You could be forgiven for thinking the lines between reality and fantasy had blurred into one this week with the seemingly doomed experiment of the European Super League.

But fans of actual fantasy football can rest assured we have still scoured the best prospects to help you in your quest to top your private leagues and earn bragging rights among your pals.

With Premier League leaders Manchester City not in action due to playing the EFL Cup final against Tottenham this weekend, there are sure to be a few transfers needed in several teams.

That being said, take a look at our hand-selected picks, powered as always by Opta data…

ROBERT SANCHEZ

Brighton and Hove Albion have a poor record against teams in the Premier League's bottom three, winning only four of 24 such games – the 17 per cent win rate representing the lowest return of any team in the competition to have played a minimum of 10 such games.

However, Sheffield United are the lowest scorers in the division this season (17) and have failed to score in 18 different games, a league worst.

Moreover, Brighton's Robert Sanchez has eight Premier League clean sheets to his name in 2021. Only Ederson (10) has managed more.

VLADIMIR COUFAL

West Ham have won three of their last five home league encounters against Chelsea and another victory would significantly boost their chances of a top-four finish.

Hammers full-back Vladimir Coufal could well be a valuable source of fantasy points this weekend.

Coufal has four home assists in the Premier League this season, which represents the best in the division among defenders.

TRENT ALEXANDER-ARNOLD

Dropped by England manager Gareth Southgate for the latest round of international fixtures, Trent Alexander-Arnold has responded in impressive fashion.

The dangerous full-back has been involved in three goals in Liverpool's last three fixtures (two assists, one goal) – as many as he managed in his previous 24 games in the competition.

With Liverpool unbeaten in 24 home matches against Newcastle United, Alexander-Arnold is sure to feature heavily in many fantasy sides this weekend.

JESSE LINGARD

Another player for Chelsea to be extremely wary of this weekend, Jesse Lingard has been in the form of his life since moving to West Ham on loan from Manchester United in January.

The attacking midfielder has been involved in 12 West Ham goals so far in the Premier League (nine goals, three assists) to become a key component in their battle to qualify for the Champions League.

Only Mick Quinn (Coventry City), Les Ferdinand (Newcastle United) and Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United) have had more goal involvements in their first 10 appearances for a club in the competition (all 13).

MASON GREENWOOD

Mason Greenwood has found form at an ideal time as he aims to be a part of Southgate's England squad for the rescheduled Euro 2020.

And fantasy football fans perhaps should be looking to make room for a player who has scored four goals across his most recent three top-flight appearances for Manchester United.

Not since Francis Jeffers in the year 2000 has a teenager managed to score in four consecutive Premier League games. Can Leeds United stop the Red Devils' own fox in the box?

WILFRIED ZAHA

Crystal Palace have beaten Leicester City eight times in the Premier League, earning more wins than they have achieved against any other side, while their four away victories against the Foxes is also a joint-high for them in the competition (also four at Everton).

Leicester are also a side who Eagles dangerman Wilfried Zaha has traditionally flourished against, so a trip to the King Power Stadium could be up his street on Monday.

The tricky forward has been involved in six goals in his last six appearances against Leicester (five goals, one assist). Palace won three of those games with Zaha scoring in each.

JAMIE VARDY

On the flip side, Leicester have their own reasons to be optimistic against Roy Hodgson's men.

Jamie Vardy's record against Palace is very favourable, with the experienced striker involved in six goals in his previous nine versus the Eagles (five goals, one assist).

Between 2003 and 2009, Cristiano Ronaldo won three Premier League titles and the Champions League among other honours at Manchester United.

Ronaldo has since gone on to play for Real Madrid and Juventus, but he could be set for an Old Trafford reunion.

Watch this space…

 

TOP STORY – UNITED MAKE RONALDO CONTACT

Manchester United have made contact with Cristiano Ronaldo's agent Jorge Mendes over a return to Old Trafford, according to the front page of Friday's Gazzetta dello Sport.

Juventus superstar Ronaldo has been tipped to leave Turin, where he arrived in 2018, amid links with former clubs United and Real Madrid, as well as Paris Saint-Germain.

Ronaldo, who starred for United between 2003 and 2009, would have to take a wage cut in order to make a Manchester reunion a reality.

 

ROUND-UP

- Diario AS claims Madrid are willing to sell Raphael Varane in order to raise transfer funds amid strong links with Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland and PSG star Kylian Mbappe. Varane has been linked with United and Chelsea.

- Staying at the Santiago Bernabeu, and AS says the future of captain Sergio Ramos looks less likely to be at Madrid. The likes of United and PSG have emerged as possible destinations for the superstar Spain skipper.

Barcelona are prioritising the signing of Lyon captain Memphis Depay, reports RMC Sport. Juventus have also been linked.

Rodrigo De Paul is wanted by Leeds United, Juve, Inter and Napoli, according to Calciomercato. Juve have been eyeing the Udinese star, but the Italian giants are also weighing up moves for United's Paul Pogba and Sassuolo midfielder Manuel Locatelli.

Tottenham have to start delivering trophies if they are to keep hold of star Harry Kane amid links with Manchester United and Manchester City, according to Jonathan Woodgate.

Kane, who has said he will assess his future after the delayed Euro 2020 tournament with England, is reportedly ready to quit Tottenham in pursuit of silverware.

The 27-year-old striker is yet to win a trophy with boyhood club Tottenham, who sacked Jose Mourinho on Monday and are set to face City in Sunday's EFL Cup final.

