Several quizzical eyebrows are likely to have been lifted in Anfield and its surrounding areas when it was revealed Jurgen Klopp had left both Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino out of the starting XI for Wednesday's Merseyside derby.

The fixture congestion Liverpool, runaway leaders in the Premier League title race, are about to face has already been well-documented, but the decision to omit two members of their star-studded forward line for a derby game in which defeat would give hope to the chasing pack appeared a bizarre one on the surface.

Any Liverpool fan concerned by the five changes made to Klopp's XI need not have worried, as the third member of an attacking triumvirate that has tormented the Premier League produced a dazzling display, while the man who settled the last Merseyside derby at Anfield in remarkable circumstances added to his incredible scoring tally in this famous fixture.

Six goals were scored from six shots on target in the first half, with a frantic and thrilling affair offering plenty for the neutral, but precious little for Marco Silva to enjoy, with a 5-2 defeat to Everton's city rivals only likely to further talk he will soon be searching for alternative employment.


BALLON D'OR NOMINEES PRODUCE GOLDEN TOUCH

Virgil van Dijk missed out on winning the Ballon d'Or on Monday, as Lionel Messi took home the award for the sixth time. He was not he only Liverpool player some felt was snubbed, however, with Sadio Mane seen as unfortunate to finish fourth in the voting.

While Van Dijk enjoyed a relatively quiet evening, Mane - who came into the fixture with eight league goals - produced the kind of performance that will keep him firmly in the running for world football's top individual prizes.

His throughball for Divock Origi to open the scoring was unbelievably well-weighted, while his reverse pass to tee up Xherdan Shaqiri for Liverpool's second was simply sublime. After failing to register a single assist in his last 40 appearances at Anfield, Mane delivered two in the first half.

The move that led to Shaqiri's goal was started by an exquisite cross-field pass from Trent Alexander-Arnold - 19th in the Ballon d'Or voting - and it was the right-back who teed up Mane to make it 4-2 after popping up on the left wing in a glorious encapsulation of the freedom with which Klopp's side play.

Mane missed two gilt-edged chances to double his tally late on but, of Liverpool's seven Ballon d'Or nominees, it was he and Alexander-Arnold who shone brightest as the Reds set a club-record by going 32 league games unbeaten.


FIVE-STAR ORIGI

Origi was something of an outcast when he capitalised on Jordan Pickford's howler in the corresponding fixture last season.

Since then he has scored crucial goals in the semi-final and the final of the Champions League and he took his tally in the derby to five in fine fashion.

While there was obvious fortune about his winner last term, there was nothing lucky about either of his efforts time around, with the control he displayed to collect Dejan Lovren's long pass and lob Jordan Pickford to make it 3-1 particularly worthy of praise.

Only Steven Gerrard (9) and Robbie Fowler (6) have scored more Premier League goals in the Merseyside derby. Exalted company few would have expected him to keep 12 months ago.


LIVERPOOL'S CLEAN SHEET CONCERN

One of the most bemusing statistics of this season is that Everton have kept more clean sheets (3) than Liverpool (2).

Klopp will not have been satisfied with Liverpool's defensive showing, with their problems defending set-pieces laid bare once again.

Everton should have scored more and, when the effects of a packed schedule and the Club World Cup take hold, it is fair to wonder whether better sides such as second-placed Leicester City - who they face in their first game back from Qatar on December 26 - may capitalise more ruthlessly on any defensive lapses.

SO LONG SILVA?

In their 1-0 defeat in the previous campaign, Everton were well-organised and determined, and only a freak slice of misfortune denied them a point.

Silva's men displayed no such qualities on Wednesday. Liverpool were imperious going forward, but the ease with which Everton were cut open time and again was alarming.

Everton have not been relegated since 1951 but another chastening loss to their neighbours saw them drop into the bottom three.

Their Portuguese boss cut a forlorn figure on the sideline as he watched his side humiliated in arguably the headline game of a set of fixtures broadcast via an on-demand streaming platform. After their latest derby demolition, Everton fans are likely to be demanding change.

Jose Mourinho might well have had empathy for his Manchester United successor Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had Tottenham raided Old Trafford for maximum spoils.

The Portuguese knows more than most about the scrutiny and pressure that comes with the United manager's job, himself seen off by an awful stretch this time last year that provided neither style nor substance.

For Solskjaer, Mourinho's return will be followed by a trip to Manchester City, and the twin fixtures looked a daunting dual threat to a team and manager who before the Tottenham game were winless in three across all competitions.

At kick-off, Solskjaer was second favourite with the bookmakers to be the next Premier League manager sacked, trailing only Marco Silva, the struggling Everton boss who could not ended his team's Anfield derby hoodoo.

But rather than bury the United great, Spurs - this uncharacteristically unpredictable early Mourinho outfit - granted Solskjaer a reprieve, with his future prospects also belatedly boosted by a determined home display.

Supporters certainly seemed to have Solskjaer's back, still raucously chanting his name throughout, and United had, in Marcus Rashford, the star of the show.

Greater concerns surely belonged to Tottenham fans.

The usual stingy defending of a Mourinho team has not yet replaced the haphazard backline efforts of the final throes of Mauricio Pochettino's reign, while even the encouraging attacking endeavours of matches one, two and three - 3-2, 4-2 and 3-2 wins - did not materialise here.

Dele Alli scored a masterful 39th-minute equaliser, teed up with a touch reminiscent of his breathtaking 2016 goal against Crystal Palace, but the rest of his work was of underwhelming 2018-19 humdrum.

Unable to get his recent star performer into the game, just about everything went against Mourinho besides that leveller.

At the same end of the stadium where little over a year earlier, three weeks before his departure, Mourinho fumed at a Rashford miss against Young Boys and drew the ire of United commentators, the England striker laid early siege to Paulo Gazzaniga's Spurs goal.

Rashford's first strike provided the opener, creeping under Gazzaniga at the goalkeeper's right-hand post. A free-kick from Rashford was then whipped wide, and Gazzaniga touched a magnificent long-range effort against the crossbar before batting away a fourth attempt from United's main threat.

Mourinho, meanwhile, took a blow to the knee as Harry Winks cynically chopped down Daniel James in front of the dugout - an incident that granted the Spurs head coach a greater role in proceedings to that point than Alli, stifled and increasingly frustrated.

The attacking midfielder's stunning strike should have roused Tottenham but half-time intervened, and then so too did Moussa Sissoko, a man who painfully knows a thing or two about conceding penalties early in halves.

The felled Rashford tucked away the spot-kick for his 12th club goal of the campaign and, again, it was difficult not to be reminded of Mourinho's failure to get the best out of such a gifted player. The striker represents one check next to Solskjaer's name.

Much huffing and puffing followed from both teams, with United just about on top, but neither outfit truly convinced that their issues are behind them.

