Sunday's Premier League showdown between Leicester City and Everton pits two ambitious clubs with sharply contrasting recent fortunes against one another.

Leicester are the closest challengers to leaders Liverpool, sitting eight points shy of Jurgen Klopp's men and a point better off than champions Manchester City after 13 matches.

An ambitious managerial appointment in the form of Brendan Rodgers has paid dividends, with evergreen striker Jamie Vardy in sparkling form.

Marco Silva, a much-trumpeted arrival at Goodison Park before the start of last season, has work to do to turn around an increasingly dismal situation on Merseyside.

Last weekend's defeat to Norwich City means Everton have now lost 2-0 to all three of last season's promoted sides and they languish in 16th ahead of a tough run of fixtures.

VARDY PARTY GOES ON AND ON

Much of Leicester's charge to the upper-reaches of the table has been powered by the prolific Vardy.

The ex-England striker is the top scorer in the Premier League with 12 this season. He also has 12 in his past 12 home games and is closing in on a half-century at the King Power Stadium in the top flight (48 in 94 matches).

The alliance between Rodgers and Vardy has proved reinvigorating for the 32-year-old, who averages a goal every 98 minutes under the former Liverpool boss.

If Vardy's threat comes predominantly from open play, Leicester will also be keen to test Everton's set-piece vulnerability.

Despite facing the fifth fewest number of corners (55) and the joint-second fewest number of shots (14) from them, no side has conceded more goals from such set-piece situations this season than Everton's four.

HEAD-TO-HEAD: JAMES MADDISON v GYLFI SIGURDSSON

Maddison and Sigurdsson arrived at Leicester and Everton before the 2018-19 campaign to be the creative fulcrum of their sides.

Maddison has broken into the England set up and his form suggests he could yet be a star of Euro 2020.

In 47 starts out of 48 Premier League appearances for the Foxes, the former Norwich star boasts a goal involvement every 195.1 minutes thanks to 11 goals and nine assists.

He has created a phenomenal 128 chances and an 83.71 per cent completion rate from 1,977 passes is evidence of a man who cherishes possession.

A dribble success rate of 61.2 per cent shows another manner in which Maddison can hurt the opposition, while his 110 fouls won are more than double Sigurdsson's number (47).

The set-piece specialist edges Maddison in goal involvements thanks to 14 goals and 7 assists form 46 starts.

Sigurdsson has also created 100 chances, another impressive return that makes it tempting to wonder what he might achieve if his team-mates and manager can collectively pull themselves together.

FORM GUIDE

Leicester have won five consecutive Premier League matches, racking up an aggregate scoreline of 17-1.

The Foxes are aiming for six consecutive top-flight wins for the first time since 1963. They have only lost once in 12 games at home under Rodgers, winning nine.

October's 2-0 win over fellow strugglers West Ham snapped a run of four straight league losses for Everton.

Silva's side have taken four points from their four subsequent games, winning 2-1 over a Southampton side Leicester dispatched 9-0 last month.

HISTORY SAYS…

Everton have been defensively flimsy at times this season and they will have their work cut out to keep Vardy and co at bay.

The Toffees have only managed one clean sheet in their past 13 Premier League meetings with Leicester (W5 D4 L4), which came in a 2-0 win at the King Power Stadium in December 2016.

The corresponding fixture last season also finished in an Everton victory. Leicester have not lost consecutive home league games to the Merseyside club since December 1997.

None of the previous eight meetings between Leicester and Everton have been drawn, with each team winning four apiece.

The 2019 Formula One season comes to a close this weekend with the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

World champion Lewis Hamilton has had a year to remember and could still equal a personal best in terms of race victories if he takes the chequered flag at a venue where he has enjoyed success before.

Constructors champions Mercedes have the chance to match their own record, too, should Hamilton and team-mate Valtteri Bottas manage to claim a podium finish.

While the big prizes have already been won this year, Red Bull's Max Verstappen will be chasing a career high, while Ferrari will hope to avoid matching an unwanted feat last set in 1996.

Using Opta data, we look through the key stats ahead of the final race of the 2019 season in the United Arab Emirates.

 

4 - The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix takes place on December 1, the fourth-latest race in a Formula One year after the United States Grand Prix in 1959 (December 12), the South Africa Grand Prix in 1963 (December 28) and the 1962 in the same country (December 29).

3 - Lewis Hamilton has won three of the past five Abu Dhabi Grand Prix (2014, 2016 and 2018) although he has not managed to win back-to-back editions of the race. The only driver to have won in consecutive races at Yas Marina was Sebastian Vettel, for Red Bull, in the first two races in Abu Dhabi (2009 and 2010).

7 - Hamilton (four) and Vettel (three) have won seven out of 10 races in Abu Dhabi, also finishing top in qualifying six times overall.

1996 - Vettel and Charles Leclerc failed to finish the Brazilian Grand Pix after a collision. The last time two Ferrari drivers failed to finish back-to-back Grands Prix was in 1996 (three in a row).

5 - Mercedes have won the five Abu Dhabi races in the Hybrid Era (Hamilton has won three, Nico Rosberg and Valtteri Bottas once each).

33 - If Hamilton and Bottas finish on the podium, it would take Mercedes to 33 top-three finishes in 209, equalling the record for a single season they set back in 2016.

2 - After winning in Brazil, Red Bull could claim back-to-back grand prix victories for the first time since Daniel Ricciardo's wins in 2014 (Hungary and Belgium). McLaren, meanwhile, could secure consecutive podium finishes for the first time in the Hybrid Era.

11 - If Hamilton wins in Abu Dhabi, it will equal his best year for total wins in a Formula One season (his personal best is 11, set in 2014 and 2018).

7 - Of drivers to not win a world championship, only Ronnie Peterson (nine in 1973) has taken more pole positions in a year than Leclerc this season (seven, level with Juan Pablo Montoya in 2002).

9 - Only Niki Lauda in 1974 (nine) has taken more pole positions than Leclerc in a maiden season for Ferrari (seven).

3 - Red Bull's Max Verstappen has never won back-to-back races and also has the chance to record three podiums in a row for the first time this season. A top-three finish will secure third place in the drivers' standings for the 22-year-old, the best finish in his Formula One career.

Manchester United continue to struggle under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, but they have at least kept up a tradition of bringing through young players into the first team.

One of the latest to emerge is Max Taylor, who features among a host of youngsters called up to the squad for Thursday's Europa League match against Astana.

With qualification to the last 32 already assured, Solskjaer is expected to make changes to the team that drew 3-3 with Sheffield United last Sunday, meaning Taylor could make his first-team debut a little over a year after he was diagnosed with testicular cancer.

It would be quite some milestone for the 19-year-old, who has had a difficult year but would appear to have a promising career ahead.

