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.

Tom Brady got the better of Aaron Rodgers in the most high-profile game of an NFL Sunday that also saw the Pittsburgh Steelers and Tennessee Titans move to 5-0.

The Seattle Seahawks are the only undefeated team remaining in the NFC after Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers recovered from a poor start to earn an emphatic 38-10 win over the Green Bay Packers.

Pittsburgh crushed divisional rivals the Cleveland Browns, while the Titans needed overtime to win a wild encounter against the Houston Texans in an AFC South battle.

With all but two Week 6 games now played, we reflect on the best statistics from another thrilling slate.

Brady and Gronk connection is back

The Bucs defense played its part against the Packers, but it was also a decent game from Brady, who had a 104.9 passer rating (166 yards, two TDs).

Rob Gronkowski had a slow beginning to his 2020 NFL return, but he was targeted on eight occasions this time, hauling in five catches for 78 yards (47 per cent of Brady's total) and a touchdown.

Brady and Gronk have now combined for 91 TDs, including postseason play, with this score seeing them surpass Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates for third on the all-time list for a QB-receiver pairing.

Steve Young and Jerry Rice (92) are next in their sights, though they have some way to go to catch Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison (114).

With starting tight end O. J. Howard out for the season, a resurgent Gronk in addition to star receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin should keep Brady and the 4-2 Bucs firing.

Rivers bounces back

Philip Rivers had made an underwhelming start with the Indianapolis Colts, so he needed a big performance and duly delivered one as his team rallied to beat the Cincinnati Bengals 31-27.

The 38-year-old recorded 371 passing yards and three touchdowns with one interception as receiver Marcus Johnson (five catches, 108 yards) enjoyed a big game.

It was the 30th time Rivers produced a 300-yard game with at least three TDs, only the sixth player to reach that milestone behind quarterback greats Drew Brees (67), Brady (51), Manning (46) and Rodgers (36).

Titans make history

The Titans' thrilling 42-36 win over Houston saw Ryan Tannehill throw for 364 yards (four TDs and one INT), while Derrick Henry rushed for 212 yards (two TDs), including an epic 94-yard score.

As a result, they became the first team in NFL history with a 350+ yard passer and a 200+ yard rusher in the same game.

Henry's 264 yards from scrimmage (he had 52 receiving yards) was a career-high and he became the first player to record a 200+ yard rushing game in three consecutive seasons.

He also equalled the record for rushing touchdowns of at least 90 yards (two), as well as drawing level with O.J. Simpson and Barry Sanders with five rushing scores of 70+ yards.

Only Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson (both seven) have more in that category.

Patriots stumble without Brady

Life after Brady was never going to be easy for the New England Patriots, but few would have expected them to lose 18-12 at home to the Denver Broncos.

They lost despite the returning Drew Lock throwing two poor interceptions in the fourth quarter, while the victorious Broncos did not score a touchdown in the game.

Lock became only the second QB to defeat the Pats under Bill Belichick in a road game while throwing multiple interceptions, joining Hall of Famer Kurt Warner, who did so in Week 10 of the 2001 season when he won the MVP award.

New England dropped to 2-3, so are now below .500 through five games for the first time since 2001, the year Brady went on to win his first Super Bowl.

The Pats' streak of 18 straight seasons above .500 after five weeks of play had been the longest in NFL history.

Year of the comeback

The Colts' win saw them come from 21-0 down, while the Bucs were in a 10-point hole before recovering to beat the Packers.

Those games continued a 2020 trend of dramatic fightbacks and this is the first-ever NFL season where at least one team has won after being at least 16 points down in each of the first six weeks.

Nineteen games have seen comebacks of 10 or more points, tying the records set through Week 6 from the 2011 and 1987 campaigns.

The Colts' remarkable victory, though, was the first time since Week 1 of the 2016 season that a team has recovered from as many as 21 behind. 

The last occasion had seen the Kansas City Chiefs trail 24-3 before fighting back to win 33-27 in overtime against the Chargers, who then represented San Diego.

The 2020-21 Premier League season is on course to smash the record for the most goals in a campaign if teams can continue the stunning free-scoring start to the term. 

Through 46 games, there have been 171 goals scored at incredible average of 3.72 per match.

If that extraordinary rate continued, this season would see teams net 1,414 goals between them in England's top flight.

It is comfortably leading the average for most goals per game in the Premier League era and is on track to top 2018-19, which saw 2.82 goals per match for a total of 1,072.

The other top-scoring seasons have been similar, with an average of 2.81 goals per game in 2011-12 and 2.80 in each of 2010-11, 2012-13 and 2016-17.

Of the matches played so far this season, 12 have seen six goals or more, including Aston Villa's 7-2 thrashing of Liverpool and Tottenham's 6-1 win at Manchester United before the international break.

The weekend saw Southampton and West Ham come from behind to draw six-goal thrillers at Chelsea and Tottenham respectively.

West Ham produced an epic late comeback, started by Fabian Balbuena's 82nd-minute goal and capped off with Manuel Lanzini's 94th-minute stunner.

"I can't quite work it out if the quality of the forwards are so good, probably being a defender myself I'm looking at it from the other side and it's a lack of good defending," West Ham manager David Moyes told Sky Sports, discussing why games were so open this season.

"I do think we're probably seeing an awful lot more goals than we've seen for a while. Whether that's to do with the crowds, or whatever that may be, I'm not sure. I can only put it down to not very good defending.

"There's more risks taken, I think we're seeing the games played at one end and then the other, the way it's going at the moment. I think it's exciting, it's good, but if you're a purist you want to see good defending as well.

"I've always said the best teams in the league will have the best defence and the best defensive record. If you're wanting to do well, you've got to have a good defence."

The early season signs prove Moyes right. Aston Villa have conceded just twice in four Premier League games and are the only team with a perfect record after Sunday's late 1-0 win at Leicester City.

Everton are a point clear at the top after four wins and a draw from their opening five games, although they have conceded seven goals.

Tottenham fans got to see Gareth Bale don the famous shirt once more in Sunday's Premier League clash with West Ham.

The Wales star came off the bench at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium for his first appearance in England's top flight since May 2013, but it proved a frustrating outing.

From 3-0 up when Bale was introduced in the 72nd minute, Tottenham were pegged back as the game finished in a 3-3 draw.

The 31-year-old, who previously played for Spurs between 2007 and 2013, joined Jose Mourinho's side on loan from Real Madrid after winning four Champions Leagues with Los Blancos.

Bale had only 25 goal involvements (17 goals, eight assists) across his final two seasons with Madrid, having managed 61 (38 goals, 23 assists) in his last two campaigns with Tottenham.

Players returning to clubs where they enjoyed great success is nothing new, but are the second acts ever as good as those we witness first?

