After a schedule of Week 9 games that delivered several stunning offensive performances and absorbing finishes, Week 10 of the NFL season promises to be just as exciting.

There are marquee games aplenty as teams focus on the stretch run to the postseason.

From a fantasy perspective, a key NFC West matchup should have plenty of interest, as should a meeting between AFC heavyweights the Baltimore Ravens and a seemingly fading power in the New England Patriots.

Here we look at four players and a defense worthy of being considered for a place in your fantasy line-up in Week 10.


QB: Jared Goff - Los Angeles Rams

Widely available on the waiver wire, former number one overall pick Goff can be a difficult quarterback to trust

But if there was ever a spot in which to trust him, it is at home against a porous Seattle Seahawks secondary.

The Seahawks are surrendering 362.1 passing yards per game, by far the most in the NFL with the next-worst Atlanta Falcons (310.3) trailing them by a substantial margin.

Look for the creative mind of Sean McVay to scheme up plenty of ways to exploit the league's worst pass defense and help Goff deliver fantasy starter-level production in this crucial NFC West clash.

RB: J.K. Dobbins - Baltimore Ravens

The Baltimore running backs struggled to produce against a stout Indianapolis Colts defense in Week 9, but that should not be the case against a Patriots unit that is a long way short of its 2019 vintage.

Surrendering over 100 yards on the ground in five of their eight games this season, the Patriots are extremely susceptible to the run and, along with quarterback Lamar Jackson, Dobbins should be in an excellent position to capitalise on that deficiency.

After racking up 113 yards on 15 carries against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 8, Dobbins led the Ravens' running backs in attempts last Sunday with 12. A similar share of the workload versus New England should give him ample opportunity to reward fantasy managers astute enough to start him with another three-figure performance.

WR: Jarvis Landry - Cleveland Browns

The Browns are without Odell Beckham Jr. for the rest of the season after he suffered a torn ACL, and the game before their bye last week indicated Jarvis Landry will receive the bulk of the targets from Baker Mayfield in his absence.

Landry was targeted 11 times in a loss to the Las Vegas Raiders and, while he only caught four of them for 52 yards, that same level of opportunity is likely to result in a significantly more productive day against the Houston Texans.

The Texans allowed Jacksonville Jaguars rookie quarterback Jake Luton to throw for 304 yards and a touchdown on his debut last week, and Mayfield should have little trouble enjoying similar success, with Landry likely the primary beneficiary. Fantasy managers competing in points per reception leagues should not hesitate to slot Landry into their line-up.

TE: Evan Engram - New York Giants

Engram has at least five catches in each of the last three weeks and got into the endzone in Week 9 in the Giants' win over the Washington Football Team.

This week, the Giants face a Philadelphia Eagles defense that has consistently struggled to defend tight ends this season.

With six catches for 46 yards in the previous meeting between these NFC East rivals, Engram knows he can have success against a vulnerable group of Eagles linebackers, making him a strong starting option, particularly in PPR leagues.

D/ST: New Orleans Saints

A Saints defense that had been much maligned for underperforming in 2020 has rounded into form, as evidenced by the 38-3 throttling of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week.

Their opponents this week, the San Francisco 49ers, may have hopes of moving the ball better than Tampa Bay did given the play-calling acumen of head coach Kyle Shanahan.

However, the 49ers are starting a backup quarterback in Nick Mullens who has thrown four interceptions and fumbled four times in five games this season. Even if San Francisco succeed in putting up points, the potential for turnovers makes the New Orleans defense a smart fantasy play.

Ajax midfielder Ryan Gravenberch has been handed a first call-up to the Netherlands squad.

Gravenberch was promoted from the Under-21 squad after Tonny Vilhena was ruled out of the upcoming internationals due to a positive coronavirus test.

The 18-year-old will not be in the squad for Wednesday's friendly against Spain but could earn his maiden cap in the Nations League against Bosnia-Herzegovina or Poland.

Head coach Ronald de Boer will consequently have 24 players available to him for the crunch Nations League fixtures on Sunday and Wednesday.

Gravenberch has featured six times in the Eredivisie this season and supplied two assists. He is also the second-youngest player yet to miss a minute of action in the 2020-21 Champions League, after Illia Zabarnyi of Dynamo Kiev.

Only Dusan Tadic (71) and Daley Blind (68) have completed more passes in the opposition half for Ajax in their Group D campaign than Gravenberch (62), who was won more duels in the competition that any of his team-mates (21).

Liverpool's defensive injury crisis may have deepened further after it was reported Joe Gomez could be facing a lengthy absence.

Gomez is said to have suffered an injury during an England training session ahead of the friendly against Republic of Ireland on Thursday.

Premier League champions Liverpool are already facing the prospect of being without Virgil van Dijk for the rest of the season due to a serious knee injury the centre-back sustained in the derby against Everton last month.

