Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are not among the final nominees for the 2020-21 Champions League positional awards.

On Friday, UEFA announced the 12 players, three per position, who could win the individual prizes on August 26.

The 12 players each received the most points in each positional category following a jury vote. The jury comprised coaches from the 32 clubs that entered into the group stage last season, as well as 55 journalists representing UEFA's 55 member associations. Coaches could not vote for players from their own teams.

Messi came fourth in the poll for the best forwards, while Ronaldo did not make the top 10. Each player was eliminated at the last-16 stage, Barcelona losing to Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus to Porto.

Five of the 12 nominees are from Chelsea, who won their second Champions League by beating Manchester City in the final. Edouard Mendy, Cesar Azpilicueta, Antonio Rudiger, N'Golo Kante and Jorginho are all nominated.

City have three representatives – Ederson, Ruben Dias and Kevin De Bruyne – while beaten semi-finalists Real Madrid and PSG provide one each: Thibaut Courtois, and Kylian Mbappe.

Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski and Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland, who finished as top scorer last season with 10, are the other nominees.

The winners of the best goalkeeper, defender, midfielder and forward prizes will be announced at the group-stage draw in Istanbul in two weeks' time.

Here we go again. The Premier League race begins once more, despite some players barely having the chance to unpack their suitcases after short-lived pre-season breaks.

Last time out, Manchester City turned a potentially intriguing title battle into a procession. They had plenty of tests along the way, just mostly of the PCR variety as the teams pushed on amid the continuing coronavirus pandemic.

Thankfully, fans will be in grounds to watch from the start this time around, while some familiar faces have returned. Romelu Lukaku is back. Patrick Vieira – a three-time Premier League winner in his playing days – and Rafa Benitez, a former red now aligned to the Blues, are on the touchline. Norwich City and Watford, meanwhile, have negotiated the Championship to secure a quick reunion.

Still, there is always a freshness to every campaign, aided by summer signings and, this time, the presence of a newcomer.

Brentford provide a new, exciting chapter to the Premier League story, though it is perhaps expecting too much to hope for riveting plot twists when it comes to the likely contenders to be crowned champions.

THE THOROUGHBREDS READY TO RUN AGAIN

When Manchester rivals City and United drew 0-0 in an instantly forgettable derby in December 2020, one that left those who had watched on wondering what else they should have done with their time instead, Pep Guardiola's side were sitting outside the top seven in the table. It was actually an upturn in their position – they had languished down in 11th during the previous month.

By the time they hosted their neighbours in the return fixture in March 2021, however, City had won 21 in a row in all competitions and held a double-digit lead at the head of the league. The stunning run did come to an end that day, but it was just a case of delaying the inevitable.

The rich have got richer in pursuit of a third title in four years, in terms of talent at least. Spending £100million to get Jack Grealish has add further creativity, as if they really needed it. The squad could still be bolstered by Harry Kane, too. If the Tottenham striker moves north, the deck will be stacked even more in City's favour.

Yet there are reasons for the others who finished in the top four to be optimistic. Chelsea denied Guardiola in the Champions League final, giving a silver-lined finish to the promising early form under Thomas Tuchel. They have strengthened in attack, Lukaku back at the Bridge to sort out some unfinished business. A glaring gap in the squad (sorry, Timo Werner) has been filled.

Adding goals will be a key factor for the Blues, as they managed only 38 in all competitions following the appointment of the German coach. To put that number into context, United and City managed 58 and 70 across the same period. Even Tottenham topped them with 49.

OLE JOCKEYS FOR SILVERWARE

United finished second but will hope Jadon Sancho can lift them even higher, albeit the arrival of Raphael Varane could be even more crucial, considering the Red Devils conceded 28 goals at home last season – their most in a single campaign since 1962-63. Tighten up and it could well be their year, but they do not want to continue the habit of giving opposing teams head-starts again in games.

Those two marquee signings, which came in the transfer window following unrest among the fanbase aimed at the club's ownership, have rightly raised expectations. Now, for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, there is a need to secure something tangible, a piece of silverware to show he can clear the final hurdle.

