The AFC South looked to be shaping up completely differently just a fortnight ago, when the Indianapolis Colts were arguably favourites and Andrew Luck was a likely MVP candidate.

Back then, the Houston Texans appeared disorganised and hopeless to trade Jadeveon Clowney or protect Deshaun Watson. 

But plenty has changed since then, with Luck forced into retirement while the Texans traded Clowney and acquired a potential franchise left tackle in Laremy Tunsil. 

As much as Houston natives love Luck, who attended Stratford High School, fans of the Texans know his decision to call it quits has potentially cleared a path for their team to claim a fourth division title in the last five years.

With all that and much more to consider, here is your 2019 AFC South division preview.

Player to watch

Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville Jaguars running back

When the Jaguars drafted Fournette No. 4 overall in 2017, they knew what they wanted to do with him. They wanted to use the six-foot, 228-pound bruiser to pound defenses into submission, control the play clock and let a supremely talented defense dictate the game. That worked in 2017 as Jacksonville made it all the way to the AFC title game where they lost to the New England Patriots.

But in 2018, Fournette was called out at the end of the season by executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin for indifference on the sideline.

"I am disappointed in the behaviour from TJ Yeldon and Leonard Fournette," Coughlin said at the time.

"They were disrespectful, selfish and their behaviour was unbecoming that of a professional football player."

Fournette cannot be that guy this season. The Jaguars still plan to run the offense through him, and with the addition of Nick Foles at quarterback and pass rusher Josh Allen in the draft, Jacksonville very well could fight for the division title. But if Fournette is not himself that dream will fade fast.

Impact rookie

Josh Allen, Jaguars OLB/DE

No team got luckier in the 2019 draft than Jacksonville. Mainly because Allen was evaluated by many as the single best player among draft-eligible players and he slipped all the way to No. 7 for the Jaguars to take.

He even made it past the New York Giants, who desperately needed help with their pass rush but instead went for quarterback Daniel Jones – and preseason football notwithstanding – that is a pick that could be second-guessed for years to come.

Allen joins an already talented defense and may immediately be the most talented player on it. He has size, he is fast and he has got moves. Adding a great pass rusher to an already dangerous defense is a scary proposition for the rest of the AFC South.

Coach under pressure

Bill O'Brien, Texans

This is a tough one because Doug Marrone very well could be out as well in Jacksonville, but here is the thing: The Texans took a massive chance this offseason by firing general manager Brian Gaine and putting the team in O'Brien's control.

He, and a team of about six, promptly traded Clowney for scraps and made a controversial move in giving up two first-round picks and a second for Tunsil and Kenny Stills. Those moves were widely panned by evaluators, but the fact is now this team's success is predicated on what O'Brien does with the players at his disposal.

His in-game moves have often been criticised and Houston have looked ill-prepared on offense in the team's playoff runs under O'Brien. Now, the team's success is down to him on the field and off it as he is effectively the man in charge of everything.

If Tunsil does not prove his worth and the Texans underachieve, it may be time for Houston to move on and consider bringing back former GM Rick Smith, to start, because while he was afraid to draft a quarterback, he consistently built some of the best rosters in the NFL.

Key matchup

Texans vs. Colts, Nov. 21

If everything goes right for the Texans, they will be in contention for a playoff position toward the middle of the season. Also, by that time, the Colts will have had more than half a season with Jacoby Brissett running this year's offense and will likely be a much tougher out than earlier in the year.

This is a game the Texans need to win because – while the Colts lost Luck – Brissett could very well take Indianapolis to a playoff spot. He's a talented guy and one coach Frank Reich believes in.

"He is the man," Reich said his week. "He is the answer."

Well, Brissett does have to be the answer for the Colts because odds are Chad Kelly is not going to be the guy to do it.

At this point in the season, the Texans could very well be around 5-5 or 4-6. The opening to their schedule is brutal, including games against the Los Angeles Chargers, the Kansas City Chiefs, the Baltimore Ravens and a much healthier Atlanta Falcons team this year than last. The Colts could very well be tracking around the same, so whoever wins this game will have a boost going into the second half of the season.

And with this game being on a Thursday night, it will be easy for one team or the other to get caught unprepared.

Predicted finish

This is a division that is going to come down to the Jaguars and Texans, but there are a couple of caveats: One – the Jaguars go as Fournette goes. If he is the Fournette of 2017, they are the division favorites. If he is the Fournette of 2018, they are out of the playoffs. And two – Brissett will take about six weeks to really get going, but if he goes faster, the Colts could very well win this division. There is talent here, but there are also flaws. It is really anyone's for the taking.

1. Houston Texans

2. Jacksonville Jaguars

3. Indianapolis Colts

4. Tennessee Titans

The closure of the European transfer window leaves Paris Saint-Germain and Neymar locked in an unhappy partnership.

After two years in the French capital, Neymar made it clear to PSG he wanted to move on and his intention to leave was confirmed by returning sporting director Leonardo.

Neymar became the world's most expensive player when he left Barcelona for €222million but that fee, coupled with his reported €700k per week wages, have trapped him at PSG.

Barcelona simply could not afford to bring him back, while Real Madrid were also unable to complete a deal - the Clasico rivals having earlier splashed the cash on Antoine Griezmann and Eden Hazard respectively.

So, what happens next for Neymar, PSG and Barcelona?


NEYMAR

Yet to feature for PSG this season, Neymar will presumably be brought back into Thomas Tuchel's squad. They are currently without Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani due to injury, although Neymar must serve a European ban. Whether he can have the impact the Ligue 1 champions crave remains to be seen.

There is little wrong with Neymar's domestic record, 34 goals from 37 Ligue 1 appearances is excellent, but he has not delivered in Europe. That is partly down to injuries - he has been absent when PSG exited the Champions League in each of the past two seasons - but his impact in the most important games has not been what PSG hoped.

Neymar, having failed to engineer his desired move away, must knuckle down now and cut out the theatrics that have drawn criticism from heroes such as Pele. One of the reasons for his move to Paris in the first place was said to be his desire to win the Ballon d'Or, but the past year has seen him slip out of the conversation.

At 27, he should be entering his peak years. This is the ideal opportunity to prove he can be a successor to five-time winners Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.


