Luke Shaw has thanked Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for "managing me right" after earning an England recall.

Shaw has been one of United's standout performers this term and is back in the international fold for the first time in two years, as Gareth Southgate's squad prepare for World Cup qualifiers against San Marino, Albania and Poland.

Those matches will be the Three Lions' last before Southgate names his squad for the rescheduled Euro 2020, with former Southampton youngster Shaw looking set to contest a starting berth with Chelsea left-back Ben Chilwell.

It is a far cry from the 25-year-old's time under Jose Mourinho at OId Trafford, where public criticism from his manager appeared to do more harm than good as he struggled for form, fitness and confidence.

"[Solskjaer's] man-management is second to none. The way he conducts himself in terms of how he speaks to the players, it gets the best out of them," Shaw told Sky Sports.

"You can see that. He deals with situations perfectly in terms of what is needed, especially at a big club like Manchester United.

"He takes the pressure off the lads and takes it all himself.

"Sometimes it is not fair because we are the ones on the pitch and we need to take our fair share too.

"For me, especially, from what I had before Ole came in, it is a total difference. It has pushed me to a new level."

Mourinho infamously decried an apparently promising Shaw performance versus Everton in April 2017 as "his body and my brain", telling reporters his constant instructions from the sidelines were a big factor in the defender impressing.

"I had no confidence at that time. I was losing my belief," Shaw said.

"I think that is what changed with Ole. He managed me right and I got my confidence back and I am really enjoying it at the moment."

Confidence is certainly not an issue for Shaw right now, as he contributes for United in all aspects of the game.

His 52 chances created are the most by any defender in the Premier League this season.

In open play, he has delivered 67 crosses and has five assists this season – crediting the arrival of experienced striker Edinson Cavani at Old Trafford with encouraging him to take a more active role as a creator in the team.

"I never used to cross it as much as I should have done," he said.

"It helps to have Edi and that threat in the box. It means that if you do deliver a ball he will be there to fight for it and give everything he can to win it.

"Since he came in, the lads up front have seen how he works and what he does. They are trying to copy what he does in the box so there is definitely more movement.

"It means that you don't have to hit a man, you just have to hit a space and someone will be in there."

Lucas Hernandez has joked he is ready to go to war with compatriot Kylian Mbappe when Bayern Munich face Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League quarter-finals.

The heavyweight clubs were paired together in Friday's draw, potentially giving PSG a chance to exact some revenge following last season's 1-0 loss to the same side in the final.

Hernandez was an unused substitute for Bayern that day, while Mbappe played the full 90 minutes through the middle of the French giants' three-man attack.

France international Hernandez played the full 90 minutes of Bayern's 2-1 second-leg win over Lazio in the last 16, but he has more regularly been used as a substitute this season.

But if the versatile left-sided defender is given the nod to play against PSG in either leg next month, he is up for the challenge of keeping prolific countryman Mbappe quiet.

"If I have to face him I will say two or three words to keep him quiet," Hernandez said in an interview with L'Equipe. 

"I will tell him above all he should stick to PSG's left side. If he comes to the right then it will be a war! I'm kidding, but it's true he has a talent and we must be vigilant with him.

"The Champions League is what we are aiming to retain on May 29. Everyone is determined to do exactly that."

Mbappe reached the 30-goal mark for the campaign with his double in Sunday's 4-2 win against Lyon, while also bringing up a century of Ligue 1 strikes in the process.

At the age of 22 years, three months and one day, he overtook former Saint-Etienne striker Herve Revelli as the youngest player to reach three figures for goals in the division.

That victory moved PSG to the top of Ligue 1, keeping them on course for a clean sweep of trophies in Mauricio Pochettino's first campaign at the helm – the Argentinian having replaced Thomas Tuchel in January.

Bayern are the team PSG have defeated the most in European competition (five times), but they have won just one of the last four encounters – a 3-0 win in September 2017.

Hernandez, currently away on international duty with France, is expecting a tight contest when the sides face off in April.

"It will be a huge match," he said. "It will not be easy to eliminate them and they will be after a little revenge following last season's final.

"The Parisians will be envious, but so will we. Several important players have left but other great players have replaced them.

