Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder fought out a thriller in Los Angeles 14 months ago and the second instalment of a planned trilogy will be battled out in Las Vegas on Saturday night.

The WBC heavyweight belt goes on the line at the MGM Grand, which long ago jumped ahead of Caesars Palace as the hottest spot to see elite fighters pull on the gloves in America's gambling capital.

Within the vast urban sprawl of the hotel and casino's grounds sits the Garden Arena, where legends have been made and demolished.

Neither Fury nor Wilder is a stranger to the MGM Grand boxing ring, but neither man has had a career-defining fight there yet.

Fury versus Wilder II could be a classic. Their stunning draw in LA leaves all to fight for.

Here is a look at five of the most dramatic and memorable blockbuster showdowns in the 26-year history of the big-fight coliseum.

5. George Foreman beat Michael Moorer, KO, November 1994

Before he became a grill pan hype man, Foreman was frying rivals in the ring.

The veteran rolled back the years on one of the MGM Grand's first big bills, after fighting for permission to even step into the ring. With the 45-year-old having not had a bout in almost 18 months, the WBA initially refused to sanction the contest, but Foreman went through the courts to get the go-ahead, and it was worth the effort.

The man who lost to Muhammad Ali in 1974's Rumble In The Jungle caused a seismic stir in Sin City with this 10th-round knockout victory, landing the WBA and IBF heavyweight titles as he became the division's oldest-ever champion. He had been outboxed for much of the fight, but Foreman found his punching power when it mattered.

4. Juan Manuel Marquez beat Manny Pacquiao, KO, December 2012

This was the final stanza in a Vegas quadrilogy for Marquez and Pacquiao, with a draw and two Pacquiao points victories in their previous clashes setting up another slice of MGM Grand history.

Amusingly, their second fight had been dubbed 'Unfinished Business', so the promoters needed to ramp up the anticipation for this one, pre-emptively titling it 'Fight of the Decade'.

It went a long way towards living up to that billing, earning Ring Magazine's Fight of the Year gong after Mexican Marquez turned the tables on his Filipino rival, driving a brutal right hand into Pacquiao's jaw in the dying seconds of the sixth round.

The fight-defining shot from the 39-year-old capped a sensational contest in which both men had been in trouble, and down went Pacquiao with a thud to the canvas.

Promoter Bob Arum suggested they go at it again in a fifth fight, but that never materialised. Marquez retired as a five-time world champion, his titles coming across four weights.

This was not a title fight, but the punch that collapsed Pacquiao forms a huge part of the Marquez legacy.

3. Floyd Mayweather beat Oscar De La Hoya, split points decision, May 2007

Anticipation for this light middleweight barnstormer reached fever pitch in the United States, where almost 2.5million households signed up for $55-a-throw pay-per-view television coverage, a record number.

Broadcaster HBO produced a four-episode mini-series building up to fight night, and there was also the saga of which corner Mayweather's father, Floyd Mayweather Sr, would be in, given their estrangement and his availability as a top-level trainer.

The answer was ostensibly neither corner in the end. Mayweather Sr reportedly priced himself out of a role with De La Hoya, and Mayweather was primed for the showdown by his uncle, Roger Mayweather.

The hype machine was pumping out hyperbole by the time the fight began, and the fact it turned out to provide huge entertainment was testament to the focus of both fighters.

Mayweather was given 116-112 and 115-113 verdicts, with De La Hoya 115-113 on the other, and the winner's verdict that it was "easy work for me" flew in the face of abundant evidence.

Floyd Mayweather Sr, showing not a jot of family loyalty, surmised that De La Hoya would have deserved the win.

2. Frankie Randall beat Julio Cesar Chavez, split points decision, January 1994

It was opening night at the Garden Arena, six weeks after doors to the MGM Grand hotel swung open for the first time.

The WBC super lightweight belt was on the line, Don King was the promoter pulling the strings, and for its outrageous shock factor, Randall's victory over Chavez that night ranks as one of the venue's greatest triumphs.

Chavez had been described months earlier by Sports Illustrated as "the world's greatest fighter", and he headed into this bout with 89 wins and one draw from 90 professional encounters.

Randall dominated the early stages but was pegged back by Chavez, only for low blows from the Mexican to result in two points being deducted by referee Richard Steele - the telling factor.

Chavez would have won a split points decision, rather than lost that way as he did, had he not been penalised, and later said he was "very upset" with Steele.

A bizarre rematch went Chavez's way. In a highly unusual outcome, an eight-round split decision favoured Chavez when an accidental headbutt from champion Randall left the challenger unable to continue.

1. Evander Holyfield beat Mike Tyson, TKO, November 1996; Holyfield beats Tyson, by disqualification, June 1997

Tyson effectively set up camp at the MGM Grand in the second half of the 1990s, having spent a large chunk of the first half behind bars after a rape conviction. He and promoter King landed a mega-money six-fight deal with the venue, after Tyson's comeback began there with a first-round win, by disqualification, over Peter McNeeley in August 1995.

A March 1996 dust-up with Britain's Frank Bruno was a major money-spinner, but nothing touched the prospect of a long-awaited collision with Evander Holyfield for commercial potential.

Holyfield and Tyson had been due to clash at Caesars Palace in November 1991, but a rib injury suffered by Tyson, followed by his incarceration, put paid to that.

Their 1996 showdown was billed as 'Finally', and the first fight – though now often overlooked because of what followed – was a monumental contest in heavyweight history, Tyson succumbing to just the second defeat of his professional career.

It featured thudding head collisions and the sight of Tyson being outboxed by the underdog until enough was enough for referee Mitch Halpern, who stepped in to stop the fight in the 11th round.

Halpern was kept busy that night but was prevented from officiating the rematch seven months later after a complaint from the Tyson camp, with Mills Lane stepping in at late notice.

It was to prove extraordinary, as Tyson bit both of Holyfield's ears during clinches in round three, spitting out a chunk of cartilage onto the canvas at one stage before outrageously claiming a punch had caused the injury.

Lane said it was a "b******t" explanation and disqualified Tyson, who was banned indefinitely. After a year, 'Iron Mike' had his licence back, but his glory days were over, those bites now more famous than any punch he ever threw.

What happens in Vegas no longer stays in Vegas. Instead, it is beamed around the world, with Fury and Wilder next under the spotlight.

The world of boxing will come to a standstill this weekend when Deontay Wilder faces Tyson Fury in an eagerly anticipated rematch at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

It has been 14 months since two of boxing's most eccentric characters fought to a contentious draw for Wilder's WBC heavyweight world title.

Predictions have been rolling in from pundits, fans and fellow boxers alike prior to Saturday's blockbuster clash.

Here we take a look at how the biggest names in the sport see the bout panning out.

