Mason Mount is impressed with the impact Thomas Tuchel has had on Chelsea's defence since replacing Frank Lampard in January.

The German led Chelsea to Champions League success last season just a few months after being hired, though there is every indication he is turning the Blues into a team that will challenge for the major honours on a consistent basis.

Chelsea went into the weekend with a three-point lead at the top of the Premier League – only Liverpool (35) had scored more than them, though Tuchel's side boasted the best defensive record with just four conceded in 12 games.

Manchester City (22) were the only club to have allowed fewer shots on target than the Blues (39) over the first 12 matchdays – similarly, Pep Guardiola's men (7.7) were the sole club with a lower xGA (expected goals against) than Chelsea (12.2).

During Lampard's only full season in charge, Chelsea conceded 54 times from an xGA of 38.95 – they let in 15.05 goals more than the average team would have expected based on the quality of chances, comfortably worse than the second-worst sides in that metric over 2019-20 (Norwich City and Everton, both 7.2 over xGA).

Their improvement defensively is not lost on Mount.

"[Tuchel] is brilliant to work under," Mount told Sky Sports ahead of Sunday's clash with Manchester United. "He is very intense when the games come around and in training, but off the field he is very relaxed, someone you can talk to and he puts his arm around you.

"So, it is the best of both, but when you don't perform, he will not be happy and will tell you. And that is definitely something that keeps us on our toes and keeps us going. We have set a very high standard, and we always want to keep that going and training is a big thing.

"We always look at the opposition a few days before we play them, but most of it is just focusing on ourselves. We know what we can do as a team and if we are doing those simple things the best we can, then we are always able to open up those pockets of space and create chances.

"Defensively, that has been a big change for us, and we do not really give many chances away and that starts from the front. The way we press at the front sets the tone and at the back, with the change of formation and the shape we do play, it helps at the back so the full-backs can press the side where the ball is, there is cover the other way and just move and that has really helped us."

While bossing Chelsea did not work out for Tuchel's predecessor Lampard, Mount enjoyed his breakthrough at the club under the Blues legend, having also played for him at Derby County.

Mount was one of the main beneficiaries of Lampard's season and a half in charge and has remained a key figure under Tuchel.

He still sees Lampard's playing style as a source of inspiration, with Mount putting significant work into his end product in attack.

"I always look at my game and think I can score or create more, be more of a threat going forward. That is something I've always looked at in training with finishing drills, how I get into the box, looking with (coach) Joe Edwards at how my runs into the box affect the play," he said.

"So that is a big part of my game that I want to improve. You look at how big stats are now – what crosses come in and the percentage of goals that come from different crosses we look at and what area of the box do you score most goals, it is around the penalty spot and in the six-yard box, you rarely see goals from outside the box, mostly 'worldies' now, but not many.

"So I'm just trying to get in the box as much as I can now."

He still has work to do, though.

Mount is touching the ball on average 4.2 times in the box every 90 minutes – although that is an increase on his figure for Lampard's final few months, it's the same amount he recorded over the course of 2019-20.

But he is getting more shots away in such areas. He averaged 0.9 shots on target every 90 minutes during Lampard's first season and then 0.6 in the first half of 2020-21, but that increased to 1.1 after Tuchel's hiring and then again to 1.2 this season.

Diogo Jota scored twice in the first half as Liverpool romped to a comfortable 4-0 victory over Southampton at Anfield on Saturday.

The Portugal forward grabbed his first with less than two minutes played, turning Andy Robertson's low ball in before adding a second from close range after being set up by Mohamed Salah half an hour later.

Thiago Alcantara fired in a deflected third to give the Reds a commanding half-time lead before Virgil van Dijk steered a corner home to round off the scoring shortly after the restart.

The victory sees Liverpool keep the pressure up on league leaders Chelsea, moving to within a point of the Blues – although the Reds have played an extra game.

Liverpool got off to a flying start as Sadio Mane and Robertson combined on the left before the latter fizzed a low cross into the middle that Jota converted on the stretch.

A couple of chances fell Southampton's way after that, but Liverpool remained the side on top and doubled their lead in the 32nd minute as Salah squared for Jota to tap in his second after playing a neat one-two with Jordan Henderson on the right.

The Reds made it 3-0 just five minutes later as the ball fell to Thiago on the edge of the box and the midfielder advanced into the area before lashing a left-footed strike into the top-left corner via a hefty deflection off the knee of Lyanco.

Van Dijk extended Liverpool's advantage even further in the 52nd minute, volleying Trent Alexander-Arnold's corner under Alex McCarthy – who perhaps should have done better – and in.

