In the final weeks of his ultimately ill-fated Manchester United tenure, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took to tweaking his system, switching to a back three against better teams in a bid to bolster a shaky defence.

Michael Carrick would be best advised not to follow suit when he takes United to Chelsea on Sunday.

Five Premier League opponents have lined up against Chelsea this season with three centre-backs – a system popularised in England by former coach Antonio Conte which the European champions have again made their own under Thomas Tuchel.

In those five meetings, in which inferior sides have sought to match up with Tuchel's men, Chelsea have won on each occasion, scoring 17 and conceding none.

Their rare slip-ups – 1-1 draws with Liverpool and Burnley, along with a 1-0 defeat to Manchester City – have come when Chelsea have been challenged by something different.

None of the Blues' rivals can name the same combination of quality, composure, experience and athleticism in a defensive trio. Meanwhile, N'Golo Kante, ably supported by Jorginho and – before injury – Mateo Kovacic, mans the midfield with enough energy to make up for any deficit in numbers.

But the real stars of this Chelsea side, especially with forwards Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner kept on the sidelines, have been the wing-backs.

Trumping Trent

It feels a little like the year of the full-back in the Premier League. Mohamed Salah is attempting to combat that, making their lives a misery, but Trent Alexander-Arnold is excelling again behind him at Liverpool while Joao Cancelo has seemingly assumed many of Kevin De Bruyne's creative responsibilities for Manchester City.

Among nominal defenders in the top flight, those two rank first and second for direct shot involvements: 54 for Alexander-Arnold (20 shots, 34 chances created) and 39 for Cancelo (27 shots, 12 chances created). However, when it comes to direct goal involvements, neither can match Reece James' eight (four goals, four assists).

James is third behind that pair for shot involvements (29 – 12 shots, 17 chances created), among four Chelsea defenders in the top nine; Antonio Rudiger, one of the others, is the only centre-back in that group.

Indeed, Chelsea also account for four of the six Premier League defenders to have scored multiple goals this term, including the only two to net three or more: James and Ben Chilwell, attacking from either flank.

England team-mates James and Chilwell are considered Chelsea's regular starting options out wide but have only actually started four league games together this season – the past four games. That number is not now set to increase any time soon either, after the left-back was injured against Juventus in midweek.

"It worries me because [Chilwell] was in such a fantastic moment – like Reece on the other side," Tuchel said. "They were in the best shape they could possibly be, so strong and so confident and with such a lot of quality."

Yet the loss of Chilwell may not necessarily be felt quite as keenly as his coach might fear; Marcos Alonso, who has matched his team-mate's 23 shot involvements in 2021-22, has twice been the Premier League's top-scoring defender (six in 2016-17, seven in 2017-18). Against United, he is a like-for-like replacement in this system.

Attack, attack, attack

Alonso was among the chief beneficiaries when Conte moved away from a back four in 2016, just as Tuchel's preference for a three last season saw the Spain international feature in 734 minutes from his appointment onwards, having been restricted to 225 minutes under Frank Lampard.

But the key difference between this team and Conte's is in what is expected of those wing-backs, who this season at least have been Chelsea's chief attacking threats, rather than merely complementing players like Eden Hazard, Diego Costa or Cesc Fabregas.

For this reason, James and Chilwell have been stationed high up the pitch, making the most of the platform afforded to them by players like Kante, Jorginho or defensive organiser Thiago Silva.

Among defenders to play 500 minutes or more this season, only Jamaal Lascelles (6.0 per cent) – a set-piece threat in a Newcastle United team who see little of the ball – has taken a greater share of his touches in the opposition box than Chilwell (5.9 per cent) and James (5.6 per cent).

Chilwell ranks second again with 41.3 per cent of his passes ending in the final third, while James (39.5 per cent) is sixth in that regard. Burnley's Matthew Lowton, the man who pips Chilwell, also leads the way for the rate of passes that are played long, showing a little less precision than the attack-minded Chelsea pair.

And this adventurous approach puts James third among all players (minimum 500 minutes), behind only Jack Grealish (7.99) and Salah (7.67), for involvements in shot-ending open play sequences per 90 minutes (7.06), with Chilwell (6.50) 11th and Alonso (6.04) 19th. James is third again for goal-ending open play sequences per 90, his 1.31 trailing Salah (1.83) and Alexander-Arnold (1.34).

Best in the world?

Comparisons between James and Alexander-Arnold are bound to provoke debate, as Tuchel said this week: "I see no reason now why we should get carried away and think about things like: is [James] the best in the world, the best in England or the best in Europe? These things do not help us."

James is "far from finished in his development", the Chelsea coach added.

But his achievements this season, keeping company with Salah and Alexander-Arnold, are particularly impressive given the absence of a forward team-mate of the quality of Liverpool's number 11. Lukaku is supposed to be Chelsea's headline act, but he has not been the only big name to sit out with injury.

Of Chelsea's 30 goals, 13 have been scored by defenders and just six – or 20.0 per cent – by strikers. Only the two clubs at the centre of the season's most dissatisfactory striker transfer saga – Tottenham (9.1 per cent) and City (16.0 per cent) – have had smaller portions of their goals provided by the men paid to score them.

