Romelu Lukaku has made quite the impact in Serie A this season but he comes up against one of Europe's most in-form strikers in Ciro Immobile when Inter visit Lazio on Sunday.

Lazio have been one of the surprise packages in Italy's top flight this term and are just one point adrift of table-topping Inter ahead of a huge clash at Stadio Olimpico.

The performances of Immobile and Lukaku could well be crucial in determining the outcome of a blockbuster encounter between two teams aiming to end Juventus' stranglehold of Serie A.

With help of Opta data, we look at how the two compare this season.


IMMOBILE ON FIRE IN FRONT OF GOAL

Lukaku said "there's a new king in town" after helping Inter down Milan in the derby last weekend, and he has been an undoubted success during his maiden campaign at Inter. Thus far he has 17 goals in 23 Serie A appearances with an impressive minutes-to-goal average of 116.

But Immobile is Lazio's leading light, scoring 25 times in 23 league games, giving him an impressive average of a goal every 77 minutes in the top flight.

The Lazio man has also taken more shots (including blocked efforts), registering 93 to Lukaku's tally 68, with 46 on target compared to 35 for the Belgium striker.

Lukaku has scored nine and missed 10 'big chances', with Immobile's numbers reading 15 and 12 in that department. The Italian has a slightly better shot conversion rate (including blocks) of 27 per cent to 25.


CIRO THE CREATOR? LUKAKU UP FOR THE BATTLE

Lukaku's strengths are not just his goalscoring prowess but his ability to bring team-mates in to play.

Immobile is no slouch in terms of those attributes, though, and his six assists and 41 chances created outstrip what Lukaku (two and 34 in the respective categories) has managed this season.

Where Lukaku has outperformed Immobile is the number of duels won, with his 104 some way clear of Immobile's 65. Unsurprisingly, his duel success rate of 44.07 per cent is better than the Lazio forward's 38.69.

In terms of recoveries, Immobile has made 59 to Lukaku's 44.


THE STATS

- Immobile has failed to score in his past two league games; he has not gone three without a goal since last May.

- After scoring twice in his first three matches against Inter, Immobile has failed to net in the following eight against the Nerazzurri.

- Lukaku has the most away goals in the top five European leagues this season with 12, while Immobile is the highest scorer in home fixtures with 15 (the same total as Cristiano Ronaldo).

- Indeed, Lukaku's tally of 12 away goals is already the joint-best for a debut Serie A campaign. Andriy Shevchenko (1999-2000) and Antonio Vojak (1929-30) also managed as many on the road in their maiden seasons.

Chelsea have committed €44million to the signing of Hakim Ziyech, who has become one of the most admired talents in European football over the past two seasons at Ajax.

The impending transfer was announced on Thursday but remains subject to Morocco international Ziyech agreeing personal terms at Stamford Bridge.

The 26-year-old was one of the best players on the pitch during a barnstorming 4-4 draw in November's Champions League clash between the sides.

Kepa Arrizabalaga may have been credited with an own goal but it was Ziyech's sensational bending free-kick from the right touchline that did the damage as the visitors opened up a 3-1 half-time lead.

Ziyech, who predominantly operates from the right but can play behind a striker, is now set to feature more regularly at the Bridge and we used Opta data to examine his ability.


THE EREDIVISIE'S MASTER CREATOR

Ziyech has been one of the Eredivisie's top performers since breaking into the first team at Heerenveen in 2012 having risen through the club's youth teams.

After a two-year stop at Twente, Ziyech moved to Ajax in August 2016 where his performances domestically and in Europe have seen his star continue to rise.

Since his switch to the Johan Cruijff ArenA, only four players can boast a higher goals return than his 38 while his sensational tally of 51  Eredivisie assists is 16 better than the 35 of Steven Berghuis, the next highest on the list.

Indeed, his combined 89 goal involvements is in the best in the league during this time, seven more than Berghuis, while Bryan Linssen (who has the most goals with 52 ) is way behind with 66 .

To really emphasise Ziyech's attacking brilliance, his 421 chances created since September 2016 is a whopping 134 more than second-place Berghuis.


MIXING IT WITH MESSI AND MBAPPE IN THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

Ajax were the great entertainers of the of the 2018-19 Champions League and only a last-gasp goal from Tottenham's Lucas Moura denied Erik ten Hag's men a place in the final.

Ziyech was typically influential in that run to the last four and since August 2018 he has provided seven assists in Europe's premier competition (excluding qualifiers).

That is as many as team-mate Dusan Tadic and just one fewer than the best of eight achieved by Kylian Mbappe and Riyad Mahrez - and one more than Barcelona great Lionel Messi.

His five goals are 13 fewer than the sensational 18 scored by Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski in the same time, with Messi registering 14 .

Messi tops the list of goal involvements at 20 , with Lewandowski (18) , Mbappe (17) , Raheem Sterling (14) , Tadic and Mohamed Salah (both 13) above Ziyech's combined goals and assists tally of 12 .

In terms of chances created, Ziyech scores highly as well. His 39 is the same as Christian Eriksen and beaten only by Real Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos (51) , Tadic (47) and Messi (41) .


THE STATS

- Since the 2012-13 season, Ziyech has made 217 Eredivisie appearances, scored 79 goals and contributed 87 assists.

- Ziyech has at least 10 assists in each of his previous six Eredivisie seasons, no player has managed to do so in more than two campaigns in the same period.

- No players has more assists (51) , shots (528) , created chances (421) , completed dribbles (288) or recoveries (752) than Ziyech in the Eredivisie since he joined Ajax.

- Over the past two seasons, only Mohamed Salah (79) and Messi (77) have taken more Champions League shots than Ziyech ( 75 same as Cristiano Ronaldo). 

Each close-season transfer window has a defining 'saga' and everything points to the next revolving around Jadon Sancho and Manchester United.

Media reports began to circulate on Wednesday claiming Sancho is set to leave Borussia Dortmund at the end of the season, having emerged as one of world football's next great hopes since joining from Manchester City.

The England international seems likely to return home later this year and United are rumoured to be leading the chase, ready to pay £120million for his signature.