Jota spurned a glorious chance to grab his hat-trick, diverting Robertson's cross wide of the target as Jurgen Klopp's men eased their way to the final whistle.

What does it mean? Reds put pressure on Chelsea

Liverpool's victory moves them to within one point of Thomas Tuchel's table-topping Chelsea side, with the Blues set for a heavyweight clash with Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.

Salah races to Premier League goal involvement landmark

Salah has now been directly involved in 150 Premier League goals in his 171 games in the competition (108 goals, 42 assists) – only Alan Shearer (148 games) and Thierry Henry (163 games) reached as many goal involvements in fewer games than the Egypt star in the competition.

Salah has also been directly involved in 25 goals in all competitions this season (17 goals, eight assists), more than double the return of any other Premier League player.

Jota matches Wolves league tally

Jota has now scored 32 career Premier League goals, evenly split between Wolves and Liverpool (16 each).

He has reached the tally for the Reds in 36 fewer appearances, however (67 for Wolves, 31 for Liverpool) and with a better shot conversion rate (12.6 per cent with Wolves, 21.9 per cent with Liverpool).

What's next?

Liverpool's next fixture is a Merseyside derby with Everton at Goodison Park on Wednesday, while Southampton host Leicester City on the same day.

Ja Morant sustained a knee injury in Friday's loss to the Atlanta Hawks, dealing a hefty blow to the Memphis Grizzlies' hopes this year.

"Ja Morant exited during the first quarter of Friday's game against the Atlanta Hawks," a team statement read. "Preliminary imaging revealed a left knee sprain. Further updates will be provided as appropriate."

There was immediate concern for Morant, who hobbled off the floor after pulling up while dribbling despite receiving no contact.

The 22-year-old had scored only two points in eight minutes to that point, meaning it was no surprise the Hawks eased to a 132-100 win – their biggest of the season.

For the third time in three years since he was selected second in the 2019 NBA Draft, Morant is scoring the largest share of Memphis' points.

His 22.0 per cent of their scoring this season makes him the ninth-most influential individual in the NBA, with Kevin Durant's 24.3 per cent of the Brooklyn Nets' points leading the way.

In the early part of this year, Morant had been spoken about as a potential Most Improved Player candidate, despite already scoring 19.1 points per game last year – the 36th-most in the league. He ranked 52nd (17.8 points) as he was named Rookie of the Year in 2019-20.

That output has improved to 24.1 points per game this year, despite Friday's lowly output, which means only nine other players have seen a greater improvement in their scoring from last season.

Morant ranks 11th for field-goal shooting improvement (up to 47.6 per cent) and seventh for an upgrade in accuracy from three-point range (now 35.6 per cent).

This rapid progress has made Morant the most prolific under-23 scorer in the NBA this year (458 points), leading a group that also includes preseason MVP favourite Luka Doncic.

The Grizzlies fell to 9-10 with their latest loss, but that middling record is still enough for eighth place in the Western Conference for a team Morant led to the playoffs in 2020-21.

Whether Memphis can stay in touch while Morant is out is another matter. Since he arrived in the league, their point differential has been 0.5 in their favour per 100 possessions with him on the court but -2.1 with him absent.

Liverpool superstar Mohamed Salah has reached 150 direct goal involvements in the Premier League, becoming the third-fastest player to do so.

Salah, who already had 11 league goals for the season heading into Saturday's game with Southampton at Anfield, squared for Diogo Jota to make it 2-0 to Liverpool in the 32nd minute.

It was Jota's second goal of the encounter, with the Portugal forward having put the Reds in front inside two minutes, and came after Salah himself had curled just wide, with Sadio Mane also having had a goal disallowed.

Thiago Alcantara then made it 3-0 to Liverpool before the break to put Jurgen Klopp's team in complete control.

By setting up Jota's goal, Salah moved onto 42 assists across his Premier League career, which combined with 108 goals took him to the 150 goal involvements landmark.

The Egypt forward has achieved that feat in just 171 games, with only Alan Shearer (148) and Thierry Henry (163) reaching the milestone in fewer appearances.

Salah's assist was a 25th direct goal involvement across all competitions this term (17 goals, eight assists), more than double that of any other Premier League player as it stood.

Liverpool then made it 4-0 early in the second half when Virgil van Dijk converted from Trent Alexander-Arnold's corner.

Mikel Arteta praised Arsenal for their patience against Newcastle United after a lack of "composure" in the first half of their 2-0 win.

