Speed is a highly valued asset in the NFL and if you needed any reminder of the premium the league places on wide receivers who can create separation with raw acceleration, it arrived during perhaps the wildest offseason in history.

A frenzy of blockbuster trades was capped off last month by the Miami Dolphins parting with first and second-round picks in this year's draft, two fourth-round selections and a 2023 sixth-rounder to acquire Tyreek Hill from the Kansas City Chiefs.

Miami subsequently made Hill the highest-paid wide receiver in the NFL by signing him to a four-year, $120million contract extension, including $72.2m guaranteed.

The price teams are prepared to pay for speed receivers of Hill's calibre is an extremely promising harbinger for wideouts in this month's draft who share his ability to take the top off of a defense. 

Among another uber-talented class of players at the receiver position, one man stands above the rest in possessing that specific trait, Alabama's Jameson Williams.

His hopes of going in the first round took a huge hit when Williams tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the National Championship Game in January, ending a sparkling sole season with the Crimson Tide after he transferred from Ohio State.

Yet between the significant advancements in ACL recovery - giving Williams a chance of making an impact in his rookie year - and how desperate NFL teams are for big-play receivers who can flip the field in an instant, it still appears likely he will hear his name called on night one in Las Vegas.

A first-round draft status would be the least Williams deserves, with the advanced metrics and his Alabama tape combining to paint a picture of a receiver who is not only the top deep threat in the draft, but also has an extremely compelling argument for being considered the best all-round receiver in this deep class.

Belated big-play impact

His injury meant Williams was unable to take part in any pre-draft athletic testing but, while teams have not had the chance to put a 40-yard dash time next to his name, the impact of his speed was obvious during a brief but ultra-productive stay with Alabama.

Having made only 15 catches in two seasons at Ohio State, where he played behind two receivers expected to go in the first round in Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave, Williams took full advantage of his opportunity to shine down in Tuscaloosa.

Williams racked up 79 catches for a team-high 1,572 yards, with his 15 touchdown catches tied for third in the FBS.

Nine of Williams' 15 touchdown catches were for 40 or more yards, while no player in the FBS produced more than his nine receptions of at least 50 yards, four more than the wideout who stepped into his third receiver role at Ohio State, Jaxon Smith-Njigba.

Landing with college football's modern-day juggernaut undoubtedly helped his cause, but the 2021 season was one in which Williams' established himself as the premier downfield weapon in the FBS by separating more consistently and more dramatically than any of his peers near the top of this year's receiver draft board.

Feel the burn

Blending elite speed with lower-body flexibility that enables him to be a substantial threat on double moves, Williams thrived running post-corner and corner-post routes downfield during his time with Alabama, with his proficiency in creating substantial separation going deep reflected by his burn rate.

Burn rate measures how often a receiver wins his matchup with a defender on a play where he is targeted. Williams did so on 74.6 per cent of his targets in 2021.

Williams' burn rate was superior to that of Wilson (71.6 per cent), Olave (69.9), USC's Drake London (71.3) and Arkansas star Treylon Burks (64.8).

He comfortably led the way in burn yards per target, his average of 19.34 nearly five full yards better than that of his nearest challenger, Cincinnati's Alec Pierce (14.74), and was also the cream of the crop in burn yards per route (4.9).

In other words, none of the other receivers anticipated to be in the first-round conversation came close to generating as much separation as Williams, who was the class of this field when it came to defeating his defender's coverage.

Yet in the endless quest for mismatches that is the NFL in 2022, it is not just Williams' success in separating that makes him such an intriguing prospect, it is the varied nature of a skill set ideally suited to where modern passing games are going.

Slot machine

There has arguably never been a better time to enter the NFL as a receiver who can win because of that extra gear at their disposal.

Hill coalesced perfectly with Patrick Mahomes during their time together in Kansas City and, as quarterbacks blessed with Mahomes' extraordinary arm talent become the archetype in the league, there figures to be an increasing demand for receivers who can get behind the secondary along with wideouts with the size and catch radius to mitigate inaccurate throws.

Williams may not have an intimidating frame at 6ft 2in and 189 pounds, but he does possess outstanding ball tracking ability and the body control to turn off-target throws into completions.

Elite receivers of all moulds - from route-running aficionados Cooper Kupp and Davante Adams to yards after catch monsters like Deebo Samuel and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' physically imposing duo of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin - are spending an increasing amount of time playing, and thriving, from the slot.

Winning inside and out is a prerequisite for top-tier wideouts at the NFL level, and that is a box Williams checks emphatically.

Able to win with patient and intelligent footwork at the start of his route and through varying his route speeds, Williams' physical gifts have seen him develop into a substantial threat to pick up yardage after the catch on underneath routes that can be run from the slot, with his advanced metrics when lined up inside nothing short of astonishing.

Williams ran 132 routes from the slot in 2021 and was targeted 40 times. His burn rate from the slot was 77.5 per cent compared to 73 per cent when he lined up as an outside receiver.

He averaged 26.53 burn yards per target and 8.04 burn yards per route from the slot, while he produced a big play on 59.7 per cent of slot targets.

Those numbers dwarf his still impressive statistics as an outside receiver - 15.46 burn yards per target, 3.62 burn yards per route and a big play rate of 41.7 per cent - though that disparity is largely a product of Williams running a lot of his deeper routes from the slot.

Indeed, Williams' average depth of target from the slot was 19.3 yards, compared to 11.5 yards from the outside.

Such a gulf is unlikely to exist in the pros. In a league so heavily influenced by Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay and their offensive system, Williams should expect to see his speed utilised to stretch the field horizontally as much as vertically at the next level. The Dolphins' aggressiveness in trading for Hill despite Tua Tagovailoa's arm paling in comparison to that of Mahomes perhaps foreshadowed that teams whose quarterbacks cannot so easily access downfield throws may still be interested in pursuing a burner of Williams' talents.

But, with the Green Bay Packers - who traded Adams to the Las Vegas Raiders and lost their deep threat, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, to Kansas City - and the Chiefs both possessing two picks in the second half of the first round, Williams could yet find himself catching passes from either Aaron Rodgers or Mahomes and executing the best-laid gameplans of Matt LaFleur or Andy Reid. 

The college football world only got a fleeting glimpse of what Williams could do when given a featured role for a dominant program. More prolonged pain for NFL defenses will come if he ends up landing with a team that can claim to have one of the NFL's best arms and a sharp offensive mind in their employ.

The final matchday of the Champions League quarter-finals has arrived, with Liverpool and Manchester City in touching distance of the last four.

The Premier League pair played out a thrilling 2-2 draw in what many billed as the title decider on Sunday, but their attention now turns back to Europe as they hunt yet more silverware.

Liverpool, if uncomfortable at times, managed a 3-1 victory at the Estadio da Luz, while City hold a slender 1-0 advantage heading to the Wanda Metropolitano against Atletico Madrid.

Here, Stats Perform unpacks the pick of the data from a decisive Wednesday in UEFA's flagship club competition.

Atletico Madrid v Manchester City: Simeone's side must end home hoodoo

City make their first ever trip to Atletico in European competition having won just three of their last 11 away games against Spanish side – though Pep Guardiola's team won their most recent visit to Real Madrid (2-1 in February 2020).

The Premier League leaders do so with a narrow 1-0 first-leg lead, thanks to Kevin De Bruyne, after Atletico lost the first away leg of a Champions League knockout tie for a fourth time.

Simeone's side, though, may take confidence from the fact they have progressed on two of the three previous occasions they have lost the first leg away from home.

But the reigning LaLiga champions will have to turn around their torrid home form in the competition if they are to do so, given they are winless in their last seven home games in Europe.

The compact setup that many branded as negative will also have to make way for Atletico to compete, after they failed to record a single shot in the first meeting at the Etihad Stadium.

The fewest attempts across two-leg Champions League knockout ties is four (Shakhtar Donetsk v Bayern Munich in 2014-15), since Opta began recording in 2003-04, while the only team to have failed to record a shot on target across two legs in this period was Deportivo La Coruna in the 2003-04 semi-finals against Porto.

Simeone will look to Antoine Griezmann to make the difference, with the forward one goal away from overtaking David Trezeguet (29) for the fourth-most strikes by a Frenchman in the competition.

Meanwhile, City will reach the landmark of 100 games in the Champions League, having won 55 of their first 99 – only Real Madrid have triumphed more in their first 100 matches (57).