Unlike at times under Mourinho, United were indeed united, battling until the final whistle - led by Fred and the returning Scott McTominay - to protect the advantage secured by Rashford. Three points should ensure Solskjaer sees out the week, while a reality check might serve Tottenham well.

There is work to do for both United and Mourinho, long since separated, but each at least seem happier than at this time 12 months ago.

When Andy Ruiz Jr and Anthony Joshua clash in their rematch for the IBF, WBA and WBO heavyweight titles, the tactical battle should prove to be intriguing.

Ruiz shocked the world when he decked Joshua four times on the way to a huge upset win in New York in June.

The Briton will be out to prove that setback was just a bump in the road and bring his superior physical attributes to bear, while Ruiz will aim to show that stunning result was no fluke.

The men calling the shots from the corners will have had their plans in place for some time now. But will Joshua's coach Rob McCracken or Ruiz's cornerman Manny Robles be celebrating?

Here, we look at the two steadying influences behind the big men.

ROB McCRACKEN

Record

A former British light-middleweight champion and middleweight world-title challenger, McCracken rose to global prominence as Carl Froch's trainer – a calm and astute voice in the corner as 'The Cobra' enjoyed a thrilling run at the top of the 168lb division. He also oversaw Great Britain's amateur squad in the build-up to a triumphant 2012 Olympic Games, bringing him into contact with Joshua, the gold medallist he guided to world honours in 16 professional fights.

Career highlight

When London 2012 arrived on the heels of Froch's underdog shellacking of Lucian Bute, there was a strong case to be made that McCracken was the finest British coach operating across any sport at that time. Three-time world champion Froch enjoyed many memorable nights, but his dismantling of feared southpaw Bute at a fervent Nottingham Arena marked a thrilling high for both boxer and trainer.

Career low

The ever-laconic McCracken appears to have taken most of the noise in his stride since Joshua's world came crashing down. Nevertheless, luminaries such as Lennox Lewis openly questioned his credentials, while McCracken's subsequently retracted claim that he let his fighter box on while "concussed" drew widespread criticism. Joshua insists he never considered parting company with his head trainer but has brought additional help into his camp, adding Angel Fernandez and Joby Clayton to the team.

What he said

"I think my reputation should speak for itself and my first concern is always for the fighters. That should never be questioned," McCracken told reporters this week, before expressing unexpected solidarity with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. "At this level, you're going to take stick. It comes with the territory and I've got a thick skin. The Manchester United manager is going to take stick if they lose and this is the equivalent in boxing."

What they said

"I feel like where we come from, loyalty means everything," Joshua told BBC Sport when discussing his coach's position. "I'm not perfect, Rob's not perfect but we're definitely trying. If I have the attitude to change Rob, then I might as well have the attitude to stop boxing after I've lost."

MANNY ROBLES

Record

Robles followed in his father's footsteps by stepping into a boxing gym and picking up the pads. Like McCracken, he honed his pedigree among elite amateurs, coaching the United States’ national team. In 2016, he led Oscar Valdez and Jessie Magdaleno to world titles on the same bill in Las Vegas – serving notice of a burgeoning world-class stable.

Career highlight

Allowing for his previous successes, masterminding one of the biggest world-title shocks in the history of the sport stands alone. Ruiz did not simply beat Joshua because of the discombobulating "punch from the gods" in round three, but systematically took a befuddled champion apart – bringing intelligent footwork and under-rated hand speed to bear, while also attacking clinically to the body.

Career low

Ruiz's toppling of Joshua chimed so satisfyingly because of what came before. Valdez, Magdaleno, Dominic Breazeale and Michael Conlan all left his stable in relatively quick succession for differing reasons. Former WBO featherweight king Valdez remains undefeated, with Robles saying their split was down to the fighter's manager, Frank Espinoza.

What he said

"Andy's the world champion, so we have to make sure he stays disciplined and grounded. My job is to keep him in line and remind him what got him here," Robles told the Guardian after he and his pupil enjoyed their night of all nights. "I know Andy will listen. We've been through too much to give it all up."

What they said

"Manny, you’ve been by my side since day one," Ruiz told Robles at a recent workout, as reported by The Athletic. "Only you understand where I am and what I've been going through."

"Respect, respect, respect" was the call from Jose Mourinho that echoed through football the last time he was involved in a Manchester United versus Tottenham clash at Old Trafford.

Here was a manager on the cusp of a crisis, in full confrontational mode at a post-match news conference that passed boiling point - riled when it was pointed out many home supporters had walked out before the final whistle.

Here was Mourinho defending his patch ferociously, standing up for his players, for the supporters and, lastly, for himself. Showing three fingers, and pointing to how he has won three Premier League trophies.

United's 3-0 home defeat to Spurs in August 2018 was a result that demanded answers and Mourinho had plenty.

Conspiracy theorists might contend otherwise, but Mourinho would maintain he intended to see out his United contract, if not stay for longer. That he was planning to still be in charge today rather than take his leave early, sacked by Christmas last year with a tidy pay-off banked.

Therefore, another theory goes that he is in some way a reluctant Tottenham head coach, and would sooner, in a perfect world, be commandeering the home side than Spurs on Wednesday.

His United service was due to run until the end of this season, yet Mourinho will be in the enemy trenches as he brings Tottenham to a familiar parish.

Here is a look at what Mourinho might expect on his return as a rival manager.

UNITED ARE A CHANGED TEAM

Under his successor, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the start of a United clear-out occurred in the off-season, and four of the players who played a part in Mourinho's final game have moved on.

Romelu Lukaku, Matteo Darmian, Ander Herrera and Marouane Fellaini, who was a substitute in Mourinho's sorry 3-1 swansong defeat at Anfield, have new homes, and Solskjaer has changed the face of the first team.

Appropriately, it is baby-faced in places, with the manager putting his trust in the likes of young Welsh winger Daniel James and pricey but promising full-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka, along with raw teenagers such as Brandon Williams and Mason Greenwood. Harry Maguire, finding his feet, is a player Mourinho wanted but could not get.

Whether the facelift has done the craggy model any favours, however, is already up for question. James has consistently looked the part, and other newcomers have shown top-level ability in flickers.

But 18 points from 14 games is a shabby return for a club of United's status, and Mourinho will know United are ripe to be still sitting on that same haul after their 15th game.

 

"THE BEST JUDGE IN FOOTBALL ARE THE SUPPORTERS"

Moments before his demand for "respect" last year, Mourinho stood up for United's supporters and pointed out how they had appreciated United's efforts in the heavy defeat to Spurs, and it was true enough - especially before the goals flowed.

This time they will judge him, and it remains to be seen how Mourinho is greeted on his Old Trafford return.

He was received enthusiastically when back as a television pundit earlier this season, but now that his allegiance has switched so the affection for the Portuguese could be in short supply.

The United faithful willed Mourinho to do well, and many bought into the sense of siege mentality that pervaded the latter stages of his reign, but with time and reflection comes clear thinking and reasoned reckoning.