The Gunners opened the scoring for the 17th top-flight game against Newcastle in a row as Bukayo Saka drove into the bottom-right corner.

Gabriel Martinelli doubled the lead just 93 seconds after his introduction as the Magpies became the sixth different team to fail to win any of their opening 13 Premier League games of a season.

Arteta was pleased with the showing given his side's 4-0 defeat to Liverpool last time out.

"I am happy with the points after losing [to Liverpool]," Arteta told BT Sport post-match. "You have to win straight away. Overall, I'm pleased.

"The word was we had to be patient. We had to play with urgency and rhythm. That's what we did in the second half. We found spaces and that's how we scored the goals."

Arsenal attempted 12 shots in the first half – the second-most attempts in the opening 45 minutes of a Premier League game this term, behind Manchester United's 15 against Aston Villa – and Arteta felt they were a little too trigger-happy early on.

"When you have chances, you have to put them in the net," he continued. "In the first half we shot from every range without composure."

A slight dampener on the Gunners' win came when Saka was forced off in the second half and Arteta explained the 20-year-old "wasn't comfortable" after "he felt something."

However, he was delighted to see Saka's replacement Martinelli score his first Premier League goal since January 2020 just 93 seconds after coming on.

"The movement, the pass from Tomi [Takehiro Tomiyasu] is great," he added on the second goal. "It's really difficult to keep the ball down when it's flying over your head but that's what he can do."

Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli were on target as Arsenal edged past Newcastle United 2-0 in Saturday's Premier League clash.

Mikel Arteta's side saw their eight-game unbeaten league run end at Liverpool last weekend, while Newcastle, with Eddie Howe in the dugout for the first time, were the only winless team in England's top four tiers after 12 games.

Jonjo Shelvey and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang both struck the woodwork in the first half at Emirates Stadium before Saka eventually broke the deadlock after 56 minutes.

Substitute Martinelli added a second just 93 seconds after his introduction as Arsenal moved level on points with fourth-placed West Ham, who play Manchester City on Sunday.

Saka poked narrowly wide and Martin Dubravka excellently parried away Martin Odegaard's free-kick as the hosts looked to score first for the 17th consecutive top-flight meeting with Newcastle.

Aaron Ramsdale then pushed Shelvey's long-range attempt onto the crossbar before Aubameyang inexplicably hit the right-hand post from point-blank range following Emile Smith Rowe's saved header.

Saka's low drive was denied by Dubravka after the interval, though there was no stopping the 20-year-old when he drilled into the bottom-right corner after Nuno Tavares' offload.

Martinelli, who replaced Saka, doubled the damage 10 minutes later with a volley past the incoming Dubravka from Takehiro Tomiyasu's chipped pass.

Substitute Jacob Murphy looked to respond but prodded wide as Arsenal continued their 22-game unbeaten run against sides starting the day bottom of the table.

Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli were on target as Arsenal edged past Newcastle United 2-0 in Saturday's Premier League clash.

Mikel Arteta's side saw their eight-game unbeaten league run end at Liverpool last weekend, while Newcastle, with Eddie Howe in the dugout for the first time, were the only winless team in England's top four tiers after 12 games.

Jonjo Shelvey and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang both struck the woodwork in the first half at Emirates Stadium before Saka eventually broke the deadlock after 56 minutes.

Substitute Martinelli added a second just 93 seconds after his introduction as Arsenal moved level on points with fourth-placed West Ham, who play Manchester City on Sunday.

Saka poked narrowly wide and Martin Dubravka excellently parried away Martin Odegaard's free-kick as the hosts looked to score first for the 17th consecutive top-flight meeting with Newcastle.

Aaron Ramsdale then pushed Shelvey's long-range attempt onto the crossbar before Aubameyang inexplicably hit the right-hand post from point-blank range following Emile Smith Rowe's saved header.

Saka's low drive was denied by Dubravka after the interval, though there was no stopping the 20-year-old when he drilled into the bottom-right corner after Nuno Tavares' offload.

Martinelli, who replaced Saka, doubled the damage 10 minutes later with a volley past the incoming Dubravka from Takehiro Tomiyasu's chipped pass.

Substitute Jacob Murphy looked to respond but prodded wide as Arsenal continued their 22-game unbeaten run against sides starting the day bottom of the table.

What does it mean? Gunners see off Magpies again

Arsenal attempted the second most first-half shots in the Premier League this term without scoring (12), behind only Manchester United against Aston Villa (15), but were made to wait for their breakthrough.

