Few would be surprised if Manchester City and Liverpool, the Premier League's two dominant teams, each won their five remaining matches this season.

Liverpool have 12 victories in 13 games, with their sole aberration a 2-2 draw against City.

Yet that run will not be enough to take the title should City themselves continue to win, maintaining a tiny one-point gap that represents a chasm in this rivalry.

Perhaps the distraction of huge Champions League tasks could instead encourage one side or the other to take their eyes off the prize – or maybe a Premier League rival can provide an upset.

Liverpool must still tackle two of the other three opponents to have taken points off City this term (Tottenham and Southampton) but first face a team transformed since they were swatted aside by both the Reds and the champions back in December.

As back then, Newcastle United take on Liverpool and City in consecutive matches. The top two also each have Wolves and Aston Villa to play, yet it is Eddie Howe's men who look primed to be kingmakers.

After all, in this calendar year, Newcastle represent the best of the rest. Only Liverpool (2.7) and City (2.3) have earned more points per game than Newcastle (2.1), who are actually ahead of City (30) in terms of a 2022 total (32).

So, heading into a daunting double-header comfortably in midtable after 150 days in the relegation zone this season, could Newcastle shake things up?

Fortress St James'

The last time Newcastle beat Liverpool, Georginio Wijnaldum scored one goal and created the other. He has since been relegated with Newcastle, joined Liverpool, won the Champions League and the Premier League and moved on again.

The Reds are 10 without defeat against Newcastle, including a four-match unbeaten run on Tyneside – albeit two of those clashes were behind closed doors. Newcastle have failed to win in five successive home league games against Liverpool only once previously, back in the 1960s.

Liverpool did come out on top the last time they played in front of fans at St James' Park in 2019 but only courtesy of a controversial late winner. The hosts were clear of relegation trouble with little to play for after a strong second half to the season, while the visitors briefly set aside a Champions League semi-final in their pursuit of City.

That sounds familiar, and the home crowd are likely to be up for it again, with Jurgen Klopp remarking last time: "Is there any history between Newcastle and Liverpool that I don't know about? The atmosphere was like something happened in the past."

Howe's side have their own streak to extend this weekend, meanwhile, having won six Premier League games in a row at home for the first time in 18 years.

In fact, only three times previously in the competition have Newcastle enjoyed a longer such stretch at home, even if their 1995-96 record run of 14 wins remains a long way out of reach.

City at least have the benefit of playing Newcastle at the Etihad Stadium, although the Magpies' four away wins this season have all come since the turn of the year.

For the first time since 1996-97, Newcastle have won three games in a row on three separate occasions, including an ongoing run of four straight victories in which they have conceded only once...

Built from the back

Newcastle's development into a solid defensive outfit was far from expected. They ended 2021 having conceded a record 80 Premier League goals for the calendar year, while Howe's Bournemouth team shipped at least 61 in each of their five seasons in the competition.

A 3-3 draw at home to Brentford in his first match in charge hinted at the continuation of a campaign of chaos, and Newcastle were still conceding 2.3 goals per game – on course for more than 86 for the season – when City won 4-0 at St James' Park in December.

However, Howe – widely considered an attacking coach – spent time at Atletico Madrid in his spell out of the game, and Newcastle have since represented something akin to Diego Simeone's side.

They have conceded more than once in only a single game since the City defeat, an uncharacteristic 5-1 collapse at Tottenham that included four home goals in just over 20 minutes either side of half-time.

Again, only Liverpool's Alisson (10) and City's Ederson (seven) can top Martin Dubravka's six league clean sheets for Newcastle in 2022, when he has let in 13 goals in 15 games – or a hugely impressive eight in 14 outside Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Dubravka has played a key role in keeping Newcastle up in previous seasons, but this time the players in front of him are doing the bulk of the work.

Newcastle have allowed their 2022 opponents chances worth 1.0 expected goals per game, third behind City (0.6) and Liverpool (0.9). Their defence is sixth in terms of shots faced over this period (10.8 per game) and fourth for shots on target faced (3.1 per game).

The Magpies will back themselves to frustrate either Liverpool or City, yet the top two have won 10 of the 17 games this season in which they have scored no more than a single goal, so Howe's men will have to threaten at the other end, too.

Brilliant Bruno Guimaraes

Outsiders have attributed much of Newcastle's upturn to their January investment in new players, yet that ignores the improvement of previously failing individuals like Joelinton and Emil Krafth – key men in a side missing England internationals Callum Wilson since December and Kieran Trippier since February.

Howe is therefore yet to come close to naming his strongest Newcastle team, but that XI will undoubtedly have his most expensive signing, Bruno Guimaraes, at the heart of it.

With Trippier likely still out, Guimaraes is perhaps the one Newcastle player who would not look out of place in either the Liverpool or City line-ups.

The Brazil midfielder has been as outstanding as expected both in and out of possession, showing the quality that helped Lyon to knock City out of the 2019-20 Champions League.

Guimaraes has completed 85.8 per cent of his passes in the Premier League, the highest rate of any Newcastle player to play 500 or more minutes since their promotion in 2017, while also averaging a tackle every 24 minutes – third behind Arthur Masuaku and Liverpool's Naby Keita this season.

What was not anticipated was the goal threat Guimaraes has also brought. After scoring three times in 56 Ligue 1 games with Lyon, the 24-year-old has four in 13 – including just seven starts – at Newcastle.

Since first breaking into the Newcastle XI, only Cristiano Ronaldo (eight), Son Heung-min (six) and Gabriel Jesus (five) have found the net on as many occasions in the Premier League.

"Goals aren't the strongest part of my game," Guimaraes insisted when he arrived in England, but he poses as big a danger to Liverpool and City as anyone, looking to extend his streak of goal involvements in three straight matches.

Guimaraes spoke in that same interview of winning the Champions League during his time at Newcastle, while his agent this week suggested the club would be targeting qualification as soon as next season.

These next two fixtures present Guimaraes and Newcastle with the opportunity to test themselves against the best Europe can offer – and potentially decide the Premier League title race in the process.

We are approaching the home straight in the Premier League, which means the tension builds, the sweat pours, and the heart-rate increases...and that's just in our fantasy leagues.

Some matches mean more than others right now, but to fantasy managers, every game has the potential to get you those much-needed points to make a late run in your league.

If you want a bit of a helping hand with your decision-making this week, Stats Perform has you covered with some Opta-powered suggestions below.

Here are our suggestions for a new goalkeeper, defender, midfielder and striker for your consideration...

EMILIANO MARTINEZ (Aston Villa v Norwich City)

The Argentine goalkeeper has been impressive since making the move from Arsenal in 2020, establishing himself as number one for both Villa and his national team, winning the Copa America last year.

Martinez registered his 25th clean sheet for Villa last time out against Leicester City, and since the start of last season, only Ederson (37), Edouard Mendy and Alisson (both 29) have kept more than him.

With a home clash against bottom of the table and lowest scorers Norwich coming up on Saturday, it seems as likely a time as any for another game without picking the ball out of his net for Martinez.

MARC CUCURELLA (Wolves v Brighton and Hove Albion)

It is hard not to be impressed by Brighton, with Graham Potter getting a team with limited resources to play some of the best football on show in the Premier League, it's just a question of finding consistency.

With a trip to a stumbling Wolves side that has lost three of its last four games, Potter will look to produce the same magic that saw his team secure impressive recent away wins at Arsenal and Tottenham, with particular focus on one of his more potent performers at full-back.

Only Liverpool duo Trent Alexander-Arnold (47) and Andrew Robertson (36) have created more chances from open play among defenders this season than Cucurella, who has been one of the many success stories at the Amex Stadium since arriving from Getafe last year.

JAMES WARD-PROWSE (Southampton v Crystal Palace)

It would not be surprising in the slightest to see a suggestion at the next Premier League managers' meeting to extend VAR protocol to include free-kick decisions anywhere near the penalty area, but only for games involving Southampton.

When Ward-Prowse lines up a free-kick, it feels like watching Mohamed Salah taking a penalty, you just wonder which corner of the goal the ball will inevitably end up in.

After two strikes last time out against Brighton, one of course a free-kick, Ward-Prowse has now been involved in 13 goals (nine goals, four assists) in the Premier League this season, only ever managing more in 2020-21 (15 - eight goals, seven assists), with this his best season for goals. 

WOUT WEGHORST (Watford v Burnley)

Those of us who watch the Bundesliga and like to bring our hipster opinions to conversations were saying the same thing when Burnley signed Weghorst in January, that he was probably an improvement on the outgoing Chris Wood.

So of course, the big Dutchman managed just three goal involvements in his first 12 appearances for the Clarets (one goal, two assists) after arriving from Wolfsburg.