DIEGO MARADONA - BOCA JUNIORS

One of the world's greatest players, Maradona completed a dream transfer from Argentinos Juniors to Boca in 1981, going on to score 28 times in 40 league games for the club he supported as a boy. With the lure of Europe, a world-record transfer to Barcelona followed, but Maradona finished his career back in Argentina with Boca. However, by that point he was a shadow of his former self, scoring just seven times in 30 appearances from 1995 to 1997.

Key stat: Maradona played in 10 Primera Division seasons in his home country, though he would win just one piece of silverware - the 1981 Metropolitano - in his first stint at Boca.

ROBBIE FOWLER - LIVERPOOL

Known as 'God' at Anfield, Fowler was the homegrown hero who led the line for the Reds for much of the 1990s. He was sold to Leeds United in 2001, having had a difficult relationship with manager Gerard Houllier, who preferred Michael Owen and Emile Heskey in attack. After a spell at Manchester City, Fowler returned to Liverpool on a free in 2006, but the three league goals he scored in 2006-07 were all penalties.

Key stat: Fowler remains Liverpool's all-time leading scorer in the Premier League having netted 128 times in 266 games.

WAYNE ROONEY - EVERTON

Another talented Merseyside youngster, Rooney made a memorable breakthrough at Everton with a brilliant winner against Arsenal in 2002, though his relationship with fans of his boyhood club soured when he joined Manchester United, for whom he became the club's record scorer. Relations thawed over time and Rooney came 'home' for 2017-18 - but he was often deployed in a deeper midfield position in his second spell.

Key stat: Rooney scored 10 times in the Premier League during his second stint at Goodison Park - the only time he reached double figures for Everton in a league campaign.

KAKA - MILAN

The Brazilian enjoyed a fruitful six years at San Siro, winning the 2007 Ballon d'Or, a Serie A title and a Champions League while scoring 70 goals and providing 48 assists in 193 league games. Kaka never truly hit those heights again as a Real Madrid Galactico and returned to Milan for 2013-14, though he was unable to rediscover his magic.

Key stat: The forward averaged a goal involvement every 131 minutes in his initial spell with Milan, but that fell to 219 minutes second time around.

MARIO GOTZE - BORUSSIA DORTMUND

A product of BVB's youth academy, Gotze, like his team-mates Robert Lewandowski and Mats Hummels, was eventually lured to rivals Bayern Munich. The midfielder, who scored the winning goal for Germany in the 2014 World Cup final, struggled at times for form and fitness during three seasons with Bayern and that continued back at Dortmund, where he spent four more seasons before leaving earlier this year. Gotze has since joined Dutch giants PSV.

Key stat: Gotze scored 22 goals at a rate of one every 263 minutes in his first four-season spell with Dortmund. During his second stint, he scored 13 at a rate of one every 351 minutes.

ZLATAN IBRAHIMOVIC - MILAN

Of course it is the enigmatic Swede who proves things can be just as good second time around. Ibrahimovic enjoyed a brilliant two-season run at Milan between 2010 and 2012 - scoring 42 times and providing 17 assists in 61 Serie A games. Ibrahimovic returned to Milan in January and, in 20 Serie A games so far, he has scored 14 goals and assisted five more.

Key stat: Ibrahimovic's minutes-per-goal involvement stood at one every 91 minutes in his first Milan spell, and this time around on average he has played a part in a goal every 81.3 minutes.

Everton and Liverpool played out a thrilling and controversial Merseyside derby on Saturday, while Pep Guardiola brought up his 500th managerial win.

Mohamed Salah and Dominic Calvert-Lewin both continued their scoring streaks in a dramatic encounter at Goodison Park, which finished 2-2 in contentious fashion.

Manchester City then saw off Mikel Arteta's Arsenal 1-0, after Chelsea had been pegged back to a 3-3 draw by Southampton, with Manchester United bouncing back from their 6-1 defeat to Tottenham with a comprehensive 4-1 win at Newcastle United in the late match.

Here, using Opta data, take a look at the key stats from Saturday's games.

Everton 2-2 Liverpool: Salah reaches century as Calvert-Lewin keeps on scoring

The reigning champions were humbled against Aston Villa before the international break, though Jurgen Klopp's side responded in force at Goodison Park.

Yet their efforts were not enough to claim a win over their rivals, who had Richarlison sent off late on, with Jordan Henderson's late strike contentiously disallowed by VAR.

Salah netted the 100th goal of his Liverpool career in his 159th appearance to put Liverpool 2-1 up – only Roger Hunt and Jack Parkinson have made it to the century in fewer appearances for the club. 

Salah's partner in crime Sadio Mane opened the scoring early on. It was the Reds' fastest ever goal in a Premier League derby, though Everton have done it quicker in the fixture , with Olivier Dacourt scoring after just one minute in April 1999.

Andrew Robertson provided the assist, the full-back's 14th since the start of the 2018-19 season. Only Kevin De Bruyne (21) has managed more in the English top flight, yet the lead did not last for too long, Michael Keane heading in James Rodriguez's delivery, with the Colombian having set up three league goals for the Toffees so far.

Calvert-Lewin got Everton's second and what proved to be the encounter's final goal, with his 12th headed goal in the top flight since the start of last term.

Having also struck on his England debut, the forward continued his fine start to the campaign, becoming the first Everton player to score in the first five league games of a season since Tommy Lawton, way back in 1938-39. 

Chelsea 3-3 Southampton: Walcott back with a bang

Kai Havertz's first Premier League goal looked set to be enough to secure a 3-2 win for Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, but Jannik Vestergaard snatched a point for Southampton.

Though Timo Werner and Havertz broke their Premier League ducks, becoming the fifth and sixth Germans to score for Chelsea in the competition in the process, Frank Lampard's defensive issues once again came to the fore.

With Danny Ings and Che Adams having already capitalised on defensive lapses, Theo Walcott, making his first Saints appearance in 14 years and 276 days, lashed in a stoppage-time shot which Vestergaard headed in.

It means Southampton have lost just one of their last eight away Premier League games (W4 D3) after losing two in a row directly before that in February.

Chelsea, meanwhile, have conceded an average of 1.5 goals per game in the Premier League under Lampard (63 in 43 games), the Blues' worst rate under any boss to oversee more than one game in the competition.

In the process of getting off the mark in the Premier League, Werner has now scored 30 league goals since the start of last season – only Robert Lewandowski, Ciro Immobile and Cristiano Ronaldo have scored more goals in Europe's top five leagues.

Manchester City 1-0 Arsenal: Sterling brings up Pep's 500th win

Raheem Sterling's fourth goal in his past three games got Manchester City back to winning ways, and sealed a landmark victory for Guardiola in the process.