When that eventually came, it appeared a straightforward task for Arteta's side, who collected their 17th win in 18 top-flight meetings with Newcastle to move level on points with fourth-placed West Ham at least temporarily.

Lovely Lokonga

Albert Sambi Lokonga was the key to keeping Arsenal's creativity through the middle as he proved to dominate the midfield battle against Shelvey and former Gunners midfielder Joe Willock. 

The ex-Anderlecht man was unlucky to not assist Saka in the first half with an incisive deep cross, one of a game-high six key passes – one more than the whole Newcastle team combined.

Nu-no need to shoot

Tavares delivered an underwhelming performance in the 4-0 crushing at Liverpool, but still retained his spot ahead of Kieran Tierney at left-back.

The 21-year-old enjoyed a lot of room down the left flank but was incredibly wasteful, blasting a game-leading six attempts from seemingly any angle with none of those finding the target.

What's next?

Arsenal travel to Manchester United on Thursday, while Newcastle will continue searching for their first win when they host fellow strugglers Norwich City on Tuesday.

Carlo Ancelotti has insisted that Vinicius Junior will continue to play in his favoured left-wing role regardless of who may join Real Madrid in the future, with Kylian Mbappe heavily linked.

Vinicius has been one of Madrid's standout performers this season, recording 10 goals and five assists in just 18 appearances across all competitions so far – second only to Karim Benzema (15 and eight respectively) in both categories at the club.

Madrid were reportedly keen to sign Paris Saint-Germain star Mbappe in the transfer window, but a move never materialised, although the 22-year-old is out of contract at the end of the season and continues to be touted as a target.

However, Ancelotti has reassured Vinicius of his place in the side no matter who may arrive in future transfer windows.

"Vinicius is a player who has to play on the left and he will continue to do it regardless of [what other players are at the club]," Ancelotti said ahead of Madrid's LaLiga match against Sevilla on Sunday.

Ancelotti was asked about the club's new stadium plans and any potential future changes to the squad, but refused to be drawn on specific players such as Mbappe and Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Haaland.

"I like good players and they are both very good," Ancelotti continued. "I have talked about the future of this club, which has always been very clear. 

"The new stadium, the squad we have with many young people, a lot of quality, means that the future is going to be better.

"I imagine the new stadium with Ancelotti. I don't want to mix names and hopefully, Carlo will be the coach of the new stadium."

Madrid are one point clear at the top of LaLiga with a game in hand on Real Sociedad and face a tricky task on Sunday as they host third-placed Sevilla.

Los Blancos have not lost any of their last five games against Sevilla in LaLiga (W4 D1). Not since April 2003 have they gone six or more without a loss in this league fixture.

Indeed, Madrid are unbeaten in their last 12 home games against the Rojiblancos in LaLiga (W11 D1), scoring an average of 3.25 goals per game across that run.

A-League champions Melbourne City threw a two-goal lead away to draw 2-2 away at Adelaide United in their second game of the season.

City kicked their title defence off with a 2-1 win over Brisbane Roar in their opening match and looked set to make it two wins from two after goals from Jamie Maclaren and Andrew Nabbout gave them a 2-0 advantage after 61 minutes.

However, Adelaide struck twice in the closing stages, with Stefan Mauk halving the deficit before Ben Halloran grabbed a dramatic 90th-minute equaliser to stun City.

Elsewhere on Saturday, Sydney, who finished just two points behind City in second last season, slipped to a 1-0 defeat against Macarthur at home after an early Lachlan Rose strike.

Macarthur are now level on points with table-topping City and Wellington Phoenix, who beat Central Coast Mariners 2-1, but are behind the pair on goals scored and sit third.

Gary Hooper scored for the second game running for the Phoenix in their home clash with the Mariners, who pulled one back through Marco Urena before Jaushua Sotirio fired in the winner.

The Nix are now unbeaten in 13 matches stretching back into last season and face Western Sydney Wanderers in their next game.

Sequels rarely live up to the standard of the original. While Cam Newton's return to the Carolina Panthers stands as one of the most sentimentally fulfilling stories of the 2021 NFL season, the odds of him living up to his achievements during his spectacular first spell with the team are slim.

Yet through two appearances and one start, Newton's second act in Charlotte appears to be one worthy of the price of admission, if not one that will yield the honours that came during their initial nine-season association.

The Panthers lost in Week 11 with Newton starting at quarterback, a 27-21 defeat to the Washington Football Team and former Carolina coach Ron Rivera dealing a significant blow to hopes of securing a Wild Card berth in the NFC.