Liverpool v Benfica: Formidable Reds lucky Portuguese omen

The omens will be good if Liverpool can progress past Benfica here, given they have gone on to win the competition on the last two occasions they have won both legs in a European Cup or Champions League knockout tie against the Portuguese side, doing so in 1977-78 and 1983-84.

The Reds have won each of their last five games against Portuguese sides in Europe's premier club competition, scoring 16 goals and only conceding three times. 

Indeed, they are unbeaten in nine games against teams from Portugal in the competition since Benfica won at Anfield in March 2006 (W7 D2), as they eye a third Champions League semi-final under Jurgen Klopp.

That is as many times as the Reds had managed to do so prior to Klopp taking charge (2004-05, 2006-07 and 2007-08, all under Rafa Benitez), with the German somewhat of a knockout specialist.

There is no denying Liverpool are heavy favourites; they have progressed from each of their last 12 ties in the Champions League knockout stages after winning the first leg, since a 2001-02 quarter-final loss to Bayer Leverkusen, who lost 1-0 in the first leg before winning 4-2 in the return meeting.

Central to Klopp's plan will be the seemingly out of form Mohamed Salah, whose next home goal will see him overtake Steven Gerrard (14) for the most goals by a Liverpool player at Anfield across the European Cup and Champions League.

While only two teams have ever won by more than one goal away to Liverpool in the latter stages of the competition, one of those occasions was Benfica in a 2-0 victory in the last-16 in 2005-06.

Darwin Nunes will be the key, with the forward scoring five times in nine European appearances this season – no player has ever netted more in a single Champions League campaign for the Primeira Liga side.

Manchester City and Liverpool produced a pulsating top-of-the-table clash on another enthralling day of Premier League action on Sunday.

The top two played out a hugely entertaining 2-2 draw at the Etihad Stadium to ensure the title race remains delicately poised with seven games remaining, City's one-point lead intact for now.

Elsewhere, Brentford beat London rivals West Ham, while there were wins for Leicester City and Norwich City over Crystal Palace and Burnley respectively.

Stats Perform takes a look at some key Opta facts from the day's games.
 

Manchester City 2-2 Liverpool: Guardiola's men miss chance to pull clear of rivals

The hosts started at a breathless pace and went ahead early on thanks to Kevin De Bruyne's 11th Premier League goal of the season. The Belgium international has only once scored more in a single top-flight campaign (13 in 2019-20).

Diogo Jota pulled Liverpool level before Gabriel Jesus restored City's advantage, and both players maintained their records of never losing in a Premier League game when they have scored. Jota is unbeaten in 33 matches (W27 D6) and Jesus in 45 (W42 D3), with only James Milner (54 games) and Darius Vassell (46) scoring in more without losing in Premier League history.

Sadio Mane scored just 46 seconds into the second half to secure a point for the Reds. It was the first time they had scored in the opening minute of the second half in a league game since January 2019 (Mohamed Salah vs Crystal Palace) and the first time City had conceded in the 46th minute in a Premier League game since November 2004 vs Norwich City.

The result means Liverpool are now winless in their last five Premier League matches against City (D3 L2), their joint-longest run without a victory against them along with a five-game run between November 2011 and December 2013.

Brentford 2-0 West Ham: Hammers stung by Bees

This win means Brentford have recorded a league double over West Ham for only the second time, last doing so in 1953-54 when both sides were in the second tier.

Bryan Mbeumo opened the scoring and the forward has now found the net in both Premier League games against West Ham this season. He is only the second Brentford player ever to score both home and away against the Hammers in the same league campaign, after Jack Holliday in 1933-34.

Ivan Toney added a second to take his tally to eight goals from 32 shots in the Premier League in 2022, after netting just four times from 36 attempts prior to the new year. Indeed, only Son Heung-min (nine) has scored more top-flight goals since the turn of the new year than the Brentford striker.

West Ham, meanwhile, have lost seven of their last 11 away Premier League games (W2 D2), which is one more away defeat than they suffered last season.

The Hammers have suffered three consecutive away defeats for the first time since a seven-game run between December 2019 and June 2020.

Leicester City 2-1 Crystal Palace: Foxes too strong for Vieira's men

Leicester remain unbeaten in their last six Premier League games against Palace (W4 D2), having lost four on the bounce against the Eagles in the top-flight before this run.

Ademola Lookman got them on their way with his fifth league goal of the season, equalling his best tally in a domestic campaign for a side in Europe's big five leagues (also five in 2017-18 with RB Leipzig).

Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall then doubled their advantage with a superb strike after being teed up by James Maddison.

England international Maddison, who has been involved in more Premier League goals than any other Leicester player this season (eight goals, five assists), became just the fourth player to register 20-plus goals and 20-plus assists for the Foxes in the Premier League, after Muzzy Izzet, Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy.

Patrick Vieira's Palace got one back through Wilfried Zaha, who has scored more Premier League goals against Leicester than he has versus any other side in the competition (seven), yet they were unable to find an equaliser.

Norwich City 2-0 Burnley: Canaries boost survival hopes

Norwich injected life into their Premier League survival bid with a comfortable win over fellow strugglers Burnley.

Pierre Lees-Melou opened the scoring with his first Premier League goal for the Canaries in his 26th appearance in the competition, becoming the first French player to score for the club in the English top flight.

Teemu Pukki made sure of the three points with his 20th Premier League goal, moving him ahead of Mark Robins (19) as the club's third top scorer in the competition after Chris Sutton (33) and Grant Holt (23).

The result meant Dean Smith's side have gone unbeaten home and away against a Premier League opponent for just the second time this season (D1 W1).

Burnley, meanwhile, are winless in their last four Premier League games against teams starting the day bottom of the table (D1 L3).

Pep Guardiola proudly declared Manchester City and Liverpool have "raised the bar" in the Premier League, and on Sunday the north-west giants collide in a game that could have a telling impact on the destiny of the trophy.

It falls inconveniently between high-stakes Champions League quarter-final games, although the fact both City and Liverpool are ahead after the first legs of their ties somewhat mitigates that pressure.

Given City hold just a one-point lead over Liverpool with eight rounds of games remaining, a win for either at the Etihad Stadium would be a huge leap nearer to the title.

The prospect of Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp directing in their animated manner from the touchline, as their star-packed teams pull no punches on the pitch, makes this an unmissable game.

Ahead of kick-off in the biggest club game in Europe this weekend, Stats Perform has taken a look at some key pointers.

City start as favourites for a reason

English bookmakers have City as the team most likely to come away from this one with three points, and there is good reason for Guardiola's men to go in with confidence.

City have lost just one of their last 12 Premier League home games against Liverpool (W7 D4), going down 4-1 in Jurgen Klopp’s first visit in the competition in November 2015.

Liverpool had a 2-1 Champions League win at City in April 2018, but their recent successes in the league in this rivalry have been largely limited to games at Anfield. Indeed, Liverpool are winless in their last four Premier League games against City (D2 L2), regardless of the venue.

Only once in the competition have Liverpool had a longer run without a win against City, going five games without getting the better of the boys in blue between November 2011 and December 2013.

Keep it clean, lads

Liverpool have not kept a clean sheet in any of their last 11 Premier League away games against City, since a 0-0 draw in February 2010, and with Guardiola's formidable attacking resources it would surely be a surprise if this becomes the game where the Reds halt that sequence.

So goes one theory. Another way of looking at the game is to consider that Liverpool are in a stunning vein of form, and if they are ever going to halt the leakage of goals to City, it will be this weekend.

Liverpool have won each of their last 10 Premier League games, keeping eight clean sheets in doing so. It is their fifth run of 10 or more consecutive Premier League wins, Opta said.

Both Liverpool and City have achieved 18 clean sheets in 30 games this season, so could they even blunt out each other's threat?

When first and second collide

This is the 30th season of the Premier League, and Sunday's game marks the 50th time the top two sides in the division will have met.

Of the previous 49 such league clashes, the leaders have won on 20 occasions but lost 18 times, with 11 games drawn. City and Liverpool have met as the top two twice before, with a goalless draw at Anfield in October 2018 coming when City were at the summit, before Guardiola's men scored a 4-0 thrashing against Liverpool in July 2020.

The latter game came a week after Liverpool wrapped up the Premier League title, and was an ominous sign of a pendulum swing for the following season.

Liverpool can jump to first place for the first time since October 1, and they might bear in mind that battles between first and second towards the end of the season have tended to go the way of the chaser in recent times.

In fact, of the last eight Premier League clashes between the top two during the final 10 games of the season, the team in second have won seven times (L1), including each of the last five in a row.