Sterling sat out England's recent matches with a hamstring issue but was back in action to score midway through the first half in Manchester.

Guardiola has now won 500 games in all competitions as a manager (including Barcelona B), winning 172 as City boss.

City are unbeaten in their last 10 Premier League encounters with Arsenal (W8 D2), since a 1-2 loss in December 2015, though Arteta did guide the Gunners to a win in last season's FA Cup semi-final.

Arsenal are winless in their last 29 Premier League away games against "big six" opponents (D10 L19), however, and have lost each of their last seven top-flight games against City, their longest such run against an opponent since losing seven in a row to Ipswich Town between 1974-1977.

Ederson has kept 53 clean sheets in the Premier League since his debut in August 2017; 15 more than any other goalkeeper in this time, while Sterling has been directly involved in each of City's last five goals in all competitions (four goals, one assist).

Newcastle United 1-4 Manchester United: Fernandes strikes again despite penalty miss

After their dismal defeat to Spurs at Old Trafford, United needed a response, though matters looked bleak when Luke Shaw's early own goal put them behind at Newcastle.

However, Harry Maguire – after a tumultuous time with England – struck back, with Bruno Fernandes missing a penalty before scoring a wonderful goal to restore United's lead.

Fernandes' penalty miss was his first for United on what was his 11th spot-kick since his debut on February 1, with those 11 six more than any other Premier League player has taken in that time.

However, with his goal and subsequent assist for Marcus Rashford, who added a fourth after Aaron Wan-Bissaka had made it 3-1 in emphatic fashion, Fernandes has been directly involved in 20 goals in his 18 Premier League appearances for United (11 goals, nine assists).

Newcastle conceded four goals at home in the Premier League for the first time since April 5, 2014, also against the Red Devils.

United enjoyed their 10th comeback win against Newcastle in the Premier League, the most by any side against a single opponent in the competition, while Steve Bruce's side are now without a clean sheet in seven top-flight games, their longest such run without a shut-out on home soil since February 2014.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side have been awarded 17 penalties in the Premier League since the start of last season, five more than any other side in the competition (12 scored).

With his brilliant strike, Wan-Bissaka became the 116th different player to score for United in the Premier League in what is his 38th league appearance for the club, as Rashford registered three goal involvements in a top-flight match for the third time.

For the first time since January 2016, Milan is red and black. For the first time in eight seasons, the Rossoneri might just be in a title race.

Saturday's 2-1 victory over Inter ended a nine-game winless run in Serie A away games against their city rivals, who had won each of the previous four derbies. It was also Milan's 1,400th victory in the top flight, a tally only previously reached by Inter and Juventus.

But this was all about the present, about a Milan side who look capable at last of at least returning to the Champions League. They are vibrant, spirited and clinical – everything a modern team needs to be. It just so happens that their star performer turned 39 two weeks ago.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored twice in three minutes at San Siro to put Milan on their way. He won a penalty after driving beyond Aleksandar Kolarov and drawing a foul and was then alert enough to turn in the rebound after Samir Handanovic saved his spot-kick. He struck again 16 minutes in, an emphatic first-time finish at the end of a swift break that left Inter on their knees. He now has eight goals in this fixture, six for Milan and two for the Nerazzurri, and is only four behind record-holder Giuseppe Meazza. He tested positive for coronavirus three weeks ago.

Milan rode their luck from there, it's true. Romelu Lukaku, who pulled back a goal in the first half, could conceivably have scored four. He spurned a free header, won a penalty only for VAR to intervene with an offside call, and he prodded wide when it seemed harder to miss. The man who had scored with every 1.7 shots in Serie A this year looked suddenly without poise in front of goal.

But this is a mark of this Milan, Stefano Pioli's Milan, a team who have scored in 24 league games in a row, taken 57 points in 2020 and won their first four league matches of a season for the first time since 1995-96: after years in the relative wilderness, they are not pushovers any more. They make you falter.

Ibrahimovic is at the heart of that. He exudes authority and demands success, even now, less than a year out from his 40th birthday. Only Silvio Piola has scored twice in four separate Serie A games after turning 38 other than the Swede, and there is no doubt Ibrahimovic will do so again. The man who scored 14 goals in 29 games to fire Milan to their last Scudetto in 2010-11 is dragging them into another title race few would have expected 12 months ago.

How Inter boss Antonio Conte would have wished for such displays from his own veterans. This was not a game that reflected well on his insistence on signing experienced heads over exuberant talent.

Kolarov distributed well as part of the back three, completing 39 of 49 passes, but looked every inch a converted full-back who turns 35 in November as even Ibrahimovic ran beyond him. Arturo Vidal, a Conte stalwart from their Juventus days, was a midfield wrecking ball who was taken off before he was sent off. Alexis Sanchez and Christian Eriksen were thrown on in hope more than expectation, as Inter ended the second half with just one shot on target.

Inter's title credentials may have taken a hit, but Milan's are only getting stronger. Four wins from four, nine goals scored and one conceded is form to be reckoned with, however early in the season it may be.

The Kansas City Chiefs added another high-profile player to their offense this week, signing Le'Veon Bell to a one-year deal.

Bell arrives in Kansas City having been released by the New York Jets, who had attempted to trade the running back.

He joins a backfield that has endured a difficult start to the season despite the Chiefs taking running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire with their first-round pick in the draft this year.

Here we assess Edwards-Helaire's performance to this point, if the Chiefs need Bell and whether he can turn their running game around.

EDWARDS-HELAIRE STRUGGLING TO MEET EXPECTATIONS

Much was expected of Edwards-Helaire when the LSU star was selected by the Chiefs with the final pick of the first round.

It was a move seen by many as stacking the deck further in the favour of the most explosive offense in the NFL.

Edwards-Helaire's debut performance did little to dispel that notion as he rushed for 138 yards and a touchdown in the season-opening win over the Houston Texans.

However, he is averaging under four yards a carry in the last four games, providing scant indication he has improved the running game.

METRICS MAKE DIFFICULT READING

Edwards-Helaire's struggles are illustrated by his performance in Rushing Yards Over Expected (RYOE).

RYOE is an NFL NextGen Stats metric that measures the difference between actual rushing yards and expected rushing yards on a play or series of plays.

The rookie is average minus 0.15 RYOE per attempt and is facing eight-man boxes on 14.81 per cent of his carries.

To contextualise that, Raheem Mostert of the San Francisco 49ers leads the NFL with 2.94 RYOE per attempt and has faced eight-man boxes on 20.59 per cent of his carries. 

In other words, teams are more frequently loading up to stop Mostert, a former undrafted free agent, than they are Edwards-Helaire and the Niners starter is still gaining over three yards RYOE more than the Chiefs rookie.