Former Tottenham defender Woodgate – now head coach of Championship outfit Bournemouth – was part of the Spurs team that last won silverware via the 2008 EFL Cup.

Woodgate insisted Tottenham must do more than beat City in the upcoming decider at Wembley to hold on to Kane, who has been linked with both Manchester clubs and Real Madrid.

"They have to [start winning silverware] with the stadium they have built and with the players they have got," said Woodgate.

"They have got the best striker in England in Harry Kane so they need to start winning trophies for him.

"They're a well-run football club but they need to start soon."

Kane reached 20 Premier League goals for a fifth season with the first of his brace against Everton last week, though he was forced off late in the 2-2 draw on Merseyside with an ankle injury.

The England international's two goals at Goodison Park lifted him to 164 for his career in the Premier League, good enough for seventh on the competition's all-time list. Thierry Henry (175) and Frank Lampard (177) are next in his sights, while Alan Shearer sits top on 260.

Kane sat out Spurs' 2-1 home win over Southampton on Wednesday – the first outing with temporary boss Ryan Mason in charge – and it remains unclear if he will recover in time to feature in the City showdown.

Barcelona said it would have been an "historical error" not to sign up for the European Super League and the club remains convinced structural reform is needed to protect the financial future of football.

The Blaugrana were announced on Sunday as one of 12 founding members of the highly controversial breakaway league, which received widespread criticism due to the closed-shop nature of the competition.

Less than 48 hours, all six of the Premier League teams that had agreed to sign up all withdrew their participation following a fierce backlash from fans, players, supporters, the Football Association and the UK government.

Atletico Madrid and Serie A rivals Milan and Inter later followed suit, seemingly leaving the league dead in the water before it even took off the ground.

But Real Madrid president Florentino Perez and Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli – leading figures in the Super League – both launched a staunch defence of a competition they remain convinced has to happen as clubs struggle to contend with the economic impact caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Newly re-elected Barca president Joan Laporta earlier said the lucrative Super League was "absolutely necessary" and a club statement struck a similarly pleading tone about their belief that change is a must.

"FC Barcelona shares the view of most major European football clubs, and even more so given the current socio-economic climate, that there is a need for structural reforms to guarantee the financial sustainability and feasibility of world football by improving the product that is offered to fans around the world and by consolidating and even increasing the fan base on which this sport is sustained, which is its mainstay and greatest strength," the statement began.

"In this context, the FC Barcelona Board of Directors accepted, as a matter of immediate urgency, the offer to form part, as the founding member, of the Super League, a competition designed to improve the quality and attractiveness of the product offered to the football fans and, at the same time, and as one of FC Barcelona's most inalienable principles, seek new formulas for solidarity with the football family as a whole.

"The decision was made in the conviction that it would have been a historical error to turn down the opportunity to be part of this project as one of its founding members. As one of the world's top sports club, our intention shall always be to be at the forefront, this being an indispensable part of the club's identity and its sporting, social and institutional spirit."

Despite the project seemingly being left in tatters, Perez insisted the project the Super League is "not dead" in an interview with Spanish radio station El Larguero.

Barca said more analysis is clearly needed but said such examination must take place in the absence of "unjustified pressure and intimidation".

The statement added: "Given the public reaction that the aforementioned project has generated in many and various spheres, there is no question that FC Barcelona appreciates that a much more in-depth analysis is required into the reasons that have caused this reaction in order to reconsider, if necessary, and to the required extent, the proposal as originally formulated and resolve all those issues, always for the good of the general interest of the football world. Such in-depth analysis needs time and the necessary composure to avoid taking any rash action.

"We feel it is equally important to highlight the objective fact that a Court of Justice has already granted urgent legal protection as requested, thus confirming right of the initiative on the part of the founding clubs of the Super League project.

"In this regard, FC Barcelona considers that it would be improper for the necessary process of reflection and debate to be established under criteria of unjustified pressure and intimidation.

"Despite being perfectly aware of the importance and interest raised by this matter, as well as the need to always act with the utmost transparency, FC Barcelona shall act at all times with due prudence and asks for the utmost understanding, respect and most of all patience among FC Barcelona supporters and public opinion in general."

Aleksander Ceferin says Florentino Perez is "the president of nothing" and believes the controversial European Super League was "an attempt to create a phantom league of the rich".

On Sunday, Real Madrid president Perez was named as chairman of the hugely divisive competition, with Los Blancos named among 12 founding members planning to play in a breakaway league.

However, just two days later, Premier League clubs Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Tottenham all pulled out amid a huge backlash from the Football Association, the UK government, fans, pundits and players.

Despite the competition crumbling before it got off the ground, Perez launched another staunch defence when speaking to Cadena SER's El Larguero radio show late on Wednesday, having earlier this week stated the Super League was vital for the future of clubs struggling financially in the COVID-19 pandemic.

UEFA chief Ceferin believes Perez and other presidents should not be solely blaming the coronavirus crisis for huge losses, making pointed remarks in an interview with Slovenian broadcaster Pop TV.

"I might want to say something else that Perez said earlier – clubs have losses, but also because they are poorly run," Ceferin said.

"If you overpay players, unsuitable players, and therefore do not achieve a result, it means a loss to you. 

"For example, Bayern Munich have no losses and have won the Champions League. You cannot just blame COVID-19, which many do.

"Perez is the president of a Super League that didn't exist. At the moment he's the president of nothing.