LOCAL FLAVOUR

Taylor was born Max Dunne in Manchester on January 10, 2000 - the day Solskjaer was playing in a 2-0 win over South Melbourne in the Club World Cup.

After initially joining United following a trial in 2014, he was one of eight youngsters in the intake of 2016, of which he was one of two locals, alongside Salford-born Aidan Barlow.

Taylor, who adopted that surname in February this year, made his reserve-team debut ahead of schedule as a substitute against Manchester City in 2016-17 but spent most of his time with United's under-18 side.

He made 12 starts that season and then 17 appearances in all competitions in the next, winning the Under-18 Premier League North trophy.

Described by then-academy coach Kieran McKenna as a "tough, aggressive defender who is good in the air", Taylor signed his first professional United contract in January 2018, along with team-mate George Tanner.

ILLNESS AND UNDER-23S RETURN

Taylor was moved into the under-23s side, then coached by Ricky Sbragia, ahead of the 2018-19 season.

Having prepared himself for the tougher physical and tactical aspects of regular football in the higher age group, the centre-back was then presented with a far greater challenge.

After complaining of pain while sprinting and generally feeling unwell, Taylor was diagnosed with testicular cancer, which tests last October showed had spread to his lymph nodes.

Surgery was required to remove dead tissue after chemotherapy cleared the cancer cells - "quite a risky operation" as Taylor described it. Thankfully, he was given the all-clear in February.

He returned to training on September 18, telling United's website: "I feel immensely proud and happy to be back on the training pitch with my team-mates and friends. Without the invaluable support of my family, team-mates and, of course, the nurses and doctors, my return to training at this stage would not have been possible."

Just under five weeks later, Taylor was back in action for the under-23s, coming on as a substitute for Teden Mengi in a 4-1 win over Swansea City. He then got his first taste of playing at Old Trafford in a 3-0 win for the youngsters over Sunderland last Friday, with Solskjaer watching from the stands.

Speaking to MUTV this week, Taylor said of his illness: "I don't want it to define me. I'd rather it be a part of me and then whether it's my football or how I am as a person, all combines to define me. I don't want it to be a case of it's the cancer that defines me.

"Next is I'm planning to get regular football, whether it be in the under-23s or on loan or whatever. My ultimate goal is to play for the first team here."

Manchester City are facing the prospect of "a few weeks" without Sergio Aguero, according to Pep Guardiola, who must reconfigure his attack for key matches in the talismanic Argentine's absence.

A thigh injury sustained in City's 2-1 win over Chelsea on Saturday is set to deprive Guardiola of the man who has scored nine goals in 12 Premier League appearances this season as the champions take on Newcastle United, Burnley and local rivals Manchester United.

Aguero's injury thrusts Gabriel Jesus into the spotlight, giving the 22-year-old Brazil international an opportunity to build on his record of four league starts and three goals this term.

That City have a player of Jesus' quality in reserve speaks volumes about the strength of Guardiola's squad, but with Liverpool already nine points clear of them in the table there is no room for error in the title race.

City's reliance on Aguero has become almost second nature over the last nine years, but many are predicting a shake-up at Etihad Stadium as he approaches his 32nd birthday in June.

The next few weeks may provide Guardiola with valuable insight into what a post-Aguero future might hold for his side.

GOALS NEVER FAR AWAY WHEN AGUERO IS AROUND

Aguero has scored 51 goals in 70 Premier League appearances since August 2017, giving him an average of a goal every 103.1 minutes.

Contrast that to Jesus' return of 23 goals in 68 appearances - an average of a goal every 137.2 minutes - and you can see why City fans might baulk at the thought of going without Aguero for any length of time.

And it is not just deadly finishing that makes Aguero so indispensable; he is one of City's most creative players in and around the box and has created 86 chances compared to Jesus' 46 since August 2017.

Aguero's selfless play has given him a goal involvement rate of one every 78.5 minutes, whereas Jesus is more of a poacher with a goal involvement rate of one every 105.2 minutes.

Further stats in Aguero's favour include a better duel success rate (44.0 compared to 41.3) and a slightly more accurate passing record (83.5 versus 81.5), making the experienced Argentine a more attractive option when City require more than just goals.

JESUS SHAPING UP TO BE CITY'S NEW SAVIOUR

Ask any City fan about their most potent goal threat and they will most likely wax lyrical about Aguero's prowess, but Opta's data since August 2017 presents a strong case to back the view that Jesus a comparable asset.

When you include blocked shots, Aguero has an intimidating shot conversion rate of 20.1 per cent but Jesus is not far behind, having found the net with 18.3 per cent of his attempts on goal during the same period.

Jesus has also made more tackles (34 compared to Aguero's 31) and has a higher dribble success rate (60.2 per cent compared to 58.3 per cent) than Aguero, and he can even boast more shots on target per 90 minutes than his South American team-mate.

Given that Jesus plays with far less regularity than Aguero, he remains remarkably consistent, hitting the target with 2.0 shots every 90 minutes, while Aguero works the goalkeeper with an average of 1.7 shots per 90.

CITY THRIVE WITH JESUS IN THEIR SIDE

Direct comparisons between Aguero and Jesus are limited in their usefulness, given that the former plays so much more regularly and that they each have distinct styles of play.

Perhaps more telling is City's track record when either player is present or missing, and the good news for supporters is that their effect on the team appears remarkably similar.

City's team stats improve when Jesus starts league games compared to when he does not, with average goals for rising from 2.6 to 2.9, win percentage increasing from 79.3 to 87.1, and points-per-game going up from 2.4 to 2.7.

Likewise when Aguero is in the starting line-up, City do better - although not across as many different metrics.

Average goals for jumps from 2.5 to 2.7 when Pep includes Aguero from the start and win percentage rises from 81.5 to 82.3, but points-per-game stays at a steady 2.5 and average goals against increases from 0.7 to 0.8.

All of which should go some way to soothing the fears of City supporters for whom Aguero is seen as a saviour, and remind them to make room in their hearts for Jesus.

There were enough sub-plots for Real Madrid's Champions League clash with Paris Saint-Germain to be turned into a feature-length film before a ball had even been kicked at the Santiago Bernabeu.

By the end of 90 breathless, pulsating and sheer joy-inducing minutes there were enough storylines to make a franchise that could rival even the lucrative Marvel series.

For 81 of those, Zinedine Zidane and his expensively assembled squad of Galacticos were almost tactically flawless.

The decision to hand Isco a first start in six weeks appeared truly inspired. The short, sharp passing in a midfield trio alongside Federico Valverde and Casemiro had PSG – who had dominated the same opponents 3-0 on matchday one – chasing white shirts with about as much success as an excitable dog longing to reach its tail.

If that problem wasn't big enough then the one caused by Eden Hazard would have given PSG's defence and head coach Thomas Tuchel nightmare-filled sleep for the foreseeable future.