Much of Mostert's success in that regard is because of his speed. He leads all running backs in yards before first contact per attempt with an average of 5.4.

Edwards-Helaire is not blessed with the same pace, with his game much more reliant on evading defenders and breaking tackles.

Yet Edwards-Helaire has not really excelled at shrugging off defenders either, he is 16th among qualifying players with 2.4 yards after contact per attempt and averages a broken tackle every nine carries (13th in the NFL).

It is early, but at this stage Edwards-Helaire has not lived up to the billing. So, will Bell's arrival help?

BELL FAILS TO TAKE FLIGHT

When he elected to sit out the entire 2018 season after being franchise-tagged by the Pittsburgh Steelers, Bell was regarded as one of the best and most versatile running backs in the game.

His star has fallen considerably since then. Bell's spell with the Jets could hardly have gone worse and he averaged minus 0.41 RYOE per attempt in 2019.

Bell also ranked last among 47 qualifiers in yards before contact per attempt with a paltry 1.2 and was 32nd in yards after contact (two yards per attempt).

The two-time All-Pro would probably make the case that his struggles were as much down to the lack of talent around him on the Jets' offense as his own standard of play.

There is credence to that argument. The Jets ranked 29th in total offense last year and things have declined further in that regard this season.

Even if Bell is not the running threat he once was, the numbers suggest he can provide the Chiefs with yet another weapon in the passing game.

PASSING GAME UPSIDE

Edwards-Helaire has lived up to expectations in terms of being a valuable receiving threat out of the backfield.

The rookie has caught 17 of his 27 targets from Mahomes for 169 yards, an average of 9.9. yards per reception.

While Bell has seemingly experienced a steep decline since his exit from Pittsburgh, he too remains a threat as a pass-catcher.

He caught 66 of his 78 targets in 2019 for 461 yards and a touchdown, posting an impressive average of seven yards per reception in his sole full season in New York.

The pass-catching prowess of Edwards-Helaire and Bell gives the creative mind of Andy Reid the option of using both as receivers out of the backfield, adding another potential string to the bow of one of the league's most diverse offenses.

DO THE CHIEFS NEED A RUNNING THREAT?

Given the proficiency of the Chiefs' passing attack and Mahomes' ability to lead them back from almost any deficit, some may question whether they even need a viable running game.

Mahomes led Kansas City back from three successive double-digit deficits during their playoff run to Super Bowl LIV glory last season.

However, it should not be forgotten that key to their success was running back Damien Williams, who was in the Super Bowl MVP conversation for his efforts in the 31-20 win over the 49ers.

Williams was fifth in the NFL with 0.75 RYOE per attempt in 2019 and tied Derrick Henry for the NFL lead with 3.2 yards after contact per carry.

He opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns and, through five games, the Chiefs do not look like replacing his impact.

Bell's brief time with the Jets did little to suggest he can help in that regard but, on a short-term deal, it is worth the Chiefs taking a low risk to see if he can rediscover some of his Steelers form and provide the crucial support to help Edwards-Helaire's career take off.

Mohamed Salah's goal in Saturday's Merseyside derby took on added significance for the Liverpool star.

Salah's effort at Goodison Park marked his 100th in all competitions since joining the Reds in 2017.

He has emphatically shaken off the tag of Premier League flop following his failed spell at Chelsea and is now of European football's top forwards.

Here, using Opta data, we break down his century of Liverpool goals in all competitions.

 

A DEADLY DEBUT SEASON

Salah hit the ground running in his first season with the Reds, scoring 44 goals and providing 14 assists in all competitions.

He has never come close to matching that tally - scoring 27 and 23 in the last two campaigns - with his minutes per goal ratio of 93.6 from 2017-18 comfortably the best of his Liverpool career.

The Egypt forward averaged 160.6 minutes per goal in his second season and a goal every 176.3 in 2019-20.

PROWESS IN THE BOX

Exceptional with the ball at his feet, Salah has the ability to weave around defenders at will.

However, long-range individual efforts have not been a prominent feature of his goalscoring exploits since joining Liverpool.

Indeed, 10 have come from inside the box, including 11 penalties. As many as 80 of his goals have been scored with his left foot compared to just 16 with his right, while he has netted four headers.

FIRMINO THE FULCRUM

The creative fulcrum of Liverpool's front three, Roberto Firmino has been the most frequent provider for Salah.

Firmino has assisted 16 of Salah's goals, with Sadio Mane playing the key final pass on nine occasions.

Liverpool's full-backs, Trent Alexander-Arnold (six) and Andrew Robertson (eight) have combined to set up the former Chelsea and Roma forward 14 times. 

SALAH FULL OF VITALITY

Anfield is obviously Salah's happiest hunting ground, he has found the net 63 times at his home stadium.

Away from Merseyside, the Vitality Stadium is the ground where he has been most prolific, with Salah scoring five goals in three games at that venue.

It is no surprise, therefore, that Bournemouth are among his favourite opponents. 

Salah has scored eight times against the Cherries, a tally he has only matched against Watford.

KANE HIS CLOSEST CHALLENGER

Since August 2017, no Premier League player has scored more than Salah's 100 goals in 159 appearances.

Harry Kane is closest with 97 in 130 appearances, putting him on track make it to 100 in much quicker time.

Salah is the fifth player in Europe's top five leagues to reach a century in that time, joining Robert Lewandowski, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Ciro Immobile.

However, he does not come close to matching Lewandowski's goalscoring prowess, the Bayern Munich forward scoring 140 goals in 146 games.

Roberto Firmino's importance to Liverpool is undoubtable.

Ahead of Saturday's Merseyside derby against Everton, manager Jurgen Klopp again defended the forward over his lack of goals, with Firmino yet to find the net for the Premier League champions this season.

And for good reason. As Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane dominate the headlines and the goals, Firmino plays a key role for Liverpool.

Using Opta data, we take a look at how Liverpool go with and without Firmino, plus his output.

 

No doubt over Firmino importance

His output constantly questioned, Firmino's importance to Liverpool has often been highlighted on the rare occasions he has been absent for the Reds.

The data shows the same. Since Firmino's arrival from Hoffenheim for a reported £29million in 2015, Liverpool have played 194 Premier League games.

Klopp's side have a win percentage of 64.8 when the durable Firmino has played, compared to 53.3 in the 15 games they have been without him. They also collect more points per game (2.2 to 1.9) with Firmino.

While Liverpool have scored slightly more without Firmino (2.2 average goals for to 2.1), they have more shots, possession, crosses and passes into the final third with the Brazil international, highlighting his link-up ability and movement. Both passing accuracy and accuracy in the opposition half is slightly higher, too.