However, just as Burnley have turned their form around as they look to avoid relegation, Weghorst has stepped his game up too, having managed a goal and an assist in his last three games, and is about to come up against a very leaky Watford backline.

The 2021 NFL Draft was unreservedly the year of the quarterback. The 2022 draft is anything but.

A year on from quarterbacks going 1-2-3 in a first round that saw five taken in total, it is tough to make the case for any of the consensus best five from this year's uninspiring crop going in the top 10.

None of that quintet come without significant concerns that will make it hard for franchises to justify spending a premium pick to make them the quarterback of the future.

But there is a clear hierarchy among the group, with two players the standout choices for teams eyeing a potential day-one starter and one prospect standing alone as the home-run swing who brings as much risk as he does reward.

Quarterbacks inevitably get pushed up the board in the draft but, even with the top three members of this class, it may take some teams to get desperate for that to happen his year.

The pro-ready pair

Talk of Kenny Pickett going in the top 10, with the Carolina Panthers viewed as a landing spot due to his connections with head coach Matt Rhule, has raised plenty of eyebrows.

Yet for all the justifiable concerns about taking a quarterback whose ceiling at the highest level may be limited due to arm strength that can make deep throws outside the numbers a challenge for Pickett, the reality is that the former Pittsburgh quarterback is the most pro-ready player at the position in this class.

Last season, Pickett produced an accurate, well-thrown ball on 82.70 percent of his throws, the highest ratio of anyone in the draft. His pickable pass rate of 2.11 percent was also best in class.

Pickett excels at throwing with timing and anticipation, frequently hitting his receivers in stride to maximize their potential to create yards after the catch. He can make throws with pressure in his face and moves well in the pocket to escape pressure while also succeeding at breaking structure and creating with his legs.

Having displayed accuracy in throwing across his body on the run, Pickett will not enter the league with the "statue" concerns that Mac Jones faced last year.

And, though the ball does often die in the air when he goes deep, Pickett's completion percentage of 51.4 percent on 20-plus yard throws put him top of the class, while he was second in well-thrown percentage (68.06) on such attempts.

The upside of a top-10 selection may be absent from Pickett's game, but he should be the leading candidate if a team is looking for a rookie who can play right away, and the gap between him and Cincinnati's Desmond Ridder is perhaps larger than many would believe.

Ridder will go into the league having had the benefit of succeeding while being asked to operate in a manner that should help him acclimatise to the NFL quicker than most. He showed calm under pressure, negating it through intelligent pocket movement, and consistently worked through his progressions before finding his checkdown.

Another impressive timing thrower who is a better athlete than he is given credit for and boasts a stronger arm than Pickett, deep accuracy will be the main concern surrounding Ridder at the next level.

His overall well-thrown percentage of 75.66 was the third-worst in the class and Ridder was the second-worst by that same metric on downfield throws as just 58.57 percent of his deep attempts were accurate.

Ridder can offer a baseline of quarterback play because of what he was asked to do at Cincinnati, but teams must decide whether that is worth the cost of a late first or high second-round pick when there is the possibility to swing for the fences on a higher ceiling quarterback who may take significantly longer to blossom into a starting-calibre player.

Talkin' bout Willis

Unquestionably the most divisive quarterback of the 2022 class is Liberty's Malik Willis, who between his elite-level arm and his remarkable proficiency running the ball in the open field has the highest upside of any signal-caller in this year's crop.

With his 27 rushing touchdowns tied with Malik Cunningham for the most by an FBS quarterback over the last season, Willis demonstrated speed, vision, elusiveness and contact balance as a runner, making him a threat with the ball in his hands from anywhere in the field. Willis led all quarterbacks in this class with a yards per carry average of 6.64 on scrambles and was second with 7.42 on designed runs.

Adept at completing off-platform throws and displaying unerring accuracy throwing on the move, it is extremely exciting to think about Willis could become, his ability to blend touch and velocity when going deep allowing him to post the fourth-best well-thrown percentage (61.11) in the class on throws of 20 yards or more.

Willis fits the role of modern-day NFL quarterback better than any of his contemporaries in the draft but harnessing his obvious potential will take time.

So little was asked of him by Hugh Freeze at Liberty that there are question-marks over whether Willis will be ready to start in the NFL even after a year on the bench.

Though he can get through his progressions and perform full-field reads, Willis struggles significantly as a processor. He plays far too slow in working through his reads, leading to him holding the ball too long and failing to hit open receivers underneath.

Playing too slowly at the NFL level is a recipe for disaster. A team will fall in love with Willis' traits, but they must be prepared to be ultra-patient in waiting for the right moment to maximize them.

A Rebel with a cause... for optimism?

Willis has remained in the QB1 discussion despite struggling in his only 2021 game that saw him go up against one of his quarterback counterparts in this class.

Perhaps unsurprisingly given their respective supporting casts, Willis was outplayed when he and Liberty faced off with Ole Miss and their quarterback Matt Corral.

Yet Corral does not head into the draft in the first-round discussion even after a season in which he helped the Rebels to 10 wins and delivered a well thrown ball on 80.69 per cent of his pass attempts.

He displayed that accuracy while averaging the lowest air yards per attempt (8.20) of any of the top quarterbacks. A decisive thrower to the short and intermediate areas, Corral had the confidence to let it rip due to playing in an offense that relied predominantly on run-pass option plays that provided him with open looks.

When the throwing windows got tighter, Corral struggled to display the same accuracy and consistently risked turnovers on deep passing attempts. No quarterback in the 2021 class had a higher pickable pass rate on throws of 20-plus yards downfield than Corral's 9.80 per cent.

Corral, though, does have the arm to push the ball downfield with success, as reflected by his well-thrown percentage of 60.78 on deep attempts, which puts him less than a percentage point behind Willis.

Possessing the elusiveness in the pocket to evade pressure and the athleticism to be a viable threat on the ground, Corral ticks a lot of the boxes required for a quarterback to succeed in the modern NFL. However, after playing in such a simplified offense at Ole Miss, it would be a significant stretch to expect him to be able to helm an NFL attack early in his pro career.

The team that invests in Corral will likely initially view him as a high-end developmental backup and that is the role North Carolina's Sam Howell can also expect to fulfil for many of the same reasons.

Howell understandably struggled to adapt after losing NFL draft picks Dyami Brown, Michael Carter and Javonte Williams following the 2020 season and there was little in last year's tape to build a compelling case for him as a first-round pick.

Blessed with the arm strength to make throws to every level, Howell averaged more air yards per attempt (11.45) than any quarterback in the class.

But only Willis had a lower well-thrown percentage than Howell's 75.60 and that declined to 50 per cent on throws of 20 or more yards.

Simply put, the consistency throwing the ball was not there for Howell in his final season, in which he was reliant on one-read RPO throws and scrambles or designed runs.

He frequently ran the ball if his first read was not open, showing impressive contact balance to stay on his feet through attempted tackles when he did so.

Howell's 8.42 yards per carry average on designed runs was the highest among quarterbacks in the class. The blend of huge arm and intriguing running ability is likely to entice a team into taking a bet on him as a day-two project, but the road to Howell being a viable NFL starter will be a long one.

Jurgen Klopp is staying on at Liverpool for an extra two years after signing a new contract that keeps him at Anfield until June 2026.

Rumours had started to circulate suggesting the German and his coaching staff agreed fresh terms, and the club made it official on Thursday.

The announcement came as Liverpool chase an unprecedented quadruple. Having already won the EFL Cup this season, they are into the FA Cup final, sit just one point behind leaders Manchester City in the Premier League and hold a 2-0 lead over Villarreal ahead of the second leg of their Champions League semi-final.

Injury-ravaged Liverpool finished 2020-21 third in the Premier League, 17 points behind Pep Guardiola's City, but Klopp has proven that to be a minor blip with the Reds back in devastating form this term.

Following confirmation of his new contract, Stats Perform looks back at some of the best and most notable victories from Klopp's five and a half years at the helm…

Liverpool 4-3 Borussia Dortmund, April 2016

Klopp surely felt he had a point to prove when going up against his former club in the Europa League quarter-finals, though it all looked to be going horribly wrong. After drawing 1-1 in the first leg, the Reds then trailed by two goals twice at Anfield and found themselves needing at least three goals in the final 25 minutes – somehow, they managed it. Philippe Coutinho, Mamadou Sakho and Dejan Lovren all struck, with Liverpool incredibly netting with all four of their shots on target in the game.

Liverpool 4-3 Manchester City, January 2018

Although Liverpool still trailed leaders City by 15 points in the Premier League after this victory, in hindsight, there is a degree of this win being a watershed moment for Klopp's Liverpool. City were unbeaten in the league at this point, yet for much of the game Liverpool looked every inch their equal. While two late goals from City ensured a tense finish, the Reds were well worth the three points in what went down as a modern classic.

