omen, as Red Bull drivers have gone on to win the title on the four previous occasions they have started the season by qualifying fastest (Vettel in 2010, 2011 and 2013, plus Verstappen last year).

Hamilton in 2015 and 2016 was the last driver to achieve back-to-back Bahrain poles, although only seven Bahrain GP winners have started from the front of the grid.

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.

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?

Just two months after his announcement that he would retire from the NFL after 22 seasons, Tom Brady has decided to return for next season.

It means Brady's final game in the sport will not be the dramatic Divisional Round loss to the Los Angeles Rams, in which he had led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a remarkable late comeback.

That display, at the end of a season in which Brady led the league in passing yards (5,316) and touchdown passes (43), had elements of everything that made him the greatest of all time.

Brady's decision to return also means there is even less prospect of any other QB coming close in the near future, however, as Stats Perform examines the stunning numbers behind his record-breaking career.

THE BREES BATTLE

Brady's seven Super Bowls counted for more than any other statistic ever could, but there was still intrigue around his battle with Drew Brees for a number of all-time passing marks.

Brees was drafted by the San Diego Chargers the year after Brady was selected by the New England Patriots, forever pitting the pair against one another.

But the long-time New Orleans Saints QB did not quite have Brady's longevity, retiring a year earlier, and allowed the gap between the two men's achievements to widen in 2021.

Brady leads the NFL with 84,520 passing yards, ahead of the second-placed Brees and his 80,358.

In terms of touchdown passes, it is a similar story. Brady's 624 top the charts, with Brees his nearest challenger on 571.

Brees also ranks second for seasons with 20 touchdown passes (17) and team points per game among quarterbacks with at least 100 starts (27.4). Brady (19 and 28.3) is the main man in both categories.

WINS, WINS, WINS

There is an enduring debate over whether wins are a quarterback statistic, but one would have a hard time arguing otherwise in Brady's case. Even after benefiting from Bill Belichick's coaching for 20 years, the veteran headed to Tampa and won right away.

Brady finished with 243 QB wins, meaning an incredible margin to second-placed pair Peyton Manning and Brett Favre on 186.

In fact, Brady has 69 wins in the month of December alone. In terms of a single month, Favre is next, with 52 wins also in December.

It should come as no surprise then that Brady has the best record among QBs with at least 100 starts, his .769 again comfortably ahead of the next-best performance, Roger Staubach's .746.

Of course, Brady has kept winning as each season has extended into the postseason.

He has 35 playoff wins, too many to compare to one rival QB alone. Among all NFL teams excluding Brady's Pats and Bucs, the Baltimore Ravens have won the most playoff games since 2000. They are on 16.

STILL GOING STRONG

Brady's 2021 performance made his decision to quit something of a shock. Even in his mid-40s, there had been no signs of slowing.

Last season was Brady's 19th different season with 3,000 passing yards – clear of Favre's 18 – and his fifth 4,000-yard season just since he turned 40.

Hall of Famers Troy Aikman, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana, Joe Namath, Ken Stabler, Staubach and Steve Young combined for three seasons with 4,000 passing yards for their careers.

Just two months after his announcement that he would retire from the NFL after 22 seasons, Tom Brady has decided to return for next season.

It means Brady's final game in the sport will not be the dramatic Divisional Round loss to the Los Angeles Rams, in which he had led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a remarkable late comeback.

That display, at the end of a season in which Brady led the league in passing yards (5,316) and touchdown passes (43), had elements of everything that made him the greatest of all time.

Brady's decision to return also means there is even less prospect of any other QB coming close in the near future, however, as Stats Perform examines the stunning numbers behind his record-breaking career.

THE BREES BATTLE

Brady's seven Super Bowls counted for more than any other statistic ever could, but there was still intrigue around his battle with Drew Brees for a number of all-time passing marks.

Brees was drafted by the San Diego Chargers the year after Brady was selected by the New England Patriots, forever pitting the pair against one another.

But the long-time New Orleans Saints QB did not quite have Brady's longevity, retiring a year earlier, and allowed the gap between the two men's achievements to widen in 2021.

Brady leads the NFL with 84,520 passing yards, ahead of the second-placed Brees and his 80,358.

