Having started on the right, Gareth Bale drifted to the lift, cavorted into space and set up Karim Benzema. One-nil to Real Madrid.

Football seems a simple game at times.

It would be doing a disservice to Bale to dismiss his role in this goal as entirely straightforward. The pace he used to reach Marcelo's throughball, the speed of close control that left David Costas spinning on the spot, the weight of cross to give Benzema an easy finish – it was all of the highest quality.

It also showed why Zinedine Zidane was correct to put faith in Bale to deliver in this LaLiga opener at Celta Vigo, despite the prolonged, exasperating uncertainty over his future. From benchwarmer at the end of last season, to Zidane telling everyone it would be better for Bale to leave in July, to a transfer to Jiangsu Suning that never happened, to a place back in the starting line-up for the first game of the new season – it's been a chaotic three months.

That's the issue with Bale, of course: everything about him seems to get more complicated – and more dramatic – in the inexorable scrutiny in which he lives his life.

Coaches everywhere have specific ideas that mean certain players become surplus to requirements, but Zidane versus Bale has sometimes been billed as a spat so venomous it's left poison dripping from the dressing-room walls. Footballers like to do things in their spare time apart from play football, like have a game of golf; when Bale picks up his irons, it's considered tantamount to a betrayal of professional decency. That's how it can feel from the outside, which maybe gives you an indication of why Bale so rarely bothers speaking out in public. Those waters can't get much muddier.

The truth of Bale's position at Madrid is probably less complicated than some think – and that is a good summary of what makes Bale the footballer so effective. It's why he was fleetingly impressive at Balaidos on Saturday in a battling 3-1 win, even if Madrid as a collective sometimes looked little better than the ragged bunch who shipped seven goals to Atletico Madrid last month.

Bale's assist was borne of him being as direct as possible: running behind the full-back, using a step-over and twist of the body to shake off the marker with the ball still in motion, and crossing into a dangerous zone with that precise left foot. Later in the half, he overtook Lucas Olaza when chasing a long ball despite the defender having close to a three-metre head start. It was an awesome display of speed and fitness from a man who has not exactly had a busy pre-season.

Moments after Madrid's opener, he was blocking a cross in his own box after racing back to protect the nervy Alvaro Odriozola. That's something he isn't so used to doing, but it came from the same sort of focused approach that makes him so clinical at the other end. You watch, you run, you act – shoot, cross, or, in this case, tackle. This is what Bale offers; it's what he has always offered.

The issue of his future isn't likely to get any clearer until the transfer window closes on September 2, but this game at least showed what a tremendous asset Bale can be when he is deployed with simple precision. For a coach like Zidane, who freely admits he is not the most pedantic of tacticians, that makes Bale valuable – especially in a Madrid team as muddled as this one.

Gareth Bale looks set to get another chance at Real Madrid after he was named in their starting XI for the opening LaLiga game of the season at Celta Vigo.

Bale seemed certain to depart Madrid after six seasons with coach Zinedine Zidane, whom the Wales star has a rocky relationship with, making it clear during pre-season he wanted the forward to leave.

But, after a move to Jiangsu Suning in the Chinese Super League collapsed and no other realistic suitors emerged, Bale has been reintegrated into the Madrid squad.

The Cardiff-born forward has consistently delivered across a trophy-laden spell, but he often lived in the shadow of the imperious Cristiano Ronaldo – who was worshipped above all others at the Santiago Bernabeu before his departure to Juventus last year – and suffered with injuries.

There is no club in world football with higher expectations of its players than Madrid and Bale has at times been forced to toil under what many would consider unfair scrutiny and criticism, but an examination of his record in the Spanish capital shows his value.

Goal return to rival Ronaldo 

Bale left Tottenham as a once orthodox winger who had blossomed into a goal-scoring force on the flank and has continued that development in Madrid.

He scored 22 times in all competitions during his first season and added another 80 over the next five to join an exclusive club of players to have hit a century of goals for Los Blancos.

Among that group is Brazil legend Ronaldo, a beloved figure but one who finished his Madrid career with only two more goals (104) than the oft-maligned Bale's 102. Just 12 others have struck more for a club with a glittering 117-year history.

Bale has laid on 55 more - more than the talented Isco - during his time in Madrid, and has been responsible for the sixth-most goal involvements in LaLiga, even as the club stuttered to three third-place finishes and a single title.

Standing tall on Europe's grand stage

Madrid's success under Zidane has come largely in Europe, for which Bale can take a good portion of credit.

The Wales international fired his team ahead in the 2014 triumph over rivals Atletico Madrid, notched an assist and a successful spot-kick against the same opposition two years later, and then returned from injury in time for the crushing victory over Juventus in Cardiff in 2017.

That is all without mentioning his match-winning impact in Kiev.

Bale scored twice off the bench in 2018, the first a bicycle kick that dented Liverpool's nascent comeback and the second a speculative long-range shot that smashed it into pieces.

The brace elevated him to what is now a selection of seven players - including Ronaldo - to have struck two goals or more in a Champions League final.

 

Breaking new ground for British footballers

Criticism of Bale for failing to communicate with the media in Spanish dwarfed the plaudits directed his way for venturing where few of his compatriots had gone before.

Then aged 24, the Southampton academy product spurned reported interest from Premier League heavyweights Manchester United to become the third Welshman - and first in more than 25 years - to play in LaLiga.

He is the leading British scorer (78 goals) and appearance maker (155) in the competition's history, relegating David Beckham to second place in the latter category.

Yet, while Bale has struggled to gain Zidane's acceptance, reportedly in part because of his reluctance to assimilate to life in Spain, the France legend praised Beckham for being a "truly great professional" as recently as 2013.

That was despite him once admitting his "friendship with David is little. On the pitch, we understand each other perfectly, but as I don't speak English and he doesn't speak Spanish we are a little bit lost."

Bale might justifiably feel his efforts deserve greater affection - but now he has another chance to win supporters and Zidane over.

On August 16, 2009, Usain Bolt clocked 9.58 seconds in the final of the 100 metres at the IAAF World Championships in Berlin.

A decade on, with the eight-time Olympic champion now retired, that world-record time still stands.

At just 22, the Jamaican obliterated a mark he had set exactly one year earlier at the Olympics in Beijing, shaving more than a tenth of a second of the time.

Doctor Peter Weyand, a biomechanics expert at Southern Methodist University, told Omnisport what made Bolt so unique.

A slow starter?

One of the biggest misconceptions of Bolt was that, due to his 6ft 5in frame, he was a slow starter. Not true, says Weyand. Particularly on that night in Germany when only Dwain Chambers was ahead of him after the first few strides.

