Yordan Alvarez was the hero as the Houston Astros topped the Boston Red Sox 5-0 to advance to the MLB World Series.

Alvarez drove in the opening run before scoring to double the lead in the sixth inning to fuel the Astros in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series (ALCS) on Friday.

The Astros sealed the ALCS pennant 4-2 and their first World Series berth since 2019 – third in five years – thanks to Kyler Tucker's three-run homer in the eighth inning.

Houston will face either the Atlanta Braves or defending champions the Los Angeles Dodgers for their second MLB crown and first since 2017.

ALCS MVP Alvarez – the fifth Astros player with a four-hit game in a potential postseason clincher – set the tone in Houston, where he doubled to deep centre, allowing Alex Bregman to score in the first inning.

The tense battle continued before Tucker's grounded into double play at first as Alvarez scored to make it 2-0.

With the Red Sox trying to avoid elimination, the Astros put the result beyond doubt behind Tucker's 357-foot shot in the bottom of the eighth, with Alvarez and Carlos Correa also scoring.

Alvarez (.522) ended the series with the highest batting average in the ALCS, eclipsing Kevin Youkilis (.500 in 2007).

Luis Garcia starred on the mound, allowing just one hit in 5.2 innings while striking out seven batters.

Houston's Dusty Baker is heading back to the World Series for the first time in 19 years – the only manager to go longer between consecutive World Series appearances was Bucky Harris (1925 with the Senators then 1947 with the Yankees).

Baker will be aged 72 years and 133 days old for Game 1 of the World Series, the second oldest manager to reach the Fall Classic behind only Jack McKeon (73 years and 329 days in 2003).

 

Dodgers at Braves

The Braves can secure a date with the Astros when they host the Dodgers in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series (NLCS) on Saturday. Atlanta lead 3-2.

Inter CEO Giuseppe Marotta said star duo Nicolo Barella and Lautaro Martinez will extend their contracts with the Serie A champions, while he hit out at former striker Romelu Lukaku.

Barella is contracted to Inter until 2024 amid links with Liverpool, Atletico Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain, and the Nerazzurri have been determined to tie the Italy international down to a new long-term deal.

Martinez – long linked with LaLiga giants Barcelona – and his current deal does not expire until 2023.

Marotta addressed the futures of Barella and Martinez ahead of Sunday's Derby d'Italia against rivals Juventus, while highlighting the time needed to re-sign midfielder Marcelo Brozovic, who is reportedly wanted by Manchester United and Barca.

"Barella and Lautaro will extend their contract with a pay rise, we are close," Marotta told Il Corriere della Sera.

"Brozovic's contract is expiring, it will take more time, but I am confident."

Marotta, meanwhile, said there is not much difference between Inter's Edin Dzeko and former star Lukaku – who he claims left San Siro for more money.

After leading Inter to the Scudetto last season, Lukaku re-joined Chelsea in a club-record £97.5million (€115m) deal.

Dzeko was brought in from Roma as a replacement for Lukaku ahead of the 2021-22 campaign.

"Lukaku was sold for €115m and we bought Dzeko for free. On the pitch, there isn't much difference,” Marotta said. "Lukaku left to double his salary, in Italy these figures can't exist.

"Today, we can't make important investments, I wouldn't be allowed to sign Lukaku for €75m. We need reduced and specific investments."

Barella and Arturo Vidal netted in the last home Serie A match against Juventus – the last Inter midfielder to score in consecutive league seasons against the Bianconeri at San Siro was Lothar Matthaus (in 1989-90 and 1990-91).

Among the 13 teams he has faced at least 10 times in Serie A, Juventus are one of the two against which Dzeko has been involved in the fewest goals (alongside Torino) – only three (two goals and one assist).

Inter have scored 78 goals (in 32 games) in 2021 in Serie A. In the big five European leagues, only Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich have netted more (89 in 29 games) this calendar year; Juventus have scored 64 goals in 33 matches.

Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid made an impassioned plea for fans to support team-mate Ben Simmons amid his continued absence.

Simmons is yet to feature for the 76ers this NBA season, sitting out Friday's clash with Eastern Conference rivals the Brooklyn Nets, having been suspended for Wednesday's opener against the New Orleans Pelicans due to "conduct detrimental to the team".