Chelsea have instead shared the burden around, with a league-high 15 different scorers and 18 different players contributing either a goal or an assist, but James, while still patrolling one side of the pitch in a team who have conceded just four times, has shouldered more responsibility than most.

In the four games while Lukaku was missing, no Chelsea player scored more goals (three), laid on more assists (two) or created more chances (12) than James. Over the same period, no player in the Premier League was involved in more shot-ending open play sequences (31), with Chilwell joint-second (28).

Chilwell's momentum has been halted in cruel fashion, but could James end the season, as he is now, as Chelsea's leading scorer?

"Honestly, the way he is playing right now and the way he strikes the ball, I wouldn't be surprised," team-mate Christian Pulisic said after a spectacular Champions League goal against Juve.

Lukaku's return perhaps makes that unlikely, although there is not a huge wealth of evidence for how James might be impacted by his imminent reversion, presumably, to more of a supporting role. His three starts alongside the club's record signing to this point were at best a mixed bag; James scored one and created the other for Lukaku at Arsenal, was sent off at Liverpool and then lost to City, a game in which Chelsea failed to aim a shot on target.

The 21-year-old has gone from strength to strength since then, making it very difficult indeed to imagine a world in which he does not continue to thrive regardless – as its best right-back or otherwise.

Barcelona president Joan Laporta is "convinced" the LaLiga giants will reach the Champions League last 16 by beating Bayern Munich next month.

Barca's Champions League hopes hang in the balance following Tuesday's goalless draw at home to Benfica.

Xavi's Barca remain second in Group E and two points ahead of their Portuguese counterparts but face runaway leaders Bayern in two weeks' time with their fate yet to be decided.

Barca last failed to advance beyond the group stage in 2000-01, when they finished behind Milan and Leeds United.

However, Laporta is confident Barca can seal progress to the knockout phase heading into the December 8 showdown in Munich.

"Beating Bayern is something that can be achieved," Laporta said to Diario AS, with Barca looking to bounce back from the 3-0 defeat in the reverse fixture.

"There is going to be a miracle, I am convinced that we are going to win.

"Xavi is very motivated and very strong. I hope everything goes well for us.

"I think that at the moment Xavi's arrival has generated a little respect from our opponents. They know we can do it again."

The stalemate against Benfica was Barca's 133rd home game in the Champions League, and just the eighth to end as a goalless draw.

Xavi became the 13th consecutive head coach to avoid defeat in his first Champions League game in charge of Barcelona (W11 D2), with Louis van Gaal in 1997-98 being the last to lose his first game (3-2 against Newcastle United).

Barca have only scored two goals in five Champions League games this season; only Malmo (0.2), Dynamo Kyiv (0.2) and Shakhtar Donetsk (0.25) have a lower goals-per-game ratio than the Catalan side (0.4) in the competition this term.

The Buffalo Bills and wins over the New Orleans Saints had been hard to come by, but Josh Allen threw four touchdowns to fuel a drought-ending 31-6 Thanksgiving rout.

AFC East leaders Buffalo (7-4) had lost five consecutive NFL games against New Orleans (5-6), a winless drought dating back to December 1998.

However, Bills quarterback Allen helped snap that skid thanks to his big performance on the road to the Saints in New Orleans on Thursday.

Allen was 23-of-28 passing for 260 yards, four TDs and two interceptions with a 115.2 passer rating to send the injury-ravaged Saints to a fourth straight loss – New Orleans have not had a longer losing streak since 2015.

Bills star Allen had his sixth career game with four-plus passing touchdowns and all have come in the last two seasons. Since 2020, only superstar duo Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers (both nine) have more games with four or more passing TDs than the Buffalo QB.

Dawson Knox caught two TD passes, giving him a franchise-best seven touchdowns in a single season by a tight end as the Bills scored 24 unanswered points before the Saints finally got on the board early in the fourth quarter.

On a rough night for the Saints, Trevor Siemian completed 17 of his 29 passes for 163 yards, a touchdown and interception, while he was sacked twice.

Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy expressed his gratitude for how his team handled "distractions" after their Thanksgiving triumph over the Detroit Lions.

The Bears scrapped to a 16-14 victory against the winless Lions on Thursday amid uncertainty over Nagy's future in Chicago.

Nagy had to answer questions about his future this week, following reports he had been told his final game would be against the Lions (0-10).

But after snapping a five-game skid, Nagy savoured Chicago's result as the Bears improved to 4-7.

"When there's distractions, which is in every sport, in all facets of life, there's always going to be distractions," Nagy told reporters.

"It's how you handle them. And again, we got the win today, and it could've went a lot of different ways. But the reason why we got the win is because of how they handled the distractions, you know? That's where to me, when you're in this business and you lead people, it's my job to make sure of honest and open communication.

"That's where, for me, I just can't tell you how much this win means today to me because of what they did."

Chicago's defence allowed a season-low 239 total yards and just 14 first downs against Detroit.

Andy Dalton fuelled the Bears with a touchdown on 24-of-39 passing for 317 yards – his 30th 300-yard career passing game and the most yards by a Chicago quarterback since November 2020.