Liverpool 4-0 Barcelona, May 2019

The Reds seemed to have little hope here. Lionel Messi inspired a 3-0 dismantling of Liverpool in Camp Nou in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final clash, seemingly putting one foot in the final. But Klopp's side were in sensational form for the return at Anfield, with Divock Origi providing some early hope with a seventh-minute opener. Georginio Wijnaldum then laid on a second-half brace to restore parity, before Origi completed the turnaround 11 minutes from time. It was the first time since 1986 that a team wiped out a three-goal first-leg deficit to win a Champions League/European Cup semi-final.

Tottenham 0-2 Liverpool, June 2019

It may not have been a classic as a spectacle, but Liverpool fans – and Klopp – won't have cared. After falling at the final hurdle the year before, the Reds were European champions for a sixth time in 2019 as they beat Tottenham 2-0 in Madrid, with Mohamed Salah and Origi getting the goals.

Liverpool 2-0 Manchester United, January 2020

The 2019-20 title triumph was Liverpool's first league championship in 30 years – in that time, their bitter rivals United had won it 13 times to become the most successful club in the English top flight. While Klopp's side were already well clear at the Premier League summit when the ailing United came to Anfield in January 2020, there was a sense that their procession began with this 2-0 victory that left them 16 points clear at the top with a game in hand.

Manchester United 0-5 Liverpool, October 2021

Liverpool heaped the misery on United and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer again in October. Paul Pogba's sending off certainly helped the visitors, but even before then the gulf was clear. This was the Red Devils' biggest losing margin to their fierce rivals since 1895 (Liverpool won 7-1 at Anfield), and worst ever at home. Mohamed Salah led the way with a hat-trick, in the process becoming the highest-scoring African player in Premier League history. The Reds went on to hammer United again six months later, winning 4-0 on Merseyside.

The Premier League's longest-serving manager is to remain in his post until 2026 after agreeing a two-year contract extension to his deal at Anfield.

Having already led the Reds to their first ever Premier League title, ending a 30-year wait for top-flight glory, and a sixth European crown since arriving in England in 2015, Klopp is looking to become the first boss to win a historic quadruple in another fine campaign.

Liverpool finished eighth when Klopp replaced Brendan Rodgers during the 2015-16 season but the German's canny recruiting has helped restore the club to one of the game's global powerhouses.

And Stats Perform has used Opta data to run through the club's best signings of the Klopp era.

Sadio Mane

Having led the Reds to EFL Cup and Europa League finals after inheriting a squad built by predecessor Brendan Rodgers, Klopp went about remodelling his team in 2016, with then-Southampton forward Mane representing the biggest arrival ahead of his first full campaign at the helm.

Mane registered 13 goals and seven assists in his debut season, with only Phillipe Coutinho managing more goal contributions for the Reds (14 goals and nine assists). The Senegal forward managed his best campaign to date when scoring 26 goals in all competitions two years later, also winning a vital penalty in the opening stages of their Champions League final win over Spurs.

Including this season, Mane has hit 20 goals in four of his last five campaigns at Anfield, more than paying back his £30million price tag.

Mohamed Salah

If Mane's arrival was a success, where do you start with the debut campaign of Salah, who joined Mane and Roberto Firmino to form a fearsome Reds front three in 2017?

In all competitions, Salah scored an unbelievable 43 goals and registered 14 assists during his first season with the club as Liverpool finished as Champions League runners-up. Salah has hit 117 goals in 176 Premier League appearances for the Reds, has scored in a Champions League final victory and won two Premier League golden boots to date, with another extremely likely to follow this term.

Not bad for a player Chelsea let go for a reported £13.5million back in 2016…

Virgil van Dijk

While Salah and Mane have arguably provided the most magical moments for Klopp's Liverpool, would any of their incredible successes have been possible without the acquisition of Van Dijk in January 2018?

With former club Southampton receiving a reported £75million for his services, Van Dijk certainly did not come cheap, but it could be argued no other player can rival his impact at Anfield. Having conceded 38 league goals in 2017-18, Liverpool shipped just 22 in Van Dijk's first full season with the club as they were crowned European champions and narrowly missed out on the Premier League title.

Indeed, after racking up 97 points that season, Liverpool earned 99 when winning their first Premier League title in 2019-20, 30 more than they earned in the 2020-21 campaign when Van Dijk was sidelined by an ACL injury.

Allison 

The 2018 Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid was a turning point for Klopp's Liverpool. The heavy metal football that propelled Klopp to stardom had gotten the Reds so far, but Loris Karius' costly errors demonstrated their need for a safer pair of hands.

For all that Van Dijk's brilliance contributed to Liverpool's incredible defensive record in 2018-19, Allison's arrival must also be credited after he kept 21 clean sheets and recorded a save percentage of 77.08 per cent that term. The Brazilian could yet better those statistics this season, posting 19 Premier League clean sheets to date.

Liverpool's shot-stopper even popped up with a vital goal against West Brom last season to help secure Champions League qualification.

The Hull City left-back, the silky Spaniard and Liverpool's next great attackers: The best of the rest…

Klopp's Liverpool have generally recruited brilliantly since his arrival, and while the aforementioned quartet have arguably had the greatest impact on the team's development, there are numerous others who warrant a mention.

In terms of pure value-for-money, no signing can match the £7million purchase of Andrew Robertson, with only Trent Alexander-Arnold (17) beating the Scot's 15 assists in all competitions this season.

Thiago Alcantara, who arrived from Bayern Munich ahead of lasts season, took a while to convince some doubters, largely owing to the silky midfielder's bad fortune with injuries, but the Barcelona man has been inspirational in recent weeks and no regular Reds midfielder can match his passing accuracy of 89.56 per cent this term (all competitions).

If Liverpool could be said to have had one weakness in recent seasons, meanwhile, it was a lack of reliable back-ups for Salah and Mane.

However, the form of Diogo Jota and January arrival Luis Diaz has been crucial to Liverpool's quadruple bid. With Jota averaging a goal every 134.6 minutes in the Premier League this term, and Diaz recording five goal contributions (three goals, two assists) in just seven league starts, the duo could be crucial in Klopp's next cycle.

It has been five years since a defensive lineman was last taken first overall in the NFL Draft.

Back in 2017, Myles Garrett's name had been written in pen next to the number one slot for a long time before the Cleveland Browns officially gave him the distinction of being the first player off the board.

Garrett was seen as a can't-miss prospect, and he has lived up to that billing, with his 361 career quarterback pressures the fourth-most in the NFL since 2017.

All the signs are pointing to an edge rusher going first overall again in 2022. However, while Garrett was a sure thing, the Jacksonville Jaguars appear set to select a player who is anything but.

Talk of Aidan Hutchinson and Kayvon Thibodeaux going number one has given way to the belief Georgia's Travon Walker will be hearing his name called first in a class filled with more divisive prospects than clear-cut stars.

Walker has emerged as the favourite despite finishing his college career with Georgia, which ended with the Bulldogs winning the National Championship, with just 9.5 sacks.

His stock has risen sharply in the wake of stunning athletic performance at the NFL Scouting Combine, yet given his mediocre production compared to his contemporaries in the edge class and the role he played for Georgia, selecting Walker would represent a substantial gamble by the Jags.

A year on from selecting Trevor Lawrence with the first overall pick, it is a gamble Jacksonville cannot afford to backfire.

Walker's production woes

Any conversation about Walker must begin by addressing the elephant in the room: the production, or lack thereof.

Walker had 3.5 sacks over his first two seasons before displaying a marked improvement in that regard as Georgia's dominant defense laid the foundation for their National title.

Indeed, he registered six sacks, 17th among all defenders in the SEC, yet his pressure numbers are illustrative of a player who failed to impact the quarterback on a consistent basis.

Walker registered 31 pressures on 259 pass-rush snaps for a pressure rate of just 12 per cent, which is in stark contrast to the player he appears to have usurped as the number one pick, Michigan star Hutchinson, who had a pressure rate of 30.8 per cent in 2021.

Only 16 of Walker's pressures involved him beating a pass blocker. Hutchinson beat a pass protector on 72 of his 85 quarterback pressures.

Yet the paucity of pass rush production is in part a reflection of how Walker was utilised by the Bulldogs.

Though Walker played 96 more snaps as a pass rusher than a run defender, his goal in attacking pass protectors was not always to get to the quarterback but to soak up attention from the offensive line and open rush lanes for second-level defenders.

As a result, teams evaluating Walker only saw flashes of his potential as a pass rusher, but it is the combination of those flashes and his astounding athletic profile that appears to have enticed the Jaguars into taking a significant risk.