 

Former heavyweight champion George Foreman – I pick Tyson Fury on points

"It's going to be good for boxing. I love it. I pick Tyson Fury to win on points," he told bookies.com "Millions will watch it, and it'll probably be a controversial decision. That Deontay Wilder can punch. Oh, he can hit, and he can hit hard. I think they're going to tear the wall down there because that rematch will be seen by a lot of people."

Anthony Joshua, the IBF, WBA and WBO world champion – Tyson Fury has more to his arsenal

"He [Fury] has more to his arsenal so that's why I'm leaning to him. Fury can punch a bit," 'AJ' said to Sky Sports. "He's underestimated with his punching power which makes him dangerous. If you underestimate someone it makes them dangerous because you don't respect them until you get hit."

Wladimir Klitschko – I wish, believe it or not, Fury might make it

"Either Wilder is going to knock out Fury or Fury is going to win on points," Klitschko, dethroned as heavyweight champion by Fury in 2015, told The National. "Personally, I respect Wilder a lot – he was in my training camp, we spent rounds in the ring. As many knockouts as he has, you’ve probably no one else, in current times, any heavyweights, including me. I think, or I wish, that actually Fury, believe it or not, might make it."

Ex-world champion 'Iron' Mike Tyson – I'm rooting for Tyson Fury 

"I always root for him because he was named after me. That’s the natural thing to do, right? I'm biased towards him," the ex-heavyweight champ told BT Sport. "I don't care how hard you punch, it's hard to beat somebody who doesn't wanna quit."

Heavyweight contender Luis Ortiz – Deontay Wilder by knockout

"Tyson Fury and Wilder are two different fighters, but I don't think Wilder will respect him in the rematch, and I see the outcome by a knockout victory," Ortiz said after being floored by Wilder in their own rematch in November.

Former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield – At any one time Deontay Wilder can get you with one shot

"Now it's which guy is going to fight his fight like this. I think at any given time, Deontay can get you out with one shot," Holyfield told Fight Hub TV. "Tyson Fury, it's going to take him a lot of shots to get you out. He ain't gonna get you out with one. It's gonna take a lot of shots to get you out. So I think it’s going to be a little bit more difficult for him."

Three-time world champion Lennox Lewis – Right now, Deontay's looking good

"I think it's gonna be an unbelievable fight, the boxer against the puncher," Lewis told Boxing Social. No predictions. I would have to say, right now, Deontay's looking good."

Shelley Finkel, Wilder's manager – This time they will do the count correctly

"This time the count will be done correctly and you will see Deontay’s hand raised and they will announce he is still heavyweight champion, by knockout," Finkel said in quotes reported by Max Boxing.

Frank Warren, Fury's promoter – Tyson will have all the answers

"At the end of the day, Tyson got up twice from those knockdowns [in the first fight]," Warren told talkSPORT. "So he showed what he was made of and I just feel Tyson is a complete boxer. He can box, he can punch, he can be southpaw, he can be orthodox and he's a very smart guy. And I think he will have all the answers for him this time."

Fourteen months have passed since Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder's arms were raised in unison in the middle of the ring at the Staples Center.

Both men left Los Angeles that night convinced they deserved to be taking home the WBC heavyweight belt, but a draw ensured it was the unbeaten Wilder who held onto the strap.

The stunning nature of a bout which featured two knockdowns and Fury's incredible final-round second wind after hitting the canvas meant a rematch was always likely.

Here, we talk a look at what Wilder and Fury have been up to since they first fought on December 1, 2018.

 

FEBRUARY 2019 - FURY SIGNS WITH ESPN & TOP RANK

Fury's reputation Stateside was certainly enhanced by his display against Wilder and that led to him signing a five-fight deal with United States network ESPN and promoters Top Rank.

It was feared such an arrangement would scupper a rematch with Wilder and a potential all-British bout against Anthony Joshua due to their conflicting television deals.

Yet Fury told the BBC at the time: "If I didn't want to fight Wilder then I wouldn't have taken it the first time. The fight is more makeable now because of this deal."

MAY 2019 - WILDER KNOCKS OUT BREAZEALE

The first of the pair to return to the ring was Wilder, not that he spent long there as he stunned WBC mandatory challenger Dominic Breazeale by knocking him out in the first round in New York.

There were still 43 seconds to go in that round when Wilder delivered a devastating example of his brutal power, flooring Breazeale with a big right hand.

Speaking in the ring after his 41st professional win, Wilder said of Fury: "That fight will happen, the rematch will happen."

JUNE 2019 - FURY STOPS SCHWARZ

Four weeks after Wilder wowed in Brooklyn, Fury pulled out all the stops in Las Vegas.

James Brown's 'Living in America' was the Briton's choice of music and he channelled Rocky character Apollo Creed in making his ring walk wearing a rope and top hat adorned with stars and stripes.

The previously unbeaten Tom Schwarz proved no match for Fury once the action began as he was stopped in the second round.

SEPTEMBER 2019 - TYSON OVERCOMES OTTO

Fury was the heavy favourite for his next fight against Swede Otto Wallin but a deep cut sustained in the third round meant it was far from a straightforward Las Vegas night.

He was awarded the victory courtesy of a unanimous points decision - the 29th win of a 30-fight career.

There were fears that the cuts sustained by Fury, whose attire of choice was a Mexican cape and a sombrero in celebration of Mexican Independence Day weekend, could delay the anticipated rematch with Wilder...

OCTOBER 2019 - FURY WRESTLES STROWMAN

It turned out those cuts did not prevent Fury from returning to the ring a month later, though the gloves were off when he did.

In what was perhaps another bid to increase his popularity in the States, Fury briefly joined the WWE and fought Braun Strowman at the Crown Jewel event in Saudi Arabia.

Fury won - by virtue of a knockout punch, of course - but it proved to be a short-lived career in scripted fights.

NOVEMBER 2019 - DEONTAY DOWNS ORTIZ

Wilder was encountering his own difficulties when Luis Ortiz outboxed him across the opening six rounds of their heavyweight title fight.

But, as has often been the case in Wilder's career, his awesome power proved the difference-maker, Ortiz sent to the canvas in the seventh.

It was Wilder's 10th straight title defence, drawing him level with the great Muhammad Ali.

DECEMBER 2019 - FURY CHANGES TRAINER

Three months after his family criticised Ben Davison for his role in the Wallin fight, Fury split with the man who had overseen his incredible comeback.

Davison was in his corner for the first fight against Wilder but Fury has elected to work alongside SugarHill Steward ahead of the rematch.

It is fair to say Barcelona's signing of Martin Braithwaite has raised a few eyebrows.

After being granted special dispensation to complete a deal for the Leganes forward outside of the transfer window, Barca announced the arrival of Braithwaite on Thursday.

Braithwaite moves to Camp Nou with a modest return of 10 goals in 43 LaLiga appearances and having had uninspiring spells at Middlesbrough and Bordeaux prior to moving to Spain.

