International football is largely over for 2020 and the Premier League is returning for the run-up to Christmas.

The next five weeks are jam-packed with action both domestically and in Europe, and hitting the ground running this weekend could give plenty of sides a timely boost.

If you're getting that fantasy team primed once more, cast your eye over our Opta-powered top tips...

 

EDOUARD MENDY

Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy finally conceded a goal in the Premier League in his last appearance, although the Blues still recovered to beat Sheffield United 4-1.

There's no reason to lose faith in the Senegal international ahead of the visit to Newcastle United this weekend.

In fact, Mendy has saved six of the seven shots on target he has faced in England's top flight, giving him a save percentage of 85.7. No keeper in the division can boast such a figure this season.

 

BEN CHILWELL

Chelsea's new-found stability means filling the backline with Blues defenders is no longer a risk to your fantasy success.

Of course, Ben Chilwell is someone who can provide plenty of points regardless of doing any actual defending.

He has been directly involved in four goals (two scored, two assisted) in five league games this season, more than any other defender.

AARON CRESSWELL

However, the prize for 2020-21's most creative defender goes to West Ham's Aaron Cresswell.

His three assists and 17 chances created are the top figures in the competition among defenders and he has been a part of three clean sheets to boot.

With the Hammers facing struggling Sheffield United this weekend, Cresswell is well worth considering.

 

JACK GREALISH

Now that doubts about his place in the England team appear well and truly dismissed, Jack Grealish can focus on the more improbable task of keeping Aston Villa in the race for Europe.

Only Harry Kane (eight) has more assists this term than Grealish (five), and only Mohamed Salah (20) has created more chances from open play (17). The Liverpool star is also the only player with more touches in the opposition box (85) than the Villa captain (70).

What's more, Grealish has scored in each of his past four appearances in all competitions against Brighton and Hove Albion, including in all three meetings last season. They are his favourite opposition.

WILFRIED ZAHA

Crystal Palace's four wins from their first eight games owes much to the form of Wilfried Zaha.

With five goals and two assists, he has already equalled the number of goal involvements that he managed in 38 league games in 2019-20.

Palace face winless Burnley on Monday.

 

GABRIEL JESUS

No Sergio Aguero? No problem. Gabriel Jesus has been involved in 11 goals in his past 11 matches in all competitions (eight scored, three assisted).

The Brazil striker has also scored in each of his previous three games and will look to stretch that run to four for the first time since April 2018 when Manchester City face Tottenham.

 

PATRICK BAMFORD

Only four players have scored more goals in the Premier League this season than Patrick Bamford - and they are only one ahead of the Leeds United striker.

Bamford has hit seven in his eight league games in 2020-21, a scoring run not seen at the club since the days that Mark Viduka graced Elland Road (he managed nine in his first eight appearances).

Given Arsenal's inconsistencies, there is every chance Bamford will pick up where he left off prior to the international break.

England midfielder Jack Grealish is embracing comparisons to Paul Gascoigne after continuing his impressive form against Iceland.

Grealish helped England complete their Nations League campaign with a 4-0 victory at Wembley on Wednesday.

The Aston Villa star made three key passes and was fouled six times – three more than any other player – as Phil Foden scored twice after goals from Declan Rice and Mason Mount.

Amid comparisons to former England star Gascoigne, Grealish welcomed the comparisons, but said he still had work to do.

"I thrive off those kinds of comparisons. I love Gazza. I've watched his documentary on Netflix about a million times," he said.

"I love his character, on the pitch and off the pitch. I love the way he played football, such a freedom and such a joy. You know, you've you hear so many people speak about him and say it was just a joy to watch.

"And I think that's the biggest compliment that you can have, when people say to me, it's just a joy to watch you, you know that makes me happy, because that's what I want to do. I just want to entertain people but I also want to be effective on the pitch just like Gazza was.

"But obviously those comparisons are far away, because I've not even played a tournament. Like he thrived on the biggest stage. And until I do that, I think I can't really be compared to him at the moment."

The win over Iceland was Grealish's fifth international appearance, and he has impressed in the Nations League, with only Harry Kane (eight) creating more chances from open play than his six for England.

Grealish has faced criticism for off-field issues in the past, but the 25-year-old said he was growing and learning.

"Years ago I didn't really think it was like a thing on the pitch, it was more off the pitch where I still thought I was just Jack from Solihull that I could just go out and do what I want," he said.