Injury woes early in his Madrid career have meant it has taken Hazard a little while to get up to speed in the Spanish capital.

But for 70 minutes here, Hazard was utterly joyous – try as you might, taking your eyes of this Rolls Royce of a footballer was an impossible task.

Hazard was full of the sort of invention, creativity and genius nuances that convinced Madrid to part with over €100million to prise him from Chelsea.

It was as much a blow to the neutrals watching when Hazard was helped off the pitch following a strong challenge from Belgium team-mate Thomas Meunier as it was to Zidane and his Madrid team-mates.

That Hazard departing the pitch through injury became almost a footnote tells a story in itself about this classic of the Champions League genre.

Karim Benzema's second goal in the 79th minute should have been the cherry atop of a scrumptious cake for Madrid, who despite Zidane's protestations to the contrary would have had revenge in mind.

Granted it had taken a helping hand from the VAR, another of football's most divisive modern issues, to get that point.

The decision to overturn a red card for Thibaut Courtois – who rashly wiped out Mauro Icardi – for the softest of fouls from Idrissa Gueye on Marcelo earlier in the move appeared certain to dominate the narrative.

Even accounting for that let-off, it was another side-note in a game swimming with them that kept Madrid at bay.

Keylor Navas, who left for PSG having fallen behind Courtois in the goalkeeper pecking order at Madrid, was in inspired form – Benzema and Isco particularly left frustrated by his brilliance. That he was received so well by the home crowd speaks volumes of his contribution over five trophy-laden years at the Bernabeu.

Indeed it was his heroics that allowed Kylian Mbappe – the man so desired by Los Blancos fans – to take an almighty spanner and throw it directly into the works.

Those familiar with the story know Madrid have not exactly been quiet in expressing their admiration for the World Cup winner. Heck, even this week Zidane publicly declared his love for the rapid forward, who it is hard to imagine will not one day don the famous white of Madrid.

That love may have dwindled a little when Mbappe capitalised on a lack of communication between Courtois and Raphael Varane to hand PSG a precious lifeline.

Two minutes later, the irony will not have been lost on Zidane that the man to deny Madrid what would, in truth, have been a deserved victory to keep their hopes of finishing top of Group A alive was Pablo Sarabia – a player who graduated through the youth ranks at the Bernabeu.

Remarkably, only the width of a post denied one final twist and one so tantalisingly delicious it would not have been out of place in an M. Night Shyamalan film.

Gareth Bale, a man much derided by his own fans and the Spanish media for his 'WALES. GOLF. MADRID. IN THAT ORDER' banner celebration after Wales qualified for Euro 2020, stood poised over a free-kick 30 yards from goal.

This particular narrative only narrowly failed to play out. Had it done so the reactions would have been incredulity, shock and uncontrollable laughter. In that order.

When the dust settles, Zidane will analyse with forensic scrutiny Madrid's failure to first kill the contest through the numerous chances they created, and second to manage the game when two up with 10 minutes to go.

But for anyone without an affiliation for either of these two giants of European football, the only thing to do was sit back, jaws gaping, as the credits rolled on a match worthy of any big screen.

Much of Manchester City's Champions League encounter against Shakhtar Donetsk felt like a case of familiarity breeding torpor.

A 1-1 draw sent City into the last 16 as Group C winners with a game to spare, while Shakhtar held their spot in second. And yet describing any element of Tuesday's action as celebratory would be a stretch.

Drawn together in the round-robin phase of Europe's premier club competition for a third consecutive season, the respective champions of England and Ukraine treated the Etihad Stadium to a contest with all the intensity of a weekly five-a-side knockaround between work colleagues.

While City's back-to-back 3-0 wins in Kharkiv stand among the best they have produced under Pep Guardiola on the road in Europe, the contests in Manchester have proved diminishing spectacles.

In September 2017, Shakhtar posed plenty of questions of City as Bernard and Fred – sure to be success stories in the Premier League – impressed before Kevin De Bruyne found a brilliant, game-breaking opener early in the second half. Raheem Sterling could only make the points safe in the final minute.

Last season, an over-matched Shakhtar were walloped 6-0 as Gabriel Jesus scored two penalties in a hat-trick. Three days earlier, Southampton had lost 6-1 on the same ground.

The 2019-20 version of City do not presently pack the same thrill. De Bruyne was still the man poking and prodding the visitors, but his deliveries into the box generally met orange-clad limbs and heads, with Jesus straining at the leash for his chance to impress in Sergio Aguero's injury absence.

Feeding off scraps, the Brazil international was unable to make his case convincingly and might have fancied squaring off against the more laissez-faire defensive efforts of his own team.

Shakhtar made a habit of targeting the left-hand side of City's defence with raking passes - diminutive left-back Angelino the focus of their fascination.

Ederson scurried from his box to meet one such inquisition, only to miss the ball entirely. In keeping with contest, Tete sauntered towards the unguarded net bereft of urgency and Fernandinho slid in to clear his eventual shot.

A favourite from his time at the club between 2005 and 2013, Fernandinho was again warmly received by the Donetsk contingent and it is easy to see why affection endures for such a formidable footballer.

Thrust into an unfamiliar role due to City's failure to replace Vincent Kompany and a long-term injury to Aymeric Laporte, the 34-year-old now seems relatively secure as Guardiola's first-choice in the heart of defence.

He has found himself marshalling a backline under unexpectedly regular siege. This is perhaps best explained by the fact a defence including Fernandinho cannot be protected by Fernandinho the holding midfield lynchpin.

A City engine room featuring Rodri and opening goalscorer Ilkay Gundogan is easy on the eye but perhaps as much for opponents as spectators at times.

Guardiola teams are at their best when the pressing is frenetic and, not for the first time in recent weeks, City were unimpressive out of possession. Angelino's struggle under long balls was only as concerning as the frequency with which they were allowed to arrive.

De Bruyne unpicked the lock in the 56th minute, leaving Jesus to bundle untidily but effectively through the front door and porch before laying the ball on a welcome mat for Gundogan.

Recent editions of this fixture suggested City would power away, but Tete and Dodo combined to expose their brittle left flank and substitute Manor Solomon slammed in a 69th-minute equaliser.

There concluded the scoring in a formulaic Champions League group stage encounter devoid of the jeopardy that Shakhtar's final matchday showdown with Atalanta will mercifully feature.

Guardiola would bridle at the suggestion, but this felt like City marking time before the cut-and-thrust of the knockout stages in the new year, where the return of Laporte and Leroy Sane must bring back the devilment.

Going through the motions was enough to go through as group winners; it will not do if Guardiola is to complete his trophy collection in Manchester.

Real Madrid still have work to do in their bid to reach the last 16 of the Champions League as they prepare for the visit of Paris Saint-Germain.