Yet, this is hardly the first time a Barcelona signing has seemed puzzling to those on the outside.

Here, we take a look at some of the strangest, not necessarily the worst, signings Barca have made in recent history.

ZLATAN IBRAHIMOVIC

This feels like the caveat of surprising not worst needs re-emphasising. Ibrahimovic's standing as a world-class talent is not in question. But it was a signing that seemed out of place with Barca's style of play under Pep Guardiola, and a deal made even more perplexing by the club's decision to sanction Inter's signing of Samuel Eto'o, who was part of a devastating triumvirate with Lionel Messi and Thierry Henry. While Eto'o went on to win the treble under Jose Mourinho in 2009-10, Ibrahimovic – while still managing a solid return of 16 goals in 29 LaLiga outings – never really fit the mould at Camp Nou and reports of discord with Guardiola were always bubbling under the surface. He was shipped out to Milan a year later with a LaLiga and Club World Cup medal to show for his efforts.

ALEX SONG

Cameroon midfielder Song made over 200 appearances for Arsenal but not many truly thought he was a player with the calibre to shine at Barcelona. With Barca's midfield boasting the talents of Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Thiago Alcantara, Javier Mascherano, Cesc Fabregas and Sergio Busquets when he joined in 2012 it was hard to see where Song fit in. And so it proved, with Song twice being sent out on loan to West Ham before a permanent move to Rubin Kazan was agreed in July 2016.

JEREMY MATHIEU

David Luiz, Marquinhos and Mats Hummels were all tipped as potential additions for a Barca side seeking a central defender in July 2014. For one reason or another none made the move and so Barca paid the €20million release clause to Valencia to make Mathieu the most expensive defender over the age of 30. Having only really played one full season as a centre-back it was not a deal that exactly screamed value. But, to his credit, Mathieu proved a useful squad player and he left Camp Nou with two LaLiga medals, three Copas del Rey and a Champions League win to his name.

PAULINHO

This one definitely falls under the category of surprising rather than worst. Paulinho was widely regarded as a £17million flop during a two-season stay with Tottenham so not many could have foreseen Barcelona forking out a reported €40million fee to sign the Brazil midfielder from Guangzhou Evergrande. But Paulinho was a solid squad man at Barca and his one-season stay – he would re-join Guangzhou in July 2018 – saw him make 34 league appearances, as well as returning a LaLiga and Copa del Rey double.

ARTURO VIDAL

Much like Ibrahimovic, it was not a question of Vidal's talent or achievements, more if he could fit the stereotype of a Barca player. The Chile midfielder, who has won top-flight titles in Italy and Germany with Juventus and Bayern Munich, has proven a useful player for Barca, helping the club to LaLiga glory last term, but has made just six league starts this term. The 32-year-old was the subject of reported interest from Inter in January.

KEVIN-PRINCE BOATENG

A player certainly not devoid of talent but Boateng is the sort of player who in years to come many will say out loud "I didn't know he'd played for them!" A nomadic career has seen him take in spells with the likes of Tottenham, Borussia Dortmund, Milan and Schalke but few would have imagined Barca would come calling in January 2019. However, with Ernesto Valverde on the lookout for back-up to Luis Suarez and Boateng having had experience of playing as a centre-forward in LaLiga with Las Palmas, a loan deal with Sassuolo was agreed. He made just four appearances and is now enjoying a temporary spell at Besiktas from Fiorentina.

JEISON MURILLO

Much like Boateng, Murillo arrived on a short-term loan in the 2019 January window as a short-term option. With injuries to Samuel Umtiti and Thomas Vermaelen leaving Barca short at centre-back it was not particularly a surprise to see them enter the market, more that they moved for Murillo who had made just one LaLiga appearance for Valencia since joining on a full-time deal from Inter. Opportunities, as you may expect, proved scarce and Murillo played just four times for Barca.

The Financial Fair Play rain clouds that have been lingering for so long over Manchester City finally burst on Friday.

And yet, through the uncertain, murky gloom – which was not completely at odds with the Manchester weather earlier on this cold February day – there shined a familiar ray of hope.

Just as the rain subsided physically, so too can the storm pass – at least for this season – if Wednesday's evidence in City's 2-0 beating of West Ham is anything to go by. 

The full repercussions of the bombshell of a two-season ban from European competition and a €30million fine administered by UEFA for what the organisation's Club Financial Control Body (CFCB) deemed "serious breaches" of its FFP are still some way from being felt.

Not least because it is a ruling that barely starts the war, let alone ends it. City offered an immediate rebuttal, a denying of any wrongdoing and an intention to take their appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

More battle lines were drawn when chief executive Ferran Soriano insisted allegations that City broke the rules "are simply not true" alongside an insistence the club had provided "irrefutable evidence" to the CFCB they had committed no wrongdoing. 

It is a scenario that will rumble on for some time. 

But here's the thing. Ultimately, you can have questions around City's financial conduct. You can feel uncomfortable about City's main means of defence throughout the process being to attack the validity of UEFA's investigation. You can even question the morality of football clubs being funded by oil-rich states.

It is fine to harbour those legitimate concerns and still be completely in awe of the slick machine Pep Guardiola has built, one many suggested would not be possible in English football. 

Sure, the Premier League trophy is headed to Liverpool this season and City's on-pitch shortfalls owe much to Guardiola's nonsensical decision not to replace Vincent Kompany, leaving City's defence low on numbers - the consequent re-positioning of Fernandinho after a serious knee injury to Aymeric Laporte in turn weakening his midfield.

But there were moments against the Hammers that reminded us of what has made City so utterly joyous during the previous two all-conquering title-winning seasons.

The intent was plain to see with a starting line-up blessed with City's wealth of attacking armoury. David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne pulling the strings from midfield, Bernardo Silva employed further forward and Gabriel Jesus utilised wide in a front three – an intriguing subplot given it is a role he may have to fulfil against Real Madrid should Raheem Sterling not be fit and one in which he excelled as Brazil earned Copa America glory.

Indeed, had it not been for Jesus' dalliance, City twice would have been in front inside 15 minutes. West Ham clearly came with the intention to pack the defence and the midfield. The timeless David Silva unlocked that plan after just six minutes, playing an intricate sliderule ball into the path of Jesus who opted to try and round Lukasz Fabianski rather than take the favourable option of shooting. He was guilty of similar wastefulness when, after admittedly more fortuitous play, he was found by De Bruyne.

There was a delightful simplicity about the way City made the breakthrough. A De Bruyne corner, a front-post run by Rodri and a flicked header to the far post. 

But the second was much more a trademark of City under Guardiola. The intricate build-up play, the link-up between De Bruyne and his fellow creative genius Bernardo Silva, and the unerring finish from the former – who continues to be the beating heart of this team.