"The most unusual thing was how well he was able to start for somebody as big as he is," Weyand explained.

"Normally the people that accelerate and get out of the blocks very quickly tend to be the shorter sprinters. The physics and biology of acceleration favours smaller people. In 2009, I think he started as well as anybody in that race. The start was a differentiator."

Long legs = more force

Though his height may have given him a slight disadvantage out of the blocks, Bolt's frame came in handy once the race opened up, allowing him to generate more power in the short steps sprinters take.

"What limits how fast a sprinter can go is how much force they can get down in the really short periods of time they have to do it," Weyand said.

"If you're going faster, the only way to do what you need to do to pop your body back up with a shorter contact time is to put down more force. What all elite sprinters do is put down more force in relation to their body mass than people who aren't as fast.

"If you're Bolt and you're 6ft 5in, you have a longer leg and you have more forgiveness. He probably has six, seven, eight milliseconds more on the ground.

"You have to put down a peak force of about five times body weight and that needs to happen in three hundredths of a second after your foot comes down.

"He was so athletic and so tall. His long legs gave him more time on the ground."

Fewer strides, greater success

Believe it or not, sprinters cannot maintain their top speed for the entire 100m. Bolt, who also holds the 200m world record, had another advantage in that he needed fewer strides to cover the distances.

"He had 41 steps usually [over 100m] and the other guys are 44, 45, some of the shorter ones are up in the high 40s," Weyand added.

"Particularly over 200 metres, the step numbers are directly related to fatiguing. If you go through fewer steps and fewer intense muscular contractions to put force into the ground, you have a fatigue-sparing effect."

Unique, but not perfect

Given he was able to accelerate out of the blocks quickly – relatively for his height – and was able to use his frame to generate more force across fewer strides, Bolt might have looked like the perfect sprinter.

But Weyand argued: "You can make a case that Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce is the best female sprinter ever and she's 5ft tall.

"There are trade-offs in terms of being forceful when you accelerate versus having more contact time at your top-end speed."

Will Bolt's WR ever be broken?

No current athlete looks close to eclipsing Bolt's time in the near future, but that does not mean his record time will stand forever.

In 2008, marathon runner and biology professor Mark Denny conducted research and predicted the fastest possible time a male sprinter could run is 9.48secs.

"Nothing's ever perfect, Bolt's obviously a unique athlete but no race is perfect and no set of circumstances are perfect," Weyand said.

"Certainly faster than 9.58 [is possible] but that's a question that's hard to answer without being pretty speculative."

The only thing that is certain is for now – as has been the case for the previous 10 years too – the title of 'the fastest man on earth' belongs to Bolt.

Manchester City take on Tottenham in an early-season Premier League blockbuster on Saturday, pitting two of English football's surest things against one another.

Harry Kane typically stepped up when Spurs needed him on the opening weekend, netting a second-half brace to see off freshly promoted Aston Villa.

The fact City's 5-0 rout of West Ham featured a hat-trick from Raheem Sterling also felt somewhat par for the course.

Two leading lights in Gareth Southgate's England team, Kane and Sterling have operated at an increasingly prolific level over recent seasons – something that undoubtedly bodes well for the Three Lions with Euro 2020 on the horizon.

Here we look at the rise and rise of two phenomenal forwards.

 

2014-15

After doing his time in the loan ranks, Kane flourished during Mauricio Pochettino's first season in charge at Spurs. His 21 goals placed him second behind Sergio Aguero in the Golden Boot standings. Add in four assists and Kane averaged a goal involvement every 103 minutes.

The year after Liverpool's close-shave in a title race with City (sound familiar?), Sterling chipped in with seven goals and seven assists – a goal involvement every 218 minutes as Brendan Rodgers' Anfield tenure ran into problems and speculation mounted over the winger's future.

2015-16

Sterling sealed an acrimonious move to City and endured a mixed campaign. Six goals and just two assists meant his goal involvement average dropped to 241 minutes.

Kane, meanwhile, was going from strength to strength as he claimed the first of back-to-back Golden Boots.

He only supplemented his 25 goals with a solitary assist, however, for a goal involvement every 130 minutes. This placed him below Leicester City's title-winning heroes Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez in the overall league standings for goals and assists.

 

2016-17

Kane bolstered his all-round game and hit a sublime level as Spurs spent a large chunk of the campaign as Chelsea's most credible title challengers. He hit 29 goals and seven assists, giving him the most goal involvements in the division – two ahead of Alexis Sanchez – at an astonishing average of one every 70 minutes.

Sterling scored seven and set up six for a goal involvement every 193 minutes. But Pep Guardiola was in town and things were heading in the right direction.

 

2017-18

City stormed to the title with a record-breaking haul of 100 points, made possible by a succession of crucial late strikes by Sterling. He doubled his previous best Premier League campaign to finish with 18 goals, while 11 assists meant he was involved in a goal every 89 minutes.

That edged Kane's average of 96, but 30 goals and two assists meant the Spurs star hit greater numbers overall, before collecting the World Cup Golden Boot playing in an England attack alongside Sterling that reached the semi-finals of Russia 2018.

2018-19

Sterling and City retained their remarkable levels of consistency to go back-to-back, the 24-year-old scoring 17 and laying on a further 10. His 27 goal involvements were the fifth-best in the division.

Despite an injury-interrupted campaign, Kane also scored 17 times and assisted four. His excellent goal involvement average of 116 minutes was shy of Sterling's superb 103.

Atletico Madrid broke their transfer record and Real Madrid spent a huge amount to freshen up their squad, but Barcelona will still be the team to beat in LaLiga's title tussle.

Barca have finished top in eight of the last 11 years, including the past two, and they head into the 2019-20 season as favourites to retain their crown.

The reigning champions accrued 11 points more than runners-up Atletico last time out and have strengthened during the close season with the additions of Antoine Griezmann, Frenkie de Jong and Junior Firpo.

But with Zinedine Zidane at the Madrid helm and long-term target Eden Hazard in place, not to mention the signings of Luka Jovic, Eder Militao, Ferland Mendy and Rodrygo Goes, there is hope Madrid can bridge the 19-point gap from last season.

Across the city at the Wanda Metropolitano, Atletico replaced Griezmann with €126million sensation Joao Felix and refreshed some key areas in the squad following the exits of Diego Godin, Filipe Luis, Juanfran and several others.

Ahead of the new season commencing on Friday, we used Opta data to look at which records and landmarks LaLiga's three heavyweights are targeting over the next nine months.