"As you get older, you probably learn that you're a hero to a lot of young lads, you're a role model. And you need to obviously watch what you're doing and that's not saying that I still won't make mistakes because, you know, I probably will.

"But I feel like I've grown up over the years and hopefully now I can carry on doing that as captain of a Premier League club. So, I was gonna take it all in my stride because at the moment I just absolutely love my life."

England manager Gareth Southgate is happy to have a selection headache as he prepares for Euro 2020 next year, after the Three Lions' youngsters starred against Iceland.

Records tumbled at Wembley in Wednesday's Nations League encounter, with England winning 4-0.

Declan Rice opened his international account, with Mason Mount doubling England's tally before Phil Foden – who had created the opener – scored his first goals for his country to complete the rout.

The only players aged 30 or older in England's starting XI were Kieran Trippier and Kyle Walker, Southgate starting four players – Foden, Mount, Rice and Bukayo Saka – aged 21 or younger; the first time the Three Lions have done so in a competitive match since November 1959.

His faith was repaid, with all of them turning in impressive displays as England dominated from start to finish, controlling 78.3 per cent of the possession, while Jack Grealish was again in superb form from a free role on the left flank.

Grealish, 25, won six fouls, meaning he has drawn 21 in total since his debut for England in September, more than any other player in that time.

Rice, meanwhile, is the first West Ham player to score for England since Matthew Upson against Germany in the 2010 World Cup, while the midfielder is also the second-youngest Hammer – after Joe Cole – to net for the Three Lions.

Two of Mount's three goals this season have come for his country, and with Foden's late double, three players aged 21 or under netted in the same match for England for the first time since February 1883 against Ireland, when William Cobbold, Oliver Whateley and Frank Pawson found the net.

Foden is the youngest player in the history of the England national team to score more than once in a match at Wembley.

He also became the youngest player to score and assist in a match for England since Marcus Rashford in September 2017.

With Southgate's 3-4-3 system finally clicking against Iceland, the debate will now turn to whether it is the formation the England manager should use heading into the Euros.

Jadon Sancho came on from the bench, as did Tammy Abraham, while in-form Dominic Calvert-Lewin was an unused substitute.

Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford were missing altogether, and with Mount, Grealish and Foden all looking sharp, Southgate has a plethora of attacking options to choose from, without factoring in the likes of Trent Alexander-Arnold and James Maddison.

However, it is a headache he is happy to deal with.

Southgate told Sky Sports: "I think over the last few days their talent has been outstanding. It was a very difficult game, all the players were hearing messages that this is meaningless and there was nothing to play for but they did play for it, there were big opportunities for young players but also for some older players.

"We're still trying to build and improve all the time. There was lovely football and it was good to watch and it was good for the young ones to get the goals – very special for them.

"The squad that we've had over the last three months is going to peak in the next three to five years and they'll get a lot more club experience and international experience. We'll invest the time in them. There are some very good senior professionals as well.

"We are still working on the balance of players for the system. Our attacking play was very, very good. If it's a headache about having good players in the side then that's a good one to have."

One down side for England was captain Harry Kane failing to score from five attempts – none of which hit the target.

Wednesday is the only day of the week Kane is yet to score on for England, the Tottenham star having attempted 12 shots in three such games, but failing to land a single one on goal.

Jack Grealish can cope with the increased expectations following a strong start to his England career, though Gareth Southgate has emphasised success will only be achieved as a team. 

Aston Villa playmaker Grealish, 25, made his full England debut in a 3-0 victory over Wales in October - setting up the opening goal for Dominic Calvert-Lewin - but was not used by Southgate for the subsequent Nations League fixtures. 

He set up Jadon Sancho in a 3-0 win over the Republic of Ireland last week and was bright in a 2-0 loss to Belgium on Sunday, attempting more passes in the opposition half than any player on the pitch and drawing a game-high seven fouls. 

That result ended England's hopes of reaching the last four of the Nations League and there have consequently been calls for Southgate to begin building his team around Grealish, who has been involved in 12 goals in as many appearances for club and country this season. 

Asked whether it was important to manage the expectations on Grealish ahead of Wednesday's meeting with Iceland, Southgate told a news conference: "I think that's always important with any player, we are going to succeed or fail as a team. It's for everybody to contribute. 

"We've tried to ensure over the past four year that it's collective expectation, we could put pressure on Harry Kane, Raheem [Sterling], other players, and it needs to be the same with Jack. 

"He's had a super start to his international career. I think he'll be able to handle the attention because he thrives under that pressure. He's got great courage with the ball, so I don't think that'll faze him. Equally, it's going to be the squad that brings us success as a collective."