There is just a sliver between these sides, reflected in the fact City have taken a league-high 516 points since Guardiola's arrival for the start of the 2016-17 season, and Liverpool are close behind with 488 points. Chelsea are a distant third on that list with 427 points.

The players who could make the difference

Phil Foden came off the bench to slide the pass that allowed Kevin De Bruyne to smash past Jan Oblak on Tuesday and give City a 1-0 first-leg lead over Atletico Madrid. Foden looks a sure-fire starter this weekend and has flourished in the Liverpool fixture, having scored in all three of his Premier League outings against Klopp's team, while also claiming two assists.

The 21-year-old could become just the second player to score in four successive Premier League appearances against the Reds, after Leicester City's Jamie Vardy, who found the back of the net in five straight games between 2016 and 2017.

Liverpool will know the threat could come from all angles, with Foden, ex-Liverpool man Raheem Sterling, De Bruyne, Riyad Mahrez, Bernardo Silva, Jack Grealish and Gabriel Jesus all likely menaces.

Perhaps the danger coming from Liverpool themselves is more obvious, but that does not necessarily make it easier to deflect.

Mohamed Salah has scored in four of his last five Premier League games against City, including each of his last three. The last player to score in four consecutive Premier League appearances against City was Chelsea's Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, who netted in five successive meetings between December 2000 and October 2003.

Salah is the Premier League's top scorer and might be the chief threat, but Diogo Jota, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Luis Diaz will have to be guarded carefully, should they feature.

It is a guessing game as to which three Klopp will perm from his five-man pool of star forwards. The occasion itself is a guessing game too, as Klopp and Guardiola attempt to outwit one another once again.

The Premier League will reach a new milestone on Sunday when Manchester City face Liverpool in a titanic title tussle.

This will be the 50th match between the top two teams in the division in the competition's history, with City boasting a one-point advantage over Liverpool heading into this encounter.

Victory would move Jurgen Klopp's men top for the first time since October, having trailed by as many as 14 points back in January.

Of the 49 previous top-two meetings, the leaders have come out on top in 20, 11 have been drawn and 18 won by the second-placed team – including one of only two previous examples when City and Liverpool have been the sides at the summit. City thrashed newly crowned champions Liverpool 4-0 in July 2020.

The title race may already have been run on that occasion, but the hunters have consistently fared better than the hunted in such clashes across recent seasons.

The top team have beaten their nearest rivals in only one of the past eight matches to take place in the final 10 games of a season.

Consensus has it that victory for Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium – following that theme – would be followed by a successful title charge for the Reds.

But it has not always been so straightforward, as Stats Perform analyses a history of Premier League title deciders.

United rewarded for holding their nerve (1992-97)

Manchester United won four of the first five Premier League titles after three times holding their nerve against fellow contenders during the run-in.

Norwich City may now prop up the table, but they led the way at the start of April in the inaugural 1992-93 campaign, while United were back in third.

Although that is not the latest eventual champions have emerged from outside the top two – City were third at the start of May in 2013-14 – United had to do it the hard way by heading to Carrow Road in their next match.

Their performance there set the standard for two decades of dominance, as a scintillating first-half display saw three stunning breakaway goals in a 3-1 win. Five days later, Steve Bruce scored a pair of famous late goals against Sheffield Wednesday and United were top.

Alex Ferguson's side retained their title despite losing late in the next campaign to Blackburn Rovers, who were themselves champions the following season, but one of the most notable deciders went United's way in 1995-96. The Red Devils had trailed Newcastle United by 12 points in January but knew a win at St James' Park would trim the deficit to a single point.

That was exactly how it played out, too, as Eric Cantona – who created the first and netted the third at Norwich in 1993 – hit a winner against the run of play.

That was the start of a career-best run of six games in a row in which Cantona scored and the first of five consecutive United goals that came courtesy of their talisman – a feat since repeated only three times (Ruud van Nistelrooy in 2003, Cristiano Ronaldo in 2007 and Robin van Persie in 2013). Four of the six games ended 1-0.

Newcastle would also end 1996-97 as United's closest challengers, but it was the turn of Liverpool – who finished fourth – to blow a big lead.

The gap to United was 10 points in December, when Ferguson's side were sixth, yet Liverpool were two points behind by the time they welcomed their rivals to Anfield in mid-April. A pair of David James errors gave the visitors a precious victory en route to another title triumph.

Double delight for Arsenal at Old Trafford (1997-2004)

From the 1997-98 season onwards, United had consistent title rivals in Arsenal. And although United finished top in four of the next seven seasons to Arsenal's three, there were a pair of painful defeats for Ferguson.

While Newcastle's collapse from 12 points in front is most widely remembered – chiefly because the Magpies are still to win the Premier League – the competition record belongs to United's class of 1997-98, who allowed Arsenal to make up a 13-point deficit in the first season after Cantona's retirement.

There were still nine points between the sides before they met at Old Trafford in mid-March, but Arsenal had three games in hand and won 1-0 courtesy of a Marc Overmars goal – their first away to United in the Premier League – that capped a dazzling individual display. They led the table a month later.

That season ended with a double for Arsenal, and so too did the 2001-02 campaign, in which they again claimed a 1-0 victory at United. The Sylvain Wiltord-inspired success, days after winning the FA Cup, came in the penultimate game of the season and made Arsenal champions.

It was the first of only two occasions on which the title has been won in a match between two teams who were still in the running, while the top two in the Premier League have never met later in a campaign.

Chelsea take challenge to United (2004-2011)

Chelsea replaced Arsenal as perennial threats to United and their second consecutive title in 2005-06 was sealed with a 3-0 win over Ferguson's men, although the championship was essentially a formality at that point.

Meetings in subsequent years were more keenly contested. There was precious little between the two teams in 2007-08, when the Champions League final was decided on penalties, and a late-season Chelsea win at Stamford Bridge moved the teams level on points. However, the Blues' inferior goal difference and final-day draw with Bolton Wanderers allowed United to take the title regardless.

It was a different story in 2009-10, though. There was just a point separating leaders United from chasing Chelsea this time, and an away win at Old Trafford through goals from Joe Cole and Didier Drogba put the Blues in command, able to themselves seal the deal on the final day.

And yet the two dominant teams of this era were not done there. A May meeting back at Old Trafford the following season could have seen Chelsea snatch the championship away from United again, but Javier Hernandez scored inside a matter of seconds to set the Red Devils on course for a victory that crucially moved them six clear. That represents the last time the leaders beat the second-placed team during the run-in.

City serene since crucial Kompany winner (2011-2022)

United have won the title only once since 2010-11, while neighbours City have been crowned on five occasions in that time – and they have largely avoided the drama Ferguson's side made their benchmark.

Of course, their breakthrough triumph in 2011-12 was an exception to that, as City had to beat United even before Sergio Aguero's last-day heroics. Vincent Kompany's header moved the teams level on points, with goal difference vitally working in his side's favour.

Only four times since then have the top two faced off over the final 10 matches of the season, including Liverpool's 2013-14 defeat to Chelsea when neither team won the title and City's 2019-20 thrashing off the Reds when the league had already been settled.

City, in 2012-13, and United, in 2017-18, each claimed away derby wins that restored pride but could not prevent title processions. United's win at least denied City the delight of clinching the title against their neighbours.

The closest City and Liverpool have come to a true decider might be a January epic in 2018-19, but that should all change on Sunday.

There will be plenty to play for when the Boston Celtics arrive at Fiserv Forum to take on the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday.

Heading into the game, the Celtics (50-30) occupy the Eastern Conference two seed, while the Bucks (49-30) are a half-game back in third, holding the tie-breaker over the Philadelphia 76ers (49-30) in fourth.

Since the All-Star break, no team has a better winning percentage than the Celtics (16-4), while Milwaukee are fifth over that period (13-6); but while the reigning champion Bucks find their feet, Boston have gone to a new level.

For the season, the Celtics are number one in defensive efficiency, as new head coach Ime Udoka's switching system has maximised the physical gifts of defensive stalwarts Marcus Smart and Robert Williams III.

At this point, Boston's defense is a given, but post-All-Star break, they have also had the number one offense in the league, and are putting a gap on the rest of the field. Over that time period, the closest team to Boston's 122.2 points per 100 possessions have been the Minnesota Timberwolves, 2.7 points per 100 possessions behind at 119.5.

For context, that 2.7-point gap is greater than the 2.6-point margin between the Timberwolves and the 11th-placed 76ers (116.9) for the same period, and Boston's 12.9 net-rating since All-Star weekend is a number generally reserved for some of the greatest regular season teams in league history.