Crushing the Combine

Though his Georgia defensive line mate Jordan Davis stole the show at the Combine with his remarkable performance in the 40-yard dash, Walker's pre-draft workout stands among the finest in NFL history.

Measuring at 6ft 5in and 272 pounds, Walker tore down the track in 4.51 seconds, putting him in the 98th percentile for defensive ends. His 10-yard split of 1.62 seconds was not quite as impressive but was still good enough for the 70th percentile.

Walker's arm length (35 and a half inches), hand size (10 and three-quarter inches) and wingspan of over seven feet (84 and a quarter inches) all measured in the 95th percentile for his position.

In the vertical jump and broad jump, which gauge lower-body explosiveness, Walker was in the 80th and 87th percentile respectively. In the three-cone drill, used for edge players as an assessment of their flexibility to turn the corner and beat an offensive tackle to the outside, Walker posted a time of 6.89 seconds that put him in the 93rd percentile.

Walker's testing suggests he has the physical skill set to blossom into an explosive and bendy pass rusher whose arm length should allow him to win hand fights with offensive linemen, with half the battle for pass rushers being the ability to make contact before the pass protector.

Evidence of his potential to develop into that player was sporadic during his college career, but the glimpses of that promise were undoubtedly tantalising.

A home-run swing

With Georgia frequently mixing up their defensive fronts, Walker played in a variety of roles. He was used as a defensive end in both 4-3 and 3-4 fronts and also played as a 3-technique defensive tackle lined up on the outside shoulder of the guard.

As such, it is difficult to know what Walker's best position is, though his versatility is undoubtedly part of his appeal.

Walker's athleticism clearly makes him a mismatch problem for guards when pass rushing from the inside. He had 13 pressures from the defensive tackle spot, with nine of those seeing him beat a pass protector, his quickness off the snap extremely tough for interior offensive linemen to react to and posing them significant issues when Walker was used in a stunt by the Georgia defensive line.

That same burst has facilitated his – albeit limited – success on edge. Though he needs to do a better job of translating his speed to power, when he does do so and gets his long arms into the pads of blockers, he can produce an impressive bull rush to help collapse the pocket.

On the top of that, Walker has fleetingly displayed the ability to get around the corner and flatten to the quarterback, with the acceleration he demonstrated on the 40 track showing up in the closing speed he displays when he has a path into the backfield and an opportunity to force a negative play.

Such closing speed can also be a substantial asset in the run game, in which Walker's arm length and power in his hands come into play in helping him disengage from blocks, freeing him to hunt the ball carrier.

Defending the run was certainly Walker's strength statistically last season, with only UAB's Alex Wright (18.7 per cent) and Hutchinson (17.9 per cent) recording a better run disruption rate among edge rushers than Walker's 12.9 per cent.

Of course, excelling as a run defender is a long way from being enough to justify a number one overall selection and, to make such a decision, the Jaguars must believe they can harness the untapped pass rush potential and refine a limited set of moves, with the rip move and the push-pull the only two with which Walker has enjoyed anything resembling consistent success.

The Jaguars do have a highly experienced defensive line coach who would be tasked with developing Walker. Brentson Buckner has worked with the likes of Chandler Jones and Jason Pierre-Paul during his career and was the defensive line coach for the then Oakland Raiders in 2019 when Maxx Crosby had 10 sacks as a rookie fourth-round pick.

Crosby, however, did not have the massive burden of expectation of being the number one overall pick.

Too often the Jaguars have seen top-five picks go to waste. Between 2012 and 2017 they picked in the top five for six consecutive drafts and only one of those selections, now Los Angeles Rams star Jalen Ramsey, even made a Pro Bowl.

In an era that will be defined by whether they take advantage of the gift of having Lawrence fall into their lap with the top overall pick last year, they cannot afford to miss on premium draft picks.

By likely taking Walker over Hutchinson, the Jags are going with the home-run swing over the prospect most believe to be a pro-ready day-one contributor. If they are to turn their fortunes around and contend with Lawrence, that swing must make contact.

Liverpool welcome Villarreal to Anfield on Wednesday and are heavy favourites in their Champions League semi-final tie.

Under Jurgen Klopp, the Reds have become one of the world's best teams. They have reached two Champions League finals, winning their sixth title in the competition in 2019, and followed that up with a maiden Premier League crown a year later. This season, their eyes are fixed firmly on an unprecedented quadruple – the EFL Cup is already theirs, they will face Chelsea in an FA Cup showdown next month and their race in the league with Manchester City is set to go to the wire.

Standing in Liverpool's way of a final against Manchester City or Real Madrid are, however, Unai Emery's Villarreal. While the Yellow Submarine will be considered underdogs, the reigning Europa League champions will be no pushovers.

Liverpool were frustrated for just over an hour by their relegation-threatened local rivals Everton in the Merseyside derby on Sunday, until Andy Robertson headed home and Divock Origi settled matters late on. They should be anticipating a similar test on Wednesday.

Yet whereas Everton are devoid of confidence or quality, Villarreal have both in abundance. They have already overcome European heavyweights in the form of Juventus and Bayern Munich, and will have home advantage in the second leg. They averaged just 35 per cent of possession across the two legs against the Bundesliga giants.

The last time these semi-finalists met was in the last four of the 2015-16 Europa League, and the two legs of this tie will come just a day under six years after each match in that previous fixture. Back in 2016, matters were rather different for Liverpool, who progressed 3-1 on aggregate, but went on to lose in the final to a Sevilla side coached by Emery.

It is fitting, then, that as Liverpool bid for European glory once more, a team that stood in the way of their first continental final under Klopp will try to prevent the Reds reaching a fourth with the German at the helm.

A remarkable turnaround

A quick glance at the team that started in the second leg of that 2016 tie, which Liverpool won 3-0 at Anfield, tells you the transformation that the Reds have gone through under Klopp has been dramatic.

Simon Mignolet started in goal, behind a back four of Nathaniel Clyne, the now-retired Kolo Toure, Dejan Lovren and Alberto Moreno (who might have been facing his former club for Villarreal if not for a serious knee injury sustained last month). Roberto Firmino and James Milner started, but they are the only two of that 18-strong squad that remain at Liverpool, and neither can be considered regular starters anymore.

Liverpool were convincing winners – racking up an xG of 3.8, producing 25 shots with 12 of those on target.

The team that take to the field on Wednesday will almost certainly feature a world-class goalkeeper in Alisson, one of Europe's best defenders in Virgil van Dijk, a Champions League-winning midfielder in Thiago Alcantara, two exceptional full-backs and, of course, a devilishly potent attacking trident, whichever three of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Diogo Jota or Luis Diaz line up. Firmino is unavailable.

Salah has returned to goalscoring form in timely fashion, after a relative dry spell. Only in 2017-18 (10) has he scored more Champions League goals in a single campaign than the eight he has netted this season, moving his tally for the club to 33. He is now just three behind both Didier Drogba and Sergio Aguero for the most goals scored in the competition for an English side.

For Klopp to take that Liverpool team back in 2015-16 to two finals (they lost on penalties in the EFL Cup to Manchester City that year) was, looking back, an extraordinary achievement, especially considering he only took over in October.

Since then, they have gone from strength to strength. In the Premier League, Klopp has won 162 of his 253 games (64 per cent), with his team scoring a remarkable 544 goals, and the German has averaged 2.15 points per game. He is building a true dynasty.

Emery to have his say?

"Unai's a world-class coach and is doing an incredible job," said Klopp in his pre-match news conference on Tuesday. And he is right, Emery – perhaps unfairly maligned during his stints at Arsenal and Paris Saint-Germain – has been brilliant for Villarreal.

He could well have left for cash-rich Newcastle United earlier this season but elected to stay put, and Villarreal are, at least in Europe, reaping the rewards. Their shoot-out success against Manchester United in last season's Europa League final represented Emery's fourth triumph in UEFA's second-tier tournament, and he also took Arsenal to the final in 2018-19, losing to Chelsea.

Villarreal are not flying quite as high in LaLiga, though surely that can be forgiven. They sit seventh, having won their last two games, and still have hope of qualifying for European competition through the league, too.

Emery has taken on Klopp five times as a coach, winning the first meeting – that Europa League final back in 2016.

Klopp claimed victory in two of the three Premier League encounters with the Spaniard's Arsenal, with those victories being 5-1 and 3-1 respectively. The other league match was drawn 1-1, while Liverpool also beat Arsenal on penalties in the 2019-20 EFL Cup after a wild 5-5 draw.

Emery can feel hard done by that he was not given more time at PSG. His win percentage of 76 was the best of any coach during the QSI era, putting him above the likes of Carlo Ancelotti (64) and Thomas Tuchel (75). He succeeded in 87 of his 114 matches in charge and claimed seven trophies. Only Laurent Blanc (11) has won more silverware at PSG since 2011, while Emery's team scored 2.7 goals per game, with just Tuchel managing to match that.

