On this day in sport: Shearer makes his mark, one-handed pitcher Jim Abbott debuts

By Sports Desk April 08, 2020

Few players have had an impact on Premier League football like Alan Shearer, the greatest goalscorer the competition has seen.

The former England striker started out at Southampton in the old First Division, before going on to enjoy goal-laden spells with Blackburn Rovers and the club he supported as a boy, Newcastle United.

His impact was significant at all three, but his legacy is arguably felt the most at St. James' Park, where he spent the final 10 seasons of his career.

His goalscoring feats began on this day in 1988, but April 8 has also proven momentous in baseball, as we examine below.

1974 - Hank Aaron overtakes Babe Ruth

For many years after Babe Ruth's retirement in 1935, his record of 714 home runs looked unbeatable until 'Hammerin' Hank' Aarons became the first to surpass Ruth on April 8 ,1974. He might have done so earlier were it not for racially motivated death threats so prolific that his team – the Atlanta Braves – had to hire him a secretary to sift through it. The US Postal Service believe he received more than 930,000 pieces – positive and negative – in 1973. He broke Ruth's record against the Los Angeles Dodgers and later retired on 755, a record which stood for 33 years until Barry Bonds went beyond it in August 2007.

1988 - Alan Shearer makes his mark

Over 400 goals in professional football at international and club level,  it all started for Shearer on April 8, 1988. Then at Southampton, a 17-year-old Shearer had already made some substitute appearances, but with Arsenal visiting The Dell, he was afforded a first league start. In a 4-2 win, Shearer scored a hat-trick, becoming the youngest player to do so in top-flight history at 17 years and 240 days old. He went on to make a habit of setting new records over the following 18 years.

1989 - One-handed pitcher Jim Abbott debuts

There aren't many sports where manual dexterity is more crucial than in baseball. That said, Jim Abbott enjoyed a successful career in MLB despite only being born with his left hand. He pitched for the California Angels, New York Yankees, Chicago White Sox and Milwaukee Brewers, starting out for the former, where he made his debut 31 years ago.

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  • How does Upamecano compare to Liverpool's defenders amid transfer talk? How does Upamecano compare to Liverpool's defenders amid transfer talk?

    Liverpool may need to make a January move for a centre-back after Virgil van Dijk's serious knee injury. 

    The Premier League champions were dealt a huge blow with Van Dijk set to miss most - if not the remainder - of the season after a tackle from goalkeeper Jordan Pickford in the Merseyside derby draw against Everton. 

    Liverpool have been left with just two senior centre-backs – Joe Gomez and Joel Matip – with Van Dijk's injury, although defensive midfielder Fabinho can also provide cover. 

    Unsurprisingly, there have been transfer rumours in the aftermath, with the Reds linked with RB Leipzig defender Dayot Upamecano and Brighton and Hove Albion centre-back Ben White. 

    Having joined Leipzig from Salzburg for a reported €10million in 2017, Upamecano re-signed earlier this year, but he apparently has a €42m release clause in his contract – although that can only be triggered at season's end. 

    Upamecano is highly rated in Europe and, using Opta data, we assess how his performances compare to Liverpool's defenders.

    Bright future awaits, but would Upamecano improve Liverpool?

    Upamecano, 21, helped RB Leipzig finish third in the Bundesliga and reach the Champions League semi-finals last season.

    The France international's tackling numbers were particularly impressive when compared to Liverpool defenders Van Dijk, Gomez and Matip.

    In the Bundesliga last season, Upamecano had 1.95 tackles per 90 minutes – with Matip (1.66 per 90 in just nine Premier League games) the closest of Liverpool's trio. However, only Van Dijk (52.2) had a worse tackle success rate than Upamecano (58.8), with Gomez and Matip both above 69.

    In the Champions League, Upamecano had 3.4 tackles per 90 minutes , well above Van Dijk (1.08) and Gomez (1.59), and also at a better rate (56) than the Liverpool trio. Matip, often injured in 2019-20, played just 90 minutes in total in Europe's top club competition last season.

    Ready to do battle

    Upamecano contested the most duels (87) of the four in the Champions League, and went at a success rate of 71.26, similar to Van Dijk (70 duels and 74.29 success rate), while he also had a comparable number of headed clearances per 90 minutes (2.04 to Van Dijk's 2.28) and interceptions (1.63 to 1.08). Gomez had 2.64 interceptions per 90 minutes in the Champions League last season.

    Van Dijk's absence will also hurt Liverpool aerially, with the Dutchman an imposing figure in Jurgen Klopp's back four.