Another player in the embryonic stages of their international career is 17-year-old Borussia Dortmund midfielder Jude Bellingham. 

When told Bellingham wears the number 22 because he was challenged to be capable of playing as a number four, eight and 10 at former club Birmingham City, Southgate said it is important not to try to categorise the teenager as a specialist in any one position yet. 

"Well, I think he could end up playing any of those roles. At Dortmund he's playing as one of two fours or as an eight, and most of the time at Birmingham he was kind of in the position of an eight really," said Southgate. 

"But he's so young, you don't have to specialise yet. [With] a lot of midfield players, it's more important he learns the game, he gets brilliant experiences playing in whatever positions might be his strongest and as time develops it'll probably become apparent which is his more suited position. 

"But he is a midfield player who can pass, tackle, break forward and score goals, so he can do any of those jobs and I never think with young players we should rush to pigeonhole them into one, we should wait to see how he develops. And, at the moment, he's developing really well." 

There has been a focus on the performances of Marcus Rashford following his charity work to help reduce food poverty among children in the United Kingdom. This week he also launched a book club for kids. 

Amid criticism from certain parts of the media and suggestions he should focus on football, Southgate has been left baffled by the treatment of the Manchester United forward.

"I don't really understand those comments. The days where the players just focused on their football and did nothing else are in the far distant past," he said.

"Modern players recognise they have an opportunity to make a difference, whether that's in their local community or on a broader scale, they have a voice and a social media presence.

"You know as a sportsman you're going to have a second career when you finish football, that's the reality, so I don't know why they would limit themselves to just one thing.

"Of course, it's important you're training and focus on games isn't affected, but it's possible to achieve that balance."

Manchester City could be set to strengthen in attack ahead of next season, with Erling Haaland and Lautaro Martinez reportedly their main targets.

The Premier League giants may be looking for a forward amid uncertainty over Sergio Aguero, whose contract expires at the end of the season.

And two of Europe's top talents are apparently top of their list.

 

TOP STORY – MAN CITY EYE HAALAND, MARTINEZ

Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland and Inter forward Lautaro Martinez top Manchester City's wish list next year, according to 90min.

Haaland and Martinez have been heavily linked with Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively.

The report says with Aguero's future unclear and some questions over Gabriel Jesus, City are prioritising a forward.

Haaland is the equal top goalscorer in the Champions League this season with four, converting 60 per cent of his big chances.

Martinez has a goal and an assist in three Champions League games, while creating five chances.

Meanwhile, the Daily Star reports City are weighing up using their £25million buy-back clause on Aston Villa midfielder Douglas Luiz, while they are also looking at star Jack Grealish.

 

ROUND-UP

- While Paul Pogba is reportedly unhappy at Manchester United, Fabrizio Romano says the Premier League giants want to extend the midfielder's contract, although nothing is advanced. Pogba's current deal runs until 2022.

- Hakan Calhanoglu seems set to leave Milan. Mundo Deportivo reports Atletico Madrid are in pole position to sign the midfielder, who has also been linked to Manchester United, Juventus and Inter. Calhanoglu is out of contract at the end of the season.

- Staying at Milan and Milan Live claims the Serie A outfit are looking at Bayern Munich defender Jerome Boateng, another player whose deal expires at the end of the campaign.

- Barcelona could be looking to raise funds in January. Sport says Riqui Puig and Carles Alena are set for January exits.

- Also at Barcelona and Mundo Deportivo reports the LaLiga giants will rely on Oscar Mingueza, Arnau Comas or Santiago Mingo from the B team if Manchester City do not lower their asking price, believed to be €15m (£13.4m), for defender Eric Garcia in January.

Gareth Southgate acknowledged that Jack Grealish is working his way up the England pecking order after another impressive individual performance in Sunday's 2-0 defeat to Belgium.

Grealish was the undoubted highlight for the Three Lions as they saw their hopes of another UEFA Nations League Finals appearance dashed in Leuven.

The Aston Villa man took more touches (76) than any of his fellow England forwards, completed more passes in the opposition half (47) than any other player on the pitch, and won 86 per cent of his 14 duels.

Asked if Grealish had further strengthened his claim for regular England starts as a result, manager Southgate told ITV: "Yeah, 100 per cent. 

"I sort of explained to him what we wanted to see when we brought him in in September. 

"I think it's been helpful for him to bed in with the group so that he knows the way we want to play and the players get an understanding with him. 