With Firmino having scored 29 of his 57 Premier League goals away from home – Liverpool have also been completely dominant at Anfield – their winning percentage on the road in the league without him is just 37.5, compared to 58.4 with him.

Firmino provides balance

Salah and Mane have been two of the Premier League's best attackers in recent seasons, so it is no surprise Firmino's goal involvements are below his star team-mates. Since their respective arrivals at Anfield, Salah has an incredible 106 in 112 games and Mane has 86 in 130, with Firmino (57 goals and 37 assists) contributing 94 in 179.

A key factor to that has been Firmino's inability to convert as well as his team-mates. Salah was the last of the trio to arrive at Liverpool, joining Firmino and Mane with his move from Roma in 2017. Since then, Firmino's big chance conversion sits at 41.3 per cent, compared to Salah (49.5) and Mane (46.2), although he also gets far fewer opportunities. The Egyptian has had 1.02 big chances per 90 minutes, more than both Mane (0.85) and Firmino (0.65).

And while Salah has enjoyed a spectacular Liverpool career, Firmino's goal involvements have also been consistent at and away from Anfield. Since the trio came together, Firmino has been directly involved in 31 goals in 58 away league games, similar to his 28 in 55 at home. On the road in that time, Salah has 39 in 54 games, while Mane's drops off to 25 in 50.

Plus, Firmino balances out the front three. He has a considerably better dribble success rate (61.1) than both Mane (52.3) and Salah (51.5) since the dynamic trio formed their partnership, while he can also drop deeper, providing 3.7 passes into the final third per 90 minutes, compared to Mane's 3.1 and Salah's 2.2.

Liverpool may need more goals from Firmino, but there is no doubt about his importance to Klopp's side.

Gareth Bale is set to join a Tottenham attack which already has Harry Kane and Son Heung-min established as one of the most productive partnerships in Premier League history.

Wales international Bale is nearing his second debut for Spurs, whose fans are understandably excited about the impact he could have after signing on loan from Real Madrid.

Even without him, though, England captain Kane and South Korea star Son have made a magnificent start to the 2020-21 season, taking their past production to another level.

Ahead of Sunday's home London derby against West Ham, Opta data helps us to examine just how impressive the partnership between Kane and Son has been.

SENSATIONAL SEASON SO FAR

Kane and Son have combined with each other for six Premier League goals this season.

Son has scored five of those, including four in one match against Southampton last month, all of which were created by Kane, who later went on to score himself in a remarkable 5-2 win.

The first strike from Son came in first-half stoppage time and he had four by the 73rd minute after a remarkable spree that shook the Saints at St Mary's.

Two goals came with Son's left foot and the other two with his right, all set up by Kane to make it the first occasion in league history when one player had assisted another four times in a match.

With his goal, Kane became the first player to be directly involved in five strikes in a Premier League match since Mohamed Salah in March 2018.

Kane was also involved in five goals against Leicester City in 2017, meaning the England skipper was just the third player to achieve the feat for a second time - putting him in elite company with Alan Shearer and Thierry Henry.

The Spurs duo's six shared goal involvements is double the second-best in this season's top flight, with their nearest challengers being Jack Grealish and Ollie Watkins, who have combined for three goals at Aston Villa. No other partnership has combined for more than two.

It goes beyond goals, too. Kane and Son have created 13 chances for one another this season and, unlike the first category where Son goals account for the majority, this split is more even.

Kane has created seven chances for Son, five of which have been scored, while in turn being set up for six opportunities by his Spurs team-mate.

Next best in that category are Everton stars James Rodriguez and Richarlison - they have connected for a total of seven chances created.

For Kane, his individual production has already hit a historic rate. His three goals and six assists give him nine goal involvements over the first four matches of the season.

He has never recorded more than three involvements over his opening four starts in any of the five previous Premier League campaigns.

Given he only had two assists in the whole of last season, his creative streak is a particularly impressive development.

His team play has been acknolwedged by manager Jose Mourinho, who made a point of calling him man of the match against Southampton in multiple interviews, despite Son's goals grabbing the headlines.

ALREADY AMONG THE BEST

While this season has been spectacular, Kane and Son have also impressed with their link-up play in years gone by.

The Spurs forwards have directly combined for 26 Premier League goals since the signing of Son from Bayer Leverkusen in 2015, building a superb understanding over the past five seasons.

Since Son's debut, no top-flight partnership has linked up for more goals.

Indeed, the prolific Kane is responsible for three of the top four partnerships in that time period, also combining regularly with Christian Eriksen (19) and Dele Alli (18).

The 26 goals from him and Son - two of which came in the 6-1 thumping of Manchester United last time out - is good enough for fifth all time in the Premier League.

Their total sits above some star-studded connections like Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Aguero (20), Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney (20), as well as Steve McManaman and Robbie Fowler (24).

They are just one goal away from the best Spurs duo in Premier League history, Darren Anderton and Teddy Sheringham, who connected for 27.

Also in their sights are the two combinations who are tied for second place.

David Silva and Aguero linked up for 29 goals before the Spaniard's Manchester City exit at the end of last season, the same tally recorded by Arsenal greats Robert Pires and Henry.

A more distant target is the Premier League's best-ever connection.

Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba combined directly for 36 goals, though they played in the same Chelsea team as each other for eight years.

Kane and Son are scoring at a faster rate, so if they both stay at the club as regular starters for over the next two or three seasons, they can reasonably be expected to take top spot down the line.

The Premier League had already thrown up a disorientating, action-packed weekend by the time Liverpool took to the field at Villa Park at the start of this month.

What followed was scarcely credible as a Jack Grealish-inspired Aston Villa unceremoniously demolished Jurgen Klopp's dominant champions 7-2.

After that humiliating scoreline, one seemingly plucked from the realms of fantasy or another sport entirely, how can we expect Liverpool to respond?

Their weekend opponents, Merseyside rivals Everton, are top of the Premier League table thanks to four wins out of four. Has Liverpool's favourite fixture come around at the worst possible time?

How do champions respond to a thrashing?

When looking for precedents to see how Liverpool might fare after their Birmingham ordeal, we're operating with a fairly small sample size.

Put simply, reigning champions tend not to lose so heavily too often. In the Premier League era, there have been seven instances of the team with the biggest target on their back being defeated by four goals or more.

Two of those came in the league's inaugural season, when Leeds United struggled to maintain the form that lifted them to the Division One crown on the other side of the rebrand.

Howard Wilkinson's side lost 4-0 at Manchester City on November 7, 1992 - a reverse that was compounded by a League Cup defeat at Watford. But they regrouped impressively for Arsenal's visit to Elland Road, dispatching the Gunners 3-0.