PSG are already through to the knockout stages and opponents Madrid can join them with victory at the Santiago Bernabeu.

On-loan striker Mauro Icardi has been in inspired form for the French champions since joining from Inter, scoring 10 times in 11 appearances.

The 26-year-old failed to register in the reverse fixture at the Parc des Princes – a 3-0 win for PSG in September – but he can make some history should he score on Tuesday.

Elsewhere, victory for Atletico Madrid away to Juventus will make certain of a last-16 spot with a game to spare, while Jose Mourinho takes charge of Tottenham in the Champions League for the first time as they welcome Olympiacos to north London.

Here is the pick of the key Opta facts for Tuesday's eight matches.

Galatasaray v Club Brugge

0 - Galatasaray are the only team in this season's Champions League yet to score. There have been six previous occasions in which a team have failed to score in their opening five games, including the Turkish side in the 1993-94 season.

1 - Club Brugge have won just one of their last 18 Champions League games, with that victory coming away at Monaco in November 2018.

Lokomotiv Moscow v Bayer Leverkusen

8 - Since the start of last season, no side have lost more Champions League matches than Lokomotiv.

4 - Leverkusen are without a win in their last four away games in the Champions League, failing to score in their past three outings – the German club's longest-such run in the competition.

Atalanta v Dinamo Zagreb

11 - Only Genk (12) have conceded more goals in open play in this season's Champions League than Atalanta (11).

36 - Dinamo have had the joint-fewest shots of any team in the Champions League this season, level with Galatasaray. They have the best conversion rate of any team, however, scoring with nine of those 36 shots (25 per cent).

Red Star Belgrade v Bayern Munich

11 - Bayern are enjoying their longest ever unbeaten run away from home in the European Cup/Champions League, going 11 matches since last tasting defeat.

7 - Red Star have lost seven of their first 10 Champions League games. Only four teams have lost more in their opening 10 matches - Sturm Graz, Rapid Vienna, Malmo, Maccabi Tel Aviv (eight defeats each).

Juventus v Atletico Madrid

25 - Juventus forward Cristiano Ronaldo has scored 25 goals against Atletico in all competitions - only versus Sevilla (27) has he netted more.

2009 - Atletico, beaten 2-1 at Bayer Leverkusen last time out, have not lost consecutive away games in the group stage of UEFA's showpiece competition since October 2009 when losing to Porto and Chelsea.

Manchester City v Shakhtar Donetsk

6 - City have won their last six home Champions League matches - the longest current run of any side. The last English team to have a longer run were Chelsea, with seven in a row at Stamford Bridge between March 2008 and February 2009.

0 - Shakhtar have lost on both of their visits to the Etihad Stadium, conceding eight goals without replay. The Ukrainian club have never lost each of their first three away games against a single team in the competition. 

Real Madrid v Paris Saint-Germain

8 - Madrid have won eight and lost none of their 11 Champions League home games against French opposition, winning the last five such matches in a row by an aggregate score of 15-1.

5 - PSG striker Icardi has scored against five of the six teams he has faced in the competition, the exception being Madrid (one game).  No player has ever faced as many as six teams and scored against every opponent, with the record currently held Milinko Pantic, who scored against all four opponents in 1996-97 for Atletico.

Tottenham v Olympiacos

0 - Tottenham have never drawn a Champions League group match on home soil, winning 10 and losing four.

8 - Olympiacos have lost their last six away matches in the competition. Not since between September 2001 and December 2003 have they endured a longer wait for victory on their travels.

Liverpool maintained their stunning start to the season – and eight-point lead at the summit – with a 2-1 win over Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.

Jose Mourinho wasted little time in making his mark at Tottenham after he was brought in to replace Mauricio Pochettino, guiding the north London club to a 3-2 win over sorry rivals West Ham.

Manchester City, meanwhile, bounced back from their damaging 3-1 defeat to Liverpool before the international break with an entertaining 2-1 victory against Chelsea – a result which saw them leapfrog Frank Lampard's side into third.

The game of the weekend came on Sunday when Sheffield United and Manchester United played out a thrilling 3-3 draw at Bramall Lane, with the visitors coming from two goals down to lead 3-2 before Oli McBurnie's late equaliser.

Here, we look at the best milestones and stats from another action-packed weekend of Premier League action.

RELENTLESS REDS MARCH ON AGAINST PALACE

Liverpool became only the fourth side in English top-flight history to have as many as 37 points from their opening 13 league games to a season after their slender win at Selhurst Park.

Sadio Mane opened the scoring shortly after half-time, which was perhaps unsurprising given his superb record against the Eagles. His deflected strike means he has now scored eight Premier League goals against Palace – more than against any other opponent.

It had looked like Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool would drop points for just the second time this season when Wilfried Zaha levelled with eight minutes remaining. That was the Ivorian's first goal in 14 Premier League games, ending a run of 1245 minutes without scoring.

Roberto Firmino had the final say, though, prodding home after a corner had caused chaos in the Palace penalty area. Since the start of last season, Liverpool have scored 38 goals from set-pieces in the Premier League (including penalties) – eight more than any other club.

The win takes the Reds' unbeaten run in the Premier League to 30 matches. Only Arsenal (49 games in October 2004) and Chelsea (40 in October 2005) have ever had longer runs without defeat in the history of the competition.

MOURINHO BACK WITH A BANG

Mourinho made a triumphant return to management as Tottenham saw off West Ham at the London Stadium.

Having lost his first ever competitive game as manager, with Benfica in September 2000, Mourinho has gone unbeaten in his first game in charge at each of his eight clubs since then.

The former Manchester United and Real Madrid boss was indebted to star duo Harry Kane and Son Heung-min, who scored other side of Lucas Moura's close-range effort.

Kane has now scored eight goals in his last nine Premier League games against the Hammers, while Son's strike means he is Spurs' leading scorer in all competitions in 2019 with 19 – one more than Kane.

GUARDIOLA SETS UNWANTED RECORD IN CITY WIN

City claimed a valuable Premier League victory over Chelsea on Saturday, despite recording the lowest share of possession any Pep Guardiola side has managed in a top-flight game.

City's possession figure of just 46.74 per cent is the lowest any team coached by Guardiola has registered in 381 top-flight matches.

N'Golo Kante gave Chelsea a 21st-minute lead but, remarkably, Lampard's side did not manage another shot on target for the remainder of the match.

City stormed back after that early setback to claim all three points thanks to goals from Kevin De Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez. The Algerian has now been directly involved in 10 goals in his 11 starts across all competitions this season, scoring four and creating six more.

BRAMALL LANE DRAMA LEAVES SOLSKJAER WITH MIXED EMOTIONS

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer gave his Manchester United players credit after they scored three goals in seven minutes to overturn a two-goal deficit against Sheffield United but condemned their display for the first hour at Bramall Lane.