The #PrimeraIberdrola gets underway on September 8th!

Who will be the 2019/20 champions? pic.twitter.com/FyzvJxjEps

— LaLiga (@LaLigaEN) August 14, 2019

 

Messi has more records in sight at Barcelona

⦁ With Cristiano Ronaldo no longer in the picture, Lionel Messi is closing in on the ex-Madrid forward's hat-tricks record in the Spanish top flight. One more treble will draw him level with Ronaldo on 34; two more will take him outright top.

⦁ Messi, unsurprisingly, leads the way at the top of Barca's all-time scoring charts in LaLiga with 419 goals to his name. Team-mate Luis Suarez has the chance to move up to third in the list, requiring one more goal to overtake Ladislao Kubala (131).

⦁ Barcelona could become the second team to score more than 6,100 goals in LaLiga history. They go into the season on 6,089, 15 fewer than Real Madrid.

⦁ Messi is also high on the list of the Catalan giants' all-time appearance-makers, featuring 684 times in all competitions to leave him second to Xavi Hernandez (767). Gerard Pique has some catching up to do, but he has a landmark in sight, as he is two outings short of 500 in a Barca shirt.

⦁ In the dugout, Ernesto Valverde is on course to become the 10th manager to reach 450 LaLiga games. The Spaniard, whose future was called into question during the close season, is 26 matches short of that impressive figure.

 

Simeone closing in on milestone Atletico victory

⦁ Retaining the services of boss Diego Simeone was key for Atletico during the close season. The Argentine coach remains and he could become the second manager to reach 200 LaLiga wins with a single team after Miguel Munoz for Real Madrid (257). He heads into the weekend on 180.

⦁ Since Radamel Falcao got the Simeone era up and running with goal number one in 2012, Atletico have gone on to add another 484 in LaLiga, meaning the 500 landmark is within touching distance.

⦁ Atletico have become more synonymous with the defensive side of the game under Simeone and boast one of the world's best goalkeepers in Jan Oblak. The Slovenia international is on 88 LaLiga clean sheets and is aiming to become the third keeper to reach triple figures in the 21st century after Victor Valdes (171) and Iker Casillas (160).

⦁ In new signing Joao Felix, Atletico boast one of the hottest properties in world football. Aged 19, he could become one of the youngest players to score for the club - a record held by Ignacio Camacho (17 years and 364 days when he scored against Recreativo Huelva in 2008).

⦁ Joao Felix will hope to have a long and prosperous career at the Wanda Metropolitano, much in the way team-mate Koke has. The academy product has made 285 league appearances for Atletico and will expected to become only the sixth player to reach 300 this term.

 

 Numancia
 Chivas
 Real Madrid
 MLS All-Stars
 @AtletideSanLuis
 Juventus

 100% win rate in pre-season! #AúpaAtleti #AtletiSummerTour pic.twitter.com/k007cDdLQk

— Atlético de Madrid (@atletienglish) August 10, 2019

 

Familiar faces out to make history for Madrid

⦁ They may have fallen well off the pace last season, but no team has won more matches in LaLiga than Real Madrid's 1690 victories, 55 more than next best Barca. They could therefore become the first team to reach 1,700 victories in the competition.

⦁ Karim Benzema hit a good patch of form towards the end of last season to go sixth on the club's list of all-time leading scorers in all competitions with 222 goals. That leaves him just 20 short of fifth-place Ferenc Puskas, but still a whopping 228 adrift of leading marksman Ronaldo.

⦁ The Frenchman will hope to retain his place up top this term, especially with Hazard now providing the ammunition from out wide. The Belgian is looking to become the eighth current player to reach 100 assists in the top five European leagues. He goes into the season on 89 from his time with Lille and Chelsea.

⦁ Zidane was brought back to Madrid in March, 10 months after stepping down, and he is closing in on 200 games for Los Blancos. The 47-year-old has taken charge of 160 matches in all competitions, leaving him behind five others, including Jose Mourinho (178).

⦁ Players and managers come and go but one thing remains constant - Sergio Ramos marshalling the Madrid defence. The Spanish skipper has made 419 LaLiga appearances in the famous white strip, although he is only seventh on the list of record appearances makers, with Paco Gento (427) the next player in his sights.

Halfway through last season, Borussia Dortmund were in pole position to dethrone Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga.

The new year saw Lucien Favre's bright young side falter just enough for Bayern's know how to tell, with Niko Kovac's men claiming a seventh successive top-flight crown.

But it means the anticipation is for a memorable tussle once again this time around, with the processions of recent campaigns hopefully a thing of the past. Throw in an ambitious chasing pack and you have quite a spectacle.

Before the first ball is kicked, five Omnisport journalists have put their necks on the line with some top-four predictions.

We totted up the overall scores and here's what we came up with. Apologies in advance to all at Signal Iduna Park…

 

1st – Borussia Dortmund

Unlike our near-unanimous choice for Manchester City to be Premier League champions, the panel was understandably split down the middle over who will prevail out of Dortmund and Bayern. BVB just got the edge.

STRENGTHS: Wonderful attacking quality, expertly coached by Favre, which is now bolstered by the arrivals of Julian Brandt and Thorgan Hazard. The returning Mats Hummels – alongside the likes of the talismanic Marco Reus and Axel Witsel – ensures a pleasing blend between experience and future stars.

WEAKNESSES: Can they handle the pressure better than last time around? Hummels is a fine addition but has a significant job on his hands to shore up a vulnerable defence in front of the gifted but error-prone Roman Burki.

2nd – Bayern Munich

Despite an unconvincing close season in the transfer market, defined by the unseemly Leroy Sane saga, it remains hard to back against the Bundesliga's dominant force. But we have!

STRENGTHS: Supreme title-winning pedigree and, although lacking some of the depth they would like, the best collection of individual players in the league. Robert Lewandowski is going for a fifth Torjagerkanone, while there are signs Manuel Neuer might be back to his best.

WEAKNESSES: Light in attack after the departures of club greats Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben. Significant doubts remain over whether Kovac is the right man from the job, seemingly from the terraces to boardroom level. As such, Uli Hoeness' mooted departure as chairman could lead to turmoil.

3rd – RB Leipzig

German football's new kids on the block were the only other a unanimous choice to finish inside the top four.

STRENGTHS: Julian Nagelsmann has cast himself as a generational coaching talent and should be the man to take last season's beaten DFB-Pokal finalists on to the next level. They have bought shrewdly by bringing in the likes of Christopher Nkunku and Ademola Lookman.