The three-time All-Star has sought a trade away from the 76ers following last season's shock playoff exit to the Atlanta Hawks, while he was reportedly ejected from Tuesday's practice as head coach Doc Rivers grew frustrated with his lack of engagement.

After a meeting between Simmons, Embiid and the rest of the team, last season's MVP runner-up threw his support behind the former number one pick prior to tip-off against the Nets in Philadelphia.

"I urge you guys to continue to support us and our team-mate Ben, because he's still our brother," Embiid said as he grabbed the microphone on court.

Following the meeting, ESPN reported Simmons notified the 76ers he was not mentally ready to play and needed time to step away.

"I felt good up and down throughout and I kept saying that, things do change," Rivers told reporters pre-game.

"That still doesn't mean it's gonna work out perfect or it could, but I always believed that. I've never wavered from that. I've said that 100 times and I still stick with it."

Rivers added: "It was a productive day, but it's a start. That's the only way you can get going, you gotta start, and today was a start."

Simmons – an elite defender who signed a five-year, $177.2million contract extension in 2019 – and his shooting problems were laid bare during the 2021 postseason with the top-seeded 76ers, who were eliminated in the semi-finals.

The 25-year-old had no fourth-quarter field-goal attempts in his last four games of the playoffs against the Hawks last season. He is the only NBA player in the last 20 seasons to have four consecutive postseason games with no field-goal attempts in the fourth quarter during a season in which he was an All-Star, according to Stats Perform.

Simmons averaged just 10.1 field-goal attempts in 2020-21 – a career low, which dropped to 7.9 in the playoffs. It was the same story with his scoring as it dropped to a career-worst 14.3 points per game and 11.9 in the postseason – both career lows.

Then there is Simmons and free throws. He was exposed by rival teams as they regularly sent him to the line, with the Melbourne-born guard making just 25 of 73 shots in the 2020-21 playoffs. His 34.2 free-throw percentage is the lowest ever in a single postseason.

"He is part of the team," he continued. "We have certain rules, obviously, the other day, that didn't happen, but today was a good day.

"Most people, we look at problems instead of the possibilities and I think if we focus on the possibilities, just in life in general, you have a pretty good chance of going to a good place. If you focus on the problems, you're probably gonna continue to have problems."

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer insisted it is wrong to criticise Cristiano Ronaldo's work ethic as he launched a staunch defence of the Red Devils superstar.

Ronaldo was the hero again on Wednesday, scoring the match-winning goal in a thrilling 3-2 Champions League win over Atalanta, having trailed 2-0 at half-time.

The five-time Ballon d'Or winner has scored six goals in eight matches across all competitions since returning to United from Juventus, though there has been some scrutiny of the 36-year-old amid the club's struggle for form.

Ronaldo has been criticised for not working hard or defending enough and as United prepare to host bitter Premier League rivals Liverpool on Sunday, Solskjaer backed the all-time leading scorer in men's international football.

"First of all, he's fit enough to do it still. But he's played this game 500 times before," Solskjaer told Sky Sports.

"He's been in that situation so many times, and it's one of them: 'I know what [team-mate Luke Shaw] is going to do, I know where I need to be and I'm still capable of doing it'. That's key.

"He's changed his position from being a wide forward into more of a box centre forward because he knows how to score a goal, he wants to score goals. When he first came, with all the tricks and the pace, he had the hunger - and he's still got the hunger.

"He's done what every player has to do throughout his career, you have to evolve."

Solskjaer added: "When Cristiano came to us, he'd not had a proper pre-season at Juventus and you can see he's gradually getting fitter and fitter.

"Now he feels: 'I'm getting towards the level I know I can be'. Wednesday night, the focus, the physical effort, the run… he had the highest amount of sprints, the longest sprint distance, the longest high-intensity distance.

"We talk about players who run a lot, he does as much as them. If people want to criticise his work ethic, that's completely wrong. You see him running down the channels, which he has to do as a centre forward.

"He does the work that we want him to do for the team. Of course, the team, when you have a player like him, you've got to get the best out of him, but he knows he's part of the jigsaw of that team and he's been brilliant."

United – sixth in the table and four points behind second-placed Liverpool – have won just one of their last 10 Premier League meetings against the Reds (D6 L3), losing this exact fixture 4-2 last season.