"Today was a great game for us to see him in and to see the level and I couldn't speak highly enough of his performance.

"What I saw, that I knew I would see, was someone with the bravery to play. 

"I think he took the ball in tight areas, his technique was good, he took players out of the game. We knew he would buy a lot of free-kicks, which of course he did. 

"I just thought he was outstanding. He should be absolutely delighted with the way he played."

Grealish, too, alluded to his private conversations with Southgate, insisting they had been key to his emergence on the international stage.

He continued: "I said the other day, he's been brilliant with me since I first came here in September. He told me what I needed to do to get into the side and I've gone away and worked on that. 

"At the end of the day, that's what you need to do in football; there's only one person that you need to impress if you want to get in the team and that's the manager. 

"He obviously gave me some praise after the game, which is nice."

Gareth Southgate believes any manager of a top team must be prepared to make big calls as he will with Jack Grealish, citing former England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson's difficulty choosing between Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard.

Heading into a Nations League double-header against Belgium and Iceland, pressure is building on Southgate to name Aston Villa captain Grealish in his XI.

The 25-year-old switched allegiance from the Republic of Ireland to England in 2015 but did not make his senior Three Lions debut until September this year.

Even after breaking into Southgate's squad, Grealish - who has four goals and five assists in the Premier League this season - has struggled to hold down a place in the line-up.

Grealish's bow came from the bench in the goalless Nations League draw against Denmark, while his only two subsequent appearances have been in friendlies, starting in 3-0 wins over both Wales and Ireland.

The midfielder had a team-high two assists across those matches, while only Mason Mount (four) created more chances than his three, one of which was classed as a big chance.

It seems far from certain Grealish will get another opportunity from the outset in Belgium on Sunday, yet Southgate welcomed the challenges that come with a deep squad.

The England manager pointed to Eriksson's time at the helm when he had an array of options - most notably the midfield pair of Gerrard and Lampard, who were said to be too alike to play together.

"If you want to be manager of any big football club or national team, you've got to make decisions that you believe are the right ones for the team, for the whole group for the right reasons depending on the opponent," Southgate told reporters.

"That's part of life at the top. If you don't want that, go and work somewhere else, frankly.

"We're blessed; we've got some very good players. But I'm imagining when Sven had to pick from [David] Beckham, [Paul] Scholes, Gerrard, Lampard, [Michael] Carrick, that was a pretty difficult choice as well.

"You had Champions League winners in every position, [Wayne] Rooney, [Michael] Owen, European Footballer of the Year at the time.

"All big managers or all managers of big teams have to make those decisions and you've got to be strong, you've got to make them for the right reasons.

"We need a strong squad. In tomorrow's game, we'll need more than 11 - and we've got another game on Wednesday. We need to win them both to be able to win the group."

England beat Belgium in the sides' previous meeting at Wembley, but a subsequent home defeat to Denmark means the Three Lions must win this weekend to reclaim top spot in their group.

Southgate hopes the tide is turning for his side against elite opposition, acknowledging they have struggled previously against the world's best - including in a run to the World Cup semi-finals.

"If you look at history, we haven't been a country that have beaten the big teams," he said. "That's the great challenge for us. There's been very few wins against big nations in tournaments - that's a fact.

"Even in qualifying, I can go back; '98 in qualifying, Italy beat us at Wembley, Gianfranco Zola, and we got a draw in Rome to get us through.

"The perception that we've been an outstanding nation doesn't tally with the results over the years. That's a great opportunity for this team.

"In the last few months before the World Cup, I think we lost in France, lost in Germany, draws with Belgium and Germany at Wembley. We weren't able to nail the big teams.

"Since the World Cup, we had the win in Spain, the draw and the win against Croatia, and the win against Belgium now. We're starting to build those results.

"To be a really top team, you've got to do that consistently, and that's the great challenge for us. It's not an easy one - there's some fantastic teams out there - but it's not one we're fearful of."

Gareth Southgate paid tribute to an inexperienced England side after they claimed a 3-0 friendly win over the Republic of Ireland.

With a Nations League double-header against Belgium and Iceland on the horizon, the Three Lions boss left out the likes of Jordan Henderson, Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane at Wembley on Thursday evening.

Southgate instead went with a youthful team, with goalkeeper Nick Pope the oldest player at 28, while Jude Bellingham came on to make his England bow – becoming the third youngest debutant for the men's team, after Theo Walcott and Wayne Rooney.