"Again, for me, there is only my understanding, which is what it's been since the day I signed up to be this coach, is to win as many games as I can possibly win, and do it the right way," Nagy added.

"When you lose five games in a row, you understand. When you're 3-7, you know what territory it can get to. You know what I mean? That comes with the job. I knew that four years ago when I took this, and so here we are. Every week is a little bit different.

"This one was definitely different. This is one of those weeks where you use it moving forward. You don't make any predictions, but what you do is when you go home on that plane tonight and everyone's having a good time because they're able to celebrate and have fun watching the tape and enjoy their Thanksgiving and get back to being healthy and understand what games are next, but the only game that matters is Arizona coming up.

"That's it. So again, for me, the only thing I can say to those players is that I appreciate them and we have a hell of a group of guys, players and coaches, and they showed it today by getting a win."

Pat Cummins will skipper Australia in the upcoming Ashes against rivals England after being confirmed as the country's new Test captain.

Cummins is the first fast bowler to captain Australia's men's Test team on a full-time basis after Tim Paine sensationally stood down last week, having been embroiled in a sexting scandal.

Paine had taken over as Australia skipper from Steve Smith in the wake of the sandpaper scandal during the South Africa Test tour in 2018 but he is now set to miss the Ashes altogether after taking a leave of absence from all forms of cricket for the foreseeable future".

The top-ranked bowler in Test cricket, Cummins will have Smith as his vice-captain as Australia turn their attention to the December 8 Ashes opener in Brisbane.

"I am honoured to accept this role ahead of what will be a massive Ashes summer," Cummins said in a statement on Friday.

"I hope I can provide the same leadership Tim [Paine] has given the group in the past few years.

"With Steve and I as captains, a number of very senior players in this squad and some great young talent coming through we are a strong and tightly knit group.

"This is an unexpected privilege which I am very grateful for and am very much looking forward to."

Australia star Smith returns to the leadership group after he served a two-year ban from holding any leadership role in Australian cricket following the ball-tampering saga three years ago.

Smith was hit with a 12-month suspension for his role in the scandal.

"I am pleased to return to the leadership of the team and look forward to helping and assisting Pat in any way I can," Smith said in a statement as Australia prepare to host England, starting at the Gabba next month.

"Pat and I have played together for a long time, so we know our respective styles well.

"We are also great friends, as is the whole group. As a team, we want to play good, positive cricket and also really enjoy each other's company.

"There are exciting times ahead as we focus on the Ashes and beyond."

Manchester United star Marcus Rashford insisted former manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer deserves the ultimate respect, despite his sacking at Old Trafford.

United dismissed Solskjaer following last week's humiliating 4-1 Premier League loss at lowly Watford, the club's fifth defeat in seven league matches.

Solskjaer had been on the brink after an embarrassing 5-0 rout at the hands of rivals Liverpool, while United were outplayed by defending champions and neighbours Manchester City 2-0 prior to the international break.

Ex-United forward Solskjaer took charge from Jose Mourinho initially on an interim basis in December 2018 and oversaw a marked improvement in performance while dispelling the toxic atmosphere that developed during the Portuguese's final weeks at the club.

Solskjaer led United to sixth in his first half-season at the helm, before finishing third in 2019-20 and second in 2020-21, while his team enjoyed an English league record run of 29 away games without defeat.

However, he failed to win a trophy, reaching just one final, going down on penalties to Villarreal in the Europa League last term.

Rashford leapt to the defence of Solskjaer days after his sacking as United reportedly close in on the short-term appointment of Ralf Rangnick until the end of the season, telling BBC: "Ole's Man United at heart, nobody could ever say that he's not.

"For me, the respect that he deserves is huge, not just from us, from the fans as well.

"When Bruno [Fernandes] was on the pitch [at Watford] telling the fans that it's not just him, it's all of us, that's important as well.

"I feel like fans sometimes blame the manager. The manager can't play for us, he can set us up in the best way that he thinks possible.

"Our job is to do them instructions, do what we're good at as well and try to win games. It didn't happen for us in that game, but it's not right to blame the manager.

"I was happy that Bruno did that because it sends a message that even though things weren't going for us, Ole and team, we still respect him.

"Respect is a big thing, it goes a long way and Ole will never lose my respect."

United are eighth in the table and 12 points behind leaders Chelsea ahead of Sunday's trip to Stamford Bridge.

The Las Vegas Raiders broke a three-game losing streak with a thrilling 36-33 overtime win at the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving.

Daniel Carson converted a 29-yard field goal to lift the Raiders (6-5) past the Cowboys (7-4) in Dallas in the first overtime game to occur on Thanksgiving since 2012.

There was an early advantage for Las Vegas on Thursday as Derek Carr (24-of-39 passing for 373 yards and a TD – most yards by a Raiders quarterback on Thanksgiving in team history) threw to DeSean Jackson, who ran in for a 56-yard touchdown. It was Jackson's 34th career touchdown of 50-plus yards, the second-most in NFL history, just two behind Jerry Rice.

