Ashley Young will hope for a glorious final chapter to his career with Scudetto-chasing Inter after completing his switch from Manchester United.

The 34-year-old was a part of the England team that reached the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup and he is far from the only Three Lions star to try his hand in Italy's top flight.

Here, we take a look back at some of the famous English names to have sampled Serie A.

David Beckham

United and England great Beckham caused consternation among LA Galaxy fans by joining Milan on loan for the second half of the 2008-09 season. Motivated in part by his Three Lions recall and the need to retain fitness for World Cup qualifying matches, Beckham proved a hit, chipping in with two Serie A goals for the Rossoneri. He returned a year later as South Africa 2010 beckoned, but an Achilles injury ended the dream.

Ashley Cole

A 33-year-old Cole headed to Italy's top-flight following a distinguished Premier League career, so arguably provides a handy parallel for Young. However, a man who once had a solid claim on being the best left-back in world football struggled at Roma, most notably when he was substituted at half-time during a 7-1 Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich with the score 5-0. After 16 appearances over the course of 18 months, Cole was released from his contract in January 2016 and joined LA Galaxy.

Joe Hart

After being jettisoned from Pep Guardiola's first-team plans at Manchester City on the eve of the 2016-17 campaign, Hart needed a quick solution. Torino were his unlikely saviours and the England goalkeeper endeared himself to supporters in Turin over the course of a season-long loan, despite some high-profile errors. It certainly proved a more successful post-City excursion than his subsequent spells at West Ham and Burnley.

Chris Smalling

If Young needs an example of a success story when swapping Old Trafford for Italy, then he need look no further than long-time colleague for club and country Smalling. Deemed surplus to requirements by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer following the arrival of Harry Maguire, the 30-year-old has been a revelation at Roma, performing superbly across 14 Serie A appearances and scoring twice. Smalling has made such an impression at the Stadio Olimpico that he narrowly missed out in a fan vote for Roma's team of the decade.

Micah Richards

Hart's long-time City team-mate Richards made a loan switch to Fiorentina for the 2014-15 season after falling out of favour with Manuel Pellegrini. The right-back made 19 appearances in all competitions but the injury problems that would force an early retirement aged 31 had already started to take a significant toll.

Paul Gascoigne

The breakout star of the Italia 90 World Cup, Gascoigne's move to Lazio became something of a saga – delayed by 12 months after he damaged knee ligaments launching into a wild challenge on Gary Charles during Tottenham's 1991 FA Cup final victory over Nottingham Forest. Once Gazza arrived in Rome, it was never anything but eventful. His first goal brought pandemonium as he headed a late equaliser in the derby against Roma, with moments of brilliance vying with fitness struggles thereafter. A broken leg suffered in training ruined his final season before joining Rangers in 1995.

David Platt

Platt did not have to contend with Gascoigne's goldfish bowl existence and the goalscoring midfielder carved out a fine career in Serie A. Signed by Bari a year after his breakthrough performances at Italia 90, Platt went on to earn moves to Juventus and then Sampdoria. He won the UEFA Cup at Juve and the Coppa Italia with Samp and, by the time he headed back to England to join Arsenal in 1995, Platt boasted 31 goals from 100 Serie A games.

Paul Ince

Way before Alexis Sanchez, Romelu Lukaku and Young made it cool, Paul Ince was swapping United for Inter in the mid-1990s. For two seasons from 1995-96, Ince starred for a Nerazzurri side during the early stages of its transformation under Massimo Moratti's ownership. He formed an impressive midfield partnership with Nicola Berti and had 10 goals from 54 Serie A outings before returning to the Premier League with Liverpool in 1997.

The build-up to Conor McGregor's UFC return against Donald 'Cowboy' Cerrone on Saturday has been tame by the Irishman's usual standards, but there was still some interesting verbal sparring.

McGregor lost his last bout to lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov in October 2018 and hopes a rematch will form part of a three-fight season, though the quality of his next opponents will no doubt depend on how he fares against the UFC's all-time wins leader Cerrone.

The outspoken Irishman was largely respectful of his veteran opponent in a pre-fight news conference on Wednesday, but he still delivered some stinging barbs in the lead up to their meeting.

We take a look at some of the best quotes ahead of this weekend's highly anticipated event in Las Vegas.

 

"YOU'RE STIFF AS A BOARD"

When it was confirmed Cerrone would be the man to take on McGregor in his comeback, an exchange between the two at the UFC's "Go Big" press conference in September 2015 was quickly brought out of the archives.

After then-interim featherweight champion McGregor said Rafael dos Anjos, at the time the lightweight champion with a defence against Cerrone lined up, would have a "celebration" if a fight between the two was agreed, Cowboy was unimpressed.

Cerrone: "Conor has no right going up to 55, there's no way, he's not going to stand a chance, we're too big for him, we're too strong. You can take your little English a** and get on."

McGregor: "You're too slow and too stiff. You're stiff as a board, I'd snap you in half and that's it. I see stiffness when I look in that 155-pound division. I feel like they're stuck in the mud almost. The featherweights hit like flyweights so it's nice down there just destroying them and killing that whole division. But I had my eye on that 155 division and I see them all stuck in the mud over there. Have I been wrong yet? No."

Cerrone: "You have a monster here at 45, [Jose] Aldo about to beat you're a**. You've beat nobody and you think you're gonna come into 155 and make a statement? Come on man, sit the f*** down."

McGregor: "Yeehaw!"

 

"I'D BEAT HIM WITH THE FLU"

McGregor will fight Cerrone at welterweight rather than returning to lightweight.

Asked why he did not make Cerrone's life more difficult by meeting him at 155 pounds, McGregor told ESPN: "I know, I could have. I just don't think he looks well at 155. He's a 170 fighter. I'd beat him at any weight. I'd beat him if I had the flu."

 

"MCGREGOR TO WIN BY KO"

While McGregor has revealed stories of him training with Tyson Fury were untrue, the former heavyweight boxing champion will be in attendance in Las Vegas to support the Irishman.