"When you see our offensive quality, we create four chances and score four goals - it's incredible. But we also have a solid defensive block. Everyone is ready to give their all."

Hernandez has played 29 times in all competitions this season, which is already four more than he managed in the whole of last season when struck down by injuries.

Bayern have won 10 and drawn two of the 12 league games Hernandez has started this term, compared to three defeats in 14 games without the defender in their XI.

And having put his injury troubles behind him, the 25-year-old is eager to continue taking his chances when they arrive.

"It's true that I have had periods where I have played less than I wanted, but Hansi Flick always trusted me," Hernandez said. "In his speeches he always used to count on me.

"That's why when I wasn't playing, I sometimes struggled to understand. But this year I have come back from my injuries. I'm now 100 per cent and the coach knows that.

"It's always flattering when a coach says 'it's great to have a player like you'. He knows it doesn't matter if I play 10, 30 or 40 minutes. I'll give my all, and he likes that."

Andy Robertson hopes the fallen Premier League champions can "show the Liverpool" of old and salvage their campaign in the remaining two months of the season.

The Reds ended a 30-year wait for title success last season and were top of the pile again at Christmas, but they have slipped to seventh - 25 points off leaders Manchester City - after a run of four wins in 15 games since then.

That includes an ongoing unwanted club record six home league defeats in a row, and eight without a win at Anfield, to leave the Merseyside outfit in a battle to make up a five-point gap on the top four with nine matches remaining.

However, Liverpool have a Champions League quarter-final with Real Madrid to look forward to after seeing off RB Leipzig in the last 16, which they followed up with victory over Wolves last time out in the league.

And after winning back-to-back games in all competitions for only the second time this calendar year, left-back Robertson is targeting a strong finish to the season to ensure 2020-21 still ends on a high.

"Of course the results at club level haven't been good enough," he told Sky Sports.

"We believe that we should be higher up the table and competing which we were doing before Christmas. We just took a bad turn but hopefully we have seen the back of that now. 

"Hopefully we can show the Liverpool of old and we can keep kicking on and the season might not be all bad come the end of it. There's still a long way to go."

Only four Premier League teams have collected fewer points than Liverpool's 15 since Christmas, the Reds winning four, losing eight and drawing three of their last 15 matches.

Jurgen Klopp's men have scored 12 goals and conceded 17 across that period, compared to 45 and nine respectively in two games more for Man City, whose form has gone the opposite way.

Robertson added: "Unfortunately we have not had as good a season as we probably thought but there's still time to fix it - not to the extent we would like to fix it - but there's still time to make it a bit better.

"We're used to juggling two competitions. We have got to go on all fronts. We need to go for both [top four and Champions League] - we need to get up the league as high as possible - we need to put a run together.

"We have struggled for consistency this season. You don't make the top four unless you put six, seven, eight results together and that's what we need at the end of the season."

Klopp has regularly bemoaned his side's injury issues this campaign, having lost centre-backs Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip to long-term injuries, plus influential skipper Jordan Henderson.

And Robertson, who has started all 29 league games for Liverpool this term, feels the absence of some big names has put extra responsibility on his shoulders.

"It's been a different season," he said. "I like the responsibility. I have always had that responsibility at Liverpool.

"But maybe a bit more has been put on me this season with the likes of Virgil being out, Henderson being out, Gomez being out, Matip being out."

Bayer Leverkusen have sacked head coach Peter Bosz and appointed former Stuttgart boss Hannes Wolf as his replacement until the end of this season.

A 4-0 win over Cologne in mid-December saw Leverkusen go top of the Bundesliga, but their form has collapsed since, with just four wins in their subsequent 18 matches in all competitions.

That prolonged slump has taken in a 6-3 aggregate defeat to Young Boys in the Europa League, which followed a humiliating exit from the DFB-Pokal at the hands of fourth-tier Rot-Weiss Essen in early February.

Following the 3-0 weekend defeat to Hertha Berlin, a result that left Leverkusen sixth in the table, Bosz expressed confidence that he would remain in his post.

However, the club's board had other ideas.

"In view of the development of football in recent weeks, we have come to the conclusion that the separation from Peter Bosz can no longer be avoided," said sporting director Rudi Voller in a statement. 