Yet Emery's ability to get a side competing way beyond their expected level is what he is renowned for. His run of three successive Europa League titles with Sevilla was extraordinary, and he seems to be in a similar position at Villarreal.

Having to rebuild his reputation slightly after his spell at Arsenal, Emery has won 51 of 104 matches in all competitions (49 per cent), with Villarreal scoring 188 goals and conceding 101, keeping 37 clean sheets.

Emery's win percentage has not been beaten by any other Villarreal coach to have taken charge of 100 matches, while in Gerard Moreno, who has directly contributed to 60 goals during Emery's tenure, the Spanish side have a brilliant striker to call on.

Liverpool have, in many ways, come full circle with this tie, but the Villarreal they will face on this occasion have improved just as much, in relative terms, as Klopp's team have. It is set to be a fascinating tussle.

In 2022, safeties are not players who can get NFL fans out of their seats.

Gone are the days of the ultra-physical safeties whose careers are defined by compiling highlight reel hits.

The NFL's continued development as a passing league built on the foundation of a seemingly ever-expanding number of athletic dual-threat quarterbacks has facilitated the implementation of more malleable defenses with a variety of pitches in their arsenal to help them rise to the increasingly difficult challenges they face.

This is not an era where defenses can have one safety to play the role of enforcer and one with the range to play the deep middle. Teams ideally need both safeties to have the skill set to play the deep middle and down in the box while also possessing the ability to match up with wide receivers and tight ends in the slot.

In essence, teams must have safeties to enable them to effectively play the two-high zone coverages that were, last season at least, the most widely used solution to the explosive passing games proliferating around the NFL but also provide them with the personnel to stop the run while operating from those shells.

The 2022 NFL Draft may not have the same star quality as previous rookie classes. However, what it does boast is several of those multi-faceted safety prospects, with the headliner among that group Notre Dame's Kyle Hamilton.

Were the league still dominated by single-high safety defenses, Hamilton would not have found himself in the discussion to be the first overall pick in the draft. 

He doesn't have the range of a baseball center fielder that is required to be an elite single-high safety, but his combination of versatility and college production had many asking whether he could be the first name off the board in Las Vegas despite playing a position that has typically not seen its importance reflected by high draft selections. 

Hamilton has the athleticism and awareness to make game-changing plays when lined up deep in two-high looks, while he also possesses the downhill speed and physicality to be an asset against the run and the coverage ability and build to excel matched up against tight ends and receivers.

As a modern-day NFL safety, Hamilton ticks all the boxes, and every team in the league could use him. There is not one defense he would not fit. 

Still, he is unlikely to go number one to the Jacksonville Jaguars but, during a time in league history where safeties do not command the exposure they certainly deserve, Hamilton is a candidate to revitalise the fortunes of the two teams from the NFL's biggest market who each have a pair of top-10 picks.

A flexible turnover machine

Hamilton was deployed all over the field during his time with the Fighting Irish. In 2021, he played 222 snaps as a deep safety, 137 as a slot cornerback and 53 as a box safety.

And, as his numbers illustrate, Hamilton was extremely effective at influencing the game regardless of where he lined up.

Hamilton registered eight interceptions between 2019 and 2021, the fifth-most among FBS safeties during that period.

He also added 16 pass breakups, Hamilton's on-ball production a testament to his blend of instincts and athletic ability.

Hamilton excels at reading the eyes of the quarterback to drop into throwing lanes and make plays on the ball, with his eye discipline and efficiency in changing direction enabling him to pick up new assignments in coverage on the fly.

Using his 33-inch arms to stay in tight man coverage and disrupt passes at the catch point, Hamilton has additionally demonstrated prowess for recovering separation and jumping the routes of receivers, showcasing another gear to help him get to the ball when he has a chance to take it away.

While the downhill thump he offers and his long speed in pursuit are significant parts of Hamilton's skill set, it is the fact his versatility is supplemented by turnover production that makes him so appealing, particularly to teams like the New York Jets who have found takeaways extremely hard to come by.

The final piece of Saleh's secondary puzzle?

The Jets, who own selections four and 10, managed just 14 takeaways last season, putting them 31st in the NFL, with the Jaguars (nine) the only team to record fewer.

Pass rush plays a substantial role in a defense's ability to force turnovers, but the Jets – even with Carl Lawson missing the entire season through injury – ranked third in pass rush win rate last season, perhaps indicating that their struggles taking the ball away were a result of the performance of the secondary and a lack of luck.

Hamilton has the talent to significantly influence the former, and he would join a secondary that is in better shape than it is perhaps given credit for.

Starting cornerback Bryce Hall had the lowest combined open percentage (14.61) allowed across man and zone coverage of all corners in the NFL with at least 100 coverage matchups in 2021.

The Jets also added strong safety Jordan Whitehead, who during his time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers showed his prowess for making plays in coverage and down near the line of scrimmage.

Whitehead registered eight pass breakups and two interceptions in 2021 while his tally of 14 tackles for loss over the last two seasons is bettered only by Jamal Adams among safeties (15).

Not short of talent up front, infusing Hamilton into the secondary could give Jets coach Robert Saleh the back seven he needs for his defense to take a leap to help them compete in the AFC East, and the team with whom they share a stadium may also have designs on him elevating their defense to the NFL's elite.

Safety could be Giant strength for Martindale

There wasn't much good about the New York Giants in 2021, yet their defense did rank 11th in yards per play allowed (5.31).

That defense will be run by Don "Wink" Martindale in 2022, and there is no doubt a respected defensive mind of his calibre would relish the chance to get to work with a chess piece like Hamilton. The Giants are in a great spot to give him that opportunity, picking fifth and seventh.

At the safety position, the Giants already possess one versatile and seemingly quickly improving player in Xavier McKinney. 

McKinney spent 838 snaps lined up as a deep safety last season but did play 96 in the slot, with his combined open percentage allowed of 17.07 the third-best among safeties with a minimum of 100 matchups.

The Giants' secondary will likely lose a veteran player with cornerback James Bradberry expected to be traded, yet by pairing McKinney with Hamilton, they would immediately boast one of the most multi-faceted defensive backfields in the NFL, one which would offer Martindale the opportunity to decrease his dependency on single-high looks, having predominantly leaned on Cover 3 shells in his final year as defensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens.

As is the case with the Jets, the Giants still have a lot of questions to answer, especially on the offensive side of the ball, where there are doubts over two first-round selections at quarterback at different points of their career and a clear need for a further infusion of talent among both groups of wide receivers.

In an offense-driven league, it is the answers to those questions that may determine how quickly two teams that have spent far too long in the mire can ascend back to contention.

But neither franchise is in a spot to thumb its nose at a defensive building block who fits exactly where the game is going and has the potential to become an elite player at his position. Safety has historically not been a highly valued position in the draft, but Hamilton's ceiling is such that he could eventually be regarded as a franchise-changing selection for the team that is willing to put history to one side, and the Jets and Giants have the positional need and the potential opportunity do just that.

Paris Saint-Germain secured a record-equalling 10th Ligue 1 title with a 1-1 draw at home to Lens on Saturday, but that may not be enough to keep Mauricio Pochettino in a job.

The Argentine may not be heading for Old Trafford after Manchester United confirmed the appointment of Erik ten Hag last week, but he could still be going out the exit door after a demoralising campaign.

With PSG crashing out of the Champions League in calamitous fashion to Real Madrid in March, reports have suggested Pochettino could be replaced by the boss of his former club Tottenham, Antonio Conte.

With Conte overseeing an improvement in Spurs' fortunes since taking the job and possessing experience of managing big egos at former clubs Juventus, Chelsea, and Inter, could the Italian be the man to get the best out of the star-studded Parisians?

Here, Stats Perform uses Opta-powered data to compare the managerial duo.

Pochettino in Paris: Domestic dominance remains, but so does European fragility 

Many saw the decision to appoint Pochettino as prudent after he made 70 appearances in a two-year playing spell in Paris, before his relationship with compatriot Lionel Messi aided the legendary forward's arrival.

It has not, however, been plain sailing for the former Tottenham boss. PSG beat Monaco to lift the Coupe de France last May but missed out on the league title to surprise package Lille last season.

Lille led PSG by a point when Pochettino arrived and pipped the Parisians to the title by that margin as Pochettino became just the second PSG boss (after Unai Emery) to fail to win the Ligue 1 title since 2012.

While PSG rebounded to win the league in dominant fashion this term, moving level with Saint-Etienne as the most successful club in Ligue 1 history, their 34 matches required to secure the title is the most they have needed since 2014-15, when they wrapped up top spot on matchday 37.