Goals from John Fleck and Lys Mousset put the Blades in front and United have not kept a clean sheet on the road in the Premier League in their last 12 matches - their worst top-flight run since going 15 away games without a shutout between September 1985 and April 1986.

Fortunately for Solskjaer, his young charges rallied and Brandon Williams and Mason Greenwood struck in quick succession to make it 2-2. The last time two teenagers scored in a Premier League game for United was in October 2005, when Wayne Rooney and Giuseppe Rossi netted against Sunderland.

Marcus Rashford's goal in the 79th minute put United on course for a win that did not transpire, but the England forward continued his good record against newly-promoted opponents - he has been involved in eight goals in his last five Premier League appearances against newcomers (four goals, four assists).

How do you sum up a match like that? "It's football," was Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's attempt on Sky Sports. Notably, he added: "The difference between this year and last year's team is huge."

To put it simply, this was another Premier League away game in 2019-20 Manchester United did not win. To Wolves, Southampton, West Ham, Newcastle United and Bournemouth, now add the name of Sheffield United.

Five wins from six games in all competitions before Sunday was enough to suggest Solskjaer had his players turning a corner again. Then, in the week Mauricio Pochettino became available, they produced their worst 70 minutes in months, managed a breathtaking comeback, and still ended the game disappointed at a 3-3 draw. Such is life under Solskjaer: signs of progress and moments of excellence that only seem to make sure the next setback is still newsworthy.

They managed one shot – a league-low under Solskjaer – in perhaps the worst first half of football of his tenure. Solskjaer cackled before kick-off that Phil Jones, in his first league start of the season, might play in midfield and might play in defence.

That must have been the instruction he gave to the player personally, given the uncertain recklessness with which Jones bludgeoned his way in and out of position. His despairing grimace after he was shoved over by Lys Mousset for the fortunate but fully deserved opening John Fleck goal said it all, occurring as it did just two hours after Chris Smalling, deemed expendable by Solskjaer, was scoring and assisting in a 3-0 win for Roma.

The 3-4-3, the line-up, the instructions – everything seemed wrong. Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Daniel James were so lifeless, so withdrawn from the action, they might as well have been having a kickabout at Hillsborough 12 miles away. Andreas Pereira found Sheffield United shirts with precision almost every time he had the ball. Brandon Williams, after a promising few weeks in the first team, was bullied and beaten with increasing ease down the left.

Sheffield United were everything the Red Devils were not: well-drilled, hard-working, swift and accurate with the ball, ferocious without it. They pulled the visitors out of position and surged into the gaps, while their opponents played at such an excruciatingly slow pace that 46-year-old Solskjaer could probably have joined in. After United took their first corner of the match short and played a handful of slow passes before Fred ballooned a cross out of play, Harry Maguire bellowed at his midfielder to "just put it in the f****** box!". The United Way.

The headlines were written, the #OleOut cries getting louder, the Pochettino dial turned up to 11. And then, in seven minutes, the youngsters into whose hands Solskjaer has put his job showed they will not let this manager go quietly into the night.

Williams struck a sweet half-volley, becoming the youngest United player in three years to score in the Premier League until Mason Greenwood took that stat for himself five minutes later. When Martial, James and Rashford finally combined, they tore the defence to shreds to make it 3-2.

It was breathless, barely believable. Pochettino was just the ex-Tottenham manager again as another stunning comeback with Solskjaer's name on it beckoned. But he must share the blame for their failure to see it out. With the hosts looking forlorn and suspect with every attack, Solskjaer blinked, taking off Martial for Axel Tuanzebe in the hope of holding on to what they had. They promptly dropped deep, failed to clear their box and let Ollie McBurnie equalise. The setback was the news again.

And so Ole remains at the wheel, grinding through the gears, veering into traffic, but his gaze steadfast on the road ahead. United are ninth, closer in points to the relegation zone than the top four, 20 adrift of leaders Liverpool… but fighting. Would they fight for Pochettino in the same way?

If winning ugly truly is a mark of champions, Manchester City's Premier League title challenge is very much alive.

After losing to Liverpool two weeks ago and then watching yet another late winner from Jurgen Klopp's relentless Reds at Crystal Palace earlier on Saturday, City's task against Chelsea was straightforward: don't give the leaders any more reason to believe.

Pep Guardiola's message before the game was simple, too, as the task of hauling in Liverpool was laid bare: "We have two options – give up or don't give up." Against Chelsea, they flirted with the former before choosing the latter.

Quite what the message to Benjamin Mendy was is another matter, though, and one that could have deeper implications when the title race enters its more decisive months.

Chelsea, of course, came to Etihad Stadium in buoyant mood - quite the contrast to the way they left it last season after a 6-0 humiliation of a kind rarely experienced, certainly since Roman Abramovich laid down roots in London. But this is a different Chelsea: a team playing with few expectations, bursting with confidence and chasing an eighth away win in a row in all competitions for the first time.

More to the point, there was a plan: get after Mendy. Not included against Liverpool for "tactical reasons", Mendy was part of the Chelsea blueprint from the off. Willian attacked relentlessly down the right and N'Golo Kante often joined him. With Raheem Sterling unwilling to track back, Rodri was dragged to the left to provide cover.

That was how Chelsea struck.

Mateo Kovacic played a one-two with Jorginho on halfway, and Kante set off, a diminutive whirlwind surging through the middle of the sky blue shirts onto the Kovacic pass. Rodri, out of position, did not track him; Fernandinho, emergency centre-back again, could not. Kante finished well under pressure from Mendy, who had belatedly realised the danger. It was Chelsea's second and final shot on target.

Chelsea deserved their lead. Beating City requires a careful plan and the hope of an off-day from Guardiola's men and, boy, they had that in the first half-hour. Kante has not been transformed by Frank Lampard - nobody should forget how Maurizio Sarri was often pilloried for playing the France star further forward - but he has embraced this idea of unleashing the former Leicester City man. In terms of average positions, Kante ended the first half the furthest forward of any Chelsea player. He was a weapon deployed with astute precision.

City, meanwhile, were alarmingly poor. Whatever the end result, Guardiola teams can normally be guaranteed to have more possession and run that little bit harder than their opponents. After 45 minutes, they had had 45 per cent of the ball and been outsprinted 56-50.

And yet, they were winning.

Kevin De Bruyne was wayward with his early passing but it soon became clear that, if it was going to happen for City, it would happen through him. It duly did 29 minutes in, De Bruyne dummying Jorginho and finding the net via the well-placed studs of Kurt Zouma, all after Fernandinho waded back into more comfortable midfield waters to steal possession.