However, the team right behind the Timberwolves on the list, in third place, are the Bucks, and it is no hot streak as they boast the fifth-best offensive efficiency over the whole year.

These teams are both serious contenders to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals – but they go about it in very different ways.

Primarily, that has a lot to do with the Celtics' switching defensive system.

The Celtics 'switch' screens – meaning instead of fighting over or under the screening player to recover back to your assignment, the player guarding the screener takes on the assignment of guarding the ball-handler, while the ball-handler's defender takes responsibility for the screener and his next movements.

The Bucks, on the other hand, play 'drop coverage', which means their on-ball defender tries to force the ball-handler on a predictable path around the screen, while the screener's defender peels off into a help position, with the aim of forcing the ball-handler to pull up for a mid-range shot with their defender contesting from behind.

Both systems are formed on sound logic. In switching schemes, the idea is to eliminate as much dribble penetration as possible by keeping the ball-handler in front on the perimeter, while trusting the smaller guard to be able to deny the screener an easy catch in the paint.

Drop coverage, on the other hand, forces teams to consistently attempt mid-range jump shots, which are statistically the least valuable shot in the game.

In theory, Boston's switching defense should perform well against Giannis Antetokounmpo, as the Bucks' two-time MVP thrives at attacking the rim, while Milwaukee should be able to bait Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown into mid-range jump shots that can go cold for extended stretches.

But the numbers show it may not be that simple.

Boston allow the second-fewest amount of points in the paint per game, and while Antetokounmpo lives at the rim, the Bucks actually come in last in the league with their percentage of points scored in the paint.

While that may indicate that the Celtics' defense is playing right into how the Bucks like to play, Boston also allow the second-lowest three-point percentage in the league.

It poses an interesting question about Boston – is their defense truly so good that teams can not score inside the key or from long range, or is their defense the top-ranked in the league because their opponents just keep missing threes?

Opposing three-point percentage can be a messy stat due to general shooting luck, and Boston allow opponents to get up a league-average amount of attempts, so if they are due for some regression to the mean, it means they are due to be on the wrong end of some hot shooting nights.

Boston's defense also allows the lowest amount of opposition assists per game, but Milwaukee are third-last in assist percentage, so how much are the Bucks actually trying to do the things the Celtics are built to stop?

Milwaukee play at the fifth-highest pace in the league, while Boston play at the fifth-lowest – all signs point to the fact that something has to give, and whoever can play the game at their tempo may just hold the keys.

 

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Boston Celtics – Marcus Smart

Marcus Smart is not the best scorer on the Celtics, or the best ball-handler, but he excels in the areas that have made this Boston team great during the second half of this season.

He is the bookmakers' favourite to win Defensive Player of the Year due to his ability to switch off of point guards and bang bodies down low against the bigs, unlocking the true upside of a switching system as post players regularly fail to take advantage of their significant height advantage.

The Bucks are a big team, so for the Celtics defense to rise to the occasion once again against a true contender, Smart will need to hang with Jrue Holiday on the perimeter, as well as keep Antetokounmpo out of the lane.

 

Milwaukee Bucks – Brook Lopez

Antetokounmpo is Milwaukee's best and most valuable player. However, the centrepiece of the Bucks' drop coverage is Brook Lopez.

Lopez will be the biggest player, with the longest arms, for either team, and Milwaukee's entire defensive scheme will revolve around forcing players to take and make shots over his outstretched arms.

He also has the size, and the underrated post game, to make life miserable for whichever undersized guard gets caught in screening actions and needs to switch onto the seven-footer.

Smart will be able to hold up if he establishes good early position, but if the Bucks can get Derrick White or Payton Pritchard involved in the switch, it could be a long night inside for Boston's defense.

 

KEY BATTLES – Who can get the most 'easy' points?

In a game that will likely resemble a playoff atmosphere, the winning team may simply be the side who make life easiest on themselves.

Fast-break points and free throws limit the amount of possessions a team needs to grind their way through a set half-court defense, and provide the easiest avenues to uncontested points.

Milwaukee rank as the eighth-best team at getting to the free-throw line, and fourth-best at denying their opposition free throws, while Boston are 21st at getting to the line.

As mentioned, Boston like to play at a methodical pace, ranking 20th in fast-break points, while Milwaukee have the fifth-best transition defense in the league.

 

HEAD-TO-HEAD

These two sides have met three times this season – all before the All-Star break.

Boston won the first two home fixtures – including an overtime win where Dennis Schroeder scored a game-high 38 points, before being traded to the Houston Rockets – while Milwaukee won the last meeting, and the only one at Fiserv Forum, 117-113.

Peaking too soon is a problem for every golf season, for the Masters at Augusta – the first major of the year – is what the sport is all about.

The greatest names have embarked on Georgia in pursuit of a prized green jacket.

But to enjoy a successful Sunday this week, players must get to grips with perhaps the biggest star of them all: the iconic course itself.

Augusta is what makes the Masters the Masters, so Stats Perform breaks down where one of the most prestigious tournaments sport might be won and lost.

LONGEST HOLE

At 575 yards, the par-five second hole – Pink Dogwood – is the longest on the course, but that does not mean it is the toughest, instead offering some respite following the tricky first.

Historically, number two has been played in 4.78 strokes on average, making it the third-easiest hole at Augusta in relation to par. In fact, the lowest average on record came in 2020 (4.467) – and that was not a mere quirk of the strange conditions around the course in recent years without the usual crowds, given the highest average, in 1957, was 4.996. Yep, the second has never played at even par or worse.

SHORTEST HOLE

Skill rather than strength is required to negotiate Redbud, the 170-yard, par-three 16th. Considered too easy in the tournament's early days, the installation of a pond added some peril – and plenty of drama. With three bunkers around the green, too, the tee shot has to be pretty perfect or something spectacular will be required to come up with a birdie, as Tiger Woods will attest. "In your life, have you seen anything like that?"

Unsurprisingly, though, given its length, the 16th is also the setting for the vast majority of the Masters' holes-in-one. Of the 33 in tournament history, 23 have come at Redbud, including the first from amateur Ross Somerville at the inaugural tournament in 1934 but also 16 since the turn of the century. The last came courtesy of Tommy Fleetwood in 2021.

HARDEST HOLE

Think of Augusta and you will likely quickly focus on Amen Corner, but the most daunting challenge of all lies at the hole immediately prior: the par-four number 10 Camellia. Statistically, with a stroke average of 4.3 (0.3 over par), this is as tough as it gets – albeit only fractionally ahead of the 11th.

With its lowest stroke average 4.082 in 2018, the 10th has never played at even par or better... unless your name is Jordan Spieth. The 2015 Masters champion has a real knack around Camellia, with four birdies in four rounds last year. Few others have been able to follow Spieth's example at what was originally the first hole.

EASIEST HOLE

With the hardest hole followed by the second-ranked 11th and fourth-ranked 12th, there might be a sense of relief at Azalea, the par-five number 13 with a 4.77 stroke average. But there is very much a risk-reward approach to this 510-yard hole, at which the player can go for the green in two but must beware the water to the left and the trees to the right.

This is another set-up that suits Spieth well, as it does the absent Phil Mickelson, even if his most memorable shot at Azalea was not exactly an exhibition in playing the hole. An error created the opportunity for Mickelson's six-iron from the pine straw on Sunday in 2010.

THE RECORDS

The course record belongs to Nick Price and Greg Norman, who both shot 63s, but perhaps it should come as no surprise Spieth has the best career average of all players to play 25 or more rounds at Augusta, with his 70.46 leading Woods' 70.87.

That mark will come under threat should Dustin Johnson (71.03) produce anything like his sensational record-breaking 2020 performance again, however. Helped by carding only four bogeys – a low among Masters champions – Johnson's 20-under total of 268 trimmed two off the previous week-long benchmark owned jointly by Woods and Spieth.

Still, with Cameron Smith and Im Sung-jae 'only' five back, Woods' record winning margin of 12 strokes to Tom Kite in 1997 remained.

LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers will be missing from the NBA playoffs.

Defeat to the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday combined with a win elsewhere for the San Antonio Spurs meant the Lakers can no longer reach even the play-in tournament.

It is less than two years since the Lakers won the title in the 'bubble', but that championship was followed by one mishap after another, leading to this painful season.

Stats Perform seeks to break down where it all went wrong.

Ageing LeBron limited

This could and perhaps should have been remembered as a great year for James, who has scored 30.3 points per game. At 37, he is on course to become the oldest player ever to win the scoring title – a mantle he will take from the great Michael Jordan.