The team's reliance on Kylian Mbappe, who has contributed to 36 of the team's 76 league goals this term (22 goals, 14 assists), could also prove a huge issue next term with the 22-year-old heavily linked with a move to Madrid at the end of his contract in June.

Although the star trio of Messi, Neymar, and Mbappe have recorded 37 goals and 32 assists in the league between them this term, they could not inspire Champions League success.

If Pochettino is to depart, March's humiliating 3-2 aggregate loss to a Karim Benzema-inspired Madrid will be remembered as the decisive moment of his time in Paris.

Having beaten the Spanish giants 1-0 at home, PSG have now been eliminated in four of their nine Champions League knockout ties when winning the first leg.

Fixing their fragility on the big occasions will be their foremost aim ahead of next season, which is why the appointment of a manager with one of Europe's most impressive track records has been speculated.

The case for Conte: Title wins and handling big names

Having won five league titles (four in Serie A, one in the Premier League), Conte is always mentioned when a vacancy at an elite European club comes around.

With current club Tottenham battling to ensure Champions League qualification for next season, however, could Conte be tempted to follow in Pochettino's footsteps if he departs PSG?

Conte has overseen a dramatic improvement since taking the Spurs job; before falling to a 1-0 defeat to Brighton and Hove Albion and drawing 0-0 with Brentford, Spurs had plundered 25 goals in their previous seven league games, having scored just nine in 10 league matches under predecessor Nuno Espirito Santo earlier this season.

Star duo Harry Kane and Son Heung-min have also been rejuvenated by Conte's arrival, breaking Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba's record of 36 direct Premier League goal combinations in February.

Conte's previous role at Italian giants Inter, however, might prove more relevant to what he could expect at PSG: the Italian excelled under huge expectations to deliver their first Scudetto in over a decade last season, ending a nine-year period of Juventus dominance he began by leading the Bianconeri to an unbeaten season in 2011-12.

Like Kane and Son, Romelu Lukaku – who recorded 24 goals and 11 assists in Serie A last season – profited from a direct style that saw Inter net a remarkable 89 league goals in their title-winning campaign, and has struggled to replicate that form since following Conte out of San Siro.

As well as his title wins, Conte's work with Lukaku, Kane, Son, and other big names certainly suggests he could have what it takes to manage the sizeable egos of PSG's attacking stars if he makes the move.

However, with Conte failing to progress beyond the Champions League last-eight in his career, the Italian would need to improve his European record in order to satisfy the ambitions of continental glory.

Divock Origi kept up his run of scoring against Everton as his late goal helped Liverpool claim a 2-0 win in the Merseyside derby.

The Reds were made to work hard by struggling Everton, who went into Sunday's match in the relegation zone after Burnley had defeated Wolves earlier on.

Liverpool are now back within a point of their Premier League title rivals Manchester City, while third-placed Chelsea moved five points clear of fourth-placed Arsenal with a last-gasp win over West Ham.

Brighton and Hove Albion and Southampton played out a 2-2 draw in the day's other game. Here, using Opta data, Stats Perform checks the best facts from Sunday's action.

 

Chelsea 1-0 West Ham: Pulisic spares Jorginho's blushes

Chelsea turned in a below-par performance against West Ham, but got over the line thanks to Christian Pulisic's last-gasp winner.

The Blues had lost their previous two matches at Stamford Bridge and looked set to be on their way to a third home game without a win when Jorginho sent a poor penalty straight at Lukasz Fabianski.

Jorginho had converted each of his last 13 penalties for Chelsea, excluding shoot-outs, with this being his first failure to score from the spot for the Blues since Boxing Day 2020.

But Pulisic swept in from Marcos Alonso's cross to win it. The United States international has been directly involved in 10 goals in 32 appearances for Chelsea across all competitions this term (seven goals, three assists), matching his tally from last season when he made 43 appearances.

Burnley 1-0 Wolves: Clarets out of the bottom three

Burnley claimed a second win on the bounce to lift themselves above Everton and move out of the relegation zone.

They have now won three home Premier League games in a row for the first time since a run of five between December 2016 and January 2017, and that is the same number of victories as they managed across the 26 games beforehand.

Indeed, Burnley have picked up seven points in their three Premier League games under Mike Jackson (W2 D1), the same number of points as Sean Dyche picked up during his final eight league games at the club (W2 D1 L5).

Wolves, meanwhile, have now suffered more defeats in their last five away league games (four) than they had in their first 12 on the road this season (W7 D2 L3).

Matej Vydra grabbed Burnley's winner. Four of his eight top-flight goals for the Clarets have been ones to claim three points.

Brighton and Hove Albion 2-2 Southampton: Ward-Prowse closes on free-kick record

James Ward-Prowse scored both of Southampton's goals as they came from behind to rescue a point in the south coast derby against Southampton.

Despite scoring as many goals on Sunday as they did in their previous seven home Premier League matches, Brighton failed to win a game in which they led by at least two goals for just a third time in the competition (P23 W20 D2 L1), having won each of their previous 13 such matches.

But after an own goal put Brighton further ahead, Ward-Prowse's excellent free-kick halved the deficit. He has now scored 14 direct free-kick goals in the top flight, just four shy of David Beckham's record, while only the Manchester United great and Laurent Robert (both five) have netted more free-kicks in a single season.

Ward-Prowse doubled his tally and restored parity with another long-range effort, and 44 per cent of his league goals for the Saints have come from outside the box (17/39).

Liverpool 2-0 Everton: Origi strikes again to give Toffees the Blues

It took Liverpool until the 62nd minute to break the deadlock at Anfield, though they were arguably fortunate not to have conceded a penalty not long before.

Nevertheless, Liverpool's dominance finally told as Everton's back-to-the-wall display was broken – Andy Robertson heading in before Origi scored late on. The striker has now netted six times in nine league appearances against Everton, scoring once every 62 minutes on average.

Liverpool have lost just one of their last 23 Premier League games against Everton (W10 D12), completing the league double over their neighbours for the first time since 2016-17. They now have 79 points, 50 more than Everton, which is the joint-largest margin they have held in the competition (along with the 2019-20 season).

Everton will end the day in the relegation zone for the first time since December 2019 (also after a derby defeat at Anfield), while this is the furthest into a season, after 32 games or more, the Toffees have found themselves in the bottom three since 1998-99.

They have lost 11 of their last 12 Premier League away games (D1), including each of the last seven in a row. It is their longest run of consecutive away defeats since a run of eight between April and October 1994.

Origi has now scored 11 goals as a substitute in the Premier League, the outright most by a Liverpool player, overtaking Daniel Sturridge's 10. 

Liverpool recorded a possession figure of 82.7 per cent against Everton – only Man City (83 per cent v Swansea City in April 2018) have recorded a higher such figure in a Premier League game since Opta started collecting this data (2003-04). 

Rather fittingly given the underwhelming nature of Paris Saint-Germain's season, their record-equalling 10th Ligue 1 triumph was sealed with a draw at home to Lens.

So much was expected of PSG, fairly so, given their astonishing off-season recruitment, that ending 2021-22 with just one major trophy, and failing to reach the latter stages of either the Coupe de France or the Champions League, cannot be portrayed as anything but a disappointment.

One of those superstar recruits – Lionel Messi – got the goal for PSG on Saturday, though it was cancelled out by Corentin Jean late on as 10-man Lens fought back to draw 1-1.

It was just a fourth Ligue 1 goal for Messi, whose move from Barcelona has, really, not lived up to expectations, albeit the 34-year-old has provided 13 assists. The same can be said for Sergio Ramos – the former Real Madrid defender has made just five league starts in a season derailed by injury – while Gianluigi Donnarumma has had some shaky moments. Indeed, he did not play as PSG sealed the title and his 75 per cent save percentage, while impressive, does not better that of Keylor Navas (78.4).

Neymar took most of the season to get up to speed and if not for Kylian Mbappe, the title race may have been much closer. PSG might not have the France star to rely on for much longer, and doubt remains over Mauricio Pochettino's future.

Nevertheless, PSG do have a title to celebrate, one that makes them the joint-most successful team in Ligue 1 history, alongside Saint-Etienne, and an eighth of the QSI era.

Stats Perform, using Opta data, looks at the key numbers behind the success, and some records that might still be in PSG's sights.

 

Leaving it late (or later than usual)

It has always seemed like a procession to the title for PSG this season but, actually, this is the latest they have left it to get the crown secured since the 2014-15 season.

Back then, PSG were not champions until matchday 37. They got the job done on matchday 34 this time around, though that is still later than in 2018-19 (33), 2017-18 (33) and 2015-16 (30). That is not counting 2019-20, when PSG were handed the title by default due to the coronavirus pandemic.