"Conor McGregor is gonna win. I say by knockout. And I'm gonna be there to see it happen cageside," Fury told Fight Hype.

 

"I'LL F*** YOU UP IN THE LOBBY"

Ahead of the pair taking to the stage for their pre-fight media conference, Cerrone warned McGregor, who has a penchant for cutting remarks while playing up to the crowd, against crossing the line.

Cerrone told MMA Fighting of McGregor's trash talking: "He's the best at it. He is the best. The thing is you'd really have to go low, talk about my grandma or my kid and then it would put it on another level. You understand what I'm saying? Then I'll just come f*** you up in the lobby type s***.

"I don't think it's ever going to go that way. He understands that. We're fighting, he can talk about that all he wants but don't low blow."

 

"ONE OF THE BIGGEST SUPERSTARS IN COMBAT SPORTS HISTORY"

McGregor may no longer be a champion and his return is not a title fight, but UFC president Dana White feels he brings something the organisation's biggest names do not.

White told reporters: "McGregor is one of the biggest superstars in combat sports history. You put McGregor with [Mike] Tyson, Sugar Ray Leonard, Evander Holyfield, he's in that list of guys. He has the biggest pay per view in history, so he's a mega star and to have him is big.

"All these other fighters have done great things, if you look at what Weili Zhang has accomplished, Israel Adesanya has accomplished, [Kamaru] Usman ... there's different levels of guys doing great things but to compare them to Conor is a tough one."

 

"I CAN READ HIM LIKE A CHILDREN'S BOOK"

The pair shook hands ahead of a media conference on Wednesday that proved largely cordial, with McGregor stating he will win by knockout but there will be no bad blood. He did still deliver one stinging line, though.

McGregor said: "I like him and all, he's a good guy, but I can read Donald like a children's book, if we're being honest. He's a good fighter, he's got some good tricks up his sleeve. I know the tricks he has, I know what he's planning and what he hopes to achieve. But we're well prepared, and we'll see on the night. It's going to be a good night."

Liverpool are 21 matches into their Premier League title bid and, remarkably, have failed to win just once.

Jurgen Klopp's side look unstoppable as they charge towards a first top-flight championship since 1989-90, building a 14-point lead – with a game in hand – heading into this weekend's fixtures.

But the one team to halt Liverpool this term, holding the Reds to a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford on October 20, were bitter rivals Manchester United.

Only a late Adam Lallana equaliser to cancel out Marcus Rashford's opener maintained the leaders' unbeaten league campaign.

United face Liverpool again on Sunday, visiting Anfield, so we take a look at what went right for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men last time and what they must do to earn a result again on Merseyside.

 

MIDFIELD BATTLE KEY

The supposed weakness of this Liverpool team is said to be in their midfield, and while that often does not bear true, it did in the reverse fixture.

The Reds boasted 68 per cent of possession but captain Jordan Henderson endured a rare tough afternoon, completing just 23 passes as he was first shifted out wide and then replaced by Lallana.

Andreas Pereira was key for United in leading the sort of harrying often associated with Klopp's early Liverpool teams, not allowing the visitors to settle and winning possession on 11 occasions. The Brazilian (11.89km), compatriot Fred (11.92km) and Scott McTominay (11.93km) also each covered more ground than any other player.

But if the centre of the pitch is where Liverpool can be got at, it is also where United are now short. Pereira's form has been ordinary, Fred is inconsistent, and both McTominay and Paul Pogba are injured.

 

WING-BACKS A WINNER

As well as pressing the Liverpool midfield back, Solskjaer crafted a plan to combat the dual threats of right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold and left-back Andy Robertson in October.

A five-man defence allowed Aaron Wan-Bissaka (two tackles, two clearances, two interceptions) and Ashley Young (three clearances, two interceptions, two fouls won) to aggressively match up against their opposite numbers, limiting the effectiveness of two of the division's chief creators.

Liverpool mustered just seven crosses from open play in the first half, while only four of the 19 deliveries Alexander-Arnold and Robertson attempted between them by full-time found a team-mate.

Unfortunately for United, the lax marking of their central defensive three saw Lallana left free to convert when Robertson did hit the mark late in an improved second half. The Red Devils cannot afford similar such lapses this time.

 

SALAH STAYING SILENT

If the midfield is stifled and Alexander-Arnold and Robertson are kept in check, Liverpool will be left hoping for a moment of magic from a key attacking star like Mohamed Salah.

But Salah, who missed out with injury at Old Trafford, has not scored or assisted a single goal in four Premier League appearances against United.

That might sound like a run destined to be broken soon enough, but the same could be said of Raheem Sterling's unlikely drought. The Manchester City forward is now scoreless in 18 meetings with his club's city rivals in all competitions.

Salah's continued struggles in a fixture that brings plenty of pressure would represent a big boost as United look for all the help they can get at fortress Anfield.

 

MAN FOR THE BIG OCCASION

That Old Trafford stalemate provided yet more evidence that Solskjaer can get his team to turn up in the big matches.

United have won away at Tottenham, Arsenal, Chelsea (twice), Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City since Solskjaer took charge 13 months ago, while Liverpool have now been held twice at Old Trafford.

Indeed, Solskjaer is the only manager Klopp has faced more than once in the Premier League and failed to beat.

But after back-to-back victories against Spurs and City last month lifted the United boss, his side lost to Arsenal and Pep Guardiola's men in the New Year. With a modest record against lesser opposition, Solskjaer must again prove his worth in these contests.

"By the end of that match, Rafa's mind was scrambled eggs."

Craig O'Shannessy was part of Dustin Brown's coaching team when the German qualifier sensationally eliminated two-time Wimbledon champion Rafael Nadal at the All England Club in 2015.

Through numbers, patterns and data, Australian pioneer O'Shannessy orchestrated the gameplan to send Nadal packing in the second round almost five years ago.

