Manchester United claimed the derby bragging rights with a 2-1 victory over Premier League champions Manchester City last Saturday – concluding a validatory week for their manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

A blistering first-half performance on the counter-attack saw Anthony Martial score what proved to be the winner after Marcus Rashford netted from the penalty spot.

The result came after Solskjaer claimed midweek victory over predecessor Jose Mourinho and his Tottenham side by the same scoreline, handing a huge boost to an Old Trafford reign that was attracting mounting scrutiny.

United have also beaten Chelsea and Leicester City this season, while they remain the only side to take points off runaway leaders Liverpool.

However, Everton sitting 14th in the table ahead of Sunday's match suggests they could spell trouble.

Hitting the 'big six' for six

Although no longer the fixture they were under Alex Ferguson when it comes to the biggest prizes in the game, United certainly have it in them to rise to the big occasion against teams aspiring to those heights.

When facing sides who have started the game in the Premier League's top six, Solskjaer has won four, drawn three and lost two of nine matches after the success at the Etihad Stadium last time out.

That amounts to a win percentage of 44.4 per cent, a number greater than the 40.7 per cent Mourinho enjoyed over the course of 27 games during his United tenure.

Solksjaer's numbers are even more impressive when considering games against fellow members of the widely regarded 'big six' – City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea – and Leicester, the 2015-16 champions currently riding high in second.

In 12 games against those opponents since succeeding Mourinho, Solskjaer has won half and drawn four, losing only twice – 2-0 at home to City last April, having done likewise away to Arsenal a month earlier.

Mourinho only succeeded nine times in 22 of those games, a win percentage of 40.9, losing eight.

Overrun by the also-rans

Sitting alongside those wins over City, Chelsea, Leicester and Tottenham this season are Premier League losses to Crystal Palace, West Ham. Newcastle United and Bournemouth.

Of that quartet, only 10th-placed Palace reside in the top half of the table.

In games facing opponents in the bottom six on matchdays under Solskjaer, United have won six, drawn four and lost three, giving him a win percentage of 46.2.

Mourinho was far more successful in such presumed straightforward encounters, winning 60.7 per cent (W17 D7 L4).

Pogba to pick the lock?

The sight of Martial, Rashford, Daniel James and Jesse Lingard tearing into the big spaces behind City's midfield at the Etihad did much to explain the unusual trend in United's results.

That quartet in tandem amount to a formidable, livewire threat on the counter attack. However, operating in the small spaces afforded by deep-lying defences is a different proposition entirely.

Paul Pogba is closing in on a return from an ankle injury and, whatever the France star might lack in tenacity, his added creativity and guile could prove a significant asset.

Since returning to Old Trafford for a then-world record £89.3million from Juventus in 2016, Pogba has scored 24 goals in 97 Premier League games.

He has also contributed 25 assists and has created 164 chances – one every 50 minutes.

Lingard, who would probably be most vulnerable to a returning Pogba in Solskjaer's current XI, as Fred and Scott McTominay have thrived at the base of the midfield, has 22 goal involvements compared to Pogba's 49 over the same period.

That breaks down into 13 goals and nine assists. He has created 87 chances, a little more than half Pogba's overall amount.

Although the feelgood factor has returned to United in Pogba's absence, he could yet be the man to make it grow into something more sustainable under Solskjaer.

Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski has his sights set on a slice of Champions League history when Tottenham visit the Allianz Arena on Wednesday.

The Poland international needs two goals against Jose Mourinho's side to claim the record for goals in the group stage of a single campaign – an honour held by Cristiano Ronaldo, who scored 11 in 2015-16 for Real Madrid.

Atletico Madrid will book their place in the last 16 if they beat Lokomotiv Moscow, while Shakhtar Donetsk will join Manchester City in progressing from Group C if they overcome Atalanta.

In Group A, already-qualified Paris Saint-Germain host Galatasaray and Real Madrid – who have also booked their place in the knockout stages – travel to Club Brugge.

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

Club Brugge v Real Madrid

7 - This is the seventh Champions League group stage campaign which Club Brugge have failed to progress from. No side has ever competed in more group stages without progressing from any in the history of the competition.

2 - Karim Benzema has scored two goals in each of his last two Champions League games. Only four players have scored two or more in three consecutive games - Giovane Elber (2001), Filippo Inzaghi (2002), Cristiano Ronaldo (2013, twice in 2017) and Lewandowski (2018).

Paris Saint-Germain v Galatasaray

18 - PSG striker Kylian Mbappe has scored 18 goals in 29 appearances in the Champions League. If he scores twice in this game, Mbappe would become the youngest player in the competition's history to reach 20 goals, aged 20 years and 356 days.

1 - Galatasaray scored their first goal of the 2019-20 Champions League campaign in their last game against Club Brugge, ending a run of 38 shots without scoring from the start of the campaign. In total, they have only scored once from 43 shots in the competition this term.

Bayern Munich v Tottenham

16 - Bayern Munich had 16 shots on target in their 6-0 win over Red Star Belgrade on matchday five; the most by a team in this season's Champions League. Bayern last had more in a Champions League game in October 2013 against Viktoria Plzen (18).

2 - New Spurs manager Mourinho has lost both of his previous away games against Bayern Munich in the Champions League, losing in the quarter-finals with Chelsea in 2004-05 and the semi-finals with Real Madrid in 2011-12.

Olympiacos v Red Star Belgrade

1 - Olympiacos have picked up just one point from their five Champions League games this season. Only in 2017-18 (one) have they picked up one point or fewer from a completed group stage.

19 - Red Star have conceded 19 goals in their five Champions League games this season, more than any other side. There have been just five occasions of a team conceding 20+ goals in a single group stage in the competition, most recently by Legia Warsaw in 2016-17 (24).

Dinamo Zagreb v Manchester City

5 - Dinamo Zagreb have picked up five points in this season's Champions League. Only in 1998-99 (eight points) have they won more in a single group stage in the competition. 

19 - City’s Raheem Sterling has scored 19 goals in 46 appearances in the Champions League. He could become the sixth Englishman to reach 20 goals in the competition after Wayne Rooney (30), Paul Scholes (24), Frank Lampard (23), Steven Gerrard (21) and Harry Kane (20). Should Sterling score in his 47th appearance, he would be the second quickest Englishman to 20 Champions League goals after Kane (24 appearances).

Shakhtar Donetsk v Atalanta

5 - Shakhtar Donetsk are without a win in each of their last five Champions League home games (drawn three, lost two). It is their longest ever winless run at home in the competition.

2 - Atalanta have lost their last two away games in the Champions League, conceding nine goals in the process. They last lost three consecutive away matches in all European competition back in October 1987.