Full-back Trent Alexander-Arnold is expected to be out for around for around a month due to a calf problem he picked up in the 1-1 draw with Manchester City on Sunday.

The loss of Gomez would leave Jurgen Klopp seriously depleted at the back and hoping Fabinho, who had filled in at centre-back, will soon be able to return from a hamstring injury.

Here we use Opta data from Liverpool's top-flight matches since Van Dijk's debut in January 2018 to look at the potential impact being without Gomez and the Netherlands international could have on the Reds.


More points, defence no tighter

In the Premier League games Gomez has featured in since Van Dijk's bow, the Merseyside giants have won 43 out of 56 and lost just four.

Klopp's men have conceded an average of 0.8 goals in each game both with and without Gomez during that time.

With Gomez involved, the Reds have a favourable win percentage of 76.6 compared to 74.4 when he has played no part. They have averaged 2.5 points per game when the former Charlton man has played and 2.4 when he has not. 

Gomez and VVD a profitable pairing

From the 52 matches Gomez and Van Dijk have played in together, Liverpool's win percentage is 76.9 compared to 74.5 from the 47 in which one or both has not been present.

The Reds have averaged an impressive 2.5 points per game with the duo featuring, that number dropping to 2.4 without at least one of them.

There has been no difference in the number of goals conceded, though, with just 0.8 shipped in each game when both, one, or neither have been involved.

Lewis Hamilton is on the brink of more Formula One history as the sport prepares to return to Turkey for the first time since 2011.

The Mercedes driver will win title number seven – a feat only Michael Schumacher has achieved previously – if team-mate Valtteri Bottas does not gain eight points more than him in Istanbul.

Hamilton's only previous win at this circuit came 10 years ago but few would bet against him doubling that tally after he responded to a tricky start to take the chequered flag at Imola last time out.

Bottas still has hope of prolonging the title battle, though, while there is plenty to play for further down the field in Sunday's race, which starts at 13:10 local time (10:10 GMT).


LAST TIME OUT

Hamilton surpassed Schumacher's record for race wins in Portugal and landed victory number 93 at Imola two weeks ago.

The Briton was beaten to pole by Bottas and slipped to third behind Max Verstappen after a sloppy start, but a strong drive on medium tyres and the benefit of a timely virtual safety car saw him claim a lead he was never likely to relinquish.

Bottas held onto second despite damage to the floor of his Mercedes, but the Finnish driver has now taken just five victories from 15 pole positions and sits 85 points adrift of Hamilton in the drivers' standings.

Verstappen spun off with a puncture, allowing Renault's Daniel Ricciardo to complete the podium, although he is 67 points behind Verstappen for the season.


WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR IN ISTANBUL

Bottas needs an eight-point swing over Hamilton to prolong the title battle until at least Bahrain on November 29.

The Turkish Grand Prix has not been held since 2011, when Sebastian Vettel won, but it remains a popular one among the drivers. The Istanbul Park circuit combines long straights and fast cornering but, unlike Imola, offers plenty of room for overtaking.

Verstappen's customary bold approach could well pay dividends as he looks to close the gap to the top two, while just 32 points separate Ricciardo in fourth and AlphaTauri's Pierre Gasly in 10th.

Mercedes might have strolled to another constructors' title, with Red Bull comfortably second, but the race for a top-three finish is heating up.

Renault are third, one point above McLaren and Racing Point, with Ferrari just 31 points further back. Williams remain the only scoreless team this season.

TOP FIVE OPTA STATS

Fast and furious – Bottas knows a win and a bonus point for the fastest lap would be enough to deny Hamilton a seventh world title... at least for now.

Pole vault – Few drivers have managed to reel in the pole-sitter in Istanbul. Only Jenson Button (2009) and Hamilton (2010) have won there without taking pole.

Renault on the right track – Ricciardo has a podium in two of the past three races but will hope to lead Renault to back-to-back top-three finishes for the first time since Australia and Malaysia in 2011 (Vitaly Petrov and Nick Heidfeld).

Clean sweep – Mercedes have taken pole at every grand prix since Abu Dhabi in 2019 (14 in a row and all 13 this season). No team have ever taken 100 per cent of pole positions in a single season.

Loyalty bonus – Hamilton is one away from surpassing Schumacher for the most race wins for a single F1 team. The German's record stands at 72 for Ferrari.
 

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

Drivers
1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) – 282
2. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) – 197
3. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) – 162
4. Daniel Ricciardo (Renault) – 95
5. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) – 85

Constructors
1. Mercedes – 479
2. Red Bull – 226
3. Renault – 135
4. McLaren – 134
5. Racing Point – 134

The enforced rescheduling of the 2020 Masters promises to make this year's tournament at Augusta National even more unpredictable than it always is.