Solskjaer's United shipped four goals in a home Premier League game for only the fifth time in last season's encounter with Liverpool. The last team to score four-plus goals in consecutive top-flight visits to Old Trafford was Burnley in 1961-62 (won 4-1) and 1962-63 (won 5-2).

United are without a clean sheet in any of their last nine home league matches, their longest streak without one since a run of 10 between September 1970 and February 1971.

Meanwhile, United have only picked up eight points from their last seven home Premier League matches (W2 D2 L3), winning twice as many points in their previous seven at Old Trafford (16 – W5 D1 L1).

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers said while disgruntled All-Star Ben Simmons remains away from the team, he took positives from Friday's meeting.

Simmons – who has demanded a trade – was suspended for Wednesday's NBA season-opening win over the New Orleans Pelicans due to "conduct detrimental to the team" following reports he was ejected from practice after Rivers grew frustrated with his lack of engagement.

The Australian has also been ruled out of Friday's showdown with star-studded Eastern Conference rivals the Brooklyn Nets at Wells Fargo Center.

Reports of a meeting between Simmons, Rivers and his team-mates emerged on Friday, with ESPN claiming the former number one pick was not mentally ready to play and needed time to step away.

Speaking afterwards and prior to tip-off against the Nets, Rivers told reporters: "I felt good up and down throughout and I kept saying that, things do change.

"That still doesn't mean it's gonna work out perfect or it could, but I always believed that. I've never wavered from that. I've said that 100 times and I still stick with it."

Rivers added: "It was a productive day, but it's a start. That's the only way you can get going, you gotta start, and today was a start."

Simmons – an elite defender who signed a five-year, $177.2million contract extension in 2019 – and his shooting problems were laid bare during the 2021 postseason with the top-seeded 76ers, who were eliminated in the semi-finals.

The 25-year-old had no fourth-quarter field-goal attempts in his last four games of the playoffs against the Hawks last season. He is the only NBA player in the last 20 seasons to have four consecutive postseason games with no field-goal attempts in the fourth quarter during a season in which he was an All-Star, according to Stats Perform.

 

Simmons averaged just 10.1 field-goal attempts in 2020-21 – a career low, which dropped to 7.9 in the playoffs. It was the same story with his scoring as it dropped to a career-worst 14.3 points per game and 11.9 in the postseason – both career lows.

Then there is Simmons and free throws. He was exposed by rival teams as they regularly sent him to the line, with the Melbourne-born guard making just 25 of 73 shots in the 2020-21 playoffs. His 34.2 free-throw percentage is the lowest ever in a single postseason.

"He is part of the team," he continued. "We have certain rules, obviously, the other day, that didn't happen, but today was a good day.

"Most people, we look at problems instead of the possibilities and I think if we focus on the possibilities, just in life in general, you have a pretty good chance of going to a good place. If you focus on the problems, you're probably gonna continue to have problems."

Including the playoffs, Philadelphia are 9-2 in their last 11 games against the Nets. Additionally, the 76ers have six straight home wins in the series, starting with Game 2 of the first round of the 2019 postseason.

Four Philadelphia players scored 20-plus points against New Orleans, with Joel Embiid and Furkan Korkmaz each having 22 and Tobias Harris and Tyrese Maxey finishing with 20. The 76ers had zero games last season with four 20-plus point scorers, according to Stats Perform.

West Indies captain, Kieron Pollard, says the team’s famous victory over England at the 2016 World Cup still serves as motivation as they look to open their title defense against the same opponents on Saturday.

In the 2016 final, the Caribbean team needed an improbable 19 off the final over before Carlos Brathwaite famously smacked four 6s off Ben Stokes to give the team its second world title.

Although Brathwaite is not in the squad this time around and admitting that things are not quite the same, Pollard insists the moment is a good reference point, which serves as an example of triumphing despite heavy odds in adversity.

“What Carlos did in those four deliveries, in that last over, it’s unbelievable.  It’s something we saw as a team last night and it brought goosebumps back to us,” Pollard told members of the media on Friday.

“For us to be in that situation and get over the line, it shows that never say die attitude.  As a team, we hope to replicate winning the entire tournament, and those kinds of moments, they stick with us.  Hopefully, we can go out and play good enough cricket to get back in that kind of position, so we can be in another final and have some memories going forward,” he added.