"The 3-0 defeat at Hertha on Sunday was unfortunately characteristic, our team has recently fallen into the same pattern over and over again. 

"We haven't been able to put an end to the repetitive mistakes and get back on the road to success. 

"After a factual and very open analysis of the sporting situation, we therefore agreed to make a change, despite the great appreciation for Peter Bosz."

Former Ajax head coach Bosz had done much to rehabilitate his reputation at Leverkusen having endured a nightmare half-season in charge of Borussia Dortmund in 2017-18.

A year later, in December 2018, he took over at the BayArena and inspired an upturn that resulted in Champions League qualification.

Leverkusen narrowly missed out on the top four last term, although they appeared to have put the loss of key man Kai Havertz to Chelsea behind them this time around before their post-Christmas disintegration.

Assistant coaches Hendrie Kruzen and Rob Maas and fitness coach Terry Peters have also been relieved of their duties, giving Wolf a surprise opportunity to prove himself again at Bundesliga level.

The 39-year-old was appointed Germany Under-18s coach after his dismissal by Belgian club Genk earlier this season.

Wolf amassed a 46 per cent win ratio when at Stuttgart between September 2016 and January 2018.

He then took charge of Hamburg during the 2018-19 season but was unable to lift the fallen giants out of 2. Bundesliga.

"I am very pleased with the trust that has been placed in me, because Bayer 04 is not just any club for me," Wolf said.

"Leverkusen has been one of the most attractive places in German football for many years. There is a highly ambitious environment here and a very talented, exciting team. 

"We all have opportunities to get into the European positions. It's up to us to get the maximum out of the remaining eight games."

Wolf will be assisted by veteran former Leverkusen player and coach Peter Hermann.

Manchester United midfielder Fred says "we cannot feed that culture" after being racially abused on social media following Sunday's FA Cup quarter-final loss to Leicester City.

The 28-year-old received numerous abusive messages on an Instagram post after gifting possession to Kelechi Iheanacho in the build-up to Leicester's opening goal in the 3-1 defeat. 

Fred is the latest United player to be targeted, with Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Axel Tuanzebe also subjected to similar comments in recent weeks.

Brazil international Fred took to Twitter on Monday to post: "Social media comments filled with hate and, above all, racism: we cannot feed that culture. 

"We cannot aceppt (sic) it. We have to fight it always. We are bigger and better than that. Enough!"

United recently condemned the abuse directed at their players by "mindless idiots", while Rashford last month urged social media companies to take stronger action against those responsible.

Ben Chilwell believes the competition between himself and Luke Shaw to be England's first choice on the left-hand side of defence can only benefit Gareth Southgate's team.

Southgate named right-back Kieran Tripper at left wing-back earlier this season as Chilwell worked his way back to form following a foot injury.

If that suggested a dearth of options, the pieces now appear to be falling into place ahead of the rescheduled Euro 2020 for the Three Lions.

Chilwell has settled into life at Chelsea and is thriving under Thomas Tuchel, while Shaw has arguably been Manchester United's most consistent performer this term, putting years of injury torment behind him.

"At Chelsea you've got two or three good players in each position and at England you should expect the same thing," said the former Leicester City player.

"Going into the Euros, if me and Luke are battling it out and trying to prove who's having the best club form going into the tournament, that's only a positive.

"That means if everybody in each position's doing that, going into the tournament everyone should be sharp and ready to play and confident.

"Then whoever plays is ready and that's important."

Chilwell believes it could be advantageous for himself and club colleague Reece James if Southgate sticks with the 3-4-3 setup he used during the recent Nations League campaign, given Tuchel has employed the system to fine effect at Stamford Bridge

"We've spoken about that, me and Reece particularly, because it affects us the most," he said ahead of England's triple-header of World Cup qualifiers against San Marino, Albania and Poland.

"If you look at the formation England are playing, the formation we're playing here at the moment gives us the best possible chance to get used to playing in the positions that England want us to play in.

"Hopefully that gives us a good chance going into the summer – that we can be used."

Shaw generally operates as a more conventional full-back at United, even though Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has periodically reverted to a back five for big games.

Nevertheless, that has done little to quell his attacking output.