However, for a second straight year, injuries have limited James' involvement.

Already with more than 63,000 minutes in his legs across the regular season and playoffs, James has continued to push himself to try to save the Lakers' season. He has played 37.2 minutes per game – his most in five years, the most of any Laker and the third-most in the entire league. Again, he is 37. Ultimately, unsurprisingly, this has meant more wear and tear, with James playing in just 56 games.

Although James has scored more than 35 points in each of his past five games – a streak bettered only by DeMar DeRozan (eight) this season – he has also missed five games in that span. The Lakers have lost all five.

AD also absent again

Given James' age, it was to be expected his body might start to let him down. That he needed to play so many minutes when he was available, though, was due to injury issues for Anthony Davis – eight years his junior.

Davis was outstanding in helping James to win a title in their first season together in 2019-20 but has played only 76 games since across two regular seasons. After an Achilles strain hampered his 2020-21 campaign, Davis has missed time this year with knee and foot injuries. He played on Tuesday but revealed his foot was "a little more sore than normal" and had "swollen up a bit".

Whether Davis can ever get back to playing a full 82-game season remains to be seen, for he has appeared more cumbersome than in years past even when he has been available, having bulked up coming into this year. That is evident in the numbers, too, with Davis shooting a career-high 73.5 per cent at the rim but just 18.6 per cent from three-point range.

Derailed by Russ trade

Of course, even with James and Davis kept on the sideline for periods of the 2020-21 season, the Lakers still made the play-in tournament and then the playoffs. However, the Lakers then allowed almost their entire supporting cast to leave.

Their four most-used players in terms of minutes in 2020-21 departed, including three of them in an ill-fated trade for Russell Westbrook. On his fourth team in four years, there was hope Westbrook could form a 'big three' with James and Davis – "our goal was to win a championship," Davis said on Tuesday – yet the trio have played just 21 games together.

And Westbrook has been far less effective than the men he replaced in carrying the team in the absence of the Lakers' superstar duo. LA are 6-17 when Westbrook plays but James does not.

Having averaged a triple-double in four of his prior five seasons, Westbrook is down to 18.5 points, 7.4 rebounds and 7.1 assists. One of 10 triples this year came in perhaps the worst individual performance of the campaign, in which Westbrook also had a league-high 10 turnovers and was ejected against former team the Oklahoma City Thunder.

What next?

"Who knows?" That was Davis' response after the Suns loss. The Lakers have very little room to manoeuvre in this coming offseason, even if James, Davis and Westbrook can each rediscover form and fitness – highly unlikely in itself.

As part of the deal with the New Orleans Pelicans for Davis, the Lakers traded away an unprotected first-round pick in 2022, a potential first-round pick swap in 2023 and either their 2024 or 2025 first-round pick. The 2022 pick is sure to be a big loss following this season, while the Lakers would have to turn their fortunes around dramatically for the subsequent picks not to also represent significant assets.

And yet the Lakers' cap situation is arguably even worse, headlined by Westbrook's player option for a staggering $47.1million in 2022-23. Only a league-low seven players are signed for next year, yet the team are already above the luxury tax threshold.

It is no secret James and Davis were hugely influential in constructing this roster, but whether the extortionate cost was worth it for a single title is up for debate. Another championship surely will not follow for some time.

Two races into the 2022 Formula One season, a new era of regulations and while it is evident to see that Ferrari and Red Bull have started the strongest, Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen seem to be relishing the duel.

It is currently one race apiece for Leclerc and Verstappen, but both the former's win in Bahrain and the latter's in Saudi Arabia have been characterised by hard but fair wheel-to-wheel racing.

Coming into this weekend's Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, Ferrari's strength this season can be seen in the fact they have opened up a healthy 40-point buffer in the constructors' championship after only two races.

Leclerc and Sainz are also first and second in the drivers' championship, with the Monegasque's respective first and second place finishes coupled with bonus points for the fastest lap in the opening two races.

Following a tightly contested race in Saudi Arabia, Leclerc and Verstappen were revelling in the opening battles for the championship.

"It wasn't enough today, but my God, I really enjoyed that race," Leclerc said. "Every race should be like this."

Especially in comparison to how sour the relationship became between him and Lewis Hamilton as they fought for the title in 2021, Verstappen is also enjoying the hard but fair racing.

"It was really tough, but a good race," the world champion said after his Saudi win. "We were both battling hard at the front. We just tried to play the long game."

 

Mercedes' lack of pace working against Hamilton  

Meanwhile, Mercedes have endured a difficult start to the 2022 season, claiming third and fourth thanks to Red Bull DNFs in Bahrain before a fifth and 10th place finish in Saudi Arabia, well off the pace at the front.

Their troubles with speed and managing downforce in relation to their heavy porpoising is difficult for any team, let alone one with expectations of drivers' and constructors' championships.

With that all in mind, Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton has taken eight pole positions at Albert Park, tied with two other drivers for the most ever in F1 at a single track – Michael Schumacher at Suzuka and Ayrton Senna at Imola are the other two, while Hamilton also holds eight at the Hungaroring.

 

No home race advantage for Aussies

McLaren's poor start to the season could only serve to compound matters for Daniel Ricciardo at his home race.

No Australian driver has ever won, taken pole position or reached the podium in 35 editions of the Australian GP.

Ricciardo (2016, 2018) and Mark Webber (2010) only managed to secure fastest laps and mere points finishes.

 

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

Drivers

1. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 45
2. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) 33
3. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 25
4. George Russell (Mercedes) 22
5. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 16

Constructors

1. Ferrari 78
2. Mercedes 38
3. Red Bull 37
4. Alpine 16
5. Haas 12

There is nothing in golf quite like The Masters.

Arguably the most prestigious of the majors, Augusta National becomes the centre of the sporting world once more over the weekend, as the famous green jacket goes up for grabs again.

In 1997, Tiger Woods won his first major when he triumphed in Georgia, and 25 years on he is set to make a sensational comeback from injury.

But Woods is not the only name to look out for.

 

The favourites

Let's start from the top. Scottie Scheffler is the world's new number one and he heads into the weekend on the back of three victories in his last five events, having not finished worse than T-19th in his six major appearances since 2020.

Scheffler said he has been resting up at home ahead of travelling to Augusta, where he joked he has already been brought down a peg or two.

He told Sky Sports: "I've been humbled a couple of times already, showing up here. The guy who picked me up in the cart this morning called me Xander, so that brought me down to earth real quick! It's been great, really looking forward to this week."

The Xander in question is Xander Schauffele. He finished T3 last year, three shots back from the champion Hideki Matsuyama, and was looking good on his final round until he sent a ball into the water on the 16th, but he won gold at the Tokyo Olympics and comes into the tournament in strong form.

Reigning champion Matsuyama cast doubt over his participation when he withdrew from the Texas Open with a neck problem, meanwhile, which may hinder his title defence.

 

Brooks Koepka has won four majors, but did not make the cut last year and will be out to put that right this time around, having defeated Jon Rahm in the WGC-Match Play last 16. 

Rahm has finished in the top 10 in each of his last four Masters appearances. However, the Spaniard has not won a tournament since triumphing in the US Open last year, but did secure a place in the top 10 in all four of last year's majors.

Dustin Johnson failed to make the cut in 2021 in a torrid title defence. He had dropped out of the top 10 up until an impressive performance at the WGC-Match Play moved him up to number eight, and he'll be determined to rekindle the form that saw him clinch the green jacket in 2020.

Viktor Hovland is ranked fourth in the world, though his weak chipping game may prove costly to his chances at Augusta, while Collin Morikawa cannot be discounted for a third major title and Justin Thomas will be out to win a second major having won the US PGA Championship in 2017.

 

The outsiders

Augusta is where golfers can shoot to stardom over the course of four spectacular days, and there will be plenty of the field who fancy their chances despite not being among the bookmakers' favourites.

One such player capable of a challenge is Cameron Smith. The Australian is ranked at a career-high six, won the Players' Championship last month and has finished inside the top 10 in three of the last four Masters.

Will Zalatoris, meanwhile, comes into the weekend with the best SG (strokes gained, which compares a player's score to the field average) tee-to-green* statistics on the PGA Tour this season, with his 1.767 average just edging out Thomas, and he came second on his Masters debut in 2021.

Zalatoris only has one pro win to his name so far but the 25-year-old has largely impressed at the majors. He finished T2 in 2021 at Augusta and T8 in last year's PGA Championship, while recording a T6 finish in the 2020 US Open.