Atletico Madrid v Lokomotiv Moscow

2 - Atletico Madrid have lost consecutive matches in the Champions League; they've never lost three in a row in the competition. The Spanish side last lost three consecutive games in all European competitions back in October 1984 in the UEFA Cup.

0 - Lokomotiv Moscow have never won an away game against Spanish opposition in all European competition, losing six of their seven such games and failing to score in each defeat.

Bayer Leverkusen v Juventus

3 - Bayer Leverkusen have benefited from three own goals in this season's Champions League, with only two teams benefiting from more in a single campaign: Inter in 2002-03 (four) and Barcelona in 2017-18 (five).

27 - Juventus forward Ronaldo has scored 27 goals in 24 Champions League appearances against German clubs; the most a single player has accumulated against sides from a particular nation in the competition's history.

Champions League holders Liverpool need at least a point against Salzburg to secure their progression from Group E, though they will come up against an Erling Haaland in sensational form.

Salzburg's youngster has found the net in all of their group games so far this season and will become the first player to convert in his first six Champions League appearances should he score for Salzburg against the Reds.

Barcelona have top spot in Group F secured but Inter still have it all to play for on Tuesday as they look to edge out Borussia Dortmund, and Antonio Conte's side have no Lionel Messi to worry about, with Ernesto Valverde resting Barca's talisman.

Chelsea will look to end a five-match winless run at home in the Champions League to ensure their place in the last 16, while Dortmund are aiming to reach the second round in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2015.

Salzburg v Liverpool 

8 - Salzburg's Haaland has scored eight goals from five appearances in this season's Champions League. No player has ever scored in their first six matches in the competition.

11 - Since the start of the 2017-18 campaign, the two players with the most Champions League assists are Liverpool duo Roberto Firmino and James Milner, with 11 each.

16 - Only Tottenham (17) and Bayern Munich (21) have scored more goals than Salzburg's 16 in this season's competition.

2 - Liverpool have only won two of their 11 most recent Champions League away group stage games, losing four of the past five. The Reds last won consecutive group matches on the road in the competition back in September 2008.

Napoli v Genk

6 - Carlo Ancelotti appears to be under pressure at Napoli, though his side are unbeaten in their past six home matches in the Champions League.

14 - Dries Mertens, who wears number 14 for Napoli, has been involved in 14 goals in his past 14 Champions League starts, scoring 10 times and providing four assists.

Inter v Barcelona

0 - Inter have never lost a home game against Spanish teams in the Champions League or European Cup.

5 - Lautaro Martinez is aiming to become the first Inter player to score in five successive Champions League/European Cup appearances.

0 - Barca have failed to score in two Champions League matches this season. Never before in the competition have they fired blanks in three group games in a single campaign.

Borussia Dortmund v Slavia Prague

13 - Dortmund are unbeaten in 13 of their past 15 Champions League group stage matches at Signal Iduna Park, winning eight times.

3 - Julian Brandt already has three assists for Dortmund in Group F. The playmaker failed to assist a single Champions League goal for Bayer Leverkusen in 21 appearances between 2014 and 2017.

22 - Slavia have failed to score with each of their 22 most recent shots from open play in the Champions League, with their goal in a 3-1 defeat to Inter on matchday coming via a penalty by Tomas Soucek.

Benfica v Zenit

1 - Victory for Zenit would see the Russian side reach the knockout stages in successive appearances in the Champions League for the first time.

29 - Both teams have scored 29 per cent of their Champions League goals from outside of the box so far this season.

Lyon v RB Leipzig

88 - Leipzig have scored 88 per cent of their Champions League goals this season in the second half of matches, while their only goal in the first half came in added time against Zenit.

80 - Dayot Upamecano has made 80 progressive ball carries upfield this season in the UEFA Champions League - more than any other player.

Chelsea v Lille

5 - Chelsea are winless in their past five Champions League games at Stamford Bridge. It is their longest run without a home win in the competition.

10 - Willian has netted 10 goals for Chelsea in the tournament. If he scores against Lille, it would make him their outright fourth-highest scorer in the competition, behind Didier Drogba (36), current coach Frank Lampard (23) and Nicolas Anelka (12).

1 - Lille have taken just one point in the Champions League this season. Under the current group stage format, the only French side with fewer in a single campaign in the competition was Marseille in 2013-14 (0).

Ajax v Valencia

9 - Since the start of last season, only three teams have managed more wins in the Champions League than Ajax, who have nine victories under their belts in that time.

52 - Excluding own goals, Hakim Ziyech has either scored or assisted 52 per cent of Ajax's goals in the Champions League in 2019.

143 - Quincy Promes averages a goal every 143 minutes in the Champions League, placing him behind only Ruud van Nistelrooy (109) in terms of Dutch players in the competition.

Liverpool maintained their charge for a first Premier League title with a 3-0 win over Bournemouth, keeping just a third top-flight clean sheet of the season in the process.

The Reds remain eight points ahead of Leicester City, who saw off Aston Villa 4-1 to make it eight league victories in a row – their best winning run in their top-flight history.

But defending champions Manchester City are now 14 points adrift of top spot after tasting defeat in their derby showdown with a rejuvenated Manchester United.

Meanwhile, Jose Mourinho made it three league wins out of four as Tottenham thrashed Burnley to close to within six points of fourth-placed Chelsea, who lost 3-1 at Everton.

There were also wins for Newcastle United and Sheffield United, against Southampton and Norwich City respectively, while Watford played out a goalless draw with Crystal Palace and Brighton and Hove Albion took a point off Wolves.

Our Premier League Data Diary sheds some light on the detail behind the big stories of this weekend's games.

DERBY DEFEAT LEAVES GUARDIOLA WITH LOWEST POINTS HAUL

Pep Guardiola admitted City could not cope with the pace of United's attacking trio of Daniel James, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford in Saturday's clash.

City fell two goals behind inside half an hour and, despite Nicolas Otamendi pulling one back late on, they fell to a defeat that surely ends their hopes of retaining the title.

The loss leaves the reigning champions with 32 points - the lowest return of Guardiola's managerial career after 16 matches.

Kyle Walker refused to wave the white flag, but no English top-flight side has ever gone on to win the title after being as many as 14 points behind the top side at the end of a day.

As for United, who beat Tottenham 2-1 on Wednesday, they are now unbeaten in five Premier League games and have won back-to-back matches for the first time since March.

CLEAN SHEET BONUS FOR RUNAWAY REDS

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp had extra reason to celebrate his side's win at Bournemouth, having kept a first clean sheet in 14 games in all competitions.

