Paul Pogba wanted to leave Manchester United before the 2019-20 season, but Opta numbers suggest the midfielder can help turn the Red Devils' poor start around.

Pogba is set to make his 100th Premier League appearance at home to Arsenal on Monday, the France international having missed recent action for club and country with an ankle injury.

The 26-year-old has been a lightning rod for criticism since returning to Old Trafford, becoming the world's most expensive player when he left Juventus in 2016.

Pogba is still United's key man - their sole world-class talent and a performer capable of winning games on his own when operating at the top of his game.

Here, we assess his Premier League career to date, comparing the upcoming landmark with his time at Juve, as well as other Premier League stars in his position.


PROLIFIC POGBA IN ELITE COMPANY

Pogba hit eight Serie A goals in each of his last two seasons in Turin, but since moving back to United he has improved his record in front of goal.

Aided by the fact he often takes penalties for the Red Devils, Pogba has hit 24 goals in his 99 Premier League appearances to date - which includes three games before he left United as a youngster unable to break into Alex Ferguson's plans.

Pogba's first 100 Serie A appearances saw him score 22 times, so his effectiveness in front of goal has increased slightly, with no midfielder netting more than his 13 Premier League goals last term.

In fact, since Pogba rejoined United, only three midfielders have scored more Premier League goals: Dele Alli (32), Christian Eriksen (27) and Gylfi Sigurdsson (26), all of whom typically play closer to the opposition goal than the World Cup winner.


MORE ASSISTS SINCE UNITED RETURN

Pogba is also a creative force, of course, and his 49 goal involvements (goals plus assists) over the same period matches Sigurdsson's combined total.

Opta numbers suggest Pogba has enjoyed significant development in this side of his game in the last three seasons, with 25 assists in his 99 Premier League appearances to date besting the comparatively low 11 he managed in 100 league games for Juve.

Pogba's record in this regard compares favourably with the Premier League's elite again. Since the start of the 2016-17 season, Manchester City playmaker Kevin De Bruyne has contributed a peerless 44 assists, with Spurs star Eriksen not too far behind the Belgium international on 38.

David Silva is the only other midfielder to have posted more assists than Pogba in this period, though, indicating his playmaking talents have perhaps gone under the radar. He has created 162 chances in 99 Premier League games, compared to 124 in his first 100 Serie A appearances.


A MIDFIELDER WHO DOES IT ALL

Pogba's all-round talents make him almost one of a kind in the Premier League. No other midfielders can match the combination of playmaking, goalscoring and ball-winning he offers to United when at his best.

Since the start of the 2016-17 season, Pogba has recorded 640 recoveries - a tally that beats of his Premier League contemporaries who offer the same gifts in the final third. This total is more in keeping with a defensive-minded midfielder like Mark Noble, whose recoveries tally stands at 616 in the same period.

Pogba's tackle success rate in the past three campaigns is 70.29 per cent, comparable to Manchester City's energetic midfielder Bernardo Silva (70.79 per cent) and, again, ahead of players such as De Bruyne, Eriksen, Sigurdsson and Alli.

Few midfielders dictate play for their teams to the extent Pogba does for United. Since his return to the club, he has touched the ball 8,190 times in the Premier League - a tally towards the top of the tree for the league and behind only David Silva, Eriksen, Fernandinho and Granit Xhaka.

However, one statistic clearly indicates Pogba is simply playing for a worse team at United than he did when at Juve. His win ratio in 99 Premier League appearances to date is 57 per cent, compared to 71 per cent in his first 100 Serie A games.

As good as Pogba is - at both ends of the pitch - he cannot do it all on his own.

It is not an issue Ferrari could have imagined having to consider a matter of weeks ago.

The Scuderia had not won a single race heading into Formula One's mid-season break, with a variety of woes hampering new man Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel appearing a shadow of his former self.

But despite Mercedes' one-two in Russia on Sunday, both men have hit form and that has given Ferrari a bit of a problem.

For two weeks running, the inexperienced Leclerc has fumed that four-time champion Vettel has found himself in the lead despite lagging in qualifying.

The team's tactics have scarcely come under greater scrutiny, even if Leclerc remains diplomatic in public - seemingly happy to forget his team radio rants the moment he leaves his SF90.

"I think everything was respected," he said in Sochi, wilfully ignoring his earlier complaints that Vettel was taking his time to accommodate a position swap after Leclerc "played the team game".

In Singapore, where Leclerc raged Vettel's undercut was "not fair", the 21-year-old similarly backtracked: "In the car, it's frustrating and then, as soon as I thought a little bit more of the situation after it, you see the things maybe a bit differently."

The Monegasque could pile further pressure on his team by starting to stand by his mid-race thoughts in the hours and days that follow.

So we weigh it up: do Ferrari need to choose between the two drivers?

 

WINNING CAN ONLY BE GOOD

The radio squabbling might not be a good look, but Ferrari could understandably care little if they continue to perform on the track. There was comparatively little tension between Leclerc and Vettel earlier in the season when neither driver was winning.

Now, the Scuderia have had four straight poles - all for Leclerc - and gone on to win on three of those occasions. Only an MGU-K failure in Vettel's car that forced him to retire and enabled Lewis Hamilton to pit under the virtual safety and retain the lead denied them another victory in Russia.

The battle to be the main man at Ferrari appears to be bringing the best out of both stars.

MERCEDES SHOW HOW IT'S DONE

In 2018, it was Mercedes who were at the centre of a team tactics storm. Valtteri Bottas went the entire season winless but would have had victory at the Russian Grand Prix had he not been ordered to allow Hamilton through.

Of course, the chief difference between the situation there and at Ferrari is that Hamilton won the drivers' championship and Mercedes collected the constructors' title, justifying their decisions.

By the start of this season, the Silver Arrows were on the same page, beginning with five straight one-twos - including a pair of Bottas wins.

TIME TO CHOOSE THEIR HAMILTON?

Mercedes may have two stars, but they also boast a clear leading man - unlike the Scuderia. Bottas was permitted to take on Hamilton early in 2019 but can be under no illusion when it comes to the identity of the team's star.

Hamilton extended Mercedes' winning run through eight grands prix this year and is on course for a sixth championship - his third in a row.

Vettel cannot claim to have this season shown the experience and quality that led him to four titles, with Leclerc performing in a superior manner. The former champion and the up-and-comer can each justifiably feel they deserve special treatment - and Ferrari have so far found themselves stuck in the middle.

While their chances of hunting down Hamilton this season appear extremely slim, the Italian outfit have shown potential for 2020.

In order to provide a consistent challenge to Hamilton's crown, they must surely choose their own contender and back him week after week and avoid the confusion of these debates.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Rams 55-40 in a wild NFL clash in Los Angeles on Sunday.

Rams quarterback Jared Goff and Bucs signal-caller Jameis Winston passed at will.

Goff finished with a career-high 517 passing yards and two touchdowns and Winston (385 yards) tossed four touchdowns, including a 67-yard throw to Mike Evans.

Ndamukong Suh scored on a 37-yard fumble return for the final score of the game.