United's issues on the flanks are nothing new. For several years they have seemingly operated with a bizarre square-pegs-round-holes policy, assigning numerous players who clearly aren't wingers to wide roles.

We looked at the data to understand how Sancho stacks up with United's current attacking options.

A PROLIFIC CREATOR

It's difficult to imagine Sancho joining United and not having a swift and decisive impact. The only other genuine winger in their squad is Daniel James, and while the Wales international has enjoyed a solid debut season after a shock move, he has faded recently and clearly lacks a certain presence.

After Andreas Pereira (31), Fred (30) and Marcus Rashford (24), James (23) has created the most Premier League chances for United this term and his haul of six assists isn't matched by any of his team-mates.

By comparison, Sancho has laid on 47 opportunities for team-mates in the Bundesliga this season, the fifth-highest in the division, and his haul of 13 assists is the same amount as James, Anthony Martial and Rashford combined.

SUBTLETY IN THE FINAL THIRD

The United squad isn't exactly blessed with lots of physical attackers renowned for their aerial ability, which suggests hooking hopeful crosses into the box does not represent a fertile route to goal.

For the most part, United forwards aren't desperate to cross, with Pereira (28), Rashford (19) and Martial (7) often looking for alternative ways to penetrate the box, but James (79) is the 11th most-frequent crosser in the league, even if he's some way off Trent Alexander-Arnold (159).

Sancho fits in more with the former group, supplying only 22 crosses this season. Perhaps such a low figure is justified by the fact only five per cent were accurate.

Nevertheless, this does suggest Sancho is more subtle and deliberate with his creativity, and given he has crafted comfortably more chances and goals than the United contingent, it is difficult to argue he should alter his style.

A KEY INFLUENCE

As someone who creates so many opportunities, it wouldn't be unusual to expect Sancho to be somewhat wayward in possession, given the necessity to take risks.

But 80 per cent of his 496 passes into the final third have been accurate. Of the 284 Bundesliga players to play at least 50 passes into that part of the pitch, only 11 have greater accuracy than Sancho, though none of those attempted more than 308.

Martial, Fred, Mason Greenwood, Luke Shaw, Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard have all been more accurate in the final third, but Sancho has attempted far more passes, while none of them have got anywhere close to the Dortmund star's chance creation record.

DEADLY WHEN IT MATTERS

Sancho's not just a creator, however.

As well as his 13 assists, Sancho has also chipped in with 12 Bundesliga goals this season, a figure bettered by only Robert Lewandowski (22) and Timo Werner (20).

Those 12 goals came from 37 attempts, meaning he is averaging almost a goal every three shots, comfortably better than Martial (17 per cent of 48 shots) and Rashford (19 per cent of 74 shots).

A complete player in attack, Sancho offers an all-round threat that United simply do not possess.

He also appears to be the ideal player for United stylistically, with his attributes and dynamism similar to the likes of Martial, Rashford and Greenwood, around whom club seem intent on building their future.

Will Sancho be the next to join that trio?

Hakim Ziyech will need little introduction to Chelsea fans if the Morocco international does complete his move to Stamford Bridge from Ajax.

Ziyech was one of the best players on the pitch during a barnstorming 4-4 draw in November's Champions League clash.

Kepa Arrizabalaga may have been credited with an own goal but it was Ziyech's sensational bending free-kick from the right touchline that did the damage as the visitors opened up a 3-1 half-time lead.

Next season, the 26-year-old appears destined to play much more regularly at the Bridge, with reports claiming the Blues have agreed a £38million deal for the attacking midfielder.

Predominantly employed on the right, Ziyech can also play as a number 10 and here we have used Opta data to take a closer look at an exciting talent.


THE EREDIVISIE'S MASTER CREATOR

Ziyech has been one of the Eredivisie's top performers since breaking into the first team at Heerenveen in 2012 having risen through the club's youth teams.

After a two-year stop at Twente, Ziyech moved to Ajax in August 2016 where his performances domestically and in Europe have seen his star continue to rise.

Since his switch to the Johan Cruijff ArenA, only four players can boast a higher goals return than his 38 while his sensational tally of 51 Eredivisie assists is 16 better than the 35 of Steven Berghuis, the next highest on the list.

Indeed, his combined 89 goal involvements is in the best in the league during this time, seven more than Berghuis, while Bryan Linssen (who has the most goals with 52) is way behind with 66.

To really emphasise Ziyech's attacking brilliance, his 421 chances created since September 2016 is a whopping 134 more than second-place Berghuis.


MIXING IT WITH MESSI AND MBAPPE IN THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

Ajax were the great entertainers of the of the 2018-19 Champions League and only a last-gasp goal from Tottenham's Lucas Moura denied Erik ten Hag's men a place in the final.

Ziyech was typically influential in that run to the last four and since August 2018 he has provided seven assists in Europe's premier competition.

That is as many as team-mate Dusan Tadic and just one fewer than the best of eight achieved by Kylian Mbappe and Riyad Mahrez - and one more than Barcelona great Lionel Messi.

His five goals are 13 fewer than the sensational 18 scored by Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski in the same time, with Messi registering 14.

Messi tops the list of goal involvements at 20, with Lewandowski (18), Mbappe (17), Raheem Sterling (14), Tadic and Mohamed Salah (both 13) above Ziyech's combined goals and assists tally of 12.

In terms of chances created, Ziyech scores highly as well. His 39 is the same as Christian Eriksen and beaten only by Real Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos (51), Tadic (47) and Messi (41).


THE STATS

- Since the 2012-13 season, Ziyech has made 217 Eredivisie appearances, scored 79 goals and contributed 87 assists.

- Ziyech has at least 10 assists in each of his previous six Eredivisie seasons, no player has managed to do so in more than two campaigns in the same period.

- No players has more assists (51), shots (528), created chances (421), completed dribbles (288) or recoveries (752) than Ziyech in the Eredivisie since he joined Ajax.

- Over the past two seasons, only Mohamed Salah (79) and Messi (77) have taken more Champions League shots than Ziyech (75 same as Cristiano Ronaldo). 

Julian Nagelsmann insists the outcome will not decide anything, but RB Leipzig's trip to Bayern Munich is undoubtedly a pivotal moment in the Bundesliga title race.