Augusta's beauty is not borne just from its colourful, blooming azaleas (albeit they will have a far more Autumnal look this year). No, it is the way year after year it can chew up and spit out the greatest golf has to offer, providing drama at every turn.

With the coronavirus crisis meaning the battle for the green jacket was postponed from its traditional spot of April to November, it is more difficult than ever to try and pick a winner.

But six of Stats Perform News' finest have had a go at doing so ahead of the action getting underway, without fans, on Thursday.

THE TIME HAS COME FOR XANDER – Dan Lewis

After ending as runner-up last year and finishing in the top five in half of his major appearances, the time has come for Xander Schauffele to land his first big title. He was one of six players to have the lead at some point during the final round in 2019 and, with a year's more experience under his belt, he enters this tournament in good stead.

HATTON CAN COMPLETE JOURNEY FROM WANNABE TO SUPERSTAR – Jon Fisher

Winner of the European Tour's flagship event at Wentworth in October, Tyrrell Hatton appears in great shape to do the same on the other side of the pond. He doesn't possess the greatest record at Augusta with a finish of 44th his best in three attempts but an accurate long game and deft touch around the greens make him well-placed to crown a breakthrough 2020. Don't be surprised to see him donning the Green Jacket on Sunday to complete his transformation from petulant wannabe to global superstar.

THIS IS DUSTIN'S YEAR AT AUGUSTA – Chris Myson

World number one Dustin Johnson is yet to win the Masters but has placed in the top 10 in each of his last four Augusta appearances, including his tie for second last year, while he was cruelly denied in 2017 when he fell down a staircase ahead of the event. This could finally be his year, with Johnson in fine form: six straight top-10s included winning the Northern Trust and impressive showings at the other two majors.

DECHAMBEAU PRIMED TO GO BACK-TO-BACK – Peter Hanson

It was always likely to be a case of when not if Bryson DeChambeau became a major winner and now the man dubbed 'The Mad Scientist' has overcome that mental hurdle by dominating at the U.S. Open, there is no reason to suggest he cannot go back-to-back in the majors. A bulkier DeChambeau averaged the longest driving distance off the tee in the 2020 PGA Tour season (322.1 yards) and already leads the statistics in the 2021 campaign (344.4), albeit having only played eight rounds. Augusta is not exactly a course you can just blitz – you need touch around the green, solid putting and the ability to scramble – but it is certainly going to do his chances no harm.

WINGED FOOT WAS A BLIP, RAHM WILL CONTEND AT AUGUSTA – Joe Wright

He might have had a disappointing time at the U.S. Open in September, but there's little reason to discount Rahm from challenging for a maiden major this week. The Spaniard triumphed at the Memorial Tournament and the BMW Championship following the PGA Tour's return, making 2020 the most successful year of his career. While finishing 23rd at Winged Foot was frustrating, Rahm was just a stroke behind winner Patrick Cantlay at the Zozo Championship last month, hitting 11 of 13 fairways and 14 of 18 greens in regulation in an impressive final round.

BEING UNDER THE RADAR MIGHT SUIT MCILROY – Timothy Abraham

Rory McIlroy heads into his 12th Masters a little out of sorts. The Northern Irishman has slipped down the rankings, from first to fifth, since golf restarted after lockdown. He finished 21st at the CJ Cup and 17th at the Zozo Championship last month, results that do not exactly bode particularly well form wise. But without any of the usual pre-Masters hype, the pressure will firmly be off the 31-year-old heading to Augusta. McIlroy's last win at a major came with a second PGA title in 2014, but that elusive green jacket might just come out of the blue.

Joan Mir claimed his first MotoGP win last Sunday and just seven days later can wrap up the title at the same track.

Suzuki Ecstar rider Mir opened up a 37-point lead at the top of the riders' standings with victory in the European Grand Prix, putting him on the brink of a second world championship after his Moto3 triumph in 2017.

A podium finish at this weekend's Valencian Grand Prix would see Mir extend Spain's dominance of the top category into a ninth year, following the successes of Jorge Lorenzo in 2012 and 2015 and Marc Marquez in each of the other campaigns

Lights out is scheduled for 14:00 local time (13:00 GMT) on Sunday.

LAST TIME OUT

Mir became the fifth rider to claim their maiden MotoGP win in the 2020 season after overtaking team-mate Alex Rins with 11 laps remaining in the first race at Circuit Ricardo Tormo.

Fabio Quartararo's hopes of keeping the pressure on the championship leader were severely dented by a crash at turn eight, from which he could only recover to finish 14th.

Rins followed Mir over the line to give Suzuki their first one-two since 1982, with pole-sitter and Red Bull KTM Factory Racing rider Pol Espargaro unable to end his wait for a first win in the premier class.

WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR IN VALENCIA

There is no significant pressure on Mir to produce big this weekend – he could seal the title without scoring any points, while finishing as low as seventh would do the job as long as Quartararo, Rins or Maverick Vinales do not win in Valencia.

Suzuki could have another reason to celebrate as well, with a first constructors' title since 1982 in reach for the Japanese manufacturer in the penultimate grand prix of the year.

Marc Marquez has confirmed he will not return this season so Stefan Bradl will hope to make the most of his final two races as the six-time champion's replacement at Repsol Honda.

Another rider looking to go out with a bang will be Andrea Dovizioso, who announced this week he will take a sabbatical in 2021 after his eight-year association with Ducati ends.

TOP FIVE OPTA STATS

Breaking new ground – Mir could give Suzuki their seventh world championship in the premier class. It would be their first in the MotoGP era and first since Kenny Roberts Jr in 2000.

Double digits – His success last weekend made Mir the ninth different winner in the 2020 MotoGP season, equalling the record set in 2016; never before have 10 different riders topped the podium in the same campaign in the premier class.

Demise of a challenger – After winning the first two races of the year, Quartararo has only reached the podium in one of the past 10 races.

Unhappy hunting ground – Vinales has not finished in the top three in each of his past five races, his worst run since going six without doing so in 2016. He is yet to score a MotoGP podium at Circuit Ricardo Tormo.

Retiring Rossi – Monster Energy Yamaha rider Valentino Rossi has retired from four straight grand prix starts for the first time in his career in all categories. He has five abandonments in total in 2020 and has never had six in the same campaign in his 25 seasons in all categories.

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

Riders

1. Joan Mir (Suzuki Ecstar) 162
2. Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha) 125
3. Alex Rins (Suzuki Ecstar) 125
4. Maverick Vinales (Monster Energy Yamaha) 121
5. Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha) 117

Teams

1. Suzuki Ecstar 287
2. Petronas Yamaha 205
3. Ducati 194
4. Red Bull KTM Factory Racing 182
5. Monster Energy Yamaha 159

Kai Havertz has revealed he opted to join Chelsea because winning titles with the Blues "is worth more" than at other clubs.

The Germany international was linked with a number of heavyweight sides after scoring and assisting a combined 38 Bundesliga goals for Bayer Leverkusen in the past two campaigns.

Chelsea completed the club-record capture of Havertz in early September and the versatile forward has already made 10 appearances for his new side.

Real Madrid and Bayern Munich were among the sides credited with an interest in Havertz, but Chelsea ticked all the right boxes for him.

"To me, it was important to have a club with a vision," he told Sport Bild. "The club is on the move. We are a young team with a lot of great players. We think aggressively.

"We want to build something here and attack. This motivates me. And then, a title with Chelsea is just worth more.

"A transfer like this doesn't happen overnight. I had to go through all options and things which are important to me. I was watching a lot of Premier League on TV anyhow and knew Chelsea really well."

Havertz has been directly involved in two Premier League goals in his first seven outings and has created eight chances from open play, a tally matched only by Reece James and Mason Mount among Chelsea players.

He is one of seven first-team signings made by Frank Lampard this year and says compatriot Timo Werner, another of the high-profile captures, has helped him settle into life in a new country.

"I help Timo with good passes on the pitch and, at the beginning, he helped me out with a lift to the training ground," he said.

"We do a lot of things together. This helps a lot. But we also must go our own ways to fully settle here.

"To me, the move to England is also an important step for my personal development."

Havertz is one of six different German players to have scored a Premier League goal for Chelsea, along with Werner, Antonio Rudiger, Andre Schurrle, Marko Marin and Michael Ballack.

Paulo Dybala will become the next Lionel Messi but only if he leaves Juventus and joins a club like Real Madrid or Barcelona, says former Palermo president Maurizio Zamparini.

The Argentina international has struggled for minutes under Andrea Pirlo this term, starting just three of Juve's 10 games in all competitions.

He was criticised for his attitude after being brought on as a second-half substitute in last weekend's 1-1 draw with Lazio and has again been linked with a move away next year.

Zamparini was Palermo president during Dybala's time at the club and has urged the 26-year-old to take his previous advice and depart the Allianz Stadium at the earliest possible opportunity.

Asked about previously labelling Dybala "the new Messi", Zamparini told Tuttosport: "Yes and I am still convinced about that. Why should I have changed my mind?

"Besides being a champion, Paulo is also a very good guy. I can't understand why many people forget that.

"Paulo should have followed my advice from three years ago, which was to leave Turin. I told him clearly: 'Paulo, for your own good, you must leave Juventus.'

"He plays fantasy football that is more suited to Spanish teams like Barcelona or Real Madrid. But he has always told me he feels good at Juventus."