"Perez would like a [UEFA] president that will listen to him and a president that will do as he tells him. But I am trying to work in European and world soccer's best interests.

"I'm actually horrified that by being enormously rich, profit means so much more than values. You can tell lies; you can enter players and the coaches into a new competition without them knowing anything about it."

Perez insists the idea of the Super League is not dead in the water, but Ceferin remains convinced it was little more than a power play to try to protect the interests of football's richest clubs.

"In my opinion, the Super League never existed," Ceferin added.

"It was an attempt to create a phantom league of the rich that wouldn't follow any system, that wouldn't take into account the pyramid structure of football in Europe, its culture, tradition or history."

Perez bizarrely cited a lack of interest from the younger generation among reasons for wanting to form the league, even suggesting matches could be shortened from the current time of 90 minutes.

But Ceferin again disputed the point, adding: "Young people are very interested in a football match, it's completely clear to me.

"The fact is that football is a sport, it's a passion, a school of life, you can learn a lot from football. I learned a lot from football myself.

"You can't look at football as a product, you can't look at the players as customers or consumers, you can't look at how many you have in your account or how many new followers you have on Twitter instead of the result after the game. This has become common with certain big club owners and they have simply lost touch with reality and reality was clearly shown in the UK 24 hours or so ago."

Everton boss Carlo Ancelotti thought the proposed European Super League was a "joke" as it was "impossible" that it was going to happen.

Twelve clubs caused shock waves last weekend when they announced plans to form a breakaway league.

Half of the teams were the so called 'big six' from the Premier League, but the closed-shop competition was dead in the water soon after it was announced following a furious backlash from supporters.

The withdrawal of Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham resulted in an embarrassing collapse of the tournament on Tuesday.

Everton boss Ancelotti said there was no chance it was ever going to take off.

The Italian said: "My immediate reaction was they are joking, this is a joke! It's a joke because it's not going to happen. It's impossible.

"Sport culture in Europe is different to American sports. Not because we are right and they are wrong, but because the culture of the people is different. In America, in the USA, sport is different. Sport is entertainment.

"In Europe, we live with more passion. When we grow up, we want to beat our neighbours. We grew up differently. It is not sport [in the USA]. Football now is part business. But we need to take into consideration both."

He added: "Football is a sport first. And then with a lot of investment, it also becomes a business. We need to take into consideration both. This is absolutely normal."

The former Real Madrid and Milan boss said the Toffees value their supporters too highly to have got involved in such a concept.

He said: "Everton is a family club, a club where you can feel the love of the supporter.

"Everton has a history of taking care of maybe more of its supporters.

"For every supporter of football it was a strange day, a surprise. We heard about the Super League in the past few months but I was sure it was not going to happen. What can I say? They were wrong.

"These 12 clubs were wrong. They did not take into consideration the opinions of the players, managers or supporters."

Jesse Lingard has opened up on how he pondered taking a break from football due to his struggles with mental health.

The attacking midfielder endured a difficult 2020 having fallen down the pecking order at Manchester United.

Off the pitch, Lingard's cared for his brother and sister while his mother – who has suffered with depression – received treatment in London.

Lingard spoke to entertainment show "Presenting" back in January, with the video released on Thursday, and he was asked if his personal struggles and those of his mother left him contemplating quitting football.

"Not quit football, just have a time out really," he said.

"I was going into games happy sitting on the bench and that's not me. I was telling my brother the other day: 'Remember when I was happy sitting on the bench and all this?'

"I didn't want to play because my mind wasn't there, I wasn't focused at all. I was thinking about other things and obviously bottling it all up; trying to play football, you can't do it.

"Through the years we had the help for her, but even just for me it's hard to bottle things up. It feels like you're not the same person. I felt like I wasn't Jesse Lingard.

"Even in football matches, I felt like the game was just passing me by, like I just didn't want to be there – it was crazy. So, I opened up to [Manchester] United and told them what I was going through, what my mum was going through and they're always there to help."

Lingard departed Old Trafford for West Ham on loan in January and he has flourished for David Moyes' Champions League hopefuls.

The 28-year-old has scored nine goals in 10 league games since joining West Ham, equalling his best return for a top-flight season set back in 2017-18.

Lingard also has three assists to his name, making him the quickest Hammers player in history to reach double figures for direct goal involvements, form that has seen him earn an England recall with the rescheduled Euro 2020 on the horizon.

He spoke about how the first national lockdown in the United Kingdom in March 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic helped to change his outlook.

"I could have easily quit in lockdown, been like: 'Nah I don't want to do it,'" he added.

"I could have easily given up but the fight in me always brings me back to life and in lockdown I was just smashing gym, doing runs. I wanted to get back to training fitter and faster than anyone else and I did that.

"I feel like lockdown has kind of transitioned me in a way. I watched my old games back and watched the World Cup games back and I thought: 'Yeah, that's the real Jesse Lingard.'

"The time that I had going a couple seasons back or last season, it just wasn't me at all and you can see that. My brother who lives with me, he could see that and he's got a video of me literally laying on the couch and I'm just staring for three minutes into thin air and he's just thinking: 'What is he going through? He's got the weight of the world on his shoulders.' And even he didn't know what I was going through at the time.

"I feel like with my mum and me I've learnt that when you open up you feel like a butterfly – you're in a cocoon and then you can spread your wings, you can fly. It's an amazing feeling and now I've got all that behind me and I can concentrate on football and my family."