A charging Bayern squad suddenly sit on top of the table, a point clear of their opponents. The reigning champions have hit top form, reeling off six league wins on the spin. They have scored 12 goals in their three outings since the mid-season break, too.

In contrast, Leipzig - who have enjoyed such a rapid rise since they were formed in 2009 - have stumbled in recent weeks.

A 2-0 defeat at Eintracht Frankfurt was followed by a 2-2 draw at home to Borussia Monchengladbach last time out. Sunday's trip to the Allianz Arena should tell us a lot more about their prospects of lasting the distance.

With help from Opta, we look at key statistics behind both teams' recent performances - and identify how a coaching change may turn out to be crucial in the final reckoning.

 

Leipzig out of luck, or are they wilting under pressure?

Vibrant, youthful, exciting – set aside the off-field politics that surrounds Leipzig's ownership, and there is little to dislike about them on the pitch.

But since the post-winter break, Leipzig have relinquished their position at the Bundesliga's summit and won just once in four matches across all competitions. If they weren't hopeful of a title challenge this could be dismissed as a blip, but given their lofty ambitions, it warrants investigation.

Even with the in-form Timo Werner, Leipzig have been far less impressive in front of goal. Before the break they had scored 67 times but their expected goals (xG) was 62 – since returning they've netted six times, which corresponds exactly with xG.

They're averaging more shots now, 18.5 per game as opposed to 16.5 before Christmas, but accuracy has dropped to 49 per cent from 59, while big-chance conversion has decreased spectacularly from 41 per cent to just 17.

Leipzig are still creating chances at an almost identical rate, so the data suggests a decrease in composure is to blame for their issues.

 

Demme departure a factor

It was always likely to be a blow to lose club captain Diego Demme, the tidy and tenacious midfielder Leipzig allowed to join Napoli in the January transfer window.

Given he is more of a defensive-minded player, it's difficult to attach too much importance to his absence from an attacking perspective, but even the smallest change can have a ripple effect – after all, Leipzig averaged 2.9 goals per match with him in the starting XI and just 1.7 without him.

Their win percentage also takes a dip from 65 to 44.4 per cent when Demme has not been in the line-up.

They averaged 2.2 points each match when the German started, but that plummets to 1.6 if he has been absent.

 

Bayern back in business

For a time in the first half of the season, it seemed possible we could be in for a Bundesliga title race without Bayern. However, last season provided a cautionary tale.

Bayern eventually came good in the 2018-19 campaign, finishing strongly enough to win the title by two points despite Borussia Dortmund – who ended up second – holding a nine-point lead over them at the end of the 15th matchday.

Statistically, there were only negligible differences between how Bayern performed before and after last season's winter break, but this term there are notable improvements, even if there is a smaller sample of games to look at post-break.

Big-chance conversion is up from 40 per cent to 53; shooting accuracy is now 64 per cent when it was 51; they're averaging four goals per game compared to 2.8 and conceding one every match, as opposed to 1.2.

Whereas last season Bayern appeared to simply profit off Dortmund's collapse, this term there is early evidence of genuine improvement.

With that coming off the back of several uninterrupted weeks of working with their new coach, Hansi Flick, it seems a leadership change might be paying dividends.

The opening round of fixtures in this year's Six Nations did not disappoint.

Wales served up a feast of tries to kick things off, the defending champions showing a cutting edge as they thrashed poor Italy 42-0 in Cardiff.

The score was far closer at the Aviva Stadium, though, as Ireland edged out Scotland. New captain Johnny Sexton was the hero for the hosts, scoring all their points in a hard-fought 19-12 triumph. Next up: Wales.

England, meanwhile, got their just deserts following a shocking start against France. Failing to score a point in the opening half of a game in the tournament for the first time since 1988 left Eddie Jones' side with too much to do in Paris, Les Bleus delighting the home crowd by holding on for a 24-17 win on Sunday.

So, what will be on the menu for the second week? With help from Opta, we whet your appetite for the upcoming games.

 

Ireland v Wales

- Wales have lost just one of their last five Six Nations games against Ireland (W3, D1). However, their solitary defeat in that spell came the last time they travelled to Dublin in the tournament (2018).

- As for Ireland, they have an outstanding home record, losing just two of the last 22 Tests they have played in front of their own fans (W19, D1). Those defeats? Against New Zealand (November 2016) and England (February 2019).

- Wales gained the most metres (563) of any side in last weekend's opening round, ahead of Ireland (413). Wales also topped the charts for clean breaks (12) and defenders beaten (26, level with Scotland and France).

- Ireland's Jordan Larmour made the most carries (19) and metres (138) of any player last weekend, while Wales' Leigh Halfpenny ranked second in both categories (17 carries, 107 metres).

- Josh Adams crossed for a hat-trick against Italy, taking him to 13 tries in Test rugby since the beginning of 2019. That tally is two more than any other player has managed over that same period of time.


Scotland v England

- Scotland are unbeaten in their last two Six Nations matches against England (W1, D1), this after losing seven in a row before that. Not since 1982-1984 have Scotland gone unbeaten in three straight Calcutta Cup fixtures (W2, D1).

- Only once since 2000 have England suffered successive defeats to open a campaign (2005), but they have lost five of their last seven away outings, including the last two.

- England won 17 of their 18 lineouts in the defeat to France, their 94 per cent success rate the best of any side. In contrast, Scotland's 78 per cent success rate was the worst out of the nations.

- Stuart Hogg beat eight defenders against Ireland, more than any other player in week one. Team-mate Jonny Gray excelled in defence, ending as the joint-top tackler (22, level with Bernard Le Roux).

- Owen Farrell is 20 points away from reaching 900 for England in Test rugby. His highest haul in an international match came against Scotland in 2017, as he landed seven conversions and four penalties to finish with 26.


France v Italy

- France have won 18 of their 20 clashes with Italy in the Six Nations (L2) – scoring victories in each of their 10 home games in that run. They have averaged four tries per game against the Azzurri in the Championship, too.

- Italy hold an unwanted record, having now lost their last 23 Six Nations games. No other side has lost more than 17 consecutive games in Five or Six Nations history.