WEAKNESSES: The distraction of star forward Timo Werner entering the final year of his contract. Adapting to Nagelsmann's detailed pressing system is likely to be a challenge.

4th – Bayer Leverkusen

Peter Bosz's time in charge of Dortmund might have ended abruptly but he is doing plenty to convince with a vibrant Leverkusen side.

STRENGTHS: Kai Havertz scored 20 goals in all competitions last season and is a superstar-in-waiting. They have bought well, with Moussa Diaby an exciting replacement for Brandt. The arrival of Hoffenheim duo Kerem Demirbay and Nadiem Amiri also strengthens Bosz's hand significantly.

WEAKNESSES: The coach's system is always likely to lead to defensive vulnerability and there is a lack of quality cover for Jonathan Tah and Sven Bender at centre-back.

The Indianapolis Colts are in wait and see mode with Andrew Luck.

The Los Angeles Lakers are in the same position but in a different way with DeMarcus Cousins.

Meanwhile, in Dallas, the Cowboys have not come to an agreement with any of their three players currently looking for new deals.

All that and more this week in US Sports.

 

1. Colts still waiting on Luck to get healthy

It is 2017 all over again as the Colts continue to wait for quarterback Luck to lead the team's offense. Just two seasons after Luck thought he would start the season but ultimately missed the entire year due to injury, Indianapolis are once again in limbo while Luck deals with an injury.

Exactly what the issue is remains to be seen as it has been reported that he had a calf issue, then an ankle issue and now just a general leg issue. The only thing certain is Luck is not leading the team's offense as the season creeps closer and closer.

Coach Frank Reich told reporters this week he wants to make a decision on who will start week one by the third week of the preseason. Whether that will be Luck or backup Jacoby Brissett remains to be seen.

2. Cousins' season may be done before it started

The Lakers may have already been dealt a devastating injury. Cousins tore his anterior cruciate ligament, the center's agent Jeff Schwartz told ESPN.

Los Angeles were hoping to go with a solid big three with Cousins, Anthony Davis and LeBron James, but now they will likely have to build around Davis and James as Cousins could have just suffered his second season-ending injury in the past three years.

 

3. Cowboys no closer to deals with stars

The Cowboys continue to work to sign Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper and Ezekiel Elliott to deals, but as far as we know, they are no closer to anything.

Jerry Jones offered a colourful illustration as to what trying to sign the three players is like this week.

"Picture you were a driver of a car and you had a wreck and your hand was almost severed off, but you didn't understand your anatomy," Jones said, via the Dallas Morning News. "You look down, you're spurting blood, you open the door, and run to the woods, and either die bleeding to death or shock. The educated man looks down, knows his anatomy, squeezes and knows his best chance is to wait for help. That's because he's been there a lot and done that. So I'm squeezing and waiting for help."

Jones might be a little stressed by his current situation.

4. Pitchers starting to look fragile

It is the dog days of summer in MLB and pitchers are dropping like flies. Just this week, Philadelphia Phillies righty Jake Arrieta went on the 10-day injured list (IL) and is likely done for the season as he is considering undergoing surgery to remove bone spurs from his elbow, Houston Astros ace Gerrit Cole was scratched for a start with a hamstring issue and Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Jameson Taillon underwent surgery on his elbow and then discovered he needed Tommy John surgery. He will now be out for all of 2020 as well.

At this point teams are just trying to get to the end of the year without losing a pitcher for the season but the Phillies and Pirates were unable to escape that fate.

Zinedine Zidane must have anticipated problems when he returned as Real Madrid coach in March, but whether he predicted the shambles that has since come to envelop the club is unclear.

Poor pre-season form, rumours of a power struggle with the president emanating from a farcical handling of Gareth Bale's future, uncertainty over new signings – these are all issues on Zidane's plate heading into the 2019-20 LaLiga season.

Madrid finished a whopping 19 points adrift of Barca last season, and the champions certainly don't appear any weaker. Even Atletico Madrid, amid a major rebuild, look better prepared than their neighbours.

Although few will be surprised if Los Blancos fall apart again as they did last term, this season there is at least a little uncertainty surrounding their rivals – could Antoine Griezmann be a disruptive influence at Barca? Will Atletico cope with so much upheaval?

 

Power struggle engulfing a disorganised Real Madrid

Madrid and their fans were supposed to be reinvigorated during the close season, with the transfer business expected to see the squad boosted, deadwood offloaded and supporters excited.

While Eden Hazard will surely thrill, little certainty can be garnered from the rest of their signings. Ferland Mendy has struggled with injury, Eder Militao and Rodrygo are inexperienced and Luka Jovic is reported to have already left Zidane underwhelmed, sparking rumours of a loan exit.

Furthermore, Madrid's outgoings raise questions about their vision. Sergio Reguilon, Dani Ceballos, Jesus Vallejo, Borja Mayoral, Theo Hernandez, Marcos Llorente and Raul de Tomas – all young, all Spanish and all gone.

James Rodriguez and Gareth Bale remain, however, with the latter reportedly at the centre of a power struggle. Zidane wants him out, president Perez doesn't.

How much of an impact the growing tension has on the season remains to be seen, but it cannot help ease the pressure Zidane is under following disappointing pre-season results and winning just 45 per cent of his matches in charge last term.

Compared to Santiago Solari's win percentage of 69, it's fair to say Zidane hasn't been a positive force of change yet. He might not be given the time to turn things around.

 

Simeone's Atletico 2.0

Rarely under Diego Simeone have Atletico been a thrill to watch in the conventional sense, mostly shirking all-out attacking tendencies and relying on a stable, full-blooded defence.

Don't expect that to change despite the most significant overhaul in Simeone's time at the helm, with Griezmann, Diego Godin, Juanfran, Filipe Luis, Lucas Hernandez and Rodri all moving on.

Simeone accepts things will be slightly different given the sheer scale of the changes, but he is not sparing newcomers of his exhaustive methods.

"We must be realistic," he told La Nacion recently. "It will be a moment of renewal. We are going to have to reinvent ourselves, so we have to think only of the day-to-day.

"Perhaps over time that [attitude] has faded, so now we will have to redouble our philosophy."

Atletico's dealings have generally been quite shrewd, if we ignore the somewhat risky signing of the inexperienced – albeit hugely talented – Joao Felix for €126m.

Kieran Trippier and Renan Lodi are very much in the mould of the full-backs they've replaced; Marcos Llorente and Hector Herrera offer a typical Simeone blend of tenacity and technique; Felipe is experienced, and Mario Hermoso was one of LaLiga's best centre-backs last term.