That such a performance came against a toothless, expensively assembled West Ham side shambling their way through a relegation battle should only partly detract from the credit City's performance deserves.

Sterner examinations are obviously on the horizon. Namely Madrid in what is a crucial last-16 Champions League tie, where you sense the atmosphere will be significantly more hostile towards UEFA and there will need to be more vibrancy on and off the pitch, though credit should be given to those game fans turning out for a hastily rearranged Premier League fixture with little riding on it.

Save for the brief, and somewhat unsavoury, "f*** UEFA" chants, and the self-deprecating singing of "City's going down with a billion in the bank" – a nod to a song rivals Manchester United used to taunt their blue neighbours with – the stands were understandably sedate and sparse.

But for now this was the sort of riposte City required on the pitch amid the uncertain turmoil off it. 

The FFP storm may still be gathering but with Guardiola, who has signalled his intent to stick around regardless of the outcome of the club's CAS appeal, there remains a feeling the light can shine through the dark clouds.

Over the past nine years or so under Diego Simeone, Atletico Madrid had become that team "no one wants to play" in a knockout clash.

Their resilience, work ethic and downright dirtiness made them arguably the toughest team to play against in Europe – not because of any particular brilliance, but because they were the embodiment of their coach on the pitch.

That aura has somewhat diminished over the past 18 months or so, and there's no getting away from the fact this has been a testing season for Atletico and Simeone, with few giving them a chance against European champions Liverpool in the Champions League last 16.

After finally getting past the Antoine Griezmann saga in pre-season, there had been a feeling Atletico could hit the reset button and begin a process of reinvention following signs of stagnation.

They've done anything but. While they remain shrewd defensively, in attack Atletico are as toothless as they have ever been under Simeone, having only scored more than one other side in LaLiga's top 10.

An anxiousness seems to have engulfed Atletico at times this term, their new-look team appearing uneasy with the pressure that accompanies their established status as favourites in almost any match.

But on Tuesday they were transformed. For a night, the real Atletico were back, and they beat Liverpool 1-0 at the Wanda Metropolitano.

Their start was as good as anything Atletico have produced all season. Whether they were spurred on by the raucous atmosphere inside the Wanda or some feisty pre-match words from Simeone, it's unclear.

However, Atletico were sharper than the European champions everywhere, snapping into tackles, getting the ball forward quickly and directly, and their intensity off the ball was like the classic Atleti sides of the previous decade.

Atletico used to be the ultimate underdog, their tirelessness, tenacity and voracious nature mirroring the ideals and mannerisms of Simeone, who prowled the touchline throughout. They were never afraid of the big occasion, and all that came flooding back even when Liverpool were on the front foot.

A fortuitous touch off Fabinho allowed Saul Niguez to put Atletico in front after just four minutes.

An early goal from a corner, allowing them to absorb pressure and play on the counter or wait for errors – it was about as quintessential Atletico as it gets.

This situation should've seen them get a second goal in the 26th minute, as Virgil van Dijk's woeful defensive header was pounced on by Alvaro Morata, but after cutting inside Fabinho he could only shoot straight at Alisson from close range.

Liverpool were short of ideas in response, their first shot coming in the 29th minute – a rather hopeless long-range effort from the right foot of Andy Robertson, and Fabinho followed suit with a similarly harmless attempt soon after.

A Mohamed Salah shot that was crucially blocked by Felipe was the best the Reds could muster in the first half, and they fared little better after the interval and ended without a single shot on target, with Atleti's back four and hard-working front six doing a commendable job of limiting space for Liverpool to exploit.

"The people of Atletico always wanted a competitive team, a team that was strong in defence, a team that would play on the counter-attack and be a nuisance for the super-powerful sides," Simeone once wrote in the Coaches' Voice. They certainly delivered on that against Liverpool, with Atletico's coach spending virtually the entire match on his feet, playing the role of chief cheerleader.

Another opportunity fell to Morata on the break deep into the second half, but the much-maligned striker lost his footing at the crucial moment and he was withdrawn soon after.

And therein lies Atletico's biggest problem – with just seven goals, Morata is their most prolific scorer in LaLiga this season and there's every chance Liverpool will make him pay for wasting his two glorious opportunities when they resume hostilities at Anfield.

But on a night that Atletico once again reminded Europe of their status as masters of the mundane, Morata shouldn't be the focus.

No, at a time when many have suggested change is needed at the Wanda Metropolitano, Simeone showed evidence his dynasty's destructive powers are still capable of upsetting the elite.

Atletico Madrid appear clear underdogs as they welcome European and world champions Liverpool to the Wanda Metropolitano this week.

Liverpool have reached consecutive Champions League finals, winning the decider at Atleti's home last season, and are on course for a stunning record-breaking first Premier League triumph.

Diego Simeone's Atleti have similarly been counted among Europe's elite in years past, winning LaLiga in 2013-14 as they lost the Champions League final, a continental feat that was repeated two years later.

But the Spanish side are facing a battle just to finish in the top four in their domestic league this season.

They face Liverpool in the Champions League last 16, hosting the first leg on Tuesday, and we use Opta data to assess just where they have fallen away ahead of this mammoth task.

 

Steadily slowing since 2014

Simeone has long had a reputation for setting up his side to stifle the best in Spain and across Europe, but in 2013-14 – the greatest season in their modern history – Atleti packed a punch in attack.

The LaLiga champions scored 116 goals in their 61 matches in all competitions – 1.9 per game.

As they returned to the Champions League final in 2015-16, Atleti netted 89 times in 57 matches (1.6 per game), while they average just 1.1 per game this term.

Diego Costa alone scored 35 in 2013-14, and Atleti clearly lack a similarly prolific marksman right now, but their style of play in attack has also changed considerably.

Atleti still have a similar portion of possession – 46.8 per cent in 2013-14 to 47.5 per cent this campaign – yet they were previously far more effective at launching attacks from their low block.

A total of 108 fast breaks across their 61 matches in their best season works out at 1.8 per game. That was down to 0.4 fast breaks per game in 2015-16, and 0.5 per game in 2019-20.

Atleti have simply become far slower and therefore easier to defend against.

 

Alvaro Morata no marksman

Atleti's issues would still not be quite so grave if they were taking chances with the same regularity as previously, but a study of Expected Goals (xG) provides cause for concern.

Costa could have been expected to score 31.85 times across the 2013-14 season but instead beat that xG figure with his tally of 35.

The ability of Simeone's side to compete again two years later was largely due to the talents of Antoine Griezmann, meanwhile, signed after the LaLiga title success.

The France striker outperformed his xG of 18.84 by some distance with a total of 24 goals in all competitions, taking several chances he would not have been expected to score from.

This season, Alvaro Morata is Atleti's top scorer with just eight. Worryingly, he would have been expected to score 12.85 times already.