PSG

Leonardo accepted Neymar was effectively up for sale, but PSG were always going to demand top dollar for their prized asset. That nobody could afford to meet their demands should not have come as a surprise, though Barca reportedly proposed a variety of cash-plus-players deals that failed for a variety of reasons. Ivan Rakitic and Ousmane Dembele are among those said to have been offered to PSG, only for the players themselves to reject a transfer.

Tuchel's task is to ensure Neymar refocuses on the project in hand: win the league again, recapture the Coupe de France and Coupe de la Ligue titles and progress in Europe. But one of PSG's best 2018-19 performances, their 2-0 win away to Manchester United in the Champions League, came without Neymar as Dani Alves and Angel Di Maria worked extraordinarily hard on the flanks - a job Neymar is either unwilling or unable to do.

While dropping the Brazilian could prove politically impossible, it is not out of the question Tuchel could come to the conclusion that for some games, for instance away in the Champions League knockout rounds, PSG may actually be a more effective team without Neymar.


BARCELONA  

It was never clear exactly how Barcelona saw Neymar fitting back in at Camp Nou, with their pursuit of the forward reportedly stemming from Lionel Messi wanting to be partnered with his former team-mate.

Griezmann, Messi, Dembele and Luis Suarez is already too many attackers to fit into a balanced team, which helps to explain why the Catalan giants were said to be willing to offload the France winger to PSG.

Messi and Suarez are both 32, so there would have been an element of succession planning at play – even though the Argentina superstar, the club's captain, is a player Barca will never be able to truly replace. Ernesto Valverde, a coach known more for pragmatism than expansive football, may have also struggled to find a role for such a luxury player.

Like PSG, Barca crave the Champions League after a series of underwhelming seasons in Europe. They still look to have an attack that can deliver glory, with or without Neymar.

No close season seems complete without a transfer saga.

This window has seen Neymar take centre stage - and not for the first time in his career either - as we waited to find out his location by the end of September 2. 

Now we know. Despite all the speculation, and even with the media suggesting half of the Barcelona squad could be moving in the opposite direction, the Brazilian forward will not be back at Camp Nou but instead remain at Paris Saint-Germain - at least for the next few months.

The story had more twists than the career of a rollercoaster designer. It was on, then off. Then back on again. Meanwhile, almost as a sideshow while the window remained open, the two clubs happened to start playing competitive games again in their domestic leagues.

Here, we look back at some other superstars who were previously involved in headline-grabbing transfer tales.

 

Steven Gerrard

It is mind-boggling to think how the footballing landscape may have looked had Steven Gerrard ended up joining Jose Mourinho at Chelsea.

The local boy who had come through the club’s ranks told Liverpool in July 2005 that he wanted to leave. Fans did not take the request well, burning Gerrard's number 17 shirt just over a month after he had captained the Reds to a famous Champions League triumph in Istanbul.

Having turned down a new deal, the midfielder revealed it had been "the hardest decision" for him to tell the Reds he needed to move on. The lure of working with Mourinho at the Blues appeared too great to ignore, or so it seemed.

Instead, Gerrard changed his mind. "He wants to stay. I couldn't be more delighted," chief executive Rick Parry said in a news conference, echoing the feelings of Liverpool fans around the world.

'Stevie G' ended up sticking around at Anfield for another decade, eventually departing for MLS in 2015.

 

Cristiano Ronaldo

Ronaldo has made a habit of suggesting he is ready to move on after winning the Champions League.

The Portuguese superstar got his wish after lifting the trophy for a third straight year with Real Madrid in 2018. He teased his departure in a post-match interview not long after the final whistle against Liverpool, before the confetti was even cleaned up, paving the way for a sensational switch to Juventus.

However, Manchester United were not so forthcoming to Ronaldo's wishes in 2008.

So strong was the Red Devils' stance in the face of interest from Madrid, Alex Ferguson claimed United’s owners, the Glazers, would rather sit a player in the stand "just to prove a point", rather than be forced to make a sale.

The English club made a complaint to FIFA concerning Madrid's public pursuit (no action was taken, by the way) as they stood their ground. Having little option but to stay put, Ronaldo said in October he could see himself staying at United beyond the 2008-09 season.

Yet when Madrid came calling again the following year, the forward finally got his move. United cashed in on their prized asset for a then world-record fee of £80m.

 

Wayne Rooney

Rooney sensationally declared his intention to leave Manchester United (for the first time) in October 2010, citing a concern over the club's unwillingness to spend big in the transfer market.

Following a meeting with the then-chief executive David Gill, the England international released a strongly worded statement that said: "He [Gill] did not give me any of the assurances I was seeking about the future squad".

Citing a desire to win trophies, Rooney suddenly appeared to be heading for the Old Trafford exit. Manchester City seemed his most likely destination, too.

However, it turned out he just needed to sleep on it. Well, for two nights anyway. Having initially baulked at signing a new deal at United, the striker made a stunning U-turn and penned a five-year contract.

"I've spoken to the manager [Alex Ferguson] and the owners and they've convinced me this is where I belong," he said, while adding his intention to win back the trust of the fans. It may also have helped make up his mind that the Red Devils reportedly doubled his wages.

 

Luis Suarez

In the 2013-14 season, Suarez was sensational for Liverpool, a one-man wrecking ball who so nearly fired them to the title. The Uruguayan scored 31 Premier League goals to win the competition’s Golden Boot, while he was also named the Professional Footballers' Association Player of the Year.

Yet it is easy to forget that the same player had wanted to leave the Reds prior to the campaign.

Suarez believed the club had failed to deliver on a promise to let him leave after they failed to qualify for the Champions League, with Arsenal appearing his next destination. The player felt, in such circumstance, his contract included a release clause set at £40m – and the Gunners duly put in an offer £1 above that amount.

"They gave me their word a year ago and now I want them to honour that. And it is not just something verbal with the coach but something that is written in the contract. I'm not going to another club to hurt Liverpool," Suarez said at one stage.

In the end, he had to wait 12 months to eventually get his move elsewhere – and Liverpool pocketed considerably more than £40m when the striker, serving a four-month ban at the time from all football-related activity after biting Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup - headed to Barcelona.