"After the match, I described that as organised chaos," O'Shannessy told Omnisport. "A lot of times with Dustin it's pure chaos. Sometimes he wins with it, sometimes he loses. What gelled was we organised his chaos so that people didn't know him, would've looked at that thinking all hell is breaking loose. Whereas I'm watching the match going 'he is running the patterns that we talked about perfectly'.

"It's about taking away what Rafa wanted to do. It's about attacking him early on the point, it's about attacking him wide of the forehand, going after returns simply because you know where the serve is going, about drop shots and bringing him in. It's just about messing with his mind and making it very unclear."

O'Shannessy – recognised as a world leader in teaching and analysis – has continued to transform the sport. He teamed up with Novak Djokovic as his chief strategist in 2017 and helped the Serb rise back to the top with four grand slams in three years.

Now working with 2019 US Open semi-finalist Matteo Berrettini, Jan-Lennard Struff, Alexei Popyrin and Tennis Canada, O'Shannessy crunches the numbers for his players.

"Every single match the player receives a pre-match report that has text, specific details about what the players like to do, I'll put in a bunch of numbers, tables and graphs particularly on serve patterns and rally length, then video," he said. "You just keep hammering away and supporting the winning strategy in as many different ways as you can."

At the forefront of analytics in tennis, how further can data go?

"Still a long away. We're only scratching the surface," O'Shannessy said. "There's a lot of numbers and data that we see but still don't know exactly what it means. The next five years will be incredibly important and we'll know way more than we do now. We're just at the start of the journey."

On data and patterns, O'Shannessy added: "For example, when you're returning, you can't cover everything. Players that try to cover everything, basically end up covering nothing. You look at it by the point score, if a player is at 30-30, they really need the point. If they're at 40-15, they don't necessarily need the point.

"So the players will have the tendency to gravitate to certain locations when they need that point and if you're sitting there waiting for it, all of a sudden the advantage of that point gets completely turned around. Instead of the returner being unbalanced, the server is off balance because the return is coming back harder and faster. They're on defence instead of offence.

"Early in my coaching career, I naturally put a big emphasis on the opponent, the idea being you're going to play 50 matches in a year and you may only play two or three where you think you've played incredible. The other 47 it's going to be your B or C game that triumphs, so the more you can understand it's not about you playing phenomenal tennis, it's about making them play bad. That mentality takes the pressure off and delivers it to the other side of the court."

Then there is artificial intelligence. Stats Perform, of which Omnisport is a part of, harnesses the true power of sports data by leveraging advancements in AI to generate the industry's richest insights, though it is relatively untapped in tennis.

"AI is able to crunch some very big data and make sense of it," O'Shannessy added. "The ability to do forecasting through there about percentages and situations. I'm already looking at the best way to incorporate AI and the end result to basically help players win more matches."

Venus Williams' clash with Coco Gauff headlines the Australian Open first round, but former champion Stan Wawrinka also faces an early test in Melbourne.

Williams and Gauff will meet for the second time in what is a blockbuster opening-round encounter.

But there are several intriguing clashes in the first round at the year's first grand slam and we take a look at six of the best.

 

Damir Dzumhur v Stan Wawrinka [15]

Wawrinka would have preferred a friendlier draw than a man he has lost to in two of their three meetings. The Swiss 2014 champion was resurgent last year, while Dzumhur has been unable to replicate the form of his breakout season in 2017. Still, the Bosnian beat Wawrinka in three sets on clay in Geneva last year so the three-time grand slam champion will have to be near his best.

Daniil Medvedev [4] v Frances Tiafoe

Tiafoe thrilled during a run to the quarter-finals in Melbourne last year, but that would prove to be the high point of his 2019. The American has made a slow start to 2020 with first-round losses in Doha and Auckland, but was competitive against Medvedev in a 6-2 7-5 loss in Washington last year. After a spectacular 2019 that included reaching the US Open final, Medvedev shapes as the most likely to stop the 'Big Three', although he will need to get through a somewhat tricky opener first.

Sam Querrey v Borna Coric [25]

While he has dropped off since 2017, Querrey will fancy his chances against Coric after the Croatian's difficult finish to last year. Coric finished 2019 with six straight losses and suffered two more at the ATP Cup, to go with a win over Dominic Thiem. After four consecutive first-round exits in Melbourne, Coric reached the fourth round last year, while Querrey has never been beyond the third round in Melbourne. Coric won their only previous meeting at the French Open in 2015.

Venus Williams v Coco Gauff

Arguably the pick of any first-round match, the 39-year-old Williams meets the 15-year-old Gauff once more. Gauff stunned Williams 6-4 6-4 at Wimbledon last year and her ranking then (313) compared to now (66) tells the story of how she finished 2019 as the teenager followed it up with a title win in Linz. Williams withdrew from Brisbane due to injury, making this a hugely tough task for the seven-time grand slam singles champion.

Kristina Mladenovic v Karolina Pliskova [2]

Pliskova has enjoyed Melbourne in recent years, reaching at least the quarter-finals in each of the past three, but was handed a tough start in 2020. The Czech is coming off a title win in Brisbane and that will give her much-needed confidence ahead of facing former world number 10 Mladenovic. The pair have split their previous four meetings, with Mladenovic winning the last of those in 2017.

Donna Vekic [19] v Maria Sharapova

A wildcard, Sharapova was always going to be the danger in the draw – and she landed alongside 19th seed Vekic. Vekic enjoyed a fine 2019 to rise into the world's top 20, while Sharapova battled injuries and has fallen to 145th in the rankings. Vekic should be the favourite to advance, but if five-time major winner Sharapova can find some form, the Russian is always a threat and last bowed out in the opening round in Melbourne in 2010.

Chelsea secured the future of one of their brightest young talents by handing a new five-and-a-half-year contract to right-back Reece James.

The 20-year-old's breakthrough into Frank Lampard's first team this season is one of several success stories among a richly gifted crop of homegrown academy graduates at Stamford Bridge.

Full international honours are next on the agenda for England Under-21 defender James, with the experiences of his esteemed team-mates suggesting caps might not be too far away.