The Cowboys – without stars CeeDee Lamb (concussion) and Amari Cooper (COVID-19) – responded immediately with a touchdown of their own as Dak Prescott (32-of-47 passing for 375 yards for two TDs) found Sean McKeon.

A 30-yard penalty for pass interference gave Josh Jacobs a simple one-yard TD to make it 14-6 in favour of Las Vegas heading into the second quarter.

Dallas looked to be getting desperate as Zuerlein attempted and missed a 59-yard field goal, but they were able to score their second TD just before half-time as an 86-yard drive ended with a one-yard TD for Ezekiel Elliott to close within 17-13 at the break.

The Raiders increased their lead halfway through the third quarter – Marcus Mariota running in a touchdown to complete a 75-yard drive, only for Tony Pollard to immediately run a 100-yard kick-off return to bring it back to 27-19, the third-longest TD in Thanksgiving history.

Dallas forced overtime thanks to Prescott's pass to Dalton Schultz and a pair of Zuerlein field goals in the fourth period, but the Cowboys were unable to complete the comeback in the additional period.

The Copa Libertadores is a competition like no other, just look back at the 2018 final between bitter rivals River Plate and Boca Juniors.

The second leg of the all-Argentinean decider was sensationally played at Real Madrid's Santiago Bernabeu in the Spanish capital three years ago after Boca's team bus was attacked by River supporters en route to El Monumental for the initially scheduled return encounter.

River eventually prevailed 5-3 on aggregate.

Fast forward to this week – Flamengo and titleholders Palmeiras will do battle at Uruguay's iconic Centenario stadium in Montevideo. Saturday's final is only the fifth decider to feature two teams from the same country in the tournament's history. Four of those fixtures have been all-Brazilian showdowns after Palmeiras trumped rivals Santos last season.

As Palmeiras bid to become the first team to retain the Libertadores crown in 20 years – Boca were the last to do so in 2001, star goalkeeper Weverton provided an insight into the emotion-fuelled competition, which was founded in 1960.

"Really, our side here is much more passion than reason," Brazil international Weverton – who has called Palmeiras home since 2018 – told Stats Perform as he explained what it means to play in the Libertadores decider. "I say that in Europe, people go watch a show, go to have fun, they go with their family to watch a show. The Brazilian football the families go to the stadium to watch your team win. He wants his club to win, and it doesn't matter what it takes. He doesn't go to the stadium to watch a match, have fun, and take his son to wave to his favourite player. No. He goes to the match so he can see his team winning. This is the big difference from our football.

"We always want to win. We are very competitive. Sometimes we do a match here that is… Abel [Ferreira] always says that those who lose will give food to people in need. So, we have three teams and the worst one has to pay. We get very competitive on that. Nobody wants to lose. Even if it is not that much money. It is competitive. Brazilian football is all about that. We don't know how to lose; we don't accept losing. Sometimes people say that we need to accept the defeat, but it is in our Brazilian blood to compete.

"So, when you talk about Libertadores, how is the atmosphere in a Libertadores match? It looks like a war. I shouldn't associate football and war, but Libertadores brings up that competitive atmosphere, a tough match. I think that is the style of Libertadores.

"We see the Champions League as a show, but Libertadores is not like that. When you play Libertadores, you are going to the battle. I think that is the difference between South American football, the Brazilian football, from European football."

This year's Libertadores final is the first in history to feature the winners of the past two tournaments – Flamengo conquered South America in 2019 before Palmeiras got their hands on the trophy thanks to Breno Lopes' 99th-minute winner last year.

Montevideo brings back good memories for two-time champions Flamengo, who trumped Chile's Cobreloa in 1981 for their first Libertadores trophy 40 years ago.

"That is something that brings up good memories," star Flamengo defender David Luiz told Stats Perform. "Without a doubt, we must carry this and bring that to us in a totally positive way. That is a place where every 'flamenguista' was happy. Why not be happy again?"

David Luiz joined Flamengo in September following his exit from Arsenal at the end of last season.

The 34-year-old returned to his homeland 14 years after departing Vitoria for Europe, moving to the star-studded Rio de Janeiro-based outfit boasting Gabriel 'Gabigol' Barbosa, Filipe Luis, Everton Ribeiro, Diego and loanees Kenedy (Chelsea) and Andreas Pereira (Manchester United).

"I always said that since I came here that I am privileged in this group," David Luiz said. "I arrived at the best time of the competition. I could play the semi-finals, and now it is the best part of the cake. That is playing this great final. I am anxious, I want to play it.

"It was always a dream for me to be playing in my country. I could accomplish that after I left Brazil while I was with the national team. But now I am representing America's best team. And I can be in the final of the biggest South American competition. Without a doubt, that is very, very special."

Flamengo have established themselves as one of South America's finest, setting the bar after sweeping Libertadores, Campeonato Brasileiro and Recopa Sudamericana honours under Jorge Jesus before his return to Benfica.

After back-to-back league trophies in 2019 and 2020, Flamengo turned to Renato Gaucho after the tenures of former Pep Guardiola assistant Domenec Torrent and iconic ex-goalkeeper Rogerio Ceni did not go according to plan.