The caretaker appointed to lift the gloom after Jose Mourinho is just three Premier League games short of a century in charge – if United triumph in all of them on the way to that Solskjaer milestone, the Norwegian will have the same winning percentage at the magical 100 mark as Arsene Wenger and Jurgen Klopp.

As for Klopp and Liverpool, there is a degree of uncertainty. The outstanding winners in 2019-20 required a fast finish – the Reds' run of five consecutive league wins in May was more than they managed in 12 games in February, March and April combined – just to squeeze into the top four. They began to rebuild fortress Anfield, knocked down during a record-breaking losing run.

Injuries did decimate the squad during a tepid title defence, but Virgil van Dijk is now fit again and, just in case, Ibrahima Konate has come in to provide added depth at the heart of the defence. If Sadio Mane can rediscover his scoring form and ease the burden on Mohamed Salah, the ingredients are all there to mount a sustained challenge again.

THE FADING FORCES DESPERATE TO FIND FORM

In times of cutbacks, have the 'Big Six' been reduced to a 'Big Four'? Arsenal and Tottenham still retained enough pulling power to be included as part of the failed European Super League plan, but neither have ended up above Leicester City in the final league table in the past two years.

The Foxes came up short in their Champions League quest again, though the frustration at a second successive fifth-place finish was eased somewhat by lifting the FA Cup. The underappreciated Brendan Rodgers has never lacked belief, and Leicester have backed their boss in the transfer market with the signings of Patson Daka and Boubakary Soumare.

Spurs' transfer business is now being carried out by new managing director Fabio Paratici, while Nuno Espirito Santo was eventually selected to take over as head coach, despite at one stage appearing to be off the lengthy list of candidates. Both are carrying out their duties amid uncertainty over Kane, the competition's disgruntled Golden Boot winner determined to get a move.

Tottenham will be the Premier League's first participants in the Europa Conference League, which could either offer welcome relief from league issues or be a midweek nuisance. Come on, though, who doesn't want to go to Latvia in winter? Arsenal may well wish they had such concerns - they will not be playing in any European competition for the first time in 26 years.

Ben White has come in at great expense as the Gunners have put a focus on getting younger. Really, they just need to get better. To that extent, getting more out of Thomas Partey, not to mention Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who managed just the 10 league goals in 29 games, would help.

Mikel Arteta has much work to do to make sure the gap to the head of the field does not grow wider.

THE OUTSIDERS HOPING TO EMERGE

West Ham finished above the north London duo last time thanks in no small part to the impact made by Jesse Lingard during his loan spell.

The attacking midfielder scored nine goals and four assists in 16 games to propel himself back into England contention, even it remains to be seen if it was enough to rekindle his Manchester United career.

Without Lingard, David Moyes will have to conjure up more magic from within his squad as they also tackle the added workload of playing in the Europa League. Goalkeeper Alphonse Areola is unlikely to have the same kind of impact during his temporary stint from Paris Saint-Germain, leaving cravings for 'J-Lingz'.

Leeds United will hope to build on a positive first year back in the top flight, steered diligently by the boss on a bucket, Marcelo Bielsa, while Aston Villa have wisely elected not to replace the talismanic Grealish with just one player, instead bringing in several to try and fill the void.

There is still time for teams to strengthen, particularly as the leading clubs look to cut away some of the unnecessary fat in their bloated squad lists. Lingard demonstrated what a difference the right signing can make to a team.

However, another underdog story to match the wonderful tale of Claudio Ranieri's Leicester appears impossible. Instead, after two consecutive seasons with runaway champions, it would just be nice if the 2021-22 Premier League Stakes at least provided a little more drama by the time we enter into the closing stages.

Virgil van Dijk has signed a new long-term contract with Liverpool on the eve of their first game of the 2021-22 Premier League season.

Virgil van Dijk has signed a new long-term contract with Liverpool on the eve of their first game of the 2021-22 Premier League season.

The Netherlands captain, who made his return from a serious knee injury in pre-season following a nine-month absence, has committed his future to the Reds "well into the coming years".