 

Philippe Coutinho

Liverpool had barely finished typing out a statement to confirm he was not for sale when Philippe Coutinho e-mailed a transfer request to the club in August 2017.

Barcelona – with money to burn after Neymar had moved to PSG – had seen two bids rejected for the Brazilian playmaker, who had signed a new long-term deal in January but made clear his desire to move on just six months later.

The Reds, however, refused to budge – "maybe we are not a selling club," said Jurgen Klopp, who integrated the player back into the squad when the window closed. However, when it ticked into 2018, the rumours started again.

Having stood their ground previously, Liverpool changed their minds and negotiated a reported £142m price for Coutinho – a huge profit on the £8.5m they spent to bring him in from Inter.

"It is his dream and I am now convinced there is nothing left at our disposal to change his mind," Klopp admitted. In an added twist, Coutinho found himself suggested as a makeweight in a deal to bring Neymar back to Barca before joining Bayern Munich on loan.

Eintracht Frankfurt took Europe by storm last season as they went on a memorable and breathtaking run to the Europa League semi-final.

Spearheaded by Luka Jovic, Sebastien Haller and Ante Rebic, Eintracht were only spot-kicks away from their first European final since 1980.

Jovic, Haller and Rebic combined for 57 goals across all competitions and 41 in the Bundesliga, where Eintracht threatened to qualify for the Champions League before ultimately finishing seventh.

However, the star trio – put together by Eintracht mastermind and director of sport Fredi Bobic – have since departed for Real Madrid, West Ham and AC Milan respectively.

While pocketing a substantial profit, Adi Hutter's Eintracht have been left with big shoes to fill. Can Bas Dost, Andre Silva and Dejan Joveljic step up? We at Omnisport look at the club's new forwards.

 

BAS DOST

The towering Dutchman is no stranger to German football, and he has already made an immediate impact in Frankfurt. Haller's move to West Ham prompted Eintracht to turn to former Wolfsburg striker Bas Dost, who scored a staggering 76 goals in 84 league games for Portuguese giants Sporting CP. The 30-year-old previously spent four years in the Bundesliga with Wolfsburg, scoring 36 goals and winning the DFB-Pokal as well as the DFL-Supercup in 2015. And the €7million already looks like money well spent by Eintracht after he marked his debut with a goal in the club's 2-1 victory against Fortuna Dusseldorf.

ANDRE SILVA

The footballing world is yet to see the best of Silva but at the age of 23, the Portuguese striker has plenty of time to establish himself. Silva arrived at Milan from Porto amid much fanfare in 2017 but the Portugal international spent last season on loan with Sevilla, scoring nine LaLiga goals and 11 across all competitions. Silva, who netted 10 goals across all competitions for Milan in 2017-18, started the Rossoneri's win over Brescia on August 31 before being included in the deadline-day swap deal involving Rebic. A two-year loan will provide Silva with a chance for some much-needed continuity at Commerzbank-Arena.

DEJAN JOVELJIC

The next Jovic? After selling leading scorer Jovic to Madrid for a reported €60m, Eintracht signed Joveljic from Red Star Belgrade. Like Jovic, Serbia Under-21 international Joveljic was born in Bijeljina and both played for the Serbian giants. Eintracht lured the 20-year-old forward – who scored eight goals and supplied two assists in 17 league matches last season – on a five-year deal. Joveljic has already made eight appearances for Eintracht this term. He announced himself with the winning goal on debut for Eintracht in their Europa League qualifier against Flora in July.

After months of speculation and reports of legal action, Mauro Icardi's time at Inter is over… for the foreseeable future anyway.

Frozen out of the first team by head coach Antonio Conte, Icardi completed an initial loan move to Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain on deadline day.

PSG have the option to buy former Inter captain Icardi for a reported €70million at the end of 2019-20.

After Icardi was loaned to PSG, Omnisport looks at the timeline of events that transpired at Inter.

October 7, 2016 - Icardi signs a new deal following interest from rivals Napoli.

October 16, 2016 - Curva Nord want Icardi stripped of the captaincy following comments made in his autobiography 'Sempre Avanti'. Icardi claimed that he became "a hero" to his team-mates after confronting an ultra leader following a 3-1 defeat to Sassuolo the season prior. Inter's most prominent ultras faction insist Icardi is "finished" at the club.

October 17, 2016 - Inter sanction Icardi but he retains the armband, much to the frustration of the Curva Nord - who denounce the Argentinian as their skipper.

October 21, 2016 - Paolo Fontanesi, author of the book, says the biography "will be reprinted" following the controversy.

January 16, 2017 - Wanda Nara claims Icardi has offers from China.

March 30, 2017 - Icardi says he "loves" playing for Inter and wants to "stay here forever".

December 16, 2017 - Nara refuses to dismiss the possibility of a move to LaLiga giants Real Madrid. "I do not know anything, I do not say yes or no. Mauro would stay at Inter all his life, but it depends on other things."

April 4, 2018 - Inter sporting director Piero Ausilio says there is no rush on Icardi's contract renewal.

May 13, 2018 - Icardi admits he could leave Inter but only if it is in the best interests of the club.

September 3, 2018 - Nara claims Juventus and Napoli were both interested in signing Icardi during the transfer window, revealing she met with the latter's president Aurelio De Laurentiis.

October 18, 2018 - Icardi says he is happy to stay at Inter. "We will try to find a renewal, but I don't know if it will arrive before Christmas."

December 18, 2018 - Nara says Inter and Icardi are still "very far" apart in contract negotiations amid links with Madrid.

January 9, 2019 - Nara reiterates that a renewal is a "long way off" after Ausilio suggests a new offer is on the table for Icardi, adding a number of European clubs are monitoring the forward.

January 21, 2019 - After Inter chief Giuseppe Marotta says Icardi will re-sign, Nara reveals a new contract is virtually a "100 per cent" certainty.

February 13, 2019 - Icardi is stripped of the captaincy and replaced by goalkeeper Samir Handanovic, before being left out of the Europa League squad to face Rapid Vienna.

February 17, 2019 - Icardi watches from the stands as Inter beat former club Sampdoria 2-1 in Serie A.