“I don’t think it will have much bearing on the game (against England) because it’s another game of cricket and that situation was totally different it being a final, but we are looking to come out and give a good account of ourselves.”

 

 

 

Mikel Arteta says Arsenal laid down a marker for how he wants his side to play in their dominant 3-1 win over Aston Villa on Friday.

The Gunners snapped a run of three successive defeats to Villa in the Premier League, moving up to ninth place thanks to goals from Thomas Partey, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Emile Smith Rowe at Emirates Stadium.

Arsenal were two goals ahead at the end of a first half that saw them register 14 shots to Villa's none – the first time they have managed to stop their opponents from getting a shot away before half-time in the league since May 2018 against Burnley. 

The win extends Arsenal's unbeaten run to six matches in the top flight since kicking off their campaign with three straight losses and Arteta was delighted with what he saw.

"The way we started the game and the way we continued was good," he told BBC Sport. "We attacked them really aggressively, we won every duel. We were creative, a threat. I'm proud of the team, they played really well.

"This is how we have to play. This is when we are good, when we play with real desire, real commitment and can have clear ideas of how to attack them. We are closer together as a team. Our decisions were good. We have good players."

Arsenal had an Aubameyang goal rightly ruled out and hit the crossbar through Partey's strike before the latter found a way through with his first goal for the club on his 40th appearance in all competitions.

It looked as though Arteta's side would only have that one goal to show for a dominant first half, but they were awarded a penalty just before half-time after a lengthy VAR review for a Matt Targett foul on Alexandre Lacazette. 

Aubameyang's spot-kick was saved by Emiliano Martinez, but the Gabon international beat his former team-mate from the follow-up as he scored a home league goal for the fourth game running.

Star man Smith Rowe went on to put Arsenal out of reach early in the second half, before Jacob Ramsey's late consolation, but Arteta admitted he was concerned his side's profligacy may have cost them before the second goal went in.

"That was the worry," he said. "That [Aubameyang] goal was really helpful. We deserved many more. Villa are a really good side. When they had a little bit of the ball in your half they can cause problems.

"It was really impressive what they did, especially Nuno Tavares. This was his first start. To play with courage, credit to the boy. We reviewed the Crystal Palace game, how we started and why we weren’t consistent in the game. We put it right today."

Smith Rowe pulled the string for Arsenal from midfield by playing a game-high four key passes, including the assist from a corner for Partey's opener, which he added to with a deflected strike of his own to round off a counter-attack.

"Emile was terrific," Arteta told Sky Sports. "He's scoring goals, but I feel it was more about the team today. Scoring should be a habit and he should demand that in his game as he's capable of doing it. He's developing more in other areas.

"The other night against Crystal Palace, he wasn't 100 per cent fit but he wanted to step forward with the injury he had. 

"He's changing his ways in terms of the eating habits that he had and I thought he was superb. This was an example of why we wanted to keep him and we're very happy with him."

Max Verstappen fumed at "stupid idiot" Lewis Hamilton and aimed a middle-finger salute at his title rival in a heated United States Grand Prix session.

The fight for the Formula One title intensified when the pair came close to making contact during FP2 at the Circuit of The Americas on Friday.

Championship leader Verstappen snapped over the team radio after going wheel-to-wheel with Hamilton, saying: "Ha! Stupid idiot!" and making his feelings clear with a gesture to the Mercedes driver.

A Red Bull engineer told Verstappen to "ignore it" as the Dutchman endured a frustrating day, having been caught in traffic at the start of the mid-session short runs.

He could only finish down in eighth in the second session as Sergio Perez set the pace, with Hamilton third behind Lando Norris.

Valtteri Bottas topped the timesheets in the first session, but will take a five-place grid penalty in Austin after having a sixth engine of the season – with three being the limit – fitted and a sixth exhaust.

Silver Arrows team principal Toto Wolff says there is a risk that Hamilton, who trails Verstappen by only six points, could take another grid penalty this season

He added: "I can't say whether we will be taking one and what the percentage is, but obviously the risk is still there.

"What is difficult to evaluate is do you want to pre-empt the situation and take another penalty and take the hit or do you want to really run it and possibly risk a DNF, and that is a discussion that is happening as we speak, and we haven’t come to the right answers yet."