- France were not flush with possession in the match against England, yet they conceded the fewest metres (224) and clean breaks (6), as well as making the most tackles (182).

- Only England's Maro Itoje (44) hit more rucks in the opening round of this year's Six Nations than France duo Gregory Alldritt (43) and Charles Ollivon (37, level with Peter O'Mahony). Alldritt hit the most defensive rucks of any player (25) and slowed the opposition ball down on 16 occasions at the breakdown.

- France are beginning a Six Nations campaign with two successive home games for the first time since 2016, which also happens to be the last time they began with back-to-back victories.

Even when you consider the well-reported exit clause in his contract, until recently the idea of Lionel Messi leaving Barcelona for another club was virtually unthinkable.

But this week friction has started to appear, with Messi publicly calling out Barca director of football Eric Abidal for bad-mouthing players in an interview, saying that "many players weren't satisfied nor working hard and there was also an internal communication problem" before Ernesto Valverde's sacking.

Messi's forthright response on Instagram said the "sports management must also assume their responsibilities" and suggested Abidal should name specific players if he is willing to criticise them, otherwise "we are all getting dirtied and feeding things that are said but aren't true".

Barca have since assured – via Spain's sports newspapers – that all is well, the pair have reconciled and Abidal will keep his job, but that is unlikely to dispel concern among supporters, particularly following further reports several other clubs have registered an interest.

Nevertheless, arguably for the first time ever, the prospect of Messi leaving does not seem an impossibility, particularly given a contract clause allows him to leave for free – but where would that leave Barca?

A BRUTAL GENIUS

Declaring Messi important to Barcelona would be an understatement akin to saying the Titanic was big. After all, he's helped them win 34 trophies.

Messi made his breakthrough in the 2004-05 season and his impact has been almost beyond comprehension. If the six-time Ballon d'Or winner isn't the greatest footballer of all-time, good luck making a case for anyone else.

He has gone on to play a role in 864 goals (622 goals, 242 assists) in 711 matches across all competitions, a truly astounding feat.

One gets an even greater perspective of his influence when considering how much of Barca's overall total that equates to.

Across the same period, the Blaugrana have scored 2,241 times, meaning he has had a hand in 39 per cent of all of their goals over a period of almost 16 years – including his first season when he featured on just nine occasions.

Since the 2007-08 campaign, his first with more than 20 involvements, that figure shoots up to 44 per cent – or 804 of Barca's 1,812 goals in that time.

ONE-MAN TEAM?

Given some of the players he has featured alongside, it is probably a step too far to suggest Barca have been a one-man team since Messi made a first-team role his own.

However, there can be little denying he has often carried them and no one else has had a remotely comparable impact.

Over the past 12 seasons, Messi has finished as Barca's leading scorer across all competitions in all but one - 2015-16 when Luis Suarez plundered 59.

His best was that remarkable 2011-12 campaign when he scored 73 goals across all fronts, while a haul of 29 assists took him to 102 involvements - 54 per cent of the team's total.

IRREPLACABLE?

Where do you even start when planning to replace a player who has been directly involved in almost 50 per cent of your club's goals in a 12-and-a-half-year period?

One would hope for Barca's sake they have some form of contingency plan, but even if they do, it's difficult to imagine them being able to buy anyone anywhere near as influential.

Messi is more than a mere footballer – Barca teams for more than a decade have been built with the purpose of getting the best out of him, while he is virtually unrivalled both as a creator and finisher.

Neymar is the obvious candidate to replace Messi when the time comes, as he does offer a similar blend of deadliness and craft, although Barca's financial constraints are well-documented and it's hard to see how they could afford him at the moment, even without Messi's wage.

They may opt to go down the route of signing a more singled-minded attacker, such as Kylian Mbappe or Lautaro Martinez, but again, certainly in the case of the former, affordability may be an issue.

Even if Antoine Griezmann manages to belatedly blossom in Barcelona colours, Messi's eventual departure will leave a gaping chasm that their current squad is unequipped to fill.

Putting together a post-Messi Barca could just be the single most fascinating rebuilding job in football history – but Josep Maria Bartomeu and Abidal will be clinging on to the hope that won't be for another few years yet.

Manchester City and West Ham are each struggling to match expectations as they prepare to do battle on Sunday, with the Premier League champions 22 points adrift of Liverpool as the Hammers toil in the relegation zone.

City suffered a sixth league defeat at Tottenham last week – matching the combined total number of losses from their previous two campaigns – while West Ham let a two-goal lead slip to draw with Brighton and Hove Albion at home.

Dropping points from winning positions has been a frustrating theme of West Ham's season – 19 is a league high – as they have failed to secure victory in eight of the 14 matches in which they have scored first.

A trip to City is not exactly what David Moyes needs right now either, as West Ham have a miserable record at the Etihad Stadium.


PEP PERFECT AGAINST HAMMERS

City have won the sides' past seven league meetings – scoring 23 and conceding three – and manager Pep Guardiola has beaten West Ham on each of the eight occasions he has faced them in all competitions.

That record matches his best 100 per cent return against any opponent, also beating Malaga and Watford eight times out of eight, and the former Barcelona coach will relish the opportunity to down West Ham once more.

The Hammers did win at the Etihad in September 2015, but they have collected just four of a possible 39 points at the stadium. Not since December 2001 – against Manchester United – have they won away at the Premier League champions.

Keeping it tight will be key for the visitors, as they have not won any of their past 16 league games in which they have conceded. However, West Ham's most recent clean sheet against City in the league came way back in November 2012.

Meanwhile, Raheem Sterling will hope to use this game to get back on track. Although he has not scored since December, the England star has been involved in 11 goals in seven Premier League appearances against West Ham.

HEAD-TO-HEAD: DECLAN RICE V RODRI

Declan Rice's second season as a Premier League regular has not been quite as convincing as his first, but he has still played every minute for West Ham in the top flight this term, and the England international's battle against Rodri could be key this week.

West Ham have certainly kept Rice busy, the midfielder making 3.1 tackles and 2.0 interceptions per 90 minutes – 78 and 51 respectively in total.