Solskjaer is now the man they are willing to succeed, and any warmth towards Mourinho may well prove short-lived.

THE NEW HOME'S AN UPGRADE

Never mind swapping a five-star Manchester travel tavern for London's home comforts, there might be another thought that strikes Mourinho when he arrives back in the north-west on Wednesday.

When he walks out at Old Trafford, he will surely notice how 20th century it looks compared to the gleaming Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion Mourinho has landed on his feet with a supreme opportunity, inheriting a team equipped to compete for honours and a club with their compass pointing to progress.

Tottenham have been built for success, largely by Mauricio Pochettino and Daniel Levy, and Mourinho might get them over the line with a trophy.

Another Old Trafford statement result by Spurs would go some way to persuading sceptics that Mourinho still has what it takes to deliver silverware to his new club. Along with three points, a polished performance would positively demand respect.

For struggling Solskjaer, such an outcome would bring reminders United are no strangers to December dismissals.

Six months have passed since Andy Ruiz Jr sent seismic shockwaves through the world of boxing to dethrone heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua.

The 11-1 underdog, a late replacement for Jarrell Miller, rose from the canvas to send 'AJ' to the floor and score a seventh-round knockout.

Joshua seeks to gain revenge in Riyadh on Saturday and reclaim the IBF, WBA and WBO belts he relinquished to the Mexican at Madison Square Garden on that fateful June evening.

But with the Briton's aura and reputation left in tatters in New York, can Joshua make amends for the first blot on a previously unblemished record? Or will Ruiz reign supreme once again.

Below, two Omnisport writers go head-to-head to discuss what will happen in Saudi Arabia.


All the greats had blips, Joshua will be hungrier now – Liam Blackburn

Muhammad Ali, Lennox Lewis, Mike Tyson, Wladimir Klitschko. Great heavyweight champions who all had to suffer the ignominy of a shock loss to an underdog. All four came back and won a world title again. 

Joshua insisted he did not underestimate Ruiz back in June but with unrelenting chatter about Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury, was his eye really on the immediate danger? Would he really have handed his belts to his replacement opponent for a photo opportunity at a pre-fight face-off had he genuinely thought he might lose?

The golden boy of British boxing has had six months to stew over that night at Madison Square Garden, half a year to meticulously prepare for an opponent who was previously parachuted in at the last moment and almost 200 days of listening to the doubters saying he is just a hyped-up fraud.

Such chatter can only sharpen Joshua's mind. This time, there are no questions about Wilder, Fury and what's next; only a focus on righting a perceived wrong. As Ali, Lewis, Tyson and Klitschko did, a hungrier Joshua will approach this fight with a completely different mindset. In the long run, the loss to Ruiz may prove a blessing in disguise for a fighter too big and too good not to reclaim his titles.


It was an upset waiting to happen, Ruiz will keep the belts – Peter Hanson

To say I predicted Ruiz would beat AJ in their first bout would be a lie so big it would make Pinocchio's nose grow to epic new lengths. But that's not to say there wasn't an upset waiting to happen.

Questions had long since been asked about Joshua's chin. As long ago as 2015, before he even had a world title on his arm, AJ had been wobbled by a stinger from domestic rival Dillian Whyte.

Some 18 months later, he was floored for the first time by Klitschko – though he valiantly rose off the canvas to score a fine win in a classic. An unconvincing win against Carlos Takam followed, while there were problems early doors against Alexander Povetkin.

Whatever the cause for his defeat to Ruiz the first time round (was he concussed? Was it nerves? Was he merely outclassed?) there can be no doubting that the aura and air of invincibility he previously carried has gone. It is a big ask to regain it and chase the big fights with Wilder and Fury he once looked certain to face.

Lionel Messi's uncanny ability to create history continued with a record-breaking sixth Ballon d'Or on Monday.

The decade-long monopoly on football's most prestigious individual prize held by the Barcelona great and Cristiano Ronaldo was broken a year ago by Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric.

But once again it was Messi's name on the prize as he added to the Ballons d'Or he won in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2015.

Below, with the help of Opta data, we have scrutinised the numbers behind each of the years Messi has been named the world's best.

2009

Could there really have been any other winner in a year in which Messi swept every major honour? There were six collective titles in total as Pep Guardiola's star-studded class won La Liga, the Copa del Rey, the Champions League, the Supercopa a Espana, the Super Cup and the Club World Cup. Messi contributed 22 goals and 10 assists in LaLiga across the calendar year, while adding a respective six and two in the Champions League.

2010

A year later and there were fewer trophies - just a LaLiga and Supercopa to add to his tally - but it was another phenomenal year for Messi, who scored 58 goals in just 54 appearances for Barcelona – meaning he had a goals-to-games ratio of 1.07. He celebrated 42 of those in just 36 LaLiga games, while he managed a goal a game across 12 appearances in the Champions League. 

2011

A third straight Ballon d'Or arrived in 2011 and justifiably so. The only major honour missing from the list was a Copa del Rey, with Messi again the figurehead in a Barca team that won LaLiga and the Champions League. There were fewer goals, 55 in 57 games across all competitions, but 25 assists was a mark-up from his 2010 numbers.

2012

The last of four in a row and, while Messi had just a Copa del Rey to show for his efforts, individually it was an astonishing 12 months for the Argentina great. In 60 appearances, Messi scored a scarcely believable 79 goals – 59 of which were in LaLiga and 13 in the Champions League. That made for an astonishing 1.32 goals per game, while he added 21 assists for good measure.

2015

In the two years prior and after, it was his great rival Ronaldo who would dominate the Ballon d'Or. But in 2015 there was really ever only one likely winner as Messi formed a devastating trio with Neymar and Luis Suarez under Luis Enrique to win a LaLiga, Copa del Rey and Champions League treble – with a Super Cup and Club World Cup thrown in for good measure. The individual stats did not quite match those of three years previously but he still contributed a mightily impressive 48 goals and 23 assists across 53 appearances.

2019

For a player considered by many as the best to ever play the game, it seems fitting that Messi should hold the record for most Ballons d'Or. This year has thus far been just as sensational as his previous five triumphs, with 41 goals and 15 assists in 44 appearances. Messi also won LaLiga for a 10th time – the most of any Barcelona player in history.

As Lewis Hamilton cruised to victory in Abu Dhabi on Sunday, it would be fair to wonder why he would ever contemplate the prospect of racing for a new team.

The Mercedes driver led from start to finish, recorded the fastest lap and won by a gap of over 16 seconds to Red Bull's Max Verstappen.

It was his 11th victory of 2019, matching his personal best total in a season, and was a win that came with his sixth Formula One drivers' title long since secured.

The final gap in the title race was a massive 87 points over team-mate Valtteri Bottas, with Verstappen, the closest driver from an opposing team, ending up out of sight at 135 adrift.