February 17, 2019 - Nara later claims Icardi has no intention to leave Inter after losing the armband.

April 3, 2019 - Icardi ends exile with a goalscoring performance in the 4-0 rout of Genoa. Inter's Curva Nord, though, are in no mood to forgive Icardi following his return, insisting he is not part of the club's future.

July 5, 2019 - Inter tell Icardi he is free to leave following Conte's arrival. The player and his agent notify the club of their plans to stay. However, CEO Giuseppe Marotta said Icardi is not part of their project for 2019-20.

July 15, 2019 - Icardi moves a step closer to leaving Inter after mutually agreeing to withdraw from the team's pre-season tour of Asia.

August 9, 2019 - Inter's club-record signing Romelu Lukaku is handed the number nine shirt, previously worn by Icardi, following his arrival from Manchester United.

August 19, 2019 - Nara rules out a move to Ligue 1 side Monaco as links to Napoli, Juventus and PSG persist.

August 26, 2019 - Marotta and Inter express their frustration after comments made by Nara, who claims Icardi has been invited to stay after missing the Serie A opener against Lecce.

September 1, 2019 - Marotta says Icardi is "not a problem" despite reports the striker's lawyer is threatening to sue the club over his exclusion from the first team.

September 2, 2019 - Icardi seals a deadline-day move to PSG on loan, not before signing a one-year contract extension with Inter.

When Sebastian Vettel won last year's Belgian Grand Prix at Spa to cut Lewis Hamilton's lead in the drivers' standings to 17 points, a thrilling title battle between two four-time world champions appeared tough to call.

How different things look now.

Ferrari again had reason to celebrate at Spa this time around, thanks to Charles Leclerc's maiden Formula One victory, a richly deserved triumph for the 21-year-old who came agonisingly close to earlier wins in Bahrain and Austria.

However, it was yet another day of frustration for Vettel, who finished fourth and has yet to taste another race win since his victory in Belgium last August.

A series of errors undermined his challenge for a fifth drivers' championship in 2018, that honour instead going to Hamilton as the Briton finished 88 points clear of Vettel in the final analysis.

If last season ultimately proved a failure, the present campaign has been much worse, with Vettel unable to offer any meaningful challenge to a dominant Mercedes outfit.

Ahead of this week's Italian Grand Prix at Monza, Ferrari's home race, the German languishes in fourth in the drivers' standings, a whopping 99 points behind Hamilton.

Perhaps more significantly, Vettel's lead over Leclerc – who is in only his second season on the grid – is just 12 points and it is easy to argue that margin flatters the more experienced man.

It would be foolish to write off any man who has claimed four world titles – a tally bettered only by Hamilton, Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher.

Nevertheless, Vettel will know his past glories with Red Bull will count for little if he continues to deliver underwhelming performances for the Scuderia.

Throughout the 2019 campaign, he has repeatedly made the same sort of mistakes that became worryingly frequent last term. On recent form, few would bet against Leclerc finishing his first Ferrari season ahead of a team-mate he has out-qualified in each of the past six races.

In the news conference that followed Sunday's race at Spa, Lewis Hamilton hailed the Monegasque racer, but in doing so also shone a light on Vettel's struggles.

"It's not easy for any driver to jump into a top team, let alone Ferrari, against a four-time world champion, [with] God knows how much more experience, and then to continuously from race one, out-perform, out-qualify and out-drive a four-time world champion is not easy to do," said Hamilton.

That assessment may be somewhat unfair to Vettel, who has after all claimed more points than his team-mate, but there can be no doubt Hamilton's most difficult battles so far this season have come against Leclerc and Max Verstappen, rather than his old rival.

Vettel's contract with Ferrari expires in 2020 and at this point it is not clear whether he or the team would seek to extend their partnership.

If things do not improve quickly, the 32-year-old is in danger of becoming yesterday's man in a series packed with emerging talent.

It has been a long road back to the top of men's tennis for Novak Djokovic, which will have made another betrayal by his body sting all the more on Sunday.

What may be even more painful for the world number one, however, is the realisation he could be about to lose ground in the race for his ultimate goal: the all-time record for men's grand slam singles titles.

Djokovic has made no secret of his desire to beat Roger Federer's leading tally, which stands at 20. However, his retirement due to a left shoulder injury after being thoroughly dismantled by Stan Wawrinka in the fourth round of the US Open has made that challenge even harder.

Through his struggles with an elbow problem, Djokovic saw eight slams go by without him lifting any of them, with six shared between Federer and Nadal.

That set him back significantly in his quest to take Federer's crown as the greatest of all time, and he will know his withdrawal makes it highly likely the Swiss star or Nadal will be collecting the US Open trophy come the end of the second week of proceedings at Flushing Meadows.

Federer and Nadal will be the heavy favourites to contest the final, with the former having the chance to move onto 21 and Nadal the opportunity to pull to within one of him on 19.

Djokovic does not believe this latest setback to be a long-term issue - he plans to play in Tokyo in four weeks' time - and was defiant when asked in his post-match media conference about his dream of catching Federer and Nadal.

"It's a long road ahead hopefully for me," Djokovic said. "I hope I can play for many more years. I'm planning to. I mean, I don't see an end behind the corner at all.

"Now it's a matter of keeping my body and mind in shape and trying to still peak at these kind of events that are majors and that are the most significant in our sport."

However, keeping his body in shape has proven easier said than done for Djokovic. This was his sixth retirement at a slam, albeit his first at the US Open, and at 32 it is easy to question just how long he will be able to remain at the highest level given that record of durability problems in majors.

Barring a breakthrough for Daniil Medvedev or perhaps a continuation of the Wawrinka resurgence in New York this week, Djokovic's task of claiming the slam record will be a more difficult one going into the 2020 season.

Having seen the career of Andy Murray – who is just seven days younger than Djokovic – completely derailed by injury, the Serbian should have an understanding that his time as one of the best in the world can be brought to an end at any moment.

By contrast, he will also be encouraged by the manner in which the now 38-year-old Federer has been able to extend his time as a grand slam champion well beyond the expected twilight of his career.

Federer, though, has been able to achieve that by reducing his playing schedule. The 2019 season was the first in which Federer has played the French Open since 2015 and he has only featured in 10 tournaments all year. 