But the Panthers are a long way from being dead in the water and, while Newton is not the player he was when he won the MVP in 2015, his performance against Washington at least suggested his encouraging play in preseason for the New England Patriots was not a mirage.

At 5-6, Carolina can ill-afford too many more slip-ups if the Panthers are to return to the playoffs, raising the question: can Cam Newton save their season?

An upgrade over Darnold

It's a very small sample size, but the early evidence indicates Newton, the man head coach Matt Rhule and the Panthers let go after the 2019 season, represents an upgrade of his most recent batch of successors.

In the defeat to Washington, Newton delivered an accurate, well-thrown ball on 81.5 per cent of his passes, according to Stats Perform data, and did not throw a single interceptable pass.

Newton was brought back to replace the injured Sam Darnold, whom the Panthers traded for in the offseason. Darnold's well-thrown percentage of 80 for the season is still above the league average of 78.5, but his pickable pass rate of 4.21 per cent is inferior to the league-wide average of 3.62, Carolina's hopes of turning around his career after a dismal start with the New York Jets quickly fading.

The threat posed by Newton's athletic upside was also apparent last week. He averaged 5.86 yards per carry on designed runs, including a 24-yard rushing touchdown on a perfectly executed zone-read.

Prior to that score, Newton threw the Panthers' first touchdown of the game by faking a quarterback draw up the middle to draw up the two safeties and a middle linebacker guarding the endzone, giving him a much simpler throw to D.J. Moore on the slant route.

Darnold can himself make an impact with his legs, however, the combination of Newton's accuracy throwing the ball and his more pronounced threat on the ground led to an exciting albeit losing effort that gives optimism the Panthers' offense can be more potent as he digests Joe Brady's playbook.

Yet one element of his supporting cast may limit the ceiling of a Newton-led attack.

Protection issues a pressing concern

Newton is not short of elite talent around him. Christian McCaffrey delivered a reminder of his status as one of the game's top all-round running backs last Sunday. He demonstrated his burst by averaging 3.7 yards before contact per attempt and his ability to evade defenders in the backfield with an average of 5.5 yards per carry on rush attempts where there was a rush disruption.

Additionally, McCaffrey hauled in a 27-yard touchdown pass from Newton, one on which the quarterback showcased exquisite touch and placement to loft the ball over the outstretched arm of a linebacker and into the running back's grasp.

Top receiver Moore is producing a burn, which is when a receiver wins his matchup with a defender when he is targeted, 68 per cent of the time, with his burn yards per route average of 3.3 putting him tied for 11th among wideouts with at least 10 targets.

Newton and McCaffrey being on the field at the same time can put defenses in a significant bind when faced with the zone-read, as Newton's rushing score against Washington proved, with both substantial threats to gain major yardage on the ground.

Moore's continued ascension gives Newton a bonafide number one receiver, yet the impact of having two top-tier skill-position weapons will be mitigated if the Panthers cannot improve on the offensive line.

Indeed, the Panthers entered Week 12 ranked 30th in pass protection win percentage while only the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets have allowed more quarterback pressures than Carolina's 204.

Even in his 11th season, Newton boasts a skill set ideally suited to the modern game and has the weapons to succeed, yet his ability to do so will be restricted if he is under duress as much as Panthers signal-callers have been in 2021.

Home stretch filled with obstacles

The hope for Carolina this month comes in the form of that Dolphins offensive line, which a Panthers defense allowing the second-fewest yards per play (4.91) in the NFL faces in Week 12.

Yet beyond this week and games with the Atlanta Falcons and a seemingly crumbling New Orleans Saints team, the schedule offers little for the Panthers to get excited about.

They face defending Super Bowl champions the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and quarterback Tom Brady, unlikely to be daunted by the Carolina defense, twice before the end of the regular season, while a Buffalo Bills team whose defense is well-positioned to take advantage of poor pass protection and whose offense is tied for the league lead with 37 touchdowns host the Panthers in Week 15.

Carolina's remaining schedule is the eighth toughest in the NFL by winning percentage and, in a race for the Wild Card spots with three surging teams in the Minnesota Vikings, San Francisco 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles, the chances of the Panthers overcoming such a hurdle look small, particularly given the potentially fatal flaw they have up front.

Still, the combination of Newton, McCaffrey, Moore and one of the most efficient defenses in the league at least offers reason for hope. Can Newton save Carolina's season? Probably not, but he gives them a better shot than any other quarterback they have started this season.

Manchester United striker Edinson Cavani spent the international break in Uruguay stepping up his recovery, but he remains a doubt to feature against Chelsea on Sunday.