In fact, toothless Bournemouth - now beaten in five successive games for the first time in their top-flight history - managed zero shots on target at the Vitality Stadium.

Klopp's men have won 24 of their past 25 Premier League matches, including 15 out of 16 this term, and have scored two or more goals in 23 of those past 25 fixtures.

Naby Keita marked his first league start of the season with a goal and an assist, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Mohamed Salah were also on target.

Salah's goal took him to 63 in 100 Premier League outings, with Alan Shearer (79), Ruud van Nistelrooy (68) and Sergio Aguero (64) the only players to score more in their first century of games.

SENSATIONAL SON INSPIRES MOURINHO'S FREE-SCORING MEN

Tottenham produced a five-star display in their emphatic triumph against Burnley, who suffered their joint-biggest margin of defeat in the Premier League.

Mourinho saw Tottenham score five goals in his fourth Premier League game in charge, something Manchester United failed to achieve in 93 league matches under the Portuguese.

Harry Kane bagged a brace, Lucas Moura scored a sitter and Moussa Sissoko netted for the second home game running, but it was Son Heung-min who stole the show.

Having earlier set up Kane's opener, Son ran from one box to the other and found the net to make it 15 goal involvements in 15 appearances at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Dele Alli may not have registered in the one-sided contest, though he provided two assists in a Premier League game for the third time and the first since December 2017.

VARDY CLOSING IN ON HIS OWN RECORD

Leicester appear to be the only side standing between Liverpool and a maiden Premier League title success after coming out on top in their Midlands tussle with Aston Villa.

Jamie Vardy helped himself to a couple of goals as the Foxes inflicted a heaviest home league defeat on Villa since they lost 4-0 to Chelsea in April 2016.

The 32-year-old became the first player to score in eight consecutive Premier League matches since Vardy himself did so in November 2015 when netting 11 in a row.

Only one player other than Vardy has scored in eight successive fixtures, in fact - Van Nistelrooy, who did so in 2002 and again in 2003 during his time at Manchester United.

Kelechi Iheanacho and Jonny Evans also registered at Villa Park for Leicester, who have won their past four away Premier League matches by an aggregate score of 17-1.

As the Christmas season unofficially began on December 1, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer looked anything but merry.

Manchester United had been held to a 2-2 draw at home by promoted Aston Villa and the Red Devils' performance was utterly rancid for much of the game. Solskjaer appeared helpless at full-time.

Ahead of a particularly bleak run of mid-winter fixtures, reports suggested Solskjaer could join Santa in expecting to be burdened with the sack for Christmas. Two games to save his job, some said, with Mauricio Pochettino looming large.

Those two matches; Jose Mourinho's Tottenham and Manchester City in the derby – it wasn't the sleigh bells that were ringing. 

Some might have been content with two points, yet they've managed to take six and left City's title defence in tatters after a 2-1 win over the champions.

Much of the build-up was dominated by 'we're back' talk among both sets of supporters. City had crushed Burnley comprehensively, while United produced arguably their best display under Solskjaer in a 2-1 win over Tottenham.

Saturday's performance left no such room for argument – it was undoubtedly the greatest of his tenure. 

So much of the Norwegian's time at the helm has been mired by worryingly erratic form – one week they barely manage to salvage a draw against Villa, showing a concerning lack of desire, and then follow that up with a genuinely laudable performance at home to a resurgent Spurs.

Such inconsistency has understandably led to questions over Solskjaer's game-management, with United frequently struggling against opposition that sit back despite boasting a solid record of only two defeats in 11 meetings with 'big-six' opponents and Leicester City before the derby.

Solskjaer did little wrong on Saturday, however.

A devastating first half an hour showed just how good this United team can be, particularly going forward.

The fluid front three of Daniel James, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial was electric, while the much-maligned Jesse Lingard showed the kind of technique and drive not seen from him for a long, long time.

United's strengths are by no means a secret – they are blessed with immense pace in attack and are at their best hitting teams on the counter.

City fell into a trap entirely of United's making.

The midfield pair of Scott McTominay and Fred sat extremely deep, while the front four also dropped well back, essentially becoming a second midfield. As such, the gap between United's defence and attack was often minimal, allowing them to break as a unit.

The dynamism and agility of United's attack was plain to see for both goals – firstly Rashford driving into the box and winning the penalty that he converted, before James and Martial linked for the Frenchman's well-worked goal.

But United's effectiveness was about more than just three players running really, really fast. Defensively they had several players who were imperious.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka dealt with Raheem Sterling impressively, making five tackles and seven clearances in a fine display, while McTominay was similarly impressive. The Scotland international won possession back via three tackles, three interceptions and came out on top in 81.3 per cent of the 16 duels he was involved in.

Added to that, Fred enjoyed his best match for United, creating two chances and showing a general awareness that could rarely be associated with the Brazilian previously. On this evidence, you can begin to understand why Pep Guardiola had been so keen to bring him to City.

City's second-half desperation predictably saw United come under pressure and, for a moment it looked like the Red Devils would yet again cave and throw away a lead after Nicolas Otamendi pulled one back.

But it wasn't to be.

While reservations over Solskjaer's suitability for the role will remain as long as his team continue to falter against teams they should beat, there's no doubt in his ability to squeeze every last drop out of his players in the big games.

And in the biggest of matches, United rose to the occasion to leave City 14 points adrift of the summit, their title hopes torn to shreds like so much festive wrapping paper. 

December: The month Liverpool's Premier League title bid is supposed to come off the tracks.

Yet here we are, seven advent calendar chocolates down, numerous Christmas parties already in the books, and Jurgen Klopp's Reds keep adding to their own Carry On series: Carry On Winning.

The 5-2 victory over Everton on Wednesday was their first of nine games in 26 days across the final month of the year. A festive schedule so packed it might rival the Radio Times' bumper Christmas edition.

How would a squad perceived to be weaker than rivals Manchester City's group cope with such a haul? One that includes two games in as many days, in countries 3,000 miles apart.

The early indications are they will be just fine.

Divock Origi and Xherdan Shaqiri came in and scored three of Liverpool's five goals against Everton. Neither kept their place on Saturday as Klopp rolled the dice again by making seven changes.

Three of those who came in - Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Naby Keita and Mohamed Salah - scored the goals in a 3-0 success over the Cherries, who have now lost their past five Premier League games against Liverpool by an aggregate score of 17-0.

Oxlade-Chamberlain, on target in the Premier League for the first time since January 2018, and Keita became the 15th and 16th outfield players to score for the Reds in the division this term. Liverpool have used just 19, including teenager Curtis Jones, who came on for his Premier League debut 14 minutes from time.