Van Dijk's previous contract ran until 2023 but the big-money signing from Southampton has agreed to extend his stay on Merseyside.

He told Liverpoolfc.com: "Amazing. It is something to be very proud of, that I am very proud of, that my wife and my kids are very proud of and obviously my agency.

"All the hard work we've put in so far continues and I am looking forward to what the future brings together with Liverpool. I'm delighted, very happy and proud."

The commanding centre-back became the most expensive defender of all time when he left the Saints to join Liverpool for a fee of £75million in January 2018.

Former Celtic defender Van Dijk has been key to the Reds' success, helping Jurgen Klopp's side win the Premier League, Champions League, UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup.

He has made 130 appearances for the club, scoring 13 goals, and follows Trent Alexander-Arnold, Fabinho and Alisson in signing new contracts in recent weeks.

Van Dijk and fellow defender Joe Gomez, who also suffered a serious knee injury, were sorely missed by Liverpool last season as they failed to defend their Premier League crown but were able to secure a Champions League spot.

They will travel to Norwich City for their opening game of the 2021-22 campaign on Saturday, with Klopp having suggested Van Dijk will not be rushed back into action – although the player feels ready to return after a good pre-season.

"I feel good. Obviously [they were] friendlies, you get your match fitness up, get into repetitions of doing things again and again," he said.

"I feel like I am ready for the weekend, so we'll see what the manager decides. It is going to be a totally different atmosphere and mindset for me personally as well. It is something we fight for, for the points, and hopefully we can get a positive result out of it."

Australia limited-overs captain Aaron Finch is expected to be fit for the start of the T20 World Cup after undergoing knee surgery.

Finch suffered cartilage damage in St Lucia last month and missed the tour of Bangladesh.

The opening batsman went under knife on Friday and the expectation is that he will be ready to lead his country when the T20 World Cup - staged in UAE and Oman - gets under way in October.

A Cricket Australia statement said: "His recovery is expected to take 8-10 weeks meaning he should be available for the opening games of the World Cup in mid-October."

Australia will face England, South Africa, West Indies and two yet-to-be-determined qualifiers in Group 1 of the Super 12 stage of the T20 World Cup.

Matthew Wade stepped in to skipper an under-strength Australia side in a 4-1 T20 series loss to Bangladesh.

Harry Kane remains a Tottenham player with the new Premier League season set to commence.

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has declared their interest in signing the England international.

The situation has been at a standstill and remains unresolved.

 

TOP STORY - CITY READY TO UP KANE BID

Manchester City are willing to pay €150m (£127m) for Harry Kane as they try to convince Tottenham to sell their captain, claims The Guardian via Fabrizio Romano.

Spurs have reiterated Kane is not for sale this off-season despite the forward's reported request to leave late last season.

Tottenham turned down a €117m (£100m) bid previously, which is the same amount City spent to sign Jack Grealish from Aston Villa.

 

ROUND-UP

- AS have reported that Paris Saint-Germain will look to sign Cristiano Ronaldo in 2022 as a replacement given the anticipated exit of Kylian Mbappe, whose contract expires next year. Mbappe is a long-time target for Real Madrid.

- Tottenham have ramped up their bid to sign Fiorentina striker Dusan Vlahovic, amid interest from Atletico Madrid claims Sky Sport Italia. Spurs will offer €60m (£51m) including bonuses.

- Corriere dello Sport reports that Barcelona are shopping around Philippe Coutinho, who has been offered to Lazio, Milan and Inter.

- Tammy Abraham remains unconvinced about moving to Roma despite meeting with the Italian club who had agreed terms with Chelsea, reports Corriere dello Sport.

- The Sun claims Everton have joined Tottenham, Inter and Zenit in pursuing Napoli skipper Lorenzo Insigne.

Tim Anderson hit a dramatic walk-off two-run homer to secure an 9-8 victory for the Chicago White Sox over the New York Yankees in MLB's Field of Dreams game in Iowa.

Trailing 8-7 at the bottom of the ninth inning, Anderson stepped up to deliver his 13th home run of the season into the surrounding corn fields. The seesawing contest saw eight home runs in a fitting display of hitting.