He was nevertheless treated to an impressive showing from his fringe players, whose march to victory never looked in doubt.

Southgate told ITV: "I was really pleased with the way the boys played. 

"[With] a lot of young players, a lot of inexperienced players, we used the ball very well, created a lot of chances [and] it could have been more comfortable if we'd taken some of those chances. But overall, very pleased. 

"I think we were a bit slow at the start but that's understandable, it's not a team that has had a lot of time to work together. 

"The longer they went on, some of the interplay, some of the play between our attacking 10s and our wing-backs in particular was very good, especially down this left side: Bukayo [Saka], Jack [Grealish] and then Mason [Mount]. I was very pleased."

Grealish followed up an assist on his England debut with another on his second outing to take his tally to five goals and seven assists in 11 appearances for club and country this term.

It had been suggested that the 25-year-old was in a straight shootout with Mason Mount for a starting place in attacking midfield for the Three Lions but, after using both in the same team, Southgate dismissed that notion.

He added: "There are a lot of other players in the squad as well, so we've got great competition for places. 

"You saw them in two different roles today, they can both play in a few different roles, but I was pleased with the way we moved the ball."

As for Grealish himself, he is hoping that his withdrawal just past the hour mark bodes well for involvement against Belgium next up.

"Who knows? That's what I want to do, I want to play as much as possible and all I've got to do is try and impress the manager as much as I can," the Aston Villa captain said. 

"Since I've come in he's been brilliant with me on and off the pitch, speaking to me all the time, telling me what he wants me to do. 

"That's what I've tried to do and fingers crossed."

Grealish completed 89.7 per cent of 39 attempted passes, with 36 of those coming in Ireland's half, while he combined with Mount on 17 occasions in total.

He continued: "I think coming here and training with these guys day in, day out for two weeks, it just steps up everything about your game, it especially has with mine. 

"Just watching the way Harry [Kane], Jordan Henderson, Raheem Sterling are day to day and how they train. 

"In training you learn off these guys as well, so that's what I've been trying to do. I'm trying to take as much as I can from them and I think it's helped me."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creator-in-chief

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

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

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

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

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

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

Panache and productivity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Could Cristiano Ronaldo's time in Turin be coming to an end?

Ronaldo is contracted to Juventus until 2022 but the Italian giants are believed to be willing to part with the five-time Ballon d'Or winner.

Neymar could be his direct replacement.

 

TOP STORY – RONALDO OUT, NEYMAR IN?

Juventus are keen to swap Cristiano Ronaldo for Paris Saint-Germain's Neymar, according to TuttoMercatoWeb.

Ronaldo has been linked with a move away from Serie A champions Juve, while Neymar's future has often dominated headlines amid speculation over a Barcelona return.

But the superstar pair could be involved in a blockbuster swap deal as both players are on similar contracts.

 

ROUND-UP

- Marca claims Athletic Bilbao are eyeing former Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino, with the future of current head coach Gaizka Garitano uncertain. Pochettino has been linked to Manchester United.

Milan are targeting a January move for Schalke defender and Liverpool target Ozan Kabak, reports Gazzetta dello Sport. Hellas Verona's Matteo Lovato is an alternative, while the Rossoneri are also eyeing Borussia Monchengladbach's Marcus Thuram. The French forward has been linked to the likes of Juve, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester City.

- Zinedine Zidane remains determined to bring Eduardo Camavinga to Madrid, however, Mundo Deportivo says the France sensation will not leave Rennes for below €100million.

- According to Manchester Evening News, United could rekindle their interest in Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish amid his dazzling form. Grealish and Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho were both linked with Old Trafford moves during the previous transfer window.

Another spectacular weekend in the Premier League always looked likely after Liverpool's thriller at Everton, and we weren't disappointed.

The champions lost Virgil van Dijk to injury and a winning goal to a Sadio Mane offside so marginal it seems VAR has now started dealing with measurements on the Planck scale.

Gareth Bale's return to action for Tottenham was warmly welcomed (mostly by jubilant West Ham fans) as a Jose Mourinho team once more produced a goal-fest, a sure sign that 2020 is truly losing its marbles.

Thankfully, we were also given a healthy dose of normality. Arsenal lost to Manchester City for the seventh time in a row, Jack Grealish was fouled so much you have to wonder if his tiny shin pads are shouting insults at every opponent, and Crystal Palace did their utmost to get a result against Brighton and Hove Albion without actually shooting.

Here are some of the more unusual takeaways from the past few days...