Here is a statistical look at one of the highest-scoring games in NFL history.

– The 95 combined points are tied for the 13th highest-scoring game in NFL history and it is the 10th highest-scoring game since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.

– Tampa Bay's 55 points were the most points in a game in franchise history.

– The 55 points are also the most ever against a team that entered the contest 3-0 or better in the Super Bowl era.

– Goff's 517 yards tied him for the eighth-most in a game in NFL history (according to ProFootball Reference) and were the most since Tom Brady passed for 517 yards against the Miami Dolphins in 2011.

– Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein and Buccaneers kicker Matt Gay both made 58-yard field goals, making this the first game in the Super Bowl era where both teams made a field goal of at least 58 yards.

– The teams combined for 982 total yards from scrimmage.

Liverpool maintained their 100 per cent Premier League record courtesy of a fortuitous moment in a 1-0 win over Sheffield United at Bramall Lane on a weekend when their nearest rivals kept the pressure on.

There were landmark goals and appearances for major players in Manchester City's 3-1 victory over Everton at Goodison Park, while Tottenham picked up a much-needed win as Harry Kane extended his outstanding record in matches against Southampton.

Spurs went into the weekend under pressure, as did rivals Chelsea who ended an unwanted 11-game streak as they beat Brighton and Hove Albion 2-0 at Stamford Bridge.

Our Premier League Data Diary brings to light the detail behind the big stories of this weekend's top games.

 

STERLING HITS THE HUNDRED AS SILVA REACHES DOUBLE CENTURY

There were few of the fireworks that erupted during their eight-goal win over Watford but Manchester City still had enough attacking power to claim a 3-1 victory over Everton at Goodison Park on Saturday.

Gabriel Jesus opened the scoring by heading in a Kevin De Bruyne cross, giving him a 22nd goal in his past 21 starts for club and country and an eighth league assist of the season for the in-form De Bruyne.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin equalised before the interval but Riyad Mahrez's fine free-kick and Raheem Sterling's 100th club goal in all competitions ended Everton's resolve and earned substitute David Silva a 200th Premier League victory in record time, the City captain making his 289th appearance in the competition.

The Toffees did manage eight shots on target, the most the champions have faced in a top-flight fixture since November 2015, but Calvert-Lewin's prodded first-half finish was all they took from a fourth defeat of the campaign.

LUCKY WIJNALDUM WINNER MAKES LIVERPOOL'S LONG WAIT WORTHWHILE

Dean Henderson's howler gifted Liverpool a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Sheffield United at Bramall Lane and a club record-extending 16th successive Premier League win.

England Under-21 goalkeeper Henderson, on-loan from Manchester United, failed to keep out a tame Georginio Wijnaldum volley as the Reds made the breakthrough in the 70th minute with their first shot on target.

Jurgen Klopp's men were forced to battle hard but have now won seven games at the outset of a league season for just the second time, having first done so in 1990-91.

Their undefeated run in the Premier League, which began in January, stands at 24 matches leading into next weekend's home meeting with Brendan Rodgers' Leicester City.

KANE HITS WINNER TO MATCH SIX-GAME STREAK

Tottenham entertained Southampton having won just one of their previous five Premier League matches but survived Serge Aurier's sending-off and a Hugo Lloris howler to pick up their eighth victory over the Saints in nine league attempts at home.

Mauricio Pochettino's men started well, with Tanguy Ndombele scoring his second league goal for Spurs in the 24th minute, and he has now scored more goals (2) in five Premier League appearances for the north London club than he managed in 69 Ligue 1 appearances for Amiens and Lyon combined (1).

Aurier then picked up his second booking of the game for a foul on Ryan Bertrand in the 32nd minute and became the first Tottenham player to be sent off in a Premier League home game since Kyle Naughton against Stoke City in November 2014.

But after Lloris gifted Danny Ings an equaliser, Harry Kane pounced from 12 yards with Spurs' winner in the 43rd minute and took his tally to six in six straight Premier League appearances against Southampton, and only Robin van Persie vs Stoke (8), Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink vs West Ham (7) and Romelu Lukaku vs West Ham (7) have had longer scoring streaks against an opponent in the competition.

FIRST CLEAN SHEET BRIGHTENS BLUES' PROSPECTS

Frank Lampard's first home victory as Chelsea head coach came at the expense of Brighton, who suffered a 2-0 reverse at Stamford Bridge - their ninth defeat in nine league matches between the two sides.

The result gave Chelsea the record for most games played against a single opponent while winning every single one, surpassing Bournemouth's eight victories against Wimbledon, as well as their first clean sheet under Lampard.

It was Chelsea's first clean sheet since their goalless draw with Leicester City on the last day of the 2018-19 Premier League season, ending a run of 11 matches in all competitions without a shut-out, and Jorginho's goal from the penalty spot was his second of the season - more than he mustered in 54 games last term.

Willian added a second 14 minutes from time, finding the net for the first time in 17 Premier League appearances for Chelsea despite having 32 shots at goal during that period.

Lampard will have been delighted with the clean sheet, but also with the fact that Chelsea attempted 17 shots in the first half alone - their highest total in an opening 45 minutes of a Premier League game since August 2013 (18 against Hull City).

Manchester City captain David Silva reached 200 Premier League wins quicker than any player in Premier League history this weekend.

The former Spain international came off the bench to help see out a 3-1 triumph at Everton after Gabriel Jesus, Riyad Mahrez and Raheem Sterling were on target at Goodison Park.

It was Silva's 289th appearance for City, meaning he reached his double century 16 games quicker than the previous record-holder – Chelsea great John Terry who chalked up 200 wins in 305 outings.

Terry's former Chelsea colleagues Petr Cech (310 matches) and Ashley Cole (318 matches) are also in the top five, with Manchester United icon Ryan Giggs (315 matches) there as well.

Since joining City from Valencia in 2010, Silva has made a strong claim to be regarded as the club's greatest ever player.

This will be his final season at the Etihad Stadium, and the Opta numbers we have combed through below underline what an exceptional performer the four-time Premier League winner has been.

A crafter and finisher of chances

Since Silva's Premier League debut in August 2010, only Ben Foster has played more matches in the division, with the goalkeeper making 292 appearances.

Silva has scored 55 goals top-flight goals, making him the third most prolific midfielder behind Yaya Toure (62) and weekend opponent Gylfi Sigurdsson (59) during his time in England.

No one rivals him in the assists stakes, however.

The World Cup winner has set up 87 goals in the Premier League – Christian Eriksen (61) is the closest to him.

Similarly, he is way out in front for chances created since August 2010, with his 751 significantly higher than Eden Hazard's 595.

No one expected the Spaniard's intuition

Pep Guardiola acknowledged he initially had doubts about Silva's suitability to the more physically demanding Premier League when he swapped Mestalla for the Etihad Stadium.

Many others were of the same opinion, but his impact on the Premier League is undeniable, having seamlessly adapted.

Cesc Fabregas is the only Spaniard to have more goal involvements (161) than Silva (142), while the former Arsenal and Chelsea man also set up a greater number of goals (111 compared to 87).