Joao Felix (three goals, 5.87 xG), Costa (two goals, 2.92 xG) and Vitolo (no goals, 1.62 xG) have all toiled in the final third, too, explaining Atleti's poor goals return.

 

Defensive standards slipping

And Atleti's problems are not just at one end of the field. Jan Oblak remains one of Europe's finest goalkeepers, but even he cannot match previous standards behind a much-changed defence.

The Slovenia star was outstanding in 2015-16, conceding just 26 times across 51 matches, keeping 32 clean sheets and saving 82.67 per cent of shots faced on target.

This term, Oblak has already let in 22 goals in just 31 games, with his save percentage 76.84

Where Atleti could have expected to concede 45.31 goals four seasons ago and allowed just 31, the margins have slimmed considerably: 27.5 xG conceded versus 24 conceded in 2019-20.

Just as Atleti have not effectively replaced Griezmann in attack, they look to be feeling the losses of Diego Godin, Lucas Hernandez and Filipe Luis in defence, with Oblak unable to stem the tide.

Liverpool's all-star attack can now fancy their chances against a previously stingy back line.

Real Madrid's most memorable attacking moment during the first half of their title-race twisting 2-2 draw against Celta Vigo was Sergio Ramos launching into one of his driving runs in search of a goal, only to volley the ball into his own face when it arrived.

This botched attack had a claim beyond slapstick, given Zinedine Zidane's LaLiga leaders failed to muster a single shot on target before the break.

Indeed, there was nothing remotely as incisive from an forward line featuring Eden Hazard and Gareth Bale as the move Celta produced for their seventh-minute opener – Iago Aspas shifting smoothly into a pocket of space in front of a ramshackle Madrid defence and threading a perfect pass for Fedor Smolov to coolly slot home.

Hazard was making his first appearance since suffering a fractured ankle in November and, shortly after Ramos' party piece, showed signs of starting to shift through the gears.

In the 40th minute, Karim Benzema pulled out to the left channel and Hazard scampered around the outside, pulling the ball back from the byline for the on-rushing Bale to fire narrowly over.

It was link-up play to cheer Zidane as he tries to get his returning attackers up to speed ahead of the Champions League showdown against Manchester City later this month.

On this evidence, however, Hazard and Bale are playing for one spot. The ever-dependable Benzema is a guaranteed starter, fitness permitting, and Los Blancos missed the benched Vinicius Jr's dynamism for much of Sunday's contest.

Having set themselves a low bar in the first-half, Madrid improved considerably during the second period and hit the front thanks to a couple of sure things.

Toni Kroos' midfield scheming is not annotated with goals too frequently, but he dispatched Marcelo's pass to score for the sixth time against Celta. He has 14 LaLiga goals overall since joining Madrid from Bayern Munich in 2014.

Ramos is, by comparison, somewhat more prolific from centre-back. A smart finish from an offside position showed his radar to be back in order following the earlier mishap and there was little doubt about the outcome when he stepped up for a 65th-minute penalty.

Ruben Blanco erred badly when Benzema and Hazard repeated their first-half link, with the Celta goalkeeper darting from his ground to needlessly bring the Belgium star down.

Blanco guessed correctly but Ramos' sprung from his staggered run-up to dispatch an unerring strike.

Hazard made way for Vinicius in the 73rd minute and enjoyed a warm ovation from the Bernabeu faithful – the sort of reception that sadly only seems to exist in the past tense for Bale nowadays.

As for the other grizzled survivors of Zidane's three consecutive Champions League final triumphs from 2016 through to 2018, they remain his dependables.

They will be asked to go to the well once more the next time Madrid emerge at their famous home ground, faced with a formidable but flawed City in a competition they know like the back of their hand.

It would be a brave person who backs against them but the sight of Celta producing a sting in the tail suggested the years could be taking a toll.

Substitutes Denis Suarez and Santi Mina combined as Aspas and Smolov had before for the latter to score – the lines of communication between Dani Carvajal and Raphael Varane in the backline again appearing unhelpfully clogged.

The lead at the top of LaLiga from Barcelona was only a point at full-time, a situation roughly as comfortable as booting a football into your own face.

Of course, Ramos tumbled theatrically in stoppage time to try and win another penalty and Madrid will strain and scrap for everything until the end of the season. With 46 goals from 24 LaLiga games, don't expect them to blow too many teams away either. The Galactico grind is on.

After 37 minutes at the Allianz Stadium, Brescia could at least be grateful Maurizio Sarri had spared them the torment of trying to contain Cristiano Ronaldo.

Serie A's second-bottom side had just been reduced to 10 men, forward Florian Aye bounding untidily into Aaron Ramsey with the enthusiasm and poise of a Labrador puppy to earn a second booking in the space of three and a half minutes.

The visitors were already operating with their third-choice goalkeeper between the posts, an early head injury having accounted for Jesse Joronen's understudy Enrico Alfonso and thrusting Lorenzo Andrenacci into an unexpected top-flight debut.

It meant opportunity knocked for Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala, the Argentina duo who were leading the Juve attack as Ronaldo, who has scored in every appearance in 2020, enjoyed a well-earned rest.

Higuain and Dybala have had to tailor their games this term under Sarri, operating within a significantly different tactical setup and very much at Ronaldo's service.

Nevertheless, the gulf in Serie A goal returns from the trio heading into the weekend was stark: Ronaldo boasting a haul of 20 in 2019-20 set against five apiece for his two attacking colleagues.

As Juve resume their pursuit of that elusive Champions League crown and contend with Inter's unflinching challenge domestically, it would be preferable to see the burden shared more equitably – irrespective of Ronaldo's superpowers showing little sign of fading.

Higuain offered a demonstration of his underrated selflessness just after the half hour, stealing in front of Ales Mateju and cutting an inviting ball back across goal. It laid on the sort of chance Ronaldo has gleefully gobbled up time and again over recent weeks, but Dybala failed to adjust to the bounce and skewed woefully wide from eight yards.

Aye's indiscretion allowed him to make amends in style, lifting a delicate free-kick beyond Andrenacci.

Higuain and Dybala each went close with fine angled strikes before the break but, not for the first time over recent weeks, a presumed formality for Sarri's men became a bit of a slog.

Brescia's defending was often of the last-ditch variety – Stefano Sabelli showing great poise to clear off the line and deny Higuain before Birkir Bjarnason bravely denied Dybala at the end of a slaloming run – although their Iceland midfielder fired a presentable half-chance over from 20 yards in the 72nd minute.

It required the more unheralded member of Sarri's Ronaldo-less trident, Juan Cuadrado, to make the points safe. Cuadrado found a cute finish after a clever one-two with substitute Blaise Matuidi.