Rodri has also been handed a prominent role in the middle for City, with Fernandinho often played in defence, but he enjoys far more time on the ball than Rice.

While only averaging 1.9 tackles and 0.96 interceptions per 90 minutes, the Spain international plays 86.9 passes – to Rice's 47.6 – and creates 1.3 chances.

It will be up to Rice to disrupt Rodri, yet the City star actually wins more aerial duels than this week's opponent – 2.4 versus 1.4 per 90 – and has conceded 1.6 fouls per 90, settling into the physicality of the English game seamlessly.

FORM GUIDE

City last suffered consecutive league losses in December 2018 and West Ham would need to end a five-match winless run in the top flight – their worst under Moyes – to inflict another defeat on Guardiola's men.

The Hammers have been beaten in each of their past three away league matches, yet their most recent two trips to 'big six' opposition yielded 1-0 victories at Tottenham and Chelsea.

Former manager Slaven Bilic oversaw a sequence of three straight away wins against 'big six' opponents in 2015, with City the third side West Ham defeated.

City's attack has remained a potent force at home, scoring 2.8 goals per game over a 32-match stretch in which only Wolves – 2-0 away winners this season – prevented the hosts from scoring.

However, City have kept a clean sheet in just 33 per cent of their league games at the Etihad this term.

HISTORY SAYS...

As well as collecting win after win against West Ham, City tend to hit plenty of goals too, scoring four or more times in four of their seven straight victories over the Hammers.

In fact, five of the most recent 16 occasions on which West Ham have conceded four or more have come against City.

City have scored in each of their past 17 games against West Ham in all competitions, tallying 50 to their opponents' 11 in total over that stretch.

And West Ham's return of just one victory at the Etihad in 13 games sees City's home rank alongside Liverpool's Anfield (23 matches) and Leeds United's Elland Road (10) as a stadium the London club have visited at least 10 times in the Premier League but only tasted victory at once.

It's third-and-three in the first offensive series of Super Bowl LIV and Patrick Mahomes' pass to Damien Williams in the flat falls incomplete.

Even those with a passing interest in the NFL are not too surprised. The Kansas City Chiefs have been slow starters in these playoffs. They spotted the Houston Texans a 24-point lead in the Divisional Round and then trailed the Tennessee Titans by 10 in the AFC Championship Game.

Ethan Cooperson, a senior research analyst for the broadcast support team at Stats Perform, knows the estimated 40 million listeners tuned into Westwood One's play-by-play caller Kevin Harlan and analyst Kurt Warner desire more than just an observation that it takes Mahomes and Co. a while to get going.

On this occasion, Cooperson and the team have trawled the Stats Perform database to recognise a pattern: Kansas City have now gone three-and-out on each of their three opening drives in the playoffs having done so only twice in the regular season, when they were the NFL's best at moving the chains on third down.

It is one example of the type of data nugget that Cooperson, sat next to Harlan and Warner in the upper reaches of Miami's Hard Rock Stadium, writes down on pieces of paper to pass across to the Westwood One commentary duo throughout the 54th edition of the Super Bowl.

"You have to think quickly, think on your feet," Cooperson tells Omnisport before the game.

"You react to those things and figure out what's important, what trend is happening, what record might be broken or what might have happened that hasn't happened in a long time."

This game is a classic example. The aforementioned Kansas City running back Williams - who had fewer than 500 rushing yards in the regular season - ends up being a key part of the Chiefs' 31-20 success over the San Francisco 49ers.

Stats Perform's historical database can quickly identify Williams as the first player in Super Bowl history to have over 100 yards on the ground, a rushing touchdown and a receiving touchdown.

"People want to know, 'Well, how many times has this ever happened?'," Cooperson, who also works alongside the CBS broadcast team of Jim Nantz and Tony Romo, explains.

"People want to go deeper into those historical numbers. It's not enough anymore to be able to say, 'How many times has it happened this year?' We want to know, 'How many times has this ever happened?'"

He adds: "We're trying to look beyond what much of the media already has, digging into the Stats Perform database, the historical database, trying to find interesting trends that the public doesn't know about."

One of Cooperson's favourite recent examples was when running back Derrick Henry became just the fifth player in NFL history to score a touchdown on his birthday, doing so in Tennessee's Wild Card Round win over the New England Patriots.

Cooperson had an inkling that might happen, but it was a case of quick-thinking two weeks later when he worked out Titans tackle Dennis Kelly (321 pounds) was the heaviest man to catch a postseason touchdown in NFL history, a stat which got him a namecheck from Nantz on the air.

"I think back to when I first started doing TV with CBS in 2000 and some of the things that we got on there at that time, that we thought were really interesting and deep... Well, frankly, someone now in fourth grade could get access to some of those numbers," he says.

"So what we thought was great back then is very easy and simple to come by now.

"There's more demand, [we have to] dig deeper, find more stuff that goes deeper into the historical trends."

In the end, a rather mundane game came to life in the final quarter. The Chiefs scored the joint-most points (21) in the fourth quarter of a Super Bowl while becoming the first team in NFL history to overturn 10-point deficits in each of their three playoff wins.

Just like Mahomes and the Chiefs offense, Cooperson has to make adjustments as the game wears on.

"You don't want to get so involved in things that you have prepared or looked up prior to the game," Cooperson admits. 

"You very much want to react to what's happening."

A 5-2 defeat to Merseyside rivals Liverpool on December 4 left Everton in the Premier League relegation zone and facing the realistic prospect of a fight for top-flight survival.

The loss at Anfield proved to be the final straw for Marco Silva, who has flattered to deceive with Watford and now Everton following a spell at Hull City that he was largely praised for, despite suffering relegation.

Ten games on, and with a helping hand from interim boss Duncan Ferguson along the way, Carlo Ancelotti has ninth-placed Everton eyeing Europa League football next season.

The Toffees have lost one of their past 10 league games - seven of those under Ancelotti - compared to eight defeats in Silva's final 11 matches.

Indeed, only Merseyside rivals Liverpool have won more points over that time than Everton's 19, suggesting the Italian coach is well on course to transforming their fortunes.