In terms of touchdown passes, it is a similar story. Brady's 624 top the charts, with Brees his nearest challenger on 571.

Brees also ranks second for seasons with 20 touchdown passes (17) and team points per game among quarterbacks with at least 100 starts (27.4). Brady (19 and 28.3) is the main man in both categories.

WINS, WINS, WINS

There is an enduring debate over whether wins are a quarterback statistic, but one would have a hard time arguing otherwise in Brady's case. Even after benefiting from Bill Belichick's coaching for 20 years, the veteran headed to Tampa and won right away.

Brady finished with 243 QB wins, meaning an incredible margin to second-placed pair Peyton Manning and Brett Favre on 186.

In fact, Brady has 69 wins in the month of December alone. In terms of a single month, Favre is next, with 52 wins also in December.

It should come as no surprise then that Brady has the best record among QBs with at least 100 starts, his .769 again comfortably ahead of the next-best performance, Roger Staubach's .746.

Of course, Brady has kept winning as each season has extended into the postseason.

He has 35 playoff wins, too many to compare to one rival QB alone. Among all NFL teams excluding Brady's Pats and Bucs, the Baltimore Ravens have won the most playoff games since 2000. They are on 16.

STILL GOING STRONG

Brady's 2021 performance made his decision to quit something of a shock. Even in his mid-40s, there had been no signs of slowing.

Last season was Brady's 19th different season with 3,000 passing yards – clear of Favre's 18 – and his fifth 4,000-yard season just since he turned 40.

Hall of Famers Troy Aikman, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana, Joe Namath, Ken Stabler, Staubach and Steve Young combined for three seasons with 4,000 passing yards for their careers.

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.

Cristiano Ronaldo has spent so much of his career rewriting the history books that a hat-trick against Tottenham on Saturday was just another reminder of his "genius".

Genius was the word used by Roy Keane after Saturday evening's treble at Old Trafford secured a 3-2 win that could yet be a major lift for a United side who still face a tall order to finish in the Premier League top four.

Arsenal, two points behind fourth-placed United with four games in hand, remain favourites for that slot, but Ronaldo's performance against Spurs was a signal the Red Devils could still force their way into those positions at the season's end.

Keane said on Sky Sports after the final whistle: "Scoring goals is the hardest part of the game. To score that many goals at the highest level - international goals, big games in the Champions League... today obviously it was Spurs. What more can you say? The guy's a genius."

There is a theory that Ronaldo is now the world's all-time record goalscorer, overtaking Josef Bican, an Austrian-Czech striker who was prolific in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s.

Official records from that time can be difficult to ratify, and Czech FA experts have previously put Bican's figure at 821 goals rather than the often-stated figure of 805.

Nevertheless, there is much that can be stated with conviction, and Opta data outlines just what a performance this was from Ronaldo.

– He has now scored a hat-trick in each of his last 13 seasons, and this was his 49th club career hat-trick.

– Having spent nine years at Real Madrid, and then three with Juventus, Ronaldo has reacquainted himself with the English game this season. It had been 14 years and 59 days since he scored what was his only previous Premier League hat-trick, against Newcastle United, making it the longest such gap in the competition's history.

– Teddy Sheringham is the only player to have scored a Premier League treble later in life. Sheringham was 37 years and 146 days old when he scored three for Portsmouth against Bolton Wanderers in August 2003. Ronaldo was 37 years and 35 days, so to break Sheringham's record he will have to remain in the Premier League next season.

– Tottenham boss Antonio Conte was quick to praise Ronaldo after the final whistle, and it was little wonder; Ronaldo became only the second player to score a top-flight hat-trick against a team managed by the Italian, following in the footsteps of Giuseppe Rossi in October 2013 for Fiorentina against Juventus. Rossi, coincidentally, was a United player for a large part of Ronaldo's previous spell at Old Trafford.

– Ronaldo has scored in each of his last seven appearances against Tottenham in all competitions. Indeed, he has netted more goals against Spurs than he has against any other English side in his career (14).

– At 2-2, there was a threat to United's astonishing run of 301 Premier League games without defeat when they have held a half-time lead at Old Trafford. Ronaldo's intervention staved that off emphatically.