Djokovic's insistence that he plans to play in Tokyo despite saying he has been in "constant pain" for weeks indicates he believes he can continue to have a very busy schedule and compete in grand slams.

His body is telling him otherwise.

The 16-time major winner is not one for giving up, which is what made his retirement against Wawrinka all the more surprising.

However, unless he accepts shifting to a lighter schedule is the best policy as he moves into his mid-30s, Djokovic may have to resign himself to the prospect of his moving to the top of the major pile never coming to pass.

Lionel Messi headlines the final three for the Puskas Award, given to the scorer of the best goal of the season.

A panel of FIFA and external football experts selected 10 goals to put to a public vote and three of those remain in the running after seven were cut on Monday.

Barcelona icon Messi is the big name still in the hunt, while Juan Fernando Quintero of River Plate and Colombia and Hungarian rookie Daniel Zsori join him.

The winner will be announced on September 23 at The Best FIFA Football Awards ceremony and we have the lowdown on each of the three still in with a chance…

Lionel Messi (Barcelona) v Real Betis – March 17, 2019

We have become so accustomed to Messi's brilliance that he makes the extraordinary seem normal, but his hat-trick clincher in March's 4-1 win at Betis was pure genius. After receiving a cut-back from Ivan Rakitic, he caressed a first-time chipped effort over Pau Lopez and in off the crossbar from about 18 yards when shooting through a crowded penalty area looked an impossibility.

 

Juan Fernando Quintero (River Plate) v Racing Club – February 10, 2019

A former so-called 'wonderkid' who went off the boil before enjoying a resurgence, Quintero has had a fine couple of years. A playmaker with an eye for the spectacular, his free-kick against Racing in the 2-0 Superliga win in February was quintessential Quintero – from about 35 yards out on the right flank, his left-footed strike bent inside the top-right corner in a remarkable display of accuracy.

 

Daniel Zsori (Debrecen) v Ferencvaros – February 16, 2019

Eighteen-year-old Zsori announced himself to Hungarian football in astonishing fashion in February. On his league debut, the attacker met a cross from deep with an overhead-kick just inside the area, picking out the top-far corner in stoppage time to secure a 2-1 win.

Time is running out for clubs across Europe to finalise last-ditch deals but multiple big moves could yet go through.

Paris Saint-Germain are bound to be active players as Monday's transfer deadline forces heavyweights in France, Italy, Spain and Germany to make tough decisions on squad strengths and weaknesses.

Bundesliga teams have until 18:00 local time (17:00 BST) to conduct their business, while the window shuts at 20:00 local time (19:00 BST) for Juventus, AC Milan, Inter and the rest of Serie A.

All close-season movements across Europe's top five leagues will be then finalised when the deadline for LaLiga and Ligue 1 sides is reached at midnight local time (23:00 BST).


Mauro Icardi (Inter)

The Inter outcast, stripped of the captaincy earlier this year, seems set to escape to PSG, but not before another twist in his San Siro soap opera.

Reports in France and Italy suggest the striker will agree a new deal with the Nerazzurri - to prevent him from leaving on a free in 2021 - before linking up with Thomas Tuchel's team on a season-long loan.

That could be become a permanent move if, as is expected, the Ligue 1 champions negotiate an option to buy.

Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas is preparing to join Icardi at Parc des Princes, with Alphonse Areola headed in the opposite direction.


Bruno Fernandes (Sporting CP)

Frustrated in their attempts to sign Paul Pogba from Manchester United and seemingly unconvinced by Tottenham Christian Eriksen, Madrid might finally have settled on a midfield target.

Portugal international Fernandes was linked to Manchester United and Tottenham before Zinedine Zidane zeroed in on the 24-year-old, a highly technical player with goalscoring ability.


Neymar (PSG)

The fallout that would come from the forward finally rejoining Barcelona in the remaining hours makes it a deal too important to ignore, even if it is now highly improbable.

Neymar is said to have resigned himself to another season in France but, with Icardi to be added to what is already a star-studded attack, PSG might just relax one or two of their demands.

Tuchel, certainly, could do without a full campaign of massaging the Brazilian's ego.


Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona)

Barca's late business is more likely to be focused on what to do with Croatia midfielder Rakitic, who has made no starts and a solitary substitute appearance in LaLiga this season.

Juventus are understood be keen on taking him to Turin and could even discuss a swap deal involving Daniele Rugani, though captain Giorgio Chiellini's long-term knee injury has made centre-backs a valued commodity for Maurizio Sarri.

Rakitic, usurped by Frenkie De Jong at Camp Nou, has been replaced in the Croatia squad, so does that mean he's on the move?

Ante Rebic (Eintracht Frankfurt)

AC Milan are very close to the capture of a player also admired by city rivals Inter.

Rebic is due to move to the Rossoneri on an initial loan deal that will see Andre Silva head for Frankfurt.

Eintracht sporting director Fredi Bobic and the attacker himself have already confirmed an agreement is in place, meaning only the formalities are to be completed.

Competing at the scene of her traumatic maiden grand slam triumph in front of a crowd predictably and passionately backing a star American opponent, it would have been easy for Naomi Osaka to crumble in the third round of the US Open.

The defending champion and world number one had all the pressure on her shoulders in Saturday's blockbuster clash with 15-year-old Coco Gauff, who comparatively had nothing to lose after again capturing the sporting world's imagination with two thrilling wins.

Rather than wilting at the venue where she had been left in tears 12 months ago, Osaka rose to the occasion in stunning style, delivering a show of class on and off the court that should secure her place as a favourite in the hearts and minds of fans, as well as a frontrunner for the title.

From the start, Osaka played with confidence and ruthlessness, racing into a 3-0 lead. Rather than being overawed by the stage, she rose to it with the enthusiasm of a player with two major titles to her name.

Gauff threatened a comeback as the teenager found her footing, but she was never able to locate the consistency needed to restore parity against a player operating at Osaka's level.

After clinching the opening set, Osaka was relentless, refusing to let up as she condemned Gauff to a bagel in the second.

Osaka got 91 per cent of returns in play, converted six of her seven break points and hit 24 winners to Gauff's eight.