Mercedes made an emphatic start with eight straight wins and while they were challenged by Ferrari and Red Bull in the middle of the campaign, they recovered to win five of the last six.

Hamilton was in a class of his own on race days, especially considering the pole he claimed at Yas Marina Circuit – a traditionally strong track for Mercedes – was his first in 10 races.

He goes into 2020, the final year of his current contract, as the clear favourite to triumph once more, with Michael Schumacher's record of seven titles now tantalisingly close.

Hamilton is loved by Mercedes, has the best car and a team-mate in Bottas who, unlike his spell alongside Nico Rosberg, has steered clear of controversy and would struggle to beat him over a 22-race slate.

Why then is the possibility of a move to Ferrari in 2021 even on the agenda? The next contract Hamilton signs could be his last and it is one that may prove legacy defining.

He is 34 but eager to continue for a few seasons yet, leading the sport into its new era of technical regulations, which come into play the year after next.

Hamilton's talent and achievements have not always been properly appreciated, nor his mental strength and competitiveness that often lifts him above rivals.

He has been booed by Ferrari supporters, while his personality has not always proved endearing to prospective admirers.

Earlier this year, Toto Wolff expressed his surprise that Hamilton is not more revered in his home country, the United Kingdom, in comparison to other sporting greats.

It is one of many factors that must make joining Ferrari, the sport's most popular team, tempting.

Ahead of the season-ending race in Abu Dhabi, Mattia Binotto openly discussed his happiness at the possible availability of Hamilton.

Hamilton has repeatedly said he wants to see what close confidant Wolff does before deciding on his own future and explained after Sunday's win he would think about his options.

Asked about rumours he met with Ferrari president John Elkann, Hamilton said: "Everything that happens behind closed doors is obviously always private.

"But I think for many, many years, I've never, ever sat down and considered other options, because we've been just driving straight ahead into the path and journey that we've been on.

"It's only smart and wise for me to sit and think of what I want if it is the last period in my career. I want to keep winning and being able to fight with these guys. I can't really tell you what else is going to happen moving forwards."

With Sebastian Vettel's performances showing signs of decline it is Charles Leclerc, Ferrari's rising star, who would likely be Hamilton's team-mate. 

Leclerc said after the race he would welcome the challenge of having Hamilton in the same team, a move which could mean Verstappen – the other man set to lead F1's next generation – could fulfil his mooted move to Mercedes as their new number one.

Verstappen could alternatively continue to lead Red Bull if they show sufficient progress next year, but either way the 2021 grid would be a fascinating picture, with Alex Albon, Lando Norris and George Russell the other young stars in the mix for top drives.

It remains the most likely scenario that Hamilton remains with Mercedes and helps them to extend their unprecedented run of six consecutive driver and constructor doubles. He added to his comments on Ferrari by saying he still loves life with the team.

It would undoubtedly be a risk to leave that comfort and winning culture to join Ferrari, who have not produced a drivers' title since 2007, while pitting himself directly against rising star Leclerc.

But Hamilton must ponder how complete his career would be if he joins and wins with Ferrari.

The Briton has openly wondered how it would feel to have the Ferrari faithful roaring him on at Monza and ending the Scuderia's title drought would see his popularity rocket.

He timed his difficult decision to leave McLaren well in 2013 and another opportunity now presents itself.

Hamilton could end his career having seen off a daunting team-mate in Leclerc, surpassed Schumacher's now attainable records of world titles and race wins while winning the championship with a third different team.

If he does that, he would have a compelling case to stand clear of Ayrton Senna and Schumacher to be considered as the greatest driver of all time.

In August 2018, Mauricio Pochettino guided Tottenham to a 3-0 victory over Jose Mourinho's Manchester United at Old Trafford.

In hindsight, it was a defeat that appeared to signal the beginning of the end for Mourinho at United, with the Portuguese coach sacked four months later, replaced – initially on a temporary basis – by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Pochettino was heavily linked with the United hot seat, but Solskjaer's impressive run earned him the job permanently. But while Spurs went on to reach a Champions League final, the Red Devils' form dropped off dramatically.

Now, 16 months on from that clash at Old Trafford, Mourinho returns to his former stomping ground for the first time since his December 2018 sacking, having taken over from Pochettino at Spurs – who dismissed the former Argentina international following a poor start to 2019-20.

Two 3-2 wins on the bounce in the league, either side of a 4-2 comeback victory over Olympiacos in the Champions League, have seen Tottenham climb up to fifth place, two points above United, who could only draw with Aston Villa on Sunday.

Can Mourinho show his old side just what they are missing, or will Solskjaer prove his credentials in a match over which the spectre of Pochettino could loom large.

 

THE 'SPECIAL ONE' RETURNS

Glory in the EFL Cup and Europa League made Mourinho's first year in charge of United a successful one, though those were the only major trophies he won during his stint in Manchester.

After finishing second – well behind neighbours Manchester City – in Mourinho's sophomore year, United's form tailed off at the start of the former Chelsea boss' final campaign in charge.

Their home defeat to Tottenham followed on from a loss at Brighton and Hove Albion, while they also went down to both West Ham and City as they suffered four defeats from their opening 12 matches.

A run of three successive draws against Crystal Palace, Southampton and Arsenal paved the way for a 3-1 reverse at Liverpool to result in Mourinho's departure.

But after almost a year out of management, he was handed a way back into the big time with Spurs, who seem rejuvenated – albeit still with some glaring weaknesses – and Mourinho is now aiming to become just the third manager to win a Premier League away game at Old Trafford with two different clubs.

United, on the other hand, have managed just four league victories this season and head into Wednesday's encounter without a victory in three matches across all competitions.

In fact, since Solskjaer was appointed on a permanent basis on March 28, United have claimed all three points in just six Premier League games.

HEAD-TO-HEAD: MARCUS RASHFORD V HARRY KANE

One shining light for United in recent weeks has been the form of Marcus Rashford, who seems to have taken up the mantle of leading the Red Devils' youthful attack.

Meanwhile, Harry Kane's goals were not enough to save Pochettino's job, but the England captain is still as reliable as ever when presented with a chance.

Both players are on seven league goals for the season, with Rashford's 14 appearances one more than Kane.

Rashford has also played slightly more than Kane in terms of minutes, racking up 1,219 compared to the Tottenham striker's 1,165.

Kane is proving more efficient, with the 26-year-old scoring his seven goals from a total of 36 shots, resulting in a conversion rate of 19.44 per cent, while Rashford's rate stands at 16.67 per cent.

Not much separates the pair in terms of goal frequency – Kane edging this one with a strike every 166 minutes, compared to Rashford's 174.

However, Kane is the clear winner when it comes to expected goals. By this metric, Rashford (8.66) should be on at least eight goals for the campaign, while his opposite number at Spurs has only been expected to score five goals from the chances he has had this term.