He added: "Paulo is a champion and not a deputy. At Juventus they have Cristiano Ronaldo, a true phenomenon, and Dybala must play against Ronaldo with another big team.

"Ronaldo is like [Zlatan] Ibrahimovic – very strong players with an incredible personality and crazy experience. They are two champions I would have liked to have had.

"With Cristiano at Juventus, however, I advise Paulo to become a number one choice elsewhere."

Dybala has yet to score in his three Serie A outings in 2020-21, despite managing nine shots, behind only Alvaro Morata (11) and Ronaldo (21) among Juve players.

He has created four chances, which ranks below Aaron Ramsey (eight), Juan Cuadrado, Alvaro Morata (both 10) and Dejan Kulusevski (11).

But Zamparini is shocked the forward is not given more opportunities by Pirlo, who was brought in as Maurizio Sarri's successor after their Champions League exit to Lyon last season.

"When I listen to football shows, people talk about the Juventus line-up and forget all about Dybala. I don't understand why. That Dybala is not a starter in Serie A is a blasphemy," he said.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen is desperate for more trophies after committing his future to Barcelona by signing a new contract.

The Catalans announced last month that Ter Stegen, Gerard Pique, Frenkie de Jong and Clement Lenglet had all agreed to extensions.

The Germany goalkeeper's new deal runs until 2025 and contains a release clause of €500million.

Ter Stegen, who returned to action this month after a knee injury, has been one of Barca's few major transfer success stories in recent seasons.

The 28-year-old, who signed from Borussia Monchengladbach in 2014, has won 12 trophies with Barca including four LaLiga titles, four Copas del Rey and the 2014-15 Champions League.

Ter Stegen has felt at home in the city since his arrival and is now keen for more silverware – and to celebrate in front of fans again.

"Barcelona has become a home for my family and I," he said in a video published by the club. "Both on and off the pitch, we are very happy.

"So, it was clear, the direction to take. The ambition from both myself and Barca has always been to reach a renewal agreement, to continue our story, which we started together in 2014.

"It's not just about playing for the biggest club in the world; it's more than that. The city and the fans have treated me like one of their own since the beginning, and this is important to me. A feeling I will never forget.

"I want to be a player at Camp Nou for many more years and keep winning trophies. There is no greater motivation. Hopefully, in the near future, with our fans once again."

Since his LaLiga debut, Ter Stegen has kept 64 clean sheets in 152 games, a tally bettered only by Atletico Madrid's Jan Oblak (110 clean sheets in 198 games).

He has maintained a save percentage of 74.4 per cent, which is the fourth-best in Spain's top flight among keepers to make at least 100 saves, and a passing accuracy of 83 per cent – the highest in the division for his position.

Ronald Koeman is backing Antoine Griezmann to find consistent form for Barcelona but will not rule out a bid to sign Memphis Depay.

France star Griezmann, a €120million signing from Atletico Madrid last year, has struggled to impress on a regular basis alongside Lionel Messi at Camp Nou.

The forward, who missed a penalty against Real Betis last week before scoring in Barca's 5-2 victory, has just two goals, one assist and four chances created to his name in seven LaLiga appearances this season.

Koeman thinks the 29-year-old is bound to hit top gear, though, as long as he maintains his strong work ethic.

"He needs a bit more confidence and scoring goals always gives you that confidence," Koeman told Mundo Deportivo.

"You can't say he doesn't work, he works a lot, but maybe he feels a little more free when he's with the national team, having been with them a long time and always playing in the same position.

"There's are many more things besides, but a player who is working and trying so much to change things, I think in the end he'll get to where he wants to be.

"His best position is maybe more central, as a number nine, a number 10 behind a nine, with a lot of freedom on the right wing cutting in, with [Ousmane] Dembele playing more outside.

"They're positions in which he can give a lot to this team."

With Griezmann out of sorts and Ansu Fati sidelined for four months after meniscus surgery, Barca have been tipped to make a new move for Lyon forward Depay.

The Catalans agreed terms with Depay during the previous transfer window but a deal could not be struck between the clubs, and the Ligue 1 side's president Jean-Michel Aulas insists they will not sell the player in January even though his contract expires at the end of the season.

However, Koeman will not discount the prospect of signing the Netherlands international, with whom he worked while in charge of the national side and who has been directly involved in eight goals in Ligue 1 this season, a tally bettered only by Kylian Mbappe.

"Now is not the moment to talk about players who aren't here. For me, it's not good," he said.

"It's true his name has come out and he's played every game with our national team as a number nine.

"Everyone can have their opinion, but not here, and we'll see what happens in the future."

Koeman also suggested a deal could yet be struck to sign Eric Garcia from Manchester City, adding: "Well, I don't know. It depends on Manchester City."