Williams driver George Russell, Bottas' replacement at Mercedes for 2022, and Aston Martin's Sebastian Vettel will start on the back row after they had multiple new engine parts fitted.

Jenson Brooksby enhanced his growing reputation and set up showdown with Diego Schwartzman in the European Open semi-finals.

The 20-year-old American, who took a set off Novak Djokovic and rattled the world number one at the US Open, is shaping up as potentially his country's biggest hope for the future in the men's game.

Californian Brooksby crushed Spain's world number 44 Alejandro Davidovich Fokina 7-5 6-0, and second seed Schwartzman awaits after the Argentinian took down another 20-year-old American, Brandon Nakashima, scoring a 6-4 6-2 quarter-final win.

Schwartzman is the man who ended Andy Murray's hopes at the tournament in Antwerp.

Brooksby, who had to win two qualifying matches to reach the main draw, said: "Tomorrow will be a great match. I'm really looking forward to it. I'll get some rest tonight and get ready to battle again tomorrow."

The other semi-final will see Italian top seed Jannik Sinner take on South African seventh seed Lloyd Harris following their respective straight-sets wins over Arthur Rinderknech and Marton Fucsovics.


There will be an all-Russian semi-final at the Kremlin Cup in Moscow, after Aslan Karatsev and Karen Khachanov won through to the final four.

Second seed Karatsev sank the hopes of Frenchman Gilles Simon, breaking serve five times on the way to a 6-4 6-3 win, while third-seeded Khachanov edged out Australian John Millman. A 7-5 7-6 (7-4) grind featured 19 aces by Khachanov, the 2018 Kremlin Cup champion, who saved four set points in the second set.

Marin Cilic thrashed Pedro Martinez 6-1 6-2 to set up a tussle with Ricardas Berankis, the Lithuanian ending Adrian Mannarino's run with a 6-2 7-6 (7-1) success. Frenchman Mannarino had stunned Russian top seed Andrey Rublev in the previous round.

Arsenal returned to winning ways and moved into the top half of the Premier League with a well-earned 3-1 victory over Aston Villa at Emirates Stadium.

Mikel Arteta's side had been held in back-to-back games but Friday's win never seemed in doubt after Thomas Partey deservedly headed them in front with his first goal for the club.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang added a second just before half-time from a rebound after Emiliano Martinez had saved his penalty, which was awarded after VAR intervened.

Villa substitute Jacob Ramsey pulled one back late on after Emile Smith Rowe had further extended Arsenal's lead, as the Gunners stretched their unbeaten league run to six matches and condemned their opponents to a third loss on the bounce.

 

Aubameyang had a goal rightly ruled out for an Alexandre Lacazette foul in the build-up and Partey turned a shot against the crossbar in a dominant start from Arsenal.

The hosts deservedly took the lead with 23 minutes played, when Partey got away from John McGinn and guided Smith Rowe's corner past Martinez.

Former Arsenal keeper Martinez produced a fine save to deny Bukayo Saka from a one-on-one on the half-hour mark, but he was beaten for a second time from the penalty spot right at the end of the first half.

After being asked to check the pitchside monitor, Craig Pawson adjudged Matt Targett went through the back of Lacazette to win the ball and Aubameyang fired past Martinez at the second attempt after his former team-mate kept out the initial spot-kick.

Villa squandered a two-goal lead to lose 3-2 against Wolves last week, but any hopes of a comeback of their own were extinguished by a Smith Rowe strike that deflected in off Tyrone Mings.

Ramsey curled a delightful shot past Aaron Ramsdale eight minutes from time following some nice play from fellow substitute Leon Bailey, though that proved nothing more than a consolation.

Valtteri Bottas, George Russell and Sebastian Vettel have taken grid penalties for the United States Grand Prix this weekend.

Bottas won in Turkey last time out, but a repeat would appear unlikely at the Circuit of The Americas on Sunday after the Mercedes driver had a sixth engine of the season – with three being the limit – fitted and a sixth exhaust.

The Finn, who sits third in the driver standings and was fastest in the first practice session on Friday, will take a five-place penalty for the race in Austin.

Silver Arrows team principal Toto Wolff said: "I think you see that we are suffering with reliability this year, we're going onto the sixth engine for Valtteri, and it is not something we choose to do, but on the contrary; we are trying to really get on top of the problems, and we haven't understood fully [what they are]."