Pirouetting as she won one point to set up a break chance, Osaka operated with more freedom as Gauff faded and the gulf in experience and quality became more telling.

Yet nothing Osaka produced on the court could top what she did after the match, as she persuaded a tearful Gauff into staying behind to be interviewed alongside her in front of the packed crowd.

Both players ended up reduced to tears, but those shed will be remembered as part of one of the indelible moments of US Open history. A marked contrast to those Osaka wept last year as Serena Williams' row with umpire Carlos Ramos overshadowed what should have been the greatest night of the Japanese's career.

Gauff could not have been more appreciative of the gesture, and summed up Osaka's evening on and off the court perfectly.

"For me the definition of an athlete is someone who on the court treats you like your worst enemy but off the court can be your best friend," Gauff said. "I think that's what she did."

Discussion over Osaka's slightly withdrawn nature and lack of comfort in the spotlight has been a prominent feature of her rise to the top of the women's game.

Now the focus has been shifted to her capacity for empathy and her sportsmanship, though Osaka appeared to indicate she would still rather not be the subject of such attention.

Asked if the tennis world needs more "Naomi moments", Osaka replied: "I don't know what a Naomi moment is. Hopefully there won't be many of those. Yeah, whatever I do, I try to tell myself to just do it from the heart."

If she maintains the kind of form she demonstrated on Saturday, there is a strong chance the next Naomi moment will be her lifting the trophy.

Following her wonderful display of compassion for Gauff, the New York crowd that booed as she collected the trophy last year will surely this time be on her side should she prevail again.

The Premier League table is taking on a familiar look after matchweek four, with undefeated Liverpool and Manchester City setting the pace following comfortable victories.

But there are some unexpected sides among the chasing pack, with Leicester City and Crystal Palace completing the top four after home wins, while Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham sit outside the top six.

At the other end of the table, promoted Aston Villa and Norwich City are struggling to get going and both suffered away defeats, while the division is propped up by last season's FA Cup finalists Watford, who picked up their first point.

A delve into the Opta data on the weekend's action reveals the milestones being passed and records being set as the 2019-20 season unfolds.

FIRMINO REACHES 50 AS REDS MAKE HISTORY

Liverpool's 3-0 victory over Burnley at Turf Moor marked a historic milestone for the Anfield club, who have won 13 league games in a row for the first time in their history.

Those 13 victories have all featured more than one Liverpool goal and the Reds are the first side to achieve that feat since Tottenham's glorious team of 1960.

After Chris Wood's own-goal opened the scoring at Burnley, Sadio Mane doubled Liverpool's lead with his 30th in all competitions since the start of the last season, pulling him level with Mohamed Salah over that time period.

Roberto Firmino's strike 10 minutes from time wrapped up a straightforward victory for the European champions and made him the first Brazilian player to score 50 Premier League goals. He is the ninth player to reach that milestone in the Premier League era for Liverpool, who have more half-centurions than any other club in the division except Manchester United, who have also had nine 50-goal players.

DERBY TURNAROUND DENIES SPURS MUCH-NEEDED AWAY WIN

Tottenham looked on course for their first league win away from home in eight attempts when goals from Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane put Mauricio Pochettino's men 2-0 up over north London rivals Arsenal.

But Alexandre Lacazette pulled one back for the hosts just before half-time and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang drew Arsenal level in the second half to leave Tottenham with a record of two draws and six defeats from their last eight Premier League away games - their longest winless streak on the road since December 2011 to April 2012 (also eight games).

Pochettino's record in away visits to fellow 'big six' opponents is poor, with Spurs having won just three of their 27 such trips since he took over in 2014-15.

Arsenal went behind when Bernd Leno parried the ball to Eriksen's feet - the goalkeeper's sixth error since the start of last season - and Granit Xhaka conceded a penalty for the fifth time since his Premier League debut to allow Kane to make it 2-0.

But Lacazette narrowed the deficit before Aubameyang scored in his seventh successive Premier League start at Emirates Stadium - an Arsenal record bettered only by Thierry Henry, who scored in nine successive starts at Highbury.

AGUERO ONE SHORT OF HOME CENTURY

Sergio Aguero scored twice in Manchester City's 4-0 demolition of Brighton and Hove Albion, taking the Argentinian to 99 Premier League goals at Etihad Stadium.

Only Thierry Henry at Highbury (114) and Wayne Rooney at Old Trafford (101) have scored more goals at a single venue in Premier League history than Aguero, whose second goal was assisted by David Silva.

That came after former Spain playmaker Silva also laid on Kevin De Bruyne's opener, and he has assisted 87 Premier League goals since his City debut in August 2010 - 27 more than any other player.

Bernardo Silva scored the fourth goal as the champions capped a result that leaves Brighton winless in every game they have played away at City, drawing two and losing on eight of their 10 trips.

SOLSKJAER'S SIDE MAKE SLOWEST START IN 27 YEARS

Manchester United roared to a 4-0 win over Chelsea in their season opener but head into the international break with just five points from four games, their lowest total at this stage of a Premier League campaign since 1992-93.

Saturday's subdued 1-1 draw at Southampton extended United's winless run away from home to eight competitive matches, the club's worst in almost five years.

Daniel James, scorer of a sublime opener, continues to be a bright spark and has now netted as many for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side as he did in his final 22 Championship appearances for Swansea City.

But the Wales winger's third of the season was not enough for victory, Jannik Vestergaard forcing a share of the spoils with his first goal for Saints in his 27th league appearance.

Kevin Danso provided the cross for centre-back Vestergaard to equalise, although the Austrian later undid some of that good work by becoming the first Premier League player to be sent off on a home debut since Yannick Sagbo of Hull City in August 2013.

Mauricio Pochettino wanted Christian Eriksen's future resolved before Sunday. "Tomorrow, we are going to know if Christian is going to be with us or not. That's the most important thing," he said the day before.

The fact the midfielder was thrown back into the starting line-up for the north London derby suggests this particular transfer saga has, for now, been paused. This felt like a message to Real Madrid, and any other suitors, that Eriksen will be a Tottenham player after Monday's European transfer deadline.