There was a time when Klopp would not have felt as comfortable making such wholesale changes.

Players like Dominic Solanke, who failed to impress for Bournemouth on Saturday, were simply not able to replicate the performances of the men ahead of them in the pecking order when they came in. It was why sustained title challenges never materialised. Now - with Liverpool ending the day 11 points clear - it feels different.

Even without the injured Joel Matip and Fabinho, with Trent Alexander-Arnold, top scorer Sadio Mane and Origi only in reserve to begin with, with Dejan Lovren coming off with a problem, Liverpool did not miss a beat.

The most impressive performer was Salah, which has not always been the case in 2019-20.

The Egyptian had scored just once since the end of October but appeared refreshed and revitalised having had Wednesday night off.

It was his delicious backheel assist that took out three Bournemouth players and teed up Keita for the second, with the roles then reversed for a game-sealing third after the break.

Of course, sterner tests than out-of-sorts Everton and Bournemouth lie in wait, including a crucial Champions League encounter with Salzburg on Tuesday and a top-of-the-table tussle at Leicester City on Boxing Day.

Yet this is a Liverpool side boasting greater strength in depth, one equipped for a flurry of festive fixtures across four competitions.

Surely only the grinches can confidently predict December will be Liverpool's undoing this time around?

Saturday lunchtime, and the Gran Via and Plaza Mayor are teeming with Christmas shoppers in Madrid.

Cyclists, too, are out in force, gathering for a peaceful protest ride to make the case for leaving the car at home.

This is day one of a UN climate change convention being hosted by Spain's capital, and it is hard not to be conflicted by the collision of consumerism and conservationism.

We are living through times where we want to give, give, give to afford loved ones brief relief from cataclysmic reality, but at the same time we are warned the shop-around-the-clock culture is killing the planet.

At the nearby Santiago Bernabeu stadium, Real Madrid are wearing their mint-green third kit for a home league fixture against Espanyol.

The gesture is one of solidarity with the environmental campaigners - eco warriors, one and all, particularly when a global audience can snag a rare glimpse of a shirt that retails around the £90 mark.

At the same time, Real Madrid are wondering what their hipster manager, Zinedine Zidane, might deserve in his stocking this year.

Has he been a good boy? Does he deserve Paul Pogba? Kylian Mbappe? Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang?

Another pair of his beloved skinny jeans simply will not cut it this year.

Zidane, in middle age, still has the chutzpah and the physique to pull off a fashion statement, even if his band of footballers rarely catch the eye in such a manner.

A year ago he was enjoying a break from football, having grown tired of Real Madrid life. He and wife Veronique paid a trip to the Great Wall of China, and days later Zidane enjoyed dinner out with his fellow France 98 World Cup winners.

Retirement - for that is how it seemed - looked to be suiting the artisan footballer of his generation. A commercial deal here or there kept the money rolling in, and yet nine months after waving goodbye to the Bernabeu, Zidane was drawn back.

Saturday's 2-0 victory over lowly opposition was more pallid than it sounds, yet for several hours at least it lifted Madrid to the LaLiga summit. They and Barcelona are again duking it out for domestic silverware, and Madrid's saving grace is that their great rivals have also been shadows of their old selves at times this term.

The Clasico on Wednesday week - December 18 - might struggle to live up to that billing.

In this post-Cristiano Ronaldo era, Madrid all too often look bereft of the identity their great rivals still possess thanks to the ever-imperious Lionel Messi.

Neither Gareth Bale nor Eden Hazard, both temporarily absent through injury, has risen to the challenge of becoming Madrid's totemic personality, despite both being sufficiently gifted to step into the role. Newcomer Hazard deserves time to make his presence felt, but Bale's continuing presence - and the golf narrative - is helping nobody.

Bale is said by his agent to be "not ecstatic" to be at Madrid, and you wonder whether Zidane might soon feel similarly about his own second reign. The reliance on Karim Benzema, scorer of the second goal against Espanyol, is now all too obvious. This team look ripe to be picked off by stronger opposition, as Paris Saint-Germain have shown in the Champions League.

Marca reported on Saturday that Madrid must find 200 million euros to satisfy financial fair play bean-counters; presumably, in the absence of any more training grounds to sell, that means players will have to move on before others come in during January.

So recycling, fittingly enough, could be the salvation of this most functional of Real Madrid teams. The time is approaching for Zidane, the king of the first Galacticos era, to bring style and verve back to the Bernabeu.

That, or get on his bike.

Few, if any, Manchester City players will receive a bigger roar of approval than Raheem Sterling when the teams are read out before kick-off at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday.

The England forward will aim to inspire victory in the Manchester derby against United for his adoring public, before basking in its glow the following day – his 25th birthday.

Whatever the result, Sterling's quarter-century also marks the one-year anniversary of bleak but life-altering day.

"The way they were looking at me, I had to see where all this anger was coming from," he told the New York Times, remembering how he observed a small number of irate fans in the Matthew Harding Stand at Stamford Bridge, while retrieving the ball for a corner during a Premier League match City would lose 2-0 to Chelsea.

"I was listening in to hear what they were saying… 'Nah, that can't be what I heard'."

Television replays that quickly went viral on social media suggested Sterling's suspicions he had been subjected to racist abuse were correct.

This July, Chelsea also reached that conclusion as they banned one supporter for life and handed out sanctions from between one to two years for incidents at the same Premier League match. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decided not to initiate criminal prosecutions.

By this stage, Sterling had long since altered the conversation.

'Have a second though'

"Regarding what was said at the Chelsea game, as you can see by my reaction, I just had to laugh because I don't expect no better," he wrote in an Instagram post the day after the game, in what remains a damning assessment of the atmospheres and sickening attitudes too often allowed to fester in football stadia – supposedly places of celebration and work for young athletes.

But Sterling was keen to turn the focus outwards, taking the opportunity to highlight the contrasting tones with which the Daily Mail reported on two of his young team-mates Phil Foden and Tosin Adarabioyo – one white, one black – buying houses for their mothers.

"This young black kid is looked at in a bad light, which helps fuel racism an aggressive behaviour," Sterling posted, before imploring news outlets to "have a second thought about fair publicity"

Troy Townsend, head of development at anti-racism and discrimination organisation Kick It Out, felt this reframing was particularly timely given the events a week earlier at the north London derby, where a Tottenham fan threw a banana skin at Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

"My response was, literally, 'Well done, Raheem'," Townsend told Omnisport.

"The week before, [the Aubameyang incident] wasn't racism to many. That wasn't racism to people who have never experienced the act of the banana being thrown at them or being called a monkey.

"So, Raheem's was a massive, great step. It let the media look at each other and I think that's massive. In one post he's made elements of the media change."