Harry Kane is ambitious and wants to win trophies, but Daniel Levy will not let Tottenham's prized asset leave unless the price is right, according to Brad Friedel.

Kane reached 20 Premier League goals for a fifth season with the first of his brace against Everton last week, though the striker was forced off late in the 2-2 draw on Merseyside with an ankle injury.

The England international sat out Spurs' 2-1 home win over Southampton on Wednesday – the first outing with temporary boss Ryan Mason in charge – and it remains unclear if he will recover in time to feature in Sunday's EFL Cup final against Manchester City.

That game offers the chance to secure a first trophy during his Tottenham career; he was part of Mauricio Pochettino's squad that lost the 2019 Champions League final to Liverpool, while the north London club finished as runners up to Chelsea at the end of the 2016-17 Premier League season.

Kane has said he will assess his future after the delayed Euro 2020 tournament, though former Spurs goalkeeper Friedel reckons a move will happen if a suitor matches chairman Levy's valuation, as happened when Gareth Bale and Luka Modric ended up moving to Real Madrid.

"He will want to win trophies, no doubt about it," Friedel, who spent four seasons at Tottenham, told Stats Perform News.

"He's a very ambitious player, obviously one of the best and everyone can see his goals tally and watch him play to say that. Anyone who signs a contract at Tottenham leaves when [Levy] reaches a deal he wants to get. It didn't matter if you were Gareth Bale or Luka Modric, or you are Harry Kane.

"When the deal is right and you have multiple years left on your contract, that is when you'll be sold or renew your contract.

"Sorry to put a dampener on speculation but it is only Harry's representatives and Daniel and the board who know when that is going to be right. Anything other than that is us wasting our breath, to be honest.

"I think there is a figure and once that figure is met, Daniel will allow that sale to go through. But I do think it will end up happening before Harry Kane's career is over providing, god forbid, there's no injury. Levy is the one who will decide that. Nobody else.

Kane's two goals at Goodison Park lifted him to 164 for his career in the Premier League, good enough for seventh on the competition's all-time list. Thierry Henry (175) and Frank Lampard (177) are next in his sights, while Alan Shearer sits top on 260.

Tottenham also face a decision over the long-term future of captain Hugo Lloris, whose current contract expires at the end of the 2021-22 season.

"Hugo is still, in my opinion, one of the best around," Friedel said of the France international.

"The thing you get with Hugo is if he makes a mistake on the big occasion he knows how to bounce back. That's the one when you go out and buy a foreign goalkeeper who is not used to the Premier League, then you might have that bedding in period. If you go for a younger goalkeeper, you're definitely have some patches that go up and down.

"So as long as Hugo is fit, there's no reason why you should go out and get a new goalkeeper to replace him. That's my opinion right now.

"My opinion is you know what you have – a very good professional and goalkeeper and there's not a big need to change. If you want to purchase someone go and purchase a young outstanding goalkeeper while you have Hugo and see if that young goalkeeper can perform better than Hugo."

Arsenal coach Mikel Arteta has applauded fans for killing the proposed European Super League with what he felt was arguably the "strongest message ever sent in the football world", likening the response to a "tsunami".

The Gunners were one of the 12 founding members of the planned Super League, a closed-shop competition that was announced on Sunday after years of speculation.

But the project never got off the ground as, within 48 hours of it being revealed, the plans were left in ruins as the six Premier League clubs pulled out.

Following an almost universal backlash, Manchester City – whose manager Pep Guardiola railed against the general concept – withdrew first, with Chelsea apparently preparing to do so at the same time.

Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham then released simultaneous statements later in the day confirming their disassociation with the tournament, which was set to rival the Champions League but guarantee participation for the founding clubs.

Real Madrid president Florentino Perez, who was set to front the Super League as chairman, has insisted the plans are not dead, but with the English clubs issuing apologies to their supporters, the idea will take some resurrecting.

And Arteta, addressing the media for the first time since the initial announcement, applauded the actions of supporters in forcing the U-turn.

He said: "I think this has given a big lesson. It shows the importance of football in the world, and shows that the soul of this sport belongs to the fans, and that's it.

"We've been trying to sustain this industry with no fans in the pandemic, but when they have to come out and talk, they do so loud and clear and they sent probably the strongest message that has ever been sent in the football world.

"Every club has done the right thing, we have to listen to them [the fans]. In 24 hours they killed the project, it's a massive statement for the history of football.

"I found out just a little before the news was leaked. Then everything was out of control and the world reacted in a really unified manner. There was no time to think or reflect because by the time that was out, a tsunami killed it."

Arsenal were the first to issue an apology to supporters as they published an open letter from the board when their withdrawal was confirmed, while Arteta confirmed all club officials involved have apologised to him and the players.

Asked if an internal apology had been communicated, Arteta said: "Yes, from Vinai [Venkatesham, CEO], the ownership and everyone involved in the process, all of them with the right intentions to defend the club put the club in the best position for now and future, but accepting the way it has been handled has had terrible consequences and that it was a mistake.

"I have to really respect that when people have genuine intentions to do the best thing for the club but if it doesn't happen or isn't the right thing to do, they can stand up and apologise. I think the players and staff, we have to move on. The way it has been handled internally has been very good."

As for communication from the Kroenkes, the family that owns the club, Arteta added: "Absolutely [they apologised], they are the maximum responsible to run the football club.