FORM GUIDE

Pochettino managed two draws in his final matches in charge of Spurs, meaning Mourinho's side are now unbeaten in four league games.

Should Tottenham win, Mourinho will become their first manager to win his first three top-flight matches in charge. 

Dele Alli seems to have recaptured his best form, scoring twice and providing an assist in the two Premier League matches since Mourinho's arrival – as many as he had in his final 12 appearances under Pochettino.

United's haul of 18 points from their opening 14 Premier League matches this season means the Red Devils have endured their worst start to a domestic season since the 1988-89 campaign, when they also had 18 points and went on to finish 11th.

Both United and Tottenham are equal in one sense, however, with both having dropped 12 points from winning positions in the Premier League this season.

HISTORY SAYS…

United's hopes will not be boosted by the fact they have lost three of their past seven home league meetings against Spurs, after losing only two of their previous 36 at Old Trafford.

However, Tottenham have lost more Premier League games to United than against any other side, though Mourinho can take solace in knowing the away team won in both top-flight meetings last season.

Marco Silva's prospects at Everton look bleak. Sunday's last-gasp defeat to high-flying Leicester City has left the Toffees in 17th and a trip to Anfield does not present the ideal remedy.

Kelechi Iheanacho's VAR–assisted strike in second-half stoppage time cost Everton a share of the spoils at the King Power Stadium, a day short of the anniversary of Jordan Pickford's calamity gifting Liverpool all three points in the first Merseyside derby of last season.

Jurgen Klopp's side have gone from strength-to-strength since then, losing just one Premier League match – to Manchester City in January. 

Everton gained a modicum of revenge in March, when a goalless draw at Goodison Park ultimately proved costly for the Reds, who missed out on the league title by two points.

However, it is difficult to find more contrasting fortunes at present, with Liverpool eight points clear at the top and Everton languishing just two points above the drop zone.

The Toffees have a torrid recent record against Liverpool and, if reports are to be believed, Wednesday's meeting at Anfield could well prove to be Silva's final game of a tumultuous 18-month spell.

Yet, while Silva may ultimately pay the price for a dismal start to the season should Liverpool claim an expected win, Everton's woeful form against their neighbours stretches back much further.

TWENTY YEARS OF HURT

You have to go back over 20 years – to September 1999 – for Everton's last win at Anfield in any competition; Kevin Campbell was the Toffees' hero in a 1-0 success.

Liverpool and Everton dominated English football throughout the 1980s, but since the start of the Premier League era, the derby has become significantly more one-sided.

Everton have just nine wins out of 54 games, with Liverpool claiming 23 victories, while there have been 22 draws.

Seven of Everton's triumphs in that run have come at Goodison, with just two at Anfield, where Liverpool have won 13 times, with the points shared on 12 occasions.

Liverpool have scored 72 goals against Everton in the Premier League, with the Toffees – who have conceded 40 at Anfield – managing just 46 in return.

THE STATS DON'T LIE

Liverpool's dominance over Everton is backed up by even more damning statistics. 

Everton's win percentage against Liverpool is their third-lowest against a Premier League opponent – 16.7 per cent, or nine wins from 54 meetings.

Only against Arsenal (14.8 per cent) and Tottenham (14.5 per cent) do the Toffees have a worse win percentage against in the Premier League era.

Indeed, since their victory at Anfield in 1999, Everton have managed just four wins over Liverpool in all competitions, the most recent of which came in October 2010.

Sam Allardyce was in charge on the last occasion Everton avoided defeat at the ground they used to occupy before Liverpool were formed, with Wayne Rooney's penalty securing a 1-1 draw in December 2017.

Before that, a thunderbolt from Phil Jagielka ensured a share of the spoils back in 2014 under Roberto Martinez, who suffered two 4-0 defeats at Anfield in the space of three seasons.

LIVERPOOL'S DECADE OF DOMINANCE

While Everton's record since the start of the Premier League makes for grim reading, their dreadful form in derbies is magnified when narrowing it down to the past nine years – since Tim Cahill and Mikel Arteta led the way to a 2-0 win at Goodison Park in October 2010.

Everton had the better of the derbies in 2010-11, following up their triumph with a 2-2 draw at Anfield the following January.

Since the start of 2011-12, Everton have failed to win any league matches against Liverpool, while their points per game average of 0.56 is their lowest against any opponent in this period.

Liverpool have won seven of the 16 league meetings in this time, with Everton managing draws on nine occasions.

Of the top-flight opponents Everton have faced more than five times since the 2011-12 campaign began, Liverpool are the only team they have not beaten at all, with the Toffees having triumphed twice over Spurs, three times against Arsenal and Manchester City, and four times over Chelsea.

Revenge or repeat? This week, Andy Ruiz Jr and Anthony Joshua will become the latest men to answer one of heavyweight boxing's most historically captivating questions.

Joshua sensationally lost his IBF, WBA and WBO titles at Madison Square Garden, as well as his unbeaten record, to late replacement Ruiz back in June.

The flabby but quick-fisted Mexican climbed off the canvas to cause an almighty upset, stopping his opponent in the seventh round. It was a result few expected and one that sent shockwaves through the boxing world.

The pair will reconvene in the unfamiliar surroundings of the purpose-built Diriyah Arena in Saudi Arabia on Saturday and the stakes could not be higher.

Joshua has taken a risk in going straight back in with a man who shattered his aura and scuppered any short-term plans for a unification fight with Deontay Wilder – the WBC champion who recently tackled his own rematch against Luis Ortiz in emphatic style.

History suggests, however, that the Englishman is right to try and exorcise the demons. Here, Omnisport looks back at some other famous heavyweights who opted for an immediate rematch.

 

Joe Louis v Jersey Joe Walcott – Jun 25, 1948 (New York)

Louis was the longest-reigning heavyweight champion of the world at the time of his first meeting with Walcott, a former sparring partner for 'the Brown Bomber' who had started out at middleweight. What unfolded at Madison Square Garden was not the mismatch expected, though, as the huge underdog appeared to have pulled off the mother of all upsets. Having attempted to leave the ring before the verdict was announced, expecting to hear he had lost, Louis was apologetic after getting a generous decision victory.

'The Brown Bomber' gave Walcott an immediate rematch – but the judges had no need to get involved second time around. A tepid fight came to life in the 11th round when a big right hand paved the way for Louis to win by knockout. The champion initially retired after the bout, though he was back in the ring just over two years later.

 

Muhammad Ali v Leon Spinks - September 15, 1978 (New Orleans)

Olympic gold medallist Spinks was a 10-1 underdog when he came out on the right side of a split-decision in his first meeting with Ali in just his eighth pro fight. 'The Greatest' was anything but down the stretch, admitting afterwards that he had used the wrong tactics. Spinks, meanwhile, said: "I'm the latest, but he's the greatest" after becoming the new WBA and WBC champion.