Far from being hindered by the increased focus upon him as an eloquent and reluctant role model, Sterling has gone from strength to strength on the field.

That treble feeling

A brace in May's FA Cup final saw him conclude last season with 25 club goals in all competitions as City claimed an unprecedented domestic treble – the first part of which, the EFL Cup, came as Sterling steered the decisive kick in a penalty shoot-out against Chelsea into the top corner.

There have been hat-tricks in the Champions League and for England, who he captained in June's Nations League Finals semi-final versus the Netherlands. Now a reliable goalscorer for his country, he netted eight in qualification for Euro 2020.

The industry he urged to take a look at itself honoured Sterling, the 2018-19 Football Writers' Association Footballer of the Year. The BBC's Sports Personality of the Year gong could be added to his collection this month.

"It's all about mentality. Mentality, maturity and growing up," Sterling said ahead of the showdown with United.

"I'm obsessed with football, obsessed with scoring goals, obsessed with recovering quicker and obsessed with improving myself."

Spiralling numbers show how fruitful that obsession has been, while Sterling's maturity – a scuffle with Joe Gomez on international duty aside – is frequently evident.

Every time he intervenes on issues of racism, be it responding to he and England team-mates receiving abuse in Montenegro and Bulgaria, defending Italy striker Moise Kean or supporting Newport County Under-14 goalkeeper Ethan Ross, Sterling strikes at the heart of the issue and is a force for good.

He covered the funeral costs of Crystal Palace youth player Damary Dawkins, who tragically lost his battle with leukaemia, having dedicated an England goal against the Czech Republic to the 13-year-old.

Raheem the role model

Other examples of Sterling's community mindedness could be found when he arranged tickets to City's FA Cup semi-final against Brighton and Hove Albion for 550 pupils from his old school, while last month he urged those able to among his 2.2million Twitter follows to register to vote in the upcoming UK general election.

"He's a young, black role model for so many young people. His status will go far and beyond football, that's for sure," said Townsend, who feels Sterling can align with some of British football's true pioneers and icons.

"You will have young people not just wanting to be Raheem Sterling the footballer, but who will want to be Raheem Sterling the human being.

"I take that as the kind of impact John Barnes had, when he was almost fighting racism by himself. Or Cyrille Regis, Laurie Cunningham and Brendon Batson when they were at West Brom.

"With those forefathers, the generation before him, he will be recognised as someone who's had a massive influence and impact.

"That's probably the most powerful legacy of that post a year ago. He will have empowered many people to stand up for themselves, stand up for their rights and stand up for who they are as human beings."

Townsend is at pains to point out Sterling cannot be the "be-all and end-all" in the fight against racism, and that burden must never be placed upon any single person.

But, as Manchester United look to repel the City star's on-field obsession, it is to his immense credit he has managed to shed so much light a year on from that dark day.

It's March 2016. Excitement and expectation are through the roof for one particular teenager ahead of his first Manchester derby.

The local lad had already risen to the occasion in the Europa League and against Arsenal, but this was a far bigger deal for the 18-year-old who'd grown up a Manchester United fan.

Marcus Rashford started in attack with Antony Martial and their pace and mobility proving a lethal combination, particularly with respect to the former.

Highlighting his ice-cold mentality on the big stage, Rashford was decisive. Roasting Manchester City defender Martin Demichelis in the 16th minute, the striker nutmegged him at pace and left the experienced centre-back for dead before clinically dispatching past Joe Hart.

If onlookers hadn't sat up and taken notice already after his heroics against Arsenal and Midtjylland, they were now. Rashford proved he was no mere flash in the pan.

A leader's mentality

Since that bright debut derby, Rashford has gone on to feature another seven times against City and he'll be desperate to leave is mark in Saturday's clash. It is the sort of occasion that has started to typify his status as a big-game player with an elite mentality.

Rashford's most recent Manchester derby came in April, as City comfortably dispatched of United 2-0 at Old Trafford. It was this encounter that seemed to suggest their wretched form after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's permanent appointment was anything but a blip.

More than anyone, Rashford was scathing of United.

"It was quite clear who the better team was," Rashford said to Sky Sports. "We didn't play like Man United and the last few weeks it hasn't felt like Man United. It's not right. The bare minimum should be to work hard and give your all for the supporters and the badge.

"We need the mentality and willingness of running for your team. We never call each other out but we have to be real with each other. It's a matter of trying to improve each other."

While some may have put Rashford's comments down to 'holier than thou' posturing in an attempt to win a new contract, which duly arrived in July, there's little doubt he is now the talisman that should be speaking out.

Motivation an issue?

Rashford has become the player many fans are still hoping Martial will develop into. With nine goals in 15 Premier League matches, the England international is already just one behind his personal best for a full campaign.

With 12 goals in his past 13 matches for club and country, Rashford is in the form of his life – yet even as recently as this season he has been a target for criticism.

It has been suggested he struggles to make the difference against opponents who sit back, the games United are expected to control and data backs this up.

In 85 matches against teams not in the current top four or traditionally part of the so-called 'big six', Rashford has scored just 19 times, an average of one every 275.9 minutes.

It's a record that does raise valid concerns – after all, the best strikers score against pretty much everyone and anyone.

At home on the big stage

But what highlights Rashford's true ability and gives a clear insight to his mindset is the forward's record against the biggest clubs.

In 41 Premier League meetings against the 'big six' and Leicester, he has an impressive haul of 17 goals, one every 163.4 minutes.

Rashford's effectiveness in front of goal increases remarkably in such matches. Even though his shot frequency goes down from one every 28.8 minutes to 39.1 minutes, his accuracy is boosted significantly.

Against the biggest sides, Rashford's shot accuracy rises to 48 per cent from 40 per cent, while his chance conversion increases from 10 per cent to 24 per cent.

Rashford proved his decisiveness last time out against Tottenham and former manager Jose Mourinho, who often did little good for his confidence.

He suggested United generally do better against teams who don't invite pressure on to themselves – backed up by the fact they've only lost two of 11 matches against the rest of the 'big six' and Leicester.

And with a City side that hasn't kept a clean sheet in the Premier League for nearly two months next up, Rashford has another chance to prove any lingering doubters he's worthy of being regarded United's new talisman.

Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy has 14 goals for the Foxes this season with nine in his past seven Premier League games.

Vardy's form has sparked talk of a title challenge for Brendan Rodgers' side, with Leicester currently occupying second place - eight points behind leaders Liverpool.

The 32-year-old's current sequence has also drawn comparison with another of his hot streaks when Leicester last won the league. 