Jose Abreu hit the first MLB home run in Iowa with a moon shot into left-field at the bottom of the first inning.

Aaron Judge sent a ball into the corn at the top of the third inning with a three-run homer to give the Yankees the advantage.

Eloy Jimenez homered down the right-field line with a three-run shot to put the White Sox back on top.

The big hits continued with Seby Zavala flying a homer into right-field and Brett Gardner responding by homering in the sixth.

Judge homered again for the Yankees to bring it back to 7-6 at the top of the ninth, before Giancarlo Stanton put them ahead over left-field, only for Anderson's decisive blow from closer Zack Britton.

 

Shohei stars, Harper and Alonso homers

Shohei Ohtani came close to a second home run in consecutive games with a deep hit to center-field but impressed on the mound with five scoreless innings and six strikeouts in the Los Angeles Angels' 6-3 win over the Toronto Blue Jays.

The match-up pitted MLB's leading home-run scorer Ohtani against second-placed Vladimir Guerrero Jr, who he kept relatively quiet, with only one hit from three at-bats.

Bryce Harper homered for the 21st time of the season, getting the Philadelphia Phillies off to a fast start in the first inning in a 2-1 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Pete Alonso crushed a 358-foot walk-off solo home run to left-center field to clinch the New York Mets a 5-4 win over the Washington Nationals.

 

Indians routed in third straight loss

There is still plenty of time until the postseason but the Cleveland Indians' hopes of being part of it continue to slide after they suffered a third straight loss, going down 17-0 to the Oakland Athletics. The A's dined out at-bat, while the Indians only managed three hits for the game, slumping to their seventh loss from their past 10.

 

Pina slams in Brewers big win

After Corbin Burnes' record-equalling heroics on Wednesday, Manny Pina took the spotlight with a grand slam in the fifth inning opening up a 9-1 lead for the Milwaukee Brewers, who eventually won 17-4 over the Chicago Cubs. Pina finished the game with three hits, three runs and six RBI.

 

Thursday's results 

New York Mets 4-1 Washington Nationals
St Louis Cardinals 7-6 Pittsburgh Pirates
Philadelphia Phillies 2-1 Los Angeles Dodgers
Oakland Athletics 17-0 Cleveland Indians
Milwaukee Brewers 17-4 Chicago Cubs
New York Mets 5-4 Washington Nationals
Detroit Tigers 6-4 Baltimore Orioles
Tampa Bay Rays 8-1 Boston Red Sox
Seattle Mariners 3-1 Texas Rangers
Cincinnati Reds 12-3 Atlanta Braves
Chicago White Sox 9-8 New York Yankees
Los Angeles Angels 6-3 Toronto Blue Jays
Arizona Diamondbacks 12-3 San Diego Padres
San Francisco Giants 7-0 Colorado Rockies
 

Astros at Angels

The 68-46 Houston Astros make the trip west to face the Los Angeles Angels, who are 58-58, in a big American League West clash as sides jostle for position.

If the coming LaLiga campaign can match the previous few months for drama, an epic is in store.

The 2021-22 season gets under way this weekend with Spanish football still reeling from Lionel Messi's remarkable Barcelona departure.

The move to Paris Saint-Germain leaves one of LaLiga's grandest clubs without its talisman, while rivals Real Madrid have also seen their captain depart for the French capital on a free transfer.

Where does that leave defending champions Atletico Madrid and the rest heading into the opening weekend? Stats Perform takes a look.

CHAOS IN CATALONIA

Barca still have plenty of world-class players and will this season be able to count on Pedri, Frenkie de Jong, Antoine Griezmann and, they hope, Memphis Depay.

But the shocking nature of Messi's exit is going to be tough to move on from, even if the club's dire financial situation does not prevent Depay and the Blaugrana's other new signings from being registered.

Messi either attempted (196) or created (77) 46.8 per cent of Barca's 583 shots in 2020-21 – and he missed three games – so Ronald Koeman's side are going to have to completely change the way they play.

He was already missed when out through injury – Barca won 73.7 per cent of the 520 league games in which Messi featured for the club but just 56.7 per cent of the 120 he did not – and that issue is not going away now.