Ahead of Saturday's visit of Crystal Palace, a side they are unbeaten against in 10 league meetings, we used Opta data to look at what exactly has changed under Ancelotti.


 

CALVERT-LEWIN AND RICHARLISON LEADING THE WAY 

Everton have scored in all seven league games during Ancelotti's short time at the club, netting 11 times in total at an average of 1.6 goals per game. 

That is in comparison to 20 goals in 18 games prior to the veteran manager's arrival - 1.1 per match - which is a clear improvement. 

Dominic Calvert-Lewin has been responsible for five of those 11 goals and Richarlison - absent for a couple of games with a knee injury - has also chipped in with two. 

Fellow attacker Moise Kean finally got off the mark in the 2-2 draw with Newcastle United, while Theo Walcott scored for the first time this season last time out. 

Many aspects of the Toffees' play has changed over the past six weeks, arguably none more so than the way they try to create opportunities for their attacking players. 

Everton's build-up attacks - an open play sequence containing 10 or more passes that either ends in a shot or at least one touch in the box - has increased from 1.2 per game to 2.3.

Direct attacks have dropped from 1.6 to 1.4 each match by comparison, meaning Ancelotti has got his side passing the ball more and - even more importantly - doing something with it at the end of attacking moves.

MORE CHANCES BEING CREATED 

Everton used a back five in Silva's final two games - defeats to Leicester City and Liverpool - but have since reverted to a 4-4-2, spearheaded by the ever-present Calvert-Lewin. 

Despite the shift in system and more emphasis on passing the ball around the pitch, there is still a reliance on set-pieces, counter-attacks and crosses into the box for their goals. 

That was highlighted in the dramatic win at Watford last weekend when Yerry Mina twice scored from a corner and Walcott rounded off a swift counter late on.

Many Evertonians will argue their side still lack a creator, which could be down to Ancelotti's reluctance to tweak his formation slightly. 

But as the Opta data shows, Everton are now creating significantly more big chances - from an average of 1.9 per game before Ancelotti to 2.9 in the seven games since. 

The Merseyside club's expected goals figure has also risen from 1.3 to 1.9 in seven games under the Italian, so improvements have been made in that regard as well.

LESS FOCUS ON PRESSING 

If Ancelotti has managed to get more out of his attack, the same is true at the opposite end of the field. In fact, it could be argued he has improved both aspects in equal measure. 

In perfect symmetry to the average goals-for stat, Everton have conceded 1.1 per game under Ancelotti compared to 1.6 before - a large number of those coming via set-pieces. 

Everton are tackling less and intercepting at an almost identical rate, yet they have two clean sheets in seven games, compared to two in their previous 10 outings.

One tweak that could explain this relative improvement is the number of pressed sequences, defined as an opposition move of three or fewer passes that ends within 40 metres of their own goal. That figure stood at 15.4 under Silva and Ferguson but has since dropped to 11.9. 

Combine that with the decline in high turnovers and it seems clear Ancelotti has told his players to focus less on pressing and more on keeping their shape.

The performances may have been mixed on the face of it, but Ancelotti is slowly transforming this Everton side and could have them aiming higher than the Europa League with more time and investment.

While Liverpool extended their lead at the top of the Premier League to record-breaking levels with an easy win over Southampton, the battle beneath them for places in the top four heated up.

The Reds thumped the Saints 4-0 at Anfield to open up a 22-point gap over Manchester City - the biggest lead any team has ever held at the top of the English top-flight - and Pep Guardiola's men lost 2-0 in a chaotic game at Tottenham a day later.

Fourth-placed Chelsea looked set to narrow the gap to Leicester City above them when they took the lead at King Power Stadium but the Foxes fought back in a 2-2 draw, while Sheffield United briefly moved up to fifth before Spurs' win after a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Crystal Palace.

Two sides just outside the European qualification places, Manchester United and Wolves played out a goalless draw at Old Trafford but there was no shortage of goals at West Ham or Watford.

The weekend's Opta data tells the story of 15 goals across four of the most entertaining clashes of matchweek 25, with fortunes affected at both ends of the table.

BUTTERFINGERED FOXES FRITTER LEAD AGAINST BLUES

Leicester City came from behind to lead 2-1 against Chelsea but the trend that has seen them regularly drop from winning positions continued.

Antonio Rudiger, who opened the scoring after 46 minutes, became the first defender to score twice for Chelsea in a Premier League match since John Terry against Fulham in April 2013 to ensure the points were shared.

Leicester have dropped eight points from winning positions in their last four league outings, more than they had in their previous 59 matches since the start of the 2018-19 campaign (six).

Chelsea have failed to win six of the games in which they have scored the first goal this season (D5 L1), pegged back as they were by Harvey Barnes' third goal in three league games and Ben Chilwell's 64th-minute strike.

Those goals took the Blues' tally of goals conceded on the road to 22 in 13 games, and manager Frank Lampard must address his side's defensive frailties if they are to keep their place in the Premier League top four.

CHERRIES EXPLOIT VILLA'S PROBLEMS ON THE ROAD

Back-to-back victories have moved Bournemouth up to 16th and they leapfrogged Aston Villa after beating Dean Smith's men 2-1 at Vitality Stadium.

Prior to their wins over Brighton and Hove Albion and Villa, the Cherries had only won two of their previous 17 Premier League matches but Eddie Howe's side took advantage of a defence that does not travel well to make it two wins from two.

Villa are the only side in the division yet to register a clean sheet away from home this season and they fell behind when Phillip Billing scored his first league goal for Bournemouth in his 23rd appearance for the club.

Nathan Ake extended Bournemouth's lead before Mbwana Samatta scored Villa's first headed Premier League goal in almost four years.

The consolation strike came on Samatta's league debut, making the Tanzanian attacker Villa's first first player to score on his league bow since Rudy Gestede scored against Bournemouth in August 2015.

JOY OF SIX FOR MOURINHO AFTER BERGWIJN'S DEBUT DELIGHT

Jose Mourinho enjoyed his sixth victory over Pep Guardiola after goals from Steven Bergwijn and Son Heung-min helped Tottenham beat the champions at home.