Like Dybala's, this was another goal wonderfully easy on the eye. The concern for Juventus and their coach is they are increasingly reliant on such moments of magic or Ronaldo's enduring brilliance. Sarrismo is yet to fully take hold in Turin, with the collective frequently underwhelming.

Higuain had a header ruled out for offside and Dybala crashed against the crossbar late on, meaning Inter's goal difference remains five better than Juve's ahead of Sunday's blockbuster clash with third-placed Lazio in Rome.

For the fine-margins battle ahead, it is hard to escape the feeling Juventus need more than the sporadic flashes of brilliance that are just about sustaining them at present.

One win in five, two in seven, three in 10, four in 13: it is fair to say Chelsea's form in the Premier League has been well below what is expected of a 'big six' team.

However, the poor run of results has combined with missteps from Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham, leaving Chelsea ahead of them in the race for the top four - though a two-season European ban for Manchester City is set to offer fifth place a route to the Champions League.

Despite leading Arsenal to just one win in his seven Premier League games at the helm, it is widely accepted that Mikel Arteta's impact since taking over the Gunners has been positive.

Questions were asked of Jose Mourinho's influence at Tottenham amid a run of four wins in 10 in all competitions, but a defeat against Chelsea on Monday could deal a huge blow for for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at United.

The Red Devils have won three of their past seven in the top flight and five of their previous 11, so why is Frank Lampard not receiving the same level of scrutiny as his Norwegian counterpart?

 

A consistent approach

Although Lampard arrived at Chelsea with just one Championship season of managerial experience under his belt, he has implemented an attacking system with an increased passing tempo.

The players are comfortable in the positions they are deployed and can operate to the head coach's instruction, while he's also proved to be adaptable. A switch to a three-man defence and a high press earned a 2-0 win at Mourinho's Tottenham in December, while an in-game move away from that system after falling behind at Arsenal preceded a dramatic late turnaround for a 2-1 triumph.

A tactical switch resulted in United becoming the only team to deny runaway leaders Liverpool a Premier League victory this season, but, in contrast to Chelsea's front-foot approach, Solskjaer’s sides tend to offer more on the counter, with his focus appearing to be on speed and hard running.

Lampard's stock with fans was already high due to his status as a club legend and that has improved by laying on a more positive style than what was witnessed under Maurizio Sarri. Solskjaer, in contrast, has failed to move enough away from the defensive football that resulted in Mourinho's sacking at Old Trafford.

 

Market movements

A transfer embargo at the start of his tenure meant Lampard was unable to make any new signings after taking over from Sarri.

His focus on youth was a necessity, rather than out of choice, but he has still been bold in making Tammy Abraham his first-choice striker and trusting Mason Mount, Fikayo Tomori and Reece James to make the step up to first-team regulars a season after successful loan spells in the Championship.

Abraham, Mount and Tomori have experienced dips in the quality of their individual displays, but that is only to be expected from young players.

Solskjaer has also shown faith in academy products - Brandon Williams and Mason Greenwood are regular fixtures in the first-team squad.

However, their transfer policy has become the subject of much consternation. Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward's house was attacked before a big-money deal for Bruno Fernandes was wrapped up in January, finally bringing an end to a saga that had been drawn out since the previous window. The arrival of Harry Maguire in the close season was similarly long-winded.

United appear to make a meal out of any major signing and are still yet to appoint a director of football to aid the process.

The structure at Chelsea is far clearer and while Solskjaer has been at pains to talk up his role in transfers, Lampard has made it clear such matters are largely out of his hands. By voicing his displeasure at a lack of signings in January, he cleverly moved to absolve himself of any blame.

 

Great (or not so great) expectations

The season was essentially a write-off for Chelsea before it had even started, a place in the top four would likely have been considered an overachievement.

Since being appointed permanently in March, Solskjaer has had to contend with failing to keep United at the level he inspired them to during his initial interim reign – he won his first eight games and 14 out of 19, while also securing a place in the Champions League quarter-finals before being appointed permanently in March. It took him until December to rack up another 14 victories.

The availability of Mauricio Pochettino, so often linked with United, has only served to sharpen the focus on the Norwegian and increase the speculation over his position.

A poor result against Chelsea will no doubt ramp it up further.

The moment Sadio Mane powered his size eight left boot through the ball to sink Norwich City was one of sheer inevitability, another challenger dismissed, that first Premier League title for Liverpool surely just weeks away now.

But what a peculiar contest it was at Carrow Road, Liverpool grinding away in a low gear, wearing down opponents they expected to crack, and who duly did.

Liverpool and Norwich don't play out low-scoring games, went the theory. We thought of Luis Suarez habitually ripping apart the men in yellow and green, the absurdity of Liverpool's 5-4 win at this ground in 2016, and more recently of the 4-1 spanking dished out to the Canaries on the opening evening of this season.

An eye-catching Opta pre-match statistic said that of the 359 fixtures to have been played more than 10 times in the Premier League, Norwich versus Liverpool had the highest goals-per-game average - 68 goals being plundered in 17 games.

But this never looked like following the four-goals-a-game average, and it would have been easy to daydream through the first 45 minutes.

Liverpool, mindful of their Champions League trip to Atletico Madrid next Tuesday, were not minded to direct the full might of their arsenal at their hosts, and Norwich are burdened by a nagging fear factor when it comes to the men in red.

They last enjoyed a victory over Liverpool in April 1994, when Jeremy Goss clattered a brilliant goal to secure a 1-0 win at Anfield, in the last match Liverpool played at their home ground before the famous Kop terrace was demolished.

It was the same week that saw Nelson Mandela elected as South Africa's president. One day after Goss and Norwich spoiled the party at Liverpool, sport was struck by tragedy when Ayrton Senna died after a crash at Imola during the San Marino Grand Prix.

A quarter of a century later, and Liverpool see sitting ducks when they clock the yellow in those Norwich shirts.

So it is 25 wins from 26 games for Jurgen Klopp's Reds in this season's top flight, and a 25-point lead over Manchester City, which is now the least of Pep Guardiola's worries.

When Liverpool last won the English title - the old First Division - their 1989-90 campaign contained the anomaly of two goalless draws against Norwich.

They won the league with 79 points from 38 games that term, finishing nine points clear of nearest rivals Aston Villa.

Now they have 76 from 26 and are heading for all sorts of records, especially if teams such as Norwich present themselves, flap and flounder and let an off-colour Liverpool pilfer the points.

Lukas Rupp effectively tripped over Norwich's team-wide insecurities when he bolted clear of the Liverpool offside trap late in the first half. Confronted with Allison, Rupp looked like a little boy lost and bungled a short-range pass to Teemu Pukki.

Liverpool cooked up a series of chances after the break, with Tim Krul heroically keeping the home side in the game before Alex Tettey rattled the outside of Alisson's right post from 25 yards. Alisson possibly had the ball covered.