The former Southampton youngster's 52 chances created in the Premier League this season, more than any other defender in England's top flight and far in excess of Chilwell's 21.

Shaw has five assists to Chilwell's four, with his solitary goal in the recent Manchester derby victory set against two for the Chelsea man.

Chilwell (79) has attempted more crosses than Shaw (67) but fewer have been successful – 11 compared to 18.

Shaw has attempted 39 dribbles and his 21 completed are two more than Chilwell has attempted overall.

In terms of tackles and interceptions, they are fairly evenly matched, with Shaw up 36-32 on the former metric, while the latter falls 19-15 in Chilwell's favour.

Houston Rockets coach Stephen Silas was like a new man after his team finally ended a 20-match losing streak in the NBA.

Silas was left distraught after Sunday's narrow 114-112 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, but felt a huge weight lifted off his shoulders following a long-awaited victory over the Toronto Raptors the next day.

Houston were in the midst of a franchise-record drought – the Rockets' skid tied for the ninth-worst in NBA history and the longest since the Philadelphia 76ers' 28-game losing streak across the 2014-15 and 2015-16 campaigns.

But the Rockets recorded an overdue victory on Monday, celebrating their first win since February 4 behind John Wall's 19 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists in a 117-99 triumph over the Toronto Raptors.

"It's like indescribable for a win in March of this crazy season," Silas said.

"I'm just so proud of the guys. When you're like going through it and fighting so hard and you just see the disappointment in the players' faces after loss after loss after loss.

"Then to go into the locker room after today's game and everybody's just happy and joyous, I mean, it's super cool and great.

"I was down and out yesterday. It seems like a week ago now. We regroup, we come together, and it feels a lot better just because I know it feels great for the players.

"Like, whatever for me, but I'm just so happy for those guys that they don't have to hear about it and deal with it."

The game saw Wall's first triple-double since March 2016 as the Raptors crashed to a ninth consecutive defeat – now the league's longest active losing run.

And Wall conceded it had been a tough spell to endure, one he was glad to see come to an end.

"Losing 20 straight, we haven't been healthy, but that's not an excuse because everybody's been going through health and safety protocols and injuries," he said. 

"We just went out there and competed, no matter what and what was going on."

Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry will miss Tuesday's clash against the Philadelphia 76ers as he struggles with a tailbone bruise.

Curry has been sidelined since hurting his back in the Warriors' win over the Houston Rockets in the NBA on Wednesday.

Warriors head coach Steve Kerr – while optimistic Curry will return soon – said the former two-time MVP will sit out his third consecutive game.

"He's not going to play [Tuesday]," Kerr told reporters following Monday's practice. "He did not practice today.

"He's still pretty sore. And so we're going to continue to list him as day-to-day, but still sore today and went through some activities in the training room, strengthening, and movement-wise.

"And he's not ready to go ... I talked to him today, he just said 'It's still sore'."

Kerr, ahead of his team's showdown with the Eastern Conference leaders, added: "It's not something we're concerned about. But it's obviously going to take more time."

Curry is averaging 29.0 points (fifth best in the NBA), 6.2 assists and 5.3 rebounds per game for the Warriors this season.

The three-time NBA champion has made the most three-pointers in the league in 2020-21 (182), while his three-point average of 4.7 is the best in the NBA.

The Houston Rockets snapped their 20-game losing streak after John Wall posted his first triple-double since 2016 in a 117-99 win against the slumping Toronto Raptors.

Houston were in the midst of a franchise-record drought – the Rockets' skid tied for the ninth-worst in NBA history and the worst since the Philadelphia 76ers and their record-setting 28-game losing streak across the 2014-15 and 2015-16 campaigns.

But the Rockets recorded an overdue victory on Monday, celebrating their first win since February 4 behind Wall's 19 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists.

It was Wall's first triple-double since March 2016 as the Raptors crashed to a ninth consecutive defeat – now the league's longest active losing streak.

Giannis Antetokounmpo sat out due to a sprained left knee, but the Milwaukee Bucks still routed the Indiana Pacers 140-113 in the absence of the two-time reigning MVP.