Having lost in Las Vegas in February, Ali moved the venue to New Orleans for the return seven months later. Spinks had been stripped of one of the titles and his corner was chaos. He was outmanoeuvred by the old man, with Ali winning by a landslide on the scorecards to become the first man to be crowned heavyweight world champions on three separate occasions. It was meant to be his last fight, but instead only ended up being his final victory.

 

Evander Holyfield v Mike Tyson – June 28, 1997 (Las Vegas)

Holyfield v Tyson was a long time in the making. Finally, with Iron Mike holding the WBA belt, they met at the MGM Grand in 1997. They did not disappoint either, Tyson producing a fast start but unable to find a way to truly hurt his foe. As each round passed, Holyfield assumed control, eventually stopping his fellow American with a flurry of punches in the 11th to reign as a world champion in the division for a third time.

They signed up to do it all again seventh months later at the same venue, Tyson stunning the world by biting his rival not once but twice in the third round. The first offence was to Holyfield's right ear, resulting in an obvious injury for all to see. Following a two-point deduction for taking a piece of flesh, Tyson did it again – this time to the left ear – when the action eventually resumed. Referee Mills Lane, who had replaced Mitch Halpern following a complaint from Tyson's camp, disqualified the disgraced challenger.

 

Riddick Bowe v Andrew Golota - December 14, 1996 (Atlantic City)

The first clash between Bowe and Golota was eventful, to say the least. Golota was undoubtedly the better of the two in the ring but unwilling to abide by the rules. Already deducted points in the fourth and sixth rounds for low blows, two more in the seventh saw the bout called off by referee Wayne Kelly. That was not the end of the fighting, though, as things quickly turned ugly between the two different camps, while there were also scuffles among members of the crowd inside Madison Square Garden.

Bowe insisted afterwards he would not fight Golota again, yet the pair were back in opposite corners just five months later, this time in Atlantic City. The controversial Pole was once again disqualified for punches below the belt when ahead on the scorecards. "I can't defend him," said Lou Duva, Golota's co-trainer. "I wish I could. I can't explain it."

 

Lennox Lewis v Hasim Rahman - November 17, 2001 (Las Vegas)

Lewis can relate to Joshua's situation. He was the IBF and WBC champion who had Tyson in his sights - Rahman was nothing more than a stepping stone, a hurdle to clear before moving on to bigger and better (meaning more lucrative) things. Instead, the American caught out his rival in a fight held at altitude in Gauteng, South Africa, in April 2001. Lewis had come in heavier than usual having trained in Las Vegas to allow him to make a cameo appearance in Ocean's 11.

The less-than-perfect preparation saw him sunk by a right hand that laid Lewis out on the canvas. Second time around, however, he made sure not to make the same mistakes. The return later the same year was brutally swift, Lewis regaining his belts with a fourth-round stoppage that never looked in doubt from the opening bell. "I told you that punch was a lucky punch in South Africa. I had too many attributes for him," he said in the immediate aftermath.

It was all so predictable. From Lionel Messi's late heroics to Antoine Griezmann's frosty reception and his subsequent stunted display, very little about Barcelona's 1-0 win at Atletico Madrid on Sunday was even remotely surprising.

If it wasn't already, this had been arguably the most anticipated non-Clasico match in the Spanish football calendar ever since Griezmann's July move was confirmed.

That transfer ended a protracted saga that included one new contract, a 'documentary' and allegations of deception and shady negotiations.

Although Griezmann opted to remain with Atletico last season, documenting in excruciating detail his thought process in 'Le Decision', that contrived and narcissistic video certainly damaged his relationship with Colchoneros fans.

Perception of Griezmann worsened after it was alleged Barca and Griezmann began discussions before his release clause dropped from €200million to €120m, leaving Atletico adamant they were owed a further €80m.

If they didn't enjoy the soap opera that was the transfer saga, Atletico fans may at least have taken a hint of pleasure in Griezmann's early struggles at Barca.

The Frenchman doesn't appear to have improved them in any way, and that was the overriding feeling again after on Sunday.

Perhaps his sheepishness could be put down to the vociferous welcome reserved for him from the home support, some of whom added certain decorations to Griezmann's plaque outside the stadium before the match.

Every player to represent Atletico 100 times is honoured with a plaque outside their new stadium, though toy rats and a red cross were the most prominent new additions to Griezmann's on Sunday.

The abuse and scorn surely would've gone into overdrive had he found the net, though in reality he never looked a threat.

As has been the case for much of his career, Griezmann is at his most deadly when occupying a central position, where he can exploit even minimal spaces and do the unexpected.

Before the interval, however, he only popped up in such a position once, as he took up possession and found Luis Suarez, who lashed just wide from distance.

Otherwise he spent most of his time isolated and offering little on the left flank, the match passing him by.

After a cagey start to the second half, proceedings began to open up around the hour mark and you could be forgiven for expecting that to play into the hands of Griezmann and Barca.

Yet Griezmann remained on the periphery, barely making a squeak as chaos roared around him, the visitors clinging on for dear life.

"You wanted to be a name and you forgot to be a man," read a banner unfurled by Atletico fans, but he's failing to live up to his name at Barca.

He might have seen an opportunity for glory deep into the second half when he appeared to make a great run in behind Kieran Trippier, needing only to be fed by the marauding Messi.

But instead of slipping Griezmann through, which seemed to be the easier option, Messi used Suarez.

There was one exchange of passes and then – whack! Messi found the bottom-left corner, opting to stick to the tried and tested combination of himself and Suarez.

The ineffectiveness of Griezmann's display was entirely in keeping with the rest of his Barca career.

Suarez was the only outfield Blaugrana player – excluding substitutes – who touched the ball fewer times than Griezmann, yet the Uruguayan still proved more effective, teeing up Messi for that winner.

Although a night that began with a chorus of jeers ended with an embrace from Messi, Griezmann is feeling anything but the love after choosing to "be a name" at Barca.

Jose Mourinho made it two wins out of two as Tottenham manager while Chelsea suffered back-to-back Premier League defeats for the first time this season on a weekend of mixed fortunes at the top of the table.

Manchester City's failure to beat Newcastle United left them 11 points behind league leaders Liverpool, who won again, but Leicester City's late winner against Everton kept them within eight points of Jurgen Klopp's title favourites.

With a packed December schedule looming for all Premier League clubs, maintaining the form and fitness of key players is even more vital than ever for those chasing honours.

The absence of one of the division's hottest marksmen hurt Chelsea while the return to form of a top playmaker gave Spurs a boost, as our Premier League Data Diary reveals.
 

BLUES FIRE BLANKS IN ABRAHAM'S ABSENCE

Tammy Abraham has scored 10 goals in 13 Premier League appearances this season, but a hip injury ruled him out of Chelsea's 1-0 defeat at home to West Ham on Saturday.