MADRID COPE WITH CHANGE

Money is tight at Madrid too, but Los Blancos have faced that reality, cutting back spending and agreeing the departures of high earners like Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane.

Despite Zinedine Zidane's exit, they also look in better shape on the pitch on the eve of the new campaign.

Madrid ended last season unbeaten in 18, the best ongoing run in the competition, with only frustrating late-season draws with Getafe, Real Betis and Sevilla – all in the space of five games – leaving them two points shy of Atletico.

They have gone for a familiar face with a proven track record to replace Zidane, Carlo Ancelotti returning after winning 75 per cent of the league games in his first Madrid stint – trailing only Jose Mourinho (76 per cent win rate) among Madrid coaches to oversee 50 matches or more.

ATLETI AT THE TOP

It is a strange phenomenon for Atleti to be both top of the league and not the target of constant transfer enquiries.

Their key men are unlikely to be poached while Barca and Madrid are so short of cash, with the Blaugrana instead reportedly pursuing a deal going the other way, with Griezmann returning to the Wanda Metropolitano.

The development with Messi appears to have put that idea to bed, and Atleti instead spent the week before the season agreeing new contracts for defensive stars.

Those clubs on the outside of the title race looking in are enjoying unfamiliar comforts too, with Europa League winners Villarreal keeping their best players – including Gerard Moreno, whose 23 goals only trailed Messi – and Real Sociedad bringing back the same team that finished fifth.

Unless Ancelotti quickly restores an ageing Madrid side to past glories, this season could be wide open at the summit.

Julian Nagelsmann has long seemed destined to be Bayern Munich coach, and the 34-year-old now has his chance after succeeding Hansi Flick.

He has a lot to live up to. Flick, in his 18-month tenure, Flick led Bayern to two Bundesliga titles, one DFB-Pokal, a Champions League triumph, Club World Cup glory, the DFL-Supercup and the UEFA Super Cup – a remarkable seven trophies.

While Nagelsmann settles into life in the hottest of coaching seats in Germany, his former team RB Leipzig will look to finally make a title challenge last, this time under new coach Jesse Marsch.

Borussia Dortmund scraped into the Champions League places thanks to a super run late in the season, and now Marco Rose will look to build on their DFB-Pokal success in his first season in charge.

Just what can we expect from each of Germany's big three in 2021-22?


Bayern Munich

Bayern ultimately claimed their ninth successive Bundesliga title with ease last term and Robert Lewandowski was once again the driving force. He had to wait until the last kick of the last day, but he finally broke Gerd Muller's long-standing Bundesliga record of 41 goals in a single campaign.

Unsurprisingly, Bayern scored the most goals in Germany's top tier in 2020-21, netting 99 times across their 34 fixtures. Their tally of 483 chances was also by far the most in the division, 54 ahead of second-ranked Leipzig (429) in that regard, though they conceded 44 times while the Leipzig defence under Nagelsmann was the stingiest, with only 32 goals conceded. 

Bayern averaged 65.39 per cent possession and had 1,304 touches in the opposition box, over 400 more than any other side.

However, Nagelsmann does have to contend with the loss of some players who have been crucial to Bayern's dominance. David Alaba has joined Real Madrid, while fellow stalwarts Javi Martinez and Jerome Boateng also left on free transfers.

Dayot Upamecano has made the same switch from Leipzig as Nagelsmann, and the young centre-back adds pace and dynamism to Bayern's backline. Other than that, the squad remains largely the same, with Sven Ulreich having returned after a spell at Hamburg, while Omar Richards arrived on a free transfer from Reading.

Even without much more in the way of incomings, it is difficult to see Bayern letting the chance to make it 10 titles in a row slip from their grasp.

 

Dortmund

Last season was a difficult campaign for Dortmund, but it was one which ultimately ended successfully. They clinched Champions League qualification and ran riot against Leipzig to lift the DFB-Pokal.