Jrue Holiday led the way with 28 points and 14 assists to guide the Bucks to a seventh consecutive victory at home to the Pacers.

 

Gobert enjoys career-high game

Rudy Gobert had 21 points, 10 rebounds and a career-high nine blocks as the NBA-leading Utah Jazz eased past the Chicago Bulls 120-95. The All-Star became the first Jazz player to record nine-plus blocks in a game since Andrei Kirilenko in 2006. Gobert fell just short of becoming the first Jazz player to post a triple-double since 2008. Donovan Mitchell added 30 points for the visiting Jazz.

Luke Kennard was flawless in the Los Angeles Clippers' 119-110 win against the Atlanta Hawks. He was eight-of-eight shooting, while he also made all four of his three-point attempts for 20 points off the bench in 18 minutes. Kawhi Leonard scored 25 points and Terance Mann contributed a season-high 21 points as the Clippers rallied from a 22-point deficit in the second half, snapping Atlanta's eight-game winning streak.

The Oklahoma City Thunder topped the Minnesota Timberwolves 112-103 thanks to 31 points from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Oklahoma City set a season high with 21 three-pointers in just 37 attempts (56.8 per cent).

 

George struggles

The Clippers won but star Paul George struggled. In 33 minutes, George had eight points on just three-of-12 shooting. He was also just two-of-seven from three-point range.

Chris Boucher had a forgettable outing for the out-of-form Raptors. He was one-of-seven shooting, while missing all four of his attempts from beyond the arc in a four-point display.

 

From inside his own half!

Danuel House Jr. nailed a stunning half-time buzzer-beater from beyond half court against the Raptors.

 

Monday's results

Sacramento Kings 119-105 Cleveland Cavaliers
Oklahoma City Thunder 112-103 Minnesota Timberwolves
Charlotte Hornets 100-97 San Antonio Spurs
Utah Jazz 120-95 Chicago Bulls
Houston Rockets 117-99 Toronto Raptors
Memphis Grizzlies 132-126 Boston Celtics (OT)
Milwaukee Bucks 140-113 Indiana Pacers
Los Angeles Clippers 119-110 Atlanta Hawks

 

76ers at Warriors

The Eastern Conference-leading 76ers (30-13) – riding back-to-back wins – travel to the Golden State Warriors (22-21) on Tuesday. Golden State will be without star Stephen Curry (back).

Brooklyn Nets star James Harden is questionable to face the Portland Trail Blazers due to neck soreness.

Harden appeared to hurt his neck during a collision with Garrison Mathews in Sunday's 113-106 NBA win over the Washington Wizards.

Now, Harden is in doubt for Tuesday's clash with the Trail Blazers in Portland, where the star-studded Nets will be without Kyrie Irving (personal matter) and Kevin Durant (hamstring).

After posting 26 points, eight assists and five rebounds, Harden told reporters: "I got hit in the jaw. My neck kind of twitched. I'll be all right.

"It's nothing. Get some treatment on it, get some rest and be ready to go the next game."

Harden was on the court for 39 minutes, the most for any Nets player. Prior to Sunday's win, the former Houston Rockets star had featured for 40-plus minutes in four of the franchise's previous eights outings either side of the All-Star break. 

This season, Harden is averaging the most minutes in the NBA with 37.9, with Julius Randle of the New York Knicks next on 37.

"I'm concerned about the minutes," Nets head coach Steve Nash said after beating the Wizards.

"I'm not sure what the answer is, though. He controls the game. He hasn't shot the ball well since the [All-Star] break, but he made three threes tonight.  

"He gets to the line. He makes assists, rebounds, steals. He's great around the basket. He had another great performance even if it wasn't necessarily a typical Harden game.  

"So it's hard to take him off the floor because he makes his team-mates better."

Harden is averaging 25.3 points, a league-best 11.1 assists and 8.0 rebounds per game for the Nets this season.

The former MVP tops the list for most assists in the league this season (410), while he ranks fifth for points/assists/rebounds averaged per game (44.4).

Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo missed Monday's clash with the Indiana Pacers due to a left knee sprain.

Two-time reigning NBA MVP Antetokounmpo sustained the injury during Saturday's 120-113 win over the San Antonio Spurs.