Even if the decision to give youth its head was in part informed by Chelsea's player registration ban during the previous transfer window, the success of his young stars means Lampard's faith has unquestionably been vindicated.

Tammy Abraham

Given his chance after a prolific loan spell at Aston Villa last season, Abraham is now firmly established as Chelsea's number one striker. The 22-year-old has 15 goals in all competitions this campaign and the recent injury setback for Harry Kane means he could yet be a pivotal figure for his country at Euro 2020. Talks over a new Chelsea deal reportedly remain ongoing.

Mason Mount

A creative midfielder with an eye for goal, Mount quickly felt like a perfect match for Lampard who took him on loan to Derby County for 2018-19 before the pair reunited at Chelsea. His transition to the Premier League has been seamless, with the 21-year-old featuring in all 22 games this season and chipping in with five goals and a pair of assists. Mount also appeared in all six of England's Euro 2020 qualifiers this term, scoring during a 4-0 win in Kosovo.

Fikayo Tomori

A classy and dominant centre-back, Tomori has taken the same path as Mount: a move on loan to Derby, where he was voted player of the season, back to Chelsea, into the first team and called up by England. Back-to-back defeats to Manchester City and West Ham concluded 11 consecutive Premier League starts for the 22-year-old, who then suffered a hip injury. A fit-again Antonio Rudiger and Lampard's willingness to switch between three and four at the back means a challenging second half of the campaign could lie in wait for Tomori, who signed a contract until the end of 2023-24 in December.

Callum Hudson-Odoi

The lavishly gifted winger made his international breakthrough last season despite Maurizio Sarri's reluctance to give him Premier League minutes. Before returning from a ruptured Achilles, Hudson-Odoi committed to a new five-year contract in September, putting lingering links with Bayern Munich to bed. His first goal in the top-flight against Burnley last time out suggested the 19-year-old could be ready for lift-off all over again.

Reece James

Like Hudson-Odoi, James also had to wait for his chance this season after recuperating from injury. Last season's player of the year at Wigan Athletic now boasts 18 senior appearances and a couple of goals – his equaliser in November's scarcely credible 4-4 draw against Ajax one that will live long in the memory. The 20-year-old's attacking prowess and vicious deliveries from the right flank have given Lampard's men a new dimension in recent weeks.

This Sunday sees Premier League leaders Liverpool host Manchester United, rivals who sit 27 points below them in the table.

There has been a clear gulf in class between Jurgen Klopp's side, who have accrued a whopping 61 points from a possible 63 across 21 fixtures, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men, who have suffered defeats at Watford, Bournemouth and Newcastle United already this term.

Yet one bright spark for United has been the form of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, an attacking duo who have combined for more goals than Liverpool pair Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane.

Rashford faces a battle to be fit for the game having come off against Wolves in Wednesday's FA Cup replay due to a back injury, but just how do the quartet compare when fully fit, and how have they evolved in 2019-20? We crunched the numbers to find out.

 

RASHFORD AND MARTIAL: FROM PROFLIGATE TO POTENT

Salah (10) and Mane (11) have combined for 21 league goals (42 per cent of Liverpool's 50 goals), while Rashford (14) and Martial (8) have scored 22 (61 per cent of United's 36 goals).

The United duo's success in front of goal has come thanks to their ability to convert big chances. Excluding penalties, Rashford has scored eight of his 15 big chances, converting 53.8 per cent compared to 23.8 per cent last season.

Martial, with five goals from nine big chances, is even more efficient (55.6 per cent) and both United forwards have better big-chance conversion rates than Salah (50 per cent) and Mane (30 per cent).

Mane has had more big chances than the rest of the quartet, but having scored 15 of his 26 big chances in the 2018-19 league campaign he has netted only six of 20 this time around.

 

RASHFORD'S LEAP FORWARD

It is not just in front of goal where Rashford has shown an improvement and become a greater focus of United's attack.

The England international is averaging more touches per game this season (43.68 to 37.18), more touches in the opposition box per game (5.45 to 4.81) and has taken more shots (74) than any of Salah (66), Mane (49) or Martial (40).

Rashford switched between central and wide berths last term but is now firmly established on the left side of United's attack with a clear purpose.

The one statistic that perhaps outlines that most is that Rashford has attempted an astonishing 57 more dribbles than Salah this season.

 

ALEXANDER-ARNOLD ALTERS SALAH'S ROLE?

Last season only four players - Eden Hazard, Wilfried Zaha, Nathan Redmond and Raheem Sterling - completed more dribbles than Salah's 81, but in this campaign it's a different story.

The Reds forward has attempted just 49 - far fewer than Mane (67) - while he has completed fewer dribbles (23) than team-mates Mane, Georginio Wijnaldum and Roberto Firmino.

Salah led the Premier League for touches in the box in 2018-19 (322), and only Sterling is ahead of him this time, but he has had far fewer touches overall than Mane (764 to 1,000) having led the Senegalese (1,820 to 1,807) in the previous campaign.

That might have something to do with right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold's ascent. Alexander-Arnold leads the league in touches (2,137) and is second in assists, showing that he, and not Salah, is now the focus of attacks down the Liverpool right.

A 27-POINT GAP, BUT SIMILAR ATTACKING STATISTICS

One glance at the table suggests there are few similarities between Klopp's runaway leaders and Solskjaer's Jekyll and Hyde outfit.

However, a more in-depth dive into the numbers shows there has actually been little to separate the two in many attacking senses.

Liverpool have created 258 chances to United's 241, and have only conjured up five more from open play and 10 from set-pieces.

The common theory is that United are far more effective on the counter attack, yet both teams have scored four times from fast breaks, with Solskjaer's men having 20 fast breaks to Liverpool's 18.

A big difference between the two is the quality of opportunities created, Liverpool accumulating 56 big chances to United's 34, which points to a clear lack of creativity in Solskjaer's ranks. Couple that with their defensive fragility (United's four clean sheets to Liverpool's eight) and it becomes more obvious just why the two are miles apart in the table.