A tendon problem has prevented Cavani from featuring for United since a substitute appearance in the Red Devils' 2-2 draw with Atalanta on November 2, missing the losses to Manchester City and Watford that spelled the end of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's reign, as well as the most recent victory over Villarreal.

The 34-year-old also missed out on the chance to represent his country, with Uruguay slipping to defeat against Argentina and Bolivia, putting their World Cup qualification hopes in jeopardy and leading to the sacking of Oscar Tabarez as head coach after 15 years in the role. 

The veteran striker is now eager to get back out on the pitch after spending the international break in his homeland to focus on his rehabilitation.

Cavani also revealed that the trip gave him an opportunity to spend valuable time with his family.

"During this period of the international break, I've had the chance to stop and focus on this niggling injury that I'm feeling in the tendon in my leg, so I can speed up my recovery and come back quickly and be available for my club and national team," Cavani told the club's official website.

"So, during this time, I was able to spend a few days in Uruguay, do some fitness and recovery work and stuff and, in turn, I managed to see my family at the same time, which is always important, to see your family and be close to them."

Eighth-placed United face Premier League leaders Chelsea on Sunday in caretaker manager Michael Carrick's second game in charge and will be hoping for another positive result after the 2-0 Champions League win over Villarreal on Tuesday.

It remains unclear if Cavani will be able to boost his side's chances with his availability, or if his comeback will have to wait until the Red Devils' subsequent game against Arsenal at Old Trafford on December 2.

Stephen Curry reserved special praise for Klay Thompson despite his own latest spectacular performance for the Golden State Warriors on Friday.

The Warriors extended their winning streak to six games as they beat the Portland Trail Blazers 118-103 to move to 17-2 for the season.

Curry led the way with 32 points, eight assists and seven rebounds, surpassing Scottie Pippen for 62nd place on the NBA's all-time scoring list.

The Warriors' impressive form has come despite the continued wait for the return of star shooter Thompson, who this week returned to full-team practice for the first time in more than two years.

Thompson, a key part of the championship-winning sides in 2015, 2017 and 2018, suffered an anterior cruciate ligament tear during the Warriors' failed 'three-peat' attempt in 2019 and then injured his Achilles tendon during recovery.

Thompson, who was serenaded by the crowd at Chase Center where he stayed on the bench for more than 20 minutes, is now going through perhaps the most difficult part of his journey back to the court, according to Curry.

"I kind of predicted this would be the hardest part of his journey because he's got the basketball back in his hands every day, he's feeling like himself, he's playing pickup and he's around our practices and back with us in those type of situations, but he's still not on the court," Curry said.

"The good thing is we're talking weeks instead of months now. I'm super proud of just the way he's approached this two-year window because unless he wants to write a book and [explain] every step, nobody will understand what he's been through away from the game so long. And it shows how much this game matters to him."

Portland threatened a late comeback when they moved to within eight points in the final six minutes, but the Warriors are nothing if not resolute, two Curry three-pointers helping to safeguard their lead.

"We know these type of nights where we play at home, do the defence, get the crowd into it. It's all about just trying to create an identity here. We've got to do our part throughout the season to win games," he said.

"The defence is huge. We always pride ourselves on being a top-five defensive and we got to that level quickly. We've got to sustain it, obviously.

"Integrating our new guys, the shooting we have, ball movement, there was no guarantee that was going to be a smooth process. I'm proud of everybody stepping up, understanding how we play and everybody enjoying themselves."

Julen Lopetegui has come a long way. Very little highlights that more than the fact he has been mentioned as a potential long-term successor to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Manchester United.

While such a move probably won't occur, with Mauricio Pochettino seemingly the likeliest to walk through the door at Old Trafford at the end of the season, the speculation is at least a vindication of the work Lopetegui has done at Sevilla over the past two and a half years.

Of course, it wasn't long before his hiring by Sevilla that Lopetegui seemed to be the butt of all jokes in Spanish football, with the situation surrounding his Spain departure attracting criticism before he was swiftly shown the exit by Real Madrid.

But he is a coach who really has put in the hard graft, having quickly lost his first ever job in management before then opting to refine his skills in youth coaching, steadily working his way up to prominence.

His football may not be universally popular, but Lopetegui has restored his reputation in an emphatic way.

Julen's gambit

Lopetegui saw the writing was on the wall.

"I know the culture of the club. I am identified with [the club] and with its fans. I am not surprised by a dismissal because football depends on results and we are not achieving them," he said.