Frank Lampard's side started the game brightly, treating Stamford Bridge to the kind of spirited attacking football that has won them admirers across the country this season, but their 19 shots yielded nothing for the home crowd to celebrate.

Aaron Cresswell's third goal of the season made this his highest-scoring top-flight campaign to date and earned West Ham their first Premier League away win at Chelsea since September 2002, ending a run of 13 without a league victory at Stamford Bridge.

Lampard saw his side rally in the last 20 minutes following the introduction of N'Golo Kante and Callum Hudson-Odoi, but the Blues are yet to gain a single point from a losing position in the Premier League this season. This game became the fourth they have lost after falling behind.

VAN DIJK AT THE DOUBLE AS REDS SURVIVE LATE SCARE

Virgil van Dijk is up against Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo for the 2019 Ballon d'Or, and he tormented Brighton and Hove Albion on Saturday as Liverpool won 2-1 at Anfield.

Netherlands international Van Dijk scored twice in six first-half minutes to become the highest scoring Premier League defender since the start of the 2018-19 season, with seven strikes, but the Reds endured a nervy end to the game as Brighton mounted a fightback.

Alisson became the first Liverpool goalkeeper to be sent off in a Premier League match since Doni against Blackburn Rovers in April 2012, and Lewis Dunk scored with 11 minutes left to tee up a frantic finish.

But Brighton failed to muster an equaliser and are now without a win in their past six Premier League away matches (D1 L5), while Liverpool have equalled their longest ever unbeaten top-flight run (W26 D5) by matching the 31 undefeated games achieved between May 1987 and March 1988.

ALLI REVIVAL FUELS BACK-TO-BACK WINS

Dele Alli's loss of form was among the problems Mauricio Pochettino failed to overcome before being sacked by Tottenham, but the England playmaker is bouncing back under Mourinho.

After assisting Son Heung-min's opener in a 3-2 win at West Ham a week earlier, Alli scored a brace as Spurs beat Bournemouth by the same scoreline, meaning he has been involved in three goals in two games under Mourinho - as many as in his last 12 league games for Pochettino.

While Mourinho has made a strong start at Spurs, helping the club register back-to-back Premier League wins for the first time since April, the fact his side have conceded four goals in two league games will have troubled him.

Tottenham conceded 20 shots against Bournemouth, who scored in the 73rd and 96th minutes - the exact timings of West Ham's strikes against Spurs a week prior.

The last time Spurs conceded as many shots against them in a Premier League home game was in September 2015, when Manchester City peppered their goal with 22 attempts.

SHELVEY STRIKE STALLS CITY'S TITLE CHARGE

Kevin De Bruyne's stunner looked to have earned City a victory over Newcastle, but Jonjo Shelvey ultimately had the final say.

Newcastle are now unbeaten in each of their past four home league games against reigning top-flight champions, winning two and drawing two, for the first time since a run of five ending in February 2003.

Of players with at least 15 Premier League goals, only David Ginola (66.7 per cent) and Laurent Robert (65.2 per cent) have scored a higher ratio from outside the box than Shelvey, who has netted 11 of his 17 top-flight goals from that range.

Miguel Almiron assisted Jetro Willems' equaliser after Raheem Sterling had put City ahead at St James' Park – the first assist the Paraguayan has registered from what was his 23rd chance created in the Premier League.

City have found the net in each of their past 22 Premier League games against Newcastle – their joint-longest such run in the competition – yet De Bruyne's sensational strike, his sixth goal involvement in six league appearances against the Magpies, was not enough to clinch victory.

If Manchester United's 2-2 draw with Aston Villa on Sunday highlighted one of their biggest concerns, the contest also put a spotlight on a potential fix in the form of the visitors' star man.

So plentiful are their issues that one could argue the starting XI against Villa requires as many as six upgrades to bring them even close to Liverpool's standard.

But one area in which they are woefully short is midfield. Paul Pogba aside, not one of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's current options would get near the line-up of Jurgen Klopp's Reds or Manchester City and, given his form this year, it would be difficult even to make a case for the Frenchman.

The emergence of an apparent interest in Leicester City's James Maddison makes sense and appears to indicate a desire to finally fix deficiencies in the number 10 position.

Some fans might suggest they have had the right man for that role since David Moyes signed Juan Mata in 2014, but for most of his United career he has been unfairly shunted out wide.

Any chance of Mata being a long-term answer has long since vanished, with his ineffective display against Villa doing little to suggest he is up to the task.

The one man on the pitch who did look capable of injecting much-needed impetus and swagger into this United team was Jack Grealish, and it is worth remembering Solskjaer identified Harry Maguire as his primary target on the back of a good display against the Red Devils.

"I more or less made my mind up when we played Leicester last season that if it's possible to get him [Maguire] we should try, because he's so composed on the ball and he gives the team another dimension," Solskjaer said of the centre-back earlier this year.

It is by no means unthinkable to suggest he could say similar of Grealish before the start of next season, as Villa's attacking midfielder was comfortably the best player on the pitch at Old Trafford.

While United moved forward with their usual predictability, as Andreas Pereira and Mata offered precious little craft, Grealish cruised around the pitch looking entirely at ease and completely convinced in his ability to dictate proceedings.

United certainly appeared aware of the threat posed by Grealish, fouling him four times in the first 24 minutes – Pereira and Fred resorting to cynical tactics to halt him.

Although frustration could be seen in Grealish's reaction each time, that soon disappeared once he was back on the ball, carrying Villa forward with purpose and drive.

While his dribbling ability is notable, Grealish also has the awareness to know when to offload quickly and when to hold on to possession.

His potential has never been a secret, but disciplinary issues blighted the early years of Grealish's career. Those problems are very much a thing of the past and a commanding performance at United – even if this a weak Red Devils side – is a solid indicator of a new-found maturity.

Grealish's goal, the opener, was a fine reminder of his technical excellence. Stepping inside Pereira to make space for himself, the Villa star curled an unstoppable effort into the top-right corner from a difficult angle.

He was then the instigator with a driving run up the left flank and pass into the danger zone when Trezeguet thought he had put Villa two up, only for VAR to rule it out for offside.

While detractors might point out Grealish only created one legitimate opportunity, it is hard to deny his influence in attack. After all, his 23 passes in the opposition half was the most among Villa players, and he completed 88.6 per cent of all passes and delivered six crosses.

He also showcased fine off-the-ball movement in the second half – an inability to get enough contact on the ball essentially denying him a second goal, but by no means did it ruin a solid outing.

Ask any United fan whether they would rather see Grealish or Pereira strutting about in their midfield, the replies would be unanimous and the Brazilian's cross for Tom Heaton's own goal would not be referenced.

Maddison may remain the ideal signing for United, but Villan Grealish proved he has what it takes to become a protagonist in the Theatre of Dreams.

At times, Sunday's contest at Norwich City must have felt like Groundhog Day if you're an Arsenal fan.