With Gaucho – the record holder for most victories in Libertadores history (50) – at the helm, Flamengo are on the cusp of a third crown.

Flamengo remain undefeated in the 2021 edition. They will be aiming to repeat the feat of rivals Corinthians, who are still the only team to win the title while going undefeated in the current format of the tournament, following their 2012 achievement.

The hero in the 2019 final with a brace, Gabigol will spearhead Flamengo's efforts on the pitch – the in-form Brazil international and former Inter forward tops the goalscoring charts in this season's Libertadores (10) as he seeks to become the first player in the competition's history to score 11 goals in the 21st century.

Gabigol has outperformed his expected goals tally (xG total of 8.5), while he has supplied four assists.

A Champions League winner with Premier League giants Chelsea, David Luiz was asked to compare the two tournaments, and whether Flamengo had the quality to compete in the European edition.

"I believe and understand that when you love something in your life, you will always feel that anger to live this," David Luiz said. "When you love something, you will have this in your heart, you have anxiety, you will want to be there, you will be counting the days, you will, without a doubt, be focused on that. The same way I counted, I lived, was anxious and wanted to play when I was young and was in the Champions League final. Today also, even after a lot of years, a lot of finals, that is still happening. I still love football. I still love what I do. And, of course, I will keep having that same anger to be in a final and living it the best way I can."

On Flamengo being able to match it with teams in the Champions League, David Luiz added: "I believe that is right. Today Flamengo are the first club to be organised to give us players the opportunity to represent and do best what we have to do that is to play football the best way we can. We have an amazing structure.

"High-calibre players, players who have played in numerous places and have a lot of quality. I believe, yes, we have the quality to play a Champions League without a doubt."

Standing in Flamengo's way is Weverton and reigning Libertadores champions Palmeiras, who are captained by tenacious former Juventus and Inter midfielder Felipe Melo.

Palmeiras continue to flourish under Portuguese head coach Abel Ferreira – the club have only lost two of the 19 Libertadores games with the 42-year-old in the dugout, while they are seven games unbeaten having eliminated Atletico Mineiro in the semis.

Abel is also looking to become the first European coach to win two Libertadores titles.

Weverton has kept seven clean sheets in this season's tournament as two-time winners Palmeiras eye their third piece of silverware in their sixth trip to the final.

In total, the 33-year-old has kept 31 clean sheets in 60 Libertadores appearances, with a 51.6 per cent effectiveness.

"I believe that you try to keep what you've achieved as if you were protecting something you conquered," Weverton said when asked about the fact it has been 20 years since a team last celebrated back-to-back titles. "We conquered that last year and now we have the chance to protect it, to bring it back, and that motivates us. But it doesn't give us an advantage. It just brings us motivation to protect something that you know that feels good to achieve.

"We saw how good it is to be champions of Libertadores, on how many good things this brings to you. Recognition, prestige, history, you have your name in the club’s history, brings you the fans respect. So, we saw that there are a lot of good things around it. We want to feel it again. We know we will have to battle for that again, we know that it is going to be a great game, a big war facing a great team. We know the path, but we have to pay the price for it. It does motivate us, but we need to prepare ourselves and know that it is going to be tough, but it is doable."

The NBA Rookie of the Year award won't be handed out for quite a while but if the first month of the season is any indication, voters are going to have plenty of options to choose from.

With teams having played roughly the first quarter of the season, this seems a good time to look at how some of the top draft picks are faring as they navigate their first campaign at the highest level of basketball.

 

Cade Cunningham, Detroit Pistons

After a dreadful start, including missing the first four games due to a sprained ankle, Cunningham has looked more like a player worthy of being a top overall draft pick. In his first three games, Cunningham averaged just 8.7 points on seven-of-39 shooting (17.9 per cent) while misfiring on 20 of 21 from three-point range. He's been far more effective the past six games, scoring 14.7 per contest on 36.3 percent from the field (33 of 91). It's highly unlikely that someone with Cunningham's ability will only shoot the 33.9 percent he's at now. This is, after all, a player who shot 40 percent on three-pointers in his one college season.

His shot selection will improve as he becomes more familiar with the pro game and learns defender's tendencies. Getting to the free throw line would also help improve his offensive efficiency since he's only averaging 1.9 free throws per game, though he is shooting 88 percent (22 of 25). There is inherent pressure with being the first player selected and Cunningham will have to carry that weight throughout his career. But because the former Oklahoma State star has a high basketball IQ and can rebound and distribute at a high level, he doesn't need to pile up points to affect a game's outcome.

The Pistons also are clearly in rebuild mode now, so wins are secondary, giving the well-rounded Cunningham plenty of minutes and opportunities to learn on the job.

Jalen Green, Houston Rockets

Much like Cunningham, Green has the advantage of playing for a 2-16 Rockets team that have absolutely no expectations and are in a full-on rebuild for the foreseeable future. Green ranks third in minutes (555) among rookies and leads all first-year players in field goal attempts (228) and three-point attempts (115), so he's clearly not lacking for opportunities or touches.