– United have now won exactly 400 Premier League home games, becoming the first team to reach that milestone. Some 23 of those wins have been against Tottenham, which is more than any side has beaten another at home in the Premier League.

– Ronaldo is now the joint-second top scorer in the Premier League this season with 12 goals, albeit he is a distant eight behind runaway leader Mohamed Salah of Liverpool.

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.

The 2021 Formula One title race was one for the ages.

Fortunately, the release of season four of Netflix's 'Drive to Survive' series is landing on Friday, giving fans the opportunity to relive the drama and whetting appetites for the forthcoming 2022 campaign.

Few will forget how last season ended, with Max Verstappen pipping Lewis Hamilton in scarcely believable circumstances on the final lap of the final race.

But there had been controversy throughout the year even before that point, making the latest edition of one of sport's great documentaries a must-watch.

Fans will be desperate to learn how 2021 played out behind the scenes, but what should they be looking for? Stats Perform picks out five flashpoints.

Silverstone contact sets the tone

A back-and-forth title tussle between Verstappen and Hamilton was already nine races old by the time the teams arrived at Silverstone – at which point the 'Drive to Survive' producers must have thought they had hit the jackpot.

Hamilton ended a five-race barren run for Mercedes with victory in his home race, but only after sending Verstappen into the barriers at Copse Corner on lap one – a 10-second penalty of little consolation to Red Bull, whose team principal Christian Horner slammed the 2020 champion's "dirty driving".

Seeing the reaction on the pit wall would be of interest to any fan, although this clash merely teed up the drama to come.

Mixed fortunes for furious Lewis in the wet

Two races last year descended into chaos due to the weather, with Verstappen winning in Belgium while Hamilton triumphed in Russia, benefiting from Lando Norris' spin in the rain for his 100th victory. That Sochi result cancelled out events at Spa, where Hamilton had been far from impressed.

Viewers will likely learn more about developments at the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix from 'Drive to Survive' than from live coverage at the time, as the race lasted just two laps under a safety car following Sunday rain.

That was enough to declare a result with half points, with Verstappen rewarded for pipping breakout star George Russell to pole. In public, Hamilton fumed it was "all a money scenario", and it is unlikely he was any calmer in private.

McLaren one-two after halo saves Hamilton

Between Belgium and Russia was the Italian GP at Monza, with perhaps the scariest moment of the season. Verstappen's battle with Hamilton went a little too far as he rode over the Briton's car, with the Mercedes halo required to keep the driver from serious harm.

"I am so grateful I am still here," said Hamilton after being forced to retire, with Verstappen later following him back into the garage.

The documentary cameras surely could not miss this key moment in the title race, but 'Drive to Survive' has been hugely successful in picking out narratives right down the grid – and this was a notable weekend in the midfield, as McLaren profited with a one-two courtesy of Daniel Ricciardo and Norris.

Hamilton heroics at special Sao Paulo GP

Verstappen arrived in Brazil 19 points clear of Hamilton with four races remaining, and the odds were increasingly stacked against his rival over the course of the weekend at the Sao Paulo GP.

Hamilton served a five-place grid penalty when his qualifying time – the fastest on the grid – was struck off for a DRS infringement, meaning he had to start from 10th even after recovering from 20th to fifth in the sprint race. Verstappen escaped punishment when he forced the Mercedes man wide in the main race, too.

Remarkably, Hamilton still won, with Toto Wolff claiming the various setbacks had "woke up the lion". There would have been no final-day spectacle if not for the Briton's late-season charge, which started in Brazil.

Two weeks of epic drama decide title

The final episode of the season will surely focus on the decider in Abu Dhabi, where race director Michael Masi's application of the rules infuriated Mercedes as Hamilton was denied a record-breaking eighth championship in fairly ridiculous fashion.

Footage from that race should entertain even F1 sceptics, with Wolff likely to play a prominent role having pleaded with Masi not to make the contentious call that cost Hamilton and crowned Verstappen.

But the stakes were only such because the pair had entered that race all square in the standings – only the second time this had ever happened – after a similarly eventful Saudi Arabian GP.

Verstappen could have wrapped up the title with time to spare but lost out to Hamilton after a qualifying crash, two red flags and a succession of safety cars, hinting at the level of incident that was to come the following week.

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