But Fabregas played 350 matches as opposed to Silva's 289, meaning he could yet usurp the Barcelona youth product.

The only Spanish player to score more Premier League goals than Silva is Fernando Torres with 85, though it seems unlikely he will topple El Nino.

A City great

In the Premier League era, no player has featured more for City than Silva, with Joe Hart (266), Vincent Kompany (265) and Richard Dunne (253) trailing in his wake.

Sergio Aguero is by far their most potent finisher during that time with 172, though Silva will fancy his chances of getting up to second before he eventually leaves or retires, with Carlos Tevez (58) and Yaya Toure (62) the only two in his way.

Again, Aguero is well clear at the top of the chart for goal involvements on 217, but Silva is second with 142. Of current City players, Raheem Sterling is next on 83 (54 goals, 29 assists).

Wales were beaten in three of their four Rugby World Cup warm-up matches, but this, a pool game against Australia, was different.

The expectation had been building for some time, with the winners almost certain to top Pool D and therefore avoid a daunting path through the tournament that would likely include England in the quarter-finals and New Zealand in the semis.

"If Wales can win [against Australia] then I expect them to do good things," former captain Sam Warburton told Omnisport.

And just as at the Six Nations, where they celebrated a stunning Grand Slam triumph, Wales stepped up when it mattered most and just about got the job done against regular World Cup foes.

Wales had been beaten by the Wallabies at three consecutive World Cups but ended that run in battling fashion, having also scraped through in the same fixture last November for their first victory over Australia in almost 10 years.

Warren Gatland's side have become the men for the big occasion over the past 12 months and yet may not now have to play an elite side again until the semi-finals.

Perhaps this result says more about Australia, who attempted a brave fightback but won just four Tests in 2018. Michael Cheika's side did not lack for courage but some basic errors at key times meant their World Cup chances took a major hit.

If Wales are to become just the second team - after England in 2003 - to follow up a Six Nations or Rugby Championship success by becoming world champions, it was vital to end their Australia hoodoo listed below.
 

2007: Wales 20-32 AUSTRALIA (pool stage)

After consecutive quarter-final appearances in the prior two finals, Wales would have expected to progress from their pool in 2007. But they were hit by a setback when Australia tore through them in a brutal first-half showing.

The Welsh were 25-3 down at the break and left to tussle with Fiji for second place. A painful late defeat to the Flying Fijians in their final pool match resulted in an early exit.


2011: Wales 18-21 AUSTRALIA (bronze final)

Wales got revenge over Fiji four years later with a pool-stage thrashing but they could not get one over Australia. They avoided the Wallabies in a run to the semi-finals, but the sides' respective defeats to France and New Zealand set up a bronze final meeting.

The Welsh attack could not fire as it had earlier in the tournament and Australia eased to victory, with Leigh Halfpenny's try rescoring some balance to the scoreline but coming far too late.


2015: AUSTRALIA 15-6 Wales (pool stage)

Neither Australia nor Wales were the big-name casualties in a packed Pool A, as England fell at the first hurdle on home turf, but a Twickenham clash to close their pool campaigns would decide who topped the group.

There was not a single try but Bernard Foley's boot proved the difference as the Wallabies defended doggedly, avoiding South Africa in the last eight and enjoying a run all the way to the final. The Springboks dumped out Wales, who could understandably be sick of the sight of Australia by this stage.


2019: Australia 25-29 WALES (pool stage)

Coming into their second pool match as Six Nations Grand Slam champions and having beaten Australia less than 12 months previously, Wales were finally ready to best the Wallabies on the big stage, with the boots of Dan Biggar and Rhys Patchell this time crucial.

Wales had to withstand second-half pressure but got the job done and might now be able to target a serious push for the title...

Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid laboured to an uninspiring goalless draw in El Derbi on Saturday, the city rivals failing to live up to the Wanda Metropolitano stage as each of LaLiga's big hitters continue to stumble over the early season obstacles in the race for the title.

Light on incident but filled with frustrated faces on both sides, the 165th league meeting between Madrid and Atletico was not one that will live long in the memory.

It was, however, indicative of the starts both capital clubs, and indeed defending champions Barcelona, have endured to this point.

While Madrid lead the way and Atletico and Barca are each well positioned to mount a title challenge, by their lofty standards they have each struggled to find top form and all appear gripped by a malaise that will take some time to be lifted.

Seven games into the new season, the comparative records of Madrid, Atletico and Barcelona suggest this is a title race nobody wants to take control of.

Real Madrid: 1st (W4, D3, L0)

Unbeaten but unconvincing, Zinedine Zidane remains a man under pressure at the Santiago Bernabeu and a point away to their neighbours is unlikely to change that.

Held to draws by Real Valladolid and Villarreal, having to come from behind twice in the latter game, Madrid can consider themselves fortunate to have not suffered defeat in the league. Their listless display in a 3-0 loss to Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League produced significant cause for concern that has yet to be assuaged.


Atletico Madrid: 3rd (W4, D2, L1)

Though they lost Antoine Griezmann to Barcelona in the transfer window, the frustration for Atletico boss Diego Simeone will be that this is the second successive season in which they have failed to take advantage of underwhelming starts from the Blaugrana and Madrid. Their performance at the Metropolitano was a far cry from the 7-3 hammering they dished out to Los Blancos in the International Champions Cup, with this display another case of Atletico not producing when it counts.

Simeone's men beat Madrid 4-2 in the UEFA Super Cup last season only to fall flat in the league, and they have now not beaten their arch rivals in seven LaLiga derbies. The hope will be that Atletico's form will improve as star signing Joao Felix grows more comfortable in Spanish football.


Barcelona: 4th (W4, D1, L2)

With Lionel Messi blighted by fitness problems, Barca have looked a long way from their best, and the result has been increased scrutiny on coach Ernesto Valverde. The warning signs were there from the off as Barca were beaten 1-0 by Athletic Bilbao on the first day of the season and they have continued to look vulnerable since.

Osasuna held them to a 2-2 draw while surprise package Granada claimed a shock 2-0 win over the champions last week. Saturday's 2-0 defeat of Getafe marked the first time they have kept a clean sheet in the league this season, with the emergence of teenager Ansu Fati the primary bright spot from a start that was been well below par.

It has never been easier to play the hardest position in professional sport, but 1,000 days on from Colin Kaepernick's last start, NFL teams continue to persist with quarterbacks who make their job look exceedingly difficult.

On January 1, 2017, Kaepernick played what remains his last NFL game as the San Francisco 49ers suffered a narrow 25-23 defeat to the Seattle Seahawks to end the 2016 campaign.

Kaepernick, who took the league by storm in leading the 49ers to a Super Bowl appearance in the 2012 season and then on a run to a third successive NFC Championship game in the subsequent year, had the fifth-highest quarterback rating of any signal-caller to play that week.

Despite performing admirably in 2016 for a 49ers team that featured little of the potential being displayed by the 2019 vintage, Kaepernick - unquestionably one of the most exciting quarterbacks of the modern era - remains unsigned despite regularly indicating his desire to play in the league again.