Early indications are encouraging, particularly after that 7-3 pre-season drubbing of Madrid.

 

'La Decision', the sequel

If you didn't get enough of the Antoine Griezmann soap opera last year, by now you're surely sick of the sight of him.

The contrived and ill-conceived 'La Decision' video documenting his agonising over a choice between Atletico or Barca just before the World Cup did little to endear him to either set of supporters, even though he opted to remain in Madrid for another season.

After finally getting the move he reportedly desired in 2018, the pressure couldn't be greater for Griezmann. By all accounts, he had an underwhelming final campaign at the Wanda Metropolitano, with 15 goals in 37 LaLiga games.

A few poor games and Barca supporters – who were widely reticent to the idea of Griezmann signing after last year's debacle – will be straight on his back.

A cursory glance at their treatment of Philippe Coutinho shows what could be in store for him.

But either way, Griezmann does add further depth to an already star-studded line-up of attackers and such a move may provide the jolt he needs to again elevate himself to the level of the world's best.

Despite his relative lack of experience compared to Griezmann, Frenkie de Jong looks more of a ready-made success and will surely take LaLiga by storm following his move from Ajax.

Rodri and Tanguy Ndombele made their Premier League debuts on the opening weekend of the new season and two of the division's biggest new arrivals will go head-to-head when Manchester City take on Tottenham.

Ndombele came to Tottenham's rescue against Aston Villa, his equaliser paving the way for a late Harry Kane double as Mauricio Pochettino's side came from behind to win 3-1.

Two-time defending champions City, meanwhile, had a far easier outing against West Ham – Raheem Sterling scoring a hat-trick in a 5-0 triumph, with club-record signing Rodri fitting straight into Pep Guardiola's engine room.

Now, the two midfielders will do battle on the pitch on Saturday, as two of the Premier League's elite clubs lock horns in Manchester.

 

CITY TO CONTINUE STERLING RECORD AGAINST SPURS?

Sterling was outstanding in the Premier League in the 2018-19 season, scoring 17 goals and providing 10 assists.

The 24-year-old thought he had sealed a magnificent Champions League victory over Pochettino's side back in April, only for his stoppage-time goal to be disallowed by VAR, though Phil Foden's header ensured City got their revenge in the league three days later.

England forward Sterling picked up where he left off with a sublime hat-trick against West Ham, with Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero also finding the net.

Sterling has been involved in six goals in his last six games for City against Spurs in all competitions (five goals and one assist), including netting four in his last three meetings with them at the Etihad.

City have won their last four Premier League games against Tottenham, who looked set to be frustrated by Villa in their opening fixture.

Spurs amassed 31 shots in total – more than any other Premier League side on matchday one – though it was through the unlikely source of Ndombele that Tottenham finally restored parity.

Kane did the rest, securing the points by striking twice. Though the England captain failed to score in any of his first 14 Premier League games in August, he has since netted in his last three top-flight outings in the month.

City, of course, have a deadly striker of their own. Aguero has scored 96 league goals at the Etihad - one more will see him go joint-third with Alan Shearer (St James' Park) for the most Premier League goals scored at a specific stadium.

HEAD TO HEAD: RODRI V TANGUY NDOMBELE

Tottenham are not known for spending big money on new players, but Pochettino received the backing his managerial efforts have deserved when chairman Daniel Levy paid up for France midfielder Ndombele.

Spurs paid Lyon a reported £55million (€62m) to secure the 22-year-old, who made an instant impact for his new employers.

City, meanwhile, brought in a club-record signing of their own, Rodri arriving from Atletico Madrid as Fernandinho's heir apparent for a cool sum of £62.8m (€70m). 

While Rodri will likely be tasked with shielding City's defence, Ndombele will almost certainly be given more freedom at Spurs, as was the case at the weekend.

Ndombele had two shots against Villa and created one chance. However, Rodri made more passes (72 to 55), with a passing accuracy of 90.3 per cent, with Ndombele managing an 83.5 per cent accuracy.

Tottenham's man made more tackles, though surprisingly it was Rodri who made more successful dribbles – three compared to Ndombele's zero.

Looking back on last season, Ndombele was more creative for Lyon, making 47 chances across 34 league games, compared to Rodri's 17 for Atleti. The former also had seven assists, while his Spanish counterpart managed just one, despite making 1,031 passes in the opposition’s half.

FORM GUIDE

City lost just once in pre-season – to Wolves on penalties – and after a shoot-out win over Liverpool in the Community Shield, hardly broke sweat against West Ham.

Guardiola's side remarkably won their last 14 league games of the campaign last season and the victory over West Ham means they are just three wins short of matching their record winning streak of 18 from 2017.

Spurs' season ended on a low note with their Champions League defeat to Liverpool, but they enjoyed notable wins over Juventus and Real Madrid in pre-season, as well as a shoot-out triumph against Bayern Munich.

Their opening fixture against Villa proved a tricky one but they eventually found a breakthrough. It was just their second win in their last six matches in the Premier League.

HISTORY SAYS...

Tottenham have taken just four points from their last nine Premier League visits to the Etihad Stadium, losing on seven occasions.

City, meanwhile, have not lost their opening home league match in a top-flight season since 1989-90 – they are unbeaten in 24 matches since that reverse against Southampton.

Spurs lost their last six away Premier League matches of the 2018-19 season. Not since 2000 have they lost seven in a row on the road.

Pochettino was, however, the first opposing manager to win away from home against Guardiola in a league match, doing so in February 2009 with Espanyol when Pep was in charge of Barcelona.

The only manager to win two away league games against Guardiola? Jose Mourinho, of course!

Andrew Luck's calf injury in March did not cause much alarm because the regular season was months away, but flash forward to August and he is at risk of missing the Indianapolis Colts' season opener.

The quarterback is suffering from an ankle issue, which has shelved him for the preseason and has held him out of full practices. Will he be ready when September 8 rolls around?

Meanwhile, Kenny Stills and Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross are not seeing eye-to-eye with Ross' support of United States president Donald Trump and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones used a rather gross analogy to describe how the contract situation with some of Dallas' star players are going.

Those stories and more in Wednesday's edition of NFL news and notes.

Two things that matter

Colts GM says Luck now has ankle issue

Chris Ballard said he was not ready to declare that quarterback Luck is ready for the regular-season opener after he revealed he now has an ankle issue. The Colts general manager said the calf injury Luck has been dealing is separate from the ankle problem, which he attributed to years of wear and tear.