At times, Sunday's contest at Norwich City must have felt like Groundhog Day if you're an Arsenal fan.

Always start with a joke, they say.

Only, the laughs have been few and far between for the Gunners faithful this season - save for ones of rueful derision.

There was as much inevitability about Arsenal's decision to end Unai Emery's 18-month tenure this week as death or taxes.

But the failings that cost the amiable Spaniard so dearly were laid bare in 90 microcosmic minutes of a 2-2 draw at Carrow Road.

Arsenal are a little bit like a warm chocolate fudge cake. On the surface, great to look at, a delicious treat but soft at their core and too easy to crumble.

There were signs in the opening 20 minutes that maybe this post-Emery Arsenal led by interim boss Freddie Ljungberg, a legend of the 'Invincibles', was a different animal as Norwich were penned in, dragged from pillar to post. Had Alexandre Lacazette not been so wasteful with a gilt-edged fourth-minute opportunity, such a feeling would have increased tenfold.

And then just like that, to quote the legendary magician-comedian Tommy Cooper – whose vanishing acts were as comical as the ones displayed by Arsenal's midfield – the visitors were behind.

Sliced open in the centre of the park, Kenny McLean was given the freedom of the Carrow Road pitch as Shkodran Mustafi and David Luiz inexplicably backed off and Teemu Pukki ended an eight-game goal drought, albeit with a deflection that deceived Bernd Leno.

Arsenal soon mustered a response. Christmas may have been 24 days away, but Christoph Zimmermann gave Ljungberg and Arsenal an early gift with an explicable handball in the area.

The joy was at first short-lived as Tim Krul, canny mind games in full swing, showed why he has a reputation as a penalty-saving expert to deny Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, only for the VAR to spot an encroachment and give the Gabon striker an undeserved reprieve.

There was no mistake on act two, Aubameyang firing into the bottom-left corner and giving Krul the shush sign with an act of fire in the belly that has for so long been missing from Arsenal.

No sooner had the touchpaper been lit than Norwich extinguished it, though. It was an all-too-familiar failing. Onel Hernandez was allowed to stroll forward with reckless abandon to play in Todd Cantwell, who was given enough time to finish a crossword puzzle by Mustafi before clinically beating Bernd Leno.

The half-time whistle allowed for a regroup and Arsenal, as in the first half, looked well oiled going forward. There was a hint of fortune about the way the ball fell to Aubameyang from a 57th-minute corner but there was no luck about the way he hammered past a helpless Krul.

Was this then the moment to spark Arsenal into life? Well, not quite.

Had it not been for the brilliance of Leno, McLean would have restored Norwich's lead after shambolic midfield work from Granit Xhaka and Matteo Guendouzi.

Leno was also the scourge of Pukki who had Mustafi on toast and not the first time in 90 troubled minutes for the German defender.

Ljungberg's big smile at full-time - the whistle signalling Arsenal had failed to win for an eighth match in a row - only masks the concern that the issues that plagued Emery's tenure are as pronounced as ever. A midfield that is too easy to bypass, a defence devoid of organisation, leadership and grit, and a team in general that for all its attacking brilliance lacks the steel to truly mix it with the big boys.

These are problems in the short term for Ljungberg to address and a new full-time boss to get a hold on in the long term.

Otherwise, it might just feel like Groundhog Day all over again for Arsenal fans.

Clashes between Barcelona and Atletico Madrid are always fascinating occasions, with two completely different philosophies pitted against each other.

But Sunday's contest at the Wanda Metropolitano will be intriguing for an entirely new reason – the return of Antoine Griezmann.

The France international's move to Barca was somewhat acrimonious, with Atletico convinced he was talking to his new club long before his release clause dropped from €200million to €120m.

Atletico fans had long been frustrated with Griezmann's behaviour, particularly after his 'Decision' documentary last year showed him considering a move before eventually signing a new deal.

Yet, for all the build-up, drama and soap opera-like twists and turns, Griezmann's adaptation at Camp Nou has been underwhelming.

Ahead of Griezmann's return to the Wanda, we took a look at Opta data to examine how Barca are faring since signing the forward, whether Atletico are suffering without him and how he is doing individually.

Griezmann struggling to influence

It's difficult to find evidence that shows Griezmann has improved Barca in any way. The data suggests they are less effective with him in the team.

Across Barca's 61 matches last season, they averaged 2.3 goals and 2.2 points per match. Both figures have dropped, to 2.2 and 2.1, respectively, while they're winning with less regularity as well, down to 64.7 per cent from 67.2 per cent.

It's a similar story with respect to shots, with their average per match now 11.9 with Griezmann. Last season they recorded 15.3 attempts per game.

In Griezmann's 17 games for Barca, they have a passing accuracy of 78.6 per cent in the final third and 84.4 per cent in the opposing half. Once again, those figures are less than last term (79.2 per cent and 85.1 per cent).

While it would be unfair to suggest Griezmann is to blame in every area, a lack of fluency and effectiveness in Barca's attack this season is difficult to deny.

Yet to find his niche

A relative decrease in productivity can be expected to a certain degree when changing teams, particularly given the contrasting styles imposed by Atletico and Barca, but few would have predicted Griezmann's individual contributions to suffer as much as they have.

At Atletico last term, Griezmann scored 21 goals, laid on 11 assists and created 88 chances in 48 matches. As such, that equates to finding the net every 2.2 games, averaging 4.3 matches per assist and crafting 1.8 opportunities per outing.

This season, Griezmann has scored five times, got three assists and created 12 chances in 17 games.

That means he is only scoring once every 3.4 matches, almost double his record for last term, averaging 5.6 games per assist and laying on just 0.7 chances in each match.

Barca more lethal without Griezy

Griezmann has been out of the starting XI three times for Barca this season and the data does him few favours.

Barca have a 100 per cent winning record and average 4.0 goals in those games, double what they have been scoring with him in the line-up.

Without Griezmann Barca are averaging 15.3 shots each match, a 3.8 increase than when he does feature in the starting XI.

Barca have seen less of the ball across those matches, registering 54.4 per cent possession compared to 65.1 per cent with Griezmann. However, that metric combined with their shot average suggests the Blaugrana are more ponderous and less incisive when the Frenchman plays.

A new era

Atletico have seen a slight decrease across some areas compared to last season since Griezmann's exit.

When the France star featured for Simeone's men, they averaged 1.5 goals and 2.0 points per match. Their figures are down to 1.3 and 1.9, respectively, this term, while Atleti's win percentage is down from 56.2 per cent to 50 per cent.

But the difference in many other areas is negligible, and in fact, they are averaging more shots and conceding fewer efforts at goal since Griezmann left.

At the moment it seems Atletico are slightly less clinical and decisive without Griezmann, though it's difficult to argue they are actually missing him. At least, not the Griezmann who featured for them in 2018-19.

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