"They apologised for disturbing the team and not having the capacity or ability to communicate in a different way earlier, explained the reasons why, and passed on the message to the players. That's all you can ask for and I have to accept completely."

It remains to be seen if there will be any punishment for Arsenal and the other clubs involved, as points deductions, fines and Champions League bans have all been mooted.

Arteta feels Arsenal have to be ready to face – and accept – the consequences of their actions.

"I don't know the legal details to respond to that," he said. "When you act, there are always consequences. I don't know the extent of those consequences.

"I think here we have to understand the principle and why those clubs were trying to achieve something, but if it wasn't done in the right way, there are always consequences and we'll have to accept that if there are."

A group of Manchester United fans broke into the club's Carrington-based training ground to protest against the club's controversial Glazer owners and their attempted involvement in the failed European Super League.

The supporters gained access to the training ground with banners reading "Glazers out" and "we decide when you play".

It was reported the group comprising of around 20 people blocked entrances as players arrived for training. They had a conversation with United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer before leaving the training ground.

A United statement read: "At approximately 9am this morning a group gained access to the club training ground. 

"The manager and others spoke to them. Buildings were secure and the group has now left the site."

United were one of six Premier League clubs and 12 teams overall to sign up for the controversial competition, which drew widespread condemnation from fans, players and pundits alike.

Less than 48 hours later, all of the English clubs had announced their intention to withdraw from the planning but the fallout has continued.

Co-chairman and part-owner Joel Glazer issued an apology to United supporters for the "unrest" caused, a first direct communication from the controversial owners to the fanbase since 2005.

United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward confirmed his resignation and he will step down from his role at the end of the year, although the club insisted this was not in relation to Super League furore.

"They are trying," said a weary Gary Neville. "This is it." 

The former Manchester United captain was responding to Sky Sports commentator Martin Tyler, who suggested the Red Devils might show a little more pluck during a miserable 2-0 defeat to Everton in April 2014. 

That game was the final straw when it came to the future of manager David Moyes. The limp performance against his old club meant the reigning Premier League champions could not mathematically finish in the top four. The embarrassment – and the loss of Champions League income – was too much to bear. 

On April 22, seven years ago, Moyes was sacked just 10 months into a six-year contract as Alex Ferguson's successor. His 34 league games in charge had yielded 17 wins, 11 defeats and a points-per-game average of 1.68, the lowest of any United manager in the Premier League era. In all competitions, he won just 27 of his 51 games in charge. 

It was a record-breaking season for all the wrong reasons. United finished on 64 points, their lowest full-season tally in the Premier League era and their lowest finish. At the time, it was the worst title defence of any Premier League side in history, and it meant they failed to qualify for the Champions League for the first time since 1995. 

There was also a first home loss to Newcastle United since 1972, to West Brom since 1978 and to Stoke City since 1984. They were beaten home and away by Everton for the first time since 1969-70. Most damning of all was their return against the 'Big Six', as they won one of 10 of those games in 2013-14, losing home and away to the top two, Manchester City and Liverpool. 

A parting of the ways became inevitable, and United, three managers later, are still waiting for a meaningful shot at their 21st top-flight title. There were more problems for Moyes, too, at Real Sociedad and Sunderland. It makes his transformative work at West Ham, turning relegation-battlers into top-four contenders, all the more remarkable. 

It also begs the question: has history been unkind to Moyes? 

'You were the chosen one!' 

Few United sympathisers were arguing the case for Moyes to stay after Leighton Baines and Kevin Mirallas condemned them to defeat at Goodison Park – apart from Neville, who said the idea of sacking him in his first season was "foreign". 

Neville would later insist United had been the architects of their own mismanaged and relatively barren years since Moyes departed, with progress often fleeting at best. He's not wrong. 

Ferguson won 70.2 per cent of his 748 league games in charge at Old Trafford, and none of his successors have matched that record, with Jose Mourinho (66.2 per cent) and Louis van Gaal (66 per cent) closest. At 57.7 per cent, Moyes does not even boast the worst such ratio: that figure belongs to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (57.1 per cent), a man given substantially more patience by the United hierarchy than Moyes was. 

It's also often forgotten that their best performances under Moyes came in the competition in which he had no experience. United won five of their 10 Champions League games in 2013-14, a record bettered only by Mourinho (eight out of 14) among Ferguson's successors, as they reached the quarter-final stage – something they have only managed to do once since. 

The unenviable task of following Ferguson had the added complication of the squad not quite being up to standard. United's greatest manager had squeezed one more title out of a group of players whose best years were mostly behind them and who were buoyed by the singular brilliance of Robin van Persie, who plundered 26 goals and nine assists in 38 league matches in 2012-13. 

Under Moyes, Van Persie's output fell dramatically as injuries took their toll: he scored only 11 times and set up a further three in 18 games, while his chances created per 90 minutes plummeted from 2.05 to 0.98. 

With the old guard labouring and the squad overhaul poorly handled by new executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, it sometimes felt like Moyes was fighting a losing battle from the off. 

Real-ity bites 

In November 2014, Moyes was handed a breath of fresh air via an 18-month contract at Real Sociedad to succeed Jagoba Arrasate. Spain never quite suited him – perhaps living in a hotel didn't help – and he was sacked almost exactly a year later, after winning just 12 of 42 games in charge. 