Speaking to Sport, Koeman admitted captain Lionel Messi had been "unhappy" when he first arrived at the club, the forward having tried unsuccessfully to leave in the wake of the 8-2 Champions League destruction by Bayern Munich, a club-record defeat in the competition. 

Messi's form has been questioned in 2020-21, the Argentina star having failed to score from open play or register an assist in his first six LaLiga matches.

He produced a star turn off the bench against Real Betis, however, scoring twice, assisting another and playing a key role in Griezmann's goal as Barca claimed a 5-2 victory.

"I spoke to him on the first day, totally frankly, and I've never doubted him," Koeman said of the six-time Ballon d'Or winner.

"I see him training every day and enjoying playing. I said on the first day that he's the best player in the world and of course I prefer to have the best in the world in my team.

"As I said after the game against Betis, if he's well, he'll always start."

Jack Grealish may still be some way off living up to the outlandish Paul Gascoigne comparisons unloaded on him recently, but there can be little doubt of the Aston Villa star's supreme abilities.

Few players in elite football possess the grace and effortlessness on the ball of Grealish, who has come to establish himself as one of the Premier League's finest technicians.

But there is even more to his game than just simply looking graceful – his influence on high-flying Villa has been phenomenal.

It seems remarkable that his first call-up was as recent as August – even then, he was not included in the initial list, only getting his break after the withdrawals of Marcus Rashford and Harry Winks.

It was not until October that Grealish was handed his full debut, impressing in the 3-0 friendly win over Wales as he offered the kind of off-the-cuff creativity that has so often been missing from England's largely monotonous style of play under Gareth Southgate.

Yet Southgate's trepidation seemed to remain – Grealish did not play a single minute in their next two games against Belgium and Denmark.

But the man who Rio Ferdinand believes is the Premier League's most influential player respective to their own team is showing the kind of form that would make him virtually undroppable for any other manager.

Creator-in-chief

The problem with Grealish – and one must assume this is at least partly why Southgate has been holding him back – is that his defensive output is pretty poor, and he is particularly ineffective with regards to winning possession back as a consequence of pressing.

But sometimes you have to accept a player's deficiencies because of his other abilities. Similarly, Grealish is not in the Villa team to win possession back, so why should we judge him too harshly on this?

The fact is, Villa have been one of the revelations of the season in the Premier League, winning five of their seven matches, and Grealish has been central to so much of what they do.

First of all, his haul of four goals and five assists from seven games is truly excellent, but we can delve much deeper to understand the extent of his influence.

Grealish has been involved in 10 goal-ending sequences this term, second to only Harry Kane and Son Heung-min (both 13), while he also ranks third in the division for involvement in sequences that end with a shot (51).

This shows his importance to Villa going forward, with Grealish routinely involved in their most rewarding moves.

Panache and productivity

Still require evidence of Grealish's impact? There is plenty more to come, and this gives us the chance to highlight his ability on the ball but also how he is using that to Villa's advantage.

Ball carriers or players who like to dribble can be among the most frustrating on a pitch – you can become accustomed to expecting them to succeed every time, but in reality holding on to the ball, particularly when under pressure, is one of the toughest parts of the game.

It is normal to see centre-backs and full-backs rank well with regards to ball carries as they are often the players with the most space when in possession, yet Grealish bucks the trend.

The Villa virtuoso has performed 149 carries this season, making him the only non-defender in the top five, an impressive feat as it show he carries the ball frequently despite operating in – theoretically – the most congested area of the pitch.

His ball carries equate to 1,980 metres, second only to Adam Webster (2,032m) despite 48 fewer attempts than the Brighton and Hove Albion defender. However, Grealish comes out at the top with respect to progressive carry distance (1,269m) and 15 of them have included a take-on, a tally bettered by just five players.

But most importantly, Grealish is actually making an impact at the end of them as well. A league-high nine of his carries have resulted in a key pass, another nine have led to a shot (ranked third) and three of those produced a goal (ranked second).

The form and focus Grealish has been showing in the Premier League – in which he is the fourth most creative player this term with 19 key passes – should ensure he is one of the first picks in this England side, a team that is too often overly cautious.

But it remains to be seen if he has done enough to eradicate Southgate's caution.

A likely start in Thursday's friendly with the Republic of Ireland, whom Grealish represented at youth level, might be a relatively meaningless contest on the face of it, but for Villa's captain it could provide the opportunity to induce a long-awaited epiphany in the mind of Southgate.

Several stars will hope to make their first senior appearances for their countries this week as international football returns.

While most European nations will prepare for their final Nations League matches with friendlies in the coming days, South America is straight back into competitive action with the latest rounds of 2022 World Cup qualifiers.

A host of players are celebrating call-ups and will be doing their utmost to win their first caps, particularly with less than a year to run until the delayed Euro 2020 and Copa America finals.