Mane, returning from injury, came off the bench and injected a spark before rattling in the winner. He expertly took down a long pass from Jordan Henderson, turned sharply and lashed a left-footed shot past Krul.

Never doubt this Liverpool. The goal came in the 78th minute, but in another sense it had been long coming.

Klopp said the win was "outstanding" and his team - "these wonderful football players" in their manager's words - are almost over the line.

Their lead is "insane", Klopp said.

It's only February, but check the reality of this extraordinary situation, which on Saturday saw Norwich fans keenly posing for pictures with Klopp.

We're already witnessing a lap of honour.

Former Manchester City captain Richard Dunne fears it could be tough to keep Pep Guardiola at the Etihad Stadium following the club's two-season ban from UEFA competitions.

European football's governing body announced on Friday that City would be barred from taking part in the Champions League and Europa League in 2020-21 and 2021-22 due to "serious breaches" of Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations between 2012-2016.

City swiftly confirmed their intention to appeal the verdict to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), stating they were "disappointed but not surprised" by UEFA's verdict, which also included a £25million fine.

Guardiola joined City in 2016 and has led the club to five of the past six domestic trophies on offer in English football.

Despite falling well adrift of Liverpool in this season's Premier League title race, the 49-year-old has spoken frequently of being open to remaining in Manchester, even beyond the end of his current contract in June 2021.

However, ex-Republic of Ireland centre-back Dunne feels being denied the pursuit of a trophy Guardiola last won at Barcelona in 2011 would change the landscape.

"Wherever he's gone, he's always been there to be a winner. That's what he'll want to remain," he told Omnisport.

"He wants to go and win trophies and if City are in a situation where they can no longer compete, because they're selling players and can't attract the top players because there's no Champions League football, it will be difficult.

"I think the club has been organised really well – the whole club, not just the first team. They have a structure in place where they will survive and try and rebuild again.

"But to lose someone like Pep Guardiola would be a huge blow. He's what they've worked towards, to try and get him to come in as manager, and he's been successful.

"You listen to players talk about why they sign for teams and Pep is a huge attraction for any player."

Dunne was City's on-field leader during Thaksin Shinawatra's doomed ownership that preceded Sheikh Mansour's 2008 takeover, and he also played for Aston Villa during the time when American owner Randy Lerner abruptly turned off a once free-flowing investment tap.

Significant boardroom ructions often serve to sow uncertainty among the playing staff and Dunne feels City's current situation amounts to a challenging period for Guardiola's squad.

"You don't know what the owners are thinking and what their next move will be," he explained.

"All the players are going, 'Are you staying?', 'I don't know, someone in the Champions League wants to sign me, so maybe if this doesn't work out…'.

"It might be similar to when the owners came in and took over at City. All the players in the dressing room are talking about it and wondering what's going to happen next. Am I secure? Are they going to move me on?

"There is an uncertainty that grows within the club. They'll appeal and the court case will probably go on for a while. The players will be thinking, 'What's going on this summer? Are we in the Champions League or do I move on?'.

"Also, the talk may be that the Premier League is going to act and deduct points. It all becomes a bit messy and, as much as the players concentrate on the pitch and all that stuff, the talk all around them will all be about this situation."

Should star names seek pastures new, Dunne believes opportunity knocks for some of the bright young talents who have found first-team opportunities tough to come by during the Abu Dhabi era in east Manchester.

Phil Foden has broken through 50 senior appearances, although there remains a clamour for the England Under-21 midfielder to start meaningful games more frequently, while 19-year-old centre-back Eric Garcia impressed when thrown into a patchwork defence during the festive period.

Dunne has no doubt over the quality of the youngsters at City's disposal.

"You look at what's happened with Chelsea this year – they've had the transfer ban and they've been able to blood lots of young players," he added.

"City have that number of talented players coming through in the background, their academy is so highly thought of. They just need players to get to the first team and this may be the opportunity for them.

"You can't say the ban will benefit the club but in every dark cloud there is a silver lining somewhere and maybe for City that's it."

"If the likes of Phil Foden get to play on a more regular basis, if Eric Garcia comes through and other young players make a name for themselves… in the long run, isn't that what UEFA wanted?"

Manchester City's two-year ban from UEFA competitions could cost the Premier League champions in the region of £250million in lost revenue.

European football's governing body announced on Friday that City would be fined £25m and barred from the Champions League and the Europa League for the next two seasons, on account of "serious breaches" of Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations between 2012-16.

City have already stated their intention to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), meaning a seismic moment for elite club football still has twists and turns to come.

The future of manager Pep Guardiola, along with star players such as Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling, is likely to be the most immediate concern for fans, but the balance sheets that have so fascinated UEFA over recent years are also set to take a considerable hit in the event City observe a Champions League exile.

"If you go deep into the latter stages of the Champions League, you're looking at around £100m in TV money and prize money," Dr Dan Plumley – a football finance expert and senior lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University – told Omnisport.

City earned £85.7m on their run to the quarter-finals in 2018-19, with greater riches in prospect if they are able to negotiate a last-16 tie against Real Madrid and go all the way this time around.

"Liverpool earned £110m for winning it," Plumley continued. "So, ballpark, £100m because you'd expect them to progress to the knockout stages at least. That's times two, so there's £200m there."

Taking a sponsorship hit

As well as missing out on UEFA broadcasting revenue and prize money, the modern convention of performance-related clauses being written into sponsorship deals is also likely to hurt City.

"Commercial deals that are in place with things like shirt providers and other partners, a lot of those now have penalty clauses for Champions League qualification for the big teams," Plumley said.

"If City aren’t competing on that stage there will be a reduction in their contracts for that period of time.

"So you're looking at maybe a conservative estimate in the ballpark of a £250m reduction in revenue from not being in the Champions League over two full seasons."

The need to make ends meet and remain in line with FFP for any re-entry to European football means City could be forced to cash in on some of their best players, with opportunistic potential buyers unlikely to be hard to find.

"The lure to the player [to leave] is you're not playing in the Champions League for two seasons. That's clear from a player's perspective," Plumley said.

"One line of that argument is clubs will then look to get a knockdown price. I think what City would do in response is inflate the price – if you want our players, you pay the premium – pushing it the other way.

"It often becomes a power play between the player and the club. I think that will happen naturally if this ban is upheld. It could play out both ways in terms of transfer valuations.

"We also have to factor in the reduction in revenue. If City's revenue drops, do you have to shift on a couple anyway to keep the cash position going? Leroy Sane fits that bill because we were led to believe he wanted to leave last year anyway."

Sheikh Mansour likely to remain

Even if fan favourites from the pitch and the dugout seek pastures new, Plumley does not expect City's Abu Dhabi ownership to be going anywhere soon, even if the CAS appeal goes against their club, due to the breadth and depth of their investment in a unique football project.