Antetokounmpo's status for Wednesday's showdown against Eastern Conference rivals the Boston Celtics remains unknown.

"We'll see how he does this next day or two," said Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer prior to the Pacers matchup.

"We'll see how the next couple days go and we'll just kind of make decisions that are best for him.

"And keeping him really healthy, but there's no decisions regarding Wednesday as of now."

Antetokounmpo has been averaging 29.0 points, 11.7 rebounds and 6.4 assists per game this season for the streaking Bucks, who had won six straight games before Monday's fixture.

Aaron Judge said he is "as fired up as ever" as the New York Yankees star sets his sights on winning the World Series.

The Yankees fell short of expectations during the coronavirus-shortened 2020 season – New York beaten by the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League Division Series (ALDS), having finished seven games adrift in the AL East.

Not since 2009 have the Yankees won the World Series, but two-time All-Star and Silver Slugger Judge is continuing to set his sights on MLB glory.

"I'm as fired up as ever," Judge said on Monday. "Every year, I know I come in here and say that's our goal, to win a championship.

"But, for us, the first thing to do is we've got to win our division. That starts with Game 1. … We've got to knock off the Rays first.

"That's the team that won the division last year, got all the way to the World Series, beat us in the Division Series. That's our first goal."

The Yankees head into Opening Day against AL East rivals the Toronto Blue Jays on April 1 boasting a stellar bullpen.

Cy Young winner Corey Kluber was acquired to join ace Gerrit Cole and Aroldis Chapman in New York, while the Yankees re-signed batting star DJ LeMahieu on a six-year deal.

Three-time All-Star LeMahieu finished the season with 10 home runs and 27 RBIs, leading MLB with a batting average of .364.

LeMahieu was also first in the AL in on-base percentage (.421) and on-base percentage plus slugging percentage (1.011), while team-mate Luke Voit (22) tallied the most home runs in the league last season.

Judge added: "We're playing 162 games; it's not a sprint like it was last year. But every game still matters. We want to go out there and win our division and put ourselves a good position in the postseason.

"With this depth, with the pitching we have, with this line-up -- we can be in the right position to go out there and win a championship."

"I wouldn't say our road is any easier," Judge said. "We've still got to go through Houston; the Chicago White Sox have been doing something special the past couple of years with the people they've added.

"It's going to be tough either way, but I'm excited about it. I like our team going into it, and I like our chances."

Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving will miss the next three NBA games due to a family matter, the team announced on Monday.

The Nets will be without Irving for their upcoming three-game road trip, which consists of matchups against the Portland Trail Blazers, Utah Jazz and Detroit Pistons.

Brooklyn – second in the Eastern Conference behind the Philadelphia 76ers – are already without former MVP Kevin Durant, who has been sidelined since February 13 due to a hamstring strain.

Irving has already missed time this season – the 2016 NBA champion was sidelined for two weeks due to a personal absence in January.

The seven-time All-Star also broke the league's COVID-19 protocols, which delayed his return to the Nets line-up, with the NBA fining Irving $50,000.

Irving had to sacrifice his salary for the games he missed while quarantining, which reportedly amounted to $816,898 in addition to the fine.

He is averaging a career-high 28.1 points, 5.7 assists and 4.8 rebounds per game for the star-studded Nets this season.

The 28-year-old's field-goal percentage this season (52.0) is also a career-high.

Irving ranks second for field goals made per game (10.8 – a career-high), only behind Washington Wizards star Bradley Beal (11.3).

What shaped up to be a year of enormous positivity ended in disappointment and a dilemma for the Miami Dolphins.

The Dolphins were 5-11 at the bottom of the AFC East in 2019 before turning their fortunes around to finish 10-6 last year. That was not quite enough to make the playoffs, though.

Victory over the Buffalo Bills in Week 17 would have clinched a postseason berth, as indeed would defeats for any of three AFC rivals. Every result went against Miami.

Worse than just being edged out of the postseason picture, they were beaten by 30 points in Buffalo as Tua Tagovailoa – the fifth overall pick supposed to be the Dolphins’ franchise quarterback – endured a dismal end to his rookie season.