Wolff says there is a risk that Lewis Hamilton could take another grid penalty this season as he battles for the title with Max Verstappen.

He added: "I can't say whether we will be taking one and what the percentage is, but obviously the risk is still there.

"What is difficult to evaluate is do you want to pre-empt the situation and take another penalty and take the hit or do you want to really run it and possibly risk a DNF, and that is a discussion that is happening as we speak, and we haven’t come to the right answers yet."

Williams driver Russell, Bottas' replacement at Mercedes for 2022, and Aston Martin's Vettel will start on the back row after they had multiple new engine parts fitted.

Hamilton was 0.045 seconds slower than his team-mate Bottas in FP1, with his championship rival Verstappen third-quickest – almost a second slower than Bottas.

The Indianapolis Colts appeared destined for a lost season back in Week 3.

Indianapolis started the year with three successive defeats and the Colts' gamble on their ability to revive Carson Wentz's career looking misjudged.

Since then, the Colts have enjoyed wins over the Miami Dolphins and Houston Texans, sandwiched by a heartbreaking defeat to the Baltimore Ravens in which they let slip a 19-point lead and lost in overtime.

The performances in those last three games have led to renewed optimism around a team that has reached the playoffs in two of the last three seasons.

Should Indianapolis knock off the San Francisco 49ers on the road in primetime, then the hype around the Colts will only grow.

Yet the 49ers figure to prove a difficult matchup for a quarterback whose performances in recent weeks have perhaps been slightly overrated.

Sub-par accuracy

Ninth in the league in yards per attempt (8.01) and with nine touchdowns to one interception, the numbers through six games for Wentz are impressive.

Yet his completion percentage is 64.2, 21st among 32 qualifying quarterbacks and that is reflected by his accuracy numbers.

Wentz, per Stats Perform data, has produced an accurate, well-thrown ball on 77.7 per cent of his passes, below the league average of 78.8 for quarterbacks with at least 10 attempts.

And he is set to face a Niners defense that has once again been among the league's best this season.

An intimidating defensive line

While the 49ers are themselves an underwhelming 2-3 and riding a three-game losing streak, their defense is excelling under new coordinator DeMeco Ryans.

The 49ers rank sixth in the NFL by yards per game allowed (329.8) and eighth in yards per play (5.29) and, while they are 30th in the NFL with only 76 pressures, they boast defensive linemen who can get Wentz out of rhythm.

Defensive tackle Arik Armstead and edge rushers Nick Bosa and Dee Ford have each dominated in 2021 when it comes to winning their individual matchups.

Armstead has a stunt-adjusted win percentage of 52.63 from his 49 pass rush matchups this year. Ford is next on 45 per cent while Bosa has an adjusted win percentage of 41.54 from 60 matchups. The league average for defensive linemen is 22 per cent.

They will each look to prosper against a Colts offense that has allowed the ninth-most pressures in the NFL (105) while the numbers suggest the Niners should excel at limiting the explosive plays on which Wentz has found joy in recent weeks.

Big plays not a guarantee

On passing attempts of 21 or more air yards, Wentz has the highest passer rating in the NFL (144.7).

He has completed 11 of 18 such attempts for 377 yards and three touchdowns and showed off his deep-ball prowess during last week's rout of the Texans.

Wentz hooked up with Parris Campbell for a 51-yard touchdown and connected with T.Y. Hilton for a 52-yard reception; however, such plays are partially a reflection of the struggles of a Texans defense allowing 7.6 yards per pass play.

The 49ers, despite a spate of injuries to their cornerbacks, have allowed 43 pass plays of 10 yards or more, the fewest in the NFL. San Francisco's defense has conceded 16 pass plays of 20 yards or more, the seventh-fewest in the league.

Wentz, therefore, may be forced into a more conservative approach in a game expected to take place in inclement weather. Helpfully, he may be able to lean more on the running game, with San Francisco 16th in yards per rush allowed (4.26) and running back Jonathan Taylor fifth in the NFL in yards per carry (5.43) for players at his position as he enjoys a superb start to his second season.