Mourinho has now beaten Guardiola's sides with Inter, Real Madrid, Manchester United and Spurs, with Sunday's victory Tottenham's first over City in the Premier League since they won by the same scoreline in October 2016.

City had Oleksandr Zinchenko sent off as they slipped to a sixth Premier League defeat of the season - their joint-most in a single campaign under Guardiola (six in 2016-17).

Bergwijn became the Premier League's 13th Dutchman to score on his debut and the competition's 250th player to do so, before Son scored his fifth goal against City in all competitions since the start of 2016-17 - only Jamie Vardy (six) has scored more against them in that period.

 

HAMMERS IN THE DROP ZONE AFTER POINTS SHARED IN THRILLER

West Ham were 2-0 up at half-time against Brighton but left London Stadium still winless in the Premier League against the Seagulls, who fought back to draw 3-3.

The Hammers have drawn three and lost three of their six Premier League clashes with Brighton and this was not the first time they have dropped points from a winning position this season.

In fact, David Moyes' team have lost more points from winning positions than any other top-flight team this season (19) but the last time they failed to win a game in which they led by two goals was back in October 2017 when they drew 2-2 with Crystal Palace.

Brighton have avoided defeat after trailing by two goals on three occasions, the first two coming in September 2018 when they drew 2-2 with Fulham and Southampton.

This Sunday the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs will hope their gameplans can deliver the Super Bowl LIV title in Miami.

Though the Niners are viewed as the team with the vaunted defense, and the Chiefs the explosive offense, the reality is San Francisco scored more points per game during the regular season (29.9 to 28.2) while Kansas City allowed fewer (19.3 to 19.4).

To preview Super Bowl LIV, we used Stats Perform's advanced analytics and data analysis to profile the area where the game is likely to be won and lost - in the trenches.

 

SAN FRANCISCO'S FRONT FOUR v KANSAS CITY'S OFFENSIVE LINE

The Chiefs have aired the ball out on offense over the past two postseasons, and Patrick Mahomes' career playoff passer rating is 115.00 - the highest of all time among quarterbacks with at least 100 passing attempts.

He might be slowed down if the Niners' front four can continue their excellent pass-rushing production across the regular season and playoffs, though.

According to Stats Perform's metric for adjusted pressure on pass-rush opportunities, rookie Nick Bosa has generated pressure 26.6 per cent of time this season - way higher than his expected pressure rate of 13.1 per cent.

Former Chief Dee Ford, used almost exclusively as a situational pass rusher, also performs well (26.1 per cent compared to an expected pressure rate of 12.4 per cent), while both DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead (19.8 per cent and 18.8 per cent) also way exceeded their expected pressure rate (10.8 and 11.5 per cent).

Mahomes' two tackles will therefore be key, and while one has excelled, the other has struggled.

Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz has allowed pressures on only 6.23 per cent of his 369 pass-protection opportunities, having been expected to give up pressure on 10.74 per cent of those snaps.

Schwartz has performed way better than the Niners' two bookends Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey in the allowed pressures category (10.08 per cent and 10.73 per cent).

However, where Bosa et al may have more joy is against former first-overall pick Eric Fisher. The left tackle, who only played half of the regular-season games due to injury, allowed pressure on 17.50 per cent of his 160 pass-protection opportunities - considerably higher than any offensive lineman playing on Sunday.

Look for 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh to attack the weakness on that Chiefs line - Mahomes' blindside.

 

SAN FRANCISCO'S RUSHING ATTACK V KANSAS CITY'S RUN STUFFERS

This postseason the 49ers have 44.5 rushing attempts per game - the most of any team in a single postseason since 1976. The Niners clearly want to run the ball. A lot.

The men tasked with clogging up gaps and making that a less-than-appealing strategy are Kansas City's defensive tackles Chris Jones, Derrick Nnadi and Mike Pennel.

When it comes to Stats Perform's run-disruptions metric - which measures how often a player disrupts a designed run play - Jones and Pennel excel.

From his 184 run snaps, Jones has produced disruptions 27.2 per cent of the time, considerably more than his expected disruption rate of 15.3 per cent.

Pennel, who has proven to be a nice pickup since joining in October, produced disruptions on 27.3 per cent of his 55 run snaps, with Nnadi at 19.8 per cent.

When it comes to the 49ers' rushing attack, San Francisco tend to ride the hot hand. Matt Breida led the team in yardage on the ground in September, Tevin Coleman had that honour in October and November, and Raheem Mostert has been the most productive back in December and the postseason.

Mostert has had 194 touches of the ball in the regular season and playoffs - more than any other skill-position player involved at Super Bowl LIV.

He has forced missed tackles on 24.2 per cent of those touches, the second best among running backs in the NFL.

Should he be asked to carry the load in Miami, he may be advised to run away from Jones and Pennel.

Diego Simeone appeared to have perfected a defence-first approach at Atletico Madrid.

However, Zinedine Zidane's work with Real Madrid this season has seemingly been based on the same philosophy and is reaping far greater rewards.

LaLiga leaders Madrid will hope to open a six-point lead over Barcelona when they entertain local rivals Atletico at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday.

With the help of Opta, we look at the impressive numbers behind Los Blancos' miserly defence.

 

A sluggish start

It was not an ideal start for Zidane when he returned for a second stint as coach last March.

A 4-1 win over Real Valladolid was not enough for Santiago Solari to keep his job following back-to-back home defeats to Barcelona and a shock Champions League last-16 exit to Ajax.

Zidane struggled to find consistency in the closing stages of the season and only managed five wins in his 11 LaLiga games at the helm.

During that time frame, Madrid appeared to increasingly struggle defensively. They saw their average goals conceded per game rise from 1.19 to 1.27 and they faced 0.5 more shots per game (up to 4.09 from 3.59).

 

Tightening up

Madrid kept just three clean sheets under Zidane last season, but they are already up to 11 in 21 LaLiga games this term. That is one more than Atletico.

Having let in 14 goals as Zidane saw out the end of the 2018-19 campaign, they have improved dramatically with just 13 put past them this term – the fewest of any teams in the top five European leagues and their best record after 21 matches since 1988.