Rory McIlroy's Masters record is frustrating. It is the only major the former world number one has not yet won. He finished in the top 10 six times between 2014 and 2020 before missing the cut last year, and now he'll have another stab at sealing a career Grand Slam, though his best finish this season has been third in the Dubai Desert Classic.

 

Only five players have previously completed a clean sweep of the majors, and McIlroy has not won one of the big four events since 2014.

Russell Henley will feature for the first time since 2018 after 12 top 10 finishes in the past year, and he has finished in the top 25 at Augusta three times, while Bryson DeChambeau is going to compete despite missing a chunk of the season with a hip problem. He finished T46 on three-over-par in 2021.

Marc Leishman finished fifth a year ago, improving on T13 from 2020, and Sergio Garcia will at least hope to make the cut for the first time since he won in 2017. Perhaps if the Spaniard can just make the weekend, he can go all the way again?

 

The return of the king

As far as comeback stories go in sport, Woods has already provided one of the very best.

In 2019, against all odds following years of back issues and surgery to fix the problems, Woods won The Masters for a fifth time in his illustrious career, taking his total of major victories to 15. He trails only Jack Nicklaus in that regard.

But this comeback might just top the lot.

The 46-year-old admitted he cheated death in a major single-car crash in February 2021, which left him with serious leg and foot injuries. Woods was unable to walk unaided for several months and has not played serious golf since, but he is all set for a remarkable return on the biggest stage of them all.

It will be his first appearance in any tournament since he played at Augusta in November 2020. Since winning his maiden major a quarter of a century ago, Woods has claimed nine more major titles than any other player, while he is one of only three players to win successive Masters titles (2001 and 2002).

Woods has never failed to make the cut in 21 appearances, and even if he does not challenge at the top of the leaderboard this time around (though you would not put it past him) his comeback is already the story of the weekend.

 

Great art will typically have its back to the wall, and for an hour on Tuesday it was a great artist who stood with his back to a red wall on a rainy night in Manchester, unhappy with his lot.

A promising exhibition was turning into a soggy mess as Kevin De Bruyne had his visionary brushstrokes stripped of their customary colour, the false nine lacking his usual lustre.

But then the narrative flipped, and a 50th Champions League appearance in City colours for this wonderful Belgian footballer had its masterpiece, a finish any genuine number nine would admire from substitute Phil Foden's delicious pass. One-nil, and that was how it stayed, a fine result from a taxing evening.

City manager Pep Guardiola had joked about the perception that he can "overthink" in big games in the build-up to this tussle, and he fooled those who cooked up the team sheet that reckoned on De Bruyne occupying a wide-right midfield role.

Of course he cropped up there at times, on the left too, and at times in the centre of midfield, but De Bruyne spent just as much time as the further City man forward, chasing lost causes, closing down, doing the donkey work.

This latest landmark appearance for City – coming so soon after his 200th Premier League appearance for the leaders on Saturday – ended in triumph where it could have been frustration, or been worse.

You see, sometimes great artists do silly things, like slicing off an ear or headbutting Marco Materazzi, and when De Bruyne chopped down Joao Felix in the 34th minute to cut short an Atletico counter-attack, it looked like being a costly error.

A yellow card was surely coming, and with De Bruyne already a booking away from suspension, City would have lost him for the second leg of this tie. Referee Istvan Kovacs kept the card in his pocket and an incredulous Diego Simeone, the Atletico head coach, had to be asked to cool it by the man with the whistle. Simeone might be known for his histrionics, but this seemed eminently excusable.

De Bruyne has entered the imperial phase of his City career, with records and landmarks stacking up alongside trophies. But the Champions League is the trophy City and De Bruyne want now, and it is the obdurate brilliance of teams such as Atletico that they must find a way past to reach that goal.

When Guardiola substituted Raheem Sterling, Ilkay Gundogan and Riyad Mahrez in the 68th minute, bringing on Foden, Jack Grealish and Gabriel Jesus, he called De Bruyne over to the touchline too, passing on a word or two of advice. De Bruyne had seen a free-kick well saved by Jan Oblak, but was otherwise being stifled, and when he was not being stifled he was looking thoroughly fed up in the rain.

Barely two minutes after the Pep talk and the goal arrived, local lad Foden with a pass from the gods and the finish doing it justice.

De Bruyne came into this game having made more assists in the Champions League than any other player from an English club since his City debut in the competition in September 2015. To those 17 assists – only Neymar (25), Kylian Mbappe (20) and Angel Di Maria (18) have had more – De Bruyne has now added 11 goals.

Five of his previous 10 had come from outside the box, but this was a striker's goal, running in behind and lashing into the left corner.

A head injury forced De Bruyne to abandon last season's Champions League final, and City will want to be sure he is present and correct should they get through to the showpiece again.

A tricky second leg awaits them next week at the Wanda Metropolitano, then potentially a semi-final. But De Bruyne's strike was as admirable as City's persistence against an Atletico side who repeatedly got every man back inside their final third at the behest of their strutting boss, and it was the sort of result that had the home fans at the Etihad Stadium dreaming once again.

During the international break, De Bruyne and wife Michele took 24 hours away in Paris, and it will be the French capital that stages the Champions League final in May.

City might be there. De Bruyne's time, City's time, might be coming.

It is always fascinating when polar opposites collide. 

In the Premier League, Pep Guardiola's methodical Manchester City are leading the way, up against the juggernaut of Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool.

While Guardiola and Klopp are by no means cut from the same cloth, they do share similarities in their approach; relentless pressing, rapid counter-pressing and machine-like efficiency.

Yet in Diego Simeone, it is difficult to imagine an elite-level coach that contrasts with Guardiola quite so much. On Tuesday, we will see just how the styles match up.

It has been almost six years since a team coached by Guardiola went up against Simeone's Atletico Madrid, when Bayern Munich faced Los Colchoneros in the Champions League semi-finals.

Simeone triumphed on that occasion, albeit on away goals. Atleti went on to lose to city rivals Real Madrid in the final, while Guardiola has only been further in UEFA's competition once since then – last season, when City lost to Chelsea in the final in Porto.

Indeed, only three times in total have Simeone and Guardiola gone up against each other. Pep holds the edge in terms of wins (at least on the night), 2-1, with his Barcelona side seeing off Atleti 2-1 in LaLiga in February 2012, during his final season at Camp Nou.

Another two games will be added to that head-to-head record over the coming weeks in a Champions League quarter-final tie that represents a true clash of styles.

Possession obsession

Guardiola's death by a thousand cuts approach has yielded unprecedented success. City are a joy to watch at their best. Slick, swift, sublime. Everything you would associate with a team at the very top of the game.

As has been the case throughout his managerial career, Guardiola wants to dominate possession, control the opposition by simply not allowing them to have the ball and, if they do have it, then you can bet his team will win it back within seconds, or commit a timely foul (Fernandinho, anyone?).

Just taking this season into account, City average 66.9 per cent possession across all competitions, while they have attempted 30,155 passes, completing 27,067 (at an average of 601 successful passes per game).

Simeone is far less concerned with his side having the ball, but instead the focus is on staying compact and robust defensively, drawing a mistake – a stray pass, a heavy touch – out of the opposition and pouncing. And in relative terms, his approach has been just as successful.

Not that this is Simeone's approach across the board. Atleti have played some wonderful football during his tenure too, and had some sensational attacking players. Indeed, their current frontline options of Joao Felix, Luis Suarez, Antoine Griezmann, Angel Correa and Matheus Cunha is the envy of most teams.

Yet this season, Atleti average only 48.8 per cent possession across 41 matches. They have completed 14,533 passes, with 7,317 of these coming in the opponents' half. In comparison, City have registered almost 16,000 successful passes in opposition territory.

However, the difference is not so stark when it comes to balls played into the box, with City's 1,730 accounting for 11 per cent of their passes in the opposition half. That value jumps to 16.5 per cent for Atleti (1,209).

Simeone's men get a higher proportion of their passes in the other team's half into the area, though City have had 1,870 touches in the opposition box, with Atleti managing 964.

In the league alone, City have had 715 sequences involving 10 or more passes. In LaLiga, Atleti have had just 278.

City's possession does, of course, lead to shots – 837 of them this season in total. That dwarves Atleti's 490, though the Spanish side do have a better conversion rate (14.7 compared to 13.5).

Fierce off the ball

One similarity when it comes to Guardiola and Simeone is their desire to be aggressive in their approach to winning the ball back. While Guardiola's team will swarm an opposing player, Simeone's men will be tenacious and full-blooded.