The signs had been there prior to that desperate three-interception showing, which actually included a career-high 361 passing yards, but the costly defeat firmly formed Miami’s big offseason question: Do they need to make a move at QB?

There have been and continue to be interesting options, but the front office looks to be taking its time in making the right calls to turn this team into contenders.

Stats Perform data shows how far away they are right now.

Offense

Tagovailoa would likely have been given some respite in that fateful Bills game had backup Ryan Fitzpatrick not been ruled out after testing positive for coronavirus.

The Dolphins had turned to Fitzpatrick in Week 16 against the Las Vegas Raiders and he duly rescued a 26-25 comeback win, completing nine of 13 passes for 182 yards and a touchdown.

The change was evidence of coach Brian Flores’ faltering faith in Tagovailoa. The result was justification.

Among players to throw 200 attempts in 2020, only Washington pair Alex Smith and Dwayne Haskins Jr. trailed Tagovailoa’s 1,814 yards. Even when he put up big numbers in the Buffalo defeat, his 6.22 yards per attempt were 0.04 yards down on his extremely modest year average.

This plodding pace was the reason for Flores turning so often to Fitzpatrick, who was picked on eight of 267 passes (3.0 per cent) but gained 7.83 yards per attempt.

Neither quarterback was helped by the limited receiving options, with only wide receiver DeVante Parker (63 catches for 793 yards and four TDs) and tight end Mike Gesicki (53 catches for 703 yards and six TDs) offering any real quality in that sense.

The rushing offense was no better. Perhaps again partly due to a reluctance to trust Tagovailoa, they ran on 41.9 per cent of plays (14th-most in the league) but registered only 105.5 rushing yards per game (22nd-most).

Criticism of Tagovailoa was understandable, but the entire offense was shaky last year.

Defense

With the deficiencies on the other side of the ball, Miami’s defense had to be shoulder much of the burden in 2020. 

Although opponents racked up 251.5 passing yards per game, the Dolphins allowed just 315 points across the season, the fourth-fewest in the NFL.

The cornerback duo of Xavien Howard and Byron Jones were particularly effective. Howard had 10 interceptions after managing 12 across the first four years of his career.

Up front, Emmanuel Ogbah (9.0 sacks and 21 QB hits), Kyle Van Noy (6.0 sacks and 10 QB hits) and Shaq Lawson (4.0 sacks and 18 QB hits) were productive in pressuring the quarterback.

Firmly in the middle of the pack when it came to stopping the run, the Dolphins allowed 116.4 rushing yards per game, but theirs was a stingy defense that proved its upside by forcing a league-leading 29 total takeaways.

Offseason

Although the Dolphins have been busy in free agency already, their spending has been unexceptional.

Van Noy was released and re-joined the New England Patriots, with whom they swapped defensive linemen as Davon Godchaux and Adam Butler traded places.

Butler's contract with the Dolphins cost half as much as Godchaux's in New England, but the new acquisition had four sacks in 2020, more than the man he is replacing managed in his entire Miami career.

Those deals are indicative of what so far appears to be a cost-cutting one-in, one-out approach. Fitzpatrick left for the Washington Football Team, where he will collect $10million, while Jacoby Brissett – a new backup quarterback – arrived from the Indianapolis Colts on a contract worth $5m.

The biggest splash to date saw Will Fuller arrive after a career year catching Deshaun Watson passes, including eight touchdowns, in Houston.

The most significant development of the offseason is yet to play out, though, as the identity of the man throwing the ball to Fuller this year remains far from certain.

Fuller could serve as a pivotal boost to Tagovailoa's options and enable him to develop his game in year two, but the Dolphins also have the ability to put together a very enticing package for a prospective trade, as they possess the third and 18th picks in the first round of this year's draft.

Fuller’s wantaway former team-mate Watson is the most obvious possible target in a move that would change the complexion of the AFC.

The arrival of one of the league's elite quarterbacks could quickly turn Miami into contenders, but it would depend on the Texans taking back their own draft pick, sent to the Dolphins in return for Laremy Tunsil in 2019.

Whether they stick with Tagovailoa, make a blockbuster move for Watson or unexpectedly take one of the draft's top signal-callers, an intriguing offseason in Miami will be defined by a crucial decision at the game's most important position.

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.