Indianapolis' signal-caller can also afford to at least have confidence in his ability to avoid turnovers. His pickable pass percentage of 1.68 is the fourth best among quarterbacks with a minimum of 10 attempts and the 49ers have a league-low two takeaways to their name.

A closer look at the evidence from his reunion with Colts coach Frank Reich indicates Wentz might find success difficult on Sunday should the Colts need to win the game on his arm. If he contradicts the statistics and thrives against a tough defense on the road, then the optimism around Indianapolis will be more justified.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be without Antonio Brown, Rob Gronkowski and Lavonte David when they face the Chicago Bears this Sunday.

Defending champions Tampa Bay look bound for another deep playoff run, the Bucs having started the year 5-1.

However, they will have to cope without a clutch of stars against the 3-3 Bears, with tight end Gronkowski (ribs) set to miss a fourth successive game.

Brown, who leads the Bucs with four receiving touchdowns, has an ankle injury, as does linebacker David, a second-team All-Pro last year.

Cornerback Richard Sherman (hamstring) is out, but the Buccaneers will receive a boost with secondary Antoine Winfield Jr. available having passed through the NFL's concussion protocol.

The Bucs have started 5-1 for the fifth time in franchise history, having made the playoffs in each of the previous four seasons (2005, 2002, 1997 and 1979).

Tampa Bay will look to go 6-1 for the first time, but head coach Bruce Arians is not underestimating the Bears and rookie quarterback Justin Fields.

"Real good week of practice, and obviously this is a team that I think is on the rise," Arians said. "It's going to take our best to make sure we beat them."

Julian Nagelsmann has set up a kitchen control room to guide Bayern Munich while he remains away from the team after a COVID-19 positive test.

Assistant head coach Dino Toppmoller will lead from the touchline when Bayern host Hoffenheim in the Bundesliga on Saturday, having also stood in for the 4-0 win at Benfica in the Champions League on Wednesday.

Despite being fully vaccinated, Nagelsmann learned that the flu-like symptoms he was experiencing in Portugal were caused by coronavirus.

He said he feels "a bit weak" and is wary of getting in the way of the work being carried out by Toppmoller and fellow assistant Xaver Zembrod.

"Still, I am trying to take control if possible," said head coach Nagelsmann.

"In isolation, I have built myself a little analysis centre with a big screen, iPad and laptop. I have different technical abilities now, also when it comes to the scouting feed for the game.

"It looks like a big data centre, right in my kitchen so that I have a short way to the tea kettle. I am positive that we will have a good impact. For training rhythm, this is not so bad because we don't really have training right now."

With such a heavy game schedule, Bayern's players are only ticking over between matches, rather than going through major sessions on the training pitch.

Nagelsmann is optimistic of being back at his Bayern desk in a matter of days, and says his positive test came as a jolt, insisting he had been trying to stay out of danger.

"I think we are all being cautious basically. This is hard, you cannot always say 100 per cent where you get the infection from," Nagelsmann said.

"I haven't done anything illegal or been at this party in Berlin where you had 22 people positive. I wasn't there, as an example. Basically, you never know. I was also a bit shocked.

"I just thought that I had a flu like many people at that time. For vaccinated people like me, things get less restricted and then you can also get infected easier.

"Of course, I went to a restaurant last week but I don't know... I couldn't find out where I got it from. I don't think you can, this is really hard. The virus you have in your body doesn't come with a number that makes it trackable. That's just how it is."

Bayern head into the weekend with a one-point advantage over Borussia Dortmund at the top of the Bundesliga, winning six and losing just one of their first eight games as they seek a 10th consecutive league title.

Nagelsmann is in his first season with the club, having left RB Leipzig at the end of last season to take over from Hansi Flick, who left Bayern to become head coach of Germany.

Before Leipzig, Nagelsmann cut his teeth with Hoffenheim, so he misses out on a reunion on Saturday.

Between 2016 and 2019, Nagelsmann managed Hoffenheim in 116 Bundesliga games, achieving a points-per-game average of 1.65, comfortably the best record of any coach of the club to have taken charge of at least five top-flight games.

On Saturday, Bayern will be looking to avoid a second successive home defeat in the Bundesliga, having been beaten 2-1 by Eintracht Frankfurt in their previous game at the Allianz Arena. The last time they lost consecutive league home games was in 2001 under Ottmar Hitzfeld.

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