"The issue right now is the side-to-side stuff," Ballard said, via ESPN. "Kind of rolling of the ankle. Anything back-and-forth, he's good. Standing there throwing, he's good. Moving in the pocket, those are the kind of things we have to get him better at."

Ballard said Luck does not have to be 100 per cent to play, but there is a chance that Luck will miss the opener against the Los Angeles Chargers. Jacoby Brissett has been taking first-team reps in practice and has experience starting for the Colts – he played the majority of the 2017 season when Luck was out with a shoulder injury.

'Generational talent' makes Kyler Murray worth Josh Rosen trade, says Cardinals GM

Arizona general manager Steve Keim received a lot of criticism for his decision to draft quarterback Kyler Murray number one overall in this year's draft just one year after the team drafted Josh Rosen at 10 overall.

However, Keim told The Ringer that Murray is a "generational talent" and that having him on the team is worth the struggles the Cardinals have undergone in the past couple of seasons.

"You have to make the tough decisions and avoid the outside noise – 'Why'd you give up on this guy? Why would you trade this guy?'" Keim said. "It's unprecedented. I took [Rosen] in the top 10. I just felt that [Murray] was a generational talent that I just couldn't pass up."

Should the Cardinals have another disastrous season, Keim's time with the team could be in jeopardy.

Two things that don't matter

Jerry Jones' weird analogy to describe the Cowboys' contract issues

The Cowboys owner used a strange and rather gruesome analogy to describe the team's contract situations with quarterback Dak Prescott, running back Ezekiel Elliott and receiver Amari Cooper.

"Picture you were a driver of a car and you had a wreck and your hand was almost severed off, but you didn't understand your anatomy," Jones said, via The Dallas Morning News. "You look down, you're spurting blood, you open the door, and run to the woods, and either die bleeding to death or shock. The educated man looks down, knows his anatomy, squeezes and knows his best chance is to wait for help. That's because he's been there a lot and done that. So I'm squeezing and waiting for help."

Essentially, Jones is minding the Cowboys' salary cap and does not want to have to release anyone due to massive contracts paid to other players, but the bottom line is all three of his offensive stars still do not have new deals. Neither the salary cap, nor Dallas' situation, is new.

Stills says he'll 'agree to disagree' with Dolphins owner Ross

The Miami receiver talked to Ross on the phone after he publicly called out Ross for holding a fundraiser for Trump's re-election campaign. Stills, a known social activist, said Ross' support of Trump contradicts the mission statement of his nonprofit, the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE). 

Apparently, the conversation did not leave the two seeing eye-to-eye, with Stills telling reporters (via The Palm Beach Post): "We agreed to disagree and that was it. There's not much to argue about. He has his feelings about it and he stands firm in that, and I respect that. But I disagree and I told him there's no hard feelings. There's no beef and let's win some games this year."

Stills said he still plans to kneel during the national anthem this season, but his willingness to play under an owner whom he has different political beliefs from reflects his loyalty to the team and should not affect them in the long run.

One video you have to see

Tom Brady is not taking any smack talk from Mike Vrabel – a former New England Patriots team-mate. The Patriots and Tennessee Titans had a joint practice on Wednesday, which led to the Patriots quarterback getting a little saucy with the Titans head coach.

Wednesday tweet of the day

Just in case you forgot what a giant man running back Derrick Henry is, here is photographic evidence. Henry towers over former Alabama team-mate Damien Harris.

Champions Barcelona play Athletic Bilbao when the 2019-20 LaLiga campaign begins on Friday.

Barcelona have won the title in the last two seasons and head into the new campaign as favourites again, having bolstered their squad with the additions of Antoine Griezmann, Junior Firpo and Frenkie de Jong.

Real Madrid have spent heavily during the close season in an attempt to close the gap on their bitter rivals, with Eden Hazard among those to arrive, and last term's runners-up Atletico Madrid also broke their transfer record by bringing in Joao Felix from Benfica.

There has been smart business right the way down the division, setting up what should be another thrilling year of Spanish top-flight action.

The transfer window does not shut until September 2 but, ahead of the opening round of fixtures, we look at the five best signings made by LaLiga clubs.

#LaLigaSantander is back this week! pic.twitter.com/kW0MWRSne0

— LaLiga (@LaLigaEN) August 12, 2019

5. Marc Cucurella (Getafe)

Young Cucurella was one of the best left-sided players in LaLiga last season at Eibar and looked entirely capable of being an asset to Barcelona's first-team squad.

However, after triggering their buy-back option on him, Barcelona have since sent him out on loan to Getafe, who can make the deal permanent for €6million.

Given his impact in 2018-19, it looks immensely shrewd business by Los Azulones.

4. Alexander Isak (Real Sociedad)

Isak has had to live with comparisons to another Swedish scoring sensation in Zlatan Ibrahimovic since breaking through at AIK three years ago.

Borussia Dortmund saw enough potential to snap him up in 2017 and, after a handful of Bundesliga appearances, he was sent on loan to Willem II last term and blossomed when used regularly.

Thirteen goals in 16 Eredivisie appearances, followed up by one for Sweden 11 minutes after being brought on in June's Euro 2020 qualifier against Malta, led to reported interest from the likes of Chelsea and Real Madrid.

Sociedad, somewhat surprisingly, won the race for his signature and the €7m fee will be considered a bargain should Isak provide goals for one of last season's lowest-scoring sides in LaLiga.

 

¡Doblete de @alex_isak !  #RealSociedad #AurreraReala pic.twitter.com/sBhAasI2Yw

— Real Sociedad Fútbol (@RealSociedad) July 27, 2019

3. Hector Herrera (Atletico Madrid)

The loss of Rodri to Manchester City leaves a void to be filled at Atletico this season, but in Herrera they have a player capable of thriving under Diego Simeone, albeit in a slightly different role.

Herrera, signed on a free after his contract at Porto expired, will be expected to offer more of a goal threat, having scored 26 times in his six seasons at Estadio do Dragao.

A Primeira Liga title winner and a player boasting plenty of Champions League experience, Simeone will hope the tenacious 29-year-old's best years are still to come.

2. Nabil Fekir (Real Betis)

Fekir was on the brink of joining Liverpool in a £52m deal last year, only for the move to collapse late on, reportedly due to concerns flagged by his medical.

Liverpool's loss is now Betis' gain, with the Andalusian side reaching an agreement with Lyon for an initial €19.75m.

The France international's goal tally may have halved last term - dropping from 18 in 2017-18 to nine in 2018-19 - but he could thrive as the focal point in Rubi's attack.