 

WHERE EAGLES (DON'T) DARE

Brighton out-shot Palace by 19 in Sunday's 1-1 draw at Selhurst Park, but it wasn't until the 90th minute through Alexis Mac Allister that they finally scored.

Palace had been leading 1-0 since the 19th minute, when Wilfried Zaha converted a penalty won by Michy Batshuayi. Remarkably, that was their only shot in the entire match; since Opta began collecting such data back in 2003-04, no other team has gone through a whole Premier League game in which their solitary attempt was from the spot.

Swansea City hold the Premier League record (at least since 2003-04) when it comes to the lowest number of shots for an entire season: they managed 339 in 2017-18. Palace, who have had 32 in their five games this term, might just have something to aim for – if aiming were their strong suit, anyway.

IT'S GUNNER CHANGE ONE DAY

Some degree of normality was restored at the Etihad Stadium, where Arsenal, who seem to love losing to Manchester City, lost to Manchester City.

Raheem Sterling's goal gave the hosts a seventh win in a row in the league over the Gunners, who last lost as many in succession against the same opponent at the hands of Ipswich Town between 1974 and 1977. If they lose the return fixture, they'll equal a club record of eight consecutive top-flight defeats to the same team, having last done so to Leeds United from 1972 to 1976.

The worst such run in England's top tier belongs to West Brom: they were beaten 15 times in a row by Chelsea from 1984 to 2011 before Gareth McAuley gave them a 1-0 win in March 2012.

 

JACK'S HACKS

Grealish might be struggling to win over England boss Gareth Southgate, but his opponents certainly seem to view him as a force to be reckoned with.

In Aston Villa's 1-0 win at Leicester City, Grealish won five fouls – nobody was fouled more often – to take his tally to 182 since the start of last season. Unsurprisingly, that's the highest number in the division.

According to Opta data, the most-fouled player in the Premier League since 2003-04 is former Bolton Wanderers striker Kevin Davies, who won 727 free-kicks. Grealish has some way to go before he can reckon with that figure, but at least he has double the number of England caps as Davies, who got one back in October 2010.

RED-FACED REDS

Conceding twice to Everton did more than sting Liverpool's local pride – it also took them to 13 goals conceded in five league games this season, the same number they let in after 15 matches in 2019-20. In fact, it's the most they have ever conceded in the first five league games of a season since shipping 13 back in 1953, when Winston Churchill was still prime minister of the United Kingdom.

If their average of 2.6 goals against per game continues, they will end the season having conceded at least 98 times. That would set a new club record in terms of their worst defensive displays across a campaign, surpassing the 97 goals they let in back in, you guessed it, 1953-54. How they would have hoped for better news on Virgil van Dijk's injury.

It could be worse, though: Manchester United conceded a quite spectacular 26 goals in the first five games of 1930-31, which remains a record in England's top flight. Churchill wasn't even in the government at the time.

 

UNBELIEVABALE

Spurs were cruising to a 3-0 victory when Bale came on against West Ham for his first appearance for the club in 2,707 days. What a moment for the fans watching at home.

Of course, it was the West Ham faithful who will have been jumping for joy in their living rooms by the end of the game, with Fabian Balbuena, a Davinson Sanchez own goal and an utterly magical hit from Manuel Lanzini snatching the most dramatic of 3-3 draws. Bale had earlier missed a great chance to make it 4-2, for good measure.

Still, welcoming back Bale after more than seven years will have been a special moment, although it doesn't quite match Wayne Rooney's Premier League record. His first appearance after rejoining Everton in 2017 came 4,837 days after his first in 2002, and he marked it by scoring the winner against Stoke City.

Jack Grealish is a player in the mould of Paul Gascoigne but will struggle to dislodge the likes of Raheem Sterling from England's starting line-up, says ex-Three Lions boss Steve McClaren.

Aston Villa attacking midfielder Grealish made his first England start against Wales on Thursday and put on a man-of-the-match display in the 3-0 Wembley win.

One particular highlight was a gorgeous assist for debutant Dominic Calvert-Lewin to open the scoring in the 26th minute, while his general play on the ball was a real asset to England.

Grealish has also been influential for a Villa side who have won three from three in the top flight this season, scoring with each of his three shots on target, while he became the first player to have a hand in five goals in a Premier League match when his side thrashed champions Liverpool 7-2.

But still he has struggled to make the breakthrough on the international stage under Gareth Southgate and McClaren says the 25-year-old has to keep earning the trust of the manager as he offers the team something others in the squad do not.