It was a fine parting gift from Edin Terzic, who took over on an interim basis after Lucien Favre was relieved of his duties, and now Rose – whose Borussia Monchengladbach team slumped in the back half of the season and missed out on Europe – will look to reshape Dortmund in his own way.

Renowned for attacking, front-foot football, Rose's style, if all goes to plan, is bound to be a hit with the Dortmund fans upon their return to Signal Iduna Park.

Dortmund may have sold Jadon Sancho, but they still have Norway sensation Erling Haaland, who scored 27 Bundesliga goals last season from 93 attempts, giving him a shot conversion rate of 29.03 per cent, the third-highest in the league out of players to have scored 10 or more times.

Donyell Malen has arrived as Sancho's replacement, and Rose has already been talking up the Netherlands youngster, while goalkeeper Gregor Kobel has arrived from Stuttgart. Like Bayern, Dortmund said goodbye to a club legend in the form of Lukasz Piszczek, but with Marco Reus, Thorgan Hazard, Malen and Haaland complemented by the likes of Julian Brandt and Jude Bellingham, there should be plenty of cause for optimism.

It might well be Haaland's final season at the club, and you would not put it past the youngster, who also set up six goals last term, to propel Dortmund into the title race, back where they belong.

 

RB Leipzig

There are plenty of quality teams competing with the three leading lights, and it would certainly not be surprising to see Bayer Leverkusen, Wolfsburg, Eintracht Frankfurt or Gladbach mount a serious push for Champions League football.

However, Leipzig have well and truly established themselves as a Champions League regular now, and will be looking to Marsch, who has made the transition from sister club Salzburg, to continue Nagelsmann's work.

Leipzig sold Timo Werner to Chelsea in 2020, and netting just 60 times, they clearly missed the striker. Indeed, midfielder Marcel Sabitzer, with eight goals, was their leading scorer, with forwards Alexander Sorloth and Yussuf Poulsen only managing five each.

In Andre Silva, signed from Frankfurt, Leipzig have a forward who scored more than Haaland in the Bundesliga last season, with the Portugal international finding the net 28 times in 32 appearances.

Silva boasted an impressive 'big chance', as defined by Opta, conversion rate of 55 per cent, while only Lewandowski (137) had more than the former Milan man's 117 attempts. Dani Olmo and Christopher Nkunku – who supplied nine and six assists respectively last season – can provide the creativity, with Poulsen and Sorloth able to offer Marsch a variety of attacking options. Caden Clark, who is starring in MLS, will arrive before the turn of the year, while Dominik Szoboszlai is almost like a new signing, given he is yet to feature for the club since his arrival in January due to injury.

Leipzig have faced a reshuffle in what had been a strong defence, with key man Upamacano departing while Ibrahima Konate has also left for Liverpool, though the acquisition of Salzburg's highly rated Mohamed Simakan shows the production line is still ticking along, and a Champions League place will be the minimum expectation. 

Primoz Roglic will start his quest for a hat-trick of Vuelta a Espana titles when the final Grand Tour race of the year starts in Burgos on Saturday.

Team Jumbo-Visma rider Roglic has won the Vuelta in each of the peast two years and is favourite to continue his dominance of the race.

Giro d'Italia champion Egan Bernal will be expected to mount a strong challenge after skipping the Tour de France, while the Colombian's INEOS Grenadiers team-mates Richard Carapaz and Adam Yates could have a big say.

This 76th edition of the race will have eight mountain top finishes, with 11 stages featuring mountains, including the Picon Blanco with a gradient in some sections of the climb at 17 per cent.

Stats Perform picks out the big stories and standout Opta facts ahead of a race that will finish in Santiago de Compostela on September 5.
 

OLYMPIC CHAMPION ROGLIC TARGETING RARE TREBLE

Roglic put his Tour de France woes behind him to win gold at the Tokyo Olympics last month, claiming Slovenia's first gold medal in any cycling discipline.

The 31-year-old abandoned the Tour after a brutal first week but should start the Vuelta on a high from his heroics in Japan.

Roglic will be bidding to move level with Tony Rominger and Alberto Contador on three Vuelta triumphs if he wins the red jersey – one shy of Roberto Heras' record.