Vardy's incredible run of scoring 11 matches in a row, which broke Ruud van Nistelrooy's record of 10 goals in consecutive matches, was one of the most memorable moments of Leicester's championship-winning campaign of 2015-16.

"I don't think he is," Rodgers said, when asked if Vardy was thinking about breaking for the record again. "I think he just looks to the next game."

VARDY'S GOALS ECHO 5000-1 TITLE SEASON

When Vardy is flying, so are Leicester. There is something more than reminiscent about his current ruthlessness in front of goal. Or is there?

Vardy seems to be attempting fewer dribbles this time around – his tally of 13 so far is proportionally lower than the 33 he made in those record-breaking 11 matches. A sign, perhaps, his style is not quite as tenacious and direct as a few years ago.

He is marginally down on the number of shots on goal, too. He has attempted 24 shots in the past seven games versus 49 in 11 during 2015.

Vardy does, though, have two assists to his name during this streak against none last time around. An indicator of his experience, intelligence and awareness.

"I love his energy," said Rodgers. "I love his passion. He actually loves football, which helps. He knows the game."

 

HIGH-OCTANE VARDY STILL HUNGRY FOR GOALS

The well-documented pre-match routine has remained the same for Vardy under Rodgers.

Vardy still downs three cans of Red Bull, sips a double-expresso coffee and munches on a cheese and ham omelette ahead of kick-off.

He also remains as committed and hungry as ever, even though he turns 33 next month. It was only eight years ago he was working in a factory before turning professional for Fleetwood Town.

In the build up to the campaign, Vardy came back leaner and meaner than he has ever been. The Telegraph reported his pre-season his fitness statistics were 21 per cent better his best score in 2012, the year he joined the Foxes.

He has also been more accurate during this goalscoring streak. Vardy has a shooting accuracy of 72.7 per cent and a shot conversion of 37.5 per cent in his present run compared to 62.2 and 26.5.

 

FIVE GOALS FROM GREATNESS

Five goals in five games would see Vardy break the record he set in November 2015.

Leicester's next five games are Aston Villa (a), Norwich (h), Manchester City (a), Liverpool (h) and West Ham (a) and Vardy will be a near-certain starter provided he does not pick up an injury or suspension.

On paper, Liverpool and City might present Vardy's biggest test but he actually boasts an impressive record against the Premier League's top clubs.

His seven goals in 10 games against Liverpool is only bettered by the nine he has scored facing Arsenal in the same number of matches – no wonder they wanted to sign him in 2016! 

Against defending champions City, he has four goals in 10 appearances, one in four against Villa, one in two versus Norwich and three in nine against West Ham.

Chelsea can press on with their January plans after the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) halved their transfer ban on Friday.

The Blues were barred by FIFA from registering new players for two successive windows in February, having been found guilty of breaching rules relating to the international transfer and registration of players under the age of 18.

However, CAS has reduced that ban to one window, which the Blues have already served, giving Frank Lampard the green light to make fresh acquisitions next month.

We take a look at who could be arriving at Stamford Bridge during the mid-season market.

 

BEN CHILWELL

Left-back would seem the obvious place to start for Lampard.

Club captain Cesar Azpilicueta and Emerson Palmieri have been deployed there this season, but the latter has been linked with a move to Juventus.

With Marcos Alonso out of favour and Azpilicueta now 30, Chelsea might want a younger option in line with the parts of their first team now thriving.

Leicester City's Chilwell, 22, fits the bill, although he would not come cheap. Valencia's Jose Gaya is another mooted target who would likely command a smaller fee.

JADON SANCHO

Willian and Pedro are both out of contract at the end of the season and they appear destined to depart.

Teenager Callum Hudson-Odoi will be expected to have a bigger role and Christian Pulisic has impressed in recent weeks, but Lampard would welcome more attacking firepower.

Borussia Dortmund winger Sancho's time in Germany seems close to ending and the Londoner might relish a return to the capital.

However, if Sancho is to depart over the next two windows, Chelsea will be in a long line of interested suitors.

WILFRIED ZAHA

A move away from Crystal Palace failed to materialise in the close-season window for Zaha.

The former Manchester United winger is undoubtedly talented and proven in the Premier League.

However, Zaha's situation is complicated by the fact he signed a five-year contract in 2018.

Arsenal and Everton were reportedly keen a few months before the demises of Unai Emery and Marco Silva, but Chelsea represent a more attractive option.

NATHAN AKE

Fikayo Tomori and Kurt Zouma have been Lampard's preferred central-defensive partners, though the Blues have kept just three Premier League clean sheets in 2019-20.

Germany international Antonio Rudiger is due back soon but it is a former Blues defender who may be of interest in January.

It is believed Chelsea included a £40million buy-back clause in Ake's deal when he was sold to Bournemouth in 2017.

As was the case with Nemanja Matic, Ake has developed considerably during his time away from Stamford Bridge and could prove a relative bargain at his buy-back price.

MOUSSA DEMBELE

With 11 goals in 14 Premier League games, Tammy Abraham has shown he is capable of leading the line.

However, there are limited options behind him and they will be depleted further if Olivier Giroud, 33, leaves as expected.

Lyon striker Dembele, once of Fulham and Celtic, is thought to be of interest to the Blues.

The joint-top scorer in Ligue 1, Dembele is having a fine season. But would he be happy playing second fiddle to Abraham?

Pep Guardiola prevailed in his maiden managerial meeting with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and would dearly love another win on Saturday to remain in sight of Liverpool.

Manchester City did that with a routine 4-1 win at Burnley on Tuesday but their bitter rivals and next opponents perhaps took more from the midweek fixtures.

In overcoming Jose Mourinho's Tottenham, Manchester United shed a poor run of results and laid down some sort of marker for what is possible for a team that was in mid-table.

But with what Solskjaer described as his side's best display for a "long time" comes the need for another step forward at the Etihad Stadium.

 

CAN UNITED MAKE IT TWO STEPS FORWARD?

"We dominated the game and could have, should have finished the game there and then," Solskjaer side of United's first half against Tottenham.

They eventually completed the job against the Champions League finalists but what lies ahead is a tougher test and a true measure of the Norwegian's tactical acumen.

Daniel James and Marcus Rashford joined Mason Greenwood in attack on Wednesday and should in theory have the pace to trouble City on the break, much as Wolves did in October.

Rashford scored twice against Spurs and has now been directly involved in 14 goals in his past 13 games for club and country, a sharp improvement on his lean start to the season.

City, meanwhile, were back closer to their best in the convincing victory over Burnley but have failed to keep a clean sheet in eight games in all competitions.

Can the ageing Fernandinho cope alongside either John Stones, who professes not to know which games he will start, or the error-prone Nicolas Otamendi?