We've picked out six of the biggest names hoping to make an impact on their debut this week...

 

ENGLAND: JUDE BELLINGHAM

Borussia Dortmund's Jude Bellingham was called up by England boss Gareth Southgate after injuries to Trent Alexander-Arnold and James Ward-Prowse.

The 17-year-old, who will be England's third-youngest debutant if he plays this month, has enjoyed a strong start to life in the Bundesliga and beat the likes of James Maddison and Ross Barkley to a spot in the Three Lions squad.

Key Fact: Bellingham is averaging 68 successful passes per 90 minutes in the Bundesliga this season for Dortmund, the highest figure for any teenage midfielder in Europe's top five divisions.

FRANCE: MARCUS THURAM

Didier Deschamps said Ruben Aguilar could also make his debut this week, but it is Borussia Monchengladbach's Marcus Thuram who is capturing much of the focus on the France squad.

The son of 1998 World Cup winner Lilian Thuram, who holds the record for France caps on 142, striker Marcus Thuram scored both goals in Gladbach's 2-2 Champions League draw with Real Madrid.

Key Fact: Thuram has been directly involved in 20 league goals since the start of last season (11 goals and nine assists) – the only Gladbach player with more in this period is fellow Frenchman Alassane Plea.

GERMANY: FELIX UDUOKHAI

Along with Philipp Max of PSV and Wolfsburg's Ridle Baku, Augsburg's Felix Uduokhai is a new face in Joachim Low's Germany squad, having been a runner-up at the European Under-21 Championship last year.

The 23-year-old defender joined Heiko Herrlich's side permanently after impressing on loan from Wolfsburg last season and has performed well in a mixed start to the season for the Bavarians.

Key Fact: Uduokhai has already amassed 43 clearances in Augsburg's opening seven Bundesliga matches this season, the most of any player in the division.

ITALY: PIETRO PELLEGRI

Roberto Mancini named a handful of uncapped players in his typically expansive Italy squad, but Pietro Pellegri's debut has been eagerly awaited for some time.

Having missed out through injury after his previous call-up two years ago, the 19-year-old forward - who cost Monaco €25million in January 2018 - is getting his career back on track after a raft of fitness problems.

Key Fact: Pietro Pellegri is the third-youngest player to score a Serie A goal, doing so aged 16 years and 72 days for Genoa against Roma in May 2017. He is also the youngest player to score a Serie A brace at 16 years and 184 days old for Genoa against Lazio in September 2017.

SPAIN: MARCOS LLORENTE

At 25, it feels as though Marcos Llorente's Spain debut has been a long time coming, but his performances in a more attacking role for Atletico Madrid this season have truly caught the eye.

The former Real Madrid man, who famously scored twice at Anfield in extra time to knock Liverpool out of last season's Champions League, has helped Atleti to an unbeaten first seven games in LaLiga in 2020-21.

Key Fact: Llorente has been directly involved in 11 goals in his past 21 appearances in LaLiga (six goals and five assists) – prior to this run, he had a total of zero goals and two assists in 69 appearances in the competition.

BRAZIL: DIEGO CARLOS

Diego Carlos played a key role to help Sevilla win the Europa League in his first season in Spain. Indeed, having conceded penalties in the quarter-final, semi-final and final, it was his overhead kick that Romelu Lukaku turned into his own net to hand Julen Lopetegui's side the trophy.

The 27-year-old centre-back, who joined after three years with Nantes, is now bidding to become a mainstay in Tite's plans as the Copa America and 2022 World Cup loom on the horizon.

Key Fact: Diego Carlos has started seven sequences of play that have ended with Sevilla attempting a shot in LaLiga this season, the joint-most of any centre-back in the division alongside Gerard Pique.

Tampa Bay Rays boss Kevin Cash was named American League (AL) Manager of the Year for 2020, while Miami Marlins counterpart Don Mattingly reeled in National League (NL) honours.

Cash was crowned the AL's best after leading the Rays to their first division title since 2010 and first MLB World Series appearance in 12 years.

An AL Manager of the Year finalist in 2018 and 2019, Cash received 22 of the 30 first-place American League votes for 126 points, ahead of the Chicago White Sox's Rick Renteria (61) and Toronto Blue Jays skipper Charlie Montoyo (47).

"When I think about this award, it feels like a team award," Cash, whose Rays fell to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the showpiece clash, said. "I feel like it's an organisational award, because it's really your staff and your players have to buy in.

"We've taken our lumps for a couple years, and it looks like we're starting to turn the corner a little bit."

"I do think it's an organisational award," Cash, who became the second Rays skipper to win the award, joining Joe Maddon (2008 and 2011), continued. "But it certainly means a lot to me personally.