So far this season, Atletico players have gone into 4,263 duels, while City have attempted 3,848. However, the success rate is closer, with the Spanish champions winning 52 per cent, and City 51.1.

Another major difference, however, is how City press.

In the Premier League, only Liverpool (354) and Brighton and Hove Albion (290) have forced more high turnovers than City (285), and Guardiola's side rank second when it comes to the average starting distance of their attacks from their own goal (45.1 metres).

When it comes to passes allowed per defensive action (PPDA), a measurement to quantify the extent and aggression of high presses, City rank joint-second, along with Liverpool, in the Premier League, with their 9.9 only bettered by Leeds United's 9.5.

Atleti's 207 high turnovers ranks ninth in LaLiga. However, their seven goals from direct attacks is joint-best in Spain's top tier. City have scored four times from such breaks this term.

Solidity comes first

This season, admittedly, Atleti have been unusually sloppy at the back, conceding 50 times and keeping 12 clean sheets, which is 17 more and 10 fewer than City, respectively.

Tracked over the previous five full seasons, however (since Guardiola joined City in 2016), only once have Atleti conceded more times than City, in 2018-19 (44 to 39).

Guardiola's teams take more risks in possession and City have made 42 errors leading to goals across his time at the club. It's been worth the pay off, but Simeone's more conservative approach has yielded just 21 such mistakes in the same timeframe.

Defensive grit is the bedrock of Simeone's success, and since the start of 2016-17, Atleti have kept 144 clean sheets. Yet, it is City who top the charts across Europe's top five leagues, with an outstanding 152.

Given City have scored 113 goals already this season – 41 more than Atleti – perhaps this quarter-final will not quite be as even as it might have been in seasons gone by, and it is the side from Manchester who must be considered favourites.

But, as proved with their clinical display at Old Trafford in the round of 16, Atleti still have the ability to frustrate and pick their moments to shine in attack. 

This is further evidenced by Atleti's LaLiga-leading expected goals (xG) differential of +8.5 this season. In stark contrast, City have scored 6.2 goals fewer than the quality of their opportunities would have suggested.

However the tie plays out, it is sure to be an enthralling tussle.

With the final international break of the season done and dusted, it was back to Premier League action on Saturday as teams prepare for the all-important run-in.

Having not had any changes of leader since the turn of the year, it was a novelty to see it change twice in one day, albeit with a familiar look at the end as Liverpool and Manchester City both recorded wins.

Something far less routine happened at Stamford Bridge as Chelsea were clobbered by Brentford, while there was also a win for Wolves against Aston Villa and draws at Brighton and Hove Albion, Leeds and Manchester United.

Stats Perform takes a look at some key Opta facts from a selection of the day's games…

Liverpool 2-0 Watford: Jota the slotter strikes again

It was a nervy afternoon at Anfield as Liverpool looked to leapfrog City to the top of the table.

Despite a determined performance from Roy Hodgson's Hornets, a first-half header from Diogo Jota and a late penalty from Fabinho secured the three points for the Reds.

It sent Jurgen Klopp's men to the top of the Premier League for the first time since December, albeit they were back to second later on after City's own win.

Liverpool are back in the title race after having won 10 consecutive Premier League games, becoming just the second side to embark on such a run on five separate occasions after City (also five).

It was another goal for Jota, his 20th of the season, and since making his Liverpool debut in September 2020, the Portugal international has scored more headed goals (nine) than any other player for a Premier League club in all competitions.

Burnley 0-2 Manchester City: Citizens retain top spot

Despite being displaced by their rivals, City eased to victory against Sean Dyche's side to take back their top spot just a couple of hours after losing it.

First-half goals from Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan saw Pep Guardiola's men to the win, continuing their exemplary record against Burnley.

This made it 14 wins from their last 15 games against the Clarets in all competitions (D1), winning each of their last 10 by an aggregate scoreline of 34-1.

City are the only side yet to drop a single point from a winning position in the Premier League this season, winning all 23 games in which they have led. No side has ever gone through an entire Premier League campaign without dropping points when ahead before.

Aymeric Laporte made his 100th Premier League appearance, picking up his 82nd win – the most wins by a player in their first 100 games in the competition's history.

Chelsea 1-4 Brentford: Tuchel's men toppled

It has been a turbulent time for Chelsea off the field, but until now they had kept their on-field form in check.

Brentford had other ideas at Stamford Bridge as they came from 1-0 down to ease to their first victory in nine meetings against the Blues in all competitions since a 3-1 away win in the top-flight in February 1939.

Chelsea went ahead thanks to an Antonio Rudiger piledriver from 39.6 yards, which was Chelsea's longest range Premier League goal since Frank Lampard against Wigan in January 2007 (45.1 yards).

However, goals from Vitaly Janelt (two), Christian Eriksen and Yoane Wissa turned things around to make it just the second time Chelsea have conceded four or more goals in the Premier League at home to a newly promoted side (also under Thomas Tuchel in the 5-2 defeat against West Brom in April 2021).

Eriksen scored his first Premier League goal since December 2019. He has now been directly involved in eight goals (three goals, five assists) against Chelsea in the competition, with all three goals arriving at Stamford Bridge.

Manchester United 1-1 Leicester City: Ronaldo-less Red Devils' top four hopes dealt another blow

It felt like an ominous sign for United when Cristiano Ronaldo was ruled out of their game against Leicester through illness.

Ralf Rangnick's side ultimately rescued a draw having fallen behind to Kelechi Iheanacho's header, with Fred following in from a Bruno Fernandes shot, but it was still two points dropped in the race for the top four.

United have now won just one of their last six games in all competitions (D3 L2), after winning four and drawing three of the seven before that.

Fred is the seventh player to score on their 100th Premier League appearance for the Red Devils, and the first since Marcus Rashford did so, also against Leicester, in February 2019.

James Maddison laid on the assist for Iheanacho, and has now been directly involved in 21 goals in all competitions this season (13 goals, eight assists), four more than any other Leicester player; only in 2017-18 with Norwich has he been involved in more goals in a single campaign (26 – 15 goals, 11 assists).

Football is fickle. It doesn't take long for outlooks and perceptions to be flipped on their head, and nowhere is that truer right now than in LaLiga.

As recently as mid-February, Real Madrid's lead at the summit – which they have held since matchday three – was only four points over Sevilla, who themselves were 11 ahead of a Barcelona side languishing in fifth.

But as we head into Sunday's clash between Barca and Sevilla at Camp Nou, the Blaugrana know they will go up to second and above Julen Lopetegui's men in the table with a win, and they'd still have a game in hand.

Xavi has overseen a massive improvement and, following the 4-0 Clasico win prior to the international break, Barca have the opportunity to make another statement this weekend.

It's not over yet

While sympathy will be in short supply given what's been a largely excellent season for them in LaLiga, Sevilla have undoubtedly gone through a tricky period.

When Anthony Martial was brought in on loan from Manchester United in late January, it was initially seen as a move that would go one of two ways: the Frenchman was either going to be electric and give Sevilla the extra push they needed to challenge Madrid, or he would fail to get over the ineffectiveness that had begun to engulf him at Old Trafford.

Suffice to say Martial will not be back at the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan next season – or at least not as a Sevilla player.

Lopetegui has had to contend with something of an injury crisis for much of the past three months, which to a certain degree makes it surprising they are only nine points off the top. Further to that, if Sevilla avoid defeat at Barca, they will set a new club record for their best unbeaten run in a single top-flight season (16 games).

 

But that stat flatters them, significantly. Of the most recent nine games in that run, Sevilla have won just twice. Five of their seven draws have come away from home against mostly mid-table opposition, plus struggling Deportivo Alaves. They've not scored more than twice in any league game since October.

As such, it's difficult to see how they can contend with a reinvigorated and in-form Barcelona this weekend – but whichever way it goes, assuming it's not a draw, there's every reason to believe Sunday's showdown could genuinely reignite a title race.

Polar opposites

While victory for Barca would propel them up to second for the first time this season, they will also still have a game in hand on Los Blancos. A nine-point deficit won't be easy to turn around over nine matches, but Madrid do still have trips to Atletico and Sevilla to traverse, and they have the added 'distraction' of the Champions League, at least for the time being.

A win for Sevilla would be momentous, not least because they've failed to get a single league success at Camp Nou since December 2002.

Such a scalp over a team that has won seven more points (from one game fewer) in 2022 could be the boost a flagging Sevilla need to finish the season strong. It would surely improve their belief ahead of Madrid's visit next month.