Arsenal were also the opponents after Leeds lost 4-0 at Tottenham on February 20 ,1993, with the second of their double-header in north London ending in a 0-0 draw.

Blackburn Rovers endured a similarly unhappy title defence in 1995-96, but they were at least able to bounce back from a 5-0 December reverse at Coventry City when Alan Shearer scored the only goal to down Middlesbrough.

Manchester United dominated the Premier League under Alex Ferguson but were not immune to the odd humbling setback. One of those arrived on October 20, 1996, when Newcastle United thrashed them 5-0 at St James' Park.

There was more misery to follow, with Southampton raucous 6-3 victors in United's next league game at The Dell. It got worse for Ferguson's men, with defeats to Fenerbahce and Chelsea.

Most pertinently for Liverpool, United still finished 1996-97 as champions. As they did in 1999-00, when a 5-0 embarrassment at Chelsea was followed by a 4-1 win over Watford.

They lost out on goal difference to Manchester City in 2011-12, meaning a 6-1 loss in the derby at Old Trafford was telling in the final reckoning. Everton learned it is not always easy to capitalise upon such a malaise as United ground out a 1-0 home win in their next match.

Claudio Ranieri and much of the Leicester City fairy tale had dissipated by the time Tottenham thumped them 6-1 at the King Power Stadium in May 2017, with Harry Kane scoring four. The Foxes recovered their poise to close the 2016-17 season with a 1-1 draw at home to Bournemouth.

 

Bad night at the office or signs of decline?

Even if history shows the next game after a heavy defeat tends not to be a problem for reigning champions, the ripples from Liverpool's Villa Park reverse will probably be felt for some time, with opponents at least emboldened to try and probe at perceived vulnerabilities.

It is worth remembering that Klopp's side won each of their first three Premier League games this season and Opta's advanced metrics show they are hitting similar levels overall to last season at this early stage.

In terms of high turnovers (a sequence that starts in open play and begins 40 metres or less from the opponents' goal), ending in a shot and pressed sequences, the Reds are the best performing team in the division. That was the case over the entirely of last season, apart from shot-ending high turnovers - where they were second.

Effectively disrupting opponents in their own territory is an area where Everton have improved markedly. For shot-ending and goal-ending high turnovers, they were the lowest ranked Premier League team in 2019-20. Carlo Ancelotti's resurgent side are tied fifth and seventh respectively in those categories so far this season.

Another area where Liverpool are ahead of the rest of the league is their starting distance of 49.2 metres - the average distance they are from their own goal when starting an open play sequence. Of course, dominance of this sort is in part facilitated by the high defensive line Villa exploited so frequently.

Good omens for Everton?

Saturday's game will be exactly 10 years to the day from when Everton last won a Premier League derby.

If Liverpool avoid defeat they will set a new club record of 23 games unbeaten against the same opponent in all competitions. They set their previous best of 22 matches without a loss between September 19, 1981 and March 8, 1992… against Villa.

Everton have only endured a longer winless streak across 24 encounters with Chelsea, from May 5, 2001 to December 12, 2009.

However, there are a couple of historical quirks to send those of a Goodison persuasion into the weekend with a smile on their faces.

Everton are aiming to win their first eight games of a campaign in all competitions for the first time since the 1894-95 campaign. The eighth game in that sequence of Victorian joy? A 3-0 home win over Liverpool.

They have not won their opening five league games since 1938-39, when the fifth victory came 2-1 over an Arsenal team who were the reigning champions.

Manchester United return to St James' Park this weekend just over a year on from their previous away match against Newcastle United.

As in 2019, the trip north comes amid considerable pressure upon manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer following a poor start to the season.

Solskjaer was not helped by defeat on Tyneside last term as Matty Longstaff scored the only goal on his Premier League debut.

The United boss will hope for a better return on Saturday, yet his team kicked on following that 1-0 loss to finish third and qualify for the Champions League.

After losing 6-1 at home to Tottenham before the international break, Solskjaer certainly needs another response.

But the concern is United are no further forward heading to Newcastle this season than they were 12 months ago. Using Opta data, we take a look.
 

POST-NEWCASTLE UPTICK IN FORM

Longstaff's goal last October left United 12th after a very ordinary start to the campaign. The Red Devils make the journey north on this occasion languishing in 16 after three games.

Not since December 2013 - another 1-0 Newcastle win courtesy of a Yohan Cabaye goal - have United faced the Magpies while trailing them in the league table, yet Steve Bruce's side are ninth this time.

It is still very early in the campaign , however, and results alone certainly show progress over the past 12 months.

Before playing Newcastle last year, United had just nine points from seven matches, winning only twice. They averaged 1.3 points per game and won 29 per cent of their matches.

Despite losing at St James' Park, the next 34 games - including that October match - have brought 60 points (1.8 per game), with United winning exactly half of their Premier League fixtures.
 

LITTLE CHANGE IN PERFORMANCE

While results improved, there is little in the statistics to say this was due to better performances.

United have still averaged 14.0 shots per game over the past 34 matches, as they had in the previous seven, and their possession figures have dropped marginally from 56.0 per cent to 55.6 per cent.

Passes in the opposition half have increased from 269.9 per game to 305.7 - aided, surely, by the signing of Bruno Fernandes - but touches in the opposition box are down (26.4 per game to 25.0).

It seems United have simply been more effective at taking their chances, their shot conversion rate crucially rising from 9.2 per cent to 13.1 per cent.

With shots inside the box per game also up slightly from 7.4 to 7.8, their Expected Goals have improved from 1.48 to 1.65, leading to more goals (1.8 per game, up from 1.3) and better results.
 

DEFENSIVE CONCERNS INCREASING

Perhaps it should come as no surprise, having shipped six to Spurs last time out, but there is one area in which United have clearly deteriorated in the past year: their defence.

With Harry Maguire lacking confidence and the identity of his centre-back partner still the subject of debate, United are conceding more goals (1.2 per game, up from 1.0).

Expected Goals are up from 0.9 to 1.2 and shots faced per game up from 9.4 to 11.1. Things could be even worse for United, too, with their opponents increasingly wasteful - hitting the target with 3.6 shots per game rather than 4.0.

Defeat to Newcastle last season might have sparked United into life, but their problems are mounting and more Longstaff magic this week would really turn up the heat on Solskjaer.

James Rodriguez's move to Everton invoked polarising opinions from fans and pundits alike – it seemed his signing was either destined to be a masterstroke or an expensive flop.

Many suggested that, while undoubtedly gifted, James' qualities were those of a bygone era when teams were built around a number 10 whose only real job was to create chances and score goals.

The common conception was that, in introducing a player who does little work off the ball, Everton were putting themselves at a disadvantage to every other team.