NFL teams are seemingly still unwilling to offer a contract to a player who stoked such widespread controversy by kneeling during the national anthem to protest against racial injustice and police brutality in that 2016 campaign.

While some may be able to empathise with the reluctance of the owners to risk negative publicity, the reasons frequently provided for Kaepernick not being in the league ring hollow in the face of the resume of a player whose skill set is perfectly suited to the NFL in 2019.

The NFL is blessed with a litany of talented play-callers who rely heavily on the use of play-action, motion, jet sweeps and quarterback rollouts to confound defenses and make things more comfortable for the man passing the football.

That Kaepernick, a quarterback whose playoff success came as a result of his mobility and aptitude for making plays with his arm and his legs, does not have a place in a league that heavily favours facets of the game he excelled in with the Niners flies in the face of the NFL's commitment to adaptability.

Coaches have frequently adapted their schemes to various quarterbacks yet Kaepernick, who seamlessly slotted into Chip Kelly's complex scheme in 2016, could again only watch from home as the New York Jets sent former sixth-round pick Luke Falk to the slaughter against the New England Patriots last week, while the New York Giants made the switch from Eli Manning to Daniel Jones, coincidentally in part because of the latter's superior mobility.

The Giants look to have Manning's heir apparent in first-round rookie Jones, who thrived in a comeback win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but Week 4 of the 2019 season will again see a host of quarterbacks who have done nothing to prove they are superior to Kaepernick suit up across the league.

Mason Rudolph will be backed up by undrafted free agent rookie Devlin Hodges for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who parted with Joshua Dobbs as the Jacksonville Jaguars sent a fifth-round pick to acquire a player who has attempted 12 NFL passes to back up rookie Gardner Minshew.

The Tennessee Titans head into their fourth game of the year with two pillars of mediocrity on the quarterback depth chart in Marcus Mariota and Ryan Tannehill, while the Buccaneers continued to stick by the turnover-prone Jameis Winston despite his career being marred by numerous alleged off-field indiscretions.

Whether Kaepernick would still be good enough to start in the NFL is open for debate given the length of his absence, but the fact he has not even been afforded a chance to serve as a backup over the last 32 months while teams have traded draft capital to bring in quarterbacks who can only dream of his career is a damning indictment of a league Kaepernick gave so much to in an all too brief pro career.

Raheem Sterling's lightning start to the season undoubtedly highlighted the immense extent to which he has improved in recent years, becoming a regular Manchester City match-winner almost as decisive as Sergio Aguero.

He struck his sixth Premier League goal of the season in Saturday's 3-1 win at Everton, and although his performance was otherwise erratic, the England international's persistence showed just how far he has come.

It was by no means vintage City on display at Goodison Park, as Everton were unfortunate to not come away with at least a point.

Pep Guardiola's myriad of defensive issues again reared their head, with Everton bullying them aerially on numerous occasions – Yerry Mina proving a colossal thorn in City's side with his prowess in the air.

Hindsight is 20-20, but even before Aymeric Laporte's serious knee injury, it was clear City needed greater depth in quality at the back, yet the failure to secure Harry Maguire did not lead to the arrival of anyone else.

With John Stones joining Laporte in the treatment room, Fernandinho has filled in capably at the back for the past three matches, but at Goodison he looked every inch the makeshift option he is – a feeble clearance and attempted tackle leading to Everton's equaliser.

Beside him Nicolas Otamendi was no more convincing, the Argentina defender routinely struggling aerially against Mina at set-pieces.

Aside from Gabriel Jesus' header after Kevin De Bruyne's outrageous cross, City were similarly unimpressive in the opposing penalty area for long periods of the match as well.

Sterling spurned a glorious chance on the hour, inexplicably missing the target when one-on-one with Jordan Pickford, a let-off that suggested Everton might just hang on for a point.

Mahrez had other ideas, however.

The Algerian has struggled for consistency since joining City in his big-money move last year, but when expertly bending a 30-yard free-kick into the bottom-left corner with 19 minutes to go, he was netting in a third successive start across all competitions.

There was more to Mahrez's performance than just that goal, however, the winger toying with Lucas Digne relentlessly – and his solo run leading to De Bruyne's pass for the opener.

All five of the winger's shots were on target and he also laid on five opportunities for team-mates, a figure bettered by no one else on the pitch.

Mahrez then troubled Everton for City's final goal, his cross finding its way through to Sterling after and the former Liverpool talent slammed an effort in off the crossbar, holding his nerve when he might have failed in the past on an otherwise frustrating day for him.

A consistent Mahrez added to attacking options including an unflappable Sterling should make City unstoppable, yet as impressive as the champions' attitude was on Saturday, there remain the lingering defensive doubts that could ultimately cost them the title.

The ball was switched to the left wing, a Japan player crossed in the corner for a crucial try against heavily favoured Rugby World Cup opponents and a huge roar, befitting the occasion, engulfed the stadium.

Stop me if you've heard this one before.

Four years on from their astonishing triumph over South Africa at the 2015 Rugby World Cup, Japan pulled off another massive upset on Saturday, beating Ireland 19-12 in Shizuoka to light up their home tournament.

What is more, Kenki Fukuoka's decisive try against Ireland even brought back memories of Karne Hesketh's stunning match-winner versus the Springboks, both in terms of where on the pitch the try was scored but also the reaction it provoked.

In 2015, the Brighton Community Stadium was the venue for one of the biggest shocks in sporting history. Japan's triumph over South Africa was beyond unexpected and their success was secured in the most dramatic fashion, Hesketh dotting down in the 84th minute to settle a topsy-turvy contest.

That score understandably triggered wild celebrations, with Japan's players and fans knowing there was no time remaining for the Boks to deny them a momentous scalp.

Ireland still had more than a quarter of the game to respond in Shizuoka when Fukuoka went over to put Japan ahead for the first time with 22 minutes remaining, but the noise that greeted the try was nevertheless overwhelming.

Hope had suddenly turned to expectation for the vast majority of the spectators in the stadium and their belief was rewarded as Jamie Joseph's side held on to their advantage against a side that began the tournament ranked number one in the world.

After the game, Ireland captain Rory Best suggested Japan's win was not a massive upset given their development in recent years.

Yet while it is fair to suggest the victory over South Africa may never be topped in terms of shock value, this was still a mighty achievement for the 'Brave Blossoms'.

Ireland's form has dipped considerably since their sensational 2018 season, which featured a Six Nations Grand Slam, a victorious tour of Australia and a memorable success against New Zealand in Dublin.

Joe Schmidt's men were far too good for Scotland in their opening World Cup game, though, and understandably started as strong favourites against the hosts, only to be undone by a terrific Japan display.

It had looked as though the final group game of this tournament would effectively be a shoot-out for second place in Pool A between Scotland and Japan, but the latter are now favourites to finish top.

Should Japan achieve that feat, they will almost certainly avoid a quarter-final clash with the All Blacks and face South Africa in Tokyo on October 20.