He would also become the first rider to win the race three times in a row since Spaniard Heras in 2005.

 


BERNAL LEADS INEOS CHALLENGE

Bernal claimed his maiden Giro title this year after winning his first Grand Tour crown in the 2019 Tour.

The 24-year-old sat out the 2021 Tour and has been training at altitude in his homeland ahead of a bid to complete a clean sweep of Grand Tour titles.

Bernal could become only the third Colombian to win the race, with Nairo Quintana being the last in 2016.

INEOS have a strong hand as Carapaz and Yates plot a title challenge.
 

LANDA HOPEFUL OF ENDING SPANISH DROUGHT

No Spanish rider has triumphed in the previous six editions of the race on home soil. If that extends to seven, it will be an unwanted record drought.

But Mikel Landa is hopeful of topping the podium after winning the Vuelta de Burgos following his recovery from a broken collarbone and several broken ribs suffered in a Giro crash.

He told the Deia: "Winning the Vuelta de Burgos was unexpected, but it was a great morale boost after so long out injured.

"Now I am going to the Vuelta with optimism. At the end of the day, I haven't competed much this year and I have the bit between my teeth after the Giro. I know I have to be careful, because I am still lacking a bit of form, but I am very motivated."

The Premier League is back! 

Arsenal travel to newly promoted Brentford in the opening game of the 2021-22 campaign on Friday.

Champions Manchester City face Tottenham – and possibly top transfer target Harry Kane – on Sunday, with Liverpool in action against returning Norwich City on Saturday, after Manchester United have hosted Leeds United.

So, ahead of the new season, why not give this Opta-powered quiz a go? You can find the answers at the bottom of the page...

1. Arsenal begin against Brentford – it is the fourth time the Gunners have been involved in the opening game of a Premier League campaign, winning the other three in 2008-09, 2017-18 and 2020-21, but who did they play against in those matches? 

2. Over the last 10 Premier League matches of 2020-21, Leeds claimed 23 points, winning seven games and drawing twice. Can you name the only  club to collect more points across the same time span?

3. Liverpool are unbeaten in their five Premier League openers under Jurgen Klopp, but how many goals have the Reds scored across these matches?

4. Aston Villa begin life without Jack Grealish with a trip to Watford. Emiliano Buendia will wear the number 10 shirt, but how many goals did he assist for Norwich in the Championship last season?

5. Sunday's meeting between Spurs and City brings up Nuno Espirito Santo's first competitive game as Tottenham boss. Who was the club's last manager to lose his opening fixture in charge?

 

Answers:

1. West Brom, Leicester City, Fulham
2. Liverpool (26)
3. 19 
4. 16
5. Andre Villas-Boas 

Local hope and reigning champion Bianca Andreescu blew an early lead as she was toppled by Ons Jabeur in the Round of 16 at the National Bank Open in Montreal.

Tunisian 13th seed Jabeur defeated the Canadian second seed 6-7 (5-7) 6-4 6-1 in two hours and 39 minutes on Thursday.

The come-from-behind triumph was the second time in two matches that the Tunisian has rallied from a set down to win after beating Daria Kasatkina in three.

Jabeur had twice been a break up in the opening set before Andreescu claimed it in an tiebreak.

The 26-year-old Tunisian, who made the Wimbledon quarter-finals this year, responded by breaking at 5-4 to win the second set.

After Andreescu had an injury scare after landing awkwardly on her left foot late in the second set, Jabeur dominated the third, finishing by winning eight of the final nine games.

Jabeur finished with 9-3 aces and was more effective on serve, going at an 81.6 win percentage on her first serve (40 from 49 points).

The lower side of the draw has opened up for the Tunisian who will face Jessica Pegula in the quarter-finals after the unseeded American defeated countrywoman Danielle Collins 6-4 3-6 7-5.

Two-time Wimbledon champion and seventh seed Petra Kvitova was knocked out in a shock by Italian Camila Giorgi in straight sets.

Giorgi, ranked 71st in the world, won 6-4 6-4 in one hour and 36 minutes and will face Cori Gauff in the quarter-finals after she had another walkover against Johanna Konta.