However, Moyes was, to some extent, burdened with unfair expectation. La Real had won just two of their first 11 La Liga games in 2014-15 before he arrived and three points off the bottom. Moyes guided them to a safe, if not spectacular 12th-placed finish. That first campaign included a 1-0 win at Anoeta in January over Barcelona, who would go on to win the treble that term. Looking at the league table since Moyes' arrival in November 2014 until the end of that season sees La Real sit bang in the middle of the pile in 10th spot.  

Yet the demand for a return to European football was significant and, despite a strong transfer window that included the signing of Asier Illarramendi back from Real Madrid, Moyes could not inspire the performances he wanted. In the end, he became the second Real coach in a row to leave after only two wins in the first 11 league games of a season – and they were against the bottom two clubs. 

An ill omen 

It's perhaps not surprising that, when Moyes returned to the Premier League with Sunderland in July 2016, he sought to temper expectations. Sam Allardyce had led the Black Cats to survival – by just two points – the season before and it appeared Moyes wanted fans to be realistic. 

Unfortunately, his pragmatism came across as overly negative to a fan base desperate to see him build on Allardyce's work. A poor transfer window didn't help, either, as old Everton stalwarts such as Steven Pienaar and Victor Anichebe arrived looking well beyond their best and sizeable sums were spent on the likes of Papy Djilobodji, who was on the winning side just three times in 18 appearances in 2016-17. 

Two days after his first relegation as a manager was confirmed by a 1-0 loss to Bournemouth, Moyes resigned. He had lost 28 and won only eight of 43 games in charge; at the time, it was the worst return of any permanent Black Cats manager in the top flight aside from Howard Wilkinson, who won just 14.8 per cent of games from October 2002 to March 2003.  

Stop – Hammer time! 

It was a surprise, therefore, when West Ham turned to Moyes to keep them in the Premier League in November 2017. Eight wins – including his 200th in the division, the fourth man to achieve the feat – and nine draws in 27 matches was enough to secure their survival, if not a longer-term contract. 

When the Hammers turned to Moyes again in December 2019 to replace Manuel Pellegrini, many saw it as another fire-fighting job, a panicked move by the owners to stave off fears of the drop. It's proven to be so much more. 

This season, West Ham are averaging 1.72 points per game, the best return of Moyes' career in England's top flight – better even than the Tim Cahill-inspired Everton side in 2004-05 that finished fourth. The Hammers find themselves in that position in the table with six games to go and, according to Stats Perform's league predictions, they have an almost 26 per cent likelihood of finishing in the top four – more than double Tottenham's chances.

New ground is being trodden under Moyes once more, but in far brighter pastures. Against Arsenal, Wolves and Leicester City, they scored three goals in three consecutive top-flight games for the first time since 1928. They have scored at least three in a league game 15 times since Moyes' return; only Manchester City (19) and Manchester United (16) have done so in league games more often in that time. 

In Moyes' first 50 games in charge during his second spell at London Stadium, West Ham won 75 points, the most over that number of matches in 13 years. Indeed, in 2021, only Manchester City (17) have won more Premier League games than Moyes' men (10), who have earned 32 points from a possible 45 since the turn of the year. 

Perhaps it's fitting that Moyes' most recent star performer is another who was cast adrift at United. Jesse Lingard has scored eight goals in nine league games since joining on loan since January, equalling his best return for a top-flight season set back in 2017-18. Lingard also has three assists to his name in those nine outings, making him the quickest Hammers player in history to reach double figures for direct goal involvements. Like Cahill at Everton 16 years ago, Lingard is proving an unlikely talisman in West Ham's charge towards upsetting the top order. 

Moyes has walked a long road to redemption since his United dismissal. However West Ham's season finishes, he deserves to be held in a little higher esteem. 

Alongside the righteous anger that helped bring about its rapid demise, there were multiple moments of hilarity to accompany the fleetingly brief existence of the European Super League.

By Wednesday, when Real Madrid president Florentino Perez once again went in to bat for his pet project and aired his ever-tenuous grasp on reality, the whole thing had gone a bit Monty Python.

"If you think the Super League is dead, you're absolutely wrong," he told El Laguaro

The Super League is no more, Florentino! It has ceased to be! This is a late Super League! Stiff, bereft of life!

As events spun rapidly away from the control of Perez, Andrea Agnelli and the other arch-schemers associated with the 12 teams signed up to the ill-fated enterprise, it was undeniably rousing to see players, coaches and supporters united in the same aim, speaking with one emphatic voice.

It begs the question of how this sense of common purpose can now be harnessed to tackle the ills of football that brought us to this moment of defining crisis.

Champions League reform

Perez described the Champions League format as "obsolete", which was a little rich given the reforms to UEFA's flagship competition that were signed off this week – a revamp Juventus president Agnelli described as "close to ideal" and "beautiful" as recently as last month – share some common features with the Super League plans.

Teams will be guaranteed more matches in an expanded group stage, while two spots are reserved for sides who have the highest club coefficients of those who have failed to qualify, an element widely viewed as a move to protect ailing European giants against the consequences of short-term failure.

UEFA's arrival at the so-called Swiss model for the round-robin phase was understandable as the latest move to placate the super clubs, safeguarding their income and averting the prospect of a breakaway.

Since that happened anyway and failed spectacularly, what impetus remains for the Swiss model? Why not consider supporter-friendly alternatives that cater to a greater number of clubs from outside the elite?

The six Premier League clubs, Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Juve, Inter and Milan all gave up their European Club Association memberships to join the Super League. Their collective clout has not been less significant for decades.