Given events in Brighton four years ago and in Shizuoka on Saturday, another meeting between Japan and the Springboks would represent must-see viewing.

Can history repeat itself once again? It would certainly be fun to find out.

It has now been 1,000 days since Colin Kaepernick last played an NFL game and, in that time, 80 different quarterbacks have started in the regular season.

Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Kaepernick, still just 31, completed 17 of 22 passes for 215 yards and a touchdown in a Week 17 loss to the Seattle Seahawks at the end of the 2016 season. Only four players that week had a better quarterback rating than Kaepernick's 122.3.

However, Kaepernick - who had started to kneel during the national anthem earlier that year in protest over racial injustice - has not even had a sniff of an opportunity since, while countless teams have kicked the tyres on numerous other signal callers.

Here is the list of every quarterback to have started a game since Kaepernick's last appearance.


NFC North: Mitchell Trubisky, Mike Glennon, Chase Daniel (Chicago Bears), Matthew Stafford (Detroit Lions), Brett Hundley, Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay Packers), Case Keenum, Sam Bradford, Kirk Cousins (Minnesota Vikings)

NFC East: Dak Prescott (Dallas Cowboys), Eli Manning, Geno Smith, Daniel Jones (New York Giants), Carson Wentz, Nick Foles (Philadelphia Eagles), Kirk Cousins, Alex Smith, Josh Johnson, Colt McCoy, Mark Sanchez, Case Keenum (Washington Redskins)

NFC South: Matt Ryan (Atlanta Falcons), Cam Newton, Taylor Heinicke, Kyle Allen (Carolina Panthers), Drew Brees, Teddy Bridgewater (New Orleans Saints), Jameis Winston, Ryan Fitzpatrick (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)

NFC West: Carson Palmer, Blaine Gabbert, Drew Stanton, Josh Rosen, Sam Bradford, Kyler Murray (Arizona Cardinals), Jared Goff, Sean Mannion (Los Angeles Rams), Brian Hoyer, C.J. Beathard, Jimmy Garoppolo, Nick Mullens (San Francisco 49ers), Russell Wilson (Seattle Seahawks)

AFC North: Joe Flacco, Lamar Jackson (Baltimore Ravens), Andy Dalton, Jeff Driskel (Cincinnati Bengals), DeShone Kizer, Kevin Hogan, Tyrod Taylor, Baker Mayfield (Cleveland Browns), Ben Roethlisberger, Landry Jones, Mason Rudolph (Pittsburgh Steelers)

AFC East: Tyrod Taylor, Nathan Peterman, Josh Allen, Derek Anderson, Matt Barkley (Buffalo Bills), Jay Cutler, Matt Moore, Ryan Tannehill, Brock Osweiler, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Josh Rosen (Miami Dolphins), Tom Brady (New England Patriots), Josh McCown, Bryce Petty, Sam Darnold, Trevor Siemian, Luke Falk (New York Jets)

AFC South: Tom Savage, Deshaun Watson, T.J. Yates (Houston Texans), Jacoby Brissett, Scott Tolzien, Andrew Luck (Indianapolis Colts), Blake Bortles, Cody Kessler, Nick Foles, Gardner Minshew (Jacksonville Jaguars), Marcus Mariota, Matt Cassel, Blaine Gabbert (Tennessee Titans)

AFC West: Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler, Paxton Lynch, Case Keenum, Joe Flacco (Denver Broncos), Alex Smith, Patrick Mahomes (Kansas City Chiefs), Philip Rivers (Los Angeles Chargers), Derek Carr, EJ Manuel (Oakland Raiders)

Here are a few observations from the extensive list:

- Only six franchises (the Lions, Falcons, Cowboys, Seahawks, Patriots and Chargers) have had one starter for all 35 games since Kaepernick's last appearance. 

- Three teams - the Cardinals, Dolphins and Redskins - have started six quarterbacks since the beginning of the 2017 season. The Bills, Jets and Broncos have all had five, and Washington could add another to their lengthy list should they turn to rookie Dwayne Haskins in the coming weeks.

- Of the 80 quarterbacks, 16 are out of the league - either due to being unsigned or retired. Former Steelers signal caller Landry Jones recently became the first player to sign with the upcoming XFL.

- Keenum, currently keeping Haskins on the sideline in Washington, is the only player on this list to have started for three different teams (Vikings, Broncos and Redskins) since 2017. A further 11 have started for two teams.  

It may still be early in the NFL season, but the play-off picture is slowly, but surely, starting to take shape.

Here’s a look at Week 4’s Bullet Points with the standout game coming in Buffalo as two teams with 100 per cent records, the Bills and the New England Patriots, go head to head.


SUNDAY (all times are Eastern)


Redskins (0-3) at Giants (1-2), 1pm

The Redskins and Giants have each allowed 94 points, with only the Dolphins (133) having surrendered more through the first three weeks. It’s the most both teams have allowed through three games in a season since 2013, when the Giants permitted 115 and Washington 98.

Washington are attempting to avoid their first 0-4 start since dropping their first five games of the 2001 season. The Redskins have lost six straight to NFC East teams since last season’s 20-13 win over the Giants at MetLife Stadium, their longest in-division losing streak since an eight-game skid from 2013-14.

Evan Engram’s 23 catches are the most ever by a Giants tight end over a season’s first three games, while his 271 yards thus far are eclipsed only by Mark Bavaro’s 283 in 1986 for the most by a tight end in franchise history through three games.


Chiefs (3-0) at Lions (2-0-1), 1pm

Patrick Mahomes became the first player in NFL history with three straight games of 350-plus passing yards, three or more touchdown passes and no interceptions with last week’s 374-yard, three-TD effort against the Ravens. His 14 straight games with two or more TD passes is one short of Peyton Manning’s league record set from 2013-14.

Kansas City have outscored their opponents 51-0 in the second quarter over their last two wins, joining the 1935 Bears as the only teams to score 23 or more points in the second quarter while not allowing a point in consecutive games.

The Lions did not give up a sack for a second straight game in last week’s win over the Eagles. Since sacks became an official stat in 1982, Detroit have never gone three consecutive games without allowing one. Since Week 7 of last season, the Lions are 6-1 when Matthew Stafford is sacked once or less and 0-6-1 when he’s taken down twice or more.


Titans (1-2) at Falcons (1-2), 1pm

The Titans have a -24 point differential in the first quarter this season, second worst in the NFL (Dolphins: -35), and a +19 differential in the fourth quarter, best in the league. The Falcons have a -21 point differential in the first quarter, third worst in the NFL, and a +18 differential in the fourth quarter, second best in the league.

Marcus Mariota has not thrown an interception in his last 142 attempts, the longest streak of his career and the fifth-longest active streak in the NFL. Additionally, Mariota has not lost a fumble in his last 356 touches, the second-longest streak of his career and the fourth-longest active streak in the league.

Matt Ryan has thrown for 300-plus yards and at least two scores in each game this season. He and Mahomes are the only two who have done so in their first three starts of 2019. Peyton Manning in 2013 was the last QB to have such a streak last longer than the first three starts of the season (five).