"I've not seen any murmurings that Sheikh Mansour would be looking to get out," he explained. "If you look at what the club are doing on a wider scale – in New York, in Australia, in Japan. The City Football Group is now a global brand.

"That will take a hit from the bad press around this, no doubt, but it wouldn't wipe too much off the valuation, other than the figures that we're talking about in terms of loss of revenue.

"They do need to be in the Champions League long-term, let's make no mistakes about that. The likes of Jadon Sancho, for example, want to play in the Champions League. If it's a two-season ban, some of those players might not want to come.

"There are one or two little things around the edges – Pep Guardiola's future, a significant dip in revenue if the ban is upheld – but I don’t think the bigger picture for Manchester City will change too much."

Romelu Lukaku has made quite the impact in Serie A this season but he comes up against one of Europe's most in-form strikers in Ciro Immobile when Inter visit Lazio on Sunday.

Lazio have been one of the surprise packages in Italy's top flight this term and are just one point adrift of table-topping Inter ahead of a huge clash at Stadio Olimpico.

The performances of Immobile and Lukaku could well be crucial in determining the outcome of a blockbuster encounter between two teams aiming to end Juventus' stranglehold of Serie A.

With help of Opta data, we look at how the two compare this season.


IMMOBILE ON FIRE IN FRONT OF GOAL

Lukaku said "there's a new king in town" after helping Inter down Milan in the derby last weekend, and he has been an undoubted success during his maiden campaign at Inter. Thus far he has 17 goals in 23 Serie A appearances with an impressive minutes-to-goal average of 116.

But Immobile is Lazio's leading light, scoring 25 times in 23 league games, giving him an impressive average of a goal every 77 minutes in the top flight.

The Lazio man has also taken more shots (including blocked efforts), registering 93 to Lukaku's tally 68, with 46 on target compared to 35 for the Belgium striker.

Lukaku has scored nine and missed 10 'big chances', with Immobile's numbers reading 15 and 12 in that department. The Italian has a slightly better shot conversion rate (including blocks) of 27 per cent to 25.


CIRO THE CREATOR? LUKAKU UP FOR THE BATTLE

Lukaku's strengths are not just his goalscoring prowess but his ability to bring team-mates in to play.

Immobile is no slouch in terms of those attributes, though, and his six assists and 41 chances created outstrip what Lukaku (two and 34 in the respective categories) has managed this season.

Where Lukaku has outperformed Immobile is the number of duels won, with his 104 some way clear of Immobile's 65. Unsurprisingly, his duel success rate of 44.07 per cent is better than the Lazio forward's 38.69.

In terms of recoveries, Immobile has made 59 to Lukaku's 44.


THE STATS

- Immobile has failed to score in his past two league games; he has not gone three without a goal since last May.

- After scoring twice in his first three matches against Inter, Immobile has failed to net in the following eight against the Nerazzurri.

- Lukaku has the most away goals in the top five European leagues this season with 12, while Immobile is the highest scorer in home fixtures with 15 (the same total as Cristiano Ronaldo).

- Indeed, Lukaku's tally of 12 away goals is already the joint-best for a debut Serie A campaign. Andriy Shevchenko (1999-2000) and Antonio Vojak (1929-30) also managed as many on the road in their maiden seasons.

UEFA's decision to hit Manchester City with a two-season ban from European football for Financial Fair Play breaches is likely to send shockwaves across elite club football.

But what next for the reigning Premier League champions at the eye of the storm?

Here, we have a look at what Friday's judgement means for City, Pep Guardiola and his Etihad Stadium stars.

 

Appeal could see City feature in next season's Champions League

City were swift in their response to UEFA's punishment, announcing their intention to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

Irrespective of whether City are successful in their attempts to overturn the sanctions or not, any CAS case is likely to run for months, meaning the appeal could still be ongoing when next season's Champions League rolls around.

However, even if this means City kick the can down the road and line up in Europe's top competition in 2020-21, there is little doubt the spectre of UEFA coming down hard on the club does little for long-term planning.

Guardiola's future

Guardiola is under contract at City until the end of 2020-21 and, throughout the course of an uneven campaign this time around, has frequently hinted he could be open to a longer stay.

The prospect of being denied annual shots at the competition that has eluded him since a second win with Barcelona in 2010-11 might change that, while UEFA landed their bombshell during the same week rumours linking Guardiola to Juventus surfaced once more.

The 49-year-old might find it harder than most managers to separate himself emotionally from boardroom events, given his close friend Ferran Soriano – a man instrumental in bringing him to Manchester – is City's chief executive officer and mastermind of their commercial strategy. Will his response be motivated more by loyalty or disappointment?

Summer rebuild on ice?

Despite intermittently hitting their brilliant best, City's laboured pursuit of Liverpool this season has suggested the end of a cycle for a gifted squad that has swept all before them domestically.

At least one centre-back, a left-back, a winger and possible even another central attacker could all have been on the agenda, but a prospective Champions League ban must now alter City's transfer plans.

Leroy Sane's long-rumoured exit now appears even more likely, while Europe's elite might even chance their arm with enquiries over the likes of Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva.

Time for the Foden generation

City will now be on the outside looking in as a cluster of Europe's elite pursue their former academy product Jadon Sancho, but the immediate prospects for those currently in residence at the Etihad Campus look to have suddenly improved.

Guardiola has long earmarked 2020-21 as the campaign where Phil Foden will come to long-awaited prominence, given David Silva is bringing down the curtain on a glorious decade in Manchester when this season concludes.

Centre-back reinforcement can also come from within in the form of Eric Garcia and Taylor Harwood-Bellis, while the prodigiously gifted Jayden Braaf might find some of his reported disciplinary problems within the academy system can now be met with a blind eye.

Domestic dominance 2.0

City will cede the Premier League to a relentless Liverpool but their 2018-19 treble might be chased again with renewed vigour next term.

The first-team squad might lose some of its depth of quality in these new circumstances, but a talent pool such as City's only being required to compete on a weekend-to-weekend basis represents a problem for those Premier League rivals being extended at home and abroad.

City's Champions League relationship broken beyond repair

City's fanbase have long nursed an uneasy relationship with the Champions League and the detente Guardiola clearly desires is now nothing other than a pipe dream.

Expect the booing of the competition anthem to reach a seething boiling point when Real Madrid visit the Etihad Stadium next month.

In a tournament where they have frequently flattered to deceive, City could do worse than to harness a siege mentality in what Guardiola can sell to his players as a now-or-never tilt for glory.

European heavyweights thumbing through their accounts

UEFA's FFP system is safe for now, but the forthcoming CAS appeal could become a long and torrid process.

City are sure to present a thorough case, which could end up casting a light on the business operations of other major clubs.

All of European football's major players will be watching on with unswerving interest and suspense.

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