Even James himself recognises he is one of a dying breed, saying recently on the Locker Room podcast: "Everyone plays 4-4-2 or 4-3-3, hardly any kids want to be a number 10 now, because now the number 10s are being left out by the managers because they only want fast players who have one-on-one skills, can run, can play through the middle - 15 or 20 years ago, everyone wanted to be a number 10."

It's a well-known fact that James isn't much of a runner – he will never cover as much ground as someone like Kevin De Bruyne, but that's the point. He hasn't ever been that type of player – let him play to his strengths and he'll thrive.

If anyone knew how to get the best out of him, it was his former Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti, and the Italian has expertly found a way to get the best out James, as we examine ahead of Saturday's Merseyside derby.

Ancelotti's James bond key to success

While James is certainly acting like the traditional number 10 for Everton, he's playing the role with his own unique spin, a way that has regularly seen both he and Juan Fernando Quintero thrive alongside each other at international level for Colombia.

Normally one would expect a player in such a role to occupy more of the central spaces, yet James operates initially from the right, allowing him to cut inside on to his left foot.

This creates a much greater area for him to do damage, as he can either dribble into the centre, play a diagonal pass out to the left, or look for a reverse ball into an advanced position on the right.

 

Not only is the pitch generally less crowded for him in this area, but were he deployed in a strictly central role, having such range of passing avenues without needing to turn would be unlikely.

This explains why Lucas Digne – who went off with a knee injury late in France's Nations League victory over Croatia on Wednesday – is the second most frequent receiver of passes (23) from James in the Everton team despite operating on the other flank, as the left-back is one of Premier League's best creators.

James knows this and regularly looks to the Frenchman on the opposite flank – together, they are Everton's greatest sources of chances this term (12 for James, eight for Digne). Similarly, the former Madrid star has picked out left-sided forward Richarlison for more chances (five) than he has anyone else.

But another key factor Ancelotti has had to consider, as highlighted already, is that James won't offer a huge amount when the Toffees aren't in possession.

Ancelotti surrounds James with hard-working, dynamic players. Allan is as tenacious as any midfielder in the league, while Abdoulaye Doucoure is a fine option as a box-to-box battler and Seamus Coleman is tireless at right-back.

 

With Doucoure and Coleman working close to James, Ancelotti's table-toppers often create overloads on the right flank, and as that attracts more defenders over to their side, that's when gaps can open up on the left for Digne.

Identifying the weakness

As much as Everton fans may not want to admit, there are certainly similarities between how they and Liverpool attack – the Reds' full-backs are key to the offensive phase of their play, while Mohamed Salah's cutting in off the left flank is a vital component in terms of chance creation.

With that in mind, it will be intriguing to see how they counteract each other's strengths, but there's no doubt stopping James will go a long way for the Reds.

The Colombian has three goals (joint fourth-highest in the league) and two assists (joint third-highest in the league) to his name, while only Salah, De Bruyne (both 14) and Son Heung-min (13) have produced more key passes than him.

Of the 12 opportunities carved out by Rodriguez, four were classed by Opta as "big chances", second to Harry Kane (six).

But he's not just involved at the end of attacking moves, as highlighted by sequence data – he has played a role in six different goal-ending sequences, a figure bettered by only four others, while James started two of them. Ollie Watkins (three) is the solitary player with a better number here.

Where Liverpool will need to pay particular attention, however, is with regards to their high line. The average distance from goal that their open-play sequences begin is 49.2 metres, meaning they play with a higher defensive line than anyone else in the division – this was exploited by Aston Villa in the 7-2 humiliation before the international break, and James will surely be mindful.

Uncharted territory… almost

James' importance to Everton is certainly comparable to Salah's influence on Liverpool – across all competitions the Toffees playmaker has created three more chances (17) than his rival, been involved in one more goal (six) and played the same number of passes into the box (31).

But where their different approaches are accentuated is their total touches in the area, with Salah at 47 and James on 10.

That's where others come in.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison may not have quite the same reputation as their Liverpool counterparts in Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, but there's no doubt the Everton pair have both started the season in exhilarating fashion.

So, although James is undoubtedly the key, Everton have several weapons capable of doing damage.

Saturday's game will be exactly 10 years on from Everton's last Premier League win over their bitter rivals. While a victory over the Reds might almost feel like uncharted territory for the Toffees, with James plotting their route, one has to think they've never had a better opportunity to sink a Liverpool side whose weaknesses have already been exposed.

The 2019-20 season saw the emergence of Jayson Tatum as a genuine star.

Tatum – the third pick in the 2017 NBA Draft – turned potential into performance as he capped a memorable campaign with All-Star honours for the first time in his career.

An elite scorer, Tatum was at the forefront of everything good about the Celtics before and after the coronavirus pandemic.

But, the Celtics still lost in the Conference finals for the third time in four years – beaten 4-2 by the Miami Heat at Walt Disney World Resort – after finishing third in the east with a 48-24 record.

The Celtics are yet to reach the NBA Finals since 2009-10, while the historic franchise have not got their hands on the Larry O'Brien trophy since the Doc Rivers era in 2007-08.

As the Celtics reflect after watching the Los Angeles Lakers equal their record for most championships (17), we review the team's 2019-20 campaign using Stats Perform data.

 

Boston's dynamic trio

Kemba Walker's arrival in Boston helped create a formidable trio alongside Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

After spending his entire NBA career at the Charlotte Hornets, four-time All-Star Walker opted for a new challenge via free agency by committing to a four-year, $141million contract with the Celtics.

As a result, Terry Rozier left the Celtics for the Hornets in a sign-and-trade last year.

Since investing in Walker, the Celtics have put together a stellar trio, which became just the second group of three team-mates in NBA history to average 20-plus points and 2-plus three-pointers made per game apiece in a season (minimum 50 games played).

Walker averaged 20.4 points and 3.2 three-pointers made per game during the regular season, to go with Tatum (23.4ppg and 2.9 3pm) and Brown (20.3ppg and 2.3 3pm).

The only other trio to do so were the Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson in 2017-18.

 

Tatum joins elite list

It was a coming of age for Tatum, much to the delight of the Celtics and all those connected with the team.

Tatum cemented himself as one of the best players in the league by averaging 23.4 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game – up on his 2018-19 averages of 15.7ppg, 6.0rpg and 2.1 apg.

The 22-year-old also enjoyed a fine playoff campaign, becoming only the third player in NBA history to average 25.0-plus points, 10.0-plus rebounds and 5.0-plus assists per game in a single postseason with 15 or more games played.

Lakers superstar LeBron James (in 2014-15 and 2019-20) and Boston's Larry Bird (in 1983-84 and 1986-87) are the only other players to reach the feat.