"What a performance, he's really matured. He's the focal point of the Aston Villa team, he needs good players around him, and what Aston Villa have bought this season is good players," McClaren told Stats Perform News. 

"You saw him link up with [Ross] Barkley at the weekend against Liverpool and play two exquisite passes which no one else could play and see and we haven't got that type of midfield player, striker, creative player.

"We haven't had it for a long time, that Gazza type, he is that type.

"Yes he can frustrate at times, but he produces now, he's got end product, he can score, he can assist and it showed in the goal that Dominic Calvert-Lewin scored.

"So, I think he was a major plus. He's got to gain the trust of the manager that's the most important thing, and if he does that he should be in the England team because with good players around him he becomes a better player."

However, McClaren feels Grealish will have trouble nailing down a starting spot, particularly when Manchester City forward Sterling is fit again, due to Southgate's preference for pace in attacking positions. 

"Unfortunately, no [I don't think he'll be in the team]," he added. "Because when you play as you do, 3-4-3 or a 4-3-3, Gareth has gone for speed in the wide areas.

"He's looking at [Jadon] Sancho, Sterling, at [Marcus] Rashford, [Mason] Greenwood – he's looking at speed. 

"Jack hasn't got speed, he's got dribbling ability, he can glide by players, he can see a pass, he doesn't give it away, he can create, he can see things, so he's a different type of player, a different type of wide player. 

"Jack will be useful in terms of being on the bench and when you're 1-0 down or we need to win a game, bring Jack on because he can cause defences havoc whether he plays eight, 10, 11 or seven. 

"He'll cause problems, so he's a tremendous asset to have on the bench or in the squad. But there's still a long way to go before Jack Grealish becomes a permanent England player, still a lot to do."

McClaren was not surprised it took Grealish so long to earn a call-up to the national team, citing a lack of positional discipline during his formative years and the fact he is a "luxury player".

He likened the situation to the one experienced with Joe Cole when assistant to Sven-Goran Eriksson.

"He was a luxury player and you can't have luxury players, at Aston Villa you can't have a luxury players," McClaren said. 

"Sometimes it takes a while to mature and bring great discipline into your game, a lot of people talk about Gazza and the likes of Joe Cole and Joe Cole was exactly the same. 

"We used to play Joe Cole out wide, and he'd say 'why am I playing out wide?' And we'd say 'because Sven doesn't trust you playing in the number 10 because when we lose the ball we need some discipline to that and some shape'.

"By default he's had the opportunity and the key with everything, in the relationship between the manager and the player, is trust and obviously trust takes a long time to build up. 

"Especially in international football, you have to trust a player to do that job. Now he's started the process." 

Dominic Calvert-Lewin's goals have taken his game to another level and the Everton striker can reflect on an "excellent" England debut, says Three Lions boss Gareth Southgate.

England cruised past Wales 3-0 in Thursday's friendly at Wembley, Calvert-Lewin marking his international bow with a first-half header to make it 10 goals in seven appearances for club and country this season.

Conor Coady and Danny Ings also celebrated first international goals in a game which saw several players did their chances of further opportunities no harm, given this was England's most inexperienced XI since 1980.

Asked about Calvert-Lewin's performance, Southgate told ITV: "Yeah, excellent, I thought really very good. 

"He had excellent presence, his runs were a threat, he presses well, he obviously took his goal well, so I thought he could be really pleased.

"I think he's in a really good vein of form, he's an all-round centre-forward. I've always liked his general play but it's the goals that he's adding now that are making another level of player."

Aston Villa playmaker Jack Grealish was also handed a first England start and produced a delicious assist for Calvert-Lewin in an enterprising display.

Asked if Grealish has now jumped the queue in England's plans, Southgate said: "I thought his work with the ball was very good. 

"We know he draws those fouls, he's comfortable receiving in tight areas. I thought it was a debut he could be really pleased with."

England were troubled at times by Wales prior to Calvert-Lewin's 26th-minute opener but Southgate was content with the way his side grew into the match.

"I think the players did very well, it's so difficult for almost a completely new team to come together with not a lot of experience around it, so I thought they coped with that very well," he said. 

"It wasn't fluid at the start but the longer the game went on they got more and more into the game, solved the tactical problem Wales posed us when they were pressing and I thought we finished very strongly."

Ollie Watkins struck a first-half hat-trick and Jack Grealish starred as Aston Villa claimed an incredible 7-2 victory over Premier League champions Liverpool on Sunday. 