"We need to wait," he said to Sky Sports after the game against Arsenal. "But that [performance] showed that Christian Eriksen was alright." That was an understatement.

If there have been any doubts about the commitment of Eriksen, who has admitted he wants a new challenge, then they were dispelled emphatically in a breathless 2-2 draw at Emirates Stadium. Eriksen offered everything Pochettino could have asked for.

Would he do enough out of possession, or cruise through the match in a bubble of uncertainty? He ran 12.22 kilometres, more than any other player on the pitch.

Would fitness be a concern after comparatively little football of late? Only two team-mates clocked a higher average speed than his 7.25km per hour in the north London sunshine.

If his head has been turned, would he offer enough of that championed 'grit' that only seems to become a prerequisite for a footballer against a team's bitter rivals? Only David Luiz and Harry Winks made more tackles, and he was booked for bringing down Granit Xhaka for good measure.

Most pertinently of all, would he still have enough quality to bring life to a Spurs attack that were shut out by Newcastle United a week ago? He managed six crosses, two chances created, four shots on target out of four attempted - and one easy tap-in to break the deadlock.

It was not Eriksen's fault Spurs surrendered a commanding 2-0 lead and ended up largely hanging on for a point. It was not he who let Alexandre Lacazette dance through the defence to score, or who failed to track Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's run for the equaliser. When Moussa Sissoko ballooned a shot over the bar at the end of a promising break deep into injury time, Eriksen had out-sprinted everyone else in white to take up a far better position. It wasn't his fault he was ignored.

In many ways, this game epitomised the development of Pochettino's team: from also-rans, to Premier League and European elite, to somewhere oddly in between. As clinical, controlled and committed as they were in the first half, the meek submission to the building Arsenal pressure in the second was much more like Spurs of 2019 than of the past few years.

After all, they are now winless at the Emirates in the league since November 2010, have managed just nine victories from 21 top-flight games in 2019 and haven't beaten anyone away in English football since January.

Pochettino was adamant rumours he could step down after the Arsenal game were complete nonsense, but it's hard to ignore the growing sense of staleness creeping in. More and more, that Champions League final in June has the feeling of a ceiling reached, rather than another step taken on a path to greater heights.

With Eriksen in the team, in this form, with this focus, there could be new life breathed into Spurs. We'll know for certain come Tuesday morning whether he is, for a few more months at least, a Tottenham player. It could have a huge say on their immediate future.

Arsenal suffered another humbling defeat to Liverpool at Anfield last week, but they have every reason to feel confident ahead of the visit of Tottenham on Sunday.

The Gunners have not lost the north London derby at Emirates Stadium since surrendering a 2-0 lead to lose 3-2 in November 2010, in Spurs' only away league victory against their fierce rivals in the last 26 attempts.

Spurs were beaten 4-2 in this fixture last season, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scoring two of his three goals against the 'big six' in England's top flight.

The striker's record might sound in desperate need of improvement, but there are signs Unai Emery is cultivating a new system at Arsenal that could play right into the strengths of their Gabon star.

ARSENAL STARTING DEEP TO SPRING LIGHTNING TRAP

We may be only three games into the season, but there are indications Arsenal are adapting their play to sit deeper and hit with more speed - something that surely suits Aubameyang and record signing Nicolas Pepe.

In the opening matches of 2019-20, no team has attempted more shots from fast-break situations than the Gunners (four), with Aubameyang's goal at Newcastle United coming from just such an attack.

Opta defines a 'fast break' as a fast counter-attack starting from the team's own half, where they turn defence quickly into attack with the ball moving at a high tempo. The opposition defence must also be at least partly unsorted.

The attempt at goal must be made 15 seconds after winning the ball in the first quarter of the pitch, or 10 after winning it in the second quarter.

To help with this apparent proclivity for fast breaks, Emery has had his side dropping back further than usual.

The Gunners have been starting possession spells from much deeper positions on the pitch. Indeed, on average, they have started open-play sequences of possession 35.8 metres from their own goal, which is nearer than any other Premier League team and far deeper than in any of their previous five seasons.

DIRECT AND TO THE POINT

No team has had more direct attacks in 2019-20 than Arsenal (10, at an average of 3.3 per game). A 'direct attack', according to Opta, is an open-play sequence that starts just inside the team's half and has at least 50 per cent of movement towards the opposition penalty area, with that team ending with a shot or a touch in the opponent's box.

Emery's side have not averaged above 2.8 per game in any season since 2014-15, which again points to something of a shift under the former Sevilla boss compared to the more patient approach of Arsene Wenger's teams.

This deeper, counter-attacking brand of football is also yielding fewer turnovers in possession. A 'high turnover' is defined as a sequence that starts in open play and begins 40 metres or fewer away from the opponent's goal. This season, no team has had fewer than Arsenal's five.

The signs for the rest of the campaign are promising, too. At an average of 1.7 per game, the Gunners would be comfortably below their previous high turnovers since 2014-15, when they averaged a league-high 4.8 per match.

There is a problem, however, with their passing.

They have completed 39 per cent of their passes in the opponent's half this season, and 20.1 per cent of passes ending in the final third. Each of those tallies is the lowest they have recorded stretching back to 2003-04.

This seems to be a trend under Emery. Completed passes in the opposite half last term fell by nearly nine per cent from 2017-18, while completed passes ending in the last third dropped by more than five per cent.

PICK YOUR SPOT, PIERRE

Arsenal's overall trend of play bodes well for Aubameyang, who in turn needs to sharpen up against the Premier League's big hitters.

The former Borussia Dortmund star's shot conversion rate against the rest of the Premier League is a healthy 30.1 per cent, dwindling to 9.7 in big-six matches.

His differential in terms of 'big chance' conversion is even more stark – 16.7 per cent down from 48.8.

Aubameyang's expected goals per ninety minutes is 0.59 in big-six encounters, with 0.78 elsewhere, indicating the quality of chances coming his way in such games is lower than normal.

Enough of Arsenal's work over the opening weeks of the season suggests that might be about to change. Starting on Sunday, can Aubameyang make the most of spearheading Emery's flying forwards?

Liverpool set a new club record on Saturday, beating Burnley 3-0 to record a 13th consecutive top-flight victory.