Paris Saint-Germain chief Nasser Al-Khelaifi has replaced Agnelli as ECA chairman, but a new hastily convened executive board also features Dariusz Mioduski of Legia Warsaw and Aki Riihilahti of HJK Helsinki. What might a Champions League giving more consideration to those kind of clubs look like?

The fan fantasy of straight knockout in the style of the old European Cup is never going to happen for a number of reasons, but expansion could still bring more interest and fewer dead rubbers.

Say, for example, the four-team group format remained, but entry was opened to 48 clubs. The top two from 12 groups progress to a round of 32, along with the best eight third-placed teams.

This arrangement is to be used in the expanded World Cup and has come in for its fair share of criticism – it is a lot of games to lose just a third of the participants – but would generally keep qualification for the knockout rounds open to more teams for longer.

For the purists, the four-pot system could be loosened into one recognising 12 seeds for the group stage, with seedings abandoned altogether when straight knockouts get underway.

Share the wealth

Financial motivations obviously drove the Super League plot, Perez pleading poverty on Madrid's behalf entirely in line with its other grasps for PR success.

"UEFA and its member associations believe in a truly European model that is founded on open competitions, solidarity and redistribution to ensure the sustainability and development of the game for the benefit of all and the promotion of European values and social outcomes," the governing body said in a statement decrying the Super League.

There is a real opportunity to make good on this vision because the teams who had been demanding an ever-greater slice of the pie stormed away from the table in such a huff they left all their cutlery behind.

The trickle-down benefit of Champions League money has sometimes been hard to spot, not only with a parade of usual suspects progressing to the latter stages each year, but also across a host of Europe's less-celebrated domestic leagues, where a club benefitting from UEFA prize money has been able to dominate at home with few notable challengers. Shakhtar Donetsk in Ukraine and BATE Borisov in Belarus are examples of this.

Equitable distribution across the wider structure of European football can definitely be encouraged to the good of all, something certainly true in the Premier League.

The vitriolic reaction to the Super League in England means the big six can be told with a straight face that they need the other 14 more so than the other way around.

Demands for the six to be docked points and fined heavily certainly serve a palpable sense of hurt and betrayal. But if, for example, Manchester City began 2021-22 on -10 points with the rest of the breakaway bunch, they would still probably be favourites to win the title.

That speaks of a deck unacceptably stacked against other teams and this is what needs to change. Distributing Premier League television income equally 20 ways, or even a less radical split, would effect more lasting change than any punitive measures against the big six. Again, their hand has rarely been weaker so the time is now.

Empower fans

Bayern Munich's absence from the Super League rebels, as reigning European champions, was noteworthy but hardly surprising.

Germany's vaunted 50+1 model, where fans hold a majority of voting rights when set against commercial investors in their clubs, is not a one-way ticket to utopia. If it was, Bayern would not be on the brink of cantering to a ninth successive Bundesliga title.

However, it makes Bayern joining a breakaway that might otherwise be in their interests virtually impossible. The cringing mea culpas embarked upon by John Henry, Ferran Soriano and others this week would not have been necessary had they simply been required to consult fans in the first place.

Barcelona and Madrid's "socio" models are also an example of member ownership, but outside of presidential elections, fan power is negligible. Perhaps there will be moves to change that in the aftermath of this humiliation, but once more, the febrile atmosphere in England suggests the greatest appetite for change.

The Super League crisis brought about government involvement in the UK and, while aping 50+1 might be impractical, enshrining a requirement of meaningful fan representation at clubs in law suddenly feels like a possibility.

Make the game affordable for youngsters

With or without this, the Premier League showing gratitude to the people who played a huge role in saving their competition is a must. Ticket prices have to come down to widen access to the game, particularly among younger fans.

Entirely in line with establishment executives of his stripes, the 74-year-old Perez has done an awful lot of talking at the much-discussed 18-24 demographic, using them as a faceless example to justify his self-interested schemes.

Young people are bored of football, you see. Computers have turned their brains into cheese and maybe we need shorter games for their dwindling attention spans.

Perhaps, or maybe a generation priced out of football by high admission prices and subscription television packages are less inclined to engage with a game telling them to show us your money or shove off.

Getting young fans through the turnstiles when they reopen has never felt more important. This week there was a big enough mass opposition to say, "No! Not on our watch!". If football fails to nurture the next generation it will not have the same frontline defence the next time the foundations of the sport are challenged.

Reformed major competitions, through which there is a more equitable distribution of resources across a sport where fans of all ages are accommodated and given a voice will not be an easy vision to realise. Now the unifying big bad of the Super League is slain, whatever Perez says, conflicting and splintering interests will return.

But this unquestionably is not a moment to be squandered as football's flirtation with nuclear disaster casts the game in a new light.

Fred does not believe Manchester United were even at their best in December's remarkable 6-2 thrashing of Leeds United as he fired a warning ahead of a rematch of what he calls an "English football Clasico".

United and Leeds were once party to one of the fiercest rivalries in British football, but it took a backseat to the Red Devils' other major matches after the Yorkshire club were relegated from the Premier League in 2004.

The December meeting at Old Trafford was their first in the league for over 16 years, but for Leeds it swiftly turned into a nightmare as Scott McTominay became the first player in Premier League history to score twice in the first three minutes of a match.

That was just the tip of the iceberg, however, as Leeds went on to concede four goals in the first half of a Premier League fixture for the first time, Bruno Fernandes and Victor Lindelof increasing the lead before Liam Cooper pulled one back.