    Upamecano, who stands at 186cm, was between Van Dijk and Gomez when it came to aerial duels last season. He won 18 of 27 aerials in the 2019-20 Champions League, a rate worse than Van Dijk (33 of 47) but better than Gomez (24 of 41).

    It was a similar story in the respective leagues, although he contested fewer than Liverpool defenders. An area Upamecano fell short in, at least domestically, was in being dribbled past by an opponent, which happened 20 times in 28 Bundesliga games, a figure ranking him below both Van Dijk (seven times in 38) and Gomez (11 in 28), but ahead of Matip (seven in nine). 

    Boosting Liverpool's build-up play

    A problem set to be exacerbated by Alisson's injury absence, Van Dijk's passing ability in defence is also important to how Liverpool function.

    In this area, Upamecano may offer the Reds the most. In the Champions League last season, his passing accuracy in the opposition half was 83.1 – higher than the Liverpool trio, including Van Dijk (82.7). When it came to passing accuracy ending in the final third, Upamecano again topped the list (74.1), ahead of Gomez (71.6), and that included averaging 11.7 passes into the final third per 90 minutes.

    In domestic action, Upamecano also topped the list in these categories, and his passing accuracy in the opposition half to begin this Bundesliga season is 84.7, while Van Dijk, Gomez and Matip have all dropped off from last season in this area.

  • Ibrahimovic has 'shifted the balance more' in Italy than Ronaldo Ibrahimovic has 'shifted the balance more' in Italy than Ronaldo

    Zlatan Ibrahimovic has had a greater impact on Italian football than Cristiano Ronaldo, according to former Milan and Juventus head coach Alberto Zaccheroni. 

    The 39-year-old has made a considerable impact since rejoining Milan in January, scoring 11 goals in 20 appearances in the second half of the 2019-20 campaign.

    He has been in equally impressive form this season despite missing almost a month after contracting COVID-19, taking his tally to four goals in just two games with a double against Inter at the weekend. 

    One of the best strikers of his generation, Ibrahimovic spent two years with Milan earlier in his distinguished career, a stint that included securing the Serie A title in 2011. 

    Ronaldo, meanwhile, has been just as prolific since he joined Juve from Real Madrid in 2018, scoring 68 goals in 91 appearances across all competitions. 

    Zaccheroni, though, is in no doubt which player has had more influence on Serie A. 

    "I have coached great champions in my career, from [Oliver] Bierhoff to [George] Weah up to Adriano but the only regret I have is that I never trained Ibrahimovic," he told Il Giornale.

    "He is eternal and I still don't understand why he never won the Ballon d'Or.

    "In Italy, he has shifted the balance more than Ronaldo. It is no coincidence that many young players have grown exponentially since his arrival.

    "He doesn't just score. He transmits confidence to all his team-mates, carrying the team on his shoulders in difficult moments."

  • Real Madrid 'should never have let Cristiano Ronaldo leave for Juventus' Real Madrid 'should never have let Cristiano Ronaldo leave for Juventus'

    Cristiano Ronaldo is a "machine of sacrifice" who should never have been allowed to leave Real Madrid, according to Shakhtar Donetsk head coach Luis Castro.

    The six-time Ballon d'Or winner scored a club-record 450 goals for Madrid and won five trophies during his nine years in the Spanish capital.

    He left for Juventus in a mega-money deal in July 2018 and has maintained his impressive form with 68 goals in all competitions, helping his side to successive Serie A titles.

    That includes a return of a combined 69 goals and assists in the Italian top flight since the start of 2018-19 – two more than next best Ciro Immobile at Lazio.

    Ahead of Shakhtar's Champions League Group B opener with Madrid on Wednesday, Castro has questioned the LaLiga giants' decision to let the superstar forward depart.

    "When you have Cristiano on your team you should never let him go. Never," he told Marca.  

    "We are talking about the best, the most effective footballer in the world, a machine, a machine of sacrifice."

    Ronaldo was crowned the world's best player five times at Madrid and once during his spell with Manchester United, where he spent six seasons after joining from Sporting CP. 

    And Castro argued the Portugal international has done enough throughout his career to rightly be considered the greatest player to have ever played the game.

    "I do not like to compare. But yes, for me he is the best," Castro said. "Cristiano has a story behind him that is exemplary. 

    "He moved at just 11 years of age to Lisbon to be a footballer, leaving his home. Cristiano is someone that has risen alone, with a unique determination.

    "For me he is an example for all children. People criticise Ronaldo too much. 'What if he does this, what if he spends so much money on this or the other?'.

    "Yet he responds on the field every game, being aware of where he comes from. 

    "The day they make a Cristiano movie and people see where he really comes from, how he became a footballer, he will be valued much more."

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