Jurgen Klopp's men finished the 2018-19 campaign with nine straight Premier League wins and have taken maximum points from their first four games of this season.

As a result, they have surpassed the 12-game winning run previously achieved under Kenny Dalglish in 1990.

How does Liverpool's ongoing winning streak compare to the record runs of the rest of the Premier League's 'big six'? With the help of Opta, we take a look...

 

Manchester City: 18 wins in a row

Liverpool would need to win each of their next five Premier League matches - against Newcastle United, Chelsea, Sheffield United, Leicester City and bitter rivals Manchester United - to equal the 18-game streak City put together from August to December two years ago.

Pep Guardiola's side needed a 97th-minute strike from Raheem Sterling to beat Bournemouth in the first game of that run, which featured 5-0 wins over Liverpool and Crystal Palace, a 6-0 triumph at Watford and a 7-2 mauling of Stoke City.

It was Palace who eventually brought an end to City's stunning string of wins, earning a 0-0 draw at Selhurst Park that could have been even better, with Ederson saving an injury-time penalty from Luka Milivojevic.

City subsequently won 14 matches in a row to pip Liverpool to last season's title and also claimed victory in their first game of 2019-20 before drawing 2-2 with Tottenham in a match they dominated.


Arsenal: 14 wins in a row

Arsenal's 'Invincibles' famously completed an unbeaten Premier League season in 2003-04, but the Gunners' longest winning streak in the competition did not come in that campaign.

Their best run of 14 straight wins was achieved in 2002, when a team spearheaded by Thierry Henry secured a league and FA Cup double.

A 2-0 win over Birmingham City in August saw Arsene Wenger's magnificent side set a new benchmark for consecutive top-flight wins, at least until City's recent dominance.


Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham: 13 wins in a row

In winning 13 successive games, Liverpool have drawn level with the best runs of Chelsea and Tottenham.

The Reds' current streak began against Burnley in March and stretched to 13 matches with Saturday's 3-0 win over the same opponents.

Chelsea recorded 13 wins in a row from October to December in 2016 and went on to be crowned champions the following May.

You have to go way back to 1960 for Tottenham's longest winning runs in the top-flight, which was achieved under Bill Nicholson in another season that ended with the league trophy being lifted.


Manchester United - 12 wins in a row

Somewhat surprisingly given their years of sustained success under Alex Ferguson, United sit bottom of this particular list.

They have never won more than 12 league games in a row, reaching that mark in August 2000 - three months after winning the Premier League yet again.

Indeed, the longest winning runs of United, City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham have all come, at least in part, during title-winning campaigns.

After coming so close to glory last term, Liverpool will hope they follow suit next May.

Daniel James' brilliant opener in Manchester United's 1-1 draw at Southampton continued a stunning start to life in the Premier League for the Wales youngster.

James capped an opening weekend thumping of Chelsea and was also on target in last weekend's 2-1 loss to Crystal Palace.

Three goals in his first four United appearances places the 21-year-old in some elite company but being prolific in your opening games for the club does not necessary mean long-term success.

Here are the other Red Devils who got off to a flyer in the Premier League era.

Robin van Persie – four in three

Van Persie's decision to shun Manchester City to move to United from Arsenal instantly endeared him to the Old Trafford faithful. His debut from the bench could not avert a 1-0 loss to Everton at Goodison Park, but he thrashed in a sublime volley in a 3-2 win over Fulham before a hat-trick saw off Southampton by the same margin. The Dutch forward maintained his prolific form, scoring 26 Premier League goals as United sent Alex Ferguson into retirement with one more title.

Louis Saha – four in four

Rarely do January signings prove such an instant hit as Saha, following his switch from Fulham midway through the 2003-04 campaign. He opened the scoring in wins over Southampton and Everton, completing a double in the latter game. The France international did likewise at Fulham before his old employers battled back to a 1-1 draw. Saha collected a pair of Premier League medals and also became a Champions League winner during his time at United, although injuries frequently interrupted his progress.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic – four in four

Never likely to tolerate a quiet introduction to English football, Ibrahimovic drove in from long range to cap a 3-1 win at Bournemouth on his debut in 2016. His double to sink Southampton ensured a memorable maiden turn at Old Trafford, where he also found the target in a derby loss to Manchester City. Ibrahimovic scored 28 times in 46 appearances as United claimed EFL Cup and Europa League glory. However, a serious knee injury meant he was a spectator for the latter triumph and an underwhelming return the following season preceded his move to LA Galaxy.

Romelu Lukaku – four in four

It would have been very hard to envisage Lukaku being hastily bundled out of Old Trafford to Inter without a replacement being sought after he produced an instant return on Jose Mourinho's £75million investment in 2017. The Belgium striker hit a brace in a 4-0 opening-weekend win over West Ham. He also scored as Swansea were beaten by the same margin and netted in a 2-2 draw at Stoke City to go four in four. It was part of a hot streak of 16 goals across 13 appearances for club and country – something Antonio Conte clearly has designs on Lukaku rediscovering at Inter.

Dwight Yorke - three in four

Some eyebrows were raised when Ferguson paid a then club-record £12.6m to bring in Yorke from Aston Villa in August 1998. Although he drew a blank in a 0-0 debut at West Ham, a brace against Charlton Athletic – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was also at the double in a 4-0 win – got him off and running. The opener in a 2-0 victory against Coventry City next time out ensured United had a new hero who would prove pivotal in that season's historic treble.

Anthony Martial – three in four

Like James, Martial came off the bench to delight Old Trafford on his debut, dispatching an unforgettable solo effort to down bitter rivals Liverpool. Southampton, who would seemingly do well to avoid attackers in the early stages of their United careers if possible, then copped for a brace at St Mary's. Now restored to a central striking role in a depleted attack, the onus is on Martial to make good on that early promise this season.

Marcus Rashford – three in four

The remaining member of United's first-choice attack also flew out of the blocks. Rashford was Louis van Gaal's most successful punt on youth during his time in charge – a brace against Arsenal on his 2016 Premier League bow actually followed a Europa League double versus FC Midtjylland the preceding midweek. On his fourth league appearance, Rashford brilliantly scored the only goal to sink City in the derby.

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