After the mass brawl that marred his loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov and the subsequent ban and retirement, Conor McGregor is back in the UFC.

McGregor will go up against Donald Cerrone in a welterweight fight at UFC 246 in Las Vegas, which he hopes will be the first of three fights in 2020 – the ultimate goal being a rematch with Khabib.

But veteran fighter Cerrone, whose first professional mixed martial arts fight was almost 14 years ago, will be no walk over.

Ahead of the highly anticipated encounter, we look at the tale of the tape.

 

Conor McGregor

Nickname: The Notorious
Age: 31
Height: 175cm
Reach: 188cm
Leg reach: 102cm
Record: 21-4-0
Wins/losses by knockout: 18/0
Wins/losses by submission: 1/4
Wins/losses by decision: 2/0
Last three fights: Khabib Nurmagomedov (L - R4 submission), Eddie Alvarez (W - R2 KO), Nate Diaz (W - majority decision)
Fight night bonuses: Performance of the Night (6), Fight of the Night (2), Knockout of the Night (1)
Career highlight: Becoming the first man to hold titles in two weight classes simultaneously, adding the lightweight belt to his featherweight championship.

Donald Cerrone

Nickname: Cowboy
Age: 36
Height: 185cm
Reach: 185cm
Leg reach: 103cm
Record: 36-13-0, 1NC
Wins/losses by knockout: 10/6
Wins/losses by submission: 17/1
Wins/losses by decision: 9/6
Last three fights: Justin Gaethje (L - R1 KO/TKO), Tony Ferguson (L - R2 TKO), Al Iaquinta (W - R5 unanimous decision)
Fight night bonuses: Performance of the Night (7), Fight of the Night (11), Knockout of the Night (3), Submission of the Night (2)
Career highlight: Becoming the UFC's all-time wins leader by beating Mike Perry at Fight Night Denver in November 2018. He now leads the way with 23.

Love him or hate him there is no way you can ignore Conor McGregor and Saturday marks his long-awaited return to the octagon at UFC 246.

It has been 15 months since McGregor's last bout ended in a submission defeat to Khabib Nurmagomedov in a contest marred by an ugly post-fight brawl between the warring camps.

The charismatic Irishman, the first UFC fighter to hold belts in two divisions at the same time, is back, though, with veteran Donald Cerrone the opponent in Las Vegas.

Much has happened since McGregor's defeat to Khabib and below we take a look at the big questions ahead of his comeback.

 

What happened at UFC 229?

Oh boy…where do you start with this one? The build-up to this was fight was, let's dilute this a little, ugly. Back in April 2018, McGregor was involved in an attack on a bus carrying Nurmagomedov and other fighters. McGregor would eventually be forced to undertake community service and an anger management programme over the incident. So, naturally the scene was set for a red-hot build-up that had many barbs that crossed the line. After Nurmagomedov submitted McGregor in the fourth round the bad blood spilled over, with the Russian launching himself over the cage to fight members of his rival's team, leading to a mass melee. It was all rather unpleasant, unsavoury and unnecessary, and in truth not a great look for UFC.

What's happened since?

Well there was a retirement, a reversal on that decision, injury and an impressive body transformation. Not to mention plenty of sales of his Proper No. Twelve whiskey. And, unfortunately, there has been no escape from controversy. In March 2019, McGregor was arrested and charged with strong-armed robbery and criminal mischief after it was alleged he took a man's phone and smashed it on the ground in Miami – the charges were later dropped over inconsistencies in the victim's testimony. In November, McGregor was fined €1,000 after pleading guilty to an assault of a man at a pub in Dublin.

Will he fight Khabib again?

The jury remains very much out on this one. McGregor, who slipped to a 21-4-0 MMA record after the defeat, tweeted "book my rematch for Moscow" after Khabib's successful return against Dustin Poirier last September. The big-talking Irishman set himself a lofty ambition of fighting three times in 2020 and McGregor previously stated he wanted to face the winner of the bout between Jorge Masvidal and Nate Diaz, before going on to once again take on Khabib. Masvidal certainly looks a viable option following his victory over Diaz, whether the Khabib rematch gets sanctioned is another argument.

What is his style?

Lightning quick with ferocious power and incredible athleticism – McGregor is undoubtedly one of the all-time greats. A southpaw with awesome striking skills, one of McGregor's greatest traits is a unique fighting stance that suits both front-foot tactics and counter punching. He is not known for his ground game, which many pundits noted was crucial in his defeat to Khabib. 

Who is his opponent Cerrone?

Put simply, 'Cowboy' is a legend in MMA circles. No one boasts more UFC wins than Cerrone, who has earned legions of fans for his ability to thrill in the octagon. Never one to shirk a challenge, Cerrone has been in with the best of the best. But, 37 in March and coming into this fight on the back of consecutive defeats to Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje, it will be a tall order to overcome McGregor.

Why is the fight taking place at welterweight?

There was little shock when news broke McGregor was to fight Cerrone, though the fact the bout was to be contested in the 170lb division did raise some eyebrows – particularly given McGregor's stated desire for a rematch with lightweight king Khabib. UFC president Dana White explained McGregor's target for another dance with Khabib meant he was not keen on cutting to 155 twice. Both fighters are not particularly big welterweights, so it makes sense not to have go through the weight cut.

Is this fight make or break for McGregor?

When you bring the number of eyes, publicity and money as McGregor does no fight is ever make or break. But there is a feeling after several years of limited activity – since beating Eddie Alvarez in 2016 he has only fought Floyd Mayweather Jr in a lucrative boxing bout and Khabib – he needs to rediscover the fire that made him one of the UFC's greatest competitors. Win, lose or draw, McGregor will go again.

Liverpool are racing clear at the top of the table and it will surely take a miracle for the Reds not to win their first Premier League title.

Jurgen Klopp's side face old rivals Manchester United on Sunday at Anfield, with the Red Devils the only team to have taken points off Liverpool so far this season.