 

1. Frenkie de Jong (Barcelona)

Barcelona agreed the €75million signing of De Jong in January, seeing off competition from a number of rivals to ensure one of the hottest properties in world football would join them this summer.

Griezmann may add to Ernesto Valverde's attacking options and Firpo will provide long-term cover for Jordi Alba at left-back, but De Jong - allowed to stay on at Ajax for the second half of last season - looks like the most exciting of the Spanish champions' new recruits so far.

After starring for the Dutch champions in their run to the Champions League semi-finals, knocking out Real Madrid and Juventus along the way, there is no reason the versatile midfielder cannot make a similar impact in his new Camp Nou surroundings.

Spain's football season is almost upon us, with another thrilling campaign in store in LaLiga.

But while many will focus on Lionel Messi, Eden Hazard and the revolution at Atletico Madrid, some younger talents could establish themselves as LaLiga stars in the coming season.

There are several players up and down the league who will be desperate for their big opportunity.

With the help of Opta, we take a look at five prospects who debuted in the competition last term and will hope for breakout seasons.

 

Diego Lainez (Real Betis)

Winger Lainez only turned 19 in June, but he already has four caps for Mexico, having established himself as a top prospect at Club America after debuting at 16.

Although Lainez did not make an immediate impact at Betis after a €14million January move, starting just three LaLiga games, he scored a last-gasp equaliser against Rennes in the Europa League in February and is being tipped for a big season.

Bryan Gil (Sevilla)

Across the city at Sevilla, Bryan is getting fans excited. He became the first player born in the 21st century to score in the competition when he netted against Rayo Vallecano in April.

Bryan failed to start a league match last season, making more appearances (11) off the bench without lining up than any other player in LaLiga, while he also has the unenviable task of usurping Lucas Ocampos this season.

But under Julen Lopetegui – a coach renowned for trust in youth – he is expected to feature fairly regularly, having helped Spain to European Under-19 Championship success in the close season.

 

Samuel Chukwueze (Villarreal)

The most established name on this list, Chukwueze played a crucial role in Villarreal's survival last season, with his winner at Girona in April kickstarting a run that returned 13 points from the final six matches of the campaign.

Of the youngest 20 players to feature in LaLiga in 2018-19, no player managed more appearances (26) or goals (five) than Chukwueze. He got eight in all competitions and ended the season in the Nigeria team at the Africa Cup of Nations.

Waldo Rubio (Real Valladolid)

Rubio may turn 24 on Saturday, but he only got his first taste of LaLiga football in April after being promoted from the club's B team. As with Chukwueze at Villarreal, he was central to Valladolid staying up.

The attacker played eight games from his debut until the end of the season, starting five, and netted a crucial winner against Athletic Bilbao in his side's penultimate home league match of the campaign.

 

Adria Pedrosa (Espanyol)

In theory, left-back Pedrosa might find it tougher to catch the eye than the attacking talents elsewhere in this list, but that was not the case last term.

Pedrosa started 12 games in all competitions in 2018-19, establishing himself as a starter towards the end of the season and putting his blistering pace to good use with a goal against Deportivo Alaves and an assist for Diego Godin's own goal against Atletico Madrid.

The 21-year-old has already scored a fine goal in Europa League qualifying this season, too.

Thirteen weeks on from lifting the Bundesliga for a seventh successive year, Bayern Munich begin their latest title defence with a home match against Hertha Berlin on Friday.

Bayern have strengthened their defence during the close season, but they are a little light in attack following the departures of Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben and James Rodriguez.

Will that give other teams, namely last term's runners-up Borussia Dortmund, an opportunity to catch Niko Kovac's side?

The transfer window does not shut until September 2 but, ahead of the opening round of fixtures, we look at the five best signings made by Bundesliga clubs.

 

5. Ademola Lookman (RB Leipzig)

Following the success of Jadon Sancho at Dortmund, German clubs are desperate to get their hands on the next young British talent.

Others have followed in the steps of Sancho, including Rabbi Matondo, Ethan Ampadu, Emile Smith Rowe and Reiss Nelson, each with the aim of making a name for themselves on foreign shores.

Lookman is no stranger to doing exactly that, having starred for Leipzig during a spell on loan at Red Bull Arena in 2018 when playing a direct part in eight goals across his 11 Bundesliga appearances.

First-team opportunities were few and far between on his return to Everton, but he now has a chance to truly kickstart his career after a permanent deal worth a reported €25million was agreed between the clubs.

 

4. Moussa Diaby (Bayer Leverkusen)

Awarded the Titi d’Or award in 2016 - given to the player deemed the most promising in Paris Saint-Germain's academy - Diaby was expected to go on and become a key member in PSG's first-team squad.

Following a brief spell on loan with Crotone in 2017-18, Diaby returned to the Parc des Princes and started 10 Ligue 1 matches last season, scoring two goals and setting up six more.

He further enhanced his reputation with France at the Under-20 World Cup, but with competition from the likes of Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, Angel Di Maria and Julian Draxler in the wide positions, he opted to move to Leverkusen.

Having also brought in Kerem Demirbay from Hoffenheim in a reported €28m deal, not many sides will have more creative midfield talents than Leverkusen this season.


3. Thorgan Hazard (Borussia Dortmund)

Dortmund were quick off the mark with their transfer dealings, using the cash from Christian Pulisic's £58m sale to Chelsea to bolster their squad from front to back.

Less than a week after the 2018-19 campaign finished, Hazard and Julian Brandt arrived at Dortmund on five-year deals from Borussia Monchengladbach and Bayer Leverkusen respectively on the same day.

Brandt boasts plenty of Bundesliga experience from his five years with Bayer and represented Germany at the 2018 World Cup. 

It is arguably the capture of Hazard that is the more exciting of the two, though. The Belgian attacking midfielder registered double figures for both goals and assists in the top flight last season and he will provide BVB with some additional creativity.

 

2. Lucas Hernandez (Bayern Munich)

Like Dortmund, Bayern did not hang around to get their biggest pieces of transfer business - to date, at least - out of the way early on as they completed deals for French defenders Hernandez and Benjamin Pavard before last season was even over.

Pavard arrives from Stuttgart for around €35m and Lucas makes the switch from Atletico Madrid for a mammoth €80m.

Bayern now have both of the starting full-backs from France's World Cup-winning campaign, and in Lucas they have a player capable of playing on the left or in central defence, where he is most likely to feature during his time at the Allianz Arena.

He missed all of Bayern's pre-season programme but has now recovered from knee surgery and is expected to slot in alongside Niklas Sule in the early weeks of the season.