For all their own problems at left-back, City identified the same weakness in Chelsea, a team who, exciting as they are, have kept only three clean sheets in the league under Lampard. Emerson Palmieri was tasked with dealing with Riyad Mahrez and simply never managed it. When he asked for help from Kovacic, they were equally obliging in allowing Mahrez to cut into the box on his left foot and finish in supreme style.

Mahrez was the main threat after the break, a clever corner giving Joao Cancelo a chance to score before a brilliant Kepa Arrizabalaga save denied him a second goal of his own. He would have had a late assist for Sterling but for a correct VAR intervention for offside.

A Chelsea comeback never really looked on and City had control once Ilkay Gundogan was introduced, even if they ended with the lowest possession figure, 46.7 per cent, that Guardiola has seen in 381 league matches in charge of Barcelona, Bayern Munich and City.

They are back into third, nine points behind Liverpool, with a slight hop in their step if not quite a spring. Never mind the gap, as David Silva said on Friday; City have overturned them before.

But there is a nagging doubt about Mendy, about how he impacts the team as a whole and whether he is worth the gamble, that is more difficult to ignore.

Among the many knocks on Jose Mourinho's often miserable stint at Manchester United was his inability or unwillingness to perform real feats of coaching, to coax improvement out of individuals who did not immediately meet his standard.

Scott McTominay was perhaps the one player who countered the claim that a manager famed for distrusting young players had indeed forgotten how to coach footballers of all ages.

Diligent, dogged and pliable, it made sense that Mourinho took to the late-blooming Scotland international - and why the pair have remained in contact since the former's inglorious exit from Old Trafford almost 12 months ago.

The rest of United's squad tended to rebel against Mourinho's methods. Paul Pogba stagnated. Anthony Martial failed to kick on. Others simply became sapped of belief, as must have been the case with the routinely chastised Luke Shaw.

Tottenham do not have the kind of funds to allow long-term assets to drift aimlessly - few clubs do - and it was notable that chairman Daniel Levy bestowed the title of head coach when offering Mourinho an unexpected return to the Premier League.

Dele Alli is not exactly a McTominay type, and yet against West Ham, on the fourth day doing a job Mourinho once said he would never take, there were signs he could become emblematic of the reinvention the Portuguese claimed he did not need to undertake.

Alli's confidence seemed completely restored at the London Stadium on Saturday after more than a single season of form and injury issues that former boss Mauricio Pochettino struggled to resolve.

Mourinho called him "potentially a fantastic player" during his introductory news conference and the scorer of 44 top-flight goals looked exactly that in a particularly encouraging first 45 minutes.

Chosen ahead of Christian Eriksen in an advanced midfield role, he twice rewarded Harry Kane runs with intelligent passes in behind the defence during the opening stages of Tottenham's eventual 3-2 victory, their first on the road in the Premier League since January 20.

One led to a rasping Kane finish that was disallowed for offside, but the hosts failed to heed the lesson as Alli continued to find space between the lines for the remainder of a one-sided opening half.

The recently outcast England international harassed and forced an error out of Angelo Ogbonna, tested the obvious nerves of Hammers goalkeeper Roberto with a pair of shots and then, in the 43rd minute, offered the sort of instinctual manoeuvre that has so enamoured supporters in the past.

His contortionist act and inventive flick when pinned on the touchline allowed Son Heung-min to spring free down the left and square for the recalled Lucas Moura, who tapped home.

Alli had earlier supplied the pass from which Son fired Spurs ahead and his work was effectively complete by the time Harry Kane headed in Serge Aurier's cross four minutes after the interval.

Mourinho made his appreciation clear following the second goal, singling out the attacking midfielder with enthusiastic acknowledgement.

Alli's influence waned in the second half, as did Tottenham's performance, and West Ham grabbed late goals either side of his 79th-minute substitution to make the final scoreline look far closer than it needed to be.

The job, however, was done. Spurs were winners, as Levy has gambled on them becoming again with a dramatic change. The 'real' Dele was back, as Mourinho had set to out accomplish. And a manager seemingly resistant to change looked like a head coach.

Just a few more seconds. Perhaps one more huge, heavy left. That is how close Luis Ortiz must have felt to dethroning the self-publicising, heavy-hitting Deontay Wilder back in March 2018. 

The underdog appeared on the brink of an upset when he had the undefeated WBC champion stumbling and bumbling around the ring towards the end of the seventh round at the Barclays Center. Had he found a way to get the job done, the heavyweight landscape would have changed dramatically.  

However, Ortiz was unable to deliver the telling blow.

Having experienced what it was like to be on the other side of an onslaught for the first time in his career, Wilder survived, regained his composure and found a way to triumph. It was in the 10th that he showed Ortiz how to force a stoppage, dropping him twice to retain his title.

The pair get to do it all over again on Saturday, but it is hard to shake the thought that the southpaw missed his opportunity. If there was an element of surprise first time around in their Brooklyn brawl, that has now gone for the rematch.

Still, Ortiz demonstrated both his heart and talent just over 18 months ago. A decorated amateur, the southpaw is a skilled big man; he may look a little unathletic but does have a firm grasp on the boxing basics.

David Allen can vouch for that, having shared a ring when the Cuban turned up in England, primed with a promotional contract from Matchroom Boxing and a point to prove to a new audience. 

"You look at Deontay Wilder and he's a lumberjack. Then you look at me and think labourer, the kind of bloke who carries bricks around," Allen told Omnisport. 

"You look at Ortiz, however, and you'd say that man is a surgeon. He's clever, very clever. Although he's getting on and I think he's faded a bit, he's so clever."

King Kong was certainly precise when cutting through the defences of an under-prepared Allen, who got an early shock in their bout. 

"He hit me with a left uppercut in the second round and I genuinely lost consciousness for a second. My legs dipped and I thought, "What was that?'," he explained. "I started swinging at him, but I just remember my corner telling me to move. 

"His wasn't the kind of power that when he hit you on the arms and gloves you thought, 'Oh my God, he can punch'. But he was hitting me on the chin and a hell of a lot to the body. He was accurate.

"His jab was difficult for me to read because he's a southpaw – I struggle with them anyway. It's less of a jab and more of a paw, using it to judge the distance. His left hand is the dangerous one, but he does lean with a right hook to the body, too. As I said, he's the surgeon of the heavyweight division."

Ortiz demonstrated he can hit against Wilder, too, though the lumberjack - as Allen wonderfully described the American - refused to fall, despite a series of chopping hooks to the body before the bell sounded to end the seventh.

The challenger faded down the stretch but has seemingly prepared well for another crack at ending Wilder's unbeaten record, taking himself away from his family in Miami for a training camp in Las Vegas. The rewards were clear to see at the weigh-in on Friday, as he came in more than five pounds lighter than for the first bout. Even Wilder was impressed, admitting his rival "looked good" on the scales. 