Fernandes converted a penalty in the second half shortly after Daniel James netted, with Stuart Dallas' goal at the other end scant consolation.

Although it was the first occasion a Marcelo Bielsa team had conceded six goals in a game since 1992 and the first time United had scored so many since an 8-2 win over Arsenal in August 2011, United still allowed Leeds 17 attempts.

"I don't know if it was our best performance of the season, [but] 6-2 was a great result of course," Fred told United's official website. "I think we've had better performances this season.

"Scott's two goals very early on helped us to control the game, but they're very difficult opponents playing with such high intensity, they're very strong and always looking to attack.

"We're prepared for this, we know how they play and we'll aim to be at our very best to get the win."

Ordinarily United would be entitled to a rather frosty reception at Elland Road, though the absence of fans amid the coronavirus pandemic means they will avoid the worst of it.

Fred is certainly familiar with such occasions as a veteran of several 'Grenal' matches between Gremio and Internacional, a match that in December was ranked as the eighth biggest derby in world football.

"Definitely, it's an English football Clasico," he said of fixtures between United and Leeds. "We get a feel for this anticipation from social media.

"The fans are excited about this game, as are we of course. We haven't had a midweek game this week, so the anticipation for the next game increases and it's a derby game against a massive rival.

"It'll be a really tough game but we'll be preparing well for it this week."

Sunday's clash will be United's first visit to Elland Road since October 2003, a 1-0 win – they have not won successive league games at Leeds since 1976.

Nevertheless, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men are unbeaten away from home in the top flight for over a year, a run consisting of 23 games.

Tottenham interim head coach Ryan Mason has praised his side for their come-from-behind 2-1 win over Southampton following a tumultuous week for the club.

Mason stepped in as Spurs coach for the first time following Jose Mourinho's sacking earlier this week.

Mourinho's dismissal combined with Tottenham's role in the European Super League has created a turbulent week for Spurs but the players responded against the Saints.

"Tonight was important for many things, the change in manager, a lot has gone on at the club in the last 48 hours and it was important to get back to winning ways," 29-year-old Mason told Sky Sports.

"The performance and energy were outstanding."

Tottenham hailed trailed after Danny Ings' goal on the half hour but Gareth Bale levelled on the hour.

Spurs had a Son Heung-Min goal disallowed before the South Korean converted a late penalty for the winner.

"They had so much energy and bravery, especially after the first 20 to 30 minutes," Mason said.

"Southampton came out of the blocks - they were good. We showed belief and stuck to the plan so full credit because the energy and commitment was great.

"The momentum was with us in the second half. We gained full control of the game.

"We created chances, the VAR decision to disallow the goal was disappointing but the guys kept going, kept believing and I felt the right team won."

Florentino Perez continued his staunch defence of the European Super League on Wednesday, despite the proposed breakaway competition having crumbled before it started.

Real Madrid president Perez had been appointed as the chairman of the competition, which was announced with 12 founding teams and to widespread criticism on Sunday.

Perez spoke on Monday about a need to change football, with clubs struggling financially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, while he also cited a lack of interest in the game from younger generations.

Yet his words did little to appease the furore and, on Tuesday, the six English clubs involved in the competition all pulled out amid pressure from the Premier League, Football Association (FA), UEFA and the UK government.

The owners of Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal and Manchester City all offered apologies to their fans for their part in the plans. 

Atletico Madrid, Inter, Milan and Juventus subsequently pulled out on Wednesday, albeit Perez has claimed the latter two remain committed.

Yet Perez insists he will not let the proposals die, and is adamant that there must be drastic reform to football, maintaining the European Super League was put together as a plan to save the game.

Speaking on the El Laguaro radio show following Madrid's win over Cadiz, Perez said: "We were working last night until late. We have been working many years on this project. We have not explained it very well, perhaps.

"They have not given us a chance either. Some do not want anything to happen. It cannot be that in England, the six lose money, and 14 make money. In Spain the top three lose money, and the others make money. It cannot continue – at the moment the rich are those who are losing money.

"I am a bit sad, disappointed. We have been working three years on this project, on fighting the current financial situation in Spanish football. You cannot touch LaLiga, so you look for more money midweek and the Champions League format is obsolete.

"I have never seen aggression greater on the part of the president of UEFA, it was orchestrated, it surprised us all. Insults and threats, as if we had killed football. 

"We are just working on saving football. We have worked very hard on something that would satisfy everyone.

"There was a campaign, totally manipulated, that we were going to finish the national leagues. That we were ending football, it was terrible. But we were working for football to survive.

"If you think the Super League is dead, you're absolutely wrong."

Perez was also bullish in the face of UEFA and FIFA's condemnation.

"Reality is reality. Look at the TV records, and how many people watch big games, and how many people watch the other games. We have to be real," he said.

"That new Champions League format in 2024 has no meaning. No one can understand it. We need a new format to create more money. Young fans don't watch football, they have other hobbies.

"I talk to [Joan] Laporta, Barcelona are still with us. Juventus did not leave. I'm not scared of FIFA or UEFA."

Concluding, Perez also stated that no club would be able to afford major signings at the end of the season.

"It's impossible to make signings like [Kylian] Mbappe and [Erling] Haaland without the Super League," he said. "Not just for us, there will be no big signings, for any club, without the Super League.

"When I took over, Madrid could not pay its players. We changed the world with the Galactico signings. Now after COVID-19, things have to change again."

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