Liverpool were without first-choice goalkeeper Alisson due to a shoulder injury and paid the price for some shambolic defending at Villa Park, with John McGinn adding to Watkins' treble in a rampant opening period for Dean Smith's men. 

Mohamed Salah doubled his tally either side of deflected goals for debutant Ross Barkley and Grealish, who contributed three assists in a brilliant display. 

Grealish added another as Villa had unending joy in springing the offside trap against Liverpool's high line, with the Reds conceding seven for the first time since a 7-2 loss to Tottenham in April 1963. 

Adrian's hopes of keeping a clean sheet were dashed within four minutes when his wayward pass to Joe Gomez was seized upon by Grealish, who squared for Watkins to slot home. 

Liverpool did not get a penalty for McGinn's contentious challenge on Salah, while Emiliano Martinez saw a similar error to Adrian's go unpunished before Watkins latched onto another Grealish pass and fired into the top-right corner. 

Salah halved the deficit, yet Villa's two-goal cushion was restored two minutes later when McGinn's wickedly deflected volley found the bottom-left corner. 

Watkins completed his treble before the first half was out by turning home Trezeguet's cross and former Everton midfielder Barkley extended their lead 10 minutes after the restart, aided by a significant touch off Trent Alexander-Arnold. 

Salah swept in a cool finish in the 60th minute but any hopes of a late charge were quickly extinguished by a Grealish strike that hit Fabinho to wrongfoot Adrian. 

Adrian managed to stop Watkins netting a fourth before Grealish made the most of a baffling decision to try to catch him offside on the halfway line, scoring his second. 

Watkins rattled the crossbar in the 85th minute but Liverpool were already set to suffer one of the most remarkable defeats in Premier League history. 

 
What does it mean? A first for Klopp 

Villa were in searing form and became the first team to put at least four goals past Liverpool in the opening half of a Premier League game since Klopp took charge in October 2015. 

In fact, the only time the Reds have conceded four in the opening period of a game in any competition during the German's tenure came on the same ground, when they went down 5-0 to Villa in the EFL Cup quarter-finals. 

However, on that occasion it was a second-string line-up and Klopp was not even in the dugout, as the first-team squad were away at the Club World Cup. 

Glorious Grealish 

Watkins may have become the first player to score a Premier League hat-trick against Liverpool since Dimitar Berbatov in 2010, but he could not have done it without Grealish. The midfielder had multiple assists in the same top-flight game for the first time and created a total of five chances for his team-mates. 

Awful Adrian 

With Alisson to be assessed "week by week", Klopp will be desperate to have him back as soon as possible. In his 21 appearances in all competitions for Liverpool, Adrian has now committed five errors leading directly to goals. Alisson has the same amount in 92 such games. 

What's next? 

Liverpool will hope to get back on track after the international break with a Merseyside derby against Everton, while Villa face Leicester City next. 

Jack Grealish has signed a new five-year contract with Aston Villa, in a move that appears to put to bed rumours the club captain could leave for Manchester United.

Villa announced the deal on their official website, with Grealish now committed to his boyhood club until 2025.

The 25-year-old midfielder, who made his England debut against Denmark this month, first caught the eye in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 Premier League seasons, when still a youngster.

He stayed with the team after their relegation to the Championship, despite interest from top-flight teams, and finally helped Villa out of the second tier after three years of trying.

Last season he scored eight goals and had six assists in the Premier League, playing a crucial role as Villa avoided relegation in a dramatic finale to the campaign.

Grealish said of his new deal: "I am delighted to make this commitment to Villa. It is my club, my home and I am very happy here.

"The owners have made it very clear to me how ambitious they are and how they want to build Aston Villa.  There are exciting times ahead and I am very glad to be part of it."

Villa have strengthened ahead of the new campaign by bringing in forward Ollie Watkins from Brentford and right-back Matty Cash from Nottingham Forest.

Grealish has been linked with a host of teams since emerging as a gifted playmaker and talk of a move to Old Trafford had persisted.

However, United have strengthened in midfield already in the transfer window with the signing of Donny van de Beek from Ajax, which appeared to diminish the prospect of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer coming in for Grealish in the short term.

Retaining Grealish provides Villa head coach Dean Smith with reassurance, being safe in the knowledge his star man has no intention of moving on.

Villa chief executive Christian Purslow welcomed Grealish's decision, saying: "We are determined to build a top team around him and are delighted that he is extending his contract and committing himself to the club he loves."

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