Yet Ortiz is now 40. While he has only boxed 154 rounds as a pro, a long amateur career has put plenty of miles on the clock. Father Time catches up with most fighters eventually, though the ruthless Wilder may get there first.

Allen fears the worst for his former foe, adding: "I worry on Saturday night we may see a shot fighter in there.

"Even if physically he's not the man he once was, he's smart. He may give Wilder problems like he did in the first fight, where he had it all but won. With a different referee and if it wasn't a heavyweight title fight, they may have stopped that.

"But I'd be very surprised if he comes that close again. I think Wilder stops him in the early rounds, as I fear Ortiz has slowed down massively."

A shot at the sporting immortality of back-to-back continental titles against a formidable opponent in the form of Flamengo.

River Plate face a Brazil v Argentina blockbuster in the first Copa Libertadores final to be staged as a one-off game – a change now mired in the logistical nightmare of moving the showpiece from Santiago to Lima at short notice.

Yet all of this is nothing to fear when compared to the bigger picture.

"All us River fans are scared that Marcelo Gallardo could leave," midfielder Exequiel Palacios told Infobae.

"No one wants him to leave. We hope that he'll stay for many more years and keep giving joy to River fans."

Increasingly, for Palacios, his team-mates and a fervent fanbase, this looks like a forlorn hope.

Since returning to coach the club he represented across three spells as an attacking midfielder during his playing days, Gallardo has inspired one of the most successful periods in River's decorated history.

Witheringly nicknamed Las Gallinas by sworn enemies Boca Juniors due to their reputation for choking on the big occasion, River have doubled their number of Libertadores triumphs under Gallardo's leadership, from two to four.

Number four, of course, arrived unforgettably at Boca's expense last season. River prevailed 5-3 on aggregate after a 3-1 extra-time win in the unfamiliar surroundings of the Santiago Bernabeu – the second leg of the final having been moved to Madrid after Boca's team bus was attacked en route to El Monumental for the originally scheduled fixture.

If growing speculation is to be believed, it is LaLiga's other major footballing coliseum where Gallardo might soon by plying his trade.

Barcelona bound?

"Gallardo will be coach of Barcelona in December," former River midfielder and 1986 World Cup winner Claudio Borghi told TNT Sports this month, in comments unlikely to have been welcomed by under-fire Blaugrana boss Ernesto Valverde. "He is one of the best coaches in the world.

"[River Plate president Rodolfo] D'Onofrio said he'd only leave by quitting his post, but I know this from a direct source."

Irrespective of the veracity of Borghi's information, while acknowledging the man himself has sought to quell the rumours, the prospect of Gallardo landing another of the biggest jobs in world football is compelling.

His record on the big occasion is outstanding, as evidenced by the 11 trophies lifted during his tenure.

A directive from the River board to focus on continental success has been carried out to the letter, with the 2014 Copa Sudamericana and three Recopas Sudamericana sitting alongside the 2015 and 2018 Libertadores.

This return has come amid a huge turnover in playing staff – a long-accepted reality for South American teams turning out high-quality football before the prying eyes of European scouts.

Of the side that won the 2015 Libertadores, only Leonardo Ponzio, Jonatan Maidana, Gonzalo Martinez, Camilo Mayada and Rodrigo Mora remained among the squad that tasted glory in Madrid. The Camp Nou powerbrokers would do well to spot Gallardo's astute ability to rebuild, given their uneven and expensive record in the transfer market over recent years.

Boca would certainly be delighted to see the back of him. The ultimately futile 1-0 win in this season's Libertadores semi-final second leg at La Bombonera, after going down 2-0 in the initial match, was their first in seven Superclasicos.

Gallardo's shrewd tactical flexibility was to the fore during last season's final, with a switch from his favoured and fluid 4-4-2 to a back three for the away leg providing extra width that Boca struggled to deal with.

Injuries in attack forced him into a 4-5-1 for the return, but slick combination play and the feature of midfield runners supplementing the attack remained in fine working order on River's night of nights.

Admired by Guardiola and Messi

"What Gallardo has done is unbelievable. He gives them consistency year after year, even though they lose players," Pep Guardiola told TNT last month.

"I don't understand how he's never nominated for manager of the year. It's as if only Europe exists."

That seal of approval from a Barcelona great comes alongside a potentially more significant one from Lionel Messi, who included Gallardo behind Guardiola and Mauricio Pochettino in his top three when voting for the 2019 Best FIFA Men's Coach award.

Of course, Barcelona have gone down the route of appointing a coach from Messi's homeland fairly recently and his fellow Rosario native Gerardo Martino finished the 2013-14 season without a major trophy or his job.

An acclimatisation process would be necessary, not least in terms of week-in, week-out combat in LaLiga. River's superb recent Libertadores record has come at the expense of seriously competing for the Superliga. Key men are routinely rested either side of major knockout matches and their last league success was in 2014, immediately before Gallardo's arrival.

There would be these and more questions to answer. If he is able to see off Flamengo and lift the third Copa Libertadores of his coaching career, the chances of Gallardo having to provide the answers might increase considerably.

VAR controversy, Leicester City's swashbuckling style, Liverpool's unrelenting charge to the title – these are all among the most prominent themes of the opening months of the 2019-20 Premier League season.

But arguably trumping all of them in terms of column inches has been Chelsea's use of young players, with Frank Lampard's return to the club as head coach coinciding with a new-found desire to bring youngsters into the first-team.

Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham, Fikayo Tomori and Christian Pulisic have all featured regularly, while Callum Hudson-Odoi and Reece James have recently returned from serious injuries.

Eden Hazard, Graeme Le Saux, Sean Dyche, Roy Hodgson and Petr Cech are just a few of the army of people to lavish Chelsea and Lampard with praise for this philosophy.

Although it is difficult not to be cynical of Lampard's insistence that he would have had the same approach even if Chelsea were not banned from signing new players, the fact remains they are giving young players a chance.

But how does their use of under-23 players compare to the rest of the teams in Europe's top five leagues?

PREMIER LEAGUE

It might surprise supporters to learn that among Premier League clubs, Chelsea don't lead the way for appearances (60), minutes (4,164) or assists (8) for players who were under 23 on matchday.

Manchester United have racked up the highest number of matches for players younger than 23 (84), one more than Leicester. The next highest is Bournemouth (67), while Arsenal and Norwich City are also ahead of Chelsea.

As such, United have given 5,801 minutes of Premier League football to young players, though Leicester lead the way with 6,164 and are also on top in terms of assists (15).

Chelsea's 20 goals from qualifying players is a division high, however, four more than United. Leicester are the third and final side to reach double figures.

And the Blues' average starting XI age of 25 years and 115 days is among the youngest, though Bournemouth are ahead on that front (25y 88d).