PSG have averaged 2.29 points per game so far in 2021-22, which is their lowest total when winning the title since 2014-15 (2.18).

They are, however, the first team to be crowned French champions eight times in the space of 10 seasons (Saint-Etienne and Lyon did so on seven occasions).

PSG have collected 78 points to date. Should they win their remaining four matches, they will set the fifth-highest points total in Ligue 1 history (90).

Verratti sets Ligue 1 record

Marco Verratti starred in Italy's Euro 2020 success and the mercurial midfielder has continued that form into this season.

He has played a part in all eight of PSG's title triumphs during the QSI era, making him the first player to win Ligue 1 eight times.

Team-mate Marquinhos is joint-second on the list with seven titles to his name.

Pochettino gets his first title

This marks Pochettino's first league success as a coach, after PSG lost out to Lille last season.

The former Tottenham boss has won 39 of his 55 Ligue 1 matches in charge, with the other 16 games split equally between draws and defeats.

His win rate of 71 per cent ranks him some way behind his two predecessors, however – Thomas Tuchel (76) and Unai Emery (74).

Pochettino's PSG have scored 2.2 goals per game and collected 2.3 points per match on average, conceding 0.9 goals per game.

He is the sixth Argentine coach to win a title across Europe's big five leagues, joining Diego Simeone, Luis Carniglia, Alfredo di Stefano, Jorge Valdano and Helenio Herrera (though the latter became a French national). Carniglia, with Nice, is the only other Argentine boss to win Ligue 1.

Topping the stats

As would be expected, PSG dominate the statistics so far in Ligue 1. They have had more possession (62.9), played more passes per game (663), scored more goals per match (2.2) and had more sequences of 10+ passes (21.5 per match).

PSG have only dropped two points from winning positions all season – one of those coming on Saturday – while they have gained 21 from losing positions, more than any other team. Their 18 different goalscorers is also a league high.

The excitement around Paris Saint-Germain ahead of the 2021-22 season was palpable.

In scenes reminiscent of the 'Galactico' era at Real Madrid, PSG appeared to be attempting to build their very own version of the Harlem Globetrotters.

The signing of right-back Achraf Hakimi from Inter early in the transfer window not only filled a problem position, but also brought in one the world's leading young defenders.

Nuno Mendes, albeit on loan, followed to fill the left-back slot later in the window, but between those signings, PSG made three sensational free transfers.

Gianluigi Donnarumma, Sergio Ramos and, to top it all off, Lionel Messi joined. Their joint presentation at the Parc des Princes was the main event ahead of a match against Strasbourg in August.

Funnily enough, Kylian Mbappe's name was booed as it was read out ahead of that match, amid speculation he could be joining Real Madrid.

That might well have been the case, but PSG turned down multiple Madrid advances. For all the glitter and glamour of their new signings, Mbappe was still seen as the key to their dream: the Champions League.

But that dream of conquering all in Europe was dashed in March. Ironically enough, by Madrid. It was Mbappe who put PSG 2-0 up in the tie before a Karim Benzema-inspired comeback sent Los Blancos into the quarter-finals.

Since then, PSG's monotonous stroll to another Ligue 1 title – albeit their first since 2020 – has continued and, inevitably, they claimed it on Saturday when they drew 1-1 with Lens.

Their fearsome front three has produced some special moments, yet last week's 2-1 Classique victory over Marseille, their nearest rivals – for lack of a better term – for the title, was played in front of a crowd lacking its most vociferous supporters, who had chosen to boycott the match in order to protest against the way the club has been run.

And though an eighth league title in 11 years of Qatar Sports Investment (QSI) ownership cannot be scoffed at, it is the least PSG should expect given the grandiose nature of their expensively assembled squad of superstars.

So, what next?

Mbappe Madrid-bound?

Mbappe is the first player to score more than 20 goals in the competition in three separate seasons before his 24th birthday since Herve Revelli, who managed it on four occasions between 1967 and 1970.

Before the Lens game, Mbappe's tally of 33 goals in all competitions was bettered by only Karim Benzema and Robert Lewandowski among players across Europe's top five leagues, with the France star having also outperformed his expected goals (29.5).

If this is to be his PSG swansong, then Mbappe is going out in style, if not on the biggest stage. From being jeered by his own supporters back in August, the tables turned when Mbappe was applauded in the wake of PSG's Champions League exit, with the boos reserved for Messi and Neymar instead.

PSG seem intent on trying to keep their talisman, but it really does appear to be to little avail, and it looks certain Mbappe will be lighting up LaLiga next season.

Messi to move on?

Yes, you did read that right. Messi – arguably the greatest player of all time – was booed by PSG supporters. Such is the fickle nature of football fandom, they were cheering his name by the time the next game came around, but at 34, does the Barcelona great really need to risk any damage to his reputation?

The goals have not come freely for Messi at PSG, managing only nine so far. However, he has contributed creatively with 13 assists, even if his expected assists (xA) of 9.86 suggests he has benefited from some above-standard finishing (which may be expected when you're supplying Mbappe, and Neymar too).

One has to wonder if he'll be sticking around to help the bid for an 11th league title in PSG's history next season.

 

Time up for Poch?

It is not just the future of star players up for debate. Mauricio Pochettino replaced Thomas Tuchel because the latter had failed to win the Champions League, only for Tuchel to go and win the tournament with Chelsea. Pochettino, meanwhile, saw his team lose in the semi-finals to Manchester City last season and then go down to Madrid in the last 16 this time around.

His record in Ligue 1 shows 39 wins from 55 matches, with the Argentine coach having overseen eight defeats and eight draws to register a win percentage of 70.9. Pochettino's team have scored 123 goals and conceded way less than half that amount (49).

Pochettino's 2.27 points per game ranks below his three predecessors, however; Tuchel took 2.37, as did Unai Emery, and Laurent Blanc recorded 2.35. Carlo Ancelotti (2.14) was the last PSG coach to have taken fewer points per game.

The former Tottenham boss might have been expecting a call from Manchester United, yet they have chosen Ajax's Erik ten Hag. Given the Champions League is the be-all and end-all for PSG, will Pochettino get another shot?

More, more, more?

Regardless of what happens with Mbappe, Pochettino or Messi, one thing is certain: PSG will be linked with the biggest stars on the market again.

Should Mbappe decide to pledge more of his career to PSG, will they go out and look to further bolster their chances of Champions League glory? If he leaves, how do they replace his goals?

Backing Messi and Neymar to come up with the difference should not be out of the question, yet it seems unlikely QSI would want a star player to leave and not replace him.

Paul Pogba is set to be available on a free, and it is not difficult to imagine the France star strutting his stuff in the blue of PSG. Georginio Wijnaldum's move has not been a success and the Dutchman's former club Newcastle United – now cash-rich of course – have been linked.

What of Keylor Navas? Donnarumma, despite some rash mistakes, seems to be the number one pick as goalkeeper now. Surely the Costa Rican will want to be a first choice elsewhere? Ramos has hardly been able to keep fit and PSG do lack a world-class partner for Marquinhos.

PSG may have to take a step back to finally move forward and become a dominant force in Europe, not just France. Perhaps sticking with Pochettino is the correct route, and they should forget about star signings for now and let the coach build something as he did in north London, using younger players and adding in the stardust with the talent that he already has at his disposal.

Based on the last decade, however, that does not seem likely.

Thomas Muller and Manuel Neuer are 10-in-a-row heroes for Bayern Munich, the lone mainstays of a decade of Bundesliga dominance.

Saturday's win against Borussia Dortmund means Bayern are German champions again, and veterans Muller and Neuer have been instrumental in the latest success.

Muller now has 11 Bundesliga titles in all, having also been a part of the triumphant 2009-10 team, and that stands as an all-time record.

There have been times in recent seasons when both Muller and Neuer have come under scrutiny, their places in the Bayern side being called into question.

Stats Perform has looked at how these two pivotal figures for Die Roten have bounced back in magnificent style.


The reinvention of Thomas Muller

Muller was integral to the title-clinching 3-1 win against Dortmund on Saturday, with the 2010 World Cup Golden Boot winner setting up Robert Lewandowski to make it 2-0 just before half-time.

Such contributions are expected of him nowadays, but the 32-year-old has reconfigured his game to reach this halcyon period in his career.

Muller went from scoring a career-high 20 Bundesliga goals in Pep Guardiola's final season at Bayern (2015-16) to just five in the following campaign under Carlo Ancelotti.

That drastic drop-off naturally caused many to wonder what was going on, even though Muller, handed his debut by Jurgen Klinsmann in 2008, had built up plenty of credit in the bank.