Unbeaten in 38 Premier League matches, Liverpool are overwhelming favourites, though Ole Gunnar Solskjaer oversaw a 4-0 win over struggling Norwich City on Saturday.

Can United stall Liverpool's procession, or will Klopp's men continue their stroll towards Premier League glory?

Craig O'Shannessy knows Novak Djokovic better than most. He was the brains behind the 16-time grand slam champion's revival.

When O'Shannessy teamed up with Djokovic as his chief strategist in 2017, there were doubts over the Serbian star and whether he was a spent force on the ATP Tour due to injuries and form.

Djokovic drifted to 22nd in the world rankings during the 2018 season after ending the previous year without a slam crown – Australian Open (second round), French Open (quarter-finals), Wimbledon (quarter-finals) and US Open (absent due to injury).

However, highly regarded Australian strategy analyst and data pioneer O'Shannessy masterminded Djokovic's rise back to the top with three consecutive major championships thanks to a specific gameplan and emphasis on numbers and patterns.

Djokovic won four slams in total with O'Shannessy – the Australian Open (2019), Wimbledon (2018, 2019) and US Open (2018) – before the pair went their separate ways at the end of the 2019 season.

Providing an insight into Djokovic ahead of his quest for a record-extending eighth Australian Open crown in Melbourne, O'Shannessy, who provides players with reports and videos focusing on serving patterns and rally lengths before every match, told Omnisport: "He was really fantastic.

"He was also really receptive, really inquisitive, he is a sponge. There were so many times that I'd give him data and he was locked on to it. He always looked at it as much as possible. He had a real thirst for all the analytics I'd provide him. My job was to make things simple. He is a very smart guy. I think the record and success he had, a big part of that was going onto the court and having the confidence in the gameplan."

O'Shannessy, who now works with 2019 US Open semi-finalist Matteo Berrettini, Jan-Lennard Struff, Alexei Popyrin and Tennis Canada, said: "We met in 2016 and I just showed them the work I could do, which was a lot of video work, analysis of matches, reports that led to video and it was something they weren’t doing at all in their team. We started at the beginning of 2017 and did it for three years, which in tennis years is a substantial amount of time, and it was very successful.

"Early on, I asked him how I could best be an asset for him. I had showed him everything I could do and the big thing was he wanted to see video. He hadn't seen a lot of video from his matches and what he did well. The big thing early on was the confirmation that certain ways and patterns that he gravitates naturally to on the court and didn't know whether they were really the best options.

"A lot of it early on was to show video of his best patterns of play, what worked the most, why he was winning, provide gameplans for every single match over the three years for the opponent, so he never went in blind. We always had a gameplan and knew the tendencies of opponents. Really double down at the big events and against his big rivals, to ensure no stone was left unturned."

At the age of 32, Djokovic – regarded as one of the all-time greats – trails Roger Federer's slam record (20) but can specific training with the use of analytics help prolong his career in pursuit of history?

"Novak is the kind of player that when he's practising, likes to feel the ball, likes to have rhythm, likes to have a large volume of hitting," O'Shannessy added. "But at the same time, there's one element being 'I need to feel good about my game but I also need to spend time working on the patterns that I know will be the most conducive to me winning matches'.

"Being smarter, a lot of the data does direct itself to being smarter on the practice court and not just grinding away, but running patterns of play and serving to a location to receive a ball, then to go to another specific location. For sure that knowing while you win matches and knowing that it's much more in the shorter rallies than the longer rallies, then you go to the practice court and develop those patterns."

Zion Williamson is finally ready to make his NBA bow in one of the most highly-anticipated debuts of all time.

Forward Williamson was the first overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft after dazzling as a college star in his only season at Duke.

The New Orleans Pelicans won the draft lottery and selected Williamson, but the franchise has yet to see the benefits of that on the court, with the 19-year-old suffering a knee injury during preseason in October.

The wait will soon be over, though, and we've taken a look at some of the things to keep an eye on, with Williamson set to debut against the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday, January 22.

 

DUNKS, BLOCKS AND HIGHLIGHT-REEL PLAYS

In today's social-media age, Williamson was already considered a superstar long before he even arrived at Duke.

The NBA has perhaps never seen anyone that big (6ft 6ins, 284 pounds) who is also that athletic, with Williamson regularly rushing down the court and rising above the rim to deliver devastating slams and brutal blocks.

His pre-game feats have already got more traction on Twitter and Instagram than some NBA stars' in-game shots so expect social media to be abuzz whenever Williamson wows.

COUNTING THOSE MINUTES

The Pelicans would dearly love to have Williamson on the floor for as long as possible, but they also need to be smart.

He has not played a game at all in three months and it is 10 months since he last played a competitive one, when he was unable to prevent Duke from losing to Michigan State at the Elite Eight stage of March Madness.

Pels head coach Alvin Gentry has already confirmed there will be a "minutes restriction" in place for Williamson, but it might be difficult to leave him on the bench for too long if he starts living up to the hype straight away.

 

CELEB SPOTTING

NBA courtsides are home to the rich and famous and Pels homes games will soon be the hottest ticket in town thanks to the legend of Zion.

Former US president Barack Obama was in attendance when Duke played North Carolina during Williamson's sole season with the Blue Devils.

Boxing great Floyd Mayweather Jr. and rapper Jay-Z also rocked up to Duke games to see what all the fuss was about and the interest will only grow now Williamson is in the pros.

BUT WHAT ABOUT BRANDON?

With Williamson sidelined, another former Duke star, Brandon Ingram, has come to the fore for Gentry's team.

Ingram was one of those traded to New Orleans as part of the package that saw Anthony Davis join the Los Angeles Lakers and, away from the City of Stars, the 22-year-old has been able to shine.

The small forward is averaging 25.1 points - the 11th best in the NBA this season.

That number will surely take a hit when Williamson returns but New Orleans will hope Ingram can still flourish alongside their top draft pick in a league littered with dynamic duos.