The man tasked with screening the defence could help, particularly as he faces a key midfield battle.

HEAD-TO-HEAD: RODRI V SCOTT MCTOMINAY

Rodri's thunderous strike at Turf Moor will have done wonders for the Spaniard's confidence ahead of his first Manchester derby.

The 23-year-old close-season recruit has had a bigger part to play in his first Premier League campaign than perhaps even Guardiola would have expected, in part due to Fernandinho's move into defence.

Rodri's ability on the ball was obvious before his arrival in England and it is of little surprise that his passing accuracy (91.73 per cent) is superior to the man he is set to meet in the centre of the Etihad Stadium pitch, Scott McTominay.

McTominay's average sits at 78.74 per cent but his importance to United was obvious as he helped the Red Devils end a three-game winless streak when returning from an ankle injury.

The Scotland international offers more in a box-to-box sense and has scored three goals to Rodri's two from the same number of appearances (13), while attempting 20 shots to his counterpart's seven.

That, though, is generally where his statistical superiority ends. Despite playing 178 more minutes, McTominay has managed just one more tackle and two more interceptions than Rodri.

The latter also boasts a better duel success rate (62.41 per cent to 55.74) and has laid on an extra seven scoring chances.

FORM GUIDE

City returned to winning ways against the Clarets after drawing on the road at Newcastle United, a result that left them 11 points adrift of Liverpool.

The club's record over their past 10 top-flight matches now reads seven victories, one draw and two defeats, those coming against Wolves and leaders Liverpool at Anfield.

United head across town fresh from a morale-boosting reunion with former manager Mourinho but have issues to rectify against fellow 'big six' teams.

They have won one of their past five away to such opposition and weaknesses were evident in recent trips to Bournemouth and Sheffield United, which reaped a solitary point.

HISTORY SAYS...

Guardiola's record in the Manchester derby makes for cheery reading for City supporters.

The champions prevailed 2-0 at Old Trafford in April, the Catalan's seventh win from 11 meetings with the team across town.

Another victory would see him become the club's second manager, after Manuel Pellegrini, to notch up three in a row against United in the Premier League.

The Red Devils do, however, hold the superior head-to-head record: 21 wins to City's 15, with the points split on eight occasions.

Several quizzical eyebrows are likely to have been lifted in Anfield and its surrounding areas when it was revealed Jurgen Klopp had left both Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino out of the starting XI for Wednesday's Merseyside derby.

The fixture congestion Liverpool, runaway leaders in the Premier League title race, are about to face has already been well-documented, but the decision to omit two members of their star-studded forward line for a derby game in which defeat would give hope to the chasing pack appeared a bizarre one on the surface.

Any Liverpool fan concerned by the five changes made to Klopp's XI need not have worried, as the third member of an attacking triumvirate that has tormented the Premier League produced a dazzling display, while the man who settled the last Merseyside derby at Anfield in remarkable circumstances added to his incredible scoring tally in this famous fixture.

Six goals were scored from six shots on target in the first half, with a frantic and thrilling affair offering plenty for the neutral, but precious little for Marco Silva to enjoy, with a 5-2 defeat to Everton's city rivals only likely to further talk he will soon be searching for alternative employment.


BALLON D'OR NOMINEES PRODUCE GOLDEN TOUCH

Virgil van Dijk missed out on winning the Ballon d'Or on Monday, as Lionel Messi took home the award for the sixth time. He was not he only Liverpool player some felt was snubbed, however, with Sadio Mane seen as unfortunate to finish fourth in the voting.

While Van Dijk enjoyed a relatively quiet evening, Mane - who came into the fixture with eight league goals - produced the kind of performance that will keep him firmly in the running for world football's top individual prizes.

His throughball for Divock Origi to open the scoring was unbelievably well-weighted, while his reverse pass to tee up Xherdan Shaqiri for Liverpool's second was simply sublime. After failing to register a single assist in his last 40 appearances at Anfield, Mane delivered two in the first half.

The move that led to Shaqiri's goal was started by an exquisite cross-field pass from Trent Alexander-Arnold - 19th in the Ballon d'Or voting - and it was the right-back who teed up Mane to make it 4-2 after popping up on the left wing in a glorious encapsulation of the freedom with which Klopp's side play.

Mane missed two gilt-edged chances to double his tally late on but, of Liverpool's seven Ballon d'Or nominees, it was he and Alexander-Arnold who shone brightest as the Reds set a club-record by going 32 league games unbeaten.


FIVE-STAR ORIGI

Origi was something of an outcast when he capitalised on Jordan Pickford's howler in the corresponding fixture last season.

Since then he has scored crucial goals in the semi-final and the final of the Champions League and he took his tally in the derby to five in fine fashion.

While there was obvious fortune about his winner last term, there was nothing lucky about either of his efforts time around, with the control he displayed to collect Dejan Lovren's long pass and lob Jordan Pickford to make it 3-1 particularly worthy of praise.

Only Steven Gerrard (9) and Robbie Fowler (6) have scored more Premier League goals in the Merseyside derby. Exalted company few would have expected him to keep 12 months ago.


LIVERPOOL'S CLEAN SHEET CONCERN

One of the most bemusing statistics of this season is that Everton have kept more clean sheets (3) than Liverpool (2).

Klopp will not have been satisfied with Liverpool's defensive showing, with their problems defending set-pieces laid bare once again.

Everton should have scored more and, when the effects of a packed schedule and the Club World Cup take hold, it is fair to wonder whether better sides such as second-placed Leicester City - who they face in their first game back from Qatar on December 26 - may capitalise more ruthlessly on any defensive lapses.

SO LONG SILVA?

In their 1-0 defeat in the previous campaign, Everton were well-organised and determined, and only a freak slice of misfortune denied them a point.

Silva's men displayed no such qualities on Wednesday. Liverpool were imperious going forward, but the ease with which Everton were cut open time and again was alarming.

Everton have not been relegated since 1951 but another chastening loss to their neighbours saw them drop into the bottom three.

Their Portuguese boss cut a forlorn figure on the sideline as he watched his side humiliated in arguably the headline game of a set of fixtures broadcast via an on-demand streaming platform. After their latest derby demolition, Everton fans are likely to be demanding change.

Jose Mourinho might well have had empathy for his Manchester United successor Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had Tottenham raided Old Trafford for maximum spoils.

The Portuguese knows more than most about the scrutiny and pressure that comes with the United manager's job, himself seen off by an awful stretch this time last year that provided neither style nor substance.

For Solskjaer, Mourinho's return will be followed by a trip to Manchester City, and the twin fixtures looked a daunting dual threat to a team and manager who before the Tottenham game were winless in three across all competitions.