While you'd think that might sound like what Lopetegui would have said after getting dismissed by Madrid, it was actually a frank response to being ditched by Rayo Vallecano back in 2003.

Rayo, whom Lopetegui finished his playing career with, were in the second tier and won just one of their first 10 league matches under their new, inexperienced coach. They went on to suffer a second successive relegation.

Although getting sacked wasn't a surprise for Lopetegui, it seemed to shock him into something of a rethink – he returned to his first professional club as a player, Real Madrid, in 2006 as their head of international scouting, and two years later he was in charge of the 'B' team, Castilla.

That was the first of several roles focused on youth coaching, which would see him looking after Spain's Under-19s, Under-20s and Under-21s over the following six years. Two seasons with Porto reintroduced him to senior club football, before Spain came calling again.

This time it wasn't an age-group role, it was the real deal. Lopetegui took over from Vicente del Bosque in 2016 and set about establishing a new dynasty for La Roja.

 

It was a largely positive two years. Ahead of the World Cup, he had presided over 20 matches for Spain, winning 14 of them and losing none.

That made him the Spain coach to have overseen the most games without losing, while his 70 per cent winning record is second only to Del Bosque (76 per cent) among those to preside over at least 15 games.

Goals weren't hard to come by either. Sure, World Cup qualification in Europe can bring about some lopsided results that boost averages, but still, Spain's 3.1 goals per game under Lopetegui remains the best of any Spain coach (min. 15 matches).

However, his decision to enter a post-World Cup agreement with Real Madrid, which was announced just a few days before Spain's campaign was due to begin, did not go down well with the Royal Spanish Football Federation. He was sacked and Fernando Hierro was brought in at short notice to preside over an ultimately disappointing Russia 2018.

Many criticised Lopetegui; some understood why he'd accepted the Madrid opportunity, others suspected it to be a poisoned chalice.

Predictable Perez

Given what he said after being sacked by Rayo some 15 years earlier, why Lopetegui saw Florentino Perez as the patient type was mystifying.

"Real Madrid is still alive. This is still October, we have done some good things, made a lot of chances, and we will try and improve and be more effective. We are ready to play a game of this size and these demands," he said prior to what proved to be his final match in charge.

After the game, that appraisal turned to: "I feel sad, but I want to remain in charge. It's a big blow, but I'm strong enough to know everything can be turned around. I have a lot of faith in this group of players."

Only, Lopetegui wasn't given the chance to turn it around, as we all know, for a 5-1 demolition by Barcelona in El Clasico brought an abrupt end to his brief 14-match stint at the helm. In football terms, there was surely no greater humiliation for a Madrid coach.

 

It was only the third time this century Madrid have conceded five times to Barca in LaLiga, and it meant Los Blancos had lost three league games on the bounce – again, this has only happened on two other occasions since January 2000.

Of course, there's lots to be said for why Lopetegui failed at Madrid. For one, his first-choice full-backs Dani Carvajal and Marcelo were in and out of the team, and such positions carry great importance for Lopetegui.

Additionally, let's not forget this was a Madrid very much in transition after the departure – and failed replacement – of Cristiano Ronaldo. It was seemingly expected that Karim Benzema would instantly pick up Ronaldo's slack, despite only passing 20 league goals in two of his previous nine LaLiga seasons. The Portugal star never went below 25 in his nine campaigns in Spain.

 

While Benzema did ultimately score 21 times in the league, only four of those (one via the penalty spot) – split across two games – came during Lopetegui's 10 games. Decisiveness in the final third was a real issue for the team, demonstrated by the fact they failed to beat Levante despite having 34 shots and set a new club record of 481 minutes without a league goal.

But Zinedine Zidane, Lopetegui's predecessor, saw this coming. As he bade farewell to the club alongside Perez just 15 days after winning a third successive Champions League title, the Frenchman spoke persistently about "change" and openly acknowledged he thought "it would be difficult to keep winning if I stayed".

Whether that was down to insufficient investment in the first team, the likelihood of retaining such high standards in the Champions League or a combination of both is unclear, but it would seem his successor was always on a hiding to nothing.

 

From rock-bottom to redemption

Lopetegui left Madrid with the second-worst win percentage (42.9 per cent) across all competitions in the club's history (min. two games), better only than Amancio (40.9).

 

But his record and impact at Sevilla couldn't realistically be much more of a contrast. Over his first 100 matches in charge in Nervion in all competitions, Lopetegui's 59 wins were a joint-record for the club.