 

Lack of depth

For all of Boston's good work and impressive starting five, their lack of depth was exposed in the playoffs.

The Celtics relied on their starters more than any other team in the postseason at 83.3 per cent with 1,549 of their 1,859 points scored by the starting five, ahead of the Philadelphia 76ers (83.1 per cent), Indiana Pacers (82.6 per cent), Houston Rockets (77.3 per cent) and Portland Trail Blazers (76.5 per cent).

As for the portion of minutes played by starters in the postseason, the Celtics (75.0 per cent) again topped the list ahead of the Pacers (72.2 per cent), 76ers (72.0 per cent), Utah Jazz (71.8 per cent) and Rockets (70.9 per cent).

The Celtics had fewer than 25 bench points in each of their last 15 playoff games this year, one of the longest streaks in a single postseason in the past 35 years, only behind the Detroit Pistons (19 in 2005) and Pacers (17 in 2013).

The problem of a thin bench was likely exacerbated by the number of close games the Celtics played in, since teams usually need their best players on the floor for longer periods of time in tight encounters.

Boston had eight playoff games decided by five points or less, tied for second most in a single postseason in franchise history.

Also, this was the second consecutive year the Celtics had some issues with turnovers in the playoffs. After going plus-1.4 for turnovers in the regular season, Boston were then minus-1.4 in the postseason.

In his heyday, Arsene Wenger was widely praised for his trust in young players and eye for developing talent.

After all, Cesc Fabregas, Nicolas Anelka, Thierry Henry and Robin van Persie are just a few of the players he helped nurture into top-level international footballers.

But for every Henry is a superstar who got away… Or so Le Professeur would have us believe.

A football manager can't sign everyone, but as the joke goes, Wenger seems to have tried to buy all of them - all of the players. Or, all the really good ones anyway. Funny, that.

The Frenchman has been doing the media rounds of late and most recently floated the idea of Cristiano Ronaldo playing alongside Henry, Robert Pires, Sylvain Wiltord and Dennis Bergkamp in an interview with the BBC.

So, with that as the jumping-off point, we put together an XI made up entirely of players who supposedly came close to joining Wenger at Arsenal…

GIANLUIGI BUFFON

As the story goes, Wenger's pursuit of Buffon got to the point where the pair had dinner together during his days with Parma, but Juventus soon came along and made him the most expensive goalkeeper in the world at the time.

Everything suggests he would've been a remarkable signing in terms of ability and longevity. In 2017 he became the oldest player to captain a side in the Champions League final at 39 years and 126 days – and he's still going, three years on.

RAPHAEL VARANE

Granted, Wenger may not have explicitly said that he almost bought Varane during his formative years, but he was certainly frustrated to have missed out on him in 2013 when he queried why Arsenal hadn't been in for him two years earlier.

Varane has gone on to establish himself as one of the world's best centre-backs and in 2018 became just the third player to be on the winning team in the Champions League and World Cup finals in the same year, emulating Christian Karembeu (1998) and Roberto Carlos (2002).

VINCENT KOMPANY

It's arguable that Arsenal's biggest weakness in Wenger's final 10 years at the helm was their defence – a host of underwhelming options were signed and discarded.

Oh how different it might have been had they signed Vincent Kompany in 2006 when his agent claimed they were interested. He went on to captain Manchester City to two Premier League titles and played 265 times in the top-flight, more than any other Belgian.

GERARD PIQUE

It seems a long time ago that Pique was at Manchester United, struggling to earn a place in the starting XI, but even before then he could have ended up at Arsenal – and, stylistically, one has to wonder whether that would have been the better move for him.

Wenger has previously admitted they tried to get Pique but they were unable to beat United to his signature. He returned to Barcelona in 2008 and has since won three Champions League crowns, just one of three players to play every minute of those finals.

ROBERTO CARLOS

OK, to be fair to Wenger, this isn't one he has specifically claimed – rather Roberto Carlos himself hinted at the move in 2003 as his Real Madrid career appeared to be winding down.

As it was, he ended up staying in Madrid until 2007 before moving on to Fenerbahce, Corinthians, Anzhi Makhachkala (remember them?) and Delhi Dynamos.

N'GOLO KANTE

The one who got away… Twice. That's right, Wenger says he tried to sign the industrious Kante when he was at Caen and Leicester City.

He played a starring role as the Foxes remarkably claimed the Premier League title in 2015-16, before then joining Chelsea and becoming the only player to win the Premier League in successive seasons with different clubs.

PAUL POGBA

When Pogba left United in 2012, a whole host of fellow European heavyweights were linked with him, including Arsenal, but Juventus swiftly struck a deal and the Gunners' attempts fell flat.

He of course left Juve again in 2016, though the then world-record fee United paid was never likely to be matched by Arsenal, and in 2018-19 Pogba became the first United player to appear in the Professional Footballers' Association's (PFA) Team of the Year since Robin van Persie six years earlier.

YAYA TOURE

In hindsight, this one looks a particularly odd miss from Arsenal. Yaya Toure had a trial with the Gunners in 2003, a year after his brother Kolo signed for them, but wasn't particularly outstanding in a trial game and work permit difficulties made it tricky for him to join permanently.

That didn't stop him from enjoying a fine career, however, and he eventually made it to the Premier League in 2010 when joining Manchester City, with whom he became just the second African player to score in both an EFL Cup and FA Cup final.

LIONEL MESSI

That's right, the one you've been waiting for. In an alternate universe, Fabregas, Pique and Messi could have spent the best years of their careers in north London – Wenger attempted to prise all three away.

But six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi had already gotten "too big" reputation-wise when Arsenal made their move. In Barcelona he stayed and he has since become LaLiga's all-time leading scorer with 445 goals in 488 games – a truly remarkable feat, though not as impressive as playing well against Stoke City on a cold Tuesday night, some might have you believe.

ZLATAN IBRAHIMOVIC

In fairness to Wenger, he insists he has no regrets about not signing Ibrahimovic when he was a 17-year-old on trial. Whether he says as much privately is another matter.

Regardless, Ibrahimovic can console himself with the fact he has gone on to enjoy an incredibly successful career and scored Champions League goals for six different clubs, more than any other player in the competition's history. Unfortunately for him, however, he has never won European football's top prize.

CRISTIANO RONALDO

And finally, the other one you've been waiting for. Arguably the quintessential Wenger "nearly signed" claim relates to Ronaldo, whom he says almost joined Arsenal before United made their move in 2003. Like Buffon, Ronaldo also had discussions with Wenger over food, but he says the Gunners were pipped at the last.

Wenger apparently regards this as his biggest regret, and understandably so – Ronaldo has gone on to win everything in the game, including five Ballons d'Or, and is the Champions League's top scorer with 130 goals in 170 games.

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