Browns (1-2) at Ravens (2-1), 1pm

The Ravens are 30-10 (.750) all-time against the Browns, the best record by any team against any opponent in NFL history (minimum 40 games).

Through three games, the Ravens have 1,535 total yards and no turnovers. They’re the only NFL team since 1950 to have at least 1,500 total yards and no turnovers over any three-game span.

Baker Mayfield has no touchdowns and five interceptions in the fourth quarter this season. The five interceptions are tied with Ryan Fitzpatrick (2016) for the most by any quarterback over his team’s first three games of a season in the last 25 years


Raiders (1-2) at Colts (2-1), 1pm

The Colts have won seven consecutive home games. Indianapolis haven’t won at least eight consecutive home games since winning a franchise-record 13 consecutive home games in 2008-09 with Peyton Manning. Indianapolis are looking to start 3-1 for the first time since 2013.

Jacoby Brissett is 19-for-20 passing in the first quarter this season. That 95.0 completion percentage is the second-best in any quarter (minimum 15 attempts) this season behind only Dak Prescott’s 22 for 22 in the third quarter.

The Raiders are one of three teams that have yet to score a point in the third quarter (also Detroit and Miami); the Colts are the only team in the NFL that have allowed a touchdown on their opponent’s first drive of the second half in all three games this season.


Patriots (3-0) at Bills (3-0), 1pm

New England have yet to allow an offensive touchdown through three games, the first team to do so since the 1944 Giants. Dating back to last season’s AFC Championship Game, the Patriots have allowed zero first-half points in five straight games, the longest streak since the 1951 Browns (also five).

Tom Brady is 30-3 in his career against the Bills, the most wins by any starting QB against any opponent all-time. Brady’s 69 career touchdown passes against Buffalo is the second most by any player against any opponent all-time, behind only Dan Marino’s 72 against the Jets.

Frank Gore was the leading rusher for either team in Buffalo’s win over Cincinnati last week. At age 36, he was the oldest player to be the leading rusher in a game since John Elway did so at age 38 on December 21, 1998, his penultimate regular-season game.


Panthers (1-2) at Texans (2-1), 1pm

The Texans are 32-1 when allowing less than 20 points since Bill O’Brien became head coach in 2014, tied with the Steelers for the NFL’s best record when doing so during that period. Houston have won 26 straight games when holding opponents under 20 points, the league’s longest active streak.

Deshaun Watson is the fastest player since at least 1960 (26 games) to record 6,500 career passing yards and 500 rushing yards, doing so one game quicker than Cam Newton and Andrew Luck. Watson is also the lone player since 1925 with 50 TD passes and five rushing touchdowns in fewer than 30 career games.

Christian McCaffrey recorded his 200th career reception last week to join Reggie Bush as the only running back since 1960 with 200 or more catches through 35 career games. McCaffrey’s 450 scrimmage yards are the second-most by a Panthers player over a season’s first three games (Stephen Davis, 455, 2003).


Chargers (1-2) at Dolphins (0-3), 1pm

The Chargers rank fifth in the NFL in total yards per game (408.3), but the team ranks tied for 21st in points per game (21.0). This can be at least partially attributed to the Chargers having three giveaways in the red zone this season, tied with the 49ers for most in the NFL.

Philip Rivers is completing 70.7 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and no interceptions in the first three quarters, but has a 55.3 completion percentage with no touchdowns and two interceptions in the fourth quarter of games.

The Dolphins have won six straight home games against the Chargers dating back to 1988 – the last longer home winning streak for the franchise was against the Broncos (seven straight home wins spanning from 1966 to 2005).


Buccaneers (1-2) at Rams (3-0), 4:05pm

The Rams have won five straight against the Buccaneers dating back to 2012 – this is the Rams’ longest active winning streak against any opponent and tied for the Bucs’ longest active losing streak against any opponent (also five, against the Falcons).

Los Angeles have allowed 12 points in the first half of games this season – only the Patriots (0) have allowed fewer. The Rams have scored 55 points in the second half of games this season – only the 49ers (63) have scored more.

Mike Evans had 190 receiving yards and three touchdowns last week. He and Sammy Watkins are the only players to meet those marks in a game this season, and Evans is the first Buccaneer to ever have such a game – the last Buccaneer even with three receiving TDs in a game had been Jimmie Giles in 1985.


Seahawks (2-1) at Cardinals (0-2-1), 4:05pm

The Cardinals have gone 1-8-1 at home since the start of last season, worst in the NFL. The team ranks last in the NFL in points per game (14.5) and yards per game (270.0) at home in this span while having the second-most turnovers (20) behind only the Buccaneers (22).

Seattle has gone 5-0-1 in their last six games in Arizona, the second-longest active streak of road games against a divisional opponent without a loss – only the Patriots (seven vs Bills) have a longer streak.

Russell Wilson has completed 71.4 percent of his passes and thrown for 901 yards – both are career highs through three games of a season. He’d never thrown for more than 755 yards (2016) through three games in any previous season.


Vikings (2-1) at Bears (2-1), 4:25 pm

The Vikings lead the NFL with seven rushing touchdowns in 2019; they had only nine in their entire 2018 campaign. The Bears are one of three teams that have not surrendered a touchdown on the ground this season – along with New England and San Francisco – and have gone seven straight September games without giving up a rushing touchdown.

Chicago have scored 50 points in their first three games while allowing a mere 39. The Bears can join the Packers as the only teams in the league scoring and allowing less than 20.0 points per game. Chicago’s defense ranks in the NFL’s top five in points allowed, opponent third-down efficiency, opponent yards per rush, opponent yards per play and rush yards allowed per game.

Dalvin Cook leads the NFL with 375 rushing yards, second most ever by a Viking in the team’s first three games of a season; only Adrian Peterson, with 392 yards in 2010, has had more. Peterson is the only Viking ever to lead the NFL in rushing; he did so three times: 2008, 2012, and 2015.


Jaguars (1-2) at Broncos (0-3), 4:25pm

The Jaguars had nine sacks in their 20-7 win over the Titans in Week 3, tied for their third-most sacks in a single game in franchise history. This comes just two weeks after they allowed 40 points with no sacks in their Week 1 loss to Kansas City.

Gardner Minshew II currently ranks second in the NFL in completion percentage at 73.9 percent (Dak Prescott, 74.5). Minshew's completion percentage is the highest by any player in his first three career games over the last 50 seasons (minimum 60 attempts).

Joe Flacco has been sacked 11 times this year, tied for fourth most in the league, while the Jaguars are tied for the NFL lead with 13 sacks. Flacco was sacked just 16 times in Baltimore last season, fewest among players with at least 300 pass attempts.


Cowboys (3-0) at Saints (2-1), 8:20pm

Besides leading the NFC in total offense, the Cowboys’ 1,444 total yards are the most they’ve ever had in a three-game span (previous team record of 1,391 came in 1966). This is also the first time Dallas has had 450-plus yards in three games in a row; the last team to do it in four straight was the 2015 Steelers.