Top seed Aryna Sabalenka had no such problems, cruising past Canadian Rebecca Marino 6-1 6-3 inside an hour.

Sabalenka sets up a quarter-final clash with fellow Belarussian and two-time Australian Open winner Victoria Azarenka.

Azarenka got past Greek 11th seed Maria Sakkari in three sets, 6-4 3-6 7-6 (7-2).

Fourth seed Karolina Pliskova got past Amanda Anisimova 6-1 7-6 (10-8) and will play Sara Sorribes Tormo in the last eight after she won in three sets over Katerina Siniakova.

Brooklyn Nets forward Blake Griffin says there is a sense of "unfinished business" within the roster ahead of the 2021-22 NBA season.

The star-studded Nets bowed out of the NBA playoffs to eventual champions, the Milwaukee Bucks, in the Eastern Conference semi-finals 4-3.

Brooklyn were not helped by injuries to two, Kyrie Irving and James Harden, of their 'Big Three' down the stretch.

The Nets had been earmarked as title favourites following the acquisition of Harden from the Houston Rockets in January, with six-time NBA All-Star Griffin joining for the Detroit Pistons in March, and the latter said there was unfinished business after falling short.

"We obviously didn’t accomplish what we wanted," Griffin said during a video news conference. "You can say injuries, but every team had injuries.

"We feel like there’s definitely unfinished business. There’s something bigger that we want to achieve, and I still want to be a part of that."

Griffin, who became the first player in free agency to re-sign earlier this week, was confident the Nets can claim the NBA championship.

“Yeah, I think so. I think so," he said. "Obviously there’s a lot of work to do, a lot of work to be done.

"Can’t take anything for granted. But I like our team. I like the guys we have, I like our coaching staff, I like everything we’ve put together. I believe in us."

Star forward Kevin Durant re-committed to the Nets earlier this week on a bumper four-year extension believed to be worth $198million.

Former NBA Rookie of the Year Griffin, who is now 32, added that Durant's extension helped him decide to ink a minimum one-year deal.

"I mean, obviously, it’s comforting to know that the guy of that caliber is locked in," Griffin said. "KD’s kind of like that piece that brought everything together."

Brooklyn have also added guard Patty Mills from the San Antonio Spurs, fresh from leading Australia to a breakthrough bronze medal at Tokyo 2020.

"Patty adds just dynamic shooting," Griffin said. "That’s always a need for us, but also just a veteran point guard who playing against him, it seems like he’s always like that guy that comes up with a big play, - defense, offense, whatever - hits a big shot.

"He’s also a guy that can facilitate and you know, get in the teeth of defense makes the right decisions. Just a really good basketball player."

Stephen Curry's Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr says the Olympics is the last thing on the two-time NBA MVP's list to achieve after the player hinted he has an "itch" to play again for Team USA.

Kerr helped Team USA to the gold medal at Tokyo 2020 as the side's assistant coach under Gregg Popovich earlier this month, while Curry sat out the tournament.

The 33-year-old Warriors point guard cited the short break between NBA seasons for opting out of Tokyo 2020.

Curry was part of gold medal-winning US sides at the 2010 FIBA World Championship and 2014 FIBA World Cup but has never participated at an Olympics.

"I don't think I even need to advise Steph on any of that because he's been through the World Cup experience at least once, I think twice, if I'm not mistaken," Kerr told The Athletic.

"He's competed at the highest level internationally. The Olympics is probably the only thing left on his list of basketball accomplishments.

"He's achieved everything else. I think that would be great if he was interested in '24. I think that'd be a great thing for him to pursue if he wanted to do it."

Curry will be 36 years-old by the time the 2024 Olympics in Paris are held.

The seven-time All Star returned to top form in the 2020-21 NBA season as the Warriors stormed into the play-in tournament.

Curry averaged 32.0 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game in the 2020-21 season.

The three-time NBA champion told reporters last month: "No regrets at all [in not competing at Tokyo 2020], but there's always that itch to play and play on the biggest stage, like the Olympics. But it just wasn't the right thing for me and the right time."

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.