But at this point, Barca look far more likely to offer a threat to Madrid in the final weeks of the season, with Sevilla's slide in the second half of 2021-22 threatening to completely derail their campaign.

Frustrated by a lack of goals and an almost chronic inability to convert draws into wins, Los Nervionenses have won just four league games this year. While their lack of defeats is commendable, they've scored more than only six teams in 2022 – a group that includes each of the bottom four in the table.

 

Lopetegui has been rightly praised throughout his time at Sevilla for building a team that is extremely difficult to break down, with only Manchester City (53) bettering their 49 clean sheets across the big five leagues since his appointment in 2019, and that's obviously played a part in their unbeaten run.

But there have been numerous times in the past few months where fans have been crying out for more attacking emphasis, and it's for this reason that it's hard to imagine Lopetegui was ever truly a candidate to take over at Manchester United before he ruled himself out, even if he was genuinely on their four-man shortlist.

Whereas Barcelona, whose dealings in January really ignited something in Xavi's squad, have scored 27 goals since the turn of the year and also been tight at the back, with their seven concessions only bettered by Sevilla.

Something has to give

A potentially key aspect of Sunday's showdown will be how well Barca press. No one has scored more goals (six) than them from high turnovers in LaLiga this season, with four of those coming since Xavi's appointment.

Playing into that is the fact Sevilla like to play out from the back. This is reflected by them seeing 222 high turnovers recorded against them this season, the third most in LaLiga, but only two have led to a goal – just three teams have conceded fewer goals from such situations.

This is evidence of how effective Sevilla are regrouping, but such an approach will be risky against a Barca side in such imperious goal-scoring form and clearly useful at winning the ball back in advanced areas – Osasuna (253) are the one team with more high turnovers than the Blaugrana (248).

Turning over Madrid's lead in LaLiga will be a rather different proposition, but success on Sunday certainly won't dampen Barca's outlook.

The dust is settling following the 2022 World Cup draw, which has provided a number of subplots and talking points aplenty to discuss between now and the opening set of games on November 21.

France, placed in a group that contains Denmark, Tunisia and one of Peru or Australia, will look to avoid becoming the fifth defending champions in the past six tournaments to exit at the first hurdle.

Spain and Germany, the winners of two of the past three World Cups, face off in arguably the pick of the group games in what will be their fifth meeting in the competition and the first since La Roja's 2010 semi-final triumph.

There are some good omens for England, who are in action on the opening day of the tournament – the last time that was the case they went on to lift the trophy on home soil in 1966.

As the debate rumbles on as to which is the most interesting group this time around, and supporters of participating nations plot out their route to the latter stages, Stats Perform picks out a key stat for each team.

GROUP A – Qatar, Ecuador, Senegal, Netherlands

Qatar are competing in their first World Cup and will aim to avoid becoming only the second host nation to be knocked out in the first round after South Africa in 2010.

They will begin their campaign against Ecuador, who have not faced a nation from outside of the UEFA or CONCACAF regions in their previous 10 World Cup matches.

Senegal are participating in the event for a third time and are the third African Cup of Nations title holders to qualify this century after Cameroon in 2002 and Nigeria in 2014.

However, the heavyweights of the group are the Netherlands, who have won 11 of their last 14 World Cup matches when not factoring in penalty shoot-outs. Three times Oranje have reached the final; three times they have been beaten. They failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, of course.

GROUP B – England, Iran, United States, Scotland/Wales/Ukraine

England have progressed past the quarter-finals just once since 1966, although the most recent occasion came four years ago when losing in the semi-finals.

First up for England are Iran, who have scored nine goals in 15 World Cup matches – that goals-per-game average of 0.6 the lowest of any side to have played at least 10 times.

Back involved after missing Russia 2018, the United States will be looking to reach the knockout stages for a fourth time in their past five participations in a World Cup.

Should Wales reach the finals, the gap of 64 years between their only two finals appearances will set a record.

Scotland, who meet Ukraine in a play-off for the right to face Wales, have made more World Cup appearances (eight) without making it past the first round than any other nation.

 

GROUP C – Argentina, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Poland

One of three South American teams to have lifted the trophy, Argentina have made it past the first round in 12 of their past 13 appearances, the only exception being in 2002.

It would be an understatement to say that Saudi Arabia have had less success in the finals, having won only three of their previous 16 World Cup matches – albeit one of those coming against Egypt in the 2018 edition.

Mexico have reached every World Cup since missing out in 1990 and tend to do well in the group stage, having advanced to the last 16 in each of their last eight appearances.

Whereas Mexico have won five of their past six opening games, first opponents Poland have won just one of their previous eight curtain-raising fixtures and have lost the last three.

GROUP D – France, Peru/Australia/UAE, Denmark, Tunisia

France are out to become the third team, after Italy (in 1938) and Brazil (in 1962) to retain the trophy. However, the last three defending champions have fallen in the group stage.

Denmark boasted the best defensive record of any side in European qualifying and have made it out of the group stage in four of their five World Cup appearances.

That is in contrast to Tunisia, who have not made the knockout rounds in six previous attempts. The Eagles of Carthage have also not beaten a European side in 10 World Cup games (D3 L7).

Tunisia have lost 60 per cent of their World Cup games, the third-highest by a team to have played 15+ games behind Saudi Arabia (69 per cent) and possible Group D opponents Australia (63 per cent).

 

GROUP E – Spain, Costa Rica/New Zealand, Germany, Japan

Spain won the World Cup in 2010, but that is the only occasion they have reached the semi-finals in their last 13 participations. However, they have won the group in four of their last five appearances.

Germany, champions in 2014, were the first side to reach Qatar 2022 aside from the hosts, and have made it to the semi-finals in four of the five World Cups this century – the best record of any side.

After reaching the last 16 in 2018, competition regulars Japan will aim to book a place in the knockouts in back-to-back editions for the first time.

Completing arguably the toughest group is either Costa Rica or New Zealand, who meet in a play-off in June. Costa Rica have appeared at five previous World Cups, while the All Whites have made it to the finals twice before.

GROUP F – Belgium, Canada, Morocco, Croatia

Belgium have qualified for more World Cups without winning it than any other European team, with this their 14th appearance. With much of their 'golden generation' either 30 or close to it, however, this is realistically the final chance for that batch of players to cement their names in the history books, after a third-place finish in 2018.

Roberto Martinez's team might meet Spain or Germany in the last 16 but should have little trouble in getting out of their group.

Canada are competing in the global showpiece for the first time since 1986, when they lost all three matches and failed to score.

Morocco have won just one of their last 10 World Cup games, with that coming against Scotland in 1998, while their last knockout-round appearance was in 1986.

Beaten finalists in 2018, Croatia have had a mixed time of things in the finals, having been eliminated in the group stage (three times) or reached the semis (twice) in their past five appearances.

 

GROUP G – Brazil, Serbia, Switzerland, Cameroon

Brazil are the competition's most successful side with five trophies and are unbeaten in their last 15 World Cup group games, winning 12 of those. Their last such defeat was against Norway in 1998.

The next side with a chance to end that long run are Serbia, who have lost seven of their last nine World Cup matches, which is the most of any European nation since 2006. They also met Brazil in the 2018 group stage.

Another team to have been drawn with Brazil and, indeed, Serbia in Russia was Switzerland. History has repeated itself this time around. The Swiss finished above Italy in qualifying to make it to their fifth successive finals. Including the European Championships, they have reached the knockout stages in their last four major tournaments, a record only Belgium and France can match.

Cameroon make up Group G. They have played more matches at the World Cup than any other African nation (23), but they have lost the last seven of those – only Mexico (nine) have ever lost more in a row.

GROUP H – Portugal, Ghana, Uruguay, South Korea

Heavyweights they may be, but Portugal have won only three of their last 14 World Cup matches, each of those in the group stage. Their last knockout-round win was in the last 16 against the Netherlands in 2006. 

All being well, Cristiano Ronaldo will be featuring in a record-equalling fifth World Cup. It will almost certainly be his last, though.

Ghana's quarter-final appearance in 2010 remains the joint-best finish for an African side, alongside Senegal in 2002 and Cameroon in 1990, and they have scored in their last five World Cup games.

Uruguay controversially eliminated Ghana in the quarter-finals 12 years ago but the Black Stars have a chance for revenge here in the final round of fixtures.

First up for Uruguay, meanwhile, are South Korea, but the South American side have won their opening match at just one of their last seven World Cups.

That is good news for Son Heung-min and Co. as South Korea look to win successive finals matches for just the second time ever, having knocked out Germany four years ago.

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