 

GETTING HIS KICKS

The previous US president did not see much of Williamson due to an injury the teenager sustained after his Nike shoe came apart.

That did not prevent him from signing with the sportswear giant's Jordan brand, though, in a deal reportedly worth $75million across seven years.

The sneakers worn by basketball stars are always the subject of great interest and the kicks Zion first dons will be of particular interest, especially after the incident in the North Carolina game.

Harry Kane may have suffered an untimely injury, but England boss Gareth Southgate could well be blessed with a wealth of attacking options heading into Euro 2020.

Kane's hamstring injury should not see him miss the European Championship, but it has handed plenty of England hopefuls the chance to prove their worth.

And it seems as though this season, the Premier League belongs to homegrown forwards.

Jamie Vardy – who has retired from international duty – leads the way with 17 goals, ahead of three players sharing second place in the scoring charts with 14: Danny Ings, Marcus Rashford and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Arsenal striker Aubameyang is one of only four non-English players to take their place in the Premier League's list of leading scorers as things stand, along with Sergio Aguero, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah.

Raheem Sterling, Tammy Abraham and Kane complete the top 10 and, using Opta data, we assess whether the 2019-20 Premier League campaign is an anomaly or the start of something new.

SIX OF THE BEST

Vardy's incredible form has been key to propelling Leicester City up the league, with Brendan Rodgers' side currently sitting third. 

The 33-year-old has 17 league goals to his name this season, though it is another Englishman who has been making the headlines recently – one who downed the Foxes last time out. 

Southampton's Ings has scored 10 goals in his past 11 top-flight appearances and is already the highest-scoring Southampton player in a single season since Jay Rodriguez in 2013-14. 

Level with Ings is Manchester United's Rashford, who seems to have finally taken up the mantle as the Red Devils' talisman and has scored 19 times across all competitions, one less than England team-mate Sterling, who has 11 league goals. 

Chelsea's transfer ban in the off season handed Abraham the chance to shine, and shine he has, scoring 13 times in the top flight, two more than England captain Kane. 

It should also be noted the six leading English scorers all represent different clubs, showing that homegrown talent is shared across the league. 

THE NEXT GENERATION

Of the English players leading the way this season, two – Rashford and Abraham – are 22, while City sensation Sterling is only just 25.  

Indeed, only Vardy, of the English forwards in the top 10, is above the age of 30. 

After overcoming a glut of injury issues, Ings is finally hitting his stride once more, with Southampton the benefactors.  

But, with the 27-year-old averaging a goal every 109.8 minutes in the league – a figure bettered only by Vardy among the other English players – Ings must be in serious contention for a place in Southgate's squad for the upcoming friendlies against Italy and Denmark. 

There is also plenty of potential for the future outside of the players in the top 10. After Sterling and Kane, Dominic Calvert-Lewin is the highest-scoring English player and the 22-year-old seems to be coming into his own for Everton. 

He has scored eight league goals and 10 in total across all competitions, while United's Mason Greenwood is the highest-scoring teenager in the competition. 

Away from the Premier League, Borussia Dortmund forward Jadon Sancho has been lighting up the Bundesliga since his move from City in 2017.

HISTORY SAYS...

Only twice in the past nine Premier League seasons has an English forward won the Golden Boot, with Tottenham star Kane doing so in both 2015-16 and 2016-17.

Last season, the award was shared between Mane, Salah and Aubameyang, though each only managed 22 goals – the lowest amount since Carlos Teves finished top of the charts with 20 in 2010-11.

Since the start of the previous decade there has been a steady increase in the number of English players finishing in double figures for the season, with five last term being the most. But with six players inside the top 10 – and Calvert-Lewin not far away – this season, 2019-20 is proving the best season for homegrown strikers in that timeframe.

With Euro 2020 on the horizon, it appears this could well be the season that kick-starts a new wave of English talent starring in the big time.

Those inside Camp Nou on November 11, 2018 where treated to a true spectacle. Regardless of whether or not Barcelona fans were angered by the end result, a 4-3 defeat, they were almost certainly entertained.

It was Barca's first loss at home in any competition since September 2016 and the manner of the defeat was truly impressive.

Real Betis battered Barca for much of the match and finished with a commendable 48 per cent possession, a feat few clubs can match at Camp Nou. At no point did Betis trail.

Fourteen months on, that remains the last time Barca were defeated at Camp Nou, in any competition. But now, the man who masterminded Betis' win is in charge of the champions.

Quique Setien was announced as the successor to Ernesto Valverde following his unceremonious sacking on Monday, with the 61-year-old seemingly hired due to his football ideologies being closely aligned to those of Barca.

Despite being held in high regard by many for his philosophy and championing of Barca icon Johan Cruyff, there remain massive reservations about his adaptability and whether he truly is the right man for the club in the long-term.

If he is to be the perfect fit, there are a few things he needs to address at a clun that some feel has lost its identity.

Adapt his system to Messi and determine future of aging stars

A non-negotiable condition of the job that even the most vociferous cirtics of Valverde will accept he more than met during his two-and-a-half years in charge - get the best from Messi. In theory, Setien's possession-based football should make him the ideal fit for Barca, and therefore Messi. But his teams – namely Las Palmas and Betis – had as much of a reputation for a chaotic approach that bordered on all-out attack as they did for dominating possession. Betis in particular played some rip-roaring football at a blistering pace, but playing at break-neck speed won't always been the case for Barca, who often have to be more methodical to break down deep-sitting opponents. Messi should still be expected to thrive, but where Setien opts to utilise the 32-year-old and the other stars of an aging team will be crucial. Can Gerard Pique, Ivan Rakitic, Sergio Busquets and the others over the age of 30 still keep up?