Madrid's expected goals conceded is 19.75, meaning they have let in 6.75 fewer than anticipated, highlighting some good work from goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. The only teams in LaLiga with a better differential this season are Real Valladolid (-10.11) and Levante (-7.44), but they conceded more than Madrid at 24 and 32 respectively.

Greater defensive work has seen the number of shots Madrid are facing decrease from 9.91 per game under Zidane last term – and 10.24 across the whole campaign – to 8.48, a tally only Getafe (7.57) and Manchester City (7.63) have faced fewer than in the top five European leagues.

When only efforts that hit the target are taken into account, Madrid have been troubled by just 2.62 every 90 minutes this season – the lowest in the continent's leading divisions. Atletico face just 2.86 per match.

 

Attack as a form of defence?

Madrid have seen their average possession dip slightly since Zidane took over, but it has remained at just above 58 per cent under the Frenchman.

They are seemingly reaping the rewards of playing with greater intensity higher up the pitch – they have won possession in the final third 5.38 times per game this season, an increase from 4.09 in Zidane's first 11 games in charge.

Madrid are averaging more shots than any team in LaLiga at 17.89 per game, with 6.43 of those hitting the target – another league high.

This year's Six Nations represents 20 years since Italy made their debut in the competition.

The Azzurri became the first new addition to the championship since France in 1940 at the turn of the millennium, and it has been a tough ride.

With the help of Opta, we look at the statistics behind Italy's Six Nations journey before they begin the 2020 campaign at Wales in Cardiff on Saturday.

Will it be an anniversary to celebrate?

 

At the bottom looking up

Since joining the competition in 2000, Italy have scored a total of 133 tries. Scotland have only touched down eight more times in that time frame, while England lead the way on 299.

The Azzurri have averaged the fewest carries (97.4), defenders beaten (10.96), metres made (323.25) and clean breaks (4.5) per Six Nations game.

Given the fact they are often facing a lot of pressure, it is unsurprising they lead the Six Nations with an average of 116.99 tackles per game.

However, they miss 19.1 per 80 minutes and consequently have the worst tackle success rate of all teams at 86 per cent.

A record for futility

It is fair to say Italy have not enjoyed a great time of it recently.

The Azzurri have lost their past 22 games in the competition, representing the longest losing run in Five/Six Nations history, having last year surpassed the 17 straight defeats suffered by France between 1911 and 1920.

There had been signs of promise for Italy when they claimed the Wooden Spoon just once between 2012 and 2015, but they last year took it home for the fourth tournament in a row and 14th time overall.

Franco Smith will be hoping to end a winless streak that stretches back to 2015 and started after their second away victory in championship history, both of which have come against Scotland at Murrayfield. They face trips to Wales, France and Ireland this year.

King Parisse

While he is only expected to play home matches in his final Six Nations, Sergio Parisse has certainly left a mark on the competition.

He has made more appearances (69), carries (785) – surpassing his closest rival in that regard Brian O'Driscoll by almost 300 – and metres (3,088) than any other player in Six Nations history.

Only Alun Wyn Jones (580) has made more tackles than the Italy number eight (540), while he ranks third in turnovers (36) behind John Barclay (37) and O'Driscoll (53).

Leading scorers

Parisse's seven Six Nations tries put him joint-top of Italy's all-time list with Mirco Bergamasco, a tally Tommaso Allan is just two shy of.

Bergamasco scored 17 of Italy's 22 points when they beat France in the Six Nations for the first time in 2011 and reached 122 in the competition before making the switch to rugby league.

Only former fly-half Diego Dominguez, who booted 29 against Scotland in Italy's maiden win in the inaugural edition of the tournament in 2000, has more (162).

Wales begin the defence of their Six Nations crown on Saturday as they welcome Italy to the Principality Stadium.

Having won their first title in six years in 2019, it is a new era for Wales under Wayne Pivac, who replaced his compatriot Warren Gatland.

England finished as runners up last year, and Eddie Jones' team – champions in 2016 and 2017 – start their campaign against France in Paris.

Meanwhile, this year's Centenary Quaich between Ireland and Scotland takes place in Dublin, with Andy Farrell getting his first taste of Six Nations action as a head coach.

With the help of Opta, we take a statistical look at the opening round of matches.


Wales v Italy

- Holders Wales have won 17 of their 20 Six Nations matches against Italy, including their past 12 in a row, last losing this fixture in 2007. 

- At home, Wales – who claimed a Grand Slam in 2019 – have 14 wins from their past 16 games in the Six Nations, their two defeats in that time both coming against England in 2015 and 2017.

- Italy have lost their past 22 games in the Six Nations, the longest losing run in the history of the competition, with their most recent win coming at Murrayfield against Scotland five years ago.

- Wales achieved a goal kicking success rate of 83 per cent across all their Test matches in 2019, the best rate of any Tier 1 side, while Italy had the lowest such rate (64 per cent).

- George North will start at centre for Wales and he needs one more try to become the third player to score 20 in the Six Nations, joining Brian O'Driscoll (26) and Shane Williams (22).
 

Ireland v Scotland

- Only once in the past four seasons have Ireland won their opening game of a Six Nations, going on to win the Grand Slam in the year they managed to do so (2018).

- Scotland have just seven wins in 50 away matches in the Six Nations, with five of those coming in Italy.

- Ireland have won five of their past six Six Nations games against Scotland, their sole defeat in that time coming in 2017 at Murrayfield.

Conor Murray has 19 assists to his name for Ireland in the Six Nations, the most of any player from any nation. He is also the joint-top try-scoring scrum-half in the competition, with nine.
 

France v England

- Billy Vunipola made 198 carries in international rugby in 2019, over 50 more than any other player, while was also the top metre-making forward for a Tier 1 side.

- France – who finished fourth last year – have crossed for just six tries in their past six home games against England in the Six Nations.

- Rugby World Cup runners-up England have won 10 of their past 13 Six Nations matches against France, though all three losses in that time came in Paris.

- Jones' side scored 24 tries in the 2019 Six Nations, eight more than any other side and double the amount France managed.

- However, of the 10 Tier 1 nations, only New Zealand managed a higher tackle success rate than France in 2019 across all matches.

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