LALIGA

In Spain's top flight, only Real Sociedad (84) and Real Mallorca (68) have given more matches to young players than Chelsea. They're also the only clubs to accumulate more minutes played by youngsters than the Blues (5,341 and 5,944, respectively).

La Real also top the charts for goals (10), assists (8) and average starting XI age (25y 235d) in Spain, though none of those records better Chelsea's.

Therefore, it's fair to say LaLiga, renowned for its development of young players, is lagging behind Premier League in that regard at the moment.

SERIE A

Chelsea's 60 appearances by young players would put them fourth on those terms in Serie A, with Fiorentina (79), Genoa and AC Milan (both 72) out in front.

Those three have also given more minutes to under-23s, with Fiorentina (5,837) setting the bar again.

Genoa have had 11 goals set up by under-23 players, three more than Chelsea, while Milan's average starting XI age (24y 203d) is much lower than Lampard's men.

But in each of those two parameters, Chelsea would be second in the chart. They would lead for goals from under-23s, with Fiorentina top in Italy on 10.

BUNDESLIGA

RB Leipzig (80), Mainz, Schalke (both 70) and Borussia Monchengladbach (63) have been the most open to playing under-23s in the Bundesliga

Similarly, all four clubs have seen those players feature in more than 4,500 minutes this season – Leipzig unsurprisingly leading the way with 5,259.

Leipzig are also Chelsea's closest challengers in terms of goals. Their record of 17 may be slightly less than the Blues, but their 11-assist haul - level with Gladbach - takes them to 28 involvements, exactly the same as Lampard's side.

Julian Nagelsmann's Leipzig are also the youngest side in the Bundesliga, with their starting XI's average age just 24 years and 340 days. Mainz (25y 38d) are the only other top-flight German club to beat Chelsea in this regard.

LIGUE 1

France's Ligue 1 is by far the most accessible of the five major leagues for young players, with a total of 1,360 appearances from under-23 players across the 20 clubs, an average of 68 per team.

In comparison, the Premier League (871) averages 43.55 appearances per club and the Bundesliga's 18 sides afford under-23s 45.28 outings (815 total).

Nice make up the biggest share of the Ligue 1 appearances with a massive 121, but Lille (116), Lyon (99), Reims (96), Nimes (83), Toulouse (82), Rennes, Bordeaux (both 75), Metz (74), Monaco, Dijon (both 65) and Strasbourg (62) have all allowed youngsters to play more than 60 matches.

Of course, a key element of this is the lack of funds at many of these clubs and French football in general with the exception of Paris Saint-Germain, who, perhaps unsurprisingly, have entrusted the fewest games (30) to under-23 players in the division.

Nevertheless, only Nice (24y 41d), Lille (24y 111d) and Lyon (24y 288d) have a younger starting line-up on average than Lampard's Chelsea.

When Gabriel Barbosa made his senior debut as a 16-year-old in Neymar's emotional Santos farewell in May 2013, it was anticipated an avalanche of goals and glory would follow.

Not many would have foreseen that expectation borne out six years later at Flamengo – Santos' opponents that tearful day – who he will hope to inspire to Copa Libertadores glory against defending champions River Plate in Lima on Saturday.

There were trophies initially and, predictably for a player nicknamed 'Gabigol' for his prolific finishing in the youth ranks, goals. Two Campeonato Paulista titles arrived before a pair of international campaigns of differing success; after a frustrating Copa America Centenario, he helped Brazil claim an eagerly awaited gold medal at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. That, and a record of 56 goals in 153 appearances for Santos, convinced Inter to part with a reported €25million and give Gabriel a five-year contract on his 20th birthday.

Things did not go to plan at San Siro, though. He was used for just 16 minutes during Frank de Boer's abysmal 85-day tenure and continued to figure largely from the bench under Stefano Pioli for the majority of 2016-17. An angry outburst at not being brought on against Sampdoria was followed by an ill-advised walk-out against Lazio, with the game ongoing, after the third substitute was used.

It was the final straw for Inter and he was shipped out on loan to Benfica. However, his attitude remained an issue. After finding out he was not in the squad for a Primeira Liga match against Vitoria Setubal in November, Gabriel was photographed at a nightclub where he had reportedly been drinking and remained until 06:00 local time on the day of the game.

Then-Benfica coach Rui Vitoria has since suggested Gabriel arrived at the wrong time and perhaps needed "another context", which he found by cutting his stay at the Estadio da Luz short. After accumulating 106 minutes across four appearances in five months, the Menino da Vila went home to Santos in January 2018.

Unabashed by his shortcomings across the Atlantic, Gabriel thrived in familiar surroundings. He scored his first hat-trick in a Copa do Brasil clash against Luverdense the following May and struck 18 times in the league, earning recognition as the competition's best striker.

"It was an important year for me individually. I increased my goalscoring averages and was the top scorer in the Brasileirao and the Copa do Brasil," said Gabriel.

The striker's displays led to links with Premier League side West Ham, but he remained in Brazil and joined Flamengo for his next loan stint. He has retained the momentum he was desperate to establish at Inter and reached new levels at the Maracana.

Gabriel has been at his predatory best, scoring a stunning 38 goals in 53 appearances in all competitions as part of Jorge Jesus' formidable, free-flowing attack. The Flamengo fans have become so feverish that a cry of 'Hoje tem gol do Gabigol' – Gabigol is going to score today – was heard when the crowd at the O2 Arena in London hushed as Stefanos Tsitsipas readied a serve in his ATP Finals victory over Dominic Thiem.

Leading them to a second Libertadores title this weekend would no doubt secure him a place as an icon in the club's history.

However, questions still remain for Jesus. Gabriel scored the only goal in a victory over Gremio on Sunday but a hot-headed moment earned him two yellow cards in quick succession – the first for berating the assistant referee and the second for sarcastically applauding the initial booking. As he walked off, he provoked the opposition supporters by counting to five on his right hand, a reference to the 5-0 thrashing Jesus' side handed Gremio to book their place in the Libertadores showpiece in Lima.

"Gabi is the top goalscorer in the league, he wanted to play for many reasons and mainly because he wanted to score goals, but if I knew this would happen I wouldn't have played him," said Jesus, whose side will be crowned champions of Brazil if Palmeiras fail to beat Gremio on Sunday.

"The situation worries me a lot. I haven't been able to make him a great player emotionally yet, as he is technically and tactically. I haven't done it yet, but I think it has to go little by little.

"I have time to make him a great player. For example, [Lionel] Messi and [Cristiano] Ronaldo don't have this aspect in their career."

Gabriel is by no means the finished article and while he has developed into a mature forward physically, he remains prone to petulance.

However, he has packed a lot into his career and is still just 23 years old. His performances at Flamengo suggest that with the right man management he is far more likely to make a success of an inevitable second stab at Europe. A positive role in a victory against River will underline that.

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.