Look to La Masia, promote Puig

During the 2016-17 LaLiga season, Setien's Las Palmas squad had 14 'cantera' products in it. While that might be more readily expected of a club with a significantly smaller budget than Barca, he continued to make the most of the academy when at Betis. Francis, Fabian Ruiz, Loren Moron and Junior Firpo – with whom he has reunited – were all prominent figures under Setien at the Benito Villamarin. Barca's famed La Masia has been less successful in recent years, but there are certainly talents coming through with the likes of Ansu Fati. An easy early win for Setien would be promoting Riqui Puig to the first-team, with the silky – albeit diminutive – midfielder ready for the step up. Don't be surprised to see teenager Pedri also link up with the senior squad when he officially joins from Las Palmas at the end of the season.

Sign a Suarez substitute

Luis Suarez is set to miss most – if not the rest – of the season after having knee surgery, leaving Barca with a significant hole to fill. It's likely Antoine Griezmann will be asked to take up a central position, but beyond him their options are more or less limited to Carles Perez. As such, Barca are reportedly considering bringing in another forward, with Girona's Cristhian Stuani seemingly among the most likely arrivals. But the burly Uruguayan is not an archetypal Setien striker – Chimy Avila of Osasuna is. The Rosario-born forward is said to be being monitored by Barca, as the Argentinian is enjoying a fine season. A feisty competitor, Avila's nickname 'Chimy' comes from his father's conclusion that he is "spicy like chimichurri", a popular South American sauce. Small, quick, agile and relentless, comparisons with Sergio Aguero are understandable, and his release clause is a fairly modest €25m.

Win LaLiga

To be fair, achieving league success in isolation may not be good enough to keep Setien in a job for long – just ask back-to-back LaLiga winner Valverde. No, Setien will have to do more. He'll essentially have to win LaLiga while playing exciting football and win the Champions League to earn an extension to his contract, which ties him to the club until 2022. But, as was made abundantly clear by Josep Maria Bartomeu in Setien's presentation, the length of a contract can be irrelevant if certain expectations aren't met. "Setien has signed until 2022, but there's also a caveat that there can be a change," the president said on Tuesday. "Valverde had a contract until 2021 [until 2020 with the option for another year] and we saw there's a change."

Avoid a Champions League collapse

Perhaps the biggest issue the fans had with Valverde was humiliating collapses in successive Champions League campaigns. In Valverde's first season, Barca took a 4-1 lead into their quarter-final clash with Roma, only to be eliminated by virtue of a 3-0 loss in the return leg. The next year they did go a step further, but the result was much the same – a 3-0 defeat of Liverpool at Camp Nou was following by a 4-0 Anfield annihilation by the eventual champions. The concerns some might have of Setien relate to his teams' defensive capabilities, as such an emphasis on attacking left Las Palmas and Betis vulnerable at the back. While he will have a greater calibre of player at Barca, if this side of his team is to be exploited, it'll likely be in the latter stages of the Champions League.

Given he delivered back-to-back LaLiga titles and left Barcelona still at the summit, Ernesto Valverde's departure appears perplexing on the surface.

There has been no great decline to speak of, no obvious player revolt and no boardroom bickering.

Why then have the Blaugrana opted to part ways with their head coach and replace him with Quique Setien, a man who could only lead Real Betis to a 10th-place finish last term?

We have taken a look at the five games which might have ultimately resulted in Valverde's exit.

Roma 3-0 Barcelona. Champions League quarter-final second leg. April 10, 2018.

After being beaten in both legs of the Supercopa de Espana by Real Madrid to begin his reign, things picked up for Valverde, who enjoyed a 36-match unbeaten run at the beginning of the 2017-18 LaLiga campaign.

However, two and a half weeks before that title triumph was sealed, Barcelona were stunned in Europe.

Valverde's side were in control of the tie having beaten the Serie A side 4-1 at home, but Roma became only the third side in Champions League history to overturn a first-leg deficit of three goals or more.

Greek defender Kostas Manolas scored the crucial third goal eight minutes from time as Roma went through on away goals and Valverde suffered his first, but not last, European humiliation.

Liverpool 4-0 Barcelona. Champions League semi-final second leg. May 7, 2019.

Fast forward a year and a case of deja vu, with Barca sitting pretty on a 3-0 first-leg lead in their last-four tie against Liverpool.

The Reds were without Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino for the return fixture at Anfield, where Divock Origi's early goal only gave them a sliver of hope.

Yet Barca looked shell-shocked as Georginio Wijnaldum's double was followed up by another Origi strike, Liverpool incredibly progressing to a final they would win.

Described in the Spanish press as a "debacle", "tragedy" and "historic failure", the writing seemed to be on the wall for Valverde from that point.

Barcelona 1-2 Valencia. Copa del Rey final. May 25, 2019. 

Not even a second LaLiga title could silence Valverde's doubters, who had more ammo when his team lost to Valencia in the Copa del Rey final.

Valverde had hoped a victory would ease the pain of the Liverpool loss but Barca were stunned again, Kevin Gameiro and Rodrigo putting Valencia 2-0 ahead before Lionel Messi pulled one back.

Rather than wield the axe, though, club president Josep Maria Bartomeu absolved Valverde of blame for the result.

 

Espanyol 2-2 Barcelona. LaLiga. January 4, 2020.

Away defeats to Athletic Bilbao, Granada and Levante would have looked costlier had the champions' nearest rivals Real Madrid not stumbled along themselves in the first half of this season.

Both teams' struggles were evident in a 0-0 Clasico draw at Camp Nou in December, but it was Barcelona's first result back after the mid-season break that would have set more alarm bells ringing.

Derby rivals Espanyol were bottom of the table and had not beaten Barca in LaLiga since 2009 but Frenkie de Jong was sent off as the strugglers claimed a 2-2 draw.

Barcelona 2-3 Atletico Madrid. Supercopa de Espana semi-final. January 9, 2020.

Five days later and it got even worse for Valverde and Barcelona.

Leading 2-1 in Saudi Arabia with nine minutes to go, the Blaugrana collapsed again late on, with Alvaro Morata and Angel Correa sending Atletico through to a final against their cross-city rivals Madrid.

It meant Barcelona had won just one of their previous five games, a sour note to end on for Valverde.

Page 1 of 48
© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.