Like many rookie score-first guards, the super athletic Green has faced his share of struggles and mostly from an efficiency standpoint. He's only shooting 38.2 from the field and 27.8 from behind the arc while dishing out 2.3 assists per game. While his overall numbers aren't eye-popping, Green has shown flashes of what he can and likely will become. Chief among them is a 30-point, 11-for-18 performance – eight for 10 from three-point range – in a loss to the Celtics on October 24.

He also had 24 points on nine-for-15 shooting with five three-pointers, five rebounds and five assists in a loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on November 2. A case can be made that Green is right where he should be after his first 18 games when compared to other rookie guards who have gone onto All-Star status.

Zach LaVine, for example, averaged 8.1 points on 42.2 percent shooting in his first 18 games, while Bradley Beal averaged 11.9 points on 35.9 percent from the field during that same span. Green still has three quarters of the season left to improve and there's no reason to think someone with his skill and athleticism won't as he becomes accustomed to the pro game.

Evan Mobley, Cleveland Cavaliers

Off to the best one-month start of any 2021-22 rookie, Mobley suffered a sprained right elbow in a loss to the Boston Celtics on November 15 and is expected to miss multiple weeks. While his momentum was stalled, the seven-footer shouldn't have a problem picking up where he left off upon his return to Cleveland's line-up.

If the Rookie of the Year award was being handed out in November, Mobley might have the best chance to take home the hardware as he's been equally impressive at both ends of the court. His offense has been better than expected with 14.6 points on 49.4 percent shooting and 8.0 rebounds and has even made eight of 26 from three-point range. He was tied for fourth in the NBA with 32 dunks through November 16 and has shown rare positional versatility.

There were questions about his offensive ability coming out of college but those have been answered and there's little doubt that Mobley is on his way to becoming a scoring force for years to come. A stellar defensive player at USC, Mobley has continued that path in his NBA career, flashing outstanding timing and discipline in rim protection. He leads all rookies with 1.60 blocks per game and his 24 total blocks were the second most by any Cavaliers player through the first 15 games of a career (Hot Rod Williams, 30 in 1986).

Mobley's injury has clearly left a huge void and the Cavs have been unable to compensate. They rank 26th in the league since November 17 in scoring defence (112.5) and have lost all four games without him following a surprising 9-6 start to the season.

Scottie Barnes, Toronto Raptors

Mobley's biggest challenger for the coveted one-month rookie award would be Barnes, who leads this rookie class in scoring (14.8), rebounding (8.4) and minutes per game (35.1) while ranking second in field goal percentage (48.6).

The Raptors' small forward is something of a Swiss Army knife with a well-rounded game and a tantalising set of tools. Barnes adjusted to the NBA very quickly, becoming just the second player (Shaquille O'Neal) since 1985-86 to accumulate at least 170 points and 85 rebounds while shooting 50 percent or better in his first 10 career games. Barnes' 212 points through 13 games were the most by any player in Raptors history and that's a franchise that drafted Vince Carter, Damon Stoudamire and Chris Bosh.

Besides Barnes' ability to score, rebound and pass, he's also excelling on the defensive end, often tasked with guarding the best player on the opposing team regardless of size. He's already been matched up against seven-foot Mo Bamba, Jayson Tatum, Kevin Durant, James Harden and even some point guards. Barnes also has proven to be an adept ballhandler, which is a huge advantage when going up against other bigs.

Perhaps the only aspect of Barnes' game that is lacking is his three-point shooting, as he's only attempted 19 from long range and made five. The ability to stretch the court with deeper shots would make every other part of his offensive arsenal even more effective.

Josh Giddey, Oklahoma City Thunder

By most accounts, the best pure passer in this draft class was point guard Giddey. A little more than a month into his NBA career and nobody would debate that. Giddey seems like a good bet to lead all rookies in assists, as he's totalled 105 thus far with the Sacramento Kings' Davion Mitchell ranking second with 68. But it's the Australian's all-around game that has the rebuilding Thunder looking very smart for nabbing him with the sixth overall pick.

Besides scoring 10.8 points per game, the six-foot-seven playmaker is third among first-year players with 7.3 rebounds and leads all rookies with 101 defensive boards. Giddey's performance in the first month has him among some elite company. With 105 assists and 131 rebounds in his first 18 games, he joins LeBron James and LaMelo Ball as the only teenagers to reach 100 in both in their first 20 NBA games. Giddey, who turned 19 last month, seems likely to record a triple-double soon after coming close on several occasions already.

After averaging 9.0 points on 37.1 percent shooting in his first 13 games, Giddey has heated up with 15.4 per game on 47.8 percent from the field in his last five games. Scoring is a bonus when it comes to Giddey, who has run the offense with the calm of a veteran and helped the Thunder be far more competitive than most expected.

Leicester City midfielder James Maddison does not feel he had anything to prove after an impressive performance in his team's 3-1 win against Legia Warsaw in the Europa League on Thursday.

The 25-year-old scored and assisted during his hour on the pitch at the King Power Stadium in a victory that sent the Foxes to the top of Group C with one match remaining.

All four goals in the game came in the first half, with Patson Daka and Wilfred Ndidi also on the scoresheet for the hosts, while Filip Mladenovic followed up to score after Mahir Emreli's spot-kick was saved by Kasper Schmeichel.