Muller's goal involvements (goals and assists) had dipped below 20 for the first time since 2011-12 during Ancelotti's only full season at the helm, as he added 12 assists to those five goals. Before this conspicuous 2016-17 season, Muller's goal hauls had always at least matched, but often comfortably beaten, his tally of assists.

In every season since, he has finished with more Bundesliga assists than goals.

Eight goals and 14 assists arrived in 2017-18, a campaign that saw Jupp Heynckes replace Ancelotti in early autumn, and that suggested Muller was back on track, only for another dip to follow during Niko Kovac's reign. Six goals and nine assists from Muller in 2018-19 saw him dip back under that 20 involvements mark, and as his 30th birthday approached there were concerns his best days were in the past.

How wrong Muller's critics were. As well as being a goal threat, Muller is now the most menacing creative force in German football. The departure of Kovac brought Hansi Flick to the Bayern top job in November 2019, and Muller finished that campaign with eight goals and 21 assists – the most assists in a Bundesliga season since such detailed data collection began in 2004-05.

 

He matched that career-best 29 goal involvements in 2020-21 (11 goals, 18 assists) and is well on the way to a similar haul this time (7 goals, 17 assists).

Muller has had nine seasons in which he has managed at least 20 goal involvements in the Bundesliga, not bad for a player that Ralf Rangnick almost pinched away from Bayern during Klinsmann's reign. Bayern academy boss Hermann Gerland is said to have told the club to reject the offer from Rangnick's Hoffenheim, and they owe him eternal gratitude.

Muller averaged 1.08 goal involvements per game under Flick, his best under any permanent Bayern boss, and has managed 0.89 during the first year of Julian Nagelsmann's reign, a sliver under the 0.93 he achieved in Guardiola's time at the club. He averaged a career-high 67.27 touches per 90 minutes in the Bundesliga under Flick, dipping to 64.34 under Nagelsmann.

Under Louis van Gaal, Ancelotti, Guardiola and Heynckes, he averaged in the 50s when it came to touches per 90 minutes, so his role today is more involved. Bayern can only hope it will stay that way.

When Bayern have had Muller in their starting XI since the start of the 2009-10 season, the campaign where he made his first big impact, they have won 74.7 per cent of games; without him, they have won 68.4 per cent (54 of 79). That has meant an average of 2.4 points per game when he has made the starting XI, to 2.2 when he has not started.


Neuer saves Bayern time and again

Like with Muller, there is a marginal gain to be observed from having goalkeeper Neuer in the Bayern side. Neuer joined from Schalke in 2011 and has made such an impact he is now the Bayern captain.

When he has started in the Bundesliga (307 games), Bayern have won 77.5 per cent of those games and picked up an average of 2.4 points, but when Neuer has been absent (64 games) those figures drop to a 71.9 per cent win rate and 2.3 points. The goals-against figure rises from 0.7 goals to 0.9 on average, too.

Now 36, Neuer has so far fended off a challenge from Alexander Nubel, who has been loaned out to Monaco this season to guarantee first-team action.

Nubel was also acquired from Schalke, joining Bayern in June 2020, but the 25-year-old has barely had a sniff of a first-team opportunity, and that is down to Neuer's form.

From 2012-13 to 2016-17, Neuer enjoyed five seasons where his impressive save percentage for each Bundesliga campaign fluctuated only slightly, between 78.57 per cent and 79.78 per cent per campaign.

Major doubts over his long-term future surfaced when he twice suffered broken metatarsal bones in 2017, forcing him to miss almost all the 2017-18 season.

There have been shaky times since his lay-off too, most notably when Neuer's save percentage was a distinctly low 59.65 per cent in 2018-19, the lowest mark of all Bundesliga goalkeepers with at least 20 appearances that season.

Yet a corner was soon turned, and this term the save percentage stands at 73.75 per cent, his best effort since that five-season hot streak in the mid-2010s. From seeking a succession plan, Bayern have shifted the emphasis to hoping that Neuer has years still to come at this level.

There was a surprise guest at the wedding of Real Betis star Joaquin in July 2005 – surprise because this particular appearance hinged on the outcome of a football match five weeks earlier.

As Joaquin and his new wife stood at the front of the church in his hometown of Puerto de Santa Maria, Cadiz, something else couldn't help but hog attention.

The Copa del Rey trophy, draped in green and white ribbons stood tall – literally, because it's huge – and proud.

That's right, the Copa del Rey was an especially notable guest at Joaquin's wedding, as the winger – then 23 years old – had only recently helped Betis to just their second success in the competition and first since 1977.

Joaquin has always been regarded as something of a practical joker, with that not-so-subtle wedding decoration very much from his wheelhouse.

Fast-forward 17 years and Joaquin is readying himself for another tilt at the crown with his beloved Betis, who themselves haven't reached the final since that momentous 2-1 extra-time win over Osasuna at the Vicente Calderon.

 

Fittingly, Betis' opponents on Saturday will be the other club most people would associate with Joaquin: Valencia, with whom he won the only other trophy of his career in 2008 – also the Copa – during a five-year spell.

That triumph spawned another curious – but no less Joaquin – photo of the winger with the trophy, as he was snapped stark naked squatting next to the cup in Valencia's dressing room.

Hopefully social media won't see a repeat of that one on Saturday…

Joaquin didn't feature for Valencia in that final, however, and therefore his 2005 success will gratefully remain the focus for most.

While Joaquin is by no means the Betis regular he was 17 years ago when he was an exciting fleet-footed winger, this occasion will still be all about him in the build-up, with there also a degree of aptness around the fact Saturday's game is taking place in Seville, at La Cartuja.

This campaign is expected to be Joaquin's last as a player. Now 40, his contract expires at the end of the season and in November he hinted retirement was likely in 2022. Betis coach Manuel Pellegrini quickly looked to sweep that under the rug, adamant such decisions will wait until 2021-22 is finished, and there's been very little public discussion of the subject from he or Joaquin since.

It's easy to understand why many aren't predicting another year of Joaquin in LaLiga, though. Even if you ignore the fairly important point of his age, his time on the pitch has reduced significantly this term.

In LaLiga he has made only two starts this season and in total featured for just 395 minutes. Of course, he's been used across multiple competitions in 2021-22 and was named in the starting XI eight times in the Europa League.

But while his 31 appearances is actually one more than in 2020-21, his minutes-per-game average of 36 (1,117 total) is 12.4 minutes fewer than last term, highlighting how he's become even more of a peripheral figure.

But that's not to say his influence has waned. Pellegrini stood aside before the first leg of their Copa semi-final defeat of Rayo Vallecano to let Joaquin deliver a speech.

He said: "Look each other in the eyes. We are here because of ourselves. I don't know if I should talk to you as a team-mate, friend or captain, but I will do it as a Betico, because I know what many of them must be feeling here today.

"They are going to be there until the death. The Beticos, and this club, have suffered for a long time. Sacrifice and effort lead to glory. That's the reward.

"I had an uncle who used to say, and he taught me this, that there's nothing more beautiful than making other people happy – today we have that chance. We're going to go out there and show we want to be in that final."

Betis fell behind early on in that game in Vallecas but went on to win the game 2-1. They then looked to be heading for extra time when Bebe spectacularly put Rayo ahead with 80 minutes played of the second leg in Seville, but a moment of inspiration from Joaquin right at the end opened the Rayo defence up.

He brought down a cross-field pass, glided away from Bebe and slipped a perfectly weighted pass in behind the defence for Sergio Canales, whose prodded pass was deflected towards goal and tapped in by Borja Iglesias.

The entire Betis bench and staff mobbed Joaquin at full-time, fully aware of what their achievement meant to him – but it was also a show of appreciation, with the veteran's cameo showing he remains a very useful option.

On a per-90-minute basis across all competitions this season, Joaquin tops Betis' charts for assists (0.32), expected assists (0.29) and chances created (2.9), while his 4.3 dribbles attempted is bettered by only three players.

 

Of course, his sample size is much smaller than the likes of Nabil Fekir and Canales – the point isn't that he's better than them, simply that he's packing a lot of quality into his relatively brief appearances.

Don't expect to see his name in Betis' line-up on Saturday, but do not be surprised if he comes on and makes a telling impact – given the legendary status he holds not only at Betis but also in LaLiga, there'll be many willing him to enjoy a successful end to a fine career.

Let's not forget, his 595 LaLiga appearances is a record for an outfield player, while only one man in Spanish top-flight history has appeared in more seasons (Miguel Soler, 20) than his 19.

Assuming he does in fact play some part on Saturday, it will be his 106th Copa del Rey appearance, extending another record among non-goalkeepers.

A 17th wedding anniversary might not be a big milestone for most, but you can count on Joaquin bringing the Copa along for the celebrations if Betis succeed this weekend.

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