1. Mats Hummels (Borussia Dortmund)

Dortmund led the way at the top of the Bundesliga for a large part of last season, only to slip away when the going got tough.

The return of experienced defender Hummels in the heart of defence could potentially be the missing piece in the jigsaw for Lucien Favre's side, then, with BVB finishing just two points behind Bayern last time around.

He returns to Signal Iduna Park for a reported fee of €31m and has plenty of title-winning experience that he can put to good use, making Bayern's decision to sell him to a direct rival somewhat surprising - and one that could potentially backfire come next May.

Jofra Archer is ready to come out all guns blazing on his expected England Test debut in the heat of an Ashes battle at Lord's.

Archer, who was presented with his Test cap while rain delayed the start of the second match against Australia, has made a dream start to his international career, playing a huge part in England's Cricket World Cup triumph on home soil.

The Barbados-born quick will also be under pressure to hit the ground running should he face Australia on his bow in the longest format in London after the tourists won the first match of the series at Edgbaston.

We take a look at six of the best performances by players making their Test debuts in the Ashes over the years.

 

BOB MASSIE, LORD'S 1972

Nerves were clearly not an issue for Australia new boy Massie when he stepped out onto the hallowed Lord's turf for his maiden appearance in the longest format 47 years ago.

The swing bowler recorded what were at that point the best match figures by a Test debutant after being handed the new ball, taking 16-137.

England's batsmen had no answer to his late swing, Massey taking a magnificent 8-84 in the first innings and 8-53 in the second to set up an eight-wicket victory, levelling the series at 1-1.

 

MARK WAUGH, ADELAIDE OVAL 1991

Australia great Waugh started his magnificent Test career in style with a majestic debut century.

The prolific right-hander struck 138, including 18 boundaries, in the first innings of a drawn second match of the series at Adelaide Oval in 1991.

Australia went on to win 3-0 and although Waugh played just one more match in that series, he struck a further 19 centuries and averaged 41.81 in a stellar Test career.

 

GRAHAM THORPE, TRENT BRIDGE 1993

Thorpe is another batsman who will have very fond memories of his maiden Test appearance, digging in for a gutsy unbeaten century at Trent Bridge.

The England left-hander showed great character and application to prevent Australia from wrapping up the series in the penultimate Test in Nottingham, batting for over five hours and facing 280 balls for his 114 not out.

Graham Gooch (120) and Nasser Hussain (47no) also frustrated the tourists, although Allan Border's side took the 1993 series 3-1 with a crushing victory at Lord's.

 

KEVIN PIETERSEN, LORD'S 2005

Pietersen showed he is the man for the big occasion in London 14 years ago, making half-centuries in both innings of the opening Test.

Although Australia won by 239 runs, maverick England stroke-maker Pietersen gave a taste of what was to come.

The innovative batsman made a huge impact in that classic series, which England won 2-1 - including a hugely important 158 in the second innings of the final Test under massive pressure to set up a draw.

 

JONATHAN TROTT, THE OVAL 2009

Trott was thrust into the battle of a decisive final Test at the Oval a decade ago and that proved to be a masterstroke of a selection.

Coming in at number five, the tenacious batsman made 41 in the first innings and 119 second time around after arriving at the crease with England 39-3 - having secured a first-innings lead of 172.

Trott, Andrew Strauss (75) and Graeme Swann (63) left Australia facing a huge run chase and they were bowled out for 348 to go down 2-1.

 

ASHTON AGAR, TRENT BRIDGE 2013

Agar was selected by Australia for his left-arm spin, but it was his batting that had England scratching their heads in Nottingham six years ago.

At the age of 19, Agar came out to bat at number 11 with the tourists reeling on 117-9 in reply to England's 215 all out.

Agar proceeded to make 98 - the highest Test score by a number 11 - in a final stand of 163 with the late Phillip Hughes (81no) and made Alastair Cook his maiden Test scalp, but England edged a dramatic 14-run victory.

The SCG has proven to be a happy hunting ground for Sydney Roosters.

The reigning champions will face a team that has caused them problems though, with New Zealand Warriors their opponents.

Melbourne Storm, six points clear of the Roosters at the top of the table, could potentially wrap up the minor premiership this weekend and they face Canberra Raiders.

We take a look at the key statistics, courtesy of Opta, ahead of round 22.

Thursday

Manly Sea Eagles (12-8) v Wests Tigers (9-11)

- Wests are on a four-game winning streak against Manly, even though they have only led once at half-time across those victories.

- Manly have missed just 27 tackles per game in this season's NRL, the fewest of any team in the competition.

Friday

Gold Coast Titans (4-16) v Parramatta Eels (12-8)

- The Titans have not lost a home game to the Eels since 2014, with each of the past half a dozen matches between the two won by the team hosting the fixture.

- No team has gained more metres per restart than the Eels, who have accrued 12.3m.

Brisbane Broncos (9-1-10) v Penrith Panthers (10-10)

- Brisbane wing Corey Oates has made five successful interceptions in 2019, two more than any other player.

- The Broncos have only suffered only two regular-time defeats to Penrith in their previous 13 meetings.

Saturday

Newcastle Knights (8-12) v North Queensland Cowboys (7-13)

- The Cowboys are on their longest winning streak against the Knights having won four in a row.

- They will need to be mindful of Shaun Kenny-Dowall, though, given he has scored five tries in his past seven NRL appearances.

Melbourne Storm (17-3) v Canberra Raiders (13-7)

- Melbourne will win the minor premiership if they beat Canberra and the Roosters lose to the Warriors on Sunday.

- The Storm have won their last five successive NRL games against the Raiders, conceding an average of just 10 points per match in that span.

South Sydney Rabbitohs (13-7) v Canterbury Bulldogs (7-13)

- Souths are on a four-game winning streak against the Bulldogs, their longest sequence since an eight-match run between 1967 and 1969.

- After scoring a hat-trick for the Rabbitohs last time out, Campbell Graham took his tally to six scores in his previous five appearances.

Sunday

Sydney Roosters (14-6) v New Zealand Warriors (8-1-11)

- The Warriors have lost only three of their past 10 NRL games against the Roosters in New South Wales, yet they have lost nine of their previous 10 contests played on a Sunday.

- Trent Robinson's Roosters have won six on the bounce at the SCG, scoring an average of 40 points per game in that span.

Cronulla Sharks (9-11) v St George-Illawarra Dragons (7-13)

- Only the Raiders (16) have scored more tries from kicks this year than the Sharks (14).

- Cronulla's Shaun Johnson needs 11 more points to reach 1,000 in NRL, a milestone that only six active players have reached.

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