Maddison was heavily involved in most of Leicester's dangerous attacking play, making two key passes, having three shots and putting in six crosses.

He also scored the second goal of the game, with his fierce left-foot effort after a one-two with Ademola Lookman giving Legia goalkeeper Cezary Miszta no chance.

Speaking to BT Sport after the win, Maddison was asked whether he felt he had something to prove after a stop-start season, with just eight of his 12 appearances in the Premier League coming from the start.

"I don't think I had a point to prove, no," Maddison said. "I'm hungry. I always want to do well for my team, for the fans, my family, the manager.

"I want to get back to my best and tonight I showed that."

It is the third time Maddison has both scored and assisted in a single game for Leicester in all competitions, having previously done so against Braga and Brentford.

We move to the summit of the group #LeiLgw pic.twitter.com/OhOu2jS7uu

— Leicester City (@LCFC) November 25, 2021

Meanwhile, Brendan Rodgers alleviated fears around Jonny Evans, who was injured in the warm-up and replaced by Daniel Amartey, with the Foxes boss confirming that the centre-back's withdrawal before the game was merely a precaution.

"He just felt something in his thigh, and the last thing we can do is have anyone else out, especially such an important player like Jonny. He should be fine for the weekend," he told BT Sport.

On the win, the former Liverpool and Celtic manager was particularly pleased to see his team return to their usual standards of pressing after four games without a win in all competitions.

"The atmosphere was amazing," he added. "The supporters played a huge part in it, and like I said before the game, just returning to our football with our pressing and really intense counter-pressing, that won us the game, especially in the first half."

Tim Paine is set to miss Australia's upcoming Ashes series against England after Cricket Tasmania announced he is taking a leave of absence from all forms of cricket "for the foreseeable future".

The 36-year-old stepped down from his role as Australia's Test captain last week over an historical investigation into lewd texts sent to a former Cricket Tasmania colleague in 2017.

Paine received the full backing of his team-mates and was still in Australia's Ashes squad to face England, with the first Test scheduled to begin on December 8.

However, Paine has pulled out of Tasmania's one-day match against Western Australia on Friday and is now expected to be out of contention for the Ashes series.

A statement released by Cricket Tasmania on Friday read: "Following discussions over the last 24 hours, Tim Paine has advised Cricket Tasmania that he will be taking a leave of absence from all forms of cricket for the foreseeable future.

"Tim's decision makes him unavailable for selection for today's Marsh One-Day Cup match against Western Australia. His place in the squad will be taken by Charlie Wakim.
 
"Cricket Tasmania will continue to support Tim and his family both professionally and personally over the summer."

Paine's manager James Henderson added in a Twitter post that he is worried about the veteran wicketkeeper's mental state, as well as his wife Bonnie after details of the scandal became public a week ago.

"Confirming that @tdpaine36 is stepping away from cricket for an indefinite mental health break," Henderson posted.  

"We are extremely concerned for his and Bonnie's well-being and will be making no further comment at this time."

Paine underwent neck surgery in September before returning to action for Tasmania's second XI against South Australia earlier this week.

Pat Cummins and Steve Smith have reportedly been interviewed by Cricket Australia (CA) amid ongoing speculation the pair will step in as captain and vice-captain respectively.

Antonio Conte reiterated "it will take time to bring Tottenham back" following Spurs' shock 2-1 loss to Slovenian minnows Mura in the Europa Conference League.

Harry Kane looked to have salvaged a point for Tottenham by cancelling out Tommy Horvat's opener at Fazanerija, but Amadej Marosa scored a dramatic winner with the final kick on Thursday.

Spurs made nine changes from their 2-1 Premier League win over Leeds United last weekend and played more than an hour with 10 men following Ryan Sessegnon's dismissal.

But the defeat – Tottenham's first under head coach Conte since his appointment earlier this month – will still go down as one of the worst in their European history against a side with a UEFA coefficient ranking of 341.

Spurs can now no longer finish top of Group G, meaning a two-legged play-off awaits in February should they first match Vitesse's result in the final round of group fixtures in a fortnight.

Conte, who has a record of two wins, a draw and a defeat from his four games since replacing Nuno Espirito Santo, accepted an improvement is required in every department ahead of hosting Rennes.

"This is a bad loss for us. The performance was poor," the former Inter boss said. "We know we have a lot of work ahead of us. This is a difficult moment for us. 

"We need patience to improve, to be good again. We were poor not only technically and tactically but also mentally. It will take time to bring Tottenham back.

"I don't take this loss personally. I accepted this challenge to improve and build Tottenham to a better level. But it will take time. 

"I want to thank our supporters for their support. We will analyse the game and I will talk to the players then."

Tottenham are seventh in the Premier League with 12 matches played, four points adrift of the top four, and are back in action against Burnley on Sunday.

"I think this team is very young but at the same time we have to work and improve because the details move the final result," Serie A-winning coach Conte added.

"I did not like what happened tonight, the performance. I must be honest and tell you that after three and a half weeks, I am starting to understand the situation. I can tell you that the situation is not simple.