Dak Prescott is completing a league-best 74.5 percent of his passes this season and is at 66.6 percent for his career, the best mark among all Cowboys QBs with at least 500 attempts. Prescott’s nine TD passes match Don Meredith (1966) for the most by any Cowboy through the first three games of a season.

Alvin Kamara’s 34 total touchdowns since 2017 are the most in the NFL besides Todd Gurley’s 41; no other player has 30. Kamara, who will play his 35th NFL game Sunday, can join Edgerrin James and Larry Johnson as the only players since 2000 to reach 35 total TDs in 35 career games or less.


MONDAY

Bengals (0-3) at Steelers (0-3), 8:15pm

Pittsburgh are 9-14-1 in September since 2013, eighth worst in the NFL. The seven teams below them have combined for four play-off berths in that span, while the Steelers have four themselves.

JuJu Smith-Schuster’s 11 games with at least 100 receiving yards since 2017 are the sixth most in the NFL even though he’s gone four straight games without one. That’s his longest drought since failing to reach 100 in any of the first seven games of his 2017 rookie season.

The Bengals have been limited to a total of 126 rushing yards. The only team in the past 25 seasons to have fewer rushing yards through three games was the 2012 Titans with 117. Cincinnati’s 506 rushing yards allowed are its most after three games since 2008 (523 yards).

 

February 2018, Gareth Bale tore up Real Madrid's left flank and played an inch-perfect cross into the centre for Karim Benzema to further embarrass Real Sociedad and surely wrap up a 6-2 mauling at the Santiago Bernabeu.

But Benzema remarkably sliced his first-time effort over the crossbar from about seven yards when it appeared impossible to miss – Madrid's fans held up their infamous reputation and rained a torrent of jeers down on the much-maligned Frenchman.

It had become par for the course with Benzema, who was relentlessly whistled by his own supporters through the 2017-18 campaign. But this time Cristiano Ronaldo took a stand, wagging his finger disapprovingly at those responsible before seeming to sarcastically applaud the fans behind 'Gol Sur'.

Benzema's relationship with Los Blancos fans had already been strained for a long time, with criticism morphing into boos, jeers and whistles in 2013, while the striker spoke publicly of his confusion around the situation in 2017.

"The hardest part is when the criticism comes from your own fans. They are normally there to boost you," he said to Canal Plus, revealing his bafflement.

Benz on the brink

The flak reached its zenith during the 2017-18 season.

Benzema scored just five times in 32 LaLiga matches, converting 7.94 per cent of his chances and averaging a goal every 431.2 minutes. Though there was the caveat of a solid haul of 10 assists, it was an extremely challenging year for the forward.

Benzema could hardly suggest it was a momentary blip either, as 11 goals from 29 matches the previous season was similarly underwhelming.

Such form looked set to cost Benzema dear, as he appeared destined to leave in 2018. That horror miss against La Real was followed by strong transfer rumours a couple of weeks later, with the Chinese Super League or a return to France apparently beckoning.

What goal problem?

Coach Zinedine Zidane never passed up the chance to defend Benzema during those dark days, and one has to assume the striker would have left several years ago were the former 'Galactico' not fighting his corner.

Quite simply, Zidane 'gets' Benzema.

"I don't agree with the criticism. What interests me is not just his goals. I like what Karim does for the team, he's one of the best in this regard, and in the team game - I value that a lot. I'm going to defend Benzema to death," Zidane said ahead of the 2017 Club World Cup final.

After all, during those two onerous campaigns, Benzema recorded 18 assists across all competitions – add that figure to his 31 goals, then he had 49 goal involvements in 95 matches.

"You had a rocket [Bale] and a goalscorer [Ronaldo], and then there was me, the piece that made it all work," Benzema explained to RMC earlier this month, seemingly a too-nuanced point for Madrid's band of rowdy revilers.

"Friendship is everything. Friendship is more than talent"

The coach and player relationship is by no means one-way here, either. Benzema's regard for Zidane is well-known and surely a major contributor for the coach's success and the striker's renaissance.

"I have already said it before, but Zidane is like a godfather to me," Benzema commented three years ago.

While's Benzema's resurgence began during the final two months of Santiago Solari's ill-fated reign, there's little doubt Zidane's faith and understanding of the forward ensured he remained influential even after the former Ballon d'Or winner briefly called it quits last year.

Only Sergio Ramos (1,200 minutes) played with greater regularity than Benzema (1,092 minutes) under Julen Lopetegui, while he featured for 2,424 minutes for Solari, 233 more than anyone else. Whether he'd have remained if Ronaldo stayed is another matter, however.

Karim of the crop

There's no greater indication of Benzema's resurgence than the fact only Lionel Messi has scored more LaLiga goals than him in 2019 – the Barcelona star is on 21, the Lyon academy product has 20.

The most recent of those was particularly well timed, as Benzema got the winner in Sunday's 1-0 win at Sevilla – who were unbeaten and had designs on going top of LaLiga – with a smart header after a clever bit of movement.

Previous results had put Zidane under pressure – with the ever-present spectre of Jose Mourinho lurking, waiting for an invitation to return – but Benzema was there to spare his friend.

As such, Benzema heads into Saturday's derby against Atletico Madrid with five goals – his total for 2017-18 – in as many LaLiga outings this term.

In the post-Ronaldo era, Benzema has stepped up to become Madrid's talisman. The only jeers he attracts now are those from fearful fans of Los Blancos' opposition.

It is a well-used phrase in boxing that the only opponent a fighter can never expect to beat is Father Time. Still, Nigel Benn clearly believes age is just a number.

At 55, the former world champion has announced he is coming out of retirement to fight one last time.

Benn last fought back in November 1996, losing a rematch to Steve Collins. It was his 48th outing in a professional career that saw him win titles at two different weights.

A soldier before he turned his focus to a career in the ring, 'The Dark Destroyer' was known for his willingness to go to war, as well as two intriguing battles with arch rival Chris Eubank.

Still, Benn appears to want to write one last chapter in his story. On November 23, in Birmingham, he will go up against Sakio Bika, who is a relative spring chicken at 40 compared to his opponent.

Here we look at some other notable names in the history of the sport who could not resist lacing up the gloves again...


GEORGE FOREMAN

'Big George' decided to walk away from boxing after losing on points to Jimmy Young in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The heavyweight fell ill in his dressing room after the bout and suffered what he said was a near-death experience, leading to him finding God. A born-again Christian, Foreman opted to fight again a decade on from his previous outing.

After coming up short against world champions Evander Holyfield and Tommy Morrison, it was third time lucky for Foreman when he met Michael Moorer in November 1994. The younger man dominated throughout but, having received a grilling, Foreman turned the bout around in the 10th round, forcing a sensational stoppage. He had claimed the IBF and WBA titles and, in the process, become the oldest heavyweight champion in history at 45.

RICKY HATTON

"It's more than a comeback - I'm fighting to redeem myself." After personal issues outside the ring, Ricky Hatton returned to the sport with the aim of making Britain "proud" of him again. A hugely popular public figure, 'The Hitman' had been out of action for just over three years since losing in painful fashion - mentally, as much as physically - to Manny Pacquiao.