It's almost fitting that his 100th career LaLiga match as a coach will come against his former team this weekend – it would be an even sweeter occasion were he to mastermind his first ever victory over Madrid, as success for Sevilla on Sunday will move them above Los Blancos and potentially put them top.

LaLiga is shaping up to be the closest it's been in years. Whether that's down to a dip in quality across Spain's top flight or not is a debate for another time, but Sevilla certainly looked well-placed to mount a challenge for the title having ultimately fallen just short in the final weeks of 2020-21.

At the very least, they are surely on track to finish in the top four in three successive seasons for only the second time since the Spanish Civil War, and it's this kind of consistency that's undoubtedly caught the attention of Man United, whom he defeated en route to 2019-20 Europa League success.

There are reasons to suggest he could be the sort of 'system coach' United need, as well. He's turned Sevilla into a side who dominate the ball, with their 64.4 per cent average possession for the season second only to Barcelona (65.8), while only the Catalans and Madrid have attempted and completed more passes.

But where many teams who like to dominate possession tend to press high, Sevilla do much more of their pressing in the middle third of the pitch – working with a striker like Ronaldo, who's engaged in just 113 pressures in the Premier League this season, ranking 30th at his position, may not be such an issue.

 

For example, Sevilla's 61 high turnovers are 10 fewer than any other LaLiga team this season, yet they have allowed opponents to have just four build-ups (sequences of 10 or more passes) that resulted in a shot or touch in the box. The next best record here is 10 (Barca and Villarreal).

This theoretically then gives Sevilla the chance to showcase their strength in picking through a counter-press, which is demonstrated by their 73 high turnovers against being the third-lowest in the division – none have led to a goal.

 

After getting by on individual quality and a helping of nostalgia for nearly three years, United need a coach who has proven he can mould a team to his philosophy – Sevilla may not be the most exhilarating team to watch, but they are effective and Lopetegui got results very quickly.

Certainly, Lopetegui ending up at Old Trafford any time soon isn't likely, but if Sevilla continue to churn out results in LaLiga and make themselves a genuine silverware rival to Los Blancos and Atletico Madrid, it's only a matter of time before Europe's biggest clubs come poking around. 

Where Lopetegui once saw Madrid as his greatest opportunity, he hopefully now just sees them as a mere obstacle in his quest for a crowning achievement: winning Sevilla their first title since the 1940s.

Dwight Yorke has claimed Manchester United did not need to sign Jadon Sancho due to the emergence of Mason Greenwood at the time.

Sancho joined from Borussia Dortmund in a big-money move in the last transfer window, though the winger's arrival was somewhat overshadowed by Cristiano Ronaldo's sensational return to Old Trafford.

The 21-year-old has struggled for form since the transfer and was dropped by England after disappointing in his initial showings for United.

However, Sancho – who has accumulated 744 minutes across all competitions for his new club – finally found the net against Villarreal on Tuesday after previously going 14 appearances and 10 shots without finding the net.

His Champions League strike was his first goal for the club, having failed to score before United and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer parted ways with the Red Devils sat eighth in the league.

But Yorke expressed his confusion as to why United signed Sancho when they have Greenwood, who stormed onto the scene in 2019-20 before he became only the second teenager to find the net in the opening three matches of a Premier League season this term.

"I think people forget these are young men that come in with huge expectations," Yorke, who finished as United's top league goal scorer in 1998-99, told Stats Perform. 

"He hasn't had the best of campaigns with England. We've seen that missed penalty, that can have a knock-on effect as well. All those little things, things that young players have to deal with. 

"I am a fan; I just probably think it would have been a little bit too early for us to bring him in. 

"I think we didn't need Sancho at the point in time with the emergence of Greenwood. I just think that was a position that we didn't really need to go for."

United are reportedly edging closer to appointing Ralf Rangnick on an interim basis, with a permanent solution set to be found at the end of the season.

The 63-year-old will no doubt know about Sancho, who is the only player from Europe's top five leagues to have scored 10 goals or more and had at least 15 assists across all competitions in each of the previous three seasons.

Despite questioning whether his arrival was necessary, Yorke added how exciting Sancho's potential can be for United, who travel to Chelsea in the Premier League on Sunday.

"However, you still cannot underestimate the talent the boy does possess," he continued.

"He's definitely one for the future. Again, we have an English product and we want to make sure that we continue to pick up the English players. 

"But sometimes that can get a little bit overwhelming at times and people get ahead of themselves a little bit. But there’s no question in my mind that he's a very talented young man and will be a great asset to the football club going forward."

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