"When you look at these awards, there's only two that are given out every year, and to be recognised as one of the better ones on that given season means that a lot of things went your way."

In the NL, Mattingly and the Marlins capped a remarkable season with a managerial gong.

Mattingly received 20 of the 30 first-place votes after guiding the Marlins to their first playoff appearance in 17 years, despite a coronavirus outbreak that threatened to derail their campaign.

He became the third Marlins manager to receive the honour, along with Jack McKeon (2003) and Joe Girardi (2006), following Miami's run to the NL Division Series.

Mattingly is also the fifth individual to claim both the MVP Award and Manager of the Year title, joining Don Baylor, Frank Robinson, Kirk Gibson and Joe Torre.

"As I look back to the season, I think about all the people that paid the price for this," Mattingly, who beat Jayce Tingler of the San Diego Padres to the award, said.

"It starts at home with my wife and my little five-year-old. I didn’t see 'em for 110 days."

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick described his decision to leave the New York Jets in 2000 as one of the greatest moments of his illustrious career.

Belichick has enjoyed a remarkable career in the NFL, leading the Patriots to six Super Bowl titles since his appointment two decades ago.

The most successful head coach in NFL history, Belichick resigned on the day he was due to front the media as the Jets' new coach 20 years ago.

After the Patriots (3-5) topped the winless Jets (0-9) 30-27 on Monday, Belichick recalled his stunning departure from New York.

"That was one of the not only most defining, but one of the great moments of my career," Belichick WEEI in Boston on Tuesday.

"That combined with Robert [Kraft] giving me the opportunity to come here, I couldn't have asked for anything more."

Belichick had joined the Jets in 1997 and served as the team's assistant head coach and defensive co-ordinator before Bill Parcells stepped down at the end of the 1999 season.

Parcells had arranged for Belichick to succeed him in New York however, the latter went on to take charge of the Patriots in a bizarre turn of events – New England giving up a first-round draft pick to prise the former Cleveland Browns coach.

Belichick added: "That wasn't a good situation for me and I didn't want to be a part of it, so I wasn't. The other half was Robert giving me the opportunity to come [to New England].

"Trading, he gave up quite a bit for me to come here, that was a big trade. I'm very thankful that it worked out.

"I appreciate all the support from Robert, the Kraft family, the Patriots' organisation and all the New England fans. I'll keep trying to do my best for this team, and this organisation, giving the very best that I can.

"I'm very thankful for the opportunity to come here and I just wasn't going to stay there in that situation."

Nick Folks' 51-yard field goal was the longest game-winning field goal with no time remaining in the fourth quarter in Patriots history as New England snapped a four-game losing streak, per Stats Perform.

Patriots quarterback Cam Newton completed 18 passes to undrafted wide receivers in the victory over the Jets (Jakobi Meyers 12, Damiere Byrd five and Gunner Olszewski one). It was the most completions to undrafted wide receivers by any QB in a win during the Super Bowl era.

Spain head coach Luis Enrique backed Barcelona sensation Ansu Fati to pick up from where he left off once he has recovered from a knee injury.

Fati will spend four months on the sidelines after undergoing surgery on a tear to the internal meniscus of his left knee – an injury sustained in Saturday's 5-2 LaLiga win over Real Betis

The 18-year-old has been in great form for Barca this term, scoring five goals and assisting two more in 10 appearances in all competitions.

Among a number of other records, he became the youngest ever scorer for Spain with his goal against Ukraine in September.

That was one of four caps earned under Luis Enrique and the former Barcelona coach is confident the teenage attacker will find his best form once he returns to action.

"Regardless of how old you are, injuries are part of football," Luis Enrique said at a news conference ahead of Wednesday's friendly with the Netherlands. 

"It is a sad moment but he will overcome it. He will be the old Ansu again."

Fati's absence could give the likes of Alvaro Morata and Marcos Llorente a chance to shine in attack against the Netherlands.

Atletico Madrid midfielder Koke is back involved for the first time in over two years, while team-mate Llorente is in line for his maiden cap this international window.

"Morata is here because he has the confidence of his coach. He has a strong profile," Luis Enrique said.

"Llorente is almost already playing as a forward at Atletico now as the second striker. 

"The normal thing is to change your position, becoming deeper in your role, but with Llorente it is the other way around."

Spain enter the midweek friendly in Amsterdam on the back of a surprise 1-0 Nations League loss to Ukraine last month.

La Roja have won only two of their five matches this calendar year but Luis Enrique insisted all that matters is that his side peak in time for next year's rescheduled Euro 2020 finals.

"These games will help us to see all the players," he said. "But after playing these three games we still won't know what we have for the European Championships. 

"That will be seen in the tournament itself, where we can do very well. We'll see. I like what I see. You have to be optimistic and positive. Spain's real level will be seen at the Euros."

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