The target was to challenge again for a world title. However, the Mancunian's planned journey back to the top hit an early road block in the form of Vyacheslav Senchenko. The Ukrainian crashed the party in Manchester, dropping and stopping the hometown favourite. A heartbroken Hatton knew the game was up and went back into retirement.

SUGAR RAY LEONARD

Sugar Ray was no stranger to a comeback. The five-weight world champion retired on several occasions only to be tempted back, including once for a long-awaited bout against Marvin Hagler that Leonard won via a controversial split-decision verdict in 1987.

A defeat to Terry Norris finally appeared to be the end of the line in February 1991, yet the American laced the gloves up again six years later to face Hector 'Macho' Camacho. At 40, a past-his-prime Leonard was no match for the Puerto Rican, losing by TKO in the fifth. He quit in the aftermath and despite further talk of yet another return, thankfully stayed away.

VITALI KLITSCHKO

A snapped anterior cruciate ligament had seemingly cut short Klitschko's fighting days. The Ukrainian was training to take on Hasim Rahman in 2005 at the time of the injury but decided to forget about the ropes and concentrate on votes instead, choosing to begin a career in politics that would eventually lead to him becoming mayor of Kiev in his homeland.

However, his status with the WBC as "champion emeritus" - meaning he could immediately become mandatory challenger should he fight again - allowed him a way back in. He duly took it in 2008, stepping up to take on - and beat - Samuel Peter to reign again. The swansong spanned 10 fights, all of them wins, before he returned to his other career.

DONOVAN RUDDOCK

Just like Benn, Ruddock had gone beyond his half-century when he announced his decision to fight again. "I see people older than I am. They just sit around and fade away. I don't want to fade away," said the 51-year-old heavyweight who had shared a ring with Mike Tyson (twice) and Lennox Lewis during his prime.

'Razor' had not been in action for 14 years yet stayed sharp by fighting three times in 2015, losing the last of them to Dillon Carman as his attempt to become Canadian champion again resulted in a heavy knockout. To put the age gap in context, Carman was just two when his opponent had first won the national title, way back in 1988. 

The globe's finest track and field stars have descended on Doha for the 2019 World Athletics Championships, as the competition enters a new era.

The sport's grandest outdoor event outside the Olympics is being staged in the Middle East for the first time in its 36-year history, with 1972 competitors - including all 30 Diamond League champions - from 210 teams in action from Friday until October 6.

The next 10 days will also bear witness to the first world championships since 2005 where Usain Bolt, the man who set world records over 100 and 200 metres 10 years ago in Berlin, will not be competing.

In Qatar, there will be pretenders to Bolt's throne, not only as the fastest human being in history but also as the sport's most charismatic champion.

There will be past winners - including the event's most decorated athlete in history - and old rivalries renewed in the Doha heat in what could be a championships to make or break the IAAF's commitment to putting athletics firmly back on the minds of the masses.

With the Olympics less than a year away, who will take the world by storm?

LYLES OUT TO SURPASS BOLT AS JAMAICA'S GREATEST GO HEAD-TO-HEAD

It sometimes sounds trite to talk of Bolt's 'successor', but athletics may well have found its newest poster boy in American Noah Lyles.

The 22-year-old clocked 19.50 seconds in Lausanne – the fourth-fastest 200m time in history – and will have his eye on Bolt's record of 19.19.

Indeed, this could be Lyle's best chance to go under that remarkable time from a decade ago, as the 2014 Youth Olympics champion plans to double up in the 100m and 200m from next year. In Doha, he will not have so many distractions.

It means defending 100m champion Justin Gatlin, who has gone under 10 seconds four times this season at the age of 37, will face his toughest competition against 2017 silver medallist Christian Coleman. Cleared to compete after United States anti-doping authorities withdrew charges relating to missed drugs tests, Coleman ran a world-leading time of 9.81 in June and is many people's favourite for gold. Nigeria's Divine Oduduru and in-form Akani Simbine cannot be discounted, though.

Perhaps the most enthralling battle comes in the women's 100m, though, where two Jamaican Olympic champions over the distance, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Elaine Thompson, will go head-to-head. They share the world-leading time of 10.73 for 2019 and know how to handle the spotlight of athletics' most demanding events, although Dina Asher-Smith and defending world champion Tori Bowie must be considered major threats.

FELIX BACK FOR MORE METAL AS 400M HURDLES HEAT UP

Allyson Felix, the most decorated athlete in world championships history, will seek to add to her 16 medals in the 4x400m relay following the premature birth of her daughter last November.

In the individual race, all eyes are on Shaunae Miller-Uibo, who has put her sole focus on the 400m and whose 49.05 time in Gainesville this year has not been beaten.

With defending champion and world-record holder Wayde van Niekerk absent, expect Michael Norman and Fred Kerley to stage a spectacular showdown in the men's event – although perhaps 2012 Olympic champion Kirani James, beset by injury troubles in recent seasons, could spring a shock.

The real intrigue lies in the one-lap hurdle events, though. 

Dalilah Muhammad broke Yulia Pechonkina's 16-year world record at the US Championships with a time of 52.20 and the Olympic champion is now hoping to add world gold to her collection by withstanding the pressure of rising star Sydney McLaughlin.

Karsten Warholm might be the second-fastest man in history in the 400m hurdles, but Rai Benjamin is ready to push him all the way in Doha, the two having both gone beneath 47 seconds in a thrilling race in Zurich. Abderrahman Samba is also a huge threat.

Warholm, backed by maverick coach Leif Olav Alnes, has compared himself to fictional financier Gordon Gekko of the motto "greed is good", as he targets back-to-back world golds. Benjamin's response? "If Karsten is Gordon Gekko, then I am the IRS."

ECHEVARRIA BACK AND JUMPING FOR JOY

Juan Miguel Echevarria's 8.65m broke the Diamond League record for the men's long jump in Zurich, a distance bettered only by a massive wind-assisted 8.92m he managed in March.

Mike Powell's world record of 8.95m has long been considered out of reach, but Echevarria could at least leap closer to that mark.

Belgium's record-holder in the women's long jump is, of course, the indomitable Nafissatou Thiam, who is favourite to defend her heptathlon title after setting a world-leading 6819 in Talence this year despite having an elbow injury.

Having leapt to within nine centimetres of Inessa Kravets' 15.50m from 1995, defending world triple jump champion Yulimar Rojas is another targeting a world record - assuming the hi-tech cooling system in the Khalifa International Stadium can keep the intense heat at bay.

The conditions in Doha have prompted concerns around athlete welfare and there will be extra medical staff, water stops and ice baths available for the marathon races that get underway at 23:59 local time (20:59 GMT) to avoid the worst of the weather.

It takes more than heat and humidity to put off Jesus Angel Garcia, though. Spain's maestro race walker will become the World Championships' oldest ever competitor at the age of 49 when he gets going in the 50-kilometre event on September 28.

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