At kick-off, Solskjaer was second favourite with the bookmakers to be the next Premier League manager sacked, trailing only Marco Silva, the struggling Everton boss who could not ended his team's Anfield derby hoodoo.

But rather than bury the United great, Spurs - this uncharacteristically unpredictable early Mourinho outfit - granted Solskjaer a reprieve, with his future prospects also belatedly boosted by a determined home display.

Supporters certainly seemed to have Solskjaer's back, still raucously chanting his name throughout, and United had, in Marcus Rashford, the star of the show.

Greater concerns surely belonged to Tottenham fans.

The usual stingy defending of a Mourinho team has not yet replaced the haphazard backline efforts of the final throes of Mauricio Pochettino's reign, while even the encouraging attacking endeavours of matches one, two and three - 3-2, 4-2 and 3-2 wins - did not materialise here.

Dele Alli scored a masterful 39th-minute equaliser, teed up with a touch reminiscent of his breathtaking 2016 goal against Crystal Palace, but the rest of his work was of underwhelming 2018-19 humdrum.

Unable to get his recent star performer into the game, just about everything went against Mourinho besides that leveller.

At the same end of the stadium where little over a year earlier, three weeks before his departure, Mourinho fumed at a Rashford miss against Young Boys and drew the ire of United commentators, the England striker laid early siege to Paulo Gazzaniga's Spurs goal.

Rashford's first strike provided the opener, creeping under Gazzaniga at the goalkeeper's right-hand post. A free-kick from Rashford was then whipped wide, and Gazzaniga touched a magnificent long-range effort against the crossbar before batting away a fourth attempt from United's main threat.

Mourinho, meanwhile, took a blow to the knee as Harry Winks cynically chopped down Daniel James in front of the dugout - an incident that granted the Spurs head coach a greater role in proceedings to that point than Alli, stifled and increasingly frustrated.

The attacking midfielder's stunning strike should have roused Tottenham but half-time intervened, and then so too did Moussa Sissoko, a man who painfully knows a thing or two about conceding penalties early in halves.

The felled Rashford tucked away the spot-kick for his 12th club goal of the campaign and, again, it was difficult not to be reminded of Mourinho's failure to get the best out of such a gifted player. The striker represents one check next to Solskjaer's name.

Much huffing and puffing followed from both teams, with United just about on top, but neither outfit truly convinced that their issues are behind them.

Unlike at times under Mourinho, United were indeed united, battling until the final whistle - led by Fred and the returning Scott McTominay - to protect the advantage secured by Rashford. Three points should ensure Solskjaer sees out the week, while a reality check might serve Tottenham well.

There is work to do for both United and Mourinho, long since separated, but each at least seem happier than at this time 12 months ago.

When Andy Ruiz Jr and Anthony Joshua clash in their rematch for the IBF, WBA and WBO heavyweight titles, the tactical battle should prove to be intriguing.

Ruiz shocked the world when he decked Joshua four times on the way to a huge upset win in New York in June.

The Briton will be out to prove that setback was just a bump in the road and bring his superior physical attributes to bear, while Ruiz will aim to show that stunning result was no fluke.

The men calling the shots from the corners will have had their plans in place for some time now. But will Joshua's coach Rob McCracken or Ruiz's cornerman Manny Robles be celebrating?

Here, we look at the two steadying influences behind the big men.

ROB McCRACKEN

Record

A former British light-middleweight champion and middleweight world-title challenger, McCracken rose to global prominence as Carl Froch's trainer – a calm and astute voice in the corner as 'The Cobra' enjoyed a thrilling run at the top of the 168lb division. He also oversaw Great Britain's amateur squad in the build-up to a triumphant 2012 Olympic Games, bringing him into contact with Joshua, the gold medallist he guided to world honours in 16 professional fights.

Career highlight

When London 2012 arrived on the heels of Froch's underdog shellacking of Lucian Bute, there was a strong case to be made that McCracken was the finest British coach operating across any sport at that time. Three-time world champion Froch enjoyed many memorable nights, but his dismantling of feared southpaw Bute at a fervent Nottingham Arena marked a thrilling high for both boxer and trainer.

Career low

The ever-laconic McCracken appears to have taken most of the noise in his stride since Joshua's world came crashing down. Nevertheless, luminaries such as Lennox Lewis openly questioned his credentials, while McCracken's subsequently retracted claim that he let his fighter box on while "concussed" drew widespread criticism. Joshua insists he never considered parting company with his head trainer but has brought additional help into his camp, adding Angel Fernandez and Joby Clayton to the team.

What he said

"I think my reputation should speak for itself and my first concern is always for the fighters. That should never be questioned," McCracken told reporters this week, before expressing unexpected solidarity with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. "At this level, you're going to take stick. It comes with the territory and I've got a thick skin. The Manchester United manager is going to take stick if they lose and this is the equivalent in boxing."

What they said

"I feel like where we come from, loyalty means everything," Joshua told BBC Sport when discussing his coach's position. "I'm not perfect, Rob's not perfect but we're definitely trying. If I have the attitude to change Rob, then I might as well have the attitude to stop boxing after I've lost."

MANNY ROBLES

Record

Robles followed in his father's footsteps by stepping into a boxing gym and picking up the pads. Like McCracken, he honed his pedigree among elite amateurs, coaching the United States’ national team. In 2016, he led Oscar Valdez and Jessie Magdaleno to world titles on the same bill in Las Vegas – serving notice of a burgeoning world-class stable.

Career highlight

Allowing for his previous successes, masterminding one of the biggest world-title shocks in the history of the sport stands alone. Ruiz did not simply beat Joshua because of the discombobulating "punch from the gods" in round three, but systematically took a befuddled champion apart – bringing intelligent footwork and under-rated hand speed to bear, while also attacking clinically to the body.

Career low

Ruiz's toppling of Joshua chimed so satisfyingly because of what came before. Valdez, Magdaleno, Dominic Breazeale and Michael Conlan all left his stable in relatively quick succession for differing reasons. Former WBO featherweight king Valdez remains undefeated, with Robles saying their split was down to the fighter's manager, Frank Espinoza.

What he said

"Andy's the world champion, so we have to make sure he stays disciplined and grounded. My job is to keep him in line and remind him what got him here," Robles told the Guardian after he and his pupil enjoyed their night of all nights. "I know Andy will listen. We've been through too much to give it all up."

What they said

"Manny, you’ve been by my side since day one," Ruiz told Robles at a recent workout, as reported by The Athletic. "Only you understand where I am and what I've been going through."

Page 1 of 41
© 2018 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.