"It is not simple because in this moment because for sure the level of Tottenham is not so high. There is an important gap to the top teams in England. Of this we must not be scared. 

"I am here to work, here to improve the situation. I know we have to work hard but we have also to improve the quality of the situation, because if we want to be competitive."

Kane, one of two players to retain his place from the Leeds game, was on target for Spurs but otherwise looked off the pace – as did the rest of his team-mates.

"We started poorly, conceded an early goal and were left with ten men," said Kane, who has scored eight goals in his last four outings for club and country.

"In the second half we put on the pressure, scored but then let them get a goal in the last second. We're disappointed, we're angry and we have to learn from this."

Alfredo Morelos scored both goals as Rangers booked their place in the Europa League knockout stages with victory over Sparta Prague.

The Colombia international opened his group-stage account with a strike inside the opening quarter of an hour of Thursday's Group A contest.

He doubled the lead by capitalising on a huge defensive error early in the second half to give Giovanni van Bronckhorst a winning start at Ibrox and guarantee continental football in the New Year.

The hosts subsequently went second in Group A – three points ahead of Sparta – and progress to the knockout rounds at their opponents' expense with a superior head-to-head record.

Rangers made a strong start in the first match of Van Bronckhorst's reign, with Joe Aribo rattling the crossbar after a positive run by Ryan Kent.

And they took the lead in the 15th minute – Ianis Hagi stretching to help James Tavernier's pass into the path of Morelos, who confidently swept the ball home.

Hagi was involved again eight minutes later, but Aribo was unable to keep the ball down from his delicious cross.

Allan McGregor was then called into action at the other end with smart reflexes to deny Martin Minchev from close range.

Moreles doubled his and Rangers' tally four minutes into the second half and it was an absolute gift.

Filip Panak ludicrously opted to play the ball across his own penalty area, with the Colombian intercepting the attempted pass and heading into an empty net. 

Sparta had won six of their seven previous European matches against Scottish opposition, and looked to keep their hopes alive.

Although forcing McGregor into a wonderful double save later on, they rarely troubled Rangers, who condemned them to a ninth defeat in 11 away Europa League games.

Leicester leapfrogged all three of their Europa League rivals to the top of Group C after a comfortable 3-1 win against Legia Warsaw at the King Power Stadium.

The Foxes started Thursday's game bottom of a tight group, but with Spartak Moscow beating Napoli 2-1 on Wednesday, Brendan Rodgers' side now sit top thanks to first-half goals from Patson Daka, James Maddison and Wilfried Ndidi.

The only negative for Rodgers on the night aside from Filip Mladenovic's consolation strike was losing Jonny Evans to a muscle injury in the warm-up, with Daniel Amartey replacing him in defence.

The Premier League outfit will travel to Napoli for the final game of the group stage knowing that a draw will be enough to see them qualify for the knockout stage.

Leicester put the pressure on the visitors from the first whistle and were ahead in the 11th minute when good work from Harvey Barnes forced a deflection that fell kindly for Daka, who calmly slid in his fifth Europa League goal of the campaign.

They doubled their lead in the 21st minute as Maddison worked the ball onto his left foot after a one-two with Ademola Lookman before firing into the top corner of the net.

The Polish side had a penalty just five minutes later after Caglar Soyuncu's clearance struck Wilfried Ndidi on the arm. Mahir Emreli's spot-kick was saved by Kasper Schmeichel but Mladenovic was quickest to follow up and slot in the rebound.

Ndidi made amends for his penalty concession in the 33rd minute, though, as the unmarked Nigerian headed in Leicester's third from a Maddison corner.

Both teams could have added to the scoring in the second half but the hosts were happy to see out the win, only their second in this year's Europa League group stage.

 

What does it mean? Foxes in the driving seat

Leicester avenged the 1-0 defeat they suffered in the reverse fixture on matchday two with relative ease and now sit top of Group C, one point ahead of both Spartak Moscow and Napoli.

Rodgers will be more than satisfied with that after picking up just one point from their first two games in the group, though it promises to be a tough final fixture in Naples in two weeks.

The Foxes have now only lost two of their 16 home matches in European football (W9 D5).

Maddison rises to the occasion

Maddison has had a quiet start to the season, but was at his influential best in the hour he got on the pitch against Legia, taking three shots, making two key passes and putting in six crosses.

The 25-year-old also scored and assisted in a single game for Leicester for the third time in all competitions, previously doing so against Sporting Braga (November 2020 in the Europa League) and Brentford (January 2021 in the FA Cup).

Legia Warsaw in crisis

Marek Golebiewski's side have now lost nine of their last ten games in all competitions and sit second from bottom in the Polish top flight.

This was Legia Warsaw’s first European match in England since November 1995, when they drew 0-0 with Blackburn Rovers in the Champions League group stages, and despite getting on the scoresheet, never looked like stopping the rot in Leicester.

What’s next?

Leicester host former boss Claudio Ranieri and his Watford team in the Premier League on Sunday, while Legia Warsaw are at home to Jagiellonia Bialystok on the same day in the Ekstraklasa.

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